Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections: It's Nearly Over

When I read these days, I use bookmarkers salvaged at my job from trimming legal size file folders down to letter size. This yields an item 2 inches wide and 10 inches long, upon which I can note page numbers and the paragraphs on those pages in which words that I may later want to share here can be found. I currently have several books sitting on the table next to my recliner, the markers in each of which are heavily scored with notations yet to be used. That’s how it’s been, of late.

Today is the last day upon which I can post here in the year 2011. My output has fallen off precipitously. This will be my 89th post, the least number of posts I’ve put up in a year since 2007, the first year I had the blog. But in that year I didn’t begin posting until July. I blame Facebook, and my involvement in several writers’ groups there, for my neglect of this site. That is a convenient thing to blame. Last year I put up 235 posts. If I start to read into this, it scares me.

On the desktop of this computer, I have a file entitled “Ruth Stone” within which are words I clipped here and there with the intention of writing a post expressing my enthusiasm for Ruth Stone’s poetry. This enthusiasm came only as a result of a Facebook friend’s writing of her recent death, and his posting of a clip of her reciting one of her poems. That file has been sitting on my desktop, unused, for several weeks now.

Among the books on the table next to the chair in which I sit to do my reading, is a copy of Ruth Stone’s, What Love Comes To - New & Selected Poems. In that volume is one of those bookmarkers mentioned above. On it are listed the page numbers of poems to be considered for use in the Ruth Stone blog post which never got written. Looking back over these now, I find that they are each quite wonderful. But I don’t remember why I picked them, particularly, except for one of them, which would have significance for one of my friends (and, therefore, for me as well.) So that is the one I will use here:

Where I Am

I’m not in a stone dungeon
under the streets of some Roman city.
I’m only in darkest Binghamton,
a second-floor apartment
in the company of two cats.
I have a plastic bag of dates
that claim to be grown naturally.
But how else can dates grow?
I see them hanging in huge clusters
from date palms,
as I once saw them from a bus
in the foothills of Southern California;
the streets of a small town,
adobes, lounging Indians,
a trading post. Then the fields of irrigation
and the forced water
spraying the great furrowed squares.
But I am here, not in a stone dungeon,
but in Dungeon Stone--
darkest Binghamton.

*sigh* -- It’s been that kind of year for me, too; year through which I would not want to live again. I’m glad that it’s almost over. I hope that next year will be better. I hope that yours will be, too. The contents of the Ruth Stone folder on my desktop are yet to be used. Perhaps they never will be. Perhaps they will die with this computer one day, not too long from now, when it finally gives up the cyber-ghost? Or, maybe, I will decide to kick off 2012 with a Ruth Stone post yet to written?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reflections: Whose Money Is It, Anyway?

Here’s the thing: what is being called the 1% is behaving intelligently, if it is intelligent to act in one’s own best interest, even at the expense of others. They are sitting on trillions of dollars that could be used to create jobs. But they won’t use it unless the government will give them a guarantee that the government will do nothing in the future to hurt their bottom lines. They have been raking in record profits and they want a guarantee that this will continue for them, regardless of how the rest of the country fares. This is what they refer to as “free market capitalism.” It would be funny, were it not so disgracefully cynical.

If, however, you are not a member of the 1% and are voting for politicians who are supporting “free market capitalism,” you will have been led ask yourself a question and to answer “Yes” to it, when you should have answered “No.” That question is this: “It’s MY money, isn’t it?”

No, it’s not. You should listen to Jesus, not to Ron Paul. When Jesus was asked if it was proper to pay taxes to Rome, he asked to be shown a coin. When the coin was produced, he asked “Whose picture is on that coin?” The reply, of course, was “Caesar’s.” You know the rest of what he said: "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's."

If you don't believe in God, fine: simply substitute "society" for God and proceed accordingly.

The money is not yours. When you answer “Yes” to the question, you sell yourself out. You might want to think about who it is that has made that purchase.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rodak's Writings: a Protestant Poem

Consent: a Brief History

Idolized as consenting; much depends

on that notion. But what earthly woman

could say no to an angel? The lithe olive-toned

form of the maiden soon swollen, shaped

from within by the prodigy growing.

Consent, was it then, to the flesh-rending

pain? To blood, urine and feces?

To birthing the type of material creation?

Flesh formed of the Word and man’s fated future:

my mortal career. So, serpent or fish?

The loaf or the stone? The one without sin,

or the first one to throw? Rocky soil, shallow root,

barren branch, blasted tree. Second mile,

dusted shoe. The chaff and the wheat.

The eye of the needle. The dog eating scraps

down under the table. Gaudy lily, willful blindness,

dying seed, burning vine. The prodigal son and the

Gadarene swine. One taken up and one left behind.

Bushel and light; foolish lack of lamp oil.

The mustard seed sown. The better part taken.

The sheep and the goats. A foundation on sand.

The shirt after the coat. The imperial coin,

the last pfennig she had. The pearl of great price,

the house scoured for a shekel. The shepherd,

the wolf, the one pulled from the pit. The infinite

regression tracking back to the Garden and

the immaculate conception of Eve, who consented.

You horn-sounding viper! You whitewashed sepulcher!

My mother, a woman, not some pagan crop goddess!

Consent! Few are chosen! You know not the hour!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reflections: Weblog Commentary

I have been meaning to launch this blog post for some days now, but I’ve kept putting it off because I couldn’t decide how to frame it. Rather than continue not to get the words online that I wanted to share, therefore, I’m just going to go ahead and post them unframed and let them stand (or fall) for themselves.
This material consists of a comment made by Ron King, a valued sometime visitor to this blog, followed by several comments made by me, elsewhere. I asked Ron’s permission to share this comment because it will be made available to my Facebook friends, as well as to readers of this blog. Ron made the comment in response to this post. I will edit Ron’s comment only to the extent that his very first sentence has been moved to the end of the comment. I do this in order that it may segué into the rest of the material, all of which consists of comments I made on a couple of different strings, to a couple of different people, following posts on one of my favorite blogs, Vox Nova. These I will simply clean up to stand alone, if any such polishing is necessary. I will offer them without comment, while inviting comment on them here. Without further ado, Ron King:

The problem for introverts is the early emotional conditioning of fear and rage due to the pain of being aware of not being validated by the primary caretakers and then the educational system. Consequently, the introvert is constantly under the intrusion of forces trying to make her/him into something she/he is not. This will cause a further retreat into self along with an ever increasing suffering.

Once the introvert has an awareness that being created in this way has a distinct spiritual purpose of exploring the dynamics of human suffering and the loss of love as the cause of suffering, then introverts can begin healing the false identity that has formed in reaction to a world that does not know how to love.

Loneliness begins to fade when the introvert begins to educate others about what it means to be an introvert. They can begin to teach extroverts what it means to be more sensitive. Every introvert I have known in my life has a passionate desire to be free to express their truth. The freedom is to be found internally and not externally. It is to be found face to face with extroverts, regardless of what they may say or do.

xxxxx[and now the sentence I've moved]

Jesus is an introvert.

Vox Nova: excerpt 1

Another commenter said of Jesus,

“…if he were conversant in Greek philosophy to any extent why did he not lay things out ever in a similar style.”

I replied,

Jesus perhaps did just that, when speaking to learned Pharisees; or, perhaps, to learned Romans. It is unfortunate that in the Gospels we are usually only given the punch-lines of his dialogues with his intellectual opposition. But, in most of what we are given, he is preaching to peasants and fishermen and shopkeepers, etc. There is nothing to be gained by speaking over the heads of one’s audience.

Any time I am arguing with a Catholic and I quote a Bible verse in support of my central thesis, and that Catholic then visibly pales, frantically starts making the sign of the cross and backs away from me screaming “Sola scriptura! Sola scriptura!” I am reminded that this once had some validity. Pre-Gutenberg, people didn’t own Bibles. Most people weren’t literate. What they knew about the Bible had to be spoon-fed to them by clerics. The priests don’t want to relinquish that power, so they preach still today against the “proof-text,” as though the text shouldn’t be a source of proof. I have to either spit on the floor, or chuckle. Hopefully, I usually choose the latter course of action. Luther, to his credit, not only translated the Bible into German, but preached that people had a duty to read it, and to interpret its meaning (with a little help from above), each according to his special spiritual need at any given time. This is not to use the Book as an oracle, but rather to use it as a learning tool; as a workbook for the student of the spiritual connection between heaven and earth.

To sum up: Jesus knew what he was doing.

Vox Nova: excerpt 2

I don’t know what “go to heaven” means, because I can’t conceive of heaven as a place. I can only understand heaven as a state of being. The upshot of that would be that only saints would “go to heaven.” One would need to be in a state of being compatible with heaven, i.e. “heavenly.” And by “saint” I don’t mean what the Church routinely means. What the Church means, in most cases, is something like “Employee of Decade” or “Distinguished Professor” or “Father of the Year.” So, what happens to the rest of us, I don’t know. That sad alternative may be what’s happening to us now. Being Christ-like does not mean being a really big fan of Jesus. It doesn’t mean liking Jesus, it means imitating Him.

Vox Nova: excerpt 3

I’m not so interested in the theories such as that Jesus went to India during “the lost years,” or that Jesus was the iniate of a Greek mystery cult, etc. I think it enough to speculate that Jesus was very probably literate; that he grew up in a Hellenistic milieu; and that he may very well have had some acquaintance with, and instruction in, both Greek (Platonic) and Roman (Stoic) ideas and used some of those, tailored to the levels of sophistication of his audiences, in his teaching.

I also think it very telling that Jesus was apparently not a Jewish nationalist. Reading the New Testament, one would get the idea that Jesus and his followers were wandering about in tranquil, almost sleepy countryside. In fact, of course, the area was crawling with insurgents and a constant thorn in the side of Rome. Jesus seems to have been totally aloof from all of this, which makes him somewhat less than ultra-Jewish in his thinking.

Moreover, if he had been nothing more than an unusually witty freelancing Jewish rabbi, I doubt that we would be talking about him today.

Finally, Socrates had Plato, and Jesus had Saul of Tarsus: the rest is history.

Vox Nova: excerpt 4

The difference, of course, is that Socrates and Jesus had visionary interpreters of real genius, both of whom offered a set of ideas too grand to ever be exhausted by subsequent speculation, or completely co-opted by "the world," and which, therefore, endlessly spark the imaginations of intelligent and creative persons who come in contact with them.

This is to take nothing away from the mediation of Socrates or Jesus. In both cases, their teachings were worthy of such interpreters. I assume that this was a necessary condition for the production of those interpretative bodies of thought.

I see the institutions--the Church, the Academy--to be like globs of semen; millions of sperm sent forth to produce one fertilized egg; millions of the "faithful" assembled to produce one true saint. And only the saint transcends.

Vox Nova: excerpt 5

The very last thing that a saint would want to be, I should think, is innovative or original. A saint is simple. There is nothing novel in the truth. The saint is proof that the truth can be received from its source and that life can be lived in accordance to it–not merely read about and acquired by rote for recitation on command. Man would get redemptive brownie points for the latter only if Kafka is G-d and the path to “heaven” really does lead one through the corridors and the various official stages and offices of some vast bureaucracy, beginning in the kindergarten of the parochial school and ending before the throne of judgment.
Your comments are welcome.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Readings: Remembering the Artist as a Relatively Young Man

Photocopied from a seventy-year-old newspaper clipping discovered in the archives, this interview with poet and painter, e.e. cummings:

The poet's thoughts in war-time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rodak's Writings: Some Advice

The Queensberry Rules

Sound your trumpet at the crossroads
if you don’t want to be t-boned by a fiddler.

