3 April 2009 | Draft
Strategic Jousting through Poetic Wrestling
Aesthetic reframing of the clash of civilizations
- / -
Introduction to the joust
Range of participants
Self-organization and self-regulation
Substantive and aesthetic integration
Enabling emergent aesthetic coherence
Introduction to the joust
This is a response to the disconnect between noble efforts to elaborate "global
plans" and their irrelevance as experienced at the grass roots level -- in
contrast with the energy and enthusiasm evoked by popular engagement with
traditional poetic wrestling and various forms of competitive sport. These
are of course considered to be without relevance to the elaboration and implementation
of the "global plans".
The possibility explored here is that both constitute a form of strategic
jousting. However with respect to global plan elaboration, supposedly in the
popular interest, the joust does not constitute a particularly attractive spectator
sport -- whatever the local implications of the outcome. The associated debates
are essentially boring -- if not quintessentially so. In the case of poetic
wrestling -- whatever the ludic form -- its popular attractivity and comprehensibility
are essential requirements.
The question explored here is whether there is any scope for interweaving
these two styles -- or whether the game they together constitute is already
in progress, as schemas competing for popular engagement. The focus here is
on the possibilities suggested by "poetic
or "poetic jousting" as continues to be practiced in many traditions,
possibly enhanced by musical accompaniment or taking sung form. Its potential
relevance to major strategic issues has been explored in detail in Poetic
Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran: an unexplored strategic opportunity? (2009).
Given the parallel popular fascination with sport, epitomized by
the recognition of "wrestling" and "jousting" as metaphors,
the strategic implication of such sports is also considered.
The focus is on organization of gatherings, whether face-to-face or virtual,
to enhance the strategic relevance of such engagement.
Range of participants
Typically those attracted to the process would attach particular importance
to the spirit of their discipline and the larger significance of what its practice
carries and communicates -- especially in a grounded connection with real people
and their sense of cultural identity.
Participants might therefore include representatives of:
- poetic improvisation and jousting traditions
as noted in Poetic
Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran: an unexplored strategic opportunity? (2009),
- balagtasan (Philippines); kabigan (Bangladesh), Kantan
Chamorita (Mariana Islands)
- contrasti (Sicily), zajal (Lebanon), chjamí è rispondi (Corsica), quintillas (Spain),cantigas
ao desafio (Portugal), griot (West
Africa); guslari (Slavic); bertsolariak (Basque); pytaris (Crete)
, spiritu pronto (Malta), cantadori (Sardinia), glosadores (Balearic
- decimas (Ibero-America); decimistas (Cuba), cantores (Puerto
Rico, San Domingo, Ecuador), payadores (Argentinia), cantadores and repentistas (Brazil), troveros (Mexico), payadores (Uruguay), galeronistas (Venezuela)
- flyting (notably
in Scotland) as a public contest of extravagant insults, often structured
in the form of a poetic joust (similar to African American practice
battles and the historic practice of the dozens)
- sporting disciplines, where the strategic spirit of the sport lends
itself to readily comprehensible metaphor in verbal jousting
- wrestling, given that "poetic wrestling" is already recognized as an
- martial arts (including fencing):
whose insights have been articulated in poetic form (Doka:
The Poems of Ueshiba Morihei -- Insights for a Modern Way of Life. Furyu:
The Budo Journal, Winter 1996) and even incorporated into regular
training, although it remains unclear whether such insights
could be used in poetic engagement with a potentially hostile opponent.
- katas are
the detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either
solo or in pairs, whether in traditional theater or more commonly
in the martial arts. Of relevance to improvised debate, at the
higher levels of martial art, serious injury is prevented only by
a high sensitivity of both participants to important concepts. These
include timing and distance, with the kata practiced at high speed.
This adjustability of kata training is found in other Japanese arts
with roles of attacker and defender often interchanging within the
- sports (especially ball-games such as soccer, volleyball, etc)
patterns of interaction in various sports: as recognized
and analyzed in some ball-games, notably soccer.
The fact that the justification of any focus on "passing patterns"
would be comprehensible and relevant to any cafe or pub discussion of sport
-- or a beach scene of frisbee or juggling -- suggests the opportunity
to give enhanced credibility to strategic dialogue
and its improvement in response to issues that are of concern to all.
Such patterns are echoed and enriched to some degree in the aesthetics of
poetic interaction, where "the ball" needs to be passed between different
"voices" to sustain a larger and more complex pattern.
- military sports as practiced at the Military
World Games and under the
auspices of the International
Military Sports Council
- unusual traditions of debate:
- formal procedure of academic disputation by
prior to adoption of the written examination
- adversarial religious debate (Mary M. Garrett, Wit, Power, and Oppositional
Groups: a case study of 'Pure Talk'. Quarterly
Journal of Speech, 79, 1993, 3; The
`Three Doctrines Discussions' of Tang China: religious debate as
a rhetorical strategy. Argumentation & Advocacy,
- salon conversation (Jaida
n'ha Sandra, The
Joy of Conversation: the Complete Guide to Salons, 1997; Lee
Dialogue : For Successful Results, 1998)
style debate (France)
Popper debate (Eastern Europe)
- televised religious debate in Arabic (Dale F. Eickelman and Jon
Media in the Muslim world: the emerging public sphere,
The intention is to bypass conventional strategic participation of the "usual
their monologues. In addition to those cited above, of particular interest,
as examples of strategically relevant extremes, are:
- the avid audience for narco ballads in Colombia, despite their being officially
prohibited (Juan Forero, In
Colombia, Songs Too Hot for the Mainstream Sizzle Underground, Washington
Post, 4 November 2006; James M Klatell, Colombia's
Narco-Ballads Songs Pay Tribute To Drug Traffickers And Warlords,
CBS News, 22 July 2006; Toby Muse, Colombia's
'forbidden rhythms' depict underworld, USA Today, 25 September 2005; Chris
Forbidden Songs, BBC News Online, 3 October 2004)
- the role of rapping in the USA (notably its origins in the home city of
the new president of the USA)
- the inspiration rap has constituted for
poetry slams (originating
in that same home city)
- the traditional role of invective
poetry in Arab cultures
- the role of Pashto tappas commonly
found in the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas and North
West Frontier Province of Afghanistan -- precisely the area considered
the most challenging by NATO's. UN-mandated International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF). They are generally sung on the occasion
of weddings, possibly as a two-person duet, and deal with any topic: love,
passion, anger, hate, wars, history, heroes and villains.
Self-organization and self-regulation
An important feature of the process and any associated gathering is the manner
in which it is both self-organized and self-regulated -- in contrast to the
challenging needs for heavy-handed "organization" of conventional events with
their logistical and other associated hassles.
Of key significance is the cybernetic
implication of any audience and the manner of its attentive participation --
enhancing and constraining spontaneous creative communication as appropriate.
An important criteria is the aesthetic appeal of any such communication, notably
the degree to which grand-standing is appreciated or curtailed. Vital to this
process is the collective judgment that any contribution is enhancing the whole
rather than constituting an isolated solo performance, however brilliant. In
this sense contributions are encouraged to the extent that they engage with
the pattern of other contributions and contributors -- in appreciation or counterpoint.
Some relevant issues are discussed elsewhere (Proposal
for an Exploratory International Conference: Poetry-making and Policy-making, 1993)
In contrast to conventional gatherings of strategic significance, active
audience participation is "designed in" -- rather than being "designed
out" into alternative (even distant) locations, possibly subject to severe
(even repressive) security restrictions.
For the process of self-regulation to work and to facilitate the emergence
of unforeseen patterns of order, any contribution must necessarily be complemented
or offset in some way. This is exemplified in dance where the role of a "partner"
acting in a complementary or even challenging "opposing" manner is
essential to the interest of the whole. This is also evident in musical group
or dance (jam
circle). Jamming is itself recognized as a valuable metaphor for group
innovation (John Kao, Jamming: the
art and discipline of business creativity,
The ultimate constraint is then any degradation of aesthetic appeal -- whether
with respect to use of time or excessive stress on a particular mode.
The variety of aesthetic styles represented in some way therefore constitutes
a challenge as to how they interweave in support or opposition to each other.
This is the challenge of "fusion", variously interpreted in music and poetry
Such a challenge is conventionally resolved by the selection of
contributions into a programme (and out of it). Typically this constrains the
number of contributors, necessitates their isolation in parallel sessions,
and inhibits the emergence of any larger sense of the relationships between
them -- notably with respect to any "harmony" or "discord" in
aesthetic terms. The event becomes a victim of forms of grid-based, multi-track
programming.-- dependent on combinations of room-space and time with little
aesthetic appeal as a whole.
