The Said Symphony: Introduction
[ by Charles Cameron – extended analytic game on Israeli-Palestinian conflict ]
I have begun work on a major personal project, the Said Symphony, and I’ll be posting the work as it proceeds, privately in the Alumni forum of Howard Rheingold‘s online classes, and in public here on Zenpundit.
Here’s the deal.
The idea of the Said Symphony Game:
Edward Said, the Palestinian “public intellectual” was also an accomplished musician, and the music critic of The Nation for quite a while. One time he brought his musical and Palestinian interests together in a stunning suggestion:
When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a symphony, there is something magnificently imposing about it…
I intend to explore that idea, in an attempt to “see” the Israeli-Palestinian question with fresh eyes, to hear it in some of the many voices – from sound-bites to scriptures – embodied in that conflict, some of the many individuals whose dreams and lives and olive trees are rooted in that sacred ground… and to present it in a way that is at once analysis and synthesis, history and work of art.
The complexity of the situation:
Let’s make this personal. Here’s a poem that expresses the way I’m thinking here:
I am Charles
My concern is the human mind in service
to an open heart, and my problem
is that the heart picks issues rich in ambiguity
and multiplicity of voices, tensions
and torsions tugging not one way but
in many directions, even dimensions, as does
a spider’s web weighed down with dew –
to clarify which a mind’s abacus is required
equal in subtlety to subtlety itself, while
in all our thinking and talking, one
effect follows one cause from question
to conclusion down one sentence or white
paper — whereas in counterpoint,
Bach’s fugal voices contain their dissonance.
Take a look at this spider’s web, for example:
Spiders and dewdrops do a pretty convincing job of portraying a certain level of complexity in what I think of as (virtually, metaphorically) a node-and-edge diagram of the global situation.
Mapping ideas and places:
Now, to apply that style of thinking to a serious world problem… the Palestinian-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian conflict…
When, say, Hamas and Fatah signed their National Reconciliation Agreement on May 4, 2011, or Netanyahu won 29 standing ovations during his May 24 speech before a joint session of the US Congress, it’s like a few new drops of rain falling on that spider’s web — the droplets fall this way and that, carom into one another, the fine threads they’re on snap or stretch and swing down and around… until a new equilibrium is reached…
But try thinking the issues through before breakfast one morning if you’re the US Secretary of Defense — with the fresh winds of the Arab Spring promising a new Egypt, Iran announcing its intention to test a nuclear weapon shortly, and al-Qaida and associates training and recruiting in the background…
And your problem isn’t a two-dimensional spider’s web with gravity pulling in just one direction – it’s more like an n-dimensional spider’s web, with multiple gravities, tugs, and tensions – and some of those tensions are in the category of known unknowns that one of your predecessors talked about, some of them unknown unknowns, and some of them literally unknowable – hidden in the hearts of more devious men than you, and known only to God.
That’s the complexity of the thing: to map the spaces where salaam might meet shalom.
That’s also the node-and-edge nature of the graphical approach I shall use.
Coming up shortly:
In my next post, I’ll explain the HipBone gameplay – the way in which moves are made on the board, and what their juxtapositions mean — and introduce the board.
June 15th, 2011 at 12:34 pm
Hi Charles, This is great news! I love the implications of the last line of your poem, and the multifaceted potential of your spiders and dewdrops. Our interests intersect here as we attempt make sense between heart and mind, and interpret the patterns therein. Looking forward to future installments!
June 15th, 2011 at 12:58 pm
Holy Batman, Intellectual Hipbone Batman!
I just left a comment about China-Iran-Pakistan (sort of) at Carl Prine’s Lines of Departure.
Hmmm, coincidences come from reading about the same things over and over and over?
June 15th, 2011 at 1:02 pm
One way to cut down on complexity is to understand that just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you!
Get at you: money via aid. We’ll help you with X while planning Y.
Get at you: submarines that patrol closer and closer and closer.
Get at you: Talk sweetly to your allies, "come on over to our side."
Get at you: The internet spreads memes and spreads propaganda.
Get at you: Immigration (this one hurts. I’m an immigrant. But the facts is the facts).
Get at you: Your aid money we spend on think tanks and lobbyists and so on….
I could go on and on. They do, you know. They get at you, Charles.
June 15th, 2011 at 1:43 pm
June 15th, 2011 at 3:19 pm
Sorry, I can’t get past a critique of the poem. But surely this is mine own torsion, hardly important in the scheme of things.
