Unreal Nature

October 21, 2018

The Meaning of a Meaning

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… “expressive” music is not musical except to the degree that it is never an unequivocal, unambiguous expression of a meaning.

This is from Music and the Ineffable by Vladimir Jankélévitch translated by Carolyn Abbate (1983):

… The “pastness” of the past: is it not a charm, or an unknowable something whose indeterminate expression is music?

… The soul, which exudes carnal presence in general like a perfume and nonetheless evades all topographies, the fugitive, ambiguous soul: is it not a kind of Charm? The soul is the Charm engendered by the body.

This ubiquity, this everywhere and nowhere exclusive of a somewhere, this omnipresent presence that is at the same time omniabsence, also characterizes the present absence of meaning in a sentence, and of the Charm in music. If the meaning of a sentence is inherent in the totality of that sentence, without any of the fragments of the sentence necessarily corresponding to fragments of that “meaning,” if a fortiori a poetic verse’s Charm — which is the meaning of a meaning — is inherent in the totality of this verse and the meaning of this verse, then music — the “charm of the Charm” — will emanate like an evasive meaning from the totality of the poem.

[line break added] Words and signs draw together or dislodge one another like bits of parquetry, but meaning itself does not fragment — in this, it bears a resemblance to freedom. Meaning does not fragment, and nonetheless meaning can be analyzed according to groups of phrases, by single phrases or even clauses. As for the meaning of the meaning — the Charm — it is always total; that is, it exists, or does not; it is not a total equal to the sum of its parts but an indivisible and impalpable totality such that displacing one syllable is enough to cause something qualitative to fade away.

… Music lends itself willingly: in songs, it lends itself as translation of the poem; in opera, as a lyric commentary upon dramatic actions; in symphonic poems, in sacred music and program music, it is willing to illustrate a legend, liturgical or historical actions. But should “impure” music be deemed less musical than “pure” music? In effect, such “expressive” music is not musical except to the degree that it is never an unequivocal, unambiguous expression of a meaning.

… finding that it is standing before infinity, possibility, and indeterminacy, the mind loses itself in an inextricable crisscrossing of bifurcated bifurcation, in a labyrinthine network of crossroads that branch into crossroads of crossroads. There are no more simple givens, but rather complications that proliferate into infinity. The infinitely equivocal: this is man’s natural regime. The inexpressive Expressivo is first among its equivocations.

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




October 20, 2018

A Word Does Not Start as a Word

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… And from all sides the same answer — the risk is too great, too many disappointments.

This is from The Empty Space by Peter Brook (1968):

… with Shakespeare we hear or read the same advice — ‘Play what is written.’ But what is written? Certain ciphers on paper. Shakespeare’s words are records of the words that he wanted to be spoken, words issuing as sounds from people’s mouths, with pitch, pause, rhythm and gesture as part of their meaning.

[line break added] A word does not start as a word — it is an end product which begins as an impulse, stimulated by attitude and behavior which dictate the need for expression. This process occurs inside the dramatist; it is repeated inside the actor. Both may only be conscious of the words, but both for the author and then for the actor the word is a small visible portion of a gigantic unseen formation.

[ … ]

… One morning I stood in the Museum of Modern Art looking at the people swarming in for one dollar admission. Almost every one of them had the lively head and the individual look of a good audience — using the simple personal standard of an audience for whom one would like to do plays. In New York, potentially, there is one of the best audiences in the world. Unfortunately, it seldom goes to the theatre.

It seldom goes to the theatre because the prices are too high. Certainly it can afford these prices, but it has been let down too often. It is not for nothing that New York is the place where the critics are the most powerful and the toughest in the world. It is the audience, year after year, that has been forced to elevate simple fallible men into highly priced experts because, as when a collector buys an expensive work, he cannot afford to take the risk alone: the tradition of the expert valuers of works of art, like Duveen, has reached the box office line.

[line break added] So the circle is closed; not only the artists, but also the audience, have to have their protection men — and most of the curious, intelligent, nonconforming individuals stay away. This situation is not unique to New York. I had a closely related experience when we put on John Arden’s Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance in Paris at the Athenée. It was a true flop — almost all the Press was bad — and we were playing to virtually empty houses.

[line break added] Convinced that the play had an audience somewhere in the town, we announced that we would give three free performances. Such was the lure of complimentary tickets that they became like wild premières. Crowds fought to get in, the police had to draw iron grilles across the foyer, the play itself went magnificently, as the actors, cheered by the warmth of the house, gave their best performance, which in turn earned them an ovation.