Blink your flashlight in the basement
where maybe something hairy lurks.

Carry flowers on your power walk,
you may be merging with a funeral.

Drape a black cloth on your mirror
lest it open on eternity.

Don’t take a neutral corner ‘til
you’re sure you’ve got that bad-boy beat.

Never be prepared
to shower with a scoutmaster,

or sit your son the on the lap
of a priest playing Santa Claus.

Don’t allow your daughter to shop
for mattresses with a pimp.

Remember that a whistle on a lanyard
is no guarantor of gonads.

Above all bite your lying tongue before you aim
‘I love you’ anywhere below the waist.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reflections: Only the Lonely Know

The edition of Miguel de Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life that I borrowed from the library includes a rather long prefatory introduction entitled “Unamuno Re-Read” by Salvador de Madariaga. This piece is definitely not hagiographic. It seems to be quite objective in its assessment of Unamuno’s beliefs, works, character, and personality. Of the latter, Madariaga has this to say:

The chief paradox of Unamuno’s life…may well be that this apostle of life, this eloquent advocate of irrationality and experience versus reason and intellectualism, lived mostly in the mind, gathered but little outward experience, and often mistook his thoughts on life for life itself.

I photocopied two pages of this introduction and brought them home. I did this because, for good or ill, I was recognizing myself in what I was reading.

Madariaga goes on to say:

His life was all within. His experience was inner experience. Not for him those excursions to foreign lands, those adventures in the realms of danger, passion, the strange, the unfamiliar, the irregular, the shocking, the crags, peaks, and abysses which surround, fascinate, attract, and repel other men, and out of which they form their thoughts fed with the sap of reality. Unamuno spoke and wrote about life far more than most, but he lived far less than most.

*sigh* It gets worse:

Could it be that this formidable man, the uncompromising stand, the proud uplifted head, the glaring eye, and the stubborn mouth, could it be that this challenger was deep down a shy man? Yes. It could be. In fact he was. The forbidding mask hid untold shyness and even tenderness within. His search for retreat, solitude, the quiet of the countryside, the reflective and inward looking contemplation, possibly even that negation of outer life and that wish to unamunize it… He will roam in the vast spaces of his inner self, whose dangers he knows well and he can face, rather than risk adventures in that outer reality he does not actually know and he prefers to deny. …In Unamuno’s works, details of time and place are seldom given. Everything happens in people’s minds rather than in their fields, backyards, rooms, or kitchens.

What Madariaga has done here is take his critical scalpel to the psychic anatomy of an extreme introvert. In the process of chopping up Unamuno, he has cut me to the quick. If you’ve ever wondered why nobody seems to be able to get it on with me for long, now you know: people grow resistant to being dakinized.

Yes, now you know…

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reflections: To Be, Or...

Give  a bit of thought to this passage from Unamuno's magnum opus, The Tragic Sense of Life:

It has often been said that every man who has suffered still prefers to be himself, with all his misfortunes, than someone else, even without those misfortunes. For the fact is that unfortunate men, as long as they keep their sanity in the midst of their misfortune, that is, as long as they still strive to persist in themselves, prefer misfortune to non-being. Of myself I can say that when I was a young man, even when I was a boy, I was not to be moved by the pathetic pictures of Hell that were drawn for me, for even at the time nothing seemed as terrible as Nothingness. I was already possessed of a furious hunger to be, “an apprentice for divinity,” as one of our ascetics put it.  ~ Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life

What Unamuno is saying here may, on the one hand, seem to some to be patently true. On the other hand, those persons who share with me what might be called "suicidal tendencies" may consider the idea that suffering is worse than oblivion to be utter nonsense.

I guess that it is the ferocity of Unamuno's desire for "divinity"--that is, for immortality--that makes him so willing to risk what Prince Hamlet called "the rub."  It was surely oblivion--dreamless sleep--that appealed to Hamlet as he found himself inextricably caught up in afflications for which he could find no remedy other than death.

Whatever your immediate take concerning Unamuno's thought on the matter, until you have contemplated death as the ultimate antidote, you can't really know where you stand.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rants: Picture-Booked by Whom?

I am unable to understand how any Christian—conservative or liberal--can look at the world today (or at any time in the past) and decide that “free market capitalism” is pretty much the best way for a morally-sound society to conduct business .

Even the giddiest of optimists can--at best--only say, “Things could be worse.”

Capitalism is a game of winners and losers; that’s how it works. The “trickle-down” inevitably dries up before it reaches the bottom. And then the “winners” bitch and moan about being asked to fund emergency waterboys out of their surplus, in order to keep the losers alive at subsistence level.

Can any of you show me one verse in which Jesus Christ says anything that would support capitalism as a way of life? Can any of you deny that the very first Christians–the men and women who actually walked with Christ and presumably lived as He taught them to live–set up a communal system?

I have to ask, along with Dylan, “You’ve been picture-booked, by whom?”

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Readings: A Brit with Wit

While processing the collection referred to in this previous post, I made a happy discovery in one of the folders containing the correspondence of the deceased professor of English whose papers they are. The letter was from one of his friends, acquaintances, or colleagues among the literati. (I should have made a note to myself to remember the name. It may have been Harold Nicolson, but I’m not at all certain of that.) At any rate, the letter included high praise for the recently published novel, The Bachelors, by Muriel Spark. Since I have always make it a habit to check out writings praised by persons whose opinions I have reason to respect, I borrowed the novel from the library. I finished it the other day and I'm happy to report that it was a delight. A book jacket blurb from a reviewer at The Atlantic sums it up perfectly: “She probably could not write a dull line if she tried.” I agree. I couldn’t put it down.

Since one could excerpt almost anything in the book in support of this statement, that is precisely what I have done. This is one of the “bachelors” in question, providing another with an anecdote of his misspent youth:

“I got a young woman into trouble at the age of eighteen,” Walter said. “Daughter of one of our footmen. He was an Irish fellow. The butler caught him reading Nietzsche in the pantry. To the detriment of the silver. Of course there was no question of my marrying his daughter. The family made a settlement and I went abroad to paint. My hair turned white at the age of nineteen.”

