Unreal Nature

June 24, 2017

Describing the Resistance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… As all this is going on, what was to be expressed is expressed …

This is from the chapter on ‘Writing’ in Gestures by Vilém Flusser (2014):

…Writing is more than a habitual gesture. It is nearly an inborn capacity. There are centers in our brains that monitor writing, just as there are centers that monitor breathing. Only the one for writing is not contained in our genetic program, as nest building is contained in the genetic program of birds. With writing, then, we are concerned with a gesture.

[line break added] The proof: there are illiterate people who are not monsters, as is the case with birds unable to build nests. In fact, they constitute the majority of humanity. It is difficult to grasp the difference between genetic and cultural programming, for the way human beings inhabit culture is similar to the way animals inhabit nature. Still, it must be done: gestures must be distinguished from movements conditioned by nature, for the issue is freedom.

… There is a widespread erroneous belief that the machine “constrains” the freedom of the gesture; [but] one is freer typing than writing with a fountain pen, not only because one writes more quickly and with less effort but because the machine more readily permits an overstepping of the gesture’s rules, in fact, exactly because it makes the rules obvious. Concrete poetry, the effort to make writing two-dimensional, is possible only with the machine. Freedom is not only disregarding the rules (which can be done with the pen as well) but about changing them (which is possible with the machine).

[ … ]

… It would be better to ask about the layers that must be penetrated to be able to press the keys of the machine. Such a question offers a criterion for dividing literary criticism into two kinds, a stupid kind that would ask, “What does he want to say?” and a clever kind that would ask “In the face of what obstacles has he said what he said?” These obstacles are many, and among them are some that precede writing. They have to do with rhythmic and formal rules that weigh against the virtuality to be expressed and assert their own forms.

[line break added] But only after having penetrated these layers, only when the virtuality has met the resistance of the words, does one decide to write. Until then, the virtuality to be expressed might press out in another gesture, such as that of musical composition or painting. When we are talking about writing, we must start by describing the resistance of words.

There are words in my memory. Not only are they instruments for absorbing the virtuality to be expressed, giving it a typeable form, so to speak. Words are also unities that vibrate and have a life of their own. They have their rhythms, harmonies, melodies. In their roots, they conceal the timeless wisdom of all history, to which I am heir. They project a whole framework of connotations. And so, from the words in my memory, I can’t just freely choose the ones that “fit” the virtuality to be expressed. First I must listen to them.

… The power of words is so great that each word evokes a whole chain of other words without my knowing it. A whole mob of words can rise up against me and against the keys of the machine.

… The beauty of the act of writing consists in realizing the words. Being a writer does not necessarily mean being a speaker. A bard is not a poet. Words resist writing and speech in different ways.

My work begins only after my decision to articulate whispered words in the form of letters in the typewriter. I must first order the words so that the blurred initial thought finds expression. Various orders present themselves. A logical order — and I persuade myself that what I want to express is defending itself against being ordered logically. What is to be expressed must be adjusted.

[line break added] Then on to the grammatical order: and I persuade myself that the two orders do not agree. I begin to play with both orders and to proceed in such a way that what is to be expressed just barely slips between the contradictions of logic and grammar. Then comes orthographic order — and I discover the wonder of alphabetic code: the function of commas, question marks, the possibility of making paragraphs, of skipping lines, and the inviting possibility of so-called orthographic errors.

[line break added] (Question: Is a deliberate infraction of rules an error?) Yes, I make all these discoveries with my fingers on the keys of the machine and with the automated movement of the page in the machine. As all this is going on, what was to be expressed is expressed: it is realized. And so, in the course of writing, I am surprised to discover what it was I wanted to write.

It is not right to say that writing fixes thinking. Writing is a way of thinking. There is no thinking that has not been articulated through a gesture. Thinking before articulation is only a virtuality, which is to say, nothing. It is realized through the gesture.

My previous post from Flusser’s book is here.




June 23, 2017

Sometimes I Do Get Carried Away

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… I see the light eventually, but sometimes too late to spare myself the burden of self-rejection …

The following are letters — or portions of letters — found in Between the Lines: A History of Poetry in Letters, 1962-2002 compiled and edited by Joseph Parisi and Stephen Young (2006). John Frederick Nims and then Joseph Parisi was the editor at the time these particular letters were exchanged:

John F. Nims to Brian Swann …………………………………………………. Chicago, 17 March 1978

Dear Mr. Swann,

I guess we’re having trouble keeping up with all of your MSS — especially when you send revised versions of some poems.

