DOXAERIE

 

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LITERATURE AND LINKS

Sometime during my first flight as a US Naval Aviation cadet at Saufley Field, Pensacola, Florida, back when open canopies were an option and jets were still fairly new, my instructor asked, "Well, Ensign Emmons, why do you want to fly?"

"Aesthetics, sir," I promptly replied.

An ominous silence from the rear seat of the T-34 presaged my unremarkable career in Naval Aviation, one that ultimately failed to support those aesthetic requirements which drove my interest in aviation. Years later after having helped restore a unique, one off Golden Age airplane, the Cunningham-Hall GA-36, and after having built and flown my own twin engined ultralight, the problem of aesthetics and flight continued to haunt me. It seemed that flight in itself was not sufficient. It was good fun and exciting, but it did not fulfill that notion of aesthetic fulfillment which I have come to understand I sought, still seek, between me and the idea of the machine.

The machine: That which has taken human kind beyond simply slogging though the mud and dust of time unknown and forgotten: The machine on the ground, in the water, through the air and into space itself. I saw something intrinsically attractive in the machine: The symmetry of line, the graceful placement of empirical fact, its promise of power and the hint of its meaning for human growth and attainment as well as its history as found in the detritus of human effort. Alfred North Whitehead attributed a basic ontological urge to beauty…we orient toward what is beautiful in the idea of a thing, and this moves us to bring it into being.

From my youngest days it was the beauty of the machine, airplanes, ships, trains, which propelled many of my purposes in life. Not so much the machines themselves nor what I did in or on them, but some kind of fulfillment I sought in their intrinsic aesthetic appeal. Models, drawings, reflections and projections were more fulfilling to me than getting into and operating the smelly, noisy things, although the surprise at the power they give me remains a thrilling satisfaction. And this brought me to consider simply the art of the machine itself. I don’t think any designer of machines or any rider upon them started with more than the recognized or unrecognized beauty of the thing. Literature and poetry, sculpture and painting can celebrate this beauty through re-presenting the machine’s relation to our human exploration of the possible. What human beings have shaped with their hands to solve mere empirical problems is driven by more than the pragmatic. It is driven by the most aesthetically satisfying way to be simply useful, for that is a part of usefulness itself. Of human meaning, itself.

This web site tries to celebrate some of that aesthetic urge in relation to machines and to flight. A similar site could do the same for sailing and for those machines that roll upon the earth. Likewise, surely, for those stationary machines that merely provide the energy for other acts in time and space. But join me in this celebration, even if you, as I, understand a dark side to the creation of the empirical, the mechanical: That we come to define ourselves in the terms of its reductionistic simplicity. We who create the machine are not defined as machines are, for what machine interviews its own beauty?

Here are some Poems of flight and of machines, a Bibliography of recommended readings which develop ideas of life, of flight, of machines and of their models, and Links related to all the subjects in this site.

Poems
Bibliography
Links