by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
March 6, 2001
EXPLORING THE DEPTHS OF ENNUI
SEATTLE, Wash. -- These are notes from my journal, so please keep them strictly to yourself.
It is after all a very private record.
Karen Armstrong's new book "Buddha," one of the Penguin Brief Lives, begins by the admission that nothing remotely like a biography is possible. The life of Jesus in the Gospels is, by comparison, something like a videotape of his every move and word from womb to tomb, and beyond!
Buddha is little more than the name that attaches to certain hazy legends for the authenticity of which no one even bothers to argue. She loads her text with unpronounceable Sanskrit terms. Where was the editor? Out to lunch, as usual.
[Two days later:] I'm done with Karen Armstrong's life of the Buddha, though I have not finished it. It is simply too vague. Every sentence cancels the one before. I now understand the sound of one hand clapping. It is the ultimate silence of Buddhist doctrine.
No, not doctrine, the word is too strong, for there is au fond no doctrine at all aside from a genial miasmal wish to do no harm to anyone, including the animals.
There is some conception of the human personality, but by comparison Freud's family of feuding ids and egos is the stuff of Norman Rockwell covers.
Browsing in my large biblical commentary, I was trying to find something about the phrase "kingdom of God." And I found that the triliteral Hebrew root for words like "king, kingdom," etc. was MLK!
Has anyone remarked that the initials of Martin Luther King coincide with this Hebrew root? Probably many times.
Why on earth did I ever agree to speak to Galya's class at the University tomorrow? Why?
I have been scrounging around, even looking at some of the old letters of Nadezhda Mandelstam, at the manuscript of her first book, at Shalamov's "Graphite"... . When I saw this, I thought: Oh,dear God -- here is a book of his that I haven't even read.
Fact is, however, I reviewed the thing in the Washington Post in 1981. So much for my being in touch with all that scene.
In the sauna Dale Peters told me the story of a woman who had bought an expensive new boat, took it out, found it very sluggish, hard tomaneuver, called the seller, who sent out a crew. Man dived underneath,thinking maybe something had tangled in the props ... and found that thetrailer was still attached beneath the boat.
I talked to Galya's Russian students in a rambling monologue about my encounters with Nadezhda Mandelstam, Anna Andreevna Akhmatova, JosephBrodsky, Sir Isaiah Berlin (surprise: I'd not expected them to ask abouthim), Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov, Lev Nikolaevich Gumilev, et al. Theywere very courteous and attentive and even I had a good time. Sort of.
Our electrician is a Kurd, from Iraq, named Ramadan Shamdeen. A young man in his late thirties, he is extremely likable. He's been here three days ripping out everything electrical in the house and grounding the whole system.
A devout Muslim, he takes time regularly to go out to his car, fetch a piece of flat cardboard, find a secluded spot, and prostrate himself uponit, facing East, in prayer.
I admire him and his devotion. I admire even more his scrupulous deduction of each 20-minute period from histotal bill.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus ofComparative Literature at Princeton University.