Unreal Nature

September 25, 2018

Possession in Common

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… a nation is necessarily an imagined community …

This is from the essay ‘National Park Landscapes and the Rhetorical Display of Civic Religion’ by Michael Halloran and Gregory Clark, found in Rhetorics of Display edited by Lawrence J. Prelli (2006):

… J.B. Jackson, a cultural geographer and American cultural historian, has noted that when we refer to a “sense of place,” we mean not just atmosphere but also influence. As he put it, when we view or visit a symbolic place,

the experience varies in intensity; it can be private and solitary, or convivial and social. The place can be a natural setting or a crowded street or even a public occasion. What moves us is our change of mood, the brief but vivid event. And what automatically ensues, it seems to me, is a sense of fellowship with those who share the experience, and the instinctive desire to return, to establish a custom of repeated ritual.

… Rhetoric is at work whenever people interact using symbols and are influenced by that interaction to understand themselves and their relation to each other differently. That different understanding prompts a change of identity, and this change “may involve identification not just with mankind or the world in general, but with some kind of congregation that also implies some related norms of differentiation and segregation.” [Kenneth Burke]

… From the beginning, American national parks and monuments have been “made to mean” something more to the American public than mere pleasure. Stephen Mather’s rhetorical project was to prompt citizens to invent for themselves the sort of identity from which national purposes would follow.

[line break added] Mather was the first of many who worked to make the national parks and monuments places where Americans would learn who they are as citizens of a nation, members of a “congregation” that, in the modern era, has shaped individual and collective identity in the same ways religion did in premodern times. Benedict Anderson observes that the “dawn of nationalism at the end of the eighteenth century coincide[d] with the dusk of religious modes of thought.” And yet, as Ernest Renan has put it:

A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form.

As Benedict Anderson has explained, a nation is necessarily an imagined community realized in shared symbols. What those symbols display is an ideal human identity that encompasses values and beliefs, desires and commitments of the people that community comprises. A nation’s officially designated public places display that identity. Individuals may encounter those places separately, but the meaning they encounter is collective — it is the soul of the nation they share.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




September 24, 2018

Delivering the Goods

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

“… they end up supporting a cultural prison that is out of their control.”

This is from Beyond Objecthood: The Exhibition as a Critical Form since 1968 by James Voorhies (2017):

… In his 1930 essay “The Modern Theatre Is the Epic Theatre,” Brecht insightfully explains:

For a long time now they have taken the handiwork (music, writing, criticism, etc.) of intellectuals who share in their profits — that is, of men who are economically committed to the prevailing system but are socially near-proletarian — and processed it to make fodder for their public entertainment machine, judging it by their own standards and guiding it into their own channels; meanwhile the intellectuals themselves have gone on supposing that the whole business is concerned only with the presentation of their work, is a secondary process which has no influence over their work but merely wins influence for it.

… While Brecht poses serious questions concerning the “entertainment machine,” in the same text he also comments on the value of the content provided by the intellectuals (in our case, the artists):

Their output then becomes a matter of delivering the goods. Values evolve which are based on the fodder principle. And this leads to a general habit of judging works of art by their suitability for the apparatus without ever judging the apparatus by its suitability for the work. People say, this or that is good work; and they mean (but do not say) good for the apparatus. Yet this apparatus is conditioned by the society of the day and only accepts what can keep it going in that society.

Smithson understood the critical value of the exhibition as apparatus, and thus his irritation with Szeeman’s approach of organizing Documenta 5 bears repeating: “Some artists imagine they’ve got a hold on this apparatus, which in fact has got a hold on them. As a result, they end up supporting a cultural prison that is out of their control. Artists themselves are not confined, but their output it.”

My previous post from Voorhies’s book is here.




September 23, 2018

The Definition of Joy

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… between this hell and this light there is no purgatory …

Final post from The Bad Conscience by Vladimir Jankélévich, translated by Andrew Kelley (2015):

… The bad conscience of evil is good … if it is sincere, that is, without complacency; consciousness of the misdeed mysteriously redeems the misdeed … on the condition that it does not become consciousness for the purpose of redeeming this misdeed, or because the shame would seemingly be a way to acquit oneself: for shame becomes inoperative from the instant that it takes on the ulterior motive of a reward; for despair becomes a comedy of despair and a disperato of the theatre and a ridiculous affectation from the instant that the most fugitive ulterior motive concerning its own effectiveness touches it.

