The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

  • The past was a light that if properly directed could illumine the present more brightly than any contemporary lamp. Greatness was like the sacred flame of Olympus, handed down from the great to the great. Alexander modeled himself on Archilles, Caesar followed in Alexander’s footsteps, and so on. Understanding was another such flame. Knowledge was never simply born in the human mind; it was always reborn. The relaying of wisdom from one age to the next, this cycle of rebirths: this was wisdom. All else was barbarity.
  • ‘Weave a nest for yourself in the depths of my eyes.’ – Ali-Shir Nava’i
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The Torture Garden by Octave Mirbeau

  • ‘Well, how often have I heard the imperious voice of murder snarling in me! How often I have felt the desire rising in a surge of blood from the depths of my being to my brain – that bitter, violent and almost invincible desire to kill. Do not believe that this desire arose in a passionate crisis, accompanied by sudden, unreflective rage, or was combined with a keen lust for money. Not at all! This desire is born suddenly – powerful and unjustified in me – for no reason and apropos of nothing…In the street, for example, behind the back of an unknown pedestrian. Yes, there are some backs on the street that cry for the knife. Why?
  • This instinctive need, which is the mainspring of all living organisms, is developed by education. Instead of being restrained, and is sanctified by religion instead of being denounced, everything conspires to make it the pivot upon which our admirable society revolves. As soon as man awakens to consciousness, we instill the spirit of murder in his mind. Murder, expanded to the status of a duty, and popularized to the point of heroism, accompanies him through all the stages of his existence. He is made to adore uncouth gods, mad, furious gods who are only gratified by cataclysms and, ferocious maniacs that they are, gorge themselves with human lives and mow down nations like fields of wheat. He is made to respect only heroes, those disgusting brutes saddled with crime and red with human blood. The virtues by which he rises above others, and which win him glory, fortune and love, are based entirely upon murder. In war, he discovers the supreme synthesis of the eternal and everlasting folly of murder – regulated, regimented and obligatory – a national function. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, he will always see that word: murder – immortally inscribed upon the pediment of that vast slaughter-house – humanity.
  • ‘Oh, I know well enough. I had killed him! He was dead of cerebral congestion.’ – Murder is born of love, and love attains the greatest intensity in murder. There is the same physiological exaltation, there are the same gestures of strangling and biting – and often the same words occur during identical spasms.
  • If she does not execute them with her own hands, which are often too weak, you will find her moral presence, her ideas, and her sex expressed in their ferocity and implacability.

Antifragile: How to Live in a World We don’t Understand by Nassim Nicolas Taleb

– I feel anger and frustration when I think that one in ten Americans beyond the age of high school is on some kind of antidepressant, such a Prozac. Indeed, when you go through mood swings, you now have to justify why you are not on some kind of medication. There may be a few good reasons to be on medication, in severely pathological cases, but my mood, my sadness, my bouts of anxiety, are a second source of intelligence – perhaps even the first source. I get mellow and lose physical energy when it rains, become more meditative, and tend to write more and more slowly then, with the raindrops hitting the window, what Verlaine called ‘autumnal sobs’ (sanglots). Some days I enter poetic melancholic states, what the Portuguese call saudade or the Turks hüzün (from the Arabic word for sadness). Other days I am more aggressive, have more energy – and will write less, walk more, do other things, argue with researchers, answer emails, draw graphs on blackboards. Should I be turned into a vegetable or a happy imbecile?

Had Prozac been available last century, Baudelaire’s ‘spleen’, Edgar Allan Poe’s moods, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, the lamentations of so many toerh poets, everything with a soul would have been silenced…
If large pharmaceutical companies were able to eliminate the seasons, they would probably do so – for a profit, of course.

There is another danger: in addition to harming children, we are harming society and our future. Measures that aim at reducing variability and swings in the lives of children are also reducing variability and differences within our said to be Great Culturally Globalised Society.

– Fractal self-similarity: Benoit Mandelbrot: The cell has a population of intercellular molecules; in turn the organism has a population of cells, and the species has a population of organisms. A strengthening mechanism for the organism for the species comes at the expense of some cells; in turn the organism strengthens at the expense of some cells, all the way down and all the way up as well.

