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Ursula K Le Guin and a schooling in magic, mystery

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — the magic of names, the mystery of creation ]
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Let’s begin with Russell Moore, controversial president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention:

He’s concerned about deep fake, or more exactly deepfakes, in which AI is used to develop model of people’s faces, which can then be manipulated to “make them” say things the real people wouldn’t say and haven’t said. There’s a fairly well-known TED talk that explains:

The speaker, Supasorn Suwajanakorn, mentions towards the end of his talk that he’s working on software called Reality Defender, while DARPA is running a contest to catch deepfakes and other AI trickery.

Boom!! — we’re in the realm of untruth so subtle it can fool both ear and eye, so we can no longer trust that seeing is believing. Indeed, Charlton Heston’s Moses could no doubt now be persuaded to come down from the mountain and declare:

Thou shalt make unto thee fake images, and any likeness of any person that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth

From a strict Christian perspective this would be blasphemy — but fun from the POV of Dawkins and the antitheists, and entirely feasible from the perspective of digital manipulation of existing video.

And in Russell Moore‘s terms, the fundamental distinction here is between he who is the Truth, the Way and the Life, and that which is the Father of Lies.

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Which brings us to Ursula K Le Guin, and her magnificent work, Wizard of Earthsea. Ursula grew up in the household of her parents: her father, AL Kroeber was of the great wave of anthropologists trained by Franz Boas, while her mother, Theodora Kroeber, was also an anthropologist, celebrated for her 1961 book Ishi in Two Worlds, based on her husband’s curation, around the time of the First World War, of Ishi, the last surviving member of the Californian Yahi tribe.

Le Guin, then, grew up in the household of the UC Berkeley Professor of Anthropology — a household visited by numerous other anthropologists with their tales of shamans and the varieties of magical practice around the world.. Not surprisingly, her vision of magic in Earthsea corresponds with that of many varieties of shamanism..

Here we are dealing with magic as deep truth, or deeptrush, so to speak. And Le Guin‘s definition of magic is to know the true name of all that is.

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Here, it seems to me, we are in the realm of the Prologue to St John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

with its extraordinary conclusion:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us

And returning to Le Guin, we find the nature of Word as True Name spelled out in its cosmic glory:

It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.

Can we also hear in Le Guin‘s words that therein lies the deepmagic?

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And quoting from that video clip:

He who would be the Sea Master must know the True Name of every drop of water in the sea.

Magic exists in most societies in one way or another. And one of the forms that it exists in a lot of places is, if you know a thing’s True Name, you have power over the thing, or the person. And of course it’s irresistible, because I’m a writer, I use words, and knowing the names of things, is, I do, magic. I do, make up things that didn’t exist before, by naming them. I call it Earthsea — and there it is, it exists!

We’re close, here, to Genesis 1.3:

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Here, as Tolkien noted, the human creator works within the greater work of creation in which she partakes.

Humanimals, a once-shamanic trope in TV commercial magic

Sunday, June 2nd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — Mickey Mouse, eat your heart out ]
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Latter-day Disnanimals lack both the honest brutality Grimm‘s sometimes grim tales provide, and the sexual honesty of the Coyote tales as recorded by Paul Radin. Even in currently acceptable form, however, the second cousins twice removed of shamanic human-animals featured in current TV commercials retain their potential for humor and an eye-catching display of the varieties of human emotion.

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Let’s start with the tiger-cub nicely portrayed in this ad:

The cub is fascinated by its “real life” putative ancestor — but sadly, after a brief inspection, the parent-tiger turns away..

Quite how the Emu here figures that the emu in the mirroring glass “looks like” him or her I’ll never know. Does she or he keep a small mirror under his or her wing, to preen on — oh, hell! theirself — in idle moments?:

It’s instructive to compare this, earlier [2011?] Cold Turkey

with this very recent — and brilliantly executed — Slow Turkey camping:

Love that whole series, btw..

And how can I miss this sporting Walrus?

Short form of this post: we identify with animals much as we do with humans

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I’ll deal with Jaguar in my next post

The Magic in Advertising series — rhyming, twinning, pattern recognition

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — the ability to recognize similarities across wide conceptual or memory distances is what Cindy Storer calls “magic” in analytic practice — here we examine it in terms of advertising ]
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You could almost learn how to write poetry by watching the commercials on TV — or learn a bit more about how the ads themselves work.. come have some fun.

Consider rhyme for a moment. There’s a rhyme between the car that’s too small for comfort and the shoe that’s too tight to fit in this ad, and there’s an analogy between the larger, more comfortable — luxurious, even — car and the wide and comfortable — “like a luxury ride for my feet” — Skechers wide fit shoes that the ad is all about:

The rhyme here between today’s American fisherman and his Irish fisherman ancestor is stunning — and plausible. This, after all, is genetics, which is often said to rhyme from one generation to another:

And even when the analogy between an image and the product it’s supposed to resemble (“rhyme with”) is weak, making a successful rhyme between two such images is a delight in itself, and makes the weak rhyme seem plausible. Here, a two-thirds shaved dog rhymes with a two-thirds mowed lawn:

Allstate piles the rhymes on — drawing on powerful similarities between widely different parts of the country — in its brilliant Park Road / Street / Avenue commercial:

Here’s a beautiful rhyme between cement and sand — it’s not so great to find you’ve stepped unexpectedly in wet cement — but what a delight to feel sand on the beach between your toes!

Look, Exxon wants to make it’s industrial plants more closely resemble living, breathing, green plants: it’s not a bad idea, laudable really — but the rhyme is a bit of a stretch, eh?

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One form of rhyme that’s worth noting falls under the heading of Opposites:

In this case, the equation would be something like blue plus red equals unbiased. I haven’t checked the product, but the math is clean, and the divide the ad bridges is very real and quite perilous for democracy:

So opposites can be powerful. But it’s worth considering, too, the mind-numbing effect of seeing opposing commercials:

That’s not the kind of opposition you want if you’re Roundup, but exactly the kind of opposition you seek if you’re the legal opposition!

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Rhyming — twinning — as it’s dreamed up in the creative agencies of Madison Avenue, and no doubt Madison Wisconsin too, requires horizontal, associative thinking — thinking based on pattern recognition, thinking that makes creative leaps where similarities can be found in the midst of difference. Metaphors and analogies are woven of the same kind of thinking, rhyme in poetry, graphic match or match cut in enema, canon and fugue in music — and it’s the type of thinking my HipBone Games are designed to teach and practice, until they’re strong reflexes in your intellectual arsenal.

When readers or movie-goers, or just people watching commercials on TV, recognize patterns or rhymes — shaving a dog, then mowing a lawn, okay — it may elicit a chuckle the first time you see the ad, but you’re not sitting there to learn about dogs or lawns, or even Flonase unless you happen to need that kind of medicine. No, you’re there to see the next installment of the movie you’re watching, the next entertainment — which was almost certainly put together with less cash and care per minute or per frame than the commercials that slip into your mind almost subcutaneously.

And analogy — this type of analogical thinking — works. Analogy is the very heart of magic:

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Do you have time for another example?

Here we have analogy across time, as we did in the case of the Donegal fisherman, but this time woven into the telling of a very simple short story: he wants a Heineken, looks in the fridge, no luck, goes out onto the street, flags down a cab, takes a short ride, steps down from his Hackney Carriage about a century earlier, and gets the Heineken he was looking for. Plus ça change!

The Heineken’s the same — the six-pack at the end is the essence of difference!

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Previous episodes in the same series:

Advertising series 01: Music
Eros, the Renaissance and advertising
Authentic, spiritual magic!
The magic of advertising or the commercialization of magic?
Here’s magic!
The magic of miniatures

I imagine there will eventually be about twenty posts in the series..

The magic of miniatures

Monday, May 20th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — I wasn’t intending this to be my next post in the commercials and magic series, but here it is, with miniatures and matryoshkas all in a row — and Churchill! ]
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Who knows when it started — Egyptian shabtis were small figurines inscribed with the names of the deceased and buried with them, answering for them during judgment in the Hall of Truth where, for the best afterlife, one’s heart should weigh lighter than a feather on the scales —

Myself, buried with my mini-me.

Especially if I am a pharaoh, or person of note:

(From left) Painted shabti of Ramesses IV. 20th Dynasty; decorated shabti of the Lady of the House, Sati – reportedly from Saqqara. 18th Dynasty, reign of Amenhotep III; and, a double shabti of Huy and Ipuy, a father and son pair. 18th Dynasty. Louvre Museum, Brooklyn Museum and Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy. (Photos: Heidi Kontkanen and Margaret Patterson)

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A jar fit for a giant to drink from, one of thousands in the Laotian Plain of Jars:

I was reminded of Egyptian shabtis by an article I saw today about thousand-year-old burial practices in Laos, where the vast Plain of Jars is dotted with thousands of large “jars” so called — some have thought of them as chalices from which giants would drink — used in funerary rites, and the article contained this para:

We’d love to know why these people represented the same jars in which they placed their dead, in miniature to be buried with their dead.

Miniatures!

I suppose we all play with miniatures as children — toy guns, toy sheriff’s badges, dolls and dolls houses — all parents need to ensure their children grow up prepared for adult life! — but after-life may have come first where miniatures are concerned.

In any case, there’s an enormous, likely archetypal pull associated with the large and its small analogs.

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Look at this Myself and Mini-me commercial from National:

The large and the small together are somehow more attractive than just the large alone.

And let’s take this a step further into the realm of magic, as understood by the great anthropologist Sir JG Frazer:

Sympathetic magic, anthropologically speaking, is magic in which you enact in miniature what you want the gods to perform on a larger scale. You urinate — or as Shakespeare more delicately puts it, go to look upon a bush — so the gods will pour down their rain upon you.

That kind of magical thinking — sympathetic magical thinking — is what the boy is instinctively doing in this Farmers rooftop parking commercial, while the Farmers rep thinks it’s gravity that throws a large car way up in the air..

To be honest, my money’s with magic and the boy.

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Farther yet, and we come to the Matryoshka principle, in which Russian dolls are contained (‘nested”) within dolls within dolls:

And now consider this commercial featuring vans nested within vans:

Sir Winston Churchill was playing a brilliant variant on this Matrioshka principle when during a BBC broadcast in October 1939, he said:

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.

Here’s magic!

Friday, May 17th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — Krishna’s flute, evoked by a commercials videographer’s eye — brilliant! ]
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Let me remind you again: real magic is simplicity itself:

Especially if you are a Hindu with strong devotion to Lord Krishna, but even so if you are secular, or the holder of some other faith or practice — there’s magic in this simple hand-gesture, conjuring the flute with which Krishna lures the lovely Radha to his side:

Photo: Jeremy Hunter

Simplicity is the essence of elegance!

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And since this is a series on advertising and magic — what, you might wish to know, is the advertising connection here?

Well, “to borrow a leaf from his bio, photographer JEREMY HUNTER began his career in advertising — as a television creative, working for Young and Rubicam, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy and Bates, and winning a number of international awards in Cannes, Venice, New York and Los Angeles along the way.

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Earlier in this series:

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  • Advertising series 01: Music
  • Eros, the Renaissance and advertising
  • Authentic, spiritual magic!
  • The magic of advertising or the commercialization of magic?
  • I’ve got about a dozen more posts to go, and already this is shaping up to be a terrific series — keep your eyes out for further installments!


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