Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Reflective Nostalgia

^Sphinx, by M.Shemyakin, St Petersburg source

The second excerpt from Svetlana Boym's "The future of Nostalgia". The first here.

Reflective Nostalgia: Virtual Reality and Collective Memory

"Restoration (from re-staure –re-establishment) signifies a return to the original stasis, to the prelapsarian moment. The past for the restorative nostalgic is a value for the present; the past is not a duration but a perfect snapshot. Moreover the past is not supposed to reveal any signs of decay; it has to be freshly painted in its “original image” and remain eternally young. Reflective nostalgia is more concerned with historical and individual time, with the irrevocability of the past and human finitude. Re-flection suggests new flexibility, not the reestablishment of stasis. The focus here is not on recovery of what is perceived to be an absolute truth but on the mediation on history and passage of time. To paraphrase Nabokov, these kind of nostalgics are often “amateurs of time, epicures of duration,” who resist the pressure of external efficiency and take sensual delight in the texture of time not measurable by clocks and calendars.

Restorative nostalgia evoke national past and future; reflective nostalgia is more about individual and cultural memory. The two might overlap in their frames of reference, but they do not coincide in their narratives and plots of identity. In other words, they can use the same triggers of memory and symbols, the same Proustian madeleine pastry, but tell different stories about it.

Nostalgia of the first type gravitates toward collective pictorial symbols and oral culture. Nostalgia of the second type is more oriented toward an individual narrative that savours details and memorial signs, perpetually deferring homecoming itself. If restorative nostalgia ends up reconstructing emblems and rituals of home and homeland in an attempt to conquer and spatialize time, reflective nostalgia cherishes shattered fragments of memory and temporalizes space. Restorative nostalgia takes itself deadly seriously. Reflective nostalgia, on the other hand, can be ironic and humorous. It reveals that longing and critical thinking are not opposed to one another, as affective memories do not absolve one from compassion, judgement or critical reflection.

Reflective nostalgia does not pretend to rebuild the mythical place called home; it is “enamoured of distance, not of the referent itself.” This type of nostalgic narrative is ironic, inclusive and fragmentary. Nostalgics of the second type are aware of the gap between identity and resemblance; the home is in ruins or, on the contrary, has been just renovated and gentrified beyond recognition. This de-familiarisation and sense of distance drives them to tell their story, to narrate the relationship between past, present and future. Through such longing these nostalgics discover that the past is not merely that which doesn’t exist anymore, but, to quote Henri Bergson, the past “might act and will act by inserting itself into a present sensation from which it borrows the vitality.” The past is not made in the image of the present or seen as foreboding of some present disaster; rather, the past opens up a multitude of potentialities, non-teleological possibilities of historic development. We don’t need a computer to get access to the virtualities of our imagination: reflective nostalgia has a capacity to awaken multiple planes of consciousness.

^ "Der Berg" installation in the Palast Der Republik, Berlin, two years before its demolition to make way for a reconstructed Palace that was on the site prior to WWII source

The virtual reality of consciousness, as defined by Henri Bergson, is a modern concept, yet it does not rely on technology; on the contrary, it is about human freedom and creativity. According to Bergson, the human creativity, élan vital, that resists mechanical repetition and predictability, allows us to explore the virtual realities of consciousness. For Marcel Proust, remembrance is an unpredictable adventure in syncretic perception where words and tactile sensations overlap. Place names open up mental maps and space folds into time. “The memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment;  and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years,” writes Proust at the end of Swann’s Way. What matters then, is the memorable literary fugue, not the actual return home.

The modern nostalgic realises that “the goal of the odyssey is a rendezvous with oneself.” For Jorge Luis Borges, for instance, Ulysses returns home only to look back at his journey. In the alcove of his fair queen he becomes nostalgic for his nomadic self: “Where is that man who in the days and nights of exile erred around the world like a dog and said that Nobody was his name?” Homecoming does not signify a recovery of identity; it does not end the journey in the virtual space of imagination. A modern nostalgic can be homesick and sick of home, at once.

As most of the stories in this book suggest, the nostalgic rendezvous with oneself is not always a private affair. Voluntary and involuntary recollections of an individual intertwine with collective memories. In many cases the mirror of reflective nostalgia is shattered by experiences of collective devastation and resembles –involuntarily- a modern work of art. Bosnian poet Semezdin Mehmedinovic offers one of such shattered mirrors from his native Sarajevo:

“Standing by the window, I see the shattered glass of Yugobank. I could stand like this for hours. A blue, glassed-in façade. One floor above the window I am looking from, a professor of aesthetics comes out onto his balcony; running his fingers through his beard, he adjusts his glasses. I see his reflection in the blue façade of Yugobank, in the shattered glass that turns the scene into a live cubist painting on a sunny day.”"

Monday, 22 November 2010

Restorative Nostalgia

^Reconstructed Cathedral of Christ Our Saviour, Moscow source

The first excerpt of two laying out the two entirely incomensurable and often confused forms in which contemporary nostalgia manifests itself -Restorative and Reflective- the one dangerous and easily abused, unconscious and easy to accept, the other profoundly complex, personal and requiring active contemplation and engagement, and ultimately hugely rewarding. Both extracts are from Svetlana Boym's deeply inspiring and thorough book "The Future of Nostalgia", in which she takes Nostalgia as an intrinsic and inescapable condition of moderinty, set only to increase in potency in the years to come, and sets about breaking it down into its component parts, its various appearances, sinister and beautiful, and states the case for positively engaging with it as a key to understanding and in a way, enjoying, our fantastically unstable 21st century Human Condition. It was my best read since, and the best possible Architect's addendum to "In Search Of Lost Time", and was also strangely similar, but far more precise and ambitious than Nicolas Bourriaud's The Radicant, in which Bourriaud posits an artistic form of  nomadic rootlessness, in which artists engage in creating their own micro-narratives of belonging in a life-long, international trajectory, positing the artistic project as one of a perpetualy Reflective, and transformational Nostalgia.


Restorative Nostalgia: Conspiracies and Return To Origins

"Two kinds of nostalgia are not absolute types, but rather tendencies, ways of giving shape and meaning to longing. Restorative nostalgia puts emphasis on nostos (returning home)and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps. Reflective nostalgia dwells in algia (aching), in longing and loss, the imperfect process of remembrance. The first category of nostalgics do not think of themselves as nostalgic; they believe that their project is about truth. This kind of nostalgic characterizes national and nationalist revivals all over the world, which engage in the anti-modern myth-making of history by means of a return to nationalist symbols and myths and, occasionally, through swapping conspiracy theories. Restorative nostalgia manifests itself in total reconstructions of monuments from the past, while reflective nostalgia lingers on ruins, the patina of time and history, in the dreams of another place and another time.

To understand restorative nostalgia it is important to distinguish between the habits of the past and the habits of the restoration of the past. Eric Hobsbawn differentiates between age old “customs” and nineteenth century “invented traditions”. Customs by which so-called traditional societies operated were not invariable or inherently conservative: “Custom in traditional societies has a double function of motor and fly wheel… Custom cannot afford to be invariant because even in the traditional societies life is not so.”
On the other hand, restored or invented tradition refers to a “set of practices normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and a ritual of symbolic nature which seeks to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition which automatically implies continuity with the past.” The new traditions are characterized by a higher degree of symbolic formalization and ritualization than the actual peasant customs and conventions after which they were patterned. Here are two paradoxes. First, the more rapid and sweeping the pace and scale of modernization, the more conservative and unchangeable the new traditions tend to be, Second, the stronger the rhetoric of continuity with the historical past and emphasis on traditional values, the more selectively the past is presented. The novelty of invented tradition is “no less novel for being able to dress up easily as antiquity”.

Invented tradition does not mean a creation ex nihilo or a pure act of social constructivism; rather, it builds on the sense of loss of community and cohesion and offers a comforting collective script for individual longing. There is a perception that as a result of society’s industrialization and secularization in the nineteenth century, a certain void of social and spiritual meaning has opened up. What was needed was a secular transformation of fatality into continuity, contingency into meaning. Yet this transformation can take different turns. It may increase the emancipatory possibilities and individual choices, offering multiple imagined communities and ways of belongingthat are not exclusivelybased on ethnic or national principles. It can also be politically manipulated through newly recreated practices of national commemoration with the aim of re-establishing social cohesion, a sense of security and an obedient relationship to authority.

