Tag Archives: Dostoyevsky

Czeslaw Milosz on Imagination, with reference to Blake, Dante, and Swedenborg

Through Imagination, spiritual truths are transformed into visible forms. Although he took issue with Swedenborg on certain matters, Blake felt much closer to his system than to that of Dante, whom he accused of atheism. Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell is modeled on Swedenborg, and he would have been amused by an inquiry into whether he had ‘really’ seen the devils and angels he describes. The crux of the problem—and a serious challenge to the mind—is Blake’s respect for both the imagination of Dante, who was a poet, and the imagination of Swedenborg, whose works are written in quite pedestrian Latin prose…. Neither Swedenborg nor Blake was an aesthetician, and they did not enclose the spiritual within the domain of art and poetry and oppose it to the material. At the risk of simplifying the issue by using a definition, let us say rather that they both were primarily concerned with the energy which reveals itself in a constant interaction of Imagination with the things perceived by our five senses.” — Czeslaw Milosz, from his essay “Dostoevsky and Swedenborg,” in Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision (boldface added)

Note: In my paperback copy of Emperor of the Earth, the word “Imagination” appears with a capitalized “I,” but in online sources I found, including the one linked above, it is not always capitalized. For Milosz’s purposes, I think it’s fitting to capitalize the first letter of Imagination as a way to designate it as something larger than what Coleridge would call, in contrast to Imagination, mere “fancy.”

Appreciation for books and vinyl

Teaser and the Firecat

Teaser and the Firecat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why buy the BooksAndVinyl.com URL and start a news and e-commerce site?

The following reasons:

Godspell — on vinyl.

A double live recording of Peter, Paul, and Mary in concert — on vinyl.

Cat StevensTeaser and the Firecat — on vinyl.

One of Johnny Cash‘s recordings — on vinyl.

The full soundrack, including dialogue, from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back — on vinyl.

And just before vinyl disappeared from the record stores in the late 1980s, a clandestine purchase of Invasion of Your Privacy by Ratt — on vinyl.

These were some of my parents’ and some of my own records — a word that hardly makes sense any more, unless you’re talking about the Olympics.

Like everyone else, I see images and memories from my growing up years when I recall songs (or lines from The Empire Strikes Back) from those albums.

But mostly, I bought cassettes in high school and college, and gradually bought compact discs.

I think one of my first CDs, oddly enough, was an album by Clint Black.

Music never became less important in my life, but the role of books in my life increased in college.

I was not a voracious reader in college. I was a slow reader with a thirsty-but-rarely-focused mind.

One book that seemed to capture and combine several threads from my college years was Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky.

In Notes from Underground, I found a libertarian suspicion of rationalism in politics and social engineering, hints of a profound Christian existentialism, and a cranky narrator who declared, right away, “I am a sick man, a vile man.”

I can’t remember whether I read Notes from Underground first, or if I read the introductory chapter in Lev Shestov‘s Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy.

That introductory chapter was actually a reprinted lecture delivered by Shestov on Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard.

I’m not sure if Shestov influenced my reading of his fellow but earlier Russian, Dostoyevsky, or if Notes from Underground prepared me for Shestov’s point of view.

Something in me, during those college years, was afraid of knowledge. As much as I embraced literature and began quick, tentative dips into philosophy, I had also gained a fundamentalist fear of “worldliness” — and that word, as I had come to understand it, was defined almost to a gnostic extreme, almost to an anti-materialist and anti-embodiment radicalism.

In some sense, Plato would fit right in with that attitude toward “worldliness,” with his insistence that ultimate reality was unseen, and a matter of the soul, not the body. Maybe that’s why I felt safer with Plato’s Phaedrus dialogue, that or maybe the practical reason of it being assigned reading in a junior-level course on advanced composition and rhetoric (not scary philosophy), and it was supposed to hold keys insights into rhetorical arts (again, not scary philosophy). I remembered enjoying Phaedrus quite a bit, but I can’t remember now what I learned from it.

I didn’t read The Great Gatsby until graduate school, but during the earlier years of my long trek to a bachleors degree, I loved F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s short stories, particularly those in Babylon Revisited and Other Stories, and especially “Babylon Revisited,” “May Day,” and “The Ice Palace.” I don’t know why I didn’t read Gatsby, but having enjoyed Fitzgerald’s short stories so much, I also read This Side of Paradise.

A few books stick out in my memories of grade school and high school:

Hiroshima by John Hershey — the melting flesh of Japanese men and women after the atomic bomb.

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck — a young, lonely boy’s love for his pony, and the pony’s heartbreaking death.

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, especially The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee — Scout’s sarcastic tone.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien — a story that glowed.

The Grange at High Force by Philip Turner — the ballista!

Sir Machinery by Tom McGowen — a robot in an underground war.

So, for these reasons, I bought BooksAndVinyl.com, and I hope I can contribute some favorites and some memories to others.

Hitchens’ culturally illiterate readership?

Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great, “must be banking on a readership that has not read Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky. These Christian authors dramatized the themes and stories of the holy book that Hitchens disparages.”

So writes Mary Grabar at TCSDaily.com.

She quotes Hitchens making this paradoxical assessment:

We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books.

Grabar makes her full case here: