Unreal Nature

February 29, 2016

Marks of this Friction and Grinding

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… Our culture is one that seems to operate by a rule of reflex that is at once its chagrin and its hope: nothing so sacred that it may not be made profane — but also nothing so profane that it may not be made sacred.

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

… In the study of modern art and popular culture, it’s often been taken for granted that the ultimate goal is to search past the diversity of individual creations for the realities that lie behind the appearances of things — the categories that are supposedly the real stuff of history. In those searches for governing patterns or underlying essences, the particulars of local events, or the complex nature of a given work and a given creator, are typically pushed aside as anecdotal peculiarities, significant only because they may reveal something about the real nature of the “modernist project” or of “mass society.”

[line break added] For all the impassioned and even violent political differences that separate rival schools of interpretation, almost all are united by some kind of faith that modernity has what Mayr called an eidos, andd that this eidos is the real and most profound subject of debate.

But such intellectual exercises, undertaken with the announced purpose of restoring art to history, betray the unruly details which make history matter. By emphasizing small stories about people and objects instead of big abstractions about terms and categories, we set out to replace mute complacent generalities with the eloquence of peculiar facts.

[line break added] And what we have seen in these pages is not an encounter between an immutable ideal of “high” or serious art and an equally unvarying “low” culture. Instead we have seen that high art in our century, far from having a unified “project” or direction, has always included the most disparate attitudes, intentions, gestures, and critiques, and that the forms and intentions of advertising, graffiti, or comics have been diverse and subject to varying rhythms of change.

[line break added] Between these two general zones there has been, instead of a rigidly fixed line, a constant series of transgressions and redirections, in which the act of an individual imagination has been able to alter in a moment the structure of the high-to-low relationship. Schwitters picks up a tram ticket and sees in it a component of his art; as a result our ideas about tram tickets, and our ideas about art, change.

… No less than the growth of consumer culture or the advent of entertainment industries, the development of modern art has been entwined with the messy avidity of modern bourgeois society, which has constantly put a premium on novelty and the assimilation of change. The greatest as well as the most demeaned productions on the wheel of interchange [between high and low art] have been the marks of this friction and grinding.

[line break added] Every attempt to quarantine what we like from what we don’t seems doomed to betray the often reckless and seamy vitality of the history of art in this era. Our culture is one that seems to operate by a rule of reflex that is at once its chagrin and its hope: nothing so sacred that it may not be made profane — but also nothing so profane that it may not be made sacred.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




February 28, 2016

Lightning of Presence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

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

[ … ]

• Distancing oneself appears to be determined in relation to a fixed point that would be presence. But presence, in the absolute of the immediate in which, great instantaneous fire, it consumes itself endlessly, could not be fixed or included in the game of a relation. Presence, lightning of presence, which has always already devastated the space in which the approach takes place, does not enter into the clarity of the visible, no more than it lets itself be present. Presence lacks presence, destroys the present of presence.

[ … ]

• … For such a long time, we had been preparing ourselves to celebrate the event which, now that it was coming, there was no longer time, so that we were not yet ready and so that it was not coming anyway.

[ … ]

“You torment yourself in speaking.” — “If not, I would torment myself in not speaking.”




February 27, 2016

The Potency of a Memory

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… Forgetting is not an abandonment of the past, but permission to elaborate, to reconstruct differently, to mix up the syntax.

This is from Chris Marker: La Jetée, by Janet Harbord (2009):

La Jetée (1962) is a ciné-roman, a film novel that operates within the strictest economies. It is a film composed almost exclusively of still images, with the bare essentials of a story told in voice-over. It is an extraordinary film of ‘a man marked by an image from his childhood,’ and it opens with a replay of this childhood moment. These are the ‘facts,’ although facts benefit us little in this particular story.

[line break added] In the circular movement of the film, in which the end arrives at the beginning and so the beginning is also the ending, the concrete facts do not add up to much. A child witnesses his own death as a man, defying the premise of chronological time.We are told that the child sees the man (his future self) fall to the ground. We see the falling figure but we are left with an uncertainty concerning the whereabouts of the child; perhaps that is him, poised precariously on the railing, but we cannot be certain.