One certainly does not marry the daughter of a Nietzsche-reading Irishman!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Reflections: The Righteous Rebel

In the course of doing my job in the university archives, I was indexing fifty-eight boxes of personal papers donated to the University back in the 1980s by a professor of English, long since dead. Tucked away in a folder, buried at the heart of one of those many boxes, I found a little pamphlet that was prepared for the memorial service of its author, Dorothy L. Sayers. The pamphlet includes two short essays. For whatever reason, I was moved to pause in my work long enough to read the first of these, “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged”. When I came to the paragraph which I share with you below, I was hit hard by thought--OMG, could we ever use a leader with these characteristics today!

Read it and see what you think:

The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore—on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him "meek and mild," and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew Him, however, He in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to Him as a dangerous firebrand. True, He was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers and humble before Heaven; but He insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; He referred to King Herod as "that fox"; He went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a "gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners"; He assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the Temple; He drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; He cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people's pigs and property; He showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, He displayed a paradoxical humour that affronted serious-minded people, and He retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in His human lifetime, and if He was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But He had "a daily beauty in His life that made us ugly," and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without Him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness…

…much as they are trying to do away with the protestors filling the streets and public parks of the world’s great cities today. We must not let them succeed again; not one more time.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Readings: A Nobel Fragment

After explaining, in preceding stanzas, how and why “The walls are part of you”, new Nobel Laureate, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, closes his poem “Vermeer” with this:

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
And whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”

Very nice.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Readings: Brilliant Nuggets

From a piece titled “Fifteen Pebbles” in Jane Hirshfield’s wonderful new poetry collection, Come, Thief, here are my favorite two of the fifteen:


xxxA red horse crops
xxxA black crow
xxxdelves bugs from a dirt pile.
xxxA woman watches in envy what is so simple.


xxxWhat we see is the paint.
xxxYet somehow the mind
xxxknows the wall,
xxxas the living know death.

You should get the book and read the other thirteen.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Readings: A Poem by Tomas Tranströmer

Below is a short poem by the 2011 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer. The translation is from the book, The Half-Finished Heaven: the Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer, by American poet, Robert Bly.

December Evening, ‘72

Here I come the invisible man, perhaps in the employ
of some huge Memory that wants to live at this moment.
xxxxAnd I drive by

the white church that’s locked up. A saint made of wood is
smiling helplessly, as if someone had taken his glasses.

He’s alone. Everything else is now, now, now. Gravity
pulling us toward work in the dark and the bed at night. The

*** *** *** *** *** ***

I chose this poem because, although it dates from forty years ago, like all great poetry it is timeless and as relevant today as it was then: “The war.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rodak's Writings: A Poem for Columbus Day

Turner's Rhapsody

The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the
advance of American settlement, explain American development.
~ Frederick Jackson Turner

Dig in deep, little Injun,
Here rides Kit Carson
Who counts coup with a boning knife;
Who translates vast tempests
Of thundering bison into one
Proper, prairie-rocking noun;
Who funnels all that rolling force
Through a single humming strand
Of transcontinental copper,
Which carries, encoded, the awesome
Name of shaggy Destiny,
Which grinds out at each end
Pale entrails of tickertape,
To fall from the turreted casements
Of meatpackers and railroad kings;
From the raspy digits of wrinkled domestics;
From the inky thumbs of chirruping clerks;
Down, down, down, descends
This glyphy slough of American laurel,
To wreath the rude brow, anointed
With the unclarified fats of beasts and bipeds,
Where beads of blood like flies in buttermilk
Persist, pronouncing the Passion
Of our Messiah of Manifest;
Now honored in grand procession,
As dime novels generate like maggots
In the sun-soaked meat that glorifies
Every distance from Independence to sunset.
Dig in deep, little Injun;
Here rides Kit Carson,
His saddlebags bursting with letters to Santa Claus.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Readings: Fun Stuff from Kurt Vonnegut

Here is an interesting satire of numerology that Kurt Vonnegut employs in his prophetic novel, Hocus Pocus:

The context is that the novel's protagonist is working as a teacher in a prison. Vonnegut has this character explain his teaching methods at one point in the book. Part of that method is described by the character this way:

"I showed them a chart a fundamentalist preacher from downtown Scipio has passed out... I asked them to examine it for examples of facts tailored to fit a thesis.
xxxx"Across the top the chart named the leaders of warring nations during the Finale Rack, during World War II. Then, under each name was the leader's birthdate and how many years he lived and when he took office and how many years he served, and then the total of all those numbers, which in each case turned out to be 3,888.
xxxx"It looked like this:

Il Duce
Took Office
Years in Office


xxxx"As I say, every column adds up to 3,888.
xxxx"Whoever invented the chart then pointed out that half that number was 1944, the year the war ended, and that the first letters of the names of the war's leaders spelled the name of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe."

Okay. So Vonnegut's character has pointed out that the first letters of the names above = C,H,R,I,S,T

And here’s something Vonnegut's protagonist didn’t point out:

1+9+4+4 adds up to 18, which is three sixes (666) = the number of the Beast.

Isn't that interesting?

Vonnegut's character never tells us if any of the convict students found any "facts tailored to fit a thesis."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Readings: Some Highbrow Erotica

In a poem entitled "Etymology" from the collection Time and Materials, Robert Hass, immediately after presenting us with images of a waterfall, and rapids of flowing water, gives us this transcendentally beautiful erotic image:

xxxAnd what to say of her wetness? The Anglo-Saxons
xxxHad a name for it. They called it silm.
xxxThey were navigators. It was also
xxxTheir word for the look of moonlight on the sea.

