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Category Archives: Art Criticism

The Tower of Beowulf and Hauntological Architecture

Ghost Buildings and Tolkein’s Tower

Complete Lies. has a very interesting post  on the Ghost Building practices of acquaintance of his, Brian MacKay-Lyons, who retires to his Nova Scotia property to build ephemeral building, much of them constructed out of fragmented site materials, as Complete Lies would have it, out of the very bones of the site’s past. Below, one of the beautiful structures, “Ghost 6”

The philosophical conclusion drawn from these wonderful architectures is that of perpetual bone usage in the construction of our present. I have some difficulty with the prevalence  of the idea of “hautology” on the internet thesedays, as the word seems to operate as something of a meme, without coherent conceptual content (no determinative defintion, with all kinds of phenomena being grouped under its heading). And perhaps the word “ghost” can be seen as symbiont to it. And I can’t see where the idea as it is loosely used is much improved from Benjamin’s concept of the Angel of History, as Complete Lies writes:

We have impermanent structures, rooted deeply to the past, make essentially of the corpses of long lost entities, made with and in the spirit of these pasts. These are ghosts brought back. Architecture as necromancy. This shows exactly what I mean by the possibility of ghosts returning in a Spectral Realism, the idea that their bones could reassemble, perhaps not in the same way, but in the same spirit. In this way, a ghost can never achieve the perpetual peace of absolute non-existence, but is always only “almost dead.” No ghost is ever entirely here, nor are they ever entirely absent.

This being said though, the architecture brought to might one of the most spectacular scholarly essays written in the history of literary criticism, J. R. R. Tolkein’s “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” (1936) [click here]. (Not everybody knows that Tolkein was a formidable Medievalist, and this lecture represents the turning point of modern Beowulf scholarship. But Tolkein’s vocation is not the point here. There is a wonderful paragraph that nearly opens the article that vividly points up the aspect that Complete Lies is trying to bring forth. Tolkein is taking Beowulf scholars to task for not understanding the towerly dimension of the Beowulf project. They have knocked down the text and rummaged through its old stones, realizing that  it had been build from the pieces of an older culture. They see that it is part Christian, part pagan, and are left with something like rubble, the bones of the past. What they don’t realize is that the author was building, not a house, but tower:

I think this analogy has significant address to those concerned with the hautological aspects of modern or post-modern history. The author of Beowulf indeed was a fragmentist, restacking the bones, inscripted stones, the broken pillars of an age lost or in decline, but in stacking them was not reconstructing them (there is NO compulsed mourning, but formal mourning), not harkening back on impulse, no trying put the shards in place, but rather the stacking is in the present, the building of tower, a vantage point assembled out of the remains of all that had been, that memory, making it high.

Tolkein’s metaphor is most adroit, for he draws recursively upon the final image of the poem itself, where the great funeral pyre for Beowulf is constructed (talk about ghost architecture). There, as the structure burned down from its great height, it also becomes a signal to be seen from far out at sea: 


THEN fashioned for him the folk of Geats
firm on the earth a funeral-pile,
and hung it with helmets and harness of war
and breastplates bright, as the boon he asked;
and they laid amid it the mighty chieftain,
heroes mourning their master dear.
Then on the hill that hugest of balefires
the warriors wakened. Wood-smoke rose
black over blaze, and blent was the roar
of flame with weeping (the wind was still),
till the fire had broken the frame of bones,
hot at the heart. In heavy mood
their misery moaned they, their master’s death.

Tolkein tells us that the haunting of the social forms of Beowulf are not what we thought they were, habitations. They rather were memorial heights, vantage points that we achieve when we stack the bones of the past. The invitation of course is to build, and then burn (live) our own tower.  The ghost, the haunt, is to be something that we willfully construct, the means of our standing higher, the vantage we have over our sea. I believe that the hautological, in this sense, is only our return to the originality of our past, the focus points of lasting intensity to elevate ourselves. And though it can happen in paranoic revisitations of the repressed, or the disjointed specimen collecting of a mania, a corporeal regrouping, it is at best a careful choosing of one’s ancestors with a view towards a plentitude of arched vision, the way in which we expose ourselves the forces which made up determinatively what we are.

[An Q & A with Brian MacKay-Lyons on the Ghost Lab program]

Spatial Voice: Wuthering Heights and Speakings from the Heart of a Topos

[I have been discussing and thinking-about some of Eliminative Culinarism’s analysis of Deleuze in terms of hauntology, her/his notion that in the self-affirmation of a line of flight produces a fundamental negative-determination, a negative-binding against the ground of the undetermined, which results in the haunting by the Dead (if I summarize it correctly). It lead me to post this short paper I wrote on the constructive strategies of the gothic imagination, the way that ruins can be architecturally (or narratively) built to as to invoke the ghost, and give it a place to circulate. It is my sense that this active strategy is one that Deleuze might be said to engage in, at times, in the quest for a permanent vitality of Being]

Piranesi and Bronte: Gothic Constructed Haunting,  a move toward eternity  

Giovanni Piranesi. Title Plate, Prima Parte; State IV.

 This is a pragmatic study of the narrative strategies employed by Emily Brontë in her opening scenes of Wuthering Heights. I say pragmatic because it seeks to examine the constitutive effects brought about through her treatment of two classes of figurative language, those of “space” and those of “sound”, with the aim of showing how Brontë in the her initial three chapters constructed a signifying machine, that is, a juxtaposition of readerly effects, such that allowed her to present an unpresentable: a space that speaks.

In the narrative that begins with Lockwood’s initialization of his recount, the first three chapters of the book, Emily Brontë performs a detonation. It is an explosion (or, as one might decide, an implosion) of effects whose ramifications seem to echo throughout the novel, yet it is a detonation that is constructed through a careful and tensioned balance of two aspects of descriptive fiction. Brontë presents the interior of her fiction from the start. She invites us in, to the core, and tempts us to look straight into the heart of its concerns, both in terms of theme and object. Narratively, the acceptance of such an invitation is performed by our proxy, Mr. Lockwood, and is both facilitated and resisted by Brontë’s proxy, Mr. Heathcliff.  That the invitation to witness is located in a specified and physical space, the estate of Wuthering Heights, is central to Brontë’s project; for Brontë’s game is a game of trying to depict the impossible object, the presence of an absence.

 But Brontë’s means of presentation are complex. By shifting alternately between cloakings and revelations on two axes, that of signifying sound and that of space, in these introductory pages she establishes a tensioned dialectic that not only works to show what cannot be shown, but does so in a dynamic and experiential way. She takes advantage of an inherent desire in the reader to locate herself, narratively and mimetically-to know what is happening, and where it is happening; through an opening mixture of narrative perspectives (in terms of both voice and tense), juxtaposed with descriptions of an architectural space and scene designed to defy any strict experience of locatability, she both frustrates the reader, and lays the reader prone to a heightening of certain cues as a result of the obscurity itself. The effect perhaps can be compared to the effect of fog upon the moors in low light. One’s ears prick up for sounds. One’s eyes narrow to shapes and things. And not coincidentally, one stands a bit closer to one’s companion.

