online: 18 october 2004
modified: 18, 19, 24, 26 october 2004

17 october 2004 not quite comprehensive enough

remembering my father, Christopher John Jones, who born on 17th october 1880 in Talsarnau, North Wales

1. Anthology of Chinese Literature, in two volumes, edited by Cyril Birch, associate editor Donald Keene, Grove Press, New York 1965.

Resting, and reading more of this famous collection (selected from the vast extent of Chinese literature, one genre of which, The Complete T'ang Poems 'in its 900 sections, comprises over 48,000 shih poems by some 2,200 authors' in a single dynasty) I am inspired yet again, not only by quantity but by sensitive calm, and a prevailing (non-Western) humanism... as I read I feel this is something still new to me - in range and depth and confidence.

Silent planes of wood woven in mist,
Cold hills a tinted thread to knot the heart.

from an example of Li Po's use of the tz'u form - on page 335 selected by chance from volume one (Sung Dynasty, 960-1279)

2. A radio phone-in re space flight on Talking Point, BBC World Service, 17 october 2004.

Michael Foale, who has lived for over a year in Russian and International space stations, spoke today of his certainty that people should and will visit, and eventually live on, space stations, the Moon, and Mars... But he is answering listeners' question (and dismissing dangers, doubts and difficulties) in a way that to me seems facile, characteristic of our materialistic thought at its weakest... Yet he has done brave and difficult things, even the repairing of the Hubble telescope during a space walk.

3. Saint Augustine: Concerning the City of God and against the Pagans, translated by Henry Bettenson, with a new introduction, notes and a chronology by G R Evans, Penguin Books, London 2003.

In the last moments before closing time I bought this immense book (a Christian utopia) with which I am already immensely inspired (though in earlier attempts I found it 'too religious').

Today I resolved, with the help of this book : 'to re-approach my Christian inheritance (discarded in my early twenties) and to re-think humanism, dualism, and unity'...

4. I've also been reading Nietzsche with some grasp, at last, of what he was doing in relation to Christianity and Western humanism:

to overcome the nihilistic devaluation of life and man which had followed the destruction of the metaphysical world ('the death of God')

[from R J Hollingdale's introduction to his translation of Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a book for everyone and no one Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1971]

5. Sitting in a modest Chinese cafe (while reading G R Evans' introduction to City of God) I marked many of her remarks and quotations - here are a few of them:

...the sacking of Rome gave Augustine a reason to write City of God.
Augustine was called upon to explain the fact that God's enemies had not experienced a downfall.
There was also (as in all forms of dualism) a substantial mistrust of the body.
Even after he had accepted that the omnipotent Christian God was the creator of matter as well as spirit, Augustine continued to believe that, as a matter of common experience, the body and soul were at war in each individual.
Augustine's concern to keep the people of God together, to protect and defend them, is perhaps the governing principle of all this writing
Augustine explores his own motivation and processes of thought to a degree peculiarly his own
'The Heavenly City ... does not hesitate to obey the laws of the earthly city by which those things which are designed for the support of this mortal life are regulated' [City of God XIX 17]

Happiness, he finds, does not consist in heightened enjoyment but in a modest steadiness of spirit in a settled joy [City of God II 11]
Augustine's contention that there would have been no need for political structures , with their sanctions and strictures and enforcements, if it were not for the Fall... [City of God XIX 15]
...Augustine proposed a larger agenda. He encourages people to think big, to look up, beyond the advantage of the present moment, and to form the habit of setting what they do in the context of eternity.

All these quotations and remarks, besides inspiring me to reconsider Christianity and humanism, seem to not-quite-connect, to leave the future open to new thoughts, and actions, to continuities that were formerly impossible but now, with the prospect of network in place of city, they point to a new connectiveness, beyond that of dualistic thoughts of any kind, an integration of mind and nature.

Noon, next day (after being awake until 4am to write the above, and to listen again, fortuitously, to the Michael Foale phone-in) I don't think the words in the last paragraph quite say what I was thinking:

For instance the absence of anything, in Michael Foale's replies, sufficient to anticipate and avoid exploitations and bad side-effects of space travel or to put first what is good, not what is technically possible.

It is high time to make this profound change - to call a collective halt to technical development in the destructive and unthinking manner of colonial and commercial appropriation of the world. Creative negation - the discovery of our time. Not to proceed in the manner of Christopher Columbus or Henry Ford but more in the manner of Henry David Thoreau, M. K. Gandhi, F M Alexander, or John Cage.

And I did not mention 'the city' as a continuing idea that is being realised everywhere*. I was attracted to Augustine's descriptions of a heavenly city being realised (as the Christian Church) in the midst of the secular city but attuned to things godly...

*In the early 20th century one fifth of us lived in cities but soon (I read recently) four fifths will do so.

...this supposed presence of two cities, worldly and divine, seems now to call for integration. To 'discover the how of that' could be the purpose of these thoughts. Such an aim calls for devotion, but also care to avoid the perils of both idealism and materialism - or of harsh and insensitive ways of combining them, if such is possible. Without compulsion. Very difficult.

But now we are not only more numerous but publicly connected in a self-organising network that can spontaneously resist centralism as well as be mis-used to enforce it... is that where the most ancient humanism (calm despite disorders) that of Chinese literature and government, could warn and inspire us?...

...(The Dowager (who is addressing the Emperor) stands up, strides about, flings her arms violently, shrieks.)

Dowager: Every one of you is against me! You are all trying to drive me into my grave! (She shakes her fist at the Emperor.) So you think because you're now in charge of state affairs that you can defy me! Just let me remind you! You and I (her voice now steadies) are figures behind the screen of a shadow play. (Now her voice is very even.) What ever happens that screen mustn't get torn. (She turns abruptly to Li.) Come! We're leaving! (She strides towards the moon gate, the entourage turning to follow her.)

from a play by Yao Hsin-nung, The Malice of the Empire,1941, translated by Jeremy Ingalls, in Anthology of Chinese Literature, volume 2, edited by Cyril Birch, Grove Press New York 1972, from a point on page 347 selected by random number.

Having got this far (in writing these readings and meditations) I realise that they could be performed as a play - a revelation, perhaps, of the comprehensiveness that is missing?

(these pages are designed to be read with the window set to two-thirds of the screen width)

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