Greg Pavlik

Subscribe to Greg Pavlik feed
Welcome to the blog of Greg Pavlik, software technologist and frustrated adventurer. Currently, I am working on technologies related to Cloud Computing and Cloud Platform as a Service capabilities.Greg Pavlikhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/02076590604248408230noreply@blogger.comBlogger271125
Updated: 6 hours 35 min ago

Intentionality Mind and Nature

Mon, 2022-04-18 15:52
Below I quote at length DB Hart on intentionality and the horizon of rational agency. If you take a moment to think about this point, it really ought to be obvious that it is almost certainly correct. And the fact that we can share a meaning and interest in "correctness" as an end - ie, we care about that which is true - underscores the point directly. The only reason this may seem abstruse is the unconscious prejudices we carry from living in a late modern culture founded on reductive models of consciousness that are almost certainly irrational - meaning, wrong. 

"Neither doctrine nor metaphysics need be immediately invoked to see the impossibility of rational agency within a sphere of pure nature; a simple phenomenology of what it is we do when we act intentionally should suffice. The rational will, when freely moved, is always purposive; it acts always toward an end: conceived, perceived, imagined, hoped for, resolved upon. Its every act is already, necessarily, an act of recognition, judgment, evaluation, and decision, and is therefore also a tacit or explicit reference to a larger, more transcendent realm of values, meanings, and rational longings. Desire and knowledge are always, in a single impulse, directed to some purpose present to the mind, even if only vaguely. Any act lacking such purposiveness is by definition not an act of rational freedom. There are, moreover, only two possible ways of pursuing a purpose: either as an end in itself or for the sake of an end beyond itself. But no finite object or purpose can wholly attract the rational will in the latter way; no finite thing is desirable simply in itself as an ultimate end. It may, in relative terms, constitute a more compelling end that makes a less compelling end nonetheless instrumentally desirable, but it can never constitute an end in itself. It too requires an end beyond itself to be compelling in any measure; it too can evoke desire only on account of some yet higher, more primordial, more general disposition of reason’s appetites. Even what pleases us most immediately can be intentionally desired only within the context of a rational longing for the Good itself. If not for some always more original orientation toward an always more final end, the will would never act in regard to finite objects at all. Immanent desires are always in a sense deferred toward some more remote, more transcendent purpose. All concretely limited aspirations of the will are sustained within formally limitless aspirations of the will. In the end, then, the only objects of desire that are not reducible to other, more general objects of desire, and that are thus desirable entirely in and of themselves, are those universal, unconditional, and exalted ideals, those transcendentals, that constitute being’s abstract perfections. One may not be, in any given instant, immediately conscious that one’s rational appetites have been excited by these transcendental ends; I am not talking about a psychological state of the empirical ego; but those ends are the constant and pervasive preoccupation of the rational will in the deepest springs of its nature, the source of that “delectable perturbation” that grants us a conceptual grasp of finite things precisely by constantly carrying us restlessly beyond them and thereby denying them even a provisional ultimacy.

In fact, we cannot even possess the barest rational cognizance of the world we inhabit except insofar as we have always already, in our rational intentions, exceeded the world. Intentional recognition is always already interpretation, and interpretation is always already judgment. The intellect is not a passive mirror reflecting a reality that simply composes itself for us within our experience; rather, intellect is itself an agency that converts the storm of sense-intuitions into a comprehensible order through a constant process of interpretation. And it is able to do this by virtue of its always more original, tacit recognition of an object of rational longing—say, Truth itself—that appears nowhere within the natural order, but toward which the mind nevertheless naturally reaches out, as to its only possible place of final rest. All proximate objects are known to us, and so desired or disregarded or rejected, in light of that anticipated finality. Even to seek to know, to organize experience into reflection, is a venture of the reasoning will toward that absolute horizon of intelligibility. And since truly rational desire can never be a purely spontaneous eruption of the will without purpose, it must exhibit its final cause in the transcendental structure of its operation. Rational experience, from the first, is a movement of rapture, of ecstasy toward ends that must be understood as—because they must necessarily be desired as—nothing less than the perfections of being, ultimately convertible with one another in the fullness of reality’s one source and end. Thus the world as something available to our intentionality comes to us in the interval that lies between the mind’s indivisible unity of apprehension and the irreducibly transcendental horizon of its intention—between, that is, the first cause of movement in the mind and the mind’s natural telos, both of which lie outside the composite totality of nature."

