Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Reading

A State of Wonder and Serenity

What is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to me? What effect does it really produce on me? Does it give me pleasure? And if so, what sort or degree of pleasure?

—Walter Pater

 

In 1989 a friend said to me, “I have so far to go in this life … I am so happy.”   This came back to me when reading Washington Post literary critic Michael Dirda’s inspiring  Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life:  There is so much to read and reread… let’s get cracking!  I found engaging chapters that deal with  “the pleasures of learning,” “the books of love,” and “the interior library.”  Dirda describes his book this way:   “In its character the result is a florilegium, a ‘bouquet’ of insightful or provocative quotations from favorite authors, surrounded by some of my own observations, several lists, the occasional anecdote, and a series of mini-essays on aspects of life, love, work, education, art, the self, death. There’s even, occasionally, a bit of out-and-out advice.”  In this spirit, I will share a few lists, with gusto and gratitude. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

“The Hebrew socialist revolution against the fascist national Golgotha”*

Notes on Eliot Katz, The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg

Example of George Steiner’s championing learning by heart: Ginsberg knew  hundreds of poems from memory [20]

In Dear Layla and Book of Mev: The multiple instances of  Clara’s “beautiful friendship,” as in theme of interpersonal solidarity, Part 3 of Howl  [84]  Maria Goreth and the elderly, Nora’s letter, Teka’s eulogy, Carla and Perry,  Sabine and Danesha, Layla and Perry…

Book of Mev and Dear Layla: Hold it all, again—don’t have to choose one or other—realism or surrealism, narrative or anti-narrative, elevated diction or American speech; can embrace multiple interests and mix them in original, personal, and surprising ways.  [90]  Kerouac’s advice: “Something that you feel will find its own form.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Feat of Reading and Writing

1.

[T]he sheer enormity of what took place between 1933 and 1945 beggars our powers of description and understanding. The more one studies this period and its excesses, the more one must conclude that for any decent human being the slaughter of so many millions of innocents must, and indeed should, weigh heavily on subsequent generations, Jewish and non-Jewish…. there is no reason at all, in my opinion, not to submit oneself in horror and awe to the special tragedy besetting the Jewish people. As an Arab in particular I find it important to comprehend this collective experience in as much of its terrible concrete detail as one is capable: this act of comprehension guarantees one’s humanity and resolve that such a catastrophe should never be forgotten and never recur.
—Edward W. Said, Al-Ahram Weekly, 1997

2.

Charles Reznikoff immersed himself in more than 20 volumes of transcripts from World War II war crimes trials and the Eichmann trial. Out of that intense reading of thousands of pages came Holocaust, a book of poetry in 12 sections comprising 88 pages published in 1975. Read the rest of this entry »

Slow Reading

A young friend decided to read
Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine
(Her family are refugees from there)

Most chapters are a page maybe two
She is reading two chapters a day
H. D. Thoreau said: “I have no time to be in a hurry”

Our Bliss with Books: A Fall Writing and Reading Course

I have sometimes dreamt that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward.  We have nothing to give them.  They have loved reading.’”

—Virginia Woolf

____________________

In this fall writing and reading course we will explore ways of deepening our reading practice, reflecting on our reading history, and sharing with others  the fruits of our reading.  Themes we will consider include:  courtesy and answerability, the canon and the syllabus, intensive and extensive reading, commonplace books (paper and digital), learning by heart, skimming, browsing, planning and spontaneity,  slow reading, a saturation  job, being a scholar of words, Kafka’s Axe, grateful dependence on translators, the joy of recommendation, and more.

Each session will  feature one or more themes, and allow time for individual writing, paired exchange, and open forum. We’ll also discuss Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading.

Between class sessions, participants will post reflections, lists, questions, responses, and recommendations at a class blog. Read the rest of this entry »

The Most Precious Treasure

Meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran distinguished between two kinds of  spiritual reading: instruction and inspiration.  While he believes it makes sense to limit your instructions to one teacher/lineage/path, you can fruitfully read from all religious traditions for inspiration.

In that spirit, I  offer gleanings from three Japanese Zen teachers I’ve recently encountered.  Perhaps one of these passages will speak to you…

_______________________

By meeting what you are faced with right now, though, in this very instant, completely without judgment or evaluation, you can transcend by far all question of cause and effect. You may be working in the kitchen or sweeping the garden or cleaning the toilet or laboring for somebody else, but you do it without consideration of its relative merit. That means simple doing with all your might, becoming one with whatever situation in which you find yourself in this instant. I would like for you to clearly know that there is this other way of living your life.

To believe in  your teacher, in your seniors, in the tradition, is in other words, to believe in yourself. You must puzzle out your unripeness.

Again and again I returned to the take-off point; over and over I reiterated my original resolve. I believe that courage is upholding what you have once decided to do and enduring all troubles encountered along the way. To sustain and carry out that original intention—just this, in itself—is real courage. Read the rest of this entry »

“I’ll Never Know, in the Silence You Don’t Know, You Must Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On”

Working on a kind of sequel to Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, I am imagining a character named Bella Levenshteyn, who in her twenties devotes herself to learning Yiddish, the language of her ancestors.  At one point, she confides to Perry that she once went on a  five-week reading binge of the essays, poems, articles, and reviews by  Yankev Glatshteyn, the foremost U.S.Yiddish writer in the middle of the 20th century.

I’ve been reading several recent works of scholarship on that period, and found some stimulating provocations in Anita Norich’s work, Discovering Exile:  Yiddish and Jewish American Culture during the Holocaust.

The following  passages may inform, or work themselves—somehow— into my story.

___________________________

People are quite familiar with the conventional label for the Nazi genocide of the Jews, “the Holocaust.”  Norich considers the period well before that word assumed its ascendancy: “Under increasing pressure of news from the war front and silence from home, Yiddish writers re-imagined modernism, the Enlightenment, political engagement, literary conventions, and symbolic language.  The destruction of European Jewry was called by its Yiddish name, khurbn, before it was known as the Holocaust, before the numbers of dead were revealed, even before the concentration camps were built. What Yiddish-speaking Jews meant by khurbn … was a long history of disasters into which the rise of Hitler, the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and a host of other disastrous events could fit.  The particularities of Nazism’s rise were not, at the time, perceived as unique, unparalleled, or apocalyptic by the people against whom they were directed.” Read the rest of this entry »

For the Love of a Few Golden Sentences

What is genius but the faculty of seizing and turning to account everything that strikes us? … The greatest genius will never be worth much if he pretends to draw exclusively from his own resources…. Every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand different things.

Goethe

 

In the last couple of years, I have found myself asking two simple questions, Why do we read? Why do we write?  One context for this curiosity is my facilitating classes of writing and reading, in homes and on-line.  If you, too, want or need to engage in such self-examination, I recommend biographer Robert D. Richardson’s  First We Read, Then We Write:  Emerson on the Creative Process. You may find your own riches, as I have in what follows…

______________________

RDR:  He glanced at thousands of books. He read carefully many hundreds that caught his attention. He returned over and over to a favorite few, including Montaigne, Plutarch, Plato, Plotinus, Goethe, de Stael, and Wordsworth.

RWE: It seemed to me as if I had written [Montaigne’s Essays] myself in some former life. … No book before or since was ever so much to me as that.

RWE: Each of the books I read invades me, displaces me. 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

_______________________

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 »

Commonplace Books

From the Be in Love with Yr Life class, Annie Kratzmeyer was telling me about the commonplace notebooks she fills. Here’s a page of one of mine.

What Emerson kept, and what he recommended enthusiastically to others, were what used to be called commonplace books, blank bound volumes in which one writes down vivid images, great descriptions, striking turns of phrase, ideas, high points from one’s life and reading—things one wants to remember and hold on to. A commonplace book is not a diary, an appointment calendar, or a record of one’s feelings. If your journal consists of the best moments of your life and reading, then rereading it will be like walking a high mountain trail that goes from peak to peak without the intervening descent into the trough of routine. Just reading in such a journal of high points will tighten your strings and raise your pitch.

–Robert Richardson. Jr., author of First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process