Unreal Nature

December 31, 2017

Double -Voicedness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… We will recognize the naively self-confident or obtusely stubborn unity of a smooth, pure single-voiced language (perhaps accompanied by a primitive, artificial, worked-up double-voicedness).

This is from the essay ‘Discourse in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… All forms involving a narrator or a posited author signify to one degree or another by their presence the author’s freedom from a unitary and singular language, a freedom connected with the relativity of literary and language systems; such forms open up the possibility of never having to define oneself in language, the possibility of translating one’s own intentions from one linguistic system to another, of fusing “the language of truth” with “the language of the everyday,” of saying “I am me” in someone else’s language, and in my own language, “I am other.”

… In such discourse there are two voices, two meanings and two expressions. And all the while these two voices are dialogically interrelated, they — as it were — know about each other (just as two exchangers in a dialogue know of each other and are structured in this mutual knowledge of each other); it is as if they actually hold a conversation with each other. Double-voiced discourse is always internally dialogized.

[line break added] Examples of this would be comic, ironic or parodic discourse, the refracting discourse of a narrator, refracting discourse in the language of a character and finally the discourse of a whole incorporated genre — all these discourses are double-voiced and internally dialogized. A potential dialogue is embedded in them, one as yet unfolded, a concentrated dialogue of two voices, two world views, two languages.

… There — on the rich soil of novelistic prose — double-voicedness draws its energy, its dialogized ambiguity, not from individual dissonances, misunderstandings or contradictions (however tragic, however firmly grounded in individual destinies); in the novel, this double-voicedness sinks its roots deep into a fundamental socio-linguistic speech diversity and multi-languagedness. True, even in the novel heteroglossia is by and large always personified, incarnated in individual human figures, with disagreements and oppositions individualized.

[line break added] But such oppositions of individual wills and minds are submerged in social heteroglossia, they are reconceptualized through it. Oppositions between individuals are only surface upheavals of the untamed elements in social heteroglossia, surface manifestations of those elements that play on such individual oppositions, make them contradictory, saturate their consciousness and discourses with a more fundamental speech diversity.

… double-voicedness in prose is prefigured in language itself (in authentic metaphors, as well as in myth), in language as a social phenomenon that is becoming in history, socially stratified and weathered in this process of becoming.

… If the novelist loses touch with this linguistic ground of prose style, if he is unable to attain the heights of a relativized, Galilean linguistic consciousness, if he is deaf to organic double-voicedness and to the internal dialogization of living and evolving discourse, then he will never comprehend, or even realize, the actual possibilities and tasks of the novel as a genre.

[line break added] He may, of course, create an artistic work that compositionally and thematically will be similar to a novel, will be “made” exactly as a novel is made, but he will not thereby have created a novel. The style will always give him away. We will recognize the naively self-confident or obtusely stubborn unity of a smooth, pure single-voiced language (perhaps accompanied by a primitive, artificial, worked-up double-voicedness).

[line break added] We quickly sense that such an author finds it easy to purge his work of speech diversity: he simply does not listen to the fundamental heteroglossia inherent in actual language; he mistakes social overtones, which create the timbres of words, for irritating noises that it is his task to eliminate. The novel, when torn out of authentic linguistic speech diversity, emerges in most cases as a “closet drama,” with detailed, fully developed and “artistically worked out” stage directions (it is, of course, bad drama). In such a novel, divested of its language diversity, authorial language inevitably ends up in the awkward and absurd position of the language of stage directions in plays.

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




December 30, 2017

Rigor and Freedom

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:03 am

… Thou shalt not … deal in thunderbolts, for in spite of what you may think, you are not a god …

This is from the essay ‘Knowledge of the Goddess’ (1920) found in Selected Writings of Paul Valéry (1950; 1964):

… Credulity, I thought, is not exigent. It consists in not being. It is content to be ravished. It is carried away by impression, enchantments; and, completely absorbed in the moment, it hails the surprising, the prodigious, the excessive, the marvelous and the novel. But the time comes, although not for everybody, when a warier state of mind suggests a more exacting attitude.

[line break added] Just as doctrines and philosophies which are offered without proofs find in the course of time greater difficulty in getting themselves believed and stir up greater objections, until in the end one holds as true only what can be verified, so it is in the realm of the arts. There is a sort of literary doubt which corresponds to philosophic and scientific doubt.

But how insure works against the backfire of scrutiny and how strengthen them against the impression of arbitrariness? By arbitrariness itself, by arbitrariness organized and decreed. The system of conventions has been instituted by skeptical creators — creators in their way — against personal excursions, against overabundance and confusion — in short against unbridled fancy. The conventions are arbitrary, or so considered at least; but skepticism is hardly possible in regard to the rules of a game.

Such a remark may seem scandalous. To suggest that classical art is an art oriented toward the ideals of games, being as it is so self-conscious and preserving both the same rigor and the same freedom, is without doubt shocking; but shocking, we hope, only for a moment, only long enough for you to remember that human perfection consists in nothing more than the strict fulfillment of a certain expectation that we have held out to ourselves.

Classical art says to the poet: Thou shalt not sacrifice to graven images which are the beauties of detail; nor make use of all possible words, for among them are rare and baroque words which will attract all the attention to themselves and, in their vanity, shine at the expense of your thought; nor yet try to dazzle at small expense to yourself, nor speculate on novelty; nor deal in thunderbolts, for in spite of what you may think, you are not a god; but rather, if you can, simply give men the idea of a perfection that belongs to man.

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




December 29, 2017

Creating Itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… Since then, painting has never represented reality; it has been reality (creating itself).

This is from ‘Extracts from writings and interviews, 1962-2003’ found in Gerhard Richter: Atlas: The Reader (2012):

Notes 1985

[ … ]

28 August 1985. The Abstract Expressionists were amazed at the pictorial quality of their productions, the wonderful world that opens up when you paint.

Even so, I have to start with the ‘blot’ and not with the new content (if I could exempt myself from that, I should then have to look for an appropriate way of representing it). With all the techniques at my command, especially those of elimination, I have to try to compel something that I cannot visualize — something that goes further and is better and more right than my own pre-existing opinion and intention — to appear as an existing picture of something.

[ … ]

Notes, 1990

30 May 1990. It seems to me that the invention of the Readymade was the invention of reality. It was the crucial discovery that what counts is reality, not any world-view whatever. Since then, painting has never represented reality; it has been reality (creating itself). And sooner or later the value of reality will have to be denied, in order (as usual) to set up pictures of a better world.

[ … ]

[from] Robert Storr, Gerhard Richter: Doubt and Belief in Painting, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 2003

… I made a few remarks that have circulated, things like: ‘I don’t believe in anything’; and ‘the motifs in my paintings have no meaning whatsoever, I might have just as well painted cabbage.’ These remarks gave people a certain impression of me. … People still claim that only painting has an important story, never the subject.

[line break added] … I made those statements in order to provoke and in order not to have to say what I might have been thinking at that point, not to pour my heart out. That would have been embarrassing. I refused to admit any kind of meaning that these paintings could have had for me. Therefore it was much easier to say what I said.

My previous post from this book is here.




December 28, 2017

Impossible Not to Be Misunderstood

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… Realizing that it was impossible not to be misunderstood gave me an enormous sense of freedom.

This is from Preface to Solar System & Rest Rooms: Writings and Interviews, 1965-2007 by (of) Mel Bochner (2008):

I became a published writer more or less by accident. … I was out of work, out of prospects, and out of money. In assessing my marketable talents, I thought the one thing I might be able to do was write the short reviews that appeared in the back of art magazines. … I was able to get an appointment with the editor [of Arts Magazine], Jay Jacobs, a dapper, former features writer for the New Yorker, who asked my why I thought I was qualified to write art reviews. When I answered that it didn’t seem very hard, he burst out laughing …

… In my naiveté it never occurred to me that reviewing was anything more than a job to pay the rent, or that anybody took what I wrote seriously. That all changed in June of 1966 after the publication of my extended review of “Primary Structures” at the Jewish Museum. Not long after it came out, I was invited to a birthday party for the painter Jack Tworkov, a first-generation Abstract Expressionist, who was the father of a close friend.

[line break added] Most of the other guests were also well-known New York School painters. After drinks were served, the conversation turned to an “outrageous” article in the new Arts Magazine, by an unknown writer, about the “Primary Structures” exhibit. My biggest surprise was not only that they all had read it (these were famous artists; didn’t they have anything better to do?), but that they were all so angry about it.

[line break added] “Don’t these young guys know that minimalism was done by the Russians fifty years ago?” “This is only a rehash of the geometric abstraction we fought against in the 1930s.” “They’re trying to destroy everything we accomplished.” At this point, I owned up to being the author and tried to defend my ideas. But instead of calming things down, it made them even more agitated when they realized that the barbarians were already inside the gate.

It wasn’t only the older generation that responded with hostility. At a Whitney opening I was accosted by a friend, a serious young painter, who announced, “You’ve joined the enemy, I’ll never speak to you again. You’ve become a writer.” A few nights later, at Max’s Kansas City, I was introduced, for the first time, to an artist I had written about very positively. He immediately attacked me for misunderstanding his work. When I asked what he objected to about my interpretation, he shouted, “My work is the cry of dying babies in Vietnam. Every unit represents a dead baby.”

Realizing that it was impossible not to be misunderstood gave me an enormous sense of freedom.

My previous post from Bochner’s book is here.




December 27, 2017

This Emaciation of Subject Matter

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… Photography [should] express more than a polite and circumscribed interest …

This is from the essay ‘Photographing Architecture’ by John Szarkowski (1959) found in Reading Into Photography: Selected Essays, 1959-1980 edited by Thomas F. Barrow, Shelley Armitage and William E. Tydeman (1982):

… Most architectural photography, as generally practiced, is the product of the wary collaboration between these two unconvinced principals, with the architect sometimes represented by his institutional promotion service, the professional magazines. The photographer provides a service similar to that of other commercial artists: his function is to make the building look as good as possible in the light of contemporary fashion. Many of the photographs produced within this framework are handsome pictures. Some are also intelligent. A few are genuinely revealing. Most bear approximately the same relationship to real buildings as fashion photographs bear to real women.

… If the architect has reason to question the honesty of architectural photography, the photographer has equal reason to be bored by its vacuity. If on his Saturday holiday the photographer photographs an anonymous American farmhouse, he will consider the rich miscellany of life facts surrounding and attached to the building as a legitimate and revealing part of his subject.

[line break added] He will want his photographs to possess a sense of the local earth and light and weather, of the life pattern of the inhabitants, of the presence of animals, of meagerness or richness. If it is subsequently discovered that the house was derived from a design by Bulfinch — and the photographer returns on a weekday assignment — he will push these environmental irrelevancies from his mind, and restrict his attention to the division of the facades, the interior plan, the structural system, and the ornamental details.

[line break added] What on Saturday was a countryside has become merely a site; trees have become landscaping, the inhabitants have become residents, and life has become a circulation pattern. It is difficult to judge how much of this emaciation of subject matter is due to the prejudices of the architectural profession, and how much to the tradition of architectural photography itself.

… Certainly the quality of the prairie light is not a part of the architectural solution. But it is a part of the architectural problem — one of the subjective realities of rural life to be organized by the architect. And the photograph can tell much of the life in which the architecture found its form. The photographer must of course draw the line of relevancy somewhere. The barnyard boots, standing on the kitchen porch — surely they are irrelevant. Probably.

… Historians, it is true, speak of objective as opposed to subjective photographs. This distinction may be a useful fiction, but it should be understood that in fact only incompetence can rescue the photographer from the personal judgment of his own seeing.

… Of the various ill-fitting legacies which photography has inherited from painting, the most insistent is the idea that the individual picture must be a complete statement. Often one photograph will stand alone; more often, a series of photographs can convey a meaning greater than the sum of the individual images.

