At the Metropolitan

May 1, 2010

Some images from my most recent visit, all taken in ambient light, so pardon the fuzziness.  Flashes are not allowed.  Some images are linked to others if you click them.

L) My kind of interior – dizzying, isn’t it?    R) Lombard tryptich – click for more info.

Back view of a Chinese  stele with multiple images of the Buddha.

Samurai daggers and sword, objects of incredible beauty and precision.  Click to enlarge.

From an altarpiece by Lorenzo Monaco, one of my favorite artists.  Note Abraham with the flaming sword, and Isaac, in the upper right.  Click for more info.

Those northern mannerists!  They’re weird, but I love them.    Oil on copper plate, for a piece of furniture.  Click for more info.

A favorite of mine, Antoine Lavoisier and his wife, Prima della rivoluzione by that propagandist for 1789, Jacques Louis David.  Carlyle had fun with him and his revolutionary fervor.  Antoine was not so lucky.  He, a liberal, was guillotined by the radicals – dare I call them terroristes? – just leave it at Jacobins.   His wife survived.  Madison Smartt Bell has written a nice capsule biography of him, his monumental contribution to the creation of modern chemistry, and his destruction in those chaotic times, Lavoisier in the Year One.

The imminence of the divine, by an artist in Verrochio’s worshop [full image], a teacher of Leonardo.  From here to 2001 is not such a stretch – click to see why.  And to the right, the floor, mundane, just for balance…


The Unbearable Pain of Mindfulness

April 6, 2008


The goal of enlightenment, mindfulness, being-here-now, is much sought after these days…perhaps always. Many associate it with zen or other varieties of Buddhism, and eastern religion. It is, I think, generally discussed as a state that partakes of bliss – certainly a cessation of earthly pain. Odd, then, that it is so hard to attain; that our minds and beings seem to actively frustrate our attainment of the state. Perhaps we don’t want enlightenment?

I am beginning to suspect that mindfulness is so difficult to achieve not only because it is difficult per se, but because we actively flee from it, just as some flee from love that they claim they want. Like love, mindfulness can bring pain, terrific pain?

I am lying on my bed – I have no obligations – I am free to do what I want. I need think of nothing – do nothing. My free time, free to attend to the moment, appreciate the here and now…My mind is racing like a formula one car engine, but not in gear, a high pitch scream – – “What shall I do?” Most times, I would dive into a book, do some chores, clean, watch a movie, kill time surfing the Net, read the paper, but at this moment, I don’t feel drawn to any of that. Just sit and attend, observe yourself observing the universe…and what happens? A high pitched whine as of an engine running at full-tilt without load…will it explode?

To simply spend such times attending to the what-is is so painful, so disorienting, so explosive in its energy, the tendency is to rush to fill the time with something more trivial that will get the mind in gear and discharge its energy safely. Perhaps that is the real difficulty in mindfulness. Not that we cannot stop the incessant chatter of our minds no matter how much we want to, say we want to, but that we do not want to!

The alternative is to be left naked, still, simply sitting and observing the nature of what-is at the moment. The light filtering in from the window. The complexity and simplicity of the tree branches. The calming geometry of my room. The rebus of my history that is the clutter of knick knacks around me. The then and the now…The unfathomable indifference of everything to the trivial thing that is me. The weight of the universe pressing down on a single point on my head where my mind perceives it and comprehends it…without a reciprocating care or concern. It’s too much to bear!! Where is that crossword puzzle!!


Brain Science Buddha

March 7, 2008

nj_paik_techno_buddha.jpg

Reading Edelman’s book, Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge, I was once again struck by a thought I had many years ago, that the Zen Buddhists are much better epistemologists than the academic nosepickers that I had been studying for years. First of all, they are down-to-earth, and have no investment in building grand systems. They laugh at that. Then, they are very attentive to actual, lived human experience, as opposed to the textbook examples that pose all problems in terms of the introspective, highly-educated philosopher pondering the mystery of his own intelligence. They recognize the power of the reason, language, culture, and its limitations. They don’t ignore their intuition that something else lurks behind all this intellectual chatter, but they don’t accept it uncritically either.

I’m not going to go into a detailed account of Zen ideas or Edelman’s here, but one remark is cogent: He suggests that consciousness has no causal consequences – it does nothing! It can affect nothing. Sounds like a retreat into Cartesian dualism, but although he’s rather fuzzy on these points, I don’t think it is. He is a nouveau epiphenomenalist. What does consciousness do? It informs us of our brain-states, which brings understanding. Here we have a great similarity to the zen attitude: just sit, meditate, and observe your mind jumping about. It does nothing. Means nothing, just produces chatter. Meanwhile, the being moves on. Our consciousness is like a rider holding on to a bucking bronco, but thinking he is controlling it. Much wiser to just pay attention to the beast, and take care.

Edelman also deals with the question of free will, but his treatment of it is so brief and cursory, it’s a bit of a shock. I must assume that he simply finds the question boring. And in truth, I think it has nothing at all to do with consciousness. The question of free will is entwined with our notions of causality and determinancy, which are logically prior to anything human.