Newtonian Abstraction

In the Newtonian system there is a stable framework within which all bodies can be placed, an absolute space, an empty box that extends in all directions. Newton himself understood this as a simplification, and it is viewed by scientists today as an exceptionally creative one. Time gets the same treatment, as if there was a universal time in which all things move. In fact the image of time so presented is really that of space. Science is sure that things are in fact quite different, that space and time are both relative, and we can learn that, but it’s very hard for our imaginations to see anything else. But then our entire culture, and almost everything in it, including all machines, buildings, maps, book pages, photographs, packages of commodities large and small, is made up of straight lines and right angles, all sections of an implied infinite three dimensional grid. This is the world we have made, not the world as it is, and such are the limits we have placed on our own perceptions. We teach ourselves Newtonian space every minute of every day. In truth, every space is a specific interval between two objects and there is no transcendent emptiness. I think that an artist like Judd would probably assent, but then his work says otherwise, because he takes aesthetic pleasure in repeating parallel lines and right angles. What could work like that ever be but a reaffirmation of the built environment? What could geometric abstraction ever be but proposals for more beautiful buildings?

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