Unreal Nature

August 31, 2010

The Dance of Agency

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:20 am

… One of the best case studies on science-instrument interactivity can be found in Andrew Pickering’s The Mangle of Practice (1995). He describes well the ‘resistance and accommodation’ discovered in instrument development, the ‘dance of agency’ between humans and machines, the ‘tuning’ which is necessary, and so on. But once the interactive skills and tuned instruments begin to work in human-technology conjunction, then an origin trajectory can lead to greater and greater refinements, variations, and progressive development.

This is from the essay Phenomenologists and Robots in the book Embodied Technics by Don Ihde (2010):

… beginning with the Renaissance camera obscura, a progression of science’s imaging machines were variations upon that camera.

… The optical effects of the camera obscura were already known in antiquity — Mo Ti in China (400 BCE), Aristotle (350 BCE) and then fully by Al Hazen on optics (1036 CE). It later became a favored optical toy in the Italian Renaissance (15th century). for our purposes the camera has a light source (sun or artificial light), an aperture (at first a round hole), and a screen upon which an image is cast. Early cameras were objects of fascination by producing what I call isomorphic or picture-like images. DaVinci used on to produce an image of a crucifix in his room, and later Galileo used a version of the camera as a helioscope to image sunspots (1609). But I shall begin later with Isaac Newton’s transformative variation on the camera (1666), to produce a non-isomorphic image which does not look like the image source. What Newton did was to set up his camera by cutting a round hole in his window shades, through which the sun could shine, but then he placed a prism at the aperture and the ‘white’ light which streamed through the prism produced a ‘rainbow spectrum’ on the blank wall opposite. This was the imaging technology which stimulated his theory of color, including the recognition that ‘white light’ was a composite of the ‘rainbow’ of colors — and he ingeniously showed this to be the case by reversing the ‘rainbow’ back into ‘white’ light by adding a second prism.

Ihde skims over further work with prisms by Wollaston, Fraunhofer and finally Kirchhoff until:

… 19th century scientists finally recognized that each part of the now distinct spectra were chemical signatures, with one being sodium found being emitted from the Sun. So, now we have two important variants upon the non-isomorphic spectral imaging, Newton’s rough ‘blended’ spectrum to Kirchhoff’s distinctly lined spectrum.

Ihde next describes how Thomas Young, who “knew that light through a peculiar crystal, Icelandic spar, produced a double refraction with two rays producing different effects,” went on to invent interferometry. He then continues:

… Were we to bring this [brief history] up to date with contemporary hi-tech versions of these instruments, we would find whole classes of ‘beam splitters,’ ‘ mirror-plus-optics, and above all ‘beam active’ light analog sources such as with the coherent light sources of lasers, photon beams, electron beams, ion beams, all producing phenomena at previously unknown micro-levels.

… What we are seeing here is the emergence of discoveries from the very core of human-technology relations. Galileo did not expect to discover sun spots; nor did Newton expect to discover the composite structure of light; and the eventual discovery that spectra were chemical signatures was hard-won over decades of time. In short, what this perspective shows, does not map well upon a hypothetical-deductive predictive practice notion of science. It rather shows a much more pragmatic, experimental, and materially based science whose ‘observations’ and thus discoveries are technologically mediated by the instruments of science. Such a ‘material’ science is fully embedded, I argue, in the lifeworld. An instrumentally mediated science is a human-technology-world interactive science.

A more detailed, close-up analysis would show that each of these origin trajectories were attained through human-technology interrelations in which whatever human aims were being sought, an interactive and learning process was engaged in such that the human gradually ‘learns’ what the material forms of machinic ’embodiment’ allow. Bob Crease, for example, told me that when writing about the Young double-slit camera, he tried to construct one following Young’s description. He succeeded, but only after much tinkering and much effort since the tiny split in the aperture required him to learn considerable skills.

