Looming Matter With Light

“When light collides with other light, it can transform into particles of matter,” science writer Corey S. Powell posted on Twitter the other day. He was referring to recent evidence from the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider that “pairs of electrons and positrons—particles of matter and antimatter—can be created directly by colliding very energetic photons.” In other words, the “conversion of energetic light into matter” might be physically achievable: you can create matter with light.

I am in no position to comment on the science of this beyond the sheer poetry of the description; if you want to learn more about the actual experiment, I’d strongly advise going to the source material, not to 爱博电竞APP . But so many metaphors come to mind here—precipitation and snow; depositional 3D printing; shining looms of light, bringing matter into the cosmos.

Imagine an industrial printing facility of the far future whose only input is light. Factories of weird mirrored rooms where objects flash into existence one at a time, in a new manufacturing process extruding matter from illumination.

In any case, I was also reminded of a piece published in Nature back in 2011: “Moving mirrors make light from nothing.”

The hypothesis there was that a single mirror “moving through a vacuum at nearly the speed of light” could, through something called the Casimir force, actually generate photons—the mirror could create light. This was apparently given experimental support when “a shower of microwave photons [was] shaken loose from the vacuum” by a highly sensitive superconducting device known as a SQUID.

The scientist behind that experiment now “hopes to see a moving piece of metal generate detectable light from the vacuum,” as if farming light from nothingness, coaxing photons into appearing like seeds, shaking them loose from the void.

Mirrors moving through darkness at the speed of light can create light—the sheer poetry of this is just astonishing to me, like a statement from the Gnostic Gospels.

Anyway, now put these two experiments together: use a moving mirror to pull light from darkness, then collide that light back into itself to generate matter. You could design a kind of internal combustion engine made of moving mirrors, turning darkness into light into matter.

Again, though, read the original articles if you prefer science over speculation.

We Have A Ghost

In one more quick bit of news, I was excited to see that a short story of mine, “Ernest,” published back in 2017, started filming for Netflix last week under a new title, We Have A Ghost.

[Image: Art originally used to illustrate “Ernest,” using Google Street View imagery, unconnected to the current Netflix adaptation.]

It has a superb cast—David Harbour, Anthony Mackie, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Tig Notaro, Jennifer Coolidge, Erica Ash, Niles Fitch, and so many others—and an amazing director, Christopher Landon, who also wrote the screenplay.

The current IMDB description is hilarious but accurate: “A man claims to have befriended a mostly harmless ghost who bears a likeness to the actor Ernest Borgnine and becomes famous on the Internet” (having grown up obsessed with John Carpenter movies, I was picturing Ernest Borgnine in Escape from New York when I wrote the story). However, the synopses offered by various other articles this week give a bit more context. From Deadline, for example: “The film centers on Kevin, who finds a ghost named Ernest haunting his new home. Kevin subsequently becomes an overnight social media sensation, along with his family. But when he and Ernest go rogue to investigate the mystery of the latter’s past, they become targets of the CIA.”

Of course, you can also read “Ernest” to learn more.

The film includes some plot elements and characters not present in the original story, but I am thrilled with Landon’s adaptation and the direction he is taking with this, and I cannot wait to see it on screen. A release date is T.B.D.; I’ll update 爱博电竞APP whenever it’s announced.

[Image: Art originally used to illustrate “Ernest,” using Google Maps satellite view, unconnected to the current Netflix adaptation.]

Other short stories of mine that readers of 爱博电竞APP might enjoy—I have not linked to any of these here before because they are not really about architecture or design, which means that most of you might not even know I have been writing fiction—include “Summerland,” a personal favorite of mine, a vampire story (without ever using the v-word) set on an island in the St. Lawrence River during the off-season (broken up for length into part one and part two), and “Dormitorium,” about an architecturally-inflected dream study with ulterior motives.

Until Proven Safe

[Image: Dressed in 21st-century personal protective equipment (PPE), I am standing next to Dr. Luigi Bertinato, wearing period plague doctor gear from the time of the Black Death, inside the library of the Querini Stampalia, Venice. Photo by Nicola Twilley.]

Long-time readers of this blog will hardly be surprised to hear of my interest in quarantine, a topic I’ve been posting and lecturing about since at least 2009. The Landscapes of Quarantine exhibition at Storefront for Art and Architecture, curated with Nicola Twilley back in 2010, was the beginning of a much larger project that Nicky and I eventually returned to, several years ago, for a book on the subject.

Originally titled—and sold to our editor as—The Coming Quarantine, we had to change the book’s name when COVID-19 hit. Surreally, we ended up finishing a book about quarantine while in a state of medical detention—indeed, at one point late last spring, more than half the world’s human population was in some state of quarantine or lockdown.

Our book’s hypothesis and prediction was, in fact, that we would all be quarantining more in the future, not less, relying on this seemingly medieval tool of 爱博手机app isolation to protect ourselves from emerging diseases for which we had no natural immunity, no available vaccination, and no cure. Why quarantine? It is the use of space and time to overcome uncertainty, creating a buffer between ourselves and a potentially infectious other until that suspected threat can be proven safe.

[Image: An arch inside the abandoned lazaretto, or quarantine hospital, on Manoel Island, Malta; photo by Geoff Manaugh.]

Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine—the book we have been traveling for, reporting, and working on since summer 2016—finally comes out tomorrow, July 20th. I am unbelievably excited about this book, for millions of reasons. On one level, it combines so many of the long-running interests here on this blog, from quarantine itself to architectural ruins, mythology & horror, science fiction, space exploration, the Army Corps of Engineers, agricultural landscapes, strange animal diseases, extraordinary engineering controls, the ethical dangers of smart homes, even nuclear waste.

Having posted little to nothing about this book over the past few years—indeed, having posted almost nothing about COVID-19—it’s also immensely relieving to finally release this thing into the world.

[Image: Inside the lazaretto at Ancona, Italy; photo by Geoff Manaugh.]

Some highlights that I think would appeal to 爱博电竞APP readers include Nicky’s and my travelogue around the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas, exploring ruined lazarettos in the footsteps of 18th-century British prison reformer—and quarantine critic—John Howard. We climbed locked fences into ruins on Malta, took a night ship across the Adriatic to disembark near the extraordinary pentagonal lazaretto in Ancona, and we got to tour the then-closed Lazzaretto Nuovo in Venice, Italy, with the local man intent on preserving it. (His original plan, he admitted, was to turn the island into a martial arts dojo.)

In other parts of the book, we sit down with the head of the Disinfected Mail Study Circle, based in North London. That group collects rare pieces of mail sent to and from sites of quarantine; like characters in a Thomas Pynchon novel, their postal archaeology has revealed previously forgotten outbreaks and odd geopolitical details about the formation of international borders.

We also visited the first federal quarantine facility, then under construction, in the United States in more than a hundred years, mere months before COVID-19, and we spoke with the former head of the Army Corps of Engineers about plans for retrofitting hotels, convention centers, and stadiums, as well as the prospect of pop-up home quarantine kits in the near-future. We visited the Ebola high-level isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London—where Nicky climbed inside.

[Image: Nicola Twilley inside the high-level isolation unit’s Trexler Ebola system; photo by Geoff Manaugh.]

In the latter half of the book—primarily dedicated to nonhuman quarantine, or quarantine applied to the plant, animal, and mineral kingdoms, capped off by a look at “planetary protection” and the risk of alien microbes—we were able to see a brand-new high-level animal-disease research lab in the middle of U.S. cattle country. This is the nation’s replacement for the aging facility on Plum Island, subject of countless conspiracy theories.

Elsewhere, we went deep into WIPP—the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant—outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, to see nuclear waste being buried and isolated from the Earth’s biosphere for a federally-mandated time periods of at least 100,000 years. We got to see the Apollo moon rocks and learn about the history of lunar quarantine, and even sat down with two of NASA’s Planetary Protection Officers—and their counterpart at the European Space Agency—to discuss the quarantine challenge of bringing Mars geology back to Earth. Along the way, we got to see Perseverance, the Mars rover, before its long (and successful) journey to Mars.

