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Apocalyptic arrives, but not yet the Coming One

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the intersecting logics of IS, current and classical Islamic eschatology, and violent millennial movements in general ]
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 Al Malhamah al Kubra, the great end times battle, image from Dabiq


Al Malhamah al Kubra, the great end times battle

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Ella Lipin, research associate for Middle East studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, blogged on the apocalyptic side of the “caliphate” a few days back under the title Understanding ISIS’s Apocalyptic Appeal:

To the outside world, this period of atrocities perpetrated by ISIS, such as the beheading of two American journalists, may be another defining moment in shaping the Middle East. But for many people in the region, ISIS’s message resounds and its arrival marks the end of days and the fulfillment of divine prophecy. To understand ISIS’s appeal and ultimately how to defeat it, the United States must recognize how the organization situates itself within Islamic apocalyptic tradition.

That’s good, that’s fine.

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To back up a bit, Martin Dempsey said of IS almost a month ago:

This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.

I noted this with approval, and lamented the lack of earlier awareness of this point in my post The curious case of the unheard word “apocalyptic”.

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And today, Terrence McCoy of the Washington Post quoted Ms Lipin in a piece about Dabiq magazine titled The apocalyptic magazine the Islamic State uses to recruit and radicalize foreigners:

This is not the beginning, the magazine says. It is the end. It is the culmination of a centuries-long war that has burned and simmered but never been extinguished — that will soon grow to consume everything. It is the apocalypse. And it is coming.

This is the chilling vision set out in the Islamic State magazine called “Dabiq,” published in several European languages including English.

Again, that’s good to see.

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But what exactly are the implications?

I’ve posted my own detailed analysis of a mere 10 pages of Dabiq, focusing explicitly on implications regarding the Saved Sect and the Victorious Group, and the entire logical edifice IS has constructed to take us from the Dabiq hadith via the notion of hirah to the recruitment of a global force of jihadists, in Dabiq issue 3 part 1- Hijrah. Tim Furnish has blogged about this, as has J-P Filiu. Their work is of crucial importance, along with that of David Cook. And the posts I’ve linked here are far from all these scholars have written — each has been covering specifically Islamic apocalyptic for years.

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But that’s the IS logic, and there are other logics that need to be understood.

One is the Islamic logic that views IS as Kharijites, “breakaways” and heretics who in an excess of religious fervor have broken away from the very religion they profess to follow. That’s a topic that should be addressed from within Islam, IMO. For now, here’s a link to a short video from a Manchester (UK) Salafist sheikh, who views both IS and JN as Kharijite. I’ll report here if I see this line of argument particularly well presented.

In strictly poetic terms, there’s Shadab Zeest Hashmi‘s Shade, posted in 3QuarksDaily — if you still have a heart for beauty in these grim times:

Allahu Akbar or God is Great, the anthem stolen by the wicked terrorist, whose attack is aimed at life, what holds life together for me— the zikr: Allahu Akbar, God is Greater, greater than prayer, greater than the spectacularly leaping science, the elegance of logic, the morality police, the lust of the spirit or the intellect, greater than the molten heart of a mother, a day laborer’s fatigue, greater than the beauty of discipline, the disciple of beauty, the ecstasy of disarray, greater than terra firma or the firmament, greater than sorrow.

If you still have a mind for poetry.

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But there’s at least one other logic that needs to be understood — because it shows what the modifier “apocalyptic” can do to an already violent movement. It’s the logic explored by scholars like Jeffrey Kaplan, Michael Barkun, Catherine Wessinger, Michael Barkun, Richard Landes, Jean Rosenfeld, and John R Hall.

That’ll require a whole new post. But it’s the horse that pulls the cart of millennial and messianic / mahdist movements — and maybe we should understand the horse before the cart?

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Another Sunday Surprise: Gould and Turner

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- this one's for the creative cognition folks out there in Zenland ]
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Damn’d hard to read, I know, but worth it if you care about artistic creation & performance:

SPEC gould turner

The top quote is Glenn Gould, speaking in the documentary Glenn Gould, Hereafter, the second from the erudite and delightful poet, distinguished professor and friend, Frederick Turner‘s blog.

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Poetry in the Square

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the public square, that is, and specifically Tahrir Square ]
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The Square, directed by Jehane Noujaim — a documentary tracking the lives of six people in Tahrir Square through the two recent Egyptian revolutions — just won the Emmy for Outstanding Directing For Nonfiction Programming, 2014, and is up for the Documentary Feature Oscar. Here’s what struck me right off the bat:
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we will fill the world with our poetry Tahrir
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Yevtushenko had that sort of impact in Russia, Neruda in Chile. Poetry speaks where the oppressed are silent — is such a phrase, “we will fill the world with our poetry” conceivable in the cultured west?

Russia, Chile. Yevtushenko, Neruda.

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Yevtushenko wrote a poem for Neruda, mentioning Bilbao — which Bilbao? a statue where? — which may give us a clue to poetry and its power:

You see–
             over there, among the puddles and garbage,
standing up under the red lamps
stands Bilbao — with the soul
                            of a poet — in bronze.
Bilbao was a tramp and a rebel.
Originally
         they set up the monument, fenced off
by a chain, with due pomp, right in the center,
although the poet had lived in the slums.
Then there was some minor overthrow or other,
and the poet was thrown out, beyond the gates.
Sweating,
        they removed
                            the pedestal
to a filthy little red-light district.
And the poet stood,
                             as the sailor’s adopted brother,
against a background
                              you might call native to him.

and…

And Neruda comments, with a hint of slyness:
“A poet is
             beyond the rise and fall of values.
It’s not hard to remove us from the center,
but the spot where they set us down
                                                       becomes the center!”

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The dapple, shimmer, dazzle

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the Jesuit poet GM Hopkins, on the dazzling diversity of life and the stark contrasts of mortality ]
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The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ made great and frequent use of the word “dapple”. I’ll get to that word, and what I make of it, by a roundabout route.


Canyon de Chelly, in Navajo country

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Philosopher-architect Christopher Alexander in his book A Pattern Language describes the “pattern” he terms Pools of light, first by dissing “uniform illumination” — which he calls “the sweetheart of the lighting engineers” — saying it “serves no useful purpose whatsoever”, and that it “destroys the social nature of space, and makes people feel disoriented and unbounded.” The engineers’ preference for uniform lighting, he continues, “is based on two mistakes.” It is the first of these that interests me here:

First of all, the light out-doors is almost never even. Most natural places, and especially the conditions under which the human organism evolved, have dappled light which varies continuously from minute to minute, and from place to place.

Let’s call that a contemporary version of an ancient truth.

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Christopher Alexander is not alone in noticing this feature of our natural surroundings. It’s a less poetic and more prescriptive version, for instance, of the Navaho view of creation in terms of the “four cardinal lights” which play unceasingly across the gloriously striated walls of Canyon de Chelly and the lands of the Dine:

Trudy Griffen-Pierce describes the Navaho cardinal lights thus, in her Earth is my Mother, Sky is my Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting:

the four cardinal light phenomena are results of the sun’s apparent daily motion. These phenomena are the four directions and the times of day and colors that are linked to them. A Navajo does not think of the east without envisioning hayolkaal, Dawn, and the white color of the sky at this time of day. Next is nahodeetl’iizh, which is usually glossed as “horizontal blue” or “blue haze” in reference to the band of relatively darker blue that lies on the horizon at midday; this light is associated with the south. Nahootsoii follows and literally means “around the area becomes yellow,” although this word is usually translated as “evening twilight”; it is linked to the west. Finally, chahalheel, darkness, is associated with the north and with the blackness of the night sky.

Here a people who live, walk in beauty, balance, peace, sa’a naghai bik’e hozho, minutely observe the play of light and shade that contitutes our “dappled” world.

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Hopkins was the first poet I read and loved — Trevor Huddleston introduced me to him — and the word “dappled” was and remains a central one in Hopkins’ poetry, a window on the way he saw the world, and thus a window on how we may see it ourselves.

Poem the first:

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                    Praise him.

That would almost certainly have been the poem from which I first learned Hopkins use of the word “dappled” — and it remains a touchstone for me, more than a half-century later.

