Unreal Nature

June 19, 2016

Nature Imitates Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… concerned with an inheritance of sin, with the reading of stains, with the consequence of views.

This is from ‘Exogamous Relations’ in Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation by Susan Stewart (1994; 1991):

… The churning of one thing into another within an acknowledgment of difference is perhaps the central task of travel writing as the inscription of views both familiar and strange. And although such views may risk unintelligibility, the writing of them may not. Just as the movement of writing takes place within a history of forms and possibilities for excursus, so does the movement of travel have its pregiven genres: the one-way and the round trip, the stopping by wayside, the return home, the journey into outer space and the journey around one’s room, the business trip and the holiday, the pilgrimage and the march to the sea.

[line break added] Similarly, the resting places of significance in travel are either those centers of mixing and dialogue and consequently danger — the inn and the crossroads — or those places of seclusion and silence where one confronts an interior consciousness made of external censors — the forest, the holy site, the shrine, and the temple.

… The product of too much cultural noise is loneliness. Thus the traveler is caught between the desire for self-transformation, for the search for wider horizons of consciousness (consciousness being, of course, a landscape), and the desire to be a faithful witness, a steady point of comparison and accountability.

… In the American travel writing of the nineteenth century that serves, for our purposes, as a backdrop to Hawthorne’s project, we find a rich discussion of these paradoxes of the traveler’s biography: the problems of coming too close or going too far, the problems of staying too long or leaving too quickly, the problems of rigidity and provinciality on the one hand and promiscuousness and contamination on the other.

… For Hawthorne especially, everyday life might be picturesque from a distance, but it appears too vivid, even stained, upon firsthand examination. Representation can therefore suffer from a surplus of reality.

… history will not allow nature to remain unemblematic; allegory resounds. And it is impossible for an American artist, literally compelled by the morality of allegory, to see nature in any other way. When Hawthorne continually claims that nature imitates art, and again when he valorizes the notion of copying, he has taken from travel writing two strategies that are in perfect accord with his aims as an artist.

The Laocoön

… All of Hawthorne’s work — including his life, of course — is concerned with an inheritance of sin, with the reading of stains, with the consequence of views. Yet to reduce The Marble Faun to biography or anything else is to refuse the very problems of determination that the novel works to present. A consummate art would have no story to tell; in this sense, Hawthorne is struggling at the margins of such a possibility.

[line break added] Yet he is also presenting us with the particular ways in which such a possibility must necessarily fail. To travel in a land of pictures is to trade a being in time for a spatial illusion. The Laocoön itself is only intelligible because of the narrative Virgil has provided for reading it.

… we have a relentless critique of aestheticism within a proclamation of the triumph of aestheticism. Although it may seem that Hawthorne aligns America with moralism and Italy with aestheticism, we find that he has in fact presented a devastating critique of the limitations of both — the sterility, the impossibility of closure and production, whenever art and action refuse each other.

[line break added] Hawthorne rather gloomily reminds us that to stay too long in Italy and away from America would lead to a “kind of emptiness,” for we would “defer the reality of life, in such cases, until a further moment … and by then there are no future moments — or if we do return we find that … life has shifted its reality to the spot where we have deemed ourselves only temporary residents.” But he also reflects upon the meaning of the metaphors of emptiness — that emptiness of all travel writing having as its point the redemption of actions now subject to view.

My previous post from Stewart’s book is here.




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