TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Leonardo da Vinci. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leonardo da Vinci. Show all posts

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Awaken the Amnesiacs 7: The Economist Predicts the Year 2017


The Economist predictions for 2017, released November 2016. Image Source: The Economist.

When I saw that The Economist's tarot spread cover for its special issue predicting next year, my heart sank. After the American election, #proofoflife at WikiLeaks, and the impeachment of the South Korean president, I did not want to think about any more political weirdness. In case you have had enough too, here is my TL;DR on The Economist's message:

The cover may or may not predict a terror attack in Europe or a nuclear threat in Asia in the first quarter of the year, cementing Trump's presidency in the second quarter. Despite the fact that Trump will backtrack on promises, his ability to mesmerize the populist masses will grow. A huge upheaval is expected in the third quarter, with Merkel likely to lose the German election and Wilders and LePen gaining in earlier elections in the Netherlands and France. A divided body politic must find middle ground. After watching this unfold, the globalist liberal establishment will renew itself by December through the debut of exciting new technology, increased connectivity in developing countries, and a redoubled effort to control the public space, both online and off, with figures from government, banking, entertainment and academia entering online discourse in earnest. They will absorb formerly independent Internet enterprises, recapture lost ground, go on the attack, and flip the populist script.

On Youtube, I sensed the alt-right, alt-media types didn't want to look at The Economist. They are weary. "They do this to us every year," sighed one Youtuber after making three videos on the subject. Even the conspiracy theorists are sick of conspiracy theories. They only reviewed this Planet Trump thing out of a dogged sense of obligation to keep up their end - New World Order, Illuminati, Trump, Pizzagate, yadda yadda. They were all sure about one thing. The cover contains a hidden message.

I envy the flat rationalist, who would scoff before imagining anything arcane here. This is merely an illustrator's whimsical reference, as though the editors had chosen a picture of a woman reading the future in a crystal ball. I hope it is true.

Perhaps the editors did this as a tongue-in-cheek layout to bait crazy conspiracy theorists. Actually, I think the editors at The Economist do not care how the cover is received by the alt-media, who are beneath their contempt. If so, then this is another tone-deaf, top-down misconception of the impact of the Internet on the public debate. On the Internet, mimetics, semiotics, virality and truth excavations rule the day, not inside jokes and polished arguments to a select audience. A tarot spread confirms the worst conspiracy theories about magic infecting high politics. To give evidence of this - straight from the horse's mouth - strengthens the alt-media, which cannot be good for The Economist.

In an earlier post, Magic, Numerology and the IMF, I observed that Christine Lagarde did not realize that she now had to speak to two audiences. Every speech she made would be channeled into the old MSM theatre, as well as the alt-media. She plainly did not understand the latter at all. Her clever asides would be taken the usual way by the old establishment, but on Youtube, they would feed the independent machine of conspiracy theorizing and populism.

To make matters worse, she seemed to confirm the conspiracy theorists' fears about a magic-obsessed establishment. Lagarde was making predictions for the year 2014, peppering her predictions for the coming year with numerological nudge-nudge-wink-wink-hint-hints, which promised (precisely, down to the day) the manipulation of oil prices to hurt Russia. To the alt-media, this made it look like her policy speech had a magical subtext and potency. The liberal democracies are supposed to be secular, humanist, and rationalist; they should not be run by the rules of parlour games, or by people who believe that parlour games are real. I argued that parlour games should stay in the parlour.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Awaken the Amnesiacs 6: Mona Lisa's Trump Card


The famous Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (1503-1506), 'lady of light' or 'light-heartedness'; Lisa sits between two columns, with only their bases barely visible. Image Source: Wiki.

In an earlier post, I argued that scientists and technologists ironically inspire the primal and anti-rational because they are transforming life, breaching boundaries, and not always weighing long term consequences of their innovations. To understand that process, one must analyze it with ideas from the arts and humanities. With regard to the impact of the Internet, part of the answer comes from visual artists, who are preoccupied with how we see the world and how the world sees us. In my previous post in this series, I discussed Gerhard Richter's mirror paintings and their resemblance to computers as mirrors.

