Nicolas Calas

  • AGAINST THE RETURN TO ORDER

    LATELY THE INTERNATIONALISM OF PAST vanguard movements has been opposed to the nostalgia of local traditions. Why stop there—in this age of computers and television, why not resurrect the costumes worn by the great-grandparents of the Bavarian and Prussian figurative artists? Ethics and esthetics are one and the same thing. They belong to the realm of value judgments. If a work produced by the pen or the brush does not generate a poem, why bother with it? In his Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (1972), Erwin Panofsky notes that in times “when artistic problems become so profound that

  • OF MICE AND FOLLY IN “THE GARDEN OF DELIGHTS”

    THE WORDS OF THE PSALMIST, For he spoke and they were made: he commanded and they were created (Ps. 32:9), written in Latin across the closed shutters of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Delights, ca. 1500, serve notice that this painting illustrates the allegorical meaning attributed to the word of God by His ministers. (A Catholic painter was entitled to do this on the strength of Saint Paul’s testimony that it is Jesus Christ Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life [2 Cor. 3:6].) To discover

  • Three Oblique Situations

    IN THE BEGINNING IS the word, as interpreted by Roland Barthes, means “the death of the author” for “writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin.”1 Barthes traces the origin of this theory to Mallarmé, whose “entire poetics consist in suppressing the author in the interest of writing.” Furthermore, this removal "utterly transforms the modern text. . . . We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single theological meaning (the message of the author God) but a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.2

    As

  • Myth, Thermadorians and Solipsists

    Reification

    THE MARQUIS DE SADE'S CONTENTION that, for lasting success, social revolution must be conjoined with moral revolution came to find its justification in Freudo-Marxism. Hegel’s daring concept of the unhappy consciousness led Marx to deduce that the history-making consciousness belongs to the class that revolts against its ruling class for having deprived it of the wealth it produced. From this assessment Marx concluded that, in order to replace capitalism by socialism on an international scale, the working class must think politically in terms of a universal discourse.

    The failure of

  • The Third Mind

    William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, The Third Mind (New York: The Viking Press, 1978), 194 pages.

    Experimental work, in pen or brush, explodes the meanings of words and/or images, subjecting them to the impact of violent clashes, to violent perturbations of structure. Caught between an otherness of the self and a fetishism of the machine, poets and painters algebrize metaphors and permutations: a rose is a rose is a rose, but this is not a pipe. The Dadaists, more than any other vanguard group, reduced art to a game in which the dice were loaded with irony. Games, of course, follow rules, and

  • The Challenge of Surrealism

    “A HERO OF THE WESTERN World” is what André Breton was for Jean Paulhan, the editor of the Nouvelle revue française, whose issue of April 1967 came out under the banner “André Breton and the Surrealist movement 1896-1966.“ Three years later, on the anniversary of Breton’s death, a group of his followers announced that the historical period of Surrealism had ended, but that it had eternal values. Presumably the predicate “eternal” had been chosen to defy those followers of Breton who would never think in terms of eternity.

    A contrary opinion was expressed by Gaetan Picon, the right-hand man of

  • Meret Oppenheim: Confrontations

    SURREALIST OBJECTS ARE FETISHES attuned to disorientation. Lautréamont, the great forerunner of Surrealism, is to the fetish-maker what liquor is to the driver, the propelling spirit of accidents. Picasso’s Bicycle, Duchamp’s Chocolate Grinder, Giacometti’s Hour of Traces and Meret Oppenheim’s Fur Cup are perhaps the most famous of all.

    The usual explanation for the last object is Freudian, associating a cup of fur with female sex. However, unlike Dali, Meret Oppenheim is not apt to exploit the sexual chiaroscuro. In an interview with the poet Alain Jouffroy, Oppenheim traced the origin of this

  • Freedom, Love and Poetry

    SURREALISM EMERGED IN THE MID-1920S, celebrating life in its artistic and poetic manifestations and castigating both those who, in the name of art for art’s sake, detach art from life, and those who split their life by sacrificing the ideals of youth for the benefits of an artistic career. By adopting Marx’s famous dictum “We have sufficiently explained the world, the point is to transform it,”1 Surrealism committed itself to an interpretation of events in terms of crises resulting from irreconcilable class antagonisms. By adopting Rimbaud’s call “Life must be changed,” Surrealism committed

