Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day: Reflections on Work and Labor from All Over the Place

Comments from all over the place that have caught the eye of my magpie mind as I read over the years, on the themes of labor and of work (you'll find one or both words in each excerpt below): a very happy Labor Day to all U.S. readers, and a happy day to everyone reading this blog from anywhere around the world.

Linda Hogan, The Woman Who Watches Over the World (NY: W.W. Norton, 2001):

When people come home after work, when the doors are locked, or the hay placed before the horses, or the deer draw near, or the cattle rest in the fields, and the plants gain an unwitnessed inch of growing, the stalagmites lengthen, the crystals of earth sharpen in dark unseen caves, where those who live in the ocean come up for air, or when those who live in air immerse themselves in water, would it be love we feel? When our beliefs settle down to sleep and the streetlights come on, if we said matter was holy, would we then love and be joyous? (p. 207).

Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (NY: Random House, 1979):

To make the wider point here, what we take to be the female professions—child care, social work, nursing, the creation and care of culture, the ministry, teaching (these last, when done by men, being done by effete men, as Vice President Spiro Agnew told us)—all contain a greater admixture of gift labor than male professions—banking, law, management, sales, and so on. Furthermore, the female professions do not pay as well as the male professions (p. 138).

And Hyde again:

An essential portion of any artist's labor is not creation so much as invocation. Part of the work cannot be made, it must be received; and we cannot have this gift except, perhaps, by supplication, by courting, by creating within ourselves that "begging bowl" to which the gift is drawn (p. 186).

Fenton Johnson, Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey (Boston/NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2003):

And yes, anger at being gay, being deprived of the world of not questioning, being deprived of and excluded from the world of power. No matter that almost all good that has happened to me (including my lover) has grown from that exclusion, human nature will want what it cannot have (Buddhism’s First Noble Truth . . .), and what I want is the comfortable sense that the world "belongs" to me, even as in my heart I know the idea is preposterous. The poor and oppressed do not have to labor for the gift of understanding that the world does not "belong" to them; that is the nature of their reality. To the extent that being gay has given me access to that wisdom, I am blessed (pp. 152-3)

Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light (Ithaca, NY: Firebrand, 1988):

There is nothing I cannot use somehow in my living and my work, even if I would never have chosen it on my own, even if I am livid with fury at having to choose. Not only did nobody ever say it would be easy, nobody ever said what faces the challenges would wear. The point is to do as much as I can of what I came to do before they nickel and dime me to death (p. 111). 

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (NY: Random House, 1984), trans. Stephen Mitchell:

For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation (p. 68).

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004):

You can spend forty years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery and then some fellow with no more theological sense than a jackrabbit gets himself a radio ministry and all your work is forgotten. I do wonder where it will end (p. 208). 

Masnavi Rumi, in The Soul of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems, trans. Coleman Barks (NY Harper, 2002):

Beg for an inner occupation that will ally you with others doing the inner work. Find the wine most suitable for you. God has given us a dark wine so potent that, drinking it, we leave the two worlds (p.  351).

May Sarton, At Seventy (NY: W.W. Norton, 1984):

If you are a writer or an artist, it is work that fulfills and makes you come into wholeness, and that goes on through a lifetime. Whatever the wounds that have to heal, the moment of creation assumes that all is well, that one is still in tune in the universe, that the inner chaos can be probed and distilled into order and beauty (p. 106). 

Thomas P. Slaughter, The Natures of John and William Bartram (NY: Random House, 1996):

Slaughter cites Londa Schiebinger, who notes that Linnaeus's classificatory system for the natural world was as much cultural and political as scientific. For instance, his use of the term Mammalia to describe a class of animals only half of which have mammary glands helped to legitimize gender-based division of labor in European society by emphasizing how "natural" it is for females to suckle and rear their young (citing Schiebinger, "Why Mammals Are Called Mammals: Gender Politics in Eighteenth-Century Natural History, American Historical Review 98 [1993], 409) (Slaughter, pp. 28-9). Schiebinger thinks Linneaus "infused nature with middle-class European notions of gender."

"What Linneaus was doing, then, was importing cultural notions about gender hierarchy, womanliness, and manliness into the study of nature" (Slaughter, p. 29).

"Although to Linneaus female plants were generally 'wives' with 'husbands,' he had to admit that a flower with one pistil and twenty stamens was a wife who slept around" (p. 29).

Walt Whitman, Preface to 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass:

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men—go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families—re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face, between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body (as cited in Philip Callow, From Noon to Starry Night: A Life of Walt Whitman [Chicago: Ivan R. Dea, 1992], p. 210).

Edith Wyschogrod, Saints and Postmodernism: Revisioning Moral Philosophy (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1990):

Thus—leaning on an analogy of Wittgenstein—seeing the meaning of saintly work is less like grasping an argument and more like understanding a musical theme (p. 47).

I will see if I can hunt up the page number for Rilke's citation, which I seem not to have entered into my journals. If I do find it, I'll post it later (✔; done). And as I finish this posting, I'm still chuckling about Slaughter's wry observations re: Linnaeus's sexing of flowers, and Marilynne Robinson's equally wry statement about radio preachers and jackrabbits.

A day free from hard labor that begins with a laugh can't be all bad, can it?

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