Unreal Nature

March 21, 2014

That Mendacious Word

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… Not creations; definitely not creative, in the sense of that mendacious word (I mention this, because I so loathe the word) but creaturely.

The first, below, is from ‘Notes, 1973’ found in Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting; Writings 1962-1993 edited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist (1998):

… ‘The centre cannot hold’ : accept this willingly, along with the loss of consensus and attitude and individuality.

Be a reaction machine, unstable, indiscriminate, dependent.
Sacrifice oneself to objectivity.

I have always loathed subjectivity. Even failure, poor quality, opportunism and lack of character are a small price to pay in order to produce something objective, definitive, universal, right.

The following are from a 1973 letter to Jean-Christophe Amman:

… (It’s certainly not really blind or random, since after all I am a part of the Greater Whole; I therefore have no choice but to act just as rightly as the Greater Whole itself, even if I myself fail to understand.)

… The shades and forms emerge through the constant blending of brushstrokes; they create an illusionistic space, without any need for me to invent forms or signs. The brush goes on its allotted way, from patch to patch of paint, first mediating and then to a greater or lesser degree destroying, mixing, until there is no place left intact. It is almost a soup, a non-hierarchical interweaving of form with space and colour. Pictures which emerge, which result from the making. Not creations; definitely not creative, in the sense of that mendacious word (I mention this, because I so loathe the word) but creaturely. To illustrate the fascination that these jungle-like, interlacing forms hold for me: as a child I traced with my finger on my own empty, slightly greasy supper plate, bows and curves that constantly intersected to produce fantastic spatial structures that changed with the light and could be altered unendingly. I find this more attractive than fixed form, the posited sign.



March 20, 2014

An Unbearable Desire to See

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… “The concept of “obscenity” is tested when one dares to look at something that he has an unbearable desire to see, but has forbidden himself to look at.”

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

… Moving-image pornography as practiced since the seventies has had the primary goal of arousing viewers through the maximum visibility of normally  hidden organs and acts that often verge on the clinical, with aesthetic considerations secondary.

… The utopian dream of the cinematic merger of the erotic and hard-core — an eros that could include graphic sex as well as a pornography that might encompass the erotic — held that one day respected actors would take on the varied performance of sex acts as part of the challenge of their craft, while respected directors would take the depiction of the quality and kind of sex as a crucial element of their art. Cinema would then catch up with the grown-up concerns of other arts, like literature, to become truly explicit and adult.

We all know how that dream turned out …

… But there was one film of seventies international cinema that actually did what Anglo-American and European critics and directors had only dreamed of doing. Oshima Nagisa’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976) fused the graphic sex of hard-core pornography and the erotic narrative of mad love exemplified by the landmark Last Tango in Paris into a remarkable work of hard-core eroticism. Explicit sex acts were deployed in this French-produced Japanese art film as part of a serous narrative in which the performance of heterosexual penetrative sex proved essential to the work’s meaning.

[image from Wikipedia]

Oshima himself defended the film as a radical extension of the possibilities of pornography and thus as a testing ground for challenging the very notion of obscenity. He wrote:

The concept of “obscenity” is tested when one dares to look at something that he has an unbearable desire to see, but has forbidden himself to look at. When one feels that everything that one had wanted to see has been revealed, “obscenity” disappears, the taboo disappears as well, and there is a certain liberation.

… In laudable, but I think misguided efforts to defend the film, more than one critic insisted, contra Oshima’s own assertions, that it was not pornography because it did not solicit the arousal of its spectators.

… I have been arguing, to the contrary, that In the Realm of the Senses offers a fascinating amalgam of Japanese and Western pornography and that neither of these traditions is free of what critics and legal scholars like to call prurience: both seek to arouse. The Eastern influence is not purer because it is more artful. Shunga woodprints were well known as sexual aids and stimulants. … We do Oshima an injustice if we think of his art as purified and of the filmmaker himself as one who wants only to make us think. To do so is to deny the obvious ability of this most lushly sensual of films to move us — whether to arousal or to horrified revulsion.