Despite the unconstrained use of resources for the most important global strategic
events, their aesthetics are typically focused on decorative arrangements,
ceremonial honorifics, munificent receptions and dinners, and artfully posed
group photographs. Preparation of the location of such events is appropriately
compared to a face-lift, cosmetics and dressing up. None of these has very
wide appeal -- to the extent that others are enabled to have any experience
of them. Put bluntly, such events are boring to a wider audience, and their
output -- as comminiques or "statements" -- tends to reflect this
no matter how strategically vital it is claimed to be.
The underlying aesthetic of conventional gatherings -- the degree of coherence
of the substantive dance in which their participants engage -- is not visibly
for such reasons that a quite different approach is to be taken.
Whilst the encounter between creative contributors and participants respects
the tradition of such encounters in popular culture, every effort can be taken
to benefit from new technology to enhance the associated processes, extend
the range of contributions and ensure involvement from remote locations.
Face-to-face setting: This is of course typical of traditional
poetic jousting and wrestling. Increasingly however such jousts may be recorded
on video, possibly immediately broadcast to a television audience, as well
as uploaded to a video-sharing site such as YouTube. Increasingly those physically
present (in an audience) may interact with each other through mobile-enhanced
processes like Twitter. It should be noted that a strong case is made for the
power of the face-to-face experience when it is possible to share it in one
Extended face-to-face setting: This is the natural consequence
of broadcasting the face-to-face gathering in some way. Again, whether present
or absent, participants may increasingly interact
with each other through mobile-enhanced processes like Twitter.
Virtual setting: In effect, especially through sites like
YouTube, the set of poetic jousts then exists in a timeless zone of cyberspace
from which they may be accessed -- even in years to come. A geographically
focused event may of course also be reactivated in a virtual world arena like
Second Life. Such a setting implies that participants may subsequently interact
with the gathering, whether or not their contributions are (optimally) distinguished
and dissociated from the original set.
Virtual enhancement: By some degree of switch in the centre
of focus from a particular geographical location to a virtual one the face-to-face
gathering may engage active virtual participation. This may even come to predominate
-- or may be used to create a context from out of which particular face-to-face
physical gatherings are engendered. In effect the capacity of YouTube to enable
individuals to upload their own creative contributions to a poetic joust means
that these may be actively drawn into the aesthetic pattern of interactions
of the joust.
Self-organizing design: With the possibility of increasing
the number of contributors and encouraging the creative involvement of those
who might otherwise be framed only as spectators, there is a real challenge
of ensuring that the self-organizing process works to sustain the emergence
of a pattern that is of greater significance than its parts. Obviously there
is a concern at the possibility that the process might be undermined, whether
deliberately, inadvertently, or simply as a consequence of juxtaposition
of contributions perceived as problematic in terms of particular aesthetic
preferences. Overload is a particular issue requiring processes that position
appropriately large numbers of contributions such as not to obscure emergence
of the pattern as a whole. The fractal organization of the Mandelbrot
set suggests possibilities
in this respect (Psycho-social
Significance of the Mandelbrot Set: a sustainable boundary between chaos and
Substantive and aesthetic integration
Coherence: The key issue is how the disparate elements are
drawn together into patterns of coherence that have substantive and aesthetic
characteristics. The challenge here is the varied understanding of any such
coherence and of how any balance might be found between such understandings.
If only as a metaphor, this might be considered the core problem of aspirations
to alternative patterns of governance as evidenced by the efforts to form alliances
and coalitions or to engender a more coherent focus to gatherings such as the
World Social Forum. For some, for example, such coherence would even be considered
perfect as it is -- or the absence of "coherence" an aesthetic preference.
This challenge of coherence may itself be reframed as an illusory false problem
if it is the variety itself that is to be valued -- if only aesthetically
and irrespective of the implications for governance. In this sense any "integration"
is of a quite different form from that conventionally practiced and sought
-- and exemplified by global "plans" or the single-eyed vision of a creative
Vision vs Poly-sensual Engagement, 2006; Strategic
Challenge of Polysensorial Knowledge, 2008).
