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Apocalpyse, not!

Friday, June 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — in using the word apocalyptic to describe mundane (or zombied) disturbances such as Brexit, we lose sight of the beauty and mystery it conceals & reveals ]
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In fact, not so much as a whiff of fresh napalm in the morning.

Tim Furnish has been on a mini-crusade recently against the misuse of the word apocalypse, tweeting examples along with this meme-image:

Furnish Apocalypse N0

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Here are two examples of the genre. which Tim featured last night because each comments on Brexit in apocalyptic terms:

Apocalypse No

Sources:

  • Financial Post, Trump, Clinton and Brexit — the three horses of democracy’s Apocalypse
  • Japan Times, Brexit: The Apocalypse … or not
  • **

    Tim is right.

    The word apocalypse properly refers the vision John, the seer of Patmos, had, tearing away of the veil which so often hides the divine glory from mortal eyes: the Greek word apokalypsis is appropriately translated revelation, and the first verse of the book called The Apocalypse by Catholics and The Revelation of John in the King James Version runs as follows:

    The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.

    **

    Consider the beauty — and the otherworldiness — of this image from Albrecht Durer. illustrating the “woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” of Revelation 12.1

    :Virgin-Sitting-In-Crescent-Moon

    **

    The imagery of this final book of the Bible does not show us the usual world of our senses, but a realm of great symbolic beauty, far beyond the reach of unaided eye or camera — as the great literary critic Northrop Frye notes, when he calls the book “a fairy tale about a damsel in distress, a hero killing dragons, a wicked witch, and a wonderful city glittering with jewels” in his Anatomy of Criticism, p 108.

    Like the works of the English visionary William Blake, Revelation is more poetic than literal, visionary in the best sense — and it is hardly surprising that Blake is among its foremost illustrators:

    The_Four_and_Twenty_Elders_(William_Blake)
    Blake, Four and Twenty Elders Casting their Crowns before the Divine Throne, The Tate Gallery

    Brexit simply cannot match the darkness of Revelation’s Babylon in its final throes, nor the “new heaven and new earth” that succeed it — “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”.

    Don’t hide your money in a hortus conclusus

    Monday, June 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a criminal twist in Argentinian politics amid lofty considerations of convents, the Virgin Mary, and unicorns ]
    .

    The King James Version of the Bible, Song of Solomon 4:12, reads:

    A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.

    In the Latin Vulgate, the phrase “a garden enclosed” is rendered “hortus conclusus” — and as the context makes clear, it refers both to a garden, literally, and metaphorically to a woman. In the Christian Middle Ages, the phrase was often used to indicate the Virgin Mary, often enclosed within a literal garden, as in this Hortus Conclusus from Cologne, ca 1430:

    600 Hortus Conclusus from Cologne, 1430

    Parhaps unsurprisingly, the hortus conclusus is also the place where the unicorn — only ever tamed by a pure virgin — ends up, as in this example from the Cloisters Unicorn Tapestries:

    600 Unicorn in Captivity

    So much art history, so much beauty, so much virginity — and all so that I can make a couple of points about Jose Lopez, an Argentinean MP who was arrested earlier in the week.

    **

    The unfortunate Lopez made the error of tossing some bags of money, or moneybags as they are sometimes called, over a hedge into a convent garden…

    A convent, as we’ll easily understand, is a terrific example of the hortus conclusus — and since nuns are typically sworn to poverty as well as chastity and obedience, it is altogether contrary to the intended purpose of a convent’s hortus conclusus to use it as a stash for ill-gotten gains, especially of a monetary kind — to the estimated tune of US$5-8 million.

    So that’s my point number one: that Lopez was acting in direct opposition to the contemplative and unworldly intent of the convent garden. Worse, indeed, he was also carrying some form of Sig Sauer rifle along with his “160 bundles of cash, 108 of dollars, and some of them still thermo-sealed with the stamps from China’s central bank.”

    Ouch.

    **

    But what I like best from the report is the sting in the end of this first paragraph:

    The ex-Kirchnerite official, considered the right/hand man of ex Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido was caught by the police after neighbors and a nun of the Fatima monastery warned authorities about the presence of a man throwing bags over a dividing line of bushes.

    It’s that bit about “throwing bags over a dividing line” that gets me.

    I’ve discussed the concept of liminality before, both lightheartedly, as in Liminality I: the kitsch part [note: NSFW], and more seriously, in Liminality II: the serious part — where I discussed the behavior of the USS Topeka at the Equator as the Second Millennium CE turned in to the Third, and the curious tale of the demonic king Hiranyakasipu and his death at the hands of Narasimha, an avatar of Vishnu.

