Archive for Walter Benjamin

Interesting articles from “Papers of Surrealism” journal

Posted in Art History/Theory, Critical theory, Reading notes, Surrealism with tags , , , on September 28, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

“Fantasy, the Uncanny and Surrealist Theories of Architecture”, Anthony Vidler (2003)

“Rather what Surrealism motivated was the uncanny of the Other, which for Surrealism was the ‘real’ – the uncanny sense that the normal was nothing more than a complex of repressed objects. In the aesthetic sense of Surrealism, this normal was modernism itself and the uncanny of Surrealism was no more than the repressed of modernism, an apparent normal that in fact was a mask for the ‘real’ pathological.
In architectural terms, this search for modernism’s repressed underlife was concentrated in three domains – domains that the modernists had clearly and polemically identified as the basis of their attack on tradition: the solid, load-bearing wall that afforded traditional protection and privacy; the bourgeois house and its kitsch-like trappings of ‘home’ or ‘Heimat’; and the objects of everyday life, which, while for the most part mass-produced, were still encumbered with ornament and encrusted with historical references. Against these three hold-outs of tradition in modernity “

“All posed a volatile and elusive sensibility of mental-physical life against what was seen as a sterile and over-rationalized technological realism: the life of the interior psyche against the externalising ratio.”

Freud in the Uncanny: ‘over-accentuation of psychical reality in comparison with material reality,’

Sigfried Giedion observes of the interiors of Ernst’s Une Semaine de bonté:
“The room, as nearly always, is oppressive with assassination and non-escape”

“Surreal Dreamscapes: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades”, Michael Calderbank (2003)

On Benjamin’s essay of 1925 entitled ‘Dream-Kitsch’:
“this inter-penetration of the two realms is not a ‘natural’ constant, but a historically specific phenomenon. 10 Kitsch objects, the banal by-products of culture subsumed under the logic of industrial production, are assimilated into dreams, thereby obscuring the oneiric ‘blue horizon’ of the Romantics, with a ‘grey coating of dust’. Correspondingly, as Marx first diagnosed with his analysis of the commodity fetish, at the height of capitalist modernity, ‘ordinary’ commodities become invested with a magical, quasi-religious and dreamlike aura.”

“In ‘Konvolut L’, Benjamin notes: ‘Arcades are houses or passages having no outside – like the dream.’”

Comparing Benjamin and Breton:
“For both writers, what is significant is not the waking state per se, which could quite easily carry on in the same drearily prosaic way, but the moment when consciousness is shocked into the recognition of possible forms of cognitive experience from which it is excluded in reality. Both writers also, therefore, develop a notion of a single material reality, in which ‘dream’ and ‘waking’ experience are both inextricably grounded, and which progresses not in a gradual, seamless, linear continuum, but instead proceeds unevenly in jolts, leaps and unexpected reversals.”

“Giorgio de Chirico and surrealist mythology , Roger Cardinal (2004)

What is most modern in our time frequently turns out to be the most archaic.
GuyDavenport

“a collection of talismanic embodiments of the twinned novelty and absurdity of modern life. By deliberately fetishising the bric-à-brac of twentieth-century urban culture, surrealism was able to draw up a formula for the surrealist Marvellous and to elicit a striking mythology out of the banalities of the contemporary world. “

On Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris:
“a kind of archaeology of the contemporary unconscious “
‘the vertigo of the modern’ [‘le vertige du moderne’]. (Aragon’s words)

Breton’s essay on de Chirico (1920):
‘re-appraise the basic perceptions of time and space’ [‘reviser les données sensibles du temps et de l’espace’].

Aragon’s quotation, unknown book:
‘Though substituted for the natural myths of antiquity, [the new myths] cannot be truly opposed to them, for they derive all their strength, all their magic, from the selfsame source.’
‘Substitués aux antiques mythes naturels, [les mythes nouveaux] ne peuvent leur être réellement opposés, car ils puisent leur force, leur magie à la même source.’

“The Uncanny”, Margaret Iversen, 2005

“Schelling defined it [The uncanny] as something that should have remained hidden but has come to light. In a more Freudian idiom, it is a feeling prompted by the return of the repressed.”

“The scene for the emergence of uncanny strangeness is, after all, the familiar, conventional or banal. This is so because the ‘familiar’ is constituted by the repression of childhood traumatic experience or the real of unconscious fantasy. The familiar must inevitably have a simulacral quality because the real has been expelled. David Lynch beautifully demonstrates this mutual dependence in his film, Blue Velvet (1986). The white picket-fenced world of Lumberton shown in the opening sequence has such stereotypical clarity that one’s gaze slides right off the image, unable to get any purchase. Lynch makes it clear that the bourgeois residential area has this two-dimensional simulacral quality precisely because reality (here a criminal underclass and the unconscious) has been marginalized, banished to the other side of the tracks. For me, the uncanny is not the simulacrum itself, but that which agitates its shiny surface.”

Dana MacFarlane, 2003, reviews “City Gorged With Dreams: Surrealism and Documentary Photography in Interwar Paris” by Ian Walker

“One of the explicit claims Walker makes is that the ‘stricter’ the reality presented by the photograph, the more potentially subversive and surreal its effect. In the process of being represented photographically, the everyday world is transformed. The surreal appears in those photographs in which the logic of realism presented by the photograph is interrogated, undermined and transformed.”

Breton’s Nadja: ‘the space between’

‘Surrealism lies at the heart of the photographic enterprise: in the very creation of a duplicate world, of a reality in the second degree, narrower but more dramatic than the one perceived by natural vision.’ Susan Sontag, ‘Melancholy Objects’ in On Photography (New York: Penguin, 1979), p. 52.

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Walter Benjamin on Surrealism and Photography

Posted in Art History/Theory, Critical theory, Photography, Reading notes, Surrealism with tags , , , on September 27, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

Surrealism The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia (1929)

“Life only seemed worth living where the threshold between waking and sleeping was worn away in everyone as by the steps of multitudinous images flooding back and forth, language only seemed itself where, sound and image, image and sound interpenetrated with automatic precision and such felicity that no chink was left for the penny-in-the-slot called “meaning”.”

“In the world’s structure dream loosens individuality like a bad tooth. This I loosening of the self by intoxication is, at the same time, precisely the fruitful, living experience that allowed these people to step outside the domain of intoxication.”

“ But the true creative overcoming of religious illumination certainly does not lie in narcotics. It resides in a profane illumination,  a materialistic, anthropological inspiration.”

“ perceive the revolutionary energies that appear in the “outmoded”, in the first iron constructions, the first factory buildings, the earliest photos, the objects .that have  begun to be extinct, grand pianos, the dresses of five years ago, fashionable restaurants when the vogue has begun to ebb from them. […] No one before these visionaries and augurs perceived how destitution—not only social but architectonic, the poverty of interiors/enslaved and enslaving  objects- can be suddenly transformed into revolutionary nihilism.”

“convert everything that we have experienced on mournful railway journeys (railways are beginning to age), on Godforsaken Sunday afternoons in the proletarian quarters of the great cities, in the first glance through the rain-blurred window of a new apartment, into revolutionary experience, if not action. They bring the immense forces of “atmosphere” concealed in these things to the point of explosion.”

“And no face is surrealistic in the same  degree as the true face of a city. No picture by de Chirico or Max Ernst can match the sharp elevations of the city’s inner strong-holds, which one must overrun and occupy in order to master their fate and, in their fate, in the fate of their masses, one’s own.”

“The Surrealists’ Paris, too, is a “little universe”. That is to say, in the larger one, the cosmos, things look no different. There, too, are crossroads where ghostly signals flash from the traffic, and inconceivable analogies and connections between events are the order of the day. It is the region from which the lyric poetry of Surrealism reports.”

“ the deeply grounded composition of an individual who, from inner compulsion, portrays less a historical evolution than a constantly renewed, primal upsurge of esoteric poetry”

“ the philosophical realism of the Middle Ages was the basis of poetic experience. This realism, however—that is, the belief in a real, separate existence of concepts whether outside or inside things—has always very quickly crossed over from the logical realm of ideas to the magical realm of words. And it is as magical experiments with words, not as artistic dabbling, that we must understand the passionate phonetic and graphical transformational games that have run through the whole literature of the avant-garde”

Apollinaire, L’esprit nouveau et les poetes:
“ their synthetic works create new realities the plastic manifestations of which are just as complex as those referred to by the words standing for collectives”
about Dostoyevsky:
“No one else understood, as he did, how naive is the view of the Philistines that goodness, for all the manly virtue of those who practise it, is God-inspired; whereas evil stems entirely from our spontaneity, and in it we are independent and self-sufficient beings.”
I think the Surrealists moved away from this preoccupation and it’s rather George Bataille that continued to pursue this idea ?

