Unreal Nature

October 31, 2014

Dreams Are Hard to Draw

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… Curiosity’s pictures are research trying to equip itself with eyes.

This is from Writings in Art by Per Kirkeby, edited by Asger Schnack (2012):

[ … ]

has always been a thing I’ve employed fiercely in my painting — something flat, perhaps an illusion, something I can steer and move. My texts are scenery, too. Scenery is the best way of putting forward all sorts of things, without dying of starvation. Scenery is also a kind of ruin; ruins are formed of volume reduced to theatrical decoration. Churchyards with burnt-out churches, homes to bats, the empty castle ruins. That’s my link with Romanticism. The forest and the wind in the background is a sound effect.

[ … ]

The sun and the stars tell you where you are on the map. With the map they can steer everything, predict the weather, turn the wildness of the mountains into pedagogy (i.e. understand why you travel through the clouds when you leave the highland of your chapped lips for the greenhouse of the coast). The map is your knowledge and also the limit of your imagination. The Indians are no longer mistaken. Journeys easily become books. You can try to break the map with drugs and stolen glances, but the map is also an enticer. Keep a cool head because here comes something amazing. And you can only see what can be seen, dreams are hard to draw.

[ … ]

… I think I am working on something, struggling with something, doing something, occupying myself with something, manipulating something: that is, I do so with intuitions as my guide. And my intuition is a conglomerate of all possible kinds of articulated systems of reference, those borne by tradition, those I share with my friends, my own, all sorts of people, including the unenlightened, the indoctrinated, from the past, from school, my friends, all sorts of people, including the biological factors, my large nose, wide mouth.

[ … ]

… I think that I myself, and the pictures I make, are pure victims of my curiosity. My curiosity is the energy in my life, an attempt to express a will to make existence hang together. Curiosity is the dynamic agent that surges forth from the strange medium of the speech of my pictures that is my own self. Thus, all pictures that issue from oneself are an expression of a form of research in the surrounding world, albeit research that is almost blind. Curiosity’s pictures are research trying to equip itself with eyes.




October 30, 2014

Neither Simple Nor Obvious

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… The present, like movements, is neither simple nor obvious, but plural and only ever glimpsed in a fleeting, felt image.

This is from Philosophy and the Moving Image: Refractions of Reality by John Mullarkey (2009):

… The art of cinema involves a fabulation of images, a narrative of images that may well (indeed, will) ‘thwart’ the textural narrative, interrupting it, contradicting it. There is a certain way in which ‘the play of appearances’ is put ‘into images,’ a ‘logic that puts the fable into images’ that is different from the ‘story,’ so-called, the plot or fabula (as Bordwell described it). A fable has a moral that both ‘meets’ the narrated story and thwarts it in a twofold approach: through another meaning and, more essentially, through being another source of meaning. Films can tell stories cinematically that exceed both their scripts and their concepts. As Rancière states when discussing They Live by Night (Nicholas Ray, 1948), a woman’s words may say one thing, but her ‘loose and brushed hair’ admit something else. An actor’s performance, even his or her appearance, is another writing of the work.

Rancière sets out the basis of this dissent within the film-aesthetic, a disagreement between two regimes of art. The ‘representative regime’ is a system that coordinates the relations between what can be seen and what can be said, between the unfolding of schemas of intelligibility and the unfolding of material manifestations. There is a strict regime of what counts as art, what makes a suitable subject for art, and what rules must be adhered to to render this subject into art. The ‘aesthetic regime,’ by contrast, rejects this ‘double identity of opposites,’ seeing both as ‘an absolute power of making on the part of the artwork,’ as well as a site for this power of unconditioned production in ‘absolute passivity.’ To cite Novalis (as Rancière is fond of doing) ‘everything speaks’ — not just those parts of reality deemed appropriately ‘aesthetic.’ Art is autonomous and anything can be art — animals, trees, stones.

