Unreal Nature

April 30, 2014

A Day Will Come

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… “In its refusal to accept as final the limitations imposed upon freedom and happiness by the reality principle, in its refusal to forget what can be, lies the critical function of phantasy.”

This is from the essay ‘Symbol and Festival in the French Student Uprising (May-June 1968)’ by Sherry Roxanne Turkle, found in Symbol and Politics in Communal Ideology: Cases and Questions edited by Sally Falk Moore and Barbara G. Myerhoff. I am quoting from her more general statements rather than her extensive review of the particular event (the student uprising):

… In the liminal period the model of society is that of an undifferentiated whole whose units are total human beings. This ideal is opposed to a differentiated, structured system whose units are statuses and roles. In the structured model, the individual wears a mask which identifies the place he occupies in the social and political hierarchy. In the liminal model, men relate to each other as total persons, free and equal comrades.

… In Eros and Civilization, Herbert Marcuse speculates on the functions of imagination and fantasy in politics, basing some of his ideas on Freud’s metapsychology which in his words “restores imagination to its rights.” [ … ] “The truth value of imagination relates not only to the past but also to the future: the forms of freedom and happiness which it invokes claim to deliver the historical reality. In its refusal to accept as final the limitations imposed upon freedom and happiness by the reality principle, in its refusal to forget what can be, lies the critical function of phantasy.” It is akin to Schiller’s play impulse, whose goal is freedom, whose quest is for the solution to a political problem, namely, how to liberate man from an inhuman existential condition.

[ … ]

… For the structural linguist, the speaker disappears and nothing remains but language “talking to itself.” Similarly, the French University is seen as an order sufficient to itself. The cycle of études supérieures or university studies was reduced to pure code, a semiological system totally divorced from its subjects. The official culture traditionally dispensed by the University was no longer simply attacked as a class culture, but also as a language pour ne pas parler (a language to avoid communication).

… The structuralist dogmatism had negated history, and in the May uprising the participants took the rebirth of meaning, the reinvention of language, and the rediscovery of history through phenomenology as the intellectual emblems for their struggle.

… The momentum of the May uprising was broken by a five-minute radio broadcast by General de Gaulle. The message appealed for order, for a return to routine and safety. The French, exhausted, deprived of food, gasoline, trains, and in some cases [heating/cooking] gas and electricity, retreated. By mid-June, the streets of Paris had been repaved, this time with concrete rather than the traditional, picturesque but potentially dangerous pavés. The buildings were washed, the omnipresent posters were stripped away, and the graffiti was sandblasted off the walls. The festival was over, and the streets of Paris were returned to the tourists.

… “A day will come when our societies will know again those hours of creative effervescence in the course of which new ideas arise and new formulas are found which serve for a while as a guide to humanity.” [Durkheim]




April 29, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… his shortcomings remain too prominent and are not inclosed and swallowed up by the magnitude of the gift that involves them …

This is from ‘Review of an Exhibition of John Marin’ (1948) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986). Note that this piece was written before the generation of much work from other artists that Greenberg will find to be unreservedly greater than Marin’s:

John Marin has the reputation, earned in the course of forty years, of being the greatest living American painter. He is certainly one of the best artists who ever handled a brush in this country.


… Who is our greatest poet? If we leave T.S. Eliot to one side as a confirmed Englishman by now, is it Wallace Stevens or Marianne Moore? Aren’t both of them too minor really to be great? When we ask who is the greatest we mean “great.” And our best poets, painters, and sculptors, not to mention composers, never seem quite to attain that monumentality in single works, or that breadth and completeness in their oeuvres, which would justify the appellation. No matter how intense or exquisite their productions, there is something too narrow or partial or one-sided or peripheral about them. “Great” art and literature seem to connote something more — longer-winded or deeper or wider or more complete.

It is hard to think of Marin as a “great” painter — recall only what painting has been done in our time in France and even Germany. How marginal his achievement must appear by comparison. His art does not say enough and what it says is not said with largeness; his shortcomings remain too prominent and are not inclosed and swallowed up by the magnitude of the gift that involves them, that magnitude which — as Balzac, I think said — sweeps a great artist’s faults before it and renders them, so to speak, essential.

And yet — what a good painter Marin is. Just as, when all is said and done, Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore remain miraculous poets. Marin has taken cubism, married it to fauvist color and a bit of Winslow Homer, and of this made a personal instrument which has been surpassed on the score of sensitivity only by that of Klee among modern painters — an instrument that registers sensation or emotions of an evanescence which has escaped contemporary art elsewhere.

John Marin, Wave on Rock, 1937 [image from the Whitney site]

Most of Marin’s work is not of waves on rocks. These two examples are chosen because 1) they are in oil, in which Greenberg claims Marin does better work; and 2) it’s hard to find online examples of Marin’s oils. See also yesterday’s post for a non-wave example of a Marin oil.




April 28, 2014

The Artist’s Most Important Tool

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… The most important tool the artist fashions through constant practice is faith in his ability to produce miracles when they are needed.

This is taken from John Marin in conversation with Dorothy Norman in 1937:

… I would say to a person who thinks he wants to paint, Go and look at the way a bird flies, a man walks, the sea moves. There are certain laws, certain formulae. You have to know them. They are nature’s laws and you have to follow them just as nature follows them. You find the laws and you fill them in in your pictures and you discover that they are the same laws as in the old pictures. You don’t create the formulae. … You see them.

John Marin, Wehawken Sequence, (from much later than the quoted conversation) [image from WikiPaintings]

… If the structure you’ve built isn’t enough to hold up what you aim it [at] should [be], or again, if it is stronger than it needs to be, you feel restless when you stand and look at the picture you are building. … Of course, you can address your envelope way over in the corner if you like, but you’ll soon feel it out of balance. … It is the same with your pictures.

Next is a bit from a note by Arshile Gorky in 1942:

… I like the wheatfields, the plough, the apricots, the shape of apricots, those flirts of the sun. And bread above all …

Last, this is from ‘The Romantics Were Prompted’ by Mark Rothko (1947):

… They begin as an unknown adventure in an unknown space. It is at the moment of completion that in a flash of recognition, they are seen to have the quantity and function which was intended. Ideas and plans that existed in the mind at the start were simply the doorway through which one left the world in which they occur.

… The most important tool the artist fashions through constant practice is faith in his ability to produce miracles when they are needed. Pictures must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended. He is an outsider. The picture must be for him, as for anyone experiencing it later, a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need.




April 27, 2014

In Being Tied

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… need and desire, constraint and obligation, subjection and love, glory and pity, interest and disinterest. … To think its act, establishment, and binding.

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

… sovereignty and community can be the mere outline of the area of shared jurisdiction, or else they can identify themselves as the subject of a fundamental legitimacy. In the first case, sovereignty and community tend to be nothing — to repeat once again the formula that Georges Bataille exhausted himself in thinking through, “Sovereignty is NOTHING.” They are and have the being of the res publica as the absolute “nothing-properly-speaking.” In the second case, they are not merely something but the res cogitans of a subject effecting in person the autoteleology of its substance (whether this person be the people, the leader, the fatherland, the class, or the individual, as long as it is “consciousness” or “spirit”).

[ … ]

… The (k)not; that which involves neither interiority nor exteriority but which, in being tied, ceaselessly makes the inside pass outside, each into (or by way of) the other, the outside inside, turning endlessly back on itself without returning to itself — the link of mêlée and intrigue, confrontation and arrangement, need and desire, constraint and obligation, subjection and love, glory and pity, interest and disinterest. The tying of the (k)not is nothing, no res, nothing but the placing-into-relation that presupposes at once proximity and distance, attachment and detachment, intricacy, intrigue, and ambivalence. In truth, it is the heterogeneous realitas, this disjunctive conjunction, that the motif of the contract at once alludes to and dissimulates. The whole question is whether or not we can finally manage to think the “contract” — the tying of the (k)not — according to a model other than the juridicocommercial model (which in fact supposes the bond to have been already established, already presupposed as its own subject: this is the founding abyss or decisive aporia of the Social Contract). To think the social bond according to another model or perhaps without a model. To think its act, establishment, and binding.

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




April 26, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… It is because they operate within a subtle field of probability, which they themselves affect.

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

… The class of sounds known as ‘plosives,’ and typified by the sounds of English b and p, have the opposite function [of m]. For, by temporally retarding the current of air and then releasing it in a little puff, pop or explosion, plosives seem to suggest some sudden and even violent separation of outer from inner. Where the m pleasantly or excitingly maintains tension in equilibrium, p and b produce a sudden release of tension through an abrupt differential of pressure.

… If speech can be reduced to the alternation of flows and stops — the distinction between vowels and consonants being the most familiar form of this contrast — then the plosive provides the most forceful and definitive of all these forms of stoppage. One may suggest that the general force possessed by the plosive is that of creating definition, through a narrowing of focus. This constriction is particularly in evidence in words that imitate the compressed sound of words that seem to imitate exact units of time — the beep, pip, or bleep. In a word like bit, the plosive obediently chops up the stream of speech, and even more emphatically with the word but, which can indeed appear to butt in to the flow of meaning, blocking or redirecting it.

