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Of morale and angels, Kiev and Ragnarok

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not to mention crushing Khomeini, lubing your M16, and that Afghan powerpoint ]
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Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

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In my previous post, Of morale, angels and Spartans, I raised the question of how our increasingly visual and graphical age could visually represent morale. I noted that the Muslims outfought a larger force at the Battle of Badr, and that the Qur’an suggests that this was because thousands of “angels, ranks on ranks” fought alongside them.

Dave Schuler suggested the Archangel Michael — which sent me all over in search of a suitable representation. The icon above, by Andrei Rublev, is the most profound and beautiful work I was able to find, but hardly serves our purpose.

I ran across a politically explicit comntemporary image in which the Archangel wears Airborne insignia:

Archangel-Michael--airborne

— but it was this image from the Maidan in Kiev that came closes to the sense of military power in angelic form —

Archangel Michael Kiev Maidan

— although I’m not sure that military power or prowess is necessarily the same as morale or esprit de corps…

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Synchronistically — or coinidentally, as sceptics would say — Justin Erik Halldór Smith headed his blog post Ragnarök on the Seine today with an image of Peter Nicolai Arbo‘s Wild Hunt, or Aasgaardreien. Here’s a detail:

Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt detail

And here’s “the big picture”:

Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt 602

That’s probably closer to “amok” than to “esprit de corps” — although the relationship between them is worth pondering.

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I’m still not convinced that contemporary minds will “get” morale from any graphic image yet devised.. I can’t help remembering the M-16 manual I picked up one day at a library sale or flea market, titled The M16A1 Rifle: Operation and Preventive Maintenance:

Treat your rifle like a lady

My guess, however, is that we’ll wind up with something closer to this:

Powerpoint for McChrystal

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Image sources:

  • Andrei Rublev, icon of Archangel Michael
  • Archangel Michael, Especial Forces graphic
  • Sculpture, Archangel Michael, Kiev
  • Peter Nicolai Arbo, Aasgaardreien
  • M16 manual, DA Pam 750-30
  • Powerpoint, Afghanistan Stability
  • The photo of the Kiev St Michael is by Mstyslav Chernov, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 license
  • Paris, the Prophet and his veiled face

    Sunday, January 11th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — the role of iconography vs idolatry within Islam and Christianity ]
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    Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace tweeted an image of Muhammad today:

    This image, according to Wikipedia, is not merely Persian but specifically Shiite, “reflecting the new, Safavid convention of depicting Muhammad veiled”. It is also non-satirical.

    As such, it is neither offensive in the sense of insulting the person of the Prophet, nor does it in fact show the features of his face, nor is it the product of the Sunni “mainstream” branch of Islam.

    **

    In considering the revulsion that many Muslims feel at the images of their Prophet in Charlie Hebdo, it may be helpful to understand the respect in which the Prophet is held within their faith.

    The Qur’an says of the Prophet:

    And We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds.

    Muhammad is sent “as a mercy”, and thus whatever representation of the Prophet, his words and deeds serves to carry human thought towards the divine participates in that divine mercy, whereas whatever representation scorns that mercy or merely distracts us from it is to be avoided.

    The normative manner in which the Prophet is represented within Islam, then, is abstract and calligraphic, with the artist showing devotion and respect for the Prophet through the care with which the work itself is endowed with beauty:

    412px-Hilye-i_serif_7

    Simpler, and in its own way no less beautiful, is this calligraphic representation of the Prophet’s name in tile from Samarkand:

    Muhammad_calligraphy_tile

    **

    Icon or idol?

    One facet of the controversy over Charlie Hebdo has to do, then, with a deep issue in representation, which crops up elsewhere in the jihadists’ relish in destroying “idols” — the Bamiyan Buddhas, yes, but also the tombs of Muslim prophets and saints; there has even been discussion within Saudi circles of the destruction on the Prophet’s tomb and relocation of his remains to an anonymous grave.

    Within Christianity, there have been those who encouraged the painting of icons, believing that they carry the minds and hearts of believers deep into the mysteries of faith — and those who would tear them down, holding them to be “graven images” (via Judaism, Exodus 20.4) that give mind and heart a resting place far short of those same mysteries: iconodules and iconoclasts.

    Wars have been fought in Christendom too over such questions [in both East and West].

