Unreal Nature

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.

-Julie

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