Leonard Cohen’s introduction to the Chinese translation of Beautiful Losers:
Thank you for coming to this book. It is an honour, and a surprise, to have the frenzied thoughts of my youth expressed in Chinese characters. I sincerely appreciate the efforts of the translator and the publishers in bringing this curious work to your attention. I hope you will find it useful or amusing.
When I was young, my friends and I read and admired the old Chinese poets. Our ideas of love and friendship, of wine and distance, of poetry itself, were much affected by those ancient songs. Much later, during the years when I practiced as a Zen monk under the guidance of my teacher Kyozan Joshu Roshi, the thrilling sermons of Lin Chi (Rinzai) were studied every day. So you can understand, Dear Reader, how privileged I feel to be able to graze, even for a moment, and with such meager credentials, on the outskirts of your tradition.
This is a difficult book, even in English, if it is taken too seriously. May I suggest that you skip over the parts you don’t like? Dip into it here and there. Perhaps there will be a passage, or even a page, that resonates with your curiosity. After a while, if you are sufficiently bored or unemployed, you may want to read it from cover to cover. In any case, I thank you for your interest in this odd collection of jazz riffs, pop-art jokes, religious kitsch and muffled prayer æ an interest which indicates, to my thinking, a rather reckless, though very touching, generosity on your part.
Beautiful Losers was written outside, on a table set among the rocks, weeds and daisies, behind my house on Hydra, an island in the Aegean Sea. I lived there many years ago. It was a blazing hot summer. I never covered my head. What you have in your hands is more of a sunstroke than a book.
Dear Reader, please forgive me if I have wasted your time.
Los Angeles, February 27, 2000
It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again, instead of the blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it. And I am not being frivolous now, either. Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become. It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew oneself at the foundation of their own lives, that makes the discussion, let alone the elucidation, of any conundrum-that is, any reality-so supremely difficult. The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality-this touchstone can only be oneself. Such a person interposes between himself and reality nothing less than a labyrinth of attitudes. And these attitudes, furthermore, though the person is usually unaware of it (is unaware of so much!), are historical and public attitudes. They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person. Therefore, whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.
Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that we ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us. But white Americans do not believe in death, and this is why the darkness of my skin so intimidates them. And this is also why the prsence of the Negro in this country can bring about its destruction. It is the responsibility of free men to trust and to celebrate what is constant – birth, struggle, and death are constant, and so is love, though we may not always think so – and to apprehend the nature of change, to be able and willing to change. I speak of change not on the surface but in the depths -change in the sense of renewal. But renewal becomes impossible if one supposes things to be constant that are not – safety, for example, or money, or power. One clings then to chimeras, by which one can only be betrayed, and the entire hope – the entire possibility – of freedom disappears.
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)
James Baldwin, My Dungeon Shoook – Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation (1963):
And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.
and the essay ends
You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.
Dave Van Ronk on Dylan, in the No Direction Home documentary: ‘he was able to adopt a kind of theatre – actually the first time I met him he was really acting – and that was good cause you can go anywhere when you are somebody else.’
The Velten Mood induction procedure consists of reading a series of statements which start neutral and get progressively more and more positive, or more and more negative. So you end up with things like “Things look good. Things look great!” for the positive velten, and “I want to go to sleep and never wake up.” for the negative. When I was writing Mind Hacks I wanted to get hold of the full list of Velten statements, but couldn’t find them. Now, for your education and delight (or despair) I’ve got them and put them here:
The great things about the Velten is that it really works. I think the correct analogy is to watching a play – you know it is a fiction, the characters can even point out that it is a fiction, yet you are still emotionally involved in the story. (I think this a fact of fundamental importance to understanding the nature of consciousness).
Thinking about Creationism, after seeing Steve Jones from UCL give a talk in Sheffield last week called ‘Why Creationism is Wrong and Evolution is Right’. He didn’t really talk about why Creationism is wrong, which was probably wise. I don’t think you’ll ever win an argument with Creationists talking about the evidence – they’ve got a comeback for every contradiction to Creationism you can think of. It doesn’t matter if the comebacks are nonsensical, you get involved in an endless chase of facts, intepretation and reinterpretation. The only way to really finish an argument is to talk about meta-theory: what counts as evidence? what could convince you the world was one way instead of another? Do you, fundamentally, just believe that your imaginary friend is more important to you than anything i can ever say or do?
The so called ‘Creationism-Evolution debate’ is totally asymmetrical. Creationism isn’t a theory, it doesn’t suggest a process by which things come to be. It is equivalent to ‘they just got that way’. Okay, fine. Now lets talk about how they got that way, and what an answer to that question would look like.
Steven Jones, on whether Creationism should get 50% of teaching time is schools, said it would be just as sensible to give 50% of sex education classes to the theory that babies are brought by storks. This highlights the asymmetry of the supposed debate nicely, I thought.
The foundation of Creationism is disbelief in the possibility of design without a designer (an ‘argument from failure of the imagination’). I wonder if exposure to a few basic or common examples of emergent order (traffic jams, the BZ reaction, embryological development (!)) would help a believer loosen the conviction that the only possible or sane explanation for complexity is Creation?
Update: Gallery of Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction images