Tag Archives: theory

Ah … the ash heap of history, the memory hole … oblivion … silence

The sheet music you see above is one of these great moments in the history of art while no one was paying attention.

That is not quite true. People were paying attention but afterwards everyone forgot.

Ah, the ash heap of history, the memory holeoblivion.

But … What exactly are we looking at?

The first piece of silent music.

It’s called Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man and was first exhibited in 1884 in Paris by a man called Alphonse Allais who lived from 1854 to 1905.

The sheet music was later published in the album Album primo-avrilesque, a collection of monochrome paintings on which I reported back in 2007[1].

RIP Richard Hoggart

[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

RIP Richard Hoggart, 95, British academic and author (The Uses of Literacy).

My interest in Hoggart?

There was a time I was obsessed by the overlapping areas of high culture and low culture (nobrow!) and the notion of cultural pessimismcommodity fetishism and commodification (think CocacolonizationDisneyficationMcDonaldizationWalmarting) and false consciousness and whathaveyounot (all essentially notions of Marxist cultural criticism).

I think this was due to my interest in sexual fetishism (hence the link to commodity fetishism) and my reading of Dick Hebdige and being into popular music and against state funding of the arts and being affectionate of the beautiful loser.

Things have changed, my interests have become less fanatical. But I’m still against drab intellectualism and in favor of the best of the body genres.

Why is it that what appeals to our imagination in poetry will not please our eyes when painted?

Page from "Letter on the Deaf and Dumb" which illustrates Denis Diderot's take on medium specificity

 

There is one page (above, [1][2]) in “Letter on the Deaf and Dumb” on which Diderot illustrates the concept of medium specificity down to a T.

At the top of the page is a musical composition represented by musical notation. Below that is a drawing of a reclining woman.

Both represent a dying woman.

Diderot answers the question “why is it that what appeals to our imagination in poetry will not please our eyes when painted?

Being charmed and moved, isn’t that what it’s all about?

I have an aversion to Immanuel Kant, especially his aesthetics (that’s the only thing I actually know something about, I have to admit).

While in general I don’t ‘do’ negative criticism, I’m making an exception for the man from Köningsberg [the town where he was born and where he died and which he never left].

I first mentioned his incomprehensible concept of disinterestedness here[1].

Innocence (1893) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau: Both young children and lambs are symbols of innocence

Innocence (1893) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Today, while researching kitsch (most recently explored here[2]), I came upon another and similar of his dicta. This one warns us for charm and emotion in matters of taste:

“Any taste remains barbaric if its liking requires that charms and emotions be mingled in, let alone if it makes these the standard of its approval”.

I’m stumped.

Being charmed and moved, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Not for Kant it would appear.

And then I remembered one of my favorite definitions of aesthetics.

“Some of the meaning of aesthetic as an adjective can be illuminated by comparing it to anaesthetic, which is by construction an antonym of aesthetic. If something is anaesthetic, it tends to dull the senses, cause sleepiness and induce boredom. In contrast, aesthetic may be thought of as anything that tends to enliven or invigorate or wake one up.”

matter of life and death, so to speak.

 

“By Allah, this story is my story and this case is my case”

Currently reading  De Zahir.

I’m currently reading  De Zahir.

One sentence in “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges caught my attention.

“I remembered too that night which is at the middle of the Thousand and One Nights when Scheherazade (through a magical oversight of the copyist) begins to relate word for word the story of the Thousand and One Nights, establishing the risk of coming once again to the night when she must repeat it, and thus on to infinity…”

Marina Warner in Stranger Magic points to “Readings and Re-Readings of Night 602” by Evelyn Fishburn which identifies the night Borges refers to as the “Tale of the Two kings and the Wazir’s Daughters“.

“By Allah, this story is my story and this case is my case,” shouts the king when he finds out that Scheherazade is telling him his frame tale.

Again in the words of Borges (from “Magias parciales del Quijote“) in which he calls that night a “magic night among the nights”:

“The King hears his own story from the Queen’s mouth. He hears the beginning of the story, which embraces all the others as well as – monstrously – itself. Does the reader really understand the vast possibilities of that interpolation, the curious danger – that the Queen may persist and the Sultan, immobile, will hear forever the truncated story of A Thousand and One Nights, now infinite and circular?”[1]

This passage illustrates the concepts of infinite regress, the Droste effect and metafiction.

True or not? Actors were once considered ‘professional liars’ and denied a Christian burial

Adrienne Lecouvreur as Cornelia  by Charles-Antoine Coypel

Too often I have been disappointed in trivia I had learnt as a teenager which I had for many years accepted as common knowledge, like the fact that eskimoes have an inordinate amount of words for the word ‘snow’, or the Victorians being prudish to the point that they covered their piano legs with embroidery to hide them from view.

