Unreal Nature

March 17, 2015

Challenge to Habits of Mind and Eye

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… if an image disturbs, it has struck a chord, proving that something forceful in it has touched something alive in the viewer.

This is from the end of Modern Art Despite Modernism by Robert Storr (2000):

… In selecting the images for this book, I have followed my own instincts. That does not mean that I have hewed strictly to my own taste. Quite the opposite, much of the work represented here is distasteful to me. However, I do not regard the disturbance it causes as a verification of the work’s unredeemable nullity but rather as a useful challenge to my habits of mind and eye. For if an image disturbs, it has struck a chord, proving that something forceful in it has touched something alive in the viewer. Mediocrity will not do this except cumulatively; it simply fades into the background.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Art that stands out therefore deserves the attention it has claimed, at least to the extent of one’s examining the reasons for its having achieved that threshold of effect. If the impact lingers, then the viewer becomes responsible in a larger way, since any break in consciousness that throws off sparks or brings repressed thoughts and feelings to the surface demands to be taken seriously. That is what he avant-garde expects in response to the shocks it administers; correspondingly, it is reasonable to treat the memorable gestures of the anti-avant-garde with equivalent seriousness.

A large percentage of the art to which we pay heed in this manner withers upon extended scrutiny and seems unlikely, by that measure, to stand the test of time. Still, the effort made has not been wasted; it is the price exacted for broadening our culture while refining our criteria for judgment. And always we owe it to ourselves and the art in question to stay alert to the manner in which the artists’ failures shed light on our own susceptibilities. The truth is that artists are periodically bound to lose their bearings. Consequently, art is more than likely to go off its rails. Risk is meaningless if the possibility of provocative deviance is excluded from this equation.

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




March 16, 2015

Something New Creeps In

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

” … something new creeps in, whether I want it to or not: something that even I don’t really grasp.”

Continuing through Gerhard Richter: Doubt and Belief in Painting by Robert Storr (2003):

… “I have nothing to say,” Cage wrote, “and I am saying it.” Richter, who has quoted that phrase, was plainly impressed by Cage, but there is a brooding quality to Richter’s work — as well as an obvious, if vague moral dimension — that departs from Cage’s more optimistic disengaged model. Nevertheless, before delving into the the much-vexed question of photography’s special status as a modern medium, it is important to say that its initial value to Richter seems primarily to have been the opportunity it gave him to turn Cage’s formulation around and talk about — or represent — everything without stepping forward to say anything and, by that means, to access many of the same artistic freedoms, beginning with the freedom from self that Cage preached.

Richter’s preoccupation was with the iconography of the everyday. Implicit in this was the pathos indelibly marked by use. Rather than emphasize the photograph’s lowliness or meagerness, Richter sought to dignify it, not by making it more glamorous or more aesthetic, but by respecting it for what it is and showing that. “Perhaps because I’m sorry for the photograph,” he explained, “because it has such a miserable existence even though it is such a perfect picture, I would like to make it valid, make it visible.” Behind this declaration is a commitment to the visible from one of the most demanding of contemporary artists — and, beyond that, a belief in the shared experience of the visible — which should not be taken lightly in a context where attacks on “visuality,” “opacity,” and the very possibility of communicating directly through the senses are staples of postmodernist discourse. As to the images in the paintings themselves, it was not the chair in the Berges showroom that mattered to him — one of many on display, as in Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans or Coca-Cola bottles — but the one in a hundred that sits in the corner and acquires the patina of all things lived with, while emitting the cold aura of all things devoid of innate vitality. Asked by an interviewer what function the subjects of his realist paintings had, Richter simply said, “sympathy.” Caught off guard by the answer, the interviewer inquired about his painting of a common chair, and he replied: “It is our chair, which we use. It is really pitiable and very banal, but it has a mood.”

