Log24

Monday, May 11, 2015

George Steiner vs. the Order of St. Benedict

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 8:28 PM

See Steiner's phrase "Language Animal" in this journal 
and the corresponding authentic  phrase from a webpage
by a Benedictine monk —

Saturday, December 22, 2012

For George Steiner

Filed under: General — m759 @ 2:00 AM

… In gratitude for his book Real Presences

Will and Idea:

A related shell game:

Ad for a talk at Harvard by Nick Bostrom in April 2010—

Click ad for background on the April 10 , 2010, symposium.

See also Bostrom on the The Simulation Argument
and the Log24 April 12, 2010, Shell Game post above.

Note the black diamond logo of Bostrom's Oxford institute.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kinship

Filed under: General — m759 @ 10:04 AM

George Steiner quotes Leopardi on fashion and death, gets the relationship wrong.

Actually, that should be sister  (so Leopardi).

Related material —

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Art Space

Filed under: General,Geometry — Tags: — m759 @ 1:00 PM

Detail of an image in the previous post

This suggests a review of a post on a work of art by fashion photographer
Peter Lindbergh, made when he was younger and known as "Sultan."

The balls in the foreground relate Sultan's work to my own.

Linguistic backstory —

The art space where the pieces by Talman and by Lindbergh
were displayed is Museum Tinguely in Basel.

As the previous post notes, the etymology of "glamour" (as in
fashion photography) has been linked to "grammar" (as in 
George Steiner's Grammars of Creation ). A sculpture by 
Tinguely (fancifully representing Heidegger) adorns one edition
of Grammars .

Yale University Press, 2001:

Tinguely, "Martin Heidegger,
Philosopher," sculpture, 1988

Friday, May 5, 2017

Pre-Linguistic Thought

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 11:05 AM

" I know for sure that my best insights (those which 
are not just routine calculations) are pre-linguistic, and
I struggle to put them into words . . . ."

Peter J. Cameron today

See also "George Steiner" + Language in this  journal.

A related figure —

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Upshot

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 9:00 PM

George Steiner's phrase "the language animal" as examined by
Charles Taylor —

Charles Taylor in March 2016 on George Steiner's phrase 'language animal'— 'The upshot of all this is....'

Steiner attributes his "language animal" phrase, in the transliterated
form "zoon phonanta,"  to the ancient Greeks. This attribution
is apparently bogus. See Steiner on Language (March 30, 2012).*

It is highly relevant that Taylor is a Catholic and Steiner is a secular Jew.

* More generally — See Steiner + Language + Animal in this journal.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Field of Force

Filed under: General — m759 @ 2:45 AM

The title is adapted from that of George Steiner's book
Fields of Force: Fischer and Spassky at Reykjavik 
(Published by Viking Adult on June 25, 1974.)

For fields of narrative  force, see the previous post.

See as well a memorable review by the late Florence King
of the novel The Eight  by Katherine Neville. An illustration 
from that review (The New York Times , January 15, 1989) —

Related material Closing the Circle (Log24, Sept. 24, 2009).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ein Kampf

Filed under: General — m759 @ 9:29 PM

"Die Philosophie ist ein Kampf gegen die Verhexung
unsres Verstandes durch die Mittel unserer Sprache."

— Philosophical Investigations  (1953),  Section 109

Actor portraying Bobby Fischer

Related material —

"… the common bond between chess, music, and mathematics
may, finally, be the absence of language."

George SteinerFields of Force: Fischer and Spassky at Reykjavik ,
     Viking hardcover, June 1974.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lying Rhyme

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 6:45 PM
 

Tom Stoppard, Jumpers —

“Heaven, how can I believe in Heaven?” 
she sings at the finale.
“Just a lying rhyme for seven!”

“To begin at the beginning: Is God?…”
[very long pause]

Leave a space.”

See as well a search for "Heaven.gif" in this journal.

For the more literate among us —

     … and the modulation from algebra to space.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Death of Kings

Filed under: General — m759 @ 10:25 PM

The title is that of  a classic 1968 New Yorker  essay
by George Steiner. See previous posts on this topic.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Reflections of a Language Animal*

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 6:12 PM
 
The Idea of Europe  George Steiner

Overlook/Duckworth, pp.48, £9.99

* "Language animal" is a phrase apparently
    invented by Steiner in 1969 that he later
    attributed vaguely to the ancient Greeks.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Working Backward

Filed under: General — m759 @ 1:44 PM

(Continued)

This setting of the Ave Verum Corpus  text was composed
to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi .” — Wikipedia

Ave Verum Corpus .”— Madison in the BBC America TV series
“Intruders,” Season 1, Episode 3: “Time Has Come Today.”

See also the Eucharistic meditation of Feb. 13, 2006, linked to in yesterday’s post
on Guy Fawkes Day. (That British holiday originally commemorated the Catholic
Gunpowder Plot of 1605.)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Autistic Enchantment

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 11:00 AM

(Continued from Sept. 3, 2009)

George Steiner on chess:

"At the sight of a set, even the tawdriest of plastic pocket sets,
one’s fingers arch and a coldness as in a light sleep steals over
one’s spine. Not for gain, not for knowledge or reknown, but
in some autistic enchantment, pure as one of Bach’s inverted
canons or Euler’s formula for polyhedra."

George Steiner in “A Death of Kings,” The New Yorker,
issue dated September 7, 1968, page 133

A related remark from Dudeney:

See also a different context for 16 squares and 322,560 arrangements.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Rabbi

Filed under: General — m759 @ 11:00 AM

"We'll give the week-end to wisdom, to Weisheit, the rabbi…."

— Wallace Stevens in "Things of August" (see Storyville yesterday)

My choice for a rabbi would be George Steiner.

INTERVIEWER

You once referred to the “patience of apprehension” and “open-endedness of asking” which fiction can enact, and yet you have described your fictions as “allegories of argument, stagings of ideas.” Do you still consider them to be “stagings of ideas”?

GEORGE STEINER

Very much so. My writing of fiction comes under a very general heading of those teachers, critics, scholars who like to try their own hand once or twice in their lives. 

The Paris Review, Winter 1995

For one such staging, see today's earlier posts Chess and Frame Tale.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Steiner’s Modal Logic

Filed under: General — m759 @ 3:17 AM

The first two pages of a 1989 book by George Steiner

(Click to enlarge)

See also yesterday's posts The Field of the Possible
and Abstraction

Compare and contrast with Socrates in the Meno 
quoting Pindar then discussing with a slave boy 
the duplication of the square.

