Thursday, November 19, 2009

Odd Man Out

Carol Reed's Odd Man Out wasn't really a discovery for me since I anyway expected it to be great (being a huge fan of The Third Man) but it really exceeded all my expectations.

The film starts in the morning with Johnny (played by James Mason) and his gang of Irish revolutionaries planning on a bank robbery which goes wrong. The way the story is told it almost feels as if it takes place in real time, which in a way it does, since everything ends just before the midnight of the same day. The robbery goes wrong because Johnny has a nervous attack just before they plan to escape with the loot. The way everything is setup it becomes clear that his sudden nervous attack is not only because he has just come out of prison after spending six months inside but also because he has a conflicted conscience about terrorism and violence. (The opening title card of film even says that the film is not concerned with the Irish separatism or any such movement but rather solely about "the conflicts inside the heart of men"). Following a scuffle during the escape Johnny is shot and wounded and he shoots the policeman. When he later gains consciousness, the first thing he wants to know is whether the person who was shot was killed or not. When he is informed that yes he died, we see that he has suffered yet another wound, this time a moral and spiritual wound. From then on, it is all downhill for him, as he suffers both physically and spiritually and searches for salvation. It actually reminded me of Crime and Punishment.

There are a few sequences in the film which don't work as well as the rest of the film does. One sequence in particular towards the end of the film where a couple of secondary characters argue about immortality of soul and some such thing. Some of the scenes which shows Johnny's hallucinations also feel slightly high handed - sort of second hand and amateurish expressionism like the scene where Johnny quotes a line about "charity" from bible to what he thinks is the Priest himself. When he can't hear what the priest replies to him he rues if only they had all listened to him and not drowned his voice with their own debates and arguments.

Robert Krasker, the man behind The Third Man, Great Expectations and Brief Encounter also shot this film. The chiaroscuro effect that he creates using the night time city landscape and the snow is just spectacular. It is hard to describe in the words. It has to be seen to be believed. James Mason has surely the most beautiful and beauitfully expressive faces (or at least masculine faces) ever captured on screen. There is not much for him to do dramatically, except to show the effort he has to make to drag himself but he still conveys an extraodinary sensitivity, pain and despair just by his face. James Mason dragging himself in the snow must surely be one of the great moments in cinema and so must be the heartbreaking ending. This is a classic for ages.

This contains links to reviews and quotes about the film. Roman Polanski says, "Superior, I think, to The Third Man. What really grabbed me at sixteen was the heavy atmosphere that hangs over everybody in the town. I still consider it one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and a film which made me want to pursue this career more than anything else. It’s still fabulous, probably James Mason’s best picture. No film made me happier than Odd Man Out.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2666: David Lynch Connection

One reviewer of 2666 has already called it "a love child of David Lynch and Borges."

There is one reference to Lynch which I thought was quite meaningful and revealing. When I read it first I was quite taken aback. Is there really a place like that, I thought. But then I realized it was not any gratuitous reference because Fire Walk with Me is also about the brutal end of a young girl. Moreover I feel Bolano is trying to say something similar about the nature of evil as David Lynch does in Twin Peaks. Bolano's Santa Teresa is somewhat like the "woods" that surround Twin Peaks. Woods as the mysterious source of evil. Evil which is not inside any person but something much more mystical, immanent, something which is, to say, part of the surroundings itself. In Twin Peaks the killer is caught but the mysterious "Bob" remains free and says he will kill again. May be Bolano's Santa Teresa has its own Bob.

Anyway this is the excerpt from the third section of the novel, "The Part About Fate":

The card for the Santa Teresa cybercafe was a deep red, so red that it was hard to read what was printed on it. On the back, in a lighter red, was a map that showed exactly where the cafe was located. He asked the receptionist to translate the name of the place. The clerk laughed and said it was called Fire, Walk With Me.
"It sounds like the title of a David Lynch film," said Fate.
The clerk shrugged and said that all of Mexico was a collage of diverse and wide-ranging homages.
"Every single thing in this country is an homage to everything in the world, even the things that haven't happened yet," he said.
After he told Fate how to get to the cybercafe, they talked for a while about Lynch's films. The clerk had seen all of them. Fate had only seen three or four. According to the clerk, Lynch's greatest achievement was the TV series Twin Peaks.Fate liked the The Elephant Man best, may be because he'd often felt like the elephant man himself, wanting to be like other people but at the same time knowing he was different. When the clerk asked him whether he'd heard that Michael Jackson had bought or tried to buy the skeleton of the elephant man, Fate shrugged and said that Michael Jackson was sick. I don't think so, said the clerk, watching something presumably important that was happening on TV just then.
"In my opinion," he said with his eyes fixed on the TV fate couldn't see, "Michael knows things the rest of us don't."