Cultural identity is based on a certain social poetics or “cultural intimacy” that provides a glue in everyday life. This was described by anthropologist Michael Herzfeld as “embarrassment and rueful self-recognition” through various common frameworks of memory and even what may appear as stereotypes. Such identity involves everyday games of hide-and-seek that only “natives” play, unwritten rules of behaviour, jokes understood from half a word, a sense of complicity. State propaganda and official national memory build on this cultural intimacy, but there is also a discrepancy and tension between the two. It is very important to distinguish between political nationalism and cultural intimacy, which, after all, is based on common social context, not on national or ethnic homogeneity.

^93metre high statue of Peter The Great in the Moskva River, built 1997 source
National memory reduces this space of play with memorial signs to a single plot. Restorative nostalgia knows two main narrative plots –the restoration of origins and the conspiracy theory, characteristic of the most extreme cases of contemporary nationalism fed on right-wing popular culture. The conspiratorial worldview reflects a nostalgia for a transcendental cosmology and a simple pre-modern conception of good and evil. The conspiratorial worldview is based on a single trans-historical plot, a Manichean battle of good and evil and the inevitable scapegoating of the mythical enemy. Ambivalence, the complexity of history and the specificity of modern circumstances is thus erased, and modern history is seen as a fulfilment of ancient prophecy. “Home”, imagine extremist conspiracy theory adherents, is forever under siege, requiring defence against the plotting enemy.

[...] Nostalgia is an ache of temporal distance and displacement. Restorative nostalgia takes care of both these symptoms. Distance is compensated by intimate experience and the availability of a desired object. Displacement is cured by a return home, preferably a collective one. Never mind if it’s not your home; by the time you reach it, you will have already forgotten the difference. What drives restorative nostalgia is not the sentiment of distance and longing but rather the anxiety about those who draw attention to historical incongruities between past and present and thus question the wholeness and continuity of the restored tradition.

Even in its less extreme form, restorative nostalgia has no use for the signs of historical time –patina, ruins, cracks, imperfections. The 1980s and 1990s was a time of great revival of the past in several projects of total restoration –from the Sistine Chapel to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow- that attempted to restore a sense of the sacred believed to be missing from the modern word."

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Little Person Up There In The Crane

Over the past decade I’ve been living around more than my fair share of large construction sites, and I’ve enjoyed their cranes' sudden appearances, their elegant slow movements for a couple of years, and then their equally sudden disappearances as the hoardings come down around the brand spanking new building they helped to construct. The way they hover delicately over the weighty assemblage of static material below them, engaged on tight sites in a slow, precise and controlled choreography in the sky above the building so as to deliver bundles of material without knocking into each other, somehow without being swayed too far by the wind, and without damaging anything, or anyone below. And up there in the little cabs, like the minute brains of a stick insect, are the crane operators, heroic and alone, who I only ever saw as the sites would shut operations for the day, and probably in response to an alarm in their cabs, or a call on the mic, the cranes would come to a halt, frozen in position, and they would all descend simultaneously from their cabs, level by level down ladders on the insides of the cranes’ far too slimly proportioned structure, taking breaks at the same landings on their way down, perhaps as a prescribed precaution, until they disappeared from the view of anyone outside the site’s hoardings, either to have a cup of tea and discuss the day’s more exciting moments, or else to run on home. The first entry on this blog, back in 2008 was a retelling of the impact that the cranes on the site of Renzo’s Central St Giles had on me, on a freezing cold night, together with the sheer battlements of that project’s clustered cores. I'd thought it magnificent, and as his multi-coloured confection opens its doors to its unexciting content, and as its beautiful construction process passes into memory, I have a crane that has appeared, right in front of my bedroom window, in the last week. No soaring beauty to this crane, but I did notice that I can almost make out how the man inside might look, his proportions, and that there isn’t a toilet up there, and the operator doesn’t leave the cab all day. On further research Ive learned that they are either magnanimously handed piss pots by the firm to urinate in, or they have to improvise something along those lines, of the mineral-water screw-top kind id imagine, which they keep with them all day, no doubt handling them carefully as they descend in said orderly fashion as the site closes. The operator facing my room also seems to have a computer up there, and, wondering if there are any forums for discussion and socialising on the net used specifically by the class of 4000 lonely crane operators around the country who could no doubt do with a bit of company (this new crane is the only one on site), I rummaged around and found the trailer of what looks like a beautiful film here, and a discussion forum, from which are some snippets below, direct from those who get to live a distinctly alternative, and fascinating London High Life:

Forum Discussion Started With A Member’s Poem:

never mind the b*ll*cks!!!!!!!!!!

When the jib slews still,
the magic moment arrives,
its free slew button time,
and now for the climb.........down down down wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee away home,
no more b*llocks,
no more lifts,
F*** you and ,
yer horrible concrete.
no more radio babble,
its motoring time,
its 12 hours at least,
before I have to see,
those knobjockeys again,
and they see me,
so give me steak and chips,
ya ba*stards,
and F*** off till tomorrow.

I wrote this little poem for your pleasure or scorn, as you can see its poetical scope is limited,rather akin to a gorilla with Parkinsons trying to play a violin with a hammer. Sorry.

Forum Discussion About Accessing The Net In Crane Cabs:

Writer 1: just wondered who else sits up their crane with the laptop plugged into their mobile surfin the worldwide between lifts??or maybe ya poached your connection from a nearby wireless con.??? 
made a great table to sit the old laptop out of me info screen +operations manual...
Writer 3: was on job in dublin on the quays, was on relief one day, went up tc 2, christ like bloody comet up there.........laptop, digi radio, lcd tele and ps2. I kid you not. 
Writer 4: i worked for elliotss on dublin quay and had my laptop tv radio play station kettle irish broadband and loads of of other s*** pluged into two 4 sockets come out of one lol f*****g best job in the world.
Writer 7: I brought up me mobile DVD player and I could'nt see a fooking thing on the screen with the light in the cab,maybe you'll see a bit if you put a magazine over it but its very uncomfortable,less you put up curtains all round the cab,would'nt say the foreman would think that was suspicious, hehehe,thought it was'nt worth a w*ank,is it not the same for laptops????????
Writer 8: i bought an 8in lcd tv from cost approx £70 with postage. 
its got the 35+ channels from can also use it as a freeview set top box at home (i think) 
its an 8in x4 tech . 
im in london and have been impressed with the quality of the picture from the aerial. 
below is the model spec. 

Forum Discussion About Difficult Cranes:

Writer 1: Anybody hate their crane ??????? ehhhhhhhh?????? anybody like to give it a good kicking?? cant quite figure out the timing ?? horrible slew brake?? cab that shakes to F*** every time you look at the levers ??? small and uncomfortable cabs ??? ehhhh??? anyone like to break off the levers and chew em before hurtling them out the window??
Writer 4: There was a haunted Jaso crane in Dublin that still operates that I for one hold up my hands and say that I still dont know what the F*** was going on there,I could'nt conquer it at all, it was certainly haunted as it had a mind of its own and made the strangest noises ever , not ya run of the mill crane groans but horrible fooking screeching all day, when trolleying back the trolley would suddenly get a massive bump and shake the whole jib like F***,when slewing as I came to the mark it would stop as normal and then suddenly the whole jib would violently shake sending the load beserk making me look like a tw*at driver,I dont know whether it was a violently deranged slew brake with a mind of its own or what and I dont give a F*** either long as I never see that crane again,nice vertical ladder it had up to it too,lovely, I felt numb driving home after driving that bas*tard and had to lie down a horrible horrible cu*nt of a crane,I hope they fooking cut it up with giant skill saws and melt it down into gates or fenceposts or something,anyone else got a crane they hate ??????????????
Writer 13: when it comes to comfort you cant beat a saez insainly small cab, a fixed seat off a site dumper. no form off adjustment so you can have a decent kip oh and the only way to get in the cab is to clime over said seat. and not forgeting dead man on the levers that make your fingers bleed keepin the ba****ds up.apart from that not a bad crane

