Unreal Nature

December 31, 2018

The Minority in the City

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… Our urban shelter is the host for the entire animal network of chaotic complexity, us included.

This is from ‘The Human Ratio’ by Alexey Buldakov in issue #46 (2015) of the independent quarterly magazine, Volume:

… Microbial cells outnumber human cells in our bodies ten to one. … The historical progression of the figure’s citation is not clear, but due to multiple repetitions, ten to one became a common expression in biology. The exact number is not so important though: what is is the amazing conclusion that the human body is like a city designed and run by numerous generations of both native and nonnative microbiota. The self is a shelter, an office and a playground for multiple other forms of life who out-number us, ten to one.

If we accept this asymmetrical ratio and shift its realm of application from human intestinal microecology to the scale of contemporary human settlement, we get an image of syn-anthropic urbanism. Birds, mammals, insects and a great deal of other species survive and evolve within urban environments: in public spaces and residential areas, in our apartments and underground.

[line break added] Cities are designed by humans for humans, generally as a shelter and specifically to reproduce human DNA. Yet our species is the minority in the city, just like cells containing DNA are in minority in our bodies. Our urban shelter is the host for the entire animal network of chaotic complexity, us included.




December 30, 2018

More Different

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… threefold repetition … is different from twofold, but six times is different yet again, and thirty times still more different.

This is from On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis (2014):

… Repetition tends to reify a passage — to set it apart from the surrounding context as a “thing” to be mused on, abstractly considered, and conceptualized as a unit.

Rahn finds a paradox in this “thingifying” whereby each new repetition embodies both the abstraction of this “thing” as well as the totality of its new context.

Rahn sees constant enrichment, constant recontextualizing, as the core of our appetite for repetition in music. But this account leaves unexplained why this pleasure is concentrated in the art of music and does not extend to the same degree to, say, literature. This is where, I would suggest, the limits of the capacity to abstract about music play a role. When a “thing” is communicated in speech it is normally separable from the precise words used to describe it. … [T]his fact can be apprehended in a moment … .

… With [musical] repetition, the measures come to sound more subtle to me, not less, as their grouping and ambiguity unfolds. Multiple repetitions of apparently simple things tend to increasingly involve the listener with any shading, complexity or rehearing the passage can sustain.

… Part of the issue is clearly the way that functions and responses change as repetitions continue — threefold repetition … is different from twofold, but six times is different yet again, and thirty times still more different.

My previous post from Margulis’s book is here.




December 29, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… some embryonic contacts are being made between previously sealed-off souls.

Final post from The Empty Space by Peter Brook (1968):

… The Royal Shakespeare Theater sends groups out to factories and youth clubs — following Continental patterns — to sell the notion of theater to those sections of society who have perhaps never set foot in a theater and are perhaps convinced that theater is not for them. These commandos aim at evoking interest, breaking down barriers, making friends.

[line break added] This is splendid, stimulating work. But behind it lurks an issue perhaps too dangerous to touch — what truly are they selling? We are implying to a working man that theater is part of Culture — that is to say, part of the big new hamper of goods now available to everyone. Behind all attempts to reach new audiences there is a secret patronage — ‘you too can come to the party’ — and like all patronage, it conceals a lie. The lie is the implication that the gift is worth receiving. Do we truly believe in its worth?

[line break added] When people whose age or class has kept them away from theaters are lured into them, is it enough to give them ‘the best’? The Soviet Theater attempts to give ‘the best.’ National Theaters offer ‘the best.’ … In a sense all forms of audience wooing flirt dangerously with this same proposition — come and share in the life which is good, because it has to be good, because it contains the best.

This can never really change so long as culture or any art is simply an appendage on living, separable from it and, once separated, obviously unnecessary. Such art then is only fought for by the artist to whom, temperamentally, it is necessary, for it is his life. In the theater we always return to the same point: it is not enough for writers and actors to experience this compulsive necessity, audiences must share it too. So in this sense it is not just a question of wooing an audience. It is an even harder matter of creating works that evoke in audiences an undeniable hunger and thirst.

