The Colour of Disenchantment

Konrad Klapcheck

“The fear that the man of today feels towards the enormous success of a science, that seems more suited to destroying the world than to helping humanity achieve a better life, is consistent with the Goethean critique.”
Kurt Goldstein (Concerning Goethe’s approach to the theory of colour, Journal of Individual Psychology 15)

“…a truly Nazified biology and psychology must be able to accommodate the values of discipline and order inherent to the fuhrer principle no less than it embraced the values of wholeness inherent to volkisch thinking. And here is where the concept of Gestalt stepped in as a seemingly ideal analogue: a form of natural order that, like the Fuhrer, had emerged out of the whole but then, in turn, controlled that whole.”
Anne Harrington (Reenchanted Science_ Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler)

“Here I would like to make a general observation concerning the nature of philosophical problems. Lack of clarity in philosophy is tormenting. It is felt as shameful. We feel: we do not know our way about where we should know our way about. And nevertheless it isn’t so. We can get along very well without these distinctions and without knowing our way about here.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein (Remarks on Colour)

“It is the best possible sign of a color when nobody who sees it knows what to call it.”
John Ruskin (On Colour, 1859)

The appropriation of Gestalt thinking, and Goethe, even, by Nazi ideology, is a fascinating topic that has relevance to the contemporary magical thinking (a form of appropriating science) involved in both the Covid event and the climate discourse. It seems as if nearly all topics today are subsumed by some aspect of science, or beliefs in science. Nearly everything, even culture, is framed by science. But where the ‘Volksich’ mythology of National Socialism borrowed heavily from Holistic writings (changing it, of course) the contemporary science/magic template is hugely, or almost exclusively, mechanistic and instrumental.

A new show on network TV (“Next“) about AI run amuck, has a line in the pilot episode, and I paraphrase, “the smartest guys out there, Musk, Gates, all of them see the future in AI”.

The smartest guys out there.

Carmela Gross

I wrote a piece recently that touched on Hollywood. That the Covid fears were taking place in a Universe manufactured by Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams. And to return to that for a second; Anne Harrington has an interesting book on Compassion that compares Tibetan Buddhism with western science.

“The naturalizing of the human mind meant not only that we must doubt our own capacity for compassion; it also meant that we must doubt that there was any larger compassionate principle operating in Reality as a whole.”
Anne Harrington (Visions of Compassion)

What she is talking about is the shift in western (American in particular) values, the Christian values in play, around the end of the 19th century. That the source of sin migrated from the Garden of Eden to a concept of Nature — one that was acutely generalized and rather opaque. This new concept of an indifferent nature, of which man was a part, also coincided with Darwin, and with a latent (later to be realized) sense of man as ruthless and selfish. (cue Ayn Rand and Richard Dawkins).

Richard Bosman

“This intensification of militaristic language in the literature was accompanied by an increasing explicit tendency to superimpose the terms of the holistic struggle against mechanism onto the idea of a racial struggle between Germans and Jews,a conceit that had been popularized in the early decades of the century by people like Chamberlain and subsequently adopted by Rosenberg and Hitler himself. The rhetoric used here went beyond the familiar strategy of denouncing this or that example of “Jewish science” (psychoanalysis, Einsteinian relativity, etc.). Rather, Jewishness as a racial condition became a flesh-and-blood metaphor for the only apparently divergent ideas of chaos and mechanism; a force at once disorganizing and sterilizing, to be contained and conquered by the answering racial power of German-Aryan Wholeness. “
Anne Harrington (Reenchanted Science_ Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler)

Its very important, I think, to see how the discourse has been altered. Structurally it remains mostly the same, but today the image of chaos is an anti mechanistic one. It is very specific version of mysticism. It is also racial and class based, too. The order and wholeness is found in the computer. In digital vs analog, in a huge increase in the belief in prediction, and an exaggerated belief in the importance of that.

