The Stalin in the Soul - Sketch for a Science Fiction Novel
Ursula K. Le Guin, 1973, 1975
in The Future Now
Robert Hoskins, editor
Published by Fawcett/Random House, 1977
included in The Language of the Night
Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction
By Ursula K. Le Guin · 1979
afterward in We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Some Quotes from the Essay
Shock them, jolt them, titillate them, make them writhe and squeal - but do not make them think.
We do not believe in the reality of art. ... in the power of art to change the minds of men.
Despite all disclaimers, it is only when science asks why, instead of simply describing how, that it becomes more than technology. When it asks why, it discovers Relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atomic bomb, and then puts its hands over its eyes and says, My God. what have i done?
When art shows only how and what, it is trivial entertainment, whether optimistic or despairing. When it asks why, it rises from mere emotional response to real statement, and to intelligent ethical choice. It becomes, not a passive reflection, but an act.
And that is when all the censors, of the governments and of the marketplace, become afraid of it.
Let Yevgeny Zamyatin, who understood something about truth, have the last word
A literature that is alive does not live by yesterday's clock, nor by today''s, but by tomorrows. It is a sailor sent aloft: from the masthead he can see foundering ships, icebergs, and maelstroms still invisible from the deck.
What is truly alive stops before nothing and ceaselessly seeks answers to absurd, childish questions. Let the answers be wrong, let the philosophy be mistaken -- errors more valuable than truths, truth is of the machine, error is alive; truth reassures, error disturbs. And if answers be impossible of attainment, all the better! Dealing with answered questions is the privilege of brains constructed like a cow's stomach, which, as we know, is built to digest cud.
If there is anything fixed in nature, if there were truths, all this would, of course, be wrong. But fortunately, all truths are erroneous. This is the very essence of the dialectical process: today's truths become errors tomorrow; there is no final number.
Revolution is everywhere, in everything. It is infinite. There is no final revolution. There is no final number.
Photographer. Filmmaker. Author. Sean Tucker is also a musician, a former minister, and an autodidact. I know him from his YouTube channel. He explores the "why" of making with just enough grounding in technical details to remind me that it's about how technology is used. Sean takes us along with him on his journey as he finds meaning in making. He learns by doing as well as from study. He creates lush scenes that nurture our senses and our souls.
The book, The Meaning in the Making, the why and how behind our human need to create, was written mostly during the pandemic, shortly after he turned 40. It parallels what has been on YouTube, though from a different angle and with more backstory. It's an engaging read, a seemingly small book packed with insights and compassion. At 319 pages, it not all that small. It definitely stands on its own, without the videos, and without any photographs other than the cover image.
A few points:
Meaning and Making - Humans are makers and we get meaning in our lives through our creative activities. We also understand our lives better through our making. It's a process of discovery and invention.
Chaos and Order - We live on the edge of chaos. The world is and has always been falling apart, whether from the the intimacy of a life from birth through death or the vast abstraction of thermodynamics, the continuing threat of thermonuclear war, the already present disruption of climate change, the many cycles in the rise and fall of civilizations. It is in confronting the chaos and making order, however transient or limited, that we grapple with the essence of our lives.
Follow Your Blisters - Joseph Campbell may have popularized the instruction to "follow your bliss", though Sean says he later wished he'd said to "follow your blisters". I find that in the winding trail of what I have done, what I keep coming back to, what my actions say more than my words, is where I found my own meaning in making. Searching around, I learned that Kate Sanborn in 1892 popularized the phrase “genius is inspiration, talent and perspiration," predating Edison's "2% inspiration, 98% perspiration" by a few years.
Shadows - If not for the shadows, there would be nothing to see. It's in the contrast between light and dark, in the changes in light, that we see form. It's from the shadows, from the periphery and the depths, that new things come - the wellspring of creation from the dark places of our being. And there's the counter story of hiding in the shadows, of fears of all kinds, to things denied or pushed aside, if only for the moment, before they become unavoidable. Embrace Your Shadows
The whole book is a blessing offered to us from his attempts to make order from chaos, to heal his own wounds, to find his own meaning. Following his lead, I offer my best wishes for Sean, the book, and all of us on our journeys.
