Greg Pavlik

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Welcome to the blog of Greg Pavlik, software technologist and frustrated adventurer. Currently, I am working on technologies related to Cloud Computing and Cloud Platform as a Service capabilities.Greg Pavlikhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/02076590604248408230noreply@blogger.comBlogger281125
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Musk Ox

Wed, 2024-03-13 10:04

 Musk Ox is a fantastic instrumental chamber folk project from up in Canada. I recently stumbled on these guys and their guitarist Nathanael Larochette from some collaborations he did with the (now defunct, but often fantastic) Oregon-based post metal/neofolk band Agalloch. Here's a neat documentary on the making of their album Woodfall.



Another cool project is the acoustic spin off that Nathanael did from the last Agalloch album.



His solo stuff is great. Music about trees and such.

AI not I

Mon, 2024-02-19 12:50

The notion that what we call AI is somehow approaching a form on consciousness remains an absurdity: fantastical thinking by people who really ought to spend a minimal amount of time at least reading up on philosophy of mind. Generative AI fits perfectly into John Searle's Chinese Room (the main variation is probability replaces rules, which reflects the one major innovation of NLP over decades).

I don't mean to suggest the technology is not extremely useful - it is, and will become more so. But: reality check.

For the time being

Mon, 2023-12-25 08:57
"Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph."

Sophia

Wed, 2023-06-21 11:33


 

Memesis and Desire

Tue, 2023-05-02 16:45

"Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires." Rene Girard

Faixa Marrom

Sat, 2022-12-24 10:04


Mitsuyo Maeda > Carlos Gracie Sr. > Carlos Gracie Junior > Jean Jacques Machado > Eddie Bravo > Denny Prokopos > Alex Canders

Three Carols for Nativity

Thu, 2022-12-22 10:34

Three of outstanding carols for the Christmas season.

1 In the Dark Night

A traditional Ukrainian koliady (carol): this is just heart-rendering in its simple beauty expressed in the Ukrainian language. The theme of a bright light in darkness is particularly poignant as Ukraine itself is presently plunged into darkness by the war. This holiday, I wish for peace: among Ukrainians, with brother Russians, and for the world.




In the dark night, above Bethlehem,a bright star shined out, covering the Holy Land.The Most Pure Virgin, the Holy Bride,in a poor cave gave birth to a Son.[Chorus] Sleep Jesus, sleep my little baby,Sleep my little star,About your fate, my little sweet,To you I will sing.She gently kissed and swaddled him,She put him to bed, and quietly started to sing,You will grow up, my Son, you’ll become a grown-up,And you will go out into the world, my baby.Sleep Jesus, sleep my sweet little baby,Sleep my little star,About your fate, my little sweet,To you I will sing.The Love of the Lord and God’s truth,You will bring faith to the world, to your people,The truth will live on, the shackles of sin will be shattered,[But my child], on Golgotha, my child will die.Sleep Jesus, sleep my sweet little baby,Sleep my little star,About your fate, my little sweet,To you I will sing.Sleep, Jesus, sleep my sweet little baby,Sleep my rose blossom,With hope on YouThe entire world is watching!

2 The Cherry Tree Carol

An Old English carol based on medieval legends about the Holy Family. This version is rendered in modern English and accompanied by a simple harp (Anonymous4 does another version that is a cappella in Old English, but something about this short version with the harp is just pleasant to the ears and to the soul).


When Joseph was an old man,An old man was he,He married Virgin MaryThe Queen of Galilee.He married Virgin MaryThe Queen of Galilee.
Joseph and Mary walkedThrough an orchard good,There were cherries, there were berries,As red as any blood.There were cherries, there were berries,As red as any blood.
Then Mary spoke to JosephSo meek and so mild:"Joseph, gather me some cherries,For I am with child.""Joseph, gather me some cherries,For I am with child."
Then Joseph grew in anger,In anger grew he,"Let the father of thy babyGather cherries for thee!"Let the father of thy babyGather cherries for thee!
Then Jesus spoke a few words,A few words spoke he:"Let my mother have some cherries,Bow low down, cherry tree.""Let my mother have some cherries,Bow low down, cherry tree."
The cherry tree bowed low down,Bowed low down to the ground,And Mary gathered cherriesWhile Joseph stood around.And Mary gathered cherriesWhile Joseph stood around.
Then Joseph took MaryAll on his right knee,"My Lord, what have I done?Have mercy on me.""My Lord, what have I done?Have mercy on me."
Then Joseph took MaryAll on his left knee,"Pray tell me, little Baby,When thy birthday will it be?"Pray tell me, little Baby,When thy birthday will it be?
"On the Sixth day of JanuaryMy birthday it will be,And the stars in the elementsWill tremble with glee."And the stars in the elementsWill tremble with glee."
As Joseph was a-walkingHe heard an angel sing,"Tonight shall be the birth timeOf Christ our Heav'nly King.""Tonight shall be the birth timeOf Christ our Heav'nly King."
"He neither shall be bornIn house nor in hall,Nor in the place of Paradise,But in an ox's stall."Nor in the place of Paradise,But in an ox's stall."
"He neither shall be clothedIn purple nor in cloth,But in the bare white linenThat useth babies all."But in the bare white linenThat useth babies all."
"He neither shall be rockedIn silver nor in gold,But in a wooden mangerThat rests upon the mold."But in a wooden mangerThat rests upon the mold."
As Joseph was a-walkingAnd an angel did sing,And Mary's child at midnightWas born to be our King.And Mary's child at midnightWas born to be our King.
Then be ye glad ye peopleThis night of all the year,And light ye up your candlesFor his star it shineth clear.And light ye up your candlesFor his star it shineth clear.