[line break added] The theatre which the night before had been a draughty morgue now hummed with the chatter and buzz of success. At the end, we put up the house lights and looked at the audience. Mostly young, they were all well dressed, rather formal, in suits and ties. Françoise Spira, directress of the theater, came on the stage.

‘Is there anyone here who could not afford the price of a ticket?’
One man put up his hand.
‘And the rest of you, why did you have to wait to be let in for free?’
‘It had a bad Press.’
‘Do you believe the Press?’
Loud chorus of ‘No!’
‘Then, why … ?’

And from all sides the same answer — the risk is too great, too many disappointments. Here we see the vicious circle is drawn. Steadily the Deadly Theatre digs its own grave.




October 19, 2018

In the Green Dome

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… For to miss the joy is to miss all.

This is from ‘The Lantern-Bearers’ by Robert Louis Stevenson:

… All life that is not merely mechanical is spun out of two strands: seeking for that bird and hearing him. And it is just this that makes life so hard to value, and the delight of each so incommunicable.

… the ground of a man’s joy is often hard to hit. … It may consist with perpetual failure, and find exercise in the continued chase. It has so little bond with externals (such as the observer scribbles in his notebook) that it may even touch them not; and the man’s true life, for which he consents to live, lie altogether in the field of fancy.

… For to look at the man is but to court deception. We shall see the trunk from which he draws his nourishment; but he himself is above and abroad in the green dome of foliage, hummed through by winds and nested in by nightingales. And the true realism were that of the poets, to climb up after him like a squirrel, and catch some glimpse of the heaven for which he lives.

… For to miss the joy is to miss all. In the joy of the actors lies the sense of any action. That is the explanation, that the excuse.




October 18, 2018

You’ve Got to Have a Career

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:07 am

… then the career becomes something else to do with museums, collectors, shows …

Final post from Drawings and Digressions by Larry Rivers (1979):

… I’m interested in history. I’m beginning to have my own history that’s getting so thick that I can begin to almost deal with it alone as a subject. I’m accepting this idea that I’m some kind of historical fact. Peculiar. I am and I’m not. We all are.

But all the time, I’m wondering what I’ll do when I get back to real art — as if I’m going to take up the thread at this point. You ask me if I’ve been putting off that question. I don’t know. I’ve always thought that one has to deal with fresh material. You experiment, you don’t stick with anything that becomes rote. That’s not art.

[line break added] I mean, how could I now come back to this so easily? To the old stuff? I should move on and keep experimenting … but I’m trying to think — maybe I haven’t. Then the other kind of Picasso personality is open to criticism, too — I mean now, for me. Why? Because I think that you don’t get that far away from yourself anyway.

For myself there must be that other route which is where your affections take you, and where you keep working out the little kinks and all that. I think that what has happened is that I’ve decided that there is a certain framework and that I need to operate within it. Obviously I’m enjoying the old images and I’m familiar with them. They become your own world.

… I’m Larry Rivers, the artist; if I stopped tomorrow would I still be Larry Rivers, the artist? But I keep thinking that I want to continue this identity and so I work, and this week it feels sort of foolish.

I’m still in a very bad mood and I don’t know exactly what it is. I seem to be dealing more with my career than with actual work. You’ve got to have a career because you’ve done work, then the career becomes something else to do with museums, collectors, shows, books, and the work becomes just one part of this whole big picture, and suddenly in this particular period, I don’t seem to be doing any work. I guess I shouldn’t worry. I mean, I’ve done a lot of things and if I stop today what I’ve done resembles a respectable output — and I always keep thinking I’m going to do one more great one, you know, like everybody else.

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




October 17, 2018

Mixed Nature

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… Is photography anything at all?

This is from Photography’s Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in Old Processes by Lyle Rexer (2002):

… What was photography? An impersonal inscription of nature? A manipulable medium of individual expression? A product of science and handmaiden of objective observation? Perhaps a wholly new form of art? Did photography interrupt the flux of time or eternalize the present? Did it look backward to things disappearing or forward to a new world?

[line break added] The relationship between human subject and photographic object, machine and nature, could not be unequivocally specified. It shifted like the contours of a “waking dream,” as the poet John Keats described his vision of a nightingale. This play of ambiguities defines photography’s identity and stamps it as quintessentially modern. Its mixed nature accounts for its peculiar evolution, its habit of continually calling itself into question. The questions never seem to be settled, only reinterpreted with each shift of society’s angle of vision.

Is photography anything at all? A minimum answer might be, it is the activity of light rendered on or in various media. A camera and lens are not required; nor are silver salts or developing chemicals or even a photographer. Photography has no specific content, province, or use, and so it has no meaning, as such.