DB Hart, You are Gods. University of Notre Dame Press, April 2022

Mother of Mercy

Tue, 2022-03-01 12:56
I think in the western world, art that invokes sacred spaces is, to put it mildly, less than central to the art industry. But in parts of Europe, this is not entirely the case. One region that has a kind of generational explosion of sacred art is western Ukraine, an area that is culturally at an intersection between central and western Europe (and where part of my own family is from). To the extent there has been attention paid to these artists, it appears to be largely in Catholic journals - in part I suspect because the region is largely "Greek Catholic" in religion (as again were some of my ancestors), a religion which combines elements of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy: one might say a fusion, or, perhaps a "confusion", depending on ones perspective. But it clearly has generated a creative energy that re-considers traditional concepts of beauty and meaning in art forms that have often been bound to very strict boundaries of received archetypes.

One of those artists is the young Ivanka Demchuk, whose work invokes centers on abrupt symbolism that interleaves openness, geometric constructs and sparse, but striking, colorations. Shown here is her work Mother of Mercy, a rendering of the Virgin Mary receiving the prayers of her people.


Note the striking use of red within the circle that surrounds the Holy Mother. Here she seems at once in fully incorporated into the very cosmos that encompasses and surrounds us. Yet the interior red also invokes dried blood, as if she is interceding for - absorbing, really - the pain of her people. Whether intentional or not, it certainly is evocative, especially at this time of trauma and fratricidal war impacting Ukraine this image seems poignant, yet terribly relevant. We need more sacred art, not less.

If you read this, please consider donating to humanitarian and non sectarian relief for Ukraine, especially to help refugees. These posts are around for years, so if you stumble on this some time after it is posted, the need is still there and any aid is meaningful.

 

Murder in the Age of Enlightenment

Fri, 2021-04-09 17:51

I had a few days of downtime to deal with some medical issues and turned to some short story collections to fill the time. My companions for a bit were Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and Anton Chekhov. I was quite delighted with a new translation of Akutagawa from Pushkin Press, Murder in the Age of Enlightenment. What sparse but sharp imagery - taken from Japanese history, European literature, Mahayana Buddhism, Christianity, Chinese writings - it was a bit of a smorgasbord. Akutagawa can be dark: his preoccupation with suicide in his writing no doubt reflected in his own suicide at age 35; I found his piece Madonna in Black on a peculiarly evil Maria-Kannon to be troubling, not least because I have a kind of devotional fascination with Maria-Kannon as our Lady of Mercy. But still Akutagawa is deeply humanistic and wide-ranging. The Karetnyk translation can be digested in an afternoon, no doubt time well spent.

My Chekhov choice was the recent translation of fifty-two stories by the unsurpassable translator pair Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. These two are artists in their own right... I can't say enough good things about their portfolio of translations. They are so good I've been forced to re-read a number of novels just to digest their interpretative readings over the years.

But back to Akutagawa. Here I post a translation done under Creative Commons license* of the story The Spider's Thread. I don't know if this is a re-telling of Dostoevsky's "Tale of the Onion" in Karamazov for sure, though the story line is so close that I find it impossible to believe otherwise: Lord Buddha Shakyamuni simply replacing the Guardian Angel. Get the Pushkin Press book to read it in a slightly more refined form, but I found this a wonderful read as well:


ONE


One day, the Buddha was strolling alone along the edge of a lotus pond in Paradise. The blooming lotus flowers in the pond were each pure white like jewels, and the place was filled with the indescribably wondrous fragrance continually emitted from each flower’s golden center. It was just morning in Paradise.

After a time, the Buddha paused at the edge of the pond and from between the lotus leaves that covered it saw a glimpse of the state of things below. Now this celestial pond just happened to lie directly over Hell, and peering through that crystal-clear water was like looking through a magnifying glass at the River of Death and the Mountain of Needles and such.

The Buddha saw there, in the depths of Hell, a single man writhing along with the other sinners. This man was named Kandata, and he had been a notorious thief who had performed murder and arson and other acts of evil. In his past, however, he had performed just one good deed: one day, when walking through the deep forest, he saw a spider crawling along the road. At first he raised his foot to crush it, but suddenly he changed his mind and stopped, saying, “No, small though it may be, a spider, too, has life. It would be a pity to meaninglessly end it,” and so did not kill it.

