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O Mary, don’t you weep — Aretha Franklin, RIP

Friday, August 17th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — an evening respite from Trump and co, to remember and celebrate a great voice ]
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If you have or can make the time to listen to one Aretha Franklin song this deay in which she died, let it be this — O Mary, Mary Don’t You Weep — you can follow along with the lyrics here:

The song tells the Gospel story of Mary, Martha, and their deceased brother Lazarus, whom Jesus calls by name back from the dead, first telling Mary “Don’t you weep” as though resurrection were the most natural thing in the world — Lazarus, returned from the dead, walked “like a natural man”. From the Torah, we find the sub-story — Pharaoh‘s army drowning in the Red Sea after it tried to pursue the fleeing Israelites. Aretha wants to stand on the rock where Moses stood, and witness the drowning.

Now the thing is, when the Israelites saw Pharaoh’s army drowning, they sing — as Aretha also sings.

Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

The Israaelite’s song can be summed up by this line:

The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name.

Blam! Splat!

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The angels, who have been watching the whole scene from a higher perspective than the Israelites, are also about to sing — they are renowned for their choirs, and in the contest between Israel and Egypt, they’re distinctly pro-Israel — when the LORD intervenes:

How dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying?

May I suggest that the angels are (not unlike music) like rivers passing through us, watering the souls of men, they are within us, and to the extent that we can partake of their refreshment we will be the better for it. Hopefully this metaphorical interpretation will avoid such vexed issues as mortal-like shoulder-blades supporting immortal shimmering wings and so forth —

— now the stuff of such commonplaces as greetings cards, to be reclaimed perhaps for their beauty, but not as definitions of “how angels look” — more as referring us to a higher octave of reality to which we may aspire, gracing us as grace responds..

Angels, not unlike music — hence the frequent references to angelic choirs.

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The weeping Madonna of Akita, Japan

As Wiki tells us:

A weeping statue is a statue which has been claimed to have shed tears or to be weeping by supernatural means. Statues weeping tears which appear to be blood, oil, and scented liquids have all been reported. … These events are generally reported by some Christians, and initially attract some pilgrims, but are in most cases disallowed by the Church as proven hoaxes.

O Mary, don’t you weep?

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O Mary, don’t you weep!

May Aretha flood our banks with her song.

Review – The Artist’s Journey by Steven Pressfield

Monday, August 13th, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

Image result for The Artist's Journey book

The Artist’s Journey: The Wake of the Hero’s Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning by Steven Pressfield 

“Our aim is to make ourselves masters, not just of our craft but also of ourselves”

Novelist Steven Pressfield, having achieved critical success as author of bestseller fiction with such titles as Gates of Fire, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Killing Rommel and The Profession has long been keen on sharing the secrets of his success with aspiring writers. This led in turn to Pressfield’s emergence as a writer of non-fiction beginning with his highly recommended The War of Art and continuing with Do the Work, Turning Pro, The Authentic Swing and Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. The specific emphasis in these books varied but the overarching goal was for Pressfield to help his readers become writers, real professional writers who could wrestle with their inner enemy of creativity, “Resistance” and emerge victorious.

While The Artist’s Journey continues in that vein, in it we see Pressfield’s evolution not just as a writer but as a thinker and teacher. Where previous books had examples were almost entirely granular and biographical The Artist’s Journey has a more meta feel, going more toward the roots of human creativity that undergird novelists, poets, musicians, painters and even scientists. It seemed, at least to me, in reading The Artist’s Journey that some of the introspection present in The Knowledge and the panoramic epic conflict in  The Lion’s Gate, his novelized history of the Six Day War, have impacted Pressfield’s ideas about the importance of theme and imagination in human understanding.

Organized into staccato chapters reminiscent of a Stoic’s handbook, The Artist’s Journey borrows from the concept “the hero’s journey” and the monomyth theories of seminal literary scholar Joseph Campbell. To Pressfield, the artist is the returned hero. Having conquered, returning home bearing gifts for the people, the adventure has only just begun. The trials of the hero’s journey were the necessary rehearsal for becoming an artist.

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An artist has a subject, a voice, a medium, a point of view and a style in touch with their generation or zeitgeist but Pressfield argues that the artist’s journey is to get in touch with or access their “muse” – their unconscious (“superconscious”) awareness which will be a more certain guide and open the doors of imagination. It’s an iterative relationship with the conscious mind:

“Monet like every artist was working simultaneously on both planes.