For instance, if you drink a poisonous substance in small amounts, the mechanism by which your organism gets better is, according to Danchin, evolutionary within your system, with bad (and weak) proteins in the cells replaced by stronger – and younger – ones and the stronger ones getting spared (or some similar operation). When you starve yourself of food, it is the bad proteins that are broken down first and recycled by your own body – a process called autophagy. This is a purely evolutionary process, one that selects and kills the weakness for fitness. But one does not need to accept the specific biological theory (like aging proteins and autophagy) to buy the general idea that survival pressures within the organism play a role in its overall improvement under external stress.

– Procrustean Bed: Procrustes was an innkeeper in Greek mythology who, in order to make the travellers fit his bed, cut the limbs of those who were too tall and stretched those who were too short. But he had the bed fitting the perfect visitor with total perfection. Treating the organism like a simple machine is kind of simplification or approximation or reduction that is exactly like a Procrustean bed. It is often with the most noble intentions that we do so, as we are ‘pressured’ to fix things, so we often blow them up with our fear of randomness and love of smoothness. Where simplifications fail, causing the most damage, is when something nonlinear is simplified with the linear as a substitute. This is the most common Procrustean bed.

– TELL THEM I LOVE (SOME) RANDOMNESS: What do we call here Modernity? My definition of modernity is humans’ large-scale domination of the environment, the systematic smoothing of the world’s jaggedness, and the stifling of volatility and stressors.

Modernity corresponds to the systematic extraction of humans from their randomness-laden ecology – physical and social, even epistemological. Modernity is not just the postmedieval, postargrarian, and postfeudal historical period as defined in sociology textbooks. It is rather the spirit of an age marked by rationalisation (naïve rationalism), the idea that society is understandable, hence must be designed, by humans. With it was born statistical theory, hence the beastly bell curve. So was linear science. So was the notion of ‘efficacy’ – or optimisation.

Modernity is a Procrustean bed, good or bad – a reduction of humans to what appears to be efficient and useful. Some aspects of it work: Procrustean beds are not all negative reductions. Some may be beneficial, though these are rare.

Consider the life of a lion in the comfort and predictability of the Bronx Zoo (with Sunday afternoons visitors flocking to look at him in a combination of curiosity, awe and pity) compared to that of his cousins in freedom. We, at some point, had free-range humans and free-range children before the advent of the golden period of the soccer mom.

We are moving into a phase of modernity marked by the lobbyist, the very, very limited liability corporation, the MBA, sucker problems, secularisation (or rather the reinvention of new sacred values like flags to replace altars), the tax man, fear of the boss, spending the weekend in interesting places and the workweek in a putatively less interesting one, the separation of ‘work’ and ‘leisure’ (though the two would look identical to someone from a wiser era), the retirement plan, argumentative intellectuals who would disagree with this definition of modernity, literal thinking, inductive inference, philosophy of science, the invention of social science, smooth surfaces, and egocentric architects. Violence is transferred from individuals to states. So is financial indiscipline. At the centre of all this is the denial of antifragility.

There is a dependence on narratives, an intellectualisation of actions and ventures. Public enterprises and fucntionaries – even employees of large corporations – can only do things that seem to fit some narrative, unlike businesses that can just follow profits, with or without a good-sounding story. Remember that you need a name for the colour blue when you build a narrative, but not in action –the thinker lacking a word for the colour ‘blue’ is handicapped; not the doer. (I’ve had a hard time conveying to intellectuals the intellectual superiority of practice.)

Modernity widened the difference between the sensational and the relevant – in a natural environment the sensational is, well, sensational for a reason; today we depend on the press for such essentially human things as gossip and anecdotes and we care about the private lives of people in very remote places.

Indeed, in the past, when we were not fully aware of antifragility and self-organisation and spontaneous healing, we manged to respect these properties by constructing beliefs that served the purpose of managing and surviving uncertainty. We imparted improvements to the agency of god(s). We may have denied that things can take care of themselves without some agency. But it was the gods that were the agents, not Harvard-educated captains of the ship.

