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You Are What You Read


Okay. I had intended to wait until the 14th of the month, the board's two year anniversary, to inaugurate a new game. Both the jobbing and road tripping threads had been intended for everyone to have fun with. I failed to take into a ccount two things. Most people are smarter than me and keep to a steady job. And most people are smarter than me and stay put. But this is a game with a level playing field for all who read. The old saying about when the kat's away mice will play comes to mind right now. So when Katfriend is not attending I'll take credit for the idea. When she comes around I'll have to straighten up, own up to the fact the idea was hers.

I had a girl friend once. A talented actress and painter, but not exactly an intellectual type. Not an avid reader. At least, not the type inclined to stay up late into the night, sometimes through the night, reading. About a sister she would derisevly say the woman was only what she was reading that month or year. And I bet everyone is familiar with a certain kind of reader of self-help, pop-psych, even New Age spirit books who pretty much reflect what is au currant in a trendy sort of way. And for as long as the trend keeps trendy. But I think there is a larger truth to this notion that we are what we read. I know I am. That what I read renders me a little qualitatively different than I was the night before. Many years ago when first reading history, just the record of the species, I could get a sense of vertigo with pushing back into the dark, because unknown to me, spaces of time. Reading the story of ancient Egypt gave me vertigo. So did the extraordinary story of the Byzantine Empire. So did the record of old Europe going back 40 to 50 thousand years ago. As did the record of paleolithic First Americans. Same is true of all the sciences and all the poetry, and all the novels, etc. It is no wonder Creationists stick to their script. It keeps them safe and contained, not having to peer too far into, well into anything actually. Sometimes I almost envy them.

But here is the thing. If it is true we are what we read then what becomes all-determining is what we read. Is it Dante or Billy Collins? Tolstoy or Harold Robbins? Is it Dr. Phil or Jung?

Everybody gets to play this game the way they want to play it. Everybody gets to set their own rules. That way there are no losers, which is a condition that makes for the best games in town anyway. Something I have in mind is taking seriously this notion of being what I read. I am thinking of all the books that have impacted me, changed me in some essential way, and perhaps trying to figure out why. Poetry, novels, science, history, it's all fair game.

Thanks, Kat.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Sep/7/2010, 6:04 pm
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Re: You Are What You Read


Good idea. I've been reading and thinking about reading lately...so the timing is good for me.

Thanks Tere and Kat!

back soon,

Chris
Sep/7/2010, 6:32 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
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Being on vacation, and putting off any useful activity for one more blessed day, here goes.

Is anyone else a binger when it comes to reading? My brother the historian is. The catholicity of what he reads still blows me away. Our mother was who, in her last years, the least troubled years of her life, would read historical romance novels through the dawn, sitting on the edge of her bed and smoking dutch master cigarellos. So maybe it just runs in the family. Reading Colette is a good example of binge reading. Over the course of maybe two years, mid-eighties, I read every translated thing I could find of hers in a bookstore. Of course books were cheaper back then. Reading Herman Hesse in the late sixties and early seventies was the same. Everything I could I read, even resorting to shoplifting, which, back then, was supposed to amount to making a political statement against capitalism. Go figure. Rip off a book dealer and you become a revolutionary. The only novel of his that failed me, that I read pro forma, was his last. A futuristic novel called The Glass Bead Game.

Steppenwolf was probably his most popular success in America, and followed by Demian. Steppenwolf actually contained a big idea that still keeps with me, still resonates. Auto's recently posted poem touches on the concept of cultural memes, ideas traveling through time and space and that form culture itself. (Auto, Hesse would have been right at home with the notion. Maybe that is where the inventor of the notion of memes, Dawkins by name, got the idea in the first place.) Hesse's novel played with the possibility there is a realm somewhere, outside or in the world doesn't matter, occupied by the Great Souls. Mozart, Goethe, Emerson, Abelard, they were all still there. A few years later while reading everything by Nietzsche I could find I circled back to Hesse's Great Souls. I got what he meant or at least I extrapolated on it. The Great Souls for him were like First Peoples. They are the ones who first think an idea, interweave it seemlessly into the woof and warp, so seemlessly the rest of us think we are thinking the idea when in fact we are only imitating it. Yes. That is what Hesse meant by the Great Souls. The true originators: culture bringers, village gift givers, anthropology calls them.

The Hesse novel that went through me like an arrow was Narcissus and Goldmund. It is a medieval tale starting out in a monastery. Narcissus is the older friend. He will eventually become abbot. Goldmund is the younger friend. He will leave the monastery, wander around like some sort of Goliard poet. He will discover, a bit to his own surprise, he is a sculptor. After many adventures and years he will find his way back to the monastery. Narcissus will take him in. He will live out the years remaining to him trying to fashion one perfect sculpture of the madonna. I can't remember if he succeeds or fails, and I think maybe I don't want to. I know precisely why this novel resonated for me. Still a teenager and I had already cut my eye teeth on the likes of Camus, Sartre, with Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard soon to follow. Hesse's medieval parable gave me a way out of being and nothingness and the absurd man and all the reductiveness the existential way finally heaps on. It gave me the lyrical way, which is not something I can explain and wouldn't even try to. But I know as certainly as any Taoist knows a certain Way that the lyrical way is real, a mode of being that can save the soul just like Confucius once said it can. That's what Hesse showed me.