On the Dionysian he could see in his mind’s eye exactly how sunlight bounced off the curvilinear perimeter of a lily pad. On the Apollonian he was thinking “if I apply double thick blob of gentian violet with a medium pallet knife and twist it left handed so that the weightiest section of the blob accretes on the right side, then studio daylight reflecting off that in juxtaposition to the 40/60 mixture of puce and fuscia of the adjacent blob, should create the exact illusion I’m seeking”

I found this duality of mind concept interesting because Pressfield has distilled down and solidified an idea he’s been thinking about for some time. Back in 2009, Steve wrote to me here about his beliefs on creative thinking:

In my experience, the writing process bounces back and forth between two poles. One is the let-‘er-rip mode, which could be called “flow,” or “Dionysian.” That’s the one when the Muse possesses a writer and he just goes with it. But yes, as you suggest, it can lead you astray. It’s the like the great ideas you have at three in the morning after two too many tequilas. This mode has to be balanced by a saner-head mode, which sometimes to me almost feels like a different person–an editor, a reviser. That’s really when you put yourself in imagination in the place of the reader and ask yourself, as you’re reading the stuff that this “other guy” wrote: “Does this make any sense? Is this any good? Have I got it in the right place, in the right form? Should I cut it, expand it, modify it, dump it entirely.” Then you become cold-blooded and professional. You get ruthless with your own work. This is the time, I think, when “formula” wisdom can help, when you can ask yourself questions like, “What is my inciting incident?” or “What is my Act Two mid-point.” Not when you’re in the flow, or you’ll censor yourself and second-guess yourself. But now, when you’re rationally evaluating what you produced when you were in flow. This back-and-forthing, I imagine, would be true in any artistic or entrepreneurial venture. It’s great to let it rip and really get down some wild, skatting jazz riffs. But then we have to come back and ask ourselves, “Is this working for the audience? Is this working for the work itself?”

Pressfield devotes a great deal of space to the mediation between the rational and the intuitive, the conscious and unconscious, the material and the “higher realm” in imaginative creativity and it’s connection to the artist’s “voice” or self. By my rough estimate, 45 pages are spent on this topic alone and Pressfield, like Campbell, draws upon the ideas of the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung as well as tenets from Jewish mysticism, Zen Buddhism, William Blake and Aldous Huxley to elucidate this critical relationship. Pressfield writes:

Have you ever observed your mind as you write or paint or compose?

I have watched mine. Here’s what I see:

I see my awareness shuttle back and forth, like the subway between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal, from my conscious mind to my unconscious, my superconscious.

….The process is to me one of those everyday miracles, simultaneously mind bending in its implications and as common as dirt. Like the act of giving birth, it is at the same time miraculous and everyday.

This paradoxical explanation resonates with the views of experts on the functioning of the creative mind. Kyna Leski visualized and theorized the creative process as being akin to a thunderstorm. Sir Ken Robinson describes creativity as accessing “alternative ways of seeing, thinking and doing” while being “essentially human”. E. Paul Torrance, the researcher who did more than any other figure to investigate and measure the characteristics of creative thinking as a scientific process admitted “Much of it is unseen, nonverbal and unconscious. Therefore, even if we had a precise concept of creativity, I am certain we would have difficulty putting it into words.” In finding comfort for the artist in the ambiguity and contradictions of creativity, Steven Pressfield finds himself in good company.

The Artist’s Journey is not the same kind of book for aspiring writers as some of Pressfield’s previous works. For those struggling with the question of “Can I?” or the skills and practicalities of earning a living as a writer would be better served turning to The War of Art and Turning Pro. But for those who are on the way in a creative field and struggle with their footing with artistic vision or finding confidence in the integrity of their voice, The Artist’s Journey is both a guidepost and hymnal.

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Reciprocal: a term for form, symmetry, balance — and beyond

Monday, August 13th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — weaving a web of mirrors, echos, neurons and mimetics ]
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Magic: the Gathering — the game designers know this pattern well!

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The Far Right And Reciprocal Radicalisation

Could fragmentation within the Far-Right contribute to increasingly extreme responses to Islamist terrorism? There is increasing evidence of instrumental responses from some of the most extreme groups, which seek to encourage the strategic use of violence.

Reciprocal radicalisation, or cumulative extremism, is a concept that suggests extremist groups become more extreme in response to each other’s activity. This means a group may frame violence as justified or necessary because they perceive an opposing group as extreme. Identifying how to respond to such a dynamic has become increasingly important, as terrorist threats from both Far-Right and Islamist groups increase, alongside increased hate crime and group membership.

