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The Mercy, logic, the model digitized, the glass, the music survives

Sunday, April 21st, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — logic, the arts, and technology offer an Easter, resurrection corrective, philosophically speaking, to the ruin of the cathedral of Notre Dame ]
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For the terrible fire that consumed so much of Notre Dame de Paris this week, grief is great. Here, I wish to recall some of the ways in which the essence of the great cathedral has been saved.

Above, Piero della Francesca‘s Madonna della Misericordia. Our Lady of Mercy, for whom the cathedral was named, continues to shelter us all..

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Perhaps the most extraordinary, as well as the most abstract, form of Notre Dame to survive fire, war, and the French Revolutionary idea — to replace Mary with the goddess Reason enthroned in her place — is the logic embedded in the theology that accompanied its building and — lex orandi, lex credendi — the worship within it, for which purpose it was designed and built

The American philosopher CS Peirce was among the first to propose a kinship between Gothic architecture and the logic of the Paris schoolmen:

Art felt the spirit of a new age, and there could hardly be a greater change than from the highly ornate round-arched architecture of the twelfth century to the comparatively simple Gothic of the thirteenth. Indeed, if any one wishes to know what a scholastic commentary is like, and what the tone of thought in it is, he has only to contemplate a Gothic cathedral. The first quality of either is a religious devotion, truly heroic. One feels that the men who did these works did really believe in religion as we believe in nothing. We cannot easily understand how Thomas Aquinas can speculate so much on the nature of angels, and whether ten thousand of them could dance on a needle’s point. But it was simply because he held them for real. If they are real, why are they not more interesting than the bewildering varieties of insects which naturalists study; or why should the orbits of double stars attract more attention than spiritual intelligences?

Erwin Panofsky‘s work, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism, is the central presentation of the parallels. Pierre Bourdieu, who translated Panofsky into French, characterizes the work:

The parallelism between the development of Gothic art and the development of scholastic thought in the period between about 1130–1140 and about 1270 cannot be brought out unless one “brackets off phenomenal appearances” and seeks the hidden analogies between the principles of logical organization of Scholasticism and the principles of construction of Gothic architecture. This methodological choice is dictated by the intention of establishing more than a vague “parallelism” or discontinuous, fragmentary “influences”. Renouncing the semblances of proof which satisfy intuitionists or the reassuring but reductive circumstantial proofs which delight positivists, Panofsky is led to identify the historical convergence which provides the object of his research with a hidden principle, a habitus or “habit-forming force”.

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Rachel Donadio, Witnessing the Fall of Notre-Dame for the Atlantic, depicts the ruin of the cathedral with incredulityn–

How could Notre-Dame be burning? How could Notre-Dame, which had survived for eight centuries—survived plague and wars of religion, survived the French Revolution, survived the Nazis—be falling? Notre-Dame, the heart of Paris, not only a Catholic site but the preeminent symbol of European cultural consciousness, the heart of France, the kilometer zero from which all its farthest villages are measured—how could this majestic structure collapse so fast

— Oh, ruin, from the Latin ruere, meaning to fall.. John Milton, Paradise Lost:

                                                          Hell saw
Heaven ruining from Heaven, and would have fled
Affrighted

Viollet-le-Duc‘s 19th century spire, in this archaic sense of the word, ruined.

Resurrection:

The competition is already afoot to rebuild it.

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Fortunately, a few years back the entire structure was mapped with ferocious accuracy by Vassar professor Andrew Tallon, using advanced laser photography to capture detail — wear and tear included, to an accuracy of a tenth of an inch:

Vassar College/AFP Photo / Andrew TALLON

Alexis Madrigal, in the Atlantic:

Now, with the building having sustained untold but very substantial damage, the data that Tallon and Blaer created could be an invaluable aid to whoever is charged with rebuilding the structure. Ochsendorf described the data as “essential for capturing [the structure] as built geometry.” (He added, however, that the cathedral, no matter what happens now, “is irreplaceable, of course.”)

Tallon and Blaer’s laser data consist of 1 billion data points, structured as “point clouds,” which software can render into images of the three-dimensional space. Stitch them together, inside and out, map the photographs onto the precise 3-D models, and you have a full digital re-creation of incredible detail and resolution.

Professor Tallon died less than six months ago, in November 2018, age 49. If you’re looking for another Easter parallel, Tallon may be metaphysically resurrected with the promised rebuilding of the cathedral he so loved and diligently studied.

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It appears that the great Rosace Nord (north rose window) survived the fire —

As Incunabula commented:

By far the greatest blessing – a miracle – is that the Rosace Nord has survived. The South and West windows were very extensively restored in the 18th and 19th century, but the North Rose Window has stood basically unchanged for 800 years, the glass is the 13th century original.

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To close with a blaze..

