Unreal Nature

May 23, 2015

The Street

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… how it dominates its immediate environment, how complex it is in design, how many functions it now serves … [T]he street has taken over the role of making landscapes …

This is from the essay ‘The Accessible Landscape’ found in Landscape in Sight: Looking at America by John Brinckerhoff Jackson; edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz (1997):

… A common spectacle across the country are the cars, three abreast and ten deep, waiting at an intersection and watching the intricate choreography of the traffic lights overhead — then surging away to travel miles across open country between billboards and auto junkyards, to some satellite industrial suburb.

… There is clearly such a thing as a middle- or upper-class American way of perceiving and creating a landscape. It comprises those spaces and structures and relationships which people of those classes are familiar with and find pleasant as a setting for their way of life. It is a spacious rural (or semirural) landscape of woods and green fields (plowed fields are suspect, hinting at mechanization or, worse yet, commercialized farming). It is a landscape of private territories, admission to which is by invitation only.

… [In the city,] urban streets … were like turbulent streams flooding their banks and drowning what was left of the old boundaries, the old privacy and autonomy. In the end the driver’s perspective saw all those changes and adaptations, all that destruction and leveling as elements in a battlefield. Two concepts of how to organize and use space were meeting head-on: privacy and security and permanence as symbolized by those established territories or domains versus a vernacular impulse toward accessibility and freedom of movement.

The traveler who, like myself, rarely gets out of his car is more likely to be more aware of the roadway ahead of him than of the spaces and buildings on either margin. But if you have had, as I have had, the experience of driving fifty or more years ago, you cannot fail to be struck by how the street in the average American town or city has been transformed, how it dominates its immediate environment, how complex it is in design, how many functions it now serves, and how it constantly creates new ancillary spaces and structures: parking garages, underground parking, parking lots, drive-in facilities and skyways and overpasses and interchanges and strange little slices and islands of greenery.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] In its most inclusive sense, the street has taken over the role of making landscapes, changing them and destroying them. In the old days, roads were cautiously planned and built solely to reach a specific destination. Now we build highways hundreds of miles in length to open a whole region to development, and even a new street cut across a vacant suburban area promptly produces house after house along its margin, the way the branch of a tree produces leaves in spring. In the hands of a skilled planner or traffic engineer, a street becomes a versatile tool: outlawed parking, limited speed, one-way traffic, and a succession of traffic lights can either ruin the social and economic life of a neighborhood or cause it to flourish.

Sometimes, it is true, the scale and complexity of this highway environment can make a driver break out in a cold sweat. In town after town I have found myself enmeshed in a tangle of interchanges and overpasses and ramps, and have been reduced to total helplessness, timidly seeking to follow signs and numbers and arrows, and to obey the commands and warnings painted on the surface of the road in front of me.

Still, it is easy to exaggerate how sensitive we are to the modern highway environment. Without our always admitting it, we are at home, we know what to expect, when we drive for block after block between a succession of drive-ins, parking lots, used-car lots, garages, and gas stations. We are not simply in a commonplace, often unsightly part of town; we are in a new organization of urban space, one designed for work, for accessibility, and for the satisfaction of short-term essential needs — all based on the presence of the automobile.

… I am very much aware of the excesses of accessibility, of the confusion and squalor of the environment often created by the rejection of the traditional private organization and use of space. I wish there were fewer cars. I wish distances were not so great. I wish the pursuit of accessibility, the constant striving for the attention and good will of the mobile consumer did not often mean lack of dignity and individuality. And I have dark moments when I foresee that the American city will in the future come to resemble those immense and formless cities of the third world.

That may be what happens. In the meantime, we should perhaps remind ourselves that behind this new way of building and planning and incessantly moving about is a basic universal urge: not to withdraw into a private domain of our own but to participate in the world and to share it with others. Ours is a society where vernacular values are taken seriously. However extravagant and unsightly much of the contemporary urban scene may be, it is essentially vernacular in that it offers the public, and particularly the working public, an easy and presumably attractive way of satisfying the needs of everyday existence.

My most recent previous post from Jackson’s book is here.




May 22, 2015

To Fail and Come Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… Perhaps it is always the destined role of the compassionate to be strangers among men. To fail and pass, to fail and come again.

