Saturday, October 24, 2009

Just Purchased: Barbara Hannah and David K. Reynolds - 2009.10.24

While doing a personal chore on my lunch break from work a few days ago, I visited, in piss-pouring rain, the north Burnaby bookstore, Companion Books. It is one of the cleanest and most orderly used bookstore I've visited in metropolitan Vancouver.

And I did well, with three great finds!

The first is phenomenal — sorry for the hyperbole, but … it is just so nice. It is the biography of C.G. Jung written by Barbara Hannah, called Jung: His Life and Work: A Biographical Memoir.

This is a book I read many years ago from the NWPL. It is well written and very interesting. I was thrilled and delighted to see and be able to get this near mint condition trade paperback. (I've left it at work because a co-worker, BJV., wants to read it. And I've left it at my desk where she can see it to help spur her reading The Art of Living by Epictetus, which I've already lent her. We'll see if that works to speed her reading. She says that Art of Living is good, but that she hasn't been reading it, lately.)

The other two books are also very, very nice! The nicer of the last two is a mint condition trade paper back of A Handbook for Constructive Living by David K. Reynolds. (My cover not as shown.) I've already glanced at it and it looks like a mighty fine find.

And the last is also by Reynolds: The Quiet Therapies; Japanese Pathways to Personal Growth. This is one of Reynolds' earliest books, I think, with its original publication being in 1980, although my trade was published in 1985. I am interested to see how Reynolds' ideas have evolved, and so this is also a great find.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

modern essays: A RHETORICAL APPROACH - sampling 2009.10.22

I felt like changing up my reading this evening, and so drifted to my library and, more or less allowed my hand to randomly select Modern Essays: A Rhetorical Approach. It is/was a grade school/college reader, I think, that I picked up at my local library's semi-annual book sale for 25¢.

Most of the writers listed are, even if I've not read them, at least known to me. For example, E.B. White, Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, George Bernard Shaw, and the like.

But what my random hands took me to was George Orwell's fascinating little piece called 'Marrakech' (pg 109). As noted elsewhere, I am a great fan of Orwell's writing, and this essay exemplifies why — he with brutal self honesty admits to possessing white man's blindness to the brown mans' slavery in Africa. And he observes that somehow this easy 'natural' blindness is a quality of being human that needs to be addressed.

It opens with a great short paragraph:
As the corpse went past the flies left the restaurant table in a cloud and rushed after it, but they came back a few minutes later.

And, of course, it continues brilliantly:
... when you see how the people live, and still more how easily they die, it is always difficult to believe that you are walking among human beings. All colonial empires are in reality founded upon that fact. The people have brown faces — besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects? They rise out of the earth, they sweat and starve for a few years, and then they sink back into the nameless mounds of the graveyard and nobody notices that they are gone. And even the graves themselves soon fade back into the soil. Sometimes, out for a walk, as you break your way through the prickly pear, you notice that it is rather bumpy underfoot, and only a certain regularity in the bumps tells you that you are walking over skeletons.
He closes it with a revelatory self examination on the nature of poverty's invisibility when it applies to the colonized brown people:
... But what is strange about these people is their invisibility. For several weeks, always at about the same time of day, the file of old women had hobbled past the house with their firewood, and though they had registered themselves on my eyeballs I cannot truly say that I had seen them. Firewood was passing—that was how I saw it. It was only that one day I happened to be walking behind them, and the curious up-and-down motion of a load of wood drew my attention to the human being underneath it. Then for the first time I noticed the poor old earth-coloured bodies, bodies reduced to bones and leathery skin, bent double under the crushing weight. Yet I suppose I had not been five minutes on Moroccan soil before I noticed the overloading of the donkeys and was infuriated by it. There is no question that the donkeys are damnably treated...
And, finally:
This kind of thing makes one's blood boil, whereas—on the whole—the plight of the human beings does not. I am not commenting, merely pointing to a fact. People with brown skins are next door to invisible. Anyone can be sorry for the donkey with its galled back, but it is generally owing to some kind of accident if one even notices the old woman under her load of sticks.

Yup, I like Orwell.