Was Socrates a great philosopher or, as the above
figure seems to indicate and as some say of Steiner,
too clever by half ?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sermon

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 11:00 AM

Suggested by a poem in the current  New Yorker.

Today's text —

"We have no more beginnings. 
Incipit : that proud Latin word
which signals the start
survives in our dusty 'inception'."

George Steiner, beginning of
      Grammars of Creation

Reply in the Latin tradition—

.

Cast

(From the Log24 posts
of August 23-24, 2013)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Publication

Filed under: General,Geometry — Tags: — m759 @ 4:00 PM

"I’ve had the privilege recently of being a Harvard University
professor, and there I learned one of the greatest of Harvard
jokes. A group of rabbis are on the road to Golgotha and 
Jesus is coming by under the cross. The young rabbi bursts
into tears and says, 'Oh, God, the pity of it!' The old rabbi says,
'What is the pity of it?' The young rabbi says, 'Master, Master,
what a teacher he was.'

'Didn’t publish!'

That cold tenure- joke at Harvard contains a deep truth.
Indeed, Jesus and Socrates did not publish."

George Steiner, 2002 talk at York University

Related material

See also Steiner on Galois.

Les Miserables  at the Academy Awards

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Kick

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 9:00 AM

George Steiner, Real Presences , first published in 1989—

The inception of critical thought, of a philosophic anthropology,
is contained in the archaic Greek definition of man as a
'language-animal'….

Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations , first published in 1991—

Botkin, whatever her gifts as a conversationist, is almost as old
as the rediscovery of Mendel. The other extreme in age,
Joe Lovering, beat a time-honored path out of pure math
into muddy population statistics. Ressler has seen the guy
potting about in the lab, although exactly what the excitable kid
does is anybody's guess. He looks decidedly gumfooted holding
any equipment more corporeal than a chi-square. Stuart takes
him to the Y for lunch, part of a court-your-resources campaign.
He has the sub, Levering the congealed mac and cheese.
Hardly are they seated when Joe whips out a napkin and begins
sketching proofs. He argues that the genetic code, as an
algorithmic formal system, is subject to Gödel's Incompleteness
Theorem. "That would mean the symbolic language of the code
can't be both consistent and complete. Wouldn't that be a kick
in the head?"

Kid talk, competitive showing off, intellectual fantasy.
But Ressler knows what Joe is driving at. He's toyed with similar
ideas, cast in less abstruse terms. We are the by-product of the
mechanism in there. So it must be more ingenious than us.
Anything complex enough to create consciousness may be too
complex for consciousness to understand. Yet the ultimate paradox
is Lovering, crouched over his table napkin, using proofs to
demonstrate proof's limits. Lovering laughs off recursion and takes
up another tack: the key is to find some formal symmetry folded
in this four-base chaos
. Stuart distrusts this approach even more.
He picks up the tab for their two untouched lunches, thanking
Lovering politely for the insight.

Edith Piaf—

Non, rien de rien

See last midnight's post and Theme and Variations.

"The key is to find some formal symmetry…."

IMAGE- Valéry on ornament in 'Method of Leonardo,' with Valéry's serpent-and-key emblem

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Realism

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 4:30 PM

From the Los Angeles Times  yesterday

"Chess player Elena Akhmilovskaya Donaldson sits
in deep concentration at the U.S. chess championship
in Seattle in 2002. (Greg Gilbert / Seattle Times / 
January 5, 2002)"

Linda Shaw, Seattle Times :

"Elena Akhmilovskaya Donaldson, who was once the world's
second-ranked women's chess player and eloped in 1988
with the captain of the U.S. chess team when they were both
playing at a tournament in Greece, has died. She was 55.

Donaldson, who earned the title of international women's
grandmaster, died Nov. 18 in her adopted hometown of Seattle…."

more »

From the Log24 post "Sermon" on the date of Donaldson's death,
Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012—

"You must allow us to play every conceivable combination of chess."
— Marie-Louise von Franz in Number and Time

An October 2011 post titled  Realism in Plato's Cave displays
the following image:

Cover illustration: Durer's 'Knight, Death, and the Devil'

Cover illustration: Knight, Death, and the Devil,
by Albrecht Dürer

George Steiner and myself  in Closing the Circle, a Log24 post
of Sept. 4, 2009: 

“Allegoric associations of death with chess are perennial….”

"Yes, they are."

For related remarks on knight moves and the devil, see
today's previous two posts, Knight's Labyrinth and The Rite.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bunker Bingo*

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 11:09 AM

Mathematics and Narrative continues…

IMAGE- In 'Downfall,' Hitler says that 'Steiner's assault will bring it under control.'

Steiner's version of "classical functional analysis"—

"Mein Führer Steiner"

IMAGE- Classical functional analysis according to Moscow State University

* See the story by Kilgore Trout. See also On Linguistic Creation,
   The Matrix of Abraham, and The Thoreau Foundation.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Primate and the Bee

Filed under: General — m759 @ 9:00 AM

George Steiner —

"Man is, in Lévi-Strauss's view, a mythopoetic primate
(it's a difficult phrase but we don't have a better one)…."

Wikipedia —

"Primate is a title or rank bestowed on some bishops in certain Christian churches." 

Pope Benedict XVI at the 2012 Easter Vigil on April 7 —

"The great hymn of the Exsultet, which the deacon sings at the beginning of the Easter liturgy, points us quite gently towards a further aspect. It reminds us that this object, the candle, has its origin in the work of bees. So the whole of creation plays its part. In the candle, creation becomes a bearer of light.

But in the mind of the Fathers, the candle also in some sense contains a silent reference to the Church. The cooperation of the living community of believers in the Church in some way resembles the activity of bees. It builds up the community of light."

http://twitter.com/#!/skdh —

Sabine Hossenfelder's (Bee's) Easter Tweet

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Steiner’s Systems

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 12:00 PM

Background— George Steiner in this journal
and elsewhere—

"An intensity of outward attention —
interest, curiosity, healthy obsession —
was Steiner’s version of God’s grace."

Lee Siegel in The New York Times
     March 12, 2009

(See also Aesthetics of Matter in this  journal on that date.)

Steiner in 1969  defined man as "a language animal."