Now the digital has its own mysticism and obscurantism — most clearly expressed by AI. (the smartest guys out there). And one of the problems with all discussions that relate to science or call upon science as a reference or authority is that language is stunningly imprecise. Math is precise (well mostly, though the upper reaches of physics seems closer to poetry, actually) but language is not. Reading about, for example, the bio-behaviorists theories concerning altruism or selfishness. Trying to define altruism is nearly impossible, in reality. Do we do things motivated by altruism? Meaning, do I share because someone else has less or even nothing? Yes, of course. I am aware of that. But often one does things that cannot be easily understood. What if I am sharing really cheap and toxic meat? I may think I am being altruistic, but Im poisoning someone. Or, if I hoard all the corn syrup in the world. Selfish, but helping mankind. These are clumsy thought experiments, but the principle holds.

Agus Suwage

“… we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes.”
Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene)

Dawkins book, by the by, was voted by the Royal Society (sic) as the most influential science book of its time. I find it a startlingly dangerous and profoundly wrong book. In the introduction Dawkins touches on the group selection vs individual selection debate — though he uses gene selection and not individual.

“The quick answer of the ‘individual selectionist’ to the argument just put might go something like this. Even in the group of altruists, there will almost certainly be a dissenting minority who refuse to make any sacrifice. If there is just one selfish rebel, prepared to exploit the altruism of the rest, then he, by definition, is more likely than they are to survive and have children.”
Richard Dawkins (ibid)

Ignaz Schiffermüller, Versuch eines Farbensystems (1772)

Why must there *certainly* be a dissenting minority, of even one? I don’t think this is how the world works. Not that people are not often selfish, but that subjectivity plays a huge role in such situations. Motivation, which Dawkins notes is of no interest to him. The altruists ..the majority…will impose rule (and many will be partly altruistic, or occasionally, and in fact I would say 99% of the people on the planet and composed of both selfishness and atruism). This hypothetical majority will disallow dissent (selfishness) to a large degree and if there *is* one dissenter I cannot see why he is more likely to survive. Why? I live in Norway, which is a shockingly honest country in comparison with the U.S. Farmers ask for donations if you cross their land by car…using their road. They need small donations for road upkeep. There is usually a wood box on a fence post with a sign. Ive crossed farmland and deposited a few kroner in one of these boxes and found hundreds of kroner in the box. Untouched. Nobody raised here would think to steal it. Or, rather, they might think it, and if starving, which is unlikely in Norway, they might steal it, but even then I rather doubt it because the consensus is to simply not do that. Its a profoundly ingrained lesson on the young here.

This is again why game theory is so idiotic.

“In other words, the gene-centric model survives because simplicity is a hugely advantageous trait for an idea to possess. People will select a simple idea over a complex idea almost every time.”
David Dobbs (Aeon, 2015)

But I am not writing on Dawkins. End digression. What is relevant here is how cultural discourse has absorbed a lay scientific view of the world. It has manufactured a sort of ersatz value set which is mostly pop-science in origin.
It is useful at this point to remember the enormous emphasis National Socialism put on “science”. They conducted countless experiments

Joyce Evans, photography. (Tallaringa Springs, Australia.)

“It was increasingly said, or implied, that the very capacity to think and see nature as a “whole” (the art of so-called Ganzheitsbetrachtung) was a trait peculiar to the “IndoGermanic” mind, while the Jewish mind was fundamentally analytic, dissolutive, and materialistic. One study, for example, claimed to have discovered evidence of inferior spatial and compositional (“holistic-perceptual”) skills in the drawings of Jewish schoolchildren as compared to their Aryan peers . Another analyzed the evidence that Jewish scientists suffer from a lack of spatial perceptual capacity, as evidenced by their failure to develop roentgen stereoscopy.”
Anne Harrington (ibid)

