Saturday, November 16, 2013

Urban moons

Max Weber famously discussed the “disenchantment of the world” in a 1917 lecture, by which he meant the loss of the overarching meanings, animistic connections, magical expectations, and spiritual explanations that had characterized the traditional world, as a result of the ongoing “modern” processes of rationalization, secularization, and bureaucratization. 
One possible antidote is artistic imagination. As demonstrated by Bas Jan Ader:
In Search of the Miraculous documents a 1973 nighttime walk by Dutch-born artist Bas Jan Ader through Los Angeles, from the Hollywood Hills to the ocean.
The artwork offers 14 night views of urban blandness: a freeway, an underpass and suburban houses emerge out of the blackness under the glare of street lighting. Scribbled at the bottom of each image are the lyrics to a song by the Coasters: Yeh, I’ve been searchin’, I’ve been searchin’, Oh yeh, searchin' every which way ... Just visible in each of the frames is the small figure of the artist, flashlight in hand, searching for miracles.
But even imagination is suspect:
Rational adults could partake of enchantments through the exercise of their imaginations, but despite the protestations of romantics, the imagination continued to be cast as inferior to reason.
But sometimes imagination and reason coincide. Viewing the moon through a double glazed window at just the right angle reproduces the parallel world 1Q84 of Haruki Murakami. I highly recommend this exercise. You can do this at home or on the train and in the bus:

Then he slowly opened his eyes and looked at the sky again, carefully, his mind calm, but still there were two moons. No doubt about it: there were two moons.
One was the moon that had always been there, and the other was a far smaller, greenish moon, somewhat lopsided in shape, and much less bright. It looked like a poor, ugly, distantly related child that had been foisted on the family by unfortunate events and was welcomed by no one. ... It was without a doubt a chunk of rock, having quietly, stubbornly settled on a position in the night sky, like a punctuation mark placed only after long deliberation or a mole bestowed by destiny.
Searching YouTube will yield countless videos of strange moon phenomena. None of these are scientifically valid. But they are fascinating to watch. And it is inspiring to see others in search of the miraculous, however misguided. And there are many interesting moon discussions on the Fortean Message Board:
A dot of light shot out from behind the right hand side of the moon - it was clearly substantially above the moon, there was a very visible gap between the edge of the moon and the object. It zipped, in maybe 1 - 2 seconds from the right of the moon to the left, passing over the dark band of occlusion, incredibly fast. It disappeared behind the moon. It was bright enough to see against the moon's surface, especially on the dark bit.  Then it shot out from the right hand side again, and went right around a second time.
Now, at that age, I knew full well the moon was big and I also knew nothing could do what I'd just seen, absolutely nothing, no comets, asteroids, spaceships, nada. I stared up, said "Did you see...", my brother said "yes..."; he'd been looking at the moon too, as it happened.
Never saw it again, but I was so convinced it was so big, so noticeable, I checked the papers and TV the next day, expecting to hear something, I mean, my god, this must've been visible to near half the planet, even if it was for just a few seconds ...
 A beautiful combination of enchantment and scientific observation is presented in the painting Les phases de la lune III, 1942 by Paul Delvaux. It is part of a Rotterdam museum collection and each time I'm in Boijmans museum I go and visit it:
Two educated men are standing on a square between two scientific institutes: left, a planetarium and right an observatory. The scene is lit by moonlight and breaths a cold atmosphere. The men and women walk up and down the steep stairway to the planetarium like marionettes. The barren landscape, with discarded heavy machinery, contributes to the atmosphere.
But I do not agree that the atmosphere is cold. I feel that 19th century science, with its massive steampunk tools is very tangible, human and mysterious. Modern science with its computers and electronics is much more cold and alien.
Classic science, using physical models and tools that everyone could understand was closer to us than modern science. But even modern science can be mysterious and romantic, as is demonstrated in these NASA pictures of the moon. People seeing this on TV without background information thought they were seeing Ufo's:
It was a video of the full moon, with a spherical object, almost as big as the moon passing between the video camera and the moon. The object looked brownish. I guess that the object was passing in the outer atmosphere as it did seem distant and moved slowly in front of the moon. It wasn't just a dot, like the other videos that I've seen before.
I myself have been pleasantly mystified when I watched the crescent of the setting moon in the city. When I thought: "There are black spots on the moon. I have never seen these before. What is happening?" Then I realised that I was looking at the moon through the branches of a tree which was invisible in the darkness. A magical experience. I have sought and found it many times afterwards. It never fails to move me:
And just like the moon is made more mysterious by viewing through a tree or window, it is also made more mysterious by viewing through curtains. The camera reveals a new and more interesting layer of reality. It is fiction and artificially created "sky shock", but it can be taken seriously:
She saw the backyard and field behind her house light up like she had never before - considering it was nearly midnight and it was pitch black outside. "I was so shocked when I saw it out the bathroom window I just stood there in awe for five minutes" ...
An amateur astronomer describes the problem as "sky shock", Adults of a civilized society can take stars for granted for years until they finally take the time to see just what is possible in the heavens. People have seen "spikes," beams," "appendages," and sparkles shooting out in all directions from bright stars
Finally, just looking at the moon and trying to photograph it is very satisfying. With a cheap digital camera it is not easy at all. It becomes even more difficult when trying to make a picture through cheap binoculars without a tripod. Again an exercise that is heartily recommended:

Well, the moon does have mascons. Just drop the "C" and you have masons. And masons were originally stone-carvers, and the moon is made of stone ... so all this makes perfect sense.
Max Weber:
Bas Jan Ader:
Haruki Murakami:
Fortean Times message board:
Paul Delvaux:
Lunar sundial:


  1. beautiful~ it is such a coincidence that i came across your blog today, which is the mid- autumn festival (a day to celebrate harvest and admire the most beautiful moon of the year with family): )

    1. Thanks for reminding me again to look at the sky! Unfortunately it has been cloudy the last two evenings.