[ … ]

Now there is poetry anywhere and everywhere — in the attitude of a bear, the flick of a fan, or the movement of a head of hair. There is poetry wherever some spectacle can symbolize the identity of what is thought and what is not thought, what is wanted and what is not wanted. [Rancière]

On the other hand, however, this ‘everything’ that speaks is also absolutely passive, for it now needs an artist to let it speak, to let its activity act. And this is the paradox of the aesthetic regime, both in the arts in general and in film art in particular. The aesthetic regime posits the ‘radical autonomy of art’ from any rule external to art, but it therewith makes everything artful and so mundane. This very mundanity of the world beckons the power of the artist as the necessary center through which the world can assume its artful mantle. We are left, as Film Fables puts it, with a bipolar ‘pure creative activity thenceforward thought to be without rules or models, and the pure passivity of the expressive power inscribed on the very surface of things, independently of every desire to signify or create.’

[ … ]

… filmologist Albert Michotte … showed experimentally that people tend to anthropomorphize even the simplest films of moving dots and squares with qualities like causality, life and intention. Since it is the movement alone, he argued, that is actual on the screen (as opposed to the objects which are represented) it is that which ‘liberates the object from the plane in which it is integrated’ when the viewer identifies the filmic object with what it represents. Objects only appear on the screen, while the movement there is a reality.

… Finally, then, the reality effect in fictional film lies not simply in the artifice of fabricating fact, but also in fabricating time, bringing to the image (constructed in the past) the ‘illusion of the present tense.’ … We feel that we are seeing it happen now, and it is from this temporal state of actuality that our paradoxical ‘beliefs and desires’ also follow. One could argue that animating fiction is, by the same token, a present-making, for what is alive must also be present.

… Is not fabulation itself of this ilk, letting matter live? Think again of the swinging kitchen door in Tati’s Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot: it becomes a kind of person, a tired and bored presence coexisting with the waiters themselves, but not in the same moment as the waiters. This living sound is another present, another life, created alongside those others already perceptible in the film. No less than we see in Awakenings and ‘Wink of an Eye,’ there is no one speed at which the film can be seen nor one present in which the film itself moves. The present, like movements, is neither simple nor obvious, but plural and only ever glimpsed in a fleeting, felt image.

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




October 29, 2014

True Acquisition

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… What is not obvious is that they can be obvious, that without explicit instruction all humans learn to treat symbolically information that defies direct conceptual treatment.

This is from Rethinking Symbolism by Dan Sperber (1974):

… The cyclical movement of cultural symbolism might seem absurd if it were not precisely for the constructive character of remembering. Indeed, it is not a question here of the endless quest for an impossible solution, but rather of a repeated work of re-organisation of the encyclopaedic memory. Each new evocation brings about a different reconstruction of old representations, weaves new links among them, integrates into the field of symbolism new information brought to it by daily life: the same rituals are enacted, but with new actors; the same myths are told, but in a changing universe, and to individuals whose social position, whose relationships with others, and whose experience have changed.

… when the Dorze like so many others accompany the statement of belief with ‘It is the custom,’ they expressly put this statement in quotes. When the Ndembu define a symbol as a landmark, they underline its focalising role. When Westerners speak in a vague way of meaning, they are really talking about evocation. These properties are obvious. What is not obvious is that they can be obvious, that without explicit instruction all humans learn to treat symbolically information that defies direct conceptual treatment. What underlying mechanism makes this tacit knowledge possible? When it is learned, what is the part of true acquisition and what the part of an activation of innate mental equipment? These are the fundamental questions that must be answered by a theory of symbolism.

I have not proposed such a theory here. I have tried only to define a framework within which a theory of symbolism may be constructed.

… A scene marked my childhood: my father was seated in an armchair in the lounge, completely motionless, his hands empty, his eyes fixed on nothing. My mother whispered to me: ‘Don’t bother your father, he is working.’

This worked on me. Later, I too became a scholar, I went to Ethiopia as an ethnographer and I heard a Dorze mother whisper to her son: ‘Don’t bother your father, he is feeding the ancestors’; then I sat down on the hill from which one could see the Dorze market, but I was looking at nothing, and I was motionless. I have written this book the better to understand that work.

