Unreal Nature

December 31, 2012

If I Had the Chance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:01 am

Small Frogs Killed on the Highway
by James Wright

Still,
I would leap too
Into the light,
If I had the chance.
It is everything, the wet green stalk of the field
On the other side of the road.
They crouch there, too, faltering in terror
And take strange wing. Many
Of the dead never moved, but many
Of the dead are alive forever in the split second
Auto headlights more sudden
Than their drivers know.
The drivers burrow backward into dank pools
Where nothing begets
Nothing.

Across the road, tadpoles are dancing
On the quarter thumbnail
Of the moon. They can’t see,
Not yet.


This is the first verse (of four) from:

For a Coming Extinction
by W.S. Merwin

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

[ … ]


-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

Our Investment in These Phantoms

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:00 am

… Pop proposed that subjectivity had surfaced into the world, with the psychological interiorities of bourgeois selfhood now confused with the everyday exteriorities of consumerist life.

… in this shift in role, a new project also emerges: to treat the artistic image as a mimetic probe to explore this given matrix of cultural languages — to take apart the clichés of celebrity and commodity, to see how they work (that is, how they have transformed personhood and objecthood alike), and to put them back together with differences …

This is from The First Pop Age: Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter, and Ruscha by Hal Foster (2012):

… To be sure, Pop puts painting under pressure — mostly in order to register the effects of consumer culture at large (glossy magazines, ads, iconic movie images, blurry television screens, and so on) — but even as it does so, it sometimes looks back to the tradition of the tableau. And in this interplay of low and  high, Pop remains in touch with “the painting of modern life,” defined a century before by Charles Baudelaire as an art that strives “to distill the eternal from the transitory.” On the one hand, at the moment of Pop, mass media seemed to trump artistic mediums, and Pop suggests that almost anything can be reformatted as an image and shuttled across various modes of presentation. On the other hand, Pop resists any teleology of media (as promoted by Marshall McLuhan, for whom the fate of a medium like radio was to become the content of a subsequent medium like television) and uses painting to reflect on the transformation wrought on both popular culture and fine art by photography, film, television, and so on. Thus, at a time when painting seemed to be overturned not only in mass culture but also in avant-garde art (already in Happenings, Fluxus, and Nouveau Réalisme, and soon in Minimalism, Conceptual art, and Arte Povera), painting returned in the most impressive examples of Pop, almost as a meta-art, able to assimilate some media effects and to reflect on others precisely because of its relative distance from them.

… As is often said, the portrayed subject in this art tends to be superficial, even flat, psychologically as well as physically. The comic-book figures of Lichtenstein are the chief case in point, but hardly the only one, and this blank pose is often adopted in Pop personae, too: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol,” the great Pop cipher claimed in a famous remark, “just look at the surfaces of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” This interest in the superficial, the banal, and the neutral, which is also strong in Richter and Ruscha, is not merely an aesthetic reaction to the deep subjectivity still encoded in residual forms of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Like much literature and criticism of the time (the first novels of J.G. Ballard, for example), Pop proposed that subjectivity had surfaced into the world, with the psychological interiorities of bourgeois selfhood now confused with the everyday exteriorities of consumerist life. For all its emphasis on surfaces, however, Pop still registers the subjective (even, I argue, the traumatic), and perhaps nowhere more so than in its manifold moves to suspend the subjective: not only in its persistent use of inexpressive gestures and neutral styles, of banal motifs and stupid photos, but also in its mimetic exacerbation of a mass culture calculated to manipulate the subject, which was once understood to be autonomous. As a result, Pop art often suggests paradoxical structures of feeling, looking, and meaning: an affect that is flat one moment and intense the next, a gaze that is deadpan at times and desirous at others; a significance that seems all but absent at first glance and superabundant a second later, with the viewer positioned as a blank scanner one moment and a frenetic iconographer the next.

Warhol-Double-Elvis
Andy Warhol, Double Elvis

… in its reworking of image culture, Pop suggests a shift in the function of the artist: the artist neither as a romantic creator nor as a rationalist engineer (many prewar modernists divided along these lines) but as a trained designer (Hamilton and Lichtenstein once worked as draftsmen, Warhol as an illustrator, and Ruscha as a graphic designer). And in this shift in role, a new project also emerges: to treat the artistic image as a mimetic probe to explore this given matrix of cultural languages — to take apart the clichés of celebrity and commodity, to see how they work (that is, how they have transformed personhood and objecthood alike), and to put them back together with differences that (as Lichtenstein once put it) do not appear “great” but might yet be “crucial.” Implicit here, too, is that this capacity might extend to the viewer — that homo imago is not simply subject to cultural representations, but that, for better and worse, we are all codesigners of our images, each of us (as Hamilton once remarked) “a specialist in the look of things.”

Pop exposes a general drive not only to pictorialize everything but also to fetishize the images that result, that is, to invest them with a powerful life of their own. Such is the theory of consumer capitalism that Pop implies: its political economy depends on a compounding of sexual, commodity, and semiotic fetishisms, a “super-fetishism” in which the making of products, images, and signs becomes evermore obscure while our investment in these phantoms becomes evermore intense.

Pop, then, points to a modernity raised to a second degree with the capitalist expansion of the postwar period, and this book highlights aspects of this demonstration. If, for Baudelaire and his followers, modernity was a wondrous fiction to celebrate, it was also a terrible myth to interrogate, and often the great painters of modern life — from Manet to my Pop five — are its greatest dialecticians: they are able to celebrate and to interrogate its effects in turn.

… I look back at the first Pop Age in part to highlight certain tendencies in our present condition. [ … ] … if Banham showed the creators of modern architecture to be too charmed by instrumental reason (“form follows function”), and we see the stars of Pop art as too seduced by media culture (“it’s a global village”), what might our own blind spots be?

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

December 30, 2012

What Remains

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:04 am

… [It] can only process what satisfies its requirements; it ignores the rest. And in doing so, it creates the question of defining the “rest” that escapes its grasp. … As for the “remainder,” for whatever escapes the requirements of equivalence, it will then be associated not with obligations, but rather with something to be avoided …

This is from Cosmopolitics I by Isabelle Stengers (2003):

… before Lagrange, the physicist had to consider a crowd of different cases that imposed a specific presentation on her each and every time she examined a system. After Lagrange, however, the varied multiplicity of these cases posed one problem and one alone: the construction of the system of equations that will represent them all in the same way. In other words, the effects, although distinct, or all the possible forces can be defined a priori, and this definition gives the physicist the power to judge and to neutralize the empirical difference.*

Atwood_machine
[image from Wikipedia]

… I won’t discuss how Lagrange derived his equations here; the technique that interests me is the one used to formulate a problem, not solve it. And what is unique about the invention of the problem of dynamics by Lagrange is that it appears to make mechanics a “rational” language, devoid of assumptions, articulated in a fully transparent manner from unquestionable principles, free of argument, free of metaphysical convictions. This gave birth to the idea, so often advanced, that physics, the model of science, promulgates laws that ignore causality. The theoreticians of the social sciences, and economics in particular, who must constantly remind us that the correlations they establish cannot be compared to “causes,” often use the example of rational mechanics to deny that, in doing so, they are giving up anything at all. As Bertrand Russell — who is endlessly quoted by economists — once wrote, “All philosophers, of every school, imagine that causality is one of the fundamental axioms or postulates of science, yet, oddly enough, in advanced sciences such as gravitational astronomy, the word ’cause’ never occurs.” This is one of the consequences of the Lagrangian event: the ability to define mechanics as a neutral model, useful for all-purpose generalizations.

This ability is quite clearly deceptive. When the economist “represents a system” using “Lagrangian” equations, he obviously avoids having to determine “causes.” He simply introduces “equilibria” and can, justifiably, claim that equilibrium is a neutral concept, independent of physical hypotheses. But he also exploits the definitional power of equivalence. If there is no longer any need for the word cause in Lagrangian language, if no specific statement corresponds to it, it is not because this language has gained its independence from the equality of cause and effect. By means of this fictional equilibrium, the definitional power of the = sign on which that equality depends has, in fact, been incorporated into the very syntax of the language of dynamics, that is, within the definition of the dynamic state. So we have equivalence, but it is “silent,” the way a syntactic rule silently determines the statements it can be used to formulate. We have not eliminated causality but succeeded in finally completing the transformation brought about by Galileo and celebrated by Leibniz: cause and effect are no longer categories of human judgment, satisfying our convictions about what can be called a cause or the choice of the point of view used to describe an object. The categories used to define a dynamic system are “objective,” distributed by the = sign, which guarantees their legitimacy and ensures that they are measurable.

Generalized_coordinates_1df
[image from Wikipedia]

… In the eighteenth century, the limits of “rational mechanics,’ the singularity of the situations that satisfied the requirements of its “rationality,” were explicit. After Lagrange, this singularity was able to fade into silence because it had been incorporated into the syntax of the associated equations. As we have seen, this syntax can even be used to claim that the connection between cause and effect had been made “obsolete” by physical rationality and to allow us to forget that the power of the = sign serves as the connective apparatus of the machine, the condition of possibility for “reducing” mechanical problems to a problem of mathematical analysis.

But the Lagrangian machine can only process what satisfies its requirements; it ignores the rest. And in doing so, it creates the question of defining the “rest” that escapes its grasp. The meaning given to this “rest” is critical. Either it attests to the singularity of the requirement that dynamics brings to bear on phenomena, or it is itself judged and disqualified as failing to satisfy those requirements. In other words, it is now possible to forget dynamic singularity to the benefit of some “norm”: the only truly intelligible phenomena are those that satisfy the conditions of the equation. As for the “remainder,” for whatever escapes the requirements of equivalence, it will then be associated not with obligations, but rather with something to be avoided — phenomena rather than descriptions will then no longer be of equal value. … The specialists in mechanics have betrayed the physical-mathematical inventiveness that was the glory of the eighteenth century. “Nature is expected to adjust its comportment to the mathematics learnt in their school days” by those specialists.

********

[… * Writing f = ma is mathematically equivalent to writing ma – f = 0. The small difference between the two formulas is that the second also allows us to describe the equilibrium between a weight and a counterweight. The equilibrium is defined by the fact that the force, – f, exerted by the counterweight on the weight cancels the effect, ma, of the force associated with that weight. By analogy, every instantaneous state can now be defined by a fictional equilibrium at every point between the acceleration that determines the force at that point and that same force with its direction reversed.]

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

December 29, 2012

Abandon This Dogma

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:11 am

… the principles by which we combine different forces are principles distinct from and additional to those laws describing the sources of specific forces.

… … The universe-wide microphysical machine, the integrated realm of microscopic particles that forms the substance of reductionist fantasies, is not a product of naturalistic enquiry, but a supernatural construct of the scientific dreamer.

This is from Processes of Life: Essays in the Philosophy of Biology by John Dupré (2012). Today’s essay is ‘The Miracle of Monism’:

… What is wrong, according to most philosophers, with souls and vital fluids? One of their central defects is their being immaterial. There are perfectly respectably immaterial entities — concepts, numbers, or hypotheses, for example — but souls and suchlike are not the right kinds of things to be immaterial. Part of the reason for this is that they are taken to be subjects of causal agency, and immaterial causes are seen as contravening naturalism. This is not an entirely straightforward matter. One might well claim that the concept of evolution, or of class struggle, had changed the world. But I think it is fairly clear that we don’t want to treat this as the exercise of a causal power by an entity, or at any rate we don’t if we are any kind of naturalists. I’m not exactly sure why we feel this way. Perhaps the answer is that knowledge of causality does, as a number of influential philosophers have argued, derive ultimately from our material transactions with things. Even for material things that are much too small for us to interact with, there is considerable force in Ian Hacking’s much-cited remark about electrons: if you can spray them they are real. Perhaps there is a cruder picture here, that nature is ultimately composed of material things pushing and pulling at one another. Pushes and pulls from outside this material universe are just the sorts of supernatural interventions that naturalists rule out. At any rate, I propose to take for granted that there is something importantly fundamental in our ontology about material things, material here merely in the Cartesian sense of things that occupy space, albeit sometimes, like electrons, not very much, or like gases, not very fully. Being in the same space as we are is, of course, a minimal condition of being in a position to engage with us in pushings, pullings, and sprayings.

Important threats to this ontological primacy of space occupiers have come from physics. Physics tells us about fields that, while they have particular strengths at particular locations, don’t appear to occupy the locations where they occur. And worse, quantum mechanics tells us that what might have seemed like the most fundamental space occupiers, physical particles, are actually not, from some perspectives, particles at all, but waves, which are apparently not space occupiers at all. These claims are particularly important to the contemporary naturalistic philosophy that I am here considering, because most contemporary naturalists include among the central commitments of naturalism not materialism, but physicalism. The move from materialism to physicalism, in large part motivated by such developments in physics, aimed to avoid being committed to a long-superseded broadly Newtonian physics. Physicalists instead committed themselves to take whatever physicists ended up saying about the nature of reality as an ultimate ontological criterion for reality. If the ultimate constituents of reality couldn’t make up their minds whether to be particles or waves, or turned out instead to be ten-dimensional bits of string, so be it.

I have, naturally, no objection to allowing physicists whatever authority there is to be had about the ultimate structure of matter. What might be a worry, however, is whether physicalism, as just described, is in the same line of business as the materialism it has replaced. Materialism, as I introduced it, was part of the expression of anti-supernaturalism. If you can’t kick it, or at least spray it, you should treat it with some suspicion. We can kick things or spray them because they live in the same space as we do, and there is nothing and nowhere else. Materialism is, of course, also contrasted with dualism, a specific form of supernaturalism, and a doctrine that explicitly insists on the existence of things that are not in the space of electrons, stones, and ourselves, and in most versions insists on the causal efficacy of such things.

