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Let’s get metaphysical — a quick sequence of tweets

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — From Elkus to Furnish, Tolkien to Feynman, — too tired to write, not tired enough to sleep — ripe for the twitter feed ]

The occasion of mirth:


Adam Elkus identifies the zone:

The mirth:




Meanwhile, Tim Furnish was there ahead of time, defending Tolkien & attacking IS:

And now let’s get back to those laws of physics:

Peter Jackson’s Cinematic Defecation on the Tolkien Estate

Monday, December 30th, 2013

[Mark safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Bilbo cowering at the approach of Smaug’s henchmen,  Darth Vader and Magneto

My review of the first Hobbit movie was blistering.

The second Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug, is such a travesty, I lack sufficient words to describe it. It makes the first movie look like a faithful adaptation. Most of the plot consists of Jackson’s own inventions to stretch out a filler of a movie [ SPOILER ALERT]

In a nod to trendy issues dear to the heart of American liberal feminist ideologues, he has added the she-elf superhero Tauriel, Captain of King Thranduil’s guards. She is the GI Jane of the Wood-elven kingdom with a soft spot for the forbidden love of Dwarven suitors

Legolas (or rather Prince Legolas) is injected into the film. He has an unrequited crush on Tauriel that wastes some screen time, but his combat power far exceeds what he demonstrated in Lord of the Rings at Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith. He is a combination of Hawkeye and Wolverine, except more dangerous. Really, the implication of this film is that an elf army should have no trouble marching from here to Mordor, storm the Dark Tower and kick Sauron in the keister. The Terminator was less lethal than an angry Legolas..

The Orcs have their own operationally impressive SEAL Team Bolg, able to invade enchanted Elven fortresses or Lake Town – though once in combat they all have the same life expectancy as Stormtroopers with similarly inexhaustible numbers.

While the hapless dwarves need to be repeatedly saved by she-elves and Bilbo, once in Erebor they can swing from huge chains, outmaneuver dragons and operate massive machinery despite leaving a bunch of dwarves back in Lake Town

Bard the Bowman, political activist – because supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses

Bilbo inexplicably takes off his Ring and becomes visible to Smaug even though Smaug has indicated he will kill him and then, of course, he does not.

Gandalf battles Sauron (!)

And so on…..

The film is visually impressive and probably works for everyone who has never read the book or who likes fan fiction mash-ups but it left me with the impression of Jackson as a petulant, spoiled child taking pleasure in each ridiculous change to J.R.R. Tolkien’s story he could shoehorn in across three movies

Stereocognition, intelligence and the movies

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — Zero Dark Thirty & Manhunt, fact and fiction, that old saw about who it is that gets to write history, thence onwards to theology & the arts, von Balthasar & Tolkien, winding up watching UK & US versions of House of Cards with son David ]

How’s this for stereoscopy?


You may know I’m preoccupied with the notion of extending the stereo concept — using twin sources to add a depth dimension to one’s perception — from stereophonic audition and stereoscopic vision to stereocognition more generally.

Nada Bakos‘ image above shows a cinema in which documentary and fictional versions of the story of the hunt for bin Laden are playing simultaneously. The fiction, Kathryn Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty, I saw a couple of days ago, and neither I nor son Emlyn, 17, were terribly enthused: the Camp Chapman scene was the one that touched me most deeply.

I’ll no doubt want to see both films, but it’s Greg Barker’s documentary, Manhunter, that will interest me the most, the more factual of the two. And yet that’s curious in and of itself, because as a poet I’m usually interested in the mythic and imaginative as much as or more than the “merely” factual, and I tend to think of the movies as providing a mythology for our times.

Okay, let me give you the two quotes that get to the heart of my sensibilities about fact and fiction at the movies.

What, after all, happens in a movie theater after the lights dim and the curtain rises? F Scott Fitzgerald tells us what happens in the mogul’s screening room, but it’s the same with us peons, isn’t it?

Dreams hung in fragments at the far end of the room, suffered analysis, passed — to be dreamed in crowds or else discarded.

And I’m also with the poet Kathleen Raine, who said:

Myth, when a real event may be the enactment of a myth, is the truth of the fact and not the other way around…

So where does that leave me?

