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Abbot’s Journal Vol 61, September 10, 2007 By Norman Fischer | 2/08/2008 @ 9:41 am Muir Beach … Saturday, Company Time retreat all day (subject: “focus”) then benefit for Hartford Street Zen Center that night. With David Schneider. Hadn’t seen him in maybe twenty-five years. He looks almost the same, lean and lithe in his neat suit, one hardly notices the thinning hair and the gray. We sat up on stage reminiscing about Issan and Phil (Whalen). I’d come prepared to read stuff by and about Phil, figuring I had little else to say (couldn’t remember any amusing anecdotes) but then, in the event, I did remember. Seeing Del’s “Tassajara Bread Book” drawings on the wall at Hartford Street, I remembered once driving Del and Issan up from Tassajara and we’d stopped at Del’s place in Palo Alto for dinner. Del and Issan drinking gin and gossiping about the old days in the San Francisco gay community, long before it was safe to come out: all the suffering, all the outrageous, if secret, behavior. I sat listening with shock and delight. It was as if an historical period long gone and long submerged were springing to life before my eyes.

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Answers to questions

Sep 06, 2007

Answers to questions posed by Kelly Tarnow, La Lumiere Scool, LaPorte, Indiana on nirvana.

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Finished Hank’s “Lyric & Spirit.” Interesting discussions of Jabes, Arakawa and Gins, Creeley, Rae, and a very long section in one of the essays on my work as one of the major instances of what Hank calls “spirit” in contemporary innovative poetry. Unfortunately the essay was written before either Slowly But Dearly or I Was Blown Back had come out – and these I think advance my work quite a lot, new directions and more depth. (Anyway, I hope so). Still, I was pleased to read the essay (I think I had not seen it – is it possible he’d not sent it to me before?) The Jabes stuff come in an essay on Rosemary Waldrop’s book on Jabes, “A Lavish Absence.” Many clarifying quotations from informal conversations with Jabes.

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Reading Hank Lazer’s “Lyric & Spirit,” his critical volume (essays of last ten years) he’d asked me to blurb. It’s absorbing. A sort of pastiche of sources, quotations. He’s saying that the real juice of writing, what drives it, makes it real, important, is sound, that the lyric is sound, not the nostalgic yammering of the sensitive poet having an epiphany. (Though in arguing for this he pronounces the conventional lyric “dead,” in fact the conventional lyric is exactly what the public and a lot of the professional lit world think of as poetry).

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Event with Novo Nordisk executives, the first day of their “Lighthouse Program.” In which they take thirty top executives from around the world (including the CEO, Lars) on a secret leadership development program. They are told what to bring, and are given some gear appropriate to the occasion, in this case outdoor jackets and Northface backpacks, but not told where they will be going or what they will be doing. I spent the day with them out at the Noetic Sciences site near Petaluma teaching them zazen and walking meditation and talking to them about the relationship of classical Buddhist mindfulness practice to leadership. I used more or less the same thoughts I’d presented to the Metta Institute students, who are concerned with being better caregivers for the dying – because the issue is the same in the end, how to cultivate a deeper sense of presence with yourself and with others.

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… at Johanneshof in Germany I tried to work into our Dogen seminar as much as I could of the Heidegger works I’d been reading in “Poetry, Language, Thought.” This was because Eugenie and Laurent, Dominique’s daughter and her boyfriend, both students of Heidegger thought in Paris, were at the retreat, as were Dominique and Paul Kahn. I’m not so sure how well the Heidegger worked out, but I enjoyed it. At one point one of the Germans reacted with some hostility. He had been himself a serious student of Heidegger in German (he said Heidegger had changed his life) and now he was hearing the Master several steps removed – so far removed that the work was unrecognizable: an English translation from the German that I was interpreting and paraphrasing, and Ottmar was then re-translating into German! But, I told the man, I am making no attempt to reproduce H.’s original meaning or intent, Rather only to present “my” Heidegger, as I take him, through and for a reading of Dogen. This seemed to satisfy the man, and according to Eugenie and Laurent, to be very Heideggerian!

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... read David Levy's lucid and interesting paper about how busy and fast life is getting as technology speeds us up. He quotes interestingly and at length Vanaver Bush and Josef Pieper. Bush, famous for inventing most of the conceptual framework that underlies modern computing, was actually most important as a science administrator, an early head of the National Science Foundation. Bush foresaw the explosion of information, that it would make useful knowledge and creative thinking less rather than more possible, and saw computing as a way of processing the more mechanical aspects of thinking, so that creativity could be freed up against the onslaught of too much data. But — at least on the everyday level for the ordinary person — it hasn't worked out this way. There is less rather than more time to think. More distraction, information overload. Pieper, a German Catholic theologian (who sounds a lot like Heidegger in his deeply skeptical view of science and technology, modernism in general) argues after the World War II German defeat that Western Civilization needs a new way out of the blind alley of materialism/rationality, into an opening of spirit.

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Train rolls by fields. Hay ricks (is that it, “ricks”?) very shiny in the sun, some sort of skin on them reflecting strong light. Cylindrical, in yellow cut fields. And much corn in flower in fields as we pass. Neat stands of dark green trees, seem to be (I imagine them to be) poplars. Some suburban houses, but either modeled architecturally on farm houses, or built in square blocks of apartments, so don’t seem suburban in the American sense. Like the square multiple dwellings in old Italian cities. All seemingly more reasonable, more appropriate to “dwelling” (in the sense Heidegger uses this word in the essay I just read, “Building, Dwelling, Thinking”) than American “ranch” houses, or the modified castles of suburban developments there, both seeking to dominate the landscape, or ignore it entirely. But houses at Muir Beach are nicer than this, meant to be lonely expressions of sea-inspired landscapes…

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Reading a bit more Heidegger, "On the Origin of the Work of Art." Surprising how simple and straightforward it is (compared to my memory of reading "Being and Time" years ago, which seemed so impossible). Like Stein. Like some of the theory I write: just start from first principles, like an idiot, and think "What is it?" and see what it is, what you think it is, what thinking suggests to you. So Heidegger writes, well art must be what produces artists and art works (which produce each other) and of course there's no "art" to be found outside artists and art works so it's a circle, it can't be sensible. When we think about art we revolve in that circle. Then he says, "Well all arts works are things, though we know they're more than mere things, but to appreciate the difference between an art-thing and a regular thing we have to think, ‘what is a thing?'" Which he goes on to do for many more pages. Images: what's an image? This is the age of the image, a billion images. Am I an image to myself?

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“If, on the contrary, man’s personality (or, I guess this means personhood) is not acknowledged to be something wholly and entirely real, then right and justice cannot possibly be established.” - Josef Pieper “On Justice” p 20.

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