Switch to barren landscape with primates beating desert sand with bones. Boyle appears on a hill in the background of the scene, with a miniature air pump. He squats down and tosses the pump up skyward like the bone tossed by an ape in Kubrick’s 2001. We fade to a hot air balloon flying in the sky with Gaspard Felix Nadar, aerial photographer, thus completing a segue to the 19th Century. The balloon lands in Paris, France, where Nadar then does a portrait photograph of Jules Michelet. The year is 1858 (the year of the first aerial photography of Nadar).
Nadar’s balloon sails over a Moulin-Rouge-like cityscape. He lands in a city street a few blocks from his Paris portrait studio. During his walk to his studio, a crowd approaches Nadar, i.e. the flanuer. He snaps a few photographs as an “explorer” then enters the portrait studio. Without electric light the main room is dimmed. Michelet sits in the dark.
Jules, you must move towards the window in order to have the light of the sun record your image. Tell me how the fieldwork for your natural history of the sea is going, and if the dark has become a suitable “habitat” for contemplating the life of fishes.
Exactly, I am contemplating extra-sensory experience, nevertheless from the inhibition of one or two of our primary senses. Photographie works with the agency of light, I know that. Remember your first portrait of me!
Yes, I remember photographic technology of the time. My memories, in part consist of a succession of imaging technologies. As a new born babe, the end of the dominance of painting, as a teenager, photographie, the new automatic documentation of nature, with you, Michelet, the documentation of an historian of our culture.
Athenais will have a memento, the representation of Michelet, “the great historian”. When I am busy in my writing and cannot tend to husbandly duties, I hope it will provide more than an apparition of my presence.
Drop caps for the Michelet scene: the "I" that becomes a tree in an outside scene, where Michelet gives the portrait to his then current wife Athenais Miralet
Back inside. Michelet begins preparing for his Memoires.
I love Athenais, and how could I not. Everything that I have done, and especially my battle against the clergy, has necessitated my support for the young schoolgirl (now not so young) and her right to overthrow the dominion of Catholic fathers. While it may have shortened my career as a lecturer, to invoke the fertility of Mother Nature in terms of the act of procreation and sexual intercourse, I know that I have opposed a tyranny, and one that curtails the rights of women.
I think back to the days before my marriage to Athenais, in a spirited letter to Eugene Noel. Athenais: was she destined to an Old man, to me, or was this a marriage of convenience, if still for a noble cause, that of the liberation of women’s soul? And I, I benefited from a youthful, feminine sexuality. Why Athenais renewed my ability to work on the history of the French Revolution. I became inhabited by the spirit of Woman, she in I and I writing for France, the mother of nations and the motherland of the revolution of the people.
The cause of the revolution of France is a cause of the sovereignty of the feminine sex. The people of France need to free the woman from her chains. She stands as a beacon for the people—her spirit, her courage.
For tomorrow’s fieldwork, let me be aware of Mother Nature in the vast ocean filled with life, with fertility. Woman is also on the forefront of our understanding of nature. She embodies nature while we read nature as a vast machine. Could the life and passion of Woman be linked to the steam engine? Does woman imbue mechanization with nature? Could the feminization of Mother Nature yield a softening of the harsh realities of the industrial revolution?
Athenais steps into the room, and puts her hand on Michelet’s shoulder. Before she reaches him, an image of the robot Maria from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is superimposed over her figure and face.
Is tomorrow a day of fieldwork, for your new natural history?
Athenais, I want you to know that I have never thought of our marriage strictly as one of convenience. In fact, my proclivities towards the fight for women’s rights had destined us to meet and to fall in love. I have been reflecting now on the period when I was not sure of my proposal for your hand in marriage due to the advancement of my age. Athenais, are you sorry you married a man much your senior?
Certainly not. Why although sometimes you feel as a father to me, I see myself, having been liberated by your acceptance of my person and the prevention of my succumbing to the strictures of clergy, as on the same level of maturity. I feel we share the excitement of spontaneous organization of the people of France, as you wrote in your history thirteen years ago, around the time of our courtship.
Then I am one in the spirit of man and wife and of men and women when they are in love. You shall rest for the night with grace. Goodnight.
Now with nightfall the air becomes a dark vehicle for life of the night, in the way the sea, as I will see tomorrow becomes a reservoir for the passage of darkness, or the darkness of the shadowy depth, the sea. Steam passes above the surface of the water, the coolness meeting the warm air. The sea is a combination of everything and is the reservoir for the knowledge of nature.