… Margaret Magnus suggests that the field of reference of English p may be differentially related to the violent expulsion of the b. B is pronounced by ‘blowing’ up the mouth, making a ‘bulge’ and then letting the air ‘burst’ out. P is pronounced by ‘pushing’ which produces a ‘puffing’ up and ‘pouring’ out. The result in p is ‘not an explosion but a more precise “placement”.’

… Here, as in many other places in this book, it may seem as though I am supposing that certain meanings are somehow packed or locked into particular sounds, such that p must always imply pinprick particularity. But, of course, the very fact that p is such a common sound in English means that it will be found in a very large range of semantic contexts, and doing a great number of different kinds of job, most of which derive no assistance from the putative tendency of p to denote precision. If there is any plausibility (from plaudire, to clap the hands, with an approvingly plosive sound) in the meanings I have made out for the plosive, or the sibilant, or the nasal, as it may be, it is not because the sounds are possessed by these meanings. It is because they operate within a subtle field of probability, which they themselves affect. The fact that there may be quite a few familiar words available to a speaker or hearer in which particularity seems to be associated with the plosive makes it more likely that such effects will be selectively amplified in use and in analysis. This does not in the least prevent p being able to be used in other contexts and with other meanings entirely — of poetry and pleasure, or pus and puke, for example, in which ideas of precision and particularity may no longer seem to be in the picture. It is just that we will, no, steady on, may be more likely to pick out those patternings in which picking-out or patterning seem to be the issue. It is not a matter of meaning, but of leaning.

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




April 25, 2014

All These Failures!

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… Crisis personified. (Perhaps I am mistaken here; perhaps this is a perfectly normal way to work.)

The following are from ‘Notes 1986’ found in Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting; Writings 1962-1993 edited by Hans-Ulrich Obrist (1998):

21 February 1986. Beuys. This phenomenon, which took us by surprise 25 years ago and soon appalled us, unleashed admiration, envy, consternation, fury; this absolute loner, who broke all the conventions which, for all our rebelliousness, gave us a framework in which we could ‘carry on’ in relative security (above all in contrast with the social system that most of us had known previously, that of the GDR). Over the years, we got used to him, his activities no longer shocked us, and a certain critical detachment supervened. By the end he was a good, honorable artist; to some extent, he had been relativized.

Joseph Beuys, Natural History, (1964-1982) [image from WikiPaintings]

His death revived his uniqueness at a stroke, and all the early (childish) questions posed themselves anew. His death stirs things up, touching something in me that rationalism long ago suppressed: something mystical, superhuman. It frightens me. I would prefer the normal comfort of not being too conscious.

(How am I to hope that his works [what does that mean?] are just good works, and will endure — when I profoundly want them to cross a frontier that I myself want to break through? — I am a popular artist, a painter within the context of his speciality, and I want to remain just that, successfully; with all my discontent and desperate longing; with all my fear of death and of ‘crossing frontiers.’)

25 February 1986. The idea as a point of departure for the picture: that’s illustration. Conversely, acting and reacting in the absence of an idea leads to forms that can be named and explained, and thus generates the idea. (‘In the beginning was the deed.’)

… Action in pursuit of ideology creates lifeless stuff at best, and can easily become criminal.

[ … ]

18 March 1986. Formalism stands for something negative: contrived stuff, games played with color and form, empty aesthetics.

When I say that I take form as my starting point, and that I would like content to evolve out of form (and not the reverse process, whereby a form is found to fit a literary idea), then this reflects my conviction that form, the cohesion of formal element, the structure of the phenomenal appearance of matter (= form), generates a content — and that I can manipulate the outward appearance as it comes, in such a way as to yield this or that content.

I have only to act in accordance with the laws and conditions of form in order to get the materialization right.

In this effort I am first of all supported by music (Schoenberg and all other pure music evolves out of its own laws, and not out of the effort to find a form for a specific statement); and, secondly, I find the essential confirmation in Nature, which produces material changes without any intention (or cause) related to content, but takes on this or that form in accordance with its own preconditions. The more complicated this process is, the more functional Nature’s ‘contents,’ i.e. there is nothing but form. There is only ‘something’: there is only what there is.

21 March 1986. … Message Art is stupid in three separate ways. The events dragged in by the scruff of the neck are of unspeakable, hopeless inanity in themselves; this is logically matched both by the brazen stupidity of the ‘painterly presentation’ of these events and by their cockily idiotic captioning; and, lastly, unsurpassable stupidity becomes total when it blocks the awareness, even the surmise, that painting, if it is ever to contribute anything at all, must be the very polar opposite of all such messagecraft. And this threefold, shrieking stupidity is actually exceeded by the stupidity of those who promote it.

… art is a way of thinking things out differently, and of apprehending the intrinsic inaccessibility of phenomenal reality; that art is an instrument, a method of getting at that which is closed and inaccessible to us (the banal future, just as much as the intrinsically unknowable); that art has a formative and therapeutic, consolatory and informative, investigative and speculative function; it is thus not only existential pleasure but Utopia. …

21 April 1986. … there is no central image of the world (world view) any longer: we must work out everything for ourselves, exposed as we are in a kind of refuse heap, with no center and no meaning; we must cope with the advance of a previously undreamt of freedom. It also conforms to a general principle of Nature; for Nature, too, does not develop an organism in accordance with an idea: Nature lets its forms and modifications come, within the framework of its given facts and with the help of chance. …

25 April 1986. ‘If art stands aloof from progress and … eschews ideas as well as … theories, then it can recapture the degree of spontaneity, and naivety, and presence of mind, which it needs as a fish does water, in order to become a reality that exists of its own accord’ (wrote Heinz Friedrich). At first sight, I admittedly satisfy the demands of this dictum, which is loathsome to me (I never was ‘modern,’ or ‘radical,’ never subject to any definition of art). But the dictum is wrong, whichever way you look at it. Either there has never been any progress in the history of humankind (or beyond), which would be an absurd assertion, or there is no progress now either, in spite of the apparent and real retrogressive nature of today’s art, which acts either post-modern or trivial or snot-stupid. …

12 October 1986. … All these failures! It is a wonder to me that the pictures ever do show the occasional flash of distinction, because basically they are all lamentable displays of incapacity and failure (failure in the attempt to overcome this incapacity). But it is also untrue that I have nothing specific in mind. As with my landscapes: I see countless landscapes, photograph barely 1 in 100,000, and paint barely 1 in 100 of those that I photograph. I am therefore seeking something quite specific; from this I conclude that I know what I want.

25 October 1986. These continuing difficulties. A constant work crisis that has lasted for decades, in fact ever since the start. Crisis personified. (Perhaps I am mistaken here; perhaps this is a perfectly normal way to work.)




April 24, 2014

This Humid, Viscous Quality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… it transforms the human being into a thing, into vile, inert, disposable matter, with its entrails and osseous cavities.

This is from Audio-Vison: Sound On Screen by Michel Chion (1994):

The house lights go down and the movie begins. Brutal and enigmatic images appear on the screen: a film projector running, a closeup of the film going through it, terrifying glimpses of animal sacrifices, a nail being driven through a hand. then, a more “normal” time, a mortuary. Here we see a young boy we take at first to be a corpse like the others, but who turns out to be alive — he moves, he reads a book, he reaches toward the screen surface, and under his hand there seems to form the face of a beautiful woman.

What we have seen so far is the prologue sequence of Bergman’s Persona, a film that has been analyzed in books and university courses by the likes of Raymond Bellour, David Bordwell, Marilyn Johns Blackwell. And the film might go on this way.

Stop! Let us rewind Bergman’s film to the beginning and simply cut out the sound, try to forget what we’ve seen before, and watch the film afresh. Now we see something quite different.

First, the shot of the nail impaling the hand: played silent, it turns out to have consisted of three separate shots where we had seen one, because they had been linked by sound. What’s more, the nailed hand in silence is abstract, whereas with sound, it is terrifying, real. As for the shots in the mortuary, without the sound of dripping water that connected them together we discover in them a series of stills, parts of isolated human bodies, out of space and time. And the boy’s right hand, without the vibrating tone that accompanies and structures its exploring gestures, no longer “forms” the face, but just wanders aimlessly. The entire sequence has lost its rhythm and unity.

[image from Wikipedia]

… Added value is what gives the (eminently incorrect) impression that sound is unnecessary, that sound merely duplicates a meaning which in reality it brings about, either all on its own or by discrepancies between it and the image.

… each kind of perception bears a fundamentally different relationship to motion and stasis, since sound, contrary to sight, presupposes movement from the outset. In a film image that contains movement many other things in the frame may remain fixed. But sound by its very nature necessarily implies a displacement or agitation, however minimal. Sound does have means to suggest stasis, but only in limited cases.

… In the course of audio-viewing a sound film, the spectator does not note these different speeds of cognition as such, because added value intervenes. Why, for example, don’t the myriad rapid visual movements in king fu or special effects movies create a confusing impression? The answer is that they are “spotted” by rapid auditory punctuation, in the form of whistles, shouts, bangs, and tinkling that mark certain moments and leave a strong audiovisual memory.

Silent films already had a certain predilection for rapid montages of events. But in its montage sequences the silent cinema was careful to simplify the image to the maximum; that is, it limited explanatory perception in space so as to facilitate perception in time.

… If the sound cinema often has complex and fleeting movements issuing from the heart of a frame teeming with characters and other visual details, this is because the sound superimposed onto the image is capable of directing our attention to a particular visual trajectory.

… One of the most important effects of added value relates to the perception of time in the image, upon which sound can exert considerable influence. An extreme example, as we have seen, is found in the prologue sequence of Persona, where atemporal static shots are inscribed into a time continuum via the sounds of dripping water and footsteps. Sound temporalizes images in three ways.

The first is temporal animation of the image. To varying degrees, sound renders the perception of time in the image as exact, detailed, immediate, concrete — or vague, fluctuating, broad.

Second, sound endows shots with temporal linearization. In the silent cinema, shots do not always indicate temporal succession, wherein what happens in shot B would necessarily follow what is shown in shot A. But synchronous sound does impose a sense of succession.

Third, sound vectorizes or dramatizes shots, orienting them toward a future, a goal, and creation of a feeling of imminence and expectation. The shot is going somewhere and it is oriented in time.

… When a sequence of images does not necessarily show temporal succession in the actions it depicts — that is, when we can read them equally as simultaneous or successive — the addition of realistic, diegetic sound imposes on the sequence a sense of real time, like normal everyday experience, and above all, a sense of time that is linear and sequential.

… Imagine a peaceful shot in a film set in the tropics, where a woman is ensconced in a rocking chair on a veranda, dozing, her chest rising and falling regularly. The breeze stirs the curtains and the bamboo windchimes that hang by the doorway. The leaves of the banana trees flutter in the wind. We could take this poetic shot and easily project it from the last frame to the first, and this would change essentially nothing, it would all look just as natural. We can say that the time this shot depicts is real, since it is full of micro-events that reconstitute the texture of the present, but that it is not vectorized. Between the sense of moving from past to future and future to past we cannot confirm a single noticeable difference.

Now let us take some sounds to go with the shot — direct sound recorded during filming, or a soundtrack mixed after the fact: the woman’s breathing, the wind, the chinking of the bamboo chimes. If we now play the film in reverse, it no longer works at all, especially the windchimes. Why? Because each one of these clinking sounds, consisting of an attack and then a slight fading resonance, is a finite story, oriented in time in a precise and irreversible manner. Played in reverse, it can immediately be recognized as “backwards.” Sounds are vectorized.

The same is true for the dripping water in the prologue of Persona. The sound of the smallest droplet imposes a real and irreversible time on what we see, in that it presents a trajectory in time (small impact, then delicate resonance) in accordance with logics of gravity and return to inertia.

… Added value works reciprocally. Sound shows us the image differently than what the image shows alone, and the image likewise makes us hear sound differently than if the sound were ringing out in the dark. However for all this reciprocity the screen remains the principal support of filmic perception. Transformed by the image it influences, sound ultimately reprojects onto the image the product of their mutual influences. We find eloquent testimony to this reciprocity in the case of horrible or upsetting sounds. The image projects onto them a meaning they do not have at all by themselves.

Everyone knows that the classical sound film, which avoided showing certain things, called on sound to come to the rescue. Sound suggested the forbidden sight in a much more frightening way than if viewers were to see the spectacle with their own eyes.

… [In Liliana Cavani’s The Skin] An American tank accidentally runs over a little Italian boy, with — if memory does not fail me — a ghastly noise that sounds like a watermelon being crushed. Although spectators are not likely to have heard the real sound of a human body in this circumstance, they may imagine that it has some of this humid, viscous quality. The sound here has obviously been Foleyed in, perhaps precisely by crushing a melon.

… In Franju’s Eyes Without a Face we find one of the rare disturbing sounds that the public and critics have actually remarked upon after viewing: the noise made by the body of a young woman — the hideous remains of an aborted skin-transplant experiment — when surgeon Pierre Brasseur and his accomplice Alida Valli drop it into a family vault. What this flat thud (which never fails to send a shudder through the theater) has in common with the noise of Cavani’s film is that it transforms the human being into a thing, into vile, inert, disposable matter, with its entrails and osseous cavities.

My previous post from Chion’s book is here.




April 23, 2014

The Danger

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… and wherever they found it or expected to find it, there they lingered.

This is from the essay ‘Organization and Ecstasy: Deliberate and Accidental Communitas among Huichol Indians and American Youth’ by Barbara Myerhoff, found in Symbol and Politics in Communal Ideology: Cases and Questions edited by Sally Falk Moore and Barbara G. Myerhoff. My selections focus only on the ‘American Youth’ parts of her essay:

The term “communitas,” as used by Victor Turner, refers to a type of interpersonal relationship that may and does occur almost anywhere and in all kinds of societies — complex and simple, archaic and modern, unplanned and planned. This usage of communitas differs from the historical, temporal, and spatial limmits usually implied by “community,” and emphasizes that communitas is not limited to communities and is not necessarily more intense or common in that or any other given social type of relationship.

Communitas is only comprehensible in terms of “structure,” which is its opposite; indeed communitas is “antistructure.”

… It is only when the whole man is permitted to act spontaneously, without social responsibility and accountability, that communitas can develop. By definition, communitas cannot take place within structure, for it is ecstatic, literally an escape from the self. The spirit, in soaring flight, is liberated from the body and, correspondingly, from the social and historical rootedness that provides the daily mortal context. Of course, no one remains in a state of ecstasy indefinitely, so there must be ways of entering and leaving this condition, paths, as it were, between communitas and structure. Some societies provide such paths and chart the passages, and others leave them to chance, a risky business as will be seen.

In communitas, men involve their most private selves totally with one another and without the slightest suggestion of purpose or instrumentality. This is what Buber called Zwischenmenschlichkeit, and it is a transformative, often mystical experience. Without communitas, man and society are incomplete; yet without structure, existence is impossible. Dazzled by the power and joy of communitas, men often come together and attempt to institutionalize this condition by establishing utopian societies, but these efforts flounder when, as Turner puts it, “men find that they have to produce life’s necessities through work … to mobilize resources.”

… The example of accidental communitas used here [as opposed to the deliberate communitas of the Huichol Indians] is “Woodstock,” a reference to the florescence of American youth culture during the middle and late 1960s, known variously as “the counterculture,” “hippie culture,” “flower power,” the “Woodstock Nation,” and so forth. The high point of the movement was thought by many to have occurred in the summer of 1968 at an outdoor rock-music festival in Woodstock, New York. It lasted four days, was attended by approximately 500,000 young people, and was widely seen as constituting the fullest realization of the group’s most cherished values. In this case, Woodstock provides an excellent example of ad hoc communitas. It never recurred, at least not with the same intensity or in the same proportions, and the memory of it, the confusion and grief over its loss, made a considerable contribution to the ultimate dissolution of the Nation. In this interpretation, Woodstock became a kind of lost paradise, haunting and elusive to its devotees, both for those who had actually been there and for those who knew it vicariously and mythically.

[ … ]

… [After Woodstock] Life in the counterculture continued, and various styles of accommodation to an ideology based on ecstasy and accident were developed. Individual enterprises were carried on, enterprises that were tedious, and hardly at all in accord with spontaneous desires. Dishes were washed, dogs and babies were fed, planes and buses were caught, term papers were written. These feats were accomplished in various ways, four of which are by way of: tripping out, flip-flopping, the circuit, and the commune.

Skipping over ‘tripping out’ and ‘flip-flopping’:

… A third form of accommodation to the collapse of the Woodstock Nation was a kind of regular circuit made periodically by a number of the students when pressures built up in their ordinary lives. They would take off suddenly, alone or in groups of two and three, departing with a minimum of funds, clothes, and provisions, and cluster at freeway onramps holding hand-lettered signs indicating their destination. In actuality, their destination was not a place but a condition, that of communitas, and wherever they found it or expected to find it, there they lingered. It could occur anywhere, with anyone, and it was necessary to remain open and alert to this possibility at all times. Some events, place, and people were more promising than others, but communitas, they had learned, could not be scheduled, no matter how good the drugs, the music, the setting.

Yet the diminishing likelihood of finding communitas did not deter them from seeking it and, when they found it, seizing upon it as if it would never return. [ … ] And though the freeway onramp was infinitely less satisfactory and shorter-lived than Woodstock, it was better than relinquishing the vision entirely. The young people who had chosen this mode of adapting to the loss of the Woodstock communitas still spent most of their time in the life of structure — working, going to school, enacting everyday routines (often aimlessly), until, overwhelmed by the old memories, they bolted.