… Photography will express more than a polite and circumscribed interest in a building’s superficial form. It will in its own language suggest the impetus of human need underlying that form, and explore the personal and social act of creative building. Photography assumes this subject matter because it lies in the world of human values, where the camera is most at home.

My previous post from this book is here.




December 26, 2017

The Endless Feedback Between History and the Present

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… The past is not a static source of unchanging law, but one half of a dialogue with the present.

This is from the essay ‘The American Sublime’ (1963) found in Topics in American Art Since 1945 by Lawrence Alloway (1975):

… In 1949 Newman wrote The Sublime Is Now, a text of central relevance to his own work and to that of artists with whom he was then connected, Still and Rothko. “The question that now arises is how, if we are living in a time without a legend or mythos that can be called sublime, if we refuse to admit any exaltation in pure relations, if we refuse to live in the abstract, how can we be creating a sublime art?” His answer is that “we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings.”

[line break added] He defines the new sublime by a series of rejections. The Greek ideal of beauty has led to “a fetish of quality,” instead of to a “relation to the Absolute.” “A concern with ‘beauty’ ” is identified by Newman with “a concern with what is ‘known.’ ” The exaltation that he was after could not be found in Greek “perfect form,” but was more like “Gothic or Baroque in which the Sublime consists of a desire to destroy form.”

[line break added] He rejected the possibility of a sublime art remaining within “the reality of sensation (the objective world … ).” Thus, the sublime was separated from dependence on the classical, the abstract, or the sensational. On the same occasion Robert Motherwell defined the sublime as something “silent and ordered,” in which the artist “transcends his personal anguish.”

[line break added] It is opposed to expressionism and to “the beauty and perfection of the School of Paris.” The sublime was to be reached, to quote Newman again, by “freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth.” Rothko rejected “memory, history, or geometry” and Still announced “no outworn myths or contemporary alibis.”

Newman expressly states that the sublime he his talking about is opposed to traditional art. “I believe that here in America, some of us, free from the weight of European culture, are finding the answer by completely denying that art has any concern with the problem of beauty and where to find it.” Nevertheless, his version of the sublime can be connected with the 18th-century definition of it, which was also originally conceived as antithetical to the problem of beauty.

… Qualities which [Edmund] Burke [writing in 1757] considered as arousing the sense of the sublime include “greatness of dimensions,” Vacuity, Darkness, Solitude, and Silence,” and “Infinity.” Here is a precedent, not only for the American distrust of Greek form, but also for liking “a rudeness of the work” (represented by Burke as preferable to “dexterity”) which is opposed to the idea of art as contrivance.

[line break added] This is comparable to Newman’s and Motherwell’s rejection of the School of Paris. The links between Burke’s and Newman’s sublime are not stylistic. They result from the desire to put art into relation with “the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling,” to quote Burke. In Newman this appears as the statement: “we are reasserting man’s natural desire for the exalted, for a concern with our relationship to the absolute emotions.”

… Modern art has been treated by several generations as a breathless succession of “new” movements, each one hedonistically freed from the past. The past has been primitively identified as merely the goal of appeals to authority, both by “modern” and anti-modern artists and critics. … However, history is not simply the authority of a gallery of father-symbols. The past is not a static source of unchanging law, but one half of a dialogue with the present.

… It is as part of the endless feedback between history and the present that I see the comparison of the 18th century’s and our ideas of the sublime.

My previous post from Alloway’s book is here.




December 25, 2017

It Knows of No Purpose

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:04 am

… Modern art is whatever. Period.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996). At this point, he’s describing what happens when you append “in order to” onto the basic “do whatever” imperative:

… Here is a first interpretation, a first misinterpretation, actually, of the modern imperative: do whatever in order to … According to this interpretation, of which there are many historical variants, art-making should be subordinated to a goal. Art, or at least the making part of it, is concerned with means, not with ends. As for the ends, they are either immanent or transcendent.

[line break added] In the first instance, the making — skill, technique — serves an end that is art itself. Such is the case with the doctrine of art-for-art’s-sake, for example: do whatever, you are free, but do it in order that it be art, do it for the sake of art, do it for the purpose of making art’s autonomy manifest. In the second instance, technique is in the service of an end that transcends art itself.

[line break added] Such is the case with nineteenth-century academicism when it justifies itself through classical aesthetics: represent what you want (we haven’t reached the “do whatever” yet), but do it in order to please, do it for the sake of beauty or for the purpose of serving the values of harmony and continuity, or perhaps to honor nature.

[line break added] Closer to the present, formalism represents the most widespread variant of an art doctrine given its purpose through immanence. Here the end folds back onto the means. Art-making — which is poiesis — constitutes the subject matter of art, which in turn displays the critique, the deconstruction, or the self-analysis of its technical means, while the whole process tends towards establishing art’s ultimate identity through a succession of reductions.

… At the opposite pole, that of an art doctrine given its purpose through transcendence, we find the applied arts, commercial art, pedagogical and didactic art, erotic and pornographic art, and of course, political art. Only this last form is really significant, for it is the only one to fully claim the title of art while making it subservient to a higher cause.

[line break added] Here, but not without pain, the end justifies the means, and art-making — which is praxis — is a strategy operating within the superstructure. Construction of heroic figures, denunciatory pamphlet, or patient critique of the dominant ideology, political art aims at social transformations trespassing the boundaries of art. In order to achieve them, it can and must make use of whatever.

… Between the two conflicting purposes of modern art, we see no dialectical resolution, especially if we look at what their practical destiny has been on the stage of history. Formalism, with its demands and its ideals, has degenerated into mere formalism, in the pejorative sense this word has taken on: an academic and stupid art which repeats empty, contentless forms. Newman and the sublime are dead, and a doctrine of artistic immanence, once it forgets about transcendence, leads nowhere but to a cynical or desperate practice of quotation. As for the destiny of political art, it is even more painful.

… On all sides, on theoretical as well as historical grounds, in the register of poiesis as in that of praxis, the injunction “do whatever in order to … ” sadly rings out its own failure.

Now, this injunction was an interpretation, a purposive interpretation of the naked injunction “do whatever.” It took place, it was even widespread, it isn’t a mirage that can be dissipated with another interpretation. But it failed. It is thus false and it isn’t just. By which I mean that it simply isn’t true, and not that it would be possible to substitute a true interpretation for it. At most one could give an accurate historical account of it.

… It thus demands that we redress a wrong; that we do justice to modern art, that we judge. And a judgment is not an interpretation. This judgment, which is required and all the more final that it cannot subject means to an end, has already been rendered. It was handed down to us with Duchamp’s readymade. Modern art is whatever. Period. Such is its law, its imperative. It knows of no purpose.

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



December 24, 2017

In Other People’s Mouths

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… it exists in other people’s mouths, in other people’s contexts, serving other people’s intentions: it is from there that one must take the word and make it one’s own.

This is from the essay ‘Discourse in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… However varied the social forces doing the work of stratification — a profession, a genre, a particular tendency, an individual personality — the work itself everywhere comes down to the (relatively) protracted and socially meaningful (collective) saturation of language with specific (and consequently limiting) intentions and accents.

… As a result of the work done by all these stratifying forces in language, there are no “neutral” words and forms — words and forms that belong to “no one”; language has been completely taken over, shot through with intentions and accents. For any individual consciousness living in it, language is not an abstract system of normative forms but rather a concrete heteroglot conception of the world.

[line break added] All words have the “taste” of a profession, a genre, a tendency, a party, a particular work, a particular person, a generation, an age group, the day and hour. Each word tastes of the context and contexts in which it has lived its socially charged life; all words and forms are populated by intentions. Contextual overtones (generic, tendentious, individualistic) are inevitable in the word.

As a living, socio-ideological concrete thing, as heteroglot opinion, language, for the individual consciousness, lies on the borderline between oneself and the other. The word in language is half someone else’s. It becomes “one’s own” only when the speaker populates it with his own intention, his own accent, when he appropriates the word, adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention.

[line break added] Prior to this moment of appropriation, the word does not exist in a neutral and impersonal language (it is not, after all, out of a dictionary that the speaker gets his words!), but rather it exists in other people’s mouths, in other people’s contexts, serving other people’s intentions: it is from there that one must take the word and make it one’s own.

[line break added] And not all words for just anyone submit equally easily to this appropriation, to this seizure and transformation into private property: many words stubbornly resist, others remain alien, sound foreign in the mouth of the one who appropriated them and who now speaks them, they cannot be assimilated into his context and fall out of it; it is as if they put themselves in quotation marks against the will of the speaker. Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated — overpopulated — with the intentions of others. Expropriating it, forcing it to submit to one’s own intentions and accents, is a difficult and complicated process.

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




December 23, 2017

— And Wish and Wish — and not Wish too Hard Either

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

— those interweaving threads, those vaguely and endlessly vibrating strings — a mysterious Arachne, huntress muse, keeps watch.

This is from a fragment of a preface for the Adonis of La Fontaine (1920) found in Selected Writings of Paul Valéry (1950; 1964):

… The ineffable indistinction between act and thought is the prerogative of a god alone. As for us, we must toil, painfully [to] learn to know the difference. We have to pursue words that do not always exist; chimerical coincidences; we must keep on in our impotence trying to unite sound and sense, creating in broad daylight one of those nightmares that exhaust the dreamer as he tries endlessly to align two phantoms whose outlines are as unstable as himself. We must then wait with passionate patience, try another hour, another day, as we would try another tool — and wish and wish — and not wish too hard either.

… All these people who create, half certain, half uncertain of their powers, feel two beings in them, one known and the other unknown, whose incessant intercourse and unexpected exchanges give birth in the end to a certain product.

… In the vague depths of his eyes, all the forces of his desire and the springs of his instinct are stretched taut. There, intent on the hazards from which she chooses her nourishment; very shadowy there, in the midst of the webs and secret harps that she has made out of language — those interweaving threads, those vaguely and endlessly vibrating strings — a mysterious Arachne, huntress muse, keeps watch.

My previous post from Valéry’s book is here.




December 22, 2017

Not Art Photographs

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:27 am

… The subtleties and tricks of the art photographers are easily seen through, and then they are boring.

This is from ‘Extracts from writings and interviews, 1962-2003’ found in Gerhard Richter: Atlas: The Reader (2012):

Notes, 1964

As a boy I did a lot of photography and was friendly with a photographer who showed me the tricks of the trade. For a time I worked as a photographic laboratory assistant: the masses of photographs that passed through the bath of developer every day may well have caused a lasting trauma. Then I went to Dresden, the Academy, and did nothing but paint — in a realistic style influenced by Beckmann.

When I went to study with Gotz in Dusseldorf in 1961 (which was when I moved to the West), I was pretty nonplussed and desperate to start with. What eventually set me free was the encounter with Fluxus and Pop Art.

My first Photo Picture? I was doing large pictures in gloss enamel, influenced by Gaul. One day a photograph of Brigitte Bardot fell into my hands, and I painted it into one of these pictures in shades of grey. I had had enough of bloody painting, and painting from a photograph seemed to me the most moronic and inartistic thing that anyone could do.

I collect photographs (nowadays, I also get a lot given to me) and I am always looking at them. Not ‘art’ photographs, but ones taken by lay people, or by ordinary newspaper photographers. The subtleties and tricks of the art photographers are easily seen through, and then they are boring.

Happenings, pictures, objects: the lay person has and makes all these in a way that puts every artist to shame. Have artists ever made objects remotely as large and as good as a lay person’s garden?

Composition is a side issue. Its role in my selection of photographs is a negative one at best. By which I mean that the fascination of a photograph is not in its eccentric composition but in what it has to say: its information content. And, on the other hand, composition always also has its own fortuitous rightness.




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