Monday, August 17, 2020

I couldn’t manage without anesthesia/ The Reader - by Bernhard Schlink

...the doctor was not ready to let me go back to school, I was bored stiff with books after months of reading, and although friends still came to see me, I had been sick for so long that their visits could no longer bridge the gap between their daily lives and mine, and became shorter and shorter.

Being ill when you are a child or growing up is such an enchanted interlude! The outside world, the world of free time in the yard or the garden or on the street, is only a distant murmur in the sickroom. Inside, a whole world of characters and stories proliferates out of the books you read. The fever that weakens your perception as it sharpens your imagination turns the sickroom into someplace new, both familiar and strange; monsters come grinning out of the patterns on the curtains and the carpet, and chairs, tables, bookcases, and wardrobes burst out of their normal shapes and become mountains and buildings and ships you can almost touch although they’re far away. Through the long hours of the night you have the church clock for company and the rumble of the occasional passing car that throws its headlights across the walls and ceiling. These are hours without sleep, which is not to say that they’re sleepless, because on the contrary, they’re not about lack of anything, they’re rich and full. Desires, memories, fears, passions form labyrinths in which we lose and find and then lose ourselves again. They are hours when anything is possible, good or bad.
This passes as you get better. But if the illness has lasted long enough, the sickroom is impregnated with it and although you’re convalescing and the fever has gone, you are still trapped in the labyrinth.

In school I was neither good nor bad; I think that many of the teachers didn’t really notice me, nor did the students who dominated the class. I didn’t like the way I looked, the way I dressed and moved, what I achieved and what I felt I was worth. But there was so much energy in me, such belief that one day I’d be handsome and clever and superior and admired, such anticipation when I met new people and new situations. Is that what makes me sad? The eagerness and belief that filled me then and exacted a pledge from life that life could never fulfill? Sometimes I see the same eagerness and belief in the faces of children and teenagers and the sight brings back the same sadness I feel in remembering myself.

I asked her about her life, and it was as if she rummaged around in a dusty chest to get me the answers. She had grown up in a German community in Romania, then come to Berlin at the age of sixteen, taken a job at the Siemens factory, and ended up in the army at twenty-one.

As the days grew longer, I read longer, so that I could be in bed with her in the twilight. When she had fallen asleep lying on me, and the saw in the yard was quiet, and a blackbird was singing as the colors of things in the kitchen dimmed until nothing remained of them but lighter and darker shades of gray, I was completely happy.

We set off on Easter Monday. The sun was shining and went on shining for four days. The mornings were cool and then the days warmed up, not too warm for cycling, but warm enough to have picnics. The woods were carpets of green, with yellow green, bright green, bottle green, blue green, and black green daubs, flecks, and patches. In the flat-lands along the Rhine, the first fruit trees were already in bloom. In Odenwald the first forsythias were out.

At home none of us cried like that. We didn’t hit, not even with our hands, let alone a leather belt. We talked.

Never to let myself be humiliated or humiliate myself after Hanna, never to take guilt upon myself or feel guilty, never again to love anyone whom it would hurt to lose—I didn’t formulate any of this as I thought back then, but I know that’s how I felt.

I remember my grandfather during one of my last visits before his death; he wanted to bless me, and I told him I didn’t believe in any of that and didn’t want it. It is hard for me to imagine that I felt good about behaving like that. I also remember that the smallest gesture of affection would bring a lump to my throat, whether it was directed at me or at someone else. Sometimes all it took was a scene in a movie. This juxtaposition of callousness and extreme sensitivity seemed suspicious even to me.

What is law? Is it what is on the books, or what is actually enacted and obeyed in a society? Or is law what must be enacted and obeyed, whether or not it is on the books, if things are to go right? The professor, an old gentleman who had returned from exile but remained an outsider among German legal scholars, participated in these debates with all the force of his scholarship, and yet at the same time with a detachment that no longer relied on pure scholarship to provide the solution to a problem. “Look at the defendants—you won’t find a single one who really believes he had the dispensation to murder back then.”

We were the students of the camps. (...) What we were doing didn’t interest the others; it alienated many of them, literally repelled some. When I think about it now, I think that our eagerness to assimilate the horrors and our desire to make everyone else aware of them was in fact repulsive. The more horrible the events about which we read and heard, the more certain we became of our responsibility to enlighten and accuse. Even when the facts took our breath away, we held them up triumphantly. Look at this!
[//animal rights & other radical civil activists]

The court was in a turn-of-the-century building, but devoid of the gloomy pomposity so characteristic of court buildings of the time.

Who had given me the injection? Had I done it myself, because I couldn’t manage without anesthesia? The anesthetic functioned not only in the courtroom, and not only to allow me to see Hanna as if it was someone else who had loved and desired her, someone I knew well but who wasn’t me. In every part of my life, too, I stood outside myself and watched; I saw myself functioning at the university, with my parents and brother and sister and my friends, but inwardly I felt no involvement.
After a time I thought I could detect a similar numbness in other people.

The other students kept being horrified all over again. They only came to the trial once a week, and each time the same thing happened: the intrusion of horror into daily life. I, who was in court every day, observed their reactions with detachment.

It was like being a prisoner in the death camps who survives month after month and becomes accustomed to the life, while he registers with an objective eye the horror of the new arrivals: registers it with the same numbness that he brings to the murders and deaths themselves. All survivor literature talks about this numbness, in which life’s functions are reduced to a minimum, behavior becomes completely selfish and indifferent to others, and gassing and burning are everyday occurrences.

“Did you not know that you were sending the prisoners to their death?”
“Yes, but the new ones came, and the old ones had to make room for the new ones.”
“So because you wanted to make room, you said you and you and you have to be sent back to be killed?”
Hanna didn’t understand what the presiding judge was getting at.
“I... I mean ... so what would you have done?”

“Yes, she had favorites, always one of the young ones who was weak and delicate, and she took them under her wing and made sure that they didn’t have to work, got them better barracks space and took care of them and fed them better, and in the evenings she had them brought to her. And the girls were never allowed to say what she did with them in the evening, and we assumed she was... also because f they all ended up on the transports, as if she had had her fun with them and then had got bored. But it wasn’t like that at all, and one day one of them finally talked, and we learned that the girls read aloud to her, evening after evening after evening. That was better than if they... and better than working themselves to death on the building site. I must have thought it was better, or I couldn’t have forgotten it. But was it better?”

Had she talked herself into a corner at the trial for the same reason? Because she couldn’t read the daughter’s book or the indictment, couldn’t see the openings that would allow her to build a defense, and thus could not prepare herself accordingly? Was that why she sent her chosen wards to Auschwitz? To silence them in case they had noticed something? And was that why she always chose the weak ones in the first place?
Was that why? I could understand that she was ashamed at not being able to read or write, and would rather drive me away than expose herself. I was no stranger to shame as the cause of behavior that was deviant or defensive, secretive or misleading or hurtful. But could Hanna’s shame at being illiterate be sufficient reason for her behavior at the trial or in the camp? To accept exposure as a criminal for fear of being exposed as an illiterate? To commit crimes to avoid the same thing?

But was it really worth all that? What did she gain from this false self-image which ensnared her and crippled her and paralyzed her? With the energy she put into maintaining the lie, she could have learned to read and write long ago.

“Don’t you remember how furious you would get as a little boy when Mama knew better what was good for you? Even how far one can act like this with children is a real problem. It is a philosophical problem, but philosophy does not concern itself with children. It leaves them to pedagogy, where they’re not in very good hands. Philosophy has forgotten about children.” He smiled at me. “Forgotten them forever, not just sometimes, the way I forget about you.”
“But with adults I see absolutely no justification for setting other people’s views of what is good for them above their own ideas of what is good for themselves.”
“Not even if they themselves are happy about it later?”
He shook his head. “We’re not talking about happiness, we’re talking about dignity and freedom. Even as a little boy, you knew the difference. It was no comfort to you that your mother was always right.”

“I haven’t been able to help you... As a philosopher, I mean, which is how you were addressing me. As your father, I find the experience of not being able to help my children almost unbearable.”

When I think today about those years, I realize how little direct observation there actually was, how few photographs that made life and murder in the camps real. We knew the gate of Auschwitz with its inscription, the stacked wooden bunks, the piles of hair and spectacles and suitcases; we knew the building that formed the entrance to Birkenau with the tower, the two wings, and the entry way for the trains, and from Bergen-Belsen the mountains of corpses found and photographed by the Allies at the liberation. We were familiar with some of the testimony of prisoners, but many of them were published soon after the war and not reissued until the 1980s, and in the intervening years they disappeared from publishers’ lists. Today there are so many books and films that the world of the camps is part of our collective imagination and completes our ordinary everyday one. Our imagination knows its way around in it, and since the television series “Holocaust” and movies like “Sophie’s Choice” and especially “Schindler's List”, actually moves in it, not just registering, but supplementing and embellishing it. Back then, the imagination was almost static: the shattering fact of the world of the camps seemed properly beyond its operations. The few images derived from Allied photographs and the testimony of survivors flashed on the mind again and again, until they froze into clichés.

I wanted to pose myself both tasks—understanding and condemnation. But it was impossible to do both.

It was a slow rush-hour train that stopped at every station; people got on and off. I sat at the window, surrounded by ever-changing passengers, conversations, smells. Outside, houses passed by, and roads, cars, trees, distant mountains, castles, and quarries. I took it all in and felt nothing. I was no longer upset at having been left, deceived, and used by Hanna. I no longer had to meddle with her. I felt the numbness with which I had followed the horrors of the trial settling over the emotions and thoughts of the past few weeks. It would be too much to say I was happy about this. But I felt it was right. It allowed me to return to and continue to live my everyday life.

Prosecution seemed to me as grotesque a simplification as defense, and judging was the most grotesque oversimplification of all. Nor could I see myself as an administrative official; I had worked at a local government office during my training, and found its rooms, corridors, smells, and employees gray, sterile, and dreary.

…I was working on the legal codes and drafts of the Enlightenment. They were based on the belief that a good order is intrinsic to the world, and that therefore the world can be brought into good order. To see how legal provisions were created paragraph by paragraph out of this belief as solemn guardians of this good order, and worked into laws that strove for beauty and by their very beauty for truth, made me happy. For a long time I believed that there was progress in the history of law, a development towards greater beauty and truth, rationality and humanity, despite terrible setbacks and retreats. Once it became clear to me that this belief was a chimera, I began playing with a different image of the course of legal history.

Precisely because she was both close and removed in such an easy way, I didn’t want to visit her. I had the feeling she could only be what she was to me at an actual distance. I was afraid that the small, light, safe world of notes and cassettes was too artificial and too vulnerable to withstand actual closeness.

I accused her, and found it both shabby and too easy, the way she had wriggled out of her guilt. Allowing no one but the dead to demand an accounting, reducing guilt and atonement to insomnia and bad feelings—where did that leave the living? But what I meant was not the living, it was me. Did I not have my own accounting to demand of her? What about me?

I woke up and knew that Hanna was dead. I also knew that my desire had fixed on her without her being its object. It was the desire to come home.

“When I was fifteen, we had a relationship.”
“You mean you slept together?”
That woman was truly brutal... did you ever get over the fact that you were only fifteen when she... No, you said yourself that you began reading to her again when she was in prison. Did you ever get married?”
I nodded.
“And the marriage was short and unhappy, and you never married again, and the child, if there is one, is in boarding school.”
“That’s true of thousands of people, it doesn’t take a Frau Schmitz.”
Did you ever feel, when you had contact with her in those last years, that she knew what she had done to you?”

Sometimes I asked myself if I was responsible for her death. And sometimes I was in a rage at her and at what she had done to me. Until finally the rage faded and the questions ceased to matter. Whatever I had done or not done, whatever she had done or not to me—it was the path my life had taken.

…if something hurts me, the hurts I suffered back then come back to me, and when I feel guilty, the feelings of guilt return; if I yearn for something today, or feel homesick, I feel the yearnings and homesickness from back then. The tectonic layers of our lives rest so tightly one on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive.

The Reader - by Bernhard Schlink, 
Carol Brown Janeway (Translator)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Don't read books! Yang Wanli (1127—1206)

Yang Wanli (1127—1206). Yang led the life of a Chinese scholar official in troubled times. One of the “Four Masters” of the southern Song, he was a highly productive poet and had a lifelong interest in Chan, which grew stronger in old age.
Throughout his life Yang compared artistic enlightenment — we would say genius — to the enlightenment of Chan, and saw the two processes in the same light. “Get rid of words and meaning,” he once wrote, “and there is still poetry.
In 1178 he claimed he experienced a sudden enlightenment, and went on to write what most people think is his best work.
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* * *

Source: Zen Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

At deathbed. Taegu (1301—82)

Taegu (1301—82).
National Preceptor T’aegu was a master of Son [Zen] in Korea during the time of the Mongols.

Source: Zen Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)

Saturday, April 11, 2020

home to butterflies. Sogi (1421—1502)

Sogi (1421—1502). Another renga master [see Shinkei], Sogi survived the Onin War to become the most admired poet of his age. Trained as a Zen monk, he spent time as a mendicant priest before settling in Kyoto, where he achieved fame and glory as a writer, critic and poet.

Source: Zen Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)

Friday, April 10, 2020

why the hurry? Shinkei (1406—75)

Shinkei (1406—75). One of the most brilliant practitioners of renga (Japanese linked poetry), Shinkei was a Buddhist monk strongly influenced by Zen, even if it is not clear whether he ever affiliated himself with a Zen sect.
In a famous comment, he wrote, “If you were to ask one of the great poets of the past how to compose waka [Japanese poetry], the answer would be pampas grass on a withered moor and the moon disappearing into the sky at dawn.”
In his later years he spent much of his time travelling, during a period when Japan was in turmoil as a result of the decade-long Onin War.
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Source: Zen Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)

Thursday, April 09, 2020

I prefer to enjoy myself alone. Ryokan (1758—1831)

Ryokan (1758—1831). An unconventional and retiring poet, Ryokan became a monk of the Soto sect of Zen at an early age, and led an austere, unassuming life, whimsically giving himself the name of “Great Fool”.
In his old age he formed a close attachment to a young nun, Teishin, who brought out the first selection of his poems, which up till then had remained unpublished.
Many now regard him as the finest poet of his age.

