Tag Archives: Philosophy

A bunched up Book Review

animalfarm2Catch-22_1slaughterhouse-five-cover

     

 

 

 

 

Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Animal Farm – George Orwell

I do not why I have lumped these three books together – there must be a method behind the apparent madness.

The first two are American, the last British. The first two are anti-war while the third is on political philosophy.

But they do have some similarities. They all are from the middle of the last century, all sad-funny, what is called dark-humor. All have an underdog at the center of it, though the ‘underdogs’ in the last are the farm animals ‘minus’ the pigs and the dogs.

All these books have sensational quotes; all of them can be read happily by children and adults alike without meaning anything to them; all of them are depressing, for they ask you to abandon hope and try to understand the society ‘as it is’. All of them are against regimentation through ideology.

***

The central theme of Slaughterhouse Five is on the bombing of Dresden; but is also about Vietnam and other wars that will follow. It is about a person who is ‘unstuck’ in time and exists at all times of his life, all the time. I understand that to be merely living in memory, for the science fiction bit in the novel is really not very important.

Kurt Vonnegut was in Dresden when it was bombed by the Allied forces, for no apparent reason, killing over a hundred thousand civilans – more than the Hiroshima atom bomb. So, the novel is partly autobiographical, and probably that is why it is so rich in detail.

The anti-war sentiments are spot-on and the most beautiful passage is where it describes a war movie running on a rewind.

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.
The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.
When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.
The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed
.”

But like I said before, the novel is dark and offers no solution:

That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?”
“Yes.” Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.
“Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why
.

***

Another beautiful anti-war novel is the famous Catch-22. Here is how the novel describes the clause “Catch-22” –

Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

The confused question of relevance of nationalism that has become so central to the ordering of our lives is brought out thus –

What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can’t all be worth dying for.”

The book is scathing at places, and truly insightful –

“It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”

Again, as is common with all the books reviewed here, it offers no hope. The society wants a total submission and eventually the life of the individual; the individual instinctively resists, for it is not in his DNA to die for others; much persuasion and heartburn later, the matter remains unresolved. Such novels, after all, can only raise questions and warn against the prevailing lies.

***

The last in the list is Animal Farm by George Orwell. This one does not have a war as its backdrop, and I probably include it to underline the fact that it is not war that is at the root of our problems – war is only a symptom, an inevitable result of the way we have ordered our society and brainwashed ourselves.

Let’s begin with the story, for it is beautifully-childish. The farm animals overthrow the regime of a cruel man and take it upon themselves to run the farm in the best possible manner, in the interests of the animals. But the newly named ‘Animal Farm’ under the democratic rule of the pigs fast degenerates into a dictatorship of ‘Napoleon’, the brightest pig, and his family, who use a group of dogs as their ‘musclemen’. They mainly use ideology and oratory to keep the other animals satisfied, but have to use ‘muscle’ eventually, when even the dumbest start to understand the true nature of the new order. The last lines of the novel shows the animals peeping inside a cabin where the pigs are having a party with the neighbouring humans, and the author concludes –

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

The beauty of the novel is that it simultaneously attacks capitalism and communism. And because of that, the novel comes to an inevitable dead-end, where human greed and cruelty comes out victorious once again.

Not surprisingly it was banned in both the US and USSR at one point of time. Written in 1944, it was before the excesses of Stalin era came to be, and so we can also salute the foresight of the author. But the worrisome part is not the “I told you so smirk”, the worrisome part is that the book is so ‘universal’ – reading it you know that this cycle of greed and domination will happen again and again. The way children pick up the same comics to read, again and again and again, despite knowing what will happen.

***


Rumi

rumiLife is fire,
And hatred
And passion,
And desperation-
Life is not lived
With calm reasonableness.
 
The stillness of mind
Reason and balance
The shadowy peace
Of the quiet lake
Hides death, or,
Maybe, something else.
 
Let Rumi talk of love
And peace
And of miracles
Of faith – 
We shall ask Rumi of all that
When we die.

***


An incident in the park

imagination____by_punktlosThe child, about six years old, sitting on the park bench was looking curiously at me. It broke my reverie, and as an opening gambit, I smiled, but he continued to stare.

“What’s up young man?” I asked.

“What are you doing?” he asked, point blank.

That un-nerved me a little, for you never know what the kid was thinking. I played safe, “Just imagining things,” I said.

“What things?” he asked.

“All sorts of things,” I said, not really getting the hang of the conversation.

“Why?” he said.

Now there is little you can do when a young person asks you why. So I deflected the question, “My imagination saw your imagination there,” I said, pointing towards the sky.

That hooked him. We were on familiar territory now, in the world of imaginations.

“Where,” he asked. Perhaps he wanted to know the exact location of our imaginations.

