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Hamlet at the Harold Pinter

Hamlet at the Harold Pinter

Hamlet at the Harold Pinter

Starring Andrew Scott

Directed by Robert Icke

This is a scene by scene review/commentary.

In case you plan to see the play, or have a chance of doing so, please skip the review and head to West End. It is not to be missed. Get thee to the play. Seriously! In case you just cannot catch it, then make do with this. I have tried to capture my experience of the play, it is hardly comparable to being there, but I had to write this long commentary so that I don’t forget what it felt like to watch this amazing performance, and so that I preserve for myself the thoughts and feelings that were evoked through it.

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A spartan set greets the audience, which in addition to the lack of anything royal about it, also has a few unexpected elements. A large sofa to one corner, two-three steel chairs to either side, and what looks like a steam-punk console of some sorts to one corner.

* * * *

Act 1 Scene 1

To the immediate surprise of the spectators, the play opens with large flat TV screens switching on all around them with weird footages playing in them.

Instead of a guard platform we get a CCTV observation room. The guards look flustered and soon, of course, Horatio enters (in some style I must say, much more casual in attire compared to the stiff suited guards).

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Marcellus and Barnardo resume their attempts to convince Horatio (one is to assume somehow the CCTVs could not record the supernatural stuff, I guess) of what they have seen when all of a sudden horrific static erupts in the theater and the dead King appears on-screen, ominous and really really spooky. A collective gasp from the audience at this. It was pretty effective – considering the Dane had only come on-screen yet – the audience has not been introduced to the real ghost yet. I wondered if all ghost scenes would be thorough CCTVs… that would be a pity even if it went pretty splendidly this time. After all how would the father-son equation, which is the core of the play, play out through CCTVs? In any case, even as Scholar Horatio tries to hail the Ghost (who is in military attire, as a modern parallel to the armor worn by the original), there is a minor explosion at the console and the Ghost had disappeared from the screens as abruptly as it had appeared.

Before the scene concludes Horatio quickly updates the soldiers about what is happening in the kingdom and why security is so tight these days: The old King killed his rival King of Norway, Fortinbras, and conquered his territories. Now his (Norway’s) son, in revenge, is attempting to take back his territories with a small band of rag-tag outlaws he had gathered. Mark that from this it doesn’t feel like Fortinbras had any chance of defeating Denmark, but then an internal revenge drama will facilitate the external revenge drama. Pretty sweet, right? This is something that is often overlooked I guess, but maybe there was a poetic symmetry to this as well.

The Ghost makes another abrupt appearance, throwing the guards and Horatio into another frenzy. More frantic fiddling of the dials, etc. ensue (to be honesty this time it felt a bit comic, the reactions).

Ghost exits. It faded on the crowing of the cock – the guards quickly trying to explain away the unknown with the presumed known, finding some comfort in their astute understanding of how the supernatural world is supposed to function. We have to make everything conform to rules, absurd though they may be.

They decide that they have to inform Hamlet of what has been happening here.

Scene closes to some stunning music and the stage goes pitch black. Obviously some stage rearrangement was underway in the darkness, though I am unsure how they manage to do so in that darkness. Must take some deft hands. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2017 in Book Reviews, Books, Movies, Theater Reviews

 

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Pirates of the Powerpoint

How to Lie with StatisticsHow to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff

My Rating★★★★☆

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Pirates of the Powerpoint

Darrell Huff uses a simple, but effective literary device to impress his readers about how much statistics affect their daily lives and their understanding of the world.

He does this by pretending that the book is a sort of primer in ways to use statistics to deceive, like a manual for swindlers, or better, for pirates. He then pretends to justify the crookedness of the book in the manner of the retired burglar whose published reminiscences amounted to a graduate course in how to pick a lock and muffle a footfall: The crooks already know these tricks; honest men must learn them in self-defense.

This keeps the book interesting and entertaining, though for anyone even partly trained in statistics, it has very little educational value.

Of course, the title of this book and Huff’s little charade would seem to imply that all such operations are the product of intent to deceive. The intelligent reader would be skeptical — it is the unfortunate truth that it not chicanery much of the time, but incompetence. On the other hand, Huff is pretty clear that the ‘errors’ if that is what they are always seem to come down on the side of the interested party. As long as the errors remain one-sided, he says, it is not easy to attribute them to bungling or accident.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

After being fellow pirates for much of the book, in the concluding chapter Huff finally lets go if his pet charade and faces up to the more serious purpose of the book: explaining how to look a phony statistic in the eye and face it down; and no less important, how to recognize sound and usable data in that wilderness of fraud to which the previous chapters have been largely devoted. He lays down some thumb rules, which in the end comes come down to asking intelligent questions of the stats, especially of the conclusions. Asking such questions require the readers to be aware of the tendency of stats to mislead and to not be dazzled by the numbers.

Huff’s book is primarily an attempt to pull down the high estimation automatically awarded to anybody willing to quote numbers. It is a fun evening read for the expert, who may then roll his eyes and say that there is nothing of real value in the book. But as its popularity attests to, it seems to be an important book for the lay reader, just by serving a reminder that the pirates are still out there — wielding their charts.

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Posted by on May 11, 2014 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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Plato’s Republic: An Apology

Republic

Republic by Plato

My Rating★★★★★

Is the attempt to determine the way of man’s life so small a matter in your eyes—to determine how life may be passed by each one of us to the greatest advantage? (1.344d)

***

I propose therefore that we inquire into the nature of justice and injustice, first as they appear in the State, and secondly in the individual, proceeding from the greater to the lesser and comparing them. (2.368e—369a)


The Republic: An Apology

“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” 

~ Alfred North Whitehead

The Famous Republic

‘The Republic’ is either reverenced, reviled or just plain ignored. Though it keeps resurfacing, it has been pushed back often, being accused of bigotry, racism, elitism, casteism, anti-democratic nature, the list is endless. But it is beyond doubt, one of the preeminent philosophical works and has been quoted, referenced or adapted by almost all of the major thinkers since.

The ideas of Socrates have had an afterlife that is as long and varied as the thousand year journey envisioned for souls in the famous Story of Er. It is impossible to catalogue the full list of impacts but Whitehead’s quote (introductory to this review) gives adequate flavor. The practical influence of Republic is more difficult to gauge than its impact on the theorizing of later thinkers – over the centuries, individuals have discovered in Plato’s works the inspiration for undertaking political or social or educational reform and have used it as the springboard for much revolutionary thought, and deeds.

Republic has inspired in addition to all the expository analysis, also countless creative interpretations, which have shaped our vision of future possibilities, limits and of extremities. Many depictions of both utopian societies and their dystopian counterparts, ranging from Thomas More’s Utopia to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to George Orwell’s 1984, have their roots in the ideal city brought to life by Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus. Contemporary films such as Gattaca and The Matrix may not owe direct inspiration to Republic, but they participate in a long tradition of artistic works that ultimately trace their concerns back to the political, social, and metaphysical issues raised in Republic.

But in spite of all this, the original work retains a reputation for being difficult and hard to penetrate. This has meant that the scholars have more or less appropriated this brilliantly composed treatise, and that is a pity. There is great suspense in every page as you eagerly try to work your way through Socrates’ arguments… anticipating now, guessing now, failing now, but always on the edge of your seats at the sparkle of his wit and wisdom. The dialogues are constructed with an almost unbelievable care and subtlety. The drama is breathtaking and all-pervading, even in the stock responses to theoretical or rhetorical questions. One is never allowed to sit and absorb passively, but is forced to constantly interact with the dialogue. It is as much fun to read as a Shakespearean drama.

The Offensive Republic

Now, to examine some of the reasons why The Republic offends modern sensibilities:

Much of the contemporary discomfort with Plato’s state arises from his countenancing of censorship, a rigid caste system, etc. But these are in a way unfortunate misunderstandings. A close reading of the text would make clear that these catch-all descriptions of Plato’s state are not as representative as they are made out to be. For example, the caste system that is first to get blamed is hardly a rigid hereditary system, but a strict meritocratic system that is much more equal than anything that we have seen till date. It involves a strict battery of tests (similar to the aptitude tests of today) based on which every individual is to be judged (and opponents of IQ tests may relax – these are meant to be much more practical examinations).

Also, the popular rendering of the title as “The Republic” itself is unfortunate, giving it an obvious political and ideological overtone. In the manuscripts and ancient citations, the title of Republic is given as Politeia (“Constitution”) or Politeiai (“Constitutions”); Peri dikaiou (literally, “concerning that which is just”) is sometimes listed as an alternative title.

The Misunderstood Republic

I had planned on giving a blow by blow defense of the most reviled aspects of The Republic, but that is not the point I wish to make here. The primary mistake in criticizing The Republic is to assume that it was meant to be a political treatise in the first place. It is not. The whole argument begins from a question of identifying what ‘Justice’ is and whether it is beneficial to live a ‘Just Life’. This is the crux. ‘Why’ and ‘How’ to be Just and ‘What’ is this “Justice’ anyway? That is what Socrates wants to explore. He takes detours in this exploration. He uses metaphors – of State (as larger manifestation), of Caves, etc. But they all lead us back to the same basic question.

To identify this basic concern, we need only look at the complex structure of the dialogue itself. Republic’s “narrative” is structured in an almost circular pattern. This circular pattern is complex, evoking the narrative patterns of epic poems such as Iliad and Odyssey. Most basically, the dialogue’s two main concerns (defining justice and ascertaining its relationship to happiness) are treated in two corresponding sections (books 2-4 and books 8-9) that are interrupted by what is nominally a series of digressions in books 5-7, and 10. These nominal digressions, of course, create the dialogue’s most memorable metaphors, but they are meant to be digressions that add to the core. Not the other way around.

At its most basic level, Republic is an effort to forge a consistent and meaningful redefinition of “Justice”. The aretê that is explored lies in nothing outward, but rests solely in the mature reason and regard for what is beneficial to the soul. Not all the details in these allegories stand up to logical analysis, but they are not meant to.

This is made clear by the fact that The Republic’s interlocutors repeatedly draw attention to the incomplete, provisional, and at times unsatisfactory nature of their treatment of justice, happiness, the ideal political community, the theory of the ideas, the cognitive faculties of human beings, etc. The inadequacy of “the method we are employing” is acknowledged at 4.435c-d, at 6.504b-d and in many other places.

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The Personal Constitution: A Constitution of the Perfect Life

The Perfect State sketched out (which is the stub of almost all criticism) is only an approximation devised to arrive at the Perfect Man, and that is why the so called bad aspects can be deemed acceptable. The mistake, as stated already, is to see it as a purely political treatise while it is in fact a treatise on justice and how to live the perfect life – the ‘Constitution’ of a perfect life.

“He will look at the city which is within him, and take heed that no disorder occur in it, such as might arise either from superfluity or from want; and upon this principle he will regulate his property and gain or spend according to his means.”

In the end, the state is not fleshed out enough to really form a complete constitution for any state that can exist in reality (and not just as an idea). But the psychological part (it is curious how this part has generated so much less criticism, in comparison) is – we return in the end (and all the way in between) to the original question of how an individual should order his life – what his virtues should be. It is a political critique piggy-backing on a  personal enquiry and hence any commentary of it cannot treat them differently. Censorship, slaves, aristocracy are all wonderful aspects in an individual but not palatable in a state (to modern eyes). Hence, we can only criticize that the greater to smaller equality is not well realized (i.e. from state => individual). But then Socrates, as above, is always eager to make the point about the provisional nature of his metaphor which is only meant to incite thinking and not as an answer – that is just not the way to deal with true lovers of truth, with true philosophers.

