Is it Real or is it Memorex? – Aug 5, 2016

By Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Memorex being a casette tape of course. The ad was meant to imply that Memorex tape was so good it sounded like the real thing. This automatically implied there was a real thing of course, and everyone knew this.

When the first movie of a train was shown the audience ducked. When the first photographs were made people couldn’t believe the realism. Both of those imaging techniques settled down quickly so that everyone understood that photographic images were “images of” something. What makes a photograph (a movie being a series of photographs projected one after another) is that it is of something that is real.

But what about now? What about digital imaging that includes the ability to create something that doesn’t actually exist. How about CGI in movies that is so seamless we don’t know it isn’t real. That’s not photography (or movies) is it? It’s back to painting, back to animation (which existed before movies). The reality of these images exists nowhere in the real world at all, and unlike painting or animated illustrations, not even as created images in the real world. One can photograph a drawing, one can create a movie from stop action clay figures and inspect a single frame. One cannot photograph a digital file, in fact the only clue to what is in a digital file is when it is displayed using the correct interpretation program.

When it is displayed, it appears identically each time. Unlike photographing something which introduces mistakes at the creation, or which creates a real thing that will deteriorate over the years, a digital file exists or it does not, and it displays exactly the same each time (given the variations that exist in different monitors, but that is not the file, that is the visualization). The file, once created, does not change, even if copied. If there is change, the file ceases to exist. Digital files are whole or nothing, they do not fade, they do not accumulate mistakes (to any extent, we’ve all seen those files that are only half a picture… half perfect, half not there).

Has man reached the ability to work on Plato’s ideal plane? Can we create, not an example of a chair but “chair”, the ideal of chair. That essence, that “chairness” that lets us know a thing is a chair because we somehow know the original? Because everything we create digitally will live forever in “the cloud” with no need for any “real” form at all, are we all Platonists now?

Can we call a CGI image a photograph? By pushing the technology of digital photography far enough have we gone beyond “photograph” thus enabling ourselves to define, finally, what a photograph is? A photograph being an “image of” something that exists in the world, rather than on the ideal plane.

Our digital image is unchanging, cannot change, and not real without being displayed, that display itself being real, and thus introducing mistakes and other real things.

Our photograph was a real thing, light on light sensitive chemical emultion. It is still light on a sensor, a real detector of light, so it must be “of something” that reflects light onto the sensor.

Our CGI file is unreal, both in the real world, it is not “of something” and in its creation it was not a recording of light on a sensor, it is created, it is on the ideal plane, it has no need of an essence, it need not exist.

What, then, is a kata? What is your koryu sword art? Is it a set of ideal, unchanging, unchanged “Platonic forms” which, like CGI cannot be changed because change destroys them? Are the kata “budoness” the essence of the school which created them, an ideal kataness that allows you, through contact with this ideal plane, to understand that it is a kata, just as you understand that thing over there is a chair because you apprehend “chairness” through contact with the ideal realm?

Or is a kata a real thing, a thing that exists in the real world, that cannot be reproduced in the same way twice because of the imperfection of the reproducing system? (You) And, if it cannot be reproduced ideally, without change, is change allowed? Can our “ideal form” be an abstraction, an average, an illusion, dare I say, which does not actually exist? If so what does exist?

Perhaps we need to look at the creators of our images. They are not gods, they are you and I. I may take a photograph, I may also create a digital image without resort to photographic techniques, by manipulating a digital painting program to create a file that is never displayed. Are these two things different? Perhaps. Do they have a link? Yes. Me. I create both of them, I take the photograph and I create the CGI.

Good. Now, why do I create them? What purpose did I have for creating them? Perhaps by looking at them you can derive my meaning. No? Well perhaps together, me creating and you viewing, a meaning can be created. Yes.

A kata, what is it? It never existed on some god-crowded plane to be dimly glimpsed by us like shadows on a cave wall. Every kata ever created was created by a man. Each time it was performed, even by the same man, it was different. Just as each viewer of a photograph will find a meaning which depends on their ability to see and their entire life experience up to that moment of seeing, so a kata will mean something different each time it is performed.

Can a kata change within a school? Of course it can, as a real thing it cannot exist without change. It is nothing but change, “because time”.

To look at a photograph, or any piece of art, honestly, we must try to see what the artist intended when he created the image. We must then understand that we are bringing baggage to the image and we must be honest about that. The Wallendorf Venus is a sculpture, an image in three dimensions. Forget “what is it” and try to tell me “why is it”. No you are wrong, whatever you just told me you are wrong. We are 40,000 years away from that artist, our ability to understand his or her time is gone, we can only project our experience and bias on the artist. The object remains, meaning remains, but understand, be honest, the meaning of that image is, now, entirely dependant on your bias.

A 400 year old kata? With the writings of the creator of that kata still around? We have a much better chance of knowing what Musashi’s intent was in his kata. We know the name of the artist! We can, with work, try to understand the society he lived in. (Hint, it is not the Japan of 2016).

We read the Gorin no Sho, we read the Hyoho Sanjugo Kajo and we… don’t recognize the kata. Are the translations from old to new Japanese faulty? Are the translations from Japanese to English faulty? Have the kata been changed over 10, 11, 12 generations?

Of course the kata have changed. I have film and textbook evidence that the “standard kata of the kendo federation” have changed in my lifetime. Hell, I’ve got my memory that says they have changed. But they are standard! Kata never change!

Bull. CGI don’t change because they can’t. They don’t change because the technology that keeps them can’t handle change, that technology isn’t “real”. Those CGI do not exist in the real world. Kata do. What are kata? They are art, they are images created with a meaning and that meaning persists to the extent that we have contact with the creator and we are honest about our bias, and the bias of every generation that has copied that kata from the creation down to us.

The meaning of the kata is not found in reproducing, copying the digital file exactly for fear of breaking it. The meaning of the kata is in understanding why it was created, in working toward the lesson our teacher was trying to teach us when they taught us the kata. That teacher, we hope, tried to understand why his teacher taught it to him, and why every teacher, back to Musashi, taught us that kata. We listen, we read, we think about what bias we bring, the bias of all our teachers back to Musashi. Then we try to understand what Musashi wanted us to understand.

Is my Chudan the Chudan Musashi did? Who knows. Do I believe I can understand what Musashi wanted me to understand when he created Chudan? I have faith.

And I think maybe I know what a photograph is now.

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