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Turner and Touchstone

Friday, August 8th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Shakespeare and the Shakespearean professor on argumentation and lies, then and now ]
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Frederick Turner, left, Peter Frechette as Touchstone, Oregon Shakespeare festival 2012, right

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Touchstone, in As You Like It, Act V scene 4:

Touchstone: I did dislike the cut of a certain courtier’s beard: he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut well, he was in the mind it was: this is called the Retort Courteous. If I sent him word again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would send me word, he cut it to please himself: this is called the Quip Modest. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he disabled my judgment: this is called the Reply Churlish. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would answer, I spake not true: this is called the Reproof Valiant. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would say I lied: this is called the Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: and so to the Lie Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.

JAQUES: And how oft did you say his beard was not well cut?

TOUCHSTONE: I durst go no further than the Lie Circumstantial, nor he durst not give me the Lie Direct; and so we measured swords and parted.

JAQUES: Can you nominate in order now the degrees of the lie?

TOUCHSTONE: O sir, we quarrel in print, by the book, as you have books for good manners. I will name you the degrees: the first, “the retort courteous”; the second, “the quip modest”; the third, “the reply churlish”; the fourth, “the reproof valiant”; the fifth, “the countercheque quarrelsome”; the sixth, “the lie with circumstance”; the seventh, “the lie direct.” All these you may avoid but the lie direct, and you may avoid that, too, with an “if.” I knew when seven justices could not take up a quarrel, but when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an “if,” as: “If you said so, then I said so.” And they shook hands and swore brothers. Your “if” is the only peacemaker: much virtue in “if.”

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Friend, poet, and Founders Professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas, Dallas, Frederick Turner, blogging yesterday:

I’m turning into a sort of connoisseur of lies: the lofty legalistic generalizations of Israeli politicians that skate over the ugly facts of what they are doing, the blatant lies of the terrorists that actually are a kind of boasting, the slick imitations of pious responsible journalism by the toadying Russian press, the amateurish version in the Ukrainian press (where little islands of truth poke up naively amongst the garbage), the self-serving lies of the Gaza street, which cooperates in putting its children in the line of fire to make propaganda, the deliberate promulgation of conspiracy theories by the middle eastern intelligentsia, the systematic murderous lying of Hamas where lying is a consistent policy even when it does not serve their interest (the general damage done to reason and logic is worth a bit of friendly fire), the uttermost lie to oneself that has been committed by the suicide bomber, the cowardly lies of nations like the US who are too afraid to be of any help, the sanctimonious lies of the religious Jews in the Settlements who are exempt from military duty, the convenient masquerade of measured responsible policy in European nations that are addicted to Russian and Arab oil, the two-faced bland lies of the Arab nations that would be happy to see Israel do their dirty work for them, the malignant lies of the Jew-haters and the Arab-haters, the half-truths and prevarications of the diplomats, the shocked hypocrisy of the highbrow press, the “moral equivalence” lie by apologists for the terrorists and separatists… The only people who are not lying, it sometimes seems, are the most evil of all–the jihadis of ISIS, which is sincerely committed to bringing about hell on earth and doesn’t care who knows it.

Really a merry cavalcade. But they are shitting on something that I love and honor, which is language, the sacred material of poetry.

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Baghdad to Samarra: “you are entering a hot zone”

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- life not quite as subtle as art, but echoing it nevertheless ]
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Poignant photo of refugees sleeping in Samarra's Askariya mosque -- credit Bryan Denton for the NYT

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Alissa Rubin, writing in yesterday’s NYT under the title On the Road to Samarra, Glimpses of Iraq’s New Fractured Reality, offers a realistic description of the road between the two cities:

About 20 miles beyond the northern gates of Baghdad, on the way to the embattled city of Samarra, site of one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines, the road empties out as if some invisible barrier has been passed.

From this point on boundaries are constantly shifting, with the Iraqi government’s control extending only a little beyond the side of the road, and sometimes not even there.

The 75-mile drive from Baghdad to Samarra plunges the traveler into Iraq’s precarious new reality. It is a world of Shiite militias, where many of the men carrying arms on behalf of the government have only the most tenuous ties to the Iraqi security forces. And it is a world where Sunni militants, who advanced to within 50 miles of Baghdad in their initial burst last month before their drive stalled, often are no more than a mile or so away.

Travelers must read signs that would be invisible to a newcomer: Flags and uniforms signal safety or danger.

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I can’t help but remember Somerset Maugham‘s account of that same distance, metaphysically measured, as quoted by John O’Hara:

Death speaks:

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

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Connecting dots: Luther learns découpage from Bowie

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- from a British TV cop via teh glitter-glam rocker & William Burroughs -- a helpful analytic technique and its pre-history ]
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You take your learnings where you find them. DCI Luther (in the BBC cop show, series 1 episode 4) has a great many data points — in this case, photos and maps.

He arranges them in a circle around his chair, squats, studies them, rearranges them. DS Ripley comes in…

For your convenience, here’s the exchange:

DS Ripley: What’s all this?
DCI Luther: Découpage, a cut-up technique. Take a bit of text, cut it up, randomise it, make new text, see new patterns.
DS Ripley: Where’d you learn this?
DCI Luther: David Bowie — it’s how he wrote his lyrics.
DS Ripley: Are you a fan?
DCI Luther: Don’t I look like a fan?
DS Ripley: What, of songs about, like, aliens and that?
DCI Luther: Well, there’s a bit more to him than aliens. I’ll make you a tape.

