Hold It All

Category: Reading

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 »

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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 »

Her Vivacity Gladdened Life

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Knopf: Everyman’s Library,  1992 

I’ve acknowledged previously the importance of Reinaldo Arenas and Eduardo Galeano  during the late 1990s into 2000 as I was trying to figure out how to write what became The Book of Mev.  Also, during that period I read with relish James Boswell’s Life of Johnson.  That biography proved a fecund  encounter, as  some of my marginalia became a “To Do” for my project…

  1. Include a letter to make the point [get another voice in there]
  1. Include some of her more creative pieces [journal or no]
  1. Force, vivacity, and perspicuity [vigor]
  1. Long footnotes of clarification at the bottom of the page
  1. Spend six hours writing, one after the other, all the topics and fragments in my Mev log

Read the rest of this entry »

Dr. Sheth, How Many Poems Do You Prescribe Each Day?

Sometimes the world is too much with me—
The Trump world
The I-Me-Mine world
The seemingly gleaming samsara world—

But then I remember I need a dose of poems
Like the following from Ko Un’s book This Side of Time
Translated by Clare You and Richard Silberg…

The autumn leaves fall dancing.
I’ll dance my way out too
when it’s time to leave this world. 26

Do I have a love
to wash away people’s hate?
I opened an umbrella
then closed it, and
let the rain fall down on me. 27

I love August.
I love the August sun.
I remember ten billion years ago.

Ah, my body is smeared with primeval light. 52 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 »

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 Week

What I’m Reading This Week
Raul Hilberg, The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian
Aharon Shabtai, War & Love, Love & War: New and Selected Poems
Nathan A. Scott, Mirrors of Man in Existentialism
Pierre Hadot, N’oubile pas de vivre: Goethe et la tradition des exercices spirituels

What I’m Listening To
Talking Heads, The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II
Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Mahler, Symphony #8 (“Symphony of a Thousand”)

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.

 

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 »