… It has been something of an axiom in thinking about filmic obscenity that while it might be desirable to break the taboos against representing bodies, organs, and intercourse in literature or art, the inherently graphic nature of moving-image media lends the literal display of real bodies, organs, and intercourse a coarseness exemplified by Fredric Jameson’s condemnation of the visual itself as a pornographic form of “rapt, mindless fascination.” Indeed, the received opinion about film has long been that its inherently graphic nature makes its pornography necessarily crass and mindless. Certainly a lot of it is.

… Understanding hard-core film art is not a matter of parsing good sex from bad, or determining which graphic sexual representations have gone “too far.” Nor is it a matter of invoking the old chestnut about the pitfalls of leaving “nothing to the imagination.” Rather, as we have begun to see in this chapter and will further explore in a later one, there are many possible ways of getting graphic as movies open up the question of the imagination of sex beyond the familiar formulas of soft and hard.

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



March 19, 2014

Closer to the Chaos

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… Mistakes about meaning and worth in the fictive world become matters of expansion and possibility, even as the fictive world pictures for us how mistakes in our world can be fatal and irreversible.

This is from the essay ‘Play and the Problem of Knowing in Hamlet: An Excursion into Interpretive Anthropology’ by Phyllis Gorfain, found in The Anthropology of Experience edited by Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Bruner (1986):

… As a text about the unclosable distance between behavior and its meanings, between the immediacy of experience and the shaping of experience into transmittable forms, Hamlet may mirror to anthropologists an unremitting series of inquiries and representations — reports, narratives, pretenses, games, dramas, rituals, and punning — as Hamlet attempts to close epistemic gaps between the past, present, and future, to secure the truth and authority of experience, and to direct its power through symbolic action. Yet no character can seize the original event behind any performance; each search yields another shadowy text, a resemblance, a memory. Like Hamlet, anthropologists also find themselves poised between a reflexive knowing that their “knowledge” of society is always a kind of text, a construction based on constructed social forms, and a feeling that they bear a responsibility to penetrate beyond the appearances of social life to the truth of experience. But because meaning is always based on appearances, is always interpretive, and is never fixed or final, anthropologists can find in Hamlet a master text of their desire to know what they also learn will always elude them.

… The interpretive method for studying culture as a process relies on paradoxes of reflexivity, for we must inevitably confront our own processes of interpretation when we deny that we can finally locate the “head and source” (Hamlet, 2.2.55) of our condition. Promises that social truth may be found “though it were hid indeed / Within the center” (2.2.159-60) are made only by one as foolish as Polonius and are believed only by those with fatal purposes, at least in Shakespeare’s drama. By contrast, Hamlet valorized the playfulness to experiment with uncertainty and the courage to learn through not knowing.

… When we thus turn a mirror on the mirror, to examine mirroring, we create a sense of movement, of resonance, or process.

Hamlet assures us that we can use fictions to play with — reformulate and master — our problems of semantic penetration, discovery, through mistaking, and the multiplication of meaning through indeterminacy. These are the problems anthropologists make more and more the objects of their analysis and theory, whether they look at their informants or themselves constructing semblances of social meaning.

… In both Hamlet and anthropology the problem of truth remains indissoluble. But in the playful process of interpreting a fiction, the process of pursuing meaning becomes a source of grandeur. As a character like Hamlet shows us the nobility and necessity in our searches for authority, we gain both a sense of our omnipotence over and the dangers inherent in the semantic worlds we construct. Mistakes about meaning and worth in the fictive world become matters of expansion and possibility, even as the fictive world pictures for us how mistakes in our world can be fatal and irreversible. Hamlet thus brings us closer to the chaos from which it protects us, even while it displays the epistemological paradox it presses: knowing through not knowing.

[ … ]

… The cycle of repetition in representations may seem as unending and inevitable as the killings of kings and avenging their deaths. But the cycle of repetition in art admits its differences from its references, acknowledges its ontology as a substitution. Thus, drama makes its recoveries in an art of separation, which accepts, as Hamlet does, the mobility of play, the cancellation of exchange in perfect forgiveness, the possibility of learning through mistaking, and the rectification of understanding in the limits and freedom of play.