Looking down upon the captives in Hell the Buddha recalled this kind act that Kandata had performed, and thought to use his good deed as a way to save him from his fate. Looking aside, there on a jade-colored lotus leaf he saw a single spider, spinning out a web of silver thread. The Buddha carefully took the spider’s thread into his hand, and lowered it straight down between the jewel-like white lotuses into the depths of Hell.


TWO


Kandata was floating and sinking along with the other sinners in the Lake of Blood at the bottom of Hell. It was pitch black no matter which way he looked, and the occasional glimpse of light that he would see in the darkness would turn out to be just the glint of the terrible Mountain of Needles. How lonely he must have felt! All about him was the silence of the grave, the only occasional sound being a faint sigh from one of the damned. Those who were so evil as to be sent to this place were tired by its various torments, and left without even the strength to cry out. Even the great thief Kandata could only squirm like a dying frog as he choked in the Lake of Blood.

But one day, raising up his head and glancing at the sky above the lake, in the empty darkness Kandata saw a silver spider’s thread being lowered from the ceiling so far, far away. The thread seemed almost afraid to be seen, emitting a frail, constant light as it came down to just above Kandata’s head. Seeing this, Kandata couldn’t help but clap his hands in joy. If he were to cling to this thread and climb up it, he may be able to climb out of Hell! Perhaps he could even climb all the way to Paradise! Then he would never be chased up the Mountain of Needles, nor drowned in the Lake of Blood again.

Thinking so, he firmly grasped the spider’s thread with both hands and began to climb the thread, higher and higher. Having once been a great thief, he was used to tasks such as this. But the distance between Hell and Paradise is tens of thousands of miles, and so it would seem that no amount of effort would make this an easy journey. After climbing for some time Kandata tired, and couldn’t climb a bit higher. Having no other recourse, he hung there from the thread, resting, and while doing so looked down below.

He saw that he had made a good deal of progress. The Lake of Blood that he had been trapped in was now hidden in the dark below, and he had even climbed higher than the dimly glowing Mountain of Needles. If he could keep up this pace, perhaps he could escape from Hell after all. Kandata grasped the thread with both hands, and laughingly spoke in a voice that he hadn’t used in the many years since he had come here, “I’ve done it! I’ve done it!”

Looking down, however, what did he see but an endless queue of sinners, intently following him up the thread like a line of ants! Seeing this, surprise and fear kept Kandata hanging there for a time with mouth open and eyes blinking like a fool. How could this slender spider’s web, which should break even under just his weight, support the weight of all these other people? If the thread were to snap, all of his effort would be wasted and he would fall back into Hell with the others! That just would not do. But even as he thought these thoughts, hundreds more, thousands more of the damned came crawling up from the Lake of Blood, forming a line and scurrying up the thread. If he didn’t do something fast, surely the thread would snap in the middle and he would fall back down.

Kandata shouted out, “Hey! You sinners! This thread is mine! Who said you could climb up it? Get off! Get off!”

Though the thread had been fine until just then, with these words it snapped with a twang right where Kandata held it. Poor Kandata fell headfirst through the air, spinning like a top, right down through the darkness. The severed end of the silver thread hung there, suspended from heaven, shining with its pale light in that moonless, starless sky.


THREE


The Buddha stood in Paradise at the edge of the lotus pond, silently watching these events. After Kandata sank like a stone to the bottom of the Lake of Blood, he continued his stroll with a sad face. He must have been surprised that even after such severe punishment Kandata’s lack of compassion would lead him right back into Hell.

Yet the lotus blossoms in the lotus ponds of Paradise care nothing about such matters. Their jewel-like white flowers waved about the feet of the Buddha, and each flower’s golden center continuously filled the place with their indescribably wondrous fragrance. It was almost noon in Paradise.


(16 April 1918)

* Translation http://tonygonz.blogspot.com/2006/05/spiders-thread-akutagawa-ryunosuke.html

Silence in 4 Movements

Wed, 2021-03-24 12:05

"What is the relation of [contemplation] to action? Simply this. He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas."
—Thomas Merton


"Those who know do not talk.

Those who talk do not know.

~

Stop talking,

block off your senses,

meditate in silence,

release your worries,

blunt your sharpness,

untie your knots,

soften your glare,

harmonise your inner light

and unite the world into one whole!

This is the primal union or secret embrace."

Tao Te Ching 56

"Make stillness your criterion for testing the value of everything, and choose always what contributes to it."

