[ by Charles Cameron — the ability to recognize similarities across wide conceptual or memory distances is what Cindy Storer calls “magic” in analytic practice — here we examine it in terms of advertising ]
You could almost learn how to write poetry by watching the commercials on TV — or learn a bit more about how the ads themselves work.. come have some fun.
Consider rhyme for a moment. There’s a rhyme between the car that’s too small for comfort and the shoe that’s too tight to fit in this ad, and there’s an analogy between the larger, more comfortable — luxurious, even — car and the wide and comfortable — “like a luxury ride for my feet” — Skechers wide fit shoes that the ad is all about:
The rhyme here between today’s American fisherman and his Irish fisherman ancestor is stunning — and plausible. This, after all, is genetics, which is often said to rhyme from one generation to another:
And even when the analogy between an image and the product it’s supposed to resemble (“rhyme with”) is weak, making a successful rhyme between two such images is a delight in itself, and makes the weak rhyme seem plausible. Here, a two-thirds shaved dog rhymes with a two-thirds mowed lawn:
Allstate piles the rhymes on — drawing on powerful similarities between widely different parts of the country — in its brilliant Park Road / Street / Avenue commercial:
Here’s a beautiful rhyme between cement and sand — it’s not so great to find you’ve stepped unexpectedly in wet cement — but what a delight to feel sand on the beach between your toes!
Look, Exxon wants to make it’s industrial plants more closely resemble living, breathing, green plants: it’s not a bad idea, laudable really — but the rhyme is a bit of a stretch, eh?
One form of rhyme that’s worth noting falls under the heading of Opposites:
In this case, the equation would be something like blue plus red equals unbiased. I haven’t checked the product, but the math is clean, and the divide the ad bridges is very real and quite perilous for democracy:
So opposites can be powerful. But it’s worth considering, too, the mind-numbing effect of seeing opposing commercials:
That’s not the kind of opposition you want if you’re Roundup, but exactly the kind of opposition you seek if you’re the legal opposition!
Rhyming — twinning — as it’s dreamed up in the creative agencies of Madison Avenue, and no doubt Madison Wisconsin too, requires horizontal, associative thinking — thinking based on pattern recognition, thinking that makes creative leaps where similarities can be found in the midst of difference. Metaphors and analogies are woven of the same kind of thinking, rhyme in poetry, graphic match or match cut in enema, canon and fugue in music — and it’s the type of thinking my HipBone Games are designed to teach and practice, until they’re strong reflexes in your intellectual arsenal.
When readers or movie-goers, or just people watching commercials on TV, recognize patterns or rhymes — shaving a dog, then mowing a lawn, okay — it may elicit a chuckle the first time you see the ad, but you’re not sitting there to learn about dogs or lawns, or even Flonase unless you happen to need that kind of medicine. No, you’re there to see the next installment of the movie you’re watching, the next entertainment — which was almost certainly put together with less cash and care per minute or per frame than the commercials that slip into your mind almost subcutaneously.
And analogy — this type of analogical thinking — works. Analogy is the very heart of magic:
Do you have time for another example?
Here we have analogy across time, as we did in the case of the Donegal fisherman, but this time woven into the telling of a very simple short story: he wants a Heineken, looks in the fridge, no luck, goes out onto the street, flags down a cab, takes a short ride, steps down from his Hackney Carriage about a century earlier, and gets the Heineken he was looking for. Plus ça change!
The Heineken’s the same — the six-pack at the end is the essence of difference!
The human voice is the world’s most astonishing instrument, it’s often said. It’s capable of everything from a trill to a bark to an ear-splitting scream, from growling harmonics to liquid acrobatics, lofted on the breath like a lark on an updraft. Instrument is the wrong word, really. The voice is more like a chamber ensemble: winds and strings and blaring horns, strung together end to end. It’s a pump organ, a viola, an oboe, and the bell of a trumpet, each instrument passing the sound along to the next, adding volume and overtones at every step. Throw in the percussion of the lips and tongue, and the echoing amphitheatre of the skull, and you have a full orchestra playing inside you.
My aim in this post is to add that “full orchestra playing inside you” to that other internal polyphony of contrasting desires, identities, and emergent thoughts, and the external polyphony of all those voices with a stake in our common concerns, risk assessments and deliberations — which are constituent of our complex analytic topics.
The rest is context…
I’ve often talked about the notion that the analysis of complex human systems involves dealing with multiple stakeholder voices, also on occasion with the many internal voices within each individual, and suggested that music offers the clearest equivalent or analogy that humans successfully and repeatedly navigate. Specifically, the twin notions of polyphony — the sounding together of many voices — and more specifically counterpoint — the juxtaposition of conflicting voices and the possible resolution of their conflicts from dissonance to harmony in an iterative process — are clearly relevant to analytic practice, albeit drawing on a tradition that will seem wildly cross-disciplinary to many analysts.
