Unreal Nature

March 31, 2014

But Not Before

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… A man of “ordinary constitution” … I have done everything to render my soul monstrous. Blind swimmer, I have made myself see. I have seen.

This is from ‘On Frottage,’ by Max Ernst (1936):

… Beginning with a memory of childhood … in the course of which a panel of false mahogany situated in front of my bed, had played the role of optical provocateur of a vision of half-sleep, and finding myself one rainy evening in a seaside inn, I was struck by the obsession that showed to my excited gaze the floor-boards upon which a thousand scrubbings had deepened the grooves. I decided then to investigate the symbolism of this obsession and, in order to aid my meditative and hallucinatory faculties, I made from the boards a series of drawings by placing on them, at random, sheets of paper which I undertook to rub with black lead. In gazing attentively at the drawings thus obtained, “the dark passages and those of a gently lighted penumbra,” I was surprised by the sudden intensification of my visionary capacities and by the hallucinatory succession of contradictory images superimposed, one upon the other, with the persistence and rapidity characteristic of amorous memories.

Max Ernst, Forest and Sun

My curiosity awakened and astonished, I began to experiment indifferently and to question, utilizing the same means, all sorts of materials to be found in my visual field: leaves and their veins, the ragged edges of a bit of linen, the brushstrokes of a “modern” painting, the unwound thread from a spool, etc.

… A man of “ordinary constitution” (I employ here the words of Rimbaud), I have done everything to render my soul monstrous. Blind swimmer, I have made myself see. I have seen. And I was surprised and enamoured of what I saw, wishing to identify myself with it …

Max Ernst, The Angel of Hearth and Home, 1937 [image from WikiPaintings]

The following is from Surrealism and Painting’ by André Breton (1928):

… What does it matter to me whether trees are green, whether a piano is at this moment “nearer” to me than a state-coach, whether a ball is cylindrical or round? … If at this moment I turn to some illustration or other in a book, there is nothing to prevent the world around me from ceasing to exist. In place of what was surrounding me there is now something else …

… When I know how the grim struggle between the actual and the possible will end, when I have lost all hope of enlarging the field of the real, until now strictly limited, to truly stupefying proportions, when my imagination, recoiling upon itself, can no longer do more than coincide with my memory, I will willingly accord myself, like the others, a few relative satisfactions. I shall then number myself among the “embroiderers,” whom I shall have had to forgive. But not before.




March 30, 2014

With Eyes Wide Open Into the Night

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… It offers access: … the access that infinitely accedes, ever further forward into the night / the day, into the trace that divides and joins them.

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

Sense never becomes clear, and for this reason it is always rending and heartrending. It is not, however, an obscurity that is having difficulty dissipating itself or that is failing to do so, even if the expectation of, and hope for, clarity would like to think it is. Rather, sense is an obscurity that leads to its obscurity. It is to enter, to let oneself enter and come, into obscurity. However, “obscurity” means nothing and might evoke obscurantism or blindness, whereas sense is clear as a thousand suns, clear as a thousand years of love. Sense — this “sense” that one characterizes so often with respect to a text as “clear” or “obscure” — is a clear obscurity and the clearer it is, the more it is exposed as, and seen for, what it is in its obscurity. Since the beginning of the Occident, it has been a question only of this; entering with eyes wide open into the night and/or into the sun itself.

… Painting is always on the threshold. It makes up the threshold between intactness and touching — between the intactness and touching of light and shadow. It offers access: sense itself, which is not the access that accedes to nothing, but the access that infinitely accedes, ever further forward into the night / the day, into the trace that divides and joins them.

… In touching, in all the touches of touching that do not touch each other — touches of color, traced, melodic, harmonic, gestural, rhythmic, spatial, significative touches, and so on — the two sides of the one sense do not cease to come each toward the other, acceding without access, touching on the untouchable, intact, spacing of sense.

Barely touching: to skim the surface. Sense levels off, the senses skim its surface (all the senses, including those of words). The French word fleur [flower] can take on the sense of “surface” because it designates the extreme and the finest part of the plant. There is sense only on the (flowering) surface of sense [Il n’y a de sens qu’à fleur de sens]. Never fruit to be harvested — but the painting of fruits as their coming ceaselessly resumed, ceaselessly put back into the world, superficially, as on the rosy surface of the skin [à fleur de peau].