Let me rest before I observe those sea creatures, the seal and the jellyfish. Steam is the passion of the feminine and the animus of the creatures of the sea.
Michelet engages in fieldwork. The initial scene is a winding S for Sea that is not recognizable as an S. It is a shoreline for Michelet’s fieldwork studies. He returns to the jellyfish left to soak in water and sets up a microscope, to examine animalcules.
Bacteria no doubt. These atoms, or small eels, emerge from death. From the gelatinous creature the jellyfish, whose mother sea secretes a salt or milk inhaled through its pores, we have the decay of this organism. Nevertheless, it is an organism needed to support la mer, the sea.
Fading in and out…
…The animals of the sea defy an image of the Hebrew Scriptures, which places life with light, since the sea is a dark bath that is teeming with life. The sea is an underworld for which we reconsider our feelings of desolation associated with death and darkness—that is, when we are submerged in the nautilus, or diving machine.
…Man’s technical prowess allows his ships to circulate through the sea at a frequency controlled by economic markets. The commercial value of the sea, its volatile measure, creates the mother of storms, shuffling the positions of men (brought to the sea through technology and money) and of animals, without distinction, without determining first whether these creatures inhabit the Land or Sea by their nature. The sea as a tempest, a mixture, drowns the men of capsized boats, who are fertilizer for Mother’s children: sea animals, sea animalcules.
A vulture lands by the microscope to gaze upon the animalcules
Vulture, observe the thousands of beings that will emerge from your dead prey, a rotting animal that you will then consume. Ehrenberg has shown that these little animalcules are absorbers; I think they hide in particulate matter with their stomachs. If you eat them, could they not absorb the fluids in your gullet?
I merely move to consume my prey according to Nature—steam and flows, tributaries, passages. It is by instinct, by texture, that I consume this rotten specimen. It is, for me the way of operating, the mode of existence, the feat of survival.
By nature you survive, by instinct you consume, by invention you speak. Yes, Nature knows de Charriere’s tenet, “all is in movement”: fauna are distinguished by their trajectories. The body of an animal makes patterns of movement, you move by nature, and speak within our culture. Your movement is also complemented on a microscopic level by animalcules.
For I do not harm my prey; they are already dead, and I recycle; they do not feel my dissection and ingestion. And the animalcules, being so small, are not harmed as well.
Then it is their infection of your digestive tract, with no noticeable morbidity or disease agency for your body?
We are in symbiosis. The animalcules establish a relationship of commensality, unlike parasitism, or invasive infection. Animalcules do not push their luck for their needs—the thirst for existence—however short the life of an animalcule—is too great.
Ah! Like the rotifers! They too, have a thirst for continual existence! And they are confident of their place in discourse, I might add. They say to the sponge despite their size: “We are great!” as humans say in relation to their globe. With the microbes’ individuality, they are foreshadowing our ideas and conceits, our historical actions—and doing so in the space of a pinhead.
Let it be known on the macroscopic level, that a rotifer competes with larger beings, as an agent and an organism.
(Returns to specimen)
Yes. The rotifer is an individual with temperament and character, a being in the order of beings in the great taxonomy of science. As the medium for taxonomic classification is a large folio or illustrated book, animalcules are like bits of ink on paper, they create an imprint on the texts of natural science. Animalcules are fundamentally small but important-- like atoms and our text characters. Our sea is filled with atoms, our books, typographic characters. From the unit of the ink marking to the larger unit of the character, to the word, to the sentence, to the paragraph-- to the essay on natural history that fauna necessitate.
(Michelet enters a dream state where large 3d text jumps out of the sea, the characters form symbols for laws of thermodynamics. Michelet emerges from the dream at the moment when 3D text travels through the air as we follow it, fading off screen. Then, a fisherman first hooks one of the characters and then, when Michelet is conscious, harpoons a whale. This is an unpleasant experience for Michelet, the experience of the hunt.)
The Simplicio nametag floats to shore. Meanwhile, Michelet responds to the harpooned whale.
The audacity! Instead of microscopes, harpoons! Instead of observers, hunters! Instead of sensitivity to animalcules, harshness to the whale! You say “we are from the only group of beings,” but fishermen, Eskimos, let me warn you of the dangers of the hunt, morally (your insistence on whale trade) and practically (of the cachalot, a sixty foot fish with twenty foot jaws). Not only does the harpoon destroy the individualities of the animals of the sea, but also, the animals can police the waters, making man the prey of fish! Hunters will always become hunted!
