Monday, April 30, 2012

The Eyes of Bedlam

Majority rule is fine in most circumstances, but... in a insane asylum?

Don't follow the crowd – especially when the crowd is full of Tarot enthusiasts. Tarot appeals most strongly to people of questionable judgment, fortune-tellers and their clients, occultists, and others devoted to fantasy. In such a field more than most, one needs to choose the road less traveled. Erasmus commented on the Pythagorean proverb, per publicam viam ne ambules.

Walk not in the public highway. St Jerome's explanation is: Do not follow common errors. For human affairs have never gone so well that the best pleases the majority. Hence some express it like this: 'Refuse the king's highway and take the byroads.' This piece of advice agrees with the teaching of the Gospel, which recommends us to avoid the broad road where most people walk, and take the narrow way, trodden by few but leading to immortality.

Avoid error vulgi. A speculum principis, (circa 1512-1515), for François I, included this illustration of the two paths: the narrow road to glory and the more popular path, to perdition.

Here, of course, Erasmus is thinking of St. Matthew's account of the two ways, [Mt. 7:13-14] and this is likewise the theme of the drawing—the broad road (Via regia) that leads to perdition, and the narrow but steep pathway (Semita) to Heaven. On the left side, the few virtuous people (Boni Viri pauci) who have attempted this latter path are conducted by Rectitudo, who carries the attributes of compasses and ruler to emphasize her straightness, to the gate of Heaven, where they are welcomed by Immortality (Immortalitas), holding a fiery disc inscribed with the IHS monogram, and surrounded by angels. To the other side, the broad way contains a crowd led by Common Error (Error Vulgi), who is not merely blind but has never had eyes; among her followers the elegant man in a feathered hat looking at his own reflection in a mirror stands for Vanity, the half-nude woman eating and drinking for Gluttony, the embracing couple behind her for Lust, and the man with the raised sword for Anger. Error Vulgi leads her followers into the mouth of Hell, in which stands Death, surrounded by devils. The deadly sins lead, through death, to eternal damnation.
Erasmian Wit and Proverbial Wisdom: An Illustrated Moral Compendium for François I
Jean, Michel Massing, 1995.

May 5, 2012 postscript:

Brainstorming without any brains – a transient tempest in Russell's Teapot, full of sound and fury, signifying... less than nothing.

I have often thought and indeed argued that Tarotards are a parody, a joke against reason. But it is not a natural blindness that afflicts Tarot enthusiasts—it is an acquired pathology, a willful rejection of the obvious. (It often appears to be contagious, but the disease must already be present in a chronic form. Association with other carriers then precipitates an acute episode, as illustrated above.) They are fiction writers and, appropriate to that pursuit, they have adopted Stephen King’s approach to fact: “Reality can take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut.” Like Lord Nelson, one must turn a blind eye to the truth, or just bury one’s head in the sand, to be truly Tarotarded.

May 21, 2012 postscript:

Just when an apotheosis of stupid seems to have occurred, yet another level is found. The brain-fart du jour combines standard New Age blather, a Neoplatonic je ne sais quoi, with a variant of the perennial canard of a supposed “marriage deck.” The Neoplatonic hand-waving has been conventional since the 1970s, recycled in the 80s, 90s, and in the slime-pits of online Tarot in the 21st century. The idea that one or more of the hand-painted luxury decks might have been a marriage gift also has a long history, and some plausible arguments have been constructed... although not in the present case. There has never be any plausible argument that the design of the trump cycle itself was in any way connected to a wedding and, again, no such argument appears in the present puddle of drool.

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