Had planned to go to Historiska Museet and look at mediæval stuff. Made it as far as Skeppsholmen and going to the Östasiatiskamuseet. “We close in an hour. But an hour is usually enough. For most people.” Even for me. Small and average. The collection of Chinese (and pre-China) pottery and ceramics was the best part. Also the stone sculptures of various Buddhist, Daoist (I know!) deities. The Japan collection was mediocre. I wanted to steal quite a bit of the Tang and Song dynasty. And use it. The Ming stuff looked like Lack of Subtlety by comparison. Even cheap tea would taste better in a Song Dynasty bowl.
Quickest arrival of a book ever! Quickest first read also! I’m still not over Avatar: The Legend of Korra, and probably will watch it a third time before winter is done. I didn’t really need to buy this (nor do I need to buy the other three, one for each season), but … #korrasami! Also seeing so much art lately I want to start drawing again. And Korra is so hot, especially when she’s punching the shit out of stuff. And Asami also (especially when she’s geared up and driving something fast). And once I got into it (took a couple of episodes), I started looking at all the landscapes, cityscapes, backgrounds, architecture, vehicles, all so beautifully painted—and all the fighting, so beautifully choreographed (and Lin Beifong, Topf, Bolin and Mako, Varrick and Zhu Li, Jinora, Tenzin, Kuvira, Zaheer and all the others)—and kinda fell in love with the whole world.
I smiled and laughed and yelped and waved my arms around! Korra & Asami Did The Thing!
And then in the comments on io9 I found a link to zuko is my sugar daddy saying, “people saying that korrasami had no build up and was forced …” followed by 48 images of Korra and Asami over four years of Avatar: The Legend of Korra which leave no other possibility for what happened in the final episode. This is how good short-form animation can be.
A much easier one to trace why I’m reading it. Published in September, Readings in Later Chinese Philosophy: Han to the 20th Century edited by Justin Tiwald, Bryan W. Van Norden was on Warp, Weft, and Way: Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學, and looked like the kind of thing that would nicely summarise a couple of millennia of Chinese thought, philosophy, and religion.
Besides some Chuang Tzu—I mean Zhuangzi, (and some decidedly awkward teenage messing around with the I Ching) my exposure to Chinese philosophy has been by osmosis. Even communist China in any of its forms is unavoidably aligned with some form of Confucianism. To read the the sources, for all my China reading is something I haven’t done.
I do dislike Confucianism, and everything in the translated selections here only confirms that. The Cosmology section (coming chronologically before Buddhism) alone for me is worth the “Oh why am I paying so much again for a book?” price. Not the least for the notes on that favourite pop-spiritual object of Western culture: Yin and Yang, which can only be understood as unmistakably misogynist and generally hegemonically normative.
For me, the dogmatic aspects of Confucianism in Chinese history and culture seem to be balanced—or at least resisted from achieving complete dominance—by Daoism, Buddhism, and Mohism (this latter I’ve read effectively nothing on). Perhaps experiencing confirmation bias while reading.
It could do with a couple more female translators, especially as it suffers from that “women in the kitchen” problem of them represented in the Women and Gender section but a distinct minority elsewhere. Anyway, it’s my go-to book for the subject.
One of the first books I ever read on the Silk Road (Roads, Routes), was a biography of a wandering Buddhist, which I barely understood at the time, and forgot the title almost immediately. I’ve been hoping I’d find it again through a process of random elimination by reading all academic-ish books on Tang Dynasty Buddhist pilgrims in Central Asia. So far, my approach has failed.
Sally Hovey Wriggins’ Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road at least indicates whoever it was, they weren’t Xuanzang. Also in one of those pleasant surprises I often get when a book arrives, it isn’t heavy academia. It’s larger, almost square, a quick read, and heavily illustrated.
