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Superfluous in Nature

Levin had often noticed in arguments between the most intelligent people that after enormous efforts, an enormous number of logical subtleties and words, the arguers would finally come to the awareness that what they had spent so long struggling to prove to each other had been known to them long, long before, from the beginning of the argument, but that they loved different things and therefore did not want to name what they loved, so as not to be challenged. He had often felt that sometimes during an argument you would understand what your opponent loves, and suddenly come to love the same thing yourself, and agree all at once, and then all reasonings would fall away as superfluous; and sometimes it was the other way round: you would finally say what you yourself love, for the sake of which you are inventing your reasonings, and if you happened to say it well and sincerely, the opponent would suddenly agree and stop arguing. That was the very thing he wanted to say.

—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The Abstruse Language of Vaticinations

The poor herbalist could not know that with these suspicions, even though later disproved, he was confirming Firefly’s prediction when he heard the dispatch from the observatory and interpreted it as announcing an invasion of bats. Not even the seer himself understands his words – and I say this from my own experience. No science is capable of ordering the abstruse language of vaticinations.


Venturing in from the yard, up to the wrought-iron window, and then into the room itself in small wary leaps, looking all ways at once, a tomeguin finch came to peck at the fruit.

—Severo Sarduy, Firefly

A Puff of the Power of Knowing

But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing. And just as every porter wants to have an admirer, so even the proudest of men, the philosopher, supposes that he sees on all sides the eyes of the universe telescopically focused upon his action and thought.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth And Lie In A Nonmoral Sense

Common Processes

Strictly speaking, nothing may be claimed as a natural birthright, since—to digress for a moment—every birthright is a fiction, something we dreamed after straying from a factual world into one fabricated by our heads. For those keeping track, the only rights we have are these: to seek the survival of our individual bodies, to create more bodies like our own, and to know that everyone’s body will perish through a process of corruption or mortal trauma. (This is presuming that one has been brought to term and has survived to a certain age, neither being a natural birthright. Rigorously considered, our only natural birthright is to die.) No other rights have been allocated to us except, to repeat with emphasis, as fabrications. The divine right of kings may now be acknowledged as such a fabrication—a falsified permit for prideful dementia and arbitrary mayhem. The unalienable rights of certain people, however, seemingly remain current: whether observed or violated, somehow we believe they are not fabrications because an old document says they are real. Miserly or munificent as a given right may appear, it denotes no more than the right of way warranted by a traffic light, which does not mean you have the right to drive free of vehicular mishaps. Ask any paramedic.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

Consciousness in Degrees of Enfoldment and Unfoldment in All Matter

Looked at another way, the ability of consciousness to shift from one entire reality to another suggests that the usually inviolate rule that fire burns human flesh may only be one program in the cosmic computer, but a program that has been repeated so often it has become one of nature’s habits. As has been mentioned, according to the holographic idea, matter is also a kind of habit and is constantly born anew out of the implicate, just as the shape of a fountain is created anew out of the constant flow of water that gives it form. Peat humorously refers to the repetitious nature of this process as one of the universe’s neuroses. “When you have a neurosis you tend to repeat the same pattern in your life, or do the same action, as if there’s a memory built up and the thing is stuck with that,” he says. “I tend to think things like chairs and tables are like that also. They’re a sort of material neurosis, a repetition. But there is something subtler going on, a constant enfolding and unfolding. In this sense chairs and tables are just habits in this flux, but the flux is the reality, even if we tend only to see the habit.

—Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe

His Gigantic Shadow Thrown on a Cloud

The ring was lifted from below and jerked off the hook. Barbarossa’s ring lay at their feet. “Long live Italy!” shouted Andrea. throwing his hat into the air. Nobody said a word. Andrea picked up the ring, handed it to the magistrate and said: “Keep this ring in memory of me and this day, on which you did me a wrong.” He seized Gertrude’s hand and kissed it; climbed up the mountain and disappeared; was seen again and vanished in a cloud. After a while he reappeared, high above them; but this time it was merely his gigantic shadow thrown on a cloud. And there he stood, shaking a threatening fist at the village. “That was Satan himself,” said the colonel. “No, it was an Italian,” said the postmaster.


“What we have heard on this commemoration day seems to prove that the deeds of our forefathers have been engulfed in the ocean of time. One thing swims on the surface, another sinks to the bottom. Here we are sitting like the shadows of our former selves, and to you, who are alive, we must remain shadows. … Put out the lights!”

