Unreal Nature

December 4, 2017

And This Is How It Ought to Be

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… no social game, no coded password, restricts the possession of this “status” (which is, therefore, no status at all).

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

Duchamp … was never a utopian. Nothing could be further removed from his way of thinking than the belief in universal creativity. His particular brand of art, the readymade, stemmed from neither the belief nor the hope that everyone can or should become an artist. Rather, it acknowledged — with more than a grain of salt, for sure — the “fact” that everyone had already become an artist. In front of a readymade, there is no longer any technical difference between making art and appreciating it.

[line break added] Once that difference is erased, the artist has relinquished every technical privilege over the layman. The profession of artist has been emptied of all métier, and if access to it is not restricted by some other padlock — institutional, social, financial — it follows that anybody can be an artist if he or she so wishes. As I have suggested in various ways throughout the previous chapters, this “fact” is not a consequence of the readymade, rather, it is its condition.

[line break added] The readymade only reveals it. If it were to be read as a utopian promise — as Beuys wanted to read it — it would immediately turn against itself. Art-making after Duchamp would simply be prone to absolute permissiveness, and art practice would be nothing but a social game whose codes and passwords would symptomatically indicate that some rules ought to replace the métier for the professional game of artist to be played at all. In this debased simulacrum of aristocratic etiquette, the modern utopia of “Everyone an artist” would translate into “Everyone a dandy.”

[line break added] But since the artworld, being comprised of a fraction of the middle class, does not embrace “the layman” in the universal sense, even that parody of a utopia would turn against itself, too. The only resistance to this state of affairs would then be an alternative coding, or recoding, of entry into the artworld. To remain faithful to the avant-garde utopia, one would have to, now as then, exclude “the bourgeois” from “the layman.” Impossible!

[line break added] Utopias have been gleefully or regretfully abandoned, and while every graffiti-scribbler can claim the status of artist and ambitious artists retreat into a caste, is there anyone today who aspires to the Duchampian status of the anartist? Everyone should, for this status is simply the fact that when one and the same sentence, “this is art,” serves to produce a work of art and to judge it as a work of art, it is as if such a sentence automatically turned anyone who utters it — whether professional or layman — into an “artist.”

[line break added] In other words, it is simply the linguistic consequence of anyone’s and everyone’s right — and duty, but more about that in the next chapter — to judge art, as art. It entails neither belief nor hope that one will judge well; it entertains no illusion that aesthetic sensibility and artistic literacy can progress. Yet no social game, no coded password, restricts the possession of this “status” (which is, therefore, no status at all). And this is how it ought to be.

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




December 3, 2017

Sealed Off

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… then nature itself ceased to be a living participant in the events of life.

Continuing through the essay ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… The motif of death undergoes a profound transformation in the temporally sealed-off sequence of an individual life. Here this motif takes on the meaning of an ultimate end. And the more sealed-off the individual life-sequence becomes, the more it is severed from the life of the social whole, the loftier and more ultimate becomes its significance. The link between death and fertility is severed (the sowing and maternal mons, the sun) …

… Death and birth of new life are parceled out into different sealed-off individual life-sequences: death ends one life and birth begins a completely other life. Individualized deaths do not overlap with the birth of new lives, they are not swallowed up by triumphant growth, for these deaths have been taken out of that whole in which such growth occurs.

Parallel to these individual life-sequences — above them, but outside of them — there is a time-sequence that is historical, serving as the channel for the life of the nation, the state, mankind. Whatever its general ideological and literary assumptions, whatever its concrete forms for perceiving historical time and the events that occur within it, this time-sequence is not fused with the individual life-sequences.

[line break added] The historical time-sequence is measured by different standards of value, other kinds of events take place in it, it has no interior aspect, no point of view for perceiving it from the inside out. No matter how its influence on individual life is conceived and represented, its events are in any case different from the events of individual life, and its narratives are different as well. For the student of the novel, the question of this relationship becomes crucial with regard to the historical novel. For a long time the central and almost sole theme of purely historical narrative was the theme of war.

