Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Original Filling Earth

Recently I was searching thefreedictionary.com for the word, 'irreproducible,' and found this graphic accompanying the definition. It didn't make sense to me at that time how exactly the graphic was supposed to illustrate the state of irreproducibility but I kept it in my head.

It took me several days of glancing at the split image and the term, 'Original Filling Earth,' before I finally got it.

Bruno Latour, sociologist of science, describes the transformation of a few clods of dirt to symbols in a scientific experiment of soil in the Amazon forest:

"Consider this lump of earth. Grasped by Rene’s right hand, it retains all the materiality of soil—“ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Yet as it is placed inside the cardboard cube in Rene’s left hand, the earth becomes a sign, takes on a geometrical form, becomes the carrier of a numbered code, and will soon be defined by a color… What a transformation, what a movement, what a deformation, what an invention, what a discovery! … Having made the passage from a clump of earth to a sign, the soil is now able to travel through space without further alterations and to remain intact through time."

In spite of Latour's light posturing, the description of the transformation is nonetheless illustrative. In the language of science, material (the clod of dirt) becomes a sign that is, by nature, generalized and irrespective of extreme particularity. This is why it is able to travel without further alteration and remain intact through time: it is a no longer the singular, irreproducible clod of dirt, but rather another bit of datum in a scientist’s collection.

The original clod is 'irreproducible.' The datum is, by necessity, reproducible.

The phrase does not read, 'Original Filling Earth.' It reads 'Original' on the left side, out in the field, untouched. And reads 'Filling' on the right, encased, transformed to datum in a cube-- boxed into a reproducible language.

Either is 'Earth' in a particular state.

This blog deals with words. But more specifically with those moments of hushed logic that rage to life in the happenings of everyday conversation, recordings, random writings and ludicrously close readings of words and their meanings.

No comments: