Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass: vast profunditie obscure

Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy, derives its title from this section of Milton’s Paradise Lost

On heav’nly ground they stood, and from the shore
They view’d the vast immeasurable Abyss
Outrageous as a Sea, dark, wasteful, wilde,
Up from the bottom turn’d by furious windes
And surging waves, as Mountains to assault
Heav’ns highth, and with the Center mix the Pole.
Silence, ye troubl’d waves, and thou Deep, peace,
Said then th’ Omnific Word, your discord end:
Nor staid, but on the Wings of Cherubim
Uplifted, in Paternal Glorie rode
Farr into Chaos, and the World unborn;
For Chaos heard his voice: him all his Traine
Follow’d in bright procession to behold
Creation, and the wonders of his might.
Then staid the fervid Wheeles, and in his hand
He took the golden Compasses, prepar’d
In Gods Eternal store, to circumscribe
This Universe, and all created things:
One foot he center’d, and the other turn’d
Round through the vast profunditie obscure,
And said, thus farr extend, thus farr thy bounds,
This be thy just Circumference, O World.
—Paradise Lost bk vii, lns 210-31 (1667)

The literal golden compass of this tale holds the secrets of creation. The device is both an artifact of religious veneration, and a piece of technology.  Lyra, the protagonist, is obviously some vital piece of a cosmic drama which holds the secrets of “the vast profunditie obsure,” although the first book only alludes to this. In book one it appears that the world and creation are more complex than the official church doctrine.  And of course, this can only lead to a bewildering drama.

Monday, September 18, 2017

English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology (Dover Thrift Editions)

English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology (Dover Thrift Editions) hits all the major Romantic poets, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats and Shelly.  

If you are like me, and have not read these poets since high school or college, and when you read them you did so apathetically, then this is a book loaded with gems.  Stylistically, thematically, and linguistically, these poems are at once familiar and numinous.  They are protean forms in the mind and heart, forming shifting, evocative images and scenes.

The Dover Editions once sat on a rack near the register of book stores (do they still?)  As if these little one or two dollar books were an impulse purchase like a pack of gum.  The world has changed a great deal. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith H. Beer

The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith H. Beer is the story of Beer’s rather remarkable survival during the Second World War.  She became a “U-boat,” a Jewish person hiding under false papers.  But she went much further than that: she married a member of the Nazi party, became a Nazi hausfrau, bore a daughter, as the rest of European Jews, including her family, were murdered.

There is a telling moment after the war where Edith searches for family in the camps.  When she reveals to former Jewish prisoners who she is, and how she survived, they call her terrible things, in essence equating her survival as on less of a parallel plane to those in the camps.

But this is a blunt and ugly way to view her story.  Beer survived both because of her tenacity, and because four Germans helped her at pivotal moments.  Without them, she probably would have been discovered.  These Germans, her former employer, a man in a Nazi office (who had a connection with her employer) in charge of racial certification, a young friend, and her husband, saved her, at the risk of their own lives, for no other purpose than their great love for her.

If more Germans took such risks, more Jews like Edith Beers would have survived the war.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Torah Sutras - A New Direction

My book, The Torah Sutras, will be published by Albion-Andalus Press.  Publication date TBA.

This work is the  type of book I have long wanted to publish.  The book is mixed genre: non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and religious philosophy.  This work does some heavy lifting, shifting the emphasis and definition of certain time honored Jewish concepts and pouring them into a classical, Chinese, religious mode.

The Torah Sutras is the direction I want my future religious writing to take; unlike my first two non-fiction books on religious topics, I will now write religious works that are more activist than descriptive.  The fact that this book emerged from a such descriptive book, which failed to find its axis (and was to be my third book) supports my hunch that the death of the book was a productive "failure" which I was fortunate to experience. 

I want to breathe life into “old” modes of religious thought.  This book is the start of new directions in my writing – a nexus where old and new meet to combine and create novel forms. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Prisoners of Breendonk: Personal Histories from a World War II Concentration Camp

James M. Deem’s The Prisoners of Breendonk: Personal Histories from a World War II Concentration Camp is an account of a relatively small prison in Belgium during the Second World War.  Deems takes the investigatory path of many recent Holocaust scholars: he concentrates on a few individuals in a camp, both the victims and the tormentors, and through their story, tells the story of the camp at large.

What we get is almost a day-to-day account of life in Breendonk.  He charts the course of the prison as the war proceeds, details how prisoners were tortured and killed, what they ate and where they slept.  The prison was photographed for propaganda purposes, to show how well treated the inmates were.  Despite this, the wealth of photographs can’t hide malnutrition and physical abuse.  One prisoner was an artist, and the camp commander commissioned him to sketch prisoners for his private collection.  The artist drew one for the commander, and one for himself.  These drawings are startling, giving an inside, unexpurgated view of camp life.

Suddenly, reading about the Holocaust is quite important again.  As the world contracts toward ridged nationalism and parochialism – reading accounts of the end result of this process, its most raw and inhuman form, is extremely important.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Mindfulness Solution to Pain: Step-by-Step Techniques for Chronic Pain Management by Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix

The Mindfulness Solution to Pain: Step-by-Step Techniques for Chronic Pain Management by Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix has a simple theoretical premise which is difficult, but not impossible, to put into practice.  This is necessarily the case, for mindfulness demands a great deal of focused attention.  It takes practice and work.

One of the chief insights in this book is that physical pain and our mental states go hand in hand. Pain is a physiological response to something wrong with our bodies, certainly, but equally important in this equation is how we frame the experience of pain in our minds. 

This book sets out many techniques on how to frame, or re-frame, our experience of pain.  This is helpful for alleviating our pain level.  Even sitting still with our pain, allowing it to happen, not fighting it or judging it, is helpful, and a great start.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Birds of America: Stories

Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America: Stories is a compelling read, but not for reasons that most readers may find.  Almost all the stories start off on very unpromising notes.  Moore veers this way and that, and the reader may wonder where she is going and what she is doing.  There is unfortunate goofy descriptive language.  Most of the stories, with an exception or two, begin this way, and it is perplexing.

But Moore has the very strange ability to “turn” her stories around, often in the last few pages.  She veers us away from the verge of doom again and again, creating stories with great insights and pathos. So, if you read this book, stay with the task.  You will be rewarded in the end.