Can’t we slow up a little? It seems to me — if I may diffidently say so — that you are writing too much. The result — again an “it seems to me” — is a kind of thinness in what you write. It seems to come too easily. I don’t suppose we want all poets to be like Philip Larkin, who writes, or at least publishes, about one poem a year. One excellent poem! Maybe we could be more like Auden — who averaged seven, wasn’t it?

Anyway, I think editors would take your poems more seriously if you would send them out more selectively: maybe four or five poems you really like two or three times a year? To one magazine, I mean — say Poetry?

Excuse me if I presume
All best wishes,

Sincerely yours, / John F. Nims


John F. Nims to Mona Van Duyn …………………………………………………. Chicago, 12 December 1978

Dear Mona,

I am pleased to see your name on the envelope you sent the ballad in, because I’ve been hoping that we’d have some poetry of yours before too long. I was even about to write and plead.

“Ah,” I thought, “here will be one of the Great Poems of our time — one laying bare the mysteries of Life and Death that have long perplexed us weary mortals..”

But that’s not exactly what I found. This was not the kind of seminal poem I expected. At first I was disappointed. “This is not,” I felt, “major Mona. This is more a mere bagatelle, albeit not sans charm.” (That’s how I talk to myself.)

But then I got to like it. Why not? Why not just tickle the Muse instead of allus [sic] bowing and scraping to her? I think this would be fun to run next summer, say next July or August, when nobody wants to read another “The Waste Land” anyway. Poems to be read in hammock by lake.

[ … ]


Gary Soto to John F. Nims …………………………………………………. Berkeley, Calif., 5 January 1981

Dear John Frederick Nims,

Thanks for your observation about my similes. Sometimes I do [get] carried away, as you pointed out in the two poems you accepted for publication, but for some strange reason I can’t stop it. My hand keeps thinking in unlikely comparisons.

[ … ]


Jonathan Holden to Joseph Parisi …………………………………………………. Manhattan, Kans., 14 December 1984

Dear Joseph Parisi,

Thanks for taking the four poems and for the note. You mention my “patience” as if to apologize for having taken too long to report, but actually this was by far the fastest response I’ve ever gotten from Poetry. … I must say that from the editorial chores I’ve occasionally undertaken — judging contests, especially — I don’t know how you do it, it takes such stamina, not to mention an endless reserve of … would “spiritual generosity” be the word? Much harder than being a psychoanalyst and for rather worse wages. (It was Peter Lorre — the actor — who studied psychoanalysis for a while in Vienna. He quit that study in disgust, saying that psychoanalysis is like trying to “treat a disease” by focusing attention exclusively on “the asshole.” The connection between this parable and editing thousands of unsolicited poems I’ll let you complete.) …

[ … ]


Carl Dennis to Joseph Parisi …………………………………………………. Buffalo, N.Y., 15 January 1985

Dear Joseph Parisi,

I’m glad you liked “The Greenhouse Effect,” one of my favorites, but in a massive housecleaning and revision spree the two other poems you took have been dismantled and put away in my drawer of near misses. I think the end of “Clean Thinking” is strong but the tone is blurred so that the reader is not sure how exactly we are to take it, and the connection to Aunt Esther is by turns too tenuous and too emphatic. The poem seems to creak along and to be finally unconvincing. …

One of my New Year’s Resolutions, you’ll be happy to know, is to hold my poems a few months longer before I send them out. I see the light eventually, but sometimes too late to spare myself the burden of self-rejection when a hard-pressed editor has already given his time to them. I’m sorry for the inconvenience I may have caused you here. If you’d like to publish more than one of my poems, I’d be happy to send you some poems I have at hand which have escaped with their lives from the jaws of revision.

Sincerely, Carl Dennis

A note below Carl Dennis’s letter reads “J.P. wrote to ‘unaccept’ the poems on 22 January.”

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




June 22, 2017

Swept Under the Rug

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… by now the urgency once ascribed to photography in the discussion of the politics of art has waned, swept under the rug with other unfinished business.

