Tag Archives: John Eberly

Light of Oneness

Hermetic Library fellow John Eberly reviews Light of Oneness by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.

of the
Divine Light
is in the hearts of those
who believe in the
Oneness of God…
By means of the
Divine Light
the heart
so that it shines like a polished mirror.
When it becomes a mirror one can
see in it the reflection of existing
things and the reflection of the
Kingdom of God
as they really are.


Shaped like a lamp from the Niche of Lights, Tirmidhi’s poem prefaces Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee, Ph.D.’s Light of Oneness and succinctly outlines the overall premise of the work. It also immediately establishes that the author intends to develop his persuasive reasoning by aligning his own views with those of other proven authority. In this way he honors how the true foundation of one’s thought is always based upon the thoughtful recognition of another’s. Light of Oneness is full of rich examples culled from a broad array of world religious and mystical traditions including Shamanism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sufism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as employing Jung’s take on Alchemy, and psychotherapy. By recognizing and establishing the sovereignty of this silsillah of inspired expiration, one may ideally follow it, along with the author, to the original expression of kun, let it be.

This compositional approach is not new to Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee, it is rather his style, one he has refined at least since the appearance of the essay entitled “Dream-Work Within A Sufi Tradition” in 1991 (Sufism, Islam, and Jungian Psychology, pp 131-146, Scottsdale: New Falcon Publications, J. Marvin Spiegelman, ed.). Since that time, he has written and published numerous books through The Golden Sufi Center in Inverness, California, including, Traveling the Path of Love: Sayings of the Sufi Masters (1995) in which, as editor, Vaughn-Lee gave way to his impulse to quote by compiling a whole volume of potent mystical phraseology.

In Light of Oneness as in his other works, Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee does not simply parrot the sayings of the Masters, instead, he tends to showcase their words like jewels in the bezel of his own emerging state. The danger in doing so lies in how his opinions open or close the meaning of the original. For example, one might ask with justification, is it really valid to quote al-Hallaj’s famous utterance “ana’l-Haqq” under any circumstances? How can we pretend to understand, or even approach the station of the mystic that only God knows? The utterances of mystics are located in space and time differently than a divinely inspired book such as the Qu’ran, whose revelation potentially alights anew on the heart with every reading. But in the case of Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee employing the much too-often quoted words of al-Hallaj, context is everything:

There is no answer, because on the level of Truth there can never be a question. When Buddha held up a flower, when al-Hallaj said ‘ana l-Haqq (I Am the Absolute Truth), it was not in answer to a question. The relationship between the mystical ground of nonbeing and the world of cause and effect is not easy to describe… (Light of Oneness pp158-159).

In Light of Oneness, Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee constantly shifts from a personal, differentiated viewpoint to a global perspective, and to that of the collective consciousness of humanity, to illustrate how Oneness encompasses the mirror of multiplicity. Completing the quote above:

…there is a way these two come together, because even to suggest that they are different would be to remain on the level of duality. (Light of Oneness p 159).

And this Oneness, Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee asserts, is illuminated by how the rich diversity of various phenomena is united by wholeness and unconditional Love.

To over-intellectualize the message of Light of Oneness would do violence to its author’s intent. As a Sufi teacher in the Naqshbandiiyya-Mujadidiyya Sufi Order and the successor of Irina Tweedie, author of the famous journal Daughter of Fire (Nevada City: Blue Dolphin Press, 1986), Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee has attempted in his teaching and writing to interpret difficult key Sufi concepts into what he calls “plain speak.” Indeed, in the chapter entitled “Powers of Darkness” (Light of Oneness pp 93-108) he begins a complex area of discussion with clear and simple models that gradually open into more complicated concepts reinforced by repetition and previous example. He nurtures with milk before feeding the reader meat. This spirit is evident throughout the work, as the author presents what is essentially a simple concept that requires some measure of elaboration buoyed by traditional foundation to reveal its inherent simplicity.

Light of Oneness expresses a timeless message appearing in a timely manner. Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee understands that the journey of arriving is only achieved by allowing all of the voices of Truth to speak to a present –if constantly shifting- condition. Light of Oneness points to the Source encompassing everything at once like so many multi-colored patches sewn upon the heart of our own Mystery. [via]

The work of William T Vollmann

Hermetic Library fellow John Eberly surveys the works of William T Vollmann.