[line break added] Its meaning is whatever the maker, user, or consumer, all operating within the culture, ascribes to it. Persistently, however, and because it was born into an artistically secular, self-conscious world, photography’s status has revolved around the question of whether or not it is an independent art and in what that art might consist.




October 16, 2018

In Pursuit of Redemption

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… One could observe that a plethora of wearers of the same badges becomes its own conformity.

This is from the essay ‘Tattoo and Piercing: Reflections on Mortification’ by Phebe Shih Chao, found in Rhetorics of Display edited by Lawrence J. Prelli (2006):

In such cultures, it might be argued , the skin, the border zone between the bounded self and the social world thought to encompass that self, a membrane that protects but may also conceal, must be a zone of fascination and danger of a particularly charged kind. — Susan Benson

… The convict’s racist epithets and the schoolgirl’s rose, the barbell in the tongue and the ring in the nose, are enactments of a symbolic mortification ritual that purifies those who wear them and leaves a lasting display of their identification with and place within some desired tribe.

… [Kenneth] Burke would contend that human communication is predominately a symbolic drama enacted to alleviate guilt and to achieve redemption. Humans as symbolizing beings are “goaded by a spirit of hierarchy” and “moved by a sense of order.” Hierarchy involves authority, levels of authority, and individuals up and down those levels.

[line break added] Individuals caught in the pull of hierarchic impulses to move up, down, across symbolic “orders” are simultaneously moralized by the negative, by the incompatible and often competing rules, norms, and strictures that define their relationships to the hierarchies that permeate their daily lives. Since, as Burke points out, it is impossible to obey all hierarchical “thou shalt nots,” individuals find themselves caught between competing commitments, desires, and values.

… One suffers guilt, as Burke would have it, and the guilty turn to symbolic acts of identification in pursuit of redemption.

… Following Burke’s model, a person who acquires tattoos identifies with those who wear tattoos; one who pierces, with those who are pierced. The putative tattooer wants to transform himself, not just to acknowledge some inner change, but to make a noticeable statement, to display what I later call a “corporeal emblem of transformation.”

… Body decoration is a site where one can observe what happens when (old dichotomies of) civilized and primitive coincide, when (old dichotomies of) bourgeois and fringe classes seem in collusion, when high art and popular — even low — art come together. In an unexpected way, body decoration has become a visual rhetoric of liberty, equality, and fraternity, at the same time that it is an expression of globalization.

… The tattoo began as a visible sign of the rebel, a badge of difference. One could observe that a plethora of wearers of the same badges becomes its own conformity.

… a Burkean perspective on the symbolic acts of tattooing and piercing inescapably implicates both those who exhibit them and those who behold them within symbolic drama. Those of us who might react negatively to the exhibition are ourselves performing purifying symbolic acts, perhaps in the form of victimage or scapegoating. I am right thinking, clear thinking; she is not. And of course, others might see the display as exemplary of a path to transformation of the self and, perhaps, pursue redemption through similar purifying acts of mortification manifested in the corporeal form of a tattoo or a piercing.

… Even as I acknowledge that we all are caught within the implications of perspective, I also insist that all of us — the tattooed and the pierced and the untattooed and the unpierced — are participants in symbolic dramas. Displays of tattoos or of piercings and responses to those displays are symbolic actions laced with attitudes. If Burke is at all right — and I think that he is — those symbolic actions, however variable, implicate us all in the dramatic cycle of expiating guilt in pursuit of redemption through symbolic acts of mortification, victimage, or both.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




October 15, 2018

Folded Together

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… So I have to come back to colonial discourse in order to speak to you.

This is from ‘Stars Art Exhibition’ by Huang Rui (1979) found in Exhibition edited by Lucy Steeds (2014):

We, twenty-three art explorers, place some fruits of our labor here.

The world leaves unlimited possibilities for explorers.

We have used our own eyes to know the world, and our own brushes and awls to participate in it. Our paintings contain all sorts of expression, and these expressions speak to our own individual ideals.

The years come at us; there are no mysterious indications guiding our action.

This is precisely the challenge that life has raised to us. We cannot remove the element of temporality; the shadow of the past and the glow of the future are folded together, forming the various living conditions of today. Resolving to live on and remembering each lesson learned: this is our responsibility.