… Anthropologists may learn to fulfill their responsibilities to know the limits of knowing in the spirit of Hamlet when they use the equally illusory and real aspects of both fictions and social life. The ruptures produced by ethnographic interpretation, by mistakes, rites, mirrors, stories, and plays, can create for us moments of stasis. In those pauses for reflexive knowledge we may learn, as Hamlet finally does, how to overcome the paradoxes and paralysis of such self-knowing. Hamlet shows that the licensed learning of play becomes the basis of creative knowledge and action when we use the freedom of reflexivity to undertake consequential and committed interpretations, however mistaken or subject to illusion such attempts at knowing may be.



March 18, 2014

The Advertisement, Not the Reality of the Quality Itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… It is sad. … Is he aware of what has happened to his great gift?

This is from the essay ‘Braque Spread Large’ (1949) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

It does not seem to have been made quite clear yet as to whose was the decisive initiative. Picasso’s or Braque’s, in the first years of cubism. The artists themselves are not too reliable in dating many of the works they did at that time. Braque would appear to have been the first to introduce trompe-l’oeil effects, to mix sand with his paint, and to create a collage, but Picasso led the way apparently in matters of fundamental approach, though not always. By 1913 anyhow Braque, I have the impression, was beginning to lose that plastic certainty which (despite, in his own case, a tendency to over-crowd canvases with detail) had enabled both artists to turn out an almost uninterrupted succession of masterpieces in oil and especially collage between the latter part of 1910 and the middle of 1913.

The Portuguese, 1911 [image from WikiPaintings]

… Perhaps the war made no really radical difference in Braque’s career. We shall never be able to tell. But it is a fact that his inventiveness abandoned him, and in the years since 1917 he seems to have followed Picasso’s lead consistently and without ever regaining the initiative. When Picasso began doing still lifes in a more naturalistic manner Braque did them that way too; when Picasso drew some schematized and rather expressionistic nudes Braque followed suit again; and when, after 1930, Picasso went in for sumptuous color and baroque design Braque once more followed. I do not mean that he followed abjectly; his sensibility, aside from the fact that it functions better with regard to color and the mechanics of oil pigment than Picasso’s, has always been independent enough to convert to itself whatever it touched, but he became dependent on Picasso for his cues. And he has since 1917 fallen far short of the Spanish artist, if not in felicity, then in originality, plastic sense, power, and breadth.

… It is true, of course, that enterprise and adventure in art are no longer as much on the order of the day as they were up until the late twenties, and that the historical conditions that made them so possible then have largely disappeared. Picasso, shutting his eyes to this, has tried, however, to continue programmatically that audacity which, because, no doubt, of the “heroic age” atmosphere that formed him before 1914, seems to him the normal mode of the ambitious artist. And we, with our own notions formed in good part by Picasso’s example, tend to feel the same. Actually, I think that Picasso is correct — correct in principle, that is, for contemporary art. Whether history now moves faster than it used to is an open question, but it seems that today more than ever art begins to languish the moment it stops assimilating new experience. It is to the operation of this law that Braque has succumbed, so that his art has fallen to a level far below Picasso’s, which while it sins in the opposite direction — by trying to assimilate new experience even when the new experience is not there — does at least seek out every challenge the age can offer.

Braque is essentially a hedonist, conscientious about details, annoyed by larger questions. Since the early thirties he has followed the course typical of such an artist in a period of decadence, when talent is no longer borne up, swept along, and extended to its full by collective inspiration: he is content to turn out luxury articles which offer us richness of paint quality and color, but only in isolation, not as integrated parts of a whole. Look at the last room or so of the show at the Museum of Modern Art. There Braque even abandons cubism and goes back to something not too unlike the late impressionism of Bonnard and Vuillard, in search of a charm not rightly his. There he applies paint with a clumsiness and lack of taste and sincerity such as we would have expected of him least of all. The ornateness of color and paint matter is, even as ornateness, mechanical, manufactured; it is the notion, the advertisement, the intention, not the reality of the quality itself (see, for example, The Stove of 1944).

