Monday, March 31, 2008

The Monsters Of Our Fancy

Georges Braque (1882-1963)

Musical Instruments, 1908

Fruit Dish, 1908-9

Bottle and Fishes, 1910

Pedestal Table, 1913

Bottle, Newspaper, Pipe, and Glass, 1913

Tenora, 1913

Violin and Pipe, 1913

Still Life on a Table, 1913

Interior with Palette, 1942

Black Fish, 1942

'In recent years we have heard it said in a thousand different ways, 'Copy nature; just copy nature. There is no greater delight, no finer triumph than an excellent copy of nature.' And this doctrine (the enemy of art) was alleged to apply not only to painting but to all the arts, even the novel and to poetry. To these doctrinaires, who were so completely satisfied by Nature, a man of imagination would certainly have had the right to reply: 'I consider it useless and tedious to represent what exists, because nothing that exists satisfies me. Nature is ugly, and I prefer the monsters of my fancy to what is positively trivial.' And yet it would have been more philosophical to ask the doctrinaires in question first of all whether they were quite certain of the existence of external nature, or (if this question might seem too well calculated to pander to their sarcasm) whether they were quite certain of knowing all nature, that is, all that is contained in nature. A 'yes' would have been the most boastful and extravagant of answers. So far as I have been able to understand its singular and humiliating incoherences, the doctrine meant - at least I do it in the honour of believing that it meant: The artist, the true artist, the true poet, should only paint in accordance with what he sees and with what he feels. He must be really faithful to his own nature. He must avoid like the plague borrowing the eyes and feelings of another man, however great that man may be; for then his productions would be lies in relation to himself, and not realities. But if these pedants of whom I am speaking (for there is a pedantry even among the mean-spirited) and who have representatives everywhere (for their theory flatters impotence no less than laziness) - if these pedants, I say, did not wish the matter to be understood in this way, let us simply believe that they meant to say, 'We have no imagination, and we decree that no one else is to have any.'

Charles Baudelaire

'The 'simple imaginative mind', the mind, that is, of the pure poet, has its satisfaction - achieves poetry - by repetition 'in a higher tone' of the affects of sense.'

John Keats

'I imagine that as contemporary music goes on changing in the way that I'm changing it what will be done is to more and more completely liberate sounds from abstract ideas about them and more and more exactly to let them be physically uniquely themselves. This means for me: knowing more and more not what I think a sound is but what it actually is in all of its acoustical details and then letting this sound exist, itself, changing in a changing sonorous environment.'

John Cage

Supplement: From Now To The End Of Consciousness

Against Interpretation - Susan Sontag

Content is a glimpse of something, an encounter
like a flash. It’s very tiny - very tiny, content.

Willem De Kooning, in an interview

It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.
The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

Oscar Wilde, in a letter


The earliest experience of art must have been that it was incantatory, magical; art was an instrument of ritual. (Cf. the paintings in the caves at Lascaux, Altamira, Niaux, La Pasiega, etc.) The earliest theory of art, that of the Greek philosophers, proposed that art was mimesis, imitation of reality.

It is at this point that the peculiar question of the value of art arose. For the mimetic theory, by its very terms, challenges art to justify itself.

Plato, who proposed the theory, seems to have done so in order to rule that the value of art is dubious. Since he considered ordinary material things as themselves mimetic objects, imitations of transcendent forms or structures, even the best painting of a bed would be only an “imitation of an imitation.” For Plato, art is neither particularly useful (the painting of a bed is no good to sleep on), nor, in the strict sense, true. And Aristotle’s arguments in defense of art do not really challenge Plato’s view that all art is an elaborate trompe l’oeil, and therefore a lie. But he does dispute Plato’s idea that art is useless. Lie or no, art has a certain value according to Aristotle because it is a form of therapy. Art is useful, after all, Aristotle counters, medicinally useful in that it arouses and purges dangerous emotions.

In Plato and Aristotle, the mimetic theory of art goes hand in hand with the assumption that art is always figurative. But advocates of the mimetic theory need not close their eyes to decorative and abstract art. The fallacy that art is necessarily a “realism” can be modified or scrapped without ever moving outside the problems delimited by the mimetic theory.

The fact is, all Western consciousness of and reflection upon art have remained within the confines staked out by the Greek theory of art as mimesis or representation. It is through this theory that art as such - above and beyond given works of art - becomes problematic, in need of defense. And it is the defense of art which gives birth to the odd vision by which something we have learned to call “form” is separated off from something we have learned to call “content,” and to the well-intentioned move which makes content essential and form accessory.

Even in modern times, when most artists and critics have discarded the theory of art as representation of an outer reality in favor of the theory of art as subjective expression, the main feature of the mimetic theory persists. Whether we conceive of the work of art on the model of a picture (art as a picture of reality) or on the model of a statement (art as the statement of the artist), content still comes first. The content may have changed. It may now be less figurative, less lucidly realistic. But it is still assumed that a work of art is its content. Or, as it’s usually put today, that a work of art by definition says something. (“What X is saying is . . . ,” “What X is trying to say is . . .,” “What X said is . . .” etc., etc.)


None of us can ever retrieve that innocence before all theory when art knew no need to justify itself, when one did not ask of a work of art what it said because one knew (or thought one knew) what it did. From now to the end of consciousness, we are stuck with the task of defending art. We can only quarrel with one or another means of defense. Indeed, we have an obligation to overthrow any means of defending and justifying art which becomes particularly obtuse or onerous or insensitive to contemporary needs and practice.

This is the case, today, with the very idea of content itself. Whatever it may have been in the past, the idea of content is today mainly a hindrance, a nuisance, a subtle or not so subtle philistinism.

Though the actual developments in many arts may seem to be leading us away from the idea that a work of art is primarily its content, the idea still exerts an extraordinary hegemony. I want to suggest that this is because the idea is now perpetuated in the guise of a certain way of encountering works of art thoroughly ingrained among most people who take any of the arts seriously. What the overemphasis on the idea of content entails is the perennial, never consummated project of interpretation. And, conversely, it is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art.


Of course, I don’t mean interpretation in the broadest sense, the sense in which Nietzsche (rightly) says, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” By interpretation, I mean here a conscious act of the mind which illustrates a certain code, certain “rules” of interpretation.

Directed to art, interpretation means plucking a set of elements (the X, the Y, the Z, and so forth) from the whole work. The task of interpretation is virtually one of translation. The interpreter says, Look, don’t you see that X is really - or, really means - A? That Y is really B? That Z is really C?

What situation could prompt this curious project for transforming a text? History gives us the materials for an answer. Interpretation first appears in the culture of late classical antiquity, when the power and credibility of myth had been broken by the “realistic” view of the world introduced by scientific enlightenment. Once the question that haunts post-mythic consciousness - that of the seemliness of religious symbols - had been asked, the ancient texts were, in their pristine form, no longer acceptable. Then interpretation was summoned, to reconcile the ancient texts to “modern” demands. Thus, the Stoics, to accord with their view that the gods had to be moral, allegorized away the rude features of Zeus and his boisterous clan in Homer’s epics. What Homer really designated by the adultery of Zeus with Leto, they explained, was the union between power and wisdom. In the same vein, Philo of Alexandria interpreted the literal historical narratives of the Hebrew Bible as spiritual paradigms. The story of the exodus from Egypt, the wandering in the desert for forty years, and the entry into the promised land, said Philo, was really an allegory of the individual soul’s emancipation, tribulations, and final deliverance. Interpretation thus presupposes a discrepancy between the clear meaning of the text and the demands of (later) readers. It seeks to resolve that discrepancy. The situation is that for some reason a text has become unacceptable; yet it cannot be discarded. Interpretation is a radical strategy for conserving an old text, which is thought too precious to repudiate, by revamping it. The interpreter, without actually erasing or rewriting the text, is altering it. But he can’t admit to doing this. He claims to be only making it intelligible, by disclosing its true meaning. However far the interpreters alter the text (another notorious example is the Rabbinic and Christian “spiritual” interpretations of the clearly erotic Song of Songs), they must claim to be reading off a sense that is already there.

Interpretation in our own time, however, is even more complex. For the contemporary zeal for the project of interpretation is often prompted not by piety toward the troublesome text (which may conceal an aggression), but by an open aggressiveness, an overt contempt for appearances. The old style of interpretation was insistent, but respectful; it erected another meaning on top of the literal one. The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys; it digs “behind” the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one. The most celebrated and influential modern doctrines, those of Marx and Freud, actually amount to elaborate systems of hermeneutics, aggressive and impious theories of interpretation. All observable phenomena are bracketed, in Freud’s phrase, as manifest content. This manifest content must be probed and pushed aside to find the true meaning - the latent content - beneath. For Marx, social events like revolutions and wars; for Freud, the events of individual lives (like neurotic symptoms and slips of the tongue) as well as texts (like a dream or a work of art) - all are treated as occasions for interpretation. According to Marx and Freud, these events only seem to be intelligible. Actually, they have no meaning without interpretation. To understand is to interpret. And to interpret is to restate the phenomenon, in effect to find an equivalent for it.

