Axis of Observation

Conspectus on Visionary Order in Landscape


          Abstract: The premise is best expressed in Occam's Razor: Beings or essences are not to be multiplied             beyond necessity."  (1)


         The question is: What character or quality must an object possess in order to be a member of a                         particular set?


          It necessitates a language of observation, a lingua franca of procedures, of conditions-of-viewing:


          Periodicity, rhythm, interval; the sinuous movements of nature, and the geometry of a strategic vision.


          A complex of signs is removed from the natural setting. The natural sign is simple, the invented one                   compound.


          There is degree and frequency, the simultaneous experience of dichotomy and harmony.


          Geomancy is a metaphor of particularity employing universals; relativity is a metaphor of universality                 empirically demonstrated in particulars.


          Prosody, metrical structures, sequences, combinations, choreography; the private conventions of                       assembly—ergo:


          The act of perception is an act of interpretation. The cognitive / perceptive processes are circular. The               key is to include as much as possible toward an epiphany of the whole:


          Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial chalices dry; this occurs repeatedly, again and               again: finally it can be reckoned on beforehand and becomes part of the ceremony. (2)




Coleridge described the natural landscape as “an awful amenity in unity...a perfect union of the sublime with the beautiful."



Art is second order emerging from the prime natural order. Any art with nature as its content seeks a direct link with the prime order. An art with nature as its objective involves further process: enumerating a system of interaction, in order to absorb nature and redefine it.



Specifically, this is a generative system, defined by a method: to embrace the natural order by means of direct observation (simultaneously electronically recorded), and to restructure those recorded observations through a system of intuited decisions (choice points) guided by three basic criteria: scale, angle of vision, and duration.



Direct observation of the landscape engages a primordial, extensive external realm. The observer moves through the echelons of a private perceptual hierarchy as he unfolds a scheme for relaying his direct experience. Art becomes nature's agency, in oscillation back to itself. The means is a strategy of vision, a methodology of joining each discreet observation with time and number.



Each natural setting presents a peculiar sense of time; each description represents a unique time dependent upon the interaction of observer and environment. Time in this sense is inductive, invented and imposed upon the natural rates, which appear infinite and amorphous. The strategic method aims to extract natural time by isolating it in invented time. Natural temporal rates--the flow of a river, for instance--are thereby transformed and reordered with respect to the criteria (scale, angle of vision, and duration). Time is both shared by and unifies observer and observed in the electronically coded description of a natural setting.



Thus, the conjunction of the strategic observer and the natural setting yields the following formulation:



                                                                    Nature—>Art  —>Nature 





Method is here understood as "procedure according to principles”. (3) Specifically, the method is drawn from the cardinal points of the world: North, South, East, and West. This distinction has traditionally served as a model and prototype for articulation of the world and natural processes. Four now becomes the sacred number par excellence, for in it is expressed precisely this relation (the cardinal division) between every particular reality and the fundamental form of the universe." (4)



Number in science, is an instrument of explanation. In art (or mythical thinking). (5) it is a vehicle of signification. It is manifest as an evolution of phases, a feeling for the punctuation of change (hence number) in and of itself.



In this method, the “now,” the present, is ground zero. The now is no simple differentiated present, but is, according to Leibniz", laden with the past and pregnant with the future." (6)



For Kant, time is an intuition which the mind applies to incoming sense data. The succession of temporal presents is, in the Kantian system, not in or of the sense data (the external natural realm) but is of and supplied by the mind. This concept of time as a quality of the mind pertains directly to the strategies of vision employed in the natural landscape. The observer's numerically determined duration is layered over rates of exchange in nature.



For example, one may apply a Fibonacci (7) progression to a set of recorded observations of a tidal marsh from four to six p.m., such that, the first two-second image is followed by a second two-second image, followed by a four-second image, followed by a six and a ten-second one, et cetera. The flow of tidal exchange is filtered through a series of numerical relations which is independent of the system's natural processes.