Here is Steiner in 1974  on another definition—

IMAGE- George Steiner on Levi-Strauss viewing man as 'a mythopoetic primate'

Related material—

IMAGE- Daniel Gorenstein quotes Freeman Dyson on physics and the monster group

Also related — Kantor in 1981 on "exquisite finite geometries," and The Galois Tesseract.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Steiner System

Filed under: General — m759 @ 12:00 PM

For Autism Awareness Month

See George Steiner on Autistic Enchantment, as well as…

(Click images for further details.)

IMAGE- Brower plugins 'puzzle piece' logo

IMAGE- 'Puzzle Piece' symbol on 'Queen to Play' page

This year, Autism Awareness Day  was April 2.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Kick

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 11:30 AM

"The inception of critical thought, of a philosophic anthropology, is contained in the archaic Greek definition of man as a 'language-animal'…."

George Steiner, Real Presences , U. of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 89 (See also Steiner on Language.)

"To some, Inception  is a film about the creative process, specifically filmmaking, with Cobb as the director, Saito the producer, Ariadne the screenwriter, Eames the actor, and so on.  To others the entire movie is a dream in that the film supports Carl Jungs' dream analysis; with all of the supporting characters acting as classical archetypes to Cobb's multiple personalities (which would also justify the lack of development in the supporting characters).  The fact that Inception , in the few months since its initial release, has already given rise to so much discussion and critical thought is much more revelatory than whether or not Cobb is still dreaming."

— Russell Espinosa at FilmFracture.com, Jan. 1, 2011

See also Piaf's "Rien de Rien in a Log24 post from Jan. 19, 2012.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Steiner on Language

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 4:00 PM

March 28 review in the Times Literary Supplement  of
George Steiner's new book The Poetry of Thought

"If this new book opens with the concession that
language has neither the performative power of music
nor the elegant precision of mathematics,
it is language, for Steiner, that defines the human.

The survey accordingly begins from the ancient Greek
view of man as the 'language-animal.'" 

A check of this phrase yields, in a 1969 Steiner essay,
"The Language Animal," a Greek form of the phrase—

In short, the least inadequate definition we can arrive at
of the genus homo , the definition that fully distinguishes
him from all neighbouring life-forms, is this:
man is a zoon phonanta , a language-animal.

— p. 10 in Encounter , August 1969 (essay on pp. 7-23)

After introducing "language-animal" as a translation of  "zoon phonanta " in 1969,
Steiner in later writing went on to attribute this phrase to the ancient Greeks.

 "The inception of critical thought, of a philosophic anthropology, 
is contained in the archaic Greek definition of man as a
'language-animal'…."

George SteinerReal Presences , U. of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 89

"… the 'language-animal' we have been since ancient Greece
so designated us…. "

George Steiner, Grammars of Creation , Yale U. Press, 2002, p. 265

Despite this, there seems to be no evidence for use of this phrase
by the ancient Greeks.

A Google search today for zoon phonanta  (ζῷον φωνᾶντα)—

There are also no results from searches for the similar phrases
"ζωον φωναντα," "ζωον φωνᾶντα," and "ζῷον φωναντα."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Poetry and Thought*

Filed under: General — m759 @ 10:30 AM

* Title courtesy of George Steiner.
   For the "thought" part, see Plato's diamond
   in last night's Mathematical Imagery.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hegel

Filed under: General — m759 @ 8:08 PM

Those impressed by George Steiner's remark on Hegel in the previous post may consult…

(Click to enlarge.)

(The Christian Examiner.  Volume LXXX. New Series, Volume I.  January, March, May, 1866.
New York: James Miller, Publisher, 522, Broadway.  Boston: Walker, Fuller, & Co.

No. CCLIV, Art. IV.– THE SECRET OF HEGEL.
By C. C. Everett, pp. 196-207.

A review of…

The Secret of Hegel, being the Hegelian System in Origin, Principle, Form, and Matter.
By James Hutchinson Sterling. In two volumes.
London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green. 1865. 8vo, 2 vols.)

On Hegel, from the review—

"He starts not from the beginning, but from the heart, of the world.
There never was a time when this pure Being— which, in its
undivided absoluteness, is indistinguishable from nothing;
as pure, unbroken light is indistinguishable from darkness—

was by itself alone; but this absolute Being is yet the foundation
and the groundwork of whatever is."

For more on Hegel's logic, see Marxists.org.

See also Steiner on chess and Lenin in The New Yorker
(September 7, 1968, page 133).

’Ceptions

Filed under: General — m759 @ 2:02 PM

Perception vs. Inception

Question—

"Where philosophy and literature mesh, where they are litigious toward one another in form or matter, these echoes of origin can be heard. The poetic genius of abstract thought is lit, is made audible. Argument, even analytic, has its drumbeat. It is made ode. What voices the closing movements of Hegel’s Phenomenology  better than Edith Piaf’s non de non , a twofold negation which Hegel would have prized?

This essay is an attempt to listen more closely."

George Steiner, The Poetry of Thought 

Answer—

Edith Piaf's rien de rien . See also Is Nothing Sacred?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Church Diamond

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 3:09 PM

IMAGE- The diamond property

Also known, roughly speaking, as confluence  or the Church-Rosser property.

From "NYU Lambda Seminar, Week 2" —

[See also the parent page Seminar in Semantics / Philosophy of Language or:
 What Philosophers and Linguists Can Learn From Theoretical Computer Science But Didn't Know To Ask)
]

A computational system is said to be confluent, or to have the Church-Rosser or diamond property, if, whenever there are multiple possible evaluation paths, those that terminate always terminate in the same value. In such a system, the choice of which sub-expressions to evaluate first will only matter if some of them but not others might lead down a non-terminating path.

The untyped lambda calculus is confluent. So long as a computation terminates, it always terminates in the same way. It doesn't matter which order the sub-expressions are evaluated in.

A computational system is said to be strongly normalizing if every permitted evaluation path is guaranteed to terminate. The untyped lambda calculus is not strongly normalizing: ω ω doesn't terminate by any evaluation path; and (\x. y) (ω ω) terminates only by some evaluation paths but not by others.

But the untyped lambda calculus enjoys some compensation for this weakness. It's Turing complete! It can represent any computation we know how to describe. (That's the cash value of being Turing complete, not the rigorous definition. There is a rigorous definition. However, we don't know how to rigorously define "any computation we know how to describe.") And in fact, it's been proven that you can't have both. If a computational system is Turing complete, it cannot be strongly normalizing.