The Stove, 1944

It is sad. I become curious as to what Braque thinks of himself now. Is he aware of what has happened to his great gift? What does he feel about his relation to Picasso? Was it the absence from painting which the 1914 war forced on him, his head wound, and his parting with Picasso that made such a difference between the painter of The Portuguese and the painter of The Stove? Did he need Picasso more than Picasso needed him? Or are his temperament and native capacities, and the turn of the times, the crucial factors — that is, crucial in more than the ordinary sense.



March 17, 2014

An Unknowing Game

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… In the highest circle an ultimate mystery lurks behind the mystery, and the wretched light of the intellect is of no avail.

This is from ‘Creative Credo’ by Paul Klee (1920:

[ … ]

VI. A few examples: A sailor of antiquity in his boat, enjoying himself and appreciating the comfortable accommodations. Ancient art represents the subject accordingly. And now: the experience of a modern man, walking across the deck of a steamer: 1. His own movement, 2. the movement of the ship which could be in the opposite direction, 3. the direction and the speed of the current, 4. the rotation of the earth, 5. its orbit, and 6. the orbits of the stars and satellites around it.

The result: an organization of movements within the cosmos centered on the man on the steamer.

An apple tree in bloom, its roots and rising saps, its trunk, the cross-section with the annual rings, the blossom, its structure, its sexual functions, the fruit, the core with its seeds. —

An organization of states of growth.

Paul Klee, Fish Image, 1925 [image from WikiPaintings]

VII. Art is a simile of the Creation. Each work of art is an example, just as the terrestrial is an example of the cosmic.

The release of the elements, their grouping into complex subdivisions, the dismemberment of the object and its reconstruction into a whole, the pictorial polyphony, the achievement of stability through an equilibrium of movement, all these are difficult questions of form, crucial for formal wisdom, but not yet art in the higher circle. In the highest circle an ultimate mystery lurks behind the mystery, and the wretched light of the intellect is of no avail. One may still speak reasonably of the salutary effects of art. We may say that fantasy, inspired by instinctual stimuli creates illusory states which somehow encourage or stimulate us more than the familiar natural or known supernatural states, that its symbols bring comfort to the mind by making it realize that it is not confined to earthly potentialities, however great they may become in the future; that ethical gravity holds sway side by side with impish laughter at doctors and parsons.

But in the long run, even enhanced reality proves inadequate.

Art plays an unknowing game with ultimate things, and yet achieves them!

Paul Klee, The Goldfish, 1925 [image from WikiPaintings]

The following is from ‘Concrete Art’ by Wassily Kandinsky (1938):

… To begin with a “point,” which is the origin of all other forms, and of which the number is unlimited, the little point is a living being possessed of many influences upon the spirit of man. If the artist places it properly on his canvas, the little point is satisfied, and it pleases the spectator. [The little point] says, “Yes, that’s me. Do you understand my little necessary sound in the great ‘chorus’ of the work?

And how painful it is to see the little point where it should not be! You have the sensation of eating a meringue and tasting pepper on the tongue. A flower with the odor of rot.

Rot — that’s the word! Composition transforms itself into decomposition. It is death.

Have you noted that in speaking so long of painting and its means of expression, I have said not a single word about the “object”?

Wassily Kandinsky, Yellow, Red, Blue, 1925 [image from WikiPaintings]



March 16, 2014

The Stone and the Lizard, Too

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… Everything is betrayed by the expression “the earth is not given for the stone.”

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

Heidegger declares:

The stone is without world. The stone is lying on the path, for example. We can say that the stone is exerting a certain pressure upon the surface of the earth. It is “touching” the earth. but what we call “touching” here is not a form of touching at all in the stronger sense of the word. It is not at all like that relationship which the lizard has to the stone on which it lies basking in the sun. And the touching implied in both cases is above all not the same as that touch which we experience when we rest our hand upon the head of another human being. … Because in its being a stone it has no possible access to anything else around it, anything that it might attain or possess as such.

