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Graeme Wood and a symmetry in Dallas

Monday, August 14th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — on writers and analysts, via Dallas, Syria, Wagner, Bayreuth, Hitler and Israel ]
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The symmetry is between two men that Graeme Wood has profiled in The AtlanticRichard Spencer and John Georgelas aka Yahya Abu Hassan, leader of the alt-right and early American proponent of ISIS, respectively:

Both men are the only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians. They both bloomed late, intellectually and politically, and overcompensated by immersing themselves in books and ideas with gusto uncommon among their bourgeois demographic. Both admired Ron Paul, and both saw their home country as a broken land — and themselves as its savior.

They are also both young.

You can read about them both in greater detail in Wood’s twin accounts here:

  • Wood profiles Richard Spencer, His Kampf
  • Wood profiles John Georgelas, The American Climbing the Ranks of ISIS
  • **

    When I worked at John L Petersen‘s think tank The Arlington Institute, the boss often used to ask me for a “leading indicator” — and I’d reply that one data point seldom meant anything to me, whereas two in parallel or opposition might indicate a trend. My motto became “two is the first number” — a mantram I’ve repeated here from time to time [1, 2, 3], finding notable backup in Aristotle, Carl Jung, and the Ismaili Rasa’il Ikhwan al-Safa’, as reported in my post It is always good to find oneself in good company.

    Graeme Wood must feel some satisfaction in having written profiles of two such opposite yet well-matched men as Georgelas and Spencer — I certainly take delight in the pairing — and the parallelism is truly quite striking. Yet to deduce a trend from the observation that both are “only sons of wealthy north-Dallas physicians” isn’t grounds for alerting the FBI to profile — let alone surveil — all other such only sons.

    Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

    And yet, and yet.

    Graeme Wood is a writer, not an analyst, and while the specifics here — “only son”, “north-Dallas physician” — do not in themselves provide “actionable intelligence” for intel purposes, the two stories as Wood spells them out enrich our analytic understanding of the drivers that may be in play in the recruitment of extremists and terrorists.

    **

    I have a small and tattered pamphlet in my desk, 1876 – 1896, Die ersten zwanzig Jahre der Bayreuther Bühnenfestspiele by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who later married Richard Wagner‘s daughter Eva von Bülow.

    Chamberlain’s pamphlet about Wagner’s operas and the theater he built for them in Bayreuth, published there in Bayreuth in 1896, is not his best-known work, however. That would be his two-volume work, Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, or The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century — published in the same year, 1899, as Freud‘s Die Traumdeutung — which was to provide Nazism with some of its anti-Semitic ideology. Of similar interest, his 1905 Aryan Worldview.

    Chamberlain’s letter to Hitler in 1923 has to my ear some resonance with discussions of Donald Trump today:

    Now I believe I understand that it is precisely this that characterizes and defines your being: the true awakener is at the same time the bestower of peace.

    You are not at all, as you have been described to me, a fanatic. In fact, I would call you the complete opposite of a fanatic. The fanatic inflames the mind, you warm the heart. The fanatic wants to overwhelm people with words, you wish to convince, only to convince them-and that is why you are successful. Indeed, I would also describe you as the opposite of a politician, in the commonly accepted sense of the word, for the essence of all politics is membership of a party, whereas with you all parties disappear, consumed by the heat of your love for the fatherland. It was, I think, the misfortune of our great Bismarck that he became, as fate would have it (by no means through innate predisposition), a little too involved in politics. May you be spared this fate.

    **

    I am chasing down byways of history and culture here to be sure — and it is not my intention to make a facile comparison between Trump and Hitler. But Wagner — surely it is interesting to note that not only were Hitler and Chamberlain obsessed with Wagner’s operas, but Graeme Wood’s account of Spencer notes that at one point Richard Spencer worked as “a gofer at the Bavarian State Opera”.

    Echo? Parallelism? Kinship?

    Wagner is a cultural influence of connsiderable strength — as an Alex Ross article in the New Yorker, The Case for Wagner in Israel, notred in 2012:

    In recent decades, musicians have periodically attempted to play Wagner in Israel, setting off impassioned protests; Na’ama Sheffi’s book “The Ring of Myths: The Israelis, Wagner, and the Nazis” gives an account of them. At an Israel Philharmonic concert in 1981, Zubin Mehta, after giving audience members an opportunity to leave the hall, conducted the “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” as an encore; in response, Ben-Zion Leitner, a Holocaust survivor and a hero of the First Arab-Israeli War, walked in front of the podium, bared his scarred stomach, and shouted, “Play Wagner over my body.” Similarly charged scenes unfolded when Daniel Barenboim led the “Tristan” Prelude in Jerusalem in 2001. This past summer, an effort by the Israel Wagner Society to present a concert at Tel Aviv University created yet another media frenzy; in the end, the university withdrew its permission, and plans to move the event to a Hilton subsequently fell through. The Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, who was to have led the concert, has personal reasons for campaigning against the unwritten ban: his mother, who was forced to leave Vienna in 1939, felt that if her son could conduct Wagner in Israel it would amount to a final victory over Hitler, and he still hopes to realize her dream.

