Unreal Nature

May 29, 2015

Sophisticated Fire

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:29 am

… this strange hoarding and burning at the heart of life still puzzled me.

This is from the essay ‘The Last Neandertal’ found in The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley (1994, 1964):

… there are rocks in deserts that glow with heat for a time after sundown. Similar emanations may come from the writer or the scientist. The creative individual is someone upon whom mysterious rays have converged and are again reflected, not necessarily immediately, but in the course of years.

… The receptive mind makes all the difference, shadowing or lighting the original object.

[ … ]

… I have seen a tree root burst a rock face on a mountain or slowly wrench aside the gateway of a forgotten city. This is a very cunning feat, which men take too readily for granted. Life, unlike the inanimate, will take the long way round to circumvent barrenness. A kind of desperate will resides even in a root. It will perform the evasive tactics of an army, slowly inching its way through crevices and hoarding energy until someday it swells and a living tree upheaves the heaviest mausoleum.

… Some pages back I spoke of a wild-plum thicket. I did so because I had a youthful memory of visiting it in autumn. All the hoarded juices of summer had fallen with that lush untasted fruit upon the grass. The tiny engines of the plant had painstakingly gathered throughout the summer rich stores of sugar and syrup from the ground. Seed had been produced; birds had flown away with fruit that would give rise to plum trees miles away. The energy dispersion was so beneficent on that autumn afternoon that earth itself seemed anxious to promote the process against the downward guttering of the stars. Even I, tasting the fruit, was in my animal way scooping up some of it into thoughts and dreams.

Long after the Antillean adventure I chanced on an autumn walk to revisit the plum thicket. I was older, much older, and I had come largely because I wondered if the thicket was still there and because this strange hoarding and burning at the heart of life still puzzled me. I have spoken figuratively of fire as an animal, as being perhaps the very essence of animal. Oxidation, I mean, as it enters into life and consciousness.

Fire, as we have learned to our cost, has an insatiable hunger to be fed. It is a nonliving force that can even locomote itself. What if now — and I half closed my eyes against the blue plums and the smoke drifting along the draw — what if now it is only concealed and grown slyly conscious of its own burning in this little house of sticks and clay that I inhabit? What if I am, in some way, only a sophisticated fire that has acquired an ability to regulate its rate of combustion and to hoard its fuel in order to see and walk?

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




May 28, 2015

It’s the Part You Don’t See

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… “What are those people doing sitting in front of those little machines?”

This is from the interview with Geof Bartz in First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors by Gabriella Oldham (1992):

[ … ]

Rhythm keeps the audience involved in the film, doesn’t it?

Rhythm is at the heart of all of this. What makes a film interesting and palatable to an audience, even though they may not know it, is the rhythm of the film, the way you structure the highs and lows. What you don’t let people say [in the movie] is as important as what you do let them say; what you have to cut out to make their sentences clean and have resonance so they’re not spewing on forever. It’s the part you don’t see when you watch the film. That’s the creation of the rhythm. And that’s the part of the craft that’s really interesting, that fine-tuning, that honing, so that when you’re done, you look at the film and say, “This is the essence of those dailies. This is the essential film.” All you ever have is your own intuition and your own instincts about it. That’s the scary part and also the fun part. Since no two people are alike, each person will approach this task differently.

[ … ]

… Editing is done behind closed doors in little rooms. I’ve had this experience many times of walking by cutting rooms where other editors were working, and looking in and saying, “That’s idiotic! What are those people doing sitting in front of those little machines?” But when you’re doing it yourself and get excited about it, and there are those times, at midnight or whenever, when suddenly something comes together, it’s very exciting and exhilarating. I think that within the industry, editors are appreciated, but I’m not sure that many people understand what’s involved in editing. I remember at my father’s funeral, this woman came up to me and said, “I want you to meet my son someday, he runs a camera shop.” As if somehow the fact that he ran a camera shop and I was a film editor put us in the same field.

[ … ]

In summary, what would you like people to know most about editing?

That it exists! People don’t realize that somebody sits there and makes thousands and thousands of decisions before what they see ever gets on the screen. That they’ve gone down hundreds of wrong paths before they’ve ended up with the final film. [ … ] Editing is the last analysis. Unless you have unlimited resources and can continue shooting forever, the buck stops in the cutting room. Either it works there or it doesn’t.

