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Sunday surprise — a memorandum

Sunday, May 29th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on the angelic and poetical differences between Azaz’el, Azaz’iel and Azaz’il ]
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Beginning ignorant, and with failing memory besides, I find it difficult to keep these distinctions straight in my unaided mind. Grateful thanks, therefore, to Bartelby and Brewer, who provide me with these assists:

Azaz'el Azaz'iel and Azaz'il

Now that the matter has been clarified, my own affectionate preference goes to Azaz’iel, to be sure.

Two alchemical substance-scapes

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the material world meets the immaterial in our humanity — cognition & language ]
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I came across two views of what you might call “alchemical substances” today — one mixed and one unmixed — and in each case the wording of the description fascinated me.

SPEC scapes

The upper panel is taken from the late Oliver Sacks‘ description of the elements as he found them in his childhood, displayed in London’s Science Museum. There’s alchemy in that description, in the fusion Sacks achieves between scientific observation and poetic insight.

In the lower panel, we have an overtly alchemical fusion, this time achieved by the interweaving of words from the language of the material (tobacco, leather, oak) and the immaterial (mystery, wisdom, knowledge) — both under the rubric “materials” — the work of Marcus McCoy.

**

Sources:

  • Oliver Sacks, Mendeleev’s Garden
  • House of Orpheus, Cunning Man sample vial
  • **

    Any self-respecting legal desk will contain both pigeon-holes and loop-holes.

    We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors

    Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]
    .

    chautauqua haqqani daveed

    **

    From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”

    I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:
    **

    Amb. Haqqani:

    None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.

    You’ll see how neatly this fits with my recent post on borders, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

    And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.

    Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..

    **

    If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.

    Daveed G-R:

    In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.

    Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.

    **

    The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us

    a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities

    — down to our own times.

    Amb. Haqqani:

    What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.

    The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:

    Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.

    Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.

    **

    Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.

    Daveed G-R:

    The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.

    And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.

    **

    Amb. Haqqani:

    The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.

    This makes a nice DoubleQuote with Gabriel Marcel‘s more general aphorism:

    Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.

    **

    Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..

    Daveed G-R:

    Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?

    He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:

    Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.

    — and had the final, pointed word:

    We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.

    **

    Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:

    Doors within doors: Ibn Arabi, Henry Corbin and Tom Cheetham

    Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — a response to, and endorsement of, Tom Cheetham ]
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    Interior of the Touba mosque

    **

    If I only had one book to take with me, I’d pick Henry Corbin‘s Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, also available under the title Alone with the Alone. And I’d pick it, because — well, this poem of mine says it best:

    No Place Special
    .

    I am baffled:
                     your muezzin calls me
    with a call more resonant than any command
    of sensible business, any
    instrument, nay, of corporeal music,
    to prayer in no place visible,
    as if defining by example what
    eyes in the back of the head might mean,
    might see, ears on the inside
    of the skull
    mean, what
    their music, not being
    ears or eyes in the habitual sense at all.

    Cliff.
            Not the sheer cliffs of fall
    Of Hopkins’ poem, but cliffs sheer without any
    word-hold by which to climb
    celestialwards — as if
    adamant, as if obsidian,
    oblique to terrestrial gravity, this cliff
    of hearing the call without seeing the mosque
    ,
    without turning
    around, inwards, some new way within.

    I have ignored the lures, chased breath,
    pressed my life into service, and —
    as if a pressed life, even in service, were
    death on display, a pinned butterfly —
    withdrawn from pressing,
    taken ease in the swell and ride
    of life, loved much, seen
    many to my great joy and felt richly
    to my grief…
                      and the
    muezzin yet calls, the baffle, the cliff
    still between me and the attainment of garden,
    tree and spring.

    Corbin’s book is too high for me, but I feel the call. And Ibn Arabi — beyond my knowing.

    **

    Ibn Arabi is known as the Shaykh al-Akbar, the greatest shaykh, because his work towers higher and digs deeper into the soul than that of any other Islamic writer, saving only (perhaps) his contemporary the poet mystic Jalaluddin Rumi.

    Stepping down from his heights, up from his profundities, we have in Henry Corbin an interpreter of great power — and since I find even Corbin requiring of me a depth of insight I can not yet grasp yet must read again and again across the decades, I am happy to have found his interpreter, Tom Cheetham.

    And thus Tom Cheetham is a doorway for me into the doorway that Henry Corbin is to Ibn Arabi, himself a doorway into the profoundest mystery.

    **

    You can find Tom Cheetham’s four books here — I’d start with The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism, and read them in the order of publication.

    I have written this post to draw the attention of any who may be interested to Tom’s offer of an online seminar in Corbin’s work: The World of Henry Corbin – Online Learning.

    I am considering the possibility of offering some kind of online learning program.
    I would like to know:

    (1) if there is interest,
    (2) what topics people would be most interested in,
    (3) what format or formats might be most useful, and
    (4) whether people might be willing to pay a modest fee.

    Any other comments or suggestions are welcome.

    Contact me by commenting on this post or emailing me at
    tcheetham@gmail.com
    subject heading “Corbin Online Learning”

    Very highly recommended.

    Of ID cards and innermost mysteries

    Thursday, November 29th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — just another angle on personal identity and ID, nudged on by two news pieces I saw today, and written to set the thought juices flowing ]
    .

    Life’s four deep questions are often listed thus: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? and Where will I go? We humans can spend a lifetime in search of the answers, and Paul Gauguin made three of them them the title of what some consider his greatest painting:

    Paul Gauguin: D'où je viens, qui je suis, où je vais?

    **

    These are deeply personal questions — and now governments and bureaucracies everywhere would like to know the answers to them, too:

    **

    The poet Hopkins, in his tightly compressed way, teaches us that we are not our driving licenses, we are not files in a desk drawer or on a computer, we are not our photos, we are not numbers, we are not even our names, we are… that which is most natural to us, that which is most essential about us, what you might call our “true natures”:

    Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
    Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
    Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
    Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

    We selve, we go ourselves — most precisely, we deal out that being which dwells within us.

    And to learn what that being is, that mystery which most richly propels us, is our life task.

    **

    In our desire to identify, classify, count and track everybody and everything, our governments and bureaucracies keep losing track (!) of the simple fact that a person’s person is that person’s innermost mystery.


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