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Source: Zen Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

молчи, скрывайся и таи.../self-isolation advises from famous hermits

«Благо тому, кто в молчанье надеется, что Господь спасет!
Благо тому, кто несет свое бремя с юности!
Одиноко сидит он в молчанье, ибо бремя его от Господа.
Простирается ниц на земле: „Быть может, есть еще надежда?“
Бьющему подставляет щеку, сполна позор изведал!
Нет, не навеки Господь отверг!» 

Пророк Иеремия
(Библия: Современный русский перевод. Книги Священного Писания Ветхого и Нового Завета. Канонические. М., 2011)

* * *
«Ты спросил: „Каково твое утешение?“ Для моего утешения мне достаточно деревьев этой горы и горы Господней, так чтобы мне порхать от одной к другой, пока я не обрету Древа Жизни, дабы мне укрыться в Нем и почить в Нем».

Иоанн Дальятский. VIII век
(La collection des lettres de Jean de Dalyatha / Ed. R. Beulay. Turnhout, 1978. Перевод с классического сирийского священника Александра Полховского)

* * *
«Любой человек будет чувствовать себя угнетен­ным, проживая в труд­но­доступных горах, без обще­ния с людьми и удобств, среди змей и зве­рей в ежедневном ожидании смерти! Мой брат [Имеется в виду Иоанн Дальятский] жил так много лет. Я сильно страдал, переживая за не­го. А мой брат в утешение мне напи­сал книгу, в ко­торой рассказал о дарах и радостях, которые он приобрел. В горах у него не было писчих мате­риалов, так что иногда писал он на деревян­ных дощечках и отправлял мне, а иногда — на малень­ких кусках пергамента, которые я передавал ему».

Неизвестный монах. VIII век
(The Mystical Discourses of John Saba / Ed. B. E. Colless. Melbourne, 1969. Перевод с классического сирийского священника Александра Полховского.
Текст адаптирован. Исходная цитата:

«Я убеждаю всякого, кто наткнется на сию книгу, — не порицай автора по той причине, что он открыто говорит [в ней] о тайнах Духа, и за то, что дерзновенно применительно к себе писал он день за днем о сих предме­тах. Как и сказали мы в начале книги, посред­ством сих вещей он хотел утешить меня, ибо он знал, что я скорбел из-за него по поводу того, что был он лишен общения, и лицезре­ния людей, и удобств. Всякий человек бывал угнетаем в уединении, [пребывая] в трудно­доступных горах среди змей и зверей, в упо­вании на своего Господа и в ежедневном ожидании смерти. По той причине, что его страдание было носимо в моем сердце, то посредством сих письмен, исполненных даров и радостей, желал он пременить мои печали из-за него. И не знал он, что о [его] делании написал я [книгу] для лицезрения прочими [людьми]. А он предостерегал меня: „Смотри, чтобы никто, кроме тебя, не увидел сего“. Но я собрал и изложил сие письменно, дабы оно послужило мне утешением. К тому же сочинения — небольшого объема, поскольку он не находил, на чем писать. Иногда писал он на деревянных дощечках и отправлял мне, а иногда — на маленьких [кусках] пергамента, которые я передавал ему. Я убеждал его написать мне по поводу того, о чем я говорил ему, и знаю — хотя и написал он о сих вещах как бы для меня одного, — что невозможно, чтобы не увидели многие запечатленного в [сей] книге»).

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«Дважды в неделю он приоткрывал дверь [склепа] и траву, росшую у двери гроба, какую находил, срывал и ел, сколько считал для себя нужным. Вернувшись обратно [в склеп] и закрыв дверь, он пребывал в исповедании, молитве, бдении и постоянном восхвалении [Бога]».

Житие Иакова Палестинского

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«Святой Арсений <…> ради безмолвия одинаково пренебрегал встречами как с большими, так и с малыми [по званию людьми]. <…> Ведь мы зна­ем, что однажды, когда пришел к нему блаженный Феофил, архи­епис­коп Александрийский, приведя с собой и судью [этой] области, чтобы [оказать] честь святому и из желания увидеть его, — [Арсений], когда сидел пред ними, даже малым словом не почтил их, хотя они очень желали услышать слово его».

Преподобный Исаак Сирин. Слова подвижнические. Свято-Троицкая Сергиева Лавра, 2019

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«Бывает так, что душа в уединении томится и бывает как бы среди волн, так что омраче­ние следует за омрачением. Вот тебе мой совет: накройся с головой и спи, но только не выходи из комнаты!»

Преподобный Исаак Сирин. 
Слова подвижнические. Свято-Троицкая Сергиева Лавра, 2019
Текст адаптирован. Исходная цитата: «Ибо в иное время душа наша томится и бывает как бы среди волн — во всяком деле, за какое ни примется человек, приемлет омрачение за омрачением. Этот час исполнен отчаяния и страха; надежда на Бога и утешение веры в Него совершенно отходят от души; и вся она всецело исполняется сомнения и стра­ха… А я предложу тебе, человек, и дам совет: если не имеешь силы совладеть собою и пасть на лицо свое в молитве, то облеки голову свою мантией твоею и спи, пока не пройдет для тебя этот час омрачения, но не выходи из своей комнаты».

* * *
«Хочешь ли также, чтобы жаждали тебя те, кого ты любишь? Имей свидание с ними лишь на ограниченное время».

Преподобный Исаак Сирин. 
Слова подвижнические. Свято-Троицкая Сергиева Лавра, 2019

* * *
«Когда ты выходишь из уединения, храни собранное; ибо если отворены дверцы в клетке, то птицы, в затворе бывшие, вылетают».

Иоанн Синайский
Преподобный Иоанн Лествичник. Лествица преподобного отца нашего Иоанна, игумена Синайской горы. Сергиев Посад, 1908


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Myoe (1173—1232), Zen poem

Myoe (1173—1232). A Japanese priest of the Kegon (Hua Yan, Flowery Splendour) school of Buddhism, which together with Zen was one of the main schools of Buddhism at the time.
Myoe had a reputation as a crazy eccentric, and after his death was portrayed as a pious recluse.

Source: Zen Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)

Sunday, April 05, 2020

the moonlit window smells of plum/ Hakuin (1685—1768)

Hakuin (1685—1768). A Japanese poet, painter and calligrapher of the Rinzai sect of Zen, Hakuin was the author of a number of famous koan (riddles), including the most famous of all, “the sound of one hand clapping”.

Zen poem by Hakuin:

Source: Zen Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)

Saturday, April 04, 2020

The sounds of spring are everywhere.../poems by Bai Juyi (772—846)

Zen poems by Bai Juyi (772—846).

Also known as Bo Juyi (Bo being an older way of pronouncing his surname Bai), Bai Juyi was a mid-Tang poet of great versatility. He lived through troubled times, including an official attack on Buddhism that led to the closure of monasteries in 842-5.
His own lifelong devotion to Buddhism was eclectic rather than relating to one particular sect.