Reporting the book also led us to a series of high-level pandemic simulations over the course of several years—all the way up to the incredible experience of sitting in on a simulation in October 2019, the premise of which was a global outbreak of a novel coronavirus. As we sat there, listening to government figures role-play what they would do, the very earliest cases of COVID-19 were likely circulating in China, undetected.

We also look at the limits of mathematical modeling, the encroachment of algorithms and Big Data into the future of quarantine, and the dystopian potential of involuntary medical isolation automatically enforced by today’s smart homes.

And, through all of that, one of our biggest coups, I think, was recording hours of interviews with the head of the CDC’s division of global migration and quarantine, visiting him in his office at the CDC and recording anguished, on-the-record discussions during the Trump Administration about the nation’s COVID-19 response.

[Image: Walking inside the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a salt mine 2,150 feet below the surface of the Earth, where the United States is permanently burying nuclear waste; photo by Nicola Twilley.]

I could go on and on, but I am genuinely proud of the book and I would love to discuss it with you all! One great way to do that, in fact, would be if you can tune in to one, some, or all of our book launch events. We’ve already done one virtual event—last week, hosted by the Strelka Institute, in conversation with Benjamin Bratton, whose own new book, Revenge of the Real: Politics for a Post-Pandemic World, is well worth picking up—and other events begin tomorrow.

If I’ve convinced you to grab a copy of the book, I hugely, hugely appreciate it—thank you! If you’re tempted, you can easily order one from Bookshop, Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookshop, etc. etc.

And perhaps one of these events might catch your interest; the full schedule is also available at untilprovensafe.com. (Please note that, with only one clearly marked exception, these are all virtual events.)

July 20: UK Book Launch! Hosted by the Architectural Association Bookshop, in partnership with the Victoria & Albert Museum, with critic and curator Brendan Cormier | 1pm ET / 6pm London | Register here!

July 20: US Book Launch! Hosted by Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore with author Mary Roach | 7:30pm ET | Register here!

July 21: Hosted by Washington D.C.’s Politics and Prose with author and journalist Steve Silberman | 7pm ET | Register here!

July 22: Hosted by San Francisco’s Book Passage with journalist and co-host of KQED’s Forum, Alexis Madrigal | 8:30pm ET | Register here!

July 28: New Republic Salon Series, with Laura Marsh | 7pm ET

July 29: Hosted by Cambridge’s Harvard Book Store with journalist and Gastropod co-host Cynthia Graber | 7pm ET | Register here!

August 3: Hosted by Point Reyes Books with author, journalist, and editor Adam Rogers | 7pm Pacific | Register here!

August 6: Hosted by the Nevada Museum of Art’s Center for Art + Environment with William L. Fox | 12pm Pacific | Register here!

August 11: Alta Live with critic and author David L. Ulin | 12:30pm Pacific

August 17: Live and in person! The Interval at the Long Now Foundation, San Francisco | 7pm Pacific | Register here!

September 21: Hosted by Town Hall Seattle | 6pm Pacific | Registration info forthcoming

A great way to get a flavor of the book would be to check out excerpts published in WIRED and The Guardian—and, tomorrow morning, The Atlantic—or to listen to the Gastropod episode we did on quarantine, agriculture, and threats to the world’s chocolate supply.

[Image: Until Proven Safe, with a cover design by Alex Merto.]

With a sense of near-overwhelming relief, then, I just wanted to announce this book’s arrival. It’s out from MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the United States and Picador in the UK. Genuine thanks to anyone who decides to take a look—I hope you enjoy.

Note: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon and Bookshop from which I might draw a small percentage of any book sales.

House on the Border

There’s a great detail in a recent news story about cross-border smuggling in a small northern township, where upstate New York meets Quebec. Some homes in Dundee straddle the international border between the U.S. and Canada (recalling the marbled, enclave-rich border town of Baarle-Hertog or even Derby Line, Vermont).

In a report about a man arrested for gun-running, Radio-Canada refers to this man’s house as a “maison sur la frontière,” or house on the border: “located on Beaver Road, the house can be found in both Canada and the United States” (translating from French).

