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2005 03 30
Empire of Bricks - 1
imageYou’ve probably encountered this conversational exchange a number of times. ‘What’s you’re earliest memory’

My partner who prides herself on her memory generally claims her earliest memory is from eighteen months. I find myself competitively struggling to dredge something up, my best had been, I believe, from age four years. But of late I’ve been working on this one memory fragment and after checking with my father I believe I’ve got it down to 3 years and a bit. Three years at best. It’s actually quite a frightening memory and perhaps that is why it had not shown up until lately. Even then for the longest while I thought it was a bad early dream. It’s so vague, nonsensical, like a dream. It really is just a fragment. The memory is of wandering in our tree-lined neighborhood then abruptly encountering this vast red brick wall. I remember looking one way then the other and all I could see was the bricks, red and smooth. In my mind’s eye I can even see that the pointing was quite tidy. The brick wall filled my entire horizon. I somehow knew that where I had been was on the other side of this vast wall and that I must return, somehow. I was lost. For some reason I remember that I didn’t even turn around to look behind me. I just knew that I had to get through the wall to get back home. Home was on the other side of the wall. I’m fairly certain that this was also my first encounter with vanishing points. Although it may be that my adult psyche has overlain this image with what I now know to be perspective. In both directions the mortar lines converged and smeared visually in the distance. Although this vision was probably mixed in with tears I had become quite frantic, confused. Then my memory goes blank. I know nothing of the relief of being found. When I asked my father about the various places we had lived by way of zeroing in on the timeline of this particular memory. The best match we could both come up with given my knowledge of Toronto’s neighbourhoods and my father’s chronology was that this was the Kensington Market neighbourhood and that the vast brick wall was the Bathurst street side of Toronto Western Hospital. He had this vague recollection of one of the boys getting lost momentarily. I didn’t want to let on to him what a living nightmare it had been and was somehow relieved to know all these years hence that it wasn’t such a big deal. I was oddly comforted by the casualness that punctuated our conversation: ‘Oh, was that you’? The offhandedness character of his response made me wonder why, of all the scrapes that we three boys had got into subsequently, why this memory, when set against the rest, had such frightening cast to it.

I’ve been reading quite a bit of Marshall McLuhan, lately in preparation for a proposal I am working on for the Winnipeg Public Library. I came across this bit and I think because I had had ‘bricks and perspective’ on my mind the whole section seemed to hover ever so slightly above the rest of the print on the page.

The analysis of William Ivins strongly supports van Groningen when the latter writes: “The conception which they have of the future is, of course, only an expected, dreaded or desired parallel to the past.” But the visual element in the Greek sensibility was still much embedded in the audile-tactile complex, giving to their fifth century, as to the Elizabethan Age, the character of a relatively balanced sensibility. That the same limitation of mere visual parallelism affected Greek geometry Ivins points out in his Art and Geometry – When Pappus had finished, the situation was that the late Greek geometers know two focal ratios, three directrix-focus ratios, and the visual transformation of a circle into an ellipse. They also knew, and these I shall come back to, not only particular cases of the invariance of anharmonic ratios but Euclid’s “porism”, the latter of which was as close a miss as possible for Desargues’ Theorem. But they regarded these things as isolated propositions having no relation to each other. Had the late Greeks only added t them the one further idea that parallel lines meet at infinity, they would have had in their hands at least logical equivalents of the basic ideas for geometrical continuity and for perspective and for perspective geometry. That is to say that again and again during a period of sex or seven centuries they went right up to the door of modern geometry, but that, inhibited by their tactile-muscular, metrical ideas, they were never able to open that door and pass out into the great open spaces of modern thought.

Its such a perfect mix of images for my frame of mind. Perspective, memory, not being able to get through a certain door. But before I get to the speculations that McLuhan presents to the reader on the alphabet, type, bricks and memory I want to relate one more image/memory fragment with bricks in it, again bricks in Toronto.
[email this story] Posted by Bernie Miller on 03/30 at 08:03 AM

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