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A poem for our night & times, by Carolyn Forché

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Halloween greetings, and a pre-midterm reminder of what demagoguery brings ]
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The box is a box of Halloween humor, a slight thing and entirely innocent, designed to delight with a nostaligic frisson on Halloweens past.. Spooky Halloween Feel Boxes for Adults: Put your hand in — preferably with eyes averted or blindfold — and feel, as in touchy-feel..

Among the sensations you are invited to feel.. cold spaghetti.. worms in a fishing box.. you get the idea.

**

My first association, when I saw a pointer to this article was the Gom Jabbar in Dune — a box containing pain, increasing pain. Should the candidate withdraw his hand from the box, he dies by cyanide needle, and the only means of survival is the ability to overcome instinct, which Paul Atreides manages by recitation of the Litany against Fear:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

**

Here’s the movie version:

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Black boxes..

The very idea of boxes filled with feelings is, to my mind, a fine one to explore, in humor, as in the New Yorker piece, or in deadly earnest, as in Frank Herbert‘s masterpiece, Dune.

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But then, reading Colin Stokes and Ellis Rosen‘s NYorker humor piece, I came inevitably to this image:

I said inevitably, perhaps unavoidably would have been keener to the point. I couldn’t avoid my second association.

**

That second association was to Carolyn Forché:‘s prose-poem The Colonel from her second volume, The Country Between Us.

On reading her poem itself again after so many years, after reading it aloud to audiences on various occasions, after one miraculous night in the early eighties when I heard her read in LA, after reading her American Poetry Review piece about the experiences inn Al Salvador that lead to this particular poem and others — The Memory of Elena with its unforgettable paella among them — that second and more powerful association was to:

The Colonel

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

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Shattering.

Humor has darkened to tragedy — tragedy does not suffice to speak of this horror — the box of touchy-feelies has become the Colonel’s grocery sack spilled on the floor, dried apricots are dried peach halves — despite the differences, the associative leap was, for me, inevitable.

And far too All Hallows Eve appropriate for comfort..

Far too apt for the upcoming midterms, too..

Zengi can be Zangi and Zinki, among others

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — besides horror at the beheading, there’s an analytic note that needs to be heard ]
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abdullah issa 600
Abdullah Issa fighting, and wounded — soon to be savagely beheaded

The ferocity of the beheading has been blurred out in most versions of the video, though ZeroCensorship is still showing it, and YouTube has a version that stops short of the beheading but appears to record Abdullah’s final wish — to be shot, not slaughtered.

That devastating final wish goes way beyond Shakespeare‘s “to be or not to be, that is the question” — it may well be the most terrfying depiction of a choice made at death-point that I have ever heard.

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I commented recently to a post by Ehsani2 titled The Boy Beheaded by Zinki Fighters, Abdullah Tayseer, Who Was He? on Dr. Joshus LandisSyria Comment blog, noting that the piece used the names Zanki and Zinki without commenting on the difference between them, and asking for clarification. I’d like to thank Dr Landis for a graciously email in response, and am happy to note today that my concern regarding the discrepant names used in the article is not without cause — as Kyle Orton just made clear in his own post on his Syrian Intifada blog, A Rebel Crime and Western Lessons in Syria:

One of the first complications with al-Zengi is the sheer variety of ways to transliterate the group’s name. Nooradeen can be Nooridin, Noorideen, and Noor/Nur al-Din/Deen; Zengi can be Zangi and Zinki, among others. Harakat means “movement,” though sometimes the organization is referred to as kataib (brigade) instead. Nooradeen refers to the twelfth-century Seljuk atabeg of the Zengid dynasty, whose life’s project was the reunification of the Islamic community.

No wonder I was confused.

**

My point, as so often, cuts against the grain of the conversation on Ehsani2’s post, which is largely about the horrible event itself and the group that performed it, one time support from the US included, and not the ways in which lack of languahger skills can cause confusion where clarity would be preferable — and that’s fair enough. My point, hiwever, is the linguistic one, and I think it’s important in a way that’s perhaps better suited to discussion here than on Dr Landis’ blog.

My plea is for analysts with special knowledge of places, groups or languages to bear in mind when writing, that there will be some in their interested audiences who may not share those specialities but are still worth reaching — and in particular that non-specialists, while inherently weak in local detail, may nevertheless contribute significant insights from outside linguistic or area-specialist silos, precisely by virtue of not being in the echo-chambers that such forms of specialism themselves tend to erect.

