zenpundit.com » art

Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Gaza symmetries and asymmetries

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- "hatred of the other" viewed as a cognitive matter, and Richard Landes on the capacity for self-criticism ]
.

Credit: Amir Schiby

**

Nicholas Kristof has a post today for the NYT Sunday Review, Who’s Right and Wrong in the Middle East? — in which he explores the symmetries and asymmetries playing out in Gaza. He concludes with the following paragraph:

Here we have a conflict between right and right that has been hijacked by hard-liners on each side who feed each other. It’s not that they are the same, and what I see isn’t equivalence. Yet there is, in some ways, a painful symmetry — and one element is that each side vigorously denies that there is any symmetry at all.

Let that stand as the epigraph of this post, while we turn to EO Wilson for a theoretical basis:

Reification is the quick and easy mental algorithm that creates order in a world otherwise overwhelming in flux and detail. One of its manifestations is the dyadic instinct, the proneness to set up two part classifications in treating socially important arrays. Societies everywhere break people into in-group versus out-group, child versus adult, kin versus non kin, married versus single, and activities into sacred and profane, good and evil. They fortify the boundaries of each division with taboo and ritual. To change from one division to the other requires initiation ceremonies, weddings, blessings, ordinations and other rites of passage that mark every culture.

Rush Dozier in Why We Hate picks up the thread:

Us-them stereotyping emerges directly from the primitive neural system’s basic survival response. It is a form of categorical thinking in which the categories are mutually exclusive. To the primitive areas of the brain, one is either “us” or “them.One cannot be both.

Jesus is reported as saying both “he that is not against us is for us” [Mark 9.40] and “He that is not with me is against me” [Luke 11.23], whereas GW Bush offers less ambiguity: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Dozier again:

It appears that this kind of either-or analysis results from the pre-conscious alerting system’s need for extremely rapid processing, which requires that phenomena be simplified as much as possible and placed in unambiguous categories.

The alert with its binaries, and the analytic, with (hopefully) its nuance — which would we be better advised to entrust with such major matters as war and peace?

Jesus again, overriding the binary opposition [Luke 6.27-28]:

I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

**

Let’s move to one specific distinction — one that provide us with a binary, while arguably transcending binary thinking.

Richard Landes makes a strong point in his post titled Self-criticism and cultural development, when he asserts:

Self-criticism stands at the heart of any experiment in civil society.

He continues:

Only when we can acknowledge errors and commit to avoiding making them again, can we have a learning curve. Only when scholars can express their criticism of academic colleagues, and those criticized are able to acknowledge error, can scientific and social thinking develop. Only when religious believers can entertain the possibility that they may not have a monopoly on truth (no matter how convinced they might be of their “Truth”), can various religions live in peace and express their beliefs without fear of violence. Only when political elites are willing to accept negative feedback from people who do not have their power, only when the press can oppose those who control public decision-making, can a government reasonably claim to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The distinction, the asymmetry I’m interested in exploring today is that between those who self-criticize and can accept criticism, and those who neither self-criticize nor accept criticism.

In my reading of the two quotes from Netanyahu and Diskin that I paired at the tail end of my post Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts, Netanyahu seems to me averse to Israeli self-criticism, while Diskin clearly welcomes and practices it.

Here’s an individual, unofficial example. In an “eyewitness account of how the synagogue of Rue de la Roquette [in Paris] was attacked by a mob, and fought back” titled ‘Yesterday, a Part of My Love for France Left Me’, Aurélie A. wrote:

I can already see myself jumping at the throat of one of the keffiyeh wearers shouting “Death to the Yids!” He wants to kill Jews???!!! I want to leave him for dead! I do not recognize my own hatred!

There’s the binary at work, generating hatred to meet hatred — and the reflective mind that sees the binary as simplistic, and moves self-critically beyond it.

Landes again:

Nothing contrasts more with Israel’s culture of self-criticism than its belligerent neighbors, especially the Palestinians. Here we find one of the most aggressive zero-sum political cultures on record. They accept no responsibility for the war they wage, and justify all their behavior — including how they treat their own people — as a response to the Zionists. They demonize the Zionists with conspiracy theories and blood libels drawn from the most delirious of European anti-Semitic fears to inspire their victimized people to take arms against this malevolent enemy. Who could self-criticize when being assaulted by such merciless and powerful forces? Self-criticism under such conditions is unthinkable, and dissent is treachery. The exceptional number of Palestinians killed by Palestinians suggests a culture in which intimidating dissenters and eliminating traitors is the norm.

Those who say all who criticize Israeli actions are “Anti-Semitic” are overreaching: there is certainly a strong current of anti-Semitism alive and at large in the world, but the capacities to self-criticize and to accept criticism imply that one may critique what one loves as an expression of that love.

**

The image of the four Bakr boys no longer playing soccer on the beach which heads this post is the work of the Israeli artist Amir Schiby. You can read it as a pro-Palestinian work of propaganda — or as an artistic criticism by an Israeli of the current Israeli operation in Gaza. You can also read it as a simple, beautiful expression of grief.

Its beauty argues for one of the latter two interpretations, and Schiby’s own statement on his FaceBook page that he intended it “as a tribute to all children living in war zones” clearly suggests the third.

Not a binary, partisan statement, then, and not even the raising of a “provocative question” — but an arrow to the heart, a wordless pang of grief.

Share

Bifocal: my friends Benzon and Blake

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- of sight and vision ]
.

