Tag Archive | Art

The Drowned Man: A Voyeur Experience

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Punchdrunk Theatre Company has dared to submerge the audience in a Gothic-Surrealist atmosphere like in its very well called Immerse Theatre. Temple Studios, a large and high old building, is the chosen place where the adaptation of the gloomy Büchner’s work, Woyzeck, is taking place in the city of London.

            The spectator is introduced to the dark scenario wearing a white mask which allows him to differentiate between the public and the actors. Immediately he finds himself locked in a metallic lift where his journey to an unknown world of sex, violence and despair begins. The spectacle is distributed among different floors and spaces where darkness and bright colours are intertwined to create a high tension experience behind different musical tonalities which make of the journey a very sensorial one. Indeed, the play is based on effects, dancing, body expressions rather than on narration.

            Every character has his own story and the spectator is left to follow the destiny whomever he wishes running through corridors, scales, and sandy or wet grounds. The adultery story of Woyzech takes now place in some uncanny Hollywood studios where young actors die mysteriously and relationships are unreliable. Immersed in the life of the characters, the spectator becomes a voyeur completely ignored by the actors; he can touch all kind of structures and decoration, open drawers, read letters, observe closely the reactions of the characters being always unnoticed.

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-drowned-man-a-hollywood-fable

From the Aesthetic to the Erotic Gaze (IV)

2007BM5740_michelangelo_david_plaster_castThe Immoralist, Death in Venice and Women in Love all share a strong presence of the visual field, which places them at the birth of a new culture in the first part of the twentieth century: the culture of vision. Detailed descriptions, especially of the human body, anticipate what will be central in the new seventh art. The pleasure of looking gains prominence as it becomes part of a new popular visual art that is much more culturally extended than painting ever was. But it is not so much in the fact of seeing where most of the pleasure is felt as it is in the object presented to the gaze: the human figure. Laura Mulvey, in her analysis of cinema, argues:

 ‘The cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking […] the conventions of mainstream film focus attention on the human form. Scale, space, stories are all anthropomorphic. Here, curiosity and the wish to look intermingle with a fascination with likeness and recognition: the human face, the human body, the relationship between the human form and its surroundings, the visible presence of the person in the world’. (‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ 4)

However, cinema was born from a new technological context that led to a new conception of art and the human being. Visual pleasure is not free of a massive superficial valorisation of aesthetics, which reduces art, and with it the human body, to mere exhibitionism. Walter Benjamin argues, in ‘The Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, that modern art has replaced the cultural value of art with exhibitionism; therefore, the work of art has no meaning in itself, but rather acquires significance insofar as it acquires a function, in this case, the function of being exhibited: “[through] 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” (619-20). If then, as Mulvey argues, the human body has become a source of artistic pleasure in the current epoch, it is also not free from becoming a mere instrument, and that is the danger Benjamin refers to when he says that the human figure has become the centre of a cult, since “its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order” (634).

The aesthetic value of the human being calls for a rebirth of the artistic sense in contemporary society beyond the significance of technology. The three texts here analysed express a necessary sensibility towards the human figure’s ability to arouse wonder in the reader. The gaze can only be surprised by discovering the unique and by avoiding endless mechanical reproduction. The historical moment when these novels were written is not unimportant, since they give testimony to both aesthetic and human value, reminding, as Plato’s Prophetess does, that “such a life as this, my dear Socrates, ” exclaimed the stranger Prophetess, “spent in the contemplation of the beautiful, is the life for men to live […]” (The Banquet 103).

Fetishism in Proust’s “Swann in Love”

cover_9070727_clippedIn In search of Lost Time, there are many topics regarding sexuality which can be analysed. I will be posting them during the next days as part of my MA research, all them based on the chapter “Swann in Love”. By now, there is here a brief thoughts on Fetishism.

The first scene suggesting fetishism takes place at the Verdurins. Mme Verdurin likes to touch the bronze grapes and to think her husband feels jealous about it. Swann too engages with this pleasure. It is a slight suggestion of Mme Verdurin homosexuality as the round form of the grapes reminds a feminine body or some parts of it. Moreover, Swann, of whom we know to be heterosexual, enjoys it too.

