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For Jim Gant, On the Resurrection, 03

Monday, April 9th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a repeatable dream back then, alas no longer ]
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What happens, in other words, when imagination enters factual reality?

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This doesn’t, as far as I can tell, heppen only in Christianity — Henry Corbin’s book, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, if I read it right, narrates an apparition of Beauty in the life of the Sufi known to Islam as the Sheikh al-Akbar, the Greatest Sheikh.

In India I was taught that Valmiki wrote the Ramayana, and Vishnu liked it so well he took the avatar-form of Rama to live out the epid in Valmiki’s honor, amybe 10,000 years later, every last detail correct.

Folklore, no doubt?

I have my own experiences.

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When I was about eight or so, I had a recurring dream, in which I was walking in the (grassy) English countryside, and a series of holes began opening in the earth around and in front of me. They were roughly manhole-sized holes, and after I had avoided a couple of them, I fell down one of them, much like Alice.

I found myself in Hell. To be precise, I was in a sort of stable with a number of stalls off a corridor that linked them — with fires burning in the stalls. Someone tried to throw me on one of the fires, and I objected, telling them I was a friend of the management — so they went off someplace to check.

When they came back, they told me that I did in fact have the freedom of the whole place — and indicated to me that besides the stables with their fires, there were two further rooms, one of which was a vast granary filled with silver corn, the other a granary of golden corn.

I would wake up as I moved through those two other rooms — and if I woke without having had this dream, I would frequently burrow back under my sheets and covers and demand it. And it would come.

The dream gave me a distinct sense that I need “fear no evil” — that hell could not in the final analysis touch me. This was its gift to me at the time, and I find it amazing that this particular gift was engraven in my dreaming consciousness maybe thirty or more times over a period of a few impressionable years…

It also told me that I was a citizen of the two realms represented by the granaries of silver and golden corn. I take them to be lunar and solar granaries, and equate them with the realms of poetry and mysticism, respectively: or one might think of them as savikalpa and nirvikalpa, via positiva and via negativa, Broceliande and Jerusalem, the imaginal and the radiant.

It was also clear that all three realms belonged to that same “management” whose friendship I had claimed, and which allowed me the freedom of the three realms. I understood on reading Dante (and remembering the dream after a lapse of years) that all three realms are realms of the divine love.

So in some very real and important sense, the seeds were never mine…

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Well, that’s pure dream, with its waking content a way of moving through this world.

Shorts 04: Books, and a personal pic

Sunday, March 4th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick treasury of treasures, what else? ]
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Robert Irwin, The Arabian Nights: A Companion

Abbasid Baghdad did produce its own semi- legendary criminals. Many tales were told of the ingenious exploits of the ninth-century master-thief, al-Uqab (‘the Eagle’), among them the story of a bet he had with a certain doctor that within a set period of time alUqab could steal something from the doctor’s house. Although the house was closely guarded, alUqab drugged the guards. Then, posing as an apparition of Jesus and making use of hypnotism, he succeeded in stealing off with the dcotor himself.

Robert Irwin was an Oxford contemporary & fellow-traveller.

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Kim Wagner, The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857

In 1963, a human skull was discovered in a pub in south-east England. The handwritten note found inside revealed it to be that of Alum Bheg, an Indian soldier in British service who had been blown from a cannon for his role in the 1857 Uprising, his head brought back as a grisly war-trophy by an Irish officer present at his execution. The skull is a troublesome relic of both anti-colonial violence and the brutality and spectacle of British retribution.

Ooh, grue! Cf. the food of that served in the Arkansas penal system.

^^

Simon Armitage, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: an introduction

We know next to nothing about the author of the poem which has come to be called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It was probably written around 1400. In the early 17th century the manuscript was recorded as belonging to a Yorkshireman, Henry Saville of Bank. It was later acquired by Sir Robert Cotton, whose collection also included the Lindisfarne Gospels and the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf . The poem then lay dormant for over 200 years, not coming to light until Queen Victoria was on the throne, thus leapfrogging the attentions of some of our greatest writers and critics. The manuscript, a small, unprepossessing thing, would fit comfortably into an average-size hand, were anyone actually allowed to touch it. Now referred to as Cotton Nero A X, it is considered not only a most brilliant example of Middle English poetry but also as one of the jewels in the crown of English Literature; it now sits in the British Library under conditions of high security and controlled humidity.

Hat-tip: Hanne Elisabeth Storm Ofteland

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Rennie Davis, The New Humanity: A Movement to Change the World (Volume 1 of 3)

This first book returns to ‘Our Roots’ with a behind-the-scenes look straight from the eye of the social-change hurricane that swept North America during the turbulent times of the 1960s. Rennie Davis was the coordinator of the largest coalition of anti-war and civil rights organizations during that era. Now in vivid detail, he explains how the Sixties movement ignited and expanded, growing in strength and staying power. A compelling, riveting story, it was written to inspire today’s generation to stand on the shoulders of those who came before and arise again to change the world. Like a snowball tumbling down the mountain to become an avalanche that takes out the concrete wall of fear and divide, today’s movement will not be ignored or stopped.

This book is today’s must-read gift to yourself and your friends to uplift humanity and change the world.

Rennie is an old friend, story for another day. Hat-tip: Rennie Davis.