We are given our companion from the very first word, “I” (1). Immediately he belongs to us. On him we can lean as we become confused, and his confusion and desire to know represents ours within the story. This is a significant move on Brontë’s part because Lockwood’s experience of the Heights will inscribe the reality of his own disorientation upon the reader, and will also dramatically present that disorientation as real. As the reader struggles to know and grasps hold of Lockwood’s subjectivity, Lockwood’s own fear becomes our own. This is a now-classic effect of Gothic production. As two walk together in the necropolis, the grasping of the reassuring sleeve of another only guarantees the reality of the fear itself, when we realize that she too, our companion, is frightened. As we shall see, by presenting an unsure mimetic space the solidity of our bond to Lockwood is enforced, and thus the very reality of atmospheric effects that confuse. In the third chapter, this will come to its crescendo in the ontology of Cathy’s hand at the window, which arrives at a point of extreme disorientation of sense for Lockwood, yet thus will serve as perhaps the most real moment of the novel.  

But let us back up, and take the view at novel’s opening that Lockwood is entering a kind of museum, for that is the consequential effect his experience will have on readers. He will come to read the place as a record and a preservation of things that have occurred, and in a certain sense, a place in which time is meant to have stood still, having a reminiscent quality. It will be revealed as a place where things have happened, but also where things metaphysically can happen. The persons, the phenomena, and the artifacts he encounters are only backwards-leaning indexes for learning what has been. The Heights is an archive. But it is a curious sort of museum, for it will prove to be haunted. Yet, its haunting is not the pedestrian sort, that of merely a ghost, its location, and its story- Brontë is too sublime for that. Rather, the haunting is a broad superimposition of past-time upon present-time, such that the reader can at the novel’s start affectively feel the strain of that juxtaposition-the combination of a lack of orientation, the suffusion of sensorial presences, the terror (and desire) of proximity-which one will come to understand at the novel’s close to be those of Heathcliff’s own. Through this introduction the reader is exposed to the very state that will be explained by the story itself; and in this way one is given an affective anchor point for understanding the character of Heathcliff and the unfolding of narrated events. And Brontë’s accomplishment becomes more than this affective anchoring, for it will involve the condensation of a literal presence, as at each narrative turn of the novel when action is to be explained or anticipated, the reader comes to have within her interpretative disposal the metonymic icy hand at the broken glass in Lockwood’s “dream”.

So how does a writer present past-time as superimposed upon present-time such as the case of someone in the grips of nostalgia? An effective strategy, if one is not to engage in stream of consciousness writing, would be to establish a reference point which grounds the differences. This is the Heights. It is the place. The thing that does not change. It is the surety upon which all other distinctions are both projected, and then collapsed. I will call this the topos to indicate an abstract spatial limit at which mimetic description aims when presenting synchrony in terms of scene-it is the representation and experience of permanence. And Wuthering Heights is given in terms of physical permanence from the start. Firstly it is symbolized by its master, Heathcliff, as he resists Lockwood’s entrance: “‘if I could hinder it-walk in!’…the ‘walk in’ was uttered with closed teeth.” Then, it is made clear in the fortified description of the building: “Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times…,” so “Happily [endnote, 1], the architect had the foresight to build it strong” (1,2). Not only are the issues of transgression and border thus put forth initially, but decidedly the estate itself is not egressed without admittance. It is gated, and as all haunted spaces, recursively closed.

The reader’s experience though is conditioned by the perspective of the narrator, and almost immediately the topos will be dissolved into topoi-angles of perception, objects of isolated coherence, such that the reader while within the estate will be forced to  engage in a kind of spatial grasping. The heuristics of space-that is the desire to picture where one is and where events will be coming from-will struggle with a hermeneutics of signs-that is the need to know meaningfully what is happening. It is no coincidence that before entrance we are presented with an architectural glyph of a sort, which condenses both modes, the spatial and the signifying:

Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principle door; above which a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date ‘1500’ and the name ‘Hareton Earnshaw.’ (2)

In a single artifact one both knows where one stands spatially (before the door), and is given textual cues to temporal order (a date and genealogical name). Significantly, these two dimensions will be con-fused with the domain of the house.

Lockwood is “inspecting the penetralium” and “one step” brings him into the family room without the transition of a lobby (2). While a figure of liminality is certainly in play, so is the author’s strategy of giving the reader spatial points of reference that are not systematically linked either to an overarching view of scene, nor to action itself. Spatial locatability becomes almost haphazard; a reader is forced take hold of a flotsam of spatial cues in a current of narration. In terms of awareness, one is locked in the penetrailium until in freeze-frame fashion, a single step is taken (though before an expansive space, one is closeted from it in terms of description, so that it feels impending and chasmic). Then suddenly a reader is exposed to a room without compass. Remarkably, it is a room that literally forces the performance of its own space from out of its presence: “They call it here ‘the house’ preeminently. It includes kitchen and parlour, generally; but I believe at Wuthering Heights the kitchen is forced to retreat altogether into another quarter” (2,3) [endnote 2]. The consequence of this imposed retreat of the articulation of the space itself (the separation of kitchen in its activities from “kitchen” proper) is immediately felt, as centrifugal forces seem to throw out voices and sounds of production from this center of the house, “…at least I distinguished a chatter of tongues and a clatter of utensils, deep within [endnote 3]” (3), setting up a dichotomy of interpretive strategies, inhabited space versus indicative sounds, locatability versus meaning, as an exiled voice will haunt its spatial core, disembodied.

The islanding of topoi-discrete, independent spatial relations-fills the text. We are given pewter dishes, silver jugs, tankards, rows upon rows, a vast oak dresser, a frame of wood, oatcakes, legs of beef, mutton, ham (all concealed), a chimney, old guns, horse pistols, a smooth white floor, chairs which are like primitive structures (whose color unnaturally to comes to awareness only at the end), and an arch (3), without any place to put them. The space is thoroughly fragmented. The tunneling of vision, particularized in such a narrow way upon objects without their connection to a wider view, renders the kind perception one has when in fear or extreme agitation. Things one might ordinarily notice first, are here noticed last. A huge pointer bitch [endnote 4] with squealing puppies is somehow made far less present than oakcakes, provoking a sense of spatial uncertainty (3). One does not know where one stands, or what will happen next-rather one drifts like the clattering of tongues and pans, without rest.

This narrative un-surety, though momentarily given relief in the figure and comment upon Healthcliff, once again is displaced by flashback in time-which is a flashback within an already past tense discourse, past nested within past-as Mr. Lockwood retells of his time at the sea, and his difficulties with love. It is notable that here too the issue of hermeneutics comes again, as the ability to read has consequences on the action, as Lockwood speaks of his facial expressions of love: “……if looks have language, the merest idiot might have guessed” (4). Yet the girl’s accurate interpretation of Lockwood’s “looks” tellingly then has the consequence of a spatial withdrawal from their meaning, “I…shrunk icily into myself, like a snail” (4). The severing of the indicative form from the spatially assured body is made the problematic of Lockwood himself, and it is just this disjunction in which the Heights is atmospherically depicted.