In January of this year, Olivier Latry, titular organist of Notre Dame, made what is very likely the final recordings of music on the cathedral’s great organ, for a recording which was released in March, just weeks before the terrible fire. The organ, as built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in the nineteenth century, houses some 8,000 pipes; it seems the fire has left it largely intact, though with damage to its electrical systems and wind-chest.

Olivier Latry plays Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 on the Cavaillé-Coll organ of Notre-Dame de Paris::

Fanning the flames

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — winds blowing east from Notre Dame ground zero fans the brush-fires of fear, prejudice and concpiracy — this, and a poetic and sacred alternative ]
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It’s often said, and has no doubt been said many times since the horrific fire at Notre Dame began, that fire rages. By the same token, rage inflames. It is rage, and not truth, that brings us these horrific Twitter posts, which I can bring here courtesy of Buzzfeed:

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A great beauty DoubleQuoted:

The Loss of Notre Dame is horrific enough without pouring hatred onto the flames.

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May I refer you to Thomas Merton‘s great poem of sacred, sacrificial fire, Elegy for the Monastery Barn, and to these brief but potent lines from TS Eliot‘s Four Quartets?

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

Sanctity of the unsavory 2

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — art meets theft, the theft of art meets the art of theft ]
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That Modigliani, Woman with a Fan (Lunia Czechowska) — detail:

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Foreground:

Today I was reading The French Burglar Who Pulled Off His Generation’s Biggest Art Heist. The burglar is named Vjeran Tomic, and known to le tout Paris as Spider Man.. It’s a fascinating piece, and inter alia illustrates once again the loose array of phenomena I’ve been noting under the rubric of unsavory sanctities..

At the =age of sixteen, magic hit Tomic:

Tomic was enraptured by Renoir’s glowing renderings of happy childhoods: kids playing with figurines, practicing the piano, snuggling with mothers. As Tomic saw it, Renoir had used his paintbrush to create a “parallel universe”—an enchanted version of the grim Parisian life he had known. “Renoir has a way of seeing life from a magical realm,” Tomic wrote to me. “It’s as if he even came from this place.”

Add a youthful, “devious” tendency to scaling walls, running roofs and theft, and you have the makings of a spectacular, special thief:

One night, he had a vivid dream in which he stole five paintings from a museum. He took it as a portent. As he wrote to me, “I knew that someday I would do something great.”

Even those he robbed could admire him:

I’ve always had respect for his style — an admiration for his temerity — and a sort of intimate affection for him … It was very much a Gentleman Burglar situation, Arsène Lupin style.” (Lupin, the quintessential debonair thief, was invented by the French novelist Maurice Leblanc, in 1905.)

And his friends:

A friend of Tomic’s described him as “brutal and a little wild.” At the same time, she said, he had a charming range of passions: “He is into aesthetics, classical music, nature, animals, epicurean pleasures—wine, cheese. He is very out there in his style, even his clothing.” (Tomic favors G-Star pants, New Balance sneakers, cashmere ski hats, and Lacoste underwear.) She said that Tomic was “like a poet,” noting that “he talks about the moon.”

It’s that last quote, of course, that perks me up, “poet” as applied to a master of theft strikes me as analogous to “saint” — and “he talks about the moon.” clinches the deal. More prosaically, “The Impressionist art feeds the poetry that is in him.”

By way of confirmation:

A friend of his compared him to a “shaman,” and added, “A work of art emits a vibration, a palpable energy, and Vjeran is able to connect to it.” When I asked Tomic about this assessment, he agreed, observing, “I love to touch antique objects, and I sense a great past—of generations and generations—that I think are a part of the works.”

A court-appointed psychologist came to a similar conclusion, noting that Tomic had described himself as a “visionary.”

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Read the rest yourself, and you’ll discover, if you’d never known, or like myself you’d forgotten, this intriguing and peripherally related fact:

In 1911, a relatively uncelebrated painting by Leonardo da Vinci, the “Mona Lisa,” was stolen from the Louvre. It took twenty-eight hours before anyone even noticed that it was gone. The painting was missing for two years and, during that time, a great many people went looking for it, and the media attention helped turn the “Mona Lisa” into the most famous painting in the world.

And much more — including the present uncertain fate of that Modigliani.

Here.

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Background:

We’d established (in Sermo I: Sanctity of the unsavory) that popular disposition extends the realm of sanctity to encompass some less than savory personalities:

  • Anthony Bourdain, for his charming habits with disgusting foods, televised..
  • Jesus Malverde and other folk saints in the Mexican tradition, including Santa Muerte
  • Master P, by implication in Heaven for a Gangsta?
  • I want to add, from British tradition:

  • Robin Hood, who is effectively a folk-saint who robs from the rich tom give to the poor
  • **

    Now let’s add art theft by colorful second story men to our categories and examples.

