Mesocosm

"A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us." – Franz Kafka

Archive for September 2012

Brief Update

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Carnation, Lily, Rose, John Singer Sargent
Image (c) Barnaby Thieme

Howdy folks,

Sorry I haven’t been posting as much as I’d like in the past few weeks. I have a couple pieces in the works, but I’ve been awfully busy with my day job.

I’m currently thinking about writing an overview of tantra, something on entheogens and religious experience, a piece on the trickster figure, and another piece on the psychology of religion. I’m sure I’ll get to them all soon!

If there’s a topic you’d be interested in hearing about, please let me know in the comments section! Always wanted to know what’s up with Zen koans, or how the Greeks really practiced religion, or something else? Let me know about it!

In the meantime, I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently and have just finished a couple of truly outstanding books, and I’ve reviewed them on the Goodreads site. They are Birth of the Young God, Hank Heifetz’s translation of the first eight cantos of Kalidasa’s magnificent poem about Shiva and Paravati; Geoffrey Samuel’s The Origins of Yoga and Tantra, a wonderful social history of two complex religious movements; The Cult of the Saint by Peter Brown; and Peter Gay’s Weimar Culture.

Two books I didn’t find so thrilling were Walter Burkert’s The Orientalizing Revolution, about the influence of Mesopotamia and Egypt on Archaic Greek culture, and Michael Angold’s spotty history Byzantium.

More soon….

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Written by Mesocosm

September 26, 2012 at 10:25 am

Posted in Ephemera, Links

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A Grand View of History

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“History writing today has passed into an Alexandrian age, where criticism has overpowered creation. Faced by the mountainous heap of minutiae of knowledge and awed by the watchful severity of his colleagues, the modern historian too often takes refuge in learned articles or narrowly specialized dissertations, small fortresses that are easy to defend from attack. His work can be of the highest value; but it is not an end in itself. I believe that the supreme duty of the historian is to write history, that is to say, to attempt to record in one sweeping sequence the greater events and movements that have swayed the destinies of man. The writer rash enough to make such an attempt should not be criticized for his ambition, however much he may deserve censure for the inadequacy of his equipment or the inanity of his results.” – Steven Runcimen, A History of the Crusades

Written by Mesocosm

September 22, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Ephemera, History

Pilgrimage: A Therapy of Distance

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I’ve discovered an author of the highest rank in Peter Brown – his The Cult of the Saint is a masterful study of the character and evolution of saint cults in late antiquity. The clarity, perceptiveness, and synthetic force of his ideas is beautifully conveyed throughout.

I was so struck by this characteristic observation on the nature of the pilgrimage that I had to share it with you:

The cult of relics … gloried in particularity. Hic locus es: “Here is the place,” or simply hic, is a refrain that runs through the inscriptions on the early martyrs’ shrines of North Africa. The holy was available in one place, and in each such place it was accessible to one group in a manner in which it could not be accessible to anyone situated elsewhere.

By localizing the holy in this manner, late-antique Christianity could feed on the facts of distance and on the joys of proximity. This distance might be physical distance. For this, pilgrimage was the remedy. As Alphonse Dupront has put it, so succinctly, pilgrimage was “une thérapie par l’espace.” The pilgrim committed himself or herself to the “therapy of distance” by recognizing that what he or she wished for was not to be had in the immediate environment. Distance could symbolize the needs unsatisfied, so that, as Dupront continues, “le pèlerinage demeure essentiellement départ”: pilgrimage remains essentially the act of leaving. But distance is there to be overcome; the experience of pilgrimage activates a yearning for intimate closeness. For the pilgrims who arrive after the obvious “therapy of distance” involved by long travel found themselves subjected to the same therapy by the nature of the shrine itself. The effect of “inverted magnitudes” sharpened the sense of distance and yearning by playing out the long delays of pilgrimage in miniature. For the art of the shrine in late antiquity is an art of closed surfaces. Behind these surfaces, the holy lay, either totally hidden or glimpsed through narrow apertures. The opacity of surfaces heightened an awareness of the ultimate unattainability in this life of the person they had traveled over such wide spaces to touch.

Brown P. The Cult of the Saints. The University of Chicago Press. 1981. pp. 86-7.

 

Written by Mesocosm

September 6, 2012 at 8:26 am

Bola: Vespers

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For my money, Bola is one of the greatest electronic music artists. Check out this 2002 demo, “Vespers.” The video is gorgeous, too.

 
 

Written by Mesocosm

September 5, 2012 at 11:03 am

Posted in Ephemera, Music

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“Nature Has Limits,” the Chocolate Chip Cookie Said

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I’ve been working on my chocolate chip cookies a lot recently, ever since I learned that if the butter is nice and cold when you mix up the dough, they have a marvelous, chewy texture that you can’t get any other way.

Unfortunately, when the butter is too cold, the sugar doesn’t dissolve fully when you’re beating, so the cookies have a slight granulated quality. It’s a delicate balancing act.

This weekend I learned a hard lesson. After baking several batches with carefully-calibrated adjustments, I believe I hit the very point of coolness at which the sugar is fully dissolved, and alas! The cookies are not quite chewy enough. It turns out that my idealized goal of a smooth cookie with just the right degree of chewiness is just a phantom. It’s a chimera, a mirage, a mere fabrication of my imagination. There is no way to reach it.

Like the North Star, the perfect cookie hangs above the horizon, guiding me onward but forever out of reach.

Written by Mesocosm

September 2, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Ephemera

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