Origin, Departure

by Murad Khan Mumtaz & Alyssa Pheobus

“If they be two, they are two so / As stiff twin compasses are two”: sacred geometries, international passages.

“Origin, Departure” was commissioned by Triple Canopy through its 2010 call for proposals for the Internet as Material project area, supported in part by the Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

“A Valediction
Forbidding Mourning”
by John Donne

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
     And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
     The breath goes now, and some say, no.

So let us melt, and make no noise,
     No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,
’Twere profanation of our joys
     To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’earth brings harms and fears,
     Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
     Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
     (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
     Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
     That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
     Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
     Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
     Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
     As stiff twin compasses are two,
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
     To move, but doth, if th’other do.

And though it in the center sit,
     Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
     And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
     Like th’other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
     And makes me end, where I begun.

The manifestation of an action, object or thought (if it can be defined) necessitates a point of origin or departure, in relation both to the manifestation itself and to the person who is conscious of its emergence.

The point of emergence does not necessarily reveal its causation either in the field of its emergence or in the mind of the viewer. In the mind the point represents a unitary focus of conscious awareness; in the physical world it represents a focal event in a field which was previously uninterrupted.

In the first group of four illustrations, the point is shown as a white spot and serves as a symbol for unity and source. In terms of geometry it represents the center—the elusive controlling point of all forms.

If the manifestation of the point is indicative of a departure from its source, then direction is implied. Direction in space is qualitative, and hence the first departure or line path from the point is qualitative. Homogeneous space is a contradiction in terms—if it is to be measured—the proof of this lying in the need to relate measurement to quantitative space: a measurement is only possible between two points (the ends of a line-path); hence direction must precede measurement. Once a direction is taken in space, that direction depends on a choice having been made and thus homogeneity is by definition cancelled. From the outset space definition is qualitative. The line-path can be taken as representing the point “externalizing” itself. A line, i.e. when a point has moved outside and away from its original position, symbolizes the polarity of existence, although it consists essentially of three elements—two ends and a relationship between them.

Having a limited departure from the point of origin, polarity expresses itself in the relationship of the central (essentially passive) “original” point and the outer projected (active) point. This expression forms an arc with the line representing our original departure as radius.

The arc implies the control exercised by the center point and expresses the demarcation of the active outer limits: the movement expresses an expansion. As the arc closes, another primordial “threeness” becomes evident: a center point of origin (the controlling element); departure from this center as direction or field; and boundary to the domain.

The center is always hidden inasmuch as our point of origin, as it appears on the page, when investigated closely constitutes in itself a field or domain, the center of which will continually elude “placing” in the strictest physical terms. Even the most elementary particles of the atomic nucleus surround an unmanifest center. For practical purposes, however, we place the still point of our compasses on the center and move the other to inscribe an arc. This ideally expresses both symbol and actuality.

Once the enclosing circle is completed, a unity is obtained; this reflects the unity of the original point. The circle is not only the perfect expression of justice—equality in all directions in a finite domain—but also the most beautiful “parent” of all the polygons, both containing and underlying them. Outside the concept of time, the circle has always been regarded as a symbol of eternity, without beginning and without end, just being. As a symbol within the limits of time, or rather subject to that condition of existence, it passes around just as the active compass point returns to its first position it necessarily passes over it and in principle establishes a helix—the expression in time of the circle. The circle expresses “threeness” in itself, i.e. center, domain, periphery; and “fourness” in a manifest context, i.e. center, domain included, boundary, domain excluded.

—Keith Critchlow, Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach

Allama Iqbāl, Bāng-e-Darā (The Call of the Marching Bell), 1924.
All praise be to God, glory be to God, who has put this under our control though we were unable to control it. Surely, to our Sustainer are we to return.