… One neither is directly aware of the possibilities or constraints of the instrument, nor does one derive this set of capacities from simple material properties. Rather, it is in use that one reflexively becomes aware of such capacities. The same phenomenon can be seen in musical examples: performers must always learn and usually through extensive practice sessions, the capacities of their individual instruments.



August 30, 2010

Traces and Threads

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:10 am

… Threads may be transformed into traces, and traces into threads. It is through the transformation of threads into traces, I argue, that surfaces are brought into being. And conversely, it is through the transformation of traces into threads that surfaces are dissolved.

This is from Lines: A Brief History by Tim Ingold (2007):

… On a recent ferry-crossing from Norway to Sweden I observed three ladies sitting around a table in the ship’s lounge. One was writing a letter with a fountain pen, the second was knitting, and the third was using a needle and thread to embroider a design from a pattern book upon a plain white fabric. As they worked they chatted among themselves, What struck me about this scene was that, while the life-histories of the three women were momentarily entangled in their conversation, the activity in which each was engaged involved a different use of the line, and a different relation between line and surface. In her writing, the first was inscribing an additive trace upon the surface of the page. The second had a hank of wool beside her, but as she worked, threading the wool through her fingers and picking up the loops with her knitting needles, she was turning the thread into an evenly textured surface. For the third, the embroiderer, the surface was pre-prepared, as indeed it was for her friend the letter-writer. Yet like the knitter, she was threading her lines and not tracing them.

Watching these women at work, I began to reflect on the similarities and differences between writing, knitting and embroidery. It occurred to me that, while as a form of trace-making writing is equally opposed to embroidery and knitting which both work with threads, these latter two are also opposed to one another. The knitter binds her lines into a surface, upon which the original threads now figure as traces, namely in the regular pattern formed by their entwining. The embroiderer, to the contrary, starts with traces on a surface, as on the page of her pattern book, but in her activity with the needle she translates those traces into threads. In so doing, moreover, she contrives to make the surface of the fabric disappear. For when we look at embroidered cloth we see the lines as threads, not as traces, almost as though the cloth had itself been rendered transparent.

… In this sense it imitates the making of lace, and it is no wonder that embroidery and lacework appear so often together, the first in the central field and the second around the periphery of a finely wrought scarf, kerchief or table covering. In the oldest form of needle-point lacework, most famously centred on the city of Venice, the pattern was first traced out on a sheet of parchment, on to which the threads were sewn. When the work was finished the parchment was detached and discarded, leaving only the pattern of threads.

… Though I started out by presenting threads and traces as though they were categorically differentiated, these examples of knitting, embroidery and lacework suggest that, in reality, each stands as a transform of the other. Threads may be transformed into traces, and traces into threads. It is through the transformation of threads into traces, I argue, that surfaces are brought into being. And conversely, it is through the transformation of traces into threads that surfaces are dissolved.



Cultivated Naïveté

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:08 am

This quote made me laugh out loud. It’s from a review of the book Pragmatism as Transition: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty by Colin Koopman; reviewed by David Hildebrand in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

… “We cannot,” Dewey writes, “achieve recovery of primitive naïveté. But there is attainable a cultivated naïveté of eye, ear and thought, one that can be acquired only through the discipline of severe thought.”

He’s saying that if we try really, really, really hard, we can circumvent Mr. Gödel.



August 29, 2010

That Proustian Dimension

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:43 am

That Proustian dimension is from one of yesterday’s posts.

… She didn’t mean for it to turn out that way. “I wanted young girls,” Mann says. “I wanted girls without breasts, girls without Esprit clothes. I wanted girls with crinolines and knee socks. I didn’t intend to deal with sexuality.” Clearly her hope was to recapture the remembrance of her childhood, the moments we’ve been told being twelve years old is all about. “I wanted to show their diffidence and their impatience, the magic and the fears in that passage from childhood,” she recalls.