We see the same question of interpretability when returning to the present-past, as Lockwood attempts to communicate without communicating to the huge bitch-mother herself, who is lurking, (a pair sheepdogs have mysteriously come forth like apparitions to join her, having not been noticed before, confirming our unmastering of spatial facts): “Not anxious to come in contact with the fangs, I sat still; but not imagining that they would scarcely understand tacit insults, I unfortunately indulged in winking and making faces at the trio”(4). Much as in the case with his sea-side love, the result of accomplished communication is a proximate invasion. Lockwood seeks to impose a table, to configure separation, but in fact the space itself seems to erupt with animate forces, as if pregnant with them: “Half-a-dozen, four-footed friends…issued from hidden dens to the common center” (5). The centrifugal has become a gravitational collapse. But the invasion of “fiends,” a “tempest” of “yelping” is then suddenly quelled by a female “inhabitant” of the kitchen deep within, “who used that weapon, and her tongue, to such a purpose, that the storm subsided magically” (5).  Unlocatable forces of language, sound and sense which haunt a fragmentedly depicted space are here cast in terms of power, magic, femininity and possession [endnote 5]. The space of the Wuthering Heights house is presented as brimming with effects from which one cannot occlude oneself. Not negligible is that the occasion of the eruption animals was conditioned by master Heathcliff’s disappearance in a series of spatially confused reversals, oriented around the indiscerniblity of voice: “Joseph mumbled indistinctly in the depths of the cellar, but gave no intimation of ascending; so his master dived down to him, leaving me vis-à-vis…” (4). There is almost an M.C. Escher-like impression of linked ups and downs, rooms on rooms, with no reasonable perspective point, creating only a series of interlinking effects and events which fold in upon themselves.

Yet Heathcliff is at home in this atmospheric, and even his speech is given the linguistic motif of near-inarticulation, as he speaks with “…the laconic style of chipping off his pronouns and auxiliary verbs” (6) in something closer to a mumble [endnote 6]. He is of  the substance of this house. Thus, as the second chapter starts-upon Lockwood’s return to the Heights as once again we get the spatial clues of inside and outside, “Heathcliff’s gate,” “Joseph projects his head from a round window” (6,7)-the reader is satisfied with treating the figure of Heathcliff with a certain kind of transference. The mysteries of the space, the disorientations of the first visit, now are projected suitably on Heathcliff the figure. The narrative problem of his mystery can now be taken up. And this narrative will in turn ground the opening scene’s subliminal textual effects. This transference is insured by a transformation of the space. Far from the fractured, aurally haunted realm of the first chapter, it is now a “huge, warm, cheerful apartment”… “It glowed delightfully in the radiance of an immense fire” (7). This is a scene that is spatially coherent and reassuring in that it can be mimetically pictured from an ideal distance. The fire is near a table, which is only “laid for a plentiful meal” (7), and not populated with endless objects. Lockwood can now be located. He is motioned to sit by a woman. And the aural, haunting voice is suppressed, “She looked at me, leaning back in her chair, and remained motionless and mute” (7). Narratively, we are given in this visit what we were deprived of in the first visit: spatial orientation, a series of actions whose causes seem to flow from circumstances, two traditional descriptions of a character’s physical appearance-Catharine’s and Heathcliff’s [endnote 7] -lasting dialogue, and the luxury of a narrator reflecting upon circumstances at length, giving context. This scene works as an explication of the effects of the first scene, and we are invited to follow Lockwood’s curiosity of the characters.

The third chapter, which follows on the heels of such reader reassurance – even the dogs were more “bent on stretching their paws” (14) than mauling-  will bring the two strategies of the first two chapters together. In this chapter the possessed state of space will be joined to a more straightforward narrative form so that Brontë can present an event which cannot be depicted, but whose existence shall ballast the entirety of novel. The primary approach for Brontë will be the portrayal of spaces. Already the reader is conditioned to read strict spaces as possibly disjoined from their articulation. As Lockwood confronts the room in which he is to sleep, having been waylaid by the weather, once again the topos is divided into topoi, that is spatial relations within which we cannot immediately find our place:

Too stupefied to be curious myself, I fastened the door and glanced round for the bed. The whole furniture consisted of a chair, clothes press, and a large oak case, with squares cut out near the top, resembling coach windows. Having approached this structure, I looked inside, and perceived it to a singular sort of old fashioned couch…In fact it formed a little closet, and the ledge of a window, which it enclosed, served as a table. (15)

Notice how the space consolidates itself into smaller and smaller portions, but with each consolidation there is a resulting and subtle disorientation. A bed among other pieces, becomes an oak case with cut-out squares, becomes a couch, becomes a closet, becomes a window, becomes a table. The smaller the space, the more infinite its capacities. It is insular and multiple.

And Lockwood takes refuge within the folds of space: “I slid back the paneled sides, got in with my light, pulled them together again, and felt secure against the vigilance of Heathcliff, and everyone else” (15). The very security of the space denies one locatablity, both from the outside and the inside, as a child might secure herself without awareness. A reader knows that one is in the oak case, but does not know how one is in the oak case. It is like a coach (15), moving somewhere; something is happening, but still fixed. In this oak case Brontë is presenting the heart-space of the novel. And in a certain regard, the nested narratives of Wuthering Heights are organized around Lockwood’s experience here. Here, in the most dramatized way, past-time and present-time will be superimposed.

Once within, the heuristics of orientation-a ledge, a candle, a pile of books, a corner (15)-give way to hermeneutics of interpretation,

…but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small…(15).

…when a glare of white letters started from the dark.

Some were detached sentences.

…to decipher her faded hieroglyphics (16).

Much in the way the glyph and inscription at the threshold of the Heights condensed space and articulation into a single form, here also Cathy’s handwriting brings the two together, indicating a new threshold. And the effects are powerful. A narration that has been entrenched in the past tense, even featuring its own, internal flashback, now is put into the present tense (the only time in the novel). Here, in the interval of the oaken bed, the present tense literally is overlayed upon past tense [endnote 8], “An awful Sunday!…”. Like a river’s current that eddies back against its downstream, it is the real articulation of symbolic nostalgia, the re-living of the present in recollection. And Cathy indicates the passion contained in this very space, “We made ourselves as snug as our means allowed in the arch of the dresser. I had just fashioned our pinafores together, and hung them up for a curtain, when in comes Joseph” (17).

The erotic overtones are clear as the description follows “…and there they were, like two babies, kissing and talking nonsense by the hour…”, and that their lying together involved the removal of some of their own clothes. Further, this intimacy of Cathy and Heathcliff is interrupted by the figure of moral rebuke, Joseph, suggesting censorship, and then further interrupted by the violence of Hindley who seized them in a way that neither one is distinguished from the other, making them interchangeable: “one of us by the collar, and the other by the arm”; they then spatially separate themselves remaining descriptively indistinct, “…we each sought a separate nook to await his advent” (17).  But they are resolute to union, Cathy writing of Heathcliff’s suggestion that they “scamper on the moors” and be rejoined there. Yet most significantly it is at this point in the text that we encounter a literal blank space in the narrative, a gap. It is here, signified in the text as a series of dots following “we cannot be damper or colder, in the rain than we are here”-here, at a gap in the marginal diary entry, in the book, that is in oak bed, which is in the shutoff room, which is in Wuthering Heights, which is surrounded by the moors-here, nested is the unrepresentable, presented as a blank. Their intimacy is a space in the text. A repressed moment [endnote 9].

“I suppose Catherine fulfilled her project” Lockwood rightly speaks of the space, interpreting it, “…for the next sentence took up another subject” (18). Here, within the magic of the oak bed where Heathcliff and Cathy had lain as children, the space speaks. And then in a doubled-fold only a paragraph later, we encounter another blank space, this time one that breaks from the present tense text of Cathy’s hand in the margin [marked in this text by a series of six asterisks], back to the official text of book, only to shift to a dream-time told once more in the past tense. This gap in the text is not the repression of the unspeakable, but the threshold of past and present to be fused and inhabited, Lockwood’s and our experiential entrance into this collapse. Notably Lockwood quite explicitly puts his transition in terms of spatial disorientation: “I began to dream, almost before I ceased to be sensible of my locality” (18) [endnote 10].

Cathy presents herself in a mix of spatial and aural effects. There is “Merely the branch of a fir-tree that touched my lattice, as the blast wailed by” (20), which is both a figure in space and an inarticulation. Transgressively, Lockwood breaks his hand through the glass, and extends his arm (20), and Cathy sobs with melancholy (21). Lockwood piles up books in a pyramid structure in order to reestablish spatial integrity, to keep the embodied voice out. “Thereat began a feeble scratching outside, and the pile of books moved as if thrust forward” (21). And Lockwood tries to move but finds himself paralyzed. His fixedness causes him to yell. The interplay of space and sound is confused, and Heathcliff’s accents invade the space. After a hysterical description of Cathy as a supernatural being, one is finally given as an simplified explanation of events, that the reading of Catherine’s name over and over had personified the name itself, like the incantation of spell; the “shelter of the bed” receives Heathcliff’s body as it falls (23). We are told that “time stagnates here” (23), explicitly laying forth the synchronic nature of the Wuthering Heights estate.

At this point in the story we have already encountered the figurative core of the novel-first in the spectral introduction of the family room of the house in the first chapter (a fragmented space that imposes narrative non-locatablity enriched by voices and languages that pose problems of interpretation) and then metonymically in the oak case of the third chapter, which holds the record of Heathcliff and Catherine’s intimacy, both as an invading ghost, and as a present tense text held as a marginal diary entry. The rest of the novel can be read as the explication of the meaning of these events, as if their unrepresentable character can be stretched out and revealed through Nelly’s narrative. The un-speakable, exiled female voice is given a domesticated form in Nelly, and it shows itself in a rightful, digestible narrative structure. But in nearly a pyrotechnical sense, Brontë has succeeded in establishing at the very beginning, a condensation for the reader which echoes throughout the long unfolding of events. Through Cathy’s appearance she detonates, and has already detonated, in sound and voice the very space of remembrance. And we too, like Heathcliff who is consumed with what has already happened, are forever oriented towards not only the ghoulish appearance of Cathy, but also towards the lingering initial encounter with the house itself which preceded her.

This leads one to an interesting spatial question, one that I can only call architectural. It presents itself at the end, long after one may have consciously forgotten one’s very first experience of the Heights. As Heathcliff ponders whether he should ruin the potential future relationship between Catherine and Hareton, he confesses,

It is a poor conclusion, is it not…An absurd termination to my violent exertions? I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Heracles, and when everything is ready, and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished… (277).

Under the reading I propose-that Brontë in her first three chapters sets forth a fundamental antagonism between a space and its articulation-one must ask, if it indeed was Heathcliff’s machination to demolish the two houses, is this project expressive of Brontë’s own narrative intentions? For there is a sense in which the fragmentations and disembodied articulations of the first chapters of the book act as if a ruins of an orchestrated demolition of perception itself. That Brontë forces a reader to lock onto her narrator due to disorientations, and through that community to experience the terror of Cathy’s ghost first hand, speaks something to a kind of purposive disintegration. At the third chapter’s end, as Lockwood attempts to recover from his experiences of Cathy’s presence and is confined to “steps and passages” or  “descends cautiously to the lower regions” or moves to “two benches shaped in sections of a circle, nearly enclosing the hearth,” (24) coupled with Hareton’s “sotto voce of curses directed against “objects”, how much of Brontë’s depiction is of a space that has been already demolished, or at least broken? Can we ask, has Heathcliff-and therefore Brontë -all along been working on a demolition that we as readers experience viscerally in the first chapter, and whose products are brought forth in the third?

Clearly Heathcliff as been working to destroy both houses, the Heights and the Grange, at least in terms of lineage. But if his project is Brontë’s own, what would it mean to actively construct a demolition? It is that Brontë textually presented just such a demolition in the first and third chapters of her book. She exposed the reader to the bracing ventilation of a space that is inhabited and possessed by internal disjunction, so that its articulation, its meaning, does not coincide with its body. After a narrative interlude of the second chapter, wherein we are invited to transfer that disjunction upon the mystery of Heathcliff as a character (a mystery which will largely make up the substance of the rest of the novel narration), in the third chapter we are given the reason behind such a demolition that Brontë had just presented, and that Heathcliff in terms of plot has worked to bring about. As a subjectivity, Heathcliff is destroying to remember. He is constructing a ruins, that is, the kind of space which will allow the superimposition of past-time and present-time. The object-filled, voice-haunted realm of the family room, a museum-like, stale synchrony where time pools, is a willful construction of a kind of space, a fragmentation of topos into topoi within which an inarticulate presence floats. Cathy’s appearance in the third chapter is a manifested product of the kind of space that Heathcliff as a character has been attempting to make, and which Brontë as his author presents. The oak case is an apparition machine. The handwritten hieroglyphics in the margins of a book summon a presence around a recognized printed text, just as the marginality of Brontë’s novel’s beginning summons a presence around an official narration of a story. And the gap of a white space in Cathy’s handwritten text marks the unspeakable yet confirmed.

Rovine d’antichi Edifizj, Plate IV of First Edition Etching; State II

Solely as an illumination of what the motivations and strategies of anti-architects such as Heathcliff-the-character or Brontë-the-author might be, I invite comparison to the etchings of Italian eighteenth century architect Giovanni Piranesi. For in his work, which would heavily influence Gothic conceptions all across the continent some fifty years before Brontë, I find the precise strategy of building something that is purposively broken in order to superimpose past-time upon the present. Piranesi, whose ambition was to capture the magnificence of Rome, a lost and impossible age, did not do so through recreations of an imagined Rome, but through the fantastic production of invented ruins themselves. Through Piranesi one understands that by depicting the demolition of a perfection, one paradoxically preserves its ideal state in a kind of powerful nostalgia. Piranesi accomplished this by illustrating non-existent ruins with tremendous detail and atmosphere. And I suggest that Brontë was doing something of the same in her first and third chapters.

In Piranesi’s exterior etching Rovine d’antichi Edifizj (above) [endnote 11], one can see three components central to Brontë’s beginning: the purposely depicted fragmentation of huge space, the hieroglyphic-like broken entablatures and lettering creating a hermeneutical problem, and the figure of a guide upon whose location and gestures we rely for our participation and clues for meaning. Also prominent is a kind of looming dominance of the past. The space practically radiates with a presence, a topos that defies the fragmentation that is depicted. It is my reading that Brontë performs an equal demolition of constructive, orienting space to invoke just this sense of permanence and inhabitation.

Title Plate Carceri, Plate I of Second Edition Etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite; State VIII 

If one looks to the Title Plate Carceri (above), one sees in Piranesi’s interior the architectural layering of space in a tensioned geometry as staircases and balustrades, and frameworks collide. The room depicted is filled with topoi, local spatial relations that somehow resist a composite picture. Instead the eye travels infinitely over pathways. And centralized in the composition of what could be called an apparatus of spatial effects, lies a hermeneutical text carved into the surface itself. The space “speaks” in a shattered, yet resonant way: claustrophobic, yet still expansive; complete, yet recursive. This is exactly the strategic form of the central family room which Brontë fills with foods, objects, furniture, stairways, cellar ladders, mute figures. It is a non-mimetically coherent presenc-ing, as if marginality can both intrude and compose.

