Unreal Nature

July 19, 2015

The Impossibility of Sleeping that Sleep Becomes in the Dream

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… speaking, not speaking, indefinite, seeming to say everything to us before saying anything …

This is from the essay ‘Dreaming, Writing’ found in the collection, Friendship by Maurice Blanchot (1997):

… Let us remember the bewitching power with which any passerby seems to us endowed if, for an instant, he becomes the bearer of some resemblance; how his face attracts us, haunts us, familiar and remote, yet also frightens us a little; we are in a hurry to identify it, that is, to erase it by redirecting it to the circle of things in which living men are so bound up with themselves that they are without resemblance. A being who suddenly begins to “resemble” moves away from real life, passes into another world, enters into the inaccessible proximity of the image, is present nonetheless, with a presence that is not his own or that of another, an apparition that transforms all other presents into appearances.

… Such is the case in the dream: the dream is the place of similitude, an environment saturated with resemblances …

[ … ]

… in borrowing from night the neutrality and uncertainty that belong to it, in imitating this power to imitate and resemble that is without origin, writing not only refuses all the ways of sleep, the opportunities of unconsciousness, and the joys of drowsiness, but it also turns to the dream because the dream, in its refusal to sleep at the heart of sleep, is a further vigilance at the heart of the gathered night, a lucidity that is always present, moving, captive no doubt, and for this reason captivating. It is tempting to think that the impossibility of sleeping that sleep becomes in the dream brings us closer, through allusion and illusion, to the wakeful night that the Ancients called sacred, a night laden with and deprived of night, the long night of insomnia to which the unmastered movement of inspiration, in its undying appeal, corresponds every time that anteriority speaks to us: speaking, not speaking, indefinite, seeming to say everything to us before saying anything and perhaps saying everything to us, but only in a semblance of speech.




July 18, 2015

The Erotics of Intelligence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… What is exposed — and disguised — with fashion is not, in the first place, the attractions of the body …

This is from Fashion Zeitgeist: Trends and Cycles in the Fashion System by Barbara Vinken, translated by Mark Hewson (2005):

Fashion has rarely enjoyed a very good reputation. Despite its undeniable success as a social and commercial phenomenon, it remains the very exemplum of superficiality, frivolity and vanity. The discourse on fashion assumes the philosophical form of a critique of mere appearances, the cultural-theoretical form of a critique of the market economy, or the traditional form of a critique of sexual morality; but there seems to be no possibility of a serious concern with the subject that would proceed otherwise than in the mode of critique.

Glittering and blinding, fashion draws attention away from the substance of things. It is the very personification of the individual alienated in the rush of consumption, of the self lost in the brilliant world of commodities. Irrational, capricious, fickle, unpredictable, fashion makes its entrance every season anew, with all the power of seduction of a moody sovereign, certain of conquering. The incarnation of all vanity in the world, it carries with it the odor di femmina, of which Don Giovanni sings. The philosophers and the sociologists take it up only in order to denounce it or, at best, contemplate it with a wry and distanced amusement.

[ … ]

… Fashion has become what art had wanted to be: the Zeitgeist expressing itself in visible form. Its stage is no longer the aristocratic salon or the gatherings of select society at the theater, opera or racecourse. Fashion is now made, worn and displayed, not by the bourgeoisie or the aristocracy, but on the street. The great cities — London, Berlin, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Rome — are the theatrum mundi on which it makes its entrance. Baudelaire’s irresistible passerby, carried by the crowd, with a flourish of seam and frill, past the spectator-poet, his red-haired beggar woman, craving cheap costume jewelry, are early symptoms of this change in scene. They indicate a new relation of beauty and ideal, one which continues to exercise a latent effect until the end of the following century.

Walter Benjamin remarks somewhat offhandedly in one of the entries in his Arcades Project that the eternal is far more the ruffle on a dress than some idea.

… What is exposed — and disguised — with fashion is not, in the first place, the attractions of the body, but rather the erotics of intelligence, a play of Geist und Kleid. To learn fashion as this subtle play is equivalent to learning the art of reading literature, an art which, as Baudelaire and Mallarm√© openly avowed, had brought them to the best part of their understanding and their production. The topos of this ‘knowledge’ is the difference which is known as ‘femininity.’




July 17, 2015

The Deliberate Blunting of Wonder

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… We do not like mists in this era …

This is from the essay ‘The Illusion of the Two Cultures’ found in The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1978):

… [George Santayana] commented, in a now-forgotten essay, that one of the strangest consequences of modern science was that as the visible wealth of nature was more and more transferred and abstracted, the mind seemed to lose courage and to become ashamed of its own fertility. “The hard-pressed natural man will not indulge his imagination,” continued Santayana, “unless it poses for truth; and being half-aware of this imposition, he is more troubled at the thought of being deceived than at the fact of being mechanized or being bored; and he would wish to escape imagination altogether.”

… Man, the tool user, grows convinced that he is himself only useful as a tool, that fertility except in the use of the scientific imagination is wasteful and without purpose, even, in some indefinable way, sinful.

… It may now reasonably be asked why one who has [ … ] spent his life among the stones and broken shards of the remote past [Eiseley was an anthropologist — among other things] should be writing here about matters involving literature and science. While I was considering this with humility and trepidation, my eye fell upon a stone in my office. I am sure that professional journalists must recall times when an approaching deadline has keyed all their senses and led them to glance wildly around in the hope that something might leap out at them from the most prosaic surroundings. At all events my eyes fell upon this stone.

Now the stone antedated anything that the historians would call art; it had been shaped many hundreds of thousands of years ago by men whose faces would frighten us if they sat among us today. Out of old habit, since I like the feel of worked flint, I picked it up and hefted it as I groped for words over this difficult matter of the growing rift between science and art. Certainly the stone was of no help to me; it was a utilitarian thing which had cracked marrow bones, if not heads, in the remote dim morning of the human species. It was nothing if not practical. It was, in fact, an extremely early example of the empirical tradition which has led on to modern science.

The mind which had shaped this artifact knew its precise purpose. It had found out by experimental observation that the stone was tougher, sharper, more enduring than the hand which wielded it. The creature’s mind had solved the question of the best form of the implement and how it could be manipulated most effectively. In its day and time this hand axe was as grand an intellectual achievement as a rocket.

… One could still feel him crouching among the stones on a long-vanished river bar, turning the thing over in his hands, feeling its polished surface, striking, here and there, just one more blow that no longer had usefulness as its criterion. He had, like myself, enjoyed the texture of the stone. With skills lost to me, he had gone on flaking the implement with an eye to beauty until it had become a kind of rough jewel, equivalent in its day to the carved and gold-inlaid pommel of the iron dagger placed in Tutankhamen’s tomb.

All the later history of man contains these impractical exertions expended upon a great diversity of objects, and, with literacy, breaking even into printed dreams. Today’s secular disruption between the creative aspect of art and that of science is a barbarism that would have brought lifted eyebrows in a Cro-Magnon cave. It is a product of high technical specialization, the deliberate blunting of wonder, and the equally deliberate suppression of a phase of our humanity in the name of an authoritarian institution, science, which has taken on, in our time, curious puritanical overtones.

… The convenient label “mystic” is, in our day, readily applied to men who pause for simple wonder, or who encounter along the borders of the known that “awful power” which Wordsworth characterized as the human imagination. It can, he says, rise suddenly from the mind’s abyss and enwrap the solitary traveler like a mist.

We do not like mists in this era, and the word imagination is less and less used. We like, instead, a clear road, and we abhor solitary traveling.

… it is one of the disadvantages of big science, just as it is of big government, that the availability of huge sums attracts a swarm of elbowing and contentious men to whom great dreams are less than protected hunting preserves.

[ … ]

… If, after the ages of building and destroying, if after the measuring of light-years and the powers probed at the atom’s heart, if after the last iron is rust-eaten and the last glass lies shattered in the streets, a man, some savage, some remnant of what once we were, pauses on his way to the tribal drinking place and feels rising from within his soul the inexplicable mist of terror and beauty that is evoked from old ruins — even the ruins of the greatest city in the world — then, I say, all will still be well with man.

And if that savage can pluck a stone from the gravel because it shone like crystal when the water rushed over it, and hold it against the sunset, he will be as we were in the beginning, whole — as we were when we were children, before we began to split the knowledge from the dream.

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




July 16, 2015

The Editing Always Hurts

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… you are given a real trust and you should not violate that trust.

This is from the interview with Kate Amend in First Cut 2: More Conversations with Film Editors by Gabriella Oldham (2012):

[ … ]

Given the harsh realities that documentaries often capture, I understand the need to “see” representations of those realities, however painful in some way, though that potential to “cut to the quick” reminds me, stream-of-consciously, of a line in the film Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains, in which Carter comments on his experience of being interviewed by a Middle Eastern journalist and worrying that he will be misrepresented in the final cut of that interview. He bluntly said, “The editing always hurts.” Did that comment strike a chord with you as an editor?

[laughs] In a way. I think I left that in because I thought it was a touch of humor and irony.

But he has a point.