Why, then, is “access” determined here a priori as the identification and appropriation of the “other thing”?

… Is it not necessary that there should be nonaccess, impenetrability, in order for there to be also access, penetration? That there should be, therefore, nonsense or, rather, beyond-sense in order for there to be sense? And that in this sense the stone and the lizard, too, should be in the circuit of sense, just as I — supposed Dasein — am also stone and lizard, not in some subaltern part or aspect, but in accordance with the there (here) of my being?

Or again, Heidegger determines only negatively here the “touch” of the stone on the earth. This “touch,” he writes, is not the relation of the lizard warming itself, and it is even less that of a hand placed — not on a stone but — on a human head. Still, quite remarkably, Heidegger introduces thus first the sun and a communication of heat that, however, does not wait for the arrival of the lizard in order to take place, and then — and above all — a completely different order of “touching,” not merely human but at once solemn and consecrated. The truth of the “touch” establishes itself by a sort of solar ascension or assumption. This triple scene is absolutely Platonic in the most unilateral and “metaphysical” sense of the term. There is definitely no question here of a human touch. Rather, a hieratic and paternal pose fraudulently substitutes a knighting for a touch.

Everything is betrayed by the expression “the earth is not given for the stone.” The gift is thought here only as a gift for, finalized and significant — and significant precisely of the earth, with all its connotations of support and, beyond this, of proximity, rootedness, habitation, and propriety. But what if the “gift for” [don pour] were here taken wrongly for a “pure gift” [don pur]? What if it in fact compromised an earlier liberality, generosity — “spaciousness” — of the “gift”? What if the initial “gift” — a “gift” subtracted from “giving” itself insofar as the latter is taken to be intentional — would be more felicitously formulated like this: stone on the earth, and earth as “route” (via rupta, rupture, fraying [frayage] — and also, already, all the teknē of circulation and exchange), as a route already distributing the earth into places, places already receiving the stone, in an indifferent mode, in the mode, to be sure, of the wound for a foot and the barrier for an insect or for a stream, but also in the mode of a mere occupied place on the earth, of shadows cast, or of an ornamental cut incised in space, an unassignable gift, a gift lost as gift, a gift without corresponding desire, neither to be perceived nor to be received as “gift” … ?

Heidegger apparently fails to weigh precisely the weight of the stone that rolls or surges forth onto the earth, the weight of the contact of the stone with the other surface, and through it with the world as the network of all surfaces.

… In a sense — but what sense — sense is touching. The being-here, side by side, of all these beings-there (beings-thrown, beings-sent, beings-abandoned to the there).

Sense, matter forming itself, form making itself firm: exaction and separation of a tact.



March 15, 2014

Between the Meaningless and the Meaningful

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… [This book] maps out and manipulates what may be called a dream theatre of the mouth, that crucible in which sounds are not merely sounded, but also shaped and palpated.

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

… Noise is anonymous, mechanical and meaningless; voice is personal, animate and expressive. Noise is accident, voice is intent. Noise has no importance, voice is full of portent. Though we can train ourselves to listen away from voices, or can under certain circumstances start to hear them as ‘mere’ noise, the effort this requires indicates the very strong predisposition that we have to pick out voices from noise, and to identify foreground auditory phenomena as voice.

… But the voice is not always quite itself, for there is much in the voice that is not altogether voice. The voice is not all Geist, it is full of poltergeist, noisy, paltering parasites and hangers-on, mouth-friends, vapours and minute-jacks. We need to be on the alert against the encrustations and adulterations of this infinite interior malady.

… Aren’t all the sounds of the voice in fact just noises? And aren’t all the significant sounds of langauge just accidents of the breath that have been given significance? … What then is the difference between the kinds of noise that we call sounds, and other noises?

… my concern is with those features of speech that seem to reach outside its enchanted phonemic domain, to open language up momentarily to the world of sound events beyond articulate speech. In this respect, though I have organized this book around certain groups or families of sound, I am really interested in the forms of attention that such sound-groups elicit; forms of attention that, as it seems to me, focus on what I have called their noisiness,  here distinguished, not as a phonetic feature, but as a semantic one. Noisy sounds will not be viewed as unintended or accidental, as in the writer’s ‘ahem’; which is not intended to clear his throat, or will be misunderstood if it is. The noises of the voice are therefore sounds that express or enact the idea of noisiness. I focus attention on the crossovers that result between the meaningless and the meaningful in vocal noise, and the particular kinds of meaning-making work done by the noises of the voice. This means that I will be attempting to pick out, not so much noisy sounds as noise-effects or noise-events in speech — points at which there seems to be a significant suspension, or at least complication, of signifying intent. Such events are not rents in the fabric of language so much as remissions of our assumption that what we are hearing is voice, purely and simply.

… I am less concerned with charting linguistic traditions than with what might be called a popular poetics of language, and [ … ] my concern is in any case not so much with language as with how folk apprehensions of the workings of language help to form an imaginary or magical conception of the voice.

… I have thought almost every day in the writing of this book of the story of the reader of Eliot’s The Waste Land who spoke of being moved to tears by the power of the poem’s final repeated Sanskrit word, ‘Shantih, Shantih, Shantih,’ to meet the brusque, buck-you-up enquiry whether he got the same numinous charge from the phrase ‘sea-shanty.’ Yet it seems undeniable that there are plenty of prompts in place to provoke the willed illusion of such an effect, prompts that we ignore only through wilful inattention.

So, alas, much of this book is going to have to consist in nonsense. It concerns the kind of magical phonetics involved in fantasies like that of my mother’s [WW II] generation about the guttural Germans. It is a book about the phantasmal life, of excitements, identifications and recoils associated with particular vocal sound-families, such as the guttural, the fricative, the sibilant, the dental. It maps out and manipulates what may be called a dream theatre of the mouth, that crucible in which sounds are not merely sounded, but also shaped and palpated. Accordingly, it operates, not in the realm of phonetics proper but in what might be called phonophenomenology. The phonetics it will offer must often be a folk, fake or funny-farm phonetics — in the daft, disreputable, yet deeply rooted ideas that many people, many of them literary writers, have about the specific powers of certain sounds. These beliefs about the power of sounds and the letters that encode are spread across mystical traditions like that of the Kabbala and ordinary instincts and prejudices. This book is a meditation on the kinds of magical thinking attached to the sounds of the voice and the imaginary mechanics of their production. The reason why we might want to take such magical thinking seriously is that language is made, not by linguists, but by its inexpert but often stubbornly opinionated users …

… there is no theatre of the mind or body that so teems with magical thinking than that which relates to the forms and powers of the voice. The vox et praeterea nihil — the voice and nothing more — is not easily to be distilled out from the busy delusions, fantasies and fixations to which it gives rise, for these fantasies are formative and performative, conditioning our comprehension and experience of the voice.



March 14, 2014

I Mistrust

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… what you make represents nothing but itself …

… I don’t mistrust reality, of which I know next to nothing. I mistrust the picture of reality conveyed to us by our senses, which is imperfect and circumscribed.

These are bits from various ‘Notes’ and interviews found in Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting; Writings 1962-1993 edited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist (1998):

… A painting of a murder is of no interest whatever; but a photograph of a murder fascinates everyone. This is something that just has to be incorporated into painting.

So how significant are things represented in your pictures?

Highly significant, definitely. Just not significant in the sense of conveying information about reality, which is what photography is there for. I never paint to create a likeness of a person or of an event. Even though I paint credibly and correctly, as if the likeness were important, I am really using it only as a pretext for a picture.

So you don’t really care at all what you paint?

No, that’s not it at all. I don’t abolish representation. The picture can’t be turned upside-down, for instance. The object is so important to me that I take a great deal fo trouble over my choice of subjects. It is so important that I paint it. I am fascinated by the human, temporal, real, logical side of an occurrence which is simultaneously so unreal, so incomprehensible and so atemporal. And I would like to represent it in such a way that this contradiction is preserved.

