Part ii: Lines of force


[via Uppercase]

To continue with Warner's essay in Cabinet -- Caillois wanted to exalt perception, not the perceiver -- Warner tells us that his position is best described by Peter Galison as: a join epistemic project addressing the historically changing and mutually conditioning relation of 'inside' and 'outside' knowledge. I'm just trying to understand what that even means -- are we talking about some sort of hermeneutics of hermetics? Of understanding the spaces in between -- the absences and lacks and gaps?

Warner also mentions Valéry:

His [Caillois's] writing grows gradually ever closer to the precise observation, combined with lyrical delirium, that is found in the prose and poetry of Paul Valéry as well as the poetic phenomenology of Francis Ponge. Valéry, responding to the discovery of the electromagnetic field, had also found in material phenomena the proof of a secret, metaphysical order.'

His dialogue Eupalinos seems to me to be the most interesting illustration of this description. The passages of sheer rhetorical beauty, the questions about art and making and creation, the difficulty Socrates has in discerning whether his strange seashore-object is animal, vegetable, mineral, or indeterminable.

Maxwell's discovery of the electromagnetic field meant that there could now be proof of those 'lines of force' that had long been poeticized as 'magical thinking':

they posit some power that orders and patterns phenomena and freights them with significance, if only they could be rendered legible, scrutable; this order obeys a unifying energy in the cosmos, which aligns the particular incident or being with a general and universal order according to a correlation between microcosm and macrocosm.

This 'network of natural correspondences,' these 'invisible lattices of significant meaning,' that underlie all knowledge, all information, all perception -- they're so tantalizing! They speak to the desire to decipher and define and determine -- they speak to the prolongation of understanding, the process of wonder. I can't decide if I assent to them or if they're but another illusion of our code-happy minds [note the influence of Powers' story].
Valéry was especially taken with this discovery:

in Maxwell's revelation of invisible 'lines of force,' Valéry recognized a key metaphor for the role of imagination in poetic vision, which could also allow phenomena that cannot be directly perceived to come into being and combine together as objects of mental contemplation. For Valéry, this work needed an understanding of mathematics: he wanted to perform in poetry a kind of linguistic algebra that would render intelligible the elusive and impalpable geometry of reality.

That last phrase reminds me of a larger diversion -- but to that in a moment.

Caillois was much taken with the stones of this world -- in them he saw the text of natural creation -- an indelible record of the world's history. Just as Valéry wondered over the seashell -- in both Eupalinos and in 'Man and the Seashell,' Caillois wonders at the power and significance of nature's simple creations. Warner quotes his Pierres:

They provide moreover, taken on the spot and at a certain instant of its development, an irreversible cut made into the fabric of the universe. Like fossil imprints, this mark, this trace, is not only an effigy, but the thing itself stabilized by a miracle, which attests to itself and to the hidden laws of our shared formation where the whole of nature was borne along.

Caillois wanted to uncover the invisible order -- the network of connections and convergences that would illumine the present. At least that's what this essay seems to say. I'll admit I hadn't even heard of the fellow before reading this. But Pierres sounds interesting, and he is clearly concerned with creativity, wonder, nature, etc.

Warner has an interesting conclusion which ties in with what I spoke of in the first part of this series. She says:

Oddly, this perception offered by stones returns us to ancient metaphorical visions of the cosmos; in Ovid's Metamorphoses, inroganic and organic life, stone and flesh, do not stand as opposite poles but flow and fuse along the continuum uniting all things. Valéry 's impulse is to find a literary analogue operating with language for the new physics' vision of nature doesn't disrupt poetry's endeavor or twist it from a long-established orbit. The search for metaphor can march with the experimental method of science, as Roger Caillois the manist believed -- and practiced in his writing and his thought.