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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:


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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..

For Jim Gant, On the Resurrection, 04

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — in thre “expansive” phase of this exploration ]
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In her mysteriously beautiful detective procedural set in a Québécois monastery, The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, Louise Penny arrives, about midway through her tale, at this sentence:

When Frère Mathieu brings out his bomb, the abbot brings out his pipe. One weapon is figurative, and the other isn’t.

I’m riveted.

**

Because the phrase “One .. is figurative, and the other isn’t” is like a koan for me — a nut that if I could crack it would also explain such deep mysteries as:

  • “This is my body .. this is my blood” — one interpretation of “body & blood” is figurative, while the other isn’t? and:
  • “he died ..and on the third day he rose again” — one death is figurative, and the other isn’t?
  • Resurrection as myth, resurrection as history?

    **

    You might think I’m being fanciful, but just yesterday the Comey notes became accessible, and we find this exchange between the FBI Director and the President:

    The President then wrapped up our conversation by returning to the issue of finding leakers. I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message. He replied by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail. “They spend a few days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.” I laughed as I walked to the door Reince Priebus had opened.

    I trust Comey‘s “head on a pike” is figurative, and it sounds like the other — Trump‘s “putting reporters in jail” — isn’t.

    The thing about language is that it’s polyvalent, polysemous –and that inherent ambiguity is seldom more significant than when making or interpreting threats, scriptures, or poems.

    **

    So I could take this post in the direction of a discussion of the ruthless politics of Washingtom, the Kremlin, Pyongyang, Baghdad, and or Beijing..

    Or into the exegesis of the Eucharist, Resurrection, Adamic Creation stories. In matters Biblical, the question “one reading fictitious, while the other, literal, isn’t?” more or less covers the major theological division of our times..

    On this, see the Catholic Catechism (115-117) for a more Dantesque elucidation:

  • The senses of Scripture

  • According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.
  • The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”
  • The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.
  • The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.
  • The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.
  • The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.
  • Two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual — one is figurative, like Frère Mathieu’s bomb in Ms Penny’s novel, while the other, like the abbot’s lead pipe, isn’t?

    The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith?

    Or all this might take another turn, with a morph into poetry..

    **

    Or history. Here’s another phrase that’s “riveting” for, I think, the same reason as that phrase “One weapon is figurative, and the other isn’t”:

    Pamphlets were both a cause and a tool of violence.

    A “cause .. of violence” — it t (a pamphlet) incites it. And “a tool of violence” — it’s (at least figuratively) a bludgeon in itself. Hm. I hope that makes sense.

    In any case, I’ve got my eye out for other examples that neatly juxtapose word and deed, as though words aren’t deeds — “speech acts” as the philosophers say. What I’m getting at, eventually, is the nature of sacrament — “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” — which is deeply tied up with simile, metaphor, and metamorphosis — “this is my body .. this is my blood”.

    And that quote about pamphlets? Its from a fascinating New Yorker piece, How We Solved Fake News the First Time by Stephen March, which compares fake news on the internet today with fake news in the time of the pamphleteers, and contains this remarkably “ancient and modern” observation:

    There is nothing more congruent to the nourishment of division in a State or Commonwealth, then diversity of Rumours mixt with Falsity and Scandalisme; nothing more prejudicial to a Kingdome, then to have the divisions thereof known to an enemy.

    So, -ismes were already infesting the language like kudzu grass — mixed simile? — back in 1642. And an enemy? Think Putin, ne?

    On which playful note, drawn from seven years before the martyrdom of King Charles I at the hands of the Puritans, I’ll leave you.

    For now.

    Whether, weather or not you believe in climate change

    Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — in thunder, lightning; in darkness, light; in the eye of the hurricane.. ]
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    Weather or weather:

    **

    Sources:

  • CNBC, Powerful nor’easter ‘bomb cyclone’
  • WaPo, D.C. lawmaker says recent snowfall caused
  • **

    We don’t need the details of the two articles, or of other coverage such as the New Yorker’s Bomb Cyclones, Nor’easters, and the Messy Relationship Between Weather and Climate — the top panel headline deals with the weather-weather, the regular day to day no need to look further weather, but the lower panel headline lets in alternate, nay Biblical, spiritual explanations — and with that freedom I’ll fly to a consideration of atmosphere and atmosphere — the one measured by the barometer, the other an intangible presence in a room —

    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

    **

    That’s Bibical, too — but it may apply, probably does indeed, to those of other and various flocks.. the joyful givers of any denomination, belief or disbelief.

    YMMV, of course. But read this:

    In his correspondence with Suzuki (the two finally met in New York in 1964), Merton refers to the doctrine of analogy in Aquinas by which it was just as legitimate , in one sense, to say of God that he is non-being as to affirm God is being, since God so transcends being as we know it that any attribution of being as we know it would mislead. Merton was quite taken by the mystical tradition of a kind of un-knowing in our contemplation of God. He said to Suzuki: “I have my own way to walk and for some reason Zen is right in the middle of wherever I go. If I could not breathe Zen, I would probably die of asphyxiation.” He also told Suzuki: “Speaking as a monk and not a writer, I am much happier with ’emptiness’ when I do not have to talk about it.” Merton and Suzuki exchanged manuscripts and books and eventually engaged in a written dialogue which appears in Merton’s posthumously published book, Zen and the Birds of Appetite.

    I cannot believe that between Merton the Trappist monk and Suzuki the man most responsible for introducing zen to the west, the I am was not resonant in the air between them.

    Okay this re North Korea this morning from WotR

    Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — from Korea hands vs nuclear wonks ]
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    Okay, the title of this piece intrigued me: Korea hands vs nuclear wonksVan Jackson at War on the Rocks today.

    Okay, I mostly like wonks, but hands have on-the-ground awareness that beats the hell out of book-footnoted research and chat with like-mindedd others, so to my mind, Korea hands would naturally beat nuclear wonks (Cheryl Rofer and friends explicitly excepted), no contest. Anyway, neat, interest-grabbing title. I therefore clicked to see the piece, and while my own opinion was not affirmed, I found this:

    I ranted about this a bit on twitter over the weekend, but what we’re witnessing is an open split between the United States and South Korea over North Korea policy. It’s not the first time; this happened in the early years of the George W. Bush administration too. Both sides have an interest in papering over differences in public, but the rift is there. The question is why.

    Nuclear scholars see the emerging differences in the alliance as strategic “decoupling”—North Korea’s growing nuke threat is leading South Korea to search for security by other means because U.S. reliability shrinks as U.S. territory falls within range of North Korean missiles. South Korea would be hard-pressed to have faith that Trump would be willing to let Seattle eat a nuke in exchange for Seoul not eating one.

    But Korea scholars see a more familiar pattern in the current divergences between South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and President Trump. The breakdown of the U.S.-Korea alliance in 2002 and 2003 was about as bad as it’s ever been, it was due entirely to the politics (on both sides) of North Korea policy, and it was years before North Korea had a functional nuke.

    So we all see a fissure opening up between allies, but what’s the best explanation for it? If the nuclear scholars are right, and the fissure is a function of North Korea’s growing nukes, then the alliance is in big trouble, because the nuke problem is on-trend to get worse not better.

    If the Korea scholars are right, then the alliance is in a bad place but the situation is recoverable. South Korea’s president is just being a political opportunist, in this interpretation, and once the domestic mood in the South shifts against him (or North Korea), then the alliance will be in a better place.

    Either way, we’re effectively out of the nuclear crisis from last year. It would take a major miscalculation or act of violence by someone to bring the crisis roaring back. Unfortunately, that’s entirely plausible.

    **

    Two points-of-view — the view from two points, two perspectives — distinct but not necessarily opposed, ie capable of binocular vision, if the balance between the two lenses is adjusted to the perceiver’s taste.

    Binocular vision, adjusted to balance the inputs from the two lenses, is — if nothing else — an opportunity for dialectic, or for the HipBone approach (stereophany — see Meditations for Game Players, vii).

    Binocular — stereoscopic — dialectic vision is a central aspect of my interest in polyphony, the capacity to hear twwo or more points of view at once. F Scott Fitzgerald once said, much to my delight:

    The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

    Then there’s Sir Lawrence Freedman, in The Meaning of Strategy, Part II: The Objectives:

    For Beaufre, strategy was the “the art of the dialectic of two opposing wills using force to resolve their dispute.”

    Strategy! Dialectic! Stereophany!

    **

    And now, back to N Korea and Van Jackson with all that in mind..

    I’ve taken into account two viewpoints in my “binocular” discussion here — but Jackson offers a third possibility at the very end of his piece:

    Either way, we’re effectively out of the nuclear crisis from last year. It would take a major miscalculation or act of violence by someone to bring the crisis roaring back. Unfortunately, that’s entirely plausible.

    Ack!

    WHat do you think, Zen, Scott, Tanner, Cheryl, Michael??

    Catchall post for comments with form

    Saturday, December 30th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — ouroboric and boustrophedonic news aggregated for yr edification ]
    .


    this is certainly tne essential Ouroboros, no?

    **

    Okay, first, several examples of serpent-bites-own-tail comments:

    How a Liberal Scholar of Conspiracy Theories Became the Subject of a Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory

    That’s pretty straightforward — and this:

    A sample headline in the Netherlands: “The new Trump Ambassador to the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra, lies about his own lies.”

    **

    Then there are Mueller-specific ouroboroi:

    One of Trump’s lawyers said the president’s legal team wants a second special counsel — one to investigate the investigators..

    And:

    Trump’s lawyers want a special counsel to investigate special counsel Robert Mueller:

    Donald Trump’s legal team has suggested appointing another special counsel to investigate the existing special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is probing the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia.

    One commenter went a level farther, opining:

    there should be a Special Counsel to investigate the Special Counsel which is investigating the Special Counsel. When concluded, the Special Counsel investigating the Special Counsel, which is investigating the Special Counsel should deliver their report to a newly formed unbiased Special Counsel, which in turn should be investigated to ensure that all the investigative legalities have been adhered to.

    ??!!

    **

    Okay, enough ouroboroi — let’s approach zen from the side, with this:

    President Trump is quoted in a clip in Ari Melber‘s The Beat (MSNBC) at 2.34, “I don’t want to talk about pardon for Michael Flynn yet, we’ll see what happens.” This is followed by a Rachel Maddow clip, in which RM says, “I have a Tree Falls in the Forest question for you: “If the President issues a pardon, do we have to know about it?”

    That’s about as close to an overt koan as we are liable to find on mainstream political TV.

    Go, Rachel! But what exactly do you mean?

    **

    And ah! — we are so fotunate that Rachel is not alone in thinking thoughts of this kind.. Kaveh Akbar has a New Yorker poem, What Use Is Knowing Anything If No One Is Around:

    What use is knowing anything if no one is around
    to watch you know it? Plants reinvent sugar daily
    and hardly anyone applauds. Once as a boy I sat
    in a corner covering my ears, singing Quranic verse

    after Quranic verse. Each syllable was perfect, but only
    the lonely rumble in my head gave praise. This is why
    we put mirrors in birdcages, why we turn on lamps

    to double our shadows.

    and so forth. Thank you, Kaveh Akbar, I hear you, I hear your silent, recited Quranic verses.

    **

    I’ll add further instances of posts and comments with the formal properties I’m so fond of in the comments section as they catch my eye..


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