The experience of time functions as “connective tissue" unifying spatial experience in the natural realm with the experience of art. The continuity of time and space is an intuitive given, an a priori, granted to the mind independent of the world as it is strictly sensed. Art, therefore, is both of the world and independent of the world: the paradox is thus engaged.



A methodology of relations, informed by the a priori intuition of time, apprehends nature through the choice-points of scale, angle of vision, and duration. These three criteria define a set of observations that serves the laws of a private, individuated periodic table; that is, a subjective algorithmic cadence.



The order of nature cannot be justified merely by the observation of nature. (8) An inductive scheme of relational organization is, therefore, not "justified" by the natural order conveyed via the recorded image. The direct transmission of the process of seeing/sensing and sequentially ordering strips-of-time” (9) into systematically directed spatial frames defines the observer's organizational scale in reference to his angle of vision.



Analogous to the mapping of a referential experience, of the tracking of a priori sensibility, the intuitive-systematic method interpenetrates with the natural realm, and the manifest (recorded) result is restructured so as to reveal the specific strategies of vision. Observed natural processes are isolated and thus enter into the paradox of the particular and the universal: the specific location (the tidal flat, for example) is an expression of universal relations.



“It will be found," says Benjamin Worf, “that an 'event' to us means what our language chooses as a verb or something analogized therefrom, and it will be found that it is not possible to define 'event', ‘thing', 'object', 'relationship' and so on, from nature, but that to define them always involves a circuitous return to the grammatical categories of the definer's language." (10) A natural event is distinct from the character of its description, although it is contained within it. "A description of the world, whether expressed through language or any other integrated behavior, might best be conceived as a dynamic model of the external world created by the knower and the known, together.” (11)



Time, the knower, and the known. Perhaps a thousand million years ago uni-cellular organisms became self-locomotive through the use of flagella. Their motion must be seen as more than just the exploration of a region: it was the discovery of space. (12)



Spatially, every place (setting) has a time assigned to it. The specific time unfolding a space is determined by a symbolic “program" of choices. The observer's vertical relation to the horizon, for instance, or the relation between movement in the natural landscape (e.g., ground-cover effected by the wind) and the observer's movement (extended by the camera) indicates a pattern of observational constants (algorithms) governed by uniform and repeating ratios (for instance, 2:1 with the observer moving left to right, full field; or 8:1 ratios exclusively applied to images in which the field is divided by the horizon). Spatial proportions in the natural landscape are relative to the observer's line of sight as it is plotted against an imaginary vanishing point. Thus scale is determined by an observed, or implied, relation to the horizon, regardless of the proportions of natural objects in the landscape.



The paradox is regained in discovering the laws of one's own observational behavior; shaping the "rules" of observation into communicable codes of transference, and, when effective, transmuting the personal/subjective into the external/objective.



Terms for description. (13) “The economy of classical language," says Roland Barthes, “is rational, which means that in it words are abstracted as much as possible in the interest of relationship. No word has a density by itself, it is hardly the sign of a thing, but rather the means of conveying a connection.” (14) Henri Focillon defined style as a relational, fluctuating process: “A development, a coherent grouping of forms united by a reciprocal fitness whose essential harmony is nevertheless in many ways testing itself, building itself, and annihilating itself." (15)  The visual/spatial analog to the principle of economy expressed in Occam's Razor, or in the “classical" correspondence of means to ends (or in the chaos of stylistic rise and fall) is generated by the modulation of cyclic order (both natural and numerical) and by the frequency and return of the basic images (and relations) native to specific natural cycles.



Through an implied infinity of strategies available to the perceptual descriptive repertoire (16) (a private referential calculus of intuitions), truth is characterized by the method of revelation. Logical truth and aesthetic truth share the same meta-logical schemata; that is, the “programs" of their conceptual schemes are structurally identical. Godel's proof (17) proves that no simple calculus can exhaust the entirety of mathematical truths. An endlessly "growing" series of calculi seems to be required for this purpose (that of disclosing the subtleties of the true). Conversely, no aesthetic system can exhaust the entirety of aesthetic truth. An endlessly growing series of calculi is requisite for the purpose of maintaining truth in art.



