mikeh wrote:The reason I cited p. 34 is that it is there that the book talks about "hidden symbolism" as a fact about the Renaissance. That was all I cited it for.
Okay, we'll try again. That sentence, taken out of context as you prefer, reads as follows: "People of the Renaissance revelled in hidden symbolism, and the occult sciences enjoyed greater prestige in the Christian world than at any other time before or since." Taken out of context, that is grossly misleading.
I gave the context, both before and after.
mikeh wrote:As I read the passage from Wicked Pack, it doesn't come to any conclusion at all.
The argument looks like this:
1. Any occult reading must pass a severe test.
2. Given the historical facts, the test is almost certainly impossible to pass.
3. No interpretations have been proposed that are even worthy of discussion in this context.
Yes, the conclusion is left as an exercise for the reader, but it is not a very challenging exercise.
Dummett wrote:I do not want to take a stand about the theories that have been advanced. The question is whether a theory is needed at all. I do not mean to deny that some of the subjects or some of the details of their conventional representation, may have had a symbolic significance obvious to fifteenth-century Italians, or, at least, to educated ones, that escapes us and may be revealed by patient research; that is very likely to be the case. But the question is whether the sequence as a sequence has any special symbolic meaning. I am inclined to think that it did not: to think, that is, that those who originally designed the Tarot pack were doing the equivalent, for their day, of those who later selected a sequence of animal pictures to adorn the trump cards of the new French-suited pack.
The last sentence in the above above is indeed a rather bald statement of the "null hypothesis", so to speak.
That is a statement of his iconographic unbelief. There might be a systematic meaning, but it doesn't look like it. The burden of proof is on the person who claims otherwise, and the level of proof required is high. From the point of view of anyone claiming that there is such systematic meaning, that is one version of the iconographic null hypothesis.
The first qualification to note is that most serious academic types, if they took an interest in Tarot iconography, would probably choose Moakley as the iconographic null hypothesis. It is just as respectable, it is more explanatory in several ways, it connects directly with a period-appropriate and extremely influential source work, etc. It is more interesting, offering much more to talk about, which academics love. There are some good objections to her theory, making the two about equal in plausibility among all the published contenders. Therefore, the vastly simpler story of Dummett seems the strongest position anyone has offered.
The second, much bigger caveat is that iconography is just one, relatively miniscule aspect of Tarot history. Dummett's entire coherent history of Tarot is the null hypothesis for the field. By outlining and detailing a congruent reading of all the available evidence, he created a context in which subsequent findings could be readily understood. This is the greater null hypothesis, which Ross dubbed the Standard Model of Tarot history. This is the larger context into which new facts, like Depaulis' finding re Giusto Giusti and Gizmondo's deck, or Pratesi's Florentine records, need to fit. If there are new findings which cannot be accomodated gracefully, then some part of Dummett's history will need to be replaced.
The iconographic part is my own area of interest. In terms of that larger model, however, the iconographic part is the least important and most disposable. Dummett demonstrated that Tarot's iconography was either completely irrelevant to the rest of Tarot history, or nearly so. He proved that Tarot history required no strong assumptions about Tarot iconography. For historians, iconography is incidental in that any subject matter can be, and often was
substituted. (If someone wanted to do an in-depth study of appropriati
, for example, the trump subjects and their hierarchy would matter.)
For occultists, this is all nonsense. The supposed hidden meaning is the essential quality of Tarot, and the fascinating part of Tarot history revolves around the Renaissance elite, secret society, alchemists, astrologers, heretics, or whoever is assumed to have created this esoteric codebook.
mikeh wrote:I meant that for Dummett what was most important, in relation to his conclusions, was the cards' use in a trick-taking game. That was his main focus in the book. That's why it's called Game of Tarot, a worthy focus, since most people didn't even know it was a game. That focus on what is needed to play the game, the feature of "instant recognition", may lead Dummett to miss things when it comes to the symbolism in the trumps deriving from other functions of the cards, inside and outside the game.
You make it sound as if he discovered some obscure detail about Tarot and focused his attention on that peculiar, minor sidelight. After all, most people didn't even know about this trivial aspect. Imagine that, some people played card games with Tarot. What an oddity!
Dummett's focus was Tarot history, broadly conceived. It doesn't matter how determinedly you insist, he did not ignore or marginalize some parts of Tarot history. Most of his history of Tarot was about the game because most of THE history of Tarot was about the game. This is the crucial part which occultists seem incapable of ever understanding -- Tarot was a card game
, first and foremost.
Most of Tarot history is a history of the game, because that's primarily what Tarot was, for four centuries and throughout much of Europe. Even today there are probably more card players than fortune-tellers. It was invented as a card game. It caught on as a card game. It became very widespread, in different waves of popularity over the centuries, as a card game. It generated secondary uses and literary references because it was popular as a card game, so well known that references and allusions were nearly universally recognizable. When occult Tarot was just being invented, among a small group of French Freemasons and fortune-tellers, the card game was exploding into new areas and greater popularity than ever before. Modernized decks, double-headed, with large indices on the trump cards and arbitrary subject matter, helped make the game cool and trendy. A great many more regional variations of the game were developed. And so on.
That's real history, about a game played by millions of people across Europe.
Modern pop-culture Tarot enthusiasts can't come to grips with that fact: Tarot was a card game. That is one reason why they constantly misread Dummett, a tradition which started with Frances Yates in her review of The Game of Tarot
. She could not accept that the history of Tarot is properly and primarily the history of a card game. Instead, Yates believed that occult Tarot was the only Tarot anyone might care about. Therefore, a book which devoted only two chapters to that aspect, (even if those two chapters constituted the greatest study of the subject ever undertaken), must be hiding something. She wrote, among other condescending slurs, "It seems to be the basic aim behind Professor Dummett’s fanatical pursuit of the Tarot game, in all its forms, to prove that throughout its history it was only a game, and nothing else." In fact, of course, he explained and documented exactly the opposite, the many sides of Tarot. Yates was a fool: arrogant, ignorant, and anachronistic.
mikeh wrote:It seems to me
He said, before repeating Dummett's argument and those I've made many times about meaningful context...
mikeh wrote:that it is not the subjects themselves that need explaining, but the particular combinations of conventionally symbolic details on the cards, in relation to the card as a whole and the sequence itself,
Good advice. You should put the pieces together into a meaningful whole. Try it, and show us what you come up with.
mikeh wrote:in whole or in part: e.g. the Pope's tiara on a woman in a nun's dress, the scenes on the bottom halves of the Cary Sheet Star, Moon, and Sun, the the blindfold on Cupid in the Love card, the wings on the horses of the PMB Chariot, etc., mostly related to the Milan-based cards.
Instead, you want to focus on the ephemera, isolate idiosyncratic details that are unique to one deck or another, pretend that they have great hidden meaning, worthy of endless exegesis, and start expounding on things other than Tarot.
Just like thousands of other late 20th- and 21st-century Tarot enthusiasts.
mikeh wrote:Some of these things Ross calls "decorative";
Those are the ones for which no one has made a convincing argument that they add up to any larger whole. Every time you take something out of context and spin a 3,000 word essay on topics other than Tarot, you are ignoring your own good advice above. If the historian has a choice between indulging such extravagant but pointless deconstruction and revisioning on one hand, and calling something "decorative" on the other, "decorative" is the best choice.
mikeh wrote:but in fact are conventionally symbolic, others by their natural function or appearance lend themselves to symbolic interpretation, in the way that Dante and Petrarch had demonstrated in their interpretive works.
If you find a specific convention for something in a Tarot deck, present it. The great thing about that approach is that it usually doesn't require a 2,500 word preface explaining why far-fetched interpretations are justified. Just state the convention and present some examples.
Dummett concludes (388l):
That is my opinion; but I do not want to insist on it.
Dummett seems here to be open-minded about symbolic or satirical messages. He is not using "Occam's Razor" or "parsimony" against them. He just doesn't see them.
He has stated his opinion and yes, it is based on parsimony: "The question is whether a theory is needed at all." His infinitely simpler explanation seems sufficient, and is consistent with many other games, and with the expansion of the Minchiate deck. If not parsimony, then what other argument does he have for preferring his view to Moakley's or Decker's? His implied argument appears to be 1) that their complex stories do not appear necessary because his simpler one is sufficient, and 2) that to overcome the argument from parsimony one needs are really persuasive alternative to the simpler hypothesis.
The point seems clear -- it is his opinion that his explanation is sufficient. That is parsimony. Moreover, the fact that the argument is based on parsimony is precisely why "I do not want to insist on it." It's a methodological guideline, extremely useful and generally reliable but not conclusive
mikeh wrote:When he really thinks something is illogical, he says so. It is an open-mindedness he exhibits elsewhere in the chapter. For example, while it seems to him most logical that there have been 24 trumps in the CY, it is for him not the only possibility.
The Cary-Yale deck is a perfect example because it is a case where one view is quite obvious and very likely correct, and yet our information is so fragmentary that we cannot rule out other possibilities. Although one might imagine numerous other explanations for the deck, none of them are more plausible than the others, and none are as good as the one presented by Dummett. That is, there are no other specific possibilities which have any particular claim to our acceptance, so the conclusion he reached is the only good one.
Again, it is primarily an argument from parsimony. It is a fact that the Cary-Yale deck is (as far as we know) the greatest, most expensive deck ever made. It has larger cards, with more square inches of gold and silver leaf, and more court cards. Surviving trumps include a random subset of the standard 22, which is what we find in virtually all early decks, along with the three Pauline Virtues. Given the fact that everything about this deck seems standard except for being enhanced, the simple, obvious, and parsimonious conclusion is the one Dummett offers. The variation in trumps is just another example of the variation we see in other parts of the deck -- bigger and better, but based on a standard or "archetypal" design.
Can we invent more complicated explanations? Sure, always
. But they involve fantasy about superfluous elements, while adding nothing of explanatory value. The fact that only one explanation is justified
by the fragmentary evidence does not mean that, with better evidence, it might not turn out to be false. But we have the evidence we have, and it only justifies the most parsimonious explanation. Superfluous elements are superfluous.
You also seem to be equating a conclusion with an absolute certainty, at least sometimes, for rhetorical purposes. Above, you suggest that Dummett did not come to a conclusion about esoteric meanings because he did not claim absolute certainty. This is consistent with your view that some people, (and a few days ago you included Dummett in this category), categorically reject esoteric content. I don't think that I've ever read anyone make that claim, that there could not be such content, so that sounds like a strawman argument. The reasonable claim is that there is no good reason to believe in such profligate inventions, and the argument from parsimony is that they explain nothing which is not explained with simpler interpretations.
Conclusions about empirical questions are always provisional. That is a given, and should not need to be pointed out to you. That doesn't mean that one idea is as good as another, the modern "it's all good" relativism, nor does it mean that provisional conclusions aren't real conclusions. Sometimes we have less than perfect evidence but one conclusion is still overwhelmingly persuasive. ("Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.")
But he thinks that in that case we could not expect any ordering of the standard set to make perfect sense, because we wouldn't know the original trumps and order. I do not fully understand his argument, but my guess is that the reason is something he says on p. 388r:
The search for a hidden meaning may be a unicorn hunt; but, if there is a hidden meaning to be found, only a correct basis of fact will lead us to it. The hidden meaning, if any, lies in the sequential arrangement of the trump cards; and therefore, if it is to be uncovered, we must know what, originally, that arrangement was.
That may be why he makes the point as he does on p. 415. Again, I do not see why it is necessary to find some original arrangement, as long as we have an approximation of what the order was in whatever deck or document we are examining. It seems to me that, given the various uncertainties, what Dummett gets in the end is just that.
Dummett argues that sequence conveys meaning. If that is the case, then different sequences convey different meanings. If you accept that context counts, that the composition of something like the Primavera
conveys meaning and that the composition of the trump cycle is the order of the cards, then his position is an obvious consequence. If someone copied the Primavera
but rearranged the figures, it would not convey the same meaning, whether we can figure out what Botticelli had in mind or not.
You reject that: "as long as we have an approximation of what the order was..." Where do you draw the line? What is the difference between a bunch of random approximations and simply ignoring sequence entirely, which in other places you seem to endorse? If you have only an approximation of the word order of a typical 22-word sentence, you will probably not be able to understand its intended meaning.
Unfortunately, most Tarot enthusiasts cannot even imagine what it would mean for the particular subjects, and their specific ordering, to be meaningful. They cannot understand what Dummett's riddle of Tarot is, much less attempt to answer it. This is partly because of the "made to be randomized" fallacy, and the "it's all good" relativism, but more than that it is the fact that they never attempt such a coherent reading which would explain the design choices. They just do vague, hand-waving interpretations, so a vague idea of the proper sequence is no problem.
(There is, of course, another critique of Dummett's view here, the one I've made since the Riddle of Tarot
page went up, but that's another story.)
In the state of his knowledge, Dummett cannot conclude which of the three orders was the original one. [Added next day: he says that it would be most natural to see the A order as first, except that the places he associates with the original tarot, Milan and Ferrara, are not A order places.] However (414r):
What the variations strongly suggest is that there never was any great symbolic significance to the variations in the precise order in which the trump subjects were arranged..
If there was an original coherent meaning, then that intended meaning was lost (to a greater or lesser extent) in each of the dozen+ variations. The alternative is that there never was such a precise design.
mikeh wrote:To be sure; but it seems to me worth pursuing whether Temperance means the same before and after Death (Dummett says that if there is a difference it "escapes" him (p. 400r));
Which means that Dummett also pursued the question. When you say, "but it seems to me", you make it sound as if you are doing something different than Dummett and ten thousand others. Dummett tried to make sense of it, and admitted that he failed, which is entirely different than not pursuing it.
Why do you insist on making false and insulting claims to denigrate Dummett, when you also pretend to have some respect for him, or his work? What's the point of this silly game? Just to pretend that you are superior to Dummett because, unlike him, YOU pursue a particular iconographic question?
mikeh wrote:or whether Justice has the same signification low and high, God's justice and humanity's.
The salient question is why that subject was moved to that position, i.e., what sense does it make there? Dummett explained it, so insinuating that he did not pursue the question is again, odd.
One could, of course, write a long essay about something other than Tarot, speculating and playing endless what-if games. And yes, I recognize that such indulgences are the main reason some people "study" Tarot "history". However, such overinterpretation and commentary will almost certainly add nothing to the fully-explanatory observation that Justice (one of the three Moral Virtues) and Judgment (especially as depicted with Archangel Michael) have characteristics in common. These characteristics justify the repositioning, explain the new sequence, and leave only the larger question of why each locale in Italy wanted their own Tarot deck.
What do we make of the differences in design between different decks? Dummett reiterates that the important thing is that the players be able to identify the card at a glance. Beyond that (p. 402r):
The variations in design that we can observe amongst surviving cards are to be explained in the same way as those between different orders of the trump sequences, namely as representing different patterns used by different regions.
He adds that this obviously does not apply to hand-painted decks and to non-standard decks like the Sola-Busca. Whether the variations might have to do with different symbolic approaches being applied in different places isn't something he pursues.
What does that mean, he didn't pursue "different symbolic approaches"? That he didn't spend a lot of time making up unsubstantiated fantasies about what someone, somewhere, at some time, might have meant by some minor variation in the trumps of a card game? Why would he do that when he had real historical questions to address with actual facts? There are productive lines of inquiry, and self-indulgent ones.
mikeh wrote:I see reasons for thinking that there were purposes for the tarot sequence that Dummett does not consider, i.e. didactic and mnemonic (remembering what one has learned).
Yes, you are good at repeating New Age shibboleths. We've heard this one, but what we haven't heard are the justifications for it. It is worth noting that scholars in the subject of the mnemonic arts don't mention Tarot, for the simple reason that there is no historical evidence that it was used that way. Likewise, no pluasible analysis of the trump cycle suggests that it was ever intended to be used that way. Only New Age Tarot enthusiasts make these claims, going back to the 1970s. That's called "contemporary folklore".
mikeh wrote:Dummett says it just didn't "occur" to the designers to put numbers on the card. To me it seems the first thing that would occur to someone, because there were numbers on other cards, and after all, it was a trick taking game. It seems to me more likely a deliberate choice not to put numbers on the cards, so that people would have to memorize the order. That's an argument for a didactic purpose for the game.
This is pathetic... but others have commented. I will simply note that if you did not have such contempt for Dummett, and for the history of playing cards, then you might look things up before inventing your own facts and declaring him wrong. Of course, you don't recognize that Tarot was primarily a card game, so why bother learning about card games?
mikeh wrote:Also, there is the example of other decks for trick-taking games similar in structure to that of the tarot in having a trump suit, namely, Marziano's and Boiardo's, for which we do have explicit symbolic interpretations. Dummett ignores these texts;
Dummett does not use non-Tarot decks, nor completely revised Tarot decks, to support a fantasy interpretation of standard Tarot decks. He doesn't do fantasy, so he doesn't need to manufacture justifications for fantasy. That is hardly the same thing as ignoring those decks.
Marziano and Boiardo are examples of two methods of interpretation advocated by Petrarch and Boccaccio: drawing moral lessons and making reference to specific persons (see my post at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=385&start=100#p14232
, quotes from Murrin and Struck, in The Cambridge Companion to Allegory
, 2010). It is reasonable to suppose that the same methods would apply, at least some of the time, to trump sequences with other subjects that were meaningful at the time.
There does not appear to be any secret code or esoteric manifesto in those decks, no hidden meanings. We know nothing about those decks which was not exoteric. We know that the groupings of gods in the 16 Heroes deck had a particular meaning because it was literally spelled out for us.
If it wasn't, could we just "figure it out"? Maybe some of us could and would. It would probably be someone who did not call it a Tarot deck and who was not blinded by folklore. But it is certain that those who prefer recycled esoteric topics, like astrology and alchemy, would reject that intended meaning even if it were discovered. It doesn't fit their New Age preconceptions. However, they could make up dozens of false interpretetations, based on whatever books they were reading at the time. After all, someone, at some time, in some place, might
have interpreted the suits that way. But how is that anything other that self-indulgent bullshit?
And how do we know that the named figures in Boiardo/Viti refer to specific persons... oh yeah. Named figures. How much more exoteric can one get than Stoic themes with named subjects? So how exactly do those circumstances apply to Tarot? There is no such descriptive text, so that something as obscure to us as the themes of the bird suits in 16 Heroes is virtually certain to be lost.
What about the subject matter of Tarot being interpreted as specific people? Lots of folks have tried that. (Think of all the Pope Joan enthusiasts.) The problem is that the primary subjects in the trump cycle are plainly not specific persons but allegories and eschatological subjects. We can identify most of the allegories easily by inspection, without recourse to idiosyncratic inventions of our own preference.
On one hand we have a simple and sufficient explanatory interpretation which, given the pictures on the cards, is also a necessary explanation. The Wheel of Fortune really is a conventional motif, (whether occultists admit it or insist on Ezekiel or whatever), and as such it is a necessary
explanation. That is also a sufficient
explanation for the primary subject and, in most decks, the entirety of the card. Additional details, unusual or unique embellishments, may be merely decorative or may be personalized allusions to someone or something. Either way, they are incidental.
On the other hand, we may take some of those incidentals out of context, expound at great length about hidden meaning in the Renaissance and our particular topic du jour, and then claim, suggest, imply, insinuate, or otherwise indicate that the REAL meaning of Tarot, with New and Improved Profundity, is being unveiled for the first time. Dummett was not an idiot, which explains why he did not indulge these silly approaches to interpretation.
mikeh wrote:There are probably reasons why Marziano's and Boiardo's decks did not catch on and the tarot did. I speculate that the tarot sequence, because of some of its subjects and the order of the cards, was more acceptable to the Church and to people generally, who were mostly devout Christians. They found there more of the subjects that were important and familiar to them, and there was a good reason for memorizing the sequence; it gave the reasons to follow Christian teachings and virtues. That would help them in their daily lives. There were, to be sure, things in it that some preachers did not like; but the Church was used to taking a long view.
The Stoic-Christian content of the trumps was perfect for a popular game in 15th-century Roman Catholic Italy but, more importantly, Tarot was a well designed game. Consider the possibility that crappy card games
failed to gain a broader audience as card games
, because they were crappy card games
Marziano and Boiardo/Viti were more sophisticated novelty decks conceived for a particular tiny audience, but they seem to have been badly designed as games. Marziano's 16 Heroes deck was made for the Visconti household and was probably, as best we can tell, not a great game. This is not surprising as it was a very early game with trumps. The very structural design of the trumps, as a kind of super court cards, was apparently never used again in any of the many thousands of card games that have been created. (Other games with trumps were probably tried in the interim, between the 16 Heroes game and Tarot, but we know nothing of that except that 10 or 15 years intervened.) The Boiardo/Viti game was also very weak. We know it a little better, and it was certainly trivial and boring.
mikeh wrote:Also, it is the very fact of not having a written program that made the tarot sequence attractive.
So says everyone who learned about Tarot from fortune-tellers and New Age neo-Jungians, who love the idea of a randomized prompt to stimulate story-telling. This is the Rorschach view of Tarot. In reality, however, Tarot was a card game. It didn't need a written program, because the subject matter didn't matter.
Your point seems to be that Tarot became hugely popular as a card game for reasons having nothing to do with it's value as a card game. Do you ever even consider the fact that that it was a card game, and a very well designed one? Over a period of centuries, both with and without those archaic trump subjects, it held its own and even spread as many other games came and went. Whatever the earliest rules were, they happened to provide a fantastic basis for both game play and for further development -- as a card game. It seems that you cannot even conceive that something other than your own personal interests could ever motivate someone else, (like a card player), and apparently your personal interests do not include playing cards.
Would caps help? TAROT WAS A CARD GAME!
mikeh wrote:Different people could reflect on the cards from different perspectives, while playing or otherwise. Some people could consider them from a variety of perspectives. This last was considered a measure of profundity.
Again, Tarot was a card game. The 16 Heroes deck and the Boiardo/Viti deck were more sophisticated in some ways, but such measures of profundity were not relevant to playing cards. This is not a theory, it is an observed fact. Tarot's greatest popularity came after the antiquated Stoic-Christian moral allegory was replaced. And that increased popularity was not because it was replaced with something much better for esoteric ruminations. It was replaced with many different, and almost all jejune, sets of subject matter and again, the subject matter didn't matter.
Tarot was a card game.
mikeh wrote:The two essays recently published by Caldwell, Depaulis, and Ponzi tend to support the idea of the tarot's didactic moralizing intent, as Michael reminds us (thanks). For me Marziano and Boiardo are at least as valuable, simply in being closer to the source.
Neither tells us anything about the standard trump cycle, so naturally they appeal to those who want to just make things up. This is pure occultism -- marginalizing the actual cards and talking about something else. Why not throw in the E-Series model book as well? It's early, and also a traditional part of esoteric misdirection, ever since Kaplan decided to put it first and foremost in his Encyclopedia
. Anything but the standard trumps.
Something is lost in Piscini and Anonymous; they understand moral interpretations but not what Murrin calls "Euhemerist" ones, the application to particular historical persons ("Renaissance Allegory from Petrarch to Spencer",Cambridge Companion to Allegory
p. 167f). This is particularly important in the CY, with its numerous significant heraldics. It is not excluded that the same is true of the PMB Popess, Hanged Man, and even the Old Man (all as referring to members of the Visconti or Sforza family, whatever else they meant). Earlier in the Visconti family, the small paintings in books known as illuminations served such a function, as Kirsch has demonstrated (see my early posts at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=917
). As such they moralize family members and help members who receive these paintings to remember them in a certain way, and possibly serve as models for other more popular works that encourage others to see them in a similar positive light (propaganda).
So far (2013) there is zero evidence that any such topical allegory exists in any known Tarot deck. That's kind of a big deal, for fact-based analysis.
Yes, decks were decorated with personal devices, from at least 1440. Our earliest record of Tarot mentions such personalization. Yes, some of these devices were probably put on particular cards to suggest a specific association, as a kind of personally commissioned appropriati
. Dummett and Moakley identified a lot of that, but no one has found anything more substantial. Moreover, none is needed. The primary subject matter of the cards tells one story, the original and always underlying story, and the secondary subject matter, whether Diogenes and Alexander or Visconti heraldry, is in every case an embellishment. They are interesting details, informative about a particular deck but inconsequential in terms of explaining the trump cycle itself.
mikeh wrote:Another method of interpretation used in the Renaissance...
Yes, there were many interesting things done in the Renaissance. And it's fun to play make-believe. However, unless it helps explain something about the cards or their history, you are simply making up more and more 21st-century stories about what someone might
have thought in a culture which you don't seem to understand very well. This reveals a lot about 21st-century Tarot pseudo-history, but nothing about pre-Gebelin Tarot history.
mikeh wrote:There are a few examples--I'd call them remnants--of this method in Piscina's essay.
Those are interpretive essays, and both are rather sloppy. Unfortunately, these guys were not the most analytical exegetes. However, they get to ramble, tossing off scatterbrained, ad hoc stuff, and we call it history because they died a long time ago. When people do it today, however, it's not history... because they're doing it today.
mikeh wrote:One of the earliest things I read about the tarot was Michael's "Riddle of Tarot". I was instantly convinced of its arguments.
