Tag Archives: victoria accardi

Sacrificing a Thousand Apparent Truths

The brain, as I have said before, needs to acquire knowledge about the permanent, essential and constant properties of objects and surfaces, in a world where much is continually changing. To do this, it must discount all the changes that are superfluous, indeed an impediment, to acquiring that knowledge; it must, in the words of Glees and Metzinger, ‘sacrifice a thousand apparent truths’ 
—Semir Zeki, Inner Vision (185).

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14th & 1st, L line Florist, Victoria Accardi (2016)

The question, what is art? is one of seemingly perpetual interest and discussion. I’m not quite fool enough to attempt an answer, nor to even believe that an answer is possible, but one thing I do believe is that art is the constant. As far back as our human minds can stretch into our history—there is art. I therefore think a better question is, why is that? Semir Zeki, in his wonderful book Inner Vision proposes a possible basis upon which an answer to that question can begin to be understood. Zeki begins, within his field of expertise: the neurology of vision.

[The] proliferation of newly discovered visual areas, many of which are specialised to process different aspects of the visual scene such as form, colour and motion, [raise] important questions about why the brain needs to process different attributes in different compartments […] vision is an essentially active search for essentials (21).

What Zeki proposes is that art, essentially, works the same way, or, shares the same purpose.

The neurological definition of art that I am proposing—that it is a search for constancies, during which the artist discards much and selects the essentials, and art is therefore an extension of the functions of the visual brain—is meant to have very broad applications (22).

By which he means that our aesthetic likes and dislikes are not covered under his thesis, but do rely upon it, because, “art must, after all, obey the laws of the brain” (125). And the laws are much more complex and fascinating then one might think. It is not simply a straight shot from “seeing” to “understanding,” both of these processes are more complex and more tightly bound to each other than previously imagined. The fun thing about Zeki’s work and passions, is that he looks to other vital areas of life, like love and art, to present evidence which science is newly discovering, but which art has always understood—at least insomuch as art unknowingly (innately?) exploits and reflects the brain’s method of organizing information. On the one hand, that seems obvious—painting (which is Zeki’s focus in this book) is obviously a ‘visual’ art and so it stands to reason that ‘successful’ art must obey visual parameters and preferences of line, color, form, and motion.

The brain, as it turns out, has highly specialized cells that are uniquely interested in single attributes—like color, form, or motion—and these cells are both concentrated in areas of the brain and also widely diffused (most dramatically in the cells concerned with form). More than that:

Recent experiments that have measured the relative times that it takes to perceive colour, form and motion show that these three attributes are not perceived at the same time, that color is perceived before form which is perceived before motion […] This suggests that the perceptual systems themselves are functionally specialized and that there is a temporal hierarchy in vision, superimposed upon spatially distributed parallel processing systems (66).

Fascinating stuff. The book expounds on all manner of visual maladies which have done a lot of work in showing just how specialized the processes are and then goes on to look at art (mostly modern) to point out philosophical consistencies between what artists (impressionists, cubists, modernists, fauvists) say they are trying to explore or achieve with what we know (which is some, but not all) neurologically about what the brain’s visual system tries to accomplish. Zeki’s brilliance is that he conjoins two disciplines for the same purpose. Artistic inquiry naturally has a longer, richer history than neurological inquiry, and yet the former seems to possess what artistic discourse lacks: the promise of quantitative and qualitative comprehension (seems to, at least….). Art has always been a difficult subject to capture in language, as Zeki writes,

Language is a relatively recent evolutionary acquisition, and it has yet to catch up with and match the visual system in its capacity to extract essentials so efficiently. To describe the power of art in words constitutes, in the lines of T. S. Eliot, ‘a raid on the inarticulate, with shabby equipment’ (9).

All the same, sometimes we come out with some hilarious accuracy: Mondrian, for instance, whom we all know had a deep and abiding appreciation for the brain’s preference for horizontal and vertical lines, heroically defended the wisdom of our visual organizing system to Theo van Doesburg (founder of De Stijl group) writing to him:

Following the highhanded manner in which you have used the diagonal, all further collaboration between us has become impossible. For the rest, sans racune (115).

Well. What more can one say?

