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[Xmca-l] Re: Parts and wholes
It's a beautiful structuralist parable, and the Westerner has the last
word, of course. But Kublai's question really isn't so stupid from an
engineering point of view. During the Sui dynasty, that is, about five
hundred years before Kublai Khan, the Chinese engineer Li Chun wondered how
many stones you could take away from an arched bridge before it would fall.
His reasoning was that the more stones you could take away, the less risk
there would be of floods washing away the bridge. The result was the
Zhaozhou Bridge (also called the bridge at Anji) which as far as we know
what the first open spandrel bridge built anywhere--it is still standing,
and still in use, after 1400 years.
Yet perhaps both parables are beside the constitutive/institutive point. It
seems to me that one of the differences between building something out of
semiotic material (that is, a constitution) or out of historico-cultural
material (that is, an institution) and building something out of material
material (e.g. an arched bridge, in the advanced Chinese version of which
Kublai is speaking or in the crude Roman version that Marco so prides
himself on) is that the former are self-renewing, generation after
generation. That's why Gary Snyder writes:
One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
"When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
"Look: We'll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with-"
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It's in Lu Ji's Wen Fu, fourth century
A.D. "Essay on Literature"-in the
Preface: "In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand."
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.
PS: The evidence is that Marco Polo never went to China. I always wondered,
when I was a kid, why he never mentioned a wall.
On Fri, Sep 2, 2016 at 12:51 PM, mike cole <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> >From Italo Calvino, "Invisible cities" -- a conversation between Marco
> and Kublai Khan, one of many. Some relationship here of constituting and
> Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.
> "But which is the stone that supports the bridge," Kublai Khan
> "The bridge is not supported by one stone or another," Marco
> answers, "but by the line of the arch that they form."
> Kublai Kahn remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: "Why do
> you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me."
> Polo answers. Without the stones, there is no arch."
> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal as a natural science with an object
> that creates history. Ernst Boesch