Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that peo Single Quote Review:
Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I’m bullshitting myself, morally speaking?
The Prolegomena is valuable as a summarization that is intended to be less obscure and suited for popular cons Hieroglyphics: A Reluctant Translation
The Prolegomena is valuable as a summarization that is intended to be less obscure and suited for popular consumption. It tries to compress Kant’s criticism of (all) previous work in metaphysics and the theory of knowledge -- first propounded in the Critique of Pure Reason, which provided a comprehensive response to early modern philosophy and a starting point for most subsequent work in philosophy.
A note on the Edition: This is a wonderful edition to approach the Prolegomena with -- meticulous introductory essay and copious notes. Plus it comes with a summary outline of all the sections! A summary of a summary. What more could you want?
Summing up the Beast
As is well known The Critique of Pure Reason is a notoriously difficult work. When first published, the early readers were not very different from modern readers — they found it incomprehensible!
Kant was a poor popularizer of his own work and when it was finally published in the spring of 1781 (with Kant nearing 57), after almost ten years of preparation and work, Kant had expected that the evident originality of the thoughts would attract immediate attention, at least among philosophers. He was… well… to be disappointed — for the first year or two he received from those whom he most expected to give his book a sympathetic hearing only a cool and uncomprehending, if not bewildered, silence.
What else would you expect for such wild intentions:
My intention is to convince all of those who find it worthwhile to occupy themselves with metaphysics that it is unavoidably necessary to suspend their work for the present, to consider all that has happened until now as if it had not happened, and before all else to pose the question: “whether such a thing as metaphysics is even possible at all.”
He had proposed a “Copernican Revolution” in thinking. He should have known that such stuff cannot come without a user manual.
Soon Kant caught on to this, and started having some misgivings about the fact that he was clearly not getting the reception he had expected for his masterpiece:
Kant is known to have written to Herz expressing his discomfort in learning that the eminent philosopher Moses Mendelssohn had “laid my book aside,” since he felt that Mendelssohn was “the most important of all the people who could explain this theory to the world.”
Mendelssohn later wrote to a friend confessing that he did not understand the work, and professing pleasure at learning that, in the opinion of her brother, he would not be “missing much” if he continued not to understand it!
Kant’s colleague in Konigsberg, Johann Schultz, in the preface to his 1784 Exposition of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, mentioned the “nearly universal complaint about the unconquerable obscurity and unintelligibility” of the work, saying that for the largest part of the learned public it was “as if it consisted in nothing but hieroglyphics.”
As a reaction to this lack of public appreciation for such a vital work that was to have "brought about a complete change of thinking," a great deal of Kant's effort during the decade of the 1780s had diverted away from further development of his system and towards the unforeseen task of clarifying the critical foundations of his system of philosophy that he thought he had completed in May 1781. This work took a number of different forms: the publication of a brief defense and attempted popularization of the Critique in 1783 until, finally, Kant came to think that an overview would be of great value to aid the reading public in comprehending the implications of the Critique. The Prolegomena was the result. We can only guess what more productive use could have been made of this period!
It is sometimes obvious in this work that Kant was pained by the need to summarize his great work (and with the necessity of expending valuable time on it). Only someone who has written an elaborate masterpiece would know how difficult it must be to write a summary of it. And Kant lets it slip often enough (one might even think deliberately) that he is not too amused by having to do so:
But although a mere plan that might precede the Critique of Pure Reason would be unintelligible, undependable, and useless, it is by contrast all the more useful if it comes after. For one will thereby be put in the position to survey the whole, to test one by one the main points at issue in this science, and to arrange many things in the exposition better than could be done in the first execution of the work.
Whosoever finds this plan itself, which I send ahead as prolegomena for any future metaphysics, still obscure, may consider that it simply is not necessary for everyone to study metaphysics; and that in such a case one should apply one’s mental gifts to another object.
That whosoever undertakes to judge or indeed to construct a metaphysics must, however, thoroughly satisfy the challenge made here, whether it happens that they accept my solution, or fundamentally reject it and replace it with another – for they cannot dismiss it; and finally, that the much decried obscurity (a familiar cloaking for one’s own indolence or dimwittedness) has its use as well, since everybody, who with respect to all other sciences observes a wary silence, speaks master- fully, and boldly passes judgment in questions of metaphysics, because here to be sure their ignorance does not stand out clearly in relation to the science of others, but in relation to genuine critical principles, which therefore can be praised.
Kant hoped to hit more than one bird with the Prolegomena:
It was meant to offer “preparatory exercises” to the Critique of Pure Reason — not meant to replace the Critique, but as “preparatory exercises” they were intended to be read prior to the longer work. It was also meant to give an overview of that work, in which the structure and plan of the whole work could be more starkly put across — offered “as a general synopsis, with which the work itself could then be compared on occasion”. The Prolegomena are to be taken as a plan, synopsis, and guide for the Critique of Pure Reason.
He also wanted to walk his readers through the major arguments following the “analytic” method of exposition (as opposed to the “synthetic” method of the Critique): a method that starts from some given proposition or body of cognition and seeks principles from which it might be derived, as opposed to a method that first seeks to prove the principles and then to derive other propositions from them (pp. 13, 25–6).
What this means is that Kant realized that most of the readers were dazed by his daring to start the Critique from a scary emptiness of knowledge from which he set out to construct the very foundations on which any possible structure of knowledge can stand, and also the possibility of such a foundation i.e metaphysics. There he proceeds from these first (newly derived) principles of the theory of knowledge to examine the propositions that might be derived from it that are adaptable to a useful metaphysics.
In the Prolegomena, Kant reverses this and takes the propositions (i.e structure) as a given and then seeks to expose the required foundations that are needed to support such a construction. This he feels is less scary for the uninitiated reader.
It is true. The abyss is not so stark when viewed through this approach, and we can ease into our fall!
Kant’s work is easy to summarize (well, not really — but enough work has been put into it that at there least it is easy to get good summaries) but is infinitely rich with potential for the inquisitive reader. This reviewer has no intention of summarizing and thus reducing a method/system to its mere conclusions. And to summarize the method would be to recreate it in full detail! Instead the only advice tendered would be to explore Kant’s work in depth and not rest content with a superficial understanding of only the conclusions. That is precisely what Kant criticizes (in the appendix to the Prolegomena) his reviewers of doing back in the day. We should know better by now....more
Except for the comically inadequate introduction by Harold Bloom, this book is a window to a whole new way of seeing the literary universe. In scope a Except for the comically inadequate introduction by Harold Bloom, this book is a window to a whole new way of seeing the literary universe. In scope and depth, it is an epic and no matter how cynically you approach it, Frye is going to awe you with sheer erudition and immaculate schematics. For anyone with a Platonic bent, Frye's work has the potential to become an immediate Bible.
It might take a while to get through and it might require you to convert a lot of Frye's work into shorter notes and diagrammatic notations, just to keep up with the density of the text, but at the end of it you will be exposed to an almost cosmic vision of Literature, comparable to that at the end of Paradiso.
It is worth the effort just for the sheer ambition of the work and for the bit of that ambition that will rub off on you, even if you reject everything else contained here.
Only Joyce might be able to teach you about the scope of literature in a more inspiring fashion than this poet-critic....more
The vulnerability of ancient writings to accident, or to malpractice, is both understood and rarely acknowledged. Not only is history #singlePOVreview:
The vulnerability of ancient writings to accident, or to malpractice, is both understood and rarely acknowledged. Not only is history contingent, but what comes down to us as history too is pure chance.
(view spoiler)[Here, Umberto Eco imagines a sinister version, where a monk’s arson destroys his monastery library along with the only copy of the treatise by Aristotle, On Comedy, thus showing the fragility of knowledge, and of the world itself, by employing an emotion which would show its full force only to a scholar. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Warning: This review might contain spoilers even outside the hidden 'spoiler alert' regions. I honestly am not capable of discr
On Romancing The Devil
Warning: This review might contain spoilers even outside the hidden 'spoiler alert' regions. I honestly am not capable of discriminating.
The book is not about the murder or about who did it, those things were very apparent before half the book was completed - the narrator taking special pains to spoil all suspense for his readers at the very beginning (harkening back to the days of greek drama and Euripides - according to whom, the effect of a story, even a whodunnit, was not in epic suspense about what was going to happen next, but in those great scenes of lyrical rhetorics in which the passion and dialectic of the protagonists reached heights of eloquence. Everything was to portend pathos, not action, which was always there only as a container for the pathos, to give it form).
This was probably done so that the typical clue-seeking aspects of a mystery does not detract his reader from addressing the real, the painful questions littered all across his treatise, almost with indecent abandon. (view spoiler)[After all, we were shown by Dostoevsky varying degrees of foreshadowings of every event that eventually became turning points in the plot - starting with the numerous leading comments of the narrator including the one in the opening paragraph, Zosima's prediction of suffering for and apology to Dimitri and Smerdyakov's not so subtle clues to Ivan among many others. And do not forget that Dostoyevsky even gave us the alternate route that Mitya could have taken in the Zosima narrative - the parallels in that story are too numerous to list out here. (hide spoiler)]
No, this story is not about the murder, or about the murderer, or about his motivations, or around the suspense surrounding his final fate. The story is about the reaction - it was all about the jury.
Many theories abound about how the Karamazov family represents Russia/humanity/all characters but the reality is that they represent individualities; while it is that terrible faceless jury, always addressed to and never addressed by, that represents humanity. The job of the country, the society, of the whole human race is to judge, to determine the fate of individuals based on the stories that they construct, literally out of thin air, out of the small pieces of a life that they can only ever observe. The best character sketches, fictional or otherwise can only ever be the minutest portion of a real character - but from that tiniest of slivers we build this ambiguous thing called ‘character’, as if such a thing can possibly exist for a creature as fickle-minded and forgetful of himself as man.
Character of a man is the greatest myth, propagated best by novelists, as no story can proceed without a ‘constant’ man who behave with some level of predictability or with predictable unpredictability, but real life is the result of adding a minimum of three more ‘unpredictable’ as adjectives to that earlier description, to come close to describing even the simplest and most boring idiot alive. But yet we construct stories, to understand, to predict, to know how to behave, we even make up stories about ourselves so that we may have an illusion of control over who we are - so that we do not melt into the amorphous protean mass that is the rest of humanity - my story separates me from all of them.