[Cheeky counterproposal by the reviewer’s alter-ego: “Or all the personal stuff is just a convenient cloak for the political criticism that is the real purpose! After all, we cannot forget the historical milieu in which Plato composed it. He had enough axes to grind!”]

Indeed, the more we approach certain aspects of the text from analytic and conceptual standpoints, the more we find that Socrates and his companions make innumerable assumptions and leaps of logic that is not satisfactory or fully justified. Each of these can be fairly scrutinized and contested, and have been. We may raise any number of questions about its relevance to our experiences and value systems. Much of Republic, especially its political philosophy, argument for Censorship and Social structuring, is at odds with modern ideals; some readers will doubtless be dissatisfied with, among other things, its unapologetic elitism and naive (almost laughable) confidence in the integrity of “philosopher-rulers.” Some, however, may find that its critique of ancient Athenian society opens the door to meaningful questions about contemporary cultural practices and priorities. And even more meaningful questions on how to organize our inner impulses and constitution.

Philosopher, Be Thyself

We need to understand that the Platonic Dialogues, in principle, are not meant to represent a simple doctrine that can be followed, they instead are meant to prepare the way for philosophizing. They are not easy guide books to follow. They require work from the reader, above and beyond the ideas presented. That is one of the reasons for the dialogue nature in which they are structured. Plato’s overarching purpose in writing the Republic was to effect a change in his readers similar to the change that Glaucon and Adeimantus undergo at Socrates’ hands in the fictional world of the dialogue. This purpose can be summed up in the word protreptic, from the Greek protrepein, which means “turn (someone) forward,” hence “propel,” “urge on,” “exhort.” Plato uses literary art, which in his case includes but is not limited to philosophical argument, to move his reader toward a greater readiness to adopt a just way of life.

The dialogues are thus intended to perform the function of a living teacher who makes his students think. One must philosophize to understand them. One must look at the microcosm of the dialogues as well as the macrocosm of the world that we inhabit simultaneously to understand them. It is in this process that the dialogues assist, insist and themselves provide a training in.

We can only conclude by asking questions, in the true spirit of the dialectic method:


Can we then say that we are convinced, that justice, as defined by Socrates, is something intrinsically valuable? Are we convinced that the just man can be “happy” even if he does not enjoy a reputation for justice, nor any other material benefit, in this life or after?

OR


Have Socrates and his companions persuaded us that the ideal city-state they describe in Republic is truly the best political community possible? Do we believe that Socrates himself thinks so? Is that what we take away from such a deep examination of how to live our lives? Or do we let the Story of Er guide us back to the truer motives of the interlocutors?

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“I really do not know as yet, but whither the argument may blow, thither we go.”

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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy, Thoughts

 

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India: The Emerging Giant by Arvind Panagariya

India: The Emerging GiantIndia: The Emerging Giant by Arvind Panagariya

My Rating★★★★☆

After having read Sen (Development as Freedom) and having been greatly influenced by his ideas, it was only fair to Bhagwati that I read one of his books next. But I decided to start with his collaborator’s work before moving into his own. Having read Dasgupta‘s views on this recently helped in this decision.

Am planning to be reading the two new works by the contending clans next…

In this book Panagariya offers an analytic account and interpretation of the major economic developments in postindependence India along with a detailed discussion of where the policies currently stand and a road map of the future reforms necessary to accelerate and sustain growth.

The principal problem with such a specific and policy oriented book that is grounded on empirical data than on any purely ideological or theoretical grounds is that the stats need to be updated every two years or so to maintain relevance, not just of the recommendations but of the argumentative underpinnings as well.

I am tempted to write a detailed review on the policy recommendations and the outlines provided by Panagariya but I have to refrain till I catch hold of a decent book with a more recent treatment.