Right now, it leaves me feeling that in the case of these two filmic treatments of the same “true story” — and no doubt many others — history will likely be “written” by the entertainment makers, not the documentarists. Paradoxically, a sad thought.

But let’s go beyond that.


I said I’m preoccupied with the notion of using twin sources to add a depth dimension to perception — from stereophonic audition and stereoscopic vision to stereocognition more generally. Another way to say that is that I’m interested in figuring out how to think contrapuntally, and how to score contrapuntal thought — thought which holds two or more potentially conflicting concepts in mind simultaneously, so as to arrive at a deeper understanding than one perspective alone can provide…

I’ve talked about these modes of stereoscopic / contrapuntal cognition before, in posts such as Form is insight: a musical experiment and Silent reading, silent thinking, bifocal glasses, and I’m always delighted when I run across a new very bright thinker (Glenn Gould, Edward Said [Power, Politics, and Culture p. 447}, Wm Blake) playing with these ideas — today it’s the late theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Truth Is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, who speaks of “the entire polyphony of revelation”, suggests that:

In his revelation, God performs a symphony, and it is impossible to say which is richer: the seamless genius of his composition or the polyphonous orchestra of Creation that he has prepared to play it

and states that “Even eternal Truth itself is symphonic.” The only stronger statement I know of concerning the contrapuntal nature of the world from within the Catholic tradition is JRR Tolkien‘s extraordinary short masterpiece of a creation myth, The Music of the Ainur [scroll down at link], with which he begins the Silmarillion.

So the contrapuntal idea is present in theology, as well as the arts…


Stereoscopy, counterpoint.

I’ve been watching the TV series, House of Cards, with my fourteen-year old, David — we’ve now seen the whole first series of the UK version together, and the beginning of the US version, and it’s fascinating to notice the differences.

Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey):

Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson):

See both shows, form your own conclusions…

And their source?

Now I shall have to watch Richard III with David, too.

Rabbis, Islam & End of Days II, also 2013 Mahdism Update, II

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — continuing my updating of Mahdist issues, also surprising parallels and oppositions ]

By the time you’ve learned the various signs of the times — pre-, mid- and post-trib rapture dispensationalist, preterist, Mormon, I dunno, ecological, Sunni, Shiite — the list, like Tolkien‘s Road, goes ever on — who’s on which side, and who might be somebody else’s something — you may feel as confused as I do.


The very first sentence of Tim Furnish‘s book, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden — which I may never tire of quoting — reads:

One man’s messiah is another man’s heretic.

I was rereading the amazing section on the Gharqad tree in Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg‘s book, The Road to Martyrs Square, the other day, and noticed on p. 21 yet another intriguing variant on Furnish’s point:

Even before the intifada, the figure of the Dajjal was equated by many Islamists with the Jewish Moshiach, the Messiah, as when the highly influential Pakistani Islamist Malauna Maududi claimed in the 1960s that “the stage has been set for the emergence of the Dajjal who, as was foretold by the Holy Prophet (PBUH), will rise as a ‘Promised Messiah’ of the Jews.” By the late intifada, the equation was commonplace in the West Bank and Gaza. When the Lubavitcher Hasidim in the early 1990s began to refer to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson as the Messiah, the claim had considerable effect on Palestinian Islamists. Some actually began to include Schneerson on their list of False Prophets, referring to him as “the Antichrist Liar.”


Compare this, however, with the Muslim Harun Yahya‘s willingness to declare his expectation of the King Messiah / Moshiach in the screen-cap below. Yahya is presumably referring to the same salvific end-times figure he elsewhere refers to as the Mahdi.

Here we have the reverse possibility to the one Furnish points to — it certainly looks as though here, one man’s Messiah is another man’s Mahdi. On one of his websites, King-Messiah.com, Yahya makes the identification of these figures from two traditions explicit:

And “King Messiah” is a particularly interesting phrase for Yahya to use — among other things, it’s the term some followers of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Schneerson use to describe their rebbe.


As I pointed out two days ago in Expecting the unexpected: Rabbis, Islam, and the End of Days, there’s a whole lot going on here, and it takes patience to tease all the strands out…

One of these days I’ll have to put together an extended list of messiah / mahdi correspondences — and prophet / false prophet and christ / antichrist correspondences between competing eschatologies, too, both within specific religions and across them.