3 Georgian Alilo

If you get some Georgians together for a holiday there will be singing (also, alcohol in my experience). I can't understand a word when they do, but its pretty cool.


Since Georgian is such an interesting language, I list here the lyrics / transliteration / translation from comments:

ალილო და ჰოი ალილო და ჰოოalilo da hoi alilo da hooHallelujah Hallelujahქრისტეს მახარობელნი ვართ ქრისტეშობას მოგილოცავთოოkrist’es makharobelni vart krist’eshobas mogilotsavtoo We are heralds of Christ wishing you a Merry Christmasოცდახუთსა დეკემბერსა ქრისტეიშვა ბეთლემშინაოotsdakhutsa dek’embersa krist’eishva betlemshinao On the twenty-fifth of December, Christ was born in Bethlehemანგელოზნი უგალობენ დიდება მაღალთა შინაოangelozni ugaloben dideba maghalta shinao Angels sing praises to the highest of the houseეს რომ მწყემსებმა გაიგგეს მივიდნენ და თავანი სცეს მასes rom mts’q’emsebma gaigges mividnen da tavani stses masPastors heard the good news and they went to worship Him.ვარსკვლავები ბრწყინვალებენ ანათებენ ბეთლემსაოოvarsk’vlavebi brts’q’invaleben anateben betlemsaooThe stars are shining, Illuminating Belém!შორი ქვენიდან მოსულმა მოგვებმა ძღვენი შესწირესshori kvenidan mosulma mogvebma dzghveni shests’iresComing from distant lands, The magicians gave Him a giftქრისტეს მახარობელნი ვართ ქრისტეშობას მოგილოცავთოkrist’es makharobelni vart krist’eshobas mogilotsavtoWe are heralds of Christ wishing you a Merry Christmasოცდახუთსა დეკემბერსა ქრისტე იშვა ბეთლემშინაოotsdakhutsa dek’embersa krist’e ishva betlemshinaoOn the twenty-fifth of December, Christ was born in Bethlehem

While Christmas is properly celebrated on January 7, being an American, I'm stuck with this weekend ending the season. Fortunately I am not stuck with the commercial music/dreck that American culture imposes on the season: the 12 days of Christmas until Epiphany/Theophany are still a good time to continue to enjoy this fine singing with all that behind us. 

DakhaBrakha

Sun, 2022-08-28 15:05

 Full live performance. I've been enjoying these funk-folk-jazz songs for some time. Allegedly the music is in "old Ukrainian" - I don't speak Ukrainian or the closely related Carpatho-Russian dialect of Transcarpathia, so I can't really discern what that means - but consider the vocals as instrumentation in any case. In any case, this music is great fun at times and always stirs the human emotion. 
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A barely related side note: as a case study in creative folk-culture appropriation to modern forms, I recommend the Ukrainian musical film Hutsulka Ksenya. The plot revolves a young American whose late father leaves him his fortune on the condition he marry a Ukrainian woman. Distinctly unenthusiastic he visits the Carpathian region (presumably Zakarpattia Oblast, from which the Pavlik family emigrated) and falls for a young Hutsul woman.... I won't say more, its a terribly creative film and thoroughly enjoyable.

Hutsuls, as an aside, are not strictly speaking Ukrainians in the ethno-cultural sense, but in the broader sense of Ukraine as a multi-cultural nation. 

