zenpundit.com » graphical thinking

Archive for the ‘graphical thinking’ Category

An amazing parallelogram of a paragraph

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — or if not, a single sentence paragraph about politics that Levi-Strauss would have loved to diagram, plus Yikes ]
.

Orin Kerr, writing in WaPo today for the Volokh Conspiracy, in a piece titled If I understand the history correctly… wrote:

If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.

Yikes.

**

I’ve provided the full text of the piece so you’ll get the links Prof. Kerr included.

What interests me here, though, is the elegant concision of the piece, with its four parallels and various antitheses or oppositions.

Consider:

It begins with a frame:

If I understand the history correctly,

It then offers its prime example of an errant politician:

in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair

followed by its reversal, as the antagonist takes on the protagonist’s role:

by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair

followed by a third exemplar of political purity, his ascent to power aborted under parallel circumstances:

who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair,

and a fourth, parallel both by succession and similarity of (alleged) conduct:

which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.

— with the frame closing on the one-word paragraph:

Yikes.

**

Between the careful formality of “If I understand the history correctly” and the squeal of “Yikes” we see the distance this recital of, yes, historical events has taken our good professor: from mind to emotion, observation to morality, head to heart.

Bravo!

And the (non-partisan) moral of this story is?

In Brief: Azzam illustrates Levi-Strauss on Mythologiques

Friday, March 6th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the geometry of two miracle stories from Abdullah Azzam ]
.

SPEC DQ Azzam honey & vinegar

These two tales are taken from Abdullah Azzam, Signs of ar-Rahman in the Jihad of Afghanistan.

**

Binary oppositions seem to be basic to the human thought process, and this simple, elegant observation has in turn given rise to a number of interesting philosopphical explorations, some of which are expressed perhaps most powerully in diagrams. I am thinking here of the medieval square of opposition — as in this diagram taken from Georg Reisch, Margarita Phylosophica tractans de omni genere scibili, Basel 1517:

square_of_opposition SEMBL

Algirdas Greimas developed his semiotic square from this medieval diagram —

greimas_semiotic_square

— and defines his square as the “visual representation of the logical articulation of any category”. In his “Towards a Theory of Modalities”, Greimas writes:

the terms manifestation vs. immanence .. can be compared profitably with the categories surface vs. deep in linguistics, manifest vs. latent in psychoanalysis, phenomenal vs. noumenal in philosophy, etc.

Then there’s Levi-Strauss and his triangle, essentially a variant on the same idea, applied by LS in his magnificent 4-volume Mythologiques to a wide range of myths — here’s the basic triangle for the first volume, The Raw and the Cooked:

LS culinary_triangle

**

What Reisch, Greimas and Levi-Strauss are all doing lies in its own distinct area of “visual thinking” at the confluence of logic, algebra, geometry and conceptual graphs — the same area my own DoubleQuotes and the HipBone and Sembl games are found in.

When people think about narrative — and it is or should be as hot a topic in strategy and counterterrorism as it is in myth, story-telling, film and their various related forms of criticism — they tend to think linearly, from beginning to end, noting the emotional expansions and contractions, the narrative shifts, the crescendos before the climax and its resolution.

My own style of thinking leans more to the atemporal or synchronic, which in turn is closer to the logical-algebraic-geometric-graphical mode of visual expression. Thus, for me, the “myth of Narcissus” is not a story-line but a geometry, a narrative formulation of the concept of reflection, or “bouncing back”. To adapt the Levi-Strauss triangle to the Narcissus narrative, then, we have:

Reflection triangle

while the two Azzam miracle tales in my DoubleQuote at the top of this post give us:

Azzam triangle

This in turn can become a square if we allow the four coordinates to be wine (intoxicant, bad), water (sobriety, good), vinegar (sour, bad) and honey (sweet, good). We notice here that water (sobriety, good) is the fourth which hovers unmentioned over the twin tales, just as Jung argued the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin into heaven was the “fourth” which “completed” — nb, this is from a psychological perspective — the celestial Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It remains for Jalaluddin Rumi to transcend the duality of the halal (sobriety) and the haram (intoxication) in his praise of his master, Shams of Tabriz:

In Shams al-Din-i Tabrizi you will discover a heart which is at once intoxicated and very sober.

**

In what sense or senses are Azzam’s two tales two, and in what sense are they one and the same?

Sources & suggested further readings include:

  • The Raw and the Cooked: Mythologiques, Volume 1
  • Anthropology for Beginners
  • Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences
  • The Dual and the Real
  • Semiotics for Beginners
  • Semiotics and Language
  • Visual Memory (handbags!)
  • Punctualization: Law and Greimas
  • Square of Opposition
  • Visualizing knowledge
  • Signs of Ar-Rahman
  • Mystical Poems of Rumi
  • Of morale and angels, Kiev and Ragnarok

    Saturday, January 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — not to mention crushing Khomeini, lubing your M16, and that Afghan powerpoint ]
    .

    Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

    Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

    **

    In my previous post, Of morale, angels and Spartans, I raised the question of how our increasingly visual and graphical age could visually represent morale. I noted that the Muslims outfought a larger force at the Battle of Badr, and that the Qur’an suggests that this was because thousands of “angels, ranks on ranks” fought alongside them.

    Dave Schuler suggested the Archangel Michael — which sent me all over in search of a suitable representation. The icon above, by Andrei Rublev, is the most profound and beautiful work I was able to find, but hardly serves our purpose.

    I ran across a politically explicit comntemporary image in which the Archangel wears Airborne insignia:

    Archangel-Michael--airborne

    — but it was this image from the Maidan in Kiev that came closes to the sense of military power in angelic form —

    Archangel Michael Kiev Maidan

    — although I’m not sure that military power or prowess is necessarily the same as morale or esprit de corps…

    **

    Synchronistically — or coinidentally, as sceptics would say — Justin Erik Halldór Smith headed his blog post Ragnarök on the Seine today with an image of Peter Nicolai Arbo‘s Wild Hunt, or Aasgaardreien. Here’s a detail:

    Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt detail

    And here’s “the big picture”:

    Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt 602

    That’s probably closer to “amok” than to “esprit de corps” — although the relationship between them is worth pondering.

    **

    I’m still not convinced that contemporary minds will “get” morale from any graphic image yet devised.. I can’t help remembering the M-16 manual I picked up one day at a library sale or flea market, titled The M16A1 Rifle: Operation and Preventive Maintenance:

    Treat your rifle like a lady

    My guess, however, is that we’ll wind up with something closer to this:

    Powerpoint for McChrystal

    **

    Image sources:

  • Andrei Rublev, icon of Archangel Michael
  • Archangel Michael, Especial Forces graphic
  • Sculpture, Archangel Michael, Kiev
  • Peter Nicolai Arbo, Aasgaardreien
  • M16 manual, DA Pam 750-30
  • Powerpoint, Afghanistan Stability
  • The photo of the Kiev St Michael is by Mstyslav Chernov, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 license
  • Of morale, angels and Spartans

    Saturday, January 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — how sky differs from heaven, and what that means for morale and jihad ]
    .

    SPEC Badr & Spartans

    **

    Okay, that Spartans / Battle of Badr DoubleQuote above is just a teaser, locating us in the general zone of morale..

    What I’d really like to offer you here is another Badr-related DoubleQuote, of which the first part comes from Shadi Hamid, speaking about half way through the Charlie Rose show, A conversation about Islam and politics with Reza Aslan, Will McCants, Michael Hanna and Shadi Hamid, which aired on the 14th of this month (full video at the bottom of this post). He said:

    We have to take religion seriously, but I worry sometimes, if we focus too much on religion we forget that there’s a political context. That if we want to understand the rise of Isis we can’t understand that without looking at the political vacuum that emerged in Syria. That didn’t happen by itself; there’s a series of policy decisions from the international community that helped contribute to the rise of ISIS.

    So I guess the interesting question then is, How does religion interact with these political factors. So we have to bring those different variables into focus and I think we lose some of that, we lose that complexity if we’re just saying Islam is the problem. On the other hand, though .. these terrorists and extremists, they believe that what they’re doing, they’re going to be granted direct entry into Paradise, and that inspiration, motivation, is a very powerful thing that we shouldn’t underestimate. And ideology in this sense is a sort of force multiplier on the battlefield.

    All of that seems relevant to me, but it’s his next few phrases I want to DoubleQuote (upper panel, below):

    SPEC DQ Shadi Hamid & Quran

    And whereas Hamid’s explanation, as befits a Brookings Fellow refers to a belief about Paradise, the Qur’an, as befits sacred scripture, treats the world as though it is thronged not with beliefs but with angels..

    **

    The comparison and contrast between our conntemporary, post-Enlightenment view of “the sky” (in which birds, planes, helicopters, missiles and drones may be found, but no angels, jinn, apsarases or faeries) and that of the world’s various scriptural and mythological “heavens” (in which helicopters and parachutes are generally absent, though angels, demons, gandharvas, apsarases and the rest abound) is one that has long fascinated me — but the two are usually kept distinct. Albrecht Durer will show you angels and demons just above the rural countryside in “heaven” — but you won’t find them in military aviations journals..

    It is against that background that I find this piece of artwork about the Ghazwa e-Hind so interesting — it appears to envision both “sky” with its various planes and parachutist (most of the planes a little dated, alas), and “heaven” with its celestial cavalry, occupying the same visual space:

    Great Ghazwa Sky meets Heaven

    **

    All this leads me to the question — which would seem to become ever more urgent as we move from textual to visually enhanced modes of communication —

    How does one graphically depict morale or esprit de corps?

    That’s my question for the day.

    ** ** **

    Here, for those who would like to view it in its entirety, is the Charlie Rose show from which Shadi Hamid’s quote above was taken:

    Paris, a DoubleQuote in cartoon form

    Friday, January 9th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — in partial reply to Jeff Sharlet ]
    .

    I’m not a great lover of cartoons as a form, to be honest, all too often there’s exaggeration for malicious effect in the genre, which isn’t my way of doing things — but this DoubleQuote in cartoon form struck me as apposite for the insight it brings — that our media are under siege by those who would bully them into silence, not in two isolated ways, but in two ways that together constitute a sort of wave-front.

    One “leading indicator” — one unconnected “dot” — leads nowhere. Two indicators — two dots — give us a possible connection, a pattern to be alert for.

    Or in this case, against.


    Switch to our mobile site