March 29, 2014

The Key of H

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… But if the whisper is so spectral and eviscerated, why does it appear so powerfully seductive or so urgently demanding?

This is from Beyond Words: Sobs, Hums, Stutters and other Vocalizations by Steven Connor (2014):

… All voice is shaped by breath. But there are two phases to this shaping. There is, of course, the articulation of the breath, the application of stops and delays, and the chivvying of the voice into particular channels, gates and pathways. Thus is the breath filtered and whittled into diction. But, prior to any of this, there is the primary process that phonologists call ‘voicing,’ which has already transformed the breath into voice. Though this too results from a constriction, in the forcing of air across the vibrating folds of the larynx, it seems like a charging, or enrichment, as though voice were being fuel-injected into the breath by the larynx, as a breeze is infused with the odors of the tangled bank.

… although there is nothing in the voice that is not made of breath, though voice is breath through and through, there is yet a ravine that runs through voice, cleaving the true, transfigured voice from the mere unvoiced breath, and holding voice apart from that in the voice that is yet not voice. It is above all the noise of the breath that has seemed to constitute this shadow song, this whisper music, the voice of the unvoiced in the voice.

… Vowels are said to be formed in the larynx by the constriction of the vocal cords, producing a musical tone accompanied by harmonics. Consonants are thought to be formed in the mouth, and are the result, as the venerable Henry Sweet describes them, ‘of audible friction, squeezing or stopping of the breath in some part of the mouth (or occasionally of the throat)’. Consonants (‘co-sounders’ — medeklinkers in Dutch) are so called because they seem to have no independent existence, appearing always to need to be sounded in combination with other sounds in order to form expressive meanings.

… Vowels, we may say, are identified with an idea of the continuous, the irreversible and the extensive. It is possible to slide, as a trombone slides across its full range of notes, between all the vowels in a single utterance. Vowels are thought of as the motive form of speech, pressing outwards from self to world, and pressing speech onwards from past to future.

… The vowels are given and give life by the addition of tone to air. Though they all depend upon forms of constriction or concussion, the soul of voice is nevertheless imagined as a pure current of air, forming, as it were, its own channel. Voice is thereby identified as pure air in motion …

… In one sense, the letter h represents a perplexing, even a menacing anomaly, its existence being wholly accessory or parasitic. And yet, because of this, it seems to be everywhere, not just at the beginning of English words, where it holds its place of honor, but also secreted semi-silently within them, as in combinations like ch, and gh, and words like cough and enough.

[ … ]

… Whispering is not something that happens in speech, it is, like the falsetto, something that happens to it. … [I]t is entirely nocturnal, the whole of speech transposed into the key of H.

… if it holds back from utterance (a word essentially meaning ‘outing,’ putting out or bringing forth), a whisper also seems to have no interior core or kernel. For, as the shell, shadow or outward semblance of speech, it is a kind of feigning or counterfeiting out of which all color, body and melody have been drained. The whisper is kept inside, held back from speaking out loud, and yet it has itself no inside. The whisper is like a sketchy blueprint of a voice, an attenuated grisaille or ‘fadograph’ to use Joyce’s delicate minting. Perhaps the fact that the whisper has neither interiority nor exteriority explains why it seems to conjoin the secret and the rumor.

But if the whisper is so spectral and eviscerated, why does it appear so powerfully seductive or so urgently demanding? Why does the whisper have such designs on us? Perhaps it is precisely because it gives us too little, that the almost-but-not-quite nothing of the voice-that-is-not-one thereby craves from us the making of a voice-body of compensatory density and intensity.

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




March 28, 2014

Against the Many Triumphalists

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… That was meant polemically, against the many triumphalists who knew it all so well, and could do it all so competently, and who constantly reproduced their own homely little ideas — naturally dressed up in the appropriate ideology.

The following are from two letters and an interview between 1975 and 1977 found in Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting; Writings 1962-1993 edited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist (1998):

… When I first painted a number of canvases grey all over (about eight years ago), I did so because I did not know what to paint, or what there might be to paint: so wretched a start could lead to nothing meaningful. As time went on, however, I observed differences of quality among the grey surfaces — and also that these betrayed nothing of the destructive motivation that lay behind them. The pictures began to teach me. By generalizing a personal dilemma, they resolved it. Destitution became a constructive statement; it became relative perfection, beauty, and therefore painting.

