Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Exiles, Manicules, New Bibles, Rajput Landscape, Distracted Theory, Things

TLS August 22 & 29 2008

from Clive James's review of Joseph Horowitz's Artists in Exile: How refugees from twentieth century war and revolution transformed the American performing arts:

Not even the basket cases could honestly say that they had fallen among Philistines. They had fallen into a larger competitive market than the one that they had been driven out of, and even if they failed in it they would have liked to succeed.

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Some of them felt limited by the indifference of the audience to anything labelled as art, but there was always a minority audience for that. There was a minority audience even for Schoenberg. On a world scale, Schoenberg's audience . . . is still a minority today, but most of the minority is in America, where minorities are larger.

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European and American culture have always been a two-way interchange and to talk about either of them exclusively is like trying to cut water with a knife. Joseph Horowitz says that Stokowski's dream of a democratic high culture never arrived. But it couldn't, because such a thing, as an aim, can exist only in theory. In practice, a successful artistic event deals with the anomaly by removing it.

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from Adam Smyth's review of William H. Sherman's Used Books: Marking readers in Renaissance England:

The most common addition was the small, pointing hand that marked out a line: a figure which, despite its prevalence, has no standard name. Sherman suggests "manicule" (from maniculum, "a little hand") and provides an absorbing history of four centuries of this diminutive form. Manicules sketched by Petrarch have long index fingers with shaded nails; Boccaccio's curl at the edge into flowers; Archbishop Parker's are chunky; John Dee's wear little cuffs.

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Sir Julius Caesar's massive 1,200-page commonplace book--a digest of six decades of reading by one of England's leading lawyers--illustrates an early modern interest in discontinuous reading, and the removal and subsequent redeployment of fragments. Caesar plucked information from books and distributed it under thematic headings ("Ambassadors", "Bastards", "Parasites", "Perversity", "Shipwrecks", "Tears") to create a powerful research tool that, Sherman suggests, "anticipated the kind of indexed archive now being delivered . . . by Google."

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from Karl Orend's review of books on Henry Miller:

While writing Tropic of Cancer, Miller followed Walt Whitman's injunction to write new Bibles for our times. In J'Suis pas plus con qu'un autre, Miller revealed that he saw Whitman as a Hindu writer. He regarded his own work in similar terms. When helping plan a defence of Cancer, thinking back to one of his most important influences, Proust and his cathedral-book, A la Recherche du temps perdu, Miller likened his own novel to the erotically charged cave temples of India.

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He aimed to explore "potential being" from multiples perspectives . . . . Miller detested linear narrative, and sought, like Proust and Joyce, to replace linear with spiral.

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Miller, who regarded the great religious leaders and writers he admired as social revolutionaries, claimed that by the time he came to draft Tropic of Cancer (1931-4), he had become "an American Siddhartha". He knew that time was not linear, but spiral. Everything was perpetual movement and change. one could only go forward by "going backward, then sideways, and then up and down". This is the ket behind the symbolic use of Cancer, the crab--who moves in all directions with equal ease.

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from Tash Aw's review of "The Ramayana" exhibition at Person Gallery, British Library:

Commissioned by Rana Jagat Singh towards the end of his reign in the mid-seventeenth century, the 400 paintings that form the Ramayana manuscript represent the flowering of the Mewar tradition of Rajput painting and count as some of the finest achievements in Indian art of the time. The scale of the project allowed its painters to render every episode of the epic work in fine detail, illustrating the manuscript to match the written narrative on each page. Four hundred paintings may seem plenty, but the Ramayana spans even books consisting of 24,000 verses--enough to cause anxiety in even the most dedicated of artists, particularly given the size of each folio (a mere 38 cm wide and 21 cm high). The reason for the near-manic amount of detail in some paintings becomes clear: it was simply a question of need. More intriguing, however, is the composition, the way in which this detail is handled.

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Once again, there is hardly any landscape to speak of. A few ripples of water figure at the bottom left-hand corner, as does a faint line of sky that runs along the top of the picture. There is no space into which the viewer's eye can be drawn, nothing that allows for repose or perspective. Landscape, that great badge of naturalism, has but a tiny part to play in these paintings: it is the instrument of the characters, and of the events that unfold, and so confined to the margins. Even when it does figure prominently, it is a mere tool of the characters who dominate the story. When Hanuman, the great monkey general, breaks off the peak of a mountain to cure the wounded Rama, her performs a purely physical feat: he does not stop to admire the beauty of the Himalayas. They introduce no pathetic fallacy. What we are called on to engage with is the story itself, the characters and what they do. The universe in these paintings is called into existence by people--by beings, both divine and human--who act.

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from Nicholas Royle's review of Jacques Derrida's Psyche: Inventions of the other, and Joanna Hodge's Derrida on Time:

Thinking about turning starts with the "disconcerting logic" of narcissism, reflecting on the ways in which the "I" is never truly at home in the world, never at one with itself. The title-word "Psyche" itself has multiple meanings, variously mobilized across these 760 or so pages, including the sense of a turning or swivelling mirror. Worldwide-ization entails thinking about where you are, in other words, the experience of a kind of "vertigo of place". That everything relates to everything else, that there is no saturation of context (another way of saying "nothing outside the text") is part of Derrida's "distracted theory".

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[Derrida]: "deconstruction is inventive or it is nothing at all; it does not settle for methodical procedures, it opens up a passageway, it marches ahead and marks a trail."

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Mourning likewise is not merely an experience some people are obliged to undergo for a limited period, but rather the condition of thinking and living with others. There is, in Hodge's words, "no common time of shared temporal durations". Instead, she suggests, "there is a collective experience of the lack of simultaneity experienced at an individual level, where friends necessarily outlive one another, installing as unavoidable a work of mourning for a lost commonality." Or as Derrida puts it in one of his aphorisms on Romeo and Juliet: "I love because the other is the other, because its time will never be mine".

At the heart of Hodge's project is the attempt to take account of that strange logic of differing and deferring that Derrida called differance, the ways in which things don't happen when they happen. The second can come before the first, mourning before death. . . . Accordingly, Hodge argues that "time is to be thought not as linear, but as curved, and that matter and its materiality are organised in accordance with asymmetrical relations arising from such curvature, rather than in accordance with a surmised line of continuous development from some notional beginning to some equally notional end point." Exploring motifs of delay and displacement in Derrida's work, Hodge gives particular and valuable attention to the figures and forces of swerve, interruption, syncopation, hesitation, the undecidable, the unforeseeable, and the time of a promise (such as the "democracy to come").

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from Jeremy Butterfield's review of James Ladyman and Don Ross's Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics naturalized:

. . . they maintain that once we reject these views and think of objects correctly, as some sort of abstraction from a web of relations, we see that people, trees, or rocks--the objects of everyday life and the special sciences--are just as real as the arcane objects of physics: they are all abstractions from webs of relations. . . . Once we realize that objects are really patterns, each science becomes free to articulate and investigate its own ontology.

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Ladyman and Ross disavow all versions of "reductive" physicalism, and even any special metaphysical primacy for physics. (They do accord an epistemological primacy . . . .) On the contrary: these sciences' autonomous and lush ontologies--albeit of real patterns, rather than objects as traditionally conceived--prompt them to call their view "Rainforest Realism".

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