Unreal Nature

January 31, 2010

What Congeals

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:55 am

This is more from the book, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture by Vivian Sobchack (2004). In this chapter, she’s using the films of Krzysztof Kieślowski as exemplars of her points. Beginning in midstream (you’ll figure it out):

… We are, of course, always trying to make conscious and rational sense of this “astonishment at being” — particularly when this astonishment emerges in a less than sanguine manner to threaten our quotidian sense of agency and fixed identity and to shock us into recognition of our vulnerability, contingence, and ontological inability to control our lives. In this regard, Claude Lévi-Strauss is illuminating. Writing of the “savage mind” and its quite sophisticated modes of making embodied sense of the material world and our existential vulnerability to the hazards of a “happenstance” beyond rational thought or control, he tells us (in a somewhat droll construction): “It must be acknowledged that so-called primitive people have managed to evolve not unreasonable methods for inserting irrationality, in its dual aspect of logical contingence and emotional turbulence, into rationality.”

In what follow, then, I want to focus on these dual aspects of irrationality, particularly as they are dramatized by Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “harsh dialectics” and “concrete metaphysics” — that is, by the cinematic visibility of his philosophical gaze at the world and at the hazardous thrown-ness that informs human existence in both its objectivity and subjectivity. On the one side, this gaze is focused on the irrational effects of “logical contingence,” on the risky and accidental nature and function of being materially concrete and immanent. On the other side, this gaze is focused on the irrational affects of “emotional turbulence,” on the unstable nature and function of the immaterial and transcendent subject thrown by the material consequences of existence.

[ … ]

For Kieslowski there is no hierarchy in “co-incidence.” Caused and causal but highly complex and nonlinear, the material coincidence of people and people and people and things is far beyond the human powers of calculation — although we are, nonetheless, quite literally responsible for their sum, this merely by virtue of being or not being here or there in a particular network of consequential convergences. In this regard Kieslowski is particularly attuned to the moment in which, as philosopher Alphonso Lingis suggests, “the passage of facts begins also to project ahead like an exigency; what congeals as a form constitutes a matrix for variation. The nascent meaning is pregnant in the facts, it begins in a conjuncture of contingencies.” Both chance (“the passage of facts”) and fate (the projection of an “exigency”) emerge and are confused in the concrete space-time of material coincidence, which, in nature and effect, is at once, both chaotic and ordered.

… [In a biographical documentary film about the filmmaker] Kieslowski himself speaks of “a kind of secret metaphysics” in existence that can’t be reduced or “censored” — this statement followed and underscored by a shot of neat row houses whose initial order and complacency are undone by the incompatible, unmotivated and coincidental appearance of an elephant walking down the street in front of them. In sum, Kieslowski’s cinematic vision — and, in key moments of reflexive awareness, the gaze of his characters — expands to admit something within existence that is always potentially both awful and awesome in its obdurate materiality, its nonanthropocentric presence, and its assertion of the existential equality of all things, human and animate or otherwise. This vision of existential equality nullifies the primacy and privilege of human existence, meaning, and order yet simultaneously affirms human existence as always also transcendent and meaningful. With this gaze “man” is reduced as a privileged “being,” but existence is amplified as an expansive field of “becoming.” Thus, whether filmmaker, character, or spectator, depending on one’s perspective and depending on how willing one is to concede the seemingly secure fixity of human identity and privilege, experiencing oneself as the subject — or object — of such an expansive and nonanthropocentric gaze can be threatening or liberating.

[ … ]

… by pointing to and foregrounding concretely immanent entities as both transcendent of our purpose and yet consequential to our lives, Kieslowski constructs the meaning and being of the concrete and immanent as never fixed, as never “cut down” to our size — even as they are “cut out” and temporarily arrested by his frame. In his films things are pregnant with possibility; they swell in existential stature. Indeed, neither are they merely the practico-inert, nor are they safely secured as poetic symbols; rather, they exist and take on weight and value in a continuous motion of postponement.

This book, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture by Vivian Sobchack (2004),  is really good. Highly recommended if you like what I’ve posted from it so far.



