Hold It All

Category: World Literature

Share the Wealth with Maggie Needham: From Treating Harry Potter as Sacred to Treating Each Other as Sacred

Last January, I started a discussion group based on one of my favorite podcasts, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. This January, I was hired on by the podcast to help manage dozens of local reading groups similarly inspired by the show. (The world is weird.)

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text aims to treat a secular book series as if it were sacred, using traditional religious reading practices and applying them not to the Bible or the Torah, but to J. K. Rowling’s fantasy series. The hosts, Harvard Divinity School grads, say that treating a text as sacred requires three things: trusting the text, rigor and ritual, and reading in community. I loved the podcast, but listening to others do sacred reading wasn’t the same thing as doing it in community, so I gathered other listeners and we began using the podcast’s methodology ourselves.

The weekly discussion group has bridged so much for me: the sacred and secular, my love for fantasy novels and my love for justice, inner spirituality and community growth. In this Share the Wealth, I’ll share what I’ve learned from a year and a half of intentional, rigorous sacred reading, connect some dots between Harry Potter and religion, and maybe try out some spiritual practices with you all.

Me, second from the left, with friends from my discussion group and the hosts of the podcast.

I’m a SLU grad (‘15) currently working at a literacy nonprofit in Chicago and working for Harry Potter and the Sacred Text on the side. I drink lots of earl grey tea and bake sourdough bread.

Join us
Sunday 28 April
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Maggie begins sharing at 6:45 p.m.
At the home of Chris Wallach
5 E. Lake Road
Fenton, MO
63026

From Chris: Directions from Google will take you to the mailbox at the end of my gravel road. Follow the gravel. When you see a three car garage (my mother’s house) look to the right for a right turn. Follow that down to the bottom of the hill and you will arrive at my house.

Text me if you get lost–314-807-8769 (Mark)

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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 »

Five Poems, Five Passages

Ezra Pound and Marcella Spann, ed.
From Confucius to Cummings: An Anthology of Poetry
New Directions, 1964

Guido Calvacanti, Sonnet 7
Saint Teresa d’Avila, Bookmark
Elizabeth I, When I Was Fair and Young
William Butler Yeats, Down by the Salley Gardens
H.D., “Never More Will the Wind”

___________________

What matters in poetry, as Coleridge would have agreed, is the intensity of the emotion, and the depth of comprehension registered by the writer.

My efforts to indicate part of the quality of Chinese metric have been sabotaged by the lethargy , or worse, of America endowments for the suppression of the life of the soul.

W.D.H. Rouse notes that Golding’s version [of Ovid] was one of the six great books that Shakespeare had read, as perhaps no other man ever will.

Shakespeare’s lyrics if not the absolute fountainhead are at any rate the channel from which almost all later melodic and rhythmic variety in song-strophe has flowed into English and American verse.

Nineteenth century rhetoric books used to recommend: clearness, force, and beauty. Medieval Latin gave it: ut doceat, ut moveat, ut delectet, that it teach, move, and delight.

Four Analects, Five Translations

1.1

The Master said, “To learn, and at due times to practice what one has learned, is that not also a pleasure? To have friends come from afar, is that not also a joy? To go unrecognized, yet without being embittered, is that not also to be a noble person?”
—Irene Bloom

The Master said, To learn and rehearse it constantly, is this indeed not a pleasure? To have friends come from afar, is this indeed not a delight? Others do not know him, yet he feels no resentment, is he indeed not a superior man?
—Daniel K. Gardner

The Master said: “To learn, and then, in its due season, put what you have learned into practice—isn’t that still great pleasure? And to have a friend visit from somewhere far away—isn’t that still a great joy? When you’re ignored by the world like this, and yet bear no resentment—isn’t that great nobility?
—David Hinton

He said: Study with the seasons winging past, is not this pleasant?
To have friends coming in from far quarters, not a delight?
Unruffled by men’s ignoring him, also indicative of high breed.
—Ezra Pound

