Posts By: estarser

Noddy, the Goldsmith of the Field of Stars

We have recently received word that an associate of the Order of the Third Bird, known as Martin-Pêcheur or Kingfisher, has completed a journey along the medieval pilgrimage route known as the Camino de Santiago or the Route of Santiago de Compostela (or in French, Saint Jacques de Compostelle) – the route of the “field of stars.” What is most extraordinary is that on his way, he was able to find and join gatherings of other Birds, and participate in Actions of sustained attention to the precious objects and works scattered along the route as in a starry sky; and not only this, but was able to uncover the long-lost story of a goldsmith Bird, reaching out into the past, in an act of historian’s attention, to unify a scattering of facts into a new constellation. For some time the details of the creation of the goldsmithed reliquaries and treasures of Sainte Foy, in the village of Conques on the Compostela route, had been obscure – and as it so often happens, we can see that this story is caught up in the tangled history of the Order, whose traces our correspondent seeks. Here are his words, modestly translated by one of our editors.

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Chronicle of a Bird-Pilgrim

Birds of the Order know ways of making themselves receptive to legends that are told about others of their kind. Among the histories relayed by oral traditions, it often happens that the members of this very discreet Order bestow something of themselves to posterity through the play of symbols, and that their presence and their labors reach us, across time, to be grasped only by those who have ears to hear. Having on numerous occasions heard the joys of the pilgrimage road of Saint Jacques de Compostelle evoked, I could not help but recall certain of the little details that persisted across these testimonies.

Several of the legends relate certain odd behaviors assumed by Birds, for example the following:

Until the last century, there rose in the middle of the bridge [at Le Puy-en-Velay] the statue of Notre Dame du Puy, standing witness to the links of the Compostelle pilgrimage to the great Marian sanctuary of Puy in Velay. Now, according to the legend, a little bird would fly up the river, wetting its wings in flight, in order to bathe the visage of the Virgin, and all living there saw in this a sign of abundance and prosperity. Alas! Victim of the indignities of the years, the statue, very damaged, was transported in 1846 to the San Pedro church, where it is known by the name of the Virgin of the “Chori” (bird) or “Txori” in Basque. But since that year, the little bird has never appeared again.” (Translated from Patrick Huchet and Yvon Boelle, Sur les Chemins de Compostelle, Editions Ouest France (2014)).

It did not take much more than that for me to undertake to prepare for a Compostelle pilgrimage, for it did not appear to me impossible that the Birds, from near or far, had traveled these routes and Practiced on the way. Although from the beginning I encountered signs of the possible presence of Birds – numerous sculptures representing birds, and this from the moment of departing Puy en Velay – I will not tell the story, however agreeable it might be, of my first ten days of walking those fields and forests whose beauty little by little soothes those who tread and traverse them. I will begin, rather, with the story of my arrival in the celebrated town of Conques, an important stopping place for the pilgrims of yesterday and of today.

The beauty of Conques is unanimously praised. The town was evoked already by the poet Ermold le Noir in a poem whose content gave me great hope as to the new signs that I hoped to find:

Formerly this place, harsh and rugged as it was,
harbored only the savage beasts and the birds,
who filled the valley with their melodious songs.

Translated by Hannah Green in Little Saint (Modern Library, 2001).

One arrives at Conques as if falling upon a nest, and especially for those on foot, the town only begins to appear as one descends into the hollow of the valley between two abrupt slopes. The hidden village takes its name from the shape of this hollow in which it was built,resembling a Saint-Jacques shell (or king scallop), which always reminds me of spread plumage, its feathers composing a gracious fan.

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The grand abbatial church of Conques carries itself like a treasure in a jewelcase, and one can walk all around it upon the village’s various elevations, while remaining very close to it. In this way one has the impression of flying freely around its imposing architecture. The place is ideal for states of contemplation, and seeing it I better understood – and later, better still – the painter Pierre Soulages who created the stained glass windows of the abbatial church and who writes: “Conques is where I experienced my first artistic emotions.” After wandering the village in search of signs and evidence, and interrogating several of the monks who welcomed me to the Abbey, I was advised in mysterious tones to cast my eyes upon the treasure in the abbatial church, which I did.

“Rare and remarkable,” “splendid and marvelous,” “astonishing, fascinating, mysterious, even enigmatic,” not to mention “unique.” Over time, descriptions of this treasure have become an admiring litany. The relics of Sainte Foy are contained in goldsmithed pieces of a rare finesse, and upon which one beholds, in their enchanting beauty — birds. After some drawn-out moments of observation, I asked the guide if the artisan of such beautiful pieces was known. He responded then that the donor of the relics was known, and their sponsor, but not the one who had forged them such beautiful enclosures. The Book of Sainte Foy itself has had several of its pages torn out, those concerning the realization of the works conserved at Conques. The only mention of the artisan is found in another chapter of the work and must have been forgotten by those who wanted to rub out its traces: the name of “Noddy, the blacksmith of the field of stars,” concealed among its lines. I could not but be arrested by the name of this mysterious blacksmith, since he bore the name of a bird. Convinced that this was here proof sufficiently solid to carry my researches further, I contacted a Bird of the Order for assistance in exploring to this purpose the documents contained in the prolific W-Cache, well known to students of the Order.