[line break added] If this is the story of a man’s recall of a moment as a boy, where, in memory, is the mind’s eye? The perspective in this opening sequence seems to place us above or outside of this scene, as if captured through a crane shot followed by a tracking shot showing a scattering of people. … How is it that memory is infected by the photographic, and conversely, that photographic devices have come to serve the requirements of memory?


… The still photograph evokes remembrance, the memory of this place on this day. But the movement across its still surface creates an anxiety about what we are moving towards. This is not a film composed of still images, where both cinema and photography remain distinct. This is a film that finds qualities of movement and stillness in each, that braids together remembering and forgetting, that points us in conflicting directions.

… Forgetting is not an abandonment of the past, but permission to elaborate, to reconstruct differently, to mix up the syntax. Both memory and cinema work with an unstable set of associations, contingent on the circumstances in which they appear. If the potency of a memory is the opening enigma of La Jetée, the rest of the film is an exploration of the ways in which recording devices, such as film and photography, perform a choreography with memory’s work.




February 26, 2016

Our Apprehension Skeeters Off

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… there will always be, what there only ever is, more of the here and now.

Final post from Beckett, Modernism and the Material Imagination by Steven Connor (2014):

… Finitude means embeddedness, the impossibility of ever being otherwise than at a specific place and time, ‘en situation,’ in a specific set of circumstances that cannot be discounted or set aside as merely incidental — ‘the life of Monday or Tuesday,’ in Virginia Woolf’s words, which must nevertheless have been written on one day of the week or other.

… I and some of my kind have devoted hours of long and more-or-less honest toil to showing the ways in which Beckett’s work dissolves the claims of presence. Today, I feel more inclined to protest that what characterizes Beckett’s work is the effort to find his way to a presence, though a presence denuded of all determinations, its traditional, infinitive attributes — of permanence, essence, adequacy-to-self; a parched, patched, penurious presence.

… We are wont to think that the given, limited, actual world is what presses most stiflingly upon us, and that it requires strenuous exertion or careful vigilance to break the fascinating grip of facticity, in order that we can project ourselves into possibility, futurity, transcendence, infinity … But it is in fact the realm of the given, or the so-called self-evident, that is most intractable to human thought.

[line break added] We find it almost impossible to grasp or coincide with this realm of the given, the incontinently renewable once-and-for-allness of every instant, the statute of limitations of every project. Our apprehension skeeters off the actual into whatever might prolong or retard it, making what shift we can, through fantasy, religion, literature, commerce, to remit its finitude.

Beckett’s finitude is both a predicament and a choice, the choice of a predicament (‘in search of the difficulty rather than in its clutch’). It is a finitude that is never used up, or said and done; a finitude never to be fully accounted for, abbreviated or economized on, because there will always be, what there only ever is, more of the here and now.

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




February 25, 2016

Slowly, Quietly

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… “It is the flattest and dullest parts that have in the end the most life.”

Continuing through Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action by Ira Jaffe (2014):

… Whether focusing on pace, motion, sound or emotion, Bresson’s Notes on Cinematography advocate strict restraint and minimalism: “Production of emotion determined by a resistance to emotion.” The pianist “does not slap emotion onto the keys. He waits for it.” The work of art must advance slowly, quietly: “Against the tactics of speed, of noise, set tactics of slowness, of silence.” “Be sure of having used to the full all that is communicated by immobility and silence.” “Build your film on white, on silence and on stillness.

In addition to emotion, speed and noise, Bresson is wary of “drama,” much as Jarmusch’s films [Stranger Than Paradise and Dead Man]and Sokurov’s The Second Circle resist “overly dramatic scenes.” “The real is not dramatic,” writes Bresson.

… For Bresson in particular, emotion attains maximal purity, naturalness and truth only by approximating blankness, silence and stillness. He writes, “It is the flattest and dullest parts that have in the end the most life.”

