Even though I haven’t been posting regularly, I am back to work on the writing projects I announced some time ago. Almost done with Whoever You Are I Love You, which I have expanded now into the story of life with Laura from June 1994 through January 2010. Now researching a more philosophical work on doing by not doing in a world of constant change.
For the last few weeks I’ve reverted to the process Laura described as “reading and scribbling,” writing notes with a fountain pen in a bound journal as I read a philosophical text. This process helps me concentrate on what the writer is trying to communicate and to argue with the writer and myself to clarify the issues. An op-ed piece by Molly Worthen in last Sunday’s New York Times presented the case for students’ taking lecture notes by hand to improve the learning process, at least in the humanities. I find this approach also helps to learn when reading a complex, unfamiliar text.
Studies suggest that taking notes by hand helps students master material better than typing notes on a laptop, probably because most find it impossible to take verbatim notes with pen and paper. Verbatim transcription is never the goal: Students should synthesize as they listen.
For the first few weeks after Anne Mei left for college I “didn’t do” grieving by watching lots of TV and reading potboilers. Then I plowed through Timothy Snyder’s two histories of 20th century horrors in Eastern Europe: Bloodlands and Black Earth. His challenges to the dominant narrative of World War II in Europe and the Shoah forced me and excited me to get these old brain cells working again.
Then I was ready to start T.H. Stcherbatsky’s two volume Buddhist Logic, which seeks “to explain the relation between a moving reality and the static constructions of thought.” Many questions about what he says in the first 100 pages have helped me to focus on the challenges that must be addressed in my project. Tibetan Buddhists revere the 6th and 7th century Indian philosophers Dignaga and Dharmakirti, whose works constitute what Stcherbatsky deems to be “Buddhist” logic. Without getting into the question of how accurately Stcherbatsky presents their views, much of what he’s written so far sounds more like Descartes and Hume than Gotama. Therefore, before moving on to his chapter concerning the process of how reality moves, called “dependent origination” by almost all Buddhist schools, I have returned to the oldest sources of what Gotama said about “dependent origination.” These texts were committed to writing 500 years before Dignaga and Dharmakirti, having been preserved orally for 500 years before that. Of course, I then get myself involved in problems with translation from an unfamiliar language, in this case Pali. Progress is slow.
An interesting sidenote connecting my readings. The Wikipedia entry on Stcherbatsky says that he was born in Poland and died in a “resort” in Kazakhstan in 1942. In Bloodlands, Snyder describes in detail Stalin’s murder of thousands of Poles starting within the Soviet Union well before and then continuing after he divided Poland with Hitler. Those Poles he didn’t kill Stalin shipped to the gulags in Kazakhstan.
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