While I was waiting for the results of inquiries, my travels continued. But it only took a few days – during which I came upon no more signs, but began to understand the bewitching perfection the art of this blacksmith had attained – for someone to contact me.

Some pages of a manuscript strongly resembling the manuscripts I had consulted at Conques were, in sooth, found in the W-Cache. Unfortunately, they were almost illegible – although below is a reproduction of the parts of the text we were able to read at the cost of a long labor of decipherment of Latin graphs and medieval abbreviations. After several months of research, a true encounter became possible with the mysterious blacksmith of the field of stars whose discretion when it comes to the things of this world is equal to the excellence of his artisanship.

Master Noddi was not only one of the greatest artists of our time, but his heart had been refined in the fires of long years walking the paths toward the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. This artisan accepted – though not without hesitation, given his habitual humility – to realize the pieces asked of him. In exchange he made several astonishing requests, which nonetheless were not of the sort to trouble the unfolding of his work; they were granted him.
{…}
The first piece is finished. The Sainte Foy in Majesty is a marvel of goldsmithing. The statuette measures 85 centimeters in height. It is made of yew wood covered with gold, gilded silver, and enamel, and set with gems that enchase the skull of this Carolingian majesté. I cannot find the words to describe the unbelievable beauty of this work.

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As previously agreed, a group of unknown men and women were seen to gather around the reliquary after its creation. Numerous guards were of course present to assure themselves of the intentions of these visitors, who remained a long while fixedly and silently observing the reliquary. I do not believe I recognized the prayers they enacted, but I do trust the artisan with regard to the significance of such a gathering. The group then left the grounds and drew away near a great oak tree which offered them shade during a conversation the context of which was never communicated to me.
{…}
The collection is completed, with neither delay nor any disappointment as to the exceptional quality of its working. It is composed of a hexagonal reliquary; a pentagonal reliquary; the famous “A of Charlemagne”; a chasse, a Crucifixion plaque, a lantern in the form of an antique tomb, an enthroned Madonna and Child, a Pope Paschal reliquary, a reliquary tryptich and a reliquary arm of Saint Georges. Before Noddi once again took up his journey and his guests dispersed, I was invited to strange ceremony which, I imagine, is a rite transmitted from artisan to artisan. Since our man has mastered his art to perfection, I decided to pay my respects at this occasion which could not, I believe, do any harm to the diligent conservation of the Holy Relics.
{…}
We observed four silent phases of which I cannot be sure of the length, and which I describe below. The first phase consisted of considering, before all, the space that welcomed to the receptacles created for the different relics, and illuminating in one’s thought the fires of the forge, preparing to submit to it all their materials. The second phases required an attentive observation of the work, a total and unconditional acceptance of it. A third phase was consecrated to a kind of decomposition of the work, into the various forms of matter that composed it, rendering to nature, which had produced them, the minerals and precious stones used for its creation. Finally, the fourth phase demanded a consideration of the work as if each of its forms, its colors and its materials possessed the force and beauty of a celestial work, and thus to cultivate in oneself the greatest astonishment and the grandest admiration for it.

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I must say that despite my initial reticence, the experience was of great interest, even if I do not believe I have gauged its fullest amplitude, lost as I was amid my thoughts, which assailed me without cease while the other participants seemed so profoundly absorbed in the activity of contemplation. However I sensed being born in me a curious relationship, dense and vibrant, with this piece of goldsmithwork. Several times I thought I saw the door come half ajar which might lead to a full understanding of these objects, as if I were about to enter for the first time into the heart of things. But these fugitive sentiments were extinguished as quickly as they appeared.
—Amaury de Rugis, Scribe of the Abbatial Church of Conques

It is not impossible that it was the witness of this Practice himself who sought to withdraw these passages from the final manuscript of the Book of Sainte Foy, so as not to risk being accused of paganism. It might also easily be that a migratory Bird deliberately safeguarded, in this way, the discretion of the Order. In this way it is now added to the practices and protocols now conserved in the archives and will, I hope, utilized by its contemporary inheritors. In the meantime, research on the goldsmith of the field of stars can only continue and be documented by other students (or members) of the Order who undertake this pilgrimage and who find on their route other signs and wonders leading to a better understanding of this remote forebear of the Order.