Both the story of the snow and the piano legs turned out to be common misconceptions.

So I am pleased that what I had always accepted as fact, that actors were denied a Christian burial, does appear to be true.

Proof: French actress Adrienne Lecouvreur (1692 – 1730) who was refused a Christian burial by the Catholic Church upon which her friend Voltaire wrote the caustic poem, “Sur la mort d’Adrienne Lecouvreur“.

Why were actors refused a Christian burial?

Because — according to them — an actor is a liar.

This goes back to Plato, who said that fiction is untruth and untruths are lies. And we should not tell our children lies if we do not want to corrupt them.

Following his reasoning, actors are actually professional liars

Illustration: Adrienne Lecouvreur as Cornelia by Charles-Antoine Coypel

I am a god in the deepest core of my thoughts

A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (1819–23) by Francisco de Goya

Detail of A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (1819–23) by Francisco de Goya

I’m a stickler for firsts and origins, almost childishly so, or at least obsessively.

While researching Goya I stumbled on a letter by Goya to Bernardo de Iriarte dated January 4, 1794, in which I read:

I have devoted myself to painting a group of pictures in which I have succeeded in making observations for which there is normally no opportunity in commissioned works, which give no scope for fantasy and invention.” (tr. Enriqueta Harris)

Goya’s insistence on his artistic freedom (key to the notion of “romantic originality“) in making art with ‘fantasy‘ and ‘invention‘ “for which there is normally no opportunity in commissioned works” makes this dictum one of the candidates for a Manifesto of Romanticism.

Other dicta which emphasize the egomaniac (wording by Nordau) importance the Romantics placed on untrammelled feeling is the remark of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich that “the artist’s feeling is his law” and William Wordsworth‘s ascertainment that “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings“.

In the Dutch language, the poet Willem Kloos said “I am a god in the deepest core of my thoughts,” giving voice to the Romantic conception of the artist.

Goya was a god too (and perhaps the first Romantic painter) though not a god that sought to please, soothe, nor comfort.

Illustration: A Pilgrimage to San Isidro, one of the black paintings by Goya

‘Libri idiotarum’ and the triumph of Christianity

It’s nice to find a Google query with more hits in Google Books than in Google itself.

Such is the case with “libri idiotarum,” 47 hits in Google [1] and 215 in Google Books[2] (see also the Google NGram view[3].)

Libri idiotarum” means “books of the ignorant” or “books for the illiterate” (idiot did not mean what it means today). The expression was first recorded in a letter by Pope Gregory I:

“For pictorial representation is made use of in Churches for this reason; that such as are ignorant of letters may at least read by looking at the walls what they cannot read in books.”[4]

Gregory refers to paintings, illustrations, sculpture and other visual representations used in Christian art to spread the the gospel in an era when only the clergy and the nobility were able to read.

For these unfortunate illiterate souls, the biblia pauperum (an illustrated bible) was also made.

But apart from being literate or illiterate, a picture is worth a thousand words.

N’est-ce pas?

Illustration: Triumph of Christianity

The details and the big picture

Portrait of Giovanni Morelli by Franz von Lenbach in the Accademia Carrara

I’ve just canonized Giovanni Morelli  (1816 – 1891) and Carlo Ginzburg (born 1939).

Morelli for paying attention to the details, Ginzburg for painting the big picture.

Morelli on the details:

“Except the face, probably no part of the human body is more characteristic, individual, significant, and expressive than the hand; to represent it satisfactorily has ever been one of the chief difficulties which artists have had to contend with, and one which only the greatest have been completely successful in overcoming. Of this, both painting and sculpture afford us ample proof. I have given a few examples of characteristic hands.” —Italian Painters[2]

Ginzburg on the big picture:

“… kinds of knowledge which tend to be unspoken, whose rules […] do not easily lend themselves to being formally articulated or even spoken aloud. Nobody learns how to be a connoisseur or a diagnostician simply by applying the rules. With this kind of knowledge there are factors in play which cannot be measured-a whiff, a glance, an intuition.” –“Morelli, Freud, and Sherlock Holmes

Whiffsglances and intuitions are all examples of infrathin, that fine and fuzzy concept of Marcel Duchamp.

Eerie ears

Ears from Italian Painters

Ears from “Italian Painters”[1]

via

Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method by Carlo Ginzburg, a text famous for connecting Italian art critic Giovanni Morelli, British fictional character Sherlock Holmes and Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud.

From that text:

“Morelli’s books look different from those of any other writer on art. They are sprinkled with illustrations of fingers and ears, careful records of the characteristic trifles by which an artist gives himself away, as a criminal might be spotted by a fingerprint . . . any art gallery studied by Morelli begins to resemble a rogues’ gallery . . .” (Wind 1963:40-41)