Unreal Nature

January 9, 2017

Always Already Something

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… “You gotta come from somewhere. You don’t come out of the sky.”

This is from ‘Guston’s Italian Badness’ by Ara H. Merjian found in Go Figure! New Perspectives on Guston edited by Peter Benson Miller (2014):

… For [Harold] Rosenberg, Guston’s return to the figure signaled not aesthetic liberty but rather a “liberation from detachment.” In what remains of this essay, I want to consider that paradox in Guston’s late work. How precisely, might the freedom from freedom inform these images? Does it entail a voluntary return or a departure in its own right? To put this in different terms: does Guston’s later painting belong to modernism’s last chapters or signal the start of something else entirely?

It is through the lens of de Chirico’s corpus — to which Guston paid close attention at various stages in his career — that I think we might adumbrate some answers. De Chirico famously thematized and performed questions of departure and return (temporal, stylistic, and iconographic) in his work, flouting the avant-garde concern for formal innovation.

[line break added] Even as his work flirted with the geometric abstraction that formed the benchmark of avant-garde experimentation, de Chirico insisted upon the immanence to figuration as the only path to aesthetic transcendence. For de Chirico, abstraction was always already something sublimated into the primary language of figuration: a “second drama” that emerged only through timed ellipses, careful framing, and partial effacement of isolated signs.

[line break added] The pre-discursive “freedom” of abstraction, in other words, could only come through a voluntary confinement to the language of figures and grounds. It was precisely this unwavering adherence to representational language that further endeared his work to a painter seeking refuge from “detachment.” Guston’s re-embrace of figuration — with all of its attendant semantic and ideological burdens — gains further poignancy in the light of de Chirico’s precedent.

Guston remarked of his late figuration, “You gotta come from somewhere. You don’t come out of the sky” — a notion that echoes, I think, in his re-embrace of painterly genealogy in and as a ground, a line, a fictive plane from which the picture is built up in basic terms. An image like The Line (1978) literalizes this very process; a monumental hand descends from the heavens to cleave the painting’s (already illusionist) foreground. If this hand comes miraculously out of nowhere, as it were, the painting itself proceeds, in turn, from the ground up. In work after work, it is these schematic horizons or floors or seams of wood on which Guston’s figures increasingly find their feet.

Philip Guston, The Line, 1978

… [A]n attempt to work through the difficulties of a renewed figuration is the evidence of its historic impossibility.” The words are Benjamin Buchloh’s, describing (or more precisely, disparaging) the painting of Georg Baselitz from the 1960s. The words could equally have served to dismiss Guston’s post-Marlborough works, or Guttuso’s lifelong production, or even de Chirico’s painting in the 1910s. Indeed, they — or terms like them — did obliquely ridicule the latter’s continued appeal to figuration in the wake of “pure painting.”

[line break added] Recall Apollinaire’s sneer, despite his admiration of de Chirico, at the anachronistic use of “that miserable tricky perspective … that infallible device for making all things shrink.” As we have seen, though, de Chirico’s perspectival device was anything but straightforward. The strength of Guston’s post-1969 work, too, perhaps lies in its persistent complicity with abstraction.

… “It’s circular,” Guston quipped to an interviewer about his supposed “return” to figuration. Whether his recent work was figurative or not was, Guston remarked curtly, “beside the point.” He knew that his departure at Marlborough was also a return, that his newfound freedom was at the same time a voluntary retreat into the cozy confines of language, of “stories.”

… [Guston] did not simply violate Greenbergian creed of abstraction, still predominant in late 1960s America. He also refused, amidst the sea change of post-war production during this same period, to question the institution and the ontology of painting itself — something that would earn him equal censure by critics for whom complicity with the culture industry was just as (aesthetically and morally) execrable as figuration was to Greenberg. Guston’s late figuration thus constitutes a double infamy.

