Hold It All

Month: December, 2018

Thought for the End of One Year and the Beginning of Another

“Why count the days, when even one day is enough for man to know all happiness. My dears, why do we quarrel, boast before each other, remember each other’s offenses? Let us go to the garden, let us walk and play and love and praise and kiss each other, and bless our life.”

~Markel, in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov

Saturday Share the Wealth with Our Diane di Prima Class: Making the World Bearable

What I saw then was this fairly obvious faculty of art: that it goes on, it lasts a bit longer that our frail human lives—it offers comfort. The vision is more enduring than our persons—it uplifts us past the vicissitudes of time, uplifts till it, too, is done or forgotten: ten years, five hundred years. It is the working of our loving hearts, burrowing out of us into the light of day. Like Bodhisattvas we bring this liberation, this space to each other when we are simply ambitious: working for fame, as Keats once thought he was doing. Working for money or glory. What we are left with is finally what we leave: this reaching out to touch, to comfort others. To make the world bearable, possible at all.
—Diane di Prima, Recollections of My Life as a Woman

Seven of us participated in a class this fall on the life and poetry of Diane di Prima. We would like to share with you some of the fruits of our reading, writing, and exchanging with each other. Read the rest of this entry »

Gratitude/899

A predictably wonderful thing about late December–getting to see  Thuy Khuu when she comes back for a visit.

 

with Thuy at Cafe Ventana, January 2015

Neither Conformism Nor Eccentricity

John Armstrong, Love, Life, Goethe:
Lessons of the Imagination from the Great German Poet

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007

Almost twelve years ago I read this book, and the themes of Bildung and mastery were most striking. I recall theologian Matthew Fox’s distinction between religion and spirituality—religion is what you believe because of what someone else experienced; spirituality is what you believe because of what you’ve experienced. The following passages give a taste of Armstrong’s investigations into Goethe’s spirituality…

__________________

In his writings, Goethe was trying to understand his own life. Goethe was not primarily ‘confessing’ his private failings; he wanted to do something more risky and more valuable: confess his strengths and grasp what had gone well: how he had been happy and successful. He thought, as most writers secretly do, that we could learn from him how to lead better our own lives. 4

The moral is simple: don’t just stare at my life as if it were a puppet show: create your own life, and feel free to take your plots from me. 20

Goethe set himself to conquer this fear [of heights] and gradually, by repeated attempts, completely overcame his fear and was able to enjoy the wonderful prospect without anxiety. 44

The point of self-mastery isn’t to keep oneself good or pure or to resist temptation; we may need to overcome our fears to do some of the things we most want. Self-mastery, here, is the means to pleasure, not the mechanism for resisting its allure. 44

Goethe’s underlying ambition was concerned with personal growth, with the mutual exchange of inner and outer. He did not long to write more and more successful novels, but to become a particular kind of person. Weimar was to offer him a great opportunity. It was his chance to ‘get real.’ The imaginative and expressive powers so evident in the writing of Werther might be raised to even high worth if they could somehow be integrated with a deep appreciation of everyday life. 102 Read the rest of this entry »

Not So Random Entries, Commonplace Moleskine/10

111.  Sin is not a distance, it is a turning of our gaze in the wrong direction.
–Simone Weil

222.  When [Arthur Waley] was at work, all else was eliminated.
–Ivan Morris

333.  Whenever I was in love I always felt there was a telegraphic esprit between the person and me.
–Isaac Bashevis Singer Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth 2018

Thanks to my/our friends–those who shared with us, those who hosted, and those who came, opened, and listened. Like my student Anlin, I’m one of the richest people around.

Harvest in Occupied Palestine: Lea Koesterer

My Time in the Philippines:  Hanna Suek

Spiritual Questions, Faith Journeys, and Religious Identities: Savannah Sisk

Ramadan and the Experience of Patience: Ayesha Akhtar

Visions of Social Work: Some Food for Thought—Ashaki Jackson Read the rest of this entry »

“I Think I Was Trying to Suggest Something about the Duality of Man…”

Title is taken from “Joker” in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

Why Do They Come to Hinder Us?

Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectuals (La Trahison des Clercs) [1927]

Julien Benda’s Treason of the Intellectuals can be read as a gloss on the Dreyfus Affair. In this polemic against intellectuals who have betrayed their vocation, Benda affirms the contestatory position of a writer like Zola. Benda takes note of the modern perfecting of political passions, particularly those of race, class, and nation. He asserts that “[o]ur age is indeed the age of the intellectual organization of political hatreds. It will be one of its chief claims to notice in the moral history of humanity.” [27] And it is just the pursuit of such political passions that constitute what Benda deems the “real” world, of the layperson whose expected mission is to pursue practical interests. The true intellectual, on the other hand, has a two-fold mission: to pursue in his or her intellectual path disinterested activity for its own sake and to remind the laypersons that there is a transcendent set of values that ought to be respected. The true intellectual, according to Benda, would have to agree with Jesus’s avowal, “My kingdom is not of this world.” [43] The intellectuals have an utterly pure mission, in contrast to the impure and practical interests that govern the masses: “I only say that the ‘clerks’ who indulged in this fanaticism betrayed their duty, which is precisely to set up a corporation whose sole cult is that of justice and of truth, in opposition to the peoples and the injustices to which they are condemned by their religions of this earth.” [57] It is by steadfastly maintaining allegiance to that cult of justice and truth that the intellectual fulfills her role. Read the rest of this entry »

Birthday Greetings to Dianne Lee

You have been for many decades
A light in the darkness

Countless people (and creatures)
You have loved and sacrificed for

It’s true, Love is the best Resistance—
How come NPR hasn’t interviewed you these last two years?

Transmitting Beauty

Donald Keene, Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan
Columbia University Press, 2008

The first sentence of George Steiner’s first book (on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky) reads: “Literary criticism should arise out of a debt of love.”  Donald Keene’s fascinating  Chronicles of My Life tells the story of his love for Japanese literature over many decades. A few selections from the book point to his ardent commitment to reading, writing, and teaching.

____________________

When I think back on my life, it is clear that luck, rather than any decision made after long deliberation, has governed my life. The accident of sitting next to a Chinese in an undergraduate class awakened an interest in his country and later in all of East Asia, which has grown with the years until it is now the most important part of my life. The outbreak of the Pacific War, just at a time when I had begun to study Japanese, determined my whole life.

 Japanese, which at first had no connection with my ancestors, my literary tastes, or my awareness of myself as a person, has become the central element of my life.

For me, the complicated way in which Japanese is written was one of its chief attractions. In fact, if Japanese were written in roman letters, I probably would not have felt the urge to conquer its difficulties. 27 Read the rest of this entry »