Forum Discussion About Summer Heat In A Crane:

Writer 1: not looking forward to this summers heat.i hate the heat when you are up crane.winter is the best, you feel cold nock the heat up one in the summer you feel hot you feel like hitting someone .
can anybody tell me why there is no aircon. NO I WILL TELL YOU THEN
i rang my boss two years ago when it was hot 51 degrees in the cab ,site managers told me to come down the crane it was so hot.
my dear boss said its just another reason for drivers to refuse to climb the crane when it stops when you have no heat .which is true because if i had no heat the site has no driver.but come on the summers are getting hotter and iam getting fatter i need cool air ...
anybody else find summer stressfull please tell 
Writer 4: Luckily some cabs heaters can be set to cold, but your dead right there aint nothing worse than sweating like a *astard on a hot Summers day up a cab, even with all the doors and windows open its horrible, except for those celestial moments when a cool breeze blows over the entire cab,like Nigella Lawson just breathed on yer , oooooooooooooooooooo, ,on days like this one feels like a lion after a heavy feed that wants to lie down,its Spring now anyway, wont be long before the sellotape and news papers will be going up on the windows to keep out that sun.
Writer 6: Top tip lads - Get yourselves one of those beaded car seat covers.  Nothing like it for promoting air flow in the crack of doom on those hot summer days 
Writer 9: that hot summer a couple of years ago, the site my bruv was on put a water cooler in his cab!! freezing cold water on tap! bloody brilliant. What is the score with heat?? soon as i am out of juice i am down for a refill or get the good old slinger to bring some up. He gets a shock when he sees me sat in my skiddies looking like a porn star!!
Writer 10: Gives me cause to wonder Merlin what can you imagine would be the most uncomfortable outfit you could wear for a days driving?????????? I think a pair of pinch tight jeans (the type that chokes yer knackers like a python curling around a rat) with a hand knitted heavy jumper with no t-shirt on underneath and marching boots with gimp leather face mask and ear muffs the size of dinner plates, anyone else got anything they can think of, the more ridiculous the more we will respect you.

Are you a narky *astard of a driver ,ready to be a source of abuse and grief at slightest oportunity ? or are you a nice driver willing to help anyone to get through the day easy before you go home ? this special quiz trys to answer these questions, answer A , B or C, collect points and see how you get on at the end.......................... 

Q.1 Whilst walking to the canteen a member of site management innocently cracks a joke about drivers pretending its too windy, do you................ 
(a) Laugh lightly and continue on yer way with yer sensible lunch in yer bag and sit down . 
(b) Firmly but not rudely tell him that the wind speed is obove the recommended limit and your hands are tied on the matter. 
(c) Grab him in a choke hold till his face turns blue, the banksman rushes in and manages to persuade you to stop. 
Q.2 A self erecter driver has inadvertently slewed into yer path dropping off some shutters, do you 
(a) Wait for him to slew outta the way, you drove them before yerself and know that its hard enough driving on the ground sometimes. 
(b) Ask him to slew outta the way as soon as the load is down. 
(c) Scream down the radio to get that fooking pile of sh*ite outta the way quick smart or there'll be trouble. 
Q.3 A scaffolder relizes that he wanted the stillage over another ten metres to the left, do you .............. 
(a) Say no probs into the radio, cheerfully slewing another ten metres left. 
(B) Remark to the banksman that them scaffloders are always changing their minds whilst bringing it over. 
(c)Slam it down on the slab where it is shrieking like a maniac for them all to F*** off. 
Q.4 A load of Romanians are doing the pour on the concrete, they want you to follow them around so that they dont have to rake it all over the place , do you................. 
(A) Diligently jab the levers ,controlling the skip smoothly travelling where they need the concrete. 
(B) Wave yer hand to them saying yes but mutter under yer breath that they are letting the concrete out too fast and to give yer a chance to adjust. 
(c) F*** THEM !!! 
Q.5 Its starting to get a liitle windy but not too serious, do you.............. 
(a) Keep an eye on the windclock and be extra cautios in case someone hurts themselves. 
(b) Tell the banksman that its getting a little windy,we can keep working but no shutters you are both in agreement. 
(c) Block up, radio off , you use this opportunity to ring up yer Missus and tell her you fooking hate her or get stuck into yer porn. 
Q.6 The foreman who is actually a sound head and well liked by the crane staff walks into the craneys hut on the break, do you............... 
(a) Shout alright mate with all the other lads and ask him does he want a cuppa as their is still twenty minutes left. 
(b) Give a reserved hello and be friendly watching what yer say though ,as he is management and you have to watch what yer say. 
(c) Stare at him when he says hello saying nothing with a look that would give Charles Manson the creeps. 
Q.6 A fumbling but friendly safety officer calls a toolbox talk for the craneys and banksmen, do you................ 
(a) Sit there with the rest of the lads outlining safety concerms that you feel need to be addressed, but listening to everyones point of view aswell. 
(b) Sit there and laugh at the corny jokes it'll all be over in a while, you've been driving twenty years and know bettre than most. 
(c) Sit there fuming for no particular reason suddenly bursting out with an unintelligible rant about how the brickies are all *unts and noone understands F*** all in this kip, kick over a couple of chairs on the way out. 
Q.7 Another craney comes over the radio asking you to slew left please as he just wants to get a couple of blocks in, you havent even got a load on yer ropes and have'nt done a lift in hours, do you............. 
(a) Say no probs mate slewing outta the way in moments giving each other a friendly wave as yer do so, 
(b) As obove. 
(c) Shout "listen yer *unt, I'm the Daddy on this site , the big crane does'nt have to give way so BO*LLOCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
Q.8 The banksman makes a small series of mistakes during work, he is not at it too long and apoligizes, do you.............. 
(a) Remember when you were banking and the mistakes you made and carry on regardless. 
(b) Your a bit annoyed but as we've said yer know better, yer driving twenty years for Petes sake. 
(c) Yer up in Wormwood Scrubs prision, the judge gave you a whole life tariff over what yer did, (gulp) 
Q.9 Whilst walking to the canteen a harmless but annoying brickie makes a silly comment about not getting his lifts, do you............... 
(a) Say "sorry mate, but we really are quite busy, but I shall do my best for you after the break,cheerio". 
(b) Inform him that the crane is busy and if he has a problem to address it to the crane co ordinater, yer not being smart with him yer just telling him whats going on. 
(c) Use yer army training to trip him up and jump on top of him brandishing a bowie knife up to his throat gibbering incoherently that yer gonna cut his fooking gizzard out, a banksman starts pleading "no mate , leave it, its twenty fooking yers mate, for fooks sake calm down man". 
Q.10 Yer walk into the pub across the road on Friday evening where all the drivers and banksmen are, do you.................. 
(a) Shout hello and pull out yer money buying around for everyone quicksmart. 
(b) Just sit down with yer cash and buy a round for the banksmen that you know yerself. 
(c) Pull yer wages outta yer pocket and sniff the fresh crisp notes as if it were Nigella Lawsons's scants before ordering two pints, one for yerself and one for ermmmmmm yerself before sitting down and getting drunk pi*ssing everyone else off with yer rude banter. 
If most of yer answers were A or B yer a sound head who likes an easy life with no probs,yer there to earn a living and no more...................... 