“There, above the clouds,” I said, “Where lots of imaginations live.”

“Imaginations live above clouds?” he asked, curious.

“Not all,” I said, “but the better ones like to live above the clouds.”

“How do you know?” he asked.

“I have been studying imaginations all my life. I am an expert on them. My imagination meets the imaginations of so many people. That is what I was doing. ‘I was connecting’,” I explained.

The expression on his face turned to respect. It takes one to know one.

“Your imagination tells you everything?” he asked.

“Imagination can tell anything. Many things that even the scientists do not know,” I said.

“And they don’t lie?” asked the kid, for he wanted to be on sure grounds before proceeding further into the world of imaginations.

“Imaginations can tell you anything, it is up to you to believe them or not. They are not very particular about truth, but they are powerful none the less. They know the truth, which is sometimes difficult to find,” I said.

“But truth is easy to see. They are like facts,” the kid remarked.

“Not so. Most of the times truth is hidden behind layers of feelings. But imagination knows truth, for truth is sweet and imagination is powerful. I will give you an example. There are many poor children who have not seen the inside of a normal home. They imagine how it may be and are happy.”

“They can go anywhere they can imagine,” he asked.

“Yes of course, like you can go on an adventure, or on a spaceship, or fly with superman or fight the aliens. My imagination once saw a beggar child imagination what it would be to go around the city in a car. I decided to take him along with me in my car. And I did. At the end of the ride I asked him how he liked it, and he said, it was good, but he had been around earlier also. I asked him when, and he said, in his imagination. So, you see, imaginations can be pretty accurate.”

“Wonderful!” he exclaimed.

“No, but remember, not everyone is blessed with such great imaginations,” I cautioned, for I knew that he would feel that the world doesn’t need anything more than imagination. “Moreover, the soul needs imagination, but the body needs more worldly solid things.”

He was disappointed, for he seemed to detect a fly in the ointment. “My dad was saying it is all fool’s paradise,” he said.

“Not so. Newton to Einstein, Aristotle to Marx, Leaonardo da Vinci to Picasso – all the great men have had great imaginations, ones they believed in.”

“What was my imagination doing?” asked the boy.

“I don’t know. Did not talk to it. It seemed busy,” I said.

“Yes, it was. It was catching snakes. Huge snakes,” he nodded and said.

“Ah, that explains it. Your imagination was looking very preoccupied,” I said.

“How did you recognize it was my imagination?” he suddenly asked.

“It looked like you,” I said simply.

“Oh,” he said, “there must be millions and billions and gillions of imaginations up there?” he said.

“Not so. Only few imaginations soar so high. Mostly those of kids. Only few adult imaginations go there. Most adult imaginations can not even cross the clouds, let alone reach space. But the one that can go into space can go anywhere in the universe. No, even beyond the universe, but that needs more power,” I explained.

“What’s beyond universe?” he asked.

“Don’t know yet. Have not been able to go there. Imaginations of saints and really good people are so powerful as to break out of universe. But I have talked to some of those who have been beyond, and they say it is wonderful, for there it is without rules and limitations and free,” I said.

We were silent for a while, as we tried to imagine beyond universe. The little boy’s sigh told me that this time he had failed. And that is the danger of growing up. “Boy, never give up imagination even though at times it will not be able to take you where you want. The imagination of the adults becomes feeble only because they stop believing in them. They start believing too much in the real world, which, I am sure you know, is also imaginary,” I concluded with a smile, and decided to let his imagination figure out the rest.

***

 ((Pic courtesy: punktlos from the net))


Doomsday scenario: In true perspective

Some shallow people have jumped to the conclusion that Hurricane Sandy is the start of the Doomsday show. They cite the movie 2012, as being prophetic.

Poor fools. What do they of Doomsday know, who only of Doomsday know.

[An aside: We are doomed if we have to continue to live. Here. In hell. In the way that we do.

This old joke makes the point better:

An old man and his wife die and reach heaven. Heaven is sensational – fairies and flowers and good days till eternity.

The old man gets raving mad and starts shouting at his wife.

The angels are worried and ask him, ‘Sir, what is the problem?’

‘Nothing,’ says the old man, ‘this woman made me exercise and live a life of purity so I lived till 90. I could have reached here 40 years earlier, if I had not met her@#$!’

The only assumption in this joke is that we would actually land in a place called heaven.

But assuming there is a better place than earth, it would be pain silly to stick to this oil slick infested, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber infested, mosquito infested, power-doped world.]

But back to the main subject – the theory that Sandy is Act One of D-day. I do not think so. It is too localized, in real global terms, and as far as Hurricanes go, not big enough. Like Hollywood and CNN, Sandy thinks New York is the world.