[ … ]

… Two hours after any session begins all the relations between the people present are slightly modified because of the experience in which they have been plunged together. As a result, something is more animated, something flows more freely, some embryonic contacts are being made between previously sealed-off souls. When they leave the room, they are not quite the same as when they entered.

[line break added] If what has happened has been shatteringly uncomfortable, they are invigorated to the same degree as if there have been great outbursts of laughter. Neither pessimism nor optimism apply: simply, some participants are temporarily, slightly, more alive. If, as they go out of the door, this all evaporates, it does not matter either. Having had this taste, they will wish to come back for more. The drama session will seem an oasis in their lives.

This is how I understand a necessary theater; one in which there is only a practical difference between actor and audience, not a fundamental one.

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




December 28, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… some nameless anxiety colored the emotional charges between me and the place I came from.

This is from ‘On Going Home’ (1967) found in We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction by Joan Didion (2006):

… My husband likes my family but is uneasy in their house, because once there I fall into their ways, which are difficult, oblique, deliberately inarticulate, not my husband’s ways.

[line break added] We live in dusty houses (“D-U-S-T,” he once wrote with his finger on surfaces all over the house, but no one noticed it) filled with mementos quite without value to him (what could the Canton dessert plates mean to him? how could he have known about the assay scale, why should he care if he did know?), and we appear to talk exclusively about people we know who have been committed to mental hospitals, about people we know who have been booked on drunk-driving charges …

… My brother refers to my husband, in his presence, as “Joan’s husband.” Marriage is the classic betrayal.

Or perhaps it is not any more. Sometimes I think that those of us who are now in our thirties were born into the last generation to carry the burden of “home,” to find in family life the source of all tension and drama. I had by all objective accounts a “normal” and a “happy” family situation, and yet I was almost thirty years old before I could talk to my family on the telephone without crying after I had hung up.

[line break added] We did not fight. Nothing was wrong. And yet some nameless anxiety colored the emotional charges between me and the place I came from. The question of whether or not you could go home again was a very real part of the sentimental and largely literary baggage with which we left home in the fifties.

My previous post from Didion’s book is here.




December 27, 2018

Only Decision

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… our phones tell us where to go …

Continuing through Conversations about Sculpture which is transcripts of dialog between Richard Serra and Hal Foster (2018):

[ … ]

Richard Serra: … I stretched [the limit] further by focusing on more complex circulations in which the path is driving the void, giving you more options. When you exit Open Ended, for instance, you don’t know where you are in the room. About halfway through the piece there’s a turn, a reversal that disrupts your sense of direction. You have to recalibrate in relation to where you were inside the piece. Yet Open Ended isn’t a maze; in plan, it’s quite simple. But it’s impossible to reconstruct the configuration after you’ve walked it.

Open Ended

Hal Foster: Why aim for such extreme disorientation?

RS: Being lost throws you back on yourself in terms of anticipation, if not anxiety. That doesn’t reflect on how anxiety impinges on your life exactly, but it does force you to deal with decision-making. Decision-making in architecture and urban spaces is almost always prescribed by a given direction. Decision-making in my sculpture brings you to that moment in a pure state — to the here and now where you have to make a choice.

[ … ]

HF: With the development of GPS technology, it’s difficult to get lost. We don’t have to navigate much in our lives anymore; our phones tell us where to go, and others can track us too. Arguably this has resulted in a de-skilling in planning, mapping, wayfinding — in basic techniques of negotiating space and time.

RS: You’re directed to your location, but the GPS doesn’t engage you with outside realities.

Inside Out

[ … ]

HF: I like the notion that the recent work invites us to consider, in a different register, the disorientations we experience in everyday life — not to cope with them exactly, but to see them differently somehow, to play with them even. You don’t disorient for the sake of disorientation.

[ … ]

RS: … In architecture you’re directed through connections in a way that’s predicated on utility. That’s the exact opposite of the interval in my work; there’s no function, only decision. The interval breaks your cadence.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




December 26, 2018

Creeping into My Mind

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… We’re all going to grow old and die inside this thing called modernity …

This is from ‘The Best of Life’ by Douglas Coupland found in Photography at MoMA: 1920-1960 (2016):

In 1974 Time Inc. published an oversize hardcover book titled The Best of “Life.” It contained almost seven hundred images culled from the archives of Life going back to the magazine’s beginning in 1936. It was the Christmas gift of the year for 1973, and by 1975 there can’t have been a single middle-class house in North America without a copy on the living room table. In color and black-and-white photographs the book flatteringly converted its readers into spectators of the mid-twentieth century’s grand American parade.

