Literary History October 16th

A lot in Literary History Today:

~ 1847 – The novel Jane Eyre is published in London.

~ 1950 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is published.

~ 1758 – Noah Webster was born, American lexicographer (d. 1843)

~ 1854 – Oscar Wilde was born, Irish playwright, novelist, and poet (d. 1900)

~ 1888 – Eugene O’Neill born , American playwright, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1953)

~ 1927 – Günter Grass was born, German novelist, poet, playwright, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2015)

~ 1997 – James A. Michener dies, American author and philanthropist (b. 1907)

Aristophanes

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Classical history profile —> Aristophanes

Aristophanes (c. 448-385 B.C.) is the only representative of Old Comedy whose work we have in complete form. Aristophanes wrote political satire and his humor is often coarse. His sex-strike and anti-war comedy, Lysistrata, continues to be performed today in connection with war protests. Aristophanes presents a contemporary picture of Socrates, as a sophist in the Clouds, that is at odds with Plato’s Socrates.

Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. These, together with fragments of some of his other plays, provide the only real examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy, and are used to define it.

Also known as “the Father of Comedy” and “the Prince of Ancient Comedy”, Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author. His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries; Plato singled out Aristophanes’ play The Clouds as slander that contributed to the trial and subsequent condemning to death of Socrates, although other satirical playwrights had also caricatured the philosopher.

His plays include: The Acharnians, Assemblywomen, The Birds, The Clouds, The Frogs, The Knights, Lysistrata, Peace, Plutus, Thesmophoriazusae, The Wasps

#ClassicalWisdom #ClassicalComedy #AncientGreece #Aristophanes

Aeschylus

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Classical history profile —> Aeschylus

Aeschylus (c.525 – 456 B.C.) was the first great tragic poet. He introduced dialogue, the characteristic tragic boot (cothurnus) and mask. He established other conventions, like the performance of violent acts offstage. Before he became a tragic poet, Aeschylus, who wrote a tragedy about the Persians, fought in the Persian War in the battles of Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea.

Only seven of his estimated seventy to ninety plays have survived, and there is a long standing debate regarding his authorship of one of these plays, “Prometheus Bound”, which some believe his son Euphorion actually wrote.

Only seven tragedies have survived intact: The Persians, Seven against Thebes, The Suppliants, the trilogy known as The Oresteia, consisting of the three tragedies Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides, together with Prometheus Bound.

The only complete trilogy of Greek plays by any playwright still extant (save a few missing lines in several spots) is the Oresteia (458 BC), although the satyr play that originally followed it, Proteus, is lost except for some fragments. The trilogy consists of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers (Choephoroi), and The Eumenides. Together, these plays tell the bloody story of the family of Agamemnon, King of Argos.

#ClassicalWisdom #ClassicalTragedy #AncientGreece #Aeschylus

Banned Book Week 2019

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It’s banned book week 2019. With that in mind I present you the 11 most banned and challenged books of 2018 according to the ALA (American Library Association). Of course the best way to get a bunch of people to read a book is to have it banned, people inevitably want to read what made people so upset the banned it…

#BannedBookWeek #Censorship

Book Review: Buddha & the Borderline

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This book is atypical of the type I will normally review or discuss, but it is a phenomenal book that tangentially discusses Buddhism.  The book is really about a woman who suffers from borderline personality disorder and her journey through the depths of the disease and into recovery.  Buddhism plays a fundamental role in her recovery, but if you are looking for a deep discussion of Buddhist thought look elsewhere.  What you will find here is an inspiring story that will make you laugh out loud for real, cringe and possibly cry in spots.  There are parts of the true story that are just plain ugly and scary.  This is one of my favorite quick reads which gives you a sense of the importance of Buddhism in the life of a pained individual as she struggle to redefine herself.

The Buddha and the Borderline is a cross between Girl, Interrupted and Bridget Jones’s Diary.While reading it, I found myself admiring Kiera’s talent for vividly describing borderline hopelessness and pain while keeping me laughing with her tales of life as a ‘lonely and increasingly horny receptionist.’ While this book has something for everyone, Kiera’s detailed account of how she recovered from this deadly disorder will be enormously inspiring to people with borderline personality disorder and their family members.” (Randi Kreger)

“Kiera’s book is destind to become a classic in the growing literature on borderline personality disorder. I expected to get a somber account of a transformation from suffering to enlightenment,but the book I read was not only entirely entertaining and revealing, but also had me up way past my bedtime in stitches. The Buddha and the Borderline is seriously funny, authentic, and sublime in its wisdom. The book embodies the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and integrates the world of core unrelenting suffering with the world of freedom from suffering. Transcendent stuff.” (Blaise Aguirre,MD, medical director of the Adolescent Dialectical Behavior Therapy Residential Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA)

Book Review: The Eight Gates of Zen

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This volume has had a profound influence upon my life as I keep returning to it over and over again.  After my illness (liver transplant) I had lost a lot of my faith in Zen and was only practicing once in a while.  A received this gift from a friend who had lived at Zen Mountain Monastery for a time.  I placed in my queue of books to read and there it sat for a few month, but I kept having this nagging feeling that reading this volume would have an immediate impact on my life.

I finally read it through in a couple of days and I have never regretted that decision, as a matter of fact it was one of the best decisions I have made.  The book presents an, “accessible introduction to the philosophy and practice of Zen Buddhism includes a program of study that encompasses practically every aspect of life.”  Soon after I finished reading it I found myself seeking a teacher.  Living in Jacksonville, Florida that task proved difficult as I could not find someone that met my requirements.  I ended up turning to the internet and listening to the dharma talks of Thich Nhat Hanh, John Daido Loori, and others.  This in no way is  a substitute for having a teacher, but it was the best solution available for me.

This small volume has taught me much and when I find my faith wandering I pick it up and read either excerpts or the whole book again.  I recently was going through one of these spells and decided to read the book.  Since completing it I have found myself a sangha, started this website and am rededicated to walking the path.  I have never felt stronger about my beliefs and I owe a debt of gratitude to John Daido Loori and his book.

The program of study developed by John Daido Loori at Zen Mountain Monastery, from their website:

Zazen

Zazen is the cornerstone of Zen training. Za means “sitting.” Zen—which derives from the Sanskritdhyana—means meditation. In its beginning stages, zazen is a practice of concentration, with a focus on following or counting the breath. More than just meditation, however, zazen is a powerful tool of self-inquiry, boundless in its ability to reveal the true basis of reality. Through zazen, we realize the unity of the self with the ten thousand things, which has the potential to transform our lives and those of others.

Study with a Teacher

Zen is an ancestral lineage that traces itself back to Shakyamuni Buddha. Because it relies on the mind-to-mind transmission of its teachings, personal study with an authentic teacher is pivotal to training. Although fundamentally, teachers have nothing to give, they are indispensable in helping students navigate the difficulties we encounter along the way, directly pointing to our original perfection. In dokusan, private interview, students deal with the questions and insights that emerge out of zazen.

Buddhist Study

The founder of Zen, Bodhidharma, said that Zen does not rely on words and letters. However, most western Buddhist practitioners are not familiar with the historical, philosophical and psychological underpinnings of the tradition, so Buddhist Study is critical to establishing a sound religious practice. Though words are not the same as the reality they describe, when used skillfully, they can act as a medium for direct realization.

Liturgy

Liturgy makes visible the invisible, bringing into awareness the shared experience of a group. In theistic religions, liturgy reaffirms our relationship with God. Zen, by contrast, is nontheistic, so its emphasis is on realizing our Buddha nature, or the nature of the self. All of Zen’s rituals point to the intimacy between the self and the ten thousand things. For an introduction to Zen liturgy, see Celebrating Everyday Life by Daido Roshi.

Right Action

Right Action is the study and practice of the Buddhist Precepts, the moral and ethical teachings of the Buddha. Though the Precepts are based on the experience of no-self, they are designed to function in the world of differences. Thus they define how a Buddha lives in the world. See Daido Roshi’s book on the moral and ethical teachings of Zen Buddhism, The Heart of Being.

Art Practice

From its inception, training at Zen Mountain Monastery has taken up both the traditional Zen arts as well as contemporary arts to deeply study the self. Art practice encompasses the entire creative process: artist and tools, the relationships between artist and subject, artist and object, and object and audience. Together, these interactions show us that creativity is an inherent human process. See Daido Roshi’s book The Zen of Creativity.

Body Practice

Our physical body is our vehicle of self-realization, an experience that encompasses our whole being. The search for self-knowledge is often reduced to a purely mental pursuit. Body practice helps us to unify body, breath and mind through activities ranging from refined practices like Tai Chi to mundane activities like washing our face or eating breakfast.

Work Practice

Work Practice is a reminder that our spiritual practice must move off the cushion and translate into the sacred activity of living and working in the world. A daily caretaking period and formal work practice give us the opportunity to explore labor that is nourishing to ourselves and others. Starting with simple, repetitive tasks, and gradually increasing their complexity, we learn to see how our minds respond to the task at hand.

Most Admired: Theodor Seuss Geisel

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Author Profile of the Day:

Theodor Seuss Geisel —> better known as Dr. Seuss, 1925. Geisel attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1925. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the July 16, 1927, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. His first book wasn’t published until 1931. His work includes several of the most popular children’s books of all time, selling over 600 million copies and being translated into more than 20 languages by the time of his death.

Geisel was a liberal Democrat and a supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. His early political cartoons show a passionate opposition to fascism, and he urged action against it both before and after the United States entered World War II. His cartoons portrayed the fear of communism as overstated, finding greater threats in the House Un-American Activities Committee and those who threatened to cut the United States’ “life line” to Stalin and the USSR, whom he once depicted as a porter carrying “our war load”…

#DrSeuss #TheodorSeussGeisel

Most Admired: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)

She is best known today for her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a semi-autobiographical account of a severe bout of postpartum psychosis. She was a Utopian Feminist (women’s suffrage as well as women’s economic independence) and a prominent sociologist, novelist, writer of short-stories, non-fiction and poetry. Her book “Women and Economics : A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution,” was published in 1898 and considered by many her greatest work. Her contention was that humans were the only species in which women were dependent upon the male for survival. They paid for this dependence through domestic services of “sex functions”. Here belief that this awkward distribution of power within the sex roles were detrimental to both genders. Her novel “Herland” published in 1915 is a utopian novel describing an isolated society entirely of women who reproduced asexually and thus had an idea social order – free of war, conflict and domination. Perhaps her greatest literary achievement was self-publishing a magazine, “The Forerunner”, for seven years (1909-1916), she wrote the entirety of every issue – editorials, critical articles, book reviews, essays, poems, stories, and six serialized novels including “Herland” and the sequel “With Her In Ourland.”

She married twice, separating from her first husband in 1888 and finally divorcing 1894. She bore one child with her first husband, Katherine. She married her second husband in 1900 and they remained happily married until 1934 when he died of a sudden cerebral hemorrhage. In 1932 she learned she had incurable breast cancer. She was an advocate for the right-to-die and thus on August 17th, 1935 she committed suicide by taking an overdose of chloroform. Both her autobiography and suicide note stated she “chose chloroform over cancer.” One of her more famous quotes comes from her suicide note…

“Human life consists in mutual service. No grief, pain, misfortune, or broken heart, is excuse for cutting off one’s life while any power of service remains. But when all usefulness is over, when one is assured of an unavoidable and imminent death, it is the simplest of human rights to choose a quick and easy death in place of a slow and horrible one.”
~ Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver.”

Most Admired: Virginia Woolf

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Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Adeline Virginia Woolf is well known as one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century. The English author, novelist, essayist, biographer, feminist, publisher and writer of short stories is best known for her novels “Mrs. Dalloway,” “To The Lighthouse,” “Orlando,” and her book length essay, “A Room Of One’s Own.” From this essay she is often quoted, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

She began writing professionally in 1900 with an article about Haworth, the home of the Bronte family for the Times Literary Supplement. Her first novel “The Voyage Out” was published in 1915 by her half-brother. She would go on to publish novels and essays as an intellectual to both critical and popular success. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press. Her work was often criticized for its narrow portrayal of the upper middle class intellectuals and lacked anything of ethical or emotional relevance for the common reader. She is often criticized as well for being perceived as an anti-Semite despite the fact she was happily married to a Jewish man and condemned Christianity as self-righteous egotism and in a letter to her friend Ethel Smyth, “my Jew has more religion in one toe nail—more human love, in one hair.” Additionally her distaste for fascism and its ties to anti-Semitism is quite plainly spelled out in her book, “Three Guineas.” Her final work, “Between the Acts,” aptly expresses some of her main themes : transformation of life through art, sexual ambivalence, and the flux of time throughout one’s life at the same time being a deterioration and renewal.

Throughout her life Virginia suffered from several “breakdowns” as a result of having symptoms that conform to bipolar disorder, the first occurring by the sudden death of her mother when she was thirteen. Her most significant episode occurred after the death of her father in 1904 and was in turn briefly institutionalized after her first suicide attempt. Modern scholars have suggested her recurring depressive periods were a result of sexual abuse both her and her sister were subjected to by her half-brothers. She vividly recounts this in an autobiographical essay, “A Sketch of the Past,” which can be now read in “Moments of Being” a collection of posthumously-published autobiographical essays. She wrote of the event, “I can remember the feel of his hands going under my clothes; going firmly and steadily lower and lower, I remember how I hoped that he would stop; how I stiffened and wriggled as his hand approached my private parts. But he did not stop.”

Throughout her life she struggled with periodic mood swings and associated illnesses. Though this often affected her social life, her literary career and productivity continued with very few breaks. After the completion of “Between the Acts” she fell into a deep depression. The onset of World War II and the destruction of her London home in the bombing only deepened it. On March 28th, 1941 she filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse which runs through the counties of West and East Sussex near her home. In her last note to her husband she wrote :

“Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”
~ Virginia Woolf