[NetBehaviour] Fw: [vlw] Thoughts about "aevum" and network time in the context of "[wrong] endless angst-ertainment"

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Tue Dec 31 20:16:13 CET 2019

Best wishes to all and to the work of art in the age of network reproduction, i.e., next year!  🙂

From: very_large_works <very_large_works-bounces at lists.noemata.net> on behalf of Max Herman <maxnmherman at hotmail.com>
Sent: Tuesday, December 31, 2019 1:12 PM
To: Discussion list for VERY LARGE WORKS show <very_large_works at lists.noemata.net>
Subject: Re: [vlw] Thoughts about "aevum" and network time in the context of "[wrong] endless angst-ertainment"

Hi Bjorn,

I was thinking yesterday or the day before about the shape of a neuron, i.e., a rather circular central core with a lot of little sprouting threads branching out from it, and it seemed to me to illustrate lightness in a way.

This was in the idea that as the electrical activity sparks outward from within it cell, it (so to speak) creates these paths by dragging the heavier cell material along with it.  I mean this in a totally figurative, unscientific way of course, just as a visual image and metaphor which might have other parallels.

This is a kind of visual analogy of lightning perhaps.  The little lightning-bolts from within the cell zap outward, and drag the heavier material of the cell outward roughly along its course like a pen-point might drag ink.  This is an interaction of heavier and lighter.

The visual image I had was sort of like gelatin, where the cell matter is quasi-gelatinous but also akin to a semi-liquid encased in gelatin.  Or, like a balloon being popped from within, or a pick being drawn through stripes of frosting to make waveforms on a cake.

The idea here and relevance to Calvino is that networks are woven by many repetitions of lightness-events which create tracery within heavier media.  He suggests that the "lighter" method of Cavalcanti, with lots of particles, spiritelles, and uncertainty might have increased importance 2000-3000 AD than the "heavier" method of Dante which created a solid literary cosmos of heaven, hell, and purgatory, rather like a building.  Networks rather than libraries.  Or, sparking ideas in living people's brains rather than manufacturing larger and larger computers, infinitely more copies of books, etc.  A qualitative change of lighter, and not just a quantitative change of more.  This is simple natural philosophy one might say, adaptation in complexity.

Leonardo tracked this idea of branching flows through media (like rivers through land, veins through the body, etc.) but he did not have the advantages of a microscope to understand cell structure or neurons per se.  Hence he viewed nerves more like "strings" that obey commands, like a tendon or muscle, and he didn't speculate much about brain neural networks that I can see.  So he alluded to cellular networks by metaphor: "The nerves with their muscles serve the tendons even as soldiers serve their leaders, and the tendons serve the common sense as the leaders their captain, and this common sense serves the soul as the captain serves his lord."  So, I don't see in Leonardo's notebooks any parallels to the jello synapse image except in the branching streams of rivers eroding land (as in the Mona Lisa and the Codex Leicester).  I mention Leonardo in part because he is a major reference in Calvino, and because of his 500th anniversary in this year ending today.

As for the Medusa's image in "Lightness," I think Calvino suggests it is the horrors of history and of the present day.  He opens "Lightness" by saying that as a youngster he felt obligated to represent an image of his time, but being so horrific, his 20th century, he decided he could not do so directly (thus implying that schemas which do, possibly Fascism and Communism, are flawed and even frozen to stone).  The Montale reference (I believe he was a seaside poet) is also to this effect.  I sometimes think small little topics and comments on an email list can be events such as these, contrasted to the mighty academic tomes of the 20th century like Das Kapital or Freud.

Back to Kundera in "Lightness":  In a passage I am now reading closely for the first time, Calvino writes that "the weight of living consists chiefly in constriction, in the dense net of public and private constrictions that enfolds us more and more closely."  The comparison of network to constriction is very important here.  I am noticing the word "constriction" for the first time and I do believe that it relates to the jello neural branch image.  On the next page in fact, page 9, Calvino mentions neurons.  What prevents the nets from becoming suffocating, monolithic, unbearable, cocooning?  Here is a paradox.  Calvino mentions Buddha, which in my opinion is key.  The motion is not in the objects it creates; the books, the networks, the webs.  These can become cocoons or even graves, indeed, stone itself.  The creativity of the motive energy has to be able to subside back to nothing so to speak, as in Buddhist meditation or "no-mind," recreate itself daily anew, or else it does little more than add wreckage upon wreckage.  Calvino notes this critical juncture on page 10, and encapsulates it in the image of the poet of lightness, Cavalcanti, evading a beating by the enforcers of weight and stability by leaping out of the wreckage and tombstones lightly.