It is difficult for the mind to discern the boundaries of its own limitations; yet those very boundaries seem to be dissolved and transcended under the conditions of synchrony between the observer and the natural realm. Giodarno Bruno (18) waxed euphoric on the point. "Divinity descends," he said, "in a certain manner, to the extent that one communicates with nature, so one ascends to divinity through nature, as by means of a life resplendent in natural things, one rises to the life that presides over them." The resonance of natural processes reinforces and elevates the resonance between observation and observer. Ad majorem Dei gloriam.(19)



“The efficacy of magic implies a belief in magic," (20) or, “validity is a function of belief," (21) —or, perception is shaped by expectation. The a priori assumptions of a scanning sensibility steer its attentions to a pattern of aspects in the natural realm. The visual, aural and kinesthetic manifestations of sensibility are invariably unique. They are subjectively determined by individuals in relation to every other individual, in a universe populated by an infinity of individuals perceiving the “wholly other." (22)



Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate—That Time will come and take my love away. This thought is as a death, which cannot choose But weep to have that which it fears to lose. (23)


Entropy is a quality of time. It is defined as a measure of that energy which becomes unavailable during any physical or informational process.



Life is an expression of negative entropy, as it manifests the cyclically renewable concentrations of harnessed energy.



Life records it's learning in the biological form of genes; the mind records it's learning through the formation of inanimate symbols and strategies of existence. Mind evolves as a syndrome of mutually reinforcing skills, capacities, and modes of knowledge. Articulate language, writing, tool-making, long-term memory, creative imagination, identity of self: all extend the region of intentionality (or neg-entropy). All contribute to the sense of time. (24)



Extending the hierarchy, societies expand their capacities for control by further specialization, increased memory storage, and the symbolic transformation of social experience—terminating in an accelerated rate of entropy in ecological systems.



Paradox is thus physically invested in natural systems by socio-economic ones in the form of ecocide (25): toxic waste, organic maladaptions, snapped chains of interlocking support, extinct species, destroyed symbiosis, pathological malignancy, and a general marked reduction of complexity, optimum variety and harmonic balance in the biosphere.



Perturbations in the planet's ecological circuitry originated in the homosapien habit of misplaced, or false, concreteness, (26) which identifies the metaphor with its referent. (27) This is a confusion of logical types. To wit: the natural realm is misidentified with an inert state of "matter", and manipulated by a gerontocracy of methods governing an advanced industrial infrastructure.



Assigning nature an exclusively economic value eliminates mind and spirit. A "mind" versus “matter" duality is, however, an error in the epistemology of the antagonist, not a quality of the environment, which is the concrete referent.



Succession and similitude. The correlations between the symbolic expressions (descriptive maps) of a strategic vision and the reality they describe is yet another version of the metaphor and referent dilemma. The difficulty--hat of evolving an appropriately complex metaphor for an increasingly complex and elusive referent—can be formulated by a basic question: is it possible to translate problems regarding descriptive reality into questions concerning the symbolic system?



For Plato, the universe is "an image in motion of eternity, given form by a creative deity to make the eternal present,” (28) Its given form, in the most immutable sense, is light. (29) Light's basic unit of structure, the photon, is a massless carrier of electro-magnetic force. As such, light is pure information; (30) or, more precisely, proto-information.



In the legends of nearly all cultures, the process of creation merges with the dawning of the light. “The worship of light is woven into the whole of human existence.” (31) And: "...sense of place and the receptivity to impressions of light are the two most fundamental and deep-seated manifestations of the human intelligence.” (32)



Within a sphere of strategic observation, the properties and disposition of a particular landscape are classified through the distinctive character of its light: reflective or absorptive, radiant or diffuse, luminous or prismatic, coherent or refracted. The idiosyncrasies of light demonstrate infinite variation in which “Life, like a dome of many-colored glass, Stains the white radiance of Eternity.” (33)



In the form of a scanning beam of coded photons—sweeping at the rate of 32 scans per second--light is incessantly recomposed over the curved field/surface of the tele-frame (34)—that is, the receiving end of a cathode ray tube. (35)



Perception is a gamble of hypotheses. (36) What we see, for instance, indicates primarily the existence of a perceptual transformation, and only secondarily (and hypothetically) something occurring in external reality. We may be convinced that there is a real universe just outside our nervous system, but our perceptions are not that universe. (37) Perception is subject to the working hypotheses of specific organisms evolving within the biological conditions of their time.



