Unreal Nature

December 31, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:41 am

Here is a little bit of Michel Serres as antidote to the previous post. From Serres’s The Troubadour of Knowledge:

… out of regard for the health of life and mind, I had to conceive, for my private use, some rules of ethics and deontology:

After attentive examination, adopt no idea that would contain, on the face of it, any trace of vengeance. Hatred, sometimes, takes the place of thought but also makes it smaller.

Never throw yourself into polemic;

Always avoid all membership; flee not only all pressure groups but also all defined disciplines of knowledge, whether a local and learned campus in the global or societal battle or sectorial entrenchment in scientific debate. Neither master, then, nor above all disciple.



Verbs and Rocks

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:39 am

… Our brains are not in a vat, but in our bodies. Our minds are not in our bodies, but in the world. And as for the world, it is not in our brains, our bodies, or our minds: they are, along with gods, verbs, rocks, and politics, in it.

This is from Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics by Clifford Geertz (2000):

… To make all this a bit more concrete, rather than merely programmatic and hortatory, let me take, in way of brief example, some recent discussions in anthropology, in psychology, and in neurology of that very elusive and miscellaneous particularity of our immediate life, the one Hume thought reason was and ought to be everywhere the slave of, namely, “passion” — “emotion,” “feeling,” “affect,” “attitude,” “mood,” “desire,” “temper,” “sentiment.”

… Words, images, gestures, body-marks, and terminologies, stories, rites, customs, harangues, melodies, and conversations, are not mere vehicles of feelings lodged elsewhere, so many reflections, symptoms, and transpirations. They are the locus and machinery of the thing itself.

“[If] we hope,” Rosaldo writes, with the groping awkwardness this sort of view tends to produce, given the ingrained Cartesianism of our psychological language, “to learn how songs, or slights, or killings, can stir human hearts we must inform interpretation with a grasp of the relationship between expressive forms and feelings, which themselves are culture-bound and which derive their significance from their place within the life experiences of particular people in particular societies.” However resemblant their general aspect, and however useful it may be to compare them, the menis-wrath of Achilles and the liget-rage of Rosaldo’s Philippine headhunters draw their specific substance, she says, from “distinctive contexts and . . . distinctive form[s] of life.” They are local “model[s] of apprehension mediated by [local] cultural forms and social logics.”

From this general sort of platform, inquiry can move in a number of directions, most of which have been at least tentatively explored. There are “vocabulary of emotion” studies, designed to ferret out the sense of culturally specific terms for feelings, attitudes, and casts of mind, as Rosaldo does for the Ilonget liget. (In fact this word is inadequately translated as “rage,” It is closer to “energy” or “life-force,” but even they won’t do. One needs, as one does for menis in The Iliad, extended glosses, sample uses, contextual discriminations, behavioral implications, alternate terms.) A whole host of anthropologists, myself included have performed similar services for words ethnocentrically, tendentiously, or merely lazily, translated from one language or another into English as those affective clichés “guilt” and “shame.” The culturological linguist, Anna Wierzbicka, noting that Japanese words “such as enryo (roughly ‘interpersonal restraint’), on (roughly, ‘debt of gratitude’), and omoiyari (roughly, ‘benefactive empathy’) . . . can lead us to the center of a whole complex of cultural values and attitudes . . . revealing a whole network of culture-specific . . . scripts,” not only demonstrates the fact for Japanese, but for Russian (toska, “melancholy-cum-yearning”), for German (Heimatliebe, “love of native place”), and for what she calls “the great Australian adjective, ” bloody . Others have carried out comparable unpackings of Samoan alofa (“love or empathy . . . directed upward from status inferiors to status superiors”), Arabic niya (“intent” . . . “desire” . . . “guileless” . . . “undiluted” . . . “sincere”) and Javanese rasa (“perception-felling-taste-import-meaning”).

[ … ]

… Anyone interested in individual development, from Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky to Jerome Bruner to Rom Harré, is likely to have similar concerns about any conception of the passions that does not inquire into the ontogenetic history. The issue is not that cultural analysis of emotions fail to account, as Chodorow seems to imply (“a separate register” . . . “this in-between” . . . “sui generis”), for how it really, really feels for someone actually, inside, in their heart of hearts, to have this one or that one. Put that way, the question is unanswerable; like pain (or “pain”), it feels as it feels. The issue is how menis, liget, wrath, or rage, toska, or heimatliebe, on, enryo, or omoiyari (or, for that matter, bloody), they come to have the force, the immediacy, and the consequence they have.

