Unreal Nature

March 31, 2017

Secrets of What We Are

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… continuous and sharp attention should be paid to this vehicle, in which every rejected and denied human impulse can be accommodated …

This is from ‘Detective Novels’ found in A Poet’s Prose: Selected Writings of Louise Bogan edited by Mary Kinzie (2005):

… The obscure religious undercurrent in these dramas of sin and retribution cannot be overlooked. “One of the strange phenomena of the nineteenth century” — I quote a modern clergyman — “is the spectacle of religion dropping the appeal to fear while other human interests have picked it up.” The Gothic novel that began in the late eighteenth century bore the marks of a broken-down, secularized, floating religion. It is the supernatural that intervenes. The trappings are Catholicism’s ruined abbeys; the fumes are those of a Protestant personal hell.

[line break added] Ritual has dissolved. The detective story, on the other hand, has all the marks of a live cult, developing from primitivism toward complexity. The victim is always there, whether the sign of a brutal sacrifice or a more human oblation. And the priestlike character of the detective was once very clear: Sherlock Holmes, in whose human reality many people believed, is the supreme example of this type.

“The present-day individual,” writes a psychiatrist, “is more and more called upon to give up his aggressions. The repressed and therefore unconscious criminality of the normal man finds few socially harmless outlets: dream and fantasy life, the neurotic symptom, and some transitional forms of behavior.” The breakthrough of the submerged Unconscious, the symbolic struggle between good and evil — in the detective story we find a re-enactment of these struggles. And the flight motif has returned, along with the tracking-down-of-the-fugitive role of the official or unofficial police.

… it is [Graham] Greene who has stated that the history of contemporary society is being written “in hundreds of volumes, most of them sold in cheap editions — the detective novels.” The great and perceptive writers of the nineteenth century from George Eliot through Henry James accepted the material and announced the themes, in a period devoted to ideals of “progress” and bourgeois complacency.

[line break added] At the moment, continuous and sharp attention should be paid to this vehicle, in which every rejected and denied human impulse can be accommodated, from the petty but terrible Schadenfreude (joy in another’s misfortune), bred from the poorer native qualities of the human heart as well as from the pressures of a competitive society, to larger evil schemes of power and ambition.

[line break added] The detective novel, now snobbishly cut off from the main stream of literature, reviewed flippantly if at all, may at this moment have within it secrets of what we are and shall be. And the future may look back to it, as it now exists, through great works engendered by it, as we look back through Baudelaire’s poems to Sue’s Paris, and back through Shakespeare to the crude horrors of the Tragedy of Blood.

My previous post from Bogan’s book is here.




March 30, 2017

The Impudence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… the impudence of setting forth such work; the boldness of recognizing the beauty which does reside in such a surface; the executing of it, the insistence upon presenting such effects as art.

This is from the essay ‘Artists in Colleges’ found in The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn (1957; 1985):

… The first observation to be made here is the rather obvious one that art has its roots in real life. Art may affirm its life-giving soil or repudiate it wholly. It may mock as bitterly as did Goya, be partisan, as was Daumier, discover beauty within the sordid and real as did Toulouse-Lautrec. Art may luxuriate in life positively and affirmatively with Renoir or Matisse or Rubens or Vermeer. It may turn to the nebulous horizons of sense-experience with the Post-Impressionists, the Cubists, the various orders of Abstractionist, but in any case it is life itself as it chances to exist that furnishes the stimulus for art.

That is not to say any special branch or section of life. Any living situation in which an artist finds material pertinent to his own temper is a proper situation for art. It would not have made sense for Paul Klee to have followed the boxing circuit nor for George Bellows to have chased the vague creatures that lurk within lines and squares or to have pursued the innuendos of accidental forms which yielded so much treasure to Klee. Yet each of these artists found in such casual aspects of reality a form of life, a means to create an oeuvre, to build a language of himself, his peculiar wit and skill and taste and comprehension of things.

While I concede that almost every situation has its potential artist, that someone will find matter for imagery almost anywhere, I am generally mistrustful of contrived situations, that is, situations peculiarly set up to favor the blossoming of art. I feel that they may vitiate the sense of independence which is present to some degree in all art. One wonders how the Fauves would have fared without the Bourgeoisie, how Cézanne would have progressed if he had been cordially embraced by the Academy.

[line break added] I am plagued by an exasperating notion: What if Goya, for instance, had been granted a Guggenheim, and then, completing that, had stepped into a respectable and cozy teaching job in some small — but advanced! — New England college, and had thus been spared the agonies of the Spanish Insurrection? The unavoidable conclusion is that we would never have had “Los Caprichos” or “Los Desastres de la Guerra.”

[line break added] The world would not have been called upon to mourn for the tortured woman of the drawing inscribed “Because She Was a Liberal!” Nor would it have been stirred by Goya’s pained cry, “Everywhere It Is the Same!” Neither would it have been shocked by his cruel depictions of human bestiality, nor warned — so graphically, so unforgettably — that fanaticism is man’s most abominable trait.

Thus it is not unimaginable that art arises from something stronger than stimulation or even inspiration — that it may take fire from something closer to provocation, that it may not just turn to life, but that it may at certain times be compelled by life. Art almost always has its ingredient of impudence, its flouting of established authority, so that it may substitute its own authority, and its own enlightenment.

How many ponderous tracts have been written upon those drips and threads of paint by which the late Jackson Pollock made himself known! If his peculiar decor has its human dimension, that does not lie within time-space, the interplanetary meanings so often ascribed to the work, but rather in the impudence of setting forth such work; the boldness of recognizing the beauty which does reside in such a surface; the executing of it, the insistence upon presenting such effects as art. I doubt whether in a completely benign atmosphere, such an art as Pollock’s would have been born; whether it would have produced the degree of shock and opposition which may well have been one of the most stimulating factors in its growth.




March 29, 2017

That Confrontational Moment

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… Klein offers us the American public as spectators at a coliseum.

Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):

… Between the ethnic or racial cultures of New York, in staggered renewal, and the metropolitan host culture, unable to identify itself except through its wealth and consumerism, a huge gap opened. New York, during the 1950s, revealed social chasms that fissured the nation’s self-satisfaction. Like many intellectuals, photographers may have been critical or our imperium, yet they tended to study its mood rather than to analyze or protest its policy.

[line break added] They were situated in a metropolis that claimed a central position in the world, even though it could not integrate its communities. New York in the 1950s lacked “soul,” a quality Paris had in abundance. Our photographers could be utterly riveted by their circumstances while not feeling in the least resident within them.

… Certain previous ideas about New York were transformed by its visualization in the 1950s. Where once they had sought social connectedness with the crowd, photographers began to demonstrate their external relation to scenes that were staked out by others. Partly this was a question of a certain self-consciousness that observers — in this instance, Jewish — registered as individuals within a mass.

[line break added] Though some of their predecessors had seen that mass — or constituents thereof — as a vital organism, younger photographers tended to conceive of it as a conformist throng. Their own identity, however, brought with it new uncertainties, a sense of disaffiliation, which more and more became the subject of their contact with New York. The city, under these circumstances, became a source of dismal allure, and also of a faint odium.

[ … ]

William Klein, Broadway and 103rd Street, New York, 1954-55

… It is as if the photographer [William Klein] snapped his fingers and a preposterous image culture came alive on both sides of the camera, each party wise to the other. Any cap pistol pointed by a little boy is a surrogate camera, and vice versa. These people, young and old, assume themselves equal to any competition. The fans at Ebbets Field root for their team yet can easily be imagined doing the same for the Pax Americana.

[line break added] Although they didn’t exactly pose for their collective portrait, they knew themselves to be in one, at a particular moment, and somehow Klein gives that confrontational moment a historical cast. Compared to Sidney Grossman’s group portraits and Weegee’s crowds at Coney Island, Klein offers us the American public as spectators at a coliseum.

William Klein, Presentation, Ebbets Field, New York, 1955

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




March 28, 2017

Our Sense of Standing There

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… that separate presence which mirrors us while it insists upon its separateness from us — and thereby sanctifies our separateness.

This is from ‘Newman I’ (1986) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

… he was forty when he produced his first known painting, around forty-five when he produced what seem the most indispensable paintings of this half of the twentieth century. Newman, then — given the resemblance of artists, not to mountaineers, with their finite ambition to scale particular peaks, but to jumpers and vaulters, with their infinite ambition to reach as far as they can (and their recognition that, whatever their success by comparison with others, they are bound to fall short in the end) — Newman was like those champion high-jumpers who delay coming into a competition till the bar is nearing its ultimate level.

