Leonora Carrington

The day began with a YouTube video, which has Leonora in her 90s talking with her (somewhat clueless) younger cousin:

I found Leonora’s remarks absolutely riveting, so I transcribed them:

(asked if there had been other artists in the family)
LC: My mother used to paint biscuit tins for jumble sales. That’s the only art that went on in my household.

Joanna Moorhead: I wonder where it came from?

LC: I have no idea.

JM: No other artists in our family? None at all?

LC: Why are you fixed on the idea of heredity? It’s not hereditary … comes from somewhere else, not from genes. You’re trying to intellectualize something desperately, and you’re wasting your time. That’s not a way of understanding, to make a kind of intellectual mini-logic. You never understand by that road.

JM: What do you think you do understand by then?

LC: By your own feelings about things …if you see a painting that you like… canvas is an empty space.

JM: If I got one of your pictures down from upstairs and said to you what were you thinking when you painted this…?

LC: No. It’s a visual world, you want to turn things into a kind of intellectual game, it’s not… the visual world, it’s totally different. Remember what I’ve just said now, don’t try and turn it into a …kind of intellectual game. It’s not… It’s a visual world, which is different. The visual world is to do with what we see as space, which changes all the time. How do I know tgo walk –that’s one concept– to this bed and around it without running into it. I’m moving in space. Or I can have a concept of it and then I can see it as an object in space…”

This is fascinating on several levels, not least the asperity of the nonagenarian being not-understood on a subtle point, and trying to convey its importance to an interviewer who doesn’t quite get it.

And that led to Adam McLean’s marvelous 6-part Study Course on Leonora Carrington:

1: The Early Years

2: Mexico

3: Celtic

4: Esoteric and Magical

5: Map of the human animal

6: Humor and Animals

(see also his Surrealism Lesson the first of 20 videos!)

and here is a somewhat younger Carrington:
“The Flowering of the Crone, Leonora Carrington, Another Reality”

And her story “The House of Fear”, read by Farah Rose:

There are lots of other Carrington videos, and see Leonora Carrington is Having A Moment from 2017, Carrington’s centennial year.

Much more awaits me…

Rescuing some files

In the root directory of oook.info I found a bunch of html files that would be lost forever if I didn’t link them somehow and somewhere, so several hours of messing with them has yielded a chronological table. At least this should make them a bit more findable, and they make an interesting map of some activities during the last 20+ years.

Alter Egos

The game of following the twists and turns of my attention is a personal delight, though perhaps following my Narrative of discoveries and divagations is not an activity that many would find amusing or useful … so this is self-indulgent and primarily for me, to try to capture the daily process. And why not blog it, just in case it might edify or inspire, and so I can find the bits and pieces again myself.

Today’s hypnopompic prompt [waking thought] was centered on the notion of the alter ego (the term said to have been coined by Cicero [‘second self; a trusted friend’]), perhaps touched off by recent explorations of surrealism, and an offshoot of 3 weeks of exploring dreams and dreaming, but a phenomenon of considerable long-running personal interest.

The centerpiece of the moment is Max Ernst, whom I knew had adopted an alter ego, whom he called Loplop, and represented as “Father Superior of the Birds” (the Wikipedia article is a good starting place)

Loplop first appeared in Ernst’s collage novels La Femme 100 Têtes and Une Semaine de Bonté in the role of a narrator and commentator, followed by a number of works into the mid 1930s, forming an informal series of collages, paintings, and mixed media works.

Loplop’s image was not a fixed character, but highly variable in appearance and seldom depicted in the same way twice. Typically (but not always), Loplop had the head of a bird, which could be highly abstracted, often a bird with a crest, comb, or wattle. The body was a square or rectangular space (a canvas, frame, easel, or wall), with the arms and legs being zoomorphic or geometric abstraction in form. Within the “body”, an image, a piece of Max Ernst’s art is presented (a collage, frottage, painting, etc.) which could be equal to, or function independently from the rest of the work.

I first encountered Max Ernst as the subject of a photograph by Frederick Sommer, seen ca. 1964 in Aperture, long before ‘surrealism’ became a subject for my detailed exploration.

(and see fredericksommer.org for how the image was constructed)

Quite a few of Sommer’s photographs were enigmatic and weird enough to draw my attention 60 years ago, as an aspiring photographer on the ragged edges of the conventional, and the Max Ernst photograph seemed at first pretty transgressive of my notions of ‘normal’ portrait images.

