About B Gourley

Bernie Gourley is a writer living in Bangalore, India. His poetry collection, Poems of the Introverted Yogi is now available on Amazon. He teaches yoga, with a specialization in pranayama, and holds a RYT500 certification. For most of his adult life, he practiced martial arts, including: Kobudo, Muay Thai, Kalaripayattu, and Taiji. He is a world traveler, having visited more than 40 countries around the globe.

POEM: Scrapping Labels

The brain wants slap a label on everything it comes in contact with —

good… bad
pleasurable… painful
smart… dumb
naughty… nice

Having reached the time and disposition to tear away these labels, I find that some are stuck fast —
though they went on with the ease of a sticky note.

And so I unpack concepts and scrap labels —

sometimes with ease
&
sometimes tediously.

Three Kyōka

I
the post-perched bird
remains still, but for its eyes,
which dart about —
below, fish shoot and jink,
thinking the post oddly shaped


II
the mountains reflect
off of that glassy lake
with such clarity;
all know which mountains are true
except for the fishes


III
behind the barracks,
some local women gather
to bath at the well.
he pretends not to look
they pretend not to be seen

BOOK REVIEW: Cold Mountain: One Hundred Poems by the T’ang Poet Han-Shan

Cold Mountain: One Hundred Poems by the t'Ang Poet Han-ShanCold Mountain: One Hundred Poems by the t’Ang Poet Han-Shan by Hanshan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This brief collection gathers one hundred poems from the T’ang Dynasty poet Han-Shan. Most of the poems included consist of a single eight-line stanza of unrhymed verse of varied meter. [With a few exceptions that had more or fewer lines (often four or twelve.)] I do like that they didn’t pad out edition that I read with a lot of inane babble [as publishers are want to do when a volume is on the thin side.] Part of the reason that they may not have done so is that there is virtually nothing known about the author. It’s not even known whether there was a Han-Shan (i.e. as opposed to a group of people whose poems were anthologized under one name.)

The poems reflect Taoism’s disdain for pretension, authority, or scholarship for scholarship’s sake. Many of the poems reflect Zen sensibilities (which became entwined with Taoist sensibilities.) That is to say, like Zen koan, they seek to interrupt the tendency to overintellectualize matters. That said, in places the poems take a bit of a mocking attitude toward Buddhism. Nature plays prominently among the poems. And some of the poems are humorous or irreverent.

There are footnotes that are helpful in explaining verse that references teachings and events that would have been known to Han-Shan’s readership back in his day, but which most individuals who aren’t experts on Chinese folklore, literature, or religious teachings wouldn’t be likely to get, otherwise.

I enjoyed these poems tremendously. While I can’t say how they related to the original text, the translations were — on their own – works that conveyed wit and wisdom. I’d highly recommend this collection for poetry readers.

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BOOK REVIEW: Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction by Stephen Mumford

Metaphysics: A Very Short IntroductionMetaphysics: A Very Short Introduction by Stephen Mumford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Metaphysics is a subject that gets complicated quickly. Like physics, it covers a wide swath of territory –many of the most fundamental questions of the universe — but (unlike physics) it doesn’t hold much promise of zeroing in on definitive answers. There’s just reasoning that is closer or farther from reflecting reality. Mumford makes a sound decision to avoid the usual approach of starting with a mile-high overview of the subject, probably rightly concluding that it would become an indecipherable mess quickly.

Instead, over ten chapters, Mumford starts with the simplest questions asked in metaphysics [relatively speaking] and proceeds to incrementally move toward the more complicated ones. In Chapter 1, he asks, “What is a table?” There’s nothing particularly crucial about a table. It’s just an item that is tangible, without a lot moving parts / complexity, and – thus — is the kind of thing that few people would discount as being real. However, even here at the shallow end of the pool, questions pile up about what even such a simple item really is, and under what circumstances it can be said to continue to be that thing. [e.g. One gets into Theseus’s ship kind of questions – i.e. if one replaces all the individual parts of a table to what degree does it remain the same object.]

