Unreal Nature

August 2, 2015

In a Hurry to Leave

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… This is the grace of irony: it gives us only what it takes from us …

This is from the essay ‘The Detour Toward Simplicity’ found in the collection, Friendship by Maurice Blanchot (1997):

… The one who goes straight down his path, says Chestov, looking only in front of him, creates logic and lives in the assurance of his reason, but the one who turns and looks back sees terrible things that petrify him; having seen them prevents him from seeing anything else; everything flies to pieces — principles, morality, science.

The next is from ‘The Fall: The Flight’ in the same Blanchot collection:

… Clamance, the man so named by La Chute and yet anonymous (he cries out in his own desert), converses in hushed tones with someone whose face we do not see, whose replies we do not hear.

… But it is not with the gods that this other king speaks, not even with the distance of the gods who turn away, but only with the shadow of a casual companion, invisible behind, a curtain of silence, his double, perhaps, but also anyone at all, the ordinary man whose distracted attention and vague presence constantly allow the language that tries to reach him — so well formed nevertheless — to fall back into unreality.

… the interlocutor toward whom he is turned is a wall of fog into which his words sink without having been heard and as if they had not been uttered.

What is left? Irony.

… First of all, it guards against teaching anything. This is the grace of irony: it gives us only what it takes from us; if it affirms, the affirmation is a fiery place that we are in a hurry to leave.

… when he says, “Thus I lived without any continuity save that, from day to day, of the me-me-me,” it is remarkable because every time he says Me, no one answers …




August 1, 2015

The Transformation of Soap into Glass

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… The pleasure in the moment of us believing and not believing at the same time is a jolt of self-assertion.

Continuing through Six Drawing Lessons:The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 2012 by William Kentridge (2014):

… As the medium of these lectures is not charcoal, but talking, perhaps we should pause here for a moment, with some remarks on the discipline itself. There are the words themselves, and their syntax and grammar and their relations to the outside world. But there is also the discipline of the medium, that which is in between the words …

… there are many other things that happen in the gaps and spaces, most importantly thethe … hesitation.

The dramatic umumum
The uncertain UM, the pause before the certainty of the final statement.
Mock uncertainty, the pause before the clarity of the final statement.
Mock uncertainty hiding real uncertainty.

… Emphasizing this precise point, the raised finger.

Gathering consensus, while letting thoughts expand, gathering further examples, the circling finger.
The adjustment of the sleeve, the removal of the watch.
The small but important point being made — the thumb and forefinger circle.
The open-handed tapping of the podium.
The collar tug.
The one hand in the pocket.

… The removal of the glasses for a frank look. Their replacement. Their almost-replacement, the held gesture.
This complex combination: touching the nose, stroking the hair, the collar tug and the finger twirl, to take us through a complex question.

[ … ]


… Many years ago, I attended a performance of La Cirque Imaginaire, a miniature circus: an acrobat, his wife, and one untrained goose.

One of the acts of the circus was a performance of the transformation of soap into glass. The performer, the acrobat down from the slack wire, would blow soap bubbles, and then, using a small hammer, would burst each bubble, which had turned to glass. Each glass ball would shatter with the familiar and unmistakable sound of crystal shattering. Every bubble turned to glass as it shattered. The bubbles were glass. Then the performer, with a flick of his wrist, lifted the edge of his waistcoat and showed beneath it a small bell attached to his belt. At the instant he burst each bubble, he tapped the bell, turning the soap into glass. He then blew more bubbles and burst them. Again they turned to glass, even though the bell, the technique, the illusion, was visible. The pleasure changed into the pleasure of being so caught in the pressure of that which could appear and seem, and yet not be.

We the audience became the performers, our act that of believing and disbelieving in the same moment. There is something emerging here, a separation from Plato. The movement of ourselves as more or less enlightened observers toward an awareness of ourselves as agents of understanding. The pleasure in the moment of us believing and not believing at the same time is a jolt of self-assertion. This split, believer and disbeliever, becomes a crack in Plato’s edifice.

