Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Self-Replication (Edward Burtynsky: China)


Manufacturing #16, Bird Mobile, Ningbo, Zhejiang Province
, 2005

An exhaustive application of human logic to all available routes -- the thread
Trial and error approaches a desired solution

Ariadne's thread blindly exhausts the evolutionary search space completely, never escaping

The endless self-replication of the gene -- the organism -- the phenotype
The obsessive replication of the unit for the illusion
Of the good of the many -- to celebrate that is to celebrate

The perpetuation of the social lie, and the illusion that
Pretending the destruction of the earth
Will be for the good of many is enough,

Enough -- while knowing that it will never be enough

To ensure the immortality of the unit --
Nothing on earth will ever be enough

Manufacturing #18, Cankun Factory, Zhangzhou, Fujian Province
, 2005

China Recycling #20, Cankun Aluminum, Xiamen City, Fujian Province
, 2005

Tanggu Port, Tianjin, 2005

Manufacturing #11, Youngor Textiles, Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, 2005

Bao Steel #8, Shanghai, 2005

Urban Renewal #6, Apartment Complex, JiangjunAo, Hong Kong
, 2004

Manufacturing #2, Shift Change, Yuyuan Shoe Factory, Gaobu Town, Guangdong Province
, 2004

China Recycling #25, Cankun Aluminum, Xiamen City, Fujian Province
, 2005

Replicators are not naked genes, though they may have been when life began. Nowadays, most of them are strung along chromosomes, chromosomes are wrapped up in nuclear membranes, and nuclei are enveloped in cytoplasm and enclosed in cell membranes. Cells, in turn, are cloned to form huge assemblages which we know as organisms. Organisms are vehicles for replicators, survival machines as I have called them. But just as we had a nested hierarchy of would-be replicators -- small and large fragments of genome -- so there is a hierarchy of nested vehicles. Chromosomes and cells are gene vehicles within organisms. In many species organisms are not dispersed randomly but go around in groups. Multispecies groups form communities or ecosystems. At any of these levels the concept of vehicle is potentially applicable. Vehicle selection is the differential success of vehicles in propagating the replicators that ride inside them. In theory selection may occur at any level of the hierarchy.


I see the world as populated by competing replicators in germ lines. Each replicator, when compared with its alleles, can be thought of as being attached to a suite of characters, outward and visible tokens of itself. These tokens are its phenotypic consequences, in comparison with its alleles, upon the world. They determine its success or failure in continuing to exist. To a large extent the part of the world a gene can influence may happen to be limited to a local area that is sufficiently clearly bounded to be called a body, or some other discrete vehicle -- perhaps a wolf pack. But this is not necessarily so. Some of the phenotypic consequences of a replicator, when compared with its alleles, may reach across vehicle boundaries. We may have to face the complexity of regarding the biosphere as an intricate network of overlapping fields of phenotypic power. Any particular phenotypic characteristic will have to be seen as the joint product of replicators whose influence converges from many different sources, many different bodies belonging to different species, phyla, and kingdoms. This is the doctrine of the "extended phenotype."

Richard Dawkins: from Replicators and Vehicles, in Current Problems in Sociobiology, King's College Sociobiology Group, eds., Cambridge, 1982


The Corporate Simulating the Commonplace

And again, there's the question of the corporate vis-à-vis the common. Latin would argue that the corporate is the imagination of a body, that may or may not have conjunction with other bodies. So it's to my mind an imagination of separating or singularizing an independent entity and function. Great corporations are -- not just imaginally, but would actually seem to be -- bodies, whose value is determined by function, that do increase to the largest magnitude of their potential to incorporate. And thus they have as limit only the breakdown of the bureaucratic, or the breakdown of the infrastructure that continues a relationship between all parts of this expanding condition. So it's not a common place, although many may be inside it, or thus be experiencing it. Then again, it's frequent, and it's certainly familiar. But is it commonplace? I guess that's really the question. Is it the case that humanly one always moves to make these bodies, or these embodiments of particular authority, need or function? Because they are embodiments, and thus not just their authority but their occasion comes from what they do. Whether they employ, or create, or make things, it's not -- I mean, it's finally not that they don't have an intent to
make a car or a bottle -- but they don't necessarily have that as an end in view. They have the production of a sustaining input as their own limit.

Robert Creeley, in Tom Clark: Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Common Place, 1993

Photos from China by Edward Burtynsky (via Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)




"There will never be enough in the world."

". . . bodies, whose value is determined by function. . ."

or as Johnny said, "There sure are a lot of people."


light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, shape of shadowed branch on left
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

cut into panel, curved form
to the right arranged

the consequence of a series,
here there, beginning

silver circle of sun in grey white fog,
line of pelicans flapping toward point

Ed Baker said...

if I wasn't already nuts this "stuff" would drive me crazy!

as it is
I pretend to be crazy in order to maintain my own

I mean

just how many ways can one describe all of they Horse Shit ?

like we are neutering dogs and cats... just maybe we need to (...) about 2/3 s of the earths population? only this time do "it" to the "men" instead of the "women" ?

about all that we are left with when we go home after
"work" is football games on the tellie and robotic-like sex on our $800 Serta Perfect Sleeper!

piss-ants in a line towards Honey Pot

whose Value is Sacred ?

(hey Tom: anybody read these comments? If so
I better edit (dumb-down) my attitude/ words/thoughts

thanks for the images/words....

ACravan said...

I've already spent time with Burtynsky's amazing images and will spend more time with Creeley's and Dawkins' words later, which are fascinating and also bring to(my) mind certain things I remember about Quaker thinking about "corporate". Viewing Burtynsky's images next to those published this week in various places by the AP photographer David Guttenfelder is really interesting. Different visions, of course, but the same general (very large) neighborhood. Curtis

bill sherman said...

Your readership will have to forgive me for this rather antic late-night late-life comment, but what strikes me in my hermit-like solitude by the sea is the young woman in red sweater and jeans pensively eating alone in the canteen, and I am reminded of having gone on a Asian match-making site once not all that long ago thinking one of the supposedly 300,000 women on-line there might be interested, but all that happened was my computer caught a virus.

TC said...

Johnny, as so often, got right to the heart of the matter.

The endlessly replicated monad has an evolutionary leg up on the pack. Daring to be the same has it over daring to be different by the sheer math. A billion photocopies of oneself...

The unit-replication machine will inherit the earth as it eats it up.

Bill's experience sounds like a parable of the new freedom, the new endlessly replicated loneliness of the monad.

Ed, you've put me in mind of two of my favourite lines:

"Being crazy is the only thing that keeps me from going insane."

--Waylon Jennings

"Pitching keeps me sane. But why stay sane?"

-- Bill "Spaceman" Lee

That was forty years ago, though.

The tension between a deep sense of satisfaction in the formal pattern beauty and a deep, deep sense of uneasiness in the implications crackles around these images for me.

Loving the replicants might be overstating the case, but there are points where I question the aesthetic distance. Are largeness and coldness sometimes too close for comfort?

In a recent interview Burtynsky said:

"Someone originally referred to my work as a subliminal activism. Something that is not overt, but that says, 'What are we doing?' and that questions where we are going. Art does not provide an answer. It is far more complex than that. It is political. It is scientific. It is a whole series of layered meanings. What art can now do is present an individual perception about what is actually going on. One actually begins to see things, and understand the world in a way that clarifies in ways that words cannot. The object is not to be liberated it is to simply show what exists."

An "individual perception," for this artist, involves some high-end production values. The reason top-flight HBO work like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under were not allowed more than one crane shot per episode were practical and logistic.

To stop and think about the logistics here is to see the work from another dimension.

Burtynsky uses an advance scout, a permanent traveling staff of three, and temporary staff of seven or eight on an average shoot.

In that sense, "individual perception" becomes not unlike the perception of a movie director, or for that matter of a social engineer.



Johnny also wonders what all those people are talking about -- and why the bees don't sting each other. . . .


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, song sparrow calling tchep tchep
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

after painting, letter sent
moment the same again

here where, listening ahead
into the sphere, more

grey white fog against invisible ridge,
whiteness of gull flapping to the left

Ed Baker said...

worker bees are only able to sting one time
after they sting ... they die.

I did an haiga about this several years ago ...

humans kill more bees than bees sting humans...

bees are almost gone... this is one of the reasons that our food supply is deteriorating especially fruits

when was the last time you had a peach that was juicy ? or ripe? fruit now rots before it gets ripe ..

don't bother a bee and the bee won't sting you !
same way with our phony wars ...
never throw rocks at a hornet s nest !