Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Equally as baroque and bonkers as Versaille itself, this is a strange marriage with Murakami's manga inspired sculpture, but in most cases it does undoubtedly work. The right wing French must abhor this exhibition.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Here I am
on affected red satin pillows
I feel like cheap lingerie
and hence creased
as if stuffed
into a back trouser pocket.
Here I am
folded around my imperfections
like paper loves stone
tucked in, I cough and sneeze
fart and fidget
my foot kicking out
from under the duvet
in a bid for freedom
never quite achieved.
This documentary Born Into This, tells Charles Bukowski's lifestory mostly via the filmed record of the great man speaking. Of all modern poets and novelists, Bukowski exploited the subject matter of his own life to the full. All his flaws and virtues are on show, and we are not spared his occasional unpalatable excess, his compulsive drink fueled behaviour. The violent, self-destructiveness and womanising, that was often misinterpreted as unrepentant misogyny, when it really was an expression of his sensitivity and sentimentality, to a feeling of being unloved or rejected. He didn't have to live up to his wild drinking and debauched image because that was how he often was. The discomfort of the almost daily childhood beatings from his Father,and his Mother's complicity in it, appears to have turned him into the archetypal non-conformist for the late sixties. Many of his fans live off this stance voyeuristically. He,however, lived an extraordinarily plain and ordinary working mans life, whilst continuing to write. He spent years working as a carrier for the Post Office, until his growing fame suddenly made it possible in mid-life to make a living from his prolific output.
There is a quality to his writing, sometimes swaggering, sometimes so frank about his own moral turpitude it is shocking, yet there is a huge warm human heart beating in broken voiced sympathy underneath it. He describes the effect of living on the low life edges of West Hollywood, its humiliations and the corrosiveness of this suffering on the human spirit. This is where Bukowski's writing frequently transcends the specifics of his own experience, and gives voice to something with more universal resonance. His poetry is never wilfully obscure or filled with literary references, a style best exemplified by Elliot, a fellow American, but someone who could not be further away from Buckowski. Elliot was part of the literary establishment, that was the cultural authority for the middle class intelligentsia. In Bukowski we hear the genuine voice of the American working underclass, simple, direct and unaffected.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
It's a brave person who attempts a cover version of any classic song, but The Smith's Project, AKA Janice Whaley, is attempting to cover every single Smith's song ever recorded, by the end of this year. This version of Reel Around The Fountain makes something beautifully Gothic,choral and transcendent out of Morrisey's maudlin melancholia.
Saturday, October 09, 2010
A contemporary psychological mantra for when we are alienated from ourselves and loose our emotional bearings is to 'trust in your feelings, your feelings do not lie.' Without any other source of guidance or ethical compass, from cultural, political or religious credos, we are left floundering, wondering what's best to do. Sometimes we are left to make judgements based on feelings isolated from all social constraints, or clear understanding of what the issues really are. Perpetrators of all sort of major and minor human tragedies, no doubt felt justified by their feelings in the heat of the moment.
In a recent article in the weekend Guardian Magazine a woman recalled how it was she became convinced she'd been sexually abused by her father, doing so on nothing more than her feelings, and the then contemporary enthusiasm amongst feminism for 'recovered memory syndrome' that coloured, if not distorted her perceptions. This caused her to cease all contact with her 'abusive' father. Her own persistent doubts about the validity of her accusations eventually led her to a regretful restoration of contact many years later.
Feelings aren't all bad, they also can inspire, uplift and transform us, but they are fickle masters, they can also cause us to loose perspective and the rational coolness to help us make considered or fair judgements. Feelings, however, are very compelling, they have an ardor and conviction to them. They cause us to love and hate, in unbalanced and frequently unfair measure. Both lovers and murderers do rash, ill considered things. Feelings can propel us towards actions without pause to consider the consequences or potential for future regret. Feelings alone are unreliable mentors for what is the right thing to do, let alone what maybe the ethical, skillful or wholesome thing to do.
I've been concerned over recent months with the strength and frequent irrationality of my own feelings. Their intensity can be an extremely compelling, and an often misleading prompt to action. They have a self-righteous urgency to them, appealing for a response, for an action to be taken to resolve or dissipate the feeling. I've often taken the strength of my feelings as an infallible measure of there importance. In reality, I am just feeling quite strongly about this or that issue, and though this may indeed be an understandable response, it may not be a right nor true one. Most peoples psychology is a messy mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, no matter how 'sorted' their surface appearance maybe. So it might be unwise to put full trust in our feelings, as the rectitude of our motivations is so frequently soiled. Magnitude of feeling alone is never a good enough measure for what has value, meaning or place in the wider scheme of things.
