The perfectly imperfect thing

Of all possible virtues, the finest is the perfection of imperfection. The title Rhinoceros Horn Fan refers to a case in the Blue Cliff Record, a famous collection of Zen koans, in which a master and his attendant have a conversation:
One day Yanguan called to his attendant, "Bring me the rhinoceros horn fan."

The attendant said, "The fan is broken."

Yanguan said, "Then bring me the rhinoceros!"

Friday, October 31, 2008

American politics, race, and reality

Never mind for the moment the uncritical acceptance into discourse the concept of race as anything other than an invidious, divisive term in place of genuine recognition of ethnicity, language and culture.

Americans in a few hours will be choosing between a articulate, inspirational, and talented black man, and a not very successful product of the US military industrial complex.

With all the talk about the possible influence of the Bradley Effect, I propose that a countervailing force at work is the Patton Effect. Once in the voting booth, folks who would never have considered doing so will vote for the black guy. Why?

"... When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers ... AMERICANS LOVE A WINNER AND WILL NOT TOLERATE A LOSER. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in Hell for a man who lost and laughed."

- George S. Patton, 31 May 1944

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Beethoven était tellement sourd que, toute sa vie, il a cru qu'il faisait de la peinture

[attributed to François Cavanna]

Beethoven was so deaf that, his whole life, he thought he was a painter.

I really wish someone would explain to me why French people think this is funny. I speak French fairly well, with a good grasp of grammar, excellent phonetics, and am fairly well read. But I know folks who think this is uproariously funny, and it just makes me yawn. Maybe I am just revealing too much reverence for LVB.

Friday, October 10, 2008

カエデ - momiji - maple

I found this on my morning walk to the French Hotel Café.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Success is going from failure to failure with great enthusiasm

The above quotation is attributed to Winston Churchill, but to my mind it expresses Yanguan's point of view quite well.

Rhinoceros horn is known as black ivory, and was once used to fashion ornate objects for the emperor of China or for the very wealthy. A fan made of rhinoceros horn must have been a precious gift from a royal patron, an object of special significance.

What is Yanguan asking for, anyway -- either when he asks for the fan, or the rhinoceros? And what does the attendant mean when he says that the fan is broken?

The Chinese Zen tradition reveres the ability to discuss such matters without giving away any family secrets (i.e., without openly discussing the core of the matter). I don't think there's any danger of me doing any serious harm, so I'll say a few things about this.

What happens when you discover that the most precious of things is irrevocably, irretrievably, and irreparably broken? You might not recognize this as a promising condition, but Yanguan seems to be saying it is. So promising, in fact, that instead of sympathy, he offers a challenge. Note that this isn't perfectly aligned with the trite cliché that suggests we make lemonade when confronted with an abundance of lemons. There's a single nail left holding the board in place, and Yanguan is pulling it out.

It's almost giving away too much just to ask: what is the relationship between the fan and the rhinoceros?

One of my favorite teachers of all time is Yúnmén Wényǎn (雲門文偃), whose dharma name means Gate of the Clouds. There's a story about this curmudgeon that resonates with the rhinoceros.
A monk asked Yunmen, "What happens when the leaves have fallen and the tree is bare?"

Yunmen replied, "The body of the tree is revealed in the golden wind."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

SNAP TO GRID (Sierchio Exposed)

Here are the three images I've entered in the SNAP TO GRID competition at the LA Center for Digital Arts. I'd hate to get stuck in the digital ghetto, but there has been some really good work at this exhibit for the last four years.

This is one of the very earliest in this series, and is somehow iconic for me. I tried to make it clear that this is "straight" photography, but people still ask if it's photoshopped. Nope.

Most people see an eye, and some think this is a Hubble Telescope product. This may be my favorite image.

I have a square version of something like this, but I really like the light lavender streaks against a mustard and black background. I find it very sweet, and very different from most of the work.