Unreal Nature

April 25, 2015

Cannibalistic Indigestion

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… Our symbiogenetic composite core is far older than the recent innovation we call the individual human.

This is from Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution by Lynn Margulis (1998):

… Bacteria pass their genes with abandon as one bacterium donates its genes to another. No fifty-fifty contribution exists for bacteria. Bacteria literally pick up genes, usually a few at a time. The donor may mate when “he” physically contacts “her,” a live bacterial recipient. “She” looks just like “him.” Or gene uptake may be casual necrophilia; the recipient may just grab genes shed earlier when some dead donor left them in the water. Genes snatched from the environment may be for making vitamins, gas venting, or other traits that increase chances of survival. Sometimes the genes code for proteins that permit the recipient to detoxify life-threatening poisons. Bacterial sex is always one-sided. Genes and only genes may pass into the recipient cell from anywhere: the water, a virus, or a donor dead or alive.

… The sex lives of plants and animals, by contrast, are absolutely required for embryo making. Without sex the life history of animals and plants does not unfold. At the beginning of the life cycle of plants and animals the sperm nucleus permanently fuses with that of the egg. This fusion is reminiscent of cyclical symbiotic mergers: partners recognize each other. They deploy cell emissaries. Their cell membranes actually open up to passage of (at least) nuclei. The dissolved membranes re-form as the lover cells fuse.

[ … ]

… “We,” a kind of baroque edifice, are rebuilt every two decades or so by fused and mutating symbiotic bacteria. Our bodies are built from protoctist sex cells that clone themselves by mitosis. Symbiotic interaction is the stuff of life on a crowded planet. Our symbiogenetic composite core is far older than the recent innovation we call the individual human.

[image from Wikipedia]

… Lemuel Roscoe Cleveland, while he was a professor of biology at Harvard University, published in Science magazine a very clear theory solving the problem of the origin of our kind of meiotic sex. As he studied live protoctists and saw their foibles, fumbles, and serious mistakes, he realized that fertilization began as an accident of desperation. Meiotic sex, as a strategy of survival, occurred in the aftermath of cannibalistic indigestion. Cleveland observed odd tensions in dying communities: one apparently starving mastigote devoured its neighbor; another squiggled out of the way of a hungry potential predator. Cleveland realized he was watching abortive cannibalism. Some cannibals ate and digested every last cell appendage of their victim brothers. Another might suffer indigestion and spare the nucleus and chromosomes of its intended meal. The two merged cells would form a new single cell with two nuclei and two sets of chromosomes. Cleveland, living daily in his microcosm, recognized the final cannibalistic truce. He noted that two such closely spaced nuclei fused. This was more than aborted cannibalism.

… meiotic, two-parent sex evolved only after the reduction-division of meiosis “relieved” diploidy. Eating-mating itself created irreversible gorging. As haploids ate each other they became diploids that ate each other, which became tetraploids, then octoploids, and so on. Chromosomes and bloated cells proliferated. The doubled cells with their extra chromosomes and other organelles were slowed down and even stopped in their everyday activities.

… The final refinement in the origin of meiotic sex was the perfection of the doubling/halving process so it occurred both on cue and without fail.

… The act of mating … tends to be brief. … But cell symbiosis is a deeper, more permanent and unique level of fusion. In the great cell symbioses, those of evolutionary moment that led to organelles, the act of mating is, for all practical purposes, forever.

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




April 24, 2015

That We Do Not See

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… he is at heart a listener and a searcher …

This is from the essay ‘The Hidden Teacher’ found in The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley (1994, 1964):

… She knew the tug of the wind, the fall of a raindrop, the flutter of a trapped moth’s wing. Down one spoke of the web ran a stout ribbon of gossamer on which she could hurry out to investigate her prey.

Curious, I took a pencil from my pocket and touched a strand of the web. Immediately there was a response. The web, plucked by its menacing occupant, began to vibrate until it was a blur. Anything that had brushed claw or wing against that amazing snare would be thoroughly entrapped. As the vibrations slowed, I could see the owner fingering her guidelines for signs of struggle. A pencil point was an intrusion into this universe for which no precedent existed. Spider was circumscribed by spider ideas; its universe was spider universe. All outside was irrational, extraneous, at best, raw material for spider.