January 30, 2010

Charged With the Real

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:25 am

… its quivering death leap transformed fictional into documentary space, symbolic into indexical representation, my affective investments in the irreal and fictional into a documentary consciousness charged with a sense of the world, existence, bodily mortification and mortality, and all the rest of the real that is in excess of fiction.

This is from the book, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture by Vivian Sobchack (2004). Here, she’s talking about “our engagement with and determination of film images as fictional or real”:

… To illustrate the point in a fairly dramatic way, let me move to a concrete illustration …: the death of a rabbit, which, for me, dramatically ruptured the fictional (if realist) space of Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game (1939). Although the rabbit scene is like the Clinton news conference [from the movie Contact] in its sudden demarcation of different orders of existential and cinematic space, my experience of such a rupture was a great deal more intense in Rules of the Game. This was because the Renoir film did not merely appropriate a real creature’s life for its fiction but also appropriated its death. Indeed the onscreen death of Renoir’s rabbit haunts me still –neither because of any particular sentimental feelings I might have for small, furry, innocent creatures nor because of any conscious ethical concern I might have for the violation of animal rights by a film that, at the time, didn’t know any better. Rather, Renoir’s rabbit stays with me because it raised startling and basic questions about the difference between documentary and fiction even as they are objectively constituted on the same representational terrain. Thus, although long dead, the rabbit (at least for me) has not yet been laid to rest.

Let me rehearse the pertinent moments of the Renoir fiction. There are two death sequences in the film: the first, a lengthy hunting sequence in which the rabbit is shot and killed; the second, a shorter and plot-culminating sequence in which André Jurieu, a human character, is shot and killed. Objectively, both deaths occur in a stylistically coherent narrative that posits the complete autonomy of the irreal — if verisimilar — world. Both deaths are linked thematically. Not only is the aristocratic and cavalier cruelty of the hunt figured early in the film as parallel to the extramarital sport for which the naïve Jurieu is “fair game,” but also, after Jurieu is shot, one character explicitly describes to another how he was killed straight away and “rolled over like a rabbit.” … One might also expect, by virtue of Jurieu’s humanity and the culminating place and function of his death in the narrative, that his death would be experienced as more shocking than the rabbit’s ….

For me, however, none of this was the case — nor has it been for most others who have been engaged by Rules of the Game. … For me the rabbit’s onscreen death was — and still is — a good deal more shocking and disturbing than the death of the human character. And this, I would maintain, is because the rabbit’s death ruptures the autonomous and homogenous space of the fiction through which it briefly scampered. Indeed, its quivering death leap transformed fictional into documentary space, symbolic into indexical representation, my affective investments in the irreal and fictional into a documentary consciousness charged with a sense of the world, existence, bodily mortification and mortality, and all the rest of the real that is in excess of fiction.

Jumping to the end of the chapter:

… At its most potent … the charge of the real that moves us from fictional into documentary consciousness is always more than a generalized existential in-formation of the image or the mere “response-ability” of our actual bodies. The charge of the real always is also, if to varying degree, an ethical charge: one that calls forth not only response but also responsibility — not only aesthetic valuation but also ethical judgment. It engages our awareness not only of the existential consequences of representation but also our own ethical implication in representation. It remands us reflexively to ourselves as embodied, culturally knowledgeable, and socially invested viewers. Thus, in those moments in which fictional space becomes charged with the real, the viewer is also so charged. The charge of the real comprehends both screen and viewer, restructuring their parallel worlds not only as coextensive but also as ethically implicated each in the other. As much as the documentary space that emerges to rupture the autonomy of a fiction onscreen always points offscreen to the embodied viewer’s concrete and intersubjective social world, it is always also a space co-constituted by and “pointed to” by the viewer whose consciousness re-cognizes and grasps that onscreen space as, in some invested way, contiguous with her or his own material, mortal, and moral being. In this documentary restructuring of a relationship to fictional screen images, the viewer takes on and bears particular subjective responsiblity for the actions marked by — and in — her or his vision: responsibility for watching the action and, as justification for watching, responsibility for judging the action and for calling into account — and consciousness — the criteria for doing so.

