Unreal Nature

February 18, 2014

Censor or Immolate

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Art demands of the artist that he censor or immolate a good part of his feeling for the very sake of art …

This is from the essay ‘Chaim Soutine’ (1951) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 3, edited by John O’Brian (1993):

… When Soutine chanced to come into focus he was viewed with respect, only we did not see enough of him. Lately we began to suspect, when we thought of it, that he might be the greatest Expressionist since van Gogh; but we had not seen the right things yet. … [T]he current exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of seventy-five oils representing all periods of his career gave me my first real opportunity to verify those expectations. They were disappointed.

Made manifest are capacities for a great art that went largely unrealized. Soutine aimed for a maximum of expressive intensity and he asked, perhaps, too much of painting. Certainly he paid too little heed to its inescapable requirement of a minimum of decorative organization, without which even easel-pictures must fail of unity. Rembrandt himself — Soutine’s model — could not afford to dispense with that minimum, and when he did, even he suffered for it (though I prefer, in most cases, to attribute whatever he seems to lose to darkening by time rather than to his hand and eye). Having less than Rembrandt in the way of craft and culture with which to redeem its absence, Soutine had all the more reason to take pains with the decorative. That he did not do so until near the end of his life, that he showed a sovereign unconcern with it until then, constitutes the source of my disappointment. And I cannot make responsible for it a bias on my part against all anti-decorative, non-Mediterranean conceptions of pictorial art; what Soutine wanted of painting seems to belong too much to the province of poetry or music, and beyond any “art of space.”

The altogether extraordinary force of Soutine’s touch, a discerned in every square inch of the paint that covers his canvases, affords some idea of the scale of his capacities. Coarse and yet sensitive at the same time, that touch is always completely felt. He was one of the most painterly painters there ever were, one of those who succeeded best in converting the substance of pigment into signified emotion. Other painters may have contrived more opulent textures; there may be more sap and juice in the paint of a French master; van Gogh’s brush marks are more articulate and harmonious; but no one has dealt more intimately or expressively with the tactile properties of oil paint — its consistency, grain, weight — and at the same time used them so exclusively for optical effects. Soutine hardly ever used impasto sculpturally, to enrich the tactile surface; it was there for the sake of color, and of color alone, to make it more intense and concrete. The paint matter is kneaded and mauled, thinned, thickened, and rubbed in order to render it altogether chromatic, retinal.

Still, the sheer quality of pigment is only a part of the art of painting.

[ … ]

… Like Rouault’s and the German Expressionists’ — allowance made for his superior gifts — his attempt to impose a personal vision without compromise upon a more or less conventional scaffolding had produced startling results but had not transformed the scaffolding, only wrecked it. Now [in the 1930s] he began to compromise with it, and his paintings took on a more conventional appearance as his drawing became less furious and the objects it described more clearly placed in a more outspokenly traditional illusion. It is a gain, in my opinion. … The subject may be addressed more conventionally, its poetry made more obvious and impersonal, but the method of the form becomes subtler, more controlled, more refined, and in exchange for the impact of the distortions we receive the more valuable unity of the whole picture. I thought the finest picture at the Museum of Modern Art the House at Oisème of 1934, which, however conventional and indebted to Courbet in its approach to the subject, comes of as a triumph of closely modulated and powerfully felt paint. The color is narrower in range than before but precisely for that reason of a more clarified force; tones are no longer clotted together at too widely separated points of the value register.

House at Oisème, 1934

… There is another landscape, Return from School after the Storm (1942), that shows two little girls … hurrying toward the foreground along a path through open fields. I find this picture exceedingly moving, especially in the figure of the little girl on the right, without liking it altogether as art. The contradiction contains in nuce the problem raised by most of Soutine’s work.

Return from School after the Storm, 1942

Mr. Wheeler, in his valuable catalogue, writes that Soutine’s growing mastery of his craft in the thirties was accompanied by gradual boredom and fatigue; that the most powerful factor in his art having been “his ghastly anxiety lest the power and skill of his brush fail to fulfill the vision in his mind’s eye,” now “in the increase of facility, his zeal to work diminished; brilliance of style took away some of his incentive.” Was it that the approach of full mastery brought home to the artist the recognition that painting, as long as it remained art, could never transcribe one’s emotion in all its immediate, “existential,” extra-aesthetic truth? Art demands of the artist that he censor or immolate a good part of his feeling for the very sake of art — in the public interest, as it were. At is ultimately social, its medium social-ness incarnate. Soutine may have felt an unconscious sense of defeat at it dawned upon him that bohemian individualism could not be literally and completely acted out in art. That to try to do so meant the destruction of the quality of form which is its essence and reality. And that he had bought his “brilliance of style” by renouncing the fullness of his ambition and emotion. Maybe this caused him to despair. I think something similar motivated Rimbaud when he gave up writing.

For further on Soutine from a later Greenberg essay, see this previous post of mine.



February 17, 2014

A Criterion of Wrongness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… Psychoanalysis shows us how jealously, and with what skill, we guard our symptoms; they are not something we wish to give up for they speak our desire.

This is from ‘The Absence of Presence’ by Victor Burgin (1984):

… All this rummaging through the iconographic jumble of the past … may reveal the foundations of our ‘modern’ belief-systems, simultaneously clearing the ground for reconstruction which will not obliterate the past but which will maintain, precisely, its difference, or the activity may end where it began, in nostalgia, in repetition, in the affirmation that the present and the past are somehow the same. It is the repression of difference in order to preserve, unthreatened, the same, which generates the symptom ‘fetishism.’ Psychoanalysis shows us how jealously, and with what skill, we guard our symptoms; they are not something we wish to give up for they speak our desire. But the same desire may find other symptomatic means, may find alternative symbolic forms (they are not all equal in terms of their consequences) en route to a ‘redistribution of capital’ in the economy of desire.

Next is from ‘Private Irony and Liberal Hope’ by Richard Rorty (1989):

… All human beings carry about a set of words which they employ to justify their actions, their beliefs, and their lives. These are the words in which we formulate praise of our friends and contempt for our enemies, our long-term projects, our deepest self-doubts and our highest hopes. They are the words in which we tell, sometimes prospectively and sometimes retrospectively, the story of our lives. I shall call these words a person’s ‘final vocabulary.’

It is ‘final’ in the sense that if doubt is cast on the worth of these words, their user had no noncircular argumentative recourse. Those words are as far as he can go with language; beyond them there is only helpless passivity or a resort to force.

… [An ironist is someone who] has radical and continuing doubts about the final vocabulary she currently uses …

… The opposite of irony is common sense. For that is the watchword of those who unselfconsciously describe everything important in terms of the final vocabulary to which they and those around them are habituated. To be common sensical is to take for granted that statements formulated in that final vocabulary suffice to describe and judge the beliefs, actions and lives of those who employ alternative final vocabularies.

… When common sense is challenged, its adherents respond at first by generalizing and making explicit the rules of the language game they are accustomed to play (as some of the Greek Sophists did, and as Aristotle did in his ethical writings).

… the metaphysician is someone who takes the question ‘What is the intrinsic nature of (e.ge. justice, science, knowledge, Being, faith, morality, philosophy)?’ at face value. He assumes that the presence of a term in his final vocabulary ensures that it refers to something which has a real essence. The metaphysician is still attached to common sense, in that he does not question the platitudes which encapsulate the use of a given final vocabulary, and in particular the platitude which says there is a single permanent reality to be found behind the many temporary appearances. He does not redescribe but, rather, analyzes old descriptions with the help of other old descriptions.

… The ironist spends her time worrying about the possibility that she has been initiated into the wrong tribe, taught to play the wrong language game. She worries that the process of socialization which turned her into a human being by giving her a language may have given her the wrong language, and so turned her into the wrong kind of human being. But she cannot give a criterion of wrongness.

