Unreal Nature

February 29, 2012

Forty-One and Forty-Two

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 12:31 pm

book 1, proposition 41

book 1, proposition 42

See previous propositions here.




Crab’s Progress

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:42 am

… I am seeking a way, without getting there, to say that there is a speech in which things, not showing themselves, do not hide.

… a turning that, at the moment when it is about to emerge, makes the work pitch strangely.

… so that, outside speech, outside language, the movement of writing may come, under the attraction of the outside.

This is from The Infinite Conversation by Maurice Blanchot (1993; originally published in 1969):

” …

— And yet we do not see everything.

— This is sight’s wisdom, though we never see only one thing, even two or several, but a whole: every view is a general view. It is still true that sight holds us within the limits of a horizon. Perception is a wisdom rooted in the ground and standing fixed in the direction of the opening; it is of the land, in the proper sense of the term: planted in the earth and forming a link between the immobile boundary and the apparently boundless horizon — a firm pact from which comes peace. For sight, speech is war and madness. The terrifying word passes over every limit and even the limitlessness of the whole: it seizes the thing from a direction from which it is not taken, not seen, and will never be seen; it transgresses laws, breaks away from orientation, it disorients.

— There is a facility in this liberty. Language acts as though we were able to see the thing from all sides.

— And then begins perversion. Speech no longer presents itself as speech, but as sight freed from the limitations of sight. Not a way of saying, but a transcendent way of seeing. The ‘idea,’ at first a privileged aspect, becomes the privilege of what remains under a perspective to which it is tributary. The novelist lifts up the rooftops and gives his characters over to a penetrating gaze. His error is to take language as not just another vision, but as an absolute one.

— Do you want us not to speak, as we see?

— I would want, at least, that we not give ourselves in language a view that is surreptitiously corrected, hypocritically extended, deceiving.

— We should choose then: speech, sight. A difficult choice, and perhaps unjust. Why should the thing be separated into the thing seen and the thing said (written)?

— An amalgam, in any case, will not remedy the split. To see, perhaps, is to forget to speak; and to speak is to draw from the depths of speech an inexhaustible forgetfulness. Let me add that we do not await just any language, but the one in which ‘error‘ speaks: the speech of detour.

— An unsettling speech.

— A differing speech, one that carries here and there, itself deferring speech.

— Obscure speech.

— Clear speech, if the word clarity, being the property not of visible but of audible things, does not yet have a relation to light. Clarity is the exigent claim of what makes itself clearly heard in the space of resonance.

— Hardly speech, it discloses nothing.

— Everything in it is disclosed without disclosing anything.

— That is nothing but a formula.

— Yes, and not too sure. I am seeking a way, without getting there, to say that there is a speech in which things, not showing themselves, do not hide. Neither veiled nor unveiled: this is their non-truth.

[ … ]

— So here again is the peculiarity of that turning toward … which is detour. Whoever would advance must turn aside. This makes for a curious kind of crab’s progress. Would it also be the movement of seeking?

— All research is crisis. What is sought is nothing other than the turn of seeking, of research, that occasions this crisis: the critical turn.

— This is hopelessly abstract.

— Why? I would even say that every important literary work is important to the extent that it puts more directly and more purely to work the meaning of this turn; a turning that, at the moment when it is about to emerge, makes the work pitch strangely. This is a work in which worklessness, as its always decentered center, holds sway: the absence of work.

— The absence of work that is the other name for madness.

— The absence of work in which discourse ceases so that, outside speech, outside language, the movement of writing may come, under the attraction of the outside.”

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



Turn a Butterfly

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:41 am

… It depends, of course, what one thinks is a sound, a fact, a soul and how one might search for each.

This is from Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts by Douglas Kahn (1999):

Cage had opened up so much that very little, in a modernist rhetoric of liberation, was left to be set free: “Every young artist tried to define himself/herself as going past Cage but this was very difficult because the Cagean revolution was very thorough,” recalls composer James Tenney. Filmmaker Stan Brakhage stated the problem in a different way: “Cage has laid down the greatest aesthetic net of this century. Only those who honestly encounter it (understand it also to the point of being able, while chafing at its bits, to call it ‘marvelous’) and manage to survive (i.e., go beyond it) will be the artists of our contemporary present.” Tenney also said that “Cage created a situation where we don’t have to kill the father anymore,” although what was Nam June Paik doing during his performance piece Étude for Pianoforte when he ran into the audience to cut off Cage’s tie? The great aesthetic net of Cage proved to be both a safety device over which daredevil experimental feats could be attempted and also an obstacle preventing individuals from grounding themselves in something beyond-Cage.

Conrad, Young, and others turned up the volume to hear inside musical sounds and establish a common space of auditive being for both the musicians and the audience. Indeed, despite a philosophy founded on the shift of utterance to audition, from musical composition to musical listening, Cage’s use of amplification to introduce small sounds into musical materiality conforms more readily to a musical logic of utterance than does Conrad’s stress on very close listening. Perhaps this is why Conrad still had room to say that a “route out of the modernist crisis was to move away from composing to LISTENING” while being in such close vicinity to Cage.

… What would soon become evident is that a sound is in fact many sounds, arising from both acoustical and psychoacoustical vicissitudes, creating their own variations and modulations of time, and, given time, evolving their own organization often richer than any given musical structure through which they might be directed. This then is another passage through a Cagean mandate. By setting up a situation more faithful to hearing a sound in itself than Cage himself, it becomes evident that there could be no such thing as a sound. Any sound, once it has time to be heard, is plural.

… Audibility, for those who wonder, is usually the absolute minimum required for music to exist. Jean-Jacques Nattiez has written, for example, that “we can … allow (without too much soul-searching) that sound is a minimal condition of the musical fact.” It depends, of course, what one thinks is a sound, a fact, a soul and how one might search for each. What if an action presented within a musical setting produces both barely audible and inaudible sounds? La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 # 2, “which consists of simply building a [small] fire in front of the audience,” does precisely this. Would the fact of audible sound cease to exist when the action that produced it continued without interruption? Would what one thought and interpolated at this brink of audibility come into play with the music, or would music reside intracranially, going in and out of existence depending on the fluctuations of acoustics, physiology and cognition? Young’s Composition 1960 #5 pushes the question further, pursuing it over the edge of plausible audibility:

Turn a butterfly (or any number of butterflies) loose in the performance area.

When the composition is over, be sure to allow the butterfly to fly away outside.

The composition may be any length, but if an unlimited amount of time is available, the doors and windows may be opened before the butterfly is turned loose and the composition may be considered finished when the butterfly flies away.

… It did not occur to Young to busy himself microphonically, as Cage suggested, let alone to confront the problems presented by the butterfly’s fragility and mobility, although the plausibility of sound would suggest a recourse to technology was not out of the question.

But what if the first reflex were toward a poetical disposition (which might include a poetical disposition toward technology), where inaudibility was embraced, not denied, and remedied through the promise of technology? Take, for example, Yoko Ono’s word score TAPE PIECE III/ Snow Piece (1963):

Take a tape of the sound of snow
This should be done in the evening.
Do not listen to the tape.
Cut it and use it as strings to tie
gifts with.
Make a gift wrapper, if you wish, using
the same process with a phonosheet.

… “I think of my music more as a practice (gyo) than a music. The only sound that exists to me is the sound of the mind. My works are only to induce music of the mind in people.” [Yoko Ono]

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



February 28, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:42 am

… The inferences we make about causal situations come from the metaphorical structure of our causation concepts. You cannot grasp the meaning of the causal terms, nor can you do appropriate causal reasoning, without the metaphors.

…  correspondence is mediated by embodied understanding of both the sentence and the situation.

This is from an essay, ‘Philosophy’s Debt to Metaphor’ by Mark Johnson in The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought edited by Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. (2008):

… The history of western philosophy is, for the most part, one long development of the objectivist dismissal of metaphor, punctuated rarely by bold declarations of the pervasiveness of metaphor in thought, of which Nietzsche is the most famous proponent. Where a philosopher stands on this key issue can be determined by their answer to one question: are our abstract concepts defined by metaphor, or not? Once the question is formulated in this manner, it is easy to see the profound philosophical stakes at issue. If our most fundamental abstract concepts — such as those for causation, events, will, thought, reason, knowledge, mind, justice, and rights — are irreducibly metaphoric, then philosophy must consist in analysis, criticism, and elaboration of the metaphorical concepts out of which philosophies are made.

… Anyone who thinks that there is really nothing very important at stake here should consider the following. There are a number or perennial philosophical questions that arise over and over again throughout history any time you reflect on the nature of human experience. These are questions such as What is mind, and how does it work? What does it mean to be a person? Is there such a thing as human will, and is it free? What is the nature of reality? What can I know, and how can I go about gaining that knowledge? What things or states are “good” and should therefore be pursued? Are certain actions morally required of us? Does God exist (and what difference would it make)? Is there any meaning to human existence, or is life absurd? Both the framing of these questions and the kinds of answers we give to them depend on metaphor. You cannot address any of these questions without engaging metaphor.

… I will examine one key concept — causation — to indicate its metaphorical constitution, and I will point to research suggesting that we use metaphors to define all of our abstract concepts and thus all of our philosophical concepts.

… In one philosophical treatise after another, I was struck by how philosophers referred to “causes” as if they were objective forces or entities and as if there existed basically one kind of natural causation (as revealed in expressions such as “X caused Y” and “The cause of Y is X”). In an attempt to explain human actions, many philosophers also spoke of “agent causality,” in order to carve out a space for human “willing,” but in physical nature, natural causes ruled the day. So, there seemed to be at least one type of cause (i.e. physical) but not more than two types (adding agent causation to physical causation), and both conceptions were thought to be literal, not metaphorical. Causes were alleged to be literal entities or forces in the world.

… The location event-structure metaphor comprises a vast complex system of several submappings, each of which is what Grady calls a “primary” metaphor. In English, the semantics of our terms for events is given by the detailed structure of the mapping. Each submapping supports a large number of expressions whose dependence on metaphor goes largely unnoticed in our ordinary discourse. For example the submapping Change of State Is Movement underlies expressions such as “The water went from hot to cold,” “The system is moving toward homeostasis,” and “The pizza is somewhere between warm and cold.” Causation Is Forced Movement is evident in “The fire brought the soup to a boil,” “His treachery pushed the King over the edge,” “The candidate’s speech threw the crowd into a frenzy.”

… The inferences we make about causal situations come from the metaphorical structure of our causation concepts. You cannot grasp the meaning of the causal terms, nor can you do appropriate causal reasoning, without the metaphors.

… The submapping Causation Is Transfer Of Possession is evident in expressions such as “Professor Johnson’s lecture on causation gave me a headache, but the aspirin  took it away,” “Mary gave her cold to Janice,” and “Janice caught Mary’s cold.” Moreover, even our common philosophical notion of a “property” is based on this metaphorical mapping. What does it mean for an object to “possess” a property? When something has a property, it is in a certain state (defined by that property). When something loses that property, it no longer manifests the features appropriate to that property.

… In the social sciences … there are a number of quite specific metaphors that can be used for the types of causal explanation appropriate for the science of those fields. One especially common case is the causal path metaphor.

… Millions of dollars and sometimes even the lives of citizens are sacrificed to supposedly ensure the smooth unrestricted motion of some metaphorical entity (a country, an economy, or a political institution) along a metaphorical causal path to a metaphorically defined destination.

[ … ]

… According to objectivist metaphysics and theory of knowledge, the world consists of objects, properties, and relations that exist in themselves, independent of human conceptual systems and human agency. Meaning is a matter of how our concepts map onto or pick out aspects of this mind-independent objective reality. Literal concepts are the direct connection between what we think (or what’s in our mind) and how the world is, and this connection (sometimes called “intentionality”) is the basis for the possibility of truth, which is taken to be a correspondence relation between propositions and states of affairs in the world. There cannot be any significant role for metaphor in this picture of mind and world because the cognitive content of a metaphor would need to be reducible to some set of literal concepts or propositions, if it is to have any meaning and play a role in truth claims.

Quite obviously, if conceptual metaphor is essential for abstract thought, then the classic objectivist/literalist picture cannot be correct. Conceptual metaphor is a structure of human understanding, and the source domains of the metaphors come from our bodily, sensory-motor experience, which becomes the basis for abstract conceptualization and reasoning. From this perspective, truth is a matter of how our body-based understanding of a sentence fits, or fails to fit, our body-based understanding of a situation. And when we are thinking with abstract concepts, that understanding involves conceptual metaphor. There is a form of “correspondence” here — a fitting of our understanding of a situation. But this is not the classic correspondence of literal propositions to objective states of affairs in the world. Instead, the correspondence is mediated by embodied understanding of both the sentence and the situation.

… Virtually all of our abstract concepts appear to be structured by multiple, typically inconsistent conceptual metaphors. If this is true, then philosophical theories are not systems of foundational literal truths about reality but rather elaborations of particular complex intertwining sets of metaphors that support inferences and forms of reasoning. Humanizing and embodying philosophy in this manner does not devalue it in any way. On the contrary, it reveals why we have the philosophies we do, explains why and how they can make sense of our experience, and traces out their implications for our lives.

All theories are based on metaphors because all our abstract concepts are metaphorically defined. Understanding the constitutive metaphors allows you to grasp the logic and entailments of the theory.

… Even the theories of metaphor themselves must be analyzed. The theory of conceptual metaphor, for example, employs metaphors of “mapping” and “projection” to conceptualize the nature of metaphor itself. Such a conceptualization could never be absolute — could never tell the whole story or cover all the data — and so we must always be self-reflectively aware of our own metaphorical assumptions and their limitations.

… If you acknowledge conceptual metaphor, then you have to give up literalism. If you give up literalism, you must abandon objectivist theories of knowledge. If you reject objectivist metaphysics and epistemology, you must abandon the classical correspondence theory of truth. Eventually, you will have to rethink even your most basic conception of what cognition consists in.

… We need not be slaves operating blindly under the harsh influence of our metaphors. We can learn what our founding metaphors are and how they work. We can analyze the metaphors underlying other cultures and philosophical systems, too. Our ability to do this type of analysis is, admittedly, always itself shaped by metaphorical conceptions of which we are hardly ever aware. However, we can become aware of those metaphors, we can subject them to critical evaluation, and we can creatively elaborate them in developing new philosophies to help us deal with the problems that confront us in our daily lives.

My previous post from this collection of essays is here.




February 27, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:13 am

This is the second verse of:

The Argonauts
by Frank O’Hara

[ … ]

A skinny Christ, diffident
and extremely relaxed, leans
lightly into the rose window of
the future, and looks away.

[ … ]



From Imitation to Analysis

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:12 am

… This gives to studio painting its probing, forward lean. It is a matter of discovery, not demonstration.

…  [There] were men who were not interested in studying the world that was being imitated  … but rather the real things, small and never before observed, whose tracks were visible in the condensation produced there …

This is from The Vexations of Art: Velázquez and Others by Svetlana Alpers (2005). She is considering the artist in the studio. In this first chapter, I’m skimming very lightly to the part at the end that particularly interests me:

… Let us begin with a baseline case. A person alone in an empty room or light-box. It is somewhat darker in the room than in the world outside. Light is let in through several holes in the walls. Curious though it seems, the person has withdrawn from the world for the purpose of attending better to it. In this case, since the interior is empty, he withdraws to attend to the effect of the play of light.

… The studio serves as a place to conduct experiments with light not possible in the diffused universal light or the direct solar light of the world outside. Studio light is light constrained in various ways. And it is also the light the artist is situated in.

… There is a wildness about light in Vermeer. It provides the drama in his pictures. Vermeer’s people exist between the play of light that is the agent of visibility in the world and the erasure that threatens when, without it, they fall into shadow. Light is not assumed by Vermeer, it is studied.

… Still-life objects are depicted as if at arm’s length and approximately life-size. The distance from what the artist paints is a reality of the studio. Maybe studio-size is a more accurate description than life-size. The studio is a place where things are introduced in the interest of being experienced by the painter.

[D.W.] Winnocott coined the term [“me-not-me”, “transitional objects”] to describe the means by which an infant creates its first links with the world. Under studio conditions pictorial ambiguity is not only a resource of the medium, it becomes a matter of artistic investigation. This gives to studio painting its probing, forward lean. It is a matter of discovery, not demonstration.

It is in connection to figuring our earliest consciousness of and relationship to the world that a certain line of studio paintings dwells on objects whose status or nature remains unresolved and hence disturbing. Beyond a huge, foregrounded paint box and palette with protruding brushes in Degas’s Portrait of an Artist and Lay Figure, a Degas look-alike withdraws into a corner dejected after his labors, paintings to either side.

