Unreal Nature

March 21, 2019

On the Further Horizon

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:15 am

… its only possible value must lie “away from itself.”

This is from ‘The Strange Case of the Fluorescent Tube’ by Michael Francis Gibson (1987) found in It Is What It Is: Writings on Dan Flavin Since 1964 edited by Paula Feldman and Karstan Schubert (2004):

… “We’re making a simple proposition that is to the point and has no value away from itself.”

“A sort of A equals A statement, then, in terms of logic?” I ventured. “A rose is a rose is a rose?”

Flavin smiled and intoned in a folksy sing-song: “It is what it is and it ain’t nothin’ else.”

[ … ]

… A German Shepherd puppy I owned many years ago, wagged her tail at her own image in home movies, sniffed up all four-legged sculptures and barked at portraits until she grew up and learned to distinguish between living creatures and their representation. After that she studiedly ignored the movie screen and never looked at a painting again, though sculptures were always sniffed, just to make sure.

[line break added] It was as though she was embarrassed at having been fooled: she never glanced at the animated screen in the darkened room, as she might at any other luminous and moving object, but turned her back to it, lying on the floor and, rejecting every solicitation with a friendly thump of her tail, she could not be induced to lift her eyes towards it even for a moment. She had discovered that images are unreal — they look like dogs and people, but a critical nose can tell the difference — so she chose to ignore them. …

But things are different with us. Because we are human, we are irresistibly drawn to the screen that stands before us. But also, because we are human, we can very well look at it without being afraid of confusing the image with a real being, unless we choose to do so. If the meaning and power of persuasion of all signs and symbols have, as I believe, their foundations within the human mind, we may inquire into where they lead us.

[line break added] It may be that, understood correctly, they don’t speed us downhill and backwards to a wasteland of illusion — that the charm of beauty and the power once designated by the supernatural refer us forward to a natural fulfillment of great scope. If this is so, Flavin’s austerity is not inevitable in terms of the specific logic of culture.

… We may … admit that the work of art, the metaphorical rose whose import Gertrude Stein and Flavin both denied … can, if rightly handled, stand not for its uninteresting self but for all that lies “beyond” — beyond the banal and frequently grim ironies of the present — and which radiate the barely definable promise of a meaning that always appears to grow on the further horizon of our world. Indeed, its only possible value must lie “away from itself.”

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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