The prowling Mayan and Inca agents, who did regular rounds on my blog (see earlier posts), have gone missing. Instead, there are lot of American tourists – eager, full of money (I presume), but with little knowledge of Doom – who are visiting my doomsday pages these days. They are looking for decent ideas for upper-middle class type Doomsday – something like Sandy, in fact.

Had these people paid attention to Bible, and its description of plagues of Egypt, they would have realized, doomsday is a serious business – not a CNN coverage of Iraq war. It is more like Vietnam and Afghanistan. Doomsday is not likely to be TV friendly – it would unfold slowly and painstakingly, the way great empires fold up and give way to barbarians.

The signs are there, and have been there for some time now, that the western civilization, and liberal-democratic world order for that matter, would give way to barbarians in the coming decades. And that would spell a doom for the world as we, on the internet, know it.

I would not speculate who the barbarians would be this time. It could be the right wing fanatics of the capitalist kind, or the right wing of the Church or Mosque kind.

But there is time yet, to push back the hordes to another age. Let the Doomsday speculation lead to genuine introspection on climate change. Let it make us think again on religious intolerance. Let us take slogans on sustainable living seriously. Let 21st December be a doomsday for those habits of 20th century that have outlived their use. Let us not hide the alternate-to-petroleum-technologies from the world. Let us not get bullied by dictators or fooled by the bankers. Let us not take the fashion of Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga seriously.

Let us not forget that for majority in the poor world, Doomsday would in fact be a day of deliverance from injustice and pain.

****


Aging

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Age is not a number
It is the ticking of the clock
It is the language of the wrinkles
It is that part of the story where you are
It is the linear distance from death.
 
Age is not a feeling
Do not let them fool you,
It is the ebb and tide of confidence
It is the waxing and waning of pride
It is the final text, the moral, the crux.
 
Age is not a myth
You can see it on your skin like a timepiece,
It cannot be hidden under layers
Or erased or cut away by doctors
It is the reminder of the job yet to be done.
 
Age is not an enemy
To be fought, to be conquered
It is the journey, the experience
It is the joy of living,
It is the promise of liberation.
 
***

The great escape

The other day I made a list
Of things that I need to escape from.
Work figured at the top,
Then came bullies and misery,
And accidents and sickness,
And then in quick succession
Flashed past me, what I believe was,
The entire dictionary, including,
Love and children.
 
That stumped me for a while-
Why do I need to escape from
Love and children?
That’s because it is easy to hurt them-
They are delicate,
And when they get hurt
Because of you, or otherwise,
It pains so.
 
Somewhere in my list to escape
Were success and failure
And happiness and sadness.
They hang out in pairs.
Take one of them out for coffee,
And the other will drop in,
And they will back-slap each other
And you are left to pick the tab
And you feel cheated and alone.
 
It would be easy, just to say,
I want to escape the world, or
I want to escape from myself,
And be done with it.
But it is not that easy. You will
Tag along with yourself,
And you will find the world
Standing at every street corner
Looking sullenly at you, as if
You have let it down.
 
I know of a smart madman
Who escaped from his sanity.
‘I will enjoy life,’ he says, ‘till
Sanity finds me again.’
But it is not so easy
To fish out sanity
From your brain.
It is only the lucky
Who lose it, accidently.
 
My attempt to escape myself
Has taken me to some nice places
Around the world. There I pretend
Not to know myself, and that
I am not me; and the people there
Do not really know, or care enough,
To correct me. But this escape
Is temporary – it is a sham
Like the movies, where the superhero
Sets everything right
In the end.
 
‘Escape this need to escape,’
Said a mystic, ‘and flow with the river.
Do not swim, with or against
The current. The river shall take you
Somewhere – do not ask where.’
The advice does make some sense 
For in it, I get a hint of an escape,
And a hint of insanity,
And a hint of not having to do anything.
I think I will give this advice a try.
 
***
 

The fake universe

This universe must be a fake.
Its vastness, its largeness,
Its infinity-ness,
Its eternity-ness,
Its wastefulness
Its meaninglessness,
Its senselessness,
Its remoteness, its aloofness,
Its mysteriousness,
Its lack of bloisterousness,
Its life-less-ness
Its sullen quietness,
Its entire God-less-ness
Must be a fake.
 
Or else, we must be fake.
Our values, our love,
Our hates, our desires,
Our Gods,
Our twinkling stars,
Our days and nights,
Our bird songs,
Our fragile green earth,
Our solitary moon,
Our tides, our seasons,
Our lives, our deaths
Our dreams, our songs, our tears –
They do not gel well
With the rest of the universe.
 
Something, clearly, is amiss.
It would be plain silly
To believe in all of it.
 
Let us rather wait,
And hold our judgment
Till we are awake
And know what is real,
And what was fake.
 
***

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