“ we penetrate the mystery only to the degree that we recognize it in the everyday world, by virtue of a dialectical optic that perceives the everyday as impenetrable, the impenetrable as everyday […] The reader, the thinker, the loiterer, the flaneur, are types of illuminati just as much as the opium eater, the dreamer, the ecstatic. And more profane. Not to mention that most terrible drug—ourselves—which we take in solitude.”

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935)

“Works of art are received and valued on different planes. Two polar types stand out; with one, the accent is on the cult value; with the other, on the exhibition value of the work. Artistic production begins with ceremonial objects destined to serve in a cult. One may assume that what mattered was their existence, not their being on view. […] With the different methods of technical reproduction of a work of art, its fitness for exhibition increased to such an extent that the quantitative shift between its two poles turned into a qualitative transformation of its nature. This is comparable to the situation of the work of art in prehistoric times when, by the absolute emphasis on its cult value, it was, first and foremost, an instrument of magic. Only later did it come to be recognized as a work of art. In the same way today, by the absolute emphasis on its exhibition value the work of art becomes a creation with entirely new functions, among which the one we are conscious of, the artistic function, later may be recognized as incidental. This much is certain: today photography and the film are the most serviceable exemplifications of this new function.”

“The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuse for the cult value of the picture. For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty. But as man withdraws from the photographic image, the exhibition value for the first time shows its superiority to the ritual value. To have pinpointed this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget, who, around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed them like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime,
too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way. At the same time picture magazines begin to put up signposts for him, right ones or wrong ones, no matter. For the first time, captions have become obligatory. And it is clear that they have an altogether different character than the title of a painting. The directives which the captions give to those looking at pictures in illustrated magazines soon become even more explicit and more imperative in the film where the meaning of each single picture appears to be prescribed by the sequence of all preceding ones.”

Severin-Mars:
“What art has been granted a dream more poetical and more real at the same time! Approached in this fashion the film might represent an incomparable means of expression.”

Werfel:
“The film has not yet realized its true meaning, its real possibilities. . . these consist in
its unique faculty to express by natural means and with incomparable persuasiveness all that is fairylike, marvelous, supernatural.”

“art has left the realm of the “beautiful semblance” which, so far, had been taken to be the only sphere where art could thrive”

“the representation of reality by the film is incomparably more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because of the thoroughgoing permeation of reality with mechanical equipment, an aspect of reality which is free of all equipment. And that is what one is entitled to ask from a work of art.”

“The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public. The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion”

“The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.”

“this is at bottom the same ancient lament that the masses seek distraction
whereas art demands concentration from the spectator. […] Distraction and concentration form polar opposites which may be stated as follows: A man who
concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it. He enters into this work of an the way legend tells of the Chinese painter when he viewed his finished painting. In contrast, the distracted mass absorbs the work of art.”

A small History of Photography

“The most precise technology can give its product a magical value, such as a painted picture can never have for us. No matter how artful the photographer, no matter how carefully posed his subject, the beholder feels an irresistible urge to search such a picture for the tiny spark of contingency, of the Here and Now, with which reality has so to speak seared the subject, to find the inconspicuous spot where in the immediacy of that long forgotten moment the future subsists so eloquently that we, looking back, may rediscover it. For it is another nature that speaks to the camera than to the eye: other in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious.”

“optical unconscious”

“photography reveals in this material the physionimic aspects of visual worlds which dwell in the smallest things, meaningful yet covert enough to find a hiding place in waking dreams, but which, enlarged and capable of formulation, make the difference between technology and magic.”

“Atget was an actor who, disgusted with the profession, wiped off the mask and set about removing the make-up from reality too. […] He looked for what was unremarked, forgotten, cast adrift, and thus such pictures too work against the exotic, romantically sonorous names of the cities; they pump the aura out of reality like water from a sinking ship. What is aura, actually? A strange weave of space and time: the unique appearance or semblance of distance, no matter how close the object may be. […] The stripping bare of the object, the destruction of the aura, is the mark of a perception whose sense of the sameness of things has grown to the point where even the singular, the unique, is divested of its uniqueness – by means of its reproduction.”

“ a salutory estrangement between man and his surroundings”

“The camera is […] ever readier to capture fleeting and secret moments whose images paralyse the associative mechanisms in the beholder.”