Unreal Nature

October 31, 2011

Compelling Reason

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:35 am

… The modern artist often demonstrates his craft by successfully disguising it, so that his created representation, a magnificent fiction, appears independent of the technique that made it.

… to glorify the degree of surprise and unconsciousness within an act of signification, at the expense of the element of control and deliberation, seems somewhat perverse. Is there any compelling reason why the artist who finds more than he can make (an innovator in spite of himself) should be greater than some rival who can make exactly what others would wish to find?

This is from Cézanne and the End of Impressionism: A Study of the Theory, Technique, and Critical Evaluation of Modern Art by Richard Shiff (1984):

… Must the artist find his originality blindly, unconsciously, or can he succeed in seeking after it, come to possess it and to manipulate it as one of a number of “techniques”? Given Cézanne’s statements and those of the critics and historians who wrote so enthusiastically about him, it would seem that the modernist artist should follow his own “creative vision” rather than direct it. Yet, as I have maintained, Cézanne’s technique (as well as that of so many of his contemporaries) developed in accord with specific intentions, indeed, as a response to “statements” made by the techniques of other painters.

… It can be assumed that the “independent” Cézanne — just as his contemporary, the “academic” Henri Regnaultdeclared conventional chiaroscuro unacceptable for two reasons: first, because it seemed unlike the coloristic effects actually observed in nature; and second, because it was recognized as an academic artifice, a product of doctrine rather than personal experience. The first reason, the appeal to direct observation, is (as I have already implied) suspect in the extreme, for it can always be argued that a painter “sees” in nature only what his acquired technical practice allows him to imagine as a picture. If, instead of chiaroscuro, Cézanne “saw” a pattern of juxtaposed brilliant colors in nature, he possessed a theory to guide this “naïve” vision, a theory of the impression, the visual effect proper to an “innocent,” unindoctrinated eye. Thus, one could argue that the colors of the painter’s “naïve” vision had their origin in an acquired theoretical discourse. The “field” of vision from which colors might be selected was determined neither by an external nature nor by an internal temperament.

… The painter’s impression is (conceived as) immediate and found. His impressionist aim inhibits his observing an object as a differentiated part of a whole “sensation” of nature since this would be to study it and make it into a compositional element. Cézanne did not make compositions in the usual sense. He preferred to let his technique of making perform a finding — the impression becomes the end of his art, not merely the beginning.

Shiff offers a number of specific examples in support of his arguments. Here is one of them:

… Examples of typical structural correspondences that Cézanne created in his Still Life include: (1) the linear accents of the right vertical edge of the drawer in the table echo the rendering of the right side of the pitcher and also the directional strokes in the lower left part of the dish; (2) the central part of the background corresponds coloristically to the foreground table plane; (3) the pattern of brushstrokes in the pitcher corresponds to that in the adjacent part of the background (to the right of the pitcher), and patches of ochre, the dominant color of the adjacent background, are added to the pitcher; (4) the brushstrokes that define the wineglass extend beyond the representational limits of the object and correspond to the strokes of the adjacent background; (4) the background drapery at the top right seems arranged to form diagonal folds defining an angle reciprocally related to that of the receding right edge of the foreground table; (6) horizontal “shadows” next to the oranges and the lemon at left echo the edges of the table and drawer. Such analogies reinforce the sense of an articulated but repetitious variation in the entire surface that is given also by the artist’s insistent use of contrasts of warm and cool colors: the dish is a pattern of blue, pink, and green; the red, orange, yellow, and green fruit are edged by linear strokes of blue and red-violet; the linear edges of the table consist of segments of blue, red-violet, green, and reddish-brown with the strokes of brilliant cool blue often flanked by contrasting warm orange-browns; the plane of the table ranges from various warm and cool browns to pale red-violets, violets, blues, and greens.

Still Life, ca. 1900

Cézanne’s Still Life must be judged an “impression” because its parts, although varied and unified, fail to form a hierarchical composition; this effect is the product of both the use of a type of color that supersedes a more conventional chiaroscuro, and the use of an arrangement of contrasting shapes, colors, and lines designed not to appear in strict rank or sequence, but rather as forming a set of equivalent spontaneous “sensations.”

… the question of the fabricated and the natural must remain open for any modernist who regards originality as the greatest achievement; for if Cézanne possessed the originality inherent in the discovery or experience of nature and self, this modernist end would not be seen as a mere product of the manipulation of technical means. The modernist critic or art historian is inclined to discount the artifice of impressionist originality and to judge Cézanne — who seemed to have introduced a new kind of structure into painting — as Roger Fry judged him: he may not have known what he was doing; his originality ran ahead of his technique.

It is something of a cliché to say that “few if any artists are entirely conscious of their enterprise, and therefore of the manner in which the changing directions in their art may transcend the frames of reference imposed by their moment in time.” Like all clichés, this one has repeatedly been put to productive use: it has allowed the art  historian to attribute a complex level of system and signification to a given work and to explain it in a sophisticated fashion, while viewing its creator as a relatively naïve finder, someone unaware of his own accomplishments. Not only does the art historian thereby establish his own professional territory of “original” interpretation, he also maintains the modern myth of an originality that must be found and never made. This dichotomy of the found and the made is unnecessary because both the art historian’s interpretation and the artist’s creation are made things. The fact that they may differ does not imply that interpretation must supersede creation as a conscious act following unconscious or passive discovery.

The interpretive act manipulates a raw material of art, but so does art itself; both have technique (much, if not all of it, inherited) and both require skill in expression. The modern artist often demonstrates his craft by successfully disguising it, so that his created representation, a magnificent fiction, appears independent of the technique that made it. With a complementary agility, the historian or critic unveils the relationship between the artist and his inherited artistic tradition; yet in the next breath, he denies that the artistic product is constituted of that past — he values the “modernist” work to the extent that it breaks with the past and originates in a living present. But just at this point in the critical discourse comes a recognition: the “living present” must include those classics who never die; Cézanne’s modernism can be at one and the same moment a classicism — and this without sacrificing modernism’s claim to vital, (re)generative originality.