… and if it is necessary to abandon gratuitous virtue, well then, better the pleasure of the hedonists than the sordid interest of the utilitarians; better to have too much sensuality than too much conscience! This is why Fénelon says: “One must take a taste when God offers it.” There is in voluptuous pleasure a sort of profound fantasy that is not displeasing: it comes when one is not expecting it; in particular it does not want to be forced; it is temperamental and ungovernable; one grabs it when it is offered; with regards to it, one holds oneself in a state of persistent grace. Pleasure is like virtue or like sleep: one takes distance from it by thinking about it. Happiness, one says, is planned, but pleasure is not planned …

… There is perhaps more spiritual life and more generosity in the person of voluptuous pleasure, who is madly profligate with his senses, than in an “arithmetic of pleasures” that pitifully skimps on enjoyment; one must not reason too much about one’s pleasures if one does not want to become the laughable dupe of one’s own foresight …

… The definition of despair is that it is without any ulterior motive of hope, or admixture of light; the definition of joy is that it is pure light without shadow: between this hell and this light there is no purgatory of the graduated interval, but the instantaneous grace of purification. The repentant good conscience is the mixture of a false joy and a false affliction, the latter troubling and upsetting the former, the former making the latter frivolous, taking away from it its gravity and its tragedy: desolation obscures joy, which makes a comedy of desolation; here all is “pseudo” and apocryphal, all is “artificial,” all is ulterior motive …

… if happiness is the continuous clarity that just as much illuminates our worries, then joy is the instantaneous fulguration that rends apart the nighttime of remorse …

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




September 22, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… It is a motion toward a point of rest, but if it is not a resisted motion, it is motion of no consequence.

This is from ‘Exploration of Value: Warren’s Criticism’ by John Hicks, found in Robert Penn Warren: A Collection of Critical Essays (1980):

… [Warren] refuses to think of a poet as a contriver of verses and images and impressive lines; or of the fiction writer as a deviser of plots and scenes and descriptions. Both have value only as explorers into hints of meaning implicit in life and personal experience. They are solvers of human problems, discoverers of vital symbols that will hold in imaginative suspension the most significant aspects of life itself:

Actually, the creation of a poem is as much a process of discovery as a process of making. A poem may, in fact, start from an idea — and may involve any number of ideas — but the process for the poet is the process of discovering what the idea … means … to him in the light of his total being and his total experience.

[line break added] Or a poem may start from a phrase, a scene, an image, or an incident which has a suggestive quality … the symbolic potential. Then the process of the poet is the process of discovering why the item has caught his attention in the first place — which is simply another way of saying that he is trying to develop the symbolic potential.

… In a superficial sense, what the author searches for is his story or poem or novel. But how will the author know that he has achieved it? Here we return to Warren’s persistent test question: What is the integrating center? What is the moral and structural focus?

… “The poet is like the jujitsu expert: he wins by utilizing the resistance of his opponent — the materials of the poem. In other words, a poem, to be good, must earn itself. It is a motion toward a point of rest, but if it is not a resisted motion, it is motion of no consequence. … [T]he good poem must, in some way, involve the resistances; it must carry something of the context of its own creation; it must come to terms with Mercutio.”

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




September 21, 2018

I Was Twenty, and It Was Summertime

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… it would never be quite the same again.

This is from the essay ‘Goodbye to All That’ by Joan Didion:

It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was.

[line break added] When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already, even in the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever heard sung and all the stories I had ever read about New York informed me that it would never be quite the same again. In fact it never was.

[line break added] Some time later there was a song on all the jukeboxes on the upper East Side that went “but where is the schoolgirl who used to be me,” and if it was late enough at night I used to wonder that. I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later and no matter what he or she is doing, but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.

… I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later …

… At that time making a living seemed a game to me, with arbitrary but quite inflexible rules. And except on a certain kind of winter evening — six-thirty in the Seventies, say, already dark and bitter with a wind off the river, when I would be walking very fast toward a bus and would look in the bright windows of brownstones and see cooks working in clean kitchens and imagine women lighting candles on the floor above and beautiful children being bathed on the floor above that — except on nights like those, I never felt poor; I had the feeling that if I needed money I could always get it. I could write a syndicated column for teenagers under the name “Debbi Lynn” or I could smuggle gold into India or I could become a $100 call girl, and none of it would matter.

Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach.

[ … ]




September 20, 2018

To Continue Beyond Anybody’s Point of Belief

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… I never think of myself as a person with patience at all; it’s just that I want to get things so badly that I keep at it.

