Hold It All

Category: World Literature

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 »

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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 »

Share the Wealth with Mary Bast: The Magic of Self-Gift, Or, Why You Should Ask Yourself the Big Questions in Life, With Some Russian Literature Sprinkled In Along the Way

Mary Bast came back from a whirlwind year-long working holiday in Ireland in 2014, wondering why she was so unhappy over what she thought was going to be the journey of a lifetime with her one true love. Turns out, the love wasn’t so true, and the journey had only begun when she got back to the States. She spent the next few years trying to figure out what the purpose of life was, where she fit in it all, and, at turns, contemplating and careening her way through finding the courage to love again (spoiler alert: it’s a work in progress). This talk is an amalgam of what she’s learned along the way about God, life, love, being yourself, and never giving up on your dreams, and she very much looks forward to sharing her story with you and hearing all the machinations of yours afterwards.

Mary Bast is a writer, reader, learner, lover, Catholic, and insatiable curiosity junkie. She lives in St. Louis, is the oldest of six children, and can at turns be found nerding out or making new friends. She loves to devour large books and will probably try to find out your life story within the first five minutes of meeting you. She looks forward to speaking with you soon.

Join us
Sunday 28 October
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 a.m.
Mary begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Gregory A. Pass and Jennifer J. Lowe
2358 Tennessee
Saint Louis 63104

This Pilgrimage of the Heart

I first read the seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time spring through autumn of 1997.  A couple of years later, I read the collection of Proust’s essays in On Art & Literature: 1896-1919. Looking back over my notes on the text, I can see how significant Proust was for me in the two works (Mev, Layla)  that came after my Elie Wiesel book, on which I was  working at the time of this reading.  I was particularly drawn to Proust’s criticism of the French critic Sainte-Beuve.

Should I make it a novel, or a philosophical study — am I a novelist?

Every day I set less store on intellect.

And if intellect only ranks second in the hierarchy of virtues, intellect alone is able to proclaim that the first place must be given to instinct.

At the same time I put myself in tune with those other realities for which solitude whets the appetite, and whose possibility, whose reality, gives a value to life:  the women one does not know.

[Sainte-Beuve’s method] ignores what a very slight degree of self-acquaintance teaches us:  that a book is the product of  a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices.  If we would try to understand that particular self, it is by searching  our own bosoms, and trying to reconstruct it there, that we may arrive at it.  Nothing can exempt us from this pilgrimage of the heart.

One regards oneself as no more than the trustee, who from one moment to the next may disappear, of an intellectual hoard which will disappear with him; and one would like to say check to one’s previous idleness or force of inertia by obeying that noble commandment of Christ’s in the Gospel of Saint John:  Work while ye have the light.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Nobody’s Going To Do It for You”

Anne Waldman and Laura Wright, editors, Beats at Naropa: An Anthology
Coffee House Press, 2009

I read Beats at Naropa exactly nine years ago, 2009. In my notes on the dialogues, essays, and interviews are the seeds of what became projects like Arab Writers in Translation Reading Group, People’s History of the United States Monthly Discussion, St. Louis Mindfulness Sangha, Share the Wealth, Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, Writing to Wake Up courses on Demun Avenue and Spring Avenue, Brothers Karamazov Sessions at Sasha’s, Monthly Via Creativa Colloquium with Cami Kasmerchak for a Year, Chinese Poets in Translation Reading Group, approximately 700 cafe rendezvous, and 450-page draft of Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris, to name several.

It pleases me to recognize my deep indebtedness to the writers, poets, and artists in this volume who nurtured my vision. Accordingly, I savor provocations like the following—

Diane di Prima: There’s also: once you finish writing something it doesn’t belong to you. It has its own life and needs to go where it wants to go.

Anne Waldman: The scope and influence of the New American Poetry and its attendant offshoots and cross-fertilizations with other writers of the expansive poetry world is an Indra’s Net of inter-relatedness and is thus difficult to codify. Suffice it to say, however, that some of the writers most associated with the Beat movement were already very cognizant of and extremely well-read in Buddhist philosophy and psychology.

Diane di Prima: A lot of this is hit-and-run. It doesn’t have to be a life work. Read the rest of this entry »

Making the World Bearable: A Reading/Writing Class on Diane di Prima—Fall 2018

Feeling a need to be inspired in these dismal times?
Been burnt out with academic writing that doesn’t originate in your soul?
Seeking a community of comrades to inspire, console, and rouse you?
Wanting to dive deep within and seek connections locally, nationally, and globally?

Then join us in exploring the vision, work and life of Diane di Prima—poet, Buddhist, Italian-American, feminist, pacifist.

One Saturday morning, while writing a letter to one of my favorite poets (Lindsey Trout Hughes, who lives in Brooklyn), it dawned on me that I wanted my next writing/reading class to focus on Diane, whom Allen Ginsberg described like this: “Diane di Prima, revolutionary activist of the 1960s Beat literary renaissance, heroic in life and poetics: a learned humorous bohemian, classically educated and twentieth-century radical, her writing, informed by Buddhist equanimity, is exemplary in imagist, political and mystical modes. … She broke barriers of race-class identity, delivered a major body of verse brilliant in its particularity.”

In Saint Louis, we’ll gather on Sundays at 2 p.m. beginning October 28 and go till December 16. We’ll meet in different cafes and people’s homes (if people are up for that). Each session will go for 90 minutes, allowing ample time for reading, writing, and sharing. Read the rest of this entry »