Hold It All

Category: Reading

A Page of Mev’s Notes on Martin Buber’s “I and Thou”

Patricia Geier and I are reading and discussing Nathan A. Scott’s book, Mirrors of Man in Existentialism. This morning after having read the chapter on Buber, I went to my shelves and pulled off I and Thou. Inside Mev’s copy from the 80s, I found the following page of notes on the classic text.

 

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Not So Random Entries, Commonplace Moleskine/5

7.  Our monkey-minds are like these agitated monsters that are wanting this and collecting that, always grabbing, grabbing, grabbing. The process of cooling out that agitation takes time, and that’s hard for the agitated mind to accept. But the spiritual journey will teach us patience if it teaches us nothing else.  –Ram Dass

107.  If our present suffering ever leads to a revival, this will not be brought about through slogans but in silence and moral loneliness, through pain, misery, and terror, in the profoundest depths of each man’s spirit.  –Simone Weil

207.  To put it simply: I have read everything that Jerry [Rothenberg] has written, translated or edited, and I still read it all the time. He is the rare poet whose last book is his best book, and whose next book I’ll read the day I get it.  –Eliot Weinberger

307.  All his energies, like those of every soldier, were unconsciously directed to restraining himself from contemplating the horror of his position. –Leo Tolstoy

407. I suppose that what in other men is religion is in me love of nature. –Henry David Thoreau Read the rest of this entry »

Reading of Dorothy’s Reading

The Dorothy Day Book, compiled by Margaret Quigley and Michael Garvey,  is a  kind of posthumous commonplace book, that is, a collection of quotations from Dorothy’s decades of reading (largely from her column in the Catholic Worker), interspersed with some of her own commentaries on her life.  

As this slim volume attests, she was a voracious and vivacious reader, culling wisdom, aperçus, exhortations, and epigrams from saints (Gertrude,  Teresa of  Avila, Maximilian Kolbe),  rabbis (A.J. Heschel), popes (Leo XIII, Pius XI, John XXIII), sages (R.W. Emerson and H.D. Thoreau), novelists (Upton Sinclair, George Orwell, Leo Tolstoy, Henry Miller), activists (Danilo Dolci, Mohandas Gandhi, A.J. Muste), literary critics (Raymond Williams), philosophers (Immanuel Kant, Simone Weil, Herbert Marcuse), monks (Roger of Taize, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh), poets (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, W. H. Auden), prophets (Isaiah), theologians (Teilhard de Chardin, Johannes Baptist Metz), even university presidents (Theodore Hesburgh), to name but some of those cited in these pages.  The entries reveal Dorothy’s preoccupations with property and poverty, war and peace, patriotism and idolatry, service and self-purification.  She read newspapers and the Book of Common prayer,  classic novels and the lives of the saints, social criticism and spiritual testimonies.  Her practice of reading was a decades-long, spirited  clarification of thought.

In their introduction, the editors quote  Dorothy’s view of reading:  “The books will always be there.  If we give up many other distractions, we can turn to them.  We can browse among the millions of words written and often just what we find can nourish us, enlighten us, strengthen us — in fact, be our food just as Christ, The Word, is also our food.”

Here is what I’ve culled from her culling and own writing … Read the rest of this entry »

Not So Random Entries, Commonplace Moleskine /2

40. The principal truth is this: latent in every act of complete reading is the compulsion to write a book in reply. The intellectual is, quite simply, a human being who has a pencil in his or her hand when reading a book. –George Steiner

80. We have no more say in the duration of our passions than in that of our lives. –La Rochefoucauld

120. Resist much, obey less. –Lawrence Ferlinghetti

160. One becomes moral as soon as one is unhappy. –Marcel Proust

200. Poets who died with nearly all their work unpublished or out of print in last 25 years: HD, Zukovsky, Hughes, Blackburn, Olson, Moore, Loy, O’Hara, Reznikoff, Spicer, Niedecker. –Eliot Weinberger

240. All in all, though, I have never known anyone smarter, with a better memory, with a greater facility for creatively escaping the bounds of acceptable thought, or, more admirably, a person with more honesty, integrity, respect, and real universal concern. –Michael Albert, on Noam Chomsky

280. I’ve always ben addicted to his music the way some people are addicted to chocolate sundaes. I find it absolutely irresistible. — Glenn Gould, on Richard Strauss

320. Yet whoever forgets Yiddish courts amnesia of history. Mourn–the forgetting has already happened. A thousand years of our travail forgotten. Here and there a word left for vaudeville jokes. –Cynthia Ozick

360. These works, whose Jewish perspective ranges from the central to incidental, testify to Glatshteyn’s decision, whether conscious or not, to confront more completely [the Jewish] side of his existence. –Janet Hadda

“What Am I Living My Life for?” Ivan Ilyich and Ikigai- A Summer 2018 Reading/Writing Class

“I see that all of my work amounts to nothing, that my ten volumes aren’t worth anything!”
—Guy de Maupassant, after reading The Death of Ivan Ilyich

David Barsamian: You had something in mind in a lecture when you mentioned Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich .… What was that?

