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A very cunning linguism, and more

Monday, November 18th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — I can’t claim to be the originator of that title phrase — I found it in a book of literary criticism many years ago — but anyway, this post is about examples of form — content optional ]
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Twinning:

The images are striking, stunning. Under the title, The Double Vision of Alicia Rodriguez Alvisa, Doreen St. Félix‘s opening para on the phorographer’s double portraits is worth quoting in some detail:

Alvisa has olive skin, ringlets of curls, and dark, thick eyebrows. She uses different wardrobes and poses to delineate between the two manifestations of herself. Immediately, we know we are observing a psychological exercise. ..

Which woman is the true Alvisa? Is it the woman lying nude in a tub, her eyes closed, or is it the robed woman kneeling before her, a wrist extended over the water in a way that feels both caring and dangerous? Is it the woman in a baby-doll dress, glancing wistfully out of a window, at the city outside, or is it the woman in underwear, looking, with concern, at her counterpart?

Is the question itself flawed — the idea that one self should vanquish the other?

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A congressman whose name I do not know, addressing the question of whether Democrats should cease using the Latin Quid pro quo and instead say something more readily identifiable such as bribery or extortion, quoted as part of a mash by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, November 14 2019:

Using Latin, per se, is not something I tend to do, Hallie..

A lovely piece of reflexive self-mockery, eh?

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A parallel observed:

Parallels, like the dyadic photo-pairings above, are always worth noting, and at times revelatory:

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A troubling turnaround, visible in court proceedings at Guantanamo:

they’ve really turned the detainees into martyrs and victims.

As we all know, martyrdom is a potent Islamic concept — letting CIA torture lend undoubted experiential realism to the sense that one has been victimized, almost martyred, is among the black sites’ least appealing features.

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Ooh, and a humorous apocalyptic ref:

As my friend Tim Furnish might say of that word, “apocalyptic”:

Joshu and the poets

Monday, November 18th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — From Joshu, Japanese zen master who recommends having a hot coal caught in your throat, metaphorically speaking, to Isaiah, Hebrew prophet, to whose lips it is said an angel pressed a burning coal ]
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Said Joshu, proffering the word “Mu” in answer to the question “Does a dog have buddha nature? in one of the great koans of the Zen text, The Gateless Gate”:

If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel as though you have a hot iron ball in your throat that you can neither swallow nor spit up. Then your previous conceptualizing disappears. Like a fruit ripening in season, subjectivity and objectivity are experienced as one.

You have a hot iron ball in your throat that you can neither swallow nor spit up. That’s how you must feel, so that by means of this koan, “your previous conceptualizing disappears” and “subjectivity and objectivity are experienced as one.”

There are few barriers in our contemporary western world so difficult to pass — “the first responders running towards the burning Twin Towers as everyone else was running away” would surely qualify.

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And yet and yet.

And yet, the thing is, “buddha nature”, or”original face” as another koan names it, the condition in which “subjectivity and objectivity are experienced as one” is prior to the condition in which they are experienced separately as “subjectivity” and “objectivity” — it’s “original”.

So if yo find yourself suffering from “subjectivity” and “objectivity, you’ll need that “hot iron ball in your throat” to get back to origins. But if you’re there, where “subjectivity and objectivity are experienced as one” — no problem.

In fact, after you’ve “solved” — “resolved” might be better — a koan, your zen master is liable to suggest you look through a book of “capping verses” such as this one, Zen Sand, kindly published by the University of Hawaii Press, to find one verse that caps or sums up your experience.

The thing being that some poet wrote that verse, after experiencing something very close to what you experienced.

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Which suggests that either:

literally hundreds of poets arrived at “subjectivity and objectivity are experienced as one” without going through the “hot iron ball in your throat” stage by being poets, in other words, they simply kept to the “original” state beyond dualism — in which case poetry sounds like a fine route by which to avoid all that throat-blistering terror or..

the poets routinely go through the “iron ball” barrier on their way to poetic clarity — a possibility which would oleave traces, surely, in their poems..

Such as:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note of my dark sobbing.

That, as you may know, is Rilke, in the first of huis Duino Elegies.

Or this:

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring. ..
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing…

World sorrow — can there be any greater?

But those words are the words of a Catholic priest, a Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins — and I left out the two most remarkable lines in that poem, lines in which he despairs of the Holy Spirit or Comforter, and the Virgin Mary, Mother of the world in Catholic theology:

Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?

Coming from a Catholic pruiest, those are noteworthy, certainly surprising lines.

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Or this, from Rilke again, triggered by Hopkins’ speaking of “world-sorrow” — here Orpheus speaks of Eurydice:

A woman so loved that from one lyre there came
more lament than from all lamenting women;
that a whole world of lament arose, in which
all nature reappeared: forest and valley,
road and village, field and stream and animal;
and that around this lament-world, even as
around the other earth, a sun revolved
and a silent star-filled heaven, a lament-
heaven, with its own, disfigured stars —:
So greatly was she loved.

It may be the poets ahve swallowed more grief than that “hot coal” could muster — but then consider the story told in Isaiah 6. 5-7,. Isaiah speaks:

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

One may always wish, trembling, for an angelic visitation.

cat : football :: snake : baseball ?

Monday, November 11th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — the zoo unleashed here on the fields of football and baseball, a DoubleQuote illustrating that comparison can be invidious ]
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Let’s start with a cat on the field (football), tweeted by Timothy Burke

Burke comments:

Kevin Harlan’s Westwood One radio call of the cat on the field is, as you might expect, an all-time great call. How much of a pro is Harlan? He worked a sponsor read into it.

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Okay, I’ll cap that with a snake on the field (baseball):

cat : football :: snake : baseball?

But that’s ridiculous. Comparisons are invidious, QED.

Angels and the Quest for ExtraTerrestrial intelligence [QETI]

Sunday, November 10th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — from my POV, quests are more interesting than searches ]
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Jibreel — we’ll get to him later:

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Okay. I was reading a New Yorker article about the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and came across a phrase that stopped me short:

Judging by their sizes and temperatures, many of these exoplanets could be capable of supporting life.

That’s from Intelligent Ways to Search for Extraterrestrials by Adam Mann, and it strikes me as astonishingly short-sighted for a piece that hopes for more intelligent ways to search for ETs than looking for radio signals. The piece begins:

Suppose you’re a space-faring alien society. You’ve established colonies on a few planets and moons in your solar system, but your population is growing and you’re running out of space. What should you do? Your brightest engineers might suggest a radical idea: they could disassemble a Jupiter-size planet and rearrange its mass into a cloud of orbiting platforms that encircles your sun. Your population would have ample living area on or inside the platforms; meanwhile, through solar power, you’d be able to capture every joule of energy radiating from your star.

Does an alien intelligence really have to have a “population”? With “engineers”? Do you suppose they have Coors, too?

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I’m interested in Rilke‘s angels, as described in the Duino Elegies:

Angels (they say) don’t know whether it is the living they are moving among, or the dead.
The eternal torrent whirls all ages along in it, through both realms forever,

The year before he died, Rilke wrote to his translator Witold Hulewicz:

The Angel of the elegies has nothing to do with the angels of the christian heaven (rather with the angelic figures of Islam).

Further, from the point of view of Rilke‘s angels:

all the towers and palaces of the past are existent because they have long been invisible, and the still-standing towers and bridges of our reality are already invisible, although still (for us) physically lasting. . . . All the worlds in the universe are plunging into the invisible as into their next-deeper reality

IMO, Rilke’s angels are intelligent, and just a tad alien, no?

Or consider Muhammad‘s angel Jibreel, whom the Prophet saw at the horizon of the humanly knowable, near the place of repose — one report describes him thus:

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah exalt his mention) saw Jibreel in his true form. He had six hundred wings, each of which filled the horizon, and there were multi-coloured pearls and rubies falling from his wings.

Muhammad was apparently in contact — why not us? And what would be a “more rational way to scan the heavens” (quoting the New Yorker subtitle here) for such a being?

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But ETs wouldn’t have to be “spiritual” or even “poetic” entities to be of interest to those looking for other intelligences.

What if galaxies (or galaxies plus) are intelligent entities, and we’re in the middle — well, out on a spiral arm — of one, ourselves? What if our planet’s just going from 1 to 0? What if there’s an intelligence that sees time as we see a snake — rattle at the tail end, forked tongue at the beginning?

I’m no physicist, so I’m on firmer ground with Rilke and Muhammad than I am with Bohr or Bohm or Everett, let alone David Deutsch.

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In Intelligent Ways to Search for Extraterrestrials we read:

In 1623, Johannes Kepler wrote that, through his telescope, he had observed towns with round walls on the moon. In 1877, Giovanni Schiaparelli reported seeing what might have been massive canals on Mars. The same year that Dyson described his spheres, the astrophysicist Frank Drake started Project Ozma, an attempt to detect radio signals from aliens living around two nearby stars—the first modern experiment in the enterprise now known as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or seti. Like his forebears, Drake was influenced by his times: he was born during the golden age of radio. Kepler spent his days in walled European cities; Schiaparelli witnessed a worldwide canal-building spree. Their efforts were simultaneously cosmic and provincial. It’s hard to say anything about organisms on other worlds that doesn’t reflect life on ours.

So if we’re influenced by our times, what will we see? Extraterrestrial advertising? I think it depends on the window of imagination that we possess — and a whole lot of our imagination goes to “space” as the “final frontier”. My imagination is trained inside me, where I find a lifetime’s mystery to explore.

What if D Streatfeild is right, when he writes in Persephone

there exists an inner world, which lies ‘outside’ our personal minds, and in which they are contained in exactly the same way as our bodies are contained in the outer world revealed by the senses

Maybe that’s where a more intelligent search will find Rilke‘s angels?

Not a Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence [SETI], but a Quest for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence {QETI]. Far more intelligent, if you ask me.

Draft: the cultural climate crisis, global to local &c

Saturday, November 9th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — i’m posting here some earlv drafts of longer pieces i’m working on for eventual publication elsewhere — this is a draft of the outline of a paper on climate change ]
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How about them Independent headlines?

I intend to write a longish paper in which I voyage from the global to the intensely and varied local, and then catch up with cross-cuts that have either appeared in sundry of the localized sections but deserve gathering under their own heads, or which have somehow escaped the net of my keen interest.

For now, though, I thought this spray of headlines from the Independent would make a nice intro to the project for ZP readers.

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Sources:

  • ‘Untold human suffering’: 11,000 scientists from across world unite
  • Extinction Rebellion: Nearly 400 scientists support climate activists’ civil disobedience
  • Climate activists including Extinction Rebellion to receive £500,000
  • Why the Green Party is proposing £100bn a year
  • Climate ‘apocalypse’ to leave Scotland with abandoned villages
  • Scotland plants 22 million trees to tackle climate crisis
  • Ireland becomes second country in the world
  • Our ageing world rulers are unfit to tackle climate change
  • **

    Scots:

    Of course I’m a Scot down my father’s line, clan Cameron, of the Camerons of Erracht.


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