Kitchen Chair, 1965

The mood or ambiance of Kitchen Chair of 1965 is stark and cold, but is it also haunting. Had Richter set out to make a ghostly object he might fairly be accused of having cheated on his commitment to remove Expressionism, Symbolism, and other aesthetic overlays from his work. In actuality, however, there are no obvious stylistic interventions to account for this effect. Richter says: “Even when I paint a straightforward copy, something new creeps in, whether I want it to or not: something that even I don’t really grasp.”

My previous post from Storr’s book is here.




March 15, 2015

The Calling

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… To link oneself to dispersion, to intermittency, to the fragmented brilliance of images, to the shimmering fascination of the instant, is a terrible movement — a terrible happiness …

This is from the essay ‘The Failure of the Demon: The Vocation’ found in The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot (1959; 2003):

Goethe loved his devil; he allowed him to end well. Virginia Woolf struggles all her life against the demon that protects her; finally she triumphs over it, in an obscure gesture that perhaps consecrates the truth of her vocation. This struggle is strange. The one who tricks us saves us, but by making us unfaithful to ourselves, too prudent and too wise. In the journals published after her death, it is the peripeteia of this combat that we seek, while still deploring the limits of its publication: twenty-six volumes that have been changed into one single volume; literary conventions demanded it so. It remains a deeply disturbing document, as it reflects the attitude of the writer, with here and there a gleam illuminating the happiness, the unhappiness of her labors.

Deeply disturbing, but often difficult to read. Readers who are not indulgent risk being irritated in seeing the Virginia they love so taken with success, so happy with praise, so vain about a moment of recognition, so wounded at its lack. Yes, that is surprising, painful, almost incomprehensible. There is something enigmatic in these distorted reports that place a writer of such delicacy in such gross dependence. And each time, with each new book, the comedy, the tragedy is the same. This repetition, of which she is very aware — who was more lucid? — is made even more annoying by the abridgments of the Journal, but these errors of perspective also have their truth. And suddenly the outcome: that death she chose, which comes to take the place of the public, and which finally gives her the true answer for which she had never stopped waiting.


[ … ]

… The art in Virginia Woolf is shown to be what it is, of a terrible gravity. Cheating is not allowed. How tempting it would be to try to translate into a great revelatory affirmation those brief illuminations that open and close time and that, well aware of their cost, she calls moments of being. Won’t they wonderfully, once and for all, change our lives? Do they bear that power of decision and creation capable, as happens in Proust, of making possible the work that must be assembled around them? Not at all. “Little daily miracles,” “matches unexpectedly struck in the dark,” they speak of nothing but themselves. They appear, they disappear, brilliant fragments that blot out with their saturated purity the space of transparency.

At the same time, and although the misunderstanding is constantly to be feared, what these cores of moving clarity let her see in a necessary dispersion must not be confused with the play of appearances. They are not “impressions,” even if they have the modesty of them, and we could not be more mistaken than by describing her writing as impressionist. Virginia Woolf knows that she must not remain passive before the instant, but answer it with a brief, violent, obstinate, and yet thought-out — pensive — passion. [ … ] “It is a mistake to think that literature can be taken directly from life. You must go out of life. … You must go out of yourself, and concentrate as much as possible on one single point. … ”

… To link oneself to dispersion, to intermittency, to the fragmented brilliance of images, to the shimmering fascination of the instant, is a terrible movement — a terrible happiness, especially when finally it must give way to a book.

… What is this secret, elusive, and inexistent aim whose constant pressure is, in fact, exercised on humankind, and particularly on problematic beings, creators, intellectuals, who are almost at every moment accessible and dangerously new? The idea of a calling (of a fidelity) is the most perverse that can afflict a free artist. Even and especially apart from any idealistic conviction (in which this idea is most easily tamed), we feel it close to each writer like a shadow that precedes him and that he flees, or that he pursues, deserter of himself, imitating himself or, worse, imitating the inimitable idea of the Artist or of the Man he wants spectacularly to present.

The perfidious side of the calling is that it is far from moving by necessity in the direction of the artists’ aptitudes, since it can on the contrary, demand a renunciation of natural talents, as we see from so many artists who were facile to begin with, who became what they are by ceasing to be themselves, ungrateful then for their spontaneous gifts.