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




October 28, 2014

Stop Watching Himself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… Only let him stop watching himself, let him stop thinking of painting himself through.

This is from ‘Review of Exhibitions of William Baziotes and Robert Motherwell’ (1944) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 1, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

Baziotes, whose show closed last month, is unadulterated talent, natural painter, and all painter. He issues in a single jet, deflected by nothing extraneous to painting. Two or three of his larger oils may become masterpieces in several years, once they stop disturbing us by their nervousness, by their unexampled color — off-shades in the intervals between red and blue, red and yellow, yellow and green all depth, involution, and glow — and by their very originality. Baziotes’s gouaches had their own proper quality, which is the intensity of their whites and higher colors.

William Baziotes, The Parachutists, 1944 [image from WikiArt]

[line break added to make this easier to read online] But many of his pictures were marred by his anxiety to resolve them; the necessity of clinching a picture dramatically, also the sheer love of elaboration, led him to force his invention and inject too many new and uncoordinated elements into the coda, so to speak. This coda was usually found near the upper left-hand corner of the canvas, where shapes would first appear, while the remainder of the surface would have been dealt with in terms of the division and texture of area, and asked to be resolved according to the same logic. Baziotes will become an emphatically good painter when he forces himself to let his pictures “cook” untouched for months before finishing them. He already confronts us with big, substantial art, filled with the real emotion and the true sense of our time.

Robert Motherwell, Joy of Living

Motherwell is a more finished but less intense painter than Baziotes, less upsetting because more traditional and easier to take. One is Dionysian and the other Apollonian. Motherwell’s watercolor drawings are of an astonishing felicity and that felicity is of an astonishing uniformity. But it owes too much to Picasso, pours too directly from post-cubism. Only in his large oils does Motherwell really lay his cards down. There his constant quality is an ungainliness, an insecurity of placing and drawing, which I prefer to the gracefulness of his watercolors because it is through this very awkwardness that Motherwell makes his specific contribution. The big smoky collage, Joy of Living — which seems to me to hint at the joy of danger and terror, of the threats to living — is not half as achieved as the perfect and Picasso-ish Jeune Fille, yet it points Motherwell’s only direction: that is, the direction he must go to realize his talent — of which he has plenty. Only let him stop watching himself, let him stop thinking of painting himself through. Let him find his personal “subject matter” and forget about the order of the day.

Robert Motherwell, Jeune Fille




October 27, 2014

Someone’s Passage In Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… they are now objects that preserve and manifest the traces of someone’s passage in time.

This is from Art as Existence: The Artist’s Monograph and Its Project (2006) by Gabriele Guercio:

… The idea of the artist’s oeuvre as a multidimensional whole began with Passavant’s Raphael monograph [published in 1839] and created a new paradigm in the history of the monograph.

… While emphasizing a sense of movement within Raphael’s oeuvre, Passavant also shifts significantly back and forth in time among the artist’s works. Just as he takes Raphael’s earlier production into account in appreciating the mutations demonstrated in the Deposition, his knowledge of Raphael’s future achievements allows him to grasp what the artist had not yet achieved. This dialectic between earlier and later works has a double effect: it allows him to assess the value of the Deposition in and of itself while exposing the picture’s place in the artist’s lifelong process of becoming.

As Passavant’s catalogue of Raphael’s pictures tackles issues of attribution and chronology, including and excluding works by virtue of their affinities and differences, it accounts for their diversity. In this way, Raphael becomes both his pictures’ empirical individual author and a principle of organization ultimately safeguarding the cataloguing process. Passavant considers Raphael’s pictures less as independent entities to be grouped through static, externally imposed criteria than as entities to be approached dialectically from within. Each of them exists in and can be comprehended in terms of a network of relations of closeness and distance, continuity and change, and it is this network that grounds Passavant’s vision of a whole.

… No longer relegated to a domain apart from that of life, the artworks acquire something that escapes understanding unless one goes behind the dichotomies of art and life, representation and reality. This happens not only because artworks weave together visual and temporal dimensions or express various states of being and becoming. Along with revealing these remarkable properties, they are now objects that preserve and manifest the traces of someone’s passage in time.

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




October 26, 2014

More and More Sufficient Absence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… But it is also an incarnate consciousness … giving us to believe that this reality opens up who knows what path to us into the obscure heart of things.

This is from the essay ‘The Myth of Mallarmé ‘ found in The Work of Fire by Maurice Blanchot (1949):

… “What is the use of the miracle,” said Mallarmé, “of transposing a fact of nature into its vibratory near-disappearance according to the play of speech, if it is not so that a pure idea emanates from it, without the annoyance of a near or concrete reminder?” We find, in this response, a remarkable specification: the word has meaning only if it rids us of the object it names; it must spare us its presence or “concrete reminder.” In authentic language, speech has a function that is not only representative but also destructive. It causes to vanish, it renders the object absent, it annihilates it.

… We see that all is not so simple. The word distances the object: “I say: a flower!” and I have in front of my eyes neither flower, nor an image of a flower, nor a memory of a flower, but an absence of flower.

… In truth, none of that exists without contradictions. It is clear that, if Mallarmé gives language the mission of referring by absence to what it signifies, it risks entering an impasse. Of what absence is it a question? If it is necessary not to name, but only to qualify the defined void the object creates by disappearing, we will begin to glide toward the image. Allegory is this first step toward absence. “Water cold from boredom in its iced container.” But the emancipation is still illusory: as soon as we understand the circumlocution, the object revives and imposes itself again. The fault of simple metaphor is less in its simplicity, which makes its deciphering easy, than in its stability, its plastic solidity; it is as weighty and present as what it represents.

… When one has discovered an exceptional ability in language for absence and questioning, one has the temptation to consider the very absence of language as surrounded by its essence, and silence as the ultimate possibility of speech. Everyone knows that this silence has haunted the poet. What we have sometimes forgotten is that this silence no more marks the failure of his dreams than it signifies an acquiescence to the ineffable, a betrayal of language, a “what’s the use” thrown to poetic resources too inferior to the ideal. Silence is undoubtedly always present as the one demand that really matters. But, far from seeming the opposite of words, it is, rather, implied by words and is almost their prejudice, their secret intention, or, rather, the condition fo speech, if speaking is to replace a presence with an absence and to pursue a more and more sufficient absence through more and more fragile presences.

… We see now around what dangerous point Mallarmé’s reflections turn. First, language fits into a contradiction: in a general way, it is what destroys the world to make it be reborn in a state of meaning, of signified values; but, under its creative form, it fixes on the only negative aspect of its task and becomes the pure power of questioning and transfiguration. That is possible insofar as, taking on a tangible quality, it becomes a thing, a body, an incarnate power. The real presence and material affirmation of language give it the ability to suspend and dismiss the world. Density and sonorous thickness are necessary to it to extricate the silence that it encloses, and that is the part of the void without which it could never cause a new meaning to be born.

… the most remarkable of all is the impersonal character of language, the kind of independent and absolute existence that Mallarmé lends it. We have seen that this language does not imply anyone who expresses it, or anyone who hears it: it speaks itself and writes itself. That is the condition of its authority. The book is the symbol of this autonomous subsistence; it surpasses us, we can do nothing beyond it, and we are nothing, almost nothing, in what it is. [ … ] But it is also an incarnate consciousness, reduced to the material form of words, to their sonority, their life, and giving us to believe that this reality opens up who knows what path to us into the obscure heart of things. Perhaps that is an imposture. But perhaps that trickery is the truth of every written thing.




October 25, 2014

On the Rim of the Wheel

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… he will fail who always writes another poem instead.

This is from Journal of the Fictive Life by Howard Nemerov (1965):

… The exact taste of this small fame in our time would not be easy to describe, since everyone experiences it according to his own temperament, and presents to its situation the mask he considers appropriate and within his dramatic means. I guess the main divisions are three, The High Priests, The Nice Guys, and the Sansculottes, or Beats, or Beards. (Though a Beard may easily be a High Priest, it depends on the trim and the combing.) I suppose I am the Nice Guy type, I grin at people, I tell them funny things, I am almost utterly noncontroversial, even nonpolitical. If you behave in this manner publicly, I’ve found, it is possible to say the most shocking, and even subversive, things, equally certain that they will have no effect and that people won’t challenge them, for they are stubbornly persuaded of one’s harmlessness, as well as, maybe, of a certain innocuous unreality in the whole subject and situation.