He definitely does. In editing a documentary, you are given a real trust and you should not violate that trust. It is easy to do cheap shots in editing, where someone says something but then you choose to cut to an image that contradicts or misrepresents it.


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




July 15, 2015

A Babel of Tongues

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:11 am

… What is photographed is often more impressive, more moving than the photograph itself. … It is the material of art, not art itself.

This is from the essay ‘On Photographs of Mexico ‘ by Leo Hurwitz, found in Paul Strand in Mexico by James Krippner (2010):

… Photography has in the short time of its history become a universal medium of tremendous range and speaking power. Photography has squeezed between the moments of time and recorded the face of a man about to die, the stained microbe, the crew of a sinking vessel swarming into the sea, the corona of an eclipse, the boy as he stole the bottle of milk, the crown of water formed by the splash of a drop, the diver leaving the pool and ascending to the edge of the diving board, the body charred and hanging from a tree.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] It has brought news and information of a new kind; it has taken people where man has seldom or never been before; it has brought the actuality along with the description and interpretation to men’s eyes. It has found thousands of uses in journalism, in science, in play, in love, in family biography. It has discovered for itself diverse channels for experimentation, potentialities for novel techniques. It is a single language which all can understand. But it has become a Babel of tongues.

It’s all photography. The audience, the publishers, the photographers themselves, make so little distinction between the basically different purposes, the differing ends and emotional sources of the spheres of photography, that a deep confusion exists. It is as if no clear distinction were made between the sphere of Hemingway and Christopher Marlowe, and the other legitimate uses of the written language such as medical prescriptions, news stories, advertising copy, letters to the editor. Or, between the work of Orozco and El Greco on the one hand, and the many other uses of the graphic medium such as comic strips, economic graphs, movie posters.

This confusion has penetrated everywhere and has resulted in the degradation of the photographer’s vision, of technique, print quality, materials, methods of reproduction. … [Even] where much valuable work has been done, the confusion of so many years during which all spheres of photography have been so to speak boiling in the same pot, has frequently limited its results by a careless unintegrated approach. What is photographed is often more impressive, more moving than the photograph itself. The photograph is generally something to be read, to be searched into, the essentials dug away from the irrelevancies. It seldom speaks out as an organic whole. It is the material of art, not art itself.

Hurwitz’s essay was written to accompany the 1940 publication of Strand’s portfolio, Photographs of Mexico. Needless to say, the essay goes on to praise Strand’s work in contrast to the above criticism of photography.




July 14, 2015

The Charged Separation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… [Primitivism] finds its energy in violating the gaps … , by asserting affinities that are fundamental to human thought and especially to modern creativity.

This is from the essay ‘Gauguin’ by Kirk Varnedoe in “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern edited by William Rubin (1984). My quotes from this essay are from Varnedoe’s comments on primitivism and modern art in general, rather than specific references to Gauguin:

… The revolution in modern man’s approach to the arts of tribal societies, begun by Gauguin and brought to fruition by the artists of the early twentieth century, has resulted in a shift of these tribal objects from the domain of scientific data to that of aesthetic valuation, a conceptual shift equivalent to — and eventually echoed by — a displacement of these objects from the natural-history museum to the art museum. It might seem logical, then, to depict artistic primitivism as antithetical to scientific attitudes — either by celebrating twentieth-century artists’ new valuation of Primitive art as victorious over the aesthetically “blind” limitations of an anthropological approach, or negatively, by faulting the modernist appreciation of tribal objects for imperialistically disregarding the ritual and societal contexts in which such forms have their true significance.

We cheat the complexities of history, however, if we suppose such an irreconcilable antipathy between subjective aesthetics and objective knowledge. The differences between the artist’s view and the anthropologist’s are obviously formidable, and the distance between the natural-history museum and the art museum constitutes a true gap. But the charged separation between such categories and such institutions only occurs within the equally important common ground both sides share as evolving expressions of the values of a larger Western culture.

Primitivism centers on a charged and fruitful relationship between differences and affinities. As a way of thinking about human diversity, it first abolishes hierarchies and allows a plurality of valid, independent, and truly different ways of constructing the world. Then it finds its energy in violating the gaps thus established, by asserting affinities that are fundamental to human thought and especially to modern creativity.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




July 13, 2015

Fire Beneath a Frozen Surface

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… Look at the violation of the picture …

… with blood, with night, with white, again and again.

