Marc Augé – Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity

…and the abundance of verbiage and documentation really does make it possible to identify Chateaubriand’s holy places as a non-place, very similar to the ones outlined in pictures and slogans by our guidebooks and brochures…

The spelling out of a position, a ‘posture’, an attitude in the most physical and commonplace sense of the term, comes at the end of a movement that empties the landscape, and the gaze of which it is the object, of all content and meaning…

In my opinion these shifts of gaze and plays of imagery, this emptying of the consciousness, can be caused – this time in systematic, generalized and prosaic fashion – by the characteristic features of what I have proposed to call ‘supermodernity’. These subject the individual consciousness to entirely new experiences and ordeals of solitude, directly linked with the appearance and proliferation of non-places…

Clearly the word ‘non-place’ designates two complementary but distinct realities: spaces formed in relation to certain ends (transport, transit, commerce, leisure), and the relations that individuals have with these spaces…

The link between individuals and their surroundings in the space of non-place is established through the mediation of words, or even texts…

Certain places exist only through the words that evoke them, and in this sense they are non-places: banal utopias, clichés. They are the opposite of Michel de Certeau’s non-place. Here the word does not create a gap between the everyday functionality and lost myth: it creates the image, produces the myth and at the same stroke makes it work…

‘Anthropological place’ is formed by individual identities, through complicities of language. local references, the unformulated rules of living know-how; non-place creates the shared identity of passengers, customers or Sunday drivers…

Supermodernity (which stems simultaneously from the three figures of excess: overabundance of events, spatial overabundance and the individualization of references) naturally finds its full expression in non-places…

The community of human destinies is experienced in the anonymity of non-place, and in solitude.

Augé, Marc (1995), Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, translated by John Howe, Verso.

Traveling and/or writing without purpose

Everything is clearly stated from the beginning of the first preface to Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem. In it Chateaubriand denies having made the journey ‘to write about it’, but admits that he used it to look for ‘images’ for Les Martyrs. He has no scientific pretensions: ‘I make no attempt to follow the footsteps of people like Chardin, Tavernier, Mungo Park, Humboldt . . .’1. So that finally this work, for which no purpose is admitted, answers a contradictory desire to speak of nothing but its author without saying a single thing about him to anyone:

For the rest, it is the man, much more than the author, who will be seen throughout; I speak eternally about myself, and did so in all confidence, since I had no intention of publishing my Memoirs.2

Marc Augé Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity translated by John Howe (Verso, 1995).

Chateaubriand’s conception of writing about himself about traveling (quoted here in Marc Augé’s Non-Places), sounds very like an average blogger’s rationale (by which I mean one who writes with no purpose other than to express themselves).

But I think I’m peddling myths here. There is really no such thing as an average blogger (in this sense), there is always a purpose involved. And similarly Chateaubriand is being disingenuous about his writings and travels.

Instead he resorts to assiduous description, makes a show of erudition, quotes whole pages of travellers or poets like Milton or Tasso. What he is doing is being evasive . . .

continued . . .

1 Chateaubriand, Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem (Juillard, 1964 edn), p.19.
2 Ibid., p.20.

Defecating Dogs in Dutch Paintings

At the risk of seeming crass, I noticed two paintings at the Dulwich Picture Gallery which included fairly prominent images of dogs defecating.

One was in Rembrandt & Co: Dealing in Masterpieces, the current temporary exhibition at the Gallery and the second was in the permanent collection. It seems a quite bizarre subject to include in a painting. What was the artist trying to say with these dogs? What purpose did they serve?

Looking into the matter further, defecating dogs seem to be a minor theme in Dutch art of Rembrandt’s period. The painting in the Collection is one I mentioned in my previous post as having caught my eye (for a different reason) – Adam Pynacker’s Landscape with Sportsmen and Game.

The catalogue makes no comment on the meaning of the dog, but states that:

The defecating dog seems to derive from the work of Ludolf de Jongh (R.E. Fleischer, Ludolf de Jongh, Doornspijk, 1989, p.57 and fig.48).

Works by Ludolf de Jongh (1616-1679) are present in the Getty Collection and the Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. An example of de Jongh’s work with said dogs can be seen here.

In the Rembrandt exhibition the relevant piece is number 43 – The Good Samaritan which apparently is in the Wallace Collection, although they only illustrate an etching taken from the painting on their website. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has another state of the etching. Here the presence of the dog is described in this way:

Among Rembrandt’s additions here to the largely empty foreground that appeared in the painting is the defecating dog that adds a note of everyday reality to the biblical scene.

Robert Hughes, in the Guardian, echoes this interpretation:

Sometimes Rembrandt’s subjects are too connected to the commonplace world for everyone to like them. There is an extremely vulgar side to Rembrandt. This in itself is no surprise, given the bawdry for which 17th-century Holland was notable. It may well be that giving vent to it was Rembrandt’s compensation for the anal obsession with neatness and cleanness that characterised Dutch domestic life. He did etchings of a man peeing and a woman defecating. A dog, tensely extruding a large turd from its backside, appears in the foreground of The Good Samaritan. . . .

There is apparently an essay by Goethe about The Good Samaritan which also talks in detail about the dog. I’m trying to source this text and will update this post when I’ve read it.

So, the dogs bring an element of real life to these idealised scenes and epic activities. I also read somewhere that they can be included to pass comment on the commissioner of the painting, but now cannot find that reference, so again, I’ll update this post when I find that information.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, 11 August 2006

A beautiful collection of Old Master paintings housed in a gem-like building designed by the neo-classical architect Sir John Soane (1752–1837).

Moving to London for my course entails the search for accommodation, and so I spent much of the weekend in the New Cross area looking at flats.

Driving home along the South Circular Road (A205) after a day of searching, I passed a sign for the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I’m surprised I’ve never visited before, but it’s in a part of London which has always seemed to be difficult to get to. Starting my course at Goldsmith’s has suddenly made this side of London much more accessible to me.

It’s perhaps worth quoting the website about the Gallery:-

The Soane building is probably the world’s first purpose-built art gallery. This is a case of right first time. The famous sequence of arched spaces in Soane’s interior is a shrine for Gallery designers, inspiring amongst others Louis Kahn in his Kimball Art Museum, Robert Venturi at the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London and Richard Meyer at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It is revered for practical and aesthetic reasons. Its roof-lanterns diffuse natural daylight, creating an even ‘wash’ of light over the walls, ideal for viewing paintings. The simple arches and smooth coved vaults provide interest without fuss. It is an architecture of harmonious lines rather than lavish decoration, and its elegant simplicity has never gone out of fashion.

The Gallery was opened to the public in 1817 to house the collection put together by Sir Francis Bourgeois and Noël Desenfans originally destined to be a “royal collection” for the King of Poland, before the country was partitioned around 1795. The collection is described as “one of the world’s most important collections of European old master paintings of the 1600s and 1700s.”

Some pieces that particularly interested me, mainly from a technical point of view, were:-

  • Arent de Gelder (1645–1727), Jacob’s Dream – large areas of shadow (much darker than the reproduction on the website), offsetting the vision in the top-right corner. The trees where Jacob sleeps have simply been scraped out of the thick dark paint.
  • Meindert Hobbema (1638–1709), Wooded Landscape with Watermill – the label states “the largest tree is drawn with a romantic intensity”.
  • Adam Pynacker (1620–1673), Landscape with Sportsman and Game – the birch tree’s bark seems to have been painted with a different technique than the rest of the picture – the peeling effect is very vigorously rendered – it’s like an area of the canvas that has a different tempo to the rest of the picture.
  • Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), Les Plaisirs du Bal – I’m always interested by architecture incorporated into paintings (or other works of art), not least because the developments in perspective often used architecture to demonstrate its’ effects. Here the ringed columns are based on those from the Luxembourg Palace (says the website) or Palais des Tuileries (says the label) in Paris, which, coincidentally, is being rebuilt.

A flickr set of the buildings from the visit.

prep: The Story of Art

So, having read The Story of Art, what now?

To begin with I’ve highlighted various passages that struck me as interesting, so I’ll be going back through these, transcribing the relevant ones and picking out subjects that deserve further notice. As I do this I hope to develop some more in-depth pieces of writing, pulling together and connecting the themes that I initially settled upon.

Being new to this level of analysis, it will probably start by being a bit random and haphazard, but as time goes on I hope the pieces will get more coherent and meaningful.