I construct, therefore I am.
These are the romances that Dostoevsky wields his best work against and the trial is a trial of reason, of reality pitted against the overwhelming circumstantial evidence in favor of romance, of the myth of character, of individuality, of cause and effect, of there being anything predictable when such a wild variable as a human mind is part of the equation, how can such an equation be anything but ‘indeterminate’ (to borrow Dostoevsky’s own expression)?
That was the grand trial, the inquisition of reason.
But how can the defense stand up in favor of reality without explaining to the jury (to humanity) why they see things not as they are, that they have made up a story that is perfect but is never real as no story can ever be - as no cause can really cause a definite effect when human beings are involved? You have to tell a story to convince the jury. You have to tell a story to defend the fact that stories do not exist. A story now, about stories. Or multiple stories to show how all stories are false if only one can be allowed to be true. The only other option is that all are true, simultaneously. By proving which you include your own story in that ‘self-consuming’ super-set and doom your own argument. There is the irresolvable conflict of the trial, of the story, of the novel, of life.
You cannot discredit the myth of the story without the help of a story as the jury that judges cannot understand, cannot comprehend any reality outside of a story, human beings cannot think outside their romances. They will continue to exist as prisoners to their own stories. That is why it is a comedy and not a tragedy, as no one died and no one killed and it remains akin to a sphinx setting us a riddle which he cannot solve himself. But, judgment had to be passed as the story was told.
One story among many.
An expanded review might follow and will try to address some of the big themes of the book, enumerated below:
1) On Fatherhood - The second big theme of the book. Possibly the real theme, the above only being my own story...
2) On Crime & the Efficacy of Punishment - On how men will always rise to be worthy of their punishment/mercy; On suffering and salvation and on how no judgement can be stronger, more effective or more damning/redemptive than moral self-judgement; On how Ivan’s ecclesiastical courts eventually would have behaved - would they have behaved as predicted by him in his prose poem and let christ go, unlike the real court? So, in the end his alternate vision of Satan’s court is what was really shown by the current judicial apparitions? But in the fable who was it that really forgave the inquisitor or the inquisitee? And in the overall story too, who forgives whom in the end? Christ or Humanity, Satan or Church, Dimitri or Russia?
3) On Collateral Damage - inflicted by the main story on side stories, on how the small side stories are over shadowed, no murdered by the main one and without any risk of conviction.
4) On the Institution of Religion- On morality and the question of the necessity of religion; On the basis for faith; On the implications of faith/lack of faith to the story one tells about oneself; On how Philip Pullman took the easy way out by expanding Dostoevsky’s story for his widely acclaimed novel; On the enormous burden of free will; On the dependence of men on the security of miracles that is the source of all hell and of all action.
5) On the Characters - On how Dostoevsky took the cream of his best-conceived characters from the universe of his creation, from across all his best works to populate his magnum opus, his story about stories, to trace out their path with the ultimate illusion of realism, with the ultimate ambition and to show/realize how it should always, always fall apart; On how he reflected the whole universe in a small lake and created a novel about all novels, disproving and affirming them simultaneously, murdering its own parents in its own fulfillment; On how they might have their Hamlets, but we have our Karamazov's.
6) On Hope & Redemption - On how ultimately Zosima's world view trumps the cynical aspects that dominated the book; On how Zosima predicted it all at the very beginning and apologized to Dimitri on behalf of all mankind - ‘taking everyone’s sin upon himself”, thus creating an inverted reflection of the christ figure, its image playing on both Dimitri and on Zosima for that split second and then passing on to Alyosha until finally projected back to Dimitri, in the ultimate paradox, where he becomes at last a christ figure and a buddha figure, exemplifying self-knowledge and enlightenment through true suffering; On how even the Karamazov name can be inspiring and be cause for cheers even though it represents the worst (best?) of humanity; On The Sermon at the Stone.
7) On Nihilism - On the absurdity of life and trying to explain it. But oh wait, this is what I talked of in paragraph length already.
PS. By the way, when you read this, keep your ears tuned towards the end - for somewhere in the distance you might hear the laugh of the Grand Inquisitor echoing faintly.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
1984 & The Road to Wigan Pier: A Parallel Analysis
When The Road to Wigan Pier was commissioned, fortuitously in the period when Socialism was on t 1984 & The Road to Wigan Pier: A Parallel Analysis
When The Road to Wigan Pier was commissioned, fortuitously in the period when Socialism was on the retreat and Fascism on the rise, Orwell must already have begun to glimpse the world which he was to envision with vigorous clarity in ‘1984’. This review is a dual review then, of ‘1984’ and of ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’.
In The Road to Wigan Pier, written ostensibly as a documentary report on the life of the working classes in the industrial towns of england, Orwell uses his reportage to investigate two crucial questions:
1. Why class differences persist even when the means exist to destroy them 2. Why socialism is failing practically and intellectually even as the moral facet (of it rectitude) is irrefutable (to his mind, at least)
The reader has to be warned that The Road to Wigan Pier can seem a bit rambling (or circuitous!) at times but is in fact a tight composition and has been echoed by many writers since Orwell.
The structure of the piece is quite elegant:
In the first section, Orwell provides a direct detailing of the life in the ‘industrial towns’, of the proletariat, of the toiling classes. It is evocative and reminded me strongly of Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity in depth of detail and emotional involvement. It is a quick tour but captures the essential cruelties and degradation of life - rotten housing, lack of toilets, unemployment - and the complete hopelessness of it all. But just as Boo does later, Orwell also manages to convey that it is not due to the people, it is purely due to the conditions imposed on them. Orwell is very careful to drill this point home. It is the situations that make the classes.
This is exactly what I expected from the title of the book though I had also been resigned to some amount of political commentary, Orwell being Orwell. But soon the real purpose of the book starts to take shape and for a while I felt disappointed. But Orwell soon reveals the purpose behind is autobiographical excursions in the second part of the book and now I have come to regard this second section as the most vital. It is a narrative technique which I am now starting to notice in a number of other authors trying to grapple with class differences, including Suketu Mehta in Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, trying to come to terms with a riven Bombay.
So, in this second, and to me most important, section, Orwell exposes his own biases and prejudices through a frank autobiographical study. He opens up his own upbringing to show how prejudices creep in and establish themselves in our psyche and never let go no matter ho hard we hammer at them. Situating himself as a symbol of the middle class, Orwell uses this sketch to convey how we are all prey to such class prejudices and that we need to work within our own limitations and especially of the one’s we are trying to convert to the specialist cause (by we, I mean the Left Book Club - the intended audience of the book). He uses the pungent example of ‘lower classes smell’ as an irrevocable class barrier. This has come under much criticism but it is important to keep in mind that it is only and example, he could have gone with the ‘non-pronouncement of the ‘H’s’ or any other minor but hard to avoid detail. To criticize the choice of detail is besides the point.
Then comes the last section: the fulmination and the grand rhetoric. This section is the hardest to agree with and feels the most dated to the modern reader. Orwell tries to examine his second major point - Why is Socialism Declining? His answer is that it is because it is associated with mindless mechanized progress - due to the wrong instruments of propaganda which are turning away all the right sort of people and bringing only the ‘quacks’ into the socialist circles. Instead, to win the all-out and most important war against Fascism (which is, Orwell asserts, at the Gates), the Socialists need to forget class propaganda, accept that class prejudices will take longer to disappear (as elucidated in the previous section) and focus on the principles of ‘liberty’ and ‘justice’, which Orwell is sure will bring all the moral and intelligent people into Socialism. Only by asserting this moral core of Socialism, stripped of class propaganda, can the scales be tipped in favor of Socialism and away from Fascism. Now the humanistic picture of the depravations of the first section are resurrected in another light and Orwell presents both the class-proletariats as well as the ‘economic-proletariats’ (i.e, people like himself, born to a higher class but earning only the equal of a industrial worker), as mow likely to tend towards fascism, if for no other reason but self-preservation. Socialism needs to bring these classes into its fold. That is the crying need of the day.
"And then perhaps this misery of class-prejudice will fade away, and we of the sinking middle class … may sink without further struggles into the working class where we belong, and probably when we get there it will not be so dreadful as we feared, for, after all, we have nothing to lose but our aitches ('H's)."
The Literary Lens / The 1984 Reappraisal
The conclusions advocated by Orwell must seem too simplistic to modern ex-post readers, but there is another angle to be explored here that is not political in nature. This arises from the fact that this exposition was published before either 1984 or Animal Farm and after Brave New World. Orwell is quite clear that the Utopia (or Dystopia, or better, Utopia Caricatured) envisioned as the end goal of socialist progress in Brave New World is the very core of intelligent man’s revulsion towards Socialism - arising organically due to associations with ‘softness’ and degradation. Orwell needed to show the other extreme to turn this revulsion on its head.
We often compare Brave New World and 1984 as if they were alternate predictions and give marks to Huxley for having predicted better. But this misses Orwell’s point.
Orwell wanted to show the other extreme - the purely Fascist Dystopia - to bring around the people who were revolted by Brave New World and similar Utopian visions that were doing the rounds then (such as The Dream and Men Like Gods). Orwell calls these visions of the future that is based on mechanical progress as “the paradise of little fat men” which he admits was “aptly caricatured by Huxley in Brave New World”.
You can also think of the caricature in the Wall-E movie for a better visualized reference. Orwell gives a grand argument, based on how the purpose of machines is to make human life easier and thus softer, to show how the Wall-E future is pretty much inevitable according to this conception of progress. He needed to present the antithesis to this vision - 1984. No matter how bad the caricature of the socialist progress, the Fascist one is surely the one to avoid. 1984 was the rubbing in of this idea, already set forth in 1937 with The Road to Wigan Pier, more than a decade before the fictional attack became unavoidable for Orwell.
Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis. 'Boom', said the Three Sisters.
And, if we can claim that Orwell’s prophesy is today less imminent than Huxley’s, then Orwell wins the battle of ‘who can scare them most’.