I may, if I'm lucky have got my feeling responses in
proportion, but mostly I'll be struggling to keep it in anything like a reasonable perspective. I'm liable in such unguarded moments to make bad judgements on the back of this feeling alone, and not be easily dissuaded otherwise. I can remember those instances when I've felt like throwing in the towel over something, and took the first available opportunity to do so. I'm not prone much to regret, what's done is done, but nevertheless I have made decisions in the past that I might not do quite so speedily now. Rank dissatisfaction has led me around by my nose, by the strength of its stench alone. If we perceive our feelings as some sort of divine omniscient messengers from our unconscious, they will undoubtedly mislead us. For is this bright descending angel I'm seeing a golden or a fallen one ? Is this urgent feeling a talisman, an oracle, or a self-deceiving trick?
Sunday, October 03, 2010
Though it's been ten days since my return from The Mythic Context retreat at Padmaloka, I'm still carrying around its consequences. Both this, and the previous 'insight' retreat, have stirred up a lot that I'm still accustoming myself too. The Mythic Context, was high octane with devotional practices, prostrations twice a day, a series of very punchy Pujas and prompting pep talks from Padmavajra. I found myself so hyped up by it all, I got used to minimal amounts of sleep, 2 -4 hours on average. On a retreat that's OK, but if that happened off retreat I'd be dead in the water within days.
There were Ordinations during it, so we did Confession Pujas on the nights prior to the Private and the Public Ordinations. I felt my ethical failings acutely,and my confessional list steadily grew longer. My precept transgressions were largely various manifestations of ill-will - petty irritations, dismissive thoughts, long cultivated resentments, grudges, dislikes and smoldering disrespect - highly coloured by egoistic self-righteousness and the over-sensitive patterning of my psyche. I'd also been reading Stephen Batchelor's translation of Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara, which clearly and concisely points an accusing finger at our essential self-centredness, which just further stirred my ethical pot.
Some Bodhicaryavatara translations tend to over egg the grotesque and lurid elements of Shantideva's frank oratorical style, dressing it up as some sort of medieval zombie melodrama. Batchelor manages to retain more of his essential humanity and hence Shantideva seems a more personal approachable character. Finding myself less provoked and distracted by horrific imagery, it allowed the pinpoint accuracy of Shantideva's ethical compass to strike deeper. One section becoming a new guiding beacon - his urgent imperative to guard and value ones virtue above all else
'When the fire of hatred spreads to whatever my mind is attached to, I should immediately get rid of it for fear of my merit being burned ' - ' Just as men will guard their eyes when great danger and turmoil occur, likewise, I shall never be swayed by the disturbances within my mind,'
If all else fails, then one should become 'a block of wood' to whatever is disturbing ones peace, empathy or equanimity. I saw that I subtly let myself off the hook, overlooking those seemingly minor slights or failings that are nonetheless invidious and damaging. I'm much less inclined to tolerate them since I got back, but as ever its dependent on remaining alert, aware and vigilant.
Another idea, that appears also to have caught my imagination, arose from re-reading Uchiyama Roshi's commentary on Dogen's - Instructions to the Zen Cook. I've always been impressed by the down to earth common sense nature of Uchiyama's commentary. This time it was his closing comments in his chapter on Direction & Goal.
' Much too often we go about our lives holding on to some future goal without thinking about our present direction, or about the direction of our lives as a whole. When we stop projecting goals and hopes in the future, and refuse to be led around by them, yet work to clarify our lives, that is, the direction of the present, then we will discover an alive and dynamic practice.'
As someone who can be 'led around by, and suffer as a result of, the fantasies about who or what I might become in some imagined future, I know what he's pointing to here is a lesson I need to learn. I often experience strong internal turmoil, when the needs and desires of the present become opposed to the desires and needs of future goals. The conflicting pulls manifest in indecision, not knowing what to do with my energy and time eventually wearing me out, the only release being to switch off and in some way vegetate. To allow myself to be motivated and take direction from the needs of the immediate present situation, seems one way out of these existential gridlocks. During the week I've been reflecting on what taking your direction from the present situation actually means. What would it look or feel like, this alive dynamic practice?
During the retreat on the 22nd September it was the anniversary of Dogen's death. I marked this by performing a Shobogenzo Puja, with five other folk from the retreat. At the end I was quite profoundly moved, as if I'd shared something with others that was of immense value, not just to me, but to all humanity. My enduring enthusiasm for Dogen is connected with my name - Vidya - which is an aesthetic sense, or knowledge, of the true nature of reality. The originality of Dogen's writing aside, it is this aesthetic sense of the true nature of reality that he communicates through all his writing. This is what I most revere and value about Dogen. One verse from this Shobogenzo Puja that I adapted and compiled, connects with, and communicates the spirit at least behind, taking your direction from the present situation - to do so without exerting force and with ones whole being.
Do not consider this with your mind, nor put it into words,let go your own body and your own mindthen without exerting force, or expending further thought,throw your whole being into the house of the Buddha
Saturday, October 02, 2010
HOW THINGS ARE
If you flip a leaf
like a glossy green penny
it has both a dark
and a light side
The dark is dark
because its been exposed only to the light
the light is light
because its been exposed only to the dark
In their true nature
pinned to branches
as burnished tin medals
they glitter on a tree
in the gentle strobe
of a modest breeze
Until they're shed
as ticker tape
to welcome you back
from the moon.