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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.

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.

Sunday surprise — Xanatos and other Gambits, &c

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — (some of) what gaming, TV watching & quotation mining can get you in terms of strategy ]
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First off, let me thank Trent Telenko for turning me onto the Xanatos Gambit at at ChicagoBoyx, which started me on this particular chose of a gaggle of wild geese..

The Xanatos Gambit caught my eye by virtue of its decision flow chart [you start at the top]:

That’s brilliant — not a win-win play, but an i-win-anyway ploy. [Linguists — remind me whether ploy is a warped variant of play, will you?] And Trent then identifies the Xanatos Gambit as Donald Trump’s characteristic play.. ploy.

Here’s an explanatory para::

A Xanatos Gambit is a plan for which all foreseeable outcomes benefit the creator — including ones that superficially appear to be failure. The creator predicts potential attempts to thwart the plan, and arranges the situation such that the creator will ultimately benefit even if their adversary “succeeds” in “stopping” them. When faced with a Xanatos Gambit the options are either to accept that the creator will get the upper hand and choose the outcome that is least beneficial to them, or to defeat them by finding a course that they didn’t predict.

Another:

A Xanatos Gambit is a Plan whose multiple foreseen outcomes all benefit its creator. It’s a win-win situation for whoever plots it.

Here’s a quote from a source unknown to me: Cavilo, The Vor Game:

The key to strategy… is not to choose a path to victory, but to choose so that all paths lead to a victory.

Xanatos Gambit / Real Life

In the casino business they say that the house always wins, and indeed, it’s true. When gamblers lose all their money, the house gets rich, but when someone has a lucky streak and wins big, this only serves to encourage others to take more risks, which means the house will actually get even richer in the long run for having “lost” some money to a big winner. The law of large numbers is on their side, after all. This is, in short, how casinos can stay in business—they virtually always turn a profit on the actual gambling

Okay, here the geese gaggle in formation after the Gambit. Our clue:

Xanatos Speed Chess trumps Xanatos Gambits.

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Xanatos Speed Chess:

Cosmo Lavish, a Terry Pratchett banker character from Discworld, saith:

Plans can break down. You cannot plan the future. Only presumptuous fools plan. The wise man steers.

I agree wholeheartedly with “You cannot plan the future” — a point I’ve made in my Art of Future Warfare entries

And since we’re in Chess territory:

The Chessmaster:

What? That I used two fourteen-year-old pawns to turn a knight and topple a king? It’s chess, Daniel. Of course you don’t understand.

Unwitting Pawn

Tend to be played by The Chessmaster, logically enough.

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Well, I could go on, but let me just list some of the pages I came across, and invite you to look where your interests take you..

Gambit Roulette

A convoluted Plan that relies on events completely within the realm of chance yet comes off without a hitch.

How can anyone, even skilled conspirators, predict with perfect accuracy the outcome of a car crash? How can they know in advance that a man will go to a certain pay phone at a certain time, so that he can see a particular truck he needs to see? How can the actions of security guards be accurately anticipated? Isn’t it risky to hinge an entire plan of action on the hope that the police won’t stop a car speeding recklessly through a downtown area?

If your first reaction to seeing the plan unfold is “There is no way that you planned that!”, then it’s roulette.

The Trickster

This fellow coyote is,
fellow the road-runner is but a shadow of, is
by definition, tricky, has
a penis can cross
the Ventura freeway
in seek of skirt, whose
penis maybe run over
by fate’s own eighteen wheeler..

Poem of mine.

The Fool:

Well, I see the Fool differently:

I claim the final authority, rule
from the steps below the throne.
Kings look to me for approval, fool
that I am, for at court, I alone
see all men as wind in a cage of bone.

Another poem of mine — brought down from the attic.

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside An Enigma

That’s Churchill, Winston:

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.

Riddle for the Ages
Secret Identity Identity
Multilayer Facade
Gambit Pileup

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There is also:

Knight Templar:

This fellow interests me because of my recent 5,000 word foray into Templar territory, Templarios: Echoes of the Templars and Parallels Elsewhere for Doc Bunker‘s next volume — but what really struck me was the quote used as an epigraph to the topic. It’s from James Baldwin:

Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart, for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.

For Jim Gant, On the Resurrection, 03

Monday, April 9th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a repeatable dream back then, alas no longer ]
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What happens, in other words, when imagination enters factual reality?

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This doesn’t, as far as I can tell, heppen only in Christianity — Henry Corbin’s book, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, if I read it right, narrates an apparition of Beauty in the life of the Sufi known to Islam as the Sheikh al-Akbar, the Greatest Sheikh.

In India I was taught that Valmiki wrote the Ramayana, and Vishnu liked it so well he took the avatar-form of Rama to live out the epid in Valmiki’s honor, amybe 10,000 years later, every last detail correct.

Folklore, no doubt?

I have my own experiences.

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When I was about eight or so, I had a recurring dream, in which I was walking in the (grassy) English countryside, and a series of holes began opening in the earth around and in front of me. They were roughly manhole-sized holes, and after I had avoided a couple of them, I fell down one of them, much like Alice.

I found myself in Hell. To be precise, I was in a sort of stable with a number of stalls off a corridor that linked them — with fires burning in the stalls. Someone tried to throw me on one of the fires, and I objected, telling them I was a friend of the management — so they went off someplace to check.

When they came back, they told me that I did in fact have the freedom of the whole place — and indicated to me that besides the stables with their fires, there were two further rooms, one of which was a vast granary filled with silver corn, the other a granary of golden corn.

I would wake up as I moved through those two other rooms — and if I woke without having had this dream, I would frequently burrow back under my sheets and covers and demand it. And it would come.

The dream gave me a distinct sense that I need “fear no evil” — that hell could not in the final analysis touch me. This was its gift to me at the time, and I find it amazing that this particular gift was engraven in my dreaming consciousness maybe thirty or more times over a period of a few impressionable years…

It also told me that I was a citizen of the two realms represented by the granaries of silver and golden corn. I take them to be lunar and solar granaries, and equate them with the realms of poetry and mysticism, respectively: or one might think of them as savikalpa and nirvikalpa, via positiva and via negativa, Broceliande and Jerusalem, the imaginal and the radiant.

It was also clear that all three realms belonged to that same “management” whose friendship I had claimed, and which allowed me the freedom of the three realms. I understood on reading Dante (and remembering the dream after a lapse of years) that all three realms are realms of the divine love.

So in some very real and important sense, the seeds were never mine…

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Well, that’s pure dream, with its waking content a way of moving through this world.

For Jim Gant, On the Resurrection, 02

Monday, April 9th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — this is really the opening salvo, bracketing the ineffable ]
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Question #2 is the real shaker, though..

Did the Resurrection really happen?

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Here’s the key para from Tolkien:

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairystory, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, selfcontained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

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What happens, in other words, when imagination enters factual reality?


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