|. . . Laura Riding|
|. . . 2000-05-17|
Goodbye to All That
A long essay on a difficult writer: Laura True-Teller and Other Fairy Tales.
|. . . 2001-06-03|
Moral Analytical Dialectical Confront! (or, "I always say everybody's right")
"The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken."
"In which case it is no longer white," said I. "And he who breaks a thing to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom."
Technology (being put together) has to be taken apart to understand it. Art (similarly) has to be undertaken to understand it. Biology -- yeah, it's a sticky subject, but would you be satisfied with a medicine based on first principles and pulse-taking?
As for that which we love -- there is taking apart, and there is delving, and there is close observation of experience, and there is celebration. The sound clip you quote confounds the four, but I think the distinctions are in the motives and the outcome, not the methodology. Ground can be broken without destroying it.
|I recommend that you cast your thought on me in the forms 'What thought on her is Truth?' and 'What thought on her is Kind Thought?' I propose 'kind thought' not because of wanting to be thought on kindly. (I have not sought in my life to be treated kindly.) Kind thought would be best because when your thought on me fails to be Truth (and I know that thought of me has such failing in it among you -- how could it be otherwise, Truth still in human time of the appearance of a necessity competing with other necessities?), kind thought will put a blank in place of untrue thinking (kind thought resting in itself, thinking to no conclusion).|
|. . . 2002-06-29|
"Who's the weirdo?"
"The object of group truth is group-confirmation and perpetuation."
As usual, Laura Riding is unpleasantly correct. Science says so! A top priority for any social group is to protect the integrity of the group by erasing disputes within the group and exaggerating disputes with those outside the group. We need to synchronize our beliefs; their truth is a secondary (if that) consideration. One might even speculate that the very concept of verifiable "truth" develops -- not invariably -- from the social pressure to eliminate disagreement.
One well-documented result is that group discussions polarize attitudes, leading not so much to the lowest common denominator as to the most extreme tenable discriminator. Stereotyping of other groups, for example, follows that pattern: after a good hearty talk about Those People, mild prejudices become more vicious, and, having been publicly stated, more clung to.
Sadly (for those of us who perceive innate value in "truth"), just providing evidence to the contrary to everyone in the group isn't enough to interfere with this high-contrast-filter transformation. People -- not being essentially rational -- don't waste attention on evidence unless there's a reason to. If everyone in the group shares familiarity with the same counter-stereotypic information, they don't feel compelled to bring that information up. It's old news, as the saying goes.
But in "The Communication of Social Stereotypes" (Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, Vol. 81, No. 3), Markus Brauer, Charles M. Judd, & Vincent Jacquelin found a loophole:
If only one member of the group knows the counter-stereotypic information, the information is grounds for disagreement. Thus it becomes interesting, attention is drawn to it, and polarization doesn't occur. Heterogeneity within the group increases the visibility of evidence, and thus the validity of group opinions.
|. . . 2002-07-03|
Words to live by, at a safe distance
I continue more hunter-gatherer than cultivator, without much more to say about Laura Riding's 1928 prose collection Anarchism Is Not Enough than 1) it seems a useful reference point for a certain type of person, 2) thanks to the Sonny Bono act, it's not due to enter the public domain until 2023, and 3) thanks to Lisa Samuels, it's been reissued in a still-available paperback edition. A sampler quilt of aphoristic blocks:
|. . . 2002-07-13|
The Underground Press Cartel
On the sidewalk outside some theater a while back, Juliet and I found a leftover from the last Syco Fantic Int'l Film Festival: an expensively produced perfect-bound 48-page (plus translucent inset sheet) booklet promoting CQ, a "quality" studio film written and directed by some guy whose previous experience seems to have been as a second unit director on Bram Stoker's Dracula and The Virgin Suicides.
Although probably inspired by having seen Irma Vep on DVD, the film presents itself as a we-kid-because-we-love tribute to those fab 1960s Europop productions that were accomplished at about, what, one-tenth the budget?
The swag's cover informs us that EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY.
Following groovalicious Jean-Luc Godard's lead, let's see what story is told by the swag:
I'm happy about that last one anyway. But, when attacked, obsessive resentment will, to save itself, even go so far as to try to find rational reasons.
There's this standard way of putting down self-publishing (and non-publishing) as easy-ride self-indulgence, and this standard way of assuming that anything that gets officially stamped as high art has been inspected for quality. Whereas even a glancing acquaintance with the actual workings of cultural institutions discloses vanity publishing, nepotism, and self-aggrandizement, albeit on a larger scale. We get doctorates by supporting our advisor's research; we get good reviews by giving good reviews; we get publicity by having a name. And then we're supposed to forget everything we learned about our meat suppliers while we're dishing out the sausage.