In his admiring biography of Bai the translator Arthur Waley remarked on Bai’s extraordinary compassion, reflected in the tone of much of what he wrote, including his popular ballad, “The Song of Lasting Sorrow”.

Source: Zen Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)

Friday, April 03, 2020

The weaker the wine... Su Dongpo (1037—1101)

Su Dongpo, or Su Shi (1037—1101).
Generally regarded as the greatest poet of the Song dynasty, an era in which urban Chinese lived lives that were strikingly modern in outlook, Su wrote on a wide range of subjects.
He led the life of a scholar-official and had broad philosophical interests. Chan attracted a great deal of his attention, especially in his later years.
Later, Zen monks in Japan treated Su Dongpo and his famous disciple Huang Tingjian not just as poetic inspirations but also as sources of Buddhist wisdom; Chinese critics have been more sceptical about this latter aspect of their work.
Su’s given name was Shi; he started calling himself Dongpo (“Eastern Slope”) in his forties, after a plot of land he farmed.

Source: Zen Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)

Sunday, March 15, 2020

...царило угрюмое оцепенение/ Camus, The Plague (1947)

Перечитывая читанное не раз, актуальное

На следующее утро, 18-го апреля, доктор, ездивший на вокзал встречать мать, заметил, что мсье Мишель еще больше осунулся: теперь уж с десяток крыс карабкались по лестницам, видимо, перебирались из подвала на чердак. В соседних домах все баки для мусора полны дохлых крыс. Мать доктора выслушала эту весть, не выказав ни малейшего удивления.
– Такие вещи случаются.
Все же Риэ позвонил в городское бюро дератизации, он был лично знаком с директором. Слышал ли директор разговоры о том, что огромное количество крыс вышли из нор и подыхают? Мерсье, директор, слышал об этом, и даже в их конторе, расположенной неподалеку от набережной, обнаружено с полсотни грызунов. Ему хотелось знать, насколько положение серьезно. Риэ не мог решить этот вопрос, но он считал, что контора обязана принять меры.
– Конечно, – сказал Мерсье, – но только когда получим распоряжение. Если ты считаешь, что дело стоит труда, я могу попытаться получить соответствующее распоряжение.
С этого же дня за дело взялись вечерние газеты и в упор поставили перед муниципалитетом вопрос – намерен или нет он действовать и какие срочные меры собирается принять, дабы оградить своих подопечных от этого омерзительного нашествия. Муниципалитет ровно ничего не намеревался делать и ровно никаких мер не предпринимал, а ограничился тем, что собрался с целью обсудить положение. Службе дератизации был отдан приказ: каждое утро на рассвете подбирать дохлых крыс. А потом оба конторских грузовика должны были отвозить трупы животных на мусоросжигательную станцию для сожжения.
за одно только 25-е апреля была подобрана и сожжена 6231 крыса. Цифра эта обобщила и прояснила смысл уже ставшего будничным зрелища и усугубила общее смятение. До этой передачи люди сетовали ни нашествие грызунов как на мало аппетитное происшествие. Только теперь они осознали, что это явление несет с собой угрозу, хотя никто не мог еще ни установить размеры бедствия, ни объяснить причину, его породившую.

28-го апреля агентство Инфдок объявило, что подобрано примерно 8000 крысиных трупов, и городом овладел панический страх. Жители требовали принятия радикальных мер, обвиняли власти во всех смертных грехах, и некоторые владельцы вилл на побережье заговорили уже о том, что пришло время перебираться за город. Но на следующий день агентство объявило, что нашествие внезапно кончилось и служба очистки подобрала только незначительное количество дохлых крыс. Город вздохнул с облегчением.
Проходя по коридору, Риэ машинально посмотрел в угол и спросил Грана, полностью ли исчезли крысы из их квартала. Чиновник не мог сообщить по этому поводу ничего. Правда, ему рассказывали о крысином нашествии, но он обычно не придает значения болтовне соседей.
Смерть привратника, можно сказать, подвела черту под первым периодом зловещих предзнаменований и положила начало второму, относительно более трудному, где первоначальное изумление мало-помалу перешло в панику. Прежде никто из наших сограждан даже мысли никогда не допускал – они поняли это только сейчас, – что именно нашему городку предназначено стать тем самым местом, где среди белого дня околевают крысы, а привратники гибнут от загадочных недугов. С этой точки зрения мы, следовательно, заблуждались, и нам пришлось срочно пересматривать свои представления о мире. Если бы дело тем и ограничилось, привычка взяла бы верх. Но еще многим из нас – причем не только привратникам и беднякам – пришлось последовать по пути, который первым проложил мсье Мишель. Вот с этого-то времени и возник страх, а ему сопутствовали раздумья.
Тарру довелось присутствовать при беседе двух трамвайных кондукторов.
– Ты Кана знал? – спросил первый.
– Какого Кана? Высокого такого, с черными усами?
– Его самого. Он еще работал стрелочником.
– Ну конечно, знал.
– Так вот, он умер.
– Ага, а когда?
– Да после этой истории с крысами.
– Смотри-ка! А что с ним такое было?
– Не знаю, говорят, лихорадка. Да и вообще он слабого здоровья был. Сделались у него нарывы под мышками. Ну, он и не выдержал.
– А ведь с виду был вроде как все.
– Нет, у него грудь была слабая, да еще он играл в духовом оркестре. А знаешь, как вредно дудеть на корнете-пистоне.
– Да, – заключил второй, – когда у человека плохое здоровье, нечего ему дудеть на корнете.
а между тем весь город говорит о крысах. Даже газета вмешалась в это дело. Отдел городской хроники, обычно составленный из самых разных материалов, ведет теперь упорную кампанию против муниципалитета. «Отдают ли себе отчет отцы города, какую опасность представляют разлагающиеся на улицах трупы грызунов?» Директор отеля ни о чем, кроме этих крыс, говорить не может. И неудивительно, для него это зарез. То обстоятельство, что в лифте столь респектабельного отеля обнаружили крысу, кажется ему непостижимым. Желая его утешить, я сказал: «Но у всех сейчас крысы».
– Вот именно, – ответил он, – теперь мы стали как все.
Это он сообщил мне о первых случаях лихорадки непонятного происхождения, которая вызывает в городе тревогу. Одна из его горничных тоже заболела.
После того как труп привратника перевезли в изолятор, Риэ позвонил Ришару, чтобы посоветоваться с ним насчет паховых опухолей.
– Сам ничего не понимаю, – признался Ришар. – У меня двое тоже умерли, один через двое суток, другой на третий день. А ведь я еще утром его посетил и нашел значительное улучшение.
– Предупредите меня, если у вас будут подобные случаи, – попросил Риэ.
Он позвонил еще и другим врачам. В результате проведенного опроса выяснилось, что за несколько последних дней отмечено примерно случаев двадцать аналогичного заболевания. Почти все они привели к смертельному исходу. Тогда Риэ опять позвонил Ришару, секретарю общества врачей Орана, и потребовал, чтобы вновь заболевшие были изолированы.
– Что же я-то могу? – сказал Ришар. – Тут должны принять меры городские власти. А откуда вы взяли, что это болезнь заразная?
Газеты, размазывавшие на все лады историю с крысами, теперь словно в рот воды набрали. Оно и понятно: крысы умирали на улицах, а больные – у себя дома. А газеты интересуются только улицей. Однако префектура и муниципалитет призадумались. Пока каждый врач сталкивался в своей практике с двумя-тремя случаями непонятного заболевания, никто и пальцем не шевельнул. Но достаточно было кому-то сделать простой подсчет, и полученный итог ошеломил всех. За несколько дней смертельные случаи участились, и тем, кто сталкивался с этим загадочным недугом, стало ясно, что речь идет о настоящей эпидемии. Именно в это время доктор Кае гель, человек уже пожилой, зашел побеседовать к своему коллеге Риэ.
– Надеюсь, Риэ, вы уже знаете, что это? – спросил он.
– Хочу дождаться результата анализов.
– А я так знаю. И никакие анализы мне не требуются. Я много лет проработал в Китае, да, кроме того, лет двадцать назад наблюдал несколько случаев в Париже. Только тогда не посмели назвать болезнь своим именем. Общественное мнение – это же святая святых: никакой паники, главное – без паники. К тому же один врач мне сказал: «Но это немыслимо, всем известно, что на Западе она полностью исчезла». Знать-то все знали, кроме тех, кто от нее погиб.

