Category Archives: Philosophy & Religion

Ordering the Heavens: A Visual History of Mapping the Universe

Maria Popova via Brain Pickings

 

 

From Copernicus to Ancient Korea, or what the Chinese concept of change has to do with Aztec astrology.

The love of maps is a running theme here atBrain Pickings, from these 7 must-read books on creative cartography to, most recently, BBC’s fantastic documentary on important medieval maps. Humanity’s long history of visual sensemaking is as much a source of timeless inspiration as a living record of how our collective understanding of the universe and our place in it evolved. It seems like the farther from the known mapmakers’ imaginations traveled, the more fascinating their maps became. And hardly does the unknown glimmer with more alluring sparkle than the cosmos. Explaining and Ordering the Heavens is a fantastic online exhibition from The Library of Congress, examining over 8 centuries of humanity’s evolving views of the universe, from ancient Buddhist cosmological maps to Galileo’s seminal work in astronomy to Persian celestial globes and more. Gathered here is a curated selection of images from the exhibition, alongside the original caption text accompanying them.

 

The Emperor’s Astronomy

Petrus Apianus. Astronomicum Caesareum. (The Emperor’s Astronomy). Ingolstadt, Germany: 1540.

The ‘Emperor’s Astronomy'(dedicated to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) elegantly depicts the cosmos and heavens according to the 1400-year-old Ptolemaic system, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth. By means of hand-colored maps and moveable paper parts (volvelles), Petrus Apianus (1495-1552) laid out the mechanics of a universe that was earth- and human-centered. Within three years of Apianus’s book, this view was challenged by Copernicus’s assertion that the earth revolved around the sun, making this elaborate publication outdated.

 

 

Popular Sixteenth-Century Scientific Work

Petrus Apianus and Gemma Frisius. Cosmographia, Petri Apiani. additis euisdem argumenti libellis ipsius Gemmaa Frisii. (Cosmographia of Petrus Apianus,carefully corrected and with all errors set to right by Gemma Frisius.) Antwerp: Arnoldi Birckmanni, 1564.

Cosmographia (1524) by German mathematician Petrus Apianus (1492-1552) provides a layman’s introduction to subjects such as astronomy, geography, cartography, surveying, navigation, and mathematical instruments. In this popular edition with changes by another noted mathematician, Gemma Frisius (1508-1555), movable paper instruments (volvelles) enabled readers to solve calendar problems and find the positions of the sun, moon, and the planets. Apianus depicted the cosmos according to the 1400-year-old Ptolemaic system, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth, a theory challenged by Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) in Apianus’s lifetime.

 

 

A Heliocentric Cosmos

Nicolaus Copernicus. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Libri VI. Nuremberg: Ioh. Petreius, 1543.

This volume is the first edition of the work that set forth evidence that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun. Written by Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), and published just before his death, the work was met by tremendous opposition because it contradicted religious beliefs of the time. The Copernican views provided the basis for the later work of Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo (1564-1642), and Isaac Newton (1642-1727).

 

 

 

Ancient Chinese Concept of Change

The Astronomical Phenomena. (Tien Yuan Fa Wei). Compiled by Bao Yunlong in the 13th century. Ming Dynasty edition, 1457-1463.

The book is an explanation of the ‘Ba Gua’ used in the Yi-ching (I Ching or Classic of Changes, also known as the Book of Divination). According to this Chinese world view, the universe is run by a single principle, the Tao, or Great Ultimate. This principle is divided into two opposite principles–yin and yang. All phenomena can be understood using yin-yang and five associated agents, which affect the movements of the stars, the workings of the body, the nature of foods, the qualities of music, the ethical qualities of humans, the progress of time, the operations of government, and even the nature of historical change.

 

 

Earth-Centered Universe View

William Cuningham. ‘Coelifer Atlas’ from The Cosmographical Glasse. London: John Day, 1559.

This illustration from William Cuningham’s The Cosmographical Glasse (1559) represents Ptolemy’s conception of the universe. Atlas, dressed like an ancient king, bears on his shoulders an armillary sphere representing the universe. In the center of the sphere is earth, made up of the elements of earth and water. Surrounding the earth are two more elemental spheres, for air and for fire. Other bands represent the spheres of the planets, the firmament of fixed stars, the crystalline sphere, the primum mobile, and the signs of the zodiac. Below Atlas are lines on cosmological themes from Virgil’s Aeneid.

 

 

 

Descartes’s Mechanical Philosophy

René Descartes. Principia philosophiae. Amsterdam: Apud L. Elzevirium, 1644.

According to French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650), the universe operated as a continuously running machine which God had set in motion. Since he rejected Newton’s theory of gravity and idea of a vacuum in space, Descartes argued that instead the universe was composed of a ‘subtle matter’ he named ‘plenum,’ which swirled in vortices like whirlpools and actually moved the planets by contact. Here, these vortices carry the planets around the Sun.

 

 

First Atlas of the Moon

Johannes Hevelius. Selenographia sive lunae descriptio, atque accurata tum macularum eius, quam motuum diversorum. Danzig: Hunefeldianis, 1647.

