Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
is available for $16.00 from FootHills Publishing, P.O. Box 68, Kanona NY 14856 or see www.foothillspublishing.com.

Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

The other books are also available from the author William Seaton. Write seaton@frontiernet.net.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Notes on Recent Reading 3 [Kipling, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Tao-te-ching]

Kipling’s The Light that Failed

I admire Kipling’s dexterity with verse and his knowledge of India and of plotting. Even from a political point of view, he made an excellent exhibit A for Jonah Raskin in The Mythology of Imperialism (a few years after Kate Millet focused entirely on “male chauvinist” writers in Sexual Politics). On this point one might recall Engel’s famous remark in a letter to Margaret Harkness, pointing out the superiority of the depiction of society in the work of the royalist Balzac over consciously “revolutionary” authors like Zola, saying that “even in economic details” Balzac contains more than “all the professed historians, economists, and statisticians of the period together.”
In this novel fighting the “fuzzies” is in the background, and what remains is Hollywood’s idea of the tragic. In fact, Wellman’s film with Ronald Colman and Walter Huston may well be a better work than the novel – movies were then a genre more congenial to the sentimental and the melodramatic. The view of the period’s artistic scene is quaint; that of the war illustrators picturesque.

By Popular Demand, The San Francisco Mime Troupe

Though I was pleased to find this book, I am afraid these plays are not the same on the printed page. The Mime Troupe should really be seen in a public park after the Gorilla Band has gathered passers-by (some of whom may never have witnessed live theater before). These newcomers then join the group’s aficionados (and the hip always say “meem”) who have seen America’s outstanding street theater company over the more than fifty years of its history. For those with personal experience, this collection of eight scripts will vividly recall the live performances. The Mime Troupe arose out of the Actors Studio, based in R. G. Davis’ training in mime and commedia dell’arte and produced between one and two hundred original shows, experiencing arrests and collectivization (after which Davis departed for Berkeley’s Epic West). Combining commedia dell’arte with slapstick, farce, vaudeville, and current popular culture they always delight the onlookers, who invariably have a high time, applauding and laughing at all the right places, and by the end it always seems as though they will surely head off into the streets and foment revolution then and there. Though this desideratum has not been achieved, the troupe has regularly staged excellent shows.

The Classic of the Way and Virtue, the Tao-te ching of Laozi including the third century commentary by Wang Bi, translated by Richard John Lynn (inconsistent transliteration from the book)

The Laozi, to use the most generally accepted form of the name today, is probably the Chinese classic most commonly translated into European languages. For those with no Chinese the choice is bewildering and many readers have found themselves reading, as I have, one version after another for the sake of what portions of one text or another we can digest.

Thus I shall not speak here of the general appeal of this most appealing work, but shall confine myself to the particular qualities of this edition. Lynn reminds the reader that a good deal of the book explicitly addresses governance. Laozi regarded role of the ruler in the nation as analogous to that of the patriarch in the family or the ego in the mind. To regulate any of these levels properly requires adherence to the same Way. This closely resembles Confucius’ approach, but differs sharply from that of the more anarchic Zhuangzi. Since the elder master was said to have been run out of the country himself, heading into unknown mountains, he was easily assimilated to the quietistic, antinomian thought that arose centuries after his day.

Another feature of this volume is its inclusion of the commentary by the philosopher Wang Bi of the Three Kingdoms era. Though his words sometimes seem to merely repeat, and occasionally to obfuscate, the text, it is often useful to see a paraphrase of the original verses by a savant of the direct tradition closer to the text than to us.

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