Transparent Menus

Review: The Transparent Tarot, deck by Emily Carding

On a recent airing of the Fox series, Kitchen Nightmares, a program in which Gordon Ramsay attempts to salvage failing restaurants, it turned out one of the chief problems at a place called Sebastian's in Burbank was the owner's obsession with his extremely complex menu, a mix-and-match mess he felt offered the customers the benefit of large numbers of menu combinations, but which was so difficult to explain, that even the wait staff were baffled by it. Yet the owner just kept talking about what a great concept it was, like that was more important than serving good food, which by the way Sebastian's didn't.

Keep that in mind as we review one the newest entries in the twilight zone of nebulous feel-good dreck decks, something entitled the Transparent Tarot.

"Wow—brilliant concept"

On October 1st, 2007, an announcement of a new Tarot was made on Aeclectic Tarot Forum. The artist complained in this message of a sore hand, from doing four cards, and a suspicious nature—she had “copyrighted” the idea of her deck, which of course one cannot do. She claimed it had nothing to do with her distrust of the Tarot community, but as she said: "you know"—well even if we didn't and don't, clearly the artist felt that something worth protecting was going on in her head and cards.

The idea the artist hoped to protect seems pretty obvious on first observation, and indeed one might ask why it hadn’t been done before. Well, one answer could be that other artists, if they had contemplated such a project, may have appreciated the deficiencies of the transparent approach to things and so abandoned the idea before getting to a final result. That result is, to be kind, necessarily muddled.

Why necessarily? Well, understand that the chief attraction of the Transparent Tarot is that each “card” is in fact transparent. Its existence owes much more to the gimmick of transparency than to any original thought about Tarot that existed in the artist’s mind. Indeed, ideas and the symbols which convey them merely get in the way of this kind of deck. Since the whole effect depends upon layers of acetate being placed one upon another to create allegedly deeper combinations, the thing will get opaque pretty quickly.

That means each card in the Transparent Tarot has to be stripped down almost to nothing just to be seen in the mix-and-match one will construct with this concept. And because of this, there are many Tarots wherein one single card contains much more varied and certainly more interesting and revealing information than four or five cards muddled together in the Transparent Tarot.

Anyway, as the announcement thread reveals, over and over again people told Emily Carding, the creator of the Transparent Tarot, what a "brilliant concept" she had.

Here is a typical sentiment, based on a review of a few online samples:
"This is an extraordinary concept and, I think, will take one more deeply into intuitive reading. I suspect that they won't be easy to read but that, with practice, readings will go deeper than with many other decks. Wow!!"
But, other than the ease of getting approving sentiments about the novelty of layering cards, and symbolism, what exactly is the concept, or the alleged benefit, of using this approach?

Literally Completely Uniquely Transparent

On June 19 of this year, Emily Carding, the artist of the Transparent Tarot, sent me an email announcement concerning her deck, and she explained what she thought were the main things which, in her words, made the Transparent Tarot "completely unique":
"Printed on transparent plastic, the cards are designed to be read in overlapping layers. This means that a three card spread can be read as one image, or for a more advanced or in depth reading, for example a Celtic Cross, three or four cards can be placed in each position without confusion. This adds an enormous amount of clarity to any reading, and a whole new dimension to Tarot- literally!"
Carding's premise that "an enormous amount of clarity" would be added to a reading just because three or four cards could be "placed in each position" and that this could be done without "confusion" just because of the transparency of the cards struck me as dubious. What after all creates or adds to clarity in a card reading? A prolificacy of cards, or a proficiency in reading Tarot? Generally, if one cannot figure out a meaning with one card, adding more just muddies the waters.

There are certainly times when adding a card might give an idea about how to interpret an ambiguous position, but should we want to employ that methodology across the board, in every reading? And if the answer is no we should not, then we become even more reliant upon the symbolic and divinational value of individual cards in a Tarot. Unfortunately, that is particularly a concern the Transparent Tarot fails to address, as its cards are designed to support the dubious concept (of transparency), and not to make a good Tarot deck.