Using Piranesi as an indicative template of Gothic reconstructions through demolition and tensioned spatial relations, I propose that the Wuthering Heights that we encounter in the first chapter, as Brontë has written it, as we read it, is meant to be taken to be as Heathcliff, through all his machinations, has constructed it. It and the Grange has fallen into ruins by Heathcliff’s device. And the purpose of those ruins, from the perspective of Heathcliff-the-character is to both preserve a lost and perfect intimacy, but also to generate a haunting by Cathy’s ghost [endnote 12], which we experience in the metonymic space of the oak bed closet. By breaking the two houses Heathcliff aims to produce a ghost machine, the inhabitation of his love such that Cathy circulates in all things. In the way that actual ruins are both opened to the outside, yet unaccountably insulated from the outside by their very broken nature, so is Wuthering Heights both open to the moors upon which Cathy and Heathcliff played as a children, and also an entombment from which all else is excluded.

It is enough to recall the descriptions of the gravesite at the margins of the kirkyard.  Here, in the end, is where we at last find Heathcliff. His splintering of the house lines has been set to be healed by an implied Catherine and Hareton love in which he no longer interferes. Firstly, the site has been described as an inter-space, a marginality impinged upon by nature,

The place of Catherine’s internment, to the surprise of the villagers, was neither in the chapel, under the carved monument of the Lintons, nor yet by the tombs of her own relations, outside. It was dug on a green slope in a corner of the kirkyard, where the wall is so low that heath and bilberry plants have climbed over it from the moor; and peat mold almost buries it. Her husband lies in the same spot now. (145)

and then at the foot of decaying church:

When beneath its walls I perceived decay that had made progress, even in seven months: many a window showed black gaps deprived of glass; and slates jutting off, here and there, beyond the right line of the roof, to be gradually worked off in the coming autumn storms.

I sought, and soon discovered, the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf, and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare. (290).

We know, despite the encroachment of the world, that Heathcliff has arranged for his coffin and Cathy’s be exposed to each other, side by side, beneath the earth. In this same way Brontë had already in the first chapters textually buried Heathcliff and Cathy side by side in the hermetic space of the oak bed closet, and within that in the telling gap in Cathy’s handwriting at the margins. And what she entombed, as a writer she exhumed for our pleasure.


Appendix A:

Languaged and Spatial Reading of the First Three Chapters, presented in temporal sequence.

‘It is a poor conclusion, is it not…An absurd termination to my violent exertions? I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Heracles, and when everything is ready, and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished…” – Healthcliff


Languaged Effects:aural, voiced, printed, and indicative Spatial constructions:architectural and positioned
  ‘…if I could hinder it-walk in!‘ (1)
  The ‘walk-in’ was uttered with closed teeth. (1)
  Descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station was exposed in stormy weather (2).
  pure, bracing ventilation they must have (2)
  grotesque carving lavished the front, and especially about the principle door…crumbling griffons, and shameless little boys. (2)
  Inspecting the penetralium (2).
  without introductory lobby or passage (2).
…at least I distinguished a chatter of tongues and a clatter of utensils, deep within (3).  
…if looks have language, the merest idiot might have guessed (4)  
…not imagining they would scarcely understand tacit insults, I unfortunately indulged in winking…(4)  
and used that weapon, and her tongue, to such a purpose, that the storm subsided magically (5)  
…the laconic style of chipping off his pronouns and auxiliary verbs (6).  
  …arrived at Heathcliff’s gate just in time to escape the first feather flakes (6).
  Joseph projected his head from a round window of the barn(7).
Joseph’s speech (7)  
Catherine mute (7)  
…a look of hatred unless he has a most perverse set of facial muscles what will not, like those of other people, interpret the language of the soul (10).  
  a large oak case, with squares cut out near the top, resembling coach windows. Having approached this structure, I looked inside (15).
…but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small…(15).  
…when a glare of white letters started from the dark (16).  
Some were detached sentences (16).  
…to decipher her faded hieroglyphics (16).  
  ‘We made ourselves as snug as our means allowed in the arch of the dresser’ (17).
He tears down my handywork, boxes my ears, and croaks-(17) He tears down my handywork, boxes my ears, and croaks-(17)
  …he compelled us to square our positions that we might receive from the far-off fire a dull ray. (17)
  …we each sought a separate nook to await his advent (17).
  …and pushed the house-door ajar to give me light (18)
  I ceased to be sensible of my locality (18).
He had a private manner of interpreting the phrase (19).  
Merely the branch of a fir-tree that touched my lattice, as the blast wailed by (20). Merely the branch of a fir-tree that touched my lattice, as the blast wailed by (20).
  …knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out (20).
a melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in-let me in!'(21) …a melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in-let me in!‘(21)
  …hurriedly piled the books up in a pyramid against it, and stopped my ears to exclude the lamentable prayer (21). (21)
…for I knew Heathcliff’s accents (21).  
…it would have revealed my knowledge of their written, as well as their printed, contents (23).  
…in spelling over the name scratched on that window ledge. A monotonous occupation , calculated to set me asleep. (23)  
‘God he’s mad to speak so!’ (23)  
I didn’t know whether to resent this language…(23)  
…but reading it over often produced an impression which personified itself (23)  
  Heathcliff gradually fell back into the shelter of the bed, as I spoke, finally sitting down almost concealed behind it. (23)
  ‘Time stagnates here…’ (23)
  ‘Keep out of the yard, though, the dogs are unchained; and the house-Juno mounts sentinel there, and-nay, you can only ramble about the steps and passages. (23).
  I descended cautiously to the lower regions, and landed in the back kitchen (24).
  Two benches, shaped in sections of a circle, nearly enclosed the hearth (24).
  …shuffled down a wooden ladder, that vanished in the roof, through a trap (24).
Hareton Earnshaw was performing his orisons sotto voce, in a series of curses directed against every object he touched. (24).  
intimating by an inarticulate sound that there was a place where I must go, if I changed my locality (25). Intimating by an inarticulate sound that there was a place where I must go, if I changed my locality (25).
  …playing the part of a statue the remainder of my stay (26).
  blotted out from the chart which my yesterday’s walk left pictured in my mind (26).
…swell and falls not indicating corresponding rises and depressions in the ground. (26).  
…all traces of their existence had vanished: and my companion found it necessary to warn me frequently to steer right or left. (26)  
…there were no signs of his coming (30).  
…her tongue always going-singing, laughing, and plaguing everyone who would not do the same (35).  
A high wind blustered round the house, and roared in the chimney (36)  
…she said she would sing him to sleep. She began singing very low, till his fingers dropped from hers, and his head sank on his breast. (36).  
I joined my wail to theirs, loud and bitter (36).  
  I ran to the children’s room; their door was ajar (36).
The little souls were comforting each other with better thoughts…in their innocent talk (37).  



End Notes

1. Not a negligible word, “happily,” which marks the pleasure and intent of preserving this state of being, one which we will discover Heathcliff to be the architect of its ends. The building of the estate and the building of the events are both engineered to contain a scene.

2. The tension between a space and its articulation is expressed in this passage. The family room as one of many topoi “includes the kitchen,” in terms of a blueprint scheme, but Wuthering Heights as a topos, that is as a spatial synchrony that knows no diachrony, forces the articulation of the kitchen, its meaningful duties, to retreat from this center. The space and its speaking are thus unsettled and disjoined.

