Saturday, November 22, 2008

Revelation of the Sacred Aliens

Consider the following.

This poster has so many levels to it, I don't even know where to begin.

It is a prime example of the sacred revealing itself in the mundane. Not much more mundane than a movie poster.

What strikes you about the poster? Aliens—creatures from the sky, the incomprehensible sacred vault of the heavens, attack America!

Where do the aliens arrive?
At the Empire State Building, the highest single point in America's largest city, widely perceived as its greatest, its true capital, one of the world's capitals people worldwide consider the greatest city in America, or even the world. At the least, it is the tallest building in America's largest city—a record New York has held uninterrupted since it first claimed it in 1790.

But what about the Twin Towers? Those were taller than the Empire State Building! They don't count simply because they were twinned. Tall, yes--but as a symbol of man reaching toward the heavens, only a single spire has the full effect.

The Empire State Building is that spire. And it has been a symbol of New York City and America since it was built, a symbol of hope constructed during the Great Depression. When it was built, it was the tallest building in the world.

New York State and the Building share the same moniker—the Empire State (The State had it first).

The ESB was and is much more than a mere symbol of America's power. It is the most powerful of all symbols—the AXIS MUNDI!

The Axis Mundi.

The spire, tower, needle which connects mortal man to the Heavens above.
Thus, the ESB is a fully realized Tower of Babel. It is the very heart of New York City, and of America.

And when man tries to show that he is good enough to reach God, Heaven gets ticked off.
In this case, Aliens get ticked off (as they are wont to do).

That's why the poster features a massive beam of light connecting the axis mundi of America, its proudest monument, with the alien warship—foreign, incomprehensible, beyond anything we know. The blast of light symbolizes the portal that the axis mundi creates between the profane and the sacred. In this case as in all cases, the sacred is beyond our power to control or understand.

Of course, it is no coincidence that the film was released on and is named for Independence Day. July 4th is a sacred day in America—secular, but sacred. But this is obvious and played a prominent role in the film's marketing.

Anyway. That's why the aliens chose that particular building on that particular day to kick our ass!

Not much needs to be said about the next image, except that it is awesome, and most of the same principles apply, but note that the White House is not an Axis Mundi. It is, however, in the realm of differentiated space. But that's a topic for another day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Shield of Achilles

Let's ease into things with the obvious. Call it a crash course.

Since this blagadingalong will feature Ekphrasis in a variety of forms, let's begin with the single most famous example of it. If you don't know what Ekphrasis is, that's okay. That's not important just yet.

Look at the following image of the shield of Achilles.

It's pretty, isn't it? But this shield is an interpretation of another work, and a reference to it. I'm not so postmodern as to call this shield a text. Nevertheless, it shares a similarity with postmodern texts in that it exists not as a thing in itself but as a comment on another text.

That text, of course, is The Iliad.

More specifically, the text is:

[Hephaestus] wrought also two cities, fair to see and busy with the hum of men. In the one were weddings and wedding-feasts, and they were going about the city with brides whom they were escorting by torchlight from their chambers. Loud rose the cry of Hymen, and the youths danced to the music of flute and lyre, while the women stood each at her house door to see them. Meanwhile the people were gathered in assembly, for there was a quarrel, and two men were wrangling about the blood-money for a man who had been killed, the one saying before the people that he had paid damages in full, and the other that he had not been paid.

Each was trying to make his own case good, and the people took sides, each man backing the side that he had taken; but the heralds kept them back, and the elders sate on their seats of stone in a solemn circle, holding the staves which the heralds had put into their hands. Then they rose and each in his turn gave judgement, and there were two talents laid down, to be given to him whose judgement should be deemed the fairest.

About the other city there lay encamped two hosts in gleaming armour, and they were divided whether to sack it, or to spare it and accept the half of what it contained. But the men of the city would not yet consent, and armed themselves for a surprise; their wives and little children kept guard upon the walls, and with them were the men who were past fighting through age; but the others sallied forth with Mars and Pallas Minerva at their head- both of them wrought in gold and clad in golden raiment, great and fair with their armour as befitting gods, while they that followed were smaller. - Iliad, Book XVIII

I grabbed this version straight from Wikipedia. You can see it in the original Greek, or in English, on Perseus Project. I was going to paste you the excerpt from there but it was much longer and I am dreadfully worried about being too verbose.

famous passage takes place after (spoiler alert!) the death of Patroclus, who wore Achilles' armor. Thus, Achilles needed new armor, and Hephaestus made a new shield just for him even though it wasn't even Christmas! (Not for another 1100 years, no less!)

Notice how the text describes the shield in such vivid detail that you could duplicate it yourself. That's exactly what the shield above is. It is not a shield, but an ekphrasis. That is, it is a work of art that describes another work of art.

Technically, it is an ekphrasis of an ekphrasis! A work of art--this piece of ceremonial/decorative armor--describes another work of art in a different medium, that famous passage from The Iliad, which itself describes another work of art--the real Shield of Achilles! But I suppose that makes the shield an ekphrasis of an ekphrasis on a work of art that does not exist. How very twisty-turny! I love it!

Anyway, I'd like to provide you with another ekphrasis on the text describing the Shield of Achilles. That is, I will present a work of art--in this case a photo--that embodies in a different form another work of art--a poem.

Here's my interpretation of the Shield of Achilles:
Before you get all huffy about how clever I must think I am... don't! I am hardly the only one to interpret the Shield of Achilles in this fashion. Many 4th-century Athenians whose names you know subscribed to this same interpretation, so we're in good company!

That's all for now. We will revisit the potent image of the Shield of Achilles again in the near future but from a different angle. Let me know what you think about the Shield of Achilles, the most famous example of ekphrasis in literature... and a potent passage of wonder which describes the System of the World (foreshadowing...)!

Monday, November 17, 2008


Welcome to Axis Monday. I'm your host, Hermes Trismegistus. Don't let the Pseudo fool you: that's been put there so you don't think it's really me. Actually I'm not me, or him, but that's another subject altogether, and I assume if you are here you know who I am. (Pseudo?)-Apollon more like. I promise that will be the last in-joke on this blagadingalong.

That's right. This blagadingalong is about many things. But it is not about irony or in-jokes. Axis Monday will feature stories about Wonder. I hope that what that means shall become clear in time. What now is muddled--from your conception of these concepts, to these jumbled words on a screen--shall come into clearer focus with time and experience, both yours and mine.

To business. My purpose (if I may be so bold as to declare that I have one!) is to draw out the mundane from the wonderful, and occasionally vice-versa. The latter is triter and hence I shall avoid it as much as I can.

I intend for this blagadingalong to be quite illustrative. Thus it will include many illustrations.

A brief note about identity and the distinction between what things seem, and what things are:

Axis Monday seems to be a blog. However, Axis Monday is NOT a blog. It is a blagadingalong. How are they different? The word 'blog' is extremely unpleasant sounding. Euphony is the single most important characteristic of a word. Since the world 'blog' is neither pretty nor particularly descriptive (It's short for 'weblog', a term which no one in the world has ever used except to define the word 'blog'), I shall not use it, and instead defiantly use a word that is even less descriptive and nonsensical. Blagadingalong has a great advantage over blog. It is whimsical. I suspect the subject of whimsy shall surface later on whether I like it or not, but for now content yourself with this: 'Blagadingalong' sounds silly. 'Blog' makes me frown, but 'blagadingalong' makes me smile. That's all you need!