[ … ]

… Let man spin his web, I thought … ; it is his nature. But I considered also the work of the phagocytes swarming in the rivers of my body, the unresting cells in their mortal universe. What is it we are a part of that we do not see, as the spider was not gifted to discern my face, or my little probe into her world?

… As we turn from the galaxies to the swarming cells of our own being, which toil for something, some entity beyond their grasp, let us remember man, the self-fabricator who came across an ice age to look into the mirrors and the magic of science. Surely he did not come to see himself or his wild visage only. He came because he is at heart a listener and a searcher for some transcendent realm beyond himself.

My previous post from Eiseley’s book is here.




April 23, 2015

Electric Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… in those days it was such a sublimely happy time, that it created the muzzle velocity to do what I do.

This is from the interview with Jerry Greenberg found in Selected Takes: Film Editors On Editing by Vincent LoBrutto (1991):

How did you get your first job in film editing?

I was a failed engineering student and a complete cipher ready to be factored up to one. I was an avid moviegoer, but in my upbringing, the movies or any of the popular arts were made almost verboten. I was interested in the theater and while trying to work as a stage manager, I backed into somebody offering me a job at a sound effects editing service. I needed work. I took it and learned how to be a music and sound effects editor. It was valuable training. Work prints would come into our shop, mostly documentaries, industrials, and training films. There were all these splices in the work print. I was interested in the heads and tails — what was not in the film.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] How do you arrive at the portion of those shots to put into a film? It took somebody to make those decisions. I knew then I wanted to be a film editor. It became profound. Why did I really want to be an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer, when I knew this was in me? My opportunity came to factor zero up to one, to something I wanted. I didn’t realize I would be able to factor it up to infinity, by becoming Dede Allen’s apprentice on Elia Kazan’s America, America. That was truly magic. I won’t diminish it by saying it was only a springboard. It was never didactic. She never taught or imposed her own feelings, rather how she worked and thought. It as inspirational and rewarding.

[ … ]

Do you thing of the sequence [the car chase in The French Connection] as a classic?

There is no denying that the chase scene is talked about in editing circles. The actual shooting techniques have been done many times over. There are more limitations to what we do in film than opportunities. What we’ve learned to do best of all is to work within those limitations to alter and explore the infinite qualities within them. That is what differentiates one chase scene from another; the techniques are pretty much the same.

[ … ]

… Part of what we editors do is to understand everything that has preceded us, the other crafts. People are putting their faith in what we do to preserve what they have already done. Films are a series of details — details within details. It is important that we pay attention to all those other details: story, character development, what the cinematographer wants to see, what the actor is trying to do beyond what he or she is asked to do. All of these things should command the attention of a good editor, and I believe that they do.

[ … ]

Do you feel you are continuing the tradition of the apprenticeship system that you were trained under?

It certainly was the inspirational part of my existence working for Dede Allen and others as well. I think they all should be stated. Carl Lerner, Aram Avakian. [ … ] Their generation’s expectations about what they wished to impart created a kind of chemistry that can never be gotten again. There can be a different kind of chemistry with subsequent generations, but it never can be the same, because times do change and you have to leave it to the historians to objectively see the difference.

I can’t judge that, I’m still too much a part of it, but for me in those days it was such a sublimely happy time, that it created the muzzle velocity to do what I do. I hope to see that in younger people today, but I don’t see that right now. Things tend to be a little more held back. I see a lot of cynicism creeping into the business. Certainly, the commercial aspects of the business have always existed; we’re all prey to those things. Still there was this wonderful dedication and intellectual and political aspects, even though you were working on some dumb exploitation film. The chemistry which was created between the subordinate and the tutor in the cutting room was a very happy and electric time for those of us who were lucky enough to be a part of it.

My previous post from LoBrutto’s book is here.




