Japan, little whales, and vomit

On the night of Friday, October 28, I had a horrible dream in which a baby sperm whale, after having been caught, was very slowly butchered in the cruelest imaginable way by “the Japanese.” So gruesome was the procedure that, while observing and photographing it, I vomited a few times (to the best of my recollection, the first time I have ever dreamed of vomiting). Afterwards, I began righteously denouncing the whole affair: “No civilized country would do such a thing! And if Japan does this, Japan is not a civilized country!” Even as I was saying it, it felt shrill and insincere.

*

On Saturday afternoon, the day after the dream, I was doing some English conversation practice with two Taiwanese schoolchildren, sisters, students of mine. They had just read an article about the development of computers, which ended by saying, “Now it is hard to imagine anything that a computer can’t do.” Our conversation ran more or less as follows. (I’ll leave it to you to guess which lines are mine.)

“What do you think? Is it really so hard to think of something that a computer can’t do?”

“Uh… Let me think.”

“I know! Computers can’t burp!”

“Yes, they can! If you record a burp sound.”

“But it’s not a real burp.”

“A burp is a sound, so a real sound is a real burp.”

“But computers can’t — how to say in English? — outu!

Throw up.”

“Computers can’t throw up. And they can’t poop!”

“Maybe in the future they can.”

“Why would anyone want to develop a computer that can poop?”

“Teacher, is a robot a computer?”

“Sure.”

“In Japan, the government is going to give every old person a little robot so they won’t be lonely. I saw it on TV.”

“That sounds expensive. What kind of robot?”

“It’s a little, little — how to say it? — whale.”

“What do you mean, ‘a little, little whale’? Whales aren’t little.”

“You know — haitun.”

“A dolphin? What do you mean?”

“Every old person will get a little robot dolphin.”

Luanjiang!” [nonsense!]

“Are you sure? That sounds like a pretty strange thing for the government to do.”

“And the dolphin can xuxu!” [pee]

“Oh-yo! You just made that up!”

“It was on TV! Really!”

*

Of course, the dream and the conversation were totally different in most ways, but the juxtaposition of Japan, little whales, and vomit seems like a notable coincidence.

Advertisements

Vivaldi and The Little Prince

Very early on the morning of Monday, October 24, I returned from a four-day vacation in and around Busan, Korea. At Busan metro stations, they announce that a train is coming by playing a few bars of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons over the loudspeaker — the beginning of the first movement of the “Spring” concerto, if memory serves. (I own no recordings of Vivaldi and haven’t listened to his work in many years. And even then I wasn’t paying much attention.) As a result, I found myself humming Vivaldi to myself throughout the trip.

On the second day of the trip, we visited Gamcheon Cultural Village (a former slum which has been remade as a manufactured “tourist destination”), where there are statues of the title character from Saint-Exupéry’s novella The Little Prince and of the fox he tamed.

*

Very early on Tuesday morning, just about 24 hours after returning home, I checked Bruce Charlton’s blog and found a post called Personal experience of super-sensible perception, in which he gives six examples of such perception from his own life. The six examples he chose are:

  1. a movement from the “Fall” concerto in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
  2. a painting by John Constable
  3. an anonymous border ballad
  4. The Little Prince
  5. “paranormal phenomena” in general
  6. unusual phenomena he sometimes sees in the night sky

*

On the morning of Saturday, October 29, I was tutoring a high school student in English writing. In addition to the writing assignments I had given her, she also produced an entirely unsolicited (but rather good!) essay on The Little Prince.

Full of Zeus are the cities

On the afternoon of Sunday, October 23, I was navigating a sprawling subterranean shopping mall in Busan, and — what with the army-ant scuttling of the masses, the bleak soullessness of the endless shop displays, and the ghost-like effect of the lurid mummy-case makeup virtually all Korean women wear — I started to get the creeps.

There’s a little litany I recite in my mind when urban waste lands start to feel a little too much like an actual underworld — something to jolt me into a different perspective, to remind me that the streets are not crawling with ants or with gibbering shades, but with people, that the very vistas that seem so dead are in fact overflowing with souls, with sparks of the divine. It’s cobbled together from lines of Aratus and David, and it goes like this:

Full of Zeus are the cities,
Full of Zeus are the harbors,
Full of Zeus are all the ways of men.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.

I used to resort to this litany fairly often, but before Sunday it had probably been about a year since I’d last used it. I started reciting it in my mind, and I’d only repeated it perhaps three or four times when I rounded a corner and was greeted by — a large white plaster statue of Zeus! How that ended up being chosen by the decorators of a shopping mall in Korea, I’ll never know, but it’s about the last thing I was expecting to see.

*

At about 4:00 p.m. on Monday, October 24, about 12 hours after posting the above, I read the following in Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot (pp. 158-160).