Beyond binary logic: However, if some greater integration
is accepted as a challenge to creativity -- whether aesthetic or substantive
-- the question is how to break out of the limitations of the binary logic
within which such a challenge is readily framed. Here the insight of Eastern
logic is helpful, as adapted from the quadrilemma of Kinhide Mushakoji: A,
no-A, A-and-not-A, neither-A-nor-not-A (Global
Issues and Interparadigmatic Dialogue: essays on multipolar politics,
This framework may be reformulated as:
- coherence and non-coherence
- neither coherence nor non-coherence
Implicit in this elaboration are the following
|coherence and non-coherence
||aesthetic coherence and non-coherence
||substantive coherence and non-coherence
|neither coherence nor non-coherence
||neither aesthetic coherence nor non-coherence
||neither substantive coherence nor non-coherence
The "validity" of an aesthetic form of coherence in the absence
of substantive coherence (as in the content of lyrics) is succinctly indicated
by the Italian phrase: Si non e vero, é ben trovato which
might be usefully rendered here as If it is not true, it is nevertheless
Presumably, as in governance, the reverse may also apply in that it may not
be "aesthetic" but it may nevertheless be "necessary".
Clearly any such framework may in turn be further elaborated, provided that
its comprehension is facilitated, notably through the mnemonic strengths
of aesthetics, especially those of musical harmony (In
Quest of Mnemonic Catalysts -- for comprehension of complex psychosocial dynamics,
2007). Briefly, aesthetic harmony enables the psychoactive engagement with
more complex patterns than is possible with checklists and grid patterns engendered
by binary logic.
"Web 2.0": Although there is much confusion as
to what exactly is denoted by Web
2.0, it is useful to assume that it represents
a combination (if not an integration in practice) between applications such
as: social networking, open source directories, tagging, and the the like.
At present these facilitate the discovery of content of potential interest
-- sustaining and developing networks of relationships with that content.
A desirable degree of coherence may then be satisfied through such interaction.
In terms of aesthetic criteria, these may be satisfied by formation of groups
around particular aesthetic preferences.
Enabling emergent aesthetic coherence
A further step may be taken by adapting the Web
Recording: Whether traditional material (poems, aphorisms,
lyrics, fables) or spontaneously improvised material, each may be embodied
in a Wiki-type entry potentially associated with a video recording (as in YouTube).
Tagging: Each item may then be open to tagging or
ranking for interest -- whether public or restricted -- as is the practice
in a variety of social
bookmarking applications (Delicious,
of social bookmarking sites)
Linking: Each item may also be open to indication -- whether
public or restricted -- of its relationship to other items. A range of such
links might be envisaged, possibly including:
- similar to, of the same kind as...
- derivative of, namely inspired by...
- implied by...
- development or elaboration of...
- complementary to...
- counterpoint to...
- denial of...
- denied by...
- superceded by...
This process may to some extent be partially facilitated by semi-automated
applications currently under development by Google, such as quote
matching and image labelling .
Emergent order: Through such logical-aesthetic linking, items
are progressively pulled into an emergent order. In the case of Google search
facilities, this currently results in a purely linear Page Ranking in relation
to given search criteria. The challenge is to ensure the emergence of non-linear
patterns, meaningful both aesthetically and substantively. This is in some
measure achieved in certain mapping applications -- as noted in Complementary
Knowledge Analysis / Mapping Process (2006) but
more particularly through the Global
Sensemaking initiative. Metaphorically it might be exemplified by the emergence
whether for violin or guitar
Patterns: examples of integrated, multi-set concept schemes, 1984).
Experiments towards such emergent order have been made with the online content
of the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential -- focusing primarily
on visual patterns but with some effort towards their sonification (Interactive
Hyperlink Map: auto-generated, self-organizing link visualization; Communication
between Network Visualization and Music, 2001; Polyhedral
Pattern Language: software facilitation of emergence, representation and transformation
of psycho-social organization, 2008).
Aesthetic "bridging" to coherence: Such experiments
have however focused on substantive content -- with a minimum of "design" to
facilitate comprehension. There is the strong possibility, because its
interpretation lends itself too readily to the binary logical stress on "true"
or "false", that any transcendence of this unfruitful divisive dynamic
is only viable through aesthetic recognition of patterns of complementarity.
The question is the balance between the requirements for "logical/scientific"
correspondence and those for "aesthetic/symbolist" correspondence (Theories
of Correspondences -- and potential equivalences between them in correlative
These criteria go beyond those noted elsewhere (Complementary
Knowledge Analysis / Mapping Process, 2006) or currently envisaged
in the applications profiled on the website of Global
Sensemaking which identifies a range of tools for dialogue
and deliberation on wicked interrelated global problems.
