Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Minute Meditation

Many moons ago when I was in grad school, a professor went on a rant attacking John Gardner and his "obsolete" views.  I was so intrigued that I got the book.  I was instantly converted.  One of my regrets is that I never went back and thanked that professor for introducing me to John Gardner. I've also read several of his novels. If you are looking for something different, try John Gardner.

"In a world where nearly everything that passes for art is tinny and commercial and often, in addition, hollow and academic, I argue -- by reason and by banging the table -- for an old-fashioned view of what art is and does and what the fundamental business of critics ought therefore to be.

.   .   .   .   .   .

The traditional view is that true art is moral: it seeks to improve life, not debase it.  It seeks to hold off, at least for a while. the twilight of the gods and us."

-- John Gardner --
from On Moral Fiction

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Nathaniel Hawthorne: "The Minister's Black Veil"

Nathaniel Hawthorne:  "The Minister's Black Veil"

I'm sure most people have either read the story or are at least familiar with the basic story line.  Parson Hooper appears one Sunday morning wearing a black veil:  Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath, Mr. Hooper had on a black veil. The effect on the congregation was one of amazement and not a little fear:  "I don't like it," muttered an old woman, as she hobbled into the meetinghouse.  "He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face." 

The sermon he delivered that day was clearly related to the black veil:  The subject had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them. 

Hooper's black veil is supposed to serve as a reminder to all who see him of the secret sins they are hiding from others.   I think most of us are very well aware of those dark secrets we hide from others, so I don't understand why Parson Hooper feels it necessary to make himself a reminder of that.   What purpose does it serve to remind us of our own sins and also that others have their own hidden sins?

Doesn't this make us wonder about our friends and loved ones and strangers?  How does this increase Christian charity to towards others?  Doesn't this rather make us suspicious of others?  Doesn't this increase our mistrust of others?   He certainly found himself the object of fear among all who encountered him.  He persisted in this behavior and wouldn't even allow his betrothed to see him without the veil, thereby ending their engagement.

I am puzzled by this story.  Does Hawthorne mean for us to admire Parson Hooper or is he another example of excessive religious zeal, similar to the Salem witch trials in which one of Hawthorne's ancestors played a prominent role?


Friday, July 22, 2016

Basho: just a brief post on a haiku

The following are two translations of a haiku by Basho that caught my attention. The reversal is what made me stop and consider it.

No. 7

rabbit-ear iris
how much it looks like
its image in water

-- Basho --
from Basho: The Complete Haiku
Trans.  Jane Reichold

No. 6

blue flag irises
        looking just like their images
                in the water

-- Basho --
from Basho's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho
Trans. David Landis Barnhill

It is so common to read how closely the reflection in the water resembled the object that the reversal made me stop and think.  This is one of those moments when words fail, which makes it a rare haiku. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Minute Meditation

"I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, 'Mother, what was war?'"

-- Eve Merriam, poet and writer (1916-1992) --

Has this ever been better said?

Will this dream ever come true?

What little I know of human history makes me pessimistic.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Jane Austen's EMMA; a brief personal reaction

Jane Austen

This is probably my fourth? fifth? reading of Emma.  I am now in midst of my regular rereading of Austen's works, but I probably won't post extensively on them, mainly because I can't step back sufficiently to comment coherently.  But, occasionally a thought may strike me, as it has just recently while reading Pride and Prejudice.  This will be a much, much shorter post, just an odd thought.

In the spirit of the novel, here's a riddle (well, maybe not a riddle):

Mr. Knightly (George) got the wife he wanted, but she was not the best wife for him.

Frank Churchill got the wife he wanted, but she wasn't the wife he deserved.

Emma Woodhouse got the husband she wanted, but he wasn't the husband she deserved.

Jane Fairfax got the husband she wanted, but he was not the best husband for her.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Minute Meditation

 It seems as though humans, world-wide, have always regarded mountains as special places.  So many cultures placed the residences of their gods and goddesses on mountain tops.   

Here's a brief reaction to a day in the Sierras from a writer whom I have just belatedly discovered.  

Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where.  Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars.  This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.

-- John Muir --
from  My First Summer in the Sierra

I like that last line:  This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality. There is no past, no future, just the ever-present now, just being there.  

