unities


I thought of a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars. Absorbed in these illusory images, I forgot my destiny of one pursued. I felt myself to be, for an unknown period of time, an abstract perceiver of the world. The vague, living countryside, the moon, the remains of the day worked on me, as well as the slope of the road which eliminated any possibility of weariness. The afternoon was intimate, infinite. The road descended and forked among the now confused meadows. A high-pitched, almost syllabic music approached and receded in the shifting of the wind, dimmed by leaves and distance. I thought that a man can be an enemy of other men, of the moments of other men, but not of a country: not of fireflies, words, gardens, streams of water, sunsets.

– Jorge Luis Borges. “The Garden of Forking Paths.” Trans. Donald A. Yates. In Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings. New York: New Directions, 1964, p. 23.

… as individuals they lived by an entirely different calculus. They have household, auto, and health insurance for protection against vastly smaller risks at an infinitesimally smaller scale, and most did not dismiss health warnings from their doctors as a liberal plot. When it is merely the future of the Earth, however, they have been willing to risk irrevocable and irreversible changes.

– David W. Orr. Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 4-5.

More and more the mnemonic function of the museum is given over to the electronic archive, which might be accessed anywhere, while the visual experience is given over not only to the exhibition-form but to the museum-building as spectacle – that is, as an image to be circulated in the media in the service of brand equity and cultural capital. This image may be the primary form of public art today.

– Hal Foster. Design and Crime (And Other Diatribes). New York: Verso, 2002: p. 82.

“But  while architectural changes in the window were coincident with changes in perspective in modern painting early in the twentieth century, the media of film and television retained  a perspectival frame through the “modern” period. The moving image offered  multiple perspectives through the sequential shifts of montage and editing; yet, aside from a few historical anomalies, it has only been with the advent of digital imaging technologies  and new technologies of display in the 1990s that the media “window” began  to include multiple perspectives within a single frame.

Now, a variety of screens — long and wide and square, large and small, composed of grains, composed of pixels — compete for our attention without any (convincing) arguments  about hegemony.”

Anne Friedberg, “The Virtual Window” in Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, ed. David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Kindle Edition, 2003), 4710-4714. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Hardcover Edition, 2004), pp. 347-348.

Like other modes of exaggeration, microcosmic thinking involves juxtaposition with relation to scale and detail. Exaggeration is not possible without correspondence and relativity. But whereas miniaturization involves the juxtaposition of object and representation, of everyday and extraordinary scale, microcosmic thought is a matter of the establishment of correspondences between seemingly disparate phenomena in order to demonstrate the sameness of all phenomena. Such thought therefore always tends toward theology and the promulgation of a ‘grand design.’ In diversity is unity; all phenomena are miniaturizations of the universe.

– Susan Stewart. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, p. 128.

The human mind … operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.

– Vannevar Bush. “As We May Think.” Atlantic Monthly (1945).  (Last accessed June 10, 2009.)

… in fascism, power had to express itself visually ….  the fascist aesthetic itself reflected the needs and hopes of contemporary society, …  the so-called superstructure was in reality the means through which most people grasped the fascist message, transforming politics into a civic religion.

… The ideal of beauty was central to this aesthetic, whether that of the human body or of the political liturgy. The longing for a set standard of beauty was deeply ingrained in the European middle classes, and the definition of the beautiful as the ‘good, the true, and the holy’ was an important background to the fascist cult.

… what seemed at first glance to have no possible connection to politics became politically charged through the connection between art, beauty and truth which lay readily at hand to be used by modern political movements.

… a certain public standard of beauty reigned all over Europe, one which fascism was to annex as its own. The rediscovery of classical antiquity in the eighteenth century set a standard of beauty which never lost its attraction for the educated [in many European countries in the interwar period who] saw it as their own particular heritage. They valued classical beauty of form whether of the human body or, to a lesser extent, of official architecture, as close to the sublime.

… it was the strength of fascism in general that it realized, as other political movements and parties did not, that with the nineteenth century Europe had entered a visual age, the age of political symbols, such as the national flag…. The populism of fascism helped the movement to arrive at this insight; the need to integrate the masses into a so-called spiritual revolution which represented itself through a largely traditional aesthetic.

… this aesthetic formed a bridge between the public and the private sphere…. The creation of modern stereotypes as standardized mental pictures which encompassed the whole human being, body and soul, was something new at the beginning of the nineteenth century…. Aesthetics played a determining role in stereotyping: every man must aspire to a classical standard of beauty, and as he built and sculptured his body (and we must remember the part played by physical exercise in the aesthetics of fascism), his mind would come to encompass all the manly virtues which the fascists prized so highly.