—August Strindberg, In Midsummer Days And Other Tales

In a Strange, Distorted Relation to the World

The witty woman, Madame, chooses for her carnival costume one which ingeniously reveals something in her spirit or heart which the conventions of her everyday life conceal; and when she puts on the hideous long-nosed Venetian mask, she tells us, not only that she has a classic nose behind it, but that she has much more, and may well be adored for things other than her mere beauty. So speaketh the Arbiter of the masquerade: ‘By thy mask I shall know thee.’


“There are traditions still,” he went on, “from le Grand Monarque and le Grand Siècle. But no human being with a feeling for greatness can possibly believe that the God who created the stars, the sea, and the desert, the poet Homer and the giraffe, is the same God who is now making, and upholding, the King of Belgium, the Poetical School of Schwaben, and the moral ideas of our day. We two may at last speak about it. We are serving Louis Philippe, a human God, much as the King of France is a bourgeois King.”

—Isak Dinesen, “The Deluge at Norderney”

Responsive Reconfiguration

Soon people will not be able to watch films like Theo Angelopoulos’s Ulysses’ Gaze or to read Henry James because they will not have the concentration to get from one interminable scene or sentence to the next. The time when I might have been able to read late-period Henry James has passed and because I have not read late-period Henry James I am in no position to say what harm has been done to my sensibility by not having done so. But I do know that if I had not seen Stalker in my early twenties my responsiveness to the world would have been radically diminished. As for Ulysses’ Gaze, in spite of the fact that it starred an implausible Harvey Keitel, it was another nail in the coffin of European art cinema (a coffin, cynics would say, made up almost entirely of nails), opening the floodgates to everything that was not art because anything seemed preferable to having to sit through a film like that, especially since the whole thing could be boiled down, anyway, to a single still photograph—a statue of Lenin gliding along the Danube on a barge, a petrified Pharaoh floating down the Nile of history—by Josef Koudelka.


Writer comes scurrying back like a whupped dog, demanding to know who told him to stop. Stalker? No. Professor? Not him either. It’s your own fear, Professor tells him. You’re too frightened to go on so you invent a voice telling you to stop. That sounds about right, but the thing about the Zone is that it’s always subtly reconfiguring itself according to your thoughts and expectations. You want it to seem ordinary? It’s ordinary—or is it? And at that moment something occurs to make you think maybe it’s not ordinary, whereupon it does something briefly extraordinary. (Or does it?) Whereupon it becomes quite ordinary again. The Zone manifests itself even as it withholds itself—and vice versa.

—Geoff Dyer, Zona

As Many Desires in the Will as Atoms in an Hour

Memory or thinking of any creature that ever God made, or of any of their deeds either, it is a manner of ghostly light: for the eye of thy soul is opened on it and even fixed thereupon, as the eye of a shooter is upon the prick that he shooteth to.

—Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing

Material Opposition between Functionality and Uselessness

The flatness of today’s standard construction is strengthened by a weakened sense of materiality. Natural materials – stone, brick and wood – allow our vision to penetrate their surfaces and enable us to become convinced of the veracity of matter. Natural materials express their age, as well as the story of their origins and their history of human use. all matter exists in the continuum of time; the patina of wear adds the enriching experience of time to the materials of construction. But the machine-made materials of today – scaleless sheets of glass, enamelled metals and synthetic plastics – tend to present their unyielding surfaces to the eye without conveying their material essence or age. Buildings of this technological era usually deliberately aim at ageless perfection, and they do not incorporate the dimension of time, or the unavoidable and mentally significant processes of aging. this fear of the traces of wear and age is related to our fear of death.

The haptic experience seems to be penetrating the ocular regime again through the tactile presence of modern visual imagery. In a music video, for instance, or the layered contemporary urban transparency, we cannot halt the flow of images for analytic observation; instead we have to appreciate it as an enhanced haptic sensation, rather like a swimmer senses the flow of water against his/her skin.

I confront the city with my body; my legs measure the length of the arcade and the width of the square; my gaze unconsciously projects my body onto the facade of the cathedral, where it roams over the mouldings and contours, sensing the size of recesses and projections; my body weight meets the mass of the cathedral door, and my hand grasps the door pull as I enter the dark void behind. I experience myself in the city, and the city exists through my embodied experience. the city and my body supplement and define each other. I dwell in the city and the city dwells in me.

In Merleau-ponty’s own words, ‘Our own body is in the world as the heart is in the organism: it keeps the visible spectacle constantly alive, it breathes life into it and sustains it inwardly, and with it forms a system’; and ‘[s]ensory experience is unstable and alien to natural perception, which we achieve with our whole body all at once, and which opens on a world of interacting senses.

The eyes want to collaborate with the other senses. all the senses, including vision, can be regarded as extensions of the sense of touch – as specialisations of the skin. they define the interface between the skin and the environment – between the opaque interiority of the body and the exteriority of the world.

—Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin