Unreal Nature

March 31, 2012

Book Four: Four and Ten

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 12:19 pm

book 4, proposition 4

book 4, proposition 10

Previous propositions are here.

This is probably going to be the last of the geometry propositions. I’m running out of all ingredients, and I have a bird project that’s been germinating and which seems about ready to hatch.




The Familiar Path

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:15 am

… Every subject spins out, like the spider’s threads, its relations to certain qualities of things and weaves them into a solid web, which carries its existence.

This is from A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans by Jakob von Uexküll:

… Just as a gourmet picks only the raisins out of the cake, the tick only distinguishes butyric acid from among the things in its surroundings. We are not interested in what taste sensations the raisins produce in the gourmet but only in the fact that they become perception marks of his environment because they are of special biological significance for him; we also do not ask how the butyric acid tastes or smells to the tick, but rather, we only register the fact that butyric acid, as biologically significant, becomes a perception mark for the tick.

… The perception sign of raisins does nothing for the tick, while the perception mark of butyric acid plays an exceptional role in its environment. In the gourmet’s environment, on the other hand, the accent of significance falls not on butyric acid, but on the perception mark of raisins.

Every subject spins out, like the spider’s threads, its relations to certain qualities of things and weaves them into a solid web, which carries its existence.

… We comfort ourselves all too easily with the illusion that the relations of another kind of subject to the things of its environment play out in the same space and time as the relations that link us to the things of our human environment. This illusion is fed by the belief in the existence of one and only one world, in which all living beings are encased. From this arises the widely held conviction that there must be one and only one space and time for all living beings.

[ … ]

… The limpet lives within the tidal zone on the cliff bottom. The largest individuals dig themselves a bed in the rock with their hard shells, in which they spend the low tide pressed close against the cliff. At high tide, they wander about and graze the cliff rock around themselves bare. When low tide arrives, they return to their beds, but they do not always choose the same path home. The limpet’s eyes are so primitive that this snail could never find the house door with their aid alone. The presence of an olfactory perception mark is just as unlikely as that of a visual one. There remains only the supposition of a compass in effect space, of which, however, we can have no conception.

limpets [photo from Wikipedia

[ … ]

… For a long time now, it has been supposed that there is a perception mark for form in the environment of the earthworm. Darwin pointed to the fact that earthworms treat leaves and pine needles differently according to the form of each. The earthworm pulls both leaves and pine needles into its narrow tunnel; they serve as protection as well as nourishment. Most leaves get stuck if they are pulled stem first into a tight tube. On the other hand, they roll up easily and offer no resistance if grasped by the tip. The pine needles, which always fall in pairs, cannot be grasped at the tip, only at the base, if one wants to pull them through a narrow tunnel. From the fact that earthworms handle both leaves and needles correctly with no trouble, it had been concluded that the forms of these objects, which play a decisive role in the effect world of the earthworm, must also be present as perception signs in the perception world.

This assumption has turned out to be false. It was shown that earthworms pulled small sticks of the same shape, which had been dipped in gelatin, into their holes sometimes by one end and sometimes by the other. But as soon as one end had been dusted with powder from the tip section of a dried cherry leaf and the other with powder from the stem section, the earthworms could distinguish the two ends of the sticks just as they were able to distinguish the tip and stem of the leaf itself.

Although the earthworms had treated the leaves according to their shapes, they went not by the shapes but by the taste of the leaves.

[ … ]

… It is easiest to be convinced of the differences in human environments when one has a local guide take one through an unfamiliar area. The guide follows a sure path which we ourselves cannot see. Among all the many rocks and trees of the surroundings, there are a few that, placed one after the other, distinguish themselves as path markers from all the other rocks and trees, even though no sign makes this known to anyone not familiar with the path.

… For decades now, many American researchers have carried out thousands of series of experiments in which the most different kinds of animals had to find their way through a maze, in an attempt to establish how quickly each animal can learn a certain path. They never saw the problem of the familiar path that is concerned here. They never studied visual, tactile, or olfactory perception marks, nor did they consider the animal’s application of the coordinate system; that right and left are a problem in and of themselves never occurred to them. Also, they did not explore the question of counting paces, because they did not see that the pace can also be a measure of distance for animals. In short, the problem of the familiar path must be taken on again from the beginning in spite of an incredible amount of observational material available. Finding out the familiar path in the environment of the dog is, in addition to its theoretical interest, of an eminently practical significance as soon as one takes into account which problems the blind person’s dog must solve.

… The difficulty in training the dog consists in introducing perception marks into his environment that do not interest him but, rather, are in the blind person’s interest. … [E]ven the curbstone of the street, over which the blind person would ordinarily stumble, is hard to introduce into the dog’s environment, as it is normally hardly noticed by a dog roaming free.

[ … ]

… Territory is purely a problem of the environment because it represents an exclusively subjective product, the presence of which even the most detailed knowledge of the surroundings offers no explanation.

Eastern mole [photo from Wikipedia

… Not only the individual passages, but the whole ground they include are the mole’s sovereign territory. In captivity, it lays out these passages so that they resemble a spider’s web. We were able to demonstrate that, thanks to its highly developed scent organ, the mole is well able to find its food not only inside the passageway, but, beyond that, that he can smell food objects in solid earth at a distance of five to six meters. In a tightly designed system of passageways such as the mole builds in captivity, the areas of earth between the passageways would also be controlled by the mole’s senses, while in nature, where the mole lays out his tunnels farther apart, the animal can still examine the earth around the passageways by smell. Like a spider, the mole goes through this network of tubes several times and collects all the prey that has wandered into it. In the midst of this tube system, the mole builds its own cave, padded with dried leaves — its own home in which it passes its hours of rest. The underground passages are all familiar paths for it, which it can run through with the same speed and agility backward and forward. Its hunting ground, which is also its territory, extends as far as the passages do, and it defends this territory to the death against any and all neighboring moles.

The ability with which the mole, a blind animal, can orient itself without fail in what is for us a completely homogeneous medium is astounding. If it is trained to get its food at a certain spot, it can find this spot again even after all the passages leading to it are completely destroyed. This excludes the possibility that it can be guided by olfactory perception signs.

Its space is purely an effect space. One must assume that the mole is able to find again a path it has been over once already by reproducing directional steps. In this case, the tactile perception marks associated with the directional steps play an important role, as they do with all blind animals. One may assume that the directional steps and directional perception marks are joined in a spatial schema.

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




March 30, 2012

A Field of Fresh Snow

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:37 am

… At the beginning of the game, there is the immaculate, moist, geometrical green of the pitch, the wicket, the court. It represents possibility, it is possibility itself, like a wind-razored dune or the white witness of a field of fresh snow.

… The open space will become striated by the play, deeply rutted in certain areas, like the goalmouth or the service line, relatively untouched in others. The unearthly apparition of essence will decay into a scarred cartography of accidence.

This is from A Philosophy of Sport by Steven Connor (2011):

… The space of the stadium is theatrical, in the sense that it is both literal and ideal, both particular and general, both this place, hic et nunc, and an any-place-whatever. We may say of modern sport that, as John Donne wrote of love, it ‘makes one little roome, an every where’. There is always some kind of home advantage in any stadium (though many stadia are in fact not owned and occupied by particular teams or even particular sports). But the actual field of play is in fact the paradoxical particularization of a general set of relations — between service line and net, corners and touchlines, goalposts and penalty spots — which ensure a layout that is in essentials exactly the same whether the teams line up in Brighton or Beijing. This is the first of many intersections that characterize the stadium — between placed and space, here and anywhere. Sport-space depends upon the invention of geometry, said to date from the discovery of Thales of Miletus of the principle of equivalence that allowed one to measure the height of a pyramid by comparison of its shadow with that of a man of known height. Geometry means literally the measurement of the earth, but sport-space depends upon the abstract equivalences that make every pitch or court both earthly and ideal.

… At the beginning of the game, there is the immaculate, moist, geometrical green of the pitch, the wicket, the court. It represents possibility, it is possibility itself, like a wind-razored dune or the white witness of a field of fresh snow. Its laser lines are out of Euclid, abstract, absolute, unearthly, as though they were lines of light, or the luminous inscription of the idea of lines. When the actual lines are doubled by electronic lines that enable one to determine absolutely whether a line has or has not been crossed, as in the Hawk-Eye system in use in tennis, cricket and other sports, the line moves even further towards the condition of electronically absolute geometry. Anything can happen in a space like this. The form of the stadium mimics and substantiates this dwelling in possibility. When we say that we ‘draw a line in the sand’, we mean to dignify the act of establishing some arché, some absolute, originating, governing distinction between that and this, then and now. But the real arché, the real archi-tecture, is the condition of absolute openness, allowing any and every line to be drawn, of any breadth, in any direction, but before any line, any direction, has actually appeared.

The moment play begins, this perfection, this pregnant vacancy, will be ruined irretrievably. With the first moment of play, the equilibrium of possibility is broken in on by choice, or hazard: will I kick long or short, serve wide or narrow, cut, glance or drive, pitch the ball up or try a bouncer? I am absolutely free in the space of play, that is to say, absolutely constrained to make a move to inaugurate the play of space. The only choice not available is the choice of remaining in the condition of being able to choose anything. As the play develops, it will leave its traces in the pitch, to the bitter Platonic rage of groundsmen the world over. The open space will become striated by the play, deeply rutted in certain areas, like the goalmouth or the service line, relatively untouched in others. The unearthly apparition of essence will decay into a scarred cartography of accidence.

The space is now no longer topographical, but rather topological. It is folded and refolded, its fixed distances subject to stretching, twisting, tilting and contraction.

… The stadium has become the most representative form of secular monument, a space of ludic reflexivity in which cities, nations and cultures offer to image themselves and draw themselves to a focus. Arenas are microcosmic, magnifying, monomaniac, monarchical. They feed and famish the craving for the absolute. A stadium is a pompous omphalos, which proclaims itself the centre of the world. This is perhaps another reason why stadia always suggest a depression in the ground; the omphalos was the navel of the world because it reached down into its heart.

Wembley Stadium [ photo from Wikipedia

… The stadium may continue to have the archaic look of a mimic world, exorbitantly entire and autistically closed upon itself. But stadia no longer enclose and surpass the world, they suppose and open into it. Where stadia used to be presumptuous imitations of the world, they are now its intimations.

In this, they indicate the double movement of sports in the modern world they have partly made. First, there is a secluding movement inwards, in which certain spaces are marked off as exceptions to the contingent, chaotic conditions of ordinary space, cross-written as they are by so many different perspectives and experiences. But then there is the movement outwards from these delimited spaces of play, to include observers and locations everywhere in the world. This play of space seems to be in the process of creating from the whole human and nonhuman world a space of play.

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




March 29, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:25 am

… Nature is reduced to human nature, which is reduced to either history or reason. The world has disappeared.

… In fact, the Earth speaks to us in terms of forces, bonds, and interactions …

This is from The Natural Contract by Michel Serres (1990; 1995):

… THE SOCIAL CONTRACT. Philosophers of modern natural law sometimes trace our origin to a social contract that we are said to have signed among ourselves, at least virtually, in order to enter into the collectivity that made us the men we are. Strangely silent about the world, this contract, they say, made us leave the state of nature to form society. From the time the pact was signed, it is as if the group that had signed it, casting off from the world, were no longer rooted in anything but its own history.

… NATURAL LAW. The same philosophers call natural law a collection of rules said to exist outside of any formulation; being universal this law would follow from human nature. The source of man-made laws, natural law follows from reason inasmuch as reason governs all men.

Nature is reduced to human nature, which is reduced to either history or reason. The world has disappeared. Modern natural law is distinguished from classical natural law by this nullification. Self-important men are left with their history and their reason.

… It could be said that the reign of modern natural law began at the same time as the scientific, technological, and industrial revolutions, with the mastery and possession of the world. We imagined that we’d be able to live and think among ourselves, while things around us obediently slumbered, crushed by our hold on them: human history could take pleasure in itself in an a-cosmism of inanimate matter and of other living things. History can be made of everything and everything comes down to history.

Slaves never sleep for long. This period is coming to an end, now that awareness of things is violently calling us back. Irresponsibility only lasts through childhood.

What language do the things of the world speak, that we might come to an understanding with them, contractually? But, after all, the old social contract, too, was unspoken and unwritten: no one has ever read the original, or even a copy. To be sure, we don’t know the world’s language, or rather we know only the various animistic, religious, or mathematical versions of it. When physics was invented, philosophers went around saying that nature was hidden under the code of algebra’s numbers and letters: that word code came from law.

In fact, the Earth speaks to us in terms of forces, bonds, and interactions, and that’s enough to make a contract. Each of the partners in symbiosis thus owes, by rights, life to the other, on pain of death.

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



A Tray of Butterflies

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:24 am

…  One could imagine that each species page might someday include a DNA barcode, high-resolution photos of its exterior, MRI scans of its interior, and movies of it in the wild.

This is from ‘The Awe of Natural History Collections’ by Carl Zimmer in Seed Magazine (Feb. 12, 2009):

… “You’ve never been back here?” Kellner asked. The answer was obvious; I was staring like a gob-smacked tourist at the rows of storage cabinets, which loomed overhead like wardrobes for giants. I knew that natural history museums kept fossils and other objects in storage, but I assumed that most of their material was on display, back in the other world. As we walked down long hallways, with drawer after drawer pressing in on either side, I realized how wrong I was. We could look into rooms as we passed, most of them with cabinets and drawers of their own. Kellner reached out to a hallway drawer and opened it. A hip bone from a dinosaur sat inside, knobbed and flared like a Calder sculpture.

It was the first of many journeys I’ve since taken to the other side of museums. Scientists love to show off their collections by pulling drawers open at random, the way Kellner did — exposing me to an army of flies from Peru neatly pinned to slips of paper, or a flock of lyrebirds lying on their backs as if dozing in a collective nap. I’ve gawked at fossil whale feet and jars of tapeworms, at leeches and Mesozoic ferns. But Justine Cooper’s photographs at the American Museum of Natural History take me back to that first shock. They capture the crowded stillness of those halls, the unexpected treasures. The seals in the attic.

photo by Justine Cooper

… Earlier this year, a team of scientists unveiled the Encyclopedia of Life, an online repository of knowledge that they hope will someday contain data on every species that calls this planet home. One could imagine that each species page might someday include a DNA barcode, high-resolution photos of its exterior, MRI scans of its interior, and movies of it in the wild. On the morning of its launch this past February, the Encyclopedia of Life attracted 11.5 million visitors — so much traffic that it crashed the servers. That’s more than twice the number of people who visit the American Museum of Natural History in a year.

Yet it would be a catastrophe if museums offloaded their pickled fish and stuffed lizards every time a species made its Internet debut. We can never declare a collection of walking sticks or kangaroo rats exhausted of all its secrets.

photo by Justine Cooper 

… Museum collections also uniquely capture nature’s variety across space — a tray of butterflies can reveal the flow of genes across a river basin, the rise of new mutations, and the effects of genetic drift and natural selection — as well as time. The collections at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, include a trove of mice, gophers, and other small mammals collected in Yosemite National Park in the early 1900s. A century later, scientists from Berkeley went back to those exact sites and trapped for mammals once more. It was not an exercise in redundancy. The scientists discovered that mammals have moved up the slopes due to climate change. They are an ominous reminder that the collections that Cooper so lovingly portrays are not just a repository of the past, but a stake in our future.

“Our” future. Our. That one word says it all.



Reproduction of Recursivity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:24 am

… with the generation of a latent everyday culture, and the constant reproduction of recursivity of social communicating, the programme strands work together to water the same garden bed, as it were, from which one can harvest as necessary.

… Topics, not opinions, are decisive.

This is from The Reality of the Mass Media by Niklas Luhmann (1996):

… it will not be easy to accept the theory of the unity of a mass media system based on three such different pillars as news/in-depth reporting, advertising and entertainment. What is striking in the first instance is how different these ways of communicating are. It may indeed be possible to be quite easily convinced empirically that all three strands use the same technology of dissemination and can regularly be found in the same newspaper or within a single broadcasting hour on radio or television. But if one starts out from the coding of information/disinformation, what is impressive is the variety of kinds of realization, the variety of ways in which irritation and information are generated in the individual spheres of the media.

News, advertising and entertainment certainly differ according to how they can be used in further communication. If people are well-informed from the news or from in-depth reports, they can pass on this information or perhaps talk about it instead of about the weather in order to get further communication going. There is not much point in doing that in the case of advertising, and even with entertainment further communication does not consist in the stories being spun further or in learning lessons and proclaiming them. People may exchange judgements about taste and prove themselves capable of making a judgement. But on the whole the contribution of all three forms of mass media communication — and this is where they converge — can be said to be in creating the conditions for further communication which do not themselves have to be communicated in the process. This applies to being up-to-date with one’s information just as it does to being up-to-date culturally, as far as judgments about values, ways of life, what is in/what is out of fashion are concerned. Thanks to the mass media, then, it is also possible to judge whether it is considered acceptable or provocative to stand apart and reveal one’s own opinion. Since taken as a starting point, one can take off from there and create a profile for oneself by expressing personal opinions, saying how one sees the future, demonstrating preferences, etc.

The social function of the mass media is thus not to be found in the totality of information actualized by each (that is, not on the positively valued side of their code) but in the memory generated by it. For the social system, memory consists in being able to take certain assumptions about reality as given and known about in every communication, without having to introduce them specially into the communication and justify them.

… Direct references to the information communicated may vary and relate mainly to current news; but with the generation of a latent everyday culture, and the constant reproduction of recursivity of social communicating, the programme strands work together to water the same garden bed, as it were, from which one can harvest as necessary.

So mass media are not media in the sense of conveying information from those who know to those who do not know. They are media to the extent that they make available background knowledge and carry on writing it as a starting point for communication.

… in all the programme strands the mass media do not seem to be aiming to generate a consensual construction of reality — or, if they are, to no avail. Their world contains and reproduces differences of opinion in plenty. This does not only happen when conflicts are being reported, when suspicions of manipulation come to the fore or when purely private views of reality are presented ‘live’. The mass media are always also working continuously at discrediting themselves. Topics, not opinions, are decisive.

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



March 28, 2012

What Does He Gain By It?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:06 am

… The [un-tragic] man of the world lives in nuance and by degrees, he lives in a mixture of light and shadow, in confused enchantment or irresolute mediocrity: in the middle.

… But how does man become tragic man? And what does he gain by it? What he loses is evident: ease, forgetfulness, tranquil malaise, dull pleasures, a tender inconstancy, and an almost agreeable nausea, neither truth nor lies, but the illusion of both — a mystified life that some might charge is not a life, but that is a life of appearances one will do anything not to lose.

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

… Let us note well that all the contradictions in which we exist — the misfortune of a thought that has nothing with which to begin and dissipates from one infinite to the other; the ambiguity by which we are scattered, not dwelling, incessantly coming and going, always here and there and yet nowhere, curious with regard to everything in order not to stop anywhere; a world in which nothing is either present or absent, where there is neither proximity nor distance, where everything escapes, leaving us the illusion of having everything — all this is the consequence of a dispersing, pervasive, and errant obscurity that we have not had the force to fix in place.

The play of equivocal light is diversion.

Where everything is unsettled one can only live in perpetual detour, for to hold to one thing would suppose that there were something determined to hold onto; it would presuppose, therefore, a neat division of light and shadow, of sense and nonsense, and, finally, of fortune and misfortune. But inasmuch as the one is always the other, and we know it (but by way of a kind of ignorance that dissuades us without enlightening us), we seek only to preserve uncertainty and obey it, inconstant through a want of constancy that is in things themselves, leaning upon nothing because nothing offers support.

… One might perhaps say that in naming and in justifying diversion, Pascal gave to the literary art of the future one of its privileged categories. No doubt, it is the everyday course of existence he has in mind; the inauthentic and almost senseless existence in which, half awake, half deceitful, we hold ourselves suspended in an illusion that, through blind skill and a lazy stubbornness, we do not cease to render lasting.

… If one wishes to be faithful to the truth of diversion one must not know it, nor take it to be either true or false for fear of making disappear the essential, which is ambiguity: that indissociable mixture of true and false that nonetheless marvelously colors our life with ever-changing nuance.

… And naturally we will not be content with a surface description: we will descend into the depths, as does Pascal himself, finding them always more profoundly superficial, always more ambiguous, clear but falsely so, obscure, but with a dissimulating obscurity that always further dissembles itself; and thus we will obey the sole rule, which is to save this ambiguity, without arresting its movement and without pause, so that what is deprived of all final meaning will not cease to appear to us full of meaning, and so that, in this manner, we may be in accord with the discordant traits of human existence. The terrible vanity of art would thus come from the fact that it alone does justice, without justifying it, to what is vain: following diversion all the way through, accomplishing it in its incompletion and without our either being able or desiring to elude it.

[Lucien] Goldmann borrows the elements of this conception of the tragic from Georg Lukács’s analyses in Soul and Form, a book that appeared some fifty years ago; but in applying it to Pascal, Goldmann gives it a rigor that transforms it. How to move from this equivocal state that is the senseless sense of the world, and that we ought not mistake, to the absolute truth, that pure and total light whose exigency I find in myself? How to entertain the ambiguity and not accept it; how to live in the diverting confusion of vague and brilliant instants and, faced with this “anarchy of the clair-obscure,” hold myself to a contrariety so exclusive that it transforms into an essential affirmation that which is essentially without firmness? It seems that Pascal’s efforts, his discovery and his conversion (which was also philosophical), tend to take up and gather all obscurity into a higher region where it becomes mystery, situating it in such a way that the incomprehensible becomes a source of comprehension and gives a power of understanding — and this without yielding in any way to the “mysticism” of the irrational. The obscurity must be held fast; and by going back to that superior region, by overtaking it with a leap, one must above all disclose — not tone down — the hidden divisions of the world in such a way that they become illuminated and sharpened by the mystery’s initial obscurity: irreconcilable contraries, affirmations that exclude one another, exigencies that are opposed. One must disclose the exigency of their opposition and the more exigent exigency of the necessity of their truth in the whole.

The man of the world lives in nuance and by degrees, he lives in a mixture of light and shadow, in confused enchantment or irresolute mediocrity: in the middle. Tragic man lives in the extreme tension between contraries, going from a yes and no confusedly merged back to a yes and a no that are clear and clearly preserved in their opposition. He does not see man as a passable mixture of middling qualities and honest failings, but as an unendurable meeting of extreme grandeur and extreme destitution, an incongruous nothingness in which the two infinites collide.