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




May 27, 2015

Scarred in the Process

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… repetition can introduce the will to meaning — on the part of an infant, for instance — but then, taken to the extreme, it can also deny it.

This is from the essay ‘Uta Barth: Figures of Stasis and Flux’ by Jan Tumlir found in white blind (bright red) by Uta Barth (2004):

… The closing credits [of a movie] return us to the same ambiguous patch of earthly surface that formerly supported the title sequence, with its gaudy montage of images to come. In the end, it is left bare, and we are reminded that “what is specific to film is that it has just one place for images,” as Michael Chion points out. This place is basically one that fills up; images accumulate there, one atop another, before departing again. “in film the frame is important,” Chion continues, “since it is nothing less than that beyond which there is darkness.” The filmic frame marks the borders of a world seemingly restored to wholeness, and this is what distinguishes it from the photographic frame, which always retains an essentially fragmentary character. Cutting across and into the space-time continuum, it disassembles the world into singular instances, objective records, which may then be reassembled at will.


… In the time it takes to make an exposure, the camera’s shutter must both open and close, and Barth’s pictures acknowledge this simple technical fact by remaining insistently conflicted, at cross-purposes right down to their smallest constituent particle. The moment of picture-taking signals a breach in the continuity of perception — Barth calls it an “interruption” — and its results are inevitably marked, scarred, in the process.

… Repetition changes its own object, rendering it already-seen, a ghostly thing susceptible to all the distortions and corruptions of memory. Within the linguistic domain, repetition can introduce the will to meaning — on the part of an infant, for instance — but then, taken to the extreme, it can also deny it. What begins as a form of insistence quickly degenerates into gibberish, which is partly what happens here as well. Within Uta Barth’s practice, that is, the phenomenological incentive will begin to take precedence as a consequence of a delirious accumulation of pictures.


… Two elements dominate the proceedings: a leafless tree and a telephone pole. These are Barth’s principal characters, and it is of course significant that the one is made of the other.

Last week’s Barth post is here.




May 26, 2015

To Be Open-Minded

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… criticism begrudged them their independence …

This is from Renegade Regionalists: The Modern Independence of Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry by James M. Dennis (1998):

… All three artists, as panel painters, muralists, and printmakers, shared the democratic urge within Modernism to eliminate the traditional divisions between elite and popular subject matter, the high and the low. They engaged in a form of aesthetic populism called Regionalism. At the same time they were opposed to the closed, deterministic world of nineteenth-century positivism and embraced change and chance, a world of discovery where pluralism counteracted categorization. This was invariably lost on art critics who refused in a modern sense to be open-minded. They insisted on categorizing the three according to what they expected them to produce within a narrowly defined movement.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] They thereby failed to evaluate them for what they individually pursued up and down the ladder of style and subject matter. By maintaining their independence, the “triumvirate” of Regionalism often proved themselves modernists, in line with the definition of modern offered by the culturally grounded sociologist Daniel Bell: “What defines the modern is a sense of openness to change, of detachment from place and time, of social and geographical mobility, and a readiness, if not eagerness, to welcome the new, even at the expense of tradition and the past.”

… Modernism comprises four elements. While they do not materialize in the same way in all three artists, these are the qualities to look for in the complex intersections of their work during the decade or so with which we are concerned: formal order and aesthetic independence, mimetic reflections of social modernization, critical negations of modernization, and the use of myth as a device for ordering the furor or American history.

Thomas Hart Benton, The Hailstorm

[ … ]

… In his catalogue introduction to the Museum of Modern Art exhibition of cubist and abstract art in the spring of 1936, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. was more ambivalent about the elimination of external references in what he termed “pure abstractions” as opposed to “near abstractions.” Somewhat apologetically he wrote: “Such an attitude, of course, involves a great impoverishment of painting, an elimination of a wide range of values, such as the connotations of subject matter, sentimental, documentary, political, sexual, religious; the pleasures of easy recognition; and the enjoyment of technical dexterity in the imitation of material forms and surfaces. But in his art the abstract artist prefers impoverishment to adulteration.”

