“Question everything. Take nothing for granted. Don’t believe anything because it sounds wise and pious and some holy man said it. See for yourself. That does not mean that you should be cynical, impudent, or irreverent. It means you should be empirical. Subject all statements to the actual test of your own experience, and let the results be your guide to truth. Insight meditation evolves out of an inner longing to wake up to what is real and to gain liberating insight into the true structure of existence. The entire practice hinges upon this desire to wake to the truth. Without it, the practice is superficial.”
From Mindfulness in Plain English (Bhante Gunaratana)
On this day in 347, St. Jerome was born, and while I’m no longer a Catholic, I fondly recall taking Jerome as my confirmation name when I was a boy (that was already my baptismal name). I thought it was cool that he translated the Bible into Latin, as that seemed to me such an impossible task. As a young adult, I learned the story of Jerome ‘s taming a lion by removing a thorn from his paw when Jerome appeared with a lion on the cover of Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights.
In the painting of Jerome shown above, “the admonition that Jerome has fixed to the wall, ‘Cogita Mori’ (Think upon death), is made explicit by the skull. His Bible is open to an image of the Last Judgment, while the hourglass and candle, objects often found on a desk, are further reminders of the passage of time and the imminence of death” (Wikipedia).
I finally finished reading the Visuddhimaga by Buddhaghosa (translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Nyanamoli). The Visuddhimaga (“Path of Purification”) is a comprehensive summary/analysis of the Theravada understanding of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Written in the fifth century, this 900-page book can make reading Proust seem like a walk in the part, but the little gems tucked away in the text make it worthwhile, like the verse in the section dealing with anapanasati:
“So let a man, if he is wise,
Untiringly devote his days
To mindfulness of breathing, which
Rewards him always in these ways.”
Or the lines on aging:
“With leadenness in every limb,
With every faculty declining,
With vanishing of youthfulness,
With memory and wit grown dim,
With strength now drained by undermining,
With growing unattractiveness
To wife and family and then
With dotage coming on, what pain
Alike of body and of mind
A mortal must expect to find!
Since aging all of this will bring,
Aging is well named suffering.”
I’d already read sections of this book over the years, but it was nice to read and view the work as a whole for the first time. That said, I prefer practical Buddhism and don’t like to waste time on such ideas as rebirth-linking, supernormal abilities, etc. I’m glad I read this book. To be honest, though, I’m up for a little light reading.
Here are the last words spoken by some famous authors:
“How gratifying!” ~ Robert Browning
“The damned doctors have drenched me so that I can scarcely stand. I want to sleep now.” ~ Lord Byron
[As he jumped overboard:]: “Goodbye, everybody!” ~ Hart Crane
“A dying man can do nothing easy.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
“More light!” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Well, I must arrange my pillows for another weary night! When will this end?” ~ Washington Irving
“Sister, you’re trying to keep me alive as an old curiosity, but I’m done, I’m finished, I’m going to die.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
“I am dying as I’ve lived: beyond my means; this wallpaper is killing me; one of us has got to go.” ~ Oscar Wilde
From Strouf, Judie LH: Literature Lover’s Book of Lists: Serious Trivia for the Bibliophile; Prentice Hall; 1998.
With Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe introduced me to the Künstlerroman (German for “artist novel”), and I have been a huge fan of the genre ever since. Some of my favorite novels (eg, The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister, The Way of All Flesh, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) are of the Künstlerroman variety, and I even wrote one of my own.
The Künstlerroman is actually a subgenre of the Bildungsroman. A Bildungsroman is a coming-of-age story, that is, the story’s focus is on the psychological and moral growth of the main character from childhood to adulthood, with maturation as the goal. According to Wikipedia, “The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and he is ultimately accepted into society.”
When the Bildungsroman’s main character is an artist, the work is a Künstlerroman (Goethe’s The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister is considered to be the first of its type). In other words, every Künstlerroman is a Bildungsroman, but not every Bildungsroman is a Künstlerroman.
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a Bildungsroman and a Künstlerroman, as illustrated by the list that currently appears on Wikipedia’s Künstlerroman page, but that confusion disappears when you consider the fact that the “artist novel” is a sub-genre of the “coming-of-age novel” and not a separate genre altogether.
Sylvie Vartan reading, 1964
In 1984, I visited a number of literary sites in New York City, one of those being the building at 149 W. 21st Street, where Lucien Carr lived from 1950-1951. Credited with introducing Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs to each other, Carr was a key member of the original circle of the Beat Generation. After Kerouac finished the first draft of On the Road in April 1951, he moved briefly into Carr’s apartment, where he wrote a second draft on a roll of United Press teleprinter paper before transferring it to individual pages. That scroll still exists—all but the end, eaten by Carr’s dog, Patchkee.
Here are the books I read or reread in 2015:
- The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, Third Edition (Bobby Owsinski)
- Tune In–The Beatles: All These Years #1 (Mark Lewisohn)
- The Dhammapada (translated by Irving Babbitt)
- The Dhammapada (translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita)
- The Science of Marketing: When to Tweet, What to Post, How to Blog, and Other Proven Strategies (Dan Zarrella)
- My Struggle: Book 1 (Karl Ove Knausgaard)
- Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha’s Path (Bhante Henepola Gunaratana)
- The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses (Kevin Birmingham)
- The Mastering Engineer’s Handbook, Third Edition (Bobby Owsinski)
- A Confession (Leo Tolstoy)
- Buzzing Communities (Richard Millington)
- Don’t All Thank Me At Once: The Lost Pop Genius of Scott Miller (Brett Milano)
When BBC Culture asked book critics to name the top 100 British novels and then published the results earlier this month, I couldn’t resist going through the list to see how many I’d read. As it turns out, I’ve only read 15 of them:
- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Laurence Sterne)
- Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
- Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift)
- The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
- Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy)
- Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
- Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell)
- A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess)
- David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
- The Forsyte Saga (John Galsworthy)
- Animal Farm (George Orwell)
- A Room with a View (E.M. Forster)
- Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
- Sons and Lovers (D.H. Lawrence)
I do have Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf) on my Kindle, so sometime next year I’ll make it 16. Until then, however, I’ve got some nonfiction to catch up on.
For more from the BBC, see “What makes a ‘Great British Novel’?”
I just attended the Higher Logic Super Forum in Arlington, Virginia, where I learned tons more about managing online communities. On the way home, still stoked from the event and reading Richard Millington’s Buzzing Communities, I took a break to take in the view.