Category Archives: aesthetics

Icons of erotic art #56

In the history of 20th century eroticaWalter Sickert kicks off the era with a series of oils known as the The Camden Town Nudes.

Nuit dété (Summer Night) [above] is one of them. Sickert’s erotica is exemplary of the cult of ugliness. Nevertheless, I like his nudes better than Lucian Freud’s, which belong to the same ‘cult of ugliness’ category. Of note is also that Sickert wrote of eroticism in the visual arts in writings such as “The Naked and the Nude“.

I say “writings“, but I’m not sure he did more writing on the nude than this one.

RIP Sunny Murray (1936 – 2017)

Sunny Murray was an American musician, one of the pioneers of the free jazz style of drumming.

His album Sonny’s Time Now (1965) is in the Top Ten Free Jazz Underground.

On that record Amiri Baraka reads his controversial 1965 poem “Black Art” (above) which features the line “we want poems that kill”, an instance of the aestheticization of violence.

A book about nothing, or, in praise of plotlessness and the antinovel

I’m rereading Writing on Drugs by Sadie Plant, a book which is brilliant in its lateral connections, arguing amongst other things that the Industrial Revolution in England goes hand in hand with the legal use of opium as recreational drug.

Speaking of opium, I’ve published a photo of an oozing, exuding, secreting and leaking poppy seed head.

But that’s not what I wanted to show you.

On page 47 in Writing on Drugs is Flaubert and he is cited stating his desire to write ‘a book about nothing‘ (‘un livre sur rien’), in other words a plotless novel, an antinovel as it were.

“What strikes me as beautiful, what I would like to do, is a book about nothing, a book with no external tie, which would support itself by its internal force of style, a book which would have hardly any subject or at least where the subject would be almost invisible, if that can be so.” (Flaubert, Letters 170).

Amazing.

Did Flaubert fulfil his ambition?

Maybe he did. The closest he came to writing about nothing was in his Bouvard et Pécuchet and Dictionary of Received Ideas.

The sinister silence of the Laocoön marble

A depiction by Charles Bell of of the Laocoon marble in The Anatomy and Philosophy of Expression

Laocoon marble: a depiction.

Surprise! David Toop in Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener (see prev. post [1]) does not refer to the Laocoon marble. Granted, Toop mentions The Scream by Munch, which is the direct heir to the Laocoon.

The Laocoon is central to the ekphrasis concept, and the ekphrasis concept should be central to the “Act of silence” and “Art of silence” chapters in Sinister Resonance.

In fact, the whole area of writing about music is an act of ekphrastic transposition, some have even found completely nonsensical, testimony to this is the famous maxim “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

PS: I was glad to see that Toop cites Victor Stoichita, an author who writes about the self-reflexivity of painting in the same way that Toop writes about sound culture.

PPS: Jahsonic loves the work of David Toop, who is part of his canon, so any criticism you read in this post is non-existent.

“One can look at seeing but one can’t hear hearing” –Duchamp

I want to read Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener.

”Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener” (2010) by David Toop
[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Back in 2007, I attended[1] a lecture by David Toop. The title was Ways of Hearing.

In 2010, this lecture crystallized as the book Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener.

On the cover is a detail of «Soplones», nº 48 of Goya series Los Caprichos.

It is a book about listening, the way sound is portrayed in painting and other “silent arts”, about arts that involve sound, about the resonance of architecture, about auditory artefacts and about self-reflexivity.

Michaelangelo Matos called it “an exploration of sound in novels, poems, and paintings from before the era of sound reproduction.”

Threaded through the book is Marcel Duchamp’s observation “One can look at seeing but one can’t hear hearing” and his concept of the infrathin, those human experiences so fugitive that they exist only in the imaginative absences of perception.

David Toop is always interesting, he introduced me to the eavesdropper paintings by 17th century Dutch painter Nicolaes Maes and the concept of silence in painting.

A certain Guilherme Werneck has made a pinterest board consisting of a “visual guide” to Sinister Resonance.

Toop’s magnum opus is Ocean of Sound.

See also my current research on medium specificity.

A nude woman isn’t indecent

Via peeking into Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (mentioned in previous post[1]) come Diderot’s thoughts on the difference between decency and indecency, or, by extension, the difference between erotica and pornography. According to Diderot, “it is the difference between a woman who is seen and a woman who exhibits herself.”

Here are Diderot’s thoughts in full from an unidentified translation:

“A nude woman isn’t indecent. It’s the lavishly decked out woman who is. Imagine the Medici Venus is standing in front of you, and tell me if her nudity offends you. But shoe this Venus’ feet with two little embroidered slippers. Dress her in tight white stockings secured at the knee with rose-colored garters. Place a chic little hat on her head, and you’ll feel the difference between decent and indecent quite vividly. It’s the difference between a woman seen and a woman displaying herself. (translator unidentified[2], probably John Goodman)

French original:

“Une femme nue n’est point indécente. C’est une femme troussée qui l’est. Supposez devant vous la Vénus de Médicis, et dites-moi si sa nudité vous offensera. Mais chaussez les pieds de cette Vénus de deux petites mules brodées. Attachez sur son genou avec des jarretières couleur de rose un bas blanc bien tiré. Ajustez sur sa tête un bout de cornette, et vous sentirez fortement la différence du décent et de l’indécent. C’est la différence d’une femme qu’on voit et d’une femme qui se montre.”