Thirty-eight years ago I knew a tranquil man of mature age who taught English at the YMCA in the capital of a Baltic country. Now, he revealed to me one day that he had attained a spiritual state which manifests itself through “the eternal gaze” and which is that of consciousness of the identity of Self with the Eternal Reality of the world. The past, present and future — seen from the pedestal of eternity, where his consciousness had its abode —were an open book for him. He had no more problems, not because he had resolved them, but because he had attained the state of consciousness where they disappeared, having become of no importance. Because problems belong to the domain of motion in time and space; he who transcends this and arrives at the realm of eternity and infinity, where there is neither movement nor change, is free of problems.

When he spoke to me of these things, his beautiful blue eyes rayed out sincerity and certainty. But this radiance gave way to a dark and angry look as soon as I raised the question of the value of the “subjective feeling of eternity” when one is not aware of or one is unable objectively to do something more towards helping humanity, be it in spiritual (or other) progress, or in the alleviation of spiritual, psychic and bodily suffering. He did not forgive me this question and he turned his back on me. which was my last impression of him in this world (he made his way to India, where soon after he died as victim of an epidemic).

[. . .]

The abstract metaphysician, who arranges worlds according to an order that he has chosen, can lose all interest for the particular and for the individual, in such a way that he comes to consider human beings to be almost as insignificant as insects. He regards them only from above. Seen from his metaphysical height they lose all proportion and become for him small or almost insignificant —whilst he, the metaphysician, is great, since he participates in great metaphysical things, which clothe him in grandeur.

I myself have blue eyes and teach English at the YMCA (and have visited India, for that matter), and have for the past several years been preoccupied with the metaphysics of time and eternity — so it was startling to read this so soon after writing about my struggles with a tendency to see human beings as insects.

 

Depth

On Wednesday, October 12, I was reading from the Gospel of Mark and was struck by these passages.

Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: and it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: but when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. (4:3-6)

And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? (4:13)

A day or two previous, I had read this passage in Valentin Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot.

The aim of spiritual exercises is depth. It is necessary to become deep in order to be able to attain experience and knowledge of profound things. (pp. 91-92)

I have also been reading Richard Tarnas’s Passion of the Western Mind. The epigraph at the beginning of the book is a line from Zarathustra’s Roundelay:

The world is deep:
deeper than day can comprehend.

The preceding two lines in the roundelay (not quoted by Tarnas) are “I slept, I slept / I woke from my deep dream.” Just after the roundelay in Thus Spake Zarathustra is the chapter called “The Seven Seals” — which seals are also mentioned by Tomberg in his discussion of depth and spiritual exercises.

The key to the Apocalypse is to practise it, i.e. to make use of it as a book of spiritual exercises which awaken from sleep ever-deeper layers of consciousness. The seven letters to the churches, the seven seals of the sealed book, the seven trumpets and the seven vials signify, all together, a course of spiritual exercises composed of twenty-eight exercises. (p. 91)

*

In the wee hours of Saturday, October 15, I was reading further in Tomberg’s book, and found that his 6th letter (on the Lover tarot card) quotes Zarathustra’s roundelay in its entirety — first in the original German, and then translated thus:

O man! Take heed!
What saith deep Midnight, indeed?
I lay asleep, asleep —
I waked from my deep dream —
The world is deep,
And deeper than ever day may deem.
Deep is its woe-
Joy—deeper yet than woe is she:
Saith woe: Hence, go!
Yet Joy would have Eternity-
Profound, profound Eternity!

So it would appear that Tomberg’s earlier echoes of Nietzsche’s wording were not actually coincidental — but, on the other hand, the Tomberg-Tarnas coincidence is now a closer one, with each author quoting the same poem.

Commercial space flight (precognitive dream)

On the night of October 5-6, the last dream I had before waking was about “commercial space flight” (those exact words were used in the dream). I saw images of spaceships in space and was given to understand that they were carrying wealthy tourists. (I, as dreamer, was not actively participating in this dream but rather watching it as if it were a TV news report.)

About two hours after waking, I got online and checked a few blogs. There was a new post at Junior Ganymede, Rock Guitarists Get Older Too, which reads:

From an interview with Dave Keuning, Killers guitarist:

In 2008, Rolling Stone said you were saving money to book a trip on Virgin’s first commercial space flight. Is that something you’re still wanting to do?

It’s something I’m still interested in, but Virgin has kept pushing that date back. They said it was going to be 2010, and then ’11, and then ’12, and they still haven’t done it. It’s actually made me a bit nervous about being on the first one. Whenever it happens, I’ll probably let other people do it first for a few years because I don’t want to be the one who blows up.

think I remember there being an image of a guitar associated with my space-flight dream, but I can’t be sure that’s not the JG post contaminating my memory. At any rate, I am absolutely certain that the words “commercial space flight,” and corresponding images, appeared in the dream — and that’s a topic I haven’t read or thought about in well over a year.

Minor syncs: broadening horizons, Modigliani

On Thursday, September 29, at 6:30, I was just about to start one of my English classes, but only one of the students had shown up on time, so we decided to wait a few minutes. While we were waiting, this student got out his phone and showed me a series of YouTube videos he had been watching. Each video is about a particular English-language movie; they take a few lines from the movie that might be confusing to non-native speakers and explain them in Chinese. He showed me two bits of a video about the movie “Me Before You.” The first movie line they dealt with was: “You need to widen your horizons, Clark. You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.” The explanation focused on the phrase “to widen one’s horizons,” explaining the meaning and mentioning that broaden and expand could be used in place of widen. (The second segment gave a long explanation of “You know what Sharen, you can stick your premier badge right up your relaxed dining area.”)

At that point, the second student arrived and handed me a short (unsolicited) English essay he had written, asking if I could proofread it for him. I glanced at it, and the first sentence was: “There is a saying that travel broadens our horizons much better than wide-reading.”

*

On the morning of Tuesday, October 4, I was in the study. I noticed a bag sitting on the desk, with some jewelry my wife had recently bought. The company was called “Modigliani Jewelry,” And the bag was decorated with one of Modigliani’s “Girl in a White Chemise” paintings.

modigliani

Later the same morning, I helped a student with some homework from an English literature class. She had been assigned the short story “How” by Lorrie Moore, which includes the sentence: “Have dinner with him and his Modigliani-necked mother.”

God’s love

On Friday, September 30, at around 4:00 p.m., I read a recent post by Bruce Charlton about many Christians’ failure to make their knowledge of God’s love the center of their faith.

How do so many Christians get Christianity so very wrong? [. . .] My answer is that they fail to take account of the primary assumptions of God being creator, wholly-good and our wholly-loving Father.

It seems clear to me that many or most Christians – past and present – do not really believe these assumptions – because their world picture is grossly incompatible with them. But why do they not (really) believe the primary assumptions?

In the first place such assumptions can only be known by individuals, and by direct-knowledge, intuition, faith. There are no real ‘arguments’, no ‘evidence’ to support the idea that God is creator and loving Father – either you know this, or you don’t.

Perhaps you don’t know it because you have never asked the question [. . .] not many people have ever really believed that God is our good, creator Father.

Think about our own earthly Father or Mother – as a child, if we believe they are good, we trust them; and we interpret their actions (observed and imputed) in that light – in the light of knowing that they love us.

We don’t let any specific action, or their average of actions, or anything we read, or anything which ‘other people’ say, have any influence AT ALL on the knowledge of the fact that they love us.

So the mass of Christians do not assume the loving goodness of God, they de facto test it. For example, they test the goodness of God by reading the Bible, or Church pronouncements. This is equivalent to a child starting each day agnostic as to the love of his parents, and weighing all their actions and statements about them to decide – day by day, moment by moment – whether his parents really do love him – or not.

Brooding over this, I realized, quite to my surprise, that I was in fact one of those people who had “never asked the question.” For all my dwelling on religious questions, one question that’s never really come up is “Does God love me?” — not because I’ve “never doubted it,” exactly, so much as because it never really suggested itself to my mind as one of the big questions I need to focus on. Despite a Christian upbringing in which I was constantly exposed to the idea that God is love, that love is the first and great commandment, and so on, I somehow failed to internalize that point of view. Perhaps because I don’t happen to be a particularly loving or love-oriented person, or perhaps because I’ve never felt unloved and so have taken love for granted without really noticing it, it’s hard for me to really get the idea that love is so much more central to the universe than it is to my own subjective experience. (Nor had it ever occurred to me that “I know that my parents love me” is one of the fundamental things I know.  They do, certainly, but it’s not the sort of thing it would occur to me to think or say.) Anyway, the upshot was that I was left thinking, “I spent half my life as a Christian, and I missed the whole point.”

*

A bit later in the evening, perhaps between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m., I picked up The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas, which I have been reading, and found this on the first page I read (page 116).

Yet humanity was not considered diminished by such an asymmetrical relationship [between humanity and God], for God’s grace and love alone were self-sufficient for humanity’s true needs and deepest desires. In comparison with these divine gifts, all worldly satisfactions were pale imitations, of no ultimate value. Indeed, here was the astounding proclamation made by Christians to the world: God loved mankind. God was not only the source of the world order, not only the goal of philosophical aspiration, not only the first cause of all that exists. Nor was he just the inscrutable ruler of the universe and stern judge of human history. For in the person of Jesus Christ, God had reached out from his transcendence and displayed for all time and all humanity his infinite love for his creatures. Here was the basis for a new way of life, grounded in the experience of God’s love, the universality of which created a new community in mankind.

Of course, it’s not a terribly impressive coincidence that the central Christian doctrine of God’s love should be mentioned both on a Christian blog and in the section on “The Christian Worldview” in Tarnas’s book, but the proximity in time made it seem significant.