Monday, July 1, 2013

The Morpheus Database: Defining the Limits of Change

"When you choose anything, you reject everything else....
Every act is an irrevocable selection and exclusion....
If you go to Rome, you sacrifice a rich suggestive life in Wimbledon....
it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. 
Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame."
Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton

The Program

The Morpheus Database (Mark 1): By the end of the summer this program will allow me to cross-reference data on transformations from over 100 classical, medieval and early modern tales for each form taken, sequence, reason for change, type of change and possible relevance for gender, disability, queer, race, class, animal and object studies.

The aim of the project is to help (1) translate my thoughts into more easily comprehended forms, (2) allow for a quick review of a large amount of texts & notes and (3) eventually to allow for the production of data-clusters where corresponding tales can be called up at the press of a search-key. For instance, as the database gets better, I'd be able to stack information on instances where a body was transformed via surgical intervention or where the resulting form was considered to be hybrid instead of a new whole. It will start rough, then change and change again.


What is Transformation?

GK Chesterton, whose lucid and inspiring words I listen to absentmindedly on podcast as I work, wrote that the start of every major argument should begin by stating what it does not wish to prove. This is not only a generosity to the reader, as it allows her to know at the start whether or not the general direction of the work follows her interests, but is a generosity to the writer who in forming must set perimeters.

A key issue for coding the research that I am processing is the simple foundational question which I in part seek to answer: what is transformation? Put another way, what will I not count as a transformation?

Since my work begins in the Greco-Roman world and continues on into Medieval world which preserved and modified such Classical thought, I took Aristotle as discernment tool. According to his work On Coming-to-Be and Passing-Away one can recognize change on either one or two levels:. 

(1) In the first world-view, which may be taken as the only (and is by many atomists) the sum of all that exists has always existed and will always exist. Accordingly  all beings are either the preservation of like-things or else the mixture of unlike-things. You can rearrange but not make anything new. 

(Note: this level of change is typically proscribed to the powers of humanity and nature. "God makes, Man shapes" is a common medieval saying).

(2) In the second world-view, there is another form of change which states that the sum of all things can be increased or decreased, through the creation or destruction of either matter (the essence of things) or form (the qualities that matter can assume). Accordingly, when a like-thing becomes an unlike-thing (for instance, among a bunch of apples one becomes an orange) there is something which is created (the orange) and something which is destroyed (the apple). As stated, this can coexist with preservation and artifice (or the act of "joining together"), so that certain atoms (like-things) and molecules (unlike-things joined together) can cause this creation (of an orange) and destruction (of an apple). 

(Note: Because this level of change is about the introduction of new levels of ontological possibility and wholes > parts, it is generally affirmed from Ovid to Chaucer that "real change" such as this can only be accomplished by or with the aid of a divine power).

As a result I can thus identify at least two significant ways of distinguishing change: (1) hybridity and (2) coming-to-be or passing-away. This has various effects on what I will be looking for and what I will not be.


I. Hybridity v Growth

The Target: 

What I am looking for is moments in which two things, which remain distinct in quality and/or being are mixed in such a way that a reader can distinguish the qualities of both but cannot easily separate them. Putting an apple and an orange next to each other may not constitute hybridity because they exist as two things in relation, but chopping them up and mixing them together into a fruit salad binds them together under a common identity which has qualities of both but which separate the pieces would destroy the new object (i.e. the fruit-salad).

The Exception: 

Argument: What I am not looking for is moments in which one thing develops more of itself or more of things like-itself. This gets tricky, because the addition of the same or the persistence of a thing over time often does accrue change. 

Counter-Argument: In the first case a person can become a crowd if enough people are gathered together, even a couple is different than a single-person as Valentines Day attests for many of us. In the latter case, a baby and an elderly man are qualitatively different; one could arguably say (as I have in previous posts) that a real change does occur in aging. 

Resolutions: In both of these cases however, the presence of change is largely a matter of degree. If they really are "effectively the same" than dealing with one person vs a crowd, or one person one day and the same person a year later should be the same but just require persistence in the action/relation. While theoretically I find the question of growth as a form of change compelling, so the sake of this research, the work required would outweigh the benefits. I would be coding practically everything if I was to include persistence over time or degree as form of change.


II. Coming to Be v Passing Away

The Target:

What I am looking for is productive change, or which is why I tend to favor the term "trans-FORMATION." The creation of a new whole that encompasses its constituting parts into itself or else replaces them. This may be regarded as an absolutely new "kind" of thing (an new type of "nature" or "likeness" which has its own internal logic) or an exchange of identities from one form and another form, where the qualities of the assumed thing effectively suppresses, suspends or destroys the former in such a way that the old and the new cannot coexist in the same place in time and space.

The Exception:

Argument: What I am not looking for is the thing that departs, disappears or dies when the change occurs, although passing-away will often mark the points where creation manifests itself. Unless defined as a hybrid (where the qualities of each part remains evident), a new whole will take the place of the old individual wholes. Unless split into discrete wholes by death (such as Medusa, whose head becomes carried by Jason and whose blood becomes the Pegasus), mere decay or fracture will not be coded.

Counter-Argument: Parts do live under the tyranny of the whole and often, especially in cases of damage, illness, disability, aging, etc a body's parts will continue to function differently and separately even while perpetuating the whole. Likewise, something that passes-away, be it matter, form or both it may very well go somewhere or reemerge at another time. Dead bodies or dead ideas do not always remain buried and may undergo acts or changes in that time.

Resolutions: If and where parts are able to be distinguished they may be coded separately or significantly quality the thing being described (i.e. the eye of the fates or the-man-with-a-prosthetic-shoulder). In general however I will follow the lead of my texts on when to ignore parts or things passing away, because to look into, under or behind the wholes that I can see will put strains or takes leaps with the evidence. I may need to do just that, but as a rule, I will regard wholes and presences over absences, unless the parts or absences manifest themselves (such as ghosts). Because nearly everything is made of parts and because nearly everything is absent in a scene which deals with only present things, I would again end up coding everything if I did note each passing-away.


What is a Thing?

The Target:

What I am looking for is matter and form together, where there is an instance of something with a boundary/closure that a thing can exist between or across.

The Exclusion:

Argument: Matter alone is not going to be coded (i.e water, being, time, space). Forms alone will not be coded, such as words/ideas/identities (i.e. dialects, hope, Englishness). They require individual instances or bodies which can be considered as having specific qualities or boundaries, however porous or fluid they may be, (i.e. the sea, the universe, the hopeful Saxon man who spoke old English). This will be the case unless Matter (i.e. Mother Nature), Form (the Logos), or other such things manifest AS bodies, such as in Allegory (where Love arrives, walks around and speaks).

Counter-Arguments: Many of my colleagues are working with exactly these exceptions. (1) On language as embodied or as a living thing, which undergoes change and may exist across different language communities; (2) or as the universe as effectively one monad of either matter (we are all one in essence); (3) or form (the universe is chaos where all things are so interconnected they they are insaperable), this is not my project. The effect of coding for these would be to looking at changes in the words of what I am reading at times when more embodied changes are occurring in what the words are referencing. Likewise, if borders or difference are impossible, so too may transformation be either impossible or irrelevant. 

Resolution: I am concerned with Trans/Forming/Bodies, which requires a certain level of definition, positive production and materiality to fit within my research.

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