Oh, my...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Readings: Discovering a New-to-Me Poet

Until I was prompted to look into his work further by this post on the very excellent blog of my dear friend Pentimento, I was familiar with Robert Hass only as the translator of some of the works of Czeslaw Milosz. Happily, Mr. Hass turns out to be a formidable poet in his own right (or “write” as John Lennon would have it.)

Here, as a tiny indication of what has elicited my admiration, is the first section of the poem “Sunrise” from Hass’s collection Praise:

Ah, love, this is fear. This is fear and syllables
and the beginnings of beauty. We have walked the city,
a flayed animal signifying death, a hybrid god
who sings in the desolation of filth and money
a song the heart is heavy to receive. We mourn
otherwise. Otherwise the ranked monochromes,
the death-teeth of that horizon, survive us
as we survive pleasure. What a small hope.
What a fierce small privacy of consolation.
What a dazzle of petals for the poor meat.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx# # #

Oh, to just once write a stanza that strong!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reflections: The Creative Urge

I offer here, without further comment, quotes from two books that I've recently been reading and a poem of my own, finished just this morning.

I suggest that these three items be read with a thought to understanding why it is that they are related in my mind so that I have presented them in chorus:

from Rimbaud’s Illuminations: a Study in Angelism by Wallace Fowlie:

The theme of Rimbaud’s aloneness and uniqueness, his lack of position in society, his lack of a real bond with humanity is clearly stated in Une Saison and recurs in Les Illuminations, where he cuts himself off from one scene after another as if he were some angel at bay, moving with an angel’s power from setting to setting, without ever finding the precious kingdom where he might live and breathe. The angel is always losing hold of the beings he embraces. He cannot prolong ecstasy or fear. He is not of the world he creates. Every scene collapses into ashes because it was created by magic. The walls in Les Illuminations are always cracking open and the buildings crumbling away as if they were as overcome by dizziness as the protagonist. Each illumination is a world by itself, magically constructed, and giving way in an all-engulfing mysterious chaos to the next world which will stand up for a brief moment as if it were a painted picture. This is the child’s world of order that is really disorder, of a continually emerging chaos where only the poet’s mind can rescue what seems to be reality before it sinks back into the void out of which it first arose.

The soul of the poet is the protagonist of Les Illuminations. It is alternately enhanced by the appearances of the world and harassed by the contradictions of the world. [pp.46-47]

from The Bridge to Nothingness: Gnosis, Kabala, Existentialism, and the Transcendental Predicament of Man by Shlomo Giora Shoham:

We wish to revert to previous developmental phases and to overpower the objective demiurgos; but these goals are impossible and unattainable. Hence, we have to make do with the processes of creativity and revelation and not with their goals, which are either unachievable or meaningless. We, therefore, have the freedom to choose between an inauthentic narcotic that anesthetizes the basic fear and trembling of existence into a false bourgeois gemütlichkeit, or to harness the terror and anxiety of life for authentic creativity and revelation. Man’s exile in the realm of the demiurgos is thus vindicated. The exile of the divine particles enables the relational dialectics of creativity and revelation, which are impossible in the unity of the Godhead. Exile is therefore man’s mission for redemptive Tikkun of both transcendence and himself. It also makes possible the dialogue of grace between man and transcendence. Man needs a God, the “wholly other,” with whom to have a revealing dialogue, even if he is man’s own projection. [p. 170]

Vocation by Rob Dakin

The poet
broods in solitude,
doing penance for his failure
to transcend the light years
between the idea
and the spoken word.

Alone, he reads his work
aloud, then hangs
his scribbled shame
on the wall as a reminder:

His vocation is life without
hope of parole.

To declare victory
and accept the laurel
would be the Big Lie.

Yet his persistence in falling short
of a perfection that is instantly flawed
by his mere intuition of its essence
is his validating raison,
his authentic being --
his existence, ever separate,
but finally, so very close to God.

*****   *****   *****

Indeed, so near and yet so far.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Readings: Before You Take Those Advil

We begin to live when we have conceived life as tragedy. ~ William Butler Yeats

Another passage from The Bridge to Nothingness by S. G. Shoham. This one deals with the positive aspects of pain:

Physical pain is the tool of the demiurgos* for guarding his “property” -- the body. Without the pain incidental to bodily injury, disease, and death, most human beings and many other creatures would probably take their own lives. The demiurgos thus controls built-in safety mechanisms to keep the inmates -- exiled particles of divinity -- incarcerated in their temporal prison, i.e. the body. Without pain souls would easily destroy their prison body and revert back to their origin in the Godhead. The demiurgal ananke, the coercive cosmic forces, as well as evolution, also avail themselves of pain in order to implement their aims. If one exceeds one’s moira, one’s fate in life, the Furies strike with a vengeance in order to push the deviants back into line. Those who do not fit the designs of evolution are wiped painfully yet unceremoniously out of history. Suffering and history are true phenomena, yet pain is also instrumental in jostling man out of his complacency in his demiurgal body and his fear of eternity (death). Man’s revolt against his demiurgal ananke and moira is thus prompted by pain and some suffering (though not too much) is also necessary for revelation and creativity.
*Demiurgos: The Gnostic evil entity, which by the Gnostic participant**bias is responsible for the creation of the world judged vile by the Gnostics***.

**Participation: The identification of ego with a person (persons), an object or a symbolic construct outside himself, and his striving to lose his separate identity by fusion with this other object or symbol.

***Gnosis: The dualistic creeds developed in the Middle East before and concomitant with Christianity, according to which Good and Evil have independent existence.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reflections: Kant vs. Christ

I have long recognized that a person looking for the first existentialist has to go back at least as far as Jesus Christ. Despite the fact that a Christian (albeit a disgruntled one), Søren Kierkegaard, is often cited in that role, many people wrongly assume that existentialism implies atheism. This is nonsense.