Perhaps the most famous symbolic depiction of the mirror looking at us is Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (1503-1506). Mona Lisa is smiling so mysteriously because the painting may not be about its enigmatic subject, Lisa del Giocondo (née Gheradini), at all. The symbolism in the Mona Lisa indicates that the portrait represents an archetypal mirror, which is actively watching you. Understand the Mona Lisa, and one starts to understand our present circumstances on the Internet. The next few posts in this series describe how the symbolism of the Mona Lisa provides clues to our Millennial mentality. Given the uproar over Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, it is fitting that today's post also explains the meaning of the word 'trump' in Renaissance card games, and it discusses why the Mona Lisa depicts a trump card and concept.

For a taste of medieval walled town life from Leonardo da Vinci's time, this is Pérouges, France, built in the 14th and 15th centuries around wine and weaving industries in the Ain River Valley, near Geneva; it is a seven hour drive by car to Florence, Italy. Video Source: Youtube.

The medieval town of Gradara is known for a castle which was finished in the 15th century, and would have been new in Leonardo da Vinci's youth. The castle features in the fifth canto of Dante's Divine Comedy, at the climax of the adulterous love story between Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta. Video Source: Youtube.

Florence in da Vinci's time, in a 1493 woodcut from Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle. Image Source: Wiki.










Interiors of Palazzo Davanzati, a restored medieval-Renaissance Florentine palace, built in the late 14th century. The palace reveals a claustrophobic, walls-within-walls mentality, with everything being enclosed: towns, compounds, houses, inner houses, locked rooms, hidden chambers, and secret passages. Inhabitants sought ever greater security from outside conflicts, which became more elaborate and complex. Images Source: Walks Inside Italy and Sailko/Wiki and Museums in Florence. 

Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa at the turn of the 15th-to-16th centuries during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. The Mona Lisa contains triumphal allegorical symbolism which was very popular at the time. These allegories were everywhere. They were a cultural shorthand for a whole range of accepted ideas about the way the world worked. At this time, noble families and guilds presided over life inside walled towns. Constantly in conflict to amass power and consolidate control, they revived the old Roman tradition of triumphal processions to celebrate victories in battles. The Renaissance, according to Joseph Manca, was "the age of the trionfo." Parades took on symbolic qualities to enable noble families to assert their historical continuity with the greatness of imperial Rome.

Triumphal Victory Parades

Thus, 'triumphs' were parades, which became associated in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance with spiritual allegories. This transition from a real military victory march to a symbolic parade to celebrate certain social values is evident in Francesco Petrarch's poem, I Trionfi (1356-1374), written mainly at the Visconti Court in Milan. Petrarch's love poems describe his unrequited love for Laura de Noves (1310-1348). In I Trionfi, Petrarch (1304-1374) claims his love for Laura made him face ever more demanding physical, emotional, philosophical, and spiritual challenges. At each stage, a higher virtue or stronger allegorical figure triumphed and held a victory march. Peter Sadlon:
"In the first triumph, Love as Cupid conquers the gods and men (including Petrarch). In the second triumph, Chastity defeats Love, reflecting Laura's ladylike rejection of Petrarch's advances. In the third triumph, Death defeats Chastity (Laura was a victim of the Black Death). In the fourth, Fame defeats Death (her reputation lives after her). In the fifth triumph, Time defeats Fame, and finally (sixth), Eternity conquers Time (with the promise that Petrarch and the object of his love will be united at last in the afterlife)."
The poem, in Italian and English, is here. The victories of ever-higher allegorical figures are depicted in the illustrations below.

The triumph of Love.

The victory of Chastity.

The march of Death.

The parade of Fame.

The procession of Time.

The victory march of Eternity. Images Source: Peter Sadlon. ("The images shown here are from Bernard Quaritch's edition of Works of The Italian Engravers of the Fifteenth Century, with introduction by G. W. Reid. Reid denies the credit for the Petrarch prints to Nicoletto da Modena and supports the authorship of Fra Filippo Lippi.")

