Unreal Nature

October 18, 2017

From Tale to Tale Far Into the Summer Night

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… He stops talking about art as the purveyor of universal truths and begins thinking of it as the agency through which looks that would otherwise remain completely sealed off might somehow communicate with one another.

Continuing through The Miracle of Analogy or The History of Photography, Part 1 by Kaja Silverman (2015):

Proustian development not only resurrects the dead and reanimates the living; it is also conjunctive. The word “and” appears so many times in the periodic sentence with which the madeleine passage ends that we eventually see that there is nothing that could not emerge from Marcel’s famous cup of tea. As both Rilke and Benjamin note, this and many other passages in À la recherche also connect the novel’s readers to the narrator and one another. In a 1914 letter, Rilke describes what would happen if a group of people were to read Swann’s Way together.

[line break added] “One person or another would read aloud what especially struck home to him out of the inexhaustible pages and would hold it out in a specific way to the general opinion,” he writes, “… [and] to many a one his own childhood would appear out of half-oblivion, and one would pass from tale to tale far into the summer night, but also far into the mutually true, rich and alive.” Benjamin arrives at a similar conclusion in “The Image of Proust.” “When Proust in a well-known passage described the hour that was most his own,” he observes, “he did it in such a way that everyone can find it in his own existence. We might almost call it an everyday hour.”

[ … ]

… There is one passage in the last volume of Proust’s novel, though, where the narrator not only acknowledges that the world reveals different aspects of itself to every seer but also expresses the desire to leave his cork-lined room, and re-enter the “loud, clamoring, semi-visible world.” He stops talking about art as the purveyor of universal truths and begins thinking of it as the agency through which looks that would otherwise remain completely sealed off might somehow communicate with one another.

[line break added] “Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves,” Proust writes in Time Regained, “to know what another person sees of a universe that is not the same as our own and of which, without art, the landscapes would remain as unknown to us as those that may exist on the moon.” And although he is no closer to uttering the second-person pronoun here than he is when he characterizes Albertine as “a product of [his] temperament,” he is clearly trying to make the first-person pronoun a lot more capacious.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 17, 2017

Strangers Were Everywhere

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… The New York School as such had vanished, and what emerged, as they had always known it would, was a scattering of isolated individualists …

Final post from The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning by Dore Ashton (1972):

… By 1960 there was almost nothing left of the camaraderie that small numbers can sustain. The New York School was already a legend. In the spring of 1961 a great party was given by three of the most celebrated New York School painters. It represented the end of an era. The art world turned out in full force and went through the motions — it was more like an embassy reception than the spontaneous revels of old bohemia — and awoke the next day with an uncomfortable feeling of finality.

This party took place in a loft, but a loft with parquet floors, spotless walls, and a majestic colonnade running its length. Many of the old restless spirits were present, but then, so were some 800 others, including collectors, dealers, museum officials, and assorted functional members of a greatly enlarged art world. They were there by written invitation and checked carefully at the door by armed Pinkerton men.

[line break added] Once upon a time, a famous poet remarked, Pinkerton men had been used to chase disreputable elements such as artists. Now the artists do the chasing. It is not easy to understand what had happened. How had this extravaganza come to be, and why? Partly the answers were circumstantial. Ten years before there had been only about thirty respectable art galleries in New York. By 1961 there were more than 300, managing between them to stage close on 4,000 exhibitions a year.

[line break added] This unprecedented growth had blurred the outlines of an art community and caused confusion in the ranks. It was no longer possible to be sure of meeting someone you knew at a bar. Strangers were everywhere. It was no longer possible to assume that a few basic attitudes were shared, since the volume of activity had brought new experiments and also a new climate of acceptance for outmoded styles. The international success of the New York School had brought immediate reaction at home, ranging from serious second-generation departures to outright rejections. The press, which by now understood the news value of art marketing, spurred its readers to expect constant shifts and novelties.

[line break added] By 1960 it had dropped even derisive references to abstract expressionism and was exploring new fields for hyperbole. What Kiesler had called the victory dance, the ‘continuous carmagnole’ that had sustained the New York School for about ten years while it conquered the world aesthetically, was over. Others were dancing to other tunes in the sixties. The New York School as such had vanished, and what emerged, as they had always known it would, was a scattering of isolated individualists who continued to paint.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 16, 2017

Shared Solitude

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… it is a willingness to let the works they make or collect run against their temperament, an aptitude to let their betrayals of taste rule over their taste, a readiness to surrender to those feelings that promise solitude rather than community.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… you cannot avoid constructing a conception of the historicity of art. In this, you are both close to and very different from the historian of art, for whom historicity was given with the concept of style: linearity of evolution, cycles of civilization, discontinuity of periodization, all contingent. Historicity is also given to you, but as jurisprudence: if styles are maintained, it is because the judgments of the past weigh on those of the present, and if they are broken, it is because a judgment contrary to custom has been passed. You inherit all that.

… Aesthetic experience does not get transmitted, it is not intersubjective. Only the name is transmitted, and it in no way guarantees the identity of the experience. It remains that, in art, there is no judgment by default and no baptism in absentia, and that the deictics of experience (this, here, now) bear witness to a feeling for which the occasion is unique, unreproducible, and nontransferable. The name is transmitted and repeated, but the baptism is renewed each time the named thing comes up for trial before a new occurrence of the feeling.

Now, it is the idea of art that summons the thing to appear. Indeed, it “measures” how plausible it is that this thing, here, be called into court to see its claim to be art checked against the testimonies of all things already called art, and be compared to them by dint of feeling. Your idea of art has been to a large extent transmitted to you along with the name, partially as unchecked rumor, that is, a prejudice, partially as unchallenged social value, that is, as ideology, and partially as re-judged jurisprudence, and this is what matters.

… Your feelings and your feelings alone can tell you whether the sense of rupture conveyed by a given work stems from resentment, impotence, and disavowed hatred of art, or whether it proceeds from a deep and understanding love for the fragility of the tradition’s weakest links. Consulting your feelings is a way of probing the plausibility that similar feelings presided over the making of the work you are judging — although with no guarantees whatsoever, which is, of course, true for all art, since the communication of feelings is indirect, being mediated by an object.

[line break added] But it is particularly true of the avant-garde, because to weaken a link in the chain of tradition means to attach less importance to the successful communication of feelings than to the lack of guarantee for this communication’s possible success. Thus, what those artists and art lovers who share your tradition have in common with you is not a given set of feelings, a temperament, or a taste; it is a willingness to let the works they make or collect run against their temperament, an aptitude to let their betrayals of taste rule over their taste, a readiness to surrender to those feelings that promise solitude rather than community.

[line break added] More than anything else, the stuff of the tradition you belong to is the paradoxical sharing of the sense of being alone. What this shared solitude stands for is both the right to judge by yourself and the duty to judge as if you were not alone; and the ability, the “talent” that this calls for is a capacity to read your feelings as if they were objects projected outside of yourself, forces traversing you, social facts.

[line break added] The more a work forbids you to call it art in peaceful agreement with yourself, the more it invites you to increase the plausibility that it be compared with the works that other times, other people, nations, races, social classes, and the other gender might call art. And the more it upsets your idea of art and arouses in you the feeling that the unexpected has arrived, the more you will sense that it has precisely expected you to broaden your expectations.

… And yet, as an ideal, art in general ought to be the collective possession of humankind; the radically impersonal collection it represents ought to be ours, universally.

… What is this tradition if not the genealogy through which the name “art” was transmitted and shifted from the works of the past onto those of the avant-garde, when it passed from an era where it meant beauty, perhaps, or perfection in sensitivity, or excellence in skill, to an era where it was at once believed, wished, and feared that it meant the most absolute indeterminacy of sense and its polymorphous opening onto nonsense?

[line break added] It is the avant-garde as tradition betrayed and betrayal transmitted; it is consensus as impossible; it is art as non-art and non-art as art. And thus, there is no better name for it than art, art in general. This paradoxical jurisprudence leads you to recognize, and to judge, that the avant-garde is not only a tradition, but the continuation of tradition tout court.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 15, 2017

Their Own Rudimentary But Inexhaustible Human Face

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… the novel was structured not in the distanced image of the absolute past but in the zone of direct contact with inconclusive present-day reality.

Continuing through the essay ‘Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… Laughter destroyed epic distance; it began to investigate man freely and familiarly, to turn him inside out, expose the disparity between his surface and his center, between his potential and his reality. A dynamic authenticity was introduced into the image of man, dynamics of inconsistency and tension between various factors of this image; man ceased to coincide with himself, and consequently men ceased to be exhausted entirely by the plots that contain them.

… Outside his destiny, the epic and tragic hero is nothing; he is, therefore, a function of the plot fate assigns him; he cannot become the hero of another destiny or another plot. On the contrary, popular masks — Maccus, Pulcinello, Harlequin — are able to assume any destiny and can figure into any situation (they often do so within the limits of a single play), but they cannot exhaust their possibilities by those situations alone; they always retain, in any situation and in any destiny, a happy surplus of their own, their own rudimentary but inexhaustible human face.

… The novel took shape precisely at the point when epic distance was disintegrating, when both the world and man were assuming a degree of comic familiarity, when the object of artistic representation was being degraded to the level of a contemporary reality that was inconclusive and fluid. From the very beginning the novel was structured not in the distanced image of the absolute past but in the zone of direct contact with inconclusive present-day reality. At its core lay personal experience and free creative imagination.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 14, 2017

I Shall Throw Away This Thing That I Have Found

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… This sea shell has served me, suggesting by turns what I am, what I know, and what I do not know.

Continuing through the essay ‘Man and the Sea Shell’ found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

… What are our findings? The internal construction is organized in a mysterious way. The secretory cells of the mantle and its edge operate in rhythm: the turns of the spiral progress; the walls are built; the nacre is deposited on them. But the microscope does not show what creates the harmony between the different points and different moments in this simultaneous progress of the whole periphery.

[line break added] Nothing that we know of our own actions enables us to imagine what it may be that so gracefully modulates these surfaces, element by element, row by row, without other tools than those contained in the thing that is being fashioned; what it may be that so miraculously harmonizes and adjusts the curves, and finishes the work with a boldness, an ease, a precision which the most graceful creations of the potter or bronze founder are far from equaling.

[line break added] Our artists do not derive the material of their works from their own substance, and the form for which they strive springs from a specialized application of their mind, which can be completely disengaged from their being. Perhaps what we call perfection in art (which all do not strive for and some disdain) is only a sense of desiring or finding in a human work the sureness of execution, the inner necessity, the indissoluble bond between form and material that are revealed to us by the humblest of shells.

[ … ]

… [the snail] must sometimes forsake his secret, subtle work of emanation and venture out into the world, bearing his dwelling, his den, his fortress, his masterpiece, like a wondrous tiara or turban. At once he is involved in an entirely new set of circumstances.

… The mobility of the feelers; the touch, sight, and movement associated with the exquisite elasticity of the wonderfully sensitive shafts by which they are oriented, the perfect retractility of the body of which the whole shell is an appendage, the binding obligation to skip over nothing, to adhere strictly to his path — all this is bound to move a gifted mollusk, when he withdraws from the world and buttons up once more in his case of nacre, to profound meditations and radical synthetic abstractions.

… But do we not, ourselves, fluctuate between “the world of bodies” and that of the “mind”; and all our philosophy, is it not an eternal quest for the formula that will efface the difference between them and reconcile two divergent orders, two systems of time, two modes of transformation … ?

… I shall throw away this thing that I have found as one throws away a cigarette stub. This sea shell has served me, suggesting by turns what I am, what I know, and what I do not know. … Just as Hamlet, picking up a skull in the rich earth and bringing it close to his living face, finds a gruesome image of himself, and enters upon a meditation without issue …

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 13, 2017

They Have Come Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:30 am

… This is where the people come out.

This is from For the Time Being by Annie Dillard (1999):

… “In the pictures of the old masters,” Max Picard wrote in The World of Silence,” people seem as though they had just come out of the opening in a wall; as if they had wriggled their way out with difficulty. They seem unsafe and hesitant because they have come out too far and still belong more to silence than themselves.”

[ … ]

… Now it is a city hospital on a Monday morning. This is the obstetrical ward. The doctors and nurses wear scrubs of red, blue or green, and white running shoes. They are, according to the tags clipped to their pockets, obstetricians, gynecologists, pediatricians, pediatric nurse practitioners, and pediatric RNs. They consult one another on the hoof. They carry clipboards and vanish down corridors. They push numbered buttons on wall plaques, and doors open.

There might well be a rough angel guarding this ward, or a dragon, or an upwelling current that dashes boats on rocks. There might well be an old stone cairn in the hall by the elevators, or a well, or a ruined shrine wall where people still hear bells. Should we not remove our shoes, drink potions, take baths? For this is surely the wildest deep-sea vent on earth: This is where the people come out.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 12, 2017

A Halo of Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… many of those who were impressed with the exhibition seemed uncertain whether they were responding to the art or to Stieglitz’s persuasive oratory powers.

Continuing through Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries by Sarah Greenough (2000):

… By 1925 the idea of a close-knit group, with the reciprocal support that members offered one another, was almost as important to Stieglitz as the individuals. During the years when he had been without a gallery, he had become increasingly convinced of the necessity and efficacy of group action.

… as O’Keeffe … recalled many years later, “Stieglitz liked the idea of a group. He wanted something to come out of America — something really important — and he felt you couldn’t do that alone.”

Dove explained a few years later, “When a man paints the El, a 1740 house or miner’s shack, he is likely to be called by his critics American. These things may be in America, but it’s what is in the artists that counts. … What do we call ‘America’ outside of painting? Inventiveness, restlessness, speed, change. Well, then a painter may put all these qualities in a still life or an abstraction, and be going more native than another who sits quietly copying a skyscraper.”

… The “Seven Americans” exhibition [1925], met with an extensive but mixed critical reaction. Each artist received both praise and scorn. While some critics hailed it as pioneering, “the 10 a.m. March 24 interpretation of Modern,” and highly experimental, others were less impressed, calling the “pictorial adventures” of these artists “comparatively tame after all the modernism that has flowed under the bridge.” Most of the criticism was reserved not for the art but for the “talky” catalogue.

[line break added] Complaining that “the exhibits are not allowed to speak for themselves, “but are surrounded “by a halo of words,” Helen Appleton Read concluded that “Americanism and emotionalism are self-consciously and unduly emphasized.” While few were as harsh as Read, many of those who were impressed with the exhibition seemed uncertain whether they were responding to the art or to Stieglitz’s persuasive oratory powers.

[line break added] As Edmund Wilson, who reviewed the “Seven Americans” exhibition, recalled many years later, Stieglitz was “a spiritual teacher,” but he was also a “mesmerist”: “I talked about my visit later with an acquaintance. … ‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘when I came away, I couldn’t help wondering a little whether it hadn’t been a case of the innocent young serpent being swallowed by the wily old dove.’ ” And he concluded, “My admiration for these artists was genuine, but if I had not been subjected to Stieglitz’s spell, I might perhaps have discussed them in different terms.”

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 11, 2017

Undiminished By Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… It is headed toward the present: toward the here and now in which a potentially infinite series of later looks will both meet it and greet it.

Continuing through The Miracle of Analogy or The History of Photography, Part 1 by Kaja Silverman (2015):

… The five figures in this photograph [John Reekie’s A Burial Party on the Battle-Field of Cold Harbor (April 1865)] are engaged in a grim task: burying the remains of thousands of Union soldiers, who were killed in two battles the preceding year, both of which were fought on this site. Since they have been lying there for a long time, these remains are sparse: some bleached skulls, a jumble of other bones, a boot, and tattered bits of clothing. They are piled on an angled stretcher in the foreground of the photograph, behind which one of the men is crouching.

[line break added] He looks directly out at us, from the left side of the photograph. The skull that is most proximate to him also faces us. The other men have shovels and are dispersed across the field that extends from the stretcher to the trees at the rear of the image. Three of them appear to be digging graves, and the fourth is standing beside a mound of earth.

… The photograph speaks volumes about America’s still-palpable racial divide. The men in the burial party are all African-Americans, and they are interring the remains of Northern soldiers in Virginia, a slave state. Although they are not slaves, they are working in a field, and doing a job that the local residents refused to do, or even command their slaves to do.

… As Elizabeth Young observes, the “dismembered foot” in the foreground of the photograph “seems an extension of the live African-American bodies,” and the skulls lined up in a row on the stretcher undo all binary oppositions — not just “white” and “black,” but North and South, rich and poor, slave and freedom. The skull that faces us also shows us that we are as deep inside this picture as Holmes was in the pictures of Anne Hathaway’s cottage when he noticed the rub marks on her doorway.

The skull, however, cannot cross over to our side, because its sockets are empty. The real center of the photograph is not it, but the man whose shoulder it seems to touch. He invites us to join the republic for which he stands “by using [our] own being as a means of participating in [his].” His look is “undiminished by time,” as Eleanor Jones Harvey puts it, because it does not belong to the past. It is headed toward the present: toward the here and now in which a potentially infinite series of later looks will both meet it and greet it.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 10, 2017

Erased and Retained

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… “The fellowship of suffering lasts only so long as none of the sufferers can escape.”

Continuing through The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning by Dore Ashton (1972):

… If alienation was to be the leitmotif of the decade following the war, the visual artist had a head start, having always been the last of the intelligentsia to receive his rewards. it was not difficult for the developing community of vanguard artists to establish the individual act as the only possible escape from the social and political hazards facing him. Attitudes expressed in the late forties grew closer to the position that had always been maintained by a few painters — most notably by de Kooning, who had remained aware of but deliberately aloof from everything extrinsic to the interior development of his work.

… His quest for a fixed image, as all his friends testify, was always fraught with doubts about the value of a fixed image. Process was his natural mode, as it was for his nineteenth-century romantic forebears. As his assurance increased de Kooning employed painting techniques which reflected his attitudes. In the early forties there were frequent allusions in his work to the drama of what had once been there on the canvas; little, half-erased signs of previous life, scraped off the surface but still existing in phantom-like areas behind the immediate picture plane.

[line break added] Between 1943 and 1946 he painted many versions of seated figures, usually women, in which he juxtaposed forms clearly defined by his strong curving lines, with forms that were blurred almost to extinction. An arm or a shoulder would seem discrete from the rest of the composition until the eye chanced upon those mysterious whispered allusions — the forms that were at one and the same time erased and retained in a state of ambiguous suspension.

[ … ]

… A significant session at the [Eighth Street] Club in 1954 bore the title: ‘Has the Situation Changed?’ The question was merely rhetorical. Everyone knew it had. In posing the question, the painters were joining other artists who, toward the mid-fifties, began to cast an analytic eye on the shifting cultural assumptions. … The ‘alienated’ artist began to wonder just how alienated he really was.

… If the painters had come to realize that by the mid-fifties something had changed drastically in their milieu, it was not only a question of how they themselves had changed in their maturity. Not only they, but also their community had altered. Despite the deep-seated suspicion of success on the part of the New York School, success was insidiously attacking their unity.

[line break added] The genuine community of impoverished bohemians, all of whom had shared economic deprivation during the Depression, was disintegrating as prosperity swept post-war America into a different economic frame of reference. It is not easy to hold together even a rudimentary sub-group when the larger group makes room. “The fellowship of suffering lasts only so long as none of the sufferers can escape,” writes Auden. “Open a door through which many but probably not all can escape one at a time and the neighborly community may disintegrate.”

One by one, a few of the New York School painters were escaping from the egalitarian condition of poverty.

… A new breed of art dealer appeared, making news in the Cedar by buying out the whole studio of some young artist and conscientiously propagandizing his find. Suddenly the magazines were filled with news of the new generation, although the old generation had scarcely had time to be inscribed in history. The nature of the new art, moreover, was clearly a critique of the abstract expressionist attitude.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

October 9, 2017

Ideas That Are Ready to Fall Apart and Coalesce Again Differently

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… You are, above all, an art lover whose idea of art shifts under the pressure of an unexpected feeling that introduces into the tangled memory of your past experiences the reflexive feeling of dissent …

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… it is by reflecting on the hiatus between feeling and knowledge that you have just come to the conclusion that feelings are never grounded in knowledge and that, conversely, knowledge cannot be grounded in feelings.And this is already a theoretical proposition, albeit a liminal one.

… Criticism has no other justification than feeling, which justifies nothing. Or again, it has no ultimate justification, since it is the exercise of judgment, and to justify a judgment another one is required. As for theory, it could not be based on criticism.

… Here is a second liminal theoretical proposition, then: the theory of art is not based on art. In other words,art is not autonomous. Consequently, art theory must be based elsewhere, on a theory external to the field of art, and on whose truth or falseness it would depend.

… With regard to a theory of art based elsewhere than on art, it is in fact impossible to produce the case that would verify the theory, and it is even more impossible to anticipate what the next case would be. The sentence “here is some art” produces a case of art, but it is not a case of theory; it is a case of feeling. The experience is not repeatable, which is to say, experimental; it is singular, which is to say, aesthetic.

You have been an art critic or a historian of tradition and you have produced numerous cases of your feelings, positive, negative, and mixed. You have granted particular attention to those things that were able to bewilder and overwhelm you, and you have come to value especially the feeling of dissension, the sentiment of dis-sentiment, that they elicited.

[line break added] You have added them to the collection of things that you have learned to like either because they were easy and pleasurable, or because, being on the record, they were transmitted to you and solicited your approval. You have gathered all these things together with the sentence, “Art is everything I call art.” This sentence is reflexive and not tautological, since the generic art only adds up the singular cases that you have so named in judging them.

[ … ]

… As for you, who are aware of the diversity of cultural values and sensitive to their conflicts, you also have ideas of art, several which you feel are socially at war with each other and historically relative, ideas that are made as much of received conceptions and conventions as of the idiosyncrasies of your taste, and above all, ideas that are ready to fall apart and coalesce again differently in the face of a feeling of dissent so strong that its unsettling is precisely the sign by which you recognize the regulative idea of your judgment. You are, above all, an art lover whose idea of art shifts under the pressure of an unexpected feeling that introduces into the tangled memory of your past experiences the reflexive feeling of dissent, the sentiment of dis-sentiment.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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