Unreal Nature

June 30, 2014

The Fabulous Dizziness of the Flying Fish

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… The discovery of this outerness, in circumstances of such tension and such utter strangeness, has, after all, very little to do with the preferences-by-protocol of those who claim to like art, or with their insufferable congresses of cultural juries whose second nature it is to follow the prudent skepticism that has traditionally characterized a “sensible” way of life.

This is from a ‘Letter to Pierre Matisse’ written by Alberto Giacometti (1947):

… Figures were never for me a compact mass but like a transparent construction.

Again, after making all kinds of attempts, I made cages with open construction inside …

… (During all the preceding years — the period of the academy — there had been for me a disagreeable contrast between life and work, one got in the way of the other. I could find no solution. The fact of wanting to copy a body at set hours and a body to which otherwise I was indifferent, seemed to me an activity that was basically false, stupid, and which made me waste many hours of my life.)

It was no longer a question of reproducing a lifelike figure but of living, and of executing only what had affected me, or what I really wanted. But all this alternated, contradicted itself, and continued by contrast. There was also a need to find a solution between things that were rounded and calm, and sharp and violent.

Alberto Giacometti, Place (Platz), 1948

The following is from ‘A new Beyond’ by Michel Tapié (1952):

… Today, art must stupefy to be art. At a time when, for the best reason and the worst, everything is brought into play to explain art, to popularize and vulgarize it, to get us to swallow it down as a normal complement to our everyday living, the true creators know that the only way for them to express the inevitability of their message is through the extraordinary — paroxysm, magic, total ecstasy. That is why these pages will not discuss aesthetics or works depending on it alone, since today aesthetics is an excuse for nothing but vain pretension, a shabby alibi for the exercise of talents utterly lacking in necessity.

[ … ]

… this work [of an Individual] is, in the human scale of things, something so extraordinary, endowed with a magic so stupefying, so useless in the dreary framework of the everyday, and at the same time so irreducibly necessary to those who, from day to day, seek to live the parabola of our age, that man, coming into contact with it, must feel — to borrow Nietzsche’s image — the fabulous dizziness of the flying fish, which, after the tremendous struggle to change its atmosphere, discovers the outerness of the crests of the waves. The discovery of this outerness, in circumstances of such tension and such utter strangeness, has, after all, very little to do with the preferences-by-protocol of those who claim to like art, or with their insufferable congresses of cultural juries whose second nature it is to follow the prudent skepticism that has traditionally characterized a “sensible” way of life.

… For some time now we have been hearing the so-called right-thinking people say that this time we have gone so far beyond the limits that at last no one could possibly be fooled … , that until now one might just, strictly speaking, have agreed … , but that now … and all the rest. Unfortunately for them, now a new era is beginning, with sensibilities both free and pure enough to walk into it confidently, and heedless of any way out.




June 29, 2014

Nothing Is Promised

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… the disappointment comes from waiting and from expectation, and there’s waiting and expectation because there is, already, sense. This isn’t a promise that might or might not be kept.

This is from A Finite Thinking by Jean-Luc Nancy (2003):

… A finite thinking is one that, on each occasion, thinks the fact that it is unable to think what comes to it. Of course, it isn’t a matter of refusing to see ahead or to plan. Rather, a finite thinking is one that is always surprised by its own freedom and by its own history, the finite history that produces events and sense across what is represented as the infinity of a senseless process. And this is also why, in our own time, it’s pointless to seek to appropriate our origins: we are neither Greek, nor Jewish, nor Roman, nor Christian, nor a settled combination of any of these — words whose sense, in any case, is never simply given. We are neither the “accomplishment” nor the “overcoming” of “metaphysics,” neither process nor errancy. But we do exist and we “understand” that this existence (ourselves) is not the senselessness of a reabsorbed and annulled signification. In distress and necessity we “understand” that this “we,” here, now, is still and once more responsible for a singular sense.

[ … ]

… Once again, as happens with every great rupture of sense, philosophy no longer writes in the same way. Nor does poetry. Perhaps “philosophy” or “poetry” will no longer be written as such. These illimitable words carry the entire weight of a question of sense, and most of all carry the proposition that a “question” of finite sense isn’t a question that could be articulated in terms of sense, even as we can’t disarticulate it in terms of some non-sense. Hence, it’s not even a question. Not “What is finite sense?” but simply, “The finitude of being suspends the sense of that which is sense.” How do we write that?

