Unreal Nature

March 31, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:24 am

“One of the things I would like to think my sculpture has is a force, is a strength, is a life, a vitality from inside it, so that you have a sense that the form is pressing from inside trying to give off the strength from inside itself, rather than having something which is just shaped from outside and stopped. It’s as though you have something trying to make itself come to a shape from inside itself. This is, perhaps, what makes me interested in bones as much as in flesh because the bone is the inner structure of all living form.”
-Henry Moore quote taken from the book “A Monumental Vision: The Sculpture of Henry Moore” by John Hedgecoe



March 30, 2008

The Little Girl and the Wolf

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 9:43 am

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.

The Little Girl and the Wolf   from  Fables for Our Time by James Thurber



March 29, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

Something is missing. When the telescope
Anxiously scans a sector of the night,
The numbers streaming in do not add up;
The universe would be too cold or hot,
Too dense or empty, if it weren’t for
Dimensions that won’t let themselves be caught.
Why is it that this absence reassures?
Dividing what we know by what we see,
We always find that permanent remainder,
The margin of an old perplexity
Now justified and even rational;
For somewhere, it is certain, there must be
The light, remembered, hypothetical,
That once made our dark matter visible.

the last verse from “The consolations” by Adam Kirsch,  from The New Criterion. Find the whole poem  here.



March 28, 2008

Wolf, Know Thyself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:03 am

“At that moment, I was struck by an obvious fact that has never left me since: that the real philistines are not those people incapable of recognizing beauty—they recognize it only too well, with a flair as infallible as that of the subtlest aesthete, but only to pounce on it and smother it before it can take root in their universal empire of ugliness.”

You might think I would agree with the above quote. That is, until you read the article (it’s a quote within the essay) and find that “beauty” means, necessarily, what was created hundreds of years ago, and ugliness means … whatever was not created hundreds of years ago.

Later, the author of the essay describes the following as an example of the first quote:

“I was driving to the prison to attend to a prisoner. It was a hot day, and my car window was open. I was playing Chopin, not very loudly, on my car radio. It was an area in which the rap music from passing cars is often apprehended first by pedestrians as a vibration coming up from the ground into their legs. I stopped at some traffic lights, and a man passing approached me and, his face contorted with rage and hatred, shouted at me, “What have you got that shit on for?””

He (the author) has absolutely no awareness of how he looks to the person shouting at him — of his context in the whole picture. Paternalistic, patronizing, condescending … what a load of crap! The article is from The New Criterion. It’s called “At the forest’s edge”  and it’s by Anthony Daniels.


Another article from The New Criterion, “Man is wolf to wolf” by John Derbyshire is wonderfully entertaining. The author is not a greenie; quite the contrary:

“An innate, unprompted interest in the natural world is, like other aspects of the individual human personality, strong in many, weak in many others, intense in a few, utterly absent in a few. I would place myself at the lower end of the scale, along with Dorothy Parker (“Every year, back spring comes, with the nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off, and the ground all mucked up with arbutus”)”

Nevertheless, he ends up (after a lot of well-deserved criticism) liking the book that is being reviewed, “American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau“.  He ends his review with a quote from Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac“:

“We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.”

I consider myself to be an environmentalist and a nature lover, but I think an awful lot of current nature/green writing is way over the top. I thoroughly enjoyed this writer’s balloon-popping romp through the genre.



March 27, 2008

Shared Attention

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

“Art is a form of cognitive play with pattern. Just as communication exists in many species, even in bacteria, and human language derives from but redirects animal communication along many unforeseen new routes, so play exists in many species, but the unique cognitive play of human art redirects it in new ways and to new functions.

“Play exists even in the brightest invertebrates, like octopi, and in all mammals in which it has been investigated. Its self-rewarding nature means that animals with flexible behavior—behavior not genetically programmed—willingly engage in it again and again in circumstances of relative security, and thereby over time can master complex context-sensitive skills. The sheer pleasure of play motivates animals to repeat intense activities that strengthen and speed up neural connections. The exuberance of play enlarges the boundaries of ordinary behavior, in unusual and extreme movements, in ways that enable animals to cope better with the unexpected.

“Humans uniquely inhabit “the cognitive niche.” We have an appetite for information, and especially for pattern, information that falls into meaningful arrays from which we can make rich inferences. We have uniquely long childhoods, and even beyond childhood we continue to play more than other species. Our predilection for the patterned cognitive play of art begins with what developmental psychologists call protoconversation, exchanges between infants and caregivers of rhythmic, responsive behavior, involving sound and movement, in playful patterns described as “more like a song than a sentence” and as “interactive multimedia performances.” Without being taught, children engage in music, dance, design, and, especially, pretend play.

“Our adult compulsion for the cognitive play of art—from tribal work songs to tradesmen’s transistors to urbanites’ iPods—allows us to extend and refine the neural pathways that produce and process pattern in sonic, visual, and kinetic modes, and especially in sociality.

“Humans have not only a unique predilection for open-ended pattern but also a unique propensity to share attention (long before we learn language) and for that reason a unique capacity for learning from others. Our inclination for sharing attention and for social learning ensures that we readily master the rudiments of local artistic traditions. Participating in these traditions amplifies the pleasure we gain from social living. By helping to reduce the costs in tension and raise the rewards of sociality, art helps us to cooperate on a scale far beyond that of any other highly individualized animal.”

The above is an extract from an article, “The Art of Literature and the Science of Literature”  by Brian Boyd in The American Scholar.

The article uses a long analysis of Nabakov’s novel, Lolita  as exemplar of what he is trying to say. If you have read Lolita,  and find the quote, above, interesting, I highly recommend reading the entire essay. It’s very good. Again, here’s the link to the article.



March 26, 2008

Uh Oh

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:30 am

DNA Paternity Testing Kit On Sale Over the Counter

Who’s Your Daddy? by Steve Olson



Seeing Inside

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:29 am

If you want to see the inside of your body, you might use an  fMRI.

If you want to see the inside of the earth, you might look at  seismographs.

If you want to detect quarks, you might use a  silicon vertex detector.

The images generated by all of these tools require interpretation. A viewer has to learn how to read the results. There is no absolute meaning. Interpretation = subjective.

If I want to look inside one of the Fuji apples that I eat almost every day, I might use an electron scanning microscope. There I would see the newly discovered   “callus hairs”. Mmmm… yummy!

ScienceDaily illustration: Scanning Electron Micrograph of Fuji apples showing extensive branching of callus hairs. (photo credit: Mary Parker, IFR)

If I want to look inside my imagination, my emotions, I might use the tools of art. For example, here  are what apples look like to me. Or here is what my imagination can do with a Fuji apple.


When they ‘found’ the Top Quark, they viewed several million results and pointed to a few dozen little smudges as being the desired ones.

I may look at several hundred photos before I see one that I believe shows … something that I feel inside.

An viewer has to learn how to read the results in an image. There is no absolute meaning. Interpretation = subjective.



March 25, 2008

If on a winter’s night a traveler

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 2:33 pm

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade.”

Thus begins Italo Calvino’s novel called … you guessed it.

“… Well, what are you waiting for? Stretch your legs, go ahead and put your feet on a cushion, on two cushions, on the arms of the sofa, on the wings of the chair, on the coffee table, on the desk, on the piano, on the globe. Take your shoes off first.

“… It’s not that you expect anything in particular from this particular book. You’re the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything. There are plenty, younger than you or less young, who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store. But not you. You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst. This is the conclusion you have reached, in your personal life and also in general matters, even international affairs. What about books? Well, precisely because you have denied it in every other field, you believe you may still grant yourself legitimately this youthful pleasure of expectation in a carefully circumscribed area like the field of book, where you can be lucky or unlucky, but the risk of disappointment isn’t serious.”

He describes going to the bookstore to get the copy of  If on a winter’s night a traveler,  there running the gamut of all the Books You Haven’t Read. As you are leaving with your new purchase you … “cast another bewildered look at the books around you (or, rather: it was the books that looked at you, with the bewildered gaze of dogs who, from their cages in the city pound, see a former companiion go off on the leash of his master, come to rescue him), and out you went.”

Then the drive home, “… perhaps the bookseller didn’t wrap the volume … you are at the wheel of your car, waiting at a traffic light, you take the book out of the bag, rip off the transparent wrapping, start reading the first lines. A storm of honking breaks over you …”

The next chapter begins (the start of the ‘real’ book):

“The novel begins in a railway station, a locomotive huffs, steam from a piston covers the opening of the chapter, a cloud of smoke hides part of the first paragraph ….”

I love Italo Calvino. I haven’t reread any of his books in a while, so they are almost as good as when new.



Why Photography Critics Hate Photographs

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:39 am

The following are quotes from a long, but excellent article that appeared in the Boston Review in the fall of 2006. It’s called “The Treacherous Medium: Why photography critics hate photographs” and it was written by Susie Linfield.

“… By “pleasure” and “love” Baudelaire and Fuller didn’t mean that critics should write only about things that make them happy or that they can praise. What they meant is that a critic’s emotional connection to an artist, or to a work of art, is the sine qua non of criticism, and it usually, therefore, determines the critic’s choice of subject. Who can doubt that Edmund Wilson loved literature—and that, to him, it simply mattered more than most other things in life? Who can doubt that Pauline Kael found the world most challenging, most meaningful—hell, most alive —when she sat in a dark movie theater, or that Kenneth Tynan felt the same way at a play? For these critics and others—those I would consider at the center of the modern tradition—cultivating this sense of lived experience was at the heart of writing good criticism. Randall Jarrell, certainly no anti-intellectual, wrote that “criticism demands of the critic a terrible nakedness . . . All he has to go by, finally, is his own response, the self that makes and is made up of such responses.” Alfred Kazin agreed; the critic’s skill, he argued, “begins by noticing his intuitive reactions and building up from them; he responds to the matter in hand with perception at the pitch of passion.”