    A limen or threshold is always a “special place” set apart, and thus sacred and powerful in its own right — and the limen around a convent’s perimeter even more so. We’ve seen the extraordinary effort ISIS made very early on in their campaign to erase the limen between Iraq and Syria established no less determinedly by Sykes-Picot. And we know, too, that the central rite-of-passage by which a woman becomes a nun is a liminal rite (van Gennep, Victor Turner).

    Beware, be very aware of the liminal! Enjoy the security a hortus conclusus provides the pure in heart — but don’t abuse it!

    **

    Sources:

  • Wikipedia, hortus conclusus
  • Wikipedia, Narasimha
  • MercoPress, An Argentine ex-Kirchnerite official caught red-handed trying to hide bags of cash in a monastery
  • Sunday surprise: three entangled faiths

    Monday, June 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — two exhibits linking the Abrahamic faiths ]
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    For disciplinary as well as doctrinal purposes, the three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, Islam — are generally thought of separately — a separation which the two exhibitions this post revolves around are intended to bring into question.

    **

    One: Of gods and men: how Egypt was a crucible for multiple faiths

    For instance, there’s a “stele of Abraham” in the British Museum show from last autumn that is worth pondering:

    stele of Abraham

    The accompanying text tells us:

    On public display for the first time will be a gravestone, or stele, for a man called Abraham. “It commemorates someone with a Jewish name and yet it bears Christian symbols inside a classical frame next to the ankh symbol, the ancient Egyptian sign of life,” said O’Connell. “What is more, the engraving on it says he was ‘the perfected monk’ and is written in Coptic Egyptian.”

    More about the show:

    Curators at the London museum will use a series of items, many never put on public display before, to demonstrate the level of “entanglement” of religious symbols and rituals; with Egyptian emblems regularly appearing in classical Greek designs, depicting Jewish stories that were decorated with Christian crosses and Roman wreaths.

    “Over the last 10 or 15 years in scholarship, there has been growing interest across the disciplines in looking at the way religions interacted, rather than just in isolation,” said Elisabeth O’Connell, a keeper in the museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and the Sudan and a co-curator of the exhibition. “It is becoming clear that a lot of religious history has been founded on our modern distinctions simply being projected back.”

    Note in the next paragraph the use of the terms ” troublesome” and subversive”:

    Two hundred of these troublesome objects, many deliberately ignored by scholars in the past, have been gathered together to challenge the conventions of religious history. From architectural fragments, jewellery, paintings, gravestones and toys, to the paraphernalia of religious worship, they are all subversive evidence that faiths were once amalgamated in a way that was accepted by the ordinary people of Egypt, regardless of their birth-race or family’s religion.

    Those are the Guardian writer’s words — Vanessa Thorpe‘s — not the words of the curators, but it seems the exhibit is intended to emphasize the “melting pot” side of Egyptian religion across the millennium after the fall of the Pharaohs rather than the separations:

    “If you only take the work we have from Dioscorus of Aphrodito, it blows apart these distinctions,” said O’Connell. “He was a lawyer and poet, who lived in Egypt and wrote in Greek, although he was a Christian Copt.

    “He is a great example of what was going on widely, because he used biblical sources and also wrote Homeric verse, one of them dedicated to a man with a Christian name, Matthew.”

    **

    Much the same impulse appears to have been behind a British Library exhibit in 2007:

    Two: Sacred texts that reveal a common heritage

    For the first time, the oldest and most precious surviving texts of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths have gone on display side by side at the British Library. They include a tattered scrap of a Dead Sea Scroll and a Qur’an commissioned for a 14th-century Mongol ruler of modern Iran who was born a shaman, baptised a Christian, and converted first to Buddhism, then Sunni and finally Shia Islam.

    Here’s a two-page spread of that “Mosul Qur’an“:

    quran
    reduced image via the British Library

    The Guardian article continues:

    The exhibition also has some exotic private loans, including an embroidered 19th-century curtain which once covered the door of the Ka’bah, the shrine which is at the core of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, a hand embroidered Jewish bridal canopy – and a gold shalwar kameez worn by Jemima Goldsmith in 1995, when she married the former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan.

    Phew, pop-cultural enthusiasts will at least have had the shalwar kameez to give them comfort!

    More:

    Graham Shaw, the lead curator, said: “We were determined not to create faith zones, but to show these wonderful manuscripts side by side, and demonstrate how much we share – not least that these are three faiths founded on sacred texts, books of revelation.” Many exhibits are among the oldest of their kind, including a Qur’an made in Arabia within a century of Muhammad’s lifetime.

    The exhibition also shows how calligraphers and manuscript illuminators shared influences and styles. The microscopically detailed decorated capital letters of the Lindisfarne Gospels are echoed in Islamic and Jewish manuscripts, while Christian and Jewish texts borrowed Islamic-inspired decoration, so that a 14th century Qur’an and a translation of the gospels into Arabic are indistinguishable at a glance, and two 13th-century French texts, one Christian, one Jewish, use virtually identical images of King David.