Xuanzang stole out of China proper around the same time Hild (she of Nicole Griffith’s excellent novel) was caught up in the conversion of England to Christianity. I’ve only recently started reading European mediæval history (let’s say, 600-1400 CE), and this simultaneous reading alongside China and Central Asian history (I’ve yet to properly read on the Middle East in this era) is the most inspiring and fascinating I’ve had since my first filling in of that vast blankness between Japan and Europe. More popularly, Xuanzang became the character in Journey to the West, adapted in one version for television as Monkey Magic, beloved of crusty ravers the world over.
I’ve forgotten where I first saw Wriggins’ book mentioned, but I think it was on Tang Dynasty Times in 2009, when there was a piece on the Buddhist statues at Bamiyan which the Taliban blew up. (The 2013 post, how should we think about bamiyan? (巴米扬) has some of the original, and quite a bit more.) It’s been on my To Buy List for that long. (There’s usually about 100 books on that list. I periodically trim it to maintain the pretence of reasonableness.)
As much as I try for impartiality while atheistically regarding religions, when reading about Buddhism in Central Asia, I can’t help but wish the ebb and flow of religions in this period had been reversed, and it was to Buddhism that the Islamic and Semitic regions had converted to rather than the other way.
I went on a bit of a philosophical forest experience while staying in Waldsieversdorf. First, while feeling all introspective, I went on a very not sensible bike ride, the result of not paying attention to the topographic contour lines on the map meant what I thought would be a gentle, horizontal-ish amble through Wald and around See was a hellish excursion of muddy verticality, up and down slippery flights of stairs and inclines too steep to cycle, unloading bike from shoulder and mounting only to have to dismount five meters later for the next impasse, all the while darkness creeping in.
I arrived back at the bach in semi-darkness to finish watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is all kinds of buddhist philosophy and struggle which caused me to wonder why I think I’m so clever to take the hard path or think I don’t even need to pay much attention and then find myself in situations where I’m genuinely not having fun. Instead, for example, just going for a gentle ride around the lake.
Later, I was writing an application, and sorting through my scrapbook when I came across a pdf of Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery. It turned out to be a short 60 pages and as I began reading, it dragged me in. I’ve been finding Chinese philosophy more appealing lately, and more practical, than European, particularly Daoism and Zhuangzi, which of course have strong parallels with Zen (or at least in my mind they do). I find also there is little mysticism or spirituality in the texts—or no more than any European philosopher has of Christianity. It was the practicalness of doing in this book that I had to read, coming off such a horrible cyclocross experience, something in general I have struggled with often as a dancer, climber, doing yoga, cycling, in my thinking of how to get through a task. Yeah, it sounds like I’m going all hippy here.
Early next year I’ll be working with Isabelle Schad, and we were speaking about this. I’d been thinking—as a result of reading Zen that I might take up Kyudo, but it occurred to me that Aikido, which Isabelle practices would be a better fit, given how the form influences her movement. Actually this book should be required reading for me on a monthly basis, if nothing else than to remind me not to do stupid things on my bike.
I saw Justin Tiwald & Bryan W. Van Norden’s Readings in Later Chinese Philosophy: Han Dynasty to the 20th Century on Warp, Weft, and Way: Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學 a month ago, and my interest was piqued by “Within those topics, issues of contemporary interest, such as Chinese ideas about gender and the experiences of women, are brought to light.” I’m also in something of a philosophical reading frame, specifically Chinese and Japanese (to be honest, I find I just can’t focus on European philosophy lately). I was troubled at seeing a couple of pieces by Liu Shaoqi, one of the instigators of the Great Leap Forward and well, perhaps I tend to absolutism on the one hand and recognise on the other it’s necessary to read people such as he because of his influence on the country, but it still feels unpleasant.
I haven’t read much yet, still pushing through the Confucianism stuff, which I find horrible in the way having to endure Descartes or Marxism is. The cover is beautiful, as are the illustrations throughout, and yes, it does really cover everything from the Han Dynasty onwards. One (perhaps misplaced) criticism is that I would have liked to have seen both more female translators and female philosophers, and not just where they are present writing on women and gender.
