Metaphor moves qualities. An extract slides from one site to another, as in the application of a word—how repeatedly, how repeatingly. Prose from Francis Bacon’s The History of Dense and Rare is employed as material; the photograph engaged as state change.

Of the Dense and Rare

by Ada Smailbegović & Sylvia Hardy

Digital Project Published on December 20, 2013

“For of the quantity of matter, and how it is distributed in bodies (abundantly in some, sparingly in others), no careful and methodical inquiry according to true or approximate calculations has been instituted.”

—Francis Bacon, The History of Dense and Rare


There is a limit of dense and rare that cannot be passed, but not in any body known to us. Gold by being beaten out is immensely dilated, as in gold-leaf; so likewise by being drawn out silver-leaf is made, but not to such an exquisite fineness as gold. The other metals also are dilated by being beaten out into leaf and thin plates. Wax and the like are pressed and molded into thin coats. A drop of ink in a pen is dilated to form many letters; as also paints and varnish are dilated by a pencil or brush.


At the limit of the rare are the images of things, which we should perhaps term “skins” or “bark” as they are perpetually peeled off the surfaces of objects and sprayed out across the sky. Thrown off with such a loose-knit texture they can readily penetrate any object. Sometimes these cast off skins are sad-colored and the color catches the eye, red and blue stones in the river beaches brought out by patches of white-blue snow.


The action of dilatation by embracing is opposed to that of contraction by flight. For as bodies open themselves on every side to such as are pleasant and friendly to them, and advance to meet them, so when they encounter those that are odious and hostile, they fly from them on all sides, and compress and contract themselves.


Sugar and some gums, as gum-dragon, for instance, when infused in liquids, are melted for they readily relax their parts (like sponges) to receive the liquid. Likewise, paper, thick hair, wool, and porous bodies of similar nature, immersed in liquids or otherwise moistened, so open themselves as to become softer, more easily torn, and as it were rotten. In ancient times sailors used to cover the sides of ships at night with fleeces of wool like coverlets or curtains, but not so as to touch the sea and in the morning they would squeeze out of them fresh water for use on the voyage.


Metals conversely are of such density that they hardly make passage possible. A softer metal meeting a harder metal comes to be enclosed and constellated by its cutting surface; so a marble wall cuts off a greater portion of light, permitting only a faint glow to enter its veins. When a body is affected by another body its powers of activity may increase or diminish. So when a liquid part of a body meets the unmovable hardness of another body, its soft surface is impressed by certain traces of the impassable body acting upon it. If heated to the point of melting and then cooled, the metal that is more easily dilated by heat pours itself through the cracks and caves of the one that has already begun contracting. So ropes of gold are found in rivers.


There is an ongoing topological dynamic of enfolding whereby in time matter pours into itself with a soft malleable voluptuousness of confection, marshmellowy and dimpled. This is the grey tunic of a dream, which when turned outward reveals the most lustrous and colorful of silks. Upon waking the sleeper cannot describe the swells of the red dots in her dream. She communicates by and large only boredom. For who would be able at one stroke to turn the lining of time to the outside?


Within the bounds of dense and rare there is a fold of matter, such that matter folds and unfolds itself without creating a vacuum. The two systems of folding that render matter expressive move either as arrows of differentiation shooting outward from an infinity into which all things are ultimately folded up to make a field covered with dots of sand, jet, balsam, marble and winter pear; or folding out from the infinite points in this field, each of which enfolds within its infinitely complex identity all relations with all other such points, so that its unfolding is the unfolding of the universe.

Of the Comparison of Gold Cubes to all Other Substances Shaped into a Cube


The experiment was this: I formed an ounce of pure gold into the shape of a die or cube; I then prepared a small hollow prism of silver in which the cube of gold might be placed so exactly to fit. Next I had cubes made of the same size and dimension in all the matters specified in the Table, that admit of being cut into that shape; but fluids I made trial of at once, by filling the prism with the fluid up to the line that had been marked. And I did the same with powders; first pressing them together as close as possible; for this tends to make them uniform, and excludes accidental differences.


