Unreal Nature

December 21, 2016

Fragility and Tenderness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… this simple gesture of listening, this state of attention and expectation …

This is from the essay ‘There Is Nothing Old Under the Sun (2) ‘ 1988 found in The Complete Essays 1973-1991 by Luigi Ghirri (2016):

Roger Caillois, in the essay ‘From Fairy Tale to Science Fiction’ in his 1966 Anthology of the Fantastic, says that the fairy tale ‘is a universe of marvels which joins the real world without affecting it or destroying its coherence.’ Science fiction, by contrast, ‘reveals itself as a scandal, a rapture, an almost unbearable and unexpected bursting into the real world.’

[line break added] Moreover, apparition is the essential tool of science fiction; it is what cannot occur and yet is produced, at a point and a precise moment, in the heart of a perfectly probed universe, one from which mystery was believed to have been forever banished. It all seems to be like any other day: tranquil, banal, nothing unusual about it.

I believe that the idea of science fiction is well suited to my own notion of landscape; it is precisely within this mutation, this passage from the world of the fairy tale to that of science fiction, that we can explain the air of disquieting calm that infuses places and landscapes — which seem to be inhabited also by the mystery and the secrets they still possess — knowing in the end that what we are able to know, describe and represent is but through a small crack in the surface of things, of the landscapes we inhabit and experience.

The following is from ‘Images for Music’ 1989:

There’s a strange and mysterious relationship between sound and image which has always fascinated me. Perhaps my passion for music is based on this subtle and almost imperceptible link. Although it must be said, I’m not familiar with instruments or musical scores, and Adorno defines listeners like me as ‘horrendously passive.’

But I rather like this simple gesture of listening, this state of attention and expectation — which is not really so different from picking out a landscape from the continuum of the world, to chance upon or construct a gaze.

… In fact, many consider both [photograph and song] as cultural products which are far removed from high Art — because they are fragmentary forms akin to objects of consumption. Often, they are considered products of the culture industry, examples of media with global appeal.

But beyond these rhetorical definitions, I have always been attracted to the photograph and the song precisely because they are not considered ‘Art.’ Unlike titanic museum pieces, which seem doomed to sink, photographs and songs are great and altogether healthy forms of fragility and tenderness.

They have always seemed to me like moments of illumination — visionary flares that appear before us, and go on to become part of life.

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




December 20, 2016

Movements of Another Mind

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… it needs time not merely to unfold its secrets but to begin to mean anything at all.

This is from ‘Dubuffet‘ (1958) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

… He is not self-conscious about style because of a love of style but rather because of a hatred of style. His preoccupation with style arises in the first place out of his recognition of the decadence of our culture, his feeling that the styles we accept are all played out, his disgust at an art that feeds on art and feeds again on art fed upon art, and out of his desire to create an art that might rise above it all, above all the fancy nonsense, in spite of everything.

[line break added] There is something heroic in this enterprise of Dubuffet’s, in his readiness not to shrug his shoulders and make an elaborate joke out of all the mess as the Dadaists did, but to return to certain basic essentials and see what he can make of them — the essentials being the simplest kind of schematic drawing, the plainest, earthiest colors, the stuff the work is made of. Let us, he says, take these, and think of what they are, and use them, and see what happens.


Dubuffet does, in spite of everything, draw upon the art of the museums, even if he has to go back to very early art, to paleolithic cave paintings, to neolithic sculptures, and perhaps to Cycladic carvings, to find models that are not too much tainted by association with art for the sake of art, not to say art for the sake of snobbery.

It seems to me that the great merit of Dubuffet’s work, the merit which makes him the finest European painter of his generation, is that it communicates a feeling for life which has something of the warmth and poignancy characteristic of this very early art. Dubuffet’s vision of man combines marvelously — as they are combined in Cycladic figures — a sense of extreme vulnerability with a profound dignity and sense of being indestructible, in spite of everything (a phrase I’ve used three times now: it is constantly coming to mind when I think about Dubuffet). His figures have a pathetic, clownish grandeur, like Rembrandt’s drawing of the elephant.

[line break added] They are oafish and clumsy, and yet, and yet, fragile. They care about things. And on the other hand, they are roaring monsters who don’t give a damn for anyone, they are reincarnations of Père Ubu [from Jarry’s plays]. They are also creatures who might conceivably live in dustbins, as in Fin de Partie. They have connections too with Godot, who dreams, like Lucky, of stones and sky and games of tennis, and discovers, like Pozzo, that birth happens astride of a grave.

This next is from ‘Kandinsky‘ (1960):

… By any normal standards of good painting — any normal standards, German as well as French — Kandinsky makes it difficult for us to take him seriously as a painter. The want of presence and density in his shapes and colors gives them a slightly sickening effect. In the face of an inability to integrate forms into a continuous texture filling the surface of the canvas and of a feebleness of structure which gives no coherence to strident relations of color, we feel queasy.

… Paradoxically, it could be said that Kandinsky is the least abstract of painters. He was by nature an illustrator — as his earliest works make plain — and his abstract pictures are illustrations of the idea of painting an abstract picture. Seen from a distance, the only music they make is a jumbled noise.

But move closer to them, physically and sympathetically, close enough not to be disconcerted by the impression they make. Let their colors break over you like waves (as if you had got out of the rocking boat and decided to swim for it). Allow yourself to explore space with their tendril-like lines. In a word, give yourself to these paintings. You will feel that you are moving in concord with the movements of another mind, that the very movements of another mind and not only its conclusions have become yours.

[line break added] These paintings are not expressions, crystallizations of states of mind, of particular feeling-tones, they are gropings after states of mind, they are traces of the process itself of introspection. The very feeling-tone of these Kandinskys of the Blaue Reiter period is that of groping, of reaching out into the unknown. Some of them may be rather sad or rather gay or rather expressive of conflict, but their dominant feeling is always this uncertain reaching forth — the Sehnsucht, the yearning, that is familiar in German romantic art here related to the elusiveness of the artist’s own feelings.

The incompleteness of these paintings — the way that passages are left unresolved — is something like the incompleteness of an unfinished Cézanne still life. The Cézanne is a record of a groping after the forms of external objects in which honesty compels that what cannot be said with certainty is better left unsaid: a Kandinsky of the Blaue Reiter period is its counterpart in terms of groping after the forms of feelings.

[line break added] The difference is that a Cézanne, incomplete as it is as an investigation, is resolved as a painting; the Kandinsky remains a conglomeration of sensitive gropings in the dark. It is not resolved in the painting as a concrete thing, its resolution only comes about in and through our process of exploration of the painting. In this sense, it is a form of music — in that it needs time not merely to unfold its secrets but to begin to mean anything at all.

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




December 19, 2016

At Once Invisible and Available

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… We no longer see the Metaphysical city, so contiguous are its dimensions to the commonplaces of late modernity …

Continuing through Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City: Nietzsche, Modernism, Paris by Ara H. Merjian (2014):

Melancholy of a Beautiful Day, 1913

… “I had not understood,” Aragon conceded in his Le Paysan de Paris, “that myth is above all else a reality, a necessity of the spirit, that it is the road of consciousness, its treadmill.” It is by staying within the syntax of de Chirico’s streets — their conjunctions and catechreses, analogies and aporias — that one grasps the particular modernity of their myth.

[line break added] For myth does not amount, here, to a set of strange objects laid along the way. Myth in the Metaphysical city is — to borrow from a very different aphorism — the way itself. This perhaps explains why, for all its strangeness, de Chirico’s imagery has rejoined the platitudes from whence it arose. As shorthand for spatial disquiet, the expressions “Chirico-esque” and “Chirico-like” form part of our era’s verbal furniture. We no longer see the Metaphysical city, so contiguous are its dimensions to the commonplaces of late modernity: alienation, (sub)urban solitude, studied surprise.

[line break added] The “immense museum of strangeness” that de Chirico spied in the world at large remains at once invisible and available. In an age where the piazza becomes every day more virtual, and the wall something less than solid, the metaphysical arrogance of these images perhaps offers something intractably, indissolubly physical still.