… Cézanne’s Still Life with Plaster Cast of Amor proposes another vertiginous experience of studio as world.

… We have described Cézanne’s studio as a change from the experience of a motif before the artist to a motif experienced as if in or of the artist’s mind.

Although there is agreement that Cézanne’s painting gives a new look to things, this has proved difficult to justify. Remarkably, there is a report of experimental laboratory practice that, in its form and in its content, can be of help.

… The story, elegantly told by the  historian of science Peter Galison, is how an instrument or chamber designed to reproduce clouds came to be useful instead to detect sub-atomic particles. Put too simply, the nature photographer and physics meteorologist C.T.R. Wilson built the cloud chamber in order to reproduce atmospheric phenomena of the real world in the laboratory: his hypothesis was that condensation nuclei were electrical ions. In its condensation of artificial clouds, his experimental apparatus imitated nature. But working beside Wilson at the Cavendish laboratory were men who were not interested in studying the world that was being imitated within the chamber — clouds — but rather the real things, small and never before observed, whose tracks were visible in the condensation produced there — sub-atomic particles. Galison describes the transformation of the meteorologist’s cloud chamber into the physicist’s bubble chamber as a change from mimetic to analytic experimentation — from experimentation that mimics nature to one that takes nature apart. Stated succinctly (and paradoxically) in terms of what was being made and observed, it was a change from artificial clouds to real particles. Though he persisted in his meteorological observations, Wilson was awarded a Nobel price in 1927 for his work in physics. His work highlights, by straddling, the difference between imitation and analysis.

The scientific terms can be adapted to describe Cézanne’s pictorial innovations: from attending to an imitative landscape to attending to real particles of things.

… The change from the mimetic to the analytic use of the cloud chamber is a sharper way of saying that studio representation is construed differently or pitched at a different level than it had been before. And the paradox in the scientists’ changing use of the chamber from imitating clouds (what Galison refers to as a camera nebulosa) to tracking particles might also be said to have obtained in the studio of a painter. Having begun as a light-box making images of things, the studio becomes, like the mind, tracking basic connections in matter. Cézanne, like Wilson in this, straddled the two. Many attempts have been made to explain what is depicted in the array of marks in a painting by Cézanne. But it is safe to say that whatever they depict they register the activity of the mind. This is confirmed in the frequency with which words evoking it — mind, brain, spirit, thought — come to him when he talks of his painting with Gasquet:

The landscape reflects on itself, is humanized, thinks itself in me. I objectify it, project it, fix it on my canvas.

A new basis for the study of landscape in the studio had been invented.

The tale of experimental Cambridge has a larger interest. It emphasizes the role of experimenters in establishing the character of an instrument (the chamber) and the effects produced with it. Every instrument produces artifacts or effects that are intrinsic to its construction. But the nature of an instrument and the interpretation of the artifacts produced by it are also subject to human manipulation and interpretation. The lens or glass and the camera obscura are among the most familiar instruments that were used by experimenters in natural knowledge and artists alike. But encouraged by the evocation of the chamber in Cambridge (and admittedly charmed by the metaphoric affinity between chamber and studio), we might define the studio itself as such an experimental instrument. Perhaps it is here, in the uses of an experimental instrument, that there is a fruitful analogy between the artist and the experimenter, between painting and experimenting.



February 26, 2012

Imagining Itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:08 am

… as we see into images of both deep space and the brain, we also see psyche imagining itself.

Continuing through The Book of Symbols, eds. Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin (2010):

Bone: … Since human and animal flesh decays rather quickly after death, leaving the bones behind, bone is a tangible reminder of the loss of life and at the same time alludes to something substantive that transcends the death of the bodily flesh.

… Classical cultures identified the marrow of thigh bones, the fluids of brain, spine and knee, the sticky stuff of the viscera next to bones, with the dew of life, strength and generation, analogous to the sap of plants in the pulp, around the seed case. The Latin os, bone, refers not only to the substance of the skeleton, but metaphorically to one’s inmost part, one’s soul, or the hard or innermost part of trees or fruits; their seed or stone or “heart.”

Spine: … The word “spine” comes from the botanical word meaning “thorn” or “prickle.” Each individual vertebra has a dorsal projection called a spine and at the same time the heartwood (duramen) of a tree, like a backbone as a whole, is also known as its spine. One of the most important symbols to the ancient Egyptians was the djed pillar, which suggests both tree and spine.

