The best reason to learn German

Rainer Maria Rilke always convinces me there is profound meaning hiding behind the words, just out of reach. He is reason enough to study the German language.

Da neigt sich die Stunde und rührt mich an
mit klarem, metallenem Schlag:
mir zittern die Sinne. Ich fühle: ich kann -
und ich fasse den plastischen Tag.

Nichts war noch vollendet, eh ich es erschaut,
ein jedes Werden stand still.
Meine Blicke sind reif, und wie eine Braut
kommt jedem das Ding, das er will.

Nichts ist mir zu klein, und ich lieb es trotzdem
und mal' es auf Goldgrund und groß,
und halte es hoch, und ich weiß nicht wem
löst es die Seele los...

 

The hour is striking so close to me,
so clear and sharp,
that all my senses ring with it.
I feel it now. There’s power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.

I know that nothing has ever been real
without my beholding it.
All becoming has needed me.
My looking ripens things
and they come toward me, to meet and be met.

— from a translation of the Book of Hours
by Anita Barrow and Joanna Macy

Book of Hours tiles

Rainer Maria Rilke was born on the 4th of December, 1875.

I am too alone in the world,
yet not alone enough to make each hour holy.
I want to know my own will, and to move with it.
I want to unfold.
Let no place in me hold itself closed.

What does ‘sesquicentennial’ mean?

The Tides of Change

Herewith is Beauty fashioned? Canst thou deem
Her evanescent roses bourgeon save
Within the sunlight tender on her grave?
Awake no winds but bear her dust, a gleam
In morning’s prophecy or sunset’s dream;
And every cry that ever Sirens gave
From islands mournful with the quiring wave
Was echo of a music once supreme.
All æons, conquests, excellencies, stars,
All pain and peril of seraphic wars,
Were met to shape thy soul’s divinity.
Pause, for the breath of gods is on thy face!
The ghost of dawns forgotten and to be
Abides a moment in the twilight’s grace.

George Sterling was born 150 years ago today.

Gratitude for what we once had

To separate is sometimes in the cards.
Though you may feel relief, it makes you sad
To contemplate the scattered, broken shards
Of intimate relationship gone bad.
Your consolation lies in moving on,
But at your peril you neglect to mourn.
For new connections there is time anon;
The old must die before the new is born.

The hardest gratitude is what we’ve lost,
Appreciating that which did not last.
To feel this is to know the future’s cost,
And free yourself to leave behind the past.
It’s difficult, but trust yourself to cope—
To step into the unknown, ripe with hope.

— JJM, #56 from the Yi Jing Sonnet project

Image result for slipping through my fingers

Boons and Perils of a Mechanized Future

Today is the bicentenniel of my all-time favorite author. Her mastery of the language rewards my close attention to her choice of words, so the more I read into her work, the more I learn.

Not only does she understand human nature deeply, she writes with compassion, even when her characters do bad things, even when she is poking fun, she invites us to open our heart to the characters she has created.

She writes about religion and politics from a wise, humanistic perspective, profile the best parts of Christianity and Socialism, for example, while painting for us the the dogmas and hypocrisies of each. In this passage from her last, quirky novel, she manages to spoof futurology, while displaying a striking prescience about where our species was headed in the century plus after she wrote this (1879).

Eliot is keenly aware of the Darwinian thought and of the impending land-grab by a scientific (mechanistic) world-view that threatens to take over the moral and aesthetic realms. She is talking here about (and laughing at) the prospect of an artificial intelligence taking over and disposing of its creator.

“Nothing of the sort!” returned Trost, getting angry, and judging it kind to treat me with some severity; “what you have heard me say is, that our race will and must act as a nervous centre to the utmost development of mechanical processes: the subtly refined powers of machines will react in producing more subtly refined thinking processes which will occupy the minds set free from grosser labour. Say, for example, that all the scavengers work of London were done, so far as human attention is concerned, by the occasional pressure of a brass button (as in the ringing of an electric bell), you will then have a multitude of brains set free for the exquisite enjoyment of dealing with the exact sequences and high speculations supplied and prompted by the delicate machines which yield a response to the fixed stars, and give readings of the spiral vortices fundamentally concerned in the production of epic poems or great judicial harangues. So far from mankind being thrown out of work according to your notion,” concluded Trost, with a peculiar nasal note of scorn, “if it were not for your incurable dilettanteism in science as in all other things—if you had once understood the action of any delicate machine—you would perceive that the sequences it carries throughout the realm of phenomena would require many generations, perhaps aeons, of understandings considerably stronger than yours, to exhaust the store of work it lays open.”

“Naturally,” I persisted, “it is less easy to you than to me to imagine our race transcended and superseded, since the more energy a being is possessed of, the harder it must be for him to conceive his own death. But I, from the vantage of a common fish, can easily imagine myself and my congeners dispensed within the frame of things and giving way not only to a superior but a vastly different kind of Entity. What I would ask you is, to show me why, since each new invention casts a new light along the pathway of discovery, and each new combination or structure brings into play more conditions than its inventor foresaw, there should not at length be a machine of such high mechanical and chemical powers that it would find and assimilate the material to supply its own stock, and then by a further evolution of internal molecular movements reproduce itself by some process of fission or budding. This last stage having been reached, either by man’s contrivance or as an unforeseen result, one sees that the process of natural selection must drive men altogether out of the field; for they will long before have begun to sink into the miserable condition of those unhappy characters in fable who, having demons or djinns at their beck, and being obliged to supply them with work, found too much of everything done in too short a time. What demons so potent as molecular movements, none the less tremendously potent for not carrying the futile cargo of a consciousness screeching irrelevantly, like a fowl tied head downmost to the saddle of a swift horseman? Under such uncomfortable circumstances our race will have diminished with the diminishing call on their energies, and by the time that the self-repairing and reproducing machines arise, all but a few of the rare inventors, calculators, and speculators will have become pale, pulpy, and cretinous from fatty or other degeneration, and behold around them a scanty hydrocephalous offspring. As to the breed of the ingenious and intellectual, their nervous systems will at last have been overwrought in following the molecular revelations of the immensely more powerful unconscious race, and they will naturally, as the less energetic combinations of movement, subside like the flame of a candle in the sunlight Thus the feebler race, whose corporeal adjustments happened to be accompanied with a maniacal consciousness which imagined itself moving its mover, will have vanished, as all less adapted existences do before the fittest—i.e., the existence composed of the most persistent groups of movements and the most capable of incorporating new groups in harmonious relation. Who—if our consciousness is, as I have been given to understand, a mere stumbling of our organisms on their way to unconscious perfection—who shall say that those fittest existences will not be found along the track of what we call inorganic combinations, which will carry on the most elaborate processes as mutely and painlessly as we are now told that the minerals are metamorphosing themselves continually in the dark laboratory of the earth’s crust? Thus this planet may be filled with beings who will be blind and deaf as the inmost rock, yet will execute changes as delicate and complicated as those of human language and all the intricate web of what we call its effects, without sensitive impression, without sensitive impulse: there may be, let us say, mute orations, mute rhapsodies, mute discussions, and no consciousness there even to enjoy the silence.”

“Absurd!” grumbled Trost.


The following metaphysical poem was discovered in her notebooks in the 1960s, after it didn’t make the cut in  College Breakfast Party, a multi-party philosophical/religious discussion in the form of a long poem.

Post image

A cave in Malibu CA, photo by Marcel on Reddit https://www.reddit.com/user/-Marcel-/

………………I grant you ample leave
To use the hoary formula ‘I am’,
Naming the emptiness where thought is not;
But fill the void with definition, ‘I’
Will be no more a datum than the words
You link false inference with, the ‘Since’ & ‘so’
That, true or not, make up the atom-whirl.
Resolve your ‘Ego’, it is all one web
With vibrant ether clotted into worlds:
Your subject, self, or self-assertive ‘I’
Turns nought but object, melts to molecules,
Is stripped from naked Being with the rest
Of those rag-garments named the Universe.
Or if, in strife to keep your ‘Ego’ strong
You make it weaver of the etherial light,
Space, motion, solids & the dream of Time —
Why, still ’tis Being looking from the dark,
The core, the centre of your consciousness,
That notes your bubble-world: sense, pleasure, pain,
What are they but a shifting otherness,
Phantasmal flux of moments? —

George Eliot was born Mary Anne Evans, 22 November, 1819

Good for what ails you

I once met a dead man in Barcelona
who has been with me ever since.
I showed him my hypochondria
and my disdain for my body
and the scars that cruel men have rent in my flesh,
and I said,
“Well? What can you do with this?”

He turned me around on the balcony and showed me the universe.
“This is medicine,” he said.
“Swallow it.”

— Caitlin Johnstone

Just Now

 

In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever
believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for
not patient not even waiting no more hidden
than the air itself that became part of me for a while
with every breath and remained with me unnoticed
something that was here unnamed unknown in the days
and the nights not separate from them
not separate from them as they came and were gone
it must have been here neither early nor late then
by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks

~ W.S. Merwin (via Joe Riley’s Panhala email list)