[ … ]

… The reason why a pyramid was built is one thing, and how we see it now is quite another.

… Art no longer serves any institution; it has become autonomous. I can’t describe the new situation, because I can’t describe art: art proves itself in the making. It’s a sense I have, that something is demanded of art and of me: a kind of  hope.

[ … ]

But don’t you now take the view that art and painting are becoming superfluous, because what is needed now is direct social and political commitment? Some artists have regarded this as sufficient reason enough to throw away their brushes.

Certainly not. Eating doesn’t become unimportant; making love doesn’t become unimportant. All children paint, all lunatics paint. for me, there’s no future in giving that up. Not because I’m sick, or because I want to make money at it — painting has become the thing that makes my life possible.

[ … ]

… I think everybody starts out by seeing a few works of art and wanting to do something like them. You want to understand what you see, what is there, and you try to make a picture out of it. Later you realize that you can’t represent reality at all — that what you make represents nothing but itself, and therefore is itself reality.

… I don’t mistrust reality, of which I know next to nothing. I mistrust the picture of reality conveyed to us by our senses, which is imperfect and circumscribed. Our eyes have evolved for survival purposes. The fact that we can also see the stars is pure accident. And because we can’t rest content with this, we go to a lot of trouble — we paint and we take photographs, for instance, not as a substitute for reality but as a tool.



March 13, 2014

Desire in Play

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… It took an antiwar movie about a paraplegic to begin to figure the pleasure of the itch.

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

… Both Molly Haskell’s and Pauline Kael’s reviews of Klute discuss this early sex scene. Kael complains that the timing is off: realistically, Bree would have looked at her watch before, not during, the faked orgasm. Haskell, for her part, notes what kind of toll such a performance exacts: “As any woman who has ever faked an orgasm knows, it’s too easy to count as a great performance and too cynical not to leave behind some poison.” While both critics score important points in the evaluation of the film, my real interest here lies in the fact that these two influential women critics of the early seventies, themselves informed by discourses of sexology and its feminist critique, now find it possible to argue about the realism of a performance of (bad) sex. They recognize bad sex when they see it.

Good sex would be Hollywood’s new post-Code answer to bad. Good versus bad may constitute a terribly impoverished range compared to the sexual performances we have already seen emerging outside the Hollywood mainstream. It is nevertheless fascinating to watch Fonda progress from the comic “exsexes” of Barbarella to the bad sex-good sex binary of her later work in Klute and Coming Home.


… “Jabbing, thrusting eroticism” is … one form of sexual pleasure modeled on what Bersani calls the “scratch”; it aims at satisfaction in discharge, at hitting the target, or the “spot” described in Deep Throat‘s theme song. The scratch always presumes a thrusting and a targeted tactility of one erogenous zone on another. The itch, on the other hand, is much less specifically targeted; it is ultimately whatever manages to keep desire in play. The scratch model of orgasm has obviously been the dominant, phallocentric term of much sexology and much cinema. It took an antiwar movie about a paraplegic to begin to figure the pleasure of the itch: anticipation, prolongation, intensification — but not necessarily hard, not necessarily discharged — to tentatively begin to counter the dominant phallocentric model of going all the way in screening sex.


… In a recent documentary film by Rosanna Arquette, Searching for Debra Winger (2002), about the pressures of being a woman, a mother, and an actor in Hollywood, Jane Fonda provides the concluding interview. Throughout the film centered on well-known female stars who found plenty of work while young and much less work since they have hit their forties, Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave are the even more mature survivors whose life stories often serve as an inspiration to the questioning Arquette and her cohort. Fonda freely admits that she was a bad mother who never managed, as her own father had also failed to manage, to balance parenthood, family, and career — not to mention antiwar activism. But the point at which she becomes most animated, and the reason her interview concludes the documentary, is her vivid description of the eight or so times in her life at which she has entered the magic “circle of light” on the movie set when all eyes, all light, and all energy focuses on the main actor as a kind of “eye of the hurricane.” When, in these moments of greatest fear and tension, an actor manages, perhaps just a few times in his or her life, to deliver a great performance, it is, Fonda claims, all worth it. What is important, however, is that she describes these performances in sexualized terms, first as bad sex and then as good. What if, she asks, you give too much in rehearsal and “blow your wad,” leaving nothing for the shoot? What, she speculates, if in the actual shooting you “can’t get it up”? On the other hand, she eagerly describes how thrilling it is to “hit your mark” with all channels open, like a “plane taking off,” “like a dance, both with the other actors and the camera and loving your costar … it’s this wonderful fusion … better than any lovemaking.”

