Unreal Nature

January 31, 2015

There Are Laws

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… universal lawfulness is consistent with individual exceptions

This is from Causality and Modern Science: Third Revised Edition by Mario Bunge (1959; 1979):

There are laws. And the principle of universal lawfulness, a stronger postulate, may be taken to read thus: Every single event is lawful, i.e. is determined in accordance with a set of objective laws — whether we know the laws or not. Or, again, Every single fact is the locus of a set of laws. Note that, in this wording, the principle of universal lawfulness does not assert that facts are determined by laws, but in accordance with laws, or simply lawfully. Thereby the idealistic doctrine is avoided, according to which natural and social laws are not the immanent form of facts, but prescribe them ab extrinseco. There is no Rule of Law, laws do not determine anything: they are the forms or patterns of determination — and this is one of the reasons why determinacy is not synonymous with lawfulness. Thus, for example, the constraints to which a dynamical system is subjected contribute to the determination of its motion; but Gauss and Hertz’s principle of least constraint does not determine the motion along the corresponding least-curvature path: it is just the form of the action of the constraints in motion.

The principle of lawfulness, however, does not require that every individual phenomenon should always occur in the same way whenever certain conditions are fulfilled; universal lawfulness is consistent with individual exceptions, with occurrences in a given low percentage of cases.

… the target of my arrows will not be the causal principle but only the claim that causation is the sole category of determination and that, as a consequence, the causal principle enjoys an unlimited validity. In fewer words: I will not argue against the notion of causation but against causalism.

… Causation (efficient and extrinsic) is only one among several categories of determination; there are other types of lawful production, other levels of interconnection, such as statistical, teleological, and dialectical determinacy.

In real processes, several categories of determination concur. Purity in types of determination (such as purity of causation) is as ideal as any other kind of purity.

The causation category, far from being external to other categories of determination, is connected with them. Thus multiple causation leads to statistical determinacy, the latter may in turn lead to quantitative self-determination, and reciprocal causation is interaction or interdependence.

The causal principle holds approximately in certain domains. The degree of approximation is satisfactory in connection with certain phenomena and very poor with regard to others.

It seems to me that Bunge repeatedly contradicts himself. Nevertheless I am interested in his approach. To be continued.




January 30, 2015

This Kind of Listening

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… Soaking it up, filling those tilted, deep-shelving seams …

This is from the essay ‘William Everson: Some Glimpses’ (1995) found in What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World by Robert Hass (2012):

… once, when I was in college, on some errands, I had to deliver a package to Saint Albert’s, the Dominican rectory in Oakland where I knew he lived, and, when I asked about him later, was told that he was the tall, lean, mute quizzical man who had opened the door for me when I rang the bell, and had stepped aside and with a low bow and a gesture of his head had invited me in.

Later I described this to another writer of the same generation [ … ]. With the particular vanity of the young — here was this man opening the door for me — I emphasized in the telling, his humility. The writer said: “It’s theater.” I was taken aback. “You mean, he’s a fake.” “No,” his friend said, “I mean it’s theater.” An aspect of Bill Everson’s character and art — and a way of seeing them — I would come later to understand.

… And — oh, eight years later — I was spending a summer in Kentfield, next door to a Dominican retreat where Brother Antoninus [aka Everson] was living. I used to catch a glimpse of him across the fence and through an apple orchard as he walked in the garden. I was by that time working hard on poems and also had a much better sense of my neighbor, had read The Crooked Lines of God and The Rose of Solitude and the study of Jeffers, Fragments of an Older Fury. And I think I had heard him read by then, those extraordinary performances in which he paced, inflicted long silences on the audience — equivalents of the silences I had intuited in his early work — and barked out his poems in anguished and ecstatic fragments. It was much too dramatic for my taste then and it seemed manipulative of the audience — a few of whom were put off, most of whom were ravished in those heady and credulous day.

I remember that what fascinated me, standing in the back of the room — was he reading “A Canticle to the Waterbirds”? — was that he commented on the shamelessness of the performance, seemed acutely self-conscious about what he was doing, and was genuinely ashamed, and almost unrepentant. It seemed Dostoyevskian to me. His making himself naked to the audience, the silences that seemed bullying — I think he said “bullying.” Something like “Do you feel bullied by this? I do to you what God does to us.”

[ … ]

…………………………………… Then early last evening
A thin drizzle, gaining toward dusk. Before dark dropped
The low hanging cloud slit its belly and the rain plunged.
All night long the thirsty slopes drank straight-falling water,
Soaking it up, filling those tilted, deep-shelving seams,
Blue veins of the mountain, zigzag crevices of fractured shale.
When dawn flared and the rain held
The runoff began.
……………………………………………………… [from The Masks of Drought]

I didn’t like the slit belly of the cloud or “the thirsty slopes,” that way Everson took over for his own purposes Jeffers’s projections of human violence onto the landscape. But I envied the “tilted, deep-shelving seams” and the “zigzag crevices of fractured shale.” It is a gift, this kind of listening to older writers, learning from them.

And beyond these specifics there was, as I reached my thirties, in Everson as in the other poets of evident power in my place — George Oppen, Robert Duncan, Thom Gunn, and others — a sense of the life of an artist with its metamorphoses and amazements and fragilities and risks.




January 29, 2015

Send Their Eye

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:06 am

… If I cut it the way it should be cut — according to classical film grammar — it feels kind of flat-footed: these people are doing passionate things and we’re just standing outside them, watching them.

This is from The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (2002):

[ … ]

Murch: I’d discovered very early, during The Conversation, that I was allergic to a certain style of editing, which is called “matching action.” That’s the standard kind of Hollywood editing, where you cut from one shot to another in the middle of a character’s movement. It was considered significant when it was invented, because it seemed to mask the moment of the cut. Somehow the audience was supposed to think this was all continuous action.

When I started out, I obediently tried to work that way, and discovered that I didn’t like it. I wound up instead finding places where the movement of the incoming shot was just beginning, like a flower opening up. So my cuts generally are made not at the midpoint but at the beginning of the gesture.

I prefer to initiate the motion in the incoming shot. I’ll take a shot right to the point where a character is about to move his head, then cut and initiate that motion in the next shot. There are times when I do not do this, mainly in fight scenes, action scenes.

[ … ]

M: … in the middle of a fight scene, you want to abuse an audience’s expectations. You want to send their eye off in one direction, then cut with something that is going completely in the opposite direction, somewhere else. That induces in the audience the sense of visual disorientation you get when you’re really physically in a fight with somebody. You don’t know where the next punch is coming from. We try to duplicate that feeling visually.

Ondaatje: And also probably in a love scene.

M: Yes.

[ … ]

… If I cut it the way it should be cut — according to classical film grammar — it feels kind of flat-footed: these people are doing passionate things and we’re just standing outside them, watching them.

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




January 28, 2015

Leaving Behind All Documentary Distance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… “I am not a historian, I create history. These images are anti-decisive moments.”

This is from The Last Photographic Heroes: American Photographers of the Sixties and Seventies by Gilles Mora (2007):

… When John Szarkowski hung Arbus’s photographs alongside photos by Winogrand and Friedlander, he brought together two different orders of photographic values, exposing — whether consciously or not — their incompatibility. For Winogrand and Friedlander, the act of photographing required an emotional distance from the world to permit the exploration of its “photographic” qualities. Rather than seeking some unlikely photogenic quality, they were after an obvious transformation of the real through photography. Garry Winogrand’s famous statement resonates to this day: “I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.” Arbus’s approach was miles away from this experimental commitment. Hers was a photographer’s anxious gaze at an aspect of the world that was tortured and rejected for its strangeness. It was this example of a hyper-subjective exchange between the photographer and her model that helped Bruce Davidson, exhausted by the crippling world of Magnum photojournalism, to renew his faith in photography in 1964.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] That year, an outing with Diane Arbus convinced him to turn his camera toward subjects less conventional than those prescribed by photojournalism: “I don’t know what happened — can’t describe it — except maybe Diane turned me on to the screwball aspect of the world.” From then on, Davidson joined Arbus in taking those on the fringes of American society as his subjects. He was far from the only one. Well into the 1970s, under the more or less conscious influence of Diane Arbus, photographers such as Larry Clark recorded the adolescent wanderings of Tulsa delinquents; a young Nan Goldin photographed Boston’s drag queens; and Les Krims explored the world of dwarfs in The Little People of America (1971). Each of these photographers seemed to take Lisette Model’s advice to her students to heart: “Don’t shoot until you feel it in your gut.” Many would eventually use photography as a substitute for a written autobiography.

… [Larry] Clark’s people did not belong to the trendy, artsy New York drug milieu. They represented a condemned daily reality from which many wanted to believe the rural American heartland was safe. Leaving behind all documentary distance, the photography in Tulsa functions as an unprecedented autobiographical chronicle, without the slightest compromise, commercial posturing, or other false artistic alibi.

[ … ]

… According to [A.D.] Coleman, the “directorial mode,” which refers to film directing, can be defined in simple terms: “Here the photographer consciously and intentionally creates events for the express purpose of making images thereof.” In selecting his examples of the directorial mode, Coleman turned to Krims, who in 1970 had stated: “I am not a historian, I create history. These images are anti-decisive moments. It is possible to create any image one thinks of; this possibility, of course, is contingent on being able to think and create. The greatest potential source of photographic imagery is the mind.”

Far removed from backward pictorialism or adulterated reality, this type of photography announced a shift toward viewing the image as a construction rather than a recording. The trend had already begun with the work of Clarence Laughlin, Frederick Sommer, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and a few other photographers. Throughout the 1970s, it was cemented by artists such as Les Krims, Arthur Tress, Duane Michals, Ralph Gibson, William Wegman, David Levinthal, Lucas Samaras, and many others — up to Cindy Sherman and her Untitled Film Stills (1977-80).

To be continued.

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




January 27, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… I would say it works more like an atmosphere, circulating and making itself felt in the subtle, untraceable ways that belong to an atmosphere.

… (My reasoning here is no more circular than experience itself.)

This is from ‘Can Taste Be Objective?’ (1972) found in Clement Greenberg: Late Writings, edited by Robert C. Morgan (2003):

The word “TASTE” (gusto in both Italian and Spanish) entered the discussion of art in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth it became the hard-and-fast word for the faculty of aesthetic judgment. It’s as though this term, in isolating this faculty, also isolated and brought into focus most of the problems connected with that faculty: problems that were, as far as the understanding was concerned, the crucial ones involved in the experiencing of art.

[ … ]

… You may find Raphael too uneven or Velázquez too cold, but if you can’t see how utterly good they are when they are good you disqualify yourself as a judge of painting. In other words, there are objective tests of taste, but they are utterly empirical and can’t be applied with the help of rules or principles.

It’s the best taste that, as I’ve already indicated, forms the consensus of taste. The best taste develops under the pressure of the best art and is the taste most subject to that pressure. And the best art, in turn, emerges under the pressure of the best taste. The best taste and the best art are indissoluble. Well, how do you in your own time identify the bearers of the best taste? It’s not all that necessary. In time past the best taste could have been diffused through a whole social class, or a whole tribe. In later times it may or may not have been the possession of a coterie — like the cognoscenti in and around the Vatican in the early 1500s, or the circles in which Baudelaire mixed in the mid-nineteenth century. But it would be wrong on the whole to try to pin the best taste of a given period to specific individuals. I would say it works more like an atmosphere, circulating and making itself felt in the subtle, untraceable ways that belong to an atmosphere.

… Art can do without taste: I hear voices from as far back as 1913 saying this. What they mean, without knowing it, is that art can do without art; that is, art can do without offering the satisfactions it alone can offer. That’s what art doing without taste really means. Well, if the satisfactions exclusive to art are dispensable, why bother with art at all? We can go on to something else.




January 26, 2015

Summons Us from Afar

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… It seeks to make desirable its version of what happened; to make its reality an object of desire.

