Dummett's "three groups" in a "Dummett and Icongraphy" thread. For over a decade I have been talking about Dummett's iconographic contributions, emphasizing the three sections analysis, and for most of that time I was the only
person talking about it, so I should probably respond to your post from a couple days ago. You suggest that what is needed is a "refinement" of Dummett's analysis, and I began that process in 2000. Mine may still be the only detailed interpretation of the trump cycle which attempts to address Dummett's challenge -- why these subjects in this sequence? -- while being consistent with his tripartite analysis. My 2004 page, The Riddle of Tarot
, was named in honor of his iconographic insights and challenges, and some of the content of that page holds up pretty well, despite a decade's worth of subsequent "refinements" and, mainly, simplification. So, I'll comment.
(TLDR Alert: Because I'm answering a long post in detail, and because this is the same stuff I've been talking about forever [yawn] it goes on and on. Presumably only 4 or 5 people will bother reading through it, and that is probably 2 or 3 more than should
bother. Still, maybe there are a couple lurkers who will get something out of the exercise. At the least, it will offer a very different approach to Dummett's "three sections" analysis.)
mikeh wrote:In this post I want to examine Dummett's methodology in defining his three groups. There are two parts to this post. One is that of how he came up with them, a development from his comparison of the A, B, and C orders. The second part is how he characterizes the three, five years later. I have questions about both, and other things I think can be said. What I end up with is a refinement of Dummett that I don't doubt will need further refinement.
The first task is to understand
his contributions, hopefully better than he did. Dummett's two biggest iconographic contributions were 1) framing the iconographic question, which he did perfectly, and 2) the three-section analysis of the dozen+ historical orderings. (Of course, he made countless other observations that were of iconographic significance.) He got that 3-part analysis right, he made a strong case that Italians in the first century of Tarot recognized those three types of subject matter, and he glimpsed the iconographic implications. He did not pursue those implications, nor did he understand them well. Instead, based on what others had done, he seems to have concluded that "the meaning of Tarot" path invariably led to a swamp of puerile and unproductive speculation.
The vast majority of what has been written since then tends to confirm this.
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.
He never gets to that "original arrangement", of course; instead, he will arrive an approximation of it which he thinks is good enough.
He never pursues that "original arrangement", of course.
Moreover, unless you've discovered a document describing the Ur Tarot, no one has ever "gotten to that original arrangement". Lots of folks write about it, making up stories about 14-trump decks and the like, but Dummett was a careful historian. His point was precisely that we don't know, and we can't be certain in our speculations. Because we don't know that original ordering we are not in a position to figure out the original meaning, if there was one. Speculating about speculation is not doing history, it is historical fiction. His own explicitly provisional
conclusion was, there was no original meaning to the cycle as a whole. That seems to be the opposite of what you suggest.
So what is it which you consider his "approximation" of the Ur Tarot? Did Dummett present it as such, as an approximation of the original design? Where did he say something which you interpret as "this is good enough"? I don't see where you've presented those quotes, if they exist.
The next step is the observation:
There is, however, no one trump order which we could set over against that of the Tarot de Marseille as being the predominant Italian one; rather, the evidence yields a number of distinct orders used in different places or by different players.
Why the differences? He answers:
The different orders for the trumps that we find in Italy .must represent different practices adopted in different cities, presumably at a stage earlier than that at which numerals came regularly to be inscribed on the trump cards. Evidently, quite a short time after the game of Tarot had first been invented, players in various cities or regions developed local peculiarities in their modes of play, which, in Italy, extended to the conventional order of the trumps;...
How to find, among the three orders, an original meaning:
Is that his question? You imply that this is his quest, to find the original meaning. Where did he pursue that? It seems that what you have just quoted is precisely his rationale for NOT doing what you claim he did. He goes on to say, very directly, that he won't try that: "I am not going to advance another such theory. I do not even want to take a stand about the theories that have been advanced. The question is whether a theory is needed at all."
You seem to be misrepresenting Dummett rather flagrantly.
mikeh wrote:You will have noticed that the position of the Death card has changed from the final section to the middle. That indicates one weakness of his division into three groups. They are not entirely a result of an examination of what moves around and what doesn't in the A, B, and C orders. They are also the result of his characterizations. In fact, since the order of the final section is invariant until the last two cards, the middle section could stop anywhere before then.
Hmmm... so you see no cut-off point between the two sections and, as you say elsewhere, find the "transition" to be "awkward". First, let me point out that no transition is necessary and, in the case of the lowest and middle sections, there is none. The Pope and lower cards are of one kind, the middle trumps of another. By definition there are breaks
between sections, although there could also be transitions. In the case of Death, (or Death and winged Temperance/psychopomp in Tarot de Marseille), there is a perfect
transition. Death is the greatest transition, being both the end of this life and the beginning of the next. If we look to the illustrated copies of De Casibus
, what we find most commonly illustrated is the death of the great men. On the other hand, it is one of the Four Last Things, the cornerstones of the afterlife. That is the most dramatic break/transition between the two most dramatic worlds of our existence. What could be more blatant, less subtle?
