Unreal Nature

November 18, 2018

A Rocking Cradle for Their Ruminations

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… Musical reality is always somewhere else …

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

… Attention paid to music will never seize the intangible, unattainable center of musical reality, but swerves more or less toward the circumstantial sidelights of this reality: the thoughts of a listener plunged into the process of listening, busy feigning the attitude of the acolyte in the sanctuary, are empty contemplation.

[line break added] One doesn’t think about “music,” but on the other hand, one can think according to music, or in music, or musically, with “music” being made into the adverb that refers to a way of thinking. those who believe they are thinking about music are thinking about something else, but more often still, are thinking about nothing — since all such pretexts are useful in avoiding hearing. Between the listeners who think of something else and the listeners who are simply asleep, all degrees of somnolence and daydreaming have been spanned.

… Most people demand from music nothing more than light intoxication which they need as background accompaniment for their free associations, a rhyme to support their musings, a rocking cradle for their ruminations.

… Alas, music in itself is an unknowable something, as unable to be grasped as the mystery of artistic creation — a mystery that can only ever be grasped “before or after.” Before is the psychology, the character of the creator, anthropology. After is the description of the entity that came into being. How to capture the divine instant between the two, the thing that would be so critical to know and that is most obstinately hidden from us? Music’s irritating, confusing secret is evasive and seems to taunt us.

Musical reality is always somewhere else …

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




November 17, 2018

Still What We Need

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… how valuable is the experience?

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

… Railing against the sterility of the theatre before the war in France an illuminated genius Antoine Artaud wrote tracts describing from his imagination and intuition another theatre — a Holy Theatre in which the blazing center speaks through those forms closest to it. A theatre working like the plague, by intoxication, by infection, by analogy, by magic; a theatre in which the play, the event itself, stands in place of a text.

Is there another language, just as exacting for the author, as a language of words? Is there a language of actions, a language of sounds — a language of word-as-part-of-movement, of word-as-lie, word-as-parody, of word-as-rubbish, of word-as-contradiction, of word-shock or word-cry? If we talk of the more-than-literal, if poetry means that which crams more and penetrates deeper — is this where it lies?

… an actor making a gesture is both creating for himself out of his deepest need and yet for the other person. It is hard to understand the true notion of spectator, there and not there, ignored and yet needed. The actor’s work is never for an audience, yet always is for one. The onlooker is a partner who must be forgotten and still constantly kept in mind: a gesture is statement, expression, communication and a private manifestation of loneliness — it is always what Artaud calls a signal through the flames — yet this implies a sharing of experience, once contact is made.

… Our aim for each experiment, good or bad, successful or disastrous, was the same: can the invisible be made visible through the performer’s presence?

We know that the world of appearance is a crust — under the crust is the boiling matter …

… we were trying to smash the apparently water-tight divisions between the private and the public man: the outer man whose behavior is bound by the photographic rules of everyday life, who must sit to sit, stand to stand — and the inner man whose anarchy and poetry is usually expressed only in his words. For centuries, unrealistic speech has been universally accepted, all sorts of audiences have swallowed the convention that words can do the strangest things — in a monologue, for instance, a man stays still but his ideas can dance where they will. Vaulting speech is a good convention, but is there another?

… He wanted an audience that would drop all its defences, that would allow itself to be perforated, shocked, startled, and raped, so that at the same time it could be filled with a powerful new charge.

This sounds tremendous, yet it raises a nagging doubt. How passive does this make the spectator? Artaud maintained that only in the theatre could we liberate ourselves from the recognizable forms in which we live our daily lives. This made the theatre a holy place in which a greater reality could be found. Those who view his work with suspicion ask how all-embracing is this truth, and secondly, how valuable is the experience?

[line break added] A totem, a cry from the womb: these can crack through walls of prejudice in any man: a howl can certainly reach through to the guts. But is this revealing, is this contact with our own repressions creative, therapeutic? Is it really holy — or is Artaud in his passion dragging us back to a nether world, away from striving, away from the light — to D.H. Lawrence, Wagner; is there even a fascist smell in the cult of unreason? Is a cult of the invisible, anti-intelligent? Is it a denial of the mind?

… In the theatre, the tendency for centuries has been to put the actor at a remote distance, on a platform, framed, decorated, lit, painted, in high shoes — so as to help to persuade the ignorant that he is holy, that his art is sacred. … Today, we have exposed the sham. But we are rediscovering that a holy theatre is still what we need. So where should we look for it? In the clouds or on the ground?

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




November 16, 2018

So Many Worlds

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

This is from ‘My Father’ by Doris Lessing:

We use our parents like recurring dreams to be entered into when needed; they are always there for love or for hate; but it occurs to me that I was not always there for my father.

[ … ]

… In Africa, when the sun goes down, the stars spring up, all of them in their expected places, glittering and moving. In the rainy season, the sky flashed and thundered. In the dry season, the great dark hollow of night was lit by veld fires; the mountains burned through September and October in chains of red fire. Every night my father took out his chair to watch the sky and the mountains, smoking, silent, a thin shabby fly-away figure under the stars. “Makes you think — there are so many worlds up there, wouldn’t really matter if we did blow ourselves up — plenty more where we came from.”




November 15, 2018

In Relation to the Whole

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… I’m the measure against the place.

Final post from Richard Long: Selected Statements & Interviews edited by Ben Tufnell (2007):

… In one way it is a very strange way to act in life, making art in the way I do, by throwing water, or walking. Doing a normal thing for a different reason. … I come to some mountains and I move some stones around and then I disappear.

[ … ]

… If you put a circle down in any place in the world, that circle would take up the shape of that place. In other words, every place gives a different shape to a circle. The circle becomes like a thumbprint. It is absolutely unique. It is that place and no place is like another place.

[ … ]

Michael Auping: Would you say that each of your works expresses a different emotion?

Richard Long: No, no. But it expresses a different idea. Even though every walk is a walk, nevertheless each walk is about a different idea. It could be a straight line or about measuring time or about measuring distance or it could be about mapping my route by throwing a stone into each river crossed along the way. So in other words, the walking stays the same, but there’s an infinite variety of different ideas to which I can use it.

[ … ]

MA: I think what happens with all of your work is an expression of the part to the whole, always the part to the whole, so that you’re always aware of yourself in relation to the whole. You always make that very explicit.

RL: Yes. That’s the fundamental center of my work: my own personal relationship to whatever that whole is. Whether it’s a mountain or the walk or the size of the country from coast to coast. It’s also very important that my work is made by me, and I don’t mean that in an egotistical way, but in a fundamental one. … I’m the measure against the place. However heavy are the stones I can pick up, and how many, that will dictate the sculpture. That’s my energy.

[ … ]

… I think one of the ways you can see an artist’s life is that sense of purpose, that serous way you live your life that lasts all your life.

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




November 14, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… it no longer counts as a sign of essence, but rather as the materialization of a sign of existence.

This is from Jan Dibbets: The Photographic Work by Erik Verhagen (2014):

“… Cézanne made an abstraction of reality and Mondrian made a reality of abstraction. … There’s a higher solution than those of Cézanne and Mondrian: to demonstrate that reality is an abstraction.” — Jan Dibbets, interview with Georg Jappe

Some events remain indelibly etched on the memory. … The proof of this, for me, is the recollection of a square inscribed in — and not on — a photograph reproduced in a book picked up some fifteen years ago in a bookshop in The Hague. The book’s place on the shelf, the brightness of the spotlight in the narrow aisle where I leafed through it, the worn carpet, the drizzle running down the bookshop window — all these live on in my memory. And my recollection of these details will remain forever associated with the discovery of a now out-of-print book devoted to the so-called architectural works of Jan Dibbets.

[ … ]

… At a time when photography has massively invaded contemporary art institutions — not without generating confusion and excess — it is not easy to evaluate the full radicality of Dibbets’ approach on the cusp of the 1970s. This radicalism, it should be said at the outset, has nothing to do with modernist overkill. I do not claim that Dibbets went further than others; rather he simply went elsewhere.

[ … ]

… the photographic sign is a complex one, formed out of two semiotic functions which, outside of photography, are spread among autonomous signs: there exist autonomous indices with no iconic component, in the same way that the icon can readily dispense with the indexical function. To take the case of the icon: it forms an independent, self-sufficient sign — what Peirce called a sign of essence. The photography system subjects it to the indexical function and by the same token blocks its specific semiotic status: it no longer counts as a sign of essence, but rather as the materialization of a sign of existence.

Dibbets’ photographic oeuvre makes this tension between indexical function and iconic presence its core issue, revealing it via the organizing of an implacable system of representation.




November 13, 2018

Diminished Affection for Material

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… it implies an enormous expansion of sensual perception, a new sharpening of sensibility, a new irritability …

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

… The Pre-Raphaelites are idealists, moralists and shameful erotics, like most Victorians. They have the same contradictory conception of art, betray the same embarrassment, the same inhibitions in giving artistic expression to their experiences, and their puritanical abashment in face of the medium in which they express themselves goes so far that we always have the feeling of a timid, though supremely gifted dilettantism when considering their works.

[line break added] This distance between the creator and his work deepens still more the impression of decorative art which adheres to all Pre-Raphaelite painting. This is why this painting seems so affected, so dainty and pretty and always has about it something of the unreal and ornamental quality of mere tapestries.

[line break added] The precious, intellectual and, in spite of its lyrical nature, cold note of modern symbolism, the austere gracefulness and somewhat affected angularity of neo-romanticism, the studied shyness and restraint, the secrecy and secretiveness of the art at the turn of the century, partly have their source in this artificial style.

[ … ]

… Certain signs of the atmosphere of crisis make themselves felt in all the manifestations of technical activity. It is above all the furious speed of the development and the way the pace is forced that seems pathological, particularly when compared with the rate of progress in earlier periods in the history of art and culture. For the rapid development of technology not only accelerates the change of fashion, but also the shifting emphases in the criteria of aesthetic taste; it often brings about a senseless and fruitless mania for innovation, a restless striving for the new for the mere sake of novelty.

… The continual and increasingly rapid replacement of old articles in everyday use by new ones leads, however, to a diminished affection for material and soon also for intellectual possessions, too, and readjusts the speed at which philosophical and artistic revaluations occur to that of changing fashion. Modern technology thus introduces an unprecedented dynamism in the whole attitude to life and it is above all this new feeling of speed and change that finds expression in impressionism.

… Impressionism is an urban art, and not only because it discovers the landscape quality of the city and brings painting back from the country into the town, but because it sees the world through the eyes of the townsman and reacts to external impressions with the overstrained nerves of modern technical man.

[line break added] It is an urban style because it describes the changeability, the nervous rhythm, the sudden sharp but always ephemeral impressions of city life. And precisely as such, it implies an enormous expansion of sensual perception, a new sharpening of sensibility, a new irritability, and, with the Gothic and romanticism, it signifies one of the most important turning points in the history of Western art.

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




November 12, 2018

The Normalization of Deviance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… the behaviors trigger ‘resident pathogens’ in the environment that can lie dormant and are harmless unless they occur in conjunction.

This is from ‘Safety Culture in the Post-Event Terrain’ by Regina Peldszus in issue #31 of the independent quarterly magazine, Volume (2012):

… Exposure would not be immediately or latently lethal. Yet the threat, despite acceptable dosimeter readings, was taken seriously. Its intangibility and omnipresence necessitated the consideration of an additional layer of ‘psychological’ personal protection [equipment] — ‘PPPE’? — for many.

Without a direct sensory feedback loop to monitor the immediate consequences of an action, we rely on the internalization of safe behaviours. Related procedures, rules, and attitudes form a part of safety culture and its artefacts. If we were to construct a taxonomy of suits in dangerous environments, the most advanced generations of encapsulating suit systems are akin to sophisticated micro-habitats that fulfill fundamental human needs for a limited period of time. When they are removed or their integrity is compromised, the wearer dies within a matter of minutes. The further we venture into the extreme, the more gear we appear to need.

… Our overalls [worn during her visit to Chernobyl in 2011] were fragile in comparison to more complex, rugged suits, yet over-functional in that they addressed that other, psychological layer. This was in stark contrast to the insubstantial protective clothing of the so-called liquidators who began cleaning up the exploded reactor structure in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. At the time the physical dimension of the accident with its literally full-blown global safety implications was starkly perceptible on the site itself.

[line break added] The liquidators’ forays into the utmost core of the epicenter had, by situational default, to violated all aspects of the dictum of ‘time, distance, and shielding,’ something which in operational industrial settings such as a power plant is meticulously documented yet can be individually subverted or organizationally disregarded. On footage documenting the clean-up, some workers can be seen to have removed their dust masks for thermal comfort in the heat, despite their crucial function.

… Moving through the deserted and overgrown town of Propyat, many of us grew accustomed to the psychological risk, although this adaptation was still embedded in a catalogue of reactions ranging from caution to intrigue. The grey zone on the spectrum between risk aversion and recklessness in dangerous environments is multifaceted:

“… sometimes, like on a tall building, you get a controllable urge similar to jumping off which is to open a hatch to vacuum — or take off a glove or pop a helmet [during an extravehicular activity] … fortunately these are passing impulses that you can control but it is interesting to know they take place.” — astronaut Alan Bean’s log entry on the orbital station Skylab in 1973

Unsafe behaviours are reinforced through the absence of immediate negative feedback, i.e. late or latent injury; or only positive immediate feedback i.e. comfort, convenience, etc. If behavior is consistently unsafe and reinforced, it becomes the norm and people start to override early warning signals; the behaviors trigger ‘resident pathogens’ in the environment that can lie dormant and are harmless unless they occur in conjunction. Nearly all events, including accidents, incidents, and near misses, start with unintentionally unsafe acts or latent conditions that go undetected or are being ignored. The ‘normalization of deviance’ ‘pushes the boundaries of acceptable risk’ …




November 11, 2018

The Scent of All the Memories that Disturb

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… succession does not grant us a present moment except by concealing an anterior moment …

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

… Thus Tolstoy describes the mystery of death: he who must understand it will understand it. Music, as if it were a canticle sung by God, does not answer our questions directly. No, it is the pagan oracles that give answers when one goes to consult them, and they invariably say too much, these little, loquacious gods. And if they speak that way it is doubtless because they know nothing. God, he himself, remains silent, preferring the answer in arpeggios or nightingales, the high cries of his swallows or the murmur of the prophetic leaves.

[line break added] Those who put a stethoscope to a nocturnal silence, to hear the imperceptible music of the spheres, the invisible harmonies, the bells of spiritual Kitezh, will hear a secret whispered by night: but the voices are distant and many, and the answers are confused. This is music’s ambiguous way of answering. Music, like the divine nightingales, answers with the deed, by Doing. It is up to us to know how to grasp the message that has taken us prisoner.

[ … ]

… This is why the Charm is proper to music. If Beauty consists in nontemporal plenitude, in the fulfillment and parsing out of form, in static perfection or morphological excellence, then the Charm has something nostalgic and precarious about it, some unknowable something having to do with insufficiency and incompleteness which heightens itself through the effect of time.

[line break added] The Charm does not provide us with the solution to a problem but is much more a state of infinite aporia that produces a fruitful perplexity; and in this is more ineffable than untellable. The Charm is always coming into being: because succession does not grant us a present moment except by concealing an anterior moment, and this alternation creates all that is melancholy in temporality.

Thus music, at an extreme, develops an inexpressible perfume, the scent of all the memories that disturb …

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




November 10, 2018

An Experience That Feeds Our Lives

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… Certainly we still wish to capture in our arts the invisible currents that rule our lives, but …

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

… Walking along the Reeperbahn in Hamburg on an afternoon in 1946, whilst a damp dispiriting grey mist whirled round the desperate mutilated tarts, some on crutches, noses mauve, cheeks hollow, I saw a crowd of children pushing excitedly into a night club door. I followed them. On the stage was a bright blue sky. Two seedy, spangled clowns sat on a painted cloud on their way to visit the Queen of Heaven.

