Annotation: The Demon and The Angel

[As a form of protest over books written in this style, this informal annotation will be remarkably lacking in flowery rhetoric. While I appreciate a robust vocabulary and smart imagery as much as the next person, some books simply and absolutely rub me the wrong way. The purpose of communication is to communicate, which I think some authors of an “academic” bent fail to acknowledge, resulting in page upon page of “words for the sake of words.” — Nabil]

Edward Hirsch is, first and foremost, a poet. He has published several books of poetry, and teaches poetry at the college level at the University of Houston. He also wrote the bestseller, “How to Read a Poem.” It shouldn’t be too surprising, then, that his book on “Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration” (the subtitle of the book) should focus so heavily on poets and the terminology for creativity established by poets. He latched onto Frederico Garcia Lorca early in the book (the first few pages, in fact), and never really let go for the rest of the book.

I have nothing against Lorca, mind you, nor his usage of the term “Duende.” I think it’s a remarkably well suited term, in fact. It is far less tied to an aspect of “good” and “evil” than “demon” or “angel” is, and has less stereotype baggage than the concept of the Muse. I think the concept of doing battle with a creative source is far more accurate than that of pampering and cuckolding a timid creative potential (from my own experiences, anyway). Additionally, I rather enjoy what little poetry I’ve read by Lorca, and feel it was a crying shame that he was killed so early in his career. I DO have a problem with purchasing a book in good faith based on the book description on the dust jacket and reading through the table of contents, only to discover that the book is not in fact very relevant to its purported topic. I was commenting on this to my brother, and his response seems particularly fitting: “It sounds like he sat down to write what he said he would write, then wrote what he actually wanted to write.” The sums up the book pretty well. It feels like he made a pitch to his publisher, and then discovered that he wanted to write about something else, leaving this book as the compromise between the two.

It IS a compromise, though, not entirely a “bait and switch.” While it feels sometimes forced, he does address the concept of creativity and uses several artists and poets as anecdotal case studies into how different artists treated the concept of creativity. While he tended to fall back on duende as his catchall concept, he also addressed Biblical angels, the origins of the demon concept and how they are in fact closer to the concept of duende, daimon (greek), and daemon (latin).

Hirsch also spent quite some time discussing Rilkean Angels and the Duino Elegies. I found his quote from The Seventh Elegy particularly interesting:

For each of you had an hour, or perhaps
not even an hour, a barely measurable time
between two moments –, when you were granted a sense
of being. Everything. Your veins flowed with being.
(“The Seventh Elegy,” 42-45)

I can’t put a finger on why this passage in particular caught my eye compared to some of the other quotes the author uses in his book, but I do think that perhaps it has something to do with my own preoccupation with a healthy sense of wonder and free suspension of disbelief. Regardless of the reason for it striking me as it did, it certainly helped redeem a book that I distinctly felt like I’d been wading through up to that point, and made the second half of the book flow far more quickly.

Or perhaps the reason the second half of the book went faster was because it covered a wider variety of subjects. The first half of the book tended to focus on poets, which had bothered me while reading it, because I felt like I was getting a very narrow view of what felt like a much broader topic. The second half the book expanded into including music and painting, in particular paying attention to the “black periods” of several artists (Motherwell, Goya, and Pollock, notably), which in his opinion exhibited a strong sense of duende. I started to get a distinct sense that in general, Hirsch tied a sense of mortality and death to the sense of duende. While I agree with him on some pieces, and conceptually I can see where he is coming from, I think he neglected to address the pieces that still establish a sense of duende while keeping things a bit lighter: emotive without being morbid. By this point in the book, though, I’d come to accept that this book was primarily just the opinions of the author, and as such was entitled (to a certain extent) to focus on what he wanted.

This book managed to make something quite clear for me, though I hate to say it: I am lazy. I am looking for an easy exploration of creativity and how to revitalize and nurture it. I am looking for someone to come along and tell me, “Oh, that’s simple, it’s…” in such a way that I immediately and completely grok it. Instead, I find myself (perhaps partially justifiably) unsatisfied with other authors’ exploration of the topic, and disappointed with the current level of dialogue about it. It feels to some extent that the majority of the artistic community has taken to heart the concept of not looking too closely at the source of creative inspiration (lest they lose it), and as such refuses to REALLY look at it and discuss it with others. What books and dialogue there is seems invariably vague and unsatisfying. At least, it is unsatisfying to me.

Hirsch, Edward. The Demon and The Angel. Harcourt Press.

Music Again

I’m currently listening to Ben Harper (excellent stuff), but that’s not what I want to mention with this very quick post while I take a break from my annotations. On the way back from dinner with my wife (I drove out and met her at work between shows), I was listening to KEXP, as I almost always do when driving around in my car. The DJ was being pretty punchy and semi-bitter because he was stuck working while the rest of the staff was off at the staff holiday party… pretty funny stuff.

Anyway, the show was highlighting local bands (Pacific Northwest, not just Seattle), and he played a song called “I Was Meant for the Stage” by The Decemberists, which I found that I really liked. Hopefully one of the resumes I’ve sent out over the past two days will work out, so I can afford to go pick up their album (among others).

Annotation: The Kitab-i-Aqdas

The Kitab-i-Aqdas is the most holy book in the Baha’i Faith, declaring the rules and guidelines for man to live by for the next thousand years. It was originally written in formal Persian by Baha’u’llah, and was later mostly translated into English by Shoghi Effendi, his great grandson. After Shoghi Effendi’s death, the Universal House of Justice (the guiding body for the religion) finished the translation. Unlike (for instance) the Bible, the rules to live by are not related through stories or analogy: they are straightforward, direct and to the point. I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing: while it is far more precise (a good thing when the rules have to last a thousand years), I feel a little frustrated at the lack of new information, the unlocking of the mysteries of our relationship with God and the higher existence. While I understand that those were released in other tablets, I guess I was still expecting at least a small nod to the spiritual side of things.