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Alfred Bester's Masterpiece: The Stars My Destination, Pt. 2

Alfred Bester
The Stars My Destination

Some random disconnected passing thoughts:

I have read that the original title was Tiger! Tiger! but was changed for some reason.  The title possibly may have come from the first line of Blake's poem, "The Tiger."

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

I know many who prefer the original title, but I, of course, have the opposite view.  The only title I knew for decades was The Stars My Destination, so it's become part of it for me.   On the other hand,  Tiger! Tiger! does fit Gully Foyle, for it is much more closely related to Gully and to the story line,  because, if Gully is  nothing else, he is a predator.  And, then there's that tattoo. 

I read and enjoyed the Prologue to TSMD for several reasons. One is that it provided information helpful to the story, and the second reason is its opening paragraph, which struck me as being somewhat familiar.  I have reformatted it.  Does anyone else think this is remotely familiar to something else?

"This was a golden age,
                       a time of high adventure,
                       rich living, and hard dying.  .  .
but nobody thought so. 

This was a future
                      of fortune and theft,
                      pillage and rapine,
                      culture and vice.  .  .
but nobody admitted it.

This was an age
                      of extremes,
                      a fascinating century of freaks.  .  .
but nobody loved it."

This, however, is how it appeared in the book:

"This was a golden age, a time of high adventure, rich living, and hard dying.  .  . but nobody thought so.  This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice.  .  . but nobody admitted it.  This was an age of extremes, . . . a fascinating century of freaks.  .  . but nobody loved it."

And there's even an interesting short story buried there--the discovery of jaunting.  

Pyre, a horrific weapon,  becomes an important issue in the story, as there is a solar system-wide war going on at this time.  Foyle knows the location of Pyre and therefore becomes a person of great interest to the Earth government.  A pyre is also a funeral ritual, a traditional way of honoring a leader or important person in some societies.  Is this weapon signifying the death of the present human civilization?

Another mythic element that seems relevant is the myth of the Phoenix, a long-lived bird that is the only one of its kind.  Every thousand or more years the Phoenix in its nest bursts into flames and arises reborn out of the ashes.  Foyle is trapped at the end when the Pyre is set off and as he attempts to escape, makes a discovery that transforms him into being able to jaunte at a new level.  And humanity will be transformed from a species limited to the solar system to ultimately a galactic civilization. Both Gully and humanity, in one sense, are reborn.  

It's a great story, one that rewards rereading, which I do every couple of years regularly.  It's permanently in my TBR bookcase.  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Alfred Bester's Masterpiece: The Stars My Destination, Pt. 1

Alfred Bester
The Stars My Destination

 It's been often said that character development is rather weak in SF, as science and technology and problem-solving tend to be the central focus.  One very early exception to this is Gully Foyle, the  main character in The Stars My Destination (TSMD).  When I first read TSMD, I was amazed to find someone who emerged  from the crowd.  He is now my No. 1 Most Unforgettable SF Character.  As an early discarded title suggests, he can best be described as a predator.  There are also several other characters who could carry a novel of their own.  Some of which are mentioned later.  

 It's a classic whose literary roots now go back almost two centuries:  the revenge tale of Edmund Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo.   Both Dantes and Foyle were trapped, and both manage to escape with considerable wealth which they use to remake themselves--from a fishing boat captain to a Count and from a lowly merchant seaman to one of the elite,  Foyle of Foyle.  And, both have the same goal, revenge on those who trapped them and, ironically, enriched them.

But, before Gully became a revenge-driven predator, he was a cypher, mostly just existing.  The following is a picture of his character as reflected "in the official Merchant Marine records.


"FOYLE, GULLIVER------AS-128/127:006

EDUCATION:                      NONE
SKILLS                                 NONE
MERITS                                NONE


A man of physical strength and intellectual potential stunted by lack of ambition.  Energies at minimum.  The stereotype Common Man.  Some unexpected shock might possibly awaken him, but Psych cannot find the key.  Not recommended for promotion.  Has reached a dead end."


In the beginning Foyle was a non-entity, barely conscious of himself as a human being.  The psychological profile said it would take a shock to awaken Foyle to be able to function at somewhere near his potential.  The shock appeared--being abandoned to die by the sister-ship Vorga.  Whatever else was missing in Foyle's personality, self preservation was obviously functioning.   Once he manages to escape,  he changes from a non-entity to a brutal but intelligent individual driven solely by revenge.  

Significant characters in the novel;

Peter Yang-Yeovil (Yin-Yang?): the  Spy master who is a direct ancestor of Mencius (a real historical person who was the most famous follower of Confucius--confusion about dates, but could be as early as 385 BC and lived as late as 289 BC).

Saul Dagenham: the radioactive security chief

Robin: the jaunte and social graces teacher, who refuses to become his Romance Instructor

Jiz: frustrated by the restrictions placed on women and turns to crime to gain her freedom, a precursor of numerous female thieves, assassins,  and bodyguards found in later cyberpunk novels.

Olivia: the Ice Princess, bored by her luxurious but restricted life who engages in various illegal business ventures. 

I found it frustrating to encounter these people so seldom.

I think the creation of Gully Foyle is TSMD's greatest strength. Encountering him back in the 50s was a shock in comparison to the relatively bland and cardboard characters usually found in most SF stories, and in spite of the past 60 years of development of characterization in SF, I consider Gully to still be one of the strongest characters in SF. 

Probably the weakest aspect of the novel would be the culture created by jaunting--I think it's a bit thin--it reminds me of many rock-and-roll performances--lots of bright lights, smoke, noise, but a bit thin on substance or quality.
While his world isn't as fully developed as Dune, for example, it still comes alive as an hectic, neon-lit, flashing world.   My copy is around 250 pages and it would take a lot larger work to really develop the culture to some depth.  However, it is fun to read and Bester's satiric eye has nailed the future aristocracy quite well. 

Bester has included a number of mythic elements in this work.  Gully can be seen as a dying and resurrecting god in one sense, for he does come back after being marooned in space and left to die by another ship, even though it belonged to the same company.  He then engages on a quest, not for a Holy Grail but for a far more human reason--revenge.

To be continued

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Minute Meditation

"keep in mind the tailorbird
 at home on a single branch"

Han Shan (Cold Mountain)
from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain
Red Pine, translator and editor

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Herman Melville: "Bartleby" aka "Bartleby the Scrivener"

Herman Melville

Since there already is so much written on "Bartleby,"  this will be a brief comment. 

Bartleby, like Melville, starts out very successfully in the beginning. They give their respective bosses just what those bosses want.   But then, they start to refuse to do what is wanted from them, which is more of the same. Note that Bartleby's first refusal is checking other people's words while Melville begins to move away from his highly successful South Sea island novels.  Interestingly, neither absolutely or directly refuses.  Melville simply goes ahead and writes what he wants, regardless of the reactions of the readers and critics.  Bartleby tells the lawyer, "I would prefer not to," which not a direct refusal but a statement of his preferences.

Both continue to not do what is expected of them--Bartleby to do his copying of other people's words and Melville of giving the readers and critics the stories they want--more South Sea island adventures with cannibals and so on. Finally, the audience leaves both of them alone,  Bartleby in the deserted office and Melville with Moby Dick and his later works which few buy and critics attack.  At the end, Bartleby turns his face to the wall and dies, while Melville "dies" as a novelist and turns to writing poetry, the kiss of death for most writers hoping to gain an audience in America.

As for Bartleby's motivation--depression?  Could be, but we never get inside his head, so there's really no way of knowing.  The rumor that Bartleby lost his job in the Post Office "dead letter office" is curious.  I'm not sure what to do with it.

Since "Bartleby,"  I've read, is one of the most commented on short stories by an American writer, I guess many others are not sure what to do with this tale either.

What's your take on the tale?

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Minute Meditation

This will be something new: a brief, irregularly appearing post on something I just read that struck me in some way.  It could be a haiku or only a line or stanza from a longer poem or a short quotation from a work of prose or fiction.  It will be short and brief and perhaps worth a minute or two of thought.

At the shrinemaiden's street
ceremonial robes being washed --
early summer.
                                   -- Buson --

Usually poetry or nature writing celebrates the first appearance of a flower or a bird or animal or even a weather event as the sign of a new season.  Buson here suggests that human acts can also be a sign of a new season.

