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Thoughts On And For A Structured Existence

“Walking The Walk With Dante” On The Camino De Santiago In Spain

raymond-meeks-on-the-camino-de-santiago-nyt-magazine On the last page inside the back cover of the New York Times Magazine, in Part 6 of “The Voyages Issue“, photographer Raymond Meeks walked the 500-mile road in Northwest Spain that for 1200 years been one of the great spiritual quests.

Dante, in Canto XXV of the The Paradiso, stated:

“…in the narrow sense, none is called a pilgrim
save him who is journeying towards the sanctuary
of St. James, or is returning.”

The monks of Cluny built monasteries along the trail with the new “pilgrim funds” that flowed after the discovery of the tomb of St. James, apostle to Jesus Christ, was discovered in 814.

“The Poem of the Cid”, written in the mid 12th Century, was a true story of a Castilian hero El Cid during the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors.

It was a sight to see the lances
rise and fall that day;
The shivered shields and riven mail,
to see how thick they lay;
The pennons that went in snow-white
come out a gory red;
The horses running riderless,
the riders lying dead;
While Moors call on Mohammed,
and ‘St. James!’ the Christians cry,
And sixty score of Moors and more
in narrow compass lie.”

walking-the-walk-with-dante-on-the-camino-de-santiago

“To Read, Perchance To Write”: The Eloquent Life Of Editor And Avid Reader Robert Gottlieb

The New York Times “Books” section featured a review of the life and work of Robert Gottlieb, the accomplished editor and publisher for 60 years at Simon & Schuster, Knopf and The New Yorker. His memoir “Avid Reader” was published this month.

The message that resonates from this narrative of interaction with loyal best-selling authors and robert-gottlieb-new-yorkerwriters, is the inestimable value of focused reading and attention to detail in the world of literature.

Gottlieb thrived in the realm of eloquence, finding a “cognitive music” in the structuring of sentences, paragraphs and edited manuscripts.

In the book, he discusses editing Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22“:

“I wasn’t experienced enough back then to realize how
rare his total lack of defensiveness was, particularly
since there was never a doubt in his mind of how
extraordinary his book was, and that we were making
literary history. Even when at the last minute, shortly
before we went to press, I told him I had always disliked
an entire phantasmagorical chapter—for me, it was a
bravura piece of writing that broke the book’s tone—and
wanted to drop it, he agreed without a moment’s hesitation.”

robert-gottlieb-editor

“Hand Painted Dreams”: Salvador Dalí’s Surrealist Symbolism Of Female Childhood Innocence

The 150th Anniversary Edition of “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, Illustrated by Salvador Dalí, is a treasure for a home library of any size. Published by alices-adventures-in-wonderland-by-lewis-carroll-illustrated-by-salvador-dali-2015Princeton University Press in 2015, the great work by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) is hauntingly interpreted by Dalí’s twelve heliogravures, one for each chapter.

Dalí created a timeless symbolic image of the innocence of young girls in his 1935 masterpiece “Nostalgic Echo”. The “hand painted dream photograph” depicts a “Girl Skipping Rope” in a courtyard, an elongated shadow before her, and the surreal image repeated above in the bell tower.

He continued the theme the next year in his Triptych “Landscape With A Girl Skipping Rope” (1936).

landscape-with-a-girl-skipping-rope-by-salvador-dali-1936

Dalí presents the motifs of the bell tower (time), evoking the allusion of a clock striking twelve (“Cinderella” & 12 chapters in “Wonderland”), and the “dreamlike” symbolism of feminine innocence “undone” as young girls skipping rope eventually mature and become women.

Metaphysical artist Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), clearly influenced Dalí with the girl the-melancholy-and-mystery-of-a-street-giorgio-de-chirico-1914pushing the hoop in “The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street” (1914). 

“Alice” becomes conscious of herself, changing as she descends into the rabbit hole, not unlike the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Or Innocence Lost.

salvador-dali-alices-adventures-in-wonderland

The French Deflection: “Where Have You Gone Jean-Paul Sartre?”