    Kill them all, said the Abbot, and Saddam said much the same

    Friday, January 4th, 2019

    [ by Charles Cameron — personally, i don’t at all mind the fact that both saddam and the abbot are no longer around, given the brutality of their acts ]
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    Saddam reveals himself {upper panel] to be plausibly mediaeval [lower panel]:

    He also puts himself in the judgment seat the Abbot reserves for God…

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    The massacre of Béziers, and the Albigensian Crusade of which it was the opening salvo, came about, I’d suggest, fundamentally because the good people of Languedoc — home of the Troubadours as well as the Cathars or Albigensians — found the leaders of the Cathars, known as the Perfecti, to be humbler, poorer, and less ostentatious than the Abbots and Bishops, leaders of the Catholic Church, who tended to be among the “fat cats” of their day.

    Understandably, the Church disliked this almost unavoidable comparison, but was unwilling to relinquish its personal and institutional wealth — hence the Abbot’s instruction, Kill them all, God will sort out his own, which somehow made the massacre tolerable, theologically speaking.

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    Reading, for the Cathars:

  • Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error
  • What is “a multicausal and multilevel understanding”?

    Friday, April 27th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — if you can lose your car in a multilevel parking garage, imagine how easy it is to lose your mind in a multilevel understanding ]
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    I mean, what is multicausal and multilevel understanding anyway?

    We know what the words mean, and can possibly gloss over them without pausing for the question as I intend it. But pause, please. What is it, in terms of brain function and or training, that gives us access to multicausal and multilevel understanding?

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    I came across the phrase in the publisher’s abstract for Bart Schuurman‘s book Becoming a European Homegrown Jihadist:

    How and why do people become involved in European homegrown jihadism? This book addresses this question through an in-depth study of the Dutch Hofstadgroup, infamous for containing the murderer of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was killed in November 2004 in Amsterdam, and for plotting numerous other terrorist attacks. The Hofstadgroup offers a window into the broader phenomenon of homegrown jihadism that arose in Europe in 2004 and is still with us today. Utilizing interviews with former Hofstadgroup participants and the extensive police files on the group, Becoming a European Homegrown Jihadist overcomes the scarcity of high-quality data that has hampered the study of terrorism for decades. The book advances a multicausal and multilevel understanding of involvement in European homegrown jihadism that is critical of the currently prevalent ‘radicalization’-based explanatory frameworks. It stresses that the factors that initiate involvement are separate from those that sustain it, which in turn are again likely to differ from those that bring some individuals to actual acts of terrorism. This is a key resource for scholars of terrorism and all those interested in understanding the pathways that can lead to involvement in European homegrown jihadism.

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    I’d expect Bart Schuuman fills the void in our understanding as described. But I was in another discussion today, in which a friend of mine, Mike Sellers, said he’d been trying to teach analysts at Ft Meade the kind of thinking that can hold two ideas, possibly contradictory, in the mind at one time. He found the task both interesting and difificult. But how do you manage the task of multicausal understanding without what I call contrapuntal thinking — the ability to hold two or more thoughts in mind at the same time?

    My friend’s teaching is strongly influenced by systems thinking, as first devised by Jay Forrester of MIT. Mike has a great lecture on systems and systems thinking in the context of games — he was lead designer on games like Sims 2

    My own approach in the HipBone Games is to ask players to create a single, deeply connected “thought” out for ten individual ideas on a suitable ten-move game-board — with a “two idea” board for my DoubleQuotes games:

    Over the course of twenty years experimenting, I’ve realised my DoubleQuotes is the ideal format for teaching / learning “contrapuntal thinking” — basically, that same “ability to hold two or more thoughts in mind at the same time” — or “how to think in terms of systems” — or “multicausal and multilevel understanding”..

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    Hay, this is relevant and more than relevant. Macron‘s address to the joint session of Congress today included an appeal for a renewal of multilateralism:

    This requires more than ever the United States involvement, as your role was decisive in creating and safeguarding the free world. The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism, you are the one who has to help to preserve and reinvent it.

    Here, see how that works:

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    Multilateral means many-sided, eh? — and considering many sides at once requires the by-now familiar “multicausal and multilevel understanding”.

    On Iran, he repeated his support for the nuclear trade deal and outlined a four-part solution to Trump’s concerns about the deal and Iranian expansionism in the Middle East.

    So just the Iran deal requires a four-sided understanding at minimum. And let me remind us, four-fold vision was the highest hope of William Blake, who wrote to Mr Butts — but I’ll show you the poem alongside one of his illustrations of the concept:

    Multicausal and — particularly, perhaps, in view of Blake — multilevel understanding may be more demanding than at first we think.

    And the world? The world requires this of us.

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    Helpful books:

    Amazon:

  • Bart Schuuman, Becoming a European Homegrown Jihadist: A Multilevel Analysis
  • Mike Sellers, Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach

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