Unreal Nature

February 24, 2012

In Thin Air

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:46 am

… Our networks of wires … form an imaginary hammock that seems to hold us ecstatically suspended in thin air …

Last post from Paraphernalia: The Curious Lives of Magical Things by Steven Connor (2011). Today’s paraphernalia (my choice) are Pipes and Wires:

… pipes … effect a rationalisation of space; they belong to the human effort to re-sort the world’s random assortment of things into more orderly and efficient arrangements. The pipe concentrates and simplifies a ramifying, dilatory and unreliable flow into something express and purposive. The network of pipes, like the network of wires, turns a landscape, with all its jagged accident and lumpy irregularity, into an idea. Where in the past roads would be compelled to cross rivers by means of bridges, it has become common to route whole rivers across roads or railway lines through pipes. As archetypal transports, pipes not only move things from place to place: they change the notion of space itself. They are the sign of our fundamental topophobia, our dissatisfaction with space and with its proximities and distributions. This must go there; that must come over here.

… one view of the human body reduces it in essence to a single tube, which takes in nourishment at one end and expels waste at the other end. At the core of the human apparatus are the intestines, but perhaps the whole corporeal frame is nothing more than a complication or interruption of this tube.

Now Wires:

… Wires and waves are very different things. A world of communication by waves and vibrations and emanations is a world of permeated lives, in which individual identities are dissolved, ecstatically or uneasily as it may be, in universally shared experience. A world of communication along wires offers the delight of communication across vast distances, but with the preservation of intimacy and secrecy. The person on the end of the telephone line, whether God or grandma, could speak to you and to you alone. Waves belong to the magic or angelic otherworld; wires knit us tightly into this one. Waves are expansively, inclusively utopian; wires are suspiciously conspiratorial (there is no such thing as ‘wave-tapping’).

[ … ]

… The laying of the transatlantic telephone cable in the nineteenth century was accompanied by much heroic fanfaring, but I think that people may also have been haunted by the idea of that wire lying there, indifferently pervaded by our rages, musings and despairs, out of sight, but never satisfactorily out of mind, slithered over by blind, white things, amid the cold and dark that were its natural element. Wires, like serpents and dragons, belong to unseen, inhospitable, inhuman places; they make our words and impulses and feelings pass through invisibility and uninhabitability.

… A wired world is the promise of a world recomposed as a vast telephone exchange, in which everything can make contact with everything else, all calls will be returned, and everything will loop magically back on itself; but there was, and is, a vileness that breeds within wires, with their whispers of dropped stitches and disconnections, crossed wires, mazes and black magic.

But because of this, wires also suggest a thrilling fragility and risk. We depend on them, because our words, and lives, hang on them by a thread. If wires suggest the possibility of binding, they are also closely associated with ideas of hanging on. Callers are asked to ‘hold’; the telephone thins our being into a thread.

… Our networks of wires, though buried under the ground or even under the ocean, form an imaginary hammock that seems to hold us ecstatically suspended in thin air, even as we go our ways about the earth. During the nineteenth century there were slackrope and tightrope walkers in the circuses; by the end of the century, they were just as often known as high-wire artists. We had all come to know something of the giddiness of walking on wires. Wires suggest fragility and vertigo, theirs and ours, as well as power. If the connection is cut, if the line goes dead, then we may fall back to earth.

But it is just this tension that keeps us strung out on wires. High-wire walking has become an image of the refinement of the accidents and approximations of human life to the absolute concentration of purpose required to walk the wire.

… In August 1974, the high-wire artist Phillipe Petit stole into the newly constructed World Trade Center in New York, shot a cable between the buildings with a bow and arrow, and spent 45 minutes walking back and forth between the towers. It seemed to show, as his associate Jean-Louis Blondeau remarked in Man on Wire (2008), the documentary film made of the episode, ‘what the buildings were for.’


movie poster 

… rope-dancers and wire-walkers do not, any more than chickens, want to get to the other side. In fact, the most characteristic gesture of the wire-walker is, once they have apparently completed their walk safely, to go back out on the wire, as Philippe Petit did for forty-five rapturous, electrifying minutes above the streets of Manhattan, in order to invent different, even more improbably serene things to do on it. … The destiny of the wire-walker is an indefinite deferral of destination, a putting off of coming to ground.

… When I gave a radio talk on wires in 2000, I was contacted shortly afterwards by the editor of Wire Industry, who asked me if I would be willing for them to publish my talk. I wondered quite what he was expecting his readers to get from what I had written. For Wire Industry is a trade journal mostly taken up with the technicalities of wires and cables and with wire-related products such as extruders, capstans, stranders and respoolers; it publishes articles with titles like ‘Neural Networks for Quality Control in the Wire Rod Industry’ and ‘The Bending Stiffness of Spiral Strands’. I felt humbled and reproved when I was sent a copy, and found that it was headed by at trail of red hearts fluttering round the caption ‘Rekindle Your Love Affair … With Wire.’