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Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic EconomicsEconomics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt

My Rating★★★☆☆

 

This is a true ‘Economics or Dummies’ book. It can be useful in case you want something handy to bang over an economic nit-wit’s head on short notice. Only such a dummy would be unable to puncture your simplistic arguments or need them in the first place. Beyond that, it is hard to envisage much use for this volume, whether for serious discussion or for serious reflection. So if the initial bang was not good enough and if you pack no other arsenal, you might as well get out of there, and fast. This failing is primarily for want of breadth of scope and an explicit avoidance of addressing possible arguments.

After all, any book that promises to redue an antire discipline to ‘one lesson’ should not expect to have much more efectiveess than a poorly aimed sledge hammer.

Of course, there is a case for reading a book like this. Firstly, it might have been useful and even an essential book back then. Textbooks lack bite. Sometimes a book needs to come along that takes a point of view and is not shy of an argument, and of drilling in a single pov to the point of exhaustion. Which is probably why this book has lasted 50 odd years and is still only moderately outdated.

But to a modern student, such an unqualified approach can only seem like sophistry. He is too jaded to believe in panaceas.

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Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & DiscoveryThe Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery by Amitav Ghosh

My Rating★★★★☆

What was that Mr. Ghosh? An attempt at a new genre? A bold stroke at creating a uniquely Indian view on science and how it would have been if science research was driven by mystics and cults? A spi-sci-fi book?

***Spoiler Alert*** . It is a pity that all the science falls flat the moment it wanders beyond the known and the proven. It could have been so much better. However, because Ghosh keeps all the science strictly to the unreliable Murugan, it seems acceptable or at least pardonable – even when it is utter nonsense, we can take it as a man’s eccentricities and carry on in the ride he has created for himself.

If the narrator had not climbed aboard the same train for the ride, not to mention adding the unnecessary ghost train (or did I miss its significance all together?) and the comic book ending, I would have given the book an additional star to complete a fiver – it entertained me that much, and when unexpected entertainment finds you, it is exhilarating. The book under-delivered on literary merit but over-delivered on pure fun and that works, sometimes.

I fully expect it to be the worst of Ghosh’s works but I also know that I will not approach anything by him with the faint dread-steeped respect with which we approach most modern literary giants for the first time.

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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations: A New TranslationMeditations: A New Translation by Marcus Aurelius

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marcus Aurelius must have been a prolific reader. He sure was a prolific note-taker, for these meditations are surely his study-notes(?- after all he was a ‘philosopher’ from age 12). I don’t know of the publishing system at the time but where are the detailed footnotes and references? Marcus Aurelius is quite a wise man or at least he read enough wise men. He sure nailed it as far as boring a reader is concerned. No better way to establish your book’s wisdom quotient.

I am being needlessly caustic of course(do note my rating above). The book is quotable in almost every page and is good to dip in to now and then, you might well find an aphorism that fits the mood just right every time. And that is why the book is a classic and so well-loved.

Don’t read it as a scholar, you will end up like this reviewer. As I said earlier – He is like the wisdom of ages. Aargh 🙂 Not that it is all bad – it is like reading an old uncles’s notes after he has been preaching to you all your life.

Good that I am a stoic too. All ills are imaginary. Yes.

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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki


My Rating★★★★★

 

 

 

If and when you meet The Buddha,
Kill him.
Then come back
And sit.
Sit
In Zazen.
Be.
Enlightenment is there,
Before it arrives.

 

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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Creative, Philosophy, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion

Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of ReligionMinds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion by Todd Tremlin

My Rating★★★★☆

Non-scholarly musings on a Scholarly work

So it is then established that Gods, Religious concepts and Rituals are natural effervescences of the kind of mind that we posses, parasitic on our cognitive processes. It (our minds) is uniquely suited to imbibe them.

