Hold It All

Category: Classics

This Pilgrimage of the Heart

I first read the seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time spring through autumn of 1997.  A couple of years later, I read the collection of Proust’s essays in On Art & Literature: 1896-1919. Looking back over my notes on the text, I can see how significant Proust was for me in the two works (Mev, Layla)  that came after my Elie Wiesel book, on which I was  working at the time of this reading.  I was particularly drawn to Proust’s criticism of the French critic Sainte-Beuve.

Should I make it a novel, or a philosophical study — am I a novelist?

Every day I set less store on intellect.

And if intellect only ranks second in the hierarchy of virtues, intellect alone is able to proclaim that the first place must be given to instinct.

At the same time I put myself in tune with those other realities for which solitude whets the appetite, and whose possibility, whose reality, gives a value to life:  the women one does not know.

[Sainte-Beuve’s method] ignores what a very slight degree of self-acquaintance teaches us:  that a book is the product of  a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices.  If we would try to understand that particular self, it is by searching  our own bosoms, and trying to reconstruct it there, that we may arrive at it.  Nothing can exempt us from this pilgrimage of the heart.

One regards oneself as no more than the trustee, who from one moment to the next may disappear, of an intellectual hoard which will disappear with him; and one would like to say check to one’s previous idleness or force of inertia by obeying that noble commandment of Christ’s in the Gospel of Saint John:  Work while ye have the light.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Making It Be  Spring with Everything

Burton Watson, Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, Columbia University Press, 1996

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

Do not be an embodier of fame; do not be a storehouse of schemes; do not be an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from heaven but do not think you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all. The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror—going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing. Therefore he can win out over things and not hurt himself.

Artisan Ch’ui could draw as true as a compass or a T square because his fingers changed along with things and he didn’t let his mind get in the way. Therefore his Spirit Tower remained unified and unobstructed.  You forget your feet when the shoes are comfortable. You forget your waist when the belt is comfortable. Understanding forgets right and wrong when the mind is comfortable. There is no change in what is inside, no following what is outside, when the adjustment to events is comfortable. You begin with what is comfortable and never experience what is uncomfortable when you know the comfort of forgetting what is comfortable.

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What good medicine  Chuang Tzu is for me, with all my scheming,  planning, exerting, desiring and grasping after!  He’s the chill sage on the  Via Negativa: letting go and letting be, as in the following passages: Read the rest of this entry »

“My Library Is What Is in My Head”

Leland Poague, ed.Conversations with Susan Sontag
University Press of Mississippi, 1995

Sometimes I feel that, in the end, all I am really defending—but then I say all is everything—is the idea of seriousness, of true seriousness. What strikes me is how unambitious and superficial most American literature is. 245

I write to be part of literature, not for other people. 262

Reading these interviews, I was reminded how clueless I was as a Bellarmine graduate. It was my senior week, 1982, no classes, and I was sitting in the cafeteria waiting to lunch with James Petrick and Paul Fleitz, and prof and poet and Merton intimate Ron Seitz sat beside me and asked me what I wanted to do now.  I mumbled something to him, and he offered me a wry smile as he said, “So you want to be an intellectual, don’t you?”  Yes, Ron, I did, but had precious few models.

I became keenly interested in the work of Susan Sontag quite late, 2003, in fact, while reading her speech for an award in which she linked the witnesses of Oscar Romero and Rachel Corrie, the latter who had been bulldozed to death by an IDF soldier while serving as a volunteer wit the International Solidarity Movement. Later that year, I and friends from St. Louis went to Palestine and gave time with the same organization.  I read many of her essays which were posted at Znet in the following years.   A “gluttonous reader,” Sontag reminded me of Edward Said and George Steiner, whom I began reading in the 1990s.

The following excerpts spoke to me: first, what some of her interviewers made of Sontag, and, second, some of her reflections on themes important to me over the years….

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Bellamy: No one could have been more charming and cooperative. 35

Raddatz: If I had to apply the word “intellectual” to a single person, only she would come to mind. She has a lightening-like joy, an inexhaustible curiosity about events and processes even of the most remote type… 88

Lesser: Her own tone, however, is one of eminent rationality. If she is the modern version of the nineteenth-century sage, then she is certainly a toned-down Ruskin, a sane Nietzsche—and in fact a great part of her appeal as a stylist lies in that reasonable tone of certainty, that restrained assertiveness, that assurance of her own well-groundedness. 92 Read the rest of this entry »

Dharma Brother Wang Wei

Devoted Buddhist
Semi-recluse
Noticer of the minute particulars
Painter of vast emptiness
Appreciator of interbeing moment by moment
Befriender of sages, visitors and travelers moving in and out of the Ch’an world

His wife dead at thirty
He gravitates to Buddha,
The Dharma, the Sangha
And what better sangha
Than the 10,000 things
Which come and go?

See David Hinton, The Selected Poems of Wang Wei

Wang Wei

Training Everyday

For a true gentleman [junzi], learning is a matter of working on oneself. When slander and praise, glory and disgrace come, not only is his mind unmoved by such things, but he uses them as an occasion to refine and polish himself. Therefore, wherever a true gentleman goes, he is self-possessed, precisely because wherever he goes, he is learning.

–Wang Yang-Ming, in  J. C. Cleary’s Worldly Wisdom: Confucian Teachings of the Ming Dynasty

Sunday Afternoon

Sitting outside at Stella and Bella’s Cafe
The Presidential debate two hours away
Reading Su Tung-P’o’s bamboo poem
Will Clinton deliver the knock-out blow?
On my ballot, I’ll write in: Chuang Tzu

–from novel-in-progress, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

 

Source: Burton Watson, Selected Poems of Su Tung-P’o, p. 114 (Copper Canyon Press, 1994).

 

 

Yoshida Kenkō, Tsurezuregusa

for Caroline

 

Going on a journey, whatever the destination, makes you feel suddenly awake and alive to everything.

There are so many new things to see in rustic places and country villages as you wander looking. It is also delightful to send word to those back home in the capital asking for news, and adding reminders to be sure and see to this or that matter.

In such places, you are particularly inclined to be attentive to all you see. You even notice the fine quality of things you’ve brought with you, and someone’s artistic talents or beauty will delight you more than they usually would.

Withdrawing to a retreat at a temple or shrine is also delightful.

 

–translated by Meredith McKinney

Reading Du Fu

Some friends and I are reading Du Fu in David Young’s translation. Here’s what Ye Xie (1627-1703) had to say about him– “Take any one of Du Fu’s poems, or even one line, and everywhere you will see his concern for his country and his love for his sovereign, his compassion for the times and his sadness over disorder, his refusal to compromise in adversity, his integrity in poverty, his way of expressing indignation and refining his nature by means of enjoying the landscape and drinking with friends, even though he had traveled through war-torn, bandit-infested terrain: this is Du Fu’s visage. Whenever I read him, it leaps before my eyes.”

2015 Chinese Poets in Translation Reading Group

Chris Wallach and I are starting a reading group in 2015 with the aim of reading one of the translations each month  of such poets as Wang Wei, Han-Shan, Li Ch’ing-chao, Tu Fu, Su Tung-p’o, Bo Juyi, Bei Dao, by such translators as Arthur Waley, Kenneth Rexroth, David Young, Burton Watson,  David Hinton, Eliot Weinberger, among others.

Our first book will be Burton Watson’s Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the T’ang Poet Han-Shan.

Please send me a message if you are interested in joining us in 2015.

I climb the road to Cold Mountain,
The road to Cold Mountain that never ends.
The valleys are long and strewn with stones;
The streams broad and banked with thick grass.
Moss is slippery, though no rain has fallen;
Pines sigh, but it isn’t the wind.
Who can break from the snares of the world
And sit with me among the white clouds?
–Han-Shan
translated by Burton Watson

Watson's Hanshan Cover

Reading/713 (Master Chu)

In reading, you must keep your mind glued to the text. Only when every sentence and every character falls into place have you done a good job of thinking through the work. In general, the student should collect his mind, so that it’s completely tranquil and pure and in its normal activity and tranquility doesn’t run wild or become confused. Only then will he understand the text in all of its detail. Reading like this, he’ll understand the essentials.

From neo-Confucian scholar Chu Hsi, Learning to Be a Sage: Selections from the Conversations of Master Chu, Arranged Topically, translated with a commentary by Daniel K. Gardner.