forming content: fat tires, peace shattered & an arc or two

There seems to be barely time to reflect on what we are seeing or what I am saying and how I am presenting it in these posts. The impetus behind which was not merely to record our travels but also to open up in the writing a formal dimension wherein reflection might occur. I say formal because I mean to do with form, in the form itself. But the content presses so hard against the form of expression I’m afraid that honouring this formal dimension becomes exiguous and redundant. The best one could hope for might be then that the content should express itself without the self-consciousnessness that it occupies whether one is wanted or not a form. The content makes the form. But imprinted within what one sees are there what one might call escape routes from tourism, from its clichees, from travel as a kind of consumerism? Escape routes schematically hallucinated throughout the act of engaging with unfamiliar places? Escape routes from representation?

One of the terms that struck me in the frequency of its occurence yesterday at the Centre du George Pompidou was the ‘New Realism.’ It came up in regard to Arman and then in the thematic exposition of modern art. With Arman, it was the rubbish works first, the sheer literalism of them, that apparently merited the title, presenting produced goods as materials. The material support in itself becomes the real of the work. Even Op Art engages with materials in this way. It is their organisation that produces the effect, of reflective surfaces or closely matching lines, furrows, wires, and so on.

The New Realism in, I think, a solecism inspired by the positivistic scientific worldview, seems to treat non-material attributes as so many trompes l’oeil, deceptions visited on us through the human fallibility of our perceptual faculties. As if to say more and more loudly and clearly that whatever meaning or affect we attribute to what we experience of an artwork is just another trick, another species of deception, another scam playing on our credulity. I.e. noise. Opening the way for someone, not Barthes, to declare the death of the author. Because whatever happens to us, the materiality of the work is beyond question.

Realism then relies on innate qualities in the material? Which the artwork helps bring to expression? The ‘imprint’ in the content like a virtual or genetic element in relation to which form is a cytoplasm?

What is the real of the sort of tourism we are doing? That a New Realism might come from some sort of raw data level of recording?

I know I will be erring in the tendency simply to record. I have no great belief in the power of the list to self-organise, except at the level of the very sort of tourism I would decry. Because list it would be. Boxes ticked along some presumed preformed itinerary. Even when that itinerary is entirely personal? Possibly, then, not. In the case of a personal itinerary wouldn’t you say that the description becomes interesting for its character and how that character reflects a subject?

The personal itinerary then would be a halfway station between the formal dimension of a tour that includes a reflective place in the form of its writing or recording and the spare or full recording and listing of places and things according to a linear chronology. What else is there?

Perhaps it’s not right to talk about it as self-consciousness. It would always be easier like Giacometti to invoke a truth. In principle. And stick to it. An enviable position. So as to claim any failure as personal. But the minute I write that I think of Diego. A different mind in the service of a different mind. Neither of which was ‘better.’ Such a game is better to lose.

I would say in seeking to write down the truth in a form which will sustain it I am bound to fail. And the particular error of the mis-ascribed or mis-called or mis-interpreted can claim no part in that failure. As if it were a mere lack of success. The failure will always be a question of form.

Today we took a Fat Tire Bike Tour of Paris. Ascending from the Metro at the Champs de Mars, as in the god of war, we came up on the Eiffel Tower from the Seine side. It is stunningly big. Bigger for the millions of parts and elegance of the overall profile, the millions of parts going to make up the overall profile. Bigger for detail. The top lost in a haze of the morning and the season. The leaves turning under its stride.

It’s an odd structure for being utterly useless. Yes, it was an advertisement of a kind for the 1889 World Expo, and an entry point, and itself an exhibit, but what a strangely built symbol! Two years to build. Retained beyond the 20 year use-by date because of its military usefulness as an enormous antenna. Even then, the idea of this usefulness was a stretch, a long-shot. Opportunistic in that radio technology was relatively new.

If one had started from the end of radio antenna perhaps a passable Tour Eiffel would have been the result, given the inclination at the time to turn even the most utilitarian objects into decor. But, I suppose this is the point, it sits at the cusp between out-and-out display and functional construction and revels in its own redundancy. It is a silly thing consistently achieved.

