Transposing emblem by Matthew McGuinness

Instability is a Lady. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

She used to go by a different name – one that rang down the centuries in art and literature. For Instability is none other than Fortuna, the Roman goddess who raised men up then dashed their hopes – who made princes of paupers before pushing them back into the excrement.

Warwick, UK – View from castle tower

You will find Lady Fortuna among the leaves of many ancient texts, but nowhere is she described so accurately and ruefully as in the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. This vast rattle-bag of knowledge and moral truth describes, among other things, how Fortune, with her proverbial ever-turning wheel, is responsible for the exaltations and miseries of all who become infatuated with her.

Conwy, Wales, UK – Bridge of Conwy

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius knew all about fortune – both good and bad. In the late days of the Roman Empire – a period during which hairy Goths called themselves Caesar and civilization seemed to be falling apart – he gained high office in what remained of the Roman administration, only to have the rug pulled out from under his feet by cunning enemies. Accused of treason, he was imprisoned, tortured and eventually executed in the most horrible fashion.

Undaunted by this sudden, downward trajectory on Fortune’s wheel, Boethius set himself to writing. In his cold, dark cell he created a work of literature that speaks across the centuries to anyone suffering at the hands of that fickle lady. Consolation of Philosophy is a towering text, but its message is straightforward: our lives are in the hands of Fortune, and changeability is her nature, so it is better to accept with equanimity whatever life brings you rather than expecting it to suddenly become safe and predictable.

Saint Ives, UK – On the water

Over the centuries, that simple spark of wisdom has kindled a fire of hope in many lives, but in the twenty-first century, Goddess Fortuna underwent a makeover. Out with that nasty old wheel and in with the corporate shoulder pads. These days she calls herself Instability, but she works in just the same way. Some rise at her behest – acquiring celebrity and wealth without a shred of talent to back it up – and some fall, brought down by the barbed arrows of journalistic malice. We scramble up the rickety ladder of professional success only to find redundancy and a minimal pay-off at the top. The economy swells, becoming impressively large and shiny, only to spring a leak and deflate with a sound like an old person’s fart. Changeability is the nature of fortune.

Liverpool, UK – Saddle Inn

So, what can we learn from old Boethius, toiling in the gloom? How can a sixth-century public official help us to weather the storms of our tempestuous twenty-first-century lives?

Boethius lived in very similar times to our own. The old order was passing away with terrifying speed. Rome, which had once seemed unassailable – a bright beacon of light and order – was descending into perpetual war, cultural confusion and economic disarray. This is not just something that can be seen in hindsight by historians. Roman citizens living in the fifth and sixth centuries felt like they were staring over a cliff. Saint Augustine, who died in 430 AD, tried to imagine a new, spiritual Rome to replace the civilization that was disappearing, describing it in his magisterial work The City of God. Our own times have something of the same feeling – the sense of an epochal shift that is occurring at a terrifying speed.

Birmingham, UK – From Victoria Square

The reaction to these huge changes, especially in the press and other areas of public life, takes two forms. There are those who bewail the loss of certainty and order, and there are those who gloat over it. But would Boethius have subscribed to either of those positions? Almost certainly not. Unperturbed by either the fate of his city or his own fate, he chose to write a work that enshrines much of the wisdom of the classical world. Far from complaining about – or celebrating – the imminent demise of the Roman order, he took all the beauty and knowledge of his civilization and wrapped it up as a gift to future generations.

In our own small way, we should ask ourselves how we can do something similar for those coming after us. My suggestion? Teach your children the value of religious faith, crude jokes, neighbourliness, love of country, cooking and eating together, marriage and walking. They are life’s chief joys, but are increasingly treated as bad habits to be practised in secret, or personal eccentricities at best.

London, UK – Bridge Street

Some of the best advice given by Boethius in Consolation of Philosophy is the idea that we can rise above our circumstances by choosing to live nobly. He is careful to point out that nobility is not a question of birth but of character, and goes on to explain that it consists in ridding yourself of pride and greed, exercising generosity and behaving compassionately towards the poor. So, whether your fortunes raise you up to the exalted heights of royalty, or bring you down to the level of a shoemaker – you can still live well in the most meaningful sense.

Saint Augustine expresses a similar thought in one of his sermons, delivered to a congregation in Roman North Africa some time at the start of the fifth century. He explains that it is pointless to worry about the times you live in – the way you choose to live is what makes the times either good or bad.

Leeds, UK – On Briggate street

So, choose to live well today. Choose to be less proud in your dealings with family, colleagues, strangers in the traffic jam and anyone else who crosses your path. But be especially humble in your dealings with family – when you have had a bad day, they often bear the brunt of it, and they shouldn’t. Choose to be generous with your time, attention, opinions and, if you can afford it, your money. At the very least you will have the pleasure of watching those around you flourish like plants after a shower of rain. Choose to act nobly, and the times will seem better.

Matthew McGuinness

Postcard emblem at 1080


Postcard emblem and The Archive of Global Instability on display at 1080 Wyckoff Ave, Queens NY

Emblemovie at

See table of contents for The Archive of Global Instability at


Photo 1: Saint Ives, UK – Fisherman at sea – Koeg

Photo 2: Warwick, UK – View from castle tower – wael alreweie

Photo 3: Conwy, Wales, UK – Bridge of Conwy – Antlvan

Photo 4: Saint Ives, UK – On the water – Kloeg

Photo 5: Liverpool, UK – Saddle Inn – Tupungato

Photo 6: Birmingham, UK – From Victoria Square – gitagraph

Photo 7: London, UK – Bridge Street – C 73

Photo 8: Leeds, UK – On Briggate street – Tupungato

Postcard emblem at 1080

Parts of the Emblem of Instability

Alvisi, Andrea. Political and Social Instability: The Brexit Mess. May 2017.

Bahras. Unstable Air Pollution – Unstable Solutions: Mongolia. June 2017.

Bichen, Svetlana Novoselova. Mental and Cultural Instability: Russia and Turkey. February 2017.

Borghi, Silvana Renée. Living in Inestabilidad. September 2017.

Caetano, Raphael. Instabilidade emocional: Brazil. February 2017.

Çakır, Peren. On the Road in Search of Stability: Argentina and Turkey. June 2017.

Cordido, Verónica. Instability, a Stable Reality: Venezuela and America. April 2017.

Dastan, S.A. The Stability of Instability: Turkey and Syria. March 2017.

D’Adam, Anton. Psychosocial Instability in Argentina and America: El granero del mundo and The Manifest Destiny. January 2017.

Delibasheva, Emilia. Political Instability: Electoral Coups in America and Bulgaria. December 2016.

Ellie. Angry Folk: Korea. June 2017.

Farid, Isis Kamal. Stability Is Not An Option – Egypt. August 2017.

Friedrich, Angelika. Introduction: The Emblem of Instability. September 2016.

Fondevik, Vigdis. Unstable Nature: Norway and Denmark. October 2016.

Ghadir, Younes. Political Instability – Lebanon. September 2017.

Guillot, Iulianna. Starting and Staying in Instability – Moldova. October 2017.

Halimi, Sophia. Modern Instabilité: Youth and Employment in France and China. March 2017.

Hernandez, Jonay Quintero. Embracing Instability – Spain. February 2017.

Kelvin, Sera. The Stability in Expecting Emotional Instability: Brazil. April 2017.

Konbaz, Rahaf. The Castaways: On the Verge of Life – Syria. August 2017.

Korneeva, Ekaterina. Instability… or Flexibility? July 2017.

Krnceska, Sofija. Decades of Economic Instability – Macedonia. September 2017.

Kutscher, Karin. Inestabilidad in Interpersonal Relationships – Chile. October 2017.

Larousse, Annabelle. Legal and Emotional Instability in a Transgender Life – Ireland. August 2017.

Larrosa, Mariela. The Very Stable Spanish Instability. April 2017.

Lobos, José. Political Instability: Guatemala. May 2017.

MacSweeny, Michael. A House on a Hill – America. October 2017.

Mankevich, Tatiana. The Absence of Linguistic Cтабiльнасць: Does the Belarusian Language Have a Future? December 2016.

Meschi, Isabelle. Linguistic Instabilité and Instabilità: France and Italy. November 2016.

Mitra, Ashutosh. The Instability of Change: India. January 2016.

Moussly, Sahar. The Instability of Tyranny: Syria and the Syrian Diaspora. December 2016.

Nastou, Eliza. Psychological Αστάθεια and Inestabilidad during the Economic Crisis: Greece and Spain. December 2016.

Nevosadova, Jirina. Whatever Happens, It Is Experience. May 2017.

Olisthoughts. Stable Instability – Moldova. October 2017.

Partykowska, Natalia. Niestabilność and адсутнасць стабільнасці in the Arts: Polish and Belarusian Theater. January 2017.

Payan, Rodrigo Arenas. Impotence – Venezuela and Columbia. September 2017.

Persio, P.L.F. Social Instabilità and Instabiliteit: Italy and the Netherlands. November 2016.

Pranevich, Liubou. Cultural Instability: Belarus and Poland. March 2017.

Protić, Aleksandar. Demographic Instability: Serbia. July 2017.

Romano, Mavi. Unstable Identities: Ecuador and Europe. October 2016.

Sekulić, Jelena. Нестабилност/Nestabilnost in Language – Serbia. August 2017.

Sepa, Andreea. Instabilitate vs. Stabilität: How Important Are Cultural Differences? – Romania and Germany. September 2017.

Shunit. Economic Instability: Guinea and Gambia. April 2017.

Shalunova, Marina. Language Instability: Russia. June 2017

Sitorus, Rina. Instabilitas Toleransi: Indonesia. May 2017.

Skrypka, Vladyslav. National нестійкість: Ukraine. July 2017.

Staniulis, Justas. Nestabilumas of Gediminas Hill and the Threat to the Symbol of the State: Lithuania. July 2017.

Sousa, Antonia. Social and Economic Instabilidade: Portugal. January 2017.

Vuka. My Intimate Imbalanced Inclination. March 2017.

Walton, Éva. Historical and Psychological Bizonytalanság within Hungarian Culture. January 2017.

Yücel, Sabahattin. The Instability of Turkish Education and its Effect on Culture and Language: Turkey. July 2017.

Zadrożna-Nowak, Amelia. Economic Instability: Poles at Home and the Polish Diaspora. November 2016.

Zakharova, Anastasiya. Instability in Relationships: Russia. April 2017.

To follow: emblems by Macedonian, Mexican, Philippine, Mongolian, Peruvian, Italian, Cuban, Uruguayan and Paraguayan writers and translators.

Further reading

Azazeal, Alex. Отражение Spiegelt Reflection. 2014.

Friedrich, Angelika. The Emblem of Instability. September 2016.

Friedrich, Angelika. Sub-Under-U-метро-Bahn-Ground-Way. 2014.

Gergiev, Vladimir. Street – Straße – Улица. 2014

Metivier, Anthony. Kunstart. 2014.

Smirnov, Yuri. Art de streetулица. 2013.

Whittlesey, Henry, et al. Transposing Emblem – Junk Culture – Müll Trashed Мусор (Part I). August 2016.

Whittlesey, Henry, et al. Transposing Emblem – Junk Culture – Müll Trashed Мусор (Part II). August 2016.

Whittlesey, Henry, et al. Transposing Emblem – Junk Culture – Müll Trashed Мусор (Part III). September 2016.

Whittlesey, Henry. Forward to Next Transposing Emblem. January 2016.

Whittlesey, Henry. Changes to Transposing Emblems. November 2015.

Whittlesey, Henry. Excerpt of new emblem transpoзиция on trash. September 2015.

Whittlesey, Henry. Müll trashed мусор. 2013

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