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Brevity in Paradox

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — or as John Cage once said, I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry ]
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suzuki_enso-2-sm

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JV Cunningham has a poem which runs in its entirety:

Life flows to death as rivers to the sea
And life is fresh and death is salt to me.

Brilliant and brief. Samuel Beckett goes him one better, writing:

My birth was my death. Or put it another way. My birth was the death of me. Words are scarce.

It’s the scarcity that interests me here. Earlier, in Godot, he had written:

They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

That’s too wordy. “My birth was the death of me” packs a colloquial punch, while “My birth was my death” is more succinct and correspondingly powerful.

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Birth > death.

They are opposites, obviously, and almost tautologically so — and yet there is a less-than-obvious “double meaning” to them — when brought into close conjunction they can be said to fold the universe from many back into one.

This business of the conjunction of opposites is one which Carl Jung made the centerpiece of much of his later work, writing for instance:

Whoever identifies with an intellectual standpoint will occasionally find his feeling confronting him like an enemy in the guise of the anima; conversely, an intellectual animus will make violent attacks on the feeling standpoint. Therefore, anyone who wants to achieve the difficult feat of realizing something not only intellectually, but also according to its feeling-value, must for better or worse come to grips with the anima/animus problem in order to open the way for a higher union, a coniunctio oppositorum. This is an indispensable prerequisite for wholeness.

Consider the current US election campaign in this light…

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Shakespeare’s “insult, exult, and all at once” in As you Like It, and Dylan Thomas’ “Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray” in Do not go gentle are 0other instances of brevity in paradox.

Beckett, Jung, Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas — heady company.

Sunday surprise: desert and triple canopy

Monday, April 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — as a poet, i love the term “triple canopy” — okay? ]
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I was watching The Big Lebowski — a great film that’s all the better because it features a cameo of my old buddy Jimmie Dale Gilmore — and was caught off-guard when I saw this particular segment:

desert vs triplem canopy big lebowski

Once again, the arts — my side of the house, you might say — are bringing me intelligence of strategy — the main course here at Zenpundit, which creativity a close second — and I was pretty sure I’d read much the same thing somewhere in the last few days..

A quick query on FaceBook revealed that I wasn’t making things up out of whole cloth. Stephanie Chenault and Laura Walker had seen it, too.

And then Mark brought the whole thing back home, with this FaceBook post of his:

Safransky canopy

Very likely, that’s what we all saw..

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It’s still Sunday here, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised — so this can still be the Sunday surprise I meant it to be, even though you likely won’t see it till Monday.

And mebbe in future we should simply refer to The Big Safranski as The Dude.

Theology for artists and musicians, Buddhist & Christian

Monday, April 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — with side-trips to China, ancient and modern ]
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The-Bach-Window-Saint-Tho-007
Bach window in the Thomaskirsche, Leipzig, where Bach was Cantor

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The Dalai Lama has a fascinating article out about reincarnating lamas (“tulkus”) which has direct relevance to discussions of what happens when he died — whether he decides to reincarnate as a new Dalai Lama, whether the Chinese decide to do it for him, etc.

I learned a lot — but the piece that really caught my eye was this:

The Emanation Body is three-fold: a) the Supreme Emanation Body like Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha, who manifested the twelve deeds of a Buddha such as being born in the place he chose and so forth; b) the Artistic Emanation Body which serves others by appearing as craftsmen, artists and so on; and c) the Incarnate Emanation Body, according to which Buddhas appear in various forms such as human beings, deities, rivers, bridges, medicinal plants, and trees to help sentient beings.

I love the ontology that gives us “human beings, deities, rivers, bridges, medicinal plants, and trees” and which reminds me of Borges‘ scheme, allegedly derived from a Chinese encyclopedia, The Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge, for the classification of animals:

In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

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But really, that’s a bonus.

It’s the inclusion of “craftsmen, artists and so on” as being potentially Artistic Emanation Bodies of Buddha that gets me. I see it as a viable counterbalance to the current emphasis in the west — and in the westifying east — on STEM topics, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as the ultimate desirables in education.

And for what it’s worth, the idea is not without comparative equivalents. July 28 is the commemoration, in the Episcopalian Calendar of Saints, of “Johann Sebastian Bach, 1750, George Frederick Handel, 1759, and Henry Purcell, 1695, Composers” — while the Lutherans on the same day commemorate “Johann Sebastian Bach, 1750; Heinrich Schütz, 1672; George Frederick Handel, 1759; musicians”.

From a set of Episcopalian lectionary readings:

Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness: Thou gavest to thy musicians Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, and Henry Purcell grace to show forth thy glory in their music. May we also be moved to sound out thy praises as a foretaste of thy eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Arthur Waley, in his slim volume on Li Po, puts a somewhat ironic spin on the idea, telling us:

It was commonly believed that immortals who had misbehaved in Heaven were as punishment banished to live on earth for a fixed time, there they figured as wayward and extraordinary human beings. They were what was called ‘Ministers Abroad of the Thirty-Six Emperors of Heaven.’

Falling, drunk, into the Yellow River while attempting to kiss the moon would appear to qualify one for this honorific.

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Not to worry, btw. According to an announcement issued yesterday:

The Tibetan spiritual leader told a group of abbots not to worry as he is in good health and still has recurring dreams indicating that he will live for at least 113 years.