… The disturbing quality, the culture shock of seeing our own society reflected in the eyes of a twelve-year-old, stems directly from the empathy with which Mann approached her subjects. Speaking of this aspect of her project, she says, “In almost every case the parents were either present for the photograph, or in the immediate surroundings. Before taking photographs, I showed the already existing series to the parents and talked with them about my intentions. After the sessions I showed them the images, and asked them to sign a model release; no parent at any point refused this request. From the point of view of the girls, there was often some understandable hesitancy at first but as the shootings progressed — and there were often multiple sessions — most of them began to express themselves for the camera, in one sense play-acting and in another sense working through their emotions.”

… In art, as in science, the answers you get depend upon the questions you ask. Sally Mann asked what it was like — today — to be twelve years old. She thought she knew the answer; but …

That (above) is Ted Orland, writing about Sally Mann’s At Twelve series. Next (below) is Anne Beattie writing about those same pictures:

… The obvious risk for the photographer when working with symbols is that the person being photographed may disappear under the weight of the message, though it seems clear that Mann’s subjects transcend being understood in merely symbolic terms. Once we label something as symbolic, we are dealing in an abstraction, yet the reality of so many young faces seems so intense, so concrete, and the prints so clear, that we feel sure we have something real before us. Sally Mann acknowledges symbols — even adjusts things to compose the shots — but although we see the connection (the objects and details are hardly covert; our eye goes instantly to them), we continue to study the photographs because there still seems to be a larger life to the people in them. The girl with the dark circles under her eyes, backed up against the floral-patterned drapery wears a dress that is not very pretty, really — more like an odd improvisation on children’s flowered dresses — and becomes increasingly strange as we sense that it functions as protective coloration. If it protects her (which is doubtful to begin with, since children suffer the tortures of the damned when they do not look just like everyone else), we can’t imagine how. Pictorially, Mann is expressing a figure of speech: this girl is the person who fades into the wallpaper. But in spite of her attire, and in spite of the surroundings which nearly subsume her, the eyes have depth. The circles beneath them let us know that much is wrong. So dressed, the child might have vanished if Mann had not stopped to look.

Here (below) are Sally Mann’s own comments on the child shown above (Cindy):

I first saw Cindy in the lunch line. She was standing alone. I called her mother that night, and she said I could photograph Cindy anytime I wanted.

I would pick up Cindy and her two little brothers after school. They fought over who got to sit up front, the two losers ending up wedged between Emmett and Jessie [two of Mann’s children] in their car seats in back. They loved to just drive around in the early spring air listening to the radio. We would talk about their lives. Often no pictures were taken and it would be late when I took them home. Most times the house would be dark.

Their yard was nothing but dirt, and it was mud that gray Easter when I drove out there. Rounding the bend, I stopped in the road. Dancing above the slush, weaving along the path to the outhouse, festooning the bare branches of the surviving bushes and spiraling through the car bodies, were hundreds of Cindy’s painstakingly decorated paper flowers.

I grew to love those three children in that deficient, mournful way that one loves those beyond reach. As their lives began to unravel, I found them living in the back of a car parked outside an uncle’s cabin. Then they were gone.

Several months ago the mother’s boyfriend told me that Cindy had “gotten herself a baby.” He had a photograph of her holding the baby and pregnant again.

I have the picture of Cindy in two different books. It’s interesting how the different reproductions affect the mood of the picture. I scanned both. One is shown above; here is the other one:



August 28, 2010

The Falsest Obviousness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:10 am

… the direct time-image always gives us access to that Proustian dimension where people and things occupy a place in time which is incommensurable with the one they have in space.