More generally, most of us know this stuff. Let's assume that most of us know the meaning of things like Love with Cupid
. Most of us have seen that symbolism in 21st-century greeting cards and in advertisements -- the symbolism is still current. Let's assume that we know the meaning of things like the Wheel of Fortune
, Lady Justice
with her sword and scales, Father Time
with his hourglass, the Grim Reaper
, etc. If we recognize such conventional symbolism, then we should be able to see that the middle cards are of a similar kind, allegorical personifications. If we are only a little bit more knowledgeable and sophisticated, then we should also recognize such allegories as different from the lowest subjects, and different than the highest ones. That is, if we are familiar with period works including a Ranks of Man motif, representatives of Mankind with Emperor and Pope as highest figures, then we should recognize the subject matter of the lowest trumps, at least in general terms. Likewise, if we are familiar with Christian works including eschatological motifs, then we should also recognize the subject matter of the highest trumps, again, in general terms.
Having different types of subject matter in a single work is not unusual. Having them grouped within that work is typical. Often, these things are grouped into what art historians term registers, and in some works -- especially architectural designs -- these are laid out in distinct rows. As natural as this is, it is not something which many Tarot enthusiasts can grasp. Arbitrary septenaries, based on nothing but numerological assumptions? Sure. Different groups based on different types of subject matter? Unimaginable.
In Tarot, these are recognizable groupings identified by conventional markers. This permits a novel work of art to be understandable via its conventional elements. The Emperor and Pope, as the highest of the low-ranking cards, could not be more clear if they came with flashing lights and sirens. They are the most characteristic subjects in hundreds of works of allegorical art in which they invariably announce a Ranks of Man, and they define a transition point between groups. This is the context
in which Matto, Bagatto, Empress, and Popess are to be understood.
Each of the more ambiguous subjects in the middle and highest sections is paired with a related and emphatically conventional one: the Triumphal Chariot is paired with Love; the Time/Old Man/Hermit card is paired with Fortune; the Traitor is paired with Death. The obscure Fire/Tower card is paired with, and triumphs over, the Devil; The ambiguous World card is paired with the Angel of Resurrection. There is nothing particularly obscure about the three Moral Virtues or the Star, Moon, and Sun, which are also made clear by their grouping with related subjects. (There is, of course, no end to the manufactured mystery imposed by Tarot enthusiasts.)
These smaller groupings are one of the most important aspects of developing a detailed interpretation within the three sections. (What you term "refinement" of Dummett's three sections.) There are eight duos (like Matto and Bagatto, Empress and Emperor, etc.) and two trios (the Virtues and the Star/Moon/Sun). This requires an approach directly opposed to that of most Tarot enthusiasts. Instead of taking a card out of context, (deconstruction), and indulging in absurd overinterpretation of inconsequential details, (revisioning), to create extravagant fictions, understanding the historical significance of the subjects requires viewing the cards within
their historical context, as part of a unified hierarchy. Groups within sections within an overall design.
As an example of such an affine pair, consider the Matto and Bagatto
. They have many more things in common with each other than they do with the other cards, and they are both at the bottom of the hierarchy: the Fool being the complete outsider, and the Magician being the lowest of the trumps per se. Adjacency is not accidental, it is the composition of the cycle. As a pair, they are perfectly complementary: Fool and Deceiver. As symbols of Folly and Deception, they epitomize the two main categories of error, (unwitting versus knowing), and they are both damned for it. Being so neatly paired makes their individual meaning understandable -- for those who recognize this aspect of Tarot's design, it eliminates much of the potential confusion. (Nonsense like the Wise Fool or Initiated Magus, for example.)
These affine groups within the three sections are also important for evaluating Ur Tarot theories. Ex hypothesi
-- if there was
a well-designed ordering in the Ur Tarot -- then these affinity groups in that original design would have been well-ordered. That is, they would either be adjacent or equally spaced. The fact that most of these affine groups are adjacent or equally spaced in most orderings both confirms their identity and suggests that their common ancestor might have been a perfectly coherent design. Conversely, if these groups were not systematic in this way, then Dummett and Ross are correct that there was no coherent overall design to the deck. This criterion eliminates most of the known orderings from being a reflection of the Ur Tarot. The Bolognese ordering, (first column in Dummett's listings on page 399), and Tarot de Marseille, are the only two contenders.
