Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Extracts from Book3 of The World as Will and Representation

Considering how much Schopenhauer loved Hegel:

"The height of audacity in serving up pure nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant mazes of words, such as had been only previously known in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most barefaced, general mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, as a monument to German stupidity."

Im going to put some of his thoughts on the positioning of aesthetic perception right next to Hegel's :0)

If I can figure out how to make links-as-words, be sure to click one and read up a little on the Principle of Sifficiant Reason.

Chapter 34
Raised up by the power of the mind, we relinquish the ordinary way of considering things, and cease to follow under the guidance of the forms of the principle of sufficient reason merely their relations to one another, whose final goal is always the relation to our own will. Thus we no longer consider the where, the when, the why, and the whither in things, but simply and solely the what. Further, we do not let abstract thought, the concepts of reason, take possession of our consciousness, but, instead of all this, devote the whole power of our mind to perception, sink ourselves completely therein, and let our whole consciousness be filled by the calm contemplation of the natural object actually present, whether it be a landscape, a tree, a rock, a crag, a building, or anything else. We lose ourselves entirely in this object, to use a pregnant expression; in other words, we forget our individuality, our will, and continue to exist only as pure subject, as clear mirror of the object, so that it is as if the object alone existed without anyone to perceive it, and thus we are no longer able to separate the perceiver from the perception, but the two have become one, since the entire consciousness is filled and occupied by a single image of perception. If, therefore, the object has to such an extent passed out of all relation to something outside it, and the subject has passed out of all relation to the will, what is thus known is no longer the individual thing as such, but the Idea, the eternal form, the immediate objectivity of the will at this grade. Thus at the same time, the person who is involved in this perception is no longer an individual, for in such perception the individual has lost himself; his is pure will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.

Chapter 36
Whilst science, following the restless and unstable stream of the fourfold forms of reason or grounds and consequents, is with every end it attains again and again directed farther, and can never find an ultimate goal or complete satisfaction, any more than by running we can reach the point where the clouds touch the horizon; art, on the contrary, is everywhere at its goal. For it plucks the object of its contemplation from the stream of the world’s course, and holds it isolated before it. This particular thing, which in that stream was an infinitesimal part, becomes for art a representative of the whole, an equivalent of the infinitely many in space and time. It therefore pauses at this particular thing; it stops the wheel of time; for it the relations vanish; its object is only the essential, the Idea. We can therefore define it accurately as the way of considering things independently of the principle of sufficient reason, in contrast to the way of considering them which proceeds in exact accordance with this principle, and is the way of science and experience. This latter method of consideration can be compared to an endless line running horizontally, and the former to a vertical line cutting the horizontal at any point.


Whereas to the ordinary man his faculty of knowledge is a lamp that lights his path, to the man of genius [Schopenhauer here refers to a specific definition of genius as the inclination towards the apprehension of pure, ungrounded knowledge described above] it is the sun that reveals the world.

He [the poet] knows the Ideas perfectly, but not the individuals. Therefore it has been observed that a poet may know man profoundly and thoroughly, but men very badly; he is easily duped, and is a plaything in the hands of the cunning and crafty.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Extracts From Hegel's "Lectures on Aesthetics"

“The beauty of art presents itself to sense, to feeling, to perception, to imagination; its sphere is not that of thought, and the apprehension of its activity and its productions demand another organ than that of scientific intelligence. Moreover, what we enjoy in the beauty of art is precisely the freedom of its productive and plastic enegrgies. In the origination, as in the contemplation, of its creations we appear to escape wholly from the fetters and rules of regularity.”

“We would exchange the shadowland of the idea for cheerful vigorous reality. And lastly, the source of artistic creations is the free activity of fancy, which in her imagination is more free than nature’s self. Not only has art at command the whole wealth of natural forms in the brilliant variety of their appearance, but also the creative imagination has power to expatiate inexhaustibly beyond their limit in products of its own.”

“And on the other hand seeing that art is what cheers and animates the dull and withered dryness of the idea, reconciles with reality its abstraction and its dissociation therefrom, and supplies out of the real world what is lacking to the notion, it follows, we may think, that a purely intellectual treatment of art destroys this very means of supplementation, annihilates it, and reduces the idea once more to its simplicity devoid of reality, and to its shadowy abstractness.”