[line break added] This fundamentally historical theme — which has other motifs attached to it, such as conquest, political crimes and the deposing of pretenders, dynastic revolutions, the fall of kingdoms, the founding of new kingdoms, courts, executions and so forth — is interwoven with personal-life narratives of historical figures (with the central motif of love), but the two themes do not fuse. The major task of the modern historical novel has been to overcome this duality: attempts have been made to find a historical aspect of private life, and also to represent history in its “domestic light.”

When the immanent unity of time disintegrated, when individual life-sequences were separated out, lives in which the gross realities of communal life had become merely petty private matters; when collective labor and the struggle with nature had ceased to be the only arena for man’s encounter with nature and the world — then nature itself ceased to be a living participant in the events of life.

[line break added] Then nature became, by and large, a “setting for action,” its backdrop; it was turned into landscape, it was fragmented into metaphors and comparisons serving to sublimate individual and private affairs and adventures not connected in any real or intrinsic way with nature itself.

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




December 2, 2017

That Struggle with the Inequality of Moments

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… The mind is terribly variable, deceptive and self-deceiving, fertile in insoluble problems and illusory solutions.

Continuing through the essay (taken from a speech) ‘Poetry and Abstract Thought’ found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

… Thought is … the activity which causes what does not exist to come alive in us, lending to it, whether we will or not, our present powers, making us take the part for the whole, the image for reality, and giving us the illusion of seeing, acting, suffering, and possessing independently of our dear old body, which we leave … in an armchair until we suddenly retrieve it when the telephone rings or, no less strangely, when our stomach demands provender.

Between Voice and Thought, between Thought and Voice, between Presence and Absence, oscillates the poetic pendulum.

… every true poet is necessarily a first-rate critic. If one doubts this, one can have no idea of what the work of the mind is: that struggle with the inequality of moments, with chance associations, lapses of attention, external distractions. The mind is terribly variable, deceptive and self-deceiving, fertile in insoluble problems and illusory solutions. How could a remarkable work emerge from this chaos if this chaos that contains everything did not also contain some serious chances to know oneself and to choose within oneself whatever is worth taking from each moment and using [it] carefully?

… sound, sense, the real and the imaginary, logic, syntax, and the double invention of content and form … and all this by means of a medium essentially practical, perpetually changing, soiled, a maid of all work, everyday language, from which we must draw a pure, ideal Voice, capable of communicating without weakness, without apparent effort, without offense to the ear, and without breaking the ephemeral sphere of the poetic universe, an idea of some self miraculously superior to Myself.

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




December 1, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:28 am

… Far away, / dark before the shining exit-gates, / someone or other stood, whose features were unrecognizable.

This is from Flesh of My Flesh by Kaja Silverman (2009):

… When Ovid’s account of the myth was revived in the twelfth century, Orpheus was transformed into an ascetic, and his backward look became a momentary lapse in an otherwise exemplary life; when he gazed at Eurydice, he returned like “a dog to his vomit,” but then — fortunately — he abjured her, and “ascend[ed] the mountains of virtue.”

[line break added] Although Eurydice continued to pay the price for Orpheus’s volte-face, the backward look was no longer treated as a danger to her ; it was depicted, rather, as a danger to him. This placed a new moratorium on the act of looking at her. It also made the act of turning away from Eurydice both necessary and commendable.

[ … ]

… In “Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes.” Rilke adds the “god of speed and distant messages” to the cast of characters, but reduces the story to the movement of these three figures through a mysterious cavern. He also isolates each of them from the others. Eurydice walks beside Hermes, and behind Orpheus, but she doesn’t notice either of them; Orpheus is uncertain whether he is hearing her footsteps or his own; and Hermes is unable to bridge the distance between the two of them. Orpheus has also forgotten that he is a musician: “his hands at his sides, / tight and heavy, out of the falling folds, / no longer conscious of the delicate lyre / which ha[s] grown into his left arm.”

The fifth stanza ends with the word “she,” and this pronoun ushers in an extended celebration of Eurydice, first as “a woman so loved that from one lyre there came / more lament than from all lamenting women,” and then as someone who is no longer “that man’s property.” Since most of the rest of the poem is also focalized through her, Orpheus drops out of the picture until the very end, when Hermes draws him to her attention, and even then he remains a small figure on the horizon.

