The greatest philosopher who never was!

May 5, 2010

You don’t know who he was?  Read these posts

Et puis, achetez-vous votre T-shirt ici!  Or for you non-francophones,

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Cloud of (Un)knowing

August 16, 2009

UnionStationRoof

It’s rare that my quotidian work matches my philosophic preoccupations closely, but sometimes it happens.  The Union Station in Toronto has a train shed roof (above) that is a landmark.  The supporting framework (truss) is distinctive, and was a patented design, also used in Hoboken, NJ.

Engineers like to work from plans, drawings, diagrams, like the one below.  Clean, precise, accurate.  Unambiguous…we think.  Problem was, there were no such drawings in existence.  To create them from hand measurements – a huge and expensive task.  Enter the laser scanner. Millions of points, all with (x,y,z) coordinates.  We call them point clouds.  Clouds of knowing (cf. Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite on the cloud), points of certainty.  This is there! Information, data, rich enough to make these precise drawings.

cloud4

What is the grain of knowledge?  How granular is reality?  What is?

cloud1

cloud2

Zoom in far enough, and there is only empty space.  As it is inside us, and outside us.

cloud3


Balzac pre-Benjamin

August 14, 2009

oil painting factory in China

Add to my list of overrated thinkers, Mr. Walter Benjamin.  Much is made of his arcane and metaphysical piece, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Mass Production.”  In fact, my college senior thesis borrowed most of the title – “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Mass Reproduction.”  Clever, eh?

Well, here is the gist of that esoteric work, en avance, in a sentence, from Balzac’s Beatrix, one hundred years before:

While working for the masses, modern industry progressively destroys works of art that had been as personal for the buyer as for the creator.  Nowadays, we have products; we no longer have works.


Space and time…

January 4, 2009

spiegelman-021

…or is it time and space?

I was struck by a phrase in this book of comics by Art Spiegelman, of Maus fame, that comics are time turned into space. Each panel in a strip represents a different moment in time, and they are spread out in space, on the page.  A really interesting idea.

What of film?  Time shown in the illusory space of a screen?

eat_the_bookThis brings me back to this image from an earlier post of mine about the tapistries in the Chateau d’Angers.  Here we see Saint John eating the book given him by the angel Gabriel.  But what is going on?  There are two books!  In fact, it is one book, one and the same.

In medieval art, it is common to see separate moments in time shown in the same space.  They didn’t have comics!  This, despite the beauty and sophistication of  their visual popular culture – think of all those Bible stories in stained glass!  The angel is shown handing him the book which he exhorts him to eat, and with the other hand, at a later moment, John is nibbling away at it.  Almost as if it were a modern multiple exposure photograph.  Or a flip-book that has been somehow frozen in time.


Eat the Book

November 9, 2008

eat_the_book

In the Valley of the Loire, at Chateau d’Angers, the Apocalypse.  A tapistry, image thread by thread, fabric mosaic, here transferred to pixels, and come full circle.  Is it the true color?  L’envers & l’endroit:  I saw the front, faded, old, but now they have revealed the reverse, under the linen backing, and the nearly the full color is there.

The Angel gives the Book to Saint John and commands him to eat it.  The word is digested to flesh, after being fixed on parchment.  Is this why I read?  To eat the book and have it become my reality?  Calvino explains “Why we read the classics,” but why do I?  Escape, guilty pleasures.  Later freshened up with appreciation of literary art.  The Book is OF revelation.  I see it several times a year at the Cloisters.  I’d like to see it every day.

No one will let it go. The Revelation trails us everywhere.  The millenium is always being pursued.  Even in 1944, in Cat People. Revelation 13:2 “And the beast which I saw was like a leopard,” which, as the zookeeper says, pretty much describes the panther in the cage, or the woman who is the star?

Was 2001:  A Space Odyssey a revelation?  …and just what is the connection to Dionysius the pseudo-Areopagite and the Negative Theology?

It is so much easier and safer to read, to flow down the river of words into the pseudo-reality, to avoid the stillness of now.  Reading keeps me afloat, with my head above water…otherwise, what to do with my time?  Aggghh!  I would have to be..here..how?


Wheel of Fortuna

September 11, 2008

In college, I read Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy to gain some general intellectual background to Chaucer and medieval literature.  I liked it quite a lot then, and lately, it seems to be cropping up here and there (including as the philosophical inspiration to the protaganist of that entertaining and vastly overrated work, The Confederacy of Dunces) so once again I am reading the last work of that unfortunate man.  It’s as good as I remember it!

I really like the way the piece gets right to the heart of the matter.  He’s sitting in prison, unjustly accused, wailing “Woe is me!” when a colossal figure of Ms. Philosophia comes for a visit.  She wastes no time in pointing out to him that if he were really a philosophical chap, he would realize that if he is the victim of evil men, it’s only because he permits himself to be!

Mr. B is generally regarded as one of the most influential writers of the Middle Ages.  That is, he was the “last of the Romans, and the first of the Scholastics,” living in the late 5th Century A.D. under the Ostrogoth successors to the Latin Roman Emperors.  His works were among the most quoted, copied, and taught in the medieval period. He was from an illustrious family, had a brilliant career, a highborn wife, two successful sons, but he ended up being tortured to death in prison by a Barbarian king whom he had pissed off for some reason.  As the late, great Kurt Vonnegut would have put it, “So it goes…

And that, to be perfectly serious, is part of the message of the The Consolation.  The Wheel of Fortune, so beloved by TV viewers, got its send off into the Middle Ages with Boethius’ work.  I am up, up UP! shouts the king on top…while on the other side the deposed ruler laments, I am down Down, DOWN!  ‘Round and round, and nobody knows where it will stop – it never stops.

As an interpreter and popularizer of Platonic thinking, Boethius, a Christian, elaborated the explanation of how evil can exist in a world ruled by an all powerful God that was begun by Augustine.  This is called theodicy, not to be confused with idiocy. Of course, it turns out that evil doesn’t really exist.

Mr. B. had another argument that I thought was in The Consolation, but which I read in his book on music, it turns out.  All of you high-brow critics will love it:

Boethius points out that there are three types of people who concern themselves with music: theorists, composers, and performers. Of these, the performers are excluded from true musical understanding, … “They … act as slaves, without reasoning or thinking”. The composers, or poets, “compose more with their natural instinct than through the exercise of thought or reason”, but the theorist, on the other hand, “is entirely devoted to reason and thought…”

Boethius draws the conclusion that the theorist is the highest of the three, alone worthy of the name “musician…”

from Boethius’ Three Musicisans

Those who can do, those who cannot become critics…


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