Irene Hsiao

Ode to Oakes; or, O to O

Detail of Getty Central Garden drawing by Ryan and Trevor Oakes

Detail of Getty Central Garden drawing by Ryan and Trevor Oakes

ARISTOTLE ENVISIONED a celestial universe of 55 crystalline spheres concentrically organized around the earth, each carrying a planet along its orbit by the angular momentum of the outermost ring, the Prime Mover, made of nothing but divine motion. Ptolemy advanced the notion of epicycles and deferents, the planets revolving like gears along a universe still cycling, like clockwork cranked on the axle of our planet. Copernicus took his last leave of the earth in 1543 looking on the pages of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, espousing a universe oriented on the sun, the heliocentrism that Galileo would suffer his final nine years under house arrest to defend. Against the linear progression of astronomy, artists Ryan and Trevor Oakes have returned the universe to the glory of spheres, centering it not merely on the earth, but on the eye.

The poet Aristophanes once described the original human body as a two-headed, eight-limbed sphere that perambulated by tumbling like a ball. The ease of their ambit made them bold, and they plotted revolution against the gods. As punishment, Zeus cleaved them in two, leaving them to wander biped, restlessly searching for their other halves. We have this first disobedience to blame for the woes of attraction and the alleged satisfaction of monogamy, and Aristophanes warns we best watch ourselves lest we again be split along the seams of our noses, losing our last axis of symmetry, to be left peg-legged hoppers hunting for a completion now made geometrically more improbable. This story was relayed by that same Plato who imagined us prisoners, nose to a wall on which the shadows of reality flicker, a dimension and a distance away from the ideal forms that we can only begin to comprehend in the light of the philosophical mind.

Read more at the Los Angeles Review of Books

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