Tarot Card Trumps

Triumphant allegorical figures, or 'trumps,' were then included in the invention of the tarot deck, a kind of Game of Thrones card game for nobles. The earliest tarot cards look a lot like medieval illuminated manuscripts, but were adapted to woodblock printing, introduced in the 15th century. The Visconti di Modrone deck of tarot cards, which is officially dated around 1466, but may date from the 1440s, is one of the most prized possessions of Yale University's library.

The first established tarot card decks were created in the 1400s through the early 16th century. The Florentine Minchiate deck of 97 cards, developed in the early 1500s when Leonardo da Vinci lived in the city, was used to play a game with a catalogue of hermetic archetypes. 'Minchiate' means 'nonsense' or 'bullshit'; so this was a 'fool's game,' a bit like chess, and a bit like early poker, with some allegorical lessons, astronomical archetypes, and fabulistic morals thrown in for good measure. The World of Playing Cards:
"The game, like other Tarot games, is a trick taking game in which points are scored by capturing certain cards and sets of cards. However, the deck has also been popular with card readers who see it as a variant of the esoteric tarot because of the allegorical and symbolical content. The Cavaliers [knights or jacks] are man/beast creatures. The Valets (or Pages) are male for clubs and swords, and female for cups and coins. Further features include the replacement of the Papess, Empress and Pope by the Western Emperor, the Eastern Emperor and the addition of the Grand Duke. Some scholars believe that these cards may have served as teaching aids, because several trump allegories (Virtues, Elements, Zodiac signs) belong to categories upon which classical learning was based at that time."

This is a 1995 Lo Scarabeo limited 'Etruria' edition reproduction of a 1725 version of the Florentine Minchiate tarot deck. There was also a 1996 mass-produced deck and a 2011 reprint. According to Tarot Heritage, the first mention of a 'tarot' deck, comes from a 1440 Florentine diary. Video Source: Youtube.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Awaken the Amnesiacs 3: The Hermetics


The hermetic principle of silence. Image Source: Lilipilyspirit.

Dark days behind us: today is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere and the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere (04:49 UTC). The December solstice refers to birth or rebirth of the weakened sun in northern countries, often described in allegorical terms, as one New Age writer puts it: "The sun is dawning after the increasing darkness of winter. The Winter Solstice is nature’s physical equivalent of a spiritual awakening and enlightenment." From Theosophy Northwest:
At the winter solstice the universal currents of life help human consciousness to enter divine spheres. At the same time spiritual energy can descend from higher worlds into the human arena: the gods "descend into hell" to garner experience in their underworld -- our own world -- thereby bringing inspiration and enlightenment to humanity. At this time each of us also may undergo a new birth. Nature has opened the door, and it is up to us to recognize this and take a step further.
For denizens of the New Age Internet, this solstice is the culmination of 2015's online spiritual awakening, perhaps a Fifth Great Awakening in the United States, occasioned by a proclaimed end to the war between the sexes. When combined with hermeticism, discussed in today's post, the gnostic truce between the sexes attacks all polarized categorizations of identity. Online gurus argue that only hardened egoists prosper in an environment where inflexible categorizations of identity are the norm. Spiritual commentators prefer to cultivate a continuum of identities and they expect that spectrum to expand social compassion.

The winter solstice at Stonehenge. Image Source: Stonehenge Trips.

In the aftermath of the supposed collapse of egocentric western dualism, hermeticists pick up the pieces, to recover cultural memory and allow their amnesiac followers to 'remember' earlier ways of identifying with the physical, rational, emotional and spiritual aspects of existence. The hermetic part of this phenomenon makes the now-gender-neutral collective unconscious 'conscious' in practical senses, as with the establishment of new political movements. Of course, the shift in values is not widespread or universal. Nor are gnostic-hermetic solutions necessarily good ones, whatever their devotees may expect.

One must step back from the arcane language and beliefs to observe the actual trend behind them. Online debates on these subjects in mid-late 2015 indicate a tipping point, wherein interaction in virtual reality has begun to change behaviour and awareness on deeper levels. The Internet is breaking down and synthesizing demarcated experiences, whether between mind and body, between the genders, between the individual and the collective, or between the local and global. Perhaps hermeticism and gnosticism are the most durable ideas available in western culture to describe flexible identification, as individuals find themselves simultaneously immersed in virtual reality and 'real' reality.

