Unreal Nature

April 30, 2012

In This Eye

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:30 am

Rearview Mirror
by Robert Morgan

This little pool in the air is
not a spring but sink into which
trees and highway bank and fields are
sipped away to minuteness. All
split on the present then merge in
stretched perspective radiant in
reverse, the wide world guttering
back to one lit point, as our way
weeps away to the horizon
in this eye where the past flies ahead.

When I was little (sub-10) our family “station wagon” (car) had, in addition to the usual wide front and back seats, a small backward facing two-seater at the very rear of the car. As the youngest (smallest) of a large tribe this was the assigned spot for me and my little sister. We spent many, many hours in this speeding, spinning-away rearview world; “radiant in reverse.”




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:29 am

… it is dependent on something outside itself, and in whose direction it inflects.

… You are aware of elements related by inflection to elements already seen or not yet seen, like the unraveling of a symphony.

This is from Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture by Robert Venturi (1966; 2002):

… Designing from the outside in, as well as the inside out, creates necessary tensions, which help make architecture. Since the inside is different from the outside, the wall — the point of change — becomes an architectural event. Architecture occurs at the meeting of interior and exterior forces of use and space. These interior and environmental forces are both general and particular, generic and circumstantial. Architecture as the wall between the inside and the outside becomes the spatial record of this resolution and its drama.

Frank Furness, Clearing House, Philadelphia 

… Properties of the part can be more or less articulated, properties of the whole can be more or less accented. In the complex compositions, a special obligation toward the whole encourages the fragmentary part or, as Trystan Edwards calls it, the term, “inflection.”

Inflection in architecture is the way in which the whole is implied by exploiting the nature of the individual parts, rather than their position or number. By inflecting toward something outside themselves, the parts contain their own linkage, inflected parts are more integral with the whole than are uninflected parts. Inflection is a means of distinguishing diverse parts while implying continuity. It involves the art of the fragment. The valid fragment is economical because it implies richness and meaning beyond itself. Inflection can also be used to achieve suspense, an element possible in large sequential complexes. The inflected element can be called a partial-functioning element in contrast to the double-functioning element. In terms of perception it is dependent on something outside itself, and in whose direction it inflects. It is a directional form corresponding to directional space.

… When you stand close enough to see a smaller element of inflection, you sometimes need to turn almost 180 degrees to see its counterpart at a great distance. An element of suspense is introduced when you move around the enormous building. [Venturi is using Armando Brazini’s Orphanage of Il Buon Pastore as his example.] You are aware of elements related by inflection to elements already seen or not yet seen, like the unraveling of a symphony. As a fragment in plan and elevation, the asymmetrical composition of each wing is wrought with tensions and implications concerning the symmetrical while.

[ … ]

… the obligation toward the whole in an architecture of complexity and contradiction does not preclude the building which is unresolved. Poets and playwrights acknowledge dilemmas without solutions. The validity of the questions and vividness of the meaning are what make their works art more than philosophy. A goal of poetry can be unity of expression over resolution of content. Contemporary sculpture is often fragmentary, and today we appreciate Michelangelo’s unfinished Pietàs more than his early work, because their content is suggested, their expression more immediate, and their forms are completed beyond themselves. A building can also be more or less incomplete in the expression of its program and its form.

… It is the taut composition which contains contrapuntal relationships, equal combinations, inflected fragments, and acknowledged dualities. It is the unity which “maintains, but only just maintains, a control over the clashing elements which compose it. Chaos is very near, its nearness, but its avoidance, gives … force.” In the validly complex building or cityscape, the eye does not want to be too easily or too quickly satisfied in its search for unity within a whole.

Some of the vivid lessons of Pop Art, involving contradictions of scale and context, should have awakened architects from prim dreams of pure order, which, unfortunately, are imposed in the easy Gestalt unities of the urban renewal projects establishment Modern architecture and yet, fortunately are really impossible to achieve at any great scope. And it is perhaps from the everyday landscape, vulgar and disdained, that we can draw the complex and contradictory order that is valid and vital for our architecture as an urbanistic whole.

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



April 29, 2012

Perfecting the Turtles

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:11 am

…  ingenuity and imagination play their main part in the critical process of error elimination. Most of the great theories which are among the supreme achievements of the human mind are the offspring of earlier dogmas, plus criticism.

That (above) would seem to me to be a ‘turtles-all-the-way-down‘ kind of thing. Furthermore, see my ‘Full Disclosure’ at the end of this post. Anyway, this is from Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography by Karl Popper (2002: 1974):

… I was … much concerned with the problem of dogmatic thinking and its relation to critical thinking. What especially interested me was the idea that dogmatic thinking, which I regarded as prescientific, was a stage that was needed if critical thinking was to be possible. Critical thinking must be the result of dogmatic thinking.

… My main idea in 1919 was this. If somebody proposed a scientific theory he should answer, as Einstein did, the question: “Under what conditions would I admit that my theory is untenable?” In other words, what conceivable facts would I accept as refutations, or falsifications, of my theory?

… But when a little later I tentatively introduced the idea of falsifiability (or testability or refutability) of a theory as a criterion of demarcation, I very soon found that every theory can be “immunized” (this excellent term is due to Hans Albert) against criticism. If we allow such immunization, then every theory becomes unfalsifiable. Thus we must exclude at least some immunization.

On the other hand, I also realized that we must not exclude all immunizations, not even all which introduced ad hoc auxiliary hypotheses. For example, the observed motion of Uranus might have been regarded as a falsification of Newton’s theory. Instead the auxiliary hypothesis of an outer planet was introduced ad hoc, thus immunizing the theory. This turned out to be fortunate; for the auxiliary hypothesis was a testable one, even if difficult to test, and it stood up to tests successfully.

All this shows not only that some degree of dogmatism is fruitful, even in science, but also that logically speaking falsifiability, or testability, cannot be regarded as a very sharp criterion.

… immunization is always possible. But the evasion would usually be dishonest: it would consist, say, in denying that a black swan was a swan, or that it was black; or that a non-Keplerian planet was a planet.

Konrad Lorenz is the author of a marvelous theory in the field of animal psychology, which he calls “imprinting.” It implies that young animals have an inborn mechanism for jumping to unshakable conclusions.

… The following points about Lorenz’simprinting” are important:

(1) It is a process — not the only one — of learning by observation.

(2) The problem solved under the stimulus of the observation is inborn; that is, the gosling is genetically conditioned to look out for its mother: it expects to see its mother.

(3) The theory or expectation which solves the problem is also to some extent inborn, or genetically conditioned: it goes far beyond the actual observation, which merely (so to speak) releases or triggers the adoption of a theory which is largely preformed in the organism.

(4) The learning process is nonrepetitive, though it may take a certain amount of time (a short time), and involve often some activity or “effort” on the part of the organism; it therefore may involve a situation not too far removed from that normally encountered. I shall say of such nonrepetitive learning processes that they are “noninductive,” taking repetition as the characteristic of “induction.” …

(5) The observation itself works only like the turning of a key in a lock. Its role is important, but the highly complex result is almost completely preformed.

(6) Imprinting is an irreversible process of learning; that is, it is not subject to correction or revision.

… Most (or perhaps all) learning processes consist in theory formation; that is, in the formation of expectations. The formation of a theory or conjecture has always a “dogmatic,” and often a “critical,” phase. This dogmatic phase shares, with imprinting, the characteristics (2) to (4), and sometimes also (1) and (5), but not normally (6). The critical phase consists in giving up the dogmatic theory under the pressure of disappointed expectations or refutations, and in trying out other dogmas. I noticed that sometimes the dogma was so strongly entrenched that no disappointment could shake it. It is clear that in this case — though only in this case — dogmatic theory formation comes very close to imprinting, of which (6) is characteristic. However, I was inclined to look on (6) as a kind of neurotic aberration.

… in any case in which the method of trial and error is applied to the solution of such a problem as the problem of adaptation (to a maze, say), the trials are as a rule not determined, or not completely determined, by the problem; nor can they anticipate its (unknown) solution otherwise than by a fortunate accident.

… Yet the trials are not always quite blind to the demands of the problem: the problem often determines the range from which the trials are selected (such as the range of the digits [in solving a math problem]). This is well described by David Katz: “A hungry animal divides the environment into edible and inedible things. An animal in flight sees roads of escape and hiding places.” Moreover, the problem may change somewhat with the successive trials; for example, the range may narrow. But there may also be quite different cases, especially on the human level; cases in which everything depends upon an ability to break through the limits of the assumed range. These cases show that the selection of the range itself may be a trial (an unconscious conjecture), and that critical thinking may consist not only in a rejection of any particular trial or conjecture, but also in a rejection of what may be described as a deeper conjecture — the assumption of the range of ‘all possible trials.’ This, I suggest, is what happens in many cases of ‘creative’ thinking.

What characterizes creative thinking, apart from the intensity of the interest in the problem, seems to me often the ability to break through the limits of the range — or to vary the range — from which a less creative thinker selects his trials. This ability, which clearly is a critical ability, may be described as critical imagination. It is often the result of culture clash, that is, a clash between ideas, or frameworks of ideas. Such a clash may help us to break through the ordinary bounds of our imagination.