Thus, interpretation is not (as most people assume) an absolute value, a gesture of mind situated in some timeless realm of capabilities. Interpretation must itself be evaluated, within a historical view of human consciousness. In some cultural contexts, interpretation is a liberating act. It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past. In other cultural contexts, it is reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling.


Today is such a time, when the project of interpretation is largely reactionary, stifling. Like the fumes of the automobile and of heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities. In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.

Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world - in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings.” It is to turn the world into this world. (“This world”! As if there were any other.)

The world, our world, is depleted, impoverished enough. Away with all duplicates of it, until we again experience more immediately what we have.


In most modern instances, interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, comformable.

This philistinism of interpretation is more rife in literature than in any other art. For decades now, literary critics have understood it to be their task to translate the elements of the poem or play or novel or story into something else. Sometimes a writer will be so uneasy before the naked power of his art that he will install within the work itself - albeit with a little shyness, a touch of the good taste of irony - the clear and explicit interpretation of it. Thomas Mann is an example of such an overcooperative author. In the case of more stubborn authors, the critic is only too happy to perform the job.

The work of Kafka, for example, has been subjected to a mass ravishment by no less than three armies of interpreters. Those who read Kafka as a social allegory see case studies of the frustrations and insanity of modern bureaucracy and its ultimate issuance in the totalitarian state. Those who read Kafka as a psychoanalytic allegory see desperate revelations of Kafka’s fear of his father, his castration anxieties, his sense of his own impotence, his thralldom to his dreams. Those who read Kafka as a religious allegory explain that K. in The Castle is trying to gain access to heaven, that Joseph K. in The Trial is being judged by the inexorable and mysterious justice of God. . . . Another oeuvre that has attracted interpreters like leeches is that of Samuel Beckett. Beckett’s delicate dramas of the withdrawn consciousness - pared down to essentials, cut off, often represented as physically immobilized - are read as a statement about modern man’s alienation from meaning or from God, or as an allegory of psychopathology.

Proust, Joyce, Faulkner, Rilke, Lawrence, Gide . . . one could go on citing author after author; the list is endless of those around whom thick encrustations of interpretation have taken hold. But it should be noted that interpretation is not simply the compliment that mediocrity pays to genius. It is, indeed, the modern way of understanding something, and is applied to works of every quality. Thus, in the notes that Elia Kazan published on his production of A Streetcar Named Desire, it becomes clear that, in order to direct the play, Kazan had to discover that Stanley Kowalski represented the sensual and vengeful barbarism that was engulfing our culture, while Blanche Du Bois was Western civilization, poetry, delicate apparel, dim lighting, refined feelings and all, though a little the worse for wear to be sure. Tennessee Williams’ forceful psychological melodrama now became intelligible: it was about something, about the decline of Western civilization. Apparently, were it to go on being a play about a handsome brute named Stanley Kowalski and a faded mangy belle named Blanche Du Bois, it would not be manageable.


It doesn’t matter whether artists intend, or don’t intend, for their works to be interpreted. Perhaps Tennessee Williams thinks Streetcar is about what Kazan thinks it to be about. It may be that Cocteau in The Blood of a Poet and in Orpheus wanted the elaborate readings which have been given these films, in terms of Freudian symbolism and social critique. But the merit of these works certainly lies elsewhere than in their “meanings.” Indeed, it is precisely to the extent that Williams’ plays and Cocteau’s films do suggest these portentous meanings that they are defective, false, contrived, lacking in conviction.

From interviews, it appears that Resnais and Robbe-Grillet consciously designed Last Year at Marienbad to accommodate a multiplicity of equally plausible interpretations. But the temptation to interpret Marienbad should be resisted. What matters in Marienbad is the pure, untranslatable, sensuous immediacy of some of its images, and its rigorous if narrow solutions to certain problems of cinematic form.

Again, Ingmar Bergman may have meant the tank rumbling down the empty night street in The Silence as a phallic symbol. But if he did, it was a foolish thought. (“Never trust the teller, trust the tale,” said Lawrence.) Taken as a brute object, as an immediate sensory equivalent for the mysterious abrupt armored happenings going on inside the hotel, that sequence with the tank is the most striking moment in the film. Those who reach for a Freudian interpretation of the tank are only expressing their lack of response to what is there on the screen.