So the emergence of the nation-state falls squarely into this progression – the transfer of agency to mere humans. The story of the nation-state is that of the concentration and magnification of human errors. Modernity starts with the state monopoly on violence, and ends with the state monopoly on fiscal irresponsibility.

E-resources

1. The Secular Web, A drop of reason in a pool of confusion; essays, reviews, articles, papers & critiques, a free thought resource) – http://infidels.org/library/historical/author.html

2. Bank of Wisdom (E-Books of Atheism, Freethought, Religion, History, Philosophy, Science, Politics, Economics) – http://bankofwisdom.com/

3. The Autodidact Project (A database for self-education) – http://www.autodidactproject.org/

4. Poetry Foundation (archive of poems available) – http://www.poetryfoundation.org/browse/poets

5. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – http://www.iep.utm.edu/

The Eyes of the Skin (Architecture of the Senses) by Juhani Pallasmaa

  • Haptics: relating to the sense of touch, in particular to the perception and manipulation of objects using the sense of touch and proprioception.
  • Haptic feedback, often referred to as simply ‘haptics’, is the use of the sense of touch in a user interface design to provide information to an end user. When referring to mobile phones and similar devices, this generally means the use of vibrations from the device’s vibration alarm to denote that a touchscreen button has been pressed. For example, the phone would vibrate slightly in response to the user’s activation of an on-screen control, making up for the lack of a normal tactile response that the user would experience when pressing a physical button. “Haptic feedback devices create the illusion of substance and force within the virtual world.”
  • In creative work, a powerful identification and projection takes place; the entire bodily and mental constitution of the maker becomes the site of the work. (p.12, Touching the World)
  • Computer imaging tends to flatten our magnificent, multi-sensory, simultaneous and synchronic capacities of imagination by turning the design process into a passive visual manipulation, a retinal journey. The computer creates a distance between the maker and the object, whereas drawing by hand as well as model-making put the designer into a haptic contact with the object or space. In our imagination, the object is simultaneously held in the hand and inside the head, and the imagined and projected physical image is modeled by our bodies. We are inside and outside of the object at the same time. Creative work calls for a bodily and mental identification, empathy and compassion. (p.12-13, Touching the World)
  • Gestalt: a configuration, pattern, or organized field having specific properties that cannot be derived from the summation of its component parts; a unified whole. “The whole is other than the sum of the parts.” — Kurt Koffka
  • Peripheral vision integrates us with space, while focused vision pushes us out of the space, making us mere spectators. (p.13, Touching the World)
  • The defensive and unfocused gaze of our time, burdened by sensory overload, may eventually open up new realms of vision and thought, freed of the implicit desire of the eye for control and power. The loss of focus can liberate the eye from its historical patriarchal domination. (p.13, Touching the World)
  • Peter Sloterdijk: ‘The eyes are the organic prototype of philosophy. Their enigma is that they not only can see but are also able to see themselves seeing. This gives them a prominence among the body’s cognitive organs. A good part of philosophical thinking is actually only eye reflex, eye dialectic, seeing-onself-see.’ (p.15, Part 1, Vision and Knowledge)
  • […] ocularcentric and obsessively hygienic code of culture.
  • Architecture is our primary instrument in relating us with space and time, and giving these dimensions a human measure. It domesticates limitless space and endless time to be tolerated, inhabited and understood by humankind. (p.17, Vision and Knowledge)

Notes: The eye is a patriarch.

  • The experiences of space and time have become fused into each other by speed (David Harvey uses the notion of ‘time-space compression’), and as a consequence we are witnessing a distinct reversal of the two dimensions – a temporalisation of space and a spatialisation of time. (p.21, Critics of Ocularcentrism)
  • But the world of the eye is causing us to live increasingly in a perpetual present, flattened by speed and simultaneity. (p.21, Critics of Ocularcentrism)
  • The hegemonic eye seeks domination over all the fields of cultural production, and it seems to weaken our capacity for empathy, compassion and participation with the world. The narcissistic eye views architecture solely as a means of self-expression, and as an intellectual –artistic game detached from essential mental and societal connections, whereas the nihilistic eye deliberately advances sensory and mental detachment and alienation. (p.22. The Narcissistic and Nihilistic Eye)
  • The world becomes a hedonistic but meaningless visual journey. (p.22, The Narcissistic and Nihilistic Eye)
  • Tectonics in architecture is defined as the science of art of construction, both in relation to use and artistic design. It refers not only just to the activity of making the materially requisite construction that answers certain needs, but rather to the activity that raises this construction to an art form. It is concerned with the modeling of material to bring the material into presence: from the physical into the metaphysical. Tectonic in geology refers to the structure of the earth’s crust and the large-scale processes which take place within it.
  • Michel de Certeau: ‘from television to newspapers, from advertising to all sorts of mercantile epiphanies, our society is characterized by a cancerous growth of vision, measuring everything by its ability to show or be shown. (p.24, The Narcissistic and Nihilistic Eye)
  • Susan Sontag: ‘a mentality which looks at the world as a set of potential photographs’; ‘reality has come to seem more and more what we are shown by camera’ and that ‘the omnipresence of photographs has an incalculable effect on our ethical sensibility. By furnishing this already crowded world with a duplicate one of images, photography makes us feel that the world is more available than it really is’. (p.30-31, An Architecture of Visual Images)
  • Walter Benjamin: the sense of ‘aura’, the authority of presence – the necessary quality for an authentic piece of art. (p.31, An Architecture of Visual Images)
  • Painting and sculpture also seem to be losing their sensuality; instead of inviting a sensory intimacy, contemporary works of art frequently signal a distancing rejection of sensuous curiosity and pleasure. (p.31, An Architecture of Visual Images)
  • The ceaseless bombardment of unrelated imagery leads only to a gradual emptying of images of their emotional content. Images are converted into endless commodities manufactured to postpone boredom; humans in turn are commoditized, consuming themselves nonchalantly without having the courage or even the possibility of confronting their very existential reality. (p.34, Materiality and Time)
  • The Opening of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation by David Michael Levin: two modes of vision – ‘the assertoric gaze’ and ‘the aletheic gaze’ – the assertoric gaze being narrow, dogmatic, intolerant, rigid, fixed, inflexible, exclusionary, and unmoved, the aletheic gaze, associated with the hermeneutic theory of truth, tends to see from a multiplicity of standpoints and perspectives, and is multiple, pluralistic, democratic, contextual, inclusionary, horizontal and caring. Levin is suggesting that there are signs that a new mode of looking is emerging. (p.36, A New Vision and Sensory Balance)
  • The negative development in architecture is, of course, forcefully supported by forces and patterns of management, organisation and production as well as by the abstracting and universalising impact of technological rationality itself. (p.39, Part 2)
  • In the view of René Spitz, ‘all perception begins in the oral cavity, which serves as the primeval bridge from the inner reception to external perception’. Even the eye touches; the gaze implies an unconscious touch, bodily mimesis and identification. (p.42, Multi-sensory Experience)
  • …the task of architecture is ‘to make visible how the world touches us’, as Merleau-Ponty said of the paintings of Cézanne. (p.46, Multi-sensory Experience)
  • Deep shadows and darkness are essential, because they dim the sharpness of vision, make depth and distance ambiguous, and invite unconscious peripheral vision and tactile fantasy. (p.46, The Significance of the Shadow)
  • In order to think clearly, the sharpness of vision has to be suppressed, for thoughts travel with an absent-minded and unfocussed gaze. (p.46, The Significance of the Shadow)
  • The absent-minded gaze penetrates the surface of the physical image and focuses on infinity. (p.46, The Significance of the Shadow)
  • In great architectural spaces, there is a constant, deep breathing of shadow and light; shadow inhales and illumination exhales light. (p.47, The Significance of the Shadow)
  • In our time, light has turned into a mere quantitative matter and the window has lost its significance as a mediator between two worlds, between enclosed and open, interiority and exteriority, private and public, shadow and light. (p.47, The Significance of the Shadow)
  • The sense of sight implies exteriority but sound creates an experience of interiority. I regard an object, but sound approaches me; the eye reaches, but the ear receives. (p.49, Acoustic Intimacy)
  • Adrian Stokes (English painter and essayist): ‘Like mothers of men, the buildings are good listeners. Long sounds, distinct or seemingly in bundles, appease the orifices of palaces that lean back gradually from canal or pavement. A long sound with its echo brings consummation to the stone.’ (p.50, Acoustic Intimacy)
  • Architecture presents the drama of construction silenced into matter, space and light. Ultimately, architecture is the art of petrified silence. (p.51, Silence, Time and Solitude)
  • A powerful architectural experience silences all external noise; it focuses our attention on our very existence, and as well with all art, it makes us aware of our fundamental solitude. (p.51, Silence, Time and Solitude)
  • As time loses its duration, and its echo in the primordial past, man loses his sense of self as a historical being, and is threatened by the ‘terror of time’. (p.52, Silence, Time and Solitude)