A similar scene takes place in the carriage between Swann and Odette. Swann finds a new pleasure touching Odette’s cattleyas, which will result later on in the sexual act. Even language itself expresses a continuum from the object, which is also related to her breast, to the whole woman, that is from the part to the whole – which is typical in fetishism. The use of the metaphor ‘do a cattleya’ becomes a substitute for “making love”. Thus, the “cattleya” becomes a sexual symbol which refers to the object itself and to a reality beyond itself.

‘And long afterwards, when the rearrangement (or, rather, the ritual pretence of a rearrangement) of her cattleyas had quite fallen into desuetude, the metaphor “Do a cattleya”, transmuted into a simple verb which they would employ without thinking when they wished to refer to the act of physical possession (…) And perhaps this particular manner of saying “to make love” did not mean exactly the same thing as its synonyms’.

Art and love, as well as the artistic and sexual object are slightly confused with each other. It is the music of Vinteuil which makes Swann feel love. As a result, he thinks to love Odette, however, he could be in love with the music or with what music provokes on him. Later on, Swann will ask Odette to play this some piece of music again. He feels pleasure listening it, especially when it is played by Odette. Music works as a substitute for the sexual act; it is a part of Odette who plays it. And, again, like the cattleyas, music is a continuum of Odette, and the sexual desire goes from the artistic object to the real person, which in this case becomes the sexual object. This relation between sex and music is clearly expressed by language identifying ‘playing again’ with ‘kissing again’.

Painting too is involved in Swann’s love for Odette. She represents Swann’s aesthetic values and she resembles Botticelli’s portrait of Zipporah, of which Swann in in love. Swann likes Odette because she represents Zipporah’s features. Therefore, Odette is subordinated to the aesthetic values at the same time that she herself has a value making possible an aesthetic experience.

Odette embodies art in the tangible world joining the artistic object and the sexual one in herself. It fits with the idea of Halberdstadt who argues that in perversion, a part of the lover believes in the real beloved and, another part, in the fantastic one.

‘Or else she would look at him sulkily, and he would see once again a face worthy to figure in Botticceli’s “Life of Moises”; he would place it there, giving to Odette’s neck the necessary inclination; and when he had finished his portrait in tempera, in the fifteenth century, on the wall of the Sistine, the idea that she was non the less in the room with him still, by the piano, at that very moment, ready to be kissed and enjoyed, the idea of her material existence would sweep over him with so violent an intoxication that (…) he would fling himself upon this Botticceli maiden and kiss and bite her cheeks’

I would like to note that, according to Deleuze, in Proust, the revelation of the essence belongs to art. In this case, Swann apprehends Beauty through music and painting, and then he is able to find this essence in Odette, who becomes a part of the work of art.

The important point is that Odette never constitutes a sexual object by herself but it is always needed the presence of a mediator, in this case, of art.               

    

Crossing borders in Tolstoy’s writings

tolstoyAndrew Wachtel explains in his article History and autobiography in Tolstoy how literary genres are merged to achieved the goal which Tolstoy sought: truth. The technique employed by the Russian writer is highly interesting, he melts autobiographical and fictional elements in a work which results neither biographical not fictional. The difference between fictional and non-fictional isn’t a problem for Tolstoy who was concerned just with truth and the display of the universal. Watchel gives a wonderful example, the relation between Anna Karenina and A Confession. The latter was written after the former and seems, according to Watchel, an ending for the great novel. The idea of marriage in A Confession is linked to the character of Levin in Anna Karenina. In fact it’s difficult to differ from the thoughts of the writer and his works, and I want to point out here such difficulty regarding The Kreutzer Sonata and What is Art?. The final moral claims in Tolstoy’s essay reminds the plot of the novel, moreover, The Kreutzer Sonata seems to be a graphical example of the essay. According to Tolstoy, the perversion of art by the upper-class leads to a perversion of the habits, and that’s what we see in The Kreutzer Sonata, music taken as an excuse for adultery.

There’s another point in these relations between Tolstoy’s thoughts and fictions, that’s “honesty”. In fact, Tolstoy in his essay affirms that the main cause for such a perversion is the artificiality of the “artist”. Tolstoy remains faithful to this idea as he gives expression to his believes, he’s honest, he’s a true artist. Therefore, the close proximity between real life and fiction seems to be justified in Tolstoy’s theory of art.

A Claim for…

girl-in-front-of-the-lion-cage-1901A Hunger Artist is another of Kafka’s short stories which, I guess, leads no one indifferent, at least the reader become angry in front of such an apparent senseless riddle. A Hunger Artist shows the story of a faster artist who lives in a cage and is visited by the public. The main point of the attraction is the fasting of the artist who feels misunderstood by the walkers. Some people are always trying to find the hiding food in the cage because they don’t trust the artist’s capacity for fasting. However he’s very proud of his fasting and wants to go on with it without interruption. I think the hunger artist thinks to be making a work of art of his own body. That’s not explicitly said in the narration however it can be interpreted due to the lack of understanding between the artist and the public: people is unable to appreciate art. They don’t like the aspect of the starving artist, in fact, it’s not a beautiful expression, but Kafka is constructing a metaphor through which express the problem between art and the public. How can such a subjective expression be understood by everybody? The communication between artist and public fails because of the self-expressivity of the work. Coming back to my old comment on Tolstoy’s theory of art, we see here the opposite point. Tolstoy said a good work of art should be understood by everybody, but Kafka could be expressing a completely different perspective: because art is so personal, it’s impossible to be understood. But there’s a meeting point between the extremes. Tolstoy supports his statement arguing that when the artist is being honest expressing his feelings he can’t fail in doing so, and Kafka could be appealing to the same honesty with the opposite result.

Later on in A Hunger Artist, the artist dies in a cage because no one looks at him, and he’s replaced by a panther which attracts all the attention. Why does the panther success? Maybe it represents another kind of art? Of beauty?  Has it something to do with consciousness? The artist is conscious, not the panther. So for what are people attract? Maybe for some kind of hypnotising appearance instead of  for an intellectual presence? Have society killed art by its indifferent attitude towards life?

“The Awakening”, a feminine metaphor

woman-in-a-mirror-theo-van-rysselbergheThe Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899) has been seen as a novel of adultery, as for example, Madame Bovary, but I don’t really think that the main problem of Edna- The Awakening‘s main character- is a matter of love. Edna is much more than a problem of  satisfactory marriage, she incarnates the history of women in the Western society. Edna is introduced to the reader reflecting a problem of identity, her unhappy marriage is just a parcel of such problem. Edna doesn’t know neither who she is nor where’s her place in the world. At the beginning of the novel, the reader finds Edna as a wife concerned  about her husband, trying to do her best to get a peaceful home. However, something is awoke within herself while listening a piano concert; here music plays a significant role. I’m currently working on this topic in my research, that’s the influence of music in the souls, and especially in the novel of adultery. By now, I’ll go on  with the idea that music, and later, her relation with Robert, make her conscious of herself, of her inward. I’d say the sea plays a role here as well, but that’s another topic for another moment. Thus, adultery is just a tool through which she becomes aware of her whole life, and it’s from this point she decides to change. The next step is painting, so art. She loves painting but she had never before taken it seriously. Painting is the first expression of her awareness. I find it a very interesting point; she becomes more and more herself through her artistic expression, I think that’s another point to analyse: how art is related to self-consciousness. Finally, she becomes independent, she earns her own money and buys an apartment. At this point, her love relations aren’t so important, that’s the reason I think adultery isn’t the main point in the novel. Instead, we can se how Edna acquires consciousness of herself as a woman in society (the title itself refers to an awakening) which corresponds to the history of the independence of women. I guess the important point in such a history isn’t sex or money but consciousness, and through it, inner-freedom.