Any person who reads the Gospels with an open mind will readily discover that the focus of Christ’s teachings was always on the individual as the responsible moral agent. The idea that Christ came to establish a new mode of herd mentality is a travesty established subsequent to his ministry by hierarchical corporate entities primarily concerned with their own growth and survival, rather than with the souls of their members.

A true disciple of Christ would be an existential hero—an artist, a revolutionary, or a saint—not the obedient, compliant pawn of a self-serving authority structure. Establishment of a multiplicity of rigidly enforced statutes, leading to psychological disorientation and spiritual chaos, is among the most essential projects of the Enemy. The manifold is the lie; simplicity is Truth itself.

Consider the following excerpt from The Bridge to Nothingness by Shlomo Giora Shoham, and ask yourself if his description of existentialist morality is not in line with Christ’s imperative to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  When contrasted with Kant’s categorical imperative--the basis of most modern systems of normative morality--we can see, perhaps, the primary source of the cognitive dissonance that grips the collective psyche of political conservatives who mistakenly believe themselves to be “Christians,” while marching in lockstep to a demonic cadence:

Kant’s categorical imperative entails a judgment and a duty. It is natural, objective, and not experiential; it has nothing to do with social relationships and is hence absolute.


Kant’s morality has a life of its own, unrelated to nature, emotions, and suffering of those who are supposed to be subject to it. The categorical imperative has an I-it relationship with the people under its yoke. It is authoritarian and oppressive, a Wilhelmean Prussian schoolroom. Kant’s moral duty is uniform; individual peculiarities should be disregarded. In extremo, Kant’s categorical imperative considers all individuals to be Orwellian zombies, devoid of peculiarities, singularities, and specifics. Per contra, existentialist morality rejects impersonal pluralities. Masses are important only to the demiurgos. For the existentialist, the individual is everything. An existentialist moral act is not only always a posteriori, but relates to the experience of the other, as perceived by the other, within his specific personal context. Existentialist morality is based on—suffering with the other on his own turf and according to his terms. Suffering as an experiential dynamic is necessarily disregarded by Kantean, a priori morality. For the existentialist, the suffering of the other is the basis, criterion, and vehicle for the moral act. …A person who closes himself to the suffering of the other is existentially immoral, and one who is unable to empathize with the predicament of the other is an existential psychopath.  [pp.278-279]

It is clear that what Shoham characterizes as “the demiurge” – i.e. the amoral, chaotic natural forces wielding ultimate power on the plane of material existence – are in full control of any person who “goes along to get along” in this world. In order to have an authentic life, one must either fearlessly separate from the mass, in pursuit of one’s own creativity, or one must shed every last vestige of self in order to merge back into the One out of which one came into existence.

Groupthink is death by demonic orchestration.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Quote du Jour: The Idol is a Colored Rag

I have been so preoccupied since April with the precipitous decline, death, and funeral arrangements for my mother that I have paid little attention to Rodak Riffs. It must also be admitted that the instant gratification of Facebook has played a major role in the precipitous decline of this blog. Mea culpa.

That said, I came across a passage this morning in The Bridge to Nothingness that I thought worthy to share, and I offer it up as a Quote du Jour:

…Parents are programmed metaphysically and biologically, conditioned psychologically, and indoctrinated culturally to reproduce and rear offspring, so that their loss is tantamount to the destruction of their ontological raison d’etre. The loss of a parent for an adult child is many times painful, but it is ultimately accepted as the natural course of life. The loss of a young child, on the other hand, is inevitably experienced by the parents as a catastrophic blow, usually resulting in a permanent emotional handicap and, in many cases, in mental incapacitation. The death of a child causes for most parents a traumatic change of their weltanschauung, and in some cases a radical change in their order of priorities, meanings, and even the course of their lives. “There is no armistice for bereaved mothers,” and the patriotic glee of victories in wars is rarely shared by bereaved parents whose sons were killed in these wars. They feel cheated and experience rage at themselves for having either actively or tacitly participated in the sacrifice of their ontological sequel and embodiment to the mirage of patriotism--to abstract notions of glories, ideologies and creeds reinforced by the waving of colored rags, the shouting of slogans by bemedaled marionettes, and the self-important verbosity of hypocritical politicians. Worse still, their pain can never be communicated to anybody who has not experienced the same loss, and even communication with their partners in bereavement cannot dull the pain.

Dick frickin’ Cheney -- this man has your number. Parents--examine your priorities. It seems almost certain to me that a new universal draft is on the way; a draft to feed a global war, designed by our super-rich overlords to arrest the economic decline before it reaches the private beaches and tennis courts, the ballrooms and plush parlors of their loot embellished palaces.

Prepare yourself now to resist the evil, so that when it comes you will be ready with a plan.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Readings: The Quest for Authentic Existence

This should hold any readers that I still have for awhile. It is several pages of excerpts that I typed out this morning from one of the books on my current early-morning reading list. The excerpts serve--for me anyway--to outline Shoham's central thesis pretty well. His study encorporates philosophy, religion, psychology, and art, to synthesize epistemology, existentialism, and several varieties of gnosticism--a mix that appeals to me, big-time. I offer the excerpts without commentary. I apologize up front for the many typos readers will probably encounter. [The page numbers refer to the Associated University Presses 1994 edition]

Excerpts from the “Introduction” of The Bridge to Nothingness by Shlomo Giora Shoham

[pp.14-15]  In the first phase of separation, man is ejected from the cozy womb and cruelly exposed to the elements in a manner that was registered mythoempirically by the Kabalist catastrophe of the breaking of the vessels. However, before birth, there is pregnancy and the formation of the human fetus. This is depicted mythoempirically by the Kabalist dynamic of Tzimtzum—“contraction.”  Rabbi Haim Vital, the foremost disciple of Rabbi Isaac Luria and chief exponent of Lurianic Kabala, describes the process of Tzimtzum as follows:  “and when He (Infinity which is tantamount to Emanating Divinity) contracted Himself. A space all around was formed… After this contraction a space was, (thus), formed for emanant creatures to be created… And a line like a thin pipe extended from Infinity to create the worlds… And the pipe-line created a round form…linked to to emanatory (Infinity) by the pipe-line only…and the line is thin so that it emanates light (livelihood) by measure and ration as needed by the emanant.”  This seems to be a plastic, mythoempirical depiction of the formation of the fetus within the round womb fed according to its needs by the umbilical cord stemming from an unknown (to the fetus) emanatory in the away and beyond, perceived by the nascent awareness of the fetus and later projected onto mythology as infinity.

