[NetBehaviour] Virus Diary Day 4: Brightside Politics

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Sun Apr 19 18:39:36 CEST 2020

Hi Patrick,

I agree that almost by definition, wherever there is a dark side there is also a concurrent bright side.  This applies in politics, astronomy, nature, art, psychology, perhaps in most things.  Nevertheless we are as a fearful primate species highly susceptible to forgetting that the sun also rises.  🙂

There is certainly a hope among many today that out of the current health crisis, which is bringing untold grief, loss, suffering, and collateral damage, some form of civic renewal or renewed progress could be born.  And without doubt I agree that the magic and miracle of being alive, which is such a key part of aesthetic and scientific experience, can never be fully lost (though our hopes for it can be often dashed).  Connecting to other humans is also incredibly resilient (have you read Mohsin Hamid's Exit West?).

The Abe Lincoln masterpiece was sent to me yesterday by a "poem of the week" list I'm on which sends quirky poems.  It made me smile, and take a childlike view of myself and of our sometimes-childish nation here in the US.  Imperfect as he was, I greatly admire Abe Lincoln and the fact he wrote such a poem at age 9 affected me pretty profoundly -- ambition with humility, innocence tinged with dread.  Quite American perhaps, and prescient of the eventual role Lincoln would play in the Civil War and in writings like his address to Cooper Union.

Apropos of "the party of Lincoln," which has to the dismay of so very many morphed something fairly divergent, I also have been seeing a potential "bright side" of the late-Digital-Revolution dystopia that has set in.  In early 2019 I became aware of William Janeway's book Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy.  He makes a great argument that the next revolution, the Sustainability or Green Revolution, has been delayed by what amounts to public/private dysfunction in US politics.  He is fairly centrist and Keynesian, and outlines a lot of helpful historic precedent for our current dilemmas.  He sets out a plan to begin the Sustainability Revolution, noting with some darkness that such massive infrastructure spending is usually prompted by a major war, while also noting on the bright side that as Keynes said (to paraphrase) "vested interests do not prevail long term; ideas do."

Even brighter, for me anyway, was the article in last week's Foreign Affairs in which James Baker and George Schultz call for something very close to the plan Janeway sets forth.  Maybe the pandemic could be the "crisis" or "war" that sparks the Green Revolution on a bipartisan basis?  For me personally that would be the brightest geopolitical bright side since the relatively peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall.

How does art, then, relate to all this, to Covid-19, to the suffering, the devastation, the setbacks in so many realms, and the hopes for progress?  As always, perhaps as even Abe knew at age 9, the answer is inexact.  Aesthetic experience is transient and evanescent, Shelley's fading coal and Basho's furyu, even on the individual scale or quantum.  Of course then it also is on the macro scale.  Yet, there are laws of averages and karma; there is such a thing as reality, such a thing as time, such a thing as human beings.  Art has both consistency and incompleteness in an ongoing cycle very like the seasons.

More fundamentally my recent interests have been influenced since early 2018 by Italo Calvino's book Six Memos for the Next Millennium, a fascinating short book about networks and the labyrinthine relationships between art and science (the unfinished sixth memo of which, titled "Consistency," I believe to be a direct reference to chapter 4, titled "Consistency, Incompleteness, and Geometry" of Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach).  Six Memos is dense with references, both scientific and artistic, and encyclopedic in much the way a syllabus or index is.  For this reason I've developed what I think will be a lifelong interest in it, including an annual project centered on the summer solstice.

Out of my study of Six Memos, a trip to Florence in 2019, and a longtime interest in Galileo, I have also developed a great interest in Leonardo da Vinci (partly in recognition of his 500th anniversary last year).  Reading the Suh edition of his notebooks and the Giunti edition of the Codex Leceister have been particularly interesting, as has viewing Leonardo's oeuvre, as Calvino does, as an integrated work of visual art interwoven with literature.  It's both antique and fabulously modern it seems to me, almost like Abe Lincoln, perhaps the chief architect of the modern USA, learning to write with a piece of coal on the back of a shovel because he had no pen or paper.

More concretely, I have developed a hypothesis about the Mona Lisa which coincides with some ideas about medical theory I've had for a while (1990 paper in Noemata show linked below).  My hypothesis, which I am calling the "bridge-garment hypothesis," based on a close reading of the Notebooks, is that the bridge symbolizes the historical flow of human arts -- including art, science, and engineering -- out of the primordial processes of geology and hydrology in the background, returning the viewer from landscape macrocosm to portrait microcosm.  This flow visually and conceptually leads directly into the sitter's garment, which represents acquired knowledge and learning (i.e. academic robes).  This garment is then portrayed as the servant or subordinate product of the human agent, which Leonardo called "experience" (in science and art) in contrast to the "copying" of the works of others which characterized the academia of his day:

"I am fully aware that the fact of my not being a lettered man may cause certain arrogant persons to think that they may with reason censure me, alleging that I am a man without letters.  Foolish folk!  Do they not know that I may retort by saying, as did Marius to the Roman patricians: 'They who themselves go adorned in the labour of others will not permit me my own?' They will say that, because of my lack of book learning, I cannot properly express what I desire to expound upon. Do they know that my subjects are based on experience rather than the words of others? And experience has been the mistress of those who wrote well. And so, as mistress, I will acknowledge her and, in every case, I will give her as evidence."

The viewer then engages in a profoundly personal and immediate communication with the sitter by way of dynamic eye contact and facial expression, perhaps without parallel in the history of portraiture, an "intersubjective mirror" (title of a grad paper I wrote about the Renaissance), a communicative version of mindfulness meditation.  This re-balancing is both an aesthetic contribution by Leonardo and a medical theory of art, having a Hippocratic ethos establishing the artist and the viewer as peers (of a sort), each having the spark of human experience within them.  It is therefore a profoundly integrated work of art that unites science, art, meditation, and the networks of human society, not unlike the prehistoric and indigenous traditions of the stone circle and labyrinth: a personalized, immersive, experiential map of humanity and the cosmos.

I have found reasonable evidence for the Mona Lisa bridge-garment hypothesis, with some links below, as well as harsh opposition from some of the top experts on Leonardo scholarship.  It is certainly a unique hypothesis which has never to date been articulated.  Therefore it suits some of the traits which might distinguish exemplars or potential opportunities for finding more of the bright side, even as we adapt to the severe crises of the century, and even if we dwell in the shadow of the moon sometimes: which is to say, the unorthodox, transformative, transdisciplinary, and Hippocratic.  I am also very intrigued to see if it resonates at all with Cassie Thornton's current Furtherfield residency exploring the aesthetic nature of health networks.

All very best wishes and regards as the adaptation continues,


https://noemata.net/ueop/work.php?no=224 (song by Szpakowski/Herman)
https://noemata.net/ueop/work.php?no=246  (1990 paper on medical theory in Greek Tragedy)
https://brill.com/view/book/9789004232549/B9789004232549-s005.xml  ("Hippocratic Medicine and Greek Tragedy," Jacques Jouanna, 2012)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJoY6YJNhLE  (William Janeway video lecture)
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-04-13/strategic-case-us-climate-leadership (Baker/Schultz article)
https://www.academia.edu/6742766/Leonardo_da_Vinci_Society_Newsletter_39_Nov_2012_ (see page 9, Robert Zwijnenberg (University of Leiden), on the bridge interpretation)
https://www.jstor.org/stable/3050907?seq=1 "Observations on the Mona Lisa Landscape," Webster Smith, Art Bulletin, 1985.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28989546  Kabat-Zinn article on meditation and global challenges

From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Patrick Lichty <lists at voyd.com>
Sent: Saturday, April 18, 2020 2:36 AM
To: netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Subject: [NetBehaviour] Virus Diary Day 4: Brightside Politics

Virus Diary: Day 4, Day 44 of Isolation
Abu Dhabi

Deep in the night, time dissolves and what is important seems to materialize.
On a planet somewhere in a vast multiverse, the significance of things comes into place.
On the macro, the matter is small. At the micro- the setting is sublime.
Love is hard to see from a billion light years away; it might be a macroscopic issue, but from six centimeters away it seems to encompass the whole.
Seeing the sun, one wants to walk in it; seeing the fires from orbit, one wants to hold each other and the moment.
This is the brightside politic; the dancing of nurses and the hero's cheer as mortality is challenged; fighting for another day of silence, in breath, in space.
We need as many as can be found; Bravery is to stare forward and move into the moment.
What a magical thing it is to be alive. Period.
As Feynmann once said, it inconceivable to imagine the incredible nature of nature.
The Wheel of the Buddhists turns; the cosmic dance of star-stuff continues.
Trying to spin counterclockwise
Robbing the sphere of its angular momentum
Slowing its spin a tiny bit
Lengthening the night, pushing back the day.
Giving me be a little more time with you. (re: xkcd)

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