Monday, 15 December 2008

Taxi Fun

London has changed alot in the past decade, and while I don’t agree with those who opine that the very “soul” of the city has been lost (I refer here to the kind of Londoner who doesn’t begin his diatribe without first thoroughly scrutinizing your origins through your accent, clothes, composure and physiognomy, in order to ensure he is not wasting his breath on an uncomprehending outsider), I can at least see that in their terms, with their definition of “spirit” and “soul” as being general concepts of local kinship based on shared prejudices, each of which constellate around levels of affluence and their specific urban locations; that indeed if this is what constitutes the genuine life of a city for some people, then for them London has indeed been radically emptied of reality, of “soul”, shaken-up and rendered incoherent and unintelligible. Passing through a field of inexplicable and alien phenomena, from tapas bars to cafes with outdoor seating, to the raucous cacophony of languages, to the spectacular array of uncategorisable fashions; those who find themselves searching for a consistent set of images -groups of markers indicating a social distinction- become utterly lost in an assemblage of discrete particulars that is so vast and shapeless, so uniformly unfamiliar that for them it is impossible to determine any of its edges, let alone its constituent parts. In this case the city can take on a menacing aspect for someone who had called it home, for the person who had shared it in the past with other (never entirely dissimilar) people that had clustered together to form a finite number of discernable groups. There may have been rivalry, aversion, even contempt between the groups; but every member of each was equipped with a conventionalized understanding of the other, a set of defining characteristics based on origin, language, labor and wealth that provided a reasonably accurate, reasonably extensive abstract of their role in the city. Whether in covetous fascination, contempt or pure hatred there was a unity spun of mutual recognition, an exchange of affirmations hidden in reciprocal condemnations and stereotypes; there was a dialogue of parts which was constantly reaffirming the identity of the city as a whole, reminding its inhabitants that they were cells in functioning organs which, over-and-above any differences between them, preformed together to maintain the life of the city. To someone who had been imbedded in this experience of London, in this world of newspapers, vocations and football clubs, of utter equilibrium between balanced parts, of the total absence of the unknown, of the absolute constancy between appearance and prejudice; to someone rooted in that London -in the mechanics of the tabloid- this city that has befallen them must seem like a terrifying cancer eating away at those healthy organs which comprised his society, a freakish growth of horribly malformed biological matter, caked together in a pulsating mound of uncontrollably proliferating cells. There is too much difference for any form of shared sereotypification let alone dialogue, too many degrees of transition between classes, too many incommensurable systems for anyone to be able to span them all, to recognise their own place by seeing other people in theirs: there are no clear divisions, no clear parts, and no clear functions, only the blur of a film in fast-forward. Or rather I would like to say there is a blur for some, but for others there is the abundance of a nature in full fertility, in ripe luxuriance, in all her feminine fullness. For some the essence of London (its “spirit” and “soul”) was a combination of repetition and predictability on the level of exchange between a finite number of groups, and the grounding of them in a clear spatial order around the city; for some that is what made their home legible, what made urbanity comfortable, and the diluting of this order by a burgeoning multiplicity of groups, habits, behaviours and ethnicities has left them floating with no reference point, feeling like outsiders in a place that has no “soul” anymore. And so I am guessing that maybe for some this beautiful Babylon, whose multiplying forms I find it so difficult no to see as the arrayed breasts of the Ephesian Artemis, swollen with succour for the aesthetically undernourished, may see instead the heaving corpse of an organism to be mourned. Although there is always much to remember, to miss and perhaps recall with nostalgia, when it come to the people who occupy this vast area of ground (as opposed to the volume of buildings which they occupy, and the mass of institutions they empower), I find it impossible to mourn. Wouldn’t that be a mourning the object of which is not dead, and which one nevertheless has to occupy each day, from morning til night? Would that not render you as totally exterior to the very thing you had belonged to, and still exist within? It would be a conscious rejection of urbanity for the simply reason that its state had changed, a willfully inflicted impoverishment because nothing could be recognised, a forcing of oneself into the position of an outside outsider without realizing that there is now a fellowship of outsiders. It seems like a form of unpleasurable masochism whose presumably uncontainable and explosive anxiety was directed at me yesterday, in the form of a cabby who became progressively more aggressive towards me, finally kicking me out of his taxi in the middle of Portland Place, about 5minutes after I had referred to the West End as “Central”. After asking what country I was from, then exactly what part of London I lived in, what age I was, what I studied –after these attempts to situate the strangeness of my terminology (he had never heard the term “Central” used instead of “West End” before) in origins suitably alien had failed, he shattered both our composures by desperately demanding that I should (especially as an “original” Londoner, as if a species in its own right) stick to what all Londoner’s can understand: that the West End is the West End, will always be, and should therefore be referred to as such, and that by calling it by a different name I was doing violence by him, was excluding him. I mentioned that unofficial or rather everyday words and names change as much as people do, from generation to generation, place to place, and reflect taste and style and convenience, and that there can be more than one word or name for something, and that often the meanings they refer to are slightly divergent (stupidly I tried to explain that “Central” generally refers to Zone 1 of the tube, which includes but is not itself the “West End”), and so there was no need for him to be upset: our two terms were commensurable. He demanded I admit that London is his London, and can be no other way, that everything is static: I suggested he write a definitive dictionary/encyclopedia for London, and that I would make sure to read it before meeting him next time, so as not to misname anything or mention anything that doesn’t really “exist” in his city, and so not upset him. At that point I was deposited into the street opposite a lovely façade by Robert Adam.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Santa Cecilia

I remember being cold and wet; or rather I remember peering down roads looking for a façade resembling the one described in our guide-book, and all of those streets down which I peered being mute, empty and smothered in a blanket of the exact shade of grey that I associate with Novembers in London and not afternoons in Rome, afternoons which I always assume to be vivid and flagrant in their nudity, tense in tight congregations of yellows and reds half hidden by their own shadows but given so much more weight thereby. For a Londoner ‘grey’ is not an adjective that can be applied to something, it is not a descriptive term of appearance but an essential quality that touches on every aspect of that in which it has been discovered; grey as a colour is in London what gives sustenance to all other impressions, it is the primordial root of a civilization whose only true reference before itself, and anterior to itself is the atmosphere produced between the liquid slate of the Thames and the unrelenting ceiling of clouds. For a Londoner grey is a condition of existence in all its breadth, and that is why I cannot trust my memory when I say I remember being cold or wet, because before I can recall those impressions I remember the streets being grey, and the strength of that image would have opened up a rupture in those streets in Trastevere through which they would have been soaked in damp, and chilled by the wind pouring in from a London ever-ready to inhabit all the colourlessness in the world. And it was Rome, my bright city that wears its age so lightly -how could it have been as I remember, it must have been some confused clouds on their way to Ostia who placed themselves there to distract me in my recollections; but nevertheless, there was a lack of Roman colour and volume in the streets that day as we were looking for a church with a famous sculpture. Marco desperately needed the toilet and so I remember when we finally came across the entrance to the church there were a few shops in front of it, none of which (for future reference) had publicly accessible toilets. This famous sculpture by the brother of Carlo Maderno is of a martyred saint (the patron saint of musicians), a beheaded lady whose martyrdom is indicated by a crevice around the back of her neck. This is gently made the centre of ones attention as the body is laid out in a horizontal figura-serpentinata whose most concrete point of inflection is precisely at the back of the neck, precisely at the moment where the potentially somnolent curve of her body which faces the viewer turns and rotates in a movement that is clearly not one of life, leaving the features of the martyr turned away from us. It is a statue of violence but it is elegant and perfectly poised, it is harmonious but not idealised and inhuman, it effects pathos but is in no way dramatic. I remember being momentarily impressed and perhaps having briefly pondered the simultaneous opening of her curving torso, outpointing arms, and the closing of her thoughts, her face looking away to somewhere not of this world; but I had completely forgotten about her until yesterday, I had forgotten her name and her church. She was Santa Cecilia, she was a wealthy noblewoman of the divine city, her church now was her house during her life, she was ordered beheaded by the prefect Turcius Almachius in 230 for being a christian. The order was carried out unsuccessfuly, and with a mutilated neck she lay dying for three days in that very house. In the midst of inconsolable grief, but in an elevated serenity on the shores of her infinity she began to sing. In Cecilia the conjunction of extreme violence and her corporeality, of excrutiating physicality and its contemplating consciousness -when given enough time to know for itself the trajectory it was tracing- produced music, produced song, lyric, rhyme; at the moment of closure she didn’t make statements or talk but she sang. Like the immediateness of the odor of saintliness she released the vapour of aesthetics, she exhaled the all-forgiving and all-forgetting balm of that which unravels fear and regret, that which passes through the fortresses of inclement minds because it is not of the same plane of existence, it is not aware of even the possibility of barriers. From little lips came the massive affirmation of the Lyrical as the incandescence of life, of the Musical as the turning point around which rotate all oppositions. I had forgotten all of this until I read the poem below by WH Auden, and then not only did I remember her, but that statue grew warm and began to hum quietly in echoes and I reclaimed it as a measure of affirmation; that crevice at the back of her neck became the infinitely broad line where emptiness and dissilusion become exultant; the repose of her body became loud passions extinguished in quiet melodies and her hands pointed out not at the observer and his space, but at her words in songs that are drifting through the centuries. Through the poem Auden imbues the statue with a heavy profundity which echoes its form perfectly; his poem draws lines which extend exactly from its creamy silhouettes, and spreads their presence through other dimensions and spaces in a movement which pulls Cecilia’s story up into it and recomposes the poem, story and sculpture (for those who know all three) into an impression that reverberates around every mode of appreciation. But then of course the poem is glorious and fecund and better left undescribed, so that it may be felt the more. I am going to rome in a week and I am going back to the church of Santa Cecila.

Song for St. Cecilia’s Day
WH Auden

In a garden shady this holy lady
With reverent cadence and subtle psalm,
Like a black swan as death came on
Poured forth her song in perfect calm:
And by ocean’s margin this innocent virgin
Constructed an organ to enlarge her prayer,
And notes tremendous from her great engine
Thundered out on the Roman air.

Blonde Aphrodite rose up excited,
Moved to delight by the melody,
White as an orchid she rode quite naked
In an oyster shell on top of the sea;
At sounds so entrancing the angels dancing
Came out of their trance into time again,
And around the wicked in hell’s abysses
The huge flame flickered and eased their pain.

Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire:
Translated daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.

I cannot grow;
I have no shadow
To run away from,
I only play

I cannot err;
There is no creature
Whom I belong to,
Whom I could wrong.

I am defeat
When it knows it
Can now do nothing
By suffering.

All you lived through,
Dancing because you
No longer need it
For any deed.

I shall never be different. Love me.

O ear whose creatures cannot wish to fall,
O calm of spaces unafraid of weight,
Where Sorrow is herself, forgetting all
The gaucheness of her adolescent state,
Where Hope within the altogether strange
From every outworn image is released,
And Dread born whole and normal like a beast
Into a world of truths that never change:
Restore our fallen day; O re-arrange.

O dear white children casual as birds,
Playing among the ruined languages,
So small beside their large confusing words,
So gay against the greater silences
Of dreadful things you did: O hang the head,
Impetuous child with the tremendous brain,
O weep, child, weep, O weep away the stain,
Lost innocence who wished your lover dead,
Weep for the lives your wishes never led.

O cry created as the bow of sin
Is drawn across our trembling violin.
O weep, child, weep, O weep away the stain.
O law drummed out by hearts against the still
Long winter of our intellectual will.
That what has been may never be again.
O flute that throbs with the thanksgiving breath
Of convalescents on the shores of death.
O bless the freedom that you never chose.
O trumpets that unguarded children blow
About the fortress of their inner foe.
O wear your tribulation like a rose.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Two Women