 

*painting by my daughter Victoria Accardi. To see more of her work go here.

Philistines From the Plush Parlors

Any legend immune to rational arguments can be supposed to rest upon powerful collective desires.
Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: A psychological history of the German film (117).

IMG_5602A couple of weeks ago some of my children and I went to see Star Wars. I’ll state right up front, unequivocally—I love Star Wars. Okay, maybe a little equivocation—I am only speaking of the first three, and mostly the first two that were made. Nevertheless—we were excited. The film was fine, I do not regret the price of admission (which my lovely daughter’s boyfriend paid for come to think of it, although I bought the exorbitantly priced popcorn and what not) and it went a long way to make up for the last three monstrous iterations. But never mind all that. The discomfiting thing I wish to discuss is the previews that we were subjected to.

What films reflect are not so much explicit credos as psychological dispositions—those deep layers of collective mentality which extend more or less below the dimension of consciousness (6).

There were of course many previews. The remarkable thing to me was not that they were all hyped-up action flicks—I suppose that is to be expected when one goes to see an action film—but it was the sheer redundancy of the films. We watched the first one which was based on a comic book, something to do with a superhero “civil war.” Then the next film was previewed—instead of DC Comics, this one was Marvel Comics about a superhero “civil war.” I look around in dismay—we literally just saw this preview, I hissed to my daughter— It’s the same film, right? Am I right? The next six previews were exactly the same, saving the scenery—one in ancient Greece, another Egypt, et cetera, ad nauseum. What the hell?

And permeating both the stories and the visuals, the “unseen dynamics of human relations” are more or less characteristics of the inner life of the nation from which the films emerge (7).

I began to be convinced that these films must surely suggest something about the American psyche. A deep fear, a hope for a single vigilante-like hero to save a world beset by evil. By a very interesting coincidence the next day a book that I had requested from ILL (inter-library loan) came. It had been recommended to me by a fellow blogger Howard JohnsonFrom Caligari to Hitler examines just this question in pre- and interwar Germany. And the comparisons are chilling.

Significantly, many observant Germans refused until the last moment to take Hitler seriously, and even after his rise to power considered the new regime a transitory adventure.[…] Their surrender to the Nazis was based on emotional fixations rather than on any facing of the facts (10, 11).

In the book, Kracauer takes the reader through a history of the German film which, he argues, shows the struggle and latent anxieties of the German people at that time. Film, in particular, because of its collaborative nature, has the ability to inadvertently expose the pulse of the culture. No single person’s pathology emerges, rather there is a sort of leveling out of the zeitgeist. The major difference between our time and the time Kracauer writes of is the complete excess of entertainment we now face. One can (and believe me, I normally do) easily avoid “popular” movies and TV, while still enjoying myriad film productions. This may diffuse our ability to gain insight into our particular current psyche. But— I am very confused about Donald Trump’s popularity…and I think it is worth a few moment’s thought to take him more seriously, or probe the unfathomable-ness, than any semi-intelligent person might otherwise be inclined.

All said, I am not sure whether or not I should be happy that what I sensed on the screen was as potentially ominous as I perceived, or, seriously depressed that it might in fact be so.

*title from p. 272 “The blare of military bugles sounded unremittingly, and the philistines from the plush parlors felt very elated.”

** Photo of my daughter and her Donald Trump creation made for our dear friends’ Guy Fawkes party this past fall.

 

The Open Door

People talk about me.
What they say may be true.
But just three short steps
Take me to the winehouse of my lover.

—Sixth Dalai Lama, The Turquoise Bee: The Lovesongs of the Sixth Dalai Lama (#51 p. 99)

"Eucalyptus" pen and ink drawing by Victoria Accardi

“Eucalyptus” pen and ink drawing by Victoria Accardi

At a bookfair some weeks ago, I randomly opened to this page and read the line—”But just three short steps / Take me to the winehouse of my lover.” I simply closed the book and purchased it on the spot. The fact that these achingly sweet lovesongs were written by the sixth Dalai Lama (Tsangyang Tshomo Gyatso) is fascinating. He wrote of himself as the “Turquoise Bee” in his small collection compiled and translated by Rick Fields and Brian Cutillo.  Fields writes a brief history of the first five Dalai Lamas and then we come to the unique and sensual sixth: Tsanayang Gyatso, meaning Ocean of Melodious Song. He was, needlesstosay, a controversial figure.

 

 

By drawing diagrams on the ground
The stars of space can be measured.
Though familiar with the soft flesh
Of my lover’s body
I cannot measure her depths. (#13 p. 49)

There is such longing and passion in his melodious songs, and such innocence that touches the heart of spiritual reverence. The joining of the sacred with the profane in the face of a disapproving society is lovely, brave and profound.

Face of frost on grass,
Icy north wind’s messenger—
Robber of the bond
Between the bees and the flower. (#40, p. 85)

I have neglected my blog. It has been a long many weeks for me: life throwing all sorts of joys and traumas my way. Reading these lovesongs is a sweet salve, a confirmation of what gets me through hard days and deep fears. I’ve never understood religions or philosophies that insist on removing one from one’s own physical presence. I can’t make sense of a dogma that would require the renunciation of that which is our experience: our bodies, our emotions, our sensual phenomenological being. When one loves, the door to a world of pain opens. But I would rather walk through that open door than live without giving my heart to those I love.

Gallery

Sicula

This gallery contains 10 photos.

My daughter, Victoria Accardi, had the opening for her show, Sicula: A Cultural Retrospective Through Portraiture this past weekend. The series of portraits explore her upbringing in the American-Sicilian culture of her father, (Sicula is an Italian word that denotes a quality … Continue reading

Pulp Non-Fiction

With the first commercial production of corrugated cardboard boxes around the turn of the century – making it possible for paper safely to send itself to itself by itself – the Age of Paper had reached its zenith (12).
Ian Sansom,  Paper: An Elegy

Paper Mosaic by Victoria Accardi

Paper Mosaic by Victoria Accardi

Ah paper. It’s an addiction. Ubiquitous, inescapably handy, romantic, radical, and deeply pleasurable. Ian Sansom understands. More than offering his condolences and commiserations, however, he, as it turns out, is something of a pusher.

‘Junk,’ Burroughs writes, ‘is the ideal product….the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy…The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product…The addict…needs more and more junk to maintain a human form…[to] buy off the Monkey’ (47)

Burroughs? Wait a second…here I was innocently reading a book about paper – (the book itself, by the way, is a lovely specimen to hold: elegant proportions, not too large, thick cream-colored paper one’s fingers simply must caress [Fedrigoni Edizioni Cream to be exact] in [as the colophon tells us]  ITC Giovanni book typeface….but I digress).

The chances are, if you are reading this book, you are no better or worse than William S. Burroughs. The chances are, you have a serious problem: you’re an addict. You have been sold to a product. You have a monkey on your back. And that monkey is made of paper (47).

Damn it.

‘Paper is the material of temporary notation. It doesn’t make a big difference whether this is in writing or is three-dimensional…It’s a strange anything-material that can be anything, but is rarely itself…Basically it’s the “Zelig” of all materials’ (Thomas Demand quoted 128).

Sansom takes his readers on an irreverent but elucidating romp through the history and myriad uses of this most amazing material. Ephemera, toys, advertisements, art, cigarette and toilet paper, nothing is sacred. I got completely side tracked by a mere mention of an essay written by Junichiro Tanizaki  “In Praise of Shadows” in which Tanizaki drolly and bitterly explains his difficulty in designing a house that meets his cultural aesthetic while making use of advancements-in-comfort designed and perfected by Western aesthetics. It was mentioned in Paper: An Elegy in relation to paper used in Japanese architecture, which darken the available light…impractical perhaps, but after reading three or four pages on the garish hideousness of Western lighting habits, particularly where toilets and the attending “physiological delights,” (as the novelist Natsume Soseki wryly describes his morning visit to the toilet) involved are concern, I see his point. I may not turn the lights on in my bathroom every again: “how very crude and tasteless to expose the toilet to such excessive illumination” (Tanizaki 3). Indeed.

