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Posts Tagged ‘Surrealism

“Why should things be easy to understand?”*…

 

Lee-Smolin_2K_02

 

The universe is kind of an impossible object. It has an inside but no outside; it’s a one-sided coin. This Möbius architecture presents a unique challenge for cosmologists, who find themselves in the awkward position of being stuck inside the very system they’re trying to comprehend.

It’s a situation that Lee Smolin has been thinking about for most of his career. A physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, Smolin works at the knotty intersection of quantum mechanics, relativity and cosmology. Don’t let his soft voice and quiet demeanor fool you — he’s known as a rebellious thinker and has always followed his own path. In the 1960s Smolin dropped out of high school, played in a rock band called Ideoplastos, and published an underground newspaper. Wanting to build geodesic domes like R. Buckminster Fuller, Smolin taught himself advanced mathematics — the same kind of math, it turned out, that you need to play with Einstein’s equations of general relativity. The moment he realized this was the moment he became a physicist. He studied at Harvard University and took a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, eventually becoming a founding faculty member at the Perimeter Institute.

“Perimeter,” in fact, is the perfect word to describe Smolin’s place near the boundary of mainstream physics. When most physicists dived headfirst into string theory, Smolin played a key role in working out the competing theory of loop quantum gravity. When most physicists said that the laws of physics are immutable, he said they evolve according to a kind of cosmic Darwinism. When most physicists said that time is an illusion, Smolin insisted that it’s real.

Smolin often finds himself inspired by conversations with biologists, economists, sculptors, playwrights, musicians and political theorists. But he finds his biggest inspiration, perhaps, in philosophy — particularly in the work of the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, active in the 17th and 18th centuries, who along with Isaac Newton invented calculus. Leibniz argued (against Newton) that there’s no fixed backdrop to the universe, no “stuff” of space; space is just a handy way of describing relationships. This relational framework captured Smolin’s imagination, as did Leibniz’s enigmatic text The Monadology, in which Leibniz suggests that the world’s fundamental ingredient is the “monad,” a kind of atom of reality, with each monad representing a unique view of the whole universe. It’s a concept that informs Smolin’s latest work as he attempts to build reality out of viewpoints, each one a partial perspective on a dynamically evolving universe. A universe as seen from the inside…

Lee Smolin explains his radical idea for how to understand an object with no exterior–imagine it built bit-by-bit from relationships between events: “How to Understand the Universe When You’re Stuck Inside of It.”

* Thomas Pynchon

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As we muse on monads, we might send delightful birthday greetings to Fernando Arrabal Terán; he was born on this date in 1932.  A playwright, screenwriter, film director, novelist, and poet, Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor (inspired by the god Pan).

Early in his career, he spent three years as a member of André Breton’s surrealist group and was a friend of Andy Warhol and Tristan Tzara.  Later (in 1990), he was elected Transcendent Satrap of the Collège de  ‘pataphysique (following such predecessors as Marcel Duchamp, Eugène Ionesco, Man Ray, Boris Vian, Dario Fo, Umberto Eco, and Jean Baudrillard).

And throughout, he was very productive: Arrabal has directed seven full-length feature films and has published over 100 plays; 14 novels; 800 poetry collections, chapbooks, and artists’ books; several essays; and his notorious “Letter to General Franco” during the dictator’s lifetime.  His complete plays have been published, in multiple languages, in a two-volume edition totaling over two thousand pages. The New York Times theater critic Mel Gussow has called Arrabal the last survivor among the “three avatars of modernism.”

200px-Fernando_Arrabal,_2012 source

 

 

Written by LW

August 11, 2019 at 1:01 am

“What is admirable about the fantastic is that there is no longer anything fantastic: there is only the real.”*…

 

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“Let’s Put Out the Light and Rekindle the Fire!,” from La Silhouette, June 24, 1830

 

The poet Charles Baudelaire greatly admired the graphic arts, writing several essays about the major caricaturists and illustrators of his day. He found something positive to say about each of them with one exception, the artist Jean-Ignace-Isidore Gérard, known simply as Grandville (1803–1847). And yet, despite Baudelaire’s antipathy, Grandville is arguably the most imaginative graphic artist of the nineteenth century, as well as the most influential on subsequent generations. Baudelaire was well aware of Grandville’s gifts, but his aversion was that of a true classicist:

There are superficial people whom Grandville amuses, but as for me, he frightens me. When I enter into Grandville’s work, I feel a certain discomfort, like in an apartment where disorder is systematically organized, where bizarre cornices rest on the floor, where paintings seem distorted by an optic lens, where objects are deformed by being shoved together at odd angles, where furniture has its feet in the air, and where drawers push in instead of pulling out.

Baudelaire’s comments were perceptive: these are the very characteristics that, while making him uncomfortable, appealed to the next century’s surrealist artists and writers who saw in Grandville a kindred spirit who shared their interest in the uncanny, in the dream state, and in the world of imagination…

With its dreamlike inversions and kaleidoscopic cast of anthropomorphic objects, animals, and plants, the world of French artist J. J. Grandville is at once both delightful and disquieting. Patricia Mainardi explores the unique work of this 19th-century illustrator now recognized as a major precursor and inspiration to the Surrealist movement: “Grandville, Visions, and Dreams.”

* André Breton

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As we revel in the revolutionary, we might send finely-drawn birthday greetings to Giovanni Battista (also Giambattista) Piranesi; he was born on this date in 1720.  An Italian artist, he is best known for his etchings of Rome and of fictitious and atmospheric “prisons” (Le Carceri d’Invenzione).  The latter, with their Kafkaesque, Escher-like distortions, influenced Romanticism and perhaps especially Surrealism.

Carceri Plate VII – “The Drawbridge”

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Self-portrait

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Written by LW

October 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I have a sweater obsession, I guess”*…

 

More at: “This guy makes sweaters of places and then takes pictures of himself wearing the sweaters at those places.”

* Drake

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As we perl one, knit two, we might send challenging birthday greetings to Francis Picabia; he was born (Francis-Marie Martinez de Picabia) on this date in 1879.  A French avant-garde painter, poet and typographist, Picabia experimented with Impressionism and Pointillism before becoming a Cubist. He then became one of the early major figures of the Dada movement in the United States and in France, and was later briefly associated with Surrealism.

See his work at the major retrospective now hung at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and on their web site.

Francis Picabia, 1919, inside Danse de Saint-Guy

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Written by LW

January 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train”*…

 

As part of its ongoing overhaul, the New York Public Library has installed a very clever conveyer train that moves research materials from the expanded Milstein Stacks underneath Bryant Park to the main Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Each adorably bright red car is able to travel either horizontally or vertically using conveyor rails embedded throughout the library, efficiently delivering its contents directly to library staff…

More on the system, which begins operating this week, at Laughing Squid’s “An Adorable Red Train That Delivers Books From Storage to the Main Branch of the NY Public Library” (and at Boing Boing, which is the source of the photo above).

* Charles Barkley

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As we check it out, we might send finely-drawn birthday greetings to Giovanni Battista (also Giambattista) Piranesi; he was born on this date in 1720.  An Italian artist, he is best known for his etchings of Rome and of fictitious and atmospheric “prisons” (Le Carceri d’Invenzione).  The latter, with their Kafkaesque, Escher-like distortions, influenced Romanticism & Surrealism.

Carceri Plate VII – “The Drawbridge”

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Self-portrait

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Written by LW

October 4, 2016 at 1:01 am

“If gold rusts, what then can iron do?”*…

 

Austrian designer Klemens Schillinger has created a series of rings that are sized to show the fluctuating price of gold over the past five decades.

Assay the results here and here.

* Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

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As we think twice about all that glitters, we might recall that it was on this date in 1924– four days before the publication of André Breton’s first Surrealist Manifesto— that The Bureau of Surrealist Research, AKA the Centrale Surréaliste or “Bureau of Surrealist Enquiries,” opened in Paris under the direction of Antonin Artaud.  Located at 15 Rue de Grenelle, it was home to a loosely affiliated group of Surrealist writers and artists met, held discussions, and conducted interviews in order to “gather all the information possible related to forms that might express the unconscious activity of the mind.”

Bureau member Man Ray’s photograph of attendees at a 1924 Bureau meeting

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Written by LW

October 11, 2015 at 1:01 am

“In economics, the majority is always wrong”*…

 

“Grumpy Cat,” whose image has flown across the internet– and graced the front page of the Wall Street Journal

One may imagine that economics has little bearing on the more frivolous frontiers of everyday life; but in fact it explains why one consumes so much “animal antics” online and so little Shakespearean seriousness…

Economics sometimes has surprising applications. One example is the Alchian-Allen theorem, an observation that came from a footnote in an economics textbook in the 1960s about how quality demand is affected by transport costs…

The Allen-Alchian theorem explains why places with high-quality produce (Allen and Alchian had in mind apples in Seattle, which is where apples come from in the US) nevertheless do not always get to consume that same high quality (they pointed to the market for apples in New York city, where no apples grow) because of the relative costs faced by consumers in each case (for New York consumers, a high-quality apple, once you account for transportation costs, was actually relatively cheaper than a low-quality apple compared to relative prices in Seattle). Hence the market sent the high-quality apples to New York.

You’re still with me? It’s all about relative costs. When you move something, or impose any fixed cost, the higher-quality item always wins, because it now has a lower relative cost compared to the lower-quality item.

The interesting idea is that this also applies in reverse – namely when we remove a fixed cost. The internet does this: it removes a cost of transport, and it does so equally for high quality and low quality content. Following the Allen-Alchian theorem, this should mean the opposite. Low-quality items are now relatively cheaper and high-quality items are now relatively more expensive. This idea was first explained by Tyler Cowen, but the upshot is that the internet is made of cats

The internet lowers the cost of “transport” for every idea, high and low quality alike. It’s the opposite of the apples situation. It means that low quality apples are now relatively cheaper. It means that cats-doing-funny-things is now relatively cheaper than say German Opera. Economics insists that when demand curves look like this we can expect more cat watching, and less German opera watching.

This theorem means that we expect a lower quality, “bittier” consumption to proliferate on the internet (as a technology that lowers transport costs of high-quality and low-quality ideas alike). Which is what we observe. So that’s a win for micro-economic demand theory.

Is this really what’s happened?  Have we all gotten dumber?  Read more– including the arguments, pro and con– at “The internet is made of cats – and you can blame economists“: and read the paper the lays out the “economics of cute” in “The Alchian-Allen Theorem and the Economics of Internet Animals.”

* John Kenneth Galbraith

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As we come to terms with the fact that all our bases are belong to them, we might spare a slightly skewed thought for Giuseppe Arcimboldo; he died on this date in 1593.  An Italian painter best known for creating partraits composed entirely of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books, he is considered a Mannerist… though he might well be the first Surrealist.  He was certainly cited by many– from Dali through Ocampo to Švankmajer– as an influence.

Arcimboldo’s portrait of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, painted as Vertumnus, the Roman God of the seasons, c. 1590-1

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Self-portrait

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Written by LW

July 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”….

 

From…

I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

to…

There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.

—Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

… American Scholar‘s list of the “Ten Best Sentences” (a list that includes the quote that titles this post, from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice).  The list is offered unadorned, with no explanation of purview nor criteria (no “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” from Marquez?).  Indeed, the site’s picture editor clearly had her own opinion, expressed via her illustration of the article with the photo above– a picture of the typewriter used by William Faulkner, also absent from the list…

But then, that’s the point of any list of this sort: it’s usefully provocative.  And as Roy Peter Clark argues at Poynter, the examples can be instructive.

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As we flirt with our inner Flaubert, we might recall that it was on this date in 1893, in the text of Alfred Jarry’s play Guignol in L’Écho de Paris littéraire illustré, that the term– and the concept of– ‘pataphysics first appeared.  Jarry defined ‘pataphysics (derived from a contracted Greek formation that means “that which is above metaphysics”) as “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.”  Jarry insisted on the inclusion of the apostrophe in the orthography, ‘pataphysique and ‘pataphysics, “to avoid a simple pun”… indeed Jarry’s aim was to compound the puns:  The term pataphysics is a paronym (considered a kind of pun in French) of metaphysics. Since the apostrophe in no way affects the meaning or pronunciation of pataphysics, this spelling of the term is a signal–a sly notation– to the reader, suggesting a variety of puns, among them patte à physique (“physics paw”), pas ta physique (“not your physics”), and pâte à physique (“physics pastry dough”).

Jarry’s concept was resurrected after World War II  with the foundation (in 1948) of The Collège de ‘Pataphysique, a “society committed to learned and inutilious research” (“inutilious” = “useless”).  Its members have included  Raymond Queneau, Eugène Ionesco, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Julien Torma, Roger Shattuck, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, and Marcel Duchamp.

Alfred Jarry

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Written by LW

April 28, 2014 at 1:01 am

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