Unreal Nature

January 31, 2016

Did You Have Time?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

“who is me today?” “who holds the place of me?”

This is from The Step Not Beyond by Maurice Blanchot (1992):

… During the day there were the daytime acts, the day-to-day words, the day-to-day writing, affirmations, values, habits, nothing that counted and yet something that one had confusedly to call life. The certainty that in writing he was putting between parentheses precisely this certainty including the certainty of himself as the subject of writing, led him slowly, though right away, into an empty space whose void (the barred zero, heraldic) in no way prevented the turns and detours of a very long process.

[ … ]

… If I write he/it, denouncing it rather than indicating it, far from giving it a rank, a role or presence which would elevate it above anything that could designate it, it is I who, from this, enter into the relation in which “I” accepts solidification into a fictional or functional identity, in order that the game of writing may be played, of which he/it is either the partner and (at the same time) the product of the gift …

[ … ]

As if there had reverberated, in a muffled way, this call, a call nevertheless joyful, the cry of children playing in the garden: “who is me today?” “who holds the place of me?” and the answer, joyful, infinite: him, him, him.

[ … ]

It was like an eternal subject of pleasantry, an innocent game: “You met them in the street?” — “Not exactly in the street: near the river, looking at books, then leaving or losing themselves in the crowd.” — “That could not be so; and, rather young, aren’t they?” — “Young?” One had to stop at this word which involved, demanded, and promised too much; he did not concede it willingly until he let himself go ahead and answer — “Yes, young, there was no other word; and yet, young without anything that makes their age a moment of themselves, or youth a characteristic of age; young, but as in another time, thus not so young, as if youth made them ancient or too new to be able to appear only young.” — “How you have observed them; did you have time? was it possible? is it possible?” — “It was not, in fact, but neither was it possible to meet them”




January 30, 2016

To the Next Generation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… They exist outside art, outside the painting culture, not as art but as a challenge to art.

This is from the essay ‘Henri Rousseau and the Idea of the Naïve’ found in Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008 by Rackstraw Downes (2014):

… The twentieth-century taste for naïve art is a twist in the long story of this ancient antithesis of culture and nature, and what Schiller had to say about the naïve in 1795 is apropos today. The naïve in naïve art is not there by virtue of what the picture represents, since a naïve action or sentiment could just as well be depicted in a sophisticated painting. Rather, an equation is made between an unknowing technique and a pure heart.

[line break added] Thus, Philippe Soupault: “In order to paint Rousseau dipped his brush in his heart.” If one can ignore the saccharine content in this metaphor, there is a point being made — the opposite of the one George Orwell was making about Salvador Dali when he spoke of “a dexterity that goes no higher than the elbow.” Rousseau bypasses the artifice in the arm.

In naïve art, then, style is a fixed moral issue; therefore it must be made clear that the unknowingness of the technique is not counterfeit, that it did not come about through laziness, incompetence, or contempt for the culture of painting, but through a true lack of awareness of what the culture is and how to acquire it.


… The little twin portraits of Rousseau and his wife that Picasso owned, and always kept by him, have less artistry than the worst recent “Bad Painting.” they have none of the cause and effect of a deliberate style, they bypass form-making, they are as indefinite as the conjunction of figure and landscape in [Rousseau’s painting] Myself. They exist outside art, outside the painting culture, not as art but as a challenge to art.

[line break added] This is not what Rousseau meant but it is what Rousseau meant to the next generation. It took Picasso many years and some pretty drastic measures of breaking up and reassembling not just the grammar of painting but also the grammar of the human face before he achieved through form-making a blatant, strident presence equivalent to these.

Rousseau_Wife ………………………….rousseau_henri_2

Rousseau’s art and his career in art cannot help but provoke a braided reaction, just as much in us now as it did in the young artists during Rousseau’s lifetime; among the elements that compose that braid might be cheerful mockery at its childishness, admiration for its simplicity, and regret for our own lost innocence.




January 29, 2016

The Rent, Discontinuous Fabric

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… [an art that,] finding itself humiliatingly outstripped by a culture in which acceleration has become the dominant value, began to look for ways of turning from speed or promptness or punctuality; … wanted to try to stop being on time …

Continuing through Beckett, Modernism and the Material Imagination by Steven Connor (2014):

… Going slowly ought to give us time to keep pace with our lives, ought to allow us to watch our step, to hear the feet however faint they fall. Slowness has the reputation of allowing us to take control over our lives, to take our time or be there, as we impenetrably say, in the moment.

