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I Think You May Be Missing the Point

Some years ago I was cycling through a SE Asian country with a small group and stopped at a rural monastery. A local guide we were riding with told us that the temple there was well-known for a Buddhist monk that many years before had died but whose body had not decomposed after death. In fact, he looked just as fresh as the day he died, and the flower petals that had been sprinkled upon his body at death had likewise remained fresh and fragrant to the present.

Intrigued, we asked if it were possible to see the body of the deceased monk.

“Of course,” the guide replied, and led us to a temple structure where we removed our shoes before entering.

Inside, the walls were adorned with beautiful carvings and paintings. At the back sat an elderly monk, meditating in lotus position. He was as still as death, and yet his eyes seemed to penetrate us when we crossed the beam of their gaze. In the center on the small temple was a glass case on a dais, and within rested the deceased monk.

Stealing up to the case with some awkward reverence and nervousness, the group looked in on the body silently. Fresh flower petals indeed garnished the orange-garbed monk’s corpse as he lay still on his back, hands folded over his belly.

After a time, each of us slipped back outside and replaced our shoes in silence. After a time, a few began to speak.

“Do you think it was real?”

“He did look good for so long dead…”

“Could those flowers really be..?”

Seeing the local guide nearby, I drew him aside and spoke.

“Hey… that monk is as dead as any other. Well-preserved, maybe, but dead just the same… he doesn’t look as fresh as the day he died.”

“Yes,” the guide said, motioning for me to speak quietly. “Of course. And the flowers are replaced daily.”

“Then, why..?” I asked.

“It is not easy to see through delusion,” he replied. “But a good joke is still the best way.”

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Reflections on the Mental Image

“The digitized picture has broken the relationship between the picture and reality once and for all. We are entering an era when no one will be able to say whether a picture is true or false. They are all becoming beautiful and extraordinary, and with each passing day they belong increasingly to the world of advertising. Their beauty, like their truth, is slipping away from us. Soon they will really end up making us blind.”

– Wim Wenders, director of Until the End of the World

 

As a studio art major in an American college, I had a professor of photography and film who told me there was a time when Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa existed in only one place, and you had to travel a great distance to view it. 

That one place was The Louvre in Paris.

Now, he said, the Mona Lisa exists everywhere, and all at once.

(Well, actually “now” was back then in 1998. He was referring to photographs and printed versions of the Mona Lisa at the time, when the internet was still just emerging, public content-wise. But I think his statement is only more true today.)

 

 

What is the difference between looking at an image of the Mona Lisa and traveling to the Louvre to see the real thing?

It’s not that one is wrong and the other is right.

But what is the difference?

 

And what are the possibilities or consequences of technology advancing further and further into the virtual?

 

What is the difference between pornography and a flesh-and-blood human relationship?

What is the difference between buying into a brand and creating your own?

What is the difference between accepting what you were taught and questioning the nature of reality?

 

Worthy questions to ask in one’s lifetime!

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections on Film & Memory

“In a certain sense the past is far more real, or at any rate more stable, more resilient than the present. The present slips and vanishes like sand between the fingers, acquiring material weight, only in its recollection.”

– Russian film-maker, Andrei Tarkovsky

 

Earlier this year I went to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens and spent some time there trying to imagine what it was like to live in a time before the invention of film, or during a time while it was still evolving (as it still is).

It turns out that’s as difficult a trick as trying to remember what one’s experience was before acquiring language.

A zoetrope.

As I walked through the many exhibitions at the museum, I reflected on how the ubiquitous nature of film in modern culture has us forget how remarkable a trick film actually is:

When watching a film, our memory and connecting of individual images (proceeding rapidly before us) creates a perception (or illusion) of a coherent visual narrative and reality.

Mutoscopes still delighting today… at least for a handful of seconds.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one.

When the child was a child,
it had no opinion about anything,
had no habits,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running,
had a cowlick in its hair,
and made no faces when photographed.

– from Song of Childhood by Peter Handke

Memories of our past are similar to film in that they allow for an illusion to be created as well. This is the illusion of coherence and meaning, when in reality our memories of the past are subjectively stitched together by our consciousness according to the fears, desires, biases, worldviews, beliefs, and such. accumulated in one’s lifetime.

Memories are given what meaning we assign them, which is then firmed up into our own unique and personal story… for better or for worse.

This is true for all of us, except for those rare individuals who cannot create or recall memories. Their experience is closer to a film-goer who is only able to remember the most recent ten seconds of the film.

 

Individual frames… images… stitched together become a film.

Individual moments… experiences… stitched together become a life.

 

This is the remarkable trick of human consciousness.

A song Bono wrote about after first seeing his then-deceased mother in an early home movie.

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Our Shared Future

“History is not the soil of happiness. The periods of happiness are blank pages in it.” – Hegel

 

To be lost, a thing must first be possessed.

Beyond both possessing and losing

Lies our future as well as our past.

 

 

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Final Exam Question

INSTRUCTIONS: Please read the following question carefully and submit your answer in the form below.

This image was taken in the bathroom of Gotham Cafe on the upper east side of Manhattan. The black placard with white writing featured in it has been placed on the wall for whom? Write and justify your answer based on what you understand about human psychology as applied to businesses and marketing. Do you think this placard is useful in increasing business for the cafe? Why or why not?