বিভাগ আর্কাইভ: বই

অবাস্তব ধরনের বই রিভিউ. এখানে, আমি পড়া বই আলোচনা, এবং আমার ইমপ্রেশন আমার পাঠকদের সাথে ভাগ. আমি বেশিরভাগ অ কথাসাহিত্য বা ক্লাসিক পড়া. এবং যখন আমি বলতে বই পড়া, আমি audiobook তাদের কথা শোনার মানে (সবসময় পূর্ণাঙ্গ) ফর্ম. অডিওবুক আপনি সানন্দে আপনার বিনিময় বা জিম workout কিছু করার ক্ষমতা আছে, বরং ডরা তুলনায়. যখন পর্যালোচনা, তারা যদিও একটি অসুবিধা উপস্থাপন, তারা উল্লেখ করা যাবে না. সুতরাং তাদের কাছ থেকে কোট paraphrasing হয়ে, নাম তাই বানান ভুল এবং পেতে. যেমন ত্রুটি ছুতা দয়া করে…

এই বাস্তব রিভিউ হয় না মনে রাখবেন. এই বই অধিকাংশ তারা রিভিউ অতিক্রম সত্যিই যাতে সুপরিচিত. তাই আমার অবাস্তব রিভিউ আমার ইমপ্রেশন এবং চিন্তা মত, প্রায়ই spoilers ধারণকারী.

রায় Kurzweil দ্বারা আধ্যাত্মিক মেশিন এর বয়স

এটা বই সম্পর্কে কি সারকথা প্রদান ছাড়া একটি অ কথাসাহিত্য বই পর্যালোচনা করা সহজ নয়. একটি সারসংক্ষেপ ছাড়া, কি করতে পারেন সব এক এটি অন্তর্দৃষ্টিপূর্ণ এবং অন্যান্য যেমন বিশেষণ ফোন করতে হয়.

আধ্যাত্মিক মেশিন এর বয়স একটি অন্তর্দৃষ্টিপূর্ণ বই সত্যিই হয়. এটা কম্পিউটিং এবং গণনীয় বুদ্ধি ভবিষ্যতে একটি গবেষণা. এটা আমরা বুদ্ধিমত্তা এবং চেতনা বলতে আমরা কি পুনর্বিবেচনা করতে বাধ্য করে, নিছক একটি প্রযুক্তিগত পর্যায়ে, কিন্তু একটি দার্শনিক পর্যায়ে. আপনি আপনার কম্পিউটারে আপনি এটা বাঁক হয় যে দু: খিত মতানুযায়ী এবং ঘোষণা করে তখন কি করবেন, “আমি আপনি যে কাজ দেওয়া যাবে না, ডেভ?”

আমরা বুদ্ধিমত্তা দ্বারা কি বোঝাতে চেয়েছেন? মেশিন বুদ্ধি প্রথাগত মাপকাঠি সাতিশয় একতরফা টুরিং টেস্ট. এটা তুলনামূলক উপায় ব্যবহার করে বুদ্ধি সংজ্ঞায়িত — এটা মানুষের যে বিশ্বাস একটি মানবিক Evaluator মূর্খ করতে পারেন, যদি একটি কম্পিউটার বুদ্ধিমান বলিয়া গণ্য করা হয়. একটি মানুষের দীর্ঘ জন্য একটি কম্পিউটারের জন্য পাস না করতে পারেন, কারণ এটি একটি একতরফা পরীক্ষা. একটি Evaluator করতে প্রয়োজন, যে সব মত একটি প্রশ্ন জিজ্ঞাসা করা হয়, “কি tan(17.32^circ)?” আমার $4 ক্যালকুলেটর একটি মিলিয়ন স্পষ্টতা ভাল একাধিক অংশ সেটার উত্তর কার্যত কোন সময় লাগে. একটি সুপার বুদ্ধিমান মানুষের একটি প্রথম অনুমান ঢোকার আগে একটি মিনিট সময় নিতে পারে.