Isaac of Syria in Dostoevsky

Wed, 2022-08-17 11:32
My second (and more careful) read of Brothers Karamazov (this time the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation) established it as the most influential piece of world literature I have to date encountered. I regard it as the pinnacle of modern forms, but also amongst the most piercing of critiques of modernity as such. For years I have re-read it in part and in full, as well as numerous commentaries on the novel, Dostovesky's corpus en toto, and of course works on Dosteovsky himself more generally. Of the latter, I cannot imagine a finer literary biography than the work of the late Joseph Frank.

On recurring theme is an attempt to uncover the influences behind the portrait of the staretz Zosima. Many figures have been sited, including the famous Tikon of Zadonsk, of which there is an entire book dedicated to the topic. To my mind, however, the most obvious parallel to the teachings of Zosima is the 7th century ascetic Isaac of Syria. There could not be more clear parallels between his ascetic writings and the long chapter on Zosima's homilies in Karamazov. I liberally quote from two sites with supporting details and illustrations

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There is an interesting connection between St Isaac of Syria and Dostoevsky. The latter owned an 1858 edition of the Slavonic translation of the Homilies by St Paisius Velichkovsky (Victor Terras, A Karamazov Companion: Commentary on the Genesis, Language, and Style of Dostoevsky’s Novel [Madison: U of Wisconsin, 1981], p. 22). Furthermore, Dostoevsky mentions St Isaac’s Ascetical Homilies by name twice in The Brothers Karamazov. The first time is in Part I, Book III, Chapter 1, ‘In the Servants’ Quarters’, where the narrator observes that Grigory Vasilievich, Fyodor Karamazov’s manservant, ‘somewhere obtained a copy of the homilies and sermons of “Our God-bearing Father, Isaac the Syrian”, which he read persistently over many years, understanding almost nothing at all of it, but perhaps precisely for that reason prizing and loving it all the more’ (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky [NY: Vintage, 1991], p. 96). Dostoevsky then mentions the book again in 4.11.8, this time in the rather more sinister context of Ivan’s third meeting with Smerdyakov, when the latter 'took from the table that thick, yellow book, the only one lying on it, the one Ivan had noticed as he came in, and placed it on top of the bills. The title of the book was The Homilies of Our Father among the Saints, Isaac the Syrian. Ivan Fyodorovich read it mechanically' (Dostoevsky, p. 625).

But more importantly, Victor Terras has pinpointed a number of St Isaac’s teachings that make a definite appearance in the words of Elder Zosima in II.VI.3, especially in (g) ‘Of Prayer, Love, and the Touching of Other Worlds’ (Dostoevsky, pp. 318-20), and (i) ‘Of Hell and Hell Fire: A Mystical Discourse’ (Dostoevsky, pp. 322-4). Terras quotes the following passage from ‘Homily Twenty-Seven’ as being ‘important for the argument of The Brothers Karamazov’ (Terras, p. 23):


Sin, Gehenna, and Death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects, not substances. Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist. Gehenna is the fruit of sin. At some point in time it had a beginning, but its end is not known. Death, however, is a dispensation of the wisdom of the Creator. It will rule only a short time over nature; then it will be totally abolished. Satan’s name derives from voluntarily turning aside [the Syriac etymological meaning of satan] from the truth; it is not an indication that he exists as such naturally. (Ascetical Homilies, p. 133)
Terras may, however, be on the wrong trail with this particular passage, though not perhaps with the rest of his parallels, since according to a note in the translation, this particular homily only exists in Syriac (Ascetical Homilies, p. 133), and does not appear to have been available in any translation Dostoevsky would have read (Introduction, Ascetical Homilies, pp. lxxvi-lxxvii). Another interesting, though less important, discrepancy, is that Pevear and Volokhonsky, in their note on the name of St Paisius (he is referenced in I.I.5 [Dostoevsky, p. 27], and footnoted on p. 780 of Pevear’s and Volokhonsky’s translation), date Dostoevsky’s edition of the Elder’s translation of St Isaac to 1854 rather than 1858. Furthermore, J.M.E. Featherstone lists among St Paisius's works, Svjatago otca našego Isaaka Sirina episkopa byvšago ninevijskago, slova duxovno-podvižničeskija perevedennyja s grečeskago.... (Moscow, 1854), thus making Pevear and Volokhonsky's date more likely, it would seem ('Select Bibliography', The Life of Paisij Velyčkovs'kyj, trans. J.M.E. Featherstone [Cambridge, MA: Harvard U, 1989], p. 163 ).