In fact, man duplicates the history of life under a microscope, yet on the level of our entire earth. The so-called lower order beings have this in common with you, the need for survival. You the Eskimo put survival first, and indicate the predicament of humanity. The order of beings is an order of hunters and survivors, which display need-based rituals of everyday life. For instance, the red sealskin for your wives is merely an afterthought for keeping them warm, and it becomes a mating gesture connected to survival and not to the maintenance of pleasure, but of subsistence and survival.
The Eskimo steps off his boat.
I agree with your prognosis of the inhumanity of the whale trade, but I am trading for subsistence rather than gain of wealth. For I know that man dominates the animal and animalcule, in a quest to establish his place in the world. The world too hungers for position. But I also know that Man can be killed in an instant by nature, or the world. My so-called “primitiveness” is really a revisionist view of the necessities of life.
Yet let us emphasize how the life of an animalcule is the life of a human agent! The People (even of France) mirror the Eskimo in their famous revolutions, where the hungry eat the horse, raw, from an official of the state, who is torn from his means of travel by angry provocateurs. In turn the Eskimo mirrors the animalcule, that is, I see atavistic domination under the microscope. Too, I see the atavistic restlessness and revolution of the People through my perception of historical similarities.
An animalcule we biologists prod with a tweezers, a human agent of history we historians put into context of invisible forces, larger structures of history, for which our subjectivities make those figures of fact speak to us in different ways! Do they speak or do we coerce them into mimicry of someone else’s beliefs? Does history transcend Man’s domination of the natural world?
Yes, the view of life under a microscope has implications for historians. The animalcules build whole civilizations and exploit their fellow citizens. Not only this, our eyes see and do not see, i.e. acquire an after-image from looking through, tightly, at these bacteria. Is our physiology this way or are these bacteria this way? If we shift colors through which we view the visual evidence of science, how shall we come to terms with the filter with which we view history—through the afterimages—the preceding past?
Establishing the means of filtering of the phenomena of the natural world is a complex matter. For if we arbitrarily build machines from no empirical evidence, how do we know they will match the phenomena that they filter—how will they be useful filters? If we merely derive the filter from nature, how will this allow us to understand an impure nature, or a nature in its totality, a seemingly impossible feat?
I then must ask, as a published historian: are my readers active constructors AND astute observers of Nature’s filtering? When I increase the subjective element of my texts and leave them susceptible to the same objective pattern or word quantity and order, does this allow the reader to reinvent the objective relationships referred to in the text?
My human filtering is found in the cultural construct of the taxonomy, a human structure and a natural one. My fieldwork here has shown that the ocean is a container for the knowledge of natural science, echoed by our folio volumes. A grand text by Linnaeus is an ocean or forest of knowledge, a collection and reorganization of nature’s creatures.
A wind blows a field of sand in front of Michelet. His view of the ocean is filtered through the sand. A dolphin leaps out of the sea, seen through an air of sand. The camera rotates around to Michelet and the particles of sand become a digitized low-resolution image of Michelet on the beach.
We flash to the empty mansion of Boyle with a magic lantern projecting the image of Michelet. Then an image is shown of Michelet and Walter Scott Shaking hands drawn by Honoré Daumier as a political cartoon to suggest grand, subjective history and historical fiction in an alliance of the Romantic Period.
The environment changes to reflect the theater space of Boyle’s Mansion. A Charles Dickens-like overweight Dandy with a top hat, and a museum proprietor discuss the influence of Walter Scott on historiography. They discuss the reactions of his readers, the epic quality of Waverly, and the social phenomenon of the field supporting Scott’s invention.
If Walter Scott's nose had been shorter, all of history-writing would have been changed.
I mean if his passion, represented by his nose (like the nose of Cleopatra and the ensuing romance between she and Anthony)—if his passion had not been infused in the vicissitudes of the story of a history, we might not have recognized the formal invention of a present narrative of the past--I mean, had he not, through a desire of his own, used conventions of verisimilitude to intersperse a handful of figures from "true" history with those of imaginary history.
Yes ever since Scott's poetics of historiography, historiography, we see in renewed light. For through the conventions of verisimilitude, characters who are as new to the world as my infant daughter become as old, even older than my wife and me. The historical novel creates present players of a drama much more realistically than in the theatre, full of local authenticity and, depending upon setting, new characters that are but as old as the farthest reaches of recorded history.