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On the history of the selfie

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — on self representation, avatars, and what we may be missing ]
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Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalen, aka The Conversion of the Magdalen

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Where to begin?

The Washington Post doesn’t like selfies much, according to Galen Guengerich in the Religion, yes, the Religion section — in a post titled ‘Selfie’ culture promotes a degraded worldview he writes:

The 2013 word of the year, according to the Oxford Dictionaries, was “selfie,” which Oxford defines as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” The first use of the term, according to Oxford, occurred when a young Australian got drunk at a friend’s 21st birthday party and fell down the stairs. He hit lip-first and his front teeth punched a hole in his bottom lip. His response was to take a photo of himself and post it online for his friends to see. “Sorry about the focus,” he wrote, “It was a selfie.”

Okayyyyy…

As usual, the Kierkegaard / Kardashian combo that tweets as @KimKierkegaard manages to straddle the worlds material (in the Madonna sense) and spiritual (in the sense of the Madonna):

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I wanted to dig deeper — the WashPost Religion section, Kierkegaard, how could I not? I often want to dig deeper, and today I was driven to do so because today — not or the first time — I ran across a terrorism analyst and blogger named Cristina Caravaggio Giancchini, who uses a detail from her namesake Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio‘s Martha and Mary Magdalen (above) as her avatar…

Avatars are a kind of selfie, aren’t they?

In any case, I found myself looking for the particular Caravaggio that contains that detail, discovering it was the Martha and Mary Magdalen, which you see that the top of this post — then kept on digging via Google to learn a little more.

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Here’s what I found in a blog post titled Fingers and Mirrors: Caravaggio and the Conversion of Mary Magdalene in Renaissance Rome:

The inclusion of the mirror asks viewers to enter into a dynamic conversation about their own delight in the rich textures of the picture; alongside a powder puff and comb, it points us to Mary’s vanity, and her concern with the things of this world. Rather than showing Mary to herself, however, the mirror captures a diamond of light — a visual representation of the divine grace that inspires Mary to look beyond her earthly passions. The flower that Mary clutches to her chest is an orange blossom: symbol of purity.

As Debora Shuger realises, in a stimulating essay on early modern mirrors, for Renaissance viewers ‘the object viewed in the mirror is almost never the self’ (22). Such mirrors are, Shuger suggests, if not totally Platonic (reflected an absolute ideal), at least ‘platonically angled, titled upwards in order to reflect paradigms rather than the perceiving eye’ (26). Renaissance mirrors, she concludes, ask us to think differently about the mental worlds and self-awareness of people living in this period: ‘they reflect a selfhood that … is beheld, and beholds itself, in relation to God’ (38).

Pilgrims who travelled to Aachen in the fifteenth-century appear to have purchased small convex mirrors as souvenirs: as relics were carried through the thronging crowds, travellers held up the mirrors to catch a glimpse of them, and then preserved the mirrors as objects which, according to Rayna Kalas, ‘betokened that moment when the pilgrim had a vision of and was visible before the sacred relic. … Every subsequent glance at this mirror memento might serve to remind the believer of that glimpse of sacred divinity’. In Caravaggio’s painting, though, Mary looks away from the mirror which might capture her reflection (the ‘dark glass’ of Corinthians?), and towards her shadowed but persuasive sister.

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We began this post with the idea that our 21st century ‘Selfie’ culture “promotes a degraded worldview” — and here by way of contrast, in the use of hand-held mirrors in 15th century Aachen, we see what we are missing…

… a glimpse of the sacred, in which the sacred glimpses us in transcendent return.

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Brilliant use of “DoubleQuote in the Wild” images!

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — a succinct and powerful double photo display, excellent for teaching critical thinking ]
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Seeing is believing, no?

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Hat tip: Tim Mathews.

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At a snail’s pace

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — leap frog in very slow motion, and leap razor too ]
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As a poet, I don’t much like that old saw about a picture being worth a thousand words — but there’s a density of information in each of the images below that’s worth considering:

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Two very striking images, in parallel, juxtaposed. What can we read into them, or out of them?

  • That a snail’s pace is always the same, no matter what obstacles it encounters?
  • That slow and steady wins the race?
  • That you can take the easy way, or you can take the hard way?
  • That you [Chinese Buddhists] can go for gradual or sudden enlightenment?
  • That the snail in the upper panel (in an artwork by Nancy Fouts) is enacting and or paying hommage to Colonel Kurtz‘s celebrated line from Apocalypse Now?

    I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream; that’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor… and surviving.

  • What else? What do you see?
  • There’s power in images, and even more in juxtapositions.

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    Daffodils

    If one picture is worth
    a thousand words,
    what’s a bunch of Wordsworth?

