Words Resembling Ambrosia

It was like a dream, for who believes it when in the midst of work a person gets a fever and their computer conks out like a mythical tree from the Ramayana falling away from Hanuman, in Book V, Sundara Kanda. One of the first things one might do might be to seek this song, sung, among others, by Vishaka Hari, who had quit her day job because she wanted to devote herself to carrying the tradition forward. And her telling of Hanuman is to represent him as the epitome of service-and as a great orator; reflect on his speeches, she says, and you do not need to attend courses on communication. It is her telling of the story, though, that can lead us back to it, just as John O'Donohue speaking and reading his poems rekindles a faith in the possibility of making through words.
In Book IV of the Ramayana but in Vishaka Hari's Sundara Kanda is a scene of recognition, where Hanuman recognizes the divine qualities of Rama; recognition itself being a religious concept, I think, but also ancient where ancient means time, if we think of the time and attention given to guests, symbolised in the tesserae hospitalis, the tokens in ancient times that were broken in two, to be reunited as one when the same people or their kin reencountered. Tokens, the first encounter, suggest the importance of preparation for that threshold of recognition. O'Donohue speaks of the importance of how we cross thresholds, whether we are ready, or worthy. Perhaps to work too hard is unworthy, and not an example of what is the motto on his posthumous site: "Each of us is an artist of our days. The greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become."
There is a message about intent of purpose in Sundara Kanda, summarised incredibly by Vishaka Hari when she says that no one needs to enter the crooked, narrow streets at all, but just the highway of Dharma; that to take the crooked street is to get caught. As the soul is pregnant with meaning, we are to grow in order. This is illustrated in the book by Hanuman's "order" of supporting heavenly order: when he is unsure of how to speak to the captured Sita, he begins by praising the Rajarshis, which comply with this purpose. When he enters the palace of Sita's captor, and sees all his wives sleeping, wondering if he has transgressed, he realises that he has not lost sight of his single purpose and his passions had not been stirred by them: "The mind is the motive power of every movement of the senses, whether it be good or evil and mine remains untroubled".


If we wonder how to cross our own seas, as Hanuman does to reach Sita, we learn of his model humility coupled with confidence. Just the former means inefficiency, the latter, conceitedness: this is how he gets things done.
When he loses his calm, at the very end, and sets the city on fire ("In anger one may even slay one's spiritual preceptor" and affront virtuous men), he still-going back to Vishaka Hari's retelling-has a chance to take the Dharmic path, for which it is never too late. Even Ravana, the captor, is given chances, first by Sita, then Hanuman, then Ravana's brother, then the city is burned...
This text brings a cure through colours, too, rather like the colours against the threat of disappearance in death in O'Donohue's Beannacht: "when the ghost of loss gets into you, May a flock of colours, Indigo, red, green, And azure blue Come to awaken in you". In Sundara Kanda the colours appear in the white, rose, purple, blue, yellow, black clouds that Hanuman disappears into and becomes visible out of as he flies to and fro to Sita's place of enslavement.
But it is not a place of enslavement. As Vishaka Hari puts it, and as we learn by reading, Sita could have destroyed the city, but was waiting patiently for Ravana to change. Ravana, who had deceived her by putting on a disguise. Ravanna, who everyone says is versed in the Veda, who is even chanting it when he comes to visit Sita in the Sundara Kanda, but who does not show himself to be intelligent, by committing acts prohibited by the laws of righteousness. It turns out in the end that it was he who was ultimately deceived and not Sita: "Beware of placing thy neck in the noose of death in the form of Sita" his brother counsels; and Hanuman later calls the flames that had been on his tail with which he destroyed the city, "Sita's wrath". How quickly the snare entraps he who sets it: this is worth being remembered, for later.
After Hanuman lost control as he flicked his fiery tail about in a rage, he repents, and as he repents, he "recollects certain auspicious signs". Recollection! He realises fire could not consume the fire of Sita and hears godly voices confirm this. "Such were the words, resembling ambrosia."