Judging Wood, Benton, and Curry according to narrow, single-theme expectations, a majority of their critics (admirers as well as detractors) neglected or censured their “near abstractions” of caricatured figures and exaggerated settings in favor of accurately detailed description. Moreover, without thoroughly investigating and recognizing the variety of subjects broached by the three, ranging from personal fantasies to cultural myths, much criticism begrudged them their independence, a core characteristic of Modernism. It was decreed that the leading Regionalists should produce designated Regionalist themes in a direct-realist manner.




May 25, 2015

Primal Nerve

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… Why put up with it? Because we want what only this risk has been able to give us.

This is from Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock by Kirk Varnedoe (2006):

… Beyond my liking abstract art, or your liking it, or even all of Washington DC liking it; beyond the commitments of the artists who make it; and beyond the collectors and institutions that support it, What is abstract art good for? What’s the use — for us as individuals, or for any society — of pictures of nothing? What’s the use of paintings or sculptures or prints or drawings that do not seem to show anything except themselves — big holes in the ground [see Michael Heizer‘s North, South, East, West, 1967], or huge curved pieces of steel [see Richard Serra‘s various Torqued Ellipses]?

I take this topic ultimately because it seems to me one of the most legitimate and poorly addressed questions in modern art.

Michael Heizer, North, South, East, West, 1967

… There are not any “hard” reasons why abstract art has to be. Nor any teleology that explains why it developed as it did. And it is useless to keep looking for those kinds of justifications.

This does not invalidate abstract art. The familiar arguments that abstraction is just a big hoax, a colossal version of the “emperor’s new clothes,” perpetrated on a duped public by cynical art mandarins, seem like tiresome whistling in the dark. Abstract art has been with us in one form or another for almost a century now, and has proved to be not only a long-standing crux of cultural debate, but a self-renewing, vital tradition of creativity. We know that it works, even if we’re still not sure why that’s so, or exactly what to make of that fact. To borrow the phrase of the apocryphal contemporary academic, “Okay, so it works in practice. But does it work in theory?”

… abstract art absorbs projection and generates meaning ahead of naming, establishing the form of things unknown, sui generis, in their peculiar complexities. This is one of abstraction’s singular qualities, the form of enrichment and alteration of experience denied to the fixed mimesis of known things. It reminds me of the joke about the person who invented the cure for which there was no known disease.

… the development of abstraction in the last fifty years suggests something more Alexandrian than Adamic, that is, a tradition of invention and interpretation that has become exceptionally refined and intricate, encompassing a mind-boggling range of drips, stains, blobs, blocks, bricks, and blank canvases. The woven web of abstraction is now so dense that, for its adepts, it can snare and cradle vanishingly subtle, evanescent, and slender forms of life and meaning.

… Just the same, this is risky business. Abstract art is a learned language, and not always easy to understand.

… Understanding the tradition of abstract art sharpens our experience of what we are seeing. The idea that you need to learn about abstract art to enjoy it strikes some primal nerve, arousing our anxiety about authentic versus fake experience. It offends the know-nothings, who fall back on: “I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” But this cliché flies in the face of our common sense awareness, reinforced a thousand times in our life, that some of the most deep-seated pleasures of our natural selves — from sex to food on up to music — involve appetites that had to be educated. If these pleasures are rooted in crude instinct, they nonetheless grow in depth and power as we acquire hierarchies of discrimination, until second nature is nowhere separable from the first.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Yet visual art — and abstract art most particularly — remains one of the last bastions of unashamed, unrepentant ignorance, where educated experience can still be equated with phony experience. In regard to abstract art, this syndrome becomes ever more acute as the tradition gets fatter and the works get leaner. What we see gets simpler, and what we can bring to it gets more complex. So we are constantly worried that we are being played for fools by works like Flavin‘s sculpture or Marden‘s painting. What makes the anxiety even worse is the fact that this is an art that, by its very nature, willfully and knowingly flirts with absurdity and emptiness, dancing on the knife-edge of nonsense and beckoning us to come along.

Why put up with it? Because we want what only this risk has been able to give us.

To be continued.




May 24, 2015

If Today

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… If today the writer, thinking of going down to the underworld, is content with going out into the street, that is because the two rivers, the two great movements of elementary communication, passing through each other, tend to be confused.