কিন্তু টুরিং টেস্ট গাণিতিক পেশী হিসেবে বুদ্ধি সংজ্ঞায়িত না. গোয়েন্দা গঠিত হয় “ঊর্ধ্বতন” জ্ঞানীয় ক্ষমতার. একটি যখন জন্য গুল্ম কাছাকাছি প্রহার পর, এক বুদ্ধি চেতনা উপস্থিতি উপসংহার যে আসে. এবং টুরিং টেস্ট মূলত এটা যথেষ্ট ভাল জাল চেতনা একটি প্রশিক্ষিত Evaluator মূর্খ করতে পারেন কিনা দেখতে একটি কম্পিউটার পরীক্ষা. এটা আপনি চেতনা সন্তোষজনকভাবে কিছু চতুর প্রশ্নের উত্তর ছাড়া আর কিছুই নয় যে বিশ্বাস করতে হবে. এটা কি সত্য?

আমরা পরীক্ষা করে বিবৃত একবার (এবং বুদ্ধি পুনরায় সংজ্ঞায়িত) এই পথ, আমাদের বিশ্লেষণ একটি অভ্যন্তরস্থ যাত্রা বা একটি বাহ্যিক এক দ্বিখণ্ডিত করা যাবে. আমরা কি আমাদের মতই প্রশ্ন জিজ্ঞাসা করতে পারেন — কি সবাই একটি স্বয়ংক্রিয় যদি (আমাদের ছাড়া — আপনি এবং আমার — অবশ্যই) সফলভাবে বুদ্ধি faking? আমরা এটা হয় faking (এবং স্বাধীন ইচ্ছা) আমাদের নিজেদের পাশাপাশি? আমরা সম্ভবত না মনে হবে, বা এই যারা “নিজেদের” আমরা এটা হয় faking যে? এই অভ্যন্তরস্থ যাত্রা অনিবার্য উপসংহার আমরা কেবল নিজেদের মধ্যে চেতনা উপস্থিতি সম্পর্কে নিশ্চিত হতে পারে না.

বুদ্ধি উত্থান বাহ্যিক বিশ্লেষণ (একটি লা টুরিং টেস্ট) আকর্ষণীয় প্রশ্ন একটি সম্পূর্ণ হোস্ট সম্পর্কে এনেছে, বই যা একটি উল্লেখযোগ্য অংশ দখল (আমি অডিও হ্রাস সংস্করণ উল্লেখ করছি), একটি বিট সময়ে ভার্চুয়াল সেক্স সঙ্গে অন্ধকারাচ্ছন্ন, যদিও.

চিন্তা উদ্দীপক প্রশ্ন এক মেশিন তারা সংবেদী এই দাবি করে যে যখন: এটি হত্যা করা হবে “বধ” তাদের এক? আপনি যে আমি আপনাকে পরামর্শ দিচ্ছি আগে (বরং বা, Kurzweil) পাগল অভিনয় বন্ধ, এই বিবেচনা: কম্পিউটার একটি বাস্তব ব্যক্তির একটি ডিজিটাল ব্যাকআপ কি যদি? মনে করে এবং মূল মত কাজ করে যে একটি ব্যাকআপ? এখনও কোন? এটা কি শুধুমাত্র ব্যাকআপ এবং যদি ব্যক্তি মৃত? হবে না “হত্যা” মেশিন ব্যক্তি হত্যা করতে সমপরিমাণ হতে?

আপনি অনিচ্ছায় শেষ প্রশ্ন বলেন, হ্যাঁ, তারপর সব নরকে বিরতি শিথিল. কি একাধিক অভিন্ন ব্যাকআপ আছে? আপনি যদি আপনার নিজের ব্যাকআপ তৈরি করে? আধ্যাত্মিক অভিজ্ঞতা সক্ষম একটি ব্যাকআপ হত্যা পরিমাণ মুছে ফেলা হবে?

তিনি মেশিন বুদ্ধি অগ্রগতি সম্পর্কে আলোচনা যখন, Kurzweil তার সহজাত আশাবাদ প্রমান. তিনি জ্ঞান কিন্তু কিছুই যে চরম বুদ্ধি আকুল আকাঙ্ক্ষা posits. আমি স্বীকার করি যে যদি আমি জানি না. কি শেষ তারপর জ্ঞান? আমি একটি চরম বুদ্ধি ধারাবাহিকতা বা অমরত্ব প্রার্থনা করা হবে মনে হয়.

Kurzweil সব প্রযুক্তি ও গোয়েন্দা কিছু সময়ে দেখা আমাদের সমস্ত উপাদানের চাহিদা আছে যে অনুমান. এ পর্যন্ত আমাদের প্রচেষ্টা এ জন্যে, আমি আছে আমার সন্দেহ. আমরা একটি যুক্ত সর্বনাশ বা দুই ছাড়া এ পর্যন্ত কোন বর উন্নত. আপাতদৃষ্টিতে সীমাহীন পারমাণবিক শক্তি চিন্তা এবং আপনি বোমা এবং তেজস্ক্রিয় বর্জ্য ব্যবস্থাপনা বিষয় দেখুন. জীবাশ্ম জ্বালানি এবং চাবুক চিন্তা গ্লোবাল ওয়ার্মিং নিজেই দেখায়.

আমি একটি শ্রীযুক্ত করছি অনুমান. লোক ধরনের গ্লাস-হাফ খালি হয়. আমার, এমনকি বুদ্ধি যাও সীমাহীন প্রবেশাধিকার একটি বিপজ্জনক জিনিস হতে পারে. মনে রাখবেন কিভাবে ইন্টারনেট পড়া পথ পরিবর্তন আমরা জিনিস শিখেছি?

হারমান হেস দ্বারা সিদ্ধার্থ

I don’t get symbolism. Rather, I do get it, but I’m always skeptical that I may be getting something the author never intended. I think and analyze too much instead of just lightening up and enjoying what’s right in front of me. When it comes to reading, I’m a bit like those tourists (Japanese ones, if I may allow myself to stereotype) who keep clicking away at their digital cameras often missing the beauty and serenity of whatever it is that they are recording for posterity.

কিন্তু, unlike the tourist, I can read the book again and again. Although I click as much the second time around and ponder as hard, some things do get through.

When I read Siddhartha, I asked myself if the names like Kamala and Kamaswami were random choices or signified something. সব পরে, the first part “Kama” means something akin to worldliness or desire (greed or lust really, but not with so much negative connotation) in Sanskrit. Are Vasudeva and Givinda really gods as the name suggests?

কিন্তু, I’m getting ahead of myself. Siddhartha is the life-story of a contemporary of Buddha — সম্পর্কে 2500 years ago in India. Even as a young child, Siddhartha has urges to pursue a path that would eventually take him to salvation. As a Brahmin, he had already mastered the prayers and rituals. Leaving this path of piety (Bhaktiyoga), he joins a bunch of ascetics who see the way to salvation in austerity and penances (probably Hatayoga এবং Rajayoga). But Siddhartha soon tires of this path. He learns almost everything the ascetics had to teach him and realizes that even the oldest and wisest of them is no closer to salvation than he himself is. He then meets with the Buddha, but doesn’t think that he could “learn” the wisdom of the illustrious one. His path then undergoes a metamorphosis and takes a worldly turn (which is perhaps a rendition of Grahasthashrama বা Karmayoga). He seeks to experience life through Kamala, the beautiful courtesan, and Kamaswamy the merchant. When at last he is fully immersed in the toxic excesses of the world, his drowning spirit calls out for liberation from it. He finally finds enlightenment and wisdom from the river that he had to cross back and forth in his journeys between the worlds of riches and wisdom.

For one who seeks symbolism, Siddhartha provides it aplenty.

  • Why is there a Vaishnava temple when Siddhartha decides to forgo the spiritual path for a world one? Is it a coincidence or is it an indication of the philosophical change from an অদ্বৈত line to a patently Dwaita line?
  • Is the name Siddhartha (same as that of the Buddha) a coincidence?
  • Does the bird in the cage represent a soul imprisoned in Samsara? যদি তাই হয়, is its death a sad ending or a happy liberation?
  • The River of life that has to be crossed — এটা Samsara itself? যদি তাই হয়, is the ferryman a god who will help you cross it and reach the ultimate salvation? Why is it that Siddhartha has to cross it to reach the world of Kamala and Kamaswamy, and cross it back to his eventual enlightenment? Kamala also crosses the river to his side before passing on.
  • The affection for and the disillusionment in the little Siddhartha is the last chain of bondage (Mohamaya) that follows Siddhartha across the river. It is only after breaking that chain that Siddhartha is finally able to experience Nirvana — enlightenment and liberation. Is there a small moral hiding there?

One thing I noticed while reading many of these great works is that I can readily identify myself with the protagonist. I fancy that I have the simple greatness of Larry Darrell, and fear that I secretly possess the abominable baseness of Charles Strickland. I feel the indignant torture of Philip Carey or Jay Gatsby. এবং, নিশ্চিত, I experience the divine urges of Siddhartha. No matter how much of a stretch each of these comparisons may be. স্বীকার করিয়া লইয়া, this self-identification may have its roots more in my vanity than any verisimilitude. Or is it the genius of these great writers who create characters so vivid and real that they talk directly to the naked primordial soul within us, stripped of our many layers of ego? In them, we see the distorted visions of our troubled souls, and in their words, we hear the echoes of our own unspoken impulses. Perhaps we are all the same deep within, part of the same shared consciousness.

One thing I re-learned from this book is that you cannot learn wisdom from someone else. (How is that for an oxymoron?) You can learn knowledge, information, তথ্য — হাঁ. But wisdom — না. Wisdom is the assimilation of knowledge; it is the end product of your mind and soul working on whatever you find around you, be it the sensory data, cognitive constructs, knowledge and commonsense handed down from previous generations, or the concepts you create for yourself. It is so much a part of you that it is you yourself, which is why the word Buddha means Wisdom. The person Buddha and his wisdom are not two. How can you then communicate your wisdom? No wonder Siddhartha did not seek it from the Buddha.

Wisdom, according to Hermann Hesse, can come only from your own experiences, both sublime and prosaic.

জেন এবং মোটরসাইকেল রক্ষণাবেক্ষণ আর্ট

একবার, আমি আমার মানসিক সুস্থতা সম্পর্কে কিছু সন্দেহ ছিল. সব পরে, আপনি যদি পান নিজেকে বাস্তবতা realness জিজ্ঞাসাবাদ, আপনি আশ্চর্য আছে — এটা অবাস্তব যে বাস্তবতা, বা আপনার সদ্বিবেচনা?

আমি খনি এই দার্শনিকভাবে আনত বন্ধুর সঙ্গে আমার উদ্বেগ ভাগ হলে, তিনি আমাকে আশ্বাস, “বৈধতা ওভাররেটেড হয়.” পড়ার পর জেন এবং মোটরসাইকেল রক্ষণাবেক্ষণ আর্ট, আমি সে অধিকার ছিল মনে. সম্ভবত সে খুব বেশিদূর অগ্রসর হয়নি — হতে পারে বাতুলতা উপায় underrated হয়.

জেন এবং মোটরসাইকেল রক্ষণাবেক্ষণ আর্ট বাইরে Mythos পদবিন্যাস প্রক্রিয়া হিসেবে বাতুলতা সংজ্ঞায়িত করে; আমাদের সম্মিলিত জ্ঞানের সমষ্টি মোট হচ্ছে mythos প্রজন্ম পরে নিচে পাস, The “সাধারন” যে যুক্তি পূর্বে. বাস্তবতা সাধারন নয় যদি, কি? আর বাস্তবতা realness অভিশঙ্কী, প্রায় সংজ্ঞা দ্বারা, Mythos সীমার বাইরে পদবিন্যাস হয়. সুতরাং এটা দেখাচ্ছে; আমার উদ্বেগ প্রকৃতপক্ষে সুপ্রতিষ্ঠিত হয়েছে.

কিন্তু সুযোগ্য এর কোন গ্যারান্টি “যথার্থতা” একটি হাইপোথিসিস, হিসাবে জেন এবং মোটরসাইকেল রক্ষণাবেক্ষণ আর্ট আমাদের শিক্ষা. যথেষ্ট সময় দেওয়া, আমরা সবসময় আমাদের পর্যবেক্ষণের ফিট করে একটা হাইপোথিসিস সঙ্গে আসা আপ করতে পারেন. পর্যবেক্ষণ ও অভিজ্ঞতা থেকে hypothesizing প্রক্রিয়া এটি প্রকল্প ছায়া থেকে একটি বস্তু প্রকৃতি অনুমান করার চেষ্টা ভালো হয়. এবং একটি অভিক্ষেপ অবিকল আমাদের বাস্তবতা কি হয় — আমাদের সংজ্ঞাবহ এবং জ্ঞানীয় মহাকাশ অজানা ফরম ও প্রসেসের একটি অভিক্ষেপ, আমাদের mythos এবং লোগো মধ্যে. কিন্তু এখানে, I may be pushing my own agenda rather than the theme of the book. কিন্তু এটা মাপসই নেই, যদি না? আমি নিজেকে বিড়বিড় পাওয়া সেজন্য “ঠিক!” বহুবার আমার তিন সময় বইয়ের সার্চ, এবং কেন আমি ভবিষ্যতে আরো অনেক বার এটা পড়তে হবে. এর আবার নিজেদেরকে মনে করিয়ে যাক, সুযোগ্য একটি হাইপোথিসিস এর যথার্থতা সম্পর্কে কিছুই বলছেন.

One such reasonable hypothesis of ours is about continuity We all assume the continuity of our personality or selfhood, which is a bit strange. I know that I am the same person I was twenty years ago — older certainly, wiser perhaps, but still the same person. But from science, I also know for a fact that every cell, every atom and every little fundamental particle in my body now is different from what constituted my body then. The potassium in the banana I ate two weeks ago is, for instance, what may be controlling the neuronal firing behind the thought process helping me write this essay. But it is still me, not the banana. We all assume this continuity because it fits.

Losing this continuity of personality is a scary thought. How scary it is is what Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance tells you. As usual, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

In order to write a decent review of this book, it is necessary to summarize the “story” (which is believed to be based on the author’s life). Like most great works of literature, the story flows inwards and outwards. Outwardly, it is a story of a father and son (Pirsig and Chris) across the vast open spaces of America on a motorbike. Inwardly, it is a spiritual journey of self-discovery and surprising realizations. At an even deeper level, it is a journey towards possible enlightenment rediscovered.

The story begins with Pirsig and Chris riding with John and Sylvia. Right at the first unpretentious sentence, “I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning,” it hit me that this was no ordinary book — the story is happening in the present tense. It is here and now — the underlying Zen-ness flows from the first short opening line and never stops.

The story slowly develops into the alienation between Chris and his father. The “father” comes across as a “selfish bastard,” as one of my friends observed.

The explanation for this disconnect between the father and the son soon follows. The narrator is not the father. He has the father’s body all right, but the real father had his personality erased through involuntary shock treatments. The doctor had reassured him that he had a new personality — not that he was a new personality.

The subtle difference makes ample sense once we realize that “he” and his “personality” are not two. And, to those of us how believe in the continuity of things like self-hood, it is a very scary statement. Personality is not something you have and wear, like a suit or a dress; it is what you are. If it can change, and you can get a new one, what does it say about what you think you are?

In Pirsig’s case, the annihilation of the old personality was not perfect. Besides, Chris was tagging along waiting for that personality to wake up. But awakening a personality is very different from waking a person up. It means waking up all the associated thoughts and ideas, insights and enlightenment. And wake up it does in this story — Phaedrus is back by the time we reach the last pages of the book.

What makes this book such a resounding success, (not merely in the market, but as an intellectual endeavor) are the notions and insights from Phaedrus that Pirsig manages to elicit. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is nothing short of a new way of looking at reality. It is a battle for the minds, yours and mine, and those yet to come.

Such a battle was waged and won ages ago, and the victors were not gracious and noble enough to let the defeated worldview survive. They used a deadly dialectical knife and sliced up our worldview into an unwieldy duality. The right schism, according to Phaedrus and/or Pirsig, would have been a trinity.

The trinity managed to survive, albeit feebly, as a vanquished hero, timid and self-effacing. We see it in the Bible, for instance, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We see it Hinduism, as its three main gods, and in Vedanta, a line of thought I am more at home with, as Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram — the Truth, ???, the Beauty. The reason why I don’t know what exactly Shivam means indicates how the battle for the future minds was won by the dualists.

It matters little that the experts in Vedanta and the Indian philosophical schools may know precisely what Shivam signifies. I for one, and the countless millions like me, will never know it with the clarity with which we know the other two terms — Sundaram and Satyam, beauty and truth, Maya and Brahman, aesthetics and metaphysics, mind and matter. The dualists have so completely annihilated the third entity that it does not even make sense now to ask what it is. They have won.

Phaedrus did ask the question, and found the answer to be Quality — something that sits in between mind and matter, between a romantic and a classical understanding of the world. Something that we have to and do experience before our intellect has a chance to process and analyze it. Zen.

However, in doing so, Phaedrus steps outside our mythos, and is hence insane.

If insanity is Zen, then my old friend was right. Sanity is way overrated.

Photo by MonsieurLui

The Moon and Sixpence

I confess that I had no idea what the title meant after I finished reading the book for the first time. My ignorance persisted even after the second perusal, although the title did suggest something like noble intentions and prosaic realities. Before the third reading, this time specifically for this blog, I decided to look it up. Like all good netizens, I consulted Wikipedia, which told me that the title was a reference to Of Human Bondage (where Philip Carey reaches for the moon while ignoring the sixpence at his feet.)

