[-empyre-] No. 1, Day 4, Week 2

Marcus Boon mboon at yorku.ca
Sat Jun 14 02:07:43 EST 2014

Sorry for the slow response here ... I gave a talk on Burroughs and shamanism at a workshop on General Idea, and yesterday was a long day!

Yes, a lot of different threads.  I was able to read further chunks of Earth Sound, Earth Signal en route yesterday ... a lot of what we've been discussing this week is about theory, conceptualizing things, but I urge people to read the book, because it's so rich in historical data, strange anecdotes, and portraits of relatively unknown but actually pretty major figures like Alvin Lucier's physics mentor Edmond Dewan.  And I get the core point about the natural history of media, and the ways in which what gets called "technology" as a human endeavor, is necessarily embedded in these natural strata -- geophysical energy, electromagnetic forces, and so on.  

I think Nina's point about understanding the purposes of different measurement (or notation?) systems is important.  It reminds me of something poet Chuck Stein said to me recently re. "object oriented ontology" and similar endeavors: that you have to understand what the purpose of particular arguments about ontology are.  That there is no pure onto-logy outside of different practices, ways of approaching the issue.  This I also take to be Badiou's position in Logics of World, as a (slight) corrective to his argument in Being and Event that ontology is mathematical. Even mathematical truth takes the form of different logics: algebra, geometry etc.  

My take on non-sensuous similarity (and "The Doctrine of the Similar") can be found on pages 29-33 of In Praise of Copying. I wrote to a group of Benjamin scholars, including Howard Eiland, editor of the Harvard Benjamin series and author of the new biography, and he said there was no known outside source for the concept.  John Noyes suggested it connected to Benjamin's work on Goethe's Elective Affinities (which could be helpful to your natural history of media, Douglas?).  Mikhail Iampolski, whose knowledge of these things is always encyclopedic, said it was a theological concept, emanating from Medieval Christian debates, perhaps in Meister Eckhart. My attempts to track this down got me as far as "indistinct distinguishings" and "non sensuous sensuousness" (i.e our presence, being as a part of God), but if that's where Benjamin got the idea, saying "non-sensuous similarity" adds a definite twist to the theological idea.  In my own work, I connect it to the idea of sameness (sameness as opposed to being identical) ... which can certainly be interpreted in terms of physical forces ... or religious energies ... or ... see the above remarks about ontology! And that's part of the focus too of my recent work on drones, because drone music is characterized by a sameness which is characterized by pulsation, periodicity, subtle phenomenological shifts on closer inspection.  Benjamin has some lovely remarks re. sameness ...

By the way, I hadn't read "To the Planetarium" before -- what a fantastic piece!

With La Monte Young's work, I think it's important to separate the Fluxus period pieces like the butterfly piece, from the sustained tone pieces, and the work in just intonation.  Young's interest in sustained tones predates the Fluxus work (Trio for Strings is 1958, before he moved to NYC I think) and continues through the Fluxus period ("X for Henry Flynt"), onwards to the Theater of Eternal Music and the Dream House installations.  

I feel like there's a lot more to say about different approaches to energy in the arts and in philosophy ... not that we're going to cover it this week, but that it's an important research topic!