Перевод – Н. Жарковой

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Не время года эта осень, А время жизни.../ Old age in poetry

Константинос Кавафис (1863 — 1933)

Среди таверны, суеты ее и крика,
склонившись над столом, сидит старик — он —
один — газета перед ним и больше — никого.

Унижен жалкой старостью, он думает, как мало
он радовался в те года, когда не миновала
пора красы, и сил, и разума его.

Он чувствует, что постарел, об этом помнит поминутно.
Но все же юности пора — она как будто
была вчера. Ничтожный срок, ничтожный срок.

Все осмотрительность — она всю жизнь его водила за нос, —
а он ей верил, как безумец, этой лгунье, что смеялась:
«До завтра подождешь. Еще вся жизнь осталась впрок».

И сколько он порывов обуздал в себе отказом
от радости возможной, и его безмозглый разум
все упущенья днесь высмеивают в нем.

Но от печальных воспоминаний вдруг головокруженье
он ощутил. И вот он средь кофейни,
на стол облокотись, забылся сном.


* * *
Николай Заболоцкий (1903 — 1958)

Простые, тихие, седые,
Он с палкой, с зонтиком она, —
Они на листья золотые
Глядят, гуляя дотемна.

Их речь уже немногословна,
Без слов понятен каждый взгляд,
Но души их светло и ровно
Об очень многом говорят.

В неясной мгле существованья
Был неприметен их удел,
И животворный свет страданья
Над ними медленно горел.

Изнемогая, как калеки,
Под гнетом слабостей своих,
В одно единое навеки
Слились живые души их.

И знанья малая частица
Открылась им на склоне лет,
Что счастье наше — лишь зарница,
Лишь отдаленный слабый свет.

Оно так редко нам мелькает,
Такого требует труда!
Оно так быстро потухает
И исчезает навсегда!

Как ни лелей его в ладонях
И как к груди ни прижимай, —
Дитя зари, на светлых конях
Оно умчится в дальний край!

Простые, тихие, седые,
Он с палкой, с зонтиком она, —
Они на листья золотые
Глядят, гуляя дотемна.

Теперь уж им, наверно, легче,
Теперь всё страшное ушло,
И только души их, как свечи,
Струят последнее тепло.


* * *
Илья Эренбург (1891 — 1967)

Не время года эта осень,
А время жизни. Голизна,
Навязанный покой несносен:
Примерка призрачного сна.
Хоть присказки, заботы те же,
Они порой не по плечу.
Всё меньше слов, и встречи реже.
И вдруг себе я бормочу
Про осень, про тоску. О боже,
Дойти бы, да не хватит сил.
Я столько жил, а всё не дожил,
Не доглядел, не долюбил.

* * *
Илья Эренбург

Молодому кажется, что в старости
Расступаются густые заросли,
Всё измерено, давно погашено,
Не пойти ни вброд, ни врукопашную,
Любит поворчать, и тем не менее
Он дошел до точки примирения.
Всё не так. В моем проклятом возрасте
Карты розданы, но нет уж козыря,
Страсть грызет и требует по-прежнему,
Подгоняет сердце, будто не жил я,
И хотя уже готовы вынести,
Хватит на двоих непримиримости,
Бьешься, и не только с истуканами,
Сам с собой.
Еще удар — под занавес.


* * *
Борис Слуцкий (1919 — 1986)

Досрочная ранняя старость,
Похожая на пораженье,
А кроме того — на усталость.
А также — на отраженье
в сероватой луже,
В измытой водице ванной:
Все звуки становятся глуше,
Все краски темнеют и вянут.

Куриные вялые крылья
Мотаются за спиною.
Все роли мои — вторые! —
Являются передо мною.

Мелькают, а мне — не стыдно.
А мне — все равно, все едино.
И слышно, как волосы стынут
И застывают в седины.

Я выдохся. Я — как город,
Открывший врагу ворота.
А был я — юный и гордый
Солдат своего народа.

Теперь я лежу на диване.
Теперь я хожу на вдуванья.
А мне — приказы давали.
Потом — ордена давали.

Все, как ладонью, прикрыто
Сплошной головною болью —
Разбито мое корыто.
Сижу у него сам с собою.
Так вот она, середина
Возраст успеха.
А мне — все равно. Все едино.
А мне — наплевать. Не к спеху.

Забыл, как спускаться с лестниц.
Не открываю ставен.
Как в комнате,
Я в болезни
Кровать и стол поставил.
И ходят в квартиру нашу
Дамы второго разряда,
И я сочиняю кашу
Из пшенного концентрата.
И я не читаю газеты,
А книги — до середины.
Но мне наплевать на это.
Мне все равно. Все едино.


* * *
Александр Кушнер (1936)

Кто тише старика,
Попавшего в больницу,
В окно издалека
Глядящего на птицу?

Кусты ему видны,
Прижатые к киоску.
Висят на нем штаны
Больничные в полоску.

Бухгалтером он был
Иль стекла мазал мелом?
Уж он и сам забыл,
Каким был занят делом.

Сражался в домино
Иль мастерил динамик?
Теперь ему одно
Окно, как в детстве пряник.

И дальний клен ему
Весь виден, до прожилок,
Быть может, потому,
Что дышит смерть в затылок.

Вдруг подведут черту
Под ним, как пишут смету,
И он уже — по ту,
А дерево — по эту!


* * *
Без крыльев в поле мельницы стоят.
Повиснуть не на чем осенней паутине.
Как на старинной выцветшей картине,
Уходит вдаль бескрылых мельниц ряд.

На жернова лилась потоком рожь,
Теперь сквозь щели льется дождь лавиной…
Как караван унылый их похож
На вереницу стаи журавлиной!

О если б крылья выросли, тогда
Взлетели б в небо мельницы, как птицы…
Гудят над полем в небе провода,
А мельницам бескрылым ветер снится.

И я не пожелаю никому
Такой судьбы, такой нелегкой доли,
Утратив крылья, встретить ночи тьму
Под проливным дождем, в осеннем поле.

Альбинас Бярнотас (1934-2012),
перевод с литовского - Дмитрий Цесельчук

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The tree is saying things, in words before words/ Richard Powers’s The Overstory (2018)

To solve the future, we must save the past. My simple rule of thumb, then, is this: when you cut down a tree, what you make from it should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down.

People aren’t the apex species they think they are. Other creatures ― bigger, smaller, slower, faster, older, younger, more powerful ― call the shots, make the air, and eat sunlight. Without them, nothing.

This is not our world with trees in it. It's a world of trees, where humans have just arrived.

We’ve learned a little about a few of them, in isolation. But nothing is less isolated or more social than a tree.

Civilized yards are all alike. Every wild yard is wild in its own way.

You and the tree in your backyard come from a common ancestor. A billion and a half years ago, the two of you parted ways. But even now, after an immense journey in separate directions, that tree and you still share a quarter of your genes...

Buddha’s words: A tree is a wondrous thing that shelters, feeds, and protects all living things. It even offers shade to the axmen who destroy it.

A great truth comes over him: Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.
The Greeks had a word, xenia — guest friendship — a command to take care of traveling strangers, to open your door to whoever is out there, because anyone passing by, far from home, might be God. Ovid tells the story of two immortals who came to Earth in disguise to cleanse the sickened world. No one would let them in but one old couple, Baucis and Philemon. And their reward for opening their door to strangers was to live on after death as trees—an oak and a linden—huge and gracious and intertwined. What we care for, we will grow to resemble. And what we resemble will hold us, when we are us no longer.

The older the word, the more likely it is to be both useful and true. In fact, he read once, back in Iowa, the night the woman came to trouble him into life, that the word tree and the word truth come from the same root.

No one sees trees. We see fruit, we see nuts, we see wood, we see shade. We see ornaments or pretty fall foliage. Obstacles blocking the road or wrecking the ski slope. Dark, threatening places that must be cleared. We see branches about to crush our roof. We see a cash crop. But trees ― trees are invisible.

Plant-blind. Adam's curse. We only see things that look like us.

The books diverge and radiate, as fluid as finches on isolated islands. But they share a core so obvious it passes for given. Every one imagines that fear and anger, violence and desire, rage laced with the surprise capacity to forgive — character — is all that matters in the end. It’s a child’s creed, of course, just one small step up from the belief that the Creator of the Universe would care to dole out sentences like a judge in federal court. To be human is to confuse a satisfying story with a meaningful one, and to mistake life for something huge with two legs. No: life is mobilized on a vastly larger scale, and the world is failing precisely because no novel can make the contest for the world seem as compelling as the struggles between a few lost people.

There are a hundred thousand species of love, separately invented, each more ingenious than the last, and every one of them keeps making things.

There’s a Chinese saying. ‘When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago.’
The Chinese engineer smiles. “Good one.”
‘When is the next best time? Now.’
“Ah! Okay!” The smile turns real. Until today, he has never planted anything. But Now, that next best of times, is long, and rewrites everything.

Trees know when we are close by. The chemistry of their roots and the perfumes of their leaves pump out change when we're near... when you feel good after a walk in the woods, it may be that certain species are bribing you...

People have no idea what time is. They think it’s a line, spinning out from three seconds behind them, then vanishing just as fast into the three seconds of fog just ahead. They can’t see that time is one spreading ring wrapped around another, outward and outward until the thinnest skin of Now depends for its being on the enormous mass of everything that has already died.
We found that trees could communicate, over the air and through their roots. Common sense hooted us down. We found that trees take care of each other. Collective science dismissed the idea.
Outsiders discovered how seeds remember the seasons of their childhood and set buds accordingly.
Outsiders discovered that trees sense the presence of other nearby life. That a tree learns to save water. That trees feed their young and synchronize their masts and bank resources and warn kin and send out signals to wasps to come and save them from attacks.
Here’s a little outsider information, and you can wait for it to be confirmed. A forest knows things. They wire themselves up underground. There are brains down there, ones our own brains aren’t shaped to see. Root plasticity, solving problems and making decisions. Fungal synapses. What else do you want to call it? Link enough trees together, and a forest grows aware.

It’s so simple. So obvious. Exponential growth inside a finite system leads to collapse. But people don’t see it. So the authority of people is bankrupt.

We don't make reality. We evade it. By looting natural capital and hiding the costs. But the bill is coming, and we won't be able to pay.

We’re cashing in a billion years of planetary savings bonds and blowing it on assorted bling.

Humans carry around legacy behaviors and biases, jerry-rigged holdovers from earlier stages of evolution that follow their own obsolete rules. What seem like erratic, irrational choices are, in fact, strategies created long ago for solving other kinds of problems. We’re all trapped in the bodies of sly, social-climbing opportunists shaped to survive the savanna by policing each other.

Phenomenal, to be such a small, weak, short-lived being on a planet with billions of years left to run.

Life will cook; the seas will rise. The planet’s lungs will be ripped out. And the law will let this happen, because harm was never imminent enough. Imminent, at the speed of people, is too late. The law must judge imminent at the speed of trees.

We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men... In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness. (the quote by John Muir)

Wilderness is gone. Forest has succumbed to chemically sustained silviculture. Four billion years of evolution, and that’s where the matter will end. Politically, practically, emotionally, intellectually: Humans are all that count, the final word. You cannot shut down human hunger. You cannot even slow it. Just holding steady costs more than the race can afford.

A country watches dumbstruck as New England’s priceless chestnuts melt away. The tree of the tanning industry, of railroad ties, train cars, telegraph poles, fuel, fences, houses, barns, fine desks, tables, pianos, crates, paper pulp, and endless free shade and food—the most harvested tree in the country—is vanishing.

What conveys a right, and why should humans, alone on all the planet, have them?

Earth will be monetized until all trees grow in straight lines, three people own all seven continents, and every large organism is bred to be slaughtered.

A leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.

Sun and water are questions endlessly worth answering.

Love for trees pours out of her—the grace of them, their supple experimentation, the constant variety and surprise. These slow, deliberate creatures with their elaborate vocabularies, each distinctive, shaping each other, breeding birds, sinking carbon, purifying water, filtering poisons from the ground, stabilizing the micro-climate. Join enough living things together, through the air and underground, and you wind up with something that has intentions.

Trees are their kin, with hopes, fears, and social codes, and their goal as people has always been to charm and inveigle green things, to win them in symbolic marriage.

Trees have long been trying to reach us. But they speak on frequencies too low for people to hear.

A woman sits on the ground, leaning against a pine. Its bark presses hard against her back, as hard as life. Its needles scent the air and a force hums in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune down to the lowest frequencies. The tree is saying things, in words before words.

Trees used to talk to people all the time. Sane people used to hear them.

Berries may compete to be eaten more than animals compete for the berries.

Deforestation: a bigger changer of climate than all of transportation put together. Twice as much carbon in the falling forests than in all the atmosphere. But that’s for another trial.

Human history was the story of increasingly disoriented hunger.

The confirmation of others: a sickness the entire race will die of.

Thick, clotted, craggy, but solid on the earth, and covered in other living things. Three hundred years growing, three hundred years holding, three hundred years dying. Oak.

 Tagore said, Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.

A tree is a passage between earth and sky.

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.

If you’re holding a sapling in your hand when the Messiah arrives, first plant the sapling and then go out and greet the Messiah.

I wouldn't need to be so very different for sun to seem to be about sun, for green to be about green, for joy and boredom and anguish and terror and death to all be themselves, beyond the need for any killing clarity, and then this― this, the growing rings of light and water and stone ― would take up all of me, and be all the words I need.

She could tell them about a simple machine needing no fuel and little maintenance, one that steadily sequesters carbon, enriches the soil, cools the ground, scrubs the air, and scales easily to any size. A tech that copies itself and even drops food for free. A device so beautiful it’s the stuff of poems. If forests were patentable, she’d get an ovation.

You miss the half of it, and more. There’s always as much belowground as above. That’s the trouble with people, their root problem. Life runs alongside them, unseen.
Smart enough to see that you're a sack of rotting meat wrapped around a little sewage tube that's going to give out in—what? Another few thousand sunrises?

But the argument he lays out before the jury is as clear as a row of Lombardy poplars. In silence, he walks his lifelong partner through old and central principles of jurisprudence, one syllable at a time. Stand your ground. The castle doctrine. Self-help. If you could save yourself, your wife, your child, or even a stranger by burning something down, the law allows you. If someone breaks into your home and starts destroying it, you may stop them however you need to. His few syllables are mangled and worthless. (...) He can find no way to say what so badly needs saying. Our home has been broken into. Our lives are being endangered. The law allows for all necessary force against unlawful and imminent harm.

I want to start a seed bank. There are half as many trees in the world as there were before we came down out of them.
Because of us?
One percent of the world forest, every decade. An area larger than Connecticut, every year. A third to a half of existing species may go extinct by the time I’m gone. Tens of thousands of trees we know nothing about. Species we’ve barely classified. Like burning down the library, art museum, pharmacy, and hall of records, all at once.
You want to start an ark.
I want to start an ark. (...) a seed can lie dormant for thousands of years.
Trees stand at the heart of ecology, and they must come to stand at the heart of human politics. [Rabindranath] Tagore said, Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven. But people—oh, my word—people! People could be the heaven that the Earth is trying to speak to.

“If we could see green, we’d see a thing that keeps getting more interesting the closer we get. If we could see what green was doing, we’d never be lonely or bored. If we could understand green, we’d learn how to grow all the food we need in layers three deep, on a third of the ground we need right now, with plants that protected one another from pests and stress. If we knew what green wanted, we wouldn’t have to choose between the Earth’s interests and ours. They’d be the same!”
One more click takes her to the next slide, a giant fluted trunk covered in red bark that ripples like muscle.
“To see green is to grasp the Earth’s intentions. So consider this one. This tree grows from Colombia to Costa Rica. As a sapling, it looks like a piece of braided hemp. But if it finds a hole in the canopy, the sapling shoots up into a giant stem with flaring buttresses.”
She turns to regard the image over her shoulder. It’s the bell of an enormous angel’s trumpet, plunged into the Earth. So many miracles, so much awful beauty. How can she leave so perfect a place?
“Did you know that every broadleaf tree on Earth has flowers? Many mature species flower at least once a year. But this tree, Tachigali versicolor, this one flowers only once. Now, suppose you could have sex only once in your entire life. . . .”
The room laughs now. She can’t hear, but she can smell their nerves. Her switchback trail through the woods is twisting again. They can’t tell where their guide is going.
“How can a creature survive, by putting everything into a one-night stand? Tachigali versicolor’s act is so quick and decisive that it boggles me. You see, within a year of its only flowering, it dies.”
She lifts her eyes. The room fills with wary smiles for the weirdness of this thing, nature. But her listeners can’t yet tie her rambling keynote to anything resembling home repair.
“It turns out that a tree can give away more than its food and medicines. The rain forest canopy is thick, and wind-borne seeds never land very far from their parent. Tachigali’s once-in-a-lifetime offspring germinate right away, in the shadow of giants who have the sun locked up. They’re doomed, unless an old tree falls. The dying mother opens a hole in the canopy, and its rotting trunk enriches the soil for new seedlings. Call it the ultimate parental sacrifice. The common name for Tachigali versicolor is the suicide tree.”

Photosynthesis: a feat of chemical engineering underpinning creation’s entire cathedral.

The best and easiest way to get a forest to return to any plot of cleared land is to do nothing —nothing at all, and do it for less time than you might think.

Left alone—and there’s the catch—left alone to the air and light and rain, each one might put on tens of thousands of pounds. Any one of his starts could grow for the next six hundred years and dwarf the largest factory chimney. It could play host to generations of voles that never go to ground and several dozen species of insects whose only desire is to strip their host bare. Could rain down ten million needles a year on its own lower branches, building up mats of soil that grow their own gardens high in the air.

Who does the tree-hugger really hug, when he hugs a tree?

Everything in the forest is the forest. Competition is not separable from endless flavors of cooperation.

Something marvelous is happening underground, something we’re just learning how to see. Mats of mycorrhizal cabling link trees into gigantic, smart communities spread across hundreds of acres. Together, they form vast trading networks of goods, services, and information... There are no individuals in a forest, no separable events. The bird and the branch it sits on are a joint thing. A third or more of the food a big tree makes may go to feed other organisms. Even different kinds of trees form partnerships. Cut down a birch, and a nearby Douglas-fir may suffer... In the great forests of the East, oaks and hickories synchronize their nut production to baffle the animals that feed on them. Word goes out, and the trees of a given species—whether they stand in sun or shade, wet or dry—bear heavily or not at all, together, as a community... Forests mend and shape themselves through subterranean synapses. And in shaping themselves, they shape, too, the tens of thousands of other, linked creatures that form it from within. Maybe it’s useful to think of forests as enormous spreading, branching, underground super-trees.

What’s wrong with How Trees Will Save the World? Trees won’t save the world?
I’m sure they will. After the world shrugs us off.

She sees and hears this by direct gathering, through her limbs. The fires will come, despite all efforts, the blight and windthrow and floods. Then the Earth will become another thing, and people will learn it all over again. The vaults of seed banks will be thrown open. Second growth will rush back in, supple, loud, and testing all possibilities. Webs of forest will swell with species shot through in shadow and dappled by new design. Each streak of color on the carpeted Earth will rebuild its pollinators. Fish will surge again up all the watersheds, stacking themselves as thick as cordwood through the rivers, thousands per mile. Once the real world ends.

The psyche's job is to keep us blissfully ignorant of who we are, what we think, and how we'll behave in any situation. We're all operating in a dense fog of mutual reinforcement. Our thoughts are shaped primarily by legacy hardware that evolved to assume that everyone else must be right. But even when the fog is pointed out, we're no better at navigating through it.

When removed from their kind, individual human beings can change in remarkable ways.

I'll sue for everything they're worth. But all the rights and privileges of fair practice are theirs. Humankind is a thug. The law is a goon.

Where the deer bound, where the trout rise, where your horse stops to slather a drink from icy water while the sun is warm on the back of your neck, where every breath you draw is exhilaration — that is where the Aspens grow...

A guy in a dirty suit jacket and shorts, his hair bound up in a bungee cord, cuts behind her on the sidewalk, talking out loud: voices or cell phone—choose your schizophrenia.

Plants are willful and crafty and after something, just like people.

Now they need only learn what life wants from humans. It's a big question, to be sure. Too big for people alone. But people aren't alone, and they never have been.

No mates exist for countless miles around, and a chestnut, though both male and female, will not serve itself. Yet still this tree has a secret tucked into the thin, living cylinder beneath its bark. Its cells obey an ancient formula: Keep still. Wait. Something in the lone survivor knows that even the ironclad law of Now can be outlasted. There’s work to do. Star-work, but earthbound all the same. Or as the nurse to the Union dead writes: Stand cool and composed before a million universes. As cool and composed as wood.

Her staff tells her not to, but she cites the numbers. Wasn’t Shaw right about how the mark of true intelligence is to be moved by statistics? Seventeen kinds of forest dieback, all made worse by warming. Thousands of square miles a year converted to development. Annual net loss of one hundred billion trees. Half the woody species on the planet, gone by this new century’s end.
We have a Midas problem. There’s no endgame, just a stagnant pyramiding scheme. Endless, pointless prosperity.

CHRISTMAS EVE: There’s a fire blazing in the fireplace, food enough for five thousand, and a new TV as big as Wyoming tuned to a football game no one cares about.

Even as an infant, he hated being held. Every hug is a small, soft jail.

Too many species to count. Reefs bleach and wetlands dry. Things are going lost that have not yet been found. Kinds of life vanish a thousand times faster than the baseline extinction rate. Forest larger than most countries turns to farmland. Look at the life around you; now delete half of what you see.

Humankind is deeply ill. The species won't last long. It was an aberrant experiment. Soon the world will be returned to the healthy intelligences, the collective ones. Colonies and hives.

Say the planet is born at midnight and it runs for one day. First there is nothing. Two hours are lost to lava and meteors. Life doesn’t show up until three or four a.m. Even then, it’s just the barest self-copying bits and pieces. From dawn to late morning—a million million years of branching—nothing more exists than lean and simple cells. Then there is everything. Something wild happens, not long after noon. One kind of simple cell enslaves a couple of others. Nuclei get membranes. Cells evolve organelles. What was once a solo campsite grows into a town. The day is two-thirds done when animals and plants part ways. And still life is only single cells. Dusk falls before compound life takes hold. Every large living thing is a latecomer, showing up after dark. Nine p.m. brings jellyfish and worms. Later that hour comes the breakout—backbones, cartilage, an explosion of body forms. From one instant to the next, countless new stems and twigs in the spreading crown burst open and run.
Plants make it up on land just before ten. Then insects, who instantly take to the air. Moments later, tetrapods crawl up from the tidal muck, carrying around on their skin and in their guts whole worlds of earlier creatures. By eleven, dinosaurs have shot their bolt, leaving the mammals and birds in charge for an hour. Somewhere in that last sixty minutes, high up in the phylogenetic canopy, life grows aware. Creatures start to speculate. Animals start teaching their children about the past and the future. Animals learn to hold rituals. Anatomically modern man shows up four seconds before midnight. The first cave paintings appear three seconds later. And in a thousandth of a click of the second hand, life solves the mystery of DNA and starts to map the tree of life itself. By midnight, most of the globe is converted to row crops for the care and feeding of one species. And that’s when the tree of life becomes something else again. That’s when the giant trunk starts to teeter.

Source: “The Overstory” (2018) by Richard Powers

См. также

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

В яслях спал на свежем сене Тихий крошечный Христос/Sasha Chorny - Rozhdestvenskoye (1920)

В яслях спал на свежем сене
Тихий крошечный Христос.
Месяц, вынырнув из тени,
Гладил лен Его волос…

Бык дохнул в лицо Младенца
И, соломою шурша,
На упругое коленце
Засмотрелся, чуть дыша.

Воробьи сквозь жерди крыши
К яслям хлынули гурьбой,
А бычок, прижавшись к нише,
Одеяльце мял губой.

Пес, прокравшись к теплой ножке,
Полизал ее тайком.
Всех уютней было кошке
В яслях греть Дитя бочком…

Присмиревший белый козлик
На чело Его дышал,
Только глупый серый ослик
Всех беспомощно толкал:

«Посмотреть бы на Ребенка
Хоть минуточку и мне!»
И заплакал звонко-звонко
В предрассветной тишине…

А Христос, раскрывши глазки,
Вдруг раздвинул круг зверей
И с улыбкой, полной ласки,
Прошептал: «Смотри скорей!»


Monday, December 09, 2019

we are lost in thought

Sam Harris:

For beginners, I always recommend a technique called vipassana (Pali, “insight”), which comes from the oldest tradition of Buddhism, the Theravada. The advantage of vipassana is that it can be taught in an entirely secular way. Experts in this practice generally acquire their training in a Buddhist context, of course—and most retreat centers in the U.S. and Europe still teach its associated Buddhist philosophy. Nevertheless, this method of introspection can be brought within any secular or scientific context without embarrassment. The same cannot be said for most other forms of “spiritual” instruction.

The quality of mind cultivated in vipassana is generally referred to as “mindfulness” (the Pali word is sati), and there is a quickly growing literature on its psychological benefits. Mindfulness is simply a state of open, nonjudgmental, and nondiscursive attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Cultivating this quality of mind has been shown to modulate pain, mitigate anxiety and depression, improve cognitive function, and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self awareness.

The practice of mindfulness is extraordinarily simple to describe, but it is in no sense easy. True mastery probably requires special talent and a lifetime of practice.

Happily, the benefits of training in meditation arrive long before mastery ever does. And "falling", from the point of view of vipassana, occurs ceaselessly, every moment that one becomes lost in thought. The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without knowing that one is thinking.
- source

I invite you to pay attention to anything — the sight of this text, the sensation of breathing, the feeling of your body resting against your chair — for a mere sixty seconds without getting distracted by discursive thought. It sounds simple enough: Just pay attention. The truth, however, is that you will find the task impossible. If the lives of your children depended on it, you could not focus on anything — even the feeling of a knife at your throat — for more than a few seconds, before your awareness would be submerged again by the flow of thought. This forced plunge into unreality is a problem. In fact, it is the problem from which every other problem in human life appears to be made.
I am by no means denying the importance of thinking. Linguistic thought is indispensable to us. It is the basis for planning, explicit learning, moral reasoning, and many other capacities that make us human. Thinking is the substance of every social relationship and cultural institution we have. It is also the foundation of science. But our habitual identification with the flow of thought — that is, our failure to recognize thoughts as thoughts, as transient appearances in consciousness — is a primary source of human suffering and confusion.

Our relationship to our own thinking is strange to the point of paradox, in fact. When we see a person walking down the street talking to himself, we generally assume that he is mentally ill. But we all talk to ourselves continuously — we just have the good sense to keep our mouths shut.
- source

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