This is from Drawings and Digressions by Larry Rivers (1979):

… I wanted to be an artist in the late forties, sort of early. At Hans Hofmann’s art school that concentrated on abstract art I began to have a fantastic desire to draw realistically. It’s strange — in relation to the march of events — my interests were really perennial interests. I wanted to be an artist in the classic sense: “Methinks I have to draw.” It sounds corny today, but that’s what it was like for me.

[line break added] By the time the forties and fifties came around, that was not the idea anymore. To be an artist was something else, some combination of being an interesting person, a forward-looking person, knowledgeable about history, especially art history, someone who wouldn’t accept the usual standards of things. You set yourself up as some kind of special agent for handling these supposedly different things. If your mother liked the sunset it wasn’t the proper subject matter for a painting.

But somewhere sneaking underneath all this was the idea that I wanted to identify with the history of art. I wanted to have some of the abilities of the best to really prove to myself that there was something of the artist in me.

In the beginning, I didn’t really understand the modern French masters at all. Picasso was interesting because he seemed to represent something modern. Whatever it was, it looked like it must be good because everybody said it was good and it was so peculiar. But I didn’t get it really. I started with Bonnard. I just began drawing the figure. I would ride with a pad on the bus. Everywhere I went I made quick sketches.

…What would life have been like if I hadn’t become an artist? I don’t know. I’m fairly politically minded; I’m interested in history and people. I don’t know what I would have done with it. Maybe having been taken seriously as an artist enabled me to take myself seriously in reading history and in thinking about politics. I think you have to succeed in some world to even believe that any of your interests are valid. If I didn’t have some kind of assurance from art, I don’t know what I would have done.

Claes Oldenburg once said that I seemed to continue beyond anybody’s point of belief. I mean I kept at something so long that it maybe finally becomes something. I don’t know if it was a compliment or an insult — he was acting as if he really couldn’t stand what I do, but you know, if I flatter myself into thinking that maybe I’ve done something, I just do keep at it.

[line break added] But I never think of myself as a person with patience at all; it’s just that I want to get things so badly that I keep at it. I always think that I’d like to get something the first second I do it. The first second — I just want to get it all. And I don’t. And then it becomes a matter of not being able to stand that anybody would see it bad. And so I’m undoing it, undoing it, correcting it, just to try to get it. It isn’t out of some idea of perfection.

My previous post from Rivers’s book is here.




September 19, 2018

An Art of Transparency

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

Shore’s images seemed to achieve a kind of perfect neutrality …

This is from the introductory essay to Stephen Shore by Quentin Bajac (2017):

“Whenever I find myself copying myself — making pictures whose problems I’ve already solved — I give myself new issues to pursue.”

… The recognition of Shore’s importance … is offset by the fact that the full range of his work remains unknown or misunderstood, too often reduced to his 1970s photographs of everyday American subjects. This can be explained by several factors, not the least of which is his lack of a clearly identifiable style.

[line break added] Shore’s refusal to repeat himself has led him to seek out a new direction as soon as a style — that is, the combination of an approach and a subject — seems to be firmly in place, or when the visual solutions to a problem have become obvious to him and the pleasure of resolving the problem has vanished. His shifts between color and black and white, his use of both analog and digital, his constant variation of scale and subject characterize a visually disparate body of work in which the prevailing rule seems to be the absence of rules.

Wikieup, Arizona, December 14, 1976

… This constant reworking points to a photographer who has never been boxed in by a single approach and considers all of his work, whether current or past, to be alive and in flux. Although since 2000 a common misconception has arisen of Shore as a staunch defender of contact prints in the tradition of small-scale photography, he has repeatedly explained that, from the 1970s on, he has varied the dimensions of his prints and, more recently, has embraced new digital tools that he wishes he had had at his disposal thirty years earlier.

The somewhat inscrutable nature of his work is due to its level of detachment, which critics of Uncommon Places found unsettling from the start: Shore’s images seemed to achieve a kind of perfect neutrality, both in their subject matter and their approach. Among the new American color photographers, he was undoubtedly the hardest to pin down and the most enigmatic, without the obsessiveness of William Christenberry, the picturesque qualities of Helen Levitt, the sensuality of Joel Meyerowitz, the baroque complexity of William Eggleston, or the narrative clarity of Joel Sternfeld. Even Shore’s soft color tended toward the monochromatic, staying true to a concept of photography as an art of transparency.




September 18, 2018

A Rhetorical Token

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… [an image] remains merely a rhetorical token of the “indescribable” and the “unrepresentable” in our sometimes terrible human experience.

This is from the essay ‘ “This Horrible Spectacle”: Visual Sketches of the Famine in Skibbereen’ by James Michael Farrell, found in Rhetorics of Display edited by Lawrence J. Prelli (2006):

In February 1847, artist James Mahoney of Cork was commissioned by the Illustrated London News “to visit a seat of extreme suffering, viz, Skibbereen and its vicinity.” The editors of the paper were interested in “ascertaining the accuracy of the frightful statements received from the west, and of placing them in unexaggerated fidelity before our readers.”

… Between 1845 and 1850, more than a million Irish men, women, and children died of starvation, typhus, dysentery, or other famine-related diseases.

… In sending an illustrator to witness the suffering, the Illustrated London News no doubt understood that a sketch from an artist on the scene could lend credibility to the written descriptions that had frequently been published in London papers. There was something in the sketch, in the visual representation of the scene, that was more trustworthy as an immediate and authentic representation of the “truth” being reported.

[line break added] At the same time, it is significant that Mahoney’s sketches were accompanied by his own descriptive notes that contextualized the scenes depicted and added detail and depth he was incapable of capturing in his illustration. We need to explore the relationship of the visual and verbal presentation of the famine and assess their rhetorical function both separately and in combination, aiming to understand how sketch and narrative each contribute to accomplishing the goals of this particular rhetoric of display.

[ … ]

… Just as there is a verbal trope of indescribability, we see in the work of James Mahoney a corresponding visual trope of the unrepresentable in which the artist also acknowledges the inadequacy of his pictorial craft to re-present the scenes of misery he witnessed. In drawing sketches, Mahoney follows a rhetorical strategy similar to that observable in his verbal narratives. He allows the display of suffering to remain incomplete, partly occluded to encourage the viewer to enter the scene by imagination.

… although the famine illustrations enabled the efficiency of Mahoney’s economy of display, the most penetrating impression, and the most compelling of the moral demands, came primarily from [his] verbal narratives. Like the descriptions of other famine writers, Mahoney’s rhetoric repeatedly and consistently turned to a verbal “trope” of indescribability. The fact that words, like his artistic skills, failed to fully capture the complete picture of suffering shifted the burden of full description to the imaginations of his readers.

… By its nature as a static display, [an image] remains merely a rhetorical token of the “indescribable” and the “unrepresentable” in our sometimes terrible human experience. The singular image can only approximate that which “no tongue or pen can convey the slightest idea of.”

My previous post from this book is here.




September 17, 2018

For the Consumer

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… “Participation” … inherently implies the act of taking part in something that profits, that has a purpose toward an intended outcome.

This is from the Introduction to Beyond Objecthood: The Exhibition as a Critical Form since 1968 by James Voorhies (2017):

… How did we arrive at this moment in contemporary art where there are legal waivers, helmets, warnings, and queuing up in a museum for experiences that can be had better and more cheaply at a county fair or suburban waterpark? In this case, one might say it is Carsten Höller’s fault since the New Museum evidently disavowed responsibility for the visitor’s experience. It is, after all, his art.

[line break added] The New Museum and countless other large museums and biennials around the world, however, are part of the industry of contemporary art. By the latter I mean the major art institutions, journals, galleries, artists, and curators responsible for the presentation and circulation of art and its discourses. This industry defines and disperses what the general public knows is contemporary art.

[line break added] It operates like any other industry — technology, filmmaking, music, medicine, design, and so forth. Its operations function within the same neoliberalist market mentality, and its mandate is to do precisely what Höller did for the New Museum: create an experience for the consumer. That consumer is the spectator.

Untitled (Slide), part of Carsten Höller: Experience at the New Museum, 2011-1012

Yet the question still remains: how did we arrive at this moment when art with the critical aspirations that Bourriaud attributes to Höller in effect perpetuates and exacerbates the modernist paradigm of art’s making and display?

[ … ]

… An important distinction of the work I study is its unexpected apprehension of the spectator’s attention rather than an obvious invitation to participate. I use the term “apprehension” because it connotes an act of intuitive understanding through perception. It suggests a durational quality of becoming that forgoes absolute comprehension in exchange for awareness via multiple senses that go beyond simply concrete knowledge. To be apprehended by something is to feel it, and sometimes that sensation is inexplicable through words alone.

