Stranger (symbols)

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Jul 29, 2017.

  1. As an aside... Hat-tip and major props to engineer and mathematician Dr. Claude Shannon, whose mid-1900s research in the fields of information theory and communications theory, led to technical developments that are embodied in all computing and communications devices we take for granted today.
    Phil S likes this.
  2. ..........
    It's interesting that, after I am posting about not knowing/understanding the bodies/beings, Phil jumps to smartphones — as if the two are indistinguishable or interchangeable.

    Long meandering post to follow that will lead back to the above:

    Last night I started one of the Masters of Art books I've been buying for $1 or 2, used. I like them and they help me fall asleep. LOL. Anyway, this one had, as used books sometimes do, a handwritten note on the first page:


    I find that I have filled in an entire story from that note, as per Phil's previous post about how we visualize from what we read. Nan is older, gray-haired. Doug has dark brown hair and is not entirely receptive to Nan's motherly attention. I note that the date is 2000 though the book was published in 1984. Did she buy it used, or was it her personal copy? In any case, I can see (I have the book, now) that it has not been much read. It looks and feels (and smells; some used books reek of cigarette smoke) brand new. On the other hand, maybe Nan treasured it. Anyway, I am not really justified in any of the above, yet I do it anyway.

    Thinking about that reminded me of another book I bought used that had a note in it:


    That's John Coplans. Is he writing to his regular doctor, or is this an end-of-life physician? The emotion of the note makes me think it's the latter. But whoever the doctor was, he didn't want to keep the book. Or maybe he died and his estate sold it.

    Coplans made pictures of his own aged, male, real body. It's his own body but he wants to look at it, wants us to look at it, as "a" body. I love the pictures, and I think Coplans loves his body, too, even as he's exploring what it looks like. [See Google Search results for his pictures here.]

    But many people were appalled by his pictures. In particular, men who look like Coplans were appalled. For example, years ago when I posted about the book on my blog, a regular commenter to my blog who is himself an older man who is very much of Coplans body-type made this remark:

    "Ewe gross. But, whatever cranks your tractor."​

    ... and in a1997 article posted in a by Philip Greenspun (founder of titled Nudes (the page is now 404: I have the quote from my old blog post) he wrote that Coplans's pictures show:

    "… the repulsively hairy body of John Coplans, whose self-portraits definitely constitute one of the nastiest things one can do with a 4×5 view camera (actually his assistant takes the pictures; he just sells them for $5000 a whack)."​

    Yet most classic nude photography is entirely 'stranger' to my eye. It's of bodies that aren't mine. It's definitely of bodies that aren't of older, real people. The 'real' body is seen as the stranger by those who themselves possess precisely those kinds of bodies. "Ewe gross."

    Which brings me back to smartphones. They too are a kind of body that maybe we like better than the "repulsively hairy" strange body that we really have.

  3. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Brad, thanks for the introduction to a fascinating chap. On his wiki page it mentions, among many other things,

    "Shannon's concepts were also popularized, subject to his own proofreading, in John Robinson Pierce's Symbols, Signals, and Noise."

    which I thought quite apt.
    Phil S likes this.

    For me, strange and grotesque (in a good way), but not stranger.
    Phil S likes this.
  5. Number 5 isn't strange: it's cool, and you know it. I have no trouble connecting with that (kind of) face. Try taking the mouth and snout from #7 and sticking them on #1 (the original photo).

    The book message read "... Monday morning Bible study on Rembrandt's Prodigal Son." Notice that she writes in ink on the book: she does not want him to forget her.

    If I had more time, I'd have more to say, but I should have been out the door five minutes ago ...
  6. Thanks, Phil. Those clips are evocative.

    Is 'stranger' someone we (I) don't understand/connect with, or is 'stranger' someone who doesn't understand/connect or recognize me? In other words, is the alienation because I can't find them, or is it that they make me (feel) invisible? Which of us has no place?

    I think maybe it's the second — that they or don't/can't/won't see me. And I can tell they don't see me.

    I'm not sure how much I care about whatever I simply don't recognize. Even if they're threatening or nasty, I can understand that. But if they don't recognize that there's a being (me!) here in front of them, then they are 'stranger.'

    It's not that they are scary, it's that I can't find myself in their world — which should also be my world. I'm displaced.

  7. "The things themselves are not what science can reach ... but only the relations between things. Outside of these relations there is no knowledge of reality." — Henri Poincare
  8. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Did Poincare really say that? The nearest to it I can find is

    Mathematicians do not study objects, but the relations between objects; to them it is a matter of indifference if these objects are replaced by others, provided that the relations do not change. Matter does not engage their attention, they are interested in form alone.
  9. Also in clichés.
    Either or both.
    Sounds like they'd be not just a stranger but some sort of space alien if they didn't recognize you as a being.
  10. ................

    "For virtually any other serious sickness, a patient who felt similar devastation would be lying flat in bed, possibly sedated and hooked up to the tubes and wires of life-support systems, but at the very least in a posture of repose and in an isolated setting. His invalidism would be necessary, unquestioned and honorably attained. However, the sufferer from depression has no such option and therefore finds himself, like a walking casualty of war, thrust into the most intolerable social and family situations. There he must, despite the anguish devouring his brain, present a face approximating the one that is associated with ordinary events and companionship. He must try to utter small talk, and be responsive to questions, and knowingly nod and frown and, God help him, even smile. But it is a fierce trial attempting to speak a few simple words."

    "... A phenomenon that a number of people have noted while in deep depression is the sense of being accompanied by a second self — a wraithlike observer who, not sharing the dementia of his double, is able to watch with dispassionate curiosity as his companion struggles against the oncoming disaster, or decides to embrace it."

    "... even in this vision [Through a Glass Darkly, Ingmar] Bergman (who suffered cruelly from depression) there is as sense that all of his accomplished artistry has somehow fallen short of a true rendition of the drowned mind's appalling phantasmagoria. ... Through the course of literature and art the theme of depression has run like a durable thread of woe — from Hamlet's soliloquy to the verses of Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins, from John Donne to Hawthorne and Dostoevski and Poe, Camus and Conrad and Virginia Woolf. In many of Albrecht Dürer's engravings there are harrowing depictions of his own melancholia; the manic wheeling stars of Van Gogh are the precursors of the artist's plunge into dementia and the extinction of self. It is a suffering that often tinges the music of Beethoven, of Schumann and Mahler, and permeates the darker cantatas of Bach. The vast metaphor which most faithfully represents this fathomless ordeal, however, is that of Dante, and his all-too-familiar lines still arrest the imagination with their augury of the unknowable, the black struggle to come:

    In the middle of the journey of our life
    I found myself in a dark wood,
    For I had lost the right path.​

    all of the above is from Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron; ... and, if your wondering, no, I don't suffer from depression


    A trivial example of that in everyday experience can be seen in this picture:

    from A to B by Martin Parr

    Gillian Wearing has done some interesting experimentation with masks reference her memories of herself where she makes and wears masks from her much younger self, whom she no longer identifies with. She has also done work where she simply wears a mask of her current self:

    by Gillian Wearing

  11. Phil's linked dream videos, where you never really see who or what is (not) there, and yet which make the mind almost wildly active in searching and in filling in what is (not) there, made me think of this video by Jim Campbell:



    "I cannot escape, in my observations, from the irony that the visual languages of naturalism and realism are simple codes, every bit as artificial as the greatest excesses of the baroque." — portrait artist, Stuart Pearson Wright

  12. We are all strangers to each other, we are all strangers to the mystery of why we even here and able to ask the questions we do. Perhaps its because I came of age when I did, but I have read Albert Camus' book The Stranger more than once in my life so far and I am still haunted by it. Thinking about this topic I took this photograph just a few days ago.

    20170803 The defendant will please rise.jpg
    Brad_ likes this.
  13. John, can you say more about why you find 'stranger' in your picture? It's very quiet, almost sound-proof and has imposed order/hierarchy, but it seems very much about the group. Is it because the room and the order is so sterile?

    I'd also been thinking about Camus' The Stranger re this thread. And also almost every film made by Robert Bresson. If you've seen any of them, 'stranger' is ... done to a T.
  14. Stranger, to me, is implied in John's picture by absence and separation.
  15. Julie: I "came of age" in the late 60's and went to college when existentialism was in vogue and it struck a chord with me. I considered myself 'cool' by classifying myself as an existentialist. "Ah but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

    In any case, the notion of 'stranger' supposes a relationship between individuals, and thus it takes two (or more) to try to represent the notion. I guess one could call the two parties "the strange-er" and "the strange-ee". It is the strange-ee (or strange-ees if more than one) who for whatever reason perceives the strange-er as different, as alien. You brought all this out nicely in the definitions and examples you gave in your original post on this thread. I mentioned Camus earlier, another classic writer and hero to existentialists everywhere, who delved into this realm was Kafka, and one result was his novel "The Trial". My photo tries to hint at an absurd trial, yes the jury is supposed to consist of peers, but when the trial is absurd the defendant is a stranger.