… Among the many factors in The Second Circle that seem to inhibit the son’s movements and even his prospects for survival are the turbidity and darkness of the spaces he enters. When he arrives inside his father’s apartment at the start of the film, for instance, a thick mist or vapor, somewhat reminiscent of the falling snow prior to the credits, fills the air of the dishevelled room where the corpse in bed awaits him.

[line break added] Also, the soft sound of static in the room, apparently from the radio, adds to a sense of congestion inimical to both motion and thought. Because deep darkness suffuses the upper half of the composition while the son converses with ambulance medics soon after he finds his father dead, the medics appear headless, and their spoken words seem severed from their bodies. Later in the film, when the son moves to open his father’s eyes, a similar darkness consumes the entire space over the father’s bed, about three-quarters of the frame.

… Such darkness and turbidity, by repeatedly obscuring and inhibiting the son and other characters, contribute to the pervasive sense of uncertainty and anonymity in The Second Circle. Indeed, Sokurov’s aesthetic seems based on such limits or hindrances, as when he states that “art is only where … reticence exists. A limitation of what we can actually see and feel. There has to be mystery.” He also remarks: “It should be possible for information to be concealed or for the entire image to be gradually withdrawn.”

… “Ideally,” says Sokurov, “the filmmaker would never allow the viewer to comprehend or even perceive the image, at once, in its entirety.” Instead, the filmmaker does well to motivate the viewer to investigate the image; and the film’s pace should be slow enough to permit such probing: “The most important quality the film image can possess is its capacity to offer the viewer sufficient time to peruse the picture, to participate in the process of attentive looking for something.”

[line break added] Furthermore, the viewer not only investigates the picture but also enters into its creation: “Confronted with a true cinematographic work of art, the viewer is never a passive contemplator, but someone who participates in the creation of this artistic world. All works of high art are built on confidence in the delicate consideration and intuition of this person. They always leave something unsaid, or conversely, say too much, thereby concealing some simple truth.”

My previous post from Jaffe’s book is here.




February 24, 2016

Reduced Sublime

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… In a landscape we can always see the remains of the primordial earth and at the same time the … the permanent ordinariness we create all around us.

This is from ‘At Home and Elsewhere: A Dialogue in Brussels between Jeff Wall and Jean-François Chevrier‘ found in Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews (2007):

[ … ]

Jeff Wall: … Everything that was once a lot more open has been closed down somewhat, not completely but somewhat, even quite a bit. Everything becomes more regulated, more efficient, more repressed, without ever disappearing. Laughter was once loud and frank and hearty; now it’s thin, nervous, and self-conscious. It is “reduced.” But we still laugh, and in laughing stir up a memory of what laughter was in Rabelais’s time. The concept of reduced laughter is a very suggestive one, it suggests other reductions, too, like your “reduced sublime,” which I’ve never thought about before.

The sublime suggests incomprehensible magnitudes that expose the limits of our ability to know and to imagine. The modern world is built by people who are prepared to work, wait, save, be cautious, plan and calculate, and make fortunes. They do not want to imagine infinite magnitudes, they want to acquire real quantities.

[line break added] So the impulse to rationalize and prosper conflicts with the natural world and the impulses that surge out of it spontaneously. That’s a romantic condition that is addressed by the idea of the “reduced sublime,” the way I understand it. I like the idea that pictures in their form and structure as much as in their subject could express the tension between both impulses. Both of them are central to what modernity is. It is cliché romanticism to “side” with the sublime as such against the rational and calculated, to be always just the rebel, just the imaginer.

[line break added] One is always both the builder, the writer of laws (and the enforcer of laws), and the one who breaks the laws and yearns toward the infinite. In a landscape we can always see the remains of the primordial earth and at the same time the legitimate use people have made of the environment, the permanent ordinariness we create all around us.




February 23, 2016

Beyond a Certain Point

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… with them, it is the cogito that is mere hyperbole.

Final post from Art Brut by Michel Thévoz (1995):

… The origin of such works, if may be freely admitted, lies in a certain madness, but madness in a positive and not a diseased sense, as it is understood by Dubuffet, whose views tie in with those of Laing:

Art creation is something that one expects, that everyone expects, to be strongly marked by the influx of an unusual personal secretion. Such a characteristic obviously implies in the maker a mental standpoint different from that of other people; it presupposes that questioning of norms and usages, that spirit of non-alignment, that withdrawal into oneself which — to continue to use the term in its moderate sense — are on the way to alienation.