Co-opt and marginalize -- a standard rhetorical technique. Everyone knows Dummett... nobody disputes Dummett... he was great and all... now let's move on to the important stuff, the stuff that he ignored.
mikeh wrote:But then I read other things and saw complexities that this theory did not address, mainly, details in certain versions of the cards, corresponding other symbol-systems besides the medieval Church that would have been considered meaningful and interesting by people in the courts.
Taking idiosyncratic details out of context ("details in certain versions of the cards"), placing them in a false context ("other symbol-systems besides" the trump cycle), inventing 21st-century interpretations and claiming that someone might
have thought of them earlier has no apparent historical value, and therefore no appeal to me.
We should probably be clear about goals and methods. My project has NOTHING to do with your quest to deconstruct random details from random cards from random decks and tell multiple random stories about them all, imagining what different people might have thought about them, mixing and matching and going on and on till the day you die, while exploring your favorite non-Tarot subjects all the while. That is probably a wonderful pastime, like Sudoku or jerking off, but I don't see the point of it. You seem to want to interpret things, endlessly, for the sheer pleasure of the activity rather than answering any specific historical question.
Cynthia Giles, 1992 wrote:Certainly the synthetic process is not in itself a bad thing. But it's all too easy to create seemingly rich and significant explanations of occult system by building up layers of reference and allusion - without actually having sorted the worthwhile information from the worthless, and without ever showing whether the bits and pieces really do fit together in a meaningful way.... Tarot is particularly afflicted by such "synthesism" because it can be related, by even the moderately resourceful, to practically everything under the sun.
I have a particular question in mind, specifically, Dummett's riddle of Tarot. (Hence the name of that page.) Why did someone select those subjects and arrange them in that order. Yes, I've spent a lot of time writing about the different orders and about secondary symbolism, I've offered a theory to explain why every locale had a different deck/game, and I've explored literary and iconographic parallels from ancient Greece and Rome to the present. I've offered analyses of oddball Tarot decks from Cary-Yale to Sola Busca. I've even spent a fair amount of time with other iconographic puzzles, and maybe even solved a couple, but that's all somewhat beside the point of the exercise. For me, it's about Dummett's riddle of Tarot.
mikeh wrote:However I still held that Michael's theory was right--and still do, albeit more shakily--as a common denominator among different 22 trump decks and how they were understood, a kind of "literal meaning" of the sequence, to use the metaphor of a text.
That's very close to the point of it, but not "how they were understood". That is not relevant to my question, except where we have evidence like Piscina. A 21st-century interpretation of what people might have thought is almost always worthless. A 16th-century interpretation, what someone actually did think, is valuable. But my question is always the same, an explanation for why those subjects were selected and arranged in a particular fashion. That original design, to the extent it can be discerned, informs all the subsequent decks genetically -- they echo that original design from which they derived, which is why that design is (more or less, obviously) generic to them all.
But particular details in particular decks, and particular types of symbolism held to be important in particular places, seem to me important and lead me to other considerations, going from "literal meaning" to various "allegorical meanings" in the Renaissance sense of the term (for which see my posts at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=385&start=90#p14231
; you don't have to read what I say, just the quotes from The Cambridge Companion to Allegory
You seek permission for your interpretive fantasies, and there are endless sources of such justification. I seek to explain the trump cycle, with as little fantasy as possible, so I don't need permission.
mikeh wrote:As such, the sequence seems more like one narrative, proceeding temporally from past to future, one grand journey of the spirit, than your division into three sections allows. So I wonder whether the sharp break into three sections, as opposed to one continuous narrative, is not a result of something else rather than an original state. But I have no worked-out theory, not of an ur-tarot but of an ur-interpretation, to replace yours with.
You repeat that New Age "Fool's Journey" assumption but claim that you are not following the New Agers, just as you attempt to justify Egyptian symbolism but are not an apologist for Court de Gebelin, and you attempt to justify alchemical symbolism but are not working the same ground as Levi and the New Age neo-Jungians. How can you spend so much time as an occult apologist and yet take offence when it is pointed out?
In any case, here you have asked a question which I always love to answer, about the three sections. I'll write up a summary of that, my alternative hypothesis, again.... maybe in a day or two.
mikeh wrote:You have helped a lot, Michael, and continue to do so. Dummett is absolutely the foundation, an amazing achievement, for his very original and deep research and because it really was a game, not just a series of images used for fortune-telling, contemplation, or what have you.
Co-opt and marginalize. "This is great stuff... now let's get back to hidden meanings."
We are either dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, or we are just dwarfs.