… Very summarily, naturalism is explained in terms of anti-supernaturalism, which is in turn cashed out in terms of materialism; the developments or radically new conceptions of matter by the physical sciences leads from materialism to physicalism; and physicalism is often understood as entailing monism.

I don’t propose to explore in great detail these routs from naturalism to monism. Rather, I want to emphasize a quite different philosophical commitment often associated with naturalism: empiricism. And what I want to claim is that the move to monism violates this commitment. Monism, far from being a view of reality answering to experience, is a myth. And myths are just the sort of thing that naturalism, in its core commitment to anti-supernaturalism, should reject.

… While my ultimate target in this chapter, monism, is a metaphysical thesis, as I have just indicated a main bridge from naturalism to monism is through a commitment to the explanatory reach of science. If this is combined with the idea that science is a largely continuous and homogeneous activity, and even more specifically that its explanatory resources depend on its sole concern with the material structure of things, then we are well on the way to naturalistic monism. But monism, I claim, is a myth. And it is a myth that derives what credibility it has from its connection to another myth, the unity of science. So I shall now explain in some detail why this latter doctrine, the unity of science, is indeed a myth.

… myths are, minimally, false stories that serve often central and important functions in the lives of their adherents distinct from stating how things are. This is the sense in which the unity of science, I hold, is a myth.

… How could the sciences be, in any sense, all about the same thing? The simple answer, and one that is still quite widely accepted, is that the only science, ultimately, is physics, so that all the sciences are really about whatever physics is about. The classical version of this doctrine is the doctrine of physicalistic reductionism. According to this theory, the sciences should be thought of as arranged in a hierarchy, with particle physics at the base, then (perhaps) chemistry, molecular biology, and organismic biology, and at the top ecology and the social sciences. All sciences other than elementary particle physics were to be reduced to the next lowest level in the hierarchy by characterizing the entities with which they dealt in terms of their structural make-up, and deriving the behavior of those entities from the laws governing the structural parts of which they were made. Ultimately, therefore, everything was to be understood as an arrangement of elementary particles and the behavior of everything was to be derived from the laws governing the behavior of such particles.

As an account of the real workings of science, this picture has been widely, though by no means universally, abandoned. But its spirit has by no means been abandoned, and indeed continues to govern thinking in central areas of philosophy.

… consider the prima facie absurd proposal of a number of contemporary philosophers that we should replace talk of the mind with talk of bits of the brain. This remains absurd on more careful reflection. The problem is simply that to replace mind talk with brain talk requires that the latter can serve the purpose of the former. But it is exceedingly unlikely that this is so. Even if, in some sense, we are talking about the brain when we refer to features of our mental lives, there is not the slightest reason to believe that, say, my belief that the US stock market will crash soon can be identified with some well-defined part of my brain; still less that the same part of my brain will consistently correspond to just this belief; and least of all that everyone has a structurally identical part of their brain if, and only if, they believe that the US stock market will crash soon. And it seems that it is this last that would be needed if there were to be some piece of brain talk with which, in principle, one could replace this bit of belief talk. (I suggest, indeed, that this is a place where the supernatural qualities of monism appear clearly. Magical powers are being attributed to brain cells on the basis of no empirical evidence, merely from metaphysical commitment.)

… Despite the absurdity of taking this replacement talk seriously, it is clear what is the intuition underlying it, and this is an intuition that seems far from absurd to most philosophers. This is the idea that whatever we may say about beliefs, intentions, and the like explaining or even causing our behavior, there is also a set of physical causes that must simultaneously fully explain our physical movements. This brings us, finally, to the doctrine of the completeness of physics. A remarkable amount of contemporary work in the philosophy of mind, in the philosophy of biology, and in the philosophy of the social sciences is concerned with the attempt to reconcile the assumed completeness of physics with the perceived failure of attempts to reduce higher-level science in the direction of physics. One solution is the eliminativism I have just been discussing, the view that the march of science will eventually sweep away the vocabularies of biology, folk psychology, or sociology. A more modest solution is the instrumentalism defended by those who admit that we cannot, perhaps for reasons of principle, get by without biology, psychology, or the social science, but add that since the entities of which these sciences speak are incommensurable with those of physics, the former cannot be recognized as ultimately real.

A much better solution, it seems to me, is to abandon the dogma of the completeness of physics, together with the doctrine of the unity of science that it underpins. Let me mention a few reasons why we should be happy to abandon this dogma. Foremost among these is the commitment to empiricism insisted on earlier in this essay, and the observation that there is essentially no evidence for the completeness of physics. We can begin to see this by noting the extent to which the failure of reductionism in various crucial areas of science undercuts the plausibility of the completeness of physics. There are, of course, no actual accounts of the behavior of mice or men, or even bacteria, as flowing from the physical properties of their smallest physical parts; and no such accounts appear to be in the offing as reductionist science develops. The belief that such an account must exist in principle, or in the mind of God, is at best an inference from what we do know about the behavior of systems simpler by many orders of magnitude, and hence an inference that goes beyond any decent empiricist strictures. It is, in short, a supernaturalist belief.

