Sunday, July 7, 2024

My reading corner


My book family is an extended one, and ever-growing! I am always ready to adopt superior novelists; Jorge Amado (The War of the Saints) and Ben Okri (The Famished Road), Yangsze Choo (The Ghost Bride) and Ruth Ozeki (A Tale for the Time Being) are most welcome. There’s always room at my table for magical realists and masters of spy fiction and policiers; when I find we get on well together, I devour everything they have written at high speed, as I’ve done recently with Mick Herron and Matt Haig.
     This applies to writers in all genres. I have recently been on a Roberto Calasso binge, savoring everything from Ka and The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony and La folie Baudelaire to Tieoplo Pink, Ardor and the (unfortunately disappointing) The Tablet of Destiny. Calasso's The Celestial Hunter is my favorite. Who can resist a book steeped in Ovid's metapmorphoses that opens with this?

In the time of the Great Raven even the invisible was visible. And it continually transformed itself. Animals, at that time, were not necessarily animals. They might happen to be animals, but sometimes they were humans, gods, lords of a species, demons, ancestors. And humans weren’t necessarily humans but could also be the transient form of something else. There were no tricks for recognizing those that appeared. They had to be already known, as one knows a friend or an adversary. Everything, from spiders to the dead, occurred within a single flow of forms. It was the realm of metamorphosis.

     Some members of my book family hold court for a time, then retire into a quiet space. In the late 1980s, when my dreams led me into the world of the Iroquois in an earlier time, my intimate clan, over many months, included the 73 volumes of the Jesuit Relations, an extraordinary collection of the reports of blackrobe missionaries in New France and New York in the seventeenth century. Since a house move they are in storage but I know they are plotting to get back in my line of sight.
     I am a lazy linguist, but I like it when members of our book family speak their own languages because (as the Emperor Charles V said) to know another language is to live a second life. I am currently reading the Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys' book on his pioneering experiments in lucid dreaming in his original language; I read 
Les rêves et les moyens de les diriger (1867) previously in a clumsy and incomplete translation.
      My current reading includes a quite wonderful book by Lynn Struve on the history of dreaming and dream sharing at the end of the Ming dynasty in China, an age of anxiety that was prime time for dream writers. If I were asked - as customs officers used to ask - if this is for business or pleasure, I would say "both, but for pleasure first."     
      Struve writes in The Dreaming Mind and the End of the Ming World:
"Does it matter what people of the remote past thought about their dreams? It certainly should matter to those who study intellectual-cultural history, primarily because dream-writing in general brings us closer than any other kind of writing to the subjective consciousness of the highly literate, who collectively set the major trends of their respective civilizations....Dream-writings can indirectly contribute to a history of consciousness, not in the sense of what people were conscious of over time (such as class identity) but in the sense of what people thought consciousness was and how they experienced it." 
     Elders in my book family, often consulted, include William James, C.G.Jung, Emerson, Robert Graves, C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Swedenborg, Thomas Mann, Henry Corbin. Marija Gimbutas, the great Lithuanian scholar of the Goddess, has a place of honor in our book family, and I often call on Jane Roberts and her multidimensional mentor Seth. Every three or four years I ask Joan Grant to tell me again (in
Winged Pharaoh) about how Egypt dreamed, and I sit down again with Viktor Frankl, in a quiet corner, so he can remind me (through Man’s Search for Meaning) of how the imagination can get us through the most hellish conditions. I’ll smoke a cigar with Mark Twain, who reminds me that we must not approach anything serious without bringing a sense of humor, or have nightcap with Graham Greene, who is always good for tips on the writer’s trade and how to turn memories and dreams into plot and character. 
    When the poets speak, we need to isten, especially when the poet is W.B. Yeats, who once declaimed to me, “What better guide/to the Other Side/ than a poet?” I open Rumi or Homer - or whatever book is closest to my hand -for daily bibliomancy. I walk with Baudelaire whispering in my ear that the world is a forest of living symbols that are looking at us. I go back again and again to the Odyssey and to Dante’s Divine Comedy. 

Per tornar altra volta
La dov’ io son

So I may return again
To where I am


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