If yers answer were mostly C , yer a belligerent *astard who gives noone a chance,yer only happy when yer being a *unt, anything sets you off, its like driving a lorry load of nitro gylicerine around a stock car track on a good Saturday, CHILL OUT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Makeup, Or The Tyranny Of Truth: Extract from J. Lichtenstein's "The Eloquence of Colour" #2

The Three Graces By Peter Paul Rubens, Museo Del Prado Madrid


"Deceitful makeup spread over paintings with an adulterous talent"
Hugh of St Victor Didascalion

"Ornament may be necessary to Beauty, but too much ornament ruins nature and truth. Thus we might sum up an aesthetics that dominates throughout the Middle Ages and to the Classical Age, and from which our discourse has never really departed. This principle, as we recall, implies a distinction essential to all metaphysical aesthetics, which allow the separation of the wheat from the tares, the distinction of ornament from make-up. Used to excess, ornament becomes makeup and dissimulates the truth instead of bringing it to light. This rule applies to discourse as well as painting. In the first case, it concerns the din of words, indulgence in metaphors, and overabundance of tropes, accused of masking things and obscuring the purity of the idea. In the other, it has as its target the brilliance of colours that are criticized for hiding the figure, for burying  the drawing and corrupting its effectiveness.

Metaphysics has always taught the secrets of cosmetics that apply indiscriminately to language, the image and the face. The same knowledge offers a delicate way to highlight the structure of a face by thinning the eyebrows, defining the mouth, shading the eyelids, or hollowing the cheeks; the subtle ability to shade a concept, underline an idea, illuminate an opposition; or the skill to tone down a line or a colour in a drawing. In each case, the prescription is the same: ornament must not be seen but must make its object visible, it must show without showing itself. The difficult techniques of makeup clearly confirm the ancient saying that art must always remain invisible. If a faint shadow transforms and eye into a glance and thus marks the passage from insignificance to existence, makeup that is too lavish, by contrast, takes on the unreality of a mask.

The constant warning against the dangers of artifice whose effect is not self-effacing, the continual distrust of ornament that shows itself as such instead of hiding, attests to a fear that tradition consistently upholds. It is a profoundly ambiguous fear, expressing the simultaneous and conflicting fear of being deceived and desire to be deceived. For artifice, accuse of trapping the subject in a web of culpable seduction and illicit pleasure, is also asked not to display itself or reveal its own procedure. If artifice indeed deceives, then art is obliged to be doubly deceptive, as if the victim’s ignorance legitimated the artifice and art shed its guilt at the very moment that it became a lie rather than a simple ornament. Perhaps aesthetic pleasure is philosophically acceptable only if it is born, not of seduction, but dupery.

Most of the difficulties raised by the question of artifice, indeed, stem from the fact that it always conflates two very different problems: that of deception, which concerns the objective and perceptible effects of artifices, and that of the deceiver, which has to do with the moral investigation of intentions. The analysis of art’s effects falls back onto that of the ends that the artist sets for himself in artistic creation. Such an operation tends to omit the aesthetic question proper, since it uses psychological and moral categories that apply to the subject-painter to interpret the object-painting. On the contrary, in distinguishing the artist’s sincerity from art’s deceptions, Roger de Piles shows his intent to dissociate the two perspectives. When he defines the essence of painting as deception, this notion has no moral implications. It does not claim to judge an intentionality but a perceptible effect. The psychological analysis to which it refers does not involve the relations between artist and art but those between a painting and its viewer. The fact that art depends on artifice does not warrant the conclusion that its character is more deceptive.

Paradoxically, a purely aesthetic position like that of Roger de Piles is the only one that can avoid moral criticism, since its asks artifice to show itself, that is, to show how it deceives. But we have already encountered this paradox in the analysis of rhetorical representation. To throw the accusation of deception back onto philosophers, Quintillian had only to show that eloquent discourse, based on effects alone, was never deceptive, unlike philosophical discourse that claimed to be the discourse of truth. Roger de Piles’ procedure for turning all the prudish critiques of the artifice of coloris back onto their authors is analogous. He affirms that artifice in painting is not deceptive, since it presents itself to the eye as an object of delectation. It is not a deception but an effect of deception that the viewer enjoys only if the deceptive effect dissolves as soon as it acts on him. In this sense the aesthetic experience, unlike the image often given of it, is inseparable from the movement of reflexivity that characterizes consciousness. It demands an instantaneous reflexivity and an especially sharp wit, since conscious processing must occur at the same instant that the perceiving subject vacillates. Here, the reflexive distance implies not detachment from the object but rather recognition of its seductive charms; the gaze no sooner recovers from its surprise than it delights in the object that has captivated it. Critics accuse painting of being a deception on the pretext that it is only an appearance. But this is precisely the point: it is but an appearance of deception, a lie that deceives only the naïve who do not know how, or do not like, to look; a deception that does not really deceive, since it shows itself. On the contrary, when artifice hides, then it becomes truly deceptive in the moral sense of the term –a blatant falsehood.

