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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Why is Death ‘The Great Upload’?

      In the blog post ‘What Do I Think Death Is?’ which appeared immediately before this one in April 2015[1], I call dying The Great Upload.
     This goes back to a line by T. C. Lethbridge that I read more than thirty years ago, which immediately rang a bell and I hope I will never forget. It was:

Man exists on many levels, of which the earth life appears to be the lowest. On this level he gathers information to be used by his real self on the levels above.[2]

      This ‘rang a bell with’ me, and has stood since then as a perfect statement of what I myself believe, for two reasons. It implies that (1) there is more to life than just physical life and the physical body is not our only ‘setting,’ and (2) we are here for a purpose that has something to do with consciousness (‘gathering information’).
        By way of visualizing this, just as a bit of imaginative make-believe, let’s say that every possible content of consciousness, everything you could possibly be aware of, is like a ‘dot’ in one of those old-fashioned newspaper pictures that were made up of dots on a white background. Or a dot in one of those join-the-dots puzzles that used to be featured in newspapers.
By the things you are doing, experiencing, thinking, and cognizing in this visible world, you are connecting some of the dots. But in this world, you will never see the Big Picture because we as individuals just don’t have, so to speak, software that could focus it. Maybe the, or a, Larger Provider does have such software. Or is in the process of developing it though our very efforts as we struggle with the parts of manifestation that come within our view.
A few additional rules would seem to apply:

1.     A ‘dot’ exists only to the extent that it is experienced by, or experience-able by, one or more persons.
2.         When one or more persons experience a dot, they thereby connect it with one or more preceding or following dots.
3.          When dots are connected, they tend toward forming a picture. The more the dots, the bigger the picture.
4.        Streams of dots which we have connected are in the same medium or on the same continuum with, and can be immediately linked into, streams of dots connected by others. This process goes on all the time whether or not it is consciously intended.
5.           Streams of dots which have been connected by former people in former times, and which for any reason have a particular affinity or applicability to our own, or which need our own context to gain intelligibility, can become linked or assimilated into our own. This is the explanation of the kind of experiences that are often taken to be evidence of reincarnation.
6.           The pictures which we are building or substantiating by viewing our parts of them in our world, go to make up a Big Picture. Or Pictures.
7.           A Big Picture is not our ‘own’ in the sense of only existing ‘within’ ourselves. On the other hand, it is our own in the sense that without our participation it would not exist.

So then, what we are doing in this world is to ‘get’ bits of consciousness...maybe even in the old sense of ‘begetting’ them, causing them to come to life...and to relate some of the bits with other bits. And, very importantly, to relate to other people who are similarly engaged. While ‘connecting’ the dots, we are also connecting ourselves, maybe even ‘assembling’ or ‘constituting’ what Lethbridge called our ‘real self.’
        But why do I say dying, and not living, is the Great Upload? Aren’t we engaged in connecting, expanding, clarifying and sharing Pictures every moment of our lives?
        Of course I think we are. But there is an added dimension that only dying can bring into it. That is the very fact that all of our experiences, our ‘dots,’ have been parts of a specifically human life. If our earth life did not have an end as well as a beginning, it would not be ‘rounded off’; it would not have a distinct form and would not be cognizable as a coherent entity. It is only by virtue of the Larger Frame that the Viewer comes into View.

--Lloyd Haft
April 2015

[1] (Link)

[2] The Essential T. C. Lethbridge, edited by Tom Graves and Janet Hoult with a foreword by Colin Wilson. London etc.: Granada, 1982, p. 188.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What Do I Think Death Is?

This spring, coming back to Holland after a wonderful carefree winter in Taiwan and Japan, I have been confronted from nearby with a sudden health crisis faced by a 92-year-old friend. The prognosis is still unclear: as the Dutch say, ‘Could freeze, could thaw.’
        Since I live nearby the eye of the storm as it were, I have been sending brief ‘reports’ by email to a few concerned friends. One of them was written shortly after an unflinching conversation in which the possibility of stopping medication was considered. Such discussions involve whatever one does or does not think about The Last Things, and in relating the main points in writing, I found myself formulating with unusual succinctness my own view as of right now (I’m 68).
        In Dutch, what I said was: ‘Ik geloof persoonlijk dat het fysiek-belichaamde leven noch het enige, noch het beste leven is dat er is. Wat de meeste mensen het "sterven" noemen en ik liever The Great Upload, is niet het einde ergens van. Het is het verder waarmaken van een wijder perspectief.’
        Then I got to translating it into English. What I came up with was: ‘Personally, I do not believe that physically embodied life is either the only or the best life there is. What most people call "dying" and I prefer to call The Great Upload, is not the end of anything. It is the continuing substantiation of a wider perspective.’
        As so often, although I felt the translation was a pretty good representation of what I meant, something had been lost in the process. The Dutch word ‘waarmaken,’ which I made into ‘substantiation,’ can or does indeed mean ‘substantiate,’ as well as ‘live up to’ in the sense of ‘living up to a promise.’ But the very structure of the word, its being a combination of ‘waar’ meaning ‘true’ and ‘maken’ meaning ‘make’...somehow conveys an added glint of ‘making it true,’ making something which was only potential into an actuality.

        Does this mean I think you have to die before you become immortal? Certainly not. Like William Blake, I believe the apps that enable our immortality, so to speak, are already installed and running during our life in this visible world. Normally we are not aware of them because the shine or glare of immediate exigencies bears in on us more insistently. But let’s defer that discussion for later. Or for Later...

--Lloyd Haft

April 14, 2015