Abbot's Journal, Vol 65, August 14, 2008

by Norman Fischer | August 14, 2008 at 2:56 PM

Abbot’s Journal Vol 65
August 14, 2008

I’ve been tired last several days here – tired also at home before coming down. Both there and here staying up late reading, sleeping later there, getting up earlier here. Not, it seems, a physical fatigue. Maybe emotional. Still, I am managing to swim my 75 laps in the pool every day, though I’ve been tired beforehand and afterward. As if still worn out from the book tour (though it is now several weeks ago) or from the effort of solitude and writing and thinking at home. Anyway, don’t really know why. It’s not so bad. Just have to go a bit more slowly, do a bit less. And the heat; yesterday in zazen sat just feeling the sensation of the air’s temperature on the body; it’s as if with the strong heat there’s a weight – but it’s not precisely a weight – pressing on the body. An unmistakable, startling sensation.

Startling also to see the burned forests of Tassajara – of the Los Padres Mountains. Everything seemed intact half way in, but approaching the ridgetop you begin to see the burn – looks like the moon up there. Here in Tassajara scorched hillsides on both sides of the canyon. Down by the yurt a pine tree’s burnt and dead, and the back porch of the yurt got burnt, though the fire was put out before it actually destroyed anything. So close, close, close, too close for comfort.

Anne Carson writes funny literary screenplays and operas. The mixing/fracturing of genres characteristic of contemporary literature; we write in genres, genre controls the game, the person, it is arbitrary, what if we bust the genres, what will happen? Ok. I appreciate the daring, the brilliance the ingenuity, but find it hard to be moved in a primary way. Miss the lyric sense that, however fractured and fragmented it may or must be, suggests someone being there talking or singing. Something cerebral about Carson that’s attractive and distancing. “A mind moving.” It’s not that.

Judith Butler’s book turns out to be better than I thought at first. I think I will finish it. She’s smart enough not only to read Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, etc. but also to critique them, which is impressive (who knows if she’s “right,” but what matter?). I guess all these guys are saying the same thing in different versions – as if human self-consciousness reaches a point mid-Nineteenth Century when it begins to see itself – through these thinkers – from another perspective. That is, begins to see that morality, goodness, I suppose religion in general, is a convoluted twist of self-consciousness, a painful kink. That is literally making people sick and crazy. Conscience is aggression against the self; religion is violence against the self’s desire and need; an aggression (Hegel) that takes the form of religious self-righteousness to cover over the fear of death. All of this amounts to a tremendous de-bunking of religion from the culture’s intellectual pinnacle – a great unmasking of religion’s naive imagery, which maybe worked for a while, at an earlier stage of the development of human self consciousness. 

11:35 a.m.

The Hebrew word “tefillah,” prayer, comes from an Ugaritic root that means “self reflection” or “self judgment.” It is a reflexive verb.

“Subject.” To be subject to. “Sub” means “under.” “Ject:” to hurl. To hurl under, subject. Prayer, as understood in Judaism, represents a new level of human self consciousness for that time (maybe 500 B.C.). Viewing self, subject, in the light of the Unknown, as personified (made personal) in God. God then constellates a self, a person, a subject, a more complicated one than previously, when no actual self was referenced, only raw human need. This works for a while, then Nietzsche, Freud etc come along.


Norman Fischer