Tag Archive | Art

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis II

SIGMUND FREUDricoeur3

Ricoeur argues how the dream is a kind of discourse which needs to be translated into another discourse to find out the latent meaning the dream-image encloses; the dream is here understood as ‘désir en images’, hence the Ricoeur’s choice ‘semantics of desire’ for a psychoanalytical hermeneutics.  So two different discourses are working together to interpret a whole hide meaning, a process called ‘travail de rêve’: the dream belongs to the meaning discourse, while the act of suppression to that of power, that is, in a psychoanalytical interpretation there is always a dialectics of manifested image meaning and the will to suppressed it; to put it into speech is to overcome the discourse of power -understood as resistance to be pronounced. The dream image contains in itself this dialectic as the image is indeed a revelation and a disguise of the same meaning. The mask is what better symbolizes the dream: it reveals and conceals simultaneously, and, I think, this revealing and concealing is an essential part of the erotic -in opposition to the porno-, so the link between the dream and desire may be found in this mode of appearance, something which is revealed and concealed.

‘Le rapport du caché à montrer dans le déguisement requiert donc une déformation, ou une défiguration, qui ne peut être énoncée que comme un compromis de forces’. It follows the role played by censure to which Ricoeur gives its importance. Censure is what causes this distortion, this will to disguise, to show it in other words, in this case through another discourse, that of the image: ‘d’une part, la censure se manifeste au niveau d’un texte auquel elle inflige des blancs, des substitutions de mots, des expressions atténuées, des allusions, des artifices de mise en pages, les nouvelles suspectes ou subversives se déplaçant et se cachant dans des entrefilets anodins ; d’autre part, la censure est l’espressione d’un pouvoir, plus précisément d’un pouvoir politique, lequel s’exerce contre l’opposition en la frappant dans son droit d’expression ; dans l’idée de censure les deux systèmes de langage sont si étroitement mêlés qu’il faut dire tour à tour que la censure n’altère un texte que lorsqu’elle réprime une force et qu’elle ne réprime un force interdite qu’en perturbant son expression’. Ricoeur goes on affirming that Freud’s originality resides in the fact of seeing the unconscious as the place where both sense and suppression take place. That is what makes possible to translate the unconscious into the conscious through their common structure which is the capacity of representation.

Regarding sublimation, Ricoeur critiques the fact that the work of art is the expression of a sexual energy which may express the author’s conflicts; he instead argues that sublimation is of a dialectic character as well, allowing thus to observe a return to a primitive area, which may correspond to the unconscious conflict, and a going forward in the production of meaning of the work itself, hence resolving the conflict: ‘l’œuvre d’art est en avance sur l’artiste lui-même : c’est un symbole prospectif de la synthèse personnelle et de l’avenir de l’homme, plutôt qu’un symptôme régressif de ses conflits non résolus […] Le sens véritable de la sublimation ne serait-il pas de promouvoir des significations nouvelles en mobilisant des énergies anciennes d’abord investies dans des figures archaïques ?’ This production of new meaning remains Ricoeur’s theory in The Rule of Metaphor, where metaphor displays a new world of significance, and very well relates to the need for resolution through a creative act.

D.H. Lawrence, the Arts and the Body

In his critique to the Victorian and bourgeoise society, Lawrence expressed, as he does in many of his novels, his concerns on how the materiality and authenticity of life and experience was left behind for an intellectual approached to human relationships, and hence, for a repudiation of the body. This last one was central to the author, so he tried to find the proper body’s language, a language which allowed him to express the body, a part of the human being, according to him, so repudiated by the bourgeoisie: ‘That is the real pivot of all bourgeois consciousness in all countries: fear and hate of the instinctive, intuitional, procreative body in a man or woman’ (‘Introduction to these Paintings’).