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 23, 2012

These Shadows

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:40 am

… The right angle, the plane, the volume, their intervals and their areas, will be recognized as chaotic, dense, compact — again teeming with folds and dark hiding places.

… The birth of beauty never stops; Harlequin has never donned his last costume.

… If by the birth of geometry one means the appearance of an absolute purity on the ocean filled with these shadows, then let us say, a few years after its death, that it was never born.

This is from the essay ‘Mathematics & Philosophy: What Thales Saw . . .’ by Michel Serres (1982):

Hieronymus informs us that he [Thales] measured the height of the pyramids by the shadow they cast, taking the observation at the hour when the length of our own shadow equals our height.
— Diogenes Laertius

============

… The point is to transpose some unreachable figure into a more immediate realm in the form of a miniaturized schema.

Accessible, inaccessible, what does this mean? Near, distant; tangible, untouchable; possible or impossible transporting. Measurement, surveying, direct or immediate, are operations of application, in the sense that a metrics can be used in an applied science; in the sense that, most often, measurement is the essential element of application; but primarily in the sense of touch. Such and such a unit or such and such a ruler is applied to the object to be measured; it is placed on top of the object, it touches it. And this is done as often as necessary. Immediate or direct measurement is possible or impossible as long as this placing is possible or is not. Hence, the inaccessible is that which I cannot touch, that toward which I cannot carry the ruler, that of which the unit cannot be applied. Some say that one must use a ruse of reason to go from practice to theory, to imagine a substitute for those lengths my body cannot reach: the pyramids, the sun, the ship on the horizon, the far side of the river. In this sense, mathematics would be the path these ruses take.

I’m skipping Serre’s arguments that “Vision is tactile without contact.”

… There is an instance of clear knowledge that is hidden in the workers’ hands and in their relation to the blocks of stone. This knowledge is hidden there, it is locked in, and the key has been thrown away. It is in the shadow of the pyramid. Here is the scene of knowledge, the dramatization of the possible origin, dreamed about, conceptualized. The secret that the builder and the rock-cutter share, secret for him, for Thales, and for us, is the shadow-scene. In the shadow of the pyramids, Thales is in the domain of implicit knowledge; on the other side of the pyramid, the sun must make that knowledge explicit in our absence. Henceforth the entire question of the relationship between the schema and history, of the relationship between implicit knowledge and the artisans’ practice, will be posed in terms of shadow and sun, a dramatization of the Platonic mode, in terms of implicit and explicit, of knowledge and practical operations: on the one hand, the sun of knowledge and the sameness; on the other, the shadow of opinion, of empiricism, of objects.

… The origin of knowledge acquired through everyday practice is on the side of the shadow; the origin of a practice acquired through knowledge is on the side of light. One could learn a great deal about the emergence of a theory by diligently asking oneself about its various realizations a posteriori and by reversing the analysis.

… The edifice [the pyramid] is a volume of volumes, a polyhedron composed of cut-out blocks of stone. Now how is one to study and learn about a volume if not by means of a planar projection? And how can one lay hold of it if not by attacking its surfaces? Thales’s geometry says this, and so do architectural technique and the mason’s daily practice. In each of the three cases it is a matter of studying a solid in terms of all the bits of information that have been gathered at the relevant levels: the secrets of an object’s shaded surfaces and its cast shadow. I know nothing about a volume except what its planar projections tell me. But a projection assumes a point of view and a drawing on a smooth surface, a surface without any shaded area and without any hidden fold. I can know a stone, a solid, even a pyramid, only by its contour described by the sun on the plane of the desert sand. The sun-subject writes a form in the sand, a form that is changing and infinite like the profiles of Ptolemaic perception, a form that describes a cycle of representation. Each moment of the representation: a stable relationship with the same shadow, at the same moment, of another object — with me, for example. Here the geometry of perspectival measurement articulates the invariant in the variations of representation. The cast shadows vary, the secrets are transformed, but they share among them a secret which remains constant and which is the unknown, the pyramid’s secret: its inaccessible height. As variable as representation may be, it still designates, suddenly, a portion of the real, a stability proper to the object, its measurement. Which is why, from this position, I can only know about the volume that which is said, written, or described by cast shadows — the bits of information transported onto the sand by a ray of sunlight after its interception by the angles and summit of an opaque prism. This geometry is a perspective (an architecture), it is a physics, an optics: the shadow is a black specter.

… However, the story begun in the Nile delta will soon be completed by a sudden and incredibly audacious coup d’état: the radical negation of interior shadows.