It is always the case that interpretation of this type indicates a dissatisfaction (conscious or unconscious) with the work, a wish to replace it by something else.

Interpretation, based on the highly dubious theory that a work of art is composed of items of content, violates art. It makes art into an article for use, for arrangement into a mental scheme of categories.


Interpretation does not, of course, always prevail. In fact, a great deal of today’s art may be understood as motivated by a flight from interpretation. To avoid interpretation, art may become parody. Or it may become abstract. Or it may become (“merely”) decorative. Or it may become non-art.

The flight from interpretation seems particularly a feature of modern painting. Abstract painting is the attempt to have, in the ordinary sense, no content; since there is no content, there can be no interpretation. Pop Art works by the opposite means to the same result; using a content so blatant, so “what it is,” it, too, ends by being uninterpretable.

A great deal of modern poetry as well, starting from the great experiments of French poetry (including the movement that is misleadingly called Symbolism) to put silence into poems and to reinstate the magic of the word, has escaped from the rough grip of interpretation. The most recent revolution in contemporary taste in poetry - the revolution that has deposed Eliot and elevated Pound - represents a turning away from content in poetry in the old sense, an impatience with what made modern poetry prey to the zeal of interpreters.

I am speaking mainly of the situation in America, of course. Interpretation runs rampant here in those arts with a feeble and negligible avant-garde: fiction and the drama. Most American novelists and playwrights are really either journalists or gentlemen sociologists and psychologists. They are writing the literary equivalent of program music. And so rudimentary, uninspired, and stagnant has been the sense of what might be done with form in fiction and drama that even when the content isn’t simply information, news, it is still peculiarly visible, handier, more exposed. To the extent that novels and plays (in America), unlike poetry and painting and music, don’t reflect any interesting concern with changes in their form, these arts remain prone to assault by interpretation.

But programmatic avant-gardism - which has meant, mostly, experiments with form at the expense of content - is not the only defense against the infestation of art by interpretations. At least, I hope not. For this would be to commit art to being perpetually on the run. (It also perpetuates the very distinction between form and content which is, ultimately, an illusion.) Ideally, it is possible to elude the interpreters in another way, by making works of art whose surface is so unified and clean, whose momentum is so rapid, whose address is so direct that the work can be . . . just what it is. Is this possible now? It does happen in films, I believe. This is why cinema is the most alive, the most exciting, the most important of all art forms right now. Perhaps the way one tells how alive a particular art form is, is by the latitude it gives for making mistakes in it, and still being good. For example, a few of the films of Bergman - though crammed with lame messages about the modern spirit, thereby inviting interpretations - still triumph over the pretentious intentions of their director. In Winter Light and The Silence, the beauty and visual sophistication of the images subvert before our eyes the callow pseudo-intellectuality of the story and some of the dialogue. (The most remarkable instance of this sort of discrepancy is the work of D. W. Griffith.) In good films, there is always a directness that entirely frees us from the itch to interpret. Many old Hollywood films, like those of Cukor, Walsh, Hawks, and countless other directors, have this liberating anti-symbolic quality, no less than the best work of the new European directors, like Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player and Jules and Jim, Godard’s Breathless and Vivre Sa Vie, Antonioni’s L’Avventura, and Olmi’s The Fiancés.

The fact that films have not been overrun by interpreters is in part due simply to the newness of cinema as an art. It also owes to the happy accident that films for such a long time were just movies; in other words, that they were understood to be part of mass, as opposed to high, culture, and were left alone by most people with minds. Then, too, there is always something other than content in the cinema to grab hold of, for those who want to analyze. For the cinema, unlike the novel, possesses a vocabulary of forms - the explicit, complex, and discussable technology of camera movements, cutting, and composition of the frame that goes into the making of a film.


What kind of criticism, of commentary on the arts, is desirable today? For I am not saying that works of art are ineffable, that they cannot be described or paraphrased. They can be. The question is how. What would criticism look like that would serve the work of art, not usurp its place?

What is needed, first, is more attention to form in art. If excessive stress on content provokes the arrogance of interpretation, more extended and more thorough descriptions of form would silence. What is needed is a vocabulary - a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, vocabulary - for forms. The best criticism, and it is uncommon, is of this sort that dissolves considerations of content into those of form. On film, drama, and painting respectively, I can think of Erwin Panofsky’s essay, “Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures,” Northrop Frye’s essay “A Conspectus of Dramatic Genres,” Pierre Francastel’s essay “The Destruction of a Plastic Space.” Roland Barthes’ book On Racine and his two essays on Robbe-Grillet are examples of formal analysis applied to the work of a single author. (The best essays in Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis, like “The Scar of Odysseus,” are also of this type.) An example of formal analysis applied simultaneously to genre and author is Walter Benjamin’s essay, “The Story Teller: Reflections on the Works of Nicolai Leskov.”

Equally valuable would be acts of criticism which would supply a really accurate, sharp, loving description of the appearance of a work of art. This seems even harder to do than formal analysis. Some of Manny Farber’s film criticism, Dorothy Van Ghent’s essay “The Dickens World: A View from Todgers’,” Randall Jarrell’s essay on Walt Whitman are among the rare examples of what I mean. These are essays which reveal the sensuous surface of art without mucking about in it.


Transparence is the highest, most liberating value in art - and in criticism - today. Transparence means experiencing the luminousness of the thing in itself, of things being what they are. This is the greatness of, for example, the films of Bresson and Ozu and Renoir’s The Rules of the Game.

Once upon a time (say, for Dante), it must have been a revolutionary and creative move to design works of art so that they might be experienced on several levels. Now it is not. It reinforces the principle of redundancy that is the principal affliction of modern life.

Once upon a time (a time when high art was scarce), it must have been a revolutionary and creative move to interpret works of art. Now it is not. What we decidedly do not need now is further to assimilate Art into Thought, or (worse yet) Art into Culture.

Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there. This cannot be taken for granted, now. Think of the sheer multiplication of works of art available to every one of us, superadded to the conflicting tastes and odors and sights of the urban environment that bombard our senses. Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life - its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness - conjoin to dull our sensory faculties. And it is in the light of the condition of our senses, our capacities (rather than those of another age), that the task of the critic must be assessed.

What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.

Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art, much less to squeeze more content out of the work than is already there. Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.

The aim of all commentary on art now should be to make works of art - and, by analogy, our own experience - more, rather than less, real to us. The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means.


In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Six Images In Search Of An Exhibition VII

AES+F Group: Have We Met Before?

AES+F - Last Riot (selection), 2005-7

'Clichés, clichés! The situation has hardly improved since Cézanne. Not only has there been a multiplication of images of every kind, around us and in our heads, but even the reactions against clichés are creating clichés . . . Every imitator has always made the cliché rise up again, even from what had been freed of the cliché. The fight against clichés is a terrible thing. As Lawrence says, it is already something to have succeeded, to have gotten somewhere, with regard to an apple, or a jug or two. The Japanese know that a whole life barely suffices for a single blade of grass. This is why great painters are so severe with their work. Too many people mistake a photograph for a work of art, plagiarism for audacity, a parody for a laugh, or worse yet, a miserable stroke of inspiration for a creation.'

Gilles Deleuze

The Week In Review


Four American Composers, 1983 - d. Peter Greenaway
Histoire(s) du cinéma, 1988-98 - d. Jean-Luc Godard
Jour de fête, 1948 - d. Jacques Tati
Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, 1953 - d. Jacques Tati
Mon Oncle, 1953 - d. Jacques Tati
Playtime, 1967 - d. Jacques Tati


Six Feet Under: Season 3


Constable's Skies - ed. Frederic Bancroft
John Constable's Clouds - Kurt Badt
Constable: Impressions of Land, Sea and Sky - Mark Evans, Anne Galbally, Anne Gray, John Gage, Conal Shields and Mary Anne Stevens
Impressionists by the Sea - John House and David Hopkin
Monet and French Landscape: Vétheuil and Normandy - ed. Francis Fowle
Monet In Normandy - Richard Brettel, Heather Lemonedes, Lynn Federle Orr and David Steel


Constable's Clouds - John Thorne
Constable, Duranty, Mallarmé, Impressionism, Plein Air, and Forgetting - Joel Isaacson
Constable's Sky Sketches - Louis Hawes


Body Language: Contemporary Chinese Photography - National Gallery of Victoria
Turner to Monet: The Triumph of Landscape - National Gallery of Australia


Yellow Man With Heart With Wings, Automatic Writing, Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon and She Was A Visitor - Robert Ashley
Sinfonia, Eindrücke and Ekphrasis - Luciano Berio
Fifty Synthesiser Greats, Badlands and Cosmonaut - David Chesworth
Preludes for Piano - Claude Debussy
and The Voyage - Philip Glass
Memento Mori, Sun Song, Sun Music
and From Uluru - Peter Sculthorpe

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Challenging The Immodesty of Mimesis

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) - Large Reclining Nude, 1935

'Exactitude is not truth.'