The equivalent sort of pseudo scientific study is not hard to find today. And most of it comes from within the Academy. Which was a bit less true sixty years ago. But here is where the cultural discourse, the aesthetics even, comes to influence the consensus. If you google junk science you find under that heading ‘climate denieirs’, ‘anti vaxxers’, ‘acupuncture’, (and soon, I am sure, those dissenting on the Covid hysteria). You will find criticism of GMO foods under junk science, as well as studies alleging Monsanto Glyphosate is dangerous. For the media is the organ is the ruling class. And they impose an attitude, for lack of a better word, on near everything. On all opinions. Google ‘communism’ and you will find double digit pages on the bankruptcy of this ideology, on the bankruptcy of Marxism, and on the clear mental illness of those who believe it. Now, who believes in communism? Those who represent chaos and disorginzation. Meaning the poor, the dark skinned poor in particular. The agents of chaos are those who rebel against their domination. In other words, resisting your oppressor is irrational, a sign of mental imbalance, and ideologies which teach such questions are “junk science” (or junk disciplines).

Lidy Prati

And one key element for gaining the imprimatur of legitimacy is to employ computer modeling. This is the province of the elect, the anointed.

But the aesthetics and style of mainstream “debunking” is consistent. Here is a paragraph from an article in Forbes (a mouthpiece of western capital) discussing the American Council on Science and Health’s new book (free!) titled The Little Black Book of Junk Science….

“I consider myself an environmentalist; I consider myself concerned with the long-and-short-term welfare of our natural places, our drinking water, our clean air, and even with treating other relatively intelligent animals with respect. But what the Little Black Book of Junk Science talks about is the type of environmentalism that leads to a rejection of nuclear power, the banning of GMOs in foods, and the rise of fringe activist groups like PETA. The anti-science nature of these causes and their champions is, in fact, well-documented.”
Ethan Siegal (Forbes 2016)

Masha Ivashintsova, photography (Moscow 1983)

One might want to ask if Glysophate is so NOT toxic why one has to wear a haz mat suit when spraying it.

But never mind. What the reader is actually meant to *get* from this article is attitude. To identify with the no nonsense masculine bad assness of the authorial voice.

Forensics developed into the paragon of bad science (and technology).

“Many forensic disciplines have been plagued with high-profile errors. An ongoing review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) microscopic hair comparisons, in which forensic scientists look for distinguishing features such as the thickness, texture, and pigment in a hair strand, has revealed erroneous statements in more than 90% of cases before 2000 in which FBI examiners gave testimony.”
Kelly Servick (Science, Reversing the legacy of junk science in the courtroom,2016)

Even fingerprints are pretty bogus, with a high false negative record. All of the forensic stuff made popular on TV…hair analysis, bite marks, tire treads, et al is rubbish. Clearly, though, there was a predisposition to believe it. First because it allowed a seemingly impartial and unbiased assault on the poor, and especially black and latinos. And this is the style or aesthetic issue again, the sense that one can send the poor to death row and feel fine because, after all, it was science and not emotion. It was science and not my motivation to murder black teens or latino gang members.

Larry Sultan, photography.

But I digress again. I wanted to return to what launched this post, and that was the idea of rationality, or science, too, and how it is repurposed in the endless class war of the West. That people believe, with great intransigence , in certain scientific “facts” needs to be unpacked a bit. I mean the Nazis did a lot of science, and some of it was even good (if you were interested in world domination). More, though, was just fascistic mumbo jumbo. One or another form of eugenics.

“The concept of Gestalt, understood in the Goethean sense as the primal set of forms underlying all creation, had been critical to bioholistic principles since the early nineteenth century. In the Nazi era, it now became available as a politicized metaphor of German authenticity and return to roots.”
Anne Harrington (ibid)

The Nazis declared a spiritual struggle was taking place. A struggle between ‘holism’ and ‘gestalt’ and against ‘mechanism’ and ‘chaos’. It is instructive to see the wholesale borrowing of Goethe’s ideas of form and their use in the creation of a mythos of Ayran supremacy — and as proof of Jewish/Bolshevik chaos. Not just chaos, but mechanism. For the mechanistic was being redefined here as well. Science was carefully emphasized as something practised by ‘living’ men. It was diametrically opposed to Jewish liberalism and its attempted *objectivity*. Science could only be the science of the ‘Volk’.