April 22, 2015

What Makes Them Fictional?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… Removing the mask again does not help, because [one now] knows that transformation is possible, and that at any time you could turn into someone quite different …

This is from the essay ‘The Pig-Human’ by Karl Ove KnausgÃ¥rd found in Cindy Sherman: Untitled Horrors (2013):

Untitled #140, 1985

… This feeling of being very close to something is paradoxical and should actually be impossible, because the pig’s snout is obviously a mask; the joints between the mask and the face wearing it are lucid, and in addition, most people who look at this photograph will be familiar with Sherman’s other works, and know that she never uses any models other than herself in her pictures.

So what we see is a photographic fiction that can easily be revealed — Cindy Sherman disguised as a pig-human — but nevertheless the unease and the fascination remain. It is impossible to defend yourself against them, because, like the fiction of a novel, it is not the reality of the story that affects us but the reality of the feelings it arouses.

Untitled #150, 1985

… a woman stands in the foreground sticking out a tongue that is grotesquely large in relation to her mouth. Her face is covered in beads of sweat; she is looking upward and her irises and pupils are situated in the left-hand corner of her eyes. Below her is an area with a number of tiny people moving across it, and we realize that the woman is towering above them, and must therefore be a giantess. In this image there is no attempt at all to maintain the illusion of reality; the miniature people in the background are obviously toy figures made of plastic.

It is a game: an adult dressing up like a monster, with the help of simple items like masks and toy figures, and then taking a picture. Transformation, which has always been Sherman’s theme, is intrinsically instrumental and horizontal. It takes place on the surface, yet it always has an inherent depth as well, something vague and imprecise that appears during the transition. One thing becomes another, and when the other is an animal or a non-human, the depth becomes unfathomable. If you turn away from a small child, put on a mask and turn around again, the child becomes terrified. Removing the mask again does not help, because now the child knows that transformation is possible, and that at any time you could turn into someone quite different, a stranger, something non-human.

… Right from her breakthrough with Untitled Film Stills, a series of over eighty photographs from 1977 to 1980, Sherman’s theme has been the visible element of identity, its surface. The film stills resemble one another. They all represent a single woman in a room or in a place where no one else is present, caught in the middle of a scenario, which seems to be hinted at by her pose and a few props. Nevertheless, they are distinctly different. The woman has dark hair, blond hair, long hair, short hair; she is dressed in a skirt, trousers, dress panties, blouse, T-shirt, shirt, coat, sweater, pajamas, swimsuit; she wears a hat, sunglasses, glasses, a diving mask, shoes with low heels, high heels, pumps, slippers; she is smoking, resting, weeping, in a kitchen, on a veranda, in front of a bathroom mirror, on a sandy plain, in a garden, in front of a church, outside a railroad station, in a doorway, in front of a skyscraper, in a bed, in a library, by the sea, in a gateway, in a corridor, in a window, in a bedroom, in a living room, outside wading in a stream, sitting on the ground in a forest, standing alone in the dark on a road with a suitcase in front of her.

…What makes them fictional?

My most recent previous post on Sherman is here.




April 21, 2015

Descent from the Upper Altitudes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… we may catch a brief downward glimpse of intimate spaces like those where we will finally come to rest …

This is from Mapping by Robert Storr (1994):

… Like the tale told of Zeuxis, the Greek artist who painted a picture of a bunch of grapes so true that birds came to pick at it, Borges’s little fiction [‘Of Exactitude in Science’] which is also a fable of civilization’s vainglory and decline, belongs to the lore of illusion, and to the special branch of aesthetic literature that has long toyed with the possibility that at some magical point the distinction between the real and its copy might cease to exist. Like Carroll’s vignette [in Sylvie and Bruno], moreover, it is a playful demonstration of a corollary law of redundant representation, for when any macrocosmic surrogate reproduces its subject in every detail it becomes useless.

… The myriad shapes that lock together in maps like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle have myriad reasons for being. The majority are painful. It is in the nature of boundaries to be contested, and, from the impersonal distance of a globe spinning under the poised finger of a warlord, the carving-up of territory resembles a kind of megalomaniacal sculpture.