[line break added] “And when, abruptly, / the god put out his hand to stop her,” Rilke writes, “saying / with sorrow in his voice: He has turned around — , / she could not understand, and softly answered / ‘Who? ‘ / Far away, / dark before the shining exit-gates, / someone or other stood, whose features were unrecognizable.”

My previous post from Silverman’s book is here.




November 30, 2017

On the Edge of the Earth

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… I guess that space that is between what they call heaven and earth — out there in what they call the night — is as much it as anything.

This is from My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Volume 1, 1915-1933 edited by Sarah Greenough (2011). These bits are from the beginning of their relationship, when O’Keeffe had just arrived in Texas, to teach art at West Texas State Normal College:

Alfred Stieglitz • [New York City] • [December 21, 1916]

… — This afternoon — towards five someone came in, a man I have known for twenty-five years! — Kerfoot, Zoler, Walkowitz, & Benn were present. — The friend asked me why I was so hard on American & never had a good word to say about it. — Well, I wish you could have heard me. — I’m sorry tens of thousands didn’t hear me. — America never had a better friend — real America — not the flim-flam America — I hate patriotism — I hate all that seems so holy to so many “good” & “blind” Americans — Well, I let loose for fair, telling him what I felt as an American — as a man of the whole world —

… When all were gone — all except Walkowitz, he said: “They’ll never understand … ”

[ … ]

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Canyon, Texas] • [March 11, 1917]

… There is something so merciless about the Canyon — so tremendous — I love it —

The big cedar trees were very nice too — the grass is very short and brown — no underbrush — such clean ground under the trees — clean ground and rocks and trees and a very clean stream — And we could see for miles and miles and miles — and nobody —

When we cam out — way off on the edge of the earth against the sunset were a lot of cattle in a string — We could see daylight under them — Like a dark embroidery edge — very fine — on the edge of the earth —

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Canyon, Texas] • [March 15, 1917]

… More — I want to say — but — what —

I guess that space that is between what they call heaven and earth — out there in what they call the night — is as much it as anything. So I send you the space that is watching the starlight and the empty quiet plains — .

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




November 29, 2017

Radical Openness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… Or is it about a kind of immediacy, presence and immanence of the artwork, an experience that cannot be denied?

This is from Why Art Photography? by Lucy Soutter (2013):

… In Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, the real is described as always just out of reach. It is the primal state of nature that we can never regain because we have entered language. [Hal] Foster describes photography as perpetually restaging the trauma of our missed encounter with the real.

… Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault famously demolished the unquestioned authority of the author over the text, giving power of interpretation to the reader. Yet Foucault argued in “What Is an Author?” that rather than being abandoned altogether the notion of the author should be “analysed as a complex and variable function of discourse.” In other words, he proposed that the author is less interesting as the origin of meaning than as a persona generated by and through the work of art.

… Authenticity has traditionally been a moral mode, its goal is — at least to some extent — didactic. As Lionel Trilling describes it in his book Sincerity and Authenticity, “The authentic work of art instructs us in our inauthenticity and adjures us to overcome it.” The project is not merely to be at one with ourselves but to revise ourselves for the better. Even if we choose not to commit to the idea that art can improve us, we might still want to take a stand for art as something that unfolds.

… Contemporary art photography can be read as offering openings onto the real, not merely representations of events taking place in another time and place but also sensory encounters that are present in themselves. The trouble with these terms is that they are so open as to let in just about any image.

Perhaps this radical openness lies at the heart of the matter. Is authenticity really about interpretation, moral efficacy or value judgments? Or is it about a kind of immediacy, presence and immanence of the artwork, an experience that cannot be denied?

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




November 28, 2017

Life is Beautiful. Live It

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… Of course, Sol would never say such a thing, but I hear it in his work all the time.