This is from Manet and the Execution of Maximilian by John Elderfield (2006):

Gérard Genette, a theorist of narrative, has observed that verisimilitude is not the accidentally real but the essentially ideal. This is to say, what seems most believably true to life is not necessarily what, in fact, happened but, rather, what the narrative persuasively argues did happen. And in a narrative, it follows, the strongest medium for persuading truthfulness, even above credible description, is a credible temporal sequence because of the implications of motivation and causality that it can provide. (And, if reinforced by a credible spatial sequence, its persuasiveness will increase.)

… In fact, a careful reader knows very well that when a narrative argues too persuasively that something did happen, it may not have happened at all. And a sloppy reader knows even better that life is indeed composed of the accidentally real, not the essentially ideal. Therefore, strong narrative accounts of events that did happen may well, and appropriately, provoke skepticism as to their verisimilitude if not their veracity. For such accounts, not only is narrativity intimate with temporality; both are intimate with disbelief.

… [Manet’s] reinvention of history painting, I shall suggest, meant opposition to the coherence and certainty of a narrative, and required him to build paintings from the very factors that would seem most likely to tear them apart.

[ … ]

… A theorist of narrative, Hayden White, has observed that “the reality that is represented in the historical narrative, in ‘speaking itself,’ speaks to us, summons us from afar (this ‘afar’ is the land of forms), and displays to us a formal coherency that we ourselves lack.” I have spoken of the layering of meanings and creation of uncertainty in Manet’s painting, of their disruption of narrative continuity and their spatial dislocations. Therefore, it seems odd to be alluding to coherence at this point. But I did say earlier that Manet’s reinvention of history painting not only meant opposition to the coherence and certainty of a narrative, but also required him to build unity for his paintings from the very factors that would seem most likely to tear them apart.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] “The historical narrative,” White adds, “reveals to us a world that is putatively ‘finished,’ done with, over, and yet not dissolved, not falling apart. In this world, reality wears the mask of a meaning, the completeness and fullness of which we can only imagine, never experience.” Instead of bringing from afar a completeness that can only be imagined, perhaps Manet may be thought to bring what is afar into a unity built from what is falling apart, not from any single unifying principle but by dissolving and reforming oppositions, reversals, and inversions that cannot be imagined but have to be experienced.

History claims authority, says White. It needs to, because more than one version of the same set of events can be imagined, and it does so by summoning us to an arena of formal coherence, therefore credibility. It seeks to make desirable its version of what happened; to make its reality an object of desire. This means that, again, in White’s words, “the reality which lends itself to narrative representation is the conflict between desire, on the one side, and the law on the other,” and it means that most overtly in an autocracy. Ordering for desirability may seek complicity with the desires of an audience, even an autocratic audience; at its most compliant, this wlll mean imposing upon events what is lawfully desirable, namely, the formal coherence of a narrative order that stories familiar and credible to the audience will possess.

[line break added] This was the juste-milieu approach of the paintings that were popular in the Salons. Insofar as Manet’s paintings disrupt such coherence and refuse to offer an imagination of completeness but require its experiential building, they may be said to disrupt the expected, lawful means of narrative credibility. And all of Manet’s paintings constructed in this way may, irrespective of their subjects and their intimations, be held to be political constructions precisely in their destruction of lawful means of meaning.

Edouard Manet, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, 1879 [image from Wikipedia]

To be continued …




January 25, 2015

First, Laziness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… then laziness turns into patience, and patience becomes tireless labor, feverish impatience that struggles with time …

This is from the essay ‘The Experience of Proust‘ found in The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot (1959; 2003):

… The painful thought comes to him that if he owes his ability to enter into a decisive contact with the essence of literature to a transformed inwardness of time, then he owes to destructive time, whose formidable power of mutability he contemplates, the much more constant threat of seeing himself, moment by moment, losing the “time” to write.

… All the real time is necessary to arrive at this unreal movement, but, although there may be a perhaps ungraspable relationship — which in any case Proust refuses to grasp — between the two forms of becoming, what he also affirms is that this revelation is in no way the necessary effect of a progressive development: it has the irregularity of chance, the gracious strength of an unmerited gift, which does not in the least recompense a long and skillful labor of development.