Henri Matisse

Friday, March 28, 2008

Reveries Of A Literary Flâneur

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) - Paris, A Rainy Day, 1877

'What a fine and enjoyable thing is flânerie, and how full of charms and enticements is the work of the badaud [a person given to idle observation of everything, with wonder or astonishment]! Those who have once tasted it can never afterwards be sated; they return to it incessantly, as - it is said - one returns to one's first loves. 'A sluggard's life!' cry the serious. Sluggard! Now really; I should not wish to overstep the bounds of civility with anyone; but it is clear that you have never flâné, gentlemen, and are incapable of doing so; it is not given to everyone to flâner naively yet knowingly . . . This life is, on the contrary, for those able to understand and practice it, the most active of lives, the most fertile and productive; an intelligent and conscientious idler, who scrupulously performs his duties - that is, observes and remembers everything - can play a leading role in the republic of art. Such a man is an impassioned, peripatetic daguerreotype upon whom the least trace registers; in him are reproduced, with every reflection that they cast, the progress of things, the movement of the city, the multifarious physiognomy of the public mind, the beliefs, antipathies and adorations of the mass.'

From Things to be Seen on the Streets of Paris (1858) by Victor Fournel

Obituary: Richard Widmark Finally Kissed By Death

Richard Widmark (1914-2008) as Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death, 1947

'Mr. Widmark’s debut as a giggling killer made him an overnight star, giving rise to an enduring Hollywood career playing a gallery of chilling hoodlums and flawed heroes.' Aljean Harmetz, The New York Times, Thursday, March 27, 2008

'Hoods are good parts because they're always flashy and attract attention. If you've got any ability, you can use that as a stepping stone.'

Richard Widmark

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dying For A Laugh

Six Feet Under (b. 2001 - d. 2005)

'Comedy is tragedy plus time.'

Carol Burnett

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Let Us To Bodies Go

Exhibit A:

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) - Sleep, 1866

Exhibit B:

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) - Nudes, 2000

The Ecstasy

Where, like a pillow on a bed,
A pregnant bank swell'd up, to rest
The violet's reclining head,
Sat we two, one another's best.

Our hands were firmly cemented
By a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string.

So to engraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one;
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.

As, 'twixt two equal armies, Fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls - which to advance their state,
Were gone out - hung 'twixt her and me.

And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.

If any, so by love refined,
That he soul's language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,

He - though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same -
Might thence a new concoction take,
And part far purer than he came.

This ecstasy doth unperplex
(We said) and tell us what we love;
We see by this, it was not sex;
We see, we saw not, what did move

But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things they know not what,
Love these mix'd souls doth mix again,
And makes both one, each this, and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size -
All which before was poor and scant -
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love with one another so
Interanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.

We then, who are this new soul, know,
Of what we are composed, and made,
For th' atomies of which we grow
Are souls, whom no change can invade.

But, O alas ! so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They are ours, though not we; we are
Th' intelligences, they the spheres.

We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses' force to us,
Nor are dross to us, but allay.

On man heaven's influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air;
For soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair.

As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can ;
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot, which makes us man ;

So must pure lovers' souls descend
To affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal'd may look;
Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.

And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change when we're to bodies gone.

John Donne

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Fistful Of Icons

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) - The Apotheosis of Homer, 1827

Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things.

Walter Benjamin

Monday, March 24, 2008

Six Images In Search Of An Exhibition VI

In And Out Of The Secular Sepulcher...Again

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1260 – c. 1318-1319) - The Kiss of Judas, 1308-11

Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431 – 1506) - Calvary, 1457-60

Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1400 – 1464) - Deposition, c. 1435

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) - Lamentation, 1490

Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455) - Entombment, 1438-40

Hans Memling (c. 1430 – 1494) - The Resurrection, with the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian and the Ascension

'It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.'

Joseph Campbell

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Sky Is Not The Limit

John Constable (1776-1837) - Cloud Studies, 1821-22

'I have done a good deal of skying. I am determined to conquer all difficulties and that among the rest. . . .Certainly if a sky is obtrusive, as mine are, it is bad; but if it is evaded, as mine are not, it is worse; it must and always shall with me make an effectual part of the composition. It will be difficult to name a class of landscape in which the sky is not the key note, the standard of scale, and the chief organ of sentiment '.

John Constable

The Week In Review


I Shot Jesse James, 1949 - d. Samuel Fuller
The Baron of Arizona, 1950 - d. Samuel Fuller
The Steel Helmet, 1951 - d. Samuel Fuller
Fixed Bayonets, 1951 - d. Samuel Fuller
Pickup on South Street, 1953 - d. Samuel Fuller
House of Bamboo, 1955 - d. Samuel Fuller
Forty Guns, 1957 - d. Samuel Fuller
Shock Corridor, 1963 - d. Samuel Fuller
The Naked Kiss, 1964 - d. Samuel Fuller
The Big Red One, 1980 - d. Samuel Fuller


Six Feet Under: Seasons 1 & 2


Staging Empire: Napoleon, Ingres, and David by Todd Porterfield and Susan L. Siegfried


Peter Graham - Tolarno Galleries


Complete Works for Solo Piano - Luciano Berio
String Quartets - Luciano Berio
Gesang der Jünglinge -Karlheinz Stockhausen
Kontakte - Karlheinz Stockhausen
Piano Pieces - Karlheinz Stockhausen
Mikrophonie I & II - Karlheinz Stockhausen

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Red Tower: Redux

13.03.2008: Serero Architects unveils its design for the extension of the Eiffel Tower top floor. The project will extend the top floor plate of the tower by grafting a high performance carbon Kevlar structure on it. The structure will be temporarily bolted to the slab without requiring any modification of the existing structure. It will expand the usable floor area from 280 m2 to 580m2.

The Mechanical Paradise

There were some artists to whom this mechanical age was more than a context, and very much more than a pretext. They wanted to explore its characteristic images of light, structure, and dynamism as subjects in their work. The most gifted of them in the Ecole de Paris, and still the least appreciated today, was Robert Delaunay (1885-1941). For him, the master-image was the Eiffel Tower, which he viewed with real ecstasy as an ecumenical object, the social condenser of a new age. . . .

[Delaunay] wanted a pictorial speech that was entirely of this century, based on rapid interconnection, changing viewpoints, and an adoration of "good" technology, and the Tower was the supreme practical example of this in the daily life of Paris. His friend and collaborator, the poet Blaise Cendrars, remarked in 1924 that

No formula of art known up to now can pretend to give practical resolution to the Eiffel Tower. Realism shrank it; the old laws of Italian perspective diminished it. The Tower rose over Paris, slender as a hatpin. When we retreated from it, it dominated Paris, stark and perpendicular. When we came close, it tilted and leaned over us. Seen from the first platform, it corkscrewed around its own axis, and seen from the top it collapsed into itself, doing the splits, its neck pulled in . . . .

Delaunay must have painted the Tower thirty times, and he was almost the only artist to paint it at all - although it makes a modest appearance in an oil sketch by Seurat, and crops up now and again in backgrounds of the Douanier Rousseau. The Red Tower, 1911-12 [below], shows how fully Delaunay could realise the sensations of vertigo and visual shuttling that Cendrars described. The Tower is seen, almost literally, as a prophet of the future - its red figure, so reminiscent of a man, ramping among the silvery lead roofs of Paris and the distant puffballs of cloud. That vast grid rising over Paris with the sky reeling through it became his fundamental image of modernity: light seen through structure.

Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) - The Red Tower, 1911-12

The planners of the Paris World's Fair wanted something even more spectacular than the Crystal Palace. But Paxton's triumph could not be capped by another horizontal building, so they decided to go up: to build a tower that would be the tallest manmade object on earth, topping out - before the installation of its present-day radio and TV masts - at 1056 feet high. No doubt a Biblical suggestion was at work, consciously or not. Since the Fair would embrace all nations, its central metaphor should be the Tower of Babel. But the Tower embodied other and socially deeper metaphors. The theme of the Fair was manufacture and transformation, the dynamics of capital rather than simple ownership. It was meant to illustrate the triumph of the present over the past, the victory of industrial over landed wealth that represented the essential economic difference between the Third Republic and the Ancien Regime. What more more brilliant centrepiece for it than a structure that turned its back on the ownership of land - that occupied unowned and previously useless space, the sky itself? In becoming a huge vertical extrusion of a tiny patch of the earth's surface, it would demonstrate the power of process. Anyone could buy land, but only la France moderne could undertake the conquest of the air.