The Soothsayer’s Recompense, 1913

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




December 18, 2016

There Are No Voiceless Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… What is given is completely transformed in what is created.

This is from Speech Genres & Other Late Essays by M.M. Bakhtin (1986):

… Two or more sentences can be absolutely identical (when they are superimposed on one another, like two geometrical figures, they coincide); moreover, we must allow that any sentence, even a complex one, in the unlimited speech flow can be repeated an unlimited number of times in completely identical form. But as an utterance (or part of an utterance) no one sentence, even if it has only one word, can ever be repeated: it is always a new utterance (even if it is a quotation).

… Research becomes inquiry and conversation, that is, dialog. We do not address inquiries to nature and she does not answer us. We put questions to ourselves and we organize observation or experiment in such a way as to obtain an answer.

… An utterance is never just a reflection or an expression of something already existing, outside it that is given and final. It always creates something that never existed before, something absolutely new and unrepeatable, and, moreover, it always has some relation to value (the true, the good, the beautiful, and so forth). But something created is always created out of something given (language, an observed phenomenon of reality, an experienced feeling, the speaking subject himself, something finalized in his world view, and so forth). What is given is completely transformed in what is created.

… It is much easier to study the given in what is created (for example, language, ready-made and general elements of world view, reflected phenomena of reality, and so forth) than to study what is created.

… An object is ready-made, the linguistic means for its depiction are ready-made, the artist himself is ready-made, and his world view is ready-made. And here with ready-made means, in light of a ready-made world view, the ready-made poet reflects a ready-made object. But in fact the object is created in the process of creativity, as are the poet himself, his world view, and his means of expression.

… The relation to the thing (in its pure thingness) cannot be dialogic (i.e. there can be no conversation, argument, agreement, and so forth). The relation to meaning is always dialogic. Even understanding itself is dialogic.

… The word (or in general any sign) is interindividual. Everything that is said, expressed, is located outside the “soul” of the speaker and does not belong only to him. The word cannot be assigned to a single speaker. The author (speaker) has his own inalienable right to the word, but the listener also has his rights, and those whose voices are heard in the word before the author comes upon it also have their rights (after all, there are no words that belong to no one). The word is a drama in which three characters participate (it is not a duet, but a trio). It is performed outside the author, and it cannot be introjected into the author.

… Each large and creative verbal whole is a very complex and multi-faceted system of relations. With a creative attitude toward language, there are no voiceless words that belong to no one. Each word contains voices that are sometimes infinitely distant, unnamed, almost impersonal (voices of lexical shadings, of styles, and so forth), almost undetectable, and voices resounding nearby and simultaneously.

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




December 17, 2016

Matrices Which Mold into Significance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… But when we cannot fit them into an inherited set of rules we have an experience of displacement and uncertainty; we are compelled to open ourselves to movement and change.

Continuing through The New Landscape in Art and Science by Gyorgy Kepes (1956; 1967):

… All images, all feelings, all thoughts, have a common basic model, a fundamental analog. These models are frames of reference by which we try to comprehend the life around us as a unity. We see, feel and think only to the extent that our basic models allow us. Our intellectual and social evolution is based upon a gradual connecting together of narrow similarities, that is, transformation of models with limited meaning into models which are more comprehensive.

[line break added] The primitive magic which assumed that “like produces like,” using the superficial resemblance between causes and effects, was the first crude approximation of “model” as we know it. Other models have replaced primitive magic; and these, too, have had their life and then changed.

… Chains of analogs unite physical patterns, sense patterns, feelings and thoughts when we experience works of art. In all these patterns we read the processes they trace and through them we find expressive meanings. We read men’s inner psychic life from their outer appearance and behavior. We perceive inner realities as metaphors of outer realities, outer realities as qualities of inner processes.

[line break added] But the inseparable reports about and responses to the outside world that we have in individual perception are not available on the level of collective perception. Art and science are still divided, although both have brought the same new world within our grasp through the resources of creative image making. Corrective measures are necessary to bridge the gap between the two.

[line break added] A consistent vision of a single natural order can only be reestablished through conscious efforts toward rediscovering common models for these temporarily separated areas. If we read with the eyes of artists the vistas of nature that scientists record, we may find fundamental, central models with which to orient ourselves in the world and respond emotionally to it. We shall then have basic expressions for delivering our messages and making them common property.

What are these common expressions? In what way can we find concrete correspondences between the forms of our understanding and the forms and patterns of our sensations and emotional responses? What are the aspects common to scientific and artistic vision?

… There are two basic morphological archetypes among these meanings: expression of order, coherence, discipline, stability on the one hand; expression of chaos, movement, vitality, change on the other. Common to the morphology of outer and inner processes, these are basic polarities recurring in physical phenomena, in the organic world and in human experience. As Emerson has put it, they are “the dynamic substance of our universe, written in every corner of nature.”

[line break added] Felt in artistic forms, they can be discerned in the processes of creative scientific thought. They are basic phases of our physiology as well as of our feelings. They are keys to the understanding of social phenomena. They constitute the pulsations of the history of our culture. They are matrices which mold into significance and direction the new impacts which our nervous systems receive from the outside.

… We respond to their expression in nature’s configurations and in human utterances, gestures and acts. Cosmos and chaos, as the ancients called them, the Apollonian spirit of measure and the Dionysian principle of chaotic life, organization and randomness, stasis and kinesis, conscious and unconscious, inhibition and excitation, association and dissociation, integration and disintegration, convention and revolt — all these are different aspects of the same polarity of configuration.

… But when we cannot fit them into an inherited set of rules we have an experience of displacement and uncertainty; we are compelled to open ourselves to movement and change. If we are confident, we face issues squarely and, with the realism born of confidence, broaden our world. If we are timid, we mask the issues in a mystical garb and, retiring from the challenge, shrink from our world. One day we need symmetry, certainty, coherence, discipline; another day asymmetry, freedom and adventure.

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




December 16, 2016

Risk of Instability

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:26 am

… the apparently predictable work may be more at risk of instability; whereas the giddily unguessable work is in fact metastable, given stability, that is, by the very uniformity of its fluctuations.

Continuing through In Defence of Quantity: Living by Numbers by Steven Connor (2016):

… As a sometime historian of and speculator on the voice, I have had occasion to enjoy and endure a number of episodes or performances of glossolalia, both in artistic and religious contexts, in which sounds are emitted that are said to be pure nonsemantic utterance, or at least to belong to no recognizable earthly language. The interesting feature of such utterances is that, far from being impelled by the pure language of the spirit, or of the elemental passions, they always in fact seem to be subject to careful internal monitoring, so as to avoid the accidental articulation fo meaningful words.

[line break added] Given that many of these words arise from the crystallization of accident out of the mouths of babes and sucklings in many different times and climes, it is highly improbable that an entirely unfiltered stream of spontaneous utterance would not occasionally contain them, yet I have never heard a glossalalic performer come near to articulating ‘mummy’ or ‘pop’ or ‘bugger’ or ‘haddock.’ In order to count as entirely open, such speech cannot in fact be open to simply anything and everything. The order of accident must be tacitly defended against the accident of order.

Seen in these terms, the ideology of chance may be seen as the effort to disavow this intermingling of the determinate and the indeterminate — an intermingling that can never itself be fully determinate or calculable, though this does not make it incalculable either. What we may call the aleator, or artist of chance, is therefore the mirror image of the determinist; where the latter strives to leave nothing to chance, the former is at pains to have absolutely nothing go to plan (except that).

Works on the operations of chance in different art forms tend to focus on the ways in which such forms might or might not succeed in surrendering or opening up to a principle that is held to be alien or antagonistic to its nature.

… What is often seen as a desirable dividend of innovation in artworks — largely because of the horizons of interpretation within which the things picked out as artworks tend to operate, in which sudden changes of meaning and value are themselves a premium source of value — may be seen as an undesirable, even catastrophic cost if one is talking about a bank or an air traffic control system.

[line break added] It is commonly suggested nowadays, for example, that the immune system of somebody brought up under conditions of strictly controlled hygiene may be unable to cope with the unexpected infectious or pathogenic agents they may later encounter. By contrast, the toddler who has consumed their mandatory peck of dirt and has therefore primed their immune system by exposure to bacterial noise may be much better defended against unpredictable contingencies.

[line break added] We may say that the strongly determined work can have the first kind of immunity. Precisely because it seems so strong, it may in fact be weak at certain crucial points, and in proportion to its strength. The strongly or programmatically undetermined work, by contrast, can come to seem almost immune to accident or the unexpected.

… Where the strongly determined work has many entry points for indetermination, the strongly undetermined work only has one entry point for a difference that would make a difference, which is at the level of the initiating intention to make an aleatory work.

… the apparently predictable work may be more at risk of instability; whereas the giddily unguessable work is in fact metastable, given stability, that is, by the very uniformity of its fluctuations.

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




December 15, 2016

Always the Same Joy, the Same Astonishment

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… Always the same joy, the same astonishment at the fresh significance of an image whose place I have just changed.

This is from Notes on the Cinematograph by Robert Bresson (1975):

[ … ]

When the public is ready to feel before understanding, what a number of films reveal and explain everything to it!

I remember an old film: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Life was suspended during thirty wonderful seconds, during which nothing happened. In reality, everything happened. Cinematography, the art, with images, of representing nothing.

[ … ]

The people I pass in the Avenue des Champs-Élysées appear to me like marble figures moved forward by springs. But let their eyes meet mine, and at once these walking and gazing statues become human.

[ … ]

Your film’s beauty will not be in the images (postcardism) but in the ineffable that they will discharge.

[ … ]

Telephone. His voice makes him visible.

[ … ]

Always the same joy, the same astonishment at the fresh significance of an image whose place I have just changed.

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




December 14, 2016

Little Certainties

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… Amongst the tangled threads of the always-identical, photography can transform the kingdom of indifferent repetition into little certainties …

This is from the essay ‘The Restless Gaze: An Anthology of Sentiments ‘ 1988 found in The Complete Essays 1973-1991 by Luigi Ghirri (2016):

… The journey towards an elsewhere on the surface of the world, along with the daunting research into depth, complicates our perception, which becomes ever more like the experience of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, who is overwhelmed by an astonishing accumulation of knowledge, attention, stimuli, sentiments, memories, amnesias, novelties, information, recollections, and echoes. As Pessoa writes [I believe this is from The Book of Disquiet]:

I’m riding a tram and, as is my habit, slowly absorbing every detail of the people around me. By ‘detail’ I mean things, voices, words. In the dress of the girl directly in front of me, for example, I see the material it’s made of, the work involved in making it — since it’s a dress and not just material — and I see in the delicate embroidery around the neck, the silk thread with which it was embroidered and all the work that went into that.

[line break added] And immediately, as if in a primer on political economy, I see before me the factories and all the different jobs: the factory where the material was made; the factory that made the darker colored thread that adorns with curlicues the neck of the dress; and I see the different workshops in the factories, the machines, the workmen, the seamstresses. My eyes’ inward gaze even penetrates into the offices, where I see the managers trying to keep calm and I follow the figures set out in the account books, but that’s not all: beyond that I see into the domestic lives of those who spend their working hours in these factories and offices …

A whole world unfolds before my eyes, all because of the regularly irregular dark green edging to a pale green dress worn by the girl in front of me, whose brown neck is all that is visible to me. A whole way of life lies in front of my eyes.

I sense the loves, the secrets, the souls of all those who worked just so that this woman in front of me on the tram should wear around her mortal neck the sinuous banality of a thread of dark green silk on a background of light green cloth.

I grow dizzy. The seats on the tram, of fine, strong cane, carry me to distant regions, divide into industries, workmen, houses, lives, realities, everything.

[ … ]

… ‘We are like a steamship that crosses the path of another steamship,’ writes Pessoa, ‘and there’s an unknown nostalgia for the passage.’ It is with this lens of nostalgia that we look at the metropolis, which appears to spread over all surfaces, seeping into the gaps, penetrating all territories, as if it were a subtle and covert exercise in colonization.