Such is the paradox underlying most discourses that set forth rules in the art of cosmetics. They use a logic of truth whose ultimate reference and sole criterion is nature. Naturalist thought, by refusing to grant the pleasures of artifice the slightest legitimacy, forces artifice to disguise itself as nature… Nietzsche says that art’s illusions, unlike those of science, philosophy or religion, are not lies because they do not try to pass for truths but present themselves simply as what they are…To ask art to hide itself obliges art, in a sense, to pay homage to nature. A referential logic of truth thus replaces an aesthetic approach to seduction. And his obliges art to become what metaphysics has always claimed it was: a deception of the subject, a lie about reality."

Saturday, 6 November 2010

A Red Rubber Band On the Pavement

Freedom Of Information Request To Royal Mail by Steve Woods, 10 December 2008:

Dear Sir or Madam,
I cannot help noticing that all the streets round my area of Bristol are frequently littered with the rubber bands used to collate bundles of post for mail deliveries. In the light of this could you inform me:

1. How many elastic bands - in terms of either numbers or weight - does the Royal Mail procure and/or consume per year?

2. How many postal delivery workers have been fined or successfully prosecuted for dropping litter (i.e. the said elastic bands) in the last year for which records are available?

3. What steps are being made by the Royal Mail to stop such littering and to recycle elastic bands?

Yours faithfully,
Steve Woods


Royal Mail Group Limited Reply 12 January 2009:

Dear Mr Woods,

Thank you for your request for information by e mail received on the 10th December 2008. We can confirm Royal Mail holds this information. In your request you specifically asked for:

1. How many elastic bands - in terms of either numbers or weight -does the Royal Mail procure and/or consume per year?

For the last three years, the number of rubber bands used by Royal Mail was:

2007/8 871,695,000
2006/7 825,750,000
2005/6 753,480,000

2. How many postal delivery workers have been fined or successfully prosecuted for dropping litter (i.e. the said elastic bands) in the last year for which records are available?

Royal Mail Group has not been served with a fixed penalty notice or prosecuted for a littering offence under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 arising from the discarding of elastic bands. Royal Mail Group would
not necessarily become aware of such action being taken against individuals. However, we are not aware of any delivery officer having been prosecuted for littering when discarding elastic bands.

3. What steps are being made by the Royal Mail to stop such littering and
to recycle elastic bands?

Royal Mail re-uses many millions of rubber bands each year and bands are generally re-used within delivery offices and mail centres. We remind our people about the benefits of re-using bands and also ask them not to discard them after use.

Royal Mail uses millions of rubber bands each year because they are very useful when it comes to sorting and delivering the mail. Unfortunately, given the quantity that we use it is inevitable that some rubber bands will be dropped by mistake. The vast majority of our people are hard working and conscientious but, and as with any labour intensive organisation, errors will occasionally happen. Issues concerning the environment are very important to us, in particular those of street cleanliness and recycling. The rubber bands we use are specifically designed to be more biodegradable than the normal brown rubber bands and this is intended to lessen the environmental impact.

Going forwards we have a number of process reengineering initiatives that should reduce the volume of elastic bands we use in our operation:
• collection reengineering
• customer traying
• Reengineering mail handling equipment

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request you do have a right to request an internal review, in which case please write to the Head of Information Compliance, Royal Mail House, Company Secretary's Office, 5th Floor, 148 Old Street, LONDON, EC1V 9HQ. An internal panel will then review the request, and you will be advised of the outcome.

If, having requested an internal review by Royal Mail, you are still not
satisfied with our response you also have a right of appeal to the
Information Commissioner at:
Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Telephone: 01625 545 700

Yours sincerely,
Marie Teasdale
Freedom of Information Case Officer
Company Secretary's Office