On Good Friday

Stations of the Cross #5, "Simon of Cyrene carries the cross", Notre-Dame Basilica, Geneva.

Stations of the Cross #5, “Simon of Cyrene carries the cross”, Notre-Dame Basilica, Geneva.

On Good Friday I sat in church, watching and listening as most of the congregation followed the priest around the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The woman with the walking-frame, stoically devout, completed the circuit with the others, while her white-muzzled black dog hobbled back and forth up and down the nave, stopping to receive attention from some of those who, like me, had remained in their pews.

Meditations translated from the words of French poet Paul Claudel were spoken gently by a man known for his work as a broadcaster. Between the meditations, periods of silence were terminated by spells of difficult and discordant organ music – some strident, some morose – which I could have done without.

I had earlier told the woman who had welcomed me that my parents had been married in this church, and that I had been baptized here.

I will return to St Peter’s on Willis on Easter Day, looking forward to the Eucharistic ritual I have not shared in since Midnight Mass at Wellington Cathedral on Christmas Eve.

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The tradition of moving around the Stations to commemorate the Passion of Christ began with St. Francis of Assisi and extended throughout the Roman Catholic Church in the medieval period. It is also observed in Lutheranism and Anglo-Catholicism. It is most commonly done during Lent, especially on Good Friday (from Wikipedia: Stations of the Cross).

Wikimedia Commons includes a page with links to images of twelve of the fourteen Stations of the Cross by sculptor Jean-Bernard Duseigneur. (This page gives his name as Jean-Baptiste Du Seigneur, and he is elsewhere known as Jehan Duseigneur; eg, on Paris Sculptures.) Born in Paris in 1808, Duseigneur studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and in 1831 achieved renown when he exhibited Roland Furieux, often regarded as the first romantic sculpture (now in the Louvre). Soon afterwards he turned almost exclusively to the production of religious works (adapted from a brief article in Wikipedia).

PS – Easter Day: The old black dog, Emma, was there again today; she, like the other “regulars”, was wearing her name-tag. 

 

Giving up the past

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

A little piece I wrote back in 2010 – Sanitation? … or sanitization? – has been receiving a bit of attention from blog-readers in recent times, so I took another look at it myself … and it seems quite an appropriate topic for the season of Lent (which began last Wednesday (05 March).

Responding to a comment on the original post, I explained that “The between-the-lines inferences and implications of my post [had] to do, on the one hand, with destroying incriminating evidence, hiding my inner life … and, on the other hand, with holding on to mementos and souvenirs, and maintaining a record of things I [wanted] to remember.”

A bit cryptic – to say the least.

In the original post, I quoted something from A. Whitney Brown: “The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down.” (A. Whitney Brown, in The Big Picture)

What I didn’t make clear, in that 2010 post, is that what happened in the past is still in the past – nothing of the event itself is actually happening now. In effect, all that’s happening now is that a voice in my head is reading aloud what got written down in the past, and maybe reminding me about the wrong I have done and the good I have not done … and maybe I’m cringing, feeling guilty.

An act of contrition is one thing; getting rid of the rubbish is another. But this is not a lenten sermon, so back to the crux of the matter: “Giving up the past”.

In my experience, the inclination to clutter is often the outcome of either of two impulses: at one extreme is the Proustian urge to document everything (see note 1 below); at the other end of the scale, I hang on to things I cannot find the inner resources to attend to, process, or deal with.

Of late, I’ve been managing pretty much all the day-to-day chores and commitments, but there is a persistent residue that is harder to shift. A high percentage of that stuff still clutters my living-space; the remainder clutters my mind and my heart. The physical clutter is the manifestation of inner states, and its persistence is invariably anchored in the past.

The prophet Isaiah – who, by the way, had some worthwhile things to say about fasting and repentance (see Note 2 below) – said: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” (Isaiah 43:18, NIV). Whilst digging around on the interweb, I found a nice paraphrase: “When your past calls, let it go to voice-mail. It has nothing new to say.”

So I have plenty of work to do – giving up my past, and putting out the psychological and emotional trash.
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NOTES:

1/ Proust, who claims to have no memory, keeps track of everything. His letters (there are several thousand) provide a running inventory of his bodily functions – letters to his mother providing an update of his respiratory condition, letters to his doctor listing the details of his menu, little notes handed to his housekeeper every morning reporting the number of times he coughed the night before. (Rebecca Comay, in Proust’s Remains)  

2/ The symbolism of the familiar Ash Wednesday ritual – a cross smeared on the forehead using the ashes of palms gathered up after the Palm Sunday procession – connects back to repentance practices in Old Testament times – see Isaiah 58, for example. 

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.

A marker to measure drift

A Marker to Measure Drift [cover]

A Marker to Measure Drift [cover]

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A yacht in full
sail, white as the moon, cuts
across the bay.

(Alexander Maksik, in A Marker to Measure Drift [p47])

My summer reading – such as it has been – has included Alexander Maksik’s second novel, A Marker to Measure Drift, which “recounts a season of homeless exile in the life of a 24-year-old Liberian woman fleeing an episode of gruesome violence incidental to the overthrow of the tyrant Charles Ghankay Taylor, in 2003.” (Norman Rush, in a New York Times review dated 23 August 2013)

In describing the writing as hypnotic, I find I am not alone: the GoodReads review also calls it spellbinding. Which helps brings me back to the point of this post: in the seventy days since starting NaNoWriMo, my commitment to this blog and its twin has tended to drift. Rather than attempt to return them to their original headings, I am now actively looking for “new angles” – as I did in fact signal on |A Twisted Pair| on Christmas Eve.

I have been missing the haiku I had been in the habit of publishing – and likewise the states of mind and everyday routines within which such haiku so easily composed themselves. The fourteen syllables that begin this post were not written as a haiku; they are simply a sentence that appears on page 47 of Alexander Maksik’s beautifully written book. But when I read them, they leapt out at me … and have stayed with me. And they serve as a marker against which I now measure my own drift.

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Maksik, Alexander. 2013. A Marker to Measure Drift. New York: Alfred A Knopf.

Link here to Alexander Maksik web-site.

Petrichor: the smell of rain

rainy day in Cuba (08 August 2011)

rainy day in Cuba (08 August 2011)

A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art. (Jorge Luis Borges)

The sinews and ligaments of this post – its interconnections, if you prefer – are somewhat tenuous. (Our ability to stay alive is tenuous.) There is no great need for the reader to make any real effort to fathom any of it.

Jorge Luis Borges: an Argentine writer of (among other things) short stories “interconnected by common themes such as dreams, labyrinths, libraries, mirrors, animals, fictional writers, philosophy, religion and God.” (Wikipedia: Jorge Luis Borges)

According to Bella Jozef, his work embraces the “character of unreality in all literature”. (Wikipedia: Jorge Luis Borges)

The image was shot in Cuba Mall, Wellington, in the last month of winter 2011. The word “petrichor” refers to the smell of rain on dry ground. The word derives from two Greek words: “petra” = stone; “ichor” = the blood of gods and goddesses (from a video titled 48 things you didn’t know had names on mentafloss.com).

Après un rêve

walnut in spring (31 Oct 2012)

walnut in spring (31 Oct 2012)

Switching my computer on, this morning – and committed to writing – I was in little doubt that material from my dream would find its way into the text. There was something about a woman I loved many years ago returning as a friend. And a bouquet of apparently unrelated images.

Après un rêve, I typed, attempting to impose some semblance of order on my unruly thoughts.

Nothing much came of it. But it did turn out that this morning’s “Composer of the Week” radio talk began with an instrumental arrangement of Gabriel Fauré’s lovely melodie, Après un rêve.

There are numerous versions of this song on YouTube, and some of the comments make interesting reading. I have not listened to them all, but was taken with two: the first, by Véronique Gens (Roger Vignoles, piano); and there’s a splendid version by Barbara Hendricks, accompanied by Michel Dalberto.

Up before the sun

Early morning sky,
stars still bright as diamonds …
nothing special.

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Become totally empty
Quiet the restlessness of the mind
Only then will you witness everything unfolding from emptiness

(Lao Tzu)

Emperor Wu of Liang asked the great master Bodhidharma, “What is the main point of this holy teaching?”

“Vast emptiness, nothing holy,” said Bodhidharma.

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http://vastemptiness.com/

The small details of childhood

Tsushima Yūko

Tsushima Yūko

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There were times when snow
fell. And rain, of course. He re-
called the sound of rain.

He remembered the sound of rain. All at once the murmuring of the trees would grow loud and vibrant, then raindrops would strike the stones and the dead leaves and soak their surfaces. Soon the sound of the rain would merge into a single mass, absorbing the child’s ears and eyes into it. Rivers would form on the straight paths, and the sound of splashing water followed after them as the child and the father walked along. (Tsushima Yūko, in Laughing Wolf)
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The haiku is derived from text on p12 of Laughing Wolf; only the word ‘remembered’ is altered. I’ve just begun reading the book today; I know virtually nothing about it. But the quality of the writing seems so strikingly like haibun. 

Yūko Tsushima is the pen name of Satoko Tsushima, a contemporary Japanese fiction writer, essayist and critic. She is the daughter of famed novelist Osamu Dazai, who died when she was one year old. (Wikipedia)

Also see: http://what-when-how.com/literature/tsushima-yuko-literature/

Tsushima Yūko. 2011. Laughing wolf. Translated by Dennis Washburn. Ann Arbor MI: Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan. [p12]

Yet to be proven

Loose : a wild history (cover)

Loose : a wild history (cover)

‘I want to get published!’ my heart cries out.

‘But you can’t!’ my mind says.

‘How long will it take them to recognise my genius?’ my heart says.

‘Probably for the rest of your life,’ my mind says. ‘But then why do you bother? Books are not important. Life itself is.’

‘But I want to get published because I am good and I am better than most published authors here in this country!’ my heart cries out again.

‘Well, that has yet to be proven,’ my mind says.

(Ouyang Yu, in Loose : A wild history)

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Ouyang Yu. 2012. Loose : A wild history. Adelaide, SA: Wakefield Press.

“The novel combines fiction with non-fiction, poetry with literary criticism, diary with life writing, with multiple stories weaving in between, told from different points of view by different characters.” (Wakefield Press)

See my previous post on the topic of Ouyang Yu: https://xties.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/on-new-years-eve/

On New Year’s Eve

In 2011, Ouyang Yu, from Victoria (Australia), won the Community Relations Commission’s award for his book The English Class. Picture: Adam Elwood.

Ouyang Yu reminds me, as I read,
of my lunch today
at a familiar Chinese restaurant.
In my mind’s ear
there are fragments of voices – familiar
sounds, yet incomprehensible –
the laugh-laced talk
of three young Chinese men
sitting down to eat
where usually they serve.
Today they are not in uniform: it is
holiday time, and they are relaxing.
I look across the room at them,
smiling and waving; they respond
with grins and greetings.
As I am getting up from my meal,
the boss crosses the floor
and we shake hands.
“Happy New Year,” we say.
“See you next year.”

(31 December 2012; amended 02 January 2013)

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Ouyang Yu (born 1955) is a contemporary Chinese-Australian author, translator and academic.

Ouyang Yu was born in the People’s Republic of China, arriving in Australia in 1991 to study for a Ph. D. at La Trobe University which he completed in 1995. Since then his literary output has been prodigious. Apart from several collections of poetry and a novel he has translated authors as diverse as Christina Stead, Xavier Herbert, Germaine Greer and David Malouf among others. He also edits Otherland, which is a bilingual English-Chinese literary journal. (Wikipedia)

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Ouyang Yu. 2012. Loose : A wild history. Adelaide, SA: Wakefield Press.

“The novel combines fiction with non-fiction, poetry with literary criticism, diary with life writing, with multiple stories weaving in between, told from different points of view by different characters.” (Wakefield Press)