Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Serendipity

When I posted the other day about the word "pioneer" and the violence of "pioneering," BDR commented, pointing out that he had just posted some quotes at his place in honor of Pynchon's birthday and that one of them, from Mason & Dixon (which I haven't read yet) seemed relevant:
Does Britannia, when it sleeps, dream? Is America her dream? -- in which all that cannot pass in the metropolitan Wakefulness is allow'd Expression away in the restless Slumber of these Provinces, and on West-ward, wherever 'tis not yet mapp'd, nor written down, nor ever, by the majority of mankind, seen, -- serving as a very Rubbish-Tip for subjunctive Hopes, for all that may yet be true, -- Earthly Paradise, Fountain of Youth, Realms of Prester John, Christ's Kingdom, ever behind the sunset, safe till the next Territory to the West be seen and recorded, measur'd and tied back in, back to the Net-Work of Points already known, that slowly triangulates its Way into the Continent, changing all from subjunctive to declarative, reducing Possibilities to Simplicities that serve the ends of Governments, -- winning away from the realm of the Sacred, its Borderlands one by one, and assuming them unto the bare mortal World that is our home, and our Despair.
The same day, Aaron posted a lengthy essay (which I admit I've so far read very little of) about the problems of the narrative of the "uncontacted tribe," which certainly seems relevant as well.

And then today I started reading Ursula K. Le Guin's rendition of the Tao Te Ching, and in the second chapter (if that's the right word for the sections of the text) I came across these not-irrelevant words:
The things of this world
exist, they are;
you can't refuse them.

To bear and not to own;
to act and not lay claim;
to do the work and let it go:
for just letting it go
is what makes it stay.

7 comments:

rob payne said...

Your post on the word pioneer was great. That's the first time I have seen anyone consider their culture, really good stuff, Ethan

Ethan said...

Thanks, Rob--means a lot. Thanks also for the linking at your place, much appreciated.

Soj said...

If you read the text of Obama's inauguration speech you'll see a lengthy tribute to pioneers. I remember hearing it and finding it utterly repulsive.

Quin said...

While we sharing quotes, here is a part of a quote from the Tao Te Ching which I read in Keith Johnstone's "Impro", which has stayed with me for a long time:

"One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them. This is known as the virtue of non-contention; this is known as making use of the efforts of others... To know yet to think that one does not know is best... The sage does not hoard. Having bestowed all he has on others, he has yet more; having given all he has to others, he is richer still. The way of heaven benefits and does not harm; the way of the sage is bountiful and does not contend."

And here's a quote I liked from an interview with Herbie Hancock which I read the other day, in preparation for a concert of his (absolutely fabulous, by the way).

"Well I have not shut myself off from learning, and the value and beauty of learning and expanding, exploring. That gets my adrenaline going. But I had the great advantage of working with Miles Davis back in the 60s, who, encouraged his young musicians (I was young then) to explore, to take chances, to go outside the box. And I’ve never forgotten those lessons. So I’m not dependant on staying in the same place. I like the idea of trying something new. I always try tofind a way to challenge myself in some way that I feel is valuable to my development. But I have more to give. It’s about giving, not getting. That’s the bottom line. My feeling is that as long as you keep the flow of ideas going, which means not stopping them when they strike you in your life. Maybe the flow goes through you too, so that it’s like a continuous flow, like a river. Then you continue to have ideas. Once you try and start hoarding them and stuff, then you stand in danger of it getting backed up (laughs)."

Ethan said...

Soj, on your prompting I googled it up and started reading but very quickly remembered why I had never done that before. Yeeeugh.

Quin, excellent passage from the Tao Te Ching. Le Guin renders it like this:

The best captain doesn't rush in front.
The fiercest fighter doesn't bluster.
The big winner isn't competing.
The best boss takes a low footing.
This is the power of noncompetition.
This is the right use of ability.
To follow heaven's lead
has always been the best way.


I've only given the whole text a quick once-over and I've already found a lot to value in it. I'll probably be revisiting it frequently.

Herbie Hancock, wow. What's he like live these days? That quote almost sounds like it's directly out of the Tao Te Ching, actually (with a few differences; Lao Tzu is a bit more skeptical of the whole concept of "ideas"), particularly with the river imagery. Nice.

Ethan said...

Ugh, Soj, now I can't stop thinking about it. He manages not to erase slaves from his little narrative (unlike Indians, who merit not a word), but equates their forced labor with the work of those who chose to "settle the West."

After several tries, I've given up trying to construct sentences that would express how vile that is.

Quin said...

I've never read the Tao Te Ching, in anyone's rendering of it. But I may have to give it a try some time.

Herbie Hancock was like a force of nature. I don't know how he has kept so much vitality at his age (71, now). Herbie's the youngest 71-year-old I've ever seen. At least as of two nights ago, he still has "it". And his band was simply incredible. James Genus on bass and Trevor Lawrence Jr on drums, and a lovely purevoiced singer named Kristina Train. Listening to improvisation by world class players who are having a great time (the most crucial part, I think) is such a joy. Half the set was songs from Herbie's latest album, but what really hit me with the most impact was the other half, where the three of them just roamed free and unfettered over a landscape of Herbie's more famous tunes. I know that may sound like he's not living up to the quote above, in that one could look at it as him being "stuck" in his old songs. But really, the songs were just recognizable reference points for the audience. These guys weren't stuck anywhere. They were just having a very interesting, very skilled, very powerful conversation. I was happy to be able to listen and learn.

And nobody sells a keytar like Herbie Hancock!