Category Archives: Random

Doubting Kierkegaard

I have been re-reading Michael Watt’s book on Kierkegaard and have been wondering whether Kierkegaard was actually close to Sartre’s and Camus’s thoughts (as far as the whole ‘existentialism’ tag goes). It has been a doubt earlier and reading him in context to his life and personality, the doubt seems to grow to confirm itself.

The question of god is irrelevant to the inquiry as to how best must one live life. In face of empirical data, I agree with Camus and Sartre that even if a ‘unifying absolute truth’ (what we may universally term as ‘God’) exists, it is unknowable and therefore irrelevant for ‘earthly life’. In face of that, how does one reconcile the ‘leap of faith’ of Kierkegaard as an existential solution?

It is a common interpretation that Kierkegaard’s leap of faith is a solution offered by him to solve the empirical deadlocks that man generally hits. I consider such interpretations fallacious and biased. In my opinion, leap of faith was never a solution offered by Kierkegaard but a presumption with which he approached life and philosophy in general. It is true that most empirical data that came to be recognized as existential truths later on, had been acknowledged in some form or the other by Kierkegaard. But, it is not true to say that Kierkegaard solved these ‘existential truths’ with the leap of faith. He only stuck to his faith despite acknowledging existential truths.

Time and again Kierkegaard has expressed that his authorship was primarily ‘religious’ and his inquiry was ‘being Christian’. It is very obvious and apparent in his various writings that faith came to Kierkegaard before he embarked on any kind of inquiry whatsoever. Unlike Camus’s inquiry, Kierkegaard started with a presumption and arranged all empirical data collected by him around that presumption. Despite all his attempts, this arrangement could not lead to any logical pattern despite his brilliant penmanship. And therefore, faith took a leap.

Albert Camus – The Absurd Hero

I have found Camus’s philosophy to be the most easy to live with, without trying to escape anything. It also allows me ‘intellectual honesty’ in Dostoevskian terms. Anyone who allows himself the luxury to think about the basic questions of life, comes to a point where he asks himself – “What the hell am I doing in life? What is the meaning of all this and what is my purpose? I am a XYZ, is that what I should be? Maybe I am meant to be a writer? Or maybe a philosopher, professor, blah, blah…” I have, like many, faced a similar crisis at one point in my life and (probably) salvaged myself from it. It took some time and the understanding of existentialism to recover from that crisis. And Albert Camus happened to be one of the most important of all authors that I read. His The Myth of Sisyphus gave me the essential understanding to view this world as it is and let go all inhibitions, speculation, and illusions.

In the last one year, I have read too often that Camus was a good author but not much of a philosopher. I have also at times read the comparison where more people agree than differ that Sartre was a better philosopher than Camus. I do not intend to counter that as I think it is naive and irrelevant to compare thinkers like this. All a thinker deserves is a little contemplation from our side on ideas propounded by them. I write this post, therefore, to charter out as an introduction, my understanding of Camus’s thoughts which I have found to be a rare clan as it requires no leaps to understand.

Camus is known as the propounder of the theory of absurd. Absurdism is a often repeated theme in existentialism, however, Camus’s proposition is distinct from all of them. In the Myth of Sisyphus, Camus undertakes an inquiry into whether this life is worth the trouble if we accept our experiences as the limit of reality for our purposes. He says that man knows two things as certain – first, the fact that man desires order, logic, and happiness; second, the fact that this world is random, illogical, and indifferent. This constant tension or divorce between the actor (man) and his setting (the world) is the absurd. What is essential to know is that irrationality of the world is not the absurd. Absurdity contains man’s rationality in itself. It is precisely the constant co-existence of these two irrefutable realities that create the absurd.

Camus concludes that it is essential for man to maintain the absurd. To attain that man needs to keep intact his contribution to the absurd, i.e. his desire for rationality, order, and happiness. This is the only choice, as changing the given world, man’s setting, is quixotically impossible. Only in light of this can we understand the true import of Camus’s words the end of his famous novel, The Stranger

It was as if the great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.

The indifference of this world is indeed benign for that is what makes man free. For, what freedom lies in living out a fate that is pre-determined by some unknowable force? It is a mere consciousness of our reality, of the absurd, that gives man all the understanding needed to scorn fate.

Links to some interesting discussion on Camus I entered elsewhere:

A Word for the Host – WordPress.com

For almost a year now, I have been blogging off and on. I have enjoyed it more than I ever thought I would. For all the fun and contentment that I had in doing that, I think it is only befitting that I thank the host that I have finally stuck to – WordPress.com.

I first began on the Blogger. I do not remember how, but I stumbled upon WordPress and decided to give it a try. Alongside, I also tried out Vox (only because many reliable people opine that Movable Type is the best blogging platform) and Livespace. However, WordPress beats them right, left, and centre in an overall analysis. Therefore today, I have two blogs running and both here.

First things first – it’s free. Typepad, which is definitely a good option is too pricey in comparison. Secondly, (now) it offers more space (3GB) than any other. Thirdly, for those who do not understand coding beyond a point, it is damn simple to use. The ability to make your blog look good without any coding at all is stupendous. That’s one of the places where Blogger takes a bad beating.

Above all, the dashboard is extraordinary and damn organised. Anything that a blogger might need is there within the top blue bar. The ‘tag’ feature creates a community / route to find blogs or posts of similar interest, something which Blogger does not do as well. The ‘My Comments’ feature is another superb innovation to create an involuntary and extraordinary community.

There are definitely things that we all crib about – e.g. the inability to use javascript enabled widgets, CSS upgrade that comes at a cost (free on Blogger), no freedom to choose fonts, etc. Despite all that, I am here and am more than satisfied.

I had come to hold an opinion that on the net, any Google venture is better than others. In blogging, Sir, my host takes the cake.

This is just a post to say ‘thank you’ to all those behind wordpress.com. Great job guys!

Art Versus Life Debate – Is Marriage An Interference?

Recently read Henry James’s short story The Lesson of The Master. Underlying theme being whether an artist can pursue perfection alongside a ‘normal’ family life. Let’s dwell on that after introducing the story.

The Lesson of the MasterThe story revolves around three simple and fictional literary characters – Mr. St. George (an old and celebrated author, being the master here), Paul Overt (a young novelist, admires St. George but can see through his failings, despite the glamour around him), and Ms. Fancourt (an ardent reader of both, both are in awe of her beauty and, she is very young). I would not dwell into the plot as it is irrelevant, both for the purpose of this post and probably, the story itself. There are just three events that defines the author’s purpose – one, when St. George gives Mr. Overt a short speech regarding his own failure as an artist and the spark of that possibility he could see in Overt. Relying on this, Overt travels to Switzerland, stays there for two years to finish his next book. Second, when Mrs. St. George dies, Mr. George writes Overt a letter expressing great remorse and loss, very inconsistent with his last speech. Third, when, on his return, Overt finds out that St. George and Ms. Fancourt are getting married, he starts doubting the validity of master’s lesson as well as the possibility of the whole thing being a plot to dupe him. However, the story ends with St. George sticking to his speech and Overt sticking to his resolve to achieve perfection, at least for the time being.

In that great speech, St. George declares that an artist’s purpose is to draw “from his intellectual instrument the finest music the nature has hidden in it, of having played it as it should be played. He either does that or he doesn’t – and if he doesn’t he isn’t worth speaking of“. Elsewhere he says “The artist has to do only with that (gold) – he knows nothing of any baser metal“. When Overt questions him further, specially as to why he had said that children were a curse, St. George rambles, “On the supposition that a certain perfection’s possible and even desirable – isn’t it so? Well, all I say is that one’s children interfere with perfection. One’s wife interferes. Marriage interferes“.

Overt wanting to leave no doubt as to his perception asks him directly, if he thought artists should not marry; and St. George says they would do so at their own peril. Overt : Not even when his wife is in sympathy with his work? St. George : She never is, she can’t be! Women haven’t a conception of such things. Later during the conversation, Overt: Are there no women who really understand – who can take part in a sacrifice? St. George : How can they take part? They themselves are the sacrifice.

Mostly, one would tend to agree. It’s no new theme in literature. Man’s business is art, creativity and women’s primary business is men. This is no male chauvinist pig speaking. Shaw in his play Man and SupermanMan and Supermanhas dealt with this (and many other themes) in good humour and style. Someone as free and individualistic a women as Ayn Rand believed that women’s primary business was a man. A women’s conception of heroism is always through a man. But then, are not these two contradictory – that man is hindered in his artistic pursuit by marriage and that women need men for fulfilment of their own artistic hunger. I do not have an answer, I can only say that the problem lies in looking for the right pair, and that remains the most difficult pursuit amongst daily chores.

However, I personally believe that a man’s primary business of being an artist can only be fulfilled if a corresponding need for a man-hero exists among women. For, to insist artists to stay away from propagation of race is to want to lower our genetic pool to non-existence.

But even to the possibility of a perfectly understanding, compatible, and artistic lady being a non-interfering wife for the artist is given a jolt by this very valid argument by Henry James :

Overt asks what if she has ‘a passion for the real thing, for good work – for everything you and I care for most‘. St. George laughs and replies, “‘You and I’ is charming, my dear fellow! She has it indeed, but she would have a still greater passion for her children – and very proper too. She would insist on everything’s being made comfortable, advantageous, propitious for them. That isn’t the artist’s business“. To this, I don’t think there is an answer. Moderation, probably seeps in the best of women after marriage and moderation is no virtue for an artist. At one place, James’s fictional master says, “He (artist) must be able to be poor“. I guess, he should be able to moderate selectively too. I don’t know if that is possible, but that seems to be the only possibility. Doesn’t it?

My Favourite WordPress Themes

I went through each one of the 59 themes that wordpress offers, applying it to my blog. Trough this post, I share my views as to my favourite ten. I am no web-designer and cannot even design the worst of them all. This is just a user’s review and very subjective:

1. WordPress Classic – Truly, the grandfather of two-column themes. The sidebar is elegant and takes the secondary place that it must. All focus remains on the written word. Good font, easy to read – the best a minimalist theme can be. Only negatives – no custom header image and no description in the header.

2. Freshy – One of the most elegant themes, the highlight being the date design. Custom header image allowed. Only problem is the font – it’s a little small for comfortable reading. And it is definitely not a ‘dark theme’ as the description below it says.

3. Quentin – The most reader friendly theme. Best font size and a brilliant classic look. The only problem is the colour. This theme with white, black, and grey colour combinations would be a perfect 10.

4. Misty Look – A very elegant theme, with a search bar and feed at the top, integrated into the theme. A better font and comments link distinctly placed from rest of the stuff and this one becomes difficult to beat.

4. Contempt -Probably, the most elegant sidebar. However, a better font for the text and distinct placement of the comments link required.

6. Occadia – Very elegant, soft-colours, distinct datestamp and comments link. Text font and size could be improved.

7. Neo-Sapian – The most ‘heavily’ designed, and the most recent theme on wordpress. There are three sidebar, a very large customizable header image and yet, in all this, the text does not lose significance. Though it is a dark theme, the text background is white. A lighter background for post titles, distinct datestamp and comment link and I would be the first one to shift.

8. Thirteen – Elegant, good design, and well-organised sidebar. However, given the design of the theme, the text font does not match up. The colour of the sidebar and header should have been different from the default background colour of the browser.

9. Clean – This one has a good sidebar, though the width of the theme is too narrow. Datestamp and comments link distinctly placed at one place, on the top, is a great idea.

10. Silver is the new black – As wide as the name, gives proper first-place to the main text. However, the font is too small. This oneis quite close to the WordPress Classic, but loses out on the elegance of sidebar and the font – its very essence. Datestamp gives it a diary-look. Probably perfect for a diary blog.

Fun Facts About Reading – Doing Rounds On Various Blogs

I saw this on many other blogs and couldn’t resist doing it myself. Specially, given the mental state one is in during exams, my brains will permit me nothing more than these tid-bits for the time being. Book Reviews shall have to wait.

Hardback or trade paperback or mass market paperback?

Trade paperback. Hardback only for really special books.

Amazon or brick and mortar?

Amazon. Great features!

Barnes & Noble or Borders?

None.

Bookmark or dogear?

Bookmarks.

Alphabetize by author or alphabetize by title or random?

Random. Sometimes by category.

Keep, throw away, or sell?

Keep. Never Sell. May give away as gifts, though.

Keep dust-jacket or toss it?

Keep.

Read with dust-jacket or remove it?

Remove the dust-jacket while I read it, although sometimes it ends up getting smudged that way.

Short story or novel?

Novels. Am just beginning with short stories.

Collection (short stories by same author) or anthology (short stories by different authors)?

Haven’t read many but I would prefer an anthology. Though would prefer collection of favourite authors individually. For example, Raymond Carver is best read as a collection and not as an anthology.

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?

Harry Potter. Never read Lemony Snicket.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?

Generally, chapter breaks. But if none are approaching and am ready to doze off…well then, I don’t have a choice, do I?

“It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?

Once upon a time. I love classics and once upon a time remains the most ancient first-line of stories – including grandma tales.

Buy or borrow?

Prefer to buy. If I read something I borrow and like it, I will buy it anyways, despite having read it already.

New or used?

If it’s not too costly, new. Have nothing against old though. But generally prefer rare books from the used stalls.

Buying choice: book reviews, recommendation or browse?

All three, but my first choice is browsing followed by recommendations and book reviews.

Tidy ending or cliffhanger?

Tidy endings. A book not ended well is a book not well written. In case of books, well begun is half done does not hold true, I guess. Have always held it against Erich Segal for ending his books abruptly.

Morning reading, afternoon reading or nighttime reading?

Generally, nighttime. That’s by default due to work hours. If given a choice, anytime but morning is good for me.

Standalone or series?

Standalone.

Favorite series?

Harry Potter.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?

India: From Midnight to the Millenium by Shashi Tharoor. Even people who might have heard about it may not have read it. I read this book long back in school, having no idea about who Shashi Tharoor was. I still consider it the best non-fiction on India.

Favorite books read last year?

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
Plato Papers by Peter Ackroyd
The Great Divorce by C.S.Lewis
Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
Bhagvad Gita and
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Favorite books of all time?

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Man and Superman by Bernard Shaw
To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

In the meantime…

Unfortunately, due to the inevitable exams (and I am sure many would empathise), my aim of a post each day will not be possible for the next few weeks. After that, it would be books as usual. Till then, happy reading to one and all!

Also, a link to an interesting discussion I entered on another blog:

Albert Camus, KSR, and the Myth of Sisyphus

Faith, Forgiveness & love by Kierkegaard

Jude the Obscure – Hardy’s absurd hero

jude.jpg

You are Joseph the dreamer of dreams, dear Jude, and a tragic Don Quixote. And sometimes you are St Stephen, who while they were stoning him, could see Heaven opened. O my poor friend and comrade, you’ll suffer yet!

– Sue, in a letter to Jude in Jude the Obscure

This timeless classic happens to be Thomas Hardy’s last prose. It was first published, in an abridged form, as a series in Harper’s Magazine, in 1894, drawing a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons. Leaving aside the complex characterisation and strange thread of relationships that Hardy had sewn together, the critics were hung up on the fact that the protagonist falls in love with his distant cousin.

Jude, as most of Hardy’s hero, remains a failure; but a dreamer nevertheless. You may never find another author with more respect for potential than accomplishment. As most of the classics of this era, it is a masterpiece, to be read and re-read. However, in my view there are two things most distinct about this one – the characterisation of the female protagonist, i.e Sue (ably played by Kate Winslet in the movie format) and the dream that used to be Christminster.

Sue remains, in my view, one of the most complex female characters in literature. Readers may find it difficult to reconcile her contradictory moral positions. Perhaps, the reason being that she is a character portrayed way beyond her times, and therefore keeps succumbing to the failings of her era.

Hardy travelled way beyond any author of his time in writing the last part of the book, “At Christminster Again”. He is aesthetically and painlessly interwoven so many themes into this part, that in the first reading, one misses it completely. Without ever being preachy, keeping intact all the essentials of popular fiction, he ventures into ideas as deep as existentialism.

One of the underlying themes of the novel, and probably the one that caused all the scandal and misgivings, is Hardy’s take on the institution of marriage and the Christian dogma. With all the pretensions of secularism, liberty, and free speech of our age, this book is as relevant to us today as it was to the English society at the beginning of last century. However, thanks to these pretensions, there is no scandal anymore.

Disappointed that both Tess of the D’Urbervilles and then Jude drew more the attention of moral critics than literary, Hardy never wrote anything but poetry after this book. Jude remains dear today, to all its readers, for the sheer passion of dream that Hardy so beautifully shares with them.

But I feel I could do one thing if I had the opportunity. I could accumulate ideas, and impart them to others. I wonder if the Founders had such as I in their minds – a fellow good for nothing else but that particular thing?

– Jude in Jude the Obscure

Library Softwares

I invite readers to post their review of personal library softwares that they might be using, with details as to cost and ways of procuring them.

I am presently using Book Collectorz (desktop) and Library Thing (online). Since these are the only ones I have ever used, I can only say that they work just fine. A comparison by any of you who might have used more than one would be really helpful

On the stack

This is my proposed reading list for the coming months. Anyone having read any of these titles is most welcome to share their view about how they liked them.

  1. The Lesson of the Master Henry James
  2. The Fall Albert Camus
  3. The Elements of Style Strunk and White
  4. Sophie’s World Jostein Gaarder
  5. Peer Gynt Henrik Ibsen
  6. Eats, Shoots & Leaves Lynne Truss
  7. Fathers and Sons Ivan Turgenev
  8. No Exit and Three Other Plays Jean Paul Sartre
  9. Relativity Simply Explained Martin Gardner
  10. The Province of Jurisprudence Determined John Austin

Shall also post my experience after having read them, post 30th May. In the meantime, other posts might follow, provided exams permit.