Dharma is regained, auspicious signs are recollected through the humility: through courage, intent remains a highway. As for the rhetoric of this singular message, it is like Hanuman in the clouds, at once implicit and hidden and explicit and visible.
It is in part manifest in Hanuman's singularity of purpose, his physical communication across the ocean, and an ever-mindfulness that for the message to be conveyed, he must be ready to adapt to those new circumstances. By association, we might note that in tranlsation, it is so mediocre to just throw words over the seas to their rough equivalents, so much more profitable to weigh them and convert them into their syn of kin, which admittedly requires knowing the local market fluctations as well as one's own. Hanuman notes twice in almost the exact same words: "Undertakings often fail through an incompetent messenger unable to take advantage of time and place, as darkness is overcome by the rising sun; in such cases, whether it concerns the accomplishment or avoidance of any matter, the most widely planned projects do not succeed." This is summed up by the question of intent behind his actions: "How shall the crossing of the ocean not prove to have been useless?" It is not enough to do, one is to do that which is fruitful.
Actions are complex, and clouded, because singularity of purpose requires the right interpretation of signs. After all, this is what ostensibly ensnares Sita, who is protected by her intentions and so also by Dharma, but truly ensnares Ravana.
Observe the difficulties even Hanuman had in recognising Sita, who he had come to save: "Entangled in a mighty web of sorrow, her beauty was veiled like ... a traditional text obscured by dubious interpretation ... Beholding Sita in that pitiable state, Hanuman was perplexed as one whose learning is lost for lack of sustained endeavour and, seeing her without ornaments, he recognised her with difficulty as a text that is wrongly construed. .... She resembled a great reputation that has been lost or a faith that has been disregarded or a mind that has become clouded or a hope destroyed, a future shattered, an order misinterpreted".
There may be such necessary beauty in the trials of what must ultimately fall away: a computer for a time, health through overstrain or oversorrow, even meaning, but what beauty is then gathered up again in the right intent, on the Dharma highway that leads across oceans, effortlessly. Even the fasting Sita who had been led astray is ultimately recognised and restored to be the exalted being that she is, and one with transformative powers.



Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees.

End-of-Life Stones

There is a remainder of people at the end of their lives. One woman who was once creative, learning Thai and using it, illustrating, photographing, inventing board games for metropolises (stolen by those who failed at executing them but succeeded in discouraging the inventor), writingetc., is now a broken record of how unfair the world is to her, but how everyone else is not trying hard enough. Vico might call that a poetic type, perfect in its consistency. But we are not perfect, this is what modern art knows, and at best it throws at the spectator the right symbols that are mirrors. A mirror figures in to one of the motifs of a movie I watched last night when I could no longer read or write, Absolute Hell. A man looks into the mirror and realises he is not there, says the post-war novelist in that film. I consider that the modern man realises he does not match the ideal, being a jumble of good and bad. We are suddenly all shamans, rewriting Jupiter's circumstantial rain on Daphne into catastrophe or new forms of catharsis, depending on mood not social well-being. So the end of life is a collage of whatever happens to be there, for Westerners, rarely edited by social scorn: each person is the museum curator of what they display and what they leave to the darkness of the back rooms of selective oblivion.
What of those dark rooms, the places to which a person can relegate the aspects of self one might not want to develop, like self pity, or righteous indignation (which quickly spirals into abuse of others), or even aspects of earthly life that seem too raw. Does the last item sound Victorian? Victorians, after all, bowdlerized the classics. At the same time, how many even of those bowdlerizers lived according to the censure? So many dark, back rooms, some of them shared. In my opinion, if Jupiter must rain on Daphne, I just want it to mean something.
And to say "meaning" in today's climate, one will be accused of moralising. But if we can talk about prescriptivist vs. descriptivist language, then it should be all right to discuss measure vs. anything goes (like in that awfully succinct refrain of the musical by that name).
In Absolute Hell, a woman, stripped of her accessories, becomes a kind of naked that I would simply describe as the life not well-lived: not possessing the slightest self-mastery, not even the people around her, as a whole, make her account for her shortcomings, rather, they thrive off them. Oddly, this kind of naked is today less culturally acceptable than a literal nakedness; today's naked body is tattooed and seems covered, but imagine the mindset without the body, clinging to cartoons illustrating the records of yesteryear. If the same maxims (tattooed symbols) could be applied in every situation, life would be so much simpler.
But it is not simple, this is probably why most people become calcifications of themselves, hardened into narrowness at the end. Whereas a gem is a gem but changes its glint in the light and angle.




