Filtered for two worlds

12.53, Thursday 21 Dec 2017


According to the excellent Radio 4 show In Our Time, politeness was an 18th century revolutionary philosophy.

Listen to the episode on Politeness here (28 mins).

Or read this very rough transcript. (I’m ashamed to admit that I have a problem paying attention to podcasts, and would be much happier reading instead. So I loaded the MP3 into Simon Says and got that transcript back in a few minutes.)

What politeness replaces is decorum:

The idea of decorum is is the notion that everybody’s supposed to behave according to their place in society, according to their age.

And then there are more people talking: a move from a world of decorum - the nobility is only about 160 families - to a world governed by, well, it’s put in this lovely way: the amicable collisions of urban life.

(Coffeeshops being part of this.)

And that changed world means that it’s a world of debate and a world of public life, particularly in London; a world of socialising, and it needs a new model of behaviour and politeness comes forth.

This need collides with a reformist idea: the fundamental idea is the idea that the world can be - and we, the citizens of it - can be improved.

The idea of conversation gets internalised:

when he talks about conversation he is talking about conversation between people but also an internal conversation … whereby you modify and develop yourself.

Politeness, and conversation, is a route to self-improvement, but also how to rub along together:

human beings are naturally benevolent and this is a quite new notion of human nature, to insist on man’s capacity to love each other and to feel sympathy for each other and to respond empathetically to each other. And politeness is partly about feeling other people’s feelings, recognising how they respond in circumstances, traveling alongside with them in conversation

Makes me wonder what a similar benevolent, positive philosophy - pointing inwards at the self and outwards at society - would be nowadays, and what new modes of interaction it could draw on. The internet I suppose. But how.

See also: the New Yorker on In Our Time and its host Melvyn Bragg which it describes (accurately) as four intelligent people in a studio, discussing complex topics that are … aggressively uncommercial.

Some trivia: In Our Time was the BBC’s first podcast, and I set it up. This was back in November 2004, and the term had only been coined in February that year. The BBC was the first national broadcaster to do any podcasting at all. There are some funny little stories about hand-writing the XML files for the servers, and I should dig out the deck I made explaining podcasting, expressed in a way that we could avoid the BBC having to go back to the government to ask for permission to do it (we described it as “listener-scheduled radio”). A decade later, in 2014, the BBC announced 1.1 billion podcast downloads. In terms of effort expended, probably my most impactful work.


Long Twitter thread on the Victorian idea of the ‘veil between the worlds’:

The concept of ‘thin places’ (where the ‘veil between worlds’ is thin) was even worse - deemed ‘ancient Celtic’, actually invented in 1938.


Nowadays we don’t think of spirits’ or Gods’ realms as physical places, but as ‘planes’. But back then, the Gods lived on Mount Olympus.

Heaven was believed to be as physical as Earth. Hell could be reached through openings in rocks. The whole cosmology was different.

Of course, now that the Earth is mapped, we needed to imagine otherworlds as ‘higher planes’. It was the only place for the unknown to be.

The idea of superimposition, borrowed from photography, was a convenient analogy for how people thought the spirit world interacted w/ ours.



The concept of Thinning from fantasy (thanks Tom Stafford for sharing this on Facebook).

By way of intro:

Fantasy tales can be described, in part, as fables of recovery … the happy endings of much fantasy derive from the notion that this is a restoration, that before the written story started there was a diminishment.


The passing away of a higher and more intense Reality provides a constant leitmotif in the immensely detailed mythology created by J R R Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) comes at the end of aeons of slow loss. Within the global thinning manifested by the text throughout, local thinnings occur, examples including the realization that the elves are leaving Middle Earth for ever, or the return of Frodo to the Shire to find it has been thinned into a secular Waste Land.

The passing of the old and the beginning of the Age of Men.

Look at Star Wars – the idea that there was a golden age of noble Jedi knights that has given way to scuffles and trade negotiations, the magic and chivalry ebbed away. And now being restored. Why is this appealing now, in 2017?

Is the feeling that the world is thinning simply part of growing up? That as children, the world was magical – we were continuously confronted with that which we didn’t understand. Where beings with super-powers would swoop in and do things we couldn’t possibly understand, like conjuring up goods and services (paying for stuff) and teleporting (driving places). And now, as adults, we understand all (or at least, have learnt to avoid thinking too hard about what we don’t understand) and so the magic has gone?

And then the restoration, an essential part of the thinning narrative, a coming to terms with this, the whole a meditation on becoming-adult?

Or another manifestation of the wish that the one who saved us before - King Arthur, Roland, Jesus Christ - will come again, as a way of avoiding the hard work of actually buckling down and making the world better?

Anyway. Feels timely.


Dappled light generator.

omg how beautiful is this:

Created by Leslie Nooteboom, komorebi is a platform that uses a robotic projector and generative projections to replicate the natural reflections and shadows of sunlight. komorebi can create sunlight filtering through leaves or a dance of light and shadow.

Watch the videos.

See also: CoeLux which appears to be a skylight but is actually an artificial sky, with calibrated angle and temperature to simulate a hot day in the Mediterranean or the Tropics.

The light of non-places leaking through.

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