Again, recent research, mostly be developmental and comparative psychologists … but on occasion by psychologically oriented linguists and anthropologists … [leaving out long lists of names] as well, has pushed forward with this matter with some rapidity. Most notably, a seriously revised conception of the infant mind has emerged — not blooming, buzzing confusion, not ravenous fantasy whirling helplessly about in blind desire, not ingenerative algorithms churning out syntactic categories and ready-to-wear concepts, but meaning making, meaning seeking, meaning preserving, meaning using; in a word, Nelson Goodman’s word, world-constructing. Studies of the ability and inclination of children to build models of society, of others, of nature, of self, of thought as such (and, of course, of feelings), and to use them to come to terms with what is going on round and about have proliferated and taken a practical edge. Studies of autism as a failure (for whatever reason) on the part of a child to develop a workable theory of “other minds,” of reality-imagining and reality-instructing through narrative and storytelling, of self-construction and agency-attribution as a social enterprise, and of subjectivity as intersubjectivity, thus contextuality, thus culturally, achieved are giving us a picture of how our minds come to be in which “doing things with emotion words” and “personal meaning creation” do not much look like “separate registers.” “The development of the child’s thinking,” Vygotsky, the godfather of this sort of work, wrote seventy years ago, “depends on his mastery of the social means of thinking . . . The use of signs leads humans to a specific structure of behavior that breaks away from biological development and creates new forms of a culturally based psychological process.”



December 30, 2010

Who Did?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:27 am

“The aide said that guys like me [journalist Ron Suskind] were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

This first part, above and below is from Cloning Terror by W.J.T. Mitchell (2011) The the quote, above, is found in the preface of the book. It’s footnote identifies it as “Ron Suskind, “Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004. The key Bush aide turns out to be Karl Rove.” From further in Mitchell’s book:

… All the features of the biopicture — instantaneous reproduction and viral circulation; the irruption of twins, doubles, and multiples in the sphere of public, mass consumed imagery; the reduction of the human form to bare life, or to a mere image such as a corpse waiting to be mutilated, defaced, and destroyed; the corresponding loss of identity, and the proliferation of images of facelessness and headlessness, the acephalic clone — converge in the central icon of the Iraq war, and indeed, of the whole War on Terror. I’m thinking, of course of the famous image known variously as the Hooded Man, the Man on the Box, or (simply) Abu Ghraib Man.

… there has been a longing for the Abu Ghraib images to have a decisive power and effect that has so far eluded them. This desire was especially acute in the immediate aftermath of their unveiling, when it was hoped that the images were the “smoking gun” that would bring down the government that had produced them. But this longing contains an implicit acknowledgement that images (like “smoking guns”) do not carry around with them a reservoir of power like storage batteries that can be tapped at will. Or rather, any power they do have is like that of dreams, a crystallization of desire that awaits interpretation and action, or like smoking guns, a constellation of evidence that awaits a proper judgment day.

Later, Mitchell describes, among others, the film made by Errol Morris about the Abu Ghraib pictures. In the bit quoted from below, he’s talking about the efforts, for which Morris recruited his blog commenters, to find the identity of the hooded man in the photograph:

… As the [blog] discussion proceeded, however, this kind of search for the “deep truth” behind the photographs began to run into a wall of resistance. Respondents began to point out that the obsessive search for the truth behind the photographs was missing a much larger point, namely that the actual identity of the Hooded Man is irrelevant to the power of the image. In fact, one might put it even more strongly and insist that it is precisely the anonymity of the Hooded Man that is the key to the power of the image.

Leaving Mitchell’s book behind, the following approaches the use of images from the other direction. It’s from an essay, “Leni Riefenstahl, Art and Propaganda” by Manohla Dargis (1994). It’s a review of Riefenstahl’s memoir The Sieve of Time in which she claims that she collaborated with the Nazis out of ignorance, not sympathy:

… What does it mean to call a film like Triumph of the Will a masterpiece? To name Leni Riefenstahl the greatest woman director in cinema history, as many have done in the past and continue to do? Critic David B. Hinton insists that ‘understanding the historical background of the film is necessary when approaching the film as a document, but it reveals nothing of the nature of Leni Riefenstahl, the film-maker. For that, the film must be studied apart from its historical background.

