The Hidden Links between Books

a brief account of the role played by books in my search for the Glass Bead Game, drawn from a letter to a friend.

Charles Cameron


Suzuki Cycle Maintenance Manual Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Zen Mind Beginner's Mind

"zen speaks to zen, Suzuki to Suzuki, motorcycle to motorcycle"


I'm sure that my sense of the hidden links between books has been a major factor in this quixotic pursuit of mine.

i

I'd been conscious of coincidences of a pleasant and sometimes helpful sort for some time, and thought of them in terms of the hand of grace occasionally tapping one on the shoulder -- and of course Jung had coined the term *synchronicity* to describe the specific kind of coincidence where the outer world "reflects" the inner condition...

But I think what really nudged me into thinking about Hesse's Game as a sort of "playable" art form was a combination of teaching mythic imagination at a small private art school in LA called "Bruchion", and stumbling across a book in the $1 bin at a local theological bookstore in Pasadena named "The Archives Bookshop".

The book in question was by Haniel Long, whose *Interlinear to Cabeza de Vaca* is an absolute gem -- he really is a wonderful prose stylist, and the story he tells of Cabeza's quasi-shamanistic adventures is a spellbinder. So when I saw the (to me) new Haniel Long title, *Letter to Saint Augustine*, I put down my dollar, and leafed through the book in considerable anticipation as I walked my way to the busstop...

And found a paragraph that I could swear I already knew from a book by Annie Dillard.

Long had written:

My friend Jens Jensen, who is an ornithologist, tells me that when he was a boy in Denmark he caught a big carp embedded in which, across the spinal vertebrae, were the talons of an osprey. Apparently years before, the fish hawk had dived for its prey, but had misjudged its size. The carp was too heavy for it to lift up out of the water, and so after a struggle the bird of prey was pulled under and drowned. The fish then lived as best it could with the great bird clamped to it, till time disintegrated the carcass, and freed it, all but the bony structure of the talon.

I got home, and pulled out my Dillard, *Teaching a Stone to Talk*, and was flabbergasted to read the following:

And once, says Ernest Seton Thompson--once, a man shot an eagle out of the sky. He examined the eagle and found the dry skull of a weasel fixed by the jaws to his throat. The supposition is that the eagle had pounced on the weasel and the weasel swiveled and bit as instinct taught him, tooth to neck, and nearly won. I would like to have seen that eagle from the air a few weeks or months before he was shot: was the whole weasel still attached to his feathered throat, a fur pendant? Or did the eagle eat what he could reach, gutting the living weasel with his talons before his breast, bending his beak, cleaning the beautiful airborne bones?

Ayiiiiieee!

The imagery, the length, the initial reference to another naturalist -- even the detail and clarity of the prose seemed perfectly matched: I felt almost as though I was at a wedding.

Well, there they were, two books on my shelves now, which cried out to be placed next to one another -- strictly on account of those two paragraphs. And if I separated them, Long in with the theology (it's what I read at Oxford) and Dillard with modern literature, it was as though an invisible thread ran from bookshelf to bookshelf across the room...

ii

How many other books had threads like that connecting them, I wondered...

There was that curious business about *Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance* and Suzuki Roshi's *Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind*... and on from there...

Possessing both *Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance* and Shunryu Suzuki's *Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind*, for example, I couldn't rest until I'd visited a motorcycle supplies store and picked up a copy of Clymer's *Suzuki GS850-1100 Shaft Drive 1979-1984 Service Repair Maintenance* manual.

The three books stand in a circle: zen speaks to zen, motorcycle to motorcycle, Suzuki to Suzuki.

Now that's a sweet Bead Game in books, I told myself.

iii

Putting those three books together in the mind's eye -- or the Haniel Long and Annie Dillard quotes for that matter -- was obviously a work of symmetry of some kind, and it illustrated just the kind of patterned thinking I was getting at in my classes on creative imagination, so I brought them to show my students...

And when, years later, I at last "got" email, I posted a sort of visualization to the Hermetica List in which I described a corridor with two quotations in frames hanging one on either side... and the two quotes were our old friends from Haniel Long and Annie Dillard. If you read one quote, you'd have to turn around if you wanted to read the other -- and my idea was that if you read them both, and just stood there between them, there must be a sort of stereophonic effect... only not "phonic", but "phanic", as in epiphany and theophany. Stereophany.

Anyway, I inquired whether the Hermetica List would like me to continue with my visualizations, and after some discussion I was invited to post them to Alexandria instead. By this time, I was thinking in terms of boards where the symmetries, harmonies and counterpoints I was seeing could be notated, and we held a Games festival with three Games on the Alexandria List, courtesy of the Alex list owner Cynndara...

And it must have been around that time, too, that I wrote my Meditations for Game Players -- where, like a pair of much loved bad pennies, those two quotes from Long and Dillard make their appearances yet again ...


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