August 24th, 2009
“Fire and heat provide modes of explanation in the most varied domains, because they have been for us the occasion for unforgettable memories, for simple and decisive personal experiences. Fire is thus a privileged phenomenon which can explain anything. If all that changes slowly may be explained by life, all that changes quickly is explained by fire. Fire is the ultra-living element. It is intimate and it is universal. It lives in our heart. It lives in the sky. It rises from the depths of the substance and offers itself with the warmth of love. Or it can go back down into the substance and hide there, latent and pent-up, like hate and vengeance. Among all phenomena, it is really the only one to which there can be so definitely attributed the opposing values of good and evil. It shines in Paradise. It burns in Hell. It is gentleness and torture. It is cookery and it is apocalypse… It is well-being and it is respect. It is a tutelary and terrible divinity, both good and bad. It can contradict itself; thus it is one of the principles of universal explanation” (p7).
“One of the most obvious phenomenological contradictions was brought about by the discovery of alcohol — a triumph of the thaumaturgical activity of human thought. Brandy, or eau-de-vie, is also eau de feu or fire-water. It is a water which burns the tongue and flames up at the slightest spark. It does not limit itself to dissolving and destroying as does aqua fortis. It disappears with what it burns. It is the communion of life and of fire. Alcohol is also an immediate food which quickly warms the cockles of the heart…
“Since brandy burns before our entranced eyes, since, from the pit of the stomach, it radiates heat to the whole person, it affords proof of the convergence of inner experience and objective experiment. This double phenomenology prepares complexes that a psychoanalysis of objective knowledge will be obliged to eliminate in order to rediscover a true freedom of experiment. Among these complexes there is one which is quite special and quite powerful; it is the one which, so to speak, closes the circle; when the flame has run across the alcohol, when the fire has left its mark and sign, when the primitive fire-water has become clearly enriched with shining, burning flames, then we drink it. Only brandy, of all the substances in the world, is so close to being of the same substance as fire.
“In my youth, at the time of the great winter festivals, they used to prepare a brûlot (brandy burnt with sugar). My father would pour into a wide dish some marc-brandy produced from our own vineyard. In the center he would place pieces of broken sugar, the biggest ones in the sugar bowl. As soon as the match touched the tip of the sugar, a blue flame would run down to the surface of the alcohol with a little hiss. My mother would extinguish the hanging lamp. It was the hour of mystery, a time when a note of seriousness was introduced into the festivity. Familiar faces, which suddenly seemed strange in their ghastly paleness, were grouped about the round table. From time to time the sugar would sputter before its pyramid collapsed; a few yellow fringes would sparkle at the edges of the long pale flames. If the flames wavered and flickered, father would stir at the brûlot with an iron spoon. The spoon would come out sheathed in fire like an instrument of the devil. Then we would ‘theorize’: to blow out the flames too late would mean concentrating less fire and consequently diminishing the beneficent action of the brûlot again influenza. One of the watchers would tell of a brûlot that burned down to the last drop… At all costs we were bent of finding an objective and a general meaning for the exceptional phenomenon . . . Finally the brûlot would be in my glass: hot and sticky, truly an essence… When, after the spectacle, we savored the delightful taste of the drink, we were left with unforgettable memories of the occasion. Between the entranced eye and the comfortably-glowing stomach was established a Baudelairien correspondence that was all the stronger since it was all the more materialized…
“If one has not had a personal experience of this hot sugared alcohol that has been born of flame at some joyful midnight festivity, one has little understanding of the romantic value of punch; one is deprived of a diagnostic method of studying certain phantasmagorical poems… The loves of Phosphorus and the Lily illustrate the poetry of fire (third evening):
‘…desire, which is developing a beneficent heat throughout your whole being, will soon plunge into your heart a thousand sharp darts; for . . . the supreme pleasure that is being kindled by this spark I am placing within you is the hopeless grief that will make you perish only to germinate again in a different form. This spark is thought!’ ‘Alas!’ sighed the flower in a plaintive tone, ‘Since such an ardor now enflames me, can I not be yours?’
