Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: World Literature

The Future Belongs to South America

Jessie Sandova, From the Monastery to the World: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Ernesto Cardenal (Counterpoint Press, 2017)

I had initial high hopes for reading the correspondence of Thomas Merton and Ernesto Cardenal. I started reading Merton in the early 80s and Cardenal in the late 2000s. Alas, unlike the blazing selected letters between Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac who were friends and equals, this correspondence was one between an older, maturer spiritual master and his devoted, younger student. There is a fair amount of mundane exchange on writing, publishing, translating their works in both the USA and Latin America. (There was at one point a Merton Reading Club in Managua.)

Most of the passages I marked were from Merton’s letters to Cardenal, such as the following…

Merton as kvetcher: Gethsemani is terrible. Tremendous commerce—everybody is going mad with the cheese business. I want to leave very badly.… Do you know that some fanatical Catholics in Louisville have burned my books, declaring me an atheist because I am opposed to the Vietnam War? …This country is mad with hatred, frustration, stupidity, confusion. That there should be such ignorance and stupidity in a civilized land is just incomprehensible…. On the other hand, I would be ashamed to be in a Latin American country and to be known as a North American…. We simply cannot look to the established powers an structures at the moment for any kind of constructive and living activity. It is all dead ossified, corrupt, stinking, full of lies and hypocrisy, and even when a few people seriously mean well they are so deep in the corruption and inertia that are everywhere that they can accomplish nothing that does not stink of dishonesty and death. All of it is rooted in the cynical greed for power and money, which invades everything and corrupts everything. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dharma Brother Wang Wei

Devoted Buddhist
Semi-recluse
Noticer of the minute particulars
Painter of vast emptiness
Appreciator of interbeing moment by moment
Befriender of sages, visitors and travelers moving in and out of the Ch’an world

His wife dead at thirty
He gravitates to Buddha,
The Dharma, the Sangha
And what better sangha
Than the 10,000 things
Which come and go?

See David Hinton, The Selected Poems of Wang Wei

Wang Wei

A Late Night Raid on Victor Terras’s A Karamazov Companion: Commentary on the Genesis, Language, and Style of Dostoevsky’s Novel/1

for Cami

 

“I love Russia, Aliosha, I love the Russian God, though I am a scoundrel myself.”
–Dmitry Karamazov

So, maybe you’ve already taken the plunge back in Wisconsin, and are now immersed in “A Nice Little Family.” I salute you, I envy you, and I may even give in to temptation—once again—to rereading it myself. I read Terras’s book back in 2005 (the 5th or 6th time), and I now scrounge around in my notes to indulge in the joy of landing on this and that, my mischief for mishmash, all for your amusement and excitation——-

_______________________

Swann said in v. 1 of Marcel that there are really only 4 or so books that matter in one’s life; better to spend one’s reading time with these than ephemera like journalism.

FD is like Dmitri: Worst of all is that my nature is base and too passionate: everywhere and in everything I go to the limit, all my life I have been crossing the line.” 40

Levinas: Zosima: “no one can judge a criminal, until he recognizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him, and that he perhaps is more than all men to blame for that crime.” Book 6, chapter iii, h.

Treat all students like Aliosha would, or Buddha.

Mona = volshebnitsa = enchantress 293

Bodhisattva: “everyone is really responsible to all men and for all men and for everything” 369

Details of an imitatio Christi are projected upon all positive characters, while the negative characters are inevitably enemies of Christ. A belief in personal immortality via resurrection in Christ resolves the question of suffering and injustice in the world. [Thanks, a nice theodicy…] 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.