Thus I jump slightly with the rabbit and die a little of its death every time I see it being sacrificed for my narrative pleasure. Thus, I silently “tut-tut” at certain moments in [Woody Allen’s and Mia Farrow’s just-before-their breakup] Husbands and Wives. Thus, the grasshoppers [burned to death in Days of Heaven] die not for me but for a fiction (since I regard them as other and expendable and refuse the significance and charge of their deaths even as I “know” their mortality). In sum, embodied and extratextual knowledge, posited and particularized existence, and personal ethical responsibility are all necessary to the full constitution of documentary consciousness on one side of the screen and documentary space on the other. Charged with the real (and the obligations it imposes), this space and the form of consciousness that structures its meaning are ever-present possibilities in every film experience — even when that experience begins and ends as a designated fiction.


Earlier in the chapter, it’s interesting how she describes those people who were not bothered by the death of the rabbit in Renoir’s film:

… Although still somewhat affected by it, they did not feel that the quality of either the film’s cinematic space or their attention was transformed during the hunting sequence. These same spectators, however, expressed overall boredom with the film and indicated that they had watched the whole of it in a general and diffuse state of detachment. Never engaged by, or at some point disengaged from, the irreal fictional world before them, existence was never bracketed or put out of play. Refusing both their own usual spectatorial transparency and the irreality of fictional characters and events on the screen, they were aware not only of their own existence in their seats but also of the existence of the real actors and the rabbit as such. Thus … even if they were somewhat shocked by the death of the rabbit, they were not shocked by a shift in their mode of consciousness or by the spatial transformation of fictional into documentary space — and this because, not engaged by the fiction, they remained in the space of the real from the start, or their eventual disinterest reposited them there.



January 29, 2010

How Thick is the Present?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:08 am

No one has lived in the past and no one will live in the future.

The present is the form of all life, and there are no means by which this can be avoided.

Jean-Luc Godard, from Alphaville

The first section below is from Flashback: The Photography of Dr. Harold Eugene Edgerton; an interview with Gus Kayafas in Aperture 158 (Winter, 2000):

This is a photogram, a cameraless picture. It’s a 30-calibre bullet and you’ll notice these black spots at the top right; these are where the bits of Plexiglas actually punched a hole in the film. It was a sheet of 8-by-10 high-contrast film. It’s a point-source flash, so just as you get sharp shadows cast by the point source of the sun, this would cast very sharp shadows. In America, often when you’re driving, you’ll see a heat differentiation coming off the asphalt and it looks like a mirage, like water because that’s the way our brains read it. The light is being bent by that change in the density of the air from the heat, and that’s what’s happening here. The change in pressure creates the shockwave, and the light actually gets bent, so it ends up not exposing the film evenly. There’s a secondary wave of shockwaves, and that’s the one that hits the microphone to set the flash off. There is a piece of Plexiglas, in a vise with a microphone, with a bullet going through it. Essentially, instead of a photogram made like a contact print — because this is a point source light — the film is about ten or twelve inches away from what happens. This is something Doc developed during World War II to study projectiles and how they worked. This led to his interest in the speed of sound in different media.

The next section is from an online excerpt (yes, I am excerpting an excerpt.) A Tenth of a Second: A History by Jimena Canales:

… Try this experiment with a cinematographic projector. If successive frames pass at a speed exceeding the tenth of a second, the illusion of movement appears smoothly. Reduce its speed, and the illusion disappears. Look closely at a rapidly moving target and try to time the precise moment when it crosses a specific point. Compare the moment with somebody else’s and you will see that each of your determinations will probably differ by a few tenths of a second. Step on the brake of your car when an obstacle appears in front of you, and despite your best efforts, a lag time, close to a tenth of a second, will haunt your reactions. Try to read as many words as you can in ten seconds, and you will notice that the number is about a hundred: one word every tenth of a second. Time yourself while talking, and you will see that the time needed to pronounce each syllable will never be less than a tenth of a second. Analyze the electrical rhythm of your brain, which, when at rest, will average ten cycles per second. Study a “perceptual moment” and find that it lasts about this same amount.