[line break added] Encountering no obstacles, it moves into squalid places of sensorial deprivation, such as car parks, supermarkets, crossroads, asphalt and lampposts, football pitches and motorcycle tracks, scrapyards and dumps — all of which seem to be the outposts of the city, the strategic boundary line that pushes the landscape a little further back.

[line break added] A line along which space is turned into wasteland and leftovers in a series of uncertain changes, and where the gaze also takes on an ethical dimension — a possible means of investigating a landscape which appears to have relinquished all recognizability, all possible interpretation, thanks to a subtle and malicious magical realism.

Amongst the tangled threads of the always-identical, photography can transform the kingdom of indifferent repetition into little certainties — through fragments and intuitions, little changes of light, the highlighting of a color, the detail of a façade, the lines of a face, an unexpected space.

Luigi Ghirri, San Martino Valle Caudina, 1990

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




December 13, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… it belongs at a certain imaginary distance from us which is independent of its distance from us as an object.

This is from ‘Giacometti ‘ (1955) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

Giacometti’s standing figures suggest objects long buried underground and now unearthed to stand out in the light. Fossils perhaps, but also columns or caryatids — caryatids indeed, with their compact, frontal stance, except that they seem too tenuous to be that. But they are not ethereal: they have a density which calls to mind the shrunken heads that cannibals preserve. They are figures without ‘physical superflousness,’ like Starbuck in Moby Dick, their thinness a ‘condensation.’


… The sense of the transitory in these sculptures is a sense of loss.

It is also a statement of fact. The slender proportions and agitated surfaces may be loaded with a mass of romantic evocations whose weight might be a compensation for lack of corporeal mass, but the conjunction of these properties also serves to suggest quite simply that our sensations, for subjective reasons or objective ones, are always shifting, would cease to be sensations if fixed like a butterfly by a pin.

[line break added] If they are to be trapped or fixed, it must be less rudely. Now Giacometti’s aim, as he has put it, is ‘to give the nearest possible sensation to that felt at the sight of the subject.’ It is evident that for him this entails making it clear that the sensation is fugitive. And to make this clear, he uses forms whose appearance contradicts our notions about the appearance of things.

… This long slender figure with its broken surface — sometimes as tall as ourselves and no thicker than our arm — clearly bears no relation to the real volume of a human body. There is a kind of core, and outside the core a suggestion of mass dissolving into space. The volume is confessedly an unknown quantity, by implication an unknowable quantity: the fact that in reality contours are elusive is conveyed by the fact that in the sculpture there simply is no contour.

Consider the elongation again. Is it not akin to the kind of elongation produced in painting by the device of anamorphosis? A sort of anamorphosis has distorted the sculptured figure or head, distorted it so that it embodies a perspective, implying that it was seen from a particular angle or distance, so that it belongs at a certain imaginary distance from us which is independent of its distance from us as an object.

… What matters most is not that the language of sculpture has been extended. What matters most is that, in arriving at proportions which give effects beyond the normal range of sculpture, Giacometti creates a mysterious and poignant image of the human head or figure, fragile, lost in space, yet dominating it.

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




December 12, 2016

The Problem of Light

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

“… To close the doors and windows of consciousness for a time; to remain undisturbed by the noise and struggle of our underworld of utility organs working with and against one another; a little quietness, a little tabula rasa of the consciousness, to make room for new things …”

Continuing through Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City: Nietzsche, Modernism, Paris by Ara H. Merjian (2014):

… Despite de Chirico’s would-be prominence as an originator of pictorial estrangement, his architecture preserves — rather than destroys — clarity and boundaries. For all its affinity with Rimbaud’s hallucinations — a “drawing room at the bottom of a lake” — even Gare Montparnasse‘s displaced bananas sit as tautly within their skins as the station that frames them. The painting’s strangeness hinges upon an unflinching immanence to language, to line, to daylight.

La gare Montparnasse, 1914

Despite rejecting the visible shading of night into day, de Chirico complains that viewers tend nevertheless to “see these [Metaphysical] paintings as imagined in the twilight” — as if, despite the sun that bathes them, his images conjure up a hazy gloaming. Much of that misprision derived from later Surrealist tropes of “hallucinatory shadow” foisted upon Metaphysical imagery.