In The Moon and Sixpence, Maugham chronicles the life and adventures of Paul Gauguin — an artistic genius who stepped outside the bounds of ethics and morality in a single-minded pursuit of an unknown and troubling vision of his soul (“the moon”) at the cruel expense of his friends and family (the “sixpence,” presumably.)

Unsure of how to create a perfect Frenchman (as he later confesses in The Razor’s Edge), Maugham chose to “translate” Gauguin and portrayed him as an Englishman Charles Strickland, a semi-successful, though dull London stockbroker. At the unlikely age of 42 or so, Strickland decides to abandon his family to take up painting. The need to paint is a yearning of the soul for Strickland, and it doesn’t matter that he is no good at it — yet — as he explains, “I tell you I’ve got to paint. I can’t help myself. When a man falls into the water it doesn’t matter how he swims, well or badly: he’s got to get out or else he’ll drown.” While saving himself from this metaphoric drowning, Strickland is indifferent (beyond cruelty) to the rest of the world. Then again, he is just as uncompromising and cruel to himself as well.

In portraying such a difficult anti-hero, Maugham showcases all the mastery and skill he possesses. To my untrained eyes, it looks as though Maugham builds this character so carefully and painstakingly that each one of the monstrosities Strickland commits is counter-balanced in some fashion. It is indeed a fine chisel that Maugham employs in crafting this masterpiece; none of those broad, confident strokes we would see in his later works.

We find Maugham at cynical and misogynistic best (or worst, depending on the perspective) in the early part of the book, especially in his descriptions of Mrs. Strickland and her children. We should condone this appearance of misogyny as a pardonable foible of a genius, I think. More than that, I see it as an effort, a successful one, to balance the callousness of Strickland’s disappearance that soon follows.

Such balancing devices can be found throughout the book. Perhaps to soften the shock of Strickland’s seemingly inexplicable renunciation of his family, his son’s hypocritical account of his later life is cynically ridiculed right in the beginning of the book. The unfortunate Dirk Stroeve, so cruelly used by Strickland, is also a buffoon who elicits derisive laughter rather than sympathy. Stroeve’s groveling adulation of Blanche perhaps serves to iron out the overtones of sexism or misogyny permeating the story. Blanche Stroeve’s betrayal is counter balanced with her own abominable indifference to Stroeve, which, in turn, gets evened out in what she receives from Strickland — “What an abyss of cruelty she must have looked into that in horror she refused to live.” Strickland, curiously, walks unaffected through all this death and mayhem, larger than life, tortured by his own private agonies of the soul well beyond our comprehension and his own. Even in his callousness, what Strickland invokes in Maugham and even Stroeve is, not merely a natural indignation, but an overwhelming compassion — astonishingly. The misplaced compassion is perhaps a device to prepare the reader for Strickland’s sordid and horrible death.

Maugham employs a variety of techniques to make the narration sound natural. If I was a fiction writer, I would study these techniques very carefully and try to employ them myself. To begin with, Strickland is a fictional portrayal of Gauguin, but Maugham takes great pains to pretend that the narration is not fictional. Even the narrator (Maugham himself) is portrayed as fallible, and contritely so, to lend credibility to the narration. For instance, Maugham gets exasperated at Stroeve’s weakness and is later ashamed of himself for getting angry.

The book has its elitist moments. When asked if it was better not to have known, Stroeve replies: “The world is hard and cruel. We are here none knows why, and we go none knows whither. We must be very humble. We must see the beauty of quietness. We must go through life so inconspicuously that Fate does not notice us. And let us seek the love of simple, ignorant people. Their ignorance is better than all our knowledge. Let us be silent, content in our little corner, meek and gentle like them. That is the wisdom of life.” It is as though the gift of inquiry and knowledge is given to a precious few — a special club to which Stroeve and Maugham are privy. This elitist attitude permeates not only Maugham’s works, but all great works of literature; it is only by masking his sense of superiority that an author or a thinker projects himself as non-elitist.

Perhaps it is some knowledge, or a vision of the world that Strickland’s soul yearned to share with the rest of us. Such communication is beyond language — a medium unequal to the task even when masterfully employed. Visual arts come closer. In Strickland’s tragic and cruel plight, along with that of almost all characters in the story, we see one eternal question. What is it that we are really after? Is it happiness? If so, Charles Strickland certainly didn’t find it. Very few do. Is it glory? Strickland did find that, albeit after his death.