This after-the-fact idealism reminds me of the fights I used to get into back when affirmative action was still something to fight for, as opposed to reminiscing about. "Everyone should get hired strictly on the basis of merit." Like anyone ever has been.
Yeah, I know: Grow up.
But see, that's exactly where I get all prissy-lipped. I don't mind a rich guy buying lights to put his name in (after taxes), and I can understand how rich kids are naturally better set up to do things that don't bring in any income but are highly regarded and get lots of life-style propaganda because they don't bring in any income. ("For few people are really interested in anyone else's description of himself except as it makes them feel upper-class." - Laura Riding)
I just don't see why, on top of all that, I should be the one who has to grow up.
|. . . 2004-05-01|
Oh, the other stars "play it straight," but for them it remains play. Such distance is far from fatal to Guy Maddin's films, any more than it is to the work of John Waters or Jean-Luc Godard, or the non-series diversions of Eric Rohmer. But only with McMillan does acting become this film's life; only there do we see cinematography document the mechanics of the soul. The sincerity of his melancholy seems bottomless — completely depthless, in fact, yet as inarguable as the black matte circle a Warner Brothers character slaps onto a mountainside.
Oscars™ all round! All round Ross McMillan, that is, closing in while he shrinks, shuddering, transfixed in anticipation of their chill, hairless, gentle but unyielding press against his fleshy calf!
|. . . 2007-11-07|
Interviewer: I'm reminded of Casanova's famous expression that "the best moment of love is when one is climbing the stairs." One can hardly imagine a homosexual today making such a remark.
MF: Exactly. Rather, he would say something like, "the best moment of love is when the lover leaves in the taxi." [....] It is when the act is over and the boy is gone that one begins to dream about the warmth of his body, the quality of his smile, the tone of his voice. This is why the great homosexual writers of our culture (Cocteau, Genet, Burroughs) can write so elegantly about the sexual act itself, because the homosexual imagination is for the most part concerned with reminiscing about the act rather than anticipating it. And, as I said earlier, this is all due to very concrete and practical considerations and says nothing about the intrinsic nature of homosexuality.
- Michel Foucault, "Sexual Choice, Sexual Act."
Sex is a perfidious intellectual digression into physical reminiscences.
- Laura Riding, "The Damned Thing"
Plenty of homosexual men are goal-driven, and there's also the boy in the taxi to consider. And some women and heterosexual men are nostalgic sensualists; even so stereotypically straight a guy as Fellini detested Casanova.
Well, it's an interview; Foucault speaks loosely, drops a crumb from his pastry, it's easily brushed away, it's all due to very concrete and practical considerations. This is, in short, an uninteresting disagreement.
The main point, that some such contrast of sexual imagination can be found, I agree with. It's a thought I've often had, in words no more exact than Foucault's, thought and rethought till the shoddy material's gray and gummy with handling. Foucault gives no relief: his formulation lacks the secure snap that would let me stow the thought away and the crafted surface that would make it pleasant to take down again. Our mere coincidence of mind might be taken as reassuring, but really, even I'm not that emotionally needy.
Riding's formulation is nothing but snap. I can't say whether I agree or not — acknowledgment seems the most liberty she'd permit — but this I can predict: every time I morosely chew the reheated canned spinach of my and Foucault's thought, Riding's grain of grit will be there.
Damn right Foucault speaks loosely, and it's disturbing how his highly experimental ideas and his most casual remarks have been solidified into dogmas.
Case in point: what the often-admirable Halperin and the pedagogically gifted Zizek have made of an offhand speculation or perhaps wisecrack of Foucault's on the subject of fisting. MF would offer some choice words on amateur philosophers.
Yeah — for example, I'm pretty confident he could tear me a new one without much effort....
|. . . 2010-03-09|
I'm reluctant to call anything a "cultural universal," even something that pretty much decides whether an archaeologist announces the discovery of "culture," but art-making is certainly more universal than the justifications offered for art-making. Which is not to say that art is best when motivated least but merely to confess that, as with other cultural near-universals (marriage, say), any particular motivation won't suffice for the general case. Or even for the particular.