-Evagrius Ponticus




"Silence and Beauty - Eco" (Minerals and gesso on canvas, 2016) by contemporary Japanese American artist Fujimura Makoto (藤村真, born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1960). Abstract expressionist piece done with nihonga techniques. Picture found online.

I read Fujimura's book Silence and Beauty last year, which was inspired by the Endo Shusaku's 20th century novel Silence (itself adapted to film by the great Martin Scorsese). Fujimura reflects on his relationship with Japanese culture in the light of Shusaku's work, the Hiroshima bombing, and his own experience as a Japanese-American: most importantly how it has manifested in his work as an artist. Shusaku's work itself dwells on "silence" as absence. But I think this painting shows absence-as-presence: something is there, something beautiful, but its not clear what or even why - in fact that presence changes over time for the viewer, depending on vantage point or even focus.

Pretzel Logic

Sat, 2020-10-17 18:12

 

The Island

Tue, 2020-09-15 23:19

What is guilt? Who is guilty? Is redemption possible? What is sanity? Do persons have a telos, a destiny, both or neither? Ostrov (The Island) asks and answers all these questions and more.

A film that improbably remains one of the best of this century: "reads" like a 19th century Russian novel; the bleakly stunning visual setting is worth the time to watch alone.



Sacred Forests

Mon, 2020-07-27 12:28
An acquaintance sent this article on the small forest preserves in Ethiopia. The video is less than 10 minutes and well worth watching. The pictures in many ways tell thousands of words. Interesting to me: many of the visuals remind me of parts of north and central California where the trees and shrubs were removed to make way for cattle grazing - the visual effects I think are best captured by the late great radical novelist Edward Abbey's description of a "cow-burnt west". Deforestation in Ethiopia was also driven by agriculture to a large extent as well.

Now these forests are occupied by a handful of eremites. Their lived experience in these patches of natural oasis lends toward a wisdom that we seem to have lost in our industrialized and bustling commercial existence: "“In this world nothing exists alone,” he said. “It’s interconnected. A beautiful tree cannot exist by itself. It needs other creatures. We live in this world by giving and taking. We give CO2 for trees, and they give us oxygen. If we prefer only the creatures we like and destroy others, we lose everything. Bear in mind that the thing you like is connected with so many other things. You should respect that co-existence.” As Alemayehu explained, biodiversity gives rise to a forest’s emergent properties. “If you go into a forest and say, ‘I have ten species, that’s all,’ you’re wrong. You have ten species plus their interactions. The interactions you don’t see: it’s a mystery. This is more than just summing up components, it’s beyond that. These emergent properties of a forest, all the flowering fruits—it’s so complicated and sophisticated. These interactions you cannot explain, really. You don’t see it.”"

In my mind I see these eremites like Zosima in the Brothers Karamzov: "Love to throw yourself on the earth and kiss it. Kiss the earth and love it with an unceasing, consuming love. Love all men, love everything. Seek that rapture and ecstasy. Water the earth with the tears of your joy and love those tears. Don’t be ashamed of that ecstasy, prize it, for it is a gift of God and a great one; it is not given to many but only to the elect." Of course I may be romanticizing these good people's experience in these forest patches - I've never been there and never met any of the eremites that do.

And yet, as the author notes: "The trees’ fate is bound to ours, and our fate to theirs. And trees are nothing if not tenacious." For these Ethiopians, at least, a tree is tied inextricably to their salvation. But isn't it true that for all of us the tree is a source of life and ought to be honored as such?

Modern Times

Sun, 2020-06-21 17:18
I’ve found myself, quite unintentionally, immersed in modernism recently. I had been previously spending a lot of time on Renaissance era music and art, so I don’t have a good explanation as to how I got from there to here. But taking stock of things, I was: reading Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet, listening to a strange melange of Iannis Xenakis, Holly Herndon, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and looking closely at a series of paintings by Makoto Fujimura. Pretty much the only active exception I could come up with was znamenny chant recordings. None of these works necessarily relate and I’m not sure I can explain the reason for this clustering outside of coincidence.