… As we look at these photographs in the twenty-first century we have new tools that afford us perspectives previously unavailable. For starters, the fifty-three images [used in the current book] arrived at my house not as physical prints but via optical fiber, copper wire, and satellite — in the form of a PDF file in my email inbox.

[line break added] By opening this file and scrolling down I was able to blast through them all in three seconds, backward and forward, up and down, twenty per second. The strobing effect of the images was hypnotic and it’s probably the technological descendant of flipping through the pages of a book; should time travel ever be possible it will surely feel like this high-speed PDF experience.

After a minute of doing this two specific notions began creeping into my mind. The first was that everybody in these photographs save perhaps some of the young people in those from the late 1950s, is old or dead — yet the images are so crisp and clean. So strange: it’s modernity versus the aging process; Kodak versus death. We’re all going to grow old and die inside this thing called modernity, yet modernity will cruise on past us and stay shiny and clean …

[ … ]

… Photography at mid-century was deliberate and focused — documentation of war and later the civil rights movement — but it is now akin to putting coins in a slot machine. Individuality and its attendant imagery have never been so widely shared, yet uniqueness has never felt so elusive.

My previous post from this book is here.




December 25, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… its means of communication have become transformed in the course of a long and self-contained development into a kind of secret code …

Final post from The Social History of Art, volume IV by Arnold Hauser (1962; 1951):

… Film signifies the first attempt since the beginning of our modern, individualistic civilization to produce art for a mass public.

… Naturally the appreciation of a more complicated art presents them with greater difficulties than the more simple and less developed, but the lack of adequate understanding does not necessarily prevent them from accepting this art — albeit not exactly on account of its aesthetic quality. Success with them is completely divorced from qualitative criteria.

[line break added] They do not react to what is artistically good or bad but to impressions by which they feel themselves reassured or alarmed in their own sphere of existence. They take an interest in the artistically valuable provided it is presented so as to suit their mentality, that is, provided the subject-matter is attractive. The chances of success of a good film are from this point of view better from the very outset than those of a good painting or poem.

[line break added] For, apart from film, progressive art is almost a closed book today for the uninitiated; it is intrinsically unpopular because its means of communication have become transformed in the course of a long and self-contained development into a kind of secret code whereas to learn the newly developing idiom of film was child’s play for even the most primitive cinema public.

… There is today hardly any practicable way of leading to a primitive and yet valuable art. Genuine progressive, creative art can only mean a complicated art today. It will never be possible for everyone to enjoy and appreciate it in equal measure …

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




December 24, 2018

What’s Keeping You Warm

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… when you put absolute nature clearly on the reality map it just freaks people out …

This is from the interview ‘Practices of Decentralization’ with Vinay Gupta found in issue #46 (2015) of the independent quarterly magazine, Volume:

… The checklist starts with the individual, then it goes to group, then organization, then state, working up towards larger social complexity. The prerequisites for an individual to exist are that they can’t be too hot, too cold, too hungry, too thirsty, they can’t be ill, and they can’t be injured. That six-pattern template is called ‘Six Ways to Die,’ which also shows up in a diagram that’s often called the dartboard of death, because it looks a bit like a dart board.

[line break added] The six segments around the dartboard are different threats, and then the rings that go out from the center are the tiers of political organization that protect you from that threat. So, if we’re dealing with too cold, your clothes are what prevent you being too cold, and your clothes are hopefully exclusively under your administrative control. Then there’s the house that you’re in, and the house is frequently shared with people — your family, your friends — so you have a group dynamic that generally controls the house.