This is from the essay ‘Toward a Minor Photography: Annette Kelm’s Discrete Cosmologies’ (2010) found in Walead Beshty: 33Texts: 93,614 Words: 581,035 Characters: Selected Writings (2003-20015) edited by Lionel Bovier (2015):

Each act of depiction is the taming of an unruly past, a condensation of conventions, histories, and processes into a singular surface that is subsequently apprehended in a flash. And herein lies the double bind of the depictive in art: depiction is the most conservative of gestures — naturalized, instrumental, idiomatic — and simultaneously the most contentious artistic act.

[line break added] Its sheer ubiquity and legibility place it squarely at the intersection of art and daily life, the very terrain that represented art’s greatest revolutionary potential. Since the turn of the 20th century, no medium has embodied the conflict over the depictive like photography: as the most widely disseminated popular medium and the most conventionalized representational form, it has been the subject of both ritualized scrutiny and nostalgic re-entrenchment.

Yet it would be a mistake to claim that photography has been restrained by convention; rather it has no identity outside of convention, and no history that is not equally a history of convention. The identity of photography is situated in the inverse relationship between materiality and convention: as its material solidity has receded, dispersed technologically (a process initiated soon after its invention), convention has come to define photography fully. This condition is not unique among objects of theoretical discourse; it is a state shared by all media identified and isolated as a tradition.

[line break added] Yet the photographic has undergone an even more extreme alchemical transformation that encompasses both art and the public sphere: not simply becoming a discursive collection of conventions — for this is what it always was — but its conventions becoming subsumed within those of depiction, becoming inextricable from and unidentifiable outside the language of the depictive.

… by now the urgency once ascribed to photography in the discussion of the politics of art has waned, swept under the rug with other unfinished business. In the wake of this stalemate, the production of photographs in art appears to have suffered from a curious bout of self-inflicted amnesia: rather than being instrumental, it parodies the instrumental, abandoning any aspiration to a revolutionary project for the pictorialism of a premodern Beaux-Arts, retroactively inserting itself into the tradition of the autonomous art object or the taxonomies of the archival document and its thoroughly disassembled instrumentality. Its contingent conventions and its elasticity of distribution and reception have become concretized, inert, and stagnant, accepting the mute museum wall as its foregone conclusion.

… Thus we have a photographic discourse, theoretical or otherwise, that has become a moody precipitate of is headier days — a hermetic, over-crowded, over-theorized, and stifling field comprised of tired idioms; a discourse-driven example of what Theodor Adorno termed “late style,” which he likened to an aged piece of fruit whose surface is “furrowed, even ravaged,” showing “more traces of history than of growth.”

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




June 21, 2017

The Gazer Must Be Willing to See What Is There to Be Seen

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… That state is intolerable. The investment of tenderness must begin again.

This is from The Photograph: A Strange Confined Space by Mary Price (1994):

… In photography, proficiency of execution may also be interpreted as mask or disguise, concealment of the warts and disfigurements, or, alternatively, concealment of natural goodness; we who prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet may be convinced that only surprise will catch a glimpse of truth, or only the amateurism of youthful innocence, or only lack of pose. Barthes calls the photographer who took the Winter Garden picture of his mother “the mediator of a truth,” the truth being his recognition of her unique being in the photograph.

[line break added] But Barthes rightly does not reproduce this most important photograph in his book. “I cannot reproduce the Winter Garden Photograph,” he says. “It exists only for me. For you, it would be nothing but an indifferent picture, one of the thousand manifestations of the ‘ordinary’; it cannot in any way constitute the visible object of a science; it cannot establish an objectivity, in the positive sense of the term; at most it would interest your studium: period, clothes, photogeny; but in it, for you, no wound.”

[line break added] This is certainly true. But what Barthes and other writers have done is to bring within the range of possibility an acknowledgement on the part of the rest of us that what they have discovered and named must exist for us too. They cannot name our precise wounds; they can only name their own; but we may now with tentative assurance begin to understand what their use of their photographs was. They have invested photographs with meaning; their language directs us to the idea of unseen truth in the photograph.

[ … ]

… The photograph is the film or skin of appearance. At the very least it calls attention to the fact of being a mask (transcribed from reality) by removal. In addition, the removal of the mask not only certifies its existential “maskness” but because it looks exactly as real objects look, or as we have learned to see them, the mask is taken as true depiction of those objects. Once again, the reason we take it as true depiction is that the photograph bears a strict and necessary relationship to its source in the visible world.