The particular edition of the Kitab-i-Aqdas that I read also included elaborations and explanations collected by the Universal House of Justice, as well as two introductions (one written by the House, the other written by Shoghi Effendi). This was kind of frustrating because both introductions essentially talked about the same things: when it was written, why it was withheld for nearly 20 years after it was written before Baha’u’llah released it, and a basic summary of the key items to pay attention to. You would think, considering how much the introductions (the House one especially) build up the Kitab-i-Aqdas, that the book itself would be rather large: it’s 70 pages, followed by another 70 pages of some questions answered by Baha’u’llah and some accompanying texts, and then 90 pages of “notes” collected by the House to clarify things brought up in the previous text.

The actual text of the Kitab-i-Aqdas is rather readable. While the translations are somewhat colloquial to the era (lots of “thee”s “hath”s and “verily”s), the messages Baha’u’llah was trying to convey are very clear and to the point. A great deal of the text is taken up with negating or altering the rules of the work that came before (though, true to form, it primarily deals with the rules of the most immediately previous religion, which in turn dealt with the rules of the previous religion before that, et cetera). The guidelines for inheritance, burial, and marriage are also addressed directly and at length, several of which were particularly interesting. For instance, while it does explicitly allow the possibility of having two spouses, it places a caveat of absolute equality and fairness for both wives (for instance) that effectively precludes current society’s use of that law. There are a few rules and guidelines like that throughout the work, things that Baha’u’llah felt necessary to explicitly include, but likewise was sure that we were not yet ready to deal with. This does suggest, though, that at some point in the next thousand years, we WILL reach a point of social maturity to handle it.

The emphasis of most of the rules is on the family. He makes a point of frowning heavily on divorce, but acknowledges that sometimes it is necessary, and provides specific provisions to follow if divorce is necessary. Adultery is explicitly damned, but with a monetary punishment, not physical. (19 mithqals of gold… roughly 2.227 troy ounces. This cost doubles every time it happens.) I consider this rather forward thinking compared to the punishment for adultery in previous religions. As a counterpoint to the lack of physical punishment in situations such as that, Baha’u’llah is quite explicit on the penalties for murder and arson, encouraging the death penalty for those actions. In the questions and answers, he elaborates that life imprisonment is also acceptable.

I’ve digressed. Returning to the family emphasis in the writing, it is rather clearly exhibited in the guidelines for inheritance, which in fact take up several pages of the primary body of text, detailing a share based system of division. Once the cost of the funeral arrangements have been made (the deceased is to be wrapped in clean silk or cotton with a ring on one finger that is inscribed with the saying “I come forth from God, and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate.”) and the huququllah is paid (“the Right of God,” a bounty paid to the Universal House of Justice in certain circumstances), the rest of the estate is divided up with the children receiving the largest share, followed by the wife, then the siblings, et cetera, all the way out to teachers. I do find it interesting that Baha’u’llah takes so much time to work out such a specific detail for inheritance when there is also a provision that all individuals upon reaching adulthood should make a will for themselves – the rules for inheritance in the Kitab-i-Aqdas are only for cases where there is no will or that the will enters attestation.

I’m not really sure what my reaction to this book is. On one level, I really appreciate the succinct nature of it, but at the same time, it does very little to satisfy my curiosity as a spiritual seeker. I am left very much in the same sentiment that I’ve been in for some time: while I believe in the message, I am to some extent a “lapsed Baha’i,” choosing to operate very much on my own amalgam of beliefs with only a loose structure provided by the Faith. While it was good to gain the insight of the original text and to know precisely what is expected of me from the religion, I find that I am losing my sense of wonder in the world, and worry a great deal that I won’t recover that very vital aspect of who I am. It is an incredible sense of loss that religion, as yet, has not assuaged.

Baha’u’llah. The Kitab-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book. Baha’i Publishing Trust.

Outage and Funny

First: sorry I didn’t post the past few days. We had a connection outage for the past day and a half because of the wind and rain that’s currently hitting Seattle. Back up now, though (obviously).

Next: So true.

Last: I got a haircut yesterday, finally. I am now slightly less shaggy. Mickey and I are both pleased with the result. I’d post a picture, but, well, I’m lazy. Toodles!

A Dream I Had

I was telling Mickey about this dream I had last night, and she thought it might be worth writing down. Not that it’s fleshed out or anything, but it was still an interesting dream.

It started out being back at my parents’ house, with it being late October/early November out (most of the leaves are off, sky is kind of gray, and it’s “brisk”). I was showing someone (I don’t recall exactly who, might have just been a duendic conglomeration of various Bond girls or something. I’m really not sure, just sure that I don’t recognize them now that I’m awake) the backyard, pointing out the space where Mom used to garden (she still does but not as much). In fact, there are still three broken and dead corn stalks on the outermost row.
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Child’s Play

Just a quick post. Penny Arcade is currently partnering with Amazon and the Seattle Children’s Hospital to do a toy drive for the kids. It’s called Child’s Play, and really is a pretty awesome thing. It’s also impressive just how much support they’ve received, and how quickly.

In other toyish news, my friend Gareth is a finalist in the Lego Master Builder competitions. (Gareth, not Garrett. Scroll down.) Good luck in the finals, man!

UberCon is coming along. We’ve set up some Forums, which you should check out if you’re a foruming type of person.

See? Quick post. Later. :)