3. A mark of the recursion of this space is that this central room exiles articulations to a realm “deep within”, as that which is thrown out, only buries it closer to the heart.

4. The bitch pointer surely is figure of female articulation whose very immediate non-locatability, bestial nature, and her brood’s non-languaged squealing indicate the presence of what cannot be strictly revealed.

5. “The herd of possessed swine,” most likely refers to the cast-out demon called “Legion” by Jesus thrown into a herd of swine that ran over a bank and drown in the sea. “My name is Legion, for we are many” Mark 5:9; but could have associations with female power and magic in reference to Circe and her transformation of Odysseus’ shipmates (The Odyssey, book 10).

6. The speech of Joseph of course will embody this aural, mumbling presence of the house, taken to its limit, shown in print with near hieroglyphic solidity as Brontë represents it phonetically in the text. It is worthy of observation that Joseph will take a greater role as a speaker, nearly as surrogate, immediately after Heathcliff flees the house (70). In fact it is Joseph announces his departure.

7. Heathcliff though is still marked by the motif of articulation and interpretation in this passage, as he looks at Catherine with “…a look of hatred unless he has a most perverse set of facial muscles what will not, like those of other people, interpret the language of the soul” (10). It sits like a symptom at the surface of a now apparently domesticated space.

8. Within Lockwood’s past tense retelling Cathy’s present tense first person (itself containing past tense narrative) breaks through. This foreshadows her material intrusion as a ghost.

9. That which  is represented as repressed in this kernel of nested blank space, Cathy and Heathcliff’s union upon the exterior, most encompassing and marginal element, the moors, is characteristic of recursive, möbius-like space. The most internal is external. It can be argued that this spatial trait also presents itself temporally, wherein a repressed “past”-depicted in a scene-is pre-posited to foreground the meanings of the present and a future, looping back to the “moment”. Brontë is doing just such a pre-positing in this sacred space of the oak bed.

10. One can say that the narrative of the dream is both absurd in content and plainly told. It allows one to feel the repetitions and violence of moral instruction placed upon the children of the house, and places with the sacred space of the oaken case not just the intimacy of two souls, but also the discourse of rebuke, against which they contend. Their story is literally marginalized in their own space, and the length of the dream works to crowd out Cathy’s own testament.  

11. Or Title Plate, Prima Parte, State IV, cover

12. ‘Come in! come in!’ he sobbed. ‘Cathy, do come. Oh do-once more! Oh! My heart’s darling! hear me this time, Catherine, at last!'” (24); “..,he did not proceed to his ordinary chamber, but turned into that with the panelled bed” (283).

Works Cited

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. 1850. Barnes and Noble paperback edition. Barnes and Noble Inc, 1993.

Piranesi, Giovanni. Piranesi: Early Architectural Fantasies: A Catalogue Raísonné of the Etchings. Ed Andrew Robison. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986.

The Oneirics of Cash

Infinite ThØught wrote:

“Discussing money is like talking about dreams; nauseating and boring in equal measures, because, on many levels, rather important. The very material consequences of the real abstractions of money (and dreams) conflict with our self-perception and those of people around us: ‘I am not the number represented by my bank balance, I am a free man!’ The way money both allows you to do certain things and prevents you from doing others forces us to become certain kinds of people.”

One wonders if capital were taken to be like dreaming, if despite its banality and force it would help us understand its brutality as a function (and not just a reflection). We understand that dreams may help us be, process who we be, but do we understand that money does this as well? The pharmaceutical of cash. I believe Woody Allen said something like, “money just allows you to be yourself, which in most cases is a tragedy” (or if he didn’t say it, he should have). There is a sense in which the approach to capital needs to be one like the approach to dreaming. It varies between the theory of pure neurological randomness, the light-sparks of the day,  to profound structural signification. But neither must we be jabbed awake so as ever to keep our eyes peeled, dreamless, nor should we be remotely artificed into wider and wider thin-scapes of indulged apparition: however canned the laughter and the typescript of our economies, they do wear a grove. If Kapital is brutal and fast, it is then a perfunctory brutality and speed. In depth we must wade down into its waters. Dreaming is an intention, however oblique. A practice. An art. Neither to be abandoned, nor absconded with.

Spinoza and Hooke’s Micrographia: The minascule made Large

Look at Robert Hooke’s incredible, and conception-changing Micrographia (1664). And see it as if you are looking at the very book with excellent viewing software, at Turning the Pages Online (click “Turn The Pages”). This book must have struck one as if from another planet. See the overleafs open up into the most extraordinary illustrations of the smallest of things. It was the 3D, Surround Sound, epic film of its time.


As wiki writes of it:

Hooke most famously describes a fly’s eye and a plant cell (where he coined that term because plant cells, which are walled, reminded him of a monk’s quarters). Known for its spectacular copperplate engravings of the miniature world, particularly its fold-out plates of insects, the text itself reinforces the tremendous power of the new microscope. The plates of insects fold out to be larger than the large folio itself, the engraving of the louse in particular folding out to four times the size of the book. Although the book is most known for foregrounding the power of the microscope, Micrographia also describes distant planetary bodies, the wave theory of light, the organic origin of fossils, and various other philosophical and scientific interests of its author

Published under the aegis of The Royal Society, the popularity of the book helped further the society’s image and mission of being “the” scientifically progressive organization of London. Micrographia also focused attention on the miniature world, capturing the public’s imagination in a radically new way. This impact is illustrated by Samuel Pepys’ reaction upon completing the tome: “the most ingenious book that I ever read in my life.

This is the book that Oldenburg speaks of when he writes Spinoza about his hope that English booksellers will soon be able to send copies of various important books (the Second Anglo-Dutch War had interrupted commerse):

There has appeared a notable treatise on sixty microscopic observations, where there are many bold but philosophical assertions, that is, in accordance with mechanical principles (April 28th, 1665)

Spinoza answers in May, regarding his new talks with Christiaan Huygens, (it is unclear if he has just met him, or if Spinoza is answering in a condensed fashion, having not mentioned to Oldenburg this relationship before – he may even have known him since the summer of ’64 [letter 30A:”…I know that about a year ago he told me”]):

The book on microscopic observations is also in Huygens’ possession, but, unless I am mistaken, it is in English. He has told me wonderful things about these microscopes, and also about certain telescopes in Italy (letter 26).

Several prospective questions arise here. As mentioned, we are unsure if Spinoza has just met Huygens (Nadler brings up a counter argument beside the one that I suggest), so we cannot say if Spinoza was able to look at the book at the Huygens estate. At this point he seems only to have heard of it, but this may even be a polite deferment. If Spinoza did visit the estate and looked at its pages one certainly can imagine its impact upon the lens-grinder. He must have been mystified and pleased. There is a very good chance that its viewing set off a change in Spinoza’s thinking about his lenses, optics and the world, for by letter 32 in late November Spinoza is making metaphysical analogies that seem to appeal to microscopic observations, the “tiny worm living in blood”¹. This seems to suggest that somewhere in the summer of 1665 Spinoza became more focused on both the telescopic and the microscopic uses of lenses. Years later, after much experimentation, Huygens would finally admit that Spinoza was right that the smallest of lenses were best for microscopic viewing. Nadler suggests, via Klever, that Spinoza had a reputation for his telescopes and lenses as early as 1661, (“Borch’s Diary”, from A Life 182). Whether Spinoza in this summer decided to make new observations, or had already been making them, or if there were microscopes at Huygens’ estate, we cannot know.

