You Are Right, Sahara

Everything about Leonard's 2006 book of poetry and Anjani's album
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abby
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby abby » Sat Jan 08, 2011 1:02 am

Late this morning when I got into my car I tuned my radio to our local solar powered station and after the community announcements of stuff for sale and barter the dj announced that the next song was by Sahara Smith- the Laredo one Diane mentioned. The song was lonely enough to be good, even. But I also don't think it has anything to do with the Sahara of Book of Longing.

So, Doron, if Leonard's consort is the sun, would Leonard be the moon? In another entry in Book of Longing, Leonard calls his religion dark and girlish, two words I might associate with the moon, for both meanings of moontime. But the sun is so much bigger than the moon, no? Or, the sun might cover up the shivering baby moon, too. Is the woman in the sky with wings the consort? I'm kind of excited to hear what you have to say on the drawings.

When I was going back through Book of Longing, I began turning down pages with drawings of women I thought could be Sahara. It could have been all of them.

Mat, I watched the beginning of the first video and all of the second. The first scene of the first video was gorgeous but the second, of the young man watching the couple dance, struck me deeper. Who do you think he is? I don't know anything about Sufism but read a couple of Coleman Barks's translations of Rumi yesterday, to no avail.
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mat james
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby mat james » Sat Jan 08, 2011 5:31 am

Hi abby,

Be patient with the first video. Watch it all; there are several short pieces.
What comes through to me is what might be called , passionate mystic intent. These dancers would "die" for love/union.
There is something noble and ferocious about their stark passion...something like Leonard's desire for Sahara, perhaps.

Sufism influenced Southern Spain via the Islamic occupation of Spain (Moors); and I suspect that the Spanish "Flamenco" and Argentinian "Tango" owe a lot to the Sufi mystics and their whirling dervishes. They are the masters of Eliot's sacred space, that "still point";
"...the still point of the turning world
there the dance is."

The second video is an extract from the movie "Scent of a woman".
Some Leonard Cohen fan has changed the music from a Tango piece to "Dance me to the end of Love".
A perfect fit. (I suppose that makes it a 'tango' too :idea: )
In the movie the male dancer, Al Pacino, is blind.
The young man is his "baby sitter" come acolyte for a few days. It is a flick worth watching.

Mat.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby DBCohen » Sat Jan 08, 2011 6:11 am

Well, those familiar with Book of Longing know that it is full if illustrations drawn by LC, some on separate pages, some accompanying the poems. Some pages have several illustrations, others have none (such as the “You Are Right, Sahara”, p. 44). In fact, the placing of the drawings seems rather arbitrary, so perhaps not too much meaning should be read into the drawings placed next to the “My Consort” poem (p. 37). The famous bottom two illustrations appear several times in the book. The second from the top appears also on p. 84 (and various other illustrations of naked women appear all along the book). The drawing on the top, though, is unique. There are very few other drawings done in the same technique, which seems to be watercolor (the illustration on p. 78 seems to have been done in the same technique, and perhaps one or two others). On the upper part there is the distinct figure of an angel, but the bottom figures are less clear. Perhaps it is only my imagination, but they seem to be an old man and a young boy. In that case, the scene is the very famous one from Genesis 22, depicted also in “The Story Of Isaac”: Abraham and Isaac are walking together towards the place of sacrifice, and behind the angle is seen the ram which was the last-moment substitute for Isaac. So as in other cases, the illustration is not really connected with the poem (unless we accept Greg’s interpretation, that “Sahara” has to do with “Sarah”, which will take us back to the story of Abraham). I am waiting to see whether other plausible interpretations to the drawing will be offered (I may have one more in mind, but right now I’m captivated by the above interpretation).

I forgot to mention earlier that “Sahara” is mentioned a third time in the book, on p. 20, towards the end of the long piece “The Collapse of Zen” beginning on the previous page, in which LC expresses his frustration and doubts concerning his commitment to Zen meditation, especially when thinking about what he could have done with women instead, such as: “...I wheeze my way / up to the station of Sahara’s / incomparable privacy…”. I believe this poem was not previously discussed on the Forum, so perhaps we should take it up too.

And about the sun and moon, I apologize, but I must postpone my response for later on.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby lizzytysh » Sat Jan 08, 2011 7:57 am

Been enjoying this thread immensely like a very nutritious and satisfying meal.
The drawing that comes to my mind when I see the name Sahara is the one that Leonard drew for Roshi and apologized, calling himself a useless monk.
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby DBCohen » Sat Jan 08, 2011 8:44 am

Just a few quick words about the question of sun & moon.

Abby says that if the Consort is the sun, LC might be the moon. Well, this is an intriguing possibility, but I’m not sure I’ve encountered it elsewhere in his poetry. On the contrary, as he famously said: “You know who I am / You’ve stared at the sun…” 8) So images can shift according to need.