… Several years ago I was guided through the wood-paneled offices of a derelict film studio. Opposite what had been the movie mogul’s art deco desk was a mural map of the world, with the reassuringly prosaic graphic appeal of my elementary-school geography text. There was something subliminally troubling about it, however, and a long hard look was required before I realized that absent from it was any demarcation of the principal countries of Europe, which were tinted an overall faded scarlet. Only then did I check the date, which was 1943.

That was the year Casablanca premiered. The film opens to the image of a turning clay globe suspended in cottony sky. As the cinematographer closes in on France, he cuts to double-exposed images of heavily burdened civilians on the road and tramp steamers at sea, superimposed on a scrolling map of the route from Paris to North Africa. The spatial poetics of this sequence are complex. The animated line that charts the exodus moves more rapidly than the slogging pace of the refugees, while the theater audience’s perspective is that of someone securely aloft in an aircraft.

… Descent from upper altitudes entails an accelerating transition from macro- to microcosm. Continent telescopes into country, country into region, region into city, city into street, street into building, and building into a single window through which we may catch a brief downward glimpse of intimate spaces like those where we will finally come to rest at the end of the journey.





April 20, 2015

Not Yet Entropic Fragments

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… the filter it places between perceptual objectivity and critical subjectivity, one may find the distance created has opened up vertigo-inducing vistas that routine inattention or fear normally hide from sight.

Final post from Gerhard Richter: Doubt and Belief in Painting by Robert Storr (2003):

… From the beginning, then, Richter’s strategy has been one of what he calls “evasive action.” Using ready-made imagery to avoid ready-made artistic identities, he has invited association with movements and tendencies while at the same time distanced himself from them by rephrasing the tropes he has appropriated and insisting on the plurality of his affinities.

Richter’s statements and paintings assert the arbitrariness of pictures as representations of their ostensible subjects as well as our capacity for using images to conjure things that transcend our quotidian experience. Pure seeing is therefore an unreliable index of things as they are, although heightened scrutiny can, on occasion, partially reveal obscured dimensions of reality. But, at the same time, the same compulsion to render reality out of the materials at hand may offer insights about realms that escape our ordinary understanding. Sense data are, by this measure, always illusory; but the senses, in their speculative production of images, do allow us to project intuitions onto reality. We cannot be sure of anything we look at with the naked eye any more than we can be sure that the edited version of a thing reconstituted by art captures its essence; but we an learn about the limitations of our knowledge by repeated attempts at grasping the ungraspable. This holds true equally for commonplace objects within our reach as for remote phenomena — for the faces of those closest to us and the facts of history or the stars.

… it is impossible to account for Richter’s achievement if we take the critical conceit of “the death of the author” literally. Richter is the author of his images, and those images are informed by the time and circumstances in which they were made. They are not integers in a conceptual equation, but pictures of objective and subjective worlds that defy definitive depiction.

Richter is acutely aware of the insurmountable discrepancy between what can be seen and what can be shown, what can be imagined and what can be represented: “Of course I constantly despair at my own incapacity, at the impossibility of ever accomplishing anything, of painting a valid, true picture or even of knowing what such a thing ought to look like. But then I always have the hope that, if I persevere, it might one day happen. And the hope is nurtured every time something appears, a scattered, partial, initial hint of something which reminds me of what I long for, or which conveys a hint of it — although often enough I have been fooled by a momentary glimpse that then vanishes, leaving behind only the usual thing. I have no motif, only motivation.”

Richter’s identity is manifest throughout his work, not so much as a character in his own story (though there is a story worth telling) or as an individual seeking self-expression (though he conveys and elicits complex emotions) but as a force field whose powerful, shifting, and precariously balanced centrifugal and centripetal forces have proven capable of holding together the dispersing but not yet entropic fragments of modern experience and consciousness. The psychology of his art in all its extremes and contradictions is “impersonal” only in the sense that it is not limited to his private preoccupations but expands to encompass those of anyone who accepts that his or her reality — if he or she pays attention to all that it contains — is as plural, as unsettling, and as wondrous as Richter’s.

