READING DIARY: Praxis Enrichment (Cooks)
From Words to Text (Roland Barthes)
From Words to Text is an observational paper that addresses the malleable nature of language and as a consequence, literature, in response to cultural ideas generated by the introduction and development of academic disciplines such as linguistics, anthropology, Marxism and psychoanalysis (amongst others).
The new that has developed from these disciplines is in relation to their influences and encounters with objects that had not traditionally been associated with such ideas. I read objects to mean subjects based on a comparison written within The Wisdom of Art also by Roland Barthes.
"This interdisciplinary approach to language begins “effectively when the solidarity of the old discipline breaks down…in the interests of the new object and language.”
According to Bathes this ‘mutation’ initially took place approximately 100 years prior to this paper being written (1971) with the introduction of Marxism and Freudian psychoanalytical theories. Since this time there has been no further breaks from the tradition of language, we have merely been living in repetition. The theories created by the aforementioned academic disciplines have since demanded, in literature, consideration towards the relationship of the writer, reader and observer.
The remainder of the paper presents insights into the comparisons between the traditional concept of (Newtonian) work and the (Einsteinian) new object, “obtained by sliding or overturning of former categories,” defined here as text.
Work vs. Text:
1. Work: is a fragment of substance, occupying a part of the space of books. Text: is a methodological field.
2. Work: can be seen. Text: is a process of demonstration.
3. Work: can be held in the hand. Text: is held in language.
4. Text is not the decomposition of the Work, it is the Work that is the imaginary tail of the Text.
5. Text does not stop at Literature, it cannot be contained in a hierarchy.
6. Text can be approached, experienced, in reaction to the sign. Work: closes on a signifier.
7. The logic regulating the Text is not comprehensive but it is metonymic (a figure of speech in which a word is substituted for another closely associated word).
8. Work: at its best – is moderately symbolic. Text is radically symbolic.
9. Text is polysemy (several meanings).
10. Work is a derivative of something else, a consecution (succession) conformity of the word to an author. This asserts ideas of ‘copyright’ or ownership. Text: reads without inscription of an owner.
11. Work is normally the object of consumption. Text requires a distance between writing and reading.
12. Work: remains in part a pleasure of consumption. Text is bound to intellectual pleasure (jouissance); that is pleasure without separation.
The ideas presented here are not claimed by Barthes to be personal revelations but rather an extension of ideas that have been picked up from developments around him. It is interesting to question and relate the ideas presented here to current social and cultural associations with language 45 years after this paper was initially presented. I have also found myself pondering the possibilities of transposing ideas presented here into the field of visual art.
Praxis Enrichment - Reader
This paper presents a series of short writings penned by various authors in relation to the pleasure of writing from the perspective of the writer, the reader or the observer. It also presents the perceived perimeters and boundaries associated with writing as a creative process. The ideas portrayed here can and often are transposed onto all aspects of creativity - metaphors for the creative process as a whole.
Some of my favourite descriptions of creativity were the following:
“Making a garden I first mark it out, drawing a line around it. This line (concept) is what distinguishes my garden from nature…& when dandelions appear I can pull them (probably naively, definitely stubbornly and misguidedly) or learn to enjoy them. And If I listen to the garden just a little it advises me what course to take. So the conceptual link between gardens and painting is unmistakable: both born of ideas and willed into being. And plants whilst being quite literal can like paint claim ideas beyond themselves” (Pollan 1991:244)
“Stories walk…every step is a stride over something not said.” (Berger 1982:284)
“I went to sleep one evening last summer in New York City and awoke in Hong Kong…the illusion lasted about a minute, and then some ingredient in the accidental olfactory recipe evaporated and the scent hologram vaporised. New York reemerged in the air.” (Burr. 2006)
The Wisdom of Art (Roland Barthes 1979)
The Wisdom of Art begins with a question: “What is happening there?” When we look at a work of art, in this instance a painting, we deal with a stage, a carefully constructed event and an adventure into the world of the artist. “…the curtain rises, we look, we wait, we receive, we understand…” & finally we remember. A metamorphose takes place and we are no longer what we were.