Mark though: We cannot (yet) make a claim that our minds WILL produce Gods and Religions and Rituals if left to themselves (though historical evidence might indicate that this could well be the case) but only that our minds cannot avoid the God Meme once exposed to it. Our society is very efficient at ensuring that.

An Atheist or an Agnostic is in this way, in this fundamental cognitive aspect of the nature of our cognitive construction, indistinguishable from a Theist – once exposed to a God concept they cannot but let their mind’s velcro stick to those burs forever.

The Theist adheres to a theological notion, the Agnostic to a scientific/skeptic’s credo and an Atheist to his own brand of faith in a new-found Religion of Science (reminding one of the Buddhists who tried to go nuclear (agnostic) and ended up as theistic in daily life).

But, we do have two brains inside us (yes, that is quite a ‘new’ finding too)) as Daniel Kahneman elaborates in his new book (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and only our rational brain system (read pathway) can entertain these abstract concepts. Our emotional/instinctive (read pathway) brain will still repeatedly resort to the God Concept we are familial (thus familiar) with in most of our our “on-line” thinking – that is in our daily (non-abstract-thinking) life.

“Deal with it”, the message is: We are all the same – Theists, Agnostics, Atheists or whatever we call ourselves, we are all in the same boat believing in the same agencies “on-line” and professing different versions of our pet abstractions “off-line”.

Not even managing to fool ourselves.

Disclaimer:

The above review is not a summation of the book but more a running with the ball tossed by it. The book is a study and an overview of the new Science of the Cognitive Study of Religion and deals with Religion in a new way – as a cognitive by-product of our psychology and our evolution. It is thoroughly fascinating and can lead to all sorts of ideas just as any new science should.

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Posted by on February 23, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy, Thoughts

 

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Paradharmo Bhayaavahah: Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-RelianceSelf-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

My Rating★★★★☆

Shreyaan swadharmo vigunah paradharmaat swanushthitaat; 
Swadharme nidhanam shreyah paradharmo bhayaavahah. 
~ The Bhagavad-Gita, 3.35 (Chapter 3, Verse 35)

[Better is one’s own Dharma, though devoid of merit, than the Dharma of another well discharged. Better is even death in one’s own Dharma; to attempt the Dharma of another is fraught with danger.]

I felt that Self-Reliance is a book length homage to this verse. Emerson, while talking loftily of originality seems to have not the slightest compunction in drawing heavily from oriental philosophies to achieve the grandeur that is reflected in his thoughts and writings. Of course Emerson was no stranger to the beautiful verses of Gita nor to the Upanishads. Emerson and Thoreau, both, were greatly drawn by the philosophy of The Gita. As Thoreau says, “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita, in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seems puny and trivial.” Emerson has also been vocal in his praise – “The Bhagavad-Gita is an empire of thought and in its philosophical teachings Krishna has all the attributes of the full-fledged monotheistic deity and at the same time the attributes of the Upanisadic absolute.”

I just wish that the book itself had a reference to The Gita and did not depend on my memory to make the connections. Self-Reliance is a great and inspirational work, but would have been the better for quoting its own inspirations.

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Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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The Girl With The Dragon Boots

Pippi LongstockingPippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

My Rating★★★★☆

Having read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, where Lisbeth is identified as a real world Pippi, I have been planning to read the supposed inspiration for a long time. For the first few chapters, it is hard to imagine how Larsson could have based the character of Lisbeth on Pippi. Eventually I learned to warp Pippi’s world and squeeze it into the supposedly real world filled with rapists and thieves, where little girls have no super strength to get by on. I could then start to see how Larsson could have imagined, reading Pippi as an adult, that each of pippi’s little ‘adventures’ could have been a tragedy. Out of a thousand, one might survive. He decided to write about that one, a modern-day Pippi. For, you probably still need Pippi’s attitude to survive in a modern-day Sweden even if you don’t have her super powers – Lisbeth might have been an orphan and a rebel just like Pippi, she might only have her hacking skills as a proxy for Pippi’s super-strength, but at the end of the day both could kick some ass.