… the basic loss of bearings toward which all his paintings point may barely show itself at all, except as a constant subliminal tremor that subtly warps vision and casts an estranging light on the mundane and the marvelous. Once accustomed to this effect, and to the filter it places between perceptual objectivity and critical subjectivity, one may find the distance created has opened up vertigo-inducing vistas that routine inattention or fear normally hide from sight.

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




April 19, 2015

To Save One’s Little Self

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… Down there … roars the risk of a work in which one has to disappear. Down there, in the space of the work, everything is lost and perhaps the work too is lost.

This is from the essay ‘Diary and Story’ found in The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot (1959; 2003):

… No one has to be more sincere than the diarist, and sincerity is that transparency that allows him not to cast a shadow on the contained existence of each day to which he limits the task of writing. One has to be superficial to preserve sincerity, a great virtue that also requires courage. Profundity has its comforts. At least, profundity demands the resolution not to hold oneself to the oath that ties us to ourselves and to others by means of some truth.

… nothing can be more different from the daily reckoning than the anxious progression [in story as opposed to diary], without roads and without boundaries, that the pursuit of what has taken place requires, but which, through the fact of having taken place, tears the fabric of events. For whoever encounters chance, like the one who “really” meets an image, the image, chance opens onto his life an unperceived gap where he must renounce habitual language and the calm light of day to keep himself under the fascination of another day and in relation to the measure of another language.

… [in story] feelings turn toward their center of gravity, their true place, which they wholly occupy by banishing the movement of the hours, by dissipating the world and, with the world, the ability to live them: far from being attenuated one by one in an equilibrium that would make them bearable, they fall together toward the space of the narrative, a space that is also that of passion and night, where they cannot be reached or surpassed or betrayed or forgotten.

… The interest of the diary is its insignificance. [ … ] Charles du Bos, with the simplicity unique to him: “The diary in the beginning represented for me the supreme recourse to escape total despair confronting the act of writing,” and also: “The curious thing in my case is how little I have the feeling of living when my diary accumulates only its deposit.” But that a writer as pure as Virgina Woolf, that an artist as passionate to create a work that retains only transparency, the luminous aureole and light contours of things, felt obliged to come back to herself in a journal of chatter in which the “I” pours itself out and consoles itself, that is significant and troubling. Here, the diary seems very like a safeguard against the danger of writing. Down there, in The Waves, roars the risk of a work in which one has to disappear. Down there, in the space of the work, everything is lost and perhaps the work too is lost. The diary is the anchor that scrapes against the bottom of the day-to-day and clings to the roughness of vanity. In like manner, Van Gogh has his letters, and a brother to whom to write them.

… one writes [a diary] to save writing, to save one’s life by writing, to save one’s little self (the revenges one takes on others, the nastiness one distills) or to save one’s great self by giving it scope, and then one writes in order not to be lost in the poverty of the days, or, like Virginia Woolf, like Delacroix, in order not to be lost in this ordeal that is art, that is in the limitless demand of art.

… One writes to save the days, but one entrusts one’s salvation to writing, which changes the days. One writes to save oneself from sterility, but one becomes Amiel who, returning to the fourteen thousand pages in which his life has been dissolved, recognizes in them what ruined him “artistically and scientifically” by “a busy laziness and a phantom of intellectual activity.”




April 18, 2015

The Insides of Our Bodies

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… the insides of our bodies today are chemically more akin to the external environment of the early Earth, in which life originated, than they are like our present oxygen-rich world.

This is from Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution by Lynn Margulis (1998):

… The origin of cells from scummy chemicals may have occurred once or many times. In any case, the first cells in our lineage were membrane-bounded RNA- and DNA-based, self-maintaining protein systems. In details of cell structure and metabolic behavior they very much resembled us. Their material constituents continuously exchanged themselves with the external environment. They vented waste as they acquired food and energy. Their patterns persisted as they replenished their innards with chemicals taken from the surroundings. Indeed, metabolizing ancient bacteria were so effective at remaking themselves when threatened with disintegration and thermodynamic demise that the insides of our bodies today are chemically more akin to the external environment of the early Earth, in which life originated, than they are like our present oxygen-rich world.

