Starting July 25th, 2016…
We’re so excited to read this book, we made a trailer for it!
Get all the details here.
Starting July 25th, 2016…
We’re so excited to read this book, we made a trailer for it!
Get all the details here.
Here we are at the end of WoO. Spring is upon us, and our “Spring to Origins” poetic revelry event was, I think, a great success. Books have beginnings and endings but they are never finished. Re-reading a book forces us to work with a book over time, to disclose its nature slowly to us. They invite returning, like the seasons; their imperative merely to read and re-read, corso e ricorso. New interpretations glimmer up from occlusion, hidden treasures discovered in neglected passages.
One must be patient with a great book, patient enough for it to become a world and themselves a denizen of that world—to breathe its air, taste its food, speak its tongue—and come home, forever altered. Transformed. So too with a book like Jean Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin.
The discussion forum remains open and a few conversation threads are to be had via Infinite Conversations and the podcast network. There will be further occasions for “Dionysian revelry”and poetic incantations.
Thanks to all who attended Spring from Origins. Even though we’ve been sharing a purely virtual space, in the end it doesn’t feel so virtual. The lasting effect—for me at least—has been to feel in the warm company of good friends and inspiring minds. I do believe book clubs offline and online can generate this feeling.
A few new projects in the literary vein are coming up and we’re excited to announce them. As we’ve mentioned in this hangout, our next book will be a leap back to literary fiction and facilitated by our team member, Natalie Bantz.
As a party favor for our open mic Hangout, Natalie created this beautiful Winter of Origins bookmark that you can grab here.
More announcements forthcoming!
“Of course, nothing that exists exists for its own sake; it exists for the sake of the whole.” – Jean Gebser, Ever-Present Origin
This is a long title for such a little footnote I’ve made in my re-read of the mid-century book, Ever-Present Origin, a cultural philosophical tome by Jean Gebser.
Gebser was a poet, and studied poetry. It was through his careful reading of Rilke – who many of us are now familiar through Stephen Mitchell’s popular translations – that Gebser intuited a tremendous transformation in Western consciousness evidencing itself through artistic movements and new forms of creative expression.
This nearly 500 page text examines works of art, archeological artifacts, the evolution of language and even scientific breakthroughs to trace major transformations – mutations, if you will – across history.
The #litgeeks read is nearly halfway through the text, but we started, ironically, on the eventful day of David Bowie’s death.
It was January. He had just released Lazarus the previous week, featuring Bowie dressed in his now iconic “button eyes” persona, with clear references to his own mortality. The skull on his desk as he frantically penned something down. The strange figure lurking beneath the desk and hospital bed. The dresser cabinet as coffin. When we heard the news on Monday morning that he had died, Lazarus began to make a lot more sense. “Look at me, I’m in heaven,” the lyrics began, and the internet exploded into a David Bowie social media supernova.
I was personally shocked by the outpouring of support and emotion – Bowie’s singles made it up to the top of the charts in the U.S. that week as it began to be clear that he had intended the release as a “final goodbye” to his fans. More than that, however, in a moment.
Back to the #litgeeks read.
Jean Gebser has an intriguing chapter, “On the History of the Phenomena of Soul and Spirit,” exploring the coming-to-consciousness of the soul in history. Like Gebser suggests, the soul is noted across cultures for its polarities: life and death, growth and decay, Eros and Thanatos, beginnings and endings. In ancient Egyptian mythology for example, the soul has five parts, and the Ba, which is the unique personality of an individual, is often depicted as a human-headed bird.
As I was reading this, looking at the various images of birds standing beside “false doors” (doors in which only the soul may traverse through), I thought of Bowie’s lines in Lazarus.
This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me
Considering this stanza in the context of Bowie’s album, a true memento mori for a modern culture that otherwise ignores its own mortality, I asked myself: is Bowie describing his own soul here? Considering how much is already out there, postulating about Bowie’s intentions and occult meanings behind his art, I won’t do much more myself. While it’s possible that Bowie was consciously relating his death to a bluebird, a soul taking flight, I’d also like to suggest a kind of profound mundanity to this image. In the layers of consciousness, cliché and motif, the image of bird-as-soul is something perhaps written into the archeology of consciousness.
They spring up, even without us making the connections.
“David Bowie’s death was like a supernova,” Marco Morelli, fellow #litgeek crew member, mentioned to me a few weeks ago. It really seemed that way, too. Social media streamed endlessly with Bowie’s various personas – often in the form of rapidly progressing GIFs. Ziggy Stardust, the Tall Thin Duke, and Button Eyes all paraded about Facebook and Twitter and every other medium. Something creative and spiritual seemed to shine through the decades of this single artist’s lifetime that seemed to connect with our own. What made his death so powerful?
Lazarus and Black Star seemed to perform a function – an electronic rite zapped through every phone, laptop and tablet. Bowie made his death into art. “Something happened on the day he died.” His death was like his life, creative. he reminded us of the now neglected insight given to us by most traditional cultures that death itself is a metamorphosis, not a finality. Death is becoming. Mutation. Transformation.