This first is from the essay ‘The Book to Come’ found in The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot (1959; 2003):

… doubt belongs to poetic certainty, just as the impossibility of affirming the work brings us close to its own affirmation, one whose care the words “keeping vigil doubting rolling shining and meditating” bring back to our minds.

… Whoever clings to certainty or even to the lower form of probability is not on the way to “the horizon,” any more than is the traveling companion of the musical thought whose five ways of being played are played in the intimacy of chance.

The following is from the last essay in the book, ‘The Power and the Glory':

… Just as public understanding always has all its understanding beforehand but makes all real comprehension fail, just as public rumor is the absence and emptiness of all clear and decisive language, always saying something other than what is said (hence perpetual and formidable misunderstandings, at which Ionesco lets us laugh), just as the public is the indeterminacy that ruins every group and every class, so the writer, when he succumbs to the fascination of what is at stake by the fact that he “publishes,” seeking the reader in the public, as Orpheus sought Eurydice in the underworld, turns toward a language that will be no one’s and that no one will understand, for it is always addressed to someone else, awakening in the one who receives it always an other and always the expectation of something else. Nothing universal, nothing that makes literature a promethean or divine power, having right over everything, but the movement of a dispossessed and uprooted language, which prefers to say nothing with the claim of saying everything and, each time it says something, only designates the level below which one must still descend if one wants to begin to speak.

… When Orpheus goes down to the underworld in search of the work, he confronts an entirely different Styx: that of nocturnal separation, which he must enchant with a gaze that does not turn it to stone. It is the essential experience, the only one in which he must become wholly involved. Having returned to daylight, his role with regard to external authorities is limited to disappearing, soon to be torn to pieces by their delegates, the Maenads, which the daytime Styx, the river of public rumor in which his body was scattered, carries his lyric work, and not only carries it, but wants to make itself the song in it, to maintain in it its own fluid reality, its infinitely murmuring becoming, foreign to any shore.

If today the writer, thinking of going down to the underworld, is content with going out into the street, that is because the two rivers, the two great movements of elementary communication, passing through each other, tend to be confused.

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




May 23, 2015

The Street

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… how it dominates its immediate environment, how complex it is in design, how many functions it now serves … [T]he street has taken over the role of making landscapes …

This is from the essay ‘The Accessible Landscape’ found in Landscape in Sight: Looking at America by John Brinckerhoff Jackson; edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz (1997):

… A common spectacle across the country are the cars, three abreast and ten deep, waiting at an intersection and watching the intricate choreography of the traffic lights overhead — then surging away to travel miles across open country between billboards and auto junkyards, to some satellite industrial suburb.

… There is clearly such a thing as a middle- or upper-class American way of perceiving and creating a landscape. It comprises those spaces and structures and relationships which people of those classes are familiar with and find pleasant as a setting for their way of life. It is a spacious rural (or semirural) landscape of woods and green fields (plowed fields are suspect, hinting at mechanization or, worse yet, commercialized farming). It is a landscape of private territories, admission to which is by invitation only.

… [In the city,] urban streets … were like turbulent streams flooding their banks and drowning what was left of the old boundaries, the old privacy and autonomy. In the end the driver’s perspective saw all those changes and adaptations, all that destruction and leveling as elements in a battlefield. Two concepts of how to organize and use space were meeting head-on: privacy and security and permanence as symbolized by those established territories or domains versus a vernacular impulse toward accessibility and freedom of movement.

The traveler who, like myself, rarely gets out of his car is more likely to be more aware of the roadway ahead of him than of the spaces and buildings on either margin. But if you have had, as I have had, the experience of driving fifty or more years ago, you cannot fail to be struck by how the street in the average American town or city has been transformed, how it dominates its immediate environment, how complex it is in design, how many functions it now serves, and how it constantly creates new ancillary spaces and structures: parking garages, underground parking, parking lots, drive-in facilities and skyways and overpasses and interchanges and strange little slices and islands of greenery.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] In its most inclusive sense, the street has taken over the role of making landscapes, changing them and destroying them. In the old days, roads were cautiously planned and built solely to reach a specific destination. Now we build highways hundreds of miles in length to open a whole region to development, and even a new street cut across a vacant suburban area promptly produces house after house along its margin, the way the branch of a tree produces leaves in spring. In the hands of a skilled planner or traffic engineer, a street becomes a versatile tool: outlawed parking, limited speed, one-way traffic, and a succession of traffic lights can either ruin the social and economic life of a neighborhood or cause it to flourish.

