Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent sinological book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017. His newest book of poems in Dutch, Intocht (Introit) has been available as a POD from the American Book Center since June 2018.

He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.

Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog. His newest book of poetry in Dutch is Intocht (Introit), issued by the American Book Center in June 2018.

After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In June 2019 he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of National Taiwan Normal University. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. For many years he sang in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Astrology: Is Where I Am, Who I Am?

Is Where I Am, Who I Am?[1]

1. Charts, changes, and changed charts

Even for those of us (like me) who don’t strictly ‘believe in’ it, astrology can be a helpful source of liberating alternative suggestions – possibilities of getting beyond the limiting recursiveness of rationality. ‘Putting on a different pair of glasses,’ as the Dutch idiom puts it. And as the American astrologer Marc Edmund Jones liked to say, sometimes we can learn a lot from make-believe.
        One of the less well-known types of horoscope is the so-called ‘relocation chart.’ This, like our birth horoscope, is calculated for the exact day and time of our birth, but unlike the birth chart, it is geographically anchored not in our birthplace but wherever we want the relocation to refer to. It could be the place where we are now living, a place where we are considering living in the future, or even the place where we will attend an important meeting next week. The idea is that such a chart shows how our inalienable (and unvarying) ‘potential,’ given a new focus in a new setting, may gain a different, perhaps a more favorable ‘manifestation’ or ‘actuality.’[2] We can never re-stage our birthday, nor fundamentally change the physical body that we received as of then – what Wallace Stevens once called ‘the unalterable necessity of being this unalterable animal.’[3] But a change of environment does amount to a new ‘body’ of circumstances, a new em-bodi-ment of the interactive energies that we bring with us. Call it if you will a ‘virtual’ body.
        When I turned sixty – attained, in other words, what the Chinese call the da shou 大壽or Great Longevity – I happened to be not in my country of birth which is the USA, nor in my country of residence which is Holland, but in my dream country which is Taiwan. Musing about the roles played by these various ‘locations’ in my life so far, I sat down and calculated the relevant relocation charts. The results were amazing.
        Even the manner of calculation betrayed me as a Relocator. Unlike American astrologers, I calculate the ‘house’ boundaries by the Ascendant Parallel Circle method, and figure the place of the planets by their so-called Actual Positions (werkelijke plaats), as advocated by a specifically Dutch wing of astrology called the ‘Ram School.’ Theo Ram (1884-1961), whose book Psychologische Astrologie came out in the 1930s and as far as I know has never been translated, is one of the great theorists of 20th-century astrology. One of the many reasons why I am thankful to have learned Dutch is that otherwise I could never have read Ram, or some relevant works of his friends A. E. Thierens (1875-1941) and Leo Knegt (1882-1957). The studies and discussions of these three resulted in a type of horoscopy that must seem, to practitioners of more traditional systems, a heady brew indeed. These Dutch pioneers, and their latter-day followers, not only routinely work with planets that have ‘not yet’ been discovered by astronomers; you can even download an ephemeris giving the zodiacal positions of these ‘hypothetical’ planets![4] And even the positions of the known planets are not determined in the usual way, which is simply to take the zodiacal longitude as the position. Rather, the ‘actual position’ of each planet is calculated in a complex and time-consuming way (but here again, software can be downloaded) which relates the planetary positions to the individual’s horoscope frame, so that in contrast to the traditional method, not all persons born at the same moment have the same planetary positions. For example, in my own birth horoscope, by traditional reckoning the planet Venus is in Scorpio, but by the Ram School calculations it is in Sagittarius. If I had been born not in Wisconsin but in Holland, it would have been in Scorpio – but I am getting ahead.
        Supposedly our ‘radix’ (i.e., birth chart) is a fixed, unchanging picture of our ‘potential’ (Sun), our ‘being’ or ‘essence’ (Moon), and our ‘actuality’ or ‘manifestation’ (the Ascendant, i.e. the rising sign at the time of birth, which represents the body as the visible focus of our life). Yet the fixity seems difficult to maintain in practice. In interpreting one and the same horoscope, Ram uses both the recognized and the ‘hypothetical’ (what the opponents of this school would call ‘imaginary’) planets. Knegt, whose fanatical mathematical experiments and theorizings – Ram called him ‘the calculator’ – led to the notion of the all-important Actual Positions, ironically enough was never quite satisfied as to what his own Ascendant was, oscillating between the two very different signs Sagittarius and Capricorn.
        Far be it from me to assert that a relocation chart, being essentially a ‘birth chart’ for a birth that never actually happened, should have the same status as a radix. Still, I do believe these charts can shed a surprising and legitimate alternative light.
        Undoubtedly I have an inborn tendency to take just such an attitude. You can see it in my radix. At the time of my birth in America, neither Sun nor Moon was ‘in aspect with’ (i.e., a meaningful number of degrees away from) my Ascendant. In other words, my ‘potential’ and ‘essence’ could only link up indirectly, by mental and imaginative by-ways, with the physical ‘actuality’ around me. Having a radix that lacked concrete attachments to actuality, it was easy for me to conclude that one’s environment is not a stable entity but can always be traded in for a new one.