… We tend to flatter ourselves that we are altogether better talent-spotters than our predecessors were in the days of the Impressionists and the Cubists — or even as late as the 1940s, when Mondrian died hungry. Yet Newman, who since the mid-1960s has come to be widely thought of as the greatest painter to have emerged since the Second World War, was generally ridiculed or ignored until the end of the 1950s.

Barnett Newman, Onement 1, 1948

[ … ]

… The similar emphatic frontality of a Rothko creates a related kind of confrontation. Here we are faced with a highly ambiguous presence which seems, on the one hand, ethereal, empty, on the other solid and imposing, like a megalith. It is a presence that alternates between seeming to be receptive, intimate, enveloping, and seeming to be menacing, repelling. It plays with us as the weather does, for it is a landscape, looming up over us, evoking the elements, recalling the imagery of the first verses of the Book of Genesis — the darkness upon the face of the deep, the dividing of the waters from the waters.

[line break added] “Often, towards nightfall,” Rothko once said to me, “there’s a feeling in the air of mystery, threat, frustration — all of these at once. I would like my painting to have the quality of such moments.” And of course it does have that quality; it belongs to the great Romantic tradition of sublime landscape. Newman’s art does not have to do with man’s feelings when threatened by something in the air; it has to do with man’s sense of himself. The painting gives us a sense of being where we are which somehow makes us rejoice in being there.

[line break added] It heightens, through the intensity of the presence of its verticals, our sense of standing there. With its blank surface somehow mysteriously returning our glance, it confronts us in a way that recalls confrontation with a Giacometti standing figure, that separate presence which mirrors us while it insists upon its separateness from us — and thereby sanctifies our separateness.

Barnett Newman, First Station

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




March 27, 2017

What the Line Is Going to Do

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… “It’s like driving a car on a road where you feel the curve coming.”

This is from the essay ‘Follow the Line’ by Douglas Dreishpoon found in Robert Mangold: Beyond the Line ǀ Paintings and Project 2000-2008 (2009):

So much of the journey is process, the permutation of pictorial ideas in real time. The pursuit of one idea instead of another depends on circumstance and timing, intuited choice, and the work’s internal momentum. As with any empirical journey, what counts is the present position. And when the process involves drawing, as it has with Robert Mangold since the late 1960s, there are bound to be surprises.

[line break added] A seedbed for ideas, drawing became early on the generative pulse of Mangold’s quiet abstractions. Drawing absorbs failure without doubt; it’s forgiving when it comes to fits and starts, aborted attempts, and outright rejects, which may help to explain why he gravitated to it in the first place. When drawing enters the arena of painting as its primary figure, the journey assumes a distinct character.

… Time colors radical acts in shades of nostalgia and endows them with art-historical credibility. Pollock’s improvised dance around the canvas, captured by the photographer Hans Namuth, belies the unsettled violence of his images. After more than forty years, a Pollock abstraction still provokes, but its provocation is filtered through a cultural scrim of art-world affluence and inflated markets. Sol LeWitt’s decision in 1968 to draw directly on the wall of Paula Cooper’s Prince Street Gallery now seems as prescient as Pollock’s impulse to drip, splatter, and pour common house paint across a canvas lying on the floor of his Long Island studio in Springs.

[line break added] Pollock did for painting what LeWitt, minus the histrionics, did for drawing, with simple instructions for a series of lines to be drawn with a straightedge and graphite pencil. By transposing the context for drawing from a humble sheet of paper to an expansive white wall, LeWitt endowed the act with purposeful ambition.

LeWitt’s first wall drawings had an immediate and sympathetic impact on Mangold, who recalled, “When I saw him drawing on the wall, it was a liberating moment. I thought, here is Sol using an HB pencil, doing lines on a wall. Why can’t I do lines on a canvas, make a linear statement on the canvas?”

Robert Mangold would be the first to say that when it came to translating ideas into images, he and Sol LeWitt differed in their approach. Although LeWitt eventually delegated the installation of his wall drawings and the fabrication of his sculptures to others, Mangold kept his hand in the process. “It was very important to me that I drew the lines,” he declared. “It had to be my eye that decided how these things happened.”

[line break added] Whereas LeWitt tended to conceive on paper every permutation for an idea. Mangold’s pursuit of an idea has always been visually determined, envisioned on paper but fleshed out in real time, where each series is sustained by self-generated interest rather than by a priori projections. Certain rules may prime a series, but the framework remains open to intuitive judgments.

Intuition may well be the Achilles heel of Conceptual Art, its silent muse and merry prankster. If Mangold and LeWitt share a common philosophy, it thrives on the heuristic notion that intuition flies in the face of logic, defies classification, and ultimately graces good art. “Some ideas are logical in conception and illogical perceptually,” wrote LeWitt in one of his more provocative “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art.” “The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable. In terms of ideas, the artist is free even to surprise himself. Ideas are discovered by intuition.

Mangold, too, is clear that intuition is the touchstone for many of his ideas.

[ … ]

… “Your arm becomes like a big compass. You know where the starting point is and where the middle point is, too. You end up feeling your way around, without being too far off the marks and with many little refinements, because your arm really isn’t a compass.” Preliminary marks aligned with the grid are signposts that guide a repetitive series of actions.

[line break added] “With the line,” he continued, “it’s not just a question of hitting the marks; you have to know ahead of time where you’re going and how to get there. It’s like driving a car on a road where you feel the curve coming. You feel what the line is going to do before you actually start doing it. If the lines were drawn mechanically, there’s be no transition from one curve to the next. But when you’re actually drawing them by hand, transitions have to be anticipated. The making of lines becomes a living set of choices.”

… For more than forty years, Mangold has faithfully relied on intuitive feelings and hunches to keep his art grounded in the moment. The progression from Euclidean lines that speak in whispers to unbounded lines that dance has in no way compromised the work’s inherently quiet persona, where drawing’s union with painting is finessed by the body. A Mangold abstraction records the many empirical choices that come to bear on its surface: a thoughtful journey with humane consequences.




March 26, 2017

Two That Never Merge

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:29 am

… Aesthetic self-activity always operates on the boundaries (form is a boundary) of a life-experienced-from-within — operates at those points where this life is turned outward, where it comes to an end (in space, time, and meaning) and another life begins, that is, where it comes up against a sphere of another’s self-activity.

Continuing through the essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity’ in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov (1990):

… Sympathetic co-experiencing of the hero’s lilfe means to experience that life in a form completely different from the form in which it was, or could have been, experienced by the subiectum of that life himself. Co-experiencing in this form does not in the least strive toward the ultimate point of totally coinciding, merging with the co-experienced life, because such merging would be equivalent to a falling away of the coefficient of sympathy, of love, and, consequently, of the form they produced as well.

… From the very outset, sympathetic co-experiencing introduces values into the co-experienced life that are transgredient to this life; it transposes this life from the very outset into a new value-and-meaning context and can from the very outset rhythmicize this life temporally and give it form spatially (cf. bilden, gestalten). Pure co-experiencing of a life lacks all viewpoints except for those which are possible from within that co-experienced life itself, and among these there are no aesthetically productive viewpoints.

[line break added] It is not from within the co-experienced life itself that aesthetic form is produced and justified as the adequate expression of that life, i.e. as an expression which strives ultimately toward the point of pure self-utterance (the utterance by a solitary consciousness of its own immanent relationship to itself). Aesthetic form is pronounced and justified by an aesthetically productive sympathy of love that comes to meet the co-experienced life from outside.

… [The passive form of the hero] must be fought for and won by conquest within the work of art by both the author and the beholder, neither of whom invariably comes out of the struggle as the winner. This conquest can be achieved only if the author/contemplator maintains his intent and loving position outside the hero.

[line break added] The hero’s inner directedness from within his own lived life possesses its own immanent necessity, its own autonomy; as such, it is capable of compelling us at times to become involved in its own sphere, in its own becoming (the becoming of a lived life, devoid of any issue aesthetically), and, as a result, we lose our stable position outside the hero and express the hero from within the hero himself, along with the hero.