It will be said that these simpler systems give us knowledge of laws of nature, and these laws can then (in principle) be applied to far more complex systems. But what could possibly license this extension in the admitted absence of any direct evidence for the applicability of the laws to these more complex systems? As Nancy Cartwright pointed out many years ago, even as apparently simple and robust a law as the law of universal gravitation only applies to situations in which no other forces (electromagnetism, for example) are acting. Naturally, we have good procedures for dealing with some situations in which there are forces of different kinds acting. But it is still the case that the principles by which we combine different forces are principles distinct from and additional to those laws describing the sources of specific forces.

… The universe-wide microphysical machine, the integrated realm of microscopic particles that forms the substance of reductionist fantasies, is not a product of naturalistic enquiry, but a supernatural construct of the scientific dreamer. Naturalists should reject the image not just because it lacks proper naturalistic credentials, but because it violates the most basic naturalistic commitment to the rejection of the supernatural.

… our empirical experience of nature is, on its face, an experience of a huge diversity of kinds of things with an even huger diversity of properties and causal capacities. Some of these properties are open to causal inspection; others require careful, even inspired, scientific investigation. Neither casual experience nor detailed investigation suggests that all these properties are best understood through attention to the physical stuff of which things are made. The advance of science does indeed lend credence to the view that we do not need to appeal to supernatural things in explaining phenomena. One variety of supernatural things are those that are made out of non-physical stuff, like angels or Cartesian minds. So we may allow that naturalism commits us to the monism that insists that all stuff is material, even physical stuff. The corollary that insight into the properties of stuff holds the key to understanding the properties and behavior of all those diverse things that are made of that stuff is another matter altogether. And this indeed is the kind of doctrine that suggests the attribution of supernatural powers to physical stuff in a way wholly inimical to naturalism.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

December 28, 2012

Working Alone

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:08 am

… I have worked alone and at home, on films of seemingly no commercial value … ‘at home’ with a medium I love, making films I care for as surely as I have as a father cared for my children.

This is from Essential Brakhage : Selected Writings on Filmmaking by Stan Brakhage edited by Bruce R. McPherson (2001). Today’s excerpts are from ‘In Defense of Amateur’ first published in 1971:

I have been making films for over 15 years now. I have contributed to many commercial films as “director,” “photographer,” “editor,” “writer,” “actor,” even “grip,” etcetera, and sometimes in combinations of all of these. But mostly I have worked without title, in no collaboration with others — I have worked alone and at home, on films of seemingly no commercial value … ‘at home’ with a medium I love, making films I care for as surely as I have as a father cared for my children. As these home movies have come to be valued, have grown into a public life, I, as the maker of them, have come to be called a “professional,” an “artist,” and an “amateur.” Of those three terms, the last one — “amateur” — is the one I am truly most honored by … eve tho’ it is most often used in criticism of the work I have done by those who don’t understand it.

The ‘professional’ is always much admired in the public life of any time. He is the Don Juan whose techniques (of sex or whatever), whose conquests in terms of number, speed, duration or mathematical-whatever, whose stance for perfection (whatever can be intellectually measured to determine a competitional ‘winner’) does dazzle any man at any time he relates to the mass of people, does count him self as of a number, and does thus have a public life: but when that man is alone, or with those few, or that one other, he loves, his admiration of Don Juan, and of all such technicians as “professors”/”professionals” are, disappears from any consciousness he may have — except, alas,  his consciousness of himself … [ … ] He will, as such, tend to always think of himself as “on display”: and if he makes movies, even if only in his home, he will be known for making a great “show” of it and will imitate the trappings of the commercial cinema (usually with no success whatsoever, as he will attempt the grandiose of visual and audio with penny-whistle means); and he will buy equipment beyond any need or real joy in it (usually penny-dreadful- junk-stage-props for the ‘production’ of his imaginary profession … rather than for any loving re-production of the movements of his living): …

… Now, as to the term: “artist”: I’ve come to the conclusion after years of struggling to determine the meaning of this word, that anyone becomes an artist the instant he feels he is — perhaps even the instant he thinks he is — and that, therefore, almost everyone, some time or other in his living, is an artist. A public Artist, with capital “A,” is as much admired by many, and of as little value to an individual life, as any professional. It is a word, in our current usage, very like the word “love.” … [B]oth words continue to move with the deepest meaning that individual intonation can give them in the privacy of every single living utterance of each of them with personal meaning … that is the beauty of both these words — and that is why I do no more care to be called an artist, except by my friends and those who love me, than I would care to be called a lover, publicly.

“Amateur” is a word which, in the Latin, meant “lover”: but today it has become a term like “Yankee” (“Amateur — Go Home”), hatched in criticism, by professionals who so little understand the value of the word or its meaning that they do honor it, and those of us who identify with it, most where they think to shame and disgrace in their usage of it.

An amateur works according to his own necessity (a Yankee-enough proclivity) and is, in that sense, “at home” anywhere he works: and if he takes pictures, he photographs what he loves or needs in some-such sense — surely a more real, and thus honorable, activity than work which is performed for some gain or other than what the work itself gives … surely more personally meaningful than work only accomplished for money, or fame, power, etc. … and most assuredly more individually meaningful than commercial employment — for the true amateur, even when in consort with other amateurs, is always working alone, gauging his success according to his care for the work rather than according to the accomplishments or recognitions of others.

Why then have critics, teachers, and other guardians of the public life come to use the term derogatorily? Why have they come to make “amateur” mean: “inexperienced,” “clumsy,” “dull,” or even “dangerous”? It is because an amateur is one who really lives his life — not one who simply “performs his duty” — and as such he experiences his work while he’s working — rather than going to school to learn his work so he can spend the rest of his life just doing it dutifully — ; and the amateur, thus, is forever learning and growing thru his work into all his living in a “clumsiness” of continual discovery that is as beautiful to see, if you have lived it and can see it …

My most recent previous Brakhage is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

December 27, 2012

Stories of Knowing, Long Ago

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:57 am

… This is what it was to know or to love. It happened rarely. Under surveillance. Through hear-say. By twists and turns of a labyrinth.

This is from The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies by Michel Serres (2008, 1985):

… The prisoner in the tower loves the gaoler’s daughter. The tower rises above the castle, the dungeon is embedded in the tower and the cell in the dungeon, a nest of structures; to reach the cell, you need to make your way through endless walls and doors, climb stairs or cross chasms via fragile aerial staircases, pass through hundreds of grilles, even a chapel. The real cell, carved out of wood, adds another box of timber framework and beams, its floor raised, within the stone walls and ceiling. No, we have not yet reached the final box in this nest of boxes: the governor has had a shutter installed in front of the window of this cubby-hole, a window through which only rats could enter; he has had every crack sealed up with oil-paper. The honoured prisoner resides behind numerous impermeable walls, thick, blind, opaque, fifteen layers of partitions.

… Two phantoms thrashing about inside music boxes constructed like gaols. This is the traditional notion of the body, and no doubt also that of science.

The love stories which so astonish our supple, naked bodies, painless and nearly mute, were stories of knowing, long ago. Just as the call to love circulates through the corridors, grilles and vaults of the chateau-body, haunting them, so do sense data pass through the obstacles placed into a kind of statue or automaton with twenty layers of armour, a veritable Carpathian castle, their energy purified as it makes its way through successive filters towards the central cell or instance, soul, understanding, conscience or transcendental I, to which very few gaolers hold the key.

We appreciate the exquisite delicacy of a design in which one filtering station follows another, in the service of knowledge or love. Few have earned the right to penetrate the dungeon of holy or holies, the last box behind or beneath other cells: it took a priest, or a judicial figure. This is what it was to know or to love. It happened rarely. Under surveillance. Through hear-say. By twists and turns of a labyrinth.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

Lingering

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:55 am

… Presentational immediacy is perceptually felt duration. What is felt is movement’s lingering, its hesitation. … [T]he strange, ethereal passings-through, foggy expressions of movement’s potential to linger.

We feel the elasticity of perception. We feel the nuance, the n-dimensionality of the elastic that propels the experience toward the very unknowability of future sensations. Agitations, excitations, contractions are felt in the feeling of force taking form.

This is from Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy by Erin Manning (2012):

… The chaos that measure attempts to colonize is what rhythm feeds on: “From chaos, Milieus and Rhythms are born” (Deleuze and Guattari). Chaos is not the opposite of order. What we experience — the event of force taking form — is always prehended from a certain quasi chaos: the indeterminacy of the not-yet-actual. As the virtual passes into the actual, in this in-between passage where force begins to take form, a chaos of incorporeality can be felt. This chaos is the intensive magnitude of potential. Positivist science seeks to overlay potential with order, imposing measure from the outside. Radical empiricism works from the quasi chaos of the not-yet, beginning in the rhythmic middle of a becoming event. As the events reach what Whitehead calls their subjective form — their completion or concrescence — the quasi chaos of their taking-form is overlaid by the factness of their completion. But events always in some sense remain invested with this quasi chaos, for they have been prehended from the indeterminacy of the forces that compose them. This indeterminacy is a living aspect of the event. It is what rhythm feeds on.