William T. Vollmann’s (b. 1959-) prodigious literary output includes stand-alone works and multi-volume series of fiction, non-fiction, essays, journalism, and multi-form hybrids of all of these genres. A National Book Award winner for his novel Europe Central (2005), he was also a recipient of a Strauss Living Award in 2008. Representing twenty years of research and writing, his seven vol. 3,300 page study on violence Rising Up and Rising Down (2003) was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Vollmann is an author who apparently juggles several writing projects at the same time, revising and finally arriving at a desired stopping point resulting in publication. His last major book, Imperial, (2009) was an exhaustive investigative analysis spread over years of research of California’s Imperial valley region, including maps and histories of the area, interviews with inhabitants, and critically maligned provocations that seemed designed to create situational effects in the narrative. Vollmann often invests personal experience into his work—sometimes to his own peril—in his first collection, The Rainbow Stories, (1988) he ingratiated himself into relationships with skinheads and prostitutes in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco in order to find some inside essence with which to create his character studies, through his international investigation of poverty in Poor People, (2007) complete with photographs of subjects and their often dangerous environments taken by the author, or his journey to the north pole for the sixth book in his Seven Dreams series, The Rifles (1994) where due to miscalculations on what survival gear to bring, he nearly froze to death, all the while cranking out beautiful prose that leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that the hardships endured, at least after the fact in the form of artifact, has been well worth it indeed. His first novel, You Bright and Risen Angels (1987) was written after-hours at a programming job he held for a while in Silicon Valley, living under his desk living on vending machine candy bars because he didn’t drive and had no permanent address. And on and on it goes. A multi-talented artist whose production also includes one-of-a-kind collectable art/lit books, William T. Vollmann continues to amaze: his next published project, due in the fall of 2013, is a book of photo essays based on documentation of “Delores,” his feminine alter-ego. [via]

Speak, Memory

Hermetic Library fellow John Eberly reviews Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov.

With neither time nor space to spend dissecting the many novels of the innovative prose stylist Vladimir Nabokov—famous for the beautifully written, provocative work Lolita (1955)—in order to extract from them the multiple pearls of great price that invariably will be found in each, I will instead focus on a touchstone for the fiction, Speak, Memory, (first published in the U.S. under the title Conclusive Evidence, in 1951) regarded as “the finest autobiography written in our time” by The New Republic. Listed as #8 on the Modern Library list of 100 best works of non-fiction, Speak, Memory examines the period of time in the author’s life between August 1903 and May 1940, from childhood into adulthood and exile. Born into Tsarist Russian aristocracy, Nabokov witnessed the oncoming revolution and the rise of Nazi Germany. But this memoir does not dwell on the enormity of these world shaping events, rather, it takes a close and intimate look at the mundane as well as the extraordinary that fascinates a boy, and then, a man, including: profound love for family—the descriptions of his mother and father are heartbreakingly evocative; the eccentricities, failures, and successes of various governesses and tutors; family pets; the game of chess; and an enduring romance with etymology, particularly lepidoptery, the study of butterflies and moths. Indeed, aside from his fame as an author, Nabokov is nowadays considered to have been a serious taxonomist: the Nabokovia genus and the genera Madeleinea and Pseudolucia allude to names from his novels and, of course, to Nabokov himself.

Looking back on one’s life and writing about it is actually a process of (re)searching within oneself for clues to how experience is recalled by intellect and reduced to narrative for examination. Nabokov observed that in his fiction he repeatedly plundered his past, using various real life characters and events to infuse those he constructed fictitiously out of prose, and how this has in fact at times robbed reality’s memory of its tang, its sharpness, its flavor. The ghost of the past rendered as such becomes a flimsy affair, floating as it were, above and often out of reach, until a certain part of it is revealed elsewhere, in a gesture, or some other interrelated phenomena, as the subsequent flood of light returns the color, evoking a pastiche with its near-resemblance to a self-disclosed truth, supplying an armature upon which the master might hang more art. In the end, then, we must ask, would the artist willfully, knowingly, plunder the cherished and dear memories of those he loved most for the sake of art? The conclusion, as evidenced by this wonderful book must be an unequivocal yes, as above all else, Nabokov was in awe of the creation of great literature, “This capacity to wonder at trifles—no matter the imminent peril—these asides of the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life are the highest form of consciousness.” [via]

At Swim-Two-Birds

Hermetic Library fellow John Eberly reviews At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien.

Flann O'Brien At Swim-Two-Birds

“Flann O’Brien” is one of several nom de plume’s of Irish writer Brian O’Nolan, best unknown by most for his 1939 masterpiece of experimental fiction At Swim-Two-Birds. Cited by Time magazine as one of the best 100 English language novels between 1923 and 2005, both book and author remain virtually undiscovered by the mainstream. Sometimes associated with the later “Angry Young Men” movement in Irish literature and J.P. Donleavy’s novel The Ginger Man, in reality, they are vastly different in style and tone to O’Brien’s oeuvre. At Swim-Two-Birds has also been compared to James Joyce, however, O’Nolan was once quoted as saying “I declare to God if I hear that name Joyce one more time I will surely froth at the gob.” It may be that the only thing these authors really have in common is Ireland itself. At Swim-Two-Birds brims with Irish tradition and folklore. Indeed, in many ways it may be the most “Irish” novel anyone –including Joyce- has ever written. The story revolves around a young man attending college who is writing a novel about a man writing a novel. What the college writer and the writer he writes about have most in common is that neither of them seem to be able to get out of bed. Living with his long-suffering uncle while occasionally attending classes and drinking sessions with his friends at various pubs, the unnamed student lets the characters in his novel come to life in order to rival the plot expectations of his somnambulist author/main character. Along the way, we meet the Pooka (remember the movie Harvey with Jimmy Stewart? This is a different type of Pooka!) MacPhellimey, “a member of the devil class,” as well as legendary Mad King Sweeney, and many other colorful folk as three different stories emerge and eventually converge. This is brilliant satire as opposed to parody of traditional mores and literary forms. A master at creating literary conundrums of his own, Jorge Luis Borges said at the time of At Swim-Two-Birds initial publication, “I have enumerated many verbal labyrinths, but none so complex as the recent book by Flann O’Brien.” Full of humor and intelligence, At Swim-Two-Birds is an unforgettable reading experience. [via]

The Impossibly

Hermetic Library fellow John Eberly reviews The Impossibly by Laird Hunt.

Laird Hunt The Impossibly

The Impossibly by Laird Hunt was originally published ten years ago by Coffee House Press. It has recently been re-released in a nifty trade paperback edition, and this edition is the one I will be reviewing. After reading the book I e-mailed the author with a question and found out that sections of the book had been reshuffled. Well written, non-linear fiction like this can stand the test of a re-shuffle! The book begins (at least this time) with a discussion between the unnamed main character and his girlfriend over the word and the thing known as a stapler. Obsessions with words, and the various things they represent, flow through the narrative, reminiscent of J.G. Ballard’s Crash, in which the main characters obsess about all things surrounding car wrecks, especially those crashes involving the death of certain iconic celebrities. But in The Impossibly, there is not so clear a focus, in fact, there is a lot that remains obscure throughout, for example, is this guy working for the mafia? Is he a spy? Is he spying on himself? There is peripheral action, and interesting set ups galore that evoke dark, nefarious deeds in which the man participates. But it is not always clear what is happening, and to whom it is happening. Does he have a head injury? He sure gets hit on the head a lot. I wrote to the author not because I required explanations, rather, just the opposite. Seduced by the oblique way in which the story is presented, I craved more loose ends! The reader becomes won over by the unrelenting obfuscation of the narrative and rests comfortably inside its abundant charm. The Impossibly is a compelling read, Mr. Hunt is a gifted writer, but if you like to be led along a plot in the usual way, prepare to be pulled feet-first through a dark literary noir tunnel. [via]

The Conversions

Hermetic Library fellow John Eberly reviews The Conversions by Harry Mathews.