… As scientists introduced the language of modern communications theory, employing terms such as “message” and “transmission,” they increasingly referred to the tenth of a second. The mid-nineteenth-century descriptions by the influential scientist Hermann von Helmholtz are characteristic: “When the message has reached the brain, it takes about one tenth of a second, even under conditions of most concentrated attention, before volitional transmission of the message to the motor nerves enabling the muscles to execute a specific movement.” “Self-consciousness,” he noted, lagged “behind the present” by an amount equal to “the tenth part of a second.” By the 1880s it was common knowledge on both sides of the Atlantic that “the time required by an intelligent person to perceive and to will is about 1/10 of a second. … After allowing for the time required to traverse all of the nerves and for the latent period of the muscles, there still remains about 1/10 second for the cerebral operations.”

… As scientists who investigated the tenth of a second increasingly treated the senses as instruments, they started to ask how bodily differences affected knowledge. Bodies were not the same, and this could have important repercussions for science. If instruments were compared to the senses, how could one be assured of the precise moment when they ended and perception began? Questions of time and its relation to space became entangled with questions relating to bodies, body types, and body parts.

… How do scientists determine the length of a ruler, the moment of contact between celestial bodies, the speed of fugitive events and occurrences within a tenth of a second?

… Instead of focusing on local political and social aspects of modernity that affect the place of numbers in society this book is centered on the moment of measurement. All measurements (including “measurements of distance”) require a “making present” that is intimately connected to problems of a temporal order.

“Making present.” *holding my head in pain*

After all my previous posts in this blog about how the present is always killed in the moment of the making of a photograph … Maybe it’s okay to measure it after it’s dead if it’s still fresh.



Riding Like A Wildman

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:51 am

The World’s Greatest Tricycle Rider

by C.K. Williams

The world’s greatest tricycle-rider
is in my heart, riding like a wildman,
no hands, almost upside down along
the walls and over the high curbs
and stoops, his bell rapid firing,
the sun spinning in his spokes like a flame.

I won’t give you the second verse. It gets all grownup: big and serious and old. Dude, get a bigger tricycle and ride on!



Sense of Direction

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:46 am

Finally, the last of my selected answers to The Edge.org’s question of this year, “How has the internet changed the way you think?“. This bit is from Tim O’Reilly’s response:

… It used to be the case that there was a canon, a body of knowledge shared by all educated men and women. Now, we need the skills of a scout, the ability to learn, to follow a trail, to make sense out of faint clues, and to recognize the way forward through confused thickets. We need a sense of direction that carries us onward through the wood despite our twists and turns. We need “soft eyes” that take in everything we see, not just what we are looking for.

I was going to give you Robert Sapolsky’s answer, but I felt guilty for laughing at a “Website store for people who like to buy garden gnomes and stab them in the head with sharp things.” [Laughing again even as I am claiming to feel guilty for laughing the first time. Now I feel guilty for not feeling guilty. Or I feel that I ought to but I don’t and so feel that I ought to ought to.] Not to mention that I don’t think you should — as I did — be tempted to Google to find out more, after reading, in Sapolsky’s answer, about “someone who sold a piece of gum online for $263 that Britney Spears had spit out.”



January 28, 2010

Shockingly Unbecoming

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:05 am

… A mentor of mine, years ago, a polymath philosopher of this sort, chided me: “You know, John, you can learn a great deal from people who are quite wrong.” And so many people are so wrong that there is much to be learned wherever you turn.

Today’s extracts are taken from two separate essays in the collection of essays, Falling in Love With Wisdom eds. David D. Karnos and Robert G. Shoemaker (1993). The first essay quoted from (above and first below) is Philosophy, Football, and the Westminster Confession by John Churchill in

Two very different professional communities share the designation “philosopher.” One community is comprised of aficionados of mathematics and physics. These admirers of clarity and precision are careful men and women whose greatest fear is that they might assert something false. They have a crazy passion for argument. Two of my friends, philosophers of this ilk, once got in a car and argued for 200 miles without a break. They stopped for the night, and when one of them awoke the next morning, he found that the other was already up and had been arguing with him as he had slept. These philosophers cultivate positions with astonishing attention to detail, working out rebuttals of responses to objections as military engineers once designed elaborate mazes of fortified trenches. Legend has it that a member of this clan once rose at a conference and challenged the speaker: “I have fourteen objections to your thesis.”

The other community harbors refugees from theology and literature, seekers of insight or meaning, yearning men and women whose greatest fear is that they might miss the sense of things. These philosophers are continually wandering off into discursive musings, searching after some similarity of pattern, some parallelism of form between something in one field and something else in another, a link that will somehow make sense in both fields and fit them into a larger picture. These philosophers comb through massive bodies of literature and fields of learning in search of resonance. They are the reason no one is surprised when philosophers turn out to be full of stray tidbits about the Oglalla aquifer or Scythian cavalry tactics. So these philosophers read history, fiction, and theology; they accumulate masses of information. And they — unlike their science-loving colleagues — pay attention to the outmoded, all-forsaken ideas and systems that no one believes anymore. A mentor of mine, years ago, a polymath philosopher of this sort, chided me: “You know, John, you can learn a great deal from people who are quite wrong.” And so many people are so wrong that there is much to be learned wherever you turn. I recently gave a paper on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and heard the question, “Why would anyone study a system you know is wrong?” The query came, of course, from a philosopher of the first sort.

(Churchill does point out that these two types are not necessarily mutually exclusive.)

Now for the bits from the second essay, Just Lucky, I Guess! by Henry E. Kyburg, Jr.:

… In recent years … I have become involved n Artificial Intelligence (AI) — an enterprise that seems to me to involve exactly the same kinds of inquiries and studies that I have been most concerned with in philosophy. AI is a bit more practically oriented: we want things to work. It would be easy to think that I am coming full circle — that through AI my childhood interests in engineering (sans explosives) — have re-emerged. Perhaps philosophy was just a detour?

I think not. I think what led me to philosophy in the first place was a combination of dissatisfaction with everything else; and a resistance to having boundaries dictated to me. Here we may be coming to a central feature of the intellectual character of many philosophers: a strong reluctance to be fenced in. “Don’t tell me that what I am studying is not part of my field of study!”

If that is so, then we are faced with an anomaly: the very qualities that lead people like me toward philosophy lead also, centripetally, away from too focused a concentration on any particular area. If there is anything that I find shockingly unbecoming in a philosopher, it is the assertion (whether made of a colleague or of a student) that what X is doing “isn’t really philosophy.” Everything that is a source of wonder, or puzzlement, or practical challenge, is a fit subject for philosophical inquiry. Lacking focus, it seems to me that the only thing antithetical to philosophy is a narrow focus.

So very like photography …



January 27, 2010

Approaching From Above

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:41 am

… what I do is consider problems of decision-making in medicine. An example or two will get almost anyone talking, sometimes autobiographically, often reflectively, about the pain and uncertainty that such problems portend. Soon we’re a level or two beneath the surface of the issue (having approached it from above), and some question of basic values or underlying assumptions is raised by my neighbor.

This is from an essay, Approaching from Above by Samuel Gorovitz found in the collection of essays, Falling in Love With Wisdom eds. David D. Karnos and Robert G. Shoemaker (1993). He begins:

I write these words aloft, returning from a meeting in Geneva of the International Medical Benefit/Risk Foundation, on whose Board of Overseers I sit. ….

On this flight, nobody is sitting next to Gorovitz, but once he had a “ruddy, thoroughly nineteenth-century Englishman” sitting next to him from Hamburg to London:

… He did not speak to me, and when spoken to replied with a peremptory grunt. Only when our imminent landing was announced did he become verbal. “I say,” he harumphed, “Do you happen to know, when we approach Heathrow Airport, from which direction will we approach it?”

“Yes, I know,” I replied as he leaned forward eagerly. “We will approach it from above.”

“That,” I thought as he withdrew in dismay, “will teach you to fly unsociably next to a philosopher.”

Typically, however, in-flight conversations turn to the question, “What do you do?” If I reply that I am a philosopher, reactions range from the rare glimmer of recognition, through the usual puzzlement, to occasional stark terror. I explain as well as I can, and sometimes am rewarded by signs of comprehension. Yet I cannot avoid concluding that the level of public understanding of what we philosophers do — even among the college educated, which most of these travelers are — is subterranean.

The contrast could not be more vivid when I talk about administrative work. They all understand that; that’s real, almost like business. They also understand, always, if I talk about issues in clinical medicine or health policy. …

Skipping to the end of the essay:

… In thinking about medical care, one thinks about human frailty and mortality, about what in life is of most value, about relationships of trust and caring. In asking how decisions in health policy should be made, one asks traditional questions of political philosophy about the fabric of social organization — about such matters as collective responsibility and individual liberty, but one asks them in a context of heightened intensity, since the health and even lives of one’s fellow humans may be influenced by how one answers.

Here, once again, a tension emerges, between the temptation to be of use — to bring one’s philosophical (and perhaps even rhetorical) skills to bear on specific, pending questions — and the imperative one was to have internalized as a student of philosophy to follow one’s question tenaciously wherever it leads, with regard neither to practical matters nor to how much time the pursuit requires.

As I grapple still with this one, I am aware that some of what I have done invites the observation that I have gone into philosophy and out the other side. Perhaps that is true, at least from time to time, but I am no longer much concerned with what the boundaries of the discipline are; at times I fancy that such insouciance is itself a mark of philosophical progress. I know, at least, that everything I do bears the stamp, if not the standards, of my philosophical mentors — that how I approach administrative questions, as well as intellectual ones, is as it is because my field is philosophy.

If the flight is long enough to allow for a real conversation, I’m likely now to say that what I do is consider problems of decision-making in medicine. An example or two will get almost anyone talking, sometimes autobiographically, often reflectively, about the pain and uncertainty that such problems portend. Soon we’re a level or two beneath the surface of the issue (having approached it from above), and some question of basic values or underlying assumptions is raised by my neighbor. “Yes, that’s it. That’s the sort of thing I work on,” I explain. “I’m a philosopher.”



January 26, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:47 am

Today I give you just one of the responses to The Edge.org’s question of this year “How has the Internet changed the way you think?” — because I think this one is quite beautiful. It’s from Stefano Boeri:

internet is wind.
a constant — and dominant — wind, that unsettles and swathes us.
in recent years we have become familiar with walking by displacing our weight, our equilibrium in an opposite direction to this wind.
only in this manner are we able to walk straight, without succumbing, without completely folding to its logic of simultaneous and globalized reciprocity.

but it is enough to unplug the connection, turn the corner, find shelter, place oneself “leeward” and internet disappears.
leaving us unbalanced, for a moment, folded in the direction of the wind due to the inertia of the effort of resistance we have made until that moment.
and yet, at that moment, the effort seems a formidable resource.
suddenly we are in front of what is not said; of that which we can’t and will not ever communicate of our own interior, of our personal idiosyncrasies, of our distorted individuality.

thought in the era of internet has this uniqueness:
there, the space-time that we are able to protect from this wind become precious occasions to understand what we cannot say, what we are not willing to deposit in the forum of planetary simultaneity.
so as to understand what we really are.



Master Barbecuers

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:42 am

… There are very physical experiences that push you to the limits, and the change is not that you’re suddenly able to walk on fire, so that you’ve become the master barbequer or something, but rather, your very being is changed …

These bits are from an interview with video artist Bill Viola [and here] by Melissa Harris in Aperture 141 (Fall 1995):

MH: How much room is there for serendipity — for the viewer to have a private experience?

BV: I’ve realized after many years that one of the things I’ve been doing in my work, unconsciously, is respond to the metaphor of traditional religious spaces. And when you think about it, when you go to the church or a temple, you’re in a public situation, but one that is designed to evoke a private experience.