Back then the constant comparison was between Hesse and his contemporary, Thomas Mann. Reading one led to the other. But I didn't get into Mann in the same way. Reading Mann was mostly performed out of a sense of dutifulness. Likely Mann is the greater of the two. But sometimes perhaps greatness is overated. Of his three novels I did read I took to The Magic Mountain the most. Joseph Campbell held that Mann's The Magic Mountain was one of the 3 or so, 5 or so, greatest novels of the 20th C. He argued that the novel got the zeitgeist of the Modern predicament, that it tells the story of the, now post-Modern, predicament persuasively, in narrative. I think he is right. Most of the novel takes place in a sanitorium for TB sufferers, up in the Bavarian Alps as I recall. The characters are coming back to memory. The protaganist, a young German man spiritually floundering, the Italian philosopher who I've always figured was modeled on Nietzsche, and the young French woman with whom the German falls in love. There is a great exchange delivered between the two in French, even in translation, as if love can only be touched upon in a foreign language. Fine touch, that. Novel's final scene is a nightmare scene. The young German finally swallows down his own ennui, leaves the sanitorium, is inducted into the army, and is last seen going over the top, out of the trenches in the war intended to stop all wars. That's what Campbell meant. Modernity's unresolved predicament in which the only, and unimaginative, resolution is going over the top. Going over the top, boys. Going into the jungle. Rolling in your humvee down an Iraqi street.

Campbell gets to be right. But Hesse saved my young soul enough to get me into another century.

Tere

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Good, Chris. You are now officially a member of the mickey mouse club house. Anything at all and viewed from any slant. It is all good.

Tere
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I am curious to know if this happens to women readers too. I've heard of guys falling in love with a novel's character. Maybe the most famous case of which involving Madame Bovary. And I actually did once too. Only it was a character of my invention. Ena is her name. I could not bring myself to subjecting her to the stupidities of editors. She remains safely tucked away. But twice I have fallen in love with an author. The first was Anais Nin, the second being Colette.

I've not read Nin's diaries or the erotica she was commissioned to write after her return to America. I've read her major work, Cities of the Interior, and what I think of as an extended prose poem, her House of Incest. In both cases I got swept off my feet.

Her major work constitutes 5 separate novels. Its first publisher refused to publish them together in one volume as she had wanted. So the five stories appeared in succession, and she called it her continuous novel. Such extraordinary writing. I guess it is pretty much forgotten. One critic says of her style: "a dreamlike, sensuous prose (that) expands personal concerns to a universal level." The description works for me. And the notion still strikes me as radical fifty years after the last volume appeared. But there is more to it. Cities of the Interior is an apt title for the collected whole. It is exactly right. It is what she was after with the work. The interiority of experience in which one is forced to proceed from the inside out in a fundamentally different perceptual way. Damn sexy this perceptual way. Another critic has said Nin's way was Heraclitus-like. Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher for whom the universe's first, primary substance was fire, and for whom the natural state of things was flux. He is the one who famously said you can never step into the same river twice, since, all is change, all is in flux. That also fits Nin's perceptual means.

The dreamlike intimacy of her writing I think is what appealed to me the most, what showed me a huge, audacious thing: that in intimacy we are alive. I fell in love with her because of how she proceeded, how she thought. I would have followed her anywhere as, in fact, almost all the men in her life did. Including her father who she seduced and the two men she was married to simultaneously. The only man who wouldn't was Gore Vidal. But, of course, he is gay.

As seduced as I was by her continuous novel, the case became accentuated with her prose poem, House of Incest. Here to the title fits. The third or fourth time I read the prose poem, mid-eighties, I made notes:

~House of Incest, enclosed garden, hortus conclusus, center of the labyrinth where life is neither love or...but newly born.

~The beginning and her original watery divinity.

~Jeanne in search of ghostly lover, perfect reflection; finding him at last, she is able to place him back where he belongs - inside her, behind her, at rest, her perfect and unchanging likeness.

These are a few of the notes, enough to get the flavor of what Nin's writing conjured for me.

I miss her kind of writing. I miss her kind of thinking. And sensing. And what are we all after anyway, even those of us most afraid of it, if it isn't this very intimacy that proves to each of us we are alive and vital? This is how the case seems to me at least. I almost feel shy about my confession. But I am convinced her genius resided in opening herself up, inviting her readers to do the same.