… It is often contended, mostly by those who do it, that this sort of thing — lecturing, giving ‘readings’ (like a gypsy with tea leaves?), and teaching — is very harmful to the artist. I don’t experience it in that way, for several reasons: it came to me late, when I was already very set in the forms of my devotion; I am of a somewhat cynical temper; I like to meet people, for short times, and rather enjoy getting out of the house, though I also enjoy getting back; I like teaching; I like being made much of, though not for very long, and commanding those ridiculously large sums of money is a sort of gaming pleasure. Most of all, that business has nothing to do with art, which takes place elsewhere and has quite other problems (analysis, communion, not imitating oneself, for instance).

[ … ]

… Lyric poetry, just because of its great refinement, its subtlety, its power of immense implication in a confined space — a great reckoning in a little room — is perpetually in danger of preferring gesture to substance. It thins out, it goes through the motions, it shows no responsibility. I conceive this responsibility of poetry to be to great primary human drama, which poets tend to lose sight of because of their privilege of taking close-ups of single moments on the rim of the wheel of the human story. The poet will improve his art who acknowledges the necessity of always returning to that source; he will fail who always writes another poem instead.

… But alas — and this alas is thematic — what do great works signify? What is the human story? and has it the former interest, the former passion? The great powers of the day are powers of patient, minute analysis; in the realm of the highest eros man shows mostly impotence.

There is a sickness of literature, too, a surfeit and a sickness. To believe in the human story, to love the human story — how unsophisticated, parochial, maybe even sinful. Better to behave like an ant, that is, a patient specialist responsible for statements of great precision in precisely limited situations, never for the whole of the wholeness of things.

My previous post from Nemerov’s book is here.




October 24, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… There were other cooperating forces. … They also have a role, don’t they?

This is from What is Art? Conversations with Joseph Beuys edited with essays by Volker Harlan (2004):

… Yet, even then, it wouldn’t have been so — that all things are made by human beings — because human beings didn’t make themselves. Although I cannot judge at the moment to what extent the human being, through self-willed intention, was involved in the making of himself at the beginning, I’m convinced that there was also a degree of initiative in the human being, and that he somehow announced himself by saying: it’s high time I was made [laughs].

… There are competent collaborators in the world that, under certain circumstances, can accomplish far more than we can. Yes, I say under certain circumstances; this has to be checked out, but for now it’s not really important. I’m just establishing a certain position: that some things are not made by human beings. The human being may well be involved in the sense that this discussion participant suggested; certainly, he’s completely involved in this problem, that’s doubtless true, but he didn’t make it. There were other cooperating forces. And I don’t think it does any harm at all if, to begin with, one actually personifies this. I wouldn’t want to narrow it down too much. For now, one can just speak of co-workers, and get quite a long way with that concept. So one is saying: look, you surely can’t believe that all this is the work of human beings, there are also other co-workers. They also have a role, don’t they?




October 23, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

where do these thresholds of perception themselves come from?

This is from Philosophy and the Moving Image: Refractions of Reality by John Mullarkey (2009):

… if it is always ‘elsewhere,’ how did it get to be there, who put it there, and how is it possible for us, eventually, to perceive it there? Deleuze’s own answer is to say that it is by ‘jumping’ or leaping between thresholds of perception, between different planes. By this leaping, he writes, ‘what cannot be perceived on one [plane] cannot but be perceived on the other … the imperceptible becomes necessarily perceived.’

I hope that the connection between this notion of threshold and the problem of perceiving film events is evident: what leaps must we make in order to see whan a film itself happens? What are these thresholds or planes? And what examples can we use to make sense of them? Deleuze mentions the sumo wrestler whose advance is too slow and whose holds are too fast to be perceived. But he also mentions absolute movements that can be seen at the cinematic threshold of perception, the central case for our purposes. The question of perceptibility, then, can be posed in terms of speeds and thresholds: where do these thresholds of perception themselves come from? Are they natural, cultural or metaphysical in origin?