Interestingly for a reader of the 21st century, and related to Lawrence’s ideas on Bourgeoisie, is his attitude towards sexuality. Lawrence accused his ancestors of having kept secret the whole matter of sex, therefore, causing a sort of masturbating society, a practice he detests as it impedes sexual communion and exchange of energy, and, he says, is focused on the activity of the intellect and not of the body: ‘The greatest of all lies in the modern world is the lie of purity and the dirty little secret. The grey ones left over from the nineteenth century are the embodiment of this lie’ (‘Pornography and Obscenity’).

If, says Lawrence, the novel does not know how to represent the body, neither does painting, especially English 19th century painting, which having no idea how to deal with such an element, its landscapes do not include the human form: ‘the English have delighted in landscape, and have succeeded in it well. It is a form of escape for them, from the actual human body they so hate and fear’ (‘Introduction to these Paintings). However, a homage is left to Cézanne the only painter who really tried to represent living matter but who, due to his bourgeoise class, merely failed:

‘Cézanne felt it in paint, when he felt for the apple. Suddenly he felt the tyranny of mind, the white, worn-out arrogance of the spirit, the mental consciousness, the enclosed ego in its sky-blue heaven self-painted. He felt the sky-blue prison. And a great conflict started inside him. He was dominated by his old mental consciousness, but he wanted terribly to escape the domination. He wanted to express what he suddenly, convulsedly knew: the existence of matter. He terribly wanted to paint the real existence of the body, to make it artistically palpable’ (‘Introduction to these Paintings’).

According to Lawrence, Cézanne represented a living apple, far from the man’s perspective, instead the apple has a proper life of its own, a proper way to relate with reality which escapes from men’s perspective. It is a true apple because it expresses relativeness, it is Cézanne’s apple.

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What I did not know is that Lawrence himself has some paintings which indeed express relationships among bodies:

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His intention to express materiality in his writings is seen in his paintings which focus on the body and one easily see, for example, Gerald’s description in Women in Love, for example.

The Paintings of D. H. Lawrence by Lawrence, D. H.

Aesthetics of the Erotic in Japanese Art and Modernist European Literature

The British Museum exhibits an important Japanese painting collection called ‘Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art’ which displays a high number of both erotic drawings and paintings in Japan since the 16th to the 19th century. The exhibition follows the history and development of this kind of art which became controversial in the early 20th century Japan. Sexuality is mainly explored as something very natural, common and even funny; the aim of these works were to be enjoyed by couples, as guidebooks, or for single stimulation. They present different positions, and erotic stories where usually a third person played a roll such as a jealous wife or a curious observer. Both heterosexuality and homosexuality are equally depicted and a shameless sense of enjoying sex in whatever form or place predominates.

The shunga experienced some popularity in Europe through many artists of the Modernist period who were influenced by the erotic sense of the Asiatic paintings, such as Toulousse Lautrec. In a general sense, Japanese paintings arrive at Europe through vivid colours and sinuous lines; the sense of curve and sensuality is mainly predominant in both the Shunga and Modernist paintings (Tissot, Monet, and Kiyonaga):

 James_Tissot_-_La_Japonaise_au_bainClaude_Monet-Madame_Monet_en_costume_japonais

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In Modernist literature eroticism is also stylised through the use of language or equating sexual and erotic experiences with art and artistic experiences. The whole sexual exploration present in Modernist literature in works from Proust, Gide, or Schnitzler, among others, testify that sexuality, or sensual experiences in general, can also be intellectually enjoyed and considered beautiful in themselves. The use of vivid colours, for example, in Gide’s The Immoralist depicts a sensuous and artistic approach of erotic bodies which are part of the exotic environment they belong to, and therefore, to its beautiful natural scenes. Swann in Remembrance of Time Lost enjoys music and painting as he enjoys his lover, finding difficult to separate artistic from sexual pleasure. His high stylised narrative, moreover, makes it almost impossible to differ between an act of artistic creation and a sexual one.

The close relationship between artistic-visual and sexual pleasure is already defined by Freud in his Essays on Sexuality where the object of beauty may lead to a sexual desire. Japanese art very well attempt this fusion outlining especially curve forms which of all are the most agreeable.

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.