In another of Meireles’ installations I was leaning across a farm gate, looking through a metal grille, which was apparently attached to a plastic shower curtain just to the left, at a large oblong tank of water containing fish whose transparent flesh left their skeletons revealed, and who in their obliging movements composed themselves as a dynamic diagram in flesh of the suspended fences, meshes and windows that surrounded them. They offered biological proof, an inverted evolutionary recapitulation of the interdependence between the defensive mode of disappearance, and the tender unselfconsciousness of the unwittingly revealed; in hiding their flesh they disclosed the fragility of their bones. Through this figurative allusion the entire collection of permeable barriers –all of which are so familiar to us- acquired the characteristics of artifacts, the expansive quality of objects from which we can inductively touch a universal instinct. The people in the work were walking on shattered glass that crunched under their feet, and they, we, were staring -half in confusion half in pleasure- at the anthropological residue of our innately human and biological drive to materially conceal and divide; but at the same time, through the fish, the floor, the dispensation of planes and transparency and blue-ish light, Meireles shifts the focus from the explicit motivation of defense and abnegation of contact to its usually unnoticed corollary; that is the heightening of the potency of visibility; the increase in value of permeability; the ramping up of diverging instincts encompassed in artifacts that are the manifestations of this tension. Each artifact of separation, each item of division exaggerates the pleasure of seeing through, of the denouement of space; and just as I was perched on the gate, looking through the installation at the skeletal fish, I was submerged, inundated by the words of one woman to another. They had both slipped out from behind the shower curtain, and -as they both looked back to where my over-avid gaze was directed- one exclaimed “Oh look, I love that! I do love water features. You know how I love my water features… that’s just lovely, isn’t it?!”. I love them too, and yes, it was.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Lasciviousness of Delivery: Extracts from J. Lichtenstein's "The Eloquence of Colour" #1

These are yummy morsels from PartI of Jacqueline Lichtenstein's meticulous exploration of the history of the French Enlightenment's liberation of Colour from its tangle of externally mis-applied classifications. #2 here...

For colour is the material in , or rather of, painting, the irreducible component of representation that escapes the hegemony of language, the pure expressivity of a silent visibility that constitutes the image as such

The true fine wit praised by Ariste: judicious and delicate reasoning. And this delicacy of wit is expressed in a very particular kind of knowledge that spans knowing, sensing and seeing. Neither a concept nor an affect, not a perception, and yet all of these at once, it is a certainty felt but not demonstrable, an obviousness accompanied by no proof. It is a knowledge that depends on eyesight and manifests as a feeling, that senses the vantage point for accurate perception. This delicacy of wit that infallibly places an individual at the right distance from the object of contemplation –neither too close nor too far away- has all the characteristics of visual judgment.

Intuition is the capacity to discern the infinitesimal differences existing between things that are apparently confused in nature, realities indiscernible to mathematical minds seeking clear, obvious and palpable principles.

Moral puritanism and aesthetic austerity, along with resentment and old, stubborn, and underhanded desire to equate drabness with beauty, thus make their righteous alliance and take delight in a constantly reiterated certainty: only what is insipid, odorless, and colourless may be said to be true, beautiful and good.

[Painting] does not present us with an illusory appearance but with the illusion of an appearance whose very substance is cosmetic. Unlike other forms of adornment, this one does not exceed reality by adding ornaments that mask its nature: it takes its place by offering an image whose nature is entirely exhausted in its appearance, a universe that is the pure illusory effect of an artifice.
In denaturalizing appearance, painting thus realizes the essence of ornament that consists in being without essence. It is like an adornment from which nature is absent, makeup whose colouring does not merely correct the faults of a face but invents its features and gives it a form, a garment that cannot be taken off without pulling off the skin, an originative metaphor.

Cicero repeats time and again: eloquence is not born of rhetoric but the other way around. True rhetoric does not come from wordmongers who put together treatises for those who naively believe that technique alone will allow them to speak with eloquence. It comes from orators who most often write down their speeches only after delivering them.

If the charms of enunciation are the marks of the rhetorical and thus deceptive character of an individual’s words, the absence of charm becomes the indubitable sign of truth. To the sophists’ seductive persons and sparkling words, philosophers must then oppose an expression whose dreary pride and tedium present themselves as signs of the highest wisdom, and speeches whose repellent form lays claim to unfathomable depth.
Defined differentially, rhetoricians and philosophers are compelled to take on the negative attributes that each assigns to the other. The characterization strips rhetoric of all legitimacy and abandons it to the reprehensible pleasure of a seduction, condemning its effectiveness while recognizing its force. As for philosophy, the definition affords it an indisputable eminence and at the same time deprives it of any power, drawing truth as the unpleasant and unseductive image of a pale and dull negation of pleasure. Placed by Plato within a single frame in a scene where they respond to each other as complementary figures, rhetoric and philosophy take up their positions at the poles of ever-deceptive pleasure and necessarily bleak knowledge.

The choice and frequent use of such metaphors and comparisons, which define beauty essentially from the viewpoint of health, show the extent to which most aesthetic judgments are determined by moral evaluations, that is, based on criteria borrowed from nature, not art. The most striking evidence of this overlap of moral and aesthetic values comes from the way in which the various figures of femininity –chaste or indecent, virtuous or corrupt- constantly offer up metaphors for the faults and qualities of eloquence.

Forced to balance precariously between pleasure and reason, rhetoric has always found itself trapped between an ornamentation whose brilliance is suspected of lending discourse a purely sophistic seductiveness and an austere philosophy whose somber gleam threatens to deprive rhetoric of the means necessary to assure its effectiveness.

The courtesan and the prostitute always appear as emblematic figures of the culpable temptation of a pure pleasure to which art, when unable to save itself from the dangers of its own power, succumbs.

