RICHKER

Sebastián Tedesco / Julián Moguillansky

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RICHKER
Images by Sebastián Tedesco

Text by Julián Moguillansky

 

 

 

RICHKER: A video installation project by Sebastián Tedesco, is a series of videos produced from a Java/Processing application that creates random permutations of images taken from an engraving of the Tower of Babel by Athanasius Krcher. The work attempts to harmonize the images into unity through a process of visual spagyrics.

 

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If (as affirms the Greek in the Cratylus)
the name is archetype of the thing,
in the letters of “rose” is the rose,
and all the Nile flows through the word “Nile”.

Made of consonants and vowels,
there is a terrible Name,
that in its essence encodes God’s all
power, guarded in letters, in hidden syllables.


(Jorge Luis Borges, “The Golem”)


 


I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry (John Cage)

I have to say poetry and is that nothing and am I saying it
I am and I have poetry to say and is that nothing saying it
I am nothing and I have poetry to say and that is saying it
I that am saying poetry have nothing and it is I and to say
And I say that I am to have poetry and saying it is nothing
I am poetry and nothing and saying it is to say that I have
To have nothing is poetry and I am saying that and I say it
Poetry is saying I have nothing and I am to say that and it
Saying nothing I am poetry and I have to say that and it is
It is and I am and I have poetry saying say that to nothing
It is saying poetry to nothing and I say I have and am that
Poetry is saying I have it and I am nothing and to say that
And that nothing is poetry I am saying and I have to say it
Saying poetry is nothing and to that I say I am and have it

(Edwin Morgan, “Opening the Cage: 14 Variations on 14 Words”)

 

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The birth of the Christian era brought a new enthusiasm with the word, the divine Logos, that was made flesh to dwell among us. The word became the Arcanum, the enigma that deserved to be deciphered and transcended; the prima materia that the new artists were transmuting in the search of its inner gold.  

This gave birth to a new interest in palindromes, anagrams, the search for a divine symmetry in language that wanted to find its perfection. Various examples of the famous Sator Squares with the palindrome “Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas” were found in the ruins of Pompeii; in the same way that several Gnostic talismans were engraved with the Greek palindrome ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ / “Ablanathanalba” (which was, probably, a transliteration from the Hebrew phrase “אב לן את” / “Thou are our Father”, turned into a palindrome).  

Different philosophical branches of the early neo-platonism, around the second century of our age, were not foreign to this enthusiasm with the word and, following procedures of deconstruction, they started to investigate how to expand the interpretation of the letters, words and sentences by the means of maths and combinations. The idea that knowledge involved a symbolic, metaphoric, use of language was certainly not a novelty; Plato had already provided a study of the nature of the language in his Cratylus, whilst his Timaeus was already creating the uterus of a theory of correspondences by associating the letter Chi with the Anima Mundi, whilst the myth of the Secret name of the God Ra, only known by Isis, was older than any ancient Greek philosopher. It was, however, the duty of the philosophers of the new era of the word to develop other techniques like a complex use of tools such as gematria, temurah, notariqon and tzeruf, but also the theory of correspondences between individual letters and ideas; besides from an increasing interest in what Fulcanelli end up calling a “phonetic cabala”.  

The word became the new flesh; the letters, it’s organs; and the anatomy of the word was born.  The Gnostic Marcus, a disciple of Valentinus, created a system in which he paired the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet in 12 groups of 2 letters, and explained how Aletheia (Truth, the fourth Aeon of Valentinus’ system), representing the Tetrad of the first four Aeons, placed these 12 pairs  of letters in the 12 parts of the body of the Heavenly Man (the Aeon “Anthropos”). Alpha and Omega for the neck; Beta and Psi for the shoulders, arms and hands; Gamma and Chi for the breasts, etc.  This correspondence between the parts of the body and the letters had a very deep meaning for Marcus, since the result of this combination was: “the element Anthropos (Man, the seventh Aeon of Valentinus), who is the fountain of all speech, and the beginning of all sound, and the expression of all that is unspeakable (Depth, the unspeakable, the first Aeon), and the mouth of the silent Sige (Silence, the second Aeon)” [1] .  

0044.jpg Marcus’ system attached the letters to the essence of man and made him become the expression of the most higher syzygy, the unspeakable depth and the silence.  

Even if correspondences between Greek letters and numbers were far from been a novelty, it was Marcus the one who developed a complex system of gematria that was focused both on the numerical value of each letter (i.e, Alpha = 1, Betta = 2, Gamma = 3, etc) and in the amount of letters that each word has.  

Using this second system of gematria, he explained how the Tetrad of the first four Aeons contained 24 letters: ἄῤῥητος (Depth), σειγή (Silence), πατήρ (Father), λήθεια (Truth) and thus the body of Man was also created with 24 letters that gave him the image and likeness of God. It should be pointed out that the ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself” involved for Marcus that the mysteries behind the letters had to be considered, since there was a Logos (reason, word, order, sense) behind them; a Logos that unites God and man. Far from being just phonetic symbols, the letters were considered a true divine essence.  

Marcus points out that if we take a single letter, Δ (Delta), and write its name at full length, δέλτα, we get five letters; but we may write again the names of these at full length and get a number of letters more, and so on ad infinitum. This procedure was used to explain that behind each letter there was an infinite mystery. Abulafia used this same theory in his technique of permutations several centuries later, but first we have to go to the origins of Kabbalah.  

The Sepher Yetzirah is considered to be the first text of its tradition.  The book suggested that its origins were ancient, but this was a typical procedure for many second century neo-platonic books of different sources (i.e, the Chaldean Oracles, the texts by Hermes Trismegistus, etc); probably under the idea that an older antiquity added a bigger importance.  

Whilst it is clear that the Sepher Yetzirah received an important Gnostic influence in many of its ideas (i.e, it is known that the theory of the Sephiroth were an adaptation of the Gnostic Aeons), it remains unknown if its theory of language and letters was influenced by Marcus or if it happened the other way, that Marcus was influenced by its ideas when he developed his own theory of language.  It is, however, certain, that both of them received the influence of Philo of Alexandria and his ways of explaining the Genesis by the means of a neo-pythagorean theory (this is specially true for Marcus and his theory of the number 6 as the being the number that defines the creation, an idea taken from Philo, an idea that several centuries later was not unknown to Pasqually).

Both Marcus and the Sepher Yetzirah developed a threefold division of the alphabet that depended on the sound of the letters (9 mutes, 8 semivowels, 7 vowels in Greek for Markus; 3 mothers, 7 simples and 12 doubles in Hebrew for the Sepher Yetzirah), and in both systems each of these three groups of letters received a set of attributions that related each letter of a group with a similar idea that was corresponded to the other letters of its group. For both systems the letters were the spiritual bricks that erected the Temple of the archetypal world, which was understood as the result of a permutation of letters following a Logos.  

The Sepher Yetzirah explains how the universe was created with three “books” (סְפָרִים / Sepharim): Sepher (סְפָר), Sephar (סֵפֶר) and Sippur (סִפוּר), but that these three books in God are “one and the same”. There are very different translations of these three expressions, I’m bringing the translation by Kaplan, Kalisch and Westcott:

Sepher: Text (Kaplan) / Number, Calculus, Ideas (Kalisch) / Number (Westcott)
Sephar: Number (Kaplan) / Word (Kalisch) / Writing (Westcott)
Sippur: Comunication (Kaplan) / Written form of the Word (Kalisch) / Speech (Westcott)
 

Mentioning these three “Sepharim” (books) was a play on words, since “Sepharim” is the plural form of “Sepher”, but it also suggested the idea that the universe was the result of these three words that contained three similar letters (samekh, peh and resh). The three “books” that became one in God, meant that deciphering the connections and unions between letters, sense and maths, would lead to an understanding of God (an idea that returned several centuries later in the Rosicrucian manifesto Fama Fraternitatis, in which three symbolical books containing all the wisdom are mentioned: “Book M”, “Book H” and “Book I”).  

0221.jpg What is interesting for us, is that some of the earliest examples of the practice of permutations can be found in the Sepher Yetzirah, even in its short version.

When the book explains how the dimensions were created, it is done by permutations: the above was sealed with יהו, the below with היו, the east with ויה, the west with והי, the south with יוה, the north with הוי
[2]
.
 

As it happened in Markus’ system, the Sepher Yetzirah also explains how the body of man was created with letters, in this case, with the three mother/elemental letters.

 

 ש (fire) created the head.

 א (air) created the breast

 ם (water) created the belly

 

The sexual differentiation between males and females is explained by a difference in the permutation of these letters. The males have the permutation שםא in the chest, whilst females have םשא. Something identical happened with the genitalia, for male genitalia was formed with שאם, whilst the female’s with אםש.  

The author of the Sepher Yetzirah conceived an archetypal world created in Hebrew, whilst Markus thought about it as been organized by Greek letters.  

God and man, a cipher to decode by the means of sounds, letters, numbers, words, silence and insight.  

It was during the XIII century that Abulafia developed his own peculiar ways of understanding  Kabbalah, his views were rejected and taken as heresy by his more conservative peers because of his extreme syncretism. Abulafia’s Kabbalah embraced every language he had at hand, Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Basque, Arabic, Italian, Tatar. His idiosyncratic views and his acceptance of Christian students lead him to become a persona non grata until some centuries later his ideas arrived to the versatile hands of Pico della Mirandolla, who found an inspiration in his ways.  

Abulafia’s Kabbalah was strongly focused on mystic ecstasy and visionary prophecy. He perceived the archetypal world and the human psyche as a combination of sounds and letters, and permutations became for him the main way of letting the human soul ascend from the mundane reality, the most basic rational thought, to a stream of divine consciousness.

 

“Begin then to interchange a number of letters [of a Divine name]. You can do this to a few or to many. Transpose them and interchange them quickly, until your heart is warmed as a result of these permutations, their movements and what follows. As a result of these permutations, your heart will become extremely hot. Through the permutations, you will gain new knowledge that you would never have learned by human traditions or intellectual analysis. When you experience it, then you are prepared to receive an Influx of Divine Light. The Influx will be conferred on you. It will come to you as many words, one after another. Prepare then your inner thoughts to reveal the Name and the highest Angels. Think of them as being in your heart, like human beings sitting or standing around you. You are among them as an apostle to whom the kingdom and its Servants want to entrust a mission. (…)Your whole body starts to shake until you think you are going to die. This is because your soul separates from your body as a result of the Great Joy that you experience when you perceive and acknowledge these things. In your mind, you choose death rather than life. Because death only involves the body and as a result, the soul lives forever when it is resurrected. You know when you've reached a level where you get the Divine Influx.” [Abulafia, Life of the World to Come]  

 

The ecstasy of Abulafia chanting his permutations, often recited performing dance-like movements was probably not too different than the ecstasy that Kurt Schwitters found several centuries later whilst chanting his Ursonate (literally, “Original/Primordial Sonata”) by the time that Surrealism was being shaped. Procedures to bypass the conscious mind and try to reach a higher and deeper reality.  

Other practices of Abulafia involved finding the right vibration of the letters, specially the Alef, a letter in which he saw the secret of the divine unity. To do so, he matched the Alef with 25 vowel sounds in two kameas containing all the possible combinations and permutations that had to be recited as a chant. His theory was that God had created an alphabet with no vowels, but gave man the gift of the vowels to give life to the letters in space and time.      

0034.jpg Inspired by the ideas of Abulafia, Jorge Luis Borges wrote a short tale, The Library of Babel. Borges described the universe as an infinite library containing infinite books, but all of them filled with permutations, books that in most cases do not seem to make any kind of sense and contain expressions such as “dhcmrlchtdj”. He explains that pilgrims often visit the library, some of them are true searchers; others are inquisitors; others formed a sect that claims that the search among those books should cease and that all men should juggle letters and symbols until they constructed, by an improbable gift of chance, canonical books; others read the books with the intention of finding an offensive word somewhere and destroy the book that contains it, another group of people decided to follow the idea that it is fundamental to eliminate the books that they consider useless,  whilst others simply find a random book and defend it with fanaticism.  

Borges also explains that among the dwellers of the infinite library of Babel there is a myth about the Man of the Book, the only human that among all the books found the “Book A” with the permutations that explain all the other possible books and gives them a sense. The book is analogous to God.  

Borges finally concludes stating: “The Library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveller were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.”  

Ramón Llull and Abulafia were contemporaries; whilst Abulafia was investigating his endless permutations, Llull was concerned with philosophy, chivalry and logic applied to theology. Even if he devoted his life to a wide diversity of studies, the main work of his life was developing his Ars Magna (Ars Generalis Ultima).  

What Llull did in his Ars Magna was creating a theosophical tool of permutations that could arrive to essential truths about God following a logical path. He lived in a context of theological debate, both within the three monotheistic religions and also within different branches of Christianity.  

To accomplish such task, he developed his own alphabet of correspondences:

B. stands for goodness, difference, whether? God, justice, avarice
C. stands for greatness, concordance, what? angels, prudence, gluttony
D. stands for duration, contrariety, of what? heaven, fortitude, lust
E. stands for power, beginning, why? man, temperance, conceit
F. stands for wisdom, middle, how much? imagination, faith, accidy
G. stands for will, end, what quality? senses, hope, envy
H. stands for virtue, majority, when? vegetation, charity, wrath
I. stands for truth, equality, where? elements, patience, lies
K. stands for glory, minority, how and with what? instruments, compassion, inconstancy
 

 

 

El Convento de Wilhemsbad (Segunda Parte)

 

And then four figures, the first one related the letters in proximity and distance, creating compatibilities and incompatibilities. The second figure involved three triangles that created logical rules to relate the letters. The third figure was a system of 36 chambers (quite similar to the 231 gates of the Sepher Yetzirah, except that for 9 letters instead of 22) that related all the possible pairs of letters/ideas.  

The fourth figure was the wheel of permutations. It contained three rotating discs, each one of them containing Llull’s 9 letters. Following a simple set of logical rules, these three discs created correspondences between the three previous figures in all the possible permutations always arriving to a logical and true result.  

This fourth figure, besides from being an engraving in the book, existed as an object. Llull believed that by rotating the discs and creating the right permutation it was possible to answer any theosophical question about God and man.  

Llull held the belief that if we begin with a set of essential truths, then all the possible combinations and permutations will develop new and true ways of understanding them if a logical procedure is involved and that such permutations would be able to answer any essential question that any man could ask.
 
Llull’s Ars Magna became an inspiration for Leibniz, who created his own version of a system of logical combinations (Ars Combinatoria) to arrive to essential truths.

It is, however, even more interesting that Leibniz began planning his magnum opus after combining the ideas of Llull with ideas taken from three books by his pen pal and friend Athanasius Kircher:


A) Oedipus Aegyptiacus: where Kircher had given his own explanation of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and tried to decipher the Table of Isis (Bembine Tablet). It is nowadays known that Kircher’s explanation of the hieroglyphs was quite far from being accurate; then again, nobody had been able to give an accurate translation before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. The book was meaningful for Leibniz because it provided a good example of a visual language.


B) Polygraphia nova et universalis, ex combinatoria arte detecta:
an ambitious work by Kircher, which consisted of 6 dictionaries. The first five dictionaries contained words in Latin, Italian, French, German and Spanish respectively (written in alphabetical order) and each word was given a number (the synonyms of each language received the same number).  The sixth dictionary contained the words in these five languages ordered by the number they have been given. Kircher’s Polygraphia had the intention of creating a Lingua Franca made of numbers; a text written in any of those languages could be translated to numbers and these numbers could be translated to any of those languages. In the same way, a sequence of numbers could be written and then any person would be able to translate it to his own language by following the sixth dictionary.  Both Kircher and Leibniz understood that this “instant Esperanto” had been a failed experiment and that its results were far from being satisfactory, and yet Leibniz was still very enthusiast about Kircher’s attempt to create an universal language.  

C) Ars Magna Sciendi sive Combinatoria: an exhaustive study and explanation of Ramon Llull’s Ars Generalis Ultima in which Kircher explained all the possible permutations of Llull’s combination system and then translated Llull’s nine letters to a “New Alphabet”.

 

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Using this “New Alphabet”, in a chapter titled “transmutation of the arguments in universal and particular sigils”, Kircher translated several syllogisms to a visual formula using Llull’s spinning discs of permutations.  

Captura de pantalla 2013-12-26 a las 03.41.12.png

 

Leibniz fell in love with this idea and thought about translating his own system of logical combinations to a purely visual formula too.  

All these ideas inspired Leibniz to create an Universal Alphabet of Human Thought. Leibniz had the dream of rebuilding the universal language of Adam, the universal language that was spoken before the confusion of the languages at the Tower of Babel.  

-9.jpg The letters of the Universal Language of Leibniz were meant to be pictograms or hieroglyphs that would be easily understood by any human without caring his native language. The grammar of the language was going to be the logical ways of combining ideas that Leibniz had designed. The intention was to create a visual language that, in a similar fashion to Kircher’s sequences of numbers, could be easily translated into any known language.  

Leibniz sadly, never completed the project during his lifetime.

It was during the XX century that the avant-garde artists William Burroughs and Brion Gysin met for the first time. Burroughs was a writer and an occasional visual artist. Gysin was a poet, an inventor, a mystic and a visual artist.  

