Tag Archive | Freud

D.H. Lawrence and Schiele on Eroticism/Pornography: a Modernist Debate.

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Last week Dr Gemma Blackshaw presented her paper “The Modernist Offence: Egon Schiele and the Naked Female Body” at the Freud Museum complementing the current exhibition “Schiele: The Radical Nude” at The Courtauld Gallery. Schiele was an Austrian modernist painter in Vienna around the 1910s and 1920s. His portraits and paintings are focused on naked female bodies with particular depictions of the genital organ which led him to big troubles with the Austrian law being accused of indecency and immorality. Vienna was a very important focus of intellectuality at the turn of the century, and also the most important producer of illegal pornographic photography of Europe together with Budapest (which also belonged to the Austro-Hungary empire).

Schiele’s arrest opened the debate around the difference between pornography and art; his supporters argued that Schiele did produce art, and he himself justified it emphasizing that the paintings were not intended to arouse the public. The same dilemma took place for D.H. Lawrence whose novels were sanctioned around the same time in the UK for being too explicit in descriptions of the sexual act. Lawrence in fact wrote an essay entitled “Pornography and Obscenity” (1929) stating the difference between art and pornography of what he was accused for Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). In the 1929 essay, Lawrence accuses Victorian morality of being pornographic in its obsession with negating sex and keep it aside because for Lawrence pornography consists on insulting sex and make it dirty, exactly what the Victorian puritans did, according to him. Lawrence understands sex as something mystical, sacred, the negation of which means a human negation, and, even worst, sex becomes then something to make fun of, to parody because it is kept secret. It is in this context – in the context of the forbidden – that pornography can exist. Indeed, secrecy is pornography, says Lawrence, and that might explain the strong pornographic sense of all 19th C. literature as far as it insists in avoiding it: the sexual obsession under-lives in bourgeois texts.

Eroticism, for both Lawrence and Schiele exists in the realm of art: it is an aestheticism of sexuality, so to say. According to this simple definition, the difference between pornography and eroticism is not found in the content but in the attitude towards the content both from the author and the public. The writer and the painter here had in common their views on the mysticism of sex, and hence its relation to human spirituality and need to represent it without falling into pornography. This attitude towards sex is common in Modernism, and probably Freud influenced on it: sexuality became a topic, and a very present element of the human being.

On Androgyny and the Primitive Mind

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Androgyny, the union of female and male characteristics, is considered by psychoanalysis as a ‘primitive state of mind’, as Jung says, a place and time when differences, or opposites, were not separated but conformed a whole. When exactly this happened is left unclear however this wholeness or androgyny state reminds at the unconscious level where consciousness has not yet processed pairs of opposites. This union of opposites does not only refer to sexual differences but to any kind of contraries which, especially the Western civilization, have carefully and ‘logically’ separated. For Jung this is part of the white civilization problem: binary opposition rather than help, confuses as it consists in separate and eliminate part of the human wholeness. Evil/goodness, weak/strong, light/darkness are some classical examples. Freud’s work might be approached at the light of such conflict in Western culture: instinct/culture, or expression/repression are likely to end up in neurosis or hysteria.

At the linguistic level, androgyny was also suggested by Freud in “The Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words” where he states that in an antique era a word might have meant one thing and its opposite. Similarly, Irigaray from a feminist perspective, claims Western discourse being build by men has forgotten its etymological origin expressing both male and female together in a single word. Binary oppositions have been criticized by feminism as something proper of a patriarchal culture, considering psychoanalytical arguments, it is a topic worth to explore. Indeed, asiatic cultures, which are popular defined as ‘feminine’, seem to still include the union of opposites; asiatic medicine is more based on the wholeness of the human being than it is Western medicine, mainly characterize by ‘cutting off’ what does not work, the human body being approached by parts rather than as a whole harmonious unity. It might be interesting to compare both medical discourses.

