Posts Tagged ‘nature



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”


Love, Passion, and Transformation

Things did not proceed as I had thought, however. Even as I watched, I saw this naive, heedless passion changing my friend. Love was feverishly at work, transforming him into a person suited for love. His passion, altogether foolish, altogether blind, made him into one altogether suitable. Just at the moment of his death, I saw his face become the very face of one who had been born to die for love. All incongruity was wiped away at that moment.

I, whose eyes had witnessed so miraculous a transformation, could myself hardly remain unchanged. My callow faith in my own indomitable nature became a prey to misgivings, and I had to work to maintain it. What had been an act of faith now became an act of will. What had been something natural now became something to be sought after. This was an alteration that brought with it a certain profit valuable to me in my role as a judge. When I deal with a criminal I am able to believe, unswayed by theories of retribution or re-education, or by optimism or pessimism toward human nature, that any man, regardless of his situation, is capable of being transformed…

…Having reached my present age, I find myself no longer adverting to the incongruity between men and their passions. When I was young, concern for my own welfare certainly made such fault-finding a necessity, but now not only is this necessity gone but the disharmony in others resulting from their passion, which in the past I would have considered a weakness worthy of scornful laughter, has become but an allowable imperfection. And with that perhaps I have lost the last vestige of my youth, whose vulnerability made it fearful of the wounds incurred by reacting emotionally to the erratic conduct of others. Now, indeed, it is the beauty of danger rather than the danger of beauty that affects me with the utmost vividness, and there is nothing comical to me about youth. Probably this is because youth no longer has any claim on my self-awareness. When I consider all this for a moment, there is something frightening about it. My own enthusiasm, innocuous as it is for me, may well have the result of further stimulating your dangerous enthusiasm.

– Yukio Mishima, “Runaway Horses” (Chapter 10)


Opposites or Complements?

Then there’s only one way to participate in history, and that’s to have no will at all—to function solely as a shining, beautiful atom, eternal and unchanging. No one should look for any other meaning in human existence.

– Yukio Mishima, “Spring Snow” (Chapter 13)

Oddly enough, living only for one’s emotions, like a flag obedient to the breeze, demands a way of life that makes one balk at the natural course of events, for this implies being altogether subservient to nature. The life of the emotions detests all constraints, whatever their origin, and thus, ironically enough, is apt eventually to fetter its own instinctive sense of freedom.

– Yukio Mishima, “Spring Snow” (Chapter 15)


A prelude to traveling alone…

I had never traveled alone before and I discovered that I liked it. No one in the world knew where I was, no one had the ability to reach me. It was like being dead, my escape allowing me to taste that tremendous power my mother possessed forever.

– “Year’s End”, a story from “Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri

First, I absolutely have to make the book recommendation without reservation and without hesitation. On my list, Jhumpa Lahiri just usurped from Alice Munro her position as the undisputed queen of short stories. Excerpts don’t come across very well in demonstrating her masterful storytelling and tone-painting, so you all owe it to yourselves to pick this one up.

I’m cheating a bit with today’s post. In my writing, I’m still knee-deep in the confines of high school and Salinas. I intend on traveling chronologically, but recent conversations and contemplations of my solo travels have conjured an insufferable itch to spend some time in the less distant memories.

Despite growing up in two separate continents, I never really lived the life of a traveler. Until second grade, my family and I split our time—our life—between Korea and the States, bouncing back and forth every few years when my father’s position in the military demanded it. I took for granted the rebooting of culture and the novelty of discovery and rediscovery every boarding of the plane brought with it: the unexpected joy of finding a toy in a Happy Meal, the hearty, acrid scent of chestnuts roasting over a paint can full of glowing charcoal, and the population flipping between homogeneous  and heterogeneous with every alternation of the country we considered home. Once my parents decided we were to immigrate to the States for good, I found a certain comfort in the insular community of Monterey Bay and an unanticipated tragedy urged me to remain grounded in California.

My wanderlust was born when a college friend and our mutual friend, who also happened to be a classmate from high school, invited me on a road trip across the States. Having just graduated from Berkeley with highest honors and been granted admission into the nation’s top ranked doctoral program in clinical psychology, I should have been ecstatic and immediately agreed to the trip as a nice reward and vacation prior to beginning a grueling graduate program. Instead, I was going mad with the thought I had ruined my relationship with the one—the only—woman I could love and my entire life until then was lived in and driven by guilt, rather than genuine interest or passion.  The days leading up to that invitation were spent huddled on the floor of my bedroom and in constant struggle with thoughts I may be descending into a very real madness—maybe the beginning stages of schizophrenia (I was at just the right age for men).

Instead of immediately accepting the offer to travel, I refused without a real or valid excuse. The days and the weeks became more maddening and less tolerable. On one occasion, I awakened my parents at three in the morning, startled them out of their sleep by asking them to pray for me. Though I had long given up on faith and the power of prayer, I was seriously concerned my final, tenuous grip on sanity was slipping away from me. The next morning, I knew I had to get out of the house, out of Salinas, and far away from the madness and memories. I called Ray and told him I would be joining him and Ben in their adventure.

We packed the full-sized van in preparation with a three-room tent, an electronic cooler, a portable butane stove, and several duffel bags containing our clothes, toiletries, and miscellaneous necessities for our anticipated life on the road. We had no long-term plans or destinations. Ray and Ben had family and friends scattered about the country and made loose plans on visiting a few of them; I knew a few people out of state, but I wanted to leave everything behind, become lost in a perfect darkness, and maybe even escape the doubts and uncertainties squeezing, encroaching me of my sanity.

We had a road atlas, first looked in our immediate surroundings for points of interest, then extended our search outwards if we found nothing noteworthy. I have only the fondest, most awe-inspiring memories of the trip: the impossibly blue, clear summer surface of Lake Tahoe; Yellowstone National Park and its spectacular display of geysers, mud pots, and hot springs;  Ray’s cousins and grandparents in Chicago; Ben’s mother, sister, and her ridiculously flamboyant Taekwondo instructor in Kentucky; the Big Apple and its staggering diversity and energy; the Preservation Hall Jazz Band playing “When the Saints go Marching In” in the barely-lit, packed,sweat-drenched room in the French Quarter; the grandeur, the spectacle, the sheer impossibility of the Grand Canyon.

Near the end of our month-long stint on the road came the Grand Canyon. I will never forget the first night we camped on the South Rim. Ben had decided to remain behind with his mother in Kentucky and Ray had already retired for the night. Under the brilliant brightness of the moon, breathing in the thin air of the tolerably chill night, I lay on a smooth, flat rock large enough to be a bed, folded my arms behind my head, and looked up into the night sky. The stars burned, flickered, and danced. They dared me to try the impossible: to count them, to name them, to know every one of them. They pierced deep into my retinas, promised to haunt me for as long as I live, and promised me the beauties of tomorrow with the indisputable proof of the beauty present in the now.

I thought of the girl I’d been obsessed with in college, wanted to share with her the absolute divinity and beauty of that moment. I thought of my family, friends, and Ray, just a thin layer of nylon separating him from the spectacular display, and wanted them to take possession of my eyes for a moment, to see what I saw, to know what I knew. I needed to know it was okay—it was natural— to be wiping the tears welling, distorting that dazzling canvas every few seconds. I needed to know that such beauty did indeed exist, that it wasn’t a product of my madness.

A month after departure, I returned home to the dreadful promise of a grief-driven career. Everything had changed and nothing had changed within the month. The month would exist in its own bubble, a world of its own, a time of its own, inhabiting a self existing entirely separate from the self I slipped back into upon my return.

The shared trip with my friends did not cure me entirely of my doubts or the threat of an impending madness, but in that month, I did forget about them and at times, even confront them equipped with the greater beauties surrounding me. I began graduate studies full of doubt, filled with recent memories and possibilities of a life without guilt, a life not devoted to placating restless spirits: all essential ingredients to brewing the courage to take ownership of my destiny, to later spend three months on the road again (but alone), and to really begin living.


An indestructible realm…

I only want to share something I read today. It moved me greatly and I think it speaks for itself.

This war is utterly extraordinary; I like the fact that it doesn’t make “sense,” isn’t about some trifling issue, and constitutes the upheaval signaling a major atmospheric change. Since the atmosphere used to be quite putrid, the change might even be a good thing. It’s not for us to decide whether the price was high, perhaps excessive. Nature is always profligate; she places little value on individual lives. As for us artists or intellectuals, we have  always kept apart and live in a rather timeless world, so the only losses we have to fear are material ones, and that can always be endured. People with a profound understanding of Bach or Plato, or Goethe’s Faust know in their heart of hearts that there is only one realm where peace and lasting meaning can be found. That realm is indestructible; it’s possible for each one of us to live there, and feel at home, and help expand it. But there are people who feel that they lost everything along with their material comforts, and so their suffering is greater than ours. They could, of course, also learn a lot from the experience. It may be good for them to realize that such things as stock-market indexes and menus, clubs, etc., no longer govern their lives, but rather such basic natural urges as hunger and the fear of death.

– Hermann Hesse in a correspondence to Volkmar Andrea

November 2017
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