    **

    An author’s skilled meanderings in cultural associations may not make for actionable intelligence, but they do provide invaluable context for the overt tides and little known undertows of human history.

    Which in turn affect us all, and which we in turn may wish to affect or deflect..

    Solarization, or when x gets so x it goes not-x

    Friday, June 16th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — Avedon’s Beatles a visual demonstration of enantiodromia ]
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    Enantiodromia — it’s when something turns into its opposite — “freedomof speech” and “freedom of religion” being arguably current examples. The term comes to us from Carl Jung, who got it from Heraclitus.

    Richard Avedon used solarization, the photo technique whereby blinding whites show up as black, in a colorized form in his celebrated images of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

    [ and what’s so excellent here from the point of view of my own personal predilections is that John is the most futuristic, George the most mystical, Ringo clearly the most human — and Paul a barely distinguishable blur of colors signifying very little ]

    Carl Jung on Play

    Monday, April 17th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — all i do is play / to play is to create / I am creature / I am pawn / < bows lifelong gassho >]
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    Here’s a key quote on play from Carl Jung, from Psychological Types, CW vol 6. #197:

    My thanks to Mitch Ditkoff for pointing me to this fine quote.

    **

    The question arises, what is this process in which “The creative mind plays with the objects it loves”? There’s an object, right, and the mind, that much is coear — but does the mind observe the object? absorb it? analyzie it? play around with it?

    If play is what we’re trying to understand, around would be the word sitting right next to it, so around may be what we should think about.

    Around is context. Playing around is seeing in context, seeing from unexpected angels, seeing unexpected close connections. Here’s Arthur Koestler‘s diagram of play, which he thinks of as a diagram of creativity — which he idemntifies with bisociation, or the conjunction of two otherwise separate planes of thought:

    You’ve likely seen it before: that’s my personal Diagram in Chief.

    **

    Okay, more basics. Play is how infants so richly learn and masters so richly express their mastery. It is rich, it masters and is mastered — “Thou mastering me God” says Hopkins in Wreck of the Deutschland, “giver of breath and bread; World’s strand, sway of the sea..”

    **

    As a game designer and a Brit with Jungian sympathies, I am also delighted with this other quote:

    One of the most striking testimonies to the quality of the English spirit is the English love of sport and games in a classical sense and their genius for inventing games. One of the most difficult tasks men can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games and it cannot be done by men out of touch with their instinctive values. The English did it and, by heaven, they even taught us Swiss how to climb our own mountains and make a sport of it that made us love them all the more. And their Wimbledon, did they but know it, is in sort a modern version of an ancient ritual.

    That’s from Laurens van der Post‘s Jung and the Story of Our Time, and game designer Mike Sellers shares my delight in it.

    **

    Yup:

    From medieval gold leaf to Olympic gold

    Monday, August 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a voyage into nondualism via the coincidentia oppositorum ]
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    Here from Dr Emily Steiner may be the widest rigorous gap-bridging DoubleQuotes I’ve ever seen:

    Kudos to Anthony Ervin for his gold!

    I’m not entirely sure there’s gold leaf in the image Dr Steiner uses to represent medieval manuscripts, though it certainly works for the genre as a whole, and I think I detect some gold leaf in the hearts of the flowers depicted..

    **

    It would be foolish for me to claim to follow JL Usó-Doménech et al’s Paraconsistent Multivalued Logic and Coincidentia Oppositorum: Evaluation with Complex Numbers, but the general notions of Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus), “That in God opposites coincide” and “That God is beyond the coincidence of opposites” rae pretty basic (with appropriate variations) to Carl Jung‘s psychology — and to my own thinking.

    Here, in Dr Steiner’s tweet, we have something that comes delightfully, playfully close to a coincidence of opposites. Indeed it is that possibility of evoking and annotating opposites in a manner than allows us to transcend them — as we could be said to transcend the two streams of vision in binocular vision, the two streams of hearing in stereophonic audition — that lies at the heart of my focus on DoubleQuoting.

    **

    If the “new atheists” were a little more widely read, they might find themselves perplexed by the trans-logical implications of a God described thus by Cusanus:

    When we attempted to see Him beyond being and not-being, we were unable to understand how He could be visible. For He is beyond everything plural, beyond every limit and all unlimitedness; He is completely everywhere and not at all anywhere; He is of every form and of no form, alike; He is completely ineffable; in all things He is all things, in nothing He is nothing, and in Him all things and nothing are Himself; He is wholly and indivisibly present in any given thing (no matter how small) and, at the same time, is present in no thing at all.

    That’s a far harder concept — if it can even be called a concept — to deal with than the “seven day creator” God that is their usual mark. And yet there is no great logical space between Cusanus’ “He is completely ineffable” and the Athanasian Creed‘s ” The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible .. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal .. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal .. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.”

