Monday, July 26, 2010

Irish Monks, Tang Dynasty Gnostic Christians, and Greco-Shinto Iconography

--Or-- Age of Crushed Skulls cont'd.
Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
 The beginning of the Viking Age for the United Kingdom was the sacking of the monastery at Lindisfarne, a small tidal island on the Northeastern coast of England. This monastery was founded by the Irish Saint Aidan, who was living on the island of Iona. Despite Iona's Greek-sounding name, Saint Aidan came to Lindisfarne from the Inner Hebrides in western Scotland. It's difficult to ascertain just how exactly Iona came to be called Iona, some speculate that it means "the yew-place," some say it's a latinized form of a phrase meaning "Calum's island," some suggest it's a from another name meaning "den of the brown bear."

Christianity came to the U.K. region during the 3rd Christian Era. Thus, Christianity came to the region just as Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. But, the Romans largely withdrew their military presence form the British Isles during the 4th and 5th centuries so that they could defend Rome against the Visigoths (who ultimately sacked Rome in 410 CE) This left the monks in the U.K. region largely insulated and accounts for the forms of Christianity known as Celtic Christianity that developed during the early middle ages and would not be reformed until the twelfth century, CE.

Herculean depiction of Vajrapani (right), as the protector of the Buddha, 2nd century CE Gandhara,
The Christians of continental Europe accused some of the British bishops of heresies such as Pelagianism, named after Pelagius who is remembered as stating that Original Sin did not taint human nature and that our will is still possible to choose good over evil without the special aid of Divine intervention. Thus humanity has full control, and responsibility for every sin committed.  So, because men are sinners by choice, they are therefore criminals who need the atonement of Jesus Christ. By extension of this argument, the Pelagians believed that it is possible to attain moral purity in this lifetime.

This was in direct opposition to St. Augustine (of City of God fame, who basically is responsible for the Roman Catholic Church) who stated that there is no salvation for humanity except through Divine Grace which humanity can choose to accept or not. The Pelagians argued that St. Augustine was secretly a Manichean, whose beliefs included that the flesh itself was sinful and that Jesus was never present in the flesh (that is, in an impure state).

Manichaean priests, writing at their desks, with panel inscription in Uyghur.
Did you know that Manicheanism, a form of Gnostic Christianity, was the most widespread religion in the world between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE?

The Manicheans were known from the Western Roman Empire, who kicked them out of the Church in 432 CE (and then announced themselves as the Catholic--meaning Universal--Church) and all the way to Southern China, where they were known as 摩尼教 (monijiao). The Manicheans and the Church of the East thrived in Southern China until the 14th century.

The Manicheans get their name from the Prophet Mani, a Persian man who has a vision to leave his parents' Syrian Christian church and travel to "India" (now called Afghanistan). It is believed that while in that region he was influenced by Greco-Buddhism.

Nestorian priests in a procession on Palm Sunday, in a 7th- or 8th-century wall painting from a Nestorian church in China, Tang Dynasty
Greco-Buddhism is a syncretic religion that blends Hellenistic culture and Buddhism. This was made possible by the conquests of Alexander the Great, whose wars brought Hellenistic colonists on his march to the ends of the Earth. Greco-Buddhism flourished for nearly a thousand years from the 4th century BCE to the 5th CE.
Author standing next to statue of Fujin, Shinto god of Wind; Asakusa Temple, Tokyo. Depicting Fujin in this manner has it's origins in the Herculean depictions of Vajrapani, protector of the Buddha, from the Greco-Buddhist syncretism (see above)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

new post at the avant guardian

This week's popOp installment is now available at the avant guardian, here.

A thousand pardons to interested readers: I am heading back up into the Swiss Alps for the next month to sit in classes at the European Graduate School. This is a pretty intensive time and I'm fairly certain that I will primarily be posting little things on FB and checking email.

I will be sure to transcribe my notes, as I did last year, for those of you that are interested.


This week's post is a brief thought on the meaning of the term "deliberate." Since my popOp posts have all been toward understanding the possibility of agency in a time when the subject has become questionable (what I call spectacular agency); this post continues to palpate the judgement. To judge is to think, to think is not a solitary action but is only possible when one has become questionable to oneself.

To deliberate is to evacuate a court room, or a stage, so as to reintroduce the fiction of truth. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Is the Process of Appreciating

I'm getting ready to head back to Saas-Fee, Switzerland for another round of classes at the European Graduate School and I'm doing a little cleaning of house.

Even on the ol' blog. Which lead me to this: a post I began in January of this year and just didn't quite put my hand to it further.

Of course, now I'm no longer struck with whatever it was that got me thinking about this. It's probably, actually, now that I think of it, been cut form one of my popOp posts at the avant guardian. Anyways, here's what I found:

To appreciate (which is a process that requires apprehending the appropriateness of what is at hand, and in so doing raising the value of the thing transformed)

Benjamin's flâneur overcomes this dandy problem by way of memory. Benjamin, building on the works of Marx and Weber, saw the ultimate goal of modernity as the dissolution of all community, and this was being achieved by the gradual erosion of the framework of experience itself. The term is Erfahrung, experience, but it is the shared memory, the interpenetration of experiences, a sharing of the personal in the private and vice versa; in the countryside Erfahrung was possible and the lack of this is the feeling of alienation felt in the City. In the urban centers and in the factories, all human relations were intensely personal and incommunicable, Erlebnis, but paradoxically also available as simply information, a statistic. The modern era meant that there could be the Public space, a space everyone owns (say a city park), but no one belongs in (nobody is allowed to live in the park). In response to this intense feeling of dehumanization came many nihilistic responses, this is the danger of dandyism and hedonism, or art for art's sake.

