March 20, 2008

Mailbag: non-art as Art-art, and God as singularly plural

Laura Britt Greig sent in an art-historical example of contrastive focus reduplication, from Martha Rosler "Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment", in George Robertson and Jon Bird, eds., The Block Reader in Visual Culture, 1996 (emphasis added):

Cage's mid-1950s version, like Minor White's in photography, was marked by Eastern-derived mysticism; in Cage's case the anti-rational, anti-causative Zen Buddhism, which relied on sudden epiphany to provide instantaneous transcendence; transport from the stubbornly mundane to the sublime. Such an experience could be prepared for through the creation of a sensory ground, to be met with a meditative receptiveness, but could not be translated into symbolic discourse. Cagean tactics relied on avant-garde shock, in always operating counter to received procedures or outside the bounds of a normative closure. Like playing the string of the piano rather than the keys, or concentrating on the tuning before a concert or making a TV set into a musical instrument. As Kaprow complained, this idea was so powerful that soon 'non-art was more Art than Art-art'. Meaning that this supposedly challenging counter-artistic practice, this 'anti-aesthetic', this non-institutionalisable form of 'perceptual consciousness', was quickly and oppressively institutionalised, gobbled up by the ravenous institutions of official art (Art).

Note that expressive capitalization also plays a key role in this case.

And Paul Farrington-Douglas sent in a striking example of singular they referring to the deity, in a Fox40 News story from 3/17/2008 ("Citrus Heights Man Claims He Saw Virgin Mary in Palm Tree Branch: He Says It's A Message From God").

Here's the set-up:

"I was going like this and I looked at it and said, Holy... it got me," said Manny Duenas who believes he found the image of the Virgin Mary in a palm tree branch.

"This is her hair, and I see her forehead. I see her neck, her chin is right here."

He was doing yard work last week when he came across it.

Duenas says if you look closely, you can see the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus in her arms.

It was just seconds away from becoming yard waste when the homeowner says something stopped him and he noticed what he believes is the image of the Virgin Mary.

"When I'm doing my work I'm just cutting it up putting it in here. But for some reason when I got to the second branch. I don't know if it was looking at me or what. But when I saw it I had the goose bumps. I said, let me share that with the family. I'm getting the goose bumps now." he laughed.

"He was all just like, girls, get out here. Come look at this. I was like, wow. I was speechless. I didn't know what to say," said Manny's daughter Marissa.

And here's the punch line:

Duenas is convinced this is the real deal and not just a coincidence, especially since Easter is coming up.

"God is out there and maybe these are one of the messages that they send," said Manny.

I'm like, wow, too.

Manny's sudden epiphany seems to have transported him beyond the realm of mundane number co-reference in symbolic discourse ("God ... they"; "these ... one of the messages"), while miraculously leaving subject-verb agreement intact ("God is ...", "these are ... ").

I recommend that you watch the video, especially for the paralinguistic aspects of Marissa's testimony. And just for the record, what Mr. Duenas actually said (as opposed to the transcript provided on the web site) is:

God is out there and uh you know maybe these are just one of the- the messages that- that they send, you know?


Posted by Mark Liberman at March 20, 2008 06:56 AM