This is the second of two posts today from Cinema 2: The Time-Image by Gilles Deleuze (1989):

… What is in question is the obviousness on the basis of which the cinematographic image is in the present, necessarily in the present. If it is so, time can be represented only indirectly, on the basis of a present movement-image and through the intermediary of montage. But is this not the falsest obviousness, in at least two respects? First, there is no present which is not haunted by a past and a future, by a past which is not reducible to a former present, by a future which does not consist of a present to come. Simple succession affects the presents which pass, but each present coexists with a past and a future without which it would not itself pass on. It is characteristic of cinema to seize this past and this future that coexist with the present image. To film what is before and what is after . . . Perhaps it is necessary to make what is before and after the film pass inside it in order to get out of the chain of presents. For example, the characters: Godard says that it is necessary to know what they were before being placed in the picture, and will be after. ‘That is what cinema is, the present never exists there, except in bad films.’ This is very difficult, because it is not enough to eliminate fiction, in favour of a crude reality which would lead us back all the more to presents which pass. On the contrary, it is necessary to move towards a limit, to make the limit of before the film and after it pass into the film and to grasp in the character the limit that he himself steps over in order to enter the film and leave it, to enter into the fiction as into a present which is inseparable from its before and after. We shall see that this is precisely the aim of cinéma-vérité or of direct cinema: not to achieve a real as it would exist independently of the image, but to achieve a before and an after as they coexist with the image, as they are inseparable from the image.

… Not only is the image inseparable from a before and an after which belong to it, which are not to be confused with the preceding and subsequent images; but in addition it itself tips over into a past and a future of which the present is now only an extreme limit, which is never given. Take, for example, the depth of field in Welles: when Kane is going to catch up with his friend the journalist for the break, it is in time that he moves, he occupies a place in time rather than changing place in space. And when the investigator at the beginning of Mr. Arkadin emerges into the great courtyard, he literally emerges from time rather than coming from another place. Take Visconti’s tracking shots: at the beginning of Sandra, when the heroine returns to the house where she was born, and stops to buy the black headscarf that she will cover her head with, and the cake that she will eat like magic food, she does not cover space, she sinks into time. And in a film a few minutes long, Appunti su un Fatto di Cronaca, a slow tracking shot follows the empty path of the raped and murdered schoolgirl, and comes back to the fully present image to load it with a petrified perfect tense, as well as with an inescapable future perfect.

[paragraph break added to make this easier to read onscreen] In Resnais too it is time that we plunge into, not at the mercy of a psychological memory that would give us only an indirect representation, nor at the mercy of recollection-image that would refer us back to a former present, but following a deeper memory, a memory of the world directly exploring time, reaching in the past that which conceals itself from memory. How feeble the flashback seems beside explorations of time as powerful as this, such as the silent walk on the thick hotel carpet which each time puts the image into the past in Last Year in Marienbad. The tracking shots of Resnais and Visconti, and Welles’s depth of field, carry out a temporalization of the image or form a direct time-image, which realizes the principle: the cinematographic image is in the present only in bad films. ‘Rather than a physical movement, it is a question above all of a displacement in time.’ And undoubtedly there are many possible ways of proceeding: it is, on the contrary, the crushing of depth and the planitude of the image, which, in Dreyer and other authors, will directly open the image on to time as fourth dimension. … [T]he direct time-image always gives us access to that Proustian dimension where people and things occupy a place in time which is incommensurable with the one they have in space. Proust indeed speaks in terms of cinema, time mounting its magic lantern on bodies and making the shots coexist in depth. It is this build-up, this emancipation of time, which ensures the rule of impossible continuity and aberrant movement [for example, montage, cuts, etc.]. The postulate of ‘the image in the present’ is one of the most destructive for any understanding of cinema.



Behaving Ourselves

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:07 am

… But if our sensory-motor schemata jam or break …

This is the first of two posts today from Cinema 2: The Time-Image by Gilles Deleuze (1989):