The question is then to what extent any web-based application can enable such
aesthetic bridging -- bearing in mind the range of motivations of different "audiences" with
- extant content:
- primarily interested in extant substantive content (possibly only that
- primarily interested in extant aesthetic content (possibly only that
of "well-known artists")
- supplementing content
- primarily interested in adding substantive content
- primarily interested in adding aesthetic content
- reactive/contrarian contributions
- primarily interested in adding substantive content in reaction to other
- primarily interested in adding aesthetic content in reaction to other
- interpretative contributions
- primarily interested in substantive significance of aesthetic contributions
(as a source of substantive coherence)
- primarily interested in aesthetic significance of substantive contributions
(as a source of aesthetic coherence)
- political/strategic contributions
- primarily interested in political significance of aesthetic contributions
(in support of a strategic position)
- primarily interested in political significance of substantive contributions
(in support of a s strategic position)
"Data mining": Applications to enable data
mining are fundamental to knowledge
management and the operation of search engines. Current emphases necessarily
give low priority to the subtleties of pattern
recognition from an aesthetic
perspective. There is of course considerable research on
pattern recognition in relation to images notably of faces and fingerprints
for security purposes. Applications have been developed, notably by Amazon,
to indicate related books the reader might find of interest, on the basis of
patterns of purchase by other clients.
Such approaches avoid the aesthetic
challenge -- perhaps as the only viable means of enabling associative links
through a form of implicit tagging. The question is how readily such applications
could be usefully adapted to associate poetically expressed content -- if only
in anticipation of future developments. Possibilities are discussed separately
(Global Quality Navigation System (GQS): participative
enhancement of aesthetic discovery, 2009)
The above pointers suggest that there is indeed scope for further exploration,
if only to conclude that "poetic jousting" is occurring at grass roots level
anyway and that "strategic jousting" is what in effect occurs anyway at the
global level -- and that there is little merit in seeking any cross-fertilization
It is curious that both "poetic jousting" and "strategic jousting" have been
largely marginalized as skills of interest to very particular audiences that
do not interact -- or whose interaction has not been meaningfully enabled.
This lack of interaction is of course symptomatic of a profound disconnect
that is potentially dangerous in relation to the credibility and engagement
with any form of global governance -- especially by traditional cultures appropriately
resistant to "harmonisation through globalization", according to dominant and
increasingly commodified western values.
Missing is a degree of recognition of the value of traditional styles of
debate with an aesthetic component, notably as characteristic of Arab and Chinese
cultures -- especially with respect to challenging religious issues. The focus
is on "presidential debates" in which aesthetics are minimized and with little
awareness of other options.
An interesting question is the extent to which poetic wrestling can be enabled
between those using different languages -- without making extensive use of
interpretation. However, given that effective communication depends to a high
degree on body language and other signals unrelated to content, it is probable
that "poetic wrestling" could filter out contributions that did not
meet aesthetic criteria. The issue of conceptual content could then be left
to later rounds. The dilemma in this respect of competitors in the Eurovision
Song Contest suggests that use of original language may be as good as that
of a dominant language such as English.
Most intriguing is the far more ambitious challenge of whether such aesthetic
jousting and wrestling can engender a global "epic" -- avoiding the route
whereby such an epic is commissioned and designed by a single artist. Could
the Mahabarata or the Ring
Cycle be engendered in this way?
Arguably however, the epic is already being engendered -- we are all actors
in such an epic -- even though our specific roles may not given "good
which to see the emergence and evolution of the whole epic.
|Suggestive interplay of aesthetic and strategic
- upward pointing triangle: explicit arenas of globality, whether as
"globalization", as problematic consequences of growth ("global warming"),
popular focus on ball-games worldwide. Each implies a quite distinct
type of explicit integrative focus involving competition, most intriguingly
with the manner in which any "ball" is treated in strategic competition,
perhaps symbolically echoing understandings of globality
- downward pointing triangle: implicit arenas of globality, whether
as the integrative experience of nature, the aesthetic inspiration
it offers, or a personall sense of integrative well-being
- opposite points: there is a particular tension to each of the
three, whether external/internal globality, nature and its exploitation,
aesthetics and ball-games. It is the latter which is the focus of the
argument above -- as a means of rendering comprehensible strategies
relevant to the dilemmas posed by the other two
- lines between points: from a systemic perspective
it is possible that these are usefully to be associated with more complex
processes which are as much explicit as implicit, objective as subjective,
collective as individual
Earlier use of such a figure gave rise to the commentary: El-Attractor
-- Timeless Complex Dynamic (2007)