My previous post from Kentridge’s book is here.




July 31, 2015

A Green Darkness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… It is in the mind that the flight commences.

This is from The Night Country by Loren Eiseley (1947; 1971):

… The fact that I wear the protective coloration of sedate citizenship is a ruse of the fox — I learned it long ago. the facts of my inner life are quite otherwise. This is how it began for me.

It begins in the echoing loneliness of a house with no other children, in the silence of a deafened mother; in the child head growing strangely aware of itself as it prattled over immense and solitary games. The child learned that there were shadows in the closets and a green darkness behind the close-drawn curtains of the parlor; he was aware of a cool twilight in the basement. He was afraid only of noise.

Noise is the Outside — the bully in the next block by whose house you had to pass in order to go to school. Noise is all the things you did not wish to do. It is the games in which you were pummeled by other children’s big brothers, it is the sharp, demanding voices of adults who snatch your books. Noise is day. And out of that intolerable sunlight your one purpose has been given — to escape. Few men have such motivations in childhood, few are so constantly seeking for the loopholes in the fern where the leaves swing shut behind them. But I anticipate. It is in the mind that the flight commences. It is there that the arc lights lay their shadows. It is there, down those streets past unlit houses that the child runs on alone.




July 30, 2015

Male Sexuality Is a Bit Like Air

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… Just as whiteness has also done, it ‘secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular’ …

This is from Men’s Cinema: Masculinity and Mise en Scène in Hollywood by Stella Bruzzi (2013):

… it falls to Hunt to don the hi-tech lycra climbing gear, goggles and a pair of computer-controlled sucker gloves with which he is supposed to scale eleven storeys up [they are already near top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai] and seven units along in 26 minutes to override the computer settings. After helping to remove one of the glass windows (wincing ‘Oh, that’s high’ as he carries it off), Benji explains the gloves’ simple colour-coded light system: ‘blue is glue,’ ‘And red?’ Ethan asks — ‘is dead,’ Benji replies as nonchalantly as he can. The next edit heralds excitement, anticipation and dread: framed from behind, Cruise steps gingerly on to the discarded window’s ledge; the smooth camera follows, goes up and over his shoulder and continues on until it is looking vertically down over his head. Vertiginous images of the heroes’ seemingly impossible feats or escapes from tall buildings are commonplace in the modern action film, couched within the technically audacious, visually complex sequences, made up of a rich array of images, angles, shot lengths that doubtless many spectators watch only with their eyes half shut.

In Ghost Protocol‘s rendition of this obligatory sequence, Cruise steps out into the whistling wilderness; the camera rolls behind him to get a better look, giving the impression that we — as we will feel at various junctures in the sequence — are stranded in mid-air with nothing to support us. Cruise attaches a sucker mitten purposefully to the glass windows that reflect back the surrounding scenery, thereby minimising still further any distinctions between building and atmosphere.

[following the usual numerous near-miss catastrophes capped by success, ‘Hunt’ returns down the face of the building]

… Making effective use of an anchored roll of cord (again, the precariously secured rope or cord has become a regular men’s cinema motif), he hurls himself through the window with the cord tied around his waist. The introductory chords of the Mission: Impossible theme tune start up as, like some anarchic virtual reality fairground ride, the camera throws itself smoothly out after Hunt, hurtling towards the ground. [ … ] The cord runs out and Ethan [Hunt] is stopped in his tracks, leaving Brandt to shout up helpfully (from yet another angle — this time from over Hunt’s shoulder looking down): ‘your line’s not long enough.’ Ethan replies, ‘no shit,’ looks (framed tightly now) over his shoulder and, as a robust, assertive, brass-led arrangement of the Mission:Impossible music blasts away, charges back the way he came, perpendicular to the skyscraper. As he gets to the building’s corner, Ethan, on the beat, releases himself into the sky in a perfect arc. The macho leitmotif is suppressed and gives way to altogether wispier and more tentative violins as, spanning a patchwork of short and diverse individual shots, Agent Hunt builds up sufficient momentum to launch himself at the window where Brandt and Carter are standing.


[ … ]

Richard Dyer outlines the possible reasons for the absence hitherto of critical writing on masculinity as a concept and a style when he remarks:

One would think that writing about images of male sexuality would be as easy as anything. We live in a world saturated with images, drenched in sexuality. But this is one of the reasons why it is in fact difficult to write about. Male sexuality is a bit like air — you breathe it in all the time, but you aren’t aware of it much. Until quite recently, what was talked about was the mysterious topic of female sexuality, or else, the subject of deviant male practices. Ordinary male sexuality was simple sexuality, and everyone knew what it was.

[ … ]

… Masculinity, as a concept and a style within film studies, was taken for a long time to be the universal, the known, not the ‘other’ which more urgently merited critical scrutiny and redefinition. Just as whiteness has also done, it ‘secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular’ and yet, under scrutiny, ‘is often revealed as emptiness, absence, denial, or even a kind of death’ (Dyer, 1993). Similarly, in subjecting to scrutiny ‘masculinity’ in Hollywood movies, and not taking either masculinity’s or Hollywood’s invisible hegemony as givens, is symbolically to bring ‘a kind of death’ to both. Extending Dyer’s ideas, Nicola Rehling, in Extra-Ordinary Men: White Heterosexual Masculinity in Contemporary Popular Cinema, identifies her reasons for examining Hollywood films:

Popular films are often far more complex than they tend to be given credit for (rather like straight men) and frequently contain ruptures, gaps, tensions, and incoherencies that indicate collective anxieties and desires, as well as ideological conflict (as do straight men).

My study takes as its starting point the need to examine what ‘everyone knows,’ namely the most mainstream, omnipresent and ‘ordinary’ forms of cinema, and identifies within this universal what can positively be defined as ‘men’s cinema’ as opposed to what is merely taken for granted.

… Just as the ‘normal sexual aim,’ in its purest manifestation of heterosexual penetrative sex, is neurotic so heterosexual masculinity, in its most pared down form (Sylvester Stallone’s monosyllabic Rambo, for example), is hysterically two-dimensional, stripped of normality and ultimately perverse. Men might aspire to an ideal of masculinity but, unless they are odd and dysfunctional, they cannot embody it, for to do so successfully would be perverse. Masculinity, like ‘normal sexuality,’ is the sum of its perversions.




July 29, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… black-and-white photography … sets up its subjects as anthropological case studies, … [C]olor [on the other hand] … contests the anthropological tendency of reportage and restores its subjects to their position as people with names and proper places — that is to say, as humans.

This is from the essay ‘Photography After the End of Documentary Realism: Zwelethu Mthethwa‘s Color Photographs’ by Okwui Enwezor found in the Aperture monograph, Zwelethu Mthethwa (2010):

” … I started taking colour portraits at Crossroads — an informal settlement outside Cape Town. Photographs of informal settlements prior to the elections in 1994 were mostly black-and-white images. The photographers weren’t shooting for themselves, they were on assignment and black and white was used to suit political agendas of the time. For me, these images missed a lot of the colour of informal settlements. I wanted to give some dignity back to the sitters. I wanted them to have a sense of pride, and for me, colour is a dignifying vehicle. The fact they’ve allowed me into their personal spaces meant that I had to dignify them.”

Zwelethu Mthethwa, from his Interiors series, 1995-2005

In responding to what he perceived as the undignified manner in which black-and-white imagery situated its subjects, Mthethwa was clearly reflecting on the relationship between photography and humanism. In a way he was responding to ubuntu, a philosophical idea derived from Zulu that defines intercultural and interhuman relations; it describes how human beings respond to each other in social contexts. In a sense, ubuntu not only frames, it is, in the classical definition of humanism, an affirmation of human dignity.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The call for recognition embodied in ubuntu is captured by the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu, ngabantu” (A person is a person through other people). This is not unlike the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’s idea of “being for the other.” These articulations of humanism and concern for the other register powerfully in the struggle between black-and-white photography, as a medium that sets up its subjects as anthropological case studies, and color, which allegedly contests the anthropological tendency of reportage and restores its subjects to their position as people with names and proper places — that is to say, as humans.




