The Ideal and the Practical — the Practice

I’d written a response to @AnAn and included a quote from the Chuang Tzu’s chapter on Lord Wen-hui and what he learned from his Cook Ting, and wanted to throw in the following DoubleQuote — but graphics seem to be discouraged in the Comment sections here, so I’ve opened this post for the purpose:

The thing is, Lao Tzu offers us the ideal statement, formulated in terms of an impenetrable absence of space, and an absence of substance to the point of non-existence — while Chuang Tzu, peering over Lord Wen-hui’s shoulder right there in Cook Ting’s kitchen, offers us the same insight, couched in terms of there being “spaces between the joints” and his knife having “really no thickness” — Chuang Tzu’s measureless insight penetrates Lao Tzu’s impenetrable absolutes to show us there’s room for play there — “room — more than enough for the blade to play about in”.

If we bear these two versions of the same idea — formulated ideally and in practical terms by the two principle philosopher-poets of the Taoist school — in mind when our thoughts run up against the impracticality of an ideal, we may find, like Cook Ting, that we too have room enough room to play in.

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I’m fond of saying “two is the first number”

I was senior analyst in a small and wonderfully eccentric DC Beltway think tank a while back, and my boss kept asking me for what he called “early indicators” of upcoming troubles. The trouble was, I never saw an “indicator” as such — I only ever saw “indicators” plural. It takes two to tango, they say, and from my POV it takes two to make a pattern.

My HipBone Games began as an attempt to make Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game playable, preferably on a paper napkin in a sidewalk cafe, so I began with boards like my WaterBird —

— with ten moves, ten concepts arrayed in such a way that players or later readers could see ten richly interconnected concepts in one place — concepts that might be textual, musical, mathematical, visual, filmic — if we’d known how to convey smells via the internet, I’d have included those, too..

And over time, I discovered the obvious — that the fundamental game move involved two concepts, with one bridging link between them. So that’s the fundamental way to learn to play the HipBone Games. Over time, I’ve come to rely more and more on this simplest of HipBone Games, the DoubleQuote:

— leaving the larger HipBone Gameboards — the 8-move Dart board on up to the 120-odd Said Symphony board, dedicated to, you may have guessed it, Edward Said, and available for possible competition games and solo symphonies.

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What’s a concept, you might ask — what constitutes a move?

I might use a different definition if I were taking about anything other than the Bead Game, but in this context, a concept is a rich idea — an idea with rich possibilities for association. Let me take a paragraph from a New Yorker piece as an example:

Melissa and Ashley, identical twins from Georgia, shared a bedroom while growing up. They had the same best friend, took classes together in high school, and dreamed of becoming artists in their own collective. “We’re like two different people with one brain,” Melissa liked to say.

The article in question is titled An Underground College for Undocumented Immigrants — so there’s room associations with the underground railroad perhaps, another situation where the official system repressed a minority, and that minority found ways to circumvent the system.

I’ve chosen this example, in fact, because it offers numerous associative possibilities — to other ideas, narratives, or statistical finds about twins, to other New Yorker articles, to underground movie theaters or catacombs, to those who dream of becoming artists — and in particular for my purposes here, because it’s about two people who think, almost as if they are one.

In fact, to emphasis this notion of unity and harmony, I might simply chose this statement for the first position in my DoubleQuote::

We’re like two different people with one brain

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Let’s use a musical analogy, and say the two of them think in close harmony, or, since there are two of them, that thinking together, they constitute a duet..

The opposite of harmony,in which many notes played simultaneously form a chord, is counterpoint, in which differing melodic lines move between discord and resolution — harmony a “vertical” matter, synchronic, while counterpoint is “horizontal” and diachronic —

— and the opposite of a duet is a duel.

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The two friends in Don DeLillo’s New Yorker piece, Midnight in Dostoevsky like to keep their minds at opposite poles from each other. As one of the two reports:

He liked to test himself on what he knew. He liked to stop walking to emphasize a point as I walked on. This was my counterpoint, to let him stand there talking to a tree. The shallower our arguments, the more intense we became.

