"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hakuin Ekaku in New York: Monkey Writers at the Ink Stone

In the days before typewriters.

"What a strange, demented feeling it gives me when I realize I have spent whole days before the ink stone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts have entered my head." -- Yoshida Kenko.

While this may make the 14th century priest sound like a writer's patron saint, he is satirized as a monkey by Hakuin Ekaku, as reported by a NY Times article about the Zen master's art, now at the Japan Society thru January 9.

He may well have thought writers were and are like monkeys, but master Hakuin is revered and perhaps best remembered for his famous koan:

An ant goes round and round without rest
Like all beings in the six realms of existence,
Born here and dying there without release,
Now becoming a hungry ghost, then an animal.
If you are searching for freedom from this suffering
You must hear the sound of one hand.

Clapping, or perhaps, in NYC, waving down a cab.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The final word on genre

Should probably go to Margaret Atwood:
Genres, anyway, are inventions of people who need to rank things on bookshelves. Genres aren’t closed boxes. Stuff flows back and forth across the borders all the time. You know that part on the back of the book where it says “Romance,” for example? That’s so somebody knows what shelf to put it on. It has nothing to do with anything else, really.

from Narrative. You may have to log in to read the interview, but it's free.

The Literary Fiction Argument vs. Stieg Larsson

I don't really get the point of the lit fic vs. genre argument-for-argument's-sake -- people are going to read whatever we want, anyway -- but I love the comments on this article:
It's ridiculous to assert that literary is the most difficult genre to write in. It's the easiest. The world and the people you write about are at your fingertips, at your disposal, everywhere you look; you spend twenty-four hours a day living and breathing them; it frees you to focus on the mysteries of the human heart. Writers of science-fiction and fantasy have to do everything writers of literary fiction do, they just have to re-imagine the entire world as well -- the language, the history, the future, the science and technology, biology. You know, the universe. Those who write in the literary genre get all that pre-packaged for them gratis.

Pick up any three literary magazines at random and give the fiction a read. You will find a few good stories that stick with you, a few that are somewhat memorable even if you don't like them as a whole, and a lot that sound as if they were written by the same person: the narrator is a self-afflicted, self-obsessed loser drifting aimlessly through awkward, ugly, and annoying encounters narrated in flat, listless prose that reflects the flat, listless lives in which they are trapped. The other end of the spectrum is the hyper-observant story whose every detail is a mildly offensive grope at profundity. I've read those stories a thousand times, and they never get any better in the retelling. And it demonstrates that 'literary' is very much a genre of fiction: if re-using the same character types, the same narrative techniques, and the same faux-artistic description isn't 'genre', then I'd like to know what is.

Silly article by man with silly name.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reading Yenta

I love knowing what other people are reading and visualizing who they are. That is why I love these:

Book Spy

and at the NY Times. I hope the Times makes a regular feature of this.

I want to *know*, dahling.