thomasmerton

“I stuck with Merton, and my patience has been rewarded a thousandfold. He’s the only writer I read pretty much every day. There’s a small Book of Hours that never fails to inspire me. The main thing that’s so wonderful about him is his love of nature and his ebullience. And his need to constantly interrogate himself. And his extraordinary humility. And his exquisite facility with language.”

— Nicola Barker, The Guardian

The idiosyncratic life and bleak philosophical outlook of Arthur Schopenhauer has long been a source of fascination for me. I first encountered him when researching his influence on the work of Samuel Beckett (and Ludwig Wittgenstein). In a recent article for the Times Literary Supplement, Julian Young acknowledges Schopenhauer’s profound influence on writers of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century; Young defines it as an influence “greater than that of any other philosopher”, which can be traced through the work of “Tolstoy, Turgenev, Zola, Maupassant, Proust, Hardy, Conrad, Mann, Joyce and Beckett”. (more…)

Ivan Hewitt (The Telegraph) reviews David Cooper’s biography of the twentieth-century Hungarian composer
bela-bartok-biography-david-cooper
David Cooper, Béla Bartók

Of all the great modernist composers who shattered the musical consensus in the years before the First World War, Béla Bartók is the most mysterious. He had the lean features of an ascetic, and his frame was as spare and angular as his music. Agatha Fassett, a Hungarian émigré who knew Bartók well in his final sad years in the United States, said that when Bartók made music he seemed absolutely alive; when he stopped playing he seemed to vanish into some silent, private space.

Unlike Stravinsky, who seemed to know absolutely everybody from Charlie Chaplin to Pablo Picasso, Bartók’s circle was narrow. He gravitated towards the Hungarian musicians who championed him, and the Hungarian poets and writers who, like him, were obsessed with finding a true national identity. He was an avowed atheist, insisting that the only immortal part of human beings was the atoms that made up their bodies, yet his passionate attachment to the soil bordered on the mystical. [Read More]

Harrah’s Resort, Southern California San Diego County, CA · 21-24 February 2016

Keynote Speaker: S. E. Gontarski

Beckett and Vice welcomes abstracts on the theme of “vice” in Samuel Beckett’s work. What is vice? Where does vice appear in Beckett’s poems, plays, fiction, or other art forms? (more…)

The Decisive Years

From Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (translated by Shelley Frisch):

Asceticism was a magic word for Kafka, an intricate complex of images, cultural paradigms, idiosyncrasies, fears, and psychological techniques that he incorporated into his thought that feelings and gradually made a focal point of his identity. He was entirely justified in asserting that he had ‘a fabulous innate capacity for asceticism’. It is remarkable how tenaciously he clung to the rule of self-abjuration once his period of dawdling came to an end. The way he steadfastly denied himself warmth, meat, drugs, and medicine clearly refutes his alleged weakness of will. He reduced his good intake, toughened his body, and simplified his habits. […]

Asceticism is not austerity for its own sake; it is a process of self-regulation and self-formation based on the utopian notion of attaining complete control over one’s body, self, and life. All Kafka’s interests, habits, and penchants were modified accordingly. A diet of nuts and fruits, a flawless method of chewing, devotion to calisthenics, and long walks. He cultivated and shaped his body. He gained awareness of his body as well. He felt a growing aversion to and even loathing for everything that threatened to undermine his new sense of autonomy, especially doctors who treated his body as though they were plumbers, and medicines that had unanticipated side effects. He contended that it was degrading to battle insomnia with valerian: his insomnia was not caused by a lack of valerian.
(more…)