But how does man become tragic man? And what does he gain by it? What he loses is evident: ease, forgetfulness, tranquil malaise, dull pleasures, a tender inconstancy, and an almost agreeable nausea, neither truth nor lies, but the illusion of both — a mystified life that some might charge is not a life, but that is a life of appearances one will do anything not to lose. But tragic man is one whose existence has suddenly become transformed: from a play of light and shadow it has become both an exigency of absolute clarity and an encounter with heavy darkness, the summons to a true speech and the trial of an infinitely silent space. Finally, it has become the presence of a world incapable of justice and offering only derisory compromise when it is the absolute, and the absolute alone, that is required: hence an uninhabitable world in which one is obliged to dwell. For tragic man, everything has instantly hardened, everything is the face to face of incompatibilities. Where does this come from? Whence this sudden metamorphosis?

… In the Lafuma edition (which claims to restore, if not the order that might have belonged to the completed Pensées — for this order is perhaps unthinkable — at least the classification of bundles and notebooks in which Pascal gave a provisional ordering to his work), what comes in the beginning, as the principle from which all else is to follow, is the name and the thought of the Deus absconditus: “the presence of the God that hides.”

… This is why Pascal will vigorously affirm: “Atheists ought to say things perfectly clearly.” But as they find it impossible to do so — it being “inconceivable that God should exist and inconceivable that he should not exist; that there should be a soul in the body, that we should have no soul; that the world should have been created, that it should not, etc.; that there should be original sin, and that there should not be” — we are led, not reasonably but by a very particular movement, to bind together, into bundles as it were, these terrible incomprehensibilities whose incompatible nature nonetheless joins them two by two, and to elevate them to the point where they are the most incompatible and impose themselves with a force become infinite: in the supreme incertitude of the supremely certain, the presence of the absent God. Vere tu es Deus absconditus.

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



In Thought

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:06 am

… there is a persistent tension in Christian thought between a sense of contingent place-identity and placelessness, between a localized and temporal material existence and a process of being drawn beyond these boundaries into what is complete or universal …

This is from an essay ‘Garden, City, or Wilderness? Landscape and Destiny in the Christian Imagination’ by Philip Sheldrake in the collection The Place of Landscape: Concepts, Contexts, Studies edited by Jeff Malpas (2011):

… Throughout human history, features such as forests, fields, mountains, gardens, and cities have been both geographic realities where social practices were enacted and also imaginary realities — powerful symbols that evoked fear or desire. Thus, “landscape” is an ambiguous concept. … [L]andscape has provided the physical features upon which human beings draw imaginatively in order to shape distinctive identities and to express worldviews.

[ … ]

… According to the logic of Christian understandings of a transcendent, unbounded, and ultimately indefinable God, the divine could never appropriately be described in relation to one place or imaged by only one landscape.

For Christianity, the ultimate destiny of humanity is, like God, essentially ineffable — that is, beyond place, beyond knowing, and beyond any image. … Because in this sense the nature of human destiny is indefinable, the metaphors for it in Christian literature are not limited to landscapes or place but also include references to sight (light, darkness, or a cloud of unknowing in different texts), sound (music or a paradoxical singing silence), taste (the heavenly banquet), or fragrant smell. Fundamentally, there is a persistent tension in Christian thought between a sense of contingent place-identity and placelessness, between a localized and temporal material existence and a process of being drawn beyond these boundaries into what is complete or universal, conceived as the all-embracing life of God.

… For a Christian writer like Augustine, human destiny must always be thought of as perpetually expanding and dynamic, for the divine reality is always more than we can grasp. “Just as love grows, the search for the one who has been found [God] also increases.” In this sense, “heaven” too may be thought of in terms of persistent growth — a perpetual journey — toward further revelation and enlightenment that is never complete.

… Christian religious language has maintained a paradoxical tension between definition and unknowing, between affirmation by means of images and denial that any image, or imaging in general captures the reality of the divine. Thus, while Christianity has persistently employed landscape images for human destiny, it has at the same time carefully affirmed that God and the nature of “heaven” remain elusive and beyond the capacity of human imagination finally to express.

My most recent previous post from this collection is here.



March 27, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:45 am

… The “therefore” is not picturable.

