Unreal Nature

February 24, 2015

Sorting Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… character will decide.

This is from ‘Four Scottish Painters’ (1977) found in Clement Greenberg: Late Writings, edited by Robert C. Morgan (2003):

The artist goes toward maturity through a succession of acts of taste, decisions of taste. In the course of these he comes to terms with the art preceding him, and crucially with the art immediately preceding him. Doing this, he begins to decide just how ambitious he’ll be. The ones who’ve turned out the best artists (or writers or composers or performers) have usually been those — or among those — able to sort out the best, or enough of the best, in the art immediately preceding them. The sorting out is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for the unfolding of their art.

Sorting out, discriminating the best, means rejecting the less than best (it can even mean rejecting, for yourself, what’s good but not good enough to be the best). Sometimes the rejecting comes before anything else — as I think it did in Manet’s case (his revulsion at the “stews and gravies,” at the dull, neutralized color he saw in most of the painting being done around him when he was starting out in the 1850s, was crucial to the development of his originality; the revulsion led to his more positive acts of taste).

… The painters at hand aren’t slavish to their main influences. They add something; that’s why they’re noticeable. Nor are they all of a piece. What they have most in common, aside from the abstractness of their art and the New American influence, is their level, the level of their quality (which comes only in part from that influence). Otherwise they go their separate ways — not too separate, but separate enough.

All I ask is that they keep going. They’re young, they haven’t done enough yet; the highness of their aspiration, of their sense of quality, is still a promise that has to be fulfilled. I’ve just said that they’d added something already, but they’ll have to add still more. They’ll have to maintain their isolation from the current scene, and that’s a challenge to character more than anything else. The art scene has, as it looks, become more formidable than ever, now that avant-gardism has become the affair of officials — directors, curators, ministers of culture, art councils — as well as of art dealers, collectors, bohemians, critics, let alone aggressive artists (I remember when aggressiveness couldn’t belong to anything but the authentic avant-garde). So character will decide.




February 23, 2015

Poetry and Engineering

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… it was possible to build a unified style on the collective achievements of the age of Cubism, joining Klee’s and Kandinsky’s more explicit “poetry” to Picasso’s and Matisse’s “engineering” …

Finishing up Joan Miró by Clement Greenberg (1948; 1950):

… Already graceful and felicitous, Miró’s painting begins to acquire from 1931 on a monumentality that is both literal and figurative, dramatic and decorative. His art does not become the vehicle of history in the way that Picasso’s is; it cannot present as broad a surface or draw as much into its course. Picasso has at times — as in his classical Cubism — transcended the limits of a personal sensibility, whereas everything that Miró does is signed unmistakably with the hand of a painter who is forced to explore himself rather than the world. Yet within that self he is a more powerful and various artist and more of an historical force than is perhaps generally realized. Since the thirties he has taught the world a lesson in color, using it with a vigor, economy and originality no other painter except Matisse has matched. And he has created a style that answers to our contemporary world’s sense of itself and which is so incorporated by now in its visual sensibility that no one who paints ambitiously can afford to be unaware of it.

[ … ]

… Those who had the opportunity to meet Miró while he was here [on his 1947 visit to New York] saw a short, compact, rather dapper man in a dark blue business suit. He has a neat round head with closely trimmed dark hair, pale skin, small, regular features, quick eyes and movements. He is slightly nervous and at the same time impersonal in the company of strangers, and his conversation and manner are non-committal to an extreme. One asked oneself what could have brought this bourgeois to modern painting, the Left Bank, and Surrealism.

Nevertheless, he did come to them, bringing his extraordinary gift. And what he took, in fact, for the chief content of his painting was the very spirit and atmosphere of the Left Bank, which he has caught more completely for the twenties and thirties than any other painter, not excepting Picasso and Matisse — who belong in the essence of their moods to a previous period. (The fact that none were more infatuated with the Left Bank of the twenties and thirties than Americans may help explain why Miró is more popular, and exerts more influence, in this country than anywhere else.) Yet Miró could become the painter-laureate of Jean Cocteau’s, André Breton’s and Ernest Hemingway’s Paris precisely, and only, because he remained an outsider, kept forever at a distance by innocence, caution and an ineradicable personal conventionality.

Miró is an eclectic, by which term I mean nothing opprobrious. Quite the opposite: I mean to praise him: the organic, personal unity of his art excludes any suggestion of the calculated, second-hand thing usually associated with the term. It was logical, however, that an eclectic master should have come along when Miró did, to synthesize the seemingly disparate tendencies already in the field and, by doing so, to realize possibilities that had been opened up but hardly explored at all during modern painting’s heroic age before 1920. Miró’s freedom of imagination showed us that the Cubist legacy was not the severe and narrowly technical — let alone “intellectual” — discipline it was so commonly interpreted to be, that it was as much capable of flexibility and variety of emotion as any style in the history of art. And not only did Miró show that it was possible to build a unified style on the collective achievements of the age of Cubism, joining Klee’s and Kandinsky’s more explicit “poetry” to Picasso’s and Matisse’s “engineering,” and not only is he the sole new master of international importance to have appeared in painting anywhere in the twenty years between the two wars (Klee and Mondrian were already definitely on the scene by 1920) — he has also acted as a test case to decide the viability of post-Cubist painting as a school.

… When I say that his art sums up, at least in part, the collective achievements of the age of Cubism I do not mean to imply that its range exceeds, or even equals, that of Picasso’s and Matisse’s. Range does not depend on the variety of influences absorbed, and Picasso’s purer and stricter classical Cubism has still a wider scope and greater depth and breadth than Miró’s more eclectic art. Although the Catalan painter could pretend to say a lot more than he does — and it is to his credit that he does not so pretend — it remains that he does have a limited register.

Joan Miró, The Poetess, 1940 [image from WikiArt]

[ … ]

… As painters go … Miró is not old yet [Greenberg is writing in 1948]. This is why it is reasonable to hope that one day the bland surfaces of his canvases will become agitated and dense again and speak with a sonority surpassing even that with which they spoke in the thirties.

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




February 22, 2015

This Harassment, This Assault

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… Uninterrupted speech, without void, without rest, that prophetic speech seizes and, seizing it, sometimes succeeds in interrupting to make us hear it and, in this hearing, to awaken us to ourselves.

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

… When speech becomes prophetic, it is not the future that is given, it is the present that is taken away, and with it any possibility of a firm, stable, lasting presence.

… speech prophesies when it refers to a time of interruption, that other time that is always present in all time and in which people, stripped of their power and separated from the possible (the widow and the orphan), exist with each other in the bare relationship in which they had been in the desert and which is the desert …

[ … ]

… Symbolic reading is probably the worst way to read a literary text. Each time we are bothered by language that is too strong, we say: it is a symbol. This wall that is the Bible has thus become a tender transparency where the little fatigues of the soul are colored with melancholy. The coarse but prudent Claudel dies devoured by the symbols he interposes between Biblical language and his own. Actual sickness of language. Yet, if prophetic words reach us, what they make us feel is that they possess neither allegory nor symbol, but that, by the concrete force of the word, they lay things bare, in a nudity that is like that of an immense face that one sees and does not see and that, like a face, is light, the absolute quality of light, terrifying and ravishing, familiar and elusive, immediately present and infinitely foreign, always to come, always to be discovered and even provoked, although as readable as the nudity of the human face can be: in this sense alone, figure.

… “If they burrow down into Sheol, my hand will seize them; if they rise up to the heavens, I will make them come down; hidden under Carmel, already I find them there; if they think to take refuge in the deepest depths of the seas, there I make them bitten by the Serpent.” Terrible curse of speech that makes death vain and nothingness sterile. Uninterrupted speech, without void, without rest, that prophetic speech seizes and, seizing it, sometimes succeeds in interrupting to make us hear it and, in this hearing, to awaken us to ourselves.

… This harassment, this assault by movement, this rapidity of attack, this indefatigable overleaping — that is what the translations, even the faithful ones, tangled up in their fidelity, have so much difficulty in making us feel.




February 21, 2015

An Infinity of Neglected Factors

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… A consequence of causalism is the need of making a choice among an uncaused First Cause or infinite regress. The former is a theological, the latter a philosophical, fiction.

Continuing through Causality and Modern Science: Third Revised Edition by Mario Bunge (1959; 1979):

… The hypothesis of isolation, or, conversely, of a noninterfering background, is … a methodological requirement of the sciences dealing with the material world; hence, the fiction of the isolated “causal chain” will work to the extent to which such an isolation takes place. And this is often the case in definite respects during limited intervals of time. But actually an infinity of neglected factors — Galileo’s cause accidentarie or cagioni secondarie — are constantly impinging upon the main stream — the chosen “causal line” — producing in it small modifications that may accumulate, thus eventually provoking, in the long run, an essential modification. As Bernal put it, such “chance variations or side reactions are always taking place.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] “These never completely cancel each other out, and there results an accumulation which sooner or later provides a trend in a different direction from that of the original system.” (Elementary statistical theory usually treats only the simplest case, namely, that in which chance deviations cancel out, so that no significant change in the general trend of the process is produced, the process ending up in an equilibrium state. The mass of small canceling influences coming from the rest of the universe is of this type; thus, the gravitational disturbances impinging on the earth are randomly distributed and do not produce lasting effects on the earth’s orbit, which is stable. Such collections of small influences have been regarded as an “irrational remainder”; actually they are not irrational but unknown in detail: although the individual elements are not controllable, the whole mass of the deviations is statistically tractable.)

[ … ]

… Only simple causation (to which multiple conjunctive causation can be reduced) complies with the usual formulations of the causal principle, all of which entail the uniqueness of the causal bond. Multiple disjunctive causation is often a more adequate picture of change, but owing to its ambiguity it is not strictly causal; moreover, when the complex of determinants is complex enough, and when they are all about equally important, multiple causation goes over into statistical determination.

Simple causation involves an artificial isolation or singling out of both factors and trends of evolution; it may reflect the central streamline but not the whole process. Isolation is a simplifying hypothesis rather than a fact. It is indispensable and even approximately valid in many cases; nevertheless, it is never rigorously true.

A consequence of causalism is the need of making a choice among an uncaused First Cause or infinite regress. The former is a theological, the latter a philosophical, fiction. Infinite causal regress has no cognitive value, since the knowledge of the present is thereby made to hang from the whole infinite ignored past. There is regression, but it is neither linear nor, in particular, causal.

To be continued.

My most recent post from Bunge’s book is here.




February 20, 2015

With a Radish

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.

This is from the essay ‘On Teaching Poetry’ (2003) found in What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World by Robert Hass (2012):

… When I began teaching poetry, one of my doubts about my ability to do it had to do with the fact that I was never not interested in it, and so I didn’t know how to put myself in the place of people who were bored or intimidated by it. My inclination, therefore, was not to go to the students and bring them along from my imagination of some place of trepidation or suspicion, but to assume their interest, and at Berkeley for the most part that’s been a reasonable assumption.

In talking about this to Judith, I was able to quote a haiku that I love by the nineteenth-century poet Kobayashi Issa, which goes like this — seventeen syllables in the Japanese:

…… The man pulling radishes
Pointed my way
…… With a radish.

[ … ]

… Having said all this, I should add that, beginning to teach, I came to realize that I had forgotten my own experience. It’s true that I was always interested in poetry, but it’s not true that I was never intimidated by it. I had, in high school and college, skulked around the edges of what I understood to be the great modernist masterworks by Pound and Eliot and Williams and Stevens and Moore and others — feeling their importance, catching flickers of whatever it was that poetry held and that I desired — in some of the bits of them that I could make out, and wishing to be, though in a somewhat defiant way and with somewhat mixed feelings, the sort of person who could understand them.

[ … ]

……………….. Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.

One of the traditional ways of teaching poetry is to discuss, to explicate, what Eliot is saying here to make sure that students (and the teacher) understand what’s being said, for the reason that what’s being said might be useful to them. And one can try to characterize the feeling of what’s being said. And leave it at that. In fact, in teaching poetry, that is quite often what we settle for. We hope that the deeper thing that we can’t communicate has gotten communicated, passed directly from the poem to the student reader without our aid or interference. We do what we can with content, especially if, as in this case, the content is rich, psychologically or philosophically. And we do what we can, harder but still manageable, with affect. And we leave the deeper thing in the work of art, which is also famously the most ineffable, its tone or mood, which is like a sensation of echo, which we often take away quite mutely and quietly, in the same way that people do coming out of a concert hall or a theater. In those deepest reaches of a work of art, the truth is that we mostly cannot teach.