Rimbaud: How to act, O stolen heart?

There is real disappointment here, and suffering: and this is why thinking is hard. But the disappointment comes from waiting and from expectation, and there’s waiting and expectation because there is, already, sense. This isn’t a promise that might or might not be kept. Nothing is promised to existence. Hence disappointment itself is sense.

… Here, thinking burrows back to its source. It knows this source, its very being, as what is, in itself, neither thought, unthought, nor unthinkable, but the finite sense of existing. Thinking burrows back to its source and so, as thought, opens it and drains [it] once again as it both gathers and scatters it. Thought has to think itself as what loses itself in thinking — necessarily, if the sense that it thinks is the sense of innumerable finitudes and appropriations of nothing.

We might be tempted to write: “If a finite thinking never sees the light of day, if it doesn’t find its voice in writing, then we will have failed to think our own times.” As if, in such an injunction, we knew and anticipated an essence of finite thinking, with its form, if not its norm. But no, a finite thinking is already working, or un-working, already prior and already posterior to what we can say about it, here or elsewhere. It’s written here, but before and after this “here,” finishing it off already, and not yet. Already for yesterday and tomorrow making and carrying sense away — a thinking that can no longer impose itself, nor even propose itself, but that must, with all its resources, expose itself to what is finite about sense. Multiple and each time singular — what is a “time” or “occasion” of thinking? what is a thought? — hard, entrenched, as material as this line of ink, but still fugitive, a finite thinking. Just one.




June 28, 2014

Too Beautiful to Be Real

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… There are societies where, once the book is closed, the reader goes on believing; there are others where he does not.

This is from Did the Greeks Believe in their Myths?: An Essay on Constitutive Imagination by Paul Veyne (1983):

… It is not self-evident that humanity has a past, known or unknown. One does not perceive the limit of the centuries, held in memory, any more than one perceives the line bounding the visual field. One does not see the obscure centuries stretching beyond this horizon. One simply stops seeing, and that is all. The heroic generations are found on the other side of this temporal horizon in another world. This is the mythical world in whose existence thinkers from Thucydides or Hecataeus to Pausanias or Saint Augustine will continue to believe — except that they will stop seeing it as another world and will want to reduce it to the mode of the present. They will act as if myth pertained to the same realm of belief as history.

On the other hand, those who were not thinkers saw beyond the horizon of collective memory a world that was even more beautiful than that of the good old days, too beautiful to be real. This mythical world was not empirical; it was noble. This is not to say that it incarnated or symbolized “values.” The heroic generations did not cultivate virtue any more than do the men of today, but they had more “value” than the men of today. A hero is more real than a man …

[ … ]

… Napoleon’s biography is not only true but probable. On the other hand, one would say that the world of the Iliad, whose temporality is that of tales and where gods enter into human affairs, is a fictional universe. Indeed; but Madame Bovary truly believed that Naples was a different world from our own. There happiness flourished twenty-four hours a day with the density of a Sartrean en-soi. Others have believed that in Maoist China men and things do not have the same humble, quotidian reality that they have here at home; unfortunately, they take this fairy-tale truth for a program of political truth. A world cannot be inherently fictional; it can be fictional only according to whether one believes in it or not.

… The world of Alice [in Wonderland] and its fairy-tale program is offered to us as a realm as plausible and true as our own — as real in relation to itself, so to speak. We have shifted the sphere of truth, but we are still within the true or its analogy. This is why realism in literature is at once a fake (it is not reality), a useless exertion (the fairy world would seem no less real), and the most extreme sophistication (to fabricate the real with our real: how baroque!). Far from being opposed to the truth, fiction is only its by-product. All we need to do is open the Iliad and we enter into the story, as they say, and lose our bearings. The only subtlety is that later on we do not believe. There are societies where, once the book is closed, the reader goes on believing; there are others where he does not.

We change truths when we shift from our everyday life into the domain of Racine, but we do not perceive this. We have just written a jealous, interminable, and confused letter, which we suddenly retract an hour later by telegram, and we have been transported into the realm of Racine or Catullus, where a cry of jealousy, as dense as Sartre’s en-soi, sounds without a false note for four lines. How true this cry is to us!

