Unreal Nature

October 21, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… and not too much outrage them for then we are led to compare the work with its subject, which brings us back to the literal reality (as a monster reminds us of the normal creature).

This is from ‘Creative Credo’ by Max Beckmann (1918):

I paint and I’m satisfied to let it go at that since I’m by nature tongue-tied and only a terrific interest in something can squeeze a few words out of me.

Nowadays whenever I listen to painters who have a way with words, frequently with real astonishment, I become a little uneasy about whether I can find language beautiful and spirited enough to convey my enthusiasm and passion for the objects of the visible world. However, I’ve finally calmed myself about this. I’m now satisfied to tell myself: ‘You are a painter, do your job and let those who can, talk.’ I believe that essentially I love painting so much because it forces me to be objective. There is nothing I hate more than sentimentality. The stronger my determination grows to grasp the unutterable things of this world, the deeper and more powerful the emotion burning inside me about our existence, the tighter I keep my mouth shut and the harder I try to capture the terrible, thrilling monster of life’s vitality and to confine it, to beat it down and to strangle it with crystal-clear, razor-sharp lines and planes.

This next is from ‘Analyses of the Old Masters’ by Johnannes Itten (1921):

… To experience [erleben] a work of art is to re-experience it, to rouse the essential and living character that rests within its form as one’s own personal life. The work of art is born anew in us.

We claim that to experience a work of art is to re-create this work of art. This is because from the spiritual perspective, there is no great difference between the human being who experiences a work of art and the human being who presents an experienced form, externally in terms of the work. Every human being can be trained to draw a circular line, but not everyone possesses the inner power to experience that line. I can release this internal power, but I cannot give it to anyone else.

This last, below, is from Foundations of Modern Art by Amédée Ozenfant (1928):

… To succeed in assuaging reality a work of art should:

1. Respect the profound and innate sense in us of nature’s fundamental reactions, and not too much outrage them for then we are led to compare the work with its subject, which brings us back to the literal reality (as a monster reminds us of the normal creature).

2. Yet remain, nevertheless, at such a distance from nature’s aspects that the disturbance introduced into habitual aspects may deprive us momentarily of our rationalizing facilities. Thus some illogical woman’s argument, falling suddenly into a closely reasoned discussion, unhorses the arguers and makes us ponder.

Being no longer controlled by the powerful impulses of ‘common sense,’ and the ‘normal,’ the values of our unconscious open, and permit the fusion of our slumbering, suppressed, or unwitted potentialities. Thus a world of new sensations and awareness comes into being. Faustian joys!



October 20, 2013

The Fidelities That Bind Him

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… it is to see more clearly the duress that bears on him, the maneuvers of thought he deploys against it; and the fidelities that bind him.

This is from the essay ‘Translating Poetry’ (1976) in The Act and the Place of Poetry: Selected Essays by Yves Bonnefoy (1989):

… Where a text has its felicities (accidental or not), its cruxes, its density — its unconscious — the translation must stick to the surface, even if its own cruxes crop up elsewhere. You can’t translate a poem.

But that’s all to the good, since a poem is less than poetry, and to the extent that one is denied something of the former the effect can be stimulating to the latter. A poem, a certain number of words in a certain order on the page, is a form, where all relation to what is other and finite — to what is true — has been suspended. And the author may take pleasure in this: it’s satisfying; one likes to bring things into being, things that endure, but one readily regrets having set oneself at odds with the place and time of true reciprocity. The poem is a means, a spiritual statement, which is not, however, an end.

… We should in fact come to see what motivates the poem; to relive the act which both gave rise to it and remains enmeshed in it; and released from that fixed form, which is merely its trace, the first intention and intuition (let us say a yearning, an obsession, something universal) can be tried out anew in the other language.

… to understand this is to find oneself back with the author one is translating; it is to see more clearly the duress that bears on him, the maneuvers of thought he deploys against it; and the fidelities that bind him. For words will try to entice us into behaving as they do. Once a good translation has been set in motion, they will rapidly begin to justify the bad poem it turns into, and they will impoverish the experience for the sake of constructing a text. The translator needs to be on his guard and to test the ontological necessity of his new images even more than their term-for-term (and therefore external) resemblance to those of the original poem. This is uphill work, but the translator is rewarded by his author, if it’s Yeats, if it’s Donne, if it’s Shakespeare. And instead of being, as before, up against the body of a text, he finds himself at the source, a beginning rich with possibility, and on this second journey he has the right to be himself.

… You must realize that the poem is nothing and that translation is possible — which is not to say that it’s easy; it is merely poetry re-begun.



October 19, 2013

Beetle Wings

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:44 am

… Late autumn and cold for spiders. Cold for men, too.

This is from the essay ‘Judgment of the Birds’ in the collection The Immense Journey by Loren Eiseley (1946; 1957):

… The world, I have come to believe, is a very queer place, but we have been part of this queerness for so long that we tend to take it for granted. We rush to and fro like Mad Hatters upon our peculiar errands, all the time imagining our surroundings to be dull and ourselves quite ordinary creatures. Actually, there is nothing in the world to encourage this idea, but such is the mind of man, and this is why he finds it necessary from time to time to send emissaries into the wilderness in the hope of learning of great events, or plans in store for him, that will resuscitate his waning taste for life. His great news services, his world-wide radio network, he knows with a last remnant of healthy distrust will be of no use to him in this matter. No miracle can withstand a radio broadcast, and it is certain that it would be no miracle if it could. One must seek, then, what only the solitary approach can give — a natural revelation.

