Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Foreword to Altan Ovoo


Some thinkers feel that beauty, considered through the authentici thinking of a pure human mind, which contemplates and awakens to the true nature, is not an element fundamental to things.
While we can see Golden Hill as proving both how powerful this metaphysic is, and how it strikes the mind with a noteworthy truth, scholars who learn from similar styles, from a comparative scope of words and sentences, or from similar levels of creative genius, once they have read their fill and have savored the taste of the words in books, can nonetheless sense the weakness in their own work – the difference between what does and what does not constitute literature is as utter as that between the verdancy of the new year and the withered grass of the year just passed.
Despite the fact that G Mend-Ooyo’s gift is a melding of thoughts coursing along a whetstone mould, an original flow of nectar sucked from the extraordinary heritage of classical writings of Mongolian scholars, his work is also read today alongside that of earlier writers. Both in terms of heritage, as the swaying stacks of books increase over time yet to come, and in terms of those educated in Mongolian tradition of poetic song, his work is highly stimulating to all writers, young and old, and of whatever era.
One day in about 1974 or 1975 (I can’t remember precisely which year), B Rinchen came to the Mongolian Writers’ Union and, sitting chatting with some young writers, rather caustically said to me, “You’re like a lion with a full belly!” In response, as I twisted my beard, I asked him, “How am I a lion? How am I like a lion with a full belly?” Rinchen said, “A lion with a full belly doesn’t capture other animals, he just claws them. The animals which he savages don’t die, he just hacks them to pieces and then he goes away. So someone who writes books should not be like a lion with a full belly, right? He should be like a cat who catches a vole. Whether the cat is full or hungry, if he catches the vole then he takes it away with him. So, he’s enjoying himself, he bites the vole and then lets it go, he deliberately lets it run about and, as it does so, he catches at it with his claws, makes it lie still for a few seconds, and this goes on until it’s exhausted. If the vole moves, the cat claws at it again. He responds like this to every movement and, when it’s finally unconscious, he is quite content to partake of it. Similarly, when you write a book, you should behave like a cat catching a vole. It is only by worrying it to death, by holding out against its resistance until it cannot slip away anywhere, that a piece of writing can emerge fully-formed!”
Thinking now about the meaning of Rinchen’s admonition to my young self, the book is the vole and the writer is the cat, who “grabs the vole and eats it.” So, the only truly effective way of writing a book is actually to write it.
Keeping Rinchen’s metaphor in mind, when working on a book, supported by a staff of words, it is without doubt vital that, like the cat which killed the vole, one practises precision, distancing oneself from sloppiness, and that this be combined with an unstinting patience, the ability to keep going and authentically to marshal one’s thoughts.
Moreover, as we move on, leaving the cat to eat the vole, the act of erecting a book-stupa (this is Mend-Ooyo’s description) is like raising a temple supported firmly upon many columns.
What though for me is most easily understood is that, as Mend-Ooyo sat there, tirelessly chipping away at Golden Hill, there were tears of love, melting, flowing from the river of the wholeness of his heart.
The simple love of one’s homeland, one’s parents and one’s family…if we are simply concerned with the creation of fine literature, then this simple yearning for such things is a love in sadness, a selfish and slightly fearful love which seeks its escape while still observant, a sensitive and vigilant love, and this is the intimate and euphonious love which we find expressed in Golden Hill, a complete love like the food that is autumn’s airag, with its complex, twisting taste – this work is one of the cornerstones, a literary building-block which “illumines ignorant human minds.”
The pure spiritual world created through the act of naming - "Shiliin Bogd...the White Hill of Gangi, Dösh...Ganga Nuur, Bayan Duulan ...the Tufted Sands...Paradise...Duut Nuur, Lung Khairkhan …Kharaat...the Trio...the Khörög Tableland..." – the candle of these blessings is the tethered sun of Mend-Ooyo’s poetic mind, of shamans’ thoroughbreds, of the shining herd, and this is the mountainous Khangai, scattered with the dung of camels. Within the breast of this poet, who has the blessing of the Buddhas, whose eyes observe and whose mind makes manifest, is the skyblue land of Dara (the savior) and Ganga (the Mother-origin), it is the world in microcosmic vision.
Through the flow of power across the mirror of his mind, a flow which is not dependent upon the awakening of form, omens, intuition, dreams or feeling, the poet engages with the power of the local spirits and guardians of his own country, and passes to us a translation of the secret language of that country. His life being illuminated by the pure heavenly human mind, to this man the mountains and waters of his locality appear close, he proclaims words unheard by others. Perhaps it seems to him an interesting and incredible approach that people seek toinvestigate those truths which cannot be investigated.
According to Mend-Ooyo, “I imagine the causes of all things upon the earth threaded on a string”. As we pursue this “string of causality” with which Golden Hill is quilted together, we discover that “this is a string of magic and of the power of a mind which loves its homeland!”
In the journey of creating this book, Mend-Ooyo has travelled along the roads of other people’s minds and around the wheels of other people’s minds.
I cannot clearly explain either the human mind or the wheel. Perhaps I could not clearly explain it even if I were to study it!

What I have still to say is that, in the continual sewing and quilting of the words and chapters of Golden Hill, the author, the renowned Mongolian poet G Mend-Ooyo, has worked skillfully with the intricacies of the Mongolian language and has managed completely to eschew trite and commonplace expressions.
As an exemplar of the subtlety of the classical written language, with its fine and elegant style, Golden Hill gives great pleasure, but it does not necessarily stand out, like a pattern sewn upon silk. If the devoted mind, which unites in deep worship, and which we might characterise either as the human mind or else as the mind of a mother’s child, were briefly to indicate that this book was written through a mystical enchantment, the idea that it might be necessary to reveal such things by means of superfluous words might well be an attractive one…

D Uriankhai
Altan Tevshiin Khöndii
February 2007

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