[NetBehaviour] looking back in time into absences
maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Wed Dec 29 22:57:51 UTC 2021
As the year draws to an end I like the idea of looking backward in time.
For me 2021 was mostly about studying Dante Alighieri's works and their effect on the works of Leonardo. Like two black holes at the center of the modern galaxy, these two figures perhaps more than any others brought words and images -- and all the arts and sciences they carry -- into the modern age. Dante put literature into the vernacular, Italian not Latin, and Leonardo moved images from the domain of orthodoxy and copyists to individual free practitioners.
Therefore at the fading close of the medieval age and new dawn of the modern, we may find echoes and precursors of where we are today.
Arguably the modern age, that which succeeded the medieval, is drawing also to an end. (Perhaps it isn't ending, and all is as it was in 1821 or 1921. Yet it seems more and more like something has changed.) How to understand it? And, of the ways to understand it, which to choose?
Yesterday I attached the following nouns to each era as an exercise or speculation:
Prehistoric = survival
Ancient = origination
Medieval = stability
Modern = development
When did the prehistoric age turn into the ancient? When survival was achieved enough to make a new enterprise possible.
When did the ancient turn into the medieval? After the early empires collapsed, and all was chaos making stability the new priority.
When did the medieval age turn into the modern? After stability was sufficient for development to take off in earnest.
In this simplified frame, the modern age ends when development has gotten far enough to make something else the primary focus. Arguably today we know that is sustainability.
In the Green, or Sustainable, or Planetary (or Post-Planetary, or Anthropocene, or Apocalyptic), or whatever other term one cares to attach to the age following the modern, the main task is, obviously, sustainability in the sense of adapting to the consequences (pro and con) of the adaptations produced in such profusion during the modern age. Sustainability will occur one way or the other. The focus has shifted from increasing productive capacity in the service of various economic or political goals -- a quantitative measure -- to adapting productive capacity qualitatively so that its operation does not destroy its base of operation i.e. the planetary environment (or, if the planet is rendered uninhabitable, creating some sustainable system of artificial environments underground, underwater, in outer space, or the like). This is not an abolition or reversal of the previous age, but a shift in adaptive emphasis affecting all aspects of society and culture. It resembles a shift in climate in that it is not just the climate that changes, but all activities of all natural and human systems functioning within that climate.
Perhaps there is no new era, no shift to sustainability. (Such naming is often a selection rather than a discovery.) Yet at least the character of modernity has shifted a lot, boomeranging on itself so to speak, and in this we can find parallels, perhaps, in the shift or metamorphosis Dante and Leonardo intentionally worked to make possible out of the medieval age into something different.
How did they do this, how did they metamorphose?
Certainly in part they looked to the past, or rather, the present remnants of the past, the way any improvising organism would consider what it finds to hand. Their age was re-discovering ancient art, science, philosophy, and the like, and re-learning lost skills. They also looked at the present: what were the most pressing situations? What were the dead-ends, and where were there degrees of freedom? The vernacular and access to creative work, i.e. personal direct participation, were of enormous relevance: the new expansion of reading, writing, printed texts, drawing, painting, making art and making science. These then-new or renewed media were not viewed so very differently from how we romanticize today's access to computers.
As to the future, they were both realists. They saw massive corruption, brutality, cruelty, and misfortune as the vast bulk of "what is." Yet both chose reform, i.e. hope, and therefore an element of optimism or at least of possibility. Both asserted that there were some areas of choice, and the manner of choice was important enough to warrant time and effort. At least they chose to believe that, chose to operate in that theater, then designed, built, and if you will, engineered, accordingly.
What would Dante and Leonardo say about the Webb Telescope?
My science knowledge is pretty much limited to reading Quanta magazine, which is more in-depth than mainstream news but accessible to non-academics. It seems like the Webb will do a couple of things, the primary being to look at "older" light which the Hubble couldn't see since it used the visible spectrum and the oldest light is in infra-red. That's why the Webb has to be placed a million miles out in space, to be super cold and thus able to detect the tiny heat radiations of the early universe. Seeing the original events of the universe might illuminate some basic laws of physics, what the universe is made of, how it started, etc., i.e. cosmology. The Webb will also be able to check distant planets for signs of organic life, to find out if we are alone or if we might be able to go live somewhere else someday.
This is a crude summary of course, and from only one possible two-part angle: the quests for cosmic origin and for alien life. Also of great importance are the effort itself, the R&D required i.e. "sputnik effect," and the harvest of images. It's very expensive to send people to space, so in order to cultivate a sense of wonder telescopes and the pictures (and via data, the stories) they bring back are more achievable. Yet the two highlighted "targets" have very powerful and ancient human narrative attached, one could say myth even: where did we and the world come from, and where are we and the world going?
Here I would say we can find parallels to Dante and Leonardo. Dante wrote a map of the universe, with earth at the center of course, and explained how all the arts and sciences radiated from each planet, star, and celestial source down to us here on earth that we might, by our own efforts combined with nature's help, realize our best potentials. The Webb is also making the cosmos the source of human experience and betterment in a kind of entangled dance. Where do we "find" physics, where does it radiate from down to us? In images of ancient light, traces beaming to us from far far away. Where is knowledge of how to live, where to live, biologically speaking, beamed to us from? From the thousands of exoplanets which might have atmospheres, and life forms, or intelligent ones.