I just wanted to highlight briefly this interesting connection. At an even deeper level, however, it has been picked up on, for one, by Archimandrite Vasileios of Iveron. Having considered the ‘artistic’ gifts of St Isaac and the spiritual insight of Dostoevsky, he concludes, ‘Thus, whether you read Abba Isaac, or Dostoevsky, in the end you get the same message, grace and consolation’ (‘Από τον Αββά Ισαάκ’, p. 100).


source: http://logismoitouaaron.blogspot.com/2009/02/this-glory-of-orientst-isaac-syrian.html
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Though the teachings of Elder Zosima from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karmazov seem exotic to many western readers and possibly unorthodox, they in fact show a remarkable similarity to those of a favorite 7th century eastern saint, St Isaac the Syrian.   We know that Dostoevsky owned a newly-available translation of St Isaac’s Ascetical Homilies, and this volume is in fact mentioned by name twice in the novel, though in seemingly inconsequential contexts.  Dostoevsky was no doubt deeply affected by the saint’s spirituality, and I think Zosima’s principle views in fact reflect and are indebted to those of St Isaac.  Below I will list some of these distinctive views, with illustrating quotes from both the fictional Elder Zosima and St Isaac himself. (And note: these were simply the quotes that I could find very easily; I’m sure more digging would find even more striking parallels)

Love for all creation:

Elder Zosima: “Love God’s creation, love every atom of it separately, and love it also as a whole; love every green leaf, every ray of God’s light; love the animals and the plants and love every inanimate object. If you come to love all things, you will perceive God’s mystery inherent in all things; once you have perceived it, you will understand it better and better every day.  And finally you will love the whole world with a total, universal love.”

St Isaac: “What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”

 Responsibility for all:

Elder Zosima: “There is only one salvation for you: take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. For indeed it is so, my friend, and the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all. Whereas by shifting your own laziness and powerlessness onto others, you will end by sharing in Satan’s pride and murmuring against God. ”

St Isaac: “Be a partaker of the sufferings of all…Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly. Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them. And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.”

 Love is Paradise on Earth:

Elder Zosima: “”Gentlemen,” I cried suddenly from the bottom of my heart, “look at the divine gifts around us: the clear sky, the fresh air, the tender grass, the birds, nature is beautiful and sinless, and we, we alone, are godless and foolish, and do not understand that life is paradise, for we need only wish to understand, and it will come at once in all its beauty, and we shall embrace each other and weep”

St Isaac: “Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness, and there the blessed Paul partook of supernatural nourishment…Wherefore, the man who lives in love reaps life from God, and while yet in this world, he even now breathes the air of the resurrection; in this air the righteous will delight in the resurrection. Love is the Kingdom, whereof the Lord mystically promised His disciples to eat in His Kingdom. For when we hear Him say, “Ye shall eat and drink at the table of my Kingdom,” what do we suppose we shall eat, if not love? Love is sufficient to nourish a man instead of food and drink.”

Non-literal ‘fire’ of hell:

Elder Zosima: “Fathers and teachers, I ask myself: “What is hell?” And I answer thus: “The suffering of being no longer able to love.”…People speak of the material flames of hell. I do not explore this mystery, and I fear it, but I think that if there were material flames, truly people would be glad to have them, for, as I fancy, in material torment they might forget, at least for a moment, their far more terrible spiritual torment. And yet it is impossible to take this spiritual torment from them, for this torment is not external but is within them”

St Isaac: “As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful.  That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse”

source: https://onancientpaths.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/the-elder-zosima-and-st-isaac-the-syrian/

Intentionality Mind and Nature

Mon, 2022-04-18 15:52
Below I quote at length DB Hart on intentionality and the horizon of rational agency. If you take a moment to think about this point, it really ought to be obvious that it is almost certainly correct. And the fact that we can share a meaning and interest in "correctness" as an end - ie, we care about that which is true - underscores the point directly. The only reason this may seem abstruse is the unconscious prejudices we carry from living in a late modern culture founded on reductive models of consciousness that are almost certainly irrational - meaning, wrong. 

"Neither doctrine nor metaphysics need be immediately invoked to see the impossibility of rational agency within a sphere of pure nature; a simple phenomenology of what it is we do when we act intentionally should suffice. The rational will, when freely moved, is always purposive; it acts always toward an end: conceived, perceived, imagined, hoped for, resolved upon. Its every act is already, necessarily, an act of recognition, judgment, evaluation, and decision, and is therefore also a tacit or explicit reference to a larger, more transcendent realm of values, meanings, and rational longings. Desire and knowledge are always, in a single impulse, directed to some purpose present to the mind, even if only vaguely. Any act lacking such purposiveness is by definition not an act of rational freedom. There are, moreover, only two possible ways of pursuing a purpose: either as an end in itself or for the sake of an end beyond itself. But no finite object or purpose can wholly attract the rational will in the latter way; no finite thing is desirable simply in itself as an ultimate end. It may, in relative terms, constitute a more compelling end that makes a less compelling end nonetheless instrumentally desirable, but it can never constitute an end in itself. It too requires an end beyond itself to be compelling in any measure; it too can evoke desire only on account of some yet higher, more primordial, more general disposition of reason’s appetites. Even what pleases us most immediately can be intentionally desired only within the context of a rational longing for the Good itself. If not for some always more original orientation toward an always more final end, the will would never act in regard to finite objects at all. Immanent desires are always in a sense deferred toward some more remote, more transcendent purpose. All concretely limited aspirations of the will are sustained within formally limitless aspirations of the will. In the end, then, the only objects of desire that are not reducible to other, more general objects of desire, and that are thus desirable entirely in and of themselves, are those universal, unconditional, and exalted ideals, those transcendentals, that constitute being’s abstract perfections. One may not be, in any given instant, immediately conscious that one’s rational appetites have been excited by these transcendental ends; I am not talking about a psychological state of the empirical ego; but those ends are the constant and pervasive preoccupation of the rational will in the deepest springs of its nature, the source of that “delectable perturbation” that grants us a conceptual grasp of finite things precisely by constantly carrying us restlessly beyond them and thereby denying them even a provisional ultimacy.

In fact, we cannot even possess the barest rational cognizance of the world we inhabit except insofar as we have always already, in our rational intentions, exceeded the world. Intentional recognition is always already interpretation, and interpretation is always already judgment. The intellect is not a passive mirror reflecting a reality that simply composes itself for us within our experience; rather, intellect is itself an agency that converts the storm of sense-intuitions into a comprehensible order through a constant process of interpretation. And it is able to do this by virtue of its always more original, tacit recognition of an object of rational longing—say, Truth itself—that appears nowhere within the natural order, but toward which the mind nevertheless naturally reaches out, as to its only possible place of final rest. All proximate objects are known to us, and so desired or disregarded or rejected, in light of that anticipated finality. Even to seek to know, to organize experience into reflection, is a venture of the reasoning will toward that absolute horizon of intelligibility. And since truly rational desire can never be a purely spontaneous eruption of the will without purpose, it must exhibit its final cause in the transcendental structure of its operation. Rational experience, from the first, is a movement of rapture, of ecstasy toward ends that must be understood as—because they must necessarily be desired as—nothing less than the perfections of being, ultimately convertible with one another in the fullness of reality’s one source and end. Thus the world as something available to our intentionality comes to us in the interval that lies between the mind’s indivisible unity of apprehension and the irreducibly transcendental horizon of its intention—between, that is, the first cause of movement in the mind and the mind’s natural telos, both of which lie outside the composite totality of nature."

DB Hart, You are Gods. University of Notre Dame Press, April 2022

Mother of Mercy

Tue, 2022-03-01 12:56
I think in the western world, art that invokes sacred spaces is, to put it mildly, less than central to the art industry. But in parts of Europe, this is not entirely the case. One region that has a kind of generational explosion of sacred art is western Ukraine, an area that is culturally at an intersection between central and western Europe (and where part of my own family is from). To the extent there has been attention paid to these artists, it appears to be largely in Catholic journals - in part I suspect because the region is largely "Greek Catholic" in religion (as again were some of my ancestors), a religion which combines elements of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy: one might say a fusion, or, perhaps a "confusion", depending on ones perspective. But it clearly has generated a creative energy that re-considers traditional concepts of beauty and meaning in art forms that have often been bound to very strict boundaries of received archetypes.

One of those artists is the young Ivanka Demchuk, whose work invokes centers on abrupt symbolism that interleaves openness, geometric constructs and sparse, but striking, colorations. Shown here is her work Mother of Mercy, a rendering of the Virgin Mary receiving the prayers of her people.


Note the striking use of red within the circle that surrounds the Holy Mother. Here she seems at once in fully incorporated into the very cosmos that encompasses and surrounds us. Yet the interior red also invokes dried blood, as if she is interceding for - absorbing, really - the pain of her people. Whether intentional or not, it certainly is evocative, especially at this time of trauma and fratricidal war impacting Ukraine this image seems poignant, yet terribly relevant. We need more sacred art, not less.

If you read this, please consider donating to humanitarian and non sectarian relief for Ukraine, especially to help refugees. These posts are around for years, so if you stumble on this some time after it is posted, the need is still there and any aid is meaningful.