This is from the essay ‘The Inner Galaxy’ found in The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley (1994, 1964):

… The cruel and the gentle would sit at the same fireside, dreaming already in the Stone Age the different dreams they dream today.

The visionary was already awaiting the eternal city; the gifted musician sat hearing in his brain sounds that did not yet exist. All waited upon and yet possessed, in some dim way, the future in their heads. Abysmal darkness and great light lay invisibly about their camps. The phantom cities of the far future awaited latent talents for which, in that unspecialized time, there was no name.

Above all, some of them, a mere handful in any generation perhaps, loved — they loved the animals about them, the song of the wind, the soft voices of women. On the flat surfaces of cave walls the three dimensions of the outside world took animal shape and form. Here — not with the axe, not with the bow — man fumbled at the door of his true kingdom.

[ … ]

… Through shattered and receding skulls, growing ever smaller behind us in the crannies of a broken earth, a stranger had crept and made his way. But precisely how he came, and what might be his destiny, except that it is not wholly of our time or this our star, we do not know.

Perhaps it is always the destined role of the compassionate to be strangers among men. To fail and pass, to fail and come again. For the seed of man is thistledown, and a puff of breath may govern it, or a word from a poet torment it into greatness.

My most recent previous post from Eiseley’s book is here.




May 21, 2015

The Audience

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… they’re not aware of the editing. You’re not supposed to be aware of the editing. But it’s amazingly naive about the process of how you make a film …

This first bit is from the interview with Emily Paine in First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors by Gabriella Oldham (1992):

[ … ]

… I like to hear what assistants think; I like to have a body next to me watching. It makes for a different experience.

A silent body?

A silent body! I say, “Sit next to me while we look at this.” All of a sudden, it becomes an audience instead of me alone with my material.

The following is from the interview with Tom Haneke:

[ … ]

How do you not feel inundated by the amount of film you receive?

… there are millions of different ways to make material work. You can almost make it jump through hoops, put a different spin on it. What are you going to make the material do for you? Cinéma vérité, I don’t think it ever happens. You can make the material serve what you see as the truth of the situation. It’s really in your hands. You have to decide what you think happens in this footage; then you have to take, say, an hour and a half of film of a particular event and make it into a three-minute scene that communicates what you think happened in that hour-and-a-half event. It’s the only way you can proceed. You’re trying to distill. That’s essentially what you’re doing in the whole process, distilling the truth, as you perceive it.

But you’re manipulating the audience.

Of course you are! That’s the point. There’s no way not to manipulate. Even if you say you’re not manipulating, by putting Scene A next to Scene B, you’re manipulating, you’re leading them on a journey. Seeing a film is an experience in time. You want the audience to be asking, “What happens next? What happens next?” You control the flow of events, the rhythm, the juxtaposition of information. I worry about that because it’s so easy to manipulate. You have to be true to the facts, but more importantly, to what you perceive as the truth. Ultimately, it’s through your eyes, the filmmaker’s eyes. There’s no way around that.

[ … ]

… You always have to be aware that this is an experience in time, it’s got to be finished at one hundred minutes or eighty minutes or ninety minutes. You can’t ever forget that. A film is a journey. It’s just not one thing after another. One interesting thing, another interesting thing, another — you get tired of that after a while.

Do you yourself research the subjects before you start working?

I do some reading, but only after I’ve seen the footage. I don’t want to fall prey to the problem of knowing too much already. I want to come to it cold. I have to be able to recognize when the material is confusing or incomplete. If I already know about it, I won’t recognize those problems. It’s very difficult to maintain that distance. After you’ve seen the film four hundred thousand times, it’s not fresh.

How do you keep it so?

An audience helps a lot. When you invite two or three strangers into the cutting room, even if you’re not looking at their faces — while they’re watching, you can feel their reactions. You know when you want something to go faster, when it’s not working. You can fool yourself when you’re watching it by yourself, but suddenly it’s up there on the screen, people are watching. Something tells you, “This Is Not Working.”

[ … ]

… Three faces. Those shots came out of the big audience reaction roll. Pictures of audience. What do you do with them? You could do a million things. Where do you put them? As I said, that’s a manufactured moment in the film, more than once people said, “The camera always seems to be in the right place at the right time.”

Bet you love that!