… According to Eric Neumann, the many meanings of the djed column symbolize essential features of the principle of integration that leads to “duration,” “transformation” and the “ascent” from mere biology to consciousness. Sacred poles (and in the human body, the backbone) unite symbolically what is below with what is above, earth with heaven — or the ego with the realm of archetypes.

Skin: … is a responsive, tactile boundary between self and other, and the inside and outside of the individual. Vital to survival, skin is the geography where two can meet.

… skin is a canvas on which to portray symbolic elaborations of social standing and personal identity … In the Inuit imagination, one could encounter an animal that pulled back its skin to reveal a human, or a human that pulled back its skin to reveal an animal — such was the shifting, fluid nature of the psychic landscape and its interconnections.

Head: … Throughout human history the head has been hunted, preserved, venerated, offered as sacrifice and even eaten. The uppermost part of the body, it contains the brain, eyes, ears, nose and mouth, all essential elements of human awareness, inspiration and expression. Most ancient peoples located soul, vitality, power and daimon or genius (divine spirit) in the head. Heads are universally believed to contain the essential spirit of a person or deity.

… Only recently in the scientific age has the head come to represent reason and mind; ancient peoples considered these to reside in the heart and chest, while the head contained psyche, fertile essence and incorruptible life. Symbolically, the ancient view still holds true in the unconscious of modern individuals. Round and simple at the beginning of life, transformed into a differentiated mandala at the end and beyond, the head symbolizes the vessel and substance of life’s eternal re-creations.

Brain: … It is only recently that the brain was recognized as the locus of consciousness. For the ancients, the abode of thought and feeling was imagined to be, variously, in the heart, chest or liver.

Anne Thulin, Dura Mater and Pia Mater (Hard Mother and Soft Mother), sculptures in iron and rubber, 1999

… Subject to both brainwashing and brainstorming, our imagination about the brain is informed as much by our fantasies about our essential natures, as by scientific and technological innovation. As the terrae incognitae of the universe and the brain open to exploration, it is worth noting that as we see into images of both deep space and the brain, we also see psyche imagining itself.

Hair: … is incredibly potent. Its root follicles, fed by tiny blood vessels, lie invisibly under the skin, associating hair with interior, involuntary fantasies, thoughts and longings. … Hair carries DNA and thus codes race, ethnicity and gender, but the cut or characteristics of a head of hair can also reveal individuality or conformity, freedom or inhibition, even religion, profession, political persuasion and the idols or trendsetters with whom a person identifies.

Baldness: … The notion of inner change is crucial to the symbolic meaning of baldness. To have one’s head ritually shaved conveys the idea of consecration, initiation and spiritual transformation.

… The symbolic strength of baldness is, perhaps, precisely because it expresses the surface of the head — the brainpan and vessel of understanding and potential change, the container of one’s intimate thoughts and imaginings. While baldness is associated symbolically with receptivity to the spiritual and with new life, it also evokes psychic as well as physical nakedness and acute vulnerability. The inevitability of change may require one to submit to a state of baldness, where images of beginning and end, masculine and feminine, nature and spirit lose their sharp distinctions.

Previous symbols are here.



Land Marks

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:07 am

… as a place to rest, the open field seems the most anxiety producing. …

… a livable space … = a space with landmarks …

Continuing through The Neutral by Roland Barthes (1978). This book is a taken from Barthes’s written notes to the course that he gave at the Collège de France over thirteen weeks from February to June of 1978:

… Hesitation (indecision) can be a discourse (the discourse of the “I hesitate”) and as such a “screen” or rather a “noise,” through which something is being said by the subject, unknowingly or knowingly but unacknowledgedly, little matter = a music, a symphony: it allows for all the themes of the possible to resonate in a vast and long exposition, but in fact there is already a chosen theme (a decision toward which the subject secretly leans), which after a certain period of entanglement, goes tilt, rings like the truth of desire: the subject deceptively undecided (is there any other kind?) bears a great responsibility toward himself: he must ceaselessly lend his ears, listen, guess the decisive theme → there is a difficult management of hesitation that is not (only) a pathos (object of pathology) but (also) an economy, a “praxeology.”

