Unreal Nature

May 21, 2017

In Myself, Only New Birth Is Possible

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… It is a unity that is both given and not given to me, a unity that is incessantly conquered by me at the sharpest point of my 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):

… In my lived life, I participate in a communal mode of existence, in an established social order, in a nation, in a state, in mankind, in God’s world. In all these cases, I live my life, axiologically, in the other and for others. i.e. I am clothed in the axiological flesh of the other. In all these cases, my life can submit rightfully to the sway of rhythm (although the very moment of submission or subordination is characterized by sobriety); I experience, strive, and speak here in the chorus of others.

[line break added] But in a chorus I do not sing for myself; I am active only in relation to the other and I am passive in the other’s relationship to me; I exchange gifts, but I do so disinterestedly; I feel in myself the body and the soul of another. (Wherever the purpose of a movement or an action is incarnated into the other or is coordinated with the action of the other — as in the case of joint labor — my own action enters into rhythm as well. But I do not create rhythm for myself: I join in it for the sake of the other.) Not my own nature but the human nature in me can be beautiful, and not my own soul but the human soul can be harmonious.

[ … ]

… The future as the future of meaning is hostile to the present and the past as to that which is devoid of meaning; hostile in the way a task is hostile to not-being-fulfilled-yet, or what-ought-to-be is hostile to what-is, or atonement is hostile to sin. Not a single constituent of what is already on hand for me myself can become self-contented, already justified.

[line break added] My justification is always in the future, and this prospective justification, perpetually set over against me, abolishes my past and my present (my past and present for myself), insofar as they claim to be something already on hand in a lasting way, claim to be stilled in the given, to be self-sufficient, to be the true reality of being, and claim to be the essential me and the whole of me or to determine me exhaustively in being (my givenness pretending here to be the whole of me, to be me in truth — my givenness acting in the capacity of an imposter). The future realization is not, for myself, an organic continuation or growth of my own past and present — not a crowning fulfillment of them.

[line break added] Rather, it is an essential abolition or annulment of my own past and present, just as bestowed grace is not the result of an organic growth of man’s sinful nature. A gradual coming to perfection (an aesthetic category) occurs in the other; in myself, only new birth is possible. Within myself, I always live in the face of the absolute demand/task that is presented to me, and this demand/task is inaccessible by way of a merely gradual, partial, relative approach.

… Memory is for me the memory of the future; for the other — it is the memory of the past.

… I collect all of my experiences, collect all of myself not in the past, but in the future that confronts me eternally as a future yet-to-be. My own unity, for myself, is one that confronts me eternally as a unity-yet-to-be. It is a unity that is both given and not given to me, a unity that is incessantly conquered by me at the sharpest point of my self-activity. It is not the unity of my having and possessing, but the unity of not-having and not-possessing; not the unity of my already-being, but the unity of my not-yet-being.

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




May 20, 2017

All Golden-yellow

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… Shining light and shallowness. Gold here. Grief there.

This is from The Primary Colors: Three Essays by Alexander Theroux (1994):

… [Yellow] is the color of cowardice, third prize, the caution flag on auto speedways, adipose tissue, scones and honey, the nimbus of saints, school buses, urine, New Mexico license plates, illness, the cheeks of penguins, the sixth dog’s livery in greyhound racing, highway signs, Pennzoil, and the oddly lit hair before adulthood of all Australian aborigines. Easter is yellow. So is spring, and much of the beauty of autumn. It is redolent of old horn, dead coins, southernwood, and the generous sun.

[line break added] It is the color of butter, arsenic, sponges, candlelight, starving lawns, translucent amber, and cathode transmission-emiters in electric chassis wiring. It represents wisdom, illumination, intuition, power and glory, the hue of confessors, divinity, magnanimity, ripening grain, eternity, and the gates of heaven. In Egypt it is the color of happiness and prosperity.

… Yellow is vagueness and luminous, both. “The eternal silence of the great white desert. Cloudy columns of snow drift advancing from the south, pale yellow wraiths, heralding the coming storm, blotting out one by one the sharp cut lines of the land,” wrote Captain Robert Falcon Scott, just before freezing to death in Antarctica.

… have you ever noticed that most of the nitwittish creatures in Dr. Seuss books are also a distinct yellow, like the Sneetches; the Great Birthday Bird; the Drum-tummied Snumm from the country called Frumm; the scraggle-foot Mulligatawny from McGrew’s Zoo; as well as the It-Kutch, the Preep, the Obsk, and the Proo, the Nerkle, the Nerd, and the Seersucker, too, to say nothing of all the birds and animals and people in the Sleep Book, including the Offts, Snorter McPhail and his band, the Bumble-Tub Club, Jo and Mo Redd-Zoff, the Collapsible Frink, the stilt-walkers, not to mention the Lorax’s flaring and commodious mustache! Is it because it is such a comic color? Innocent yet mad? Lighthearted but oddly unsettling?

… The infant sired by the devil in the novel Rosemary’s Baby has yellow eyes as its most distinctive feature. “His eyes were golden-yellow, all golden-yellow, with neither whites nor irises; all golden-yellow with vertical black-slit pupils. She looked at him. He looked at her, golden-yellowly, and then at the swaying upside-down Crucifix. She looked at them watching her and knife-in-hand screamed at them, ‘What have you done to his eyes?’ ”

… Yellow, though a typically earthy color, never acquires much depth in spite of its brightness and waving unavoidability. When cooled by blue, it assumes, as I have pointed out, a sickly, unappetizing tone. If one were to compare it to certain human states of mind, it might be said to represent not the depressive but rather the manic aspect of madness. The madman attacks people and disperses his force in all directions, aimlessly, desperately, until it completely dwindles and is gone.

… So few colors give the viewers such a feeling of ambivalence or leave in one such powerful, viscerally enforced connotations and contradictions. Desire and renunciation. Dreams and decadence. Shining light and shallowness. Gold here. Grief there. An intimate mirroring in its emblematic significance of glory in one instance and, in yet another, painful, disturbing estrangement. An opposing duality seems mysteriously constant.

My previous post from Theroux’s book is here.




May 19, 2017

The Din of all the Hollowsounding Voices

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:23 am

… growth into one’s own distinctive language is in fact a process of adjustment to the language of others …

This is from the chapter on ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man‘ in James Joyce (2nd Edition) by Steven Connor (1996, 2012):

… When Joyce abandoned this novel [Stephen Hero] in 1907 or 1908, and set to writing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, he abandoned the authoritative third-person narration of Stephen Hero, in an attempt to find a way of presenting Stephen’s thoughts and feelings more immediately. This is Joyce’s version of the struggle, in which many modernist writers were engaged, to find an art of direct showing rather than an art of oblique telling.

… One of the impressive discoveries of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is that growth into one’s own distinctive language is in fact a process of adjustment to the language of others, as it is encountered through reading, instruction, and the discourses of social life. If the book shows Stephen striving towards an ideal of linguistic self-possession, it also shows in its very narrative form that such self-possession can arise only out of a condition in which one is possessed or spoken through by the language of others.

[line break added] It is for this reason perhaps that, at crucial stages of the narrative, Joyce appears to suspend his own principle of restricted point of view, by having Stephen’s receiving and responding consciousness recede from the narrative. During the account of the political argument over Christmas dinner, and in the evocation of the torments of Hell by Father Arnall during the retreat at Clongowes, Stephen is present in the novel only as an abstract receptivity, as a kind of diaphragm vibrating to the force of what he hears. The horrified emptying-out and invasion of Stephen’s awareness by what he later characterizes as ‘the din of all the hollowsounding voices’ is the whole point.

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




May 18, 2017

Tear the Cover Off

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… If you tear the cover off a book you get closer to the text. If you do the same to an art institution you are not left with any auratic content to play with. The philosophical difference is crucial here.

This is from ‘Michael Asher: Fenced, Unfenced, Refenced’ (2004) found in Liam Gillick: Proxemics: Selected Writings (1988-2006) edited by Lionel Bovier (2006:

… Entering the museum. Entering the gallery. Entering the art center. Each of these activities is a determined gesture that is a decision in life that prepares us for a particular experience that is different from entering a diner, laundry or Maserati.

… His work is not part of a series of conceptual strategies that nominate parts of the world as art, it is a series of exposures, unravellings and additions that reveal the implicated role of place and border as key sites that contribute to the accretions of meaning that surround the creation of artworks.