[p.17]  Psychologically, the pantheistic neonate learns by deprivational interaction with surrounding objects and life forms and especially with the mother or her surrogate who cannot fulfill all his wishes immediately and automatically as in the womb; the neonate is not with everything but against everything. The moment he becomes embodied in the scar tissue of the delimiting, individual “ego boundary,” pantheistic, participant togetherness gives way to the loneliness and encapsulated existence of the human individualized separtum. This separation, which is the existential coagulation of the individual self, is also perceived by the organism as a catastrophe and is projected onto mythology as the ejection from paradise following Original Sin, which according to the Kabala disrupted the equilibrium of all the worlds both divine and temporal.” [the “sin” here is the mutual sexual pleasure of the neonate and mother in nursing]

[p.26]  The separant vector generates life. It propels us out of the womb and induces us to develop, grow, and reproduce. It also guards against the participant vector’s wish to revert back to the unity of nonbeing. To this end, the separant vector implants in us the search for diversity and the rejection of similarity, whereas the participant vector seeks the togetherness of the family, membership in reference groups, the immersion in the engulfing cosiness of the camaraderie of “the boys in the back room,” the rotary club, the “people like us,” the party, the nation, the church. Per contra, the separant vector programs life forms to be attracted to nonlikes and to reject or be in conflict with likes. The separant vector thus places numerous obstacles and barriers against likeness, similarity, and uniformity; because these are intermediate steps towards the forbidden (from the separant vector’s point of view) partaking in the nonlife, nongrowth, and nonbeing of unity. We seem to be barred from communicating with the objects “out there” as well as from communicating with other people. The separant vector seem to program man to grow and become progressively separate, distinct, and unattached to surrounding objects and life forms. This is projected onto transcendence as the injunction of Genesis and similar myths in other creeds against epistemological “knowledge” (i.e., participant communication).  Indeed for the participant, the Ding An-Sich (the thing in itself) is nothingness and the injunction against knowledge in the Tantalic context is the proscription of partaking in the nonbeing of God and thus becoming like God. The prohibition of knowledge by the theistic God of Genesis may have both a separant and participant application.

[pp. 30-31]   From God's vantage point, man and creation are part of him and he experiences the world through them in infinite kaleidescopic ways; but man feels cut off, lonely, and free. So whatever the 'truth' behind his self-consciousness, it is less important than his own self-definition. If he defines himself as free of transcendence, free he is. This stems from W. I. Thomas's very useful basic theorum of the sciences of man, namely, that if man defines a given situation as real it becomes real in its consequences. Thus man's freedom is even independent of God's views about it. This has a very ingenious mythoempirical anchor in the Kabala. Keter, crown, is the first rung, sometimes regarded as part of infinity and thus not counted in the ten emanated rungs. Da'at, knowledge, is added in its stead as the third rung. However, if Keter is counted in the ten emanated rungs, Da'at is omitted. Hence, if God is present in creation, independent, separate self-consciousness is impossible, because consciousness is one and it belongs to God. However, if God is not within creation then the self-conscious freedom of the exiled individuals is feasible. The feeling of independence of the individual separata enables them to relay their experiences in an authentic context to their maker, precisely because they are not aware of their bondage. Man should not feel guilty about his freedom. He was created for purposes known to God but not to him. For the very same purposes, he was also cut off from his sense of partaking in the totality of unity and each of us became an individual separatum  through Original Sin. Hence, this sin was committed by God and not by man, who is a tool in a divine plan unknown to him. Thus, man's independence being instrumental to God, cannot and should not induce human guilt. This is the ideological essence of man's metaphysical rebellion.

[p. 43]  The participation with one’s surroundings is problematic, because ego’s interaction with objects and life forms is mostly conflictual and always dialectical. The I-it, non-dialogical relationship with other people is petrifying, and the I-thou dialogue borders, according to Buber, on the miraculous. A creative relationship with an object may effect extasis, in the Greek sense, of the creator’s spirit from time and space, and lend him a feeling of union with the object. However, this feeling is completely within the psyche of ego and regardless of his initial creative quests, they are bound to be different dialectically in the synthetic outcome. This is the fate of all Sisyphean endeavors directed towards the outside.

            The “generalized other,” the abstracted normative collectivity of other people, is oppressive, controlling, and depressing both from without and from within. Through authentic art the collectivity may become an audience and then its petrifying I-it attributes may change into a receptive I-thou, attuned for a while to a Paganini piercing souls with his violin, a van Gogh reaching his viewers through his savage yet structured colors on his canvas, and a Jacques Brel conveying his desperate sincerity to the whole nervous system of his listeners.


