Tag Archives: meaning

The wave is breaking in a deep sea.

The breaking of a wave cannot explain the whole sea.
-Vladimir Nabokov

On Sunday I taught my first Zoom church school class, on St. Thomas. That was after tuning in, and trying to tune my spirit, to the streamed Divine Liturgy in the morning. In the later afternoon about twenty of us women met on Zoom to chat for an hour and to chose the next book for those of us who read together. Before sundown, I picked peas.

All day my mind was trying to pull me away from that present moment’s demands, but not totally — because it seemed to be doing that which is its natural skill, to weave the latest input from that very moment into the grid of experience and memory. I do not at all like the idea of my mind being like a computer, but the concept of fragmented files occurs to me…

Keeping the contents in a cohesive, organized fashion is a challenging project at my age, when the “files” have mushroomed, and my “processor” is trying to save a hundred bits of data every day to the most logical place. I have an astounding human mind, which sees way more connections between all those thoughts and images and stories than a simple machine could ever do. It is constantly clumping and re-clumping and arranging things, all the while thinking in sentences about its strategies.

This afternoon my godmother came through the gate to my garden, and we visited across the patio for an hour. I shared a smidgen of the last few days, and how it seemed that about five blog posts were churning in a mass in my head, trying to sort themselves out.

Since she went home, I’ve been halfheartedly applying myself to the task, but there is so much I want to write. It seems hard now, during this world pandemic, to sift through all the noise, or turn one’s back on it, in order to hear communications from reliable and helpful sources. And the Source.

In my attempts today, I came upon the idea of making use of my large store of quotes, many of which are thought provoking on many levels and might come to my aid in keeping at my blog and my writing. Even if some days I can’t write one good and pertinent sentence, I might post a quote that helps at least me, and you can make of it what you will.

It may be that my own mind is like an ocean that is too turbulent for me to see anything clearly in the water, but that’s not why I chose the quote above. It brought to mind all the many statistics and news stories, sermons and anecdotes and directives flowing all around us, by which some people I know are trying to figure out, not just how to behave today, but what is The Meaning of it all.

You have to understand vagueness.

The work of the philosopher is a marshalling of remembrances for a specific purpose.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein

Last week someone I know used the phrase, “The marvelous clouds,” and I immediately remembered a book by that name that I bought a couple of years ago and wrote a very short post about, before it had even arrived in my mailbox. Recently I had moved that book from an upstairs shelf to a downstairs one, seemingly at random, so it was close at hand and I looked inside today. How surprising to see that back then I had read the introduction. I can tell because many passages are underlined 🙂 It is comfortingly full of references to the material world and other real things, which of course the title would lead you to believe, but the subtitle, about media theory, sounds… um… scarily theoretical. Here is my first post on the book:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once declared that language is fossil poetry. Many words that we use carelessly have, embedded within their amber-like exterior, the remnants of long lost perceptions and intuitions. When received thoughtfully and with some delicacy, words have the capacity to allow us to travel back in time, to imagine how and what the world meant to our ancestors. But unlike the insects, or dinosaur DNA fixed in amber, the meanings within words are changing, evolving, as human perceptions change.”

-Ken Myers on Mars Hill Audio Journal, introducing his interview of John Durham Peters about his new book, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media.

I listened to this interview and have ordered the book, though I fear it will be above my head, like clouds. The author was not hard to understand when he was talking, and he spoke of so many things that I would like to “hear” him discuss further, after I get the book and can read the words on paper, and flip back and forth and underline a phrase here and there of his meaningful prose. How can I resist a book that contains all together in its title the words Marvelous, Philosophy, and Clouds?

(Originally “Words have skins like amber.”)

Albert was one of several commenters in 2016 who were inspired to put this book on their To-Read list, and he shared what he found in his research:

‘Wondering if I could benefit from reading The Marvelous Clouds, I looked for information about the author, and found a rather detailed interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

‘Here is John Durham Peters talking about why a book on media would use clouds as its chief metaphor: “Clouds illustrate media ontology. [They] exist by disappearing. They exist in time. . .  their dynamic materiality is suggestive for media under volatile digital conditions.” And,

‘“Clouds bear significance, but without any code to clarify what they mean. Their meanings are essentially vague. . . .  [They] are the original white noise.  . . . The ability to represent the indefinite is one of the great achievements of modern mathematics and media, and clouds were at the vanguard here too. If you want to understand how meaning works, you have to understand vagueness, and clouds are a chief example.”

‘At this point I almost gave up — his ideas were too cloudy for me — but I pressed on. Half way through, when the questioner brought up the possible negative effects of limitless storage and quick retrieval of data, a new idea was discussed as “something more insidious, a kind of existential de-orientation, in which presumptions of universal storage alter our relation to loss and death.”

‘Now I was interested.

‘It turns out to be a really good, comprehensive interview. By the end I could see better. My clouds were dispersed, somewhat. For a person whose book budget is limited, Brian Hanrahan’s interview is well worth reading. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-anthropoid-condition-an-interview-with-john-durham-peters/’

Speed forward to August of 2019, and I read the Intro again, gleaning the quote at top, and have continued into Chapter 1!! I thought some of you might be interested in the author’s introductory outline of the scope of the book, in this paragraph:

“In the first chapter I outline my intellectual debts and sketch the relevant landscape of media theory. In chapters 2 and 3, I examine sea and fire media, and in 4 and 5, the two main kinds of sky media. At first such realms as ocean, flame, and the heavens would seem to be unpromising realms for human creativity or technical handling, each being hostile to our works in its own way. But in spite of their resistance, or rather because of it, such elements are seedbeds of arts and crafts, many of them so basic that it took eco-crisis and the digital shakeup to make them obvious. Hostile environments breed art. Enmity is the mother of invention. In chapter 6 I explore the earthy media of body and writing, and chapter 7 tackles the would-be ethereal medium of Google, each medium also having its own productive meditations. Finally, I offer a few concluding meditations.”

Chapter 7 is titled “God and Google,” and the last chapter, “A Sabbath of Meaning.” My goodness, but I wonder how the meat of the chapters will satisfy my appetite that has been whetted by so many provocative phrases. But it does sound fun, especially from chapter 2 on, to make a philosophical journey through sea, fire, and sky, going on to explore “earthy” media… God will surely balance out whatever about Google might bore me in Chapter 7, and if I’m exhausted by the end, well, Peters has wisely put a sabbath right there in a helpful place.

A ramble like this doesn’t lend itself to a good ending, so I’ll close with one more quote from The Marvelous Clouds:

Einer Hilfe bedarf der Mensch immer.
(The human being always needs a help.)
-F.W.J. Schelling

But you don’t need to read the book to know that.