Zen has from the beginning of this blog stressed the mutual virtues of what he terms “horizontal” and “vertical” modes of knowledge — see his series:

  • Understanding Cognition: part I: Benefits of horizontal thinking
  • Understanding Cognition: part II: Benefits of vertical thinking to horizontal thinkers
  • Understanding Cognition: part III: Horizontal and vertical thinking and the origin of insight
  • I came to my own interest in that topic by being a primarily analogical and only secondarily linear thinker, by hearing Murray Gell-Mann at CalTech speak on the importance of generalist “bridge-makers” who perceive analogical links between otherwise unrelated disciplines, and by my twenty- to thirty-year effort to devised a playable form of the great analogical game loosely described in Hermann Hesse’s brillian (nobel-winning) novel, The Glass Bead Game.

    In prepping a proposal — as yet unfinished — for DARPA or IARPA last year, I formulate my basic message as a sort of motto, thus:

    Out of the box, out of the silo, out of the discipline, out of the agency, out of the explicit known into the “unknowing” — where the future takes shape…

    I could — and in the finished proposal will, God-willing — go far further on this topic, describing the ways in which complexity is far better modeled for us humans by analogical than by linear thinking, by cross-disciplinary than by silo’d thinking, by visual rather than verbal thinking, by human scale (7, plus or minus 2 datapoints) visualization than by big-data viz, and so forth. But let’s make it simple:

    Quirky thinking has a better chance at creative insight than routine thinking, individual contrarian passion than in-group agreement.

    Okay?

    **

    Thanks again to Dr Landis, and back to business..

    Benghazi, the election, and a look in the mirror

    Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — the current score seems to be bipolar 1, bipartisan 0 ]
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    You may believe:

    You may believe:

    Of Easter Fires

    Monday, May 2nd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — the beauty and the burning ]
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    Today was Easter Day for the Orthodox, and the Resurrection was celebrated with what Fr Janjic describes as Holy Fire in Jerusalem.

    Fr the Orthodox, this event is both a liturgy, spreading from Jerusalem around the globe —

    — and a miracle — an intersection of the divine with earthly existance:

    Thus one might say the vertical enters the horizontal plane.

    **

    Sadly, a similar celebration in New York was followed shortly thereafter by tragedy:

    Much of beauty was consumed:

    — and in an eerie echo half way round the world, a church in Australia blazed

    **

    For more on the miracle, see the Description of the Miracle of Holy Light (Holy Fire) that happens every year in Jerusalem:

    The ceremony, which awes the souls of Christians, takes place in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. The date for Pascha is determined anew for every year. It must be a first Sunday after the spring equinox and Jewish Passover. Therefore, most of the time it differs from the date of Catholic and Protestant Easter, which is determined using different criteria. The Holy Fire is the most renowned miracle in the world of Eastern Orthodoxy. It has taken place at the same time, in the same manner, in the same place every single year for centuries. No other miracle is known to occur so regularly and so steadily over time. It happens in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the holiest place on earth, where Christ was crucified, entombed, and where He finally rose from the dead.

    One celebrant, the late Orthodox Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem, described the miracle thus:

    I enter the tomb and kneel in holy fear in front of the place where Christ lay after His death and where He rose again from the dead. I find my way through the darkness towards the inner chamber in which I fall on my knees.Miracle of God. At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature. Here I say certain prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait. Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the colour may change and take many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake — it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light. This light each year behaves differently. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who stand outside the tomb and look into it will see it filled with light. The light does not burn — I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than normal fire that burns in an oil lamp… At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Hereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church.

    — and there’s a great deal more of considerable interest at the above link.

    Happy Easter to all my Orthodox friends!

    Brutal violence vs deeply symbolic threat

    Thursday, April 21st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — two manifestations of the extreme right in Israel ]
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    Tablet DQ Israeli right

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    I don’t think too many people will argue that deliberately burning famiies in their homes is less than brutal. My question to ponder here is how brutal human-on-human violence of that kind is, compared with the symbolic impact of rehearsing a longed-for but long-unpracticed ceremonial, accompanied by prayer that the holy places of another religion may be flattened so that the ceremonial may once again be held in its place of origin.

    The first is clearly a simple act of murder, the second a presumably legal practice-run for the full restoration of Temple sacrifice.

    If I were a Palestinian, I might perhaps be more frightened by the former; as a citizen of the world and as a poet, I find the latter more troubling — as well as considerably more complex.

    Sources:

  • New York Times, Israel Says It Has Uncovered Jewish Extremist Cell in West Bank
  • Jerusalem Post, Hopes for Temple Mount to be ‘flattened’ expressed at Passover sacrifice

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