A Journal of Life Pursued

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Thursday, 07.03.2014

In Books, Literature, The Examined Life on July 3, 2014 at 10:00 am

Yesterday at 4:43am Lucy jumped into bed with me and curled up on my pillow. Carole is out of town and perhaps she sensed the void. The sun was about to rise so there was no point in delaying the day and I got up and got the coffee going. Lucy looked at me expectantly and I wondered how people without a dog start their day. I put a top on my coffee cup and we set off on our walk and while I was walking down the path through the morning woods I had a sense that there was nothing at all in the world existing but for that moment, quiet and private and telling. It was quite extraordinary and for the rest of the day I reflected on it and attempted to grasp it over and over, trying as one does not to lose grip on such a thing as that. I was successful to a point and then, like all things strongly desired, I lost my grasp on it and it was gone, but for the memory of it.

* * *

I finished the third book (of six) in the Karl Ove Knausgaard series, My  Struggle, and the last paragraph is one of the most beautiful paragraphs I’ve ever read.

“After the moving van had left and we got into the car, Mom, Dad, and I, and we drove down the hill and over the bridge, it struck me with a huge sense of relief that I would never be returning, that everything I saw I was seeing for the final time. That the houses and the places that disappeared behind me were also disappearing out of my life, and for good. Little did I know then that every detail of this landscape, and every single person living it, would forever be lodged in my memory with a ring as true as perfect pitch.”

 

Thursday 6.5.14

In Books, Creativity, Dogs, Reading, Travel on June 5, 2014 at 6:00 am
Injured Lucy

Injured Lucy

Lucy and I have resumed our morning walks after several months of doing without. Last Fall, during a walk, she limped out of the woods, her shoulder lacerated, obviously the result of running into something. Despite two operations we could not get the gash closed and had no option but to wait it out. We applied raw honey to the wound, kept it clean, didn’t let her run and so forth. Eventually she healed. We are back to our schedule but she is considerably more cautious, and avoids that part of the woods. I keep a closer eye on her as well.

A morning walk has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Now that I’m back at it I have a greater appreciation of the benefits to starting my day in this fashion. It is likely not a coincidence that, after resuming the routine, I am writing this and that I wrote a post last week about, indeed, the morning walk. The creative benefits of walking are well documented. “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering….” wrote Thoreau. I have no genius for anything, but if I did, having it for the art of sauntering would be welcome.

* * *

Daily Rituals, How Artists Work

Daily Rituals, How Artists Work

We leave this evening for Europe: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tallinn, St. Petersburg. Sixteen days. Whereas Carole has been concentrating on which clothes to pack, I have been thinking about what books to bring. This disparity does not frustrate either of us.  After 35 years there are no surprises and few tensions. I am bringing Lily King‘s new novel,  Euphoria.  There is no compliment of activities like a good novel married to new travels. But feeling decidedly in need of self improvement, I’m bringing along a book my friend Thatcher recommended, Daily Rituals, How Artists Work. Opening randomly, I find the chapter on Sartre, “‘One can be very fertile without having to work too much,’ Sartre once said. ‘Three hours in the morning, three hours in the evening. This is my only rule.’” Continuing the march to be a better self, I’m also bringing along Alain De Botton‘s, How Proust Can Change Your Life. (Jacket blurb from the NY Times: “A self-help manual for the intelligent person.”) I like to travel with books and feel no guilt about taking time to read them while on the road. (Indeed, I find guilt to be a generally useless and tiresome emotion and rarely invest in it.) Reading a book while in a foreign country, like seeing a movie with subtitles, enhances the experience. Thinking on Thoreau above, the ability to consistently “enhance experience” is a genius I aspire to.

Sunday 5.11.14

In Books, Death, Life, Literature, The Examined Life on May 11, 2014 at 4:38 pm

There was a birder at the park this morning. I spotted him as Lucy and I rounded the path. He was walking a bike. He occasionally stopped and lifted his binoculars and peered into a tree. He was wearing bike shorts and a helmet and was sporting large rubber band-like straps below his kneecaps. “Red tail?” I asked, sauntering past, a bird disappearing over the trees. “Kestrel,” he corrected. I moved on. He lingered. Lucy darted ahead. There is an unmatched quality to a Sunday early morning.