Of blood and song

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — what carves memory? blood is spilled, song carries grief and anger across centuries ]
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One hundred years ago, Irish blood was spilled in the Easter Uprising of 1916, as Sinéad O’Connor & The Chieftains call us to remember in The Foggy Dew:

As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum no battle drum did sound it’s loud tattoo
But the Angelus bell o’er the Liffey swell rang out through the foggy dew

The bravest fell, and the Requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Easter-tide in the spring of the year
While the world did gaze in deep amaze at those fearless men but few
Who bore the fight that freedom’s light might shine through the foggy dew

While some may see in the Uprising a merely political fight, in song the religious element — Easter morn, the Angelus bell, the Requiem bell — add Catholic poignancy to memory.

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One hundred years.

Memory can linger long past a hundred years, as we in our rush to be the first into the future may forget. Let the Chieftains again remind us, with O’Sullivan’s March:

Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare marched in 1602 — as Shakespeare was penning All’s Well That Ends Well and Othello?

A doff of the cap is due here to blog-friend Pundita , who pointed me in the direction of this post with her own Don’t ask me why, because..:

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Ah, but Pundita also deerves a bow for her most recent post, Can the griots lead us home? — wherein she pointed me to a music of great joy, that of Oumou Sangaré:

If you watch enough videos of Oumou singing (there must be a zillion of them posted to YouTube) you’ll see that in many of her performances she has a highly conversational way of singing. You feel as if she’s talking directly to you. Sometimes it’s as if she’s talking to you in the manner of a defense attorney making an argument to a judge; others as if she’s chatting about something over lunch with you.

Here is a hunting song:

Pundita notes:

I think the ability to set up a very personal communication through song is the mark of a real griot, although after watching about 50 of her videos I think Oumou represents a tradition that I suspect goes back much earlier even than the griot clans — to a time when certain people in a tribe were interlocutors between humans and natural forces and helped settle disputes between members of tribes, and did so through the power of their voices to project a wide range of emotions.

Mali, at a time of violent upheaval — yet such joy in dance and song:

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We have statistics for which nations suffer the most losses in war and terror, which export the most weapons, which nations invade, and which are invaded — but what of joy?

Years ago, in a book that sank like a stone, I suggested the concept of a Subtle National Product. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan apparently beat me to it, when he declared in the 1970s:

Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.

His Majesty came up with the idea first, I now see and gladly admit — but I still prefer my own pohrasing!

Joy, it seems to me, isn;t easily quantified, although Bhutan does have an Index:

Bhiutan Gross Natiuonal Happiness

Here are some conparative stats across nations, ethnicities and faiths I’d be interested in:

  • deaths in warfare, civilian, irregular, and military
  • numbers of children pressed into war
  • numbers of those maimed, displaced and or grossly mentally disturbed by war
  • depth of grief, as meaaured in forms of keening and ululation
  • degree of exuberance, as found in music and dance, popular and professional
  • ritual solemnity and grandeur, on religious and state occasions
  • quantity of written poetry bought or borrowed from libraries
  • size of audiences for spoken poetry readings
  • number of poets (in particular) imprisoned for their writings
  • Qualitative equivalents of these values would also be of interest, though even harder to obtain and verify in any objective manner..

    Bach and the sacramental arts

    Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — closing out a thread that began with anoither recent post of mine ]
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    Berlin Cathedral
    Organ, Berlin Cathedral

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    The immediate occasion for this [second] post is my reading about the book Eucharistic Poetry: The Search for Presence in the Writings of John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, and Geoffrey Hill, by Eleanor J. McNees. Her subtitle names four poets I greatly admire, and whose company I would aspire to keep:

    Though widely separated chronologically, all four poets use the Anglican and Roman Catholic doctrine of eucharistic Real Presence (the literal embodiment of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion) as model for their own poetry. Each poet seeks to charge his words with a dual physical/spiritual meaning that abolishes the gap between word and referent and so creates an immediate presence that parallels Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.

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    That pasage, in turn, reminds me of some words John Eliot Gardiner spoke on the topic of Bach and grace,
    on the DVD of a rehearsal of Bach’s cantata Christen, ätzet diesen Tag (BWV 63) right after Sara Mingardo sings O Selger Tag. Gardiner first quotes Bach, then translates him:

    Nota bene: Bei einer andächtigen Musik ist allezeit Gott mit seiner Gnaden Gegenwart.” Now I find that very, very significant. That he’s saying wherever there is devotional music, God with his grace is present.

    How close is that to the poets McNees talks about, creating with their poems “an immediate presence that parallels Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist”?

    And then he comments —

    Which, from a strict theological point of view is probably heresy, heretical, because it’s saying that music has an equivalent potency to the word of God.

    I’m not so sure about the heresy, but this is the point at which I turn to Lexington Green‘s comment on a recent post of mine, in which he quoted the Cathecism of the Catholic Church:

    1374 The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

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    Whether in the performance and hearing of Bach, Christ can be said to be “wholly and entirely” or “devotionally and musicially” present is a delicate question, one part ontological and absolute, I’d suppose, and one part epistemological and subjective.. but I find myself in warm agreement with Gardiner’s elaboration of his theme..

    And I think that in essence is why Bach is so attractive to us today because he is saying that the very act of music-making and of coming together is, in a sense, an act which invokes the latency, the potency, the potentiality of God’s grace, however you like to define God’s grace; but of a benediction that comes even in a dreadful, overheated studio like Abbey Road where far too many microphones and there’s much too much stuff here in the studio itself, that if one, as a musician, puts oneself in the right frame of mind, then God’s grace can actually come and direct and influence the way we perform his music.

    I really must read me some Hans Urs von Balthasar.


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