Thus the let-down. Thanks to the Republican furloughs I finally disgorged the "ethical criticism" essay that lodged between brain and trachea for a year and a half, and to quote Lord Bullingdon "I have not received satisfaction." Not that I could receive satisfaction, I know that much by now. Cross-posting to the Valve would've bought me at most a day or two, and appearing in a print organ would've sickened me for months instead of weeks. The least miserable producers I know avoid hangovers by making sure a new project's underway by the time the old one's facing the public. With this dayjob, though, the best I can manage is hair of the dog.
Of course I am obscure; I am not offering myself but my hospitality. Nor do I hawk my hospitality abroad. I give out indications of my willingness to dispense hospitality on a basis that protects my integrity as a host.- Laura Riding, letter to the Times Literary Supplement, March 3 1932,
six years before closing her quaint-curiosity-shoppe-with-New-York-deli-service
Given my mood, I wondered why our beloved metameat didn't flourish das Gift, but upon reflection in someone else's mirror I realized that probably once you've learned German and read Finnegans Wake and a shitload of critical theory you'd get a little tired of that particular false friend, even if no false friend was ever better named.
Or was it? Maybe we can't trust it even that far. A perfect false friend, like a perfect rhyme or perfect pun, should be the product of miraculous chance. Whereas Gift is poison because poison is something given:
[Com. Teut.: OE. ghift str. fem. (recorded only in the sense 'payment for a wife', and in the plural with the sense 'wedding') corresponds to OFris. jeft fem., gift, MDu. gift(e) (Du. gift fem., gift, gift neut., now more commonly gif, poison), OHG. gift fem., gift, poison (MHG., mod.G. gift fem., gift, neut., poison), ON. gift, usually written gipt gift (Sw., Da. -gift in compounds), pl. giptar a wedding, Goth. -gifts in compounds.... The two words 'gift/Gift' in English and German both have the common germanic ancestor geban 'to give'. The rest is separate development through many centuries. The word for 'to poison' used to be 'vergeben'', but it went out of use because of its homophone meaning 'to forgive', and became 'vergiften'.]
It's a gift — a present rather than a presentation — because, like it or not, no matter how loudly we protest our detachment, in a (falsely?) friendly act the giver is there, is implicated. The detective calls his suspects to dismiss them: the victim was poisoned by herself, in a single dose from a table service blunder, or absorbed over a lifetime of serial killing.
Speaking of etymology:
[< Anglo-Norman poisoun, Anglo-Norman and Old French poisun, puisun, Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French poison, puison, puisson, Old French poisson, pouson, Middle French poyson (French poison) drink, draught (end of the 11th cent.), poisonous drink (1155), potion, medicinal drink (c1165), poisonous substance (1342) < classical Latin potion-, potio (see POTION n.). Compare Old Occitan, Occitan poison drink, draught (c1150), potion (c1200), poison (early 13th cent.).]
So maybe "Name your poison" isn't such an impressive joke either.
SCOTTIE: "Here, Judy. Drink this straight down, just like medicine."
JUDY: "Why are you doing this? What good will it do?"
SCOTTIE: "I don't know. No good, I guess. I don't know."
you sayin it ought to be the gifted Mr Ripley?
Now there was an artist without regrets!
Jonathan Mayhew kindly writes:
I love that idea that "art-making is certainly more universal than the justifiications for art-making." That encapsulates something I've been trying to get my head around for awhile.
|. . . 2011-03-27|
In Delmar 8, editor Jeff Hamilton assembled eleven solid essays on Laura Riding's Though Gently and prefixed a gorgeously precise reprint of the book itself, the first since Riding and Graves hand-pressed 200 copies in 1930. Precision was called for: in Though Gently, Riding composes to the page, filling space with proverbs and poems as if for an almanac, her always disconcertingly intense focus somehow embodied in paper. It may be the damnedest single publication of her damned anti-career.
Because I like her stories and because I have a garden, here is "A Story" from page 16:
Because he spoke this time answerably the sibyl within this time answered him. Hereafter the place of the sibyl was less terrible to him and his love of her changed from doggedness to optimism. All goes well, he said to himself, and made his home near enough to be able to say that they lived together. The sibyl of course said nothing, letting him congratulate himself so long as he spoke answerably enough to deserve a margin of illusion. He made a garden round them. “This,” he would say to himself, “is our garden.” And the sibyl within did not contradict him so long as he fancied without guile. But he grew designful and persuasive. All his eloquence now went into husbandry; questioning was a mere instrumental rite. Then the sounds of his industry angered the sibyl. “Go away,” she said, “you are disturbing my silence.” He stood puzzled. “But what of the garden?” he asked. “A garden,” she answered, “is not a question. It is your silence, which differs from mine as not to ask differs from not to answer. You may leave off questioning me answerably, but you may not have it that I have no more to say because you give me no more to answer. You may not turn into a fact what is so far only a story.”