So Max Ernst: here’s some of what I collected today, and am working over

from MoMA:

Beginning in the early 1930s, Loplop, or “the Bird Superior,” became one of Ernst’s favorite alter egos. Here his beak-like profile peers over the top of a large rectangular field, which resembles a canvas on an easel or a sandwich board, held up by a concealed body with two stubby feet. In place of a painting or commercial slogans or graphics, Ernst substituted carefully cutout photographs of members of the Surrealist group. His own face appears just slightly above and to the left of center, right next to Salvador Dalí. Such pictures of collective or group activity are a persistent theme in Surrealism.

(fromGallery label from Max Ernst: Beyond Painting, September 23, 2017-January 1, 2018)

Max Ernst and Birds (Daily Art Magazine)

Loplop persists

Max Ernst: a retrospective pdf from archive.org/details/maxer00erns

Summary of Max Ernst “Inspiration to Order” Mike Busby

A Week of Kindness: Exploring Max Ernst’s Surrealist Visual Novel Une Semaine de Bonté

The enduring significance of the work of Max Ernst

History of a Natural History: Max Ernst’s Histoire Naturelle,
Frottage, and Surrealist Automatism

…and I have La Femme 100 Têtes and Une Semaine de Bonté on order…

But what about the alter ego that I began with today? My fascination with such beings is based in my very own engagement with alter egos, the ‘Pogo’ that has followed me since 1953, and the ‘oook’ that joined the parade in the early 1990s (via Terry Pratchett’s Librarian). It’s not so much that either of those is me, as that I have identified with aspects of the characters for 70-odd and 30-odd years. It doesn’t seem to me that many of my acquaintances have similar relationships, and I’m curious about that. There are plenty of examples in literature (even Superman and Batman, whom I abhor…). And now with AI, anybody can have the wherewithal to design avatars and turn them loose in cyberspace … and of course there’s a TV series (Thanks, Fox…) Alter Ego, Avatars and Their Creators and ‘Legitimately nightmarish’: is Alter Ego the worst TV show of 2021? (Guardian). And there’s the 2009 film Avatar , which has spawned a franchise…

A long way from the playfulness of Max Ernst’s Loplop.

What is an avatar, really?

“Avatar” comes from the Sanskrit word avat&amacron;ra meaning ‘descent’. Within Hinduism, it means a manifestation of a deity in bodily form on earth, such as a divine teacher. For those of us who don’t practice Hinduism, it technically means “an incarnation, embodiment, or manifestation of a person or idea”. But in the West, because we mostly encounter avatars in the digital space, we generally define them as the little cartoon person you choose to represent yourself in video games, on social media, or in web forums.

And in the Metaverse?

Avatars are a digital expression of you, letting you freely express your identity, personality and appearance. Avatars are available across all first-party Meta experiences, including those in VR.


…and there goes September

It’s been a momentous month, or anyhow a month of moments, what with the last days of John and Laura and Kian’s visit, our 59th wedding anniversary, my 80th birthday (something definitely watersheddy there), the annual mileposts of my mother’s birthday (her 124th) and sister Alice’s death day (the 13th) …and preparations for a hurricane that went to Nova Scotia instead, an invitation to participate in a photography show in Portland in November, a decision to not spend $9K on a tooth replacement, resumption of contact with Adrian Lewis (last heard from 20+ years ago), participation in nephew Nick’s difficult move from one house to another (the most horrible physical experience memory can summon), health crises of an old friend and spouse, and then being laid low myself by the COVID I’ve been successfully dodging for 3 1/2 years, and and a locally world-altering fire in Port Clyde just two days ago…

Lots of reflection on advancing age and the anthropology I’ve laid claims to as an Identity for about 60 years, and the usual excesses of reading and writing, some of it epistolary, and a lot having to do with a Convivium Question on dreams and dreaming that was postponed twice… . Dipping into Jung, into Anthony Powell’s epic Dance to the Music of Time (which I hadn’t the perspective to finish 50 years ago), into Surrealism, into several intersecting literatures of Mind, into several David Mitchell books.