… The archaic Thales of mensuration gives way to pure geometry, pure because it is cut through by the intuition of transparency and emptiness. Then and only then can the pyramid be born, the pure tetrahedron, first of the five Platonic bodies. By this miracle the sun is in the pyramid: the site, the source of light, the object, all in the same place.

Beneath this new sun, solids no longer have a shadow or a secret; light passes through them without being interrupted, just as it glides along a straight line or a plane; the world they constitute is thoroughly knowable. One can understand the importance that Plato and his school constantly attribute to the stereometry of volumes. The open history of infinite explications is closed by this power move, by this stroke of lightning that rips away the veils of shadow; this history is reoriented toward the transcendency of forms. There is no more specter, or analysis; the three shadows (the one on the shaded area of the surface, the one cast, and the one buried within) are snatched away by the sun of the Good.

… Nevertheless, this power move is not exactly a revolution. Plato kills the hen that laid the golden eggs: by cutting through the solids he nullifies history; the eternity of transcendency freezes diachrony and the genealogy of forms. The future of the square and the diagonal is decided as much on the sand where we describe them through the language that names them as it is decided in the sky of ideas. The realism of transparent idealities is still immersed in a philosophy of representation.

… This form is pre-judged to be without shadow or secret, it exists itself and in itself, but it never hides anything that could exceed the definition one has fixed for it. It exists as an ideality, transparent to vision, transparent to noesis. It is a theoretical element known thoroughly, something seen and known without residue. Intuition is blinded by its existence, but intuition passes through it. Its identity guarantees that it is ubiquitously identical, and hence its perception is not interrupted. Vision and knowledge are white specters. Now, precisely when this pure geometry, inherited from Plato, dies, when it is no longer possible to assume intuitive principles, when the theater of representation is closed, the secret, the shadow, and the implication will explode again among these abstract forms before the eyes of dumbfounded mathematicians — explosions that had been announced before all these deaths throughout history. The right angle, the plane, the volume, their intervals and their areas, will be recognized as chaotic, dense, compact — again teeming with folds and dark hiding places.

… what are the relationships of a technique, of a myth, of a communication, and of a philosophy? Again, the idealities implicit in technology, mobilized in representation, dramatized by myth, and transported by a particular language are filled to the brim with an implicit knowledge. The birth of beauty never stops; Harlequin has never donned his last costume. The myth is perpetuated; representation is spread further and further; archaisms resound through the centuries and are ferried to our feet like alluvia. What Thales saw at the base of the pyramids (the sun, the homothetic edifice, the shaded surface and the cast shadow), what Thales did alongside the pyramids (the partitioning off and the measurement of similar triangles in the parallelism of two gnomens, one of which is our body), are the thousands and thousands of implications that the history of science is  slowly developing and that the eternal geometers will see, without always seeing them, and will create, without always knowing it. These implications express nothing less than the obscure articulations of rigorous knowledge and the totality of other human activities, indefinitely abandoned to their obscure fate. If by the birth of geometry one means the appearance of an absolute purity on the ocean filled with these shadows, then let us say, a few years after its death, that it was never born.

My most recent previous Serres post is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

Claims Are Made

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:39 am

… One begins, places a difference, draws a distinction, and then abandons oneself to what can no longer be altered, only destroyed.

…  art tests arrangements that are at once fictional and real in order to show society, from a position within society, that things could be done differently …

… (one must keep in mind, of course, that there are structural couplings between communication and the perceptions of individuals and that individuals tend to intervene in communication when claims are made that contradict their perceptions).

Concluding post from Art as a Social System by Niklas Luhmann (2000):

… what would be the theoretical criterion for a self-description of the art system? Approaching the wealth of materials contained in the pertinent literature in the manner of the “intellectual historian” is not enough. We first need to clarify what we mean by self-description.

An understanding of this phenomenon has been obscured by the concept of “culture” — one of the most detrimental concepts ever to be invented. While the concept allowed one to distinguish between objective and subjective culture, both referred to an (artificial) state of affairs that was relativized by attributing it to individuals or groups. The invention of culture toward the end of the eighteenth century — of a form of reflection that subsumed under culture everything that was not nature — presupposed this kind of relativization, which served as a basis for generating historical or national comparisons between cultures — an event staged by “educated Europe,” as it was called in those days. Despite its comparative relativization, culture remained an object of essential propositions that could be either true or false. What we mean by “self-description,” by contrast, refers to the mode of operations by which systems generate their internal identity, whatever the observers of this process might think of it. One can certainly imagine a plurality of simultaneously generated self-descriptions; but the notion of relativity is completely inappropriate in this case. (Similarly, no relativism whatsoever is involved in making the point that some animals have tails and some don’t.)