June 15th, 2011 at 4:42 pm
Poem aside, it sounds interesting. The logic you seem to be using is that of a puzzle. It is a quantum movement as things start out simple, become complex, then, as nodes (centers of gravity) get exposed, as no more pieces are left on the table, simplicity forms as do edges (fronts). Then it just needs to be determined if it will be a revolutionary or evolutionary movement or can we even judge this?
June 15th, 2011 at 6:14 pm
I like the idea of the voices containing their own dissonance. (Came over from Books & Culture to read your poem 🙂 )
June 15th, 2011 at 6:55 pm
You’re welcome to critique the poem if you wish…
Interesting points about a puzzle — it’s terrain we’ve looked at before, you and I, but I think you may find, as this game develops, that it’s more "mystery" than "puzzle" to use a distinction that I once thought originated with Heidegger. I can’t find the exact quote, though, so let me quote David Morris instead.
Morris, in The Culture of Pain, uses the difference to clarify the nature of pain, writing that "while the doctor typically approaches pain as a puzzle or challenge, the patient typically experiences it as a mystery. He offers this definition:
and expands it, writing:
The links between ideas that I’ll be using in my game won’t be equations or identities, they will be links by analogy and metaphor — so my suspicion is that they will support "can we judge this?" more readily than a determination of what kind of movement (revolutionary, evolutionary) is possible, likely, or desirable…
We’ll see, though… eh?
June 15th, 2011 at 7:39 pm
As a poem, "I am Charles" reminds me a bit of the invocation to the muse–with the abacus being the stand in for the muse, perhaps?
My favorite line of the poem is definitely "a spider’s web weighed down with dew" but I really enjoyed the elaborate syntax as it gradually revealed through each new line. That element of the poem is especially puzzle-like.
As much as the poem interests me, though, I am even more interested in the idea of the Hipbone game and board and the "n-dimensional spider’s web, with multiple gravities, tugs, and tensions." I’m looking forward to that.
(Sorry about the comment trouble at Books and Culture. We’re looking at several options for addressing the problem.)
June 15th, 2011 at 9:47 pm
[…] or follow the development of my Said Symphony game, a solo game in 130 or so moves just starting up — track it at #saidsymphony on twitter — exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… […]
June 15th, 2011 at 11:38 pm
Pals send their teenagers to be suicide bombers. That is beyond dissonant. There is no symphony where one group of musicians is committed to a relentless campaign of murder and terror. Said was using this as one more way of playing make-believe, and claiming moral equivalence. In other words, it was a sophisticated move in an elaborate scheme to help disarm his opponents so his fellow Palestinians could kill them.
June 16th, 2011 at 2:21 am
You raise a crucial point which lies at the heart of the work, and I would like to address it within the work itself, rather than here in the comments — might I quote you?
June 16th, 2011 at 2:33 am
Said was a bad man, albeit not a stupid one. He knew he had very little hope of changing US policy in the Mideast through political activism or lobbying so he set about discrediting a century and a half of Western scholarship regarding Islam, Arab and Persian culture and literature with a polemical nonsense term to be used by generations of ignoramuses. That’s strategic thinking.
June 16th, 2011 at 4:10 pm
Charles, an in-depth critique of the poem would seem out of place here, but I’ll focus on my main concern. Some of the lineation strategies employed by free verse poets, while comprehensible — yes, we may see what is happening — often seem to me a little too OTT and distracting, requiring of a reader (or this reader at least) submission to the game of lineation and the stresses and pauses it would force. Often, too much self-consciousness, easy post-modernist gimmickry appears to inform the choices some free verse poets display; e.g., "tensions / and torsions tugging not one way but / in many directions, even dimensions" laid out with strained lineation, odd breaks, and so forth within a poem quite straining to express strain itself…is too much for me. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with such a strategy, but only that I’ve seen it far too often and also, that sort of self-conscious scheming frequently appears to be the only justification for the choice of linebreaks employed in much free verse. So, if "to clarify which a mind’s abacus is required / equal in subtlety to subtlety itself" is indeed the case, then I would say the poem fails for lack of subtlety. There is also the didactic tone, the didactic approach, of the poem in general: It is as if you have also followed the route of "all our thinking" by so neatly outlining the problem as if it is indeed only a case of complex algebra. We have the cause of the confusion so directly stated, we have the confusion which is its effect, and then we have the neat solution suggested at the end. (Not to mention, or I guess I will here mention, the title of the blog post which frames the poem, as a reinforcement of the solution suggested.)
