Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Reading

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…

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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 »

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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

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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 ntoebooks 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

Those Blasts of a Trumpet

I’ve recently finished reading Robert Richardson’s engrossing biography, Emerson: The Mind on Fire. The author regularly highlights the exuberant reading Emerson did throughout his life. Robertson not only identifies authors and titles of what Emerson read; he also notes how Emerson read. Twice, Robertson quotes Goethe, a dramatic influence on Emerson: “What is genius but the faculty of seizing and turning to account any thing that strikes us… every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand different things.” Emerson was a proponent of skimming books:  “The glance reveals what the gaze obscures. Somewhere the author has hidden his message. Find it, and skip the paragraphs that do not talk to you.”  Read the rest of this entry »

A Briiliant Bit of Victor Hugo

My friend Andrew Wimmer has taken on a translation of Hugo’s Les Misérables. He shared the following in this morning’s email…

“If it had not rained on the night of June 17, 1815, the future of Europe would have been different. A few drops more or less tipped the balance against Napoleon. For Waterloo to be the end of Austerlitz, Providence needed only a little rain, and an unseasonable cloud crossing the sky was enough for the collapse of a world.”

Hugo goes on to say that since Napolean’s strategy relied on artillery, and since it had rained the night before and they had to wait until late in the morning for the ground to dry enough to support the cannon, the course of the battle, and so, history, was changed.

I can only imagine what he would have to say about global climate change.

 

Share the Wealth with Jason Makansi: Painting by Numbers at Left Bank Books

For this week’s Share the Wealth, I invite you to learn from my friend Jason Makansi this Thursday!

Left Bank Books welcomes author and independent consultant Jason Makansi, who will sign and discuss his new book, Painting By Numbers: How to Sharpen Your BS Detector and Smoke Out the Experts!

How well do you know what you think you know? If you’ve ever pored over election polling data, argued about climate change, or read an article describing the latest study on a topic you care about, Painting By Numbers is for you. Written in an entertaining and approachable style and with humorous illustrations to help explain complex modeling concepts, Painting By Numbers helps make sense of the numbers shaping modern society. Using examples drawn from polling data, medicine, climate modeling, and more, Painting By Numbers is the essential toolkit with 12 commandments for evaluating the numbers that shape our lives.

“There’s a desperate need for every literate person to understand this.” —Dr. Elton McGoun, Accounting and Business Professor, Bucknell University

This event is free and open to the public, but proof of purchase of Painting By Numbers  ($12.95) from Left Bank Books will be required to enter the signing line.

Join us
Thursday 27 July
7:00pm
Left Bank Books
399 N. Euclid Ave.
Saint Louis, MO 63108

How Refreshing!

Unlike critics and “language” poets, I have no agenda at all: I read books.

–Eliot Weinberger, Written ReactionPoetics, Politics, Polemics

Liz, Here’s Another Work to Add to the Wisdom Literature List

But the whole teaching, the “way” contained in these anecdotes, poems, and meditations, is characteristic of a certain mentality found everywhere in the world, a certain taste for simplicity, for humility, self-effacement, silence, and in general a refusal to take seriously the aggressivity, the ambition, the push, and the self-importance which one must display in order to get along in society.
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

The Good News of Giving and Receiving Books, 6.26.2017

Ten years ago, because of a Social Justice theology class, I got to know Melissa Banerjee, a Bengali-American.  It made sense to me to give her a hardback edition of the The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.  Later on, after staying several weeks in India, she brought back to me Letters of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna’s foremost disciple. Melissa inscribed the book this way: “Dr C., Hope this brings  you a small ‘piece’ of the peace I experienced at Sri Ramakrishna’s Mission and Math at Belur, Kolkata.”

This selection of Vivekananda’s letters  range from 1888 to 1902, and address members of his community as well as  Westerners eager to learn more about Indian spirituality.   The following is a small sample  of passages I noted of the swami’s observations, advice, exhortation, and insight…

On the Buddha: His greatness lies in his unrivaled sympathy. 18

Have faith in yourselves, great convictions are the mothers of great deeds.  64

Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance, the difference between soul and soul is due to the difference in density of these layers of clouds.  69 Read the rest of this entry »

Cultivating Avidity

Books of poetry will teach you more than your mentor or professor or the well-known poet you have traveled to a conference to work with. Reading is like food to a writer; without it, the writer part of you will die—or become spindly and stunted. If you’re afraid that reading will make you less original, don’t be. Failing under the spell of—or reading against—other writers is part of what will lead you to your own work. Reading in the long tradition of poetry shows you what has lasted, and those poems are there to learn from. Reading your contemporaries shows you what everyone else is up to in your own time, so you can map the different directions of the art. There’s never one route to poetry, one style. Reading widely will help you see this….  You need to soak up as many books as you can. Even the one you don’t like can teach you something. If you were a painter, you’d spend time looking at works of art from every period in history….

–Kim Addonizio, Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, pages 93, 95.