The great exception to all this is photography criticism. There, you will hear precious little talk of love or passion or terrible nakedness. There, critics view emotional responses—if they, or their readers, have any—not as something to be experienced and understood but, rather, to be vigilantly guarded against: to these writers, criticism is a prophylactic against the virus of sentiment. When we enter the world of photography criticism we travel far from Baudelaire’s exploration of his pleasure; for there is little pleasure to be had, and even that is condemned as voyeuristic, pornographic, or exploitative. Put most bluntly, for the past century most photography critics haven’t really liked photographs, or the experience of looking at them, at all. They approach photography—not specific photographs, or specific practitioners, or specific genres, but photography itself—with suspicion, mistrust, anger, and fear. Rather than enter into what Kazin called a “community of interest” with their subject, these critics come armed to the teeth against it. For them, photography is a powerful, duplicitous force. …

… Photography is a modern invention—one that, from its inception, inspired a host of conflicts and anxieties. Indeed, when we talk about photography we are talking about modernity; the doubts that photography inspires are the doubts that modernity inspires. Photography is a proxy for modern life and its discontents.

What are some of these troubles? From the first, the essential nature of photography was puzzling. It tended to blur categories—which can be both exciting and unsettling. Was photography a kind of art? of commerce? of journalism? of science? of surveillance? Was it a form of creativity, a way of bringing newness into the world, or was its relation to reality essentially mimetic or, even, that of a parasite?…

… But the problem with photographs is not only that they fail to explain the world. A greater problem, for Brecht and his followers, is what photographs succeed  in doing, which is to offer an immediate, emotional connection to the world. People don’t look at photographs to understand the inner contradictions of monopoly capitalism or the reasons for the genocide in Rwanda. They—we—turn to photographs for other things: for a glimpse of what cruelty, or strangeness, or beauty, or suffering, or love, or disease, or natural wonder, or artistic creation, or depraved violence, looks like. And we turn to photographs, also, to find out what our intuitive reactions to such otherness might be. (This curiosity is not, as the postmoderns have charged, an expression of “imperialism,” racism,” or “orientalism”: the peasant in Kenya and the worker in Cairo are as fascinated—if not more so—by a picture of New Yorkers as we are by an image of them.) None of us is a creature solely of feeling, and yet there is no doubt that we approach photographs, first and foremost, on an emotional level.

With changed circumstances should come changed approaches. The world we live in is not Brecht’s, and photography critics today don’t need to fear all emotion, as did Brecht; they don’t need to purge all emotion, as did Brecht; they don’t need to spend such ferocious energy distancing us from images. In doing so, they have made it easy for us to deconstruct photographs but difficult to see them; they have made it difficult, that is, to grasp what Berger called “the thereness  of the world.” And though most photography critics—or at least those I have been discussing—identify themselves with the left, this detestation of the photograph is not a subversive or progressive or revolutionary stance, but in fact aligns them with the forces of the most deplorable backwardness: aligns them, for instance, with the frenzied crowds in Kabul and Karachi, Damascus and Tehran, who called for the execution of the Danish cartoonists and promised what they called a “real” holocaust. Here is where pre-modernism and postmodernism merge, for those demonstrators, too, view images as an exploitation, an insult, a blasphemy: as an “act of subjugation” indeed.

It is time, and it is possible, for photography critics to come out of the cold. They can join the great critical tradition of Kael and Jarrell and Kazin, of James Agee and Arlene Croce and so many others: not to drown in bathos or sentimentality, but to integrate emotion into the experience of looking. They can use emotion as a starting point, an inspiration, to analysis rather than maintain an eternal war between the two. They can, in short, allow themselves and their readers to come to the photograph as full human beings: as men and women of heart and mind, of immediacy and history. Along with Baudelaire, they can turn pleasure—and its opposite—into knowledge, and they can even teach us, perhaps, how to love more wisely.”

Again, the full article is here. It is long, but very interesting and well worth the time necessary to read it in its entirety.



March 24, 2008

Political Flickr

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:26 am


I have been alone in a room for almost 24 hours with 6 TVs, a laptop and two radios, listening to and watching and reading only political shows and pundits and blogs, sometimes monitoring four or five things at the same time. Just to see if it can be done.

I’ll tell you it can be, but I cannot tell you how horrible it is. It rattles the very center of your being. If you care about the state of humankind, it fills you with despair. We are as a people bleak and hostile and suspicious, filled with senseless partisanship and willing to believe anything and everything about anyone. We are full of ourselves and we hate. And we do it 24-7.

Would you be willing, as a sign of compassion and empathy, to do the unthinkable and broadcast right now, as a Valentine to me, 20 seconds of blessed dead air?

Complete silence. Just read my text and then say . . . nothing. Twenty seconds.

Just to show it can be done.”

The above is from Cruel and Usual Punishment  by Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post. Pretty funny, even if it is too long. You’re allowed to skim the middle part.



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