Observation is a consciously focused flow of perception, implying purpose and coherence on the part of the observer. Strategic observation entails embodying those perceptions in a form separate from the perceptual flow, and entering into an existence independent of the observer.



Two complementary world-models: Geomancy and Relativity as strategic metaphors:


“The value of a profane thing lies in what it does, the value of a sacred thing lies in what it is.” (38)



The ancient Chinese discipline of geomancy, Fengshui, establishes a cardinal orientation in the lines of force that radiate from a ritually chosen center point across a landscape. What sort of edifice—a temple, dwelling, village square—was to be built at what cardinal orientation and exact place was determined by the need for a concentrated or dispersed flow of energy,” (39) The geomantic attitude is paradigm and pre-curser for the intuited system of a strategic vision. Instead of providing a sense of place to determine architectural location, the strategic vision establishes a series of coherent observations which reveal, through succession and similitude, a sense of place within a delimited sphere of symbolic envelopment.



In the geomantic thought of the Chinese we encounter, in a form developed with great subtlety and precision, the notion that all qualitative distinctions possess a sort of spatial correspondence. All things and occurrences are distributed among the cardinal points. Each is associated with a particular color, element, season, sign of the zodiac, body organ, basic emotion, et cetera, which belongs to it specifically. Through this relation to a determinate position in space the most heterogeneous elements enter into contact with one another. All species and varieties of things (from amoebas to mountains, from quasars to quarks) have their “home" in space, and their absolute reciprocal strangeness is thereby annulled: local mediation leads to a spiritual mediation between things, to a composition of all differences into a great whole, a fundamental mythical universal pattern. (40)



“It is therefore love that begets knowledge, by mixing things that are in some way unlike”. (41) The strategic integration of disparate observations proceeds on the assumption that the many aspects of reality are coherent and that universal schemes underlying these aspects are discoverable and knowable. There exists a resonant fitness of proportions paralleling natural and observational rates of change. How this resonating fitness is recorded in experience, and subsequently re-composed, depends upon the actual choice-points (angle of vision, duration and scale) employed by the observer at the axis of a quadrantal sphere of symbolic envelopment.



Spatial curvature. Non-Euclidian geometric conceptions of space began to emerge (42) fifty or so years before Einstein's (43) Promethean (44) leap identifying the physical universe as a curved multidimensional space (described variously as four-part space and space-time). Prior to Relativity, (45) the physical universe was modeled in the fashion of a vessel containing two distinct elements, matter and energy--the former inert, tangible, and characterized by a property called mass, and the latter active, invisible and massless. Simply stated, this is the Newtonian paradigm. Einstein subsumed the Newtonian paradigm by demonstrating that energy and mass are equivalent: the property called mass is concentrated energy. Ergo, matter is energy and energy is matter, the distinction is one of temporary state”. (46) Relativity does not contradict classical physics; it simply regards its concepts as limiting cases that apply to the subjective perceptions of man.



Temporal Arts. As with Euclid's absolute space, Einstein's paradigm dissolves the concept of absolute time as a steady, inexorable flow, streaming into an infinite future from an infinite past. Relativity indicates that sense of time, like sense of color, is a form of perception. Without an eye to discern it, there is no color, without an event to mark it, there is no time. “The experiences of an individual," said Einstein, “appear to us arranged in a series of events; in this series the single events which we remember appear to be ordered according to the criterion of ‘earlier' and 'later'. There exists, therefore, for the individual, an I-time, or subjective time. This in itself is not measurable  I can, indeed, associate numbers with the events, in such a way that a greater number is associated with the later event than with an earlier one.” (47)



The particular, localized world of appearance is characterized by the physiology of the human senses, in which the observer's perceptions are inextricably unified with his essential nature. But the universal world of reality— the impalpable cosmos, inaccessible to perception—is a symbolic structure. Symbolic structures change according to the perception and extrapolation of particulars. Hence, indeterminacy; paradox: the ceaseless reciprocity between appearance and reality, universal and particular, empirical and symbolic, physical and spiritual, entropy and life.