Indeed, although I cannot guarantee this is the right place, you can see a structure on Google Maps at the end of Beaver Road (Chemin Beaver) that sits astride the international border.

[Image: Via Google Maps.]

“Due to the presence of several such properties in Dundee,” the article continues, “this special location makes this municipality a historically recognized location for contraband, especially alcohol smuggling during the Prohibition era. It is therefore not new that properties along the border in this area have come under increased surveillance by the RCMP, which keeps an eye on real estate transactions and activities in the area.”

You take something in through the American side and just slide it across into Canada, crossing the border silently in the comfort of your own home.

As designer Daniel Benneworth-Gray joked on Twitter, residents could simply put everything on Lazy Susans “in case there’s a raid”: rotating furniture spun from one jurisdiction to the next in a house full of cross-border cupboards, compartments, and shelves, all connected to wheels, ropes, and pulleys, the whole place a kind of pinball machine through which illegal objects continually leave and re-enter the country.

Impact Gardening

Impact gardening” is the evocative term used to describe surface disturbance—and potential biological effects—caused by the crashing of extraterrestrial objects into planetary bodies.

[Image: The surface of Europa, including “the kind of areas churned by impact gardening.”]

These impacts can “churn” or, in effect, plow the surface, exposing previously buried materials to solar radiation—which, in turn, can break down and even sterilize any life thriving there—but it can also push potential organic matter “downward, where it could mix with the subsurface,” almost like planting seeds, according to a short feature published today by NASA.

“If we hope to find pristine, chemical biosignatures,” planetary researcher Emily Costello explained to NASA, “we will have to look below the zone where impacts have been gardening.”

Distant planetary landscapes, gardened by impacts.

Read more over at NASA—I’m honestly just posting this for the poetry of the phrase impact gardening

(Somewhat related: Life on the Subsurface: An Interview with Penny Boston.)

Fractalize Me

The genes that cause Romanesco, a kind of cauliflower, to grow in a fractal pattern have been identified. Researchers were subsequently able to manipulate one of those genes and get it to function inside another plant—thale cress—producing fractal blooms.

The language used to describe this is interesting in its own right—a vocabulary of memory, transience, perturbation, and abandoned flowering.

In the words of the researchers’ abstract, “we found that curd self-similarity arises because the meristems fail to form flowers but keep the ‘memory’ of their transient passage in a floral state. Additional mutations affecting meristem growth can induce the production of conical structures reminiscent of the conspicuous fractal Romanesco shape. This study reveals how fractal-like forms may emerge from the combination of key, defined perturbations of floral developmental programs and growth dynamics.”

It’s the fact that this gene appears to function in other plants, though, that is blowing my mind. Give this technique another ten or twenty years, and the resulting experiments—and the subsequent landscapes—seem endless, from gardens of infinitely self-similar roses and orchids to forests populated by bubbling forms of fractal pines, roiling oaks, and ivies.

Until, of course, the gene inevitably escapes, going mobile, infecting insects and animals, producing confused anatomies in fractal landscapes, like minor creatures in a Jeff VanderMeer novel, before breaching the human genome, and oracular multicephalous children are born, their bodies transitioning through monstrosities of self-reminiscence and new limbs, mythological, infinitely incomplete, cursed with endless becoming.

In any case, read more over at ScienceNews, and check out the actual paper at Science.

Feathered Friends

After the previous post, I was interested to see a short piece over at The New Yorker about basically the same idea—of spotting invasive species in the backgrounds of films and television shows, but, there, applied much more broadly to art history.

The article, by Rebecca Mead, looks at the unexpected presence of a cockatoo in an image by Italian Renaissance-era painter Andrea Mantegna, as the bird’s “native habitat is restricted to Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the Philippines.” How did it get to 15th-century Italy—and more specifically, Mead asks, “what did the bird’s presence reveal about the connections between an Italian city and distant forests that lay beyond the world known to Europeans?”

[Image: A cockatoo in the background of Andrea Mantegna’s “Madonna della Vittoria” (1496), via Wikimedia.]