This is the sort of discovery that gives me pleasure, found in a London Review of Books article on the Hudson’s Bay company:

When Elizabeth II visited its former territories in Manitoba, The Hudson’s Bay Company governor presented her with the gift its charter mandated for a visiting sovereign: two live beavers, which promptly copulated in front of her…

and a marvelous description of a somewhat sad character in Anthony Powell’s At Lady Molly’s:

…He also gave the impression of an old dog waiting to have a ball thrown to retrieve, more because it was the custom in the past than because sport or exercise was urgently required…

Tomorrow is sure to bring further delights and distractions.

What to do with these, harvested this morning? (28viii23) (some may be paywalled)

The Fourfold Root of Stoic Virtue Steven Gambardella

(not sure what to include)

Between the Bauhaus and Bell Labs David Krakauer, Santa Fe Institute

The focus on thinking with all of one’s sense and sensibility was a dominant feature of the Bauhaus, where according to the art historian Magdalena Droste, “[t]hanks to their basic training on the hand loom, however, students were equally capable of running small, artistic crafts workshops” and “A profession was thus created within the textile industry which had rarely been found before — designer.”

Between the engineering design of Bell Labs and the artistic design
community of the Bauhaus, I like to position the Santa Fe Institute. Complex systems are that special part of the universe “designed” by natural selection and self-organizing dynamics or by human collectives: organisms, ecosystems, markets, computers, and cities. And all organizations dedicated to understanding design in this larger, distributed sense have no choice but to accommodate very different styles of thought.

…Our project is a radical one, which seeks to explore the frontiers of complex reality — the garden of machines, as it were — and emphasizes the precarious balance between individual iconoclasm, communitarian vision, and creative production.

Breathing Life into Bytes: The Enigma of Machine Consciousness Daniele Nanni

In the Western culture, thinkers like René Descartes championed the idea that our minds, distinct from our physical brains, hold our consciousness. His proclamation, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”), underscores that our self-awareness attests to our existence.

Following him, John Locke envisioned our minds as a tabula rasa (a blank canvas), gradually painted on by our life’s experiences. Contrastingly, David Hume saw consciousness as a mixtape of sorts, a collection of different experiences and perceptions. Immanuel Kant then threw in his two cents, suggesting our minds actively piece together our experiences into a cohesive narrative.

Fast forward a bit, and we find William James, a pioneer in psychology, proposing different “versions” of ourselves within our consciousness. And who can forget Sigmund Freud? With his iconic iceberg analogy, he illustrated our mind as largely hidden beneath the surface of our awareness.

As we mull over these Western theories, the East provides its own philosophical richness.

Ancient Indian Vedantic scriptures, such as the Upanishads, emphasize the concept of Atman or the inner self, and Brahman, the grand cosmic essence. They argue for a universal consciousness, where individual awareness is but a droplet in the vast ocean of existence.

Buddhism, with its profound insights from the Buddha, presents consciousness as ever-flowing. The doctrine of Anatta or “no-self” describes our conscious self not as a fixed entity but as an evolving stream of experiences.

Chinese philosophers weren’t far behind in their contributions.

Confucius rooted consciousness in relationships, emphasizing our interconnectedness. Then we have Daoism, with Laozi speaking of the Dao, suggesting that true consciousness aligns with the universe’s rhythm.

In juxtaposing these Western and Eastern thoughts, we discern a recurring theme: Consciousness is intricate, layered, and deeply connected to our experiences, surroundings, and perhaps even the cosmos.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Web3: The beginning of a digital renaissance? Jasvin Bhasin

(2010s)…a significant paradigm shift: the car was no longer seen as just a means of transport, but as a “computer on wheels” — a data machine equipped with lidar, radar and ultrasonic sensors. These sensors collected a wealth of data about the car’s environment. Enabled with deep learning and artificial neural networks the vehicles now made real-time decisions. Many car manufacturers also rolled out data intelligence platforms to implement next-best-action systems, that also used big data and predictive models. For example, to predict when a vehicle needs maintenance or provide recommendations for route changes based on traffic data. This capability to predict and plan actions based on data led to significant competitive advantage.