“In the same story when the witchcraft, which was to have brought back the student Anselme to the poor Veronica, is completed, there is nothing left ‘but a light flame rising from the spirits of wine which burn in the bottom of the cauldron.’ Later in the story the salamander, Lindhorst, goes in and out of the bowl of punch; the flames in turn absorb him and reveal him. The battle between the witch and salamander is a battle of flames; the snakes come out of the tureen filled with punch. Madness and intoxication, reason and enjoyment are constantly presented in combination. From time to time there appears in the stories a worthy bourgeois who would like ‘understand’ and who says to the student:
‘How did this cursed punch manage to go to our heads and cause us to commit a thousand follies?’ These were the words of Professor Paulmann when on the following morning he entered the room that was still strewn with broken mugs, in the midst of which the unfortunate periwig, reduced to its primary elements, was floating about, dissolved in an ocean of punch.
“Thus the rationalized explanation, the bourgeois explanation, the explanation through a confession of drunkenness, is brought in to moderate the phantasmagorical visions, so that the tale appears as being half rational, half dream, as partly subjective experience and partly objective perception, at once plausible in its cause and unreal in its effect” (p83-86).
“As we have seen… inner fire is dialectical in all its properties… As soon as a sentiment rises to the tonality of fire, as soon as it becomes exposed in its violence to the metaphysics of fire, one can be sure that it will become charged with opposites. When this occurs, the person in love wishes to be pure and ardent, unique and universal, dramatic and faithful, instantaneous and permanent. Confronted with the dreadful temptation, the Pasiphaé of Vielé-Griffin murmurs: A hot breath inflames my cheeks, a glacial chill turns me to ice…” (p111-112).
August 17th, 2009
Black figure skyphos with gods, ca. 500 B.C.E (plate III). Click for larger version.
“Although the canonical four color grouping of black, white, red, and yellow is not documented in ancient literature before the first half of the fifth century, it can easily be noticed that these same four colors, separately, together, or in mixtures giving the so-called earth colors, predominate not merely in Greece but all through early cultures. The Greeks, specifically the Attic ceramic craftsmen, had a special relationship to this ‘canon’ in that they refined their color choice, presumably out of a passionate attachment to it, to a glossy black and orange-red as an aesthetic norm. Beings and objects in the pictorial freeze [e.g., above] are shown in black, suggesting the obvious conclusion that this color represents the corporeality, the density, of earth substance. And the frieze itself, be it noted, is reserved in the black density of the pot, also fire earth-substance.
“The orange frieze used in black figure work misses maximum contrast value with the black, so why was it chosen? Perhaps a kind of instinctive insight has always led people to refer to red, or reddish hues, as the color of life… In the circumstances we are considering… the reddish hue can really only represent air (atmosphere), in which all beings and things are bathed. For example if we consider animals or men, they unremittingly draw in life force for the blood through breathing air, whereupon the blood maintains both physical and emotional existence. Red, therefore, represents the air on the macrocosmic plane and in the extended microcosmic sense it represents soul life.
“We can now take stock. The two opposite fix-points, earth-air, provide a contrast that is more spatial than dynamic, for earth and air are fundamentally contiguous, and in an undisturbed state do not act on one another but simply preside over, as it were, the spheres of below and above, respectively. (Fire and water, on the other hand, are by nature hostile to one another, eliminate themselves when, forced together, they must attack each other.) Just as in the relationship of earth and air, the colors black and red have a complementary, not an adversarial, relationship, and it cannot be accidental that as prismatic colors of the Dark spectrum, black and red are precisely contiguous. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition is decisive: black is heavy, immobile, hence can function as support; red as a chromatic color has also a certain density but, as Goethe already noted, it is the least mobile color, so that without forcing a point we could say that it hovers over black. In this way once can feel why the Archaic painters remained so long satisfied with this combination: it gave superb expression to their passionate pursuit of physical reality in a way that no other color and background, e.g., white, could have.
“During the Archaic and Protoclassical periods the Ionian philosophers consistently pondered the nature of the elements on the basis of the polarity principle. Similarly, the colors black and white were seen as polar opposites, like cold and warm, but these colors could not be connected with the actual pair of polar opposites in the elements (fire and water) in view of the factors discussed above. Indeed, apart from black-earth, we shall find that a little leeway must be allowed in assigning color to elements (even red-air). In any case, at this point fire and water are open to appointment to white and yellow. According to the criterion of density already established [in the previous post], yellow, visually the stronger of the two colors, will go to water, the denser element, leaving white for fire (warmth) as the most rarefied substance of all (just as Empedokles took for granted).
“Yellow accordingly is the expression of the principle of fluidity, the functional principle (circulatory system) of the earth planet and all its creatures. Yellow therefore can be called the active color par excellence… White, on the other hand, characterizes the element which is the least physical — which in fact can almost not be conceived of except as an invisible connective (warmth) of the other elements. And indeed on the visual plane white is passive, lacking specific expressionality. It does not in any sense importune us but kindly provides without preconditions an empty space for inner freedom. This makes it highly suitable to represent, at the macrocosmic level, the sphere of pure thought, the goal of nous; the relative loftiness of this sphere may suggest, but does not compel, a connection to the Godhead. I say not compel because the Godhead is logically prior to and beyond all color. Moreover, white can be sullied by the admixture of impure elements, as can pure reason” (p31-33).
“Having established a structured visual paradigm for the relationship of the four elements among themselves [see previous post], we can now consider the associated colors when the paradigms are repeated to show the effects of the respective dominant process… [As] Empedokles himself envisioned: ‘Those elements and forces are to be understood as equally strong and coeval, yet each of them has a different function, each has its own characteristic and in the rounds of time they take their turn being dominant” (p46).
Macrocosmic progressions (p47). Click for larger version.
Fire is the creative principle in (B), (C), (D), hence white; it materializes only in (A), hence red (physical).
Air expands in (A), (B), hence yellow and increases its efforts to do so in (D) hence really a deeper yellow; it loses this quality by taking on weight in (C), hence red (immobility).
Water is the least stable in color. In (A) it is white (diminshingly physical). In (B) water signifies (retains) liquidity even in distillation (oxygen) hence red, yet it also becomes gaseous (hydrogen) thus tending toward yellow; in (C) it achieves maximum movement (yellow) and in (D) it tends toward immobility (red).
Earth is always stable to the extent that it remains the darker part in any condition. In principle, yellow is the color of dispersal, black of concentration, red of intensity or arrested movement and white of non-physicality or minimal physicality.
In all cases the colors share the tendency of the elements to mix themselves constantly and must therefore be taken as in constant gradation from one to the other.
“It must be emphasized that the progressions in [the figure above] relate to the macrocosmos, that is, more precisely, the universal, external and objective — as it were — basis of physical/physiological processes… [Whereas] the implications of elements and colors on the specific level of the human being, whose form and functions — physical, physiological, psychological and mental/moral — constantly interact with the macrocosmos. This is shown in [the figure below]” (p46-47).
Microcosmic progressions (p48). Click for larger version.
Earth is implcit in life processes at all stages providing physicality or its shadow, hence always black.
Water is more subject to movement in (F)-(G), hence yellow but more balanced and stable in (E) and (H), hence red.
Air is more subject to movement in (E) and (H), hence yellow but more stable and dense in (F) and (G), hence red.
Fire is the invisible presupposition of all processes, hence white throughout.
“In structuring the macrocosmic pictures, I employed… the hierarchical evolutionary principle of organization: fire, air, water and earth (as solid matter, the finished product of evolution). By contrast, since the psychological and mental/moral effects of interaction can be realized only by an individual consciousness, the microscopic series is therefore organized according to the biological principle. The order is exactly reversed since the human being begins with earth (physicality) at birth and rises in the end (ideally) to mental/moral ripeness” (p49).
August 9th, 2009
“For the purpose of this study, it is essential to invent a ‘picture’ that can also suggest in spatial terms the concept of the miscibility (krasis) of the [four] elements, since these were understood by the ancients to be processes whereby a constant metamorphosis of the visual configuration of the world at any moment is actually taking place. The descriptive determination of such momentary states lies with two pairs of opposing conditions: hot-cold and wet-dry. These qualities in effect give the parameters of two of the elements, fire and water, whereby it can concluded that fire and water have a particular axial quality, a central governing position in the total concept of four.
“The most obvious and striking aspect of this relationship is, as already suggested, the uncontested polarity of fire and water. The archenemy of fire is water; equally, fire opposes water but with much less immediate impact and finality. Fire is quenched by water; water is evaporated (goes into air) by fire. This stronger quality of water allows it to determine how to pictorialize the relationship. Since the inalienable tendency of water is to seek the horizontal, we may use a horizontal line, whereby the placement of fire and water to left or right is still to be discussed: liquefaction opposes combustion” (p36-7).
“With this given, a second less dramatic but equally inescapable polarity remains: earth and air. Their normal relationship is to be contiguous, with the earth below and the air above… This relationship is logically to be illustrated by a vertical line: condensation opposes rarefaction” (p37).
“Given the interaction of the four elements observable by the senses, we can now cross the two lines” (p38).
“Whereas the position of A and E is given by physical characteristics, the placement of fire and water involves the relationship of left and right. Therefore the science and the laws of picture-making, if there be such, must meet and interact. There is no left and right bias in fire and water as such, but there is a fundamental difference between left and right visually… It was the merit of Vassily Kandinsky, acting on a suggestion of Goethe, to have conceptualized the picture plane as an area — blank or not — that is alive with tensions of weight. Indeed, that plane is an excerpt of each observer’s bodily relationship to the horizontal-vertical conditions of earthly existence. Thus the horizontal and vertical represent, respectively, earth’s plan from L to R and space from up to down. This visual resistance experienced in a defined rectangular pictorial space is naturally strongest below and weakest above. The next strongest resistance (tension) is offered by the right side; this is reduced on the left side but not so much as up and down. Thus, there are four degrees of density (sc. visual density) as represented by the following scheme” (p38):
“The applicability of Kandinsky’s reasoning to the problem at hand, if any, must be axiomatic, as indeed all geometrical reasoning lies inextricably rooted in the human body/mind condition. We may therefore criticize the suggested scheme with fire and water inserted” (p39).
“No conflict exists in the vertical plan. The potential conflict is in the horizontal. Although W is correctly placed on the right in relation to A and E, fire cannot easily be related to density in the sense of the other three. That is because, in contrast to ancient (and some current esoteric) thought that warm is a (primeval) substance, present scientific thought sees fire (warmth) as a condition of other substances. In terms of our picture, a resolution of this dilemma may be sought in regarding the elements not as substances but as processes, where there can be no conflict. In this sense we then have the completed diagram as follows” (p39-40):
“Taking into account again Kandinsky’s criteria and visualizing the results of the four processes in terms of changes of density in weighable and measurable materials of earth existence, combustion is clearly in the right position. Combustion can lighten matter, leaving ashes which are lighter than water or earth but still ultimately heavier than air; and on the other hand it may intensify the process of rarefaction and thus contribute to lightness.
“The next problem is to show the opposing pairs of elements in descriptive sense-analytical terms of early thought. These are described by Empedokles as hot/cold and wet/dry. The existence of four quadrants allows us to arrange these terms in the sense of equally balancing contrasts” (p40):
“N.B. the data about the elements contained in [the above diagram] can also be rendered, and more conveniently, by attaching the information about hot/cold and wet/dry to the vectors, as in the diagram below” (p43), a unified picture of the four elements theory:
“The persistent implication in the method of constructing the picture of the Four Elements theory… namely, that this is an irreducible explanation of earthly realities valid for all of humanity, requires a further comment. The elements qua substance require to be thought of as occupying real space: they are in a sense the planet we live on, they are our own body/mind entity. As such they are Being. But they are also synonymous with processes, so that one could just as well speak of the four processes theory — and as such they belong to the realm of time: they are Becoming. There is evidence that the Greeks themselves conceived of this latter idea without, however, living so much in consciousness of the technical potentialities of the processes which dominate our minds, but rather in the blessedness of feeling the processes as earthly projections of realities inherent in higher worlds. Nowhere is this so explicitly put as in a dialogue of Plutarch (De Defectu Oraculorum, 10):
Others (other authors) say, there is a transmutation of bodies as well as of souls; and that, just as we see of the earth is engendered water, of the water air, and of the air fire, the nature of substance still ascending higher, so good spirits always change for the best, being transformed from men into heroes, and from heroes into Daemons; and from Daemons, by degrees and in a long space of time, a few souls being refined and purified come to partake of the nature of the Divinity.
“If we consider this passage in microscopic terms, the reference to men, whose highest earthly member is nous (fire) [see following post], translates into an overlapping of the circle of the four elements by a higher circle of which nous is the lowest member with three stages above it, each of a finer and more (spiritually) rarefied nature: heroes, Daemons, and the Divine itself. The result of this merger of Heaven as the fifth element and fourfold man is therefore a sevenfold picture in all” (p43-4).
July 20th, 2009
June 21st, 2009
Three diagrams representing the Hermetic trinity, as devised by Giordano Bruno in his 1588 Articuli centum et sexaginta adversus huius tempestatis mathematicos atque philosophos, and as appearing in Frances A. Yates’s 1964 Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.
“These three figures are said to be most ‘fecund’, not only for geometry but for all sciences and for contemplating and operating” (p314).
“There is… a ‘supernal triad’, consisting of the Father, or mind, or plenitude; of the Son, or the primal intellect; of Light which is the spirit of all things, or the anima mundi… ‘Ancient theologians,’ Bruno continues, understand by the Father, mind or mens, who generates intellect, or the Son, between them being fulgor, or light or love. Hence one may contemplate in the Father, the essence of essences; in the Son the beauty and love of generating; in fulgor, or light, the spirit pervading and vivifying all. Thus a triad may be imagined; ‘pater, mens; filium verbum; et per verbum, universa sunt producta’. From mens proceeds intellectus; from intellectus proceeds affectus or love. Mens sits above all; intellectus sees and distributes all; love makes and disposes all. This last is light or fulgor which fills all things and is diffused through all. Whence it is called the anima mundi and spiritus universorum, and is that of which Virgil spoke when he said ‘spiritus intus alit’” (p309-310).
Figura Intellectus, p307.
“A remarkable feature of [Bruno's] De monade is the use which [he] makes in it of Cecco d’Ascoli‘s necromantic commentary on the Sphere of Sacrobosco… The longest quotation from Cecco comes when Bruno is discussing ten, the number sacred to the ten Sephiroth. He mentions these, but later describes orders of demons or spirits whose hierarchies can be contemplated in the intersection of circles. ‘These (the orders of demons) are contemplated in the intersection of circles, as Astophon says in libro Mineralium constellatorum. O how great, he says, is the power in the intersection of circles.’ This is a quotation of Cecco’s quotation from the Astophon who is to be heard of nowhere else and was probably invented by Cecco. It throws light on why intersecting circles are such a prominent feature in the diagrams by which Bruno represents his Hermetic trinity…” (p322-323).
Figura Amoris, p307.
“Light, says Bruno, is the vehicle in the inner world through which the divine images and intimations are imprinted, and this light is not that through which normal sense impressions reach the eyes, but an inner light joined to a most profound contemplation, of which Moses speaks, calling it ‘primogenita’, and of which Mercurius also speaks in Pimander. Here the Genesis-Pimander equation, so characteristic of the Hermetic-Cabalist tradition, is applied by Bruno to creation of the inner world” (p336).
May 29th, 2009
Paddy Jupurrurla Nelson, Paddy Japaljarri Sims, and Larry Jungarrayi Spencer, Yanjilypiri Jukurrpa (Star Dreaming), 1985 (f109).
“The Australian deserts appears empty and inhospitable to those who do not know them, but to the Aboriginal groups who inhabit these areas, the lands created by their ancestors and infused with their powers are places rich in spiritual meaning and physical sustenance.
“Geographically, the desert includes mountain ranges and spectacular rock-formations, grassy plains, strands and eucalypt and mulga trees, lakes, salt pans, sandhills, and stretches of stony country occasionally broken by seasonal watercourses and rivers and punctuated by rare permanent rockholes, springs, waterholes and soakages… Across this landscape spreads a web of ancestral paths travelled by the supernatural beings on their epic journeys of creation in the Jukurrpa or Dreaming, linking the topography firmly to the social order of the people” (p97).
“The basic elements of the pictorial art are limited in number but broad in meaning… Characteristic of the range of conventional designs and icons are those denoting place or site, and those indicating paths or movement. Concentric circles may denote a site, a camp, a waterhole or a fire. In ceremony, the concentric circle provides the means for the ancestral power which lies within the earth to surface and go back into the ground. Meandering and straight lines may indicate lightening or water courses, or they may describe the paths of ancestors and supernatural beings. Tracks of animals and humans are also part of the lexicon of desert imagery. U-shapes usually represent settled people or breasts, while arcs may be boomerangs or wind-breaks, and short straight lines or bars are often spears and digging sticks. Fields of dots can indicate sparks, fire, burnt ground, smoke, clouds, rain, and other phenomena.