Yinka Shonibare

Today there is convenient convergence of residual eugenicist tropes meeting up with the so called Great Reset (see here ) and with much of the Green New Deal. And with specifically the science of climate change. There are subtle echoes of a spiritual struggle, and it always entails sacrifice for those chosen for sacrifice. The poor, Africans in particular, are becoming metaphorical and symbolic agents of chaos.

“New technology is always disruptive. It kills jobs, creates new ones, and ushers in profound social change. But the breakneck speed and sheer scale of this round of technical change is something else – it threatens the very definition of what it is to be human. We’re being presented with a huge range of ethical dilemmas. How do we get together to agree the rules on things like genetically modified babies, the robots of war, and the algorithms that determine our life chances?” — Tech For Good, World Economic Forum website

(Hat tip to Cory Morningstar)

New science and new tech — threatens (promises) to redefine what it means to be human. This is the new science of the Volk. And it is again very white.

Allow me a lengthy quote here from Anne Harrington..

“Increasingly, we became less horrified by the “irrationality” of this movement and more fascinated and appalled by its cold, technocratic instrumentalism (of course, also an important part of a larger truth). “Without utterly dispassionate, utterly rational technicians and administrative automatons like Adolf Eichtnann,” Roszak wrote in 1969, “it is impossible to imagine the Nazi state lasting a year. Those who blame Nazism on the corrupting influence of the Romantic movement surely mistake the propagandists surface for the underlying political reality.”
In 1979, a German psychology article published in Gestalt Theory went so far as to suggest that the essence of National Socialism had actually lain in its neglect of the “whole” and its alternate cultivation of what were basically “left hemisphere” values and habits of thought:The Nazis with their calculating, book-keeping rationality were trained in piecemeal thinking to an extreme degree and viewed people as cogs [Stiicke]. It is simply false to dismiss the other form of thinking, the thinking mode of the nondominant brain half as irrational; thinking holistically is not irrational. { } It is clear that left-leaning, holistically oriented German immigrants to the United States, like Kurt Goldstein, Herbert Marcuse, and Fritz Perls, helped teach a new generation of American youthful discontents to speak an individualistic language of wholeness, human potential, and inner transformation, and that this tutelage would bear new fruit in the 1960s and beyond. Several historians have also called attention to the ways in which, in Germany itself, some advocates of holistic and vitalistic biology responded to the disruption of their partial alliance with the Third Reich by finding a new sort of political and scientific life after the Second World War—this time, in the agendas of ecologically oriented groups like the Green Party.”

Anne Harrington (ibid)

Ronnie Goodman (Lower yard at San Quentin).

There are clear echoes of Romantic holistic theory, too, in much of the language of postmodernism. But shorn of its romantic spirituality and employed more as an agent of faux rationality — one that basically rejected Marx and socialist theory. And really this becomes the key issue here, the sometimes subtle and sometimes not, shifts in grammar and tone that are so ubiquitous today. Shifts that are generating a new mythos of fascist thinking and policy. While the clumsy Trump agenda, rife with his fundamentalist Christian cabinet and funders, is its own kind of retro fascism, the more insidious and I believe more dangerous fascism is that of the new celebrity billionaires, the Silicon Valley moguls and the new green advocates (with close family resemblance to early 20th century American eugenicists). They have introduced a new sort of computational theistic or clerical quality to the discourse. Some of this is just left-over new-age kitsch spirituality, but increasingly it is cleansed of its sixties remnants leaving a sterile spread-sheet ecclesiasticism. It probably has elements of televangelism in it, too. (How far is Elon Musk from Oral Roberts really?)

Chaos is that which rejects the “revolution” of digital screen authority. Digital power is nearly a new religious sign, but expressed in this hyper instrumental language of codes and algorithms. Part of the elevation of instrumental (and more acutely, digital instrumentality) is that it renounces (by default almost) the cultures of the developing world. Black African tribal learning is the anti-algorithmic society. So is Islam, overall.

Paul Kremer

But I wanted to return to Goethe, briefly, and then to color and the, as it were, politics of color. David Batchelor, a very savy critic of art and a very good artist, describes walking into a party at a very rich persons house.