Notes: Are we experiencing the advent of the hyperreal? What would it be like when everything in the world is finally replaced by simulacra (including bodily functions, etc.)? *Read about 3D printing of food*

…Dissolution of what we feel nostalgic for; then what?

 

  • A delicately coloured polished stone surface is subliminally sensed by the tongue. (p.59, The Taste of Stone)
  • Deliciously coloured surfaces of stucco lustro, a highly polished colour or wood surfaces also present themselves to the appreciation of the tongue. (p.59, The Taste of Stone)
  • We behold, touch, listen and measure the world with our entire bodily existence, and the experiential world becomes organised and articulated around the centre of the body. (p.64, Bodily Identification)
  • Melanie Klein: ‘projective identification’; all human interaction implies projection of fragments of self on to the other person. (p.66, Bodily Identification)
  • The melancholy in Michelangelo’s architecture is fundamentally the viewer’s sense of his/her own melancholy enticed by the authority of the work. Enigmatically, we encounter ourselves in the work. (p.68, Bodily Identification)

The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart

– ‘There can be no perfect man.Each of our lives is a finite series of errors which tend to become rigid and repetitious and necessary. Every man’s personal proverb about himself is: ‘Whatever is, is right, in the best of all possible people.’ The whole tendency of the human personality is to solidify into the corpse. you don’t change corpses. Corpses aren’t bubbling with enthusiasm. You spruce them up a bit and make them look fit to be looked at.’

– Marriage: society’s solution to loneliness, lust and laundry.

– In brief, as the alert reader has concluded long before this, we were typically married. We had happy moments which we could share with no one,; we had our insider jokes; we had our warm, sensual, sexual love as we had our mutual concern (well, Lil anyway), interest in and pride in our children, and we had our two increasingly frustrated, isolated private selves. The aspirations we had for these selves did not find fulfillment in marriage, and all the twisting and turning on the bed together couldn’t erase this fact, although our very dissatisfaction united us.

– What if the development of a sense of self is normal and natural, but is neither inevitable nor desirable? What if it represents a psychological appendix: a useless, anachronistic pain in the side? – or, like the mastodon’s huge tusks: a heavy, useless and ultimately self-destructive burden? What if the sense of being someone represents an evolutionary error as disastrous to the further development of a more complex creature as was the shell for snails or turtles?

– Patterns, patterns, oh, to break those chains. But we drag our old selves with us and they impose their solid oak frames on all our experience.

– Middle age, like rigor mortis, has set in.

– Isn’t it just possible that the desire not to be unified, not to be single, not to have one personality may be the natural and basic human desire in our multivalent societies?

– But remember, you all are potentially chameleons of the spirit, and thus of all the illusions that rob men of their divinity this is the cruelest; to call the rocklike burdensome shell of ‘character’ and ‘individuality’ man’s greatest development. It’s like praising a boat for its anchor.

Definitive Doubts

Fickle faith:. Unprecedented spirituality:. Egocentric expectations:. Nauseous devotion:. Conditioned anger:. Dubious behaviour:. Shapeless validations:. Unsurprisingly Unsurprising:. Instant recoil:. Lonely togetherness:. Ghostly desires