Ah, Colette. If Montaigne taught me the essay form, and he did, she taught me narrative. There is a great story about one of her less known novels called Mitsou. It is the tale of a dance hall girl who falls in love with an army officer who will seduce her and then leave her. The moment becomes her coming of age moment when the girl first gets real anguish. Marcel Proust said he read the novel in a single sitting and then he cried. As mentioned before I read everything of hers I could find in translation, everything she wrote from the 1890s on. All the novels, stories, vignettes, even her lectures and nature writings. I could not get enough of her, not her girls, middle aged women, especially not Lea the courtesan who one day realizes she is old and fat, but content.

My favorite work of hers, one I still have almost 30 years later, is a collection of her short stories, over 600 pages long, and made up of stories ranging in length from a page to maybe 10 or so. Colette wrote for a living. She wrote almost every day. In her elder years she would write while suffering from extreme arthritis with her famous blue light visible to the street from her apartment in Paris. She even wrote for newspapers. And, of course, she famously had her lovers. Men, women, even a step-son. She had three husbands, her last, a French Jew named Maurice, would prove to be her best friend, and he considerably younger. She lived in Paris through two wars. With Maurice in hiding she saw the occupation of France first hand. She was also a dance hall performer, a mime artist. And she was a thinker admired and respected by the intellectuals of her day. But I've distracted myself.

Her collected stories. The small ones are really vignettes, begining nowhere and ending nowhere. And extraordinarily affecting. It was these stories that liberated me. They didn't exactly teach me how to make stories. But they gave me the permission to make stories out of everything surrounding me. Maybe they helped me realize that everything is significant and worth telling about. That is it. That is why I fell in love with her. By giving me permission she opened me up.

So someone can come along and take me to task for idealizing these two women writers. I'll accept the charge and move on. I couldn't have handled Nin's infidelities, being not inclined to share women. I am not sure I could have been that young Maurice completely devoted to Colette. But actually he did have his affairs. She once said, and I am almost quoting it exactly, that Maurice always came back to her because there was enough of a man in her they could be best friends. Pretty astute.

There it is. Maybe I am wrong but it seems to be a lost art, taking our writers personally. The scene seems to be poorer for it. Conversely, I am inclined to think any writer who says she or he doesn't want to be taken personally is lieing to themselves.

Tere
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Re: You Are What You Read


Phew! Done. There is this friend who keeps on me pretty regularly to submit material for pub. Still don't know why. The only problem is she finds these interesting venues. The second problem is that, unless the piece has considerable length to it, I end up typing it out again. To catch any stray word problem and to hear the rhythm in my head, needing to make sure it carries over on the page, at least as I mean it. Just a Ludite who brings on himself more work than is needed. But now I get to play.

The question occurs to me: why do we read what we read? First two answers coming to mind: readers are looking for something, be it an answer or to compensate; readers are pushed by intellectual curiousity. Let me qualify the second answer. My mother had an eighth grade education but she was constantly reading, made me read the whole of the World Book Encyclopedia by the time I was 11 or so. I call that intellectual curiousity. A step-father, bartender by trade and pretty simple, always had his head in a book. People now decry the death of books and of literacy. But literacy has always been the especial property of the few. A shepherdess in 16th C England could no more have had access to Marlowe's shepherd love song to a nymph than a rapper has access to Vachel Lindsay's Congo poem or to L. Hughes's Harlem poetry riffing on a jazz line, or a punk rocker getting that his proto-type was Baudelaire. (Maybe this speaks to Auto's meme notion too.) This thing of reading is pretty extraordinary when you think about, even exceptional. And you know what I think accounts for its popularity in the West from, say, the 17th C on? Pure social vanity brought about by the up-start bourgeoisie who needed to prove to the ruling-class they were as human. Out of such pretensiousness the book industry grew and books became a commodity. Those days are gone. Books are no longer a prized commodity.

But we read. There is not an active member of this board, for example, not in love with reading. I've known other poetry boards where, in fact, the lit stuff is frowned upon. There was one young man who said he never read poetry in translation because it wasn't in its original language. That kind of puritanism blew me away, left me feeling sorry for his poverty. There was one young woman who wanted to ban, actually ban, any discussion involving poetics, prosody, and literature. She said it intimidated her. When she became a mod I knew my days were numbered.

So what is reading's draw and attraction? The question is not a shabby one. I go to B&N, which I guess is going out of business now, the parking lot is full as is the store. Some people visit used book stores as addictively as some people visit flea markets. So what is this thing, this active thing, of reading all about?

Tonight I think it involves memory. Right. Mother of all the Muses is Mnesoyme, ancient Greek for memory. In books we have both memory and reminders. That's why books are essential to some. The creative act of remembering.

Tere
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So someone can come along and take me to task for idealizing these two women writers.

Can't help but think that "someone" might refer to me. Sorry, Tere. emoticon

Seems to me I read (especially poetry) for the experience of connection. The palpable sense of being part of something bigger. Not something over-arching or soul-connected; more like the ground of our common humanity in all of its manifestations (including inhumane.)