On space, Lefebvre points out some differences between the Western and the Eastern civilizations on the organization of domestic and public space. The opposition outside/inside is here as well approached differently: the white culture has been characterized by a strong separation of these two spheres, especially since the Modern period and the bourgeoisie, while the East keeps a more fluid relationship between the two spheres stressed trough the importance of the garden, and constructions being part of nature rather than opposite to it.

On the Psychic Home

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Roger Kennedy develops the concept of ‘psychic home’ from a psychoanalytical perspective in his book The Psychic Home (2014) whose theory may feel complemented with that of Jung and Heidegger’s approach to dwelling, as well as providing an interesting relationship between the importance of the bourgeois interior and the emergence of psychoanalysis. Kennedy argues that it is a human need to have a sense of home: ‘We need to feel at home in the world – it makes us feel secure, it provides the base from which we can explore’ (2014: 12). This sense of home is found inside the human being, it belongs to his interiority being extremely related to the physical construction of the house. This strong relationship is expressed through a continuous interaction between the inside and the outside: the psychic house is fed trough the physical space, while the physical interior becomes yearning and expression of the psychic house.

Kennedy differentiates between the interior home and the domestic space: the first one been approached as a given entity, while the second one belongs to a particular historical context. Indeed Histoire de la Vie Privée shows a complete development of domestic space being its high moment found from the French Revolution onwards, especially during the bourgeoisie. This differentiation is important to oppose traditional feminist critique as it shows how the sense of home may be set apart from the material relationship to the house, in other words, feminism fails to differentiate the relationship between the woman and her inner home from that of the material house, and that may be due to its general materialistic approach. However, following Kennedy, the history of the inner home is that of the human being: the value of home belongs to him, as Heidegger says ‘to be is to dwell’ (147); but the historical development and expression of this interiority is subjected to change, and to the materiality of the world. Thus, bourgeois domestic space should be approached from its particular context, as expression of both human interiority and social interactions. This relationship is what can lead to a conflict which is experienced by the adulteress as a central figure in part of the bourgeois novel.

Kennedy establishes the relationship between the development of domestic space and psychoanalysis based on the idea that, in fact, psychoanalysis somehow belongs to the home’s interiority, and to the inner space both psychically and physically (2014: 20): it belongs to the subject who inhabits the house. Thus the psychic home finds a strong correlation with domestic space in the bourgeoisie which is highly concerned with the cultivation of the inner space in both metaphorical and literal meanings:

 ‘One could say that the older notion of the interior as the spiritual and inner nature of the soul became, in Freud, wedded to the emerging notion of the double nature of the interior as site of dream and material reality to create a new notion of private life and of the human subject. The psychoanalytical interior, or what I shall put forward as the notion of a psychic home, becomes a revolutionary account of the human subject, one that challenged bourgeois domesticity while providing a comfortable space for exploration of its conflicts’.                                                                                             (2014: 24)

 Indeed, psychoanalysis is the product as well as the end of the proper bourgeoisie or Victorian domesticity and its core values. Kennedy approaches the discipline as a result of the strong sense of interiority domestic space brought to the individual who was not freed from inner conflicts, but far from that, those were actually caused by the same domesticity. One can then suggest with Kennedy how psychoanalysis was born from the negative side of domesticity: its conflicts; therefore, being the new discipline a cure but nonetheless also a challenge for Victorian values; the end of the restricted and disciplined sexuality, and the beginning of new experiences of the body.

Béatrice Didier on L’écriture-femme: Female Writers and their Texts

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‘L’écriture féminine est une écriture du Dedans : l’intérieur du corps, l’intérieur de la maison’; this is a statement which very well exemplifies Didier’s thoughts on female writing in her book L’écriture-femme, a brief but very interesting selection of female writers since the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The book is lovely written and very reccomendable for its analysis of the works of a few authors. Didier approaches her analysis from that which makes singular a female writing in contrast to a male writing; in this context, she outlines writing and text characteristics usually belonging to women writers – she repeatedly warns against dangerous generalizations but insists on a set of particular details usually found in female writings. At the end of the book she calls for a mutual enrichment between male and female authors learning from what they can teach to each other being her critique directed towards the historical Western general exclusion of female approaches to the text and over-valorization of what is masculine. For female writers to be awarded there is no need to write like men but to accept how  – and what – they write.