Back to Death: With regard to the Traitor/Death group, a coherent design requires Death to be considered among the middle trumps, and the Devil is to be included along with the Fire/Tower and higher cards. Even ignoring the affine groupings, the dividing point at Death is pretty clear, albeit conditional. If the highest trumps show some distinctive indication of representing the Four Last Things, (Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell), then Death is in the highest group. Otherwise, Death is in the middle group with the rest of the conventional personifications. Because there is no clear presentation of the Last Things, Death is in the middle section. Dummett was confused about this, but both of his analyses were arguably reasonable.
mikeh wrote:Notice also that he has decided on a definite group for all the virtues: they belong in the middle section, "conditions of life". The B order, in which Justice is the final trump, has been set aside in this case, even though his guess for where the tarot originated is Ferrara, where the B order is best attested.
The Eastern ordering is, for that reason among others, obviously derivative. If the card had been intended to be in that position, then it would have shown the archangel Michael with sword and scales rather than Lady Justice. This is not too subtle.
mikeh wrote:Finally, notice that he doesn't have one general characterization for all the trumps in each group. The first group is the Bagatto and the papal and imperial powers. That, indeed, is how they are found; but it's two characterizations, one merely Italian for "least". One solution is to include the Matto as part of the first group. Then the group could be defined as "good guys and bad guys". Or better, I think, since Popes and Emperors aren't always good guys, "high and low in society". It is like the "stations of man" motif in the "Tarot of Mantegna" but just the extremes.
For the sake of those morons who may read that and think that you are confirming that the E-Series pattern book is a Tarot deck, or something closely related to a Tarot deck, let me note that it is not. Moreover, there are hundreds of other examples of a Ranks of Man motif culminating in figures of an emperor and pope.
Back to the point, Dummett did a great deal of iconographic identification and analysis, but he never attempted to make sense of the overall cycle. In fact, he didn't think that it ever did make sense in a coherent manner. Why did he not pursue the iconography side of it more deeply? Presumably Dummett did not wish to get involved in the traditional iconographic bullshit, instead being mainly concerned with the history of his subject. He explicitly declined to offer an interpretation of his own, and declined to critique those of writers like Moakley and Decker. (In various places he did critique some of the outlandish interpretations of the occultists.) Instead, he offered the rather general characterizations which I have quoted repeatedly for a decade now, and which you recapitulate here. He noted some of the obvious iconographic factors which should be apparent to all, and he showed that this tripartite division of subject matter was consistent with the reordering of the trumps in different locales, something not
at all obvious. It is an amazing fact that nearly every early ordering we have recorded is unique. They varied quite a bit, especially in the middle trumps. Despite that, the trumps above the Devil were not demoted below it, and trumps below the Pope were not promoted above it. This tends to confirm the fact that people in 15th-century Italy recognized the different types of subject matter, and kept them distinct.
As you suggest, Dummett seems to have had no real grasp of the lowest trumps, and he declined to characterize them at all, either in 1980 or 1985. This failure is odd, given the commonplace nature of the Ranks of Man motif in allegorical cycles, most famously the Dance of Death
. He was aware of this but I don't think that he ever drew the appropriate conclusion. As with the pop-culture Tarot enthusiasts, this failure is probably the result of not looking at the cards in context, as part of a unified hierarchical cycle. Dummett failed to even recognize the fact that the Fool was the lowest ranking allegorical figure, considering it separate. Moreover, his statement of the three sections explicitly excludes the Virtues, rather than simply noting that in some orderings Justice was redefined to represent Judgment and re-positioned accordingly. "Here's the rule; there is one exception; this explains it." The main value of his analysis is that, by pointing out the trumps above the Devil were not demoted below it, and trumps below the Pope were not promoted above it, he offers (indirect) 15th-century support for the three types of subject matter.
mikeh wrote:The third group is "spiritual and celestial powers". He does not explain how lightning or a tower (he notes that one or the other is represented, usually both) is a spiritual or celestial power. Possibly since it comes from the sky, it is celestial. If it is from a divine source, it is spiritual.
Yes, the name was commonly Fire or Lightning and it does come from the sky, as has been discussed again recently. But again, Dummett is not attempting to explain it all. He does just the opposite: he explains it away
, first by clarifying what the real question is, and second by arguing that no answer is needed. "If we do not [find a plausible answer], that may not indicate that we have failed to solve the riddle; there may be no riddle to solve." It seems pointless, if not disingenuous, to criticize him for not doing what he considered not worth doing when he offered an alternative
. He gave his blessing to anyone wishing to pursue that meaning, but he refused to take up the challenge himself. His argument that the cycle may have been a unicorn hunt, chasing what does not exist, is at least as plausible a priori
as the alternative, and given more than two centuries of supposed unicorn sightings, most of them laughably bogus, his view seems well confirmed.
Judging from most of what I've seen published and posted, here and elsewhere over the last 15 years, he appears to have been correct. We all know that you cannot explain the trumps as a coherent work of cyclic art, instead offering year after year of failed hunches, mostly based on recycled New Age folklore. Dummett could not explain it as a coherent work either, but he offered an explanation for that: maybe there is no riddle to be solved. He said there seems to be a vague hierarchy with vaguely distinct sections, but no systematic meaning. Ross has recently made that same argument about the highest trumps, and in great detail. Whether in general terms or specific detail, it is the strongest "explanation" of the trumps ever offered. That is why his is the explanation to beat, the challenger against which all comers must be compared, the thinking-man's conventional wisdom, the default position, the... dare I say it to one so uncomprehending as you? The Null Hypothesis!
He took the conservative approach. His is the best explanation not because it explains everything but because it explains away
the need for the ten-thousand scattered interpretations which change from month to month even from the same writer. I happen to think that Dummett was mistaken, and my primary interest in Tarot is attempting to make a good enough case so that my reading of the trumps may seem more plausible than his,... but he's still (and by far) the best thing ever published on Tarot iconography.
mikeh wrote:Also, one of his spiritual powers, if not two, is at the beginning of that part and two at the end. That would make for a disjointed narrative, if the designer had thought in such terms.
So... the Devil should be on the same level as God or his Judgment and New World? Okay, if you say so. In any case, Dummett didn't try to present a coherent narrative because, again, he didn't find one and didn't think that there was one.
Let me try.
Narrative: Deliver us from evil.
(Cf. the Lord's Prayer.)
Devil and Fire from Heaven.
Fire from Heaven trumps the Devil.
Revelation 20:7-9 And when the thousand years shall be finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go forth, and seduce the nations, which are over the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, and shall gather them together to battle, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they came upon the breadth of the earth, and encompassed the camp of the saints, and the beloved city. And there came down fire from God out of heaven, and devoured them....
Narrative: Signs of the Second Advent.
Star and Moon and Sun.
Increasing light; an obvious mnemonic.
There are numerous references for this; I'll cite only three.
Matthew 24-29-30 And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven....
Luke 21:7,25 And they asked him, saying: Master, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when they shall begin to come to pass? [...] And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations....
Ecclesiastes 12:1-2,5 Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the time of affliction come, and the years draw nigh of which thou shalt say: They please me not: Before the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars be darkened... [...] And they shall fear high things, and they shall be afraid in the way, the almond tree shall flourish, the locust shall be made fat, and the caper tree shall be destroyed: because man shall go into the house of his eternity....
Narrative: Thy kingdom come.
(Cf. the Lord's Prayer.)
Angel of Resurrection and New World.
Revelation 20 comes before Revelation 21
Rev 20:12-13 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing in the presence of the throne, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged by those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up their dead that were in them; and they were judged every one according to their works.
Rev 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone....
Let's imagine that we are creating a game of triumphs. For the highest triumphs, we want to show the two great eschatological triumphs of Christ, over Satan and over the last enemy (Cor 15), Death. So we choose Rev 20:7-9 and select a Devil and Fire from Heaven as two cards to represent the first triumph. Rev 20:12-13 resurrects the dead, and Rev 21 is the reward, glory, triumph over Death.
So the narrative is 1) deliver us from evil, 2) Christ is coming, 3) Christ has come.
It doesn't seem particularly disjointed to me. Moreover, if that meaning was the intent then it explains the selections and ordering quite clearly. It does not rely on wild-ass interpretations of the subjects, but uses Fire from heaven to represent fire from heaven. (For the dolts who can't understand why fire from heaven would be shown hitting a tower
, one can only have pity and point to numerous works of eschatological art, knowing that they still won't figure it out.) This reading does not rely on taking the trumps out of context, but insists on keeping them in context, the context of the entire cycle and the historical context of the times as well as the sequential context of the section and the local context of the affine groups. Instead of relying on the most obscure and far-fetched sources, it relies on the most widely known, revered, and influential text of the Western canon. Instead of cherry-picking subjects at random from an encyclopedic source (like the Tower of Dis from Dante), it relies on the most important subjects, the ones which would be meaningfully abstracted by someone creating an epitome.
mikeh wrote:In the middle group, however, it would seem that one characterization does work for all of them: "conditions of life". But are the virtues really "conditions of life"? They are conditions from the point of view of morality; they are not things that happen to us. When it comes to the Hanged Man, is his condition a "condition of life"? One answer might be to interpret that card as the condition of being betrayed, a condition suffered by someone not shown on the card. But then it would seem that lightning and the devil could be considered "conditions of life", too, things people have to put up with. Even the moon and the sun are conditions of life; where would we be without the sun? And where would sailors and fishermen be without the moon and the stars, the moon to tell them the tides and the stars as guides, and both to give them light at night? Our middle section is getting rather long!
Again, it's just not that hard. For example, it may be a mystery to you
whether Betrayal is a circumstance associated with life, specifically with the downfall-and-death end of life. However, that is no mystery to anyone who is familiar with the stories of great men. (Cf. De Casibus
for examples, or Boethius, or Dante, the Life of Christ, etc.) In the case of secular heroes, like Caesar, or in the case of Jesus himself, betrayal is both the greatest of sins and the most characteristic downfall of great men. That is why at the bottom circle of Dante's Inferno
we have the traitors, and why in Satan's three mouths we find Brutus, Cassius, and Judas.
mikeh wrote:Perhaps we are meant to exclude impersonal conditions like lightning. The devil works through persons but is a power rather than a person. But the virtues, to the extent they are conditions, are also impersonal, i.e. conditions in the sense that they are obligations we have. They have to do with persons in the way that the devil has to do with persons. Perhaps it should be "dealing with ourselves and other humans". That would include virtues, as modes of dealing with people, but exclude non-human powers. It is then a section about human activity. But then where do we put Death? It is a power, but also ourselves in a particular state. Is it then transitional? In this sense, even the shame of being depicted upside-down is about us, and so in the second group.
mikeh wrote:I don't think I've raised any unsurmountable problems here. The three groups have boundaries erected by the need to respect that localities changed the order within groups but did not place trumps outside the group. The only exception is that Ferrara and Venice (the localities of the B order), by the time anybody recorded the order there, had put Justice at the end instead of the middle, on the grounds that God's Justice needed to be emphasized more than human beings'. In addition, how we divide the groups depends on our identification of patterns: in particular, there is a change from conditions produced by persons and our virtuous responses to these conditions, to something else, powers far beyond us and over which we have no control, spiritual and in the sky.
These are interesting ideas. The main problem is that there is still no reason for the order as a whole, or for the particular order of the trumps within each group. People have proposed solutions, or the lack of any need for solutions. I propose that we look at methodological omissions on Dummett's part.
Yeah... but before we get to his "omissions", let's look at your conclusion that there is no reason for the order as a whole. If we restrict ourselves to Dummett's conclusions, then of course there's no reason for the order as a whole. Again, that's his point.
On the other hand, I have argued that there is a very dramatic, systematic, and conventional order to the whole, and one which is consistent with Dummett's findings. In fact, one which tends to be confirmed by his findings. The lowest trumps form a Ranks of Man. He didn't get that. The middle trumps are a vita humanae
, a life of man. He didn't quite get that either, except in the most general terms. This type of thing was common, both in Wheel of Fortune (rise and fall) and in the Ages of Man forms. In Tarot, the designer chose to emphasize the rise-and-fall motif for his vita humanae
, although the passage of time (from successes to downfall) and the inclusion of Time along with Fortune suggest that both forms were intended. The highest trumps are eschatological, as discussed above. Here's a nice print which combines both the Wheel of Fortune and Ages of Man ideas, along with a Triumph of Death/Time over this world and Triumph over Death in the next. (BTW, again for the dolts in the audience, just because the World, Moon, and Sun appear in the woodcut does not make it a cosmograph. Seriously.)
So when you claim that there is no meaning to the order as a whole based on Dummett's analysis into three types of subject matter, you might want to consider an interpretation based on his findings, one which has been discussed here before: 1) Mankind, 2) Fortune and Virtue in this life, 3) triumphs over Sin and Death in the next. There is an overall order to the trump cycle. There are lots of ways to describe it, but it isn't that hard to get the gist, and the exact name makes no difference. Whether you call it a vita humanae
, speculum principis
, summa salvationis
, or my preferred term, a Triumph of Death, it amounts to the same thing. It is explained by Dummett's three sections, even though he didn't see it himself.
Okay, let's get to Part II, where you lecture Dummett on historical methodology, and how wrong he was not to indulge in speculation about imaginary decks.
mikeh wrote:Dummett started to correct one part of his problem in his 1985 essay but didn't follow through. That is, we can eliminate the B order as not original. Not only is its placement of Justice a second thought, but its placement of the Papess as well. It has been put next to the Pope on the grounds that as the Pope's wife, spouses should be near each other. The main reason for this would be that the Popess was understood as the Church, which in Aquinas is metaphorically the wife of the Pope. This is likely a rationalization of its previous placement, where the relationship to the Pope was not so clear. If the Popess represents the Church, the relationship to her spouse is not so clear next to the Bagatto, two cards away from her husband, as it is next to the Pope.
This is just a statement your views du jour, with no relation to anything Dummett said. Yet again, he doesn't have the problem you assign to him, as he is not undertaking to explain the trump cycle. He does in fact point out numerous obvious elements like the fact that the Eastern orderings are derivative. In that way he provides a lot of good iconographic material for someone who is attempting to solve his Riddle of Tarot but, again, he explicitly declines to undertake that task himself.
mikeh wrote:Another question is raised by his observation, in 1985 (hinted at in 1980), that the Popess might have changed to Prudence, the fourth cardinal virtue that is missing from the tarot as we have it. This raises a more general point: if one card can change its subject, change into something else, why not others? There are no celestials in the Cary-Yale, but there are theological virtues, which are missing from every other tarot deck (though included, along with the missing cardinal virtue, in the Minchiate, right where the celestials would be in the tarot).
This is just speculation about fantasy decks. (And your fictional version of CY seems wildly implausible.) Dummett's methodology was, for the most part, to focus on facts rather than guesswork about imagined decks. Folks who spend much of their time in fictional worlds they've created may forget that not everyone lives there with them.
mikeh wrote:The general point here is that Dummett in his original presentation did not take into account as many temporal and developmental considerations as he could have, in particular, that among these orders A, B, and C, we might be able to tell whether one was later than the other two, even if we can't tell which was first. And then we might be able to make better sense of the order.
I'm guessing that most of what you can cite in this area you got from Dummett, either directly or indirectly. In terms of the taxonomy and dating of Tarot patterns, he was the guy who provided the foundation for both later playing-card historians and speculative fiction writers, and he even offered a few suggestions along the lines you want to pursue. Some of his suggestions, like the position of Justice in the Eastern orderings being derivative, were clearly sound, while others, like the occultist's "missing virtue" problem which he thoughtlessly adopted as a legitimate question, seem silly. But the only methodological issue here is how much you want to speculate. He "omitted" most of your speculations, much to his credit. Using iconography to date decks is weak at best, and Dummett simply did not pursue the question you want to impose on him into distant realms of imagination. Dummett was not tracking down the Ur Tarot, except to the extent that historical evidence tends to eliminate some contenders. You want to draw more tenuous, highly speculative conclusions.
There is another methodological omission. He has regarded variation in the order as what needed to be accounted for. In fact, there is also the reverse. The invariability of certain patterns, once the B order has been removed from consideration, also needs to be accounted for. (See my earlier post in this thread, "The principle of variability", viewtopic.php?f=11&t=975&start=50#p14457
.) It is normal for different localities to have different ways of doing things. But why are the first five and the 12th through 19th invariably in the same order, while the others aren't? I suggest, as I said previously, that there was first a period of experimentation and then a period of conformity, with invariable parts of the sequence representing conformity. If so, the pattern that needs to be explained is the one consisting of the cards that change in the order.
You seem confused here, and as you have jumbled different questions it is confusing. The idea that the "pattern" to be explained is the "cards that change in the order", i.e., the part that doesn't display a pattern, is nonsensical. Let me try to sort out some of these ideas.
First, it is unusual for different cities to have their own deck of cards. The exception to this rule is the first century of Tarot, in Italy. Given the conservative nature of card players and the card makers who cater to them, the variations we see in Italy call for an explanation. One would naturally expect trump orders to change very little, as they tended to do outside Italy. And as expected, in general terms Tarot was standardized early and virtually all the decks had 22 allegorical cards with similar subjects. On the other hand, during the first century of Tarot in Italy there were many changes in the deck. These were mostly minor changes in iconography and ordering, different for each locale. So why did each city or area want to change the deck a bit while retaining essentially the same 22 subjects and general ordering?
I have offered the "civic pride" hypothesis. Each locale wanted to play Tarot, with a deck which was recognizably Tarot, but which was also recognizably their own. It was the regional equivalent of the wealthy having their decks personalized with family heraldry or mottoes.
This variation is not well described as "experimentation". Many have used that and similar terms, as if someone was looking for the "right" design. There seems to be an implicit assumption that the meaning, in arcane detail, was important, that the trumps were redesigned because the esoteric or topical content needed to be corrected or enhanced in some way. This is a holdover from the occultists and New Agers. Virtually all of this diversity was within the so-called "archetypal" Tarot decks, with their 22 standard trumps. It was intentional diversity for its own sake, for the sake of civic pride. It only applied in Italy, and it only happened once, during the initial diaspora of the game. There is no "decreasing variability", so there is no "principle of decreasing variability".
Those changes need to be explained but, on the other hand, so do the commonalities, the things that did not change. The things which didn't change, or which didn't change much, are informative in themselves. For example, the three sections is something that didn't change, and it gives us great insight into the overall meaning of the trump cycle. It allows us to figure out a generic or synoptic meaning for Tarot, apart from any speculation about the Ur Tarot. Likewise, the common design of the middle trumps (Love and Chariot are generally below Time/Hermit and Fortune, while Traitor and Death are above) tells us something about the generic meaning of that section. The middle trumps show triumphs, reversals, and downfall in that order. It is a speculum principis
or vita humanae
mikeh wrote:So we have, as earlier cards, at least the following: Emperor Empress Love Chariot Wheel Time Temperance Fortitude Justice Angel World. And in the CY, Prudence Hope Faith Charity.
This strikes me as a modification of Petrarch and Boccaccio. If Chariot = Chastity, as it does in the CY. And Angel = Fame, then we have Love, Chastity, Fortune, Time, Fame, Eternity. Fortune is in Boccaccio but not Petrarch. In addition, Petrarch has Death. Since Death is in all the extant 15th century orders, it was probably there whenever the others were. Its invariable position (which is why excluded it initially) is due to other causes, namely the desire for it to be 13th. There is a story here, Petrarch's, but modified so that it can apply even to people who aren't famous, adding also the virtues needed to end the story well.
The story of the trumps is not so much a modification of Petrarch, as Moakley would have it, but something novel yet rather similar to Petrarch's Trionfi
. (Non nova sed nove
.) Again, there were lots of such stories, vita humanae
. Some vitae
were based on the Ages of Man (Time
) and, even though Petrarch's was not, the most popular commentary which was included with most printed editions of the Trionfi
was based on that. This shows how interchangeable the two narratives were. Other vitae
were based on the rise and fall of great men (Fortune
). Some were explicitly about Mankind or Everyman while others might be, ostensibly, a speculum principis
. By extension they were all telling a universal contemptu mundi
tale of man's sorry lot in this post-lapsarian life. Boccaccio's hugely popular and influential De Casibus
was an encyclopedia of such stories. (They are sometimes called "tragedies of Fortune", or Medieval tragedy. Chaucer's Monk's Tale
is another famous example.) Tarot, by including the Virtues, (remedies for the vicissitudes of Fortune), is also rather like Petrarch's De Remediis
, an encyclopedia of the vagaries of fickle Fortuna, good and bad.
mikeh wrote:Huck has proposed Pope and Popess instead of Time and Fortune in the CY. If Petrarch was a defining factor, then Time should be there. Between Pope and Fortune it is hard to tell which would be original. But I say Fortune because it is in the Brera Brambilla and Boccaccio's version of the Trionfi. Allegorically Fortune works better, too. That the Emperor and Empress are there is because (a) there was a game called Emperors with at least one of these; (b) it gives the players someone to identify with; and (c) both are in the CY. But this is a minor point. Neither option changes what I have to say to any degree.
So we have three methodological omissions:
1. the variability in cards' position is important, in determining what comes first.
2. the original sequence might have been smaller than the 22 we have.
3. there may have been subjects in the deck earlier that were replaced by other subjects.
Put a different way, his development of A, B, and C, made three unjustified assumptions:
1. That the variability within the different groups is unimportant for establishing an original order, solely due to local initiatives after the original deck had been designed.
2. That the original deck had 22 cards.
3. That the original cards all had the same subjects as they did on most of the later lists.
We appear to have no "methodological omissions", at least none which you have identified.
1. You have failed to demonstrate your claim about using differences in iconography or ordering to rewrite the Tarot history timeline. Until you have built something substantially beyond what Dummett and other playing-card historians have done, until you have shown
that this approach "is important", it is premature to declare that approach of any value whatsoever.
2. Fantasizing about phantom decks is a fool's game. Dummett didn't spend a lot of time speculating about imaginary decks, but this is not a methodological failing -- it is a strength. Wasting time on make-believe decks is itself a failing, but yours rather than Dummett's.
3. Same as #2 -- fantasy decks are for those who want to avoid
understanding what Tarot was actually about. Whether it's a fictional number of cards, fictional subject matter, fictional ordering, whatever, it's just a childish game to waste one's time, rather than historical "method". Dummett stayed close to the known facts, and his neglect of your method is a virtue.
You may argue that floppy shoes and a red nose are important to your method but, until you show some significant results, it is no criticism of Dummett to point out that he didn't wear the clown costume.
mikeh wrote:I need to say more about the second assumption. There is enough evidence, both internal to the various orders and external in documents, to make that a shaky assumption. Internally, there is the variability of 12 of the cards (or 13 if the change from Prudence to Popess is included). Externally, there are the various documents about "13 figures", "14 figures", "70 cards". In the cards themselves, there is the strange absence of any trumps between Death and Angel in the extant CY. There is the strange absence of Devil and Fire in any of the PMB or its cognate decks. And why Devil after death, following a sequence that includes virtues and no vices? These can all be rationalized, but it remains evidence.
