There are Monsters Ahead

Mostly unread fiction on these shelves, all monsters exceeding five-hundred pages; some philosophy, or philosophical anthropology in Blumenberg’s case. Tolstoy is missing as is my almost complete set of Heinemann’s Anthony Powell, and two huge Arno Schmidt editions. These are all in my future and the shelves that excite me most, rabbit-holes of discovery that hold in reserve so much promise and mystery.

There are a few novels missing that I’d like to read: William Gaddis’ The Recognitions, another attempt at Infinite Jest, Pynchon, Carlos Fuentes’ Terra Nostra, possibly Louis Armand’s The Combinations, and Cáo Xuěqín’s novel, Grossman’s Life and Fate, Lessing’s space fiction novels. Ever curious about Richardson’s Clarissa, but I don’t think I could sustain myself through its entirety.

Partial Notes: The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

‘These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down.’ Gospel of Thomas 32.10-11, in NHL 118. — p.14.

Another text, mysteriously entitled ‘Thunder, Perfect Mind‘, offers an extraordinary poem spoken in the voice of a feminine divine power. — p.16.

‘Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as a starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, ‘ My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body,’ Learn the sources of sorrow, joy, love, hate . . .If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.’ Hippolytus, Refutationis omnium Haeresium 1. — p.18.

As early as the second century, Christians realised the potential political consequences of having ‘seen the risen Lord’: in Jerusalem, where James, Jesus’s brother, successfully rivalled Peter’s authority, one tradition maintained that James, not Peter (and certainly not Mary Magdalene) was ‘the first witness of the resurrection’. — p.39.

Mary  lacks the proper credentials for leadership, from the orthodox viewpoint: she is not one of the ‘twelve’. But as Mary stands up to Peter, so the gnostics who take her as their prototype challenge the authority of these priests and bishops who claim to be Peter’s successors. — p.44.

[Bishop Irenaeus] charges that ‘they boast that they are discoverers and inventors of this kind of imaginary fiction’, and accuses them of creating new forms of mythological poetry. — p.48.

Another group of gnostics, called Sethians because they identified themselves as sons of Seth, the third child of Adam and Eve. — p.50.

Whoever comes to this gnosis — this insight — is ready to receive the secret sacrament  called the redemption (apolytrosis; literally, ‘release’). Before gaining gnosis, the candidate worshipped the demiurge [the creator], mistaking him for the true God . . . — p.62.

. . . gnostic description of God — as Father, Mother and Son — may startle us at first, but on reflection, we can recognise it as another version of the Trinity. The Greek terminology for the Trinity, which includes the neuter term for spirit (pneuma) virtually requires that the third ‘Person’ of the Trinity be asexual. But the author of the Secret Book has in mind the Hebrew term for spirit, ruah, a feminine word; and so concludes that the feminine ‘Person’ conjoined with the Other and Son must be the Mother. — p.74.

Ialdabaoth, becoming arrogant in spirit, boasted himself over all those who were below him, and explained, ‘I am father, and God, and above me there is no one,’ his mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out against him: ‘Do not lie, Ialdabaoth; for the father of all, the primal Anthropos, is above you; and so is Anthropos, the son of Anthropos.’ Gospel of Philip 1.30.6. — p.132.

Some who seek their own interior direction, like the radical gnostics, reject religious institutions as a hindrance to their progress. Others, like the Valentinians, willingly participate in them, although they regard the church more as an instrument of their own self-discovery than as the necessary ‘ark of salvation’. — p.133.

Many gnostics . . . insisted that ignorance, not sin, is what involves a person in suffering. — p.133.

So, according to the passage scholars call the ‘nightmare parable’, they lived

as if they were sunk in sleep and found themselves in disturbing dreams. Either (there is) a place to which they are fleeing, or, without strength, they come (from) having chased after others, or they are involved in striking blows, or they are receiving blows themselves, or they have fallen from high places, or they take off into the air though they do not even have wings. Again, sometimes (it is as) if people were murdering them, though there is no one even pursuing them, or they themselves are killing their neighbors, for they have been stained with their blood. When those who are going through all these things wake up, they see nothing, they who were in the midst of these disturbances, for they are nothing. Such is the way of those who have cast ignorance aside as sleep, leaving (its works) behind like a dream in the night. . . This is the way everyone has acted, as though asleep at the time when he was ignorant. And this is the way he has come to knowledge, as if he had awakened. Gospel of Truth, 71.20-21 in NHL 420. — p.134.

He learns what he needs to know by himself in meditative silence. — p.139

According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus praises this solitude: ‘Blessed are the solitary and the chosen, for you will find the Kingdom. For you are from it, and to it you will return.’ — p.149

 

‘We have no models, we have only precursors’

It would be easy for this blog to become a whirlpool, rotating obsessively around a small handful of writers that, to my mind at least, carve out a highly individual niche; perhaps a series of whirlpools that interconnect only at the periphery, and in doing so twirl off creating other eddies and vortexes. That sounds like a description of my reading mind. Two writers I keep returning to over the last few weeks, at night particularly, trying to understand why these two have captured so much of my waking and dreaming attention.

What is it that draws close the writing of Mircea Cărtărescu and Maria Gabriela Llansol? They are both European writers in the broad sense that they call upon a common pool of themes, myths and visions. Their writing appears, from what is translated heroically into English, to be marked by a transgression of genre, seeking instead to dance in the spaces between realism, magical realism, poetry, essay and analysis. Both writers summon strange figures to an oneiric imaginary geography, slipping in and out of the dramatis personae that is above all a way of constructing a form of hermitic autobiography. One could argue that their novels’ narrative fabric exists primarily as a device for reflection. There is also the space in which their stories function, bound not by a common conception of time but spatially, an amazing world where time sags and slows, dissolving into seemingly bottomless holes.

Both write in dialogue with ancient sources (the Bible and Ovid came quickest to mind) and also a strange world of literature that explores metafiction and intertextuality, inevitably hearkening back to old touchstones like Borges, Kafka, the Woolf of Orlando, even Nietzsche, and to writers I tasted and disregarded like Pynchon and García Márquez.

[The title of this post is from Roberto Bazlen’s Notes Without a Text.]

Spectators and Participants

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‘This distinction is critical to the practice of art in a democracy, however, because spectators invariably align themselves with authority. They have neither the time nor the inclination to make decisions. They just love the winning side— the side with the chic building, the gaudy doctorates, and the star-studded cast. They seek out spectacles whose value is confirmed by the normative blessing of institutions and corporations. In these venues, they derive sanctioned pleasure or virtue from an accredited source, and this makes them feel secure, more a part of things. Participants, on the other hand, do not like this feeling. They lose interest at the moment of accreditation, always assuming there is something better out there, something brighter and more desirable, something more in tune with their own agendas. And they may be wrong, of course. The truth may indeed reside in the vision of full professors and corporate moguls, but true participants persist in not believing this. They continue looking.’

From Romancing the Looky-Loos by Dave Hickey (from his book, Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy), via What do Critics Do? from the Weird Studies podcast

‘Together in the dust they lie, / and the worm will cover them.’

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One person dies full of innocence,
completely tranquil and at peace,
His udders are filled with milk,
the marrow of his bones still moist.
Another dies with a bitter heart,
and he has never enjoyed good.
Together in the dust they lie,
and the worm will cover them.

Job 21:23, Robert Alter translation