[NetBehaviour] Network and Experience in Tokarczuk, Pater, and Leonardo

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Wed Mar 15 16:38:49 CET 2023

"In its blog post, OpenAI said GPT-4 still makes many of the errors of previous versions, including 'hallucinating' nonsense, perpetuating social biases and offering bad advice. It also lacks knowledge of events that happened after about September 2021, when its training data was finalized, and 'does not learn from its experience,' limiting people’s ability to teach it new things."

-- news story on the internet, 3/14/2023

I started reading the books of Olga Tokarczuk in early 2023, after finishing writing my own book about Leonardo's La Gioconda in late 2022.  It was chosen by my book club -- the Tokarczuk, her recent novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Deceased -- and so qualified as a random arrival but like so many cases of such it was very welcome.  Then I read her previous collection of short fiction and creative nonfiction, Flights, previous that is to Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Deceased.  Both books mention Leonardo in enigmatic ways, numerous times, especially Flights.  One gets the sense that Tokarczuk references "experience" so often and so awkwardly in the novel not just because of quoting William Blake's Songs but for some other reason or reasons, mentioning Dante's Inferno which used the term for example.  But it's hard to say for sure.

Tokarczuk's essay "Ognosia," more recent than both Flights and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Deceased, also mentions Leonardo as an aside in its discussion of its title, a French word of unclear origin which means the opposite of not knowing what a thing is, i.e., knowing in multiple ways what a thing is.  She calls literature a network, just like what Calvino said of the novel, and not just because of cell phones though she did write a novel about the internet called The Books of Jacob.  She also writes about how all living things on the earth, like plants and animals and fungi, are networks too.  Machine networks made by humans, like universities for example, are viewed as lumbering and often malevolent oddities.

Because it's impossible to read all the articles about Leonardo -- as impossible as reading all the books in the library -- I omitted reading for my own book the works of Walter Pater except for his famous paragraph commencing "the presence that rose thus so strangely beside the waters," read to confirm if it used the word "experience," from the Latin experientia for experience and experiment, kin to the Italian esperienza used by Dante and Leonardo (and called by the latter "the common mother of all the sciences and all the arts" like encyclopoiesis and "the interpreter between humans and nature"), which it does, twice.  I then read the whole book in which Pater's essay about Leonardo appears, The Renaissance, which uses "experience" twenty-one times including seven in the controversial four-page Conclusion which invented or had invented for it for the twentieth century's usage "art for art's sake."  Proust, Joyce, Yeats, Eliot, Valery, Wilde, and more all studied this essay and book by Pater as sort of a bridge out of Victorian writing to Modernism.  Yeats said the fragment about "the presence that rose thus so strangely beside the waters" was the first modern poem.

Pater doesn't mention bridges, but Tokarczuk does by way of an eccentric elderly narrator who tends to her neighbor's vacation cabins but used to design and build them -- an engineer by training and profession, prior to retiring, much in the sense that Tokarczuk was trained as a professional Jungian psychologist prior to writing perhaps.  There are some bridges in the story but they don't do much.  Pater says "and yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove," of unclear meaning, and begins his book now having its one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary this year with the words "many attempts," which means experientia in Latin, and flights can also be stairways or retreats.  Jung called Leonardo "one of the ten pillars of the bridge of the spirit," if I recall.

We know Leonardo painted and drew allegories, such as of Envy, Paradise, Justice, Fortune, Death, Ingratitude, Pride, and Occasio, the last of whom being written of often by Tokarczuk.  We know he wrote allegories about Esperienza, one quoting an untraceable historical Roman named Marius, and we know the novel Pater wrote, using the word "experience" eighty-five times, to explain the Conclusion of The Renaissance and all the hubbub it caused was titled Marius the Epicurean.  We do not know if La Joconde is a painted allegory of Leonardo's written allegories of Esperienza, but it is almost certain that human intelligence stated the hypothesis prior to artificial intelligence.





"Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself,
is the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to
us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in
them all that is to be seen in them by the finest senses?
How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point, and
be present always at the focus where the greatest num-
ber of vital forces unite in their purest energy ?"

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/attachments/20230315/b66ac815/attachment.htm>

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list