Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A Report, A Rumour, Not To Be Believed

'"In winter," Grandfather Trout said, "summer is a myth. A report, a rumour. Not to be believed in. Get it?"'

"The difference between the Ancient concept of the nature of the world and the New concept is, in the Ancient concept the world has a framework of Time, and in the New concept, the world has a framework of Space.
 To look at the Ancient concept through the spectacles of the New concept is to see absurdity: seas that never were, worlds claimed to have fallen to pieces and been created newly, a congeries of unlocatable Trees, Islands, Mountains and Maelstroms. But the ancients were not fools with a poor sense of direction; it was only not Orbis Terrae that they were looking at. When they spoke of the four corners of the earth, they meant of course no four physical places; they meant four repeated situations of the world, equidistant in time from one another: they meant the solstices and the equinoxes. When they spoke of the seven spheres, they did not mean (until Ptolemy foolishly tried to take their portrait) seven spheres in space; they meant those circles described in time by the motions of the stars: Time, that roomy seven-storey mountain where Dante's sinners wait for Eternity. When Plato tells of a river girdling the earth, which is somewhere (so the  New concept would have it) up in the air and somewhere also in the middle of the earth, he means by that river the same river Heraclitus could never step in twice. Just as a lamp waved in darkness creates a figure of light in the air, which remains for as long as the lamp repeats its motion exactly, so the universe retains its shape by repetition: the universe is Time's body. And how will we perceive this body, and how operate on it? Not by the means we perceive extension, relation, colour, form - the qualities of Space. Not by measurement and exploration. No: but by the means we perceive duration and repetition and change: by Memory."

from 'Little, Big', John Crowley


Sunday, 11 December 2011

In the First Place

Stotinki's diaries from his mid-thirties reveal the intense atmosphere of his Wolvercote airship design and construction business. Often working for three days and nights without pause, Stotinki and his team would launch prototype craft at dawn from the open expanses of Port Meadow. When succesful, Stotinki would often land in the centre of Oxford and go to the Botanic Garden...

'I walked the length of the systematic order beds, where the plants are arranged, by family, in long, narrow beds. To walk along the paths of this garden is to undertake more than a mere physical journey. It is to walk along the path of evolutionary history, from the earliest flowering plants to the most recent. The historical developments, the complex relationships between species are manifested in the physical world, and we can walk around as though inside an idea- as though, in order to acquaint ourselves with the history of our own family, we were to stroll among the shades of our own ancestors, flesh and blood before us,  each standing on one branch of a giant family tree  '
           Journal vii, G.Stotinki

Some commentators believe that Stotinki's interest in, and subsequent use of the ancient technique of the 'Memory Palace' stem from his strolls in this garden. He writes of conversations with the gardeners who describe how, bringing a certain plant to mind, they could find information about which botanical family it belonged to, or it's geographical origins, medicinal uses etc., simply by remembering its location within the ordered planting systems of the garden.

    '" Architecture, in fact," she said, "is frozen memory. A great man said that."
     "Many great thinkers of the past believed that the mind is a house, where memories are stored; and that the easiest way to remember things is to imagine an architecture, and then cast symbols of what you wish to remember on the various places defined by the architect....
     "It sounds terribly complicated, I know. And I suppose it's really not any better than a notebook."
     "Then why all that guff? I don't get it."
     "Because," she said carefully, sensing that despite his outward truculence he understood her, "it can happen - if you practice this art - that the symbols you put next to one another will modify themselves without your choosing it, and that when next you call them forth, they may say something new and revelatory to you, something you didn't know you knew. Out of the proper arrangement of what you do know, what you don't know may arise spontaneously. That's the advantage of a system. Memory is fluid and vague. Systems are precise and articulated. Reason apprehends them better."
                                                                                 'Little, Big', John Crowley