[ … ]

MH: Are you hoping somehow to get back to a more primal sense of ritual or a more primal sense of connecting with the natural world or with other people in your work?

BV: Well, yes in a way. Of course, the technology that I’m using is anything but most people’s idea of natural. But in fact, I’ve found that when you create spaces that are physically separate from the everyday, outside world — a dark, separate space with, let’s say, a glowing image on the wall that’s moving and changing in time — you’ve actually arrived at one of the most internal and private spaces that we have, which is the inside of our minds. …

[ … ]

BV: … When I started working with this medium, which again seems almost entirely intellectual, but is, in fact, a very physical medium, I realized that I was relating more to my body than to my mind.

MH: How so?

BV: Because I’m working with sound and light, and movement, and time …

MH: … and space.

BV: What else is there? Cold, hard, black stillness? That’s about the other side of it. So when you’re working with these elements as your materials, you realize that you’ve got to control the whole environment, and you get into the physical world very quickly. As for the viewer, you’re in that room, and your reaction to darkness, to an environment that’s very different from where you’ve just been, is almost encoded in your body. There are all sorts of reflexes and responses that come out of that situation.

[ … ]

BV: … all this becomes very physiological, so it is important to break habits, to break expectations, to break common ways of thinking. If you look at religious rituals in traditional societies — fire walking for example — they are very often connected with some kind of direct, physical effort on the body. There are very physical experiences that push you to the limits, and the change is not that you’re suddenly able to walk on fire, so that you’ve become the master barbequer or something, but rather, your very being is changed … So there’s that connection between the physical, and the internal, metaphysical, psychological dimension.

On Viola’s Wikipedia page, there is a segment on his “Three Structures” — “the branching structure, matrix structure, and schizo structure” — that is entertaining.



January 25, 2010

Social Impulses

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:06 am

Here are two more interesting answers to The Edge.org’s question of this year, “How has the Internet changed the way you think?” These two are horribly nice. First, from June Cohen:

Humans are natural-born storytellers, and media has always formed the social glue that held our communities together. But mass media in the 20th century was so relentlessly one-way that it left room for little else. TV’s lure proved so powerful, so intoxicating and so isolating that our older, participatory traditions — storytelling, music-making, simply eating together as a family — fell away. TV created a global audience, but destroyed the village in the process.

Enter the Internet. As soon as the technology became available to us, we began instinctively re-creating the kinds of content and communities we evolved to crave. Our ancestors lived in small tribes, keeping their friends close and their children closer. They quickly shared information that could have life-or-death consequences. They gathered round the fire for rituals and storytelling that bonded them as a tribe. And watch us now. The first thing most of us do with a new communications technology is to gather our tribe around us — emailing photos to our parents, nervously friending our kids on Facebook.

… as a thinker, the Internet has me dreaming about our distant past, which feels a lot closer than you would think. … [there is more … ]

The second is from Paul Bloom:

I am not surprised by the scammers, the self-promoters and the haters. But why do people devote their time and energy to anonymously donating accurate and useful information? We don’t put twenty dollars bills in strangers’ mailboxes; why are we giving them our time and expertise? Comments on blogs pose a similar puzzle, something nicely summarized in the classic xkcd cartoon where someone is typing frantically on the computer; when asked to come to bed, the person says, “I can’t. This is important … Someone is wrong on the Internet.”

Apparently the Internet evokes the same social impulses that arise in face-to-face interactions. If someone is lost and asks you for directions, you are unlikely to refuse or to lie. It is natural, in most real-world social contexts, to offer an opinion about a book or movie you like; or to speak up when the topic is something you know a lot about. The proffering of information on the Internet is the extension of this everyday altruism. It illustrates the extent of human generosity in our everyday lives and also shows how technology can enhance and expand this positive human trait, with real beneficial results. People have long said that the Web makes us smarter; it might make us nicer as well. … [his goes on at length]

But June and Paul … we’re “friending” and being nice to  … a bunch of pixels.



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