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Sunday surprise 23: a narrative form without conflict

Monday, April 28th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a friend's blogpost, a taste of still eating oranges -- and the eyes of beautiful women considered as weaponry, in a Zen story, backed up by a verse from a celebrated Indian treatise on advaita ]
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I like to get cross-blog discussions going, so what I’ll post here as this week’s Sunday surprise is my response to two paragraphs my friend Bill Benzon quoted on his New Savanna blog under the title Is conflict necessary to plot? from a longer piece at Still Eating Oranges titled The significance of plot without conflict — followed by a zen tale.

Here’s the Still Eating Oranges intro to the form known as kishotenketsu which so intrigued Bill Benzon:

The necessity of conflict is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet “guides” to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general — arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? Does plot necessarily hinge on conflict? No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity. For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict “built in”, so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kishotenketsu.

Kishotenketsu contains four acts: introduction, development, twist and reconciliation. The basics of the story—characters, setting, etc. — are established in the first act and developed in the second. No major changes occur until the third act, in which a new, often surprising element is introduced. The third act is the core of the plot, and it may be thought of as a kind of structural non sequitur. The fourth act draws a conclusion from the contrast between the first two “straight” acts and the disconnected third, thereby reconciling them into a coherent whole.

And here, from Paul Reps’ celebrated little book, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, is one of the 101 Zen Stories with which Reps’ anthology begins:

How to Write a Chinese Poem:

A well-known Japanese poet was asked how to compose a Chinese poem.

“The usual Chinese poem is four lines,” he explains. “The first line contains the initial phase; the second line, the continuation of that phase; the third line turns from this subject and begins a new one; and the fourth line brings the first three lines together. A popular Japanese song illustrates this:

Two daughters of a silk merchant live in Kyoto.
The elder is twenty, the younger, eighteen.
A soldier may kill with his sword.
But these girls slay men with their eyes.

Which reminds me irresistibly — in the HipBone-Sembl manner — of a quote from Shankaracharya‘s classic work, Vivekachudamani, or The Crest Jewel of Discrimination:

Who is the greatest hero? He who is not terror-stricken by the arrows which shoot from the eyes of a beautiful girl.

Wry grin: I am clearly no hero — but even here in Shankara’s aphorism, we are still and ever in the realm of narrative.

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Sunday surprise 22: bring a gun to a steak dinner?

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- variations on a theme in The Untouchables ]
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Duncan Kinder posted a pair of video clips to one of Zen’s FaceBook posts a day or two ago, and since they made a fine DoubleQuote, I thought I’d bring them here.

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The “bringing a knife to a gunfight” idea seems to have spread from its origins in The Untouchables (upper video above) to multitudinous other moves. Movie site Subzin tracked at least some of these movies, and Movies & TV Stack Exchange lists these movies:

The Untouchables (1987)
The Target Shoots First (2000)
Shottas (2002)
Duplex (2003)
The Punisher (2004)
Waist Deep (2006)
Dod vid ankomst (2008)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (2009)
The Good Guy (2009)
Wonderful World (2009)
Death Hunter (2010)

with variants found in:

The Glimmer Man (1996) 00:16:59 It’s kind of like takin’ a screwdriver to a gunfight.
Black Cat Run (1998) 00:32:40 A crow bar to a gun fight? Drop the fucking crowbar.
BloodRayne II: Deliverance (2007) 00:28:09 Ain’t it like an Irishman to bring a bottle to a gunfight.
Urban Justice (2007) 01:27:07 l know you ain’t dumb enough to bring a fist to a gunfight.
G-Force (2009) 01:12:27 [Speckles] Just like humans. Bringing guns to a space junk fight.
Unrivaled (2010) 00:28:46 you brought a knife to a bottle fight.
Cross (2011) 00:08:06 Genius. Brings sticks to a gunfight.

What’s intriguing about the Raiders of the Lost Ark episode (lower video, above) is that the reference is made without words. The Indiana Jones Wiki has the scoop on this… Apparently Harrison Ford had dysentery at the time, and was finding it difficult to act the longish duel scene, whip against sword, that was called for by the script — and finally suggested that Indy should just shoot the guy.