* * *

I returned two books to shelves this week, actually, to be precise, one book to the shelf, one to the library. I have tried to read Angle of Repose Wallace Stenger’s 1971 Pulitzer-winning novel three times. I advanced almost two hundred pages this go ’round (out of 600) but decided to retrace my steps. It lacked a certain deeper context. Or rather, it–this context–escaped me. A book has to appeal on multiple levels. Angle of Repose seemed lacking in dimension. No doubt my problem, not the book’s. The other book, The Second Book of Tao, was poor timing. Some books, like some foods, require the necessary appetite. Bailing on a book no longer troubles me.

The last novel I devoured was the second book in the six book series, My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Like many other readers of this series (3000 pages!), I cannot get enough, but cannot explain exactly why. Zadie Smith says she needs his books “like crack.” James Woods, writing in The New Yorker, says, [Knausgaard] wants us to inhabit the ordinariness of life, which is sometimes visionary…, sometimes banal…and sometimes momentous…but all of it perforce ordinary because it happens in the course of a life, and happens, in different forms, to everyone. He notices everything—too much, no doubt—but often lingers beautifully.” It feels time to get book three. I have the appetite.

                                   * * *

I cleaned out dad’s room the day after he died. All of his belongings packed into three grocery-store banana boxes and four trash bags. I took the bags of clothes to Good Will. The boxes remain in the back of my truck. Dad never read Thoreau, but he understood living simply. The sage lives as long as he should, not as long as he can, says Montaigne.  Dad, unknowingly, was a great philosopher.

   * * *

I return from my morning walk with Lucy and declare to Carole that I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body. This is a revelation after years of fruitlessly attempting to cultivate a phantom desire, as if living up to a responsibility. “Do you mean religious bone in your body?” she asked. “No, I know I don’t have that,” I say. She nods and says it’s the same with her. We leave it at that. Know thyself, counseled the Greeks.

Loaded and Cocked.

In Books, Creativity, Photography, The Examined Life on March 26, 2013 at 6:00 am
Pride Parade, Portland, 2011, © Doug Bruns

Pride Parade, Portland, 2011, © Doug Bruns

I have loaded my camera–yes, “loaded my camera” means film, pilgrim–and am giving myself, again, to the streets. Beware, should you decide to stroll about in your bikini, I intend to find you.

* * *

It is always revision and editing–everything changing, always subject to more, to less. I wrote a week or so ago about art and discovery and Jackson Pollock. the piece was called The Practice of Discovery and I included this quote:

“Could Pollock’s late paintings result from his lifelong effort to excavate an image buried in all our brains?”

Picasso wrote an essay, Art as Individual Idea, published in 1923. He said, among other things, the following:

“I also often hear the word evolution. Repeatedly I am asked to explain how my painting evolved. To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was. Art does not evolve by itself, the ideas of people change and with them their mode of expression. When I hear people speak of the evolution of an artist, it seems to me that they are considering him standing between two mirrors that face each other and reproduce his image an infinite number of times, and that they contemplate the successive images of one mirror as his past, and the images of the other mirror as his future, while his real image is taken as his present. They do not consider that they all are the same images in different planes.”

I am arriving at the place of art’s ascension–the notion that art, like perhaps meditation, or nature, or drugs even, might render a revelatory state of consciousness. But what is art?

(BTW: The essay noted above is from The Modern Tradition by Richard Ellmann (the great biographer) and Charles Feidelson, Jr. If there is one book, albeit thick and with small print, that captures the thinking of the modern and the post-modern era, this is the book. I strongly recommend it if this period of great creativity interests you.)

* * *

Epiphany upon going to bed:

I’ve pursued the wrong question, it’s not How to Live? It’s How to Think?

How did I not realize this earlier?

* * *

ref=as_li_ss_tilA friend wrote to ask what I’m reading. I’m reading Where the Heart Beats, John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists, by Kay Larson. The book came to my attention thanks to Brain Pickings and the omniscient Maria Popova.

I’m also about to start, The Inward Morning, A Philosophical Exploration in Journal Form, by Henry Bugbee. Thanks to “…house…” member Geetha for this recommendation. I have not  yet cracked the cover. Here is a note from the back cover:

“The Inward Morning is a boldly original and lyrical philosophy of wilderness. Touching variously on poetry, fly fishing, Thoreau, and contemporary philosophers, this work is erudite and intimate. Henry Bugbee blends East and West, nature and culture, the personal and the universal. This reissue of an underground classic…will inform and inspire both contemporary philosophers and readers interested in an everyday philosophy of nature.”

–sounds like the book I was supposed to write…

Da Capo

In Books, Creativity, Philosophy, Reading, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers, Writers on March 20, 2013 at 6:00 am

The  neuro-chemical thing has worn off and all is again right with the world. That said, it’s a good time to take a little break, a few days away from the desk. The reading is falling behind, the reservoir is low, and the battery needs a trickle charge. So, today I’m putting up a previous post (from 2010) and am taking a breather for a few days. You must be getting tired of me, anyway, knowing as I do, how tedious I can (so easily) become. See you soon.

______________________________________

“There is properly no history; only biography” ~ Emerson

My first choice of reading material is often biography. The biography holds everything: entertainment, knowledge, history, story-telling, insight, and possibly even wisdom. As best I can recall, the first biography I ever read was Mark Twain, though now that I think about it, I believe it was his autobiography, the genre-cousin of biography. I was in elementary school and I recall that it took a very long time to complete–I’m a slow reader. It was a big book written for grown-ups. And I wasn’t–grown-up, that is. I remember I had to write a book report and my teacher checked everyday on my progress, the book being thick and me being slow, and the report not coming when due, and the pressure, oh the pressure…

Young's Biography, Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography

Young’s Biography, Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography

As an adult I am still a slow reader and still a reader who loves biography. So it was that I saved up my pennies and sprang for the first new book (“new”: not a used book, or a library sale book, or a freebie review book) in quite some time: Friedrich Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography by Julian Young. Young is Professor of Philosophy, University of Auckland, and the book is published by Cambridge University Press. I was turned onto it by a glowing review by Francis Fukuyam in the New York Times Book Review.  Fukuyam includes this line:

“Whether we acknowledge it or not, we continue to live within the intellectual shadow cast by Nietzsche. Postmodernism, deconstructionism, cultural relativism, the “free spirit” scorning bourgeois morality, even New Age festivals like Burning Man can all ultimately be traced to him.”

I have always been fascinated by this enigmatic thinker. Here’s how the biography opens:

“Nietzsche’s greatest inspiration, he believed, was the idea that if one is in a state of perfect mental health one should be able to survey one’s entire life and then, rising ecstatically to one’s feet, shout ‘Da capo!–Once more! Once More! Back to the beginning!–to ‘the whole play and performance’. In perfect health one would ‘crave nothing more fervently’ than the ‘eternal return’ of one’s life throughout infinite time–not the expurgated version with the bad bits left out, but exactly the same life, down to the very last detail, however painful or shameful.”

This idea stops me cold.

Tipping Forward

In Books, Life, The Examined Life on March 14, 2013 at 6:10 am
Geography of the Imagination, Guy Davenport

Geography of the Imagination, Guy Davenport

I don’t recall how or when I discovered Guy Davenport, but when it happened, it changed everything. From the Paris Review interview with Davenport: 

“His books have never been widely read, by popular standards, but they tend to be deeply read by those lucky enough to find them; he is perhaps as close to being a cult writer as one can come while having been singled out for praise by George Steiner in The New Yorker, yet his work has none of the thinness of the cult writer. For all its strangeness, it seems destined to endure.”

Says Davenport, “I learned early on that what I wanted to know wasn’t what I was being taught.” Geography of the Imagination–the book to start with.

* * *

“Life can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forward.” ~ Kierkegaard. We exist like kids on a playground, teetering backward into biography, tipping forward into hope.

* * *

Upon waking yesterday, Carole declared, “I love waking up happy.” –which reminded me of Emerson’s statement: “The days are gods.”

* * *

My father: “The woman came by to get the paperwork from the move. I told her you had it.”

Me: “Dad, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Dad: “You mean I didn’t just move?”

“No, Dad. You didn’t just move.”

“Keep an eye on me, son. I’m having hallucinations.”

Dad will be 91 in two weeks. He has had two TIAs in less than two months. Every day I observe the increasing wear and tear, the momentum of age. Difficult stuff, indeed.

* * *

As a hiker and once climber, I appreciate the occasional difficulty in moving forward–the thinning air, the heavy legs, the want of sleep.  In this situation, there is but one way to keep the body in sync with the mind: lean into the problem. When we can’t take another step, we can lean. A person will follow into a lean. Along these lines, I made a Moleskine note once, from a trip to Tibet, a monk’s statement: “He’s no more who he used to be…and he’s not yet what he will become.” Simply, Kierkegaard is right: we exist on a fulcrum. These are things I came to know, but was never taught.