- [ exploring various versions of how the world of concepts can itself be conceptualized ]
Have patience with me: Omar Ali has invited me to post here, an honor I greatly appreciate, and I am introducing myself.
I’m an outsider. I’m your guest, and I only just arrived.. To be precise, I’m a Brit, resident in the United States:
If I’m to write on BrownPundits, I need to you know how ignorant I am in many respects, before I shed some of what knowledge I do possess — and also to focus myself in the Brown direction, because this place is devoted to “a discussion of things brown” — and while I’ll no doubt wander far afield as I post, I want to acknowledge and honor the purpose of this blog as I introduce myself here.
My interest, my fascination, my obsession even, is with the weave of the world. And indeed, if my friends Omar Ali, Ali Minai, and Hasan Asif can be any indication, the Punditry of Brown extends intellectually across all of history, geography and genius, to encompass the world of ideas and the world world to which the ideas refer in their combined entirety..
And thus the weave of the thing. That’s how the Kathasaritsagara, or Ocean of the Streams of Story, comes in to my story. Somadeva Bhatta’s concept of the oceanic streams of story caught Salman Rushdie’s eye, and Rushdie reference to it —
He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead, but alive.
— it’s a universal mapping of the sort that enchants the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco, librarians both, encompassing the realm of human thought in narrative terms. And it’s one subcontinewntal form of the universal map, or model, or metaphor — the Net of Indra in the Avataṃsaka Sutra would be another.
Outside the subcontinent — but well within the compass of Brown Punditry– there are other such metaphors for the whole of the whole. Teilhard de Chardin’s oosphere is another, as is Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s >World Wide Web, in which complex weave of thoughts we now find ourselves.
But for my own purposes, the most interesting figure of the whole, the universe as we are able to think and name it, conceptually speaking, is the Glass Bead Game as described by Hermann Hesse in his Nobel-winning novel of that name
My own personal predilections run from cultural anthropology through comparative religion to depth psychology, and from violence to peace-making. But that’s a huge sprawl at best, and to bring all that into some kind of focus, to learn how to map that immense territory, and the vaster universe beyond it, I turn not just to strong>Hesse’s novel, but particularly to the Game which he describes in that book:
The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.
You’ll see how that description covers much the same ground as Rushdie’s description of the Kathasaritsagara, and Edward Tufte’s image of the Ocean of Story which I’ve placed at the top of this post could also be a depiction of Hesse’s great Game.
There are many voices in the Ocean, and many voices in the Game, and they are interwoven: they form which a musician would recognize as a polyphony — their concepts and narratives at times clashing as in musical counterpoint, at times resolving, at least temporarily, in a refreshing harmony.
And what better model of the world can we contemplate at this moment, that one in which a multitude of at times discordant voices wind their ways to concord?
[ above: conventional score, bar-graph score and keyboard recordings of JS Bach, contrapunctus ix
Johann Sebastian Bach is the master of contrapuntal music, and, be it noted, a great composer for and improviser on the organ. And it is Bach whose music I listen to as I approach the business of modeling the world of ideas.
My mantram ca 1999/2000 was:<To hold the mind of Bach..
Where Bach devises and holds in mind melodies that collide and cohere, I want us to hold thoughts in mind — at times clashing thoughts — and learn to weave them into a coherent whole..
That’s my approach to making the Glass Bead Game which Hesse conceptualized, playable. And my playable variants on Hesse’s Game, the HipBone family of games, will be the topic of my next few posts — thanks to the kind inquiries of my BrownPundit friends, and Omar’s generous invitation to me to post here.
And perhaps, if you’re interested, we’ll play a few rounds of my games, or explore across the world of ideas and your and my interests, what I’ve come to think of as the HipBone style of thinking..
Charles Cameron is a poet and game designer, managing editor of the Zenpundit blog, and now an invited guest at BrownPundits. You can hear a discussion of the overlap between the Glass Bead Game and Artificial Intelligence featuring Omar Ali, Ali Minai and myself on this BrownPundits podcast — with an appreciative bow to Razib Khan.
11 thoughts on “Contemplating the weave of the world”
Thanks for your challenge. I am not really brown, but you can consider me as a brown’s cousin. I’ll try to be the briefest possible. What is this about? About the concept of concepts? In search of essence? It seems we are striving toward the God and his (her/its) super-super concept. AT much lower level some are trying to persuade us that they are messengers of the super-super concept (Vatican, Rothschilds through US policies, House of Lords…). Not only messengers, they try to convince us that their concept of exceptionality is divine and that all means should be used to be enforced. They create and enforce for us concepts of our past (history), presence and future. The concept of our past is a foundation stone of our future.