[ … ]

… The hypothesis that every fully autonomous system requires an external reference might provide a starting point. Gödel as witness. Selecting the dimension of time for the purpose of externalization provides the greatest possible freedom for a specifically social, communicative self-determination of the system. As a concrete reality that cannot, indeed must not be treated as binding any longer, the past fulfills its function as a guarantor of autonomy. The past is thus neither insignificant nor dispensable. But it can henceforth fulfill its function only paradoxically: as the presence of an absence, as the inclusion of an exclusion, as the trace that, according to Derrida, is left by the effacement of the trace — in short, as a parasite that thrives on the paradox that the unity of the distinction (old/new), which is used by an observer, cannot be indicated in the observation itself.

Even if one follows Nelson Goodman and places on art the burden of contributing to the creation of the world, a world can be created operatively only within the world and, in observation, only from another world. In this way, the world accompanies all operations as a continually reproduced “unmarked space.” At the observational level, however, it is possible — in science as well as in art — to make transparent the premises behind previous ways of world making. Doing so inevitably marks the previously valid world and thereby cancels it as a world. Subsequently, earlier theories, styles, works, and so forth can no longer function as world (no matter how such concepts as reality, objectivity, Being, and so on are treated at the level of philosophical terminology). In this way, the degradation of the world through signification perpetually regenerates new unobservabilities. This is why the generation of the new is ultimately inexplicable.

… The art of the past cannot be treated as something external simply because it is past and operatively unattainable. Presumably one learns that only the system can guarantee the reality of its own world. Therefore reference to reality resides exclusively in the resistance of the system’s operations to themselves — some form combinations simply won’t work! — and in the fact that the world, whether one likes it or not, remains unobservable.

… The goal is not to affirm the present, the moment, the decision as the sole guarantee of reality; quite the opposite: one perpetually rebels against the present to the extent that it still contains traces of the past. The present revolts against itself, and what is at stake in this revolt is the inclusion of the system’s negation into the system. The present is reduced to a mere caesura, a temporal “nothing,” where art cannot reflect but only operate. The future represents the self-reference of art, and the past, because it cannot be altered, represents its hetero-reference. The parasites generated by this distinction force their way unnoticed into the system and take over its invisible government [see Serres]. The invisible hand (the metaphor indicates the paradox) remains invisible, because it knows only a timeless present. Whatever happens, happens. One begins, places a difference, draws a distinction, and then abandons oneself to what can no longer be altered, only destroyed.

… But the historical reconstruction of the self-description of art raises the question of whether there might have been submerged, other history, a history concerned not with unity but with difference. Pursuing this question suggests that the theme of reflection does not define the meaning of the autonomy of art, but the meaning of the doubling of reality in which this autonomy established itself.

… One must therefore ask oneself how and to what purpose one distinguishes between reality and fiction, and what reality must be in itself that it can tolerate this distinction. … Employing the distinction between reality and fiction begs the question of what reality itself must be like in order to assume both a real and a fictional form, while leaving open the possibility for crossing the internal boundary of this distinction. We have based our investigation on a theoretical concept capable of answering this question; we presupposed an operative system that draws this distinction and, in so doing, renders the world invisible. When communication (rather than perception, for example) is at stake, society is the system that makes it possible — for itself and for art — to distinguish between reality and fiction. One could then pursue the suggestion that art tests arrangements that are at once fictional and real in order to show society, from a position within society, that things could be done differently, which does not mean that anything goes.

Along these lines, reality might still be defined in terms of a resistance, which is no longer the resistance of the external world to attempts to grasp it by knowing and acting, but a resistance, within one and the same system, of internal operations to the operations of the system. In the system of society, one might think of the resistance of communication to itself, a resistance that ends up constructing a genuine reality (one must keep in mind, of course, that there are structural couplings between communication and the perceptions of individuals and that individuals tend to intervene in communication when claims are made that contradict their perceptions). In the art system, this resistance has to do, as we suggested earlier, with incongruities in the formal arrangements of artworks or with disturbances in communication through art and about art that can be traced to the lack of fit between the components of an artwork. If a  work manages to pass this test, then it creates what we have called a fictional reality.

… our description remains external and has no control over whether, and in what ways, the art system, together with its works and self-descriptions, will venture into [the] future. To do so, the art system will have to proceed in a manner specific to form, that is, by using distinctions. One will have to avoid the trap of identity.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

February 22, 2012

In Error

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:19 am

… Truth would dispel error, were they to meet. But there is an error of sorts that ruins in advance all power of encounter. To err is probably this: to go outside the space of encounter.

… Speech and error are on intimate terms.