[ … ]

… the ultimate danger of communitas is not its capacity to disturb the social order within which it occurs. (I refer here to the danger which is alive and ecstatic, and finally unknowable.) The source of its danger is men clinging together in the state of roleless wonder that prevailed in the First Times. Rolelessness is formlessness and nakedness, where people abandon themselves to each other without any boundaries, to be at each other’s mercy in acute uncertainty. This venture into chaos, outside of society and self, can never be made safe. Man in the realm of the gods, the animals, the dead, and the spirits dares not ask for maps and procedures. This is the perilous passage back to Beginnings where one can hope to overcome human loneliness and separateness, but may also risk losing his soul and never returning at all. The danger, then, is not that of being alone, but of not being at all.

… The trick is always in the balance. Communitas may become bounded and rigid, a kind of totalitarianism of the sacred, as Turner points out, and this happens in monastic orders, nudist camps, communes, and religious sects, where the chosen way is guarded too diligently from the philistine at the gate. Structure is then instituted from within, growing more strident in its demands for conformity to the supremacy of the group life. Thus communitas “becomes what it beholds” and is engulfed by internally originating structure. The “group mind” absorbs the individual, and once more duty replaces freedom.

… The problem, evidently, is one of equilibrium. But it is a paradox to speak of balance in ecstasy.

My previous post from this book is here.




April 22, 2014

The Structure of the Given World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… The best modern painting, though it is mostly abstract painting, remains naturalistic in its core, despite all appearances to the contrary.

This is from ‘The Role of Nature in Modern Painting’ (1949) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… The decisive difference between cubism and the other movements appears to be in its relation to nature. The paradox of French painting between Courbet and Cézanne is that, while in effect departing further and further from illusionism, it was driven in its most important manifestations by the conscious desire to give an account of nature that would be more accurate or faithful in context than any before. The context was the medium, whose claims — the limitations imposed by the flat surface, the canvas’s shape, and the nature of the pigments — had to be accommodated to those of nature. The previous century of painting had erred in not granting the claims of the medium sufficiently and Cézanne, in particular, proposed to remedy this while at the same time giving an even more essentially accurate transcription of nature’s appearance. As it turned out, the movement that began with Cézanne eventually culminated in abstract art, which permitted the claims of the medium to override those of nature almost entirely Yet before that happened, nature did succeed in stamping itself so indelibly on modern painting that its stamp has remained even in art as abstract as Mondrian’s. What was stamped was not the appearance of nature, however, but its logic.

… While the impressionists had been interested in the purely visual sensations with which nature presented them at the given moment, the cubists were mainly occupied with the generalized forms and relations of the surfaces of volumes, describing and analyzing them in a simplified way that omitted the color and the “accidental” attributes of the objects that served them as models. Taking their cue from Cézanne, they sought for the decisive structure of things that lay permanently under the accidents of momentary appearance, and to do this they were willing to violate the norms of appearance by showing an object from more than one pont of view on the same picture plane. But in the end they did not find a completer way of describing the structure of objects on a flat surface — blueprints and engineer’s drawings could do that more adequately and had already withdrawn the task from the province of art. Instead, the cubists found the structure of the picture.

… flatness became the final, all-powerful premise of the art of painting, and the experience of nature could be transposed into it only by analogy, not by imitative reproduction. Thus the painter abandoned his interest in the concrete appearance, for example, of a glass and tried instead to approximate by analogy the way in which nature had married the straight contours that defined the glass vertically to the curved ones that defined it laterally. Nature no longer offered appearances to imitate, but principles to parallel.

Pablo Picasso, Girl with a mandolin (Fanny Tellier), 1910 [image from WikiPaintings]

… The positivist aesthetic of the twentieth century, which refuses the individual art the right to refer explicitly to anything beyond its own realm of sensations, was driving the cubist painter toward the flat, non-illusionist picture in any case, but it is doubtful whether he would have been able to make such superlative art of it as he did without the guidance of nature. Forced to invent an aesthetic logic ex nihilo (which never happens in art anyway), without reference to the logic by which bodies are organized in actual space, the cubists would never have arrived at that sense of the totality, integrity, economy, and indivisibility of he pictorial work of art — an object in its turn too — which governs genuine cubist style. By drawing an analogy with the way in which an object’s form and identity possess every grain of the substance of which it is composed, the cubists were able to give their main problem, that of the unity of the flat picture plane, a strict and durable solution.

As the poem, play, or novel depends for its final principle of form on the prevailing conception of the essential structure that integrates an event or cluster of events in actuality, so the form of a picture depends always on a similar conception of the structure that integrates visual experience “in nature.” The spontaneous integrity and completeness of the event or thing seen guides the artist in forming the invented event or object that is the work of art. This seems to me to be always true, but it is particularly important to point it out in the case of cubism since cubism has evolved into abstract art, and abstract art seems — but only seems — to conceal its relation to nature.

