Book of the World Courant CLX

Gandharan-Style Buddha. Afghanistan; 6th-7th century. Metal alloy. About 18 inches high. Rubin Museum, NYC.
Gandharan-Style Buddha. Afghanistan; 6th-7th century. Metal alloy. About 18 inches high. Rubin Museum, NYC.




You say Vitruvius, I say Vesuvius

Let’s call the whole thing…


Lost, or destroyed, da Vinci drawing: the sacred geometry of Vitruvian Mouse

Hence the West had to wait more than four hundred years for Disney to finally set things right…


NYT obit headline: Agnes Nixon, Who Injected Social Ills Into Daytime Soap Operas, Dies at 93.


Writes Rowley: In design, things may be looked at frontally (chêng) or from the side (p’ien). This yin-yang contrast may be observed in the whole layout. “The sovereign mountain is like the ruler of men, sitting upright at his court, the rest of the mountains are like the three dukes and the nine ministers, and still lower in the picture, the trees, rocks, and houses are like the hundred officials.”

“The oblique lay-out is like the leaning waist of a dancing girl, the immortals whisking among the trees, a flying kite swooping down on the water, or the frightened beasts galloping over the plain, sometimes as urgent as wind or rain, or as changing as the clouds.”

These two descriptions recall the majesty of Sung designs and the more flowing manner of the later paintings. According to Shên, “if one can only do chêng and not p’ien, one easily errs in stagnation,” but “if you can only be p’ien and not chêng, then you easily fall into slipperiness.”

The same yin-yang was applied to upright and oblique brush strokes and these in turn might be used to relieve the layout itself. Wang Yüan-ch’i was considered marvelous because he was able “to use the p’ien brush to carry out his chêng situation,” and Shên Chou was wonderful because he could “carry out a p’ien layout through a chêng brush.”

“This is what is know as: in chêng one does not neglect p’ien and in p’ien one does not miss the chêng.” [Rowley, p. 50]


That the beautiful alone might ‘save the world’, according to the constantly repeated formula of Dostoyevsky, that it would be the hoped for redemption, is what justifies cult and sacrifice but also best nourishes the cliché machine: the beautiful plays the role of the great compensation for ‘humanity’s suffering’, as religion once did; it serves as a substitute for politics [italics mine] in transferring the course toward Liberty apart and beyond.

To call in this way upon the Beautiful is not neutral. Thus Schiller tells us (in such a banal way) that: whatever ‘political corruption’, the ‘fine arts’ are the instrument which ‘absolved from all positive constraint’, are the only thing which leads to this great anticipated reconciliation… [Jullien, p. 232]


In the European tradition, the interest in measurable space destroyed the “continuous method” of temporal sequence used in the Middle Ages and led to the fifteenth century invention of the fixed space of scientific perspective. When the Chinese were faced with the same problem of spatial depth in the T’ang period, they re-worked the early principles of time and suggested a space through which one might wander and a space which implied more space beyond the picture frame.

We restricted space to a single vista as though seen through an open door; they suggested the unlimited space of nature as though they had stepped through that open door and had know the sudden breath-taking experience of space extending in every direction and infinitely into the sky…

They practiced the principle of the moving focus, by which the eye could wander while the spectator also wandered in imagination through the landscape. By this device, one might travel through miles of landscape, might scale the mountain peaks or descend into the depths of the valleys, might follow streams to their course or move with the waterfall in its plunge…

Such a design must be a memory picture which the artist created after months of living with nature and absorbing the principles of growth until the elements of landscape were “all in his heart.” [Rowley, pp. 62-63]


Could one not go even farther and say that the invention of perspective, arising from that “interest in measurable space,” by radically amplifying the effect of geometrical rigor, effectively impaled the viewer, fixing us within the frame(d) like so many specimens, freezing us likewise in time?

Here, the gaze becomes a stake sharpened at both ends. Thus transfixed, does the Western imagination wander at will through the landscape? Or does it writhe in situ, hallucinating other planes in its desperation? In such a predicament, Cezanne (who “specialized in tensions between the axes of his forms” and whose “powerful opposing thrusts… shock us with their departure from natural equilibrium”) cannot help us. Matisse (who introduced the tension of colors, and through values, the tension of space”) less so. [quotes from Rowley, p. 60]


What distinguishes caretaker and caregiver?


What is the relation between information and description?

In writing, as much as painting.




The immediate source of alarm is the health of Deutsche Bank, whose vast and sprawling operations are entangled with the fates of investment houses from Tokyo to London to New York.