    The great Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev‘s most celebrated icon is often referred to as The Trinity — though literally (or should I say, figuratively) speaking, it portrays the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18. 1-15):

    Rublev Trinity icon

    It is significant for our context that Rublev has not in fact attempted to portray the Trinity, a mystery deemed beyond human comprehension — the Athanasian Creed, speaking of the Three Persons in one God says explicitly “there are not three incomprehensibles .. but one incomprehensible” — but these three angels, considered as “types” or foreshadowings of the Trinity, which can therefore both veil and represent it.

    Paris: pen and sword

    Thursday, January 8th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — my father was a gunnery officer & I’m a writer — sword > word > world? ]
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    The pen and sword issue is fundamentally that of word and deed, isn’t it? Only in this case, the “pen” is “pen and paint”.

    **

    and then again:

    **

    Will we ever get to the bottom of this complex of koans, in which our thoughts are part of the very reality they purport to represent?

    You remember Goethe‘s Faust wanted to translate In the beginning was the Word as In the beginning was the deed?

    In the beginning was the..

  • hush
  • thought
  • image
  • word
  • deed
  • fact
  • The relationship between thought and world — word and world, image and world — is of utmost importance and, I suspect, far from easily grasped by anything less than battering one’s head against reality.

    Concerning four flags and two tees

    Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a brief meditation on word and image ]
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    Flags have been in the news quite a bit recently. There were the Marine Corps and Confederate flags carried by the protester outside the White House in the upper panel below:

    and the flag some protesting Native American (Lakota?) grandmothers took from the white supremacists who hoped to establish a community of the like-minded in the tiny town of Leith, North Dakota — in what one account called an improv “game” of “capture the flag”.

    So that’s two protests, right there. But the title of this post suggests it will concern “four flags and two tees” — and thus far I have mentioned three flags. The fourth is the flag worn as a tee-shirt decoration by one of the Grandmothers, and as shown below (upper panel) it is in fact the flag of the American Indian Movement:

    while by way of contrast, the tee worn by the confederate-and-marine-flags chap is a logo rather than a flag — it’s a Southern Thread Men’s Special Deluxe Art Tee to be exact. As the ad says:

    Alone or under a snap front shirt or a button down, you can show your southern roots or the vintage inspired western look.

    **

    My mind is a side-winder, as you know, so all this thinking about flags and logos got me thinking too about the Logos (or Word of God) and his standard.

    When the Emperor Constantine, for better or worse, co-opted Christianity or converted to it or both, his battle cry in hoc signo vinces (or in this sign you will conquer in late Barbarian, in case that’s your maternal tongue) raised the chi-rho as the sign, ensign, or battle flag — the logo if you will — of the newly baptised Roman Empire. The chi-rho — ☧ — combining the first two letters of the Greek word Christos, and meaning the Anointed One.

    **

    Flags and mottos are consequential things. Which comes first: the image, or the word?

    Raqqa, Syria: the Stations of the Cross

    Saturday, September 28th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a small devotional exercise for our sometimes too-secular world ]
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    In the upper image of the pair above, a crowd in Raqqa, Syria, is protesting the desecration of a church by Islamist enthusiasts who had pulled down the cross atop a church. The people of Raqaa took to the streets in protest, chanting:

    Syria belongs to Muslims & Christians.

    The Roman Catholic devotion known as the Stations of the Cross involves a prayerful mini-pilgrimage around fourteen “stations” representing stages in the passion and crucifixion of Christ — each of which is traditionally marked with an image of the “station” in question. In the case illustrated in the lower panel above, the station is that of Simon of Cyrene, who was pressganged into bearing the weight of the cross on his shoulders for part of the way, to give the agonized Christ some relief.

    The good people of Raqqa are thus enacting, informally, with courage and grace, the Station in which Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross. And there’s an echo here, too, of Christ’s injunction recorded at Luke 9.23:

    And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

    There’s a spontaneous beauty that crosses the lines between two world religions — and secularism — in all this.

    **

    But the cross itself also suffers its indignities, and thus the two images of the pair that follows can also be considered Stations of the Cross.

    In the upper image (below), the cross is removed by State of Iraq and al-Sham militants from its proper station atop the church, to be replaced with their black banner one of their number is holding, while in the lower image we see another screen cap of the townspeople, who have retrieved the cross and are carrying it through the streets to safety:

    The people are chanting:

    Syria belongs to Muslims & Christians.


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