China's One Belt, One Road Initiative (2015). Image Source: Roman Wilhelm/MERICS/The Diplomat.

One may ask how spiritual issues pertain to hard reality. Why does the New Age Internet matter, when China is building naval bases in the South China Sea, the Red Sea, and on the west coast of Africa? These online trends matter because societies rise and fall according to their adaptability when confronted with jumps in technology, social changes, and ensuing geopolitical conflicts. World War III, when (or if) it arrives, and everything that leads up to it, will depend on global connectivity. How our brains respond to connectivity and the ideas we discover or rediscover through that response may be essential to cultural resourcefulness and survival.

To ask these questions about western values now is akin to asking how the introduction of the printing press in Germany (1439-1440) led to the Protestant Reformation (1517-1617) and the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). The spiritual and moral outlook of a society is indexed to its level of technology and prosperity. When the latter two factors change, so does the former. Anomie and aporia, experienced then as now, will lead to experiments to develop values better suited to new ways of living. But that process emerges through trial and error. Societies sometimes depend on war to determine a new dominant narrative.

My treatment of these topics comes with a caveat. While I may comment on unusual online material here, I do not personally identify with evidence I uncover. Hermetic traditions and politics can be weird, occult, radical, fringe or extremist. My comments in this series of blog posts do not constitute my endorsement of these beliefs. They are presented here as part of an examination of the cultural historical impact of the Internet on western values, under increasingly universalized, yet decentralized and chaotic conditions. I also do not personally agree with conspiracy theories mentioned here, but rather regard them as signs of contemporary mentalities.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hallowe'en Countdown 2015: Cauldrons and Grails


Efnisien sacrifices himself to destroy the cauldron of rebirth. The Destruction of the Cauldron of Rebirth (1905) by Thomas Prytherch (1864-1926). Image Source: Wiki.

As a child, I read Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron, the second book in the Chronicles of Prydain. The hero, Taran, makes his way through a vast swamp to find a black cauldron, which must be secured before an evil king seizes it. This artifact has the power to bring dead men back to life and can create an army of undead warriors. Similar to Sauron's ring in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the cauldron is depicted as a weapon like today's atomic bomb. It looks like a tool for certain victory in war. But it offers death and despair to those who try to wield its incredible power. The only thing an army can do with this mega-weapon, according to Celtic folklore, is destroy it, because its power lies beyond the accepted boundaries of human existence. Taran learns from the cauldron's witch guardians that the cauldron can only be destroyed by the sacrifice of a live man who willingly climbs into it and dies.

Lloyd Alexander's work adapted the Welsh pre-Christian myth cycle, The Mabinogion. This Celtic legend is part of Britain's earliest prose literature, a romance written down in the 11th century, based on earlier oral sources. In the second part of these tales, Branwen Daughter of Llŷr, "A tragically genocidal war develops fomented by Efnisien, in which a Cauldron which resurrects ... dead figures." The sadistic, psychopathic anti-hero Efnisien is responsible for the destruction of Ireland and the Island of the Mighty, also known as AlbionPrydain or Britain. To make up for his transgressions, Efnisien climbs into the cauldron and destroys it. Thus, bound up with the cauldron's original story of resurrection is a tale of Celtic warriors who have turned on each other and fought amongst themselves. One of their own betrays the other lords, and initiates mass-killing and mass death; he sacrifices himself as a means of redemption and acceptance back into the fold.

Arthurian myth turns right at the point where the Celtic pagan became Christian, and the cauldron became the Grail. Arthur's knight, Percival, with the Grail Cup. Arthur Hacker (1858-1919), The Temptation of Sir Percival (1894). Image Source: BBC. The painting is in the Leeds Art Gallery (LEEAG.PA.1895.0013).