Historian Howard Zinn: I think what I had in mind was that young people, especially when thinking about their whole future lying ahead of them, should try to imagine what Ivan Ilyich went through when at the end of his life, Tolstoy is giving young people an opportunity to see forty or fifty years ahead and ask, How will I think back upon my life forty or fifty years from now. For them to see that Ivan Ilyich, this successful man, this man who did everything right, looks back on his life and says, This is not the kind life I wanted to lead, is something very instructive for young people, who are being captivated, being pressured on all sides, to get money, to get success, to do the right things, all of them superficial, evanescent, the kinds of things that at the end of one’s life will evaporate immediately. I very often talk about The Death of Ivan Ilyich because I want young people to think about the question of, What am I living my life for? What can I be proud of when I go? What will my grandchildren be proud of when they think of my life?

For the last weeks of summer, I invite you to join a reading and writing class to discuss this jarring work by Tolstoy. But I think this will be relevant not only for undergraduates but people of any age.

Each class session will have activities of discussing a few chapters of Tolstoy, writing and sharing with each other. We will write on themes from Tolstoy’s novella about our own lives, particularly in light of the Japanese concept of Ikigai, or one’s “reason for being.” A class blog will allow further sharing and reflection.

An online class version of the class will be available for people who wish to engage with Tolstoy and other readers and writers. Read the rest of this entry »

That Glow, That Yes!

Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft
30 September 2000

It’s clear to me today, anyway, that my Holy Contour of Life book will be a structure like Natalie’s: short, compressed, easy to read and reread, straightforward. I can continue to play with this. Because having “finished” the new version (how many versions have I had???) in which I fractured chronology, now it seems too disjointed and contrived, so I want to break it up further, maybe chronologically, but just keep it to two pages max.

Commentaries, yes, but creatively done, maybe with lists, found shit, short portions of letters (like mine to Peter Pfersick), journals, and articles. Weave them together. Like on riches and poverty: Set it up, find one quotation from GG interview, then one from Sobrino interview, then add a further comment, then use the photos.

Here in Thunder and Lightning, Natalie is still giving her Zen advice on writing as a spiritual practice … Writing Down the Bones, III (After Wild Mind being Bones II). She’s found what works for her, she’s just giving good advice coming out of her own vulnerable, wise experiences as a writer, a meditator, a slow walker, a Jew, a neurotic. “What if Natalie Goldberg were one of us? Just a shmo like one of us?”

And I read this, quelle surprise, only for insight on how to keep going with Book of Mev, Holy Contour of Life, My Fucking Memoir, whatever it’s to be entitled. And this book moves beyond writing practice to structure, craft, finishing a project. So what I note below may be useful in this process:
Read the rest of this entry »

“Why Must the Poet’s Mouth Be Bloodied, His Teeth Caved in?”

More than a decade ago, octogenarian  Jesuit felon Daniel Berrigan  spoke at the local Jesuit university (in the auditorium of the business school, no less).  During the Q & A, a friend of mine asked him this question, “Dan, what have you been reading these days?”  His response:  “The Gospels and the poets.” Read the rest of this entry »

Short, Savory, and Sound: Aitken’s Miniatures

In fall 2000 I first encountered Robert Aitken Roshi with his book, The Dragon Who Never Sleeps, a collection of scores of four-line poems, or gathas.  Nine years later, I read his Miniatures of a Zen Master, which served me as a model text —compressed, no excess verbiage, just the pith.  Among Aitken’s inspirations were Thoreau’s journals, and  Bashō and Kenkō’s prose works. In my journal, I wrote “Merge Aitken  with Galeano.  This is the path.  Write one book, 130 chapter titles….His table of contents is an inspiration, for a terse, spare next book.”

The result  several years later was  Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine.  While Aitken wrote in short paragraphs, I typically  composed in short stanzas: transfigured recollections, meditations, lists, stories I carried around for thirty years.  He was a beneficent influence in the generation and shaping of the novel.

Here are some of my favorite Aitken miniatures …

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A lot of us start out on the practice because we don’t accept ourselves fully. Under good tutelage we find ourselves in a process of forgetting ourselves, and realize that this is really the way to uncover the unique one that has been there all along. Give the Tao a chance. Give yourself a chance. [17] Read the rest of this entry »

“True Happiness and Joy”

Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.  He was the author of 40 novels, 350 short stories, and five plays.  When I was in Palestine in 2003, I would read his Cairo Trilogy at night.  Much later, when we were reading Arab Writers in Translation during and after the Arab Spring, we read his short novel, Karnak Café.

An interesting introduction to Mahfouz can be found in Mohamed Salmawy’s collection,  Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber:  Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994-2001 (American University in Cairo Press, 2004).  I recently completed a class during which we discussed the relationships among reading, remembering, and writing.  One old-fashioned practice  is keeping a commonplace book of significant excepts from one’s reading.  The following passages from Salmawy and Mahfouz’s exchanges now make their way into my commonplace book, to serve as reminder, inspiration, and goad.

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I have read voraciously throughout my life. Every time I was interested in a subject – and my interests were always diverse – I would read everything I could lay my hands on, however remotely related. I would go to the National Library to read the classics, and regularly frequented the bookstores that sold works in modern literature. I read novels, of course, but also history, philosophy, politics, science…. Human curiosity is limitless, but one life is nowhere near enough to satisfy it.  12

“Writing” – expressing my ideas and thoughts – is, for me, the moment when the ink begins to flow through the pen and onto the paper. I know of no other way.  20  Read the rest of this entry »

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 »