[ … ]

… It is indeed a photographer’s eye (mind, intention) that chooses what and when to photograph, sees a pattern in chaos, and bends the indifferent reality into meaning. Harold Rosenberg comments: “In our century, it has become customary to believe that if appearances are deceitful, reality is no less so. The need for masks is no longer felt — faces are enigmatic enough.”

… the words permitted to describe both character and face do not describe a photographed face. Such words as kind, cruel, brave, cheerful, mean, humble — words describing ways of acting — are not clearly coded to visual counterparts. Recognition of this fact, though unacknowledged, may lie behind the persistent use of the mask as metaphor for the face (whether as prepared expression covering “wound,” or naked expression indicating the usual mask has been dropped, or condition of face corresponding so exactly to the deceit of the mask that the face is the mask).

… The aura itself may be regarded as a mask. For an object to return one’s gaze, the gaze must be directed toward the object, and the gazer must be willing to see what is there to be seen, rather than investing the object with significance beyond its ability to sustain additional weight. As the account of Proust’s use of photograph as metaphor will show, Marcel’s sight of his grandmother without the aura of “intelligent and pious tenderness,” as if he were seeing a photograph, was bare, harsh, and strange.

[line break added] The surface was unmodified by filial regard. Marcel hastened to clothe her again. There is no aspect here that can be called reality. It would be wrong to suggest that the vulgar old woman he sees was the reality to the exclusion of the grandmother. Both are constituent, as are other aspects here irrelevant to a fictional character (atomic composition, medical history, the mind and memory of the grandmother herself before Marcel existed, for example), in the complex existence of one person.

[line break added] We assume, because all of us fictionalize our lives and the lives of others who have a part in our story, that to surround a grandmother with an aura of intelligent and pious tenderness is good, better than to see her plain. Marcel, in the image of his grandmother seen as if photographed, is reducing a beloved figure to purely physical appearance. That state is intolerable. The investment of tenderness must begin again.

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




June 20, 2017

Divine Fury

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… it locates us once more on a near-hysterical brink of sublime chaos.

This is from ‘The Abstract Sublime’ found in On Modern American Art: Selected Essays by Robert Rosenblum (1999):

“It’s like a religious experience!” With such words, a pilgrim I met in Buffalo last winter attempted to describe his unfamiliar sensations before the awesome phenomenon created by seventy-two Clyfford Stills at the Albright Art Gallery.

[ … ]

… If the Sublime can be attained by saturating such limitless expanses with luminous, hushed stillness, it can also be reached inversely by filling this void with a teeming, unleashed power. Turner’s art, for one, presents both of these sublime extremes. In his Snowstorm, first exhibited in 1942, the infinities are dynamic rather than static, and the most extravagant of nature’s phenomena are sought out as metaphors for this experience of cosmic energy.

[line break added] Steam, wind, water, snow, and fire spin wildly around the pitiful work of man — the ghost of a boat — in vortical rhythms that suck one into a sublime whirlpool before reason can intervene. And if the immeasurable spaces and incalculable energies of such a Turner evoke the elemental power of creation, other work of the period grapples even more literally with these primordial forces. Turner’s contemporary John Martin (1789-1854) dedicated his erratic life to the pursuit of an art which, in the words of the Edinburgh Review (1829), “awakes a sense of awe and sublimity, beneath which the mind seems overpowered.”

[line break added] Of the cataclysmic themes that alone satisfied him, The Creation, an engraving of 1831, is characteristically sublime. With Turner, it aims at nothing short of God’s full power, upheaving rock, sky, cloud, sun, moon, stars, and sea in the primal act. With its torrential description of molten paths of energy it locates us once more on a near-hysterical brink of sublime chaos.

That brink is again reached when we stand before a perpetuum mobile of Jackson Pollock, whose gyrating labyrinths recreate in the metaphorical language of abstraction the superhuman turbulence depicted more literally in Turner and Martin. In Number 1A, 1948 we are as immediately plunged into divine fury as we are drenched in Turner’s sea; in neither case can our minds provide systems of navigation.

[line break added] Again, sheer magnitude can help produce the Sublime. Here, the very size of the Pollock — 68 x 104 inches — permits no pause before engulfing; we are almost physically lost in this boundless web of inexhaustible energy. To be sure, Pollock’s generally abstract vocabulary allows multiple readings of its mood and imagery, although occasional titles (Full Fathom Five, Ocean Greyness, The Deep, Greyed Rainbow) may indicate a more explicit region of nature.

