Monday, December 05, 2022

A new Smithson tag, mostly now for notes. All the below will have to be fit into the manuscript continuing or expanding on this.

I always understood the weakness in Smithson's work, that his preoccupations were transitional, but I loved them for describing the situation we were in: the negative idealism, the association of narrative with banality, searching for an absolute of some sort.

Humanism at its most mature is a focus on man as she is—I'll be cute and mix it up—not as she want to be; even the use of prescriptive rhetoric only overlays a descriptive core. So the greatest art of humanism achieves a balance not out of ideology or pedantry but respect for the things being balanced, including sobriety and drunkenness. In art, communicative form, drunkenness is the description of the experience, not the thing itself, but it's hard to give due credit without experience. 

"Perception does not know the concept of infinity"

The Baroque was the last flowering of absolutism, manifest in hierarchy able to describe itself as flexible without losing its authority. At the same time its scholasticism can produce an art that rather than describing a mechanism or a function begins to follow it.  

Reading Smithson he's the mirror of Fried: a decadent moralist, a reactionary post-humanist (seeing humanism only as pedantry), elitist, anti-democratic, etc. 

—Jorge Luis Borges begins his From Allegories to Novels by saying, "For all of us, the allegory is an aesthetic error."

—Duchamp shares Shakespeare's disgust when it comes to the elevation of expressive naturalism over the rules of the game.  

Like Borges, he only understands the novel from the world of allegories, and like him they're all he's good for. His comment about Duchamp and Shakespeare is absurd. He reduces the rules of the game to a mechanism which his own work serves only to illustrate. He's closer to Frampton than he admits. But he would've gotten a kick of David Thomson on Godard.

Craig Owens, "The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism", October, Vol 12. (Spring, 1980) JSTOR  

A week or so ago I updated a post mentioning October.

I've always hated Borges, but not Smithson.

Vesely, (again)  p 207

The problem of infinity was not new. It was discussed in antiquity, during the Middle Ages, and throughout the Renaissance, but always with reference to the transcendental nature of divine reality. From the human point of view, infinity could be only potentially present in a world that was by definition finite. This situation had changed by the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, when, for the first time, infinity was thought of and experienced as a plausible actuality. The new appreciation of infinity has much to do with developments in mathematics and with the appropriative nature of introverted representation. The contrast between the introverted experience and the indeterminate beyond, which could not be grasped but could no longer be ignored, was probably the main source of the anxiety often expressed in seventeenth-century writing. The contemplation of infinity. Kepler writes "parries with it I don't know what secret hidden horror: indeed one finds oneself wandering in this immensity to which are denied limits and center and therefore all determinate places. His tone comes close to that of the famous fragment by Pascal: "the eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."

This fear of the infinite is not shared by Guarini, but it finds its place in his commitment to move beyond the uncertainties and ambiguities of the finite, sensible world and in his elaborate effort to come to terms with the problem of infinity. Guarini's commitment was based on a deep faith in the continuity between the finite human world and the infinity of the divine mind. This faith was combined with an awareness, common in the Aristotelian tradition. that there is not a direct proportion between finite and infinite things or realities. However, if the traditional proportions are raised the level of universal proportions, the ratios can be generated toward infinity. This possibility is a key to Guarini's universal mathematics and metaphysics (prima philosophical, which rests on the assumption that geometrical proportion is both generic and universal in relation to all other proportions.

The important step that Guarini takes is to contemplate approaching the problem of infinity through the continuous progression of ratios in asymptotic approximation. As he himself acknowledges, "the boundary of progression is the end of a series to which no progression can approach, even if it is contained in infinity[,]... but it approaches it in perpetuity" (E.A 213) The progression of ratios to infinity closely corresponds to the principle of diminishing proportions in Renaissance perspective. But there is an important difference: the shift from the human to the divine point of view and from perspective to projection. This shift is readily apparent in the discussion of proportions in the Euclides adauctus, which leads to a consideration of the problem of continuity and culminates in the interpretation of the continuous geometrical proportion of surfaces and their projective relationships. Surface plays a unique role in Guarini's thinking because it is continuous and infinite, and generates geometrical proportions by its very nature--that is, by being a surface. This may explain why Guarini uses the planimetric figure of the hexagon as a primary element in the construction of the Sindone dome. The pyramidal stacking of the hexagons follows the rule of gnomonic difference, which is a proportional difference between individual figures. The sequence may be developed into an infinite series of terms belonging to the same continuous analogy. The key to this idea of the construction of the dome is a relatively little known drawing preserved in the Archivio di Stato in Turin. showing the stereographic pyramidal projection of its triangular elements. (figure 4.16)