Still I do not find, yet, a confirmation of my jello-neuron in Calvino's Kundera or Lightness.  Forging on to pages 12 and 13 however we find more on the spiritelle, the mini-spirit, or what one might call "the aesthetic particle."  Perhaps his could be likened to a photon, as Shelley likened the poetic moment to a fading coal, or electrons moving in electrical paths.  Calvino even mentions Cavalcanti's Sonnet 13 on his own page 13 -- an indicator that Calvino too in this book is producing or hoping to produce spiritelles (is he not).  I'm not sure what if anything it means that Cavalcanti identifies 14 types of spiritos, one per line, in his Sonnet 13.  (If you think I am being silly about these numbers, mea culpa, but look at the other examples of number, such as Perec's hyper-novel on page 121, based on a 10x10 apartment block, having 100 apartments but only 99 chapters.  Calvino writes: "So are there a hundred chapters? No, only ninety-nine.  This ultra-completed book has an intentional loophole left for incompleteness." )

On page 15 however, I do believe there is fine evidentiary matter about the jello-neuron.  Calvino mentions "consistency," the title of the unwritten Sixth Memo, twice: once as hidden in Cavalcanti but evident and stable in Dante.  "In Cavalcanti, everything moves so swiftly that we are unaware of its consistency, only of its effects."  I could not ask for, nor did I remotely hope for prior to starting this email ninety minutes ago, any better equivalence to the electrical impulse moving in gelatinous cellular media.  Prior to this writing, as of five minutes ago, I had no such explicitly neuro-cellular metaphor for understanding the non-existent Consistency in the six memos but now do.  The brain is a gelatinous medium, which we perhaps see more literally in the sketches of Cajals (since he was blessed with microscopy) than in the metaphorically thundering notebooks of Leonardo.

Moving still forward on this page 15, as if with consistency which as we know is ever-fleeting, I do see something like what I had in mind in the image starting this email: "Dante seems to want to render the exact weight of this lightness.... In another very similar line the weight of a body sinking into the water and disappearing is, as it were, held back and slowed down."  This is enough of a parallel to moving particles in a medium for me to appreciate, as perhaps a tiny gift or morsel from seven hundred years of Italian history ago.  It is also perhaps the best I will get in the way of connective tissue from this fragile matrix and therefore a fine stopping point.

After page 15 many examples of lightness follow, as by denouement and outro.  These then supply improvisational materiel for the subsequent four memos which in my opinion derive from lightness -- quickness, exactitude (which I have some concerns with), visibility (makes sense for light), and multiplicity (as in both networks and in branching).  Shakespeare, Puck, and Fludd's "hyle" offer on page 19 something akin to aevum which might assist my gelatinous hypothesis (a figurative hypothesis of course, please understand).  Later references to Cyrano may relate, I'm not sure, maybe the image of ox marrow?

Apropos of this nothing, while hunched over my computer typing this, with both elbows on the table, pausing to think, it seemed to me that I saw the surface of a glass of water on the table ripple when my heart beat.  Can anyone replicate this?  It would be a parallel to what Cyrano seems to be alluding to with his reference to gelatinous ox marrow being affected by the moon as if a tide.  These do relate to the jello-neuron idea, so now I feel there is a modest degree of corroboration, enough to express a sense of gratitude for Calvino, Dante, Leonardo, and 2019.  The moon, symbol of suspension, is then mentioned on page 23 to give one an idea of how Calvino likes to compose his figures.

Page 26 is a fine illustration:  "Have a great number of threads been interwoven in this lecture?  Which thread should I pull on to find the end in my hand?  There is the thread that connects the moon, Leopardi, Newton, gravitation, and levitation.  There is the thread of Lucretius, atomism, Cavalcanti's philosophy of love, Renaissance magic, Cyrano.  There is the thread of writing as a metaphor of the powder-fine substance of the world.... Should I continue along this road?  Won't the conclusions awaiting me seem all too obvious?"

Therefore Calvino ends with a reference to the flying empty bucket from Kafka, which I would tie to the Buddhist no-mind of simple breath meditation, the brain's default mode network so to speak, the quiet network or network quiet itself, which is the aevum, the only preservation we have (and many thanks for it) from the fabrications of the brain turning itself to stone.

All very finest wishes for the new year,


From: very_large_works <very_large_works-bounces at lists.noemata.net> on behalf of Bjørn Magnhildøen <noemata at gmail.com>
Sent: Friday, December 20, 2019 4:20 PM
To: Discussion list for VERY LARGE WORKS show <very_large_works at lists.noemata.net>
Subject: Re: [vlw] Thoughts about "aevum" and network time in the context of "[wrong] endless angst-ertainment"

Hi Max,

I have to say I enjoy your reflections on networks, vlw, art, science, etc. I started reading Italo Calvino's Six Memos because of this. I like what he says about lightness, turning to stone, through the myths. I think internet is such a place of lightness, of not even touching the ground at times. He mentions Kundera, and we've been thinking of The Unbearable Lightness of Internet as something to look into. There's this lightness that often becomes unbearable (heavy or otherwise too much). I like how he used the myths, between Medusa and Perseus, the latter only looking indirectly, fleetingly, through a mirror.