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




April 17, 2015

The Dissolving Power

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:29 am

… They had been defined before their existence, named and given shape in the puff of air that we call a word.

This is from the title essay in The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley (1994, 1964):

… Archaeology is the science of man’s evening, not of his midday triumphs. I have spoken of my visit to a flame-wreathed marsh [city dump] at nightfall. All in it had been substance, matter, trailing wires and old sandwich wrappings, broken toys and iron bedsteads. Yet there was nothing present that science could not reduce into its elements, nothing that was not the product of the urban world whose far-off towers had risen gleaming in the dusk beyond the marsh. There on the city dump had lain the shabby debris of life: the waxen fragment of an old record that had stolen a human heart, wilted flowers among smashed beer cans, the castaway knife of a murderer, along with a broken tablespoon. It was all a maze of invisible, floating connections, and would be until the last man perished.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] These forlorn materials had all been subjected to the dissolving power of the human mind. They had been wrenched from deep veins of rock, boiled in great crucibles, and carried miles from their origins. They had assumed shapes that, though material enough, had existed first as blueprints in the profound darkness of a living brain. They had been defined before their existence, named and given shape in the puff of air that we call a word. That word had been evoked in a skull box which, with all its contained powers and lurking paradoxes, has arisen in ways we an only dimly retrace.

[ … ]

… We are more dangerous than we seem and more potent in our ability to materialize the unexpected that is drawn from our own minds. “Force maketh Nature more violent in the Returne,” Francis Bacon had once written. In the end, this is her primary quality. Her creature man partakes of that essence, and it is well that he consider it in contemplation and not always in action. To the unexpected nature of the universe man owes his being.




April 16, 2015

Human Choice

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… If it’s mind control, there’s going to be somebody editing your mind control. Editing is an ongoing profession.

This is from the interview with Tom Rolfe found in Selected Takes: Film Editors On Editing by Vincent LoBrutto (1991):

[ … ]

How does an editor learn to listen to the material?

There’s a sensitivity gauge somewhere, it depends on what you are sensitive to. If you give a picture like The Accused to a woman to cut, you’ll find not a different picture, but you will see a different substance or texture to it overall. It’s a sensitivity to the editor’s life experience and values. It’s going to be different.

How intuitive is editing?

It’s totally intuitive to me, I cut that way. I’m sometimes sorry that I’ve done something radically wrong, and I have to go back and correct it, because like a house of cards, once the first choice is wrong, everything else is wrong. You go back and build the old foundation again.

How many years do you think it takes to become a good editor?

I don’t know yet. I’m still learning because I’ll change my mind tomorrow about something. To learn the mechanics is nothing; to have the confidence to do what you feel is right and just cut, that takes a few years. You go through the stage of “What if I’m wrong?” and that’s a big fear for somebody when you’re dealing with an audience of millions. It’s when you become confident enough to accept who you are, that’s how long it takes you to become an editor.

Have you ever made the decision not to cut?

Yes. It’s much more important to learn what not to cut. That’s the hardest thing for any young editor starting out; it was for me.

Why is that?

You’re drawing a salary, man, do something, cut, make edits. You learn that the scene is playing, you don’t have to justify your existence by making a cut; it works. It happened more when I was beginning; now I’m much colder about looking at things than I was then.

[ … ]

Where do you think the art of film editing is heading?

I can’t see it being different than it is now. It has always been a matter of making choices, and there will always be the human choice. If it’s an action piece, it will be dictated by one set of reasoning. If it’s a matter of philosophy, it will be dictated by another set of reasons. It’s just a matter of making choices, and I don’t think the electronic wizard has been invented that will make those choices for you. There will always be editing. [ … ] There’s still going to be someone saying, “This will be better if you do it that way.” If it’s mind control, there’s going to be somebody editing your mind control. Editing is an ongoing profession.




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