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October 19, 2012


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Gabriel Marcel might have been a Christian existentialist, but his belief in our “becoming real only in our Mode of Participation” is totally Buddhist. Buddhism holds that material form comes into existence only through relationships that are "formed", then eventually dissolved, then eventually re-formed….. Therefore we should pay more attention to relationships (mode of participation) than to objects.

My wife was Yu Kuang-chung's T.A. when she was studying in Taiwan back in the early 60's. At our wedding in 1966, he drove down to Indianapolis from the Univ. of Michigan to stand in for her father in giving the bride away. He was also the editor of the Modern American Literature in translation series that published our Chinese translation of Cannery Row in the late 60's. (Not that this has anything at all to do with the topic at hand, just name-dropping 8^)

Hi Jan,

I think the similarities between Buddhism and Existentialism are myriad!! In terms of the topic here, I can't help but think of one of my favorite books by Inoue Yasushi, Roof Tile of Tempyo. Did you read that one? It is a real favorite of mine. But I guess, maybe there is a different stress concerning soul and choice. I must say that is a wonderful thing for me to imagine, Yu KC being there bearing witness at your wedding!! Now that is something!!!

How very strange. I had a dear friend pass away last week as well. She was 38 and finally gave way after a long battle with ovarian cancer. Friends didn't speak at the service, but the priest read a friend-written euology as part of the ritual, and we have started a private Facebook page to post photos and memories on (how very modern, right?)

Her death has started a new wave of contemplation about Life, the Universe and Everything Else . . . so that is why "Cloud Atlas" is the right book and the right time for me.

I was taken in by the beautiful descriptive language in the book right away, such as in Ewing's journal, "One loses one's eye in the lanes of sea phosphoresence and the Mississippi of stars streaming across the heavens. . ."

Also agree that the composer chapter and his characterization is fabulous!

This, for me, is Mitchell's masterwork, that demands much of the reader or viewer but gives much in return, in terms of the affirmation of the human soul. For me, 'Cloud Atlas' is not the ultimate atheist or existentialist treatise. As a physicist and poet, I believe that God is in the patterns that surround us, in the beauty of chaos, in a destiny that reverberates from small acts and loops back on itself through time and space. And in this, 'Cloud Atlas' enunciates for me my fundamental belief in the immortality of the human soul.

Beautiful Laura, I was so sorry to hear about your friend. 38 is much much to young...And, you are so right, this book really stimulates the reader to ponder the soul. I probably mentioned this on FB but I am also reading a book called, Prester John's Prisoner and I keep thinking of you. Ethiopia was such a crossroads but then it was also isolated for so long and so their Christianity, their use of the cross, their FOOD is just so unique. Have you been to Jerusalem? It is the one and only thing on my "bucket list"... I feel like seeing it is sich a must (Sebag-Montefiore's book was fabulous) but if I could squeeze Ethiopia in too, I sure would like to see it for myself some day...I will be going to Shanghai again in January and am pretty excited. I don't think the food was as exciting as Cantonese though... xo

Dear Sam, I loved your words. Indeed, this book is a masterpiece: it unfolds a new world-- at the same time, there are a myriad of interpretations. For me, it is closest to the Christian existentialist books I love, but I bet Mitchell would NOT agree... A long time ago a friend taught me a word for the act of seeing the hand of God in patterns. He told me the word more than once but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was (and maybe it was not about seeing the hand of God but just seeing "meaningful patterns" in nature--I can't recall) Maybe the most unforgettable instance of this in literature for me is in Borges story about Averroes--did you read that one? It starts off with a group of philosophers in a Moorish garden searching for the name of Allah in the shape of the rose petals (if you think about it, petals do resemble the Arabic alphabet)... anyway, I always loved that beaitiful image.... xo

PS This article was worth reading about the film adaptation.... for what its worth, I noticed the color-blind, gender-blind casting and thought it might be interesting...but even by the trailer, I knew I would not appreciate the heavy handed approach to reincarnation (and connection of souls).. it is so subtle in the novel and very open-ended... which I liked so much.

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