… A “trial” or a newly formed “dogma” or a new “expectation” is largely the result of inborn needs that give rise to specific problems. But it is also the result of the inborn need to form expectations (in certain specific fields, which in their turn are related to some other needs); and it may also be partly the result of disappointed earlier expectations. I do not of course deny that there may also be an element of personal ingenuity present in the formation of trials or dogmas, but I think that ingenuity and imagination play their main part in the critical process of error elimination. Most of the great theories which are among the supreme achievements of the human mind are the offspring of earlier dogmas, plus criticism.

… although the theory of a dogmatic phase followed by a critical phase is too simple, it is true that there can be no critical phase without a preceding dogmatic phase, a phase in which something — an expectation, a regularity of behavior — is formed, so that error elimination can begin to work on it.

… [This] led me to see that there is no such thing as an unprejudiced observation. All observation is an activity with an aim (to find, or to check, some regularity which is at least vaguely conjectured); an activity guided by problems, and by the context of expectations (the “horizon of expectations” as I later called it).

… All learning is a modification (it may be a refutation) of some prior knowledge and thus, in the last analysis, of some inborn knowledge.

[Full Disclosure: I have trimmed out parts where Popper says things like, “There is no such thing as a perception except in the context of interests and expectations …” — because I think that’s rubbish.]

My previous post from Popper’s book is here.



April 28, 2012

Singing Itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:09 am

… “When we invent a melody, the melody sings in us much more than we sing it; … the body is suspended in what it sings: the melody is incarnated and finds in the body a type of servant.”

This is from Onto-Ethologies: The Animal Environments of Uexküll, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze by Brett Buchanan (2008). I’m skipping Heidegger and jumping into the middle of the section on Merleau-Ponty. I hope you are already somewhat familiar with his philosophy (search this blog for bits and pieces if you need an intro):

… The behavior of the bird in flight, this flurry of plumage, becomes the adhesion of the multiple, the sustaining of a dimension expressive of life. But each dimension of life is only a momentary adhesion held together through behaviour until interrupted by some other adhesion of the multiple. The bird-in-flight encounters scurrying-brown-mouse. The oily-otter-swimming emerges from the water to become slow-basking-otter. In each case, the animal-environment is transformed and takes on new meaning.

The focus on behavioral activity leads us toward a general depiction of life itself. More specifically, however, the activity and movement of organisms shed light on the natural cohesiveness between living beings that itself leads us toward Merleau-Ponty’s ontology. Beginning with the general view:

we must understand life as the opening of a field of action. The animal is produced by the production of a milieu, that is, by the appearing in the physical world of a field radically different from the physical world with its specific temporality and spatiality. Hence the analysis of the general life of the animal, of relations that it maintains with its body, of the relations of its body to its spatial milieu (its territory), of inter-animality either within the species or between two different species, even those that are usually enemies, as the rat lives among vipers. Here two Umwelten, two rings of finality [anneaux de finalité] cross each other.

The interlacing of fields is suggestive, for it evokes the same penetration of Umwelten that was observed in Heidegger’s analysis of the encircling rings. The different Umwelten of different organisms cross one another like rings ‘opening’ each to the other and giving the appearance of life itself. If life is opened up at all, it opens through such fields of action, which are more or less synonymous with an Umwelt. Even more striking is the notion that organisms are produced by the production of this milieu. The selection of Merleau-Ponty’s phrasing is unambiguous: there is a reciprocal — and one may even say passive — relation between the organism and its milieu. The animal is said to be produced by the production of the milieu, but, in saying this, both animal and milieu are produced by a production that goes unnamed. Neither one is individually the producer, while both together are a product. What then produces the animal-milieu structure?

… Eventually we arrive at an interesting response, and it appears as a concept that we have already observed at work in his earliest text, namely, that of the melody. We should not really be surprised to find Merleau-Ponty returning to the same metaphor that he discovered in Uexküll fifteen years earlier, though thankfully he now finds reason to describe it at slightly greater length. If there is a production implicating both organism and environment at once, it might best be described as the “unfurling [déploiement] of an Umwelt as a melody that is singing itself.” Merleau-Ponty continues: “This is a comparison full of meaning. When we invent a melody, the melody sings in us much more than we sing it; it goes down the throat of the singer, as Proust says. Just as the painter is struck by a painting which is not there, the body is suspended in what it sings: the melody is incarnated and finds in the body a type of servant.”

… A further attempt to express this relation: “the unfurling of the animal is like a pure wake that is related to no boat.”

What I believe is at work within this philosophical interpretation of Uexküll’s biology is Merleau-Ponty’s grappling with “something new: the notion of Umwelt,” though in a way in which he has not yet formulated a language for himself to express this relation. From one of his working notes, it is clear that a reconsideration and overhaul of his language are at work. “Replace the notions of concept, idea, mind, representation with the notions of dimensions, articulation, level, hinges, pivots, configuration — “. It is also clear that an ontological relation is at play, and that the relation involves neither substance nor force. The Umwelt unfurls like a melody, the animal unfurls like a pure wake.

… [Mauro] Carbone draws attention to a type of “negativity” that underlies Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of the Umwelt, the melody as a theme that “haunts” the organism. Twice Merleau-Ponty mentions the haunting of the Umwelt melody, as ‘something’ that is present but only as an absence, as a life structure that for the moment resists appellation, as the composition of an environment that unfurls in the behavioral movements of the animal but that are never seen as such. Carbone aligns the theme of the melody with “the absent,” and this association is particularly appropriate when read in view of Merleau-Ponty’s ontology where, for example, “totality is likewise everywhere and nowhere”, both present and absent.

… In pursuing nature as ontological, Merleau-Ponty is clear that he is not aiming to offer an epistemology or metaphysics of nature. It is natural being that he is after, and in particular the manner by which nature shows itself in the intertwining of lives, what he refers to as “inter-animality,” or in the folds and leaves of being itself. What he is after, in other words, is what might be discovered in the “hollow” of being that remained unexcavated in his earlier works. He wishes to retrieve the “brute” or “wild” being that lies beneath all the cultural sediment of the intelligible world. As he notes, “there is no intelligible world, there is the sensible world.” So as opposed to continuing to describe the perceived world and the modes of perception, Merleau-Ponty intends to dig beneath perceptual consciousness in order to discover what allows for the possibility of perception itself. To do so, all the “bric-a-brac” associated with the cultural and intelligible world — “Erlebnisse,” judgments,” “consciousness,” “ontic” things — need to be observed for what they are: realities that have been “carved” out of “the ontological tissue.” It is not so much an issue of removing these aspects of life as much as digging back into the brute being of nature.

If you missed it, you can find my reading of Uexküll’s book starting here.



April 27, 2012

This Brief Interval

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:34 am

… The fact that humans have gone to such lengths and heights to prolong and decorate this brief interval seems to indicate the desire to do as much a possible to set aside the fact of gravity.

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

… There seems here to be an unexpected logic of what may be called the essentially gratuitous, in which grace is conferred precisely by the sense of what is performed just a little in excess of the necessary, when economy can appear as a kind of style, the performing of an act that just minimally shadows or quotes itself as a performance. The curve and the swerve seem to embody in particular this gratuity, in the margin or fringe of possibility that it always includes.

… In the end, or the long run, of course, things dip, decline and surrender to the force of gravity. But the way they do so, in arcs and curves of various kinds, loops out the compenetration of gravity and grace, at once the calculation and the calculated result of unimaginably complex and beautiful problems of adjustment of opposing and oblique forces. Few things give human beings more delight than the fantasy of dwelling a while in the semi-arrested interval of variegated fall.

[photo from Wikipedia]

… Diving is perhaps the purest form of this counterfactual willingness to sport and cavort with the possibilities opened up by what would otherwise be the most certainly fatal kind of precipitate descent. [ … ] The movements of the diver, like those of the acrobat, are almost all gyratory, the closing of the curve on itself, in a defiance of the order of the direct and the perpendicular. The point of the dive is to use the conditions of necessity to incorporate as many unnecessary and literally pointless actions as possible within the necessarily limited space of time that the descent allows.

The fact that humans have gone to such lengths and heights to prolong and decorate this brief interval seems to indicate the desire to do as much a possible to set aside the fact of gravity. It is certainly the case that the supreme moments in many sports seem to involve the principle of joyous ascent, as though to break for good with gravity. In fact, though, the absolute removal of gravity seems also to remove the tension, beauty and joy of the parabolic descent, in which one must be determined to lose, but to lose in the most playful way possible.

… Some recent developments in sport, prompted by its increasing visibility, suggest that the disciplined fostering of agôn need not be entirely at the cost of the disorderly principle of ilinx. In soccer, in particular, the scoring of goals (comparatively rare events, compared with other sports, on which a great deal may turn) has for some decades been accompanied by extravagant displays of festivity, which often depend upon the principles of sudden disorientation and the world turned upside down, just at the point at which one might expect the values of coordination and concentrated purpose to be asserted. Scorers of goals routinely execute handsprings and backflips, or may fling themselves to the ground, in a reversal of the expected gesture of arms spread and raised to the sky. Most tellingly of all, the careful quartering and quarantining of territorial position which characterizes modern soccer, with each player responsible for patrolling a particular zone of play, gives way to a tangle of limbs as the scoring team fling themselves on the scorer, in a wriggling mass of limbs and extremities. Here, the sleek victory-machine of the scorer’s body has become the clownish, metamorphic chimera-body of the trickster.

