What Does it Mean to be Human?

Is this what it means to be human?

flowerNo, hardly. The human eye picks up more texture and dimension than there is in this image. This is what a camera sees, designed to create images that mimic human perception in a flat space. The fact that it’s an electronic image, displayed on an illuminated screen adds another illusion — the light increases the illusion of depth. Let’s look again. If the image is not a human one, would it be more supportive of human sight if it were  given a mood?


Such pale colours are popular in fashion photography today, among photographers intent on romantic images of dead maidens, zombies and vampires as images of beauty. They appear to be powerful defence mechanisms. If the whole world looked like this, though, the only light and colour would be the energy of human movement. That’s charged, erotic, social territory. So is this:

zoltThe above image uses colour values popular in advertising, which are designed to catch human attention and saturate it at a root, biological level. Billions of dollars are spent doing this each year. Humans, with delicate perceptual abilities exceeding those of most if not all instruments, are living today in a sea of simple biological triggers. Perhaps the faded colours of the fashion world are a response to this over-saturation, what we might call colour weariness. One thing is for certain, human responses can be manipulated with colour. Here’s a colour palette that makes me dizzy and would drive me mad in a few minutes, I think.

mauveAnd here’s one that does the same in a different way:

greenThere’s a lesson for writers here, and it comes from Hemingway, who pointed out that if a writer knows one thing and writes ten, it’s obvious the writer knew one thing, whereas if the writer knows ten things and writes one, it’s obvious the writer knew ten, all of which are somewhere there. I messed around with these photographs to make this point. Cameras (and novels and poems and plays and essays) in contemporary, mechanized culture are designed to manipulate biological responses and to create illusions. For instance, the camera (and the printed page and the screen) are designed on the principle that the human mind combines discrete dots of colour into patterns, which it reads as true colour. There is an intent built into this manipulation, and it is not in favour of human perception. It is meant to replace it and to manipulate it. That industrial intent lies behind nearly all products of contemporary society, including nature poetry and classical music performance. The manipulation of these effects is the palette that contemporary authors work with, but there’s an elephant in the room, and that is a profound weariness and spiritual ennui. Why else would imagery like this be such a popular frame for human beauty?

paleThis is the world that SF and fantasy genres often walk through — a dead, or nearly dead, world caught in an evil spell — through which a heroine walks, casting life wherever she goes and taming the forces of death. The human, it appears, is now the art form. For a long time, I’ve believed that the great novel of our time was Frankenstein. Culture has still not worked past its parameters. I think, though, that Sleeping Beauty can easily be set beside that — in a world in which the prince has been replaced by Frankenstein. On that note, here’s a glimpse of Frankenstein’s castle in Darmstadt, Germany. When I took the image, the thunder was breaking overhead and the rain was streaming down …


Burg Frankenstein

Cheesily ‘reconstructed’ in the time of Mary Shelley’s novel.

A perfect place for sleeping beauty, as I discovered, thrashing up to it from the back side through the scrub…

backMore Cheesy Reconstruction

The thunder was a really great effect, though.

And for a wedding? Well, the place of choice, may I say …

hochzeitWedding Sign in the Parking Lot

This is what writers create by writing books. I have three questions. 1. Who has enchanted the prince? Where is he? 2. What is the princess going to do when she wakes? 3. What will she see? A human world, or a technological one? Writing is not entertainment. Please don’t ever think that. It matters, a lot.

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