… Neither everyday nor limit situations are marked by anything rare or extraordinary. It is just a volcano island of poor fishermen. It is just a factory, a school . . . We mix with all that, even death, even accidents, in our normal life or on holidays. We see, and we more or less experience, a powerful organization of poverty and oppression. And we are precisely not without sensory-motor schemata for recognizing such things, for putting up with and approving of them and for behaving ourselves subsequently, taking into account our situations, our capabilities and our tastes. We have schemata for turning away when it is too unpleasant, for prompting resignation when it is terrible and for assimilating when it is too beautiful. It should be pointed out here that even metaphors are sensory-motor evasions, and furnish us with something to say when we no longer know what to do: they are specific schemata of an affective nature. Now this is what a cliché is. A cliché is a sensory-motor image of the thing. As Bergson says, we do not perceive the thing or the image in its entirety, we always perceive less of it, we perceive only what we are interested in perceiving, or rather what it is in our interest to perceive, by virtue of our economic interests, ideological beliefs and psychological demands. We therefore normally perceive only clichés. But if our sensory-motor schemata jam or break, then a different type of image can appear: a pure optical-sound image, the whole image without metaphor, brings out the thing in itself, literally, in its excess of horror or beauty, in its radical or unjustifiable character, because it no longer has to be ‘justified,’ for better or for worse . . .



Blue Green

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:05 am

These are a samples of the current series I’m working on. The series is called Blue Green; I’ve done sixteen of them so far.


They really don’t work in small sizes but you can get a rough idea. (Print size is 16 x20.)



August 27, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:54 am

… why is talk of an “impersonal reader” better than talk of “realism,” “fundamentalism,” and “unity of nature”?

… We align theory and the world often through the process of simultaneously building the model, building the system it models — literally building, or shielding or substituting a different system with more agreeable characteristics (as in [Ulrich] Gähde’s account in this volume of Halley who took Jupiter to act only when on one side of the sun and not the other), as well as making the theory say what we need it to by exploiting the flexibility of the mathematical representations and the looseness of the constraints for fixing physics descriptions. The models are the centre point at which the processes get aligned — as best they can.

This is from Nancy Cartwright’s Philosophy of Science eds. Stephen Hartmann, Carl Hoefer and Luc Bovens (2008). In this quote, Cartwright is responding to an essay by Alfred Nordmann Getting the Causal Story Right (the format of the book is to have an essay about some aspect of Cartwright’s philosophy followed by her (Cartwright’s) response to that essay). Continuing from the above:

… Other views on models too can be happily rid of any metaphysical overtones they might have been ascribed and read with Nordmann’s hermeneutical interpretation For instance, his claim that it is not so clear that “nature” is the immediate object of scientific enquiry’ echoes Mary Morgan’s idea that in many cases models themselves have become the object of experimental enquiry. This is patent in the case of model organisms, like fruit flies and laboratory rats, and prepared systems, on slides and in test tubes. But it is equally true of the kind of fictional models that we make up and write down.

Nordmann highlights the hermeneutic elements in my story of how models become the objects that theory can describe and make predictions about; Morgan tells of how they become the objects of experiment. We experiment on the models and not on reality; indeed, it is hard to learn from models except by experimenting on them. Morgan’s chief examples are from her own field of economics and from biology. But, it is true in spades of much of our contemporary mathematical physics where, Peter Galison tells us, mathematics is the new laboratory.

So I am happy to adopt the description of models as impersonal readers of both theory and the world, both for my own views and those of many others. And I especially embrace Nordmann’s descriptions of science — really good science — that take us away from discussions of Truth, Unity, and Beauty, which I ought to have had no truck to begin with, to something far more modest: ‘The success of science,’ Nordmann tells us, ‘consists in the establishment of a more or less local, more or less robust alignment of phenomena, models, and theories.’

This is sort of Merleau-Ponty turned inside out.



