The Common Good
December 2004

What I'm Reading

by David James Duncan | December 2004

When I'

When I’m writing a novel I turn inward. To assist this turning, I don’t so much read as reread work with which I’ve wrestled for years. In recent months I’ve reread much of Dante’s The Divine Comedy - and realized yet again how much I prefer some of the people Dante condemns to limbo (Homer, Ovid, and Socrates, for starters) to Dante himself. Dante writes well when he waxes mystical, but when he waxes judgmental he writes dyspeptic Roman Catholic opera that I, for one, find about as "comedic" as a Republican op-ed or a stick in the eye.

I recently reread the poetry of two great Indian mystics, Tukaram and Shri Jnandev, both translated by Dilip Chitre, both tremendous. I reread Circling the Sacred Mountain, by Robert Thurman and Tad Wise, and will soon reread Thurman’s translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

A character in my novel in progress is a Jungian analyst living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. To feed him I just visited New York City and took long walks on the Upper West Side, and on the plane going and coming read C.G. Jung Speaking, edited by William McGuire and R.F.C. Hull.

In this era of neoconservative balderdash, I’ll close with a few lines of Jung’s from the year 1934: "The most tremendous danger that man has to face is the power of his ideas. No cosmic power on earth ever destroyed 10 million people in four years. But man’s psyche did it. And it can do it again....

"Mass infections are greater than man. In times of such infections, turn the eye of consciousness within to see what is there.... See what you can do in small ways.... What lies beyond is newspaper mythology.... What is important and meaningful to my life is that I shall live as fully as possible to fulfill the divine will within me. This task gives me so much to do that I have no time for any other. Let me point out that if we were all to live in this way we would need no armies, no police, no diplomacy, no politics, no banks. We would have a meaningful life and not what we have now - madness."

David James Duncan is the author of The Brothers K and The River Why.

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