The Blog That Fell From The Sky

April 29, 2009 at 12:42 pm Leave a comment

In 2003/4 the British Library put on an exhibition called Chinese Printmaking Today. It featured a dazzling array of printmaking skills, but to me the most impressive piece was a collection of four traditionally-bound Chinese books, printed on rice paper with indigo covers, string binding, and held in beautiful walnut boxes. They looked like beautifully preserved examples of 15th  and 16th century volumes. The work was called Tianshu (Book From The Sky) and what was remarkable was that it was all an elaborate cultural joke. All of the 12,000 elaborately carved Chinese characters that made up the content of the book were all invented by the artist, Xu Bing, and they had no meaning at all. The books looked like the real thing, but were just elaborate nonsense.

It got me thinking what a real book that fell from the sky might reveal to us. The sky (tian) is Heaven for the ancient Chinese, and it’s where the ancestors, with all their accumulated wisdom and knowledge go after they have died. What would all our ancestors, looking down on our puny efforts, have to tell us about how we are living our lives. They must have made similar mistakes to us, but now they are unaffected by them, whereas we still have to live out the karma of our days contending with the results that we have caused. Perhaps such a book, told from this elevated POV, could give us guidance about how to conduct ourselves, how to avoid or at least deal with pain, troubles, and problems. This would be a great book to have in your library. I decided (this is a joke) to translate this book, since it is the only Chinese book I am capable of translating. I actually wrote to the artist asking him for the right to translate the book. He never wrote back. He must have thought I was mad. Maybe I am.

That’s how I got the idea of The Book That Fell From The Sky, a users guide for earthlings, full of advice from the past and the present, from the dead and the living, about how to look after your body, mind and spirit in this lifetime. Of course I haven’t gotten around to writing this book yet, so perhaps I should re-title it The Blog That Fell From The Sky.

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Entry filed under: Ancient wisdom, Thoughts.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want A Spiritual Almanack

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The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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