… In 1922 Bergson wrote that ‘all the categories of perception … correspond, on the whole, to the choice of a certain order of size for condensation.’ A category of perception, or threshold, is an act of ‘condensation.’ The world we see is the level of existence we choose to condense or contain in an act of perception.

Bergson’s point is that each plane of living reality has to treat the other planes of existence surrounding it as relatively inert in order to support its own vitality. Our time, our vitality, our events, our history in other words, are formed through an act of exclusion — what produces by contrast the uneventful, the natural, the invisible and the imperceptible. The actuality of others’ events is not an ‘elsewhere’ or ‘virtual’ awaiting actualization for them: they are only virtual for us — as the ghosts appear to us and to whom we appear as ghosts (in Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others (2001)).

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




October 22, 2014

If He Should Become Sensitive to the Grace

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… It is … not a question of discovering the meaning of symbolic representation but, on the contrary, of inventing a relevance and a place in memory for them …

This is from Rethinking Symbolism by Dan Sperber (1974):

… Symbols are not signs. They are not paired with their interpretations in a code structure. Their interpretations are not meanings.

… Symbolism is, in large part, individual, which is doubly incomprehensible from the semiological point of view. Firstly, a system of communication works only to the extent that the underlying code is essentially the same for all; secondly, a code exhaustively defines all its messages. Symbolism, which is a non-semiological cognitive system, is not subject to these restrictions.

A corollary of this cognitive nature is that there is no multi-symbolism analogous to multi-lingualism. An individual who learns a second language internalizes a second grammar, and if some interference takes place, it is on a remarkably small scale. Conversely, symbolic data, no matter what their origin, integrate themselves into a single system within a given individual.

… One of the first things that the anthropologist learns in the field is strictly to observe the local forms of politeness. For at least a time, he has the impression that he is acting, rather than expressing himself normally; the symbolic values of these forms of politeness escape him, or he only apprehends them upon reflection. The longer he is there, the more easily he can pass from one ‘code’ of politeness to another, like an actor who changes roles. But if he should become sensitive to the grace of a gesture of offering; to the nuances by which the warmth or coolness of a welcome are expressed; to the perfidiousness of a disguised insult; if at the death of a friend he comes to feel comforted rather than troubled, by reproducing the traditional gestures of mourning; in short, if he should internalize these forms instead of imitating them: then, on returning home, he will catch himself following rules that are not in force, and resenting it when others break them.

[ … ]

… The symbolic value of ‘fox’ owes nothing to the sense of the word, and everything to what we know or believe about foxes: to their skill as predators, their look, their coat, etc. What matters, symbolically speaking, is neither how foxes are semantically defined nor what foxes actually are, but what is known of them, what is said of them, what is believed about them.

… the conceptual mechanism never works in vain; when a conceptual representation fails to establish the relevance of its object, it becomes itself the object of a second representation. This second representation is not constructed by the conceptual mechanism which turned out to be powerless, but by the symbolic mechanism that then takes over. The symbolic mechanism tries to establish by its own means the relevance of the defective conceptual representation.

To return to Lévi-Strauss’ image, the symbolic mechanism is the bricoleur of the mind. It starts from the principle that waste-products of the conceptual industry deserve to be saved because something can always be made of them. But the symbolic mechanism does not try to decode the information it processes. It is precisely because this information has partly escaped the conceptual code, the most powerful of the codes available to humans, that it is, in the final analysis, submitted to it. It is therefore not a question of discovering the meaning of symbolic representation but, on the contrary, of inventing a relevance and a place in memory for them despite the failure in this respect of the conceptual categories of meaning. A representation is symbolic precisely to the extent that it is not entirely explicable, that is to say, expressible by semantic means. Semiological views are therefore not merely inadequate; they hide, from the outset, the defining features of symbolism.

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




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