A Journal of Life Pursued

Archive for the ‘The Examined Life’ Category

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.

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“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.

Sunday Repost: Out of Ambivalence

In Nature, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas on March 17, 2013 at 6:00 am
Morning, Moosehead

Morning, Moosehead

Two weeks ago [original post, June 2010], Carole, Lucy, and I went north to Moosehead Lake for a few days of North Woods camping and canoeing. At one point, as the sun set and the stars emerged, I stood on the shore and looked across the lake. I was peering perhaps two miles across the water. I studied the silhouetted landscape up the lake another couple of miles, then down the lake, to the south, maybe three miles. There was not a light to be seen on any shore, in any direction. It was complete and utter remoteness.

The filling aspect of this experience is found, for me, in supplementing experience with an element of the wild–that is to say, nature, and the compliment to a singular experience it affords. (I am encouraged by remembering the Zen philosopher Dōgen‘s comment, “Practice is the path.”) I don’t subscribe necessarily to the idea of the transcendent. Indeed, I don’t wish to transcend. Rather, I strive to enhance, to experience a world that spans wide(r) and forces me out of ambivalence.

A Footnote

In The Examined Life on March 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Tribe member and “…house…” reader Pat commented on the morning post, The Practice of Discovery, and offered a quote that makes a nice compliment to the post. The writer is Ken Gire. I thought you might appreciate it.

“Shaped from something of earth and something of heaven, we were torn between two worlds. A part of us wanted to hide. A part of us wanted to search. With half-remember words still legible in our hearts and faintly sketched images still visible in our souls, some of us stepped out of hiding and started our search.

Though we hardly knew it.

We painted to see if what was lost was in the picture. We composed to hear if what was lost was in the music. We sculpted to find if what was lost was in the stone. We wrote to discover if what was lost was in the story.

Through art and music and stories we searched for what was missing from our lives.

Though at times we hardly knew it. Thought at times we could hardly keep from knowing it.”

Thanks, Pat.

The Practice of Discovery

In Creativity, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas on March 15, 2013 at 6:00 am

For a while, as a young man, I wanted to be an archeologist. I moved on, as young men do. I still, however, harbor a need of excavation, which is another way of saying for discovery.

Pollock at work

Pollock at work

I recently read an essay by architect, thinker, and designer, Lance Hosey. The piece was called Why We Love Beautiful Things, and the comment that caught my eye was:

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

I am drawn to this notion, the idea that the “image is buried in all our brains.” I made a note of this sentence because it rings true. I know less about Jackson Pollock’s art than I do about archeology, yet I believe in discovery and, on occasion, understand the motive behind it.

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We live within the embrace of linear progression. That is, life on a line, moving

Art of Jackson Pollock

Art of Jackson Pollock

right. This fashion of cognition is a result, I think, of learning to read, left to right across the page. It does not surprise me that in Eastern cultures, where reading flows in other directions or is contained within an visual character, that life is,  traditionally depicted, not on a progressive time-line, but as mandala, a wheel, a circle.

If Pollock’s pursuit was to plumb the human psyche, it was devoid of the linear. It takes an artist to show us the myth that is progression; that the study should not be forward to become, but deep to be.

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You will have to excuse me please today. I know I have grown ponderous, and perhaps silly. Sorry–it’s just that sometimes you’ve got to give an idea some breathing room, no matter what. (It is a type of excavation.)

Have a nice weekend,

d

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.