Friday, February 20, 2009

Tokien and Myths

“Myths are not lies but are the best means we have of communicating truth. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbor.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien

More Chesterton and Myth

“The man who has no sympathy with myth has no sympathy with men.”
—G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton and Myth

Mythology is a search. It combines a recurrent desire with a recurrent doubt. It’s not the prophet saying, “These things are.” It's the voice of a dreamer saying, “Why cannot these things be?”
—G. K Chesterton

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Musical Universe and Knowledge

There was a time when the universe was believed to cohere, when human life had a meaning and purpose. A person who devoted himself to a lifetime of study, instead of coming out at the end of it the author of a definitive treatise on the pismire, or a catalogue of the references to Norse sagas in Finnigans Wake, would actually have a shot at discovering the key to the universe.

The concepts of the musical universe and the Great Chain of Being originate in the classical bedrock of our culture, flow through the Christian tradition, and remain firmly centered in the Renaissance and the Age of Reason. They are at the core of the culture. It was not until the nineteenth century that the perspective shifted decisively to the earthly, the tangible. Materialism and sensuality, qualities that had been deeply mistrusted throughout most of the Western tradition, emerged ascendant.

—Jamie James, The Music of the Spheres: Music, Science and the Natural Order of the Universe

Friday, February 13, 2009


Why is orange the color associated with jealousy in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and in Dante's Inferno?

"The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor
well; but civil count, civil as an orange, and
something of that jealous complexion."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Framing Shots in Film

The framing of shots in a film plays on audience's expectations and subconscious understanding. As Westerners, we read from left to right, and we do the same things when we “read” film. As such, we identify narrative situations from left to right. Consider the framing of the scene from The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader tempts Luke to join the dark side of the force. His tall, dark presence fills the left side of the screen while the cowering and injured Luke remains on the right with an abyss behind him. It is inevitable that Luke will fall off into the abyss because the dominant presence of Vader on the left essentially visually pushes him in that direction. Imagine what the scene would look like if the positions were reversed. Reading from the abyss to Luke to Vader would give a visual clue that Luke is moving towards Vader—the perceived threat would be the abyss with Vader as a place of safety.

The original framing:

Reversed framing:

Monday, February 9, 2009

From "The Sins of Prince Saradine" by Chesterton

They had moored their boat one night under a bank veiled in high grasses and short pollarded trees. Sleep, after heavy sculling, had come to them early, and by a corresponding accident they awoke before it was light. To speak more strictly, they awoke before it was daylight; for a large lemon moon was only just setting in the forest of high grass above their heads, and the sky was of a vivid violet-blue, nocturnal but bright. Both men had simultaneously a reminiscence of childhood, of the elfin and adventurous time when tall weeds close over us like woods. Standing up thus against the large low moon, the daisies really seemed to be giant daisies, the dandelions to be giant dandelions. Somehow it reminded them of the dado of a nursery wall-paper. The drop of the river-bed sufficed to sink them under the roots of all shrubs and flowers and make them gaze upwards at the grass. "By Jove!" said Flambeau, "it's like being in fairyland."

Father Brown sat bolt upright in the boat and crossed himself. His movement was so abrupt that his friend asked him, with a mild stare, what was the matter.

"The people who wrote the mediaeval ballads," answered the priest, "knew more about fairies than you do. It isn't only nice things that happen in fairyland."

"Oh, bosh!" said Flambeau. "Only nice things could happen under such an innocent moon. I am for pushing on now and seeing what does really come. We may die and rot before we ever see again such a moon or such a mood."

"All right," said Father Brown. "I never said it was always wrong to enter fairyland. I only said it was always dangerous."

From “The Invisible Man” by Chesterton

“Have you ever noticed this—that people never answer what you say? They answer what you mean—or what they think you mean. Suppose on lady says to another in a country house, ‘Is anybody staying with you?’ the lady doesn’t answer ‘Yes, the butler, the three footmen, the parlourmaid, and so on,’ though the parlourmaid may be in the room, or the butler behind her chair. She says ‘There is nobody staying with us,’ meaning nobody of the sort you mean. But suppose a doctor inquiring into an epidemic asks, ‘Who is staying in the house?’ then the lady will remember the butler, the parlourmaid, and the rest.

All language is used like that; you never get a question answered literally, even when you get it answered truly.”

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dragon Quotes

“A poet can write about a man slaying a dragon, but not about a man pushing a button that releases a bomb.” —W. H. Auden

“It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.” —Bertrand Russell

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.” —Revelation 12:7-8

Friday, February 6, 2009

Occurrences of Lilith, Part II

The Lilith Relief (Sumerian Terra-Cotta Relief, circa 2000 BC)
The Talmud (as a female night demon, circa 400)
The Nippur Bowls (Babylonian Incantation Bowls; 26 of the 40 excavated bowls mention Lilith)
The Alphabet of Ben Sira (circa 800)
Book of Raziel (circa 1100)
The Zohar (circa 1200)
Hebrew Amuletic Tradition (circa 900-1800)

Musical Counterpoint and Alchemy

"Like alchemy, the roots of counterpoint were centuries old. Ever since the early Middle Ages, when the single chanted line of Gregorian plainsong gave way grudgingly to the presence of another voice, the rich acoustic medium of the medieval stone church had encouraged composers’ experiments writing note against note (punctus contra punctum) and eventually of raiding related vocal lines through one another to form increasingly rich weaves of melody. The most rigorous such part writing, such as canon and fugue, came to be known collectively as learned counterpoint, and its elaborated codes and principles were handed down as carefully and discreetly as the secrets of alchemy, from artifex to artifex (the Latin term for alchemist…

"Just as the alchemist’s ambition was to discover God’s laws for “perfecting” iron into gold, the learned composer’s job was to attempt to replicate in earthly music the celestial harmony with which God had joined and imbued the universe, and in a way to take part in the act of Creation itself…the practice of threading musical voices into the fabric of counterpoint could have been endowed with such metaphysical power."

Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Occurrences of Lilith, Part I

White Witch in Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis
Lilith by George MacDonald
The Snow Queen by H.C. Andersen
Lily in Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams
Lamia in The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers
Obizuth in the Testament of Solomon (c. 200 BC)
Lilith in Gilgamesh and the Huluppu-Tree (c. 2000 BC)
“Lady Lilith” painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
“Lamia” by John Keats
Snake Witch in Paradise Lost by John Milton
Faust by Goethe
Back to Methuselah by George Bernard Shaw
From Lilith to Lilith Fair where “Lilith is defined in modern culture: the first strong, independent woman, a true feminist heroine”

Elfin Coincidence

"In short, there is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning on the prosaic may perpetually miss."
—G.K. Chesterton, “The Blue Cross”

Sunday, February 1, 2009

On the Triad

From The Theology of Arithmetic by Iamblichus (4th century A.D.)

The triad has a special beauty and fairness beyond all numbers, primarily because it is the very first to make actual the potentiality of the monad—oddness, perfection, proportionality, unification, limit.

The triad is called ‘prudence’ and ‘wisdom’—that is, when people act correctly as regards the present, look ahead to the future, and gain experience from what has already happened in the past: so wisdom surveys the three parts of time, and consequently knowledge falls under the triad.