Well done, Orwell, you turned the course. Huxley, you needed to scare us more - we are headed there fast, still....more
Synopsis: A good 'epic' drama on the basic principles of Karma. A lecture, illustrated through the rebirth of a certain cast of characters, each birth Synopsis: A good 'epic' drama on the basic principles of Karma. A lecture, illustrated through the rebirth of a certain cast of characters, each birth altered by past birth, inextricably linked - a repeating microcosm; a beautiful composition playing out within the cosmic grand symphony. David Mitchell does manage to convey the beauty of the concept... a bit grandiloquently, but then the concept demands it.
Cool? Again, yes.
Postscript: This reviewer could have attempted a greater examination into the operation of Karma and Dharma. Postponed for the time being. Other aspects, such as the rhetorical/narrative devices and historical conception, has been well analyzed by other reviewers.
The only disagreement that this reviewer has with some of these analyses is that they have been insufficiently thorough in exploring the techniques of narration/rhetoric. In particular, they seem to have neglected stylistic matters, concentrating too much on parataxis, or the balance of elements in an argument, rather than on true syntaxis, or the composition of extended arguments whose elaborate and constantly varied structure should echo the turns taken by the core idea being expressed.
In Cloud Atlas, what we see is a unique blend of the theoretical and the practical, for the stories are virtuoso pieces designed not for a particular plot alone but to serve as models to be variously employed towards illustrating the single grand idea of Karma (as well, no doubt, as to stand in their own right as autonomous works of fiction). Hence this reviewer's preoccupation with the concept of Karma in the short synopsis above. Since this postscript is now much longer than the review, I leave the rest of this too for later. For clarification, the book is no longer a 5-star read for this reviewer, but will let the original rating stand....more
Why does the Judge-penitent address you directly, as if he has found a kindred soul in you?
In this world responsibility is infinite and The Anti-Christ
Why does the Judge-penitent address you directly, as if he has found a kindred soul in you?
In this world responsibility is infinite and that is why The Fall is inevitable - even for a Christ. But back then Christ made a mistake — he saw (was) the nausea of the world, he saw (was) the complete guilt of each man (and his own) and he decided to redeem man (himself) by setting a supreme example. He sacrificed himself because he found himself guilty. It was only an example, a call to action -- to make men recognize and alter their way of life. He wanted man to see the depravity of his own existence by this one magnificent act. But his sacrifice was merely self-elevating, it could not elevate man. For man cannot be elevated before being shown the depths he roils in currently. And man cannot see faults where he looks to see heroes. He cannot see himself in Christ. Man cannot see man in the Ideal.
No, the faults had to be shown through an anti-hero. That is why the prophesy of an anti-christ was our true hope. That is why Christ had to return as the Anti-Christ. The Anti-Christ has to be closer to man, he has to be able to whisper to him as if he was just another man. He has to be able to make man see himself by looking at him. To make you see yourself as you really are by seeing in him yourself — yourself after The Fall.
That is why the Judge-penitent addresses you directly. He has found a kindred soul in you.
You are personally guilty for every fault that exists in the world. And The Fall is to not acknowledge your guilt — to withdraw from the world into aestheticism (recall Kierkegaard’s A in Either/Or) and make your life’s central concern one of making yourself feel good about yourself and thus about the world.
By the time Jean-Baptiste’s confession is over, you should realize that in fact the Judge-penitent is you. The story was yours. It is time to begin your own confession. It is time to stop being Kierkegaard’s A, and to be the B. To polarize yourself. Time to take responsibility and stare into the abyss.
Of course you might let someone else take The Fall for you, but from then on you would have to worship him. You would have to worship the guilty. You would have to worship the Judge-Penitent. But in this modern religion, to worship is to laugh at The Fallen.
That is the true role of the modern Christ. To take The Fall for you, so that he becomes the mirror in which you see the horror of your life.
This necessary and continuous fall is the theme of the novel. It is one unforgiving, vertiginous descent. It is not a story of gradual discovery and ascent as in Sartre’s Nausea. In Nausea you see the picture that you should be painting of yourself. In The Fall you see the anti-thesis that you should use as your anti-model, as the one point which gives meaning to your picture by not being painted.
Here you are made to continuously disagree with a person who goes more and more towards that abyss. You are made to define yourself in your disagreement, to define yourself as a negation. And by doing that you are the one who discovers the nausea of such an existence, even as the narrator finds ingenious and pathetic ways to avoid it. And you are the one who moves away from the abyss.
You are the hero of the story, or at least the would-be hero — the one who is going to have the transformation that will change your world. The polarization is external to the novel.
Jean-Baptiste is one of the most powerful anti-heroes of literature, but you never root for his redemption. Instead you root for him to fall and fall — to Fall as horribly and as deep into the abyss as possible. Because that is the only way to root for yourself. Because the more he falls, the more you can see of what consists the abyss, and the further away you get from it. His Fall will save you. Mon cher, he is your personal Christ....more
One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favorite novels. Which is why, when I started reading Love in the Time of Cholera, one of the things I noticed immediately was the lack of the subtle brand of magic that I had so enjoyed. I missed it and was on the lookout for it. I wanted it badly and went around every corner with the expectation of a cheerful reunion. But it was not to be.
As Pynchon says: the “reality” of love and the possibility of its ultimate extinction become Love’s “indispensable driving forces,” whereas magic in all its guises and forms becomes peripheralized or “at least more thoughtfully deployed in the service of an expanded vision, matured, darker than before but no less clement”.