The nature of siloing would encourage a focus on ISIS violence alone, a terrorism subset of natsec foreign policy, or on alt-right violence alone, a terrorism subset of natsec interior policy, thus remaining blind to the possibility that the two comprise a whole system, with systemic interactions between the two. The UK Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats report whose header and intro paragraph I’m quoting here is dealing with a pattern in that system, huzzah.

Such patterns — true reciprocity, which is a form of mirroring, and the kind of escalating reciprocity described here, which is more like an echo chamber with built-in feedback loop, are significant both because they cross-pollinate silos, in a system-friendly way, but also because they offer hints of a pattern language of forms that can be watched for and cataloged.

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Wilder speculation:

Speaking of mirroring — other readings of mine recently have brought to my attention the intersection of two “hot” fields of study — mirror neurons as a biological substrate for much in human behavior, including our propensity of violence, and Rene Girard’s mimetics as a psychological substrate for much in human nature, including our propensity of violence..

The conjunction of the two, which I intuited, is explored in Vittorio Gallese, The Two Sides of Mimesis: Girards Mimetic Theory, Embodied Simulation and Social Identification.

Again, we have a creative leap, again we have silo-crossing, and again mirroring is the form that lies behind the analogical possibility that creates the possibility of the leap.

Metaphors v, We use sports terms all the time

Sunday, August 12th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — I’m not the only one thinking sports metaphors are important, though I’ve been collecting a whole lot more examples ]
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There’s a NYT article — We Use Sports Terms All the Time. But Where Do They Come From? — as you see, tucked away in the Sports section, which I’d really like to transport over here whole, because it’s a sports metaphor article, not a sports article, and sports metaphors are a specialty du maison here at ZP.

Let’s see if I can ferret out the gist:

We’re talking about sports idioms, those everyday phrases ingrained in our lexicon, handed down from generation to generation. We use these terms all the time, without really knowing where they came from. Some of their origins are pretty clear: front-runner, on the ropes, the ball is in your court. But there are many others whose provenances are not so apparent.

The world of sports is a particularly fertile ground for such terms, said Katherine Connor Martin, head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “Sports are written about and discussed a lot, and so have generated a great deal of colorful, specialized vocabulary. And competition exists in many other spheres of life, so sports terms are well suited to be borrowed into other domains, such as business or politics.”

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As I’ve suggested, the whole piece is a rich trove of materials for the sort of exploration I’ve been working on. Just a few minutes ago, as it happens, I heard someone on TV say in regard to the 2020 presidential election:

If Michael Avenatti wants to throw his hat into the ring, great.

As it happens, throwing one’s hat into the ring is one of the examples the NYT piece explores a little deeper. Their example:

In The New York Times: Mr. Mahathir threw his hat in the ring in the recent national elections. Opinion, May 12.

Their comment:

Back in the days when boxing was a quasi-legal, rough-and-tumble affair, fighters and even spectators who had an interest in getting into a bout would signal it by tossing in a hat. It’s mostly used now in the rough-and-tumble field of politics to announce that one is running for office.

Its first use, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, came in The London Times in 1804, in its literal sense: “Belcher first threw his hat into the ring, over the heads of the spectators.”

Throwing in the towel would be, I suppose, the equal and opposite phrase..

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Other examples they went into in similar detail:

Wild-Goose Chase

We need to get a little lost, pursue “productive and instructive disorientation, distraction, wild-goose chases, dead ends.” Book Review, June 4.

Throw in the Towel

Anthony Barile, the owner of this wood-oven veteran where other pizza-makers honed their skills, said he was tired and throwing in the towel after nearly 26 years. Food, March 27.

Out of Left Field

It was so out of left field and something so different than anything I’ve done. Movies, July 6.

Hands Down

Sue is, hands-down, the best at this. I would marry her in a minute. Television, June 21.

Wheelhouse, Strong Suit, Forte

One of the many subspecialities within Wright’s wheelhouse is Italian glass. Arts, April 17.

and so forth, Back to Square One, Across the Board, and my favorite as a Brit:

Sticky Wicket

But ad-driven nostalgia is a sticky wicket. Australia, Feb. 7.

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That last quote, under the Sticky Wicket header, was from Australia, a little far from New York. The writer Victor Mather writes, almost as an apology for straying so far afield:

“Cricket is the U.K.’s baseball,” when it comes to the lexicon, Ms. Martin said. It’s beyond our purview to get into British English too deeply here; there are British alternatives for many terms in American sports.

I don’t know, however, that any American can suggest a baseball term or phrase as beautiful as the British cricketer’s triple pun:

bowling a maiden over

Over and out.

Rajneeshis backgrounding the Incels — for JM

Friday, August 10th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — opposite extremists at opposite extremes — for JM, if he ever gets time to read / view / hear it — with a personal note to cleanse the palate at the end ]
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An essay, expressed in musics.