2. The Netherlands: Standing firm in the mud of Taurus

From the moment I arrived in The Netherlands in the fall of 1968, I was in a whole new ‘chart.’ The biggest obvious difference was that the Moon was now strongly ‘conjunct,’ i.e. together with, the Ascendant. My psyche or soul or ‘being’ was now right alongside my physical body in its interactions with the outer world. The Sun (vitality, spirit) was in aspect with the Moon, as were the planets of thinking and doing: Mercury and Mars. In short: this was a favorable time-and-space setting in which I could undertake things.
        But let’s be clear: much of my ‘undertaking’ remained more a private experience than a public reality. As I took up graduate study, and later teaching, at Leiden University, no one would have mistaken me for a go-getter. True, my Moon was conjunct the Ascendant, but she was in Taurus, sign of the earth and of matter in its heaviest, most unformed state. In describing this configuration, Ram writes: ‘First reactions are slow and mostly negative, so that the first impression made is of inactivity verging on the lazy.’
        In other respects as well, my career as a teacher in Leiden confirmed the words that Ram had written about me eleven years before I was born: ‘Not quite suited to being a professor, as concrete things do not really interest...’ In itself, it helped me that in my Leiden relocation chart both Venus (sense for art) and Neptune (mysticism and the fantastic) were in the sixth, the House of Analysis, so that Chinese poetry and philosophy were natural subjects for me to research. But I could never get excited about the newest book about just how many peasants had died in the so-manieth rebellion during such-and-such dynasty. To me such things were bookish details that were but marginal to the ‘essence.’
        Besides, in the relocation chart my House of Analysis was below the Horizon, remaining mostly invisible. The results of my research seldom reached the Mid-Heaven or Medium Coeli, the top of the chart as drawn on the page, which represents the socially most prominent and visible aspect of each ‘native.’ What I published or gave out during my classes was never the full barrel but at most something on the order of a shot glass. (In my own defense, I might add that in those days in Holland we had still not imported the American publish-or-perish mania.) In the bureaucratic ranking system that governed university life, I never rose above the lowest of the three tenured levels. I did make it onto a list of teachers who were recommended for advancement to the second tier, called Chief Docent – but before my promotion could go through, the Queen announced a nationwide freeze on university promotions. The endless downward spiral of retrenchment had set in.
        There was no reason for me to be surprised. After all, Saturn, ruler of formal hierarchies and Lord of my House of Fame, was trapped in a backwater of my Leiden chart, far down at the bottom, the farthest down of all the planets. He was shut away in the fourth House, aka the ‘Shed,’which devours all forms. With me, cognition (or as Thierens would have put it, ‘becoming conscious’) always took precedence over outward sharing. And so, I thought, it would always remain.

