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May 29, 2009


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walk as Peony

clear of thinking

but with full thought

flowing to the flowering of a Peony.

If a reader may opine, the finest (of the many) classical guitar interpretations of Bach on YouTube is Julian Bream's performance of the lute transcription of BWV 1001 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mZvdGAGlOo). Around 2:00 always strikes me through the heart.

Indeed, a Reader should always opine! And friends of our man Conrad are always welcome here. The music is truly exquisite! But, in fact, more than the music, I was very moved by your essay about expectations-- which I have read in fact several times.

If you haven't seen it, a great friend of this blog recommended the music from the film Tous les Matins du Monde. Have you seen it? this piece of music is also so beautiful I think.

I think that Rousseau failed to understand that real happiness is
shared happiness. He certainly did not know how to treat his family.
Have you seen the film "Into the Wild"? I won't give away the ending
if you haven't.

Zhuangzi thought that there was a place out of time and out of place
where a lone individual could find happiness. In Burton Watson's

"Confucius went to call on Lao Tan. Lao Tan had just finished washing his hair and had spread it over his shoulders to dry. Utterly motionless, he did not even seem to be human. Confucius, hidden from sight, stood waiting, and then after some time presented himself and exclaimed, 'Did my eyes play tricks on me, or was that really true? A moment ago, Sir, your form and body seemed stiff as an old dead tree,as though you had forgotten things, taken leave of men, and were standing in solitude itself!' Lao Tan said, 'I was letting my mind wander in the Beginning of things.'"
孔子見老聃,老聃新沐,方將被發而干,蟄然似非人。孔子便而待之。少焉見,曰:"丘也眩與?其信然與?向者先生形體掘若槁木, 似遺物離人而立于獨也。"老聃曰:"吾游心于物之初。"

Reasonably enough, Confucius asks:

"What does that mean?"

Lao Dan then explains the workings of yin and yang over time:

"Perhaps someone manipulates the cords that draw it all together, but no one has ever seen his form. Decay, growth, fullness, emptiness, now murky, now bright, the sun shifting, the moon changing phase--day after day these things proceed, yet no one has seen him bringing them about..."
Confucius asks:

"May I ask what it means to wander in such a place?

Lao Dan says:

"It means to attain Perfect Beauty and Perfect Happiness. He who
attains Perfect Beauty and wanders in Perfect Happiness may be called the Perfect Man."

Their conversation continues, and let's leave them to it. The moments of happiness I have experienced, making love and talking with Veronique, reading and laughing and dancing with Laura, running alone, working, reading, have always been in time and in place. And the moments of greatest happiness have been in time and in place with people I love.

The music is beautiful. I haven't heard the viola da gamba played before. The tone (I might observe here of all places) has a hybrid east-west quality—it reminds me at once of the cello and the erhu. But then its Byzantine ancestor must have been heard all along the Silk Road.

Obviously I have not seen the movie. A quick search produces several negative reviews that dislike it in terms that recommend it to me.

It is gratifying that an essay of mine has moved someone of such discriminating taste. Accordingly I modestly observe that I wrote an essay in February of 2008 on "Happiness." I doubt its conclusion would be sympathetic to you—I have Stoic tendencies—but you might find something useful in the attempt to distinguish happiness from joy.

Since you have asked me to clarify what I meant by 'walking as Conrad': for me walking is an escape, a freedom---I do not cogitate when I walk, I only look and contemplate what I see---it is therefore not primarily an intellectual exercise but a perceptual one; and because walking offers this freedom from cogitation, it provides the possibility of self-expression, in a funny way. (Think of the dérive.) And one wants to express oneself in one's own way: thousands of people have walked London, even systematically, just as thousands of people have painted Madonnas. For seven hundred years we have lived in an age where artists have wanted to paint the Madonna a bit differently from those before; similarly, I want to walk London a bit differently from those before. This in turn allows me to make actual discoveries---and it is this, discovery itself, which, as I have remarked before, effects for me something like your paradise.


You never--ever--disappoint. My question is one that has been bothering me since I read your words, and so I wanted to ask you what you meant but was afraid to be too tedious.

But, now, reading your response, I have to tell you I am very glad to have asked!

Indeed, this was really interesting. You are right. I do make every willful attempt to walk as Peony. I never realized it but I do. You asked about the walking in LA, well I walk aboout 6-7 kilometers around a lake in our town. At this time of year it is the dewdrop world as in the mornings everything is sparkling in dewdrops. There are geese and ducks... if I wait till the dewdrops melt to walk, then there are butterflies.

Like you, though, I do not walk as Das Man. In LA, das man wears spandex on her walks. She is in exercise gear and she walks to "get in shape." It is a practice to greet every single person you meet with a smile and a good morning. She never stops and keeps her eyes on the road ahead-- or talking to her exercise companion.

It has been remarked (by the usual suspects)that I look like a housekeeper when I walk- just off the bus, I walk like I am using my feet for transportation, to go somewhere... I wear normal clothes and I have my ipod on so I can ignore those loud greetings! I also stop for butterflies and dewdrops, for mushrooms and always, always veer left or right if I spot something to look at.

And like you, I do not think when I walk. Just like you said. I imagine. I really look too. So, just like you I think I may make discoveries-- both real and imaginary. And finally-- just like you-- I suppose I too stubbornly try and walk in a different way. First, walk as my only form of transportation (i think you stubbornly insisted on doing this in the heat of arizona?) But also walking as derive. And yeah... it is like paradise; dazzlingly free.

About the Viola da gamba

Isn't the sound of the instrument really beautiful, Paul? I really love this video. It's interesting what you say about the tone of the instrument as I too have been intrigued by its resonance... Not all that long ago I had taken my son to see a a harpsichord performance with the famous Japanese harpsichordist Masaaki Suzuki. Before the concert, in the lobby, there was an informal performance of a harpsichordist and a viola da gamba player which really made an impression on me. I just assumed it was a cello but the Kid informed me that no, that was NOT a cello! And yeah, it produces a very wide range of tones, doesn't it? It really resonates-- almost like a zither.. or is that just me?

About happiness

Paul, I loved your essay! And, in fact I agreed with every single word. Less stoic, I thought it enlightened (I say that not in the Buddhist sense but in the European sense).

And, I would want to suggest that we share many of the same approaches to this topic. Is that possible? Particularly this idea, that happiness (as idealized as the paradise of a gardenor or of our friend Conrad as he walks) categorically requires what you call the reminder of memory/reality/time or in Robert Harrison's words, of history.

By the way, I love the way you end the essay (below) and in fact have been struggling to think of this topic in terms of moods (as something, rather than internal to us, are something that comes over us from the outside. And therefore we need only to atune ourselves to them).

You never essentially are happy, you wear happiness; and like any cloth, it has proper and improper climates and seasons.

Paul, you write a lot about expectations in terms of happiness. It is something that is also much on my mind. My friend Caesar seems to think I lack confidence; that I underestimate myself. This is something he has been repeating to me, and I reallize that yes, compared to Caesar and the obviously ambitious women Caesar usually associates with, I suppose I do lack confidence or under-estimate myself in comparison. On the other hand, though, this also speaks to happiness which is based expectations as informed by one's values.

Along the these lines a friend is reading Shop Class as Soul Craft. I will have to ask him about the book.

I looked for more viola da gamba music on YouTube but I missed that one, alas. I don't hear much resonance, though it is tonally various, but I can't really judge on the basis of flash video through computer speakers—still it's certainly a much less powerful instrument than the cello, and the supinated bowhold is necessarily less precise than that of a cellist—but perhaps more expressive, in the way that a painter making a broad, expressive outline will hold the brush underhand, and switch to overhand to add detail, or, of course, the way the pen is held in Eastern calligraphy or Western offhand flourishing.

I leave the above sentence is its run-on state to attest its spontaneity—including the link to IAMPETH, as I've long been curious to know what admirers of ink painting would think of this almost forgotten form, its nearest Western equivalent.

You do a great deal of thinking about happiness and I don't pretend to understand all of it, but it is possible that we share approaches. I am myself a gardener and walker, though when I try to write about gardening or walking I cannot get past the simple animal need and delight. I used to take long walks on the Pontchartrain levée in unspeakable summer heat, humidity, and sun, sprawl on a stone floor until it had soaked the heat out of me, read until dark, and then walk again. Or at this time of year one can go out walking and come back with handfuls of berries, blueberries and raspberries. The blueberries were planted; the raspberries appeared out of nowhere after Katrina and grow everywhere now. I don't have anything to say about them; I just eat them.

I missed your previous comment while I was writing mine. I don't know you, but let me say: of course you underestimate yourself. You're an intelligent person and all intelligent people end up underestimating themselves, for two reasons. First, because they are lack the benefit of blindness to limitation and contingency. Second, and mostly, because they make the mistake of associating with other intelligent people. Intelligent people never exactly match up in their abilities, and faced with people who can do things they can't, each one ends up taking themselves as the baseline and imagining that everyone around them improves on it. They lose perspective on where they actually fit into the general spectrum of human ability.

I don't understand why lack of ambition should imply lack of confidence. One can be confident but not ambitious—content—or ambitious but not confident—discontent—or ambitious and confident—enterprising. As for shop class, having done a fair amount of manual labor of various kinds, I can assure you that writing is at least as satisfactorily humane a skill to possess and practice.

Paul: You are absolutely correct concerning the less powerful but more expressive sound of the viola da gamba. This is precisely why they fell out of use until the period instrument revival in the twentieth century. It is an instrument (as are most of the period) for intimate performance venues, not the concert hall. Savall is playing an authentic period gamba so we also have gut, not metal strings which gives it that somewhat "damped" (eastern) sound rather than the singing sound of the contemporary cello. The bow position is because (I just came across this last week.) the power sounds on the Gambe come on the pull rather than the push, the opposite of the cello.

The reason I know all this is that Peony & I have been playing Youtube toss for the past six months with Baroque opera & early music videos.
To keep up with her, I try to do my homework….

MW, remember this one from before? It seems that nowadays the viola da gamba is often coupled with the harpsichord. I wonder if that was always the case?

And I suppose the harpsichord too was music for an "intimate affair"... when we saw Suzuki play, chairs were place not a meter from the instrument right on the stage. (The hall's seating was too far back apparently). You can imagine Adonis was so excited to sit that close and he was conducting and the Master kept looking over and winking at the him as he played.

MW, have you listened to Savall's daughter play harp and sing?

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