… To me, this arbitrariness has always seemed the central problem in both abstract and representational painting. What reason is there, other than some stupid system or the rules of a game, for placing one thing next to another in any particular format, any particular color, with any particular outline, with any particular likeness — and next to that something else again, no matter what — (a problem that I have merely touched on).

… The painters of spontaneity take Cage’s saying, which is so important to me, that ‘I have nothing to say, and I am saying it,’ and they twist it round into ‘We have nothing to say, and we are not saying it.’ Thus they mask and cover up their own impotence, helplessness and sheer stupidity with stage-sets and fashionably nostalgic debris from the rubbish-tip of history.

[ … ]

What do you think of the painting of your fellow artists in the GDR?

Almost nothing. A painting which creates nothing; which simply makes variations of what GDR cultural policy makes available for the purpose — namely the so-called cultural heritage, and even that filtered and circumscribed. Such painting is just a kind of applied art, which excludes its own true element, that of formative thinking; painting that is always forced to run along behind and so can never set an example.

[ … ]

You have mostly formulated your intentions in negative terms. For instance: ‘I pursue no objectives, no system, no tendency; I have no programme, no style, no direction. I have no time for technical problems, working themes, or variations that lead to mastery.’

That was meant polemically, against the many triumphalists who knew it all so well, and could do it all so competently, and who constantly reproduced their own homely little ideas — naturally dressed up in the appropriate ideology. I’m not saying that what I said was wrong: it’s just that it no longer meets my concern.

And what are your present concerns?

Painting, still, of course — or, as I said, the difficulty of picturing for oneself what is; making it visible, intelligible and thus usable.




March 27, 2014

Blue Velvet

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… the innocuous lyrics of a fifties love song about a girl’s dress were transformed … into a sinister fetish.

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

… What is perhaps most unsettling about Blue Velvet is how its innocent adolescent male hero feels sullied and shamed by his inquiry into the mysteries of adult sexuality. Teaching this film recently, I have discovered small but significant numbers of students, now in their mid-twenties, who vividly recall seeing this film not at the movies, but at home on video in the early nineties. Rather like the character of Jeffrey in the film, these then adolescents, and even some pre-adolescents, were sneaking a forbidden look at enigmatic sexual behaviors whose violence was both confusing and disturbing.

[image from Wikipedia]

… What they saw, I want to argue, amounted to an American primal scene in which a dark and nasty side of sex, a side long screened out of American movies, erupted into consciousness as the innocuous lyrics of a fifties love song about a girl’s dress were transformed — in a way that only Lynch could do — into a sinister fetish.

To the extent that the young viewers of this film were “too young” for the film’s R-rated adult content, their screening made them vulnerable to a perverse sex they were not prepared to witness. But as I have been arguing throughout this book, forms of carnal knowledge — whether in the life of the individual or in the American history of screening sex — never arrive at precisely the right time. They are forms of knowledge that cannot exist apart from fantasy. As the psychoanalysts Jean Laplanche and J.B. Pontalis put it, human sexuality is a “privileged battlefield between both too much and too little excitation, both too early and too late occurrence of the event.”

… To witness a primal scene, or for that matter to screen a film like Blue Velvet at “too young” an age, does not mean that one will be damaged for life and then, as in the case of Freud’s most famous patient, have a dream of white wolves perched on a tree.

Lynch’s multiple variations on the primal fantasies of the origin of sexuality are a tour de force of a new perverse sexual ritualism introduced into mainstream American cinema. In a decade whose popular entertainment forms tended to be devoted to family fare, heroic rehashes of the Vietnam War, and other forms of action films, and in the very same year that Ronald Reagan welcomed the two-volume Final Report of the Meese Commission on pornography, which painted a dark and mostly inaccurate picture of a pornography industry devoted to horrific violence, American film had finally, and unlike most pornography, tackled the dark side of sex. In this same year — 1986 — Adrian Lyne’s 9½ Weeks and Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild would also explore sadomasochistic pleasures.

… It would be all too easy to argue, and in some ways Fredric Jameson already has done so, that the violent, fantasmic scenarios on display in these films represent a debased narrowing of the transgressions of sex once envisioned by a sexual revolutionary counterculture. Jameson identifies Blue Velvet‘s violence and sadomasochism as the postmodern debasement of an earlier 1960s-style transgression. He thus faults the film, along with Demme’s Something Wild, for its postmodern play with an evil (personified in Blue Velvet by Frank) that is merely a simulacrum and no longer really scary. He argues that the film’s sadomasochistic materials “abolish the very logic on which their attraction / repulsion was based in the first place.” Jameson sees the film as a parable of the end of the sixties, “a parable of the end of theories of transgression as well, which so fascinated that whole period and its intellectuals.”

In a sense, Jameson is right. Blue Velvet and the other films that usher in violent originary fantasies in the late eighties are not politically transgressive in a 1960s, modernist way. But does that mean, as Jameson seems to say, that their sex is therefore pseudotransgressive in a postmodern way that is historically inauthentic, unimportant, basically not sexy? To do so would be to discount the experience of a generation that grew up not with Last Tango, Deep Throat, and In the Realm of the Senses, but with Blue Velvet, Matador, and 9½ Weeks and in the shadow of the Meese Commission’s own horrified discovery of a violent, sadomasochistic side to sex. In place of Jameson’s dismissal of such films as mere symptoms of the loss of the sixties, we do better to take the primal scene seriously as the popular staging of a new kind of sex scene for a generation no longer aligned with the high-culture Marquis de Sade or with an idea of sexual liberation suited to the antirepressive ideologies of the 1960s.

When Foucault writes that “modern society is perverse, not in spite of its Puritanism or as if from a backlash provoked by its hypocrisy; it is in actual fact, and directly, perverse,” he describes a general tendency to isolate, intensify, incite, consolidate, and implant “peripheral sexualities.”

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




March 26, 2014

Dancing an Attitude

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Their attention, belief, and possibly recording would become evidence in the future of the “truth” of the performance, solid corroboration of what began as desire and through enactment came into the world as fact.

This is from the essay ‘ “Life Not Death in Venice”: Its Second Life’ by Barbara Myerhoff, found in The Anthropology of Experience edited by Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Bruner (1986). She’s writing from her case study of “a community of very old immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe whose social life was focused on the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center in Venice California.” I am picking out her more general comments rather than specific descriptions of her case study:

… One of the most persistent but elusive ways that people make sense of themselves is to show themselves stories; by dramatizing claims in rituals and other collective enactments; by rendering visible actual and desired truths about themselves and the significance of their existence in imaginative and performative productions.

… Definitional ceremonies are likely to develop when within a group there is a crisis of invisibility and disdain by a more powerful outside society.

… the performative dimension of definitional ceremonies was the critical ingredient. Within them claims were made that were frequently unrelated to any palpable “reality,” which was often evident to all of those involved. To merely assert such claims would be ludicrous and utterly unconvincing; but to enact them was another thing. Mounted as dramas they became small, full worlds, concrete, with proper masks, costumes, gestures, vocabularies, special languages, and all the panoply that made them convincing rituals. Our senses are naturally persuasive, convincing us of what the mind will not indulge. Presentational symbols have more rhetorical power than discursive ones (the latter require exceptional skill and some veracity); in ritual, doing is believing, and we become what we display. Detail may substitute for artfulness. Kenneth Burke might refer to definitional ceremonies as another example of “dancing an attitude.”

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Like string quartets and Balinese cockfights, as Geertz (1973) points out, such symbolic dramas are not “mere reflections of a pre-existing sensibility, analogically represented”; they are “positive agents” in the creation and maintenance of the subjectivity they organize into a proper, coherent tale. Considering the frequency with which this particular population engineered such opportunities for appearing and enacting their dreams, we are tempted to describe definitional ceremonies as more like stages than mirrors. They did not merely show the people to themselves; rather, they provided scenes into which the people could step and play their parts. If others were watching, so much the better. Their attention, belief, and possibly recording would become evidence in the future of the “truth” of the performance, solid corroboration of what began as desire and through enactment came into the world as fact.

Lansing describes the Balinese as remarkable for their ability to “make up an invisible world, watching themselves make it up and still believe in it so strongly that they can enter it.” These old Jews do likewise, separating the curtains between real and unreal, imagined and actual, to step across the threshold and draw with them, pulling behind them, witnesses who find, often to their surprise, that they are somehow participating in someone else’s drama. They may not “believe” in the claims being made, nevertheless, they are incorporated. Having stepped over the threshold, they become the “fifth-business,” witnesses who push a plot forward almost unwittingly; their story is not wholly their own but lives on, woven into the stuff of other people’s lives.