In a number of sports, the scoring of goals or points is achieved by a triumphant grounding or touching down of the ball. In soccer, in which the goal acts as a surrogate ground, the motion is often completed by the player’s ritual celebrations of the fact of scoring, which may involve a dramatic slide, either on the knees, or face down, with arms wide in a kind of magnificent, skidding prostration. Far from achieving height, the climax of the game is a kind of exaltation of abasement. Whatever is achieved in the time and space of play is achieved against the drag of time, fatigue and gravity, to which the players must eventually succumb. Victory is achieved over this succumbing not by disavowing it, in feeble spasms of levitation, but through the grandeur of cadenza, of dying fall. Rugby players have developed a whole repertoire of different forms of diving over the line to score a try, aiming, it seems, to prolong indefinitely the rapturous moment of mid-air suspension. (Since the advent of high-speed cameras the ideal seems to have become the perfectly horizontal dive, producing an image resembling Superman in flight.) There is another kind of dive, resorted to not only by the goalkeeper or fielder in various sports, but also by players of racket sports such as badminton and tennis; this is the dive, not of triumph, but of a  kind of exultant desperation, that forces one to abandon the safe haven of uprightness and turn one’s body into a projectile. Again, prostration is mixed with splendour, as the diver attempts to occupy the impossible interval of pure movement and, taking the catch or making the volley at full stretch, to find a point of stasis within it.

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




April 26, 2012

World Without

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:53 am

… Nature then becomes global space, empty of men, from which society withdraws.

… which is why the state of nature remains incomprehensible to the language invented in and by society — or that invents social man. Science enacts laws without subject in this world without men …

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

… It is always true that for every law there exist spaces of non-law, where the conventions are different: there this court has no competence. This term is used, even in the sciences, for the right to judge, that is, the right to exercise jurisdiction. So appeals are directed to another competent authority.

… Because of its dazzling success, science now occupies the space of natural law. Galileo appeals to the Earth that moves, whose movement could not, in the eyes of the jurists of his time, assure a fixed reference for any judgment; this appeal gives something like an ownership contract to exact knowledge’s conquest of the terraqueous globe.

Galileo is the first to put a fence around the terrain of nature, take it into his head to say, “this belongs to science,” and find people simple enough to believe that this is of no consequence for man-made laws and civil societies, closed in on human relations as they are. He founds scientific society by giving it its property rights: in so doing, he lays the deep foundations of modern society. The knowledge contract becomes identified with a new social contract. Nature then becomes global space, empty of men, from which society withdraws. There the scientist judges nad legislates, mastering this space where man-made law had more or less left technicians and industrialists alone, free to go about innocently applying the laws of science — until the day when the natural stakes began to weigh more and more heavily on man-made debates.

Nature lies outside the collectivity, which is why the state of nature remains incomprehensible to the language invented in and by society — or that invents social man. Science enacts laws without subject in this world without men: its laws are different from legal laws.

The experimental sciences make themselves masters of this empty, desert, savage space. Philosophers thought that such space, if it existed, contained the conditions of possibility, the source, the foundation, the history, the genesis, the genealogy of all law, and even implied its distribution among several authorities, all of whom respond to the indefinite question “by what right?” and converge toward a final reference point. By becoming owners of the space of non-law, the sciences, with their competence, furnish experts for courts and thus decide before they do, and in their place.

… But now we encounter something new. At the borders of effective and precise knowledge, and at the limits of rational intervention, we find not only ignorance or error but mortal danger. Knowing is no longer enough.

For, as of today, the Earth is quaking anew: not because it shifts from its deep plates to its envelope of air, but because it is being transformed by our doing. Nature acted as a reference point for ancient law and for modern science because it had no subject: objectivity in the legal sense, as in the scientific sense, emanated from a space without man, which did not depend on us and on which we depended de jure and de facto. Yet henceforth it depends so much on us that it is shaking and that we too are worried by this deviation from expected equilibria.

… This crisis of foundations is not an intellectual crisis; it does not affect our ideas or language or logic or geometry, but time and weather and our survival.

For the first time in three hundred years, science is speaking to law and reason to judgment.

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



The Last Observer

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:53 am

… no one can know whether he will remain who he had thought he was. He cannot know because he himself decides the issue.

… with a constant change of perspectives, the observer who is performing this transformation with the before/after distinction still cannot be grasped. … the last observer cannot be identified.