… significantly, such a body was not merely a fascist symbol, but one which had already been adopted by society at large. Here we are at the intersection between traditional, normative society, and fascist aesthetics; here the social and the aesthetic were not strictly separate one from another. The beautiful male body … projected both self-control in its posture and virility in the play of its muscles; it symbolized both the dynamic and the discipline which society wanted and needed. Here, order and progress, often in conflict, were reconciled through the symbolism of the male body …

Through stereotypes, fascism worked not only with abstract symbols but with living human symbols as well. The true fascist man must through his looks, body, and comportment, project the ideal of male beauty. Men of flesh and blood were given a symbolic dimension, a fact which added to the fascist appeal. Here was an aesthetic which was not confined to the public realm, but one which penetrated daily life.

… Aesthetics shaped the fascist view of man, of his surroundings and of politics. It was a cement which held fascism together.

George L. Mosse. “Fascist Aesthetics and Society: Some Considerations.” Journal of Contemporary History 31, no. 2 (1996): 245-52.

Each profession makes progress, but it is progress in its own groove. Now to be mentally in a groove is to live in contemplating a given set of abstractions. The groove prevents straying across country, and the abstraction abstracts from something to which no further attention is paid. But there is no groove of abstractions which is adequate for the comprehension of human life.

… The leading intellects lack balance. They see this set of circumstances, or that set; but not both sets together. The task of coordination is left to those who lack either the force or the character to succeed in some definite career.

… Wisdom is the fruit of a balanced development.

… professional training can only touch one side of education. Its centre of gravity lies in the intellect, and its chief tool is the printed book. The centre of gravity of the other side of training should lie in intuition without an analytical divorce from the total environment. Its object is immediate apprehension with the minimum of eviscerating analysis. The type of generality, which above all is wanted, is the appreciation of a variety of value. I mean aesthetic growth. There is something between the gross specialised values of the mere practical man, and the thin specialised values of the mere scholar. Both types have missed something; and if you add together the two sets of values, you do not obtain the missing elements. What is wanted is an appreciation of the infinite variety of vivid values achieved by an organism in its proper environment. When you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere and all about the rotation of the earth  you may still miss the radiance of the sunset. There is no substitute for the direct perception of the concrete achievement of a thing in its actuality. We want concrete fact with a high light thrown on what is relevant to its preciousness.

… But … art concerns more than sunsets. A factory, with its machinery, its community of operatives, its social service to the general population, its dependence upon organising and designing genius, its potentialities as a source of wealth to the holders of its stock is an organism exhibiting a variety of vivid values. What we want to train is the habit of apprehending such an organism in its completeness. It is very arguable that the science of political economy, as studied in its first period after the death of Adam Smith (1790), did more harm than good…. it riveted on men a certain set of abstractions which were disastrous in their influence on modern mentality. It de-humanised industry.

– Alfred North Whitehead. Science and the Modern World. Lowell Lectures, 1925. New York: The Macmillan company, 1925: 282-288.

… the world is a multiplicity of worlds, and its unity is the mutual sharing and exposition of all its worlds—
within this world.

– Jean-Luc Nancy. Being Singular Plural. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000: 185.

If the new exterritoriality of the elite feels like intoxicating freedom, the territoriality of the rest feels less like home ground, and ever more like prison — all the more humiliating for the obtrusive sight of others’ freedom to move. It is not just that the condition of ‘staying put’, being unable to move at one’s heart’s desire and being barred access to greener pastures, exudes the acrid odour of defeat, signals incomplete humanity and implies being cheated in the division of splendours life has to offer. Deprivation reaches deeper. The ‘locality’ in the new world of high speed is not what the locality used to be at a time when information moved only together with the bodies of its carriers; neither the locality,  nor the localized population has much in common with the ‘local community’. Public spaces — agoras and forums in their various manifestations, places where agendas are set, private affairs are made public, opinions are formed, tested and confirmed, judgements are put together and verdicts are passed — such spaces followed the elite in cutting lose their local anchors; they are first to deterritorialize and move far beyond the reach of the merely ‘wetware’ communicative capacity of any locality and its residents. Far from being hotbeds of communities, local populations are more like loose bunches of untied ends.

–  Zygmunt Bauman.  Globalization: The Human Consequences. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. pp. 23-24.

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