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Kudos to my HS English teacher, who taught me I should *always* read introductions…

“There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag—and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty—and vice versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you. Remember that for all the books we have in print, are as many that have never reached print, have never been written down—even now, in this age of compulsive reverence for the written word, history, even social ethic, are taught by means of stories, and the people who have been conditioned into thinking only in terms of what is written—and unfortunately nearly all the products of our educational system can do no more than this—are missing what is before their eyes. For instance, the real history of Africa is still in the custody of black storytellers and wise men, black historians, medicine men; it is a verbal history, still kept safe from the white man and his predations. Everywhere, if you keep your mind open, you will find the truth in words. Above all, you should know that the fact that you have to spend one year, or two years, on one book, or one author means that you are badly taught—you should have been taught to read your way from one sympathy to another, you should be learning to follow your own intuitive feeling about what you need: that is what you should have been developing, not the way to quote from other people.”

Doris Lessing, Introduction: 1971 from The Golden Notebook


Hermann Hesse sends a message to those searching for leaders…

To a young man in search of some kind of “leader”

Chantarella, Winter 1930

Your letter has reached me in the mountains. I have been overworked and really need to rest. I can only answer briefly.

There is no call for despair. If you are a person born to lead your own individual life rather than an ordinary everyday one, then you will eventually discover that difficult route toward your own personality and a life of your own. If you are not called upon to do so, or if you cannot muster sufficient energy, you will have to give up sooner or later and reconcile yourself to the morality, taste, and customs of the majority.

It’s a question of how much energy one has. Or, as I prefer to see things, it’s a question of faith. For one often finds very strong people who soon fail and very delicate and weak people who, in spite of their weakness and illness, make their way splendidly through life and impress their stamp upon it, even though they may be merely enduring their lot. Whenever Sinclair has sufficient energy (or faith), Demian is enticed by that energy and approaches him.

It isn’t easy to put into words the faith I have in mind. One might describe it as follows: I believe that, regardless of its seemingly nonsensical qualities, life does have meaning. I accept the fact that this ultimate meaning transcends my rational faculties. I am, however, prepared to be at its service, even if this means having to sacrifice myself. Whenever I am truly and fully alive and awake, I hear an inner voice proclaiming that meaning.

I want to try to fulfill the things that life demands of me at such moments, even if that runs counter to conventional fashions or laws.

It’s not possible to impose this belief and compel oneself to accept it. One has to experience it, just as a Christian cannot acquire grace through mere effort, force, or wiles, but has to experience it through faith. Those who are unable to do so seek their faith in the church, or science, or patriotism or socialism, or anyplace that furnishes ready-made moral codes, programs, and solutions.

It’s impossible for me to ascertain whether people are cut out for this rather difficult but beautiful path that leads to a life and a meaning of one’s own—even if I were to see them in person. Thousands are called, many go a bit of the way, but few continue beyond the frontiers of youth, and perhaps nobody stays the course until the very end.



Their understanding of nature and the self is fully encompassed in the round black holes of the eye sockets. The two holes at the corners of the mouth reveal nature’s scorn for man and show man’s fear of nature. The face also accurately expresses the animal nature in human beings and the fear of this animal nature within themselves.

Men cannot cast off this mask, it is a projection of his own flesh and spirit. He can no longer remove from his own face this mask which has already grown like skin and flesh so he is always startled as if disbelieving this is himself, but this is in fact himself. He cannot remove this mask, and this is agony. But having manifested itself as his mask, it cannot be obliterated, because the mask is a replica of himself. It has no will of its own, or one could say it has a will but no means of expression and so prefers not to have a will. Therefore it has left man with an eternal face with which he can examine himself in amazement.

Xingjian Gao, “Soul Mountain”


Real life

Death was playing a joke on me but now that I’ve escaped the demon wall, I am secretly rejoicing. Life for me once again has a wonderful freshness. I should have left those contaminated surroundings long ago and returned to nature to look for this authentic life.

In those contaminated surroundings I was taught that life was the source of literature, that literature had to be faithful to life, faithful to real life. My mistake was that I had alienated myself from life and ended up turning my back on real life. Life is not the same as manifestations of life. Real life, or in other words the basic substance of life, should be the former and not the latter. I had gone against real life because I was simply stringing together life’s manifestations, so of course I wasn’t able to accurately portray life and in the end only succeeded in distorting reality.

Xingjian Gao, “Soul Mountain”


The power of the word (with a rare absence of Mishima)

How soon will someone speak the word the resentful millions will understand: the words to be, to act, to live?

Richard Wright, “Native Son”


The Pure Land

If one feels like having something to eat, there automatically appears before one’s eyes a seven-jeweled table on whose shining surface rest seven-jeweled bowls heaped high with the choicest delicacies. But there is no need to pick up these viands and put them in one’s mouth. All that is necessary is to look at their inviting colors and to enjoy their aroma: thereby the stomach is filled and the body nourished, while one remains oneself spiritually and physically pure. When one has thus finished one’s meal without any eating, the bowls and the table are instantly wafted off.

Yukio Mishima, “The Priest of Shiga Temple and His Love”


Favorite passage from “Waiting”

The moon was glistening on the willow and maple crowns; beetles and grasshoppers were chirring madly. The leaves and branches, heavy with dew, bent down slightly, while the grass on both sides of the road looked spiky and thick in the coppery light of the street lamps. A toad was croaking like a broken horn from a distant ditch partly filled with foamy water. Lin felt weak and aged; he was unsure whether he cared for the twins and whether he would be able to love them devotedly. Watching their covered faces, somehow he began to imagine trading places with them, having his life start afresh. If only he himself had been carried by someone like this now; then he would have led his life differently. Perhaps he would never have had a family.

Ha Jin, “Waiting”

November 2017
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