Historically, being women more confined to their domestic spaces, they wrote about what was inside the house, about topics talked mostly among women, and issues they were concerned about, and they have done it differently than men. Yet in the 20th C. there are big differences between Virginia Woolf and Ford Madox Ford being they both recognized Modernist and cultivated writers. Henry James and Edith Wharton are another example of fellow contemporaries who read each other, and still an attentive reader can draw a line from Jane Austen to Emily Brontë finishing in Wharton, so different from James’s narrative, style and approach to reality. Didier, Cixous did, relates female writing to the female body, but also to women’s relationship with the house and maternity: ‘Le désir d’écrire, aussi fondamental peut-être que le désir d’enfanter et qui probablement répond à la même pulsion, ne pouvait être utilisé de la même façon par la société. Si l’enfantement apparaissait comme la condition même de la survie de tout groupe humain et par conséquent devait être organisé dans une structure sociale, le désir d’écrire, lui, semblait au contraire marginal, subversif, à tout le moins inutile’. Therefore, creation and pro-creation going hand by hand, and indeed, it is not till Modernism that most women wrote and wrote subversive literature. According to Didier, psychoanalysis may have pushed these women to write due to its assertion that differences on identities were important: ‘La véritable conquête de l’écriture féminine moderne aura été peut-être, aidée là encore par tout un courant de pensée issu à la foi de la psychanalyse et de l’existensialisme, d’inscrire différemment l’identité dans le texte’.

Some of the characteristics Didier attributes to female writing are its orality: being women the ones who repeated tales inside the house, they transmitted oral particularities to the written text: ‘une écriture telle que le flux de la parole s’y retrouve, avec ses soubresauts, ses ruptures et ses cris’. Another characteristic is the temporal perception strongly marked by women’s biological cycles: ‘Il est possible aussi que la femme ressente le temps autrement que ne le fait l’homme, puisque son rythme biologique est spécifique. Temps cyclique, toujours recommencé, mais, avec ses ruptures, sa monotonie et ses discontinuités’. And finally the body makes another big difference: ‘‘La présence de la personne et du sujet impose immanquablement la présence du corps dans le texte. Et il est bien évident que c’est peut-être le seul point sur lequel la spécificité soit absolument incontestable, absolue. Si l’écriture féminine apparaît comme neuve et révolutionnaire, c’est dans la mesure où elle est écriture du corps féminin’.

The body is undeniable, and marks a very visible difference and one may say it makes physical the two previous points: voice and biological temporality. But the female also feels different from the male one, and experiences sexuality in another way – being of course, at the same time, different for every single person – so that it may affect the writing. It explains again the boom of female writers, so to say, after Freud, writing not only in a very particular way but of their bodies: the female body, so under control during the 19th C., is put into paper by women- men did it before – at the turn of the century: ‘Monde de sensations jusque-là inexplorées et qui supposeraient, pour etre exprimées, une autre langue’.

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis III

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According to Ricoeur, Freud approaches man as desire before he can be word, that is, man speaks in order to express her desire, which reinforces Ricoeur’s theory of the semantics of desire when approaching psychoanalytical hermeneutics: the word is born from human desire, therefore semantics before being anything else are desire. However, we cannot forget Freud’s Beyond the pleasure principle where he states that death is stronger than the libido, how then does man balance his death impulse? Freud says: trough the union with another human being, that is, trough Eros desire is born in the relationship with another person different than myself, and only this union overcomes the death impulse. However, Ricoeur, far from happy, with this explanation gives to the death impulse another sense: creativity; the death impulse in man leads him no to destruction but to symbolical creation: ‘La pulsion de mort soit représentée par une fonction aussi considérable qui n’a rien à voir avec la destructivité, mais au contraire avec la symbolisation ludique, avec la création esthétique et finalement avec l’épreuve de réalité elle-même’. In this context it is interesting the blur border between destruction and creativity, a very postmodern topic, is not deconstructionism a way to create again from the ashes?

