Hold It All

Category: Artists

Doctor Shmoctor

This afternoon I was perusing Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made, and came across the following skit of Lenny Bruce about Christ and the Jews:

… you and I know what a Jew is–One Who Killed Our Lord. I don’t know if we got much press on that in Illinois— we did this about two thousand years ago—two thousand years of Polack kids whacking the shit out of us coming home from school. Dear, dear. And although there should be a statute of limitations for that crime, it seems that those who neither have the actions nor the gait of Christians, pagans or not, will bust us out, unrelenting dues, for another deuce.

And I really searched it out, why we pay the dues. Why do you keep breaking our balls for this crime?

“Why, Jew, because you skirt the issue. You blame it on the Roman soldiers.”

Alright, I’ll clear the air once and for all, and confess. Yes, we did it. I did it, my family. I found a note in my basement.

It said: “We killed him . . . signed, Morty.”

And a lot of people say to me, “Why did you kill Christ?”

“I dunno . . . it was one of those parties, got out of hand, you know.”

We killed him because he didn’t want to become a doctor, that’s why we killed him.

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Beautiful and Toxic Multitudes

Prompted by a recent tragedy, I turned again to the conclusion of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I cried as I reread the exchanges between Kolya and Alyosha, thinking all the while of what dear friends have lost. I remembered how, many years ago in mid-May, as a treat to myself after the academic year, I’d reread Dostoevsky’s last novel. Just this morning I began perusing volume five of Jospeh Frank’s acclaimed biography of the Russian novelist. Imagine: An assiduous Jewish academic spending decades of his life writing about the times and life of, yes, a magnificent writer as well as an anti-Semite. This led me to return to Leonid Tsypkin’s novel Summer in Baden-Baden, which shifts quickly back and forth from the narrator going to Leningrad to check out the sites of Dostoevsky’s fans to the Dostoevskys as a married couple going to Dresden (Baden-Baden) where we see the extremes of the Russian writer with his gambling, self-loathing, and self-abasement before his bride-secretary, before the narrator ends up visiting an older friend, Gilda Yakovlevna, after which is how the novel ends, with “Tsypkin,” a Russian Jew reflecting on how and why it is that so many Jews like himself are Fyodorophiles, even though Dostoevsky despised Jews. Frank and Tsypkin forego the “all or none” mentality. Rather, they somehow hold it all, recognizing but not freaking out at the “both/and” of the beautiful and toxic in Dostoevsky the person. Of course, so many of Dostoevsky’s riveting characters—Dmitri Karamazov being an obvious example—are charged with just this gripping interbeing of the noble and ignoble. “I loved depravity, I also loved the shame of depravity. I loved cruelty: am I not a bedbug, an evil insect? In short – a Karamazov!” “I understand now that for men such as I a blow is needed, a blow of fate, to catch them as with a noose and bind them by an external force. Never, never would I have risen by myself! But the thunder has struck. I accept the torment of accusation and of my disgrace before all, I want to suffer and be purified by suffering. And perhaps I will be purified, eh, gentlemen? But hear me, all the same, for the last time: I am not guilty of my father’s blood!” I remember Susan Sontag (another Jew obsessed with Russian literature) on Tsypkin’s novel: “If you want from one book an experience of the depth and authority of Russian literature, read this book. If you want a novel that can fortify your soul and give you a larger idea of feeling, and of breathing, read this book.” But don’t stop there. Solzhenitsyn had his manias; is that a reason to avoid One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich? Is the moral crankiness and dreary dogmatism of the later Tolstoy grounds for passing up Hadji Murad?

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 »

Share the Wealth with Linsey Stevens: Collage is a Simile for Life, And Other Reasons for My Medium of Choice

When I started collaging last year, I stumbled into an activity that is—by all definitions—my happy medium. While I also enjoy pen and ink sketching, I’ve found collaging to be endlessly entertaining, mentally stimulating, and spiritually curative. It’s an art form that invites the whole person to participate in their world as it is here and now, with all its disparities, relics, and technological innovations.

Collaging can be a retreat, a confession, and an odyssey. It also demands a balance between control and surrender that, for me, is an extension of the meditations that inspired me to start collaging in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

The River Boat Captain, He Knows My Fate

My mother was chagrined when I went from listening to the Beatles at age 13 to Bob Dylan at 14. “At least the Beatles can sing; how can your ears stand that?”

Neither she nor I could have conceived that four decades later Bob Dylan would be a Nobel laureate of literature.

Some of his songs that have put me in a trance over the years: Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, Brownsville Girl, Series of Dreams, Highlands, Like a Rolling Stone, Not Dark Yet, Absolutely Sweet Marie, Thunder on the Mountain, Blind Willie McTell, When the Levee Breaks. And the Japanese cover of My Back Pages by the Magokoro Brothers. Oh, and Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.

I recently went back to Jonathan Cott’s collection of Essential Interviews with Dylan over the years. (I must have given that book as a graduation present to two or three SLU students. For some reason, “Girl from the North Country” comes to my mind.) What follows—first, what some of the interviewers said about Dylan; second, some classic Dylan musings; third, a list of singers he cites, worth getting (re)acquainted with.