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    Here the actor Jeremy Irons gives a refreshingly fresh reading of Wordsworth‘s poem:

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    Matrioshka forensics

    Sunday, December 29th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — it still takes a live human to see what the human eye cannot see but the machine can ]
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    This would appear to be (one version of) the state of the art in facial recognition:

    Image within image within image — the gentleman on the right is more or less recognizable as a reflection in the eye of the gentleman on the left — thus giving new potential meaning to the phrase “you are the apple of my eye” (cf Zechariah 2:8, also Oberon in Midsummer Night’s Dream III.ii.102 ff., and Stevie Wonder, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life).

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    Or — to switch disciplines while remaining with the matrioshka form, because such patterns are of interest to the inquiring mind — as Gary Snyder puts it in his marvelous poem, One Should Not Speak to a Skilled Hunter:

    The secret.
    and the secret hidden deep in that.

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    For another version of the state of the art in facial recognition, see: Where’s Ms. Waldo?. Aloha!

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    Serpent logics: a ramble

    Sunday, November 24th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — continuing my exploration of a pattern language of thoughts, both verbal and imagistic ]
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    One of my favorite patterns derives from the nesting of Russian dolls inside Russian dolls, so it’s only appropriate to start with an example of what I can only call.. Matrioshka shipping!

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    It’s my habit, as you may have seen, to collect certain “ways of thinking” in the miniature format provided by my Twitterstream. Whether you think of them as logical forms, patterns in a pattern language, or amuse-bouches for the mind, they are here to delight and instruct — and when you pile a whole lot of them up together, they can make you just a touch dizzy.

    Today I’ll be bringing my collection up to date with two posts, Serpent logics: a ramble, and Serpent logics: the marathon. If you want a quick look at some of the neat patterns I’ve seen since I last posted on these topics, this post — Serpent logics: a ramble — is the one for you. If, after reading it, you want a gruelling, hilarious, insightful, insane, devious, extended course in this kind of pattern recognition — try Serpent logics: the marathon.

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    Here’s one from today, tweeted as I was prepping this post — in a category I’ll simply call…

    Counter-intuitive?

    Admit it, that’s just a trifle mind-blowing, no? C’mon!

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    Serpent Bites Tail:

    Here’s a light-and-dark-hearted example of the ourobouros or serpent-bites-tail recursive patterm, with a hat tip to Allan Stairs:

    Follow Kim Kierkegaardashian (@KimKierkegaard) on Twitter if you like mashups between the deepest of theologians and the shallowest of celebrities…

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    I have no idea what category this one belongs in, so I’ll slip it in here. It’s from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, protecting our digital private parts:

    Oh my! A Clash of Classifications!

    The EFF even has it’s own playful-serious version of the NSA logo —

    — as the DoubleQuote above — juxtaposing how the Agency views itself with how the EFF sees it — illustrates…

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    DoubleQuotes in the Wild

    DoubleQuotes in the Wild is my on-going collection of paired juxtapositions that say more together than they do apart. It’s a beginning training in what F Scott Fitzgerald claimed was the “test of a first-rate intelligence” — “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”.

    The example above comes from Parecidos Razonables, a blog that takes off from the Separated at Birth concept and specializes in double-takes of this sort, often satirical. One of their more celebrated examples:

    I’d have juxtaposed Vladimir Putin with Daniel Craig as James Bond myself, but that idea has already been taken — a Bond fan apparently photoshopped Putin’s face onto a poster of Bond in Casino Royale, and then “plastered” Moscow with his handiwork.

    Apparently the Apparat, like Queen Victoria, was not amused. I’d have been flattered…

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    While we’re on the subject of President Putin, here’s another category to consider…

    Mixed games:

    The op eds by Presidents Putin and Rouhani to which Soufan refers are Putin’s A Plea for Caution From Russia and Rouhani’s Why Iran seeks constructive engagement.

    Ali Soufan, the author of Black Banners, is always worth paying attention to — and his tweet, above, clearly belongs with that Alasdair MacIntyre quote I’m so fond of [1, 2]:

    Not one game is being played, but several, and, if the game metaphor may be stretched further, the problem about real life is that moving one’s knight to QB3 may always be replied to by a lob over the net

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    Let’s close with some examples from the arts, the first with just a touch of Tibetan Buddhist flavor…

    One of mine:


    For further details, see Death and hallucination color new work by Chinese artist Zhang Huan after life-altering Tibet trip.

    And the second, a pair of images — each in itself a sort of DoubleQuote in the Wild comparing the forms of birds and mechanical objects in a single photo — posted together today by Wm. Benzon under the title Conjunctions:

    Birds and cranes, New Jersey and Lower Manhattan.

    IMGP3517rd - Five ducks and freedom tower

    Birds and cranes, Brooklyn and Governors Island.

    birds of a feather.jpg

    Magnificent — what a generous eye he has — many thanks, good Sir!

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    Patterns? You might think of them as Jungian archetypes, Platonic ideas, Hofstadterian analogies — or Ayat, the same word used to describe the verses of the Qur’an, signs in the calligraphy of God:

    Qur’an 41 (Fussilat), 53

    We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves

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    And now, consider your options. Have you had enough of these damn patterns of mine — or would you like to try out for the marathon version?

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