August 26, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:44 am

This is the second of two posts today from Cinema 2: The Time-Image by Gilles Deleuze (1989):

… A purely optical and sound situation does not extend into action, any more than it is induced by action. It makes us grasp, it is supposed to make us grasp, something intolerable and unbearable. Not a brutality as nervous aggression, an exaggerated violence that can always be extracted from the sensory-motor relations in the action-image. Nor is it a matter of scenes of terror, although there are sometimes corpses and blood. It is a matter of something too powerful, or too unjust, but sometimes also too beautiful, and which henceforth outstrips our sensory-motor capacities. Stromboli: a beauty which is too great for us, like too strong a pain. It can be a limit-situation, the eruption of the volcano, but also the most banal, a plain factory, a wasteland. In Godard’s Les carabiniers the girl militant recites a few revolutionary slogans, so many clichés; but she is so beautiful, of a beauty which is unbearable for her torturers who have to cover up her face with a handkerchief. And this handkerchief, lifted again by breath and whisper (‘Brothers, brothers, brothers . . . ), itself becomes unbearable for us the viewers.

… The purely optical and sound situation gives rise to a seeing function, at once fantasy and report, criticism and compassion, whilst sensory-motor situations, no matter how violent, are directed to a pragmatic visual function which ‘tolerates’ or ‘puts up with’ practically anything, from the moment it becomes involved in a system of actions and reactions.




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:42 am

… we no longer know what is imaginary or real, physical or mental, in the situation, not because they are confused, but because we do not have to know and there is no longer even a place from which to ask. It is as if the real and the imaginary were running after each other, as if each was being reflected in the other, around a point of indiscernibility.

This is the first of two posts today from Cinema 2: The Time-Image by Gilles Deleuze (1989):

… When Zavattini defines neo-realism as an art of encounter — fragmentary, ephemeral, piecemeal, missed encounters — what does he mean? It is true of encounters in Rossellini’s Paisa, or De Sica’s Bicycle Thief. And in Umberto D, De Sica constructs the famous sequence quoted as an example by Bazin: the young maid going into the kitchen in the morning, making a series of mechanical, weary gestures, cleaning a bit, driving the ants away from a water fountain, picking up the coffee grinder, stretching out her foot to close the door with her toe. And her eyes meet her pregnant woman’s belly, and it is as though all the misery in the world were going to be born. This is how, in an ordinary or everyday situation, in the course of a series of gestures, which are insignificant but all the more obedient to simple sensory-motor schemata, what has suddenly been brought about is a pure optical situation to which the little maid has no response or reaction.

… Everything remains real in this neo-realism (whether it is film set or exteriors) but, between the reality of the setting and that of the action, it is no longer a motor extension which is established, but rather a dreamlike connection through the intermediary of the liberated sense organs. It is as if the action floats in the situation, rather than bringing it to a conclusion or strengthening it.

… The method of report in Antonioni always has this function of bringing idle periods and empty spaces together: drawing all the consequences from a decisive past experience, once it is done and everything has been said. ‘When everything has been said, when the main scene seems over, there is what comes afterward . . . ”

As for the distinction between subjective and objective, it also tends to lose its importance, to the extent that the optical situation or visual description replaces the motor action. We run in fact into a principle of indeterminability, of indiscernibility: we no longer know what is imaginary or real, physical or mental, in the situation, not because they are confused, but because we do not have to know and there is no longer even a place from which to ask. It is as if the real and the imaginary were running after each other, as if each was being reflected in the other, around a point of indiscernibility. We will return to this point, but, already, when Robbe-Grillet provides his great theory of descriptions, he begins by defining a traditional ‘realist’ description: it is that which presupposes the independence of its object, and hence proposes a discernibility of the real and the imaginary (they can become confused, but none the less by right they remain distinct). Neo-realist description in the nouveau roman is completely different: since it replaces its own object, on the one hand it erases or destroys its reality which passes into the imaginary, but on the other hand it powerfully brings out all the reality which the imaginary or the mental create through speech and vision. the imaginary and the real became indiscernible.

… pure optical and sound situations can have two poles — objective and subjective, real and imaginary, physical and mental. but they give rise to opsigns* and sonsigns, which bring the poles into continual contact, and which, in one direction or the other, guarantee passages and conversions, tending towards a point of indiscernibility (and not of confusion).

*opsign: an image which breaks the sensory-motor schema, and where the seen is no longer extended into action.



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