Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

painted pole (11 January 2015)

painted pole (11 January 2015)

A year ago – almost to the day – I opened a new document and gave it this name, but did no writing in it. My intention, if I recall correctly, had been to use Samuel Beckett’s words (from Worstward Ho) as the seed of something. Since then, the draft has seen the light of day more than once – but with no demonstrable result.

Along the way, I’ve written and photographed … and, from time to time, published. You might have noticed that this is my first post for the New Year … and that I’ve put nothing up since before Christmas. So Beckett’s text is apt. As ever.

Perhaps, I told myself, today, a new WordPress theme will inspire me. Well, yes … having tried a couple, I concluded that the old stuff looked awful in the new themes. So I’ve reverted to the old Tarski.

“Unchanged? Sudden back unchanged? Yes. Say yes. Each time unchanged. Somehow unchanged. Till no. Till say no. Sudden back changed. Somehow changed. Each time somehow changed.”  (Samuel Beckett, in Worstward Ho)

During the past twenty-four hours, I’ve been considering that |cross-ties| is fundamentally – or, at least, primarily – a photo-blog. And the photos I seem to like best are like this one. So that’s it … for now.

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (ibid)

“Samuel Beckett is sui generis … He has given a voice to the decrepit and maimed and inarticulate, men and women at the end of their tether, past pose or pretense, past claim of meaningful existence. He seems to say that only there and then, as metabolism lowers, amid God’s paucity, not his plenty, can the core of the human condition be approached … Yet his musical cadences, his wrought and precise sentences, cannot help but stave off the void … Like salamanders we survive in his fire.” (Richard Ellman)


NOTES:

Worstward Ho is a prose piece by Samuel Beckett. Its title is a parody of Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!. Written in English in 1983, it is the penultimate novella by Beckett. Together with Company and Ill Seen Ill Said, it was collected in the volume Nohow On in 1989 (Wikipedia: Worstward Ho [stub]).

Colin Greenslaw has done an elaborated version of Worstward Ho (interpolated with what he calls ‘expansions’ of the original text), which can be found on the Samuel Beckett On-line Resources and Links Pages.

On the Empire of Lights web-site is a ‘picture series’ which photographer Tobias M Schiel has titled “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett). Very good.

Out beyond

rumi out beyond.

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing
and right-doing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.

(Rūmī)

It seems to me there is so much clamour in the world today. So many urgent cries; so many fervent voices clamouring to be heard. So much talk about justice and injustice, rights and wrongs. Our ears overflow with claims and counter-claims; we can no longer be sure who to believe, who to trust.

When the world-weary soul lies down in the grass of Rūmī’s field, “the world is too full to talk about.” Ah! The bliss of silence.


Mawlānā Jalāl-ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, also known as Mawlānā Jalāl-ad-Dīn Muhammad Balḫī or Maulana Jalal al-Din Rumi, but known to the English-speaking world simply as Rumi, was a 13th century Persian (Tādjīk) poet, Islamic jurist, and theologian. (GoodReads)

 

Questions to which there are no answers

clarice lispector
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So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing. (Clarice Lispector)

Reading Rachel Kushner on the subject of Clarice Lispector: “… a visionary instinct, and a sense of humor that veered from naïf wonder to wicked comedy. … novels that are fractured, cerebral, fundamentally nonnarrative …” As I read, I find words I myself might have considered writing.

Truth is, I have never read any of those novels – have somehow not even consciously heard or read the name of this Brazilian writer. Regarded by some (including Benjamin Moser) as the most important Jewish writer since Kafka, acclaimed internationally for her innovative novels and short stories, Clarice Lispector was also a journalist.

As a child, so many of the responses I wanted to give could not be given using any of the logical templates available: Yes/No. Good/Evil. Right/Wrong. Black/White.

Eventually, I began to develop an understanding that was all paradox and antithesis, uncertainty, indeterminacy … shades of grey.

In her 1973 novel, Água Viva, Clarice Lispector writes: “Reasoning is what it is not. Whoever can stop reasoning – which is terribly difficult – let them come along with me.”

I am heartened. Encouraged. Inspired.

I have some unexpected reading to do. And some more writing.

Everything happens for a reason

Everything happens for a reason and this reason is usually physics

graffiti on tile

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How many people do you know who – even though they don’t profess any sort of religious affiliation – are convinced that “everything happens for a reason”? Or else they say particular things are “meant to be” … or “not meant to be”.

An example: A customer comes into the store you work in and looks at a set of dinner bowls, or a beautiful French knife, a hand-crafted scarf, or a pair of gold earrings. You come out from behind the counter and spend time with the customer, attentive without being pushy. You know she really wants that lovely thing, and you intuit that she’s trying to convince herself it’s okay to make the purchase.

“If it’s here when I come in on pay-day,” she tells you, “I’ll know it was meant to be.” And you realise there’s a ‘back-story’ underlying her behaviour – one about which we know virtually nothing – like the string of silk handkerchiefs a magician might pull from his sleeve at a children’s birthday party. (Yes, it’s a trick, a deception, but very effective when expertly handled.)

“Everything happens for a reason and this reason is usually physics.” I’m on Facebook, and this meme has been posted by a page calling itself Empty and Meaningless. One pedantic person has commented: “Except that it’s called a ’cause’ instead of a ‘reason’.” Yeah, yeah. Yadda yadda yadda.

The point is that the machinery of “life, the universe, and everything” operates on the basis of cause and effect. Chaos theory and quantum physics have tried to explain it, of course, with talk of things like the butterfly effect – but it’s still mindbogglingly complicated.

And what about when things go wrong? Do they really happen in threes? “The perceived perversity of the universe has long been a subject of comment, and precursors to the modern version of Murphy’s law are not hard to find” (Wikipedia: Murphy’s Law). But there’s nothing perverse about it. Everything that could possibly happen is waiting in the wings, eager for its opportunity, its big moment. And as soon as it gets a chance, it’ll happen. Don’t take it personally.

But of course we do tend to take everything personally. And rightly so, because each of us lives in a unique – and uniquely personalised – world that exists only in our mind. “Reality is not what it seems to be, nor is it otherwise” (Tibetan Buddhist teaching). Furthermore, “We don’t know what matter is any more than we know what mind is” (Christian de Quincy, in The Paradox of Consciousness).

So if most of what is happening within us and around us can be explained by (or at least attributed to) physics, what else is there which – albeit less frequently and/or less likely – might have something to do with driving what’s happening?

There’s a Talmudic tradition that “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow’.” Alan Lurie explains that “everything yearns to grow; it is an inherent drive embedded in all creation”(Listening To The Call Of Growth). “According the Talmudic writer, one of the forces that angels carry is the urge to grow – to develop, improve, and evolve. By noting that even every blade of grass is imbued with this urge, the Talmudic saying teaches that, like light, gravity, and electromagnetism, growth is a ubiquitous force of nature.”

Life is opportunistic. Everything yearns to grow.

__________

NOTES:

1/ The origins of Yadda yadda yadda can be traced back with certainty to the controversial comedian Lenny Bruce in the early 1960s (see The Straight Dope for further information).

2/ Recommended reading: Consciousness and Reality (Peter Russell).

3/ “Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” (René Magritte)

 

 

Knowledge on Dark Matter

File:Dark-matter.jpg.

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I know less than I used to –
or more to the point
I newly distrust what I have known;

discard certainties, ask more
questions, live more with no answers
to old questions.

From: Knowledge by Tony Brown

On his blog, Dark Matter, Tony Brown says of himself: “A veteran of both page and stage in the poetry world, I’ve been publishing and reading in journals and on stages around the US for over thirty years.”

This curious world

……………….“… to wake is to lift up
Again on one’s shoulders this curious world

Whose secret cannot be known by any of us
Until we enter Te Whiro’s kingdom.”

(from Autumn Testament by James K Baxter) 

Generally speaking, I’m a tolerant and compassionate person – it takes a lot to make me mad. But Thursday was an exception. My tolerance was decidedly out of order, and my compassion … who knows what happened to that?

Atlas sculpture on Collins Street, Melbourne

Atlas sculpture on Collins Street, Melbourne

Incipient civil war in Egypt, neurotoxins in Syria, anti-gay laws in Russia, gun-crazed killers in American schools, contaminated baby formula in China, beggars on our streets, cruelty to animals … a never-ending story of inhumanity and misery and fear. And the painkillers I’d taken seemed to be doing me no good.

“There is no mystery so great as misery,” Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince declares. And he’s pointing to a transcendent truth.

All the great religions attempt to tackle the problem of suffering – in a variety of ways. Humanists, rationalists, and atheists too, all find themselves facing the same sorts of questions – because, of course, we all live in the same world.

In the Buddha’s words: “Suffering I teach and the way out of suffering.” (See The Buddhist Society web-site)

In a blog calling itself Wild Mind, Sunada Takagi explains that “The Buddha’s teaching on suffering is that we need to accept the things we can’t control, such as loss, sickness, aging, and death. But for things we can affect, he advised that we change our conditions so that they’re more conducive to our happiness and spiritual growth.”

Islam exhorts the faithful to endure suffering with hope and faith. They are not expected to resist it, or to ask why. Instead, they are taught to accept it as God’s will and live through it with faith that God never asks more of them than they can endure. However, Islam also teaches the faithful to work actively to alleviate the suffering of others. Recognizing that they are the cause of their own suffering, individuals work to bring suffering to an end. (Patheos Library, adapted)

Jesus, according to St John, said: “I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33; Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Baxter’s reference to “this curious world” calls to mind the words of Henry David Thoreau: “This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.” And, like Thoreau, Baxter draws his reader’s attention to the inevitable and inescapable burden of human responsibility, human caring, human accountability: “to wake is to lift up / Again on one’s shoulders this curious world …”

I didn’t get swamped by my grumpiness. Neither did I grant it permission to assault anyone else. In the end, I simply had to lighten up and get over myself.

And (remember) when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter’s clay of black mud altered, (Qur’an 15:28, translated by M M Pickthall)

__________

NOTES:

1/ Baxter, James Keir; Millar, Paul (editor). 2001. James K Baxter : New Selected Poems. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.
…….
— The passage from poem 7 in Autumn Testament is on page 141. 

2/ “Te Whiro’s kingdom” – According to Te Ara / The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Māori saw themselves as guardians of the earth, and the focus of their existence was to remain at one with the natural (and supernatural) world. Rather than a medical problem, sickness was often viewed as a symptom of disharmony with nature.” In a section dealing with the medicinal use of plants, Te Ara describes the god Whiro as  “a personified form of sickness, disease and death. Māori believed that sickness and disease often had spiritual roots.” 

3/ In Greek mythology, Atlas was the primordial Titan who held up the celestial sphere. He is also the titan of astronomy and navigation. (Wikipedia, adapted)

4/ The first publisher to associate the Titan Atlas with a group of maps was the print-seller Antonio Lafreri, on the engraved title-page he applied to his ad hoc assemblages of maps, Tavole Moderne Di Geografia De La Maggior Parte Del Mondo Di Diversi Autori (1572). (Wikipedia, adapted) 

5/ It has been suggested that Jesus was a Buddhist: see thezensite. But “Buddhism and Christianity have inherent and fundamental differences at the deepest levels.” (Wikipedia)

Could it be? Yes, it could

West Side Story: The New Broadway Cast Recording (2009) – record cover

West Side Story: The New Broadway Cast Recording (2009) – cd cover

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Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. (Carl Sagan)

Something fabulous is out there taking shape, emerging, peeking, and calling your name. (quoted in Seed of Fabulosity on Soulseeds)

My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method. (Carl Sagan, quoted in Carl Sagan: A Biography, by Ray Spangenburg and Diane Moser) .

Could be! Who knows?
There’s something due any day;
I will know right away,
Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballing down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye, Bright as a rose!

Who knows?
It’s only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree.
I got a feeling there’s a miracle due,
Gonna come true,
Coming to me!

Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something’s coming, something good,
If I can wait!
Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is,
But it is
Gonna be great!

With a click, with a shock,
Phone’ll jingle, door’ll knock,
Open the latch!
Something’s coming, don’t know when, but it’s soon;
Catch the moon,
One-handed catch!

Around the corner,
Or whistling down the river,
Come on, deliver
To me!
Will it be? Yes, it will.
Maybe just by holding still,
It’ll be there!

Come on, something, come on in, don’t be shy,
Meet a guy,
Pull up a chair!
The air is humming,
And something great is coming!
Who knows?
It’s only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Maybe tonight . . .

(Lyrics: Something’s Coming from West Side Story, Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)

__________

Spangenburg, Ray; Moser, Diane. 2004. Carl Sagan: A Biography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. 

We can’t all be right … or can we?

vast emptiness nothing holy

vast emptiness nothing holy

I have more than a few friends who all seem desperately to need to be right. Each and every one of them has a favourite topic – a hobby-horse – and an incontrovertible line of argument.

And well-thought-out opinions, in fact, on every subject, whether crucial or trivial.

But they don’t agree among themselves … and not one of them agrees with me.

There must be some over-arching or all-embracing truth somewhere, but the only thing I’m sure about is that I haven’t got it sussed.

It would appear that the “grumpy cat avatar” has become a sacred icon, an oracle, the mouthpiece of truth. Click on him and you’ll find he redirects to a painting by Seki Seisetsu (1877-1944), which features the same text.

And when you’re done with that, you might look at a piece about some famous words of Seng-ts’an: “Do not seek the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”

__________

“Do you ever doubt your own ideas? All the time. You should read what happens in linguistics. I keep changing what I said. Any person who is intellectually alive changes his ideas. If anyone at a university is teaching the same thing they were teaching five years ago, either the field is dead, or they haven’t been thinking.” (Noam Chomsky)

Everything goes … anything goes

everything goes

everything goes

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There is nothing that is permanent. There is nothing that stays. Everything goes. Which is an interesting fact about life. Everything goes. And when you understand this, everything goes. There are no restrictions anymore. You can do anything you wish, say anything you wish, think anything you wish, because you’re not trying to hold onto anything anymore. (Neale Donald Walsch

There’s a Bible meme that fits here: “And it came to pass …” More to the point, though, is an old proverb known to the medieval Sufi poets and with versions in Persian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish: “This too shall pass.”

Buddhist traditions also have a story in which this simple phrase is central.

So, given that there’s nothing to hold onto – and nothing to hold me back – what can I see myself getting up to next?