Yesterday I took myself off south-west on a journey I have had far too much time to do before now yet have never done so. Dahlem Museen has one of the wonders of Central Asia, depending on how one looks at it, pillaged from Xinjiang and other ~stans, or saved from the Cultural Revolution, or well, yes saved from that but even before destroyed in the Second World War. And even before all that, some time when Islamic zealots were being rigorous in raining righteous vengeance down on idolatry (i.e. around a millennium before the Taliban at Bamiyan), most of the faces of Buddha were methodically bashed out.
So of what’s left, besides what Auriel Stein picked up for the British Museum and other Great Game ethnologists in Paris and Beijing, the Grünwendel and LeCoq purloinments ending up in Berlin comprise one of the largest collections of Central Asian, Silk Route, and Buddhist art in the world. Mmm, yes, why I have waited four years to drag myself half and hour to Dahlem is a mystery.
Maybe because the exhibition halls are so vast and many. I spent five hours there yesterday and barely passed over the contents of two of the halls, of which there are around eighteen. I had to take a pause mid-way also, before climbing the stairs for the Chinese collections of red lacquer, ceramics, tea ceremony objects, purposefully avoiding anything not absolutely Central Asian or Chinese (besides some Japanese stuff), just to be able to be thrown out at closing having seen at least some of what I went there for.
And then to the Konzerthaus, picking up Dasniya fortuitously in the U-Bahn, to see the Kammerorchester Berlin and our friend and Contrabass player Jochen work their way through 90 minutes of Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi.
And somehow this beautiful Bodhisattva Guanyin of all the masses of heartrendingly beautiful art quite grabbed me. And this tea ceremony water pot also.
This is one that fell into my reading list in a couple of disparate but connected ways. The first, or rather more direct, being the author James Palmer, is also responsible for Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao’s China, which is on my upcoming reading list. The second, but chronologically earlier (as in read before, though published after The Baron) is Charles Stross.
Science-fiction to insane White Russian nobility seeped in revolution-era apocalyptic Buddhism? Well, it all started in the Laundry, and to paraphrase somewhat, … Eldritch Abominations, the Wall of Pain on the dead plateau wherein the Sleeper lies imprisoned in the pyramid, CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the Eater of Souls, “Stop Teapot … Before he makes tea.”
(I have a feeling I’ll be reading The Fuller Memorandum again shortly.)
And we do meet Teapot. And he is making tea.
Back in the slightly more real world, The Bloody White Baron is the biography of one Freiherr Roman Nikolai Maximillian Ungern von Sternberg, of Baltic-German noble descent who found his way through life with such an unfailing fondness for brutality (he would take walks in the fields around his battles, littered with bones and butchered corpses fed upon by wolves and carrion birds, because he found it peaceful and calming), and ripened with a demented, anti-Semitic, Buddhist shamanism, that the character Charlie grows from the real Ungern and places in a Lovecraftian universe of horror from other dimensions doesn’t seem so unlikely at all.
The actual book is more in the line of Peter Hopkirk, slightly sensationalist but rollicking-good story of Central Asian and far-East Orientalism adventurism in the last days of Empire, which is to say despite the endnotes, this is more a generalist work than my usual tendencies towards academic-ish texts.
Not to imply this isn’t well-researched (as far as I can tell; Russia and north of Tien Shan not being a region I know much about) and James does a commendable job of balancing the hysterical complexity of multiple falling empires, revolutionary nationalists, upstart imperialists, straggling enclaves and exclaves of the former, and various Mongolian and Steppe groups and religious powers all variously forming shifting alliances and slaughtering each other.
I was often reminded, during reading this (yes, I’ve already finished, so this is a quasi-/crypto-review) the similarities between eastern Europe and eastern Siberia, Mongolia and the Steppe; both being ground underfoot repeatedly by advancing and routed ideologies, and both to this day having their histories unwritten, commensurate to say, Germany or China. As he points out in the epilogue, exactly what happened to Mongolian Buddhism in the ’20s and ’30s under Soviet-led or -inspired communism happened in Tibet under Mao. The difference being the latter is something Brad Pitt gets banned permanently from China for (I watched Seven Years in Tibet last night as a distraction), whereas the former is a footnote.