Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Activating the Work of Art

A woman looking at a Picasso painting
Photo from the art blog of The Guardian 
Our gaze must strike the object in such a way that it awakens something within it that springs up to meet the intention....The intensive observer finds that something leaps out at him from the object, enters into him, takes possession of him....This language of the intentionless truth (that is to say, of the object itself) possesses authority....It leaps into existence as the result of an immersion of the object in itself provoked by the external gaze.
          ~ Walter Benjamin

But how does the work of art become suspended in a sleep of latency to begin with? I suggest that the act of creation imparts to the artwork, as if by osmosis, a tendency to sequestration, a tendency similar to the riddling, metaphysical hiddenness of consciousness itself. As such, a work of art opens up a space of self-concealment -- a space parallel, tangent, and complementary to the artist's consciousness. This sideways volume of being involves an aesthetic strangeness that is cut off from the conventional, from normality. The artist's imagination, operating under the influence of eccentric time, infuses the artwork with that eccentric time. The artwork thus exists off-world, so to speak, concealed or suspended in a different dimension. 

But what is involved with the special gaze of Benjamin's "intensive observer?" How does one generate that intensity, so the work of art is awakened from suspended animation? 

I think the special angle of looking has to do with the opposite of a conquering, appropriating, analyzing gaze. The aggressive stare frightens an artwork, keeps it from coming to presence, holds it in a cloistered condition. The more dominating the gaze, the farther the artwork retreats into itself. I'm sure you've read descriptions of artworks written by experts in exhibition catalogs. To me, those sophisticated folks are blinded by their own analytical gazing. The artwork becomes a mirror reflecting conventional attitudes, hand-me-down assessments, and historical fixations. Institutional formalism should, I think, be left at the gallery door before entering; it interferes with the "leap" of an artwork's off-world authority into the observer's consciousness. 

The genuine activating gaze, that intensive seeing must have instead something to do with naivete, with an emptying-out of preconception and knowingness, with a filling-in of tense wonder. That special way of looking then causes the artwork to stir from its metaphysical shadows, to show itself within its eccentric zone of the tangential. 

Benjamin is that "aura" guy. I suspect that the awakening, the activating of an artwork takes place only in the presence of the original. A reproduction is latent with only a semblance of eccentric time, with only an ostensible possibility of engagement. Drained of aura and pulsating presence, the work of art as reproduction can only dimly divulge its secrets to the intensive gaze. 


Walter Benjamin, 1892 - 1940

Monday, January 30, 2017

Finally, a Russian!

I've been searching a long time for a true Russian to play Rachmaninoff's "Prelude No. 5 in G minor, Op. 23."

The best I had come up with, until now, was Sviatoslav Richter's version. It's almost perfect.

Today, I found perfection. Boris Beresovky.

Why is this the case?

His tempo is slow enough for the creation of sufficient spiritual energy to gather around the written music. And during this gathering, old Slavic ambiances are drawn into the inexorable swirl. This fellow digs down into the vodka-hued substance.

When the tempo is too fast, cultural inflection and archetypal rhythm aren't allowed to emerge from the score. It's a waste of time listening to this -- my favorite prelude -- when it's played too swiftly, played by those who either hector or are indifferent to the Russian musical spirits. This composition must be played with a breathed poise and a cultural sensitivity. Otherwise, its peculiar blend of polka and gravitas -- as if emblematic of a bronze horse's statuesque strutting -- will be missed.

I don't know anything about this pianist, other than what his prelude performance reveals -- a Slavic character and an artistic imagination. For all I know, everything else he has recorded sucks. I tend to doubt it, though.

Apparently, the CD is unavailable from primary sources but can be ordered from Amazon's associated sellers:

The Discovery of Chance

I'm currently reading this book about the Russian Alexander Herzen, and it's holding my attention:


Here's a review:

The Living Truth

*    *    *

03 - 10 - 2017

Okay. I finished reading this book. I think it is a well-written and interesting thing. My only real complaint is that Herzen doesn't come to vivid presence. So much is about ideas, to the point that the subject himself seems diffuse, hard to grasp as a solid being.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Unseen Pages

In the 1760s, a loose association of writers that might or might not have existed was scattered across Germany. From Baden to Bavaria, from the Black Forest to river cities, a diffuse band of eccentrics wrote treatises, stories, poems, and meditations. All of their inspirations had a center of gravity or allusive subtext concerned with the mystery of aesthetics and the eeriness of being. I’ll assume this shadowy group of writers did indeed exist. That way, I’ll be able to continue writing this essay.
The first stirrings of what would become known as German Romanticism were in the air — in the morning fogs drifting above rivers, through forests, around the forms of Gothic architecture.
The Society of Mutual Dreamers met twice a year – on the summer and winter solstices – at an undisclosed location. Karl Gottfried Fenstermacher (I’ll give him that name), who lived in the Black Forest, would bring to these gatherings the petals from a pale flower that grew in the shade of quietly troubled, darkly murmuring trees. During the secret meetings, attendees would partake of a liquid concoction distilled from those pale petals. They would collectively hallucinate into one another’s dreams and nightmares. They were determined, based on questionable hypotheses and principles, to derive or abstract a universal truth. They wished to touch the sleeping fabric of being, to examine its texture.
During these convergences into dreamland, they would compare impressions and mentally sketch stupefied rudiments for later pages. By such a collective oneiric experience, they hoped the sleeping spirit of the world might disclose a solution to the riddle of beauty and melancholy. These esoteric experiments, therefore, had a basis in Ästhetik und Weltschmerz, and were energized by the possibility of poetic transcendence. 
How is it that they could all appear in each dream simultaneously? No one knows.
Inspired by these sojourns into metaphysical regions, the members would return to their homes and write about imagination and abyss. They wrote pages that have never been recovered.
Friends, relatives, villagers, and city dwellers, who went about their conventional routines and thought their conventional thoughts, began to notice something odd about those dispersed members of The Society of Mutual Dreamers. At first, it was an aura of distractedness hovering around their personalities. It was as if, when spoken to, those literary eccentrics paid only half attention to what was being said.
Eventually, the situation became more dramatic, or perhaps tragic. The various odd ones began to appear anemic and pale. The collective condition worsened. As they became almost transparent, they were scolded and advised by their unknowing contemporaries to drink more red wine, to build the blood. Soon, none of them was ever seen or heard from again.
They had taken up permanent residence in the atmospheres of old dreams and evocative nightmares. While in those farther precincts, the members of The Society of Mutual Dreamers would convene seminars. They presented their morbidly ecstatic treatises, stories, poems, and meditations based on how it seemed to be in this tangent world. Those written works were very strange and very beautiful and very profound. They have also never been recovered in our waking world. But in the natural time of mornings and the quiet time of evenings, a gist of those unseen pages would occasionally sigh through trees, villages, and cities. How is that possible? No one knows.
One late afternoon, a young man – Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, also known as Novalis – was strolling through a grove of brooding trees in the Harz Mountains. That same pale flower also grew there. Novalis would kneel to breathe the fragrance of that flower, but it never occurred to him to render the petals into an occult liqueur. Nonetheless, he was now on his way to becoming odd. The wind picked up, and Novalis heard the ghosts of impressions from the lost Society of Mutual Dreamers. He heard and could almost read those lost pages drifting from the realm of great dreaming. About Novalis, Hermann Hesse would later allude to a new poetic dimension, to marvelous and mysterious work.
Some of Novalis’s pages have been seen:

“The more poetic, the more real.”

By Tim Buck

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Violinist Carolin Widmann

I have two CDs by her -- Robert Schumann's violin sonatas; three violin and piano works by Franz Schubert. Both of those were revelations for me. Having heard and appreciated these works by others, I was surprised to discover how much artistic, musical possibility was still latent in them. Widmann's versions are astonishing.

I'm looking forward to her newest CD -- concertos by Mendelssohn and Schumann.