I think many times the term "modernism" is conflated with "contemporary" in casual use. But by "modernism" in this case I mean, first and foremost, a mode of artistic exploration that breaks with prior, established forms, be they “rules” or aesthetic norms, seeing them as having exhausted their capacity to express themselves. Of course, these also involve the introduction of new forms and rationalizations for those shifts - ways to capture meaning in a way that carries forward a fresh energy of its own (at least for a time), often with an inchoate nod to "progress". I suppose the most recent manifestation of modernism may be transhumanism, but this obsession with the form seemed to have pervaded so much of the 20th century - in painting the emergence of cubism to the obsessiveness with abstraction (which finally gave way to a resurgence of figurative painting), in literary theory the move from structuralism to post structuralism and the disintegration into deconstruction. Poetry as well: proto modernists like Emily Dickinson paved the way for not only "high modernists" like Eliot but a full range of form-experimental poets, from ee cummings to BH Fairchild. These were not always entirely positive developments - I’ll take Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue over Bitches Brew any day of the week. But then again, I’ll take Dostoevsky over Tolstoy 10 times out of 10. In some sense, we have to take these developments as they come and eventually sift the wheat from the chaff.

Which brings me back to Pessoa, one of the literary giants of the Portuguese language. His Book of Disquiet was a lifelong project, which features a series - a seemingly never ending series - of reflections by a number of "heteronym" personalities he developed. The paragraphs are often redundant and the themes seem to run on, making for a difficult book to read in long sittings. As a consequence I've been pecking away at it slowly. It becomes more difficult as time goes by for another reason: the postured aloofness to life seems sometimes fake, sometimes pretentious: more what one would expect from an 18 year old than a mature writer who has mastered his craft. And yet Pessoa himself seems at times to long for a return to immaturity: "My only regret is that I am not a child, for that would allow me to believe in my dreams and believe that I am not mad, which would allow me to distance my soul from all those who surround me."

But still, the writing at times is simply gorgeous. There's not so much beauty in what Pessoa says as in how he says it. He retains completely the form of language, but deliberately evacuates the novel of its structure. What we are left with are in some sense "micro-essays" that sometimes connect and at other times disassociate. Taken as words that invoke meaning, they are often depressing, sometimes nonsensical. Taken as words that invoke feeling - a feeling of language arranged to be something more than just words - they can be spectacular.

The tension between the words as meaning and words as expression is impossible to escape: "Nothing satisfies me, nothing consoles me, everything—whether or not it has ever existed—satiates me. I neither want my soul nor wish to renounce it. I desire what I do not desire and renounce what I do not have. I can be neither nothing nor everything: I’m just the bridge between what I do not have and what I do not want.” What does one make of this when considered as creed? Unlikely anything positive. Yet this pericope is rendered in a particularly dreamy sort of way that infects the reader when immersed in the dream-like narrative in which it is situated. It's almost inescapable.

Few novels have made me pause for such extended periods of time to ponder not so much what the author has to say but how he says it. It's like a kind of poetry rendered without a poem.

---

A nod to New Directions Publishing, by the way, for making this project happen. Their edition of Disquiet I suspect will be seen as definitive for some time.

Unity and Difference

Wed, 2020-06-03 09:43
One of the themes that traveled from Greek philosophy through until the unfolding of modernity was the neoplatonic notion of "the One". A simple unity in which all "transcendentals" - beauty, truth, goodness - both originate and in some sense coalesce. In its patristic and medieval development, these transcendentals were "en-hypostasized" or made present in persons - the idea of the Trinity, where a communion of persons exist in perfect love, perfect peace and mutual self-offering: most importantly, a perfect unity in difference. All cultures have their formative myths and this particular myth made its mark on a broad swath of humanity over the centuries - though I think in ways that usually obscured its underlying meaning (unfortunately).

Now I have always identified with this comment of Dostoevsky: "I will tell you that I am a child of this century, a child of disbelief and doubt. I am that today and will remain so until the grave": sometimes more strongly than others. But myths are not about what we believe is "real" at any point in time. The meaning of these symbols I think says something for all of us today - particularly in the United States: that the essence of humanity may be best realized in a unity in difference that can only be realized through self-offering love. In political terms we are all citizens of one country and our obligation as a society is to care for each other. This much ought to be obvious - we cannot exclude one race, one economic class, one geography, one party, from mutual care. The whole point of our systems, in fact, ought to be to realize, however imperfectly, some level of that mutual care, of mutual up-building and mutual support.

That isn't happening today. Too often this we are engaged in the opposite - mutual tearing down and avoiding our responsibilities to each other. I wish there was a magic fix for this: it clearly has been a problem that has plagued our history for a long, long time. The one suggestion I can make is to find a way to reach out across boundaries with care on a day by day basis. It may seem like a person cannot make a difference. No individual drop of rain thinks it is responsible for the flood.

Mind Over Matter

Fri, 2019-01-18 18:13
"Plotinus gave exquisitely refined expression to the ancient intuition that the material order is not the basis of the mental, but rather the reverse. This is not only an eminently rational intuition; it is perhaps the only truly rational picture of reality as a whole. Mind does not emerge from mindless matter, as modern philosophical fashion would have it. The suggestion that is does is both a logical impossibility and a phenomenological absurdity. Plotinus and his contemporaries understood that all the things that most essentially characterize the act of rational consciousness—its irreducible unity of apprehension, its teleological structure, the logical syntax of reasoning, and on and on—are intrinsically incompatible with, and could not logically emerge from, a material reality devoid of mind. At the same time, they could not fail to notice that there is a constant correlation between that act of rational consciousness and the intelligibility of being, a correlation that is all but unimaginable if the structure and ground of all reality were not already rational. Happily, in Plotinus’s time no one had yet ventured the essentially magical theory of perception as representation. Plotinus was absolutely correct, therefore, to attempt to understand the structure of the whole of reality by looking inward to the structure of the mind; and he was just as correct to suppose that the reciprocity between the mind and objective reality must indicate a reality simpler and more capacious than either: a primordial intelligence, Nous, and an original unity, the One, generating, sustaining, and encompassing all things. And no thinker of late antiquity pursued these matters with greater persistence, rigor, and originality than he did."

DB Hart commenting on the new translation of Plotinus's Enneads.

Robinson Jeffers

Thu, 2019-01-10 12:25
Today is the birthday of one of the most under-rated American poets (in my view, one of the best we have produced), the builder of Tor House and Hawk Tower, which can still be visited in Carmel, California. A timely documentary on an American genius.


The website for Tor House visits, a fascinating experience:

http://www.torhouse.org/

The Way

Thu, 2018-11-22 13:48
Walking the Camino one meets people from all walks of life - hailing from virtually everywhere, from virtually every continent and creed. All on a path to their destination. Isn't that life itself?








Conceptions of Fudo Myoo in Esoteric Buddhism

Mon, 2018-11-12 17:14
Admittedly, this is an esoteric topic altogether - my own interest in understanding Fudo Myoo in Mahayana Buddhism have largely stemmed from an interest in Japanese art in the Edo wood block tradition - but I thought a rather interesting exploration of esoteric Buddhism and by implication currents of Japanese culture.

https://tricycle.org/magazine/evil-in-esoteric-japanese-buddhism/

On Education

Mon, 2018-11-12 17:07
'We study to get diplomas and degrees and certifications, but imagine a life devoted to study for no other purpose than to be educated. Being educated is not the same as being informed or trained. Education is an "education", a drawing out of one's own genius, nature, and heart. The manifestation of one's essence, the unfolding of one's capacities, the revelation of one's heretofore hidden possibilities - these are the goals of study from the point of view of the person. From another side, study amplifies the speech and song of the world so that it's more palpably present.

Education in soul leads to the enchantment of the world and the attunement of self.'

Thomas Moore, 'Meditations'

Lizok's Bookshelf

Sun, 2018-09-30 17:34
The first of Eugene Vodolazkin's novels translated to English was, of course, Laurus, which ranks as one of the significant literary works of the current century. I was impressed by the translators ability to convey not just a feel for what I presume the original has, but a kind of "other-time-yet-our-timeness" that seems an essential part of the authors objective. I recently picked up Volodazkin's Aviator and thought to look up the translator as well. I was delighted to find her blog on modern Russian literature, which can be found here:

http://lizoksbooks.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-2018-nose-award-longlist.html

Sea of Fertility

Sun, 2018-09-23 18:24
In a discussion on some of my reservations on Murakami's take on 20th century Japanese literature, a friend commented on Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetrology with some real insights I thought worth preserving and sharing, albeit anonymously (if you're not into Japanese literature, now's a good time to stop reading):

