link of the week, Anna in Cairo

My friend Anna Kippervasser, artist and filmmaker, has a blog up detailing some of the magical coincidences and human connections she encounters in her five week trip to Cairo.

Anna is an awesome gal, a woman of many worlds, cosmopolitan, with an international soul able to find connections with, and meaning in, the remarkable souls that lurk underneath the veil of ordinary humanity

Anna in Cairo

One of the themes of her art is the interrelatedness of humanity, as a Jewish traveler in Muslim Egypt, from her childhood home of the Ukraine to the USA.

Anyway check it out

Are you… a betting man?

“that’s a weak hypothesis…
So.. you’re probably a betting man.”
-Satan, as played by Tom Wait’s in the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnessus

“.There is no black magic, only cheap tricks..”
-Doctor Parnessus, in the same movie.

The old yarn “life imitates art” makes no logical sense, of course waking life cannot imitate art, the work of an imagination, the work of fantasy.

But let me ask you a question, is it not so that art and life intertwine, that both reflects each other and sometimes feeds off each other, that our societies, our cultures, are molded by our art which in turn molds our art as well? Is not art a mirror through which we see ourselves? Both the good of our selves, and the bad?

The power of the imagination is one of the most powerful things that mankind possesses.

Think about it for a moment, look at our humanity. Does not every man and woman, of every race, from 40,000 years ago when our species first walked an earth as Man, as homo sapiens, and not some ape like beast,  up till today, have an imagination? Does this not distinguish us from every other animal on our planet? Not so much our intelligence, or the fact that we make and use tools, but our imagination – by the fact that we possess an imagination so powerful that we can create in our minds, in our intellects, things that do not even physically exist. We can create entire worlds, times, objects, and beings, epochs through the ages, all inside our little heads.

The most private and intimate of spaces, and though it may have some chemical analogs, electrical signals and reactions inside a lump of mundane looking, but utterly remarkable beyond comprehension, fatty tissue inside of our thick little brain cases, in truth, something we all know, the imagination and mind are intangible, entire worlds and epochs that never even exist are created inside our heads, every time we sleep and dream, when we daydream, when we drift into a reverie while driving, when we see an attractive stranger and imagine in our heads an entire seduction, from wooing to consummation, when we sit before a drafting table or CAD tablet, and pour out, from sight unseen, entire skyscrapers, fortresses, homes, and bridges, to the most minute detail.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnessus is a most interesting movie.

Do see it, it is quote good.

There are some critics who thought the movie made no sense. Perhaps it is not for everyone, however I assure you that the movie made complete sense, if you watch it with open eyes and an open mind.

Movie critics tend to sadly lack imagination and foresight, which oddly enough is one of the points of the movie.

The movie has many morals and lessons, beyond being a more sophisticated example of an essentially classic Monty Python movie, Terry Gilliam’s imagination loads this movie with an intensely symbolic aspect. But at the root of it are some common sense ideas about mankind’s good, and evil. We should not give away the cat with the cart, see it for yourself, it is a creative, imaginative, powerful and subtle movie. Two common sense take home lessons from it.

One, If you find a man trussed up and hanging beneath a bridge, it is possible that he is there for ..

a very


good reason.

Two, making bets with the devil is not a bright idea, even if you win the bet. In particular if you win the bet.

Three, stealing is a bad thing.

Espescially if you steal from children.

Espescially if it’s organs that you steal.

Movies are often potent in their ability to use imagination and symbolism to teach us lessons about our own human nature, both good and evil. Art is a mirror through which we see our own banal and yet magical souls. We are capable of so much, individuation and becoming who we truly are, instead of hankering after a false idea of what we should or could be. We are also capable of monstrosities greater than any beast walking on four legs. We can choose many paths in life, and ever so often

We choose the gilded shiny path leading to a gilt and glittering bridge

built with dry rotted timber.

Muhammad Abduh, Egyptian Freemasonry, and the British Mandate

A list of sources, and commentary:

I first heard rumors of Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Ridha, and their ideological father – Jamal al-din al-Afghani, having been high degree Freemasonic initiates about 16 years ago. Initially I dismissed the idea, it seemed to make little sense at the time, but I ran into this historical bugbear now and then more often and decided to dig deeper into it.

Well, lo and behold, Academica has actually beat this issue into the ground, it seems. There was, in the Fin-de-sicle Egyptian revolutionary millieu, an active presence of Freemasonry and the Lodge formed a common ground where middle and professional class Christian British, Egyptian Jews, and Egyptian Muslims, could meet and interact in a fraternal manner, and discuss in confidentiality issues concerning Egypt, Ottoman governance, and British Imperial Governance. It also gave a free and confidential podium in which radical and revolutionary ideas, even those contrary to official policy, were circulated, debated, and discussed.
In researching the friendship of Shaykh Muhammad Abduh, al-Afghani, The Lord Cromer Evelyn Baring of the Baring banking House and several other personages Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, I have found certain sources listed below to be useful and of interest. Some are directly related to this historical question, in my mind, whilst others are of ancillary interest as background information.

This theme is popular idea in Traditionalist Muslim circles, basically that the currently revolutionary ferment in many “Islamist” groups is not an artificat of normative Traditional Islam, but has more in common with ideological imports from the Western world, initially through Freemasonry and later through more modern Socialist and Communist streams of thought.

It is also popular in a few circles, the argument that Freemasonry and Socialism are fifth collumns deliberately introduced into the middle east to weaken the Islamic world. These sort of themes are speculative and many condemn them as paranoid.

There can be, however, discerned a certain degree of influence of certain thoughts, groups, and themes, in what appears to be an organic way. many people experiment with multiple ideologies in their youth, in particular if they are students and intellectuals in inclination. An active thinker may pass through many phases. Since struggles with colonialism and foreign domination loomed large in the early 20th century history of the middle east, it’s natural that secret societies and brotherhoods would attract individuals trying to formulate questions as to why and how an alien civilization has extended hegemony over his homelands.  In Masonic Lodges such students would have interacted with not only his compatriots but also colonial civil and military officers, and be able to debate issues of his homeland with foreign individual representing the government of the empires dominating his people.

The Traditionalist argument for fifth column subversion of Traditional Islam does feed from the fact that many current crop of Political Islamists seem focused first on Islam as an ideology and means of social justice first, and only marginally as a path of spiritual rectification and cultivation.

This does suggest a certain origin of ideas. Though from the literature you really can’t say much that is solid. Also the fact that many in the crop of islamists in the 80s were disillusioned former Socialists and Communists is not, in itself, an argument. but everyone is influenced by their origins, for example many have pointed to the Trotskivist origins of older neo-conservatives as a factor explaining their current quirks of behavior and policy.

Correlation is not causation. It is a mistake also to assume that similarity implies common origins.

Why is this relevant?

Need you even ask, turn on the evening news for God’s sake. The middle east and the western world are interlocked in a sets of crisis and conflicts that are profoundly affecting the histories and destinies of both spheres. There are some who frankly might be a bit too simple to see relevance in such themes, but the simple fact that you’ve read this far and have not yet given up out of boredom (yet) does strongly suggest that you are not among such people. Pat yourself on the back.

Such history is confusing, but when you dig into it, it becomes very interesting.
A. Albert Kudsi-Zadeh, “Afghani and Freemasonry in Egypt,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol.92, no.1, 1972. A. Albert examines the clandestine activities of Jamal al-din al-Afghani and how his presence in the Egyptian Freemasonic millieu affected his operations.

A. L. MacFie, British Intelligence and the Turkish National Movement, 1919-22. Middle Eastern Studies, vol.37, no.1 Jan., 2001

Karim Wissa, “Freemasonry in Egypt 1798-1921”. The British Society for Middle Eastern Studies Bulletin, vol.16, no.2, 1989

Byron D. Cannon, “Nineteenth-Century Arabic Writings on Women and Society: The Interim Role of the Masonic Press in Cairo – al-Lataif, 1885-1895)”. International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol.17, no.4 1985

Serif Arif Mardin, “Libertarian Movements in the Ottoman Empire 1878-1895” Middle East Journal, vol.16, no.2 Spring, 1962, pp. 169-182

Jacob M. Landau, “Prolegomena to a Study of Secret Societies in Modern Egypt”.Middle Eastern Studies, vol.1 no.2 1965

Jacob M. Landau, “The Dönmes: Crypto-Jews under Turkish Rule”. Jewish Political Studies Review, Spring 2007

Hamid Algar, “An Introduction to the History of Freemasonry in Iran”, in Journal Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.6 No.3 October 1970

Elie Kedourie, “Young Turks, Freemasons and Jews”. Middle Eastern Studies, vol.7, no.1 Jan., 1971

Sephr Zabih, Reviewed work(s): The Political Elite of Iran by Marvin Zonis. The Journal of Developing Areas, vol.7, no.2 Jan., 1973

Nikki R. Keddie, “Intellectuals in the Modern Middle East: A Brief Historical Consideration” Daedalus, vol.101, no.3, Intellectuals and Change, Summer, 1972

Eliezer Tauber, “Secrecy in Early Arab Nationalist Organizations”, Middle Eastern Studies, vol.33, no.1 Jan., 1997

Erik J. Zurcher, “The Qttoman Legacy of the Turkish Republic: An Attempt at a New Periodization”. Die Welt des Islams, New Series, Bd. 32, Nr. 2 1992

Mehrdad Kia, “Pan-Islamism in Late Nineteenth-Century Iran”. Middle Eastern Studies, vol.32, no.1 Jan., 1996

Nikki R. Keddie, “Iranian Politics 1900-05: Background to Revolution: III”. Middle Eastern Studies, vol.5, no.3 Oct., 1969

Bernard Wasserstein, “Clipping the Claws of the Colonisers’: Arab Officials in the Government of Palestine. 1917-48”. Middle Eastern Studies, vol.13, no.2 May, 1977

Donald M. Reid, “Political Assassination in Egypt, 1910-1954”. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol.15, no.4 1982


Melancholia, and random thoughts, on the CD deck is Death in June

in melancholia we contemplate the unimaginable, and horrific

When walking in Melancholia, I tend to listen to Death In June’s NADA! on a repeat loop. Something about that record is kind of soothing to me.

NADA is, I’m convinced, one of the best Industrial and dark synth-pop records of the 80’s, and one of Death In June’s own masterpieces. Though the collaborations with Albin Julius in the late 90’s were also pretty well done.

If they play this stuff at the Dock I just might pop down there on Goth night some time, the last time I was there things were too.. eh.. Wumpscutish for me. I like my dance music melancholy and not prone to inducing adult ADD…

Most music evokes things out of me that I do not want evoked.

It is possible in life and in love for two people to do things in utter sincerity and good will, but constrained by fear and lacking mutual understanding and empathy, we can do things to each other, our bodies, the bodies of those unborn, and the bodies of those already born – things done out of fear, out of self hate, things that once we realize their enormity we not only regret, but that cause us to suffer a bleeding heart through the rest of our lives.

Wallowing in guilt and sadness is an evasion, an evasion of agency, and responsibility. It gives us an easy out, mope, cry, scream, bewail, feel, experience, but do not act and do in the here and now what will free you from making similar mistakes in the future.

To rip-off Douglas Pierce “The guilty have no pride.”

Indeed. Indeed…

This is my favorite song off Nada, The Calling. It brings back memories of youthful love, and friendship, relaxing with co-workers in the kitchen between shifts, catching her eye of and her smile as she turns around the corner back into the dining hall. A touch on the shoulder and waist, a knowing and kind smile, sitting in the back of the restaurant and her shapely form sitting on my lap, laughing during lunch break, a caressed thigh and knee, and then an opportunity given, but never taken. A door left open, but whose passing was never taken. And wondering what if, what if.

Memories of a love so intense and pure and true, almost destroyed, of new life’s potential weighed and lost, of fear and anger, and passion. Of friendship that has survived all of this, and grown more pure. Hours exploring the bones of houses left to dry by the roadsides in America’s heartland, two explorers amidst mason jars never opened again, and crumbling newspapers from the depression.

Memories of another beauty, with a soul more fiery than her hair. Walks around Harrison’s tomb, night time trysts against the cool marble, furtive, looking out for guards. Pleasures shared and guiltily indulged in, walks through pioneer cemeteries, sitting on the pier. Witnessing the first overdose, memories of anger mixed with love and fear. Two bright eyes full of sadness, and despair, and adoration, and lust, and fear, all at once. Of incredible needs no man could fulfill, of the phone call, of a gift of a single remaining lock of hair, and an urn, of burnished brass,, and nothing more.

Or memories of a young bright thing, more coarse than a sailor, almost a girl, and yet still a woman. Of fresh flowers in her hair, and later crushed on a pillow. Of a few encounters without love, simply desire, and, or at least I thought, friendship.

Memories of prayers and bowing, prostrations and vigils, fasts and insights, the glimmerings of gnosis and a soul and body too frail, and slothful, to do what we know we must do once we know that the truth is the truth.

Memories of a father holding a plastic boat with a string tied, the string unloosing and the boat floating away, upon the reservoir. A single tear in a young boy’s eye. The first of many losses, the most minor of them, and yet the most dreamlike.

Of a grandfather’s tombstone, carved in Army marble. Stories told to me of a War few even remember. And next to it a father’s plot, grass beginning to settle after these few years, and yet still no stone.

The danger of music lies in it’s power, to arouse nostalgia, and to stir beneath the steps of Reason’s temple forces older, more primal, and less understood. Those who know of music’s power to evoke, to compel, and at times to control, the pied piper and his calling to the youth. In fairy tales lies food for us to contemplate, the symbol is not identical with the reality, but the symbol may be a warning. Usually one unheeded, a calling given, heard by many, but ignored by most, and puzzled over by a few.

“The Calling” by Death In June

Clear your tears
And dry your eyes
We live in fear
And drunken lies

Douse the flames
Of devil dawning
The cold blade falls
On misty morning

And for their sins
We live and die
The angel cowers
In blackened skies

So take my hand and walk again
We’ll take a walk through yellow rain

She’s calling, just calling…

So now’s the time
We hear the calling
While lovers feast
By mirrored pools

A million cries
From shattered faces
We dance in tune
To the pipes of gold

She’s calling, just calling…

Lyrics copyright Death In June/Douglas Peirce