The transformation of death into aesthetic creation – what Ricoeur calls symbolization – is the expression of man’s dissatisfaction; if Eros is a constant in human life, creation is what aims to satiate the insatiable desire, the insatiable Eros, so that the death impulse does not long for destruction but improvement: ‘Si l’homme pouvait être satisfait, il serait privé de quelque chose de plus important que le plaisir et qui est la contrepartie de l’insatisfaction, la symbolisation. Le désir donne à parler en tant que demande insatiable. La sémantique du désir, dont nous parlons sans cesse ici, est solidaire de ce report de la satisfaction, de cette médiatisation sans fin du plaisir’.

Ricoeur’s arguments regarding the death impulse resemble those on the concept of sublimation where he again puts the emphasis on the need for creation. It seems that the French philosopher gives a big importance to man’s  creative self-fulfillment rather than to repressed sexuality. Men would solve their inner conflicts through symbolization being the artist the touchstone of this expression: ‘L’artiste comme le névrosé, se détourne de la réalité, parce qu’il ne peut satisfaire à l’exigence de renoncement pulsionnel et transpose sur le plan du fantasme et du jeu ses désirs érotiques et ambitieux. Mais, per ses dons particuliers, il trouve un chemin de retour du monde fantasmatique vers la réalité : il crée une réalité nouvelle, l’ouvre d’art, où il devient effectivement le héros, le roi, le créateur qu’il a désiré être, sans avoir besoin de faire le détour d’une transformation effective du monde’.

The female body as scapegoat in The Crucible or The Salem Trials

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The Old Vic Theatre at London is hosting till the 13th of September Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (1952). As I am working on a chapter on Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) I am becoming familiar with the New England society in the 17th C, which easily brings to mind the Salem’s trials where some of Hawthorne’s ancestors participated. Thus I felt full of curiosity for Miller’s play, and I really recommend this representation at the Old Vic, it was excellent, a wonderful adaptation with great actors and a very moving acting. The play runs for 3 hours and a half but time flies in such a touching piece of work whose main virtue, I think, is the lack of action and the great dialogues full of feeling and at some points also comical. Hope, anxiety, pity, love or fear are some of the feelings the actors achieved to raise among the public, it is a cathartic piece of work in the Aristotelian sense; behind that, the aesthetics are very well chosen, it is beautiful to see the mise en scène and the whole atmosphere, I wish also to point out that the play has been faithfully adapted, it is not a modern and free adaptation but really settled in the 17th C Massachusetts which helps you to be there.

So, as has been suggested above, The Crucible deals with the Salem witch trials in the Puritan community. To sum up the facts: a group of girl teenagers from the Puritan community go out a night in the woods afterwards one of them is afflicted by some unknown malady, and as it was proper of the place and time, they suspect she has been possessed or gone into some kind of witchcraft. One of the girls starts to think and talk about spirits in the woods and panic arouses: all the girls who were in the woods start to behave as if possessed, which is, after Freud, a hysteric outburst. We may say now with Freud and Foucault that the discourse of the community is so powerful that the girls end up believing they have been victims of witchcraft and one falls after the other: collective hysteria. So, the interesting point is that these teenagers -and I think this age matters here as the introduction to womanhood, sexuality- start to accuse of witchcraft to almost every single woman of the community, that is, puritan mothers and wives. And that is the point I wanted to arrive at: teenagers belonging to a society with a terrific control over sexuality and the female body accuse women of being witches; women is what they are becoming, so a possible interpretation of the situation is the young girls’ sense of alienation with their own bodies and upcoming sexuality. Of course they are unconscious of it, but they are unclosed within the puritan discourse which demands of them to negate the experience of their puberty till, it may be said, it appears taking another form, that is, in the form of possession because this word belongs to the same discourse, so they are familiar with it, and it does not only belong to the same discourse, it is the evil part of the discourse, so is their bursting sexuality.