"this whole motherfucker of a planet."

[But] what are good times? Sergio Gonzalez asked himself. Maybe they're what separate certain people from the rest of us, who live in a state of perpetual sadness. The will to live, the will to fight, as his father used to say, but fight what? The inevitable? Fight who? And what for? More time, certain knowledge, the glimpse of something essential? As if there were something essential on this whole self-sucking motherfucker of a planet.
This is from page 563 of 2666. More than two hundred pages of rape, murder, torture, mutilation and still about hundred more pages to go. Like a macabre and horrifying musical composition. Reading it feels like it is never going to end. Of course, that is the intended effect: A never-ending cycle of life on this "motherfucking planet."

I had never heard of Ciudad Juarez before reading the reviews of the book. This is a nice article about the killings first published in 2003. According to wikipedia, it hasn't stopped. It still goes on. Reading Bolano it feels like it never will. More when I am done with the book. Hopefully soon though it looks difficult.

It's been a really long period of silence here in Zembla. Sorry about disappearing for so long. Been busy, but nothing special. Just regular banalities of life: new job (and where blog sites are banned as well), accumulating possessions to complete a bourgeois existence, and on top of that some upheavals in personal life.

It has not been just blogging, I have been mostly away from internet: social networks, email and chat as well (I was never active on twitter!). Part of it was also a conscious attempt to get away from it all just to make sure that I wasn't getting too dependent on all this and when I really did. I didn't feel like coming back. That is, until now. I hope I will continue from now on as I used to.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Armond White Profile

from the new york magazine, an excellent profile of the nutty film critic Armond White.

Heidegger on Mood

There is a very interesting discussion of moods in Being and Time. Interesting specially because it is quite different from what we generally think of when we think about moods. In so far as I understood what I read, Heidegger says that mood is not just a cognitive or psychological concept but something much more fundamental ("ontological"). He further says that there is nothing like not being in any mood. If we are in the world we are "always already in the mood."

"Both the undisturbed equanimity and the inhibited discontent of everyday heedfulness, the way we slide over from one to another or slip into bad moods, are by no means nothing ontologically although these phenomena remain unnoticed as what is supposedly the most indifferent and fleeting in Da-sein."

He also uses another word "attunement" for mood which probably makes it easier to understand what he really means. It is through moods that Dasein (that is us) attunes itself with the world. So the lack of mood which we experience in our banal everyday life is exactly what is required to deal with the banalities of life. The mood of angst and intense boredom on the other hand reveal to us our own existence in the world. The banal everyday mood is actually a flight away from the intensity one feels when one is in these moods. Then there is something like "public mood" too, which is again a flight away from authenticity.

We generally try to separate mood from thought, assuming that being in a mood will cloud the way we see and think of the world but as Heidegger says, it is only through moods that we are affected by the world. Unless we are in a mood we will not be affected by anything, nothing will matter. So if you are thinking about the world you have to think through a mood. So I guess scientists have their moods, mathematicians have theirs and philosophers (at least the existential ones) and poets of course have angst.

Keeping with the tone of the rest of the book Heidegger doesn't offer any prescriptions (of how we can be in more control of mood swings) but I guess heightened self-awareness (and the same of people around oneself) of moods will be of some help in this.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Desperate Reader

Another excerpt from The Savage Detectives. I think I am a cool-headed reader but I definitely prefer literature of desperation, books "full of sharp instruments" much more than books which are "carefully thought-out" or "technically perfect"....

