Author Archive

Things describe themselves best on their own

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Speech in opposition to looking –

The violence that speech can do to a thing struck me one night on the way home from a bad poetry reading. I wrote:

The other evening I watched a poet read from a book he’d written. The poem described a series of long walks around London and for poetic effect made connections between moments that had passed on these walks. There was poetry in the language and words got stuck to themselves and stopped.

On the train on the way home I looked out of the window at barbed wire and the late sunshine on a roof. It made me imagine a sentence about barbed wire and the late sunshine on a roof, and I regretted doubling the view onto itself. I wished the poet could have transmitted the walks without the poem, or the poem without the poetry or better still, had not transmitted the walks at all, not even to himself. I’d like him to have just walked, and even that by accident. (more…)

Nietszche Among the Cows

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

“Consider the cows, grazing as you pass by; they do not know what is meant by yesterday or today, they move about, they eat, rest, digest, move about again, and so from morning until night and from day to day, fettered to the moment and its pleasure or displeasure, and thus neither melancholy nor bored.

This is a hard sight for man to see; for he thinks himself better than the animals because he is human, he cannot help envying them their happiness – what they have, a life neither bored nor painful, is precisely what he wants, yet he cannot have it because he refuses to be like an animal.

A human being may well ask the animal: “Why do you not speak to me of your happiness but only stand and gaze at me?” The animal would like to answer, and say, “The reason is I always forget what I was going to say” – but then he forgets that answer too, and stays silent, so that the human being is left wondering.”

The lines above are extracted from Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations Part 2: “On the Use and Abuse of History for life”. I read this and the extract below at the Analytical Animals research colloquium at the Royal College of Art last month, where it was part of Paul Davies’ paper “Nietzsche Among the Cows”.

The silence of the cow strikes the human ear as the absence of speech rather than the presence of silence. The absence is glaring because it seems to hold something back: in its forgetful, contented gaze the cow holds from us the secret of its “happiness on earth”. The cow does not talk: it ruminates, watches, takes in. And what it takes in, we imagine, lingers within its peaceful mind rather than rebounding through its brain into speech that might invite us inside.


Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

It’s the final weekend of Tate Modern’s s exhibition on looking. From the Tate website:

Exposed offers a fascinating look at pictures made on the sly, without the explicit permission of the people depicted. With photographs from the late nineteenth century to present day, the pictures present a shocking, illuminating and witty perspective on iconic and taboo subjects.”

If you cannot make it to the exhibition this weekend here’s a video about the show from the Tate Channel:

Sandra Phillips on Surveillance; Exposed, Tate Channel, 2010


Sunday, September 26th, 2010

We’re living in the hope and the risk that our gaze might one day have captured everything, leaving nothing uncaught, nothing unnamed, nothing unaccounted for. If we were to reach this point of total saturation, then what? Completion, annihilation, silence?

The thrill of the gaze is also its threat: that looking might wholly incorporate, alter and deplete the object of our regard to the point that what we see is no longer the thing in itself but the pale trace of its absence. Such is also the thrill and threat of language: the intimate taste of the thing's name in our mouth persuades us we are holding the thing up close when we are holding only its name – a name, moreover, that provokes the thing itself to recede into the distance in its move to evade our regard. (If you can get behind the paywalls, Pinheiro Machado’s Nothingness and the Work of Art and Schwenger’s Words and the Murder of the Thing are compelling treatments of these ideas.)

Capturing a thing by its image rather than its name promises a more immediate means of total incorporation, particularly given the increasing ubiquity of the digital camera in the contemporary world. In his recent essay Photopathologies, Anton Viesel explores the prospect of absolutely replicating the earth through photography – extract below:

“Where now we see the Eiffel Tower appear on flickr only intermittently from a limited number of different perspectives each day – relying as we do on the imperfect and inefficient recording devices that individual tourists now constitute – we will after the final development of an infinite photography see it appear continually from every possible angle every moment of every day. What is more, the surfaces of the Eiffel Tower themselves will have been activated as a stream of tiny photographic machines, each of which records what passes before it. The visual data, collected from innumerable devices, will be fed into self-replicating storage machines that monitor their own surfaces and so the narcissistic turn will be complete.

The new photography, still only in embryo, is a form of creativity that is at heart anti-humanist. All specifically human intervention has been erased, whether conscious or unconscious, willed or automatic. Instead, the endpoint is the absolute replication of the world, the tautology of truth, things are as they are.”

Paper View

Friday, September 17th, 2010

The person at 298b has only a very small window offering almost no view at all: just the top of a brick wall and a few inches of sky. This is inadequate. At times he feels like staring into the plotless scrolling of people and things you get through proper windows, but there’s nothing to see. The view’s blank.

So at times like these he’s started building the view himself. He’s mainly been using paper: three dimensional models of trees and rooftops glued together, outlines of clouds stuck straight onto the glass, stick people below with shopping bags and kites and mates. Sometimes a paper church in the distance, sometimes a parade of shops trooping across the glass, sometimes lightning or fireworks in felt tip. He’s framed the view with a foreground of very detailed leaves of a larger scale and with veins pencilled on, some of them fixed to lengths of wire he frequently rearranges. There are occasionally paper birds on the wires.Sometimes he gets the leaves to rustle.

He’s been building the view for just over a year now, and it’s some months since the last scrap of natural light made it through the glass into the room. Building doesn’t always mean adding bits – he takes bits away too, rearranges bits, colours bits in, rubs bits out – but it’s never enough just to watch it, static, as he last left it. Since the model won’t change on its own like a real view, if he wants to stare into plotless narratives he has to make do with watching the operations of his own mind as they form before him in paper and glue and wire. His paper view is looking turned inside-out: sight that produces rather than absorbs, watching itself into being.