Harry Mathews The Conversions

The Conversions begins with a group making preparations for an elaborate race between worms (yes, I said worms!) in the luxurious apartments of eccentric Grent Wayl. The winner takes home a curious prize, a ritual adze, covered in arcane figures and scenes that unravel in meaning as the novel progresses. When Wayl suddenly dies, a different race is on to decipher the adze and answer questions about it in order to win his sizable estate. Through a series of stories within stories that take him around the world, the main character seems to advance toward the prize, traversing the labyrinth of his own psyche along the way. He is beset by doubts as to the nature of what trails he is following, the interesting characters met along the way, and the overwhelming feeling that he has been tricked and that the whole journey is based on a hoax. In his first novel, originally published by Random House in 1962, Harry Mathews’ elegant prose and delight in the construction of the chase carry the momentum of the tale. There is a patchwork quality to the various stops the protagonist makes along the way, and in this you can almost see the author working behind the curtain even though we are told to pay him no attention. In The Conversions, and several of his other novels, Mathews is clearly indebted to the French writer Raymond Roussel, who taught him that what happens between the covers of a book is just what happens between the covers of a book, in other words, that a novel can be appreciated on its own terms and not necessarily on how it relates to the outside world. The novel is its own self-contained world, and whatever transpires through its storytelling supports its own logic, its own “reality.” This frees imagination to really do the work it intends from the outset, to create a work of fiction. In the words of Hassan-i-Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” [via]

Leaving the Atocha Station

Hermetic Library fellow John Eberly reviews Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner.

Ben Lerner Leaving the Atocha Station

Leaving the Atocha Station follows a young American man abroad in Madrid on a Fellowship to write a series of contemporary poems based on the Spanish Civil War. This project he divides into five parts we never see as we follow his inner journey fueled by obsessions with art, women, travel, social relationships, and general anxiety. His habit of embellishing things in order to observe what effect such behavior might have on those around him, to his amazement and frustration, effects him most of all. This emotional sleight of hand permeates the perspective—there is no “plot” per se—of the book, as the character finds that when one allows an Other the opportunity to also embellish their life story—in order to feign interest in them—this post-projection may or may not overlap with virtual version(s) of his own experience. Eventually, a many-layered dance of dual deception may result in the desired consummate act, which immediately disappoints the self, the Other, or both, or will someday, when it fails or falls short of the ideal that prompted a suspension of belief in the first place. Thereafter (if indeed the ruse has not failed prior to the act) by stages self-reflection reveals only pale shades of the deep coloration the imagined relationship originally promised. The juxtaposition of fantasy colliding and competing with reality runs right up against a random terrorist act that confounds the young man: should he participate directly in History as it unfolds, or simply abstract the event as he imagines it into an emotional response resulting in art as artifice, as he has attempted by way of idiosyncratic survival instinct in his personal relationships? This is the first novel by Topeka, Kansas born Ben Lerner, who has three previous collections of poems to his credit including National Book Award finalist Angle of Yaw (Copper Canyon Press, 2006). Well written and evenly paced, this novel explores the psychological nuances of a gifted young person confronting the multitude of conflicting intellectual responses available to interpret the often confusing and unpredictable possibilities of human experience. [via]

The Ghosts of Memory

Hermetic Library fellow John Eberly reviews the books of W G Sebald.

Sometimes conventional labels fail us. This is certainly the case with the hybrid style of the late post-WWII German writer W. G. Sebald. Is it fiction or non-fiction? Narrative? Memoir? Reportage? Biography? Travelogue? A synthesis of all of the above connected at times by the faintest of associations that produce a unique, compelling dream-like effect on the reader might be a workable definition of the Sebald style. The only other writer of the twentieth century who vaguely compares with him might be Thomas Bernhard, who Sebald acknowledged as important, but this similarity is solely based on Bernhard’s more biographical writing. When one experiences what writer Rick Moody calls “textual compulsion” regarding the addictive quality of Sebald’s experimental prose, you see that there is no peer for this author, there is only corpus Sebald. It is, however, a relatively brief corpus, considering that during a lifetime cut short by a fatal automobile accident at the age of 57 in 2001, he produced only four works of what is commonly considered “fiction,” or novelesque prose: Vertigo (1990), The Emigrants (1996), The Rings of Saturn (1998), and Austerlitz (2001)—not counting three volumes of poetry and the excellent posthumous collection of essays, On the Natural History of Destruction (2003). All of his writing in some measure explores an obsession with Germany during World War II and the aftermath of loss and denial on the German people. Sebald artfully uncovers a hidden history of the imagination framed within the architecture of presumed fact and memory. Melancholy, the muse of philosophers and writers of a much earlier time, runs like a black river through the stories retold by characters–including the author himself—who strain to recall a past that just might be real: or not. Time and again he asks us: exactly how well is present reality served by memory? For Sebald, our lives reflect the tenuously connected fragments of experience collected that serve as reminders of who we think we are–or were—or might be—and how this informs the choices we make–or may make—right now. At the time of his death, W.G. Sebald was on a short list of authors being considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He has received widespread critical acclaim while at the same time his work remains largely undiscovered by a larger general readership. This is a shame, because it would not be an exaggeration to claim that W. G. Sebald is one of the most interesting and important authors of the 20th century. [via]

From a Basement on the Hill

Hermetic Library fellow John Eberly reviews From a Basement on the Hill by Elliott Smith.

Elliott Smith From a Basement on the Hill

Perhaps the persistent image of the tortured artist is a romantic oversimplification. In the case of the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, the evolution of this idea as he envisioned it on his sixth [posthumous] album, From a Basement on the Hill is apparent in the last song’s title, “A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free.” On From a Basement on the Hill this distortion is in ample supply.

Similar to Kurt Cobain’s wish on In Utero to return Nirvana to it’s Bleach-era state of punk-rock purity, Elliott Smith approached what would be his last project with an all-consuming passion to recapture his d.i.y. Indie roots. An audiophile perfectionist who shared Cobain’s obsession with recorded detail—every mistake placed exactly where it is supposed to be—Smith recorded and re-recorded the songs on From a Basement on the Hill ad infinitum (who knows if he was truly finished tinkering with any of the recordings)? Reportedly disgusted with the slick production on his DreamWorks label releases X/O and Figure Eight, he systematically “degraded” From a Basement on the Hill tracks such as “Shooting Star” “Coast to Coast” “Don’t Go Down” and “Strung Out Again.” All of these at times sound jumbled up and muddy, but ultimately the mix works: everything tumbles beautifully into place on the brink of total collapse. These rockers are juxtaposed with some of the songwriter’s best trademark gorgeous, intimate acoustic guitar/vocal tracks like “Let’s Get Lost” “Twilight” “The Last Hour” “A Fond Farewell” and “Little One.”

But it is three songs in particular that otherwise defy description other than perfect, that put this cd over the top as Smith’s personal best. The first, “Pretty (Ugly Before)” is an affirmation of faith in the absolute notion that we can never truly love ourselves except in the abstract, that our utterly human acts are unconscionable, and the only forgiveness is found in the mirror of a soul we cannot be sure exists at all. “Is it destruction, that you’re required to feel? Or does someone want you, someone who’s more for real.”—He sings, reminding us of the last photos of Smith taken with bold self-inflicted ink calligraphy on his arms proclaiming KALI THE DESTROYER. The second, “King’s Crossing” begins with a schizophrenic’s head babble segueing into sustained feedback and an unearthly chorus of hell’s angelic choir, who transform into anguished blues Beach Boys… “…they tell me whisky works better than beer. The judge is on vinyl, decisions are final, and no one gets a reprieve…” The tension builds to a stomping drum break, crescendo, then back down, up again… “this is the place where time reverses, dead men talk to all the pretty nurses.” Truly spooky, epic, monumental, worthy of Carson McCullers stuff, with enough self-references to lead some to conclude its all one long suicide note. Now, you could just as easily say that was this guy’s life, so don’t dismiss it as a death trip without also flipping on the yin-yang…

The third, and most perfect among the three perfected songs is “A Passing Feeling” which easily explains what we all do naturally, and unnaturally for that matter: go ahead and live our lives while waiting for something to happen. The hook is “stuck here waiting for a passing feeling” delivered as if there is nothing else to do, nothing as important as grasping after those fleeting precious moments that never last long enough, that descend and depart like ghosts, leaving unrepeatable memories that we want to live over and over again anyway, often despite our resolve to do something else, maybe something considered more constructive or responsible. “took a long time to stand, took an hour to fall…”

Smith recorded much of the album at David McConnell’s Satellite Park studios; Satellite Park is located on a hill, hence the title From a Basement on the Hill. McConnell states that Smith wanted to use “Shooting Star” as the album’s opener, and considering that Smith’s remaining family oversaw the selection of the fifteen tracks used out of fifty total recordings, criticism that they “sanitized” what Smith conceived of as a double-album of 30 tracks, taking otherwise excellent songs with references to self-destruction like “Suicide Machine” out of the loop, may mean that their distorted reality is now a necessity to be free of guilt.

For some people, it is worth risking your life in order to create great art. Some seem to have no choice but to do so: go ask Vincent Van Gogh, he’s hanging out down at the bar with Elliot Smith. And the drinks are on the house. [via]