[NB] Unbearable Lightness

When I was younger, I got onto a Central European literature kick. A friend of mine had developed an interest in things Russian and I traced my own path in sympathy through the Russian world. What began with some Russian literature (like Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita and Sologub’s The Petty Demon) widened into matters philosophical (a mixture of Mikhail Bakhtin, Nikolai Berdyaev, G. I. Gurdjieff, Roman Jakobson, P. D. Ouspensky), and religious (there was a small Russian Orthodox bookstore down the street from where I lived). That widened and wandered into a few Central European forays—Danilo Kiš, Milan Kundera, Milorad Pavić, a few others whose names did not stay with me.

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Reading Sa’adia

I have been reading the Saadian version of the Sefer Yetzirah quite a bit. It isn’t long at all so it is easy to read it once before bed or sometime in the evening. Not quite every night, I sit down to contemplate through some piece of it. If I want to look at just one section and absorb it, I tend to read either Chapter 1 and Chapter 4.

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Toward a History of Geomancy

[Edited gently for clarity January 2017]
There are two major contenders for the source of the geomancy’s dispersion in the last couple of millenia: West Africa or the Middle East. It is quite possible that neither are the final origin, that a still older cultural substratum pre-exists both. What we can say about that older substratum, if it exists, will nonetheless require us to pass through its more recent points of transmission.

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[NB] Grimoire, Ecstasy, Play, Possession

This is going to be a very notebook-y post, riffing a bit around a common theme.

I recently picked up Erwan Dianteill’s study of the New Orleans Black Spiritualist churches, La Samaritaine Noire. He has a mind to position the spiritualist churches in the broader horizon of the Afro-Caribbean religious diaspora and he does that well. To do that, he starts out by contrasting the spiritualist churches with the hoodoo / rootwork doctors that the churches officially criticize. Which means we get a chapter discussing Zora Neale Hurston, Palo, and the intersection of the grimoire tradition and the African diaspora.

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Digging Deep, Surfacing

One of the small formative moments in my philosophical life came in a undergraduate course on Islamic philosophy. It was a one-off course for the department, the fruits of having been lucky to land a temporary lecturer who had a side interest in the topic. We were reading (I think) Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi. In the text he was arguing that one of the proofs of the soul’s separation from the body was that while we could tire of physical action, we never tired of mental action.

To which youthful me immediately called bullshit. I assume, now, that al-Razi was making a subtler argument than I gave him credit for, attending to the fatigue of the body capable of shutting down our mental efforts, but even now I don’t really buy that mental actions don’t tire us. Mental action, even when the body is prime rested and wakeful shape, can wear you down.

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