Friday, September 21, 2007

Looking Away

Nietzsche's remark in The Gay Science, "Looking away shall be my only negation," hints at an alternative to Adorno's modernist aesthetic of negation. Elsewhere, I've been working on texts that address the kinds of perceptions that best suit looking as only quasi negation (perceptions that suspend the factive claims of what they see; perceptions of objects too fleeting to be shared). Michael Vahrenwald's photographs of grasses on Wal-Mart lots make Nietzsche's point very simply. The Wal-Mart never appears, so it's neither made to condemn itself nor given the honor of condemning itself; but its existence isn't denied, either. The viewer's implicit thought is not so much "I would prefer not to affirm this Wal-Mart" as "I'd prefer to look at this grass." Night here has a rather traditional poetic function, furnishing an image of the possibility of a different world. Stopping short of celebration or transcendence, the photos find relief in a neutrality that Wal-Mart remains incapable of buying off--in "nature" not as romance but as invariance. These ideas are related to what I was struggling to express about minimalism below in the entry "Postmodernism and Reconciliation"; the minimalist perception is familiar to the child tarrying in the space between the house and the fence, or the "unofficial spaces of the school."

Two last thoughts: (a) the strategy of these photos is hardly imaginable without color (b) would the effect be the same if the grass was in the prison yard or the concentration camp?

Image 1: Michael Vahrenwald, Bramble #2, Wal-Mart, Boonton, NJ

Image 2: Michael Vahrenwald, Green Slope, Wal-Mart, Davenport, IA

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