[line break added] But whether achieved by the most blinding of blizzards or the most gentle of winds and rains, Pollock’s work invariably evokes the sublime mysteries of nature’s untamable forces. Like the awesome vistas of telescope and microscope, his pictures leave us dazzled before the imponderables of galaxy and atom.

The fourth maker of the Abstract Sublime, Barnett Newman, explores a realm of sublimity so perilous that it defies comparison with even the most adventurous Romantic explorations into sublime nature.

[ … ]

… this denial of the Cubist tradition is not only determined by formal needs, but also by emotional ones that in the anxieties of the atomic age suddenly seem to correspond with a Romantic tradition of the irrational and the awesome as well as with a Romantic vocabulary of boundless energies and limitless spaces.

… In its heroic search for a private myth to embody the sublime power of the supernatural, the art of Still, Rothko, Pollock, and Newman should remind us once more that the disturbing heritage of the Romantics has not yet been exhausted.

My previous post from Rosenblum’s book is here.




June 19, 2017

This Work to Be Done Required This Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… it moves toward the conditions behind cause, and beyond effect …

Continuing through Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to the Readymade by Thierry de Duve (1991):

… Let us take up the question again: this something that the artwork contributes to knowledge, where does it come from, and where does it display its efficiency?

… It was only at the end of his life and after he had been doubting for so long (“Will I ever reach an end that I have so long looked for and so long pursued?”) that Cézanne sent to Emile Mâle a famous phrase: “I owe you the truth in painting and I will tell it to you.” It is the subject of certitude that pronounces this phrase, and it speaks of truth.

[line break added] Certitude and truth connect to each other in that region where the self-referentiality of pictorial practice, which is also a practice of one’s life, becomes a revulsion-revelation: “Although it is certain that a man’s life does not explain his work, it is equally certain that the two are connected. The truth is that this work to be done required this life.”

Once again, where does it come from, this something that the work or art contributes to knowledge, this radically new “that’s what it was!”? From itself. It is sui generis. This does not at all mean that it has no cause — in the life of the artist, for example — but that it has no other “origin” than the pivot around which subjective causality is revulsed and by means of which artistic self-referentiality reveals itself to be self-analysis. “Well,” Lacan says, “it is at this point that I am trying to make you see by approximation that the Freudian unconscious is situated at this point where, between cause and that which it affects, there is always something wrong.”

… Let us begin by rejoicing in the fact that the thesis of the “something wrong” lets the aesthetician get rid of all those aesthetic theories in which interpreting means attaching an effect to its cause or to its causes.

… Let us now ask this: if the work of art establishes its own certitude and its own truth-function “at that point where, between cause and that which it affects, there is always something wrong,” what allows it to constitute a knowledge beyond the seemingly impossible geometry of this solipsistic point? What allows its self-referentiality to be fruitful and not fall back onto the most limiting of tautologies?

[line break added] Or, to refer to the Lacanian theory of the Symbolic, what allows a signifier with no other signification than its own quality of being a signifier, or a nomination that names no more than its naming function, to grip us for more than a moment without boring us? The answer is not that this punctual upsurging of revelation fascinates us in itself. Neither the byzantine taste of a certain conceptual art for tautology and self-referentiality nor the equally byzantine tendency of certain epigones of Lacan to want to make the signifier into a substance of sorts will convince me that knowledge can emerge from such a hypnotic fascination.

[line break added] The answer must be of a completely different kind; it will be a quite simple one if we make use of all the theoretical consequences of our preceding discussion. The artwork’s self-referential pointing is not self-contained; it leads us, without our even realizing it, into a process of interpretation that we may well misconstrue if we theorize it as a causal link, since, in fact, it has nothing to do with cause or effect.

The type of knowledge that the work of art encourages — and this is true both of the simple amateur who is not looking for a thematizable knowledge and a fortiori of the aesthetician-art historian who is looking for it — leaps by the same token before cause and beyond effect: before cause, since it moves toward the conditions behind cause, and beyond effect, since it moves toward its facticity, its very existence. A condition is less than a cause, a fact more than an effect. A condition does not determine an order of consequences; it delimits a field of possibilities.

