Wednesday, April 26, 2023

A Garage, Brazil, and a Stieglitzian "Equivalent"

"Harry Tuttle: Harry Tuttle. Heating engineer. At your service.
Sam Lowry: Tuttle? Are you from Central Services? I called Central Services.
Harry Tuttle: Ha!
Sam Lowry: But... I called Central Services.
Harry Tuttle: They're a little overworked these days. Luckily I intercepted your call...Officially, only Central Service operatives are supposed to touch this stuff...
Sam Lowry: Sorry. Wouldn't it be easier just to work for Central Services?
Harry Tuttle: Couldn't stand the paperwork. Yes, there's more bits of paper in Central Services than bits of pipe read this, fill in that, hand in the other listen, this old system of yours could be on fire and I couldn't even turn on the kitchen tap without filling in a 27B/6...Bloody paperwork.
Sam Lowry: I suppose one has to expect a certain amount.
Harry Tuttle: Why? I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there's trouble, a man alone. Now they got the whole country sectioned off, you can't make a move without a form...Ah ha! Found it! There's your problem.
Sam Lowry: Can you fix it?
Harry Tuttle: No, I can't. But I can bypass it with one of these.
[Holds up a bizarre device]
Harry Tuttle: My good friends call me Harry."

- Brazil (1985),
 Screenplay by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard & Charles McKeown

Postscript. I have written before about the mystery of what "sits behind" (and directs) the eye/I/camera to see and take a photograph; and about the equally mysterious joy of just going with the flow of it all. Why do some scenes/compositions attract our attention while we walk past others as if sleepwalking through a void? While it is easy to overthink (even obsess) about seeing, interpreting, and composing - which only disrupts the natural flow - indulging in an occasional self-reflection can also reveal a part of the creative process. In my case, I've always had a penchant for making split-second associations with something either imagined or recalled). What I don't know is whether my inner musings are synchronous-with, antecedent-of, or follow my photographer-self's gaze? I've no doubt experienced each of these variants countless times, but the question of what really happens remains a deep mystery to me. But I have also grown to savor this mystery whenever it presents itself, as it did this weekend, when my wife and I parked our car in a garage before going to see a play in Washington, DC. As I closed my door, and for whatever reason, the vista of pipes, lights, and soiled concrete that met my gaze conjured up a scene from the absurdist Monty-Pythonesque-movie "Brazil" wherein Robert De Niro (playing a character named "Harry Tuttle," who is part heating engineer and part special forces operative) breaks into the Sam Lowry's apartment (Sam is the "hero," played by Jonathan Pryce), and rips apart a section of Sam's wall to expose a bizarre mass of writhing, all-but-living, pipes and electrical conduits! So, there I stood transfixed beside our car, my mind a blank (with a silly grin on my face), mentally replaying what I could remember from this scene from Brazil. The image you see up above is my attempt at using my iPhone to record a Stieglitzian "equivalent" of what I was experiencing while gazing at the vista of pipes, lights, and soiled concrete in a Washington, DC garage 😊

Monday, April 24, 2023

A Universe Comes into Being

"A universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart. The skin of a living organism cuts off an outside from an inside. So does the circumference of a circle in a plane. By tracing the way we represent such a severance, we can begin to reconstruct, with an accuracy and coverage that appear almost uncanny, the basic forms underlying linguistic, mathematical, physical, and biological science, and can begin to see how the familiar laws of our own experience follow inexorably from the original act of severance. The act is itself already remembered, even if unconsciously, as our first attempt to distinguish different things in a world where, in the first place, the boundaries can be drawn anywhere we please. At this stage the universe cannot be distinguished from how we act upon it, and the world may seem like shifting sand beneath our feet.

Although all forms, and thus all universes, are possible, and any particular form is mutable, it becomes evident that the laws relating such forms are the same in any universe. It is this sameness, the idea that we can find a reality independent of how the universe actually appears, that lends such fascination to the study of mathematics. That mathematics, in common with other art forms, can lead us beyond ordinary existence, and can show us something of the structure in which all creation hangs together, is no new idea. But mathematical texts generally begin the story somewhere in the middle, leaving the reader to pick up the threads as best he can. Here is the story traced from the beginning."

G. Spencer Brown (1923 - 2016)
Laws Of Form 

Postscript. This simple "point and shoot" image (albeit with an assist from Photoshop's perspective-crop tool) was taken with my iPhone as my wife and I were waiting for yesterday's matinee of Les Mesirables to start at the Kenney Center in Washington, DC. I have been drawn to mirrors and reflections ever since my teenaged-self stumbled across their deep mysteries through Borges' stories. Objectively speaking, the image is composed of nothing but metal, glass, some branches and leaves, and just a hint of a massive chandelier hanging just inside the Kennedy Center. But, as all Borgesian souls know, this "objectively banal reality" is but a shadow of the dynamic undulating froth of invisible universes! The first step toward catching a glimpse of these other realities is - as G. Spencer Brown reminds us - to draw a subjective distinction.