Last post from The Reality of the Mass Media by Niklas Luhmann (1996):

… Forgetting sets you free. But since for its part forgetting cannot be remembered, one needs a schema that regulates what is retained and can be reused. These may be schemata of perception which enable the gaze to be focused and the unfamiliar to be recognized by setting it against what is familiar. But they may also be more abstract categorizations, or both at the same time if, for example, people’s qualities or behaviour are inferred from racial characteristics. Schemata do not force repetitions to be made, neither do they specify action. In fact, their function is precisely to generate space for freely chosen behaviour in a system which with its own past has put itself in the state (and in no other) in which it currently finds itself. This is what abstraction (not necessarily conceptual) is for, the disregarding of  … , the repression of the countless details which mark situations as unique and unrepeatable. But abstraction also means that new situations can modify the schema. The schema allows for supplements and replenishments; it cannot be applied ‘schematically.’ Deviations come as a surprise because of the schema; they become conspicuous and thus imprint themselves on the memory. Schemata are instruments of forgetting — and of learning; they are limitations to flexibility which make flexibility within prestructured barriers possible in the first place.

… Communication about ecological problems is a particularly good example for our purposes, because it goes far beyond the individual’s world of experience. (Who could say from their own knowledge what would have happened to the contents of the Brent Spar platform, given the pressure operating on the sea bed, if it had been sunk?) The mass media too are unequal to the task, and when they turn to science, they will typically be given more knowledge and more ignorance at the same time. So, we are dependent upon schema formation. It might be normative sentences which are set against ‘virtual reality’ and are very typically fashioned metaphorically. For example, the ocean should not be used as a rubbish dump. This is self-evident, so to speak. If one asks further, more scripts are brought to bear. [ … ] There is no coming up against difficulties with individual’s memories or their world experience here. They have not yet experienced such things or can at best, if the script is offered, activate experiences of their own that fit (the layer of filth on the car parked outside). So it is not a case of the ‘re-education’ of individuals, of them unlearning, in a more or less difficult process, something that had been thought of as knowledge. The ecological imagery, its schemata, its scripts are developed on a greenfield site, so to speak, they form a terrain that is not yet occupied.

… One is who one is from the start. But how then does a secondary need for self-schematizations arise?

… Like theatre, the mass media also put the individual into a scene that is outside the scene set on the stage. We have described this as a technical condition for the differentiation of a media system. This distance has to seem ambivalent to the individuals: on the one hand they are not themselves the text being performed for them; and if, like Rousseau, they have written and published it, they are it no longer. Neither do they see themselves on television, and if in an exceptional case they do, it is with special pleasure in the self-recognition only found in exceptions. On the other hand, the mass media produce the world in which individuals find themselves. This is true of all programme sectors: of news, advertising, entertainment. What is presented to them affects them too, since they have to lead their lives in this world; and it affects them even when they know very well that they will never get into the situations or play the roles presented to them as factual or fictional. Instead, they can still identify with the cult objects or the motives which the scripts of the mass media offer them. When individuals look at media as text or as image, they are outside; when they experience their results within themselves, they are inside. They have to oscillate between outside and inside, as if in a paradoxical situation: quickly, almost without losing any time, and undecidedly.

… No one sees himself as the reflection of another. The only point of agreement is the necessity of using schemata for sustaining memory. But self-schematization cannot relieve the strain on itself through the illusion of an ‘objective’ (even if disputed) reality. On the one hand it (self-schematizatioin) is indisputable, for no one can perform it for another, and on the other it is under threat of constant dissolution. This is because no one can know whether he will remain who he had thought he was. He cannot know because he himself decides the issue.

The structural couplings between individuals and society affect the whole of reality. This is true of all social formations. However, the mass media vary the structural conditions of these structural couplings because they change the need for schemata as well as what they offer.

[ … ]

… One accepts the contingency of all criteria and of all possible observer positions. But that only means that one is able to switch from any distinction to another, that, for example, one can take into account fashions or transformations of values. In fact, these are now accepted schemata. The problem of transformation and of contingency has been digested and can be expressed with the normal schematisms of the mass media. The system may then be operating at a level of greater uncertainty, but that is also true of the other function systems, of the money economy, art, science, politics. In accepting this characteristic postmodern style the mass media are merely following what the form of social differentiation suggests. But with a constant change of perspectives, the observer who is performing this transformation with the before/after distinction still cannot be grasped. … the last observer cannot be identified.

… If sociology takes up the position of a second-order observation cybernetics, it does not renounce communication, but it will have to send its communication via the diversion of paradoxy — like a therapist. The stark contradiction between the selection procedures of the mass media and their success in constructing reality, towards which society orients itself, may be a particular occasion for this. We therefore repeat our initial question. It is not: what is the case, what surrounds us as world and as society? It is rather: how is it possible to accept information about the world and about society as information about reality when one knows how it is produced?

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



April 25, 2012

Give It Form

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:52 am

… Let us suppose with regard to this spatial knot, this point of abrupt density, this polarization, this fundamental irregularity that hollows out and swells extension and duration …

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

… to speak according to the necessity of an irreducible plurality, to speak as though each word were its own indefinite echoing within a multiple space, is too heavy a burden for one to bear alone. Dialogue must help us share this duality; we double up in order to bear this double speech, now less weighty for being divided, and above all for having been made successive through the alternance that unfolds in time.

… But we know, first of all, that there is almost no sort of equality in our societies. (It suffices, in whatever regime, to have heard the “dialogue” between a man presumed innocent and the magistrate who questions him, to know what this equality of speech means when it is based upon an inequality of culture, condition, power, and fortune. But each of us, and at every moment, either is or finds himself in the presence of a judge. All speech is a word of command, of terror, of seduction, of resentment, flattery, or aggression; all speech is violence — and to pretend to ignore this in claiming to dialogue is to add liberal hypocrisy to the dialectical optimism according to which war is no more than another form of dialogue.) But there is more to be said. [ … ] It is difference itself; a difference that nothing should simplify, nothing can equalize and that alone, mysteriously, gives voice to two instances of speech by keeping them separate even as they are held together only by this separation.

… Dialogue is a plane geometry wherein relations are direct and remain ideally symmetrical. But let us suppose that the field of relations rests upon some anomaly analogous to what physicists would call a curvature of the universe; that is, a distortion preventing any possibility of symmetry and introducing between things, and particularly between man and man, a relation of infinity.

Let us suppose with regard to this spatial knot, this point of abrupt density, this polarization, this fundamental irregularity that hollows out and swells extension and duration in such a way that there would be nothing equal in them, and nothing simply unequal either — let us suppose that it falls to speech not to reduce it, not to turn away from it by declaring in unsayable, but rather to present it, that is (just the same), give it form.

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




Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:52 am

… they distort temporality, because they can seem live when they are not; that they collapse space, by extending the senses and permitting seeing-at-a-distance … ; but above all that they affect experience ambiguously, bringing events, people, and places closer to the viewer while also rendering them “glass-separated” …

This is from Being Watched: Yvonne Rainer and the 1960s by Carrie Lambert-Beatty (2008):

… consider another box, circa 1964: the much larger one, now, of the fifth-floor loft near Chinatown where choreographers associated with the Judson Dance Theater met that summer for a workshop. On the day it was Lucinda Childs’s turn to present new work, she turned on a tape recorder, then hopped in the elevator and left the building.

On tape, her voice told the viewers that to see the dance they would have to go to the studio windows. Doing so, they eventually spotted Childs in the doorway of a storefront at the far end of the strip of East Broadway visible from the studio. Watching through the windows, the audience saw her meet the dancer Tony Holder. For the next few minutes, Childs and Holder “essentially blended in with the other activity that was happening in the street.” Periodically they pointed to minutiae of the urban surround — to the lettering of signs, details of buildings, the contents of store windows — and each time, in the loft above, the tape of Childs’s voice described to the distant audience the details to which the dancers were pointing — the tags in an antique store display, the number to call if a certain building was burglarized, the fact that in a flea market window “two carved wooden owls face each other,” and that “a white sign with red lettering beneath the window square explains that the nonautomatic sprinkler is in the basement.” After five or six minutes of this, Holder and Childs simply “separated and left,” Yvonne Rainer recalled with a laugh some forty years later. They reentered the loft after a few minutes, to the audience’s appreciative applause.

Street DanceChilds’s appropriately pedestrian title for this extraordinary work — is a dance about watching. Directing the viewers to details of the street scene that they could not fully perceive, it “provok[ed] an awareness of looking” …

Robert Dunn later recalled [Street Dance] as “one of the most mysteriously beautiful events I have seen.” Perhaps it was so affecting, Dunn went on, “because of the distance and glass-separated soundlessness in which we experienced Lucinda’s miniaturized physical presence, in the same moment with the immediacy of her somewhat flattened but sensuous voice on the tape in the room with us.” In this observer’s description, Street Dance turns on distance, separation, and absence. The dancers were literally far away, and, in Rainer’s recollection, had their backs to the studio window most, if not all, of the time they were performing. The sense of spontaneity that would otherwise obtain as the dancers casually pointed at things and stood talking in the street was belied by the tape-recorded descriptions with which their movements were precisely timed to coincide [ … ] :because of the tape, “the spectator was called upon to envision, in an imagined sort of way, information that in fact existed beyond the range of actual perception.”