The situation goes completely out of control, and any woman is arbitrary accused of witchcraft by the girls. The trial is looking for witches, that is, women, so they are the scapegoat of a neurotic discourse, and I dare say, in this case it is a patriarchal one: women were the victims of the discourse, they were seen as dangerous, dangerously powerful, in the puritan context, they have a dangerous sexuality, they attract men to sin. That can be seen as the male control of the female body because they were scared of its power of seduction, and the girls in a sort of reaction against their own future bodies attack women as looking themselves in a mirror.   

What I find most interesting here is the relationship between the text or discourse, and the body in this particular context; there are more to say about it but maybe in another moment.

If you wish to see the play: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2014/the-crucible/

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis II

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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.

Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis I

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In De L’interprétation: Essai sur Freud (1965) Paul Ricoeur spends more than 500 pages discussing with Freud and considering the effects of psychoanalysis on modern culture and interpretation. One of the most interesting conclusions is the translation from the image to the word, that is, from the world of dreams to that of the language. That means the image to be the first expression of meaning which may be translated into a primitive sense, or ‘la parole primitive du désir’; hence the dream is a text, already a primitive desire, and the linguistic expression is another kind of text which recites the primitive form of thought, the image, through a primitive word: ‘Comme dit Bachelard, l’image poétique « nous met à l’origine de l’etre parlant » ; l’image poétique, dit-il encore, « devient un être nouveau de notre langage, elle nous exprime en nous faisant ce qu’elle exprime ». Cette image-verbe, qui traverse l’image-représentation, c’est le symbole’

Both image and word may then conform a symbol which conceals and reveals at the same time: the dream image does so, and that is the reason it should be put into words, but the word trying to decipher the image, or trying to reveal what it conceals, is also subjected to its own concealments, as words are always chosen in a context. Here the defiance of hermeneutics and the psychoanalytical therapy, whose relation to the Kabbalah is being highly discussed due to its methodology. All that comes down to what Ricoeur calls the semantics of desire which is actually that of dreams and, in consequence, of the linguistic therapeutic discourse: ‘Le rêve comme spectacle nocturne nous est inconnu ; il ne nous est accessible que par le récit du réveil’ c’est ce récit que l’analyste interprète ; c’est à lui qu’il substitue un autre texte qui est à ses yeux la pensée du désir, ce que dirait le désir dans une prosopopée sans contrainte’

This coming back to somewhere far behind us, as psychoanalysis does trying to find the meaning in the unconscious, may explain, according to Ricoeur, the contemporary aim of deconstructionism: ‘cette tension, cette traction extrême est l’expression la plus véridique de notre « modernité » ; la situation qui est faite aujourd’hui au langage comporte cette double possibilité […] : d’un cote, purifier le discours de ses excroissances […] ; de l’autre cote, user de mouvement le plus « nihiliste ». le plus destructeur […] pour laisse parler ce qui une fois, ce qui chaque fois a été dit quand le sens parut à neuf’. So, Ricoeur goes on, a first original meaning inhabits a second one, it may be similarly to how the symbol and the psychoanalytical therapy go back and forwards, back to rescue the first meaning and forwards to build a new one. The symbol as well participates of this dialectical movement, a part of it relates to its origins and another one reveals a new meaning being aware that Ricoeur talks of living symbols, those able to change their interpretations while remaining part of an archaic association: ‘C’est dans cette liaison du sens au sens que réside ce que j’ai appelé le plein du langage. Cette plénitude consiste en ceci que le second sens habite en quelque sort le sens premier’.

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):

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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.