… If modernist artists reevaluate the past, they must make progress — or do they find it? Surely artists cannot predict the full form that their works will take any more than competent speakers can control all the implications and meanings of their words; any process of representation will hold surprises. But to glorify the degree of surprise and unconsciousness within an act of signification, at the expense of the element of control and deliberation, seems somewhat perverse. Is there any compelling reason why the artist who finds more than he can make (an innovator in spite of himself) should be greater than some rival who can make exactly what others would wish to find? Perhaps so: the finder creates new desires; the maker seems (merely?) to satisfy old ones. Yet I find it salutary to recognize the strong possibility that Cézanne discovered nothing beyond impressionism but instead used impressionist technique to represent the “original” vision impressionism had been designed to find. That is surely mastery. Cézanne was remarkably successful despite his doubts and his inability, or lack of concern, to control the course of his own interpretive fortune. He received postimpressionist credit that he neither needed nor desired. He was wealthy enough in his impressionist sensation.

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



October 30, 2011

Deep Calls to Deep

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:37 am

… “Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and billows have gone over me.”

Continuing through The Book of Symbols, eds. Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin (2010). We are still in the “Cosmos and Creation” section:

Crescent: … Crescent reminds us of the mortality of everything that begins life, the transience of everything that comes into consciousness. Yet the nature of the crescent is not the completion of the circle or the confinement of what lies within. Rather, it suggests the horned gateway of the moon’s eternal cycling and if it promises an end to every beginning, it equally signifies the promise of beginning wherever there is end.

Eclipse: … For our prescientific ancestors who feared the permanent extinction of the sun’s vital light, the less than eight minutes spent in the 2,000 mph path of the umbra (shadow) of a total solar eclipse must have felt like an interminable time before the sun’s seemingly miraculous reappearance. The wonder of the eclipse is that the apparent size of the sun and the moon are nearly identical. This is caused by the fact that the sun’s diameter is 400 times greater than the moon’s and at the same time 400 times more distant.

Solar eclipse

… In partial eclipses, the planes of the orbits of the sun and moon are not  perfectly aligned, and the moon cuts into only a portion of the sun’s body, deforming it. Many peoples imagined an eclipse of the sun as a wounding or devouring of the solar principle by cosmic snake, jaguar, demon or dragon, forces of night, dark and chthonic; in China the ideogram for eclipse and eat (ch’u) are identical.

Comet: … The word comet derives from kometes, a Greek word meaning “the long-haired,” referring to the comet’s hairlike tail. In the Iliad, Achilles connects the feature with the comet’s supposed malevolence. “Like the red star from his flaming hair / Shakes down disease, pestilence and war.” And when Electra saw Troy going up in flames, she was said to have torn her hair out with grief and was then placed by the gods among the stars as a comet.

Ocean: … such are the correspondences between ocean and our psychic depths that the two might be visible and invisible forms of the same reality. [ … ] The undulations of our myriad intensities combine in ever-changing patterns reflected on our surfaces, just as the patterns of wave trains — “intermingling, overtaking, passing, or sometimes engulfing one another” [Rachel Carson] — are endlessly reconfigured over the face of the sea.

… just as the ocean can swallow whole our titanic ships, and jumbo jets, so our little vessels of human consciousness are liable to engulfment by the deepest waters of psyche.

River: … River is vital fluidity; the rivers move through both the upper world and the lower world, over ground and underground, inside and outside: rivers of fertility and prosperity, rivers of forgetting, rivers of binding oath, rivers of commerce, rivers of blood and rivers of water, rivers of rebirth, rivers of death, rivers of sorrow, all presided over in our mythic history by beneficent deities, dreadful nixies or changeable river spirits.

… Alongside the image of rebirth is the river crossing, an age-old symbol of crossing over to the other shore, the land of the dead. To die is to “cross over.” … Crossing is a transition and a metaphor for the possibility of traveling between the mind’s two shores, the conscious and familiar shore and the unconscious farther shore.

Lake/Pond: … At lake’s edge the earth is suddenly missing, gives way to another medium and appears again at the shore beyond. Hence our word “lacuna” is derived from “lac” or lake, and signifies something omitted or missing, a hiatus.

… Upon the surface of the lake’s reflective eye, the image of earth and sky are inverted at the water’s edge. The lake seems to say “as above, so below,” and turns its image of the world upside-down.

… Perhaps we think and dream so intimately next to the lake because it reflects us best as the most “body-like” of the bodies of water. Different from an ocean or a great river, the scale of a lake can be encompassed by the human imagination …

Whirlpool: … Many nautical myths combine the benign and violent aspects of the whirlpool, allowing the chaotic maelstrom (from Dutch for “whirling stream”) to function as ain initiation, and the center of the vortex to reveal a vision normally hidden from human perception.

Waterfall: … It has suggested the descent of the immutable into an ever-dividing stream that defies capture, cannot be contained, is eternal movement, eternal change, generating life and death. One can be broken in the tonnage of the waters: “Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and billows have gone over me,” cries the Psalmist to his god.

… The waterfall itself is an emblem of balance. Chinese landscape paintings portray the waterfall in contrast to the upward movement of the rock face over which it descends, and the dynamic movement of its rushing waters with the stillness of the rock.

Flood: … Floods are especially frightening because they intimate unpredictable forces of like nature within ourselves. Times of great stress and change, when consciousness can be submerged by flooding anxieties and affects. Incursions from the unconscious that can penetrate defenses and swamp a hard-pressed ego, uprooting its foothold in reality. Collective flooding where members of a group, caught up in waves on numinous emotions or ideas, lose touch with solidifying values.

