There has never been a better year to look at the work of Kazimir Malevich, a pioneer of abstract art often seen as the greatest Russian painter of the twentieth century. “Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art,” first shown in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and now at London’s Tate Modern, is the most comprehensive exhibition of his work ever.

Malevich is known above all for his Black Square (1915)—a black square surrounded by a margin of white—the most prominent of the abstract, geometric paintings he called Suprematist, first shown at the now famous “0.10” exhibition in Petrograd in 1915. With Suprematism, Malevich hoped to create “a world in which man experiences totality with nature,” though using forms “which have nothing in common with nature.” He declared the Black Square to be the “zero of form,” claiming that it eclipsed all previous art. This iconoclastic icon was first shown hanging diagonally across the corner of a room, the traditional place for the most sacred icon of all.

Robert Chandler writes on Kazimir Malevich in the NYRB.

In Simone Weil: An Introduction to her Thought, John Hellman shows that Weil's concept of attention is not simply some kind of effortful application of concentration (Weil: "Most often attention is confused with a kind of muscular effort ... [a] kind of frowning application") but rather "the link between several aspects of her thought: her ascetic intellectualism, her love for mathematics, her concern for the poor and oppressed, her innovatively focussed politics, and her unusually empathetic sensitivity." Attention, then, is a complex, compound term with several overlapping concerns. Whilst singularity of focus and uncluttered thought are obviously part of the definition of attention, Weil also says, "Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty and ready to be penetrated by the object." Our thought, she says, "should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything." So too for prayer, of course ("prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God.")

In Robert Pippin's After the Beautiful: Hegel and the Philosophy of Pictorial Modernism, Pippin writes: "in the case of pictorial art, the ability of painting to arrest time and thereby to 'make present' can render aspects of human action available" to us like nothing else. Life rushes past, but art pays attention. In the same footnote, Pippin goes on to write: "Hegel can also be summarized by saying that art has the task of the 'Vergegenwärtigung des Absolutes', the bringing of the Absolute to presentness."

Art – and Pippin is arguing about pictorial art here, but I'm applying this more loosely and broadly – pays attention, and gifts to us the complexity of a present moment (and the present, of course, is doused, drowned, in God; the Absolute in German Idealism is a term that is not simply a synonym for God, but that can comfortably stand in for the divine, amongst other things.) We need to be fully open to art to attend to it completely in order to hear all that it is saying. It is, perhaps, Eliot's still point in a turning world: where the dance is, where past and future are gathered, where our attention has to lay if we are ever to find the wisdom appropriate to our own confusions.

Eliot and Weil are, of course, profoundly religious writers. Hegel formulated his system within the explosion of theological debate at the beginning of the 19th Century. (And it is noteworthy that the post-Kantian aesthetics of German Idealism flower at this particular moment of theological crisis.) Using any of these thinkers to help one articulate something, anything, about aesthetics leaves its traces, of course. Or, more positively, reveals a truth: aesthetics are undergirded by the human truths contested in ethics and theology. Aesthetics isn't masquerading as something it is not, but if we pay attention it turns out to be more than we often think it is. It feels, actually, like an ethical demand. Like Levinas's call of the Other - something finally unknowable, but exigent. It cannot be ignored. Reading closely, then, is perhaps a paradigm of engaged engagement. It is about paying attention to paying attention and realising that such can take us well beyond the words on the page.

This all leads me to want to discuss Blanchot, Levinas, Object Oriented Ontology-inspired ideas about "withdrawal" and a host of other things because all of them nourish and inform how and why I read, and how and why I respond to what I read in the way that I do. But before I address such, I want to say a little more about Weil, Pippin and modernism...

Mark Rothko believed that the art of children and the work of modern painters were directly related. They were related because of their influence of “primitive” art. According to Rothko, it “transforms itself into primitivism, which is only the child producing a mimicry of himself.” (Jeffery Weiss 2000) He also observed that “the face that one usually begins with drawing is already academic. We start with color.” (Jeffery Weiss 2000) Modern artists like children who are influenced by the primitive both express a natural feeling in their best work through art that is created without mental interference. It is created out of a physical and emotional experience. It is free from intellect and no concern for the formal. He believes though that the composition itself portrays deep intellect. The research Rothko did toward this helped to move him into his development of “color field” paintings. These paintings incorporate elements from his earlier works as well as later pieces. They were greatly influenced by two important events in his life. One was the onset of World War II. The other was his reading of Friedrich Nietzsche’s, “The Birth of Tragedy”...

