zenpundit.com

A Shakespeare Sutra?

May 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — just curious whether Buddha and Shakespeare are hand in glove ]
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Tempest Sutra

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Son Emlyn was watching The Tempest today when I tried to Skype him, and on that account I’ve included the whole of Prospero‘s speech, not just the familiar stretch that runs from “Our revels now are ended” to “our little life Is rounded with a sleep”.

I trust he will return from school in a week or three to visit a little while in my call — and that he won’t be too disturbed at my infirmity.

Sources:

  • William Shakespeare, The Tempest, IV, 1:
  • Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
  • I do so hate it when people speak foreign

    May 24th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — the Pakistani politician Imran Khan and Alec Station’s Mike Scheuer think (somewhat) alike ]
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    I do so hate it when people speak foreign, and am happy when bilinguals tweet the relevant quotes in regular language:

    **

    Imran Khan, who is being quoted from this interview as saying “George Washington was a terrorist for the English & freedom fighter for Americans” is a Pakistani cricketer (captain of the team that won the 1992 World Cup, and credited with 3807 runs batting and 362 wickets bowling in Test matches) turned politician (founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party which governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly the North West Frontier Province) — and philanthropist (founder of a cancer hospital, and more).

    Comparisons, they say, are odious — and you may well think it odious to compare Osama bin Laden with George Washington.

    What, though, if the comparison is between Imran Khan and Michael Scheuer, who in the runup to 9/11 was the chief of Alec Station (ie the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station). In his first book, Through our Enemies’ Eyes, published anonymously in 2002, Scheuer wrote:

    I think we in the United States can best come to grips with this phenomena by realizing that bin Laden’s philosophy and actions have embodied many of the same sentiments that permeate the underpinnings of concepts on which the United States itself is established. This can be illustrated, I think, with reference to the writings or actions of such seminal figures in our history as John Brown, John Bunyan, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine.

    and:

    Bin Laden’s character, religious certainty, moral absolutism, military ferocity, integrity, and all-or-nothing goals are not much different from those of individuals whom we in the United States have long identified and honored as religious, political, or military heroes, men such as John Brown, John Bunyan, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine. I do not argue that these are exact analogies, but only that they are analogies that seemed pertinent as I researched bin Laden.

    and again, specifically:

    A final analogy I found useful in thinking about Osama bin Laden in a context pertinent … Professor John L. Esposito drew me to this analogy in his fine book The Islamic Threat. Myth or Reality?, as did the editors of the respected Pakistani newspaper Nawa-i-Wakt. In his book, Esposito warned that when Americans automatically identify Islamist individuals and groups as terrorists, they forget the “heroes of the American Revolution were rebels and terrorists for the British Crown,” while the editors of Nawa-i-Waqt lamented that “it is unfortunate that the United States, which obtained its independence through a [revolutionary] movement is calling Muslim freedom fighters [a] terrorist organization.”

    Like him or not as he currently presents himself and his opinions, Scheuer was plausibly the person best situated to explain bin Laden to an American audience back in 2002 — and today’s Imran Khan and yesterday’s Michael Scheuer seem to have a major analogy for assessing & explaining bin Laden in common…

    A rosary of glass beads for Emily Steiner

    May 24th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — semantic networks as game boards, old and new — see also the series presently linked at and ending with On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: six ]
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    Since I’m plaguing Emily Steiner with my thoughts on two of her recent tweets, I’d best explain first the reasons for my interest.

    Game-boards-1
    top left, a HipBione “WaterBird” board; right, Cath Styles‘ “Museum Game” board; lower left, an early HipBone “DoubleQuote” board; right, the “Said Symphony” board

    As long time readers here will already be aware, I’m involved in the design, development and play of a family of games based on Hermann Hesse‘s conceptual Glass Bead Game, using boards that are what mathematicians would term graphs:

    **

    Technically, our game boards in the course of play are what Margaret Masterman termed semantic networks — and Masterman herself cited one such network from an earlier century imaging the Trinity — here on the right panel — which I have reproduced in the triptych below along with a diagram of the Kabbalah, left, and of the elements by Oronce Fine, center:

    3-ancient-bds2

    **

    Which brings me to the first of two tweets Prof. Steiner posted today — the image of a head, with what is clearly a semantic network inside it — thoughts connecting with thoughts, or brain areas with brain areas, or perhaps both:

    Akasha games in the mind

    Viewed from the perspective of the HipBone Games, this semantic network within a brain (mind) is what the Buddha termed, somewhat reprovingly, a game played akasa, “by imagining a board in the air”.

    **

    But the Buddhist tradition wasn’t always as, what shall I say? — puritanical about games:

    Tablet DQ Monastic games

    As you’ll see, the upper panel here is a bit more relaxed on the subject of games in Buddhism — while the lower panel shows another game board, this one for a medieval Christian game on the Gospels, which Dr Steiner featured in the other tweet of hers that caught my eye today.

    There are four canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but they’re actually asymmetrical, Matthew, Mark, and Luke sharing properties and chunks of text which have conferred on them the group title of the “synoptic gospels” — while John is more symbolic, deeper, indeed mystical, and stands alone.

    There’s a saying about them, Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest. I don’t believe it’s intended to name the four pof them, but since Mark is second in order both in the saying and in the sequence of gospels found in the New Testament, I’m happy to consider John’s Gospel to be the equivalent of Inwardly Digest

    **

    But bringing the ancients into the modern day is a laudable activity, so I’ll close by taking that Gospel game board, as I like to think of it, and compariung it with one of the boards from the recent series of games in which AlphaGo — clearly a duende or djinn of some sort — beat out our best-living Go master in a series of 5 games:

    Tablet DQ Go and Gospel games

    Again, symmetry and asymmetry. Is the symmetry of the Gospels game a symmetry of the Divine Mind? And is the asymmetry of the game of Go an asymmetry of the two minds in play — or simply of a game in which one player gets to make the first move?

    I look forward to learning from Dr Steiner how the Gospel game was played.

    On the narrative arc

    May 23rd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a recent Wapo example of how history gets bent (ever so slightly) out of shape to serve narrative ]
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    Riley Rainbow in Curved Air
    One of the universal arcs, and a personal favorite

    **

    Story-telling shapes awareness.

    Yesterday’s Washington Post has an article titled Patriots at the gate: The Americans preparing for battle against their own government. It’s an interesting overview, but I’m not interested in discussing the merits or demerits of the Patriot Movement, Southern Poverty Law Center, Oath Keepers, Waco, Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma City, the Bundy Ranch, or Malheur — what interests me is the way the story is told.

    Here’s the section dealing with one participant:

    Across the family-style table, Alex ­McNeely, 25, a drywaller and “avid YouTuber,” said he became interested in the patriot movement online and joined the group to feel that he was helping to defend the country.

    “There’s this D.C. mentality that if you stand up for your rights, you’re dangerous and anti-government,” said McNeely, who has an AK-47 assault rifle tattooed on his forearm. “But if I’m denied my rights, what else can I do? Am I just going to stand there and take it, or am I going to do something?”

    In the Constitutional Guard, McNeely said: “I feel what we do is stand up for people who don’t have the means to stand up for themselves. I have an overwhelming desire to help people.”

    They have passed out more than 2,000 pocket-size copies of the Constitution that Soper said he bought for $500, sent food and clothes to victims of forest fires in Washington state and Oregon and given Christmas presents to more than three dozen children in need.

    McNeely considered joining the military when he graduated from high school, but he turned 18 the month Obama was elected in 2008, and, because of Obama’s “socialist” policies, “I wasn’t going to accept him as my commander in chief.”

    “I don’t like that he wants to fundamentally change America,” McNeely said.

    **

    The writer is Kevin Sullivan, a WaPo Senior correspondent, and I think we can safely assume he knows his trade. My interest focus on the sentence:

    “There’s this D.C. mentality that if you stand up for your rights, you’re dangerous and anti-government,” said McNeely, who has an AK-47 assault rifle tattooed on his forearm.

    Sullivan has already given his opening identification of McNeely —

    Across the family-style table, Alex ­McNeely, 25, a drywaller and “avid YouTuber,” said he became interested in the patriot movement online and joined the group to feel that he was helping to defend the country

    — that’s fair enough, and the bit about the “AK-47 assault rifle tattooed on his forearm” could have gone in there, or been added to the graph:

    McNeely considered joining the military when he graduated from high school, but he turned 18 the month Obama was elected in 2008, and, because of Obama’s “socialist” policies, “I wasn’t going to accept him as my commander in chief.”

    where the topic is his consideration of “the military” — but no, Sullivan posts it neither where he’s introducing McNeely nor where he’s talking about his thoughts about the military, but in the graph discussing the Patriot Mov ement ideals as McNeely describes them — see, once again:

    “There’s this D.C. mentality that if you stand up for your rights, you’re dangerous and anti-government,” said McNeely, who has an AK-47 assault rifle tattooed on his forearm.