March 25, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… The color remains unprecipitated, so to speak, something that shifts away from the contour-embraced forms and asserts a structure at variance with theirs.

This is from the essay ‘Review of an Exhibition of Edgar Degas’ (1949) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… In the earlier stages of impressionism — while Manet was the leading influence — Degas was a very great painter. Manet’s tendency to work in large and abruptly opposed areas of dark and light, the flattened, simplified, and relatively few planes with which  he secured the illusion of depth, his hard and decisive silhouetting, his fondness for blacks and whites and tube color — all this Degas found congenial to his own gift as a draftsman, and during the time he followed Manet’s lead he painted most of his greatest pictures. And he did more than follow. He may have lacked something of his mentor’s force, but he surpassed him in many ways as a picture-composer and altogether as a colorist: his browns, yellows, tans, grays, and blues have a cool radiance beside which Manet’s palette seems dry. The direct brilliance, moreover, of the reds reflected in the mirror behind the figure in the superb little Man in a Blouse of 1874 anticipates the extremest freedom of color in twentieth-century art.

The apparently unfinished Lady with Umbrella of 1877 that hangs next to the Man in a Blouse at Wildenstein’s gives us the other pole of Degas’s talent: the head is Ingresque but  more intensely naturalistic, brushed in with a swift yet precise delicacy that reminds one of Goya — to whom Degas must have gone as directly as did Manet.

Woman with an Umbrella [image from WikiPaintings]

Degas had a real capacity for color, but it was thwarted by his adoption of the divided-tone technique that Monet and Renoir introduced into impressionism in the late seventies. It was unfortunate for him that he did not part company with the movement as soon as divisionism became its hallmark. The fact is, however, that he could not bear to separate himself from the school that had helped make him the artist he was and that, for all his pretensions to the status of lone wolf,  he could not be unaffected by the development of the only contemporary artists in whose work he was genuinely interested. So he followed and competed with Monet, Renoir, Pissaro, Sisley in their quest of light and evanescent color. Yet at the same time he refused to paint outdoors and continued to insist on the primacy of line and contour — elements manifestly made discordant, not to say supererogatory, by the impressionist aesthetic of the interwoven passage. And while he strove, succeeding in his pastels at least, to make his color even more prismatic and overpowering in its luminosity than Renoir’s or Monet’s, he did not at all relax his emphasis on drawing. The result was to set up two competing systems inside the single picture: composition by masses of color and composition by tensions of line. The color remains unprecipitated, so to speak, something that shifts away from the contour-embraced forms and asserts a structure at variance with theirs. Usually, in the pastels, the pigment is applied with a coruscating intensity which is too even and complete and which, because it is not modulated in accordance with the drama of the linear design, seems superimposed. One’s eyes become surfeited and bored. And sometimes Degas resolved the conflict between impressionist color and emphatic drawing by retreating toward the picturesque, muting his color but not muting it enough, so that the result became pretty and little else. See, for example, the Race Horses of 1884 at Wildenstein’s, or some of the smaller ballet pictures.

But how well Degas could still handle color when  he abandoned the impressionist method of divided tones is shown later on by his portrait of Henri Rouart and his son Alexis, which he painted in 1895, and which the Wildenstein catalogue — an excellent one — says was  his last finished portrait. Why he suddenly changed his style at this point I do not know, but can only hazard that he may have been influenced at the moment by his juniors, Gauguin and Van Gogh, or even by the earlier Cézanne. Here, at any rate, he builds his picture out of a few summarily outlined areas of flat, unbroken high color, laying the paint on with a little medium and obtaining thereby a simple, intense strength that makes the pastels look meretricious by comparison. The success is owed to the harmony between drawing and color, and this is achieved because the latter reflects Degas’s temperament and not merely his adherence to impressionism and his competition with his fellow impressionists. The color is positive and literal, as suited Degas’s design, not diffused and generalized as under the impressionist method.

Henri Rouart and his son Alexis [image from WikiPaintings]




March 24, 2014

Like Dogs and Grasshoppers

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

Dada is a virgin microbe that penetrates with the insistence of air into all the spaces that reason has not been able to fill with words or conventions.

This is from ‘Lecture on Dada,’ by Tristan Tzara (1924):

… Any attempt to conciliate an inexplicable momentary state with logic strikes me as a boring kind of game. The convention of the spoken language is ample and adequate for us, but for our solitude, for our intimate games and our literature we no longer need it.

The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of an art, but of a disgust. Disgust with the magnificence of philosophers who for 3000 years have been explaining everything to us (what for?), disgust with the pretensions of these artist-God’s-representatives-on-earth, disgust with passion and with real pathological wickedness where it was not worth the bother; disgust with a false form of domination and restriction, disgust with all the catalogued categories, with the false prophets who are nothing but a front for the interests of money, pride, disease, disgust with the lieutenants of a mercantile art made to order according to a few infantile laws, disgust with the divorce of good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly (for why is it more estimable to be red rather than green, to the left rather than the right, to be large or small?).

Dada applies itself to everything, and yet it is nothing, it is the point where the yes and the no and all the opposites meet, not solemnly in the castles of human philosophers, but very simply at street corners, like dogs and grasshoppers.

… Perhaps you will understand me better when I tell you that Dada is a virgin microbe that penetrates with the insistence of air into all the spaces that reason has not been able to fill with words or conventions.



March 23, 2014

Being Uttered

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… all of sense is along the edge of the being “with.”

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

… Existence, an existence that is each time singular, is the supposition of all suppositions, the simple and absolute position that cuts short all supposition, all sub– or pre-. Existence: that which pre-vents supposition itself, or that which over-comes it by surprise. The same-thing-completely-different: no longer privation of all predicates, but predicates without support, holding each other together mutually, singularly.

… “One” means: some ones and some other ones, or some ones with other ones.

What this “and” and this “with” are about involves nothing less than the very texture of the world, the world as the being-exposed-of-the-ones-to-the-others, Paul Celan’s “auseinandergeschrieben“: being inscribes/excribes the one of/in the other as the unique being of every one. All of sense passes this way — and this is still saying too little: all of sense is along the edge of the being “with.” For the one-alone, there is not sense, but merely truth.

[ … ]

… But this also does not mean that there is a “resource” here in the sense of primary matter waiting to be fashioned and singularized. Not primary matter, but merely the final matter — ultima materia — of the existent, merely its “signature.” Nor is there the absolutely primary presupposition of a creatio ex nihilo. Neither is the singular created, nor does it create itself. It is neither product nor production. It is being-as-act or being-in-action, the entelechy that no power precedes. Actuality tout court: nothing more and nothing less.

… There is nothing to be expected from a someone other than — exemplarily — its being-someone. Nothing more but also nothing less: every time, one can expect the act of self-exception, and this act, as act, is not a property that can be preserved, but an existence that exists and that is thus “eximious,” every time, in every hic et nunc.

… every thing attests … each time in its own way, in speech or in silence, that is, every one in the world attests. Further, I do not produce in this way any foundation for my existence, neither as cause nor as legitimation. Here, attestation replaces foundation.

In its way, this formula contains all sense. At least it does so on condition of being uttered without the least connotation or intonation of an appeal to a hidden sense or revelation — but, to the contrary, abandoned as it is uttered, left, deposited, exscribed as formula. On condition of being already, when it is still barely on the page or in the mouth, a praxis of whatever sort.



March 22, 2014

This Mingling

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… the voice meets and mingles with what is not — indeed is, in the end, nothing more than this mingling.

This is from Beyond Words: Sobs, Hums, Stutters and other Vocalizations by Steven Connor (2014):

… The voice is the body’s second life, something between a substance and a force — a fluency that is yet a form. The voice is lived and imagined as the life of its subject.

… In this chapter, I want to focus on one particular form of vocal impediment, stammering or stuttering.

… So much of our fantasy of being the privileged beneficiaries of life is invested in the voice that the deficit of the voice can often seem like a mortal injury, a gash in the soul itself.