There is no connection, apart from the common reference to an elementary geometric shape, between the use of "diamond" in the above Church-Rosser sense and the use of "diamond" in the mathematics of (Cullinane's) Diamond Theory.

Any attempt to establish such a connection would, it seems, lead quickly into logically dubious territory.

Nevertheless, in the synchronistic spirit of Carl Jung and Arthur Koestler, here are some links to such a territory —

 Link One — "Insane Symmetry"  (Click image for further details)—

http://www.log24.com/log/pix10B/101227-InsaneSymmetry.jpg

See also the quilt symmetry in this  journal on Christmas Day.

Link Two — Divine Symmetry

(George Steiner on the Name in this journal on Dec. 31 last year ("All about Eve")) —

"The links are direct between the tautology out of the Burning Bush, that 'I am' which accords to language the privilege of phrasing the identity of God, on the one hand, and the presumptions of concordance, of equivalence, of translatability, which, though imperfect, empower our dictionaries, our syntax, our rhetoric, on the other. That 'I am' has, as it were, at an overwhelming distance, informed all predication. It has spanned the arc between noun and verb, a leap primary to creation and the exercise of creative consciousness in metaphor. Where that fire in the branches has gone out or has been exposed as an optical illusion, the textuality of the world, the agency of the Logos in logic—be it Mosaic, Heraclitean, or Johannine—becomes 'a dead letter.'"

George Steiner, Grammars of Creation

(See also, from Hanukkah this year,  A Geometric Merkabah and The Dreidel is Cast.)

Link Three – Spanning the Arc —

Part A — Architect Louis Sullivan on "span" (see also Kindergarten at Stonehenge)

Part B — "Span" in category theory at nLab —

http://www.log24.com/log/pix10B/101227-nLabSpanImage.jpg

Also from nLab — Completing Spans to Diamonds

"It is often interesting whether a given span in some partial ordered set can be completed into a diamond. The property of a collection of spans to consist of spans which are expandable into diamonds is very useful in the theory of rewriting systems and producing normal forms in algebra. There are classical results e.g. Newman’s diamond lemma, Širšov-Bergman’s diamond lemma (Širšov is also sometimes spelled as Shirshov), and Church-Rosser theorem (and the corresponding Church-Rosser confluence property)."

The concepts in this last paragraph may or may not have influenced the diamond theory of Rudolf Kaehr (apparently dating from 2007).

They certainly have nothing to do with the Diamond Theory of Steven H. Cullinane (dating from 1976).

For more on what the above San Francisco art curator is pleased to call "insane symmetry," see this journal on Christmas Day.

For related philosophical lucubrations (more in the spirit of Kaehr than of Steiner), see the New York Times  "The Stone" essay "Span: A Remembrance," from December 22—

“To understand ourselves well,” [architect Louis] Sullivan writes, “we must arrive first at a simple basis: then build up from it.”

Around 300 BC, Euclid arrived at this: “A point is that which has no part. A line is breadthless length.”

See also the link from Christmas Day to remarks on Euclid and "architectonic" in Mere Geometry.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

All About Eve

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 9:57 AM

NY Times obituaries on New Year's Eve, 2009-- Carlene Hatcher Polite and David Levine

Genesis 3:24
So he drove out the man; and he placed
at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims,
and a flaming sword which turned every way,
to keep the way of the tree of life.

"The links are direct between the tautology out of the Burning Bush, that 'I am' which accords to language the privilege of phrasing the identity of God, on the one hand, and the presumptions of concordance, of equivalence, of translatability, which, though imperfect, empower our dictionaries, our syntax, our rhetoric, on the other. That 'I am' has, as it were, at an overwhelming distance, informed all predication. It has spanned the arc between noun and verb, a leap primary to creation and the exercise of creative consciousness in metaphor. Where that fire in the branches has gone out or has been exposed as an optical illusion, the textuality of the world, the agency of the Logos in logic—be it Mosaic, Heraclitean, or Johannine—becomes 'a dead letter.'"

George Steiner, Grammars of Creation

Carlene Hatcher Polite–
"Shall I help you?" asked a bass voice.
"If you can," answered a contralto.
"Trace down this tree. Let me show you
men in its stead. Leaf through this bush,
extinguish the burning fire…"
The Flagellants, page 8

"How much story do you want?"
George Balanchine

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday September 4, 2009

Filed under: General — m759 @ 2:02 PM
Closing the Circle

Continued from Monday

“This is a chapel 
 of mischance;
ill luck betide it, ’tis
the cursedest kirk
  that ever I came in!”

Philip Kennicott on
Kirk Varnedoe in
The Washington Post:

“Varnedoe’s lectures were
ultimately about faith,
about his faith in
the power of abstraction,
 and abstraction as a kind of
    anti-religious faith in itself….”

Kennicott’s remarks were
 on Sunday, May 18, 2003.
They were subtitled
“Closing the Circle
on Abstract Art.”

Also on Sunday, May 18, 2003:

 “Will the circle be unbroken?
  As if some southern congregation
  is praying we will come to understand.”


Princeton University Press
:

Empty canvas on cover of Varnedoe's 'Pictures of Nothing'

See also

Parmiggiani’s 
  Giordano Bruno

Parmiggiani's Bruno: empty canvas with sculpture of Durer's solid

Dürer’s Melencolia I

Durer, Melencolia I

and Log24 entries
of May 19-22, 2009,
ending with
    “Steiner System” —

Diamond-shaped face of Durer's 'Melencolia I' solid, with  four colored pencils from Diane Robertson Design

George Steiner on chess
(see yesterday morning):

“There are siren moments when quite normal creatures otherwise engaged, men such as Lenin and myself, feel like giving up everything– marriage, mortgages, careers, the Russian Revolution– in order to spend their days and nights moving little carved objects up and down a quadrate board.”

Steiner continues

“Allegoric associations of death with chess are perennial….”

Yes, they are.

April is Math Awareness Month.
This year’s theme is “mathematics and art.”

Mathematics and Art: Totentanz from Seventh Seal

Cf. both of yesterday’s entries.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thursday September 3, 2009

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 11:07 AM
Autistic Enchantment

“Music and mathematics are among the pre-eminent wonders of the race. Levi-Strauss sees in the invention of melody ‘a key to the supreme mystery’ of man– a clue, could we but follow it, to the singular structure and genius of the species. The power of mathematics to devise actions for reasons as subtle, witty, manifold as any offered by sensory experience and to move forward in an endless unfolding of self-creating life is one of the strange, deep marks man leaves on the world. Chess, on the other hand, is a game in which thirty-two bits of ivory, horn, wood, metal, or (in stalags) sawdust stuck together with shoe polish, are pushed around on sixty-four alternately coloured squares. To the addict, such a description is blasphemy. The origins of chess are shrouded in mists of controversy, but unquestionably this very ancient, trivial pastime has seemed to many exceptionally intelligent human beings of many races and centuries to constitute a reality, a focus for the emotions, as substantial as, often more substantial than, reality itself. Cards can come to mean the same absolute. But their magnetism is impure. A mania for whist or poker hooks into the obvious, universal magic of money. The financial element in chess, where it exists at all, has always been small or accidental.

To a true chess player, the pushing about of thirty-two counters on 8×8 squares is an end in itself, a whole world next to which that of a mere biological or political or social life seems messy, stale, and contingent. Even the patzer, the wretched amateur who charges out with his knight pawn when the opponent’s bishop decamps to R4, feels this daemonic spell. There are siren moments when quite normal creatures otherwise engaged, men such as Lenin and myself, feel like giving up everything– marriage, mortgages, careers, the Russian Revolution– in order to spend their days and nights moving little carved objects up and down a quadrate board. At the sight of a set, even the tawdriest of plastic pocket sets, one’s fingers arch and a coldness as in a light sleep steals over one’s spine. Not for gain, not for knowledge or reknown, but in some autistic enchantment, pure as one of Bach’s inverted canons or Euler’s formula for polyhedra.”

George Steiner in “A Death of Kings,” The New Yorker, issue dated September 7, 1968, page 133

“Examples are the stained-glass windows of knowledge.” —Nabokov

Quaternion rotations in a finite geometry
Click above images for some context.

See also:

Log24 entries of May 30, 2006, as well as “For John Cramer’s daughter Kathryn”– August 27, 2009— and related material at Wikipedia (where Kathryn is known as “Pleasantville”).

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Saturday April 4, 2009

Filed under: General,Geometry — Tags: — m759 @ 7:01 PM
Steiner Systems

 
"Music, mathematics, and chess are in vital respects dynamic acts of location. Symbolic counters are arranged in significant rows. Solutions, be they of a discord, of an algebraic equation, or of a positional impasse, are achieved by a regrouping, by a sequential reordering of individual units and unit-clusters (notes, integers, rooks or pawns). The child-master, like his adult counterpart, is able to visualize in an instantaneous yet preternaturally confident way how the thing should look several moves hence. He sees the logical, the necessary harmonic and melodic argument as it arises out of an initial key relation or the preliminary fragments of a theme. He knows the order, the appropriate dimension, of the sum or geometric figure before he has performed the intervening steps. He announces mate in six because the victorious end position, the maximally efficient configuration of his pieces on the board, lies somehow 'out there' in graphic, inexplicably clear sight of his mind…."

"… in some autistic enchantment,http://www.log24.com/images/asterisk8.gif pure as one of Bach's inverted canons or Euler's formula for polyhedra."

George Steiner, "A Death of Kings," in The New Yorker, issue dated Sept. 7, 1968

Related material:

A correspondence underlying
the Steiner system S(5,8,24)–

http://www.log24.com/log/pix09/090404-MOGCurtis.gif

The Steiner here is
 Jakob, not George.

http://www.log24.com/images/asterisk8.gif See "Pope to Pray on
   Autism Sunday 2009."
    See also Log24 on that
  Sunday– February 8:

Memorial sermon for John von Neumann, who died on Feb. 8,  1957

 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday March 21, 2009

Filed under: General,Geometry — Tags: — m759 @ 12:25 AM

Counters in Rows

"Music, mathematics, and chess are in vital respects dynamic acts of location. Symbolic counters are arranged in significant rows. Solutions, be they of a discord, of an algebraic equation, or of a positional impasse, are achieved by a regrouping, by a sequential reordering of individual units and unit-clusters (notes, integers, rooks or pawns)."

George Steiner
   (See March 10, "Language Game.")
 



For example:

Model of the 21-point projective plane consisting of the 1- and 2- subsets of a 6-set

Click to enlarge.

Context:

Notes on Finite Geometry
(Section on 6-set structures)
 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday March 10, 2009

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 9:26 AM
Language Game

“Music, mathematics, and chess are in vital respects dynamic acts of location. Symbolic counters are arranged in significant rows. Solutions, be they of a discord, of an algebraic equation, or of a positional impasse, are achieved by a regrouping, by a sequential reordering of individual units and unit-clusters (notes, integers, rooks or pawns). The child-master, like his adult counterpart, is able to visualize in an instantaneous yet preternaturally confident way how the thing should look several moves hence. He sees the logical, the necessary harmonic and melodic argument as it arises out of an initial key relation or the preliminary fragments of a theme. He knows the order, the appropriate dimension, of the sum or geometric figure before he has performed the intervening steps. He announces mate in six because the victorious end position, the maximally efficient configuration of his pieces on the board, lies somehow ‘out there’ in graphic, inexplicably clear sight of his mind….”

“… in some autistic enchantment, pure as one of Bach’s inverted canons or Euler’s formula for polyhedra.”

George Steiner, “A Death of Kings,” in The New Yorker, issue dated Sept. 7, 1968

Related material:

“Classrooms are filled with discussions not of the Bible and Jesus but of 10 ‘core values’– perseverance and curiosity, for instance– that are woven into the curriculum.”

— “Secular Education, Catholic Values,” by Javier C. Hernandez, The New York Times, Sunday, March 8, 2009

“… There was a problem laid out on the board, a six-mover. I couldn’t solve it, like a lot of my problems. I reached down and moved a knight…. I looked down at the chessboard. The move with the knight was wrong. I put it back where I had moved it from. Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn’t a game for knights.”


— Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

The Chandler quotation appears in “Language Game,” an entry in this journal on April 7, 2008.

Some say the “Language Game” date, April 7, is the true date (fixed, permanent) of the Crucifixion– by analogy, Eliot’s “still point” and Jung’s “centre.” (See yesterday, noon.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday March 9, 2009

Filed under: General — m759 @ 5:24 PM
First and Last Things

Next Sunday’s New York Times Book Review arrived in today’s mail. On the inside of the first page is a full-page ad for a course of 24 lectures on DVD’s called “Games People Play: Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond.” On the inside of the last page is “Our Steiner Problem– and Mine,” a full-page essay by Lee Siegel on polymath George Steiner.