[line break added] I think it is essential to situate its legacy between these critical poles. Perhaps no other painter has had the honor of his work being simultaneously disdained by the critical apparatuses of both Hilton Kramer and Benjamin Buchloh. Only de Chirico’s painting — embraced simultaneously by Surrealism and Fascist architects in the ’30s, it’s later iterations reviled by the majority of the art world but defended by no less an ironist than Marcel Duchamp — has exceeded the contradictory, even inimical, resonances of Guston’s late work.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




January 8, 2017

Thought Erodes All Previously Established Points

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… [meaning] cannot act as a material force. And it does not need to do this: it itself is stronger than any force …

Final post from Speech Genres & Other Late Essays by M.M. Bakhtin (1986):

… Each particular phenomenon is submerged in the primordial elements of the origins of existence. As distinct from myth, this is an awareness that one does not coincide with one’s own individual meaning.

The symbol has a “warmth of fused mystery” (Averintsev). The aspect of contrasting one’s own to another’s. The warmth of love and the coldness of alienation. Contrast and comparison. Any interpretation of a symbol itself remains a symbol, but it is somewhat rationalized, that is, brought somewhat closer to the concept.

… Interpretation as the discovery of a path to seeing (contemplating) and supplementing through creative thinking. Anticipation of the further growing context, its relation to the finalized whole, and its relation to the unfinalized context. This meaning (in the unfinalized context) cannot be peaceful and cozy (one cannot curl up comfortably and die within it).

… The text lives only by coming into contact with another text (with context). Only at the point of this contact between texts does a light flash, illuminating both the posterior and anterior, joining a given text to a dialogue. We emphasize that this contact is a dialogic contact between texts (utterances) and not a mechanical contact of “oppositions,” which is possible only within a single text (and not between a text and context) among abstract elements (signs within a text), and is necessary only in the first stage of understanding (understanding formal definition, but not contextual meaning).

[line break added] Behind this contact is a contact of personalities and not of things (at the extreme). If we transform dialogue into one continuous text, that is, erase the division between voices (changes of speaking subjects), which is possible at the extreme (Hegel’s monological dialectics), then the deep-seated (infinite) contextual meaning disappears (we hit the bottom, reach a standstill).

… Thought knows only conditional points; thought erodes all previously established points.

… A thing, as long as it remains a thing, can affect only other things; in order to affect a personality it must reveal its semantic potential, become a word, that is, assimilate to a potential verbal-semantic context.

… One must not forget that “thing” and “personality” are limits and not absolute substances. Meaning cannot (and does not wish to) change physical, material, and other phenomena; it cannot act as a material force. And it does not need to do this: it itself is stronger than any force, it changes the total contextual meaning of an event and reality without changing its actual (existential) composition one iota; everything remains as it was but acquires a completely different contextual meaning (the semantic transformation of existence). Each word of a text is transformed in a new context.

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




January 7, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… The part has become the whole or the whole a part.

Final post from The New Landscape in Art and Science by Gyorgy Kepes (1956; 1967):

… it is a basic tenet of our understanding that geometrical properties are not independent, but are determined by matter. Proportion includes matter, energy, organization — pattern in its broadest sense.

Every pattern has its own extension and its wider context as well: it contains or is contained by another pattern; it follows or is followed by another pattern. We know that, in personal, biological and cultural life, violent passion and chiseled perfection , growth and equilibrium, revolution and convention follow each other as well as exist side by side. In either case there is a discontinuity — in time: a rhythmic beat of opening and closing, in space: a demarcation between part and whole. In either case, there is a continuity in the invariants of the transformations.

In the previous chapter it was noted that everything we perceive pulsates in an ebb and flow of opening and closing. To sense proportion is to sense a continuous measure in the magnitude or span of one direction and of the other. But the rhythm of opening and closure that brings into common focus continuity and discontinuity, the basic poles of morphogenesis, has further implications.

… The change from one pattern to another — and there could be no sequence if there were no change — involves a rearticulation of space through a change in magnitude, which itself is a change in the part-whole relation. Magnitude and direction are interrelated; together, they set the stage for the emergence of something new. A sufficient increase or decrease in magnitude brings a pattern to its limit, to the line of demarcation which closes it and opens up another pattern. A new pattern is then born. The part has become the whole or the whole a part. The scale has changed. Roles and meanings need revaluation.