Continuing through Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock by Kirk Varnedoe (2006):

Gerhard Richter, November, 1989

… These huge pictures — they measure about three by four meters — were made by dragging a hard bar repeatedly across the surface. The whole idea of making a picture by means of accident, which was after all about Pollock, the idea of letting material determine the image and form of the making, seems filtered in Richter’s case through Johns and something we talked about in the fourth lecture, which is the idea that destroying order is the same thing as producing it, that art has a kind of cruelty to it. The raked and ruined surface of a picture like November recalls Johns‘ mordant acceptance of the idea of ruination in the scraping, pulling, and messing. The other two canvases from the series have a similar power. Richter is not the producer of a clear cycle of completion; this is not a series of “Four Seasons.” Only winter is represented in this world, with its different colors peppering through like the glow of fire beneath a frozen surface. These are incredibly rich, complex, layers of surface incident, deeply worked.

[ … ]

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1956

… In a picture such as Untitled of 1956, instead of the continuous liquid skein of Pollock, or the big, juicy brushstrokes of de Kooning, Twombly produces a fragmented, broken, strawlike scratching and scrawling. As Peter Schjeldalhl once said, it is like what a dog does when he’s getting ready to lie down. Twombly is destroying the surface, scarring it, dragging pencils through it. His is an act of desecration, vandalization, of bringing the language of abstract expressionism out of the realm of personal expression and into the world of writing and language, of shared signs and pictograms. At any given moment, the piece seems about to break into a set of words, a set of pictograms, a set of letters that is going to spell out a message. His forms no longer have an independent role outside of body; instead their physicality is filtered through the public langauge of signs and writing.

[ … ]

Jasper Johns, Weeping Women, 1975

… Look at the violation of the picture in the one note of external reality that comes into it, the inclusion of a merely pragmatic item from his studio, not the Savarin can as before, but the iron that he uses to heat the encaustic wax. This tool brands the picture in four places.

… Think about the feeling from that Twombly. Start with a mindless program. Just draw scrawls and see what it gives you. Think about Johns starting with the idea of just hatching, just drawing five bars at a time, then drawing them again in oil, drawing them again in encaustic, then scraping them down, then trying again, then coming back again with blood, with night, with white, again and again.

… One level of their [all of these paintings’] meaning is their knowing relationship to that tradition [of Pollock], and that relationship is ironic. It is a relationship of negation: of providing structure to the unstructured, drying out the liquid, making dark the light. It is a relationship to tradition that involves chastisement, that involves the acceptance of tradition’s constraints at the same time that it subverts and reacts against them. And yet this is, it seems to me, extremely powerful abstract art. The standard history of abstraction, and the one that the satirists and ironists of the 1980s would write, smugly and in self-congratulation, is a history of faith and its loss, a history of illusions replaced by knowing, of dreams dispelled by reality. Here, however, in Twombly, in Johns, and in Richter, you have an abstraction saturated with skepticism, saturated with knowing, an abstraction that proves that abstraction can be knowing and still have meaning. And that meaning is something that adds to, not just draws on, what we know.

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




July 12, 2015

Of Melting Snow

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:19 am

… the memories are fragmented, atomized by the movement of thought that incessantly agitates them in order to return to them their power as seed …

This is from the essay ‘Battle with the Angel’ found in the collection, Friendship by Maurice Blanchot (1997):

… “All my friends know it: I am a specialist, a maniac of confession; yet what pushes me to confidences — especially with women — is timidity. When I am alone with a person whose sex is enough to make her so different from me, my feeling of isolation and misery becomes such that, despairing to find anything to say to my interlocutor that might be the basis of a conversation, incapable also of courting her if it so happens that I desire her, I begin, for lack of another subject, to speak of myself; as my sentences flow, the tension rises, and I am able to establish between my partner and myself a surprising dramatic current” [Michel Leiris, L’Age d’homme, (1939)]. This is, as it were, the point of departure: an empty need to speak, made of this void and in order to fill it at all costs, and the void is himself having become this need and this desire that still treads only emptiness. A pure force of sorts, of melting snow, of drunken rupture, and often obtained under the cover of drunkenness, where the being who speaks finds nothing to say but the flimsy affirmation of himself: a Me, Me, Me not vain, not glorious, but broken, unhappy, barely breathing, although appealing in the force of its weakness.

[ … ]

… [In contrast, when writing a later book, Biffures, (1948) ] he works on index cards, and these archives of himself in which the fragments of his history are deposited, mute dust as long as nothing disturbs it, give him the raw material of thoughts and facts that writing will have as its object to animate and to attract, in the manner of a magnet, in order that they group themselves, and in grouping themselves, form some new figure, true and exalting, in which, perhaps, a more exact knowledge of the conduct of life will also be affirmed.