Read more: The Effect of Friedrich Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy on Mark Rothko.

"In his Lectures on Fine Art, delivered in Berlin in the 1820's, Hegel argued that art works involve a unique form of aesthetic intelligibility, and that what they rendered intelligible was the state of collective human self-knowledge across historical time. This approach to art works has been extremely influential in a number of different contexts. The question posed in this lecture is whether Hegel's approach might also be of any value in understanding the most radical revolution in the later history of art, modernism. Accordingly the attempt is to provide a Hegelian interpretation of the paintings of Éduard Manet." (Via)

No Medium

For me, right up there as the best book of the year so far is Craig Dworkin's amusing, highly detailed and exceptionally nuanced No Medium.

In No Medium, Craig Dworkin looks at works that are blank, erased, clear, or silent, writing critically and substantively about works for which there would seem to be not only nothing to see but nothing to say. Examined closely, these ostensibly contentless works of art, literature, and music point to a new understanding of media and the limits of the artistic object.

Its been noted elsewhere, I'm glad to say – a long review (which I need to read carefully) from Richard Marshall over on 3:AM and a nice mention over on THE magazine too ("What ... makes No Medium invaluable is that the author’s immersion in the field permits him to highlight the qualities distinguishing the works with a connoisseur’s appreciation."). And you can see Craig talking about, and reading from, his book in a lecture on vimeo...

I'll respond to the book – and to Marshall's review - anon (I hope!) In the meantime, take my word for it: it's a goody!

Fabulous looking event:

WWTBD – What Would Thomas Bernhard Do
Talks, discussions, lectures, films, performances, concerts, parties
May 17–26, 2013 Daily 2pm–2am
Kunsthalle Wien Museumsquartier Museumsplatz 1 1070 Wien, Austria

As a prelude to its repositioning, the Kunsthalle Wien organizes a ten-day festival dedicated to key issues of today's society. WWTBD – What Would Thomas Bernhard Do takes up the tradition of Thomas Bernhard's critical and recalcitrant thinking, transfers it into the present, and breaks it down into various disciplines in the sense of a concise analysis of the present.

Deliberately posed without a punctuation mark, the question What Would Thomas Bernhard Do does not raise expectations of a singular answer. It rather makes room for a wide range of statements, discussions, as well as the construction of both stable and fragile investigative and intellectual edifices. What Would Thomas Bernhard Do does not only work in a scientifically logic or poetical way, but also musically, visually, and, above all, in the togetherness and confusion of a marathon without a traced-out finishing line.

About one hundred protagonists from the fields of fine art, music, literature, art theory, sociology, philosophy, and economics will participate in the performance of a spectacular and innovative play. Six to twelve acts a day will be modulated in different tempi and tonalities so that they work as singular elements, but also become part of the overall tableau developed by WWTBD in the course of its ten-day duration. The invited protagonists being confronted with each other in the choreographed sequence and in different formats and the visitors are productively involved in what happens, offering leeway for interpretation along the fault lines of society.

Lectures will be followed by performances, discussion rounds by readings, vocal numbers, or musical performances, conversations, and DJ and party events. The stage set by the US artist Barbara Kruger and an intervention by the Austrian artist Heinrich Dunst provide the two constant factors for WWTBD.

RGAP (Research Group for Artists Publications) was "formed by Martin Rogers in 1994, and was previously sited at the School of Art and Design, University of Derby" –

In 2002, RGAP moved out from the University to become an independent, not-for-profit artist-led organisation, and has continued to publish artists' books and editions, and work with other centres in the UK and abroad, setting up collaborative projects, publications, exhibitions and events. This includes the organisation of the Small Publishers Fair – an international event held annually in London.

As well as working with visual artists, RGAP has published editions by composers, writers, sound, and performance artists, and works have been featured in numerous exhibitions related to artists’ books and publications.

Again, A Time Machine: Stewart Home: SPACE hosts the first UK retrospective of Stewart Home’s work –

From his earliest work Stewart Home has expressed an avantgardist desire to write himself into the archive of culture. Mixing myth and polemic, with plagarism and a savage ideological critique, the parodic manifestoes of Generation Positive, progressed into the self-historicising magazine Smile, the Neoists, and finally The Art Strike – an aggressive appropriation of Gustav Metzger's strike proposal (more...)
Opening Thursday 5 Arpil 6:00pm until 9:00pm (SPACE 129-131 Mare Street, London E8 3RH.) Show runs until 20 May 2012.

The Emblem of My Work is the title of the exhibition that will open in the gallery at Shandy Hall in September 2011.

The Emblem of My Work will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the marbled page (page 169) in Volume III of Tristram Shandy and will be largely put together by chance.

The variety of interpretations in the Black Page exhibition delighted visitors and the results of this challenging request will be fascinating to see.

Each of the 73 artists who generously created a Black Page for the exhibition in 2009 have been asked to participate in this exhibition and each has been asked to nominate another artist / writer / composer to take part. This will bring the total number of participants to 146.

A further 23 will be specifically invited making the total of exhibitors 169.

Each contributor will be sent blank templates of page 169 (see above) and each will create the emblem of their work within the boundaries of the rectangle.

More at Emblem of My Work...

In Berger's kitchen is an etching of the angel announcing to the shepherds the birth of Christ, which he made when he was a teenage militant left-wing activist. He says he has never practised any religion but over the years has had close friendships with many people who do, including the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan's brother, who was a monk in a nearby monastery in France. "And from about the age of 14 two things have coexisted within me. On the one hand a kind of materialism, which includes the Marxist view of history. On the other a sense of the sacred, the religious if you like. This duality never felt contradictory to me, but most other people thought it was. It is beautifully resolved by Spinoza, who shows that it is not a duality, but in fact an essential unity."

John Berger: a life in writing.

Always a pleasure to get a nice, fat package through the post, especially in this weather...

And, very kindly, I've just been sent some gorgeous looking copies of the beautifully designed The Devil's Artisan magazine.

Over the past twenty-eight years, I read, the focus of the journal has broadened somewhat "from an early technical interest in the craft of fine printing to its current role as A Journal of the Printing Arts. The magazine has, however, remained committed to its constituency – and hence is released in the spring at the Wayzgoose festival of the Book Arts in Grimsby on the Niagara peninsula, and in the fall at the Ontario College of Art & Design Book Arts Show on McCaul Street in Toronto."

I'll feedback with a review anon but, must be said, first impressions are very favourable:

The Devil's Artisan first appeared in 1980 under the editorship of Paul Forage, William Rueter (University of Toronto Press) and Glenn Goluska, latterly of Coach House Press (Toronto) and currently print design consultant to Phyllis Lambert at the Centre for the Study of Architecture in Montreal. The magazine was founded 'for the purpose of presenting to Canadian readers information on the craft of printing and bookmaking, on bibliographic and historic matters, and on communicative, sociological, and technical subjects related to printing.'

Interesting arty stuff going on at Shandy Hall in Coxwold, near York, which is the house where Laurence Sterne wrote The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (information below from the Independent; exhibition includes work by my dear friend Nick Thurston)...

This autumn, the gallery opened The Perverse Library, the first exhibition of conceptual writing to go on show in this country. It claims to be an emerging art form, a fusion of art and literature, influenced by the first artists' books by Ed Ruscha and Sol LeWitt, as much as by writers such as Sterne, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce. "Conceptual writing seeks to ask what would a non-expressive poetry look like? A poetry of intellect rather than emotion?" says Professor Craig Dworkin, a leading figure in the movement.

"Conceptual writing is a necessary thing in our culture where we feel language is impoverished by everyday use," says the artist Professor Pavel Büchler, of Manchester Metropolitan University. "It repairs the damage done by bureaucratic and managerial language. Conceptual writing keeps open possibilities in language."

Conceptual writing is a computer program by artist Simon Morris, which randomly reorders the entire text of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams. Or, it is a book by Nick Thurston in which the author has removed all the text from a book by Maurice Blanchot, except notes he made in the margin. In the centre of the gallery stands a bookcase. It is made of Perspex and the transparent shelving makes the books appear to float, hence its title: The Invisible Bookshelf. The books on show were chosen in response to the library of Professor Dworkin. His latest book, titled The Perverse Library, is a list of every book that he owns, all 2,427 of them. He writes that the books we own reveal less about us than the books that we don't own and that a library must have what he calls "dynamic tensions". A random assortment of books is not a library.

The Perverse Library, Shandy Hall, Coxwold, York (01347 868465; to 31 October.

The ICA is one of my favourite London venues. It’s had an incredible history, staging a legendary discussion with the Situationists, exhibiting Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti’s controversial art about the sex industry (the original display is now on show at the Tate Modern’s rather dull Pop Life show) and, of course, that notorious Einsturzende Neubauten performance...

I’ve seen loads of great talks there (and, admitting an interest, helped put on a few). One fascinating evening saw a discussion between ex-Angry Brigade John Barker and ex-Weather Underground Bill Ayers. Another, a truly bizarre meeting of the late G.A. Cohen -- author of Why Not Socialism? -- and Slavoj Zizek. Unfortunately, I missed the night where satirist Chris Morris heckled Martin Amis for his anti-muslim comments.

As well as the talks and the great cinema (where else would you be able to see the new film of Coetzee’s Disgrace or the documentary about Derrida?), the ICA has one of the best bookshops in the country. I visit regularly for their large selection of the latest theory titles.

Last year, I was saddened to see the long-standing and excellent talks' organisers James Harkin and Jenn Thatcher leave, and this Saturday’s Guardian gives clues as to why this may have happened. It seems that the financial crisis has bitten deep and even more redundancies are expected -- there is a fear that the debt is insurmountable.

This is both an important cultural venue and a key independent bookshop in the life of the capital. Have you not been before? It’s just off Trafalgar Square , 5 minutes from Charing Cross Road station -- you can fit it in on the way to Buckingham Palace! I urge you to use it -- to lose a place like this would be a tragedy.


Whilst Bridget Riley's Op Art looks to be utterly abstract it was, for Riley, grounded in real life. Following John Lancaster, Wikipedia defines Optical Art as "a method of painting concerning the interaction between illusion and picture plane, between understanding and seeing", but for Riley the first "picture plane" was the eye and it was immediately offered illusions by the world itself. Bend close to -- and concentrate hard on -- grass bending in the wind and, to be honest to reality, to paint what you actually see, you'll have to create something that looks a bit like Orphean Elegy I. It would be merely an amusing taxonomical gesture to rebrand Op Art as Realism, but it would perhaps be a useful reminder that the concomitant gesture, that of refusing to see Realism merely as Ideology, is an absurd taxonomical rigidity we'd do best to overturn. To think Realism is real -- or even a particularly good representation of it -- is a very major category error.

All art, sometimes despite itself, is symbolic, but mistaking the real for Realism is madness. In Wallace Stevens' Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself a sound is heard, "a scrawny cry from outside / Seemed like a sound in his mind." There is a dialectic between inside and outside, a dialogue, a tension: art negotiates that, plays with it. What a piece of artwork is, or represents, always ends up representing something more than itself: a picture of lines is really a picture of grass is really about nature or the world or perhaps something more political like "women and nature" or "women and nature and the world" -- this is an almost inevitable critical drift, one that we should be aware of and very cautious about. Note the way the drift occurs: seamlessly, what a picture is, or could be, becomes what it is about; representation is always already symbolism (as they'd no doubt say in the University seminar room). The smallest part -- that blade of grass, Whitman's or Riley's -- can refer to, can stand for, the whole; but, in truth, the pressure is too much to bear: it can't be the whole, and the whole itself can never be represented, so the urge to create is the certainty of failure, but also the very reason to carry on creating.

Writing in the Guardian, Damon Wise called Charlie Kaufman's new film, Synecdoche, New York, "an epic, wilfully obscure, splurge of surrealism." Central to the film is its meditation on art. After winning a MacArthur 'Genius' Grant, playwright Caden Cotard hires a huge, empty warehouse and begins to recreate in the minutest detail his own life (fans of Tom McCarthy's Remainder will, of course, be struck by how close Kaufmann's film is to that novel). What we are shown is that, taken too literally, mimetic realism slides fairly quickly into the surrealism that Wise bemoans. Indeed, what is noteworthy is that Cotard's re-creative drive, by being so devoted to Realism, loses all realism and cannot ever satisfy him of its truth. His attempt to get at the raw truth of things (too much Kant, not enough Nietzsche; arguably the opposite of the film's director!) by staging as event what happens to him in his life as accident makes his art -- and this film -- peculiarly preoccupied with death. Cotard's Realism produces non-realistic art that ruins his increasing unreal life. In the film, Samantha Morton's plays Hazel, the most important woman in his life. She lives in a house which is perpetually on fire. The symbolism is heavy-handed, but ambiguous -- like the film itself.

