aether: material immenence

 

from Aristotle’s Physics c. 350 BC: 

 

As was explained, some things are potentially in place, others actually.

So, when you have a homogeneous substance which is continuous, the

parts are potentially in place: when the parts are separated, but

in contact, like a heap, they are actually in place. 

 

Again, (1) some things are per se in place, namely every body which

is movable either by way of locomotion or by way of increase is per

se somewhere, but the heaven, as has been said, is not anywhere as

a whole, nor in any place, if at least, as we must suppose, no body

contains it. On the line on which it is moved, its parts have place:

for each is contiguous the next. 

 

But (2) other things are in place indirectly, through something conjoined

with them, as the soul and the heaven. The latter is, in a way, in

place, for all its parts are: for on the orb one part contains another.

That is why the upper part is moved in a circle, while the All is

not anywhere. For what is somewhere is itself something, and there

must be alongside it some other thing wherein it is and which contains

it. But alongside the All or the Whole there is nothing outside the

All, and for this reason all things are in the heaven; for the heaven,

we may say, is the All. Yet their place is not the same as the heaven.

It is part of it, the innermost part of it, which is in contact with

the movable body; and for this reason the earth is in water, and this

in the air, and the air in the aether, and the aether in heaven, but

we cannot go on and say that the heaven is in anything else.

 

Between the edges of words

 

Gianni Vattimo’s weak ontology

One could describe language as a rigid architecture affixed to a distinctly un-rigid, continuous field of semi-distinct phenomenon. These phenomenon are manifestations of forces within a continuous field, “like jets in a fountain” (Hays, 604). The rigid framework of language is applied to reality like a cookie cutter to an ocean. 

 

Freud posits that entering this space of language actually shapes us, as we enter a pre-existing matrix of language and serves as the structuring system for our own thoughts and perceptions. For example, a language that has numerous words for strawberry is likely to, consciously or subconsciously, imbue a person with greater sensitivity to the subtleties regarding the nature of strawberries, like for example, smaller cookie cutters in an ocean. The sonic properties of different languages additionally imbue denotative words with visceral connotations. In the arrangement of syntax, identity is reified and the direction and dynamics of exchange are mapped.

 

Architect Gianni Vattimo - a seemingly interesting character who I frankly don’t know all that much about, was born in Turin but had to flee after becoming a target of left-wing terrorist group the Red Brigades- originated the term weak thought, pensiero debole. Assuming that the act of being is an act of expression, and inherently linguistic, one is inherently learning, translating, and interpreting just in the process of existing. You could take, for example, the role of sisterhood or motherhood, as a character and a script, that women learn as a language from another and then learn to speak. Weak thought, to my understanding, describes the process of translation and interpretation in existing. I interpret the concept of weak ontology to represent, when applied to language, the gap between articulation and reality, or between form and meaning, where assumption, imagination, and subjectivity fill in perceptive blanks. 

 

small and large failures of communication

Take, for example, wyd - the degree of interpretation that can be projected onto a text like that is a great reason to not text your significant other with excess frequency, because your whole conversation can devolve into assumption, imagination, and subjectively filling in blanks. One can relate the phenomenon of weak thought both to grand narratives or cultural events, but also to the ambiguous gesture from a friend, which you may never fully comprehend, or the minor failings in communicativity in an artwork that leave it less as an object of inherent thesis, but more a thing to be mused upon open-endedly. For example in Washington D.C., why, exactly, a two-toned marble spire for our National Monument? Perhaps the forces of gravity and available materials played an outsized role here, leading us to all muse upon a somewhat aleatory and opportunistic physical form. Or in the work of Cy Twombly, why exactly, Achilles? Communicative gaps between intent and articulation, past and present do give you space to wonder why and project a fair amount of your own perceptions onto “the canon.” What was the past trying to say to us. Why DIDN’T Achilles’ mom think to dip his ankle in the fire, and why do we need to all ingrain this urgently into our shared cultural consciousness. 

 

A whole cosmos blooming in the interpretative gaps, in the Doobie Bros’ China Grove    

The Doobie Bros manifest such a gap between the reality of China Grove and the Doobie Bros version of China Grove, it's like reality and articulation have shifted tectonically apart like geological plates, and a whole Hawaiian island full of imaginary Chinese people just came into existence in the gap. A Hawaiian island of the mind, which people now frequently visit, in the form of experiencing this undeniably rollicking, tambourine-slapping radio hit.

 

Tom Johnston on writing China Grove: "The words were written last, and they were made up around this whole idea of this wacky little town with a sheriff that had a Samurai Sword and all that sort of thing. The funny thing was that I found out in 1975 in a cab in Houston that there really was a China Grove, although what happened was in 1972 we were touring in Winnebagos, and we were driving into San Antonio. And there is a China Grove, Texas, right outside of San Antonio. I must have seen the sign and forgotten about it. And when I came up with the term 'China Grove,' I thought I was just making it up because of the words being about this crazy sheriff with a Samurai Sword."

 

stereotypes: the oppressive byproduct of inaccurate depictions of reality, ie of excessive gaps between reality and articulation

Is the failure of art to accurately represent reality somehow reckless or irresponsible- as I have noted, why would you draw a flower unless you were going to render it with the accuracy of a botanical illustrator- to disseminate a lie about what flowers actually look like? Or is it somehow valid to spin up this stimulating and fanciful subjective alternate reality, through which viewers can romp- kind of an ontological adventure with an escapist bent. It does validate the idea that another’s subjective reality is in itself objectively real, because it is experienced by them and can be expressed as such. However, the world of fiction reifies stereotypes and archetypes, and fails to originate new stories and culture, in a way that the documentation of reality does not. Reality cannot oppress one person with another’s representation in the way that fiction can (and so clearly does in China Grove). To compare it with the sciences, you would not write a scientific article on the way you dreamed or imagined a certain amoeba to behave, because it would originate nothing new about this amoeba, other than perhaps the random and probably not earth-shatteringly meaningful associations that your dream-mind pieced together, and it would result in a pastiche science that just repeatedly reifies stereotypes around amoeba behavior. 

 

Descartes describes, one could say waxes on, about the nature of apprehending a piece of wax for a bit (Descartes 85), then mentions, “… if I look out of the window and see men crossing the square, as I just happen to have done, I normally say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax. Yet do I see any more than hats or coats which could conceal automatons? I judge that they are men. And so something which I thought I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped solely by the faculty of judgment which is my mind.” (Descartes 85). He continues that “this perception derives not from their being touched or seen but from their being understood; and in view of this I know plainly that I can achieve an easier and more evident perception of my own mind than of anything else.” 

 

SYMBOLS

Rilke

 

From infinite longings finite deeds rise

As fountains spring toward far-off glowing skies,

But rushing swiftly upward weakly bend

And trembling from their lack of power descend—

So through the falling torrent of our fears

Our joyous force leaps like these dancing tears.

subjectivity & chemistry: what really shapes perception

I feel that the most pressing lived example of molecular influence on macro fields of perceptual experience is the reality of neurotransmitters and the chemical composition of the body. No matter what kind of space, art, poetry, or music you create, you cannot make people happy because of it, unless the space or aesthetic work improves someone’s mental, emotional or physical health (for example, an economical apartment with great wifi and space for working out, or for another example, music that has the ability to soothe a hypertense person). 

 

if art can’t make people happy, why do we do it

In a way, because it cannot fundamentally and significantly change biological wellness, it would seem instead that all aesthetic work is designed to manifest some objective character of humankind, to an invisible, objective force that experiences reality beyond time- particularly when the aesthetic work is in dialogue with history and teleology or with the possibility of being. Aesthetic works can demonstrate the human ability to achieve a certain state of consciousness and material expression of that state of consciousness (which is inherently tied to labor, material / economic abundance, and natural bounty, as a community-wide social state of achievement).

Charged space in Rilke poetry & spiritual matter(s) in Descartes’ Meditations

 

THE SPANISH DANCER

Rilke

 

As a lit match first flickers in the hands

Before it flames, and darts out from all sides

Bright, twitching tongues, so, ringed by growing bands

Of spectators—she, quivering, glowing stands

Poised tensely for the dance—then forward glides

 

And suddenly becomes a flaming torch.

Her bright hair flames, her burning glances scorch,

And with a daring art at her command

Her whole robe blazes like a fire-brand

From which is stretched each naked arm, awake,

Gleaming and rattling like a frightened snake.

 

And then, as though the fire fainter grows,

She gathers up the flame—again it glows,

As with proud gesture and imperious air

She flings it to the earth; and it lies there

Furiously flickering and crackling still—

Then haughtily victorious, but with sweet

Swift smile of greeting, she puts forth her will

And stamps the flames out with her small firm feet.

Descartes (1596-1650), has some interesting ideas about the location of the soul within the body, and says that “We know for certain that it is the soul which has sensory awareness, and not the body. For when the soul is distracted by an ecstasy or deep contemplation, we see that the whole body remains without sensation, even though it has various objects touching it. And we know that it is not, properly speaking, because of its presence in the parts of the body which function as organs of the external senses that the soul has sensory awareness, but because of its presence in the brain, where it exercises the ‘common’ sense”. (Descartes, 62). Although outdated, these ideas illustrate Descarte’s wildly imaginative approach to reason, grounded in his own experiences of sensory perception. 

 

Descartes, like C.S. Lewis, privileges a priori conclusions and investigating, through intuition and sensitivity, examining the self as one specimen of a person, like a bit of soil to be sifted through and examined for interesting finds.

 

Separately from his investigations on duality, but included side-by-side here for the purpose of a treatise on the nature of what exists in the space between, Descartes believed in an aether, a fluid-like mass of particles that held the planets in space, and which caused phenomenon that we know now as electromagnetism and gravity. 

 

I include these two Rilke poems to illustrate the way that Rilke depicts a charged emotional energy, generated by the Spanish Dancer and by Solitude, both of which attain a plasmatic color, red and blue-gray, respectively, like an energy field caused by the emotion of passion and of solitude. These fields move in a viscous fluid or plasmatic way before respectively being stamped out and dissipating into the environment.

 

SOLITUDE

Rilke

 

Solitude is like a rain

That from the sea at dusk begins to rise;

It floats remote across the far-off plain

Upward into its dwelling-place, the skies,

Then o'er the town it slowly sinks again.

Like rain it softly falls at that dim hour

When ghostly lanes turn toward the shadowy morn;

When bodies weighed with satiate passion's power

Sad, disappointed from each other turn;

When men with quiet hatred burning deep

Together in a common bed must sleep—

Through the gray, phantom shadows of the dawn

Lo! Solitude floats down the river wan ...

 

a rebuttal of the significance of architecture: churches in storefronts in south LA

If you walk or bike around south LA, around twilight, sometimes you’ll see, someplace where there’s a liquor store, a smoke shop, a dollar store, all closed down for the evening, and then right in the middle of all these, one store front glowing with warm light that kind of pours out onto the sidewalk. There may be a small podium in the center of the room, and people inside on about 15-20 chairs, lined up in rows, maybe singing songs, in pink dresses with lots of ruffles, and the men in suit jackets with jeans. There may be paper crafts or adornments. There are also big cathedrals in the area, but I was always really interested by these small makeshift churches; they’re a space shaped completely by the spiritual intent that is brought into them, not by material circumstance. It’s really beautiful. I have great respect for these spaces. 

 

Van Gogh’s flow of aether in the space around objects

Regarding the New Plasticity, (Sanford Kwinter, La Citta Nuova: Modernity and Continuity, 1986): “What once passed unqualified or as insubstantial began to take on a new palpability, dense with wires and waves, kinetic and communicative flows. It was out of this apprehension of space as a kinetic and substantial plenum that the new plasticity emerged, simultaneously in aesthetics and in the Relativity Theory that was revolutionizing physics in the years between 1905 and 1916.” (Hays, 589).

 

“The field [the Einsteinian field] describes a space of propagation, of effects. It contains no matter or material points, rather functions, vectors and speeds. It describes local relations of difference within fields of celerity, transmission or of careering point…” (Hays, 591).

