Unreal Nature

October 31, 2017

Mentally Interesting

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… There is no reason to suppose … that the conceptual artist is out to bore the viewer.

This is from Lewitt’s own essay in Sol Lewitt edited by Alicia Legg (1978):

… When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes art. This kind of art is not theoretical or illustrative of theories; it is intuitive, it is involved with all types of mental processes and it is purposeless. It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman.

[line break added] It is the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator, and therefore usually he would want it to become emotionally dry. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the conceptual artist is out to bore the viewer. It is only the expectation of an emotional kick, to which one conditioned to expressionist art is accustomed, that would deter the viewer from perceiving this art.

Conceptual art is not necessarily logical. The logic of a piece or series of pieces is a device that is used at times, only to be ruined. Logic may be used to camouflage the real intent of the artist, to lull the viewer into the belief that he understands the work, or to infer a paradoxical situation (such as logic vs. illogic). Some 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.

Wall Drawing 565, 1988

… If the artist carries through his idea and makes it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance. The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps — scribbles, sketches, drawings, failed works, models, studies, thoughts, conversations — are of interest. Those that show the thought process of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the final product.

… This kind of art, then, should be stated with the greatest economy of means. Any idea that is better stated in two dimensions should not be in three dimensions. Ideas may also be stated with numbers, photographs, or words or any way the artist chooses, the form being unimportant.

… I do not advocate a conceptual form of art for all artists. I have found that it has worked well for me while other ways have not. It is one way of making art; other ways suit other artists. Nor do I think all conceptual art merits the viewer’s attention. Conceptual art is good only when the idea is good.

Complex Forms with Lines in Four Directions, 1988

My previous post from this book is here.




October 30, 2017

As a Form of Thought

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… a very different situation was seemingly made legitimate, a situation about which, I believe, one should never stop wondering and perhaps worrying: you can now be an artist without being either a painter, or a sculptor, or a composer, or a writer, or an architect — an artist at large.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… it was in painting that [the] self-referential (better called reflexive) striving for purity became both the exclusive object of aesthetic theory and the all-encompassing matter of practice. In other words, it was in painting and nowhere else (not even in sculpture, which merely took it over from painting) that the idea of abstract art came into being.

[line break added] With abstract art emerging around 1912-1913 from cubist (and expressionist) painting, a radically new set of aesthetic principles was born, whose ideological justifications were complex and not at all homogeneous but — and this is what matters here — whose claim was that they were generalizable, as a form of thought about art in general rather than as a skill confined to a specific craft.

… Genus and species are names, proper names. You don’t call a black square a painting in the way you would call a table a table; you baptize it a painting out of aesthetic conviction. You call Malevich an artist through the same judgment that makes you call him a painter. Logically, if not chronologically, he is a painter first. With the legitimization of Duchamp’s readymades, a very different situation was seemingly made legitimate, a situation about which, I believe, one should never stop wondering and perhaps worrying: you can now be an artist without being either a painter, or a sculptor, or a composer, or a writer, or an architect — an artist at large.

[line break added] What has made this situation plausible? To answer that Duchamp liberated subsequent artists from the constraints of a particular art — or skill — is either begging the question or failing to take responsibility for endorsing this “liberation.” You might as well accept that anything goes. The plausibility in question has to be a regulative idea authorizing “as if-comparisons” between things that are out there, in the world at large, and things that were already plausible candidates for the title of art, because they partook in a specific craft conventionally recognized as an art form.

… In other words, to justify the plausibility of someone deserving to be called an artist, without being a practitioner of a given art, is to show that somewhere there hides a missing link between the generic and the specific, between art in general and one or more of the arts in particular. Where shall we look for this missing link? The historical evidence points not to music, nor at literature, nor even at sculpture, but rather at painting. Duchamp himself was a painter before he became an “artist.” Lest he be accused of being a fraud, his work ought to reveal the hidden link between painting and art.

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




October 29, 2017

The Hammer of Events

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:03 am

… The hammer of events shatters nothing and forges nothing — it merely tries the durability of an already finished product.

Continuing through the essay ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… How indeed can a human being be portrayed in the “adventure-time” that we have outlined above, where things occur simultaneously by chance and also fail to occur simultaneously by chance, where events have no consequences, where the initiative belongs everywhere exclusively to chance? It goes without saying that in this type of time, an individual can be nothing other than completely passive, completely unchanging. As we have said earlier, to such an individual things can merely happen.

… While it is true that his life may be completely passive — “Fate” runs the game — he nevertheless endures the game fate plays. And he not only endures — he keeps on being the same person and emerges from this game, from all these turns of fate and chance, with his identity absolutely unchanged.

This distinctive correspondence of an identity with a particular self is the organizing center of the human image in Greek romance. And one must not underestimate the significance, the profound ideological implications raised by this factor of human identity. In this way the Greek romance reveals its strong ties with a folklore that predates class distinctions, assimilating one of the essential elements in the folkloric concept of a man, one that survives to the present in various aspects of folklore, especially in folktales.

[line break added] No matter how impoverished, how denuded a human identity may become in a Greek romance, there is always preserved in it some precious kernel of folk humanity; one always senses a faith in the indestructible power of man in his struggle with nature and with all inhuman forces.

If we carefully examine the narrative and compositional aspects of Greek romance, we will be impressed by the enormous role played by such devices as recognition, disguise, temporary changes in dress, presumed death (with subsequent resurrection), presumed betrayal (with subsequent confirmation of unswerving fidelity) and finally the basic compositional (that is, organizing) motif of a test of the heroes’ integrity, their selfhood. In all these instances the narrative plays directly with traits of human identity. Even this basic complex of motifs — meeting/separation, search/find — is but another narrative expression reflecting this same concern for individual human identity.

… The result of this whole lengthy novel is that … the hero marries his sweetheart. And yet people and things have gone through something, something that did not, indeed,change them, but that did (in a manner of speaking) affirm what they, and precisely they, were as individuals, something that did verify and establish their identity, their durability and continuity. The hammer of events shatters nothing and forges nothing — it merely tries the durability of an already finished product. And the product passes the test.

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




October 28, 2017

Equivalent Variations of a Common Substance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… In the mind words lose their force. They are formed, there they leap forth, under its eyes; it is the mind that describes words to us.

This is from the essay ‘Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vince’ (1894) found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

… Many an error that distorts our judgment of human achievements is due to a strange disregard of their genesis. We seldom remember that they did not always exist. This has led to a sort of reciprocal coquetry which leads authors to suppress, to conceal all to well, the origins of a work.

… The actors in the drama are mental images, and it is easy to understand that, if we eliminate the particular features of the images and consider only their succession, frequency, periodicity, varying capacity for association, and finally their duration, we are soon tempted to find analogies in the so-called material world, to compare them with scientific analyses, to postulate an environment, to endow them first with continuity, velocities, properties of displacement, then with mass and energy.

[line break added] Thereupon we may realize that many such systems are possible, that any one in particular is worth no more than another, and that our use of them — which is rewarding, since it always casts light on something — must be continually watched over and restored to its purely verbal function. For, in precise terms, analogy is only our faculty of changing images, of combining them, of making part of one coexist with part of another, and of perceiving, voluntarily or involuntarily, the connections in their structure. And this makes it impossible to describe the mind, where images exist. In the mind words lose their force. They are formed, there they leap forth, under its eyes; it is the mind that describes words to us.

And so man carries away visions, whose power becomes his power. He connects it with his history, of which his visions are the geometrical site. From this process arise those decisive acts that astound us; those perspectives, miraculous divinations, exact judgments; those illuminations, those incomprehensible anxieties, and stupid blunders as well. In certain extraordinary cases, invoking abstract gods — genius, inspiration, a thousand others — we ask with stupefaction how these marvels came to be.

[line break added] Once again we believe that something must have created itself, for we worship mystery and the marvelous as much as we love to ignore what goes on behind the scenes; we ascribe logic to miracle, although the inspired author had been preparing for a year. He was ripe. He had always thought of this work, perhaps unconsciously; and while others were still not ready to see, he had looked, combined, and now was merely reading what was written in his mind.

… A flower, a proposition, and a sound can be imagined almost simultaneously; the intervals between them can be made as short as we choose; and each of these objects of thought can also change, be deformed, lose its initial qualities one after another at the will of the mind that conceived it, but it is in one’s consciousness of this power that all its value resides.

[line break added] That consciousness alone permits us to criticize these formations, to interpret them, to find in them nothing more than they contain, and not to confuse their states with those of reality. With it begins the analysis of all intellectual phases, of all the states that consciousness will have the power to define as fallacy, madness, discovery — which at first were only nuances impossible to distinguish.

[line break added] Equivalent variations of a common substance, they were comparable one to another, existed at indefinite and almost irresponsible levels, could sometimes be named, and all according to the same system. To be conscious of one’s thoughts, as thoughts, is to recognize this sort of equality of homogeneity; to feel that all combinations of the sort are legitimate, natural, and that the method consists in arousing them, in seeing them precisely, in seeking for what they imply.

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




October 27, 2017

A Lead Is a Promise

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:28 am

… The lead — like the title — should be a flashlight that shines down into the story.

This is from Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee (2017):

… Often, after you have reviewed your notes many times and thought through your material, it is difficult to frame much of a structure until you write a lead. You wade around in your notes, getting nowhere. You don’t see a pattern. You don’t know what to do. So stop everything. Stop looking at the notes. Hunt through your mind for a good beginning. Then write it.

[line break added] Write a lead. If the whole piece is not to be a long one, you may plunge right on and out the other side and have a finished draft before you know it; but if the piece is to have some combination of substance, complexity, and structural juxtaposition that pays dividends, you might begin with that acceptable and workable lead and then be able to sit back with the lead in hand and think about where you are going and how you plan to get there. Writing a successful lead, in other words, can illuminate the structure problem for you and cause you to see the piece whole — to see it conceptually, in various parts, to which you then assign your materials. You find your lead, you build your structure, you are now free to write.

… I have often heard writers say that if you have written your lead you have in a sense written half of your story. Finding a good lead can require that much time, anyway — through trial and error. You can start almost anywhere. Several possibilities will occur to you. Which one are you going to choose? It is easier to say what not to choose. A lead should not be cheap, flashy, meretricious, blaring. After a tremendous fanfare of verbal trumpets, a mouse comes out of a hole blinking.

… The lead — like the title — should be a flashlight that shines down into the story. A lead is a promise. It promises that the piece of writing is going to be like this. If it is not going to be so, don’t use the lead.




October 26, 2017

Lack of Comment

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… Harold Clurman described the “grave and awful completeness” of Strand’s photographs that are “too far aloof to lend themselves to our needs or to yield to the pressure of our desires” …

Continuing through Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries by Sarah Greenough (2000). This is from her chapter devoted to Paul Strand. She’s describing their estrangement, after many years of often competitive friendship:

… in 1921 [Stieglitz] told Sherwood Anderson, “To be a master of the process is no mean achievement. And [Strand] has that. The rest may still come. In the meantime I still hope he’ll be able to find himself fairly soon”; while in 1927 he confided to Herbert Seligmann, “I realize more and more how far removed I am from what Strand is doing.” What O’Keeffe had once perceived in Strand as a “hardness,” Stieglitz came to view as a lack of passion.

Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, 1919

… While he had once celebrated the “absolute unqualified objectivity” that Strand sought, increasingly in the late 1920s Stieglitz saw it as a dogmatic and unfeeling approach.

Moreover, just as Stieglitz emphasized the sexual nature of O’Keeffe’s work in his discussions in the late 1910s and early 1920s, so too did he stress the absence of emotion in his remarks on Strand’s work not just to friends but also to critics. In the late 1920s and early 1930s many reviewers commented on this aspect of Strand’s work. Some saw it as an asset; Harold Clurman described the “grave and awful completeness” of Strand’s photographs that are “too far aloof to lend themselves to our needs or to yield to the pressure of our desires,” but concluded that they are “not cold,” and possess an “objective sensuousness.”

[line break added] Elizabeth McCausland also defended the work, noting that although his photographs were “crystallinely pure,” they were not “immune to the storms and passions of feelings.” Yet others, like Henry McBride, while praising the work as “astonishing,” nevertheless continued that “the relentless perfection of the mechanics of vision is almost cruel,” and Katherine Grant Sterne also noted their “complete lack of comment.”

