[NetBehaviour] Ontological Banding

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Fri Oct 29 04:18:42 CEST 2021

Hi Anthony,

I never read Milles Plateaux (sp.?) as I felt that if I ever really needed to know something from it someone could quote it or explain it to me.  So this is such a case, possibly even the first!

For whatever reason, theoretical language is something I prefer not to use very much but what you cited below made me think of the two great subjects in Leonardo's work: the flow of water and the processes of geology.

Most of his painted backgrounds consist of water and rocks, and much of the science in his notebooks is about geology and hydrology as constitutive of the "body" of the earth, its blood and skeleton as it were.  Intermediate forms like water vapor (clouds) and alluvial fields (eroded rock) are sub-forms which form the respiration and soft tissue of the planet.  Molten rock was a kind of heart function, etc., figuratively of course, but Leonardo postulated some literal parallels too.

In such an environment of a planet having a "vegetative soul" (as Leonardo called it) what is a human-built stone bridge, the only human artifact in the background of the Mona Lisa?  Well, it's maybe a level up of complexity, where Art, which can be understood as technology and engineering as well as science and aesthetics in Renaissance usage, restructures some of the rocks of nature into an arch that supports a road, to permit a flow of humanity and subsequent arts (trade, knowledge, production, products) to appear.  (In ancient etymology, bridge, road and way or path are all related -- the Greek pontos for sea is the root of the Latin pons for bridge, since water was how the Greeks crossed from island to island -- indicating that it's not just the object or implement that contains the meaning but the transportation it makes possible.)

The bridge or road structure is not an end in itself but a means of transportation for other technologies.  (Methodos meant a developed path or way, and is I think an element of computer language?)  Thus in the Mona Lisa Leonardo connects the bridge, i.e. infrastructure, to the garment geometrically and hence topographically.  Cloth and clothing were the end-user product of Florence which the Arno's transportation (and machine energy via waterwheels) made possible.  Garment-making was powered by the flowing aspects of transportation but was different too, perhaps more informational (desegno) and less kinetic in its function, in that water-energy was used to power technical machines as well ship final goods.

Yet Leonardo makes very clear in the Mona Lisa that the garment is also flowing and twisting, with an almost exact echo of the rivulets on the the hills in the background.  The veil is helical as well as cloud-like and evanescent.  Yet further, the curling hair -- which Leonardo wrote was comparable to how water curls -- and the intimation of blood flow and respiration in the sitter (made present by extraordinary realism combined with visual indeterminacy) show that the human is also a mixture of forms, substance, and currents.  Leonardo wrote of and drew how the blood vessels of humans get more twisted and convoluted with age just as river courses do over time.

In this way the Mona Lisa represents the confluence, perhaps like that mentioned in your quotation, of Art, Nature, and Humanity.  This was a kind of three-part figure which had ancient precedents and was made much more relevant during the shift from medieval to modern times.  The title of this allegorical composition is the name of the sitter, Esperienza, i.e. Experience.

Postmodern and poststructuralist theory, I have heard but not fully verified, sometimes treats Renaissance culture, art, and literature as a kind of infant: the tiniest bit modern, but still almost totally medieval, primitive, and oblivious according to our advanced modern state.  This view might be worth revisiting.  There is a caricature of Leonardo which says he had no sense of the concepts or metaphors I describe above: that he liked bridges because they were picturesque and suitable for paintings to have; that he drew and wrote of what he saw like a reporter might without any sense of allegory, design, or authorship; and he knew very little about the subtleties of language, literature, theater, rhetoric, and metaphor.  Yet the documentary record proves that he was a world-class expert in all these areas!  And he was friend and colleague to many of the other experts of his place and time.

Why would we be so quick to primitivize the past?  Is not such an approach itself the very essence of primitivism, a choice rather than a calendar date range, and a nullification of knowledge exactly like that which we accuse the past of committing?  It's the ironic cost of the cult of expertise: everyone else has to not know or have known anything much about what one is talking about or else one is not worth listening to.  It's a wasteful kind of monetization plain and simple, perhaps, in some ways.  As Rhea mentioned earlier this year, I believe, what are the incentives?

In any case, I don't know for sure if the above comparison of the Mona Lisa to the excerpt you cited is legitimate in any way.  Deleuze may have written elsewhere something like "none of my ideas or concepts should be attributed to the Renaissance in any way because it was too undeveloped."  This would resemble what Hegel said about indigenous culture, that it had no self and no consciousness because it lacked the terminology of his own "descriptive discourse."  (And maybe Deleuze wrote the opposite.)  However I would ask, even if he wrote the former statement, would not the claim still be subject to falsification?  An author doesn't necessarily get to choose what their work means or relates to.  Even if Deleuze hated and detested the Mona Lisa he might still have been a direct downstream consequence of it, or a highly similar tributary of the same present, like it or not.

Mostly what interests me is whether anyone else sees or can entertain the possibility of such parallels.  The human capacity for projection could well be infinite or practically so, and all such parallels fabricated from whole cloth.  Yet to say that any "modern" awareness beyond a childlike kind of ABC's discerned prior to 1600 (or 1980) is never more than mere projection is not, I would venture, always a priori correct.  Modernity itself might be more relative and less chronological than it cares to admit.

Quickly in regards to Rhea's book project, could the blocks of blockchain be compared to geology, and some other analog factor to water?  That might be absurd.

All best,


PS -- Very interesting and fun to see Alan's almost 50 year old Meta!  The new case of it seems more like an infernal twin, but no one ever said time couldn't go backward.  🙂

From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Anthony Stephenson via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Thursday, October 28, 2021 9:30 AM
To: netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Anthony Stephenson <aps0loot at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] Ontological Banding

"... On the intensive continuum, the

strata fashion forms and form matters into substances. In combined emissions,

they make the distinction between expressions and contents, units of

expression and units of content, for example, signs and particles. In conjunctions,

they separate flows, assigning them relative movements and

diverse territorialities, relative deterritorializations and complementary

reterritorializations. Thus the strata set up everywhere double articulations

animated by movements: forms and substances of content and forms

and substances of expression constituting segmentary multiplicities with

relations that are determinable in every case. Such are the strata. Each stratum

is a double articulation of content and expression, both of which are

really distinct and in a state of reciprocal presupposition. Content and

expression intermingle, and it is two-headed machinic assemblages that

place their segments in relation. What varies from stratum to stratum is the

nature of the real distinction between content and expression, the nature of

the substances as formed matters, and the nature of the relative movements.

We may make a summary distinction between three major types of

real distinction: the real-formal distinction between orders of magnitude,

with the establishment of a resonance of expression (induction); the

real-real distinction between different subjects, with the establishment of

a linearity of expression (transduction); and the real-essential distinction

between different attributes or categories, with the establishment of a

superlinearity of expression (translation)."
A Thousand Plateaus p.79


- Anthony Stephenson


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/attachments/20211029/46c51341/attachment.htm>

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list