Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Friday, February 12, 2010

Something there is that loves a wall

According to legend, Bodhidharma spent nine years in meditation facing a wall; even cutting off his eyelids to facilitate the long stare. (Hence his wide round eyeballs in the traditional iconography). Tea-plants sprang up where his eyelids fell.

Leonardo da Vinci also had some tricks involving wall-staring, a sort of proto-Rorschach test:

when you look at a wall spotted with stains, or with a mixture of stones, if you have to devise some scene, you may discover a resemblance to various landscapes, beautified with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys and hills in varied arrangement; or again you may see battles and figures in action; or strange faces and costumes, and an endless variety of objects, which you could reduce to complete and well drawn forms.

Dale Smith of Possum Ego has gone a step further, posting an interview he conducted with the southern wall of his apartment in Austin, Texas. (I just mentioned former U of Texas at Austin professor Lars Gustafsson's blog entry which also explores the in-depth lives of inanimate objects. What is it about Austin...?)

It's fanciful, but what this exercise imagines is very much in line with what I take to be the meaning of the claim in Graham Harman's Object-Oriented philosophy that the real object "recedes." The interview beautifully illustrates the effort, and the futility of the effort, to understand what it's like to be a wall--

I’m not sure what you mean exactly when you call me “Wall.” I like to think of my birth here from the moment the two-by-four studs were first erected. I mean, it wasn’t until several weeks later that the Mexicans came in with the sheetrock to set me up in the way you see me now. I remember the incessant hammering and measuring. The tape-and-flow.

--and the wall's failure to get what it's like to be a human:

I’ve seen it all. Lots of sex. Laughter. Tears. Whatever you people do. Mean things and sweet things. I quit wondering over your capacities long ago.

This is a whole new take on the Turing Test. What would it take to get you to treat a wall as conscious? When would you stop looking for the hidden speakers? When would you stop looking up psychiatrists (or exorcists) in the phone book?

Since the whole interview is of course imagined by a human being (I think) this is essentially an extended exercise in what Harman calls allusion: a way of thinking what you can't really think. In some respects I think it rather shows up the limits of allusion; whatever Smith's wall is, his "Wall" is really just Smith dressed up in plaster.

But does this count for or against Harman's point?

Thanks to the Bookslut for the link to Dale Smith's blog.

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