Lepore on Narratives of History

“Every age has a theory of rising and falling, of growth and decay, of bloom and wilt: a theory of nature. Every age also has a theory about the past and the present, of what was and what is, a notion of time: a theory of history. Theories of history used to be supernatural: the divine ruled time; the hand of God, a special providence, lay behind the fall of each sparrow. If the present differed from the past, it was usually worse: supernatural theories of history tend to involve decline, a fall from grace, the loss of God’s favor, corruption. Beginning in the eighteenth century, as the intellectual historian Dorothy Ross once pointed out, theories of history became secular; then they started something new—historicism, the idea “that all events in historical time can be explained by prior events in historical time.” Things began looking up. First, there was that, then there was this, and this is better than that. The eighteenth century embraced the idea of progress; the nineteenth century had evolution; the twentieth century had growth and then innovation. Our era has disruption, which, despite its futurism, is atavistic. It’s a theory of history founded on a profound anxiety about financial collapse, an apocalyptic fear of global devastation, and shaky evidence. Continue reading

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Thompson on Modernity

“A commuter will leave his home in the northern suburbs of New York City at 6:30 or 7a.m. to drive on a six-lane highway at 70 or 75 miles an hour in a car separated from the ones in front, behind, and on either side by only a few feet, often talking on the phone while he drives. He works a full day in an office or cubicle where he gives his attention to three or four electronic devices, an attention interrupted only by the meetings he will attend during the workday (when he will monitor only one or two devices, in addition to participating in the meeting). At home he will attend to family matters and perhaps read some, or watch more media to keep up on news not available at the office or in the car. For many Americans who have managed to succeed in getting something of what they want, this is present-day life.”

— Jerry L. Thompson in Why Photography Matters

Lucas Blalock – Mexico City Blues (2012)

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Icecap, by James Merrill

Yes, melting changes
the whole picture. That
once young republic tassled
sea to sea with golden wit
has tattered to a
wrack of towns, bubble
domes unpricked on the lagoon’s
fogged mirror. Losses and debts
are equally, now,
past calculation,
resources (but for the odd
oil rig or artisan or
lone—ah my dearest—
body ardently
asleep beneath a sunset-
rippled vault of stucco) nil.
Still, the shift from world
power to tourist
mecca goes unmourned. People
appear relieved of the real
embarrassment the
landscape had become
in those late decades. Dead roads
and deconsecrated malls,
moth-eaten orchards
far North, deep crops left
rotting on the Plains gave out
how the collective psyche
shrugged off its future
and despised its roots,
bent upon pleasures merely
of the here and now. Wherefore
toward those gossamer
centers all night long
causeways whip and barges throb. Continue reading

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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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