Coincidentally, Morton's directorial debut, The Unloved (a "film that gives a child's eye view of the U.K.'s government-run care system for orphans and children in danger") was on the television last night. It is a wonderfully moving drama (and great to see the gorgeous music of Colleen used to such brilliant effect) set, mostly, in the realist mode. Indeed, at times it was filmed to look like a fly-on-the-wall documentary. What made the film far more affecting than the usual "bleak, powerful, truthful, brave" (insert adjective of choice) drama of this type, and such programmes have a history going back forty years to the landmark screening of Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home, was its willingness regularly to slow the pace of the narrative right down and focus on a face, a tacky statuette of the virgin Mary, dust motes shining in a shaft of sunlight. (Morton is surely taking a directorial lead here from Lynne Ramsay in whose film of Morvern Callar she appeared in 2002.) The narrative of The Unloved was itself wilfully told only from the central character Lucy's perspective, so that much of what happened -- as it would have been to 11-year-old Lucy herself -- was ambiguous, odd, inexplicable. The film, then, was at its strongest when its realism was at its weakest and thus when the Real, in all its strangeness, was allowed room to show itself for what it was.

Jacques Rancière and Indisciplinarity, an interview conducted with Rancière by Marie-Aude Baronian and Mireille Rosello from the University of Amsterdam and ASCA, translated by Gregory Elliott (via wood s lot; this being just one of the excellent essays on Rancière in Art and Research):

I try to problematise the categories that structure diagnoses of our present and debates about it. Thus, I’ve attempted to rethink democracy by refusing both its official identification with the state forms and lifestyles of rich societies and denunciation of it as a form that masks the realities of domination. Official apologists and Marxist critics basically concur in characterising democracy as a mode of government built on a society defined as a society of consumers. In opposition to this dominant view I’ve reactivated the real scandal of democracy – which is that it reveals the ultimate absence of legitimacy of any government. As the foundation of politics it asserts the equal capacity of anyone and everyone to be either governor or governed. I’ve thus been led to conceive democracy as the deployment of forms of action that activate anyone’s equality with anyone else, and not as a form of state or a kind of society. As regards aesthetics (more...)

The Nicolas Bourriaud curated Tate Triennial, Altermodern, has been generating plenty of discussion – much of it negative. I’m the first to get grumpy with contemporary art, but to my surprise I enjoyed a lot of the Tate’s exhibition. Much of the criticism, such as Rachel Campbell-Johnston in the Times, Jackie Wullschager in the FT and Waldemar Janusczek in the Sunday Times, has been pitched very much against the artists’ and Bourriaud’s use of theory. In one sense one should be used to this with the mainstream press – they’ve always been scared of intellectuals that go beyond the merely middlebrow. But surely their art critics should be obliged to be at least a little up-to-date with the cutting edge in contemporary thought? Doesn’t that kind of come with the job description?

In this context, the latest issue of Art Monthly (February 09; nothing available to read online, I’m afraid) is to be recommended, with no less than three excellent pieces that amount to a critical engagement with the issues surrounding the Tate’s Altermodern. There’s a wonderful interview with radical artist Francis Alys (not at the Tate, but one who could be indicated as an exemplary practitioner of Bourriaud’s earlier headline concept, Relational Aesthetics); a great piece by Dave Beech on the possibilities for critical art after Postmodernism, where he tackles Bourriaud’s concept of the Altermodern within a historical and theoretical context; and finally Maya and Reuben Fowkes on the relationship between art and theory, where they explore a curator’s relationship to art theory and how it can be used and abused.

Very good book cover porn (a "database of sortable, searchable, credited book covers") over at the Book Cover Archive -- oh, and they also have a blog (via The Book Oven).

Via A Piece of Monologue:

Much like Edward Hopper, Vilhelm Hammershøi often paints solitary figures that appear on the brink of some kind of narrative. There is also a keen attention to light and shade in austere, minimalist spaces that are characteristic of much of Hopper's work. But, for all their similarities, the two painters are of course worlds apart. Edward Hopper is a painter of Americana, of familiar twentieth-century settings and Hollywood everyman archetypes. While Vilhelm Hammershøi often paints faceless solitary women contained within a Victorian domestic space (more...)

Via A Piece of Monologue, I note this link to Linda Nochlin, Milan Kundera and others on Francis Bacon, an article taken from the latest issue of Tate etc magazine.