February 19, 2015

Two Horses

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… there are two horses: one signified within the language of photography; the other an indispensable item of the materials from which this sign has been made.

This is from Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor by Dai Vaughan (1983):

… The apparently trivial question is often asked: why is it that the people who work in documentary are predominantly left-wing, and the people who work in features predominantly right-wing? The answer usually given — apart from the cynical but true one that right-wing people will go where the best money is to be made — is that those on the left are more interested in making films about our society and its problems. But this is no more than a begging of the question unless it can be shown independently that documentary is more appropriate to such purposes than fiction — something which, though commonly taken for granted, is not self-evident.

The key, since film is a succession of photographic images, may be sought in the nature of the photograph and in the way this differs from other means of representation. If we wish, say, to represent a horse in the medium of sculpture, we shall require a block of stone, a mallet and an armory of points, claws and chisels; if we wish to represent one in painting, we shall require brushes, paints and canvas; if we wish to represent one in writing, we require only pen and paper: but if we wish to represent a horse photographically, we require film, a camera and a horse. Thus the horse in a photograph has a dual existence. Indeed, we might more accurately say that there are two horses: one signified within the language of photography; the other an indispensable item of the materials from which this sign has been made.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Fiction settles for the signified horse, any relationship with the horse required for the making of the sign being deemed fortuitous. The documentary impulse — which transforms itself, as a commandment to the viewer, into what might be better termed ‘the documentary imperative’ — is, at its most rudimentary and irreducible, a desire and a requirement that the representation should keep faith with the materials: that the two horses should become, in some sense or other, one. And this ‘some sense or other’ is not a casual vagueness on my part: for it is differences in conception of what this ‘sense’ should be, at this or that stage of film’s technical development, which lie at the root of much disputation between the schools of documentary.

Some critics,treating film only in its aspect as a signifying system, would argue that the material horse, being inaccessible to us except through its representation, is irrelevant. And perhaps, in the ultimate, they are right. Certainly the contradiction entailed in our being visually directed to the priority of something we have not seen — being reminded, as it were, of what we have not experienced — is essential to the elusive yet specific quality of documentary. (Films which remind us of what we have experienced are not documentaries but home movies.) But the fact remains that you cannot make a documentary about a unicorn. The upshot of the pure critical position is to negate the documentary project altogether. If we wish to keep documentary, we must treat the ‘ultimate’ argument as a piece of pure mathematics which, whilst we acknowledge its elegance, has meaning only within the circuit of its own economy.

My previous post from Vaughan’s book is here.




February 18, 2015

Within the Neat Right Angles

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… ” … the disturbing quality of Meatyard’s images derives not from his actors or places but, one feels, from his projection of personal terrors upon them.”

This is from ‘Seeing the Unseen, Saying the Unsayable: On Ralph Eugene Meatyard by David L. Jacobs found in Ralph Eugene Meatyard: An American Visionary edited by Barbara Tannenbaum (1991):

… In photography, control and accident are inevitable parts of the creative process. One of the great pleasures of the medium, whether for the haughtiest art photographer or the humblest snapshooter, is the sense of order that is gained when the world at large is captured within the neat right angles of a viewfinder. When standing before a larger-than-life vista we gain some measure of control, however illusory, by framing it within the confines of a picture that can be held in the palm of the hand. This act of selection is the crux of photography, for it determines not only what we get in the picture, but it signifies, more subtly, how we know ourselves and our relations to the world. Searching through the viewfinder — so modest and familiar an occurrence — we can restructure the everyday realities that surround us. This is as true for a snapshooter, who waits for what seems like hours before snapping the shutter at a Thanksgiving feast, as it was for Gene Meatyard, who organized his family and friends amid dolls and masks in broken-down houses. In seizing from the flux of life a photographic moment, we feel that we possess it in some small measure. The photographer or snapshooter looks through the viewfinder at a miniaturized, framed world, waiting for something to materialize that conforms to the world seen in the inner eye.