March 14, 2015

An Irrational Remainder

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… just because causalism is insufficient to explain novelty, it affords a criterion for disclosing the emergence of newness, namely, the failure of causal laws.

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

… Since the strict doctrine of causality rendered radical novelty impossible, the emergence of newness had to be either denied or assigned to that which, by definition, was absolutely autonomous, free, spontaneous, namely, spirit, with or without a capital. (Some contemporary occultists, like Ouspensky, hold that the sole possible source of novelty is psychical free will, the foundation of magic; orthodox holism, too, regards emergence as a sort of magical mystery beyond the scope of science.) As to progress — which by definition involves the emergence of higher novelty out of previously existing levels of being — it was of course unaccountable in mechanical terms, since mechanism is essentially reductionistic; for mechanism, ‘higher’ can only mean more complex, never qualitatively richer.

… strict causalism may account for novelty in number and in quantity alone; by declaring that actuals are either the mere manifestation or the quanatitative development of possibles, causalism definitely excludes qualitative novelty. We are thus faced with the strange fact that the doctrine of causality, which is supposed to account for change, ends up by denying radical change, that is, that variety of change involving the emergence of new qualities. This paradox led Meyerson — who granted the possibility of novelty but saw no other form of determinism than its causal variety — to the conclusion that science leaves always an irrational remainder.

… the causal principle can be helpful in the detection of the very novelty causalism denies. In fact, whenever the principle “Same causes same effects” does not seem to be fulfilled, we tend to assume that the cause has not been the same in all cases, that is, that something new crept in unnoticed. As Bernard said, “given a natural phenomenon, whatever it may be, an experimenter should never admit that there is a variation in the expression of that phenomenon, without at the same time new conditions appearing in its manifestation.” That is, just because causalism is insufficient to explain novelty, it affords a criterion for disclosing the emergence of newness, namely, the failure of causal laws. The same holds for every conservation law; whenever such a law seems to fail we are led to assume either that the concrete object in question is not as isolated as it was supposed to be or that something new has emerged. This is the type of inference we perform when we find something missing at home, or when we assume the emission of a neutrino; in either case a new entity (burglar, neutrino) is assumed to exist, which restores conservation of something (property, energy).

But if the doctrine of causality is too narrow to account for every sort of change, on the other hand the causal principle is consistent with radical change, and causation itself seems to take part in the emergence of every novelty. Ideal schemes of change may be purely causal, purely random, purely self-determined, and so on; real changes, on the other hand, are always a mixture or, better, a combination of several types of becoming; their description should consequently include various categories of determination — if only because real changes happen to many-sided objects that bear a number of connections with other objects. Causal bonds may not constitute the main connections in all cases, they may even be irrelevant to a given transformation, but it seems safe to assume that they somehow have a share in actual change.

In short, causation participates in the production of novelty although it does not exhaust it; and, although causalism is a conservative doctrine, the principle of causation is consistent with the emergence of newness. This is why the causal principle has a place in science, though not to the exclusion of other principles of determination.

To be continued.

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

(Happy Pi day!)




March 13, 2015

Fly On

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… In such hope do all launched seeds participate.

This is from the essay ‘The Spore Bearers’ found in The Invisible Pyramid by Loren Eiseley (1970):

… The spore tower that discharges the Pilobolus missile is one of the most fascinating objects in nature. A swollen cell beneath the black capsule that contains the spores is a genuinely light-sensitive “eye.” This pigmented eye controls the direction of growth of the spore cannon and aims it very carefully at the region of greatest light in order that no intervening obstacle may block the flight of the spore capsule.

When a pressure of several atmospheres has been built up chemically within the cell underlying the spore container, the cell explodes, blasting the capsule several feet into the air. Since firing takes place in the morning hours, the stalks point to the sun at an angle sure to carry the tiny “rockets” several feet away as well as up. Tests in which the light has been reduced to a small spot indicate that the firing eye aims with remarkable accuracy. The spore vessel firing itself is equipped with a quick-drying glue as to adhere to vegetation always in the proper position.

… It is useless to talk of transporting the excess [human] population of our planet elsewhere, even if a world of sparkling water and green trees were available. In nature it is a law that the spore cities die, but the spores fly on to find their destiny. Perhaps this will prove to be the rule of the newborn planet virus. Somehow in the mysterium behind genetics, the tiny pigmented eye and the rocket capsule were evolved together.

In an equal mystery that we only pretend to understand, man, in the words of Garet Garrett, “reached with his mind into emptiness and seized the machine.” Deathly though some of its effects have proved, robber of the earth’s crust though it may appear at this human stage to be, perhaps there are written within the machine two ultimate possibilities. The first, already , if primitively, demonstrated, is that of being a genuine spore bearer of the first complex organism to cross the barrier of the void. The second is that of providing the means by which man may someday be able to program his personality, or its better aspects, into the deathless machine itself, and thus escape, or nearly escape, the mortality of the body.

… [Or, machines] might even be able to carry refrigerated human egg cells held in suspended animation and prepared to be activated, educated, and to grow up alone under the care of the machines.

[ … ]

… Not long ago, seated upon a trembling ladder leading to a cliff-house ruin that has not heard the voice of man for centuries, I watched, in a puff of wind, a little swirl of silvery thistledown rise out of the canyon gorge beneath my feet. One or two seeds fell among stony crevices about me, but another, rising higher and higher upon the light air, ascended into the blinding sunshine beyond my vision.

… Almost four centuries ago, Francis Bacon, in the years of the voyagers, had spoken of the new world of science as “something touching upon hope.” In such hope do all launched seeds participate.

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




March 12, 2015

Such Quick Affection

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… It is a balance so taut that the awareness of the camera seems not specifically such but something more generalized: an awareness of presence-for-others, a slight shyness …

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

… if [there is] one thing for which this film [Listen to Britain] is remarkable is its structure — the almost Mozartian elegance of the balance between its horizontal and vertical integrations — another is the strangely memorable quality of many of its individual shots: a machine-operator smiling as she sings along with ‘Yes, My Darling Daughter,’ a girl leaning against the menu board in the factory canteen, a particular person’s rapt expression at the concert … I say ‘strangely’ because most of these shots are not at all cinematically ambitious. Typically, they are routine cutaways. How, then, do they achieve such a hold upon the mind? (Gavin Lambert observed, ‘Not the least striking quality of Listen to Britain is its glimpses of ordinary people … caught with such quick affection and precision … ‘

[line break added to make this easier to read online] We are in effect asking what the word ‘quick'; can mean in this context.) What strikes me most forcibly about these shots is that McAllister has used precisely the segments which most editors would have gone out of their way to avoid: those segments where the subjects demonstrate, albeit fleetingly, their awareness of the camera. And my own experience tells me that, a frame or two after he has left them, they will have succeeded in composing themselves into that expression of earnest attentiveness or subdued yet eager endeavor for which the camera-operator habitually, professionally waits.

It might seem natural to describe this as an attempt to capture the spontaneity of the moment; but such a description would lend itself to misunderstanding. It is easy to look at old-time documentaries as if they were technically inept attempts at cinéma vérité; but of course they were not. In the days when most interior shots (and many exterior ones) had to be independently lit, in the days before lazy instant framing with the zoom lens, in the days before reflex viewfinders when even the,most casual-looking cutaway had probably had the end of a tape-measure held against its nose for focus, ‘observation’ in the present-day sense — the sense in which the subject is free to move at will and the camera required to follow as best it can — was scarcely possible. The referential truth of documentary was, as we have said, a truth fragmented as if through a prismatic eye. And the audience knew this, at least to the extent of never having been led to suppose otherwise.

… to discuss our cutaways in terms of spontaneity would be inappropriate. After all, every event is spontaneous in the ultimate, Heraclitian sense of being unrepeatable. What these shots convey to the viewer might be defined as the ‘autonomy’ of their subjects: their independent existence in a timescale, a history, a structure of motivations and meanings other than that whereby they take their place in the film.

Yet still this analysis is not sufficient to explain the particular properties of the shots in question. It would hold good even if the moments chosen were of an awkwardness and self-consciousness whose use amounted to ridicule. What we have are segments balanced to a hairsbreadth between their contribution to the film and their affirmation of the subjects’ pre-existence outside it. It is a balance so taut that the awareness of the camera seems not specifically such but something more generalized: an awareness of presence-for-others, a slight shyness almost akin, paradoxically, to that ‘self-absorption’ by which is meant virtually the opposite — absorption in something outside the self — since it does not recognize the outside as a threat.

[line break added] To the extent that we read these shots as a record of the moment of filming, this expression is a willing acknowledgement of visibility to others in the exposure of being photographed; to the extent that we read them in their context, it is self-possession in a public place, awareness of the presence of others whose looks are not hostile. Either way, they are the reverse of voyeuristic. And what these potential readings offer us, as valencies in a linkage of images, is the construction of the world as one in which we may respond to awareness of our presence-for-others with neither arrogant defensiveness nor cringing withdrawal.

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




March 11, 2015

A Meatyard

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… a photograph is a stage, the subject an actor …

This is from the essay ‘Tom and Gene’ by Guy Davenport found in Father Louie: Photographs of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1991):

… The relationship of artist and model is one that has taken its place as a subject in art at least since Vermeer. Picasso meditated on it in many suites of drawings and etchings; it is implicit throughout Rembrandt. In our time artist and subject have an equal claim on our attention. When Henri Cartier-Bresson photographed the old Matisse, the result is “a Cartier-Bresson,” the subject of which is Matisse. All of Gene’s photographs of Tom Merton are “Ralph Eugene Meatyards,” subject: Thomas Merton.

Gene’s studies of the Zukofskys, Louis and Celia, achieved in their New York apartment, are also very much “Meatyards.” They had met Gene here in Lexington, at my house, and knew his work, and knew what they were in for. Gene liked to say that he photographed essence, not fact. Gene read Zukofsky before he photographed him; Zukofsky’s layered text turns up as double exposures in the portraits, as oblique tilts of the head, as blurred outlines. The “innocent eye” of Monet and Wallace Stevens was not for Gene: he needed to know all he could about his subjects. He did not, for example, know enough about Parker Tyler, who sat for him, and came out as a complacent southern gentleman on a sofa, and the photograph is neither Parker Tyler nor a Meatyard.

Tom Merton has been, and will be, written about extensively. He was photographed as much as the pope. We will always be reinterpreting Merton the man, with all his divergent energies, along with Merton the theologian, moralist, and philosopher. A photographic record is so obviously prime material for the biographer and commentator that we forget its importance, because of its usualness in our time. Try to imagine an image of Jesus, drawn or painted from life, and the kind of writing it would generate. Consider the mythic charisma Lincoln’s photographs have contributed to our sense of him. We are all healthily aware that photographs lie, deceive, and misrepresent, and yet we go right on reading them as if they were expert witnesses. Richard Nixon’s unfortunate face seems to spell out his lack of character, his villainy, his deviousness.

… Another distinguished American photographer, Douglas Haynes, of Arkansas, photographs children only, and has a thousand tricks of gesture and voice for beguiling his subjects into the maskless natural innocence he’s a master of capturing. A photographer of animals has the same problem, for a photograph is a stage, the subject an actor, and the moment of exposure a cue. Gene had no studio, never directed his subjects, and usually looked away, as if uninterested, before he triggered the shutter. I have spent several days being photographed by Gene, and never knew when he was photographing. We kept a conversation going, usually an exchange of anecdotes.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t included any of Meatyard’s pictures of Merton in this post, it’s because they all, in my opinion, suck. Or worse, they are painfully mediocre. Meatyard’s best, strongest work is the Lucybelle Crater project. I’ll be getting into that next week. It’s good stuff.




March 10, 2015

Where Your Hand Is Forced

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

This is taken from a 1984 Charles Harrison interview [‘A Conversation in Three Parts’] with Clement Greenberg, found in Clement Greenberg: Late Writings, edited by Robert C. Morgan (2003):

[ … ]

Charles Harrison: One suggestion that I want to make is that if you keep going, persist, and if that persisting is, let’s say, serious for want of a better word, you can’t help at some point running up against what you would call the logic, the necessity. You must engage with problems which are historical, historically real, or you might as well not bother.

Clement Greenberg: “Historical” is a real problem. I want to know what you mean by that. What came up with modernism was that in order to make better art, art which measured up to the standards of the past, your hand was forced.

C.H.: But surely what you must do is to work to get into that position where your hand is forced.

C.G.: Yes, that’s right. It’s by seeing how good the best art was or is. And especially how good the best art just before you was.

C.H.: But what you can’t predict is how to get into that position where your hand is forced.

C.G.: Of course you can’t predict. You have to see first.

C.H.: But also the procedures by which artists have got into that position must at times seem ludicrous, accidental.

[ … ]




March 9, 2015

Reciprocal Influence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… the sparks thrown back and forth between the two men … was, so long as it lasted, one of the closest and most beneficial exchanges between two first-rate artists in modernism’s history.

This is from Gerhard Richter: Doubt and Belief in Painting by Robert Storr (2003):

Richter’s growing antagonism to the stylistic tendencies taken most seriously at the academy [in Düsseldorf in ~ the1960s] — Art Informel, Zero, and various kinds of conservative abstraction — was shared by his closest student friends, Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, and Blinky Palermo, the last two also having come from East Germany. In the beginning, Lueg was the most crucial to Richter’s artistic re-departure. “He was very well-informed and he had this cool manner, like Humphrey Bogart. He knew what was going on and how things worked. He knew the mechanisms. He was more arrogant than the other students because he knew more and wasn’t so sentimental. It was his advantage and disadvantage at the same time. You have to be a bit sentimental to stay alone in your studio. That was too much for [Lueg]. He needed a public.”

These qualities were recognized by the art-world types with whom Lueg hung out. One day the art dealer, Alfred Schmela, who later showed Richter’s work, introduced the two companions to one of his professional colleagues, saying of Richter, “He’ll be a very good painter,” and of Lueg (to Lueg’s dismay), “He’ll be one of the best gallerists.” The author of paintings that were bright, patterned, and pleasingly Pop, Lueg eventually abandoned his modestly successful career as an artist, changed his name back to Konrad Fischer, and did become one of the most important gallerists in Germany, representing, among others, Carl Ande, Lothar Baumgarten, Hanne Darboven, Gilbert & George, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, Robert Ryman, and, intermittently, his former classmates Richter, Palermo, and Polke.

Polke was wilder and more sardonic than Lueg: “He was very different, he was not cool … He had irony. He was very funny. The things we did together were a kind of craziness.” Both Polke and Richter felt like outsiders to the art scene. “We thought everything was so stupid and we refused to participate. That was the basis of our understanding,” but Lueg was an insider; the art scene was “his family.” Notwithstanding Polke’s wild streak, Richter was impressed that “he was able to paint those little dots in his raster paintings by hand with such patience while he was living with his two children and his wife in a small subsidized apartment. … We both had apartments like that.” In addition to sharing what seems to have been a sibling bond, complete with sibling rivalry, a powerful aesthetic current passed between the two from the time of their meeting in the early 1960s until they went separate ways in the mid-1970s.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] This led to a two-person exhibition in Galerie h, in Hannover in 1966, to collaborative texts (one of them for that exhibition) in which the artists tease the reader from behind literary masks, to collaborative prints, and to photographs of the pair that amount to performance pieces. Moreover, attention to the scraped red and yellow paint to the left of the couple in Polke’s Lovers II (1965) reveals an aggressive painterliness prefiguring Richter’s own scraped and smeared abstractions of the mid-1970s onward.