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A couple of thoughts that occur to me:

  • Bringing a slingshot to a giant?
  • Bringing a lance to a windmill fight?
  • bringing a knife to the soup course?
  • It’s my good fortune, once again, that my fascinating with the details of one relatively innocuous matter — the “bringing a knife to a gunfight” meme in this case — leads me to another area of interest.

    — in this case to hastilude, the generic name for forms of mock-martial fighting that include tourneys and jousts along with others I hadn’t even heard of — behourds, tupinaires? — thus providing ample impetus for yet further wanderings across the web…

    But it’s time for me to wind up — let’s get back to Raiders of the Lost Ark

    It’s not every day that one can justifiably attribute the origins of a widespread, hilarious yet serious, and blockbusterish money-making meme — to dysentery.

    Freud, however, would have understood.

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    March 17th: Holi Festival “of colors”

    Monday, March 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- my favorite Indian festival -- and also Modi, the Indian PM candidate whose visitor's visa for the US was revoked by State a decade ago on the grounds of "violating religious freedom" ]
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    It may be the world’s most playful festival — Holi, the Festival of Colors, is celebrated today, March 17, in India and around the world.

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    The equipment required for play is simple enough: colored powders.

    These powders can be thrown at people dry, watered down and tossed at them in balloons, or sprayed from squirt-guns…

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    In each case, the result it the same — brightly-colored people.

    And why?

    The symbolism of the colors of Holi Festival is that the devotees are “drenched in the colors of devotion” to God, in memory of the brother and sister devotees Holika and Prahlad, who refused to worship their father King Hiranyakashipu as God, although ordered to do so on pain of death.

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    And then there’s Narendra Modi.

    Modi is currently running for Lok Sabha on the BJP ticket from Varanasi — the holiest city in India — and will become PM in the event of a BJP win. The elections, in the world’s largest democracy, are scheduled to run for 36 days starting April 5th.

    Blog-friend Patricia Lee Sharpe offers some background on Whirledview:

    Raze Mosques, Ban Books, Exile Artists

    Although some of Modi’s predecessors have played down the religious angle and stressed free market economics to broaden the party’s appeal, the B.J.P. nevertheless adheres to a militantly nationalist ideology based on a (this part is almost funny) Victorian re-interpretation of Hinduism known as Hindutva, and the party belongs to the same political family (aka parivar) as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S.). As the Hindustan Times says, “Few are convinced that the R.S.S. has no role in B.J.P. politics.”

    In its early days R.S.S. members donned khaki, marched around and provided intimidation services for the Hindu Mahasabha and other Hindu nationalists in the manner of coeval Brown and Black Shirts in pre-World War II Europe. It was banned in 1948, after an over-zealous member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi for being too tolerant of Muslims and too reformist visà-vis Hinduism, as in treating “untouchables” like fellow human beings. Reactivated as a “cultural” organization, with a leadership overlapping that of the superficially benign B.J.P., the R.S.S. in 1992 recruited a mob to raze the centuries-old Babri mosque in Ayodya, alleging it had been built over the ruins of a temple to the Hindu man-god Rama. Eventually, the courts intervened, dispatching teams of archaeologists to excavate for evidence of Ram’s temple. In the end, with the mosque destroyed and lacking the least sign of a temple, the judges split the difference: Hindus and Muslims get to use court-allocated portions of the disputed site. Naturally, neither side is happy.

    Moving forward to 2013, Hindutva sympathizers have been responsible for the Indian High Court’s decision to ban a book by an eminent American Sanskrit scholar on the grounds that its erudite version of a polycentric Hinduism shaped by a multitude of Vedic and non-Vedic traditions might hurt the feelings of some Hindus. As a result, naturally, sales of the ebook version have soared, but fears of violence, if not a justification for the decision, were also not totally unfounded. There were angry demonstrations over attempts to sell Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, which was banned to spare Muslim sensibilities.

    And here’s a truly sad case of triumphal, puritanical Hindu communalism: death threats forced M.H. Hussein, India’s most acclaimed modern painter—if you want a Hussein, think in terms of seven figures in U.S. dollars at Sotheby’s—to spend his last days in exile. His “crime”? He, a secular, perhaps even heretical Muslim, had dared to paint some Hindu goddesses veiled (at best) diaphanously. Anyone familiar with the buxom, bare-bosomed devis on Indian temples would have to ask: how else would anyone paint a Hindu goddess? But no one has ever accused religious fundamentalists, whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian, of sophisticated cultural criticism.

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    Modi himself invites you to send e-greetings for Holi Festival on his website:

    The joyful occasion of Holi can also be celebrated by sending an egreeting to your near and dear ones. You may do this by visiting the official website of Shri Narendra Modi and sending a personalized e-greeting, along with an audio message by Shri Narendra Modi.

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    Super Buds

    Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- you can't even watch the Super Bowl without the Antichrist slipping deftly into your subconscious -- or can you? ]
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    Thank God I don’t watch the Super Bowl. If I did, and unless I’d been taking a break during the commercials to go on a scavenger hunt in the kitchen, I might have been exposed to this:

    Horrific, no? And yet so smoothly and sweetly done!

    As you might imagine, this cute commercial was “the Most Successful Commercial of the Super Bowl” according to TIME, and “racked up more than 37 million views”.

    On the other hand, this video commentary has only managed 13,495 views as of the time my writing this post:

    It seems the forces of advertising Antichrist are beating out the voices of false prophecy about 2472 to 1.

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    Or perhaps not.

    I have an alternative theory. Perhaps the Budweiser Clydesdale horses are just Clydesdales, the puppies just puppies — and for the record, it was “17 Clydesdale horses and eight golden Labrador puppies” I missed, thank God, fingers crossed, just in case — and the ad just an ad, the beer just a beer, with nary an Antichrist in sight.

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    Scholar that I am, I believe you might like further resources with which to deepen your understanding of this matter of commercial appeal or (fingers crossed) theological interpretation.

    Our “co-prophet” skipped his usual introduction in this particular “cute puppy” video, but he posts extensively, and I was happy to find his commentary on the Vatican Doves, which I discussed recently [ here and here ]:

    So that’s how our co-prophet sees himself — the “third eagle” of the Apocalypse.

    And then there’s the ad itself, which I must finally admit I prefer to its alleged millennial meaning.

    Two looks behind the scenes:

    and:

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    And that’s it, folks.

    Sigmund Freud, or was it Groucho Marx, said it first: sometimes a Clydesdale is just a Clydesdale.

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    Hat-tip: blog-friend Bryan Alexander of the ever-ghastly Infocult.

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    Fukushima: which is worse for you, radiation or paranoia?

    Monday, January 6th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- frankly, I'm more concerned about the spiritually and socially corrosive impact of fear, myself ]
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    I know, technically radiation and paranoia are incommensurables. But still…

    Blog-friend Cheryl Rofer posted today at Nuclear Diner, pointing out the fallacies in some recent reports about Fukushima, spreading like wildfire on the web:

    I particularly like the “Fukushima melt-through point” in one of the illustrations in that apparently original source, reproduced here. That’s referring to the China Syndrome, in which the melted reactor core melts down through the earth. But once it gets to the center, does it keep climbing, against gravity, to that “melt-through point”?

    How much outrageous or stupid stuff does it take to discredit a source? For me, the misuse of the tsunami map and the belief that a core could melt clear through the earth, against gravity, are quite enough.

    Boom!

    I recommend Chery’s whole piece, both to read and to circulate. And she includes a number of other more specific sources worth takeing a look at, including:

  • Radiation Basics
  • True facts about Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster
  • Is the sea floor littered with dead animals due to radiation? No.
  • Three Reasons Why Fukushima Radiation Has Nothing to Do with Starfish Wasting Syndrome
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    So: which does more harm to us in the long run, radiation – or paranoia?

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