Why this marginalization of the extraordinary? Why this deliberate move towards realism? Why no Magic?
I kept asking myself this as I read, and beyond. Was I to understand that it is because Love in itself is Magic? That was too cheesy, even for Márquez who never shies from telling me a cheesy sub-story if it needs to be told.
Or is it because Love in the Time of Cholera is to seen as the product of a more experienced author, who no longer needs the resources of magic realism and hyperbole to surprise the reader?
One thing was sure, Love in the Time of Cholera is not only about Love, even when it pervades every page. Indeed, it covers, through its characters’ wide amorous and business interests, an entire era and all the social classes, spanning over fifty years of Latin American life, from the last decades of the nineteenth century to the first two or three of the twentieth.
Love in the Time of Cholera, while on a much smaller scale than One Hundred Years of Solitude, deals with the Colombian civil wars of this period and the violence left in its wake. Márquez however wants these historical and political concerns to be passed largely unnoticed by the reader. While One Hundred Years of Solitude disguises the political themes through the uses of myth, fantasy, hyperbole, and magic realism, Love in the Time of Cholera disguises them through its depiction of an eternal, sometimes exasperating, almost unrealistic love affair, one which flouts the conventions of every love story the reader might have come across.
Love in the Time of Cholera is often quite bleak due to this veering towards stark Realism, to this occasional historical invasion of the narrative. Much of this realism arises from Death and Decay - the central themes of the novel. However, Márquez does not completely give up on Idealism either. In fact he is neither an Idealistic or a Realistic author - he is just a supremely eloquent voice speaking from the vantage-point of his own old age and wisdom.
To me, Love in the Time of Cholera is a magnificently gloomy novel though Márquez’s masterful sorcery masks it well, with his verbal cascades of descriptions and his narrative’s seductiveness.
Márquez’s novels are almost invariably gloomy. They are apocalyptic. They are decadence distilled.
Then why the popularity? Why do we love them? Why are we uplifted? Is it because of Márquez’s enthusiastic exuberance?
I think it is because of the Quixotic Heroism of the people who populate these doomed worlds.
It is this heroism that veils the Apocalyptic forebodings that pack so densely like storm clouds throughout the firmament his novels.
After all, Consider how during the entire time he waits to talk to Fermina again (fifty-one years, nine months, and four days) Florentine Ariza is dauntless and never ever gives up even the slightest sliver of hope. Nothing could shake this man:
“And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?” he asked.
Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.
“Forever,” he said.
The Heart of Darkness: Death & Decay
There is so much I would like to say about this amazing novel. There are so many themes that could be explored. But in this review I will try to focus on the Beginning and the Ending of this intricately structured novel, and try to tease out the the thread that explains the absence of Magic.
The whole novel is too broad a canvas to be explored in a review. For this, I limit myself to the broad themes of Death, Decay & Redemption, and allow the political, ecological, societal and personal aspects of these themes to play themselves out below the current, so to speak.
The Institutions of Love: Inventing Love
He was aware that he did not love her. He had married her because he liked her haughtiness, her seriousness, her strength, and also because of some vanity on his part, but as she kissed him for the first time he was sure there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love. They did not speak of it that first night, when they spoke of everything until dawn, nor would they ever speak of it. But in the long run, neither of them had made a mistake.
The theme of Juvenal’s love story is about the incompatibility of love and social convention, the conflict between desire and social life. It is quite easily the crucial conundrum the novel wants to solve - the 'other' to the novel's essence. Security, order, happiness - can these when added together in the right proportions provide an equation for Love?
For the sort of Love that can stop the decay that seems to have beset the entire world? Apparently not. It is not enough.
Through Juvenal’s invented Love, Márquez is not simply criticizing the institution of marriage, instead he is criticizing the very illusion that allows this - the illusion that the world and the worldly goods and pleasures can produce Love.
Instead Márquez wants to show that it is Love that can create (or recreate) the world.
Ultimately Love is love of Love itself, not merely the desire for its actual attainment or even the act of its fulfillment. Passion is its own object.
Pitted against such an impossible ideal, all convention or institutionalization obstructs love’s ultimate goal, which is to forestall death and decay.
The ultimate goal of Love is to save the world, to create it anew.
Gerontophobia & Ecocide: Destroying Love
So why is this world so much in need of saving?
The cosmic decline in Love seems to be the cause for alarm, the cause for the pervasive decay that invades the world of the novel:
Everything in this novel, from the environment, to the city, to the rebels, to the civil wars, to the people, to the pets are ancient - as if they were part of this earth from the very beginning, but everybody is in the throes of love. And everything ancient is also decaying, sliding slowly towards the final end of death - so is the sadness and the conventional love represented by Juvenal.
But it is not just about the human lives. Márquez writes as much about places as about people. This one is also about the death of a river, of a town, of a society… or murder, rather. Of Nature’s Old Age inflicted prematurely by youthful humanity.
This is the ecological sub-theme of the novel - It is the river, finally, the Great Magdalena (in Spanish, the “river of life”) that highlights this for us. The abundant nature that surrounds the town is caught in a process of irreversible decay. Alligators, manatees, monkeys, and birds disappear from the jungle; toward the end, the riverboats have difficulty finding enough wood for their boilers. While the political urgency of this topic is clear, cosmic decline in Love in the Time of Cholera has a different meaning and is linked to the theme of the interruption of love discussed before.