    **

    Sullivan wants the irony. He’s making a juxtaposition-with-purpose — long-time readers here will know that juxtaposition as a rhetorical device is a keen interest of mine — he’s linking the movement’s ideals with the AK-47 tattoo to add an inflection of irony.

    It’s a tiny point — no more than an inflection — but it’s one that I note in the same way I noted the non-appearance of bin Laden‘s Qur’anic epigraph in media versions of a significant speech, in my post Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns. I don’t happen to share McNeely’s worldview, nor that of bin Laden, but I am deeply interested in the ways the media portray matters of substance and nuance. I am interested in “narrative”.

    We’ve all heard MLK’s quote, “somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” The arc of narrative has another aim: it bends towards “good reading” — and if the curve bends fast enough it will spiral ever more lightly and less helpfully in, and we wind up with “click bait”. I know this, because I practice my own version of the dark (and sometimes, brilliantly illuminating) art of writing.

    **

    There’s a lot more to say about narrative, and the various meanings it now has.

    One of my own interests is the way in which we think a narrative can be spun out of words and images (aka “propaganda”), when facts, grounded realities, history may, as they say, tell a different tale — and facts may speak louder than words. In that sense, if we need a new narrative, we may need a new behavior, a new policy, a new strategy implemented, to speak it.

    What interests me here though, getting back to the WaPo piece and McNeely, is how telling a story in a way that makes it a “good read” influences a narrative arc that is, significantly, also the arc of “the first draft of history”.

    After IS, what next? — the missing (apocalyptic) strand

    May 23rd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — four recent tweets, some lines of inquiry, & no certain conclusion, no date certain ]
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    The four recent tweets that set me off..

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    There are a multitude of voices now raising the question After ISIS< What Next? They can be heard from as far back as October 2014, onwards:

  • Al Arabiya English, What comes after ISIS’ defeat?
  • Foreign Policy, What Comes After the Islamic State Is Defeated?
  • Lexington Institute, What Do We Do The Day After ISIS Is Defeated?
  • The National Interest, We Defeat ISIS. Then What?
  • The Telegraph, What happens once Isil is defeated?
  • Wilson Center, Iraq: Now and After ISIS
  • The [Huffington] World Post, The Middle East after ISIS
  • and most recently:

  • The Atlantic, The Hell After ISIS
  • If IS continues losing territory, as suggested in the tweets above, this question can only gain in force.

    **

    I have been following Islamic eschatology since 1998 or thereabouts, when I met David Cook, and I thought that what was at that time an eerily unappreciated question had at last made its way into informed consciousness after..

  • 2002, David Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic
  • 2005, David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature
  • 2011, J-P Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam
  • 2014, Martin Dempsey, speech: IS has “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”
  • 2015, Jessica Stern & JM Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror
  • 2015, Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants
  • 2015, Will McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse
  • But no, the question I’m interested in has not been raised:

    Is there a more potent form of apocalyptic movement than the two we have most recently seen?

  • a Mahdist movement, one focused on the army with black flags from Khorasan — AQ
  • a Caliphal movement, one focused on the establishment of the rightly-guided kingdom — IS
  • **

    Four hints:

    It seems to me that you can have a Caliphal (kingdom based), or a Mahdist (leader based) movement, and that the Caliphal approach, should IS be a clear failure as a global quasi-state, will be exhausted for quite some time — and that since AQ, to the extent that it is or was an apocalyptic movement, was one that looked to a future Mahdi, the only route “up” from either one would be the declaration of an actual Mahdi-claimant with armed insurrection to follow.

  • The worst messianic movement, in terms of fatalities, would still be China’s 19th Century Taiping Rebellion, 20-30 million dead. Strangely enough, Gordon of Khartoum was involved.

  • The most recent and widely notable Mahdist rebellion was the Sudanese one that killed Gordon, led initially by Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi.

  • The next highly plausible date for the appearance of a Mahdi would be at the start of the next Islamic century, 1500 AH / 2076 BCE, since ahadith suggest a Mujaddid or Reformer will be sent every 100 years, and there have been assertions that the Ummah will not endure longer than 1,500 years (see here eg)
  • My guess is that we’ll have a cooling-off period in terms of Islamic apocalyptic if IS is seen to fail — but as they say, mortal mind cannot know the time of the end, and Allah knows best.


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