For such work, a number of very different talents must, it seems, come together: a little method, a lot of patient rigor, and under the greatest suspicion, a receptivity to this free speech that has remained intact, in relation to the marvel that makes possible the commerce of beings and things. I think, moreover, that one would be mistaken if one made the author of Biffures into a man too knowledgeable about himself, an archivist and accountant who classifies himself and puts himself on file before putting himself together according to the flamboyant instinct of words. The notes in which he fixes himself are the products of distress more than science, written when he does not feel himself “equal to a literary work,” and can live only on the order of small projects and with a very small margin of hope.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] In Biffures, where the anecdotes are reduced to a minimum and the memories are fragmented, atomized by the movement of thought that incessantly agitates them in order to return to them their power as seed and their active force, the experience rests almost entirely on the life of reflection, the surveillance it exercises, the extreme effort and tension of a consciousness that is on the alert all the more because it not only has to verify facts but also must weigh the imaginary. Even the language has been transformed from L’Age d’homme. The sentences are longer, heavier, always weighed down by scruples, precautions, nuances, detours; by the refusal to go straight to the fact, because the “fact” risks being betrayed and then, once it has been communicated, risks giving way only to void. And precisely before this void the author withdraws, yet cannot withdraw, for he sees too clearly into himself to be able to consent to this flight that is but a feint.

… It is easy to say that the result is a book that is tethered, contorted, and without joy (I think it is an extraordinary book for the spirit of truth that incessantly comes to light in it).




July 11, 2015

Our Faith in the Rat

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

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

We are afflicted with a recurrent nightmare: a horrifying vision of all mankind in an endless procession, stumbling to follow and listen to a monster rat at the head of the parade. This latter-day Pied Piper (who wears the starched white garb of a laboratory technician) plays no flute; instead he sings out from time to time in a shrill authoritarian voice: “Recent scientific tests with rats conclusively prove that … ” Then follows one fearful statement after another …

… It was the guinea pig which, in our youth, suggested what was wrong with mankind, notably our tendency to multiply. But the contemporary rat is clearly a much more sophisticated prophet, and he has recently shown a sociological awareness which must be gratifying to his followers. Thus it appears that rats, when crowded together into cages, given plenty of food and water and materials for nest building, but very little space, develop some extremely unattractive habits …

… Our faith in the rat would, however, be entirely restored if science were to investigate the suburbanite of the species in the same thoroughgoing manner. Let a certain number of healthy rats be given plenty of room, feed, water, and masses of nest material, and let the nests be well isolated from one another. Then let the adult male rats be sent off during the daylight hours and the infant rats be put all together in a special cage until the middle of the afternoon. Then let the scientific observation start. If the female rats expire of boredom, if the male rats return to the nest exhausted — and murmuring about commuting as a “man race” — if the infant rats, once let out of their cage, immediately become unmanageable, then we will be happy to admit that parallels between suburban rat society and our own are too exact to be ignored. But if, as we suspect, the rats flourish and multiply and display remarkably glossy coats of fur, then the experiment, as far as we are concerned, would indicate that we had better find some other animal to show man the folly of his ways …




July 10, 2015

The Egg is Broken

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… So man, the short-lived midge, is reaching into and observing events he will never witness in the flesh.

This is from the essay ‘The Lethal Factor’ found in The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1978):

… The individual animal or plant in the course of its development moves always in relation to an unseen future toward which its forces are directed: the egg is broken and a snake writhes away into the grass; the acorn seedling, through many seasons, contorts itself slowly into a gnarled, gigantic oak. Similarly, life moves against the future in another, an evolutionary, sense. The creature existing now — this serpent, this bird, this man — has only to leave progeny in order to stretch out a gray, invisible hand into the evolutionary future, into the nonexistent.

With time, the bony fin is transformed into a paw, a round, insectivore eye into the near-sighted gaze of a scholar. Moreover, all along this curious animal extension into time, parts of ourselves are flaking off, breaking away into unexpected and unforeseen adventures. One insectivore fragment has taken to the air and become a vampire bat, while another fragment draws pictures in a cave and creates a new prehensile realm where the shadowy fingers of lost ideas reach forward into time to affect our world view and, with it, our future destinies and happiness.

Thus, since the dawn of life on the planet, the past has been figuratively fingering the present.

[ … ]

… A few months ago I read casually in my evening newspaper that our galaxy is dying.

… Out there millions of light years away from earth, man’s hands were already fumbling in the coal-scuttle darkness of a future universe. The astronomer was foreshortening time — just as on a shorter scale eclipses can be foretold, or an apparently empty point in space can be shown as destined to receive an invisibly moving body. So man, the short-lived midge, is reaching into and observing events he will never witness in the flesh. In a psychological second, on this elusive point we call the present, we can watch the galaxy drift into darkness.




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