    And this part tickled my fancy, and will surely find a place in my book on Coronation and Monarchy if it ever finds a publisher:

    A later psalter owned by Henry VIII outrageously uses his portrait as the great Jewish king – accompanied by Henry’s court jester, William Somer, beside a text which translates as “the fool says in his heart ‘there is no God'”.

    The wise fool Will Somer or Sommers wasn’t quite a member of Henry VIII’s Royal Family, but stands nearby, in the arch far right, in this detail from a family portrait of 1545 or thereabouts:

    detail Will Sommers Family_of_Henry_VIII_c_1545

    A terrible word, -splaining — and a not terribly nice thing

    Monday, May 9th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Rebecca Solnit and Donald Hall DoubleQuoted, with a touch of Mallory Ortberg ]
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    11a_Jean-Beraud-Scene-de-cafeJean Beraud, Scène de café, from Women Listening To Men In Western Art

    **

    I’d have called this piece Youngsplaining if it wasn’t such a terrible word. App-ocalypse, ape-ocalypse, and Apple-ocalypse all arose in response to my Google inquiry about -ocalypses, and I have to say it gets tiresome, especially for a student of apocalyptic — and much the same would be true of -splaining, so I won’t call it that, I’ll just let you know there’s a parallelism.

    It was Rebecca Solnit‘s essay Men Explain Things to Me that first hovered around the notion that was later named Mansplaining — a word I can tolderate — and the instance which captured the idea naked was one in which a man, all unknowing, tried to explain to Solnit the importance of one of her own books. It is by now a well-known anecdote, so if you already know it, you can skip it. It’s it’s twin that I want to get to.

    But in case you’ve not read it before:We were preparing to leave, when our host said, “No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you.” He was an imposing man who’d made a lot of money.

    He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, “So? I hear you’ve written a couple of books.”

    I replied, “Several, actually.”

    He said, in the way you encourage your friend’s seven-year-old to describe flute practice, “And what are they about?”

    They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

    He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”

    So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book–with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

    Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, with a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me, with my infinitely generous younger brother, with splendid friends of whom it could be said–like the Clerk in The Canterbury Tales I still remember from Mr. Pelen’s class on Chaucer–“gladly would he learn and gladly teach.” Still, there are these other men, too. So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

    But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless–for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we’ve never really stopped.

    **

    Okay, here’s the DoubleQuote part: the poet Donald Hall has another essay,Out the Window, in which he recounts a deligiously parallel experience:

    I go to Washington to receive the National Medal of Arts and arrive two days early to look at paintings. At the National Gallery of Art, Linda [Hall’s girlfriend] pushes me in a wheelchair from painting to painting. We stop by a Henry Moore carving. A museum guard, a man in his sixties with a small pepper-and-salt mustache, approaches us and helpfully tells us the name of the sculptor. I wrote a book about Moore and knew him well. Linda and I separately think of mentioning my connection but instantly suppress the notion — egotistic, and maybe embarrassing to the guard. A couple of hours later, we emerge from the cafeteria and see the same man, who asks Linda if she enjoyed her lunch. Then he bends over to address me, wags his finger, smiles a grotesque smile, and raises his voice to ask, “Did we have a nice din-din?”

    **

    To revert to “mansplaining” — it also involves woman listening, at least at first, though not necessarily with much enthusiasm –a fact deliciously illustrated by Mallory Ortberg in one of her Toast pieces, Women Listening To Men In Western Art History.

    Too funny, if you don’t mind my saying so.

    Carambolages, huzzah!

    Monday, March 14th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a brilliant new exhibition breaks the usual museum rules to provoke prodigious & repeated leaps of imagination ]
    .

    Carambolages Dominos

    **

    Cath Styles, whose Sembl games are closely related to my own HipBone variants on Hermann Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game, recently pointed me to an exhibition called Carambolages that opened recently at the Grand Palais, Galleries Nationales, 3, avenue du General Eisenhower, Paris.

    Strolling their website, I was struck by this double image, which in HipBone terms would be called a DoubleQuote, or a Sembl in Cath’s Sembl game:

    Carambolages
    (left) Sword, Kiribati, Micronesia Islands, Oceania, sd, Paris, Musée du Quai Branly
    (right) Bertrand Lavier, Black & Decker, 1998 collection Giuliana and Tommaso Setari

    It appears, indeed, that the exhibit in question features a Domino game of Sembls or DoubleQuotes —

    Fascinating — and definitely a notable step in the expanding history of bead game variants — which I view, among other things, as an art movement that has yet to be written up as such.

    Congratulations, Jean-Hubert Martin! The catalogue will no doubt be as close as I can get physically, but I’m all the way with you in spirit…

    Bonne idée, bon chance!


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