Randomize, to see new patterns.

Once again, it’s a near-instinctive move, but one worth sharpening into a tool. Take it out of the zone of tacit knowledge and bring it into the explicit.

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Novelist William Burroughs learned the cut-up technique from that jack-of-all-arts, Bryon Gysin.

Interviewer: How did you become interested in the cut-up technique?

Wm Burroughs: A friend, Brion Gysin, an American poet and painter, who has lived in Europe for thirty years, was, as far as I know, the first to create cut-ups. His cut-up poem, Minutes to Go, was broadcast by the BBC and later published in a pamphlet. I was in Paris in the summer of 1960; this was after the publication there of Naked Lunch. I became interested in the possibilities of this technique, and I began experimenting myself. Of course, when you think of it, The Waste Land was the first great cut-up collage, and Tristan Tzara had done a bit along the same lines. Dos Passos used the same idea in ‘The Camera Eye’ sequences in USA. I felt I had been working toward the same goal; thus it was a major revelation to me when I actually saw it being done.

Bowie borrowed the cut-up from Burroughs and Gysin — glitter from the avant garde:

Burroughs had a technique that would enable Bowie to renew his entire method of writing lyrics and making music. During the early 1960s, Burroughs and his colleague, the painter and writer Brion Gysin, had developed the cut-up as a method of visual and verbal reassembly that was equally applicable to painting, montaged artworks, calligraphy, tape manipulation and the word. It offered, in fact, a whole new way of seeing.

Having read Burroughs’ cut-up novel Nova Express to prepare for the interview, Bowie applied the technique to the words and sound of his next album, the darkly dystopian Diamond Dogs – a fusion of Burroughs and George Orwell. The cut-up, as he admitted later, perfectly suited his own fragmented consciousness, and also enabled him to cut through the tangle of expectation and image that threatened to slow him down. It sped everything up.

Here’s Bowie:

You take your learnings where you find them.

Randomize, to see new patterns.

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Sources:

  • Luther
  • How did you become interested
  • Burroughs had a technique
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    Today’s DoubleQuotes 2: mine own

    Sunday, May 4th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- smart guns and science fiction, transubstantiation, AE van Vogt, Frank Herbert, and PK Dick ]
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    Many of my books are in storage at the moment, so I’m borrowing from a review to interest you in A. E. van Vogt‘s book The Weapon Shops of Isher if you don’t already know it. It’s pretty timely.

    It’s curious, too, that The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt should happen to concern grand political themes like dictatorship, an imperial cult, government theft of private property, the suppression of dissent, and gun ownership. Being science fiction, it also includes time travel, and invisibility suits, and doorknobs that reach out to, and weapons that jump into, the right people’s hands.

    The lower panel, above, shows science fiction becoming science fact — the controversial prototype of the Armatix iP1 .22-caliber smart gun

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    Here are the two key texts for the fiction and the fact, in the form of a second DoubleQuote — first the fiction, then the 2014 fact:

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    Putting together the DoubleQuotes with the van Vogt cover threw me through a loop, because I could swear I remembered something about Frank Herbert‘s Dune having a cover that was “borrowed” for use on another book, as though all non-earth planets were the same. After some searching, I realized that it wasn’t this cover that matched the cover of Dune, but a cover used on PK Dick‘s Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich — so here’s that DQ, showing events on Arrakis (Dune) and (presumably) Mars (Three Stigmata):

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    My personal reasons for interest in these three books, beyond the fact that each is splendid?

  • The Weapons Shops: the idea of guns that can only be used in self defence is interesting
  • Dune: deals with a Mahdi and questions of jihad
  • The Three Stigmata: makes a comparison between transubstantiation & altered states
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    Shoma Choudhury talks to the CIA & Taliban, more or less

    Thursday, April 10th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- two talks from India's THiNK2013 conference, one about the Taliban and US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the other a tale of India / Pakistan Partition ]
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    Here, Indian journalist Shoma Choudhury interviews Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, one time Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and author of the book, My Life with the Taliban, and Robert Grenier, CIA station chief in Islamabad in 2001 and later Director of the Agency’s Counterterrorist Center, during the THiNK2013 conference held at the Grand Hyatt in Goa, in a session titled An Afghan Date: The CIA Talks To The Taliban on November 9th, 2013:

    I haven’t found a reference to this event in the New York Times or Washington Post, and the video of the event has been viewed less than 1,250 times — so I hope that if any Zenpundit readers have in fact already viewed it, they will forgive me for posting it here. It seems to me to be a remarkable conversation, not least because of Choudhury’s skillful moderation.

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    I only know about this conversation because blog-friend Omar Ali pointed me to the video of a reading of Saadat Hasan Manto‘s account of Partition in his satirical short story, Toba Tek Singh at the same conference. The reader is the actor Naseeruddin Shah whom I admire enormously for his stunning performance as “the common man” in Neeraj Pandey‘s A Wednesday — the story is told as written in Manto’s Urdu, with a principal character who “mutters or shouts a mix of Punjabi, Urdu and English” — and most of an English language translation is provided for those like myself who need it, by means of projected background slides.

    But that voice, Naseeruddin Shah’s voice!

    You can read Toba Tek Singh in Frances Pritchett‘s translation here.

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    If these two presentations are anything to go by, the THiNK conference series may be what TED talks could and should have been…

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