Are we saying the same thing? Probably.

Chris
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Hi Tere and Chris,

"We read to know we are not alone." I remember reading that once and thought the statement was true, at least for me. Googling now tells me it was C. S. Lewis who made the remark.

"You must read, and write, as if your life depended on it." Adrienne Rich wrote that, and at the time I read her comment, it felt true to me.

When I was younger, I was, as they say, an avid reader. I read to know I wasn't alone, for pleasure and amusement, to escape and stave off boredom, to learn and expand my horizons, to dream and, perchance, to imagine. The people I met in books were often more real to me than the people I lived with, than I was to myself.

I've never stopped reading, but over the years what I read has changed. I once took a 14 year hiatus from reading poetry. During that time I continued to read novels and began reading books on psychology, mythology and spirituality.

Now, much of what I read is no longer vivid to me, which is one reason I marvel at your recall, Tere. Are those lost plots and poems that went down the memory hole still a part of me? Did they help make me who I am, or was/am I too much of a McReader? If I keep reading, will I start remembering?

This summer when I visited my 99 year old grandmother, she worried about her failing eyesight, saying something like, "Reading keeps me going." And read she does, everyday. She recited to me the plot of a recent novel she had read and much enjoyed. She also offered a critique of another book she read but was disappointed in.

Another elderly friend, who is 92 and developing short-term memory lose, also reads everyday. I noticed that she has bookmarks in a number of books she started and then seemingly abandoned, but she recently read a biography of Bob Hope, which she really liked, concluding, "He was such a nice man."

Thanks fors starting this reading thread, Tere. I look forward to reading everyone's contributions and hope to make a few of my own, if I can get my memory jogging so I can join in the hobnobbing. emoticon
          
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Chris I hope you don't say that in a mad way. Sure, you've taken me to task and rightly so. But never in a categorical, judgemental way. I actually had in mind a sometime member who seriously blasted me for my portraits of women. So much so, and on another board, she took such a poem of mine, made a poem out of it, a bizarre, almost ghoulish poem. Pretty strange. Which reminds. I knew a woman once, a waitress in a trendy bar of professionals and intellectual types, who was asked by a university don and lit crit what she thought of the subject: men portraying women and all. She famously said: it is wrong for any man to try to get inside a woman. But that is a different subject. Besides. I'll probably not change my ways. Women have always interested me more than men, with notable exceptions. Men like L.D. What was it Sartre said? 'Of course I prefer the conversation of women. They are more intelligent than us.' Something like that.

And, yes, we probably all are saying pretty much the same thing. Something Kat says reminds me of another aspect of reading. I cannot think of any other human activity that as actively engages the imagination. Music and painting perhaps come close. Drama certainly comes closer. I am thinking of Shakespeare especially. But nothing compares to reading for not only engaging the imagination but for activating it, for turning it on, so to speak. Yes/No? The imagination. An activity or function or whatever you want to call it so soft wired the sciences cannot adequately explain it. And yet an activity, maybe the activity, that most engages the whole of the brain, maybe the whole of the body. Just as there is an art to writing, painting, composing, there is an art to reading. Maybe it is a conjuring art.

But let me come clear on something. Upthread I suggest reading engages the memory, makes it creative. I had something specific in mind. Gossip is a word that came into English from the Old German. Originally it was a noun. Gossips were the village women who kept the lore alive by telling it to themselves and to each other. I don't know for sure if they told the lore to the village proper. I figure they must have. But in effect these (old) women were a village's memory. Something else. In the Pacific Northwest, for the Amer-Indians, there was a season for telling stories. It was winter. And winter was called the sacred season because the sacred tales got told. Families in the plank houses, each with its own small fire, would sit out the long, wet, cold season. And some shaman type would tell the tales of Trickster, Old Man Coyote, the shape-shifter generally acknowledged as being the Gift Giver who first brought the village arts to the village. Tales of the First People were also told who were sometimes the Sky People, giant people who lived above the clouds and from whom Trickster got the village arts. So the shaman, in addition to being a medicine man of sorts, was also the village's memory.

I am looking around my apartment. Physically, memory surrounds me. Some visitor from another planet could do worse than to occupy this space, learn English, and figure earth out. Books possess the memory. Now the same can be said of the internet, which is not a bad thing, is a really marvelous thing. Just not the same. Somehow not as engaging of the imagination.

Tere
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On a roll. Vacation time soon closes down and personal time gets hemmed in.

Mid-seventies. Maybe I read too much philosophy back then. Maybe not enough. While other young men were reading other young men, the Beats, Bukowski, and such, my reading kept taking me back through time.