The Celtic cauldron was a predecessor to the Holy Grail in northern Europe. By the 12th century, medieval Christian doctrine transformed the cauldron's abominable symbol, from a grisly instrument of evil resurrection to a tool of sacred regeneration through resurrection, known as the Holy Grail. That means that as ancient societies stabilized, their view of death changed. The symbol at the heart of their stories essentially stayed the same, but the spiritual message around resurrection became a tale of heaven rather than hell. The cauldron became conflated with the Chalice that Jesus supposedly used at the Last Supper. In the 20th century, the Nazis launched an actual search for the Grail, to lay claim to their share of Celtic heritage and Romantic reworkings of Christian legend, while conflating both traditions with the Aryan Cup of Jamshid, a mythical artifact that enabled the ancient rulers of Greater Persia to see the future.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Love and the Underworld



Years ago, I attended a high school of the arts and studied Visual Arts. One day, our teacher presented the unruly, noisy class with Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait (1434). "Shut up and look at it!" he yelled, "What do you see?" The portrait depicts a couple getting married. But the more you look at the painting of this happy day in Bruges, the more it appears that something is very wrong. What, for example, is that little horned and hoofed gremlin thing sitting right over the wife's right wrist? Or the animal - a cat? - below her wrist?

The man, Giovanni Arnolfini, was thought to be holding the hand of his second Flemish wife, Giovanna (Jeanne) Cenami. Arnolfini is holding his wife's hand with his left hand, suggesting that this was a morganatic marriage and she was of lower social rank. Image Source: Wiki. The painting is in the National Gallery, London.

"She's pregnant." someone said. "Yeah." our teacher said, "What else?" I remember that we spent some time discussing it and could not find an answer. The portrait is full of messages, all pointing to something cryptic. The wedding to a pregnant bride makes no sense, since at that time, for people of this class, a woman would fall visibly pregnant well after marriage. Why would a respectable, wealthy businessman pay the artist to depict him and his wife in a shotgun wedding? And who gets married in their bedroom? Even more oddly, Arnolfini died without an heir.

Image Source: Art Chronicler.

Indeed, the portrait is screaming something at the viewer; but van Eyck (1390-1441) hid its message in plain sight. This is because when we see a couple in love, we project all kinds of expectations and stories onto their united image. We expect the symbols - a mix of secular and religious ideas - to add up to a message about love. But here, they do. And they don't.
  • The shoes are symbols of the soul.
  • The man's shoes are outdoor shoes. The woman's shoes are indoor shoes.
  • The toes of the man's shoes point outdoors and out of the picture. The heels of the woman's shoes point into the picture, at the couple.
  • The woman's presumably bare feet are symbols of fertility
  • The composition divides the picture down the middle between the couple.
  • The dog further divides the couple and is thought by some to represent fidelity or sexual tension.
  • The writing on the wall, a signature of the artist, states, "Jan Van Eyck was here, 1434."
  • The mirror shows the painting inside the painting, creating a nested view. There are several views: the viewer looking at the painting (crossing the 4th wall of the onlooker, i.e. our world); the original real world view of van Eyck as he painted the picture (4th wall of the artist, outside the world created by the painting); the conventional portrait (the basic happy picture as presented looking forward, the apparent reality of the wedding depicted inside the painting); the view of the portrait from inside the mirror (a darker view, looking backward through the scene, observed from inside the painting), which is also a self-portrait of the artist. The symbols add additional layers of reality to the picture.
  • The mirror shows two figures you can't otherwise see, who are facing the couple. One is the artist - and one is someone or something else dressed in red, peeking over the artist's shoulder.
  • The couple are taking their oath before the artist and another figure, not a minister.
Close-up of the mirror. Image Source: Kenney Mencher.

Portraiture is a genre of painting that creates expectations from viewers. Even from van Eyck's time, the late Middle Ages on the cusp of the Renaissance, the painting already has conveyed a modern message of realism. For example, the fact that the lady is shown as pregnant in a wedding composition is considered very modern, a step away from the idealized medieval images. Some art historians have argued that she is not pregnant and it is merely the style of her dress, but that seems counter-intuitive.

