Hold It All

Category: Commonplace book

We, Unsubsidized and Unbridled

And it is my firm conviction that a man can learn more about poetry by really knowing and examining a few of the best poems than by meandering about among a great many.

Language is a means of communication. To charge language with meaning to the utmost possible degree, we have, as stated, the three chief means:  (1) Throwing the object (fixed or moving) in to the visual imagination. (2) Inducing emotional correlations by the sound and rhythm of the speech. (3) Inducing both of the effects by stimulating the associations (intellectual or emotional) that have remained in the receiver’s consciousness in relation to the actual words or word groups employed.

A: Books a man reads to develop his capacities: in order to know more and perceive more, and more quickly, than he did before he read them.  B: Books that are intended and that serve as REPOSE, dope, opiates, mental beds.

Until you have made your own survey and your own closer inspection you might at least beware and avoid accepting opinions: 1) from men who haven’t themselves produced notable work. 2) From men who have not themselves taken the risk of printing the results of their own personal inspection and survey, even if they are seriously making one.

There is one quality which unites all great and perdurable writers, you don’t NEED schools and colleges to keep ‘em alive. Put them out of the curriculum, lay them in the dust of libraries, and once in every so often a chance reader, unsubsidized and unbridled, will dig them up again, put them in the light again, without asking favors. Read the rest of this entry »

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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…

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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 »

Not So Random Entries, Commonplace Moleskine/9

400.  If a man reads a book because it interests him and reads in all directions for the same reason, his reading is pure and interests me.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

500.  The poor play a crucial role in the world. They are the ones who really tell us what the world is.
–Pedro Casaldáliga and Jose-Maria Vigil

600. Military occupation is taken as an acceptable given and is scarcely mentioned; Palestinian terrorism becomes the cause, not the effect, of violence, even though one side possesses a modern military arsenal (unconditionally supplied by the United States), the other is stateless, virtually defenseless, savagely persecuted at will, and herded inside 160 little cantons, schools closed, life made impossible.
–Edward Said Read the rest of this entry »

A Call to Life and Deeds: Goethe’s Maxims

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections  
Translated by Elisabeth Stopp; edited with an introduction and notes by Peter Hutchinson; Penguin Books, 1998

I’ve been reading Pierre Hadot’s 2008 book, N’oublie pas de vivre: Goethe et la tradition des exercises spirituels, which sent me back to Goethe’s works.   The following are some of the maxims I noted in my reading of this book back in 2006…

‘Nothing should be treasured more highly than the value of the day.’ [789]

Anyone who doesn’t know foreign languages knows nothing of his own. [91]

If our teaching in schools always continues to point to Antiquity and promotes the teaching of the Greek and Latin languages, we can congratulate ourselves that these studies, so essential for any higher culture, will never suffer decline. [659]

May the study of Greek and Roman literature ever remain the basis of higher education!  [762]

A German should learn all languages so that no foreigner could discomfort him at home and he himself could be at home everywhere when abroad. [978] Read the rest of this entry »

Not So Random Entries, Commonplace Moleskine/8

51.  Neal looks older, Jewish, very serious and on powerful integrity drive.
–Allen Ginsberg, letter to Jack Kerouac

151.  In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. Dogen-zenji, the founder of our school, always emphasized how important it is to resume our boundless original mind. Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.
–Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

251.  No one is new to me. All are always familial.
–Sri Anandamayi Ma, quoted in Swami Mangalananda, A Goddess among Us Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

Not So Random Entries, Commonplace Moleskine/7

440. Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form. — Herman Melville

464. One of the most persistent stereotypes of the Second Chechen War is that the refugees are enemies of Russia. They are not seen as living in tents because their own warm houses were bombed. They are not seen as having been deprived of their rights. They are not seen as innocent people unjustly accused. –Anna Politkovskaya Read the rest of this entry »

Not So Random Entries, Commonplace Moleskine/6

117.  Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul. Every effort adds a little gold to a treasure no power on earth can take away. –Simone Weil

234.  … and even his intelligence, which was exclusively occupied in devising each day a fresh scheme which would make his presence, if not agreeable, at any rate, necessary to Odette… –Marcel Proust

351. [The entirety of I. L. Peretz’s]  work was characterized by a dialectical tension between the romantic and rational impulses of his character, between cosmopolitan, worldly yearnings and practical Jewish concerns, between personal erotic desire and public accountability. These struggles are not always resolved in the stories, even in those that appear to be most pointed and straightforward. –Ruth Wisse

468.  Thus, from the beginning to the end of ancient philosophy, we have almost the same situation: philosophical writings respond to questions. –Pierre Hadot