… One night on the twentieth floor of a midtown hotel [in NYC] I awoke in the dark and grew restless. On an impulse I climbed upon the broad old-fashioned window sill, opened the curtains and peered out. It was the hour just before dawn, the hour when men sigh in their sleep, or, if awake, strive to focus their wavering eyesight upon a world emerging from the shadows. I leaned out sleepily through the open window. I had expected depths, but not the sight I saw.

I found I was looking down from that great height into a series of curious cupolas or lofts that I could just barely make out in the darkness. As I looked, the outlines of these lofts became more distinct because the light was being reflected from the wings of pigeons who, in utter silence, were beginning to float outward upon the city. In and out through the open slits in the cupolas passed the white-winged birds on their mysterious errands. At this hour the city was theirs, and quietly, without the brush of a single wing tip against stone in that high, eerie place, they were taking over the spires of Manhattan. They were pouring upward in a light that was not yet perceptible to human eyes, while far down in the black darkness of the alleys it was still midnight.

As I crouched half asleep across the sill, I had a moment’s illusion that the world had changed in the night, as in some immense snowfall, and that if I were to leave, it would have to be as these other inhabitants were doing, by the window. I should have to launch out into that great bottomless void with the simple confidence of young birds reared high up there among the familiar chimney pots and interposed horrors of the abyss.

I leaned farther out. To and fro went the white wings, to and fro. There were no sounds from any of them.

… It needed only a little courage, only a little shove from the window ledge to enter that city of light. … I wanted to enter that city and go away over the roofs in the first dawn. I wanted to enter it so badly that I drew back carefully into the room and opened the  hall door.

… I will never forget how those wings went round and round, and how, by the merest pressure of the fingers and a feeling for air, one might go away over the roofs. It is a knowledge, however, that is better kept to oneself. I think of it sometimes in such a way that the wings, beginning far down in the black depths of the mind, begin to rise and whirl till all the mind is lit by their spinning, and there is a sense of things passing away, but lightly, as a wing might veer over an obstacle.

Eiseley tells of several other bird encounters before concluding:

[ … ]

… on the top of a stepladder, I made one more observation upon life. It was cold that autumn evening, and standing under a suburban street light in a spate of leaves and beginning snow, I was suddenly conscious of some huge and hairy shadows dancing over the pavement. They seemed attached to an odd, globular shape that was magnified above me. There was no mistaking it. I was standing under the shadow of an orb-weaving spider. Gigantically projected against the street, she was about her spinning when everything was going underground. Even her cables were magnified upon the sidewalk and already I was half-entangled in their shadows.

“Good Lord,” I thought, “she has found herself a kind of minor sun and is going to upset the course of nature.”

I procured a ladder from my yard and climbed up to inspect the situation. There she was, the universe running down around her, warmly arranged among her guy ropes attached to the lamp supports — a great black and yellow embodiment of the life force, not giving up to either frost or stepladders. She ignored me and went on tightening and improving her web.

I stood over her on the ladder, a faint snow touching my cheeks, and surveyed her universe. There were a couple of iridescent green beetle cases turning slowly on a loose strand of web, a fragment of luminescent eye from a moth’s wing and a large indeterminable object, perhaps a cicada, that had struggled and been wrapped in silk. There were also little bits and slivers, little red and blue flashes from the scales of anonymous wings that had crashed there.

… It is like a mind, really, where everything changes but remains, and in the end you have these eaten-out bits of experience like beetle wings.

I stood over her a moment longer, comprehending somewhat reluctantly that her adventure against the great blind forces of winter, her seizure of this warming globe of light, would come to nothing and was hopeless. Nevertheless, it brought the birds back into my mind, and that faraway song which had traveled with growing strength around a forest clearing years ago — a kind of heroism, a world where even a spider refuses to lie down and die if a rope can still be spun on to a star.

… The mind, it came to me as I slowly descended the ladder, is a very remarkable thing; it has gotten itself a kind of courage by looking at a spider in a street lamp. Here was something that ought to be passed on to those who will fight our final freezing battle with the void. I thought of setting it down carefully as a message to the future: In the days of the frost seek a minor sun.

But as I hesitated, it became plain that something was wrong. The marvel was escaping — a sense of bigness beyond man’s power to grasp, the essence of life in its great dealings with the universe. It was better, I decided, for the emissaries returning from the wilderness, even if they were merely descending from a stepladder, to record their marvel, not to define its meaning. In that way it would go echoing on through the minds of men …

In the end I merely made a mental note: One specimen of Epeira observed building a web in a street light. Late autumn and cold for spiders. Cold for men, too. I shivered and left the lamp glowing there in my mind. The last I saw of Epeira she was hauling steadily on a cable. I stepped carefully over her shadow as I walked away.

Try mixing Eiseley’s beetle wings with Skins of Beetles from Michel Serres.



October 18, 2013

Let Me Vanish

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… If you see what I see, then you will have experienced a voluptuous muscular shift of focus within the eye of the mind … that same eye that swam stubbornly upward through our flesh, seeking the light, surfacing our minds in our faces before we were born.

This is from a list of seven ‘Mental Notes’ ((1973) in On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton edited by Bruce Jenkins (2009). In the first one, below, for those who aren’t into word derivation, the prefix ‘auto’ usually intends ‘self,’ as in the ‘auto-mobile’ is ‘self-mobile’:

1. I understand the word autobiography to mean: writing one’s own life. But perhaps, as with so much of Greek, our text is corrupt. I would rather understand it to mean: life, writing itself; just as we who use the camera must understand photography to mean: light, writing itself. We are not so much agents as intermediaries when we introduce film to light, as we might bring together two good friends, hoping they will love one another as we love them both.