[line break added] It does not force anything to happen; it does not permit everything; but it specifies what will be permitted, or, better yet, it will have specified what it permitted. The connections of the work of art to its “context,” to everything — whether economic, social, ideological, personal — that puts pressure on the freedom of the artist, are evidently forces of this sort: they are not the connections of an effect to its causes but of a fact to its conditions. In conceiving of them in this way, we can easily understand the reality of artistic creation without in the least mythifying the freedom of the creator.

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




June 18, 2017

Aesthetic Reception and Consummation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… in order to enrich being, this act must be totally above given being.

Continuing through the essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity’ in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov (1990):

… A pure creative activity, proceeding from within myself, begins at the point where anything present-on-hand in me axiologically ends, where in me all being as such ends. To the extent that I actively find and become aware of something as given and present-at-hand or determinate, I am already above it in my act of determining (and to this extent the determination of what has value is above it with respect to value). Therein consists my architectonic privilege: in proceeding from within myself, I find a world outside myself — myself as the one proceeding in the act.

Hence, only I, while situated outside given being, can receive and consummate that being independently of meaning. This is an absolutely productive or “gainful” act of my self-activity. But in order to be really productive, in order to enrich being, this act must be totally above given being. I must withdraw all of myself axiologically from being, so that nothing of myself and of what is mine that has value to me myself would remain in the being which is subjected to the act of aesthetic reception and consummation.

… Insofar as I participate in the world of otherness in a justified manner, I may become passively active in that world. A luminous image of such passive activity is the dance. In dancing, my exterior, visible only to others and existing only for others, coalesces with my inner, self-feeling, organic activity. In dancing, everything inward in me strives to come to the outside, strives to coincide with my exterior. … The moment of being-swayeed, of being-possessed by being is manifestly experienced in dancing.

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




June 17, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… The world and life in it get an aesthetic meaning from the emotion-rich play of gesticulation.

This is from Gestures by Vilêm Flusser (2014):

As a matter of courtesy, as well as for other reasons, a writer should define his concepts. In this essay, I will do this for the concept of “gesture” but not for that of “affect.” I hope that the reader will excuse this impropriety. My plan is to feign ignorance of the meaning of affect and, by observing gestures, try to discover what people mean by this word. It is a kind of phenomenological effort, through the observation of gestures, to take affect by surprise.

I will start by attempting, for the remainder of this essay, to define the word gesture. I believe that many people will agree that gestures are to be considered movements of the body and, in a broader sense, movements of tools attached to the body. But many would also agree that the term does not apply to all such movements.

… I am sure that I raise my arm because I want to, and that despite all the indubitably real causes, I would not raise it if I didn’t want to. This is why raising my arm is a gesture. Here, then, is the definition I suggest: “a gesture is a movement of the body or of a tool connected to the body for which there is no satisfactory causal explanation.” And I define satisfactory as that point in a discourse after which any further discussion is superfluous.

This definition should suggest that the discourse of gestures cannot end with causal explanations, because such explanations do not account for the specificity of gestures. Of course, causal (“scientific,” in the strong sense of the word) explanations are needed to understand gestures, but they don’t produce such understanding. To understand gestures, these specific physical movements that we perform and that we observe around us, causal explanations are not enough. Gestures have to be properly interpreted, too.

… we have no criteria for the validity of our readings. We must remember this as we try, in what follows, to read gestures, to discover the affect in them.

… whether I agree, in something approaching a romantic manner, that art and affect blend into one another, or deny it in something approaching a classical manner, there is no doubt that the question is not an ethical, still less an epistemological, but rather an aesthetic one.

The question is not whether the representation of a state of mind is false, still less whether a represented state of mind has the capacity to be true. Rather, it concerns whether the observer is touched.

… affect “intellectualizes” states of mind by formalizing them into symbolic gestures. In this sense, it is to be understood that as affect, states of mind have become constructs.

The “artificiality” of represented states of mind is first of all an aesthetic problem. The world and life in it get an aesthetic meaning from the emotion-rich play of gesticulation. If we want to criticize affect, we must do it using aesthetic criteria. The scale of values we use to evaluate may not oscillate between truth and error or between truth and lies but must move between truth (authenticity) and kitsch. I believe that this distinction is critical.

[line break added] When I see a gesture emphasizing feeling, for example, that of a bad actor in the bad play who wants to convey the emotion of fatherly love, I would call it “false.” But it would not be right to call it an “error” or a “lie.” It is “false” in the sense of “in poor taste,” and it would remain inauthentic even if the actor really were a loving father. I consider the distinction important because of the ambiguity embedded in the word truth.