July 28, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… The modern artist’s task was to create equivalents … free from any residual association with familiar things.

Continuing through the essay ‘Abstract Expressionism’ by Kirk Varnedoe in “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern edited by William Rubin (1984):

… Probing for the fundamentals of man’s modes of representation and their connections to natural law was central to the whole endeavor of advanced American art in the forties. And it is here, in the imagery rather than in the rhetoric, and on this deeper level of meanings, that the new American primitivism connected most forcefully to a larger set of issues. Here it reaches beyond its roots in Surrealism, and beyond the particular pragmatic or political concerns of its own day, to attach itself most significantly to basic currents ongoing in modernist primitivism since Gauguin, and to the larger issues of primitivism as a pursuit of Western artists and intellectuals since the eighteenth century.

… The triadic association between “untutored” forms of expression, the innermost sources of creation, and the basic forces of nature is a constellation going back at least to the writings of Herder. The dovetailing by artists of the forties of simultaneous interests in prehistoric writing, scientizing natural history, and tribal art is another formulation of this recurrent nexus. In this view, Primitive arts — the unselfconscious poetry of tribal song, or the configurations of the bushman’s design — are seen as shaped by a suprapersonal emotional/psychological necessity and as destined for an integral role in collective life.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Their forms are thus identified with the dream, central to modern nonrepresentational art, of universal signs, representations simultaneously cultural (of the human mind, not slavishly imitative of nature’s appearances) and natural (linked directly to universal meanings in a way that escapes contingency). Such signs would rise from and address levels of consciousness at which the problematic barriers between body and mind, between self and society, between the laws of nature and the productions of men, are permeable if not dissolved. Primitivism has thus been recurrently joined, throughout its existence as a mode of Western thought, with speculation on the origins of language and the nature of signs, and with the search for an absolute or “natural” art in harmony with immutable, universal forms of meaning.

… Rothko spoke with envy of the “archaic” artist’s privilege of living in a society where transcendent art could find its expression in communally valid hybrids of human and animal form. The modern artist’s task was to create equivalents for these “monsters and gods” in new forms, free from any residual association with familiar things.

To be continued.

My previous post from Varnedoe’s essay is here.




July 27, 2015

But What Kind of Faith?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… a faith in not knowing, a faith in our ignorance, a faith in our being confounded and dumbfounded, a faith fertile with possible meaning and growth.

Last post from Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock by Kirk Varnedoe (2006):

… What matters in abstract art is not involuntary firing of neurons, not our ability to recognize the duck or the rabbit. Making is more powerful than that. Our humanity and our culture are not to be based on what is involuntary but on our will to make things that form a second nature by invention and imagination. Making in art is not just a corollary of problem solving, of producing schemas that tell you whether it is a duck or a rabbit, of producing things that are corollaries for the discovery of existing truths. Instead, making is the capacity of constructing autonomous symbol systems that have a huge variety of so-called natural grammars and rules of order that are in mutation throughout history.

Making is the invention of autonomous systems, like abstraction. And what then replaces matching? What are the criteria? What is the correction? How do we make progress? How do we measure whether we have moved ahead? There is only bottomless debate, fragmented and plural consensus, with overlapping edges that evolve through history with no fixed goal. Instead of the model of constant correction, or getting closer and closer to some absolute order, what we are always about in culture is getting better locally, with no idea of any final best. This is an order not based on any natural or involuntary sequence or progression, a making not simply discovered or matching some standard but rather based on a process of invention and constant debate. This is why abstract art, and modern art in general, being based on subjective experience and open-ended interpretation, is not universal or the culmination of anything in history but the contingent phenomena of a modern, secular, liberal society.

Richard Serra, Vortex, 2002

… Our common culture — the thing that we call our common culture, what is part of our society — comes, I am arguing, precisely from what is not shared among us. It is not the universal wiring, not the neurology, not the absolute forms of things external to us. The crucial motor generating cultural change, churning out the new, is best found in modern society in private visions, even when those visions are seemingly stupid, banal, hermetic, and utterly particular.

… [Abstraction] is not the production of forms of order that are not recognizable as order, but vehicles of feeling that seem impersonal, vessels of intelligence that appear utterly dumb. Abstract art is a symbolic game, and it is akin to all human games: you have to get into it, risk and all, and this takes a certain act of faith. But what kind of faith? Not faith in absolutes, not a religious kind of faith. A faith in possibility, a faith not that we will know something finally, but a faith in not knowing, a faith in our ignorance, a faith in our being confounded and dumbfounded, a faith fertile with possible meaning and growth.

… I believe in abstract art. If I have not been able to justify it, I can perhaps say with the pragmatist, with the liberalist: There it is. I have shown it to you. It has been done. It is being done. And because it can be done, it will be done.

And now, I am done.

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




July 26, 2015

We Are Called to Testify

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

This is from the essay ‘The Ease of Dying’ found in the collection, Friendship by Maurice Blanchot (1997):

… a distance, an interval, and a void of sorts; a small impassable abyss that is nonetheless, at every moment and out of distraction, passed over (but never abolished) every time that language functions …

… Therefore, one must not be fooled by the modesty of expression: it is a formidable experience, to which we are called to testify.

Next is from ‘The Laughter of the Gods’ in the same collection:

… Existence simulates, it dissimulates, and it dissimulates the fact that even when it is dissimulating and playing a role, it continues to be authentic existence, and thus with an almost inextricable malice, binds the simulacrum to true authenticity.

Finally, from ‘A Note on Transgression':

… The rhapsodic narrative, of which we are all tributary, is constituted by repeating itself around strange names — formidable, enigmatic, external to the language of the community — one does not know what they name, nor is it proper to stop them, rather, one should enclose them in the space of the narrative.




July 25, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am


This is from Six Drawing Lessons: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 2012 by William Kentridge (2014):

… About ten months ago, I telephoned my father to say that I had been invited to deliver this series of lectures.

“Well,” he replied, “do you have anything to say?”

“But you understand it is a great honor to be asked to give the Norton Lectures.”

“Indeed,” he said, “and now you have that honor. You don’t have to accept.”

… On the first day I started thinking about the lectures, I made a note, a caution to myself, which I repeat today:


Notes like this one are an essential part of the preparation process. I listed every thought I had ever had, or remembered someone else’s having. I divided them by six — in many different ways, as if in their different arrangements some new thought would emerge. I wrote them on pieces of paper and pinned them to the walls of the studio.


I added them to drawings I was making.





July 24, 2015

Last Idol for our Worship

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… That idol, that uncreate and ruined visage which confronts us daily …

This is from the essay ‘How Natural is “Natural”?’ found in The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1978):

… I too am a many-visaged thing that has climbed upward out of the dark of endless leaf falls, and has slunk, furred, though the glitter of blue glacial nights. I, the professor, trembling absurdly on the platform with my book and spectacles, am the single philosophical animal. I am the unfolding worm, the mud fish, the weird tree of Igdrasil shaping itself endlessly out of darkness toward the light.

… “The special value of science,” a perceptive philosopher once wrote, “lies not in what it makes of the world, but in what it makes of the knower.”

… well over a hundred years ago, Kierkegaard observed that maturity consists in the discovery that “there comes a critical moment where everything is reversed, after which the point becomes to understand more and more that there is something which cannot be understood.”

… “What we make natural, we destroy,” said Pascal. He knew, with superlative insight, man’s complete necessity to transcend the worldly image that this word connotes. It is not the outward powers of man the toolmaker that threaten us. It is a growing danger which has already afflicted vast areas of the world — the danger that we have created an unbearable last idol for our worship. That idol, that uncreate and ruined visage which confronts us daily, is not less than man made natural. Beyond this replica of ourselves, this countenance already grown so distantly inhuman that it terrifies us, still beckons the lonely figure of man’s dreams.




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