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Picking up on symmetries observed

[ by Charles Cameron — after Scaramucci on symmetry ]

It’s encouraging — heart-heartening — to see Doreen St. Félix at the New Yorker picking up on An Image of Revolutionary Fire at Charlottesville:

Two points about her commentary strike my interest. The first had to do, specifically, with symmetry, an old hobby-horse of mine as you may know:

Steve Helber shot an image of peculiar symmetry, in which a man of fortitude was bearing a different light. Two men extend weapons: one is the Confederate flag, furled, hiding its retrograde design, and the other is an aerosol can, modified to eject fire. The figures stand in a classical configuration, on the diagonal, as if a Dutch master has placed them just so.

The second made reference to theology..

The composition of this photo is fiercely theological. The black man is wielding what the black theologian James Cone, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, might call the “burning fire shut up in my bones,” what James Baldwin would have identified as “the fire next time.” (Cornel West, a student of Cone, has advanced the liberatory concept of “black prophetic fire”; West travelled to the city to march with members of Charlottesville’s faith community on Saturday.) It is a pose that upsets a desire for docility; it’s a rebuke to slogans such as “This is not us” or “Love not hate.” This graceful man has appropriated not only the flames of white-supremacist bigotry but also the debauched, rhetorical fire of Trump, who gloated, earlier this week, that he would respond to a foreign threat with “fire and fury.” The resistance has its fire, too.


I don’t think I see that image the same way St. Félix does. She sees fire on both sides — the fires of the tiki torches in the hands of the supremacists, though they are absent from this particular pohotograph, and the fire visible in the photo, wielded by the “man of fortitude”. Using an improvised flame-thrower strikes me as, if anything, more menacing than waving a furled flag, to be honest, and even though flame-man is in the lower position, his flame makes him, in my eyes, the dominant figure in the composition — and flag-wielder, correspondingly, even though holding the higher ground, more the underdog,

While my sympathies would naturally lie with those who protest supremacism rather than those who proclaim it, this image at first saddens me with the spectacle of fire-power unilaterally vielded by the guy I’d otherwise cheer for — and it’s only when I read a little deeper —

Long said that the protest had seemed peaceful until “someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”)

— that I began to understand why he, rather than the supremacist, might be the one who has feeling most threatened.


I feel ambiguous, then, about St Félix’ reading of the photo, but grateful that someone has an eye out for form, art, symmetry, in the photo-reporting of a vile, incendiary event.

4 Responses to “Picking up on symmetries observed”

  1. Charles Cameron Says:

    Not symmetry this time, but a nicely observed boustrophedon — the motion to and fro made by an ox ploughing a field, reaching the end and turning back:

    The president’s rhetorical ricochet — from declining on Saturday to name the bad guys in the violent confrontation in Charlottesville to his muted acknowledgment Monday that neo-Nazis and white supremacists “are criminals and thugs” and then Tuesday to a classic doubling down on his original remarks — seemed almost perfectly designed to highlight some basic truths about Donald Trump: He does not like to be told what to say. He will always find a way to pull the conversation back to himself. And he is preternaturally inclined to dance with the ones who brought him.
    Trump’s rhetorical ricochet on Charlottesville highlights basic truths about the president

  2. carl Says:

    For anybody to draw any kind “deep” conclusions about the people in this photo is foolishness. Maybe deeply felt, sincere, thoughtful foolishness but it is still foolishness. All you know about this photo is what the people in it were doing at the time it was shot. You don’t know anything at all about what happened before or after. You don’t know what was going on in the area outside the frame before or after. You don’t know what was said or how it was said. All you have is one photo selected for you out of probably hundreds that were shot that day by that photographer. It might be fun to think hard about the implications of this but it as useful as telling the future by which way a roach chooses to run.
    Boy, Ms. St. Felix seems to have a bit of a crush on the flamethrower guy. She describes him as “a man of fortitude’, “a figure of elegance” and being shirtless “movement only serves to define his muscles.” Down girl. Interesting it is that what I saw as a bit different. I saw a guy who covered his face (always a bad sign) and who fashioned a weapon beforehand and made sure he brought it with him (another bad sign). And rather than seeing some shirtless Adonis, I saw a guy who took off his shirt as a bowing up ritual in preparation for a fight. I see a guy who came looking for a fight.
    Just one last thing about the flamethrower’s account of how somebody pointed a gun at his head then shot into the ground at his feet. Yeah right buddy. Sounds more like you liked the idea of being at the center of your own little drama so you made it so.

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    Yeah, pretty much agree, Carl.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Uh-oh, another boustrophedon, this time observed by a WaPo header:
    Trump’s rhetorical ricochet on Charlottesville highlights basic truths about the president
    Okay, “rhetorical ricochet” does the boustrophedon bit nicely. If I wasn’t a classicist manque, I’d probably use it myself!
    Edited to add.. but it seems I do but repeat myself — see comment #1 !!

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