The Trinitarian meaning of the triangle is preserved in its transformation into a hexagon. as well as in the twelve rays of the sun achieved by the hexagon's rotation. But the hexagon in the dome is open to more than one interpretation. We can see its meaning as a fulfillment of the primary theme of the chapel, the Passion culminating as a resurrection on the first day of the new creation (the day of sun)in other words, as a new expression of the cosmogonic role and meaning of light in the six days of creation (hexaemeron). Supporting this interpretation is another rather interesting, important fact: the dome is composed of six hexagons (six steps in the journey toward the sun; figures 4.17 and 4.18). [14.18 see below s.e.]

Guarini's geometrical language becomes comprehensible only in the context of his oeuvre as a whole, which also helps us to enter into the culture of the Baroque in which his architecture was received and understood. Broadly speaking, the Baroque culture of the seventeenth century was still dominated by symbolic thinking, which included mathematical speculation and representation (figure 4.19). More specifically, symbolic representation was sustained by dialectical thinking. It is probably no accident that Guarini titled Expensio V of his Euclides "De proportione dialectica." The section treats the dialectical relationship between quantitative entities (magnitudes) and their qualitative meaning. However, the title refers more specifically to the dialectics of geometrical operations in their relation to theological or philosophical discourse. What is new in Guarini's dialectics is its hidden and often enigmatic nature, which must be discerned behind apparently pure geometrical constructions and arguments. This aspect of Guarini's thinking is brought out by his references to Proclus and Nicholas of Cusa, the authors he followed most closely.

Smithson, The Collected Writings,

Jack Flam's introduction

p. XV

In a way, Smithson saw and treated the world as an enormous text, reminiscent of the library in Borges's "Library of Babel," which is synonymous with the universe itself, "composed of an indefinite and perhaps an infinite number of hexagonal galleries"-which seem to prefigure the crystalline structures that Smithson himself favored. Borges's library, moreover, is defined as "a sphere whose exact center is any one of its hexagons and whose circurriference is inaccessible," recalling Smithson's favorite quote from Pascal, that "Nature is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." Significantly, in a 1968 citation of Pascal's statement, Smithson added "or language becomes an infinite museum whose center is everywhere and whose limits are nowhere."

p.52  Towards The Development of an Air Terminal Site (1967)

p 59

Tony Smith writes about "a dark pavement" that is "punctuated by stacks, towers, fumes and colored lights." (Artforum, December 1966.) The key word is "punctuated." In a sense, the "dark pavement" could be considered a "vast sentence," and the things perceived along it,"punctuation marks.""... tower ..." =the exclamation mark(!)."... stacks . . ."= the dash(-).". . .fumes ..."= the question mark(?)."... colored lights .. ." = the colon (:).Of course, I form these equations on the basis of sense-data and not rational-data. Punctuation refers to interruptions in "printed matter." It is used to emphasize and clarify the meaning of specific segments of usage. Sentences like "skylines" are made of separate "things" that constitute a whole syntax. Tony Smith also refers to his art as "interruptions" in a "space-grid."

p. 66 Letter to the Editor, Artforum (1967)


France has given us the anti-novel, now Michael Fried has given us the anti-theater. A production could be developed on a monstrous scale with the Seven Deadly Isms, verbose diatribes, scandalous refutations, a vindication of Stanley Cavell, shrill but brilliant disputes on "shapehood" vs. "objecthood," dark curses, infamous claims, etc. The stage should subdivide into millions of stages.

The following is a "prologue" from an unwritten TV "spectacular" called The Tribulations of Michael Fried.

. . . there will be no end to this exquisite, horrible misery, when you look forward you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts.