Chapter 2 shifts from what the first chapter called “particulars” to what are herein called properties. [e.g. The redness of a fire engine. The roundness of a racetrack.] Are properties real? Could you take them away from a particular? If you could, what – if anything – would it be that remained. Chapter 3’s question is, “Are wholes just the sum of their parts?” In the case of the aforementioned table, this question might seem a lot easier to answer than if the object in question is oneself. We all intuitively feel that we are more than the sum of our bones, and skin, brain, etc. But are we? Even if a child’s toy blocks are nothing more than the summed blocks, might not a human being or a dog be vastly more.

I will propose that chapters four through six are closely related (though no such division is made by the book’s table of contents.) All of the questions addressed by these chapters hinge on our experience of time, and none of them would be questions if we didn’t experience one thing after another. Chapter four explores the nature of change. Chapter five is about cause and effect. The subject of cause raises all sorts of interesting questions because we often see examples of caused effects, but we also seem to read cause and effect into situations in which they don’t really exist. (e.g. The often-sited error of mistaking correlation for causation.) Chapter six takes on the subject of time directly. There are many different theories of time. With respect to metaphysic’s most basic question of “what is real?” one quickly comes up against different hypotheses. Some think only the present is real. Some believe the past and present are real, but the future couldn’t possibly be. Still others think the whole experience of time is an illusion.

Chapter seven gets into the metaphysical question that is both most intimately interesting and among the most challenging, and that is, “What is a person?” This is interesting in that we all tend to feel we know what a person is, at least one feels that one knows what one is, but views abound – from the Buddhist notion that the self is an illusion to various religious approaches proposing we are fundamentally a soul or spirit, to materialist interpretations that suggest – in all likelihood – we are the sum of our parts and their activities.

Chapters eight and nine retreat once more from tangibles to ask what is the nature of a possibility (ch. 8) and whether nothing can actually be thought of as a thing [and what the ramifications are of doing so] (ch. 9.) Both of these cases are interesting because they have no simple answer and in different cases different answers suggest themselves as truer. When a possibility is of high probability it may seem sound to treat it as if it were a [potential] reality, but following that reasoning toward the lowest probability happenings quickly results in absurdities.

The final chapter gets around to the overarching question of what metaphysics is, but it also deals with the question of whether metaphysics is relevant. Some say metaphysics amounts to little more than mental masturbation. Others feel that science has replaced metaphysics in all the important ways and more.

The book has a “further reading” section at the end. There are a few graphics throughout the text, but the book is primarily textual.

I found this book to be quite useful. I think the author took a smart approach with its organization and does a good job of avoiding getting lost in the weeds (which is a perennial risk in these types of works.) Mumford uses pop culture references and the like when they make approachable examples, and — in general — does a good job of keeping an eye on readability. If you’re looking for an introduction to metaphysics, this volume is worth checking out.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Boys, Vol. 1: The Name of the Game by Garth Ennis

The Boys, Volume 1: The Name of the GameThe Boys, Volume 1: The Name of the Game by Garth Ennis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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If you weren’t familiar with this comic book, you’ve probably at least seen promos for the streaming series adaptation available on Amazon Prime Video. After watched season one, and as season two is currently in release, I decided to give the source material a read. As with “Preacher,” this presents its own challenges in keeping the comic book and series straight. This is because (as with “Preacher”) there is a common cast of major characters, but significant differences in the story and details. That said, the book and series both open in a similar way with Hughie being drawn into the action by a tragic event involving a superhero (A-Train, this team’s version of the DC character, Flash) and Hughie’s girlfriend.

If the description of A-Train as – essentially – the same as the Flash makes the book sound derivative, it is intentionally so. In a nutshell, “The Boys” takes the Justice League and gives the characters nasty personality traits, ranging from pettiness to madness, and then centers the story not on the superheroes but on a group that works to check those “heroes’” power from the shadows (i.e. the titular “Boys.”) So, A-Train is fast like the Flash, but he lacks Barry Allen’s intellect and soft-spoken mannerism, and so – conversely – A-Train is a high school jock dialed up to his most vain and brash form. The other members similarly have unappealing personality traits, and even full-blown dark sides. This divergence between is most intensely seen in Homelander (the Superman of this series, but without the Man of Steel’s perfect moral compass and stoic Midwestern calm,) but even Noir (the Batman of the group) is intended to make Bruce Wayne seem like a well-adapted beacon of light by comparison.