This essay gets:


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rainbow Rising from a Stream - Post Finis Citation 2009.10.18

I finished Rainbow Rising a while
ago, and it is filled with sticky notes on sections worth revisiting. Here is one that got me thinking about why I like C.G. Jung, despite the validity in Reynolds' criticism of the role that the concept of the unconscious has in the 'helpful science' of psychology. (I wonder what Reynolds thinks, then, of Jung's idea of the collective unconscious?!)
Constructive Living provides a genuine alternative model for Western psychotherapy's models of human suffering and successful living. Constructive Living doesn't merely substitute a new form of understanding human behaviour to replace entrenched Western psychological explanations. Constructive Living argues that human behaviour cannot and need not be explained by some postulated concept called the unconscious. Our approach is not irresponsible, it is not nihilistic, it is not hopeless. It merely suggests that our students' experience is more trustworthy than some scholars' words. As Richard Wilhelm put it, 'Lao Tsu does not make scientifically verifiable statements about (the Way). Given the nature of the issue, he cannot offer proof but he points to ways in which one may come to the experience of (the Way).' This strategy is the same as that adopted by Constructive Living. We offer enough information and exercises for you to check out the validity for yourself (34).
And to further his argument, he makes the following logical postulates:
• If you can control your feelings with consistency simply by willing feelings to change …
• If you stay on the same level of Constructive Living development without advancing or declining in your ability to live life well …
• If the world isn't supporting you in concrete, specific ways …
• If no one fed and clothed you as a child …
• If you continue to suffer to the same degree even when distracted or engrossed in the task at hand
• If your feelings don't fade over time in the absence of re-stimulating events …
• If the most satisfying times in your life don't include times times with behavioural accomplishments … (34).
Once again I find myself prompted to write out my reactions to this apparent ambivalence/contradiction of ideas. I've already begun it, and it is a curious argument. I think that Reynolds is right, but what he has slid over is that the unconscious is a part of reality. That, of course, is a paraphrase of Jung, who had a hard time convincing the world that the problem with seeing the reality of the unconscious is because we think our minds can grasp it — which is impossible because once the mind has grasped it, if that were possible, it would no longer be unconscious! Anyway, stay in touch for that piece of verbiage.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Teaching of Buddha - Begun 2009.10.16

My friend Nigel R. brought this book in for me to read — he thought I might be interested in it.

And it is a simple and direct transcription of Buddha's thoughts. I'm not sure I'll be reading this cover to cover — already I've been flipping in and out of it like a busy-bak'son. It is curious that I am perusing more Zennish stuff, these days. I used to read Zen books of various kinds, many years ago. And have a small, but reasonable collection of Zen books — although my favourite Zen book is by (Canadian) Tim Ward and is called What the Buddha Never Taught.

And in my purely random flipping, I stumbled into a great fushigi! On page 53, in the chapter called 'The Theory of Mind-only and the Real State of Things,' I read:
Inherently there are no distinctions between the process of life and the process of destruction; people make a discrimination and call one birth and the other death. In action there is no discrimination between right and wrong, but people make a distinction for their own convenience. (My emphasis.)
What makes this a fushigi is how it ties in what I was beginning to edit in preparation for publication into my other blog, and into Scribd. Last night I was writing an introduction to two one act plays. The first, Why are you Truthful? was written by Raymond Smullyan and published in his excellent book

The other was written by me, and is called Why are you False? I wrote it as an exercise in philosophy, specifically the philosophy of the equivalency of 'truthfulness' and 'falsehood' if, in fact, 'there is no discrimination between right and wrong'. At the time I wrote it I wasn't inspired by Zen thought, per se, but by Taoist thought and the importance of being who you are: if you are a liar, and you are completely true to that, is that different than being truthful and who you are? In other words, is it better to be a truthful liar than a false truth teller? (I will be blogging these plays after I've completed the intro and possible edits.)

Hence, Nigel's book supplied me with a great fushigi.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Orwell's Collected Essays - Being Read 2009.10.10

I have been dipping into Orwell's Collected Essays and there is some great stuff. I was delighted to discover he commented on Shakespeare via his criticism of Tolstoy's splenetic diatribe that denounced Shakespeare as, in Orwell's paraphrase of Tolstoy's polemic:
a writer entirely without merit, one of the worst and most contemptible writers the world has ever seen (154).
Isn't that amazing!