… Good feminist and antiwar activist that she has tried to be, Fonda can invent no better language. We can forgive an actor whose sexual performances were as crucial to the 1970s cinematic knowledge of sex and perhaps as important and influential in their own female sphere as Marlon Brando’s animal sexuality was in that of the male.

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



March 12, 2014

The One Experience

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… “Far from the works’ existing in us we exist in the work.”

This is from the essay ‘Performance and the Structuring of Meaning and Experience’ by Bruce Kapferer, found in The Anthropology of Experience edited by Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Bruner (1986):

… I do not experience your experience. Paradoxically, your experience is made mine; I experience my experience of you. The expressions revealed on your face, in the gestural organization of your body, through the meeting of our glances, are experienced through my body and my situation. “In being looked at by the other, I find his ‘expression’ not so much on his face as through my situation — in feeling admired, in sensing coolness, in apparent indifference, in being shamed or humiliated” (Natanson).

Even so, the point remains that human beings as social actors in their cultural worlds take for granted that they are acting in relation to others who share a history and a set of common experiences and understandings of experience. We tend to others as fellow human beings, who are like us and unlike us in the cultural worlds we inhabit. Culture is universalizing even as it particularizes and differentially situates and roots our experience. As G.H. Mead argued, I become aware of myself, of my experience, and of the possibilities of my Self-hood, through the act of standing outside myself and reflecting my action through the perspective of another person …

… What is shared, however, is not the experience of the other in its full existential immediacy. Rather, the sharing takes place at another level, at a degree removed from any immediate individual experience. The various concepts, constructs, and typifications that are engaged in the action of sharing experience are about experience, integral to its comprehension and understanding rather than to the experience itself.

… My argument now turns to the possibility of mutual experience in the sense of experiencing together the one experience.

… Art and ritual share potentially one fundamental quality in common: the Particular and the Universal are brought together and are transformed in the process. The Particular is universalized beyond the existential immediacy of the individual’s situation so that it is transcended, even while its groundedness and specificity are maintained, to include others in what is essentially the same experiential situation.

… The way a text reaches its audience is no less an important dimension of its structure [than the text itself]. Similarly, a concern with enactment at the expense of the structural properties of the text as actualized through the specific mode of its enactment will likely overlook some of the salient constitutive properties of the particular enactment itself. Furthermore, such concern risks a retreat into subjectivism, in which the meaning and the nature of experience are simply the sum total of individual interpretive responses, the only constraining factor being the limits of the broad cultural world in which individuals are places. A concern with the bones ignores the flesh and the blood, the spirit and vitality of form. But a concern with the spirit alone disregards the skeleton around which the form takes shape and which directs but does not determine the character of spirit and vitality. In my usage, “performance” constitutes a unity of text and enactment, neither being reducible to the other. More properly, it is what certain philosophers of aesthetic experience refer to as the Work, irreducible to its performances and yet graspable only through them or, rather, in them.

… The approach I adopt here is broadly in agreement with Dufrenne’s analysis of the work of art: “The work has the initiative. And forbids any subjectivism. Far from the works’ existing in us we exist in the work. … The ideas it suggests, the feelings it awakens, the concrete images — Ansichen, as Ingarden calls them — which nourish its meanings vary with each spectator. But they vary like perspectives which converge at the same point, like intentions which aim at the same object. … “



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