This next is working under the Heading > Subheading of Retreat > Organization:

3. Sitio

All this: organization of the interior space. But another problem or at least another theme: the choice of the place where it feels good to stay, to lock oneself up, where one “feels good.”

1. Decision concerning place: left completely to chance. Probably, many literary examples of travelers stopping in a place, feeling good there and staying + quantity of myths concerning abode, retreat, foundation (of town) designated, assigned by God. …

2. Chance (or God) = marker. What if there were no marker? If the subject had to accommodate himself to a space, to a landscape, to an absolutely undifferentiated horizon, with no possibility of marking? It is, quite simply, anxiety, at least as demonstrated by experiments on  mice: emotional reactions of the white mouse mus musculus: (micturition, body care) = anxious reactions in a circular arena, enclosure stripped of topographical landmarks = open-field = maximum anxiety → diminution of anxiety → square enclosure → labyrinth with four corridors (labyrinths = “devices stripped of all  hidden mechanism, constructed in such a way that to master them it is enough to discover and to choose the shortest path toward a goal whose position doesn’t vary” — (Introduction to the study of animal behavior, Nathan, 1977) → enclosure in T shape → labyrinth in Y shape. Notice this: at least for the animal, anxiety doesn’t arise from having to choose between two paths (labyrinth in Y shape, Buridan’s ass, double bind), but from having all the paths and thus no “path” open before one: virgin space of the open field → all that remains to be seen: but, in any case, as a place to rest, the open field seems the most anxiety producing. …

3. Sitio → therefore: search for the topical place (it’s the right adjective) = absolutely specific, where I feel good: which can depend on infinitesimal variations:

Animals: cats looking for a place to sleep: meticulously, it is a question of a few centimeters = ethological concept of the preferandum: in a biotope, stereotype of spatial localization: an animal preferring one place (for example, temperature) and avoiding others → men: homey idea of “corner” = “the point of comfort” …

… has to do with the sense, always described as mysterious, of orientation → one would need to make an inventory of magical, parapsychological, ethological myths inspired by it. Countless anecdotes: orientation: like a search for the true place = for the “good” place → = an extremely general form, a movement with various contents: can go from geography to sociology (politics). Example: Bali (Bateson), example of very rigid society = markedly dependent on spatial orientation. To do no matter what, first situate the cardinal points; if a Balinese is taken by motor car over twisting roads, loses his sense of direction = is severely disoriented, becomes unable to act: a dancer may become unable to dance. Now (this is what is interesting), same necessity for vertical orientation, social hierarchy, and he might even be paralyzed if it is disturbed: the Balinese needs to locate his caste ranking in relation to the other: if he loses this orientation (if he doesn’t know where the other is located on the vertical axis), cannot speak, cannot address the other (cf. the linguistic strategy of places, of orientation).

4. Spacing. As we saw: a livable space (and such is the eidos, the purpose of retreat) = a space with landmarks (≠ the little white mouse’s arena) → the Neutral would be a subtle art of keeping the good distance between landmarks (including human landmarks of emotional space. … ).

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



February 25, 2012

That Kind of Power

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:36 am

… The ability to create such formality is evidently a sine qua non of being able to manipulate it, and only those who become skilled in the art will have access to that kind of power.

This will be my last post from Wrapping Culture: Politeness, Presentation and Power in Japan and Other Societies by Joy Hendry (1993):

… A fairly clear and straightforward example of temporal wrapping in Japan is to be found in the way events are separated off from the time surrounding them by quite marked beginnings and endings. This is true of a wide variety of events, from mundane, everyday occurrences to the grandest ceremony. The form of these beginnings and endings is clearly decided by society, so that they could qualify to be classed as ritual, although sometimes it is difficult to distinguish them from what one might better describe as ‘routine.’

Hendry gives many examples of temporal wrapping. I’m going to pick out brief extracts from two to give some sense of what she’s talking about:

… Kindergarten is a place where beginnings and endings become more clear and elaborate generally. Although children will arrive at a variety of different times, there is invariably an opening sequence before the events of the day begin, and several ritual ways in which the day is divided up.

