Fun with Han Shan

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The Myriad Things:

I’ve been entertaining myself over the last few days translating some poems by Han Shan; and just for the hell of it, I thought I’d post one translation here. I don’t write much poetry of my own (although I used to), so I’m enjoying the experience of taking a break from writing prose, and tinkering with translations.

[…]

Between my feet
      the green grass sprouts,

above my head
      the red dust falls,

and seeing me there,
      the common folk

surround my bed
      with funeral wine and flowers.

In praise of silent transformations

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The Myriad Things:

What I love about this idea of “silent” transformation is its gentleness, its freedom from drama. It does not hysterically shriek that time is passing and that we need to do something before it is too late: instead it quietly solicits our attentiveness, asking us to look to the subtle and labile nature of the multiple changes that are already in process. [François] Jullien spends a good deal of time talking about what he calls—against Badiou—the ‘mythology’ of the event. There is a certain strain within continental philosophy that is obsessed with the idea of the ‘event’ as a break with the existing order of things, a kind of rupture that is necessary for something new to happen: because without some kind of break in the order of things, so the story goes, there could be nothing of newness in the world. Events of this kind—events that seem to be a break with the existing order of things—could be called noisy transformations: like the events of the nightly news, they monopolise our attention, so that we don’t notice those quieter transformations that are happening all the time. And I can’t help wondering if the very drama of these noisy transformations blinds us to the fact that even these events are not really such a break in the order of things at all (hence Jullien’s ‘mythology’ of the event): instead—but only if we ignore the noisiness and the drama and look a bit more patiently and calmly—we can see, in retrospect, that the seeds of these transformations had been growing for a long time.

(Be sure to read the comments thread as well as the post.)

The spell of Moominland

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The Myriad Things:

These days, the Moomin characters have turned into a global franchise; and yet when I think about my own relationship with these books that were so formative of my imagination, I realise that what I owe these books is something much more private and intimate, a philosophy of sorts. Because in Tove Jansson’s books, when I re-read them now, I find a fierce recognition of the importance of solitude; an expansive sense of friendship—not a friendship that erases solitude, but one that is a kind of mutual recognition within it; a sense of delight in the world, its seasons and its changes, that doesn’t require any form of transcendence; and a hospitable generosity of spirit that manages, in one way or another, to accommodate even the most awkward and tricky of characters—not just eccentrics, stove-dwelling ancestors, hemulens, free spirits and oddballs, but also genuinely alarming creatures such as grokes and philosophers.

Human “thingliness”

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

The Myriad Things:

What I’ve always loved about the notion of the ten thousand things is that we ourselves are included in their number. Human beings, the Zhuangzi says, ‘are but one item’ amongst the countless things of the world. We are not separated out from the world. We are not a separate creation. I find this restoring of human existence to the thingness of things—this restitution of our status as things in the world, in the same way that cats and telephone poles and supernovae are things—a huge relief after centuries of philosophical labour that sought to demonstrate that we are set apart from other things.

Woodrat Podcast 46: A philosophical lunch with Will Buckingham (Part 2)

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Will Buckingham with Sea Legs, Moomins, and the sea

The second half of my epic bull session wide-ranging conversation with British novelist, philosopher and blogger Will Buckingham (listen to Part 1). Will talks about how he got into Buddhism and why he eventually drifted away from it; how he turned his doctoral thesis about the literary qualities of Emmanuel Levinas’ writings into a work of philosophy for a popular audience (Finding Our Sea Legs: Ethics, Experience and the Ocean of Stories); and why he’s so fascinated with the I Ching.

“What I love more than anything in life,” Will says at one point, “is to have interesting conversations.” I couldn’t agree more. This conversation was definitely a high point of my two weeks in the U.K.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Woodrat Podcast 45: A philosophical lunch with Will Buckingham (Part 1 of 2)

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Will Buckingham

On my visit to the U.K. last spring, I arranged to meet with the novelist and philosopher Will Buckingham in a restaurant near the Birmingham train station on my way from Aberystwyth to London. I’m a long-time reader of his blog ThinkBuddha (and more recently of his personal blog) and a fan of his first novel, Cargo Fever. So knowing that he was a guy with wide-ranging interests and a gift for translating abstruse ideas into ordinary language, I figured he had to be pretty interesting to chat with. I wasn’t disappointed.

In this first half of our conversation, I got Will talking about the philosophy in the Moomin books of Tove Jannson; the ancient Chinese Daoist text Zhuangzi (actually, I’ve spared you most of that — Will and I share a great fondness for the work, but I realize most listeners won’t have read it); the pervasive sense of loss in the Western philosophical tradition; teaching and writing; Martin Heidegger; why existentialism is no longer popular; Emmanuel Levinas; and parallels between Indian and Greek philosophy.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).