Thursday, February 28, 2008


What is writing, really?
One time I replied
writing is cursed.
African pygmy children emerge
from huts made of leaves
without knowing a single letter.
One time I replied
pygmy children are cursed.

Those children are cursed by their illiteracy
while I am cursed by my ten thousand books.

Ill-advised, those who think this world
is nirvana.

(Poem by Ko Un from Songs for Tomorrow: A Collection of Poems, 1961-2002 published by Green Integer.)

Larry thinks the poem is a challenge. To what? Perhaps intellectual arrogance. To Buddhists, too.

In the Chan tradition, the phrase "ten thousand things" is often used to refer to...basically everything...the world of phenomena. Ko Un changes this to "ten thousand books". In the context of the poem, then, he gives it a double meaning.

Ill-advised, those who think this world is nirvana. Again, a challenge. The doctrine tells us this world is nirvana, if only we knew it. Un points to the answer, Larry thinks, because he realizes that at one moment he sees the curse of writing, the next he sees the curse of its lack.

Where is nirvana to be found?
The compulsion to choose steals nirvana.


Anonymous said...

Very Zen to me. What is, isn't, and then is... Nirvana here and not here and here at the same time. What is that saying that if you can name it, then it isn't it?

10,000 things - I like that - I often use the number 29 to indicate a similar concept in my life, BUT 10,000 is so much MORE... and existence has so many bits and pieces and emanations and differentiations - the 10,000 things are both its joy and its heaviness.

The development and use of language - it can be a snare - look at all those 10,000 things you download? And then don't have enough time to read? I suppose the use of written language is akin to the "second and third" thoughts that arise from first thought or consciousness... isn't that the Buddhist philosophy? (Badly bastardised?).

But language is a delight too... I have thought about how much written language is a gateway... I learn/express things about myself and the world that I couldn't do without the stepping stone of language - it takes me down pathways. I play there...

Mr. Earrational said...

Second and third thoughts -- this is a curse too, don't you think?

Was it Ginsberg who said, "First thought, best thought"? Or Kerouac?

Anyway, second and third thoughts sounds a little to Larry like second or third guessing...

This is what happens to Larry: He gets lost in his second and third thoughts trying to clarify or specify or wordify what came to him in his first thought. And by the time he's done he hasn't said at all what he meant to say.

Now, sometimes it doesn't matter cuz what he does say is as good as or better, but sometimes he's mightily frustrated by not being capable of saying what he thought.

This train of thought does not include the concept of editing, though. Editing can be wonderfully cathartic.

Mr. Earrational said...

Larry's generic number is thirty-two and a half...