The traditional place of the image necessarily affects our perception of its power. Its legitimacy is still in doubt though its importance is not. To rid ourselves of such a contradiction we would need to abandon traditional hierarchies and reach a complete reevaluation that allowed a relation between the visible and discourse in terms of complementarity and not subordination. All these relations weave into the weft of their history image and language as complementary figures that an archaic gesture has torn apart. More than rival sisters, they resemble separated lovers haunted by a desire for the unity of an origin perhaps forever lost, each seeking in the figure of the other the missing part of the self. As if this other’s absence were the heart of all representation.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Cildo Meireles Exhibition

A series of lines on millimeter graph paper that is slightly off white and grubby, aged and used, bearing the effort expended on it in graphite bruises; lines that are separated into the three which extend out to the edges of the paper, which pull in three directions away from the ageing surface; and the others, poised in the space marked out for them by the three like a startled nocturnal animal, stand together with a fragile unity which threatens to collapse under the gaze, a unity which coheres into objecthood out of the corner of the eye, but which is demure and unsure of itself under direct observation, ready at any moment to dissolve back into the mathematics of two dimensions. This first small impression was repeated along the wall of the first room in the exhibition as a series of searches, as an attempt to adumbrate an ineffability hidden between the grid and surface of these sheets of paper, the denuding spotlight of the axes x y and z, and the incredulous eye of the observer. Like a row of unfamiliar taxidermic specimens frozen in glass cases, the exposed lines in each display were either huddled, slumped or erect, individually summarizing a possible characteristic of this postulated ineffability, and together laying out its contour. The attempt seems absurd, the medium unforgiving. He is trying to find something within the framework of geometrical axioms that is different in kind and not just degree; he is trying to find meaning in the brutality of facts; he is trying to find sensitivity in the insensible and he does it with an essential earnestness which is disarming. These searches consist of so few lines that they bring to mind the first attempts of a schoolchild at drawing in “space”, and it is precisely this innocence that disarms; it seems as though Meireles has had Euclid’s system explained to him by his teacher, taught to him as a hermetic and preordained reality external to his existence, and whereas the other students picked up their pencils to draw cubes and planes, Meireles stared at the page, troubled. How could this be called space? It all existed before him, before any of them, it allowed for nothing which was not inherent in its logic, nothing which was not a predictable output of a limited set of factors; it was a frozen solid, impenetrable and the precise opposite of what his senses told him was space. There was no room for anything but itself. Forced to participate in the class, forced to accept the axioms and inscribe points and lines in the solid space of reason, he nonetheless looks for some room, for a place where something unexpected might occur, something not entirely predictable and wholly inherent in the system: and so we are gifted these half-formed creatures, the embryos of a poetic instinct struggling to be born, trying to find room for itself in a grid of answers. Meireles continues this search on other pieces of the same type of paper, but swaps the axes for a floor, two walls and wainscoting; and by doing this -with the use of some colour pencils- transforms the specific potential for entombment embodied in Euclid’s geometry into a generalised scenario of existential enquiry. The questions began to form themselves in the clarity of the classroom, where the subject found its object and injected itself into it, producing results which now spill into the everyday, which escape from the nowhere of Euclid to the ubiquitous somewhere of the corner of a room. By substituting the axes for walls Meireles transfers his search within the structure of 3dimensional space into a search within the structure of habit; into the earnest and childlike efforts of someone who sees and will not accept the solid impenetrability of the quotidian, just as he couldn’t that of geometry. The meager resources of the point and line left Meireles with only enough material to form unstable speculations; here he is digging through a postulate necessary to the space of our habits -that rooms have corners, and corners are corners- and finds rich material resonant with familiarity and association through which he fashions remarkably comprehensible and lucid results. The walls, the floors, the wainscotting fold, gently lean or suddenly fall away at an angle, each time vividly encompassing the potential for a moment of respite, a touch of interpretation, an infiltration of the banal with the ineffable. By the last of these pages, by the time you turn around to look at the one-to-one installation in which four of these have been materialised as testaments to a sort of unflinching positivity, an indefatigable resolution to interbreed incompatibilities; by the time you walk around them Meireles has primed you, sensitized you through a set of small drawings for the breathtaking series of shared contemplations which thankfully, for once, take you far away from the unbearable Euclidean vapidness of the Tate Modern.

Cildo Meireles:
“In some way you become political when you don’t have a chance to be poetic. I think human beings would much prefer to be poetic.”
This is what separates so many artists and poets from those that write about them.

In all the works on display Meireles finds ways of opening up possibilities, unseen potentials, he brings questions to light, he flicks the surface of normality and makes it undulate strangely; and in all of the works except Mission/Missions (How to build a Cathedral) he brings things to our attention by taking away from them some of their usual clarity, and by doing this opens up room to move and think in. Which is why when I read this part of Isaiah Berlin’s “Final Retrospect”, I felt compelled to include it, as it seemed to maintain, although far apart, at least a parallel trajectory to Meireles’ work.

Isaiah Berlin
Extract from “Final Retrospect”
“Since the natural sciences are perhaps the greatest success story in the whole history of mankind, it seems absurd to suppose that man alone is not subject to the natural laws discovered by the scientists, (That, indeed, is what the eighteenth century philosophes maintained). The question is not, of course, whether man is wholly free of such laws –no one but a madman could maintain that man does not depend on his biological or psychological structure or environment, or on the laws of nature. The only question is: Is his liberty totally exhausted thereby? Is there not some corner in which he can act as he chooses, and not be determined to choose by antecedent causes? This may be a tiny corner of the realm of nature, but unless it is there, his consciousness of being free, which is undoubtedly all but universal –the fact that most people believe that, while some of their actions are mechanical, some obey their free will– is an enormous illusion, from the beginnings of mankind , ever since Adam ate the apple, although told not to do so, and did not reply, ‘I could not help it, I did not do it freely, Eve forced me to do it.’”