Tolstoy, a lover of the simplicity

tolstoyLeoTolstoy1Reading Tolstoy nowadays is an encounter with a kind of relief. Simple, clear and with no considerations for the politically correct, Tolstoy just claims for innocence, truth and peace. Lover of the simple life, as we see in Anna Karenina’s character Levin,  and the rural calm, he also has something to say about art. In his long essay What is Art?, Tolstoy upholds the plain character of the classical art in opposition to the new modern and subjective one such as Impressionism or late Romanticism. This new artistic form in his days, says Tolstoy, is due to the Aristocratic corruption whose new thoughts are mainly exported from Europe. Simple people such as the rural worker can’t understand this new art, why?- wonders Tolstoy- because it’s not art, it’s just a decadent self-expression and the manifesto of a perverted upper-class unable to feel the sublime. Is not the worker the guilty of his misunderstanding in modern art, is the artist himself who can’t express what he feels, mainly, because he feels nothing, his art is artificial, not natural, his art is learned in a school of art which, says Tolstoy, is to kill the art itself. Therefore, the upper-class is now educated in order to understand this new art, which means, art is being enclosed in a group of people. So art is not more universal and that’s no art. Art becomes thus a prostitute because the aim of the artist is money, so he makes what can be sold. And in all this lack of artistic honesty, art perverts its consumers, that’s the upper-class, because art has no more value in itself. Then we can see how in The Kreutzer Sonata lessons on art are just an excuse for adultery.

Tolstoy would say, “if you want to know what is art, go and ask the farmer if he enjoy this or that. If he does, then it’s art”.

You can agree or not, but I think it deserves a thought.

Embodied Feelings

kreutzer_sonataAmbiguity is one of the most current terms in literary aesthetics. It plays with our perceptions and it’s said to be settled in a blurred border between the conscious and the unconscious; it says without saying and knows at the same time it doesn’t. It’s part of the real world as well as inhabits in the fantastic. In brief, it’s the paradox of “to be and not to be”. The ambiguous likes to go from our dreams to our daily life and makes us grow in the uncertainty. Uncertainty is, I guess, the favourite concept of Todorov talking about the Uncanny which differs from the Marvellous precisely because of this characteristic. Freud refers to the Uncanny as being familiar and not at the same time which is no more than another ambiguity, and this feeling begins in the thresholds of our mind. Like Scnitzler does in A Dream Story where Florin is startled by doubts of perception, or fears or maybe desires, who knows.

Ambiguity is also the language of  sensuality where to want and not have filled pages of adultery. Ambiguity serves the speechless language where embodied metaphors, images or melodies become read by those who are playing the game. Feelings take form in both The Awakening and The Kreutzer Sonata by means of rhythm. What conscious can’t afford is exposed by aesthetic experiences which, like  dreams, translate darkness into light.

Part of the knowledge about the self finds no expression in words, that’s what art is, Tolstoy would say, the communication of what can’t be said, the universal history of feelings.

Creative Femininity

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Women and art create a new topic in Modernist Literature. Two good examples of it are Viriginia Woolf and Kate Chopin, both belonging to the first part of the 20th C. Together with the born of the New Woman appears the female artist as a key figure of the first feminism. Two works I’d like to turn to are To the Lighthouse (London, 1927) by Woolf and The Awakening (New Orleans, 1899) by Chopin. What these short novels share is the character of the female artist. In the first case, a not-married painter and, in the second case, a not-married musician and Edna, the main character who finds herself divided between marriage and painting. It’s interesting to see how there’s a dilemma between family duties and art which, actually, remains unresolved in both novels, especially in The Awakening where Edna incarnates the opposition. There’s no chance: either art or marriage. However, the interesting point is that of motherhood. It seems to be incarnated in both spheres; the creation of life could be substitute for that of art. In fact, these artists who in both novels remain single don’t live their condition as impoverish, while Edna experiments the two facts as contradictory. The problem of Edna, however, doesn’t consist just in the fact of being mother and artist, it’s also an expression of being trapped in a society of established roles. In such a case, we’re witnessing a difficult born: the woman of the 20th C. The tow facts aren’t in themselves contradictory but they were made so.