There are therefore three kinds of bodies that could not be included; first, those which will not go into the shape of a cube, as leaves, flowers, pellicles, and membranes; secondly, those which are unequally hollow and porous, as sponge, cork, and wool; and thirdly, pneumatic bodies, as air and flame, because they are not endowed with weight.


Gold immersed in Aqua Regis reduced into a seeming liquor Δ the edges of the cube a little softer taking a darker sinking luster underlined in steams of brightness Δ not quite level Δ aslant Δ rising from left to right Δ a soft malleable hanging lightness Δ a containment of six sides Δ a form of tossing Δ a firm bright sailing Δ not volatile Δ not pouring itself when touched Δ not fugitive Δ shaped in sandy pieces and looped and waved all in waterings Δ corpuscles of gold with those of the Menstruum strained through cap-paper Δ a crystalline salt Δ bright flat pieces like wings in a theatre Δ lattice face centered cubic.


Myrrh yellow and almost unmoving overnight coagulated into a constellation of droplets along the surface Δ no longer pouring into the main part of the liquid upon touch Δ scent as the moving and unmoving of greenness weighed down in boughs Δ a cone or a funnel through which one may look at a scene of moving figures Δ twenty cubes of myrrh to one cube of gold Δ movement of a quality departing from a shape of a substance Δ carried through the lay of the fabric Δ rhythm of movement and rest Δ viscosity of flights and perchings.


There is no doubt but that both in vegetables, and likewise in the parts of animals, there are many bodies far lighter than fir wood. For the down of some plants, the wings of flies, the slough of snakes, and also various artificial productions, as tender rose-leaves remaining after distillation, and the like, are (as I conceive) lighter than the lightest woods.


The many flimsy films lifting from the surfaces of objects fly about in great many ways in all directions. Upon encountering one another in the air they easily amalgamate, like gold leaf upon touch, or the white down that flies off the undersides of upturned leaves in May which easily coalesces into larger tufts until it is broken down by the rain. The image of a Centaur is produced, for instance, when surface films from a horse and a man accidentally come into contact and fuse due to their delicate texture. These membranous amalgams penetrate with utmost nimbleness through the chinks of the body and with a single touch set in motion the marvelously mobile substance of the mind.


Fir Wood yielding to the touch of a sharp instrument Δ flaking into many layered fragments Δ a pattern like that produced by the passage of water through shale Δ films of wood peel off as torn cloth Δ bark very dark brown sometimes appearing purple or blue in places Δ run through by rivulets, carved by the insolicitude of weather Δ undulant Δ too airy Δ pared to a set of slivers shaken to make a knocking sound in the wood Δ at times pierced by narrow puncture marks Δ brittle but soft Δ the unraveling rendering it finer than any sponge.


Yellow, white, heat, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet, and all those we call sensible qualities are conveyed via the senses into the mind from perceptions of external objects. The other fountain of sensation is the movement of our own mind among objects of reflection. How a quality isolate is lifted and moves away from the object into the flights and perchings of thought. One is furnished with ideas, according to the objects one converses with. If a child never saw any other but black and white, he would have no more ideas of scarlet or green than he that from his childhood never tasted an oyster, or a pine-apple, has of those particular relishes. Description is the movement of the texture of sensation into the feeling of thought and requires a complicit movement outward that carries the reaches of this thought back to the palpitations of the senses. It is not a matter of resemblance.

Of The Ingression Of Air and Water into a Glass Egg


Take a glass-egg with a small hole in it; suck out the air as much as you can. Stop the hole instantly with your finger, and sink the egg in water with the hole still stopped. Then take away your finger, and you will see that the egg will draw in as much water as there was air sucked out; in order that the air that remained may recover its former bulk, from which it had been forcibly distracted and extended. Now I remember that the water filled about a tenth part of the egg. I remember likewise that (after sucking out the air) I left the egg for a whole day closed up with wax, to see if during that time (which certainly was too short for a correct experiment) the dilated air could be fixed, so as no longer to care about restoring itself, as is the case in sticks and cloth. But when the wax was removed, the water entered as before; and if the egg instead of being put in water had been applied to the ear, fresh air would have entered with a hissing noise.


The manner of ingression and egression or how quickly and how slowly, how completely, how gradually, how intermittently, how noisily, how silently, how happily, how drearily, how difficultly, how gaily, how complicatedly, how simply, how joyously, how boisterously, how despondingly, how fragmentarily, how delicately, how roughly, how excitedly, how energetically, how persistently, how repeatedly, how repeatingly, how dryly, how startlingly, how funnily, how certainly, how hesitatingly, anything is coming out of a body or moving into it.


The invention of the diving-bell involved a construction of a large concave vessel filled with air. The vessel was pressed down into the water. It stood on three feet, made of metal, and thick, that it might be better sunk; the feet being not so high as a man. When the divers wanted to take a breath they stooped, put their heads into the vessel, and breathed. By a repetition of this process they continued their work for some time; till the air, which escaped in small quantities every time the head was inserted into the vessel, was diminished almost to nothing.


Water may appear to be of several colors in that it reflects the circumstances of Δ in the light and the sky and may even appear to Δ in color from day to day within the same body of water: Δ from glittering planes to milky green, undulant and oval Δ to one side reaching a point to the other Δ to a shape of green marble knotted with ragged white Δ to fields of white lather with the inseams hidden as you might take a napkin and cover something, not so much from here or there as from the whole surface at one reach, so that a film is perceived at the edges and makes in fact a collar or ring just within the walls of the vessel not adhesive, not clinging to the glass as sweet almond oil does Δ to a form of silk cast into a silence without luster Δ to a piece of mackerel skin tin or any glimmering thing Δ to sallow glassy gold Δ Δ to dull olive


Air, especially when it is agitated (as in winds), licks up the moisture of the earth, preys upon it, and turns it into itself.


Let the first motion be set down as that wandering and various motion of the currents (as they call them). The second as that great motion of the sea every six hours, by which the water ebbs and flows from the shore twice a day. With respect to the motion of the currents, there is no doubt that the velocity and extent vary accordingly as the waters are either contained by straits, or released by open spaces; either run and as it were pour down declivities, or encounter and run up acclivities; either glide smoothly over a level, or are disturbed by the furrows and inequalities of the bottom; either fall in with other currents with which they mingle and are carried along, or are agitated by the winds. Though it may seem impossible for us to test the effects of such events in artificial vessels, there exist devices for imitating the ebb and flow of the sea and rivers. I have a mechanical model in which the effects of these marvelous compositions of movements may be observed in detail. We see experimentally that the movement of the water back and forth comes from the water pressing evenly on all parts of the containing vessel. But what might we suppose would happen in a vessel so remarkably situated, so full of ridges and barriers, narrow inlets and openings, such as those that with their vastness populate the bottom of the sea, that a retardation and acceleration of motion are conferred very unevenly upon its parts? Certainly we cannot help saying that there would necessarily be perceived still greater and more marvelous causes of commotions in the water, and stranger ones.

Of the Transformation of an Egg into Stone


I have heard as an approved fact that an egg which had long lain at the bottom of a moat was found completely turned into stone, with the colors of the white, yolk, and shell perfect and distinct; but the shell was broken in different places, and shining in small grains.

Of Cold


Cracks and separations are seen in the body of the ice. Sometimes likewise (if the air gets in) hairs and threads and flowers gradually appear.


Wine freezes slower than water; spirit of wine not at all.


Aqua Fortis and quicksilver, I believe, do not freeze. Oil and fat freeze and are condensed, but not so as to become hard.


