Unreal Nature

April 23, 2018

Unstable, Ironic, Ungraspable

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… it is history-as-modernity — unstable, ironic, ungraspable in terms of lived reality — that is at stake here.

This is from Bathers, Bodies, Beauty: The Visceral Eye by Linda Nochlin (2006):

… Often known as the paysage composé and considered a much more noble and idealized genre than the mere landscape “sketch” (that first impression en plein air considered a mere “first step” toward authentic landscape creation), the heroic landscape of course included a justifying set of classical or biblical figures, usually with moral overtones. Nature — idealized nature, redeemed by uplifting historical narrative — might constitute one definition of the “composed landscape” as it existed and continued to exist in Manet’s time.

Edouard Manet, Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863

Could we not, within the context of the heroic landscape, read Manet’s Déjeuner as a parodic deconstruction of the paysage composé — a sort of paysage décomposé, with figures separated from one another, from the landscape background, from traditional narrative legibility, and above all from the tradition of moral uplift usually associated with this elevated genre?

[line break added] With its setting based on a Sunday outing to Argenteuil, the figures mockingly arranged to belie the high-toned mythological past to which they apparently refer, figures that are modern, all too modern in both their dress, their lack of it, and the lack of all traditional bienséance, or rules of good behavior, and their imperturbable, uncommunicative coolness, Manet’s painting comes close to approximating, in visual language, the acerbic critique Baudelaire had made of the historic landscape in his Salon of 1836.

[line break added] Baudelaire described a “good” historic landscape (“un bon paysage tragique”) as “an arrangement of patterns of trees, of fountains, of tombs and funerary urns. The dogs,” Baudelaire continues, “are cut from the pattern of the Historic Dog; the Historic Shepherd may not, under pain of dishonor, allow himself other possibilities. Every immoral tree which has had the temerity to grow all by itself in its own way is necessarily cut down; every pond with frogs or tadpoles is pitilessly filled in.” Note, by the way, the presence of a grinning frog, prominent, if you know it is there, in the left foreground of the Déjeuner.

… One might say that it is the sundering of the enforced harmony imposed by the traditional paysage composé that permits the entry of living (that is, unfolding) history into the scene. But this is not because the Déjeuner is, in any literal sense, a scene of contemporary life: its parodic oppositions make this impossible. Rather, it is history-as-modernity — unstable, ironic, ungraspable in terms of lived reality — that is at stake here.

My previous post from Nochlin’s book is here.




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