Siegried Giedion wrote a terrific book called Mechanization Takes Command (and beautifully subtitled ...a contribution to anonymous history) in which he (sweepingly) looks at how mechanization took over from hand production in the life of social and technical world.
The book was published by Oxford University Press in 1948, and given that year, Giedion has something very interesting to say about killing.
After investigating "The Mechanization of Death: Meat" and how over hundreds of years the hammer-to-the-head and skinning that transforms an "animal" into ":meat" turned from human to mechanical hands, he decided that "what is truly startling in this mass transition from life to death is the complete neutrality of the act". The animal=meat act and the mechanization of killing removes the "human" element of the act, and that "one does not experience, one does not feel; one merely observes" a killing that is not somehow dying. He reckons that this experience may in general have made us more capable of desperate act of killing that do no longer seem so desperate.
It is a remarkable and early insight into the meat industry from an uncommon and unexpected source.
This remarkable photograph was published in The Illustrated London News on 15 September 1934 and shows the Fascist demonstration in Hyde Park of 9 September. There was an "anti-Fascist counter-demonstration" at the same time, same park--the two sides were divided by the "No Man's Land" path in the middle, screened by police on each side. The crowd at the left/middle is the fascist group--easily discriminated by their salute and then their visual sameness, so many of them wearing the signature black shirts. At bottom/right/top is the counter-demonstration group, which is far larger--they were orderly but not having any patience for Hitlerism.
Which is a detail from:
[Source: private collection]
I found a handbill for one of the opposing groups at the demonstration: the Young Communist League, which evidently showed up in force. In the caption of the above photo there is no mention of the party affiliation of the anti-fascists, except to quote witness Will Rogers saying "the Blackshirts were holding one meeting. Two hundred yards away the Communists were holding theirs. And in between was all of London lauhing at the both of them". According to a quick search I'm not sure that there were this many communists in all of London in 1934--I assume the anti- crowd was very mixed.
(These Blackshirts should not be confused with Albanian/Indian/Italian blackshirts, or German brownshirts (brown maybe because black was traditionally used for Christian Democrats?), or American silvershirts, though some do bear some resemblence. In the other color-shirt-political-affiliation categories there are, for example, the redshirts of Italy, the blue- and greenshirts of Ireland, the goldshirts of Mexico, the greyshirts of South Africa, the greeshirts of Romania, and the blue shirts of Taiwan).
The "Mosley" here Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980), founder of The British Union of Fascists in 1932 which in 1936 changed its name to the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists and then in 1937, slimming it down to the British Union, until it was disappeared by the government in 1940 in a 'defence of the realm action" under Defence Regulation 18B.
Mosley and his wife were arrested in 1940 and spent a few years in relatively high privilege in prison, a situation granted by Winston Churchill. They lived in their own inner-prison cottage, with a garden and servents. They were released in great controversy in 1943 and seem to have spent decades in the far right spectrum publishing and promoting questionable and of course distasteful political viewpoints.
Returning to Jean-Jacques Scheuchzer's1 magical, inventive, fact-bending naive-surreal work on universal history based on the Old Testament, I've found these two glorious and odd images of the Tower of Babel. The first ("Genesis Cap.XI.v.4. Orthographia Turris.Mediummetalis") is terrific, shocking even in its abrupt construction and flat-out stumpiness, because it is one of a very small minority that shows the structure to be canonical, with a little church at top. The enormous stairway is just completely out of proportion to the purpose of the structure, the effort falling into some sort of odd advanced-child category.
If Italo Calvin's "Invisible Cities" or (better yet) Jorge Borges' "The Circular Ruins" were to be illustrated, this image would fit right in.
The other very unusual bit here, is that Scheuchzer also provides a plan for the city that was to be built around the tower--I'm pretty sure that I haven't seen references to this before, and the Biblical references to it are no help whatsoever in determining its physical aspects.