… As Anne Hoy has written of Meatyard’s Lucybelle Crater series, “If James Ensor had taken snapshots in [William Faulkner’s] Yoknapatawpha County, the effect might have been similar: the disturbing quality of Meatyard’s images derives not from his actors or places but, one feels, from his projection of personal terrors upon them.”

by Ralph Eugene Meatyard

… The poet and essayist Wendell Berry, who has lived in and farmed the Kentucky landscape for much of his life, remembers looking through Meatyard’s Rolleiflex at lichen on an ash tree and being astonished that the image on the ground glass was so different from what he had first perceived. As Berry put it, “Framed by the camera, that altogether accountable sight became altogether unaccountable. It was unearthly, seeming to remove the ordinary elements of the vision out of ordinary time.”

Meatyard’s strongest work raises age-old questions of life and death, apparent and submerged realities, and the psychic structures that mediate experience. Unlike Aeschylus and Sophocles, Meatyard didn’t need to depict the lives of the high and mighty in order to enact the tragic: dime store masks, abandoned houses, his own backyard, and compliant models were all that he required.




February 17, 2015

Owned by Matisse

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:10 am

… Somehow his prismatic colors became pearlier and furrier through their juxtaposition with non-prismatic colors, or through the mere presence of the latter somewhere in the picture; by the same token the blacks, whites, grays, and earths began to act like prismatic colors themselves.

This is from ‘Influences of Matisse’ (1973) found in Clement Greenberg: Late Writings, edited by Robert C. Morgan (2003):

… I would say that, for a while now, Matisse has been a more relevant and fertile source for ambitious new painting than any other single master before or after him.

Matisse’s smallest, tightest, most involuted pictures are still not quite “cabinet” pictures in the way that Picasso’s, Braque’s, or Léger’s largest paintings are. Picasso’s pictures tend to close in on themselves, no matter what; Matisse’s, to open out, no matter what. It’s as though Matisse (along with Monet, but in a quite different way) tried to wrench easel painting away from every one of its sources except wall painting. For the sake of sheer spaciousness and airiness, for the sake of an art that would be utterly pictorial without being claustrophobic. Not that there’s any necessary virtue in spaciousness and airiness, or any necessary vice in smallness and tightness. But it was as though Matisse (like Monet) felt that in order to expand the range of easel painting, he had to deconvolute it and make it centrifugal in organization instead of centripetal. (Of course, neither Matisse nor Monet felt literally “required”; all they did was go where temperament and inspiration impelled them — and where the circumstances of art in their time permitted them to go.)

Matisse’s larger paintings — those of them that got seen in this country in the late 1930s and in the 1940s — had a momentous effect on abstract expressionism. I remember his Bathers by a River, c. 1916. It hung for a long while during the late 1930s in a Fifty-seventh Street art gallery (it now belongs to the Chicago Art Institute). Its broad vertical bands used to give me trouble: they were too even and made the picture itself too dispersed. My eye was used to concentric, compact, and more closely inflected pictures. This big picture slid my eye over its surface and seemingly out through its sides and corners. It was years later that I got to see Monet’s lily-pad murals in the Orangerie in Paris, and they were even more centrifugal in organization than Bathers by a River, but they weren’t as “flat” and didn’t cause my eye to “slide” nearly as much — though they, too, seemed to leak through their sides and corners. But by that time I knew more of what it was all about, and so did my eye.

Picasso and Braque, when their cubism was analytical, used to have trouble with their corners, trouble bringing them into the rest of the picture (which may explain why they would often resort to tondo or oval formats). In the early and mid-1940s certain American abstract painters (who were beginning to learn from analytical as well as synthetic cubism) had trouble with their corners too and also with the vertical margins of their pictures. It was a question of bringing them into the ambiguous illusion of space that the main part of the picture showed. Matisse’s bigger paintings, with their centrifugality, brought the solution, in defiance of what till then had been (for Pollock as well as for Gorky) an essential part of the notion of the well-made picture. The abstract expressionists became able to let their paintings spread and expand, in terms of design as well as in size. Now the corners and the margins of the picture could take care of themselves. They no longer had to be filled in or specified. Matisse’s influence was far from being the only factor in this development. But that it was a very important one seems to me to be indisputable. Just as it seems to me indisputable that it was his example, most of all, that helped Miró open up the picture and deal in the broad and relatively uninflected, relatively empty expanses that show in the extraordinarily original (if not always achieved) paintings he did from 1924 to 1927 (which in their turn, too, greatly influenced American abstract art).