This era was also characterised by breathtaking visions where we imagined a future in which people owned electric vehicles that could drive themselves and recharge themselves. These vehicles were not only to be a means of transport, but also an integral part of our energy ecosystem. They could feed surplus energy into our homes and even offer the possibility to exchange this additionally generated energy via blockchain technologies in order to earn money with it…

…For a long time, the development of artificial intelligence was mainly seen as a sustaining and iterative innovation. But suddenly this perception has changed. Now, AI is seen as having a disruptive potential that is fundamentally changing our previous understanding of what qualifies as “work” and “creativity”. Another significant change was that during the era of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, discussions focused mainly on the automation of factory workplaces. Now, however, the realisation begun to mature that knowledge workers could in fact be dispensable…

…Currently, a third of the world’s web traffic comes from just three companies: Google, Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, five companies — Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Meta — represent 50% of the total market capitalisation of the Nasdaq 100, a significant increase from a decade ago when their share was only 25%.

…Amara’s Law says: “We tend to overestimate the impact of a technology in the short term and underestimate the impact in the long term.”

Ambiguity Defines the Human Experience Douglas Rushkoff (from Team Human)

…we are mistaken to emulate the certainty of our computers. They are definitive because they have to be. Their job is to resolve questions, turn inputs into outputs, choose between one or zero. Even at extraordinary resolutions, the computer must decide if a pixel is here or there, if a color is this blue or that blue, if a note is this frequency or that one. There is no in-between state. No ambiguity is permitted.

But it’s precisely this ambiguity — and the ability to embrace it — that characterizes the collectively felt human experience. Does God exist? Do we have an innate purpose? Is love real? These are not simple yes-or-no questions. They’re yes-and-no ones: Mobius strips or Zen koans that can only be engaged from multiple perspectives and sensibilities. We have two brain hemispheres, after all. It takes both to create the multidimensional conceptual picture we think of as reality.

Besides, the brain doesn’t capture and store information like a computer does. It’s not a hard drive. There’s no one-to-one correspondence between things we’ve experienced and data points in the brain. Perception is not receptive, but active. That’s why we can have experiences and memories of things that didn’t “really” happen.

Our eyes take in 2D fragments and the brain renders them as 3D images. Furthermore, we take abstract concepts and assemble them into a perceived thing or situation. We don’t see “fire truck” so much as gather related details and then manufacture a fire truck. And if we’re focusing on the fire truck, we may not even notice the gorilla driving it.

Our ability to be conscious — to have that sense of what-is-it-like-to-see-something — depends on our awareness of our participation in perception. We feel ourselves putting it all together. And it’s the open-ended aspects of our experience that keep us conscious of our participation in interpreting them. Those confusing moments provide us with opportunities to experience our complicity in reality creation.

It’s also what allows us to do all those things that computers have been unable to learn: how to contend with paradox, engage with irony, or even interpret a joke. We don’t think and communicate in whole pieces, but infer things based on context. We receive fragments of information from one another and then use what we know about the world to recreate the whole message ourselves. It’s how a joke arrives in your head: Some assembly is required. That moment of “getting it” — putting it together oneself — is the pleasure of active reception. Ha! and aha! are very close relatives.

On Being Led Astray (something that’s likely to happen multiply in any day)

A London Review of Books post this morning points to Michael Wood’s Quashed Quotatoes (Vol. 32 No. 24 16 December 2010) and carries me off into

…Joyce alludes to Carroll, then, but already had much of his own method. It’s worth pausing over the similarities and differences between the two writers, because we may understand the difficulty of Joyce’s work better if we do — understand it better, that is, rather than diminish it. Both Carroll and Joyce are interested in puns as forms of criticism of behaviour, even portraits of behaviour’s secret life. When we learn in Alice of a school where the pupils are taught ‘Reeling and Writhing … and then the different branches of Arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision, we quickly translate the terms back into their ordinary classroom relatives, and then realise we shouldn’t be translating at all: it’s in their immediate, literal forms that an education is being identified…

…Carroll has a taste for sheer absurdity, the collapse or travesty of plausible meaning, whereas Joyce, as far as I can tell, wants only to multiply meanings, and believes they will never end. We might miss a few, or a lot, and he himself might not always know what they are. But they’ll be there, and some day someone will find them…

…And when Joyce recites the names of days, they too sound like many days we’ve known: ‘moanday, tearsday, wailsday, thumpsday, frightday, shatterday’. Sunday is safe for the moment; safe because unmentioned. Sometimes the transpositions are even simpler, like ‘while the sin was shining’, ‘sneeze out a likelihood’, ‘call a spate a spate’, ‘whirled without end’, or ‘the late cemented Mr T.M. Finnegan’…

