Monday, September 4, 2017

About the Light We Cannot See

A Book Review

"What mazes there are in this world.  The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father re-created in his models.  Mazes in the nodules on murex shells and in the textures of sycamore bark and inside the hollow bones of eagles.  None more complicated than the human brain, Etienne would say, what may be the most complex object in existence; one wet kilogram within which spin universes."

     I lifted this quote from page 453 of Anthony Doerr's 2014 novel, All the Light We Cannot See, which won the Pulitzer Prize the following year.   If you haven't read it, and if you enjoy good novels, let me urge this one as your next choice, and I invite you to get back to me in the comments section when you've done so.  If you have already read it, please jump into the comments section right away.

     I need to explain, perhaps, my enthusiasm for this book.  Probably it is partly because I don't read as much fiction as most people --I prefer science and math and history and philosophy.  So when I do read good fiction, I get a special unexpected pleasure for having found truth (at least literary truth) in an unexpected way.

     Then again, it is partly because most of the story action occurs in St. Malo, France, during the 1940s.  It was my interest in understanding the immense conflict of World War II  that led me to a lifelong interest in history, literature, and more.

     And it is also partly because this book was loaned to me by a friend, on the chance that I would like it.  (Thank you, Ralph.)  Which brings me to thinking of my book-reading friends, and how much I have gained by following some of their tastes, recommendations, and gifts of books.  I won't go into any detail here, but I think I ought to devote a post or two to this matter.  Anyway, back to the book.

     All the Light We Cannot See.  Can we see, or imagine, why the author chose such a title?  Is it because one of the characters is a blind teen-aged girl living in St. Malo at the time of its siege in 1944?  Well, yes.  But the story is about much more than that.  Most of the characters, after all, have ordinary vision.  Or not ordinary -- they have a vision that is enhanced, or blurred, or altered, by the war.

     Moving back and forth across Europe, and back and forth across the war years, the author tightens the threads of the story with craft, confidence, and cohesion. Writing in the present tense, he combines rich, detailed descriptions with textured perceptions of sight and sound and smell and contact, which wrap around personal actions and motivations and the author's own psychical insights.  He draws you in.  All of which makes this novel more valuable than several -- many?  any? -- mere military histories.

     Get this book.  Read it.  See what you make of it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

George MacDonald and the Beech Tree

     This post is for certain young mothers, friends of mine, who have recently sustained great loss.

     Here is a lengthy quote from George MacDonald's fairy tale, Phantastes.  At this point in the story, Anodos has encountered the fairy spirit of a beech tree, who has protected him in the middle of a frightening night in a strange wood:

     She shook her long hair loose over me, never moving her arms.
     "I cannot cut your beautiful hair.  It would be a shame."
     "Not cut my hair!  It will have grown long enough before any is wanted again in this wild forest.  Perhaps  it may never be of any use again -- not till I am a woman."  And she sighed.
     As gently as I could, I cut with a knife a long tress of flowing, dark hair, she hanging her beautiful head over me.  When I had finished, she shuddered and breathed deep, as one does when an acute pain, steadfastly endured, without sign of suffering, is at length relaxed.   She then took the hair and tied it round me, singing a strange sweet song, which I could not understand, but which left in me a feeling like this --
     "I saw thee ne'er before,
     I see thee never more,
     But love, and help, and pain, beautiful one,
     Have made thee mine, till all my years are done."
I cannot put more of it into words. . . . At last I had fallen asleep, for I know nothing more that passed, till I found myself lying under a superb beech tree, in the clear light of the morning, just before sunrise. Around me was a girdle of fresh beech leaves.  Alas!  I brought nothing out of Fairy Land but memories -- memories.  The great boughs of the beech hung drooping around me. . . . I sat a long time, unwilling to go, but my unfinished story urged me on.  I must act and wander.  With the sun well risen, I rose, and put my arms as far as they would reach around the beech tree, and kissed it, and said good-bye.  A trembling went through the leaves, a few of the last drops of the night's rain fell from off them at my feet, and as I walked slowly away, I seemed to hear in a whisper once more the words, "I may love him, I may love him, for he is a man, and I am only a beech tree."

_____

     Much thanks to my friend Oliver, who lent this book to me several years ago, in the expectation that I would someday read it.  Now is the time.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Unseeable Animal

     A long time ago Wendell Berry wrote a poem, "To The Unseeable Animal,"  which he introduces by quoting his daughter who, I am sure, inspired the poem that followed:

     My daughter:  "I hope there's an animal
          somewhere that nobody has ever seen.
          And I hope nobody ever sees it."