[line break added] here the author merges with the hero, the form we get is, indeed, no more than pure expression in the sense of “expressive” aesthetics, i.e. it is the result of the self-activity of the hero in relation to whom we failed to find an exterior position. The hero’s self-activity, however, is incapable of being and aesthetic self-activity: it may comprise (give voice to) need, repentance, petition, and even pretensions to recognition by a possible author, but in itself it is incapable of engendering an aesthetically consummated form.

… Aesthetic self-activity always operates on the boundaries (form is a boundary) of a life-experienced-from-within — operates at those points where this life is turned outward, where it comes to an end (in space, time, and meaning) and another life begins, that is, where it comes up against a sphere of another’s self-activity.

… An aesthetic event cannot have merely one participant who would both experience his own life and express his own experiencing in an artistically valid form, because the subiectum of lived life and the subiectum of the aesthetic activity which gives form to that life are in principle incapable of coinciding with one another.

There are events which are in principle incapable of unfolding on the plane of one and the same consciousness and which presuppose two consciousnesses that never merge. Or, in other words, what is constitutive for such events is the relationship of one consciousness to another consciousness precisely as an other. Events of this kind include all the creatively productive events — the once-occurrent and incontrovertible events that bring forth something new.

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




March 25, 2017

Our Creature

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… What they did (which was to set accepted meanings continually at defiance) we will in our turn to.

This is from the essay ‘Catchwords and Claptrap’ by Rose Macaulay found in The Hogarth Essays (1928):

… This fantastical currency, minted by the requirements of human thought and feeling, circulated by the urgent desire we have to convey these somehow to our fellows, so precisely, so delicately wrought and cast into exact and minute forms, so skillfully adapted to the commerce which is its purpose, and, having been so shaped, shaping in its turn thought itself, stamping it ever freshly with intricate designs — except that nothing in this curious world can well be selected and labeled as odd, it might seem odd that such a currency should have been coined by our simian race.

But what is not by any means odd is that, having contrived for each feeling, each thought, each fact, its appropriate symbol, beautifully neat and fit, so that we may enjoy ready commerce of ideas, we should proceed, in the perversity of our human nature, to confuse the coins together, using one where another should serve. We prefer, as often as not, to express what we mean in phraseology which means precisely something else.

[line break added] It is, possibly, a revolt against the dominance of established usage, a triumphant assertion that man is lord of language, not language of man, a surging up of the eggish pride which said: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.” It is yet one more expression of the free spirit of man striving perpetually against a universe which seeks to enthrall him — a triumphant gesture of anarchy.

[line break added] Yet, because prolonged anarchy is impossible to man’s law-bound nature, as to that of the universe which bore him, each attempt at it defeats itself, each new sense given to a word or phrase becomes stereotyped, becomes rapidly, not an individual, but a herd sense, the users giving countenance and encouragement one to the other. What the coins originally stood for we forget; we fling them loosely about, sometimes with misapprehension or deliberate misapplication, sometimes merely with a vague feeling that here are words, let them somehow convey our meaning.

[ … ]

… In the darkened confusion of their minds they cry “murder” when there is no question of any taking of life, meaning (one supposes) that here is something they think cruel and hard, that murder is cruel and hard, and that therefore this thing must be murder. It is an elementary fallacy, which a first course in logic would make impossible.

And this leads to the question of words and their halos. In such minds, excited, untrained, and confused, words seem to be rather symbols of some vague body of associations than the precise outward shapes of definite and clear-cut meanings; phrases rush into the mind haloed with pathos, tragedy, vice, or what not.

[ … ]

… The human desire to magnify; the human instinct of evasion; the more obscure human preference for conveying meaning tactically, by a halo of vague associations, rather than by a precise statement; the desire to convey atmosphere by the hypnotism of phrases; the tendency to think evil; and ordinary unlettered human ignorance. And beyond all these, there is the heady human arrogance which makes us determine that words shall be our servants, not our masters, and causes us to dig as wide a gulf as may be between the meanings given them by our ancestors and those we have decided that they shall bear.

