Guat Da Fack?!

From Intellectual Impostures (1998) by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont:

To conclude, let us quote a brief excerpt from the book Chaosmosis, written by Guattari alone. This passage contains the most brilliant melange of scientific, pseudo-scientific, and philosophical jargon that we have ever encountered; only a genius could have written it.

We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multidimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously. A machinic assemblage, through its diverse components, extracts its consistency by crossing ontological thresholds, non-linear thresholds of irreversibility, ontological and phylogenetic thresholds, creative thresholds of heterogenesis and autopoiesis. The notion of scale needs to be expanded to consider fractal symmetries in ontological terms.

What fractal machines traverse are substantial scales. They traverse them in engendering them. But, and this should be noted, the existential ordinates that they “invent” were always already there. How can this paradox be sustained? It’s because everything becomes possible (including the recessive smoothing of time, evoked by Rene Thom) the moment one allows the assemblage to escape from energetico-spatiotemporal coordinates. And, here again, we need to rediscover a manner of being of Being — before, after, here and everywhere else — without being, however, identical to itself; a processual, polyphonic Being singularisable by infinitely complexifiable textures, according to the infinite speeds which animate its virtual compositions.

The ontological relativity advocated here is inseparable from an enunciative relativity. Knowledge of a Universe (in an astrophysical or axiological sense) is only possible through the mediation of autopoietic machines. A zone of self-belonging needs to exist somewhere for the coming into cognitive existence of any being or any modality of being. Outside of this machine/Universe coupling, beings only have the pure status of a virtual entity. And it is the same for their enunciative coordinates. The biosphere and mecanosphere, coupled on this planet, focus a point of view of space, time and energy. They trace an angle of the constitution of our galaxy. Outside of this particularised point of view, the rest of the Universe exists (in the sense that we understand existence here-below) only through the virtual existence of other autopoietic machines at the heart of other bio-mecanospheres scattered throughout the cosmos. The relativity of points of view of space, time and energy do not, for all that, absorb the real into the dream. The category of Time dissolves into cosmological reflections on the Big Bang even as the category of irreversibility is affirmed. Residual objectivity is what resists scanning by the infinite variation of points of view constitutable upon it. Imagine an autopoietic entity whose particles are constructed from galaxies. Or, conversely, a cognitivity constituted on the scale of quarks. A different panorama, another ontological consistency. The mecanosphere draws out and actualises configurations which exist amongst an infinity of others in fields of virtuality. Existential machines are at the same level as being in its intrinsic multiplicity. They are not mediated by transcendent signifiers and subsumed by a univocal ontological foundation. They are to themselves their own material of semiotic expression. Existence, as a process of deterritorialisation, is a specific inter-machinic operation which superimposes itself on the promotion of singularised existential intensities. And, I repeat, there is no generalised syntax for these deterritorialisations. Existence is not dialectical, not representable. It is hardly livable! (Félix Guattari 1995, pp. 50-52)

Jewels in the Skull

Phaidon Art BookThe Art Book, Phaidon (Second edition 2012)

An A to Z of artists, mostly painters, occasionally sculptors, installers and performers, with a few photographers and video-makers too. You can trace the development, culmination and corruption of high art all the way from Giotto and Fra Angelico through Van Eyck and Caravaggio to Auerbach and Twombly. But the modernist dreck heightens the power of the pre-modernist delights. A few pages after Pieter Claesz’s remarkable A Vanitas Still Life of 1645 there’s Joseph Cornell’s “Untitled” of 1950. One is a skull, watch and overturned glass, skilfully lit, minutely detailed, richly symbolic; the other is a wooden box containing a “frugal assortment of stamps, newspaper cuttings and other objects with no particular relevance to each other”. From the sublime to the slapdash. Over the page from Eleazar Lissitzky’s Composition of 1941 there’s Stefan Lochner’s The Virgin and Child in a Rose Arbour of 1442. One is like a child’s doodle, the other like a jewel. From the slapdash to the sublime.
Hirst Skull and landscape
And so it goes on throughout the book, with beautiful art by great artists following or preceding ugly art by poseurs and charlatans. But some of the modern art is attractive or interesting, like Bridget Riley’s eye-alive Cataract 3 (1961) and Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull For the Love of God (2006). Riley and Hirst aren’t great and Hirst at least is more like an entrepreneur than an artist, but their art here is something that rewards the eye. So is Riley’s art elsewhere, as newcomers to her work might guess from the single example here. That is one of the purposes of a guide like this: to invite – or discourage – further investigation. I vaguely remember seeing the beautiful still-life of a boiled lobster, drinking horn and peeled lemon on page 283 before, but I wouldn’t have recognized the name of the Dutch artist: Willem Kalf (1619-93).

Willem Kalf, Still Life (c. 1653)

Willem Kalf, Still Life (c. 1653)


Elsewhere, I was surprised and pleased to see an old favourite: John Atkinson Grimshaw and his Nightfall on the Thames (1880). Many more people know Grimshaw’s atmospheric and eerie art than know his name, because it often appears on book-covers and as illustrations. If Phaidon are including him in popular guides with giants like Da Vinci, Dürer, Raphael and Titian, perhaps he’ll return to his previous fame. I certainly hope so.

Finding Grimshaw here made a good guide even better. The short texts above each art-work pack in a surprising amount of information and anecdote too. What you learn from the texts raises some interesting questions. For example: Why has one small nation contributed so much to the world’s treasury of art? From Van Eyck to Van Gogh by way of Hieronymus Bosch and Jan Vermeer, Holland is comparable to Italy in its importance. But only in painting, not sculpture or architecture. There aren’t just patterns of pigment, texture and geometry in this book: there are patterns of DNA, culture and evolution too. Brilliant, beautiful and banal; skilful, subtle and slapdash: The Art Book has all that and more. It puts jewels inside your skull.


Elsewhere other-posted:

Ai Wei to HellHow to Read Contemporary Art, Michael Wilson
Eyck’s EyesVan Eyck, Simone Ferrari
Face PaintA Face to the World: On Self-Portraits, Laura Cumming