Sometimes, it is true, the scale and complexity of this highway environment can make a driver break out in a cold sweat. In town after town I have found myself enmeshed in a tangle of interchanges and overpasses and ramps, and have been reduced to total helplessness, timidly seeking to follow signs and numbers and arrows, and to obey the commands and warnings painted on the surface of the road in front of me.

Still, it is easy to exaggerate how sensitive we are to the modern highway environment. Without our always admitting it, we are at home, we know what to expect, when we drive for block after block between a succession of drive-ins, parking lots, used-car lots, garages, and gas stations. We are not simply in a commonplace, often unsightly part of town; we are in a new organization of urban space, one designed for work, for accessibility, and for the satisfaction of short-term essential needs — all based on the presence of the automobile.

… I am very much aware of the excesses of accessibility, of the confusion and squalor of the environment often created by the rejection of the traditional private organization and use of space. I wish there were fewer cars. I wish distances were not so great. I wish the pursuit of accessibility, the constant striving for the attention and good will of the mobile consumer did not often mean lack of dignity and individuality. And I have dark moments when I foresee that the American city will in the future come to resemble those immense and formless cities of the third world.

That may be what happens. In the meantime, we should perhaps remind ourselves that behind this new way of building and planning and incessantly moving about is a basic universal urge: not to withdraw into a private domain of our own but to participate in the world and to share it with others. Ours is a society where vernacular values are taken seriously. However extravagant and unsightly much of the contemporary urban scene may be, it is essentially vernacular in that it offers the public, and particularly the working public, an easy and presumably attractive way of satisfying the needs of everyday existence.

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




May 22, 2015

To Fail and Come Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… Perhaps it is always the destined role of the compassionate to be strangers among men. To fail and pass, to fail and come again.

This is from the essay ‘The Inner Galaxy’ found in The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley (1994, 1964):

… The cruel and the gentle would sit at the same fireside, dreaming already in the Stone Age the different dreams they dream today.

The visionary was already awaiting the eternal city; the gifted musician sat hearing in his brain sounds that did not yet exist. All waited upon and yet possessed, in some dim way, the future in their heads. Abysmal darkness and great light lay invisibly about their camps. The phantom cities of the far future awaited latent talents for which, in that unspecialized time, there was no name.

Above all, some of them, a mere handful in any generation perhaps, loved — they loved the animals about them, the song of the wind, the soft voices of women. On the flat surfaces of cave walls the three dimensions of the outside world took animal shape and form. Here — not with the axe, not with the bow — man fumbled at the door of his true kingdom.

[ … ]

… Through shattered and receding skulls, growing ever smaller behind us in the crannies of a broken earth, a stranger had crept and made his way. But precisely how he came, and what might be his destiny, except that it is not wholly of our time or this our star, we do not know.

Perhaps it is always the destined role of the compassionate to be strangers among men. To fail and pass, to fail and come again. For the seed of man is thistledown, and a puff of breath may govern it, or a word from a poet torment it into greatness.

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




May 21, 2015

The Audience

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… they’re not aware of the editing. You’re not supposed to be aware of the editing. But it’s amazingly naive about the process of how you make a film …

This first bit is from the interview with Emily Paine in First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors by Gabriella Oldham (1992):

[ … ]

… I like to hear what assistants think; I like to have a body next to me watching. It makes for a different experience.

A silent body?

A silent body! I say, “Sit next to me while we look at this.” All of a sudden, it becomes an audience instead of me alone with my material.

The following is from the interview with Tom Haneke:

[ … ]

How do you not feel inundated by the amount of film you receive?

… there are millions of different ways to make material work. You can almost make it jump through hoops, put a different spin on it. What are you going to make the material do for you? Cinéma vérité, I don’t think it ever happens. You can make the material serve what you see as the truth of the situation. It’s really in your hands. You have to decide what you think happens in this footage; then you have to take, say, an hour and a half of film of a particular event and make it into a three-minute scene that communicates what you think happened in that hour-and-a-half event. It’s the only way you can proceed. You’re trying to distill. That’s essentially what you’re doing in the whole process, distilling the truth, as you perceive it.

