“The world has raised its whip; where will it descend?”
Virginia Woolf | Mrs. Dalloway
Felicitous prose, existential terror.
“There is nothing better than the thrill of holding a great negative, wet with fixer, up to the light. And, here’s the important thing: it doesn’t even have to be a great negative. You get the same thrill with any negative; with art, as someone once said, most of what you have to do is show up. The hardest part is setting the camera on the tripod, or making the decision to bring the camera out of the car, or just raising the camera to your face, believing, by those actions, that whatever you find before you, whatever you find there, is going to be good.
And, when you get whatever you get, even if it’s a fluky product of that slipping-glimpser vision that de Kooning celebrated, you have made something. Maybe you’ve made something mediocre—there’s plenty of that in any artist’s cabinets—but something mediocre is better than nothing, and often the near-misses, as I call them, are the beckoning hands that bring you perfection just around the blind corner.”
Sally Mann | Hold Still
I am of course not the first person, and certainly not the last, to fall a little bit in love with Sally Mann.
“It is photography itself that creates the illusion of innocence. Its ironies of frozen narrative lend to its subjects an apparent unawareness that they will change or die. It is the future they are innocent of. Fifty years on we look at them with the godly knowledge of how they turned out after all—who they married, the date of their death—with no thought for who will one day be holding photographs of us.”
Ian McEwan | Black Dogs
Fifty years hence, will any of us even hold photographs?
“Have you ever had that kind of experience, Mr. Midorikawa? Accepting something, believing it, taking a leap beyond logic?”
“No,” Midorikawa said. “I don’t believe in anything. Not in logic, or illogic. Not in God, or the devil. No extension of a hypothesis, nothing like a leap. I just silently accept everything as it is. That’s my basic problem, really. I can’t erect a decent barrier between subject and object.”
Haruki Murakami | Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Can we truly accept things as they are? Aren’t subject/object bifurcations part and parcel of cultural sanity?
“—…what we do is an intervention, Pennyhaugh lectures Judah from his notes, —a reorganization. The living cannot be made a golem—because with the vitality of ogone, flesh and vegetable is matter interacting with its own mechanisms. The unalive, though, is inert because it happens to lie just so. We make it meaningful. We do not order it but point out the order that inheres unseen, always already there. This act of pointing is at least as much assertion and persuasion as observation. We see structure, and in pointing it out we see mechanisms and grasp them, and we twist. Because patterns are asserted not in stasis but in change. Golemetry is an interruption. It is a subordinating of the static is to the active AM.”
China Miéville | Iron Council
Not exactly radical symmetry, but an acknowledgement of vital materiality nonetheless.
“As the riders came up through the mesquite and pyracantha single file in a light clank of arms and chink of bitrings the sun climbed and the moon set and the horses and the dewsoaked mules commenced to steam in flesh and in shadow.”
“They did not noon nor did they siesta and the cotton eye of the moon squatted at broad day in the throat of the mountains to the east and they were still riding when it overtook them at its midnight meridian, sketching on the plain below a blue cameo of such dread pilgrims clanking north.”
Cormac McCarthy | Blood Meridian
Prose so rich, intricate, and evocative that I throw up my hands in wonder, awe, and disgust.
“Rhetoric,” Thomas Rickert argues, “must be grounded in the material relations from which it springs, not simply as the situation giving it its shape and exigence, but as part of what we mean by rhetoric” (2013, p. x).
This week, I’m finishing up fieldwork for a new project. In our everyday lives, we’re immersed in myriad forms of disclosive ambience. Sometimes we’re attuned to such disclosures, but often we willingly pass them by. We unsee, unhear, and unfeel.
To be worldish—in Heidegger’s (1953/2010) terms, to both inhabit worlds and be world-forming—is to be invested, “to have a full range of interests, cares, and concerns merging with our encounters” (Rickert, p. 13).
The fieldwork for this project has focused on everyday attunements to worldishness, and thus to investments, cares, and concerns. I’ll hopefully have something more substantial to share about this soon, as I dig into analysis and turn from fieldwork to production and making.
But I wanted to share a little gif from this morning, an encounter of everyday attunement. It’s a glimpse of how I know my neighborhood, and how my neighborhood responds to me.
As I walk to my office, there are innumerable moments of worldish giving and taking. This is one such moment—a loose manhole assembly that gives when it’s warm, that becomes rigid when the sidewalks are frozen. Attuning to these material–environmental relations is attuning to my neighborhood, and to possibilities for action as I—and many others, human and nonhuman—move through this little world, this series of connected neighborhoods in Lexington, Kentucky.
"Wayne didn’t interact with nature. He took pictures of it with his iPhone and then bent over the screen and poked at it. His favorite thing about the lake house was that it had Wi-Fi.
It wasn’t that he wanted to stay indoors. He wanted to stay inside his phone."
Joe Hill | NOS4A2
In his brief essay on August Sander, John Berger quotes Goethe:
“‘ There is a delicate form of the empirical which identifies itself so intimately with its object that it thereby becomes theory’” (p. 32).
Teacher: We say that we look into the horizon. Therefore the field of vision is something open, but its openness is not due to our looking.
Scholar: Likewise we do not place the appearance of objects, which the view within a field of vision offers us, into this openness…
Scientist: … rather that comes out of this to meet us…
Scientist: Then thinking would be coming-into-the-nearness of distance.
Martin Heidegger | Discourse on Thinking
The present is capacious, coincident with the spaciousness of rhetorics.
There was an odd, wonderful, disturbing post by Jan Chipchase a few days ago.
“I’m looking for a face stand-in,” he stated in a rather matter-of-fact way, “someone who can join [him at a public talk in Seoul] who enjoys having their photo taken, and wouldn’t mind being tagged online as me.”
This feels utterly Gibsonian to me—we’re living in the world of Idoru. Or, perhaps, we’ve collectively traveled down the gray metal stairway of an emergency expressway exit in a Murakamian alternate universe only to realize that this is precisely where things should be headed.
This is as reasonable a response to the disappearing camera as any other. For every face, a visual proxy. For every ominous, creeping attempt by others to establish and stabilize an identity, a subversive but wholly rational response.
This is me.
This is me in Seoul.
This is (other) me in Manila.
This is (other other) me in San Francisco.
This is (other other other) me in Londonderry.
These visual proxies are me and not me. Fitter, happier, more productive. Tag me at your peril.
“‘The problem with you, McGrath,’ said Beckman, draining the bottle into our glasses, ‘is that you’ve no respect for murk. For the blackly unexplained. The un-nail-downable.’”
Marisha Pessl | Night Film
“Each photograph is read as the private appearance of its referent: the age of Photography corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumed as such, publicly (the incessant aggressions of the Press against the privacy of stars and the growing difficulties of legislation to govern them testify to this movement).”
Roland Barthes | Camera Lucida