… [Matisse] sensed better, more prophetically, that heightened sensitivity of the pictorial surface which is now making the latter more and more allergic to whatever interrupts, whatever takes away from, its feeling as a taut continuum. It’s this hypersensitivity that now summons (in the wake of Jules Olitski) those “emptinesses” which invade the best of recent abstract painting (in lieu of the allover repetitions that likewise preserve the tautness and the continuum, but in a way that, since Pollock and Tobey, has become more or less academic except in the hands of a Noland or a Poons). Well, Matisse was the first to admit anything like those “emptinesses” into respectable art, sixty years ago and more. Rather, he made those “emptinesses” themselves respectable.

The superior artist is the one who knows how to be influenced. Matisse certainly knew how, especially when, as in the 1920s, he reached back into the past, to Chardin and Manet. But there was one moment, before that, when he let himself be influenced, profoundly, by art done by people younger than himself and to the greater advantage of his own art. Maybe it was to the very greatest advantage of his own art. I’m referring to the time during which Matisse “felt” cubism. I can see that beginning to happen in 1912, if not earlier. Black came into, or back into, his palette in that year, but settled there only in 1914. This could also be attributed to a general darkening of palettes in advanced French painting around that time. But cubism had to have something to do with it. The evidence is there in the way Matisse began, in 1914, to true and fair his drawing, as well as to introduce other than prismatic colors to his paint. By that time he had already done enough with color to plant himself across Western tradition in as epochal a way as Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Manet, the impressionists, and Cézanne had.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] All the same, I think that his color gained from 1912 on and especially after 1914. Bringing in frank blacks and grays and also franker whites and then, later on, earth colors (umbers, ochers, sienas) gave Matisse’s color a new weight and at the same time a new smoothness and new airiness and lambency. Somehow his prismatic colors became pearlier and furrier through their juxtaposition with non-prismatic colors, or through the mere presence of the latter somewhere in the picture; by the same token the blacks, whites, grays, and earths began to act like prismatic colors themselves. Color, now being employed across its whole, more-than-impressionistic range, became owned by Matisse in the years right after 1916 as it was never owned by any other artist, or in any other art, that I have seen. And it doesn’t affect the case that Matisse’s paintings after 1917 became much more modest in seeming ambition, as well as in size and “vision,” than those of the years previous. They remain and they weigh, as Raphael’s small earlier pictures remain and weigh.

… just as Matisse rejected verbal rhetoric, so he kept every last trace of illustrational rhetoric out of his art. He may have been the first painter in our tradition to do that in a really radical way. This doesn’t make his art better than a Giotto’s or Caravaggio’s or Goya’s or David’s, not necessarily. But it does make it a salutary example for all those people who find it hard, in any medium, to mean what they say.




February 16, 2015

The Strangeness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… He never made the mistake of trying to “illustrate” the strange, as the academic Surrealist painters did.

Continuing through Joan Miró by Clement Greenberg (1948; 1950):

… Nineteen-twenty-four, the year in which he finished “The Tilled Field,” saw Miró’s art decide itself with a suddenness and violence of change that have nothing like them elsewhere in his career. With one abrupt leap, led up to by few preliminaries, he arrived at the abstract. Nature, the so-called “objective,” was still the point from which he began, but the result became something far removed from that.

… It is not his usual way to try things he cannot fully grasp and has not already carefully digested, and it is obvious that his approach to his art at this time was very unsettled. His mind was wide open to possibilities he had not dreamt of as little as a year ago, and in the space of a few months, he had become the most adventurous and enterprising painter in Paris.

What caused the difference was Surrealism, which significantly enough, had made its first formal appearance in Paris in 1924 with the publication of André Breton’s first manifesto.

Joan Miró, Maternity, 1924 [image from WikiArt]

… Surrealism’s advocacy of the “strange” was for him ultimately, the sanction to go as far as he desired in the direction of the flat, abstract picture — though his fellow Surrealists may, as Alfred Barr says, have regarded both the abstractness and the two-dimensionality as mere by-products of the strangeness. He never made the mistake of trying to “illustrate” the strange, as the academic Surrealist painters did.