|. . . 2014-10-29|
If, however, we examine them as two statements showing a difference of personal temperament in their authors, this hard and fast irreconcilability between romanticism and classicism disappears, and we see them both as somewhat arbitrary distinctions based on the temperamental variations likely to occur in people dealing with what is virtually the same process. Both temperaments may even be found to exist side by side in the same period. Mr. Kiddier is historically a modest contemporary of Mr. Pound’s; and what, after all, does Mr. Kiddier say that Mr. Pound does not? He says that colour is the important thing in painting and that it is a very difficult and subtle medium. To say that it belongs to the fairies is only an extravagant and harmless way of saying that man has trouble in mastering it. To call colour a spiritual thing is merely an extravagant way of saying that, to use it properly, the artist must have high qualities, such as “insight, poignancy, retentiveness, plus the energy” — Mr. Pound’s own list of the essentials in the “making of permanent sculpture.” If Mr. Kiddier insists on a first idea, Mr. Pound insists on a main one. The artistic sense relation which for the former should show in the association of trees in a picture is, true enough, defined as a kind of emotional sympathy in the artist rather than as a necessary relationship between the “motifs” employed. But is this not merely a tenderer, more ingenuous version of Mr. Pound’s own ingenuous enough remarks about the “complete thesis of principles” which the perfect statue apparently attains? [...] Romantic language such as Mr. Kiddier’s soon becomes trite after the surprise of its first use wears off; language such as Mr. Pound uses (I do not wish, of course, to suggest that either Mr. Kiddier or Mr. Pound invented their language) soon becomes jargon, which means not only trite but senseless — for it is so limited that when it loses its literal sense its metaphorical sense (such as the application to poetry of terms invented for sculpture) becomes purely academic. We shall grow weary (if we have not already) of talk of circles, triangles, spheres, form, planes, stasis and masses sooner than talk of trees put in motion by the wind, fairies, sunbeams, seasons and the passing of centuries.
Shorn of its jargon, is there anything that Mr. Pound says which is not in Mr. Kiddier’s philosophy? He says that the artist makes the mechanical exercises of his art breathe out life, that everything must be in relation (Mr. Kiddier’s word), that the sculptor can make flesh out of stone as the colour-artist gets significant vibrations out of paint. His elaborate explanation of the technical merit of “The Dancer” is really a pedantic evasion of such words as “spirituality” about which Mr. Kiddier, if asked describe this statue, would in his ingenuousness not be squeamish. “The whole form-series ends, passes into statis with the circular base or platform” is merely the basic “sameness” or peacefulness of Mr. Kiddier’s philosophy of art into which variety shall not be introduced for its own sake. A romanticist would paraphrase Gaudier- Brzeska: “The sculptor must feel his subject as a whole and understand it minutely in its parts without allowing its soul to escape. More than this, he must be able to feel and understand with stone as well as with his heart and mind.” Whatever conviction this definition loses by its sentimentality, it gains by its applicability to more than one kind of sculpture [...]
This earnestness in the romanticist easily leads to vulgarity, this self-consciousness in the classicist, to snobbery. The reason why Hulme opposed fancy to the imagination was that he had a snobbish feeling against the imagination from its being associated with many vulgarities, not from any real objection to imagination itself: for fancy to him was merely an improved, more technical, narrower imagination. “Abstract” is another “classical” word that has come to have a thoroughly snobbish connotation. It generally means: lacking in sentimental allusions to fairies, trees, spirituality, time, spring. Likewise “mathematical” and “geometric” prove themselves to mean lacking in vulgar humanity, having non-vital realism. [...] Art, in Hulme’s words, is created to satisfy a desire. The desire appears to be, in theory, the desire for art itself; to create a discontinuity in man by isolating art from nature. So art is not the creation of a fiction, but a very gloomy feeling in man about his own nature. Why this is not a romantic attitude — for the romantic includes some very gloomy feelings, indeed, about the nature of man — is that the romantic gloomy feelings do not seem to be gloomy or pessimistic enough. [...] Classical art is therefore created to satisfy a desire for gloom which is really, however, a snobbish feeling about romantic gloom.- Contemporaries and Snobs (1928) by Laura Riding
(ed. Laura Heffernan & Jane Malcolm)
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.