[line break added] ‘What shall we ask for?’ said one. ‘Dinner,’ said the other and the children screamed approval. ‘What shall we have for dinner?’ ‘Schinken, leberwurst … ‘ the clown began to list all the unobtainable foods and the squeals of excitement were gradually replaced by a hush — a hush that settled into a deep and true theatrical silence. An image was being made real, in answer to the need for something that was not there.

In the burnt-out shell of the Hamburg Opera only the stage itself remained — but an audience assembled on it whilst against the back wall on a wafer-thin set singers clambered up and down to perform The Barber of Seville, because nothing would stop them doing so. In a tiny attic fifty people crammed together while in the inches of remaining space a handful of the best actors resolutely continued to practice their art. In a ruined Düsseldorf, a minor Offenbach about smugglers and bandits filled the theatre with delight.

[line break added] There was nothing to discuss, nothing to analyze — in Germany that winter, as in London a few years before, the theatre was responding to a hunger. What, however, was this hunger? Was it a hunger for the invisible, a hunger for a reality deeper that the fullest form of everyday life — or was it a hunger for the missing things of life, a hunger, in fact, for buffers against reality? The question is an important one because many people believe that in the very recent past there still was a theatre with certain values, certain skills, certain arts that we perhaps wantonly have destroyed or cast aside.

We mustn’t allow ourselves to become the dupes of nostalgia. The best of the romantic theatre, the civilized pleasures of the opera and the ballet were in any event gross reductions of an art sacred in its origins. Over the centuries the Orphic Rites turned into the Gala Performance — slowly and imperceptibly the wine was adulterated drop by drop.

The curtain used to be the great symbol of a whole school of theatre — the red curtain, the footlights, the idea that we are all children again, the nostalgia and the magic were all of a piece.

… But the day came when the same red curtain no longer hid surprises, when we no longer wanted — or needed — to be children again, when the rough magic yielded to a harsher common-sense; then the curtain was pulled down and the footlights removed.

Certainly we still wish to capture in our arts the invisible currents that rule our lives, but our vision is now locked to the dark end of the spectrum. Today the theatre of doubting, of unease, of trouble, or alarm, seems truer than the theatre with a noble aim.

… Goodwill, sincerity, reverence, belief in culture are not quite enough: the outer form can only take on real authority if the ceremony has equal authority — and who today can possibly call the tune? Of course, today as at all times, we need to stage true rituals, but for rituals that could make theatre-going an experience that feeds our lives, true forms are needed. These are not at our disposal, and conferences and resolutions will not bring them our way.

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




November 9, 2018

Waiting for the Child to Choose

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… surely we choose our death much as we choose our job. It grows out of our acts and our evasions, out of our fears and out of our moments of courage.

This is from the essay ‘The Lost Childhood’ by Graham Greene:

Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives. In later life we admire, we are entertained, we may modify some views we already hold, but we are more likely to find in books merely a confirmation of what is in our minds already: as in a love affair it is our own features that we see reflected flatteringly back.

But in childhood all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune-teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future. I suppose that is why books excited us so much. What do we ever get nowadays from reading to equal the excitement and the revelation in those first fourteen years?

… I remember distinctly the suddenness with which a key turned in a lock and I found I could read — not just the sentences in a reading book with syllables coupled like railway carriages, but a real book. It was paper-covered with the picture of a boy, bound and gagged, dangling at the end of a rope inside a well with the water rising above his waist …

… I was safe so long as I could not read — the wheels had not begun to turn, but now the future stood around on bookshelves everywhere waiting for the child to choose — the life of a chartered accountant perhaps, a colonial civil servant, a planter in China, a steady job in a bank, happiness and misery, eventually one particular form of death, for surely we choose our death much as we choose our job. It grows out of our acts and our evasions, out of our fears and out of our moments of courage.




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