Paralleling the old age of his characters with the decay envisioned by this ecological wasteland (of their own making), Márquez is pointing out to us the true nature of Decay - of Humans and their self inflicted sufferings bringing the decay of old age upon themselves and upon the whole of nature.
This is the central tenet of the novel - Love in the Time of Decay.
However, there is more. And Márquezis not afraid to set this counter theme out in the very opening scene itself:
The Sweet Smell of Bitter Almonds
Counter to the dark theme of decay that is to be developed for most of the rest of the plot, early in the novel, an act of brave revolt against this inevitability establishes the counter-current against the steady march of decay.
Jérémiah de Saint-Amour (soon forgotten and never again mentioned) takes this revolutionary step (again drawing our attention the continuous revolution in which the political life of the novel is set) by choosing to die before decay sets in. This act initiates the long debate that runs throughout the novel about Love and its objective - are we to preserve Love at the expense of Life or to preserve Life through Love? By raising this question so early, by calculating his suicide long beforehand, by choosing to end the world than to let it go to rot, to see it rot, Saint-Amour stays alive through the rest of the novel, haunting it.
Being a witness to the decay of love was the most unbearable to Saint-Amour, the Saint of Love?
What we see dramatized at the end of the book, however, is the possibility of genuine passion and romance in old age. There is a clear contrast between Saint-Amour’s suicide and the protracted love life of Florentino Ariza, but it is a contrast that conceals a profound affinity. Saint-Amour kills himself to preserve his body from decay, to fix its image, as it were, through death.
Love and decay, then, constitute the double focus of this novel, the former being present in countless ways throughout.
Love in The Time of Cholera: The Post-Apocalyptic Paradise
… his mother was terrified because his condition did not resemble the turmoil of love so much as the devastation of cholera.
Every page of this novel is rammed full of love, beyond the capacity of any reader to fully comprehend. Love is in the air like Malaria; and in the water, like Cholera - its infections are inescapable!
All aspects of love are covered in exquisite detail - from teenage love to old age; from sexual to rapine to platonic; from formal courtship to marital to unconsummated; to unrequited love to the excesses of suicide and adultery; from the mundane normalcy of love to the incestuous abnormalities.
The reader has to consider carefully in the midst of this overwhelming abundance and variety the treatment that Márquez gives to love in this novel. Love in the novel is not the purely romantic love -carefree, easy flowing, spontaneous, and idealized.
Instead, the novel’s great affirmation of romance, is in the face not just of a hostile or prosaic world, but of the darker side of romance itself.
It is Operatic, Quixotic & Dionysian Love that is celebrated. It is Love as the Second Coming!
Sailing The River of Love: The Voyage of Re-Birth
Youth, Love, Old Age & Death - The Four Unknowns. This should have been the order of Life.
However, in this world of Márquez, the only ages that can hope to be able love/live seem to the Young and the Old. In between lies the desert - the only time we are allowed to live - when not capable of love. It is a paradox on which the very survival of this fictional universe seems to depend on.
Love and Life cannot coexist then - The solution is to give up the life they know for Love. To take the ultimate leap of faith.
So hoist a yellow flag on the Ship of your Life (Second Fidelity) and sail on the Great Magdalena (in Spanish, the “river of life”) in a State of Emergency! Let Love in the Time of Cholera be the entirety of the River of Life. Love should now destroy that earlier Life instead, just as Cholera can squeeze it out. And then be reborn, afresh.
The novel ends with the central characters challenging their entire social world and the very conditions of their existence by their grand romantic gesture, by their final, and what seems like eternal, trip on the Magdalena river. This is the necessary reaction to the decay that is fast on the route to complete extinction, to death.
Love and Cholera will both go extinct otherwise, rooted out by Life.
Love is shown as the redeeming force that saves both humanity, nature, culture and history. It appears as a divine force that defies everything. As if in biblical terms, the novel seems to assert that it is not yet too late to stop the end of humanity and to reach out for grace and happiness.
Most importantly, never allow the Yellow Flag to be questioned. Sustain the ardor. Maintain the symptoms of Cholera/Love. The pestilence is to be maintained at all costs! Only then will the world let you sail on.
Of course, the novel ends with the reader wondering if Fermina and Florentino will ever be able to come ashore and exercise their second chance.
We are left to question this act for ourselves: How do we save the world? By Escape into an Unrealistic Fantasy? Or is love more real? The answer, at least inside Márquez’s world is quite clear.
This final triumph is exquisitely multi-layered. Fermina and Florentino will remain isolated from the real contagion of their earlier Life by allowing their Love to be disguised as Cholera.
They are not rejecting the world, they are allowing the world to reject them instead.
The quarantine is really against love, the sickness that society will not, can not tolerate, the sickness that society fear as much as a deadly epidemic, the sickness that the society fears will wipe it out.
Instead it is that very sickness, which is recognized by conventional society as its biggest scourge, that saves the characters from extinction, along with the manatees, the alligators, and the monkeys.
It is Love that saves all in the end - at least we are left to imagine that possibility. Now, in this Post-Apocalyptic Paradise, age is of no consequence; Life has been transmuted and preserved by Love, like Saint-Amour’s Love by death.
Life has been reborn in the Second Coming of Love!
Love, in short, will always be in the time of cholera, under the Yellow Flag’s protection.
THE INFINITE CAPACITY FOR ILLUSION: The Will to Lyricism
So, now we can come back to the question we started with - of the Absence of Magic.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the apocalypse came in spite of Magic, in Love in the Time of Cholera, redemption comes despite its absence!
Unlike the death that starts off One Hundred Years of Solitude, here that death, the suicide, is ultimately sublimated into love - and decay is arrested in its unreality!
In fact reality has instead been reinvented in their own terms, where previous reality was rejected outright.
The capacity for illusion is magic enough to save the world, and our souls. This Infinite Capacity for Illusion can bring on the required apocalypse and we can live as if the Kingdom of Heaven/Cholera was already here on earth, under that banner of protection!
I had started reading this in 2008 and had gotten along quite a bit before I stopped reading the book for som The Unbelievable Lightness of The Novel
I had started reading this in 2008 and had gotten along quite a bit before I stopped reading the book for some reason and then it was forgotten. Recently, I saw the book in a bookstore and realized that I hadn't finished it. I picked it up and started it all over again since I was not entirely sure where I had left off last time. I was sure however that I had not read more than, say, 30 pages or so.
I definitely could not remember reading it for a long period of time. I only remembered starting it and bits and pieces about infidelities and the russian occupation of the Czech. And so, I started reading it, sure that soon a page will come from where the story will be fresh and unread.
I was soon into the fiftieth page and was amazed that as I read each page, I could distinctly remember every scene, every philosophical argument, even the exact quotes and the sequence of events that was to come immediately after the scene I was reading- But I could never remember, try as I might, what was coming two pages further into the novel.
"This is what comes from reading serious books lightly and not giving them the attention they deserve," I chastised myself, angry at the thought that my habit of reading multiple books in parallel must have been the cause of this. I must, at the risk of appearing boastful, say that the reason this bothered so much was that I always used to take pride in being able to remember the books that I read almost verbatim and this experience of reading a book that I had read before with this sense of knowing and forgetting at the same time, the two sensations running circles around each other and teasing me was completely disorienting. I felt like I was on some surreal world where all that is to come was already known to me but was still being revealed one step out of tune with my time.
In any case, this continued, to my bewilderment well into the two hundredth page. Even now, I could not shake the constant expectation that the story was going to go into unread new territories just 2 or 3 pages ahead of where I was. Every line I read I could remember having read before and in spite of making this mistake through so many pages, I still could not but tell myself that this time, surely, I have reached the part where I must have last closed the book three years ago.
Thus I have now reached the last few pages of the book and am still trying to come to terms with what it was about this novel that made me forget it, even though I identified with the views of the author and was never bored with the plot. Was this an intentional effect or just an aberration? Will I have the same feeling if I picked up the book again a few years from today?
I also feel a slight anger towards the author for playing this trick on me, for leading me on into reading the entire book again, without giving me anything new which I had not received from the book on my first reading. Usually when I decide to read a book again, I do it with the knowledge that I will gain something new with this reading, but Kundera gave me none of that.
What I do appreciate about this reading experience is this: as is stated in the novel, anything that happens only once might as well have not happened at all - does it then apply that any novel that can be read only once, might as well have not been read at all?
Beethoven & The Art of The Sublime
To conclude, I will recount an argument from the book that in retrospect helps me explain the experience:
Kundera talks (yes, the book is full of Kundera ripping apart the 'Fourth Wall' and talking to the reader, to the characters and even to himself) about an anecdote on how Beethoven came to compose one of his best quartets due to inspiration from a silly joke he had shared with a friend.
So Beethoven turned a frivolous inspiration into a serious quartet, a joke into metaphysical truth. Yet oddly enough, the transformation fails to surprise us. We would have been shocked, on the other hand, if Beethoven had transformed the seriousness of his quartet into the trifling joke. First (as an unfinished sketch) would have come the great metaphysical truth and last (as a finished masterpiece)—the most frivolous of jokes!
I would like to think that Kundera achieved this reverse proposition with this novel and that explains how I felt about it. And, yes I finished reading the second last line of the book with the full awareness of what the last line of the novel was going to be....more
It is a double-edged sword isn't it, reading great books too early in life?
If we read a book too early in life, we may not gras The Double-Edged Sword
It is a double-edged sword isn't it, reading great books too early in life?
If we read a book too early in life, we may not grasp it fully but the book becomes part of us and forms a part of our thinking itself, maybe even of our writing. But on the other hand, the reading is never complete and we may never come back to it, in a world too full of books.
And if we wait to read till we are mature, we will never become good readers and writers who can do justice to good books... so we have to read some good books early and do injustice to them. Only then can we do justice to ourselves and to great books later on.
Now the question is which books to do the injustice to and which the justice. Do we select the best for the earliest so that they become a part of us or do we leave the very best for later so that we can enjoy them to the fullest?
Tough choice. I have never been able to resolve. Have you?...more