Sigmar Polke, Lovers II [Liebespaar II ], 1965

For a rough, but possibly useful, comparison to the Richter-Polke friendship one might turn to the aesthetic dynamic between the young Rauschenberg and the still younger Jasper Johns at the outset of their careers. In that relationship Rauschenberg was an omnivorous extrovert with astonishing gifts of improvisation combined with a remarkable capacity for assimilating whatever pictorial resources came his way. The more reticent Johns applied his mastery of paint on canvas to mine the iconic power of each image he addressed and to extract the full measure of its inherent uncannineess. Although six years younger than Richter, Polke was extroverted and inventive in ways not that dissimilar from Rauschenberg, while Richter distilled images with a gravity and rigor not unlike that of Johns, albeit in a style that owes nothing to the Cézannesque tradition to which Johns belongs.

[line break added] Historically, the reciprocal influence of Georges Braque on Picasso and Picasso on Braque during the creation of Cubism comes to mind. Of course, Richter and Polke did not join forces to start a movement, nor has Richter been outstripped in the long run by Polke’s always wide reach, but the sparks thrown back and forth between the two men, sparks generated by their temperamental differences as well as by their mutual attraction in an art world where both felt themselves to be alien, was, so long as it lasted, one of the closest and most beneficial exchanges between two first-rate artists in modernism’s history.




March 8, 2015

It Is This Minus

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… there is less reality in reality, being only unreality negated …

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

… The world in which we live and as we live it is, fortunately, limited. A few steps are enough for us to leave our room, a few years to leave our life. But let us suppose that, in this narrow, suddenly dark space, suddenly blind, we were to wander astray. Let us suppose that the geographic desert becomes the Biblical desert: it is no longer four steps, no longer eleven days that we need to cross it, but the time of two generations, the entire history of all humanity, and perhaps more.

… The error, the fact of being on the go without ever being able to stop, changes the finite into infinity. And to it these singular characteristics are added: from the finite, which is still closed, one can always hope to escape, while the infinite vastness is a prison, being without an exit — just as any place absolutely without exit becomes infinite. The place of wandering knows no straight line; one never goes from one point to another in it; one does not leave here to go there; there is no point of departure and no beginning to the walk.

… one can doubt the reason of the universe, but the book that we make — and in particular those cleverly organized books of fiction, like perfectly obscure problems to which perfectly clear solutions suffice, such as detective novels — we know to be penetrated with intelligence and animated by that power of arrangement that is the mind. But if the world is a book, every book is the world, and from this innocent tautology, formidable consequences result.

This first of all: that there is no longer a limit of reference. The world and the book eternally and infinitely send back their reflected images. This indefinite power of mirroring, this sparkling and limitless multiplication — which is the labyrinth of light and nothing else besides — will then be all that we will find, dizzily, at the bottom of our desires to understand.

Then this: that if the book is the possibility of the world, we should conclude that at work in the world is not only the ability to make [faire], but that great ability to feign [feindre], to trick and deceive, of which every work of fiction is the product, all the more so if this ability stays concealed in it.

Borges understands that the perilous dignity of literature is not to make us suppose a great author of the world, absorbed in dreamy mystifications, but to make us experience the approach of a strange power, neutral and impersonal. He likes it to be said of Shakespeare: “He was like all men, except for the fact that he was like all men.”

… The difference between the real and the unreal, the inestimable privilege of the real, is that there is less reality in reality, being only unreality negated, distanced by the energetic labor of negation and by the negation that labor also is. It is this minus, a sort of thinning, a slimming of space, that allows us to go from one point to another according to the fortunate way of the straight line. But it is the most undefined essence of the imaginary, which prevents K. from every reaching the Castle, as for eternity it prevents Achilles from catching up with the tortoise, and perhaps the living man from meeting up with himself in a point that would make his death perfectly human and, consequently, invisible.




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