Before the revolutionary, sun-centered ideas of Copernicus, the traditional geocentric or earth-centered universe was usually depicted by concentric circles. In this popular German work on natural history, medicine, and science, Konrad von Megenberg (1309-1374) depicted the universe in a most unusual but effective manner. The seven known planets are contained within straight horizontal bands which separate the Earth below from Heaven, populated by the saints, above.

 

 

Picturing the Universe

Konrad von Megenberg, Buch der Natur (Book of Nature). Augsberg: Johannes Bämler, 1481.

Before the revolutionary, sun-centered ideas of Copernicus, the traditional geocentric or earth-centered universe was usually depicted by concentric circles. In this popular German work on natural history, medicine, and science, Konrad von Megenberg (1309-1374) depicted the universe in a most unusual but effective manner. The seven known planets are contained within straight horizontal bands which separate the Earth below from Heaven, populated by the saints, above.

 

 

Buddhist Cosmological Map

Sekai dais no zu (Buddhist Cosmological Map). Japan: 1830

This map represents the Buddhist mythological and real worlds. The upper half of the map depicts the seven great forests interwoven with seven rivers, the Sun God Palace, and the ‘Great Jambu Tree.’ The tree is described as 10,000 miles high and bearing the most delicious fruits. Only those who cultivated the divine power can visit the tree. The central section is the Sun God Palace in heaven.

 

 

Traditional Korean Maps

Chonhado (World Map) from Chonha Chido (Map of the World).Hand-copied manuscript map. Korea: mid-eighteenth century.

From the oldest known examples (perhaps from the sixteenth century) to almost the end of the tradition in the nineteenth century, the content and structure of traditional Korean maps such as these examples changed very little. The map of the world (or Chonhado) presents Korea, China, and their East Asian neighbors surrounded by rings of exotic, mythical lands and peoples and reflects the traditional Korean view that the world was flat. Being a peninsula, Korea stood out on the map and was close to China, the classical center of Asian civilization.

 

 

Tibetan Astrological Thangka

Srid pa ho (Divination Chart). Tibet, late twentieth century. Paint on cloth.

Tibetan astrology depicts the signs and symbols of the universe in this traditional format, possibly introduced from China as early as the seventh century and popular in Tibet since the seventeenth century. The central figure is a large golden tortoise, representing the Bodhisattva of Knowledge, upon whom are drawn various geomantic diagrams, such as the nine magic squares and symbols of the eight planets. This type of Thangka is often hung in homes for protection and displayed for special occasions.

 

 

Constellations from Classical Antiquity

Reiner Ottens. Atlas maior cvm generales omnivm totius orbis regnorvm. Amsterdam: 1729. Hand-colored engraving.

The star charts of Reiner Ottens (1698-1750) were intended first and foremost as a feast for the eye and had no pretensions to scientific precision or the presentation of the most recent cartographic information. The constellations on this chart are elaborately represented by figures from classical antiquity. In the corners of the chart are illustrations of four European observatories, including that of the noted sixteenth-century astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). This atlas is a seven-volume compendium of assembled-to-order star charts and geographical maps.

 

 

Aztec Calendar Stone

Antonio de León y Gama. Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras. Mexico City: F. Zuniga y Ontiveros, 1792.

In 1790 workers repaving near the Cathedral in Mexico City discovered a stone eleven and one-half feet in diameter inscribed with the Aztec calendar. When in use, the stone would have had bright polychrome colors and would have held sacrificed human hearts that the Aztecs believed were needed to feed the sun and keep civilization alive. This first study (pictured to the left) of the stone explained its 260-day divinatory cycle. The stone’s colossal size, elaborate patterning, and symbolic imagery have made it an unofficial emblem of Mexico.

 

 

Omens in the Sun

Burmese astronomical-astrological manuscript, mid-nineteenth century. Accordion-style paper manuscript.

This manuscript of the mid-nineteenth century, possibly of Sgau Karen origin (the Karen are a minority people in the mountainous parts of Burma), shows various appearances in the sun, the moon, clouds, etc., and indicates the primarily bad omens these appearances foretell. Explanations in English were added to this manuscript by a nineteenth-century American missionary.

 

 

Astronomy Cards

Jehoshaphat Aspin. A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy. London, 1825.

An unidentified lady, referred to by her nom-de-plume, Jehoshaphat Aspin, designed these whimsical astronomy cards. Most of the names of the zodiacal constellations date from the early Babylonian period, possibly from the Sumerians. The zodiac itself is a mathematical concept, which does not appear to be in use prior to 400 B.C. It provides a frame of reference in which the positions of the sun, moon, and planets could be expressed by their angular distance from the beginning of the sign in which they were located.

 

See more gems in the Library of Congress online exhibition. You can read more about how the exhibition was envisioned, curated and brought to life here.

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A Trip from Here to There: An Essay on Brion Gysin

“Everything was alive like me on this earth, everything was breathing.” — Brion Gysin

gysin_untitled1977(2)

The Hotel La Residence in Lyon was the place where we gathered for the retrospective of Brion Gysin’s art works at the Institut d’Art Contemporain in Villeurbanne. The show had transferred from the New Museum in New York and yet this was much more than a second run — it was absolutely appropriate that this important exhibition should take place in France, where Gysin had lived for so many years, and where he produced some of his greatest work. He had moved through the street life and high society of Paris, and had seen the city through all its changes, from his arrival in 1934, aged eighteen, with 15 dollars a month to live on, to his death in his apartment opposite the Beaubourg in 1986, at the age of seventy. There had been some wonderful, and also pretty terrible, times spent in Tangier and London, and many a “trip from here to there,” but there would always be Paris. For many years he felt ignored and dismissed by the art world, and this wasn’t so much because Paris was no longer the center of the art world, but because he was a progenitor post-modernist of the trans avant-garde, a traveller and internationalist, and an esotericist. He would always regard Tangier as his spiritual home, but he was, he said, a “terminal tourist.” The markets and institutions of the art world had shifted definitively to New York and London after the Second World War, but Gysin was always just passing through those cities where a profitable art career could have been developed. Instead, he was “unlocatable,” often when it most mattered, not leading “a painter’s life” at all, but pursuing other, magical interests. Because of the Beat Hotel years and his Paris exhibitions and his final years resident there after a definitive return in the mid 1970s, his life and work are inextricably tied to that city, that country. This show testified to both Gysin’s Francophile sympathies and to his love of North Africa, but it also validated his cultural and geographic marginality — a marginality now seen to be inextricably tied to his originality. The fated denizen of the Boho Zone had the vantage point of the visionary outsider.

Manifestations

Dream Machine at Gysin Exhibit

Our group included friends of Brion Gysin — Terry Wilson, Udo Breger, Philippe Baumont — and fellow admirers of his art, including Axel Heil, Stephen Vassilakos, Jacki Ledevehat and myself. The manifestations were starting — the young people, enraged and engaged, walked down rue Victor Hugo past our hotel to the Place, followed by cops in their body armour, with their visored helmets and shields and batons — the confrontations were inevitable, Minutes To Go indeed. . . Within days an image of the riot-torn, tear-gassed streets of Lyon would appear on the front page of the International Herald Tribune, that essential touchstone of American ex-pats the world over — and source of key material for the cut-ups of Minutes To Go. On French TV we would see the same clips endlessly recycled to hammer home the idea not of nationwide protests and injustice but of “troublemakers” and “mindless thugs” — well, I’ve come across a few thugs in my time, but I never saw one with “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” painted on her face. Petrol stations were out of fuel or would very soon run out — “Workers cannot be deprived of gasoline,” said Sarkozy, as protesters brought traffic to a halt at energy “chokepoints,” truck drivers staged “escargot” protests on the motorways, railways were disrupted and the garbage piled up… 1,423 protesters, mostly young, would be arrested by the 21st… Could this be May in October? Clearly, Gysin’s retrospective was opening under “Riot Conditions”… At the vernissage, Gysin’s friend Catherine Thieck, who curated the 1987 Galerie de France show “Brion Gysin: Calligraphies, Permutations, Cut Ups,” said to Terry Wilson, “Isn’t it just like Brion to bring us all together in the suburbs of Lyon?” In fact, there was a direct correlation between those young people protesting against state legislation and the crowd of young people who appeared at the Gysin opening. Ramuntcho Matta, Francois Lagarde, Francois de Palaminy, Rosine Buhler, Terry and Udo and Philippe and many more were at the vernissage, and Gysin would have loved it that his old friends and admirers were joined by those young people, eager to see his work. Louise Landes Levi wrote to me, “Lyon scene sounds incredible, almost as if Brion made it happen, as a similar riot, the young & strong, broke out the last time I saw him read, at Beaubourg, he was attached to all kinds of tubes under his white robe, I panicked, feared for his life but I think he enjoyed himself, I am sure he was there for the riots.” We were just passing through, the riots and jams hardly touched us, but the media message was inescapable, and that ambience of things going askew, pressure building, we could feel it, and there was, too, a Gysin current coming through… We were talking about Gysin’s lack of recognition, how he was always himself passing through different cities and time zones, and a Bowie track suddenly blasted out from a boutique, an echo of the ambience of Brion Gysin’s later Paris nights, when he was hanging out at The Palace with Keith Richards and Iggy Pop and other rock-star art cognoscenti — it was the perfectly ironically titled, “A New Career In A New Town…” Already we were picking up on the “Gysin Level” as Burroughs dubbed it, and as Terry always refers to it, and it really felt like dub music, the reshaping and remixing of the existing recordings with echo, reverb, and delay, the rhythm and alliteration of Gysin’s work coming through from other sources, an audio and visual remix following us around Lyon and up to Paris and through the city streets, manifestations of a different order, jumping out of speakers and sprayed on city walls, breaking through TV monitors and leaking through newspaper formats and old photographs, and mirror apparitions and psychic photography — associations, connections, tracks we were helpless but to follow, it would have been foolish to do otherwise, a whole series of currents of meanings, political, personal, aesthetic, which we would track in the days following the show. We’d come to see the show, to look at the Gysins — and our trajectories did more than intersect, they radiated outwards and connected in ways which seemed premonitory and fateful, literally manifesting as the manifestations built in the streets and those riot clips were incessantly, ideologically recycled and reiterated. We would cut that media material up, intervening and disrupting the image flow, rewriting the script. In derives around Paris in the days and nights following the show’s opening we passed significant Gysin locations, and caught visual echoes of his calligraffiti on the walls, the past suddenly glimpsed, appearing in a new guise. Gysin’s work permeated the experience — but it was something more than art. I realized I was reviewing an exhibition, but also tracking the effects of an exhibition — something hardly ever acknowledged by art critics or reviewers. We were picking up on the show’s afterglow, tracing the psychic connections which Gysin’s work is all about… After all, that “immense revolutionary demonstration” which Gysin saw in his own painting, and those “street barriers” he discovered in his calligraphy, we’d seen them, too, in the retrospective at Villeurbanne, and now here they were “for real” on the streets of French cities and as a running script on continual replay through the 24 hour media (we switched the sound off, we knew what those commentators and politicians were saying). A couple of days after the Gysin show, strolling down the Rue du Bac in Paris, Terry said, “Well, the manifestations haven’t ruffled any feathers around here.” The next second a very small man walked past us in boots and knee socks and a Tyrolean hat with two one-foot high feathers sticking up in the air from his hat band. He patted Bouddha on the head and disappeared. Such Gysinian manifestations had occurred in New York, too, with the sudden miraculous appearance, shortly before the show, of the missing eighth painting in Gysin’s beautiful 1961 series of calligraphic acrylics, whereabouts previously unknown. And Laura Hoptman, curator of the retrospective, told Terry that a very impressive, regal figure, dressed entirely in white, walked back and forth in front of the New Museum in the days before the show, as if safeguarding proceedings, his very presence casting a mysterious protective radiance. He did not speak to anyone and he didn’t enter the museum. “Brion’s representative, clearly,” Terry said. 

Show

Udo Breger, Ramuntcho Matta, and Alice Marquaille at Gysin Exhibit

In the last twenty years there have been fine shows of Gysin’s work, in particular at the October Gallery in London, which supported his work while he was alive and has continued to do so, but this retrospective provided an unparalleled overview, despite certain curious omissions such as the renowned multiple-image Marrakesh paintings of the late 1950s, and his big late picture Calligraffiti of Fire. The absence of the Marrakesh pictures was particularly baffling and unfortunate since these have always exerted a powerful fascination on viewers and their conjuration of shifting, elusive images is one of Gysin’s most original achievements. For those who had never seen the originals, it was a real loss. Still, the exhibition was an opportunity to get a sense of the work over forty-five years, from the 1940s decalcomanias to the final photo-grids of the 1970s. Several Third Mind scrapbooks, made with Burroughs, were exhibited, along with notebooks and related written and published material, in cabinets — the scrapbook collage pages were reminders that Gysin was not principally a collage artist at all, and that in fact he had great reservations about making pictures with that technique. Collage was a tool for Burroughs and Gysin in their systems collaborations, but it wasn’t until the Beaubourg and photo-grid series of the 1970s that Gysin employed it whole-heartedly in his art. Rather, the show revealed Gysin as a draughtsman and painter whose work conjures evanescent, transient optical and psychic experiences, a vision which ranges from transcendent detachment to possessed, splenetic attack. His art uses his calligraphic touch and layered processes to communicate the scattering, shattering, and dematerialization of perceptual phenomena and the flux of states of consciousness — seeking the creation of exemplary embodiments of transcendent moments and their dispersal, an art ofapprehension in every sense. They are not “illustrations” of drug experiences, surreal depictions or visually contrived approximations of the hallucinatory. The pictures create continually shifting, flickering apparitional fields, both suggesting and stimulating changing states of consciousness — optical phenomena inseperable from psychic conjuration. Those tiny dancing figures of light, the “little people” of psilocybin and kif can be seen in gestural flashes and twists, implosions and radiations of color. The skyscraper becomes a grid, the stroke of paint a flower pistil, and back again, the painted image emerging and disappearing through a ghosting figuration which pulsates through rhythmic brush strokes, while the speed, time intervals, internal rhythms and velocity peaks of Gysin’s calligraphy are breathtaking. It’s the work of a “psychic assassin,” for sure, pushing extreme states including the alienation effect of the disembodied and mechanistic, but beneficent, too — seductive, poignant and tender. The show included a room where Gysin’s “Expanded Cinema” of scratched color slides was projected, another with several spinning Dreamachines, and Balch’s film Towers Open Fire was also shown, so that Gysin’s paintings were placed, as they should be, in relation to his multimedia work. People rushed in to sit around the Dreamachines, and they knew exactly what to do. It was entrancing.

