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On the orthogonality of rabbit and duck

Monday, February 1st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a brief comic digression about them and us ]
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Generally, we’re stuck with this:

It is a good one, I’ll admit.

I’m inclined, however, to agree with this analysis on occasion:

What I hadn’t realized, though, is that the theriomorphic rabbit and duck divinities in question are orthogonally related:

Very clever!

**

Two sides to every coin, two hands for every koan?

DoubleTakes

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — on juxtaposition as a force-multiplier in the war of ideas ]
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Two potent examples of what I term DoubleQuotes in the Wild:

DefenseOne‘s ‘Call of Jihad’: ISIS Turns to Video Games, Hollywood to Reach Recruits is worth reading as a side-bar to Thomas Hegghammer‘s highly significant (and contested) Wilkinson Memorial Lecture, Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants.

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There’s a glib phrase about a picture being worth a thousand words, which given the quality of writing these days on the web may not be saying much about pictures — my point here is that two pictures can be worth a whole lot more than (twice) one — and the same goes for appositely juxtaposed verbal quotes.

Apposite juxtaposition, IOW, is a force-multiplier in the war of ideas.

Red mercury as scam and symbol

Friday, November 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — CJ Chivers, nuclear nonsense, faux chemistry, and the alchemical imagination, with hat-tip to Cheryl Rofer ]
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CJ Chivers, conflict journalist extraordinaire and author of a book about the Kalashnikov assault rifle, The Gun, today posted a remarkable account of what he terms The Doomsday Scam, with the subtitle “For decades, aspiring bomb makers — including ISIS — have desperately tried to get their hands on a lethal substance called red mercury. There’s a reason that they never have.”

A taste:

The Islamic State, he said, was shopping for red mercury.

Abu Omar knew what this meant. Red mercury — precious and rare, exceptionally dangerous and exorbitantly expensive, its properties unmatched by any compound known to science — was the stuff of doomsday daydreams. According to well-traveled tales of its potency, when detonated in combination with conventional high explosives, red mercury could create the city-flattening blast of a nuclear bomb. In another application, a famous nuclear scientist once suggested it could be used as a component in a neutron bomb small enough to fit in a sandwich-size paper bag.

and:

To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world. This is all the more remarkable given the broad agreement among nonproliferation specialists that red mercury, at least as a chemical compound with explosive pop, does not exist.

Indeed, there’s a sidebar in Chivers’ post which sums the topic up nicely:

The shadowy weaponeer’s little helper, red mercury was the unobtainium of the post-Soviet world.

There’s much more, of course — with red mercury rumored to be found in old Singer sewing machines, which briefly raised the price of such machines in Saudi Arabia a thousandfold to $50,000 — and the whole extraordinary piece is more than worthy of your attention. It is also about a concrete, if counter-factual, reading of the term “red mercury.”

Cinnabar, aka mercury sulphide, anyone?

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A centuries-old debate concerning alchemy has concerned the literal and metaphorical interpretations of alchemical texts.

Scholars up to and including Isaac Newton theorized about and practiced alchemy in their aptly named lab-oratories, at a time when literal and metaphorical “readings” were much less easily considered separately than is the case today. Alchemy was then for a while widely ridiculed as proto- and indeed pseudo-science — a tendency still prevalent in many circles today. And more recently, alchemy has been explored by Carl Jung and followers (and his predecessor, Silberer) as a field of imaginative, metaphorical inquiry illuminating spirituality, psychology and literature.

  • BJT Dobbs, The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy
  • BJT Dobbs, The Janus Faces of Genius
  • Herbert Silberer, Problems of Mysticism and its Symbolism
  • CG Jung, Psychology and Alchemy
  • CG Jung, Alchemical Studies
  • CG Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis
  • Marie-Louise von Franz, Aurora Consurgens
  • Titus Burckhardt, Alchemy
  • Jung’s reading of alchemical texts is a symbolic reading — in accordance with the principle “the stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone” (Psalm 118.22, cf Acts 411), he has taken precisely those materials in the alchemical tradition which modern chemistry rejected as ridiculous, and reclaimed them as symbolic, richly metaphorical expressions of psychological truth.

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    It is in that spirit that I turned from Chivers’ fascinating treatment of “red mercury” as an allegedly physical, albeit spurious, substance, with its intriguing narratives of scams from the Cold War to the present day and IS, to take a look at what I might find via a brief search in the Jungian literature. I say “quick” because I have neither the appropriate library nor the time for a more intensive search, but here’s what little I found:

    There’s a “red mercury” reference in Stanton Marlan, The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness, on p. 22:

    The idea is that the raw solar energy must darken and undergo a mortificatio process that reduces it to its prime matter. Only then can the creative energies produce a purified product. In this image the sperm of gold refers not to the ordinary seminal fluid of man but rather to “a semi-material principle,” or aura seminales, the fertile potentiality that prepares the Sun for the sacred marriage with his counterpart, darkness, which is thought to produce a philosophical child or stone and is nourished by the mercurial blood that flows from the wounding encounter of the Lion and the Sun. The blood — called red mercury — is considered a great solvent.

    Marlan then gives us what is effectively a translation of the paragraph above into contemporary therapeutic language:

    Psychologically, there is nourishment in wounding. When psychological blood flows, it can dissolve hardened defenses. This then can be the beginning of true productivity. In dreams the imagery of blood often connotes moments when real feeling and change are possible. The theme of the wound can also suggest a hidden innocence, which is also a subject of mortification. The green color of the lion, which is referred to as “green gold,” suggests something that is immature, unripe, or innocent, as well as growth and fertility. The alchemist imagined this innocence, sometimes called virgin’s milk, as a primary condition, something without Earth and not yet blackened. Typical virgin-milk fantasies are often maintained emotionally in otherwise intellectually sophisticated and developed people.

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    And then there’s what Jung would term synchronicity..

  • CG Jung & Wolfgang Pauli, The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche
  • In my twitter stream within 3 minutes of my posting my first tweet re Chivers’ piece, & before I’d tweeted my follow up, I ran across this tweet containing the phrase “Drawing Blood will eat the sun”:

    Drawing Blood will eat the sun — just how synchronistically alchemical can Molly Crabapple and Twitter get?

    Must Beethoven really roll over?

    Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away ]
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    I’m more than a little proud of these two tweets from my nephew, the conductor Daniel Harding, who was in Japan at the time of the March 2011 quake:

    SPEC Daniel Harding Tokyo quake

    I remembered them today while reading Anna Goldsworthy‘s The Lost Art of Listening — subtitled Has classical music become irrelevant?

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    Goldsworthy’s central theme is this:

    Reports of the death of classical music are not new. There are those who have made a career out of eulogising it, such as the English journalist Norman Lebrecht, who has written the same book on the subject several times; the late pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen quipped that “the death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition”. Classical music has absorbed a number of deaths already – the death of patronage, of the composer-virtuoso, of tonality. Clearly it is made of stern stuff, but can it survive the death of its audience?

    It was this sentence, however, that reminded me so vividly of Daniel’s tweets:

    Might there be a concert a few decades hence in which – God willing – my trio is still performing, but only to an audience of one? And if that listener were to perish mid performance, would we keep playing?

    **

    I’m wondering whether Goldsworthy’s question — Has classical music become irrelevant? — may not parallel a similar concern about poetry.

    Language shifts. Eliot caught it nicely:

                                      Words strain,
    Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
    Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
    Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
    Will not stay still.

    The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has announced its plan to “provide translated texts in contemporary modern English as performable companion pieces for Shakespeare’s original texts..” The OSF comments:

    We have asked the writers to limit their efforts to updating the more antiquated language in the plays. Shakespeare’s works are all written in modern English; it’s just that in the last 400 years, many of the words, phrases and references have fallen out of use. So our focus is squarely on translating this antiquated language to increase understanding, while maintaining the vibrancy of the original.