Frost binds up the earth and makes it dry and hard. The poet says of the northern regions that bronze vessels crack there, and robes become stiff. And this likewise happens in wooden tables, especially where the pieces are glued together.


Nails also are said by the contraction of cold to fall out of walls.


The bones of animals become more brittle in frost, so that at such times they are more easily broken and more hardly cured. In a word, all hard bodies are made more fragile by cold.


Waters or juices are manifestly condensed into shining or crystalline stones; as may be seen in subterranean caverns in rocks, where drops of many shapes (like icicles), but fixed and stony, are found hanging, having been congealed in their slow and gradual fall.


Aqua Fortis can be used as a parting acid to induce separation in a metal amalgam. Take one pennyweight of copper, for instance, to six pennyweights of Aqua Fortis. Put them upon a chafing dish. The copper will rise in still larger bubbles or grains than silver. In a little time it is incorporated with the water, and the united body is turned into a blue, muddy liquid; but after it has settled it becomes a sky-blue color, beautiful and bright, the dregs being deposited at the bottom like a small dust, which are themselves however gradually diminished, ascend and are incorporated with the liquid.


An ‘objective lure’ for feeling lies in the potential gradations of the eternal object in respect to the germaneness of the basic data. The basic data are constituted by the actual world that belongs to that instance of concrescence. A proposition is an element in the objective lure for feeling, and when admitted into feeling it constitutes what is felt. A proposition is neither actual nor fictive; rather, it is the tale that might be told about particular actualities as they arise in concrescence. This is the latch of indeterminacy and actualization, of Δ. Feelings are “vectors;” for they feel what is there and transform it into what comes to be here.

On the Growth of a Snail-Like Plant on a Lemon


I remember that in summer time I once left by chance a cut lemon in a close room, and two months afterwards I found a putrefaction growing on the cut part; tufts of hair an inch high at least; and on the top of each hair a kind of head, like the head of a small snail, plainly beginning to imitate a plant.


Mimesis is the imitation of action. There is, I think, no more wonderful and illuminating spectacle than that of a crude lump of brute inanimate matter germinating before our very eyes, putting forth bud and stem and root and branch and leaf and fruit, with no stimulus from germ or seed. Some growths are so flexible that the stems bend, falling in curves around the center like leaves of grass. Spherical terminal organs will then grow out from the ends of these stems, which may during their further growth become conical or piriform in shape. If we dilute this same liquid, as it becomes less concentrated the growths are more curved, ramified, dendritic, like those of trees or corals.


Even a pebble of gravel, when placed in vinegar, moves backwards and forwards like a little fish.


Some species of nudibranchs or marine sea slugs ingest nematocysts of poisonous cnidarians. They extract nematocysts and move them through their digestive systems without being harmed, eventually pushing the toxic cells into their own brightly colored tissues, thus rendering themselves poisonous to predators.


Metaphor moves qualities between materials. An extracted quality, isolate, slides across the bottom from one site to another, as in the application of a word belonging to something else either from the genus [genos] to a species [eidos], or from the species to the genus or from the species to a species, or according to analogy. So a quality of redness, or thinneness, or of porous softness, or of being in flight may move across from one body to another.

The sum of matter in the universe is always the same. Of this matter there is more in some bodies, less in others, in the same space. This abundance and scarcity of matter constitutes the notions of dense and rare, rightly understood.

List of materials used in the prose of the dense and rare: Aristotle, On Poetics; Bacon, The Works of Francis Bacon; Benjamin, The Arcades Project; Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza; Galileo, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems; James, The Principles of Psychology; Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe; Hopkins, A Hopkins Reader; Spinoza, The Essential Spinoza: Ethics and Related Writings; Stein, The Making of Americans. Images by Sylvia Hardy: Turmeric, from phases; Used Motor Oil, from phases; Birmingham Iron Oxide, from phases; Synthetic Sponge, from phases; Chanterelle, from phases; all 2013.

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