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To Read or Not to Read. That is the Question.

Listening to a YouTube lecture today on the outer- /inner-life of Ludwig van Beethoven, the eminent speaker mentioned a biography of the Master which he considers to be the best treatment of Beethoven’s music and inner struggles.

And THEN the ancient struggle begins again: my decades-long wish to read deeply a biography of this Man. I have put it off for so long I can’t remember. (I know that this deep desire was present during my last undergraduate years at Yale, because I sought out several tomes in Sterling Memorial Library, read only a few pages, and vowed I would swim deeply in the universe of late 18th- /early-19th-century German and Viennese cultural history, which I adore and from which I have taken most of the mightiest intellectual and spiritual influences.)

Reading anything outside my Zen practice was anathema to me for several decades — I did not read much at all, honestly, and listened to orchestral music, like, once or twice every couple of years, so great was my wish that fragments of even the most sublime music — from another’s imagination, however sublime, glorious, and moveable of my soul — would drift up from time to time to cloud even a filament’s worth of space in my daily meditation regimen.

And, just today, I find my finger hovering over the “Buy Now” button on Amazon.

Fascinating how a desire unsatisfied lingers, for decades even, through tens and tens of 90-day misty-mountain retreats and all sorts of public teaching activity, basically entered around the drive not to hold on to thinking that arises in the mind!

I have a stack of biographies of Gustav Mahler on my shelf. Yet I seldom read through them, because they require re-visiting the music — the deeply transcendent sounds and soul-states — that will linger long after the reading and study is done. Things will float up purposelessly during a deep meditation, like a delicious and famed Michelin 5-star soup arrived at the table with just a tiny, fine pubic hair of the cook half-dangled in the edge of the soup. Actually, despite my curiosity about these men and their visions, I do genuinely recoil from all of the historical data and re-familiarization with the cultural milieu of his (and Beethoven’s) life and times, to better grasp their force of genius blooming out radically from their lived contexts, that would need to be revisited and reconnected with other knowledge, cross-referenced with other things I’ve learned that is now fairly useless material to have bouncing around the head in these remaining years. “To what end?” I ask myself. The names, the places, the colorful contemporary personalities, the politics and conflicts which inspired their voices and their dread: all of this will need to be parked in various neurons all over my ageing brain, only for the purpose of knitting some story together, for the sake of “knowing” more who they were, and who they are.

By the way, for those interested in a fascinating insight into Beethoven’s physical and mental struggles — the alchemy which manifested as a sound which moves souls across ages and distances, across all time and space — the YouTube discussion I listened to just now is this:

Beethoven Unvarnished.  A Lecture by Vincent DeLuise

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