It does not take much strength to lift a hair, it does not take sharp eyes to see the sun and moon, it does not take sharp ears to hear a thunderclap.
~ Sun Tzu
Two nights ago I read 9 of the 13 sections of The Art of War, and wrote 13 pages of notes. I need hardly explain why my dreams were medieval and confusing. I could explain why I am doing this during exams, with my undergraduate seminar paper hanging over my head, but only if I knew.
Perhaps some of you are also perverse in timing things. I read Sun Tzu’s carefully framed quotations and the commentary offered by those such as Li Quan, Mei Yaochen, and Zhang Yu, and simply didn’t find a stopping place. Reading their reflections on terrain called to mind the varied landscapes of China, and I found myself Googling images of mountain jungles and rice fields.
I did not read the remaining four sections because I thought I should do some math instead. It turns out this was an excuse to pick up another book.
Today I finished Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I discovered a “Reader” app on my super-high-tech-complicated Android phone, and lo and behold, there were classic book inside. Free.
How could I not read a free copy of Dracula, which I had never read before?
So I exchanged the “ground of life and death” for the wilds of Transylvania, and the Count’s great ruined castle on its promontory.
The castle was built on the corner of a great rock, so that on three sides it was quite impregnable, and great windows were placed here where sling, or bow, or culverin could not reach, and consequently light and comfort, impossible to a position which had to be guarded, were secured. To the west was a great valley, and then, rising far away, great jagged mountain fastnesses…
~ Bram Stoker
There were in both of these books descriptions of a more savage way of life, of farther places, and of wider ideas, than I have encountered in reality. Such is literature! The Art of War presented wonderful paradoxes; it almost seemed democratic in spirit when advocating that the will of the leaders and the people should be one, even as Sun Tzu gave an order for five things one ought to burn in war.
…burning people, burning supplies, burning equipment, burning storehouses, and burning weapons.
~ Sun Tzu
The very niceties of the protagonists in Dracula, their manners and their straightforward virtue, contrasted with vile situations. Regular appearances from a madman reminded me that the treatment of the mentally ill back then was less than ideal.
My wanderings from China to Transylvania had two things in common; the usual desire to escape, and the more useful desire to learn. To learn of things tangible and intangible, and to learn about writing itself.
Finally, this brings me to Rome. I have joined the Rome Construction Crew, where bloggers with various goals join to give each other moral support, and my goal is to see if I have the skill and perseverance be a writer at all.
I still think the best way to learn to write is to read, though writing itself is essential. So I want to read as many of the classics – the philosophies, the dramas, the tragedies – as I can. At my desk I want to travel.
What classics, what countries, have made great impressions on you? If I want to read more of China and Japan, and their poetry in particular, what can you recommend?