It was under the influence of the surrealist practice of the exquisite corpses that Gysin started to experiment with his cut-up technique. The first cup-ups were collages in which Gysin mixed his own paintings with random images taken from magazines and newspapers creating what Lautréamont immortalized with the phrase “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella”. The intention of Gysin was to transcend the limits of the conscious mind, but also developing a system that could go further than the surrealist practice of unconscious automatism by creating juxtapositions of texts and images that were producing new unexpected meanings.  

Burroughs fell in love with the idea of Gysin’s cut-ups and decided to apply it to literature (specially in his “Nova Trilogy” –The Soft Machine, The Ticket that Exploded and Nova Express).  

brion gysin.jpg  

[Cut-Up collage by Brion Gysin & William Burroughs]

 

Both Gysin and Burroughs were convinced that what we say, what we think and what we write always contains unconscious messages that have to be discovered by manipulating the words.  It was a usual practice for both of them to take a text they have written, cut it in pieces and then uniting it again in different permutations that were offering new meanings and new ideas. They also did the same experiment with tape recordings, by cutting the tape in several sections and then uniting them in a different order with scotch tape. What they expected from their cut-ups was not really far from what Abulafia expected from his endless permutations: revelations, new ways of understanding a given message, new ways of perceiving the world that surrounds us.  

27.william-burroughs.brion-gysin.third-mind-collage.jpg
[Breathe in the Words, permutation poem by Brion Gysin]

 

Another idea that Gysin held was that the true and complete meaning of any given phrase was going be found by writing or pronouncing all its possible permutations. Following this simple procedure he wrote extensive collections of poems.  

Some weeks ago, my friend Sebastián Tedesco told me he had finished a new work. Being himself the marvellous painter that he is, I expected to see a new painting by him. Two of his paintings hang on the walls of my living room, whilst a collage by him decorates my hall.  No need to say that I admire him the most as a painter and artist.  

… But what he showed me was an image of  Kircher’s engraving of the Tower of Babel that was constantly moving and evolving in different permutations. I was puzzled and probably even more confused than Poussin and Porbus whilst looking at Frenhofer’s Unknown Masterpiece in the famous tale by Balzac.  

Tedesco probably noticed my confusion and tried to clear my mind by explaining: “the title is Richker, a permutation of Kircher” and then he added: “would you like to write a short commentary or review of this work?”.  

-12.jpg I had to spend a long time watching these endless permutations to understand what Tedesco was doing. The first time I saw them, I felt as lost as the pilgrims that visit Borges’ Library of Babel just to find a chaos of infinite combinations that does not seem to make any kind of sense.  

I finally remembered the words by Poussin in Balzac’s tale: “He is even more of a poet than a painter”.  

Being used to seeing paintings by Tedesco, I was trying to find the painting behind that ever-changing image… until I found the poem and fell in love with it.  

The myth of the collapse of the Tower of Babel mirrors the myth of the fall of Man.

We are born as incomplete beings with a divine spark within us that allows us to remember that there was a time in which God and Man spoke the same language and the Logos was perfectly clear.        

 

RICHKER is a visual poem about the Logos.

RICHKER has the wheel of the work.

RICHKER is knowledge and ignorance.

RICHKER is the letters of the rose becoming roses.

RICHKER is Marcus dreaming about an archetypal body made of letters.

RICHKER is the Sepher Yetzirah trying to find a hidden sense behind the alphabet.

RICHKER is Abulafia looking for a revelation in its endless permutations.

RICHKER is Ramon Llull cutting discs of paper to rotate them and find the truth.

RICHKER is Kircher looking for a universal language.

RICHKER is Leibniz sketching a universal alphabet of human thought.

RICHKER is Hildegard von Bingen speaking the Lingua Ignota.

RICHKER is John Dee and Edward Kelly deciphering tablets.

RICHKER has undone many a great man in fortune, honor, blessing and prosperity.

RICHKER is the genius and the madness of Frenhofer.

RICHKER is the map of an infinite library.

RICHKER is Brion Gysin expanding the meaning of each phrase we say and cutting-up our conscious reality to bring new visions.

RICHKER is an alphabet that doesn’t need letters and contains every possible letter.

RICHKER is a visual poem about the history of a being that living in an ocean of errors will never give up in his search for the truth.

 
23rd December 2013
Julián Moguillansky  
 

 



[1] “Against Heresies”, Irenaeus, 1. 14,3

[2] This is the Kalisch version, Kaplan provides a different permutation, Westcott a third one different from the previous two. The three of them, however, use permutations of the letters Y H V.