«1 Introduction Ivo Strecker & Markus Verne Wonder and astonishment lie at the heart of scholarship, as René Descartes noted in The Passions of the ...»
Selecting “directs attention toward items and away from other items” and is especially interesting for a theory of evocation in that it may involve unconscious filtering, blockage and deprivation. The same applies to sustaining attention, which Oakley says needs time and effort: As the viewer perceives Cromwell eyeing More, evocations arise, “mental simulations” take place that are “anchored in the here-and-now of a museum visit but referencing the there-and-then of Tudor England.” Oakley calls this fifth element controlling attention, and points out that it is “vital for functioning in complex, social and technological environments.” Harmonizing is the sixth and probably most relevant element in the context of the present book, because it involves the awareness of other people’s cognitive horizons and an ever-elusive yet indispensable anticipation of their thoughts and feelings.
Chapter II, Gazing at paintings and the evocation of life, by Philippe-Joseph Salazar similarly shows how the museum can be understood as an institution where spellbinding attention, astonishment and evocation are cultivated. Like Oakley and Wiseman he recalls and reflects on what he experienced at particular exhibitions, but he does it in a very personal and dramatic way. Noting that visual experiences have often triggered an epiphany in the course of his life, he uses this term as a key concept in his “self-ethnography.” An epiphany happens “when the unexpected jolts the mind into confronting that, which had remained out of sight”, and whenever he went to a museum, Salazar looked forward not only to particular works of art that he was going to see, but also to writing about such “unexpected jolts.” Gazing and writing became one, as it were, in his moments of epiphany. The essay quotes three entries from his diaries, which show how paintings may “take possession of one’s life” by evoking “moral lessons.” He also provides details of elements of attention (see Oakley above) that influenced his gaze.
The first entry is about Paul Cadmus’ The Fleet’s In (1934), which in Salazar’s mind “hails back” to the past, to the High Renaissance, to a “courtly theme.” The sailors, and the men and women of the Great Depression, who are portrayed in the painting, reminded him of the plenipotentiaries and courtiers depicted in a fresco at the Ambassador’s Staircase in Versailles. As he kept gazing, the individual figures in the painting captured his attention and he noticed what Wiseman would call their “immanent qualities.” With ever-increasing intensity he describes how these figures are depicted by the painter, and in an ever-widening realm of comparison, which includes other paintings and other contexts, Salazar lets us share his evocations. Finally, in an additional twist he conjures up what the figures in the painting may be facing, may themselves be thinking and feeling.
John Lavery’s Tennis Party (1885), and Le Jeu de cartes (1948-1950) by Balthus (Balthazar Klossowski de Rola) led to similar cascades of evocation. Salazar was obviously captivated by the many pictorial tropes—especially irony—that abound in all of the paintings, and his diary entries show how they fueled his feelings of epiphany. Again, we note his attention to minute but telling details of form and function, and it can be said that both the painters who painted the pictures, and Salazar who gazed at them, are masters of attribution (see Strecker below). In addition they are masters of allegory. English tennis becomes a “game of adultery,” and the French belote becomes a “game of life.” Salazar supports this with an account of his internal rhetoric. Is the card game about cheating? No. Is it about a personal relationship? Yes. After attending to the most telling details he says, “This is the painterly lesson of Le Jeu de cartes: a life is lived fully if played at the edge of Life.” Each of the three paintings does even more than evoke the mood and modalities of individual lives, it also summons the vision of an historical period: Tennis Party brings to mind the impending end of the British Empire: “lawn tennis played on summery afternoons will disappear as proverbial clouds will gather over Empire;” The Fleet’s In rouses memories of an exulted moment in America’s history, when “Roosevelt and his emissaries design the New Deal;” and Le Jeu de cartes, Salazar concludes, “is a trope of the Cold War. That’s how I see it.” Chapter III, Tangled up in blue. Symbolism and evocation, by Boris Wiseman widens and deepens the topic of the present book by reminding us that the question of non-referential language is still one of the “supreme enigmas” of cultural studies. In a short introductory paragraph he recalls that the French Symbolists (among them Baudelaire and Mallarmé) and pioneers of
art (for example Kandisky) experimented with the spellbinding capacity of language and other media, showing that art is above all a matter of “sensuous evocation.” Anthropologists and linguists have analyzed some of the more important ways in which evocation may be generated and kept in motion, for example by using imaginative strings of homologies (Lévi-Strauss), analogies (Jakobson), and synaesthetic correlates (Whorf).
In a second step, Wiseman remembers how an exhibition—Indigo—first roused his interest and led him to explore empirically and in minute detail the evocative power and symbolic ramifications of this blue dye. Astonishment, he observes, is enshrined in the production of indigo because an “extraordinary transmutation of the natural world” takes place whereby colorless plant fibers suddenly yield their “precious chromatic essence.” Evocation is involved when it comes to the social use of the color: the almost magical transformation observed in the natural world is projected onto the social world where the use of indigo dye plays a prominent role in rites of passage and is symbolically connected with death and regeneration.
Drawing on his wide knowledge of both anthropology and art history, Wiseman goes on to provide examples from various cultural contexts that show how the symbolism of indigo weaves sensory experiences together and creates moods that derive from the immanent qualities of indigo. Then he returns to general theory, to Lévi-Strauss and the interpretation of Apollinaire’s Les colchiques. Once more we find ourselves “entangled in blue,“ subject to astonishment and evocation, as Wiseman makes a refined analysis of the poetic language that entertains a comparison between the blue color of a flower (Meadow Saffron or Naked Lady) and the eyes of the enchanted poet’s mistress.
Finally, Wiseman examines not only the evocations of blue but also of red and black as they appear in the writings of Merleau-Ponty, Claudel, Rilke and Imbert. Particular colors relate to, and resonate with others. This is not only true for colors present in the same perceptual field, but also for those that are part of a person’s memory or even the imaginary product of the mind’s eye. Thus, a field of indirect evocation extends beyond the field of direct perception and may be cultivated and carried over from one work to another, so that one may speak of a culture’s history of evocation and perception.
Does this mean that all evocations associated with particular colors are culturespecific? Wiseman answers: “I see a close kinship between the figure of the dye-maker and that of the artist and by extension the museum or gallery visitor. They share the same fine gained attentiveness to the qualitative dimensions of things and the conviction that these signify.” In other words, because of indigo’s immanent qualities, we are all prone to fall under its spell. Regardless of our cultural background we get entangled in strings of evocation, and are captivated by indigo’s mysterious blue.
In Chapter IV, Co-presence, astonishment and evocation in cinematography, Ivo Strecker explores the “spellbinding” power of cinema. Like the museum, the cinema derives its raison d'être from the opportunity it provides visitors for astonishment and evocation.
Literally as well as metaphorically, it is a site for ‘focusing,’ for intense viewing, for sustained attention, and for mental and emotional epiphany (see Oakley and Salazar above).
While working on his own films, or watching films made by others, Strecker often wondered about the evocative power of seemingly incidental phenomena, like when a dog appears and is kicked away just as a baby is being born, or a bird rises and circles above a dancer. Why are cinematographers eager to capture images where co-presence of seemingly unrelated phenomena becomes visible? Why are they delighted when, while editing their footage, such forms of co-presence are unexpectedly revealed?
In order to answer this and other questions related to the evocative dimensions of film, the author enlists the help of Stephen Tyler. The four basic meaning schemata of existence, attribution, function and comparison—elucidated in The said and the unsaid— which allow us to act meaningfully in the world, also assist the task of ethnographic filming.