The locus classicus where sun and moon meet in LC’s poems is in “The Window”, but I beg your indulgence in this matter; I’ve written at length about this in an article which is to be published next month, and which after publication could be placed on the Forum for everyone to read and comment upon. Thanks for your understanding.
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TineDoes
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby TineDoes » Sat Jan 08, 2011 7:34 pm

This is an inspiring thread.
Mat, Thank you for the great dance videos.
Quoting you: "The whirling dervish, or any transcending mystic needs to drop into his center of spin and at that “still point” he aligns with the centre of the “I Am”; Love perhaps."
A little bit off toppic:
In regards to Whirling dervishes, also in connection with the thread 'Lover lover lover viewtopic.php?f=9&t=17213&p=246695#p246695 , I have been wanting to upload this video for a long time and at last I have managed to do it.
The actual whirling is at the end of the video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgAlxoAFl7E
Diane wrote: It's hard to accept that there are some journeys you have to make alone.
Diane, Your (given) description of the silence of the desert really touched me. I see the connection with the experience of that silence with the "still point" at which the derwish danser is, in that you must go there alone.
Tineke
Last edited by TineDoes on Thu Jan 13, 2011 4:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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mat james
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby mat james » Sun Jan 09, 2011 3:40 pm

Hi Tine and all.
Great threading of ideas going on here..
you must go there alone.
"...The flight of the alone to the Alone" (around 250 A.D)
Plotinus distinguishes three cognitive stages. (1) In sensory experience we are provided with images which, however, are not always or universally reliable. (2) Reason, the theoretical part of the individual soul, then works on the images so as to transcend sensory experience [a] and facilitate the practice of science and philosophy [I, 3]. (3) [For example, VI, 9.] The soul then passes beyond this to become united with nous before finally enjoying a mystical and ecstatic union with the One , in which it loses all consciousness of itself. This is what Plotinus calls "the flight of the alone to the Alone" [VI, 9, ix].

http://www.philosophos.com/philosophica ... e_029.html
I know that by quoting this chap or that chick we end up going 'round in circles...but that circling is strangely on song :lol:
Plotinus has a very Hindu-ish Atman/Brahman "spin" on mysticism...and I love it. Of course Plotinus was around a long time before the Sufi's....or was he?
Discussions like this thread make one come to the conclusion that people have bee doing these "whirling" practices across cultures for a long time. Think of the "Red Indians" (first nations) dancing around their campfire for days on end or the Australian Aboriginals doing similar dances/practices for the last 60,000 years.
Spinning into connection with the infinite, around a campfire, is it seems, a time honored tradition of pre-civilized humanity.

Anyway, spiraling back to our friend Leonard and the desert and Sahara......Have you ever seen a "whirly whirly"? A little dust storm that swirls around nearby your camp picking up dust and sand and tumble weeds like a tiny little cyclone?
Then for a thousand years, or the rest of the afternoon, such a One spins

"...a thousand years or the rest of the afternoon" :lol:
A thousand years seems a bit long. I'll take the afternoon 'spin' thanks.

I need a whiskey,...the flight of the alone to the Alone (man, I love that image!)
If nothing else, you people and Leonard take me to a great space.
Thanks Diane, Tine, Abby, DB and All,

Mat.
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby Diane » Mon Jan 10, 2011 2:45 pm

Mat wrote: Have you ever seen a "whirly whirly"? A little dust storm that swirls around nearby your camp picking up dust and sand and tumble weeds like a tiny little cyclone?
A whirly whirly:-)

Thank you for the kind words, Tineke. I am glad you and Abby brought up Mat's dance video again. I watched it properly this time, and the Ravel part especially is brilliant. Thanks very much also for the direction to your instructive post about Whirling Dervishes, and for that marvellous video!