Paul Strand, St. Francis Church, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, 1931

By the late 1920s Stieglitz and Strand had become very different photographers. While both still embraced the modernist notion that art embodied a certain kind of truth that could not be revealed in any other way, the truths they sought to expose were diametrically opposed. As seen in his photographs made throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, Strand had developed a rigorous vision that paid careful attention to formal relationships but was focused fundamentally on the external world and sought to heighten his viewers’ perception of that world.

[line break added] Rational, analytical, highly serious, and somewhat unyielding, he did not strive, as he noted, “to describe an inner state of being,” but rather as his friend Clurman wrote, he treated all his photographs “as if they were as removed from him as machines.” Far more romantic, expressive, self-absorbed, and self-indulgent, Stieglitz, whether photographing nature, the city, or even other people, was, as O’Keeffe perceptively noted, “always photographing himself.”

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




October 25, 2017

Work to Be Done

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… Do we believe that there is “work” to be done by photographs … ?

This is from the Introduction to Why Art Photography? by Lucy Soutter (2013):

… What is the difference between an art photograph and a designer handbag? I pose this rhetorical question to my photography students from time to time. … The room polarizes sharply. Knee-jerk, common-sense-based responses gradually unfold into more complex positions. The students fall into roughly four camps on the relationship of photography to commercial culture. Some are natural modernists; they believe that an art photograph has aesthetic, expressive and craft value for its own sake and that it is inherently more precious than a mass-produced fashion accessory.

[line break added] Others are critical realists. They argue that photography’s function is to tell important social and political truths, whereas an expensive handbag is a mere frivolity; for them, the “art” potential of photography is secondary to its power to communicate. There is usually a small group we could call fashionistas who hold the view that the commercial fashion industry makes an important contribution to individuals’ identity formation. These students may value the handbag more highly, unless the photograph is also concerned with aspects of experimental design and visual self-expression.

[line break added] Other students are cynics; as far as they are concerned, the photograph and handbag are only worth whatever someone is willing to pay for them, with contemporary art and fashion both at the mercy of booming international markets. All of these students are right in their own ways, and it is my job to help them to see each other’s point of view. As an academic, it is also my task to introduce them to a broader range of debates — aesthetic, philosophical and political — that no casual viewer of photographs could glean without extensive reading or an expert guide.

… If art photography has value in our culture beyond its market price, what might that value be? Do we believe that there is “work” to be done by photographs within an art context? Is such work expressive, critical, or something else? And how do photographs go about doing such work?




October 24, 2017

The Look of Thought

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… his systems of elementary shapes can proliferate with a crazy extravagance that, to our surprise, puts the rational gray matter of logic, mathematics, and science at the service of a wildly florid artistic imagination.

This is from the essay ‘Notes on Sol Lewitt‘ by Robert Rosenblum found in Sol Lewitt edited by Alicia Legg (1978):

Conceptual art? The very sound of those words has chilled away and confused spectators who wonder just what, in fact, this art could be about or whether it is even visible. For like all labels that awkwardly blanket a host of new forms and attitudes, this one could become an out-and-out deception for those who never bothered to look and to discriminate. But this is hardly unfamiliar. Could one ever tell from the word “Cubism” what a typical Cubist work looked like? (A Sol LeWitt modular cube looks more literally “Cubist” than anything by Picasso.)

[line break added] Could one ever guess that one catchall phrase, “Abstract Expressionism,” ended up by bracketing pictures that look and feel so different as, say, those by de Kooning and Newman? Indeed, wouldn’t “Conceptual art” apply far better to the work of Leonardo da Vinci than to that of, say, Vito Acconci, a Conceptual artist who uses his very body and voice in his art? So yet again, one must be careful not to let vague and simple-minded words obliterate the enormous range of intentions and visible results placed under the same umbrella.

Perhaps one should be even more careful this time, since many so-called Conceptual artists have willfully tried to divorce themselves from inherited traditions of “object” art by implying or stating that art can remain gray matter in the mind and still be art. … (But come to think of it, wasn’t the physical fact of the Parthenon, experienced by relatively few people, infinitely less important than the idea of the Parthenon, which was to become a touchstone of Western civilization and architectural theory and practice?

[line break added] And wasn’t this belief in perfect thought as opposed to imperfect and transitory matter shared by many Renaissance painters, sculptors, and architects who held that the tangible work of art was only a flawed reflection of an ideal concept, just as later, many Neoclassic artists prized the idea of a work of art more than its palpable materialization?)