[line break added] After all, if you come to that, who were our ancestors that they should have the ordering of our speech? What they did (which was to set accepted meanings continually at defiance) we will in our turn to. Do dictionaries say that a word bears one meaning? We will cause it to bear another. It is, after all, our creature.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




March 24, 2017

Cunning (Are They?) Confusions

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… It is not a skeleton key we need, so much as eyes to see in spiritual (was it?) darkness; and ears with which to separate cunning (are they?) confusions.

James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Louise Bogan first disapproves, as in this 1939 essay found in A Poet’s Prose: Selected Writings of Louise Bogan edited by Mary Kinzie (2005):

… The most frightening thing about the book is the feeling, which steadily grows in the reader, that Joyce himself does not know what he is doing; and how, in spite of all his efforts, he is giving himself away. Full control is being exercised over the minor details and the main structure, but the compulsion toward a private universe is very strong. … Joyce’s delight in reducing man’s learning, passion, and religion to a hash is also disturbing. …

[line break added] After the first week what one longs for is the sound of speech, or the sight of a sentence in its natural human context. … The book cannot rise into the region of true evocation — the region where Molly Bloom’s soliloquy exists immortally — because it has no human base. Emotion is deleted, or burlesqued, throughout. The vicious atmosphere of a closed world, whose creator can manage and distort all that is humanly valuable and profound (cunningly, with Godlike slyness), becomes stifling. …

[line break added] Ulysses was based on a verifiable theme: the search for the father. The theme, or themes, of Finnegans Wake are retrogressive, as the language is retrogressive. The style retrogresses back to the conundrum. To read the book over a long period of time gives one the impression of watching intemperance become addiction, become debauch. [ellipses within that paragraph are in the original]

The book’s great beauties, its wonderful passages of wit, its variety, its marks of genius and immense learning, are undeniable. It has another virtue: in the future “writers will not need to search for a compromise.” But whatever it says of man’s past, it has nothing to do with man’s future, which, we can only hope, will lie in the direction of more humanity rather than less. And there are better gods than Proteus.

But by 1944, Bogan had a different view of Joyce’s work:

… Time must pass, and thorough research be made, before certain fundamental questions concerning Finnegans Wake can be answered. One question that comes to mind is: are we dealing with a work (always granting that it is a work of incontestable genius) essentially small in inner meaning and even in essential design, a work that has nevertheless exfoliated into a semblance of growth and complexity? Are we dealing, that is, with a work, the product of a man and artist who has never come into maturity?

[line break added] Or are we dealing with an essentially great work, the product of a man and artist who has suffered life and transcended his suffering; who is no longer the victim of his talent, his circumstances, or the tensions within his own character, but has become master of them all? Are we getting from this fantastically distorted and interwoven speech, these amazingly contrapuntalized themes, illumination and truth; or are we being led into the mystery of a childish individual’s dreaming game, with the rigmaroles and jokes and tricks of the child (or immature man) presented to us neat?

Joyce’s lyric gifts, his full equipment as a trained realist, his ingenuity as a fabulist, his skill as a parodist, his sharp wit and Jesuit-trained learning, his innate musician’s ear — these attributes are as clearly evident in Finnegans Wake as they are in any piece of writing he ever produced. What difference does it make if we are listening to the operations of sleep; we have heard such operations in great pieces of literature before this. Even if Joyce was a sick man, we are listening to a writer who was in many ways a martyr to his genius and to his age.

[line break added] But we want to penetrate the disguises he has had to throw about himself; or the symptoms he has been forced to assume. We have this desire not out of niggling curiosity, but out of real interest: that we may receive the help and refreshment that any true artist’s struggle with his material gives us, particularly when we are caught with him into the same deforming time.

The poet and the “comic fabulist” are equipped with uncommon gifts by which they are able to get around interior “censorship.” They have tricks, as it were, to get the information through. They transpose the dangerous and (actually) untellable truths of the Subconscious into imaginative terms, not easy to bring, otherwise, into the light of day. What strikes the more detached observer when faced with the extreme opacities of certain portions of Finnegans Wake is the certainty that concealed beneath his very eyes is a submerged fable having to do directly with Joyce, with Joyce’s relations to the world, with Joyce’s attitude to his time.

James Joyce in 1918

Joyce is doing more than returning compulsively to the Dublin from which he is an exile. He is razing more than Dublin structures with the fires of his love and hatred.