… metaphysicians believe that there are, out there in the world, real essences which it is our duty to discover and which are disposed to assist in their own discovery. They do not believe that anything can be made to look good or bad by being redescribed — or, if they do, they deplore this fact and cling to the idea that reality will help us resist such seductions.

By contrast, ironists do not see the search for a final vocabulary as (even in part) a way of getting something distinct from this vocabulary right. They do not take the point of discursive thought to be knowing, in any sense that can be explicated by notions like ‘reality,’ ‘real essence,’ ‘objective point of view,’ and ‘the correspondence of language to reality.’



February 16, 2014

Expelled from Essence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

…  it lifts essence out beyond its generality and ideality into that baroque, paradoxical status of the “singular essence” …

This is from the essay ‘Infinite Finitude’ found in The Sense of the World by Jean-Luc Nancy (1993):

If I say: finitude is the truth of which the infinite is the sense, I do more than give an example that would fulfill the formal determination of punctuation and enchaining, semantics and syntax, instantaneous presentation and spaced-out coming.

… Finitude is not the being-finished-off of an existent deprived within itself of the property of completion, butting up against and stumbling over its own limit (its contingency, error, imperfection, or fault). Finitude is not privation. There is perhaps no proposition it is more necessary to articulate today, to scrutinize and test in all ways. Everything at stake at the end of philosophy comes together there: in the need of having to open the thought of finitude, that is, to reopen to itself this thought, which haunts and mesmerizes our entire tradition.

… Existing entrances the essence (its “own” essence): it traverses the essence and transports it beyond itself (but there will not have been a “within”), and first of all, for example, it lifts essence out beyond its generality and ideality into that baroque, paradoxical status of the “singular essence” (or infima species) that Gottfried Leibniz wanted to recognize in individuality (conversion or convulsion of the thought of essence into the thought of finitude). The singular as essence is the essence existed, ek-sisted, expelled from essence itself, disencysted of its essentiality, and this, once again, before the cyst has even formed.

The entranced essence is the essence traversed before itself and in front of itself, the essence passed and passed away (transir originally meant, intransitively, “to die”), penetrated and crippled by trembling, fear, respect, admiration, even love, or hate, pleasure or pain — the essence transgressed, transcended, and affected. “Finitude” names the essential affection that ek-sists the essence: the essence is deprived here of its essentiality, but this privation is privation of nothing. Rather, it is the privilege of existence, the reserved law of existence, the proper law of its singular property of being — each time — singularity exposed to this trance that is the esse of being.

… Sense is thus the property of finitude qua existence of the essence. Sense is: that existence should be without essence, that it should be toward that which it essentially is not, its own existence. Toward death, if you like, but where ‘death’ = the nullity of essence, existence. In other words toward death would mean toward life, if “life” did not refer to simply to the contrary of death (immediacy as opposed to, and in the final analysis as identical with, infinite self-mediation). Hence, toward existence.



February 15, 2014

We Fill In an Object

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… the skin itself only registers various forms of impact; we fill in an object.

This is from the essay ‘Perception and Representation: Mind the Hand!’ by Filip Mattens found in the collection, The Hand, an Organ of the Mind: What the Manual Tells the Mental edited by Zdravko Radman (2013):

… To understand that object perception is a rather exceptional aspect of touch, it suffices to think over again what is most basic in touch. We ascribe touch to the vast majority of animals. We do so on the basis of the kind of sensitive integument that humans have in common with other mammals and birds. The most general observation about the skin is that it typically envelops the animal’s entire body, and so does skin sensitivity. This indicates that cutaneous sensitivity serves an animal to know that it is being touched. It suffices to think of a dolphin, horse, or turkey to understand that reaching out toward an object and, in so  doing, making skin contact in order to perceive the object’s properties is extremely rare in animals that are equipped with a tactile system comparable to ours.

… We sense what happens to our body, but the very same mechanical impact can be caused by an open series of very different objects. We are highly sensitive to what objects do to the skin, but the objects themselves are tactually insignificant. We tend to neglect this because we already see objects in function of what they might do to our body. However, in themselves, objects are neither harmful nor harmless. A wolf might caress a lamb just as the lamb could bite off the wolf’s ear. The point is that, strictly speaking, all one feels is how the skin is acted upon: that one is being scratched, punched, stung and so on.

To summarize these observations, when something contacts any given spot of my body, I feel where I am touched, how I am touched, but not what touches me. Because impact is nonetheless physical contact, we think of touch as the ultimate access to particular objects. However, the skin itself only registers various forms of impact; we fill in an object.

Touch is often said to be necessary to animality, but our take on it is usually anthropocentric through and through. We rethink tactile sense in terms of its possible contribution to knowing objects (i.e. taking this corporeal entity to be such and such).

[ … ]

… One perceptual facet involved in grasping originates in the motility and flexibility of each and both hands considered together. Namely, as the hand molds itself around an object to enforce its grip on it, we get a sense of its spatial features. As is well known, before and during prehension, the hand, just like the dual hand, preshapes and reshapes itself.

… The human hand is a particularly refined instrument for probing an object’s material composition. Because of its flexibility and motility, it functions like a pocket-size mechanical test kit. Its share in the perception of shape is, however, more complicated since, in a certain sense, it has no shape itself. A palpating hand in the dark does not approach a thing as a preset, rigid grip. Rather, in order to grasp, the hand must precisely be loose and deformable. Enclosing a physical thing to enforce one’s grip on it is a compound act in which the hand’s role undergoes a transition: from a loose and flexible physical object that gives in to the way a thing imposes its shape toward a rigid and forceful object that precisely uses its spatial enclosure to physically master this thing — manipulation is a matter of the causal interaction between two physical objects, of which the hand is the actor, not just because it is most active, but because of its power to adjust its own shape, intending a specific effect on the other, solid-shaped body.

… The hand occupies an intermediary position, so to speak, between the uniquely tactile experience of solid objects’ shapes and the typically visual manifestation of objects’ silhouette shapes.

… When philosophers point out that we see and feel shapes, and state that the shape as it is felt cannot be different in any relevant sense from the shape as it is seen, it does not occur to them to even consider that grasping a glass tells me that it rolls in one direction, rather than that it is circular; that, when I grasp a glass or step on a bottle, what I feel is the nature of something that imposes itself on my body in the way something does that rolls evenly and optimally over a surface, rather than that each point of its cross-section is equidistant from its center.

… it is not only unclear how but also why a sighted animal would try to tactually perceive an object’s overall shape by tracing its contours. It seems that philosophers focus on shape when discussing touch because overall shape allows us to quickly recognize objects in vision, which is our most prominent modality in the perceptual identification of everyday objects. In so doing, they not only neglect that touch is rather bad at this, but they also ignore what touch is good at; they fail to appreciate that the combination of the skin’s sensitivity and various touch-actions puts us in immediate contact with the material nature of objects. Tactile perceivers spontaneously apply various perceptual strategies to fathom an object’s material composition and this enables them to identify everyday objects before they even had the chance to trace their overall contours. To summarize this point, consider the example of a polystyrene foam replica of a hammer. Looking for an object to drive a nail in the wall, a visual perceiver will spot a hammer, even by seeing the replica’s shadow, whereas a blindfolded person would never start tracing the replica’s overall shape, as she instantly feels that this thing cannot be used for hammering. An account of touch that focuses on shape describes what a bodily subject would have to do in order to figure out what is (already) salient in vision, instead of describing what a tactual perceiver usually does to complement vision.

… the spatial proficiency of the hand covers up the unique take we have on solid shapes through bodily contact, because from the start philosophical reflections situate touch’s epistemic value in the hand’s ability to find out what we naturally know through vision, already treating the hand as an organ of compensation.



February 14, 2014

People Sleeping

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:03 am

This is the beginning of ‘The Body Asleep’ (1992) in the collection of writings, Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House: Writings 1973-1994 by Bill Viola (1995):

Far more disturbing than falling asleep at the wheel while driving is waking up. The fearful speculation of how long one has been asleep punctuates the moving monotony with a shrill reminder of the uncertainty and fragility of existence. Walking home alone in the middle of the night through a densely populated neighborhood is another moment when being awake can be more disturbing than being asleep — the thundering silence of masses of people sleeping behind walls and closed doors rings throughout the emptiness of the immediate surroundings, as if a great tide has retreated for the moment far out to sea.

The following is from ‘Landscape as Metaphor’ (1993):

… The surprise and outrage that people register on discovering that the chemicals that have been dumped in the river now traverse their bloodstreams is a direct measure of the distance we have artificially inserted between ourselves and the world around.

… You park your car in a paved expanse of a parking lot and move towards the entrance of a shopping mall. Just before going in, you glance down but do not really notice a small patch of brown earth, some exposed dirt, on the edge of an enclosed strip of landscaping. This small opening, framed like the remnant of an unhealed wound, is the only visible presence of the underlying reality …



February 13, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:08 am

… What is lost in the decay of aura* is potentially gained, then, in the scope of play — a play that is … “widest in film.”

This is from Screening Sex by Linda Williams (2006):

… In [First Amendment legal scholar Frederick] Schauer’s imagination there is no real difference between screening sex and having sex, between watching and doing. Indeed, he argues that there is virtually no difference between the sale of such a [hard-core pornographic] film and the sale of a “plastic or vibrating sex aid, the sale of a body through prostitution, or the sex act itself. At its most extreme, hard-core pornography is a sex aid and, no more and no less, and the fact that there is no physical contact is only fortuitous.”

… What Schauer ignores is the medium in which these sex acts exist and the mediation enacted by social viewers. It is the mechanical reproducibility of film that makes possible the screening of the act of heterosexual intercourse that seems so close in space, if not in time. Schauer thus ignores what Benjamin appreciates: we do not simply imitate what we see, we play with it too. Getting hold of something by means of its reproduced likeness is not the same as getting hold of the thing itself.

… Playing at being a windmill constitutes an habituation to a culture in which windmills are important; playing at being a train is the same for a different culture; playing at sex, too, is a way of habituating our bodies to a newly sexualized world in which vicarious forms of sexual pleasure are now on/scene. The mimetic faculty is a kind of tactile training that habituates viewers to adapt to changing environments. What is lost in the decay of aura* is potentially gained, then, in the scope of play — a play that is, as Benjamin puts it, “widest in film.”

Let us now come back to Schauer’s rude and crude example of screening sex, which he believes induces its audience to a reductive state of mimicry.

… We … begin to see that a variety of responses are possible: shock, embarrassment, arousal, but also, and most important, imaginative play. … We … underestimate the imagination if we think that it can only operate in the absence of, or only at the slightest suggestion of sexual representation.

… My goal in surveying these films is not to parse the good sex from bad, or to determine which graphic sexual representations have gone “too far” or “leave nothing to the imagination.” Rather, it is to understand how very many and different imaginative ways there are of “getting graphic” as non-pornographic movies open up the question of the imagination of sex beyond the familiar formulas of simulation and the equally familiar formulas of hard core.

… If I have distinct memories of screening a film, I try to recall them and to discuss the context of my historically situated reactions as a white, heterosexual, American woman who would have liked to have been a cosmopolitan sophisticate but who, apart from her experience of movies, often remained naive and provincial at the core. As my most crucial form of sex education I hope this study of screening sex captures something of the excitement of that learning. Yet beyond the early chapters, which correspond to my own learning about sex and coming to sexual maturity, this is not a story of growing maturity. If anything, as the later chapter on primal scenes suggests, it is a story whose plot keeps thickening as carnal knowledge proves not to be a simple progress toward explicit knowledge but rather, an enigmatic and elusive “event.”

[*”Benjamin coined the term “auratic perception”, denoting the aesthetic faculty by means of which civilization may recover an appreciation of myth.” — from Wikipedia]

My previous post from Williams’s book is here.



February 12, 2014

“I Did Not Wish to LIve What Was Not Life”

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Except ye become as a little child, ye shall not enter the kingdom of another culture.

This is from the essay ‘Reflexivity as Evolution in Thoreau’s Walden‘ by Frederick Turner, found in The Anthropology of Experience edited by Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Bruner (1986):

… “experience” is a volatile word, as hard to contain within a single definition as an incandescent plasma, yet perhaps as productive if it can be controlled. Its antonyms indicate its range of meanings: text (as in , “Did you read that in a book or was it a real experience?”); the sociocultural norm (as in, “My upbringing tells me one thing but all my experience tells me another”); knowledge (as in the French opposition of savoir, to know, and connaître, to be acquainted by experience); naïveté; ignorance; untestedness; innocence; innate ideas. In this essay I propose to examine what Henry David Thoreau meant by “experience.” It was one of his favorite words, and his thoughts on it are, I believe, of interest to anthropologists.

In one sense the phrase “anthropology of experience” is a contradiction in terms. If anthropology is the study of human society and culture, and if experience is first-hand knowledge, untainted by sociocultural givens, then the anthropology of experience is equivalent to “the social life of the solitary,” or to “naming the unnameable.”

… For Thoreau, social reality was rooted in, sprang from, and fed on a presocial ground. It was his ambition to discover that ground; or to put it more radically, he wished to speak of how the speakable was grounded in the unspeakable. His great metaphor for the process by which the unspeakable and the presocial give birth to the speakable and social was cultivation, whose three senses, the agricultural, the social, and the psychological, he explicitly related.

… If social reality is rooted in a presocial ground, and if that ground is experience, then the most literally fundamental anthropology  would be the anthropology of experience, although like Kurt Gödel’s critique of axiomatization in mathematics, it would approach the boundaries of its own discipline and be forced to distinguish between truth and legitimate provability within the rules of the system. This is exactly what Thoreau was trying to do:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.

[ … ]

… however faulty Thoreau’s theory of cultural evolution may have been, he was right in assuming that the cultural journey cannot properly take place without the personal one. Except ye become as a little child, ye shall not enter the kingdom of another culture.

If it is true that some form of personal voyage of self-discovery must accompany any genuine understanding of another culture, then we may have the beginnings of an explanation for the uniqueness of the West in having generated an anthropological tradition. Perhaps it was precisely the contraction of the unit of social initiative to the individual that was essential to the early development of anthropology; and perhaps it was only in the West that this contraction took place. One might even speculate about the roles of democracy and Protestantism in encouraging this contraction: democracy, because ideally the fundamental act of political decision is the individual vote; and Protestantism — especially Puritanism — because of its emphasis on the personal encounter with God and the crucial role of individual conversion in the salvation of the soul.

In this light the central agon of the anthropological myth becomes much more intelligible. More than in other sciences whose myth often involves teamwork, anthropologists are alone, almost marooned or shipwrecked in the culture they study. They undergo, in the myth, an experience of personal conversion that involves culture shock, self-confrontation, a profound alienation from their own culture, a sense of being only a child in their newly adopted culture, an initiation into its mysteries, and an acceptance by it. Eventually, the anthropologist becomes that culture’s spokesperson, interpreter, and protector against the culture from which he or she originally came.



February 11, 2014

Where He Was Going

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… He considered himself a weakling, “a Bohemian,” frightened by the routine difficulties of life, but he had a temperament …

This is from the essay ‘Cezanne and the Unity of Modern Art’ (1951) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 3, edited by John O’Brian (1993):

… The apostles of the modern movement, from Manet on, did not, contrary to advanced opinion — which often gallops through the history of art faster than art itself — always finish what they began. The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, Rodin, even Turner, Redon, Monticelli, even Courbet and Daumier, left behind many loose threads the tying up of which has provided later artists with tasks whose performance asks more than unadventurous repetition. Bonnard and Vuillard did not merely imitate or execute variations on Impressionism: by extending, they completed it. There was enough left over from what Rodin had planted to ripen anew in Maillol, Lehmbruck, Despiau, Kolbe, Lachaise, and others. Matisse did more than add to Gauguin’s beginnings: he fulfilled all in the older master that had been premature, clarifying and enlarging his new vision, and rendering it less self-conscious. In their several and smaller ways Derain, Vlaminck, and Segonzac filled in what Cézanne, Manet, and Courbet had outlined, while the Expressionists have not yet finished defining those things that van Gogh adumbrated; nor have they exhausted all the hints to be found in Cézanne’s early manner.

That so much of the advanced painting of the first third of this century is a knitting up of threads spun in the latter half of the nineteenth century explains its diversity as different from eclecticism; its multifarious tendencies have too common a root and supplement each other too well. These are the different directions in which insights released by one and the same revolution deploy to establish a new order, not anarchy. Their variety radiates from a common center and is the product of purposeful energy, not of dissipation. The future will see this better than we …

Cézanne, as is generally enough recognized, is the most copious source of what we know as modern art, the most abundant generator of ideas and the most enduring in newness. The modernity of his art, its very stylishness — more than a retroactive effect — continues. There remains something indescribably racy and sudden — racier than Dufy, as sudden as Picasso or Matisse — in the way  his crisp blue line separates the contour of an apple from its mass. Yet how distrustful he was of bravura, speed — all of the attributes that go with stylishness. And how unsure down at bottom about where he was going.

Apples on a Sheet, 1900 [image from WikiPaintings]

[ … ]

… Picasso’s and Braque’s Cubism and Léger’s, completed what Cézanne had begun, by their successes divesting his means of whatever had remained problematical about them and finding them their most appropriate ends. These means they took from Cézanne practically ready-made, and they were able to adapt them to their own purposes after only a relatively few trial exercises. Because he had exhausted so little of his own insights, he could offer the Cubists all the resources of a new discovery without requiring that much effort be spent in the process itself of discovery. This was the Cubists’ luck, and it helps explain why Picasso and Braque were able, in the four or five years between 1909 and 1914, to turn out a well-nigh uninterrupted succession of “realizations,” classical in the sufficiency of their strength, the unerring adjustment of means to ends, and the largeness, ease, and sureness of their unity.

Cézanne’s sincerity and steadfastness are exemplary. Great painting, he says in effect, ought to be produced the way Rubens, Valesquez, Veronese, and Delacroix did, but my sensations and capacities don’t correspond to theirs, and I feel and paint only the way I must. And so he went at it for forty years, day in and out, with his clean, careful métier, dipping his brush in turpentine between each stroke to wash it, and then carefully depositing its load of paint in its determined place. As far as I know, no novels have been made of  his life since his death, but it was more heroic as an artist’s than Gauguin’s or van Gogh’s, notwithstanding its material ease. Think of the effort of abstraction and of eyesight that was necessary in order to analyze every part of every motif into its smallest calculable plane. And then there were the crises of confidence that overtook him almost every other day (he was also a forerunner in his paranoia). Yet he did not go altogether crazy; he stuck it out at his own sedentary pace, rewarded for his premature old age, his diabetes, his lack of recognition by the public, and the crabbed emptiness of what seems to have been his existence away from his art, by absorption in the activity itself of painting — even if, in his own eyes, it was without final success. He considered himself a weakling, “a Bohemian,” frightened by the routine difficulties of life, but he had a temperament, and he sought out the most redoubtable challenges the art of his time could offer.



February 10, 2014

Brilliant World of Surfaces

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… On the other, there is the work of Michel Foucault, which sees contemporary culture not as a shimmering surface of autonomous signs, but as a place in which the technologies of surveillance,  normalization, and categorization have ever-broadening control over social life.

This is from ‘Nature and Culture’ by Peter Halley (1983):

… Why then, at the end of the ’70s, did this transcendentalist, phenomologically-oriented approach which had been dominant for thirty years abruptly disappear to be replaced by a new practice that looks exclusively to the mass media for its repertory of images, that rejects the phenomenology of art-making as pretentious and mandarin, that interprets language as a closed set without reference to extra-human reality? Why did a new practice emerge, that substitutes for phenomenological study a fascination with sociological and political reality, that rejects the positivism of both the physical and social sciences, and replaces the cult of originality with myriad variations on the theme of repetition?

[ … ]

Frederic Jameson has observed that cultural analysis is today dominated by two separate trends. On one hand, there is the theory of the simulacrum as developed by Baudrillard. On the other, there is the work of Michel Foucault, which sees contemporary culture not as a shimmering surface of autonomous signs, but as a place in which the technologies of surveillance,  normalization, and categorization have ever-broadening control over social life. In contrast to Baudrillard’s vision of the detached signifier, Foucault finds hidden behind the various signifiers of contemporary society the veiled signified of power, in the form of the consolidation of class position. One questions why artists and art theorists today have been attracted so exclusively to Baudrillard’s rather than to Foucault’s interpretation of social relationships. One wonders if perhaps Baudrillard’s brilliant world of surfaces is not more seductive than Foucault’s bleak excavation of the spaces of regimentation. And one wonders if artist and audience, seduced by this shimmering world have not been deflected away from the investigation of crucial issues about society’s structure.



February 9, 2014

The Nude, Denuded Affirmation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… it is sublime and grotesque, atrocious and laughable, but it is also already and anew beyond these judgments, beyond these assignations of the sense of sense.

This is from the essay ‘How the Desert is Growing’ found in The Sense of the World by Jean-Luc Nancy (1993):

… This affirmation — sense beyond all sense, sense in the absence of sense, the overflowing of sense as element of the world or world as absolute excess of sense — can be considered tragic, comical, sublime, and/or grotesque. Indeed, it can and should be considered all of these things at once, and the monumental history of European culture is woven of nothing other than these judgments, the proper names of which are: Sophocles, Plautus, Augustine, Dante, Michel de Montaigne, William Shakespeare, Blaise Pascal, Jean-Jackques Rousseau, Friedrich Hölderlin, Victor Hugo, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett. When one thinks of it, one begins to imagine that what has been most genial in Europe, and maybe even its very idea of genius, arose above all out of a formidable necessity of putting on stage the sense of sense, figuring and agitating its masks, its explosions of light, its trajectories, in an intense dramatization the resource of which is the Occident itself as an original obscuring of sense: an interruption of myth and sacrifice, which become what the Occident can henceforth only mime (this is what it says of itself).

No doubt the cycle of dramatic representation is closed. It is not by chance that theater today is without any new fable, without mythos, having exhausted the total fable (Richard Wagner or Paul Claudel), the modern fable (Bertolt Brecht), the fable of the end of fables (Samuel Beckett). The curtain has fallen on the metaphysical scene, on metaphysics as scene of (re)presentation.

But that which is played henceforth in other ways, and on a theater of the world that, quite mistakenly, certain people take to be a vast screen of simulation, while others (at bottom, the same) take it to be a scenario of “disenchantment,” that which is played in the formidable drifting and cracking of all the continents — the becoming-worldwide and becoming worldly of the world itself — is anew the sending of an affirmation of the absolute excess of sense. Again, to be sure, it is sublime and grotesque, atrocious and laughable, but it is also already and anew beyond these judgments, beyond these assignations of the sense of sense. Not that everything simply has to be accepted: but the resistance to the unacceptable itself ought to proceed from another sense, from the nude, denuded affirmation — all the more pointed and exigent — of the sense of the world as world. The end of philosophy, the task of thought.

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




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