But you’re manipulating the audience.

Of course you are! That’s the point. There’s no way not to manipulate. Even if you say you’re not manipulating, by putting Scene A next to Scene B, you’re manipulating, you’re leading them on a journey. Seeing a film is an experience in time. You want the audience to be asking, “What happens next? What happens next?” You control the flow of events, the rhythm, the juxtaposition of information. I worry about that because it’s so easy to manipulate. You have to be true to the facts, but more importantly, to what you perceive as the truth. Ultimately, it’s through your eyes, the filmmaker’s eyes. There’s no way around that.

[ … ]

… You always have to be aware that this is an experience in time, it’s got to be finished at one hundred minutes or eighty minutes or ninety minutes. You can’t ever forget that. A film is a journey. It’s just not one thing after another. One interesting thing, another interesting thing, another — you get tired of that after a while.

Do you yourself research the subjects before you start working?

I do some reading, but only after I’ve seen the footage. I don’t want to fall prey to the problem of knowing too much already. I want to come to it cold. I have to be able to recognize when the material is confusing or incomplete. If I already know about it, I won’t recognize those problems. It’s very difficult to maintain that distance. After you’ve seen the film four hundred thousand times, it’s not fresh.

How do you keep it so?

An audience helps a lot. When you invite two or three strangers into the cutting room, even if you’re not looking at their faces — while they’re watching, you can feel their reactions. You know when you want something to go faster, when it’s not working. You can fool yourself when you’re watching it by yourself, but suddenly it’s up there on the screen, people are watching. Something tells you, “This Is Not Working.”

[ … ]

… Three faces. Those shots came out of the big audience reaction roll. Pictures of audience. What do you do with them? You could do a million things. Where do you put them? As I said, that’s a manufactured moment in the film, more than once people said, “The camera always seems to be in the right place at the right time.”

Bet you love that!

Well, you do in a sense because they’re not aware of the editing. You’re not supposed to be aware of the editing. But it’s amazingly naive about the process of how you make a film like this. It’s only in a fast cutting montage that people ever notice the editing. People don’t know what editing is — even my friends who know what I do. I turn off the sound and I show them pictures. “See? Cut, cut, cut.” I turn on the sound, you know, effects, music, etcetera. “See, that didn’t happen that way. We added all that in later.” So what? The whole film should go somewhere.

My previous post from Oldham’s book is here.




May 20, 2015

Remaking the Visible Thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… Here, [it] … is … [a matter] of things caught up in the sticky substance of vision …

This is from the essay ‘A Little Background Noise (Excerpts)’ by Timothy Martin found in Uta Barth: In Between Places (2000):

… Functions aside, what does the blur mean? What is it as an end in itself? Because the blur is so inherently intermediate, that is, between visual thingness and nothingness, it is difficult to address such a question directly without interpreting the blur as a sign — and coming up with the usual shopworn readings of it. Instead, being as obtuse as the blur is — and taking our cue from the Ground series’ title — we might ask: In what sense, outside of the figure-ground nomenclature, is the blur grounded? This is perhaps not so odd a question, for it can be approached in familiar terms that have been applied to all photographic images.


First, in structuralist terms, a photograph is an emanation of the referent, as Roland Barthes has put it, “a sort of umbilical cord [that] links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium.” That is, it is grounded in the photographed thing by way of an “umbilical” link of photons, a kind of chain of custody between the thing and the image. In these terms, is an unfocused photograph any less an emanation? Not exactly, but it would appear that something has gotten in the way of the link, some second pole of grounding: the lens. The lens, which Barthes seems to assume is eternally focused, is that material “organ” which gathers up the emanation — flying in all directions at once — and reconverges it, thus making the link and remaking the visible thing. The emanation of the thing is still there in the unfocused photograph, but so is an “emanation” of the lens, so to speak, showing itself in the act of gathering (and suspending) the errant rays, but not (yet) resolving them.

… Here, vision par excellence is not a matter of sheer and unimpeded transcendence of things but of things caught up in the sticky substance of vision, like a primordial fly in amber.

Last week’s Barth post is here.




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