Monday, July 19, 2010

new post at the avant guardian

I have a new popOp post over at the avant guardian. This week's post discusses that bizarre movie Southland Tales from Richard Kelly (the guy that directed Donnie Darko).

Southland Tales premiered in 2006 at Cannes and was roundly poo-pooed. It was reedited and released to a whopping 63 theatres at the end of 2007. Many critics were fond of calling it sophmoric and pretentious.

I'm saying it's awesome; doing exactly what Delezue & Guattari stated in Anti-Oedipus, "cinema is able to capture the movement of madness, precisely because it is not analytical and regressive, but explores a global field of coexistence."

the avant guardian: the smartest thing you read today.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mark Twain has the best name ever.

It's no wonder he's in the American canon, he's got the proper name.

To mark twain means to note that it is safe between these two areas. So it was safe to guide your ship on the river in this manner. To mark twain was to sound the river. Sound is an interesting word in English:

We sound-off when someone is trying to ascertain how we feel. In taking this measurement and we are healthy, we are said to be sound as a bell. When we want serious punishment we call for that person to have a sound thrashing.

It sounds good, but it is still only an impression.

When we are deeply asleep, we are soundly so; it is the depth that whales travel to and it is the body of water in which they might travel (as in the Puget Sound in Seattle).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Emerging at Gather Atlanta

I'm very excited to be at the second annual Gather Atlanta on July 31st. The four editors of the avant guardian will be present for what promises to be a great evening of partnership building and networking.

GATHER ATLANTA is an annual networking event presented by MINT, BurnAway,
WonderRoot, and ThoughtMarker that seeks to
  • Unite and promote Atlanta's emerging galleries, alternative art spaces, and young creative collectives 
  • Improve collaboration between Atlanta's disparate arts organizations 
  • Embrace a community traditionally separated by Atlanta geography or differences in artistic identity
  • Provide a forum for creative discourse, fresh ideas, and for sharing resources
If you're in the Atlanta area, come on out to Trees Atlanta: this event is free and is designed to encourage involvement in the arts communities of the city. Come be the change you want to see.

Visit Gather Atlanta's site, here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

comments on spectacular agency

My fellow avant guardian, Ari, asked a fine question in the comments to my popOp post this week and below is my response (it's the same response I've posted on the avant guardian):

This video embedded in my post got me thinking about what Hannah Arendt said, “There exists in our society a widespread fear that has nothing to do with the biblical ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged,’ and if this fear speaks in terms of ‘casting the first stone,’ it takes this word in vain. For behind the unwillingness to judge lurks the suspicion that no one is a free agent, and hence the doubt that anyone is responsible or could be expected to answer for what he has done.” (emphasis mine)

And this is precisely the point of discussing spectacular agency.

If you noticed (I didn’t until the second go round) toward the end of the clip (around the 8th minute, I think) you can clearly see the cops have a guy standing on the other side of the human wall with a video camera.

Since Rodney King it’s been very clear to folks that want to rage against the machine that having video images of brutality will work in your favor as the spectacle of violence usually communicates something rapidly (usually it’s a moral claim akin to “we’re David and they’re Goliath, Help!”) Among military circles there’s been this discussion for about ten years that the Pentagon needs to learn the lessons of “public diplomacy” and usually they’ll point-out that Al Qaeda-like networks are successful at recruiting and sustaining fighting against the largest military of all human history because they have the ability to win moral arguments using simple strategies like showing people getting killed by the outsider. Public diplomats point out that these videos are damaging because they reduce the (U.S.) mission to simple images of Goliath smothering Davids. So, they say, the Pentagon should find ways to reduce their enemy combatants to images as well.

This is why the Toronto police are armed not only with massive military force, they are also armed with mass communications force. They are out there reducing their enemies to images. Then, were a trial to be called, the police would have their images fight the images brought forward by the protesters. Thus I talk about spectacular agency: what kind of agency do you have when you’re reduced to such?

Ultimately, I believe that the frustration I feel is not that the protesters were not thinking, I suspect they thought this was a legal, non-offensive, active in my democracy-type action. They ask the riot police where they should go, they plead with them, as human beings to communicate. These people want to be compliant with the physical demands of the police and the police don’t allow that. The police, probably acting on the orders from someone not able to see what is happening in the situation, respond with beatings and arrests and detention.

The trial of Johannes Mehserle (this cop stands accused of murdering Oscar Grant III, which he claims was an accident and only meant to use his Taser on Grant, even though he clearly uses the gun in the manner he’s been trained and is completely unlike the way one fires a Taser) raises a similar issue. The law is such that if a cop feels endangered, the cop can use lethal force at their discretion. Thus it’s legally very difficult to establish whether it is excessive to shoot in the back and kill a man who is prone on his stomach, hands under his body. Legally it’s tough to establish that.

But morally it’s clear that Mehserle was wrong to do that. Even if it was the case that he meant to use his Taser, Mehserle only establishes with that fact that he is guilty of manslaughter and criminal negligence. But legally it’s unclear. I say he should be judged.

Judging, like improvisation, as you brought up, is a risk that must be taken.

new post at the avant guardian

this week's popOp installation continues the discussion of relational aesthetics.

if relational aesthetics, a mode of art production, can be understood to achieve political action it is only coherent if we explore what i am terming spectacular agency.

over the past six months i've been developing a discussion of spectaclism, a term that results from my reading of Debord's Society of the Spectacle and Agamben's essay What Is an Apparatus? i'm hoping that in these discussions we are palpating a mode of sovereignty that is noncoercive in its relations with power.