OK, here I go again. I find discussing these meta-theoretical issues very hard. I know some don't, but I do. I do find it valuable, because so many times on this forum people don't disagree on the facts, but on what they make of the facts. If I have expressed myself infelicitously, please bear with me.
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.
First, I do not understand how the context affects the truth or falsity of the sentence that I cited, or its connotations, or the use I made of it. I was not quoting it to say that the authors therefore found hidden meanings in the tarot. I referred to it as a generally agreed-upon fact about the Renaissance, that ""People of the Renaissance revelled in hidden symbolism" etc. What is misleading about that, taken out of the context of the paragraph? It is perfectly normal for paragraphs to start with agreed upon facts that nonetheless do not imply the conclusions they draw later. I was just referring to the agreed upon fact.
Second, since Decker was one of the authors, and he disagrees with your conclusion, as well as premises 2 and 3, I do not think they are implied by the paragraph, at least in the intention of one of its authors. It's a compromise statement.
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.
It is a fact about null hypotheses that the burden of proof is on the person wishing to disagree with it. I question whether the language of "null hypothesis" is appropriate here.
It is a feature of null hypotheses that they assert that there is no correlation between two sets of scientific observations, that any correlations observed occur as a matter of chance. For example, let us suppose it is maintained that there is a significant correlation between smoking and lung cancer. The problem is that some people who haven't been smokers, and haven't been around second-hand smoke, also get lung cancer. So it has to be established that the incidence related to smoking is greater than the incidence of lung cancer otherwise, statistically speaking.
I do not see where Dummett's so-called "null hypothesis" (which he doesn't call by that term) is enough like such a null hypothesis to say the burden of proof is on the other person. Dummett says that most of the iconography is irrelevant; all that is relevant is enough to make the card's place in the sequence instantly recognizable to a player. But for something to be a "null hypothesis", we have to be able to compare data pertaining to all iconography on the card to data relating to just the minimum. For the Sun card, that would be data including the children on the card vs. data not including these children. But what data is that? If the time was now, and we could do consumer surveys, we could ask purchasers what influenced them to choose the deck with the children, etc., as opposed to others for playing the same game with features other than the sun at the top of the card. There is Boiardo's deck, for exmple. We might have to make up decks that suited our experiment, and see if they chose it, and then ask them why. We would have to design our study so that factors such as the order in which the decks were presented, the occupations of the players, the preferences of the questioner, etc., were eliminated through randomization and double blinds.
However we are not doing anything like that. So please tell me how you make observations to test Dummet's "null hypothesis"? Such language doesn't make sense outside a context for statistical testing in the Renaissance, controlling for occupation, age, place of residence, etc.
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.
It's not nonsense. The "hidden" (i.e. non-obvious) meaning is a development out of the obvious meaning, just as in an allegory the allegorical meaning is a function of the literal meaning. The question of tarot origins does revolve around a Renaissance elite, in the sense that the subjects are ones "that would naturally come to the mind of someone at a fifteenth century court", as Dummett puts it (Game of Tarot
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!
I'm sorry if you read it that way. I didn't mean to say it was an obscure detail.
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.
That's the point at issue: what is Tarot History? You are simply repeating your conclusion.
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.
I can't tell if you are accusing me of any of this or not. Is it guilt by association again? I say over and over that it was a card game, first and foremost. That is where the sequence occurs. Perhaps I don't emphasize it enough. I will try. I dealt myself a hand using the CY cards. I will comment on it later. I don't know what the rules were, or I'd say more about the game. I suspect there is hidden allegorical meaning in the manner of play and scoring. For example, the "excuse" rule is an allegory of Christ, that he sacrifices himself for others, that they may live. And the importance given to the last five and the first five in the scoring shows them to be the leading powers above and below.
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.
Whether they are ephemera is the point at issue. Dummett says, provisionally, that everything not needed for immediate recognition of the card is irrelevant. If so, the tarot designer would have put what is needed on the last inch or so of the right or left margin, because that's how players hold their cards, with just the margin showing, for immediate recognition. But no, the designer puts "ephemera" there!
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.
Well, "convincing" is a matter of argument, of course. I think they add up to a larger whole--the journey of the soul, or some such thing. You are not convinced. Other people aren't convinced. Well, i'll keep trying.
Even the "decorative" needs to be explained. Why two boys on the Tarot de Marseille Sun card and not something else? Why a lady with a distaff on the BAR Sun card? These are images from Greek myths, not just advertisements for local products. Such features are a factor in people's choosing the deck and in what they do with it. For one thing, symbolic art was in fashion, and the more obscure the better, as long as it didn't seem just random. In the context of the game, erudite players could talk about the symbolism as they were playing. That might impress other players to hire them as tutors or consultants. It also might distract their opponents from thinking through their strategy
The pictures on the sides of cassoni are decorative, yet they have a symbolic meaning worthy of explanation, e.g. in terms of Petrarch's poem. The particular gods with particular months at the Schifanoia is decoration; but Warburg successfully accounted for the pairings by reference to Manilius's Astronomica
. And so on. If people were accustomed to there being an unobvious (a better word than "hidden") rationale in the combinations of motifs, surely they would do so as well in the case of artistic looking playing cards. To dismiss the parts not required for immediate recognition seems to me to require special justification, not the other way around.
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
He is saying that no theory, i.e. explanation, is needed, not that his explanation is the simplest. That's not the same thing. He wishes to offer no theory, not the simplest theory. To be sure, no theory is simpler than any theory. But it's a different principle, one deriving from what he sees as the use of the cards.
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 was 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.
I do not understand why the 24 card theory of the CY (and Brera-Brambilla?) is more plausible than a 16 card theory. All Dummett says is that following the same principle of 3:2, we get 24 trumps. What I do not see is why there should be this principle, or any principle. One deck has 16 trumps, others have 22. No principle is needed governing both. I don't know if that's parsimony, but it seems simple enough. I am open to other possibilities.
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.
I do not see Dummett making such an argument, except for the "principle of 3:2". But I see no reason why the principle of "everything is enhanced", if that's what it is, should apply to the number of cards. If cards are bigger, and there are more cards per suit, that makes them harder to hold in one's hand, a good reason to have smaller number of trumps.
And as far as the physical deck that is preserved, when I deal myself even 20 of these absurdly large and elaborate cards--the facsimiles, I mean--I start wondering whether they were made for playing a game at all, as opposed to being viewed as art, like the "tarot of Mantegna". The trumps and courts have punch holes on top, while the number cards, at least some of them, don't. If the holes were put there in making the cards, they would have all had them. But that is not to say there wasn't a smaller version that was
used for play, less "enhanced" and less awkward.
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.
I don't think we can judge which is the simpler explanation outside the larger context of how the deck, 22 as well as the CY's 24 or 16 or whatever, came to be. And that in turn can only be judged in the larger context of how good, well constructed new games come to be, and in terms of how good inventions generally come to be, and how works of art on paper came to be (we can't exclude that, for the CY).
In this way the question of tarot origins is like the question of how maggots come to develop out of mud. The simplest explanation, isolating the question from everything else, is spontaneous generation, which is hardly an explanation at all. The only possibility of an explanation for maggots is within the larger context of how insects, animals, and living things generally are generated gene. Then perhaps one will think to try experiments with mud that is isolated from mature egg-laying flies, and invent a microscope to discover how maggots come to be out of mud. One has to talk about many things other than what one is interested in to know how to look at what one is interested in.
Do inventions such as the 22 card tarot come to be all at once or step by step, improvement after improvement? If good games usually develop all at once rather than step by step, then yes, the simpler is more logical. But if not, then it is simpler, i.e. more consistent with the coming to be of new good games, to go with the more usual pattern. Or maybe it should be, what is the pattern for new inventions in general? We can't simply take the simplest hypothesis tout court
, as though it can be separated from such a context. The simplest thing is always that it occurred spontaneously all at once.
I am skeptical about getting any general principles from the history of inventions that could be fruitfully applied here, other than that there are no general principles. So I have to go to the history of art. That is why I focus on the context, artistic and political and every other context, of the time and before, in aristocratic circles. Since we don't know much at all about the tarot then, we have to go by what else was in the culture then.
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.
That is not what I said. What I meant was that for him his view, although it makes the most sense to him, is not something he's going to use as a sledge hammer to beat people up with, as though they are lunatics.
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.")
I don't believe "it's all good" at all. Arguments need to be given, facts marshalled. That's what I find so interesting about Decker's new book. He has the same general orientation that I do, but I disagree with him on many things. Is it just that I have read different books, or is there something more substantial? I think the latter, but I also have to read more books and see them from his perspective. And become more sophisticated methodologically.
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.
Well, we can often understand it well enough, if we know what 6 words are at the beginning, in roughly what order, and what 7 words are at the end, in roughly what order, give or take one or two. (Yes, Dummett's division into three groups is quite valuable.) If not, we look to the surrounding context, and the culture of the times. If someone had rearranged the three graces in the Primavera
so that one was on the right margin of the painting, we could tell easily enough that it was out of place. If not, we make our best guess. I don't have to have a place to "draw the line", here any more than I would in going from 22 word sentences I could reconstruct to ones I couldn't.
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.)
When you say "since", do you mean "after"? If so please give a reference so I can read it.
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.
By "pursuit" I mean more than just noting the differences and asking the question. Explanations have been proffered, surely by 1980, for why Temperance was put on the other side of Death, e.g. that it represented the Eucharist, which allows one to rise above death. But he doesn't pursue the issue; if he thinks it's stupid to do so, he doesn't say that. In the case of Justice, although he does say what he thinks its sense is in the high position, he doesn't say that it was
moved there, as he can't say what the original order was. Perhaps I have misunderstood or missed something obvious. I did not mean to be insulting. It seems to me perfectly reasonable not to know which was original. But I would have liked to see some discussion of which was original, Justice low or Justice high. In a discussion of which order of trumps is "original", such questions seem to me worth pursuing--or pursuing further, if you wish. Perhaps you have pursued this issue yourself, since you speak of "repositioning" a couple of sentences later (see quote below). I assume you think Justice low was original, since you speak of its being depicted along with Judgment as the "repositioning".
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.
I'd say there are different symbolic approaches within the context of the times. The only "self-indulgent" ones I can think of are those that aren't substantiated as being used in some way at that particular time and place. Otherwise you are just prejudging.
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".
Memory systems were rather important then, for memorizing speeches, etc. Tarot was a game that required a good memory. Giardano Bruno makes this point in his play Il Candelaio
(http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page. ... 23&lng=ENG
). An innkeeper suggests to another character that they play tarot. The character refuses, saying
A questo maldetto gioco non posso vincere, per che ho una pessima memoria.
(At this cursed game I cannot win, because I have a terrible memory.)
If memory systems could have been applied to such games, I have no doubt that they were. It would give a card-player a great advantage, which he could exploit against an opponent as easily as a prestidigitator could exploit his ability to move shells around in a dexterous and confusing manner. I certainly expect that such applications were not written down. Magicians' secrets were not written down either. It was too valuable. I regard this as an unexplored area rather than a non-existent one.
Another function of the cards is as symbolic art pieces, like the sequence of scenes in a fresco or frieze. Another is to display one's erudition to those assembled, for the purpose of perhaps getting hired as a tutor or consultant, or distracting one's opponent
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?
Well, yes, I'm pathetic sometimes. I should have looked it up. It's not contempt for Dummett; it's an oversight. I try to get my facts straight; everyone deserves that much respect. But sometimes I miss something. In this case, while suit- cards in Germany sometimes did have numbers on them, those that were used in the early tarot decks didn't, being in Italy. And I still think the basic point I was making was correct.
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.
I didn't say he ignored these 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.
I was using them as examples of didactic interpretations, that's all.
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?
How someone might have seen the cards, from a particular point of view that was prevalent at the time, is the application of that point of view to the cards and as such is valuable. There aren't "dozens" of such applications anyway. I doubt if there are more than one dozen. Also, I don't pick interpretations based on whatever I happen to be reading at the time. I choose the books to read based on the time, place, and themes of the cards.
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.
Without the program that Boiardo provides, the referents of the cards would be far from obvious, although the moral lesson might be more easily read and remembered. In that sense Boiardo's poem, in naming the people, provides a euhemerist interpretation for the scenes. You don't have the poem in front of you when you play.
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.
Pope Joan is not simply a matter of preference. There is a historical basis, just as much as for the eschatological.
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.
In the area of interpretation, as opposed to explanation, parsimony has no place in the interpretation of Renaissance art objects. Multiple meanings were the rule rather than the exception, as almost every writer on the subject agrees (even Umberto Eco, as I read him, although of course I might be missing the obvious unstated point). Even decoration, as art, often had multiple interpretations. In fact, what is art, except decoration?
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
Why "Stoic-Christian" and not "Platonic-Christian"? From what I read, Platonism was the dominant classical philosophy in the second quarter of the 15th century? Platonism in its Middle Platonist and Neoplatonist expression had much the same content as Stoicismm--Platonism had it first--but a different metaphysics and psychology. As far as I can tell the Platonist metaphysic and psychology was more compatible with Christianity than Stoicism.
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.
Reading your post on that subject (http://pre-gebelin.blogspot.com/2007/12 ... enary.html
), I see that you say:
Whether or not Boiardo intended anything of the sort, Viti addresses his essay to a lady of the court of Urbino and “expresses the hope that his patroness will order such a pack to be made”. (The Game of Tarot, 420.)
In other words, you don't know what Boiardo intended. He may have conceived it as simply an alternative deck for playing the regular game of tarot, which Viti has simplified for his patron.
I notice also in this essay that, in light of the content of many decks commissioned for the nobility--"Gods, pagan heroes, figures from the Roman Republic, and the like", you say
If Tarot had originated as a deck commissioned by the nobility, then the standard deck would almost certainly have reflected such sophisticated humanist content.
The implication I take away is that you think the deck did not originate as a commission by the nobility. Is that something you want to say? I have already quoted the sentence in which he considers the context that of a "court"; I recall that Dummett said somewhere in Ch. 4 or 20 that it was invented for the aristocracy. That it has the subjects it has does not mean it wasn't originally done for the aristocracy.
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.
What I said (not what you say) is something that was said in the Renaissance as well, e.g. by Alberti in "Rings".
his 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.
Alberti is a perfectly respectable Renaissance art theorist, essayist, playwright, architect, and designer of medals. His writings were very influential in shaping how people did and looked at art. It is not randomized prompts, or Rorschach. It is more like Petrarch's method of interpretation, applied to images. Art historians have written much about the essay.
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!
Well, I don't know what the rules were, so I can't say very much. Also, I don't know if they were the same after 1440 as before. Part of the boom in popularity might have been because of rule changes. But other decks, like Boiardo's or the Sola-Busca, could also be used to play that game, or decks with many other motifs. They somehow weren't popular.
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.
I am trying to go from the unknown to the known. There is as much basis in fact as for any other works of art. On the one hand, you say their being works of art is irrelevant, on the other hand you frequently use other works of art as a basis for interpreting particular cards. You want it both ways, while denying the same to me, on the grounds that yours are obvious and mine are not. But if they were done for the aristocracy, there is no reason to think that in some ways the meanings were not obvious. Among other things, the aristocracy needed to think it was smarter than ordinary people.
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.
]If there's something relevant I don't understand about Renaissance culture, please explain. I want to learn. There is much I don't know about Renaissance culture.
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.
I offered them not for their insights into the true purpose of the cards, but as examples of how the cards were seen, as more than a game whose subjects were irrelevant.
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.
To a degree, my interpretations are for the sheer pleasure of making them. I think that humanists and their followers would have found similar discourses entertaining as well, and hopefully didactic as well. But the interpretations I offer are always in reference to a specific historical context and specific texts or series of images. That's the historical framework.
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.
How would you put it then, rather than "how they were understood"? Here I am not objecting, just trying to understand your position.
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.
Do you have any other argument besides "obviousness"? That's the point at issue. It seems to me that if the cards were designed for the courts, they would have had non-obvious meanings, to show how superior the aristocracy was to ordinary people.
In reply to a point in your later post that since many of my interpretations have to do with later contexts (i.e. the Ferrara court in the early 16th century, or alchemy of the 15th-17th centuries) they are irrelevant for tarot history: when the subject is tarot of the first half of the 15th century, I deal with the courtly milieus of that time; when the subject is tarot later, I deal with milieus of that time. Explanation only enters in when there is something new, and even then it is hard to say what leads to what, as opposed to a shared perspective.
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.
I am not an expert on Renaissance interpretation, so I rely on others for guidelines.
Well, that's enough for now. I dealt with some of your later remarks in my post to Marco. I have read your post many times, Michael, thank you. Maybe something will rub off on me.