 

Murder in the Age of Enlightenment

Fri, 2021-04-09 17:51

I had a few days of downtime to deal with some medical issues and turned to some short story collections to fill the time. My companions for a bit were Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and Anton Chekhov. I was quite delighted with a new translation of Akutagawa from Pushkin Press, Murder in the Age of Enlightenment. What sparse but sharp imagery - taken from Japanese history, European literature, Mahayana Buddhism, Christianity, Chinese writings - it was a bit of a smorgasbord. Akutagawa can be dark: his preoccupation with suicide in his writing no doubt reflected in his own suicide at age 35; I found his piece Madonna in Black on a peculiarly evil Maria-Kannon to be troubling, not least because I have a kind of devotional fascination with Maria-Kannon as our Lady of Mercy. But still Akutagawa is deeply humanistic and wide-ranging. The Karetnyk translation can be digested in an afternoon, no doubt time well spent.

My Chekhov choice was the recent translation of fifty-two stories by the unsurpassable translator pair Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. These two are artists in their own right... I can't say enough good things about their portfolio of translations. They are so good I've been forced to re-read a number of novels just to digest their interpretative readings over the years.

But back to Akutagawa. Here I post a translation done under Creative Commons license* of the story The Spider's Thread. I don't know if this is a re-telling of Dostoevsky's "Tale of the Onion" in Karamazov for sure, though the story line is so close that I find it impossible to believe otherwise: Lord Buddha Shakyamuni simply replacing the Guardian Angel. Get the Pushkin Press book to read it in a slightly more refined form, but I found this a wonderful read as well:


ONE


One day, the Buddha was strolling alone along the edge of a lotus pond in Paradise. The blooming lotus flowers in the pond were each pure white like jewels, and the place was filled with the indescribably wondrous fragrance continually emitted from each flower’s golden center. It was just morning in Paradise.

After a time, the Buddha paused at the edge of the pond and from between the lotus leaves that covered it saw a glimpse of the state of things below. Now this celestial pond just happened to lie directly over Hell, and peering through that crystal-clear water was like looking through a magnifying glass at the River of Death and the Mountain of Needles and such.

The Buddha saw there, in the depths of Hell, a single man writhing along with the other sinners. This man was named Kandata, and he had been a notorious thief who had performed murder and arson and other acts of evil. In his past, however, he had performed just one good deed: one day, when walking through the deep forest, he saw a spider crawling along the road. At first he raised his foot to crush it, but suddenly he changed his mind and stopped, saying, “No, small though it may be, a spider, too, has life. It would be a pity to meaninglessly end it,” and so did not kill it.

Looking down upon the captives in Hell the Buddha recalled this kind act that Kandata had performed, and thought to use his good deed as a way to save him from his fate. Looking aside, there on a jade-colored lotus leaf he saw a single spider, spinning out a web of silver thread. The Buddha carefully took the spider’s thread into his hand, and lowered it straight down between the jewel-like white lotuses into the depths of Hell.


TWO


Kandata was floating and sinking along with the other sinners in the Lake of Blood at the bottom of Hell. It was pitch black no matter which way he looked, and the occasional glimpse of light that he would see in the darkness would turn out to be just the glint of the terrible Mountain of Needles. How lonely he must have felt! All about him was the silence of the grave, the only occasional sound being a faint sigh from one of the damned. Those who were so evil as to be sent to this place were tired by its various torments, and left without even the strength to cry out. Even the great thief Kandata could only squirm like a dying frog as he choked in the Lake of Blood.

But one day, raising up his head and glancing at the sky above the lake, in the empty darkness Kandata saw a silver spider’s thread being lowered from the ceiling so far, far away. The thread seemed almost afraid to be seen, emitting a frail, constant light as it came down to just above Kandata’s head. Seeing this, Kandata couldn’t help but clap his hands in joy. If he were to cling to this thread and climb up it, he may be able to climb out of Hell! Perhaps he could even climb all the way to Paradise! Then he would never be chased up the Mountain of Needles, nor drowned in the Lake of Blood again.

Thinking so, he firmly grasped the spider’s thread with both hands and began to climb the thread, higher and higher. Having once been a great thief, he was used to tasks such as this. But the distance between Hell and Paradise is tens of thousands of miles, and so it would seem that no amount of effort would make this an easy journey. After climbing for some time Kandata tired, and couldn’t climb a bit higher. Having no other recourse, he hung there from the thread, resting, and while doing so looked down below.

He saw that he had made a good deal of progress. The Lake of Blood that he had been trapped in was now hidden in the dark below, and he had even climbed higher than the dimly glowing Mountain of Needles. If he could keep up this pace, perhaps he could escape from Hell after all. Kandata grasped the thread with both hands, and laughingly spoke in a voice that he hadn’t used in the many years since he had come here, “I’ve done it! I’ve done it!”