Many websites on the Internet attempt to decode this masterpiece. My friend, C., brought up this portrait again recently because he saw a BBC video about it. I remembered that class where we walked away without an answer. And now, thanks to an art historian, this painting may be solved. Because the wife in this portrait is not only pregnant - she is also dead.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Interview: Thomas Haller Buchanan on the Millennial Humanist Renaissance


Acta non Verba by Robert McCall (1919-2010).

Today, I'm delighted to interview Thomas Haller Buchanan, blogger at The Pictorial Arts, which is an oasis of light and beauty on the Web. Thom is also a professional illustrator. Buchanan's focus on art and visual culture is now finding expression through a new online journal: The Pictorial Arts Journal. The journal makes its grand debut online today, here, and this interview supports its launch. 

An additional publication is found at the same site, Delineated Life, which is an online magazine celebrating one special artist and their work per issue. The first issue of Delineated Life celebrates the 100th birthday of Pogo creator Walt Kelly (1913–1973).

In this interview, I ask Thom some questions about his new publications and what they mean in terms of Millennial optimism. The debut issue of the The Pictorial Arts Journal describes a continuity of visual culture from the Renaissance through to the modern period, especially the Renaissance-era value of humanism. Thom's journals are dedicated to reviving a new form of humanism suitable to our times.

To read a definition of humanism to which Thom refers in the interview, see Professor Paul Kurtz's Humanist Manifesto 2000 (here).

Pictorial Arts Journal cover © Thomas Haller Buchanan.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to Wash Your Hair in Space


NASA astronaut and Gen Xer, Karen Nyberg. Image Source: Wiki.

This story comes from the excellent blog, Spaceports, whose blogger discovered a Youtube video showing Expedition 36/37 (Soyuz TMA-09M) Flight Engineer Karen Nyberg demonstrating how she washes her hair aboard the International Space Station. Walgreens advertises the no-rinse shampoo that Nyberg uses for $7.99 here. The shampoo's features:
  • Soft, clean, manageable hair without water.
  • Ready to use.
  • Absolutely no water necessary.
  • Just apply, lather and towel dry.
  • Hospital tested and approved.
  • Leaves hair fresh, clean and odor free.
  • The choice of healthcare professionals throughout the world.
  • Effective, efficient personal hygiene since 1948.
  • No Rinse Shampoo is the comfortable, convenient and safe alternative to traditional shampoos.
  • pH Balanced to be mild and non-irritating to the scalp, hair is left sparkling clean, odor free, soft and manageable.
  • Used by NASA.
  • Made in USA.
100% Satisfaction Guaranteed.
Apply generously until hair is completely wet. Massage to a rich lather. Immediately towel dry with an absorbent towel. Repeat for heavily soiled hair. No Rinse Shampoo can be used as often as necessary.
The shampoo is made by No Rinse Laboratories in Springboro, Ohio. Their products are also used by the US Military Special Forces, for disaster and survival prep, and for convalescent and senior care.

The Soyuz TMA-09M mission patch. Image Source: Wiki.

ISS mission 36 mission patch. Image Source: Wiki.

ISS mission 37 mission patch. Image Source: Wiki. 

The Soyuz TMA-09M mission members, Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen L. Nyberg, and Luca Parmitano in Red Square before their mission, 8 May 2013. Image Source: Wiki.

See the video below the jump.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Prehistory's Mysteries: The World's First Known Portrait?


Stuck with you in the cave. Again. 26,000 year old portrait of a woman. Image Source: Moravian Museum, Anthropos Institute / Short Sharp Science.

Time capsules go both ways. In light of this post, where experts are puzzling over the invention of spear heads well before their common appearance, I wondered whether an exceptional mind appears every few centuries or even every millennia. Perhaps this mind invents something almost in a vacuum, way before the commonly-dated arrival of the innovation. For example, daVinci designed a helicopter in the 16th century. But we don't date the invention of the helicopter to the date of his design. We date it to 1936, with the appearance of the Focke-Wulf Fw 61.