What Miró learnt from Surrealism that was of direct relevance to his painting was automatism and the exploitation of accidents. Now he would begin pictures by letting his brush wander haphazardly over the canvas, only afterwards applying himself consciously to their formal organization and to the working up of the chance resemblances he had come across. Automatism as a source of invention has continued to be a staple ingredient of his method; and so has the exploitation of the accidental, which he provokes in all sorts of ways: by playing with his materials, by freeing his observation from conscious control, and by contrivances of collage, which he came to use both as a starting point and as an inspiration, pasting random bits of paper to the canvas or tacking them on the wall to paint from.

… Surrealism sent Miró from one pole of his character — his cautious, self-doubting, “applied” realism — to the other: his pathos, his spontaneity, his playfulness, his Catalan taste for the lively and spectacular. And Surrealism may have also helped cultivate his sense of finish and elegance.

Joan Miró, Harlequin’s Carnival, 1925 [image from WikiArt]

To be continued.

My previous post from Greenberg’s book is here.




February 15, 2015

There Is Another Language

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… He prefers it. He resists it, being unable to renounce himself, and, in the end, dismisses it, but he prefers it.

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

… it is indeed true that he wants everything, nothing more, and in this everything, only each thing, one by one, already formed, already created, a solid reality he can appropriate and know. He wants everything, the certainty of everything, not the origin, not that which is yet to be but the present universe, the world in its limits, closed and circumscribed, where nothing is lost, which he can count, measure, and confirm by his permanent language. Even if he is linked to desire, Claudel is first the present man and the man of the present; he speaks only in the present; there is always for him, in whatever is there, enough of being so that he can rejoice in it, glorify it, and provoke it, by his language, to even more being.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] But what is this present to which he wants to correspond by tumultuous pressure? Is it the instant, “that hour that is between spring and summer,” of which the Cantate [Cantata] will sing? Is it the moment of bliss? Of happiness that one seizes and tastes, carefree or in ecstasy? Nothing is more contrary to him, we know well. For he wants the present to be present for him, not to lose himself in it. Just as he has a horror of the indeterminate, he has a horror and loathing of drowning in pantheism; and the present is made not just so one can be absorbed in it and be happy with it, but also so that one can nourish oneself from it, develop it, and surpass it by a progressive growth and ever-widening development.

[line break added] Will he be content then, with a spiritual appropriation, possessing each present thing in its form or touching only its surface? He needs more: he wants not only to see but to have, to possess with his entire being the entire being down to its substance. he thus becomes the elemental poet. “The element itself! The first matter! It is the sea, I say, that I need” — and the solid, primordial earth, the “Earth of Earth, the breast’s abundance,” “the burning dark blood,” “the plasma that labors and destroys, that transports and shapes,” the voluminous abundance, all that is enormous, and not only clear flowing water but “the peaty flood,” “impregnated with the substance of the Earth,” knowledge of which the rivers of China brought him, “current that with a heavier burden flees toward the deepest center of an ever enlarged circle” (which is the very definition of the present that suits him: the present for him is not a point, but the constant circular flowering of the being in perpetual vibration).

But, if one gives in to this impulse, doesn’t he risk getting bogged down in the formless, possessing everything but dissolved at the heart of everything, “Chaos that has not received the Gospel”?

[ … ]

… And yet there is another language: this one gives nothing, brings nothing but solitude, retreat, separation; it is without knowledge, without result; the one who speaks it does not know it, knows only its weight, its pressure, its infinite demand, speech that is not human, that comes not to the capable man, but to the one who sees himself all of a sudden alone, “detached, refused, abandoned.” Will Claudel not try to demean this language so contrary to himself, so foreign to what he wants and what he believes? Will he not prove it wrong? He prefers it. He resists it, being unable to renounce himself, and, in the end, dismisses it, but he prefers it. Everything that is poetry to him is complicit with the very thing that he refuses, which is purity, a rigor to which he sees desperately that he cannot conform.

Paul Claudel [image from Wikipedia]

[ … ]

Go away! I turn back desperately, to earth!
Go away! You will not take away from me this cold taste for the earth …

He chooses, then, not wanting only to be chosen, but he chooses what he does not prefer, without thinking himself justified, and without hoping ever to be at peace.




« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

The Shocking Blue Green Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36 other followers