Looking down, however, what did he see but an endless queue of sinners, intently following him up the thread like a line of ants! Seeing this, surprise and fear kept Kandata hanging there for a time with mouth open and eyes blinking like a fool. How could this slender spider’s web, which should break even under just his weight, support the weight of all these other people? If the thread were to snap, all of his effort would be wasted and he would fall back into Hell with the others! That just would not do. But even as he thought these thoughts, hundreds more, thousands more of the damned came crawling up from the Lake of Blood, forming a line and scurrying up the thread. If he didn’t do something fast, surely the thread would snap in the middle and he would fall back down.

Kandata shouted out, “Hey! You sinners! This thread is mine! Who said you could climb up it? Get off! Get off!”

Though the thread had been fine until just then, with these words it snapped with a twang right where Kandata held it. Poor Kandata fell headfirst through the air, spinning like a top, right down through the darkness. The severed end of the silver thread hung there, suspended from heaven, shining with its pale light in that moonless, starless sky.


THREE


The Buddha stood in Paradise at the edge of the lotus pond, silently watching these events. After Kandata sank like a stone to the bottom of the Lake of Blood, he continued his stroll with a sad face. He must have been surprised that even after such severe punishment Kandata’s lack of compassion would lead him right back into Hell.

Yet the lotus blossoms in the lotus ponds of Paradise care nothing about such matters. Their jewel-like white flowers waved about the feet of the Buddha, and each flower’s golden center continuously filled the place with their indescribably wondrous fragrance. It was almost noon in Paradise.


(16 April 1918)

* Translation http://tonygonz.blogspot.com/2006/05/spiders-thread-akutagawa-ryunosuke.html

Silence in 4 Movements

Wed, 2021-03-24 12:05

"What is the relation of [contemplation] to action? Simply this. He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas."
—Thomas Merton


"Those who know do not talk.

Those who talk do not know.

~

Stop talking,

block off your senses,

meditate in silence,

release your worries,

blunt your sharpness,

untie your knots,

soften your glare,

harmonise your inner light

and unite the world into one whole!

This is the primal union or secret embrace."

Tao Te Ching 56

"Make stillness your criterion for testing the value of everything, and choose always what contributes to it."

-Evagrius Ponticus




"Silence and Beauty - Eco" (Minerals and gesso on canvas, 2016) by contemporary Japanese American artist Fujimura Makoto (藤村真, born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1960). Abstract expressionist piece done with nihonga techniques. Picture found online.

I read Fujimura's book Silence and Beauty last year, which was inspired by the Endo Shusaku's 20th century novel Silence (itself adapted to film by the great Martin Scorsese). Fujimura reflects on his relationship with Japanese culture in the light of Shusaku's work, the Hiroshima bombing, and his own experience as a Japanese-American: most importantly how it has manifested in his work as an artist. Shusaku's work itself dwells on "silence" as absence. But I think this painting shows absence-as-presence: something is there, something beautiful, but its not clear what or even why - in fact that presence changes over time for the viewer, depending on vantage point or even focus.

Pretzel Logic

Sat, 2020-10-17 18:12

 

The Island

Tue, 2020-09-15 23:19

What is guilt? Who is guilty? Is redemption possible? What is sanity? Do persons have a telos, a destiny, both or neither? Ostrov (The Island) asks and answers all these questions and more.

A film that improbably remains one of the best of this century: "reads" like a 19th century Russian novel; the bleakly stunning visual setting is worth the time to watch alone.



Sacred Forests

Mon, 2020-07-27 12:28
An acquaintance sent this article on the small forest preserves in Ethiopia. The video is less than 10 minutes and well worth watching. The pictures in many ways tell thousands of words. Interesting to me: many of the visuals remind me of parts of north and central California where the trees and shrubs were removed to make way for cattle grazing - the visual effects I think are best captured by the late great radical novelist Edward Abbey's description of a "cow-burnt west". Deforestation in Ethiopia was also driven by agriculture to a large extent as well.

Now these forests are occupied by a handful of eremites. Their lived experience in these patches of natural oasis lends toward a wisdom that we seem to have lost in our industrialized and bustling commercial existence: "“In this world nothing exists alone,” he said. “It’s interconnected. A beautiful tree cannot exist by itself. It needs other creatures. We live in this world by giving and taking. We give CO2 for trees, and they give us oxygen. If we prefer only the creatures we like and destroy others, we lose everything. Bear in mind that the thing you like is connected with so many other things. You should respect that co-existence.” As Alemayehu explained, biodiversity gives rise to a forest’s emergent properties. “If you go into a forest and say, ‘I have ten species, that’s all,’ you’re wrong. You have ten species plus their interactions. The interactions you don’t see: it’s a mystery. This is more than just summing up components, it’s beyond that. These emergent properties of a forest, all the flowering fruits—it’s so complicated and sophisticated. These interactions you cannot explain, really. You don’t see it.”"

