Monthly Archives: May 2007

The Ongoing Moment – Geoff Dyer (2005)

The Ongoing Moment

I found Geoff Dyer’s The Ongoing Moment over in Melbourne, and was kind of surprised that I’d never noticed it here in the States. It’s a book of musings on photography, the connections and links between photographers and photographs. Dyer sticks to mostly well known names: Evans, Stieglitz, Strand, Arbus, Weston, Frank, Eggleston, Shore, and others. There are a handful of color plates; unfortunately the other reproductions are a bit small and not very high quality, but they’re enough to sense what Dyer is describing. It’s not an attempt at a history of photography, it’s more of a set of essays on what Dyer finds while looking at photos.

What I found most intriguing were Dyer’s musings on time (and of course about photographic time). Here are a couple samples:

In photography there is no meantime. There was just that moment and now there’s this moment and in between there is nothing. Photography, in a way, is the negation of chronology. (120)

The influence of innovators like Frank and (Ornette) Coleman extends in both directions. Obviously they have a massive impact on the work that is made after them. But once it becomes clear that they are rooted in a tradition, which they seemed, initially, to flout, challenge, or overthrow, they change our perceptions of the work that has gone before. Just as the new appears traditional so the traditional comes to seem newer. (168)

Here’s a nice review of the book at Ready Steady Book.

PS. I tend to like books on any subject that bring in Ornette and Don DeLillo!

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A Day in Brisbane

Brisbane

I spent the afternoon on Thursday wandering a bit in downtown Brisbane. It was a lovely day, as captured above looking back to the CBD, though it made me fear that hot summer days there must be really scorching.

The highlight was a visit to the quite new Gallery of Modern Art in Southbank, which has some nice collections and is free to boot!

GoMA

There are nice collections of both Aboriginal Art and Non-Aboriginal Art, in large rooms. Well worth a visit if you’re in town.

A Collingwood Day

Goats

First off this morning was a visit to the Collingwood Children’s Farm, where we saw a number of animals including these long eared goats!

Then we joined 77,000 other people to see an AFL (Aussie rules football) game at the MCG, Collingwood vs. Carlton.  After a slow start Collingwood tied the game several times in the third quarter and pulled away to an easy win by the end.

Down Under!

Federation Square - Melbourne

I’m over in Australia at the moment, Melbourne to be exact. Beautiful fall weather here lately. The Melbourne Jazz Festival is on this week; last night I went to see the Paul Grabowsky Quartet, playing some pretty modern and challenging pieces in a suitably modern hall at Federation Square.

Update: A couple nights later I saw a double bill of the Pharoah Sanders Quartet and McCoy Tyner Trio with Dave Liebman.  Sanders did an odd set touching on all bases, with a long version of ‘Giant Steps’ and finishing with some audience participation.  I prefered Tyner & Liebman, who created a more cohesive set while including some short Tyner solo pieces.

Strange Loop – Comments 1

Escher's Drawing Hands

Now for some comments on “I am a Strange Loop“. Given that Hofstadter insists upon the mapping of all brain activity down to neurons, he then wonders about the role of concepts like love, honor, guilt, etc. He asks: “Do such pure abstractions have causal powers?” but I did not sense that he really answered that question. While I agree that one can probably map brain activities down to the pure physical level (with super sophisticated sensing devices), that seems to me to be a not very interesting thing to do. We operate (as Hofstadter acknowledges) at the level of gross abstractions, and I think it’s fair to say that as we consider the abstractions and make decisions, that essentially it is the abstractions that are causal.

I compare this issue to software, where the code is written at a high level of abstraction. Yes, of course this maps all the way down to 0s and 1s, but I’d say it’s the abstract patterns that are manipulating the bits, not the bits manipulating the abstractions. And if the low-level substrate supports abstractions and self-reference, then there’s really little limit to what abstractions can be created (and to the power of those abstractions). At times Hofstadter seems to belittle the abstractions: “I conceived of these “macroscopic forces” as being merely ways of describing complex patterns engendered by basic physical forces” (his italics), but at other points he points out their primacy in our experience.

I find some of the word choice to be deliberately provocative. For instance, he frequently calls the “I” an ‘illusion’ or ‘mirage’. While I get his point that there may not be a physical thing we can point at that is the “I”, I think it makes more sense to refer to it as an ’emergent property’.

This all reminds me of Robert Laughlin’s book A Different Universe, where he argued that a pure reductionist approach was not nearly enough to find all the interesting properties of matter (see my earlier post on A Different Universe).