I wanted to keep this one going, to stay in control, to press him hard. Did it matter what I said?

The actual phrase I’d place in juxtaposition to the first paragraph above might come from a discussion of whether the old man walking in front of them that day was wearing an anorak or a parka —

It was our routine; we were ever ready to find a matter to contest.

Again, the context — the article itself — is rich in associative potentials, with parkas, anoraks, Inuits, linguistics, life in the arctic circle, the whole idea of North — on which the pianist Glenn Gould wrote an entire radio opera

— and note that Gould is himself a master of counterpoint, specializing in the work of JS Bach, and called his radio opera technique “contrapuntal radio” —

So:

“This was counterpoint” — the opposite of harmony, and full of both conflict and resolution, with phrases isolated and overlapping, paused and repeated, denial and occasional agreement and renewed denial — a duel, not by any means a duet.

And yet each of our two excerpts describes the conversations of two close friends, the one emphasizing unity, the other diversity. And it is in the similarities and differences between the two conversation — between duel and duet — that the two concepts link to become a single move.

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Having given that extended example, let me present a few more DoubleQuotes, in their positions on the board — with minimal explanations:

Some of them are made of names or phrases so simple, they fit on a mini-version of the board:

Some bring Shakespeare to bear on current events — in this case, Saudi Crown Prince MBS and the Khashoggi murder:

Some showing similarities in different materials:

Some making historical comparisons — this one’s in an earlier version of the same board —

or opposite opinions and creative practices of two of the world’s most distinguished physicists:

or — and this is my personal favorite, crossing as it does the great disciplinary boundary — between CP Snow’s Two Cultures — between art and science:

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But either I’ve been very unclear, or you get the idea.

Here’s the blank DoubleQuotes board again, for you to download and drop your own examples into.

At gmail I’m hipbonegamer — feel free to send me your own, with any explanation you feel like making, and in a later post I’ll put them up here.

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By request — the ouroboros game

Callum Flack saw my recent post here and wanted to see examples of the Ouroboros board in use — so this post is for him, and Ali Minai too if self-reference interests him — I’m guessing it does, unless computer science has moved so far ahead since Hofstadter wrote Godel Escher Bach that it no longer applies..

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How to explain the ouroboros? It’s the ancient and ubiquitous symbol, found earliest, perhaps, in Pharaonic Egypt, of a serpent biting its own tail:

More recently, it’s a popular image in alchemy

Self bites itself. And that’s a pattern worth watching.

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Wikipedia tells us, quoting a Harvard study by Michael Witzel:

in the Aitareya Brahmana, a Vedic text of the early 1st millennium BCE, the nature of the Vedic rituals is compared to “a snake biting its own tail.”

Then there’s this example from a medieval Indian scripture, the Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad:

The divine power, Kundalini, shines like the stem of a young lotus; like a snake, coiled round upon herself she holds her tail in her mouth and lies resting half asleep as the base of the body

That’s ouroboros.

There’s a marvelous moment in the film Silence of the Lambs when the young FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, asks the psychiatrist and serial killed Hannibal Lecter:

You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don’t you – why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to.

That’s ouroboros.

The paradox of Epimenideas, the Cretan philosopher who declared “all Cretans are always liars” which St Paul mentions in his Epistle to Titus, is ouroboric.

Artists, too, can take an interest in such things as hands that are drawing hands drawing hands — a double ouroboros (MC Escher)..

or pipes that are not pipes (Magritte):

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Anyway, here for any who are interested, are some instances of the one-move self-referential Ouroboros board in use:

I think you’ll see why this New Yorker title jumped out of the page at me:

Writers like ’em!

I really liked these two examples, carried by political activists — the first on a back-pack:

and the second on a placard — totally surreal, bearing no relation to the political event which was being protested:

That, too, is an ouroboros.

Nancy Pelosi used a weird ouroboros the other day, saying:

The logo of 8chan, home of the image-board where the extremists of the alt-right meet and plot away from prying eyes is another double ouroboros:

Here’s one from Hofstadter’s book, Godel Escher Bach:

And finally, here are five instances collected by the writer William Safire:

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I hope you like these, and find your own — here, again, is the empty Ouroboros game board in case you wish to drop your own examples into it!

Enjoy!

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Magic and advertising

This is to alert BrownPundit readers to a series I’ve begun on Zenpundit, my other punditry-posting place. It’s about Ioan Couliano’s argument in his book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance that the Renaissance art of Magic was essentially a matter of conjuring desire in the recipient by means of visual imagery, and that the Art has been revived with great success in the present day, in the form of commercial advertising.

Roughly speaking, then, Magic is the defendant, modernity-secularity-technology is the prosecution team — who don’t bother to call witnesses because, m’lord, it’s plain obvious that magical thinking is superstitious nonsense — and a bucket-load of TV commercials form the evidence presented by the defense.

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But wait a minute — here’s magic:

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Whether you’re secular or a devotee, that photographic image is magical in that a simple hand-gesture conjures up a flute. The flute isn’t there, objectively speaking — and yet there’s a flute, Krishna is quite obviously playing it, and indeed its mellifluous power of enchantment has drawn the lovely Radha to his side.

About Krishna’s flute — you may know far more than I, but at least I can point to Denise Levertov and Edward C Dimmock’s poem in Songs in Praise of Krishna — from the Bengali:
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Radha is terrified on her way to the forest

O Madhava, how shall I tell you of my terror?
I could not describe my coming here
if I had a million tongues.
When I left my room and saw the darkness
I trembled:
I could not see the path,
there were snakes that writhed round my ankles!

I was alone, a woman; the night was so dark,
the forest so dense and gloomy,
and I had so far to go.
The rain was pouring down —
which path should I take?
My feet were muddy
and burning where thorns had scratched them.
But I had the hope of seeing you, none of it mattered,
and now my terror seems far away. . . .
When the sound of your flute reaches my ears
it compels me to leave my home, my friends,
it draws me into the dark toward you.

I no longer count the pain of coming here,
says Govinda-dasa

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And what does all this have to do with advertising?

My response is that the Krishna and Radha in this photo were captured, and Krishna’s flute conjured, by the eye of a pro commercial guy:

JEREMY HUNTER began his career in advertising – as a television creative, working for Young and Rubicam, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy and Bates, along the way winning a number of international awards in Cannes, Venice, New York and Los Angeles. During this time he worked with some of Britain’s most iconic film directors – John Schlesinger, Ken Russell, Tony Scott, Dick Lester, Nic Roeg, Richard Loncraine as well as Oscar-winning Editor Jim Clark and photographer Terence Donovan.

That’s the resume of a contemporary magician.

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In case you’re interested, the posts in my Magic and Commercials series on Zenpundit to date are:

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 — but more and more evidence keeps turning up in favor of the defense.

Magic, court observers seem to think, is likely to be vindicated.

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Brownpundits- Episode 8. The Glass Bead Game (and the decline of Western Civ)

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

This week Omar talks to poet Charles Cameron (who also runs the Zenpundit security blog and is something of a vagabond monk) and Professor Ali Minai (a professor of Electrical engineering who focuses on complex systems and artificial intelligence, but who is also a published Urdu poet, a numismatist and an all round rennaissance man)about the Glass Bead Game, poetry, Artifical intelligence and the (possible) decline of Western civilization. (My apologies for some syncing issues in the last quarter of the podcast, where my questions start before Ali or Charles have finished speaking)

Professor Minai
Charles Cameron

PS: Razib Khan does all the editing and other electronic scut work on this site. Kindly chip in with whatever you can donate to his Patreon account and we can get some professional help for the editing and posting. Thanks

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