Rhythm is acive in the associated milieu of this quasi chaos. It is not rhythm added onto measure but relational movement in its incipiency.

… To experience the feeling of a form is to experience force taking form. In the 1902 series of experiments with air and smoke — using the machine with 57 channels — Marey moves different shapes through smoke. Each movement of the shape through the smoke strands produces a different current. Through these images of forms-passing, we actually see air taking shape. We see the air and feel the form.

marey_smoke01

… Expression and representation are at two ends of the spectrum of perception. Representation is the coming-together after the fact of an event already constituted. Expression moves-with the very act of perception. The event of expression does not allow for a schism between the event and its perception. The eventness of perception can be felt in [Marey’s] horse experiments, for instance, in the expression of movement galloping.

marey_horse

… Intensity is anathema to quantification. It concerns the elasticity of movement. Intensity in-gathers the imperceptible toward a movement-feeling. This movement-feeling is the experience of force taking form. … What we experience as grace is an emergence of future-ease in the present movement.

… Intensity is never the object of an experiment: it dwells in the milieu of its process. Grace emerges out of this milieu, not as a marker of a knowable future in the present, but as a calm carrier of future’s quasi chaos in the present-passing. Grace is the feeling of being in the eye of the storm, where calm reigns.

Marey_smoke02

… Presentational immediacy is perceptually felt duration. What is felt is movement’s lingering, its hesitation. This is what we actively perceive in Marey’s smoke-filled images: the strange, ethereal passings-through, foggy expressions of movement’s potential to linger.

We feel the elasticity of perception. We feel the nuance, the n-dimensionality of the elastic that propels the experience toward the very unknowability of future sensations. Agitations, excitations, contractions are felt in the feeling of force taking form. To look at Marey’s images is to feel the microperceptual: the perceptibility of the almost.

… The grace of Marey’s images is their capacity to make the interval felt. We feel the preacceleration through which movement takes form. We feel elasticity even though we cannot see it as such. We experience the imperceptible.

Marey_birds

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

December 26, 2012

Before All Else an Awakening

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:26 am

… “The world is an immense Narcissus in the act of thinking about himself.” Where could he consider himself better than in his images?

This is from Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter by Gaston Bachelard (1983):

… If I were to relive in my own way the philosophical myth of Condillac’s statue, which finds its first world and primitive consciousness in odors, I would have to say, “I am, first of all, the odor of mint, the odor of mint water,” instead of saying as it did, “I am the odor of rose.” For being is before all else an awakening, and it awakens in the awareness of an extraordinary impression. The individual is not the sum of his common impressions but of his unusual ones. Thus, familiar mysteries are created in us which are expressed in rare symbols. It is near water and its flowers that I have best understood that reverie is an ever-emanating universe, a fragrant breath that issues from things through the dreamer.

[ … ]

… Not s simple eagerness to engage in facile mythologizing but a genuine intuition about the psychological role of natural experiences caused psychoanalysis to give Narcissus‘s name to the love that man has for his own image, for his face as it is reflected in still water. Actually, the human face is above all an instrument of seduction. Looking at himself, man prepares, stimulates, polishes this face, this gaze, all these tools of seduction. The mirror is the Kriegspiel of aggressive love. This active narcissism, too much neglected by classic psychoanalysis, can only be hastily sketched. A whole book would be needed to develop the “psychology of the mirror.” Let is suffice to note at the beginning of our studies the profound ambivalence of narcissism, which goes from masochistic to sadistic traits and lives in a contemplation that both regrets and hopes, consoles and attacks. One can always ask a person before a mirror the double question: For whom do you look at yourself? Against whom do you look at yourself? Are you aware of your beauty or of your strength?

NarcissusByCaravaggio
Narcissus, by Caravaggio [image from Wikipedia]

… at the fountain Narcissus has not given himself over exclusively to contemplation of himself. His own image is the center of a world. With and for Narcissus, the whole forest is mirrored, the whole sky approaches to take cognizance of its grandiose image. In his Narcissus, a book that deserves a long study in itself, Joachim Gasquet gives us a whole metaphysics of imagination in a single phrase of remarkable density: “The world is an immense Narcissus in the act of thinking about himself.” Where could he consider himself better than in his images? In the crystal of fountains, a gesture troubles the images; repose restores them. The reflected world is the conquest of calm. It is a superb creation that requires only inaction, only a dreamer’s attitude; the longer one can remain there without moving, the better one can see the world taking form! Thus, a cosmic narcissism, which we shall study extensively in its different forms, continues very naturally from the point where egoistic narcissism leaves off. “I am handsome because nature is beautiful, nature is beautiful because I am handsome.” Such is the endless dialogue of creative imagination and its natural models. Generalized narcissism transforms all beings into flowers, and it gives all flowers consciousness of their beauty. All flowers turn into Narcissuses, and water is for them the marvelous instrument of narcissism.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

Go Ahead and Be a Bastard

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:25 am

… To learn to choreograph, you just have to mess through it for a while. Most people feel they have to “fix” a dance, they have to make it “neat.” No — it’s better to have disordered life, but to have life.

This is from The Modern Dance: Seven Statements of Belief edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen (1965). The second “statement” is ‘The Rebel and the Bourgeois’ by Anna Sokolow:

… The trouble with the modern dance now is that it is trying to be respectable. The founders of the modern dance were rebels; their followers are bourgeois. The younger generation is too anxious to please, too eager to be accepted. For art, this is death. To young dancers, I want to say: “Do what you feel you are, not what you think you ought to be. Go ahead and be a bastard. Then you can be an artist.”

… My quarrel with this generation is that they copy their teachers, and it’s their own fault. They don’t want freedom, they want to be told what to do. Why don’t they realize they don’t have to believe everything teacher says? They ought to disagree; they ought to argue.

Of course it’s not all the fault of the student. Too often, teachers are merely polite when they should be provocative. They ought to shock. Look at Louis Horst. At eighty, he is still fresh and bold. The good teacher does not teach rules; he stimulates. He shows the students what he knows and inspires them — to go and do something else.

AnnaSokolow
The Question; choreography, Anna Sokolow: American Dance Theatre

… It is easier and quicker to teach by rule, but in the end it’s no good. To learn to choreograph, you just have to mess through it for a while. Most people feel they have to “fix” a dance, they have to make it “neat.” No — it’s better to have disordered life, but to have life. The modern dance is an individual quest for an individual expression of life.

The new generation have not really faced themselves; they don’t know what it is they want to say. Most of their choreography is vague.

… Form for form’s sake is dull, contrived, intellectual. True form comes from reducing reality to its essential shape, as Cézanne did with the apple. In the hands of an artist, form is emotional, exciting. You feel that there is a reason for everything being there, just as it is.

My most recent previous post from this collection is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

December 25, 2012

Which Came to Us as a Gift

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:15 am

… Graciously the gods give us the first line for nothing but it is up to us to furnish a second that will harmonize with it and not be unworthy …

… my weaknesses, my strength, my lazy repetitions, my manias, my darkness and my light, can always be recognized in everything that falls from my hands.

This is from a fragment by Paul Valéry to a preface to the Adonis of La Fontaine (1920):

… Consider the case of chess players — all the pains their curious pacts cause them, the ardor afforded them by all the imaginary restrictions: they behold their little ivory horse invincibly held to a certain definite jump on the chess board; they feel magnetic fields and invisible forces unknown to physics. This magnetism vanishes with the game, and the excessive concentration that has so long sustained it is transformed and dissipated like a dream. … The reality of a game is in the player alone.

***

You must not misunderstand me. I do not say that “pathless delight” is not the principle, and very aim of the poet’s art. I do not disparage the dazzling gift that our life offers our consciousness when, all at once, it flings a thousand memories onto the flames. But, up until now, never has one windfall, nor a whole collection of windfalls, appeared to constitute a work of art.

***

I only wanted to point out that all these arbitrary rules, the prescribed measures, the rhymes, the fixed forms, once they have been adopted, and at complete variance with ourselves, have a sort of philosophic beauty of their own. Chains, tightening with every movement of our genius, instantly remind us of all the contempt that is without a doubt the just portion of this familiar chaos which the average person calls thought, ignoring the fact that its natural conditions are no less fortuitous and futile than those of a charade.

This skillfully contrived poetry is an art of the profound skeptic. It presupposes an extraordinary freedom with regard to the totality of our ideas and sensations. Graciously the gods give us the first line for nothing but it is up to us to furnish a second that will harmonize with it and not be unworthy of its supernatural elder brother. All the resources of experience and of intelligence are hardly enough to make it comparable to the verse which came to us as a gift.

[ … ]

… Everything that history is able to observe is insignificant.

What is essential to the work is all the indefinable circumstances, the occult encounters, the facts that are apparent to one person alone, or so familiar to that one person that he is not even aware of them.

… How define … if each correction can bring about immense modifications; and if a thousand accidents of memory, attention, sensation that cross my mind appear, finally, in my finished work to be the essential ideas and original objects of my efforts? And yet it is all certainly a part of me, since my weaknesses, my strength, my lazy repetitions, my manias, my darkness and my light, can always be recognized in everything that falls from my hands.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

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