This uncanny, amorphous ball represents the initial detonation of a nuclear test blast, arrested for one millionth of a second. In the 1940s Harold Edgerton devised the rapatronic camera (short for rapid action electronic), and the United States Atomic Energy Commission contracted his lab to use it to capture the various stages of atomic explosions. The rapatronic camera employs two polarizing filters and a Faraday cell-a coil that acts as a magnet when it comes in contact with an electric current. The cell, activated by a pulse emitted by the bomb just before it explodes, momentarily changes the polarization of the filters to let light pass through and reach the film inside the camera.
Gift of the Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation, 1996.568
I'm reminded of the concern of the Manhattan Project scientists that they might literally undo the fabric of the universe with the first test blast on July 16, 1945. Oppenheimer was quoting the Bhagavad-Gita about becoming Death at the time of that first explosion. It would have been a curious moment, had it happened. The end of the world, from an experiment gone awry. All life unraveled with no warning, other than the eons of genocide reaching their endpoint. Instead, we have more of the same. A new weapon used in all the old ways. Or the threat of its use, our mutual assured destruction. A new technology that has changed things and yet not. Neither the greatest fears nor the greatest promises.
Background on the Atomic Bomb Explosion - Code Named Harry
HARRY, Operation UPSHOT-KNOTHOLE. 4:05am May 19 1953, Nevada Test Site, tower detonation at 300', yield 32 kilotons. Photographed by an automatic ultra high-speed camera, Harry's fireball is frozen approximately 0.0001 seconds after detonation, before the blast has engulfed the tower. The surface mottling and irregularity is a result of high-velocity bomb debris "splashing" against the backside of the slightly slower expanding fireball, which glows due to compression heating of the surrounding air. Harry tested a device designed by nuclear miniaturization expert Ted Taylor that resulted in the most efficient low-yield fission detonation ever. "Dirty Harry" was also a radiological disaster, creating the worst fallout contamination of any of the U.S. continental atmospheric nuclear tests. 1000 troops observed the fireball, which lasted an unusually long 17 seconds; the radioactive debris cloud rose to a height of 38,000' and then moved directly over St. George, Utah, 100 miles to the east. Deadly fallout inundated the entire town of 5000 nocent and unsuspecting residents, most of whom would later develop cancer. The Hollywood film The Conqueror, starring John Wayne and Susan Hayward, was shot the following summer in a canyon near St. George; 30 years later, 91 members of the cast of 220 had developed various cancers, and Wayne and Hayward would both die of it. Of the estimated cumulative total of 85,000 person-roentgens of external gamma ray exposure created by all continental tests from 1951 to 1958, Harry is thought to have contributed 30,000 alone. Fallout from three other tests in the Operation Upshot-Knothole series would prove especially deadly as well: Nancy, detonated on March 24, would kill 4390 sheep near Cedar City, Utah; Dixie, detonated on April 6, would cover Boston with radiation, and Simon (see #019), detonated April 25, would douse Albany, New York with unsafe levels of radioactive rain. Shortly after the Operation's conclusion a Utah Congressman demanded that all testing on the continental United States stop; public concerns about the dangers of fallout began to coalesce as a national issue. The Atomic Energy Commission publicly maintained until its dissolution in 1974 that no damage was done from either Harry or Nancy; internal documents declassified thereafter showed this to be a patent lie. Image from an Edgerton, Germeshausen, & Grier Rapatronic camera by U.S. Air Force 1352nd Photographic Group, Lookout Mountain Station.
We had built up a story, not yet completely revealed, of true moments and absurd stories, of pretentious falsifications and complicity, of sincere affection and reciprocal attraction. ...
Hervé too had a Rollei 35; we often swapped cameras and film (always 400 ASA). He made as many photographs of me than I did of him. Only few of these photographs have been published so far. We lived together and mixed our images, we even had a certain pleasure imagining that one day gallerists, publishers and heirs would be in trouble to find out who was the author of a particular image. ...
We believed that art was friendship, complicity, a shared vision of the world, against a background of a common conviction that questioned the truth of the substance of what you transmit and what you understand when you first look at something. We realised that we should not trust in easy answers; that behind the facade there are always secret rooms to explore.
1993 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick ... "Intellectuals and artists of color whose sexual self-definition includes 'queer' ... are using the leverage of 'queer' to do a new kind of justice to the fractal intricacies of language, skin, migration and state."
I'm looking for a the messy mix of criss-crossing connections and intersections ... wandering and searching ... opening space for community and conversation ... an inquiry and an invitation ... a need to connect with kin ...
... the stories of struggle and oppression and liberation that can be found wherever power is doing its thing. Heteropatriarchy, capitalism, white supremacy, and settler colonialism - this is the matrix of domination, as named by Patricia Hill Collins in Black Feminist Thought (1990).
Jack Halberstam, borrowing from his book The Queer Art of Failure (2011) ... "the failures we might build upon in order to counter the logics of success ... failure is the map of political paths not taken ... failure's byways are the spaces in between the superhighways of capital"
borrowing Saidiya Hartman's work on waywardness ... those in-between spaces ... maybe not legible at all ...
Dennis Grauel ... some of the ways that the type design industry participates in these logics of success ... shifting value from a production-based paradigm to a maintenance one, using care as the framework for type design and distribution...
At the core of typography, as it's been taught and practiced for centuries, is control, precision, preservation of standards, the idea of perfect legibility, and the myth of the lone type designer as genius author.
Robin Mientjes ... "an attitude in the face of conformity, an attitude in the sea of passivity, an attitude to say yes when others say no. And that's poetic and abstract, but that's fine for our thesis today."
Dan Rhatigan ... research into gay publishing ... that began circulating in the 1960s and 70s ... for the first time ever we see typographic decision-making happening specifically in relation to a gay male audience ...
... focus on gay and lesbian liberation ... language like that rather than more inclusive terms ... to acknowledge context and how language operates in such limited ways ... and the fact that this language sometimes reflects the limits and inequities of the movements themselves.
These radical publications were all very different from each other but there is a kind of approach and some fairly consistent design and typographic methods that are in direct contrast to the slickness and corporate control of mainstream graphic design ...
... activists and other fringe communities and movements could only publish because of access to cheap printing ...
Looking back from more than 50 years in the future ... I really hesitate to identify these designs themselves as queer. This is not a queer aesthetic ...
In this very broad sense, queerness can be located in the radical, outsider status of these publications and their designs. This is queerness as an underground alternative way of creating networks of care. Queerness is the scrappy, ad hoc, and sometimes homemade designs that were directly related to the urgency of protest and activism and survival.
Queerness has a close relationship to secret languages... hanky codes... Polari...
In a recent conversation with Nat Pyper, an alphabet artist, ... and nichole killian ... "there is no queer history, only a history of queer acts, and I wonder how that might be mapped onto typography, like: there's no queer typography only a history of queer ___" ... and after a few seconds it was so obvious to us - queer reading and queer writing.
There is no queer typography, only queer acts of reading and writing.
Nat Pyper, Conscientização Hole 1, 2, 3 (2021) Photo: Larry Wolf (2021)
Nat Pyper, Conscientização Hole 1, 2, 3 (2021) Photo: Larry Wolf (2021)
Moving from natural landscape to the cultural, we encounter scenes from Francisco Brennand's 1963 illustrations for Brazil's Paulo Freire literacy program in Nat Pyper's new felt wearables. We witness the transformation between nature and culture, reality and imagined, and body and text. In their splayed open fabric books, a mouth hole is left in the center, where viewers might digest and conceptualize the visceral ways our bodies become text.
Survey 3: I Sense Something Has Changed, Exhibition Guide
Curated by Cristobal Alday, Yi Cao, Joan Roach
Chicago Artists' Coalition, 2021
Nat Pyper, Contribution to Library of the Senses (2021) Photo: Larry Wolf (2021)
Freire was very famous in Recife for his literacy program and his political work with the workers. The idea of educating the illiterate was so simple but so dangerous and Freire made many enemies. The company owners and elite did not like the idea of literacy programs. They feared the workers would want more say and more Money. Everything was political. Freire approached me to make art that symbolized culture, reformation, literacy, and self. I studied the program, the situation, and I began to design the works. I paint on tiles. I work with clay. Clay is from the earth and is a part of humans and we are part of it. Freire's goal was for the viewer to under stand the relationship of self to the world and that people can make change for the good. I produced the works and Freire was very pleased. The political situation became unstable and we began to realize that the literacy program and the connection to culture and the arts of the people were targeted by the elite and others. When the military coup occurred, many people were in danger and others easily talked to save themselves. Freire we the targets because of his work with workers. My art was seen by the dictatorship as dangerous and it was one of destroyed. There are no reminders of that work. No photographs. Freire was not yet beaten. He asked me to make another set. I said no Paulo. They will be destroyed also. This time was hard for everyone but especially those who had dreamt of a different Brazil. I was fortunate. I continued to be an artist.
Literacy activities require research on what Freire calls a "minimum vocabulary universe" among literacy learners. It is through work on this universe that words become chosen to integrate the program. These words, more or less seventeen of them, called "generative words," should be phonemically rich words and necessarily ordered in increasing progression of phonetic difficulty. They should be read within the widest possible context of the literary learners' life and of the local language, thus becoming national as well.
Decodifying the written word, which follows the decodifying of a codified existential situation, implies certain steps that must be strictly followed. Let us take the word tijolo (brick), used as the first word in Brasilia, in the sixties. This word was chosen because Brasilia was a city under construction at the time, in order to facilitate the reader's understanding.
The generative word tijolo is presented, inserted in the representation of a concrete situation: men at work at a construction site.
The word is simply written: tijolo.
The same word is written with its syllables separated: ti-jo-lo. The "phonemic family" of the first syllable is presented: ta-te-ti-to-tu.
The "phonemic family" of the second syllable is presented: ja-je-ji-jo-ju.
The "phonemic family" of the third syllable is presented: la-le-li-lo-lu. The "phonemic families" of the word being decodified are presented: ta-te-ti-to-tu
This set of "phonemic families" of the generative word has been termed "discovery form," for it allows the literacy learner to put together "pieces," that is, come up with new phonemic combinations that necessarily will result in words of the Portuguese language.
Vowels are presented: a-e-i-o-u.
In sum, the moment the literacy learner is able to articulate syllables to form words, he or she is literate. The process evidently requires deepening; that is, a post-literacy component.
The root of contemplation is templum, Latin for the place one clears to communicate with the gods. The person at the temple is an augur, observing the motion of birds, to interpret the divine messages.
Zen art is open-ended. The enso or Zen circle, a symbol of enlightenment, for example, is almost always left open. The missing piece is to be supplied by the viewer. In completing the brushwork, the viewer gets involved and experiences a sense of completion to the art. Haiku only presents a glimpse, yet its emotional impact can be enormous because the reader has room to enter and create the full picture. The poet only provides the seed.
Whether serious or playful, witty or evocative, Zen is alive because it is spontaneous. If you want to experience this spontaneity in your own life and work, don't waste your energy on judgment or reflection. This is a good photograph, this is a bad photograph. I like this, I don't like that. That's just the brambles, the entanglements that keep us from really getting in touch with our creative heart.
Naturalness, spontaneity, and playfulness are all aspects of the ordinary mind that catches a glimpse of the world of things just as they are. To live this life fully means to see all of it. The doorway to this experience is the creative process. Please delve deeply into it. Give it a chance to do what it is capable of doing. Engage it fully with the whole body and mind. If you do, sooner or later, this limitless way of being will be your own. It will never make sense, and you'll never be able to explain it to anybody, but you will experience it, and by so doing, you will make it real.
John Daido Loori, The Zen of Creativity, Cultivating Your Artistic Life (2004)
Liminal - unmoored, in transition between one place, one time, and another, beyond even that, a fog of not knowing, whether there was a past place, whether there will be a future place; adrift in the present, without goal.
Perhaps anxious. Perhaps joyous. Perhaps the present moment is crystal clear and vibrant with life. Perhaps the present moment is a dream, madness and symbolist, luminous.
Sensing the deep currents of life. The tides that circle the earth, pulled by the moon The grand scale that our daily lives are placed within, blown by the wind, taking root in freshly plowed ground. New moments unfold.
A Walk Across a Bridge with Levi
Levi Shand is a Dadaist displaced a century forward in time. He uses a camera to explore concepts and emotions. He asks questions which have no answer and yet have a compelling need to be addressed.
In October 2019, Levi led a small group of us with our cameras on a wander across Chicago neighborhoods, most showing the wear and tear of an ever changing city - some torn apart by interstate highways and urban renewal fifty years ago, some pulsing with life, all intermingled.
Each hub of activity has a history, waves of immigration and colonialism, of ethnic identity and globalization, of hegemonic design and grassroots disruption, of systemic inequity and liberation, of personal growth and dissolution. Each wave leaving an imprint that shapes and is erased by the emerging present.
Crossing a literal bridge, spanning railroads and river, Levi described it as liminal, a transition. This was a place where the scale shifted and the humans seemed to have disappeared. Vast. Open. Unprotected. A multidimensional corridor connecting near and far, conduits of power and transit that separate the terrain they cross as they reach across distance.
And yes, when we are on the bridge, we might not see the bridge.
Stuck Between Old and New - Video from Sean Tucker
Sean Tucker is a modern minister to the heathen of photography, us scruffy souls who are foolish enough to seek enlightenment and salvation in photography. I watch his YouTube videos and follow him on Instagram. He is a master image maker and a compassionate human. He pours his life into his work and offers it to the world, in visuals and in words. (So too does David duChemin, a story for another time).
Sean recently moved to York as one of many changes in his life. He is living in a liminal world. This video opens with amazing images, framed like photographs, beginning in stillness, coming to life. Mysterious. Magical. Embracing the liminal.
He welcomes us with these quotes.
"Honour the space between no longer and not yet." Nancy Levin
"Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves." Henry David Thoreau
"New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings." Lau Tzu
"When we are betwixt and between, we are in that graced time where something genuinely new can happen." Richard Rohr
Every moment in our lives holds the seeds of new beginnings. Every moment is also the falling apart of what was. How I cling to the known, shy away from the unknown. Except. Except when I am as fully in the present moment as I can be, when time stops, when mind shifts into a mode of curiosity and wonder. The personal matter less. The heart breaks open to a tenderness of emotion, beyond the specific drama - being human - alive, breathing, seeing, feeling. A place where art happens.
Sean tells us of his pain as he moves away from his past and into a new present, of the plans which keep getting derailed, of the need to move beyond this time of transition, and yet, to honor this transition, to live fully in this moment. He is a master storyteller. Take a few minutes to soak in his presence. Explore other videos. Join him in his journey of discovery. Follow him @seantuck on Instagram to see the daily flow.
The story I'm telling about myself now, as an artist, began in January of 2016 when I left the company I'd been part of for 29 years (and by some stretch of connections, going back to 1976, a full 40 years). There was a time with my own LLC continuing the health policy work I had done for over a decade and some time employed by a software company. That all ended in January of 2020, when I fully turned to nurturing whatever was coming next. Little did I know what 2020 would bring!
There are forty posts to this blog in 2020, as I worked with my archive of photos going back to my childhood, as I took walks in my neighborhood, as I helped my husband through an extended health crisis, as I took on-line classes. COVID-19 was ever-present and yet is not the main topic.
I've been considering the larger social issues of how outsiders shape and are shaped by the dominant society, of how I, as a gay white cis-gendered male, have been both activist and assimilationist, priveleged and discounted; of how systemic issues of racism, of colonialism, of heteronormativity, of polarization, are my history, my life, my world to engage. I've been reading, writing, drawing, painting, photographing. Spending time in my home bubble with Eric and his mother. Spending time online with friends, relatives and in classes, with videos, podcasts, blogs and music.
Some themes running through this
The long shadow of the holocaust on my life as a gay man, as a Jew, and the roots which go back into the depths of history and well beyond the actions of any one country or regime. There are many genocides and collective trauma.
Coming out into the joys of gay liberation and then the war which was the first fifteen years of AIDS (and continues today). There are many celebrations and collective brilliance
Livelihood, not only as a source of income, but as an engagement with the world, an offering to others; living as a professional, an advocate, a teacher, as a husband, a son, brother, and uncle, keeping body and home whole, working with the interdependence of being.
Learning the basics of drawing and watercolor, and yes, also photography, exploring being an artist.
Having hope and perseverance even though the institutions I believed in turned out to be deeply flawed and undermine the ideals they proclaim, finding ways to be reborn from the ashes.
Simply being, without words. Here. Now. Alive.
Journey of Lost and Found
Back in the mid-late 1990s, in the early days of the Internet, my email signature was "Am I lost enough to find my way?" That seems to be what still drives me. Being lost. Becoming Found. Losing it. Beginning again. And there is the relative stability of my daily life, safety, shelter, food, companions. My own generally good health and those around me.
There are daily reminders that it is all falling apart. Family and friends become sick, die, as do organizations. The illusion of a uniformly generous government is blown away with police killings, riots, insurrections, walls at the borders.
And there are daily reminders of generativity, of the spring which is happening despite climate change, of the multiple rovers on Mars (US and China), of the magic of this keyboard and screen putting words and images out into the world.
In this fluid space, exploring through teaching, inviting others into a container to learn together, to surprise ourselves, to join our inner experience with the outer world, making artifacts which mark our journey. (Currently in the middle of the first run for Contemplative Photography.)
Larry Wolf, Pen and Paper (2021)
The Context That's Danced Within
Larry Wolf, Blooms (2021)
It's spring. The world is waking up from the long chill of a pandemic (well, some parts of the privileged world). There are COVID-19 vaccines. A change in the Federal administration. Some signs that Black Lives Matter has finally shifted the conversation beyond a single crisis and has sustained a conversation on structural racism and structural inequities. There are hot and cold wars across the globe. A helicopter flew on Mars. Confrontational, polarizing forces are still pulling us apart. Day to day, I keep seeking to make sense of it all, finding continuity while acknowledging change.
... all else faded as she stepped upon the ice, feeling its surface through the blades into her calves.
- - -
He came to understand that tearing things apart was a powerful aspect of human nature.
- - -
He found solace in the poet Rimbaud, who did so with words.
- - -
The friction of her skates accelerated an already premature weakening of the pond's surface, precariously veined beneath a dangerously transparent layer. She did not slow down but whirled as if in the center of an infinity of infinities. That infamous space conjured and inhabited by mystics who no longer seek the nourishment of this earth. Free of all expectation or desire, she spun, and was at once the loom, the thread, the strand of gold. She bowed her head and lifted one arm toward the sky, surrendering, drawn by the gloved hand of her own conscience.
- - -
... she performed with a harmony that only silence could match.