  • Bodyworks and Porpoises

    MODERN ART REINTERPRETS THE LEONARDIAN knowing-how-to-see in post-Euclidian terms. Some even came recently to believe that with the coming-of-age of photography and readymades, sculpture and painting were finally superseded. Two years ago John Perreault, for instance, assumed that all that was left of art was the idea.1 By idea I take him to mean that the perceivable part of the artist’s expression is suggestive enough for the viewer to appreciate its concept. When applied say, to the work of Sol LeWitt, the term “conceptual” suggests a relation between his skeletons of boxes to the ideal (or

  • Madness in the Arena

    AN ART THAT IS SUPPOSED to imitate reality, but that does not succeed in reflecting it convincingly, is untrue. As our laws of nature are supposed to reflect an existing state of affairs we consider them to be true. But how absolute are scientific laws? Kant himself claimed to have produced a Copernican revolution, first by assuming that objects conform to our intuition, and, second, by concluding that these objects are governed by laws of the mind.1 Kant thus made of man virtually the lawmaker of nature. This is why we can say that laws of nature are falsifiable, or cease to be true, when they

  • Marcel Broodthaers' Throw of the Dice

    “THE MOTION OF HEAVEN AND all it contains has a motion like the motion of reason,” says Plato in his Laws (No. 897). Marcel Broodthaers’ death on the 52nd anniversary of his birth prompted me to reappraise his artistic work in terms of revolutions in time, more specifically in terms of a circle completed by Mallarmé within the Symbolist movement and by Magritte within the Surrealist movement. Broodthaers both subverts and extends Magritte’s principle grounded in “This is not a pipe.” Broodthaers, influenced by Marxism, and possibly Lucacs, wants a work of art to be considered as a phenomenon of

  • A Tough Nut To Crack

    IN MY OPINION, THE PLAYERS of sophisticated games, like chess or bridge, view the limiting rules of the game as a challenge to their virtuosity, while the modern artist and the poet challenge us by presenting language games whose rules we do not as yet know. As the knowledge of having played skillfully compensates for abiding by the rules, so the structure of a new enigma is a challenge to the artist and the cracking of its code is, for the viewer, a liberation from problems of beauty.

    GORKY’S GARDEN OF WISH-FULFILLMENT

    High-frequency shocks of Surrealism enabled Arshile Gorky, in the early ’40s,

  • Adja Yunkers

    In a special edition, Adja Yunkers illuminated Blanco, a poem by Octavio Paz, either in silkscreens, lithographs, or intaglio images. In this, their second collaboration in book publishing, two poets, one of the pen, the other of the brush, invite us to a feast of the eye and a delectation of the mind. Adja Yunkers, by labeling his contribution “illuminations“ directly renews the link with Rimbaud, the poet of the alchemy of colors and words. As Andre Breton had translated this theme in terms of “les mots font l’amour” (“words make love”) so Octavio Paz rephrases it when he speaks of “two

  • The Roots of Man

    Alexander Marshak, The Roots of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972).

    FROM A STRICTLY CHRISTIAN point of view the meaning of history is prefigured by the antediluvian era. Noah’s ark symbolizes the Church that, at the end of temporal time, will save the faithful from the flood of infidelity. With unrivaled grandeur, Michelangelo illustrates this theme in terms of a tradition that permits him to blend Biblical history with Vergilian Sibyllae who prophesized the coming of Christ. Michelangelo’s Christ descending from the heavens in his second coming is a God of Apollonian beauty and wisdom.

    It was only

  • A Perspective

    Super-Reality

    WITH IMPRESSIONISM, CUBISM, AND EXPRESSIONISM, art ceased to be a pictorial rendition of reality to become the expression of transreality in which the process of making the painting is an integral part of the work. Surrealism focused attention on the limitations of physical reality. When Magritte included the inscription “ceci n’est pas une pipe ” in a canvas with the representation of a pipe, when Dalí portrayed Gala looking at herself without benefit of a mirror, physical reality shrank. Surrealists are not so much intent on escaping from reality and fleeing into fantasy as they