I suspect Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was thinking along similar lines to Yahya when he wrote the paragraph I quoted towards the end of The Messianic Mahdist Moebius strip — or maybe Maze?:

The Mahdi is not an embodiment of the Islamic belief but he is also the symbol of an aspiration cherished by mankind irrespective of its divergent religious doctrines. He is also the crystallization of an instructive inspiration through which all people, regardless of their religious affiliations, have learnt to await a day when heavenly missions, with all their implications, will achieve their final goal and the tiring march of humanity across history will culminate satisfactory in peace and tranquility. This consciousness of the expected future has not been confined to those who believe in the supernatural phenomenon but has also been reflected in the ideologies and cult which totally deny the existence of what is imperceptible. For example, the dialectical materialism which interprets history on the basis of contradiction believes that a day will come when all contradictions will disappear and complete peace and tranquility will prevail.

The Iranian scholar Muhammad Ali Shumali, whom I also quoted, said much the same:

Imam Mahdi is not a saviour for [just] the Shias. Imam Mahdi is a saviour for all mankind…


Parallels and oppositions…

My language here will probably not be precise enough for mathematicians or logicians — but isn’t the thing that most closely resembles another thing its exact opposite?

And to give this already twisty rope yet another twirl… not in terms of apocalyptic, but of Jewish / Muslim relations more generally…

Here’s Pastor John Hagee — the preacher who was so far right that Sen. John McCain rejected his endorsement in the 2008 presidential campaign — talking with Rabbi Daniel Lapin about Muslims being blessed, and how their five-times-daily prayers are particularly listened to by God:

These unpredictable “outlier” nuances and their attendant shocks and surprises are ongoing…


The “signs” graphic at the head of this post is from a post titled Preparing for the Second Coming on LDS Why? — you can download their answers for teens in Chapter 12 of the book The Big Picture. It begins:

Imagine it’s a bright and sunny afternoon, and as you drive down the road with your parents you look up and notice that the sky looks different than normal. The clouds are luminescent, bright, and heavenly. Suddenly, without warning, the sky seemingly bursts open and the veil between heaven and earth is split. Trumpets start sounding from the sky, and you see above you the most glorious being your mind could ever conceive of descending out of heaven and touching down on earth — Jesus Christ in all His glory…

That’s a sign that might be hard to miss…

The Person / Position Paradox: once more, with avatars

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — a follow up to my previous post — and it’s not religion that’s the alternate reality this time, but games ]


I just posted a long and potentially contentious post about what I called a person / position paradox: that of the member of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and chairman of the US House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Rep. Paul Broun MD (R-GA), who said recently:

that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell…

And he meant it.


Well, while I was writing that post, this little gem (above) crossed my bows (ht Paxsims) — so perhaps you’ll permit me to poke a little fun at a member of the other US political party.

It seems that Colleen Lachowicz, Democratic candidate for the Maine State Semnate, is also Santiaga, Orc Assassination Rogue in the game-world, World of Warcraft.

Questions arising:

Does that make her more representative or less?
what about the fact that she plays at level 68?
is that a representative level to play at?
and an Orc Assassination Rogue? really?
or is she just a candidate who happens to be a gamer?

The image above comes from the Maine GOP, btw.


To look at this minor contretemps from another angle: how far are we from religion, here in the land of Orcs?

The great literary critic Northrop Frye in his Anatomy of Criticism writes of:

great art using popular forms, as Shakespeare does in his last period, or as the Bible does when it ends with a fairy tale about a damsel in distress, a hero killing dragons, a wicked witch, and a wonderful city glittering with jewels.

Frye is not knocking Revelation here, though one might at first think he is: he’s assigning it to a literary genre, as one might assign the Psalms to poetry, Kings and Chronicles to history, or the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles to biography. The Epistles, after all, are already classified as epistolary works. And — give the man a break — he’s also placing it in the same realm of great art as Shakespeare.

How far, then, do you suppose CS LewisNarnia — or Tolkien‘s Middle Earth, with its Elven folk Firstborn of the Children of Ilúvatar — might be from the World where Colleen is an Orc?


How much room can we concede to imagination in our “real world”?

And Dante‘s voyage took him through the three realms of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, didn’t it, and according to the Apostles Creed, Christ’s Harrowing of Hell took place between his death and resurrection.

So my next question would be:

When will we build and play the games of Paradise?

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