Jan 7, 2009

ideas into objects

There are many ways of seeing, but the truest and best is with the intuition, for it takes in the whole, whereas the intellect only takes in a part. Pattern is born reproducing intuitively-perceived essence.
Soetsu Yanagi, Bernard Leach, The Unknown Craftsman
in the beginning of important things—in the beginning of love, in the beginning of the day, in the beginning of any work—there is a moment when we understand more perfectly than we understand again until all is finished.
W.B. Yeats, "William Blake and the Imagination"
yeats was only partly right. an idea is never cleaner and more understandable than when it exists in your head, simultaneously in all the dimensions and nuances necessary for it to make sense. making that idea concrete—in my case, writing it up or making the object—is the part i dread but can never avoid. taking a multidimensional idea and forcing it into however many dimensions the concrete representation makes available literally does violence to the idea. murphy's law says that the more an idea is truly valuable, truly complex, the more you have to lose in making it concrete.

it's the entropy of ideas, because the transformation isn't perfect and thus isn't fully reversible. something of the original flash of insight is gone by the time you've managed to reconfigure the idea, the flash retrievable only serendipitously when something in environment lets you see past (and forget) the concrete sign and back into what it signifies (which is why seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees—the name has the same relation to the thing as the concrete form to the original idea).

the frustration is particularly acute because, as karsten harries says, "No matter how radical the pursuit of presence, the work of art will always fall short of that purer art that is its telos. It points beyond itself and lacks the plenitude it demands." but we deal with it anyway because ideas can only be communicated when made concrete in some way; it's why we write papers and software, make sculpture, cook food, play music. nostos (in the greek) and saudade (in portuguese) both have a similar inflection, a longing for something possessed in the past and not ever to be possessed in the same way again.

as prospero puts it in the tempest: "this swift business / I must uneasy make, lest too light winning / Make the prize light"

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