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Through a glass, darkly

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

[ by Emlyn Cameron — On North Korea: a retrospective as preemptive strike ]
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Charles Cameron’s introduction: Regular readers may know my son Emlyn from previous contributions on Zenpundit [1, 2]. Here he wages a war of miniturization on the Korean fiefdom of Kim Jong-Un.

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Snow falls on Kim Jong-Il‘s funeral cortege

Reflecting on the Nuclear staring contest now ongoing between the United States and North Korea, I confront mixed feelings: Obviously one must consider different strategies and engage in a pragmatic calculus; One must consider the pros and cons, the risks and rewards, and the numerous lives which might be ended or fail ever to be lived as a consequence of any policy. It is, I need not say, a very complex issue. Worse still, it is an issue of severe import to many whose lives hang in the balance.

But I find myself grappling with a less practical question and coming away irresolute: If North Korea’s brand of surreal statism could be overthrown without bloodshed or tragedy, how would I feel? Would I be proud? Pleased? Grateful? Somehow, I can’t convince myself that I would be entirely satisfied. I feel certain that any pride, pleasure, or gratitude would be alloyed with something else. And this in spite of my knowledge that such a coup would be, well, a coup, and of the welcome it would justifiably receive.

“The bloodless anticlimax to an Orwellian police state?” I hear the likely refrain, “Terrific!”

“A peaceful end to a regime which embraced not only Stalinist propagandism, but De Facto Monarchy? Still better!” The voices continue.

“And a conclusion to tantrums and ICBM rattle throwing? Who could hope for more?” Comes the triumphal call.

And yet, I am unconvinced in the recesses of my heart. That might be strange to many people, even a tad immoral, but it’s how things stand.

In order that such a stance might make more sense, I’ll admit that I have a strange affection for the turbulent little state and its Emperor’s New Jumpsuits. This probably extends from more general conflicted feelings about overt dictatorships: I am someone who deeply loves enlightenment philosophy, and cherishes my personal freedoms. I am, all the same, a morbid person, prone to fatalism, and I harbor dark anticipations about the future of humanity. Somewhere in the middle I developed a great relish for bleak wit. For these reasons, it should come as no shock that I am a great admirer of George Orwell and a fan of his writings. Perhaps like others who count themselves among his readers, I find myself emotionally torn while reading Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm; The dystopias he presents disturb me, and yet, (in spite of my philosophical leanings) a small part of me is always tugged at by a desire to relinquish the struggle of self determination, and to escape the paradox of choice by giving in to such an oppression. The terrible certainties, even of state assigned conclusions and death, speak to some tired part in me, which recognizes strain from the ongoing alertness required of anyone who wants to be the arbiter of their own affairs.

North Korea, likewise, is a natural antagonist to the individualism I hold dear, but, perhaps because of its total conviction and flagrance in opposing my worldview, I am captivated by its iconography and insular existence. I have always been fascinated by the ludicrous spectacle, the stark imagery, and the total devotion of totalitarian nations, though I revile their premises. Having one around, therefore, leaves me in rather a strange position: I desire the grip of the North Korean state on its people broken as a matter of principle, while simultaneously fearing the death of a kind of dangerous endangered species; I am struck by the feeling that the end of the North Korean state would be a victory for my values, and the loss of one of the world’s great curiosities.

A friend recently called North Korea “an Eighth Wonder of the World”, and I agree. It is a tragic wonder, dangerous rather than glorious, but a wonder none the less.

My grandfather, a conservative philosopher, referred to himself as a “sentimental monarchist”. If a peaceful end came to the militaristic regime in North Korea, my relief would be tinged with a similar kind of sentimental loss; Something interesting would be gone, and I would feel a nostalgic pang for the missing strangeness. I fancy that I would rather keep the aggressive little power, not on a map, but on a shelf. I should like to keep it in a snow globe, I think (the state already more or less frozen as it is).

I’d like a little magnified globe, not unlike the coral paperweight in Orwell’s book, in which would be held the repressive slice of 1950’s authoritarianism: Marches and missiles behind safety glass. Occasionally, on a quiet night, I might chance to hear a soft, televised threat to my safety, or a report on bountiful rations; If I felt a stab of longing for the atmosphere of suspended aggression from my parents and grand parents age, I could go to the mantle and wind the little state up by hand (rather than by tweet) and hear a tinkling anthem that takes me back; I’d like to visit the trinket now and again and watch snow fallout from a nuclear winter after I shake it, or watch tiny jackboots and smiling, slightly condescending diplomats go about their days work. Maybe the mandatorily grateful workers would even build a cardboard city for my benefit, to give an impression of plenty. And once I had seen the last settling flakes fall, I would place it back above the fire place with a feeling of having harmlessly revisited my childhood, glad of a souvenir to solidify the bittersweet memory. After all, a snow globe can cast nothing else from the mantle to the floor, nor launch beyond its translucent border.

Then again, just because I’d have the terror held safely under glass, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue in earnest within.

Sunday surprise, my ashes when the time comes

Monday, August 14th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — the poem as guided tour ]
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So, my son Emlyn asked me where I would like my ashes scattered when I’m gone, offering to do me that service, and the ensuing discussion made it clear I had an opportunity not only to send him to some places I’ve loved where he’d be likely to find adventure, but also to provide him with reading (or listening) along the way — again, close to my mind and heart and potentially revelatory for his.

^^

I was tossing this around in my mind a day or two ago, and this poem announced itself:

Paradise or Pasadena, since you asked

I should like my ashes scattered in the upper atmosphere,
in Bach to be precise,
in deep feeling, in the St Anne Prelude and Fugue,
in “not of this world” in other words,
believing that if met by JSB
at the General Resurrection, I was most choicely planted.

Bach, seriously, is the mountain range I have assiduously
climbed since early youth,
and the St Anne not the most obvious,
but among the most glorious works therein,
though I am also vastly taken by Contrapunctus IX
and the Dorian Toccata was my first love.

More practically, fold me between pages of Yeats or Rilke,
and leave me on a bench in the Huntington Gardens.

That’s by no means my final response to Emlyn’s question, I look forward to many more hours of pondering and reminiscing. But it’s a thought..

**

Here, for your delight and enrichment, are the musical offerings the poem mentions:

The St Anne Prelude and Fugue, played here by Peter Hurford:

Contrapunctus IX from The Art of Fugue, played by Glenn Gould on piano, his usual instrument:

and, in a rare instance for Gould, on organ:

— and the Dorian Toccata and Fugue, my first Bach love, which I bought, treasured, and binge-listened to back in the late 50s (?) on a 45 rpm disc:

**

Noteworthy, the second of two images of Ton Koopman accompanying that last recording — which shows the fierce nature of Koopman when he was young — fading in right at the end of the Toccata:

Ton Koopman

I would love to have known him back when..

**

And place — the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, which include a garden of flowers named in Shakespeare’s works, a Japanese garde, rose garden, and — my absolute favorite –the Desert Garden, containing 5,000 varieties of cactus and other xerophytes across 10 acres..

I suspect that losing oneself in those 10 acres is the closest thing to visiting an alien planet to be found on this one…

Once you’re in the garden and have escaped the lure of the cacti, the cool of the Huntington Library is nearby — with some stunning William Blake illuminations perhaps, and both a First Folio Shakespeare and the remarkable “bad” First Quarto of Hamlet which preceded it.

How has the mighty soliloquy been truncated:

To Die, to sleepe, is that all?

**

Cacti, roses, Folio, scholars, tea rooms — heaven, in its earthly approximation…

A Shakespeare Sutra?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — just curious whether Buddha and Shakespeare are hand in glove ]
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Tempest Sutra

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Son Emlyn was watching The Tempest today when I tried to Skype him, and on that account I’ve included the whole of Prospero‘s speech, not just the familiar stretch that runs from “Our revels now are ended” to “our little life Is rounded with a sleep”.

I trust he will return from school in a week or three to visit a little while in my call — and that he won’t be too disturbed at my infirmity.

Sources:

  • William Shakespeare, The Tempest, IV, 1:
  • Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
  • Further to AI: Emlyn saw the ostrich

    Monday, August 10th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — following on from A difficulty with DoubleQuotes — in which Emlyn and his mother exhibit different forms of recognition ]
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    For the record, my son Emlyn looked at the middle frame in this image:

    negative2 cropped

    and “saw” the ostrich.

    **

    He immediately pointed me to one of a series of double imgages comparing the facial expressions of an ostrich and the BBC’s latest Mycroft Holmes:

    ostrich mycroft

    Hm, yet another use of DoubleQuotes!

    **

    Here’s the “ghost ostrich” — the middle image in the set of three above, juxtaposed with the ostrich as Emlyn recalled it from his encyclopedic interest in the great detective:

    ghost ostrich

    Can you see the resemblance? Frankly, I can’t.

    **

    In any case, Emlyn’s mother had it right, I think. She saw the original dog image (left, below)

    nichon frisee
    Bichon Frisé image, right, via Dog Breed Information and Pictures

    and suggested it was a Bichon pup. If so, it’s a feisty one. I wouldn’t know..


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