About ten years ago, I posted a list of 10 questions on this blog, which I declared 'are of great interest to me, and which occupy a significant part of my thinking'. A list of questions that preoccupy me now would have significant differences, nonetheless, it's interesting for me to look at this old list, and think over how I approach these complex issues. I'll take a brief shot at each, outlining the direction in which I lean, deferring elaborations and arguments to the future. 1. What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of human existence?
There is a psychological question of what constitutes a subjectively meaningful life, and what are the factors that lead to it, and there is a philosophical question of whether there is an objective meaning or purpose to individual human existence. I think that any attempts along the lines of 'There is no objective meaning to our lives, but we create/decide the meaning of our lives for ourselves' to ground meaning …
Aati: "I'm actually glad to see you take this [blog] up again, because it felt like such a waste for it to be gone. A small defeat, the sort that goes unnoticed, like weary communists opening up businesses: cold hard reality encroaching upon our hopes and dreams. Forgotten blogs are what disappointment might look like. So I am glad. Gives me hope the dream still lives, waiting."
More fragments from Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore:
* "As long as there's such a thing as time, everybody's damaged in the end, changed into something else."
* [A prostitute quotes Bergson after giving a blowjob.]
"... man that was good."
"Like there's no past or future anymore."
"The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory."
* "... I have something I need to confess, too."
... "We're exchanging secrets, I see."
"Mine isn't a secret. Just a theory."
* I have to understand it, accept it, before it's too late. But I still can't make out that delicate writing left on the shore of my consciousness. There's not enough time between one wave and the next.
* "A bit of shape and form has disappeared from the world, increasing the amount of nothingness."
There is something about Twitter that brings out feelings of existential angst in me in a manner and degree that no other social media platform does. I am painfully reminded of what Heidegger calls das Gerede, the endless chatter; it is a surrender to das Man, ‘the they-self'/'the they'; a socialized, superficial, inauthentic mode of being; the clamor of the multitudes. (Heidegger says that the chatter serves to distract and insulate us from the confrontation with das Nichts, the Nothing.)
I am embarrassingly aware that a lot of my offline and online social life would be considered das Gerede in pure Heideggerian terms. I am not trying to be broadly dismissive of twitter or social media in general. I know that many people, including myself, have found some measure of authenticity through these platforms, which was otherwise lacking in daily lives. There is also nothing inherent to Twitter than makes it more inauthentic than, say, Facebook or Instagram. Perhaps it has to d…
This is a collage made from details of various paintings and photographs that I came across during my visit to Museum of Modern Art today. I did not note down the names of these artworks and their respective artists, and while contextual information regarding these works is vanishing fast from my mind, the images remain vivid in my memories; the collage intends to capture this phenomenon. The experience of art that lingers in my mind is a de-contextualized experience of art; the details evoke associations, feelings and interpretations in me that likely have no proximity to the intentions of the artists. Disparate forms, separated in origin by decades and centuries, are enmeshed in my mind in a unique juxtaposition, creating a new holistic experience. Intimacy, politics, desire, symbolism, abstraction, all thrown in a blender... this is fodder for the unconscious, this is the stuff of dreams.
As I approach the beginning of the third decade of my life, I cannot help but acknowledge this yearning in me for 'a wilderness untamed by moralism, careerism and the strictures of conformism'. Not that I was ever a fan of the scripted life, but it feels like a tyrannous presence more than ever, and I am increasingly impatient of the 'the simple moral judgments of the uninitiated':
"Cracks in the foundations of our life narratives can have the surprising effect of clearing space for unforeseeable developments. Like the seeds that sprout in toxic soil, or push up through slabs of oppressive concrete, re-emergence and reinvention become possible. Instead of playing out familiar plotlines, which would otherwise escort us all the way to the tomb, we can take over the screenplays of our lives, and we can begin to spin the most quixotic yarns, set in a wilderness untamed by moralism, careerism and the strictures of conformism.
Although these types of crisis are typical…
"the inferences that I can make as to the external causes of my experiences are only as to structure, not as to quality. The inferences that are warranted are those to be found in theoretical physics; they are abstract and mathematical and give no indication whatever as to the intrinsic character of physical objects.... we know nothing about the intrinsic quality of physical events except when these are mental events that we directly experience" (my emphasis)
Bertrand Russell, Mind and Matter
"The title is a nonsense phrase, meaning tangled beyond repair. Our narrator (who, with his excellent intentions and total lack of initiative, recalls Nick Carraway) hears it for the first time on his honeymoon. He has pounced on his new wife, Anita, in their hotel room, but can’t untie the drawstring of her sari’s petticoat. It’s all knotted up — ghachar ghochar, she says, reaching for a word from her childhood, a word invented by her little brother to describe a snarled kite string. The narrator is thrilled by this intimacy, to be welcomed into her secret language. In the morning, he gestures at the disheveled bedsheets, their entwined legs: ghachar ghochar." Parul Sehgal, writes about the novel Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag.
In NYT Modern Love, Jennifer Boylan writes about how she experienced a change in her male friendships after she transitioned from a man to woman: "I wondered if, among the male privileges I had surrendered in transition, a certain kind of romance-free intimacy with straight men was the first thing to go. From now on, even among the guys with whom I had been (and in some ways still was) closest, the not-too-far-off aroma of sexuality now hung in the air."
This reminds me of something I have been very mindful of in the recent years: vast majority of people struggle with the idea and actuality of intimate, opposite-gender (heterosexual) friendships, which are not primarily driven by sexual attraction. I am referring to individual friendships beyond workplace and group collegiality, displaying a closeness usually reserved for same-sex friendships. Such friendships are exceedingly rare... not because they cannot and do not exist, but because we sorely lack cultural and social nar…
Emrys Westacott at 3QD: 'The Greek term often translated as "happiness" is eudaimonia; but many scholars prefer to translate it as something like "flourishing.".... a human being who is not plagued by sickness, poverty, oppression, loneliness or misfortune, who freely cultivates and exercises their talents, and enjoys doing this as an active participant in a pleasant community, exemplifies human flourishing. One whose life falls short in various ways does not. [...] Today we tend to think of moral virtues solely as qualities that affect our interaction with, treatment of, and value for others: e.g. generosity, kindness, or courage. But the Greek term arete, which is often translated as "virtue," signifies, more broadly, any kind of excellence that enables a thing to perform its function. From this perspective, qualities such as, say, wisdom, curiosity, intellectual rigour, sensitivity to beauty, and discriminating aesthetic taste might be seen as mora…
'An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.' (Adrienne Rich)
Before we can do so, there is another delicate, violent, terrifying process we must undertake, the process of refining the truths we can tell ourselves. The two processes are linked, not only because one requires the other, but also because sometimes they only way to tell a truth to oneself is by telling it to another.
The degree to which one can bear truth - without dying of thirst at sea - relates to the degree to which one can love another deeply and honestly.
"We fall in love not just with a person wholly external to us but with a fantasy of how that person can fill what is missing from our interior lives." Maria Popova at Brain Pickings
Love is a complex negotiation between a psychological fantasy and the external reality, between what we lack and what we have, what we imagine the desired can offer us and what the desired can actually offer us. It's the dilemma of Procrustes: there is a bed in our hearts, but no visitor ever fits it exactly. And many times we do exactly what Procrustes did; we terrorize the ones the we love, amputating or stretching to make them fit. The problem is most conspicuous when it comes to love, because that is where we are most stringent in our idealism, but it applies to relationships of all sorts.
“In the hazy light of forest fire smoke, I looked across at the refineries and thought that the world was actually constantly ending.”
Mount Eerie, Forest Fire
Nitsuh Abebe elaborates on this in NYT Magazine feature New Sentences:
"In this sentence, looking through the haze of a nearby forest fire, that entire push and pull is condensed into two very ordinary adverbs, set back to back in a way adverbs seldom are outside incredulous rants. For a moment, the world seems to be actually ending — as in, not for him, but for a whole planet, burning and collapsing around him. And it seems to be constantly ending. That notion feels, for a moment, surreal: You imagine a world that wakes up each morning and slogs back to work on its final catastrophe, always on fire but somehow never done burning. It is constantly ending but never actually ends."
This beautiful review at Vogue, describing Song to Song as Anti-La La Land, drove me to see the film yesterday. One could easily mistake the film to be an ode to Rooney Mara's bare midriff, but I'm not complaining.
"And here is the key difference—aside from tone and setting, of course—between La La Land and Song to Song. The former is about how much must be sacrificed in pursuit of big dreams; the latter is about what you might risk by overindulging in that pursuit. Not all dreams merit giving everything else up, and not every dreamer is a dreamer through and through. It helps that Malick never makes the case for either Faye’s or BV’s extraordinary talent—just for the magic, the gravitational pull of their young love. Some of us, Song to Song seems to suggest, were never destined to be Iggy Pop, or Flea, or Johnny Rotten, or Patti Smith (or, for that matter, Cook). Some of us might be happier with something simpler—something, say, like a lifetime of cavorting on hilltop…
"given who we are, how should we listen to others about oppression? If we are lucky enough to be privileged, then the answer is this: closely, carefully, and with the right amount of epistemic humility." Grace Boey at 3QD
The Quiet World by Jeffrey McDaniel.
There is a certain asymmetry in the interaction: he carefully saves his words for her, but she doesn't. It is not stated, but there is a sense that this is a frequent occurrence. Even this is a romantic poem, and I think most readers interpret it in a more positive manner, I end up projecting a feeling of disappointment mixed in with the love.