Wm Blake: The Sun at his Eastern Gate

**

My young friend, William Benzon, writes:

When we look at a cloud and see an elephant we don’t conclude that an elephant is up there in the sky, or that the cloud decided to take on an elephant-like form. We know that the cloud has its own dynamics, whatever they might be, and we realize that the elephant form is something we are projecting onto the world.

And mine ancient friend, William Blake, wrote:

“What,” it will be Question’d, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, `Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.’ I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative eye any more than I would Question a window concerning a Sight. I look thro’ it & not with it.”

**

Albrecht Durer, Apocalypse

**

As I have written elsewhere:

The great German engraver Albrecht Dürer’s illustrations of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) differ from contemporary televised images of warfare not only in terms of the armor and weaponry used, but also and more importantly by recording two worlds, the visible and the invisible, where the television camera records only the visible. The sky in television reports of war contains missiles and warplanes, and if anything “invisible” is depicted, it is invisible only by virtue of being viewed in the infra-red portion of the spectrum via night scope. Dürer’s sky is not merely “sky” but also “heaven”, and thus depicts that “war in heaven” alluded to in Revelations 12: 7, with its angels and demons and dragon, its Lady clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and crowned with the stars…

A crucial shift in the way in which we envision “reality” has occurred between Albrecht Dürer’s time and our own, and that shift has indeed largely deprived us of a real sense of the existence of an “invisible world” — whether it be the invisible world of faerie or sacrament, of poetic vision or apocalypse. That great modern prophet William Blake both predicted and lamented this loss, and his entire corpus of poetry and paintings can be viewed as a singular attempt to replace in our culture that visionary quality that our increasing scientism so easily deprives us of.

**

Can we restore imagination — Blakean vision, the “heaven” of Albrecht Durer — to a significant place in our lives, without abandoning the clarity as to fact that comes with simple sight and its more sophisticated extensions — the camera, the space probe, the electron microscope?

Have we even any interest in doing that?

Share

Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not on a level playing field anymore

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- sporting goodies ]
.


.

The upper image illustrates what Brazil might have needed to beat Germany in the World Cup — you’ll note the slope is considerably steeper than 7 to 1, the final score. The lower image is art, okay?

Asymmetric whatnot.

**

Sources:

  • Chef Lloyd, Brazils plan B for the 2nd half
  • Laurent Perbos, Aire
  • Share

    United States of Islam banknote art

    Monday, July 7th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- art, but can you bank on it? ]
    .

    Sacagawea is for sure my favorite of the women hijabbed to the hilt in artist Stephen Barnwell‘s renderings of Islamic banknotes, US — it’s those two feathers of hers… The other two options are Susan B Anthony and Betsy “Crescent, star and stripes” Ross.

    Unless, of course, Lady Liberty should have pride of place…

    As for the Prophet Muhammad? Not kosher to show his face…

    **

    There’s a lot going on here — some of the notes bear a distinctly non-Islamic 666, some are signed by Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian revolution and Shia to the core — his counter-signer is Mullah Omar of the Taliban, a Deobandi-type Sunni. Oops. And FWIW, the United States of Islam was a Sunni concept.

    Near as I can tell, these are all Fundamentalist Reserve Notes, which presumably means you can’t get silver for them. But look below, it specifies “in oil, payable to the bearer on demand”. Which, considering the US is the world’s #1 source of oil at this point, is probably no bad thing.

    **

    The six dollar bills have a grim obverse featuring, if I’m not mistaken, Saladin:

    and a series of precursor images:

    And did you get that? Osama bin Laden and Abu al-Zarqawi share a note…

    **

    Oh my, I have a 22 dollar note myself, somewhere, though it’s not about Islam taking over the US — treaure from some minor congressional election in Florida, years ago, with the crazy candidate’s face where portraits of Presidents usually go.

    And then there’s also Boggs, who (among other things) drew a highly convincing banknote on a gallery wall and framed it — and when the cops came to take it down, they took the frame and lo! the image remained on the wall…

    Artists!

    Share

    On ecumenical destruction

    Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- Kosovo I know little about, Timbuktu I've heard praised, Bamiyan I've visited ]
    .

    Synagogue:

    Before the conflict, the synagogue held thousands of religious and cultural treasures, including hundreds-years-old Torah scrolls, historical texts, precious dining ware, and ancient Judaica of all sorts. Some of the items were reportedly looted in the early days of the war. Some were reportedly placed in safekeeping. Many remained in the building until its destruction.

    Buddha:

    Two large Buddhas were intentionally destroyed with artillery fire and explosives by members of the Taliban militia on March 11-12, 2001.

    Mosque:

    The UN cultural body Unesco watched in horror on Saturday as Mali extremists ravaged shrines in the fabled city of Timbuktu which it had listed as endangered sites just days before.

    Church:

    The ongoing de-Christianization of Kosovo continues and unlike the past frenzy of the anti-Serbian mass media in the West, we mainly have a deadly silence about the reality of Kosovo and the continuing Albanianization of this land. However, how is it “just” and “moral” to persecute minorities and to alienate them from mainstream society; and then to illegally recognize this land without the full consensus of the international community?

    Historic site:

    “There is no authority here. Syria was one of the jewels of the crown of the Middle East,” Landis says. “The most beautiful Crusader castle, Krak des Chevaliers, undisturbed, has been bombed by both sides because rebels took up and made it a stronghold. The government bombed it. It makes you want to cry, but I guess that’s the price of war.”

    **

    No religious animosity is necessary for destruction.

    Rock art:

    Vandals have destroyed prehistoric rock art in lawless southern Libya, endangering a sprawling tableau of paintings and carvings classified by UNESCO as of “outstanding universal value”.

    Share

    Switch to our mobile site