[ … ]

5. Please try to imagine this room in which I sit writing. Let me vanish from it, with my typewriter. You will be left with a cube. Now, if you like, draw that cube, in your mind, in one-point Renaissance perspective. The cube is transparent, so leave in all the hidden lines. Stare at it for a while, as I am staring, and in time it will suddenly transform itself into another cube, with a vanishing point outside your imagination. If you see what I see, then you will have experienced a voluptuous muscular shift of focus within the eye of the mind … that same eye that swam stubbornly upward through our flesh, seeking the light, surfacing our minds in our faces before we were born. Our imaginary cube partakes, rather humbly, of a metaphor for which I have no name. It is one of a family of astonishments that we call, curiously, optical illusions.

6. A few months ago, some students that I work with repeated Kuleshov’s legendary experiment.* As we sat down to look at the footage, we all felt a little fearful. Eisenstein’s montage, after all, rested on Kuleshov’s foundation, and it is from that montage that we, all of us, measure our distances, in millimeters or in miles. We were bleeding, even, from a peculiar Heisenbergian trauma … for we were assaying our samples for the presence of something called the Kuleshov Effect, where Kuleshov himself was simply wondering what unimaginable thing had been given him. Starting the projector, we felt the walls of our minds shake. What if the whole thing were nothing but a Russian Revolutionary conspiracy? And then the cone of light mounted to radiance, inverted itself, thrust upon us, slid past lids and lenses, entered the mind, penetrated the eye of the mind. There was a prolonged gasp of delight in the room. For all of us, in the very midst of sifting our sight, ever so carefully, for signs of the Kuleshov Effect, had suddenly found ourselves overtaken by the rapture of experiencing it. Each of us had found his whole consciousness converging upon a point outside the boundaries of his imagination. After a time, when we felt more calm, we conspired to destroy our footage, or else lose it. Kuleshov had done one or the other: we would honor him by continuing a tradition of renewal he had founded. So, friends, if you need to see upon what foundation our art rests, I cannot show them to you. You must rebuild them for yourselves.

[* In the early 1920s, the Soviet director Lev Kuleshov established a workshop to train a new generation of filmmakers. In the editing exercise, he intercut a close-up of an actor with a variety of shots, including images of a bowl of soup, a woman standing next to a grave, and a child with a toy. The so-called Kuleshov effect resides in the fact that the interpenetration of the actor’s expression (and thus the meaning of the montage sequence) is transformed in relationship to the shots that surround it. (B.J.)]



October 17, 2013

Worth Caring About

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… With any cut at all, objectivity fades away.

This is from the essay ‘The Politics of Documentary: A Symposium’ in which Cineaste “associate Barbar Zheutlin sent a questionnaire to a number if independent filmmakers” (1981) in the collection New Challenges for Documentary: Second Edition edited by Alan Rosenthal and John Corner (2005). I am cherry-picking the answers she received:

Barbara Zheutlin: How conscious are you when you are shooting and editing your films about the problem of creating drama and involving the audience? Do you think about casting your documentary? Have you made choices to edit parts of your films to make them more entertaining?

Jon Else: … The key, the nut, the sine qua non, the very heart of what we are about is storytelling. Half the battle in making documentaries is finding subjects which embody an emotionally charged drama, lived by people worth caring about. The other half is finding the money.

Connie Field: … I was very careful about locations [in Rosie the Riveter]. I don’t believe you should shoot an interview with a white wall behind it — the background has to say something. Remember, people are looking at an image, and you don’t want the interview to be visually boring. So all of our interviews were shot in different locations that revealed something about each woman.

Two of the women were filmed where they used to work, Lynn on an old victory ship that was built in the Second World War, and Lola in front of a factory where she used to work, with the New York skyline in the background. I flew Margaret from Los Angeles to my offices in the Bay Area because I couldn’t afford to fly my crew down. I then created a clinic-type atmosphere for her in one of our offices because she then worked in a clinic, and I wanted her surroundings to say something about her life now. With Juanita, I rented a Winnebago and drove her out to the Ford River Rouge plant so we could see the factory in the background with the smoke rising out the window, because in my mind, that image says Detroit. And Gladys was filmed inside her house because it rained. We were going to shoot it outside her house, but it still works well for her because the house is decorated in a way that is characteristic of homes in the southern mountains, which is where she grew up.

The simplest way to get your viewpoint across to an audience is to use narration. But there’s been a generally shared assumption among political filmmakers that narration is boring, can’t be trusted, is not filmic. What has influenced your decision to use or not use a narrator? How did you select the person to narrate?

Emile de Antonio: Among the angelic orders, films are made by purple butterflies with cameras screwed into their gossamer wings, catching every iridescent jagger and flicker. For me, film is tug, pull, conflict, process. Will there be narration? Who will write it? Who will speak it? Dan Talbot and I produced Point of Order. I raised the money. In the beginning, all was one. We agreed there would be no narration, only the material itself speaking for itself. Time produced tugs.

… [de Antonio was not happy with the Mike Wallace narration that they developed] I listened and listened to that tape of narration. I killed it. I fired the experienced editor. I said to Dan (paraphrase), “Okay, now we’ll do it your way or my way. I’ll match you.” Dan: “Come on, De, be realistic. I’ve got a theater to run, family responsibility, neither one of us has ever done this before.” Me: “Okay, I’ll do it. … ” A year later we screened it in the Movielab building. It was 1963. There was no narration. It was my film.

To what extent have you scripted your films before shooting? To what extent have you filmed first and shaped your film later in the editing? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches?

Connie Field: … Although Rosie was not scripted, it was carefully planned before shooting. I outlined the history, all the issues. The women I had chosen for the film — five of them — I had interviewed quite extensively before filming, and then, in filming, I asked specific questions which would elicit certain stories I knew they could talk about.

What was set in the editing was the pacing and, of course, final content selection. I went very broad in terms of the stock footage I collected and in the scope of the interviews. Obviously, in the editing certain of the stories fit and others didn’t.

How familiar are you with the history of documentary films? Have you been influenced by them? What role do you think cinéma vérité has played in shaping the political documentary?

Emile de Antonio: … Cinéma vérité is two halves of an apple, half rotten and half rather decent eating. The decent part is the technical improvement of light sync-sound camera equipment that came from Leacock, the Maysles, Pennebaker. The rotten half is most of the work, the pretentiousness behind it. There lies behind cinéma vérité the implication of truth arrived at by a scientific instrument, called the camera, which faithfully records the world. Nothing could be more false. The assumption of objectivity is false. Filmmakers edit what they see, edit as they film what they see, weight people, moments, and scenes by giving them romantic hype. With any cut at all, objectivity fades away.

How do you decide what subject to make a film about? In picking your subjects, do you think about what kinds of films the left should be making today?

Jon Else: … I feel very strongly that if one is going to make these films, they have to be made and distributed in such a way that millions of people will see them and be moved by them. For better or worse, this means prime-time television and I take great pleasure in the fact that Trinity was scheduled for nationwide broadcast in prime time.

Emile de Antonio: … Let PBS and the networks sell news. Let the documentarians’ world be full of surprises. Let the form, the film, grow organically, so that the maker doesn’t know its look until he’s finished.

Kartemquin: We always attempt, whenever possible, to base our ideas for films in the use the films will have. What is it for? How will they use it? Beginning with these questions can do a lot to answer broader political questions, such as, “What kinds of films should the left be making today?” — not to mention eliminating exercises in self-indulgence. But certainly, if politics are in command, the use of a film will control most of your basic decisions, no matter how many surprises the subject might have in store for you along the way.



October 16, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… if a spectator is selectively inattentive, narratives, social commentaries, “pure” or simply beautiful movements and spectacles emerge and merge with her own reverie.

This is from Performance Theory by Richard Schechner (1988, 2003). This chapter is titled ‘Selective Inattention’ and it may take a bit of cogitating to figure out how what is given at the beginning of the chapter meshes with that at the end:

Victor Turner locates four actions as the nubs of social drama: 1) breach, 2) crisis, 3) redressive action, and 4) reintegration. A breach is a situation that schisms a social unit — family, work group, village, community, nation, etc. A crisis is a precipitating event that can’t be overlooked, that must be dealt with. Redressive action is what’s done to overcome the crisis — the crisis itself having arisen out of the breach. Reintegration is the elimination of the original breach that mothered the crisis. Reintegration comes in two ways, either by healing the breach or by schismogenesis (see Bateson 1958).

… The “infinity loop” depicts dynamic positive feedback. Social dramas affect aesthetic dramas; aesthetic dramas affect social dramas. The visible actions of a given social drama are informed — shaped, conditioned, guided — by underlying aesthetic principles and specific theatrical/rhetorical techniques. Reciprocally, a culture’s visible aesthetic theater is informed — shaped, conditioned, guided — by underlying processes of social interaction. … The theater is designed to entertain and sometimes to effect changes in perception, viewpoint, attitude: in other words, to make spectators react to the world of social drama in new ways. There is a flowing back and forth, up and down, characterizing the relationship between social and aesthetic dramas; specific enactments (shows) may “travel” from one hemisphere to the other …

Victor Turner very much liked the infinity-loop model of the interaction between social and aesthetic drama. He used the loop in two essay elaborating his theories of social drama. In the second of these, Turner succinctly explicated the model:

Notice that the manifest social drama feeds into the latent realm of stage drama; its characteristic form in a given culture, at a given time and place, unconsciously, or perhaps preconciously, influences not only the form but also the content of the stage drama of which it is the active or “magic” mirror. The stage drama, when it is meant to do more than entertain — though entertainment is always one of its vital aims — is a metacommentary, explicit or implicit, witting or unwitting, on the major social dramas of its social context (wars, revolutions, scandals, institutional changes). Not only that, but its message and its rhetoric feed back into the latent processual structure of the social drama and partly accounts for its ready ritualization. Life itself now becomes a mirror held up to art, and the living now perform their lives, for the protagonists of a social drama, a “drama of living,” have been equipped by aesthetic drama with some of their most salient opinions, imageries, tropes, and ideological perspectives. Neither mutual mirroring, life by art, art by life, is exact, for each is not a planar mirror but a matricidal mirror; at each exchange something new is added and something old is lost or discarded. Human beings learn through experience, though all too often they repress painful experience, and perhaps the deepest experience is through drama; not through social drama, or stage drama (or its equivalent) alone but in the circulatory or oscillatory process of their mutual and incessant modification. (Turner 1985)

[ … ]

… in Madras, in 1971, I was impressed by the behavior of the audience at a concert of classical Carnatic music. People came and went, stood outside the hall, re-entering when a musician they wanted to hear played. The festival lasted more than a week, and during each phase — individual concerts, individual performances within concerts, individual passages within performances, individual moments within passages — attention and inattention alternated. … Connoisseurs knew precisely what and who they wanted to hear. As I wrote in my notebook on December 2, 1971:

… This audience is sitting in judgement — but that judgement is based on its knowledge and love of the music — and somehow the judgement supports the musicians — the way the sharp, but willingly adoring eye of the sports spectator supports the athlete. Only these musicians can do what they’re doing — but only this audience can do what it can do: IMMEDIATELY REWARD THE PERFORMER. No amount of delayed praise or end of the show applause can approach the now-support of an audience that is really with it …

… Selective inattention allows patterns of the whole to be visible, patterns that otherwise would be burned out of consciousness by a too intense concentration. It is this sometimes subtle manifestation of what Anton Ehrenszeig calls the “primary process” that interests me. Through selective inattention spectators co-create the work with the performers. It is this that struck me in Madras. In a real way the spectators become artists. As Ehrenzweig says:

How often have we not observed an artist suddenly stops in his tracks without apparent reason, steps back from his canvas and looks at it with a curiously vacant stare? What happens is that the conscious gestalt is prevented from crystallizing. Nothing seems to come into his mind. Perhaps one or another detail lights up for a moment only to sink back into the emptiness. During this absence of mind an unconscious scanning seems to go on. Suddenly as from nowhere some offending detail hitherto ignored will come into view. It had somehow upset the balance of the picture, but had gone undetected. With relief the painter will end his apparent inactivity. He returns to his canvas and carries out the necessary retouching. This “full” emptiness of unconscious scanning occurs in many other examples of creative work. (Ehrenzweig 1970)

I agree with Ehrenzweig’s stressing the importance of unconscious scanning. I disagree when his artist corrects the “offending detail.” In theater, at least, these disruptions and disturbances, these variations — often brought on by unpredictable interactions with spectators — are what make this or that particular performance interesting.

… Audiences as well as performers employ unconscious scanning. More than in “product-arts” (painting, sculpting, writing, film) “process arts” (live performing) are co-created by performers and spectators. A reader may complete a written text in each reading, but only during live performances do artists and audiences co-create together in exactly the same time/space.

This relaxed unconscious scanning — selective inattention — is nowhere more clearly seen than in observing people at a performance of noh. Noh is the exquisitely articulated and masked theater of Japan that “developed from a variety of sacred rituals and festival entertainment arts … brought to a state of refinement and maturity during the Muromachi period (1336-1568).” The Japanese say that the proper way to “watch” noh is in a hypnagogic state between waking and sleeping. Among the noh audience are many whose eyes are closed, or heavy-lidded. These experts are “paying attention” by relaxing their consciousness, allowing material to stream upward from their unconscious to meet the sounds/images streaming outward from the noh stage. In this state of porous receptive inattention each individual spectator is carried along in noh’s dreamlike rhythms. Often images and sounds are shared by shite (leading actor), chorus, musicians, and spectators so that the principle character is constructed by, distributed to, and shared among a number of participants. As Komparu notes:

the viewer participates in the creation of the play by individual free association and brings to life internally a drama based on individual experience filtered through the emotions of the protagonist. The shared dramatic experience, in other words, is not the viewer’s adjustment of himself to the protagonist on stage but rather his creation of a separate personal drama by sharing the play with the performer. Indeed, he becomes that protagonist. (Komparu 1983)

… What is blank, undifferentiated, hypnagogic, relaxed — in a word, inattentive — is actually the bottom or hidden half of the loop. When the noh spectator enters and co-creates the performance by absenting herself from to close or narrow a focus on what’s coming from the stage, she is encouraging hidden or underlying unconscious material to blend with her conscious experience. In a way, she is relaxing in order to be creative. This kind of experiencing happens — or can happen — during a wide range of performances. Spectators can be trained to enjoy being selectively inattentive. A large enterprise of contemporary experimental performance is to make visible this creative process — to reposition it at the top half of the loop. In experimental performance, what then is underneath? Nothing other than the orthodox genres and tropes — narrativity, parody, lyrical description, etc. On the surface a Robert Wilson opera, a Merce Cunningham dance, a Pina Bausch dance-theater piece eschew orthodox genres. But if a spectator is selectively inattentive, narratives, social commentaries, “pure” or simply beautiful movements and spectacles emerge and merge with her own reverie. To a certain degree the works of these artists converge at the point where the loop’s intersecting energies meet — “between the eyes” of the loop.

My most recent previous post from Schechner’s book is here.



October 15, 2013

By No Means an Easy Felicity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… The burden of content is what keeps an artist going …

This is from the essay ‘David Smith’s New Sculpture’ (1964) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 4, edited by John O’Brian (1993):

Smith’s way of exploring and exploiting his conceptions has evolved along with almost everything else in his art. In the past he tended to overdo or overload the single piece; he would try to say too much, or say it in too much of a hurry. Now he lingers over his conceptions as they come to him, explores them more thoroughly, and — what is more surprising in the light of his past — tries to clarify what is essential in them. Smith’s taste can still be bad, but somehow it no longer gets in the way very much, no longer turns what could have been successful pieces into bad ones — or into pieces that look bad at least on first sight and which have to “age” in order to reveal whatever merits they have. Now Smith seems to ride over his bad taste and make it peripheral.

Back in the late 1940s he had already begun, rather sporadically and rather hesitantly, to work out certain ideas in series of pieces that were like variations on a single theme. Significantly, the proportion of successes to failures in these series was much higher than it was in Smith’s other work of that time. But only in the early 1950s did he commit himself to doing series in a regular way, and it was then too that each series became more extended. Where they used to run to no more than a half-dozen sculptures each, they now began, as in the “Agricola” and Tanktotem” groups, to run to as many as two dozen or more. And as the pieces in each series multiplied, they became less abrupt as variations, more nuanced. but the nuancing, instead of making Smith’s manner more involuted or ambiguous, only made it more logical and direct.

… the cursiveness of Smith’s drawing-in-air is not as cursive, not as nervous, as it once was. In the “Voltri-Bolton Landing” series as elsewhere in his art, his drawing takes on more and more of geometrical regularity. It becomes more and more the kind of drawing that moves from the elbow and shoulder rather than from the wrist or fingers. And it converges with the newest developments in abstract painting, where the smears and squiggles of painterliness are ceding to cleaner, more anonymous handling. Smith’s art was never notable for the excrescences, the fuzzed and irregular surfaces, and the curlicues that mark most of postwar abstract sculpture, but whatever it did show of such things has almost completely disappeared by now. As geometrical as Smith’s drawing and design may become, nothing in his art associates itself with geometrical art as we know it from the past. There is no flavor in it of De Stijl or of the Bauhaus or even of Constructivism (much less of streamlined “modernism”). This is because the geometrical does not enter Smith’s art by doctrinal right and impose itself as a restriction. He chooses it as but a means among other means available to him, and he prefers it simply for the sake of its directness and economy. The regularity of contour and surface, the trued and faired planes and lines, are there in order to concentrate attention on the structural and general as against the material and specific, on the diagrammatic as against the substantial; but not because there is any virtue in regularity as such.

… The raw, discolored surfaces of the iron or steel members may be found a little repellent here and there, but by the same token they tend to efface themselves. As I have said, Smith aims at the diagrammatic as against the substantial and textured. Here the diagrammatic enters by paradoxical means. The discoloration is too natural, too casual, to make anything but a negative contribution. Polished or painted surfaces might in particular instances, if not in others, attract the eye too much, and the attracted eye lingers, while the unattracted eye hastens towards the essential. (I am not playing on words here, but reporting my own experience.) For all that, the question of color in Smith’s art (as in all recent sculpture along the same lines) remains a vexed one. I don’t think he has ever used applied color with real success, and the “Voltri-Bolton Landing” pieces benefit by his having abstained from it. … Felicity comes more easily to Smith than it used to. But it is still by no means an easy felicity. I am not able to talk about the content of Smith’s art because I am no more able to find words for it than for the ultimate content of Quercia’s or Rodin’s art. But I can see that Smith’s felicities are won from a wealth of content, of things to say; and this is the hardest, and most lasting, way in which they can be won. The burden of content is what keeps an artist going, and the wonderful thing about Smith is the way that burden seems to grow with his years instead of shrinking.



October 14, 2013

It Is the Germ

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… Nature and art, being two different things, cannot be the same thing.

This is from ‘Thoughts on Painting’ by Georges Braque (1917). He’s made a list, 1-20, of his ‘thoughts.’ I give you the last two:

[ … ]

19. Emotion must not be rendered by an emotional trembling. It is not something that is added, or that is imitated. It is the germ; the work is the flowering.

20. I love the rule which corrects emotion.

The following is from ‘The Origins of Painting and its Representational Value’ by Fernand Léger (1913):

… I am going to attempt, as far as it is possible, to answer one of the questions most often asked about modern pictures. I put this question in its simplest form: ‘What does this represent?’ I will concentrate on this simple question and, with a brief explanation, will try to prove its utter inanity.

If, in the field of painting, imitation of an object had value in itself, any picture by anyone at all that had any imitative character would have pictorial value. As I do  not think it necessary to insist upon this point or to discuss such an example, I now assert something that has been said before, but that needs to be said again here: the realistic value of a work of art is completely independent of any imitative character.

This truth should be accepted as dogma and made axiomatic in the general understanding of painting.

… The impressionists were the first to reject the absolute value of the subject and to consider its value to be merely relative.

That is the tie that links and explains the entire modern evolution. The impressionists are the great originators of the present movement; they are its primitives in the sense that, wishing to free themselves from the imitative aspect, they considered painting for its color only, neglecting all form and all line almost entirely.

The admirable work resulting from this conception necessitates comprehension of a  new kind of color. Their quest for real atmosphere even then treated the subject as relative: trees, houses merge and are closely interconnected, enveloped in a colored dynamism that their methods did not yet allow them to develop.

The imitation of the subject that their work still involves is thus, even then, no more than a pretext for variety, a theme and nothing more. For the impressionists a green apple on a red rug is no longer the relationship between two objects, but the relationship between two tones, a green and a red.

Finally, this last is from ‘Picasso Speaks’ by … himself (1923):

… They speak of naturalism in opposition to modern painting. I would like to know if anyone has ever seen a natural work of art. Nature and art, being two different things, cannot be the same thing.

… We give to form and color all their individual significance, as far as we can see it; in our subjects we keep the joy of discovery, the pleasure of the unexpected; our subject itself must be a source of interest. But of what use is it to say what we do when everybody can see it if he wants to?



October 13, 2013

A True Face

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… Deficiency has one virtue, which is to recognize itself as such and thus lead us to a passionate knowledge.

This is from the title essay (1959) in The Act and the Place of Poetry: Selected Essays by Yves Bonnefoy (1989):

… I am thinking first of all about a great refusal. When we have to “take on a burden,” as is said of someone smitten with misfortune, when we have to face up to a person’s absence, to the deceitfulness of time, to the gulf that yawns in the very heart of presence or maybe of understanding, it is to speech that we turn as to a protected place.

… Should some demiurge have abandoned this world to be undermined by darkness, speech would undertake to restore the lost creation. In spite of halting syntax, speech will endeavor through its lucid patience, through its discretion, through the gradual elimination of what is risky and irregular, to convert those essences that were mere flotsam of a great vessel into the Idea become at last immanent, and the Book into the holy place which will retain that Idea amongst us.

[ … ]

… T.S. Eliot in the Waste Land expressed the real myth of modern culture. But he ignored, or sought to ignore, one paradoxical resource of that culture.

We now know the meaning of that desolate land, where a spell has dried up the springs, disrupted the harvests: it is reality, if I might so put it, realized, concluded; a reality endured by the spirit without a quest for possibilities. A realm of essences and the knowledge of essences. Man has embarked on the wrong path. Is it from despair at the lack of a higher life? But suppose the contrary were true and metaphysical sterility only the consequence of a bleak lack of curiosity? Was it not said at the castle of the Fisher King that a single question would be enough to break the spell?

The honor of conceptual thought — of all thought — lies in asking rather than in answering. The West began badly with Oedipus.

… I think … that we must recognize [poetry’s] limitations and, forgetting that it may once have been an end, take it merely as the means of an approach, which, given the limitations of our perspective, is actually not far from being the essential thing. Deficiency has one virtue, which is to recognize itself as such and thus lead us to a passionate knowledge.

… The adventure of meaning will begin at last. Or rather, the hypothesis of meaning, our frantic need to organize our knowledge within the space of a poem, to formulate the myth of what is, to construct the concepts, will be subjected to diffraction by the formless. And this poetry which cannot grasp presence, dispossessed of all other good, will be in anguished proximity to the great accomplished act, as its negative theology. When, in relation to what is, all landmarks, all frameworks, all formulae have been questioned or obliterated, what can we do but wait, hoping in the substance of words?

… It rediscovers and relives past failures. It has brought no proofs to the reawakened hope. Yet is it true that it does nothing toward that salvation with which we are obsessively concerned? And is poetry merely one appeal among all the others, with no privilege, no future? We must ask ourselves, and this is a distinction that is surely not useless, since here lies perhaps our only recourse — whether in addition to the negative intuition which a poem is for all of us, poetic invention brings nothing to the life of the writer other than aimless desire, unrest, and futility.

[ … ]

… they require us to act instead of merely dreaming.

They require us to act. And first of all to imagine what is very deep, to remove the contradiction between the lightning flash and our night. Logically (if I may use the word) to conceive of a true place. For if it is certain that here, in the everyday world, the only good worth wishing for is evanescent, so that we are in disarray and divided within ourselves, why should we not ask some other place in this world to restore us to our law? Another place, beyond other encounters, beyond the war of being alone. Having now discovered that travel, love, architecture, all the efforts of mankind are only so many ceremonies to summon presence, we have to bring them to life again on the very threshold of that deeper region. And in the changing light of its dawn, to fulfill them absolutely. Is there not somewhere a true fire, a true face?

… The act of speech will have taken place in the same space of time as our other actions. It will have given us one kind of life rather than another, amidst the perils of poetry and the contradictions of exile. What indeed shall we have had if we do not reach the true place?

… The repose provided by form in poetry can no longer be accepted with honesty. But the opportunity of the poetry that is to come, its good fortune (and I can admit that good fortune now) is that it is on the point of realizing, in its enduring exile, the issue offered by presence. After so many hours of anguish. Was it so difficult, then?



October 12, 2013

Leapt Out of Vapor

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… Like some dark and passing shadow within matter, it cups out the eyes’ small windows or spaces the notes of a meadow lark’s song in the interior of a mottled egg.

This is from the essay ‘The Flow of the River’ in the collection The Immense Journey by Loren Eiseley (1946; 1957):

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. Its least stir even, as now in a rain pond on a flat roof opposite my office, is enough to bring me searching to the window. A wind ripple may be translating itself into life. I have a constant feeling that some time I may witness that momentous miracle on a city roof, see life veritably and suddenly boiling out of a heap of rusted pipes and old television aerials. I marvel at how suddenly a water beetle has come and is submarining there in a spatter of green algae. Thin vapors, rust, wet tar and sun are all alembic remarkably like the mind; they throw off odorous shadows that threaten to take real shape when no one is looking.

… Its substance reaches everywhere; it touches the past and prepares the future; it moves under the poles and wanders thinly in the heights of air. It can assume forms of exquisite perfection in a snowflake, or strip the living to a single shining bone cast up by the sea.

[ … ]

… As it leaves the Rockies and moves downward over the high plains towards the Missouri, the Platte River is a curious stream. In the spring floods, on occasion, it can be a mile-wide roaring torrent of destruction, gulping farms and bridges. Normally, however, it is a rambling, dispersed series of streamlets flowing erratically over sand and gravel fans that are in part, the remnants of a mightier Ice Age stream bed.

… The notion came to me, I suppose, by degrees. I had shed my clothes and was floundering pleasantly in a hole among some reeds when a great desire to stretch out and go with this gently insistent water began to pluck at me. Now to this bronzed, bold,  modern generation, the struggle I waged with timidity while standing there in knee-deep water can only seem farcical; yet actually for me it was not so. A near-drowning accident in childhood had scarred my reactions; in addition to the fact that I was a nonswimmer, this “inch-deep river” was treacherous with holes and quicksands. Death was not precisely infrequent along its wandering and illusory channels. Like all broad wastes of this kind, where neither water nor land quite prevails, its thickets were lonely and untraversed. A man in trouble would cry out in vain.