[line break added] In epistemology, truth means agreement with the real; in ethics and politics, it refers to an internal consistency (loyalty); whereas in art, it becomes a “truth” to the materials at hand. It is very obviously no accident that the same word has these three meanings: all of them participate in what is called “honesty.” But it is entirely possible for a gesture indicating feeling to be epistemologically and morally honest but aesthetically dishonest, like the gesture of the bad actor.

[line break added] And it is entirely possible for an emotionally powerful gesture to be epistemologically and morally dishonest and aesthetically honest, as in the case of the gesture that resulted in a Renaissance sculpture that retrospectively engaged that of the ancient Greeks. In this case, one must judge the gesture to be “true.” On the scale of affect, Michelangelo must be located near the “truth,” and an actor in a Hollywood potboiler at a point close to the border of “kitsch,” quite apart from any consideration of whether the affect they express is real or whether they believe in it.

… The more information a gesture contains, the more difficult it apparently is for a receiver to read it. The more information, the less communication. Therefore, the less a gesture informs (the better it communicates), the more empty it is, and so the more pleasant and “pretty,” for it can be read without very much effort. So information theory gives us a more or less objective gauge for the fact that the emotion-laden gestures in television series move the “masses” deeply.

[line break added] Yet it is important to note that information theory works much better for kitsch than it does for real affect. It can measure the banality of kitsch, but faced with the originality of true art, it appears to be as empirical as our “intuition.” It can in no sense replace the intuition of art criticism, and still less can it obviate the need for a theory of interpretation.

And yet, on one point this theory can help us: that of the “empty” and the “full.” I have maintained that affect is a method of lending states of mind meaning by symbolizing them. What information theory suggests (and the step it actually takes toward a theory of interpretation) is that a symbol expressing a state of mind can be more or less empty and that the gauge of affect runs between fullness and emptiness, from inexhaustible meaning to empty gesture. At one end of the scale are majestic and rare gestures, whose meaning is still not exhausted after millennia.

[line break added] At the other end are the infinitely many empty gestures we make and see all around us that try to exhaust the “original” meaning our gestures retain by formal reference to the majestic ones. The affect of friendship, for example, is expressed through the gesture of Castor and Pollux and through the handshake, the one a full existence, the other by contrast emptied of almost all meaning.




June 16, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… Maybe you will find something here you like enough to publish. Maybe twice a year is better than once.

The following are letters — or portions of letters — found in Between the Lines: A History of Poetry in Letters, 1962-2002 compiled and edited by Joseph Parisi and Stephen Young (2006). Daryl Hine was the editor at the time these particular letters were exchanged:

Sandra McPherson to Daryl Hine ………………………………………………………………. [n.p.], 24 October 1969

Dear Daryl Hine,

Thank you for the acceptance and thank you for the request to do a review. However, I think I am going to make it a rule for myself never to do reviews. Writing them contributes to one’s pocketbook, not to one’s psychic health. I once wrote a review on Brother Antoninus [William Everson], who in his book was obviously having enough problems with women without me adding to them …

Best Wishes / Sandra McPherson


Daryl Hine to Stephen Dobyns ………………………………………………………………. Chicago, 17 December 1969

Dear Mr. Dobyns,

Your review, entitled Five Poets, has been exercising my editorial attention. It is too long, not merely for our requirements, but for its own good. It is, I’m afraid, frequently repetitious, redundant, verbose and, all too often, irrelevant: autobiography is not criticism. On the other hand, it is also often perceptive, pointed, and even witty. Accordingly, I have cut it, by about a third, and have also done what I could with the split infinitives, dangling prepositions, and your odd coordinate conjunctions, a practice that, though recommended somewhere by Ezra Pound, can be overdone.

[line break added] You will understand that it would be tedious to detail and explain every change I have felt it desirable to make. If you agree, in principle, to this editorial despotism, you will see its effects on your essay, eventually, in proof; if you cannot wait, we could send you a Xerox of the piece including my penciled corrections. And if the whole thing seems an outrage against free expression, not to say grammatical license, you may of course withdraw your submission — though I should hate to lose the best parts of your review.

Sincerely, / Daryl Hine



James Atlas to Daryl Hine ……………………………………………………………….. Concord, Mass., 24 April [1974]

Dear Daryl,

It was very good of you to write as you did; I appreciated your conciliatory tone, which was perhaps more than I deserved. I have not felt easy, over the last year, about the suspension of our friendship. I trust you will look on my outbursts as those of a young man.

The review of [Richard Howard’s] Preferences was originally written for The New Republic, which accounts for the rather journalistic pose. I found that writing for such journals, The Nation and The New Republic, trained me to compose in a more supple, less clotted style; and yet the editor there was not in sympathy with my views in this case. As I think back over the reviews I wrote for Poetry, I realize that your criticisms were, for the most part, just; it is only recently, writing full-time, that I have come to possess a more lucid style. I would like to write for you again, and in the “higher” style your pages allow.

[ … ]


Linda Pastan to Daryl Hine ……………………………………………………………….. Potomac, Md. [March 1975]

Dear Mr. Hine,

I have been sending a group of poems to Poetry once a year since I was so advised by J.V. Cunningham, back in graduate school. And I am not being sarcastic when I say that I was encouraged, last month, to receive my first personal word from Poetry … a “sorry” written in pencil. (Well, only a little sarcastic … )

Maybe you will find something here you like enough to publish. Maybe twice a year is better than once.

Many thanks, / Linda Pastan

A note appended to that letter reads:

Pastan first appeared in Poetry with two poems in January 1977. She eventually published over 80 poems in the magazine by the time she was awarded the Ruth Lilly Prize in 2003.

My previous post from this book is here.




June 15, 2017

Tangential Threads

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… the exhibitions take on a diminutive and porous form, proposing a method of production that is both distanced from totalized spectacle and yet expansive, that neither engages in a negative masquerade of categorical objectivity nor mires itself in a hermetic personal sphere.

This is from the essay ‘Wolfgang Tillmans‘ (2006) found in Walead Beshty: 33Texts: 93,614 Words: 581,035 Characters: Selected Writings (2003-20015) edited by Lionel Bovier (2015):

… Still, the most prevalent art photography relies upon heightened artifacts, depopulated expanses, and cinematic fantasy, distant from the snapshot’s banal depictions, appearing all but ignorant of the implications of the similarly plasticine views that grace billboards and magazines. It was as if, in the wake of the troubling recognition of photography’s malleability in the hands of instrumental use, and its critical reappraisal by artists and critics in the 1960s and 1970, the contemporary production of photographs required turning back to a time before avant-gardist debates or postmodernist dismantling.

Within this milieu, Wolfgang Tillmans work is something of an anomaly.

Tillmans‘ photographs are distinctly nontheatrical constructions: his formal predilection is not for spatially illusionistic microcosms of the world, but instead for pictorial flatness, a matter-of-fact or seemingly offhanded compositional arrangement that sits tenuously within the photograph’s flat field. Tillmans‘ work thus has the sensation of incompleteness, which is often mistaken for the ill-considered or undeliberate naivety of the snapshot.

[ … ]

Frampton likened this indirectly manifest mnemonic field to “a ghostly freight of possible films,” each film a singular manifestation of “directly implied possible films” that form a “cloud or cluster of films that exist virtually.” Tillmans similarly describes a field of images that are in a constant state of “becoming,” proposing a similarly metalogical form whose irregular agglomerations and tangential threads offer a metonymic allusion to the field from which it originated …

… What returns, in Tillmans, is not simply the procession of sameness, but, as Eduardo Cadava elucidated, a “movement through which something other is inscribed within the same, which is now no longer the same, name(ing) what is always other than itself,” in other words, a “return of returning.” In Tillmans‘ hands, exhibitionality becomes a distinctly photographic enterprise, a reformulation of past conditions, within the static immediacy of the exhibition itself, and a reflexive operation that neither falls victim to a melancholic celebration of social anomie, nor a reactionary affirmation of naturalized meaning or transparency.

[line break added] Instead, the exhibitions take on a diminutive and porous form, proposing a method of production that is both distanced from totalized spectacle and yet expansive, that neither engages in a negative masquerade of categorical objectivity nor mires itself in a hermetic personal sphere. The sheer variation in his photographic program — from portraits to performative scenes, landscapes, enlarged punctures in sheets of film, wily gestural abstractions, and serial monochromes — develops a practice that at once embraces the range of procedures that constitute a photographic episteme, and ties these together through an equally rich exhibition rhetoric.

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




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