metaphysical & metaphorical musings : art, architecture, and arithmetic

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Deformation & Fetish Objects

Deformation’s been on my mind all semester.  A big part of this chronic fixation is my puppy-love for Jerome McGann’s book radiant textuality: literature after the world wide web.  (It’s a spectacular book.  Really.)  Deformation is McGann’s instruction; he advocates precisely the sort of image manipulation we started our semester with, and shares his experience messing around with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s art that lead to new insights on his own part.  His dictum is that no text (or image, I suppose) is ever self identical—so why not bring the image (or text, I suppose) into its ecstasy by helping it along?  McGann uses the term deformation to foreground the function of criticism and interpretation.  Transformation works equally well, and sheds any negative connotations that deformation might carry.

In a response to one of Wendy’s emails earlier this semester, I wrote a little about the deformation of the accident as an event into the static, flattened image of the accident, the sign; and about the deformation into pixilation (which allows us to make all those fun transformations).  This is implicit in McGann, particularly his discussion of how a high-powerd scanner never produced the same facsimile twice.  ‘Pixelation’ is also implicit in Newton’s calculus, which divides a curve into numerous discreet segments that resemble the original curve, and the same with Cartesian arithmetic, which transforms an algebraic statement into a geometric form mapped onto a grid—my figure for the Pruitt-Igoe disaster.  The design of the buildings was heavily influenced by Le Corbusier’s philosophy of architecture (thanks, Todd!) which relies heavily on formal properties and geometric space.  Le Corbusier is a pseudonym, a transformation of the identity, which corresponds with Le Corbusier’s Modular scale, a transformation of the physical body—the human form—into a mathematical exemplar, a harmony of ratios.  Even the name, Le Corbusier, suggests the force of bending and deforming.

I’ve looked briefly at the fetish-object, the relation between dominoes and punched cards.  Part of that examination was the difficulty of deciding just how far back to trace in pursuit of the object.  Both of these are, of course, cases of transformation/deformation, but the dominoes seem more interesting to me as a transformation of aleatory play.  Dominoes were, allegedly, derived from dice; in a physical sense, the dice are flattened out in the transformation to dominoes, but the luck of the throw is transformed into the luck of the draw, which seems like a sort of flattening out (maybe Caillois will be able to help me with this).  Dominoes also have the added feature of physical extension, of creating an emergent structure, form from number just as Le Corbusier’s architectural philosophy extols.  The difference between the domino-structure and the Pruitt-Igoe grid is the difference between liberal-aleatory and conservative-utilitarian deployments of space.

What’s the difference between Pruitt-Igoe and a stack of dominoes?  The stack of dominoes has a better chance of staying upright.

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