At no cost to the state, the guy with the Fat Tire Bike sign explained, since money to build it came out of Eiffel’s own pocket – well, he personally had to raise the cash. His contractual come-back being that he receive the money from tickets to climb it. He allegedly made back the cost of construction in two years. And, it being such a labour of love, lived on it for the first twenty years of its existence.

You could say the bike tour was roughly themed: a circuit of landmarks Paris has hated. To which Les Invalides is not necessarily an exception. Built by Louis XIV, it was he claimed the work for which he wished to be remembered. A military hospital, with, at its rear, his own personal chapel, the dome of which glistened, having 4 kilos of gold in it. (Strangely enough, the amount of chocolate we were told in Berlin, Hitler ate per day.) Louis Le Roi-Soleil thus invented the idea that the state ought to look after those who participate in looking after it, what our guide called laying the foundations for socialized medicine.

We had seen the institution started by Louis XV, an act by which he unwittingly signed the death warrant of the royal succession, the Ecole Militaire, which Napoleon attended. And the Wall of Peace, looking more like the Toll-gate of Peace, or an oversized bus shelter, the glass panels of which, it was pointed out, were shattered, were routinely shattered by drunks in the park. No government will bow to pressure to tear it down since none wants to be held responsible for demolishing the Wall of Peace on the Fields of Mars, God of War.

We cycled across Alexander III Bridge, with its newly gilded figures, one with a sword to mark victory, one with an olive branch to mark peace, two with trumpets to advertise the pact between France and Russia. On the way back we cycled under it, where there is now a high-class nightclub.

The Grand Palais was pointed out to us as the venue of venues in Paris, and the site for the Monet exhibition about to open, remarkable for its seven-day operation, since state services are notorious here for taking the weekends off.

We crossed Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine stood, and where Louis-Philippe erected the stolen Luxor obelisk. Its tip newly gilded. The oldest thing in Paris, dating back 3000 years. And entering the Tuileries were told we could not cycle but must stroll.

Here we lunched opposite a symmetrically matching cafe which does not seem to have gained the Fat Tires contract for having higher prices. We ate a Mayonnaise Thon, a Mayonniase Poulet and an Hot Dog, the two former neglecting to describe themselves as filled baguettes or sandwiches.

What do Parisians do? They recline and look at ponds on specially designed chairs when they are not strolling aimlessly and attentively in flanerie.

We were shown the Louvre Pyramid. 1989 I think it was built. Another controversial landmark. I’m a bit scared of getting closer and finding not only that the glass is dirty but also that the construction technique dates it, since it looks like an architecturally designed sunroom. Which is possibly appropriate considering that the Palace du Louvre was home to the Bourbon kings, including Louis XIV, Sun King, until he moved the Court to new digs at Versailles.

The mini Arc de Carousel stands between the Tuileries and the Louvre. It features replicas of the quadriga, the four horse chariot Napoleon stole from the facade of San Marco, which is now in its museum. Our guide cleverly called it the Arc de Oh Crap because it was built lest the main Arc de Triomphe was not completed on time.

Rather than cycling the Champs Elysees, on the return leg of our journey we biked along the quai, down by the Seine, past houseboats – the berths have a forty year waiting list, allegedly -, really barges, with barbeque furniture on deck, and the Bateaux Mouches. We rose from the quai to Diana’s flame, also newly gilded, a replica gifted by the USA of the Statue of Liberty’s flame back to France, which had been there for six years before it became Diana’s, since she was unlucky enough to have died in the vehicle tunnel underneath it.

Ambling time via Monoprix to pick up the Metro again at La Motte-Picquet – Grenelle. Home to an early pork dinner with a view to going out for crepes up at Place de Tertre beside Sacre Coeur later.

Later came and the top of the hill was like a lurid sub-Disneyland, despite its elevation. Came down the hill without. Preferring to enjoy Disneyland at Disneyland itself, when it comes.