What exterior situation, then, brought Joyce to the pass where, to get his secret across, he had to resort to a kind of desperate cunning? To resort, as well, to the often monotonous, often trivial, often brutal, ruses of the accomplished farceur? Or to the insistent sobbing minor lyric passage? (It seems at times that these two “tones” are the only ones in the book.) Does this work stand like a terrible half-buried monument, both to the recent past and the near future: outlining a deforming epoch when a work of art must become oblique expression — a joking show, a wry song, a cockeyed cinema-mythology — in order to exist at all?

“The price of virtuosity is abject slavery to a complaisant tool; that of creative artistry is willful dominance over a recalcitrant tool.” What do we finally see in Joyce: a virtuoso or artist; compulsive neurotic or writer with himself entirely in hand? This question requires a deeper analysis than has yet been dared by Joyce students and disciples. It is not a skeleton key we need, so much as eyes to see in spiritual (was it?) darkness; and ears with which to separate cunning (are they?) confusions.




March 23, 2017

Addressed to the Masses

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… Years devoted to cultivating such a neutral sensibility so govern the eye and the mind that for a painter to move to a realistic social art requires a drastic change in his whole activity.

Continuing through Worldview in Painting — Art and Society by Meyer Schapiro (1999):

… The models of the self-absorbed literary artist have been writers like Proust and Joyce, who, whatever their indifference or insensitiveness to large sections of society and to whole fields of human action, have a marvelously sure perception of individual feeling. The modern writer had to be attentive to the minutest variations of internal life; in his subjectivity, he was a delicate and refined observer. The great painters of the same time, men like Picasso and Matisse, on the other hand, have only the slightest interest in acting and feeling human beings.

[line break added] They convert the human subject into an obstruse arabesque or intense spot of color. Their human beings are faceless or expressionless, separated from each other, or bound together through deformations that negate their human character or their psychological richness; they are ultimately still life, if the natural shapes are preserved. This reduction is not inherent in art, but in a certain style of art, a style that had a historical necessity, but not the eternal validity that is claimed for it. But even the more realistic contemporary artists have much the same character.

[line break added] Those who in opposition to abstract art call themselves objective painters are scrupulously objective about apples, pots, furniture, buildings, machines, mountains, nude bodies — essentially impersonal objects. The objectivity is tied to neutral things, to elements that lack entirely an essential interaction, that do not communicate with each other, or that show the effects of active pervading forces. That is evident even in the forms of such pictures in the peculiar arabesques and cryptic, arbitrary juxtapositions.

… [This kind of artist] had never to say to himself that such and such a coloring or arrangement was not right for the [social] conflict or action he was representing. The neutrality of meanings was not an absence of meanings, but a reference to a world in which all objects are instruments of individual pleasure or contemplation (flowers, cards, mandolins, faces,grotesques, etc.) and have no important consequence. It is, therefore, extremely difficult for the artist to weigh his forms in terms of meanings and to explore his subjects for their more detailed significance.

[line break added] Years devoted to cultivating such a neutral sensibility so govern the eye and the mind that for a painter to move to a realistic social art requires a drastic change in his whole activity. It is not that he ceases to be an artist in the older sense, but that he confronts at every point problems entirely foreign to his older habits. For a gifted abstract painter, the determination to be a revolutionary artist, or the very idea that he must become one, may have a demoralizing effect; it may create an internal crisis in which the artist is neither the one thing nor the other and trembles to take brush in hand.

[line break added] He has, besides, a difficult economic problem, more difficult than the writer’s. The writer’s skill permits a variety of livelihoods, compatible with his chief goal; whereas the revolutionary painter creates an unsaleable commodity that absorbs his whole effort. Neither the working class nor the middle class sympathizers can buy oil paintings, and mural painting is even less reliable as a source of income.

… It must be pointed out, however, that the artist’s experience as a “pure” painter is not altogether a hindrance in his new art. It is not merely that the old technique and developed sensitivity to colors and shapes and handling are still valid — to a certain degree these are conditioned by the underlying attitudes of the painter and may have to be changed. But there are intimate conditions of his former practice that survive in the new art in a transfigured and heightened way.