Indeed, a Janis Joplin-driven explanation of the bookRajneeshi and Incel passions, offered to JM Berger as he’s publishing what will no doubt be a powerfully argued and fascinating account of a wide range of extremisms, Extremism (The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series):

Quote:

extremism arises from a perception of “us versus them,” intensified by the conviction that the success of “us” is inseparable from hostile acts against “them.”

Buy this book, okay?

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Sexuality, pure & full-throated.

First, her voice torn raw:

“Move Over” is the only song on the 1971 album “Pearl” that Janis wrote on her own. If the lyric doesn’t strike you as particularly suggestive, just listen to the way she sings it and you’ll see what we mean.

Now multiply by this, drawn from Janis‘ letters:

She fell in love at a heartbeat; her sexual appetites are perhaps best described as ravenous (she had female as well as male lovers), her judgment frequently awry.

Sex, plenty of it — you’d think she’d move from jaggering via satisfaction to satiated.

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And sex, the absence, the vacuum, the abyss,

Second, her heart torn, shredded:

This line is all I need:

Well, the fevers of the night, they burn an unloved woman:

and this brilliant comment I overheard:

she would make love to 25,000 on stage, then go home alone..

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Janis is a Rajneeshi at heart and in behavior, an Incel in blues and loneliness..

Given that, that strength, that compulsive pull, that driven drive

Zero Sex, the absence, involuntary

The Incels — those who are involuntarily celibate — can’t get none — perceiving themselves shunned by those who attract them __

final lyrics, one version:James Brown, It’s a Man’s World..:

Oh how, how man needs a woman
I sympathize with the man that don’t have a woman
He’s lost in the wilderness
He’s lost in bitterness
He’s lost in loneliness

That last stanza, with that line in it, could be an incel anthem.

  • I sympathize with the man that don’t have a woman..
  • Well, the fevers of the night, they burn an unloved woman..
  • The raw reality of it: a child’s wail — see how much you can bear to see —

    That’s the involuntary celibate, Incel, pieced together out of Janis and James Brown, the extreme in inward-twisting, self-pitying, child’s wail version of the blues ..

    **

    This boy, this young man, a day or so after making this video, went out and killed six people in Isla Vista, Calif., in an attempt as “the prefect gentleman” to get his revenge on the hottest blondes in UC Santa Barbara. And became, for some, a hero to be emulated.. And emulated he was.

    Readings follow suit:

  • Forbes, The Disturbing Internet Footprint Of Santa Barbara Shooter Elliot Rodger
  • Clarion Project, What is the ‘Incel Revolution’ and Why Should I Care?
  • NYTimes, Toronto Van Attack Suspect Expressed Anger at Women
  • NYTimes, What Is an Incel? A Term Used by the Toronto Van Attack Suspect, Explained
  • WaPo, Inside the online world of ‘incels,’
  • LRB, Does anyone have the right to sex?
  • It is this extreme I have greater difficuty understanding.

    This most recently, btw:

  • LATimes, Killer who committed massacre in Isla Vista was part of alt-righ
  • The SPLC report counts Rodger among 13 alleged alt-right killers whose actions left 43 people dead and more than 60 injured since 2014.

    Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who killed six students in the college town of Isla Vista in 2014, was the first “alt-right killer” to strike in recent years..

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    Sex raised hopefully to the power of the infinite:

    And then I hear that howl against the backdrop of the recent documentary about the Rajneeshis, encouraged by their guru to explore their sexuality to the sacred, to satiation..:

    Wide-open their hope, shut-down their finale.

    **

    And finally, JM, Something Other and more personal

    A martini to cleanse the palate..

    Now I want to watch, intend to binge-watch Brideshead Revisited, the Jeremy Irons version, for some very un-American, upper-class-snobbish, public-school-boy, Roman-Catholic-gay historical-throwback art-level Britishness:

    Dropping you in at an odd, a very strange, indeed extreme in a dozen ways from Sunday, luncheon:

    I who have been beaten — four, with a bamboo cane, at Wellington College, (a sort of military academy slash prep school) — for doing the Times crossword in place of my math moework. Ah yes, and when I came up to Christ Church, Oxford, dunked in Mercury, that college’s Tom Quad pool, after exacting the price of a glass of port from my tormentors, almost twenty years before the film from which this excerpt was taken, was filmed.

    For I too am Anglo and Roman Catholic and Buddhist and Taoist and a snob — at least until I meet you or you, and humanity breaks in.

    And a creature of sexuality, defeated by sickness and old age..


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