Or, to go back to facts and to stay close to the facts, all early Tarot decks (except CY, which was expanded) appear to have had 22 trumps. They all appear to have had a fairly consistent set of subjects. All of them lost cards along the way. None of Lothar's favorite subjects, like the E-Series, the expanded CY deck, the missing cards in any
decks, the replacement cards in V-S deck, the unknown 14 painted figures, the 70-card decks, and so on, establish even one deck which is not either archetypal (the 22 standard trumps) or, in the case of the expanded CY deck, an expansion of the 22 standard trumps. (This is discounting, of course, the novelty decks like Boiardo/Viti and Sola Busca.)
That's why they're called phantom decks -- no one has ever actually seen one or read a description of one in historical sources. Anyone who focuses on the factual history of Tarot is going to omit those figments from most of their discussions. They are unsubstantiated, implausible, and unproductive, a trifecta of worthless. Is it a certainty that the simple explanation, based on known decks, is correct and the many ad hoc inventions you delight in imagining are just that, nothing more than figments of your imagination? No. It is, however, common sense to prefer one simple, consistent explanation based on fact over a dozen arbitrary special pleadings which vary from one writer to the next. Doctor Invincibilis strikes again. (Doc Ock to his friends.)
mikeh wrote:I want to emphasize that what I am doing here is not affirming any of the possibilities that I call "omissions" as part of a hypothesis.
So... you aren't actually saying what you're saying? Good to know. In fact, of course, your entire post affirmed an hypothesis, namely, that Dummett erred by not sharing your imaginative world of phantom decks. Just curious, but why doesn't that disclaimer go at the top of your post? Something like: "I don't actually believe what I'm going to say, and I have no refinements that I would affirm -- I'm just trolling."
mikeh wrote:I am merely removing their denial, their elimination from consideration. Simplification (or greater complexity) can come later, with more facts. But first we need the alternatives, given present knowledge.
Let's explore that a bit, since you think it so important. I hadn't realized what an arrogant, obnoxious bastard Dummett was. Denial, eh? "Don't consider this possibility." Where are your quotes?
1. Did Dummett DENY THE POSSIBILITY that we could learn anything from the variations? If he didn't say anything like that, denying and eliminating and so on, and if no one has ever made that claim on his behalf, and yet you post a long argument against this strawman position which you attribute to him... WTF?
2. Did Dummett DENY THE POSSIBILITY that the original sequence might be other than the 22 trumps, or WTF?
3. Did Dummett DENY THE POSSIBILITY that subject matter might have changed, or WTF?
I'm guessing that you know Dummett actually discussed the variations you mention, he just didn't speculate as much as you. He drew conservative conclusions which remained close to the facts, and which have tended to hold up well over the decades. You also know that he admitted the possibility that the original deck might have been different, rather than denying it. He did so explicitly and repeatedly. So again, WTF?
Wow -- there's a bunch more stuff in your post, but I'll cut this short. From this point onward you say virtually nothing about Dummett. You mention again the need for refinement concerning "awkward transitions", but you don't seem to understand either Dummett's agnostic position on the three sections or the actual meaning of them, in which there are no awkward transitions -- there are clean breaks. Given that and the fact that you've already let the cat out of the bag, emphasizing that you don't actually have anything defensible to say, I'll just comment on the final section in general terms.
Most of your final comments concern phantom decks, including your imagined version of CY. You speculate about the "14 figures" which relate to no deck at all and whose subjects are wholly unknown. Talk about castles in the air, building a fictional deck on some painted images that have no known relationship to any Tarot deck -- "ridiculous" scarcely covers it. You speculate about the E-Series pattern book, also not a deck of any kind, and cosmographs, which are not reflected in any known deck. Your speculations cover many of the usual suspects, subjects common in the New Age folklore of Tarot, and you also add more recently popular inventions such as the topical subjects of "political and familial" events. And on and on. The only mystery is why this eclectic hodge-podge of subjects, imposed on a constellation of fantasy decks, doesn't include alchemy, Kabbalah, and the kitchen sink.
You heartily embrace this pop-culture folklore, while attempting to help out poor, misguided Dummett. The actual methodology you seem troubled by is Dummett's insistence on fact (versus your various phantom decks) and critical thinking (versus your "it's all good" approach). I really don't think that you have anything to teach the Old Man.
Well, that took a while but it was fun. Thanks for the invitation to recapitulate some of my ideas.
We are either dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, or we are just dwarfs.