Whether Spinoza was working with microscopes or not, the presence of the Micrographia at the Huygens estate, the likelihood that Spinoza would have seen its breath-taking layout (not to mention the possibility that Hooke’s generous and detailed description of how he made his lenses by a thread of glass was relayed to him), combined with Huygens own experiments with lens designs, lens lathes, and spherical aberration at the time, the summer of 1665 must have had a concerted conceptual and imaginative impact on Spinoza’s thinking and practices.

1. There is scientific context for the imagine of worms in blood: The “dust” on old cheese was found to be not dust at all but little animals, and swarms of minute worms were discovered tumbling about in vinager (Fontana 1646, Borel 1656, Kircher 1646). Kircher announced that the blood of fever victims also teemed with worms, and there was talk that they infested sores and lurked in the pustules of smallpox and scabies. (Ruestow, 38).




Also featured at Turning The Pages On-line: Ambroise Paré’s Oeuvres; Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium and Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica

Martha Nussbaum and Hecuba: The Living Latticework of Ethics

Polyxena (much welcoming) and the Chorus

University of Chicago professor, Martha Nussbaum, speaks emotionally and clearly about the tender nature of ethical binding, “we are more like a plant, than a gem”, as she summons up the lessons from Euripedes’s play. She communicates in body and mind the tenuous connections which make up our sense-making dimensions of the world, the fast and terror-ible filaments which communicate our living nature: ethos.

[from grundlegung, from The Brooks Blog]

We can become shattered and animalized, when the bodily components of our trust become broken. And goodness is the openness to this kind of risk. But Nussbaum’s personal appeal, “I wake up at night thinking of Euripedes’ Hecuba…” calls to mind the haunting moment wherein the chorus women speak as one woman, a conflation of plural and first persons: she readies herself for bed, unbeknowingly perched on the destruction all that makes sense, in the towers of Ilium. This is the scene of two that “haunt” me from the play:

I, my curls in twisting
Turbans was rhythming,
Out from golden mirrors gazing
Into the bottomless rays,
That readied I might fall into bed,
But up a roar rose in the city.  (922-927)

How this is the tension of Iium in all the twistings that satisfy and pacify, golden, and the then discordant escalation that amplifies and signals. The “I” collapses into a single horrifying moment.

Secondly, there is the report of Talthybius, to Hecuba, of the kind of death that Polyxena her beautiful daughter suffered, when the Greeks had commended that she be put to death as a sacrifice on the tomb of Achilles so as to sate his ghost (the ghost of their inequities):

And when she heard the word of commanders
Loosening the cloth from the peak of the shoulder
She tore it to the hollow of her ribs, navel-low,
And showed her breast, as lovely as a goddess’
Statue. Then sinking to her knees she spoke these
Words of surpassing bravery: “Here young man, if
It is my breast you want to strike, strike here… (556-565)

Apart from Nussbaum’s sensitive reading of the fragility of ethical behavior I think stands these two limits of the feminine body, that which is recursively wound in peace, the self-enjoyment which circulates upon its own, with an infinitesimal relationship to the depth of rays and their mirror in its own gaze (an operation which is variously projected upon the woman, yet in fact is polyvalent);

but also, unlike the shattered nature of Hecuba’s fate, her dog-becoming – and I disagree that becoming-animal is necessarily a “shattering”, as it is also a potentiating of the body, a fractaling – there is Polyxena’s display of the body in defiance, the abject resistance to order, subverting the very sexualized mechanism of a “breast”, making oneself a site of protest and eruption. This a core Greek Tragedy notion. In this way, the surface volume of the fragility that Nussbaum points out touches at its surface, the Body Without Organs, as how Deleuze and Guattari may have conceived it. The surface of the human is inhuman, there, the breast and the mirror meet.

If we are more like a plant than a gem, then perhaps we are more like a rhizome than a tree.


The Hockney-Falco Thesis: New Space

Ever Wonder How They Made that Fabric So Real?


I must write briefly here, but highly recommended is artist David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. I’ve had it for a few months as part of my investigation into Spinoza and lenses, but only today did I enter it. It enters like a film. First, it is a gorgeous book, filled which large format, glossy copies and enlarged details of some of the greatest painted images in Western History, (at a fairly inexpensive price). Second, is just the investigative and painterly-minded search that Hockney conducts. Apart from its value as a historical thesis (is it correct or not?), the simple following of an intuition and visual perspicuity across the centuries is invigorating in the most mental of senses. One sees through the track-finding eyes of a man who stakes his claim as a seer of images. But thirdly, and most importantly, is the intrusion of the lens and mirror upon the growing rational scene of Dutch thinking and art. Hockney documents a literal refiguration of space, the construction of new internal and aesthetic relations sprung up from the capacities of a found realist, representational technique. Not only are the possible technes of detail capture outlined and exhibited, but these technical discoveries are nuanced by Hockney to the degree that the restrictions and distortions that accompany the machine of a lens and mirror are made evident. As a space and figuration evolved, it was no longer simply a matter of capture or exactness, in expression, but the artist at that time had to synthesize his vision to his lens/mirror, synergistically, along with the newly imposed compositional restraints. The lens/mirror became a part of the eye-hand-brush-palette-easel-model-light source assemblage, creating a recursive event. As such there was, if Hockney is correct, such profusion of lens and mirror in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century, especially within the field of craft and aesthetic, one really cannot underplay the relation between these devices (and their compositional, experiential characteristics) and the philosophical conceptions of representation and perception that were one the rise. To represent was to focus.

Details of the Hockney-Falco Thesis can be found here, and wikiAlso Philip Steadman’s optical study of Vermeer Vermeer’s Camera, is painstakingly accurate and of very good use. Perhaps, for me, a conclusion will follow as to how this lens/mirror relation to aesthetic production helped shape the ideas of Spinoza, the lens-maker.

Ever Wonder How Space Could Be So Stablized by Detail, But Still Could Wobble?

Milton’s Sword of the Angel and the 1664 Comet

As it relates to Spinoza and the Caliban Question below, there is an illumination of the special place the comet of the winter of 1664 played in the political, philosophical and poetic minds of that time. It is thought that Milton had this harbinger light in mind when he wrote of the sword of the “hastning Angel” who ushered out Eve and Adam from the Garden, in the last lines ending the extraordinary poem. Conceivably finished with the comet of ’64 burning still in the sky, Milton’s Paradise Lost, in that it harkens to the soterial and Spinoza’s Ethica stand in particular relation, as mediations on the historically redemptive. I have not seen a study that puts these two together, but should like to.

Th’ Archangel stood, and from the other Hill
To thir fixt Station, all in bright array
The Cherubim descended; on the ground
Gliding meteorous, as Ev’ning Mist
Ris’n from a River o’re the marish glides, [ 630 ]
And gathers ground fast at the Labourers heel
Homeward returning. High in Front advanc’t,
The brandisht Sword of God before them blaz’d
Fierce as a Comet
; which with torrid heat,
And vapour as the Libyan Air adust, [ 635 ]
Began to parch that temperate Clime; whereat
In either hand the hastning Angel caught
Our lingring Parents, and to th’ Eastern Gate
Led them direct, and down the Cliff as fast
To the subjected Plaine; then disappeer’d. [ 640 ]
They looking back, all th’ Eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late thir happie seat,
Wav’d over by that flaming Brand, the Gate
With dreadful Faces throng’d and fierie Armes:
Som natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon; [ 645 ]
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.