12.Laws of Form," (48) an "area of liberty," (49) "Epistemological fields," (50) “Mythogenetic zones" (51) —every variety of mythically significant content forms its own ring of existence. (52) Only in this separation does it achieve an individual or aesthetic integrity. Each is an informing principle unto itself, shaped by its respective laws of propinquity, and necessitating conceptual and lexical rites of passage for entry.



All specimens of symbolic territory seek an eternally valid equipoise, an accommodation with the universe. Abstractive, reductive, and substitutive resources inborn to a sphere of observation (as a symbolic territory) amount to a reinsertion of the subjective as a valid base of knowledge.



In speaking of proportion and choice of chroma, Matisse remarks: "There is an impelling proportion of tones that can induce me to change the shape of a figure or to transform my composition. Until I have achieved this proportion in all the parts of the composition I strive toward it and keep on working. Then a moment comes when every part has found its definite relationship and from then on it would be impossible for me to add a stroke to my picture without having to paint it all over again." (53)



Here, the visual idea (strategy of vision) has been evolved and distilled, brought to the point at which this way and no other becomes an absolute necessity. The chaos of unrelated phenomena has given way to a clear and coherent order, connected by a comprehension of the internal reality of the visual world, complete in itself and pervaded by necessity. (54)



The strategic method constitutes an idiolect of references connecting random circumstance in the landscape with the contraction and dilation of scale. Formal ratios are associated with focal lengths in seriatim. A convergence progression, for example, may be joined with two alternating focal lengths, say, 3:1 / 6:1; re: 3:1=1, 6:1=1+1/2; 3:1=1+1/4, 6:1=1+1/8. . .Or, a single repeating focal length, say 1:1, accumulating with increments of five, re: 1:1=7, 1:1=12, 1:1 =17. . .



Art is that domain of mind in which “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of ". (55) in which the complexion of truth is formed by an individuated sensibility. The validation of subjective experience (evolving appropriately complex “metaphors" for the increasingly complex experience of reality) is a function of art. Complexity does not have to do merely with the aggregate, or the number of components in a system-of-art, but with the degree of their organized interconnectedness. Pascal distinguished l'esprit de géometrie from l'esprit de finesse. The pioneer cyberneticist Warren McCullough distinguished a calculus of classes from a calculus of relations. Similarly, the complexity of art resides in originating principles according to which experience felt and experience understood are, at any one instant, complementary and coexistent qualities which become mutually exclusive at either extreme.


Finally, two caveats. The first is a paraphrase of Augustine's temporal dilemma: If no one asks me what time is, I know what it is; if I wish to explain it, I do not know. The second is from Marcel Proust: "True art has nothing to do with proclamations, and is created in silence."



Frank Gillette


Spring 1978 / New York / East Hampton / Houston






  1. "Essentia non sunt multiplicanda praetor necessitatem."


  2. Franz Kafka, Parables.


  3. Emanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.


  4. Re: Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Vol. 2


  5. Re: Cassirer, Ibid.


  6. “Chargé du passé et gros de l'avenir."


  7. A numerical progression in which a number is the sum of the two previous numbers in the series.


  8. Re: A.N. Whitehead.


  9. Irving Goffman, Frame Analysis.


10. Re: J.T. Fraser, Of Time, Passion and Knowledge.


11. Re; J.T. Fraser, Ibid.


12. Re; J.T. Fraser, Ibid.


13. Re: Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives.


14. Re: Le degré zéro de l'Ecriture.


15. Re: The Life of Forms in Art.


16. Not unlike a repertoire of strategies brought to bear at a chess board.


17. Kurt Godel's “undecidable sentence" theorem.


18. The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast.


19. “for the greater glory of God."