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It is glorious, begins indeed with the word “glory” — and Hopkins’ world is one in which a divine glory “will flame out, like shining from shook foil” to use another phrase of his. It is the “kingdom” of the Gospel of Thomas —

the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.

— and one of those who did see it is the English poet Thomas Traherne, who wrote to his friend:

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things: The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die; But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places.

I think here also of the American poet, still among us, Gary Snyder, and of one poem of his in particular, The Dazzle, from his Turtle Islamd collection:

the dazzle, the seduction the
design
intoxicated and quivering,
bees? is it flowers? why does this
seed move around.
the one
divides itself, divides, and divides again.
“we all know where that leads”
blinding storms of gold pollen.
– grope through that?
the dazzle
and the blue clay.
“all that moves loves to sing”
the roots are at work.
unseen.

The dapple, shimmer, dazzle.. the trembling of populus tremuloides, the quaking aspen in the canyon.. trembling of the Quakers before their God..

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Hopkins illustrates this exuberant, ecstatic, exhilarating sense of “dapple” in another great poem of his, The Windhover:

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air…

In his poem, Duns Scotus’s Oxford he writes of the “dapple-eared lily”..

In The May Magnificat he asks:

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:

and answers himself:

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfèd cherry
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all–
This ecstacy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.

Dapple, dapple, dapple — the outer and inner worlds, dappled, the outer and inner worlds dappled together.

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And then, as Hopkins moves towards the end of his life, and his world towards the End of Days, the dapple, the variegation, is lost, the many colors turn to black and white.

I find Hopkins’ poems in general are wrestling matches of a sort that strengthens the fortunate reader, as Jacob wrestled with an angel, just as Rilke reported:

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

Poem the second is a harsh, hard poem. There is more in it of both music and meaning than I can easily wrestle from it — but these are the phrases I would pick out as delivering the central thread:

Evening strains to night .. earth her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end… let life .. wind off her .. veined variety .. all on two spools .. páck now her all in two flocks, two folds .. black, white; right, wrong .. reckon .. mind .. but thése two.. ware of a wórld where but these two tell, each off the other ..

Here, then, is the poem itself:

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves

Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, ‘ vaulty, voluminous, … stupendous
Evening strains to be tíme’s vást, ‘ womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ‘ her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ‘ stárs principal, overbend us,
Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ‘ her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end, as- 5
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ‘ self ín self steedèd and páshed—qúite
Disremembering, dísmémbering ‘ áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ‘ whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ‘ damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ‘ Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind 10
Off hér once skéined stained véined variety ‘ upon, áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck
Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds—black, white; ‘ right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ‘ twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ‘ thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.

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Anthony Burgess, in a New York Times piece, The Ecstasy of Gerard Manley Hopkins, writes:

To Hopkins, who was almost blindingly devout, God’s glory showed itself in the intense variety of the physical world, especially when such variety was present in a single member of it. .. Dapple was a kind of tension of opposites: nothing flaccid, everything dynamic..

At the end, for Hopkins — at the end of his days, and at the End of Days — all that glorious variety of dazzle and dapple narrows and collapses into a stark yes or no: black or white, good or evil, pass or fail, quick or dead.

It is a humbling thought, for one who loves the dapple, dazzle.

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Fantastic to watch the Goddess Pele knock out a mere Hurricane…

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an example of imaginative, poetic, non-literal, science-based theology ]
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My Facebook page today included the following video clip from KHON2 News:

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I am pretty sure my dear friend Mimsy Bouret, who posted this video clip under the title Fantastic to watch the Goddess Pele knock out a mere Hurricane…, intends to convey a sense of wonder, close kin indeed to worship, while not confining herself to literal belief in a reified goddess.

Here we see the imagination at play: Mimsy’s combination of words and video draws on the best of modern technology with a rich sense of natural wonder, to see and say something more than the science alone can manage. Science here is a part, but not the whole, of Mimsy’s vision: in it, through it, she experiences something richer and more human — the turning away of a threat to those she loves, in the interaction of forces way beyond her control.

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Poetico-religious thinking: there’s more depth and height to it than we often suppose… and hurricanes are not to be trifled with, though mountains on occasion can deflect them handily.

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