Related material:

Happy birthday to the late Bobby Fischer.

“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
 And tell sad stories of the death of kings”
Richard II, Act III, Scene ii 
Portrayal of John Nash sitting upon the ground
Russell Crowe as game theorist
John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesday April 29, 2008

Filed under: General,Geometry — Tags: , , — m759 @ 11:09 AM
Sacerdotal Jargon
at Harvard:

Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe
(Harvard M.A., 1922)

versus

Rosalind Krauss

Rosalind Krauss
(Harvard M.A., 1964,
Ph.D., 1969)

on

The Kernel of Eternity

"No culture has a pact with eternity."
George Steiner, interview in  
The Guardian of April 19

"At that instant he saw,
in one blaze of light, an image
of unutterable conviction….
the core of life, the essential
pattern whence all other things
proceed, the kernel of eternity."

— Thomas Wolfe, Of Time
and the River, quoted in
Log24 on June 9, 2005

 

From today's online Harvard Crimson:

"… under the leadership of Faust,
Harvard students should look forward
to an ever-growing opportunity for
international experience
and artistic endeavor."

 

Wolfgang Pauli as Mephistopheles

Pauli as Mephistopheles
in a 1932 parody of
Goethe's
Faust at Niels Bohr's
institute in Copenhagen

From a recent book
on Wolfgang Pauli,
The Innermost Kernel:

Pauli's Dream Square (square plus the two diagonals)

A belated happy birthday
to the late
Felix Christian Klein
  (born on April 25) —

The Klein Group: The four elements in four colors, with black points representing the identity

Another Harvard figure quoted here on Dec. 5, 2002:

"The theory of poetry, that is to say, the total of the theories of poetry, often seems to become in time a mystical theology or, more simply, a mystique. The reason for this must by now be clear. The reason is the same reason why the pictures in a museum of modern art often seem to become in time a mystical aesthetic, a prodigious search of appearance, as if to find a way of saying and of establishing that all things, whether below or above appearance, are one and that it is only through reality, in which they are reflected or, it may be, joined together, that we can reach them. Under such stress, reality changes from substance to subtlety, a subtlety in which it was natural for Cézanne to say: 'I see planes bestriding each other and sometimes straight lines seem to me to fall' or 'Planes in color…. The colored area where shimmer the souls of the planes, in the blaze of the kindled prism, the meeting of planes in the sunlight.' The conversion of our Lumpenwelt went far beyond this. It was from the point of view of another subtlety that Klee could write: 'But he is one chosen that today comes near to the secret places where original law fosters all evolution. And what artist would not establish himself there where the organic center of all movement in time and space– which he calls the mind or heart of creation– determines every function.' Conceding that this sounds a bit like sacerdotal jargon, that is not too much to allow to those that have helped to create a new reality, a modern reality, since what has been created is nothing less."

— Wallace Stevens, Harvard College Class of 1901, "The Relations between Poetry and Painting" in The Necessary Angel (Knopf, 1951)

From a review of Rosalind Krauss's The Optical Unconscious  (MIT Press hardcover, 1993):

Krauss is concerned to present Modernism less in terms of its history than its structure, which she seeks to represent by means of a kind of diagram: "It is more interesting to think of modernism as a graph or table than a history." The "table" is a square with diagonally connected corners, of the kind most likely to be familiar to readers as the Square of Opposition, found in elementary logic texts since the mid-19th century. The square, as Krauss sees it, defines a kind of idealized space "within which to work out unbearable contradictions produced within the real field of history." This she calls, using the inevitable gallicism, "the site of Jameson's Political Unconscious" and then, in art, the optical unconscious, which consists of what Utopian Modernism had to kick downstairs, to repress, to "evacuate… from its field."

— Arthur C. Danto in ArtForum, Summer 1993

Rosalind Kraus in The Optical Unconscious (MIT Press paperback, 1994):

For a presentation of the Klein Group, see Marc Barbut, "On the Meaning of the Word 'Structure' in Mathematics," in Introduction to Structuralism, ed. Michael Lane (New York: Basic Books, 1970). Claude Lévi-Strauss uses the Klein group in his analysis of the relation between Kwakiutl and Salish masks in The Way of the Masks, trans. Sylvia Modelski (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982), p. 125; and in relation to the Oedipus myth in "The Structural Analysis of Myth," Structural Anthropology, trans. Claire Jackobson [sic] and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963). In a transformation of the Klein Group, A. J. Greimas has developed the semiotic square, which he describes as giving "a slightly different formulation to the same structure," in "The Interaction of Semiotic Constraints," On Meaning (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 50. Jameson uses the semiotic square in The Political Unconscious (see pp. 167, 254, 256, 277) [Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981)], as does Louis Marin in "Disneyland: A Degenerate Utopia," Glyph, no. 1 (1977), p. 64.

For related non-sacerdotal jargon, see…
 

Wikipedia on the Klein group (denoted V, for Vierergruppe):

In this representation, V is a normal subgroup of the alternating group A4 (and also the symmetric group S4) on 4 letters. In fact, it is the kernel of a surjective map from S4 to S3. According to Galois theory, the existence of the Klein four-group (and in particular, this representation of it) explains the existence of the formula for calculating the roots of quartic equations in terms of radicals.

For radicals of another sort, see A Logocentric Meditation, A Mass for Lucero, and [update of 7 PM] Steven Erlanger in today's New York Times— "France Still Divided Over Lessons of 1968 Unrest."

For material related to Klee's phrase mentioned above by Stevens, "the organic center of all movement in time and space," see the following Google search:

April 29, 2008, Google search on 'penrose space time'

Click on the above
 image for details.

See also yesterday's
Religious Art.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday April 24, 2008

Filed under: General — m759 @ 9:00 AM
Dimensions

George Steiner, interview in The Guardian of April 19:

“No culture has a pact with eternity,” he says. “The conditions which made possible the giants of the western poetic, aesthetic, philosophic tradition no longer really obtain.” Steiner doesn’t believe “there can be a Hamlet without a ghost, a Missa Solemnis without a missa,” and if you say that the questions addressed by religion are “nonsense or baby talk or trivial, I don’t believe that certain dimensions will be available to you. Particularly today, when the atheist case is being put, if I may say so, with such vulgarity of mind.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tuesday April 8, 2008

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 8:00 AM
Eight is a Gate

Part I:

December 2002

Part II:

Epiphany 2008

How the eightfold cube works
This figure is related to
the mathematics of
reflection groups
.


