Sunday, 26 May 2013

Rationalising the irrational

I remember with fondness the exaltation, the joy and the pleasure I felt when I first forayed into literature. (I also fondly remember the various 'brooding spots' - park benches, groves, hilltops, etc. - where I read them!) Borges, Cortázar, Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Joyce etc.! Here I had finally found the intellectual stimulation that school had never provided to me!

And this was before I started studying literature academically. (In fact, I found GCSE English so mind-numbingly tedious that I never paid attention in class and truanted from most of the lessons.) In those days, literature for me was never something to analyse. It was irrational - and perhaps that was part of the charm. Dostoyevsky, for example, makes small details and scraps of dialogue play off each other in an incredibly intense and exciting way. With Borges, I was perhaps less interested in the intertextuality and philosophical subtexts than I was with the fabulous imaginative landscapes that he conjures up. My mind was fucked up at the time and literature was the ideal stimulant to heighten my excitable - and corrosive - consciousness. Like the music I listened to, it was cerebral sex.

 When you study literature academically, one of course has to rationalise the text. One has to do scrutinise the most minute detail, do close readings and, most crucially, parse some sort of thesis. Your personal connection to the text is of no importance; one has to remain objective and aloof!

I have actually grown to like this, namely because literature as an academic discipline is so wide-ranging. You can read a text whatever way you want; there are no right or wrong answers. Literature covers every single facet of human existence, so is so interdisciplinary that you will find yourself reading about history, philosophy, psychoanalysis etc. etc.

Whatever the case, human creativity is a very mysterious activity. How do I know where these words come from as I write them down? Whatever the progress neuroscience has made in analysing causation, there can be no way of certifying how or why an author has chosen to write a book. You can take it away, deconstruct it and offer some sort of interpretation but, ultimately,  the cognitive processes that contributed to its finality are very nebulous indeed. The greatest irony about human creativity is that we can never be truly sure what leads to our actions. The analyses of creative praxis in many ways are an attempt to rationalise the irrational.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Absolutist doctrine

A philosophical or aesthetic doctrine, like a political ideology, more often than not is absolutist. It can often consist of a set of ideas (which, to its credit, are often consistent and don't self-contradict) which negate and refute its adversaries. It can often have a need to proselytize others. In effect, it wants the rest of the world to think like it does.

For all intents and purposes, I'm going to narrow it down to religious (and anti-religious) doctrines.

The New Atheism movement, for instance, turns unbelief into belief. Atheism, basically, is the lack of belief in God. Why would one be so militant about it?

New Atheism is no different from other organised religions. It argues that all religion is inherently immoral, that all religion is man-made and that all religion is totalitarian in that it is exploited by those in power. To blame all immoral behaviour on religion is just as arrogant as those religious persons who claim that morality is a divine providence and that human order is dependent on religious morality. Religious morality is just one kind of framework that works for certain people.  It turns this arrogance on its head when it says that a wicked act committed by a Christian is attributable to his faith. Lambasting religion because is man-made is very facile and childish indeed. There is no way of proving or disproving the existence of God. And, yes, religion can be a viable conduit for totalitarianism. But the argument that all political totalitarianism has its roots in religious teachings is a conflation.

In fact, religion is a human myth. It is one way in which humanity has made sense of the world. Why would one want to eviscerate such an integral part of human existence and inquiry?

And the fact that the New Atheists feel the need to proselytize is a bridge too far. Christian missionaries did the same when the conquistadores ravaged indigenous South America. Why do atheists feel such a burning itch to convert the heathen?

Personally, I don't want anyone one else to adopt my way of thinking. What I would want to do is shake people out of their slumber, to confront them. Not to convert them to a certain doctrine or ideology.

If there were one doctrine which was more malleable, it would be the Sceptic movement in Greek antiquity. Sceptics did not believe that one thought system was entirely true per se. So, they adopted different ways of thinking but never fully 'swallowed' them. They went to religious ceremonies but did not believe in God. They followed human practices but did not believe in them. This kind of scepticism, I think, should be adopted. I can recognise the the value of science and rationalism, but what's stopping me from going into a cathedral and feeling transcended?

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Solitude in the cyber age

INTERVIEWER: What would you like to tell young people?
ANDREI TARKOVSKY: Learn to love solitude, to be alone with yourselves. The problem with young people is their carrying out noisy and aggressive actions not to feel lonely. And this is a sad thing. The individual must be alone as a child, for this doesn't mean to be alone: it means not to get bored with oneself, which is a very dangerous symptom, almost a disease.

Is solitude valued by anyone now, in this post-modern cyber age? In an age of constant distraction? I may not be able to judge whether or not this was the case in previous generations (the Tarkovsky interview dates from the 70s), my judgement of the past would be completely equivocal.

I do think that my generation, which has grown up with SMS texting, Facebook and Smartphones, has not fully experienced solitude (nor fully recognised its worth). When you get on a bus, you must proffer your phone and jabber to your close friend about the minutia of your life (about how you just brushed your teeth.).  Whilst many people know what loneliness is - and cyber conversations can be so impersonal that you never truly connect with others - solitude is unknown.

Excessive isolation is by no means a healthy thing. Solitude, meanwhile, is nourishing and beautiful. By constantly engaging with this cyber domain, one does not have any time to stand aside and reflect. Indeed, the internet, and all the surrogate gadgets, can in fact be very boring. People, in turn, are bored with themselves. Their only way to ameliorate this is by preoccupying themselves with superfluities. (Clubbing, commodifaction, texting, writing on their Facebook walls.)

There are countless times when people I assume I am perennially bored when I tell them what I do. This kind of austere existence - reading, writing, listening to music, going for walks etc. - seems, to them, to lack excitement. In fact, I am very rarely bored. I don't want to be overly haughty and pompous when I say this, but I think it's rather the others who are bored. In my spare time, I very much like starting creative projects and pursuing personal interests (instead of being assigned projects and interests by academic institutions). The kind of activities most of the rest pursue convinces me that they only partake in them because they are reluctant to discover who they are or what they stand for. They are bored with themselves.

And indeed, the only way to break the deadlock is through conformist rebellion  How drunk can you get? How loud can you be? This gives me a headache. Contemporary society is loud, bustling and overwhelming. As I said before, my judgement of the past would be equivocal. But when I look into the Romantic ethos, when I see the kinds of books Rousseau wrote, it convinces me that such a movement encouraged reflection and solitude. All these technological distractions, all these commodities, tell me that it's diverting people from what truly matters. It's not only diverting them politically, it's also diverting them from their own ontology.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Herne Bay

I have lived the past year in Herne Bay. It is located in the South East of Kent, it is a 45 minute bus ride away from Canterbury and it overlooks the North Sea.

Generally, it's been lovely. When I go to sleep I can hear the tides ebbing in (which I think induced a spate of wild dreams).

I'll be moving back to Canterbury next year. It's been worth it, though. I can now say I've lived by the sea at some point in my life. I'll also miss the silence and the tranquility (I haven't lived in a student house). The pictures below are not indicative of what it's like most of the year. Usually, it is grey, windy and cold!