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The remaking of angels, their rank and sweep

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — on, i suppose, the uphill slog or seduction of genius — or a very different take on complexity? ]
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Paul Klee‘s Angelus Novus — described by the Verso writer Stuart Jeffries as “this goofy, eternally hovering angel with hair that looks like paper scrolls, aerodynamically hopeless wings and googly if rather melancholy eyes”:

was admired and bought for a thousand marks by Walter Benjamin, and moved with him from one lodging to the next until her fled Germany and the onrushing Nazis. It is also:

Benjamin’s most famous image, in the 1940 “Theses on the Philosophy of History”: the “angel of history” who is blown backward into the future by the storm of progress.

or to quote Benjamin himself:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

**

At a time after Darwin, Marx and Freud have dissolved the basics of fundamentalism, and before the likes of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the brilliant Christopher Hitchens proclaimed “the new atheism” in an easily-won contest with that same low, popular religiosity — all but ignoring the retreat of angels from Renaissance tryptich to Hallmark Card — we might do well to carry the God-NoBoDaddy debate up an octave, and consider the possibility that once angels have been more or less erased from modern western consciousness, they may, as in a palimpsest, reappear in new-old guises..

**

Principally, I think here of Rilke‘s angels in the Duino Elegies:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.

Ah!

Rilke told one of his translators that she should not make the mistake of understanding the angel referred to in the elegies as a Christian angel. To the contrary, this angel was quite distinctly drawn from an Islamic tradition. Rilke writes that in the months before his trip to Duino, he had traveled in Spain and had been consumed with reading the Qu’ran and a book on the life of the Prophet Mohammed. It seems fairly clear that this occurred under the influence of his friend Lou Andreas-Salomé, whose husband, Friedrich Carl Andreas, was a leading scholar of Islamic culture in the Russian Empire, particularly including Naqshibandiyya.

**

Let Rilke have traveled next to India or China, the apsarases and gandharvas of Hinduism and Buddhism might have affected him, with their sensuality, their song, their dance..

**

But while gandharvas and apsarases capture us by their powers of seduction — in some ways like the houris of Islamic paradise — with Rilke’s angels, drawing no less on the Old Testament than on the Qur’an, our surrender is to elemental force:

I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

**

Constantly greater beings, with which we may if we are spiritually fortunate, wrestle — these are Rilke‘s angels, and they fill the gap in the once-dominant Great Chain of Being paradigm, on a rung above human usualness, demanding, promising, skirmishing, delivering…

To be carried in the arms of an apsara, to be swept by the gale-force storm of an angel, these are human experiences of the transhuman kind, and we need words for them, both forgetful of any surrounding dogma and delighting in their strength as imagery — gandharvas and angels named as such, and constantly revivified by the poetic imagination.

Klee, Benjamin, Rilke, but also Jacob wrestling with — who? a man, angel, God? — and becoming IsraelGiotto, Fra Angelico, Michelangelo who wrestled form from Carrera marble, Dogen Zenji for whom mountains were the sages into whom, living among them, he blended.. Kalidasa with his yakshas in Cloud Messenger and perhaps supremely in the gandharva marriage in his Shakuntala..

Isaac becoming Israel, Shakuntala the mother of Bharata.. Of such are sacred nations born.

**

Yet this world is wide and deep, the beings above us multitudinous, and the humans touched by them more than a single mind can comprehend. And:

The problem of god is a problem in ballistics, Icarus discovered this,
that to shoot for the sun is to fall short of it, those who shoot
for beauty achieve prettiness, there is a gravity in aesthetics as there is
in physics, and theology too has its fall, the problem of god being
that the mind falls short of what is huge enough to conceive it, give
conception whatever relevant definition you choose, too vast
to think of, give birth to it — no, no, mind has sheer cliffs of fall, and
to shoot for a conception of god is full speed ahead to fall, fail ..

I bow, salute, prostrate, pranam, bow gassho.

Of Note: Tim Furnish, & Trump’s National CT Strategy

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — and a few ppl whose views on trump’s strategy document I’d also like to read ]
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  • Tim Furnish, Trump’s New Counter-terrorism Strategy: The One-Eyed Man is Still King
  • Trump, 2018, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Obama, 2011, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Tim Furnish, Sectsploitation: How to Win Hearts and Minds in the Islamic World
  • **

    I wanted to draw your attention to our blog-friend and sometime contributor Tim Furnish‘s post, which offers a lucid introduction to the Trump administration’s National CT Strategy paper, situating it in contrast to the Obama admin’s version, and linking it to a very helpful breakdown of what we might call (remembering William James, but in mostly lower case) the varieties of Islamic experience.

    Let me just say that from my POV:

    1) Tim Furnish has a way superior understanding of the said varieties than John Bolton ever will have — plus he has a taste for pop culture asides!

    2) that the key issue to be further explored could be expressed in terms of the overlaps, Venn diagram-wise, between “literalist”, “mainstream” and “authentic” Islams.

    That’s a project I’ve been circling for more than a decade, and the closer I get, the more subtleties arise to be considered. Still circling in..

    Thomas Hegghammer, JM Berger, Leah Farrall, Adam Elkus, Will McCants and John Horgan are others whose varied voices and opinions regaarding the new CT Strategy text I’ll be watching for.

    **

    Tim’s essay and associated matters: Warmly recommended.

    Zen — pray chime in.

    Duel and duet? I dunno.

    Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — includes a rationale for my recurring arts orbits on Zenpundit, a strategy site ]
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    Conflict:

    Stop, Do Not Go On, from The Gospel At Colonus.

    Oedipus — played here by Clarence Fountain and the Blind Boys from Alabama — although accursed, has been promised an eventual resting place to which he will bring blessings, and is accordingly attempting to enter Colonus — resisted by the good people there — represented by Sam Butler and the Soul Stirrers — on the grounds that he is Oedipus, who killed his father and slept with his mother, a man accursed..

    **

    Love in union and separation:

    So very different from the battle of the bands above, yet such a close twin..

    Etta James & Dr.John (Dr John the Night Tripper) sing and enact I’d Rather Go Blind — a love song of great beauty and cruelty.. (he’ll never leave, he’s walking away)..

    There, that’s the music.

    **

    Now, strategy and conflict:

    Strategy has to do with the navigation of conflict, and since this blog is concerned with strategy, and our lives for that matter with the navigation of conflict, I try to remember strategy and conflict even during my flights (or fugues) into glass bead games, music and poetry — so that I may stray far from our central theme, but as with certain comets, always return on an elliptical orbit, no matter how extended.

    My sense that forms such as parallelism (rhyme, fugue or canon) and the ouroboros serpent (infinity symbol, paradox) are markers (when found in analytic materials) of likely analytical significance is also tied in with OSINT work — although the patterns themselves extend across the cultural, anthropological, psychological, historical, religious and artistic realms. It is in this spirit, which I seldom spell out, but which guides my writings here, that I offer the above pairing of musical events, each of them theatrical, dealing with human relations in conflict and in love respectively, one with an overt clash over territory, the other with love in its two phases of union and separation.

    It seems, in any case, that some at least of Zenpundit‘s original hard core strategists, as well as those whose interest was equally or more in creativity, which we at ZP “minor” in — and which is relevant as per Adm. Stavridis, Safranski and others to keeping strategic thinking cutting edge — have been kind enough to follow along with some or all of my eccentric orbiting, and I thank them / you.

    **

    Enjoy, Fcamer, but also ponder.. Or should I say, Ponder, then –but hey, also enjoy!

    Solstice greetings

    Friday, June 22nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — season’s greetings on the northern hemisphere’s longest day .. ]
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    While the last rays of today’s sun are sinking off the coast of California to the west of me, here’s the crucial shot of that same sun’s dawn rays rising at Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain, UK:

    **

    Behind the thin crust of modernity our Neolithic past remains, and behind the Great Britain of Empire, the Industrial Revolution and Blake‘s Satanic Mills, stands Albion — the UK’s spiritual potential and true form. Stonehenge is thus the spiritual heart beating behind all the rubble that remains as Brexit crumbles both Britain and itself into nonsense, failure and ruin..

    On this auspicious, longest day, we wish Zenpundit readers and our world renewed good fortune this difficult year..

    On negative space in the painting..

    Monday, May 7th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — where might mist be the opposite of tree? ]
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    When I heard the words “negative space in the painting” on MSNBC a couple of days ago I was intrigued — was this an unanticipated art program? Terrific! Next thought: the use of negative space is particularly noted in Japanese art:

    In Japanese, ma, the word for space, suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place .. the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision.

    Here’s Wiki’s visual exmple:


    .

    The Pine Trees screen is a pair of six-panel folding screens by the Japanese artist Hasegawa Tohaku. .. The screens are held by the Tokyo National Museum, and were designated as a National Treasure of Japan in 1952.

    The ink-on-paper work depicts a view of Japanese pine trees in the mist, with parts of the trees visible and parts obscured, illustrating the Zen Buddhist concept of ma and evoking the Japanese wabi aesthetic of rustic simplicity.

    Japanese classical aesthetics are subtle where Western modern aesthetics are obvious, deep where their Western cousins tend to the superficial, and while I wouldn’t care to elaborate on the definitions of ma and wabi, I don’t think “rustic simplicity” catches much of the resonance of wabi, and the phrase “Zen Buddhist concept” is on the clumsy side IMO — well, however.

    **

    DT Suzuki‘s Zen and Japanese Culture was among my early purchaases as a young Oxford scholar with book money and BH Blackwell’s to plunder — and ma and wabi, along with sabi and yugen, rasa and raga, duende, lachrimae and mutabilitie — are among the art-induced mind-&-heart-states I’ve long found of impassioned interest.

    For what “negative space” referred to on MSNBC, see the second post in this series of three..


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