… The debates about Riefenstahl’s films can’t be reduced to spurious formalist hedges. Apologists like Hinton believe that by ripping Triumph of the Will from its context, scraping away at the accumulated odds and ends of the past, the ‘truth’ about its director becomes manifest. It’s an approach, he explains, that ensures the film’s ‘true political implications will be underscored and not dismissed,’ specifically the ‘mass, symbolic manipulation’ of the participants. Except that the manipulation was real, not symbolic.

… Truly, the only way to see Triumph of the Will as simply a terrific-looking movie, to find Olympia a splendid, if overlong idyll on human athleticism, is to ignore history and all its casualties. In an age in which appeals to universal truth inspire panic and paralysis — think of Bosnia — it is essential to raise questions about moral choice. Riefenstahl and her defenders would rescue the director and her films from the very history and aesthetics of hate she helped create. ‘Politics too is an art,’ wrote Goebbels, ‘perhaps the highest and most comprehensive there is, and we who shape modern German policy feel ourselves in this to be artists who have been given the responsible task of forming, out of the raw material of the mass, the firm concrete structure of the people.’

In both those pieces, I’m not so much interested in the well-known use of images for power, but in the requirement that the contents (people!) be anonymous in order for them to be “released” to symbolic use. This suggests that personalization, individual identity, if/where present, could/can refuse that release, that use. The person (not “a” person) can deny the politically formulation of “people.” Remove the hood, remove the power to be used (whether for good or evil)? I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this. Just pondering …



December 29, 2010

The Subjective Correlative

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:09 am

… If images lie, why are they so palpable of the life between us? … These are spaces charged with ambiguity, but are they not also the spaces in which consciousness is created?

… The “filmic” may in fact be seen as a refutation of film, half-hidden within the envelopment of filmic representation.

This is from an essay “The Fate of the Cinema Subject” in the collection of David MacDougall’s essays Transcultural Cinema edited by Lucien Taylor (1998):

A person I have filmed is a set of broken images: first, someone actually seen, within touch, sound, and smell; a face glimpsed in the darkness of a viewfinder; a memory, sometimes elusive, sometimes of haunting clarity; a strip of images in an editing machine; a handful of photographs; and finally the figure moving on the screen, of cinema itself. It is Mataki, Logoth, Losike, Lorang, Arwoto, Francis, Geraldine, Ian, Sunny, Jaswant, Miminu, Franchiscu, Pietro. Each name lifts my spirits but also disturbs me. Film gives us the bodies of those we have filmed, yet those same bodies dissipate or are transformed before our eyes. I want to try to grasp the sense of this — if not to find the person among the phantoms, then perhaps to find some reasons for my puzzlement. If images lie, why are they so palpable of the life between us? I want to look, sometimes sidelong, at the spaces between the filmmaker and the subject: of imagery and language, of memory and feeling. These are spaces charged with ambiguity, but are they not also the spaces in which consciousness is created?

And so in this quiet introit, and in all the time we have stayed in this house, and in all we have sought, and in each detail of it, there is so keen, sad, and precious a nostalgia as I can scarcely otherwise know; a knowledge of brief truancy into the sources of my life, whereto I have no rightful access, having paid no price beyond love and sorrow.
James Agee [Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1960)]

James Agee has perhaps best expressed the passion and uncertainty of documentary … Throughout the great and overwrought work that he produced with Walker Evans, his self-reproach and despair at the inadequacy of his writing surges up like an obsession…. His anger and turmoil are those of someone who has been moved by both art and life but can no longer see where they meet.

… The filmmaker’s response is in many ways the reverse of that of other viewers. For the filmmaker, the film is an extract from all the footage shot for it, and a reminder of all the events that produced it. It reduces the experience onto a very small canvas. For the spectator, by contrast, film is not small but large: it opens onto a wider landscape. If the images evoke for the filmmaker a world that is largely missing, in the spectator they induce endless extrapolations from what is actually seen. The spectators glimpse a world opened rather than limited by the rectangular frame of the image.

… The film subject comes into being through a process of identification and sensing — what might be called ostention, applying Michael Polanyi’s concept of “tacit knowledge” (1966). This is knowledge we cannot “tell” in the abstract; it is knowledge we can only convey by showing — by expressing our relation to it in a manner that allows others to enter into a similar relation to it.

… Documentary filmmakers commit what Paul Henley once called “the sin of Heisenberg,” forever interfering with what it is they seek. This is not only because, as in particle physics, the process of filming transforms its object, but because the representation of anything is by definition thte creation of something different. Documentary can thus only succeed by becoming part of its object, fusing itself with it, creating a new reality. It may then succeed in spite of itself, like a damaged eye that sees objects only in its peripheral vision.

Filmmakers reach beyond the nameable and containable. It is the physical world underlying signification that provides the motive power of documentary and much of fiction film. Film seeks to retrieve certain abandoned habits of our prelinguistic life, the perceptions which as children were part of our bodily awareness of others and the physical world. It thus regenerates a form of thinking through the body, often affecting us most forcefully at those junctures of experience that lie between our accustomed categories of thought.

… We glimpse it in a few frames out of a thousand, or a few seconds in an entire film. It is what we wait for when watching a film a second time, as we wait for certain moments in music. It may lie in a gesture, a look, in the catch of a voice, a puff of smoke, or a distant sound that animates a landscape. … The “filmic” may in fact be seen as a refutation of film, half-hidden within the envelopment of filmic representation. Not even “a signifier without a signified,” it is rather an unsignified. It is the tacit part of our film experience, which allows us to “inhabit” the filmic environment. It is our sensory response to the content of film.

… in viewing a film the viewer is usually responding not only to the content of images (the postures of the subjects, for example) but also to the postural schema of the film itself, embodying the filmmaker. The viewer’s response is thus one of double synchrony with the film subject and filmmaker, the first partly mediated by the second.

Intimations of a “second self” in others are reflexive in that they touch us to the quick, but this can only occur when they break through (but without necessarily dispersing) the double surface of filmic depiction (its denotation) and filmic significance (its further symbolic and connotative meanings) to what Barthes calls signifiance. Breaking through the first (depiction) might appear an impossibility, since the images of people we see in a film are but a kind of photochemical imprinting. It is only through the viewer’s body that the filmic images is restored to its referent. This occurs through the viewer’s sharing of a common field with the filmmaker and the film subjects, common referents in the world. The viewer “fills” or replenishes the image with his or her own bodily experience, inhabiting the absent body represented on the screen. In Merleau-Ponty’s view, such responses may even encompass inanimate objects through what he calls an équivalent interne. “Things have an internal equivalent in me; they arouse in me a carnal formula of their presence.” By reversing T.S. Eliot’s concept, we might characterize this as an instance of a subjective correlative.



December 28, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:40 am

Whitehead observed that “a traveler, who has lost his way, should not ask, Where am I? What he really wants to know is, Where are the other places?”

This is from Getting Back into Place, Second Edition by Edward S. Casey (2009: first edition 1993):

… If it is true that “the oceans are by no means featureless” — if deserts are not trackless after all, and if arctic tundra is far from nondescript — then we have come back around to place from something that resembles the modern idea of space as empty and endless. The purpose of navigating and getting oriented is to transform an apparently vacuous expanse, a Barren Grounds of unmarked space, into a set of what can only properly be called places (even if these places lack proper names). “What begins as undifferentiated space,” says the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, “ends as a single object-situation or place . . . When space feels thoroughly familiar to us, it has become place.” What is true for the Puluwat and the Eskimo, the Bedouin and the Temne, is also true for ourselves. Confronted with the actual emptiness of modernist space, each of us attempts to move from the discomfort of disorientation in such space to the comparative assurance of knowing our way about. We do so by transmuting an initially aimless and endless scene into a place of concerted action, thereby constituting a dense placescape that, in close collaboration with our active bodies, guides us into orientation. Unplacement becomes implacement as we regain and refashion a sense of place.



December 27, 2010

My Abode

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:06 am

… It would help me, since to me too I must attribute a beginning, if I could relate it to that of my abode. Did I wait somewhere for this place to be ready to receive me? Or did it wait for me to come and people it? By far the better of these hypotheses, from the point of view of usefulness, is the former, and I shall often have occasion to fall back on it. But both are distasteful. I shall say therefore that our beginnings coincide, that this place was made for me, and I for it, at the same instant.

From Samuel Beckett’s trilogy, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (1959).



December 26, 2010

Extrahuman Beauty

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:47 am

” … things are in a space and transform one another even when we are not there to write or speak about them”.

… the writer’s task is not only to deploy words but to reach the world, to convey something of its extrahuman beauty and structure to the minds of its readers so that they can think in new ways and through new words about the times and places in which they live.

This is from the same essay “Swimming the Channel” by William Paulson in the collection of essays Mapping Michel Serres edited by Niran Abbas (2005) — as was yesterday’s post. These extracts actually come before those used yesterday, which were from the conclusion of the piece:

Serres’s attention to language does not constitute the kind of reflexivity or foregrounding that aims to suspend or denounce naive belief in language’s powers of representation. Serres is certainly not naive about the subtleties and limits of language, but he spends no time accusing others of naiveté so that he may correct them.

Paulson (this essay’s author), has translated a number of of Serres’s works, including The Natural Contract to which he is indirectly referring in the following:

… Instead of saying, as I almost did a moment ago that Serres’s language does not move consistently toward the philosophical concept, it is more accurate to suggest that he gets concepts out of many levels of language: signifiers, etymons, intertexts, concrete meanings of abstract words and abstract meanings of concrete words. In his prose, then, words are much more than discrete units of meaning ready to be organized into larger units of signification through the syntactic chunking of sentence, paragraph, chapter, and book. While not neglecting such organization, Serres repeatedly delves inside words, bouncing arguments off their inner syllables, their roots, and their etymological kin. A contract draws together (con-tra-here) and is thus understood to be a matter of cords and bonds, wires and cables, of oxen yoked to draw a plough, and so the text evokes and articulates the concept of a contract through stories of roped mountaineering parties, tethered goats, and ships’ hawsers. An accord or contract is thus akin to treaties, traités, fellow derivatives of trahere, as is the French trait, which — like the English draft — designates both a mark written or paper and a pulling of a load by harnessed animals. Thus glossed by its etymology, a contract is already more than an agreement among subjects in society; its signifiers point to human beings bound to the stuff of the world before Serres argues that a natural contract must be added to the social one. What might at first seem to resemble punning, etymological play, or window dressing of erudition in fact propels Serres’s writing to the relations between contracts, the agricultural practices of tethering and harnessing animals, of measuring, enclosing, and plowing land, the collective security against omnipresent danger offered by the roping together of mountain-climbing parties, the new social bonds of communications networks.

Serres, in other words, draws concrete images, figures, comparisons, and stories out of the inner resources of language, exploiting the multiple concepts opened up by the seemingly preconceptual, concrete origins of abstract words. His work with signifiers connects language to the stories and places of the world. Style, for Serres, is a means not of adorning but of inventing and finding. His choice of words and the structure of his sentences produce multilayerd articulations of concepts, connotations, and multiple referents.

Serres language, thus seems to lead in all directions, whether in turn or all at once. His writing is neither strictly conceptual, nor metalingual, nor poetic, nor affective, nor expressive, nor referential, but rather all of these in quick and sometimes dizzying succession. Meaning in his texts does not flow in a linear, laminar fashion, whether downstream toward unproblematic concepts and referents or back upstream toward the conditions of its production via a reflexivity determined to question the illusion of representation. Instead, its movement is omnidirectional, akin to the turbulence evoked by Serres in Le Tiers-instruit in an extended metaphor for the process of learning, or of crossing from one language, culture, or world to another. His vehicle, as I noted at the outset, is that of swimming through the turbulent middle of a river or channel:

In crossing the river, in delivering itself completely naked to belonging to the opposite shore, it has just learned a third thing. The other side, new customs, a new language, certainly. But above all, it has just discovered learning in this blank middle that has no direction [change “directions” to “direction”] from which to find all directions …

(The square brackets in that last Serres quote are in the original.)

… Reference, in Serres, is neither given nor refused; it is something that happens, that is worked toward, that is an event.

Serres rarely presupposes the world already mapped and repertoired and conceptually cut up so that a discipline can apply its knowledge to it at well-defined levels, in an orderly direction. In this respect Serres’s texts exemplify Latour’s suggestion, in “The Politics of Explanation,” that what’s needed in the making and communication of knowledge are not theoretical or methodological protocols and precautions, but many forms of explanation, “the many genres and styles of narration invented by novelists, journalists, artists, cartoonists, scientists, and philosophers.”

… The commonplace that reality, or at least much of it, is linguistically (or culturally or socially) constructed, so that the interventions in discourse remake reality, has become for many a central legitimization of scholarship in the humanities. This language-centered paradigm, Serres wrote in 1977, offers worthwhile results but risks becoming blind to what is outside its own scope: “It cannot see, by virtue of its hypothesis, that things are in a space and transform one another even when we are not there to write or speak about them”.

… Instead of offering exhortations or techniques useful in denouncing conventional language and culture as manipulative or oppressive (or in praising emergent, avant-garde productions for carrying out such denunciation), Serres continually renews his attempts to show that the writer’s task is not only to deploy words but to reach the world, to convey something of its extrahuman beauty and structure to the minds of its readers so that they can think in new ways and through new words about the times and places in which they live.

The stuff about etymology is sort of related to a recent post of Felix Grants, Picking Over Half a Trillion Words, which was in turn prompted by a post from Ray Girvin, about Google’s new NGram thingie.



December 25, 2010

Still Blooping

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:41 am

Last year I kind of said I wasn’t going to post any more of these, but … that was last year.

I try to delete these in camera, but some of them are just so kewl …



In the Beginning Was Not the Word

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:35 am

… “In the beginning is not the word. The word comes where it is expected. one writes initially through a wave of music, a groundswell that comes from the background noise, from the whole body, maybe” (Genesis; Michel Serres; 138). The honor of philosophy, in some ways too removed from what matters, lies in articulating this general principle of knowledge: that abstract and general knowledge is neither fundamental nor superior. “But only philosophy can go deep enough to show that literature goes still deeper than philosophy” (The Troubadour of Knowledge, Michel Serres; 65). Serres is a philosopher arguing that stories are more fundamental than arguments, a writer telling the story that in the beginning was not the word.

This is from an essay “Swimming the Channel” by William Paulson in the collection of essays Mapping Michel Serres edited by Niran Abbas (2005). Continuing from the above:

… Intellectual alignment takes place indoors, or at least in policed spaces: on-line, in the seminar room or amphitheater, at best in the public square of the city. The experience and words that matter most, for Serres, that have the power to reshape minds, bodies, and lives, are those that take place or lead outside the academy and the polis. The swimmer’s body must adapt to the turbulence of the channel, just as the translators must invent new ways of using both their languages so as to pass between them.

Just as there is both sound and inscription in language, Serres writes in Nouvelles du monde, the sea both makes the music of its waves and writes the traces of its ebb and flow on beaches and banks. The roar and traces are natural signs of the sea’s complex and powerful movements. But humans can only understand this nonhuman language if they throw themselves into it, risking their all, swimming naked or piloting a small and vulnerable craft. Those who stay on the surface, whether as cruise passengers on deck or even surfers encased in rubber suits, will be unable to translate the sea.



December 24, 2010

You Are Not What You Eat

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:51 am

… human beings have their own deeply rooted nature, in terms of which they actively take from environmental perception the things they need, which they recombine and use according to their own forms and purposes.

This is from the preface to Drawing Distinctions: the Varieties of Graphic Expression by Patrick Maynard (2005). Joining him in midstream (the above is taken from within the below):

… The tendency of such thought is reductive,with the surprising logic that, if representation draws heavily for its materials upon environmental perception’s structures and routines, then such is basically what visual representation is; hence that an understanding of visual depiction can somehow be derived from the psychology of environmental vision; a depressingly common assumption among those who now debate the derivations. That inference is a fallacy of the material cause, of the kind identified by Aristotle in the “you are what you eat” arguments of the reductionists of his own time. The case for autonomy that I argue might then be understood as one about what Aristotle called “form”: that the representational practices of human beings have their own deeply rooted nature, in terms of which they actively take from environmental perception the things they need, which they recombine and use according to their own forms and purposes. A more advanced case for autonomy, leading to a case for the autonomy of the arts of visual depiction, is that in making their own synthesis such arts are free to draw in many other elements besides the perceptual.



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