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Cognitive Cocoa

There was a time when all it took to cheer me up was to go to the 7-Eleven and get a 十字牌牛奶 chocolate milk from the Trappist monastery on Lantau Island, which I once stumbled upon on a walk from the Lantau Island pier to Discovery Bay: ending up walking through a fishing village which is where the trail seemed to end when it was already dark out, and hoping that I was not lost. I remember that I was listening to the Indigo Girls' "Up on the Watershed" on the hydrofoil back to Central, one of the lines being, "learn how to starve the emptiness and feed the hunger". All it takes is a few misunderstandings around one for a certain kind of person to feel empty, though it turns out this is a cognitive distortion, and interestingly, cognitive distortions seem to correspond with logical fallacies (though a wikipedia footnote disagrees): filtering is akin to the fallacy of exclusion; emotional reasoning, to non support; global labelling, to hasty generalization, etc. (I am trying to think of how to make a class exercise out of this: suggestions welcome.) By suggesting such things here, though, I am merely wondering why there is not more emphasis in our current English speaking culture on the complexities of managing one's inner situation and not merely focusing on the social situation. One is reminded of Socrates' repeated reference to the Delphic maxim of knowing thyself. Without this knowledge, one's knowledge of the world could be slanted. And there is not enough chocolate milk to fix that.
Ultimately, who would like to be treated exactly how they treat everyone they have ever met? We are blind and insensitive, we might even justify the times we were brusque with someone: even a polite person can sometimes through the over-zealousness of kindness say just the wrong and the hurtful thing to someone. Strangely, thinking about such things has become my chocolate milk.
If the picture becomes constricting and there is no place left to walk in the mind, not even a night-time fishing village, something is wrong; here is a man. He is an entertainer. He can entertain constructive thoughts or the list of doubts and suspicions and distortions. Which performance shall we choose? I choose the one with cocoa and cows.
The book I am translating has a wonderful phrase that I will twist so as not to spoil its English launch: the icing on the gunpowder keg, referring to humour at the outskirts but still within the border of the acceptable, making of a dire situation something that is at least sugar coated. It retains its severity, but not without a touch of the imagination, the sign that somebody is alive, and has made something even in the final hour. It is this I would like to teach, this saccharine laugh I would like to feed into the glass milk bottles I emptied yesteryear.



Tape brush: ewansiim at DeviantART.

Who Can Tell

The old folk say in the bleakest of times, "Who can tell what good shall come of it." I am thankful to the Bach family, their cantata singers are giving voice to the melancholy I face: how can so much work possibly be done up to standard in so little time, by someone as unpracticed as I? But the harpsichord floats forward, and suddenly, it is a new moment. Little silences open up between instrument and voice; that is the empty space where I reflect on recent failures. Like saying any old thing when under attack, jumping in, instead of letting people wear themselves out. Saying any old thing! What a shame for an adult. But there are other things, other things, too. At least, one lets go of what others do. One is in the concert hall in one's mind, and it is only the music and whoever is listening, together focused on the notes. Solitude; so much of life is inside it, and sometimes I long so much for help, just any help, someone to read over my work one more time, or permit me to go to sleep when I am tired. But the old folk have a saying.
In these few minutes that I have sat before this screen, I read up on the Bach family, who worked with concerted effort over the generations to truly become a musical family, eventually an overall educated one when social advancement through better venues for their music (at court) allowed the sons to get a university education. I am never bored by imagining the university education as something to be prized and striven for; what is more, J. S. Bach's eponymous grandson studied with a friend of Goethe's who taught Goethe drawing and was himself an esteemed artist, Adam F. Oeser, further illustrating the very long line drawn by education. The latter was a friend of Winckelmann, and suddenly we are in the Enlightenment, hobnobbing with Leibniz and prancing off to the Leibniz book fair that rivaled the one in Frankfurt (via). The text linked to, by Prof. Koch, explains the ubiquity of the Winckelmann legacy in terms of the neoclassical motifs adopted by architects, and the china purchased by the middle class. But Winckelmann's platitude was that we may become great by imitating the ancients, stipulating, "what is imitated, if handled with reason, may assume another nature, as it were, and become one's own."
To handle with reason; this is the Delphic charioteer, no? Handling the reigns with reason, euphoria tamed on his face. Likewise, difficulty is to be borne with such restraint. There is also the promise that if one endures, one could become one's own, which I suspect has to do with allowing some failure by looking at the sculpture as a whole, or what Benjamin calls Winckelmann's "will to symbolic totality" which is available to the modern man who has no recourse to observing nature directly through the mediation of the archetype; man is invited to fill in the empty spaces where the ideal is not immediately present, when reality falls short. "Who can tell what good shall come of it."



