Friday, May 22, 2015

To lose cheerfully

Moreover, it is time in any case to oppose this mendacious world with the resources of an irony, a shrewdness, a serenity without illusions. For, supposing we were to lose, we would be able to lose cheerfully, without condemning, without prophesying. We are not looking for a rest. If the world insists on blowing up, we may be the only ones to grant it the right to do so, while giving ourselves the right to have spoken in vain. - George Bataille

Friday, May 15, 2015

I thought I would be becoming spiritually enlightened?!

The student asked: I feel that since I have started walking the spiritual path I am facing many more trials and tribulations and even mental conflicts than ever before. Yet, I thought that [insert your spiritual practice here] was supposed to produce peacefulness and mental serenity. Can you tell me what is happening to me? Swamiji replied: You are simply becoming more sensitive and paying the price for that sensitivity. Everything that is happening to you now was also happening to you before, but you were so undeveloped, so coarse in your awareness, that you were not as acutely conscious of it as you are now. Since you are becoming sensitised, you also are becoming more critical of your own life. Mistakes and failures and character flaws which you have carried all your life without caring much about them suddenly loom up clear and ugly before you, exposing themselves in the light of your newly developed awareness. - Swami Gitananda Giri

Friday, May 8, 2015

Shakespeare's Sonnet 65 & a note by Allen Grossman

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
   O, none, unless this miracle have might,
   That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

This exchange is the basis of literary civilization and is in direct conflict with communalism, secular humanity, immanent instinctual absolutism. Sonnet 65 is meaningful only if mankind collectively has a future, if that future is social and literate, and that literate sociality is valued. None of these three conditions is any longer necessarily assured. Further, we may note that the symbol-instinct exchange in Sonnet 65 requires an interior space, a dimensional subjectivity, in which to inscribe itself. But interior space, the most elite of traditional aesthetic possessions, bears with it the marks of its origins in a disabled self. It is the servile strategy of the Christian slave and invites all persons, slaves of time, to become the captives also of a social future of a given sort in which some kinds of action are preempted and instinctual completion in particular "traded off" against the mimetic bright star. In other words, Sonnet 65, which stands here in my brief  remarks for the tradition, defines the person in a specific sense, and the terms of that definition are neither inevitable nor beyond question. Poetry is an irreplaceable mode of the visibility of person to person, but it is impatient of action, communalism, and instinctual humanity, all of which may be as necessary as life itself. You cannot have it all ways. The antinomic character of our civilization (instinct or symbol but not both; agency or communion but not both, etc.) is now as always being administered as a weapon against the young (order or feeling, but not both). Fate is being used as an argument against life. Even Pity, as Blake reminds us "would be no more / If we did not make somebody poor." There is a justifiable system of counter-refusals to be opposed both to the refusals and to the consolations of art. It is not the business of the teacher to conspire with fate.

Friday, May 1, 2015

"Edge of Town" by Philip Guston / Comment by R.C. Baker


Philip Guston's cartoon paintings...retain a startling freshness allied to abiding classicism...with stolid scenes of Klansmen that combined Piero della Francesca's Renaissance modeling with the social conscience of Mexico's radical muralists. Then came the lush abstractions that made Guston famous, and finally the late figures, which harked back to the Sunday comics he'd loved in his youth. The first exhibition showcasing his mature style, in 1970, was generally panned; Guston's newfound crudity was compared to the work of R. Crumb, a cartoonist the painter claimed he'd never heard of, but who shared the same big-foot comic-strip influences. Willem de Kooning, however, understood Guston's breakthrough [Guston: "I got sick and tired of all that Purity! I wanted to tell stories."], telling the younger artist: "Well, now you are on your own! You've paid off all your debts!" Indeed, the gorgeous Edge of Town (1969) blends the absurdity of Guston's newfound characters with classical monumentality and the wet-into-wet cross-hatching of his elegant abstractions, creating a sui generis amalgam of image, mood, and materials. The beefy pink flesh of dangerous buffoons in white hoods, waving clubs and fat cigars as they cruise about in a pathetic black jalopy, is set against a sky of smoggy blue and rose leavened with the dark flecks of an earlier, painted-over composition - an imperfect foundation as flawed and dynamic as America itself. This is a transitional painting filled with struggle and conviction, the kind of work that leaps over everything else in its time to become timeless.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What’s poetry for Stevens?

A short sampling: “Poetry is a purging of the world’s poverty and change and evil and death,” a poem is “a meteor,” “a pheasant,” “a cafe,” “the disengaging of (a) reality,” “a health,” “the body,” “a cure of the mind,” “a renovation of experience,” “a pheasant disappearing into the brush,” “a search for the inexplicable,” “a revelation of the elements of appearance,” “the scholar’s art,” “a nature created by the poet.” “The poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman.” “In poetry you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all.” And of course, “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully”

Friday, April 3, 2015

On impersonality, meter and repetition

First, as for the coming-and-going presence of impersonality…probably I consider these things - the personal and the impersonal - to be facets rather than paradoxes, or a Möbius strip more than a duality. Poetry is primarily emotion, feeling, sensation, passion, but it has to alternate between, to interleave, the personal and the impersonal, subjective and objective - partly out of respect for sheer common sense; and partly because in most of us there is an inner necessity to seek perspective, connection, objectivity in tragic circumstances; and partly because it’s when passion has hurt us most that we learn the meaning of dispassion, and learn to pray for detachment. But there is also an always present moral principle that cuts poetry into facets both personal and impersonal, depending upon which way we turn it and which angle we hold to the light, this principle being - to paraphrase a sentence of the sixteenth-century mystic Moses Cordovero - that one’s self has something of all other selves within it, and that other selves have something of one’s self within them. This could be poetry’s motto. And again it reminds me of Gershom Scholem’s comment about the spiritual universe, that “the sparks of the Shekinah are everywhere, scattered among all the spheres of metaphysical and physical existence . . .”

Second, as for the insistence of meter in the lines…meter is pure emotion (technique, for artists, is an emotion, a passion - technique means only the way a thing is done, and the way a thing is done is one of the most passionate preoccupations an artist can have - not separable, despite critical habits of discussion, from what is being expressed). Meter’s energy and urgency, its redoubling emphasis of the way thoughts feel, is like a wordless vow underlying the words, perhaps translatable into words as: So help me God (four stresses in a row there, and no pause). And this trait of insistence you mention, the tenacity, relentlessness, is personal; I don’t give up.

And last, as for use of repetition: repetition can be a prodigious, last-ditch effort to remember what happened, in circumstances of pain or panic, here on earth in “the scene of the soul’s exile,” among the cliffs of fall; or an effort to find, or to establish, a pulse; or to try to create a pattern - as if to arrange a chain of molecules which, if lightning strikes, could become animated. Or it can be a magic spell, when all else fails. Or repetition can be a way of saying: I will keep telling this until I get it right; or until I have made this thing that must happen, happen; or until this prayer is answered; or until the tale I am telling has come to its own end, or has come true; or if nothing can come of this tale, then at least I will keep saying it until I know that the tale has been heard, whether here on earth or in the upper spheres - so help me God.

- Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Parable of the ill-fitting suit

A man went to a tailor and tried on a suit. As he stood before the mirror, he noticed the vest was a little uneven at the bottom. “Oh,” said the tailor, “don’t worry about that. Just hold the shorter end down with your left hand and no one will ever notice.” When the customer proceeded to do this, he noticed that the lapel of the jacket curled up instead of lying flat. “Oh that?” said the tailor. “That’s nothing. Just turn your head a little and hold it down with your chin.” The customer complied, and as he did, he noticed that the inseam of the pants was a little short and he felt that the rise was a bit too tight. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” said the tailor. “Just pull the inseam down with your right hand, and everything will be perfect.” The customer agreed and purchased the suit.

The next day he wore his new suit with all the accompanying hand and chin “alterations.” As he limped through the park with his chin holding down his lapel, one hand tugging at the vest, the other hand grasping his crotch, two old men stopped playing checkers to watch him stagger by. “George, oh, my God!” said the first man. “Look at that poor crippled man!” The second man reflected for a moment, then murmured, “Yes, George, indeed he has been terribly crippled, but I wonder, where did he get such a nice suit?”

- via Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Friday, March 6, 2015

"Los and Orc" by William Blake / Comment by T.J. Clark‏


Let us agree to call Los the figure of imaginative and political energy in human history as Blake conceived it, and Orc that same energy taking revolutionary form, often with blood on its hands. It is not clear what Blake thought about the blood at precisely the time he painted the watercolour, probably in the early 1790s, and even less clear what Los (here or in general) thinks. If the French Revolution was in question – and how could it not be? – then the year or month the painting was done would make a difference. Orc in the picture is manacled, somewhat weakly, four times to the earth (perhaps one of the manacles is hammered into a boulder). Orc may in Blake’s view be essentially Los’s doing, Los’s emanation, but Los may also in some sense – literal or mental – have forged the manacles. The bloody form of revolution may be a product of the imprisonment. The marvellous attentiveness and horror of Los’s body – it puts most other ‘neoclassical’ dumb shows utterly to shame, I think – tells the story. The yellow of the earth is Los’s openness and electricity, the black smudge on the hillside their repression. The yellow in particular – and its second appearance as a ghost on the hilltop next to the oily sea – is a stroke of genius. Los’s hands are a similar triumph. The way they catch the light and shade, and the way they touch the top edge of the paper, further electrifying the pictorial field – these reach back to Marcantonio’s engravings after Raphael and outdo them.

It is not clear in the watercolour whether Los is recoiling guiltily from Orc’s agony or is afraid the manacles will tear from their sockets.

[But] The image is great not by reason of what it may mean but by reason of its distinctness, its emptiness, the ferocious boundedness of its imagining of a (non-)meeting of bodies.

The right edge of Los’s body has many possible positions in space: ‘movements’ overtake it. Orc’s torsion and compression come out of – are an expression of – the darkness pressing down on him. The darkness is as ‘indeterminate’ as watercolour can be.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Or," by Thomas Sayers Ellis

Or Oreo, or
worse. Or ordinary.
Or your choice  
of category

            or  
            Color

or any color  
other than Colored
or Colored Only.
Or “Of Color”
        
            or  
            Other

or theory or discourse
or oral territory.
Oregon or Georgia
or Florida Zora

            or
            Opportunity

or born poor  
or Corporate. Or Moor.
Or a Noir Orpheus
or Senghor

            or  
            Diaspora

or a horrendous  
and tore-up journey.
Or performance. Or allegory’s armor
of ignorant comfort

            or
            Worship

or reform or a sore chorus.
Or Electoral Corruption
or important ports
of Yoruba or worry

            or
            Neighbor

or fear of . . .
of terror or border.
Or all organized
minorities.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Just as the body is shaped for movement, the mind is shaped for poetry.

Poetry is pleasure.

Sometimes people say to me, “why should I read a poem?” There are plenty of answers, from the profound – a poem is such an ancient means of communication that it feels like an evolutionary necessity – to the practical; a poem is like a shot of espresso – the fastest way to get a hit of mental and spiritual energy.

We could talk about poetry as a rope in a storm. Poetry as one continuous mantra of mental health. Poetry as the world’s biggest, longest-running workshop on how to love. Poetry as a conversation across time. Poetry as the acid-scrub of cliche.

We could say that the poem is a lie detector. That the poem is a way of thinking without losing the feeling. That a poem is a way of feeling without being too overwhelmed by feeling to think straight. That the poem is “the best words in the best order” (Coleridge). That the poem “keeps the heart awake to truth and beauty” (Coleridge again – who can resist those Romantics?). That the poem is an intervention: “The capacity to make change in existing conditions” (Muriel Rukeyser). That poetry, said Seamus Heaney, is “strong enough to help”.

Yes.

And pleasure.

Just as the body is shaped for movement, the mind is shaped for poetry.

- Jeanette Winterson

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Unbounded connection through the paradox of practice

One day I was riding around a track that my horse and I know very well. We've done it a thousand times. Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks. I could feel his heart beating a hundred miles an hour and he wasn't going to move. His whole body went rigid. I thought "I can't see a darn thing." I looked and looked and looked and I thought "This is ridiculous." I urged him on. He took a few more steps and went rigid again.

Then I could see what he had noticed: A tree had fallen. There was no way he could really have seen it. He had to have felt that that tree had fallen. The trees around it were clearly at risk of falling as well, and I'm sure he could feel that also. I thought: "How distanced we are from the universe that we don't feel those things too – that a tree's fallen." Maybe if I stick around this guru long enough, I will develop that unbounded connection with everything, so that I'll know too when a tree is about to fall or has just fallen.

I think this is a paradox of yoga practice: Why don't we seem to integrate practice by becoming chaotic and disorganized and wild and chronically spontaneous? After all, this practice breaks through into our animal nature, doesn't it? The paradox seems to be that through this very ordered, inner tempering we get strong enough, steely enough that we can let go.

There is a metaphor for that in my work with horses. I study horsemanship every day. I go to clinics. It's taken all of that preparation to be able to get on my horse and say, "Go, gallop," and not to hold on. One doesn't start with, "Oh, I'll just get on this horse and go at a flat-out gallop without a saddle or bridle." It might take ten years of training to get to that place. That seems to be the paradox of practice. It takes a simplified, ordered, reliable, ingrained patterning of trust and skillfulness in order to let go, and to ride that level of spiritedness and power within ones' life.

- Donna Farhi

Friday, February 6, 2015

"Brotherhood of the Traveling Armor" by Maura Barry-Garland

The Iliad as told by Ann Brashares

“Agamemnon expects me to sacrifice my life for the cause,” Achilles pouted, “when he won’t even sacrifice his sex life.” His best friend Patroclus nodded sympathetically from where he sat, legs splayed apart, on the floor of Achilles’s tent.

“I can’t believe this is going to be our first battle apart,” Patroclus sighed. He stared at the floor in hopes that his long, sandy-brown bangs would obscure the budding tears in his mahogany-colored eyes.

“A few days on your own won’t kill you,” Achilles said, flicking his own dark hair out of his eyes, “but could you stop using that word?”

“What word?” Patroclus replied. “Going? Believe?”

Battle,” Achilles sighed. “I really wish I could help, but I need to show Agamemnon that he can’t get away with being a lame-o.”

“Well, there’s a way you can help the cause without giving in to Agamemnon,” Patroclus insisted. “If you let me wear your armor into battle, Hector will be so scared that he’ll turn his army around and go right back through the gates!”

“I guess it won’t hurt if I let you try it on,” Achilles said, working his powerful jaw as he contemplated his options. “After all, it’s probably too heavy for you.”

He gathered his armor from where it lay heaped across the top of his dresser. The breastplate was heavy bronze and the giant shield was decorated with patches, like the heart he’d sewn on after meeting Briseis and the gold star Thetis had given him the time he went a full week without throwing a temper tantrum. A few scribbles in Sharpie also marked the gleaming expanse of metal, including “Momma’s Boy” and “P+A=BFF.” 

“If the armor hugs your butt, it’s just going to look baggy on mine,” Patroclus complained as he slipped the cuirass on. It slid over his head softly and came to rest at his sides, fitting like a glove. 

“It’s like it was made for you!” Achilles exclaimed. The breastplate hugged his friend’s slim, toned torso and brought out the metallic glint in his dark eyes.

Patroclus admired himself in the mirror and smiled even wider. At first, the shield had looked too busy for his taste and the breastplate too old, but on him they both came alive.

“Don’t be silly,” he grinned as he removed the armor, “It was made for you, Achy. You should try it on, too!”

“Sure,” Achilles said, and he pulled the cuirass on. Miraculously, the armor fit him just as perfectly as it had fit his taller, thinner friend. The gleaming bronze offset his glowing tan and cast highlights on the contours of his muscles.

“We can take turns wearing it into battle!” Achilles said as he stripped the armor off and handed it to Patroclus.

“It’ll be like you’re right there with me, even when you’re not!” Patroclus squealed, and the two embraced.

“We’re always going to be besties, Pattie,” Achilles said as he wrapped his arms around his friend. 

“Always,” Patroclus said, voice slightly muffled because his face was buried in the mighty pecs of Achilles.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Jung on the second half of life

Among all my patients in the second half of life—that is to say, over thirty-five—there has not been one whose problem  in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook. This of course has nothing whatever to do with a particular creed or membership of a church.

- - -

Are there perhaps colleges for forty-year-olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world? No, thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still, we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life's morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.

- Carl Jung

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Guidance Counseling" by Dean Young / Comment by Tony Hoagland

             Guidance Counseling

When the woman, her shoulders on the bed,
lifts her pelvis into the standing man,
it is called Dentist Office. When the man,
after an hour hiding in the closet, couples
with she of the silk flowered dress, snug
in the bodice, it is called Representational
Democracy. When the woman licks her burnt
finger, Tiny Garden Hose. Often as we grow
old, life becomes a page obscured with
too many words, like the sea with too many
flashes. Like my screaming may obscure
my love for you. How will we ever understand
each other? When the woman sits on the ladder
and the man churns like a lizard, stiff
in melting ice cream, it is called Many Dews.

     “How will we ever understand / each other?" Young’s poem is not obviously about the failure of speech, but tells a tale of comical disjointedness. Language is seen as a king of slippery impediment between people. Poetic attention has been shifted from the realm of nature (perception) to the realm of language, naming. The poem could be said to be celebratory, even erotic, in its playfulness – but it emphasizes the disturbing, nutty arbitrariness of the act of naming: Tiny Garden Hose; Representational Democracy; Dentist Office. If we listen closely, we can recognize that these coinages are in fact a parody, an echo, of commercial brand names, such as might be used to name perfumes, sell ice cream flavors, or catalogue paint chips.
     Young's poem celebrates the cornucopia of phenomena. It playfully suggests that there is a rich universe of experience to be encountered. But...our wonder has acquired a wry self-consciousness, and is directed not toward nature but toward the radical elasticity of language, and the stylistic dexterity of artifice.