Hi Alan,

I am curious about the Four Thunders.  Might they compare at all to the following "modes of reading" which Dante expounds in Convivio II, in order to explain Ode 1?  (I am very unused to Dante's curious habit in La Vita Nuova and Il Convivio of writing a poem, then explaining what it means in prose, then another poem, another explanation, etc., not unlike a workshop or curricular method ironically!  Therefore I cast about trying to decipher Ode 1 without even reading the following page that explains it.)

Convivio II.i states:

"I say that, as was told in the first chapter, this exposition must be both literal and allegorical; and that this may be understood it should be known that writings may be taken and should be expounded chiefly in four senses.  The first is called the literal, and it is the one that extends no further than the letter as it stands; the second is called the allegorical, and it is the one that hides itself under the mantle of these tales, and is a truth hidden under beauteous fiction.  As when Ovid says that Orpheus with his lyre made wild beasts tame and made trees and rocks reproach him; which would say that the wise person with the instrument of their voice maketh cruel hearts tender and humble; and moveth to their will such as have not the life of science and of art; for they that have not the rational life are as good as stones.  And why this way of hiding was devised by the sages will be shown in the last treatise but one.  It is true that the theologians take this sense otherwise than the poets do, but since it is my purpose here to follow the method of the poets I shall take the allegorical sense after the use of the poets.  The third sense is called moral, and this is the one that lecturers should go intently noting throughout the scriptures for their own behoof and that of their disciples.  Thus we may note in the Gospel, when Christ ascended the mountain for the transfiguration, that of the twelve apostles he took but three; wherein the moral may be understood that in the most secret things we should have but few companions.  The fourth sense is called the 'anagogical,' that is to say 'above the sense'; and this is when a scripture is spiritually expounded which even in the literal sense, by the very things it signifies, signifies again some portion of the supernal things...."

My apologies for citing this passage given that it mentions so many hot-button topics, nor do I wish in any way to condone the atrocities of medieval patriarchy which continue in strong force today, but to some degree in order to understand the Renaissance (or the birth of the modern by means of un-forgetting, to use Weiss' term, the ancient as a fulcrum with which to modulate the present), we must understand the necessity Dante faced of reconciling non-theological poetry, art, and science in its earliest re-appearance with certain cold realities of the machinery of his day (which was none the less mechanical for being procedural and textual -- backed by castle, ship, and sword -- rather than the fabric-like apparatus of moving metal parts like cars and computers we associate with the term '"machine" today).  Joyce recognized, I think, the hazards of opposing fundamentalism always and only directly without respecting the full context of what goes on both pragmatically and in terms of human kindness, dignity, and hospitality.  The deeply-felt hostilities surrounding secular and traditional world views are no joke, and sometimes just hoping things can settle down a bit is the best or only option, but where reconciliation or comity -- dialogue even -- can be found there may be opportunities worth at least pondering.

It would be interesting to know what Italian words Dante used for "mantle," "rational," "hiding," "sense," and the like above.  I am trying to learn bits of Italian here and there, but do not have the Convivio in the original and my translation is very old-fashioned (Dryden I think).  Yet to me the Four Thunders might be a reasonable way to approximate the four ways of reading?  If I am not mistaken Joyce used the technique even older than history of allotting multiple references to a term or template, so the thunders could simultaneously allude to the compass points, historical eras, phases of an individual's age, physical elements like earth and air, etc.  In researching Dante I've found there was is a kind of tension between the numbers 4 and 3 in medieval times, 4 being more "pagan" as in the 4 seasons and 3 more doctrinally orthodox, so perhaps the selection of 4 as the number of thunders could be part of that context.  Since I haven't read Finnegan's Wake however I should probably not talk too much about it!  🙂

The last Ode in the Convivio (which means "Banquet," as in an attempt to share various branches of knowledge in summary form with non-scholars in vernacular Italian) is called the Mountain Ode.  It seems to discuss Dante not being able to return to his home city of Florence, having been banished when his political party was defeated in a kind of civil war, but is hard to fathom.  However it does use the metaphor of thunder prominently, regarding the love of philosophy, art, science, etc.:

"When I arise and look upon the wound
Which undid me when I was struck
I may not so assure myself
But that I tremble all for fear;
And my discoloured face declares
what was the thunder bolt that leaped upon me;
For though 'twas a sweet smile that launched it
Long time thereafter it abides darkened,
In that the spirit cannot trust itself.
Thou hast dealt with me, O Love, amongst the alps,
in that river's vale
On whose banks thou hast ever been strong upon me.
Here living or dead at thy will thou handlest me
in virtue of that fierce light 
that makes a thunder-crashing path...."

All best and apologies for sub-scholarly musings here, use grains of salt aplenty please!


From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces@lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Alan Sondheim via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour@lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Sunday, July 25, 2021 9:28 AM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour@lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Alan Sondheim <sondheim@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] DHSI TALK 2016 RIVERRUN THEORY DHSI
Hi Anthony,

I think you miss what I'm "on about" to use an antiquated phrase.
In terms of natural rivers, I know them probably better than most; we lived near the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania, which from about the 18th century through 2010, flooded over 90 times. Our house was inundated at times. Coal mines further up the river collapsed in the 1950s, miners died. The cemetery a couple of miles from us flooded out with coffins floating down the river. Azure and I went into riparian areas almost every time we were there  (Kingston, PA), searching for slime molds and fungi. Elsewhere we studied the Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania in which 2000 people were killed as a reservoir gave way. In Colorado, we spent a lot of time in the riparian areas of a reservoir, studying muskrats and red-winged blackbirds.
But this is different than say chess, which has specific rules, or a computer program. With programs, glitches have always interested me (I was on a glitch panel in Austin at SXSW), where at best one might find fractals or percolations at work. Early on I wrote on the difference between "definable" mathematical operations, and the messiness of "immersive ones."
Riverrun, the title, is from Joyce's Finnegans Wake, the first word; it also references for me the four thunders in the book.
In the DHSI (Digital Humanities Summer Institute) conference in Victoria, B.C., I spoke in various kinds of spaces; "gamespace" refers to a rule-governed space including various kinds of hacks; "edgespace" references spaces where anomalies appear - for example "phantom" objects that appeared when I pushed the boundaries of a virtual world, or anomalies that appear when we hacked or pushed the boundaries of motion capture equipment - another example might be the Pentagon's release of "UFO" images recently. Then there's "blank space" which I use to refer to uncharted and potentially unchartable territories, such as the Arctic regions up through, say, the 18th century - when the imaginary takes over, when that's all there is. I'd put religious imagery there, the "Heere bee dragonnes" of medieval maps, dream work, all sorts of anomalies; a lot of my work is concerned with this.

I've worked with the concept of the "liminal" for a long time - I think it was Victor Turner who came up with it (his son also taught at UTD in a program I was also in), and that's fascinated me; I think the concept itself might be liminal, might need to be further "blurred" -

A number of artists I've been associated with (or try to be!) are concerned with these areas; I think even Vito Acconci's performances operated within these territories, as well as Adrian Piper and Laurie Anderson - these artists and others were in an early anthology I did, "Individuals: Post-Movement Art in America" - the title referring to eliminating boundaries and stop defining movements in order to experience what artists were actually doing outside boundaries.

Can you say more how the liminal or edge/border applies to NFTs? I can see how ownership is blurred, but then isn't it (re)defined in terms of the contract and purchase, perhaps morphing but not challenging the concept?

thanks greatly, Alan

On Sun, Jul 25, 2021 at 9:38 AM Anthony Stephenson via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour@lists.netbehaviour.org> wrote:
Might inclusion of the liminal help in organizing these thoughts? It seems that you are employing a hard-edged concept of the edge. After all, logic allows for not only this or that, but both or some of both and more. Perhaps you are referring to something that I'm unfamiliar with when you speak of Riverrun, but the edge of almost every natural river is liminal.
The edge or border is something that I've been interested in as it applies to Art. I haven't bothered to prop up cryptocurrencies by placing a bet on NFTs, but I suppose defining ownership as such may be one of the latest expressions of this subject.


- Anthony Stephenson


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