… Note that etymologies — important because they show the facetious force of language, and the mysterious play that is an invitation to play — have no other purpose than to close the word rapidly up upon itself again in the manner of those shelled creatures that withdraw as soon as one inspects them. Words are suspended; this suspense is a very delicate oscillation, a trembling that never leaves them still.

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

— Searching and error,then, would be akin. To err is to turn and to return, to give oneself up to the magic of the detour. One who goes astray, who has left the protection of the center, turns about, himself, adrift and subject to the center, and no longer guarded by it.

[ … ]

— And he is not at the same point, although being there by returning. This is worth considering. The return effaces the point of departure; being without a path, error is that arid force that uproots the landscape, ravages the wilderness, ruins the site.

[ … ]

— Above all, an advance that opens no path and corresponds to no opening; error designates a strange space where the hiding-showing movement of things has lost its directing force. Where I am through error there no longer reigns either the benevolence of welcome or the rigor, itself reassuring, of exclusion.

[ … ]

— With the term ‘error,’ you mean to say that things neither show nor hide themselves, not yet belonging to the ‘region’ where there is a place for unveiling and veiling.

— Did I say that? I would say rather: error is an obstinacy without perseverance that, far from being a rigorously maintained affirmation, pursues itself by diverting the affirmation toward what has no firmness. Essential error is without relation to the true, which has no power over it. Truth would dispel error, were they to meet. But there is an error of sorts that ruins in advance all power of encounter. To err is probably this: to go outside the space of encounter.

— I confess to not understanding well your ‘error.’ There would be two kinds: one being the shadow of the true; the other — but this other, I wonder how you can speak of it.

— This is perhaps the easiest. Speech and error are on intimate terms.

— I see nothing but banter here: as though you were recalling that one would not deceive if one did not speak. Speech, we well know, is the resource and, etymologically, even the origin of the devil.

— Of the words ball and ballistics as well — all diabolical works. Note that etymologies — important because they show the facetious force of language, and the mysterious play that is an invitation to play — have no other purpose than to close the word rapidly up upon itself again in the manner of those shelled creatures that withdraw as soon as one inspects them. Words are suspended; this suspense is a very delicate oscillation, a trembling that never leaves them still.

— And yet, they are also immobile.

— Yes, of an immobility that moves more than anything moving. Disorientation is at work in speech through a passion for wandering that has no bounds. Thus it happens that, in speaking, we depart from all directions and all path, as though we had crossed the line.

— But speech has its own way, it provides a path. We are not led astray in it, or at most only in relation to the regularly traveled routes.

— Even more than that perhaps: it is as though we were turned away from the visible, without being turned back round toward the invisible. I don’t know whether what I am saying here says anything. But nevertheless it is simple. Speaking is not seeing. Speaking frees thought from the optical imperative that in the Western tradition, for thousands of years, has subjugated our approach to things, and induced us to think under the guaranty of light or under the threat of its absence. I’ll let you count all the words through which it is suggested that, to speak truly, one must think according to the measure of the eye.

Mr. Blanchot, may I introduce you to Mr. Lakoff?

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

The Third Sound

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:18 am

…  It is true that Cage explicitly sought to subvert tactics based on human centeredness, yet all he did was shift the center from one of utterance to one of audition. He simply became quiet in order to attract everything toward a pair of musical ears.

This is from Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts by Douglas Kahn (1999) As mentioned in earlier posts from this book, I find much of this to be analogous to photography:

… The core of Cage’s musical practice and philosophy was concentrated on sounds of the world and the interaction of art and life. There is a musical specificity to be had within Cage, but it would be insufficient to understand his work. Indeed, my approach here takes Cage at his word when he says let sounds be themselves. I merely refuse to accept how Cage reduces sounds to conform to his idea of selfhood. When he hears individual affect or social situation as an exercise in reduction, it is just as easy to hear their complexity. when he hears music everywhere, other phenomena go unheard. When he celebrates noise, he also promulgates noise abatement. When he speaks of silence, he also speaks of silencing.

… Thus, during the twentieth-century Age of Noise, the most noted promulgator of musical noise was involved in the business of noise abatement. Silent Prayer was not alone in this respect because Cage, an inventor of techniques from an early age, developed several other techniques for eliminating, diminishing, or displacing the source of the noise, transforming the noise into something else, or canceling the noise by playing back its image, so to speak, in the negative.

[ … ]

[quoting Cage] It was after I got to Boston that I went into the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. Anybody who knows me knows this story. I am constantly telling it. Anyway, in that silent room, I heard two sounds, one high and one low. Afterward I asked the engineer in charge why, if the room was so silent, I had heard two sounds. He said, “Describe them.” I did. He said, “The high one was your nervous system in operation. The low one was your blood in circulation.”

The anechoic chamber was the technological emblem for Cage’s class of silencing techniques. It was clinical and discursive, exhibiting attributes of both a bona fide anechoic chamber used in acoustical research and the anecdotal chamber diffused through Cagean lore. It absorbed sounds and isolated two of Cage’s usually inaudible internal bodily sounds, but in the process there was a third internal sound isolated, the one saying, “Hmmm, wonder what the low-pitched sound is? What’s that high-pitched sound?”

… When a piece of music is purposefully purposelessly made, Cage asks, “What happens, for instance, to silence? That is, how does the mind’s perception of it change?” It no longer serves as a means of emphasis for taste or expressivity or as an element marking a predetermined or developing structure. When there are no goals, means become meaningless because nothing is meant to be happening: whatever happens, happens. If there is no determination that the absence of musical sounds (silence, in the conventional sense) means the abeyance of a musical listening to any sounds, then what can be heard in the silence, as hitherto perceived, are the surrounding sounds. “Where none of these or other goals is present, silence becomes something else — not silence at all, but sounds, the ambient sounds. The nature of these is unpredictable and changing. These sounds (which are called silence only because they do not form part of a musical intention) may be depended on to exist. The world teems with them, and is, in fact, at no point free of them.” Consequently, silence itself disappears and transforms into its traditional opposite — sounds — and for Cage where there are sounds, especially a world teeming in sounds, there will be music. It should be made clear, in this respect, that the freeing of musical intention in Cage is specifically geared to the intention to make music. The idea that intention, let alone a formidable culturally laden discursive framework is present within the act of hearing sounds as music does not receive equal attention.

… Through technology Cage could … take the totalizing impetus of all sound to its logical conclusion. The anechoic chamber was joined in this project by another piece of tangible and fictive technology, the microphone, and both pieces of technology had the job of amplifying small sounds: one did it through subtraction, the other through addition. To hear sounds in themselves one must first hear them. Small sounds and amplification went hand in hand, although their overall role changed over time. Earlier in his career, the amplification of small sounds served the cause of  noise as a practical means to increase the number of “more new sounds” in the constitution of a modernist material fount or to free them in Cage’s rhetoric of sonic emancipation. With his commitment to the impossibility of silence the world was suddenly overrun with small sounds, and although it would seem there would have been less immediate need for amplification because a plenitude of sounds was ensured, amplification was still called on to perform rhetorically, far beyond its actual technological capabilities, to increase the number of possible sounds and to deny inaudibility. Small sounds also moved to inhabit the vicinity hitherto occupied by conventional silence. When silence became a type of sound, actual silence was merely a state of inaudibility, and everything known before as silence became nothing but small sounds contingent on amplification. Thus, the idea of small sounds became for Cage not only a negotiation between old and new silences but eventually a reason for his development of implausible and impossible amplification technologies, which, like other major developments in communications technology, presumed and produced different, perhaps only a revamped, world outlook.

Cage’s dominion of all sound and always sound and of the corresponding panaurality is reminiscent of the totalizing reach of the Romantic utterance, resonating in voice or music throughout eternity and entirety, or of the nineteenth-century synesthetes who also used their utterances to insinuate themselves throughout the cosmos. It is true that Cage explicitly sought to subvert tactics based on human centeredness, yet all he did was shift the center from one of utterance to one of audition. He simply became quiet in order to attract everything toward a pair of musical ears.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

February 21, 2012

Fundamental Metaphors

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:06 am

… Most conceptual metaphors are part of the cognitive unconscious, and are learned and used automatically without awareness.

… We commonly take our conceptual metaphors as defining reality, and live according to them.

… The system will tend to make experiences and facts consistent with it noticeable and important, and experiences and facts inconsistent with it  invisible.

This is from an essay, ‘The Neural Theory of Metaphor’ by George Lakoff in The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought edited by Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. (2008):

… Just living an everyday life gives you the experience and suitable brain activations to give rise to a huge system of the same primary metaphorical mappings that are learned around the world without any awareness.

By best fit, different cultural frames will combine with those primary metaphors and give rise to different metaphor systems. The Love Is a Journey metaphor is a good example. the primary metaphors that ground the Love Is a Journey metaphor are

  • Purposes are Destinations: Every day there is a correlation between achieving a purpose and reaching a destination, as when you have to go to the refrigerator to get a piece of fruit or a cold beer.
  • Difficulties are Impediments to Motion: A difficulty is something that inhibits your achievement of some purpose, which is metaphorically reaching a destination. Hence, difficulties are conceptualized metaphorically as impediments to motion to a destination.
  • A Relationship is a Container (a Bounded Region of Space): People who are closely related tend to live, work, or otherwise spend time in the same enclosed space — your family in your home, your co-workers at the office, and so on.
  • Intimacy is Closeness: The people you are most intimate with are typically the people you have spent time physically close to: your family, spouse, lover, and so on.

