Maeterlinck on Language

as soon as we put something into words, we devalue it in a strange way. we think we have plunged into the depths of the abyss, and when we return to the surface the drop of water on our pale fingertips no longer resembles the sea from which it comes. we delude ourselves that we have discovered a wonderful treasure trove, and when we return to the light of the day we find that we have brought back only false stones and shards of glass; and yet the treasure goes on glimmering in the dark, unaltered.

Maurice Maeterlinck, 1897

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Taussig and Polke on Death

Sigmar Polke, Untitled (Palermo) – 1976

““I am not making a pilgrimage,” I said to myself when I visited the graveyard at Port Bou in the spring of 2002. Indeed I was not even sure I wanted to visit the graveyard. I do not think this was entirely due to fear of cemeteries on my part. Nor was it because I am also attracted to them. It was more because I feel uncomfortable about what I discern as an incipient cult around the site of Benjamin’s grave, as if the drama of his death, and of the holocaust, in general, is allowed to appropriate and overshadow the enigmatic power of his writing and the meaning of his life. Put bluntly, the death comes to mean more than the life. This cult is at once too sad and too sentimental, too overdetermined an event—the border crossing that failed, the beauty of the place, the horror of the epoch. It really amounts to a type of gawking, I thought to myself, in place of informed respect, a cheap thrill with the frisson of tragedy further enlivened by the calm and stupendous beauty of the landscape. In any event, one does not worship at the grave of great thinkers. But what then is the appropriate gesture? Death is an awkward business. And so is remembrance.”

— Michael Taussig “Walter Benjamin’s Grave: A Profane Illumination” from Walter Benjamin’s Grave (2006)

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Guggenheim panel on Portraiture and Affect

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One off: Rejlander.

Oscar Gustave Rejlander – It Won’t Rain Today – 1865

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Berger on Art

All art is meaningless to those for whom life itself is merely a spectacle.

— John Berger A Painter of Our Time (1996)

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Stahel on Photographic Literacy

An engaging and timely lecture by Urs Stahel, former Chief Curator of the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland, from the Delhi Photo Festival in September 2013. Fotomuseum Winterthur launched their remarkable curatorial programme in 1993 with an exhibition of the landmark body of work New Europe by Paul Graham.

Stahel begins to outline in this keynote lecture the critical importance of photographic and visual literacy, and the particular pressing need for an emphasis on the contextualisation of photographic images in a culture that is ever more inundated by them, and one that is simultaneously more and more populated by new or newly discovered archives of photographic imagery.

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Bergson on The Future

“The idea of the future, pregnant with an infinity of possibilities, is more fruitful than the future itself, and this is why we find more charm in hope than in possession, in dreams than in reality.”

— Henri Bergson

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Azoulay on Potential History

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Solnit on Disaster

“Disasters are, most basically, terrible, tragic and grievous, and no matter what positive side effects and possibilities they produce, they are not to be desired. But by the same measure, those side effects should not be ignored because they arise amid devastation. The desires and possibilities awakened are so powerful they shine even from wreckage, carnage and ashes. And the point is not to welcome disasters. They do not create these gifts, but they are one avenue through which the gifts arrive. Disasters provide an extraordinary window into social desire and possibility, and what is seen there matters elsewhere, in ordinary times, and in other extraordinary times.Most social change is chosen – you want to belong to a co-op, you believe in social safety nets or community-supported agriculture. But disaster doesn’t sort us out by preferences; it drags us into emergencies that require we act, and act altruistically, bravely, and with initiative to survive ourselves or save the neighbours, no matter how we vote or what we do for a living. The positive emotions that arise in those unpromising circumstances demonstrate that social ties and meaningful work are deeply desired, readily improvised, and intensely rewarding. The very structure of our economy and society prevents these goals from being achieved. The structure is also ideological, a philosophy that best serves the wealthy and powerful but shapes all of our lives, reinforced as the conventional wisdom disseminated by the media, from news hours to disaster movies. The facets of that ideology have been called individualism, capitalism and Social Darwinism, and have appeared in the political philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Malthus, as well as the work of most conventional contemporary economists, who presume we seek personal gain for rational reasons and refrain from looking at the ways a system skewed to that end damages much else we need for our survival and desire for our well-being. Disaster demonstrates this, since among the factors determining whether you will live or die are the health of your immediate community and the justness of your society. We need ties to survive, but they, along with purposefulness, immediacy and agency, also give us joy – the startling, sharp joy I found in accounts of disaster survivors. These accounts demonstrate that the citizens any paradise would need – the people who are brave enough, resourceful enough, and generous enough – already exist. The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay. If paradise nowadays arises in hell, it’s because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way.”

Rebecca Solnit “Falling together” from A Paradise Built in Hell

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Robert Cumming in conversation

Part One of an excellent two part conversation between curator and critic Sarah Bay Williams, and artist Robert Cumming, covering a broad sweep of his inventive and contemporary body of work. Hosted at Aperture in New York in October of this year. Part Two can be found here.

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