… The waters have no form in themselves, but give birth to multiple forms, which, once separated from the source, are vulnerable to aging, change and decay and in time must be renewed thus the flood represents cosmic ablution and a new beginning.

Bubble: … The weightlessness of the bubble allows it to float freely in invisible currents of a gentle breeze, but its fragility soon causes it to burst and dissolve into mist.

Soap bubbles [image from Wikipedia]

In contrast, the archetypal symbol of bubble exists in the psyche beyond time and space. It constitutes an invisible reality imaged by mystics throughout the ages, a round nothingness that is paradoxically the primordial source of all.

The Local Bubble (click for larger)

… Like the circle or sphere, the globular roundness of the bubble connotes oneness, wholeness, totality, completion and spiritual perfection. The translucency of the bubble introduces, in addition, the numinosity, ethereality and spirituality associated with the celestial light of heaven.

Bubble nebula [image from Wikipedia]

And, not pictured, there are Super Bubbles! Previous post from the book of symbols is here.



The Particular Danger

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:36 am

… one should note the factor of danger … The particular danger … lies in the fateful category of arriving “too late,” of having “missed the opportunity.”

All of the following are from the writings of Walter Benjamin:

A writing child

The writing hand is suspended in the scaffolding of the lines like an athlete in the giddy-making wall-bars of the arena (or of the theater-flies). Mouse, hat, house, twig, bear, ice, and egg fill the arena — a pale, glacial audience. They watch their dangerous tricks.

Salto mortale of the s / Watch how the hand seeks the place on the page where it should make a start. The threshold before the realm of writing. When the child writes, its hand sets off on a journey. A long journey with pauses for it to spend the night. The letter disintegrates into pauses. Panic and paralysis of the hand. the pain of leaving the accustomed landscape of space, because from now on it may move only along the surface.

[ … ]

We wish to enjoy our rest when it is poured out for us from a jug that is painted in the most garish colors.

[ … ]

Effect and productiveness are incompatible. Dampness, closeness, vagueness in productiveness; dryness, outline, distance in effectiveness.

all written in 1928, 1929, and 1930

The next is about gambling. He could so easily be writing about photography … :

… Money and property, normally the most massive and cumbersome things, here come directly from the hands of fate, as if they were the caressing response to a perfect embrace. — Furthermore, one should note the factor of danger, which is the most important factor in gambling, alongside pleasure (the pleasure of betting on the right number). It arises not so much from the threat of losing as from that of not winning. The particular danger that threatens the gambler lies in the fateful category of arriving “too late,” of having “missed the opportunity.” We could learn something from this about the character of the gambler as a type. — Last, the best that has thus far been written about gambling focuses on the factor of acceleration, acceleration and danger. What Anatole France has said … in Le jardin of d’Epicure must be combined with what has been noted here: gambling generates by way of experiment the lightning-quick process of stimulation at the moment of danger, the marginal case in which presence of mind becomes divination — that is to say, one of the highest, rarest moments in life. — written in 1929 or 1930

I don’t agree with this last bit, below, but I’ve gotten so much enjoyment out of exploring how and why I don’t agree with it that I thought you might enjoy being likewise provoked to disagreeableness. Benjamin is comparing the (written) epic to the novel:

From the point of view of epic, existence is an ocean. Nothing is more epic than the sea. One can of course react to the sea in different ways — for example, lie on the beach, listen to the surf, and collect the shells that it washes up on the shore. This is what the epic writer does. You can also sail on the sea. For many purposes, or none at all. You can embark on a voyage and then, when you are far out, you can cruise with no land in sight, nothing but sea and sky. This is what the novelist does. He is the truly solitary, silent person. Epic man is simply resting. In epics, people rest after their day’s work; they listen, dream, and collect. The novelist has secluded himself from people and their activities. The birthplace of the novel is the individual in his isolation, the individual who can no longer speak of his concerns in exemplary fashion, who himself lacks counsel and can give none. To write a novel is to take that which is incommensurable in the representation of human existence to the extreme. Simply to think of the works of Homer and Dante is to sense what separates the novel from the genuine epic. The oral tradition, the stuff of epic, is different in kind from what forms the stock-in-trade of the novel. What distinguishes the novel from all other forms of prose — folktale, saga, proverb, comic tale — is that it neither originates in the oral tradition nor flows back into it. And this is what distinguishes it above all from storytelling, which in the prose tradition represents the epic form at its purest.

… In [the] autobiographical commentary to his latest novel, Gide develops the doctrine of the roman pur. With the greatest subtlety imaginable, he has set out to eliminate every straightforward, linear, paratactic narrative (every mainline epic characteristic) in favor of ingenious, purely novelistic (and in this context that also means Romantic) devices. The attitude of the characters to what is being narrated, the attitude of the author toward them and to his technique — all this must become a component of the novel itself. In short, this roman pur is actually pure interiority; it acknowledges no exterior, and is therefore the extreme opposite of the purely epic approach — which is narration. — from “The Crisis of the Novel” first published in Die Gesellschaft, 1930

My most recent previous post from Benjamin’s writings is here.



October 29, 2011

What May Yet Be Salvaged

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:50 am

… no one can penetrate the darkness in which organized murder takes place on all sides. At best, we see just a shadow of the worst.

Continuing to the end of September: A History Painting by Gerhard Richter by Robert Storr (2010):

… In Richter’s own life, the horrors [of war] came closest during the Allied bombing of Germany in which the virtual obliteration of Dresden stands out as one of the most horrifying examples prior to America’s “conventional” bombing of Tokyo in 1945 and its use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dresden was the city where his mother and father met and where he had been born, and it was the ruin to which he returned after the fighting stopped and he was ready to start his independent life.

… At the time of Dresden’s near obliteration, Kurt Vonnegut, who is of German extraction, was a twenty-three-year-old American prisoner of war under guard in “slaughterhouse-five,” near the heart of the city.