Buson (1716-1784), Japanese painter and poet, regarded as second only to Basho as a haiku poet.

haiku taken from Haiku Master Buson
trans.  Yuki Sawa and Edith M. Shiffert

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Second Edition, Quatrain LXVIII

This is another of the quatrains that Edward FitzGerald added to the Second Edition of his version of the Rubaiyat.  It's a familiar theme, one brought out previously and linked to the quatrain preceding this one.


The Revelations of Devout and Learn'd
Who rose before us, and as Prophets burn'd,
    Are all but Stories, which, awoke from Sleep
They told their fellows, and to Sleep return'd.


The Revelations of Devout and Learn'd
Who rose before us, and as Prophets burn'd,
    Are all but Stories, which, awoke from Sleep,
They told their comrades, and to Sleep return'd.

Aside from the comma added at the end of line three and the change from "fellows" to "comrades,"  the Fifth Edition is identical to the Second.  The comma may simply be a correction wherein the printer missed it in the Second Edition.   Perhaps there is an emotional connection to others suggested by "comrades" and possibly lacking in "fellows" is the reason for the change.   I do not see that it makes any great change in the overall point of the quatrain.

Those "Revelations" refer back to the previous quatrain, to the claims of what lies ahead for us after death.  As the Poet has mentioned in previous quatrains, nobody really knows what follows, if anything, death. That those "Stories" are told after the Devout and Learn'd Prophets have awakened from sleep suggest that they may simply be dreams.  But, the wide-spread acceptance of these Stories tells us that many people prefer dreams to uncertainty.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Robert Frost and Sarangapani: Cynical, realistic, or pragmatic?

As readers of poetry know, there are various types: romance, epic, nature, philosophical . . . There is also another that might be seen, depending on the eye of the beholder, as cynical, practical, realistic, or pragmatic.  As is true of all poetic themes, this is also found across various cultures and eras. Here are two examples I thought you might be interested in

Provide, Provide

The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag,
Was once the beauty Abishag.

The picture pride of Hollywood.
Too many fall from great and good
For you to doubt the likelihood.

Die early and avoid the fate.
Or if predestined to die late,
Make up your mind to die in state. 

Make the whole stock exchange your own!
If need be occupy a throne,
Where nobody can call you crone.

Some have relied on what they knew;
Others on being simply true.
What worked for them might work for you.

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all.  Provide, provide!

-- Robert Frost --

The Madam to the Young Courtesan

Grab whatever cash he has,
that Venugopala,
and think nothing of the rest.

As they say about lentils,
don't worry
abut the chaff.

Des it matter
to which woman he goes,
or how late he stays there?

Just pass the days
saying yes and no,
til the month is over

                 and grab the cash

What is it to you
if he runs into debt
or if he has an income?

Quietly, tactfully,
lie in wait
like a ca on a wall

               and grab the cash

What if he makes love
to her
and only then to you?

What's there
to be jealous abut?
When youth passes,
nothing will go your way,..

                so grab the cash

-- Sarangapani --
18th century India
from World Poetry
trans by A. K.  Ramanujan,  Velcheru Narayana Ran, and David Shulman

 How would you classify these poems?  Cynical?  Practical?  Realistic? Pragmatic?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

John Muir on the unseen

I just encountered this quotation this morning and thought that it somehow fits in with my previous post with the poem about the Unseeable Animal.  The following is from a journal entry by John Muir (author, naturalist, poet, hiker, and father of our national parks system, and if anyone can make the claim, he can)   He is also founder of the Sierra Club.

If the Creator were to bestow a new set of senses upon us, or slightly remodel the present ones, leaving all the rest of nature unchanged, we should never doubt we were in another world,  and so in strict reality we should be,  just if all the world besides our senses were changed. 

--John Muir --
from John Muir: In His Own Words

That's an interesting comment, coming from over a century and a half ago.  Science since then has discovered that many animals detect visual, auditory, tactile, and chemical signals that we are insensitive to.  For example, some migratory birds may use the earth's magnetic field to guide them to their destinations.  Bats, dogs, cats, whales, and dolphins are sensitive to sounds we cannot hear. 

I wonder what the world would look like if we could experience those cues that are undetectable by us now.  Perhaps that "unseeable animal" is real.  While I don't consider myself to be a full-fledged romantic, for some reason, though, I prefer Wendell Berry's "unseeable animal."