The Master said, To learn and at due times to repeat what one has learnt, is that not after all a pleasure? That friend should come to one from afar, is this not after all delightful? To remain unsoured even though one’s merits are unrecognized by others, is that not after all what is expected of a gentleman?
—Arthur Waley

Read the rest of this entry »

Festival of Kissing, Festival of Touching

Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces

Marginalia and Notes, February 2001

I read this book because, like Arenas’s The Color of Summer, it exemplifies a style and structure that I wish to adapt for my second book: short, compressed, packed chapters, thematically linked over the course of the book by numbers, with ample illustrations, mixing autobiography, journalism, “theology,” history, lyricism.

Addition to Jack Kerouac, shorter, the better. Consider, fracturing further currently long chapters.

A part of me died with him. A part of him lives with me. [What for a dedication page?]

Think of all the words I can include, with examples, in my Lexicon chapters.

Depending on layout and format, consider using little photos (of Mev, even) .

Tell my story; no, tell your story.

Do some chapters, like his The Function of the Reader, on “Reading.”

NB: keep the chapters short. 23

Chapter: Voice. And, Voiceless. Check synonyms. Read the rest of this entry »

Transmitting Beauty

Donald Keene, Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan
Columbia University Press, 2008

The first sentence of George Steiner’s first book (on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky) reads: “Literary criticism should arise out of a debt of love.”  Donald Keene’s fascinating  Chronicles of My Life tells the story of his love for Japanese literature over many decades. A few selections from the book point to his ardent commitment to reading, writing, and teaching.

____________________

When I think back on my life, it is clear that luck, rather than any decision made after long deliberation, has governed my life. The accident of sitting next to a Chinese in an undergraduate class awakened an interest in his country and later in all of East Asia, which has grown with the years until it is now the most important part of my life. The outbreak of the Pacific War, just at a time when I had begun to study Japanese, determined my whole life.

 Japanese, which at first had no connection with my ancestors, my literary tastes, or my awareness of myself as a person, has become the central element of my life.

For me, the complicated way in which Japanese is written was one of its chief attractions. In fact, if Japanese were written in roman letters, I probably would not have felt the urge to conquer its difficulties. 27 Read the rest of this entry »

Knowing and Not Knowing the Global American Berserk

Philip Roth, American Pastoral
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997

…the angry, rebarbative  spitting-out daughter with no interest whatever in being the next successful Levov, flushing him out of hiding as if he were  fugitive—initiating the Swede into the displacement of another America entirely, the daughter and the decade blasting to smithereens his particular form of utopian thinking, the plague America infiltrating the Swede’s castle and there infecting everyone. The daughter who transports him out of the longed-for American pastoral and into  everything that is its antithesis and its enemy, into the fury, the violence, and the desperation of the counterpastoral—into the indigenous American berserk. [86]

 

History is a nightmare I am trying to protect my family from.  No, I don’t even know history, I don’t even know about Vietnam, superficially, yes, as long as it doesn’t trouble me.”  But it troubled Seymour Levov’s teen-age daughter Merry to the point where she became an activist and a terrorist, blowing up a post office and country store, killing a doctor.  This act– “A bomb tells the whole fucking story”—changes the cozy and bourgeois life of Swede and Dawn Levov forever.  They both go on to have affairs, Dawn has a face-lift and wants to forget, naturally, it’s hard waking up to the thought that you gave birth to a murderer; Swede cannot forget, and this book is Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman’s imaginative and sympathetic rendering/account of what their lives must have been like.  Early on, then, Zuckerman as character fades away and is replaced by a strong narrator, omniscient and wondering still, how could the Swede—all-American, fortune-blessed—end up this way. Hence the last lines of the book:

Yes, the breach had been pounded in their fortification, even out here in secure Old Rimrock, and now that it was opened it would not be closed again. They’ll never recover. Everything is against them, everyone and everything that does not like their life. All the voices from without, condemning and rejecting their life!

And what is wrong with their life? What on earth is less reprehensible than the life of the Levovs? 

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 »

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 »