It’s a fun read, and includes a final archival detail I’ll mention briefly—I am particularly obsessed with rare finds in archives, to be honest, and this is a good one. It turns out that Mantegna’s painting was not the first depiction of a cockatoo in European art history. Instead, a manuscript hidden away in a Vatican library included an even earlier representation, made in the mid-1200s. Art history as forensic ecology.

Little creatures popping up in paintings and films, in engravings and TV shows, their presence there indicating larger tides of trade or climate change, acting as a strange barometer of the natural world.

(Related: Check the Sonic.)

Check the Sonic

[Image: From episode 9 of Patriot, courtesy Amazon Studios.]

This is incredibly random, and is perhaps indisputable evidence that I have fallen head over heels for mourning doves, but I’ve begun noticing, in the backgrounds of various films and TV shows, when mourning doves can be heard cooing—for example, in the new Doug Liman film, Locked Down, there is at least one scene where you can clearly hear a mourning dove singing in a London street.

Recall those recent acoustic studies of cities during the coronavirus lockdown that showed that, among other things, birds no longer had to struggle to be heard over the relentless noise of cars and industrial activity.

The Locked Down mourning dove was presumably a beneficiary of this larger acoustic change—yet it will never know it’s now an international celebrity! Maybe, if you live in London, you’ve even heard the same bird.

[Image: From episode 9 of Patriot, courtesy Amazon Studios.]

On the flipside of this, however, I was watching episode 9 of Amazon’s show Patriot the other night when I noticed the call of a Eurasian collared dove somewhere in the background, cooing in the woods. If the fictional setting of that scene is also where it was filmed, then this means Eurasian collared doves are alive and well in the forests of Wisconsin—an absurdly uninteresting point to raise if not for the fact that those doves are an introduced, invasive species.

It occurred to me, then, that you could potentially track invasive species—birds, insects, plants—by way of their unacknowledged appearance in the backgrounds of international film and TV projects.

Think of the scene in W. G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz, where a character freezes a video and zooms in on a woman just barely visible in the background, concluding that he is, in fact, looking at the face of his own long-lost mother—indeed the only image he now has of her, this fleeting appearance in the shadows of a film that was actually about something else entirely.

Now imagine that on the scale of an entire ecosystem: a rarely seen bird flashes by behind a character in a blur of color and song, a single tree in a clearing beside two actors, its presence there indicating previously unnoticed changes in soil alkalinity or regional temperatures.

In other words, you could map the spread of invasive species, not to mention the effects of climate change, by noting what creatures pop up, however briefly, in the background of films shot in ecologically transitional regions of the world—an archive of climate effects and landscape futures hiding in plain sight, waiting to be noticed by the right researcher.

[Note: If you’re now desperate to see pictures of mourning doves, I’ve got you covered.]

Terrestrial Astronomy

[Image: “The Empty Quarter (Nevada)” (2021), collage by Geoff Manaugh, using maps from the U.S. Geological Survey.]

I’m thrilled to have some map collages in the latest issue of the Yale Review.

[Image: “Groundwater Grids (North Dakota)” (2020), collage by Geoff Manaugh, using maps from the U.S. Geological Survey.]

I started making these during lockdown, as part of a larger (and, to be honest, now doomed-feeling) graphic novel project using public domain U.S. Geological Survey maps as the main material.

[Images: “Keys II (Florida)” (2020) and “Keys I (Florida)” (2020), collages by Geoff Manaugh, using maps from the U.S. Geological Survey; the source maps for these are particularly interesting, because they utilize satellite photography.]

The images in this post include a few collages not published in the Yale Review, but click through for the full issue’s broad selection of poetry, essays, fiction, and more.

[Images: “Morse Landscape II (Louisiana)” and “Morse Landscape I (Louisiana)” (2021), collages by Geoff Manaugh, using maps from the U.S. Geological Survey.]

And huge, huge thanks to Eugenia Bell for the editorial interest!

[Images: Various collages by Geoff Manaugh, using maps from the U.S. Geological Survey.]

If you’re looking for someone to design a book cover or album cover or event poster, hit me up.

[Image: “Terrestrial Astronomy (Nevada)” (2021), collage by Geoff Manaugh, using maps from the U.S. Geological Survey; it’s a pedestrian observation, but inverting the color scheme of geological maps makes them look like maps of stars.]

The Terrestrial Status of Boston

The terrestrial status of Boston is an unexpectedly fascinating topic. A city built on land rescued from the sea, it is not only unusually at risk from sea-level rise; it also hides parts of its marshy past beneath its streets and 爱博体育在线 s.

As a project by the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center recently wrote, “No city in the U.S. has a more striking history of landmaking than Boston, with about a sixth of its present land area sitting on estuaries, mudflats, coves, and tidal basins that would have been submerged at high tide prior to the seventeenth century. Mapping the growth of the city into the surrounding ocean has been an interest of Boston’s geographers for centuries, and our modern maps of shoreline change are some of the most popular objects in our digital collections.”

[Image: Boston, courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center.]

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal explained last year, some of Boston’s most expensive houses are more like docks or wharves, sitting atop wooden pilings driven deep into flooded ground. In one specific case, “the underground wooden pilings supporting the foundation had been rotting for years, to the point where the 爱博体育在线 ’s walls were ‘almost floating,’ [the home’s owner] recalled.”

Recall the the incredible story of William Walker, a diver who “saved” Winchester Cathedral in England by diving beneath it for a period of six years, repairing its aquatic foundations from below. “When huge cracks started to appear in the early 1900s,” we read, “the Cathedral seemed in danger of complete collapse. Early efforts to underpin its waterlogged foundations failed until William Walker, a deep-sea diver, worked under water every day for six years placing bags of concrete.”

Ben Affleck’s next movie, perhaps—scuba diving beneath the streets of Boston and saving the city from below…

While the bulk of the Leventhal Center’s project focuses on the economic value of reclaimed land in the Boston area—what they call “the ultimate financial asset: brand-new urban land, ready for development”—there is at least one amazing detail I wanted to post here.

Like buried ships in New York City and San Francisco, Boston has its own maritime archaeology: “Sophisticated networks of fish weirs can still be found buried beneath the streets of the [Back Bay] neighborhood, which were laid out in a tidily gridded pattern in the nineteenth century to facilitate the engrossment and sale of property.” Indigenous hydrological infrastructure, hiding in plain sight.

Writing just today, meanwhile, in an op-ed for WBUR, Courtney Humphries suggests that, ironically, Boston’s future survival might depend on doing more of what got it into trouble with the sea in the first place: 爱博体育在线 more land and further modifying the shoreline.

What future weirs and dams and levees and pilings, architectural anchorages all, might we see beneath the streets of Boston, a city halfway between terrestrial and maritime, ground and ocean, bedrock and marsh, in the years to come?

White Out

I’ve been reading Christopher P. Heuer’s book Into the White. It looks at how the landscape and climate of the far North—the Arctic—threw the European imagination into a bit of a tailspin, presenting a kind of non-configurable problem that shut the operating system down, often leaving ship-bound humans bereft of words and struggling to create comprehensible images.

Early on in the book, Heuer describes journeys of Arctic exploration as “a confrontation with conditions that simply did not fit into European schemes of pictorial composition, space, selfhood, and communication.” Indeed, what Europeans saw there could not even be described in terms of similar landscapes back home—because there were none, Heuer writes: “being like nothing else, the Arctic regions confounded literary strategies of analogy.”

Frigid seas with no permanent land forms; drifting icebergs without clear shape or scale, constantly fragmenting into smaller masses and thus resisting the most basic concepts of counting and quantification; vast snow fields in places like Greenland and Canada where techniques of mapping and surveying broke down, and where—lacking visual features beyond sheer, endless whiteness—the burgeoning art of perspectival representation became impossible. Fathomless expanses of open water where alien hulks of ice, obscured by fog, drift through.

[Image: “The Sea of Ice” (1823-1824), Caspar David Friedrich.]

Often unable to sketch, describe, or explain what they saw there, European crews often left these bizarre and frightening experiences undocumented—as if an experience or situation can be so otherworldly, you cannot even describe it. No coordinate points, no baselines, no solid ground. (Of interest here would also be the work of expeditionary art historian William L. Fox, who has suggested that the Antarctic is equally challenging to human representational practices to the point of resisting human cognition itself.)

One of the most provocative aspects of the whole book for me is its implication that interstellar navigation, beyond planetary bodies, will pose similar—though certainly far more intense—challenges to human cognition, mapping, language, and measurement. This difficulty would presumably not be limited to the European imagination, of course, but to the terrestrial one. (Although it does raise the strange prospect that humans from Arctic regions could be the savviest interstellar navigators.)

In any case, Heuer’s book also points out that European expansion into vast new terrestrial regions, such as the Arctic and the South Atlantic, not just for scientific documentation but for “corporate resource exploitation,” as Heuer describes it, began just as perspectival representation was being developed in Renaissance Italy. That is, just as Europeans were attempting to conquer the infinite void of abstract architectural space through a series of mathematical grids and vanishing points, other Europeans were sailing off into novel terrestrial environments that resisted those same techniques, where the concept of scale itself broke down.

Hidden within this is perhaps a comment on art and commerce as equally concerned, in their own very different ways, with describing quantities beyond calculation—sheer plenty, limitless reserve, infinite exchange.

This leads to another of Heuer’s historical points—albeit one that, to me, reads more like coincidence than causation, but is nevertheless stunning in its visual power.

[Image: “Interior of Saint Bavo, Haarlem” (1631), Pieter Jansz, Saenredam; courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art.]

Heuer writes, at some length, about how iconoclasm was surging through Western European churches at the time, with the effect that the same nations that were sending mariners out to map and exploit distant environments were also convulsing at home with the widespread destruction of religious imagery. He draws a wonderfully surreal comparison here between white-washed church interiors, denuded of their statues and ornamentation by iconoclasts, and the huge, featureless super-objects of the Arctic, the vaulted spans of icebergs loose on the waves, the looming glacial cliffs of Greenland, the apparently empty wastes of northeastern Canada.

This seems to suggest that iconoclasts painting church interiors white were psychologically of a pair with distant ships’ crews landing in all-white lands, sailing into all-white fog banks, gazing fearfully upon all-white ice, as if the interiors of European churches had become their own sort of Arctic but also that the Arctic had taken on the terrible, sublime dimensions of a religious experience, a theological encounter with the iconoclastic void. A fathomless void, an immeasurable drift.

So, contrary to Heuer’s own claim of Arctic landscapes “being like nothing else,” they were, in fact, like iconoclastic church interiors.

Nevertheless, again, this seems more like a historical coincidence to me—albeit a highly provocative one—than anything like cause and effect.

In fact, it might be fruitful to reimagine Heuer’s observation as the basis of a novel—or, for that matter, as the structure of a Terrence Malick film. A father, consumed with rage against the church, rallies with his compatriots to raid the interiors of cathedrals, stripping them of anything that represents the divine, decapitating statues, shattering windows, painting frescos white, endless white, everything white; even as his son, a mercantilist, perhaps angry with the world itself, on a quest for life-affirming capitalist novelty, sets sail into the Arctic, discovering—instead of abundance and plenty—a world exactly like that created, in acts of rage, by his father. Endless white, lacking in features, silenced of music. A void.

We are left, as our story comes to an end, staring into an expanse that suggests almost no visual difference between cataracts of ice looming over the son’s ship, lost in the Arctic, doomed, and the eerie, seemingly immeasurable interior of a church brutally whitewashed by a God-obsessed father.

Of course, these characters should probably be reversed: it is the parent who is mercantilist, looking for a life of material improvement and capitalist profit, setting sail in the name of imperial, corporate exploitation, while the child stays at home, consumed with new fundamentalisms, painting over images of the past out of a mistaken belief that negation itself is enough for societal rebirth and personal self-discovery.

Either way, both characters are left not cataloging new forms of significance or abundance, but in a world devastatingly whitewashed of meaning.

Anyway, Heuer’s book is interesting and worth a read. It has also achieved the seemingly impossible, which is that it has made me genuinely excited to read Erwin Panofksy again.