In the condition I am going to keep on calling slow going, however, there can be no convergence of the one who undergoes and the one who perceives the time of elapsing. There can be no deliberation. We cannot live at the rate at which we nevertheless must live; we cannot live in the time that it will over and over again turn out that we were all along living out.

… [Beckett] is in fact the most important inaugurator of a mode of aesthetic defection from speed. It seems to be precisely the uninterpretability of slowness that has made it so important in the art of that — what is the wrong word exactly? — rearguard, that avant-garde which, finding itself humiliatingly outstripped by a culture in which acceleration has become the dominant value, began to look for ways of turning from speed or promptness or punctuality; an art that wanted to try to stop being on time; hence musical minimalism, and especially the beautiful excruciation of Steve Reich’s phase-experiments; and the rent, discontinuous fabric of the work of John Cage and Morton Feldman …

… Slowness is not representable because it is the presence of the decay of presence. Representation is an effect of punctuality, or promptness, of the ravelling or puckering of time. Slowness testifies to asynchrony, a failure to meet up or come together. Speed is inflammatory, infectious. It calls me into its condition, chiding and chivvying, pulling me out of my time into its more than time, time raised to the power of time.

… We mistake the experience of slowness as a simple negative measure; if only things could go more quickly, in the queue, on the end of the line, during pain or unhappiness. But slow going is not quite this. It is the experience of a loss of temporal relativity; when things are going slowly, the scale of measurement itself begins to elongate, to attenuate, to dissolve.

… Lyotard says we need to pinch time to perceive its passage. We need to put our hand into the current, to feel its onward pressure from the resulting turbulence. There needs to be something nontemporal inserted into the flow of time for temporality to come into being. But we might as well say that the hand recognizes that it is stationary only because there is passage, because of the difficulty of holding its position against the current.

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




January 28, 2016

A Body-Based Discourse

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… ‘The historian not only re-enacts past thoughts, he re-enacts it in the context of his own knowledge and therefore, in re-enacting it, criticizes it … ‘

This is from the essay ‘Re-Enactment, the History of Violence, and Documentary Film’ by Joram ten Brink, found in Killer Images: Documentary Film, Memory and the Performance of Violence edited by Joram Ten Brink & Joshua Oppenheimer (2012):

… [R.G.] Collingwood proposes that the historian re-enact the past in his own mind. In his study, the historian must go beyond the examination of relics, he must endeavor to discover the thoughts and motivations of historical actors at the time of the event’s unfolding. That is, to think it again for himself: to re-enact the experience.

This ‘historical knowledge becomes more like a condition of human understanding than an explanation of the past.’ Collingwood refers to the old school of ‘scissors-and-paste’ history in which the past is inert and knowledge of it corresponds to a compilation of past authorities. The understanding of historical events must be from within the present, as the past is not dead.

[line break added] Collingwood developed this idea already in 1920 as his first principle of the philosophy of history: ‘At the time I expressed this by saying that history is concerned not with “events” but with “processes”; that “processes” are things which do not begin and end but turn into one another.’

… ‘Historical claims are truth claims and, as such are subject to challenge by appeal to evidence. Imagination in history, therefore, is substantially different from imagination in art.’ Leon Pomps seeks to clarify Collingwood’s method by adding his observation that it is valid if we also accept the fact that the historian operates within a context of known historical facts which cultures acquire in the course of their historical development and which, as members of these cultures, historians must accept as true in advance of their more specialized research which they carry out as historians.

… ‘The historian not only re-enacts past thoughts, he re-enacts it in the context of his own knowledge and therefore, in re-enacting it, criticizes it, forms his own judgement of its value.’ According to William H. Dray, Collingwood’s notion of re-enactment is based on a thought process which involves continuous testing. Collingwood himself brings the example of writing a history of a battlefield or a war. The historian must ‘see the ground of the battlefield as the opposing commanders saw it, and draw from the topography the conclusions that they drew.’

… What all the above forms of re-enactment add to Collingwood’s notion of the method is ‘a body-based discourse in which the past is reanimated through physical and psychological experience.’

… In fiction film, for example, films can create illusions but not easily criticize or destroy them. In asking viewers to repress critical reserve, indeed to become part of the illusion, David Herlihy argues that ‘films make history seem too easy and our knowledge of the past appear too certain.’ Herlihy continues by asking: ‘Can [a film] through the same sights and sound, install both belief in the narrative and critical disbelief in its total accuracy?’

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




January 27, 2016

This Figure’s Necessary Unfreedom

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… He will not perform. That is his performance.

This is from ‘Typology, Luminescence, Freedom: Selections from a Conversation between Jeff Wall and Els Barents‘ found in Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews (2007):

[ … ]

Els Barents: Your view of society is not really a pleasant or happy one, it seems. Your figures are always under some kind of pressure or restraint, no one seems to be doing what they want to be doing in his life. Your world appears to be ruled by an iron hand. There are a lot of laws in it. But you talk about how society contains opposites always. How do you think this ‘opposite’ manifests itself in your pictures?

Jeff Wall: I’m aware that my pictures have a feeling of unfreedom about them. Their subject matter is unfreedom, too. The form and the technique tend to have a hyperorganized, rigid character; everything is strictly positioned. I want to express the existing unfreedom in the most realistic way. Take for example Bad Goods. This picture is constructed as a kind of triangle, one point of which is outside the image.

[line break added] The heap of rotting lettuces is the apex, and the two other corners are made up of the British Columbia Indian in the picture, and the spectator in front of it. But the spectator and the Indian are looking at the lettuces and at each other. [ … ] But this Indian, in my view, will never move toward the lettuce as long as the spectator is also there, as long as the triangle exists.

[line break added] The triangle separates two people from each other, and in doing that it is a kind of diagram of the consequences of the economy. In the economy, natural products separate people from each other because they are also always forms capital takes. Lettuce, like any commodity, is just capital in a kind of natural disguise. Ideally, humans are united over food. But I suppose that presumes there’s food for everyone.

[line break added] The Indian will not move toward the lettuce, he will not be seen as just a victim, as a “beggar” or whatever category you want to set up. He will not perform. That is his performance. His unfreedom is more important to him than food. He is not just a victim, he is also a fighter. In Bad Goods the whole structure of the picture is based on this figure’s necessary unfreedom, and his expression of it.

Jeff Wall, Bad Goods, 1984




January 26, 2016

The Outcome of a Gamble

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… They are … unedible variants of his pastry …

Continuing through Art Brut by Michel Thévoz (1995):

… The reader will no doubt have noticed my reluctance to infer from the works analyzed any psychic condition or private secret which could be regarded as explaining them. It is my intention in any case to refrain from slanting my comments in this regressive direction, which would mean shifting the focus from the work to the person of its maker.

[line break added] The work should be envisaged in its productive effects rather than its causes, as a breaking of new ground rather than a probing of the unconscious mind. As I see it, an art work deserves its name only to the extent that it is psychologically and culturally, an orphaned work; only to the extent that it stands on its own and cannot be reduced to the motivations that fathered it.

… Against this primacy accorded to the meaning or the origin, I maintain that the value of Art Brut lies in the fact that it gives us nothing to exhume. It has no hidden compartments, nor even any depths or arcana. It evades that relation of cultural complicity between artist and art lover which always ends up by effacing the significans (the productive movement, the body, the gesture, the material) and raising up the phantasm of a hidden truth that has to be decoded.

… True, the effects produced by these works reverberate on mental or philosophical levels, and always in a subversive sense. But while they may yield certain revelations, these never carry us back to an antecedent reality or a psychic prehistory. Those revelations, such as they are, proceed from pure fabrication.

[line break added] They come as the byproducts of a “seeing experiment” (Claude Bernard), or the incidents of an adventure, or the outcome of a gamble. What is happening here is essentially a generative and centrifugal process, in which the maker of it takes as much delight as we do, and which, mentally, involves us as much as it does him.

[ … ]

… The son of a pastry cook, [Francis Palanc] learned the same trade after leaving school early. … He took it into his head to invent a new kind of writing, made up from a private alphabet of letters of his own devising. But he never worked it out once and for all, being continually impelled to review the results, adapting and perfecting them and also complicating them.

Palanc has made the most of his talents as a pastry-cook, even exploiting some of the materials and techniques of his trade. Spreading a gum mixture over his hardboard panel, he applies to it a preparation of crushed eggshells, pressing them down with a rolling-pin or sprinkling them with a sifter. To his way of thinking, these are not works of art. They are, so to speak, unedible variants of his pastry, designed to set off his inscribed shapes and words in an unusual way — which, after all, is not unlike the written words on a birthday cake.

Francis Palanc, Cette foire – des bruits – des cris – des mots, 1955, crushed eggshell and shellac on canvas

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




January 25, 2016

The Life of the Deep Blue Bedroom

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… It seemed that one could find a life inside pop culture now only as a voyeur — or perhaps as a spy.

Continuing through High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture by Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik (1990):

… It was not that the boundary between high and low had been newly “blurred,” in the sense of being muddied or obscured. That boundary had been blurred long ago — blurred because it was always in motion, and impossible to fix. It was precisely the blurring of the boundary, in fact, the constant, aggressive redefinition of where that line ought to fall, the endless series of purposeful transgressions and rescue operations and redefinitions, which had, from Goya to Guston, been one of the crucial acts that made modern art modern.

[line break added] Now, for the first time, modern art had become so institutionalized as a tradition and a practice — so entrenched and so popular, so sure of its moves and so inclined to repeat them, so confident in its audience and of its own continued triumphs in making modernity look Modern — that its engagement with the world around it would apparently no longer allow for the uncharted complexity, the immediacy, the individual eccentricity usually possible before. Relations between high and low became formalized, ponderous, and self-conscious, like the relations between two wary, heavily armed courts.

… It seemed increasingly that the life of American culture had become polarized into two rival citadels that, like medieval fortresses in wartime, pulled all their former dependencies inside — on one side, the devouring television cable box, on the other, the museum. And in the barren plain in between there was not much of anything.

… For the most part, you chose between the little box or the big one, and it seemed at times that even the struggle between these two towers was a bit of a sham. As perhaps in all cold wars, the ideology of hostility increased in inverse proportion to the plain fact of coexistence.

[ … ]

… [David] Salle’s purpose was not to kid the high or to champion the low, but to insist on their absolute equality. He was the first artist to paint TV experience in TV light — the life of the deep blue bedroom lit by the light of the dark blue box.

It seemed that one could find a life inside pop culture now only as a voyeur — or perhaps as a spy.

David Salle, Comedy, 1995

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




January 24, 2016

The Force of the Beginning

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… There is … in the genesis of the work, a moment where the work is still nothing but an indistinct violence …

This is from A Voice from Elsewhere by Maurice Blanchot, translated by Charlotte Mandell (2007):

… The future is rare, and every day that comes is not a day that begins. Even rarer is speech that, in its silence, is the reserve of a speech yet to come, which turns us, even if it’s close to our finish, toward the force of the beginning.

… Speech that does not repeat itself, that does not make use of itself, that does no say things already present, that is not the tireless come-and-go of Socratic dialogue, but speech like that of the Lord of Delphi, speech that is the voice that has said nothing yet, that wakes and awakens, a voice that is sometimes harsh and demanding, that comes from afar and summons afar.

… Every beginning speech, although it is the gentlest and most secret impulse, is because it moves us infinitely forward, one that upsets and demands the most: like the most tender break of day in which all the violence of a first clarity is declared, and like oracular speech that dictates nothing, forces nothing on us, that does not even speak, but makes this silence into the finger imperiously pointing toward the unknown.

… There is, in the experience of art and in the genesis of the work, a moment where the work is still nothing but an indistinct violence tending to open up and tending to close, tending to exalt in a space that opens up and tending to withdraw into the profundity of dissimulation: the work is then the struggling intimacy of irreconcilable and inseparable moments, communication torn between the measure of the work that established a certain power and the measurelessness or excess of the work that strives toward impossibility, between form where it grasps hold of itself and limitlessness where it rejects itself, between work as beginning and the origin on the basis of which there is never any work, where the eternal absence of work [désoeuvrement] reigns.

My previous post from Blanchot’s book is here.




January 23, 2016

To State the Question Correctly

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… he gives them back to us.

This is from the essay ‘What Realism Means to Me’ found in Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008 by Rackstraw Downes (2014):

… [Chekhov’s] artistry says, to judge is presumptuous, to generalize is glib. What counts is to observe intensely, and when you do so you feel not so much inclined to advocate your opinion.

Chekhov got into trouble for writing like this. Soon after he started publishing stories in magazines, it appears that his editors, Suvorin of New Times and Plesheyes of the Northern Herald, both separately wrote to him saying they liked his stories, they wanted his stories, but whose side was he on? Was he a liberal, a conservative, for the regime, against the church? He replied, it is my job to state the question correctly.

Anton Chekhov

… There is one thing I think realism is definitely not, though it is often confused with it, and that is a technique. Technique is a skill you can learn so you don’t have to respond to what you are looking at, you don’t have to be inquisitive about it. If something is real to you, the question becomes, not How do I do that, but What is this phenomenon I’m perceiving? When a painter is armed with technique, technique is what you see in the painting, technique is what is real in it.

[line break added] Nineteenth-century French and English academy painting, with its minute details, expresses the attitude “I know what the world looks like, and I have the expertise to portray it.” It resembles the work of the Russian social realist painter Fairfield Porter described: “The artist knows everything and uses his eyes only to keep his hand from slipping.” [By contrast] The Flemish primitives like Van der Goes say with amazement, “so that’s what the world looks like!” and this amazement is reflected in the freshness and affection with which each detail is recorded on their oak panels.

… Sometimes I think about Fats Waller. When we listen to some old crooner gushing away we bring our own sense of irony to the experience and call it “camp.” But Fats Waller takes a different way with the same shop-worn song. He doesn’t trash the sentimental tunes he jokes around with; on the contrary, he gives them back to us.

[line break added] As Shakespeare keeps the scathing Mercutio around while Romeo meets Juliet, so Waller includes in his restatement of those tunes a good-natured, “realistic” recognition of the fact that, yes they sure are overblown, and once you’ve admitted that, you can enjoy them again and even accept their now deflated sentiments.

Fats Waller




January 22, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… it’s steps coming and going, it’s voices speaking for a moment, it’s bodies groping their way, it’s the air, it’s things, it’s the air among things …

Continuing through Beckett, Modernism and the Material Imagination by Steven Connor (2014):

… As we tune our ears to the patterns of chatter and clatter in literature and the hesitations and lapses that mark their abeyance, we may easily forget the most important defining condition of most literary writing, namely that it is itself stonily mute, and that it exists in a world in which it is assumed that it will be read by a similarly silent reader. … Literature elaborately and attentively concerns itself with sound, but does not itself make a sound.

… perhaps it is a move from one kind of sound to another. The one who reads aloud is silent inside, for the outer voice will tend to drown out or shout down the inner. The one who reads silently, by contrast, is suffused by his or her inner sonority, if inside is exactly where it is, if sonorous is exactly what it is. Those who read aloud make themselves deaf, abolishing their ear into the sound that actuates their tongue. Those who read silently still their tongues the better to sound out what they read.

… The fact that inflected languages give a sonic index of the function of a word in a sentence, so that words have their spin, posture or orientation inscribed in them, is oddly enough what allows them to develop complex cross-fades and counter-rhythms through the interruption of expected word order.

[line break added] One of the paradoxes of the development of language is that, as silent reading has become more and more the norm, so uninflected forms have also tended to replace inflected forms, which is to say, the structure of sentences has become more and more dependent upon word order and therefore the continuous emission and emergence of the sound stream.

The increasing commonness of silent reading is to be regarded, therefore, not as the simple turning down of sound, but as the creation of a more complex space of inner resounding.

… Many of Beckett’s texts ask us to listen, or to imagine listening, to streams of words and voices that are themselves said to be internal murmurings or overhearings. Their space is the strained, uncertain listening space …

… The speaker of The Unnamable talks at one point of his fear of sound, in which the voice to which we are paying heed alternately blends with and splits from the sounds to which it is hearkening:

fear of sound, fear of sounds, all sounds more or less, more or less fear, all sounds, there’s only one, continuous day and night, what is it, it’s steps coming and going, it’s voices speaking for a moment, it’s bodies groping their way, it’s the air, it’s things, it’s the air among things, that’s enough, that I seek, like it, no, not like it, like me, in my own way, what am I saying, …

… Literature does not silence sound: it auditises the field of the visible. It opens up larger and more variable spaces of reprieve from the distinct orders of the visual-spatial and the oral-temporal. These spaces may not be bodily in the blunderingly crude sense that we affix to that term: that is, they may not be subject to the usual restriction of unshareable space and irreversible time.

[line break added] But that is only one view of what a body is and does. Bodies are also affectings, as Spinoza and, following him, Gilles Deleuze, argue. A body is the sum total of what it may effect and affect. The body is a field of potentials and exposures, which is always therefore ahead or aside of itself.

[line break added] Seen in this way, the paradoxical kind of sound-body suggested by literary works, and pressed to a certain kind of limit by the work of Beckett, is a kind of white body corresponding to that proposed by Serres, a body that can in principle inflect itself in all postures, positions, directions, and possibilities, and which ‘fills its space equally: high as much as low, right as much as left, it abandons preferences and determinations, its memberships, and knows the better how to do so because it has often crossed the old white river. Here it is a completed body.’

Corresponding to this white body would be something that we might call a white voice, on the analogy of the whiteness of white light or white noise, that includes all possible frequencies.

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




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