I could make a transformation as a rock & roll star
So inviting, so enticing to play the part
I could play the wild mutation
As a rock & roll star
– David Bowie, Star
Bowie’s whole life, after all, seemed to be a series of mutations. Becoming personas. Creative revolutions. By going into his death in an equally creative way, perhaps it lifted, for a moment, the morbid paralysis we moderns have with the mysteries of death, and reminded us of the creative forces that flow through us as inherently creative, mutative beings ourselves. For a brief cultural moment, a blip on the historical radar, Bowie’s dying star revealed to us the tremendous stars that we are, each of us, of creative spiritual potency.
Bowie was all about mutation. And so are we, as Gebser has been aptly pointing out.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” —JC
There is the possibility of ecstasy in a book club—this I aver.
It’s a religious thing—or should be—the intercourse among “people of the book” (or rather, “people of many books,” people of infinite books…). It’s something reckless, an anachronistic act of abandon, to read literature—real literature, the work of words that imperfect human beings across time and space have poured their lives into—and to then talk about it with others, to experience a state of communion on its basis. I maintain this is a radical act.
A book club must be an ecstatic thing, or why bother?
I do not belong to a book club merely for “the pleasure of reading,” nor to socialize superficially. I do not read only for pleasure. Of course, I feel pleasure when I read—but I also feel boredom, tiredness, frustration, annoyance; yet I keep reading. I read even when it hurts. I read because there’s more at stake than my personal pleasure. I read because what’s contained in literautre is a reason for being. It’s a way of being. It’s faith. It’s revelation.
And revelation, naturally, wants to be shared, celebrated, spoken in tongues.
When I read—when I’m in the zazen of reading—I am transfigured. There occurs a transubstantiation of paper and light, ink and blood. Word is made flesh and flesh is made spirit—and sometimes (if I’m reading Kafka, for example) spirit is made absurd. I laugh out loud. The absurd is made holy! I realize: the absurd—deep down—is love. And I need this love….
It’s a lonely experience, to read. We are alone, physically; or if we’re surrounded by others, we’re shutting them out by focusing maximum attention on the book at hand. We are alone in our heads. We are, in essence, quietly—and from a certain perspective, crazily—talking to ourselves. But when reading becomes ecstatic, our self-centered aloneness becomes inseparable from other kinds of aloneness:
Every layer of aloneness is its own revelation.
The paradox of reading is that our aloneness contains an intimacy—a proximity with otherness, a strange closeness that’s non-local, marked by distance and desire, yet under the skin.
Reading is a social act we do alone. This is why every act of solitary reading feels, in a way, incomplete (or merely passive) until we break the solipsism of our literary intimacies and share the fruits of our reading with others, while partaking of others’ fruits. This allows us, in turn, to read more deeply, to entertain more perspectives, and so a virtuous circle is created between self, text, and other readers.
That’s the beauty of a book club. Our experience of the loneliness of reading can be transformed into a sweeter togetherness. A virtuousness. A hilariousness. A social awakening. We simply need to make this our intention.
In my opinion, the key thing for a book club’s success is not necessarily in the books it reads—the particular authors or genres—but rather in the spirit that guides it, the genius loci, which I think can be characterized by a playful passion for depth. An unserious seriousness. An unbearable lightness of being, even within the darkest dimensions of the human soul that literature reveals. (This is required in addition, of course, to open-mindedness, good taste, mutual respect, and the other social graces one would expect from civilized discourse.)
In fact, I believe there is a misconception about what book clubs are really about. A good book club doesn’t merely talk about books—not in any cliquey or supposedly “literary” kind of way. Of course, on one level, the object of the book is important; its structure, its story, its language, its historical context and figurative meaning—there’s nothing like a deeply informed close reading. But ultimately, the conversation can about anything and everything. This is what I believe literature is really about. An infinity of actual and possible worlds. A phantasmagoria of consciousness without end. It just so happens that certain books, and certain authors, have a way of transfiguring consciousness—disclosing a world, or exploding some aspect of the all into view—which makes the conversations and interactions in a book club particularly revealing, fun, even liberating.
The book club I imagine is distributed, global, diverse. It’s online, but members meet up locally if they can and want to. It’s trans-genre. The criteria for what’s read is fluid, open to inspiration and the cultural moment. It’s experimental. It’s tries new formats and explores new points of contact. It’s interested in evolving.
If there’s a quality that defines a good book pick, it’s simply that the book is worth reading—it has something to say (even if that something is ineffable), and an interesting way of saying it. It’s worth our time and attention. Most importantly, one gets the feeling from such a book that there is the possibility of falling in love. We are lovers of many books. An ecstatic book club is polyamorous.
In the long run, I don’t think everybody in a book club necessarily needs to be reading the same book at the same time. If only two or three people out of the larger group want to read a book, that’s all it takes for the magic to happen. There could be multiple mini-readings going on at the same time. One might be participating in multiple sub-groups, or none at all, at the moment. Every book could have its own timeline and special injunctions (for example, relating to spoilers).
However, I still think there should be a number of larger, “official” group readings during the year (for example, over the summer, tackling a book like Infinite Jest). And I imagine, over time, a book-club-specific canon will emerge, comprising the works that have elicited the widest and deepest engagement from its members.
The coherence and integrity of a book club are maintained by individuals who are part of it—and the energy they put into it. Our aloneness and togetherness simultaneously.
Every consciousness is a world. Every work of art is a world. A book club lives and grows by the collisions and recombinations of worlds upon worlds.