20. Re: Claude Levi-Strauss.


21. Re: Gregory Bateson, esp. Steps to an Ecology of Mind.


22. Re: Plato.


23. Shakespeare's 64th Sonnet.


24. Re: J.T. Fraser, Ibid.


25. The destruction of the interrelations between organisms and the environments.


26. Re: Russell and Whitehead.


27. Re: Gregory Bateson, Ibid.


28. Re: Timeaus.


29. Light is considered variously as a wave, corpuscular, or quantum phenomenon. It is defined as electromagnetic                   radiation to which the organs of sight react.


30. Re: Marshall McLuhan.


31. Unsener, Gotternamen, Re: Ernst Cassirer, Ibid.


32. F. Troels-Lund, Re: Ernst Cassirer, Ibid.


33. Percy Bysshe Shelly, Adonais.


34. Re: James Joyce, Finnegans Wake:


In the heliotropical noughttime following a fade of transformed Tuff and, pending its viseversion, a metenergic reglow of beaming Batt, the bairdboard bombardment screen, if fastefully faut guranium satin, tends to teleframe and step up to the charge of a light barricade. Down the photoslope in syncopanic pulses, with the bitts bugfujug their teffs, the missledthropes, glitteraglatteraglutt, borne by their carnier walve. Spraygun rakes and splits them from a double focus: grenadite, damnymite, alextronite, nichilite; and the scanning firespot of the sgunners traverses the rutilanced illustred sunksundered lines. Shlossh! A gaspel truce leaks out over the caeseine coatings. Amid a flourescence of spectracular mephiticism there caoculates through the inconoscope stealdily a still, the figure of a fellow-chap in the wholy ghast, Popey O'Donoshough, the jesuneral of the russuates. The idolon exhibisces the seals of his orders: the starre of the Son of Heaven, the girtel of Izodella the Calottica, the cross of Michelides Apaleogos, the latchet of Jan of Nepomuk, the puffpuff and pompom of Powther and Pall, the great belt, band and bucklings of the Martyrology of Gorman. It is for the castomercies mudwake surveice. The victar. Pleace to notnoys speach above your dreadths, please to doughboys, Hll, smthngs gnwrng whih sprsnwich! He blocks his nosoes because that he confesses to everywheres he was always putting up his latest faengers.


Joyce's prophetic evocation of television is simply the most astute and wonderful description of the medium I have ever encountered.


35. This reflects the current state-of-the-art in television technology.


36. Re: R.L. Gregory.


37. Re: William T. Powers, Behavior: The Control of Perception.


38. W.H. Auden.


39. Re: John Michell, The Earth Spirit.


40. Re: Ernst Cassirer, Ibid.


41. Warren McCollough, Embodiments of Mind.


42. E.g., The Astral geometry of Gauss (1777–1855) first suggested a geometry at variance with Euclid; his student, Riemann (1826-1866) originated the first generalized concept of curvature to manifolds of any arbitrary dimensions, including the three dimensional continuity known as space. Also, Einstein's spacetime structure of the universe was demonstrated to conform closely to the hyperbolic geometries of Janos Bolyai (1802-1860) and Nikolai Lobaschewski (17931856). Re; J.T. Fraser.


43. Einstein's first paper on the Special Theory of Relativity was published in Analen Der Physik (1905).


44. In the sense that it initiated a total paradigmatic revolution in physics, culminating in the manipulation of the “fire" in atomic neuclei.


45. In Special Relativity (1905), Einstein demonstrated the equivalence of matter and energy; in General Relativity (1916), the indivisibility of the (four dimensional) space-time continuum.


46. Re: Lincoln Barnett, The Universe and Dr. Einstein.


47. Lincoln Barnett, Ibid.


48. Re: G. Spencer Brown, Laws of Form.


49. Piero Manzoni, Re: Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni.


50. Re: M. Foulcault, The Order of Things.


51. Re: Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, Vol. 4.


52. Re: Ernst Cassirer, Ibid.


53. Henri Matisse; Notes of a Painter.


54. Re: Albert Hofstadter; Truth and Art.


55. Re: Pascal; Pensées.