“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.
Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California Albert Bierstadt, 1868
But when the fairy sang, the whole world listened to him. Stephen felt clouds pause in their passing; he felt sleeping hills shift and murmur; he felt cold mists dance. He understood for the first time that the world is not dumb at all, but merely waiting for someone to speak to it in a language it understands. In the fairy’s song the earth recognized the names by which it called itself.
If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself. You must know all the while that it is there, but until it is needed you must never let it emerge into your consciousness in any shape that can be given a name.
―George Orwell, 1984
She was still hugging the cat. “Poor slob,” she said, tickling his head, “poor slob without a name. It’s a little inconvenient, his not having a name. But I haven’t any right to give him one: he’ll have to wait until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don’t belong to each other: he’s an independent, and so am I. I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like.” She smiled, and let the cat drop to the floor. “It’s like Tiffany’s,” she said.
…It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s, then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.”
Why do some people mistrust creativity, while others feel it leads them to deeper faith? Is creativity inseparable from identity?
Adam and Eve by Abu Said Ubaud Allah Ibn Bakhitshu
To God belongs the East and the West. –- The Koran
Four master illustrators have been selected to complete a secret book for the Ottoman Sultan, a book which strays from the traditional elements of Islamic art to include illustrations influenced by the “Frankish” or western style. Elegant the gilder is now dead, his body rotting in the bottom of a well. The murderer is one of the other three, but which one? Will he murder again?
Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red takes place in the Istanbul of 1591. To me, unfamiliar with Istanbul and Islamic culture, it feels timeless. The genius of the book is that, by weaving together disparate elements: murder, political intrigue, love, family, art and religion, Pamuk emphasizes that East and West are different reflections of the same humanity. The drive to be an individual is a universal challenge, although the response to it is, by nature, extremely varied.
The Advice of the Aesthetic by Bihzad
Each chapter of the novel is titled with the identity of the individual who narrates it and immerses us in their prejudices and beliefs. We begin with I am a Corpse, which presents us with the soul of Elegant Effendi, severed from his battered and bloody body and calling for justice. The chapters entitled I Will be Called a Murderer are narrated by the killer, who manages to give us a trickle of information about himself, but not enough to establish his identity until near the end of the book. The three illustrators each have chapters, but again, little is revealed by the killer, who, by the end, has grown attached to speaking in two different voices, to being a divided soul. There are other important characters who speak to us, including Enishte, the well traveled old man who is preparing the Sultan’s book, his beautiful widowed daughter, Shekure, and her suitor, Black. Perhaps the quirkiest are the chapters narrated by the illustrations themselves, voiced by a master storyteller at a dark cafe. They provide wealth of insight into Islamic culture, especially the conflict between art and religion, and hint at the danger looming in the form of a radical sect inspired by a fiery local preacher.
Hunting Ground by Bihzad
Islamic illustrators of the time painted in a particular style which resulted from an uneasy blending of ancient Persian and Islamic traditions. Subjects were depicted from above, from what they termed “God’s view” and were not placed in the exact center of the page because that would give them an importance that is reserved for God. Images were rendered in traditional fashion as codified by artists of the past. For example, horses were painted with as few strokes as possible, beginning from the front hoof, often with two legs extended forward and two legs reaching back, and all beautiful women were portrayed with a Chinese face. The use of perspective was unacceptable.
Queen of Sheba Artist unknown
These pictures were not painted realistically by looking at nature, but from memory, in order to honor their image in the mind of God. Many famous artists of the time either became blind or blinded themselves, which enhanced the legend of their mastery. Individual style was considered weakness and signing your work was crass, even heretical. But times were changing. The works of western artists reached Istanbul, breaking all of the rules without a thought, since western art was completely unaware of these rules. Those with enough culture and means to look upon this foreign art recognized great beauty and power. Many interpreted this power as devilish and evil, others found in it a different, but valuable appreciation of God and Creation. Some, such as those of the radical sect depicted in My Name is Red, were and remain against any depiction of the human form, deeming it a challenge to the creativity of God. This exacerbated the conflict and threatened to wipe out the profession of illustration completely.
It seems anathema that anyone should become violent over artistic expression and seek to suppress it, but people do censor art and do become incensed over it. Perhaps we contribute to this situation ourselves when we belittle one art form in favor of another, or reject an artist’s work because they hold beliefs contrary to our own. Art has a way of exposing us: our fears, our pettiness, our flaws, and also our beauty.
Khusraw Discovers Shirin Bathing in a Pool from Nizami’s Quintet
Is there enough room on this earth for each one of us to be creative in a way which is true to ourselves and our beliefs without ridiculing and destroying the creativity or beliefs of others?
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, or George or Bill Bailey –
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter –
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum –
Names that never belong to more than one cat. But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover –
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.
Parrots are famous for their uncanny ability to learn, memorize, and mimic sound. What you might not know is that wild parrots do not use this ability in quite the same way our pets do. For them it is a matter of survival. If a parrot chick does not learn the “names” or calls of its parents it will not live long. Also, a young parrot must devise a name for itself and learn those of its siblings.
Karl Berg, a biologist at Cornell University, wondered how parrots do this. Is a parrot’s name passed down through genetic code or learned from its parents? In order to learn the answer, Berg switched the eggs from two nests and set up nesting cameras to observe the parrot families as the chicks hatched, grew and finally left the nest. This video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology summarizes what he found.