Well, you do in a sense because they’re not aware of the editing. You’re not supposed to be aware of the editing. But it’s amazingly naive about the process of how you make a film like this. It’s only in a fast cutting montage that people ever notice the editing. People don’t know what editing is — even my friends who know what I do. I turn off the sound and I show them pictures. “See? Cut, cut, cut.” I turn on the sound, you know, effects, music, etcetera. “See, that didn’t happen that way. We added all that in later.” So what? The whole film should go somewhere.

My previous post from Oldham’s book is here.




May 20, 2015

Remaking the Visible Thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… Here, [it] … is … [a matter] of things caught up in the sticky substance of vision …

This is from the essay ‘A Little Background Noise (Excerpts)’ by Timothy Martin found in Uta Barth: In Between Places (2000):

… Functions aside, what does the blur mean? What is it as an end in itself? Because the blur is so inherently intermediate, that is, between visual thingness and nothingness, it is difficult to address such a question directly without interpreting the blur as a sign — and coming up with the usual shopworn readings of it. Instead, being as obtuse as the blur is — and taking our cue from the Ground series’ title — we might ask: In what sense, outside of the figure-ground nomenclature, is the blur grounded? This is perhaps not so odd a question, for it can be approached in familiar terms that have been applied to all photographic images.


First, in structuralist terms, a photograph is an emanation of the referent, as Roland Barthes has put it, “a sort of umbilical cord [that] links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium.” That is, it is grounded in the photographed thing by way of an “umbilical” link of photons, a kind of chain of custody between the thing and the image. In these terms, is an unfocused photograph any less an emanation? Not exactly, but it would appear that something has gotten in the way of the link, some second pole of grounding: the lens. The lens, which Barthes seems to assume is eternally focused, is that material “organ” which gathers up the emanation — flying in all directions at once — and reconverges it, thus making the link and remaking the visible thing. The emanation of the thing is still there in the unfocused photograph, but so is an “emanation” of the lens, so to speak, showing itself in the act of gathering (and suspending) the errant rays, but not (yet) resolving them.

… Here, vision par excellence is not a matter of sheer and unimpeded transcendence of things but of things caught up in the sticky substance of vision, like a primordial fly in amber.

Last week’s Barth post is here.




May 19, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… It is … deeply thought-out work, in terms of both its conception and practical solutions.

This is from the essay ‘Techniques, Individual Artists, and Artistic Concepts in the Painting of Altamira‘ by Matilde Múzquiz Pérez-Seoane in The Cave of Altamira edited by Antonio Beltrán (1998):

… It has been observed by prehistorians that in many sites that have cave or rock art, there are often walls and other surfaces in the caves that, though they seem to be ideally suited for works of art, have not been touched. Likewise, in these same caves, we find artworks in places either hidden or hard to reach, or else in easily seen places where the texture of the rock seems like a poor support for painting. Here we shall try to imagine those areas that feature painted and engraved images as completely blank, before they were worked on, and in this way study how the art was produced. How was the place chosen? What was the surface texture of the support, and was it perhaps modified in some way before it was painted or engraved? What procedures were followed? … How was the surface lit? What pigments were used and with what tools were they applied?


[ … ]

…Remains of pigments and charcoal extracted from the cave of Altamira were analyzed by José M. Cabrera. He found twenty-two fragments of earth ochers of different tones; six fragments of very hard hematite; three fragments of hard violet-red oligist; four fragments of relatively compact ochers of intense red, brown, dark yellow, and pale yellow. Most of the samples showed signs of having been scraped. Cabrera also analyzed three limpet shells with residues of prepared pigments, two with reddish ocher stains and the other with a little black; a limpet shell full of prepared white pigment, and a mass of prepared white pigment, similar to the previous one, that seemed to have become detached from its shell. He also analyzed a mass of lead-colored pigment, two small fragments of prepared pink pigment, a charred horse’s tooth, a piece of amber.

The results of Cabrera’s analyses of the twenty-two ocher fragments gave the following mineral elements: hematite and goethite with clay mineral impurities; quartz and oxides of manganese, calcium and magnesium. The red color was due to the presence of hematite, and as this presence decreased, the color varied toward browns and yellows. Analysis of the “crayons” produced similar results. The mass of black sticking to the limpet shell was “earthy in composition, impregnated with different-sized particles of charcoal and mixed with tiny fragments of bones, shells, and the like. In terms of appearance and general composition, it is very similar to the blackened earth from the excavated area of the cave.