The other work by John Muir that I'm reading is A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (Annotated).  This small book is based on his hike from Indianapolis, Indiana, beginning on September 1, 1867, just a few years after the end of the Civil War, to Savannah, Georgia, which he reached on  October 8, 1867.  I may post on this one in the future.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Wendell Berry: "To the Unseeable Animal"

Here's a poem celebrating an unusual animal.  I don't think I've ever read about one like this before.  

To the Unseeable Animal

My daughter: "I hope there's an animal
somewhere that nobody has ever seen.
And I hope nobody ever sees it."

Being, whose flesh dissolves
at our glance, knower
of the secret sums and measures,
you are always here,
dwelling in the oldest sycamores,
visiting the faithful springs
when they are dark and the foxes
have crept to their edges.
I have come upon pools
in streams, places overgrown
with the woods' shadow,
where I knew you had rested,
watching the little fish
hang still in the flow;
as I approached they seemed

particles of your clear mind
disappearing among the rocks.
I have waked deep in the woods
in the early morning, sure
that while I slept
your gaze passed over me.
That we do not know you
is your perfection
and our hope.  The darkness
keeps us near you.

-- Wendell Berry --
from Art and Nature, an Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry

A plea that there should always be mystery, the unknown, the unfathomable?

Does this help to make life bearable?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Gene Wolfe: A Borrowed Man, one of Wolfe's quirkiest novels

Gene Wolfe
A Borrowed Man

Gene Wolfe, who regularly turns out quirky novels (who else would write a quartet featuring a trained and licensed torturer and executioner as the hero), has turned out another one:  A Borrowed Man.

The narrator is E. A. Smithe, well,  sort of E. A. Smithe anyway.  He's a reclone of the deceased writer of the same name.   He has been created and then filled with all the information found about E. A. Smithe.  He is then sent to a library where he spends his days, on a shelf, of sorts, waiting for a patron who is doing research to appear and ask him questions about E. A. Smithe or his writings.  (This gives new meaning to the job title of resource person.)    If he is lucky, a patron may even borrow him from the library (even though it's quite expensive) for a short period of time.  While the reclone is not considered a person, the patron who damages one has to pay a hefty fine, just like that for a book or other item borrowed from the library..

Being consulted and being borrowed from the library is very important because the life span of a reclone depends upon usage.   Since space, as always at a library, is limited, those reclones who are not consulted or borrowed are eventually burned.  And, he isn't the only E. A. Smithe reclone, for there are others in other libraries.  

Our Smithe reclone, one day, is borrowed by a patron, Collette Coldbrook, for ten days.  He is a bit disappointed because the fee is only 4700 for the period.  He had hoped it would be higher, a sign of his value to the library.   Eventually he finds out the reason for being "borrowed."   To be brief, the real E. A. Smithe had written a book, according to Collette, in which a clue to a fortune may be hidden.

Collette Coldbrook is the daughter of a recently deceased financier who had built up a considerable fortune, the source of which is unknown.  Collette had been told by her brother, Conrad, that a book written by Smithe holds a clue to the source of her father's fortune.  A short time later, her brother was murdered by person or persons unknown.  Collette reveals this to the reclone only after having gone to an out-of-the-way-place to avoid any possible listening devices.

This is a slow-paced thriller with the reclone and Collette hoping to find the hidden clue in the book before the unknown others get there first.  She has no idea as to the identity of these others--it could be a band of criminals or even one of several government agencies, also curious about the source of her father's fortune.
The novel takes place in the future, maybe a century or more. The US government has obviously been replaced by another government.  Moreover, the world's population is now around one billion.  Wolfe does not explain just what led up to these changes or to the dramatic reduction in population.

And, as this is a novel by Gene Wolfe, the reader should prepared for several surprises along the way.  All is not as it appears to be.

Looking for something a bit strange?  Try this one. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Cordwainer Smith: "No, No, Not Rogov!"

Cordwainer Smith
"No, No, Not Rogov!"
from The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith
16 pages

The following quotation constitutes the first three paragraphs of the story.

That golden shape on the golden steps shook and fluttered like a bird gone mad--like a bird imbued with an intellect and a soul, and, nevertheless, driven mad by ecstasies and terrors beyond human understanding--ecstasies drawn momentarily down unto reality by the consummation of superlative art.  A thousand worlds watched.

Had the ancient calendar continued this would have been A.D. 13,582.  After defeat, after disappointment, after ruin and reconstruction, mankind had leapt among the stars.

Out of meeting inhuman art, out of confronting non-human dances, mankind had made a superb esthetic effort and had leapt upon the stage of all the worlds.

.  .  .

The golden shape on the golden steps executed shimmering intricacies of meaning.  The body was gold and still human.  The body was a woman, but more than a woman.  On the golden steps, in the golden light, she trembled and fluttered like bird gone mad. 

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever," Keats once said.  This, of course, frequently leads to those who enjoy quibbling, and the quibbled topic usually is "beauty."  Is there some beauty that is recognized by all or is beauty always "in the eye of the beholder"?  Part of the debate may involve the issue of the beautiful that appears before its time. Many literary works, musical compositions, paintings, and sculptures are initially rejected or even castigated as ugly and then "rediscovered" a decade or more to be very beautiful.  Aside from these issues, I wonder if  it is "a joy forever," or even if it is a joy?  Could beauty be something else?   Is there a beauty that might be so profound that it becomes destructive to the unprepared?  Cordwainer Smith explores this idea in this short story. 

In spite of the introductory quotation, most of the story is told on a less exalted level.  It is set in the Soviet Union, begins during WWII, and continues on through several decades and commissars.  It takes place in a research laboratory, and the cast of characters includes Rogov, (the head of the research team),  Cherpas (initially Rogov's greatest rival and later his wife), and two observers installed by Stalin.  One is  Gausgofer (a scientist and a policewoman, whose real job is to watch the scientists), who falls in love with Rogov, and, therefore, hates Cherpas.  The other is Gauck (whose real job was to watch everybody, including Gausgofer), about whom nothing is said and who just watches and says little.  "Gauck had no friends, no enemies, no beliefs, no enthusiasm.  Even Gausgofer was afraid of him."

Their goal was to develop a device that, as a receiver, could read and record the thoughts of people at a distance.  In addition, once turned into a transmitter, it should be able to influence the thinking of people at a great distance.

Eventually they focused on the receiver function, but test results shifted the goal from reading thoughts at a distance to being able to see what targeted individuals were seeing.  Being able to see, for example, what the US president was seeing would give the USSR a decided advantage in that it could now read the briefing papers given to the president.  The USSR would know what the US president knew.

They succeed, but not in the way they expected.

Is there a beauty that is so overwhelming that, for those who haven't been prepared, it becomes destructive?

The final paragraphs:

On the golden steps in the golden, light, as golden shape danced a dream beyond the limits of all imagination, danced and drew the music to herself until a sigh of yearning, yearning which became a hope and a torment, went through the hearts of living things on a thousand worlds.

Edges of the golden scene faded raggedly  and unevenly into black.  The gold dimmed down to a pale gold-silver sheen and then to silver, last of all to white.  The dancer who had been golden was now a forlorn white-pink figure standing, quiet and fatigued, on the immense white steps.  The  applause of a thousand worlds roared in upon her.

She looked blindly at them.  The dance had overwhelmed her., too.  Their applause could mean nothing.  The dance was an end in itself.  She would have to live, somehow, until she danced again.  

As in many of Cordwainer Smith's stories, the focus is on the effects of technology and scientific advances on people rather than on the technology or science.  People are most important in his stories.

Cordwainer Smith is one of those sadly neglected SF short story writers from the late 1950s through the 1970s.  While many of his short works take place in a common universe, and several novels have been constructed by linking his short stories, he never got to the point of writing a series of novels that are so popular today, or perhaps required today.

I hope that maybe some visitors here will take a look at his stories.  It will be rewarding.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Second Edition, Quatrain LXVII

This is another of the quatrains Edward FitzGerald added to the Second Edition.


Strange, is it not?  that of the myriads who
Before us pass'd the door of Darkness through,
    Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.

Strange, is it not?  that of the myriads who
Before us pass'd the door of Darkness through,
    Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.

The two quatrains of the Second and the Fifth Editions are identical.  I can find no changes, even minor punctuation changes.  I guess FitzGerald thought he got it right the first time.