… A foreigner coming to the tea ceremony for the first time may find the whole thing extremely tedious, possibly quite painful, for it is essential to sit on one’s feet in a formal position throughout the chief part of the procedure, which, even in its shortest form, lasts long enough to inflict discomfort on those unused to the kneeling position. Most of the action is carried out, slowly and deliberately, by the person serving the tea (the host/ess), who gives the guest a chance to move  only twice: when they are presented with their cake, and when they receive their bowl of tea.

Moving on to issues of power (I am skimming quickly over this, so it’s pretty choppy):

… [Esther N.] Goody identifies three functions of greetings in her study of the Gonja people. They are, first, ‘to open a sequence of communicative acts,’ secondly, ‘a means of defining and affirming both identity and rank,’ and, thirdly, ‘a mode of entering upon or manipulating a relationship in order to achieve a specific result.’ The first, probably a universal function of greeting, corresponds with Japanese ‘beginning,’ the second, found wherever the form of greeting varies with status, also encompasses the Japanese case in the formal distinction of status. The third leads us beyond these examples, however. In the Gonja case, this is a type of greeting which precedes a request of sort, or what Goody refers to as a ‘greeting to beg.’

… If we concentrate our attentions only on the parts of these [ceremonial] gatherings when people appear immediately to be influencing the proceedings, i.e. the type of political activity we are used to in Western systems, I think we may well also be missing something important. This would perhaps be equivalent to our overriding interest in unwrapping things, in getting to the essence of something. Just as Salmond warned us not to stop at the ceremonial role of the elders, we must also, on the other hand, be careful not to underestimate the power of the ritual elements of proceedings. Indeed, we must try not to throw away any layers of wrapping before we understand more completely the role they may be playing.

… The socialization of children in appropriate polite behaviour struck Bloch as interesting in Madagascar because of the way the focus of correction and direction of behaviour was not so much on the content of what was said but on the manner in which it was said. He compares this with the attention paid in English society to the use of words such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ as well as suitable intonations of the voice which are thought of as respectful and not ‘cheeky.’ Bloch saw the reason for this attention to regulating the manner of speech as concerned with a concomitant (hidden) restriction, in a subtle and effective way, on the content of what was said.

The formal behaviour which Merina children gradually learn in this way equips at least some of them as they grow up to participate in the formal exchanges which Bloch identifies as important elements of social control in Merina society. Bloch argues that the formality, by its very nature, ‘dramatically restricts’ what can be said, and more importantly, perhaps, the responses to it. Once a formal situation has been created, he argues, it is almost impossible to object to proposals which come out of it. The ability to create such formality is evidently a sine qua non of being able to manipulate it, and only those who become skilled in the art will have access to that kind of power — that layer of Merina wrapping.

… [J.M.] Atkinson uses the wrapping metaphor in a discussion of the importance of ‘wrapped words,’ among the Wana people of Sulawesi, to ‘hint at a meaning without confronting others directly.’ Her paper describes a highly formalized type of speech, or poetry, which is used to express elegant, but nevertheless very often political statements in an indirect way, disguised from all but those who share knowledge of the appropriate context.

… In … these cases we are concerned with political activity which is not immediately obvious, sometimes even to those involved. We are also concerned with a cultural preference for the avoidance of conflict.  … we sometimes need to look further for the locus of power than the politics of our own societies would suggest. We need to see, for example, that ‘politics is concerned not only with exercising power but also with reproducing the mechanisms which make power possible.’

… Wrapping in Japan is a veritable ‘cultural template,’ or perhaps we could add another metaphor and call it a ‘cultural design.’ It makes possible the marking of the whole range of life-stages and statuses, thus representing and recreating, the hierarchical order which, in turn, gives rise to the locus of power relationships.

… It is evidently important not to try to take off the layers of wrapping we find elsewhere, always to be seeking essences, because in this way we may be throwing out some of the important cultural information we need, perhaps only to find nothing at all — or a strange, significant emptiness — inside.

Hendry never addresses the linguistic conundrum inherent in the word ‘wrapping.’ By definition ‘wrapping’ is something that is of secondary (or no) importance. If/when we are talking about “important cultural information” then we aren’t talking about wrapping. I think this whole book has been about the interesting transformation or inversion from what starts as a throwaway mannerism into meaningful/necessary core (and observational confusion for those not aware of this inversion).

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




February 24, 2012

Thirty-Nine and Forty

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 3:16 pm

book 1, proposition 39

book 1, proposition 40

Previous propositions are here.




Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.