Friday, February 07, 2020

Black holes

I watched this video twice, in fascination.

I became fascinated by Dr Becky's faith in data, maths and code in order to claim knowledge of that which fascinates us as a species gazing into the night sky; a faith here that is guaranteed, formalised and rewarded by society. Of course, this faith supports many fields, including my own. Literary studies also seeks knowledge to have done with fascination: knowledge of formal literary technique, knowledge of psychology, knowledge of sociology, knowledge of post-colonialism, class, race, gender; knowledge provided by scientific method, knowledge of z-scores, principal component analysis, clustering coefficients. Its power is unassailable.

But in aversion and resistance I think of its subject and the overwhelming absence opened by writing, and the bad faith we depend on for such knowledge. This experience of writing becomes a narrative in Blanchot's Writing of the Disaster. A small boy draws a curtain aside to see a wintry garden scene and then looks upward to "the ordinary sky, with clouds, grey light—pallid daylight without depth".
What happens then: the sky, the same sky, suddenly open, absolutely black and absolutely empty, revealing (as though the pane had broken) such an absence that all has since always and forevermore been lost therein—so lost that therein is affirmed and dissolved the vertiginous knowledge that nothing is what there is, and first of all nothing beyond.
At the end of the video, Dr Becky goes to a lecture by the scientist who took the first photograph of a black hole. She takes extensive notes and reports that over four billion people have since looked at the image.

Except, photography is the writing of light, so this no more a photograph of a black hole than a photograph of a novel is a photograph of its void of fascination (as revealed by the anxiety underlying discussions of book covers). Theories of the night sky and of writing may be intelligible but the conceptions on which they are based are not. Dr Becky's notebook is the black hole.


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