Do Absentee Stories Insult My Intelligence?

If you follow this blog, you may remember this grand photo I posted with no explanation not too long ago:


I’ll discuss the photograph relatively soonish, I think.

In the meantime, I’d like to tell you about a book I’ve been reading: “My Name is Red” by the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.  Aside from the novel’s murder mystery aspect, it includes a lot of Islamic philosophy on art… specifically drawing.   And as far as I can tell, it incorporates an Islamic traditionalist point of view. (Yes, other perspectives are included.)  Considering all the death threats made against artists and authors who depict Muhammad, I found this novel extraordinarily relevant to today’s world.

That’s in spite of the novel’s 16th century setting.

(Caveat: I have relatively little knowledge about Islam.  Since the author won a Nobel, I trust that his representation is reasonably accurate and relevant.  I apologize if I am butchering the religion.)

Throughout the novel, much is made of how drawings ought to be created to illustrate something else; in other words, it ought to accompany a story.  Loose pictures with no referent are to be avoided and “style” is considered a flaw.  A horse, for example, ought to be drawn from memory in the style of the Old Masters and any deviation from that ideal is inherently wrong.  Allah’s vision for the world, according to the traditionalist view, is best replicated through a hand that draws from its own memory of having drawn the same horse a thousand times; individual “style” cannot hope to compare.

Thus, blind men are believed to have the greatest artistic vision.

If one draws the horse one sees in a pasture, the drawing will inevitably be flawed.  Moreover, the horse will be insulted by the drawing because the artist is depicting the animal in a less perfect form than Allah sees him in.  Similarly, using a Western ground-level perspective with a horizon reduces a drawing’s quality because it’s not drawn from an overhead perspective as Allah would see it from.

And, if I may extrapolate from this, that’s presumably why visual representations of Muhammad are considered blasphemous.

That’s not to defend those who make the death threats against artists.  I abhor that such a thing is done. Those of us who are not Muslim ought not be compelled to behave according to that religion’s dictates, and a death sentence for irreligious behavior, no matter how blasphemous, is more than a little excessive.  Nevertheless, we benefit from knowing that deeper philosophical reasons exist for the prohibition than an intolerance for religious criticism.  Until Muslims and non-Muslims learn to understand each other, little will improve between us.

And that brings me to my real reason for posting today: the photograph, an image from a technology that has replaced drawings. The original post about the photograph garnered a couple of interesting guesses… and you’ll have to visit the post if you want to see them.

Anyway, what we have here is a picture stripped of its context, much like a drawing of a horse in a pasture that was similarly decontextualized.  And so the question for today is: did the photograph gain or lose stature because I had disconnected it from its origin?  To answer that, you probably need to know where that photo came from.  I shot that photo at the ruins of Pompeii, which a volcanic eruption destroyed in 79 AD.  This was the public bathhouse.

18 thoughts on “Do Absentee Stories Insult My Intelligence?

  1. You have whetted my interest and am now off to look for some Islam artists and their works; and I had so much I wanted to do today. I totally agree that until we come to an understanding of each other little will improve between us. As with christianity a lot of it boils down to interpretations by the people within the organisation of the religion. Islam is actually a very peaceful religion. Buddhism is also a very peaceful philosophy but frighteningly Writhau, a Burmese Buddhist monk who calls himself The Burmese Bin Laden is calling for religious hatred of Moslems. It makes me sad.
    I really liked the tonal colours of the bathhouse but I think it would come alive in context. Colourful togas lying around and naked bodies in the bath and smiling faces would certainly change how you viewed it. Thanks for great post

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post and you’re definitely right about how religious organizations are so significant in heightening or perverting a set of beliefs.
      Also, I’ve never heard of Writhau or anything like that in Buddhism; I’ll have to look him up.

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  4. My understanding is that any representation of a Holy figure (God, Christ, Mohammed) is blasphemous as Moses said explicitly NOT to make any graven images. I’ve been in several mosques and there is no representational art at all; just beautifully written/drawn words of praise and from the Koran. Other Islamic art is very formalized (and to me beautiful) seeming to attempt what we might call a Platonist view, the immortal idea of a thing rather than the corruptible and mortal thing itself.

  5. In Islam, depictions of any prophet, including Moses, Abraham, and Jesus are forbidden, too, and according to some hadith, no living creature is ever supposed to be drawn. So I don’t get why Muhammad gets this special treatment.

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