… As viewed through the eyes of his fictional alter ego, Billy Pilgrim, “the fire-bombing of Dresden” was, Vonnegut bluntly declared, “the greatest massacre of European history.”

[ … ]

Richter is vague or evasive when asked point-blank about the significance of [some] specific and presumably meaningful details in his [paintings to do with the war]. As essayist W.G. Sebald has noted in his reflections of post-war reticence about Allied bombing, On the Natural History of Destruction, such reactions are characteristic of a more general inhibition regarding the experience that originates in German society’s overall inability to come to terms with its war-time past. Virtually alone among artists of his generation Richter effectively broke that taboo in pictures, but he has nevertheless hesitated to do so in words.

… when asked why, during the 1960s, he painted American warplanes flying over Germany, Richter replied “But this painting — the American bomb[er] — was forbidden. You were not allowed to take it seriously. You could only take it as a joke.” When I replied, “You didn’t paint it as a joke,” Richter’s rejoinder was cagey but revealing

No, but I was satisfied that it was taken as such. I would have been embarrassed if it were too serious. It was not an accusation; I was never accusing the American. I never wanted to accuse anything, except maybe life and how shitty it is. But never . . . after all, they were right. Everything was fine (laughter).

For Richter, the dilemma of painting the war would seem to have hinged on wanting to register the enormity of the trauma he and his generation experienced without “taking sides” in a situation where he could not in good conscience do so. As a nation, Hitler’s Germany had brought about its own destruction, but as someone who at a distance felt the impact of the overwhelming counterforce unleashed upon his country, Richter could not stand apart from its fate, either. To make “Pop” pictures of B-29s unloading their deadly cargo was thus to “make a joke” of something that was tragic because the context of the period made it impossible to see tragedy in what seemed like just punishment in the eyes of those who had suffered the Nazi onslaught, even as it seemed like arbitrary retribution to the civilians on whom the bombs rained down. Richter was a less-than-innocent, less-than-guilty target among many other targets in a war quite literally carried on over their heads. In a contest between armies who routinely sacrifice noncombatants, the only honest option for someone less than innocent of, but less than guilty for the excesses of his or her homeland is to be a candid witness of what happens when, as Richter avers, life is “shitty” and violent death becomes the ineluctable centerpiece and mystery of existence.

However, for reasons that should by now be self-evident, bearing witness does not imply special access to the essential meaning of critical events. Nor does being in a position to see those events with one’s own eyes privilege the testimony of any individual, no matter where they stand in relation to the presumed center of the drama, since so many other eyes are trained on it from so many other uniquely revelatory positions. Logically, this observation is elementary, but as soon as discussion moves from the abstract to the concrete, agreement vanishes in the so-called “fog of war,” that atmosphere of crisis and ambiguity in which opposites confront each other only to lose their bearings, that moment of truth in which sharply defined antagonists begin to resemble each other in their confusion and desperation and truth vaporizes and indiscriminate death has the final word.

To say this is not to descend into moral relativism, despite what those who never doubt their own righteousness may claim. Richter’s unwillingness to accuse or excuse, his strict abstinence from special pleading, and his refusal to create false equivalences between what Germans did to others and what Allied bombers did to Germans is in fact a staunch moral position, one equivalent to Goya’s harrowingly impartial declaration in the Disasters of War, “I saw this.” But as Goya’s great indictment of the systematic terror perpetrated on the “benighted” Spaniards by the “enlightened” troops of Napoleon’s revolutionary army makes manifest, no one can penetrate the darkness in which organized murder takes place on all sides. At best, we see just a shadow of the worst.

Goya, Plate 41: They escape among the flames

Such ideological aberrations and the unforgivable cruelties they engender are a constant — arguably, the constant — of modernity, with bombing being zealotry’s most advanced and reliable technology (in the language of traditional anarchism, its “infernal engine” or, in that of the nuclear era, its “ultimate weapon”). Accordingly, Terror is the name of every excess committed for the sake of an abstraction as well as that of the barbarism prompted by intimate hatreds and allegiances, whether those acts are perpetrated by a State or by insurgents, by imperial armies or suicidal individuals, by bureaucrats or truck drivers, by the haves or the have-nots.

Returning to, and ending with, the painting that is the subject of this book:

… A focal point of thought that troubles the eye because of its small-scale, indeterminate depth of field, and lack of vanishing point, while troubling the mind by condensing every uncertainty, contradiction, and ambivalence the viewer brings to it, September commemorates the events of 9/11/01 as well as everything that led up to them and everything that has ensued since and might be called a consequence, by holding all in perpetual suspension and irresolvable tension.

To think about that day you have only to look and by looking immerse yourself in and become a part of that mantle of anxious ambiguity. By doing this, you will share it with those who still wonder what happened and why, those who cannot stop asking themselves what has been irrevocably changed or lost and what may yet be salvaged from the carnage and the confusion.

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




October 28, 2011

Ninety-Six Percent

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:29 pm

Current science does not understand ninety-six percent of what our universe consists of (dark matter and dark energy). Then there’s gravity

Even if you’re on a diet, that’s not enough. [I know I know you already knew this but still, sometimes I worry … ]



The Patience Proper To It

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:00 am

… It is we who are exposed, and it is therefore to us that we are exposed.

To us: to the upsurge of our existence, together, as the surging up of sense. To the upsurge of this, that the world is precisely what does not remain an inert weight, but what manifests itself as a restlessness.

This is from the last two chapters of Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative by Jean-Luc Nancy, translated by Jason Smith and Steven Miller (2002; originally published in 1997):

… To posit that being is in itself nothing is not to open an abyss in which speculative ideality would plunge the entirety of the real; to the contrary, it is to posit the thoroughgoing insufficiency of the self considered in itself — and even, in truth, the impossibility of considering the self for itself, of identifying it as a substance or subsistence, as an assurance or a certitude. The first negation is already freedom, but still only negatively indicated. If I penetrate this first truth, that neither the stone nor the ego has the value of simple being-there or of an identity (for example, my name, but also my self-image), this penetration is already liberation. And it is liberation of the grasping of this: that the self is not there, that it does not assume the form of being-given-there.