Do you consider that the concept of our past is intentionally deformed by intermediaries for very mundane practical purposes? Thinking people can go some way through the fog and layers after layers of concepts but for the rest is everything pretty clear and doubtless. I am trying here to clarify at least one dubious concept of our common past but even among thinking people it is very difficult undertaking. Txs, may come with more.
PS….forgotten…Ocean is a good metaphor for conceptualization. I spend every day couple hours (at weekends more) sitting 5 meters from the ocean trying to clarify and interweave my own concepts. Cheers.
BTW Milan, do you direct films? There’s a filmmaker of that name..
When I was a boy, history was the Kings and Queens of England, and geography was the map of the British empire and its trade routes and goods (bauxite?what the hell was that?). I failed to be interested, until Leakey’s brother taught me some cultural anthropology, introducing me to the Venus of Willendorf and onwards..
I cut through as much fog as I can for my own information, but what I’m concentrating on in these posts is Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, as described in his book, not the general past, present or future. The Game is about the great thoughts — whether verbal, musical, artistic, mathematical, etc, and how they interrelate.
Beyond that, my focus will zoom in on my own playable variant on Hesse’s game, in the hopes that some here may be interested in playing a round or two. This first post provided some very general context — I’ll get more specific as we go along.
Thanks for reply, Charles. I read long time ago the book, I need to start rereading some past books (currently Mahabharata). Just couple side connections. Tomas Mann was born in Lubeck, the area where lived ancient Serbian tribes who were later Germanised. The original name was Ljubica which is a Serbian female name (=Violet, field flower). The Trave (river) is in Serbian – grass. Hesse lived in Swabia which got the name from Serbian tribe Svebi (btw. 70% of Germans are ethnically Serbs, even His Fight confesses). Hesse died in Switzerland, old name Helvetia which also got its name from ancient Serbian tribe Helveti (close to other Serbian speaking tribe Burgundy)….Hope a modest contribution to your concept weaving. Cheers
// Kathasaritsagara, or Ocean of the Streams of Story, comes in to my story. Somadeva Bhatta‘s concept of the oceanic streams of story //
Since mahA pitRvya (grand uncle), somadeva bhaTTa, is mentioned my namaskAra to him! somadeva was cited by rAjAnaka kalhaNa too.
kathAsaritasAgara, compiled in 11c Kashmir, is one of the oldest compilations of old Kashmiri legends, interspersed with some Buddhist jAtaka-s. The rendition is distinctly shaiva. Some of the basic narratives survive to this day in Kashmiri Pandit folklore.
I have an interest in, but very limited knowledge of, Kashmiri Saivism, through my long and treasured friendship with Mark Dyczkowski, who sat at the feet of Laksmanjoo.
A real life Magister Ludi — looking forward to reading your posts.
I am, as you might expect, a little shy about accepting that title — the only living human to whom Hesse himself gave the title was Thomas Mann, who features in the book as the Magister Ludi Thomas von der Trave. — but I am certainly grateful for your gracious comment, and very much hope you will enjoy the posts to follow
On Twitter, Ali Minai commented:
The conceptual web that fascinates me the most is the web of life in which each species is a concept, each organism an utterance ….
One of my own interests in the weaving metaphor is the Loom of Form and Meaning which analyses the effect of varying contexts (a word etymologically derived from weaving) on themes>
Fpor JK’s accompanying image, see:
I’ll try to incorporate the web of life & species and the loom of form & meaning — also the ocean and oceanic — where appropriate as I develop this series of posts. My thanks to all!
I am finishing…
Just a reference on your Bach. Immediately, I always remember tragic Steiner and his Toccata and Fugue from Dolce Vita (and Marcelo at the best).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ss9reS6BZtw (2 min)
I prefer Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto (btw. Brandenburg is the original Serbian place – Branibor in the Serbian founded city of Berlin, so as British bombed Dresden, etc.). And for this type of music and for baroque – Handel.
May I suggest as a new experience something similar but different from my proximity – Serbian Requiem.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2CiRRjIAA4 (11 min)
Yesterday, I posted here something light and popular (1973) as a half-joke re Serbian hijab and my contribution to the hijab’s Thread:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1Da4Ax6dqM (3 min)
Well, we had a interweaving of music (various), history (hidden, forbidden), geopolitics, religion, civilisation, culture (hijab ?) and as a pandan to E. Humperdinck’s Spanish eyes – L. Martin’s Serbian eyes.
All the best.
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