Friday, January 25, 2013

January 25, 2013

Today, Friday, Jan. 25, I am printing another twenty copies of my Spiritual Journal. So far, I haven't included anything from that journal in my blog postings. Because that journal is all completed. However, as I began printing it, I thought you all might be interested in what that journal is like. So here's one day's entry, pretty much at that journal's inception. I'm kind of proud of the way I mix and interchange the very personal Al-journaling with broad abstract concepts about Spirituality. So I'm attempting to tell a story, my story, but also my thinking.

Spiritual Journal: September 8, 2012:

     Just a footnote thought on secular/spiritual we talked about yesterday. Because the new issue of The Journal of Religion (University of Chicago Press) just arrived, 92:4 (October, 2012). There's a new book in its book review section that caught my eye, A World of Becoming by William E. Connolly (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011). Dr. Connolly, like many thinkers since Nietzsche, finds both Belief and Unbelief unpalatable. Perhaps this is the majority of people in the West today? Dr. Connolly posits a "third way," his idea of "becoming." It is based on Time, in particular the dfferent times in which different elements operate. Neat idea. He made me think of the leading Unitarian Universalist theologian, James Luther Adams (1901-1994), since my tiny Unitarian Fellowship meets here in the bookshop. Adams, in addition to consideration as the foremost theologians among the denomination, was a professor at the Harvard Divinity School 1956-1968, teaching "Christian Ethics." Adams, too, had a third way, believing in a "Creative Event" at rule in the world. You can find more in his On Being Human Religiously (Boston: Beacon Press, 1976).  
 Sometimes you read a scholarly essay that is really foolish,written poorly, trivially attributed, and you still get a lot out of it. I just read a long essay of that kind, in an M.I.T. journal, Leonardo, by some jumped-up academic, obviously thrown off from the “publish-or-perish” new world of Academia. But the author has made his headings and sub-headings useful, and he included what he no doubt thought of as “the major players.” This allowed me, in 15 minutes of otherwise boring and irritating reading, to have an outline of the subject, a subject germane to this journal and my thinking about spiritual matters. His title (stolen from Kandinsky) was “Concerning the Spiritual in Twentieth-Century Art and Science.”
     The author reminds us that at the turn of the 20th Century, perhaps not in popular culture but in alternative culture, religion had already been spurned by the artists and scientists, but in their place came movements familiar to me, born in 1936, married to a woman born in 1907, but about which you probably never heard. These movements were enormously influential in the arts and sciences, and I believe a 21st sensibility (or lack thereof) would find it hard to believe how influential these movements were: Theosophy; Anthroposophism; Occultism. The most influential gurus of these movements were Rudolph Steiner, Madame Blavatsky, G. I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, and Krisnamurti. Krishnamurti was the first and best of a dozen Hindu religious who were to have enormous followings among Bohemians and other playful citizens with too much time on their hands, quacks whose hilarious antics and whose gullible followers would make a marvelous storybook. I might do you a favor and take the trouble to cull through those at a later date; you won’t believe guys like the Indian Bagman with his 92 Rolls-Royces and thousands of Hippie devotees in the Pacific Northwest.

     Since the breakdown of a single church single source for Western belief,
which took its hugest event in The Protestant Revolution, all sorts of esoteric and quirky belief systems have arrived. The U. S. has been fertile ground for all of them! Just because I don't take them seriously doesn't mean you shouldn't or that people don't. For a positive view of the 1960s dabbling in Eastern Religion, check out M. H. Harper, Gurus, Swamis, and Avatars: Spiritual Masters and their American Disciples (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972). Dr. Harper believes that all the more influential eastern imports had in common, in addition to being personality cults, the Brahman (Absolute Reality), that Brahman is Sat-Chit-Ananda (Absolute Existence, Absolute Consciousness, Absolute Bliss), that the Self cannot be distinct from Brahman, and that the means of liberation from the bondage of Illusion is fusing the Self's identity with Brahman. To find out what all that means, you' all have to read the book, because I can't tell you.
     The figure behind all these weird spiritual practitioners (Madame Blavatsky & Co.) was of course Friedrich Nietzsche, who proclaimed “God is dead,” not the first or the last to do so, but the timing was right, and the 19th C. ended in a fistful of bizarre substitutes for organized religion, which was no longer relevant to the avant-garde.
     Wassily Kandinsky was the first artist to put the new sensibility into words and, for that matter, into paint, as he began the Abstract Art Movement, the distinctive 20th C. modernist response to the new spiritual crisis in his 1911 “Concerning the Spiritual in Art.” No artist was to write again like Kandinsky, although most artists portrayed their spiritual tendencies in their abstract work. I am thinking of men like Mondrian, Klee, and all the American Abstract Expressionists. I am indebted to Roger Lipsey for an overview like this (see this journal’s Bibliography). In addition to Kandinsky, Lipsey singles out Brancusi and the introduction of Buddhism into modern artist’s perceptions via Jacques Bacot’s 1925 translation of the 13th C. Tibetan Buddhist text, The Life of Milarepa.
      One of the more sensible figures at this time influenced me a great deal: Ananda Coomaraswarmy, not only through his seminal work, History of Indian Art, but his curatorship of my favorite museum, The Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston.
     As a Columbia student–an all male college at that time–you could take courses at Barnard, and I took an Art of Indian Asia course there. Just then, the Bollingen Series brought out Heinrich Zimmer’s two-volume boxed set, Art of Indian Asia, for a hundred dollars. To give you an idea of the value of that book, not only would inflation make that 100 five hundred dollars today, but the Mellon fortune subsidized the book, reducing the price in half. In other words, this impoverished student looked through the window of The Eighth Street Bookshop at a two-volume set worth  in today’s money a thousand dollars. (My rent in N. Y. at that time was $39/mo, to put this in pespective.) Nevertheless, I talked the bookshop owners into setting the Zimmer work aside for me, and I paid it off throughout the school year, finally acquiring it as the school year ended.

     A few months later, instead of graduating, I quit college to become manager of The Eighth Street Bookshop, and one reason the Wilentz Brothers hired me was they were impressed by my foolish Zimmer acquisition. The year I spent as manager of that bookshop, 1957,  was probably the most important year of my entire life, considering its influence and education on all that has concerned me since; I met my partner, Teo
Savory, there (as well as just about every important writer, artist, and publisher who has influenced my life and my career as a maker of books).
I had already met the first and most influential person in my spiritual life, Dorothy Day, in 1954.
     The way I see it, the new mindset in religion exemplified by Nietzsche in the 1890s  and the new mindset politically, The Russian Revolution of 1917, gave the kebab to organized religion. 2,000 years of pretty serious indoctrination was dissolved, certainly in its monolithic power over
people in the West.
     In Art, abstract art replaced it spiritually. In Poetry, it was free verse. In Science just at this time Quantum Physics, the Copenhagen Convention came along to give physicists what became an increasingly spiritual
perspective to their work. (Darwin had already all but destroyed the ability of scientists to believe anymore.) It wasn’t long before many geniuses began fusing the new religious and scientific auras, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin one of the most influential and characteristic.
     Being a bookshop clerk, manager, owner all my life (I now am a full-time worker/owner in Glenwood Coffee & Books), I become familiar with the interests and buying habits of my most interesting customers as well as popular trends. I notice that Chardin no longer sells. Not too long ago, you couldn’t keep any of his books on the shelf! Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, Blavatsky are completely unknown today. I have yet to sell one of my beautiful art books on Brancusi. Even Paul Klee, whose magnificent abstractions in color reproduce so well, sits dusty on the shelf.
I think I’ve sold one copy of Kandinsky’s formative text on the spiritual in art in five years. Students are, as they would put it, “into” other things, fortunately among them the provocative and spiritual writings of the sculptor and earthworks innovator, Robert Smithson, whose first one-man show I exhibited in my art gallery on Park Avenue in 1957, which as I just said was such an important year in my youth. “The occultism of the early 20th C. has vanished,” is how a recent art historian puts it. Nevertheless, in those 1950s in The Eighth Street Bookshop, poets and artists were buying D. T. Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism. Ad Reinhardt, who had a studio a few blocks away from the bookshop (the Cedar Tavern, home of Abstract Expressionism,  was on 10th Street in The Village), came into the shop to purchase the latest Thomas Merton tracts on Eastern Philosophy. Merton, himself a great poet and religious, died trying to link Eastern Religion to Roman Catholicism. He was a great friend of Unicorn Press (the publishing house I founded in 1966 and still direct 47 years later). 

I once had the spiritual experience of my life, when Tom celebrated Mass for us, right in our Unicorn print shop. (There was also a Unicorn Book Shop, managed by Jack Shoemaker, but that’s another story.)
     Still another story I hope to discuss in the journal as I am studying and thinking about it is how the new arts, Electronic, Body, Cyberspace, Video, Feminist, Conceptual, Performance, all delve into and from spiritual roots. But not today. Relieved, huh?
     As I glance at all the above in today’s journal entry, it seems to me the one person I’m surprised has fallen out of favor is Pierre Thielhard de Chardin, whose concept of the noosphere (The Phenomenon of Man, 1961) still seems relevant and current. Chardin was not only a Jesuit Priest but also a scientist, a paleontologist. Notice the connection between his “layer of ideas circling the planet (Noosphere)" and the Internet for example.
     Moving from the spiritual in the arts to the spiritual in the sciences, especially beginning with Quantum Mechanics, is for another day, if ever. I don’t claim any great knowledge in that arena. I  notice that people who do, like the enormously popular Kenneth Wilber, take a strait-jacket approach to the subject. They have this idea of integration and they force their theories to conform to reality (see Wilber’s Quantum Questions).
     I do see significance in the fact that the largest most sought-after prize in science, the physicist’s Templeton Prize of $1,000,000 is given “to a living person who has shown enormous originality in advancing humankind’s understanding of God or spirituality.” Stephen Hawking is a Templeton recipient, to give you an idea who gets this kind of thing. Hawking is of course the modern physicist author of A Brief History of Time. Although I believe there are strong correlations, it is hard to see a universal synthesis of science and religion at this time. Indeed, with such polarization all over the globe in every political, economic, cultural, and religious field, it is impossible to see any synthesis in anything! And, yet, do we ordinary people, unlike our rulers, not have an insatiable longing for . . . peace? Do we not all feel a spiritual kinship with each other?
     Before I leave off today’s journal entry, I want to preview a future discussion. Yesterday was the annual topless woman’s gathering in Asheville, N. C. A thousand people came to see a dozen women expose their bosoms. That doesn’t belong in my Spiritual Journal I agree. But here’s the thing. A small group of people carrying white crosses were on hand as a counter-demonstration."It's about the spiritual wickedness in this city," said one member of the group, Michael Lombardi of Asheville. "We're trying to bring the love of Christ. We're not bashing anyone." That–from the local paper. What I’d like to discuss in my Spiritual Journal is what if anything “love of Christ” has to do with it? [Probably anything I have to say on this subject is already in Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, so maybe we’ll just leave it at that?]


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