… [Nevertheless] The theories, the geometries, the ideas may all be called into play for a fuller elucidation of what is going on, but both initially and finally, it is the visible works of art that dominate our attention. The perceptual whole is far more than the sum of its conceptual parts, although the visual memory of LeWitt’s executed images, like our imaginary recall of Greek sculpture or of a lost or damaged masterpiece by Leonardo, may outlive the actual objects.

LeWitt’s art may be steeped in his cerebral, verbal, and geometric systems, as was that of so many great, as well as inconsequential, artists before him, but its impact is not reducible to words. The immediate experience, like that of any important art that stops us in our tracks and demands lingering attention, is visual and visceral, rather than exclusively intellectual, and as such bears an intensely personal flavor that distinguishes it at once from the work of other contemporary artists concerned with, say, modular systems or the realization of verbal-visual equations.

… Gradually, that is, we shall have to find ways of articulating our particular visual and emotional responses to LeWitt’s work, as we have for other difficult new work of the past. Thus, Donald Kuspit’s comment that LeWitt’s objects seem “like a cold bath, at once repressive and exhilarating, instinct-denying and at the same time creating a sense of dammed-up energy,” is one such vivid pinpointing in a simile of something of the peculiarly complex and irrational flavor we are beginning to discern in LeWitt’s art.

[line break added] It is true, that is, that LeWitt insists on using words and forms with a logical rigor that implies the tonic, intellectual clarity of a Euclidean theorem. But at the same time, his systems of elementary shapes can proliferate with a crazy extravagance that, to our surprise, puts the rational gray matter of logic, mathematics, and science at the service of a wildly florid artistic imagination.

… It is typical of LeWitt that he chose artistic means as immaterial and abstract as the systems that regulate his art. Even the materials of most Minimal art — Andre’s bricks and pure metals, Stella’s striped, metallic paint surfaces, Flavin’s fluorescent tubes, Judd’s Plexiglass and plywood — are somehow, for all their plainness and clarity, too literal, too palpable for LeWitt, who seeks out rather the most abstract looking materials, or ideally, nonmaterials, to render, in Donald Kuspit’s felicitous phrase, “the look of thought.”

… LeWitt wrote that he “wanted to do a work of art that was as two-dimensional as possible,” but in perceiving this two-dimensionality, the viewer is obliged to re-experience the palpable, often three-dimensional presence of the supporting architecture. As LeWitt has stated, “Most walls have holes, cracks, bumps, grease marks, are not level or square and have various architectural eccentricities,” all of which irregularities are simultaneously veiled and emphasized by the two-dimensional wall drawings upon them.

[line break added] The contradictions are comparable to those we experience in, say, the unsized canvases of Morris Louis, where the vast expanses of unpainted cotton duck that support the painted illusion become, by contrast, all the more literal physically, while being transformed at the same time into the pictorial fiction of a luminous field of open space.

Morris Louis, Beta Nu, 1960




October 23, 2017

The Modern and Its Wish-fulfilling Aftermath

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… To you, it sounds like a symptom, the symptom that a large part of our culture doesn’t want to call itself modern any more.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… the idea of art as proper name … operates on the level of practice, that is, of judgment, of the aesthetic usage of the word “art.” The concept is either true or false, the idea is either just or unjust. Through a leap and a reflection, you arrived at the concept that the word “art” was a proper name. Reflecting on your personal experience as an art lover, but leaving your feelings behind, you realized that whenever you issued an aesthetic judgment formulated as “this is art,” you were baptizing an object that struck you as art with reference to a collection of samples which, to you, were art already. The word “art,” in this sentence, was used in the same way that proper names, according to Kripke, are used: to fix the reference and not to convey meaning.

… [The idea of art as proper name] began, obviously, when the idea emerged that art was autonomous, and when the practice of art indeed entrenched itself in its autonomy and alienated itself from society at large. It began when the word “art” became the name of an ineffable quality that did not obey preestablished rules, that did not necessarily coincide with the beautiful or the sublime yet was often substituted for them, and that wrenched from the sphere of myth and religion a space of secular spirituality that became the object of a particular intellection institutionalized by the Museum.

[ … ]

… The possible meaning of the word “postmodern” for artists is beyond your grasp as an archaeologist. Even what it might mean for critics is no concern of yours. Noticing that it is on everyone’s lips, you just take stock of the fact that it has appeared in recent years. To you, it sounds like a symptom, the symptom that a large part of our culture doesn’t want to call itself modern any more.

[line break added] Throughout the era called modernity, modern was a value judgment synonymous with the word art, to the point where for the jurisprudence that exhumed long-forgotten artists like Bach or Vermeer, or whole cultures long ignored like African art, it was always their “modernity” that was pushed to the fore, as if it contained the ultimate criterion justifying their status as art.

[line break added] But now that growing numbers of people, disappointed with modernism or dispirited by its possible impasses, no longer value the word “modern” and proclaim the advent of the “postmodern” as if it were a magical absolution for the supposed sins of modernity, obviously a periodization of history has been performed, albeit through wishful thinking. To you, as archaeologist, this indicates that these people, whether artists or critics, want to change names.

… Only when you are wearing your aesthetician’s hat — when you define art as a proper name — or your archaeologist’s hat — when you define modernity as this period during which aesthetic practice was regulated by the idea of art as proper name — are you free to savor all the irony of the nominalist alternative between the modern and the postmodern.

[line break added] When you are wearing your critic’s hat — and even though you are the aesthetician and the archaeologist too — you remain prisoner of this alternative, which will probably last as long as the historical transition through which our culture is passing, in the process of leaving modernity for something unknown that is postmodern in name only. And so, as a critic, you are left with nothing other than your feelings to rest your judgments on: the feeling that makes you call a given work modern or postmodern, the feeling of the conflicts between the modern and its wish-fulfilling aftermath, and the feeling, stronger than ever, of dissent and double-bind.

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




October 22, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… we have a veritable downpour of “suddenlys” and “at just that moments.”

Continuing through the essay ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

The process of assimilating real historical time and space in literature has a complicated and erratic history, as does the articulation of actual historical persons in such a time and space.

… We will give the name chronotope (literally “time space”) to the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature.

… In the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history.

… all of the action in a Greek romance, all the events and adventures that fill it, constitute time-sequences that are neither historical, quotidian, biographical, nor even biological and maturational. … This empty time leaves no traces anywhere, no indications of its passing.

… All moments of this infinite adventure-time are controlled by one force — chance. As we have seen, this time is entirely composed of contingency — of chance meetings and failures to meet. Adventuristic “chance time” is the specific time during which irrational forces intervene in human life; the intervention of Fate (Tyche), gods, demons, sorcerers, or — in later adventure novels — those novelistic villains who as villains use chance meetings or failures to meet for their own purposes: they “lie in wait,” they “bide their time,” we have a veritable downpour of “suddenlys” and “at just that moments.”

… In what sort of space is the adventure-time of Greek romances realized?

For Greek adventure-time to work, one must have an abstract expanse of space. The world of the Greek romance is of course chronotopic, but the link between space and time has, as it were not an organic but a purely technical (and mechanical) nature. In order for the adventure to develop it needs space, and plenty of it.

… All adventures in the Greek romance are thus governed by an interchangeability of space; what happens in Babylon could just as well happen in Egypt or Byzantium and vice versa. Separate adventures, complete in themselves, are also interchangeable in time, for adventure-time leaves no defining traces and is therefore in essence reversible.

… In this chronotope all initiative and power belongs to chance. Therefore, the degree of specificity and concreteness of this world is necessarily very limited. For any concretization — geographic, economic, sociopolitical, quotidian — would fetter the freedom and flexibility of the adventures and limit the absolute power of chance.

[line break added] Every concretization, of even the most simple and everyday variety, would introduce its own rule-generating force, its own order, its inevitable ties to human life and to the time specific to that life. Events would end up being interwoven with these rules, and to a greater or lesser extent would find themselves participating in this order, subject to its ties. This would critically limit the power of chance; the movement of the adventures would be organically localized and tied down in time and space.

[line break added] If one were to depict one’s own native world, the indigenous reality surrounding one, such specificity and concretization would be absolutely unavoidable (at least to some degree). A depiction of one’s own world — no matter where or what it is — could never achieve that degree of abstractness necessary for Greek adventure-time.

Therefore, the world of the Greek romance is an alien world: everything in it is indefinite, unknown, foreign.

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




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