Asher’s criticality has always been activated within the day to day functioning of the art space. The more that institutional power floats free in a ‘branded’ non-space of values and auras, the less easy it is to have a real experience in the museum. The more agile the museum becomes in marketing and repossessing art within neo-corporate image-making, the more Asher’s work resists the anecdotal processes that appear to be essential for the transfer of art within the broader social context. The work is immediate and specific without being pious or fundamental.

[line break added] Like the way war has been covered or been allowed to be covered since Vietnam, institutional spaces have wised up and either absorbed classical institutional critique within their own operative systems or refused to allow themselves to be opened up for scrutiny. If an artist engages or refuses to engage, the level of skepticism expressed is no longer exposed as a critical activity but embraced as another event or spectacle.

… By unfolding and delaminating the spaces for art activity, Asher simultaneously diminishes the persona and constructed role of the artist within society. His skepticism is turned not only to the spaces for art but also to the space men and women of art. This is its enduring strength and its biggest challenge to the validation models of contemporary practice.

In the end Michael Asher’s great achievement has been to depopulate the spaces of art without leaving anyone behind, so we all stand alongside him as absent presences witnessing the unravelling of power. Instead of offering us a corrupted and simple-minded exposition of the potential democratization of the art space, he abandons us within a sequence of demonstrations that involve both the withering of the place and the placed.

[line break added] The space is not fixed or resolved by his contributions, nor is the visitor made to feel better through a sense of self-aware critique. If you tear the cover off a book you get closer to the text. If you do the same to an art institution you are not left with any auratic content to play with. The philosophical difference is crucial here. The artwork is indistinguishable from the processes of deconstruction or reconstruction yet it is not a mere procedure or an extension of psychological states.

[line break added] It is an obdurate restatement of facts that would otherwise go unattended to. It is a sequence of soft gestures that reveal themselves over time and don’t lend themselves to simplistic analysis. The work is not didactic. You sense that Asher is as curious and distracted as the rest of us by the ambiguous results of his subtle revelations.

The following is from ‘Donald Judd‘ (2004):

Judd’s work stands in relation to other art as a clear focal point that is both instructive and repressed simultaneously. It accepts that we operate in relation to various geometries. It has little to do with design or architecture. It doesn’t stand in the way of progress but it requires us to think through processes of development and make a new set of decisions about our relationship to the world beyond the direct experience of art through its relatedness, not its referentiality.




May 17, 2017

Daylight’s Inhuman Faculty for Always Being Perfect

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… they belong to a form of filmmaking that “lets the world happen.”

This is the essay ‘Imges of Thought: The Films of Antonioni and Godard, and the New Topographics Movement’ by Larisa Dryansky found in Reframing the New Topographics edited by Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach (2013):

… According to Deleuze, the shock of the split between man and his environment that marked the years of World War II and its aftermath is at the core of the new style of filmmaking exemplified by Godard and Antonioni. Both filmmakers and the New Topographcs photographers do, in effect, share a profound sense of loss with respect to their surroundings.

The rupture did not, as may be expected, generate a withdrawal into an inner world. On the contrary, it fostered an extreme form of detachment. The characters in Godard and Antonioni’s films are in a relationship of exteriority to reality: they are not actors so much as passive observers. As Stanley Cavell expresssed in The World Viewed, with specific reference to Antonioni, they belong to a form of filmmaking that “lets the world happen.” The same can be said of the images of the New Topographics photographers.

[line break added] Quoting Gohlke, William Jenkins, the curator of the exhibition, writes in the introduction to the catalogue of the “passive frame” maintained by the photographs. This passivity is simultaneously the most striking and most puzzling aspect of the New Topographics images, for, as Jenkins asserts at the very outset of his essay, “… the problem at the center of [the] exhibition is one of style.” Yet how does one define a style that renounces the very nature of styling?

One potent way to “let the world happen” is to make it difficult to identify the point of view from which the scene is taken, or rather, to give it a much wider scope. The spatial composition of Antonioni’s films does just that. Starting with L’avventura, Antonioni developed a characteristic form of visual composition based on the flattening of space.