Where were we? Ah yes, paper. Sansom’s book is wonderful fun. His writing style is the sort of understated humor that I love, and he presents many obscure and interesting aspects of paper’s long history. Sometimes twisted. Origami, for instance, is not the innocent little craft it appears (although, personally, I find it infuriating, with its ridiculously useless instructions) nevertheless, it was fascinating to learn that it is more of an Upper East Side invention popularized and named by one Lillian Oppenheimer then having any real connection to a long standing Japanese art. Another important contributor to Origami’s popularity was, hilariously,  Gershon Legman, whom Sansom describes as “the maverick Jewish sexologist” (151). Credited with being one of the inventors of the vibrator is among some of his other racy biographical bullet points. Yes, indeedy…paper has a very steamy history. By the time we get to Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, a woman who in her seventies invented the craft of paper flowers, Sansom can’t help just dropping in this gem:

Over the next sixteen years Mrs Delany continued to work scissors and tweezers and bodkin to make more and more of her paper flowers, almost a thousand of them, collecting them alphabetically in albums, which she named her Flora Delanica. The images – ‘intense and vaginal’, according to one of her recent biographers…(165).

Okay then. Paper. Who knew?

Sinners

DSC_1147The big mountains sit still in the afternoon light
Shadows in their lap;
The bees roll round in the wild-thyme with delight.

We sitting here among the cranberries
So still in the gap
Of rock, distilling our memories,

Are sinners! Strange! The bee that blunders
Against me goes off with a laugh.
A squirrel cocks his head on the fence, and wonders

What about sin? -For, it seems
The mountains have
No shadow of us on their snowy forehead of dreams

As they ought to have. They rise above us
Dreaming
For ever. One might even think they love us.

Little red cranberries cheek to cheek,
Two great dragon-flies wrestling;
You, with your forehead nestling
Against me, and bright peak shining to peak –

There’s a love song for you! – Ah, if only
There were no teeming
Swarms of mankind in the world, and we were less lonely!

-D.H. Lawrence (Mayrhofen) from,  Look! We Have Come Through!

*Cranberries drizzled with honey

*Bowl made by Victoria Accardi

Heart at my tongue, tirelessly sung

That most folks misunderstand one common state:
The flip side of love is indifference, not hate.

-David Rakoff, Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish A Novel (103)

DSC_4994

Clementines, lithograph by Victoria Accardi 2009

A friend of mine, so young and so dear
Lent me a book a little queer.
Written in rhyme, the two of us mused
Left us feeling somewhat bemused
With our minds caught in quite a mess
Of unruly and permanent rhyming redress.

David Rakoff on his deathbed wrote
A book of some considerable note.
Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish A Novel
Will leave one with kvetch or kvell.
Life’s bitterness is nothing new
But the rare lilt of a rhyme adds to what’s really an adieu.

Okay, like mine, the rhyme sometimes falls flat
But the author’s just dead- I can’t be that much of a twat.
Even still the rueful humor will ensue
And I feel duty bound to give it its due.
All that is true
And all we go through,
It’s our stories that remain
Whether told in fun or unbearable pain
The truth of our lives here on this earth
Is our shared saga, and an earnest desire for innocent mirth.

Except for instructions he’d underscored twice
Just two words in length, and those words were,
“Be nice!” (77)

An Inexplicable But Pelagic Hope

This is what I know: people’s hopes go on forever
– Junot Díaz, This is How You Lose Her (72)

45817_10151542606933132_1238016564_n-1This book stared at me for weeks as it sat on the Featured Book wall-display across from the circulation desk I sit behind. I would always stare back at it whenever I walked by. Once or twice I even picked it up, held the spanking new volume wrapped in snapping clear polyester and contemplated reading it. I was already reading a few books, had promised a few others I would read them next, then there’s homework, and jobs, children, applications with their punishing piles of forms to fill that are covered front and back with questions that I cannot answer- I take that back,  I can always at least manage question number one: name. After that, my life simply does not fit into the square boxes. So no, Junot Díaz, I don’t have time to read your pretty little book with deckle edged paper. Stop looking at me. Mercifully, one day the display was changed.

This novel wouldn’t let it go however. I was asked to gather a list of books off the stacks the other day, and there it was again, in the New Reads section. Damn it. I picked it up. For the first time I actually opened it. All of my will power was undone in a page – this is how you read a book in one day. I read the first chapter standing, facing the shelves. Then I got a hold of myself went back to my desk to finish my studying, eat an orange, read a long, interesting article about Jane Austen a friend sent me, and then I read the book, drove home, and read it to the end.

The story is devastating, smart, and tender. The idiosyncrasies of Dominican culture mixed with the peculiar regularity with which people, in this case- Yunior, fuck up their lives is told with verve and nerve. The book is funny, heartbreaking, bleak, but buoyant.

It takes discipline and perhaps the confidence from growing up in a loving home to avoid the urge to insecurely fling oneself heedlessly into what looks like Love, or my favorite non-love description: Camus’ vanity and boredom. One of the fascinating things about the life of Jane Austen was that she knew the requirements of her own heart, and just because she never realized (at least publicly) a true love, she was content to be alone and pour her passion into her art rather than forfeit her need to Love truly. Possibly her heart was set on one man in particular, turning it cold to anyone else—that’s a bit of speculation, but there was that Irish fellow…not enough money, family expectations, blah blah blah, we know the story—in fact we know it well because of Austen’s smart, tender books.  Funny though, how in both cases—Jane and Díaz’s Yunior—they end up alone. Do the reasons matter?

Like Yunior, Elinor in Sense and Sensibility acts recklessly in her love life. The idiosyncrasies of the English class system mix painfully with Elinor’s sensuality. Elinor is rescued from that cowardly rake Willoughby’s renunciation by Colonel Brandon’s adoration—which is so kind of Austen, but still  Elinor, again like Yunior, is a bit wrecked, body and soul, by the experience.

A few years back I resignedly  concluded that there is no reason why I should be hopeful. No reason to assume “things will look up.” No reason, certainly, to think Miss Austen had a firm grasp of real life with her wrenchingly wonderful happy endings. This is How You Lose Her is a story that I love for its full frontal look at reality. Yunior is what one might  call a “dog,” and yet you feel for him. He can’t love because he wasn’t loved at those critical stages of youth: the plasticity of the heart must have an expiration date.  Years go by, and we can’t all have a Captain Wentworth, who has that rare Love that can never bring itself to forsake the lovely object of his ardor: Anne Elliot in Persuasion—my favorite Austen book. I tend to think Persuasion represented Austen’s rewrite of her life, (the article suggested P&P née First Impressions, maybe they all were to some extent, but Persuasion was her last novel…).

Yunior and I would like a rewrite. Instead we get reality, Yunior’s body starts to break under the pressure until the only thing that’s left is his poor calcified heart. Save me! It cries out. save me. 

His heartbreak is long, intense, and perhaps permanent. Maybe the most some can hope for is to get over the disappointment of their own shortcomings. It is enough I suppose to try not to make it worse. At a certain point you stop worrying about going up and simply become determined not go down. Jane Austen found her rather brilliant way to not make it worse and yet, her body too failed her long before it should have— desuetude of the heart devastates too. That, is life. Both Austen and Díaz give the gift of hope and humor against despair and cynicism. Laugh or cry, it’s the battle we wage everyday.

The half-life of love is forever.  – Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her (213)

*Painting by my daughter,  Victoria Accardi, oil and embroidery thread (the tattoos are embroidered onto the canvas).

Painfully Dazzled

DSC_5022The music is starting up. To my left: Herodotus, and on my ever faithful right: Robert B. Strassler. The party rages and I can’t help the boogie in my body as Herodotus continues his discursive account of the ancient world deep in Thrace, What about love, Herodotus? I ask. He offers me this tale:

The custom of those that live above the Krestonians are as follows. Each man has many wives, and whenever a man dies, a great contest with fierce rivalry is held among his wives and their families concerning which of them was the wife whom he loved the most. – The Landmark Herodotus (368, 5.6)

And the lucky winner of this competition gets her throat slit over her husband’s grave, while the losers grieve the misfortune of being unloved and alive. That is a misfortune indeed. Like most traditions, in its purest sense it is a beautiful thing, but when are we humans ever pure? How often is there true love that requires a merciful exit upon the death of our other half? I wish I had the answer.

Then again, these are the same people that grieve when a child is born. But even there, I find I can not seriously argue with the logic:

When a child is born to them, his relatives sit around him and grieve over all the evils he will have to endure later, recounting the things that humans must suffer. But when someone dies, they have fun and take pleasure in burying him in the ground, reciting over him all the evils he has escaped and how he is now in a state of complete bliss. (368, 5.4)

Seems a pragmatic response to reality, I was never one for sugarcoating, maybe by necessity as  the candy coating of life relentlessly eludes me. Well, it’s a comfort at least that the living can dance. Herodotus and I take a turn around the room while he demonstrates his ancient version of googlemaps. Not only do I now know that the miles between Matiane and Kissia are 140, but, good news! there are 11 stations along the Persian King’s Royal Road as well. I’d ask where Kissia is, but we are deep into a dip- just keep dancing.

Cheek to cheek, Herodutus relates a beautiful tale: when an oracle (more on those later) warns the Bacchiads (Corinthian oligarchs) that a baby named Eetion will be their downfall, they agree: they must kill the babe. The ten men make a plan to go to the house to ask to hold the baby,  the first man that is given the baby will cast him down on the ground with a lethal force.

But when Labda gave the child to one of the men, the child, by divine luck, smiled up at him, and the man felt constrained by a sort of pity from killing him. Moved by compassion, he gave the child to the second man, and then he to the third, and so on, until the infant passed through the hands of all ten, and not one of them was willing to kill him. (407, 5.92)

Needless to say, they were not pleased with themselves after this inconvenient display of humanity. Herodotus and I on the other hand are dazzled and float across the dance floor. I have serious questions about these oracles, they seem suspiciously cryptic. They say nothing, but lead a man to wade through the labyrinth of his own mind which directs him, it seems to me, whither he always intended to go. The spinning has left me breathless so I keep my notions to myself.

Herodotus and I get into the groove as he explains that the above story was told to the Spartans as a cautionary tale against the evils of tyranny. The Corinthian, Sokleas convinced all of the allies, and consequently the Spartans, not to impose tyranny on Athens.  Sometimes sense and decency have an air of the miraculous, wouldn’t you agree, Herodotus?

But if history shows us anything it is the ongoing battle between an individual’s critical thinking and the power of the masses. We move to the beat, in the direction the crowd takes us. Occasionally however,  gods bless us – some break out, and really dance.

For it would seem to be easier to deceive and impose upon a whole throng of people than to do so to just one individual  (411, 5.97)

Herodotus Book One (Wisdom of the Pyre)
Herodotus Book Two (Wrong Again)
Herodotus Book Three (Bottoms Up.)
Herodotus book Four (Seducing Amazons: a how-to)
Herodotus Book Six, Seven, Eight, Nine (For Hippokleidas, no problem!)

The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, edited by Robert B. Strassler translated by Andrea L. Purvis

*Title from page 374 section 5.18: For it would have been better for the women not to have come at all than to have them come and not seat beside the men, but opposite to them instead, so that the men’s eyes were painfully dazzled.

** oil pastel painting by Victoria Accardi

Visual Victuals

pencil drawing by Victoria Accardi (2009)

I took my daughter and youngest son to an art opening this evening. My daughter was of course game-  my son?…well it is amazing what the promise of a cheese and cracker spread will do to convince a ten year old.

We saw some very nice drawings and a couple of beautiful photographs by Carolyn Monastra that were wonderfully titled “lovely, dark, and deep.” My son, Augie, generously shared with me 1/2 a handful of the goldfish that he scored off the buffet table while we stood in front of a curiously uninspiring painting of red paint on paper stapled and, as Augie noted with reverence:  taped to the wall – he is a sucker for tape, string, rope, glue and all of the basic building blocks that his own “projects” are endlessly requiring.

The show is at Artspace in New Haven, CT until September 15th. I attended another opening there a few months ago that is well worth noting as it is a traveling show and if you have the opportunity to see it, you should – The Hudson Valley Seed Library which combines the art of gardening with visual arts in the way of their seed packaging: each package is designed by an individual artist. They are beautiful and the seeds within are all heirloom. I am not a gardener, just a lover of the bounty of a garden as well as the beautiful pieces of art that encase the seeds. Visual beauty meets Victual beauty. A perfect match.