The review you have just read above is meant to illustrate how my reading of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo influenced my reading of Pippi Longstocking. Is it fair to even think of Lisbeth and of Larsson’s interpretation of the tale while reading it? Probably not. I wish I could read it far away from Lisbeth’s shadow. Do I blame Larsson now for spoiling some good fun? Probably yes. I just wish I had read Astrid first – of course I might never have heard of Pippi if not for Larsson. This is an issue I have faced with many books where the source is as enjoyable as the book that referred me to it, but less enjoyable for having read the referring work. How to get around this? Shall I drop everything and run to a bookstore the moment the slightest footnote pops up? They better stock up before I read Ulysses then.

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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Nabokov’s Lolita: An Appreciation

LolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov

My Rating★★★★★

Qualifier:

Here is the review I had planned in my earlier rambling. I had half-hoped that I would brood over it, and in due time, some blazingly original understanding of the book would shine through in a review (as it usually does!). Now enough time has passed and I have even given the book a second go-over. I am still lost. So here, for your reading pleasure, is the second-hand review, the old mish-mash of familiar thoughts, the dusty talk about beauty and about confused morality and vague hints at some hidden depth. It is just table-talk as far as Lolita is concerned. Do you really want to read it? Why don’t you read a more intelligent counter-analysis here? I warned you —

Review:

Lolita should probably be read with a french dictionary in one hand and a glass of wine on the table side and even that doesn’t guarantee that you will understand the full beauty of the prose.

Only the beauty of the language distracts one enough to get through the head-over-heals atrocities that litter the pages. At times I felt strongly that it is more of a study in beauty and aesthetics than is it about morality or on examining the pathos of society – as we want every literary book to be.

The fact that it doubles as a weird post-apocalyptic parent-daughter road-trip, where they cruise on against the dark landscape of a morally devastated world was for me only a backdrop to the exquisite ode to beauty that the book was. But, the road-trip nevertheless occupies a central position in the narrative. The Appalachian roads are the witness to the worst of the perversions – the dark moral descent. And then the tide reverses and the same roads are traversed again in a mad descent of the intellect into madness. But somehow, in that second journey Humbert gains a surer knowledge of what the relationship between beauty and innocence is and about what appreciation should be tolerated and what terminated.

The most disturbing factor about the whole reading experience was the dawning sense that the poor Lolita whom you are to pity is not so innocent after all. She represents the modern youth – who knows all the worst secrets of earth and indulges them without any sense of the absurd or evil. The innocence lost is regained due to a lack of angst at what an earlier generation considered morally base. What is not acceptable in this post-apocalyptic moral world? Apparently nothing, the worst transgressions are treated as matter of fact and the two interlopers are never discovered and even murder is committed in the midst of mad jocularity. It’s a comedy roiling in depravity, masquerading as a confession. It is as darkly-funny as ‘darkly-funny’ can get. Post-modernism marries Absurdist literature in Nabokov’s Lolita.

The fabricated foreword too gives tantalizing clues on how to decipher the novel and the protagonist – but as you finish the novel you realize that the foreword was an example of how someone who just doesn’t “get it” would view the novel. It is a negative signpost to guide you where not to go. The afterword is very factual and gives a better understanding of the book.

As the B&N site says, Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written… that is, ecstatically. The novel is indeed too perfectly crafted, you want to scream at it in disgust and you want to coo at it in adoration. It is like one of those abhorrent but so-perfect marble statues – it is beautiful enough to be feared but your eyes can never look away once fixed on its perfect form. As a fellow goodreader has said, you may not enjoy reading this book but you might enjoy having read it. Reading it is worth the time, just to marvel at what our mundane, every-day language can become in the hands of a true artist. Forget what it describes, go with the music, dance a little.

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Posted by on January 13, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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