[line break added] Even Coquiot errs early on in his early comparison of de Chirico’s images to the wooly dreamscapes of Albert Trachsel; despite the cloudless exactitude of images like The Enigma of a Day, the critic describes them as “lunar,” as “evening apparitions.” Such misreadings help crystallize the peculiar lucidity of the Metaphysical city. De Chirico would later recall his skies as painted in a “tenebrous blue,” an inaccuracy that evokes the paradox of their clarity.

[line break added] For as much as the painter disdained the haze of Sturm und Drang — or even the new age whimsy of a painter like Trachsel — he reviled the positivism of light. Light promises a leveling, and thus ignoble, transmission of information. Of course, in their photomaniacal” realism, de Chirico’s scenes risk a vulgar availability. This was precisely the purpose of which Impressionist realism (and some of its avant-garde heirs) had put light, whether in Paris, Normandy, or the Mediterranean: a registering of duration and contingency; a vehicle of immediacy; a languageless transmission of the present and of presence.

… His anxious comparisons of Impressionism to “sensationalism” … confirm his absorption of Nietzsche’s later writings … [for example] “Artistically appraised, nature is no model … Studies ‘from nature’ seem to me a bad sign: they show subjugation, weakness, fatalism, — this practice of lying in the dirt in front of petits faits.” It is not only the “bad weather” of German Romanticism that Nietzsche disdains, but the overweening attention to naturalism, its submission to time, to timeliness, to climate.

… As he came to paint the enigma of day (rather than of stormy oracles), de Chirico needed to circumvent the problem of light: a vehicle of common vision in common places. His solution lay in the yoking of lucidity to obfuscation. “The wedding day has come for light and darkness.”

Zarathustra parades his mysteries in the plain light of a “Great Noon [Grosse Mittag].” His terror echoes in “halcyon tones.” Nietzsche’s “cloaks of light” (Beyond Good and Evil), his anthems to “We somnambulists of the day!” (Zarathustra), inspired de Chirico and Savinio’s exploration of light, clarity, and line as vehicles of a more ironic obscurantism. Summing up some of his chief Metaphysical tenets, de Chirico writes: “As far as I am concerned, there is more mystery in a fossilized piazza in the clarity of midday than in a dark room in the heart of the night, during a spiritual séance.”

… For Nietzsche, the “chief creative means” of post-Wagnerian aesthetics — specifically of an art that approximates myth — “are omitting, overlooking, and ignoring.” He writes, in The Genealogy of Morals:

Forgetting is no mere vis inertiae as the superficial imagine; it is rather an active and in the strictest sense positive faculty of repression … To close the doors and windows of consciousness for a time; to remain undisturbed by the noise and struggle of our underworld of utility organs working with and against one another; a little quietness, a little tabula rasa of the consciousness, to make room for new things, above all for the nobler functions and functionaries, for regulation, foresight, premeditation (for our organism is an oligarchy [sic] — that is the purpose of active forgetfulness, which is like a doorkeeper, a preserver of psychic order, repose, and etiquette: so that it will be immediately obvious how there could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present, without forgetfulness.

… the Futurist leader F.T. Marinetti attacked Nietzsche as a past-loving pedant. De Chirico gleaned something different from the same writings — an attack against the “malady of history,” as something that “tattoos” the face of representation.

Metaphysical painting is still read as an evocation of horror vacui — the “loneliness of modern man,” rendered an image. Yet the desertion of space is not lamented in de Chirico’s imagery. It is celebrated for its brave renunciations. Metaphysical painting by 1914 does not, as scholars have long assumed, perform a “melancholic repetition of loss.”

[line break added] It exalts loss as the mode of privileged vision itself. ” ‘I wish at any cost to be alone’ said the statue with the eternal look … And in everlasting happiness the statue immerses its soul in the contemplation of its shadow.” De Chirico’s poetic apostrophe of his own Ariadnes, here in 1912, suggests anything but the unreconstructed nostalgia ascribed to his images.

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




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