Part III:

“The capacity of music to operate simultaneously along horizontal and vertical axes, to proceed simultaneously in opposite directions (as in inverse canons), may well constitute the nearest that men and women can come to absolute freedom.  Music does ‘keep time’ for itself and for us.”

George Steiner in Grammars of Creation

Inverse Canon —

From Werner Icking Music Archive:

Bach, Fourteen Canons
on the First Eight Notes
of the Goldberg Ground,
No. 11 —

Bach, 14 Canons on the Goldberg Ground, Canon 11
Click to enlarge.

Play midi of Canon 11.

At a different site
an mp3 of the 14 canons.

Part IV:

That Crown of Thorns,
by Timothy A. Smith

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Saturday January 19, 2008

Filed under: General — m759 @ 7:00 AM
In Memory of
Bobby Fischer

Edward Rothstein has a piece on Bobby Fischer in today’s New York Times.  The Rothstein opening:

“There may be only three human activities in which miraculous accomplishment is possible before adulthood: mathematics, music and chess.”

This echoes the opening of a classic George Steiner essay (The New Yorker, Sept. 7, 1968):

“There are three intellectual pursuits, and, so far as I am aware, only three, in which human beings have performed major feats before the age of puberty. They are music, mathematics, and chess.”

— “A Death of Kings,” reprinted in George Steiner: A Reader, Oxford University Press, 1984, pp. 171-178.

Despite its promising (if unoriginal) opening, the New York Times piece is mainly an attack on Fischer’s anti-Jewish stance.  Rothstein actually has little of interest to say about what he calls the “glass-bead games” of music, mathematics, and chess. For a better-written piece on chess and madness, see Charles Krauthammer’s 2005 essay in TIME. The feuilletons of Rothstein and Krauthammer do not, of course, come close to the genuinely bead-game-like writing of Steiner.

Related material on
chess and religion:
Magical Thinking
(December 7th, 2005)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Sunday April 1, 2007

Filed under: General — m759 @ 12:00 PM
Doubly Appropriate

From Log24’s Xanga footprints this morning:

France Weblog http://search.ke.voila…. 4/1/2007
8:33 AM

The “Weblog” link is to a Log24 page containing the last five entries dated Sept. 22, 2002, or earlier.

The first impression one has on clicking “Weblog” is that the visitor was interested in George Steiner, C. S. Lewis, and a game of chess with God– appropriate topics for today, Palm Sunday.

This, however, is just the top entry of the five on the page.  A check of the referring link shows the visitor to have been interested in neither chess nor God, but rather in sombreros– an appropriate topic for today, April Fools’ Day.

The image “http://www.log24.com/log/pix07/070401-Sombrero.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
 
Related material:
A Log24 page from Dec. 10, 2002,
whose entries also deal with
God and hats.

Sunday, July 3, 2005

Sunday July 3, 2005

Filed under: General — m759 @ 2:28 PM

Intersections

1. Blue Ridge meets Black Mountain,

2. Vertical meets horizontal in music,

3. The timeless meets time in religion.

Details:

1. Blue Ridge, Black Mountain

Montreat College is located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina…. The Black Mountain Campus is… three miles from the main campus in the historic town of Black Mountain.”

Black Mountain College was “established on the Blue Ridge Assembly grounds outside the town of Black Mountain in North Carolina in the fall of 1933.”

USA Today, May 15, 2005, on Billy Graham
:

“MONTREAT, N.C. — … It’s here at his… homestead, where the Blue Ridge meets the Black Mountain range east of Asheville, that Graham gave a rare personal interview.”

See also the following from June 24:


The image “http://www.log24.com/log/pix05A/050624-Cross.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

“No bridge reaches God, except one…
God’s Bridge: The Cross.”

— Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,
according to messiahpage.com

For some remarks more in the spirit of Black Mountain than of the Blue Ridge, see today’s earlier entry on pianist Grete Sultan and composer Tui St. George Tucker.

2. Vertical, Horizontal in Music

Richard Neuhaus on George Steiner’s
Grammars of Creation
:

 “… the facts of the world are not and will never be ‘the end of the matter.’ Music joins grammar in pointing to the possibility, the reality, of more. He thinks Schopenhauer was on to something when he said music will continue after the world ends.

‘The capacity of music to operate simultaneously along horizontal and vertical axes, to proceed simultaneously in opposite directions (as in inverse canons), may well constitute the nearest that men and women can come to absolute freedom.  Music does “keep time” for itself and for us.'”

3. Timeless, Time

A Trinity Sunday sermon quotes T. S. Eliot:

“… to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint.”

See also The Diamond Project.

Update of July 8, 2005, 3 AM:

A Bridge for Private Ryan

The image “http://www.log24.com/log/pix05A/050708-RyansBridge.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

In memory of actor
Harrison Richard Young, 75,
who died on Sunday, July 3, 2005

Friday, July 1, 2005

Friday July 1, 2005

Filed under: General — m759 @ 8:00 PM

Big Dreams

“For more than a century, Los Angeles has been synonymous with big dreams. The Australian writer and critic Clive James said it this way. ‘Call Los Angeles any dirty name you like… The fact remains that you are already living in it before you get there.'”

— Today’s inaugural address by Mayor Villaraigosa

See also the previous entry.

Update of 2:24 PM July 2:

Yesterday afternoon I picked up a copy of George Steiner’s Grammars of Creation I had ordered.  A check of Amazon.com to see what others had to say about this book yielded the following:

“Steiner’s account of Hope as something exclusively transcendental and relative to the future is poor and superficial: the person who hopes is not only walking ‘towards’ Eternal Life, but is already walking ‘in’ Eternal Life, walking the Kingdom.”

— Matías Cordero, Santiago, Chile

See also an entry of April 7, 2005, Nine is a Vine.