    Jasper Hoskins proposes [Jasper Hopkins, A concise introduction to the philosophy of Nicholas of Cusa] that in Cusanus’ view, “no finite mind can comprehend God, since finite minds cannot conceive of what it is like for God to be altogether undifferentiated.”

    **

    There’s an exchange in Cusanus’ Trialogus de possest (“On actualized-possibility”) in Hoskins’ op. cit.., that sets forth instructions for reading propositions about God — which also make interesting reading in terms of the flexibility ofmmind andimagination necessary for reading poetry, myth, and scriptures:

    Bernard: I am uncertain whether in similar fashion we can fittingly say that God is sun or sky or man or any other such thing.

    Card. Nicholas of Cusa: We must not insist upon the words. For example, suppose we say that God is sun. If, as is correct, we construe this [statement] as [a statement] about a sun which is actually all it is able to be, then we see clearly that this sun is not at all like the sensible sun. For while the sensible sun is in the East, it is not in any other part of the sky where it is able to be. [Moreover, none of the following statements are true of the sensible sun:] “It is maximal and minimal, alike, so that it is not able to be either greater or lesser”; “It is everywhere and anywhere, so that it is not able to be elsewhere than it is”; “It is all things, so that it is not able to be anything other than it is”— and so on. With all the other created things the case is simnilar. Hence is does not matter what name you give to God, provided that in the foregoing manner you mentally remove the limits with respect to its possible being.

    We’re close here, to the zen notion of the finger pointing at the moon — except that here is is the moon pointing at what cannot even be located in either physical spacetime or conceptual space..

    **

    and that’s the touch of gold in the heart of all flowers..

    Polishing the heart: full circle

    Sunday, February 14th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — happy daze! from Joan Halifax via Henry Corbin to Hui Neng & David Remnick ]
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    From Roshi Joan Halifax:

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    Steven Nouriani, The Meeting of Two Rivers, in Copenhagen 2013 – 100 Years On:

    As Corbin (1969) indicated, the heart is thought to be like a mirror in which every moment the various manifestations of the Divine Forms can be reflected on a microcosmic level. The more we polish the heart, the more we develop the Himma (aptitude) to experience Divine epiphanies out of Mundus Imaginalis.

    Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, p 222.

    In its unveiled state, the heart of the gnostic is like a mirror in which the microcosm from of the Divine Being is reflected

    **

    Sachiko Murata, Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light, p. 225, n. 8:

    The Sufi path is rather to empty oneself of all causes, to “polish the heart” by cleansing it of the rust of things, and to find God’s light in the heart.

    **

    Luang Pu Thuat, quoted in Dharma Legacy of Ajaan Dune Atulo:

    To make yourself a good-looking wandering monk isn’t proper at all. It goes against the purpose of going out to wander. Each of you should reflect a great deal on this. The purpose of wandering in meditation is only one thing: to train and polish the heart so that it’s free of defilements. To go wandering in meditation only in body, but without taking along the heart, is nothing excellent at all.

    **

    Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido:

    The only cure for materialism is the cleansing of the six senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind). If the senses are clogged, one’s perception is stifled. The more it is stifled, the more contaminated the senses become. This creates disorder in the world, and that is the greatest evil of all. Polish the heart, free the six senses and let them function without obstruction, and your entire body and soul will glow.

    **

    Shen-hsiu, in The Platform Sutra: The Zen Teaching of Hui-neng, Red Pine, tr.:

    The venerable Shen-hsiu held up a lantern and wrote his gatha on the middle of the south corridor wall at midnight, and no one saw him. His gatha went:

    The body is a bodhi tree
    the mind is like a standing mirror
    always try to keep it clean
    don’t let it gather dust.

    to which Hui Neng‘s responds, from the same source:

    Unless you know your own mind, studying the Dharma is useless. But once you know your mind and see your nature, you understand what is truly important. My gatha went:

    Bodhi doesn’t have any trees
    this mirror doesn’t have a stand
    our buddha nature is forever pure
    where do you get this dust?

    Then I composed another one:

    The mind is the bodhi tree
    the body is the mirror’s stand
    the mirror itself is so clean
    dust has no place to land.

    **

    BBC, Valentine’s Day: Countries that don’t love February romance

    Last year, there were clashes at a university in Peshawar over Valentine’s Day.
    Liberal students were celebrating with red balloons and cake while another group felt such a show was un-Islamic.
    Dozens of students threw rocks in the scuffle, leading to gunshots being fired by both sides and rooms in a student dormitory being set on fire.

    **

    David Remnick, Dangerous Liaisons:

    Love is wonderful; Valentine’s Day, less so. Often, it’s cheesy and boring. Here’s your antidote: a collection of stories about dangerous love, doomed love, and other forms of bad romance. … Consider these pieces a Valentine from us.

    **

    Veneration of relics:

    2262875989_948afb24d8_b
    Relics of St. Valentine, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, photo by Fr Lawrence Lew OP


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