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This just in:

Bernard Faure, The Fluid Pantheon: Gods of Medieval Japan, Volume 1

Written by one of the leading scholars of Japanese religion, The Fluid Pantheon is the first installment of a multivolume project that promises to be a milestone in our understanding of the mythico-ritual system of esoteric Buddhism—specifically the nature and roles of deities in the religious world of medieval Japan and beyond. Bernard Faure introduces readers to medieval Japanese religiosity and shows the centrality of the gods in religious discourse and ritual; in doing so he moves away from the usual textual, historical, and sociological approaches that constitute the “method” of current religious studies. The approach considers the gods (including buddhas and demons) as meaningful and powerful interlocutors and not merely as cyphers for social groups or projections of the human mind. Throughout he engages insights drawn from structuralism, post-structuralism, and Actor-network theory to retrieve the “implicit pantheon” (as opposed to the “explicit orthodox pantheon”) of esoteric Japanese Buddhism (Mikky?).

Hat-tip: just in from friend Gilles Poitras.

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Enough of books — heres a personal photo — friend Neil Ayer with a Rothka at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

Au ‘voir!

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 — the toss of a coin

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — choice, chance and maybe destiny at the movies, on the road, in life ]
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A while back, I lived in Cottonwood, Arizona, and drove the few miles back and forth between Cottonwood and Sedona most days each week for months. There’s a beautiful stretch of desert in between, I delighted in the journey, and no doubt my foot on the gas pedal quickened or eased off to some mild extent depending on what music I was listening to, how much coffee I’d had recently, how my most recent conversation or burst of writing had gone. And then one night a deer ran across the road, perhaps twelve feet ahead of my car.

Let’s say I was traveling at 60 for ease of calculation. 60 mph is a mile a minute, 88 feet per second. About a tenth of a second later and the deer and / or I would likely have been dead — one full second later, he or she would have crossed sixty feet behind me and I would have seen nothing, known nothing.

There are deer constantly crossing our paths sixty feet behind us and it’s a normal day at the office, it’s one more day like any other: sunny, then partly cloudy, with a ten percent chance of rain.

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The average human life expectancy, or pretty close, in the United States these days is 690,235 hours. Here are two film clips, which will occupy just over a quarter of one of those hours if you watch them both.

The Magus:

No Country For Old Men:

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The Magus — the entire film — runs an hour and 57 minutes, while No Country for Old Men runs two hours and three minutes, so those clips, 10 and 5 minutes long each, represent in each case a small fraction of the whole film — yet those two fractions have been selected out to be posted as YouTube clips — and they have something in common: life and death in a roll of the dice, the flip of a coin.

I’m guessing it’s that life or death in an instant play of chance that marks those two particular clips as worth noting and posting to YouTube — and that made that deer running across the road in my headlights so memorable.

The realization here: my life hangs, moment by moment across hundreds of thousands of hours, on such slight and unintended (“chance”) variations of physical fact & effect as how much my foot on the gas pedal imperceptibly quickens or eases off as a slight turn, rise or fall in the road..

Half Price Books

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

An old Border’s location near where I live was taken over by Half Price Books, the growing used book chain. So I took a drive with the kids to check it out, though my expectations were not high.  My Eldest also decided to sell a box of books dating back to her more childish years.

The atmosphere of the store was pleasant and the employees friendly and helpful, much of the space is (quite properly) devoted to maximizing the display of the stock of books instead of various kinds of retail nonsense. We browsed while the buyers evaluated my daughter’s books for resale. The store was very well stocked for a used book store catering to the general public and the prices were excellent. While the decor was “no frills” there were comfortable, well-used, chairs in which to sit toward the back of the store accompanied by end tables for the piling of books.  My son enjoyed going through the bins of of old comics, of which he bought a fistful for .50 cents each.

The most expensive book I bought was $9 (for two volumes) vice a new retail price of $40; most ran $4 – $6. One brand new copy was purchased for all of $2.

Here’s what I picked up:

    

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa byJason Stearns 

This one was the subject of a book review by Scott Shipman which you can read in full here.

Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography by Sir Hew Strachan

I have been wanting to read this one ever since we had The Clausewitz Roundtable at Chicago Boyz. Strachan is one of the leading military historians and strategic thinkers and can be viewed lecturing on strategy and war here.

The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain by Terrence Deacon

This was in mint condition – literally had never been opened (must have been a student’s copy LOL) – and was only $2 as a Half Price Books “SuperBuy”. Deacon is a biological anthropologist and was/is a professor at Harvard Medical School and Berkeley. On the one hand, some of the neuroscience might be dated, given the 1997 copyright, but as he is investigating 2 million years of human evolution, so how off could it be in just 16 years?

The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian 

Arrian was cited frequently, but with significant reservations and commentary, by Paul Cartledge in his biography Alexander the Great, which I reviewed here.

    

War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History (vol. I & II) by Robert Asprey 

I am not very familiar with Asprey but I have deep sympathy for anyone who attempts this kind of epochal survey, they are very hard to pull off well ( and harder to get people to read all the way through  once they are written and published, see Arnold Toynbee and Will and Ariel Durant). Any comments here are welcome.

Mussolini by R. J. B. Bosworth 

A biography of il Duce by a leading expert on the period of Italian Fascism.

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly 

I’ve read this before, when it was first published, but did not have a copy. Bought it to have on hand as a reference.

My only complaint about the Half Price Books experience was the store was a trifle warm. My Eldest pocketed a cool $15 from selling her old books and decided to treat herself to a detective novel and a used Xbox game.

A good time was had by all.


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