… The revolutionary artist does not find at hand an already digested material, a repertoire of traditional compositions and important subjects, like the old church pictures of Christ Enthroned, the Baptism or Crucifixion or the Last Judgment, from which he can proceed. He begins as an individual artist who must create his own themes as he created his abstractions or neutral compositions of objects. He has the whole responsibility of his conceptions. There are no formulas or prescribed rules of revolutionary painting. He is absolutely original and individual in creating this social art, which binds him to a group.

[line break added] As a member of this group he shares a common experience and is stimulated and guided by general principles and practices that have crystallized in long struggles and constant discussion. But as an artist he requires now a courage and self-reliance of an order other than his self-reliance as a pure artist. For whereas in the latter situation he judged his works in an absolutely sovereign spirit, admitting no judgment of a layman, his work now is addressed consciously to the masses as well as to artists.

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




March 22, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Into the gap entered the fashion industry, which decisively shook the scene’s pictorial variants into an unlikely new cocktail.

Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):

… Looking back, we can see that crosscurrents — which mixed different political and aesthetic impulses — infused the scene with a certain tension, favorable to photography. Beyond the Photo League, they were reinforced by other visual resources and outlets for the medium, clustered in New York. There were, to begin, Life, Fortune, Look, Collier’s, Vogue, Coronet, and PM’s Weekly, active clients in the world of magazines and press. Steichen, director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art from 1947 to 1962, featured promising photographers in group shows.

[line break added]  Alexey Brodovitch ran a workshop under the sponsorship of the New School for Social Research that was something of a think tank for new talent as well as a scouting pool for Harper’s Bazaar. In the 1940s, the likes of Louis Faurer, Lisette Model, Richard Avedon, and Ted Croner attended the workshop. Certain connections between fashion and street photography were exemplified by Avedon — following the lead of the Hungarian Martin Munkácsi, a photographer of particularly athletic models.

[line break added]  Robert Capa, another Hungarian, the most celebrated foreign (photo) correspondent of his time, co-founded Magnum, the paramount photo agency of the century, in 1947, with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Chim, and George Rodger. Magnum was an intensely energetic, war-seasoned, and self-aware group that provided visual news yet kept its copyrights. The demand for pictures of all categories had risen, in New York, to an unimaginable volume.

In the heady trade-off between editorial or commercial and personal work, there emerged a consciousness of the reciprocal influence each had upon the other. Noir film style also played a role in this process, both influencing and affected by still photography. These were champagne days in image culture.

[ … ]

… As they accumulated, the array of different forces that played into the visualization of 1940s New York became more competitive and fractious. With the advent of Cold War anti-Communism and the early McCarthy, old-style social engagement became dangerous and lost its popularity, whatever the sentiments of disaffected radicals. At the same time, the idea of the metropolis as a place to celebrate lost its innocence and began to fade. The solidarity forged by wartime dread was over, to be followed by a fierce peacetime scramble for opening markets and new profits. For photographers, this was an unstable prospect.

… There could be no question that an artistic consciousness had percolated through some photography, guided originally by a documentary aim. Helen Levitt can surely be said to exhibit an artistic temperament, no less than a doctor displays medical tendencies. But how, if at all, were such temperaments to adapt to or be reconciled with the conceptual leadership of new painting and sculpture? Most of the photographers in New York were still more or less loyalists to a descriptive tradition. Into the gap entered the fashion industry, which decisively shook the scene’s pictorial variants into an unlikely new cocktail.

If Harper’s Bazaar had done nothing more to further the cause of American photography than to give Lisette Model (1906-1983) a few breaks, it would have been enough.

… At the time, editors and colleagues regarded Lisette Model as a forward-looking artist by virtue of her pictorial strength, but it was her effrontery that counted more, and proved to be the most modern thing about her. She redefined the documentary mode, introducing motives that could be questioned. Weegee and Model are like bookends to the chapter of photography in 1940s New York. In their work, the stressed optimism of the Photo League, where they were both respected, took on a darker shading.

[line break added]  Weegee went on to a kind of fame, if not fortune; Model was skeptical of fame and experienced steady indigence. Yet, in a slightly delayed action, she inspired a significant following. Without the insights of both these photographers into the unsavory aspects of American society, whether ordained by culture or conditioned by the city, it would be impossible to imagine the candor of the work that was to come.

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




Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.