Paradise Lost

Blakes’ watercolor illustration, more than a 100 years later, brings this to light:


What is the Registry of Song?

Or, to put it another way: What is the ethical standing of the affective capacities which get put into effect in HAL’s regressive singing of “Daisy Bell”?

HAL 9000

The Intelligence of Innocence and What Makes Things Real

The “Open the pod bay doors please HAL” sequence

I watched 2001: A Space Odysseyfor the first time in sometime the other night. And a few thoughts rose to mind. There is of course the incredible personality dominance of HAL in the film, the unforgettable synthetic intelligence, and his schizophrenic lapse into homicidal clarity, brought on by the conflict of his two knowledges: a surface knowledged of the mission, and an unconscious knowledge which became an imperative, “secrecy”. It has been explained that HAL killed the crew as a logical function of this need for secrecy. No crew, no secrets.

This has obvious relevance for a criticism of totalitarian states, and power structures, those which circulate with a near-empty recursion of knowledge, but there is something more that struck me, in this viewing. (This film was the first film that I ever saw in a movie theatre I believe, and I was probably about 4 years old. So it leaves something of an Ur-print.) 


What really moved me was the nature of the Kubrick synthesis of technology and humanization, in particular the sequence where in Dave takes the pod out to retrieve the body of Poole, who we have just seen spasmodically hurled into space, until his limbs finally relent, and he eases into the void, a sculptural figure. What is remarkable, as Poole becomes aetheticized, as his “picture making mechanism” is cinematically evacuated, is the extraordinary delicacy with which the pod comes to his body. This emblematically human moment, the retrieval of a loved one’s corpse, the most irrational, yet powerful of acts, is accomplished via the mechanism. Kubrick and Usworth’s camera capture an incredible delicacy as the weightless body rolls into the otherwise crustacean-like pincher of the pod. This is maternal.

 What is significant to my point is that though the pod is behaving most humanly, what ensues is a robotic chess-match between Dave and HAL, already foreshadowed. Dave strategizes from within his mechanical sphere of action, he speaks with impeccable civility, adding the required “please” to his requests. The techniques of his technology, express, rather than retard his humanity, but he is operating from a logical core. Far from this being a 2001 that critiques technology, it is one that appraises it, as human. Where the humanity ends and the technique begins is not clear, in fact at times they are inverted, with humanity coming out from technique (lip-reading). There simply are techniques of the soul which HAL simply has not mastered yet. HAL at the same time presents the horizon of infinite and collapsed knowing (in which there is no “error”) but also the retarded and childlike, pre-reflective state in which error is not known. He is, like we are all, the baby monolith.

If we are going to let HAL and the mothership stand for a totalitarian, technocratic State, we will learn that the mind of such a State is childlike, possessing an innocence of the world, possessed in its purity of its knowing (and attendant to a logical paranoia). We have, for instance in the Tiananmen moment pictured above, with the pod holding the murderous consequence up to the monolithic mothership, the confrontation of the moral adult with the child-like structure possessing the capacities of a sheer and systematic brutality. What Kubrick’s point is though, I think, is that technology itself is in a kind of infancy, and as it matures, it becomes synonymous with, and undifferentiated from human action itself. Humanty in a sense is made up of our techniques. We see a bit of this in the scene in the lunar shuttle, as Heywood Floyd and the crew select artificial sandwiches.

{a dialogue apparently not in the original screenplay]

Dr. Floyd: What’s that? Chicken? 

Dr. Bill Michaels: Something like that. Tastes the same anyway. [laughter]

Other Pilot: Any Ham?

Dr. Bill Michaels: [looking] Ham, Ham, Ham, Ham…

Dr Floyd: Looks pretty good.

Dr. Bill Michaels: They’re getting better at it all the time.

Aside from the obvious, ironic tone with which everyone seems to be infected, an incipient overly optimistic talk, toeing the party line of unquestionable enthusiasm, there is the sense that indeed the food, just like HAL’s computer intelligence, IS approaching what is REAL, that is, the capacities to become synonymous with, and therefore indistinguishable from that which comes from a different process of assemblage. A ham sandwich not only is a ham sandwich by any other name, but by any other process. Its processes are capable of being subsumed.

What matters here is that technology is not impediment, but a genic pathway, a matrixing of human capacities, each of which have to understood to be in their infancy, much as man is seen in this way. As The technology of social organization which HAL is supposed to represent, stands in for our own capacities. We too, as we approach the infinite, asymptotic line, enter into brutalities and innocences which require moral adjustments. And these moral adjustments are hand and glove to the technologies themselves, in which technologies play a necessary part (hence, the pod carries out the most intimate of actions, the embrace of a dead loved one). In fact, technology expresses and manifests our most human shore. When we come to understand that the man who stood before the line of tanks (apparently an historical event that contemporary China young adults do not know happened), this was not best seen as a man positioning himself against men-in-tanks assemblage, a lone fleshly, individual and brave consciousness, but rather it was and is, a man-in-camera assemblage vs a men-in-tanks assemblage, a materiality put into assemblage whose vectors are continually being discovered.

There certainly is room here for a Lacanian style Big Other take on HAL and the mothership, the conscionable moment when the excluded individual presents the repressed remains to the Desire of the Other, and finds its airless way back into the system to subvert it from its blind spot. I think that there are very good reasons to suppose that such a “logic” does well to describe a certain circulation of desire and affect which regulates the acquistion of, and attendence to, knowledge. There is an investment in circulation. But such a dialectic does not see what is more, how there is an infancy and childhood to capacities to act, to technologies, as those capacities grow into our own extensions of what is Real. As as Real, the facts of the matter (no matter their transparency), compiled into knowing and perceptive bodies, which are necessarily joined in assemblage even to those that they oppose.

To add a last thought. This joining is not just a homogenization under a new logic, but rather are realistically read as a braiding of techniques, a communication of affects across bounds which resists any literalization. There is an intimacy with which the pod grasps the corpse, and an intimacy with which HAL recalls his eariliest song. The dialectic, if there really is one, is the passing of the polyphonous of technology into the binary of identities, for the sake of a polyphony of returns.

The imagination justifies its confused and indeterminate state by moulding itself in the natural potentia, in the development and increase of human operari. Therefore two levels can be identified: first a static level on which the imagination proposes a partial but positive definition of its own contents and a second, dynamic level on which the movement and effects of the imagination are validated as a function of the contitution of the world.

Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly

Panthea’s Jewel

Xenophon, Cyropaedia 6.4.2

 “And Abradatas’s chariot with its four poles and eight horses was adorned most handsomely; and when he came to put on his linen corselet, such as they used in his country, Panthea brought him one of gold, also a helmet, arm-pieces, broad bracelets for his wrists–all of gold–and a purple tunic that hung down in folds to his feet, and a helmet-plume of hyacinth dye. All these she had had made without her husband’s knowledge, taking the measure for them from his armour. [3]  And when he saw them he was astonished and turning to Panthea, he asked: “Tell me, wife, you did not break your own jewels to pieces, did you, to have this armour made for me?”


    “No, by Zeus,” answered Panthea, “at any rate, not my most precious jewel; for you, if you appear to others as you seem to me, shall be my noblest jewel.”


    With these words, she began to put the armour on him, and though she tried to conceal them, the tears stole down her cheeks.”




 A sister post, to the one below. Both problematic, and enhancing. We break to decorate what cannot be broken.