Tag Archives: books

Using Disclaimers Where They Really Count

I just purchased a printing of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali (with an introduction by W.B. Yeats). It includes the following disclaimer on the title page:

“This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.”

Wow. Quite a caveat for the reader or monitor for the reader.

Just a couple of things:

First, at no place in this printing does it identify WHEN this book was written, except by coincidence in the Yeats’ introduction, which is dated “September 1912”. The publishing date says (c) 2008 Wilder Publications, and also reads “First Edition”. Really! A 2008 first edition is a product of THIS time. But I know that not to be the case, so what “time” is this book really the product of? And come to think of it, have the views promulgated in this writing REALLY changed all that much, for the majority of people? Probably not.

Second, who is this warning for? What uninformed soul is likely to read this prose poem unawares?

Finally, and perhaps most puzzling, why isn’t this disclaimer printed in LARGE, BOLD LETTERS on the title page of the BIBLE?

It seems a far more appropriate warning there, doesn’t it?

New Insights into Genius?

I am currently reading a fascinating biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Mozart: A Life, by Maynard Solomon. Of particular interest to me is its focus on the relationship between father and son as one of the defining aspects of Mozart’s personality and life pursuit. Another interesting aspect of the biography is reference to passages like this:

What is a poet? A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music … And men crowd about the poet and say to him: ‘Sing for us soon again’; that is as much as to say: ‘May new sufferings torment your soul.’ — from Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard

It is a literate biography and definitely worth reading.

Shine a little light …


With the replacement of two books in my post-Katrina library, one classic (BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga) and a modern interpretation and condensation of that classic, with great illustrations and “work in the posture” tips (Iyengar students Silva, Mira and Shyam Mehta’s Yoga: The Iyengar Way), I have again begun practicing yoga. It’s been a long time since I was able to comfortably do padmasana (the lotus position), let alone matsyasana (the fish), and it’s definitely been at least 75 pounds since my last sirsasana (shoulder stand)! I must admit, my previous practice never made it all that far – years of sitting at a desk had even then seriously reduced my leg flexibility – but let me tell you, it’s not EXACTLY like riding a bike. Very difficult to pick up where you leave off, particularly when the “leaving off” can be measured in dog (or tree) years.

But I’m back at it; working in the garden lately has reminded me of just how stiff, unlimber and soft I’ve become – and trying to get back into the swing of regular meditation with a body that unprepared for stillness is no picnic.

I can’t say enough positive things about Iyengar’s book: his discussion of breathing and the philosophy and art of exercise dovetails quite beautifully with my other current re-reading of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (the Swami Satchidananda translation and commentaries). And the Mehta’s book, although missing a number of key poses and definitely reduced in scope for a less comprehensive audience, particularly on the spiritual aspects, is very good with respect to step-by-step written and photographic instructions. Both works inspirational, and highly recommended for all.

I only managed about 10 minutes worth today; but already I can tell the difference.

Om namah shivaya, ya’ll 🙂

Thought for the Day: On the Arts

From the wonderful book The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine by Robert Bly and Marion Woodman. This bit from Marion:

…the arts are becoming frills in the eyes not only of the government but of many citizens as well. As budgets are being balanced, the arts suffer because so many tutors [status quo protectors] are so far away from the soul they simply don’t care…Their head is separated from their heart. What these pathetic tutors who pass these laws do not realize is that young people do start out with imagination, with enthusiasm. Take away their disciplined outlets and they are birds without wings. Moreover, their frustration at not being able to soar results in rage, which they have no idea how to contain. Any one of the arts can give them a container strong enough to hold their natural frustrations until it distills into paint, or dance, or song. Any teacher knows how much energy is required to teach a student how to hold the container solid enough until the emotion has time to resolve itself into an art form. That is what culture is. Our tutors are passing laws that will destroy what has taken centuries to build — a civilization that can contain its own vision. Without the arts, the principal is shot in his office instead of Julius Caesar being massacred with yardsticks in the classroom. Raw instinct runs rampant in the streets, imagination is ciphered into primitive behavior, spiritual and moral values cease to exist, and the millions that are saved are spent in building boot camps to try to contain thugs.

We are building a nation of reactionary soldiers, who are so repressed and angry that they are willing to kill, whose emotional maturity and self-awareness is such that they will kill as instructed, as their heart-strings, no longer attached to viable, meaningful relationship with the world, are jerked at the bidding of those who wish the killing done, but at the same time wish to lament such violent acts while washing their own hands clean of the blood.

