Superlatives

I’ve adopted the habit when viewing a television documentary on some cultural achievement of counting the minutes before the first occurrence of that most English of adjectives “extraordinary,” as in “the Taj Mahal is an extraordinary masterpiece.” Some presenters may reinforce the assessment by letting the viewer in on the fact that the structure is…More

Walking the line

Painter Paul Klee first travelled across the Mediterranean to Tunisia in 1914 and made many repeat visits to the romantic cliff top village of Sidi Bou Said near Carthage. Klee’s diaries report how the light and colour of the place were a substantial influence on his palette.More

Travel guidelines

I’m reminded again of the necessity, in certain countries, for the traveller (ie tourist) to submit to the authority of a succession of personal guides. In the Berber village of Chebika our driver and guide, Taher, passed us over to Hassan, a cheery local guide in traditional dress, who not only helped us scramble up…More

Silent night

Silence is close to noise in its effects. In his study of a Paris housing estate, the sociologist Jean- François Augoyard reports the experiences of people inside an elevator: “Dramatic evocations are set in gear on the basis of noises.” Noises invoke haunted castles, but “the most dramatic images arise with the halt of the…More

Chasing the line

I’ve just been reading anthropologist Tim Ingold’s book Lines: A Brief History (Routledge, 2007), and squaring it with my recent experience as a traveller on the Sousse to Tozeur Oasis rail line at the northern edge of the Sahara Desert. I’m reading the text as an e-book via the Kindle app on an iPhone. On the one hand the journey…More

Making a noise

There’s a sense of quiet after a snow fall, which brings to mind the importance of noise in everyday life. We think of noise as random and unattributable sounds. More technically, and as developed by mathematician and information theorist Claude Shannon, noise is any unstructured or random signal. Noisy signals are those with high entropy.…More

Computer images and realism

Computer graphics and animation are remarkable in their ability to mimic reality, or so it seems. Such technologies are interesting in so far as they purvey unreality, or more precisely, for making presentations to audiences that are unlike everyday experiences — features of narrative, drama and film in any case, but exaggerated further in the…More

Derrida and WikiLeaks

In his article Archive Fever Derrida suggests that the desire to preserve information is in some way a symptom of an inbuilt and unavoidable desire to destroy it. Drawing on Freud’s concepts of the pleasure principle and the death drive, Derrida argues that an information store (archive) on the one hand involves a desire to…More

Brain Scans and Creativity

As well as its obvious clinical applications, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) helps researchers create maps locating brain activity during tasks such as solving puzzles, daydreaming, playing musical instruments, composing, writing and generally being creative. Knowing where something takes places provides confidence that we are closer to understanding it. This tendency to equate understanding with getting…More

Architectural remainder

Visiting Canterbury Cathedral today for only the second time in 35 years I was unsurprised to observe that this important building still has a bent plan.More