“The uninterruptable, endless emptiness of this house was impressive, elegant and glamorous in a spare and reductive kind of way, but it was also assertive, emphatic and ostentatious. This was assertive silence, emphatic blankness, the kind of ostentatious emptiness that only the very wealthy and the utterly sophisticated can afford. It was a strategic emptiness, but it was also accusatory.”
David Batchelor (Chromophobia)

Later in that same paragraph he writes of this house…“It was a world that didn’t readily admit the existence of other worlds.”

Melville wrote in Moby Dick (the chapter “The Whiteness of the Whale”)….“For all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood.”

And allow me one more quote from Batchelor..about this same interior…“This great white interior was empty even when it was full, because most of what was in it didn’t belong in it and would soon be purged from it. This was people, mainly, and what they brought with them. Inside this great white interior, few things looked settled, and even fewer looked
at home, and those that did look settled also looked like they had been prepared: approved, trained, disciplined, marshalled. Those things that looked at home looked like they had already been purged from within.”

Michael Tuffery

Whiteness always implies something of death. Certainly of sterility. Fecundity has colour. As a side bar, I mention the sRGB– which is, according to Wikipedia…

“sRGB (standard Red Green Blue) is an RGB color space that HP and Microsoft created cooperatively in 1996 to use on monitors, printers, and the Web.”

I wanted to insert that before this longer quote from Batchelor…

“The colours we experience in our towns and cities are the products not of the subliminities of nature but of the advent of the petrochemical industries, electrification and, more recently, electronics. The colours we see today in the city are almost entirely artificial. There is a world of shiny, glossy, metallic, iridescent, fluorescent and luminous colours out there; there are colours that glow, colours that flash and colours that change into other colours as you look at them. “
David Batchelor (The Luminous and the Grey)

This reminds me of Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows. An essential read for anyone at all interested in aesthetics. He writes of the medieval Japanese temples, which were meant to be seen by candlelight. Under modern electrical lighting they simply appear garish. Electric lights of any kind tend to make all things look like Las Vegas.

Now, Goethe’s Theory of Color was a poetic and philosophical response to Newton. It has remained an enigmatic and somewhat challenging piece of writing. Challenging because for today’ audience there is no place to classify it. Interestingly, Hegel was a huge admirer of the work, as was Schopenhauer and Fichte. And less surprising the painter J.M.W. Turner, who dedicated two paintings in honour of Goethe’s essay.

Arvid Broeker

“Newton’s doctrine has not been silent for four hundred years. It has seen significant practical consequences all this time, color photography and color television to name just two. His work has had not only logical worth but also practical application. What practical worth has Goethe’s Theory of Color had? The technical applications, as far as I know, have as yet been insignificant, but its potential for education and human understanding is profound, for it casts light on the relationship between art and science. Goethe claimed that he who would follow his observations of nature would achieve inner freedom.”
Torger Holtsmark (Waldorf Journal, Project 9)

In a sense, the sRGB is the grandchild of Newton via Albert Munsell and his colour wheel, circa late 1800s. (as a side bar digression, Munsell was motivated to catalogue colours after reading a letter of Robert Louis Stevenson who had been troubled by not finding the right word to describe what he called “A topazy yellow” and a red that is neither Turkish nor Roman nor Indian.” {Valima Letters} Now I want to say as a personal aside that I KNOW that colour. It is a kind of amber light you find often on Indian subcontinent. And it IS haunting, and even mystical. I have seen it at night, as it illuminates a small camp or even a small village. That’s all, but it speaks to the mysterious affinities we all have with colours). I have a less intense response to Sodium street lights, which are found all over South America and Central America, and many parts of south Asia. You can still low find low pressure sodium street lights in many parts of the UK. They are being done away with because, according to *scientific* studies, metal halide lights allow for better peripheral vision for drivers. Some poetry is being done away with, too, though. People driving under LED lighting will tend to drive faster negating the positive affects while overall there is a huge increase in lighting because of how inexpensive LEDs are. Also negating the theoretical environmental advantages. Anyway, Munsell created the Munsell Color Sphere. He taught about color and later manufactured crayons. End of yet another digression.

