Today, I am recollecting and reflecting on the insights that originally inspired me to draw a diagram that I’ve called “the argyle”.
It was originally meant to show how conceptual wholes and synthesized parts can intersect to produce meaningful systems. In a meaningful system the conception of the system makes the synthesized parts feel necessary and given, because their relationships are pre-determined by the logic of the concept –“Of course it works this way! — but, also, the synthesis is rationally constructed, so even if the concept were missed, the system would make sense — “This is perfectly clear and logical!”.
A meaningful system is comprehended with intuition and reason, or with both together in concert. (I’ve also considered the idea of treating comprehension as being simultaneous inter-illuminating conception and synthesis — instead of as an umbrella term for either conception or synthesis.)
The reason I needed to create this framework was that I’ve found that certain very types of designers (and people doing the work of designers) tend to prioritize concept over synthesis or synthesis over concept to such a degree that they stop reinforcing one another. One one extreme we have the wild genius who conceives a vision of the whole and regards all logic as stultifying formalism that undermines the inspired spontaneity of creation. It does not have to make clear sense if hearts are stirred and wallets open wide. On the other extreme we have the logical organizer of elements who views with suspicion and impatience any delaying attempt to seek an overarching concept to guide the design. After all, logic can get down to work immediately and start making demonstrable progress toward the final goal. If the final output is uninspired and dry — so what? Can the system be figured out with minimal effort? Good enough.
Years later, out of exasperation and a weakness for potty-mouthed ridicule, I developed a second model to describe the failure of merging concept and synthesis — though somehow, until today, I managed to miss the opportunity to explicitly link this failure to synthesis and concept. Instead I linked it to inspired meaning versus practical details.
I called this “the bullshit-chickenshit model”.
Bullshit – Meaningful, inspiring ideas that seem to promise something, but that something can never be fulfilled through any practical action.
Chickenshit – Practical activity that seems like it ought to serve some meaningful purpose, but in reality is pointless busyness.
Bullshit is meaning without practice. Chickenshit is practice without meaning.
But, really, bullshit can be understood as unsynthesizable concept. The meaning is a feeling of vast promise that cannot be applied to any particular.
Chickenshit can be understood as inconceivable synthesis. It is a giant mechanism of logically conjoined pieces that never resolves into a meaningful whole.
Most of what we encounter in the world is pure bullshit and pure chickenshit, and this produces that one-two KO nihilistic punch in the face that sometimes makes us want to burn this whole madhouse down.
Finally, I will accept the risk of being accused of bullshit by suggesting that the Star of David can be viewed as a transcendent argyle, and the ultimate overcoming of bullshit and chickenshit . Even before I was Jewish I conceived it this way, and this insight contributed to my need to be Jewish.
Here, the overlap of concept and synthesis is maximized, and both the depth of concept and extent of the synthesis is felt to exceed the overlap. The meaning of the religious vision resonates in every practical detail of life, but also the doing of every day mundane life is sacralized in Tikkun Olam.
Sacred practicality is practical sacrality.
Practical sacrality is sacred practicality.
This is my own Jewish ideal, and I don’t think it is only mine.
The “skeleton” of the star — formed by connecting the opposing points of each of the overlapping triangles — eventually became the asterisk “star” in Geometric Meditations.