The Surveyed Vision: 36 Meditations on 3 Books by Barry Hill (Peacemongers, Grass Hut Work and Reason & Lovelessness)

By | 1 October 2020


a. the shadows of ignorance that envelop us.

b.                         ‘Soars
                ‘like a vastless and stringless kite
                          ‘dark’ — the last lines of ‘The Wedgetails’ 29

c. Hill, like Dante, is less concerned with beggars, bells or bread than justice. (Dogma appears less in Hill than dogs, even Pavlovian responses, though Gratian, through lay and canon law ‘served both courts: / He worked for truth and went the extra mile / For justice’.30 ‘[T]hey treat people like straw dogs’ [Laozi, quoted in P 252; Hill uses Laozi’s poem as an epigraph in R]).
d. Sei Shônagon’s list of Dispiriting Things includes ‘a dog howling in the middle of the day’ (R 400).
e. Hill looking at himself as Other. Where does individuality fit in? Mistaking sophistication for intellectuality is not something to which Hill would fall prey.


a. Susan Sontag wrote:

Being a spectator of calamities taking place in another country is a quintessential modern experience, the cumulative offering by more than a century and a half’s worth of those professional, specialized tourists known as journalists. Wars are now also living room sights and sounds. Information about what is happening elsewhere, called ‘news’, features conflict and violence — ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ runs the venerable guideline of tabloids and twenty-four-hour headline news shows — to which the response is compassion, or indignation, or titillation, or approval, as each misery heaves into view [SS 16].

Just as Sontag wrestled with such passivity from Western reporters and photojournalists in war arenas (spectacle), it was most important for Hill to be a witness, almost forensic, to the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, albeit at a distance of decades.
b. ‘Ever since cameras were invented in 1939, photography has kept company with death’, Sontag wrote elsewhere (SS 21).
c. ‘[T]he mind to be inside it outside in the instant, at the same time’ — from ‘On Getting to Grips with the Heart Sutra’ (G 29).
d. Hill seeks the kind of harmony between the elements and inhabitants that Lévi-Strauss witnessed in Brazil (CLS 353).
e. As Tom Griffiths also says in his Introduction to R, ‘[Hill] explores the meanings of ‘Reason’ and of ‘Lovelessness’ ‘ (R xvi).
f. ‘Reason in the lap of devotion’ (P 44).
g. Taking a heuristic approach.
h. ‘He remembers failing to translate the mantra / of the Heart Sutra. Gate, Gate, Prajnaparamita Gate. / Who in their right mind tries to nail that beyond?’ (G 106; italics in original).
i. The pursuit of an inner life.


a. ‘[T]here was a young man meditating under a tree’ (G 110).
b. ‘Thereby, Dharma crossed the river’ (P 446). Crossing rivers as a kind of transfiguration or transmutation.
c. ‘[John] Berger was hanging on, obviously, to the poets of ruined places’ (R 309).


a. ‘Yes, she said. / Hiroshima had many horses. / And not only horses were damaged / we had many birds and dogs’ (G 84). Dogs at her side. This image of a horse burned to death in the American atomic bombing has haunted Hill. He first mentions this exchange on page 518 in Part 8 of P, which he calls ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’.
b. ‘Kiyosawa Kiyoshi, whose Diary of Darkness is my bedside book in this hotel. His wartime diary. Dark times indeed, which I’ve been reading well into the night’ (P 304; italics in original).
c. ‘Another friend […] Taneda Santoka, a kind of twentieth-century Basho. […] He wrote incessantly for twenty years before the war, called himself a haiku factory, and considered them ‘as good as bits of broken tile’.[…] His tiles on the stone garden of the Shokokuji Temple were a scattering of haiku’ (P 567; ellipses added).
d. The twisting of nature by those who would alter humanity by dropping atomic bombs: ‘I’d had a short visit to the Bodhi Tree, but I did not sit under it to reach enlightenment’ (P 5).
e. Ashes as Eros, to push away the anxiety of disorder and chaos.
f. Mythologically, the bird that rises from the ashes is the phoenix.

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