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Poetic or magical phrasings in otherwise realist contexts

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — featuring SWJ, Uma Thurman, and an outbreak of sheer alchemy – !! — on MSNBC ]

Poetry is irrepressible.

Often confused with things people print with broken lines, poetry is a view on things, an angle oblique to reality revealing an archipelago of plausible, interesting deeper meanings, not behind but within the everyday.

Under that definion, poetry is irrepressible, while the broken line stuff is failing, almost dead, precisely because it so oftten lacks authentic poetry.

Here, then, are three examples of the elements of poetry visible emerging from the dense forests of the prosaic, as the Mayan temples emerge from the Guatemalan forest in this National Geographic image:

From Exclusive: Laser Scans Reveal Maya “Megalopolis” Below Guatemalan Jungle.


Small Wars Journal:

vegetation and the night can come to be seen part of the enemy, a similar view can emerge concerning civilians

So: “the night can come to be seen part of the enemy” — true in terms of personal experiences of war (we’re talking Vietnam here) no doubt, but also mythic in its resonance, in a way that’s inseparable from its practical, field reality: night as darkness, the unknown, mystery, terror, all providing a cloak for sudden attack.

From Preventing the Barbarization of Warfare: The USMC CAP Program in Vietnam in the Small Wars Journal, not a source renowned for poetry — or “poetry” for that matter.

New York Times:

There’s divinity, and then there’s celebrity:

Uma Thurman is certainly a star, maybe more —

Her hall features a large golden Buddha from her parents in Woodstock; her father, Robert Thurman, is a Buddhist professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia who thinks Uma is a reincarnated goddess.

— a goddess, with a lower-case “g”?

From Maureen Dowd, in This Is Why Uma Thurman Is Angry


MSNBC, The Beat:

This is no doubt the most astonishing.

Bringing the moon and the sun together always makes me happy.

From Ari Melber on The Beat yesterday, at 47.12 almost at the very end of this clip:

Sheer alchemy, out of the Tube, out of nowhere! Bringing the sun and moon together is the conjunctio, subject of Carl Jung‘s last major work, Mysterium Coniunctionis, and symbolized by the union of sun andd moon, king and queen, gold and silver:

The middle image, showing the coniunctio, is from the Rosarium Philosophorum (1550): Jolande Jacobi describes it thus in her book The Psychology of C.G. Jung:

The alchemical conception of one of the stages of the coniunctio. Here the ‘king’ and the ‘queen,’ who may be taken as Sol and his sister Luna, appear as symbols of the primordial psychic opposites, masculine and feminine. Their ‘marriage’ is meant primarily in the spiritual sense, as is clear not only by the words of the middle band spiritus est qui vivificat, but also by the dove as symbol of the spirit, and according to the ancients, amor coniugalis. The primordial opposites confront one another in their naked, unfalsified truth and essence, without conventional covering; the difference between them is evident and ‘essential;’ it can be bridged in fruitful union only through the intermediary of the spirit symbol, the dove, the ‘unifier’ which intervenes from ‘above.’ The branches held to form the cross, the flores mercurii, and the flower hanging down from the dove’s beak—all these symbols of the process of growth illustrate the common effort of man and woman in the living work of the coniunctio.

Borrowed from Yin, Yan, the Tao, and Wholeness.

For Ari Melber, out of the blue, to come up with this expression of his “happiness” at “bringing the moon and the sun together” is a stunning instance of the breaking though of the prime symbol of sheer alchemy into an MSNBC news program — in the midst of the Trump / Mueller controversy!


Had enough?

Rest assured Inside a Bookshelf at This Genius Hotel:

A magical — peacetime — way of nightt..

After the Fall

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameronpostlapsarian Aleppo, in other words ]

I don’t suppose the editors at the New York Times Magazine were intentionally making a Christian theological point with the title they bestowed on this cover story: Aleppo After the Fall. but I’ll take my apposite religious resonances where I find them.

Here’s a slightly bigger version:

How beautiful destruction can be in the early light — yet no less destructive for its beauty.

You can view the whole thing even better here — Al-Hatab Square in Aleppo’s Old City. Credit Sebastián Liste/Noor Images, for The New York Times.

Pieter Van Ostaeyen termed the accompanying article “an absolute must-read“.


Beauty: in which, the divine may be recognized.

The Fall. Oh ah, yes, the Fall.

Let’s just hope history doesn’t try rhyming Tampa with Iraq

Friday, May 27th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — applause is nice, premature self-congratulation can be deceptive ]

Tablet DQ 600 tampa cheney 80

Fruit of the poisonous tree

Monday, December 14th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — a thought provocation ]

Poison tree

Strange fruit:


Fruit of the poisonous tree is an American legal doctrine:

This doctrine holds that evidence gathered with the assistance of illegally obtained information must be excluded from trial. Thus, if an illegal interrogation leads to the discovery of physical evidence, both the interrogation and the physical evidence may be excluded, the interrogation because of the exclusionary rule, and the physical evidence because it is the “fruit” of the illegal interrogation.

Hipbone update & request for your vote!

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — 3 Quarks Daily, Boston Apocalyptic conference, LapidoMedia, World Religions and Spirituality Project, Bellingcat, Loopcast, Pragati, Sembl ]

First, please vote!

[ Note added: voting is now closed: my story received the fifth highest tally of votes out of 45 entries, and is now up for consideration by the 3QD editors in the next round — many, many thanks! ]

My story, War in Heaven, is in the running for the 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Literature Prize. 3 Quarks Daily is a great aggregator site, I’m honored to have made the cut so far, and would love to make it to the next level. My entry is #33 in the alphabetical list here, and votes can be cast at the bottom of the page. Networking for votes is all part of the game, so I’m hoping you’ll vote — & encourage your friends to go to that page & vote my entry up.

If you haven’t read it, here’s my story. It was a finalist in the Atlantic Council‘s Scowcroft Center Art of Future Warfare Project‘s space war challenge, in association with War on the Rocks.

There’s even a Google Hangout video in which Atlantic Council Non-Resident Senior Fellow August Cole, who directs the Art of Future Warfare project, interviews the contest’s winner and finalists, myself included. August’s book, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, is in the running for next great Tom Clancy like techno-thriller.

You’ll find plenty of other good entries at the 3QD contest page, and daily at 3QD as well — as I say, it’s excellent in its own right, and one of the richest contributors of varied and interesting posts on my RSS feed.


Then, in no particular order — check ’em all out —

The Boston conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad:

To my way of thinking, the critical thing to know about the Islamic State is its “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision” as Martin Dempsey put it — and the implications of that statement, both in terms of strategy and of recruitment & morale. That’s what the Boston conference focused on, and that’s why I think it was no less significant for being sparsely attended. In a series of future blogs I hope to go over the videos of the various presentations and spell some of their implications out — Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse, is due out in September, and I’d like to have filled in some background by then.

Here, though, as I’m giving an update on my own doings, is my presentation — an attempt both to tie together some of the strands of the panel I was commenting on (but could barely hear, but that’s a tale or another day), and to express my sense of the importance of apoclyptic thinking, not merely as an intellectual exercise but as an emotional and indeed visceral relaity for those swept up in it:

The other speakers were Richard Landes, WIlliam McCants, Graeme Wood, Timothy Furnish, Cole Bunzel, Jeffrey Bale, David Cook, J.M. Berger, Itamar Marcus, Charles Jacobs, David Redles, Mia Bloom, Charles Strozier, Brenda Brasher and Paul Berman — quite a stellar crew.


My two latest pieces for LapidoMedia, where I’m currently editor:

ANALYSIS: Understanding the jihadists through their poetry and piety
12th June 2015

YOU might not think that ‘what jihadis do in their spare time’ would be a topic of much interest, but it’s one that has been under-reported and is just now breaking into public awareness.

Much of the credit for this goes to Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel for their current New Yorker piece, Battle lines: Want to understand the jihadis? Read their poetry.

But behind Creswell and Haykel’s piece lurks a striking presentation given by the Norwegian terrorism analyst Thomas Hegghammer at St Andrews in April.

Hegghammer’s Wilkinson Memorial lecture was titled Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants…

Read the rest

I’m still intending to do a longer and more detailed write-up for Zenpundit on Hegghammer’s highly significant lecture.


The Bamiyan Buddha lives again

A CHINESE couple, dismayed by the Taliban’s destruction of Bamiyan’s two Buddha statues, has brought the larger of the statues back to life.

Locals and visitors can once again see the Bamiyan Buddha through the use of laser technology – this time not in stone but in light.

Carved into the great cliff face towering over the fertile valley of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, two Buddha statues stood for centuries.

In 2001 the Taliban dynamited the statues, built in the Sixth century in the Gandhara style, the larger of them standing 55 metres tall.

It was not the first attack against them.Lapido aims to provide (mostly secular) journalists with insight into the religious & spiritual values behind current events.

Read the rest

I stood there, atop the Bamiyan Buddha: it’s personal.


At the World Religions and Spirituality Project at Virginia Commonwealth University, I’m one of two Project Directors for the JIHADISM Project. We’re very much a work in progress, aiming to provide a resource for scholarship of religion as it relates to jihadism.


Justin Seitz made a post titled Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf on Bellingcat, to which I responded, and we had a back-and-forth of emails &c.

Justin then gave our discussion a shoutout at The Loopcast

— the immediate context starts around the 30 min mark, and runs to around 35 — and followed up with a second Bellingcat post, Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf Part 2 — in which he quoted me again. Key here is his remark:

a human with domain expertise is always going to be in a better position to make judgement calls than any algorithm

Agreed — & many thanks, Justin!

Bellingcat — definitely an honor to get a shoutout there,


Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review

My latest on Pragati was my review of JM berger & Jessica Stern’s ISIS: the State of Terror, which I’ve already noted & linked to here on ZP.

Up next, my review of Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall‘s The Arabs at War in Afghanistan


And last but not by any means least…

Cath Styles’ new Sembl slideshow:

It’s a terrific feeling to see the next runner in a relay race take off from the handover… Cath is getting some high praise for her work on Sembl for the museum world, including the following:

Sembl incredibly succesfully mixes competitive and collaborative play, creativity and expression, and exploration and inspiration. It’s the sort of game you think about when you’re not playing it, and it’s the sort of game that helps you see the world in new ways.

Paul Callaghan
Writer, Game Developer, Lecturer at Unversity of East London

Meanwhile, I’m still quietly plugging away at some other aspects of the HipBone / Sembl project.

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