Thursday, October 13, 2005

Random Philosophical Musings of a Reeling Raconteur

It was a dark and stormy night. I staggered out of the consultation room, reeling from the after-effects of having debris sucked out of my ear with an improvised vacuum cleaner.

It was a dark and stormy night. I staggered out of my friend’s room, reeling under the emotional impact of “Lost in Translation”, the Sofia Coppola movie I’d just finished watching.

Right ho, then. The nights in question here are tonight (nowhere near dark and stormy, in fact, hot and muggy would be a much more accurate description), but if I’d mentioned that earlier, I couldn’t have infringed on Snoopy's copyright, now, could I? Anyway, the point is I’m reeling. And when I reel, I philosophize. I don’t know about you, but having clotted blood sucked out (and very painfully, too) of my ear and watching what is one of the finest movies I’ve ever seen immediately after makes me reflect on profound stuff such as the meaning of life and the purpose, if any, of existence. I understand that the ear part was definitely information that you could have done without, but if I am to subject you, Gentle Reader, to philosophy, then it is only fair on my part to provide at least two (ostensibly) good reasons for doing so.

As far as philosophy goes, I was first introduced to it when I was 14, when one of my English teachers at school, on learning that I had more interest in books than the average 14 year old recommended Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I loved it then, and while I’ve revised my opinion slightly now, I still retain something of a nostalgic affection for it. I later came across Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s books such as Jailbird, Slaughterhouse Five and others. Somehow I’ve always preferred this kind of writing to the otherwise grave and heavy handed works such as those of Spinoza, Aristotle and the like. I mean, most of the time, we take ourselves much too seriously. Similarly, Catch 22. This book has to be one of the best I’ve read, without doubt a modern classic. Yossarian’s words still ring in my ears: “If something is worth dying for, isn’t it also worth living for?”

Then I went through the stage that, I suppose, any 17 year old with an interest in philosophy would go through: that of being a Howard Roark wannabe. One of my friends (probably the only other guy in school who read such stuff) introduced me to Ayn Rand, though with a warning: don’t get carried away. Well, looking back now, I guess I did get carried away a little. I could identify with much of her writing; I loved her ideas of rational self interest and admired her protagonists with the kind of breathless admiration that, I guess, teenagers reserve for their idols. Almost as quickly, though, I became disillusioned with them, I began to feel that such characters couldn’t really exist. And the more I thought about it, it seemed to me that most of her writing was exactly the opposite of what she claimed it to be: rational. Sometimes I feel she’s the one who got carried away.

It was around the beginning of the second semester of college that my Dad, noticing my interest in philosophy, told me to check out Bertrand Russell. The first book I read of his was a collection of essays called ‘Skeptical Essays’; I enjoyed it tremendously. It seemed to me that I had finally found what I was looking for, somebody who had tried to evolve a set of ideas that helped to deal with the world as it is, and not go on posturing about how it should be. Here’s a small example of what influences my thinking:

The question....

And maybe the answer....?

"Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned to-day to lose his dearest, to-morrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power."
-Concluding passage of Russell's A Free Man's Worship

A Free Man's Worship is undoubtedly the the finest piece of prose that I have ever laid my eyes upon; it is written with a grand, quiet passion that I haven't found anywhere else. In my lowest, darkest moments, I have always turned to it for renewed strength and hope. It has never failed me. It reminds me that there is still beauty in this world; in art, in science, in literature, in nature and in our relationships with people. And that as long as this beauty remains, there is still reason for hope.

P.S. For those who are interested, the entire text (it isn't very long) of the essay can be found here:

http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell1.htm






29 Comments:

At 3:56 AM, Blogger Weary Hag said...

Sadly, many of those in the deepest of desperation fail to ever read such writings ... they fail to think for themselves and they fail to "get it." Excellent post - thanks for sharing many of those titles.

(and I hope your ear is on the mend)

 
At 1:52 AM, Blogger The troublemaker said...

hey the Russell intro was interesting, have seen his books in the college library somehow restrained myself from laying hands on it.
you had commented in my blog long back, but i wasnt aware of it until now.

 
At 7:38 AM, Blogger Mirage said...

great post man...will definitely try and lay my hands on one of those books

 
At 10:45 PM, Blogger manjari said...

i have not read the book but the next one i am going to buy will surely be by Bertrand Russel...right now i have started reading 'O Jerusalem' by Larry Collins n Domonique Lapierre...nice post

 
At 6:26 AM, Blogger DayByDay4-2Day said...

Hi, just wanted to say thanks for stopping by my site.

 
At 8:54 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

Manjari:I've heard quite a bit about Lapierre...will put him on my list...
Carol: yup, my ear is better...it says hi (that's horrible, i know, but i simply couldn't resist)...

 
At 7:54 AM, Blogger hope and love said...

nice post.. i too love to read philosophy..

 
At 1:19 AM, Blogger dan said...

i think it's definitely every teenager's dream to emulate their hero.

having clotted blood sucked from your ear doesn't sound pleasant at all.

 
At 11:56 PM, Blogger Harashita R. R. Bajaj said...

nice taste of books... well i also have a lot of intrest in philosophy ( nyways i write more than i read)... nice post

 
At 3:59 AM, Blogger The troublemaker said...

hey man!
that post was not really about cats.
And your fav books list is very enviable.

 
At 4:16 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

yeah, I got that...I mean, psychedelic felines with lips?...cool turn of phrase, man...just thought I'd mention that, though...

 
At 6:46 AM, Blogger Anjali said...

Hi Monk ... thanks for stopping by at my blog.
I really enjoyed reading yours too ... scanned thru your archives and found some great writing :)
Will be back!

 
At 1:01 AM, Blogger manjari said...

have a great diwali

 
At 2:04 AM, Blogger Apoorv Gawde said...

"It was a dark and stormy night" well that comment is a snoopy copyright :)
Wonderful to read the post.
I mean Yossarian, Roark are like amazing characters, I agree. My latest addition to that list could be Hodel Caulfield from "The Catcher in the Rye". Does'nt have the intensity of Roark or the craziness of Yossarian, but has something that I cannot define, which makes him a wonderful character.

 
At 2:34 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

I know it is...but I think snoopy wouldn't mind... ;)...I agree with you...holden caulfield is a great character...but i didn't really like catcher in the rye when i read it...have to read it again...

 
At 3:12 AM, Blogger clash said...

i saw russell's book in one of my juniors room! i mean when i was in NITT,now the question r u the same junior am speakin abt? am unni by the way..

 
At 4:48 AM, Blogger Camphor said...

Heya, awesome writing in here. Now I know I'll be back. Have Blogrolled you, hope you don't mind.

To the subject ~ you know, the philosophy closest to my heart has always been in books like the Lord of the Rings. Even after reading Ayn Rand, after reading Russell... somehow that application of my ideals in a world that is not real remains the one that means the most to me. Perhaps Tolkien caught me early.

 
At 10:32 AM, Blogger Dreamcatcher said...

I was looking at the books in your profile - iam impressed i dont know too many people who have read Shakespeare in the original - i mean we all know the stories and all that...
Bookaholic..addicted to books..:)same here
And finally someone who doesnt think Ayn Rand isnt the greatest author ever. I think her characters are irrational, unrealistic and yes her philosophy is admirable but i think she went a little too far...

 
At 11:16 AM, Blogger Random said...

calvin is my hero

 
At 5:52 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

Clash:yup, Varun here...
Camphor:I like Tolkien myself...Gandalf and Aragorn were my favorites...To each his/her own, I say...but I think Russell's funda more or less holds up: repose your faith in something that is worthy of it...mind you, I'm not sayin LOTR isn't worthy of it...
Dreamcatcher:I agree...Shakespeare is not considered the world's greatest playwright for his plots/stories...it for the insights that his characters provide into
human nature...and the sheer beauty of his writing...
Rash: yeah, Calvin is super-cool...

 
At 10:54 PM, Blogger Guruprasad Kini (Guru) said...

Monk!
Good blog dude. And nice article this one. Whatever feeble interest (and inclination) I had in philosophy died after I joined the IT industry. Ever since all true knowledge I gain about life, universe and everything is from Dilbert strips.
Ayn Rand, is, well...I will put it this way: my copy of "The Fountainhead" has been bookmarked at the 300-odd-th page since...God knows when.
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" was more like my cuppa tea. It took me 2 years to finish the book. For some reason, I just couldn't read it when I was not travelling or away from home. IMHO, "Zen" is not true philosophy. It is a "trippy" book. It just rambles, allowing you to feel free to interpret it any which you want.
Bach is good, but not very consistent, IMHO. "Seagull" is one the best books I have read so far. "Illusions" was good in parts. "Bridge across forever" was a terminal bore.
What's your stand with the "new-crop" books - like "Tipping Point", "Who moved my cheese", "Blink", "Tuesdays with Morrie"?
P.S.: Sold your Ferrari yet?

 
At 11:29 PM, Blogger the Monk said...

I've heard so much abt Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance...haven't got round to readin it yet...i personally don't find these new-age instant philosophy books any good...i mean, your philosophy is something that is built up over a long time...and finally when you find something that resonates with your beliefs/experiences, you call it your favorite book/philosphy....they're too preachy...and i couldn't finish the monk who sold his ferrari, i got chaated, too many fundas...that's why i prefer fundas through fiction...like catch 22, kurt vonnegut, douglas adams....in fact, Russell's an exception for me...but his language and writing is amazin..hell, he won the Literature Nobel...

 
At 11:52 AM, Blogger nandini said...

That was a wonderful post... It gave me a sudden rush of breathlessness to see so many of my favourite books mentioned all at one go! And then I went and checked your profile and went "Whoa!" ... My intro into philosophy started with "Mr God this is Anna" - that was at 13- at 15 it was Ayn Rand- and I went into the phase of admiration nearing worship... and then the slow , reluctant opening of my eyes to the irrationality of her characters too... It seems to happen a lot...but her books remain a favourite of mine. Bach came later... then Khalil Gibran... Voltaire, ... he's rather more readable than most other "deep philosophers', Plato's dialogues... Its an eclectic list really... still haven't found a philosophy that fits perfectly... but I guess that's a lifetime's work!

 
At 6:51 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

it would be really difficult to find one that fits perfectly, i suppose...i guess that's because our views themselves change with time...i really enjoyed plato's dialogues...even though my views differed...

 
At 6:28 AM, Blogger Pushuka said...

I'm not big on philosophy, but the post made really good reading. I got a copy of Catch22 at my place and I havent been able to get past page 55 in three previous attempts. I guess I'll make another attempt today... keep posting, dude.

 
At 3:25 AM, Blogger steelmagnolia said...

good post...i have never been into philosophy...but ur post has set me thinking...i will definitely get my hands on the works of the authors that u have mentioned...

 
At 7:29 AM, Blogger Nenlos said...

I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull when i was 11. U might wanna read 'Autobiography of a Yogi'. My all time fav. THE most inspirational book (in non-fiction. PG Wodehouse inspires me the most in fiction)

 
At 9:28 PM, Blogger Kavitha said...

Thank you for the Russell essays link.

 
At 12:30 AM, Blogger Kaushik said...

Wow...I didn't know you had a philosopher in you as well...so looks like your blood is not all corny, after all! ;)

I couldn't agree more about Fountainhead...was my staple diet during college, but now think its highly unrealistic. That said, the basic funda of objectivism is something I believe in...guess in a way, the same thing is highlighted in Russell's essay.

Very good Russell intro..haven't really read him so far...believe that one of the qualities of a good book is that it should be easy to read...but guess I'll take a shot at it now.

Btw, what's your views on Kahlil Gibran? Prophet & Anthology are my all-time favorites...thought-provoking, great language yet easy to read.

 

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