The author has chosen the artist Cy Twombly to consider his art work in relation the content presented in this paper. Through an in-depth analysis of Twombly’s paintings the author’s insights into the wisdom gained from a work of art is related to the compositional structure and use of language prevalent throughout Twombly’s oeuvre.
Beginning with a material analysis and the physical response of Twombly during the application of medium to canvas we gain an insight into the almost alchemic ability of an artist of this caliber to transform the material prima into meaning. “The demiurgic power of the painter is in this, that he makes the materials exist as matter.”
“Twombly’s art consist in making us see things…” not through representation but through those which he manipulates. “This is an art with a secret.”
The way in which Twombly applies the material to the canvas is just as important as the choice of material and its properties. Twombly is almost nonchalant in the pressure he applies, resisting the need to reinforce the appearance of the chosen material through force, but rather touching the paper/canvas lightly so that its grain is a little dispersed, “that matter will show its essence…the essence of things is not in their weight but in their lightness.”
The comparison between writing and art is eloquently expressed when Barthes states: “Words too belong to everybody; but sentences belong to writers: Twombly’s ‘sentences’ are inimitable.”
And in continuation of this analogy, Bathes describes the gestures through which Twombly enunciates matter in trace through scratching, smudging (or rather macula rather than smudging) and smearing as a way of covering brush strokes, which still remain somewhat visible. And in doing so the artist superimposes intentional ‘failures’ - giving the canvas the depth of a sky…
The carefully considered use of language within the composition of Twombly’s canvas and/or in the title creates a tension between the work and the viewer. If a canvas has the title of ‘The Italians’ the viewer does not then seek for representation of the Italians anywhere within the composition. “Twombly knows that the Name has absolute power of evocation: to write The Italians is to see all Italians.”
“titles…proffer the bait of meaning to mankind, which is thirsting for one.”
Twombly also uses this mechanism through dedicating a number of his paintings to people of importance to the artist. A dedication has a similar ‘performative’ power toward the understanding of the work.
By using carefully considered visual and written elements in his paintings, Twombly tends to create an intentional contradiction between that which we see and that which we understand through language.
Barthes describes 2 movements consistently found within Twombly’s canvases that render the compositions with dialectically calculated chance.
1. The first movement gives the impression of something having been thrown at the canvas
2. Secondly, there is an appearance or dispersion – compositional elements separated by space.
What is withheld from Twombly’s paintings is just as important as what is there. The space is like a subtle energy, which allows the viewer to ‘breath.’
Barthes develops an in relationship between the ideas of space and chance based on a lecture presented by Valëry (5 Many 1944). Valëry stated that an artist, when approaching their work, finds themselves with 2 scenarios. They can either follow a predetermined plan or fill an imaginary rectangle. Twombly fills his imaginary rectangle with space or in accordance to the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of Ma or the Latin Rarus.
“A great void locked in – where time doesn’t count...Twombly’s paintings are big meditation rooms, hot and luminous, with their elements looking lost and which the mind wants to populate.”
The most important analysis and concept to grasp within Twombly’s paintings is the idea that what his paintings produce is an ‘effect.’
In this instance the word effect is based on the French literary school of the nineteenth century where effect was defined as a general impression suggested by a poem, an impression that is sensuous, and most often visual.
What is specific to this effect is that its character cannot be irreducible to the sum of localised details. “As effect…is a veritable category of sensations, which is defined by this paradox: the unbreakable unity of the impression and the complexity of its causes or elements.”
The overarching question the author is striving to answer is “What exactly makes a Twombly a Twombly?” What is it that creates the singularity of Twombly in the vast context of Western art history? And in answering this question Barthes states:
Twombly’s art is an incessant victory over the stupidity of strokes.” “Rarus” is key to his work. His art is paradoxical – what is succinct appears compact: sparseness begets density, and density gives birth to enigmas. Twombly’s art does not grasp at anything; it is situated, it floats and drifts…