Joaquim Font, El Reposo Mental Health Clinic, Camino Deserto de los Leones, on the outskirts of Mexico City DF, January 1977

There are books for when you're bored. Plenty of them. There are books for when you're calm. The best kind, in my opinion. There are also books for when you are sad. And then there're books for when you are happy. There are books for when you're thirsty for knowledge. And there are books for when you're desperate. The latter are the kind of books Ulises Lima and Belano wanted to write. A serious mistake, as we'll soon see. Let's take, for example, an average reader, a cool-headed, mature, educated man leading a more or less healthy life. A man who buys books and literary magazines. So there you have him. This man can read things that are written for when you're calm, but he can also read any other kind of book with a critical eye, dispassionately, without absurd or regrettable complicity. That's how I see it. I hope I'm not offending anyone. Now let's take the desperate reader, who is presumably the audience for the literature of desperation. What do we see? First: the reader is an adolescent or an immature adult, insecure, all nerves. He's the kind of fucking idiot (pardon my language) who committed suicide after reading Werther. Second: he's a limited reader. Why limited? That's easy: because he can only read the literature of desperation, or books for the desperate, which amounts to the same thing, the kind of person or freak who's unable to read all the way through In Search of Lost Time, for example, or The Magic Mountain ( a paradigm of calm, serene, complete literature, in my humble opinion), or for that matter, Les Miserables or War and Peace. Am I making myself clear? Good. So I talked to them, told them, warned them, alerted them to the dangers they were facing. It was like talking to a wall. Furthermore: desperate readers are like the California gold mines. Sooner or late they're exhausted! Why? It's obvious! One can't live one's whole life in desperation. In the end body rebels, the pain becomes unbearable, lucidity gushes out in great cold spurts. The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up turning away from books. Inevitably he ends up becoming just plain desperate. Or he's cured! And then as part of the regenerative process, he returns slowly - as if wrapped in swaddling clothes, as if under a rain of dissolved sedatives - he returns, as I was saying, to a literature written for cool, serene readers, with their heads set firmly on their shoulders. This is what's called (by me, if nobody else) the passage from adolescence to adulthood. And by that I don't mean that once someone has become a cool-headed reader he no longer reads books written for desperate readers. Of course he reads them! Especially if they're good or decent or recommended by a friend. But ultimately, they bore him! Ultimately that literature of resentment, full of sharp instruments and lynched messiahs, doesn't pierce his heart the way a calm page, a carefully thought-out page, a technically perfect does. I told them so. I warned them. I showed them the technically perfect page. I alerted them to the dangers. Don't exhaust the vein! Humility! Seek oneself, lose oneself in strange lands! But with a guiding line, with bread crumbs or white pebbles! And yet I was mad, driven mad by them, by my daughters, by Laura Damian, and so they didn't listen.

"steady drip of intellectual menses"

A truly eye-popping phrase which cracked me up!

A short extract from "The Savage Detectives", this is one of the narrators talking about a poet's manifesto for "Mexican Actualist Avant-garde"(!) More when I am done with the book...

"I exert all the young poets, painters, and sculptors of Mexico, those who have yet to be tainted by the coffered gold of government sinecures, those who have yet to be corrupted by the crooked praise of official criticism and the applause of a crass and concupiscent public , those who have yet to lick the plates of the culinary celebrations of Enrique Gonzalez martinez , I exert all of them to make art with the steady drip of their intellectual menses. All those of good faith, all those who haven't crumbled in the sad, mephitic efflorescence of our nationalist media with its stink of pulquerias and the dying embers of fried food, all are exerted in the name of Mexican actualist avant-garde to come and fight alongside us in the resplendent ranks of the decouvert..."

the narrator says that "exert" might be a printer's error and wonders if he really meant exhort!

Saturday, February 14, 2009


An extract from Don DeLillo's White Noise. I found it pretty boring but at least it is not as huge as Underworld which I had to abandon. DeLillo, like Pynchon, is just not my cup of tea it seems. Reading the book I felt I should have rather read an essay by a sociologist and one of those continental thinkers who write gloomy treatises on media, consumerism, technology, capitalism, the dehumanizing effect of American culture and the general hopelessness of our postmodern world... DeLillo is quite funny and sharp at places but not as much as his reputation would lead one to believe. The idea of the essential absurdity of much of mainstream life in America (and indeed rest of the world too) exemplified by shopping, among other things, is not very original but still it is quite funny to read.