    So there you have it: Shakespeare’s works are all written in modern English; it’s just that..

    And so the wheel turns.

    **

    When I was researching 4chan clues to the recent Umpqa shooting, I had to avail myself of the Urban Dictionary to learn the meanings of such terms as sperg out, pepe, normie, edgelord

    Edgelord:

    A poster on an Internet forum, (particularly 4chan) who expresses opinions which are either strongly nihilistic, (“life has no meaning,” or Tyler Durden’s special snowflake speech from the film Fight Club being probably the two main examples) or contain references to Hitler, Nazism, fascism, or other taboo topics which are deliberately intended to shock or offend readers

    — and there isn’t even a definition for libcucks as yet. Hey, I’m an Ancient. It’s what happens to the young.

    So I get the feeling Shakespeare may have now reached the point of obscurity that Chaucer had reached in 1951, when I was yet a child and Penguin published Neville Coghill‘s verse translation of The Canterbury Tales.

    **

    One of many notable comments in Goldsworthy’s piece was this:

    In 1942 starving musicians performed Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in Leningrad while the city was under siege. The musicians were given an hour-long ovation, and the concert was broadcast to German forces as a form of psychological warfare.

    Pablo Neruda, Andrei Voznesensky: I’ve seen it suggested that poetry has urgency — and the large audiences to prove it — in those times and places where poets also risk imprisonment, perhaps torture, and even death.

    Irina Ratushinskaya described her writing habits while in the Soviet Gulag:

    In defiant prose, she tells of her refusal to cower in the camp “like a frightened mouse.” Determined to continue writing poetry, she would scratch verses onto bars of soap with the burnt end of a matchstick. One poem described “the first beauty which I saw in this captivity: a window in the frost!” Another confided: “We live stubbornly/like a small beast who’s gnawed off his paw/ to get out of a trap on three.” After memorizing her words she would wash the evidence away. Later she copied the poems, in minute handwriting, onto four-centimeter—wide strips of cigarette paper and smuggled them out to Igor, who passed them on to Western journalists. “All poets should have such a school,” she says now, with a laugh. “It taught me to be very spare and concise.”

    **

    Daniel’s tweets:

  • Daniel Harding, Wonderful atmosphere on strangest of days
  • Daniel Harding, Would have played just for the 69 year old
  • Oregon Shakespeare Festival announcements:

  • News Release, OSF Launches Three-Year Shakespeare Translation Commissioning Project
  • Play On FAQ, 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare
  • Next year, Daniel takes up the post of music director of the Orchestre de Paris.

    Paintful humor in wake of Ankara bombing

    Thursday, October 15th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — in which 359 turns out to be just a degree closer to zero than 358 is ]
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    For those Zenpundit readers no more fluent in Turkish than I am, Acting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu‘s interview above was reported by Today’s Zaman:

    During the interview on Wednesday night Davutoglu also commented on the Ankara bombings on Saturday which left nearly 100 people dead in a suspected Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attack. “There is a 360-degree, not 180 degrees, difference between the Islam we defend and daesh has in its mind,” the acting prime minister said in an apparent gaffe that sparked a series of tweets mocking his statements which meant the government and ISIL are on the same page on their interpretation of Islam. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIL.

    “Davutoglu said there is a 360-degree difference between ISIL and them. They would sue others who would say that,” academic Koray Çaliskan said.

    “Professor Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a closed disc has 360 degrees,” Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Cem Toker tweeted, recalling that Davutoglu is a professor.

    **

    Today’s Zaman also quoted the “famous Turkish geometry teacher” whose classes on YouTube have garnered him an impressive following, Mustafa Mete Ekolan aka Ekol Hoca. Ekol tweeted the following graphic illustration today:

    **

    It’s worth noting that Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bulent Kenes was released pending trial today. A fine legal point made by his defense lawyer:

    Gunaydin said in the petition to the court there is no crime in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) for “sending tweets.”


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