[line break added] His technical instruments for this were the wide-angle lens and, beginning with Il deserto rosso, the telephoto lense. His use of the lenses, as the film historian Céline Scemama-Heard has pointed out, is unorthodox: contrary to common usage, Antonioni often applied the wide-angle lens to small spaces, while the zoom is employed most times to encompass a large area rather than zero in on a character or detail. The result is, in both cases, a strange deformation of spatial hierarchy in which far and near seem to collide.

[line break added] Indeed, despite implied references to the large canvases of Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko in the films, the flatness of Antonioni’s images is quite distinct from the abstract two-dimensionality famously advocated by Clement Greenberg. Depth is not annulled but rearranged in a startling disorienting way while the anthropocentirc certainties of perspective are abandoned.

… Another essential component of the “topographic” vision deployed in these images is light. Leaving aside the case of Stephen Shore’s color photographs, many of the New Topographics images are lit by a characteristically bright light. The exact temperature of this light varies from photographer to photographer, but what remains in the viewer’s mind is the “dry, cold brilliance” [Robert] Adams refers to in his text for The New West. Adams himself has drawn a parallel between the quality of the Western light captured in his photographs and what Raoul Coutard, Godard’s cameraman, defined once as “daylight’s inhuman faculty for always being perfect.”

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




May 16, 2017

To Be That

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… intention involves such a small fragment of our consciousness and of our mind and of our life.

This is from the 1965 interview with Jasper Johns found in David Sylvester’s Interviews with American Artists (2001):

[ … ]

David Sylvester: I don’t in looking at your painting have the sense that I can pin down references, but I feel there are references there, and that these are what give the paintings their intensity and their sense that something important is happening or has happened. Is it possible that what has happened in the painting can be analogous to certain processes outside painting, for example, on the one hand, psychological processes, such as concentrating either one’s vision or one’s mind on something, attention wandering, returning, the process of clarifying, of losing, of remembering or of recalling, of clarifying again? Or that again there might be an analogy to certain processes in nature, such as disintegration and reintegration, the idea of something falling apart, the idea of something being held together?

Jasper Johns: I think that it is quite possible that the painting can suggest those things. I think that as a painter one cannot set out to suggest those things, that when you begin to work with the idea of suggesting, say, a particular psychological state of affairs, you have eliminated so much from the process of painting that you make an artificial statement, which is, I think, not desirable. I think one has to work with everything and accept the kind of statement which results as unavoidable, or as a helpless situation. I think that most art which begins to make a statement fails to make a statement because the methods used are too schematic or too artificial. I think that one wants from painting a sense of life.

[line break added] The final suggestion, the final gesture, the final statement has to be not a deliberate statement but a helpless statement. It has to be what you can’t avoid saying, not what you set out to say. I don’t know. I like the idea of very clear-headed procedure. I like the idea of being able to do what you intend to do. But I think that sort of language aspect of painting is not deliberate, it is not contained in our lives. I think it is our lives, you have to settle for that, and I think you even have to encourage it. I think the other becomes academic and not useful to us.

[ … ]

Jasper Johns: … I think one has to do everything that one can think to do; and one has to use everything one has to use; but, more particularly than that, I’m saying that I don’t think one should simply cut off a part of one’s energy and apply it for a certain result and then be delighted that one gets the result.

[ … ]

David Sylvester: Again and again you return to the way in which something is posited and then contradicted or departed from, so that you are constantly interested in the way in which intention and improvisation work together, in rather the same way as you are interested in how the conventional material you begin with, say the map, the letters or figures, is contradicted, reaffirmed, modified, submerged, clarified, within the process of painting. In other words, it seems to me that your constant preoccupation is the interplay between affirmation and denial, expectation and fulfillment, the degree in which things happen as one would expect and the degree in which they happen as one would not expect.

Jasper Johns: Well, intention involves such a small fragment of our consciousness and of our mind and of our life. I think a painting should include more experience than simply intended statement. I personally would like to keep the painting in a state of shunning statement, so that one is left with fact that one can experience individually as one pleases. That is, not to focus the attention in one way. But to leave the situation as a kind of actual thing, so that the experience of it is variable.

DS: In other words, if your painting says something that could be pinned down, what it says is that nothing can be pinned down.