Jonathan Edwards

Michael Fried has in his article "Art and Objecthood" (Artforum, June 1967) declared a "war" on what he quixotically calls "theatricality." In a manner worthy of the most fanatical puritan, he provides the art world with a long-overdue spectacle-a kind of ready-made parody of the war between Renaissance classicism (modernity) versus Manneristic anti-classicism (theater) . Fried, without knowing it, has brought into being a schism complete with all the "mimic fury" (Thomas Carew) of a fictive inquisition. He becomes, I want to say, in effect the first truly manneristic critic of "modernity." Fried has set the critical stage for manneristic modernism, although he is trying hard not to fall from the "grip" of grace. This grace he maintains by avoiding appearance, or by keeping art at "arm's length." Fried discusses this "grip" in Anthony Caro and Kenneth No/and—Some Notes on Not Composing (The Lugano Review, 1965/III-IV). What Fried fears most is the consciousness ofwhat he is doing—namely being himself theatrical. He dreads "distance" because that would force him to become aware of the role he is playing. His sense of intimacy would be annihilated by the "God" Jonathan Edwards feared so much. Fried, the orthodox modernist, the keeper of the gospel of Clement Greenberg has been "struck by Tony Smith," the agent of endlessness. Fried has declared his sacred duty to modernism and will now make combat with what Jorge Luis Borges calls "the numerous Hydra (the swamp monster which amounts to a prefiguration or emblem of geometric progressions) ... ", in other words "Judd's Specific Objects, and Morris's gestalts or unitary forms, Smith's cube ... " This atemporal world threatens Fried's present state of temporal grace - his "presentness." The terrors of infinity are taking over the mind of Michael Fried. Corrupt appearances of endlessness worse than any known Evil. A radical skepticism, known only to the dreadful "literalists" is making inroads into intimate "shapehood." Non-durational labyrinths of time are infecting his brain with eternity. Fried, the Marxist saint, shall not be tempted into this awful sensibility, instead he will cling for dear life to the "surfaces" of Jules Olitski's Bunga. Better one million Bungas than one "specific object." Yet, little known "specific demons" are at this moment, I want to say, "breaking the fingers" of Fried's grip on Bunga. This "harrowing" of hellish objecthood is causing modernity much vexation and turmoil-not to say "gnashing of teeth."

At any rate, eternity brings about the dissolution of belief in temporal histories, empires, revolutions, and counter-revolutions—all becomes ephemeral and in a sense unreal, even the universe loses its reality. Nature gives way to the incalculable cycles of nonduration. Eternal time is the result of skepticism, not belief. Every refutation is a mirror of the thing it refutes-ad infinitum. Every war is a battle with reflections.What Michael Fried attacks is what he is. He is a naturalist who attacks natural time. Could it be there is a double Michael Fried-the atemporal Fried and the temporal Fried? Consider a subdivided progression of "Frieds" on millions of stages.

p 138 A Cinematic Atopia (1971)

Going to the cinema results in an immobilization of the body. Not much gets in the way of one's perception. All one can do is look and listen. One forgets where one is sitting. The luminous screen spreads a murky light throughout the darkness. Making a film is one thing, viewing a film another. Impassive, mute, still the viewer sits. The outside world fades as the eyes probe the screen. Does it matter what film one is watching? Perhaps. One thing all films have in common is the power to take perception elsewhere. As I write this, I'm trying to remember a film I liked, or even one I didn't like. My memory becomes a wilderness of elsewheres. How, in such a condition, can I write about film' I don't know. I could know. But I would rather not know. Instead, I will allow the elsewheres to reconstruct themselves as a tangled mass. Somewhere at the bottom of my n1.emory are the sunken remains o fall the films I have ever seen, good and bad they swarm together forming cinematic mirages, stagnant pools of images that cancel each other out. A notion of the abstractness of films crosses my mind, only to be swallowed up in a morass of Hollywood garbage. A pure film of lights and darks slips into a dim landscape of countless westerns. Some sagebrush here, a little cactus there, trails and hoofbeats going nowhere. The thought of a film with a "story" makes me listless. How many stories have I seen on the screen? All those "characters" carrying out dumb tasks. Actors doing exciting things. It's enough to put one into a permanent coma.

Let us assume I have a few favorites. Ikiru? also called Living, To Live, Doomed. No, that won't do. Japanese films are too exhausting. Taken as a lump, they re- mind me of a recording by Captain Beef Heart[sic] called Japan in a Dishpan. There's always Satyajit Ray for a heavy dose of tedium, if you're into tedium. Actually, I tend to prefer lurid sensationalism. For that I must turn to some English director, Alfred Hitchcock will do. You know, the shot in Psycho where Janet Leigh's eye emerges from the bathtub drain after she's been stabbed. Then there's always the Expanded Cinema, as developed by Gene Youngblood, complete with an introduction by "Bucky" Fuller. Rats for Breakfast could be a hypothetical film directed by the great utopian himself. It's not hard to con- sider cinema expanding into a deafening pale abstraction controlled by computers. At the fringes of this expanse one might discover the deteriorated images of Hollis Frampton's Maxwell's Denton? After the "structural film" there is the sprawl of entropy. The monad of cinematic limits spills out into a state of stupefaction. We are faced with inventories of limbo.

p. 349  Ivan the Terrible to Roger Corman or Paradoxes of Conduct in Mannerism as reflected in he Cinema (1967)

p. 350 

Manneristic art is often called pseudo, sick, perverse, false, phony and decadent by the naturalists or truth tellers, yet it seems to me that what the Mannerist esthetic does disclose or recover is a sense of primal evil. Both Eisenstein and Poe seem to have been acutely aware of such a malevolent condition. Parker Tyler in his Classics ofForeign Films has this to say, "Eisenstein knew perfectly well that 'Mephistofeles' and 'wild beast,' the labels he had given Ivan, also applied to himself, to the history of his career as man and film artist." Such an awareness not only locates him within the Mannerist esthetic, but also makes him an artist of the first order.

The Mannerist is not innocent of corruption. He casts a cold eye, and what he sees he treats with humor and terror. A great example of pictorial humor and terror is The Allegory ofEurope or the Beheading ofJohn the Baptist by an unknown Mannerist master (collection of the Prado).The very word "allegory" is enough to strike terror into the hearts of the expressive artist; there is perhaps no device as exhausted as allegory. But strangely enough Allan Kaprow has shown interest in that worn-out device. Jorge Luis Borges begins his From Allegories to Novels by saying, "For all of us, the allegory is an aesthetic error."

p. 352 

Duchamp shares Shakespeare's disgust when it comes to the elevation of expressive naturalism over the rules of the game. 

Sam Wagstaff, "Talking with Tony Smith", Artforum (1966)

I’m not aware of how light and shadow falls on my pieces. I’m just aware of basic form. I’m interested in the thing, not in the effects—pyramids are only geometry, not an effect.


My speculations with plane and solid geometry and crystal forms led me to making models for sculpture, but what I did always made use of the 90-degree angle, like De Stijl. I only began to use more advanced relationships of solids after working with Wright and then related the thirty and sixty-degree angles to the ninety-degree angles.


We think in two dimensions—horizontally and vertically. Any angle off that is very hard to remember. For that reason I make models—drawings would be impossible.


I’m very interested in Topology, the mathematics of surfaces, Euclidian geometry, line and plane relationships. “Rubber sheet geometry,” where facts are more primary than distances and angles, is more elemental but more sophisticated than plane geometry.


When I was teaching at Cooper Union in the first year or two of the fifties, someone told me how I could get on to the unfinished New Jersey Turnpike. I took three students and drove from somewhere in the Meadows to New Brunswick. It was a dark night and there were no lights or shoulder markers, lines, railings, or anything at all except the dark pavement moving through the landscape of the flats, rimmed by hills in the distance, but punctuated by stacks, towers, fumes, and colored lights. This drive was a revealing experience. The road and much of the landscape was artificial, and yet it couldn’t be called a work of art. On the other hand, it did something for me that art had never done. At first I didn’t know what it was, but its effect was to liberate me from many of the views I had had about art. It seemed that there had been a reality there which had not had any expression in art. 

 The experience on the road was something mapped out but not socially recognized. I thought to myself, it ought to be clear that’s the end of art. Most painting looks pretty pictorial after that. There is no way you can frame it, you just have to experience it. Later I discovered some abandoned airstrips in Europe—abandoned works, Surrealist landscapes, something that had nothing to do with any function, created worlds without tradition. Artificial landscape without cultural precedent began to dawn on me. There is a drill ground in Nuremberg, large enough to accommodate two million men. The entire field is enclosed with high embankments and towers. The concrete approach is three sixteen-inch steps, one above the other, stretching for a mile or so.


Gregory of St Vincent, 1647 
Guarini, Cappella della Sacra Sindone, completed in 1694 
Tony Smith Model for Smoke, 1967
Tony Smith, Smug, 1973
Robert Smithson, Alogon #2, 1966
Mirror Stratum, 1966
Spiral Jetty, 1970 
Gyrostasis, 1968
Plunge, 1966 

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