Everything I Needed to Know About Western Culture…

I could have learned by reading Francois Rabelais:

or more precisely, simply by reading the Glossary of names, places, events and concepts compiled by the translator of his complete works, Donald Frame.

The way that Rabelais wove current and historical events, theories, puns, namedropping, and even name-inventing into his works has always been an inspiration to me as a writer. Not to mention the fact that Rabelais was the primary model, as I see it, to both Tom Robbins and Robert Anton Wilson – and about 500 years earlier.

Upon Being Invited to Study the Great Books Online

Thanks for the invitation. I must say, having looked into facilitating my own Great Books curriculum at several times in the past, that the concept is neither unfamiliar to me, nor uninviting. However, my reason for declining at present has little to do with the scope of the program, but more with the medium. I have participated in a number of online study groups, interest groups, etc., over the past ten years, and have found that while they do promote a degree of intellectual stimulation, and do foster a sense of camaraderie among participants, they by their very nature limit the exchange of ideas because they have as their foundation a sense of anonymity. It is very easy to expound one’s ideas, and wax philosophic, in the vacuum of not having to look another person in the eye. It is gratifying, particularly to one’s ego, to have the group linger on a thread of your own creation for endless iterations. However, too often it seems that is where it ends. Having a cluster of pen-pals, so to speak, does not improve my opportunity to have intellectual (or otherwise stimulating) conversations in real life, with people that I encounter in the flesh on a daily basis. Without that level of personal contact, having an exchange of ideas to me is stale and flat.

I don’t say that this particular curriculum or this forum will lead to that end. For me, however, particularly since my own meaning of an educated liberal extends FAR beyond the narrow, and one might even say, self-destructive, confines of Western culture, that at this point in my life, your group is not for me. It smacks too much of knowledge for the sake of knowledge alone, as some kind of barometer by which one can compare one’s education to others and somehow feel more justified in holding opinions, and grasping the illusory reins of control over a life that to be understood must be tasted in the flesh, rather than by sucking the aged marrow from its volumes of bones.

That’s a long way of saying, thanks, but no thanks.

However, I wish you success in this venture, and again, appreciate the invitation.

Thoughts on the 9/11 Report

Well, I have done it. Purchased the “official” 9/11 report. And read it through, at least at this time on a cursory level. I will re-read it in detail, of course.

There are a few things that trouble me. They are as follows:

1. A war on terrorism will not succeed. That is because terrorism is the symptom, not the cause. The cause is a state of global affairs that gives rise to the belief that terrorism is, for many, a justifiable and perhaps the only viable alternative to advance their agenda to the point where it will be considered.

2. If we are to engage the problem of alternatives to terrorism for those who now employ it as their sole means of communication, we have to start looking hard at the fact that we are a single human family. National “rights”, and boundaries, really must have no meaning if we are to address, fairly and honestly, the grievances of one group of people versus another. The fact is, that as a human species, we are in effect a single family — albeit in some cases only distant cousins.

This makes EVERY war in effect a civil war. Brother against brother — for the majority of religions on this planet accept as one of their tenets some degree of universal brotherhood.

3. With respect to that universal brotherhood. The United States must make a statement to the world, and must lead the other “so-called” civilized nations in one very important point. We must accept Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Druidism, Wiccanism, Sufism, Voodoo, Santeria, Ba’hai, Sikhism, Confucianism, Atheism, and all the rest, as absolutely equally viable paths to that exclusively human (at least, human-claimed, for none of the other species that have evolved and existed for millions of years on this planet have found it necessary to indulge in the nuances of comparative theology) province, enlightenment. If we are capable of being enlightened (as we claim), then we need to accomplish it. That means returning spiritual truth where it belongs — to each and every individual.

4. We need to focus our resources not on exerting our influence through military might, or covert operation, or corporate interest, but through demonstration of our principles by enforcing them upon ourselves. Eliminate special interests. Eliminate preconceived biases. Restore (or, rather, considering our own systematic programs of terrorism that checker our own historical national agenda — vis a vis the Comanches, for exampl?) “justice for all.” Not justice that meets our needs or serves the expediency of the moment, but justice that punishes our friends when guilty, and praises our enemies when they are courageous and in the right.

5. Finally, we need to think long and hard about something that G.I. Gurdjieff once said, that was almost echoed in Obama’s recent speech at the Democratic convention: “As long as a single person is in prison, no one is free.” No matter what the reason — because prison population, like terrorism, is a symptom. And to address the cause, we cannot continue to just build more prisons and graveyards. Or schools that teach rigid ways of looking at the world. Or churches that preach hatred and xenophobia in the guise of building their own brand of “chosen people” to pit against the rest of the world.

Ah, I could go on.