JJ: I don’t like saying that it says that. I would like it to be that.

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




May 15, 2017

Not the One He Dreams Of

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… Is it not under the pressure of a pact that the artist creates, accepts, or aesthetically transgresses a technical constraint — a pact which he can sense as natural if he is in harmony with his public, and as illegitimate, violent, unjust, inadequate, absurd, “outmoded,” scandalous, or morally or politically unacceptable if the public with whom he is supposed to seal it is not the one he dreams of, or the one he would like to address, or the one he deems worthy of his art?

This is from the essay ‘Wavering Reflections’ found in Clement Greenberg: Between the Lines by Thierry de Duve (1996, 2010):

… To evoke works or the memories of works where the conventions of the medium are “active” is to evoke works where these technical prescriptions or constraints are either being established, respected, or transgressed. There are rare (and indeed debatable) moments when a new convention establishes itself before our eyes: such would be the case, to return to the convention of perspective, with Masaccio’s Trinity at Santa Maria Novella. The opposite case is more frequent.

[line break added] Paradoxically, it is when they are transgressed or abandoned that conventions become the most visible: thus with shading in Manet, with linear perspective in Cézanne, with figuration in Kandinsky’s first abstract watercolor, and so on. But it is between their appearance and disappearance, when they are simply respected, that they are closest to their meaning as convention: a pact sealed between the artist and his public. This meaning is clearly not absent from Greenberg’s thought, but it is constantly left implicit and unsaid, as though it were self-evident.

[line break added] Here is an enormous blind spot: for if one recognizes that a convention is a technical constraint with which the artist struggles and to which he reacts by intuition or inspiration, that is to say aesthetically (either by deciding to submit to the convention because he judges it relevant and capable of pushing him beyond his own limits, or on the contrary by judging he has the right to leave it behind in order to say what he has to say), then one should also recognize that with this very action the artist seals, unseals, or reseals an imaginary pact with an equally imaginary public.

[line break added] Now — and I follow Greenberg closely here — it is under the aesthetic pressure of these technical constraints that an artist worthy of the name creates, accepts, or breaks a convention, that is to say, the pact. Must we not then conclude that the converse is also true? Is it not under the pressure of a pact that the artist creates, accepts, or aesthetically transgresses a technical constraint — a pact which he can sense as natural if he is in harmony with his public, and as illegitimate, violent, unjust, inadequate, absurd, “outmoded,” scandalous, or morally or politically unacceptable if the public with whom he is supposed to seal it is not the one he dreams of, or the one he would like to address, or the one he deems worthy of his art?

… one would search in vain through [Greenberg’s] texts for the least understanding of a reciprocal treason, the least sympathy for a deliberate and consequent breaking of the pact by avant-garde artists, the least affinity for the hatred resulting from the forced alliance with a cultivated class which, even if it had not abdicated, would still be illegitimate in its pretension to “more adequately represent the species.” To say nothing of the other hatred, the one resulting from the need to seek alliance with a class which anticipatively claimed to represent “humankind,” but which in actual fact has never had access to the tradition and was dispossessed of the necessary aesthetic culture.

That love of art and social hatred have entered into painful marriage under the name of the avant-garde is something which has truly been repressed in Greenberg’s conception of modernism, and this repression is all the more flagrant in that modernism — in the Greenbergian sense more than any other — is characterized precisely by the fact that the conventions are no longer self-evident, or in other words, that one no longer knows between whom the pact is sealed, nor between whom it ought to be sealed.

My previous post from de Duve’s book is here.




May 14, 2017

This Moment Does Not Submit to Rhythm

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… The life which I recognize as mine, the life in which I actively find myself, is incapable of being expressed in rhythm — is ashamed of rhythm: any rhythm must break off here …

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):

… insofar as I find precisely myself in a given lived experience, insofar as I do not renounce it as my own within the unique unity of my own life, I connect it with the future — the future of meaning, I render it unindifferent to this future, I transpose its definitive justification and accomplishment into what-is-yet-to-be (that is, it has not yet become closed with respect to its outcome); as long as I am the one living in it, it does not yet exist in full. This brings us up directly to the problem of rhythm.

Rhythm is the axiological ordering of what is inwardly given or present-at-hand. Rhythm is not expressive in the strict sense of the term; that is, it does not express a lived experience, is not founded from within that experience; it is not an emotional-volitional reaction to an object and to meaning, but a reaction to that reaction. Rhythm is objectless in the sense that it has to do with the reaction to an object, with the experience of an object, and not directly with an object. As a result, rhythm tends to reduce the objective validity of the elements that compose a rhythmic sequence.

… The actual, fateful, risk-fraught absolute future is surmounted by rhythm — the very boundary between the past and the future (as well as the present, of course) is surmounted in favour of the past; the future as the future of meaning is dissolved as it were, in the past and the present …

… But the very moment of transition, of movement from the past and the present into the future, constitutes a moment in me that has the character purely of an event, where I, from within myself, participate in the unitary and unique event of being.

… It is precisely in this moment that rhythm has its absolute limit, for this moment does not submit to rhythm — it is in principle extrarhythmic, nonadequate to rhythm; here rhythm becomes a distortion and a lie. It is a moment where that which is in me must overcome itself for the sake of that which ought to be; where being and obligation meet in conflict within me; where is and ought mutually exclude each other.

… Free will and self-activity are incompatible with rhythm. A life (lived experience, striving, performed action, thought) that is lived and experienced in the categories of moral freedom and of self-activity cannot be rhythmicized.

… To be sure, the unfreedom, the necessity of a life shaped by rhythm is not a cruel necessity, not a necessity that is indifferent to value (cognitive necessity); rather, it is a necessity bestowed as a gift, bestowed by love: it is a beautiful necessity. A rhythmicized existence is “purposive without purpose.”

… To be actively aware of me myself is to illuminate myself with the yet-to-be meaning confronting me; outside this meaning, I do not exist for myself. My relationship to myself is incapable of being rhythmical; to find me myself in rhythm is impossible. The life which I recognize as mine, the life in which I actively find myself, is incapable of being expressed in rhythm — is ashamed of rhythm: any rhythm must break off here, for the sphere of such life constitutes a domain of sobriety and quiet (starting from the practical lowlands and reaching up to the ethical-religious heights). Rhythms can only possess or sway me; in rhythm, as under narcosis, I am not conscious of myself.

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




May 13, 2017

Air That Shows

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… “I used to wonder why the sea was blue at a distance and green close up and colorless for that matter in your hands.”

This is from The Primary Colors: Three Essays by Alexander Theroux (1994):

Blue is a mysterious color, hue of illness and nobility, the rarest color in nature. It is the color of ambiguous depth, of the heavens and the abyss at once; blue is the color of the shadow side, the tint of the marvelous and the inexplicable, of desire, of knowledge, of the blue movie, of blue talk, of raw meat and rare steak, of melancholy and the unexpected (once in a blue moon, out of the blue). It is the color of anode plates, royalty at Rome, smoke, distant hills, postmarks, Georgian silver, thin milk, and hardened steel; of veins seen through skin and notices of dismissal in the American railroad business.

[line break added] Brimstone burns blue, and a blue candle flame is said to indicate the presence of ghosts. The blue-black sky of Vincent van Gogh’s 1890 Crows Flying over a Cornfield seems to express the painter’s doom. But, according to Grace Mirabella, editor of Mirabella, a blue cover used on a magazine always guarantees increased sales at the newstand. “It is America’s favorite color,” she says.

Paradoxically, it is the only one of all the colors which can be legitimately seen as a close neighbor to, as well as essentially symbolic of, dark and light both, oddly black in the night and almost white at the horizon by day. (“… deep blue air that shows,” observes Philip Larkin, “Nothing, and nowhere, and is endless …”) It can darken, it can obscure, it may float to and fro like a mist, evoking serenity and power. Mirroring each other, the sea takes its color from the sky. As Helen Hunt Jackson observes in “My Lighthouses,”

I look across the harbor’s misty blue,”
And find and lose that magic shifting line
Where sky one shade less blue meets sea …

It might be said to be not so much a color as a state of the light. It is also the Void: primordial simplicity and infinite space which, being empty, can contain everything or nothing. “I saw Venice turn blue because she forgot to care,” sings lovelorn Charles Aznavour.