I think it was the philosopher/poet, Walter Kaufmann, who put me on to Nietzsche. In a bookstore there was this intriguing title: From Shakespeare to Existentialism. Kaufmann was its author. It's thesis was pretty radical at the time. This is decades before Joseph Campbell. Hegel had defined Western Civ: Christian Romantic. Kaufmann set out to demonstrate a different notion. He maintained that since Shakespeare there has been a different intellectual/spiritual tradition in the West. For lack of a better word I'll call it pagan or heathen, or this-worldly and not other-wordly, or humanistic as in human-centric and not God-focused. Thesis was persuasive. Pretty much has been mapped out since. It was Spengler who called the Christianization of the West a cultural pseudo-morph, a superficial overlay that never, in the organic way, grafted and took root. Always beneath the surface their lurked the heathen. And it blows me away how within a generation following Nietzsche Western Europe de-Christianized itself. It is true. Borne out today by the fact there are fewer Christians in Europe then, say, Africa. Pretty wild how quickly, painlessly, Europe shed itself of a dominant religious orientation foreign to its soil, coming out of the Levant.

Binge reading again in less than two years I read everything I could find by N. Not only by him but about him, personally, and about his philosophy. I took to him like a salmon to an upstream waterfall. Reading him was like getting stuffed through a food processor. Like that first morning following a cold when you suddenly realize your sinuses are clear.

I know there are those for whom, and stupidly still, he was the anti-Christ who killed God. He didn't kill God. The aphorism is clear. "God is dead and we have killed Him." The other aphorism too: "The last Christian was Christ." N's stance here was that of the moral philosopher commenting on what Hegel had called a world-historical irony, or the contradiction between ideal and practice. And Christianity has always been such a contradiction. Still is, especially in America. So was Communism. So is Capitalism. Always, it seems, the world historical irony to human beliefs. Also for some he was, and stupidly still is, a kind of proto-apologist for Germany's (Hitler's) brand of Fascism, racial cleansing, and anti-Semiticism. History has his sister to thank for the maligning, heerself anti-Semitic and who inherited his literary estate, putting it to her own purposes. (I rarely use the B word to describe a woman. By the Goddess she was one.) Let me put it this way.

Nietzsche's most famous aphorism speaks of the Superman, the Uberman. This is what got subverted and I think deliberately misrepresented in order to support the notion of racial superiority. I really hate all these years later what got done to him. The relevant aphorism could not be clearer, not even ambiguous or open to interpretation.

(to be continued)
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No, not mad at all--relieved now that I know you had someone else in mind.

Activating the imagination? I'm going to think about that. Do you mean in the sense of sparking creativity?

I don't agree that men shouldn't create female characters or vicey-versy. I may take a drubbing for this but here goes: Last time I read D.H. Lawrence, I thought he did an uncanny job of getting the female characters.

So now I'll just duck and cover.

Chris

I think we cross-posted last night. When I posted this your Nietzsche posts weren't up
yet. Now this looks like a non-sequitur emoticon

Oh, well.

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Chris, I so love your sense of things. So take the drubbing and get to be right. Lawrence was a keen observer of women, of men too, and of nature. I think it no accident his mother was a huge personality; his father a passing shadow of a man. Has it ever seemed to you that novelists were once the supreme psychologists before there was such a profession? Exquisite students of human behavior they were. Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot also come to mind.

Tere
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Back to Nietzsche. About his superman, uberman, oversoul notion pointing to a superior type of individual. I had heard about it before reading him. I was blown away when coming upon his description of the personality types he had in mind. Everyone knows he had taken in Schopenaur's notion of the Will to Power, what characterized "man" at his best. N. had in mind three personality types exemplifying the uberman (ubermensch in German): the saint, the ascetic, the artist. This is what blew me away. His idea of the superman was the personality type who had gained control over himself. A rare individual in deed.

N. liberated me in another way. In an aphorism he said "I am the last philosopher." Freud, the creator of modern psychology, called N. the father of modern psychology. He had understood a big thing from reading Nietzsche. The human animal is not a rational animal as had been supposed for 2,000 years, or since Aristotle. The human animal is about 99.9% irrational. The instinct has been proved time and time again. I am not rational. You are not rational. Science keeps to a veneer of rationality. Society depends upon the desperate belief its members will make rational decisions, which decision making has not happened in my lifetime.

Last big thing I got from N. Culture is dirty, messy, I mean really messy like the blues and like flamenco and like rock n roll and like a Dionysian tragedy. Civilization, on the other hand, tends to be clean and orderly and state run and official and ordered from the top down by the god Apollo. The culture of the blues is life giving. Civilization, state or religion dominated, is a death sentence.

Just remembered. I got another thing from N. too. "To the Millions Murdered in the name of false beliefs by men who proscribed critical reason..." W. Kaufmann said that and not N. But it goes to what Nietzsche was about, what I took from him: think about the belief system(s) into which you put so much store.

Tere
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Had I sent you this link before? I was fascinated by the history of science as explained here.


http://www.springer.com/life+sciences/book/978-1-4020-9649-5?detailsPage=free

We invite you to read the introductory chapter written by Don Favareau for free:

An Evolutionary History of Biosemiotics
This special offer is valid until 31 December 2010.
An Evolutionary History of Biosemiotics

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In the Pacific Northwest, for the Amer-Indians, there was a season for telling stories. It was winter. And winter was called the sacred season because the sacred tales got told. Families in the plank houses, each with its own small fire, would sit out the long, wet, cold season. And some shaman type would tell the tales of Trickster, Old Man Coyote, the shape-shifter generally acknowledged as being the Gift Giver who first brought the village arts to the village. Tales of the First People were also told who were sometimes the Sky People, giant people who lived above the clouds and from whom Trickster got the village arts. So the shaman, in addition to being a medicine man of sorts, was also the village's memory.



Wind Song


Caught through cobwebbed memory

Falling into the calm within the storm

in enchantment

join the merriment of dancers
gliding movement
choreography, poetry,
mindful motion
poignant wisps of song
wyrding sympathies
a chance to beatifically play

where love is a whisper
from which breath expands
each to each
for a brief season

In the wind
stories, blowing, whirling
whisp purring gentle, insistent, strong
going, going wide, long, dipping below
a galaxy of whirlwind lights
blink bright, dark, invisible for a slow
millennium or so
only seen deep in night worlds
obstructed by veil, by shadow, by
"No, that can't be real."
Until a softly swaying memory
caught still in some fantastic siroco
casting about for local color
finds outlet in one needing succor
 
The field dances
hungrily with wind, with wild
In the eye of eternity, wise
as any child, as any wizard
myth could conceive
This One, This Master of
enchantments (believe, my kin,
believe) takes fluid stand
Takes true command
raises eyes, mind, arms
to conduct transcendent music
Sky and ground converge
lightly, in grace and supplication
make merry conversation,
soothing wild beasts from
fiery space with gentle charm
The few picked to observe, perhaps
learn to carry on these tales,
loose all sobriety,
enthralled by mighty magic
work a new reality
Ride high on dragon scales
spirits entranced
 
October 5, 2009
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Whoa. I am kind of blown away by the poem, Libra. I am a huge, unrepentant, fan of the pre-Raphaelites, the Symbolists, others of that fin de siecle generation, which is how the poem speaks to me. And yeah. It speaks to the reader in me too.

Tere
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Kat, I just gotta know!

Why did you stop reading poetry for 14 years? Tell us the story behind that. Please.

Chris
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When I was younger, I was, as they say, an avid reader. I read to know I wasn't alone, for pleasure and amusement, to escape and stave off boredom, to learn and expand my horizons, to dream and, perchance, to imagine. The people I met in books were often more real to me than the people I lived with, than I was to myself.

me too. I read avidly from the time I was 3, anything I could get my eyes on (billboards, cereal boxes, candy wrappers, even actual books). My big love was fairytales, myths, later sf, though I also enjoyed biographies, social histories, medical journals, newspapers, whatever topic I was currently flirting with, but never poetry. I did not, except for an occasional piece here and there (I remember a particular fondness for EAP's "The Raven" when I was about 10.), have any use for reading poetry -- though I've been writing some version of it since I was in grade school.

About 8 years ago I had a "nervous breakdown". I stopped eating, slept enormously, couldn't rationally communicate, couldn't read at all. As I slowly tried to find some way to reconnect with myself, to make sense of what I had become, I started being drawn to philosophies (broadly defined). I could not (really could not) absorb fiction any more. The words would not translate. Poetry became so much clearer a language than prose. Philosophy made so much more sense than fiction.
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Just now, Libra, seeing your post involving biosemiotics. Not an area of study I am familiar with, so it sent me to Wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosemiotics

Fascinating. Given your experience of 8 years ago, I can see how the study would especially speak to a body in crisis. Back in the 80s I was introduced to the author, Morris Berman. He pretty muched changed my thinking about thinking itself. Coming to our senses, essentially was his thesis. By which he meant thinking with the whole body. Soma thinking he called it. I suspect there is a connection to the idea of biosemiotics.

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So, Chris, life is good when there is cross-posting. Better that than cross-dressing, ne's pas? And not at all a non sequitur.

The several comments have me thinking: what dictates what we read? I don't mean the subject matter. My job requires that I read about bee biology, selective breeding, and at least genetics 101. But the form of communication we are drawn to. What determines that?

As a young man my mainstay was novels, 19th C novels especially. But then in the late 80s I wrote 2 novels and for some reason lost my taste for the form. I've told myself it was figuring out the mechanics of narrative that rendered me bored with the it. But I don't really know the reason. Since then my mainstay has been poetry and the essay.

I've never gotten bored with poetry. If anything it interests me more the older I get. It is still and always has been mysterious to me. And every time I approach a poem I am looking for the shiver it can produce on the nape of my neck. Or maybe it is the shaft of the arrow running through the body Lorca talked about. When a poem produces a physical reaction I know it is alive. But I also know I am alive, not beaten down yet, not emptied out by experience and drudgery. Constitutionally, I am incapable of understanding people not drawn to poetry. It makes no sense, which, of course, means I do not understand most people. Everything has its limits. Prose's limit is determined by the linear logic of a sentence's syntax. No matter how you tweek prose, as Nin did and V. Woolfe and Joyce, it is still contained within a sentence and determined by noun and predicative verb relationships. Poetry must have its limits too. But I haven't found them yet. Its rule of association keeps open ended. (Aristotle, by the way, was the first to figure out poetry's primary rule.)

As for the essay form I remember as a child in school cringing when I heard the words: write me an essay on...(fill in the blank). An essay? What the hell is an essay? How do you make it? How do you find it? What does it look like? Then I read Montaigne, the form's inventor. Suddenly it looked simple to do. Not only simple but the most natural way to proceed. And I got its procedural rule: let the first thought lead the way, trust in it, trust it will bring you down through all the thoughts you are capable of thinking. That is what Montaigne discovered as he parsed his way through everything, one thing at a time, including himself. I love reading a good essay almost as much as I love reading a good poem. Probably my all time favorite essayist, and who maybe made the form classic, is Camus. (Another writer I binge read.) His essays are far superior to his other material. They damn near shimmer the way a perfect poem can. And he did something really, really fine. Not only did he go critical in his essay thinking, he went lyrical too. His lyrical essays especially of his childhood in Alegeria are superb. I can remember them 30 years later. And here too he gave himself permission to let go. Rather than following the lead of his thinking, he followed the lead of his impressions, starting with one impression at a time. That is what it is about the essay form. It puts me inside things, inside everything, one thing at a time. They say Sartre was jealous of Camus because Camus was more authentic than he himself was. Authentic because self-made. Having grown up in desperate poverty, having studied philosophy in the university, having been a man of action, a front line reporter in two different armed conflicts, Camus was authentic, he was his own man. My sense of Sartre, a product of bourgeois privilege, is that he always felt himself a bit of cheater, especially in his Marxist stance. But I think Sartre was jealous of Camus because he knew his Algerian friend was the better writer. I read Sartre first, declaring myself an existentialist back then, one for whom only action mattered, was real. Then I read Camus and was blown away by the clarity of his thinking and the fluidity of his prose. Fluidity is the precise word for it. Then I came to his essays and was doubly blown away. One thing at a time, and the first thought about it leads the way.

Does any of this make sense?

Tere

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Happened to come upon a post I had all but forgotten about. It is Kat riffing on Auto, then Chris riffing on Kat, and all three riffing on Jung. That is a whole lot of riffing, huh?

http://bdelectablemnts.runboard.com/t1050

More than a little this speaks to why readers read, yes?

Speaking of Jung, I read him in my late twenties. Not everything, but certainly the essential stuff. I would then go on to read others working in the Jungian tradition, most notably Erich Neumann. He saved my young man ass and on two levels. The personal level I'll gloss over except to say I could finally start making sense of things nonsensical, myself especially. But the second level is perhaps worth a note. After reading Jung, and those working in the tradition, poetry started coming to me in plenty, not like it had been before with all those spells of dearth and all that stuff that, when it came, was scrawny, downright anemic. Interesting. More than the other psyche theorists Jung got the creative process. Neumann, by way of comparing Freud to Jung, said an interesting thing. He said that, unlike Jung, Freud was lacking in the oceanic sense. For artists I suspect that is key.

Years later I learned that Jung had flirted with the ideas German Nazis had used as window dressings for their barbarities. The Fatherland stuff and the Wagnerisms involving folk-myth. I was sorely disappointed.

Tere

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Tere,

The essay thing makes beautiful sense to me.

Re: cross-dressing, I'm a huge fan since I discovered Eddie Izzard, a cross-dressing, stand-up comedian and actor. He's hetero, refers to himself as a "male lesbian" or "an executive transvestite" or "an action transvestite." Mostly he's FUNNY and DELIGHTFUL--he's ruined me for other stand-ups. You can catch little bits of his acts on you-tube...and you should, everyone should!

I was conditioned to read novels. That's what my parents read. When I was a kid, my dad would suggest books to me and then we would really discuss them, like our own book club. I found poetry on my own and never quit. Lately I've been reading novels and short stories, not much poetry except what I find here and a few other places. I'm not sure why but I know I'll get back to poetry.

Well, this is wonderful you guys. I haven't belonged to a book group in a long time.

Chris
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Chrisfriend, the chuckle was immediate and involuntary. I am not there yet with the cross-dressing, but maybe getting closer. Every Monday morning we have a staff meeting. Every Monday morning I arrive wearing a pink polo shirt. Every Monday morning the macho types almost visibly shudder, which, of course, speaks to my motive. One man especially, one of the best guys I've ever known, absolutely cannot handle the color. Once he had a subordinate repaint the thorax of queen bees after the man had painted them pink. True story. So one morning I come into the meeting and sit next to the guy whose anima-adversion to pink is marked. In one fluid movement he is up, around the conference table, sitting in a chair against the opposite wall. I so was tickled by the moment. Another morning I arrive late. Apparently the man commented on it before I arrived: Tere is not here yet...in his pink shirt. I don't know. Maybe by the time I retire I'll be cross-dressing too?

That childhood memory of yours has to be a sweet one. It kind of touches the heart. So your father tugged or coaxed your thoughts out of you that way? Wow. Just wow. I always think of you as a gifted reader. You reckon that is where it started?

And yeah. This is fun. Got any book recommendations? Anyone?

Tere
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Libra,

Coming out of that time in your life, was there anything you read that made particular sense to you?

So yeah, that was a good time to spend with my dad. On the down side, he wanted me to read serious things; I was about 7-8 years old. So it was Steinbeck's "The Red Pony," London's "Call of the Wild," "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith, that kind of stuff. I loved those books...also loved stuff he wouldn't approve of like these books for girls called the Betsy-Tacy series by, get this, Maude Hart Lovelace. Man did I get a kick out of those books. I just had to sneak around and read them during reading period at school. Never took them home. Didn't want to disappoint dad. Funny, huh?

Chris
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I remember being particularly affected by Robert Thurmann's "Inner Revolution".
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Book sounds interesting, Libra. From what I can google, it combines Buddhism with activism/politics. Might leave a person feeling, "fired up, ready to go." Well, that was just one review, hope I didn't get it too wrong.

Chris
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Yeah, Libra. More than once a book has gotten me through a bad patch of time. Goethe's poetry immediately comes to mind. One especially that starts this way:

'Till you grapple this to heart,
that death's a further birth,
You are a drifter, pale and apart
upon the murky earth.

And, Chris, I'm chuckling at the notion of a little girl having to sneak around to read a children's book.

Tere
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Yes, Chris, the combination of meditative philosophy with political impact was a good inspiration, something that made sense to me in terms of how I could function effectively.
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I like that, Libra. Makes sense to me too.

Actually Tere, that was my first taste of chick-lit. Thank God for dear old dad, he saved me from my inherently insipid self.

Chris
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Joseph Campbell. I've always felt the world kind of got a little smaller after his death. I can't remember how I came across him. Probably I was in a bookstore just browsing. I never viewed the Bill Moyers interviews with him. Reading his four volume Masks of God series was one of those events producing a sense of vertigo. Big time.

Being something of a student of comparitive religion I knew the material before reading Campbell. But not like that. Not in such depth. And not so expansively, or so sympatheticly. Amazing to realize he was just an English professor at Sarah Lawrence. I've decided he was able to do what he did because he had a genius for syncretic thinking, more or less an acute capacity for pulling everything out and putting everything together, or maybe connecting things without forcing the connections. That's it. And it still blows me away how much he knew, how much he carried around in his brain. But mostly how infectiously he could portray it all. I have for long been in the habit of jotting down margin comments. But I think my marginalia in the those volumes is the heaviest. The practice itself being a sign of engagement. And Campbell was that engaging!

My two favorite volumes are the first and the last. One devoted to the primitive mythologies, as he called them, and the other devoted to what he called creative mythologies. It has almost been 20 years since I read the work and it still feels as if it was last year. Extraordinarily insightful he was. For example, characterizing Hinduism as essentially a psychological religion, one predicated on all the psyche's facets or faces. And how he demonstrated that Christianity was always a religion spiritually foreign to the European sense of things. His treatment of Goddess worship was almost downright tender. His understanding of the circum-polar distribution of shamanism. I especially enjoyed his treatment of Alchemy, showing that fundamentally it was a spiritual quest, that the sought after gold was spiritual gold. It was from Campbell I learned that the alchemists invariably had a partner with whom to conduct certain practices. That that partner was a woman, and that the partnership, because sacred, was intimate and personal. His description of the gestalt of form in biology has had a huge impact on my approach to poetry and poetics. His treatment of the Troubadors, the Waldensians, Orphism, all of it rich.

The world of religion through Campbell's eyes is vastly different from the take one gets in a monochrome world of a couple of dominating religions in competition. Frankly it is difficult for me to have a conversation with a Christian, Jew or Islamist, even about their own religion, since, too often they don't even know their own traditions or roots.

Yeah. I do miss the like of Joseph Campbell. But unquestionably I am the richer for having read him. I can't remember where he made the comment. It wasn't in this series. But he was asked once what would bring us through our present spiritual crisis. He said the same way that got the 11th century in Europe through its own crisis. Then he pointed to the example of Troubadour poetry. It didn't make sense to me at the time. But it does now. What was at the root of Western literature itself amounted to a spiritual quest.

Tere
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