They “guide our attention and provide the lens through which we can focus and produce images that catch our and other people’s attention and have the power to surprise and generate evocation.” Schemata of existence generally make ontological claims about the existence or nonexistence of things. Here it is only necessary to note that in as far as they point to the presence of things they are intrinsic to the camera, which is designed to alert, select and sustain attention by means of framing, zooming, focusing and such like. Schemata of attribution are used to depict the specific qualities of things. As Wiseman’s chapter has shown, the immanent quality of a color may entrance people. The camera is able to capture and even enhance such wonderment. Conscious that they can only focus on what is visibly accessible, filmmakers often “magically evoke a totality by means of its attributes” (this compares with the use of attribution in the production and interpretation of paintings, as we saw in Salazar’s chapter).
The same applies to the schemata of function, which involve a relationship between cause and effect, purpose and form. The nail evokes the hammer, and the hammer evokes the nail. Thus, the schemata of function entail forms of co-presence that may be exploited by the cinematographer.
A further set of meaning schemata is found under the rubric of comparison. The schemata of time and space may be used in film not only to provide temporal and spatial orientation, but also to create a “higher order of awareness that allows for tension, drama and astonishment.” Schemata of resemblance—which are basic for the production of all forms of figuration—are even more important because they allow cinematographers to create a metaphorical and allegorical layering that increases the evocative power of their films.
Chapter V, Captivated by ritual. Visceral visitations and the evocation of community, by Klaus-Peter Köpping, begins with forms of astonishment arising in situations of first cultural contact. As a kind of prelude to his central theme—“visceral visitations”—Köpping reports how at first the New Guinea Highlanders held the Whites to be god-like, but “the empirical proof that they shat made them re-think and newly categorize the visitors as human like themselves.” He also draws attention to Stephen Greeblatt’s study of the miraculous, which has characterized astonishment as “gut-wrenching” experience.
Köpping describes his own feeling of astonishment as a form of shock and subsequent captivation (compare Oakley chapter two). He experienced it when he attended a festival in a remote region of Japan where dances were performed to celebrate Yama-no-kami, a Japanese mountain god. The paraphernalia and performance of the dances expressed emotions of rage and fury, which eventually transformed into gentleness and peacefulness.
Such reversals are not only part of Japanese ritual but can also be observed in European romantic traditions in which the “elusive polarity of bliss and dread” is used to evoke the Schaurig-Schöne and the sublime.
After these reflections on the involving nature of performance and the need to participate to understand performance fully, Köpping moves from the ancient mountain god to a “living goddess,” Mrs. Sayo Kitamura, who claimed that her belly was a sanctuary of the whole Japanese nation and founded a successful cult on this extraordinary assertion. Noting that this cult used the metaphor of the belly in similar ways as the villagers in the mountains, Köpping began to wonder whether he had perhaps discovered a key metaphor of Japanese self-understanding and subsequently focused his research on this topic. In his essay he offers pertinent details of the results, and explains how the Japanese “evoke for each other the notions of ‘self’ and ‘society’ by means of body metaphors.” There is a rich literature on the distinction between inner self and outer experience in Japanese culture, as well as on associated body metaphors, which Köpping mentions before he embarks on his main project, a comparison between the mountain village festival and the cult of Mrs. Kitamura. In both cases the belly is used as metaphorical “focus and locus of transgression, boundary crossing as well as finding the ‘inner self’ on a collective as well as individual plane.” The festival of the mountain god is characterized by raucous, hilarious, exuberant performance understood as an expression of the belly. However, as a local lay priest explains, this outrageous behavior also “restores peace to the community.” The cult of Mrs. Kitamura—the “Great Goddess”— is staged at her headquarter in Tabuse and involves performances such as healing, dancing and especially prophecy, in which the “visceral speaks” and a “new dawn of history” is “metaphorically expressed by the cleansed body of a woman who will be pregnant with a male-female divinity.” The chapter ends with reflections on how both rituals have to do with “evacuating” the mind through dancing. However, while the New Religious Movement wants to free the mind from visceral visitations of the belly, the Mountain Festival emphasizes them and uses the powers of the belly—the true seat of human natural drives—to induce a sense of community among all who take part in the performance.