Relevant here is Edward Said‘s definition of counterpoint:
In counterpoint a melody is always in the process of being repeated by one or another voice: the result is horizontal, rather than vertical, music. Any series of notes is thus capable of an infinite set of transformations, as the series (or melody or subject) is taken up first by one voice then by another, the voices always continuing to sound against, as well as with, all the others. Instead of the melody at the top being supported by a thicker harmonic mass beneath (as in largely vertical nineteenth century music), Bach’s contrapuntal music is regularly composed of several equal lines, sinuously interwoven, working themselves out according to stringent rules
In my view , which I have repeatedly expressed, Johann Sebastian Bach, the master of contrapuntal writing, is a significant exemplar for us at this time. And if it should be argued that musical methods cannot be transposed — another musical term — to matters of verbal thought, let me say that the great Bach pianist Glenn Gould towards the end of his life made specifically contrapuntal human voice radio plays for the Canadian Broadcasting Company..
the way he liked to have one AM and one FM station playing all the time in his apartment, one for news, the other for music; the way he could learn a score while talking on the phone; and the way he enjoyed eavesdropping on three or four conversations at the same time going on at neighbouring tables in the restaurants he haunted (Kostelanetz 1983: 127).
We can see here that Gould‘s basic thinking is in terms of multiple voices, often contrasting, in simultaneous awareness — Gould, Howes continues, spoke of counterpoint as “an explosion of simultaneous ideas”. As Gould puts it, Howes reports, when speaking of his radio programs for human voices:
The basis of it was that we tried to have situations arise cogently from within the framework of the program in which the two or three voices … [recorded previously in conversation with Gould, but with the latter’s voice edited out for the final version] … could be overlapped, in which they would be heard talking – simultaneously, but from different points of view – about the same subject. We also tried to treat these voices as though they belonged to characters in a play, though all the material was gained from interviews. It was documentary material, treated in a sense as drama (cited in Payzant 1982: 131).
This, then, is Gould‘s contrapuntal radio, and we can see Gould vividly transposing conytrapuntal imagination from the musical sphere to that of the varieties of human verbalization.
As not an aside but the re-introduction of a theme previously only hinted at, here is Arthur Koestler on the conceptual or creative leap:
A musical understanding of North requires re-thinking some traditional elements of music theory: harmony must take into consideration semantic content and shifting topic areas; form follows somewhat traditional musical structures (ternary, binary, etc.); and texture encompasses layering of literal voices and dispenses with traditional notions of melody. One must also consider the spatial component of tape composition, in which voices inhabit locations in a sound field. The later documentaries in the trilogy and the Leopold Stokowski and Pablo Casals tribute radio documentaries contribute to a more complete musical concept of contrapuntal radio — complex polyphonic textures, stereo sound, pitch-based harmonic content — the germ of contrapuntal radio was developed and actualized in North.
I’d like to take that lead, given us by the masterful pianist Glenn Gould, across into the field of analytic understanding — as a stream of analysis complementary and in counterpoint (for instance) to “big data” analytic tools — contrapuntal analysis characteristically working with a few, humanly-selected verbal utterances rather than data-points algorithmically-selected in the millions.
When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a symphony, there is something magnificently imposing about it. A very rich, also very tragic, also in many ways desperate history of extremes – opposites in the Hegelian sense – that is yet to receive its due. So what you are faced with is a kind of sublime grandeur of a series of tragedies, of losses, of sacrifices, of pain that would take the brain of a Bach to figure out. It would require the imagination of someone like Edmund Burke to fathom.
We see here the invocation of Bach in a context of geopolitical analysis — one paragraph in the life-work of Said, who was a music critic as well as a well-known Palestinian-American public intellectual.
That single paragraph — and Gould‘s clear understanding that contrapuntal thinking can be applied to the polyphony of human voices, not just in the musical sphere — prompts me to go further, and assert that complexity studies with application to the human condition and intelligence and geopolitical analysis will all, sooner or later, arrive at the practice of contrapuntal thinking as basic to their deeper purposes.
Refocusing at the national level, on Glenn Gould‘s native Canada:
I’ve mentioned the simultaneity of voices in social contexts such as listening, hearing and understanding the views and voices of multiple stakeholder. In similar vein, Howes suggests Gould‘s own taste for counterpoint stems from and reflects the Canadian Constitution:
Gould understood music to provide a model of society, and the performing artist, hence, to be performing society, as well as music. Along these lines, counterpoint, Gould’s preferred musical style, provides a specially apt model for comprehending the constitutional structure of the Canadian state. Gould’s interest in keeping the different voices of a fugue distinct, equal, and bound together parallels the concern of the Canadian state to keep the different parties to Confederation distinct, equal and bound together. In this difficult task, however, there is always a risk of overemphasizing or losing one of the voices. If Quebec is proclaimed “a distinct society” will that disturb the equality of the provinces (for surely all are distinct); if it is not, will that lead to the separation of Quebec and the break-up of Confederation? This bi-cultural counterpoint confronts Canadians daily, from the bilingual product information on their cereal boxes to the reports of English/French political jousting on the evening news.
Counterpoint, or in more general terms, polyphony, is non-dialectical, for it involves the interweaving of voices, of ideas, rather than the Hegelian process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Polyphony as social theory does not, therefore, entail the negation of any countervailing views the way, say, a dialectical social philosophy would. With polyphony, accommodation or peaceful co-presence takes the place of negation.
[ by Charles Cameron — i’ve always thought Suits and Spooks would be a great conference to attend, but finances & health have never quite permitted me.. ]
Over to you:
Jeffrey Carr has opened Suits and Spooks DC to government employees for a nominal $5 donation to some mutual support group. So I raise my cup to toast him for an excellent response to the shutdown, and am passing his message along to any Zenpundit readers who may be interested:
[ by Charles Cameron — or the curious relevance of the tanakh or old testament today ]
I’m half-serious, and that’s an approximation, but not an understatement:
Samson , upper panel above, was a rough-hewn fellow — my own name, Charles Cameron, means Rough-fellow Broken-nose, so I’m not putting him down — who slew a lion and returned later to take honey from the bees that had gathered in the carcass. He was hirsute to say the least, but the lovely Delilah got a fellow to snip his locks and his masculine rough-hewn ferocity fell away.. warrior no more.
Same thing, approximately, with Andrew Johnson, lower panel, a dreaded — in both senses — high school wrestler from New Jersey. I don’t think the image in the lower panel is entirely fair to the young woman doing the snipping, because she probably wasn’t the one giving the order — but then Delilah in the upper panel gave the order, but wasn’t the one with the razor — he would come later once Samson has fallen further for her charms and wiles. Which were considerable.
That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man. And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand. And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.
[ by Charles Cameron — continuing the series, with a choice gobbet of Updike ]
from Meet the Press, 10/21/2018
I continue to find the close reading of metaphors an invaluable analytic tool, and one that is also of interest to me personally, for writerly, poetic purposes. I’ve expanded my search from its original focus on games — specifically including sports, theater, war games &c as metaphors for politics — to cover something I’ll characterize as fine writing — giving me the ability to note and quote across a wider range of topics and usages.
My last post in the series ran to 18 comments, each one containing a couple of dozen or so instances of metaphor or fine writing, and I don’t expect my expanded search criteria to expand my actual collection — if anything I hope to cut back in favor of writing other things. But when MSNBC’s Meet the Press splashes a great End Game banner on my screen, as it did today, see above, I still won’t be able to resist.
On the subject of fine writing, though, how’s this?
Dorothy Dotto, thirty-eight, happily married for nineteen years, the mother of three, a member of the Methodist Church, the Grange, and the Ladies’ Auxiliary. She lives, and has lived all her life, in the town of Elm Corners, somewhere in the Corn Belt; as a child, she won seven consecutive pins for perfect Sunday school attendance, and she graduated with good grades from a public school where the remarkable truthfulness of George Washington and the durable axioms of Benjamin Franklin were often invoked. Her father, Jesse, who is retired but still alive (bless him), for forty years kept above his desk at the feed mill a sign declaring, “Honesty Is the Best Policy.”
That’s John Updike, describing “the unimaginably tactful and delicate process whereby the housewife next door was transmogrified into a paid cheat” in what in retrospect looks like a major turning point in the American psyche — the loss of innocence that occurred when it was revealed that many hundreds of Dorothy Dottos had been suborned into a grand cheating system in what’s now known as the 1950s quiz show scandals:
The American quiz show scandals of the 1950s were a series of revelations that contestants of several popular television quiz shows were secretly given assistance by the show’s producers to arrange the outcome of an ostensibly fair competition. The quiz show scandals were driven by a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons included the drive for financial gain, the willingness of contestants to “play along” with the assistance, and the lack of then-current regulations prohibiting the rigging of game shows.
Back to Updike:
Now, as we remember the flavor and ethos of that innocent era, we realize that the contestants, aside from their freakish passion for Hittite history or skeet-shooting statistics, were meant to be us — you and me and the bright boy next door. This was America answering. This was the mental wealth behind the faces you saw in a walk around the block.
Okay, game shows, in addition to Updike’s undoubtedly fine writing, that’s a game reference. But a loss of American innocence? That’s not nothing. That’s something worth pondering..
In fact, a loss of innocence is fundamentally a loss of the default assumption of trust — and isn’t it precisely the loss of trust that leads to all those conspiracist theories of a mysterious “They” who run “our” world, Skull and Bones, the Bohemian Club, No Such Agency, whoever — and the ensuing distrust of and between political paetiues, leading us eventually to today’s:
And how’s that for a delicious paradox? The United States are now Divided as to whether they’re divided or united — with divided in the majority..
Okay, loss of innocence, let alone loss of virginity, may be strong language to describe the impact of those 1950s quiz show scandals on the American psyche — but something broke, a ratchet slipped, and perhaps we haven’t been quite the same since.
In any case, I’ll be collecting my usual snippets and gobbets of this and that — often sports, politics, war or strategy related, but also just plain curious or fine stuff — here in the comments section. And oh, btw, I’ve been misspelling gobbet as gobbit for years hereabout: forgive me, it’s spelt (spelled?) with an e, and means a chunk, primarily of meat or writing — no Gandalfian echo intended.
Ad now, as my friend David Ronfeldt would say, Onwards!
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.