Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A thesis on the historical process

The history of colour suggested in a paper late last year on democracy and the mathematicisation of colour and revisited in a different context in a paper for the Society for Animation Studies conference in July develop an idea which is still inchoate but worth thinking: that perhaps there is a trajectory to trace from the semantic hierarchies of colour in the late mediaeval/early renaissance, through the dialectic of physical and perceptual accounts of vision in the 18th and 19th centuries, mediated by the replicability of colour required to standardise the industrial production of aniline dyes, via their pro-tem resolution in the use of Quettelet's statistical method to construct a 'standard observer' in the Commission Internationale sur l'Eclairage (CIE) of 1931, and finally to the establishment of Pantone colour matching in 1963.

Would this suggest that the biopolitical account which the CIE's history seems to demand (see Sean F Johnston's excellent history) is a moment in the history that resolves, after centuries of debate (on optics) and difficulty (in colorimetry), in the commodification of colour? Even given the divergence of dyes and pigments from lighting systems, dyes become vitally important in the manufacture of monitor screens and digital projectors and return to an integrated industry. Is the purpose of this passage simply to arrive at a commodifiable coneption of colour – to abstract colour, colour perception and the relations between illumination and coloured surfaces – only to turn it into exchange value? Or is there another twist in the tale to come?

Against Blindness

The history of darkness underpins the history of illumination. That the Lunar Society called itself so, among the enlightened of the west midlands, because they could only meet on nights of the full moon when there was light enough to get home. Memories of nights too dark to see: Dartmoor, Auchterarder, Waterville . . .The dark still existed, even in overlit Britain.

Dust in the projector beam
Scratches on windows
Smears on mirrors
The mote in your eye

The maculation of vision is permanent, as integral to sight and to the mediation of vision as light itself. To complain about codecs is as futile as to complain about the acuity of your own eyes?

And yet: one of the great reasons to undertake this work is the weighty metaphor of blindness: the blind hand of the market, the sightless measurements of social physics, the "denigration" (unfortunate term) of vision. To restore to sight, and by implication to the senses, their place in the world, antagonists of its mathematicisatiomn, immaterialisation and spatialisation.


A cicada has made its home under our deck. Perhaps it likes the sounding box, as it rubs its hind legs together in this rhythmic chant, too fast for a human ear to truly register. He repeats endlessly "My song is so lovely. You must love me". He is a siren, at least in his own mind. As winter comes, his song will fade, with longer gaps between shorter trills, but he will not stop. Is there a lesson here for the antiquarian in pursuit of a beauty that can be communicated?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Re-reading Flusser

The inert nothingness that exercises heidegger under the name of Death is not at all human, still less individual. (I die, you die, we do not die). The inert physics of inorganic nature needs organic life to reverse its entropy. But it doesn't need life as such but what life implies, communication, because communication adds complexity where entropy simplifies.

(As a footnote here, efficiency is entropic while democracy is both inefficient and negentropic)

At the universal scale, entropy wins. Tis is the truth underlying the unknowable Ding-an-sich in Kant. Things in themselves are not knowable (and incommunicable, ie sublime) to the extent that they are entropic, and therefore not congruent with negentropic knowledge, where knowledge is defined as what is actually or potentially communicable.

(A second footnote: those who quell communication are on the side of inert nature, of the universal, the sublime; and against the human and life in general, which are communication in its material form as media)