There are probably very few things that could be as blank or as empty as combative, competing, nonsensical and completely self-referential language or communication. Well, except for Scheuchzer's very empty town plan locating the tower in an urban setting--a listless place of surrounded circles of nothingness for a place in which everything is said and nothing is understood. Ground Zero for blank language.
Two interesting books that I should mention that address the ideas
of fantastic/imaginary architecture and decay are C. W. Thomsen, Visionary
Architecture: From Babylon to Virtual Reality, (Prestel, 1994) ; and Paul Zucker, Fascination of Decay (Gregg Press, 1968).
1. Kupfer-Bibel, in welcher die Physica sacra, oder geheiligte
Natur-Wissenschafft derer in heil. Schrifft vorkommenden naturlichen
sachen, deutlich erklart und bewahrt, printed in Augsburg and Ulm
by C.U. Wagner, 1731-1735. Offered in four volumes, illustrated with
758 plates, it is a magnificent work, if not altogether correct, or
even near- correct, with an enormously confused pedigree, implying the
wisdom and text of the Bible (and the old Testament at that) as the
background for a physical history of the world.
Belief systems like alchemy and intelligent design have dialogues of persuasion; the sciences on the other hand explain rather than persuade.
I'm not sure why this hasn't occurred to me before, but there is a crucial element of Paracelsian philosophy and alchemy that is sort of correct, in a way. The map of the universe that they sought to drawn on the human body to represent the macrocomos in the microcosmos, the influence of the stuff of creation on our daily life, was correct in a way that they hadn't suspected. And it was brought about by a man who vigorously pursued alchemy for decades, hoping that it would provide a link to the vast pool of somethingness that he didn't yet have answers for, as well as the questions he didn't yet know that he wanted to ask.
Newton had abandoned alchemy completely by 1696, nine years after the publication of his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, the great “external” influence of the universe coming to bear on humans on earth. The alchemists would be shocked perhaps by this connection, and I'm sure that what they were looking for wasn't that physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass as a consequence of the curvature of spacetime which governs the motion of inertial objects, let alone that it was one of four fundamental forces.
But the alchemists were on the road to someplace, just not the Royal Road. I imagine too that transmutation must've taken it squarely on the chin in 1818, when Berzelius published his findings of the atomic weights of 45 (of 49) known elements, showing that atoms (thank goodness we did not call them “seeds” like some) existed and the elements were entirely different...meaning that the very basis for transmutation was removed, that mercury could never be made into gold, owing to the differentiation of the nature of the elements themselves. That must've been a crushing experience, making alchemy a harder persuasion to perpetrate.
Coming upon this image of a sea of hats, which in the fine tradition of naming collections of self-similar things-like a gaggle of geese or a murder of crows--a 'Chaos" of Hats, I needed to find its contrary, and a relatively orderly and ordinary one at that. [I compiled a list of oddly-named groups in an earlier post here called An Unkindness of Ravens and a Murder of Crows.]
What better than an Order of Heads? This image is of a church or social service at Pentonville Prison in 1855. The penitentiary engraving is real; but the truth be told, the Chaos photo is a manipulated image, about a half of the original of something I made, mainly because I just wanted to see a very hatty crowd around the man in the middle pointing at the camera.
As it turns out, Pentonville--serving North London loyally since 1816, and still doing so--was the home for a bit of Oscar Wilde and Boy George. It was also the place where Arthur Koestler began composing his thoughts for his magnificent Darkness at Noon.
This is the U.S. Army mail depot at Regents Park, London, braced for and under siege by Christmastime mail in 1917. It strikes me that there are not a million items in this photo--at this time in the war there were something like 35 million people in the services for all countries dedicated to the war effort, which is approximately half the number that served in total. If these letters in this picture were bodies, I reckon that there would be five more rooms like this necessary to tell the visual picture of the war dead and wounded. This aside, I initially focused on the guy in the rear with the white shirt and tie, standing there pretty much overwhelmed by the task of moving all of that stuff...and perhaps with the idea that much of the mound would wind up being undeliverable because the recipient was killed. I wonder if that mail was returned, or not?
On the other end of the spectrum is this bizarrely-titled photo of a
British soldier "guiding" a traffic signal device...the description
says that this is the busiest intersection in all of British-occupied
France. Maybe so, but not at this particular time. Perhaps the
photographer should've waited a bit to get a different sort of picture
to make his point, rather than settle for this lonely (if not
beautifully arranged) situation.
Here's the image without the accompanying text, which was supplied for the end-user of the photo by the news service photography supplier.
Some years ago I made a chess set whose pieces forced a
battle between mathematicians and physicists. The pieces were constructed with
a mélange of bric-a-br ac and junk, all with the same bases of dominoes.Each piece was an identifiable person from
the history of their respective fields.And
while the two divisions of science have become necessarily more porous over the
years, there remains no difference that there still is a difference between
math and physics. I brought this set with me when exhibiting my rare bookstore
stock at national meetings for the American Mathematical Societyand the American Physical Society, and it
attracted a lot of attention—more so for the choice of who was what piece than
any game that was ever played on it. (The mathematicians were much more
ambitious in offering their opinions on the choices of mathematicians per
position.)There are chess
sets of “contraries” on the mass production market, though it is usually
limited to Star Wars and Civil War figures—and there it is generally generic
figures for anything outside the King and Queen.
I was intending on doing a post today on the unpleasant
contrariness of Michelangelo and Leonardo. (These guys are two of a small
number of people who are instantly identifiable by one name only, though a very
popular and vastly oversold modern author chooses to use Leonardo’s second name
as the identifier, a distinctly minority position….like referring to Michelangelo
as Buonarotti of Florence.)And then it struck me how interesting a
chess set would be made up of such opposed figures, happily or not squaring off
against one another on the 64s.
contraries is not so simple.Skipping
past Leonardo/Michelangelo (I’ll get to them in a minute) I went to the most
famous of all contrarians in the world of science—Isaac Newton.(Is the “Isaac” really necessary?) During his
famously grumpy and combative lifetime Newton battled a night sky of most shining stars of
his day:Hooke and Leibniz being two of
the greatest of these figures.But I
think for this chess set I’d have Newton squared up against a man who wasn’t even
born during his lifetime—William Blake.Blake was an impossible anti-Newtonian, making a career of being a
spectacular (and perhaps insane/manipulative) anti-rationalist,a weaver of smoke, playing with and
distorting images like a theramin player, using language to produce dichotomies
in even the most standard of sensate ideas.Blake was the poster child for thing anti-tech, an anti-scientist out to
save the world from its scientific self,the rationalist world set to destroy imagination, the “Antichrist
science” hell bent on destroying the soul of art and religion.
“Art is the tree of
life; Science is the tree of death” wrote Blake, and so he chose the
“Athesistic”Sir Isaac to stand for the
beast, depicting him in art as a naked geometer intent on subjugating the world
with a compass and a keen brain, reducing glory to quantification, the work of
Satan..For most of my life I thought
that this image by Blake was celebrating Newton—I knew little of the poet/artist/poet, and
thought the painting a reverence.When I
understood Blake a little,I saw that
the image was intended as a mockery of Newton and the idea of science—this was an unusual
sensation, because absent the unspopken intention of the artist,you could still take the subject matter of
the artwork two ways.
leaves no doubt about where he stood on the issue, even though much of it (to
me) seems not terribly understandable due to its repeated and visceral
self-reference and private language (“Reason is the bound or outward
circumference of energy”, the “ratio of the things of Memory”:
The Spectre is the Reasoning Power in Man,
and when Separated from Imagination and enclosing in steel a Ratio Of the
Things Of Memory, It thence frames Laws & Moralities To Destroy
here in Newtonian mechanics, there in Renaissance rediscovery of classical
perspective—was killing the “eternity of the imagination”.
I could well imagine
a “conversation” between the two men:Blake saying Things, and Newton not able to find any space in his head for
them, answering in silence.OR perhaps
he would be vicious.God knows.Newton died in 1727 when Blake was still in
ueber-dimensional pre-pregnancy, waiting his turn to descend from the heavens,
which was not bound to happen for another thirty years.
In his otherwise
brilliant book, Art & Physics,
Leonard Shlain refers to Blake as a Cassandra, having the ability to see the
future but not being able to say or do anything about it.To think that Blake was “correct” inforeseeing the problems that technology would
bring to people’s lives leaves me baffled:it is certain that people became more cog-nified with the advance of
technology, but it also allowed for the birth of “free time” for the masses,
giving them some soul and imagination that they would’ve have had if they were
in a flat field in Poland pulling potatoes out of the ground for 18 hours a
day.Perhaps Blake was just referring to
those lucky enough to wear clean white shirts and have a benefactor; perhaps
all of those Others didn’t exist in his many scheduled god/heaven visions he
had every day. (I should point out that Blake published Songs of Innocence and of Experience:
Shewing the Two Contrary States of
the Human Soul in 1794, which was actually a varied republication of his
1789 Songs of Innocence with the
addition of the Songs of Experience. Blake exposes the duality of experience and
innocence, of their opposing nature in human existence, neither negating the
other, both trying to survive simultaneously.His engraved poems really are striking and gigantically, unreservedly, ars-religico-veritas
of the highest Romantic order. And then some.)
Back to chess and
picking out the first pieces: :Blake
have to give Newton the nod for Queen for the sheer enormity of his abilities.Blake gets a pawn’s position, the first piece
Piece Two:Michelangelo and Leonardo.
It is odd that even
though Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Leonardo (1452-1513) lived in the same city
(Florence) for several years that the only thing that developed between them in
the smallish societal/artist communities was a brew of mutual disdain.Diplomatically speaking, the men did not
care for one another, though it seems that the junior of the two,
Michelangelo--who was a well-established rising star of 35 or so to the more
famous Leonardo, who was 55—possessed the young man’s temper and was more
outspoken in his dislike of Leonardo.It
does seem spectacular that the two greatest talents of the Renaissance could
live so close together for several years and have no working or collegiale
relationship, no exchange of ideas, nothing.
They did, however,
almost work together in the same (big) room, though that too never came to
fruition.Both men received a commission
from Piero Soderini to decorate the walls of the Council Hall of the Palazzo
Vecchio with massive(20x50’ !) paintings
of great Florentine military victories: Leonardo would paint theBattle
of Anghiari and Michelangelo the Battle of Cascina. Like much else in the careers of both of these men, the projects were unfinished--Michelangelo not even getting beyond the cartoon stage in preparation; Leonardo actually got paint on the wall,s but made an error in trying to quicken the slow drying time, and heated the wax undercoating enough to make the paint run down the wall and puddle on the floor. It is interesting that it would be Guiseppe Vasari--the man who wrote one of the earliest biographies of renaissance painters, and the creator of the Ufizzi Gallery, and a large talent in his own right--who would be brought in to produce one of the large paintings. It seems to some that Vasari, ironically, painted his own work over that of the started and probable masterpiece of Leonardo. (As a matter of fact, there is an art historian who thinks that some of the Leonardo might have survived under Vasari's work; that story can be seen here.)
I don’t mean to set out for pure contraries (like Ovid’s question
of water and fire--cunctarum contraria semina rerum, Fasti, IV, 783, f--the
yin and yang, and other entities combative at all points. The question here is
for entertaining contraries at some interesting points—that’s good enough.All aspects needn't be the mutually exclusive
of the other such that if one is true the other must be false.There’s room enough for neither-true-nor-false,
at least for this game, a wide-open Wittgensteinian arbitrary contrary.
It might be interesting to have a look at Vasari's estimation of Leonardo and Michelangelo; I've reprinted the first tow paragraphs for each from Vasari below.