… As Oswald Ducrot writes in Dire et ne pas dire, information is an illocution that can be completed only if the receiver recognizes the speaker’s competence and honesty beforehand, so that, from the outset, a piece of information is situated beyond the alternative between truth and falsehood.

… in Greece there existed a domain, the supernatural, where everything was to be learned from people who knew. It was composed of events, not abstract truths against which the listener could oppose his own reason. The facts were specific: heroes’ names and patronyms were always indicated, and the location of the action was equally precise (Pelion, Cithaeron, Titaresius … place names have a music in Greek mythology). This state of affairs may have lasted more than a thousand years. It did not change because the Greeks discovered reason or invented democracy but because the map of the field of knowledge was turned upside down by the creation of new powers of affirmation (historical investigation and speculative physics) that competed with myth and, unlike it, expressly offered the alternative between true and false.

… genealogical literature, in which Pausanias found a historiography, in reality tells of aitiai, origins, the establishment of the order of the world. The implicit idea (still found in book 5 of Lucretius) is that our world is finished, formed and complete (as my child said to me with some amazement, while watching masons at work, “Papa, so all the houses haven’t been built yet?”). By definition, this establishment occurred before the dawn of history, in the mythical time of the hero. Everything focuses on telling how a man, a custom, or a city came into being. Once born, a city has only to live its historic life, which is no longer a concern of etiology.

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




June 27, 2014

Against Tin Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… the affirmation was naturally there, the wish to paint paintings as beautiful as those by Caspar David Friedrich, to claim that this time is not lost but possible, that we need it, and that it is good. And it was a polemic against modern art, against tin art …

This is from the 2002 ‘MoMA interview with Robert Storr’ found in Gerhard Richter: Writings 1961-2007 edited by Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (2009):

[ … ]

Bruce Nauman once made a neon with the text ‘The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths,’ which he put in the window of his studio like a beer sign. That piece was addressed both to himself and to the public.

That’s good!

And what appeared to be a declaration was really a question: ‘Do you believe this? Do I believe this?’ Is there any parallel between what he was doing and what you’re after?

Yes, I believe that there is something like that. That’s possible. But I have too much respect for Bruce Nauman to simply claim that we share the same concern, that we are thinking about the same things. It doesn’t work like that.

Another way of approaching the problem might be to talk a little bit about your decision to copy Titian’s Annunciation or your interest in landscape.

It is all the same motivation.

In other interviews, you’ve suggested that using nostalgia or using an anachronism was a way of being subversive. But painting in traditional modes can also involve an assimilation of traditions. Were you employing these images as a tool for upsetting the fixed ideas of the avant-garde, or were you reaffirming the basic paradigms to which you resorted? Were they primarily a tool, or a goal?

That is too difficult.

Caspar David Friedrich, Evening [image from WikiArt]

Alright, but take the landscapes and the Titian copy: not only was the style in which they were painted a departure from modernism, but so were the images. The idea of someone in your position painting a Titian or painting a beautiful landscape in a somewhat romantic way was bound to get a reaction, was bound to make people say, ‘What is he doing?’

On the one hand, it was a polemic against this annoying modernist development that I hated. And, of course, the assertion of my freedom: ‘Why couldn’t I paint like this and who could tell me not to?’ And then the affirmation was naturally there, the wish to paint paintings as beautiful as those by Caspar David Friedrich, to claim that this time is not lost but possible, that we need it, and that it is good. And it was a polemic against modern art, against tin art, against ‘wild art’ — and for freedom, that I could do whatever I wanted to.

Tin art?

Much modern stuff looked like aluminum. Modern, pure. Minimalism was going on at that time.

Caspar David Friedrich, Easter Morning, 1835 [image from WikiArt]

[ … ]

… in that period from the late 1960s to the middle 1970s, one gets the impression that things were very hard for you.

Yes, it was at that time I lost the ground under my feet.

How so? Because the world changed on you or because you began to doubt what you were doing?

I didn’t know what to do but to paint. I was ‘out.’

But if I understand the situation correctly, to be out and to choose an entirely unexplored direction can also be a kind of freedom?

Well, the freedom and the comfort gained from being out were not very substantial. Being out didn’t have such a positive effect. After all, I wanted to be on the inside. I don’t know where I was.

But, in fact, being in that position opened up a whole different way of thinking about the work, didn’t it?

I don’t remember it being so different. Anyway, only much later did I realize that these crises were not something to get agitated about but that they were the normal way of working. Everybody has them. Well, maybe it is not as simple as that. There are people who work with more confidence and others who stumble from crisis to crisis. It was somewhere in-between.

[ … ]

Caspar David Friedrich, Sailing Ship [image from WikiArt]




June 26, 2014

Delicate Manipulation of Perceptual Habits

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… A large and complicated part of the function of any film narration is to present immediately just enough material so that the desired inferences will reliably be drawn.

… The methods of narration … are aimed at encouraging some of our perceptual dispositions and suppressing others.

This is from Narration in Light: Studies in Cinematic Point of View by George M. Wilson (1986):

There are moments in some films which suddenly force us to reconsider, for at least an instant, our complacent ways of watching at the cinema. Here is one example that jolted me. In the Orson Welles film The Lady from Shanghai, two distinguishable series of shots are rapidly intercut. In one series, two male characters drive hurriedly toward an important destination. In the other, a female character, who is known to be at that time far distant from the men, learns of their journey and reacts angrily to this information. The following three-shot progression concludes the intercut series: (1) a shot from within the men’s car reveals that a truck has abruptly pulled out onto the road ahead of them; (2) the woman’s hand is shown reaching out and pressing an unidentified button; and (3) the men’s car collides violently with the truck. Viewing these shots, it appears as if the pressing of the button has mysteriously caused the accident, but, at the same time, this impression of causality is difficult to reconcile with common sense and difficult also to integrate into our immediate sense of the film’s narrative development at that juncture.

We could construct a number of hypotheses about this odd instance of apparent causation in the film.

… this relatively simple example illustrates two general points that will help to define the basic concerns of this book. First, if we are to make the most minimal sense of even a short series of shots like the one cited above, then we are forced to decide for ourselves a range of questions which plausibly belong to the topic of “point of view.” We have just observed that we have to work out how our perceptual comprehension of the relevant film world is related to our normal modes of ordering and understanding perception in everyday visual experience.

… one argues that the film is best understood as deploying certain global strategies of narration within which the local perturbation, seen in a specified fashion, can be made to fit. These global strategies, especially in their more epistemic aspects, generate broad questions about how the film and its fictional world are to be apprehended and about how well we are situated to grasp whatever significance they may bear.

… A large and complicated part of the function of any film narration is to present immediately just enough material so that the desired inferences will reliably be drawn. But there is always an actual or potential gap between the inferences that will be made and the inferences that would, by some reasonable standard, be justified. Where a substantial disparity exists between the two classes, questions are implied either about the narration’s power to construct a satisfactory fictional narrative or about the audience’s acceptance of that power. Any film narration, whether trivial or intricately problematic, is marked by implicit assumptions about the relations between actual and justifiable inferences made on its basis.

… Surely, one wants to say, film does more than tell a story that is rendered in a visual medium, and it expresses more than whatever meaning might be ascribed to the elements of the action of the story thereby rendered. An important part of the “more” to which one wants to appeal is the idea that film guides us to a way of seeing its fictional constituents, and the meaning a spectator discovers in these constituents is not detachable from the determinate point of view from which they have been shown. The difficult task is to find the means of characterizing explicitly our sense of those determinate points of view. It should be completely unattractive to declare that this intuitively central feature of film perception is either ineffable or inexplicable.

… one’s conception of what, in a given situation, is genuinely visible to a suitably placed observer, is likely to be problematic for others. I have in mind here the myriad disagreements, some practical, others systematic and philosophical, about what is and can be given in perception. For example, some believe that it is only the physical properties of an agent’s behavior that we literally observe; others, on an opposite extreme, believe that it is possible just as literally to see God’s grace imminent in some of that human activity. Hence, the filmmaker’s beliefs about such matters may be quite different from the counterpart beliefs of most of his or her audience. When this is so, the very possibility of the sort of cinematic communication which is intended is threatened from the beginning.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The task is then to construct a form of narration that can evoke, at least for the duration of the film, the necessary concordance of vision — a tacit agreement about the kinds of perceptual intelligibility that the portrayed action may be understood to have. In most films, the filmmaker presupposes a commonplace perspective that is automatically and unthinkingly available to a standard contemporary audience. The narrational strategies that are employed are correspondingly conventional and undemanding. But in more sophisticated films, the solutions to these problems are far from trivial, and they involve extensive and delicate manipulation of perceptual habits and expectations. The methods of narration which constitute the concrete realization of these solutions are aimed at encouraging some of our perceptual dispositions and suppressing others. They often instruct us in new ways of integrating visual experience.




June 25, 2014

The Peculiar Property of Certain Individuals

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

“… vast reaches of culture, far from being ‘carried’ by a group or community … are discovered only as the peculiar property of certain individuals …”

Continuing through From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play by Victor Turner (1982):

… the general theory you take into the field leads you to select certain data for attention, but blinds you to others perhaps more important for the understanding of the people studied. As I came to know Ndembu well both in stressful and uneventful times as “men and women alive” (to paraphrase D.H. Lawrence), I became increasingly aware of this limitation. Long before I had read a word of Wilhelm Dilthey’s I had shared his notion that “structures of experience” are fundamental units in the study of human action. Such structures are irrefrangibly threefold, being at once cognitive, conative, and affective. Each of these terms is itself, of course, a shorthand for a range of processes and capacities. Perhaps this view was influenced by Edward Sapir’s celebrated essay in the Journal of Social Psychology, “Emergence of a Concept of Personality in a Study of Culture,” in which he wrote: “In spite of the oft-asserted impersonality of culture, a humble truth remains that vast reaches of culture, far from being ‘carried’ by a group or community … are discovered only as the peculiar property of certain individuals, who cannot but give these cultural goods the impress of their own personality.”

[line break added to make this easier to read] Not only that, but persons will desire and feel as well as think, and their desires and feelings impregnate their thoughts and influence their intentions. Sapir assailed cultural overdeterminatism as a reified cognitive construct of the anthropologist, whose “impersonalized” culture is hardly more than “an assembly of loosely overlapping ideas and action systems, which, through verbal habit, can be made to assume the appearance of a closed system of behavior,” a position corresponding to some extent with Hayden White’s organicist paradigm — as prestigious among American anthropologists as functionalism was among their British contemporaries. It became clear to me that an “anthropology of experience” would have to take into account the psychological properties of individuals as well as the culture which, as Sapir insists, is “never given” to each individual, but rather, “gropingly discovered,” and, I would add, some parts of it quite late in life. We never cease to learn our own culture, let alone other cultures, and our own culture is always changing.

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




June 24, 2014

Only After Reconciling

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… he has begun to paint with consistent success and largeness only after reconciling himself to the fact that his primary impulse to paint lies in the enjoyment of art itself.

This is from ‘Review of an Exhibition of Arshile Gorky’ (1948) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

Art is, of course, a reading experience, but until about eighty years ago it seemed to be unable to register its own proper experience. I mean that part of experience which has to do with the making of art itself. Even now, though we are relatively well accustomed to poems about the making of poetry (Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Valéry, Stevens) and novels about the problems of novel-writing (Gide and Joyce), we still find music (like Schoenberg’s) about composing and pictures about painting (like cubism) rebarbative; and we complain about the over-intellectuality, aridity, abstruseness, lack of humanity, in these works. Only philistines talk about the lack of “humanity” in art — as if anything worthy of being considered a work of art could be un-human; yet when it comes to contemporary painting — and music — a good many otherwise enlightened people do become philistines, alas. And many may even complain about “un-human” abstruseness in connection with Arshile Gorky’s newest paintings now on show at Julien Levy’s.

Arshile Gorky, Soft Night, 1947 [image from WikiArt]

What is new about these paintings is the unproblematic voluptuousness with which they celebrate and display the processes of painting for their own sake. With this sensuous richness, which is a refined product of assimilated French tradition, and his own personality as an artist, with all its strengths and weaknesses, Gorky at last arrives at himself and takes his place — awaiting him now for almost twenty years — among the very few contemporary American painters whose work is of more than national importance. Gorky has been for a long time one of the best brush-handlers alive, but he was unable until recently to find enough for his brush to say.

Arshile Gorky, Agony, 1947 [image from WikiArt]

[line break added to make this easier to read] Now he seems to have found that in celebrating the elements of the art he practices and in proclaiming his mastery over them. Unlike the classical cubists, Mondrian, or even Miró, he does not seek out problems of painting for his matter. Nor does he comment on the spirit of the times, answering its agitation with his own. On the face of it, Gorky is a complete hedonist, deeper in his hedonism than almost any French painter, and he has begun to paint with consistent success and largeness only after reconciling himself to the fact that his primary impulse to paint lies in the enjoyment of art itself. His art is not incisive — and I am afraid many will misunderstand it for this reason — but it is some of the most luscious, elegant, and mellifluous grand-style painting I have seen, and mixes a certain strength with all its softness and grace. If it still lacks fullness of body, it does not lack solidity and coherence. If certain canvases appear loose or thin, others attain real sonority and resonance and become monumental.

Arshile Gorky, Diary of a Secucer, 1945 [image from WikiArt]

The paintings shown above are those praised (along with some criticism) by Greenberg in this or other reviews.




June 23, 2014

Into the Fingers

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… instead of painting it, to make it touchable, to translate the eye into the fingers.

… What I am interested in is that the equivalent of my fantasy exists outside of me …

This is from ‘Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol: A Discussion’ moderated by Bruce Glaser (1964). My excerpt is entirely from Oldenburg:

… If I didn’t think that what I was doing had something to do with enlarging the boundaries of art I wouldn’t go on doing it. I think, for example, the reason I have done a soft object is primarily to introduce a new way of pushing space around in a sculpture or painting. And the only reason I have taken up Happenings is because I wanted to experiment with total space or surrounding space. I don’t believe that anyone has ever used space before in the way Kaprow and others have been using it in Happenings. There are many ways to interpret a Happening, but one way is to use it as an extension of painting space. I used to paint but I found it too limiting so I gave up the limitations that painting has. Now I go in the other direction and violate the whole idea of painting space.

Claes Oldenburg, Floor Cake, 1962 [image from WikiArt]

But the intention behind this is more important. For example, you might ask what is the thing that has made me make cake and pastries and all those other things. Then I would say that one reason has been to give a concrete statement to my fantasy. In other words, instead of painting it, to make it touchable, to translate the eye into the fingers. That has been the main motive in all my work. That’s why I make things soft that are hard and why I treat perspective the way I do, such as with the bedroom set, making an object that is a concrete statement of visual perspective. But I am not terribly interested in whether a thing is an ice cream cone or a pie or anything else. What I am interested in is that the equivalent of my fantasy exists outside of me, and that I can, by imitating the subject, make a different work from what has existed before.




June 22, 2014

The Lot, The Share

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… sense is the lot, the share of existence …

This is from A Finite Thinking by Jean-Luc Nancy (2003):

… To say that being is open isn’t to say that it’s first this or that and then, over and above this, marked or distinguished by openness. Being is open — ant this is what I”m trying to establish in terms of the being of sense or in terms of being -to -the self — only in this openness as such; it is itself the open.

… There is sense only once this being -to itself no longer belongs to itself, no longer comes back to itself. Only once it is this not -coming -back -to itself: this restless refusal to come back to itself in such a way that it does not simply “remain” outside, either in the sense of a lack or in the sense of a surplus, but as itself the to of being to itself, the open of its openness.

… what we have to think is this: that thought is never given, neither at the beginning nor at the end. From which it follows that it is never “giveable” as such. There’s not an “ounce” of sense that could be either received or transmitted: the finitude of thinking is indissociable from the singularity of “understanding” what is, each time, a singular existence. (All of which isn’t to say that there’s nothing that we might think “in common,” as it were. I will come back to this.)

… Essence is of the order of having: an assembly of qualities. By contrast, existence is itself its own essence, which is to say that it is without essence. It is, by itself, the relation to the fact of its being as sense. This relation is one of lack and of need: “The privilege of existing shelters in it the necessity [and the distress; die Not] of having to need the understanding of being.”

… it is a matter of responding to and from oneself as the existing of an existence. Finitude is the responsiblity of sense, and is so absolutely. Nothing else.

And so I would also want to add: finitude is the sharing of sense. That is, sense takes place on every occasion of existence alone, on every singular occasion of its response-responsibility; but this also means that sense is the lot, the share of existence, and that this share is divided between all the singularities of existence. (From which it follows that there is no sense that could engage merely one being; from the outset, community is, as such, the engagement of sense. Not of a collective sense, but of the sharing of finitude.)

My previous post from Nancy’s book is here.




June 21, 2014

An Authentic Kernel

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… mythical tradition transmits an authentic kernel that over the ages has been overgrown with legends.

This is from the Introduction to Did the Greeks Believe in their Myths?: An Essay on Constitutive Imagination by Paul Veyne (1983):

… In their accounts of the Peloponnesian War or the legendary first centuries of Roman history, the ancient historians copied one another. This happened not simply because, lacking other sources and authentic documents, they were reduced to such an undertaking; for we, who have access to even fewer documents and are reduced to the statements of these historians, do not necessarily believe them. For us their texts are simply sources, while the ancient historians considered the version transmitted by their predecessors as tradition. Even had they been able to, they would not have sought to rework this tradition but only to improve it. Moreover, for the periods for which they did have documents, they either used them not at all or used them much less than we would and in a completely different way.

Thus, Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus imperturbably narrated the four obscure centuries of earliest Roman history by compiling everything their predecessors had stated without ever asking, “Is it true?” They limited themselves to removing details that seemed false or, rather, unlikely or unreal. They presumed that their predecessors were telling the truth. It made no difference that this predecessor wrote several hundred hears after the events had taken place. Dionysius and Livy never asked the question that seems so elementary to us: “But how does he know that?” Could they have supposed that this forerunner himself had predecessors, the first of who had been a witness to the actual events? Not at all. They knew very well that the earliest Roman historians had lived four hundred years after Romulus and, furthermore, they did not care. The tradition was there and it was the truth; that was all. If they had learned how this tradition had originally taken form among the first Roman historians — what sources, legends, and memories had been blended in their crucible — they would have seen this as merely the prehistory of the tradition. It would not have made a more authentic text in their eyes. The materials of a tradition are not the tradition itself, which always emerges as a text, a tale carrying authority. History is born as tradition, not built up from source materials.

… one does not criticize an interpretation of the whole or a detail, but one can undertake to destroy a reputation, to sap an unmerited authority. Does Herodotus’ account deserve its authority, or is the author only a liar? As in matters of orthodoxy, so too in questions of authority or tradition: it is all or nothing.

… for them history is born, not out of controversy — as it is with us — but from inquiry (and that is precisely the meaning of the Greek word historia).

… The habit of citing authorities, of scholarly annotation, was not invented by historians but came from theological controversy and juridical practice, where Scripture, the Pandects, or trial proceedings were cited. In the Summa contra Gentiles, Aquinas does not refer to passages from Aristotle; he takes responsibility for reinterpreting them and regards them as the very truth, which is anonymous. On the other hand, he cites Scripture, which is Revelation and not the truth of anonymous reason. In his admirable commentary on the Theodosian Code in 1695, Godefroy gives his references. This legal historian, as we would call him, considered himself a jurist, not a historian. In short, scholarly annotation has a litigious and polemical origin.

… in the eight of the ten books what make up his great work, Pausanias finally writes, “When I began to write my history, I was inclined to count these legends as foolishness; but on getting as far as Arcadia I grew to hold a more thoughtful view of them, which is this: in the days of old, those Greeks who were considered wise spoke their sayings not straight out but in riddles, and so the legends of Cronos I conjectured to be one sort of Greek wisdom.” This tardy confession shows in retrospect that Pausanias did not believe a word of the innumerable unlikely legends that he had calmly put forth in the preceding six hundred pages. We think of another avowal, no less tardy, coming from Herodotus at the end of the seventh of his nine books. Did the Argives betray the Greek cause in 480 B.C., and did they ally themselves with the Persians, who claimed to have the same mythic ancestor as they, i.e., Perseus? “My business,” writes Herodotus, “is to record what people say; but I am by no means bound to believe it — and that may be taken to apply to this book as a whole.”

[ … ]

… mythical tradition transmits an authentic kernel that over the ages has been overgrown with legends.

…If legends are thought to transmit collective memories, the historicity of the Trojan War is believable. If these legends are considered as fiction, the historicity of that war is unacceptable, and the equivocal finds of the archeologists will be otherwise interpreted. Underlying the issues of method and positivity we find a more fundamental question: what is myth? Is it altered history? History that has been amplified? A collective mythomania? Is it allegory? What was myth to the Greeks? This is the moment for us to note not only that the feeling of truth is a capacious one (which easily comprehends myth) but also that “truth” means many things … and can even encompass fictional literature.

My previous post from Veyne’s book is here.




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