Flowering of Civilization — Deflowering of Culture


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Flow as a Necessarily Complex Experiential Dynamic

Produced in memory of the cut flowers arranged to enhance the quality of the deliberations at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum focused on The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business (Davos, 22-25 January 2014).  An earlier version of this document appeared as a section of Metaphors To Die By: correspondences between a collapsing civilization, culture or group, and a dying person (2013).


Curiously flowers play a considerable role in the process of dying, whether to reframe the environment of hospice and intensive care, as wreaths at any funeral, on gravestones, in memorial gardens, or in the remembrance associated with Poppy Day. Flowers thus offer a memory aid to the process of dying. Also curious is their importance in the decoration of conference rooms in which governance of the world is deliberated.

In both cases particular skills may be recognized in their appropriate choice and arrangement, as exemplified by the ikebana tradition, with its association to chivalry in the bushido way of the warrior (in one understanding of governance). Given the unprecedented official interest in decryption, it is somewhat ironical that the language of flowers (floriography) constituted a traditional means of cryptological communication through their selection and arrangement.

As patterns, flowers have particular mathematical significance, as remarkably documented by Keith Critchlow (The Hidden Geometry of Flowers: living rhythms, form and number, 2011). Flowers are thus memory aids through which patterns of various degrees of complexity are recognized (and reinforced) in the course of the potentially diminishing cognitive competence of the dying process. They offer a mind-exercising function which some cultivate in sudoku. Critchlow notes the conclusions of research demonstrating memory enhancement and “improved episodic memory” among the elderly after receiving flowers (Jeanette Haviland-Jones et al, An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion: Flowers, Evolutionary Psychology, 3, 2005). Ironically, deprecatory euphemisms for retirement may however be framed in terms of “cultivating roses” — culminating in the process of “pushing up daisies“.

Memorial gardens and mausoleums are then to be recognized in the tradition of memory palaces and theater of memory, according to the method of loci (Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, 1966; Peter Matussek, The Renaissance of the Theater of Memory, Janus, 8, 2001).

The question here is whether the widespread appreciation of flowers, and the metaphorical reference to them, suggest that more could be learned from them. As an aid to memory this may be of particular relevance to a more fruitful understanding of the dynamics of the life cycle of individuals, groups and global civilization — especially the processes of their decline.

Given the current focus of the World Economic Forum (Davos, January 2014) on The Reshaping of the World, to what extent could this benefit by being reframed, through the skills of ikebana, as one of learning from flowers, “rearranging the flowers”, and “saying it with flowers”? How might the “Consequences for Society, Politics and Business” then be understood?

The possibility has been further explored through the work of Taryn Simon, as described by Andy Battaglia (Finding Flower Power, On a World Stage, The Wall Street Journal, 16 February 2016):

In the art of Taryn Simon, flowers do more than spruce up the room. They also serve as accessories to power and symbols of the market forces behind sometimes messy geopolitical affairs. In Paperwork and the Will of Capital, her new exhibition… Ms. Simon re-created floral arrangements crafted for momentous meetings of world leaders — bouquets that served as both decoration and silent witness to hard negotiations, ceremonial signings and handshake photo opps. Extreme decision-making surrounded by these seemingly benign arrangements struck me: the idea that these castrated flowers, removed from their natural state, are placed in this decorative position around men believing they can influence the course of evolution and politics and economics and whatever else, Ms. Simon said.



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