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Poetry is dead vs the death penalty for poetry?

Monday, November 30th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — current affairs, target practice, and incarnation ]


Palestinian poet and painter Ahraf Fayadh is currently under a death sentence in Saudi Arabia.

It appears important to recognize the full human significance of one’s target


Flaubert apparently pronounced poetry dead in his posthumous opus, Bouvard et Pécuchet, 1881, and even Newsweek had noted the fact — “filed under: News” — by 2003. Neither Flaubert nor Newsweek, however, was reckoning on the long-standing Arab enthusiasm for poetry, nicely illustrated to this day by the seriousness with which the authorities treat their poets.



and while we’re on the subject of targeting..

it may also be wise to recognize the full divine significance of one’s target.

Islamic State, Etat Chrétien

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — breaking news, and I hope it stays broken ]

Here’s the breaking news in French, followed by my comments, then back to the document in question:


There’s a symmetry to the names, Etat Chrétien and Islamic State — and a considerable asymmetry as to the size of the two groups — but here we have my (poor) translation of the Etat Chrétien’s message to a mosque in Molenbeek, Belgium — a Brussels municipality much in the news recently:

In the name of Christ our Lord!
Tremble, Muslim that you are!
The Christian State will avenge our brothers fallen in various attacks!
No mosque and no business of yours will be sheltered!
Your brothers will be slaughtered like pigs and crucified as our Lord was in order to convert their souls!

I’m not clear on whether the import of that last line is that the EC will slaughter and crucify Muslims to convert their souls, or that Christ was crucified to convert their souls. Either way, for those who claim to be Christians to crucify anyone under any circumstances seems a seriously aberrational act in light of what was done to Christ himself.

Crucifying others is not the Imitatio Christi.

It’s as if these people want to prove that the propaganda narrative of IS, AQ and the rest is right, and Christianity truly is at war with Islam — which in itself is a gift to IS propaganda and recruitment.

The asymmetry I mentioned, BTW, is pretty much evened out by the old saw phrased by the RAND corporation thus: Terrorists Have to Be Lucky Once; Targets, Every Time. In the present case, both sides are terrorists, and each only has to be lucky once.


I’m ashamed of my rusty French skills — in case yours are better, here’s the missive:


An illustrated page from Lao Tzu

Monday, November 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the street is almost certainly in Paris – photo by Charbonneau ]

SPEC DQ windows books

On the events in Paris, Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — contrasting the ideal with “this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world” ]

A few weeks back I read a piece by Rod Dreher around the concept of a Benedict Option recently, and liked it well enough that it sits in a special folder I have labeled 3 Major Papers, waiting for me to find the time to write it up in detail, offering my own suggested buttresses and side chapels to Dreher’s overall quasi-monastic structure. The Option itself derives from a paragraph in Alasdair MacIntyre‘s book, After Virtue:

What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers? they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another — doubtless very different — St Benedict.


Here’s my koan, as of yesterday, hearing the news of the multiple attacks in Paris and following Twitter to peer and pierce as best I could through the immediate fog towards the kernel of the matter. It takes the form of two tweets, the second in response to the first:



My immediate reaction, dismayed at Dreher’s tweet, is to agree with Laura Seay‘s response. And I’m far from alone in this, as a glance at some other responses to Dreher easily confirms:



So that’s the koan, the paradox — and that’s the way I lean on it.

Except that Dreher in a piece titled Refugees & the Paris Attacks, wrote again, today, and made some points that tip me towards the other side of the koan / coin:

Hesepe, a village of 2,500 that comprises one district of the small town of Bramsche in the state of Lower Saxony, is now hosting some 4,000 asylumseekers, making it a symbol of Germany’s refugee crisis. Locals are still showing a great willingness to help, but the sheer number of refugees is testing them. The German states have reported some 409,000 new arrivals between Sept. 5 and Oct. 15 — more than ever before in a comparable time period — though it remains unclear how many of those include people who have been registered twice.

Six weeks after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s historic decision to open Germany’s borders, there is a shortage of basic supplies in many places in this prosperous nation. Cots, portable housing containers and chemical toilets are largely sold out. There is a shortage of German teachers, social workers and administrative judges. Authorities in many towns are worried about the approaching winter, because thousands of asylum-seekers are still sleeping in tents.

The contrast between the ideal and the real couldn’t be greater: God’s in his heaven — and the devil is in the details.


As for that “pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world” — WB Yeats in his poem, Blood and the Moon is describing Bishop Berkeley:

                                                      that proved all things a dream,
That this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world, its farrow that so solid seem,
Must vanish on the instant if the mind but change its theme…

It amuses me that when I look the phrase “pragmatical pig” up to make sure I quote it accurately, Google wants to correct it to “pragmatic pig” — doesn’t that massive AI know its Yeats well enough at least to have caught on to his marvelous catch-phrase?


More on Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option as time permits and place allows..

DoubleQuoting the French Revolution

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — I was thinking of France yesterday, writing this in a happier mood before the evening’s news broke — up next, and tricky to write, a first response to the Paris outrage ]



One of the great pleasures of my work on DoubleQuotes and the HipBone and Sembl Games is the discovery of earlier analogues to what I’m doing. My purpose, after all, is to take a common human cognitive practice and formalize it, thus sharpening it from a somewhat haphazard activity into a tool, a practice.

We have all had the thought, “and that reminds me” — it crops up without any special prompting whenever something happening in current time calls up the memory of something similar experienced in the past, and our store of memories is pretty significant. On that last point, the great American poet Robert Frost once said:

Scholars and artists thrown together are often annoyed at the puzzle of where they differ. Both work from knowledge? but I suspect they differ most importantly in the way their knowledge is come by. Scholars get theirs with conscientious thoroughness along projected lines of logic? poets theirs cavalierly and as it happens in and out of books. They stick to nothing deliberately, but let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields.

Thyat’s from Frost’s essay, The Figure A Poem Makes, and it’s fascinating to me how much of that essay seems to apply not just to poems but equally to DoubleQuotes, HipBone and Sembl. Frost continues:

Knowledge of the second kind is much more available in the wild free ways of wit and art. A schoolboy may be defined as one who can tell you what he knows in the order in which he learned it. The artist must value himself as he snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order with not so much as a ligature clinging to it of the old place where it was organic.

I’d remembered Frost’s remark about knowledge sticking to people “like burrs where they walk in the fields” because it’s the most concise statement I know that explains the extraordinary amount of knowledge, in the sense of available-if-required-memory, that each and every human, not just the university-credentialed kind, acquires across a lifetime — some people know gang colors, tats, and graffiti, or sexual hanky code as others know Herodotus and Ibn Khaldun, or the different colored scarves of the Oxford colleges.

I don’t believe that I’d read Frost’s whole essay before today, although I may have — but you can see how closely his artist who “snatches a thing from some previous order in time and space into a new order” corresponds with my basic cognitive motion of DoubleQuotes as described it above, when “something happening in current time calls up the memory of something similar experienced in the past” and its qualifying remark, “without any special prompting”!

GMTA, or just GTA — thought, or theft? Who knows.


One other quote from Frost’s essay amplifies the unexpected nature of a single HipBone or DoubleQuotes play:

For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew.

The passage continues, extending Frost’s description of the poem from a single initial linkage to the sort of web of linkages that characterize HipBone and Sembl games:

There is a glad recognition of the long lost and the rest follows. Step by step the wonder of unexpected supply keeps growing. The impressions most useful to my purpose seem always those I was unaware of and so made no note of at the time when taken, and the conclusion is come to that like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may Want to strike a line of purpose across it for somewhere.


The natural response to the sequence from crown to guillotine at the head of this post is found in the motto “the king is dead; long live the king”. The sentiment is best known in French, as these two books attest:

chateaubriand monardhie republicaine

The Vicomte Chateaubriand was a monarchist. Charbonneau and Guimier speak of a “republican monarchy” — “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, perhaps?

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