On Fri, Dec 20, 2019 at 7:15 PM Max Herman <maxnmherman at hotmail.com<mailto:maxnmherman at hotmail.com>> wrote:

Hi all,

I was thinking about "aevum" today and wanted to mention it as it relates to time functions in networks.

To link it to VLW, I will discuss in the context of "[wrong] endless angst-ertainment," by Ruben Moller, which I hadn't viewed before now, and which appeared at the top of the VLW page when I opened it today.  So this might qualify as some degree of randomness in case randomness is important, or semi-randomness, as I believe it sometimes is in networks and in time.

Regarding end-of-year and holiday time, which is one example of creating "chunks" like an artwork, a show, a year, etc., Frank Kermode discusses the idea of aevum in his book The Sense of an Ending:

"Birthdays, anniversaries, saints' days are (fictively, by a benefaction, so to speak, of kairos) distinguished from all other days.... I continue to be interested in the idea...that within human time one can distinguish between the chronos of mere successiveness and the kairos of high days and holidays, times or seasons that stand out...as belonging to a different temporal order....  The interpretation of narrative usually involves some sort of transformative manoeuvre as when we find or seek allegorical meanings or make 'symptomatic' readings that discover what, under all the appearances, can be taken as a true sense of the text.  The habit is an ancient one.... In the disposable, time-bound talk of the patient there is exposed what truly exists in another realm of time, an intemporal sign that may take its part in a pattern that has nothing to do with chronos.... Nor has it anything to do with eternity; it inhabits that medium between, which could be called aevum."

Reading this a few weeks ago was the first I had heard of the idea of aevum.  Kermode wrote that it was the aspect of the 1967 edition of his book that got the least critical discussion because it was awkward, but he reasserted its possible relevance in the second edition over thirty years later.

"This is an awkward word, and I believe that is one reason why it was probably the least discussed of the ideas I put forward in 1967.  Yet the concept still strikes me as one to be taken seriously.  Of course I used it in an extended sense which may seem fanciful, and my belief in it cannot be of the kind it elicited in medieval theology.  The angels required their own order of time because they were not pure being, yet were (on most interpretations) immaterial, acting in time yet not of it.... Immutable, not subject to time, they were nevertheless capable of acts of will and intellect, by which change is produced in time.  St. Thomas gave the necessary idea of a medium inter aeternitatum et tempus this name, aevum.  This idea had a long history and was useful to legal theorists dealing, for example, with monarchies (when the king dies his dignity survives and belongs to the aevum), or with corporations, which have a kind of immortality since they survive their mortal members.... But it can also be applied to what I called '[people] in certain postures of attentiveness.'  I tried to extend this idea to the time of characters in novels and so to illuminate the relations between our sense of real time and our concessions to the different temporal structure of novels, with their inevitable preference for kairos over chronos, to which nevertheless some concessions or gestures must be made."

I'm not sure how helpful or relevant Kermode's writings are, but the idea of aevum as he uses it might relate to how time and relevance apply to networks and also to any works that are "very large" in the sense of time or duration (which most works considered very large are, as is mentioned in the Suggestions section of the VLW site).

I wasn't quite sure how to speculate about this relevance to networks, except to mention how networks are distributed yet cyclical, so you have iterative-time like seasons or phases as well as sequential time like day-to-day events.  Time duration and scope of relevance both apply to network information patterns.   In this sense aevum might be something like connective-time, the fabric that is woven between repeating patterns and actual events or "within people" so to speak.  One could think of the "warp" of consistent patterns and the "weft" of unique occurrences forming a hybrid fabric.

However I think the semi-random but fortunate comparison to "[wrong] endless angst-ertainment" might be more helpful than additional words of interpretation.  This work by Moller is a video of an animated pencil drawing of a face, with audio of music (by a coincidentally named group) and reading of a text which is roughly as follows:

So, hmm
I decided to start, hmm
to describe to myself
not so much as to explain or interpret
But to see how it sounds out loud
It takes so long
on and off ten years
It's personal

The title of the work is:

 ..........WRONG .........  endless Angst-ertainment - Rubén Möller -
So relevant today, only words, only images, paraphrase the sensation we all encounter everyday.
So it begins:
Episode 1                          Never   obscure,  or    it     is     W   R   O   N   G:   personal

Perhaps it is only due to proximity in time of viewing, but I see a lot of the concepts from Kermode about aevum also addressed in this work.  For example as in the title "endless" and in the concepts of description, interpretation, decision, personal temporality compared to critical temporality, narration, everyday experience, paraphrase, etc.  Also just the general mood (in visual, sound, and written terms) and the allusiveness of the work remind me of Kermode's writings (but even more of the novel written by Kermode's student Julian Barnes, which was also called The Sense of an Ending).

In any case thanks for the good art and discussion, and happy holidays to all!


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