Deutsche is staring at a multi-billion dollar fine from the Justice Department for its enthusiastic participation in Wall Street’s festival of toxic mortgage projects in the years leading up to financial crisis in 2008. [A list of the bank’s other “woes” follows.]

…All of which adds to worries that Deutsche amounts to a fire burning, one that might yet become an inferno [how like Dresden!] while the fire department is consumed [it too!] with existential arguments over its purpose [whose purpose, the bank’s, the fire department’s, or both?]. [Peter S. Gordon, “Too Big to Fail, But Is Bailout On the Table” Deutsche Bank’s Woes Put Market on Edge.” NYT, 10/1/16. A1:1]

Ah Bartleby, ah Gray Lady, where else can one get poetry, or at least poetic license, philosophy and hard-nosed reportage all on page one?


Vast and sprawling in the widening gyre…


The fates of investment houses…


Festival of toxic…


And the all-but-invisible termites of determinism, gnawing away: at subject, at object, at ham and Hamlet, Om and omelet, faith, reason, Yorick’s eyeballs, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all, at Joshua and his Walls, and indeed Standing Rock stands for now, along with Attica which means fight back and other things besides – remember you almost said to the Greeks: it’s just a vase you’re going through, give me oil for my amphora, wine and water for my krater, de-term limits, nah, likewise Sanity Clauses with or without elves; pop quiz: What is the solution to determinism?

A)   derivatives, mon amour

And the termites, chanting as they gnaw, I think I Kant, I think I Kant…


Like a grindstone ploughboy


WARNING: Subjects In Mirror May Be Illusory


Left shoulder, arms!

Order, arms!

Port, arms!

Present, arms!

Right shoulder, arms!


Forward march!

Eyes right!

Eyes left!

Doubletime, march!


About face!

Mark time!


Suspend judgment!

At ease!

As you were!

            Ah, if only


To emerge from the hegemony of the beautiful, says Jullien, requires nothing less than a frank critique of classical Reason on which the beautiful depends in conjoined ways. [I would say “secession from” even more than “critique of”.] …This requires above all a critique of representation, the trial of which began with Hegel reproaching it for failing to grasp infinite determination – one could also pursue it starting with what we learn from its non-arrival and therefore also its non-necessity in Chinese thought: representation is suspected… of artificiality because of its too advantageously abstract, isolating and substitutive character… [Jullien, p. 234]

What might substitute for not merely representation, but for the advantageous?


Sexting Matilda, sexting Matilda…


Breathe as slowly as the trees

Did you say breeze?


Repoussoir, mon amour


Writes Rowley: The use of the principle of three depths [in Chinese painting] instead of scientific perspective also affected scale. The Chinese were never interested in natural physical scale, although they had a rule of thumb for size and although they observed the diminution of size according to distance: “If a mountain at a distance of several scores of miles does not have the size of a tree, then it is not a large mountain; if several thousand trees at several scores of miles do not have the size of a man, then they are not large trees.” Historically, natural scale was not developed until the Ming period, just as the practice of having one scale for the figures and another for the setting persisted in Europe until the seventeenth century…

However natural scale always had to bow to pictorial scale… the yin-yang quality of the host-guest relationship was the determinant, and in the same way, size according to distance never followed the laws of geometric perspective but the needs of the design. Foreground features might be diminished to avoid obstruction and overemphasis, and far distant objects, which were too minute to count pictorially, might be enlarged to act as a counterpoint to the middle distance or foreground.

Although the principle of the three depths allowed great latitude in the size as well as in arrangement of the parts, these departures from the natural seldom disturb out sense of scale because the Chinese constantly suggest more scale than they represent. “If one wishes to paint a high mountain, one should not paint every part, or it will not seem high; when mist and haze encircle its haunches, then it seems tall…”

Here we are on the threshold of a psychological scale so very different from our own that we are puzzled by it. In the west, psychological scale was measured by man’s [sic] awareness of himself. In Egypt, where the individual counted for naught, the scale or lack of scale was oppressive; in Greece it was made human and became measurable; in China not man but nature was the measure, and that nature was uniquely conceived as the symbol of the universe.

Consequently, psychological scale in China dealt with the incommensurability of nature. In lateral design, the enclosing and limiting effect of the frame [also mediated by the properties of the handscroll] was nullified by having the design begin with a detailed treatment of “cooling streams, split mountains, crooked trees and tortuous woods,” and then “towards the sides the views should be open, the ranges and ridges linked together should vanish in the distance.”

In such a design the spectator begins with the limited and measurable and is carried into the unlimited and incommensurable. [Rowley, pp. 66-67]