Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Classics

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

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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.

Wang Wei

David Hinton, trans. The Selected Poems of Wang Wei
New Directions, 2006

One of the the T’ang all-time greats, devoted Buddhist, semi-recluse, noticer of minute particulars, painter of vast emptiness, appreciator of interbeing every second, befriender of sages, visitors and travelers moving in and out of the Ch’an world, his wife dead at thirty, he gravitates to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and what better sangha than the 10,000 things which come and go?

“Off-Hand Poem”

I’m ancient, lazy about making poems.
There’s no company here but old age.

I no doubt painted in some former life,
Roamed the delusions of words in another,

And habits linger. Unable to get free,
I somehow became known in the world,

But my most fundamental name remains
This mind still here beyond all knowing. Read the rest of this entry »

Appreciating Arthur Waley

for my multilingual friends and lovers of literature

Notes on Ivan Morris, ed., Madly Singing in the Mountains: An Appreciation and Anthology of Arthur Waley

Related Books
Ezra Pound, The ABC of Reading; Anne-Marie Schimmel, A Life of Learning; Susan Sontag, At the Same Time; Eliot Weinberger, Written Reaction;

See Also
Annping Chin, The Authentic Confucius; Simon Winchester, The Man Who Loved China;

I read this book at the same time I was reading Winchester’s take on Jojo Needham and Chin’s Schweitzer-esque quest for the historical Confucius.  Waley sounds like a  mensch (I found out he was Jewish): polyglot, intellectually ablaze, taciturn, practitioner of the Sufi-three-gate rule (my imagination anyway), and an indefatigable, assiduous, and laser-like scholar.

What I wish to note below are three areas: (1) About Waley himself; (2) some brief cullings and fave poems from his works; and (3) books of his I want to (re)read at some point in the next few years. Read the rest of this entry »

Opening up Minds

Tariq Ali on Hugo Chavez:
I remember sitting next to an elderly, modestly attired woman at one of his public rallies. She questioned me about him. What did I think? Was he doing well? Did he not speak too much? Was he not too rash at times? I defended him. She was relieved. It was his mother, worried that perhaps she had not brought him up as well as she should have done: “We always made sure that he read books as a child.” This passion for reading stayed with him. History, fiction and poetry were the loves of his life: “Like me, Fidel is an insomniac. Sometimes we’re reading the same novel. He rings at 3 am and asks: ‘Well, have you finished? What did you think?’ And we argue for another hour.’”

It was the spell of literature that in 2005 led him to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’s great novel in a unique fashion. The ministry of culture reprinted a million copies of Don Quixote and distributed them free to a million poor, but now literate, households. A quixotic gesture? No. The magic of art can’t transform the universe, but it can open up a mind. Chávez was confident that the book would be read now or later.

DQ

Proust for Lubna

Dear Lubna,

After you telling me of your exuberant response to Cloud Atlas and it making you wish to write, I returned to these passages from Proust’s last volume, Time Regained.  How far did you get with him, by the way?

1.

As for the inner book of unknown symbols… if I tried to read them no one could help me with any rules, for to read them was an act of creation in which no one can do our work for us or even collaborate with us.  How many for this reason turn aside from writing!  What tasks do men not take upon themselves in order to evade this task!  Every public event, be it the Dreyfus case, be it the war, furnishes the writer with a fresh excuse for not attempting to decipher this book:  he wants to insure the triumph of justice, he wants to restore the moral unity of the nation, he has no time to think of literature.  But these are mere excuses, the truth being that he has not or no longer has genius, that is to say instinct.  For instinct dictates our duty and the intellect supplies us with  pretexts for evading it. But excuses have no place in art and intentions count for nothing:  at every moment the artist has to listen to his instinct, and it is this that makes art the most real of all things, the most austere school of life, the true last judgment.

2.

So that the essential, the only true book, though in the ordinary sense of the word it does not have to be ‘“invented” by a great writer — for it exists already in each one of us — has to be translated by him.  The function and the task of a writer are those of a translator.

3.

The artist who gives up an hour of work for an hour of conversation with a friend knows that he is sacrificing a reality for something which does not exist (our friends being friends only  in the light of an agreeable folly which travels with us through life and to which we readily accommodate ourselves, but which at the bottom of our hearts we know to be no more reasonable than the delusion of the man who talks to the furniture because he believes that it is alive)…  

4.

In reality every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self.  The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps have never perceived in himself.  And the recognition by the reader in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its veracity, the contrary also being true, at least to a certain extent, for the difference between the two texts may sometimes be imputed less to the author than to the reader.  Besides, the book may be too learned, too obscure for a simple reader, and may therefore present to him a clouded glass through which he cannot read. …

5.

But the truth, even more, is that life is perpetually weaving fresh threads which link  one individual and one event to another, and that these threads are crossed and recrossed, doubled and redoubled to thicken the web, so that between any slightest point of our past and all the others a rich network of memories gives us an almost infinite variety of communicating paths to choose from.

 

6.

A work, even one that is directly autobiographical, is at the least put together out of several intercalated episodes in the life of the author — earlier  episodes which have inspired the work and later ones which resemble it just as much, the later loves being traced after the pattern of the earlier.   For to the woman whom we have loved most in our life we are not so faithful as we are to ourselves, and sooner or later we forget her in order — since this is one of the characteristics of that self — to be able to love again.

7.

And then a new light, less dazzling, no doubt, than that other illumination which had made me perceive that the work of art was  the sole means of rediscovering Lost Time, shone suddenly within me.  And I understood that all these materials for a work of literature were simply my past life; I understood that they had come to me, in frivolous pleasures, in indolence, in tenderness, in unhappiness, and that I had stored them up without divining the purpose for which they were destined or even  their continued existence any more than a seed does when it forms within itself a reserve of all the nutritious substances from which it will feed a plant.

8.

But I should have the courage to  reply to those who came to see me or tried to get me to visit them that I had, for necessary business which require immediate attention, an urgent, a supremely important appointment with myself.  And yet I was aware that, though there exists  but little connection between our veritable self and the other one, nevertheless, because they both are under the same name and share the same body, the abnegation which involves making a sacrifice of easier duties and even of pleasures appears to other people to be egotism.

9.

I knew that my brain  was like a mountain landscape rich in minerals, wherein lay vast and varied ores of great price.  But should I have time to exploit them?  For two reasons I was the only person who could do this: with my death would disappear the one and only engineer who possessed the skill to extract these minerals and — more than that — the geological formation itself.

10.

For although we know that the years pass, that youth gives way to old age, that fortunes and thrones crumble (even the most solid among them) and that fame is transitory, the manner in which — by means of a sort of snapshot — we take cognizance of this moving universe whirled along by Time, has the contrary effect of immobilizing it.

Lubna Alam

Lubna Alam