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Greed can do it as easily as Religion — or Time Itself

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — the passing of time is theft is the passing of all things ]
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Here’s a quick stop-motion movie of the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, in four powerful frames.

The Temple was originally gloriously decorated..

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That’s Palmyra’s divine triad: Baalshamin, with the Moon god Aglibol on his right and the Sun-god Yarhibol at left, discovered at Bir Wereb, near Palmyra, 60 cm high (Louvre, Paris) (photo: Emmanuel PIERRE, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Temple was, in fact, until recently, an impressive ruin..

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That’s the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, in a photo by Bernard Gagnon, GNU license.

But then ISIS used explosives for a sacred demolition..

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Credit for this and the final image goes to Reuters

…and now there’s not much remaining of the glory..

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End of film, end of story — setup for the point I want to make.

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Stuff gets made or born, stuff lives or exists.. stuff dies, fades, crumbles, evaporates.. sometimes stuff is reboorn, salvaged, gets a second life..

Consider the great temple of Angkor Wat, buit by Khmer artists, partly destroyed by centuries of weather and overgrowth, pock-marked by the bullets of insurgents & army.. now given a second life as a tourist destination.. Consider Tibetan mandalas, chalked out in detail, painstakingly painted in sand, then swept away, proof of impermancence..

Well?

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The establishment of monotheism in Egypt was accompanied by royal command with the destruction of what we might now call religious and cultural works —

In rebellion against the old religion and the powerful priests of Amun, Akhenaten ordered the eradication of all of Egypt’s traditional gods. He sent royal officials to chisel out and destroy every reference to Amun and the names of other deities on tombs, temple walls, and cartouches to instill in the people that the Aten was the one true god.

— in a manner that calls to mind some of ISIS excesses, their destruction of the Temple of Bel, for a recent and striking instance.

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Indeed, places of worship have not infrequently been torn down:

Lord what work was here! What clattering of glasses! What beating down of walls! What tearing up of monuments! What pulling down of seats! What wresting out of irons and brass from the windows! What defacing of arms! What demolishing of curious stonework! What tooting and piping upon organ pipes! And what a hideous triumph in the market-place before all the country, when all the mangled organ pipes, vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had newly been sawn down from the Green-yard pulpit and the service-books and singing books that could be carried to the fire in the public market-place were heaped together.

That’s from England — which suffered under Cranmer (Reformation) and Cromwell (Civil War), both of them politically influential Puritans.. who between them made ruins of many British abbeys — think Glastonbury, Fountains, Walsingham..

Well, all that’s background, simply to establish that time’s river allows for the buildup by a wide variety of means and sweeping away of all manner of things animate and ootherwise, in a continual flux, a continual emergence, a continual impermanence..

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But my point, remember?


Photo credit: via Trib Live

My point is that the thief of Pittsburg’s unique and valuable book antiquities deprives us of treasures of the mind in much the same way that ISIS does with its explosives in Palmyra. In the latter case: impassioned religion; in the former: simple greed.

Appraisers discovered missing items and books that had been “cannibalized,” with entire portions removed, according to the affidavit.

and the alleged thief:

is charged with theft, receiving stolen property, dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, conspiracy, retail theft, theft by deception, forgery and deceptive business practices.

Items of high value and greed, idolatry and iconoclasm — the cutting up of books from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh including a copy of Newton’s Principia is nend ot in the too different from what ISIS’ Kata’ib Taswiyya batallion did to Palmyra.

Not too different, either, from the activities of Tibetan monks.. or, I suppose, wind, rain, and a thousand years..

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Percy Bysshe Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

“The Gold Standard of Dictatorships”

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

The Hoover Institution interviews historian Stephen Kotkin about Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Kotkin, a professor of Russian Studies at Princeton University,  is 2/3 of the way through writing his three volume biography of the life and times of Stalin. The first two volumes are each groundbreaking and monumental and if the third is their equal then Kotkin will have written the definitive work in the field.
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Part I.
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Part II.
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Stalin’s only true peers are Hitler and Mao. Kotkin’s second volume – subtitled Waiting For Hitler – does not seek to reprise Alan Bullock’s work or those of Richard Overy or Robert Gellately – Hitler is important not as a direct comparison to the Soviet dictator but as a geopolitical and military threat posed by Nazi Germany with which Stalin was forced to account even as he pursued his internal purges or faced military provocations by Imperial Japan. Stalin feared Hitler and admired him in a backhanded way without really understanding the Fuhrer. In Hitler’s shoes, Stalin never would have gambled so recklessly and most of his brutal policies were bent toward increasing Soviet security as he saw it, even devastatingly counterproductive ones like the purges or the Winter War.

