new work: Sheila Heti & Ted Mineo
Sheila Heti recently came to Austin to read from her latest novel, How Should A Person Be? She spoke of the stories behind it and discussed some of the other projects she’s been working on. One such project is an adaptation of the I Ching, which she is working on with her friend Ted Mineo. They have kindly shared an excerpt of it with us.
The I Ching is an ancient Chinese philosophical and spiritual text that a person engages with by asking it a question, then throwing three coins, which reveals which of the 64 “hexagrams” to read for its wisdom in navigating the current situation. “Ching” means something like “Change,” and “The I Ching” is frequently translated as “The Book of Changes” because life is in constant flux. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of translations of the I Ching. What follows is a brief explanation of our collaboration and one of the 64 hexagrams from our book-in-progress.
TM: In 2011, Sheila and I were e-mailing about possible covers for the U.S. edition of How Should A Person Be? Somewhere in the exchange I had sent her jpegs of a drawing. It was a picture of a park that I had made just after the NYPD violently evicted the inhabitants of Zuccotti Park. I had been interested in drawing bits of street furniture (the railings, trash cans, and little slabs of concrete you find in every city) and thinking about how each of these objects might be used for unforeseen and revolutionary purposes. When I wrote Sheila about this, she suggested collaborating on a retelling of the I Ching. Each hexagram would feature one of my drawings. I initially had a rule for myself that each drawing should feature some sort of contemporary urban public space as a matrix through which Sheila’s hexagrams could be interpreted. That limitation fell by the wayside, and Sheila and I have continued to play with the structure of the project as we work on it. Often it mutates as we make it, like if you fed your kid lunch and it suddenly grew new limbs.
SH: I had been using the I Ching for several years before I wanted to make a book of it, but the idea remained just an idea for several years, until Ted showed me some of his new drawings and I saw that it would work well to collaborate on the vague I Ching book in my mind. For one thing, his drawings inspired me to think of the hexagrams more iconically. And also, it’s sometimes hard to do a massive project alone, and just as people sometimes try going to the gym with a friend or else they won’t go at all, collaborating on the I Ching makes it easier to move forward. I’m always excited to show a new passage to Ted, and I can hardly wait to see his drawings. We’re each other’s primary audience, which makes it a great pleasure—developing a visual and textual language together. We also created a mailing list of half a dozen people who we send a new chapter to whenever one is ready, to have some other eyes on it, and as a reminder that we’re not simply speaking to each other, but to other people, too.
The Creative empties what is full and offers abundance to what is modest.
When the earth is on top of the mountain, it means a time of modesty. At the bottom of
the mountain is a valley. Immodesty cannot stand the troughs. But the mountain in you
must be balanced by troughs. The earth presses the mountain into the ground. It fills up
valleys so the mountain is submerged. A man who fans the fires of his greatness to make
his name grow and grow is not a person who knows anything about the appropriate place
of a man in the world. In the case of such a person, the earth will balance life for him.
Better do it yourself than leave it to the Fates, for who knows what part of your life they
will darken and make lowly, if you do not correct yourself now.
Too much self-consciousness is immodest. Relating all that one encounters to the project
at hand is immodest. Daydreaming rather than working is immodest. Single-mindedness
is surely immodest. Self-deprecation is not true modesty—for the self-deprecating man is
unable to attend to important affairs. Shyness is not modesty, for modesty requires self-confidence.
Do not cultivate modesty aggressively, asserting your control. The modest man is open
and innocent. He understands nonaction. Modesty makes way for other people, and
adapts to influences unplanned. He does not think he is always right. He lets himself be
led. He does not look for approval and applause. Rather, he gives approval, he praises.
Modesty brings love to lonely places, comfort to pain, attention to what has been
Nothing is more radiant than a man who is truly modest. Those who balance their
greatness with lowliness are loved by all. They win help and approval from everyone, and
give help and love wherever they go. The immodest makes enemies along the way.
adapted from the I Ching