Leonardo didn't follow the Dantean or Ptolemaic cosmos, and understood much of what Galileo would later try to publish. Everything was intertwined and amorphous, with no tidy center at the center of our planet. Yet things did still revolve in orbits, and Leonardo saw the source of our science and art as the phenomena we could experience and observe: the moon, the sun, rivers, human anatomy, the atmosphere, geology, mechanical engineering. The cosmic order didn't beam down grammar to us from the moon, logic from Mercury, and rhetoric from Venus, as Dante and Aristotle said, but our capabilities and skills were formed by our observation and then alignment with what we could see, detect, and even fabricate in nature by means of light and then imagination, reason, experiment, and other processing.
When you say absences, I'm reminded of your quote of Brecht in Kinetic Atmospheres -- very interesting and potentially a great discussion book for the list -- that all theatre starts with something that isn't working (and the Webb is, in multiple senses, theatre). We don't know how we got here, or how the universe got here, and what its rules are. This leaves us confused and scrambling, perhaps more than we can afford to be without consequences given various tasks imposed by sustainability. We also don't know if we can live on this planet indefinitely, nor where else we might go or hope to go. We don't know if there is any other intelligence out in space which could help us. We don't know if there's any information out there to find which might help us.
There's an old poem describing a bear pacing in a cage who looks through a telescope at one end of the cage and a microscope at the other. The same poet writes of how trees are concerned with outer, and poets with inner, weather. Arguably there is something inner, in how we are and do things, that is too easily overlooked even by the most powerful telescopes and microscopes. I would put the efforts to "see," perceive, and of course live out that inner state along with its entanglements with the outer at the center of the Sustainable Age. And of course, I believe that the Mona Lisa was Leonardo's map of how to do this -- science and art being a "garment" we wear experientially, and weave experientially, affecting and requiring the movement of our being, tuned to and mirroring the dynamic environments of nature and "natureculture," etc. We see this in his statement that the depiction of persons should display "molti morali costumi, como Calumnia" (many moral costumes/customs like Apelles' allegory of Calumny), reinforcing the case that the untitled ML is actually a comparably allegorical portrait of Leonardo's concept of Esperienza (experience and experiment) as the "common mother of all the sciences and arts."
I get the sense from your book, which I haven't finished yet, that the idea of garment as "kinetic atmosphere" or kinetic-atmospheric interface is comparable to what I believe Leonardo to be doing, very much intentionally (and with our time, of modernity's metamorphosis by crisis, in mind) by means of the ML and his corpus overall.
Do you have any thoughts about 2021 or the Webb telescope from a KA perspective to share on list? Just as engineering it has a lot of interesting aesthetic properties relating to fabric, unfolding, temperature, unique orbital properties, perhaps dance and performance, and more.
From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Johannes Birringer via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Monday, December 27, 2021 2:24 PM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Johannes Birringer <Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] looking back in time into absences
Alan's writing has made me want to throw out a question about looking back (not Wittgenstein in the imaginary car, this time).
you feel absence. absence is no longer silent, disappeared, beyond
the pale. you are beyond the pale...
if we are beyond such pale, as I think it's true to say, then what are the space agencies up to with their 10 billion dollar J Webb Telescope?
I arrived in Houston a few days ago, and my old NASA friends talk about it, somewhat vividly, but I realize I'd been unawares. So this telescope
is meant to look back into a deep past, millions of years? near the beginnings of the universe, following fossilized light?
how does that work - do we have astronomers amongst us? And what are they trying to find?
ps. on the monitors that track the flight of Ariane 5 rocket, the yellow line exactly followed its programmed green path. Meticulously.
The chief scientist/inventor of this nicely designed gadget was asked if he'd be nervous during the launch and deployment, and he surprised everyone by simply saying "No, not nervous, interested. We've broached every problem that we can foresee, when you see a problem you develop a plan to overcome it and we've done that. So this is a test of whether we came up with the right answers."
So this is an interested engineer's arrogant response, I'd guess?
From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com>
Sent: 26 December 2021 22:29
Text for forthcoming video on technology and testament
sun 00 00:00:00 0000 it's dirty everywhere, isn't it? the world
is dry here. liquid is necessary for life / at least for the
activities of life. what remains pooled, desiccated, goes
nowhere. the skin shrivels; there are scars, blemishes. you're
never the same again. you hang by your hands tethered to the
ceiling. nothing is out of reach.sun 00 00:00:00 0000 skin world
skin postures. yes yes yes.sun 00 00:00:00 0000 the posture of
your skin is not your own. not your body. you learn here: you
feel absence. absence is no longer silent, disappeared, beyond
the pale. you are beyond the pale. your absence gnaws at you,
devours you. you feel skinned. elsewhere "that goes on." you
ride nothing. nothing. for the first time in your life you smell
yourself constantly. the taste of you. liquids and solids.
everything leaves. what falls to the ground. you. someone smells
you. on the ground you smell. sun 00 00:00:00 0000 dirty you.
dirty jew. even i was called that. you put a pignose in my bed.
ai knows that: i enter it in a matrix. no one saves concerns.
for the rest of my life. around the same time: a broken nose.
you did that too. sun 00 00:00:00 0000 do i write here in this
broken space. bone bone and bone. for the first time. there are
lots of them. i do not acknowledge breath. afterthought of my
breathing. death of it.sun 00 00:00:00 0000 have you ever looked
into dead eyes. here. now. the space. the window like a space
filled with letters: i arm myself. i arm myself with you. i
arm.sun 00 00:00:00 0000 es i hiss. nameless, hiss. */this is
the text of the thinking through piece of ai, artificial
intelligence, in useless confrontation with holocaust and
genocide, with brand new lexicon and rules for its application.
++++++ sun 00 00:00:00 0000 what now... sun 00 00:00:00 0000
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