We are aware of the first cave paintings dating to about 100,000 years ago (see my posts on cave paintings here, here and here). But the creation of the first portrait is another matter. Above, a 26,000 year old mammoth ivory carving billed as the first portrait. It is included in the upcoming exhibition Ice Age Art: Arrival of the modern mind at the British Museum, London, from 7 February to 26 May.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Secrets of the Vitruvian Man



Vitruvius, Roman engineer and architect, wrote: "“No temple can be put together coherently unless it conforms exactly to the principle relating the members of a well-shaped man.”

Last year, Bloomberg reviewed a book by Toby Lester on the origins of the basic principles of classical architecture, which derived from the male body; in the ultimate act of anthropomorphizaton, these principles were later applied to cosmology:
In “Da Vinci’s Ghost,” the journalist Toby Lester peers closely at Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man” -- its origins, its meaning and the circumstances of the artist who drew it.

It’s called “Vitruvian Man” because the idea for it came from “Ten Books on Architecture,” written by a Roman military engineer named Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. For the Romans, architecture meant proportion, which meant the body.

... Vitruvius wrote ...: “If a man were placed on his back with his hands and feet outspread, and the point of a compass put on his navel, both his fingers and his toes would be touched by the line of the circle going around him.”

Similarly, for a perfectly proportioned man with feet together and hands outspread (a posture that later would inevitably betoken the crucified Christ), “you would find the breadth the same as the height, just as in areas that have been squared with a set square.”

Over time, the notion of the body as the locus classicus of proportion became tied to the relationship between the body and the cosmos -- the microcosm and the macrocosm. The 12th-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen put it this way:

“The firmament, as it were, is man’s head; sun, moon and stars are as the eyes; air as the hearing; the winds are as smell; dew as taste; the sides of the world are as arms and as touch.”
 
The core geometric archetypes, the triangle, the circle, the square, were mapped onto the male body. Buildings conceived on these patterns symbolized the spiritual, mental and physical gifts of the ideal human male.

Although I have previously questioned the health of global societies which have for the past two thousand years relied upon male divinity as the measuring stick of civilization, it is also true that diminished masculinity is a cause for concern.

The post-World War II media, technological and communications revolutions have spawned a lot of cyber Cassanovas and deskchair quarterbacks. These not-men cultivate the anti-heroism of our age, who contradict everything to which Theodore Roosevelt referred in his famous 'Man in the Arena' speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on 23 September 1910:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
 
We, by contrast, live in a crumbling patriarchy whose points of reference are the sensitive vegetarian vampire or drone-assisted democracy. There is a world of difference between real masculine virtues and patriarchal domination based on masculine weakness.

Are men really becoming less manly? This development caught the attention of the bloggers at The Art of Manliness, who observe that testosterone levels have been falling in America over the past decades; in fact, this problem is happening worldwide.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 16: Bollywood Dracula

Batman, Vol. 1, #351 (Sept. 1982) © DC Comics.

Horror is a genre which explores moral boundaries and changing values. In other words, it pegs the Zeitgeist. Vampire stories appear wherever something is going wrong in a society. European vampires had origins in the Black Death and in the transgressions of the late medieval nobility (as here and here). From around 1800 onward, the Romantic insomniac suave and decadent vampire reflected the sordid vanities of aristocrats. That preoccupation with class inequality persisted over the next two centuries in the Old and New Worlds alike, whether the vampire was a Gothic immigrant, a surrealists' favourite or an expressionistic caricature, pulped (like DC comics' Batman character, who is basically a metropolitan playboy vampire-turned-vigilante, although the editors make the connection plain only occasionally), or reworked as a celebrity, a rock star, an addict or a fashion model (as below). Millennial America produced vampires who were suburbanites and depressed teenaged vegetarians.

In India, two of the Ramsay brothers directed Bollywood's vampiric answer: Bandh Darwaza (1990).  This film is a clunky cult favourite, whose vampire spans the distance between old-fashioned Indian familial expectations and a rapid move into the modern world. See it below the jump.

There is a list of depictions of Dracula in popular culture here.

Noot Seear's vampiric Mona Lisa for Yves Saint Laurent's Rive Gauche ad campaign in 1998 cast another light on the mysterious smile. Image Source: Cute and Beauty Girls.