Carding writes about the demands imposed by transparency upon her choices:
"The major arcana are de-personified distilled representations of universal forces. I use the simplest and most evocative single image to sum up the meaning of each card, in order that it combines with other images without confusion."
Well, first off to actually condense Tarot majors to "the simplest and most evocative single image" would require a great deal of knowledge of Tarot and skill as an artist. Here is an example of Carding's effort to achieve this result, her rendition of III-Empress:

III-Empress, Transparent Tarot, Emily Carding 2008

Now, those of you who actually have some familiarity with the subject of Tarot, please give an honest assessment here. If you didn't know that image was supposed to be a Tarot card, and say you found it functioning as a bookmark or rectangular coaster let's say, would you know or even in your wildest dreams guess it was a Tarot card, or especially and particularly III-Empress?

OK, maybe the more lascivious of you might think the mound looked like a breast and as everyone knows green tits of dirt ALWAYS evoke Empress. In fact, it it is fair to say that notion is the "most evocative single image to sum up" the card. Or, you know—NOT!

Here, for point of comparison, is the Waite deck Empress (introducing Thoth's imagery for this comparison seems unnecessarily cruel):

III-Empress, Waite-Smith Tarot, P C Smith 1909

So, seriously, if you were tasked to render "the most evocative single image" of that card, it would be an innocuous (or fatuous) hillock?

Well, maybe after consuming a healthy hippy portion of cheap wine and a couple of bong hits of ganga you could think that kind of reductionist nonsense was evocative, but in Tarot, assuming the artist-designer knows what he is doing, more usually is more and less, especially in support of an inane gimmick, is often nothing at all.

Of course the alleged attraction of the Transparent Tarot comes in its combining power, where the residue of whatever once might have been Tarotic that is left on the individual cards matches up with its nibbled-down neighbors to make something like a whole Tarot card.

Here is an example of that effect, the combined images of III-Empress, IV-Emperor, IX-Hermit and XIX-Sun:

Four alleged Tarot cards (or a travel brochure for South Park, Colorado) engage in public compiling in the Transparent Tarot.

I suppose if Tarot is ever taught to post-apocalyptic kindergartners, this combined image might have some utility, but it is a spare and wanting image Tarotically and especially given the notion that it is intended to somehow imbue things with "clarity". There really is a difference between that and what the Transparent Tarot actually achieves—valorizing montages of muck.

The Transparent Tarot is a silly idea, given a typically hyperbolic (and witless) hunk of hype on Aeclectic Tarot Forum. The lack of any serious, and I would say truly helpful, criticism that Carding received on ATF while she excitedly dotted her way through her deck, seems to have convinced her she was doing Tarot a big favor, instead of once again making it look like a farcical waste of time. Somebody at some point should have just told her in transparent terms—"STOP!"

But nobody it seems had the heart. Or the courtesy.

Rating: DOA (Dead On Aspiration)



Mafia said…
I'm forced to disagree with you, while at the same time I also disagree with what the creator of the deck stated.

My disagreement with the creator of the deck is that, no, you can't do a combined three card spread by putting them all together. That's silly. You need to see each card.

But I don't think the idea is necessarily bad. Sometimes... The Tarot says weird things. Or doesn't really give you an answer. Sometimes a card (I'm looking at you, death) can be so vague in a position that you can't tell what its doing there. THAT'S where I feel Transparent Tarot will be helpful. My reading style (except when people are paying me) tends to be "One card, ask a clarifying question, continue until the querent understands the answer."

With the Transparent Tarot, it will be easier to do that and then step back and get a general idea.

I would never use Transparent for a spread, or for a client who didn't specifically request it.

But for a more casual, less complex reading, it could be handy.
Marion said…
I wouldn't even buy this stupid deck for coasters. Any 5 year old kid could draw these pictures. It's just another example of the 'gimmicking' of Tarot. I stick with the tried and true Rider-Waite.