Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Love Maps of Books.

Books are the most permanent, stable and reliable friends we have in life, so it befits us to make a love map of them. What is a love map? It's a basis for appreciation and affection. It's a map of what you love about a book. The idea comes from marriage scholar John Gottman, as a way of drawing couples closer together.

The kind of book suitable for a love map must be one you would want to spend all your life with. The writing of books is endless, but greatness remains rare. Choose only the greatest of books to do a love map of, and they will reward you with some of their magnitude.

Then, write the answers to the following questions:

1. What is the title? Pages? Divisions?
2. Who are the main characters?
3. What are the main relationships, briefly told?
4. Where is the action set in space? When is the action set in time?
5. What do the characters want most?
6. What do the characters hate most?
7. What happens in the beginning?
8. The middle?
9. The end?
10. What are the most important events in the novel? Why?
11. What is funny? Strange? Sublime? Beautiful? What affects me?
12. What foods are eaten in the book?
13. What opinions are expressed in the book? How are they still relevant?
14. What are the major tools, props, and physical markers of the book?
15. What color is the book overall, or specifically?
16. How do the characters handle conflict?
17. How do the characters recover from conflict?
18. What do the characters read or do for entertainment?
19. What jobs do the characters do? How do they occupy their time when not in the book?
20. What is to happen to the characters after the book ends? What happened to the characters before the book began?

Ask at least 20 questions, and write down the answers.

By now you will be better acquainted with the book than most literary critics, and have a more thorough knowledge with which to enjoy a re-reading of the book.

The books we love deserve to be treated with love and respect; making a love map of them is the best way to get closer to them.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to Read Lawrence Sterne's Novel 'Tristram Shandy'.

Tristram Shandy is a hard novel to read, but funny and brilliant too. These are the best tips I've come by from passionate readers of the novel, summarized for ease of reading:

1. Be patient. Sterne is all about distraction; distraction IS the point of the book. Accept that and let go of expectations and you'll enjoy it.

2. Re-read the first six chapters several times until you get the feel for it. The feel or flow of text is the thing to notice, not the story.

3. Learn what Sterne is trying to do: innocent entertainment, with the eye to puncturing moralistic seriousness.

4. Learn what Sterne is NOT trying to do: the "novel" didn't exist in its modern realistic form at this time and there were no boundaries for writers. In other words, be charitable to the guy; he didn't know what he was doing because he was the first to do it.

5. Read both high and low: notice classical references and crude plays on sexual and scatalogical references. Sterne is master of both high and low taste, and constantly melds them together.

6. Skip boring digressions. There are some boring bits; skip them! Sterne doesn't play by the rules of novel writing; you are not obliged to play by the rules of novel reading.

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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Why Plutarch Rocks

You know with Plutarch - as you do with no other classical historian - that you are dealing with a man and not a machine. The man shines forth in his Moralia and Table Talk series of essays. Whereas you might be tempted to think of Suetonius as a sort of central office of the bureau of ancient gossip, you could not mistake Plutarch for anything but a man.

And a good man at that. Plutarch really knew men, and it shows in his Lives that he did. He might know less about politics that we commonly do now, but he knew about loyalty, lies, and lechery - saw that these are the bricks and mortar of power - and so when he sought to define a man he limited him by his character, not only by his intelligence.

I have just finished reading the Lives of the leaders of the Roman Civil War. Caesar, Sulla, Marius, Pompey, Cicero, Antony - the way Plutarch breaks down the times through the lens of each man is strangely impersonal - we see the time, but every character is covered with a sort of gloss of noble rhetoric. I had to go to Cicero's second Phillipic to see Anthony through the eyes of the day, and he sprang forth with unusual violence from Cicero's pen.

Nevertheless, the men are there in shape, if not in energy. Plutarch has maybe hellenized his Roman heroes - since we see Caesar's outrageous energy as merely a tumble of events, and Antony's inhuman vigor as a little roughness at the edges. Clearly Shakespeare had no access to Cicero's Phillipics, or else he would have created a more fierce Anthony. But in the life of Pompey and in the events of Cicero's life, Plutarch is sincere and shines with august words.

No other book evokes the times so well, already perhaps glazed with a thin patina of sentiment for the past, but nevertheless representing the real smell of the time and place from the point of view of a hellene. Plutarch is like a British journalist living in Washington DC - he can see and hear and report, but can he understand the American ways completely? Perhaps not, but the strength and goodness of his vision make the journey worth while

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Schopenhauer's "On Style": the Do List of Suggestions for Writers

I just read Schopenhauer's essay on style. And while it is a lovely sort of a rant, good for a blog entry, it tends to focus mostly on the Don'ts and very little on the Dos. So I thought I would record all of Schopenhauer's Do List.

Schopenhauer says the source of the best writing is epigraphic and monumental. I had to look up epigraphic in the dictionary, on google, and in the encyclopaedia before I got insight into what Schopenhauer means by this.

Before paper, all the most important statements a nation used to make were written painstakingly on stone. Throughout the ancient world, then, the style used was spare, grand, round, full, rich, right and true, and it is this Schopenhauer means when he says "epigraphic" style.

Next: "An author should have sometime to say; no, this is in itself almost all that is necessary. Ah, how much it means!" This is his key piece of advice.

"Le Style Empese" means to pour out words like a flood, according to Schopenhauer - again, no hint of this from a google search - and this he contrasts with a prim polite style, both of which are deviations from the epigraphic ideal.

I like Schopenhauer's nice taste, derived from the French, where he says after Hesiod that the half is more than the whole. I learn the same lesson from Gide as a child when I read in his journals that the problem with the English is that they do not know what to leave out. Knowing what to leave out, however, remains the great problem of style.

Style must be objective - that is, directly forcing the reader to think the same thought as the author.

Always write with care, as if the words are to remain forever.

Always write one thought at a time, then link thoughts logically together into paragraphs, rather than interrupting a sentence with parentheses.

Write like an architect builds, sketching out the plan, and thinking it over down the smallest detail.

That's the sum of Schopenhauer's positive advice. There's much negative advice to of great use, and the essay is well worth a read.

Now, I wish I could only apply all this to my writing retrospectively!

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