The six issues contained in volume one both tell the tale of Hughie’s reluctant entrance into “The Boys,” and follows him through his first mission as the newly reassembled Boys take on “Teenage Kix.” (A youth superhero group which is to “The Seven” as the Teen Titans are to the Justice League.) Having Hughie in the role of the group’s “everyman” would be an odd choice in real life because it puts a rank amateur on a team of professionals who are already outgunned. From a narrative point of view, however, the appeal is clear. It creates emotional stakes within a group that is otherwise stone-cold killers (if with some positive personality traits to subvert expectations.) Hughie’s naivete and raw fear is particularly necessary in the book because the stakes are somewhat lessened by the fact that the Boys are not as severely outmatched as they are in the series (in the series “The Female” is the only superpowered member of the “Boys.”) The decision to recruit Hughie is explained both by the desperation of the team’s leader, Butcher, and his desire to include someone who is personally driven. There are not a lot of people willing to sign on to take on a two-faced lunatic with the powers of Superman (i.e. Homelander,) and Hughie is uniquely motivated by the tragedy of his girlfriend’s death to go after superheroes who’ve been corporately levered above the law.

The comic is a bit more sexually graphic than the series, though in some ways the series is more viscerally horrifying. (As I mentioned, in the series the Boys – excepting one – are in no way capable of going toe-to-toe with the enemy.)

The art is well drawn and colored and I didn’t have any problems following the happenings conveyed graphically.

I enjoyed this comic as I have with other Garth Ennis works. At least this volume was a bit more lighthearted and not as visceral as the series, but I don’t count that as a good or bad thing. Just different and just appealing to different states of mind. The comic is funny in places and action-packed in others. If you are interested in the concept of neurotic to psychotic superheroes and what it would take to keep them under control, it’s worth giving this book a read.

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BOOK REVIEW: Introducing Sartre: A Graphic Guide by Philip Thody

Introducing Sartre: A Graphic GuideIntroducing Sartre: A Graphic Guide by Philip Thody
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Jean-Paul Sartre was a French philosopher, author, and critic, and this introductory guide discusses each of those aspects in descending order of emphasis – meaning it’s largely about his philosophy but it offers insight to his literary works and touches upon his criticism. This is the third book in this series that I’ve read, and I found it to be the best, so far. The other two books I’ve read also each explored the work of a philosopher (fyi – the others were Baudrillard and Kant,) and I think this one was the most appealing to read because it was able to draw upon Sartre’s literary work to convey his philosophical ideas more narratively. Because of this, the book required less intensity of concentration to keep complicated concepts and jargon straight. (Not that any of these books is particularly challenging, but with the hook of characters and stories it’s that much easier to hang on the ideas being expressed.)

As with the other books in the series, the book consists of many tiny sections, each of which uses graphics (usually in the form of cartoons) to emphasize certain information. In the case of this book, there were about seventy-five sections. Many of the sections discuss biographical aspects of Sartre’s life, and influential world events he lived through. The philosophical sections delve most heavily into the existentialist and phenomenological concepts most closely associated with Sartre, but also investigate his political philosophy. With regards to his political philosophy, there was extensive discussion of Sartre’s ideas about freedom and Marxism. Sartre was an ardent advocate of Marxism, but – like many – the theoretical appeal it held for him was somewhat tarnished by the brutal realities seen in Russia and the Eastern European satellite states. As alluded to, there are sections that discuss historical events as they pertain to shifts in Sartre’s thinking.

There are sections that explore Sartre’s various literary and philosophical publications – most notably “Nausea” which is Sartre’s most well-known literary work and which contains some of his most influential ideas. As for his work as a critic, the book focuses heavily upon Sartre’s writings about Baudelaire.

The graphics are all black-and-white cartoons, most of which serve a function similar to text-boxes in reiterating key concepts, or sometimes showing competing ideas in the form of a discussion. They are simply drawn and easy to follow.

I found this to be a useful way to gain some insight into the work of Sartre, who was little more to me than a familiar name before reading this book (though I was aware of his affiliation with existentialism.) If you are looking for a concise guide to Jean-Paul Sartre, this book is worth checking out. I read it via Amazon Prime.

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