Hat tip to Scott Shipman

Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928    Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941

Happy Fourth of July to all ZP readers

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — from all of us at Zenpundit ]
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From President Woodrow Wilson‘s Independence Day speech, July 4th, 1914:

Mr. Chairman and Fellow-Citizens:

We are assembled to celebrate the one hundred and thirty-eighth anniversary of the birth of the United States. I suppose that we can more vividly realize the circumstances of that birth standing on this historic spot than it would be possible to realize them anywhere else. The Declaration of Independence was written in Philadelphia; it was adopted in this historic building by which we stand. I have just had the privilege of sitting in the chair of the great man who presided over the deliberations of those who gave the declaration to the world. My hand rests at this moment upon the table upon which the declaration was signed. We can feel that we are almost in the visible and tangible presence of a great historic transaction.

Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence or attended with close comprehension to the real character of it when you have heard it read? If you have, you will know that it is not a Fourth of July oration. The Declaration of Independence was a document preliminary to war. It was a vital piece of practical business, not a piece of rhetoric; and if you will pass beyond those preliminary passages which we are accustomed to quote about the rights of men and read into the heart of the document you will see that it is very express and detailed, that it consists of a series of definite specifications concerning actual public business of the day. Not the business of our day, for the matter with which it deals is past, but the business of that first revolution by which the Nation was set up, the business of 1776. Its general statements, its general declarations cannot mean anything to us unless we append to it a similar specific body of particulars as to what we consider the essential business of our own day.

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If you’re a strategist or historian, these sentences may be of particular interest:

Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence or attended with close comprehension to the real character of it when you have heard it read? If you have, you will know that it is not a Fourth of July oration. The Declaration of Independence was a document preliminary to war.

Ahem, and if you’ll permit me my own reading, the key sentence here for my purposes is:

We can feel that we are almost in the visible and tangible presence of a great historic transaction.

WHile for factual purposes, 1776 and 1914 are separated by the intervening history, for the purposes of myth, dream, and psychological impact, that “almost” evaporates and the two moments merge, synchronous in a diachronic world.

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Take whichever meaning you will, and accept it with our best wishes here at Zenpundit for a fireworked and festive Fourth!

h/t War on the Rocks.

Three books in one day — splendid!!

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Imagination, Joan of Arc, and Coronation ]
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Oh, the other day was a great day, bringing me three terrific books:

  • Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi: Alone with the Alone
  • Marina Warner, Joan of Arc: the Image of Female Heroism
  • Matthias Range, Music and Ceremonial at British Coronations: From James I to Elizabeth II
  • The Corbin is simply the most dedicated book on spirituality I would take with me if I could, and which I’d dearly love to crack. Marina Warner was a stellar presence in the cafe I frequented in Little Clarendon Street in Oxford, and hijacked me once to help paint her new digs. And the Range? It’s a book I’ve long wished to read and finally, here it is.

    Quite a trio!

    Early occult roots of the “shithole” notion

    Friday, January 12th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a wobbly, entirely speculative history would suggest a source in Johann Georg Gichtel transmitted to our President via Anabaptist, Rosicrucian and allied Hermetic strands ]
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    It would be easy to DoubleQuote President Donald Trump‘s shit-awful remark today in terms of his base appreciatiing it:

    I’d like to go for broke and show you something far more intriguing: to wit, the earliest western expression of the “shithole” concept, drawn from Johann Georg Gichtel‘s Theosophia Practica (1701):

    Note the clear indication of the anal region seen from behind as Satan’s Hell.

    This image, with its corresponding face-forward companion, present what is widely acknowledged as the first western equivalent of the eastern chackra system of spiritual presences arranged in a progressive, ascending alignment up the spine:

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    I imagine Trump derives his association of “shithole” with that which he despises via the Anabaptist, Rosicrucian, and early upper New York State hermetic strands so ably reported by John L. Brooke in his Bancroft Prize-winning The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844.

    Not entirely kidding.


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