The second negation denies that the first is valid on its own: it negates pure nothingness, the abyss or lack. It is the positive liberation of becoming, of manifestation, and of desire. It is therefore self-affirmation. But as this liberating affirmation is not a return to the point of departure — to the stone or to me, which in turn was already only a derived given, a provisional deposit along the way and the fleeting instant of a presentation — it is also not a new, simple position. It is infinite negativity in and as act. I cannot say that the stone has become free just because it has moved from its position beside the path any more than I can say that I have become free just because I have recognized myself as different from my nominal or imaginary identity. Neither one nor the other has become free (as if freedom could be a result). But the stone in my slingshot, in the wall that I have built, or in the statue that a sculptor exhibits to us, indefinitely liberates itself from its exteriority, enters into a history and into multiple senses, and brings us along with it. The result is again a liberation — and that is what negativity means.

… One could say, summarily, that everything that can be formally exposed reduces itself to this: the decision is made between the self and the other. But only on the condition of adding: this means, between the given immediate and the non-given infinite. On the one hand, consequently, the self grasps itself, knows itself, and affirms itself as the whole content of its decision. On the other hand, it decides itself for the infinite recognition of and in the other. But it does not know this, for this is not a knowledge in its possession, and it cannot, nor should it, know itself as “good” — unless it relapses into a given identity, and into a moral imaginary.

Decision is the act of concrete singularity, and the becoming of liberation. Its knowing is only absolute knowing: absolutely concrete knowing, of everyone and no one, that absolutely negates the independence and consistency of all self-certainty. Knowing of restlessness, knowing without rest — but thus, and not otherwise, knowing.

[new chapter]

Hegel has often been read as if he exhibited the autodevelopment of an anonymous Subject or Reason, foreign to us, the big Other of an autistic Self that, moreover, would only be the fantasmatic correlate of the subject of a proprietary and securitary individualism: two subjects each the mirror for the other, each one as stupid and wretched as the other.

But the truth of a self-knowing that must be the knowing of manifestation, of the desire of the other, and of decision cannot be a truth that simply returns to itself. Truth must itself be the manifestation, the desire, and the becoming truth — or its sense. And in this way, truth comes back to us. It finds or happens upon itself as us, and it is to us that it is entrusted.

… “we” designates neither a corporation of philosophers not the point of view of a more elevated knowledge — and this, quite precisely, because this “we” is us, us all. If the moment of philosophy — of the knowing, the work, and the patience that are proper to it — must initially posit itself as a separate knowledge, as an abstract discipline of thought and as a book difficult to read, a book one will have to reread or whose reading will have to be effaced in order to penetrate the sense (but whose rereading, as a separate act, is never not indispensable to the experience of truth) — if this separation is therefore necessary, it is only so as to expose this: that it is indeed a matter of us, and that the truth or sense staged before us as “philosophy” only has sense and truth for us.

… It is we who are exposed, and it is therefore to us that we are exposed.

To us: to the upsurge of our existence, together, as the surging up of sense. To the upsurge of this, that the world is precisely what does not remain an inert weight, but what manifests itself as a restlessness. This restlessness is not only ours, it is itself “us” — that is, it is the singularity of singularities as such.

“We” is not something — neither object nor self — that the absolute would be near, as if the absolute were itself another thing or another self. On the contrary: that the absolute be or wants to be near us means that it is our “near us,” our just-between-us [entre-nous], the just-between-us of our manifestation, our becoming, and our desire.

The absolute is between us. It is there in itself and for itself, and, one might say, the self itself is between us. But “the self itself is unrest”: between us, nothing can be at rest, nothing is assured of presence or of being — and we pass each after the others as much as each into the others. Each with the others, each near the others; the near of the absolute is nothing other than our near each other.

We never stop losing the “fixity of self-positing.” And this unrest that we are and that we desire (even as consciousness believes it only wants its self and its objects) is where the proximity of the absolute finds, or happens upon, itself: neither possession, nor incorporation, but proximity as such, immanence and coincidence, like the beat of a rhythm. So beats the passage of sense: as the interval of time, between us, in the fleeting and rhythmic awakening of a discrete recognition of existence.

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




October 27, 2011

No Gloves, No Hat

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:26 am

… Light in its generalized sense (not just ordinary light) is the means by which the entire universe unfolds into itself.

This is from a “conversation with David Bohm [that] was conducted by Renée Weber” in 1986. I am finding it in The Essential David Bohm edited by Lee Nichol (2003). I join Bohm and Weber several pages into their dialogue:

Weber  You are assigning a creative and constructive role to imagination, whereas earlier you cautioned against its abuse.
Bohm  Coleridge has proposed two kinds of imagination, primary and secondary. The primary imagination is the direct expression of the creative intent within, what we may call the display in the mind. The imagination is an unfoldment of some deeper operation of the mind which is displayed as if coming from the senses, and you can grasp it as if looking at it directly as a whole.
Weber  It reveals.
Bohm  Yes. Reveal and display have much the same meaning here. But the secondary imagination arises when you keep on repeating an image from the primary display and it becomes automatic.
Weber  It becomes self-referring. It no longer reveals but becomes a fantasy.
Bohm  That’s exactly what Coleridge called it. He called it “fancy,” which is the same as fantasy.
Weber  Imagination, then, in the creative scientific sense, is our attempt to verbalize deep insights about nature.
Bohm  Or make a picture.
Weber  So you are arguing for imaginative models that would be multi-leveled, mutually supportive, and, most importantly, show their interconnectedness. That is not being done in physics?
Bohm  Well, they simply ignore it and say that it’s out of date. It doesn’t produce an empirical pay-off.
Weber  This model would produce only understanding!
Bohm  Yes. But they say, “What does it mean to understand unless you can predict something empirical?”
Weber  So they have equated understanding with empirical prediction and control and you are diverging from that. You are saying to understand means to grasp it clearly and to see it connected to everything else. Is that right?
Bohm  That’s right. Comprehension is the word. To comprehend, to hold it all together.