Brush: Ewansim tape at DeviantART.

Not Fool's Gold

Thomas Hardy gives a twist to what is meant by a liberal education in his description of Tess in Tess of the D'Urbervilles: "Almost at a leap, Tess thus changed ... to a complex woman. Symbols of reflectiveness passed into her face ... Her eyes grew ... more eloquent ... her soul that of a woman whom the turbulent experiences of the last year or two had quite failed to demoralize. But for the world's opinion those experiences would have been simply a liberal education." The education thus affords a straying if also an implied return to golden rules. Heeding the golden rules is difficult because their truth cannot be felt, and is implicitly easy to stray from: "'By experience,' says Roger Ascham, 'we find out a short way by a long wandering.' ... But it had not  been in Tess's powernor is it in anybody's powerto feel the whole truth of golden opinions while it is possible to profit by them. Sheand how many moremight have ironically said to God with St. Augustine: 'Thou hast counselled a better course than Thou hast permitted.'" Where education implies a striving towards ideals, liberal education allows for the (unnecessarily) prolonged empiricism of mistakes made by a sensitive soul (Tess is not just any literary character).
The passage reminded me of Vico's Heroic Mind, where university is described as the cure for students depraved by original sin, ailing in mind and soul to perfect their better nature. In this classical education, poetry is to "calm the uncontrolled turbulence of the imagination", taught alongside, for example, geometry, taught to "hold in check innate errors". Poetry is read for its representations of ideal types, wherein even the wicked, "is most beautiful, because always self-consistent, always true to itself, harmonious in all its parts." By contrast, men in real life fall short, as they are not consistent and do not cohere. Poetry is curative by sharply delineating "the pure ideal type". By comparing a difficult boss to the evil ideal, one might realise the boss's potential for good and set to work to find ways to showcase those aspects. By addressing golden rules even when showing some practical difficulties of practicing what is preached, medicine may be had for the incoherence of lives through lengthy explanation and analysis.
For example, through the character of Tess's suitor, we see how what looks new, "the ache of modernism" is but a new definition of something timeless: "advanced ideas are really in great part but the latest fashion in definition-a more accurate expression, by words in logy and ism, of sensations which men and women have vaguely grasped for centuries." The novel shows in so many ways how easy it is to get carried away: by sensations, zeitgeist.




Hardy's novel, actually, I really only want to think of the first part, is very much about how much or whether or not one can shake off even the sensation of guilt, which like other sensations roughly guides the actions and makes an incoherent mess of things.
Adding to the problem of self-mastery, by which one can learn to manage sensations, is interference by society which may insidiously stunt this learning. In Hardy's novel, it is suggested that one can even be blinded by university. Through the character of Angel, who was not Cambridge-educated like his brothers, we see its failings (though I think that implicitly we also see its success in that it was Angel who made such tragic life decisions). University produces cogs in machinery, to the church or to academia, and not the well-rounded "hero" Vico describes, who knows physics as well as metaphysics; logic as well as poetry. The university-educated brothers, "whatever their advantages by comparison with [Angel], neither saw nor set forth life as it was really lived." And in this novel, life as it is really lived is a life of mistakes.
It would seem that but few people have the strength of character to accept their mistakes and also to stand up to those who deny the legitimacy of the 'prodigal' education. It is accidental that 'prodigy' sounds so close to 'prodigal', but to play off those words, where the prodigal wastes, the prodigy makes into signs and omens, possibly through the root of aio, I say. Taking this verbal happenstance further, the true liberal education is in part narrative and very much in need of special interpretation because the character is no longer that of the ideal, but is not wasted, being one seeking the ideal, seeking to be filled in by it as much as possible given depravity. It may be that for many fool's gold is hypocritical adoption of golden precepts that does not allow for their difficult and profundity. This is not true of everyone, and certainly not true of anyone at all times, because features like the good if philippic nature of Reverend James Clare must also be explained. If gold is the timeless lessons that keep one safe, fool's gold is the ism and logy of those sensations that can't just be resolved by the mechanical rotations of newness masking through newness the various forms of mistakes and sacrifice, so unfortunately fashionable in their many guises throughout the ages.



Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees. 
Brush: Ewansim tape at DeviantART.
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