[line break added] Outside of the house you have a set of cables, as discussed, that connect you to the power grid that provides you the heating for the house, and all that stuff is running at an organization level — there’s a big company that does that — and then you’ve got international markets which control the supply of fuels backwards and forwards between countries, and those fuels are bought by the organization to produce the warmth that keeps you alive, and this is where the state comes in — in some countries you would actually have state operators who provide you your national electricity. All of those systems tie together so that you can track what’s keeping you warm right now, right the way up to the state level.

… there was still a problem that when you put absolute nature clearly on the reality map it just freaks people out, even though it’s a simple physical truth. When you look beyond the state to something above the state and beyond the state, nature itself and all the rest of that stuff, people act as if you’re gnostic.




December 23, 2018

Inhabiting the Music

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… a snippet of familiar music triggers a cascade of “that song” that takes over and won’t let you go.

This is from On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis (2014):

Music can never have enough of saying over again what has already been said, not once or twice, but dozens of times …
— Zuckerkandl, 1954

Music’s repetitiveness is at once entirely ordinary and entirely mysterious. The radio is full of songs whose choruses repeat again and again, and these repetitive songs often get downloaded and replayed over and over while a listener drives or runs or makes dinner. Musical repetitiveness is so common as to seem almost invisible.

[line break added] But when something draws your attention to it, this repetitiveness comes to seem quite strange. Try replacing the word “music” in the quotation at the start of this chapter with the word “Freddy.” Freddy can never have enough of saying over again what he’s already said dozens of times. Once he’s finished telling one repetitive story, Freddy goes back to the start and tells the whole thing again.

Would you want to spend time with Freddy?

[ … ]

… Rereading (or rehearing, to take a closer example) familiar poetry is, I would argue, a less consuming experience than rehearing familiar music. Even if you love Robert Frost, you don’t hear “Two roads diverged” and think “yes!” the way you might when you hear the opening notes of a favorite song. You could duck out of the poem fairly easily, whereas a snippet of familiar music triggers a cascade of “that song” that takes over and won’t let you go. Interestingly, it’s much harder to memorize a poem than a song.

[line break added] At first glance, this would seem to make repetition more desirable for poems than for music, where we are able to know “how it goes” much quicker. That the reverse is true suggests that the pleasure we derive from musical repetitions might stem less from increasing knowledge about the piece than from a growing sense of inhabiting the music: a transportive, even transcendent kind of experience.




December 22, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… it is no help to pull out the weeds just once, for all time. The weeds always grow …

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

…. [A] variant is to take the two lines ‘To be or not to be, That is the question’ and give them to ten actors, one word each. The actors stand in a closed circle and endeavor to play the words one after the other, trying to produce a living phrase. This is so difficult that it instantly reveals even to the most unconvinced actor how closed and insensitive he is to his neighbor.

[line break added] When after long work the sentence suddenly flows, a thrilling freedom is experienced by everyone. They see in a flash the possibility of group playing, and the obstacles to it. This exercise can be developed by substituting other verbs for ‘be,’ with the same effect of affirmation and denial — and eventually it is possible to put sounds or gestures in place of one or all of the words and still maintain a living dramatic flow between the ten participants.

The purpose of such exercises is to lead actors to the point where if one actor does something unexpected but true the others can take this up and respond on the same level. This is ensemble playing: in acting terms it means ensemble creation, an awesome thought. It is no use thinking that exercises belong to school and only apply to a certain period of the actor’s development. An actor like any artist is like a garden and it is no help to pull out the weeds just once, for all time. The weeds always grow, this is quite natural and they must be cleaned away, which is natural and necessary too.

[ … ]

… Now the moment of performance, when it comes, is reached through two passageways — the foyer and the stage door. Are these, in symbolic terms, links or are they to be seen as symbols of separation? If the stage is related to life, if the auditorium is related to life, then the openings must be free, and open passageways must allow an easy transition from outside life to meeting place.

[line break added] But if the theater is essentially artificial then the stage door reminds the actor that he is now entering a special place that demands costume, make up, disguise, change of identity — and the audience also dresses up so as to come out of the everyday world along a red carpet into a place of privilege. Both of these are true and both must be carefully compared because they carry quite different possibilities with them and relate to quite different social circumstances. The only thing that all forms of theater have in common is the need for an audience.

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




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