I thought of all this, standing quietly in the water, feeling the sand shifting away under my toes. Then I lay back in the floating position that left my face to the sky, and shoved off. The sky wheeled over me. For an instant, as I bobbed into the main channel, I had the sensation of sliding down the vast tilted face of the continent. It was then that I felt the cold needles of the alpine springs at my fingertips, and the warmth of the Gulf pulling me southward. Moving with me, leaving its taste upon my mouth and spouting under me in dancing springs of sand, was the immense body of the continent itself, flowing like the river was flowing, grain by grain, mountain by mountain, down to the sea. I was streaming over ancient sea beds thrust aloft where giant reptiles had once sported; I was wearing down the face of time and trundling cloud-wreathed ranges into oblivion.

… Turtle and fish and the pinpoint chirpings of individual frogs are all watery projections, concentrations — as man himself is a concentration — of that indescribable and liquid brew which is compounded in varying proportions of salt and sun and time. It has appearances, but at its heart lies water, and as I was finally edged gently against a sand bar and dropped like any log, I tottered as I rose. I knew once more the body’s revolt against emergence into the harsh and unsupporting air, its reluctance to break contact with that mother element which still, at this late point in time, shelters and brings into being nine-tenths of everything alive.

As for men, those myriad little detached ponds with their own swarming corpuscular life, what were they but a way that water has of going about beyond the reach of rivers? I, too, was a microcosm of pouring rivulets and floating driftwood gnawed by the mysterious animalcules of my own creation. I was three-fourths water, rising and subsiding according to the hollow knocking in my veins: a minute pulse like the eternal pulse that lifts Himalayas and which, in the following systole, will carry them away.

… A few winters ago, clothed heavily against the weather, I wandered several miles along one of the tributaries of that same Platte I had floated down years before. The land was stark and ice-locked. The rivulets were frozen, and over the marshlands the willow thickets made such an array of vertical lines against the snow that tramping through them produced strange optical illusions and dizziness. On the edge of a frozen backwater, I stopped and rubbed my eyes. At my feet a raw prairie wind had swept the ice clean of snow. A peculiar green object caught my eye; there was no mistaking it.

Staring up at me with all his barbels spread pathetically, frozen solidly in the wind-ruffled ice, was a huge familiar face. It was one of those catfish of the twisting channels, those dwellers in the yellow murk, who had been about me and beneath me on the day of  my great voyage. Whatever sunny dream had kept him paddling there while the mercury plummeted downward and that Cheshire smile froze slowly, it would be hard to say. Or perhaps he was trapped in a blocked channel and had simply kept swimming until the ice contracted around him. At any rate, there he would lie till spring thaw.

At that moment I started to turn away, but something in the bleak, whiskered face reproached me, or perhaps it was the river calling to her children. I termed it science, however — a convenient rational phrase I reserve for such occasions — and decided that I would cut the fish out of the ice and take him home. I had no intention of eating him. I was merely struck by a sudden impulse to test the survival qualities of high-plains fishes, particularly fishes of this type who get themselves immured in oxygenless ponds or in cut-off oxbows buried in winter drifts. I blocked him out as gently as possible and dropped him, ice and all, into a collecting can in the car. Then we set out for home.

Unfortunately, the first stage of what was to prove a remarkable resurrection escaped me. Cold and tired after a long drive, I deposited the can with its melting water and ice in the basement. The accompanying corpse I anticipated I would either dispose of or dissect on the following day. A hurried glance had revealed no signs of life.

To my astonishment, however, upon descending into the basement several hours later, I heard stirrings in the receptacle and peered in. The ice had melted. A vast pouting mouth ringed with sensitive feelers confronted me, and the creature’s gills labored slowly. A thin stream of silver bubbles rose to the surface and popped. A fishy eye gazed at me protestingly.

“A tank,” it said. This was no Walden pickerel. This was a yellow-green, mud-grubbing, evil-tempered inhabitant of floods and droughts and cyclones. It was the selective product of the high continent and the waters that pour across it. It had outlasted prairie blizzards that left cattle standing frozen upright in the drifts.

“I’ll get the tank,” I said respectfully.

He lived with me all that winter, and his departure was totally in keeping with his sturdy, independent character. In the spring a migratory impulse or perhaps sheer boredom struck him. Maybe, in some little lost corner of his brain, he felt, far off, the pouring of the mountain waters through the sandy coverts of the Platte. Anyhow, something called him, and he went. One night when no one was about, he simply jumped out of his tank. I found him dead on the floor next morning.

[ … ]

… Men talk much of matter and energy, of the struggle for existence that molds the shape of life. These things exist, it is true; but more delicate, elusive, quicker than the fins in water, is that mysterious principle known as “organization,” which leaves all other mysteries concerned with life stale and insignificant by comparison. For that without organization life does not persist is obvious. Yet this organization itself is not strictly the product of life, nor of selection. Like some dark and passing shadow within matter, it cups out the eyes’ small windows or spaces the notes of a meadow lark’s song in the interior of a mottled egg. That principle — I am beginning to suspect — was there before the living in the deeps of water.

The temperature has risen. The little stinging needles have given way to huge flakes floating in like white leaves blown from some great tree in open space. In the car, switching on the lights, I examine one intricate crystal on my sleeve before it melts. No utilitarian philosophy explains a snow crystal, no doctrine of use or disuse. Water has merely leapt out of vapor and thin nothingness in the night sky to array itself in form. There is no logical reason for the existence of a snowflake any more than there is for evolution. It is an apparition from that mysterious shadow world beyond nature, that final world which contains — if anything contains — the explanation of men and catfish and green leaves.

Compare Eiseley’s take on snowflake’s to that of Joseph Wood Kutch, from last week’s Saturday post.



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