[line break added] “Participation,” on the other hand, inherently implies the act of taking part in something that profits, that has a purpose toward an intended outcome. It assigns, therefore, a causal effect that imbues the art with the function of defining and changing something, for example, fixing social problems, disseminating political action, or directly altering behaviors of society and institutions.

[line break added] The concept of participation has been widely explored and used with increasing frequency over the past decade in artistic practices, exhibitions, institutions, and criticism. It can be mistakenly invested with an extraordinary level of criticality — and thus political agency — because of a sometimes misguided belief that it creates renewed and productive intersections between art, spectator, and institution. It is often done for free, which tends to alleviate responsibility for both the participant and the artist for the quality and effectiveness of the outcome.

[line break added] Participation is commonly categorized under terms like “social practice” or “socially engaged art.” This is not to say [that] art that invites participation does not invoke change — it does on many levels. The work that I examine is critical because it draws on multiple senses of perception and feeling, combined with space and time, to comprehensively apprehend the spectator to a greater degree than what might be readily categorized as participation.




September 16, 2018

The Beautiful Danger

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… for an interior life there are innumerable transitions between hypocrisy and sincerity.

Continuing through The Bad Conscience by Vladimir Jankélévich, translated by Andrew Kelley (2015):

… A virtue that is too conscious is like these light dreams of which the sleeper is hardly the dupe and that he fosters voluntarily: at first contact with consciousness, sleep has already vanished. The virtuous person, like this sleeper, for a bit of time will keep his eyes closed in pretending to sleep, in performing for himself the comedy of unconsciousness. Is he the dupe of this superficial staging? Does he really believe that he can cognize his impalpable virtue, weigh his imponderable merit? One would not always know how to say it, for an interior life there are innumerable transitions between hypocrisy and sincerity.

… one knows how much our great classical moralists took pleasure in following the torturous meanderings of self-love, the long detours that it accomplishes so as to realize, under the mask of virtue, its egoistical designs: “Virtues are lost in self-interest like streams are lost in the sea.”

… Naturally, at the root of all the most noble feelings — friendship, gratitude, and generosity — one discovers, when all is said and done, an interested I, for the good reason that every verb contains a subject: this subject is the I that loves, that wants, or that gives; and in fact, one cannot separate these virtues from the personal experience that prepares them: how can one cancel the contribution of memory?

[line break added] After all, one cannot refuse to the just person the right of nourishing some complacency for his justice: one might as well ask him to disappear, to exist no more; the pleasure that my own virtue inspires in me is egoistic insofar as it is I who feel it, that is all there is to it, and the pessimism of the rigorists on this point is nothing more than the declaration of a truism.

… Even the Gospel, and Leviticus before the Gospel, tells us: love your neighbor like yourselves.

[ … ]

… the bad conscience is the despair of a will that feels itself monstrously exceeded by its own works. Because the bad conscience is a conscience that lags behind, it can no longer master the sins that nevertheless belong to it, and its virtues themselves seem suspect, distant, and hostile to it. My intentions alone belong to me absolutely: to coincide with one’s intention is to remain master of one’s sins and certain of the goodness of the good movement. Into the present of the intention vanish the contradictions and the “cases of conscience” that the atomism of scrupulous people and blasé people have caused to be born.

… The greatest danger to moral life is what one could call the obsession of the virtual witness: we continually “pose,” if not for others, at least for ourselves, for another me — alternatively pitying, lauding, praising — but always someone who is there to excuse us or to reassure us. This is a malediction.

[line break added] Barely has our virtue become aware of itself than we catch ourselves playing a role, taking pity on ourselves; a concern about the “attitude” or, put differently, the affectation, poisons our best inspirations, and the person disappears beneath the pathetic characters that he indeed believes himself to be playing, fades behind the statue that he indeed believes himself to be sculpting; a “silent dialogue” is established between our soul and this indulgent spectator who is always ready to justify us.

… [But!] No, the duped are not the confident ones; the duped are rather the suspicious ones, those who, by an excess of prudence, allow the best of themselves to be liquidated in a bitter mocking that lacks nobility, those who refuse to believe in the authenticity of their own virtue. It is not necessary to disdain this happy confidence, this mad credulity of the senses and of the mind that is not only an indispensable postulate of social relations but the sure mark of a will in good health. This mistrust is reasonable, and nevertheless it is necessary to have confidence: such is the ironic paradox and the beautiful danger, the adventurous danger of the wager; I gamble that my confidence will not be disappointed.

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




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