[ … ]

Weber  So it’s the self-organizing universe, and it makes clear that consciousness can’t be divorced from matter because it resides within it in some way.
Bohm  Yes, that’s right. The relationship of the super-implicate order to the implicate order is similar to the relationship of consciousness to matter as we know it. There is a kind of analogy.
Weber  The super-implicate order would be the conscious aspect and the implicate order would be the material aspect?
Bohm  The neuro-physiological aspect, which is still enfolded relative to what we ordinarily see.
Weber  So these pairs occur on many different levels.
Bohm  Yes, in fact there is a principle I once thought of, I called it “soma-significance,” instead of “psychosomatic.” The word psychosomatic emphasizes two entities, mind and soma (or body), but I want to emphasize two sides of one process. Any process can be treated either as somatic or as significant. A very elementary case is the printed paper: it’s somatic in that it’s just printed ink, and it also has significance. I say all along the line any part of the body or the body processes is somatic, it’s the nerves moving chemically and physically; and in addition it has a meaning which is active. The essential point about intelligence is the activity of significance, right? In computers, we have begun to imitate that to some extent. I am trying to say that all of nature is organized according to the activity of significance. This, however, can be conceived somatically in a more subtle form of matter which, in turn, is organized by a still more subtle form of significance. So in that way every level is both somatic and significant.
Weber  That is very much like Spinoza. Would you extend this all the way into the heart of matter to the atom and the sub-atomic particles?
Bohm  Yes, because what we call the atom is organized by the super or the quantum field of information, which gives it its significance.
Weber  Is the significance something that we impute to an otherwise neutral domain?
Bohm  No, the essential point is that if we merely imputed significance to it, it wouldn’t be active.

[ … ]

Weber  What you have been saying sounds like mysticism — that we are grounded in something infinite. How does it differ from what the great mystics have said?
Bohm  I don’t know that there’s necessarily any difference. What is mysticism? The word “mysticism” is based on the word “mystery,” implying something hidden. Perhaps the ordinary mode of consciousness which elaborately obscures its mode of functioning from itself and engages in self-deception might more appropriately be called “mysticism.” Or we could call it “obscurantism,” and say there’s an opposite mode that we could term “transparentism” (although I don’t really like the suffix “ism” in any form).
Weber  A transparence with respect to the whole.
Bohm  Yes, as opposed to obscuring the whole.
Weber  Kierkegaard had a wonderful phrase for that. He said true religion is “to be grounded transparently in the power that constitutes one.”
Bohm  Yes, that’s exactly what it would mean.
Weber  Speaking of mysticism, there is one important idea that I would like to discuss and understand and that is the idea of light. That is especially important to me because you are a physicist. Light has been used as the privileged metaphor in the language of mysticism and experimental religions, going back to the Greeks and the east. In all these, light is they symbol of our union with the divine. They talk about a light without shadow, an all-suffusing light, and it comes up as the central metaphor in near-death experiences. Do you have any hypothesis as to why light has been singled out as the privileged metaphor?
Bohm  If you want to relate it to modern physics (light and more generally anything moving at the speed of light, which is called the null-velocity, meaning null distance), the connection might be as follows. As an object approaches the speed of light, according to relativity, its internal space and time change so that the clocks slow down relative to other speeds, and the distance is shortened. You would find that the two ends of the light ray would have no time between them and no distance, so they would represent immediate contact. (This was pointed out by G.N. Lewis, a physical chemist, in the 1920s.) You could also say that from the point of view of present field theory, the fundamental fields are those of very high energy in which mass can be neglected, which would be essentially moving at the speed of light. Mass is a phenomenon of connecting light rays which go back and forth, sort of freezing them into a pattern.

So matter, as it were, is condensed or frozen light. Light is not merely electromagnetic waves but in a sense other kinds of waves that go at that speed. Therefore all matter is a condensation of light into patterns moving back and forth at average speeds which are less than the speed of light. Even Einstein had some hint of that idea. You could say that when we come to light we are coming to the fundamental activity in which existence has its ground, or at least coming close to it.

[ … ]

Weber  For the mystics there is always light. The primary clear light in the Tibetan Book of the Dead is the first thing the dying person is aware of. If he doesn’t move towards it or away from it or feel awe or fear or manipulate it in any way as if it were outside himself, then he merges with it and is liberated, enlightened. Christ says: “I am the light,” and so on. I’ve always asked myself, why light? You’re saying that from the point of view of a physicist, it has to do with the absence of speed and the closeness of contact.
Bohm  Light is what enfolds all the universe as well. For example, if you’re looking at this room, the whole room is enfolded into the light which enters the pupil of your eye and unfolds into the image and into your brain. Light in its generalized sense (not just ordinary light) is the means by which the entire universe unfolds into itself.
Weber  Is this a metaphor for you or an actual state?
Bohm  It’s an actuality. At least as far as physics is concerned.
Weber  Light is energy, of course.
Bohm  It’s energy and it’s also information — content, form and structure. It’s the potential of everything.
Weber  Physicists are not satisfied that they have understood light up to now because of the particle-wave paradox, right?
Bohm  Yes, I think that to understand light we’ll have to understand the structure underlying time and space more deeply. You can see that these issues are related in the sense that light transcends the present structure of time and space and we will never understand it properly in that present structure.
Weber  How would implicate order philosophy handle light?
Bohm  It could handle it more naturally, mathematically speaking, because it doesn’t commit itself to the idea of separate points in space; but it may say that the underlying reality is something which is not localized, and light is also something which is not localized. One view says that light moves from one place to another through a series of positions, and the other view says it doesn’t do that at all. Rather, light exists, it just simply is.
Weber  It is at all points?
Bohm  Points are defined by the intersections of different rays of light. That’s the way we actually do it in perception. We infer a point from the fact that many light rays are coming from it, say a star or any point. In this view, points would be understood as the intersection of many light rays. The light is fundamental, the null ray.

[ … ]

Weber  We say light is clarity, light illumines, light is energy, some mystics have said light is love, compassion, understanding, light can make whole or heal. If light is the background of everything, what would be its relationship to the foreground?
Bohm  Light is this background which is all one but its information content has the capacity for immense diversity. Light can carry information about the entire universe. The other point is that light, by interactions of different rays (as field theory in physics is investigating today), can produce particles and all the diverse structures of matter.
Weber  You’ve stressed information and that has to do with knowing the universe.
Bohm  A kind of knowing.
Weber  The other aspect would have to do with its being. Maybe there’s an undifferentiated realm of light and when it radiates itself as being as particles, those might be its “shadows” or finite expression.
Bohm  They are expressions but they are ripples on this vast ocean of light. This ocean of energy could be thought of as an ocean of light. But the information-content may be such as to predispose certain light rays to combine so that they move back and forth rather than moving straight ahead, and thus forming particles.
Weber  Are those ripples, those particles, the silhouette of that light?
Bohm  Implicit in the information-content of the light — you could say that. About silhouette, I don’t know. Something would have to throw the shadow. What is going to do that? The light, as it were, determines itself to make particles.
Weber  In order to do what?
Bohm  I don’t know. But we’re proposing that this allows for a richer universe.
Weber  To be consistent one might have to say that the light transforms aspects of itself into particles in order that those particles will reveal the light.
Bohm  That’s right, they will reveal the potential of the light in a new way. So the light and the particles together make a higher unity. Most physicists subtract off this infinity and say it doesn’t count and what’s left over are the particles, and they claim that these are all that count.
Weber  But you’re claiming that’s incorrect and shallow because it’s subtracting off the very thing in which these particles have their roots and being.
Bohm  That’s why I say present physics doesn’t understand it, it’s merely a system of computing and getting empirical results.
Weber  We’ve given light a cosmological, a physical, and a metaphysical interpretation. What about the psychological and spiritual interpretation? Why do people who tap into that realm of light feel a rare peace and happiness even though light is considered neutral and value-free in physics?
Bohm  The mind may have a structure similar to the universe, and in the underlying movement we call empty space there is actually a tremendous energy, a movement. The particular forms which appear in the mind may be analogous to the particles, and getting to the ground of the mind might be felt as light. The essential point is not that it’s light but rather this free, penetrating movement of the whole.

Bohm; no gloves, no hat




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:25 am

… Someone comes alone in these parts, no gloves, no hat. He opens the black box, Pandora’s box with all its gifts.

This is from The Parasite by Michel Serres (originally published in 1980):

… Given a black thing, an obscure process, or a confused cloud of signals — what we shall soon call a problem. We intervene to illuminate it, define it, reduce it to something simple. Someone comes alone in these parts, no gloves, no hat. He opens the black box, Pandora’s box with all its gifts. Attracted by such a source,* some others join the first, organize the work site, bringing light, equipment, documentation, increasing sophistication of means and the ever more complex organization of their group.

… The direct relation of the object and the problem slowly are erased in favor of the internal relations of the group. Collective idealism marks the very end of diminution. Elsewhere, once more, another without a hat . . .

[*Source means “light,” “river,” “source.” — Trans.]

[ … ]

… (I like the word apostasy, which, once rid of its ecclesiastical relations, really means “away from equilibrium”) …

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



October 26, 2011

Shillings and Pence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:50 am

“Every recognisable (postural) change enters into consciousness already charged with its relation to something that has gone before, just as on a taximeter the distance is presented to us already transformed into shillings and pence.” — Sir Henry Head

This is from Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology by F.C. Bartlett (1995; first published in 1932). The quote, above is taken from within Bartlett’s text:

… thinking, in the proper psychological sense, is never the mere reinstatement of some suitable past situation produced by a crossing of interests, but is the utilisation of the past in the solution of difficulties set by the present. Consequently it involves that amount of formulation which shows, at least in some degree, what is the nature of the relation between the instances used in the solution and the circumstances that set the problem. Obviously nobody ever thinks who has not been effectively challenged in some way, who has not got up against a difficulty. He merely acts automatically and habitually. Equally nobody ever thinks who, being challenged, merely sets up an image from some specific and more or less relevant situation, and then finds for himself a solution, without in any way formulating the relationship principle involved. For carrying out this formulation, for utilising the general qualitative and relational features of the situation to which reference is more or less openly made, words appear to be the only adequate instruments so far discovered or invented by man. Used in this way, they succeed just where we have seen that images tend most conspicuously to break down: [words] can name the general as well as describe the particular, and since they deal in formulated connexions they more openly bear their logic with them.

Thinking, if I am right, is biologically subsequent to the image-forming process. It is possible only when a way has been found of breaking up the ‘massed’ influence of past stimuli and situations, only when a device has already been discovered for conquering the sequential tyranny of past reactions. But though it is a later and a higher development, it does not supersede the method of images. It has its own drawbacks. Contrasted with imaging it loses something of vivacity, of vividness, of variety. Its prevailing instruments are words, and, not only because these are social, but also because in use they are necessarily strung out in sequence, they drop into habit reactions even more readily than images do. Their conventions are social, the same for all, and far less a matter of idiosyncrasy. In proportion as we lose touch with the image method we run greater and greater risk of being caught up in generalities that may have little to do with actual concrete experience. [On the other hand … ] If we fail to maintain the methods of thinking, we run the risk of becoming tied to individual instances and of being made sport of by the accidental circumstances belonging to these. Only in abnormal cases are such risks pushed to their extreme, for, just because images and the language processes of thinking are commonly combined, each method has taken over some of the peculiarities of the other, and images, as in what are often called the ‘generic’ kind, seem to be striving after some general significance and framework, while language often builds its links from case to case upon elaborate and detailed individual description. Broadly, each method, however closely the two are related, retains its own outstanding character. The image method remains the method of brilliant discovery, whereby realms organised by interests usually kept apart are brought together; the thought-word method remains the way of rationalisation and inference, whereby this connecting of the  hitherto unconnected is made clear and possible for all, and the results which follow are not merely exhibited, but demonstrated.