In each case, a correlation in experience is realized in the brain as the co-activation of distinct neural areas, which leads to the formation of circuits linking those areas.

[ … ]

… In Philosophy in the Flesh, Mark Johnson and I argue that philosophical systems of thought rest on a relatively small number of metaphors treated as ultimate truths and used constantly in reasoning. The neural theory of metaphor allows us to understand more about such systems and people who think in terms of them most of every day.

Because the fundamental metaphors are used constantly, the synaptic strength in the metaphors become very strong and resistant to change. Second, spreading activation and best-fit properties (including maximization of binding) make such systems highly integrated, tightly connected, with many inferences. As a result, such a system will dominate your thought, your understanding of the world, and your actions.

One will tend to see the world through the system; one will tend to construct neural simulations to fit the system; one will tend to plan the future using the system; and one will define common sense through the system. The system will tend to make experiences and facts consistent with it noticeable and important, and experiences and facts inconsistent with it  invisible.

This is especially true in politics, where progressive and conservative thought are each defined by a central metaphor and a system of thought that fits it (see my Moral Politics).

By far the most detailed study of the role of metaphor in a system of thought is Rafael Núñez’s and my book, Where Mathematics Comes From, which shows in great detail how many branches of higher mathematics are built up via layers of metaphor from embodied concepts.

… Consider a poetic metaphor like Dylan Thomas’s line, Do not go gently into that good night. The line does not overtly mention death as the subject matter, but the line contains three words that each evoke a source domain frame in a metaphor for death: go as in Death is Departure; gently as in Life is a Struggle, and night as in A Lifetime is a Day and Death is Night. This is natural from a neural perspective. Each word activates a frame element in a frame, go, gently, night.

Geez — “each word activates a frame element” — he sure kills that poem dead as a doornail!

In case you’re not familiar with Lakoff’s work, from earlier in the essay, this is his bulleted list of his founding theories:

    • Metaphors are conceptual mappings; they are part of the conceptual system and not mere linguistic expressions.
    • There is a huge system of fixed, conventional metaphorical mappings.
    • The system exists physically in our brains.
    • Certain metaphors are grounded via correlations in embodied experience (e.g., More is Up is grounded via the correlation between quantity and verticality — you pour more water in the glass and the level goes up).
    • Metaphorical mappings are typically across conceptual domains (as in Affection is Warmth).
    • Mappings (as in a A Competition Is a Race) may also be from a specific case (a race) to a more general case (a competition).
    • Mappings operate on source domain frame and image-schema structure.
    • Via metaphorical mappings, source domain structures (image-schema and frame structures) are used for reasoning about the target domain. Indeed, much of our reasoning makes use of conceptual metaphors.
    • Metaphorical mappings are partial.
    • Metaphorical language makes use of conceptual metaphors.
    • Many different linguistic expressions can express some aspect of the same metaphor.
    • A conceptual metaphor may be used in understanding a word, even if that word is not realized in the source domain of the metaphor.
    • Most conceptual metaphors are part of the cognitive unconscious, and are learned and used automatically without awareness.
    • Novel metaphorical language makes use of the existing system of conventional metaphors.
    • We commonly take our conceptual metaphors as defining reality, and live according to them.
    • Target domain entities and target domain predictions can result from metaphors.
    • Two of the relevant sources of data are generalizations over inference patterns (in the source and target domains) and generalizations over lexical items (that can be used of both source and target domains).

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

Fewness, Muchness, Rareness, Greatness of this Endless Only Precious World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:06 am

Warning to Children
by Robert Graves

Children, if you dare to think
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness
Fewness of this precious only
Endless world in which you say
You live, you think of things like this:
Blocks of slate enclosing dappled
Red and green, enclosing tawny
Yellow nets, enclosing white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where a neat brown paper parcel
Tempts you to untie the string.
In the parcel a small island,
On the island a large tree,
On the tree a husky fruit.
Strip the husk and pare the rind off:
In the kernel you will see
Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled
Red and green, enclosed by tawny
Yellow nets, enclosed by white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where the same brown paper parcel —
Children, leave the string alone!
For who dares undo the parcel
Finds himself at once inside it,
On the island, in the fruit,
Blocks of slate about his head,
Finds himself enclosed by dappled
Green and red, enclosed by yellow
Tawny nets, enclosed by black
And white acres of dominoes,
With the same brown paper parcel
Still untied upon his knee.
And, if he then should dare to think
Of the fewness, muchness, rareness,
Greatness of this endless only
Precious world in which he says
he lives – he then unties the string.


Predictable, but I like it anyway.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

The Flow of Possible Meaning

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:05 am

… — you do not catch up with de Kooning

… He said that the mental and sensory state he sought was to be all-encompassing and unstable. I take him at his word.

… “I watch out of the window, and it happens over there. Or I can sit in this chair — sit and think, and I have a little glimpse of something. That’s the beginning, …”

This is from Between Sense and De Kooning by Richard Shiff (2011):

… To detractors, his reversals and double negations approached incoherence. To promoters, he was projecting the ultimate in individual freedom, an escape from theoretically sanctioned historical imperatives. Over the years, de Kooning had, of course, become known for maintaining an ambiguous relationship to the competing demands of representation and abstraction in painting. Most other artists either regarded abstraction as a necessary path for avant-garde practice or, equally dogmatically, regarded a return to representation as a necessary position of critical resistance. De Kooning appreciated colleagues willing to take a path of no specific direction. When Philip Guston exhibited primitivistic, but frankly representational, cartoon-like paintings in 1970, de Kooning was vocal in supporting this new work as an expression of personal freedom. But to say that Guston’s way was the way to go was not de Kooning’s mode. It would be too definitive.

[ … ]

… The puzzling shifts in de Kooning’s thought were not a phenomenon of advancing age, but a creative quirk in lifelong habits of language, a style of verbalization that corresponded to the visual one. In his studio he transposed fragments of earlier paintings onto the surfaces of later works using tracings and oil transfer. Although this established continuity from one work to another, it was also disjunctive and created leaps across time: transition as break. Fragments of one year entered work of another to make a collage from disparate sessions and seasons of painting. The effect is analogous to verbal leaps of memory and association that individuals feel must occur outside their active control. Such practice did not project de Kooning into a distanced past or future but animated his present moment, expanding its scope: each painting had much to gain in the process, little if anything to lose. This is the antithesis of abstraction as a reductive or essentializing mode. De Kooning’s abrupt shifts and expansive changes situated him within the sensitized, eroticized physical space he described for the Museum of Modern Art symposium, when he was arguing against both the metaphysical claims of abstract art and the abstraction of science and a technologically driven society.

… Because such associations kept multiplying for him, to reconstruct the network (whether verbal or visual) becomes for the interpreter an operation without end — you do not catch up with de Kooning any faster than you catch up to the flow of possible meaning in your own speech.

… Any attempt to determine de Kooning’s psychic movements with precision would impose specific limits and inhibitions on a mind that appears to have had very few; it would also fix what must remain dynamic in human language and representation. Still, speculation can be useful, if only to divert overly straightforward interpretations of the artist’s published statements. No matter how spontaneous, his remarks are rarely simple. I am not implying that de Kooning’s comments yield to decoding when the effort is sustained long enough. He said that the mental and sensory state he sought was to be all-encompassing and unstable. I take him at his word.

… Consider a … passage from [Robert] Snyder’s 1959 recordings of de Kooning (transcribed by Brenda Richardson from the soundtrack of Snyder’s film A Glimpse of de Kooning [1968], as opposed to following the edited version in the published script from Sketchbook No. 1):

When I was painting those figures, I got a feeling like I came into a room someplace — and I was introduced to someone — just for a fleeting second, like a glimpse — I saw somebody sitting on a chair — I had a glimpse of this thing — you know, this happening. And I got interested in painting that — it’s like [a] frozen glimpse … I watch out of the window, and it happens over there. Or I can sit in this chair — sit and think, and I have a little glimpse of something. That’s the beginning, and I find myself staying with it — not so much with this particular glimpse — [but] with the emotion of it … Each new glimpse which inspires you — like an occurrence. And I notice those are always my moments of having an idea that maybe I could start a picture.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

February 20, 2012

Powerless

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:20 pm

I’ve been without (electric) power since late yesterday afternoon. It has just now been restored. The highlight of my day has been fetching buckets of water from the creek so I can flush the toilet. It’s really sad that I am so pathetic without my electrical juice.

I am very cold (but rapidly warming) and very hungry (the microwave is buzzing as I write). Dinner calls …

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 19, 2012

Ballet of the Hungry Turkeys

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 4:45 pm

We’re having our first and only (so far) snow storm of this winter. A flock of wild turkeys, looking quite reasonably disgruntled was in my yard trying, with admirable determination, to eat the berries on my deciduous holly bushes.


[that’s a gobbler > the thing flopping off of his neck is his “beard”]


As anybody who has taken hold of a snow-covered bush while standing under it knows, all the snow on said pulled bush falls on one’s head.

Move over Nijinsky (I was going to say Nureyev but I’m not sure how to spell it (and all but the first are hens)).

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.