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Sunday surprise: Eucharist above, below and beyond

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — have you time to spare for a little beauty? ]
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Prof Emily Steiner of the University of Pennsylvania posted this image, which she described as of the “Stunning mosaics in the apse of S. Maria in Trastevere, attributed to Pietro Cavallini (c.1240-1330)”:

Dr Steiner attributed the photo to “the talented @pdecherney” — her colleague at U PEnn, Dr Peter Decherney.

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When I first saw this image, only the top half was visible on my screen, a fine, and I’m no expert, possibly world renowned, and yes, as Dr Steiner says, stunning mosaic of Christos Pantokrator, Christ the ruler of the universe if I’m not mistaken — and again, I’m no expert, and willing to take instruction.

But stunning, yes. Christ, a mosaic, stunning. Art at the service of praise, beauty as a window on the divine, .

And then, perhaps an hour later, but lapses of time are mended in this realm, I saw the whole image, sized to fit my screen.

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And thus the bottom half —

— with, brightly lit, even moreso if it were possible than the Christ in mosaic above it is, a small table — an altar, with three priests, and more in the wings, celebrating what looks to be the Eucharist — thought I suppose it might also be Vespers — and again, some expert could say whether the central celebrant is, by his zucchetto or skullcap, a cardinal, bishop, or maybe monsignor.

No matter the celebrant’s rank, he is, as celebrant, at the vanishing point — both the central point of attention photographically, and the point where the priest acts in the person of Christ, in persona Christi, thus himself, his persona, vanishing at the vanishing point.

Do this in memory of me, Christ said to his disciples at the Last Supper before his crucifixion, in words of sacrifice, previsioning his body about to be broken on the cross the next day — and down the centuries priests have broken bread as he did, speaking his words in his place, Take, eat, this is my body.

In the consecration, with these wrds, bread and wine become invisibly the body and blood of Christ, which we may remember, digest and allow to transform us.

It is this which makes the celebration of the Eucharist, in Catholic terms, “the source and summit of the Christian life”.

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And then, between this focus on the priest celebrant below, and the Christ all-ruling above, there is a mysterious relationship, each reflecting the other as in duet of mirrors — above, below and I invite you to envision, beyond.

Taking us, to switch religious traditions.. into the upper room with that one and self-same Christ

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Eucharist: literally, thanksgiving!

May your Sunday bring you cause for such thanksgiving..

Arts & Sciences, models & illustrations, Buddhas within mandalas

Friday, June 29th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — on the illustration, visualization and modeling of supposed reality — note: I am no scientist, no artist, in fact an aphantasic ]
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A telling caption to an image in New Scientist gave rather more of the game away than was maybe intended.

The image:

The caption:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this one instead. Oliver Burston/Alamy

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It’s a nice image, and could be used to represent Lise Meitner‘s discovery of nuclear fission, or some new feature of Kepler’s Supernova, or even, Lord knows, to sell collectible gold coin or diamonds.. And it brings up in acute form an issue I’ve long had with science — in the context of education and the last century’s growing indifference to the arts and humanities.

How much of what passes for science in the pop science press is in fact art, and specifically photography? And as a sub-question, how much of the impact a particular piece of scientific work receives is dependent on the various qualities of the illustrations used to accompany and promote it — which all too often fit the description in the caption above:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this one instead.

Or alternatively, shooting for something a little more frank, but not too terribly impolite:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this bullshit instead.

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We hardly ever have a picture of the real thing — which occurs at nano-scale, or outside the visible spectrum, or —

Well, some while back, we discussed (ignorantly, rest assured, De Docta Ignorantia, qv) a mathematical object of interest to physicists known as The Amplituhedron:

The Amplituhedron can alternatively be illustrated thus:

There’s a donut for anyone who can imagine what can possibly merit both illustrations!

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On our way to an understanding of the Amplituhedron, we pass by diagrams such as this:

— immediately followed by these words:

Although it is hard to draw the complete four-dimensional polytope, its four three-dimensional faces each define square-pyramidal regions of G(2, 4)

— as, for instance, this:

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Oh, c’mon, it’s not that hard, just visualize it!

Tibetan monks can visualize things like this 3-D palace replete with Vases, Wish-granting Trees, Bodhisattvas, Tathagatas and Shaktis, all surrounding the deity Kalachakra and his Consort, Vishvamata

And the vajrayanist Tibetan practitioners, yes, manage this just by PhD and postdoc level visualization practice, with diagrammatic assists like this:

— and a blueprint like this:

— always bearing in mind that, eh, “Kalachakra is a black skinned, four-faced god with twelve arms and twenty-four hands, in passionate embrace with his consort”:

Kalachakra and Vishvamata, from the Rubin Museum of Art

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Ah, but that’s arts and humanities > comparative religion > Tibetan meditation, not sciences > physics > mathematical physics, eh?

In all this, I intend to defend both science, properly so understood, as practiced bt qualified practitioners within its various subdisciplines, and arts and humanities, properly so understood, as practiced bt qualified practitioners within their various subdisciplines — while making clear the overwhelmingly important distinction that illustrations are all too often not science but STEM-propaganda, glossy / shiny objects passing for science while in fact falling under the categories of illustration or photography.

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This isn’t, for instance, in any scientific sense, the Horseshoe Nebula

It’s, as its title suggests, a reproduction of a compositie color image of the Horseshoe Nebula

— and to be honest, it may bear as much resemblance to a horse’s head as this reoroductionf of a color image of a seahorse does:

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Just let’s keep the arts’ contribution to science illustration filed under arts (illustration), and math diagrams filed under math (diagrams) — I’ve included some of both above — and maybe the arts and humanities will get to siphon off some of the excitement and funding currently pouring into the coffers of (poor little) science.

Tibetan Buddhists FTW!

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Ooh-wah!

Art or science?

Gravitational lens RX J1131-1231 galaxy with the lens galaxy at the center and four lensed background quasars

That, at least, is what they tell me..

Puppetry cascades, or “art is theft”

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — and if you experience vertigo reading any of these cascades, feel free to hang in there vertiginously — or let go ]
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Alright, here’s a DoubleQuote in images:

I don’t believe there’s a direct borrowing (aka plagiarism, theft) here, but both images rely on a shared puppet cascades convention.

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It’s been a bit of a yawn to say art is theft — at least since a few borrowings past Picasso, and maybe before him — what makes this pair of puppet cascades interesting is:

First, that each depicts a portion of a cascade of puppets — in the earlier, My Fair Lady version, Bernard Shaw puppeting Henry Higgins puppeting Eliza Dolittle, while the recent New Yorker graphic might as well be X (unshown) puppeting Steve Bannon puppeting Trump with Jeff Sessions and Scott Pruitt, maybe.

Second, note the X (Bernard Shaw) in the later version, and then ponder the idea that cascades may have a source, or may continue backwards ad infinitum, but Someone or Thing implicitly or explicitly needs to fill that X space. In the earlier version, Bernard Shaw does it, but that only begs the question, is Something puppeting Bernard Shaw? Deity, perhaps, or Muse?

And in the contemmporary version, where the upper puppeteer is cut off from vision, They‘s a good guess for the X Who‘s puppeting the Bannon figure, because Bannon, They, and Puppetry are all widely associated with conspiracy theory. Oh, and think, X-Files!

Hey, in reality Lerner and Lowe were making musical out of Shaw‘s theatrical Pygmalion out of Gilbert and Sullivan — and the cascade theft goes on and on, back into the mists and myths of antiquity..

The actual figures in the New Yorker cascade are X, Lord Bell (representing Bell Pottinger, the PR firm), and, below, the brothers Atul, Ajay, and Tony Gupta. The article itself, The Reputation-Laundering Firm That Ruined Its Own Reputation, is well worth a read. And look at the illustrations careful documentation of the ownership-lineages it’s pilfering from:

Illustration by Ben Jones; photographs by (clockwise from top): David M. Benett / Getty; Martin Rhodes / Gallo Images / Business Day / Getty; Foto24 / Gallo Images / Getty; David M. Benett / Bell Pottinger / Getty

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Property is theft, now — that’s Proudhon.

On negative space in the painting..

Monday, May 7th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — where might mist be the opposite of tree? ]
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When I heard the words “negative space in the painting” on MSNBC a couple of days ago I was intrigued — was this an unanticipated art program? Terrific! Next thought: the use of negative space is particularly noted in Japanese art:

In Japanese, ma, the word for space, suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place .. the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision.

Here’s Wiki’s visual exmple:


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The Pine Trees screen is a pair of six-panel folding screens by the Japanese artist Hasegawa Tohaku. .. The screens are held by the Tokyo National Museum, and were designated as a National Treasure of Japan in 1952.

The ink-on-paper work depicts a view of Japanese pine trees in the mist, with parts of the trees visible and parts obscured, illustrating the Zen Buddhist concept of ma and evoking the Japanese wabi aesthetic of rustic simplicity.

Japanese classical aesthetics are subtle where Western modern aesthetics are obvious, deep where their Western cousins tend to the superficial, and while I wouldn’t care to elaborate on the definitions of ma and wabi, I don’t think “rustic simplicity” catches much of the resonance of wabi, and the phrase “Zen Buddhist concept” is on the clumsy side IMO — well, however.

