Weekend links 339
6 hours ago
We see offspring who slowly substitute themselves for their parents by resorbing them; elsewhere, we see parents decompose in their children. We witness organs of propulsion becoming jaws, an eye passing from one side to the other or fusing to the one next to it; in some, all the organs disappear. While some young begin with identical forms, they grow into adults who look nothing like each other. So wildly different are the stages in such a species that if one does not closely monitor their transformations, one could easily be fooled into believing these two individuals are not even related. Indeed, a dully coloured, carnivorous larva might grow into a dazzling coloured vegetarian who, when fully grown, no longer has a mouth and fasts until death.
The law of magic, Things that have once touched each other stay united, corresponds to the principle of association by contiguity, just as the principle of association by similarity precisely corresponds to the attractio similium of magic: Like produces like. Hence, identical principles govern, on the one hand, the subjective association of ideas and, on the other, the objective association of phenomena; that is, on the one hand, the chance or supposedly chance links between ideas and, on the other, the causal links between phenomena.
exactly the opposite. It should be realised that the point is not to explain certain puzzling facts observed in nature in terms of man. On the contrary, it is to explain man (governed by the laws of this same nature, to which he belongs in almost every respect) in terms of the more general behavioural forms found widespread in nature throughout most species. This attitude prompts one to greatly vary the principles of biological explanation and to assert that nature (which is no miser) pursues pleasure, luxury, exuberance, and vertigo just as much as survival.
Implicit in the typical objects of the Wunderkammern that drew nature and art together in mutual emulation - the landscape veined in marble, the mechanical duck that swam and quacked, the nautilus shell garlanded in gold - was a personification of nature as an elevated kind of artisan. She (for the personification of nature was traditionally and invariably feminine) was neither Aristotle's humble maker of mundane, functional objects like beds and ships, not the creative, almost divine artist exalted by the Neoplatonic art theory of the Italian Renaissance. Rather, she was the creator of luxury items, as elaborate as they were useless, combining costly materials with fine craftsmanship. Like the goldsmith, the ivory turner, and the painter of miniatures, she was freed from the demands of utility. The virtuoso artisan could play with form and matter, just as nature occasionally "sported" with her ordinary species and regularities.Caillois, like Breton and the Surrealists, was well aware that a rationalist view of nature is an incomplete one, that there's no reason why we should be able to fully comprehend the universe. To attribute to nature a drab utilitarianism based on "the struggle for survival" is a form of anthropomorphism. He argued that "[t]he time has come to invoke 'motives' that are just as pressing on a universal scale, such as profusion, play, ivresse, and even aesthetics, or at least the need for ornament and decoration."
Above all, those beliefs in the habits and miraculous properties of animals which scientific research had by then shown to be unfounded, are still stubbornly reiterated. Evidently the results of scientific investigation could not be totally ignore; but the rational explanation… is usually confined to a few grudging lines at the end of each description. The effort to maintain the greatest possible sense of mystery and wonder is quite apparent. In the same town, and at the same time as [the physician and biologist Marcello] Malpighi was subjecting the vegetable world to microscopic examination, it did not even occur to Cospi to open up a dried Ethiopian fruit to discover the nature of its interior, although the catalogue notes that the fruit rattled when shaken. He still clung to a method of enquiry based largely on vague supposition rather than dissection and empirical analysis.