Real Fiction

Exploring the nexus of reading and writing


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Writing about writing and arguing for God

ScreenHunter_149 Jul. 03 10.35A very difficult book

The book is The Broken Estate, by James Wood.

I have long wanted to learn more about some of the authors and historical figures (often one and the same) whom this author presents: Sir Thomas More, Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, Virginia Woolf and so on. And, I learned about others new to me. I am in debt to the author for educating me.

However, I am also exhausted from the reading of this difficult book. I cannot fully put my finger on the reason or reasons, but the following are thoughts my forebrain reveals.

James Wood is upset by the trivialization of God that most authors offer in their novels. Herman Melville‘s Moby Dick is one of the exceptions. He also likes Jane Austen for introducing the inner dialog of the main character in a new and useful way, but this doesn’t seem to have anything to do about the “God” issue that underlies this collection of essays.

To justify my having said the foregoing, here is an excerpt, regarding the free-will argument, from the final paragraph of the book in the final chapter entitled The Broken Estate: The Legacy of Ernest Renan and Matthew Arnold:

…(A) world of limited freedom and absolute transparency of knowledge, in which not one of us is in any doubt about our creator, would be a limited, useless place. But it would not, presumably, be useless to God. It is what heaven would be like; and why, before heaven, must we live? Why must we move through this unhappy, painful, rehearsal for heaven, this desperate ante-chamber, this foreword written by an anonymous author, this hard prelude in which so few of us can find our way?

The above ends the book.

As an aspiring writer, I am eager to learn from such a master of language and from his criticism of literature. But what is literature as compared with just “writing,” which is what I think I am doing? Answers.com tells us this, in part, about the definition of “literature”:

• Imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value: “Literature must be an analysis of experience and a synthesis of the findings into a unity” (Rebecca West).

• The art or occupation of a literary writer.

I take this to mean that writing has artistic value when it is deemed such by those who consider their own writing to have artistic value such as, presumably, Rebecca West.

Rebecca West

Rebecca West, 1892 – 1983

As for literary writer, I find no direct definition on the Internet. No doubt it exists somewhere, but I will attempt my own here: a literary writer is one who, in his writing, refers, implicitly or explicitly, to other writers and their work. T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land is a solid example of this, in my view. One cannot understand his poem without first having read and understood a great number of other works of other authors and philosophers, including The Bible.

I have a bias, as may be perceived here, against those who hold themselves out as “experts” in telling us how good or bad, and why, a given piece of writing or art may be.

James Wood doesn’t tell us how we should think; he is telling us what he thinks, and he thinks very deeply. I agree that the notion of God or, more to my taste, the notion of a power beyond us and beyond our understanding, a Life Force (or, as I use in my poetry, The Great Everything), does in fact exist. I believe he is arguing that for the last several hundred years man has undertaken to describe the universe in his own terms through the use of the written word and has reduced God or The Life Force to an abstraction, something less relevant than before.

I will keep this book. This means I will read it again, perhaps ten years from now when I am 81 and will have had more life experience. I may find it less daunting reading then, as I recently found with Plato’s Dialogues, despite their being opaque to me when I was 25.

May the Force be with you.

[response] And also with you

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END


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When Does Boyhood End?

Over the years, I have read and re-read these books:

Robert Pirsig (b. 1928) and his son Chris (1956 - 1979)

Robert Pirsig (1928-2017) and his son Chris (1956 – 1979)

There may be a common thread among all these, and there certainly is in the last two. In each of these two, an old Greek teaches a much younger Englishman how to grow up, according to each mentor’s way. In The Magus, the pupil never quite gets there.

I recently was perusing the editor’s introduction to the revised 1978 edition of The Magus where I read that Fowles was influenced in his life, generally, and for the writing of this book, by his childhood love of three books:

This lead me to look for these books on the Internet and this search brought me to an obituary of Fowles, he having died in November 2005. I hadn’t heard of his death and it briefly saddened me. I was fascinated by this obit and a book review of his biography by Eileen Warburton. Then I came upon this 1996 article by John Fowles, himself, on the influences underlying The Magus. What riches the Internet brings us!

John Fowles

John Fowles

I read the three favorite books of Fowles’s youth, the first two being much quicker reads than Great Expectations. As I began this last of the three, I was surprised to see that I had not previously read the book, despite (or perhaps because) my father carried richly-bound Dickens books with us whenever we moved, which was often. How many times have we read in general literature reference to “Miss Havisham”?

I was prepared to hurry through ‘Expectations’ as I had the other two but found myself bound to slow down to closely read the rich dialog and unsurpassed characterizations. And what characters with such names: Mr. Pumblechook, Mr. Wopsle, the heartless Miss Estella, Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt whose name we are never shown, “Old” Orlick who is not much older than Pip the young principal of this story, the hapless Pocket family, the lawyer Mr. Jaggers, and many more.

Through the reading of these books, articles, and obits I am now able to appreciate The Magus even more fully. As a sometimes writer, I find it enlightening to learn how an author’s life experiences affect his writing.


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Impeccability

No, I don’t mean being well-dressed and -coiffed,

or never having violated any social code. What I mean is being true, as in:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82

Why am I bringing this subject up here and now? A house guest, a young woman, left her book in our living room, forgetting to pack it for her trip back home to San Jose, California: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by don Miguel Ruiz. Despite it being a best-selling book in a realm I’m interested in, I hadn’t heard of it nor of don Miguel.

As I read through it, I was instantly familiar with the “Toltec” words and phrases. This is because I had read all the books of Carlos Castaneda, the first one being, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. I had not known, or had since forgotten, that don Juan Matus, the Yaqui brujo who takes Carlos as his student, was inculcating him in ancient Toltec traditions. Now I am indelibly reminded.

One of the words and concepts I have retained from Castaneda’s books is that of “impeccability.” Paraphrasing don Juan Matus in Castaneda’s books (from memory), “a warrior must be impeccable; he must conduct himself with impeccability.” This word and concept is the first and “most important” of the “Four Agreements” which don Ruiz puts forth in his book. He states it thus: “Be Impeccable With Your Word.”

Impeccable comes from the Latin pecatus, and means “without sin.” A sin is anything you do which goes against yourself. Everything you feel or believe or say which goes against yourself is a sin. You go against yourself when you judge or blame yourself for anything. Being without sin is exactly the opposite. Being impeccable is not going against yourself. When you are impeccable, you take responsibility for your actions, but you do not judge or blame yourself…

Being impeccable with your word is not using the word against yourself… Being impeccable with your word is the correct use of your energy; it means to use your energy in the direction of truth and love for yourself…

Looking at  everyday human interactions, imagine how many times we cast spells on each other with our word. Over time this interaction has become the worst form of black magic, and we call it gossip

There is more, with plenty of advice on how to live correctly. Fundamentally, if one is true to oneself, one will not be false to others, just as in the advice cited above from Hamlet. The remaining three of the “Four Agreements” are: don’t take anything personally; don’t make assumptions; always do your best.

"The Wisdom of don Juan Matus" Xreiazomai Community

“The Wisdom of don Juan Matus”
Xreiazomai Community

Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, don Juan Matus, has much more to say about being impeccable, and carries it into extra-ordinary life, the life of a warrior and a sorcerer—but still within the same Toltec framework within which don Miguel Ruiz operates. Here are but a very few of the instructions and admonitions given by don Juan Matus to his student Carlos:

The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything either as a blessing or as a curse. A warrior must be impeccable.

Impeccability is to do your best in whatever you’re engaged in. A warrior always makes sure that everything is in proper order, not because he believes that he is going to survive the ordeal he is about to undertake, but because that is part of his impeccable behavior.

Impeccability is nothing else but the proper use of energy.

Part of being impeccable for a warrior is never to hinder others with his thoughts. The hardest thing in the world is for a warrior to let others be. The lets them be and supports them in what they are; you trust them to be impeccable warriors themselves. If they are not then it’s your duty to be impeccable yourself and not say a word. Every effort to help on our part is an arbitrary act guided by our own self-interest alone.

The only freedom warriors have is to behave impeccably. A warrior is a prisoner of power; a prisoner who has one free choice: the choice to act either like an impeccable warrior, or to act like an ass. He cannot act in any other way but impeccably. To act like an ass would drain him and cause his demise.

The self-confidence of a warrior is not the self-confidence of the average man. The average man seeks certainty in the eyes of the onlooker and calls that self-confidence. The warrior seeks impeccability in his own eyes and calls that humbleness.

A warrior is never under siege. To be under siege implies that one has personal possessions that could be blockaded. A warrior has nothing in the world except his impeccability, and impeccability cannot be threatened.

A warrior cannot be helpless, or bewildered or frightened, not under any circumstances. For a warrior there is time only for his impeccability; everything else drains his power, impeccability replenishes it.

Don Juan’s lessons to Carlos include what it is to be a sorcerer, who must also be impeccable, but he or she will not be a “prisoner” of that impeccability. These lessons go far beyond what don Miguel presents in his small but valuable book on “The Four Agreements.”

It is pleasing to know that a friend of my granddaughter, she who left her book behind, is already studying in a realm which can lead her to be a warrior, or even a sorcerer. In Castaneda’s later books it is the women he meets who are the most powerful sorcerers.

“The Four Agreements” is a worthy primer for young people who may wish later to read more deeply into the Toltec tradition, as presented by Carlos Castaneda in his books.

A compilation of all don Juan Matus’s teachings to Carlos Castaneda can be viewed here, at the site of Rick Mace.