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Elusive, oblique, mercurial, and always in motion, he has resisted in both his life and his work being categorized, encapsulated, finalized, conventionalized, canonized, and deified. Xii

He has a superb ear for speech rhythms, a generally astute sense of selective detail, and a natural storyteller’s command of narrative pacing. 22

He has more presence that anyone I’ve ever met. 340

He brought the linguistic beauty of Shakespeare, Byron, and Dylan Thomas, and the expansiveness and beat experimentation of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Ferlinghetti, to the folk poetry of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. 368

During a recording career that now spans 35 years, Dylan has been a cornucopia of inconsistency. Visionary and crank, innovator and conservator, irritant and stimulant, skeptic and proselytizer, rebel and sellout, pathfinder and lost patrol: Dylan has been all of those things, and many more. 392 Read the rest of this entry »

A Sangha with Tu Fu, Milarepa, Lady Murasaki, Li Ching-chao, Basho, and Jack Kerouac,

Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling, editors, Disembodied Poetics:  Annals of the Jack Kerouac School

Rereading this collection  after many years, I’m struck by the following perspectives from various writers I noted then and that still rev me up now …

Until you assert yourself nothing ever happens to you.
Jack Kerouac

This underground vehicle [along with local, cosmopolitan, and diamond vehicles in Buddhism] has equipped itself to trade in marketplaces across the planet. Its riders include Tu Fu, Milarepa, Lady Murasaki, Li Ching-chao, Basho, and Jack Kerouac. It is a night-wandering caravan, loaded down with strange and desirable goods, the goods of Poetry, and it picks its way along the treacherous trade routes of History, generously alert to the perils and needs of our own epoch. One could call it by a Sanskrit term, kavyayana—the Poetry Vehicle. Here the gospel lyric comes to mind—You don’t need no ticket, you just get on board.
Andrew Schelling

There is perhaps the poet’s Bodhisattva vow: to be a bridge, a boat, a fountain pen, a typewriter, a publisher, a school to anyone who has need of these “vehicles”—not personally, mind you, that it’s my particular style bridge, made in my image, my brand of typewriter of poetry.
Anne Waldman Read the rest of this entry »

On “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” by Carly Hofstetter

Carly is taking my Humanities class at Maryville and shared the following with me, and I am happy to share with you.

After watching this documentary I realized I know little to nothing about China, or about the struggle their people face, like Ai Weiwei. It’s shocking to think that the things that he faced are something many people face in China. Just because people try to speak up about basic human rights and common decency. I think Ai Weiwei’s a strong man, even though he grew up in a period where many artists like his father were persecuted because of who they were and their ideas. Growing up in a situation like that you’d think he’d stray from the artist path, but instead he continues what his father and many other artists were doing. He’s not radical about it either, he chooses what battles to face and doesn’t stop until he sees results. Other artist are scared to express themselves or their feelings against the government but Ai Weiwei isn’t. His art is so blunt and to the point, where as others hide their true meaning. He doesn’t let the government scare him into being something he’s not. He stays true to himself, which is a kind hearted person who cares for the people of his country.
Read the rest of this entry »

For All My Friends Who Are Free Spirits

“What is now proved was once only imagin’d.”
–William Blake

Free Spirits desire the emancipation of all humankind
Free Spirits conceive a habitable, harmonian world
Free Spirits know that no revolution has gone far enough
Free Spirits reject cynicism & despair
Free Spirits resolve immobilizing antinomies
Free Spirits dream extravagantly
Free Spirits prepare the negation of capital
Free Spirits meditate social transformation
Free Spirits subvert the culture of regression and death
Free Spirits affirm the power of the imagination Read the rest of this entry »

What I Can Use: Notes on Waldman and Birman’s Civil Disobediences

“Emerson was not a systematic reader, but he had a genius for skimming and a comprehensive system for taking notes…. He read rapidly, looking for what he could use.” p. 67

“He read widely in every field that interested him and he was always pushing into new fields. He read, as he wrote, rapidly. He read actively, as a writer does, looking for what he could use.” p. 99

“Not only must one have the courage to appropriate freely whatever one recognizes as one’s own, one must have the much greater courage to resist and refuse everything that is not one’s own material.” 174

—Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire

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29 January 2016 Notes from Anne Waldman and Lisa Birman, eds., Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action

This work is helpful for re-looking at Dear Layla, ideas for classes, stimulus to various practices.

Dear Layla is, literally, specifically, “an essay.”  [What is his genre? —- “Treatise, memoir, travelogue, elegy, novel, dance of the dead… the books seem built of elements of all of these and of none.”  —Hunt, on Sebald, 394]

Dear Layla —“Sentiment at realizing you’ve arrived at the thing that will penetrate through  your own core to other people’s core, and do it through the real world. Describing the real world in such a way as to find the pattern of the real world.” —Ginsberg,  265

Dear Layla —“Writers and intellectuals bear great responsibility for this because if one gives up the right to narrate or intervene, both at home and in other parts of the world, that vacuum will be filled by the discourses of ‘experts.’” —Alcalay, 451

Dear Layla —“Invoke Investigative and Documentary Poetics. Know the score! Know the history!”  —Waldman, 329 Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth with Carrie Niswonger: Life Through a Lens

Photography is another way to view the world around us as well as using our eyes. While photography  has many uses, numerous people popularly use it as an artistic medium to capture moments, emotions, and memories, all collectively showing a different way to view life. Photography is also one of the very few things that defies impermanence– moments are forever captured in time to show and teach others.

As a sixth grader, I was fascinated by that idea– to capture a past moment. So, I received my very first camera for my 11th birthday. Almost 9 years later, as a sophomore in college, I have yet to put down the camera as well as take a formal photography class. 11 year-old me was determined to teach myself and learn along the way. Despite my status as an amateur-photographer, sharing my photos and showing others how I see the world brings me great joy, although I rarely have a chance to do it. Therefore, I am delighted to talk about one of my passions and share my photos.

Join us!
Sunday 23 July 2017
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 pm
Carrie will share at 6:45
At the home of Christine Wallach and Carrie Niswonger
5 East Lake Road
Fenton, MO
63026

From Chris: Directions from Google will take you to the mailbox at the end of my gravel road. Follow the gravel. When you see a three car garage (my mother’s house) look to the right for a right turn. Follow that down to the bottom of the hill and you will arrive at my house.