            As we ever crave for what we are not and for what we do not have, we are living in inauthentic time. The separant vector aims for the future and the participant vector longs for the past. When dominated by these two vectors, man does not exist in the present and his time is therefore a nonentity, false and inauthentic. If the quests and longings inherent in his core personality vectors cannot be fulfilled, there is an inevitable and constant rift between man’s aspirations and expectations, and his perceived reality. Hence man is ever confronted with the absurd.  This dual impasse of inauthenticity and the absurd makes the myths of Sisyphus and Tantalus so central to the human condition that they can rightly be considered metamyths. The initial inauthenticity of man’s existence in the world and his inevitable experience of the absurd, constitute man’s existential impasse, from which creativity and revelation are able to extricate him. Creativity thus constitutes the modus vivendi of Sisyphus with his stone burden, and revelation is the means by which Tantalus can go on living within his predicament. Man thus starts as an initial failure, yet through his ability to sublimate his unrealized quests into creativity and revelation, he is able to transform his initial impasse into authentic experience and existence. It seems that our programmer, whoever or whatever it is—God, chance, evolution, or the devil, programmed us to yearn to achieve goals that can never be achieved, to yearn to be different than we are at a given time and place, and not to cherish the present but to long either for earlier developmental phases and for nonbeing in the past or for the away and beyond in the future. Our nonrealizable, core personality quests control us the way the lure in front of the racing bitch controls the dog races. Our programmer intends, apparently, to see how our Sisyphean quests that cannot be fulfilled and our impossible Tantalic longings can be sublimated dialectically into creativity and revelation. …Both creativity and revelation are dynamic processes fueled by Sisyphean aims and Tantalic longings that would never be fulfilled. If they are, our yearnings are extinguished, and our potential for authentic being through creativity and revelation die with them.  …Revelation is not transferable, but through creativity, the revelatory insight of the creator becomes communicable.

[p. 48]  Authentic revelation should aim at the participant exposure of man to God, which constitutes a Tikkun, a mending of the blemished God and of the individual who partakes him. …Creativity should also be authentic in the sense that it should not be conducted in order to please a given audience or clique or for financial gain. It should be carried out in desperation, with one becoming immersed totally in one’s creativity. Marcel Azzola, Jacques Brel’s accordianist, described the performance of his late master thus: “…I have rarely seen such sincerity. With him one is obliged to give oneself completely. He committed suicide with each song.”

[pp. 50-51]  As neither the goals of the Sisyphean or Tantalic core vectors can be achieved, the only epistemic reality in existence is the dialectic interaction between the Sisyphean, nonrealizable, separant quests and the Tantalic, equally impossible, participant longing. Because the Sisyphean quests face the future and the Tantalic longing aims at the past, man is in an absurd impasse, without a present and within inauthentic time. Creativity and revelation are therefore meant to extricate man from his absurd and inauthentic impasse. Those who cannot be creative and revelatory also try to escape their absurd and oppressive reality by entertainment, fantasy, for daydreaming, which feed passively, with or without the aid of alcohol or drugs, on their pent-up yearnings. The dialectics of our yearning thus provide the fuel and energy with which ego can emerge from its inauthentic slumber and interact creatively or in a revelatory manner with objective and human surroundings. Moreover, as the dialectics between the Sisyphean quests and Tantalic longings constitute the epistemic processes underlying apparent reality, they are the prime movers of life and creation. Without the dialectic of yearning, both ego and its surroundings are dead and nonexistent.

            The “inspiration” for creativity and the sudden “enlightenment” attendant upon the experience of revelation are the conscious and cognitive awareness of the otherwise clandestine dialectics of yearnings.

[p. 53]  The Sisyphean component of the prime mover, emerging from the dialectical quests, tried to achieve a rapport, a Tikkun, or, a system-in-balance with its surroundings through creativity; whereas the Tantalic component tries to achieve a Tikkun with transcendence by revelation. Hence, the synthetic interplay of the dialectical quest necessitates both a Tantalic participant longing for revelation and a Sisyphean quest for creativity.

[pp. 65-66]  Both man and God are ever longing and striving, and it is precisely this characteristic that makes them ever revelatory and creative. Indeed, Dante sends the souls of those whose wishes came true and whose longings were fulfilled to eternal damnation in hell. The less-than-perfect God with his capacity to long for and strive, which are the prime movers of life, creativity, and revelation (these are similar to Bergson’s “creative evolution”), is perfect precisely because of his imperfection. This is brought to life in Saint Anselm’s “proof” for the existence of God but in an inverse manner: the imperfection of our transcendence lends it more perfection than if it was perfect. Perfection in God sterilizes him into nonbeing, whereas non-perfection gives him the evolving perfectibility of longing, together with his junior partners—man and other life forms—for revelation and of striving for creativity, which are the essences of authentic existence.

[p. 69]  Inclusion as the unifying mechanism of existence ordains that man can never achieve his Sisyphean quests and Tantalic longings but only a synthesis between them that then serves as a thesis for another dialectical zigzag ad infinitum.  Consequently, man’s fate is to ever seek something and always attain something else. …We can therefore never achieve whatever our aims might be because dialectics will lead us somewhere else. Hence, authentic rebellion concentrates on processes of creativity and revelation, because their goals are unattainable to begin with and because whatever aim we may wish to attain, dialectics will move us to another synthetic goal.


…If one exceeds the middle course and one’s moira (i.e. one’s lot in life), one commits the capital sin of hubris…

[p. 72]  As Sisyphus has to have his stone in order to be creative, so ego has to feel apart and separate from transcendence for the interactive experience of creativity or, for that matter, for all experience except for revelation, to take place. Hence, ego is a partner of transcendence in creativity, and through the metaphysical programming of Sisyphus, transcendence vicariously experiences ego’s triumphs and disasters.

[p. 76]  The catastrophe of the breaking of the vessels bound both God and man in an endless cycle of dialectics of creation and perdition. The Original Sin bound God and man within the fetters of space and time, but established man as a unique and ontologically separate individual, capable of independent volition. The sacrifice, of Isaac and Jesus bound man normatively to God, but enabled man to judge God morally for having exploited him for his own purposes, unknown to man.

[p. 79]  One awareness permeates both God and all his creatures including man. Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud deprived man of his primacy among creatures, and modern physics deprived the physical world of any purpose, seeing it as particles moving around like drunken sailors without any goal or motivation. With the help of the teleological models of the Kabala one may envisage a purpose in both a blemished God and his erratic mortal partners. Their dialectical interaction is all there is, but in it they are free both to face their common predicament and, perchance, to experience grace.