History

49. “Sense of an ending, paradigm of apocalypse”

And of course we have it now, the sense of an ending. It has not diminished, and is as endemic to what we call modernism as apocalyptic utopianism is to political revolution. When we live in the mood of end-dominated crisis, certain now-familiar patterns of assumption become evident. Yeats will help me to illustrate them.

– Frank Kermode: ‘Sense of An Ending’, Oxford University Press, 1967

Indeed, Kermode argues that our apocalyptic views of disorder, of crisis and perpetual transition in the contemporary world are contemporary ways of making sense of the world, of giving it an intelligible order. They are variations on a paradigm of sense-making statements which are constant in human history.

– Leo Bersani: ‘Variations On a Paradigm’, New York Times, 11 June 1967

Advertisements

50. “Structure mere successiveness into patterns”

We need ends and kairoi and the pleroma, even now when the history of the world has so terribly and so untidily expanded its endless successiveness. We re-create the horizons we have abolished, the structures that have collapsed; and we do so in terms of the old patterns, adapting them to our new worlds. Ends, for example, become a matter of images, figures for what does not exist except humanly. Our stories must recognize mere successiveness but not be merely successive; Ulysses, for example, may be said to unite the irreducible chronos of Dublin with the irreducible kairoi of Homer. In the middest, we look for a fullness of time, for beginning, middle, and end in concord.

– Frank Kermode: ‘Sense of An Ending’, Oxford University Press, 1967

For if what Kermode persistently refers to as merely successive, “real” time were in itself but another fiction, then he would be committed only to a study of various orders of fiction rather than to a study of fictions as changing responses to a hypothetically changeless and formless reality. And fictions may be sense-depriving as well as sense-making.

– Leo Bersani: ‘Variations On a Paradigm’, New York Times, 11 June 1967

61. “Motion of non-events”

B. The situation is that of him who is helpless, cannot act, in the event cannot paint, since he is obliged to paint. The act is of him who, helpless, unable to act, acts, in the event paints, since he is obliged to paint.

D. Why is he obliged to paint?

B. I don’t know.

D. Why is he helpless to paint?

B. Because there is nothing to paint and nothing to paint with.

D. “And the result, you say, is art of a new order?” A friend of mine recounts the story of his college art history professor who introduced the work of Piet Mondrian by projecting a slide of the Dutch countryside near the Hague, where topography approaches zero. The implication, of course, is that Mondrian’s extreme rectolinephilia was a function of his environment – his paintings, in spite of their putative abstraction, are inevitably informed by History. I am by nature skeptical of this stripe of historical determinism. In fact, until I learned recently that Jackson Pollock grew up next door to a spaghetti factory, I tended to agree with Dr. Freud, who argued that what comes out is more than likely to be the opposite of what goes in. That is to say, I would not be surprised to learn little Piet spent his formative years in the Himalayas.

– Samuel Beckett: ‘Proust and Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit’, Calder and Boyars, 1965

See also, Vivian Mercier: ‘The Mathematical Limit’, The Nation, Vol. 188, 14 February 1959.

“Reinhardt made the slideshow all his own. He referred to his lectures as “non-happenings” – they were often send-ups of both the avant-garde “happenings” also taking place in New York at the time, and the traditional university art history lecture, affectionately known as “darkness at noon.” Reinhardt staged his presentations to thwart expectation and even exhaust his audience. (He once showed over 2,000 slides in one sitting at the Artists’ Club, in a talk that began at 10 pm.) “He’d sit with the tray in his lap, feeding the slides into the projector, improvising as he went along,” Dale McConathy described. “His commentary ranged between art history and a devilish parody of the travelogue.” Reinhardt’s seemingly infinite catalogue mirrored his interest in two influential postwar theories of art classification: André Malraux’s conception of a museum without walls, and George Kubler’s framing of objects and history in The Shape of Time.”

– Prudence Peiffer: ‘Ad Reinhardt: Slides’, The Brooklyn Rail, 16 January 2014