…A person who has been given bits of greenery for her birthday instead of the colourful flowers she was hoping for decides to make the best of things. She says: ‘With fronds like these, who needs anemones?’…

…John Bishop, for example, says ‘the only way not to enjoy Finnegans Wake is to expect that one has to plod through it word by word making sense of everything in linear order.’ This is a brave claim, but it is true that the book is hard not to enjoy — it’s just even harder to cope with one’s bewilderment…

…’Our task,’ Kitcher says,’‘is to find a set of readings … that produce an illuminating pattern on the kaleidoscope — where the reader sets the standard for what counts as illuminating.’ …

…semantics are where most of the wordplay is, and the syntax is what provides (the appearance of) a logical structure. Joyce hints at this situation when he writes of his ‘iridated lingo’ as ‘basically English’, suggesting it’s about as far from Basic English as it could get but still thoroughly English in its basic structure. David Greetham, citing this passage, says this is how Finnegans Wake can ‘fill the reader with ideas without making every idea distinct and separable’. I have no real sense of what it means to say, ‘It’s an allavalonche that blows nopussy food,’ but I can recognise the mockery of a proverb — no, the mockery of the tiresome use of a proverb &mdash when I hear it, and it’s the syntax that allows me to do this. Apart from that we can agree that an avalanche would be a hell of a lunch, and a suitable end to a jibberweek…

…We are not only or always laughing as we attend to Finnegans Wake, but laughter is never far away. The text indulges our taste for renegade readings as well as for literal ones, and the revolt against single sense represented by every pun. But even as we revolt, and congratulate ourselves on our acrobatic associative life, something else inside the laughter, something like laughter at laughter, suggests that we may not like disorder as much as we pretend to, and that there is usually more mess in the offing than we can quite see, especially when, as in Finnegans Wake, it’s all ‘quashed quotatoes’ and ‘messes of mottage’.

What a day. And it’s only 9 AM.

More from the Archives

Fathoming the Archives again this morning, I ran across something I wrote in 1974, after my first year of teaching at Acadia, in a document called “How it looked, Spring 1974”. This was of course long before the WWW, html, even computer access (let alone ubiquity). Some of it presages my 1990 change of career:

So what I’m really getting at is that Information is one of our biggest problems. We have at the same time too much, such that we choke on information and get to be too blasé about what would have profoundly shocked us 10 years ago — and we have too little information because we keep being surprised by what the world serves up to us. The only way to improve that situation is to do something about it yourself — to start being aware of how much your own information structures are changing, and to start trying to achieve systematic understanding of the information that does come in. In a sense you have to do that, just for your own future protection. Or else you have to find a way to drop out completely.

The point is, we have to seek out and find meaningful alternatives to more-of-same. Short-run solutions aren’t solutions — they’re just palliatives to stave poff disaster, and disaster seems to be getting closer and closer.

Another from the Archives, from July 2002, just 3 years before I retired form W&L:

My version of postmodernism is to see the passing scene as chains of stories, the subtext of which (and often the explicit content of which) is about the networks of relationships that lie behind the observed Events. Juxtaposition.

The stories often leak into each other, sometimes because one is a hinge between them. The stories also link people, quite often people who have no idea that they’re linked. If I hear a story on NPR about going over Niagara Falls n a barrel, I’m linked to … the teller of the story, even though I didn’t retain his name … to the people in in the story, though they played their parts in the past, sometimes long ago, or (often enough) didn’t actually do what the story reports … to others who happened to hear the same radio program … and so on. The nature and strength of these connections may be pretty misty and faint, but my participation in them, even as a passive auditor, is of some significance to me, to what I know, to what I think about, to who I am.

I’m a collector and container of stories and linkages. Everybody is.

A discovery in the Archives

While organizing stuff in the barn, I picked up a Notebook from 1976-1977 in which I’d written material for courses I was teaching at Acadia, and was quite interested to see how I was thinking about and constructing the narratives to present to Intro Anthropology (Soc 110) and Human Geography (Soc 218). At that point in my career I wrote out imagined lectures, and then improvised on that base, supplementing with maps and projected images and handout materials (I never used conventional textbooks). Tucked into the Notebook were handouts for the final projects: a “term paper” for Intro Anthro, and a “map portfolio” for Human Geography. Both are delicious evidence for what I thought I was doing at the time, and encouraging my students to think, do, and be. Here they are: