tapir in a suit

anatomy of Norbiton


notes to the Ideal City: pt iii


...made no hypothesis about what he was seeing...


Which is not to say that his observations did not in some sense conform to his prior beliefs regarding microstructure and sense perception. He was, after Descartes, a mechanist, who believed that properties of substances could be traced to the shape of their smallest parts. His entire microscopy could therefore be said to spring from the hypothesis that the characteristics of being might be seen through a magnifying lens. Lisa Jardine relates, for example, how his discovery of protozoa in water (his animalcules) was a by-product of his researches into the pungency of pepper.





...testify to the artist’s microscopical eye...


Van Eyck was an illuminator by training. It seems that his is Hand G in the Milan-Turin book of hours.


Milan-Turin book of hours, van Eyck

—Hand G—

Milan-Turin Book of Hours


It is hard to believe that he did not do all of his painting with his eyes an inch from the panel, swimming behind pebble lenses. That is certainly how I prefer to look at them.





...once a touchstone of truth...


This is, strictly speaking, an unjustified assertion.

As Paul Feyerabend notes in Against Method, "[t]he ‘illusions of direct vision’, whose role in scientific research is slowly being rediscovered, were well known to mediaeval writers on optics, who treated them in special chapters of their textbooks." (p.86-87 note 17)

Feyerabend mentions this in an aside on the work of physicist S. Tolansky, whose routine microscopical inspection of crystals and metals were distracted, on his own account, by "one optical illusion after another".

It is fair to say that I paint with a broad and sloppy brush.





...It is our mnemonic refuge.


I should explain this phrase by noting that I have never been particularly good at understanding myself to be in love. In effect, I never really feel myself to be in love with a person, but with what I suppose you could call that person’s hinterland—the place that they have constructed for themselves, expressive of their interests, but also of the accidents of their being. Their bedroom, their flat. I experience their places with a peculiar intensity.


Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait, Between the Clock and the Bed

—peculiar intensity—

– Self-Portrait, Between the Clock and the Bed
Edvard Munch


The apartment of the Venetian architect was a special case. She had rented it furnished, and, implausible though it must seem, she had not moved a stick of furniture since she moved in—a period of some four years. It was her books on the shelves, her pans in the cupboards, her clothes in the wardrobe, her toothbrush in the bathroom; but she had not, to note a peculiar example, taken down any of the paintings on the walls, nor put up any of her own. It was as though her personal space were made out in scrip.

I nevertheless registered an unusually penetrating (and as it turned out, delusional) sense of calm there. Perhaps I felt—as I did now in Hunter Sidney’s house—that I was a passenger, in transit, that we were cut off from the world together. Perhaps she stood out more conspicuously against that otherwise neutral foil.

Or perhaps I have just never got the knack of understanding things in terms of themselves. Readings must always be taken on an instrument of some sort.

It should be noted for accuracy that all the while I was with Veronica de Viggiani, Clarke was alternately drowsing and fretting on my sofa; so my sense of escape and refuge had a tangible, not to say rational, origin.





...It might fool the king of France...


The King of France was eager to retain the services of Camillo, and paid him a handsome retainer to that end. Camillo was eager in return that his secrets should be fully revealed only to the King in person.

Unfortunately for both, the need to have the entire arcane system of the universe translated into French threw the project and Camillo into fatal confusion.

Why this should be so, given that the hieroglyph is a universally obscure language, can only relate to the storage system of the theatre—it seems that behind each image were sheefs of printed and handwritten matter; presumably in remembering—seeing—where a particular tid-bit of knowledge was stored was also to know why; and that would act as a mnemonic prompt.

According to Viglius Zuichemus, writing to Erasmus an account of his visit to the theatre,'The King is said to be urging that he should return to France with the magnificent work. but since the King wished that all the writing should be translated into French, for which he has tried an interpreter and scribe, he said that he thought that he would defer his journey rather than exhibit an imperfect work.'

A familiar predicament.


Portrait of Francis I, Jean Clouet


Portrait of Francis I
Jean Clouet