In my mind I see these eremites like Zosima in the Brothers Karamzov: "Love to throw yourself on the earth and kiss it. Kiss the earth and love it with an unceasing, consuming love. Love all men, love everything. Seek that rapture and ecstasy. Water the earth with the tears of your joy and love those tears. Don’t be ashamed of that ecstasy, prize it, for it is a gift of God and a great one; it is not given to many but only to the elect." Of course I may be romanticizing these good people's experience in these forest patches - I've never been there and never met any of the eremites that do.

And yet, as the author notes: "The trees’ fate is bound to ours, and our fate to theirs. And trees are nothing if not tenacious." For these Ethiopians, at least, a tree is tied inextricably to their salvation. But isn't it true that for all of us the tree is a source of life and ought to be honored as such?

Modern Times

Sun, 2020-06-21 17:18
I’ve found myself, quite unintentionally, immersed in modernism recently. I had been previously spending a lot of time on Renaissance era music and art, so I don’t have a good explanation as to how I got from there to here. But taking stock of things, I was: reading Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet, listening to a strange melange of Iannis Xenakis, Holly Herndon, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and looking closely at a series of paintings by Makoto Fujimura. Pretty much the only active exception I could come up with was znamenny chant recordings. None of these works necessarily relate and I’m not sure I can explain the reason for this clustering outside of coincidence.

I think many times the term "modernism" is conflated with "contemporary" in casual use. But by "modernism" in this case I mean, first and foremost, a mode of artistic exploration that breaks with prior, established forms, be they “rules” or aesthetic norms, seeing them as having exhausted their capacity to express themselves. Of course, these also involve the introduction of new forms and rationalizations for those shifts - ways to capture meaning in a way that carries forward a fresh energy of its own (at least for a time), often with an inchoate nod to "progress". I suppose the most recent manifestation of modernism may be transhumanism, but this obsession with the form seemed to have pervaded so much of the 20th century - in painting the emergence of cubism to the obsessiveness with abstraction (which finally gave way to a resurgence of figurative painting), in literary theory the move from structuralism to post structuralism and the disintegration into deconstruction. Poetry as well: proto modernists like Emily Dickinson paved the way for not only "high modernists" like Eliot but a full range of form-experimental poets, from ee cummings to BH Fairchild. These were not always entirely positive developments - I’ll take Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue over Bitches Brew any day of the week. But then again, I’ll take Dostoevsky over Tolstoy 10 times out of 10. In some sense, we have to take these developments as they come and eventually sift the wheat from the chaff.

Which brings me back to Pessoa, one of the literary giants of the Portuguese language. His Book of Disquiet was a lifelong project, which features a series - a seemingly never ending series - of reflections by a number of "heteronym" personalities he developed. The paragraphs are often redundant and the themes seem to run on, making for a difficult book to read in long sittings. As a consequence I've been pecking away at it slowly. It becomes more difficult as time goes by for another reason: the postured aloofness to life seems sometimes fake, sometimes pretentious: more what one would expect from an 18 year old than a mature writer who has mastered his craft. And yet Pessoa himself seems at times to long for a return to immaturity: "My only regret is that I am not a child, for that would allow me to believe in my dreams and believe that I am not mad, which would allow me to distance my soul from all those who surround me."

But still, the writing at times is simply gorgeous. There's not so much beauty in what Pessoa says as in how he says it. He retains completely the form of language, but deliberately evacuates the novel of its structure. What we are left with are in some sense "micro-essays" that sometimes connect and at other times disassociate. Taken as words that invoke meaning, they are often depressing, sometimes nonsensical. Taken as words that invoke feeling - a feeling of language arranged to be something more than just words - they can be spectacular.

The tension between the words as meaning and words as expression is impossible to escape: "Nothing satisfies me, nothing consoles me, everything—whether or not it has ever existed—satiates me. I neither want my soul nor wish to renounce it. I desire what I do not desire and renounce what I do not have. I can be neither nothing nor everything: I’m just the bridge between what I do not have and what I do not want.” What does one make of this when considered as creed? Unlikely anything positive. Yet this pericope is rendered in a particularly dreamy sort of way that infects the reader when immersed in the dream-like narrative in which it is situated. It's almost inescapable.

Few novels have made me pause for such extended periods of time to ponder not so much what the author has to say but how he says it. It's like a kind of poetry rendered without a poem.

---

A nod to New Directions Publishing, by the way, for making this project happen. Their edition of Disquiet I suspect will be seen as definitive for some time.

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