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Hare Krishna

I noticed a lady. She was wrapped in so many bulbous crumples and twists of fiery-coloured fabric that it seemed as if what could be seen of her body was being held up by its overabundant density, that the almost equally creased protrusions of her hands, feet and face were where all the reds and browns and purples and golds folded into each other, to become a deep and warm shade which contained all of the rainbow surrounding it in dense creases; lines of skin that were more like billows of dyed fabric compressed together under some titanic force, and granted life and expression as if this were an oriental Golem, formed of the luxuriance of colour and pattern rather than the penury of the earth. Looking back, I think I had seen her before -perhaps many times- but there had never been reason for her to be separated from the street, to be given a form and pulled out from the bas-relief which froze either side of that road into an unquestioning, unproblematic and mutely comforting doorstep to my Soho. I must have glanced at her for longer than is considered a glance, and a small wrinkled hand emerged from within, borne by a bright yellow variant of material, generally concealed perhaps in order to celebrate with its appearance any willed engagement with the world outside her folds. There was a book in the hand, she might have been smiling, and as the hand rose it followed me, I think with her face as well, around their soft supporting pillar. I noticed that the book was one of those offered for free by the Hare Krishnas, of which she was one, outside of whose little muffled restaurant she stood, and I looked away from her, speeding up with agitation and feeling compromised; in the slight extension of a glance, in a handful of steps, an isthmus had momentarily risen above the waves of habit to connect me with a precious atom of strangeness, and even before I could savor it I was rudely robbed of its charm by a little book that brought both me and the lady offering it back to the banal and tense reality of the city’s hassled and its hasslers. She hadn’t come up to me -like those violent teenagers decorated in symbols of incommensurably sincere charity- and shattered the penumbra around my privacy with the brutality of feigned conversation, in fact I don’t believe she had even looked at me; but I felt that her poetry, her mystique had been nothing more than a silent version of such intrusive conversation, an entreaty in colour, that her verbose body of clothing was intended for passers-by as an orchid uses its luminous veins to call in insects. I began relegating her to the category of urban nuisances, to the same universal space occupied by charity-touts, free-newspaper purveyors, proselytizers and survey-workers; and she would have disappeared into that general abstraction forever -along with the Krishnas- if she hadn’t broken the silence, hadn’t called gently out to someone who I had not been in a decade. Ten years ago I had been atomized through the mechanisms of puberty, and whereas that which is supposed to comprise one’s character –the set of notions and values that govern behaviour- was for me just a gas, exterior to my body and susceptible to any noxious breeze that came its way; my body however -although it had changed unalterably a few years before- was relatively stable, and became the image in the mirror to which I clung while my immaterial properties remained protean; which was why I was so deeply affected every time I was mistaken for a girl, which happened frequently. The validity of my reference was undermined: if people couldn’t even manage to grasp to which fundamental human binary my body belonged, was it perhaps not less fixed than I had wanted it to be? Every time I was referred to as a girl, as madam, as “your daughter, sir”, the effort required to reclaim my body, to convince myself of its solidity once again was minutely heroic. I had forgotten that this used to happen, and as I was moving away from the lady and I heard her call “Madam”, I was stopped by one of those shifts in perception which crack open the container in which we have sealed the impressions of a particular period in our past; the cacophonic rush drowned out the dominance of my present self, it filled me with imprecise feelings of anger, confusion and freshness which were less real emotions than treasured belongings to which feelings had been attached, and which I had lost and forgotten about. I didn’t immediately understand what had been given to me by the Hare Krishna, all these treasures had fallen on me from a great height, and I was immobilised under their weight; all I could do was to turn around and walk back to her, ask what she had said, be confirmed in what I had heard and stumble off. Across Oxford Street, step by step, the glittering presents she had presented me with from within my own past began to reveal themselves, one by one; the deafening noise in turn softened, fell apart, and pulled itself back together again to gently sing some sort of internal lullaby. It had all been packed up and locked away for a reason, all these feelings had been difficult to manage when they were new; but now I was glad that they had been given back to me, that after time had turned them into relics to contemplate rather than obstacles to be overcome, this magical woman had found the one word which could penetrate through the clotted indifferences of my mind. As I turned these objects over in the intuitive gaze of the daydream, I couldn’t help but feel as if something childishly superstitious had come-true, that the woman was some sort of witch, that she knew what would entail from her utterance and had purposely transformed me, that despite my copious, disorderly and impossible to miss smear of facial hair, she had projected the word regardless of my sex because her intention was to bring about the effect in which I am still reveling. It is just a fancy which I know to be beyond possibility, but despite its impossibility, the small section of street where the real and the fanciful occurred has since stood out in abundant relief, has retained the colour of the incident, or rather the existing place and its colours have come alive with the shape of the incident. I don’t know what Hare Krishnas do, what they believe in or their history; what I do know is that their sad smiles, the pale pastels which make it look as if their walls, food, clothes and face-paint together constitute a unified figure, the tired struggle of their chanting that emanates everyday from a window somewhere above their restaurant, and which occasionally expands and alters Oxford Street with its presence; all these things that I do now know, since I have started looking, since one of them called to me as if I were not a man; all these things have stained the pallid relief that had been Soho Street like paint stains a canvas, forever turning its bare surfaces, walls and glass from mere unobtrusive material into a transparent display of life.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Relative Strength, Extract from 'Two Concepts of Liberty'

The very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood or the absolute values of our primitive past. ‘To realize the relative validity of one’s convictions’, said an admirable writer of our time, ‘and yet stand for them unflinchingly is what distinguishes a civilized man from a barbarian.’

Monday, 3 November 2008

Extracts from "Tristes Tropiques"

To me it’s like Levi-Strauss is analogizing the impression that this book leaves you with when he is describing the principle of sunsets:

“Memory is life itself, but of a different quality. And so, it is when the sun declines towards the polished surface of calm water, like alms bestowed by some heavenly miser, or when its disc outlines mountain summits like a hard, jagged leaf, that man is eminently able to receive, in a short lived daydream, the revelation of the opaque forces, the mists and flashing lights that throughout the day he has dimly felt to be at war within himself”

P29 Tristes Tropiques
Now that the Polynesian Islands have been smothered in concrete and turned into aircraft carriers solidly anchored in the southern seas, when the whole of Asia is beginning to look like a dingy suburb, when shanty-towns are spreading across Africa, when civil and military aircraft blight the primeval innocence of the American or Melanesian forests even before destroying their virginity, what else can the so-called escapism of traveling do than confront us with the more unfortunate aspects of our history? Our great Western civilization, which has created the marvels we now enjoy, has only succeeded in producing them at the cost of corresponding ills. The order and harmony of the Western world, its most famous achievement, and a laboratory in which structures of a complexity as yet unknown are being fashioned, demand the elimination of a prodigious mass of noxious by-products which now contaminate the globe. The first thing we see as we travel round the world is our own filth, thrown into the face of mankind.