    Now you'd be right to challenge my assertion that it takes two to represent the notion of 'stranger'. Especially for an existentialist (at least ones such as Camus, Kafka and also one such as I was and maybe still am) one can be a stranger to oneself. But I better stop here before I get in any deeper and while I'm still making a bit of sense, at least to myself.o_O
  16. .................

    ... Jorge Luis Borges could do it for me ... :)

    It's interesting that both Phil and John use pictures without people to suggest 'stranger.'

    Here is Irving Penn giving what I think is a wonderful description of how connection (overcoming disconnection or 'stranger') is almost always generated by the making of a picture:

    "I set up camp in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the villages and savannas of West Africa, in the Atlas Mountains on the edge of the Sahara, and a number of times among the tribesmen of New Guinea. And what each experience had in common with the others, although in varying degrees, was what became for me the most surprising and fascinating fact. Taking people away from their natural circumstances and putting them into the studio in front of a camera did not simply isolate them, it transformed them. Sometimes the change was subtle; sometimes it was great enough to be almost shocking.

    [line break added] But always there was transformation. As they crossed the threshold of the studio, they left behind some of the manners of their community, taking on a seriousness of self--presentation that would not have been expected of simple people. As I look back through these essays I am struck by the fact that the one characteristic all these various people seem to have in common is that they rose to the experience of being looked at by a stranger, in most cases from another culture, with dignity and a seriousness of concentration that they would never have had ten or fifteen feet away, outside the studio, in their own surroundings.

    "The studio became, for each of us, a sort of neutral area. It was not their home, as I had brought this alien enclosure into their lives; it was not my home, as I had obviously come from elsewhere, from far away. But in this limbo there was for us both the possibility of contact that was a revelation to me and often, I could tell, a moving experience for the subjects themselves, who without words — by only their stance and their concentration — were able to say much that spanned the gulf between our different worlds."​

    One of Penn's particular descriptions that made me smile was this one about his shoot in Crete:

    "The old-timers watched the preparation with interest and considerable laughing and whispering. When I then asked them to be subjects of the pictures, they were first surprised, then shy, then altogether delighted, and grouped themselves around the opening of the studio like excited children. Those I chose for each picture were the envy of the others. They planted themselves firmly in front of the camera as though they meant to stay for a long time. When a picture was finished, they were reluctant to leave the camera. I had to put my arm around each and firmly lead him out to the others."​

    However, Penn did encounter 'stranger.' In Morocco, there were the 'Blue People' of the desert:

    "It was a disappointment to me that I was never able to entice these beautiful people into the studio to be photographed. They simply saw no point in posing. This was not their kind of vanity, and they could not be bought."​

    Still in Morocco, he also did not feel that he really connected with the guedra dancers in Goulimine:

    "We invited these mysterious guedra women to pose for us. ... Those chosen sat, eyes fixed on the lens, enjoying the camera's scrutiny yet themselves impenetrable, unhurried during the considerable time we spent together. The time I took with them as subjects gave dignity to their calling in the eyes of townspeople who passed by. They are on film. What is revealed is no more than these mysterious creatures meant us to know."​

    Here are two of the guedra pictures:

    Irving Penn, guedra dancers 1
    Irving Penn, guedra dancers 2

  17. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    is a connection made, or "stranger" unmade, when people act unnaturally, when people pose with dignity and a seriousness of concentration that they would never have had ten or fifteen feet away, outside the studio, in their own surroundings.

    nowadays, unless the photographer makes an effort, most people adopt the universal v-sign when posing for strangers. this is not making a connection, it is putting up a barrier, keeping a distance, desiring anonymity.
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2017
  18. Sometimes, a connection can especially be made under these circumstances. A strong "unnatural" pose will often have inescapable intention behind it. It can command attention and reveal commitment. "I'm doing this for you and I mean what I show," an obvious pose can say. Acting and gesturing unnaturally, if it forms a relationship with the expression and the moment, can be a deliberate reaching out and act as an unexpected embrace. Being more natural, on the other hand, can read as blasé or disinterested, and be disconnected.
  19. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    i agree a "connection" can be made but not in the sense of overcoming strangeness which was Julie's point
  20. Didn't Arbus do it to some extent? Mapplethorpe? Avedon? Brassai?

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