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DT Suzuki‘s Zen and Japanese Culture was among my early purchaases as a young Oxford scholar with book money and BH Blackwell’s to plunder — and ma and wabi, along with sabi and yugen, rasa and raga, duende, lachrimae and mutabilitie — are among the art-induced mind-&-heart-states I’ve long found of impassioned interest.

For what “negative space” referred to on MSNBC, see the second post in this series of three..

Silence as protest and gift

Friday, April 13th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — on the frayed edges of music ]
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Silence is the exception rather than the rule — so much so that it’s notable.

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The bells of York Minster were silenced for a year in protest at the sacking of, as the Guardian eruditely puts it, “30 campanologists”. Bell-ringing is an ancient craft in the UK, mathematical in its combinatoric precision, glorious in its language and literature. Spanning the arts and sciences, it is thus a bridge between the two sides of that academic and popular schism or chasm which CP Snow famously described in his book, The Two Cultures.

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Mathematics and combinatorics:

The ringing of a peal or complete sequence of bells is a highly mathematized form of music, and the order in which the bells are to be rung — the method — can therefore be transcribed in graphical form:

Oh, the beauty in so musical a score.

I dare not show you a full extent — we might run out of pixels!

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Language and literature:

Truth (and the detested false), Grandsires, Triple Bob Major, oh, and Spitalfields Festival Treble Bob, and how could one forget Affpuddle Treble Bob Major..

Dorothy Sayers‘ novel The Nine Tailors has nothing to do with bespoke and everything to do with murder most fouldeath and detection:

In some parishes in England the centuries-old tradition of announcing a death on a church bell is upheld. In a small village most people would be aware of who was ill, and so broadcasting the age and sex of the deceased would identify them. To this end the death was announced by telling (i.e. single blows with the bell down) the sex and then striking off the years. Three blows meant a child, twice three a woman and thrice three a man. After a pause the years were counted out at approximately half-minute intervals. The word teller in some dialects becomes tailor, hence the old saying “Nine tailors maketh a man”.

The bell used in the novel for the announcement is the largest (tenor) bell, which is dedicated to St. Paul. Hence “teller Paul” or in dialect “tailor Paul”. Sayers is here acknowledging the assistance of Paul Taylor of Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough, England who provided her with detailed information on all aspects of change-ringing.

Scientific American adds other details, describing:

another time-honored tradition of bells, which frequently have nicknames and inscriptions, as if they were, indeed, alive.

For instance, in Sayers’ novel, the oldest bell is dubbed Batty Thomas, cast in 1380, and bears the inscription “Abbat Thomas sett mee heare + and bad mee ringe both loud and cleer.” (The oldest bell hung for change ringing that is still in use was cast in 1325; it is the fifth bell at St. Dunstan’s Church in Canterbury, Kent.)

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Argh, the lockout:

Enough of the beauty of the English bells. From the Guardian piece referenced in the upper panel, above:

But simmering tensions between the minster’s governing body, the Chapter of York, and the ringers came to a head last October when the band was summarily dismissed and locked out of the 15th-century cathedral’s bell tower.

The silencing of the York Minster peal is thus a case of a sacred sound being stilled by a secular — or at least unionized — silence.

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How opposite, and apposite, then, is the ringing silence offered by the youthful Quakers as a podcast in the second Guardian piece referenced (lower panel, above):

It’s not the most obvious subject for a podcast, but a group of young Quakers in Nottingham have recorded their 30-minute silent meeting so as to share their “oasis of calm” with the world.

In an episode of the monthly Young Quaker Podcast, called the Silence Special, you can hear a clock ticking, pages being turned and the rain falling, as the group meets and sits in silence at the Friend’s Meeting House in Nottingham. [ .. ]

The idea for the silent podcast first came from Tim Gee, a Quaker living in London, who was inspired by the BBC’s season of “slow” radio, which treated audiences to – among other things – the sounds of birds singing, mountain climbing and monks chatting.

Gee said he had wanted to “share a small oasis of calm, and a way to provide a moment of stillness, for people on the move”.

Jessica Hubbard-Bailey, 25, from the Nottingham Young Quakers, who recorded the podcast, said they had jumped at the opportunity to broadcast something “immersive and unusual”. She added: “We have very different ways of worship to most people of faith and we thought this was a really unique opportunity to give people a little slice of what the Quakers do. Also, we are really good at being quiet because we’ve made a practice of it and I think that is of value. These days everyone is so busy, everyone is working all the time, so it’s really valuable to have the opportunity to sit down once a week and just be quiet and listen.”

Listen? Listen to the birds, to the chattering monks — or to the still, small voice?

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Listen, in any case, to the sound of silence:

Just listen!


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