Lying in wait for both these processes is the common fate that may overtake all human effort: they may become mere habit. That very sequence and mass determination which they were developed to surmount may overwhelm them in the end. Then a man will take facility of images and variety of words to be satisfying things in themselves, and it may appear as if images and words are merely luxuries, to be enjoyed.



Irrelevancy Filters

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:49 am

…  the mechanism through which they achieve the storage of distributed representations presupposes a criterion of similarity … and similarity is a very problematic relation: two objects that are dissimilar to each other visually may be similar in their auditory, olfactory, or haptic properties. Even more problematic is the fact that any two entities may be similar to each other in an infinite number of perceptually irrelevant ways …

This is from Philosophy and Simulation: The Emergence of Synthetic Reason by Manuel De Landa (2011). The current chapter is “Neural Nets and Mammalian Memory.” I am starting where he’s describing how a computer program simulates face-recognition:

… As the neural net was trained it first subdivided this internal space of possibilities into two regions, one corresponding to faces and the other to non-faces. Further training led the neural net to partition the face region into two subregions, one for female the other for male faces, which were then further subdivided into even smaller regions for individual faces. The “center” of each region corresponded to a prototype — the easiest to recognize faces in the training input or the easiest to recognize views of an individual face — while the borders between regions corresponded to ambiguous inputs, such as pictures in which the content could not be determined to be a face, or in which a face was displayed in such a way that it was impossible to decide whether it belonged to a male or a female. This simulation provides a powerful insight into how an objective category can be captured without using any linguistic resources. The secret is the mapping of relations of similarity into relations of proximity in the possibility space of activation patterns of the hidden layer. That is, objects that resemble each other become neighboring points in the internal possibility space, and vice versa, objects with a high degree of dissimilarity (faces and non-faces) end up as points that are far away from each other in the space of possible activation patterns.

… Current simulations of human episodic memory use propositions, the meaning of sentences that express (truly or falsely) facts about the world. Propositions are used as component parts of more complex wholes called scripts, structured representations capturing the regularities of routine situations. Scripts can be used, for example, to represent the regularities in activities like going to a restaurant. The space of possible actions in restaurant scenes has a structure — with some actions being causal preconditions for the occurrence of others — a structure that allows us to make inferences like “If the customer does not know what food is available she must ask for the menu” or “If the customer is finished eating he must pay the check.”

… the real problem [with computer modeling] is not so much the kind of information used as sensory input as the fact that [the particular model called] Discern is entirely without the resources needed to distinguish what is relevant in an image for the purpose of assigning perceived objects to the roles of agent and patient, or to understand the connection between a cause and its effect.

… When simulated agents are modeled without a body they are treated as smart planners but dumb executioners, planning everything in their heads prior to performing an action. When they are simulated without situating them in space they are treated as if they had no information about their immediate surroundings. This information is referred to as indexical knowledge. Knowledge about an external object’s position, for example, can be expressed indexically, the object is in front of the agent and to its left, or in a context-independent form by giving its latitude and longitude. While indexical knowledge comes from an agent’s situated point of view — a ground-level view of reality, as it were — the source of context-independent knowledge in simulations is the godlike aerial point of view of the designer. In the particular case of scripts indexical knowledge is necessary because at the lowest level of the taxonomy there are specific roles that must be bound to their incumbents, the incumbents being in most cases entities known only indexically. A possible obstacle in this regard is that neural nets are not good at solving binding problems, whether the problem is binding pronouns to proper names in a linguistic context, variables to their values in a mathematical context, or roles to their incumbents in a scene-analysis problem. One way of overcoming this limitation is suggested by the experimental observation that groups of neurons in real brains, each of which extracts different features from the same object, tend to fire in synchrony with one another when perceiving that object. In other words, temporal simultaneity in the firing behavior of neurons can act as a dynamic binder. This insight has already been successfully exploited in some modular neural net designs that perform script-like inferences.

Even though we are still far from understanding how avian and  mammalian memory and perception work the ideas we have derived from simulations suggest that the key ingredient in the explanation of those capacities continues to be the extraction of prototypes from sensory exposure and the “storage” of those prototypes in the form of distributed representations. In the case of scene analysis the prototypes must be extracted not only from similarities in the spatial configuration of the defining features of sensed objects but also from patterns in their temporal behavior, such as the regular co-occurence of linear causes and their effects. The more enduring form of memory needed for autobiographical recollections, in turn, must be implemented through the use of self-organizing maps or similar designs in which the number of dimensions of the map is not fixed in advance. Finally, we must provide these neural nets with the necessary irrelevancy filters with which evolution supplies embodied animals. These are particularly necessary for the operation of self-organizing maps because the mechanism through which they achieve the storage of distributed representations presupposes a criterion of similarity provided exogenously, and similarity is a very problematic relation: two objects that are dissimilar to each other visually may be similar in their auditory, olfactory, or haptic properties. Even more problematic is the fact that any two entities may be similar to each other in an infinite number of perceptually irrelevant ways: in being inhabitants of planet Earth, for instance, or in moving slower than the speed of light. Evolution has filtered out many irrelevant dimensions of similarity from the neural machinery used by animal brains but disembodied neural nets do not have access to these automatic filters.

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



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