Please do not take Diderot too seriously when it comes to eroticism, I’ve previously written on Diderot’s hypocrisy. In my view, if it isn’t indecent, it isn’t erotic. That is why I do not consider many pieces of erotic art, erotic at all since they do not provoke erotic arousal. Shame is the most powerful aphrodisiac.

Poetry is like painting, cooking, and cosmetics

Title page[1] from the Carlos Schwabe illustrations for Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal.

I have no clue what plant it is (a flesh-eating plant perhaps?), nor if it is real or imaginary, but I’m pretty sure it fits in the horticultural horror category.

Additionally, as far as I know, this illustration is the only literal interpretation of the flowers of evil.

One thing inevitably leads to another:

On opening my copy of The Romantic Agony for the nth time brought up this passage:

“That poetry is like the arts of painting, cooking, and cosmetics in its ability to express every sensation of sweetness or bitterness, of beatitude or horror, by coupling a certain noun with a certain adjective, in analogy or contrast” writes Baudelaire in an unpublished preface to a 2nd preface of The Flowers of Evil (translation by Marthiel and Jackson Mathews).

Beautiful isn’t it, this trying to connect poetry to cuisine and cosmetics via adjectives and nouns in logical combinations, evoking diverse sentiments?

See also: literature and olfaction, synesthesia and literature, paragone and ekphrasis.

Metafiction, metapoetry, metatheatre, metafilm and metapainting

I was in my teens. One day, on television, an Italian film. The central scene takes place at a movie theater. A cowboy in a Western film points his gun at the theatre and pulls the trigger, killing one of the viewers in the audience.

When examined by the police, the projection screen reveals a small bullet hole.

Each time the film with in the film is played back someone else is shot. The last victim, a policeman who knows the shot is coming and who tries to evade the gunman by running up and down the theatre is followed by the cowboy, who merely adjusts his aim and mercilessly guns the man down. The cowboy then throws his cigar butt through the screen, which — if my memory doesn’t fail me — is later found by the police.

The film left an indelible impression on my teen brain and only after many years I found out it is called Closed Circuit (central scene on Vimeo).

What this cowboy did was breaking the fourth wall. Breaking the fourth wall indicates self-awareness of the medium and can be found in all the arts. The practice is usually designated by the prefix “meta- ” + “art form x.”

There is metafictionmetapoetrymetatheatremetafilm and metapainting. All of these have meta-references, meaning that they reference themselves, they are self-referential.

Related terms to self-referentiality include mise en abyme, the Droste effectrecursionMatryoshka dollsstory within a story and tautology.

I like it a lot.

The eeriness of hanging, dripping mosses

Following my previous post[1], Paul Rumsey identifies the mystery print[2] as one from the hand of Georg Lemberger, an Austrian artist so obscure he does not even have an English language Wikipedia page.

One of Lemberger’s paintings, Saint George Freeing the Princess (Lemberger)[3], has an Italian-language Wikipedia page, which I’ve partly translated and partly augmented:

The scene takes place in a fantastic forest. St George is preparing to face the monstrous dragon, hitting him with a spear, while the horse rears its head and front legs, according to the traditional iconography.

On the left the princess kneels in prayer.

Despite the small size of the work, it is emblematic of the role of landscape in the German art, full of fantastic effects and symbolic meanings, which characterizes the Danube School.

The trees are particularly elongated, and seem to germinate the one above the other, waving their spectral fronds, like in a dream vision.

The forest has a feeling of great mossy humidity and the branches of the trees seem to be covered with hanging, dripping mosses, like Spanish moss.

The feeling of being lost in the dark forest prevails and the work conveys a sense of the unknown, dominated by mysterious forces of nature.

The fascinating and revolting love lives of gastropoda

Having recently seen the documentary film Microcosmos (to be viewed in its entirety on Vimeo here[1]), I’d like to share these two pictures of snails mating.

These images are instances of zoological horror or the zoological fantastique, depending on your view.

Both horror and the fantastique are just as much rooted in fascination as in revulsion, ergo in ambiguity of emotions. And what could be more ambivalent and cause more ‘mixed feelings’ than slimy slugs and snails ‘getting it on’, an act which may involve hermaphroditism, firing love darts (a source of the Cupid myth, state some sources), apophallation (gnawing at stuck penises) and even sexual cannibalism?

Of course, the attentive reader will have noticed that in the photo of ‘Courtship in the edible snail, Helix pomatia’ the soft bodies of the snails look exactly like the labia majora of an adult female human mammal.

It needs not to be said that the whole field of animal sexuality is highly fascinating and has been represented in art not often enough. Apart from Microcosmos, there has been Green Porno and the magnificent films of Jean Painlevé (Acera, or the Witches’ Dance[2] comes to mind).