Recuperation

Gysin Exhibit

The exhibition “Brion Gysin: Dream Machine” was curated by Laura Hoptman who has also written an essay, “Disappearing Act: The Art of Brion Gysin,” for the accompanying book, which she has edited, Brion Gysin: Dream Machine. The book, like the show in its New York incarnation, attempts to situate Gysin’s work in contemporary art practice as well as in 20th century art history — though Hoptman is aware that Gysin’s art was a psychic, magical exploration that does not fit convenient formal and stylistic categories. The title of the retrospective and the book separates “Dreamachine” back into its two component parts, though that conjoining was more than a marketing ploy, a brand name for a device — it was itself part of Gysin’s hybridization technique. The beginning of one word is found in the end of another and in their seamless coming together a profound idea is given perfect verbal form — the merging of two apparently contradictory states of being which are linked by their bypassing of human control. The autonomous device operating outside the human body and beyond human control passes into the dream as psychic event which takes over the helpless sleeper. This is the meaning of the Dreamachine as Soft Machine — the giving up of control, becoming an agency for the transmission of images, the Dreamachine triggering the hidden genetic permutations of the psyche. Hoptman distinguishes Gysin’s work from the calligraphic and the grid artists of his time — he could not be categorized, he did not belong to those schools to which his own work bore only a surface resemblance. He was playing a game with certain stylistic and formal tendencies, including action painting and Tachisme and kinetic art — whilst subverting these, doing something quite different and working undercover. The book includes homages by today’s artists who have been directly influenced by aspects of Gysin’s diverse, complex oeuvre, and it is significant that Gysin’s subterranean, heretical influence now seems more vital than so many of his contemporaries. This retrospective and the accompanying book are admirable attempts to re-evaluate Gysin’s work, and to recontextualize it in regard to certain contemporary art practices, and this has been long overdue. Even so, there is the still misunderstood, largely uninvestigated work of Gysin and Burroughs’ Third Mind. A number of the scrapbooks were presented in display cases at the exhibition, and examples of the grid collages are reproduced in the book, but the Third Mind cannot be accessed or understood through this kind of presentation alone. Gysin and Burroughs’ project was determinedly ant-art, anti-literature, and also anti-collage-as-art, and those who seek out the political, technological, esoteric Third Mind techniques and strategies will do so in ways which bypass, necessarily, the obfuscation and misdirection of cultural analysis and specifically artistic readings. The Third Mind is absolutely not reducible to a collage text or artwork — it was very much more than that, and even at the textual level, the way the scrapbooks work goes beyond such reductive formalist description. Telepathy, scrying, machine production, drugs, magical invocation, cut-up and other techniques, along with strategies related to photographic illusion must be explored through experimental material practice — which has nothing to do with being shown in a gallery or recorded on film or selling a book, and not only because of the transitory, inchoate and risky nature of the phenomena and processes involved. The idea that Gysin’s artworks from the late 1950s onwards can be separated from his Beat Hotel experiments is unsustainable since their development was reciprocal, entirely enmeshed, and this symbiosis continued after Gysin and Burroughs left the Beat Hotel — the discoveries informed both men’s work for the rest of their lives. At the same time, the artefacts and working documents accrued in the process of Third Mind research may be exhibited, and studied as formats and procedures linked to Gysin’s artworks, and to the texts of both men, while Gysin’s beautiful paintings may themselves be recognized for their originality and their significance in art history, but this kind of critical activity will only take you so far because “theoretical understanding,” in the case of the Third Mind, is a complete contradiction in terms — the process is experiential, it is of the unknown. If this is a problem for criticism, it’s also an opportunity — to explore Gysin’s art by actually engaging with the processes and techniques of the Third Mind which made Gysin’s work possible. Terry Wilson has written about attempts “to neutralize and assimilate a lifetime of psychic power into three-dimensional financial manipulative areas… to neutralize, assimilate, destruct. . .,” and the “contextualization” of Third Mind artefacts as historical manuscripts or artworks by any other name risks losing the essential purpose of Gysin and Burroughs’ work. Their own book, The Third Mind, was not what they had hoped for, the outcome a perfect example of market forces at work, while the original blueprints and “field recordings,” and the teachings passed along to a few, call for further research and action rather than the promulgation of “ideas” or the validation of existing knowledge. Despite the fascination and beauty of certain Third Mind works, they are technical plans, resource materials, spin-offs of a way of thinking and being in the world which cannot be aesthetically or intellectually recuperated. Continue reading

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When Sartre and Camus Met Hoover’s G-Men

By D. D. GUTTENPLAN via the New York TImes

Jean-Paul Sartre expounding on his idea of ''littérature engagée,'' or ''committed literature,''  in 1945, at the Maison Française of Columbia University, New York.

Jean-Paul Sartre expounding on his idea of ”littérature engagée,” or ”committed literature,” in 1945, at the Maison Française of Columbia University, New York.

In April 1945, while World War II still raged in Europe and Asia, an emissary from recently liberated Paris arrived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The setting was the Maison Française at Columbia University, a town house on 117th Street devoted to bringing French thought and French thinkers to New York. The messenger was Jean-Paul Sartre, not yet 40 years old, but already acclaimed as a playwright and philosopher. His message, delivered in a seminal lecture later published in Vogue magazine: “Literature is no fancy activity independent of politics.”

Expressing for the first time to a public audience his idea of “littérature engagée,” or “committed literature,” Sartre held up his friend, the novelistAlbert Camus, as a model of a writer who, far from turning his back on conflict and controversy, was fully involved in the burning questions of his day. Sartre himself was in New York on assignment for Combat, the clandestine French resistance newspaper edited by Camus.

A year later, in March 1946, it was Camus’s turn to visit New York. According to Andy Martin, the author of “The Boxer and the Goalkeeper: Sartre versus Camus,” both men’s lectures at Columbia University were well attended by students and faculty members — and by agents from J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I.

Later, Sartre and Camus would quarrel over Soviet communism and the political use of violence, but at that time they were comrades of the left. Yet Sartre, on his visit, was actually invited to the Pentagon; Camus, in contrast, “was stopped at immigration,” said Mr. Martin by telephone. “Hoover sent out a ‘stop letter’ to all U.S. customs agents saying this man should be detained,” Mr. Martin said. Eventually, Camus was allowed to proceed to New York, where his novel “L’Étranger” (“The Stranger”) had just been published in English.

On Sep. 18, Mr. Martin will give a talk at Columbia on “The F.B.I. and French Philosophers,” discussing what happened when Hoover’s G-men met France’s leading Existentialists. The lecture is part of an exhibition and events, starting Sep. 10, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Maison Française.

The idea of a home for French culture on a U.S. campus was the brainchild of Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University from 1902 to 1945. “Butler had lived in Germany and France after he finished his own studies here,” said Shanny Peer, the current director of the Maison Française. “He used to boast: ‘I know every important man in France,’ which was probably true,” she said. “He was also president and founder of the France-America Society, whose membership was a who’s who of New York society.”

When it came to campus outposts, the Germans got there first: The Deutsches Haus at Columbia was founded in 1911. The Maison Française came two years later, after an agreement between Butler and Louis Liard, the head of the Sorbonne in Paris.

A. Barton Hepburn, the New York banker who donated the house on 117th Street — the institute has since moved to nearby Buell Hall — told Butler that he wanted “to place the French interests in this city on a par with the German,” according to an essay in the exhibition catalogue written by Ms. Peer.

The university also organized what may have been the first U.S. study abroad programs, sending students and faculty members on tours of Paris and the French provinces.

“The idea was to create a network of elites in France and America,” said Ms. Peer. For France, the motivation was clear: to make sure that in the event of a war with Germany, the United States would side with the French.

When World War I broke out in 1914, J.P. Morgan, the treasurer of the France-America Society, became the purchasing agent for both the French and British governments, while his eponymous banking firm raised hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to France and Britain.

“You have to remember that before World War I, the United States had much stronger ties with Germany than France,” Ms. Peer said. “There were many more Americans of German origin, and in academia especially, German universities were particularly influential.” Yet, “by the end of the war, French had replaced German as the most studied foreign language in the U.S.,” she said.

According to Michael Rosenthal, an English professor at Columbia and the author of “Nicholas Miraculous,” a biography of Butler, the shift in allegiance was wrenching. “Butler loved the Germans, Kaiser Wilhelm above all,” Mr. Rosenthal said. But after publicly praising the Kaiser, to whom he wrote a lengthy testimonial in the New York Times Magazine in June 1913, Butler welcomed the opportunity offered by the Maison Française to “cover his pro-German tracks,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “He was obviously horribly embarrassed by what he had done.”

Though the Deutsches Haus was shut during the war — its premises were used as part of the Columbia War Hospital — the French link flourished, with the university awarding honorary doctorates to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme commander of the Allied forces, and to Prime Minister Aristide Briand in 1921.

When hostilities between Germany and France resumed in World War II, Frédéric Hoffherr, a professor of French and the director of the Maison Française, formed a committee to support the efforts of Charles De Gaulle. He later worked for the U.S. Office of War Information, the propaganda agency that invited Sartre to the United States.

“Sartre was part of a group of journalists brought over by the O.W.I.,” said Mr. Martin. “They were trying to put out good propaganda, and Hoover wondered what kind of good propaganda you can hope to get out of the author of ‘Nausea’ and ‘Being and Nothingness.”’

“Hoover thought there must be some kind of conspiracy between communists, blacks, poets and French philosophers. He was hoping for some kind of evidence of conspiracy,” he said.

The F.B.I. was baffled by Sartre. “These agents were trying to work out what the hell existentialism was all about,” said Mr. Martin, adding that “20 years later there’s a note in Sartre’s file saying ‘I can’t work out if he’s pro-Communist or anti-Communist.’ They were still baffled!”

At least they spelled Sartre’s name correctly, unlike that of Camus, who is identified as “Canus” or “Corus” in his file.

“Camus had been a member of the French Communist party, but the F.B.I. didn’t seem to know that,” said Mr. Martin. “The thing that disturbed them was that he was a member of the resistance.”

Describing the whole episode as “the Untouchables in pursuit of the unintelligible,” Mr. Martin said that the visits of Sartre and Camus to New York had a lasting impact on both.

“Sartre mistrusted America politically. He thought there was a conspiracy to support Vichy,” the French collaborationist government. “But he loved the literature. He loved jazz. He loved the movies,” Mr. Martin said.

“Camus was much more ambivalent,” Mr. Martin continued. “He acquired a girlfriend” — Patricia Blake, a young copywriter at Vogue magazine — and “he loved ice cream and the Camel billboard in Times Square that sent out real smoke. But he found America depressing and never returned.”

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Varanasi, India’s “Holy Men”: A Photo Series and Documentary

Varanasi, one of world’s oldest living cities, is rightly called the religious capital of India. Also known as Banaras or Benaras, this holy city is located in the southeastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. It rests on the left bank of the holy river Ganga (Ganges), and is one of the seven sacred spots for Hindus. Every devout Hindu hopes to visit the city at least once in a lifetime, take a holy dip at the famous ‘Ghats‘ of the Ganga, walk the pious Panchakosi road that bounds the city, and, if God wills, die here in old age.

All photos from : Joey L‘s photo series “Holy Men”

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A Place of Spiritual Luminance

The former name of the city, ‘Kashi’ signifies that it is a ‘site of spiritual luminance.’ Indeed it is! Not only is Varanasi a place for pilgrimage, it is also a great center of learning, and a place known for its heritage in music, literature, art and craft. It is a cherished name in the art of silk weaving. The Banarasi silk sarees and brocades are prized all over the world. The classical musical styles or ‘gharanas’ are woven into the lifestyle of the people and are accompanied by musical instruments that are manufactured in Varanasi. Many religious texts and theosophical treatises have been written here. It is also the seat of one of India’s biggest universities, theBanaras Hindu University.

A Haven For Pilgrims

Varanasi is a veritable paradise for pilgrims, who throng the ‘Ghats’ of the Ganges for spiritual rewards like deliverance from sin and attainment of nirvana. The Hindus believe that to die here on the banks of the Ganges is an assurance of heavenly bliss and emancipation from the eternal cycle of birth and death. So, many Hindus travel to Varanasi at the twilight hour of their life.

What Makes It Holy?

To the Hindus, the Ganges is a sacred river and any town or city on its bank is believed to be auspicious. But Varanasi has a special sanctity, for it is believed, this is where Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati stood when time started ticking for the first time. The place also has an intimate connection with a host of legendary figures and mythical characters, who are said to have actually lived here. Varanasi has found place in the Buddhist scriptures as well as the great Hindu epic of Mahabharata. The holy epic poem Shri Ramcharitmanas by Goswami Tulsidas was also written here. All this makes Varanasi a significantly holy place.

The City of Temples

Varanasi is also famous for its antique temples. The renowned Kashi Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva has a ‘lingam’ – the phallic icon of Shiva – that goes back to the time of the epics. Skanda Purana by Kasikanda mentions this temple of Varanasi as Shiva’s abode. It has withstood the onslaught of various invasions by Muslim rulers. The present temple was rebuilt by Rani Ahalya Bai Holkar, the ruler of Indore, in 1776. Then in 1835, the Sikh ruler of Lahore, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had its 15.5 m high spire plated in gold. Since then it is also known as the Golden Temple.

Major Temples of Varanasi

The 8th century Durga Temple, situated on the Ramnagar Pandav road, is home to hundreds of monkeys that reside in the nearby trees. Another popular temple is the Sankatmochan temple dedicated to the simian-god Hanuman. Varanasi’s Bharat Mata Temple is probably the only temple in India that is dedicated to the ‘Mother India.’ Inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936, it has a big relief map of India carved in marble. Another relatively new temple is the Tulsi Manas Temple built in honor of Lord Rama in 1964 at the place where Tulsidas composed the Ramacharitmanas, the vernacular version of the epic of Ramayana. The walls of this temple adorn the scenes and verses depicting the exploits of Lord Rama.

Other significant places of worship include the Sakshi Vinayaka Temple of Lord Ganesha, the Kaal Bhairav Temple, the Nepali Temple, built by the King of Nepal on Lalita Ghat in Nepali style, the Bindu Madhav Temple near the Panchaganga Ghat and the Tailang Swami Math.

“BEYOND” is an exclusive documentary featuring photographer Joey L. Set in Varanasi, India. The documentary by filmmaker Cale Glendening follows Joey and his assistant Ryan as they complete their latest photo series- “Holy Men.”

Almost every major religion breeds ascetics; wandering monks who have renounced all earthly possessions, dedicating their lives to the pursuit of spiritual liberation.Their reality is dictated only by the mind, not material objects. Even death is not a fearsome concept, but a passing from the world of illusion.

Created by: Cale Glendening, Joey L., Ryan McCarney
Directed by: Cale Glendening
Edit/Color: Chris Dowsett, Cale Glendening, Joey L., Megan Miller, John Carrington
Graphic/Titles: James Zanoni
Original Score: Stephen Keech,Tony Anderson
All Photographs: Joey L.
Guiding/Translation: Raju Verma, Tejinder Singh

Special Thanks: Jesica Bruzzi / BH Photo, Kessler Crane


Varanasi, India:Beyond Trailer

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Photographer Manjari Sharma – Hindu Gods and Goddesses Represented in Modern Photographs

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Maa Laxmii

Maa Laxmii

Maa Laxmii

Maa Laxmii

Mumbai-born and Brooklyn-based photographer Manjari Sharma’s new project Darshan takes a modern approach to a timeless Hindu cultural artifact. ”We may have seen paintings and sculptures used to illustrate Hindu deities all over the world,” Sharma explains. “However, it’s the use of a rarely explored medium like photography to culturally preserve the Indian heritage that lends a uniqueness to the project.” The result are large-scale productions that incorporated exhaustive research, extensive makeup and prosthetics, and a team of 35 Indian craftsmen.

Darshan will be on display at ClampArt in New York City until October 12. While you can see a few of the images here, we suggest checking out the actual exhibition, which Sharma describes as “a massive print installation in a museum that closely mimics the experience of a Hindu temple, complete with incense, lamps and invocations, accompanied by detailed texts about the mythological significance of that deity.”

More here: Huffington Post

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400 Year Old Jewel Encrusted Skeletons Unearthed Across Europe

Back in 1578 came the fascinating discovery of a network of labyrinthine tombs, lurking deep beneath the street of Rome. The tombs were home to the decayed skeletons of early Christian martyrs – believed to be saints on account of their bravery & unwavering support of Christian beliefs.

Many of these skeletons (given the name ‘The Catacomb Saints’ by those who first discovered them) were then distributed across Europe (predominantly Germany) as replacements for the countless holy relics which had been smashed, stolen or destroyed during the Protestant Reformation.

Once delivered, each skeleton was then clothed and adorned into a variety of precious jewels, expensivecloth, crowns, armour and even given wigs. They were put on display inside their designated churches as a reminder to all who visited, for the riches and wealth that awaited them post death – providing they swore allegiance to the Christian faith.

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So fascinated by the discovery and indeed the story behind ‘The Catacomb Saints’ art historian (and self-confessed relic hunter) Paul Koudounaris travelled all over Europe trying to find and document the status of each Saint. Amazingly many of the skeletons were yet to be put on display, still stored in containers waiting to be dressed and revealed to the public.

His book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs looks at the gripping origins and history of ‘The Catacomb Saints’, posing such as questions as who were they? How exactly did they die? Who ordered them to be placed in the catacombs? And why had they laid forgotten in Europe’s religious institutions for so long?

His work serves as a compelling documentation of some of the most elaborate & forgotten relics from a by-gone era. Below are a few photographs from the book itself, which you can purchase right here

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Heavenly Bodies Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs  By Paul Koudounaris 7 Continue reading

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BibViz Project – An Interactive Visual Chart of Bible Contradictions, Misogyny and Violence

No matter what your beliefs, it’s hard to deny that the era in which the Bible takes place was a more, uh, brutal time, filled with plagues, salt pillars, and excessive murders—plus plenty of conflicting moral diktats from the man himself. Now, one designer has built a handy map to help us navigate the text.

Using data from the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, programmer Daniel G. Taylor created this encyclopedic visualization of 463 of the Bible’s major contradictions. Here’s how to read it: Each vertical blue line represents a different chapter, ordered chronologically. The red arcs trace each represent a question about a specific person or concept. These range from incredibly mundane (“Is it OK to use perfume?”) to the monumental (“Is God the creator of evil?”). Clicking on one of the red lines takes you to a list of every relevant quote from both Old and New Testaments.

Taylor’s point isn’t to criticize or pick apart the book. Rather, he’s interested in analyzing it carefully—and visually—to reveal common threads through the entire story. “This website aspires to be a beautiful and interactive resource for skeptics and believers alike to explore some of the more negative aspects of holy books,” he writes.

Though this is certainly a more skeptical take on the Bible, Taylor also included augmentative demographic data about faith in America. One Gallup poll, for example, found that forty-six percent of Americans not only believe in God, but also believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. So, yes, Americans are still plenty faithful.

This Comprehensive Map Traces 463 of the Bible's Contradictions

This Comprehensive Map Traces 463 of the Bible's ContradictionsSEXPAND

This Comprehensive Map Traces 463 of the Bible's Contradictions

Direct Link :

BibViz Project – Bible Contradictions, Misogyny, Violence, Inaccuracies.

Article by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan via Gizmodo

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Walter Benjamin, Paul Klee and the Angel of History

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 Paul Klee was born on December 18, 1879, in Münchenbuchsee, near Bern, Switzerland, the second child of Hans Klee, a German music teacher, and a Swiss mother. His training as a painter began in 1898 when he studied drawing and painting in Munich for three years. By 1911, he had returned to that city, where he became involved with the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), founded by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc in 1911. Klee and Kandinsky became lifelong friends, and Kandinsky’s support provided much-needed encouragement. Until then, Klee had worked in relative isolation, experimenting with various styles and media, such as making caricatures and Symbolist drawings, and later producing small works on paper mainly in black and white, one of which was ‘Angelus Novelus’ which he painted in 1920. Continue reading

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Carl Sagan and the Dalai Lama

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If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.

 Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama

 

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A Love Supreme: The Canonization of St. John Coltrane

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The Church of John Coltrane African Orthodox Church is a church based in San Francisco which recognizes the late, great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane as a saint.  As you would imagine, the church’s services transcend your typical Sunday morning sermon as they are centered around live jazz performances and the special communion the performances achieve. Coltrane’s music truly is the vehicle that makes the heart and soul of the congregation one.

Archbishop Franzo Wayne King first founded his church in 1971. King originally called the church “Yardbird Temple”, as a tribute to the jazz club that King ran in San Francisco in the 1960′s.  In 1982, the church officially joined the African Orthodox Church denomination, changed its moniker, and canonized Coltrane as a saint. Continue reading

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