I was thinking that I may I have "whirled". I have been a few times in a 'dancing meditation' situation, where music of variable tempo is played for a period of about 20 minutes at a time, and everyone is instructed just to let the music take them. Even when it is an unfamiliar exercise, once you lose your self-consciousness, the music takes you in all directions, and the body's balance mechanism works beautifully to keep you both upright, and from crashing into other people. This effort(lessness) of balance (the 'still point'?) holds you in a very satisfying place and it is a wonderful and transporting activity. Spinning around comes pretty naturally to many people, in this scenario, and other similar scenarios, and probably always has, as you say Mat, and this whole thing about spinning, be it for eternity or the afternoon, is rather fascinating.
Tineke wrote: Lately a friend of mine also mentioned the similarities between Sufi music and the arrangement of Who By Fire. In fact she made a copy of this song for a Sufi friend of hers who had never heard of Leonard Cohen but who recognized this as Sufi music.
I guess the term "Sufi music" encompasses a lot of devotional music from Islamic cultures (esp. the Qawwali music of Pakistan), but on the Sahara theme, I must mention Gnawa (or Gnaoua), because its sound struck me forcefully when I first heard it (I wrote about that some while ago and we discussed it briefly in a thread originally about Habib Koite, here: viewtopic.php?f=16&t=8502). I re-copy a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BZLI3-bYhE.
The name Gnawa is taken from one of the indigenous Languages of the Sahara Desert called Tamazight... Gnawa musicians are practitioners of a musical-spiritual tradition rooted in Sufism, a mystical strain of Islam. The Gnawa tradition has its deepest roots in the Arab slave trade, in which sub-Saharan Africans were kidnapped and brought north over the desert to the Maghreb, in modern-day Morocco and Algeria, though today there is no ethnic dimension to it. Gnawa musicians, mystics, and dancers provide a communication conduit between people and the jinn, unseen beings of smokeless fire that are important not to anger. The word is the source of our "genie". Gnawas play deeply hypnotic trance music, marked by low-toned, rhythmic sintir (guimbri) melodies, call-and-response singing, hand clapping and cymbals. Many modern Western scholars see parallels between Gnawa music and African American music such as the blues, that is rooted in African-American slave songs. This influence also resonates from other spiritual Saharan groups and these similarities are seen as reflecting a shared experience of many African diasporic groups.
The tempo and use of rhythmic repetition in this music is compelling. Crucially, it seems to somehow interrupt your thought process, binding you to the rhythm. This is how I experience it, anyway. Elements of Gnawa are in the music of bands such as Nass el Ghiwane (the name means "the new dervishes"), and 'Desert blues' bands, such as Tinariwen, Toumast and Etran Finatawa. Western artists, e.g Robert Plant, Justin Adams, have also created fusions.

Returning to LC, I imagine he wrote You Are Right Sahara as a continuous piece (without line breaks), to help maintain the rhythm - and it does have an excellent rhythm - and to make it spin:-)

Before getting back to the serious side of the moon, here's some Hafiz:
What Should We Do about that Moon?

A wine bottle fell from a wagon
And broke open in a field.

That night hundred beetles and all their cousins
Gathered

And did some serious binge drinking.

They even found some seed husks nearby
And began to play them like drums and whirl.
This made God very happy.

Then the 'night candle' rose into the sky
And one drunk creature, laying down his instrument
Said to his friend - for no apparent
Reason,

"What should we do about that moon?"

Seems to Hafiz
Most everyone has laid aside the music

Tackling such profoundly useless
Questions.

----------
From The Gift - Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master,
translation by Daniel Ladinsky
I am loving everyone's posts here too.
DBCohen
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby DBCohen » Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:23 pm

Diane,

I must apologize for being over-pedantic, perhaps, but I have a problem with that Spanish dance video, and specifically with the Ravel part that you’ve praised. It is clearly derived from the classic “Boléro” choreography by the late, great Maurice Béjart, who would not allow the staging of his work without a specific permission, and without following his specific choreography. The Spanish version is clearly taken from Béjart, but was radically changed in many aspects. I don’t know how or why this was allowed, but for me it was shocking, like the mutilation of a classic piece of art. I didn’t want to go into this here (always trying to stay focused!), but since it was mentioned, I felt I must comment.

I also must confess (and that’s to you, Mat) that I fail to see any resemblance between the whirling Dervishes and Flamenco dancing. To my eye they are clearly distinct. It is certainly fun to find connections between various phenomena, but things not always connect (with apologies to E. M. Forster).

I also wish to take issue with the distinction of the music of “Who By Fire” as “Sufi”; it does have an arrangement that could be termed “Mediterranean”, but not necessarily “Sufi” (and in what way is “Sufi” music distinct from the whole range of music common to Turkey and other lands of the region?). We must also remember that LC was quoting here from his earliest roots in the Synagogue, certainly in the lyrics and perhaps at least partially in the music. One might argue that all these musical forms hail back to the same sources, but still, clearer distinctions are required, in my mind.

My, my, I’m all negative today. Must have eaten something bad. I’ll look for a more positive angle next time.
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Diane
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby Diane » Mon Jan 10, 2011 5:57 pm

Doron I don't really know this Bejart Bolero ballet to which you refer, so ingnorance is bliss here, to me. Maybe if I knew this original, I would see the flaws in the interpretation in the video Mat posted, but I did thoroughly enjoy the drama of the Ravel part. Anyway, peasants have always danced in the caves while the cultured (possibly a little stiffly) enjoyed their more refined art;-)

I was wondering too what would be Sufi in particular about Who by Fire.

I must mention that I have today received a postcard from Las Vegas. That's very thoughtful, thanks everso to you and those others who signed !!
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby TineDoes » Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:09 am

Diane wrote:Doron I don't really know this Bejart Bolero ballet to which you refer, so ingnorance is bliss here, to me. Maybe if I knew this original, I would see the flaws in the interpretation in the video Mat posted, but I did thoroughly enjoy the drama of the Ravel part. Anyway, peasants have always danced in the caves while the cultured (possibly a little stiffly) enjoyed their more refined art;-)

I was wondering too what would be Sufi in particular about Who by Fire.
Diane, I know this is off the Sahara topic, but just this. Maurice Bejard was Founder of the Belgian Ballet of the 20th Century in 1960. He revolutionized Modern dance in Belgium and Europe. He died in 2007. He made a Choreography to Ravel’s Bolero which was in a film called Les Un et Les Autres in 1980. Here is a link to the Choreography. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rzj-1BH ... re=related
Do compare this and compare to Mat’s video. I do not agree that that Spanish version is taken from Bejard only in so much that there is one dancer verses a crowd. A bolero is a Spanish dance. The Bolerao by Ravel has been interpreted into dance may times. Recently in Amsterdam a dance group made achoreography to the Ravel’s Bolero which was directly based on dervish dance and consisted only of twirling. It was performed on National Television with the full Orchestra.


It was a woman singer of Sufi music from Irak, half Persian, who listned to Who By fire and remarked on the resemblance to Sufy music. The instrument played resembles an Arabian Lute and maybe the way it is accompanies the singing was familiar. When asked she would or could not say more about it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFIQMM8b ... re=related

Tineke
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"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

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Diane
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby Diane » Tue Jan 11, 2011 5:15 am

Watching the two back to back, I vote for the Spanish version, which seems to me to be a far more passionate interpretation. Even Torvil and Dean can't spin fast enough together to match it. That's very interesting too, about the Iraqui woman. Thank you, Tineke, for posting the extra information.

Doron, regarding the picture below the biblical scene alongside My Consort - and copied with The Cold poem on p.84 - it looks as if the woman is part of the man - but aloof and turned away from him. This feels true to the depictions of the remote woman, Sahara (assuming of course that the drawings are not randomly placed with the poems).
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby DBCohen » Tue Jan 11, 2011 7:35 am

Diane,

You are most welcome; I’m only surprised the postcard took so long to get to you. On the other hand, I’m still trying to shake off the cold I caught in Las Vegas, and I hear there are several people with the same experience. There was definitely something bad in the air there, on top of bad vibes that made me reluctant to get near that place, but having gone, I wouldn’t have missed it. The experience of that concert was beyond words.

I have more to say about the dance issue, but I promised to be positive so I wouldn’t.

Also, since everybody is loading videos, I thought I should throw in something too. So first, here is the great Ross Daly, whose color of music is perhaps Central-Asian, and going back to old Byzantine roots, but who is at home in the Mediterranean as well:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nJB1QUx ... re=related

And here is Bustan Avraham (“The Garden of Abraham”) an Israeli Jewish/ Arab ensemble of great musicians:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c51fKucj ... Bpzdnjb28T

Enjoy.
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby Judy » Tue Jan 11, 2011 11:59 am

Diane wrote: I am loving everyone's posts here
So am I, Diane ... and thanks to everyone Tineke, Mat, Diane and you Doron, for all these rhythm and dance videos ... I'd add some more but I don't know how to do it ...

Anyway backward focusing to "My Consort" and Sahara ... the first drawing reminds me of the ox herding picutres and the Ballad of the Absent Mare. LC's consort, the absent mare, is huge and she's shy and he longs to be lost "the flight of the alone to the Alone" or at the "still point" and afterwards, whenever this happens, he's ready to forgive everyone, including Sahara. I don't think he's at all disillusioned with his Zen experience. "The Collapse of Zen", where Sahara is again mentioned, is just part of the arguments along the way .....
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Re: You Are Right, Sahara

Postby DBCohen » Tue Jan 11, 2011 5:22 pm

Judy,

That’s a very intriguing idea, about the drawing, connecting it with the “Ballad Of The Absent Mare”, which in turn is connected with (or partially based on) the twelfth-century Chinese work of poetry and pictures in the Zen tradition, Ten Bulls or Ten Ox-Herding Pictures (I guess not everybody knows that), and back a full circle to the visual context. You also take us back to Zen, to the practice of which LC was very much committed, as we know, but he also liked very much to complain about it, as he did even on the films shot during his monk years on the mountain. So I’m sure you’re right in what you say about “The Collapse of Zen” as “arguments along the way”.

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