The point is clear, nobody has come back after death to tell us what actually happens.  I often hear others today discuss smugly how we moderns are so much wiser and more sophisticated than people living centuries earlier, that they believed all sorts of superstitions and had so many silly ideas about the universe. 

Perhaps somebody should point out that Khayyam seems far more skeptical than our contemporaries who believe in channelers and mediums who claim to be in contact with the dead and can bring their words to us, one or more of whom even had a TV series in which they "contacted" the spirits of those gone on before.  I think he would be equally skeptical of those who claim to hear the voices of the dead on tape recorders set on RECORD and left running in a empty room.

We may have eliminated or almost eliminated several diseases, but we haven't even begun to deal with gullibility.  And, I won't say a word about presidential aspirants and their followers. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hermann Hesse: Page from a Journal

Page from a Journal

On the slope behind the house today
I cut a hole through roots and rocks and
Dug a hole, deep and wide,
Carted away from it each stone
And all the friable, thin earth.
Then I knelt there a moment, walked
In the old woods, bent down again, using
A trowel and both my hands to scoop
Black, decaying woods-soil with the warm
Smell of fungi from the trunk of a rotting
Chestnut tree--two heavy buckets full I carried
Back to the hole and planted the tree inside;
Carefully I covered the roots with peaty soil,
Slowly poured sun-warmed water over them,
Mudding them gently until the soil settled.
It stands there, young and small,
Will go on standing when we are gone
And the huge uproar, endless urgency and
Fearful delirium of our days forgotten.

The fohn will bend it, rainstorms tear at it,
The sun will laugh, wet snow weigh it down,
The siskin and the nuthatch make it their home,
And the silent hedgehog burrow at its foot.
All it has ever experienced, tasted, suffered:
The course of years, generations of animals,
Oppression, recovery, friendship of sun and wind
Will pour forth each day in the song
Of its rustling foliage, in the friendly
Gesture of its gently swaying crown,
In the delicate sweet scent of resinous
Sap moistening the sleep-glued buds,
And in the eternal game of lights and
Shadows it plays with itself, content.

-- Hermann Hesse --
from Art and Nature:  An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry

There are times when I read a poem and then move on.

Sometimes I will read a poem, move on, and then come back.  It was a delayed reaction, but it interested me for some reason. 

And, once in awhile, I will read a poem and not move on.  This happened with Hesse's poem. Why?  I have no idea.

Perhaps one of you might tell me why.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Laotse and Eric Hoffer: the odd couple

I first encountered this theme in Laotse's Tao Te Ching and, to be honest,  I didn't understand the significance or the reality at that time.  A day ago, while browsing through Eric Hoffer's Reflections on the Human Condition, I ran across the same theme which was expressed in the identical words that Laotse used. 

Frankly, I still don't accept this as possible.  Perhaps it's because I live in a different time than either Laotse or Eric Hoffer.  Here are the two statements in question.

17.  Rulers

Of the best rulers
     The people (only) know that they exist;
The next best they praise;
The next they fear;
And the next they revile.

      When they do not command the people's faith,
      Some will lose faith in them,
      And then they resort to oaths!
But (of the best) when their task is accomplished,
       their work done,
The people all remark, "We have done it ourselves."
-- Laotse --
The Wisdom of Laotse
Edited by Lin Yutang

No. 87

The genuine creator creates something that has a life of its own, something that can exist and function without him   This is true not only of the writer, artist, and scientist but of creators in other fields.  The creative teacher is he who, in the words of Comenius, "teaches less and his students learn more."  A creative organizer creates an organization that can function well without him.  When a genuine leader has done his work, his followers will say, "We have done it ourselves,"  and feel that they can do great things without great leaders.  With the noncreative it is the other way around: in whatever they do they arrange things so that they themselves become indispensable.  

--  Eric Hoffer --
from Reflections on the Human Condition. 

In both statements this theme is expressed  in identical wording: "We have done it ourselves."  Is this possible?  If their accomplishments are not attributed to them, then how do we know they are great leaders or very creative workers? 

Would this work in a democracy where one must win the approval of the voters?  Would a "do nothing" legislator or governor or president ever get reelected if the people didn't recognize the value of that person's actions while in office?