Unreal Nature

July 2, 2016

To Paper Over a Crack

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… Our perceptions … are Janus-faced, and move back and forth along the littoral of consciousness, endlessly, tidally negotiating the back and forth between inner and outer worlds.

This is from the essay ‘Dark with Excess of Bright: Mapping the Coastline of Knowledge’ by Paul Carter found in Mappings edited by Denis Cosgrove (1999):

… A science that claimed to be well-founded had ipso facto to leave no gaps in its reasoning, but if it were to make any progress it had necessarily to begin somewhere and end somewhere else — without the little saltus of imagination, the gift of intellectual wit, or what Vico called ingenium, to see relationships and grasp their significance, no progress was possible. But for the gap there was nothing to know, but the scope of knowledge was to eliminate it. And the instrument of elimination is the continuous line.

… very few coastlines provided the combination of prominent features and long, uninterrupted views needed to establish a baseline.

… the coastal surveyor no sooner sailed out of sight of the positions previously fixed than he had to begin again the process of fixing his own position, and that of the coastal features in relation to it. … While the surveyor [on land]reconnoitring a new territory could fix the consecutive points of his march by taking the bearing of prominent objects to either side of his course, the surveyor at sea was always to one side of the map he was creating.

… the coastline, unlike the conventionally differentiated river or hill or lake, is infinite and folded; it cannot ultimately be mapped and known. It has no other side — if it reveals one, it becomes detached, turned into an island. It cannot strictly speaking be bounded and possessed; it can provide the ground of knowledge — the suitable place to make astronomical observations; it can provide the limit of knowledge, the horizon as concrete edge; but, itself the sign of elimination, it cannot be eliminated. In this way it resists cartography’s inward spiral towards an ultimate classification where every trace of place is neutralized under the aegis of triangulation.

… Much as the coast departs from the uniformity of land and sea, bearing no resemblance to them and yet profoundly mimicking the forces informing their creation, so our knowledge of the world may bear no resemblance to the external world and yet provide us with a genuine insight into its operations. Our perceptions — which, Hutton insists, provide us with a valid account of reality — are Janus-faced, and move back and forth along the littoral of consciousness, endlessly, tidally negotiating the back and forth between inner and outer worlds.

… in Wallace’s The Malay Archipelego, the violence that must be done to nature if confusion and irregularity are to be cleared away and her general laws made known is axiomatic. And the environmental metaphor is not idle. It is down jungle trails blazed by timber-getters and mining companies that Wallace ambles with his gun and butterfly net, around their slash-and-burn fires that he collects, and where obstructive vegetation gets in the way, or the ground is disagreeably steep,he complains as bitterly as any developer.

This disregard of the environment of knowledge characterizes not only Wallace’s collecting habits but also the organization of his material: in The Malay Archipelego the fragmentary nature of his knowledge of different places and their natural histories, based on a number of brief visits made over an extended period of time, are swept away; instead two geographically adjacent, but biologically isolated, continents are described, a synthesis of data that renders plausible in advance Wallace’s thesis — so that like the line, his great book is the endless repetition of a point already reached.

… even when its products had been threaded along taxonomic lines, the coast remained obstinately discontinuous, abyssal, anti-rational, impossible to fix. To represent it as a line was to paper over a crack — and the image is suggestive, as the nightmare represented by the coast consisted in the fact that it resembled reason so closely.

My previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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