Regarding the samples of white pigment, he writes: “it is a mass of clay composed fundamentally of mica (78%) and very fine-grained quartz (22%).” Cabrera adds that examination under the microscope revealed fragments of ground amber.

[ … ]

The engravings, drawings, and polychrome paintings in the cave of Altamira, and those contained in the caves along the Cantabrian coast that we have studied in the original, have one great thing in common: the basic subject is animals. This fact is consistent with the space they occupy: large or small, they are invariably majestic. The lines, either engraved or drawn, denote great knowledge of the animals’ anatomy. The strokes are firm, the animals depicted are agile and graceful with an elegance that is the result of an economy of line that adheres to what is essential. The artworks always interpret life. They contain a meaning that, though yet to be deciphered, is nevertheless there, challenging, and their magic has persisted to this day.

The Great Panel at Altamira is essentially the work of one creator, the one responsible for the large polychromes, who along with his gifts as a painter also possessed the eye of a sculptor. The subject of his painting was determined by his social milieu, for the works of art from this era of prehistory preserved inside caves represent animals and signs that often closely resemble each other. The society to which the artist belonged allowed him to devote long periods of time to his work, and it was he who decided how to conceive and execute it.

[line bread added to make this easier to read online] He created several figures of a playful character, making use of a number of techniques to create a unity, applying a complex combination of procedures with the use of simple materials — burins, charcoal, iron oxides, and water — following a prescribed order in the application of his processes. It is therefore deeply thought-out work, in terms of both its conception and practical solutions. The figures possess a strong personality, that of their author. The strokes are confident and made without having to be erased or reworked. … The bison seem to have weight, and to be breathing. … The painter has imbued his work with his own vitality; we seem to feel his presence in the Polychrome Chamber. His work is the fruit of creative gifts, of knowledge, of intense, sustained effort, and of profound thought.




May 18, 2015

Each Line

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… These are not bloodless, optical lines …

This is from the essay ‘Pollock at Work: The Films and Photographs of Hans Namuth‘ by Pepe Karmel found in Jackson Pollock (1998):

… It seems impossible, in retrospect, to distinguish the objective Pollock from the mythic Pollock who was, in a sense, created by Namuth’s photographs.


… At first [ ~ 1950] Namuth’s photographs and film met with a lukewarm, even negative response.

… [However] From the 1960s on, no reader on Pollock could fail to absorb Namuth’s dramatic portrait of the artist in action. Beginning in 1967, when MoMA organized a major retrospective of Pollock’s work, Namuth’s photographs became virtually obligatory illustrations for both scholarly and popular writings about him. Indeed it has been suggested by Barbara Rose that over the decades, “Namuth’s photographs and film affected a far larger audience than the paintings had.” Relatively few people saw Pollock’s paintings first-hand, and they lost much of their impact in reproduction. In contrast, the photographs remained effective even in small scale. What stuck in people’s minds was less Pollock’s work than Namuth’s images of him making it.

[ … ]

Namuth’s photographs, reproduced in numerous reviews and articles, fostered the idea of translating “action painting” into what might have been called “action sculpture.” Fifteen years earlier, Rosenberg had written that a painter like Pollock “approached his easel … with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter.” Now sculptors like Robert Morris, Eva Hesse, Barry Le Va, Bruce Nauman, and Richard Serra began “doing things” to a range of non-art materials like felt, glass, rubber, and lead. Documentary photography played an increasingly large role in their work, because the results of their encounters with materials were often intelligible only in light of the action that had produced them.

[ … ]

… Yet Namuth’s photographs and films suggest a serious problem with what we might call the kinesthetic reading of Pollock’s work — that is, the reading that sees Pollock’s lines, spatters, and pools as signs evoking not conventional images but the dancelike movements that created them. The problem is that the kinesthetic sensation evoked by a given mark is often the exact opposite of the movement that actually produced it. Constantly changing direction, Pollock’s lines give a sense of rapid, unpremeditated motion. But the films suggest that they were drawn in a controlled, deliberate fashion, with a brush or stick held at a more or less constant distance above the canvas. Meanwhile the denser pools of paint, with their relative lack of directional emphasis, seem static in comparison to the lines; but the photographic evidence suggests that they were created by rapid flicks and flings of wrist and arm.