“The interpretations of these designs are multiple and simultaneous, and depend on the viewer’s ritual knowledge of a site and the associated Dreaming. The meanings are elaborated and enhanced by the various combinations or juxtapositions of designs in the paintings, and also by the social and cultural contexts within which they operate — whether for ceremony or public domain, for instance. The combinations of designs allow for endless depth of meaning, and artists in decribing their work distinguish between those meanings that are indented for public revelations and those which are not, and provide the appropriate level of interpretation” (p98-99).
Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Bandicoot Dreaming, 1991 (f98).
“It is by the acquisition of knowledge, not material possessions, that one attains status in Aboriginal culture. Art is an expression of knowledge, and hence a statement of authority. Through the use of ancestrally inherited designs, artists assert their identity, and their rights and responsibilities. They also define the relationships between individuals and groups, and affirm their connections to the land and the Dreaming” (p14-15).
“As a statement of authority, the aesthetic in art is often articulated in terms of ritual knowledge. Through art, individuals express their authority and knowledge of a subject, the land and the Dreaming, and artists will use their authority to introduce change and innovation” (p16).
“In ritual, paintings… are not intended to be static images requiring studied contemplation. Rather, since designs embody the power of supernatural beings, they are intended to be sensed more than viewed” (p59-60).
May 20th, 2009
Seth, Master of the South, and Horus, Master of the North, the perpetual antagonists. Both of their heads emerge from a single body that stands on two horizontal bows evoking the energy potential that can make manifest the two inverse forces through the stimulation of the passage of Re (fig3).
Writes Schwaller de Lubicz, “Every circle, as a circular movement, has a center. This center controls this continuous and regular curve, which is closed; it is attractive, just as the circumference is repellent (centrifugal). This center is an abstract power which rules the phenomenon of circular movement. Two centers make an elliptical (or assimilated) movement if the curve is closed. If the curve is not closed but is superimposed, the center beomes a line or figure, horizontal for a spiral, vertical for a helicoidal curve, etc.
“The center controls; it is the will of the figure. Three axes of equal length, intersecting at 90°, are the will of the cube. The form of movement and the form of the Euclidian volume are in the center and in its radiation.
“I say that the will of a rotating sphere is the magnetic axis, and its equator is the centrifugal electrical effect. On the other hand, every magnetic effect is contradicting will, which produces the dilating, equatorial electrical effect. Inversely, every circlular electrical current provokes the magnetic axial effect. Will is esoteric; effect is exoteric.
“But where, then, is the will of the ‘container,’ the non-Euclidean volume?
“Its will is the seed, that is, the specification of the ‘contents,’ hence a genesis — that is, Time, for Time is none other than genesis. Genesis appears to us as Time.
“Now, all will of movement and of form is a specification of Energy. Will is thus identified with the seed, as the specifier, and, as genesis, appears as Time or duration.
“The seed ordains the volume, that is, Space; the genesis of this Space ordains Time. Will is what Lao-Tzu calls ‘the empty hub of the wheel.’
“The Absolute Will of the Origin includes all specifications.
“Everything that is naturally specified is a symbol and the expression of a will, hence of a specifying seed of non-objectifiable Energy: the Container, the non-polarized Sprit-substance. The specifying Will, the ‘Fire’ of the seed, was called the ‘odor’ by ancient Egyptians — the ‘odor’ of the Neter, (that is, in an esoteric sense, that which is emanated by the Neter like an ejaculated seed).
“The contained will must always be sought in the symbol, when the symbol is selected for an esoteric teaching. The character of this Will is that which will always compel Spirit — non-polarized Energy — to define itself in Time and Space, hence in the form of the symbol. This is the ‘magical’ meaning of the symbol. With regard to Spirit, this ‘magic’ operates like the Platonic Idea, just as rhythm acts on our will of movement; we obey despite and at odds with everything, even when we do not give in” (p69-70).
April 30th, 2009
Armstrong describes: contemplation is the “scrutiny of what is there to be seen. It is, literally, spending time with [an] object — not just time around it or standing before it, but time devoted to looking at it. ‘Contemplation’ has an august history used in Western thought to describe the mind’s approach to God and in Eastern philosophy to characterize the highest state of existence, but it remains — even in more modest uses — an obscure term. What goes on when we contemplate something, what are we actually doing?