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Sunday April 3, 2005

Filed under: General — m759 @ 3:26 PM
Wager

Pennsylvania Lottery Daily Number

for yesterday evening,
Saturday, April 2, 2005:

613

Related material:

From 6/13 2004

An 8-rayed star:

Another 8-rayed star:

The image “http://www.log24.com/log/pix05/050403-StPetersSq.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

St. Peter’s Square in Rome
 
From 6/13 2003

A link to a 2001 First Things essay,

The End of Endings:

“Here is the heart of the matter:

The underwriting of Hebraic–Hellenic literacy, of the normative analogue between divine and mortal acts of creation, was, in the fullest sense, theological. As was the wager (pronounced lost in deconstruction and postmodernism) on ultimate possibilities of accord between sign and sense, between word and meaning, between form and phenomenality. The links are direct between the tautology out of the Burning Bush, that ‘I am’ which accords to language the privilege of phrasing the identity of God, on the one hand, and the presumptions of concordance, of equivalence, of translatability, which, though imperfect, empower our dictionaries, our syntax, our rhetoric, on the other. That ‘I am’ has, as it were, at an overwhelming distance, informed all predication. It has spanned the arc between noun and verb, a leap primary to creation and the exercise of creative consciousness in metaphor. Where that fire in the branches has gone out or has been exposed as an optical illusion, the textuality of the world, the agency of the Logos in logic—be it Mosaic, Heraclitean, or Johannine—becomes ‘a dead letter.’

That passage bears rereading.”

— Richard John Neuhaus quoting
   George Steiner’s Grammars of Creation
   (Yale University Press, April 1, 2001)

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Sunday July 25, 2004

Filed under: General — m759 @ 11:11 PM

His Way

Suggested by George Steiner’s phrase in the previous entry, “as in inverse canons”–

  1. A revision of Theme and Variations to include a midi of Bach’s variations on the Goldberg ground
  2. The following from the screenplay of Cold Mountain

    EXT. BLACK COVE FARM. DAY.

    A beautiful day,
    the farm peaceful.
    Inman walks up the path
    to the farmhouse….
    He knocks on the door.
    Monroe answers.

                MONROE
         Mr. Inman.

                INMAN
         Reverend.

                MONROE
         What can I do for you?

    Inman hovers, awkward.
    Ada appears, awkward.

                INMAN
         I have some sheet music.
         Belonged to my father.
         No use to me.

    Ada comes forward,
    takes the package.

    ****** LATER *******

    INT. PARLOUR. 
    BLACK COVE FARM. DAY.

    At the piano, Ada unwraps
    the package of music. 
    Inside the first book of music,
    there’s a picture of Inman. 
    Some of the music has left its
    imprint on the picture, the notes
    like a melody over Inman’s face.

    Ada picks them out on the piano.

  3.     Bach, BWV 1087 (midi)

    (Fourteen Canons on the First Eight Notes of the Goldberg Ground)

  4.         Bach in the original —
      
       

  5.        “Bach in the Original” —

Sunday July 25, 2004

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 8:30 AM

Keeping Time

Richard Neuhaus on George Steiner's
Grammars of Creation
:

 "… the facts of the world are not and will never be 'the end of the matter.' Music joins grammar in pointing to the possibility, the reality, of more. He thinks Schopenhauer was on to something when he said music will continue after the world ends.

'The capacity of music to operate simultaneously along horizontal and vertical axes, to proceed simultaneously in opposite directions (as in inverse canons), may well constitute the nearest that men and women can come to absolute freedom.  Music does "keep time" for itself and for us.'"

"Goin' to Carolina in my mind…."

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Sunday September 22, 2002

Filed under: General,Geometry — Tags: , , , — m759 @ 8:02 PM

Force Field of Dreams

Metaphysics and chess in today’s New York Times Magazine:

  • From “Must-See Metaphysics,” by Emily Nussbaum:

    Joss Whedon, creator of a new TV series —

    “I’m a very hard-line, angry atheist” and
    “I want to invade people’s dreams.”

  • From “Check This,” by Wm. Ferguson:

    Garry Kasparov on chess —

    “When the computer sees forced lines,
    it plays like God.”

Putting these quotations together, one is tempted to imagine God having a little game of chess with Whedon, along the lines suggested by C. S. Lewis:

As Lewis tells it the time had come for his “Adversary [as he was wont to speak of the God he had so earnestly sought to avoid] to make His final moves.” (C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, Harcourt, Brace, and World, Inc., 1955, p. 216) Lewis called them “moves” because his life seemed like a chess match in which his pieces were spread all over the board in the most disadvantageous positions. The board was set for a checkmate….

For those who would like to imagine such a game (God vs. Whedon), the following may be helpful.

George Steiner has observed that

The common bond between chess, music, and mathematics may, finally, be the absence of language.

This quotation is apparently from

Fields of Force:
Fischer and Spassky at Reykjavik
. by George Steiner, Viking hardcover, June 1974.

George Steiner as quoted in a review of his book Grammars of Creation:

“I put forward the intuition, provisional and qualified, that the ‘language-animal’ we have been since ancient Greece so designated us, is undergoing mutation.”

The phrase “language-animal” is telling.  A Google search reveals that it is by no means a common phrase, and that Steiner may have taken it from Heidegger.  From another review, by Roger Kimball:

In ”Grammars of Creation,” for example, he tells us that ”the classical and Judaic ideal of man as ‘language animal,’ as uniquely defined by the dignity of speech . . . came to an end in the antilanguage of the death camps.”

This use of the Holocaust not only gives the appearance of establishing one’s credentials as a person of great moral gravity; it also stymies criticism. Who wants to risk the charge of insensitivity by objecting that the Holocaust had nothing to do with the ”ideal of man as ‘language animal’ ”?

Steiner has about as clear an idea of the difference between “classical” and “Judaic” ideals of man as did Michael Dukakis. (See my notes of September 9, 2002.)

Clearly what music, mathematics, and chess have in common is that they are activities based on pure form, not on language. Steiner is correct to that extent. The Greeks had, of course, an extremely strong sense of form, and, indeed, the foremost philosopher of the West, Plato, based his teachings on the notion of Forms. Jews, on the other hand, have based their culture mainly on stories… that is, on language rather than on form. The phrase “language-animal” sounds much more Jewish than Greek. Steiner is himself rather adept at the manipulation of language (and of people by means of language), but, while admiring form-based disciplines, is not particularly adept at them.

I would argue that developing a strong sense of form — of the sort required to, as Lewis would have it, play chess with God — does not require any “mutation,” but merely learning two very powerful non-Jewish approaches to thought and life: the Forms of Plato and the “archetypes” of Jung as exemplified by the 64 hexagrams of the 3,000-year-old Chinese classic, the I Ching.

For a picture of how these 64 Forms, or Hexagrams, might function as a chessboard,

click here.

Other relevant links:

“As you read, watch for patterns. Pay special attention to imagery that is geometric…”

and


from Shakhmatnaia goriachka

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