____________________

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 »

More of a Buddhist Jewish Pantheist

Everybody needs a guru, I’ve got Nima Sheth among the living, she’s just back from India. But it’s good to have lotsa gurus, including those bodily deceased but still lodged in heart/mind, as Allen Ginsberg is for me. Here’s why, in these selections from Jane Kramer’s portrait, Allen Ginsberg in America:

Guru as emanating trust and comfort: [AG] made a comfortable, avuncular presence—a rumpled, friendly-looking man with a nice toothy face, big brown owl eyes behind the horn-rimmed classes, and a weary, rather affecting slouch. 5

Guru as book fiend: What books do I carry around with me, like AG did the Prajnaparamita Sutra? … Go ahead, savor books.

Guru as Beloved Teacher: He has been revered by thousands of heady, flower-wielding boys and girls as a combination guru and paterfamilias, and by a generation of students—who consider him a natural ally, if for no other reason than that he terrifies their parents with his elaborate and passionate friendliness—as a kind of ultimate faculty advisor. 9

Guru as faithful, indefatigable correspondent: Ginsberg answers all his letters. 16 Read the rest of this entry »

Three Hours in the Morning

In Talking with Sartre, U.S. professor John Gerassi explores a fascinating range of subjects with the French intellectual, writer, and activist.  At the book’s conclusion, Gerassi writes, “What we must do instead, he said, is commit ourselves over and over again. No act is pure. All acts are choices, which alienate some. No one can live without dirty hands. To be simply opposed is also to be responsible for not being in favor, for not advocating change. To fall back on the proposition that human actions are predetermined is to renounce mankind. No writer can accept the totalitarianism implied by ‘human nature.’ If he writes, he wants to change the world—and himself. Writing is an act. It is commitment.”   Throughout,  I became particularly intrigued by Sartre’s musings and reflections on the writing life…

Projects don’t exclude death—projects are the antithesis of death. That’s an important difference. The project is an act. Writing is an act. My projects right now: the next part of CDR. Then I think I want to write my political testament.  16

I never changed in my being: I am what I am and write. 30

Once one decides to be a writer, one’s conception of life, one’s whole being changes. … travel, experience as many different circumstances as possible. Go into every world. Go see how the pimps live in Constantinople. Why Constantinople? There are pimps right here, around the corner. Because travel, experience, give a richness to the writing. All adventures help, including sexual adventures, love, et cetera….A writer has to choose the false against the true. When you decided to be a writer, you couldn’t make that choice because you wanted a revolution, you worked for a revolution. I was nothing but what I wrote. You had a goal. I was my goal. 34 Read the rest of this entry »

In Praise of Sentimental Slop

Back in the late 90s, when the spring semester ended, and the grades had been turned in, I’d treat myself with another reading of Dostoevsky’s magisterial The Brothers Karamazov.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it. Twice I’ve facilitated readings of the novel with friends (1999-2000 and 2013-2014).

Literary critics scorn the “sentimental slop” of the ending, but I don’t care.  I am posting below a key passage originally posted in a Facebook note after Pete Mosher died and some responses  to it… Read the rest of this entry »

For All My Friends Who Are Free Spirits

“What is now proved was once only imagin’d.”
–William Blake

Free Spirits desire the emancipation of all humankind
Free Spirits conceive a habitable, harmonian world
Free Spirits know that no revolution has gone far enough
Free Spirits reject cynicism & despair
Free Spirits resolve immobilizing antinomies
Free Spirits dream extravagantly
Free Spirits prepare the negation of capital
Free Spirits meditate social transformation
Free Spirits subvert the culture of regression and death
Free Spirits affirm the power of the imagination Read the rest of this entry »

On the New York Literary Establishment in the Fifties

“There’s no room for youth and vitality in New York. It is a city full of guilty academicians.”
–Gregory Corso

“Too big, too multiple, too jaded.”
–Jack Kerouac

“We want everyone to know that we had to leave the Village to find fulfillment and recognition.”
–Allen Ginsberg

— Interview in Village Voice; in Allen Ginsberg, Journals Mid-Fifties 1954-1958, edited by Gordon Ball

A Poem, a History, a Novel

This fall Dianne, Lynette and I are reading the following books:


Read the rest of this entry »