Confidence is necessary for great civilisations to flourish. Do you hear those last echoes of Empire? This was filmed in 1969 but Kenneth Clark had grown up in another age—a time when Great Britain’s cultural superiority went unquestioned in many huts on the Isles.
- Minute 17? Christianity eked out an existence for centuries (eg on Skellig)
- Minute 11? Greeks bored with civilisation.
- Minute 21? I suspect they haven’t given the alternative much thought.
- Anglo-saxon poem.
- Drive to create art
- People must believe in their institutions and culture. hope. finance. What’s valued is what’s valued. Crises of confidence. Bubbles and rashes. Ease of lending / us interest rate. hope / income inequality.
- Longevity of mayan culture
- The beauty of the Book of Kells. Imagine you’re illiterate and therefore letters are just shapes to you.
العربية: عمئمر بن معدكرب هقني ألمقه رأسهمو بعثتر وبألمقه وبذت حميم وبذت بعدن وبودم وبكربئل وبسمهعلي وبعمريم وبيذرحملك …. أي: اهداء عَمّيئّمّر بن مَعديكَرِب إلى ألمَقَه راسُهُمو. بعثتار وبألمقه وبذات حِميَم وبذات بَعدان وبوَد وبكربئيل وبِسَمهُ عَلي وبعَمِّرَيَم وبيَذرّح مَلِك
Then the “meaningful” words—which we logocentric modern literates focus on, revere, dissect, would seem a meaningless code.
And compare that to other illiterate symbols: the marks of American cowboys.
The illuminated knots—what we glance at and pass over—would be something you could trip out staring at.
Which is the more spiritual experience: the doctrine as encoded in sacred symbols, or the mystical feeling of following the knot-strings around, and around, and finally—maybe?—comprehending the mystical whole.
- (Same goes for Islamic art of the period.)
The signs above—2-D path segments about the width of a brush—symbols that can be formed with paint on the end of a stick—denote the name of G-d. Do you think that’s G-d’s True Name? Or that it is YHWH? Or JOHANNES? Or OM? Or אֱלֹהִ֔ים? Why should its sound be something that can be formed with a throat and tongue and teeth?
I think the essence of the classification of finite groups is more likely a syllable in G-d’s True Name than are these markings.
I think the contemplation of a mystical knot has more to do with spirituality than a scholarly discussion of Torah.
- Just one more comment on alphabetic meaning vs deep graphics. Consider these symbols and signs in the context of information theory. We know now (thanks to Claude Shannon, David Huffman, et al.) how to shrink serial streams of predefined signs into a smaller kernel representing the same thing. Likewise we can turn a bitmap representation of a Borromean ring
into a bitmap—again serial—and reduce it with
lzw. Yet a code to generate the essence of Borromean rings—or a trefoil, or a Celtic knot, or a quasiperiodic map tiling the surface of a 2-manifold shaped like the outside of a mosque—would be much shorter. A vector graphic wouldn’t capture the essence because an ideal rope trefoil could be advanced (modulo
[0,"2π")) or laid down messily (modulo diffeomorphisms that respect the topology class).
So some much simpler representation—something with a pseudocode of a few lines, given definitions of the objects—should correspond to the ideal “way we conceive” the Kelltic illuminated signs. I feel the same way about the words I read and write: ultimately their kernel is much smaller than a
- Chant. Back to the show.
I find it weird to say “we” just got through by the skin of our teeth. If something else had happened in history, for example Roman culture been forgotten, then a different “we” would be looking back on a different history. What aren’t we looking back on past the veil of Gilgamesh? What if the Chinese—or, gasp!—the Phoenicians, Moors, Berbers, Dravidians, Japanese, Australians, Mongols, Persians, Olmecs, D’mt—had become the dominant culture instead of the Normans? omg! And soon the planet will be only 10% white people!
Oh, well. It was shot 50 years ago. Still a good show.
Related. Philip Larkin:
Yet stop I did: in fact I often do, And always end much at a loss like this, Wondering what to look for; wondering, too, When churches will fall completely out of use ... what remains when disbelief has gone? Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky, A shape less recognisable each week, A purpose more obscure. I wonder who Will be the last, the very last, to seek This place for what it was; ... Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique, Or Christmas-addict,
... Or will he be my representative, Bored, uninformed,
For, though I've no idea What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth, It pleases me to stand in silence here; A serious house on serious earth it is, ...
And that much never can be obsolete, Since someone will forever be surprising A hunger in himself to be more serious, And gravitating with it to this ground, Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in, If only that so many dead lie round.