Orwell introduced his examination of Tolstoy's polemic with a general comment on the nature of criticism:
... Criticism becomes more and more openly partisan, and even the pretence of detachment becomes very difficult. But one cannot infer from that that there is no such thing as an aesthetic judgment, that every work of art is simply and solely a political pamphlet and can be judged only as such. If we reason like that we lead our minds into a blind alley in which certain large and obvious facts become inexplicable. And in illustration of this I want to examine one of the greatest pieces of moral, non-aesthetic criticism — anti-aesthetic criticism, one might say — that have been written: Tolstoy's essay on Shakespeare (153).
And I love how Orwell summarizes Tolstoy — it was far more readable than Tolstoy's writing:
Tolstoy's main contention is that Shakespeare is a trivial, shallow writer, with no coherent philosophy, no thoughts or ideas worth bothering about, no interest in social or religious problems, no grasp of character or probability, and, in so far as he could be said to have a definable attitude at all, with a cynical, immoral, worldly outlook on life. He accuses him of patching his plays together without caring twopence for credibility, of dealing in fantastic fables and impossible situations, of making his characters talk in an artificial flowery language completely unlike that of real life. He also accuses him of thrusting anything and everything into his plays — soliloquies, scraps of ballads, discussions, vulgar jokes and so forth — without stopping to think whether they had anything to do with the plot, and also of taking for granted the immoral power politics and unjust social distinctions of the times he lived in. Briefly, he accuses him [of] being a hasty, slovenly writer, a man of doubtful morals, and above all, of not being a thinker' (154).
I wrote my own essay that comments on Orwell's comment on Tolstoy's comment on Shakespeare! (I have criticized the existence of literary critics, and now I am become one — life is funny!) I've called it Tolstoy, Orwell and the Tao of Shakespeare.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Zen and Japanese Culture - Being Read 2009.10.08

Zen and Japanese Culture is turning out to be a fabulous read! And with near perfect synchronicity-petit timing! While writing a response to Tolstoy's essay berating Shakespeare as a hack writer — to understate Tolstoy as transcribed by Orwell — I came across in Zen language an amazing and colourful affirmation of my argument. And one that also affirmed George Orwell's chastisement of Tolstoy — even as Orwell with at best ambivalently praised Shakesepare. I came across Tolstoy's polemic via Orwell's response to it in Vol 2 of his collected short works. (I will be blogging this bit of doggeral when it's done.)

But even without it being a great supporting argument to my own perverse sense of things, it is a nice bit of writing to promote thoughtless thought.
There is a famous saying by one of the earlier masters of the T'ang dynasty, which declares that the Tao is no more than one's everyday life experience. When the master was asked what he meant by this, he replied, "When you are hungry you eat, when are are thirsty you drink, when you meet a friend you greet him'. This, some may think, is no more than animal instinct or social usage, and there is nothing that may be called moral, much less spiritual, in it. If we call it the Tao, some may think, what a cheap thing the Tao is after all!
Those who have not penetrated into the depths of our consciousness, including both the conscious and unconscious, are liable to hold such a mistaken notion as the one just cited. But we must remember that, if the Tao is something highly abstract transcending daily experiences, it will have nothing to do with the actualities of life. Life as we live it is not concerned with generalization. If ti were, the intellect would be everything, and the philosopher would be the wisest man. But, as Kierkegaard points out, the philosopher builds a fine palace, but he is doomed not to live in it — he has a shed for himself next door to what he constructed for others, including himself, to look at.
The Tao is really very much more than mere animal instinct and social usage, though those elements are also included in it. It is something deeply imbedded in every one of us, indeed in all beings sentient and non-sentient, and it requires something altogether different from so-called scientific analysis. It defies our intellectual pursuit because of being too concrete, too familiar, hence beyond definability. It is there confronting us, no doubt, but not obtrusively and threateningly, like Mount Everest to the mountain-climbers (11-2).