Skipping over the many examples that Connor’s gives of ancient and not-so-ancient, often ghastly, treatments for stuttering … :

Marshall McLuhan remarked during a conversation with John Lennon in 1969 that ‘language is a form of organized stutter.’ It may indeed be that the phenomenon of voice is best thought of as a kind of stutter in the order of things — an obstacle, a black hole, a convulsive interval — in which life holds back from itself and curdles into voice. It is against this apprehension that we should understand efforts to shore up and indemnify the voice against death, or the myriad petits morts, which it comprises. The history of stammer and efforts to rectify it are an attempt to bind up a wound in the idea of voice itself, and thus an attempt to quarantine the freedom and life of the voice from the baseness and deathliness that can invade it.

But if stuttering is an impediment, it is also oddly generative. Stutterers tend to become skillful synonymizers, trick-recyclists, unbelievers in the church of mot juste. For the stutterer, there are always too many words, and yet never quite enough. As a stutterer, Charles Dodgson was well-equipped to appreciate the sentiments he articulated during the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party:

‘You should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on. ‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.’ ‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter.

Indeed, though stuttering is usually an affliction, it can also be a temptation, a tipsy sin of the tongue to complement what Augustine defined as ‘voluptuous aurium,’ the ‘ravishing of the ear.’

… But the voice is more than the body’s adventure or excursus, its way of going out from itself. For the voice can also sicken, thicken, ail, age, go away, be thwarted, contaminated. There is an oneirism of the defective voice which is every bit as intense and sustained as the strange, sad, stubborn dream of the living voice. As the body’s greatest power of emanation, the voice has become the bearer of a fantasy, not just of reach, but of endurance. In going out from the body, we imagine, the voice persists in its absence. But that voice is never entire, and the uploading of the body into voice never perfect.

… Like deafness, stuttering has sometimes been thought of as a kind of alienation from the human — a condition in which one wrestles with what has become a foreign tongue. Its victims, or exponents, are thought of as lispers, babblers, or barbarians, the jeering echolalia with which the Greeks designated those beyond the Hellenic pale.

… Like flypaper, the voice gathers things on the way, lilts, leanings, aches, eccentricities, accents. For the voice to fail is not only for it to wane, weaken, or be broken, to become less itself. It is mixing as well as dimming. For the voice to fail is for it to become adulterated, more than what it was. The voice is interfered with, picks up interference, as though it were an organ of listening as well as of transmission, impression as well as expression. Alongside the tradition of the horrifyingly, heroically failed or maimed voice, there is another tradition, which embraces the voice’s condition of what Michel Serres calls a ‘mixed body.’

There is no better enactment of this condition than the sound artist Alvin Lucier’s astonishing I Am Sitting in a Room of 1969. For this piece, Lucier recorded an explanation of the process by which he proposed to make the piece:

I am sitting in a room, different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice, and I am going to plug it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves, so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed.

He left the room, and played the recording he had just made back into the room he had just left, where it was rerecorded. This recording was then played back into the room and rerecorded in the same way. As it is played, recorded, replayed and re-recorded, the voice and the room blend. By iteratively enhancing the resonant frequencies of the room, Lucier manages to let us hear the sound of how the room listens to the voice. What emerges is a new voice, an extraordinary, literally unheard-of ‘mixed body,’ the body of the voice as it always anyway, inaudibly is, amid the things of the world. Sound engineers for film and radio plays will often record silence on the set in order to have available a stock of ‘room-tone’ into which other sounds may be embedded.

… Our celebrations of the voice are too monotonously pitched in the register of fullness, richness, clarity  and penetrativeness, the bay is too regularly accorded to the energetic out-loud and ‘haute voix.’ The autumnal, deciduous voice, which is heard in illness, fatigue, ague and age, is not epically shredded by passion, but rather silted with lilting circumstance. It is a voice becoming distinct in the very accidents whereby it loses its difference and distinctness. As Aristotle wrote, only creatures that have life can give voice, but not everything that is in the voice, or given utterance by it, is alive. In coughs, whispers, drawls, hisses, hesitations, laughs, stammers and other vocal noisings, the voice meets and mingles with what is not — indeed is, in the end, nothing more than this mingling. The pathos and the finesse of the voice that gives out, gives way, comes not from the virile figure it cuts against the ground of things, but rather from its suggestion of a persona, a being that has its being ‘through sound’ that, is, like our own bodies, rather than our dream of those bodies, a fluent mélange in which what it is and what it is not commingle and converse.

My previous post from Connor’s book is here.



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