Monday, April 14, 2014

Of timeless themes...          

‘Books have always been an important part of my life—from my earliest
 memory, I was always the omnivorous reader, the kid with the
 flashlight under the sheets at night…’                         - Art Katz, 1974

Among his library of thousands of books, essays, pamphlets, etc., are the works of many writers—well-known and obscure—on a variety of timeless themes. They include a choice few with his marginal notes and highlighted phrases and passages made during his years of travels and in quiet moments of study, contemplation…and wonder.


Katz first picked up a used copy of philosopher Blaise Pascal's The Pensees, or Thoughts, apparently when transiting Egypt, Morocco, possibly Tunis, or even London or Paris while on his epic fourteen-month travels during 1963-64 through North Africa and Europe. (A stamped inscription at the bottom of the inside title page shows a brief notation in farsi with "Shady Bookshop" and a five-digit telephone number. Presumably, it is where he bought the book for the listed three shillings and six-pence.)
   The time of purchase can be fixed due to some of his numerous highlight marks and emphases on numerous pages - AND his rhetorical questions and marginal comments about the existence of God, Jesus, etc., in the present tense!
    In a chapter entitled "Proofs of Jesus Christ", is the statement:

    "No one is as happy as a true Christian, nor as reasonable, virtuous, and lovable." Katz wrote in the margin: "Mary, Edwin, Gustaffson, etc." in obvious reference to three people whom he met during two weeks in August while hitchhiking through Switzerland - Mary, the young Methodist co-ed from Kansas, vacationing in Zurich, exhibiting her inspiring, simple faith in God; Edwin, the urbane businessman driving to Schaffhausen who picked him up and spent several hours, guiding him about the city, riveting him with the initial exclamation: "You're Jewish! How marvelous!" Helmut Gutaffson encountered the exhausted Katz at a bus in Locarno and took him to his small flat where he, his wife and their small baby spent the night in a cramped bedroom so that Katz could sleep comfortably in a room by himself. They had fed him profusely that night and the next morning, answering his eager questions about their hospitality and visible yet unpretentious faith to their guest that it is "the Christian way" before he resumed his travels.

Other quotes from Pascal's book with accompanying margin comments by Katz (in italics), include:
"...Jesus tears himself away from His disciples to enter upon His agony; we must tear ourselves fom our closest and most intimate friends to imitate Him."
Let the dead bury the dead, etc.

"...Jesus is alone on earth, with no one to feel or share His pain, or even to know it..."
The human or existentialist condition.

"...True conversion consists in self-annihilation before that Universal Being whom we have so often provoked, and who has reason to destroy us every hour; in recognizing that we can do nothing without Him, and have deserved nothing from Him but His displeasure. It consists in recognizing that there is an invincible opposition between God and ourselves, and that without a mediator we can nave no communion with Him." (AK's underline)
Tough to take.

"...The law imposed what it did not give. Grace gives what it imposes."
? (AK's question mark)

"...This is what I see, and what troubles me. I look around me in all directions, and see nothing but darkness everywhere. Nature offers me nothing that is not a matter of doubt and disquiet. If I saw no sign of a God there, I should decide against Him. If I saw signs of a Creator everywhere, I should believe and be at peace. But seeing too much evidence against, and too little that is favorable, I am in a pitiable state. A hundred times I have wished that, if nature is sustained by a God, she would unequivocally declare it, and that if the signs she gives of him are fallacious she would suppress them altogether. I would have her say all or nothing, so that I might see which side I ought to take. Whereas now, in my present state, not knowing what I am and what I ought to do, I understand neither myself nor my duty. My heart is wholly bent on discovering where the true good lies, so that I may follow it; there is no price that I would not pay for eternity
    "I envy those whom I see living in faith so unconcernedly, and making such poor use of a gift that I believe I should employ so differently."
Might be my own confession.

"...True Christians comply with the world's follies, nevertheless, not because they respect them, but out of compliance with the divine command which, as a punishment for men, has made them subject to these follies: For the creature was made subject to vanity. He shall be delivered. This is how St. Thomas explains the passage in St. James (2.1) on giving a good place to the rich, that if men fail to do this in God's sight, they violate the commandments of religion."
God sanctions the status quo? Revolutions breed worse evils than those they replace?

"...We know ourselves so little that many think they are about to die when they are quite well; and many think they are quite well when, unconscious of the impending fever or the ulcer about to form, they are close to death."

"(Men) imagine that if they were to gain a certain office they would then be glad to rest; they do not understand the insatiable nature of their desires. They believe that they are honestly looking for rest, but all they are really looking for is excitement."
Absolutely contemporary.

"He no longer loves the woman he loved ten years ago I can believe it; she is not the same person, neither is he. He was young, and so was she; now she is quite different. Perhaps he would still love her if she were as she was then."
✓✓ (AK's)

"[What a monster then is man! How strange and chimerical, what a chaos, what a bundle of contradictions, what a prodigy! A judge of all things, a feeble earthworm; a depository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error, the pride and refuse of the universe.]
"Who will unravel this tangle? Nature confounds the skeptics, and the reason confounds the dogmatists. What will become of you then, you who try to find out by your natural reason what your true condition is? You cannot avoid one of these sects, or adhere to one of them.
"(Acknowledge then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Impotent reason, bow down! Foolish nature, be silent! Learn that man infinitely transcends man, and hear from your master your true condition which is unnown to you. Listen to God...")
AK's large parantheses, brackets and exaggerated asterisk beside the entire passage.

Finally, on a page opposite the inside back-cover, Katz wrote mysteriously if not experimentally:

"I am moving from a horizontal universality to a vertical perpetuity.

"1. Buying a painting-by-the-numbers already completed at the factory.
"2. Buying a painting-by-the-numbers in which you fill it in yourself.
"3. An entirely free, anxiety-ridden, creation painting in which you provide the form."

- Copyright, J.M. Cohen (Penguin Books Inc., Baltimore, Maryland), 1961