“The process of perceptual contemplation of an object has, classically, five aspects:
1. Animadversion: noticing details.
2. Concursus: seeing relations between parts.
3. Hololepsis: seizing the whole as the whole.
4. The lingering caress.
5. Catalepsis: mutual absorption” (p81).
“Contemplation — in its initial aspect of animadversion — is time spent noticing details; that is, the process of becoming visually aware of parts of the picture which our habitual rapid scanning tends to gloss over. This is a process which sometimes requires conscious effort, we feel we are literally turning our attention on to different parts of the canvas and saying to ourselves: Well now, what is actually there?” (p83).
Follower of Massys, St Luke Painting the Virgin and Child, circa 1530 (p85).
“Concursus… involves seeing together many individual elements of the picture. Its pay-off comes in an enrichment of visual significance, of meaning. Scrutiny of a work of art frequently involves a rhythm of attention to individual parts and to the relations between those parts. This rhythm is required by art and it is also native to the perceiving mind. In fact we can see here how works of art respect and play up to the natural character of exploratory and synthetic attention; it is a native resource of the mind which we can bring into active, and developed, service in the engagement with works of art and which artists usually presuppose we will bring into service” (p91).
“The ambition of concursive attention — the ambition of drawing things together and seeing them in relation to each other — naturally expands to incorporate more and more elements of the work; its logical maximum reveals a further aspect of contemplation” (p91): hololepsis. “Hololepsis yields an archetype of completeness and coherent explanation — thus responding to two of the great aims of mental activity. The contemplation of art of this kind and in this way can satisfy yearnings which the world generally frustrates. The world frequently springs the unexpected and sprawls in seemingly meaningless disorder. The prestige of systems of total explanation — religious, scientific, historical, philosophic — indicates a general need to grasp the world as a coherent whole in the face of its apparent confusion. A work of hololeptic art has the advantage over some of these systems in that its coherence does not rest upon falsehood; it has the advantage over others that what it offers is visible and palpable rather than abstract. Yes, of course, the price a work of art pays for this is that its completeness is bounded by its own small physical extent. It answers a yearning, but only in a restricted area. Hololeptic contemplation, thus, links the experience of art to the wider demands of reflective life and suggests how, to a certain kind of person, the experience of art could be of prime private importance” (p95).
“When we keep our [hololeptic] attention fixed upon an object which attracts us [a lingering caress], two things tend to happen: we get absorbed in the object and the object gets absorbed into us [catalepsis]… The quality and virtue of contemplation may depend… upon what it is we are giving ourselves over to. We can visually contemplate anything which we can see; but do some objects reward this kind of attention more than others? The belief that it makes a difference what you contemplate relies upon the assumption that what you contemplate gets inside you; contemplation is the spiritual analogue of eating” (p99-100).
April 19th, 2009
Reminisces Diterlizzi: “If you’ve had a chance to see the Planescape books (especially the early ones from ’94), you’ll see something amazing that happened in RPGs: a new philosophy on how gaming booklets could be presented. It wasn’t just my art — it was the awesome concepts and story hooks, and the (then) state-of-the-art graphic design and production that made these gaming supplements stand out. It was about a great group of people who were really excited about creating something new and imaginative for gamers who were tired of the usual hack-n-slash dungeon crawl. And I was honored to be a part of it.
“I did so much art back in those days. I don’t own much of it anymore, I sold most of it off to my loyal fans over the years at various cons. But there are a few gems that I still treasure and have to this day, and among those are my drawings of the modrons.
“I remember designer Zeb Cook phoning me up while I was working on the campaign setting to tell me that they were toying with the idea of re-introducing the modrons via Planescape. My response was, ‘Those weird little circle and square guys from Monster Manual II?’
“He replied, ‘Those would be the ones,’ and encouraged me to revisit the concept behind them. I did, and knew right away that they HAD to be in Planescape” (p41).
“Anyways, I moved on from gaming to pursue my dream of creating fantastic tales for children, and did my last fully illustrated Planescape book, The Planewalker’s Handbook, in my New York City studio in 1996. Of course, there was a modron in it.
“The rethinking of how a hackneyed or contrived character looks was a very big lesson for me. That type of thinking is what ultimately fueled the designs of the faeries, trolls, and goblins that inhabit all of The Spiderwick Chronicles books that I did later on with author Holly Black…” (p42).