Death is the great equalizer. It brings us back to the nothingness we spring from, however high we may fly or however low we may sink during the brief instant in between. The wisdom of the wise, the ignorance of the masses, the grandeur of the accomplished, the glory, the baseness — all matter very little when faced with such complete finality. In Strickland, Maugham has depicted the heights of glory as well as the nadir of baseness. The Moon and Sixpence — perhaps I have understood its meaning after all.

Photo by griannan

1984

All great books have one thing in common. They present deep philosophical inquiries, often clad in superb story lines. Or is it just my proclivity to see philosophy where none exists?

In 1984, the immediate story is of a completely totalitarian regime. Inwardly, 1984 is also about ethics and politics. It doesn’t end there, but goes into nested philosophical inquiries about how everything is eventually connected to metaphysics. It naturally ends up in solipsism, not merely in the material, metaphysical sense, but also in a spiritual, socio-psychological sense where the only hope, the only desired outcome of life, becomes death.

I think I may be giving away too much of my impressions in the first paragraph. Let’s take it step by step. We all know that totalitarianism is bad. It is a bad political system, we believe. The badness of totalitarianism can present itself at different levels of our social existence.

At the lowest level, it can be a control over our physical movements, physical freedom, and restrictions on what you can or cannot do. Try voting against a certain African “president” and you get beaten up, for instance. Try leaving certain countries, you get shot.

At a higher level, totalitarianism can be about financial freedom. Think of those in the developed world who have to juggle three jobs just to put food on the table. At a progressively subtler level, totalitarianism is about control of information. Example: media conglomerates filtering and coloring all the news and information we receive.

At the highest level, totalitarianism is a fight for your mind, your soul, and your spiritual existence. 1984 presents a dystopia where totalitarianism is complete, irrevocable, and existing at all levels from physical to spiritual.

Another book of the same dystopian kind is The Handmaid’s Tale, where a feminist’s nightmare of a world is portrayed. Here, the focus is on religious extremism, and the social and sexual subjugation brought about by it. But the portrayal of the world gone hopelessly totalitarian is similar to 1984.

Also portraying a dark dystopia is V for Vendentta, with torture and terrorism thrown in. This work is probably inspired by 1984, I have to look it up.

It is the philosophical points in 1984 that make it the classic it is. The past, for instance, is a matter of convention. If everybody believes (or is forced to believe) that events took place in a certain way, then that is the past. History is written by the victors. Knowing that, how can you trust the greatness of the victors or the evil in the vanquished? Assume for a second that Hitler had actually won the Second World War. Do you think we would’ve still thought of him as evil? I think we would probably think of him as the father of the modern world or something. Of course, we would be having this conversation (if we were allowed to exist and have conversations at all) in German.

Even at a personal level, the past is not as immutable as it seems. Truth is relative. Lies repeated often enough become truth. All these points are describe well in 1984, first from Winston’s point of view and later, in the philosophically sophisticated discourses of O’Brien. In a world existing in our own brain, where the phenomenal reality as we see it is far from the physical one, morality does lose a bit of its glamor. Metaphysics can erode on ethics. Solipsism can annihilate it.

A review, especially one in a blog, doesn’t have to be conventional. So let me boldly outline my criticisms of 1984 as well. I believe that the greatest fear of a normal human being is the fear of death. After all, the purpose of life is merely to live a little longer. Everything that our biological faculties do stem from the desire to exist a little longer.

Based on this belief of mine, I find certain events in 1984 a bit incongruous. Why is it that Winston and Julia don’t fear death, but still fear the telescreens and gestapo-like police? Perhaps the fear of pain overrides the fear of death. What do I know, I have never been tortured.

But even the fear of pain can be understood in terms of the ultimate fear. Pain is a messenger of bodily harm, ergo of possible death. But fear of rats?! Perhaps irrational phobias, existing at a sub-cognitive, almost physical, layer may be stronger than everything else. But I cannot help feeling that there is something amiss, something contrived, in the incarceration and torture parts of 1984.

May be Orwell didn’t know how to portray spiritual persecution. Luckily, none of us knows. So such techniques as rats and betrayal were employed to bring about the hideousness of the process. This part of the book leaves me a bit dissatisfied. After all, our protagonists knew full well what they were getting into, and what the final outcome would be. If they knew their spirit would be broken, then why leave it out there to be broken?