RISD Nature Lab – Decentralizing of the Means

Bodelin Proscope Digital Video Microscope

An Eyeball.

Moonlight shrouding a dilated pupil a microphone a woodpecker lying supine.

Periwinkle pup hoped Morocco?


Need not need not need not be a perfect sphere. Gelatinous and Asiatic, that is a foul.

Motic SMZ171 Stereomicroscope

An Owl.

Slick black buttons are found in the deepest pits, weary blood and tears leaking falling dripping rolling oozing. Not a parrot nor a hummingbird nor a penguin nor a pigeon nor a dove nor an albatross nor a finch nor a toucan nor a swallow nor a swan nor a goose nor a crane nor a cuckoo nor an eagle nor a duck nor a mockingbird. Not a foul nor a soul nor a Seoul nor a haul nor a maul nor a growl nor a vowel nor a bowel nor a towel nor an our-wool. What a beautiful avian being. The difference is spreading. The non-sameness is not-gathering. The difference is the truth.

Olympus SZ30 Stereomicroscope

A Black Mirror.

Round black mirror of. Some to happy an if accident the at for.

Artist Statement

I found it interesting how works of early natural philosophers we read in class assigned peculiar significance on the instruments of observation as a sine qua non for adequate methodology and discovery of truth. Robert Hooke celebrated the “use of mechanical helps for the senses” to complement the unreliable sensual faculties of humankind, documenting the observations made through the microscope; Francis Bacon did not specify the types of instruments required in his method but nonetheless repeatedly asserted the indispensable role of “tools and machines” in examining nature. The merit of technological instruments, then, lies in their exclusive ability to mediate between our inherently unreliable senses and the truth of nature, between the subjective mind and the objective external world. The emphasis on the mediating role of instruments and scientific methodology finds its way into the realm of literary discourse in the late 19th century following the advent of realism. Gertrude Stein manifests what Hejinian calls the “realism of the means” – poetic language is to Stein as a microscope is to a scientist, a medium that at once affirms and guarantees the accuracy of an observation by virtue of its unique palpability. An unexpected epistemic commonality between poetry and science emerges precisely from this keen attention to, if not an outright fetishization of, mediating instruments.

My project aims to challenge the poet-scientists’ privileging of the medium over the object of inquiry per se by offering a poetic description-cum-commentary of three different microscopes. The truth may reside in the scientific method (and, hence, the instruments that makes possible the method) as early natural philosophers and realists argue, but as the pictures of the microscopic lenses suggest, the instruments are capable of being reduced to utmost banality when they themselves become objects of close observation, their remarkable epistemological implication notwithstanding. The de-familiarization and de-privileging of the means I intend to accomplish by borrowing some of Stein’s interesting poetic strategies. “An Eyeball” draws from Stein’s literary adaptation of cubism (Stein herself was an acquaintance of Picasso) – the Bodelin microscope, when viewed from the front, back and side, reminded me of a pupil, a microphone, and a woodpecker, respectively. The second line is an anagram of these three words and the third a random scramble of their constituent alphabets – both are intended as cubist representations of language that radically disrupt the preconceived affinity between the signifier and the signified. “An Owl” foregrounds Stein’s conception of language and meaning as a chain of differences, what Saussure famously characterized as “differences without positive terms.” The lens of the Motic microscope resembles a face of an owl, yet our cognitive perception thereof entails an endless process of negative differentiation among words and concepts as the one presented in the poem. The last poem, “A Black Mirror,” draws on Stein’s avant-garde grasp of the instability and “porosity” of language deriving from our dependence on common names, centralizing what Hejinian describes as “our sensation of of, it, the, and some as well as tree, smoke, shed, and road.”

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