… one is amazed by the help he received from destructive time, which, in him and against him, was the accomplice of his work. This work [Jean Santeuil, published posthumously] was above all threatened by an over-hasty completion. The longer it takes, the closer it gets to itself. In the movement of the book, we discern this postponement that withholds it, as if, foretelling the death that is at its end, it was trying, in order to avoid death, to run back on its own course. First laziness fights all the facile ambitions in Proust; then laziness turns into patience, and patience becomes tireless labor, feverish impatience that struggles with time, when time is measured.




January 24, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… the search for new, better theories, requires the abandonment of any single mode of thinking …

This is from Intuition and Science by Mario Bunge (1962):

… Logic alone is as incapable of leading a person to new ideas as grammar alone is capable of inspiring poems and as theory of harmony alone is incapable of inspiring symphonies. Logic, grammar, and musical theory enable us to detect formal mistakes and good ideas, as well as to develop the latter, but they do not supply the “substance,” the happy idea, the new point of view.

… When the “illumination” is produced, all the elements of the hypotheses and a part of the relevant empirical evidence are present but are still disconnected or incorrectly connected. The synthesis that fuses them all in a short lapse into a correct shape, that “perception” of the interconnections constituting a whole, is one among many syntheses that are tried.

… The more a person is acquainted with a given theory and its accompanying mode of thought, the more difficult he finds it to adopt a rival theory involving a different mode of thinking.

The working out of a theory requires one’s complete submission to the mode of thinking which it sanctions. But the criticism of a theory and the search for new, better theories, requires the abandonment of any single mode of thinking attached to what has finally become commonsensical. To a certain extent innovation in science consists of discovering pseudoparadoxes, that is, counterintuitive propositions that disagree with common sense, whether prescientific or scientific.

… In the vast majority of cases, we divide and conjoin and rearrange, we break up what has been together and bring together what has been separate. But on a few decisive occasions, man is capable of creating new concepts, new hypotheses, new theories, and new world views out of quite inferior raw material. Such moments we call creative.

In regard to creativity, thinkers might be classified in the following species: (a) destructive critics, i.e. persons able to find fault with other people’s work but incapable of replacing the old and worn by something new and better; (b) appliers: individuals capable of using existing theories and techniques for the solution of specific problems, whether cognitive or practical; (c) developers: constructive critics who are able to extend or refine the known tools, yet along the same general line; (d) creators of new problems, new concepts, new theories, new methods, or even new ways of thinking. Science and philosophy needs them all.

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




January 23, 2015

To Compass the Madness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… about what man is that he has done to himself all the terrible things that he has in this century, comes to us mostly as dark and private musings.

This is from the essay ‘The Fury of Robinson Jeffers‘ (1987) found in What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World by Robert Hass (2012):

… As he said in the preface to Be Angry with the Sun in 1941:

I wish to lament the obsession with contemporary history that pins many of these pieces to the calendar, like butterflies to cardboard. Poetry is not private monologue, but I think it is not public speech either, and in general it is the worse for being timely … Yet it is right that a man’s views be expressed, though the poetry suffer for it. Poetry should represent the whole mind; if part of the mind is occupied unhappily, so much the worse. And no use postponing the poetry to a time when the storms may have passed, for I think we have but seen a beginning of them; the calm to look for is the calm at the whirlwind’s heart.

… As a poet he kept trying to make images from the movements, serene and terrible, of the life around him, for what he had discovered or intuited — for the power at the center of life that reconciled him to its cruelty. One feels him straining toward it, toward what is not human in the cold salt of the Pacific and the great sunsets and the rocks and the hawk’s curved, efficient beak. It is in the farthest reaches of his intuitive straining that one feels most in Jeffers the presence of a great poet.

… The experiments in narrative, mythic and realistic, continue to be relevant, but Jeffers is strongest, seems most apt to survive in his descriptive and meditative lyrics. There his directness gave him the old power of poetry — not to say what no one else had ever thought, but to say what everyone has thought and felt. It is surprising in a writer who wished to be so contrary, but reading him again, reading “The Purse Seine,” for example, I was struck by how much it seemed to say what anyone has thought who has every stood on a height and contemplated a modern city. We have lived in a catastrophic time. The redundancy of violence and suffering, the sheer immensity of the danger, always threatens to wither the imagination, to make us turn back to the purely personal, as if it were somehow more real because the mind can, at least, compass it, whereas the effort to think about the fate of the planet, about what man is that he has done to himself all the terrible things that he has in this century, comes to us mostly as dark and private musings. And it is just this that Jeffers sought in the verse of his short poems, an art to speak those musings largely, to claim for poetry the clarity and largeness of mind needed to compass the madness.

Though I have chosen not to feature them above, Hass does not ignore or overlook the weaknesses of Jeffers. For example:

… There is much to be said against his work, and most of it has been said. The younger generation of California poets, Yvor Winters in the thirties and Kenneth Rexroth in the forties, anxious to dispose of the overwhelming figure down the coast, wrote scathing and not inaccurate criticism of his work. Jeffers, they said, was pretentious, repetitious, bombastic, humorless, fuzzy.

I think those criticisms are warranted, but I think they are outweighed by Jeffers‘s strengths.




January 22, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… we can say, Yes, but there’s something else going on here.

This is from The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (2002):

[ … ]

Murch: When you’re putting a scene together, the three key things you are deciding, over and over again, are: What shot shall I use? Where shall I begin it? Where shall I end it? An average film may have a thousand edits in it, so: three thousand decisions. But if you can answer those questions in the most interesting, complex, musical, dramatic way, then the film will be as alive as it can be.

For me, the most rhythmically important decision of the three is the last: Where do you end the shot? You end it at the exact moment in which it has revealed everything that it’s going to reveal, in its fullness, without being over-ripe. If you end the shot too soon, you have the equivalent of youth cut off in its bloom. Its potential is unrealized. If you hold a shot too long, things tend to putrefy.

Ondaatje: You get Polonius.

M: Indeed! For every shot, there is one specific place to end, and no other. A specific frame, and not the one before or after. So the question is, How do you decide which frame that is?

A trap you can fall into — as I did in my early editing jobs on Encyclopaedia Britannica films — is to scan back and forth across the shot, looking for the frame where, for instance, the door closes. You mark that frame and cut at that point. It works. But it doesn’t work particularly well, and it doesn’t help the film to do it that way.

You remember you told me how much you liked the line breaks in my translations of Malaparte? The decision where to cut film is very similar to the decision, in writing poetry, of where to end each line. On which word? That end point has little if anything to do with the grammar of the sentence. It’s just that the line is full and ripe at that point, full of meaning and ripe with rhythm. By ending it where he does, the poet exposes that last word to the blankness of the page, which is a way of emphasizing the word. If he adds two words after it, he immerses that word within the line, and it has less visibility, less significance. We do very much the same thing in film: the end of a shot gives the image of that last frame an added significance, which we exploit.

In film, at the moment of the cut you are juxtaposing one image with another, and that’s the equivalent of rhyme. It’s how rhyme and alliteration work in poetry, or how we juxtapose two words or two images, and what that juxtaposition implies. Either by emphasizing the theme or by countering it, modulating it, like an invisible Greek chorus. What’s being stated may be one thing, but by juxtaposing two different images at the moment of the cut, and making them as striking as possible, we can say, Yes, but there’s something else going on here.

The trick is to make that flow an organic part of the process. Editing is a construction, a mosaic in three dimensions, two of space and one of time. It’s a miniature version of the way films are made, which is an artificial piece-by-piece process.

To determine the end frame, I look at the shot intently. It’s running along, and then at a certain point I flinch — it’s almost an involuntary flinch, an equivalent of the blink. That flinch point is where the shot will end.

[ … ]

O: So if you flinch in frame 17 the first time, and then flinch in frame 19 [the second time he watches it] —

M: Then I don’t cut. That tells me something’s off. If I can hit 17 twice, that’s good. At least it certifies something. If I hit frame 17 first and then frame 19 the next time, that means something in my approach is wrong.

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




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