J.M.W. Turner (Dedicated to Goethe Light and Colour – The Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, 1842)

The point is that Munsell was in line with Newtonian physics and theories of light. And I think few people have ever thought to question if this was how we look at the world, the colours of the world, or not. Artificial lighting is a huge topic, but I have some misgivings about the sudden uptick in LED usage. First, since they are cheaper (and they DO last longer, I have one in a lamp in my writing shed that has not been turned off for seven years) they give off a very intense white light (see Milan at night, or Hong Kong now) and, as I noted, because of said economic savings companies are now lighting everything…including massive commercial LED walls. The stuff you see in futuristic set design. And from a subjective perspective I just don’t like that intense white light. Its a bit like digital recordings of Bartok vs analog. One is perfect and sterile and one is more human, somehow, if imperfect (perhaps the same thing). LEDs are what illuminate your cell phone, too. Now, anything is probably better than flourescent..I know personally that fluorescent lights make me sleepy. I also get headaches. And I am sure the flicker is subconsciously ‘seen’ by more people than anyone realizes. All of which is to suggest the science of optics is, like most science, both progressive and regressive.

But the argument I am making, if it even is an argument, is that technology has shaped our sense of colour …has conditioned our perception and narrowed it. There are amazing histories of colour (especially in pigments…one such is And this shaping has had a ripple effect of sorts. The psychological paths, whether neural or just as meta-narrative, extend to near everything. The child raised by technological colour cannot see Rembrandt’s browns or whites, partly because they have been conditioned to scan and not look. Couple this is the erosion of language, the deskilling of crafts-makers, and the general innumeracy in the society at large, and the result is the shocking zombie creatures walking among us. A generation that pays most attention to screens is going to grow accustomed to the light and colour of those screens. And that is the shortwave length visible light of smartphones and tablets. The implications are interesting to consider. Again, walk around Milan and decide if the LED street lighting is an improvement.

Friederike von Rauch, photography.

Training children to see only certain kinds of colour, and to raise them with the cheap speakers they get on toys, or on laptops, or on most electronic devices really, conditions them in a tinny hollow sound, to be followed by digital recordings of absolute sterility and deadness. And then indoctrinate them to fear other people, even other children, and to distrust even their parents if a crisis occurs, and to educate them with only the very most rudimentary storytelling, if that,…and the result are perfect little Hitler Youth. And I don’t think I am exaggerating. The state of sub-literacy in teens or even twenty somethings is evident. University students do not study the classics, they go to business school or computer sciences. Everything grades out as a loss of humanness.

The industrial revolution saw the inadvertent invention of chemical dyes. Coal tar dyes and later, in the first decade of the 20th century an entire industry was built up around various industrial dyes. This was really the beginning of the erosion of colour perception, I think.

From Batchelor again…

“…it is hard now to imagine exactly how for Roland Barthes plastic was ‘the stuff of alchemy’ which could induce ‘wonder’, ‘amazement’, ‘reverie’ and ‘euphoria’, while at the same time being a ‘disgraced’, ‘artificial’, ‘imitation material’. The colours of plastic were seductive, he thought, but false, and finally they were its
‘undoing’. Describing its colours as ‘hollow and flat’, like the sound it tends to make when hit, Barthes saw plastic as capable of retaining only the most ‘chemical-looking’ hues: ‘Of yellow, red and green, it keeps only the aggressive quality, and uses them as mere names, being able to display only concepts of colours.’ Mythologies, the volume that contains Barthes’ short essay ‘Plastic’, was published in 1957…”

(The Luminous and the Grey)

Kim Lim

So the question is to grasp the context in which our aesthetics are affected by marketing first, and then by the hegemonic employment of tech. Now this brings me back to AI. And one thing I think needs to be made clear. AI is used everywhere, but not because it is better at whatever job it is doing, but because it is cheaper. As I have said before, when lives are at stake they bring in the dogs. Humans still do most everything better than technology. One could site laser surgery, but again, a surgeon is still performing the operation. Are unmanned trains better than those with an engineer at the throttle? I mention AI here because technology is now almost entirely under the ideological sway of AI. I will return to this.

But,to return to colour for a moment more.

“According to opponent-process theory, colour vision is not solely a sensory function of the colour receptors (cones) in the human retina. Rather, it proposes that colour vision involves a second level of cognitive activity where the information provided by the cones is computed and modified so as effectively to suppress some (but not all) of the external illuminating conditions, so that we might better judge the ‘true’ colour of the object.”
David Batchelor (ibid)

Mattias Bitzer

In other words whether Newton was right or not human consciousness is interpreting the world, what one sees, even at the very moment it first sees it, in fact as it sees it. And nobody has quite figured out how humans achieve colour constancy. The neurological and optical science is beyond my expertise, but as Batchelor notes, if there are insufficient contextual elements, the eye loses this constancy. The example is Ayers Rock (Uluru) in Australia. It changes colour all the time, dramatically. There is simply not enough context to that natural space.

“For the beauty of the alcove is not the work of some clever device. An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into it forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing more. And yet, when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway.”
Junichiro Tanizaki (In Praise of Shadows)

Mark Webber, photography.

“Behind the painting there is white, postcard there IS white. Behind the painting there is white ground.
White stretches back. Was white created in the Big Bang?
Was the bang itself white?
In the beginning was white And God made it.”

Derek Jarmin (Chroma)

“Colour is the visual perceptual property deriving from the interaction of light with the receptors of human retina. So, light is a concept of physics, and color is a concept of physiology, psychology, and philosophy.”
Victor Barsan (Research article,Goethe’s theory of colors between the ancient philosophy, middle ages occultism and modern science, 2015)

“White has long been intricately connected with money and power. Fabrics, including wool and cotton, had to be heavily processed in order to appear white. Only the very wealthy, supported by battalions of staff, could afford to keep the fresh lace and linen cuffs, ruffs and cravats worn in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries pristine. This connection still holds true. Someone wearing a snow-pale winter coat telegraphs a subtle visual message: “I do not need to take public transportation.”
Kassia St. Clair (The Secret Lives of Color)

St Clair’s observation is also another example of the fear of colour, the fear of darkness, and the fear of germs. And by extension the fear of the poor. The poor, (or the agents of chaos). Kazimir Malevich, during work on his white on white series, wrote “The blue of the sky has been defeated by the supremacist system, has been broken through and entered white, as the true, real conception of infinity, and thus liberated from the color background of the sky.”

John Riddy, photography.

“The kind of seeing which sees connections is imagination. Imagination is a kind of seeing which is also a kind of understanding (a kind of thinking). For imagination seeing and understanding are one. Hence there is no need for explanation. Seeing replaces theory – but not the same kind of seeing as that which sees separate objects. This is the kind of seeing which Goethe referred to when he remarked about himself that “my perception itself is a thinking, and my thinking a perception.”
Henri Bortoft (The Wholeness of Nature)

Seeing a form of thought. Theatre is a form of thought. The doing of it is a specific form of thinking. And here is where Goethe re-enters this discussion. Science need not ONLY be the narrow instrumental version that has evolved (barely) since Newton. Henri Bortoft is a fascinating example.

“If reading is to be meaningful, it is not just a matter of repeating the words verbally as they come up in sequence on the page.Successful reading is not just a matter of saying the words.It is an act of interpretation, but not interpretation in the subjective sense. True interpretation is actively receptive, not assertive in the sense of dominating what is read. True interpretation does not force the text into the mold of the reader’s personality, or into the requirements of his previous knowledge. It conveys the meaning of the text “conveys” in
the sense of “passes through” or “goes between.” This is why readers sometimes can convey to others more of the meaning of a text than they may understand themselves.”