This is from the chapter ‘Metaphor and Art’ by John M. Kennedy in The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought edited by Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. (2008):

… I will contend pictures are prototypical art objects, and pictures have to use perceptual tactics that are realistic, so violations of realism in art are readily taken to be metaphors. The general principle at work here is that metaphor violates standard representational practice.

… Five wheels are shown. One suggests a wheel in steady spinning motion, one shows a static wheel, one a wobbly wheel, one a wheel in jerky motion, one a wheel spinning too fast to make out, and one a wheel with its brakes on. Of interest, the wheels are identified in similar fashion by blind adults using raised line pictures and the sighted using printed pictures. Steady spin is suggested to both groups of subjects by curves spokes, static by straight spokes, wobbly by wavy spokes, jerky by bent spokes, too fast to make out by dashed spokes, and brakes-on by spokes extended beyond the wheel’s perimeter. These are not pictorial onomatopoeia, in the fashion of murmuring sounding like its referent, for they do not give the impression of motion, but each form and motion have a useful feature in common. For example wobbly motion is relatively smooth and varies in direction, while jerky motion changes abruptly.

… Perceptual functions triggered by dots, lines, and contours help the perceiver detect real surfaces. Taking advantage of these natural laws, lines, and contours in pictures trigger perceived surfaces. Metaphors for motion violate the laws. What goes for motion goes for smell, taste, surprise, pain, heat, and the like in comic-book devices originating in the 19th century. Wavy lines above garbage stand for smells. Spiky lines around a swollen thumb stand for pain.

About representing motion, [James] Cutting writes that they often use what Arnheim called dynamic balance (objects are depicted with asymmetry), multiple images … , affine shear (the object leans forward), photographic blur, and … [cartoon trailing or bracketing] action lines. Motion is not balance, multiplication, leaning, blur, or trailing lines, but these suggest motion, that is, are metaphors for it.

… As motion-representation tests metaphorical use of lines, forms such as circles and squares can test symbolic functions.

Ping and pong can be matched to sweet (ping) and sour (pong), or high and low, or cat and elephant. A similar game can be played with circle and square. One is soft and one is hard. Overwhelmingly, people match circle with soft and square with hard (100% agreement from Toronto [where Kennedy teaches] undergraduates). Similarly, most match circle with good and square with evil (89%). Most pair strong with square and weak with circle (79%).

[ … ]

… pictures use perception that is intuitive and untaught, and words are coinage whose denomination is anything we agree on.

… Words have types, such as “names,” with no direct equivalent in pictures. Pictures do not have verbs or nouns. They do not have “to be.” They do not have sentence structure. Hence, they cannot make claims. They cannot say A is B or A is not B. Hence, they are only metaphors in a sense of metaphor that needs to be firmly hedged here.

Further still, pictures do not have logical qualities. All, some, none, and definite and indefinite articles are missing. They cannot distinguish “all bunnies on Lancaster lawns” from “some bunnies” or “the bunnies.” Hence, they do not offer properties needed for concepts. The mansions in Lennoxvale are examples of the concept “houses.” There are more examples such as all the Queen’s mansions. All the examples have the proper features of the concept, and some have features of subcategories. The lawns around large Lennoxvale houses help them qualify for the subcategory of mansions. But pictures cannot indicate that the bunnies and the mansions they show are all or some or none of the pertinent examples.

Miss all and some and there is no conceptual hierarchy. Is this a dagger that I see before me? Or a knife? Or a weapon? Or an implement? Or a hand-held object/ It is all of these and more. Pictures do not specify the level in a hierarchy at which particular examples should be taken.

Pictures do not say false and “Therefore this dagger is in Sans Souci is false” is not picturable. The “therefore” is not picturable.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




March 26, 2012

What Has Escaped Us

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:31 am

All men are deceived by the appearances of things, even Homer himself, who was the wisest man in Greece; for he was deceived by boys catching lice: they said to him, “What we have caught and what we have killed we have left behind, but what has escaped us we bring with us.”  — Heraclitus



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