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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.

**

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.

Authentic, spiritual magic!

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — from conjuring to gospel truth — third in a series ]
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Kwakiutl winter ceremonial mask, closed and open

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Here’s magic, as in my best recollection, a Pacific Northwestern shaman explained it to an anthro friend..

It’s my recollection that [Tlingit / Kwakiutl winter ceremonials] were both entertainment for the long winter nights and “schooling” for the young, and I have a vivid recall of reading somewhere a shaman’s admission to an anthro of the exact nature of the dramatic means by which the shaman’s capacity to defeat death was demonstrated.

I read this in the early eighties, but searching on the web I’ve found something that comes close — Clellan Stearns Ford’s record of Charles James Nowell’s memories in _Smoke from their fires: the life of a Kwakiutl chief_. Around p 120, there are two stories, the first about a girl who “turned the wrong way” during a dance, the second about a girl who is put in a box and burned. In both cases, the nature of the trickery is described but in the version I read all those years ago, the two stories were one — the girl who was put in a box in the fire pit and “burned to death” escapes through a false bottom to the box along a tunnel into the adjoining room, and her voice then issues as if from her ashes, via a kelp tube that goes from the tunnel to the adjoining room where she’s now standing.

She describes her descent into the sea realm, where she is chastened and eventually granted a boon to return to the tribe. A canoe sets out to fetch her, but by the time the audience sees it set out, she’s already secured by rope to the far side of the boat, and at a suitable distance is hauled aboard and brought back to shore, alive.

A child seeing this would be mightily predisposed to believing the shaman had healing powers, and by the time the ruse was revealed, that underpinning of faith is already in place.

In the Nowell version, even the adults, who “know” the deception involved, are deceived: “The fire burned and the box burned, and she was still singing inside, and then the box go up in flames, and they can see her burning there in her blue blanket, and all her relatives just cry and cry. Although they know it is not real, it looks so real they can’t help it. It was all a trick. There was a hole under the box with a tunnel leading out of the house, and the woman went out of the box and put a seal in her place wrapped in a blue blanket, and then someone sang into the fire through a kelp tube, her song. Oh, it looked real!”

One source I found recently online:

Tom McFeat, Indians of the North Pacific Coast: Studies in Selected Topics

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I would like to suggest to you that magic, if you think of it as imagic, has to do with image, and is usefully considered as another term for or related to, imagination..

There are a couple of other categoies I’d like to bring to your attention: (i) coincidences or synchronicities, which can border on (2) the miraculous, at its finest a sacred business, (3) poetry, at its most beautiful, true and good, (4) sacraments, defined as revelations of “an inward an spiritual grace” my means of an “outward and physical sign” — and (5) the Eucatastrophe as described by JRR Tolkien in his masterful essay, On Fairy-tales..

The Gospels contain a fairy-story, 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.

**

Magic: there’s more to it than advertising, but advertising may deploy it.

Trump Comey — utterly devastating, no match

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — trump triumphing, trump trumped — which is it, obvs? ]
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Both op-eds, both from Washington Post, yesterday, June 10 2017:

My point being that we tend to write as though what seems obvious to us is obvious period, when it obviously isn’t always. A pity.

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Sources:

  • Why Comey’s testimony was utterly devastating to Trump
  • Boy Scout James Comey is no match for Donald Trump
  • Oh I mean, everyone does it — I no doubt do it too. But according to Dorothy Lee, Linguistic Reflection of Winto Thought, among the Wintu there is an “attitude of humility and respect toward reality, toward nature and society”:

    I cannot find an adequate English term to apply to a habit of thought that is so alien to our culture. We are aggressive toward reality. We say, This is bread; we do not say, as the Wintu, I call this bread or I feel or taste or see it to be bread. The Wintu never say starkly this is; if he speaks of reality that is not within his own restricting experience, he does not affirm it, he only implies it. If he speaks of his experience he does not express it as categorically true.

    Footnoted readings 04 – CVE, jihad & liminality

    Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — a term from cultural anthropology as a marker for jihadist intensity ]
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    Ahmed S. Younis, Deputy Special Envoy and Coordinator, Global Engagement Center, U.S. Department of State, during the George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security event, Toward a Global Partnership to Counter Online Radicalization and Extremism, the Understanding Online Counter-Messaging panel, March 28,2017, a little after the 2 hr 03’50” mark in the video above:

    I would posit that terrorism and extremism by their definition are liminal states. They are defined by their inbetweenness. And often when we see someone who is radicalizing towards terrorism, they are shifting in a crevice between a series of pieces of life that bring them to a place where this type of activity appears as a solution or an option for their frustration with lived experience. And we lose, as people who want to fight this effort, when we try to pretend this is all about shariah and fiqh and issues of Islam. .. If radicalizing is sexy, then that sexiness is by definition interdisciplinary, and we have to meet people in the liminality of their moment. .. Reality is complex, and it is interdisciplinary.