Moreover, in Street Dance “actual perception” was brought into question, as sensory data was put at both a temporal and spatial remove. The dancers pointed at everyday details of the street, drawing the normally overlooked to the attention of the audience. The catch is that those details, sometimes as minute as the writing on tags hanging from individual items in store windows, could not be verified empirically by the observers several stories above. Immediacy of observation was supplemented — in effect, replaced — by the taped description of each street-level detail. Meanwhile the tape itself, recorded at a prior moment, introduced a temporal lag into the live performance. Recall Dunn’s memory of Street Dance, in which Childs’s physical presence was “miniaturized”; in which her tape-recorded voice was present in the room with the watchers, but “flattened” by the apparatus in which, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to suggest, the “glass-separated” condition of spectatorship at this live performance became more than remotely televisual. One was both distanced from the event and technologically connected to it: as Childs said, the tape recording allowed viewers to “remain tuned in” to the events below, despite their physical separation from the site of viewing. Some of the basic effects of broadcast media — that they distort temporality, because they can seem live when they are not; that they collapse space, by extending the senses and permitting seeing-at-a-distance (the literal meaning of tele-vision, as Samuel Weber points out); but above all that they affect experience ambiguously, bringing events, people, and places closer to the viewer while also rendering them “glass-separated” — these phenomena of media experience were transposed into a live performance situation with astonishing economy by Childs’s dance.

[ … ]

… [Trisha Brown’s] Homemade (1965-1966) is a long string of movements taken from her own experience, many of them quotidian gestures such as making a phone call and casting a fishing line. In this way, it is already a dance about and based in memory. But Homemade explores memory as a spectatorial problem, not just as a choreographer’s or performer’s issue. For Brown enacted her remembered movements in reduced versions, not at the full energy level or bodily extension of the actual tasks. In performances of the solo by Mikhail Baryshnikov during his White Oak Dance Project’s revivals of Judson dance in 2000, it was striking how close the slightly slowed or shrunken gestures were to recognizable movements, but how thoroughly they resisted identification nevertheless. They existed on the cusp of recognition. Moreover, because the motions were performed on such a small-scale, straining to see movement was linked with the desire to recognize it — to tie it to one’s own experience and memory.

The dynamics of recognition in Homemade are further complicated by an innovation Brown added to her dance in 1966, when, incorporating the solo into a new series of three works, she performed its gestures with a film projector strapped to  her back playing a film of herself performing Homemade. [ … ] Projected in a theater, the large scale of the filmic image promises precisely the visibility and the ability to recognize that the live performance of Homemade withholds. Of course, it doesn’t work quite that simply. Juxtaposed with the live dance, splitting the viewer’s attention between mediated and unmediated, live and recorded, and skipping and jumping around the room as the dancer’s performance jiggles and rotates the projector, the mnemonic capacity of film and the pleasures of its larger-than-life visualization are both signaled and undercut. As if to illustrate the dynamic of desire this effects in the spectator, at the final performance of this version of the dance in 1966 Brown had a partner dash around the space holding a movie screen: a surrogate for the viewer, trying literally to capture the moving image.

Lucinda Childs’s Street Dance reminds me a little of the 1964 Mark Boyle and Joan Hills “event” described in this post from long ago.

My most recent previous post from Lambert-Beatty’s book is here.



April 24, 2012

We Ask For It, We Ask So Much

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:44 am

This is the end of:

Gatsby’s Theory of Aesthetics
by Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones)

[ … ]

The only time I am conscious of my limitations is when I am writing. The rest of the time, there is no standard, at all reasonable, for judging, in fact, what limitations are.

This is the final third of:

Are Their Blues Singers in Russia?
by Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones)

[ … ]

We are all spies for god.

We can get betrayed. We ask for it, we ask
so much. And expect the fire the sun set the horizon
to slide through human speech dancing our future dimensions.
We expect some real shit. We expect to love all the things
somebody runs down to us. We want things, and are locked here, to the earth,
by pussy chains, or money chains, or personal indulgence chains, lies, weak
phone calls, attempts to fly when we know good and fucking well we can’t and even
the nerve to get mad, and walk around pretending we are huge magnets for the
most beautiful force in the universe. And we are, but not in the image of wind
spreading the grass, or brown grass dying from a sudden snow, near the unemploy-
ment office where the spy stands trying to remember just why he wanted to be the kinda spy he was

[The “their” in the title of that last is as written.]



Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.