From ‘Magicians of the Earth: On “Magiciens de la Terre” ‘ by Rasheed Araeen (1989):

I am sorry to have to speak to you in English. But my apology for speaking in English is not the same apology that Guy Brett has just made. I am not speaking to you in French because I cannot speak French, because I do not come from a French colony. I come from an English colony. While I have learnt English, I actually speak two other languages and very well. My mother langauge is Punjabi and my national language is Urdu.

[line break added] I could have spoken to you in one of those. And perhaps it would have sounded very good to you, you would have enjoyed it. It would have added some rhythm and made it more amusing, but you would not have understood anything. So I have to come back to colonial discourse in order to speak to you. This is a paradox and I think it is the paradox of the whole exhibition that I am talking about here. …

My previous post from this book is here.




October 14, 2018

The Induced Wave

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… this servant of intention will make use of its own master.

This is from Music and the Ineffable by Vladimir Jankélévitch translated by Carolyn Abbate (1983):

… No cause is ever absolutely a cause, in the unilateral and unequivocal sense that Aristotle’s prime mover is purely moving. Or in the sense that the Act is pure agency, or in the sense that the causa sui of the mystics, by virtue of its very aseity, is but the effect of itself. Because down here on the earth there is no gratuitous action; no cause is entirely the cause, and no effect is exclusively an effect: rather, every cause is simultaneously to a certain extent the effect of its own effect, just as every driving force, in this relative world, is up to a certain point a driven force, and every agent up to a certain point is acted upon.

[line break added] The poetic act does not stand in relation to a single unique meaning, in a one-sided and irreversible subordination, but to a mutuality of multiple correlations. In this act, downward-moving causality and its inversion, upward-moving effect, expression and counter-expression, the direct and efferent wave and the induced wave, superimpose themselves upon one another and interfere with one another.

So too the sounding material does not simply tag along after the human mind and is not just something at the disposition of our whims. It is recalcitrant. Sometimes it refuses to take us where we would like to go; better still, this instrument, which is often an obstacle, takes us somewhere else, ushers us into the presence of beauty not foreseen.

[line break added] And just as the ivory of the keys possesses in and of itself qualities that inspire the person improvising at the piano, thus musical language in general suggests in turn a meaning that it was not specifically our intention to communicate. Far from being amenable to the winds of our desire, this servant of intention will make use of its own master. The material is neither a docile instrument not a pure obstacle.

[ … ]

… Only at the moment when one reaches things in themselves, nature’s voice itself, truth itself, only then does inexpressive music become expressive again; on the verge of losing its actual musical character, extreme realism becomes music again. Objective realism is an elaborate acrobatic game played with prose and the present, with that which is insipid and without color or scent.

[line break added] Prose is poeticized by the milligram of delirium that enters into any musical performance; the present is made past-like by the milligram of nostalgia, by the infinitesimal and somehow minimal regret, that makes all perception into a memory-of-the-present, a present imperceptibly gone by, a present almost past. By force of the prosaic, music becomes langauge again. Tolstoy himself has proven that distance is necessary, that it is impossible to be consistent with the true.

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




October 13, 2018

To Blunder

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

This is from ‘The Wonderful Mistake’ by Lewis Thomas:

… The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music.

… Biology needs a better word than “error” for the driving force in evolution. Or maybe “error” will do after all, when you remember that it came from an old root meaning to wander about, looking for something.




October 12, 2018

Being an American Sucker

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… There’s something beautiful about being an American sucker …

This is from the essay ‘For My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business’ by Seymour Krim (born in 1922; died in 1989):

… You may sometimes think everyone lives in the crotch of the pleasure principle these days except you, but you have company, friend. I live under the same pressures you do. It is still your work or role that finally gives you your definition in our society, and the thousands upon thousands of people who I believe are like me are those who have never found the professional skin to fit the riot in their souls.

[ … ]

… That’s what this democracy was for us, a huge supermarket of mass man where you could take a piece here and a piece there to make our personalities for ourselves instead of putting up with what was given at the beginning.

But this lovely idea became for some of us a tragedy, or at least a terrible confusion that wasn’t counted on at the beginning. When do you stop making a personality? When do you stop fantasizing an endless you and try to make it with what you’ve got? The answer is never, really.

… Like most of us in the failure business, I am, we are, patriots so outrageously old-fashioned that we incorporated the spirit of the country in our very heads, took literally its every invitation to the greatest kind of self-fulfillment ever known. There’s something beautiful about being an American sucker, even if you pay for it with tears and worse.

[line break added] We were millionaires of the spirit for at least twenty adult years before we felt the lowering of the boom, and in the last analysis it is the spirit, the attitude within, a quality of soul, that this country has to offer to history much more than its tangible steel and the bright blood too often accompanying it.




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