📰 Inexhaustible Precision
Author: Karl Ove Knausgård
Full Title: Inexhaustible Precision | the Point Magazine
Whenever I see a new picture I immediately seem to like and find aesthetically pleasing, I am suspicious. This cannot possibly be good, I think to myself. This cannot possibly be art. It feels like the spontaneous pleasure, the immediate sense of aesthetic satisfaction I derive in such instances is too easy and too shallow to be called a true artistic experience.
Good is only that which does not open itself immediately, but requires lengthy effort on the part of the beholder in order to fully reveal itself—or rather no, that’s not the word at all, because a true work of art never fully reveals itself, holds no one answer, but must forever remain beholder-resistant.
Objects and phenomena are never as they appear, something always lies hidden beneath the surface, and that something, which is their real truth, can be arrived at only by critical address.
What is easily accessible is for the many, for everyman, the mass, whereas what is accessible only by effort and with difficulty is for the few, the elite. To appropriate and appreciate a sophisticated and ostensibly inaccessible work of art is always at the same time to be in select company.
In fairy tales, the quintessential form of the collective, the Narratives have been shaped through generations, the individual is as good as absent, they are told by a we to a we, and the language of this we is permeated by a kind of lowest common denominator of the culture: formulas, clichés, stereotypes, so simple that even a small child can be mesmerized by them, without what the fairy tale is about necessarily becoming childish.
This is where we are now: the more people who like a work of art at first sight, the more people who read a novel, the poorer the work of art, the poorer the novel. But also: the better the work of art or the novel, the more it is permeated by resistance, and since that resistance can be surmounted only by means of some large measure of intellectual effort, feelings are all but eliminated.
Nothing of what I have written here, apart from the concrete description of the dark landscape, is found in these pictures. They evade meaning, the way the world evades meaning, being simply what it is. The photographer’s interpretations of it emerge in the picture, but in the form only of the picture itself, intuitively understood by the beholder in the emotions, feelings, moods the picture awakens. The fact that they do not speak, wordless and yet expressive, is what makes them so powerfully alluring.
When I look at a tree in one of these photos, it is as if it holds a secret, as if it contains something unfamiliar to me, standing there draped in its dense cloak of foliage, shimmering almost, weightless and yet heavy, and in this light almost submarine, as if it were the sea and not the wind that washed among its branches.
Photographs in black and white are always more stylized, for the world is in color, and when we remove the color we heighten the solidity of the motif, making it more concentrated, a tree, for instance, being drawn that little bit more toward the idea of a tree, which is to say away from its physical, concrete and material reality in which ideas are nonexistent.
The Nazi canon was in part the classics, in part the petty-bourgeois, which is to say naturalistic, figurative depictions inclined toward Heimat or heroic portrayals of people and nature, what we today would call kitsch, which everyone regardless of background and intellectual capacity would find appealing and easy to grasp. That this was so is another reason for the alluring and the simple becoming discredited in our time. Skepticism toward emotionally laden art is related to this too, I think, for never have allurement and the manipulation of human feelings had such enormous consequences as then.
The easily accessible, the simple and the immediately appealing are not necessarily exhausted at first glance, are not necessarily bound up with the formalizations and repetitions of genre, we know this; the histories of art and literature are full of examples of images so simple and basic that anyone, regardless of aesthetic competence, can relate to them.
What the novel can do, in its best moments, is to simplify without reduction, by seeking not toward reality, the documentable abundance of people and events, whose totality is unreachable and whose individual parts are not representative, but toward the picture of reality, more exactly that which combines two phenomena, the concrete and the inexhaustible. This, which we perhaps could call inexhaustible precision, is the goal of all art, and its essential legitimacy.
Inexhaustible precision is the white whale in Melville’s novel, it is the metamorphosis in Kafka’s novella, the human bear in “White-Bear King Valemon,” the fratricide in the Book of Genesis, the sanatorium in The Magic Mountain, the pretend knight-errant of Cervantes’s novel, in other words that which brings together something big and undefinable, not by pointing to it, but by being it, and at the same time always being something else as well.
The inexhaustibly precise is always simple, always without resistance and easily grasped, but always has more to it than what first meets the eye.
The myth is the prehistoric form of the inexhaustibly precise, for no matter the shifts of time, no matter the preferences of changing generations, the myth is relevant always, for as long as people exist; it would cease to be relevant only when there are no longer people in the sense we know, but something else instead.