—Kingfisher

The Protocol of the Forge: Kingfisher’s Reconstruction

Rekindle the forge.

Sense the elements and the materials around and in the work and envisage their response to the fire of the forge.

Awaken the work.

Observe the spark of life that the work has been given, its open presence to the world, its existence, its breath.

Decomposition.

Decompose the object into its different constituents and imagine that each returns, in its original form, into the mines, the rivers, the forests or the quarries from which it came.

The matter of stars.

Imagine that the work is made of a precious metal, a fragment of a meteorite or of a star with extraordinary properties; embrace its strange, alien, and magnetic power.

Further Evidence of the Jersey City Volée, ca. 1880

 

An associate of ESTAR(SER) who is a bookseller in Ohio (and who wishes to remain anonymous, but who tells us he was connected, until two years ago, with the midwestern Ausonian Fellowship) writes with a find:

 

Dear Sir or Madam,

Into my possession came lately a copy of an uncommon volume: Echoes of the Aesthetic Society of Jersey City (New York: Thompson and Moreau, 1882).  I include a snapshot of the cover here:

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I had heard of the body, and had come to suspect that the patroness of this salon-association, Mrs. Erminnie A. Smith, was in fact a devotee of the Order, having come under the influence of Susan Elizabeth Blow, who will be familiar to your readers. I therefore perused the volume closely, with an eye toward uncovering any Birdish “Easter Eggs” it might secrete.  I have persuaded myself that I have been successful, and wish to test my hypothesis by means of this informal correspondence with your “Notes and Queries” — in the hope that, should my argument withstand scrutiny, I might elaborate it into a contribution to the Proceedings.

Initially, I must confess, I was disheartened to discover, in these yellowed pages of high-quality paper, a quite conventional assortment of poetic appreciations and Victorian-sentimental chapbook squibs.  I caught no glimpse of any substantive texts that might be read as allegories of the Practice or as veiled allusions to its rites and forms.

But my persistence was, I believe, ultimately rewarded.  It was on examining the frontispiece…

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…with a high-powered loupe that I discovered two highly suggestive vignettes, which I believe confirm our longstanding suspicions about Mrs. Smith and her aesthetical acolytes of Jersey City.

First, then, take a closer look at the left hand margin of the (inert) inset of the poetaster’s labors:

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A close look reveals a rather mysterious aggregation of figures:

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Could it be doubted that this is a “formation” of the Birds — indeed, something very close to the traditional “Phalanx”?  I think your readers will, on spending some time with the image, come to agree that it must be this and nothing else.  Though questions do remain.  First, the screens that the figures are holding before their faces strongly suggested the “reduction screens” heretofore thought to have their origin in the work of Inyard Kip Ketchem.  But if I am not mistaken, this image (from 1880) predates the existing terminus a quo for the “Ketchem Screen.”  In light of this discovery, more work is clearly needed on the history of the use of this optical prosthetic in Bird exercises. Second, it is difficult to deny that the group looks very much as if they are “attending” on the top-hatted figure to the left.  He does not appear to be a statue, much less a painting.  Rather, he seems quite wholly to be a human person.  To the best of my knowledge, the only Protocol that positions Birds in attendance on a human being is the so-called “Prosphorion,” on which much ink has been spilled in ESTAR(SER) circles of late (I allude to your recent three-part series on the “renaissance” of this Practice).  Needless to say, if the image above can be taken to represent a Prophorion, the entire extant history of this Practice will need to be re-written — since to date it is associated closely with the work of Erich Auerbach, Istanbul in the 1930s, and the now well-known “Boğaziçi Rolls.” More work is evidently in order.

Nor, I think, does all of this exhaust the document in question, as far as the history of the Order is concerned!  Since a closer look at the lower right hand corner of the same page…

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…reveals another highly-suggestive scene:

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Modern devotees of the Practice will here descry a nearly shockingly blatant depiction of the commencement of an “Action” (the easel/print-stand to the right looks ready to receive the “object” in the hands of the bearded gentleman-caller; the well-appointed table in the lower right has clearly been arranged for “colloquy”).  It would seem that Mr. B. B. Chamberlin — a well-known draftsman-naturalist and collector of minerals in the Hudson Valley — chose to be surprisingly explicit in his celebration of Mrs. Erminnie Smith’s gracious hosting of her volée!

Thank you for your attention,

R.C.

 

We are ourselves, I think, largely convinced here — but critical responses are welcome, and may be addressed to the corresponding secretary: corrsecretaryEST@gmail.com.

 

On the Amateur, and other Fledglings: A Correspondence

       The Secretary Locotenant of the Order of the Third Bird has recently asked if we at Communiqués would have any interest in publishing a selection of the Locotenant’s vast correspondence with various members and practitioners of the Order. The enthusiasm of our response cannot be overstated; the following will be the first in a punctuated series reproducing choice fragments of this archive.

       The first letter in the correspondence reproduced below (spanning 9 months) was originally addressed by a member of the Order to the community of Birds at large, and the Locotenant appears to have stepped in on behalf of the Order. These documents reach us “as is,” with little comment or explanation (some of the redactions and paraphrases are the Locotenant’s, some are our own), but they do also speak clearly for themselves, and include tantalizing allusions to the Order’s internal affairs, including the choosing of “Bird names.”

       Several things should nonetheless be mentioned: the July 15 letter makes reference to a lecture that ESTAR(SER) itself delivered on the “traveling attention artist” Inyard Kip Ketchem (1847-1919) and his famous “reduction screen.” It also refers, quite puzzlingly, to the Order’s “founding myths,” and even more so, to “invented progenitors.” Most likely, this is a subtle jab at some misunderstanding perpetrated by ESTAR(SER) itself, its inevitable ignorance with respect to the arcane doings of the Order, or the incompleteness of its historical knowledge. May we only comment that, if our knowledge of the Order were not incomplete, we would hardly have reason to continue our loving pursuit of its mysteries?

July 15, 2015

July 29, 2015

August 3, 2015

January 13, 2016

March 10, 2016

An early New York Prosphorion?

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An ESTAR(SER) researcher based in New York recently submitted the following query, which follows up on the recent series about the “renaissance” of the Prosphorion in the United States:

“Perusing a recent collection by the poet Rachel Hadas, I came across ‘Attention,’ originally published in Per Contra in the Spring of 2007 (I enclose a copy). Even a superficial reading places firmly in evidence Hadas’s debt to the Practice of the Birds, and the poem would seem to be an affecting evocation of a specific (outdoor) Action in Midtown Manhattan. I thought the work captured something of my own experience working with a group with Villareal’s work entitled Volume at 1133 Sixth Avenue (the Durst building) many years ago — the notion that “attention is…communicable, spreads through crowds” beautifully specifies something many of us have, I think, discovered in a very visceral way in the course of Actions (particularly those outdoors, in public spaces, where the “punctum” of a volée can draw a crowd merely on the strength of the vectoring attention of the phalanx). All that seems relatively transparent in the poem.  Less obvious, perhaps (and the reason for my sending along this note), is the gesture, in the final stanza, toward the ‘reciprocity of the gaze’ (here indexed by the Hopkins quote) — which I read as strongly suggesting the dynamic of Veillance (the remarkable final phase of the Prosphorion). Those familiar with this Protocol will recall the phrasing: ‘There is no such thing as absence. See: The Absent Thing attends to you.’ For those who have attended on a Representative for thirty minutes or an hour, there is indeed something uncanny in that sense which can emerge, in the final phase, that the object is indeed ‘staring back.’ If indeed Hadas’s Attention references not merely an ordinary Action, but a Prosphorion, it would be, I think, the earliest instance of a Prosphorion of which I am aware in the New York City area.  (Though I have heard of earlier instances on the West Coast of the United States). Insights from those with further knowledge on these matters would be very welcome.”

 

The Renaissance of the Prosphorion [Part Three]

       This is the third in our series of posts on a number of recent Actions of the Prosphorion called by the Order of the Third Bird. The following is a response to the previous post, from a Bird calling her- or himself “Whistling Duck,” who appears to have participated in the Action devoted to Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc.” This brings the number of Birds known to have been involved in this historic event to two – further revelations are perhaps to come.

       Extraordinarily, it is a letter addressed to the Tilted Arc itself. But what will also be of greatest interest to our wider research community is that this latest document represents a first-hand account of how the Birds themselves might see our devoted labors and our tireless efforts to follow the thread of the Order’s history through the great tangled skeins of the ages. We would also do well to consider the profound implications of the questions it raises.

Dear Tilted Arc,

       Reading the description of your experience, I am overwhelmed by the conjuring potential of the Prosphorion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, alerting us to dimensions of our practice that were heretofore unknown.
       You speak of a symmetrical power of which we are unaware, and you are right, I (at least) was certainly not attuned to this specific aspect of our communion on February 5th. And yet, I feel like I can confess to you a needling suspicion I have had since that day. As an amphibious bird and agnostic person, I am not accustomed to such beliefs, and yet, you were there. So here it is: Do you think it is possible that there were others?
       Let me explain: In preparation for the practice, I had been thinking about my relationship as a Bird with our great historiographers and sometimes kinsmen, the editorial committee of ESTAR(SER). I feel deeply indebted to them for their research efforts, their sensitive and passionate intellectual pursuit, their poetic tributes. It is because of them that the Prosphorion has been rescued from obscurity.
       But it seems that this resuscitation is also fraught.  What does it mean for the Birds to appropriate research as practice? In a more emotional vein, how do we contend with our heritage? Our ancestors, if you will.
       The Prosphorion brings these questions to the forefront of my mind, for in addition to the Practice, it has also revealed a mysterious genealogy of forebears in practical aesthesis. For instance, in correspondence with the Secretary Locotenant [of the Order of the Third Bird], I learned of the highly secretive Czernowitz volée of the 1930s. This volée is “remembered almost solely for an unusual ‘choreographical’ variation on the Practice, carried out for the most part in that city’s public squares; several of its members being Jewish, such gatherings were increasingly dangerous in that difficult time.”  As ESTAR(SER) answers the call for more research, I realize that there is an equally important duty when we re-enact these esoteric, quasi-mystical actions. We become, in effect,  torch-bearers, carrying on a tradition of which we know only fragments. Like all people who turn to history to make sense of themselves, our present-tense actions become infused with an imaginary intimacy, an inevitable longing.

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        Which, in our case, mirrors the action of the Prosphorion itself. We meditate on the absence of an object, and in some way we contend with that reality, and perhaps briefly undo it.
       But what if a side-effect of this conjuring is not only to bring back an object, but also, to bring back those Birds who are no longer with us? Is it possible that those who practice the Prosphorion unwittingly undergo another symmetry, becoming Bird-Representatives? Does the Prosphorion have, tucked away within it, the longing not only for the object, but the lost Bird? In practice, do we all embark on an act of radiance, and thereby carry within each practice countless more?
       Further practice, it seems, is necessary.
 But tell me, Tilted Arc. How many of us did you see?

With great admiration,
Whistling Duck 

The Renaissance of the Prosphorion [Part Two]

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        As a response to our recent report on an Action of the Prosphorion held in Istanbul, and of its resurgence of late among the ranks of the Order of the Third Bird, another extraordinary document has emerged. It would be unseemly to encourage any kind of sleuthing, since the mystery surrounding its author appears salutary – but it is written from the perspective (in the voice, as it were) of the “object” of an Action in New York devoted to Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc,” and its email address of origin is the provocative “tiltedarcotb.” Its provenance clearly lies within the circumference of the Order and its distinctive modes of collective activity, but further details would be difficult (and we suspect, impossible) to determine.

       Who is this “Ovenbird” (as we know, members of the Order take on “Bird names”), and why is “solidarity” such a central part of his or her nature? Could the text have been written by this “Ovenbird” in the lingering throes of Prosphorionic metempsychosis? Or by some other Bird, a galvanized link in the Action’s chain of Platonic enthusiasm? Why does the Tilted Arc seem already to know its devoted attendants so well? And why does its “me” give way so freely to “us”?

       Perhaps we will never know, and perhaps we should not. But we reproduce the document here in full, along with the photograph that accompanied it.

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The Renaissance of the Prosphorion

       We have just received documentation of an extraordinary event that took place in Istanbul this past week, one which seems already to have created a stir amid associates of the Order of the Third Bird.

       A number of Birds of the Order, it is reported, held an Action of the Prosphorion, a remarkable Protocol recently resurrected from our very own archives, in an instance, among many others, of fruitful exchange between the Order and ESTAR(SER). Although versions of this Protocol have remained in continuous use, through word-of-mouth channels ultimately traceable to the very 1940s Istanbul milieu that first discovered it among antique sources, the researchers of ESTAR(SER) pride themselves on leading the charge for its systematic revival.

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       A group of latter-day Istanbul Birds gathered in that city on a Friday in late January, and drew lots to determine which of their number would act as the “Representative” – that is, undergo a series of psychospiritual exercises designed to empty out the self and replace it with the being or emanation of an object presently missing, far away, or long gone. On this occasion the object in question was the wall that once encircled the old Istanbul neighborhood of Galata.

       We draw what follows from reports by a number of the Birds who were personally involved, on the condition that we omit the more intimate of the revelations and encounters of the Action, particularly beginning with the phases of the Prosphorion known as “Abscission” and “Veillance.” However, the general atmosphere of the events – though perhaps not as charged as it was for the participants – can still be reconstructed for our readers.

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       The Representative, having entered what is called the stage of Radiance – in which the being of the Wall of Galata shone forth from what had been the lineaments of her body – began her path in disoriented and halting fashion, a stranger in a changed city, but slowly recovered her natural regal bearing. The Wall, wending its way, was seen to halt pedestrians and vehicles in their tracks by a single raised hand. At each turning, the bustle of city life paused, if only to blink once and continue, at the sight of her.

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       The Wall’s increasingly sure path led it among the building supply shops and family hardware outlets of Galata as the afternoon waned. The streets bristled with signs and portents, as with sparks of static discharge.