France is currently experiencing a “crisis of identity”, where (the illusion of?) French Culture is increasingly less relevant in today’s distracted, anti-intellectual world. But the true origins of French malaise lie in a post World War II period first marked by liberation from Nazi occupation, then complicated by the Algerian War (1954-62).

Jean-Paul Sartre used the journal Les Temps Modernes (launched in 1945) as an instrument for the Existentialist “littérature engagée“:

“…an individual is responsible for making conscious decisions to commit socially useful acts.”

CV1_TNY_01_19_15Juan.inddSartre supported Algerian independence and the dismantling of French Imperialism, opposed the Vietnam War, and ultimately rejected Soviet Communism.

The terrorist assaults and the Charlie Hebdo shootings that have horrified the world in the past three years had as their precursor the French Government-sanctioned domestic attacks carried out by the paramilitary Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS) in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

Sartre himself survived bombings on his Paris apartment (shared with his mother) and the offices of Les Temps Modernes. The Algerian War saw the French government use torture against Algerian Nationalists and sympathizers, just a decade after being under Nazi domination.

The nightmares of past French extremism will continue sans Sartre’s dreamed for “Authenticity“.

Eloquent Lives: Hans Ulrich Obrist As Cultural “Junction Maker”

“The Exchange.” section of WSJ Magazine is a window into what is beautiful and culturally vibrant in the world. The life of Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of Serpentine Galleries, maximizes spontaneity by living a purposeful structured existence:

“I believe in embracing chance in the process – serendipitous moments happen ever day” 

Three times a day he takes a 10-minute walk between the Serpentine Gallery and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, separated by Serpentine Lake in Kensington Gardens, one of eight Royal Parks in London.

Meetings with, among others, poets, painters, architects and Neurologists are “weaved” into exhibits, symposiums and interviews of the most important modern artists.

hans-ulrich-obrist-walks-to-serpentine-galleries-in-wsj-magazine-september-2016

http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-day-in-the-life-of-hans-ulrich-obrist-1472485717

The September 2016 article in WSJ is a must read along with:

new-yorker-profile-of-hans-ulrich-obrist-dec-8-2014

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/08/art-conversation

“Light Bulbs And Enlightenment”: Thomas Edison’s Ironic And Misguided War On Sleep

  edisons-prophecy-a-duplex-sleepless-dinnerless-world-literary-digest-nov-14-1914

 

      Thomas Edison, perhaps referencing Plato in “Laws” (“By nature, prolonged sleep does not suit either the body or soul, nor does it help us to be active in all this kind of work.“),  ushered in the Age of Electricity and the electric light bulb in 1879. But with the brilliance of the “inventor” came the dogma of the “businessman”:

Everything which decreases the sum total of man’s sleep increases the sum total of man’s capabilities.

The historical irony of Edison’s exhortations are manifest: the man who resisted sleep and promoted sleeplessness, ultimately died of complications of Type 2 Diabetes. Obesity and diabetes are consequences of the electric light’s disruption of sleep/wake cycles and circadian rhythms:

electric-light-particularly-at-night-disrupts-human-circadian-rhythmicity-is-that-a-problem-royal-society

The poets and playwrights of the Age of Enlightenment and Romantic Era knew the value of sleep for health and well-being:

to-sleep-by-william-wordsworth-1770-1850

Sleep allows the brain to process, retain and discard the day’s images and information, a process of “forgetting” stress and strain as Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” bemoans:

henry-iv-part-ii-o-sleep-o-gentle-sleep

Levinus Lemnius (1505-1568) wrote that one should sleep eight hours as it “…repairs and raiseth up the tired mind and spirits that are exhausted with constant studies and lucubrations”. Time will show “….wise men at their end know dark is right.”

Did The “Undisciplined Whimsy” Of Jack Kerouac And “Beat Zen” Prove The Need For A Structured Existence?

Reading the paper edition of the Sunday New York Times is a rewarding ritual. Like the comfort of a classic book or poem that gives the allusion of an unexperienced life unfolding even though you know the ending, a structured safe zone is created. People, places, events and ideas flow from the pages to nourish the mind and promote thought.

The “Cultured Traveler” section visited the Boulder, CO homes of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and Beat Generation poet/writer Allen Ginsberg. The article quickly sent thoughts to the battle of American Zen in 1958 between Jack Kerouac and Alan Watts.

Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen - Alan Watts quote on Jack Kerouac 1958

Watts (Square Zen) writes of Kerouac (Beat Zen) as lacking the discipline needed to attain Satori In Paris by Jack Kerouacenlightenment (“Satori“) through a comparison of rival 17th Century Rinzai Zen Masters Hakuin and Bankei. Kerouac, who died of cirrhosis after a lifetime of heavy drinking, wrote “We were never really born“, echoing Bankei’s realization of “Unborn” after a near-death experience.

Square Zen requires “years of meditation-practice under strict supervision”, quite the opposite of the “undisciplined whimsy” of Beat Zen. The Beat Generation/Beatniks gradually vaporized into the 1960’s Hippie Culture, providing future generations a literary raison d’etre for a structured existence.

“Walking With Plato And Aristotle”: Physicist John A. Wheeler’s Dream To Unwrap Acoustic Memory

“Can a single stone from a time
That used to be
Hold the memories of conversations 
That mean so much to me”

Adapted from “Memory Motel” by The Rolling Stones (Jagger/Richards)

    Theoretical Physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) coined the term “black hole”, worked on the Manhattan Project that led to development of Atomic and Hydrogen bombs, and championed theories in gravity and relativity. In an interview late in his life he spoke of receiving a stone from the garden at Plato’s Academy (“Akademeia” c. 385 BC) in Athens:

John Archibald Wheeler Theoretical Physicist on a Machine that could unpeel Accoustic Memory

Albert Einstein wrote that “every true theorist is a kind of tamed metaphysicist”. Wheeler, who collaborated with Einstein, moved productively between Aristotelian Realism (Universals exist in things) and Platonic Realism (Universals can exist in abstraction). This “miracle creed” helped transform theoretical and quantum physics.

Wheeler was consumed by the idea that “human consciousness” shapes the past and present, a topic that he foreshadows might have been a topic of conversation between Plato and Aristotle:

Complexity Entropy and the Physics of Information

He asks: “Is existence thus built on ‘insubstantial nothingness’?”, directly referencing Shakespeare’s “The Tempest“, where Prospero tells us:

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. The Tempest

Imagine the shadowy voice of Plato asking Aristotle: “How come existence?”. Aristotle might look to John Wheeler for information on that.

“Poetry Must Be Difficult”: Artificial Intelligence And The Coming Renaissance In Literary Culture

     In awarding the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature to T.S. Eliot, the Swedish Academy cited the “horror vacui (Latin for “fear of empty space”) of modern man in a secularized world, without order, meaning, or beauty” that Eliot wrote about and confronted. This demise of Literary Culture, bemoaned for over 100 years, commenced with World War I and its aftermath.

Popular Culture has evolved from war and debasement of authority in the 20th Century. The Information Age provides on-demand entertainment and, as Eliot and many others would describe, pseudo-culture to billions of people. A supermarket of easy to understand programming.

But Cultural Literacy is challenging and comprehensive:

T. S. Eliot, review of Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century Donne to Butler Times Literary Supplement, October 1921 and Selected Essays 1929

Artificial Intelligence (AI) could usher in a new Renaissance, a “reinvented version of Humanism“. AI algorithms will access great works of classical antiquity and Western Literary Canon, and, aided by 190,000 word vocabularies (Shakespeare’s plays use 33,000), will write original, comprehensive and allusive literature. Curated AI is now publishing poetry and prose written only by machines.

The School of Athens Fresco by Italian Renaissance Artist Raphael 1511

Eliot wrote thatpoetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion”. Machine learning, unemotional, evolving with experience, offers a “predictive” quality. Will history and Literary Culture predictably repeat themselves with Plato and Aristotle at the center?

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