Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Dinner With Andre, a film

My Dinner with Andre

Last year I watched a remarkable film, The Man from Earth, an SF film without BEMs, spaceships, ray guns, space battles, etc.  The film consisted solely of a man who had just told a group of his friends that he was something like 12,000 years old and their reaction to this announcement.  There were three possibilities: he has lost his mind, he was lying, he was telling the truth.  The conversation that followed centered on the first two possibilities for they immediately ruled out the third.  The fascination of the film, for me anyway, depended on the skill of the actors and the dialogue, something which I seldom see nowadays in which films are mostly dependent upon special effects and rapid action so that one doesn't realize how weak the story really is.

I mentioned this film to some friends and relatives, and one of them suggested that I watch My Dinner With Andre, for it was similar in one respect.  The film depicted two friend who hadn't seen each other in several years and their conversation over dinner.  Again, this film depended upon the skill of the actors and the dialogue. 

Wally is the POV character (he's played by Wallace Shawn), and he reluctantly agrees to meet Andre (he's played by Andre Gregory) for dinner, after having lost touch with each other for a number of years.  He had heard some strange stories about Andre.  The characters in the film have the same names as the actors who play them, which leads me to wonder if there is some truth to the film.  According to the notes, they are real life friends and wrote the dialogue and were "More or less playing themselves. . ."

The conversation ranges from the New York theater to strange and bizarre trips to India, the Sahara, and Poland that Andre made.   However, there is a theme running through this, which might be best exemplified by the concept of mindfulness.  I first encountered this in some contemporary Buddhist writings, which focuses on being aware and awake to one's present.  According to this concept, too many people are trapped either by the past or by the future and therefore go through life without being aware of the present, which is the only reality we can know..  They are either overcome by grief or anger or remorse over past events or spend their time planning for and worrying about the future. In both situations people are like robots, preprogrammed by the past or the future and not awake to the present and therefore oblivious to reality: it is though they are in a trance.

Andre's experiences all seem to be directed towards getting him and the other participants to focus on themselves as individuals, to break free of their programming in some way.  Most of the events in the workshops or on his trips  appear to be unplanned or unscripted and depend on the spontaneity of those taking part.  However, we are never shown these events, for we learn about them solely through Andre's description of them. We can experience Andre's past only through his conversation.

Wally, however, is resistant to Andre's theme and sees no reason to change, for he's happy the way he is.  In fact, the thought of just "being" and not doing anything frightens him.  For if he is doing nothing, then he must be aware of himself and this he says he cannot do.     


Wally is however, is not completely immune to Andre's message.  The film opens and closes on Wally.  In the beginning we see Wally running errands and mentally complaining about his bills and lack of income and inability to get his plays produced or even not being able to get any jobs as an actor.  He is almost run down as he crosses the street.  He clearly is not paying attention to his surroundings but is concerned with the errands he must run and his financial status.

There is a subtle difference though at the ending of the film.  We again follow Wally as he leaves the restaurant and this time he decides to take a taxi.  While in the taxi he looks out the window and realizes that many of the buildings that he goes by have some meaning for him, a longtime New York resident.  He now is far more aware of his present surroundings than he was prior to his dinner with Andre.

This film is on my short list of films I will see again.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: 2nd Edition, Quatrain XX

Second Edition:  Quatrain XX

The Palace that to Heav'n his pillars threw,
And Kings the forehead on his threshold drew--
   I saw the solitary Ringdove there,
And "Coo, coo, coo,"  she cried; "Coo, coo, coo."

This is another quatrain that first appeared in the Second Edition and was then dropped from subsequent editions.  Perhaps FitzGerald felt this was repetitive as the previous quatrain also referred to ancient cities that are now abandoned and occupied only by other creatures.

The first line made me think of the Tower of Babel which also stretched toward heaven, but was abandoned.  The third and fourth lines according to the Note refers to another literary work, The Conference of the Birds, by Abu Hamid bin Abu Bakr Ibrhim (1145-c1221) , a Persian who was better known by his pen-names Farīd ud-Dīn and ʿAṭṭār "the perfumer."  Attar was an influential Sufi mystic and poet, and FitzGerald had published an abridged translation of this work.

In Attar's Conference of Birds, the ringdove "is reproved by the Leader of the Birds for sitting still, and for ever harping on the one note of lamentation for her lost Yusuf."   In addition, "The Ringdove's  ancient Pehlevi Coo, Coo, Coo, signifies also in Persian 'Where? Where?  Where?(Wikipedia entry on Attar the poet)

The cry of the Ringdove in the abandoned city has a double meaning therefore.  It is a lament for a loved one who has been lost and also asks at the same time, "Where has he (the glory of the city also) gone,"  an echo of the French poet Francois Villon's lament, 'Where are the snows of yesteryear?' from "The Ballade of Ladies of Times Past."

Quatrain XX really doesn't add anything new to the Rubaiyat, for its theme of the transitory nature of human endeavors had been brought up earlier and will be referred to again in later quatrains.  I doubt that it was missed in later editions.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

John Banister Tabb: "Evolution"--a short poem


Out of the dark, a shadow,
  Then, a spark;
Out of the cloud a silence,
  Then, a lark;
Out of the heart a rapture,
  Then, a pain;
Out of the dead, cold ashes,
  Life again. 

-- John Banister Tabb --
 (March 22, 1845--November 19, 1909)

A Poem A Day: editors:  Karen McCosker and Nicholas Albery

"Tabb was a convert to Roman Catholicism, and ordained in 1884 two years after his first book of poetry was brought out through private publication.  Born in Virginia and a blockade runner for the Confederacy, Tabb called himself an 'unreconstructed Rebel,' though he taught English at St. Charles College in Maryland until he was made to retire in1907, probably due to the loss of his eyesight."

I can see this as being the story of a person emerging from some deep personal sorrow, perhaps the loss of a loved one--especially the last two lines: Out of the dead, cold ashes,/ Life again.  He has now reached the point where he can, once again, feel pain, for the numbness of grief is gone.  This one grows on me.  I think I shall do a bit of digging about John Banister Tabb.

Let there be light,
Let there be sound,
Let there be feelings,
Let there be life.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Carl Sagan: A Pale Blue Dot


“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”
                     -- Carl Sagan --
Born: November 9, 1934, Brooklyn, New York
Died: December 20, 1996, Seattle, Washington

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Loren Eiseley: "Fly Falcon"

Fly Falcon

All of the falcon kind, the hard travelling
                                 talon-clawed ones
that for so many years I have seen
go over Hawk Mountain on thousand-mile journeys--
at heart I go with them, but I also travel
with the fluttering Monarch butterflies,   
toss on gales lost at sea, or cross the Gulf
                                      with humming birds.
You think this impossible? not with the mind's eye
                                                        my friend
                                           the ever widening eye
of the living world, the eye that someday
will see all as one, the eye of the hurricane,
                                                         the eye
at the heart of the galaxy with the spinning
                                        arms of the suns about it.
Fly falcon, fly Monarch, fly gull
                               and you in the invisible night-tiger's eye
going somewhere in reed grass.  I am there
padding softly with you, fly albatross
that sleeps on the Cape Horn  windsWe are all
the terrible eye that sees the galaxy,
                                  we make it real.
Without us multiplied, what really exists?
Fly falcon, stare tiger in the night grass,
stare that the universe may find itself living
beyond the immortal fires.

-- Loren Eiseley --
from Another Kind of Autumn

I think this is the core or heart of the poem--the eye of the imagination or the mind's eye.

You think this impossible? not with the mind's eye
                                                        my friend
                                           the ever widening eye
of the living world, the eye that someday
will see all as one, the eye of the hurricane,
                                                         the eye
at the heart of the galaxy with the spinning
                                        arms of the suns about it.

But it suggests also something more--"   the ever widening eye/of the living world, the eye that someday/will see all as one." I think this goes beyond a reference to the imagination.  In the Upanishads, correct me if I'm wrong, Brahman is the unchanging reality both in the midst of and beyond reality.  Brahman is all, it looks out of the tiger's eye and out of the eye of that tiger's prey.

And how can one understand the very last part of the poem?

We are all
the terrible eye that sees the galaxy,
                                  we make it real.
 Without us multiplied, what really exists?
Fly falcon, stare tiger in the night grass,
stare that the universe may find itself living
beyond the immortal fires.

The "us"?  All living beings perhaps?   Again, there is that eye that sees the galaxy--that makes it real.  And somehow this eye must
stare that the universe may find itself living
beyond the immortal fires.

Living beyond the immortal fires?

It's a poem to puzzle over.  Eiseley hints in his prose works a belief in something more than the material world, but he only hints at it, points at things that seem strange once one looks closely at them.  I don't read Eiseley for answers, but for questions and perhaps a rattling of my cage when I begin to think I really know what's going on.

I suspect that after reading this poem,  I will see Dusky, my cat whom I have shared my quarters with for almost seventeen years now, and wonder how much I really know about her.   What does she see that I don't?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Quatrain XIV, Second Edition

This quatrain provides warning about planning for the future when we really don't know what might happen from one minute to the next.

Second Edition:  Quatrain XIV

Were it not Folly, Spider-like to spin
The Thread of  present Life away to win--
    What? for ourselves, who know not if we shall
Breathe out the very Breath we now breathe in!

Apparently,  FitzGerald was dissatisfied with this quatrain for it appears only in the Second Edition and was dropped from all succeeding editions.

FitzGerald employs an interesting analogy here, that of the spider.  The spider spins the strands of its web from its own body, and FitzGerald suggests that our efforts to gain glory or wealth or even life in paradise consume our life in the same way.  He then asks why we should spend our lives doing this for some future gain when we don't know whether we will live long enough to expel the breath we just took in.

Enjoy the Now seems to be his point here, as it is in so many of the other quatrains.