Kundera says:

For a long time, Francis Bacon and Samuel Beckett made up a couple in my imaginary gallery of modern art. Then I read the interview Bacon did with Michel Archimbaud: “I’ve always been amazed by this pairing of Beckett and me,” Bacon said. “I’ve always felt that Shakespeare expressed much better and more precisely and more powerfully what Beckett and Joyce were trying to say.” And then later: “I wonder if Beckett’s ideas about his art haven’t wound up killing off his creation. There’s something at once too systematic and too intelligent in him, that may be what’s always bothered me.” And again: “In painting, we always leave in too much that is habit, we never eliminate enough, but in Beckett I’ve often had the sense that as a result of seeking to eliminate, nothing was left any more, and that nothingness finally sounded hollow.”

When one artist talks about another one, he is always talking (indirectly, in a roundabout way) of himself. In talking about Beckett, what is Bacon telling us about him­self? That he is refusing to be categorised. That he wants to protect his work against clichés. Next: that he is resisting the dogmatists of modernism who have erected a barrier between tradition and modern art as if, in the history of art, the latter represented an isolated period with its own incomparable values, with its completely autonomous criteria. Whereas Bacon looks to the history of art in its entirety; the twentieth century does not cancel our debts to Shakespeare (more...)

Hurrah! Following on from Wyndham Lewis at the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern is having a major exhibition of Futurist work next year. (Why is it so good to be an artist with right wing leanings right now?) And not only are Tate Publishing planning a catalogue, they will also be a producing a new edition of Umbro Apollonio’s Futurist Manifestos. The exhibition is in the summer, but the 100th anniversary of the publication of Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto is actually in January 09.

All together: "Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggresive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap."

The re-publication is great news but it doesn’t address yet another out of print crime: almost all of FT Marinetti’s work (the Futurist il Duce) is currently unavailable.

Stationery love: notebooks notebooks notebooks! And yet more at (Via Scott.)

Just spotted this from last week's TLS but no link I'm afraid. Seeing as I've dissed Bolano, who Mark's a fan of, I should mention that one of his favourite writers, Gabriel Josipovici is writing on the incredible Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi, currently being exhibited at the Royal Academy

A recent discovery thanks to the exhibition of Alison Watt's beautiful paintings of tangled, swooping fabric at the National Gallery. The accompanying catalogue includes a poem by Paterson which led me to his excellent collection of aphorisms A Book of Shadows. Honest yet theatrical, cutting and arrogant, self-deprecating and witty, they are a joy. Delivered with concision and ruthless perception, they are often combined with the delivery of a good stand-up comedian. To be honest I've not registered the aphorism as a literary form before and Paterson self-consciously foregrounds the form within this book. Does anyone know any other good aphorists?

NB: I saw Alison Watt at a recent book launch and recognised her but had no idea where from. Always in these situations my assumption is that I've seen the person on The Bill. Which is odd, as I haven’t seen an episode in over five years.

John Berger's Ways of Seeing is up on YouTube (thanks Rowan).

Mick Finch reviews Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde (via This Space):

Perhaps the most revealing aspect of their encounter is the degree of difference in each man's presentation of their world. Van Velde's nihilism weighs heavily upon the reader and this is not alleviated by his repeated claims that laughter is the only true response to the existential conundrum. Beckett, on the other hand, embodied such a response in both his life and his work and laughter is a product of his writing, not a subject.

A Proust/Vermeer dissertation at the Essential Vermeer site (via Moleskine Modality). Quoting from Anthony Bailey's study, The View of Delft:

Through Vermeer Proust meditated his own end. In May 1921 the exhibition of Dutch painting at the Jeu de Paume was attracting crowds, drawn to see among other things, Vermeer's View of Delft and Girl with a Pearl Earring. According to George Painter's biography of him, Proust had read in the Paris press articles on the Vermeers by Lèon Daudet and Jean-Louis Vaudoyer. At last he decided he had to go and see them. At nine one morning, a time when he is usually just going to sleep, Proust sent a message to Vaudoyer asking him to accompany him to the Jeu de Paume. Leaving the apartment he had a terrible attack if giddiness, and recovered from it and went on down stairs. At the exhibition, Vaudoyer steadied the writer's shaky progress towards the View of Delft. Proust was apparently revived by Vermeer for he managed to go on to the Ingres exhibition and then to lunch at the Ritz before returning home, though according to Painter he was still 'shaken and alarmed' by the attack. He never went out again.

T'other week, I published Ismo Santala's fantastic interview with Alan Moore here on RSB. Today, I'm publishing Part II: an interview with Melinda Gebbie. Melinda is Alan's partner and the artist behind Moore's latest book (16-years in the making this) the Lost Girls.

There is a good, chunky TJ Clark interview over at Brooklyn Rail (The Painting of Modern Life, Farewell to an Idea and most recently The Sight of Death; and, as part of the Retort team of writers and political activists, Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War):

“Yours is not a book in which darkness is winning” ... Well, I guess I agree with that judgment, taking The Sight of Death as a whole. Though obviously the book does look certain kinds of darkness more fully in the face than anything else I have written. It’s not called The Sight of Death for nothing! I think (or I hope) that you and other readers come away from it without a sense of terminal glumness because you’re carried along by the simple, central pleasure of looking that drives things forward—and the astonishment at what one or two pictures have to offer, if you give them half a chance. This pleasure and astonishment are unnegotiable. Nothing the world can do to them will make them go away. And yes, I agree: the world does plenty. Pleasure and astonishment seem to me qualities that the world around us, most of the time, is conspiring to get rid of. Or to travesty—to turn into little marketable motifs. It amounts to the same thing.

Apropos Afflicted Powers, he goes on to say:

Well, you’ll guess that there’s an aspect of this that drives me and the other Retorters mad! I wrote Afflicted Powers with an economic geographer, Michael Watts, a novelist who was once a defense lawyer fighting it out in the California prison system, Joseph Matthews, and an historian of past and present capitalist enclosures, Iain Boal. Not exactly a Situationist (or even palaeo-Situationist) line-up! Obviously our book takes advantage of certain Situationist concepts and hypotheses, and tries to apply them to current politics. And yes, we do think that the power of the image, and the control of appearances, are more and more part of the very structure of statecraft (and resistance to statecraft). We think the established Left suffers—suffers badly—from an inability to think about the new conditions of social control, and social struggle ...

I seem to be on a bit of an art kick at the moment. Jacques Ranciere's The Politics of Aesthetics (Continuum) arrived a few months back but, despite being such a slim volume, I've not yet got around to reading it. This review, from ArtNet by Ben Davis (via, makes me think I should bother sooner rather than later:

The 66-year-old French philosopher Jacques Rancière is clearly the new go-to guy for hip art theorists ... Rancière has the undeniable virtue, for the esoterica-obsessed art world at least, of being something of an odd duck. A one-time fellow traveler of Marxist mandarin Louis Althusser, Rancière split with him after the May ’68 worker-student rebellion against the de Gaulle government, feeling that Althusser, a partisan of the Stalinized French Communist Party, left too little space in his theoretical edifice for spontaneous popular revolt. Against this background of disenchantment, Rancière set out to explore the relationships between philosophy and the worker, rethink ideas of history and try to construct a progressive theory of art.

Widely noted (see e.g. GalleyCat), but worth bringing your attention to: Joe Kral's collection of old Penguin book covers. Bootiful.

Coming this autumn on BBC2 is Simon Schama's Power Of Art:

Historian Simon Schama recounts the remarkable story of eight moments of high drama in the making of eight masterpieces:

Caravaggio's David With The Head Of Goliath; Bernini's Ecstasy Of St Theresa; Rembrandt's Conspiracy Of Claudius Civilis; Jacques-Louis David's Marat; Turner's Slave Ships With Slavers Throwing The Dead And Dying Overboard; Van Gogh's Wheatfield With Crows; Picasso's Guernica; and Mark Rothko's suite of paintings for the Seagram Building restaurant, the Four Seasons in New York.

Yesterday, the book of the telly programme (Power Of Art) arrived here at RSB Towers. It is big and bright and colourful, just as you'd expect. Now, I was pretty fond of Schama's A History of [the kings and queens] of Britain when it was on the telly. Yup, it was very partial; yup, it felt like a schools education programme; but it was punchy, and I found Schama to be a charming presenter. Not so Waldemar Januszczak! Writing in the Sunday Times last weekend about Schama's new book, Januszczak finds the historian "excruciatingly vain" and that "television’s demands for legibility, sexiness and pat conclusions have duly infected Schama’s prose":

Pumped up, partial and untrustworthy, this constant singling out of the best this and the most achieved that adds up to some very lazy art history.