This essay, by the editor of Common Knowledge, introduces the sixth and final installment of “Fuzzy Studies,” the journal's “Symposium on the Consequence of Blur.” Suggesting that “Fuzzy Studies” should be understood in the context of a desultory campaign against zeal conducted in the journal for almost twenty years, he explains that the editors' assumption has been that any authentic case for the less adamant modes of thinking, or the less focused ways of seeing, needs to be unenthusiastic and carefully ramified. To establish the distinction between overenthused and unemphatic approaches to blur, he contrasts the ecstatically amorphous “Blur building” (on Switzerland's Lake Neuchâtel) with examples of classical Chinese landscape painting. Elizabeth Diller and Richard Scofidio, in their book blur: the making of nothing, chronicle the development of their plans for the Blur building and, in the process, inadvertently show that, to overbear various negative associations of blur and fog, the authors/architects grew self-contradictorily emphatic about the need to produce de-emphasis in architecture and in modern life. Perl shows how this self-contradiction appears also in phenomenology-inflected writings on blur by T. J. Clark, Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Kraus, J.-P. Sartre, and Georges Bataille, but not in the work of the phenomenologist (and sinologist) François Jullien, whose book The Great Image Has No Form analyzes the role of blur in classical Chinese art theory and practice. Where traditional Western painting, Jullien argues, calls for voyeuristically intense focus, traditional Chinese painting stimulates “dé-tente, relaxation or ‘untensing’.” Intense focus on a blur is still, Perl observes, an intense focus. In describing a painting by the Yuan Dynasty master Ni Zan, Perl concludes that the only way to be un-self-contradictorily positive about fuzziness, whether in logic or aesthetics, is to de-reify and de-differentiate with the aim of achieving blandness.
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Jeffrey M. Perl; Introduction: Bland Blur. Common Knowledge 1 August 2013; 19 (3): 411–423. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2281756
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