… Even if this account of Pollock’s large-scale compositional procedures is correct, of course, it does not explain the seductive energy and vitality of the particular lines that create the local rhythms of his pictures. These are not bloodless, optical lines, “freed from the job of describing contours and bounding shapes,” as Fried wrote; rather, as Rubin insists, “Pollock’s drawing derives from a tradition in which space is not thought of as an autonomous void but in reciprocity with solids. … ”

… From a distance, Pollock’s webs seem to dissolve into the optical flicker of Impressionism. Up close, each line reasserts itself as a potential contour, or a sculptural shape in its own right. But Pollock breaks with earlier art in his refusal to let the eye rest for more than an instant: guided by the picture’s hidden structure, it moves continuously from point to point across the surface. New contours emerge as old ones merge back into the web. Form comes momentarily into being and then dissolves.

Last week’s Pollock post, from the other essay in this same book, is here.




May 17, 2015

Through Silence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… the evidence of a particular silence reaches us like a surprise that is not always a repose: a perceptible silence, sometimes masterly, sometimes proudly indifferent, sometimes agitated, animated and joyful.

This is from the essay ‘Death of the Last Writer’ found in The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot (1959; 2003):

… it is a langauge: it speaks, it doesn’t stop speaking, it is like the void that speaks, a light murmuring, insistent, indifferent, that is probably the same for everyone, that is without secret and yet isolates each person, separates him from the others, from the world and from himself, leading him through mocking labyrinths, drawing him always farther away, by a fascinating repulsion, below the ordinary world of daily speech.

The strangeness of this langauge is that it seems to say something, while it might be saying nothing. Further, it seems that profundity speaks in it, and the unprecedented makes itself heard. To each person, although it is surprisingly cold, without intimacy and without felicity, it seems to say what would be closest to him if only he could fix it in place for an instant. It is not deceptive, for it promises and says nothing, always speaking for one person alone, but impersonal, speaking entirely inwardly, but it is the outside itself, present in the single place where, by hearing it, we could hear everything, but it is nowhere, everywhere; and silent, for it is silence that is speaking, that has become this false speech that we do not hear, this secret speech without a secret.

How to silence it? How to hear it, how not to hear it?

… A writer is one who imposes silence on this speech, and a literary work is, for one who knows how to penetrate it, a rich resting place of silence, a firm defense and a high wall against this eloquent immensity that addresses us by turning us away from ourselves.

… Before any great work of plastic art, the evidence of a particular silence reaches us like a surprise that is not always a repose: a perceptible silence, sometimes masterly, sometimes proudly indifferent, sometimes agitated, animated and joyful. And the true book is always something of a statue. It arises and organizes itself like a silent power that gives form and firmness to silence and through silence.

[ … ]

… This unspeaking speech very much resembles inspiration, but it is not confused with it; it leads only to that place unique to each person, the hell into which Orpheus descends, place of dispersion and conflict, where he must all of a sudden face up to things and find, in himself, in it and in the experience of all art, what transforms powerlessness into power, turns error into a path and unspeaking speech into a silence from which it can truly speak and allow the origin to speak in it …

… There are, of course, many ways (as many as there are styles and works of art) to master the language of the desert.

… There is … chatter and what has been called interior monologue, which does not in the least, as we well know, reproduce what a man says to himself, for man does not speak to himself, and the deepest part of man is not silent but most often mute, reduced to a few scattered signs. Interior monologue is a coarse imitation, and one that imitates only the apparent traits of the uninterrupted and incessant flow of unspeaking speech. Let us recall that the strength of this speech is in its weakness; it is not heard, which is why we don’t stop hearing it; it is as close as possible to silence, which is why it destroys silence completely. Finally, interior monologue has a center, the “I” that brings everything back to itself, while that other speech has no center; it is essentially wandering and always outside.

… This language must for a moment be forgotten, so as to be born by a triple metamorphosis as a true speech: that of the Book …

My most recent previous post from Blanchot’s book is here.




May 16, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… it teaches no copybook moral, no ecological or social lesson.

This first is from the essay ‘The Stranger’s Path’ found in Landscape in Sight: Looking at America by John Brinckerhoff Jackson; edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz (1997):

As one who is by way of being a professional tourist with a certain painfully acquired knowledge of how to appraise strange cities, I often find myself brought up short by citizens remarking that I can’t really hope to know a town until I have seen the inside of one of its homes. I usually agree, expecting that there will then ensue an invitation to their house and a chance to admire one of these shrines of local culture, these epitomes of whatever it is the town or city has to offer. All that follows is an urgent suggestion that I investigate on my own the residential quarter before I presume to form a final opinion. “Ours is a city of homes,” they add. “The downtown section is like that anywhere else, but our Country Club Heights” — or Snob Hill or West End or European Section or Villa Quarter, depending on where I am — “is considered unique.”

I have accordingly set out to explore that part of the city, and many are the hours I have spent wandering through carefully labyrinthine suburbs, seeking to discover the essential city, as distinguished from that of the tourist or transient. In retrospect, these districts all seem indistinguishable: tree- and garden-lined avenues and lanes, curving about a landscape of hills with pretty views over other hills; the traffic becomes sparser, the houses retreat further behind tall trees and expensive flowers; every prospect is green, most prosperous and beautiful. The latest-model cars wait on the carefully raked driveway or at the immaculate curb, and there comes the sound of tennis being played. When evening falls, the softest, most domestic lights shine from upstairs windows; the only reminder of the nearby city is that dusty pink glow in the sky which in any case the trees all but conceal.

Yet why have I always been glad to leave? Was it a painful realization that I was excluded from these rows and rows of (presumably) happy and comfortable homes that has always ended by making me beat a retreat to the city proper? Or was it a conviction that I had actually seen this, experienced it, relished it after a fashion countless times and could no longer derive the slightest spark of inspiration from it? Ascribe it if you like to a kind of sour grapes, but in the course of years of travel I have come to believe that the home, the domestic establishment, far from being a unique symbol of the local way of life, is essentially the same wherever you go. The lovely higher-income residential zone of Spokane is, I suspect, hardly to be distinguished (except for a few interesting but not very significant architectural variations) from the corresponding zone of Oslo or Naples or Rio de Janeiro.

The next is from Jackson’s essay ‘Looking at New Mexico':

… Which comes first: the blessing or the prayer? It is not easy in this landscape to separate the role of man from the role of nature. The plateau country has been lived in for centuries, but the human presence is disguised even from the camera’s eye. There are ruins like geological formations, disorders of tumbled stone. These are immense arrays of slowly crumbling rocks that look like ruins. The nomenclature we Americans have imposed on much of the landscape testifies to our uncertainty: the ruins have unpronounceable Navajo names; the natural formations are called Gothic Mesa or Monument Valley or Chimney Rock.

It is the sort of landscape which (before the creation of the bomb) we associated with the world after history had come to an end: sheep grazing among long-abandoned ruins, the lesson of Ozymandias driven home by orating events no one had ever heard of, symbols of the vanity of human endeavor waiting to be photographed. But is that really the message of the plateau country? There was a time, several generations ago, toward the end of the last century when photographers, masters of their art, had a clearer vision: they wanted to leave history, even human beings, out of their pictures. Perhaps there were technical reasons for wishing to exclude all movement, or perhaps it was a matter of belief, a way of responding to the concept of time in the Colorado Plateau. For what makes the landscape so impressive and so beautiful is that it teaches no copybook moral, no ecological or social lesson. It tells us that there is another way of measuring time, and that the present is, in fact, an enormous interval in which even the newest of man-made structures are contemporary with the primeval.

My previous post from Jackson’s book is here.




May 15, 2015

Driven to the Wall

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… Only after their triumphant planetary radiation is something new observed to have arisen in solitude and silence.

This is from the essay ‘The Invisible Island’ found in The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley (1994, 1964):

… I had been speaking, by way of illustrating a point, about a tiny deer mouse, a wonderfully new and radiant little creature of white feet and investigative fervor whom I had seen come into a basement seminar upon the Byzantine Empire. After a time the mouse in its innocent pleasure had actually ascended into an empty chair and perched upright with trembling inquisitive gravity while an internationally renowned historian continued to address the group. By no least sign did he reveal that an eager anticipatory face had appeared among his students.

After my own lecture I was approached and chided by a young lady who informed me with severity that I was betraying evidence of a foolish anthropomorphism, which would certainly place me under disfavor and suspicion in the psychological circles she frequented.

I sighed and reluctantly confessed that perhaps the mouse, since he was obviously a very young mouse recently come from the country, could not have understood every word of the entire lecture. Nevertheless, it was gratifyingly evident to my weary colleague, the great historian, that the mouse had at least tried.

“You see,” I explained carefully, “we may have witnessed something like Alice in reverse. The mouse came through a crevice in the wall, a chink in nature. Man in his time has come more than once through similar chinks. I admit that the creatures do not always work out and that the chances seemed rather against this one, but who is to say what may happen when a mouse gets a taste for Byzantium rather beyond that of the average graduate student? It takes time, generations even, for this kind of event to mature.

“If I may be pardoned for being so bold,” I remonstrated with the young lady, “what do you think your chances might have been of charging me with anthropomorphism when we were both floundering about in a mud puddle, or, for that matter, testing whether an incipient backbone might enable us to wriggle upstream? You must remember,” I continued, “that these are all figurative entrances and exits with sometimes kingdoms at the bottom of them. Or disaster, or even both together.”

“But not, “the young lady protested venomously, “the Byzantine Empire.”

… “This woman is evidently part of a conspiracy to keep things just as they are,” I later wrote to my [great historian] friend. “This is what biologically we may call the living screen, the net that keeps things firmly in place, a place called now.

“It doesn’t always work,” I added in encouragement. “Things get through. We ourselves are an example. Perhaps a bad one. About the mouse … ”

The answer came back in a few days, lugubriously.

“The Exterminators have come.Your chink is closed. Definitely.”

[ … ]

… To have a genetic island there must be in the beginning an isolating barrier.

… Struggle of and by itself, does little but sharpen what exists to a superior efficiency. True, it plays an important role in evolution, but it is not necessarily the only, or even the primary, factor in the rare emergence of the completely novel. It must always be remembered that natural selection is one of those convenient magical phrases that can embrace both dramatic change and stultifying biological conservatism.

… Islands can be regarded as something thrust up into recent time out of a primordial past. In a sense, they belong to different times: a crab time or a turtle time, or even a lemur time, as on Madagascar.

… it is the wet fish gasping in the harsh air on the shore, the warm-blooded mammal roving unchecked through the torpor of the reptilian night, the lizard-bird launching into a moment of ill-aimed flight that shatter all purely competitive assumptions. These singular events reveal escapes through the living screen, penetrated, one would have to say in retrospect, by the “over specialized” and the seemingly “inefficient,” the creatures driven to the wall. Only after their triumphant planetary radiation is something new observed to have arisen in solitude and silence.

My most recent previous post from Eiseley’s book is  here.




May 14, 2015

Once this Heart Is Located

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… All editors live by what is in the footage, not what the scriptwriter or director hoped would be there.

This is from the Introduction to First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors by Gabriella Oldham (1992):

… Editing involves not merely a theoretical consideration of the effect of one shot upon another, or a linear rendition of a script, or a mechanical measurement of frames. It is all that and much more — rhythm, instinct, emotion, psychology, art — and it draws from the total talent of one person, the editor, who collaborates with the director to create a cumulative sensory event.

For starters, editors organize minutiae, intensify subtleties, heighten emotions, and blend countless elements of image and sound to create a film.

[ … ]

… In both documentary and feature worlds … editors learn to become unaffected by the preconceptions (or the contagious human excitement) of location shooting and unhindered by the responsibilities (or preconceptions) of the director. All editors live by what is in the footage, not what the scriptwriter or director hoped would be there. Editors know they are rewarded for their patience during the grueling chore of watching dailies when special takes leap out at them — a character’s glance, a pattern of light, an emotionally charged image. Such footage offers itself as the core of the film, the “heart” around which less compelling material will revolve. Once this heart is located, the film seems to become a living, breathing entity to the editor, despite all its anticipated challenges and problems. Initial feelings of inadequacy and helplessness — “Where can I start?” — which plague nearly every editor, finally drop away. At that point, editing transcends the mundane and ventures into the realm of art.




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