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       Eventually, as we gather, the procession of supplicants following the reincarnated Wall reached what appeared to be a dead end. The Wall desired to reach a certain one of its former gates, but was blocked by new construction and the maze of shops and depots. The Wall spoke in a human voice to ask for directions to this gate, insisting to a group of bewildered and half-hypnotized shop owners and delivery clerks that it must be just around the corner, despite all appearances.

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       After some negotiations, the procession was led deeper into the labyrinth, by way of a short, steep flight of stairs into the basement floor of a building. Undersea light filtered down from an unusually large central skylight several stories above; workmen in small alcoves bent over indefinable tasks and objects; a bucket swung from a rope disappearing into the haze above. Up another spiraling flight of stairs, around a corner, and by way of an unexpected second story exit to another street, suddenly it was before them – one of the remaining fragments of the original wall of Galata. A passage through the wall – the gate – linked two anonymous and disused pockets of Istanbul. An elevated train thundered by.

       It was precisely at this point of revelation and reunion, we are told, that the Prosphorion Protocol demanded an act of renunciation and negation (or “Abscission”). It was a lesson for some, and very moving for all; but here is where the outsider must step back and be silent.

       The recent revival of the Prosphorion Protocol and attendant Protocol of the Representative appears to be one of the more fascinating and promising developments within the Order. Further information, documentation, and meditation is welcome.

Embodied Thought

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       “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845) – the story by Edgar Allan Poe famously taken for reality by a readership enamored of mesmerism and animal magnetism, and concerning an individual whose life is unnaturally and gruesomely prolonged by these arts – inspired a piece of enthusiastic correspondence from a certain Dr. Robert Hanham Collyer, a moderately successful traveling lecturer of the sciences and pseudo-sciences. “I have not the least doubt,” he wrote to Poe “of the possibility of such a phenomenon; for I did actually restore to active animation a person who died from excessive drinking of ardent spirits.”

       It was this same Collyer who had, some years earlier in the Sunday edition of the Albany Argus, described experiments in which he had caused a lady to perform an example of “the same class of phenomena which is the wonder of travelers in the east.” The lady, in essence, had been asked to gaze into a cup of molasses (though any “dark liquid” would suffice, adds Collyer) in order literally to see the reflection of thoughts and mental images that the doctor was actively beaming into the syrup. “When the angle of incidence from my brain,” he explains, “[is] equal to the angle of reflection from her brain, she distinctly [sees] the image of my thoughts at the point of coincidence […] she [sees] persons and things in the fluid only when the angles of thought converge.”

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       Collyer further explains this unusual optical phenomenon in his 1843 Psychography, or, the Embodiment of Thought; with an analysis of phreno-magnetism, “neurology,” and mental hallucination, including rules to govern and produce the magnetic state – the “magnetic state,” which Collyer also calls “congestive,” being the mesmerized state. The book begins with an aggrieved argument for the author’s priority in the invention and diffusion of the new art of phreno-magnetism – in which specific phrenological organs (for example amativeness or secretiveness) can be magnetized to produce related behavioral effects – and a lament on the recent and spurious proliferation of such organs.

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       Collyer then lays out, in the book’s main body, the art of psychography: the ability to project a mental picture, or “embodied idea,” upon the brain of another person, and of that other person to observe and describe that picture. It is a form of mind-reading entirely reliant upon the fixed and unmoving image, likened to the results of the “photographic process of Daguerre,” and enabled by a “concentrated and undivided effort of the will.”

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       Collyer likens the phenomenon to the optical illusion known as persistence of vision, as when “a lighted stick makes a fiery arc” or a series of discrete sketches appears as an animated cartoon. He also compares psychography to the negative afterimages caused by overstimulation of the eye’s photoreceptors. But the most dominant vocabulary is that of photography, in which the “internal nervous substance” is the photographic film and the magnetically-enhanced act of attention a kind of chemical bath. Collyer writes: “Suppose attention to be a greater than usual development of electric action in the brain, how strangely akin to the recent experiments of Daguerre!”

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Those who fail to pay sufficient attention, indeed, squander the brain’s electric potential and overlook a dense network of “messages between objects in the external world and the inner powers of mind.”

       Collyer specifies that the sender of the psychographic image must first “embody” in his own mind the image that he wishes to communicate. For example, if the recipient is to describe a person or location she has never seen, the sender must first impicture it, so that the recipient can relay the details of its pictorial composition. What is most fascinating about the process is the question of how much artist’s control, as it were, the sender has in this process of “embodiment” – especially considering that mental/emotional image-complexes associated with persons and things are often highly individual and eccentric. One of our ESTAR(SER) researchers, for example, insists that his entirely involuntary though deeply-rooted mental image of Plato, for whatever reason, includes the information that he was located not in Greece but somewhere on the Central Asian steppe.

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A true psychographic transmission would of necessity include such eccentricities – something of a problem for those wishing to ascertain its veracity, since the correct transmission of the message “Plato” might result in a crystal clear image of Genghis Khan.

       What makes such a transmission possible in the first place, of course, is the “nervous fluid,” the versatile bio-electricity so beloved of the mesmerists. Collyer’s insight was that this substance might be “governed by the same code of laws which governed heat, light, &c., as radiation and reflection.” Might it also be subject to the laws of optics? Thus resulted Collyer’s series of experiments with the bowls of molasses.

       On June 22 1841, Collyer repeatedly “directed his thought into [a] bowl of molasses” before an audience of “twenty four gentlemen of the three learned professions” at the Masonic Temple in Boston. Present among them, perhaps inevitably, were two delighted members of the Order of the Third Bird.

       Collyer’s unpublished autobiography makes no mention of their subsequent invitation to join them in a number of experiments opportunistically based on his attempts at psychography – and one gleans what one can from the W Cache’s vast and disorganized records and transcripts of Actions held in the US between 1804 and the present.

       It appears that, rather than stick with molasses or any other dark or highly reflective liquid, the Boston Birds directed their thoughts into various domestic objects, museum pieces, child’s drawings, classroom busts of Greek philosophers and the like.

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Action Protocols were thus invented to harness the laws of mental optics as applied particularly to works of art. This probably did not sit well with Collyer. What was worse, participants in later Actions adopted complex mental and physical “positions,” using carefully placed mirrors, in order to have the angles of incidence of their respective thoughts coincide with the angle of reflection of the object’s mind. The idea was, going from the transcripts, to create a kind of prismatic consciousness, expressing itself through the utterances of each successive group member.

       None of these Protocols appear to be in use today; we would welcome any evidence to the contrary, including descriptions of relevant Actions by anonymous informants of the Order.

Report on an Experimental Practice by the Lagos Volée

One has noted a minor trend among certain volées of the Order of the Third Bird toward incorporating mirrors and other reflective surfaces in their ritual proceedings – with the expected questions in attendance: does the reflection of a work or object constitute a new or different work or object? Orthodoxy would reply in the negative, as it does to the question of whether a living being may be treated as an object of the Order’s special attentions – the subject of a future posting.

But the story of one of our correspondents presents questions of somewhat greater complexity and interest:

We have all heard arguments that the “work” – the work of art, or any object of an Action of the Order – is created by the one who looks, since the looking frames and organizes the thing. This is one element of what is called the Korffian heresy, although the Korffians have no real monopoly on it, and many respectable Birds feel the same way, especially in those volées addressing themselves to complex, multi-order reflections. These things were not my “cup of tea” however until an experience I had recently which made of me a mystic like the most enthusiastic of enthusiasts of reflections.

My wife and I have a very polished floor in our small apartment in Lagos – imitation marble tile. I found myself, in a meditative moment, looking at a sliver of light reflected in the floor, rather like a pupil gleaming under a half-lowered eyelid. It was the reflection of one of the ceiling light fixtures —but this had been switched off. Where did the light originate?

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I first suspected that the fixture was reflecting the light of the sun directly – but as it turned out, it was reflecting yet another reflection: of the sun in the window of a parked car across the street. I could not determine if there was yet another intervening element involved. But in any case the half-lidded light, as it appeared deep inside the polished floor, to me gleamed as a treasure in a kind of Ali Baba’s cave. What is more each successive order of reflection appeared to multiply its depth or rather project this depth into a new, unheard-of dimension. Perhaps that half-lidded eye looked out at me from the other world, the Invisible, the place of what we call, for lack of knowledge, spirits – or something that the describable can even less approximate. This is where my fancy brought me – though of course my colleagues would not approve.

And so I called an Action the following day, praying for sun, and for the car to remain in that location, and that my colleagues and the protocol would be able to weather the odd perspectival and temporal requirements of the “object.” The Action was a success, in our opinion, partly due to the precarity of this object, which, lacking any of its exact elements, would return to the unknowable void from which it came. However I would welcome opinions from others of the Order on this matter.

We leave the reader with this request.

The Gulls

One of the most superb fictions of our last several decades has been that of the VUE – the “violent unknown event” – that swept the world and left many thousands both maimed and enhanced, speaking hitherto unknown languages, inhabiting hitherto unseen genders, suffering from strange new illnesses. The individuals who agreed to be featured in Peter Greenaway’s The Falls (1980) variously confess, after the VUE swept over them, to an obsessive desire to attempt unaided flight; to a discovered vocation for singing; to now sharing certain physical and behavioral features with certain species of birds, either to their betterment or crippling detriment. The title of Greenaway’s film refers to the first five letters in the last names of a narrow selection of those affected by the VUE and registered in the files of the committee dedicated to investigating the violent unknown event, known as the VUE Commission or Directory Commission. Other relevant institutions and entities in the film include BFI (Bird Facilities Investments), WSPB (the World Society for the Preservation of Birds, with their magazine The Rooster), and FOX (or the Society for Ornithological Extermination.)