Henri Bortoft (ibid)

Kazimir Malevich

Bortoft taaught physics, and the philosophy of science. He was also a researcher. He is what a philosopher of science should be. And his remarks on meaning is relevant here. I have often thought that many students get discouraged reading difficult texts, philosophy in particular. And yet they no doubt have understood more than they realized. I have read work that I found impenetrable and yet years later, often, I would start to think about it and realize I DID understand much more than I thought while reading it. Artists, too, often no idea why they are good (or bad). And this is the terrain where AI falters, too. The remarkable work of science is still not philosophy, and I think by the mid 20th century (maybe after Trinity) the mainstream idea of science, the conventional practice of science, began to attenuate a search for truth, and instead began to focus on an evolving idea of what was practical.

“What we come to here is the idea of the hermeneutic circle { } At the level of discourse, this circle says that to read an author we have to understand him first, and yet we have to read him first to understand him. It appears we have to understand the whole meaning of the text “in advance” to read the parts which are our pathway towards the meaning of the text as a whole. Clearly, this is a contradiction to logic and the form of reasoning which is based thereon. Yet it is the experience we go through to understand the meaning of the text, as it is also the experience we go through in writing a text.”
Henri Bortoft (ibid)

Minoru Kawabata

There is much more to say here, but this post is plenty long enough. And digressive enough. I attribute this to the atmosphere of lockdown. The whole is becoming clear now that, in many places, the restrictions are lifted. The totality cannot yet be grasped, but we are coming to see the meaning. And that is a class assault on the bottom 80% (or so) of the planet. Wealth is now in the hands of the upper ten percent. Maybe less. Maybe upper five or even one percent. And the truth, the whole, is emerging from behind the absurdities of mask laws, and the isolating of children, and the plunder of what little is left of a safety net for the underclass. The mantra of ‘trust the science’ is meaningless. It is a marketing slogan and nothing more. The science is still in process. And there are alternative avenues of discovery happening all the time. Everyone is being told to that “we” have to change how we live our lives. This means YOU have to change, not those who now own the planet. And yet, change does have to happen and at the level of science of reason the changes must stop being administered by the ruling class or the state puppets of that class.

A final (lengthy) quote from Bortoft.

“The founders of modern science were dedicated to the mathematical approach to nature. What were called the ‘primary qualities’ were simply those aspects of nature that appeared in the light of mathematics. Although it is nature that shows up in this light, this is by no means the only way that nature can appear. As we have seen, the ascendancy of the mathematical was accompanied by the downgrading of the sensory.{ } The influence of the mathematical came in the first place from the Arabs — whom the medieval Europeans referred to as ‘our Arab masters:” With the Arabs it seems that mathematics was not cultivated in isolation, but always balanced with other pursuits, such as music and poetry. However, this factor seems to have been left out when mathematics was imported into northern Europe, where as a consequence the emphasis on mathematics became much more one-sided. In the thirteenth century, Roger Bacon said in his ‘Opus Maius’ that mathematics was the ‘door and key…of the sciences and things of this world’ and concluded: ‘wherefore it is evident that if, in the other sciences, we want to come to certitude without doubt and to truth without error, we must place the foundations of knowledge in mathematics’.It is astonishing how this remark made over eight hundred years ago encapsulates the one-sided mathematical approach that western science has worked with ever since. This is what Goethe reversed when he returned to the senses and put sensory experience first instead of the mathematical. Adopting Roger Bacon’s phrase, we could say that for Goethe the senses were the ‘door and key’ to science. “
Henri Bortoft (Taking Appearance Seriously)

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  1. John Steppling says:
  2. Chris Semancik says:

    I’ve been acquainted with a few mathematics professors. A common joke for them is that everything is math.

    This also brought to mind an essay I read several years ago on Ayn Rand, comparing her aversion to altruism to a disorder that reverses the ultraviolet infrared spectrum- where red would be sensed as distant and cold and blue as near and warm. I’m sensing lately that this type of disorder is being engineered on a wide scale.

    Thanks for this wide ranging post. Terrific as always.

  3. Just listened to “The Laughter of Rats” DAMN that was good.
    (btw I knew that about rats, they’re amazing. Used to work in an animal shelter, known many rats, weird little beings).

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