[Humanist] 29.744 analogical

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Feb 27 07:23:31 CET 2016

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 744.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 26 Feb 2016 11:32:08 +0100
        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
        Subject: Re:  29.743 analogical?
        In-Reply-To: <20160226081209.DD54CC4B at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

Oliver Wendell Holmes, as recounted by Kaja Silverman here,
needs a rebuttal in a form I don't usually use ...  I believe
this, but it seems to contradict what we usually think we

A photograph can never represent reality.  It can never be a
picture of reality.  It may only tell you something about
reality.  (Similarly, a model can never be a representation of
reality, but it may help us understand something about some
part of reality, past, present, future, or possible.)

The evidence for this is easy to come by, for all of us.

For example, my walk to and from work takes me past the bay of
Donostia / San Sebastián, with its island in the middle and
the open sea of the Bay of Biscay beyond.  Every time I go
past this scene it's different, despite it being at about the
same times of day--different weather, light, season, state of
the tide, strength of the sea, etc.  I have plenty of
photographs that show its always different.

If you attempted to capture the variability and variety of
this reality you'd need to set a camera to continuously take
photographs every few seconds, or less.  But then, viewing
this representation would take as long as looking at the
reality, and still not give you all the variety that the
reality really displayed.  And, of course, the next day would
be different, and the one after that, then the month, the
year, the century ...

All realities are like this, endlessly variable and variety
laden.  This essence cannot be made to inhere in any number of
photographs, such that they may be used instead of the
reality; so that the reality can be disposed of, as Wendell
Holmes suggests.

I'm reminded here of "On Exactitude in Science" ["Del rigor en
la ciencia"] by Jorge Luis Borges.  It was the map that was
thrown away!  And of Lewis Carroll's "Sylvie and Bruno" in
which a map was made with a "scale of a mile to the mile," but
which presented some practical difficulties, leading one of
those who made it to remark that "we now use the country
itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as
well."  And of Rod Brooks--pioneer of Behaviour Based
robotics, and a co-founder of iRobot, maker of the Roomba--who
said, in reaction to classical representation-based approaches
in Artificial Intelligence, that "the world is its own best
representation."  And of Philip Metres' "Yuri Gagarin's
Spaceship," which starts

  No detailed pictures of Soviet space
  ships were ever released: thus, this artist's

  conception on the Jell-O box is pure
  conjecture: it looks like a telescope,

  half-collapsed, eye-windowed, just a soup can
  nesting inside a soup can, Warhol

  meets Matryoshka Doll. It's alright, Mama,
  I'm only flying in my umwelt, outside

  of which there is no breathing. The world
  is its own best representation: . . .

You must keep throwing away the photographs if you want to
keep seeing the realities of being in the world.  Throwing
away the world makes fictions of the photographs.

You must never let your representations get between you and
the world you seek to understand.  (They will often try hard
to do this!)

Best regards,


> On 26 Feb 2016, at 09:12, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 743.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Fri, 26 Feb 2016 06:54:00 +0000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: the analogical world
> At the beginning of The Miracle of Analogy: A History of Photography, 
> vol. 1 (Stanford, 2015), Kaja Silverman addresses ideas of representation:
>> In a chilling passage in his 1859 essay "The Stereoscope and the
>> Stereograph," Oliver Wendell Holmes not only characterizes the world
>> as a picture, whose essence inheres in its photographic
>> representability, but suggests that once this essence has been
>> extracted, the world itself can be thrown away. “Form is henceforth
>> divorced from matter,” this passage reads. “In fact matter as a
>> visible object is of no great use any longer . . . Give us a few
>> negatives of a thing worth seeing, taken from different points of
>> view, and that is all we want of it. Pull it down or burn it up, if
>> you please.
> Does this not sound familiar, if a bit bolder than many utterances or 
> implied notions along this line? Against it and related ideas, she argues 
> for a different idea of photography, and so, I think, for what we do with 
> our beloved machine:
>> photography isn't a medium that was invented by three or four men in
>> the 1820s and 1830s, that was improved in numerous ways over the
>> following century, and that has now been replaced by computational
>> images. It is, rather, the world's primary way of revealing itself to
>> us—of demonstrating that it exists, and that it will forever exceed
>> us. Photography is also an ontological calling card: it helps us to
>> see that each of us is a node in a vast constellation of analogies.
>> When I say 'œanalogy,' I do not mean sameness, symbolic equivalence,
>> logical adequation, or even a rhetorical relationship—like a metaphor
>> or a simile—in which one term functions as the provisional
>> placeholder for another. I am talking about the authorless and
>> untranscendable similarities that structure Being, or what I will be
>> calling “the world,” and that give everything the same ontological
>> weight.
> Comments?
> Read it tonight!
> Yours,
> WM
> -- 
> Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
> Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
> Group, Western Sydney University

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