This is from Sol LeWitt: 100 Views edited by Susan Cross and Denise Markonish (2009):

Gary Garrels, Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

… Two … sentences [from LeWitt’s “Sentences on Conceptual Art”], the first and fifth, … help one to grasp the heart of LeWitt’s approach to art:

Conceptual Artists are mystics rather than rationalists; they leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach …
Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.

… Of the many artists active in the second half of the twentieth century, LeWitt was one of the most rigorous in terms of his thought; he was simultaneously one of the most open. His expansive intellect allowed him to find the simplest and most elegant ideas and solutions for art, circumvent dead ends and foregone conclusions, and embrace paradox and contradiction, essential qualities of art for our time.

[ … ]

Mike Glier, Artist

What comes to mind when thinking about the art of Sol LeWitt, surprisingly, are images of rivers rippling silently underground and radio waves moving invisibly through space.

LeWitt convincingly posits that embracing an array of possibilities is more pleasurable and generative than limiting those possibilities. Difference, in this world view, is not threatening or destabilizing in itself, but is instead a prompt to curiosity, a catalyst for experimentation, and potentially, a source of delight.

[ … ]

Mel Kendrick, Artist

… Think of his “Sentences of Conceptual Art (1969). I completely misinterpreted them when I first encountered them in the 1970s. They fit easily into the then current dialogue of the end of painting, the death of the art object. An idea alone could be art? This created a dilemma similar to that created by Duchamp’s readymades: great for discussion and theory, but how did you continue working?

It is clear to me, reading the sentences now, that they are, in fact, all about working. Sol did not denigrate painting or sculpture. He simply said that to think in those categories was limiting. He did say that new materials do not constitute new ideas, and that you cannot make good art from a banal idea, no matter how well it is executed. How could you disagree with that?

[ … ]

Stephen L. Lloyd, Architect

[Lloyd worked with LeWitt in designing the Temple Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, CT]

… I see the star [that LeWitt designed for the front of the sanctuary, on the doors concealing the Torahs] as a new set of instructions, which in word form might say:

Life is beautiful. Live it.

Of course, Sol would never say such a thing, but I hear it in his work all the time.

My previous post from this book is here.




November 27, 2017

A Would-Be Picture

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:14 am

… they sensed its promise.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… Unlike Duchamp’s bottle rack or urinal, the blank canvas is a specific ready-made.

… Even before it is touched by the painter’s hand, it already belongs to the tradition of the Renaissance. While it is prepared to receive the traces of the painter’s brush and is thus no more than a support, as part of the artist’s materials, it has already incorporated, ready-made, the one convention established during the Renaissance — that one is to paint on a stretched canvas.

… You may become an artist without being a painter, but hardly without having been one. As we have seen, this holds true for all minimal and conceptual artists.

… The blank canvas is not a picture; it was one. It was a picture, a viable would-be picture, a potential picture, in the days when modernist painting had its tradition ahead of itself. For the modernist sensibility striving for purism and attuned to the “elements” of painting, the blank canvas’s potential to become a painting had an extraordinary aesthetic appeal.

[line break added] From Malevich to Mondrian, there is not one pioneer of abstract painting who didn’t respond to the appeal of the bare canvas. They were breaking with the past, relinquishing the strongest of all “expendable conventions,” namely figuration; they also thought of themselves as laying down the basic alphabet of a future culture. Although none of them actualized the blank canvas, they sensed its promise. Kandinsky, for example, in 1913, praised “this pure canvas that is itself as beautiful as a picture.” This sensibility accompanied the history of modernist painting all along.

[line break added] When, as early as 1940, Greenberg spoke of “the pristine flatness of the stretched canvas,” he was still surrendering to its magnetic appeal. In fact it is the Mallarmean seduction of the virgin canvas that is the secret center of convergence of modernism as “self-critical tendency” with formalism as “tropism towards aesthetic value as such.” And of course, it could keep this attractive power only as long as it was itself taboo.

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




November 26, 2017

The Inability to Understand Stupid Conventions

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… They grant the right not to understand, the right to confuse …

Continuing through the essay ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… The novelist stands in need of some essential formal and generic mask that could serve to define the position from which he views life, as well as the position from which he makes that life public.

And it is precisely here, of course, that the masks of the clown and the fool (transformed in various ways) come to the aid of the novelist. These masks are not invented: they are rooted deep in the folk. they are linked with the folk through the fool’s time-honored privilege not to participate in life, and by the time-honored bluntness of the fool’s language; they are linked as well with the chronotope of the public square and with the trappings of the theater.

[line break added]  All of this is of the highest importance for the novel. At last a form was found to portray the mode of existence of a man who is in life, but not of it, life’s perpetual spy and reflector; at last specific forms had been found to reflect private life and make it public. (We might add here that the making-public of specifically nonpublic spheres of life — for example, the sexual sphere — is one of the more ancient functions of the fool. … )

… The primary level, the level of where the author makes his transformation, utilizes the images of the clown and the fool (that is, a naiveté expressed as the inability to understand stupid conventions). In the struggle against conventions, and against the inadequacy of all available life-slots to fit an authentic human being, these masks take on an extraordinary significance.

[line break added] They grant the right not to understand, the right to confuse, to tease, to hyperbolize life, the right to parody others while talking, the right to not be taken literally, not “to be oneself”; the right to live a life in the chronotope of the entr’acte, the chronotope of theatrical space, the right to act life as a comedy and to treat others as actors, the right to rip off masks, the right to rage at others with primeval (almost cultic) rage — and finally, the right to betray to the public a personal life, down to its most private and prurient little secrets.

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




November 25, 2017

To Become Endlessly

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… it is expressly designed to be born again from its ashes and to become endlessly what it has just been.

Continuing through the essay (taken from a speech) ‘Poetry and Abstract Thought’ found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

… The world of the art of music, a world of sounds, is distinct from the world of noises. Whereas a noise merely rouses in us some isolated event — a dog, a door, a motor car — a sound evokes, of itself, the musical universe. If, in this hall where I am speaking to you and where you hear the noise of my voice, a tuning fork, or a well-tempered instrument began to vibrate, you would at once, as soon as you were affected by this pure and exceptional noise that cannot be confused with others, have the feeling of a beginning, the beginning of a world; a quite different atmosphere would immediately be created, a new order would arise, and you yourselves would unconsciously organize yourselves to receive it.

[line break added] The musical universe, therefore, was within you, with all its associations and proportions — as in a saturated salt solution a crystalline universe awaits the molecular shock of a minute crystal in order to declare itself.

[ … ]

… Walking, like prose, has a definite aim. It is an act directed at something we wish to reach. Actual circumstances, such as the need for some object, the impulse of my desire, the state of my body, my sight, the terrain, etc. which order the manner of walking, prescribe its direction and its speed, and give it a definite end. All the characteristics of walking derive from these instantaneous conditions, which combine in a novel way each time. There are no movements in walking that are not special adaptations, but, each time, they are abolished and, as it were, absorbed by the accomplishment of the act, by the attainment of the goal.

The dance is quite another mater. It is, of course, a system of actions; but of actions whose end is in themselves. It goes nowhere. If it pursues an object, it is only an ideal object, a state, an enchantment, the phantom of a flower, an extreme of life, a smile — which forms at last on the face of the one who summoned it from empty space.

It is therefore not a question of carrying out a limited operation whose end is situated somewhere in our surroundings, but rather of creating, maintaining, and exalting a certain state, by a periodic movement that can be executed on the spot; a movement which is almost entirely dissociated from sight, but which is simulated and regulated by auditive rhythms.

But please note this very simple observation, that however different the dance may be from walking and utilitarian movements, it uses the same organs, the same bones, the same muscles, only differently coordinated and aroused.

… But here is the great and decisive difference. When the man who is walking has reached his goal — as I said — when he has reached the place, book, fruit, the object of his desire (which desire drew him from his repose), this possession at once entirely annuls his whole act; the effect swallows up the cause, the end absorbs the means; and, whatever the act, only the result remains.

… The poem, on the other hand, does not die from having lived: it is expressly designed to be born again from its ashes and to become endlessly what it has just been. Poetry can be recognized by this property, that it tends to get itself reproduced in its own form: it stimulates us to reconstruct it identically.

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




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