"My perspective is different: it was a perfect echo of the end of “Spring Snow” and a final liberation of the main character from his self-constructed prison of beliefs. Honda’s life across the novels represents the false path: of consciousness the inglorious decay and death of the soul trapped in a repetition of situations that it cannot fathom being forced into waking. He is forced into being an observer of his own life eventually debasing himself into a “peeping Tom” even as he works as a judge. The irony is rich. Honda decays through the four novels since he clings to the memory of his friend (Kiyoaki) and does not understand the constructed nature his experience and desires. He is asleep. He wants Matsugae’s final dream to be the truth (that they will “...meet again under the Falls.”) His desires have been leading him in a circle and the final scene in the garden is his recognition of what the Abbess (Satoko from Spring Snow) was trying to convey to him. When she tells him, “There was no such person as Kiyoaki Matsugae”, it is her attempt to cure him of his delusion (and spiritual illness that has rendered him desperate and weak - chasing the ego illusions of his youth and seeking the reincarnation of his friend everywhere.) Honda lives in the dream of his ego and desire. In the final scene, he wakes up for the first time. I loved the image of the shadows falling on the garden. He is finally dying, stripped of illusion. I found it to be Mishima at his most powerful. I agree about “Sailor”, that is a great novel and much more Japanese in its economy of expression. Now, Haruki Murakami is a world apart from Kawabata and Mishima. I love his use of the unconscious/Id as a place to inform and enthrall: the labyrinth of dreams. Most of his characters are trapped (at least part of the time) in this “place”: eg Kafka on the Shore, Windup Bird Chronicle, Hard-boiled Wonderland and End of the World, etc. Literature has to have room for all of them. I like the other Murakami, Ryu Murkami, whose “Audition” and “Famous Hits of the Shōwa Era” are dark, psychotic tales of unrestrained, escalating violence but redeemed by deep probing of unconscious, hidden motives (the inhuman work of the unconscious that guides the characters like the Greek sense of fate (Moira)) and occasional black humor."
 

Top 10 Albums Meme

Fri, 2018-05-25 21:27

I’ve been hit by a barrage of social media posts on people’s top 10 albums, so I thought I would take a look at what I have listened to the most in the last 5 years or so. I’m not claiming these are my favorites or “the best” albums recorded (in fact there are many better albums I enjoy). But I was somewhat surprised to find that I do return to the the same albums over and over, so here’s the top 10, in no particular order.

1)Alina, Arvo Part

If you were going to stereotype and box in Part’s work, this would be a good album to use. It’s also amazing enough that it could run on a continuous loop forever and I’d be pretty happy with that.

2)Benedicta: Marian Chants from Norcia, Monks of Norcia

Yes, the music hasn’t changed much from the middle ages. And yes, these are actually monks singing, who somehow managed to top the Billboard charts. The term to use is sublime – this music is quintessentially music of peace and another album that bears repetition with ease.

3) Mi Sueno, Ibrahim Ferrer

I know the whole Bueno Vista Social Club thing was trendy, but this music – Cuban bolero to be precise – is full of passion, charm, and romance: it music for human beings (which is harder and harder to find these days). This is at once a work of art and a testament to real life.

4) Dream River, Bill Callahan

I don’t even know what to categorize this music as: it’s not popular music, rock, easy listening, country or folk. But it has elements of most of those. Callahan’s baritone voice sounds like someone is speaking to you rather than singing. This album just gets better with the years of listening and it’s by far his best.

5) The Harrow and the Harvest, Gillian Welch

Appalachian roots, contemporary musical twists – I don’t know what they call this: alt-blue grass? In any case, its Welch’s best album and a solid, if somewhat dark, listen.

6) In the Spur of the Moment, Steve Turre

Turre does his jazz trombone (no conch shells on this album – which I am happy about) along with Ray Charles on piano for the first third or so, later trending toward more Afro-Cuban jazz style. I know the complaint on this one is that it feels a bit passionless in parts, but it’s a hard mix not to feel good about.

7) Treasury of Russian Gypsy Songs, Marusia Georgevskaya and Sergei Krotkoff

I’ll admit that it sounds like Georgevskaya has smoked more than a few cigarettes. But this is timeless music, a timeless voice, from a timeless culture. Sophie Milman’s Ochi Chernye is sultry and seductive (she is really fantastic), but somehow I like Marusia’s better.

9) Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave

Nick Cave is uneven at best and often mediocre but this album is distilled pain in poet form and a major work of art. For some reason I listen to this end to end semi regularly on my morning commute.

10) Old Crow Medicine Show, Old Crow Medicine Show

End to end, just hits the right notes over and over again. From introspective to political to just plain fun, these guys made real music for real people at their peak. Things fell apart after Willie Watson, but there is an almost perfect collection of authentic songs.

Pages