[ … ]

… [Today] Painters no longer turn to nature for inspiration but look to other painters; poets’ sources are other poets’ poems. But they and we all need a reunion with the common basis of all, nature, albeit a nature different from that which our fathers knew.

Successful reunion, it was suggested in the beginning of this book, depends upon our recognizing the close relation between thought and image-making. Images, as it was pointed out, are not raw material external to thought, but necessary prior forms of understanding. If we are to apprehend the new landscape, its new scope of harmony and new range of relatedness, we need to touch it with our senses and build from it the images that will remake our vision.

We have some indication — a Pisgah view, perhaps — of what this vision may be. The basic undertaking of vision, we may remind ourselves, is to grasp a “whole.” The “whole” of nature’s vast new scale is beyond the grasp of our inherited static idioms of vision. What the new landscape suggests is not static harmony but dynamic continuity; it eludes our comprehension except as a chain of organizational levels. In this chain, melodic lines and their contrapuntal organization — for want of truly apposite terms those of music are used — emerge as the basic modes of order.

Tying us in knots and enveloping us in a blighted urban environment, the wild dynamic of industrial civilization signals our agonizing need to realize these modes of order in our contemporary horizon. On the other hand, it has produced essential tools to help us to understand them and to guide us in redirecting this runaway growth toward balanced, healthy development. The terms of contrapuntal order are the seeds of a future planned on an undreamed-of scale.

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




January 6, 2017

You’d Put Claws to Your Toes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… “Driven to the wall you’d put claws to your toes and make a ladder of smooth bricks.”

This is from ‘A Poet of the Quattrocento’ written for The Dial found in The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore edited by Patricia C. Willis (1986):

It was Ezra Pound’s conviction some years ago, that there could be “an age of awakening in America” which would “overshadow the quattrocento.” Hopeful for us at that time, “our opportunity is greater than Leonardo’s,” said Mr. Pound; “we have more aliment,” and never really neglectful of us, he has commended in us, “Mr. Williams‘ praiseworthy opacity.”

[line break added] “There is distinctness and color,” he observed, “as was shown in his ‘Postlude,’ in ‘Des Imagistes’; but there is beyond these qualities the absolute conviction of a man with his feet on the soil, on a soil personally and peculiarly his own. He is rooted. He is at times almost inarticulate, but he is never dry, never without sap in abundance.”

This metaphor of the tree seems highly appropriate to William Carlos Williams — who writes of seedling sycamores, of walnuts and willows — who several years ago, himself seemed to W.C. Blum “by all odds the hardiest specimen in these parts.” In his modestly emphatic respect for America he corroborates Henry James’ conviction that young people should “stick fast and sink up to their necks in everything their own countries and climates can give,” and his feeling for the place lends poetic authority to an illusion of ours, that sustenance may be found here, which is adapted to artists.

[line break added] Imagination can profit by a journey, acquainting itself with everything pertaining to its wish that it can gather from European sources, Doctor Williams says. But it is apparent to him that “American plumbing, American bridges, indexing systems, locomotives, printing presses, city buildings, farm implements and a thousand other things” are liked and used, and it is not folly to hope that the very purest works of the imagination may also be found among us.

[line break added] Doctor Williams is in favor of escape from “strained associations,” from “shallowness,” from such substitutes as “congoleum — building paper with a coating of enamel.” The staying at home principle could not, he is sure, be a false one where there is vigorous living force with buoyancy of imagination — as there was apparently in Shakespeare — the artist’s excursion being into “perfection” and “technical excellence.”

[line break added] “Such names as Homer, the blind; Scheherazade, who lived under threat — their compositions have as their excellence, an identity with life since they are as actual, sappy as the leaf of the tree which never moves from one spot.” He has visited places and studied various writings and a traveler can as Bacon says, “prick in some flowers of that he hath learned abroad.” In the man, however, Doctor Williams‘ topics are American — crowds at the movies

with the closeness and
universality of sand,

turkey nests, mushrooms among the fir trees, mist rising from the duck pond, the ball game:

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing

… He is rightly imaginative in not attempting to decide; or rather, in deciding not to attempt to say how wrong these readers are, who find his poems unbeautiful or “positively repellant.” As he had previously asked, “Where does this downhill turn up again? Driven to the wall you’d put claws to your toes and make a ladder of smooth bricks.”

My previous post from Moore’s book is here.




January 5, 2017

Little Touches of Color

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… the bit of blue on the collar, the dark violet and greenish tones in the hair, the blue strokes in the left eye and between the lips, the ochers in the ear and jaw, the long curved file of modeled orange buttons that rise from the ornamental flat orange spots below, and, isolated against the cool greenish background, the dainty bizarre ends of red ribbon.

This is from Vincent Van Gogh by Meyer Schapiro (2003). After a biographical synopsis, Schapiro does close readings of single pictures. Here he’s writing about “La Mouseme”, painted in 1888. Note that the color reproduction of this picture found on the internet are all over the map. I’ve chosen the one that closest matches that found in Schapiro’s book:


This is a most sympathetic portrait in which van Gogh has tried to combine the subtlest painting of nuanced tones in atmosphere and light with his new joyous sentiment of pure color and large, strong contrasts. We see the first quality in the delicate modeling of the face, with little touches of warm and cool tones, with almost imperceptible differences, as in the painting of the upper lip against the surrounding skin, the whole suggesting by its soft transitions and pallor a corresponding feminine quality.

[line break added] The light background toned with a delicately emergent greenness belongs to the same family of color. Against these rare phantom tones sing the intense, abundant stripes and spots of orange, blue, and red, in the costume of the girl. Beautiful are the tempering, more neutral colors of the arches of the chair — the dark pole of the background color.

[line break added] The chair together with the hands breaks up the immensity of the spotted skirt into striking areas whose rhythm continues into the light green area in the lower right — a subdivision in sharpest contrast to the simplicity of the upper body, yet tied to the latter through the curved and alternating stripes of the bodice. The silhouette, as always with van Gogh, is vigorous and interestingly contrived.

[line break added] Many fine little touches of color show his alertness as a composer: the bit of blue on the collar, the dark violet and greenish tones in the hair, the blue strokes in the left eye and between the lips, the ochers in the ear and jaw, the long curved file of modeled orange buttons that rise from the ornamental flat orange spots below, and, isolated against the cool greenish background, the dainty bizarre ends of red ribbon.

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




January 4, 2017

The Very Weight of the Visible World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:10 am

… It was the expression of one man’s unrestricted search for the Archimedean point of the world — a search that was capable of devouring the searcher.

This is from Heinz Liesbrock’s essay found in Walker Evans: Depth of Field edited by John T. Hill and Heinz Liesbrock (2015):

Evans walks a fine line between internal and external reality. He seeks a way to depict empirical reality that also reflects the artist’s intimate reaction to it. When this is successful, photography, as Evans views it, comes into its own and can open up a transcendent dimension. How does this occur? The otherwise blind, unformed world suddenly answers us, and an underlying order shines through.

[line break added] Via the image, this epiphanic and, by its very nature, transitory moment is given tangible form without, however, destroying its inherently fleeting character. One recognizes in this a search for balance and a classic “will to form.” It is a state of balance between the outer world and the photographer, a fixed point at which he subordinates himself and his personal biases to the visible world and is absorbed into the formal structure of the image.

[line break added] This constitutes a process of clarification within existing circumstances, not the discovery of something fundamentally new, as would be the case in the act of composing. The auteur’s artistic will to form is restricted by the very weight of the visible world. The latter must not be adulterated by personal elements. This is because, one could say, that which is sensually perceptible is already beautiful in itself, and it requires no subjective molding, which could easily lapse into arbitrariness.

Evans sought to avoid any obvious presence as author in his photographs. The artist as a person with biographically influenced likes and dislikes remained invisible: an expression of opinion, let alone a moralizing air, was repulsive to him. This was Flaubert’s maxim, which Evans applied with such advantage to himself: things take on a richer appearance and have a deeper effect when they are left untouched, as it were, in their own reality.

Walker Evans, self portrait

… A form-giving decision by the photographer vis-à-vis the visible world brings to a jolting halt the stream of seemingly common phenomena that would otherwise pour over us unfiltered. In the image they are transposed to a new order, one that liberates them from long-established patterns of perception. The seemingly familiar suddenly appears odd to us. It is made transparent, revealing an underlying framework that provides the primary foundation for singular entities and embeds them in a larger context of meaning. The image generates a unique visual energy and, with it, a cognitive vibrancy — the transcendence of which Evans spoke.

Today, more than ever, the perception of photography confuses the subject of the image with its aesthetic. Its so-called content is equated with the artistic statement. Although Evans’s images are also borne by an interest in social contexts, we nevertheless discover in them with exceptional concision that which remains when all exposition and all narrative description of the world are said and done: it is the image in its own language, the essence that transforms the photographic print into art.

In light of this complex image concept, it is not surprising that Evans seems somewhat Janus-faced in his comments, published interviews, and written words. He effortlessly pendulated between supposed contradictions, never really committing himself and carefully avoiding any clear-cut statement that would constitute an undue restriction on himself. Any such statement could not adequately express the complexity of the field of experience in which he was interested.

[line break added] The same ambiguous character is also found in his photographs. They oscillate between a historical statement describing clearly defined facts, and the concept of an autonomous image that manifests itself as a simple sensory presence and is not wrapped up in an unequivocal reference or context that can be grasped via discourse. An aesthetic overhang always remains that cannot simply be attributed to the image content.

… Above all, an insatiable appetite for life radiates from Evans’s photographs. His receptivity to the unmediated sensual experience of the world was urgent and deep, and it raises his images above the level of mere documents. It was the expression of one man’s unrestricted search for the Archimedean point of the world — a search that was capable of devouring the searcher. “The thing itself is such a secret and so unapproachable.” [Evans, 1974]




January 3, 2017

In His Innocence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… in his innocence, museum pictures were real pictures, and his own pictures ought to look like them.

This is from ‘Soutine’ (1963) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

Soutine had to have the thing he was painting out there in front of him. He wouldn’t invent. He wouldn’t paint from memory, even the memory of a motif he had worked from day after day. He wouldn’t paint from drawings or from photographs or from an earlier painting of the subject. He had to have the real thing there.

He even needed it there when painting his paraphrases of old masters. He never copied from the picture, either the original or a reproduction; he reconstructed the motif of the picture, worked from a model or a still-life subject disposed in accordance with the prototype.

… Reconstituting the motif rather than working from the picture was a curious procedure to adopt when transposing other men’s images. After all, one of the reasons why painters make copies or transpositions is to save themselves the bother of employing a model or buying a lobster or taking a trip to the country. And as a matter of fact Soutine was often put to more trouble than usual when he tried to find the living equivalent of an image he had chosen to adapt.

[line break added] Some of the most grotesque stories in the Soutine legend tell of such occasions. There is the story behind the picture based on Courbet’s reclining girl — the days of motoring round the countryside before a suitable model was found; the jealousy of her husband, a railway gatekeeper, who, after one session, tried to stop her from posing; Soutine’s rage and threats of legal action.

… There is the story about the carcass of beef which he had hanging in the studio while painting four or more large canvases paraphrasing the Rembrandt carcass — the complaints of the neighbors at the stench of decaying flesh; the pail of blood used to freshen up the meat as it got dry; the model hired to fan away the flies so that the motif could be seen; the artist’s growing rapture at the colors that emerged as the meat decomposed, and the neighbor’s growing desperation; the calling in of the police; Soutine’s incomprehension and rage.


[ … ]

… This painter of genius came from a society in which there was not simply no background of painting but a positive hostility to painting, so that painting for him was not just a luxury but a forbidden fruit. The act of painting was a magical activity, a weaving of spells, and, since it happened that he could weave spells which by any standards were unusually potent, he was bound to display the powers he had appropriated.

[line break added] He would want to find a style in which they would not be wasted but could be paraded in all their glory, and obviously the best opening would be a traditional sort of style, sonorous in color, rich in impasto, and — this above all, perhaps, for a child of orthodox Jewry — providing the opportunity to show off his skill in producing recognizable representations. Moreover, he lacked the sophistication demanded by any artist who is to work easily in a twentieth-century idiom.

… Secondly, he lacked sophistication in the sense of bored over-familiarity with the masterpieces of the European tradition hanging in the museums, paid lip-service to by parents and other bourgeois and providing criteria of artistic respectability which must be shot at. For Soutine, in his innocence, museum pictures were real pictures, and his own pictures ought to look like them.

Chaim Soutine, Self Portrait, 1918

More from this essay next week.

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




January 2, 2017

Stop Straightening These Things Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

Guston, always out on his own limb, followed himself constantly, doing what followers do best: find the impetus in existent work and follow up, take what’s implied and add some unexpected steps.

This is from ‘The Story Goes: Guston, Piero, and Their Folowers’ by Bill Berkson found in Go Figure! New Perspectives on Guston edited by Peter Benson Miller (2014):

… Where anything comes from — in the way of making an artistic culture for oneself — is often more complex and serendipitous than any sort of single-channel history would admit. Confusion is the state we are in. Art history needs to stop straightening these things out and take a long look at how events actually happen. Wake up and smell the randomness, the chaos, the inherent splendors therein.

Accordingly, therefore, my subtitle — “Guston, Piero, and Their Followers” — is a joke. Neither Piero nor Guston has any real followers; or else, we are his followers, the ones who travel, following the Piero or Guston trails — their leavings — making whatever sense we can of what they show us.

For an artist, what is normally considered the orderly timeline of history often works in reverse, sideways, any way but straight down through the years. Guston’s primary artistic education worked something like this: “Cubism was Renaissance painting for me” — all upside down and sideways, and perfectly efficient as the art required. American artists of Guston’s generation, most of them educated outside the classroom, found modern art first.

[line break added] (It must have looked familiar from the funnies, which really came first and were just as modern, anyway; plus, the moderns arrived in America mostly in reproduction, same size as comic strips.) Largely due to the then-new Age of Mechanical Reproduction, but also to the increased holdings of Old Masters in American museums, they then acculturated themselves by learning in reverse what Picasso or Mondrian — or, before them, Cézanne or Manet — had absorbed.

[ … ]

… In painting, touch, which may be akin to what is felt in poetry as tone, isn’t really physically there on paper or canvas, but the evidence of it is crucial as an anterior force you can tell is driving the work. Among his Abstract Expressionist peers, Guston was acknowledged as being possessed of the most refined touch. By the mid-1950s the typical Guston brushstroke — a smooth, amply ridged index finger’s length and width of fat pink, black, or green pigment — was seized upon as an adaptable stylistic device by younger artists as distinct from one another as Joan Mitchell and Jasper Johns.

… By 1968, when his late manner took off, Guston had his touch, his palette — all that meat and air, the bloodiness of both — his forms, and a flexible enough space to accommodate the tangible, sometimes brutal things he felt it necessary to depict. Certainly Guston, always out on his own limb, followed himself constantly, doing what followers do best: find the impetus in existent work and follow up, take what’s implied and add some unexpected steps. Praise them as we will, the late paintings — unmasking imagery and attendant meanings consequently more legible in the earlier — should not be forced, I think, out of that matrix.

… About Piero, Guston might have spoken much as Cézanne did of Poussin: “Whenever I come away from seeing him, I know better who I am.” What Guston in fact did remark upon … was how he was “superficially less influenced … but actually more influenced” by Piero’s painting (then adding cannily, “if you know what I mean“).

My previous post from this book is here.




January 1, 2017

He Eludes Any Figurative Representation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… in which utterances (speech acts) is there a face and not a mask, that is, no authorship?