[ … ]

… Incidentally, blue water is invariably salty, warm, and deep and speaks of the tropics, where evaporation is great and dilution minimal — the Sulu Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Stream. Green water, on the other hand, is cool, pale with particles, thin with river and rain, often shallow. In the tropics it means land, just as in the north, with white jigsaw ice, it means a frozen bay is not far away. Water is always mysterious. “I used to wonder why the sea was blue at a distance and green close up and colorless for that matter in your hands,” writes Sr. Miriam Pollard, O.C.S.O, in The Listening God. “A lot of life is like that. A lot of life is just a matter of learning to like blue.”

… Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart,” played many love scenes in front of rolling cameras, but she insisted they never excited her. Discussing “the disillusionment of screen lovemaking,” she observed disdainfully that in the blinding glare of the bright blue calcium lights back in the 1920s, a screen lover bending to kiss her suddenly had purple lips and blue teeth.




May 12, 2017

Against Its Own Desire

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… achieved, not in a working out, but a working loose of these tight equivalences.

This is from the chapter on ‘Dubliners’ in James Joyce (2nd Edition) by Steven Connor (1996, 2012):

… On the one hand, then, the epiphany is a showing forth, a spontaneous revelation of the essence of an ordinary object: Stephen describes it in Stephen Hero unambiguously as the moment when ‘Its soul, its whatness, leaps to us from the vesture of its appearance,’ On the other hand, and to to the precise degree that the epiphany must be a revelation for some perceiving consciousness in particular, it is not essential or self-sufficient, but brought into being in, and probably also by, the act of interpretative seeing itself.

[ … ]

… The fastidious, introverted scholar and writer, James Duffy [in ‘A Painful Cause’], who prides himself on his austere aloofness from the pettiness of bourgeois urban life, becomes entangled in an embarrassing affair with Emily Sinico, a married woman. He breaks off the affair, and hears nothing from Emily Sinico until reading of her death after she has been hit by a railway engine while apparently inebriated. At first, Mr Duffy is revolted by the vulgarity of her end, but becomes more and more aware of his culpability:

When he gained the crest of the Magazine Hill he halted and looked along the river towards Dublin, the lights of which burned redly and hospitably in the cold night. He looked down the slope and at the base, in the shadow of the wall of the Park, he saw some human figures lying. Those venal and furtive loves filled him with despair. He gnawed the rectitude of his life; he felt that he had been outcast from life’s feast. One human being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and happiness: he had sentenced her to ignominy, a death of shame. He knew that the prostrate creatures down by the wall were watching him and wished him gone. No one wanted him; he was outcast from life’s feast.

… However, there is a detail of the narration which seems to prise open a chink of incongruity. ‘He gnawed the rectitude of his own life; he felt he had been outcast from life’s feast,’ we read. The slightly self-conscious elaboration of this metaphor is forgotten as Duffy starts to articulate to himself the nature of his guilt.

[line break added] But this sequence ends with a repetition of the phrase, which suddenly must be read as embodying a kind of relish: ‘No one wanted him; he was outcast from life’s feast.’ Mr Duffy, it seems, is rather pleased with this phrase. In the light of this awareness, which Mr Duffy does not share with us, the rest of his internal monologue starts to seem more like a performance than an unfolding self-confrontation.

[ … ]

… The famous passage which concludes ‘The Dead’ by evoking the falling of the snow all over Ireland is diffusive and excessive, where so much of the writing of the book had worked to concentrate and limit.

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gates, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

The words and cadence call attention to themselves, in their alliterations and repetitions, but they also point beyond themselves. [ … ] The passage describes and enacts relinquishment rather than mastery, and Gabriel becomes himself at the moment at which he loses himself. Similarly, the book becomes itself in the moment of losing its bearings.

[line break added] The consummation of the work, which everything leads us to expect to see coinciding with the advent of fulfilled self-knowledge in the interpreting self, is achieved, not in a working out, but a working loose of these tight equivalences. The interest of Dubliners lies, not in its evolution from the incoherence of snapshots or impressions into the wholeness of a completed work, but in the manner in which it continues to work against its own desire for definition and self-completion.

I’ve read that ending of The Dead so many times (and you probably have, too) … yet it never fails to be just as alive as the first time.

My previous post from Connor’s book is here.




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