On 2014-06-12, at 8:00 PM, Douglas Kahn wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Welcome back Nina. Where did Tara Rogers write about graphs/waves? In the
> process of researching ESES, especially when trying to understand what I
> eventually called transperception evident in Thoreau and Lucier, I came to
> realize that the concept of mediation itself had some of the basic problems
> that wave representations had, in particular, a singular observation from
> the side, from outside the event, a removal and positioning which was
> repeated with a similar inscriptive logic in cartographic notions of
> networks, the latter being more Olympian than terrestrial. 
> The presence of a graphical wave, however, is not always a sign of
> measurement. I was on the VLF (Very Low Frequency) Yahoo group for several
> years and there was never a shortage of spectrographs. I wouldn't say that
> they were used for measurement that much; if anything, it was an amalgam of
> "I was present at the event", evidence of observation, engagement with the
> (often mysterious) phenomenon, identification, and measurment. They were
> occasions for humility and collectivism rather than exertion of any
> dominion. That they were conducted over the internet at a similar earth
> scale as the phenomena themselves was a plus, but unmentioned. 
> On "non-sensuous similarity"...has any Benjamin scholar out there
> approached this directly? I read Mimesis and Alterity years+ ago and don't
> have my books nearby right now. It seems to me that the faculty of the
> mimetic faculty/doctrine of the similar that informs it should neither be
> brought into a perceptual or apperceptual frame too quickly, nor into one
> of a drive. Rather, it is something either within humankind (since "the
> ancients" as Benjamin calls them) or operating at a larger scale (I
> wouldn't know how to characterize it). It surely is not merely manifested
> in seeing animals in constellated stars, or kids imitating people, things
> and forces; in one of the most amazing (long) paragraphs in One-Way Street,
> "To the Planetarium"....I discuss this on page 77f. in ESES, sees an
> alienated/repressed union with the cosmos practiced ritually by "the
> ancients" sputtering along in "the poetic rapture of starry nights" but
> really snapping back with a vengeance on the killing fields of WWI. "Human
> multitudes, gases, electrical forces were hurled into the open country,
> high-frequency currents coursed through the landscape, new constellations
> rose in the sky, aerial space and ocean depths thundered with propellors,
> and everywhere sacrificial shafts were dug into Mother Earth. The immense
> wooking of the cosmos was enacted for the first time on a planetary
> scale--that is, in the spirit of technology." 
> There is so much to say about the piece and this passage, but for here we
> can note the presence of energies and a planetary scale notion of feminized
> Nature. It posits the First World War as an energetic manifestion at a
> global scale which would be punctuated at the end of the Second World War
> with perhaps the most important one, Hiroshima, since according to Michel
> Serres this was the first instance of a self-awareness of self-annihilation
> at a global scale shared now with global warming and ecological
> catastrophe, i.e., as in To the Planetarium, energy war and Mother Earth.   
> But even more relevant, since Marcus this is where drone might be
> revisited, is that this ritual (war, planet, technology) engagement with
> the cosmos was conducted collectively through Rausch. This is one of those
> German words that doesn't fit into English very well, but from my
> understanding among its meanings/connotations are ecstatic trance (the way
> its translated in the English) and relatedly, intoxication, but also the
> sound of an onrush (on-rausch), like the white noise disorientation in
> breaking waves, with an undercurrent of rumbling or roar (roar you feel,
> but I think you also feel the hiss, with or without the mist). I could very
> well be wrong because I haven't tried to sort it out with any precision,
> but there might be some there there.
> One last thing. A qualification on the sensory, an artist like Robert Barry
> posits in his work that even though a person does not immediately sense
> something, say, ultrasound or radio waves, it does not mean that they are
> not there. When musicians like Pauline Oliveros produce overtones from
> subaudible fundamentals, even if they cannot be felt, the audible sounds do
> not necessarily abdicate their epiphenomenal relationship. In LaMonte
> Young's butterfly piece he stated that, sure, the butterfly makes a sound,
> just because we can't hear it does not mean it is not there. So there is a
> "listening in" along the lines of a "reading into" at work and at play. 
> Douglas 
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> I am finally coming up from days scheduled back-to-back with oral exams to
>> catch up on this fascinating and, to me, incredibly valuable conversation.
>> There are so many interesting threads running through the
>> conversation--I'll pick up on a few.
>> Measurement: The question of measurement is fascinating, fraught, and, a
>> question I think of as offering me more insights into the
>> person/organization etc. who desires to pin down an object through
>> measurements than learning something about what has been measured. From
>> identifying something through the question "what is a sound" (the sets of
>> values and skills developed in order to identify physical energy as sound
>> with certain characteristics) to a given that constitutes coherence between
>> sounds so that we may understand a series of sound to form a gesture or
>> phrase, and, furthermore, keeping those phrases separate so that, for
>> example, the individually recognized phrases in relationship form the fugue
>> form; to measuring the energy and metaphorically representing that energy
>> through visual graphs/waves etc. (Tara Rogers has offered interesting
>> feminist critique of this). To me, the question of sound, or any other ways
>> of understanding physical energy (including dance gestures
>> , Johannes), often boils down to: what needs do these practices of
>> measurements and subsequent  identifications/namings fulfill? For whom does
>> infusing a given system of measurement with authority and holding a given
>> system of measurement in place hold value?
>> The Body: With Douglas, I see the necessity to focus a historical inquiry
>> (to for example include or not include the body). And, with Marcus'
>> reminder of our Cornell Society of the Humanities visit to the Lab of
>> Ornithology, I am reminded of the anthropomorphic undertone with which the
>> concept of the body and epistemology through sensation is often infused.
>> Does paying attention to the body means attending to the vibration as I
>> feel the vibrations through the flesh and bones as it stands on the airport
>> floor? Would an inquiry into the vibration as it pulses through a speck of
>> skin fallen from my leg onto the floor also constitute attending to the
>> body? If not, does size matter? Would attending to the vibrations of my
>> severed leg laying on the floor constitute attending to the body? Or, does
>> only a given material's seeming continuous material connection to what I
>> think of as the object that is body constitute thinking about the body? The
>> latter position, then, to address Marc
>> us' question, does come down to "modes of sensing." At this point, I am
>> not ready to subscribe to that. And, I doubt whether all of the artists
>> with which Douglas deals in Earth Sound would subscribe to that as well.
>> But, perhaps I am completely off base? 
>> Nina 
>> On Jun 12, 2014, at 7:07 AM, Marcus Boon <mboon at yorku.ca> wrote:
>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>> Re. non-sensuous similarity ... that was something that I was trying to
>> puzzle out in my book on copying ... what Benjamin means by that phrase ...
>> or even where he got it from!  Apparently there are similar notions in
>> Medieval Christian mysticism, "non-sensuous sensuousness" in Nicolas of
>> Cusa.  But thinking about it in terms of forces operating below the level
>> of the sensible is pretty helpful, and it opens inquiry up to thinking
>> about energy states, forces etc.  It's also something that comes up in
>> Taussig's work. In the Defacement book, he's fascinated by the ways in
>> which a defaced object arouses such intense affective states, and often
>> results in the destruction of both the object, and the environment around,
>> and threats against the producer of the defaced object. He talks about
>> defacement as a liberation of energy that is somehow contained within the
>> object -- and which in some sense constitutes its objecthood for us.  It's
>> almost as tho what we see as a particular o
>> bj
>>> ect is a configuration of energy -- but what kind of model of energy does
>> that imply?
> Douglas Kahn
> National Institute for Experimental Arts
> College of Fine Arts
> University of New South Wales, Sydney
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

More information about the empyre mailing list