Vacuums and Clearings: The Taking and the Making of Space

[I]mages are a false language; that is, they appear to be messages and communications, but this communication is situated in an overall context that produces nothing but a vacuum. This language tries to be taken (and is taken) for the complete complex of “truth and reality.” On the one hand it refers only to a fiction, but on the other hand it integrates the spectator into a social whole. In its process of encompassing everything such language neither expresses nor reveals the social whole, but merely serves it.

                                                                                                --Jacques Ellul


The tragedy that has befallen the world, a tragedy inherent in our evolution, is that we can no longer give meaning and significance to events. The color has gone out of life and with it the drama. We are left with the sound and the fury of emptiness.  

                                                                                                --Henry Miller

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Sealed vacuums are well named. So are open clearings.

vacuum sucks whatever it can into itself, sealing everything tightly together, leaving no gaps, no open spaces, between things. 

Medieval Scholastics taught that nature abhors a vacuum. They based that teaching on ancient Greek sources, especially the works of Aristotle, that had been lost to the Latin West after the fall of Rome, but were preserved by Islamic sources, eventually to be rediscovered in Christian Europe during the Twelfth Century Renaissance.

 The "nature" that thus abhors vacuums might rightly be called open andnatural nature, in contrast to the hermeticallysealed, radically de-natured nature of modern techno-science. That latter, later nature does not abhor vacuums. It easily tolerates, and even fosters, vacuums. What it abhors is open spaces. 

Vacuums eat space up. They engorge whatever takes place in space. Pulling everything they can into themselves, they hold it all tightly compacted there. They let nothing escape, and leave no room for what they suck in to take up any place of its own.  

In this age of such a denatured nature as that of modern, exact, experimental natural science,black holes serve as paradigmatic vacuums.

By its gravitational pull, a black hole inexorably draws all matter that comes into its vicinity into itself. Once a black hole has sucked it in, no matter at all--down to and including subatomic particles--can ever escape again. Not even light itself can shine forth from a black hole. All is utter darkness and absence of all space where anything at all could possibly take place any longer.

Black holes are truly dead--and all-deadening--stars. Not even their shine is left to them any longer.  

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clearing is a place open to receiving whatever may chance to enter into it. Clearings are hospitable spaces that offer welcome to whatever wanders in, and is then left entirely free to wander out again. They are spacious, accommodating, welcoming spaces, with room for all to come and go as each will. 

A clearing in the forest offers light-seeking plants a place to grow, and grants wanderers a place to rest a while. It opens the forest itself to view, lest that vista be lost among all the trees. It is thanks to the clearing in the forest's midst that the outline of the forest itself can be drawn forth. Without its clearing, the forest  vanishes into itself as into a vacuum.

By clearing a field of the stubble of last year's crops, a farmer makes room for new seeds to sprout. Their yield, in turn, they can then harvested at the new season's end--that is, the new crop can be gather together and, so gathered, made widely available to nourish life, sustaining and strengthening it, letting it too grow in its season.

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Travel Road Trip Sicily


Works of art are clearings, too. They are open and opening spaces that welcome the comings and goings of whatever may wander in and through them. 

Martin Heidegger knew and recurrently said that in various texts.

Perhaps the richest of those texts is his lecture from 1935-36 "The Origin of the Work of Art" ("Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes"). Early in the second part of that work of thought, Heidegger selects as an example of a work of art "an architectural work, a Greek temple." As such an architectural work, he notes, the temple doesn't "picture" or "depict" anything, the way that so-called "representational" works of art such as "realistic" paintings are typically taken to do. "Rather," writes Heidegger,

it simply stands there, in the midst of the rugged, rocky gorge. The architectural work encloses the form of the god and allows it, in the protective concealment, to stand forth through the open columned hall our into the holy precinct. Through the temple the presence of the god in the temple prevails. In itself, the prevailing presence of the god is the spreading and delimitation of the precinct as a holy one. [. . .]

            [. . .]

            Standing there, the work that is the temple opens up a world and at the same time sets it back upon the earth, which only in that form comes forth itself as the native ground. [. . .]

            In its standing there, the temple is what first gives a face to things and first gives people a view upon themselves. This view remains open so long as the work s a work--so long, that is, as the god has not flown out of it. So does it also stand with the statute of the god that the victor in the game of prowess dedicates to the god.  It is no image with which one can more easily take cognizance of how the god looks, but is a work that lets the god himself be present, and thus is the god himself. The same holds for the linguistic work. In the tragedy, nothing is displayed and exhibited; rather, the battle of the new gods against the old is waged. Insofar as the linguistic work arises in the saying of the people, it does not talk "about" this battle, but transforms the saying of the people, so that now every essential word conducts this battle and puts to decision what is holy and unholy, what great and what small, what courageous and what cowardly, what lofty and what flighty, what master and what slave.

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Clearings, including especially in and as artworks, allow whatever at all may happen to be, to have room to be. Unlike vacuums, which suck everything into themselves and leave it no room, clearings open things out, and give them room just to be--to be whatever and however they are in and for themselves and one another.