P101 Tristes Tropiques
Certain European cities sink gently into moribund torpor; those of the New World live feverishly in the grip of a chronic disease; they are perpetually young yet never healthy.

P133 Tristes Tropiques
The town is perhaps even more precious than a work of art in that it stands at the meeting point of nature and artifice. Consisting, as it does, of a community of animals who enclose their biological history within its boundaries and at the same time mould it according to their every intention as thinking beings, the town, in both its development and its form, belongs simultaneously to biological procreation, organic evolution and aesthetic creation. It is at one and the same time an object of nature and a subject of culture; an individual and a group; reality and dream; the supremely human achievement.

P505-507 Tristes Tropiques
The world began without man and will end without him. The institutions, morals and customs tat I shall have spent my life noting down and trying to understand are the transient efflorescence of a creation in relation to which they have no meaning, except perhaps that of allowing mankind to play its part in creation. But far from this part according man an independent position, or his endeavors –even if doomed to failure- being opposed to universal decline, he himself appears as perhaps the most affective agent working towards the disintegration of the original order of things and hurrying on powerfully organized matter towards even greater inertia, an inertia which one day will be final. From the time when he first began to breathe and eat, up to the invention of atomic and thermonuclear devices, by way of the discovery of fire –and except when he as been engaged in self-reproduction- what else has man done except blithely break down billions of structures and reduce them to a state in which they are no longer capable of integration? No doubt he has built towns and cultivated the land; yet, on reflection, urbanization and agriculture are themselves instruments intended to create inertia, at a rate and in a proportion infinitely higher than the amount of organization they involve. As for the creations of the human mind, their significance only exists in relation to it, and they will merge into the general chaos, as soon as the human mind has disappeared. Thus it is tat civilization, taken as a whole, can be described as an extraordinarily complex mechanism, which we might be tempted to see as offering an opportunity of survival for the human world, if its function were not to produce what physicists call entropy, that is inertia. Every verbal exchange, every line printed, establishes communication between people, this creating an evenness of level, where before there was an information gap and consequently a greater degree of organization. Anthropology could with advantage be changed into ‘enropology’, as the name of the discipline concerned with the study of the highest manifestations of this process of disintegration.
Just as the individual is not alone in the group, nor any one society alone among the others, so man is not alone in the universe. When the spectrum or rainbow of human cultures has finally sunk into the void created by our frenzy; as long as we continue to exist an there is a world, that tenuous arch linking us to the inaccessible will still remain, to show us the opposite course to that leading to enslavement; man may be unable to follow it, but its contemplation affords him the only privilege of which he can make himself worthy; that of arresting the process, of controlling the impulse which forces him to block up the cracks in the wall of necessity one by one and to complete his work at the same time as he shuts himself up within his prison; this is a privilege coveted by every society, whatever its beliefs, its political system or its level of civilization; a privilege to which it attaches its leisure, its pleasure, its peace of mind and its freedom; the possibility, vital for life, of unhitching, which consists –Oh! Fond farewell to savages and explorations!- in grasping, during the brief intervals in which our species can bring itself to interrupt its hive-like activity, the essence of what it was and continues to be, below the threshold of thought and over and above society: in the contemplation of a mineral more beautiful than all our creations; in the scent that can be smelt at the heart of a lily and is more imbued with learning than all our books; or in the brief glance, heavy with patience, serenity and mutual forgiveness, that, through some involuntary understanding, one can sometimes exchange with a cat.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Bye Bye Exhibitions!