Not surprisingly, many of the personages involved subscribe to the Theory of the Responsibility of Birds – which is to say that birds consciously and malevolently precipitated the VUE and all its effects.

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The Falls has been called a “sequel” to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds – and in fact the film itself refers to the VUE as a possible “hoax” by Hitchcock himself, who was hoping to “give credence” to the otherwise unsatisfactory ending of his film. This perhaps refers to the closing scenes in which the vivacious and mischievous Tippi Hedren, attacked in a dark upstairs room by a shrieking mob of birds, emerges not only gravely injured but nearly catatonic, metamorphosed into a different creature entirely – oddly and perhaps coincidentally recalling the effects of states of metempsychosis too long sustained by too-intrepid members of the Order of the Third Bird.

The Hitchcock film was of course based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, of the same title. By far the most menacing creatures in that story are the gulls, wheeling in ever-widening circles over unsuspecting farmsteads, riding the swells in massive numbers, like a carpet of white foam, waiting for the signal to attack.

The appearance in The Falls not only of references to the Order of the Third Bird but of actual members of the Order is a matter of record. The individual appearing as “Sashio Fallaspy” in the film, whose real name was Sashio Hattori, was a member of a volée of the Order in Swansea, Wales from 1974. Moreover, in the film’s fictional biography she suffers after the VUE from a condition called “après-radiance.” This is an allusion, inserted by Ms. Hattori herself, to the phase known as Radiance in the so-called Protocol of the Representative as practiced by the Order.

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The story of “Coppice Fallbatteo,” in addition, is a caricature of an associate of the Order (the distinguished Concetto Passerini) with whom the creators of The Falls were somewhat acquainted. Fallbatteo, in the film, is an art historian “trying to make a novel cultural theory out of the VUE,” embarking upon a “dutiful exploration of the significance of birds in European painting.” His great obsession is Piero della Francesca’s painting known as the Brera Madonna, and the meaning of the egg that hangs so mysteriously from the scallop-shell-shaped apse.

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Finally, the Greenaway film’s most explicit reference to the Order amounts to a gesture of distancing. Those afflicted by the VUE, it is said, are able to “terminate their relationship with birds” if they manage to be buried in a certain field dominated by a bird-scarer. The saffron color of the bird-scarer in question – recalling the saffron worn by practitioners in the Order – is somewhat heavy-handed, and makes its point sufficiently.

However the true purpose of the present communiqué is to request that more research be conducted on a troubling event from the Order’s relatively recent past. It appears that not long after the release of the film – hugely popular among associates of the Order at that time, for reasons apparently unrelated to the Order’s central purpose and calling – a group led, as is so rarely the case, by the Secretary Locotenant of the Order, M. Gylhmat, attempted to conduct a standard Action upon the film, or rather upon a certain segment of it. This action took place on September 11, 1982, and the segment concerned was that devoted to the obviously fictional Stachia Fallari and her relationship with the half-brothers Pulat and Ipson Fallari whose name she came to share.Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.25.11 PM

Stachia’s artwork is featured in the segment, including a sequence in which the camera zooms in closer and closer to a pen-and-ink drawing, appearing to reveal finer and finer networks of hatch lines and bird-scratches, as if in deeper strata of inter-imbricated truth and lie. At the time, a number of Protocols for “birding” films – as the birdish colloquialism would have it – were in frequent use, especially in the UK. But this was a highly risky and experimental Action – which explains the (intended perhaps as stabilizing, perhaps further perturbative) presence of the Secretary Locotenant. All participants were aware that the heightened risk of fully attending upon the film was due to the multiple and highly compressed involutions of self-referential fabrication implied by this rendezvous between the Order and the Directory Commission.

What remains to us of the event is only that none of the Birds who participated in this Action emerged quite the same; and all without exception changed their names afterward to reflect their changed lives. Moreover, while their new names varied widely, all had originally had last or first names that began with the letters G-U-L-L or could be transliterated that way. The only participant who did not change his/her name was the Secretary Locotenant. However, it seems that M. Gylhmat was the most deeply affected. Gylhmat was not spared, for example, the quadruple partition of the sexes characteristic of the VUE-afflicted in Greenaway’s fictional film – and has been, from the moment the Action ended, a middle-aged female man fluent in the VUE language Betelgeuse.

We encourage anyone in our community possessing documentation related to this event which has not yet been fully explored in its implications for the Order (aside from the Secretary, whose reticence is both unassailable and understandable) to kindly come forward.