I have, over the last couple of days, begun to formulate a hypothesis: that we are addicted to cause-effect logic because we want order in our lives, whether we want that order outlined for us or we want to be the ones drawing the outlines, the scheming ones. Possibly, one class is forever trying to communicate to the other class that they, the first class, always have an inside track to original causes, a special knowledge of these, because he who can isolate those causes first ought to be given the authority and power to act first. It is a game of thrones, even if no throne made of blades is the prize.
June 16th, 2011 at 5:27 pm
Hi Curtis (and those with an interest in poetics):
Thanks for that – I’m delighted to join you in a serious discussion of poetic form and style, which is what at least a substantial part of your comment offers… And I don’t want to copy your entire post into mine, for the sake of any who read here, but there’s nothing you’ve written that I won’t try to include in my commentary…
On your first point, about the "lineation strategies":
Here I’d say you’re attacking a vast ("employed by free verse poets") array of people, some skilled, some gifted, some inspired, some none of the above, about a preference. And you term their preference "self-conscious" which it may or may not be in different cases.
My own justification for line breaks, oblique as it may seem, depends to a large extent on the graphical shape of the poem on the page, combined with a sense of the thinking voice’s natural hesitations — I should really say "micro-hesitations" because to my ear they are seldom anything as large as the "pauses" which you apparently hear.
I learned much of my sense of the "look" of the poem on the page from Apollinaire and his Calligrammes, back when I was involved in the "between poetry and art" movement — and my sense of the "scoring" of the poem on the page from Denise Levertov. I don’t have the essay she wrote and I read long ago that deals with this, but this comment of hers captures the sense:
On your second point — and here we move from style to content / meaning — I’m intrigued that you picked up on the lines "to clarify which a mind’s abacus is required / equal in subtlety to subtlety itself" because no fourteen-line poem can possibly be that subtle, no one-hundred-and-thirty-odd-quote Glass Bead Game, no spider’s web… So that’s the orientation, not the achievement or even the claim. There’s irony in it – and indeed, "the poem fails for lack of subtlety" – it couldn’t be otherwise.
On your third, closely related point, the "didactic tone, the didactic approach, of the poem in general":
It is a didactic poem, and I do also write poems that have less "completeness" and more "degrees of freedom" – leaps, free-falls — in them. This poem is to get an idea across, so that people unfamiliar with the game’s approach may understand it a bit better.
But while I too prefer non-didactic (evocative, leaping) poems in many cases, here I was offering instruction.
The idea of the game as a whole, and of the poem too, is not (passing here to your second para) an increased understanding of cause and effect – far from it. It is to glimpse something of the web of which our lives are woven, which includes the causal strands so familiar to our linear minds, cross-threaded, woof against warp, by acausal strands (per Jung’s terminology) with which we are very much less well acquainted – so that the whole requires (to my mind) an analogical, not a logical, and a distinctly non-linear, not linear and rational form, for it’s appreciation.
In this sense the game itself will, I hope, prove exploratory rather than conclusive, impressionist rather than realistic, ambiguous in a way that invokes insight as a continuing process rather than insight as a basis for new, fixed assumptions.
And again, Curtis, I’d like to thank you for some very helpful prodding and an enjoyable hour of thinking, delicious thinking.
June 16th, 2011 at 6:34 pm
Leaving aside the issue of poetics and leaping to the heart of the matter, I’m curious whether I am the only one who sees the attempt to glimpse "something of the web of which our lives are woven" as being yet one more mere search for cause, or causation, the better to draw an authentic straight line, one supposes, while declaiming that all (or at least, all other) straight lines are inadequate?
June 16th, 2011 at 11:52 pm
[…] Said Symphony board is one I chose to play a game premised on Edward Said’s comment: When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a […]
June 17th, 2011 at 12:04 am
The final movement of the Israeli-Palestinian symphony ends either at the bottom of mare nostrum or the sands of the Syrian desert, making it either a variation on Under the Sea or an orchestral rendition of The Horse With No Name with just a touch of the climactic crescendo of Enver Pasha’s First Turkish-Armenian symphony (first performed in 1915).
June 17th, 2011 at 4:06 pm
I don’t know JF. It may more resemble Holst’s The Planets, if it goes on long enough.
June 17th, 2011 at 6:16 pm
Analysis Terminable and Interminable?