Saturday, October 27, 2007

By the Rivers Dark

The pouring rain, the crumpled dead leaves, the melancholic restless wind, we know them well: few days to Halloween, the mood is eery. A subtle magic is at work here: that tiny opening between the worlds, between ours and the other one, is a bit larger.

Imperceptible ghostly presences, fleeting spirits of the air, sly grimacing goblins and withered old witches, all come and go, leaving behind a weird trail and an unpleasant chill.....

No use fighting the gloom. It is a better course to let Old Time have its way, relax and tune your inner chords accordingly. Here are some useful suggestions for the evenings:

  • Cinema. If you haven't watched it yet, rent or buy Suspiria by Dario Argento, preparing for the Third Mother (last update on the movie: it will be released on Halloween's eve in Europe. US must wait a couple of months more)

  • Book. I would grab a copy of the superb John Silence cycle by Algernon Blackwood, and dive right into the intensely malignant tale Secret Worship. No one could conjure up such a strong sense of the supernatural as Blackwood managed to do in just a few evocative lines, trust my words.

  • Music. A friend of mine, The Mountain Keeper, has given me a wonderful gift, Ten New Songs by Leonard Cohen. Try out By the Rivers Dark: you won't be disappointed (if we were still in the psychedelic era, I would say it was a bad trip, but we are way past that point)

  • Comics. A copy of The Essential Doctor Strange Volume I fighting the Nightmare is a must. Talking of the great doctor: may the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto protect you and your loved ones from the lures of the Dark Side.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Six Skills of Master Kung

In a comment to my post "The Four Arts", Greg from unurthed pointed out that the famous taijiquan adept Professor Zhèng Mànqīng (Cheng Man-ch'ing in the Wade Giles system) was known as Master of the Five Excellencies (poetry, martial arts, painting, traditional chinese medicine, and calligraphy). He also suggested that perhaps there was some sort of precedent in China's past.

The topic deserved further investigations. Here is what I found: Zheng once said of himself that he was 70% Confucian, and 30% Taoist. Perhaps the key was in Confucius himself and his exemplary life, a model for Zheng and countless of other followers of the Confucian Way. Indeed, that was the case, with an interesting twist: Confucius actually practiced six arts, Rites, Music, Archery, Charioteering, Calligraphy, and Mathematics, and so did many of his students. As it turns out, the six arts were the recommended skills to be acquired during the Zhou Dinasty (1123 BC-256 BC), in order to qualify for the status of perfected gentleman.

It is worth noticing that the Six Arts eventually morphed into the four which I discussed in my previous post, leaving out important components, such as mathematics and martial prowness. Evidently, from The Zhou to the T'ang society had undergone deep changes. Martial arts and math were now for lower classes (fighters and accountants), and the gentry contracted its ideal accordingly. This phenomenon is not expecially chinese: all nobility is, at its inception, noblesse d'épée (nobility of the sword), as the french used to call it. Similarly, all archaic priesthood has mathematics at its very core (astrology, geomancy, etc.). Both nobility and priesthood later forget their roots and intents, as the social system becomes more sclerotic. China was apparently no exception.

Be that as it may, I am quite happy with the Six Arts as a template for excellency. The compleat polymath should strive to imitate great Master Kung, and diligently develop body, soul, and spirit, day by day.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A widespread virus called Mumbo Jumbo

I am about to spend a few words on a morbid, resilient and widespread virus called Mumbo Jumbo. In the last post I was pointing the finger to the copious outpouring of bad verse, which certainly contributes not a little to the ever increasing entropy of this world. Nevertheless, lame poetry is positively nothing in comparison to the foul mental marshes where Mumbo Jumbo grows and breeds. It has many exotic names, gobbledygook, abracadabra, gibberish, hocus pocus, to quote just a few, but one single meaning: total lack of sense. The scary thing is, almost no one seems to be completely immune from this hardy parasite: even scientists, particularly when they want to impress laymen with so-called popular science, all too often indulge in Mumbo Jumbo, and contribute to its dissemination.

So, why is Mumbo Jumbo so pervasive? There are many answers, but three stand first in my mind:

  • the primary one is simply lack of mental clarity. Contrary to the general belief, real thinking is quite uncommon. Thinking is hard: it requires effort. Most of what we consider thought is really nothing more than mental parroting, repetition of hearsay. We are so crammed every day by thousands of pseudo-ideas that it becomes difficult to wake up and think.
  • the second is power. Here is what the dictionary has to say: -Mumbo Jumbo. A term used to denote an object of senseless veneration, or a meaningless ceremony designed to overpower impressionable people- Yes, to use big words to intimidate the ignoramus is an old trick, but still very much in use.
  • last is fear, sheer fear. Fear of what? Of acknowledging that we do not understand. It requires courage to confess it (even to ourselves). And yet, only by a candid avowal we can make progress on our journey to real knowledge. Till we do, Mumbo Jumbo will provide the veil that hides us from truth.

PS Still like Mumbo Jumbo? Then fear not. There are a few good resources for filling your writings and speeches with nonsense without a single drop of sweat: the dowloadable Nonsense (check its hilarious "stupid laws" demo) does the job for you. Gibberish generator uses markov chains to output nonsense when fed with real text. Here is my little experiment with my own post (I have set it to level 5, done a touch of orthographic cleanup and overall polishing afterwards):

-Jumbo Jumbo grows and breeds I am about to the...... nevertheless, lame poetry is not a little to the ever increasing of bad verse, which certainly contributes to the copious outpouring entropy of the bad virus called Mumbo Jumbo. Mumbo Jumbo, Jumbo Jumbo Jumbo it grows and spreads wide verses, which certainly contributes not a little to the foul mental marshes where is Mumbo. Jumbo Jumbo grows and breeds-

Not bad at all.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Poets, do you know your feet?

Poets, do you know your feet? I mean, of course, metric feet, i.e. iambs, trochees, anapests, dactyls, and their kins.
As you set out to navigate the slimy waters of the net, you are going to meet legions of wannabe poets. College boys and girls, housewives, corporate executives, scientists, loafers, millionaires, their vast nation knows no boundaries. Nothing wrong with that, make no mistake: the impulse that prompts us to engrave a fleeting moment, a searing emotion, a delicate mood, is innate and holy. It is healthy and noble to try one's hand at poetry, and share with friends and loved ones our newborn creatures. Nevertheless, if you aspire to write verses that stand a chance to last, it is imperative to remember the Horacian labor limae, the meticulous work of the mental chisel that polishes and repolishes our first attempts, till they truly shine.

So, how do you start? By learning how to march on your feet (it just occurred to me that metric feet are real feet indeed, to stand, walk and run). Poetry was born to be sung, aeds and bards were the first poets. They will be the last ones, too.

Rhythm is the soul of poetry, and rhythm is living arithmetic: one-TWO, one-TWO, one-TWO (a iamb), or ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three (a dactyl)....

Thus, here is how you begin: read out loud your verses, and listen. The sound will not betray you.