3. ‘Het Eylant Formosa’: Taurus at the top

In Leiden I did, of course, succeed in managing my other-worldly ‘potential’ well enough to make something worthwhile out of my world. But before the world itself could really make something out of me, I had to wait till my fifties, when I started to spend long periods of time in Taiwan. In the relocation chart for Taiwan, my horoscope turned out to have undergone a quarter-circle turn. The Moon was no longer at the Ascendant point near the eastern horizon, but all the way up at the southern Mid-Heaven, standing there as the highest of all the planets,[5] ready to advance through the House of Fame. The smooth connection with physical reality was not diminished: the Moon, as well as Venus this time, was in aspect with the Ascendant. During this period, my Dutch free-verse version of the Psalms, which I had written out of a personal and private sense of being ‘in a clinch with God,’ was published. It won a prize, and I received invitations to go on television with it. A second printing was soon followed by a third. Selections from it began to appear in Dutch death notices and obituaries – surely the ultimate proof that my spirit had put down roots in the deep Taurus soil of Holland.
        At the same time, I again took up Tai Chi, the slow and seemingly effortless traditional Chinese exercises that I had first learned thirty years previously from the legendary Phoa Yan Tiong in Amsterdam. (Given the role of Taurus in my horoscope – in Ram’s words ‘immovable till the next incarnation’ – it was natural that I should be most attracted to a non-strenous form of exercise!) At first it seemed this was again just a matter of my own study and inner enrichment. My teacher Lin Mingchang, though one of the most respected in Taiwan, has never published books or DVDs, never founded a school. He has never told me the name of his own teacher. In my Taiwan chart, the planet that represents the Teacher is in the twelfth House, the one Thierens calls ‘the House of Hidden Work.’
        But here again, I could not long succeed in keeping the results for myself. Via my student Alvin Dahn, whose representative planet was strongly in aspect with my Mid-Heaven, I came into contact with the television hostess Wenyuan ‘Dodo’ Lee, whose cultural programs were avidly viewed not only in Taiwan but in other areas of the Chinese-speaking world. Before long she signed me on for a show called ‘Tai Chi and Poetry.’
        In these and other ways, in my Taiwan epoch, things that I had originally done ‘for myself’ were picked up and propagated by the larger world around me. They were such personal things that in a way, it was myself being disseminated. I was no longer trying to find ways of focusing on reality; I myself had become a reality that other people focused on. The world brought out sides of myself that I would not have thought could be so relevant to other people.
        But so...has it all been growth, all advancement? Has it all fitted together to form a unity in which past and present contribute to each other? Sitting in the ‘actuality’ of a recording studio with Dodo Lee, talking about my experiences with Tai Chi...would I need to bring something of my American ‘potential’ and my Dutch ‘being’ into our conversation? Wear an American baseball cap and occasionally lapse into Dutch idiom while we are on the Taiwanese air? Of course not. There is no need to repeat past happiness in the present. It remains where it always was.
And now, looking back on my three ‘actualities,’ my three births or three lives so far – should I try to evaluate, to compare? Should I wonder which of the three ‘charts’ was the best, the most fitting, the most truly ‘mine’? Impossible. How to judge, how to know what a life is about? Maybe the hours, the days that seem to us less important are exactly those in which we are most irreplaceable to someone else.
        In the self-made prayer that I say on getting up each morning (and yes, I do this in American English), one of the first phrases is: ‘I thank Thee for this day of my life, and for all the days of my life.’ Not: thanks, now let’s see here, for two percent of my life; the other ninety-eight percent that was not consciously ecstatic is well forgotten. And not: tonight, after I’ve seen how this coming day turned out, I’ll tell Thee whether I think it was worth being thankful for. No, it’s ‘for all the days of my life’ or it’s nothing. Thankful is thankful.

--Lloyd Haft

[1] This is a revised adaptation of an article originally published in Dutch: ‘Welke verjaardag noem ik de mijne?’ Tirade 421 (2007 no. 5, dec. 2007), pp. 48-53.
[2] I am using ‘potential/being or essence/actuality or manifestation’ to translate the recurrent Dutch trio ‘aanleg/wezen/werkzaamheid,’ which presumably has its origin somewhere in Schelling’s or Hegel’s philosophy and subsequently came down through writers like Ram and Thierens who were much influenced by Theosophy.
[3] From his poem Esthétique du Mal, section 13.
[4] See the website, under ‘publicaties.’
[5] In astrology, the sun and moon are both called ‘planets.’