Picasso, Braque, Gris, Léger, Klee are never able to dispense with the object in nature as a starting point; no matter how far they may go at times toward the abstract. Without the support of nature, Picasso and Braque would not have had the means of organizing their beautiful collages, utterly remote from the models as they seem, into the intense unities which they are. The integrity, the self-subsistent harmonious fact of mandolin, bottle, or wineglass called up an echo that was largely unrecognizable no doubt, but which became as valid, because of its form, within the order of art as the original perception of the mandolin or bottle was within the order of practical experience.

George Braque, Woman with a Mandolin, 1910 [image from WikiPaintings]

Other, later masters have been able to do without the object as a starting point. But I feel that outright abstract painting, including Mondrian’s pictures certainly do. It is not because they are abstract that the works of the later Kandinsky and his followers fail to achieve coherence and substantiality, remaining for the most part mere pieces of arbitrary decoration; it is because they lack a sense of style, a feeling for the unity of the picture as an object; that is, they lack almost all reference to the structure of nature. The best modern painting, though it is mostly abstract painting, remains naturalistic in its core, despite all appearances to the contrary. It refers to the structure of the given world both outside and inside human beings. The artist who, like the nabis, the later Kandinsky, and so many of the disciples of the Bauhaus, tries to refer to anything else walks in a void.




April 21, 2014

Spiritual Indelicacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… I will soon put my cheek to your cheek, expecting the welcome of the prodigal, and be glad of it …

In the three extracts, below, I’m interested in the transformation and/or conflict between the first and the last. The first is from ‘Art — and the Personal Life’ by Marsden Hartley (1928):

As soon as a real artist finds out what art is, the more is he likely to feel the need of keeping silent about it, and about himself in connection with it. There is almost, these days, a kind of petit scandale in the thought of allying oneself with anything of a professional nature. And it is at this point that I shrink a little from asserting myself with regard to professional aspects of art. And here the quality of confession must break through. I have joined, once and for all, the ranks of the intellectual experimentalists. I can hardly bear the sound of the words “expressionism,” “emotionalism,” “personality,” and such, because they imply the wish to express personal life, and I prefer to have no personal life. Personal art is for me a matter of spiritual indelicacy. Persons of refined feeling should keep themselves out of their painting, and this means, of course, that the accusation made in the form of a querulous statement to me recently that “you are a perfectionist” is in the main true.

Landscape, New Mexico, 1916 [image from Wikipedia]

I am interested then only in the problem of painting, of how to make a better painting according to certain laws that are inherent in the making of a good picture — and not at all in private extraversions or introversions of specific individuals. That is for me the inherent error in a work of art. I learned this bit of wisdom from a principle of William Blake’s which I discovered early and followed far too assiduously the first half of my aesthetic life, and from which I have happily released myself — and this axiom was: “Put off intellectual and put on imagination; the imagination is the man.” From this doctrinal assertion evolved the theoretical axiom that you don’t see a thing until you look away from it — which was an excellent truism as long as the principles of the imaginative life were believed in and followed. I no longer believe in the imagination. I rose one certain day — and the whole thing had become changed. I had changed old clothes for new ones, and I couldn’t bear the sight of the old garments. And when a painting is evolved from imaginative principles I am strongly inclined to turn away because I have greater faith that intellectual clarity is better and more entertaining than imaginative wisdom or emotional richness.

Three years later, in 1931 letter to Carl Sprinchorn, Hartley writes:

… I am trying to return to the earlier conditions of my inner life, and take out of experience as it has come to me in the intervening years that which has enriched it, and make something of it more than just intellectual diversion. It can be done with proper attention and that is to be my mental and spiritual occupation from now on. In other words, it is the equivalent of what the religious-minded do when they enter a monastery or a convent and give up all the strain and ugliness of Life itself — and if I were younger with the same experience I am not at all sure I wouldn’t do something like that now.

Finally, six years beyond that letter (and nine years from the 1928 quote), in ‘On the Subject of Nativeness — A Tribute to Maine’ (1937), Hartley writes:

… And so I say to my native continent of Maine, be patient and forgiving, I will soon put my cheek to your cheek, expecting the welcome of the prodigal, and be glad of it, listening all the while to the slow, rich, solemn music of the Androscoggin [river] as it flows along.

Robin Hood Cove, Georgetown, Maine
, 1938 [image from the Whitney Museum site]




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