The Fair's commissioners turned to an engineer, not an architect, to design the Tower. This decision was in itself symbolic, and it went against the prestige of Beaux-Arts architects as the official voice of the State; but Gustave Eiffel, who was fifty-seven and at the peak of his career when he took the job, managed to infuse his structure with what now seems to be a singular richness of meaning. Its remote inspiration was the human figure - the Tower imagined as a benevolent colossus, planted with spread legs in the middle of Paris. It also referred to the greatest permanent festive structure of the seventeenth century, Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona in Rome, which (like the Tower) was a spike balanced over a void defined by four arches and (like the Fair itself) was an image of ecumenical domination of the four quarters of the world.

Postcard from The World's Fair, Paris, 1889

You could not escape the Tower. It was and is the one structure that can be seen from every point in the city. No metropolis in Europe had even been so visually dominated by a single structure, except Rome by St. Peter's; and even today, Eiffel's spike is more generally visible in its own city than Michelangelo's dome. The Tower became the symbol of Paris overnight, and in doing so, it proclaimed la ville lumiere to be the modernist capital - quite independently of anything else that might be written, composed, produced, or painted there. As such, it was praised by Guillaume Apollonaire, the cosmopolitan poet who had once been a Catholic and imagined, in a tone of mingled irony and delight, the Second Coming of Christ enacted in a new Paris whose centre was the Tower, at the edge of the coming millennium, the twentieth century:

At last you are tired of this old world.
O shepherd Eiffel Tower, the flock of bridges bleats this morning
You are through with living in Greek and Roman antiquity
Here, even the automobiles seem to be ancient
Only religion has remained brand new, religion

Has remained simple as simple as the aerodrome hangars
It's God who dies Friday and rises again on Sunday
It's Christ who climbs in the sky b
etter than any aviator
He holds the world's altitude record
Pupil Christ of the eye
Twentieth pupil of the centuries he knows what he's about,
And the century, become a bird, climbs skywards towards Jesus.

The important thing was that the Tower had a mass audience; millions of people, not the thousands who went to the salons and galleries to look at works of art, were touched by the feeling of a new age that the Eiffel Tower made concrete. It was the herald of a millennium, as the nineteenth century made ready to click over into the twentieth. And in its heights, its structural daring, its then-radical use of industrial materials for the commemorative purposes of the State, it summed up what the ruling classes of Europe conceived the promise of technology to be: Faust's contract, the promise of unlimited power over the world and its wealth.

In 1913, the French writer Charles Peguy remarked that "the world has changed less since the time of Jesus Christ than it has in the last thirty years." He was speaking of all the conditions of Western capitalist society: its idea of itself, its sense of history, its beliefs, pieties, and modes of production - and its art. In Peguy's time, the time of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, the visual arts had a kind of social importance that they no longer claim today, and they seem to be in a state of utter convulsion. Did cultural turmoil predict social tumult? Many people thought so then; today we are not so sure, but that is because we live at the end of modernism, whereas they were alive at its beginning. Between 1880 and 1930, one of the supreme cultural experiments in the history of the world was enacted in Europe and America. After 1940 it was refined upon, developed here and exploited there, and finally turned into a kind of entropic, institutionalised parody of itself. Many people think the modernist laboratory is now vacant. It has become less an arena for significant experiment and more like a period room in a museum, an historical space that we can enter, look at, but no longer be part of. In art, we are at the end of the modernist era, but this is not - as some critics apparently think - a matter of self-congratulation. What has our culture lost in 1980 that the avant-garde had in 1890? Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore, and above all the sense that art, in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants.

The Eiffel Tower under construction, 1887-89

For the French, and for the Europeans in general, the great metaphor of this sense of change - its master-image, the one structure that seemed to gather all the meanings of modernity together - was the Eiffel Tower. The Tower was finished in 1889, as the focal point of the Paris World's Fair. The date of the fair was symbolic. It was the centenary of the French Revolution.

From The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Poetics Of Sensation

J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) - The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 1835

'Art bids us touch and taste and hear and see the world, and shrinks from what Blake calls mathematical form, from every abstract thing, from all that is of the brain only, from all that is not a fountain jetting from the entire hopes, memories, and sensations of the body.'

William Butler Yeats

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Six Images In Search Of An Exhibition V

The Sweet Smell Of Excess

Thomas Banks - The Falling Giant, 1786

Fernand Leger (1881-1955) - La gran Julie, 1945

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) - Still Life With A Glass Under Lamplight, 1962

Bruce Nauman (b. 1941) - Raw War, 1970

Roy Lichtenstein - Bananas & Grapefruit #1, 1972

Gilbert and George (b. 1943 and 1942) - Son of God, 2005

'Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.'

Mick Jagger