… It has been spoken of as a crocodile in the embrace of a dog within the embrace of a man.
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Frampton: … I’m sick and tired of the two cultures, of that gulf between what is called science on the one hand and what is called art on the other.
… Mathematicians are passionate people. The most dedicated of them live in a distant galaxy that is all passion, suspended in a universe that offers only ecstasy. They seem remote and unavailable, and indeed they are. They’re in a state of perpetual jouissance, or they’re on the verge of it, or they’re slightly detumescing from it, or what have you. People who don’t realize this cut themselves off from genuine pleasures. I remember years ago trying to get Brakhage to read Borges. Brakhage likes detective stories; why shouldn’t he like Borges? Well, he didn’t want to read Borges because he had the notion that Borges was “mathematical.” So at that point, and he may have changed his mind since, he didn’t take the turn that would have led to his getting the most fun out of life. Oh well, enough of that.
I do not think of myself as a sentimental scientist in the manner of Duchamp. I’m a pure spectator. But science has always been for me a particularly suggestive and happy sandbox to play in. I think it’s not something to be deeply troubled about. I do admit to using quite simple manipulations of matrices in my work, but much more recently than Zorns Lemma. But this is probably about as useful to spectators as it is to a critic of painting to worry about the length of the handle of the brush.
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Frampton: … Sometimes I try to imagine what it must be like to be illiterate. Of course, it’s impossible to imagine. Once we can read and a word is put before us, we cannot not read it. We are drawn to read it, and when we do, we are not looking at what color it is, or looking at its typeface, unless it’s so grotesque or deformed as to make the word illegible. We are reading marks in a fixed order on a surface. On the other hand, in looking at a photograph, one is looking at the representation of an illusionist space within which the shapes of things — their boundaries, their colors, and so forth — are paramount. So, looking at a photograph of a word situated in an illusionist space, be it deep or shallow, involves the perceiver, paradoxically, in two simultaneous activities that seem to be at odds with each other. I was amused by that, and I began to make a collection of the rather brutal confrontations, within the urban environment, between these two mutually exclusive kinds of space that have been violently thrust together by the culture.
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MacDonald: [In Zorns Lemma] A tremendous number of environmental words are seen in windows that simultaneously reflect the real life going on behind the camera. I assume that this is inevitable to some extent, given the realities of where the words would be found in a cityscape, but I also assume that part of it involves an illusion to words being reflective, being condensations of experience.
Frampton: It also involves the question of how the word is related to that mental space in which we can see, in our mind’s eye, a cow chewing its cud and the green grass and the blue sky and so forth. It’s like looking backward through your own eye, as if one were looking into one of those candy Easter eggs that have landscapes inside them. We can entertain at the same time the word cow – a vocal utterance, the name of that creature — and the little candy tableau of the beast in the field. Other effects come from the reflections, too. A word, I forget which one it is, is written in red on a semicircle of bright yellow. That bright yellow placard is then behind a glass window, which reflects the street behind it. Abruptly out of the yellow semicircle a yellow taxicab drives. In another shot, one involving the word welcome, a street is reflected. Feet walk into the reflection, as if to walk into a welcome mat, but they’re not in the same space.
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Frampton: … I believe it’s obvious that there are things that spectators can know about a work, any work, that the person who made it can never know.
… With regard to Zorns Lemma, I do now have a reading of my own, an alternative reading that I hadn’t suspected at all at the time it was made.
… The brain … has an evolutionary structure. It has been spoken of as a crocodile in the embrace of a dog within the embrace of a man. The ancient center brain, which keeps you breathing and turns on your adrenals and so forth, is an organ that deals only in absolute imperatives. When it scratches, you itch, so to speak; its imperatives take precedence over all other functions. The dog is more complex; it can learn things and find its way around and master repetitive sequences, and it knows where home is and comes when it’s called and can see motion, and so on. The cortex nominally is us, except that the frontal lobes, which are the seat of whatever is called personality, are directly connected to the old brain and so are responsive directly to its imperatives.
Two pieces of personal information. As a child, and especially as an adolescent, I was an acute hay fever sufferer of the sloppiest kind. I popped pills all day long, and my life, any time there was pollen around, was to be a perpetual fountain of snot. Brakhage has spoken at some length about his asthma. He still occasionally suffers from it. I do not. I haven’t had anything like hay fever in years. The other curiosity about my own history is that I’m a “cured” lefty, as my father before me was. In the late 1930s left-handedness was viewed as, if not quite sinister, at least as undesirable. Being left-handed was viewed as a handicap that you should have trained out of you. Both of these pieces of autobiographical information suggest at least the origins of a certain kind of hemispheric conflict. My own reading of the 45-minute central section of Zorns Lemma, in which the image that is statistically before one passes gradually from a language-dominated one to a continuous non-language-dominated one, is a kind of allegory, an acting out of a transference of power from one hemisphere of the brain to the other. Of course, that was nowhere within my thinking of the film when I was making it.
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Frampton: … When students ask, “How do you make A and B rolls,” I find that I can do one of two things. Either I can go to the blackboard and give a long demonstration about the principles involved: why one does it, how you situate the two strips of image in order to make a lap dissolve, a straight cut, or what have you. Or I can say, “Watch me,” and I can perform that act. But I’ve invariably found that I can’t do both things at the same time. If I attempt to talk about what I’m doing while I’m doing it, I get totally balled up. As soon as I begin to talk, control passes to a different function. Now, during the last year I’ve spent time with people practically involved with electronic design, and I have noticed a habit among them of incessantly talking about what they do. I ran across a textbook on electronic design that, in its brief last chapter, rather blushingly recommends to designers that they should cultivate the habit of talking to themselves while they’re designing a circuit, so that both halves of the brain know what’s going on. It’s not a very sociable thing to do, because in this culture language is so much an arena of power that any other use of it is viewed as odd. If no transaction is taking place, then language shouldn’t be used. That’s why people have to talk to themselves in their cars when they’re alone.
Well, in any case, that series of discoveries is enormously fertile, and I’m by no means the only artist, of filmmaker, who is excited about them. What I am saying, and I don’t propose to work it out in any detail, is that there is the mimesis of a transfer, a balancing out of power within Zorns Lemma that I did not consciously put there when I made it and which I now read within it.