Both the Summer School and the honours exhibition needed to be taken down on Friday, something that required a lot of wrapping, ripping, shuffling and general noise making, which wasn’t initially a problem in the exhibition space since it had been sealed of from the rest of the building in order that the work could be carried out. People had been in there since I first arrived with Bianca, but they were just lone opportunists making the most of a little free space, listening to music or engaged in intent examinations of lots of nothings somewhere just in front of their faces. These were people who were aware of there being, while maybe not quite a level of illegitimacy to their presence, at least a balance in the room between our rightful presence (institutionally backed by a printed notice on the exterior of the room’s door no less!), and their illicit occupancy; they feigned obliviousness to our stomping and banging, while we marched around them like they were so many pieces of furniture which somehow belonged to the room itself. We were all complicit and harmoniously conspiratorial in the way we ignored each other. But at some point, I think during a particularly complicated procedure of mummifying one of my models, the situation had changed, and remained changed until I gladly stepped out of the building.
I don’t know if the previous occupants of the room had spontaneously, in response to some silent command congealed into a huddled unit of humanity, or whether this entity made of people had invaded while I was pondering some bubble-wrap, ejecting all people not-of-itself in order to brood in isolation; either way the cordial human furniture was no more. Nestled in the centre of a bed of jackets and faces was one voice to which all ears were listening intently, a quiet voice which I hadn’t noticed until looking up, but once noticed became an audible shackle which chained all of our movements. They were there to listen, they were numerous and with a shared objective clearly revealed by their intently furrowed brows, they were there to do something which by its very nature transformed us into antagonistic outsiders: we were busy about the noisy business of laying models, drawings and books to rest in suitably fitting caskets, they were there –judging by the dark seriousness uniformly shadowing the group- to absorb some solemn decree, some weighty judgement delivered in diminutive tones.
The quietness of the speech across the room made each one of our movements into self-lacerations, into captive actions, trapped by their loudness into unavoidably offending the entity’s sobriety. Where before all our thought had been on how best to pack and enclose, stack and tie, now each thought was burdened with another, with the extra consideration of how to pack and enclose –but quietly, and of how to stack and tie –but quietly; every one of these actions was painful because no matter how much thought we put into keeping them quiet they were always louder than the voice, always interruptions in its reverie. Every tug on the role of masking-tape, every rip in the sheet of bubble-wrap hurt us because we couldn’t make it disappear, and our isolated self-awareness was repeatedly re-affirmed exterior to our embarrassment by one or more of the pallid faces turning towards us in silent reproach, confirming that they wanted as we did for us to disappear. Each time I escaped for a moment from being the object of disapproval by doing something silent like measuring a box, I would be filled with the desire to be indignant, to remember that they were usurpers, to keep in my mind that they were not meant to be in the room at all, let alone filling it with their arbitrarily assumed mandate. I would turn to pull something apart, or slide something along the floor with all the self assertive theatricality of someone who is over compensating for severe shyness; but each time, just as I began to produce some sound, I became once again all too aware of the aggression that my sounds perpetrated against the subdued lecturer, and the unnerving eyes that would pivot to rest judgingly on the source of the disturbance.
My attempts at revolt having failed, I fell back on a tactic of conciliatory mime, in that as I clearly couldn’t be as quiet as to not disturb, I would enact comically inflated gestures of apology: when unrolling tape I would compress my facial features into a histrionic wince for the duration of the action, when carrying a big box out the door, I would unnecessarily balance it on one raised thigh while acrobatically closing the door with the opposite arm, performing what I was hoping looked like a remarkable human cantilever, with the ostensible purpose of keeping the noise pollution from outside away from the engrossed congregation. These mimes, although they were empty of real effect, although they didn’t help the voice to be heard any better, soothed my nerves because for me they acted as signs, as transparent symbols of a clear desire to be unobtrusive. By manufacturing the outward appearance of trying very hard to be compliant, I negated the need to try so hard to actually be totally quiet, while simultaneously clearing my conscience of the best part of its awkward guilt. In this manner we finished mummifying my work in bubble-wrap, and encasing it all in card-board coffins, which some later version of me will no doubt open up in some future attic to nostalgic and tear-ridden recollection.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Guermantes Extracts and Nice and Cold

A couple of days ago it was that kind of dry cold that doesn’t make me shiver but only attacks my extremities. Sore fingers, nose and ears that rather than making me want to escape indoors were like tickled whiskers that woke me up, made me alert, sensitized me to what was going on around me. And just as it wasn’t the kind of cold that cloys and sinks heavily through clothes and skin, it wasn’t the sort of air that flattens everything, pulls things forward and pushes them back until they’re all level; just as that cold picked out my finger tips and the bridge of my nose to me, the air was so thin and precise that all the cars and lampposts and bicycles stood out, independently described at their most revealing angles, clearly separated from each other and set back in space. It was dark as well, dark and cold and exciting at 6pm and I was looking for something, or rather I was ready to find beauty in something. It could have been looking trough a crowded shop window or staring into an empty backstreet. Anything would have been sufficient because I wasn’t looking for something that was in itself beautiful, but my mood and the light wanted to pour themselves out, to play themselves out somewhere, and on this occasion I spent fifteen glorious minutes in front of a forest of slowly rotating cranes and spotlight-lit concrete walls behind Centre Point. I have walked past these many times, and had only ever looked at them as their quantifiable end-results: as vast floor-plates of normalising economics and architecture; but a couple of days ago they became an impenetrable mystery, they became impossibly strange. Looking up at a sky full of monstrous red creatures, alternately bowing and raising their necks at each other, talking silently and slowly, and all hemmed in by elongated grey battlements which were covered in partially legible numbers and signs; looking up at this floating world, picked out with points of light against a totally flat sky, I was separated from the usual certainty I have about things, objects, events. I didn’t know what it was anymore, all I knew was that it was glorious, red and bright and invigorating, and that it had all started with the coldness in my finger-tips. I moved on when the gesticulating beasts all froze at the same time, as if the temperature had just got too much for their cold-blooded bodies, and little men began to descend from their heads, making their way down ladder by ladder from what were once again clearly cranes.

P8 The Guermantes Way
At an age when Names, offering us the image of the unknowable that we have invested in them and simultaneously designating a real place for us, force us accordingly to identify the one with the other to a point where we go off to a city to seek out a soul that it cannot contain but which we no longer have the power to expel from its name, it is not only to cities and ruins that they give an individuality, as do allegorical paintings, it is not only the physical world that they spangle with differences and people with marvels, it is the social world as well: so every historic house, every famous residence or palace, has its lady or its fairy, as forests have their spirits and rivers their deities.

P13 The Guermantes Way
“In the parties she gave, since I could not imagine the guests as having bodies, moustaches, boots, as making any remark that was banal, or even original in a human and rational manner, this whirl of names, introducing less physical presence than a banquet of ghosts or a ball of spectres around the statuette in Dresden china known as Mme de Guermantes, maintained a show-case transparency around her glass mansion.

P27 The Guermantes Way
I assured myself that, had I been a regular visitor to Mme de Guermantes’s house, were I one of her circle, were I to enter into her life, I should then know what was really enclosed within the brilliant orange-coloured envelope of her name, know it objectively, through the eyes of others.