     I confess it as a weakness, that it occurred to me that this poses an interesting puzzle to a quantum theoretician interested in the riddle of Schroedinger's Cat.  It further occurs to me that that puzzle might contain, or be, its own solution.  Ah, physics; ah, mathematics; ah, logic -- how readily and how eagerly you intrude.  Quiet yourselves.

     Set all that aside:  Wendell writes the poem to the unseeable animal, and ends it thus:

That we do not know you
is your perfection
and our hope.  The darkness
keeps us near you.

   


_______

The full poem is on p. 118 of Farming: A Hand Book, by Wendell Berry.




Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wayne Dyer, RIP

     Wayne Dyer died on Saturday, August 29, in Maui, Hawaii.  He had been diagnosed with leukemia several years ago.

     They called him a "self-help guru,"  and I suppose that he was.  He wrote dozens of books, with titles like Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life, Wishes Fulfilled, and Your Erroneous Zones, which produced quite a large following.  I read several of his books, always with enjoyment.   His 2005 book, The Power of Intention, I found particularly interesting.

      I would like to have had a personal conversation with him.  I never met the man in person, but I did meet him through his books.  ( That's pretty much the reason why I read books anymore:  to meet the authors. )  He came across as a man with an adventurous mind, and so he could not be boring;  he had learned too much to be didactic; had met too many interesting people to be pumped up with himself.  He had good ideas, and a pretty good way of fitting them together.

     Dr. Dyer leaves behind a large family, numerous books, several hours of presentations on youtube, and some good quotes.  Here are a couple of them:



   

 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Doctor Future Is Blogging !

     That's right!

     And here's the link, so you need to read no further.

*       *       *

     ( Unless you don't know who Doc Future is.  So I'll give you a quick thumbnail sketch.  Well, three thumbnails. )

     1.  I posted about him and his radio show five years ago (in November, 2010), when this Sycamore Three blog was brand new, and at that time his radio show, Future Quake, was already well into its sixth year.  (That's right, he began broadcasting from Radio Free Nashville in 2005.)  So if you want a quick introduction,  you can read my post right here, right now.

     2.  Since he stopped broadcasting in early 2012, he has been fully engaged in a research-and-book-writing project that he thought would take about a year or so, and produce a book or two.  Well, he has been busy for more than three years, and has now finished the drafts of four lengthy books and is working on at least two more.  (He keeps telling me he wants to get the complete series done before he publishes any.)  Since he has focused completely on this project, his many old friends, and quite a few new ones, have had to depend upon listening to his Future Quake radio archive, or corresponding with him by email.  That has now changed: he is blogging, and welcomes comments.

     3.  His blog-opening post is a very brief autobiographical sketch, which he has entitled "Welcome to an Experiment in Conversation."  Read it here; and take it from there.

     Good that you have an internet presence again, Doc.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paul Craig Roberts on American Gullibility


Paul Craig Roberts came to my (only slight) attention when he was appointed by President Reagan as an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. In that capacity he served, as far as he was able, in promoting a tax-reduction and other initiatives that came to be known as “Reaganomics,” an approach to Federal government policy that was respected by some (the few) and reviled by many (the followers of the American Establishment in media and government.  Many people are unaware that the early "Reaganomics" initiatives were largely undercut and reversed in the later Reagan years by the opposition of the Republican-Democrat-Media establishment that has sought to control debate and oppose reforms for well over a century.  Yes: do your homework and study your history.)

Since the Reagan era, Paul Craig Roberts has warned us, his countrymen — and anyone else who would listen — about the perversions, economic and political, that have increasingly overwhelmed our national policy and our national discourse, from the later Reagan Administration through the Bush41-Clinton-Bush43-Obama era.

Although he is well respected in “paleo-conservative” (old-traditional conservative) and “paleo-libertarian” (old-traditional libertarian and liberal) circles both in the U.S. and abroad, he is practically unknown to the main-stream of the American public, since he is shunned by the American media on which most of us depend for our political and economic news and information.

The brief article linked below is serious in its content and stark in its conclusions. I agree with it.

I appreciate your thoughtful commentary, whether pro or con.


When you go to his site, you will have to scroll down a few lines to get to the article.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Perhaps, Now

     With certain objectives of the financial-military-industrial complex having been frustrated over the last few years; and

     With certain deep and old alliances becoming strained; and because strained, exposed; and because exposed, strained further; and

     With the sheer silliness and moral purposelessness of the American political (and religious) scene, all of it, increasingly apparent; --

     Perhaps, now,

     The coverup of the September 11 operation will continue to unravel; and the lies that have undergirded it, will become more exposed; and the truth that has been buried beneath them both will come much more to the light.

     Then again, perhaps not now -- not yet.

     But, perhaps, even now.