    **

    My eyes prick up — I know, “pricking up” is really a phrase that’s apt for the ears, but I think it should apply to the eyes as well — my eyes do a double-take when I see the word “liminal”. It signals importance.

    I’ve talked about liminality before, lightheartedly [Liminality I: the kitsch part] and more seriously [Liminality II: the serious part] — but by way of a reminder, I’ll just quote two stories from the latter, along with this definition:

    liminality is between-ness — it’s what happens on thresholds

    Here are the two stories:

    Something pretty remarkable happened as 1999 turned into 2000 — something liminal. And it happened aboard the USS Topeka, SSN-754 (below):

    USS Topeka, credit: United States Navy, released ID 090623-N-1126G-005

    The Associated Press reported:

    Its bow in one year, its stern in another, the USS Topeka marked the new millennium 400 feet beneath the International Dateline in the Pacific ocean. The Pearl Harbor-based navy submarine straddled the line, meaning that at midnight, one end was in 2000 while the other was still in 1999… The 360-foot-long sub, which was 2,100 miles from Honolulu, Hawaii, straddled the Equator at the same time, meaning it was in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Some of the 130 crewmembers were in Winter in the North, while others were in Summer in the South…

    Sitting pretty on the threshold between two millennia, two centuries, two decades, years, seasons, months, days and hemispheres was an extraordinarily liminal idea — as the two-faced January is a liminal month — and I think illustrates effectively the terrific power of the liminal to sway human thinking

    Navy commanders in charge of billion dollar ships seldom get up to such “fanciful” behaviors!

    And if we might turn from the contemporary US Navy and its submarine to ancient Indian mythology and Hindu religion for a moment:

    Narsingh avatar depicted in Nepali dance, credit: Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters / Landov

    The story of Narsingh (above), the fourth avatar of Vishnu in Vaisnavism, also captures the idea of what’s meant by thresholds very nicely:

    A tyrannous and oppressive king obtained a boon from the gods that he should die “neither by day nor night, neither within the palace nor outside it, neither at the hand of man nor beast” and thought his boon conveyed immortality — but when he persecuted his son, a devotee of God, a half-man half-lion figure — the Narsingh avatar of Vishnu — met him on his own doorstep at dusk and slew him, so that he died neither by day nor by night, neither within the palace nor outside it, and neither at the hand of beast nor of man.

    Dusk, doorsteps and metamorphs are all liminal — with respect to day and night, home and abroad, man and beast respectively.

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    Two other references at the intersection of terrorism and liminality:

    Arthur Saniotis writes in Re-Enchanting Terrorism: Jihadists as “Liminal Beings”:

    Religious terrorists have been the subject of much scholarly scrutiny. While such analyses have endeavored to elucidate the ideological logic and implications of religious terrorism, the transnational character of jihadists necessitates new ways of understanding this phenomenon. My article attempts to explain how jihadists can be defined as liminal beings who seek to re-enchant the world via their symbolic and performative features. Jihadists’ strategically position themselves as ambiguous not only as a distinguishing device, but also to enhance their belief of a cosmic war on earth. Jihadists’ use of symbolic imagery on the internet works within the ambit of a magical kind of panoptic power which seeks to both impress and terrify viewers.

    And Marisa Urgo Shaalan, in the course of a post on Liminality at her Making Sense of Jihad blog powerfully comments:

    perhaps the most important factor drawing many young men into jihad is the sense that it is authentic and sacramental life. [And I mean sacramental. Jihad is a sacred act that they are told guarantees them paradise.]

    Recommended.

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    I’d be very interested to learn more about Dr Younis’ insights into liminality in jihadist recruitment, and it’s implications for CVE.

    Question time — eye contact?

    Friday, March 31st, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — i’d like to know more around a fly-by comment re Rex Tillerson — autism, Japanese tantrism, Medusa — any takers? ]
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    The allegation is that State Department employees, some of them, were instructed not to make eye contact with new State boss Rex Tillerson. That’s from WaPo:

    Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.

    **

    Gaze is a fascinating business.

    When I came back to the UK after living in the US for a couple of decades, my mother was appalled by my tendency to look her in the eye when speaking to her. She told me that you should look away from the person you are addressing, to avoid shaming them by closely observing their reactions to what you’re saying, but should then watch them while they (with eyes averted from you) responded, so as to catch the nuances of their response. Your interlocutor thus gains precious moments in which to modify the immediacy of their response to the suitable response of their choosing. This, I imagine, incoudes but may not be limited to the very rapid, easily missed facial responses knoan as microexpressions.

    I by contrast like the direct gaze, and think of it as a sign of authenticity or perhaps earnestness.

    **

    Investgations of those on the autism spectrum (somewhere, at some time, likely recently and in a specific population) reveals ASD subjects “shifted their gaze away from a speaker earlier than the control groups.”

    Eye contact, or lack of it, can have enormously strong affective implications, as we see in this example taken from Sophocles‘ Antigone:

    The stage ‘etiquette’ of Attic tragedy calls for actors/characters visually to acknowledge one another or the Chorus before establishing verbal contact. The title character of Sophocles’ Antigone flouts this custom to interesting effect by keeping her gaze lowered to the ground after the guard, having caught her in the forbidden act of burying her brother, leads her back into the playing space. The Chorus of Theban elders obliquely acknowledge Antigone’s presence at 376, expres sin their consternation at the sight of ‘this supernatural portent’. They address her directly as child of Oedipus at 379–80. But Antigone remains unresponsive, reacting neither to the Chorus nor to the guard’s announcement a few lines later that ‘this is the one who did the deed’ (384). Instead she keeps her gaze fixed on the ground and stands silently by for over 65 lines, while the guard explains to Creon and the Chorus how she was captured. Readers of Sophocles’ play become aware of Antigone’s earthbound gaze only retrospectively at 441, where Creon addresses her with a brusque ‘Hey you, the one bowing your head to the ground …’

    The three sacred treasurs of Japan are presented to the Emperor during the Japanese equivalent of coronation — during a tantric ceremonial in which the Emperor is united with his Sun Goddess and originating ancestor, Amaterasu Omikami — see:

  • Robert S. Ellwood, The Feast of Kingship: Accession Ceremonies in Ancient Japan
  • D. C. Holtom, Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies: With an Account of the Imperial Regalia
  • And famously, Medusa must not be looked upon directly, lest one be turned into stone. It transpires that Medusa was once a beauty indeed to be gazed upon. In the words of Dryden‘s Ovid:

    Medusa once had charms; to gain her love
    A rival crowd of envious lovers strove.
    They, who have seen her, own, they ne’er did trace
    More moving features in a sweeter face.
    Yet above all, her length of hair, they own,
    In golden ringlets wav’d, and graceful shone.
    Her Neptune saw, and with such beauties fir’d,
    Resolv’d to compass, what his soul desir’d.
    In chaste Minerva’s fane, he, lustful, stay’d,
    And seiz’d, and rifled the young, blushing maid.

    Athena’s gaze at this scene, and turning away of that gaze, is the topic of Ovid’s next lines:

    The bashful Goddess turn’d her eyes away,
    Nor durst such bold impurity survey;
    But on the ravish’d virgin vengeance takes,
    Her shining hair is chang’d to hissing snakes.
    These in her Aegis Pallas joys to bear,
    The hissing snakes her foes more sure ensnare,
    Than they did lovers once, when shining hair.

    And thus Medusa becomes the famous face which cannot be directly gazed upon in peril of being turned to stone:

    That horrid head, which stiffens into stone
    Those impious men who, daring death, look on.

    so that:

    Two hundred, by Medusa’s head were ston’d.

    Medusa is killed only when Perseus observes her reflected in his polished shield:

    But as he journey’d, pensive he survey’d,
    What wasteful havock dire Medusa made.
    Here, stood still breathing statues, men before;
    There, rampant lions seem’d in stone to roar.
    Nor did he, yet affrighted, quit the field,
    But in the mirror of his polish’d shield
    Reflected saw Medusa slumbers take,
    And not one serpent by good chance awake.
    Then backward an unerring blow he sped,
    And from her body lop’d at once her head.
    The gore prolifick prov’d; with sudden force
    Sprung Pegasus, and wing’d his airy course.

    One wonders how much irony there is in that phrase, “not one serpent by good chance awake” — chance, or fate?

    **

    I don’t have direct access to the World Encyclopedia of Lowered Eyes and Direct Gazes, but there’s clearly plenty to read in social anthropology, depth psychology on the topic —

  • Scientific American, Eye Contact Can Be Overwhelming
  • Psychology Today, The Secrets of Eye Contact, Revealed
  • Jane Lydon, Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians
  • — and so forth

    So I’ve titled this post Question time, hoping Zp readers will chime in with significant readeings that explore the reasons Tillerson may have requested no eye-contact — if in fact he did.

    Because this whole post, and a flurry of activity on the web, hinges on a very short phrase in that WaPo piece:

    some [diplomats] have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact

    which presumably falls within the category RUMINT unoess otherwise corroborated by named and trustworthy sources.

    Eye contact — any suggestions?


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