This is from Speech Genres & Other Late Essays by M.M. Bakhtin (1986):

… Contextual meaning is potentially infinite, but it can only be actualized when accompanied by another (other’s) meaning, if only by a question in the inner speech of the one who understands. Each time it must be accompanied by another contextual meaning in order to reveal new aspects of its own infinite nature (just as the word reveals its meaning only in context). Actual contextual meaning inheres not in one (single) meaning, but only in two meanings that meet and accompany one another.

[ … ]

… The I hides in the other and in others, it wants to be only an other for others, to enter completely into the world of others as an other, and to cast from itself the burden of being the only I (I-for-myself) in the world.

… The search for one’s own (authorial) voice. To be embodied, to become more clearly defined, to become less, to become more limited, more stupid. Not to remain tangential, to burst into the circle of life, to become one among other people. To cast off reservations, to cast off irony.

… The primary author cannot be an image. He eludes any figurative representation. When we try to imagine the primary author figuratively, we ourselves are creating his image, that is, we ourselves become the primary author of the image. The creating image (i.e. the primary author) can never enter into any image that he has created. The word of the primary author cannot be his own word. It must be consecrated by something higher and impersonal (by scientific argument, experiment, objective data, inspiration, intuition, authority, and so forth).

… In painting, the artist sometimes depicts himself (usually at the edge of the picture). The self-portrait. The artist depicts himself as an ordinary person and not as an artist, not as the creator of the picture.

… It is customary to speak about the authorial mask. But in which utterances (speech acts) is there a face and not a mask, that is, no authorship? The form of authorship depends on the genre of the utterance. The genre in turn is determined by the subject matter, goal, and situation of the utterance.

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




December 31, 2016

The Least Amount of Hunting

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… To many people nature suggests nothing, signifies nothing, is nothing.

Continuing through The New Landscape in Art and Science by Gyorgy Kepes (1956; 1967):

… Central in the creation of self-regulating systems has been the grasp of the significance of feedback, of the circular causal process, or, to express it more generally, interdependence. We ourselves are self-regulating systems; when we put out our hand for an apple, our movement sends back to us a continuous indication of where we are; similarly to the guided missile, we continuously correct for error as we seek our destination.

[line break added] The proportioning of our flow of effort in accordance with the flow of return information brings us to our goal with an accuracy which is impossible to the infant who, not yet able to bring these opposites into harmony, overshoots or undershoots his mark. The engineer, too, in developing a guided missile, must learn to synchronize error and correction of error to avoid “hunting,” excessive oscillation about the point of coordination in order to obtain a design that will carry out its assignment.

[line break added] Every purposive movement is composed of two processes, not one; their symmetry in action is the measure of its success. The “elegant” — or most successful — mathematical solution is that which has involved the least amount of hunting, as shown by its minimum number of steps.

[ … ]

… They saw the men about them coerced by outer pressure and inner weakness into a uniform grey pattern, assuming personalities that offered the least friction to the regimenting processes of machine civilization.

Ruskin was among the first to sound a warning that technical discipline was robbing men of creativity by atomizing their work, letting them see only a part and never an integrated whole:

We have much studied and much perfected, of late, the great civilized invention of the division of labor; only we give it a false name. It is not, truly speaking, the labor that is divided, but the man: divided into mere segments of man — broken into small fragments and crumbs; so that all the little piece of intelligence that is left in man is enough to make a pin or a nail, but exhausts itself in making the head of a pin or the point of a nail. Now it is a good and desirable thing, truly, to make many pins a day; but if we could only see with what crystal sand their points were polished — sand of human souls — we should think that there might be some loss in it also.

Sullivan, the great architect, justly complained that men had been deprived of imaginative and affective power, their closest tie with nature’s embracing wealth:

That is because they have lost natural spontaneity of feeling, the capacity to enjoy simple pleasures, and to discern the beautiful when it is before their eyes. To many people nature suggests nothing, signifies nothing, is nothing. When the sun sets it means for them that the light must be struck. When the trees and fields are rich in summer verdure, that means nothing — one mosquito will outbalance it all; when the trees are bare in autumn, that means nothing; the awakening of spring with all its fantasy of joy, of color, of youth means nothing to them — other than colds and wet feet.

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




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