[line break added] To what extent, whether greater or lesser, matters little. Should art creations be expected — and, if we look closely, most people do expect them — to be personal, unusual and novel only slightly, and in such a way that, if they go beyond a certain point (what point exactly would have to be marked), they are too much of a good thing and thereby cease to pertain to art, taking their place among prohibited aberrations? Such a view is indefensible.

I am convinced that art creation, wherever it comes forth, calls for the aptitudes stated above, and that it is of value only where there occurs a breaking away from the common way of looking at things, from accepted opinions, from custom in every domain; where there occurs, then, to repeat the word, an alienation of the eye and the psychic movements. In this matter I fully subscribe to the opinion that art creation always and in every case has an asocial and therefore, in the eyes of the public health officer, a pathological character.

[line break added] Where that character is lacking, one may be entitled to speak of art (it is a matter of agreeing on the sense of words), but certainly not of art creation. Creation implies that one is not satisfied with what already is and what others are satisfied with; it calls for a position of rebellion and conflict. The work, it seems to me, will be all the more creative as that position grows worse.

… The idea of normal art is evidently contradictory. Creativity in this sphere can be understood only as deviance, as a transgression of norms.

… The psychoanalyst Ernst Kris gives a lucid account of the orthopedic purpose of cultural art in his book Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art. For he presents artistic creation as a “controlled madness,” a momentary delirium which is finally resolved by a recentering and reinforcement of the ego. … The artist is sent out to reconnoitre the “inner distance,” rather as a CIA agent is dispatched into the outer distance, for the ultimate purpose of gaining control over it.

[line break added] While normal individuals react to madness by resistance and segregation, the cultural artist proceeds by homeopathy, so to speak. He inoculates himself with the disease the better to neutralize it. His ventures outside the conscious sphere, however bold, are in the end profitable to mental hygiene and social integration. This view is quite adequate to cultural art, but it tells us nothing about Art Brut except by contrast.

… Generally speaking, one may say that the makers of Art Brut reverse the findings of Descartes: with them, it is the cogito that is mere hyperbole. They provisionally invoke the hypothesis of an aggressive, sarcastic, ludic or psychotic self in order to excuse and finally sanction the power of the creative demon lurking within them.

Madge Gill, Architectural Fantasy, 1951

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




February 22, 2016

Enlarging and Reforming and Revising

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… the newly made thing recalls to us the “And yet … ” and “But also … ” and “That, too … ” of lived experience rather than the tendentious categories of received ideas.

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

… On the one hand, we see the attempt to find a space for art completely outside the cycles of seduction and consumption, an attempt that seems, perhaps inevitably, to carry its own burden of puritanical self-righteousness. On the other, the alternative to this accusatory retreat seems to be an increasingly hysterical and mannered insistence that the exhausted party of consumer culture is still all the world there is (“And some swing madly from the chandeliers …”*).

[line break added] For many among our own “sobering few,”* this unhappy scene marks the inevitable outcome of an attempt to make art out of non-art, to substitute secondhand culture for firsthand experience as the subject of art. The only sane future for art, they argue, lies in a complete divorce from the materials of mass culture, and in a return to “perception” — to the specific engagements of realist painting and sculpture.

[line break added] Faces and bodies and landscapes remain as central to experience now as any television image, they argue, and the future of painting relies on art’s renewed allegiance to those subjects — in a return to the somatic, the individually observed, the personally felt, the seen.

Yet one of the triumphs of modern art has been to show us that sight is manifold, and that looking hard at secondhand culture can become as meaningful as the scrutiny of first-order nature. Perception itself, after all, cannot operate outside of an inherited vocabulary of schemata. By enlarging and reforming and revising the vocabulary of art to include the new vernaculars of modernity, art has reformed and enlarged the vision of us all.

… Of all the unsuccessful general theories of art, probably the least bad has been the one that suggests that we use the concept of “art” to call attention to any made thing which seems to unify what we had always thought before were opposites and, in doing so, reminds us of the ineluctible complexity of life.

[line break added] Flowing pattern and truthful detail reconciled, as in Raphael; a child’s color and Cézanne’s drawing, as in Matisse; Chester Gould and Emily Dickinson, as in Elizabeth Murray — what matters is less what the particular opposed terms may be than that the newly made thing recalls to us the “And yet … ” and “But also … ” and “That, too … ” of lived experience rather than the tendentious categories of received ideas.


[*Letter to Lord Byron
…..by W. H. Auden

How we all roared when Baudelaire went by
“See this cigar” he said “It’s Baudelaire’s.
What happens to perception? Ah, who cares.”
Today, alas, that happy crowded floor
Looks very different: many are in tears:
Some have retired to bed and locked the door;
And some swing madly from the chandeliers;
Some have passed out entirely in the rears;
Some have been sick in corners; the sobering few
Are trying to think of something new.]

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




February 21, 2016

In a Closed World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

What decision had he made that put him out of reach, although friendly, close?

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

… The mark, it is to be absent from the present, and to make the present be absent.

[ … ]

When he crossed it, the city murmured in him constantly: I am afraid, be the witness of fear.

[ … ]

A double meaning: the noise of the city with its interpretable richness, always ready to be named, then the same noise like the sound of the waves, monotonous, wild, inaudible, with sudden and unforeseeable bursts being a part of the monotony.

[ … ]

He is in a closed world whose closing is the only event that produces itself in it.

What decision had he made that put him out of reach, although friendly, close?




February 20, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… one man, prompted by feelings in his muscles, goes to the surface.

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

… For art today the basic issue is this: on the one hand there is nature, a physical fact from which we are far from being separate and with which we have an interactive relationship; on the other hand is the man-made culture we live in. There, technology has been gradually attempting to elude the natural physicality of existence: space, time, pain, mortality, etc. I consider landscape art a messenger between these two spheres, which expresses our attitudes to the evolving situation.

Schiller, in his essay ‘Naïve and Sentimental Poetry,’ equates nature with what is not self-aware or in conscious self-control. As well as plants and minerals, he mentions the behavior of children and the customs of country folk. “Nature, considered in this wise, is for us nothing but the voluntary presence, the subsistence of things on their own, their existence in accordance with their own immutable laws.”

[line break added] We say that cities “grow” and “decay” using metaphors that indicate we take these processes to be “voluntary presences,” and not under our control. We may plan our freeway systems, but Wayne Thiebaud paints them as a tangled, organic network, seemingly alive and high on synthetic color, where repetition signifies not monotony, but hyperactivity.

[line break added] … Yvonne Jacquette goes one step further; in her paintings of cities, often seen from the air, distinctions so important to us on the ground — what is nature, what is not — have disappeared. Her paint structure shows the earth as a continuous thickly piled rug where everything is subject to natural laws. The modern momentum that gives you that view is expressed by a close-up of the wing of the plane that carries her, not by anything you can see on the ground.

Wayne Thiebaud, Urban Freeways, 1979

… In both the making of art and the study of art, the dominant culture today is one of ideas and meanings, signs and allegories, in which it is not the thing but the idea it refers to that counts. But I think our culture has to learn a whole new relatedness to the physical world, and that in order to attune ourselves to this we need an art not of reference but of presence — of the physical thing itself in its integrity.

[ … ]

… In the Forster story I mentioned, mankind lives underground in a technological civilization built, the author explains, out of humanity’s desire for comfort. The Machine supplies their every want. Their bodies are pap, they value only ideas. Though it is forbidden to do so, one man, prompted by feelings in his muscles, goes to the surface. So inspired is he by what he sees there that he decides he will reject his civilization:

little hills — low colorless hills. But to me they were living and the turf that covered them was a skin, under which their muscles rippled, and I felt that those hills had called with incalculable force to men in the past, and that men had loved them. Now they sleep — perhaps forever. They commune with humanity in dreams.




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