 

Phenomenon in Van Gogh’s world are atomized into individual strokes, but harmonized into an overall picture plane in motion- art can presuppose or reflect physics, in this case Cartesian aether, bordering on the Einsteinian field- although in Van Gogh’s drawings, the “physical” objects are definitely definitely discreet from their “surroundings”, and in fact often delineated in high contrast to emphasize this. Objects do not seem to have a zone of “plastic influence”, but function as rigid containments for the separate, distinct aether, which they share materiality with, but maintain hard boundaries against. In this way, the pictures are Cartesian more than they are Einsteinian. They mesh in shape like puzzle pieces into a musically composed world of discrete phenomenon, without becoming sealed into this space (enclosed by a pictorial veneer).

This composition of discrete parts contrasts with new plasticity, in which “The substance of the world is not resolvable into pure or integral materials or forms. Rather these latter shift and fluctuate in and out of the formal arrangements that [Umberto] Boccioni calls “plastic zones,”” (Hays, 594) 

 

The scale and rhythm of the movement of aether in Van Gogh’s work is almost absolutely related to the biomechanics of being a human being with certain types of wrist and arm bones. The jointing in the hand determines the scale and motion by which Van Gogh’s swirling aether enfold the objects, resulting in a representation of the world that is uniquely in harmony with the scale of the human body.

 

Like the choir in one of the storefront churches, Van Gogh chooses “ordinary”, or, spaces that are not adorned with the material trappings of capitalistic or governmental grandiosity, and paints the emotional energy of being. The fact that Van Gogh’s pictures are thoroughly completed and end abruptly, at the edge of the picture, is moderately disrupting, and in fact highlights the vignetted-ness and smallness of this small dream, rather than implying a continuity past the edge. It’s not like a photo that’s cropped, but like a small bit torn out of a different version of the world, that’s here, a very fresh and distinct artifact.

 

Considering emotion as an undiscovered dimension related to time 

Considering time as the dimension that we derive to (dv / dt) to identify the position or rate of change at a discrete point… this is a vague musing, but I think we can drape numerous phenomenon across each other to achieve similar ends. For example, emotion is a spectrum of gradient intensity draped across time, similarly to acceleration or position. Additionally, one’s ontological self-location is increasingly unchained from its relationship to the body’s geolocation, due to technological augmentation of perception, so a person could be in a factory on a camera while simultaneously in their corporate office- sort of a jump discontinuity in personal location.

 

I specifically bring up the emotional spectrum to posit that maybe emotions are either a real dimension or a real force in a specific dimension that we still don’t fully understand. Obviously they’re chemical, but they also work like a vector force on a not-spiritual but also non-material plane.  

 

Maybe you could call it immenence- not quite imminence (being about to happen), and not immanence (divine presence in the material world), but the charge acquired by space as a result of presence of emotion, as evidenced in the energy created by the storefront churches and depicted in Van Gogh’s swirling aether. You could refer to it, more generally, as the vibe. 

 

Cartesian conceptions of aether seem to lend themselves to visualizing the emotional plane, because I imagine emotion to fill space like a watercolor on paper, rather than bending space physically, altering its shape in some way. However, maybe this is simply sentimentality or a failing of the analytical mind, because color itself is the way we perceive light waves of varying wave lengths. 

 

The relationship between contained space and aether are inextricable because space holds and shapes vibrations

From the Calabi-Yau in which the string vibrates, to a French horn through which air passes to become music, to a home where people think and feel, form and architecture hold atmospheres. For an example, the emotional dimension or output of a couple is definitely contained within the spaces that they share; the couple that lives and loves in 27C is not occupying emotional space in 27D- their experiences are kind of like a cloud in a box. This supports the Van Gogh conception of “aether as in flux and contained.” 

 

I think that to consider at length issues of architectural and aesthetic philosophy in a world wracked with suffering and immediate lack, you have to believe that achieving formal and conceptual breakthroughs in aesthetics is a virtue, and / or that formal and conceptual achievements bring meaning to humankind, and that the intellectual nourishment gives humankind a form of nourishment and hope. I do find hope in the process of considering the unknown.

montage w/ excerpt

from Maidens. I

 

[in her mind] 

the doors of Life lead out

where the song of the poet soars

and out beyond to the great world

to the world beyond the doors. 

...

Bibliography

Hays, K. Michael. Architecture Theory since 1968. The MIT Press, 2015.

Descartes René. Descartes: Selected Philosophical Writings. Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. Poems. Project Gutenberg Edition. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/38594/38594-h/38594-h.htm

 

© Katharine 2020

 

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