THE PRECARIOUS BODY
In the human body reside all the delights and fears of our life span and therefore it is at the centre of all that we do and are. Escape from the body is impossible for the living: escape after the cessation of life is inevitable. The body contains everything that marks us as the species of animal that is distinct from all the others. From having an opposable thumb, to having the power to articulate thought through speech, to having the knowledge of dreams and the ability to remember and recount them – and many other factors, all these mark us as different. Our intelligence enables us to recognise this distinctness, which some unwisely call superiority, and yet in watching other creatures we come to recognise much in them that is similar to the way we see ourselves. But, for all this, the human body is a precarious thing, subject to the forces of nature and human desire, dependent on reassurance and recognition, dying from the moment it is born, changing constantly as cells grow, decay and are replaced.
In addition to all the physical forces to which the body is subjected, the unavoidable deterioration over the passage of time, and the abuse – both self-inflicted and done to us by others, there are the mental and psychological forces that can devastate as much as they can flatter. The nature of reality is impossible to truly know, and the knowledge of our place in the scheme of life is dependent on half-truth and supposition, and on what it is that each of us individually accepts as being real and relevant.
Our understanding of reality is however very limited but we learn to accept that certain things are true – fire burns us, falling can break us, pain can disorient us, and the same dreams that bring us fear or delight leave us knowing less and less about more and more. Eventually we reach a sort of compromise in our understanding of what is real, and live by a complex series of things that we accept, both consciously and subconsciously, as truth.
Those things that we count as pleasures depend on our desires and expectations, and our personal definition of pleasure changes as we grow older. There are other effects of ageing, beyond those of deterioration and diminution of faculties and abilities, that are more psychological than anything else. Accepting that the body is ageing and declining in its abilities is not easy. This is even more so if the actual age is greater than the internally perceived age. There can be a conflict between ability and desire, which can manifest itself through dreams or fantasies. Those dreams and fantasies can inhabit a tentative space, somewhere between waking and sleeping, constantly shifting, evolving and unexplored. The resolution of such conflicts is difficult: rejection of the impossible and acceptance of decline might be the solution for some, but for others there is a need to find, perhaps out of a sort of desperation, a release from the conflict through something new and hitherto unexplored.
Ⓒ Richard Noyce, September 2008
NOTEBOOK EXCERPTS, FEBRUARY 2013:
Leap and the net will appear (Zen saying)
‘We like art, because it won’t settle down’ (Richard Torchia, Arcadia University, Philadelphia, USA, at SGCI conference in Philadelphia, March 2010)
‘Art is not meant to give pleasure but to ask questions and make people think’ (Christian Boltanski, quoted in NY Times Style magazine, May 2010)
‘All personal experience of art has, by definition, to be subjective. And it is difficult, emotionally and morally, to believe in absolutes in art. What we are left with is our own personal reflection, which may start with an instinctive reaction and then widen out as ripples from a stone in a pool, until there is some sort of deeper and more permanent understanding, one which might well defy being put into words. In my experience of contemporary art, Boltanski stands way above so many others that the art world defines as ‘great’. His is a quiet genius...’ (Richard Noyce, in dialogue with Regina Costa and others, Facebook, 19-20 May 2010)
‘We are all so complicated, and then we die, with our vanities, our loves, our worries, and then one day, abruptly, we become nothing but an object, an absolutely disgusting pile of shit. We pass very quickly from one stage to the next. It’s very bizarre. It will happen to all of us, and fairly soon too. We become an object that you can handle like a stone, but a stone that was someone.’ (Christian Boltanski)
‘If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.’ (Anaïs Nin)
‘Artistic creation is by definition a denial of death. Therefore it is optimistic, even if in an ultimate sense the artist is tragic. And so there can never be optimistic artists and pessimistic artists. There can only be talent and mediocrity.’ (Andrei Tarkovsky)
we are here
at the odds
and live our lives
so well that
to take us
‘Writing is learning to die. It’s learning not to be afraid, in other words to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death, give us.’ (Helene Cixous, ‘Three Steps on the Ladder of Creativity’ Columbia Press, NY USA, 1994)
‘Humanity is condemned to develop whether it want to or not. This being the case it had best develop along desirable lines, ethical lines which ensure that the vehicle of society may traverse lands where our children and grandchildren will be happy to find themselves. In the face of vileness bequeathed to us by our parents we have developed a distrust of the steering wheel and os anyone who chooses to man it. A central element in the rejection of Modernism and the historicity that went with it is a hope that dismantling progressive programmes will grant humanity a non-specific freedom in which to drift aimlessly, guided only by hal-hearted impulses that have been rigorously drained of love, passion and conviction, those tedious old tyrants of the blood. The sad fact is that progress dismantled leaves a playground where all waters are shallow and there are no goals. When those who reveal new truths are disregarded, the psychopath steps in. The old-fashioned psychopaths are no longer restrained by firm ethical convictions. All brutal self-interest is licensed and Mammon, whose modern form is consumer capitalism, inspires psychopathy on a corporate scale. Society does violence to humanity.’
(Jeff Nuttall, ‘Art and the Degradation of Awareness’, Calder Publications/London and Riverrun Press/New Jersey, 2001: ISBN 0 7145 4293 8)
CONFERENCE PAPER EXCERPT, APRIL 2013:
‘Our knowledge of the distant past comes from looking at the remains of the buildings and artefacts from other civilisations. We gain the clearest idea of more recent centuries through the creative arts that remains from those times - the paintings, sculpture, writings and, for the past eight hundred years or so, the music that was written down as a record of its form and notation. These remnants of the work of creative people who lived centuries ago can provide a window onto their ideas about the world in which they lived. Without artists, writers and composers, we would know very little about the past, and the quality of our lives would be reduced. As the knowledge of the work of other creative people who lived before us has increased, so too has the range of influences on our work grown and extended. With the coming of colour printing, and more recently the Internet, those of us who are alive today have access to a vast repository of information, in images, writing and recordings, by which we can assess and understand the past. In this we are most fortunate, and at the same time cursed, because of the total amount of information with which we have to work, and by which we are influenced. Creating something that is truly original becomes harder and harder. Sometimes I wonder just how much longer creative artists, writers and composers can go on producing work that is truly original. But, each time I begin to think in this way I am surprised and encouraged by work that I encounter that is completely original, fresh and new. The capacity for human beings to go on creating original work is one of those facts that is close to being a miracle’.
(Ⓒ Richard Noyce: extract of ‘From the Imagination to the Image’, presented at the IMAGINARIUM Colloquium, Trois-Rivières, Québec, April 2013)
NOTEBOOK EXCERPTS, SEPTEMBER 2014
‘Dipping into obscure French philosophy, and then quoting bits at random, does not qualify you to be an artist, or to speak at conferences, or to write about it anywhere. It is a dumb perpetuation of the same old same old that jettisoned the true values of art and replaced them with a mire of ignorance.’ (Richard Noyce, Facebook post, March 2014)
‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die’. (‘Blade Runner’, Ridley Scott)
‘The aim of life is to live, and to love means to be aware – joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware. In this realm the world exists as a poem. No why or wherefore, no direction, no goal, no striving, no evolving. One is rapt by the ever-changing spectacle of passing phenomena. This is the sublime, the a-moral state of the artist, he who lives only in the moment, the visionary moment of utter, far-seeing lucidity. Such clear icy sanity that it seems like madness. By the force and power of the artist’s vision the static, synthetic whole which is called the world is destroyed. The artist gives back to us a vital, singing universe, alive in all its parts.’ (Henry Miller)
‘Art is the final test of sincerity: it is the one thing that cannot be faked. To create a true work of art you need to develop deep convictions, even if you can appreciate a work without them. By deep convictions I do not mean the politicised chatter with which so much contemporary art is justified. I mean a vision of human life that enables us to live life to the full, to accept our mortality, and to recognise in the intensity of our experience the value of being what we are.’ (Roger Scruton, from ‘The Aesthetic Endeavour Today’ in ‘Demarco: On the Road to Meikle Seggie – Philosophy’: exhibition catalogue, Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston University, Kingston upon Thames, England, 2000)