The encounter put me in the mood to shop. I found the others and we walked across two parking lots to the main structure in the Mid-Village Mall, a ten-story building arranged around a center court of waterfalls, promenades and gardens. Babette and the kids followed me into the elevator, into the shops set along the tiers, through the emporiums and department stores, puzzled but excited by my desire to buy. When I could not decide between two shirts, they encouraged me to buy both. When I said I was hungry, they fed me pretzels, beer, souvlaki. The two girls scouted ahead, spotting things they thought I might want or need, running back to get me, to clutch my arms, plead me to follow. They were my guides to endless well-being. People swarmed through the boutiques and gourmet shops. Organ music rose from the great court. We smelled chocolate, popcorn, cologne; we smelled rugs and furs, hanging salamis and deathly vinyl. My family gloried in the event. I was one of them, shopping, at last. They gave me advice, badgered clerks on my behalf. I kept seeing myself unexpectedly in some reflecting surface. We moved from store to store, rejecting not only items in certain departments, not only entire deparments but whole stores, mammoth corporations that did not strike our fancy for one reason or another. There was always another store, three floors, eight floors, basement full of cheese graters and paring knives. I shopped with reckless abandon. I shopped for immediate need and distant contingencies. I shopped for its own sake, looking and touching, inspecting merchandise, I had no intention of buying, then buying it. I sent clerks into their fabric books to search for elsuive designs. I began to grow in value and self-regard. I filled myself out, found new aspects of myself, located a person I'd forgotten existed. Brightness settled around me. We crossed from furniture to men's wear, walking through cosmetics. Our images appeared on mirrored columns, in glassware and chrome, on TV monitors in security rooms. I traded money for goods. The more money I spent, the less important it seemed. I was bigger than these sums. These sums in fact came back to me in the form of existential credit. I felt expansive, inclined to be sweepingly genrous, and told the kids to pick out their Christmas gifts here and now. I gestured in what I felt was an expansive manner. I could tell they were impressed. They fannned out across the area, each of them suddenly inclined to be private, shadowy, even secretive. Periodically one of them would return to register the name of an item with Babette, careful not to let the others know what it was. I myself was not to be bothered with tedious details. I was the benefactor, the one who dispenses gifts, bonuses, bribes, baksheesh. The children knew it was the nature of such things that I could not be expected to engage in technical discussions about the gifts themselves. We ate another meal. A band played live Muzak. Voices rose ten stories from the gardens and promenades, a roar that echoed and swirled through the vast gallery, mising with noises from the tiers, with shuffling feet and chiming bells, the hum of escalators, the sound of people earing, the human buzz of some vivid and happy transaction.

why Kierkegaard would have hated internet

Long absence from the blogworld again! I used to always complain (to myself) that "nothing happens in life", like Charlie Kaufmann says in Adaptation. Well, for a change, too many things are happening in life these days. Have been busy at work and many other things and for some reason I don't feel like spending too much time on the internet.

Here is a provocative article by Hubert Dreyfus disucssing why Kierkegaard would have hated internet, blogging and facebook. He writes about some of the things I have been thinking about these days. He says that internet promotes a mode of life which is free of commitments, risks and responsibilities and so is essentially meaningless and nihilistic. The same is actually applicable to the the entire public or social sphere that we live in too. We act, speak and in general conduct ourselves as if nothing is at stake, definitely nothing personal is at stake. The internet is full of information but it is always without context and "desituated". All of this makes a lot of sense to me but ultimately I also think it should be up to the individual to decide how to use internet.

Anyway, today also happens to be the valentine's day. So best wishes and just in case you happen to be in India, take care, be safe and don't get thrashed by the culture goons.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Humour from Pakistan

For a change something funny coming out of Pakistan.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

"Those who suffer, suffer alone"

An excerpt from The Book of Disquiet. A cautionary tale (or an ironic comment) about too much inwardness?


Whether I like it or not, everything that isn't my soul is no more for me than scenery and decoration. Through rational thought I can recognize that a man is a living being just like me, but for my true, involuntary self he has always had less importance than a tree, if the tree is more beautiful. That's why I've always seen human events - the great collective tragedies of history or of what we make of history - as colourful friezes, with no soul in the figures that appear there. I've never thought twice about anything tragic that has happened in China. It's just scenery in the distance, even if painted with blood and disease.

With ironic sadness I remember a workers' demonstration, carried out with I don't know how much sincerity (for I find it hard to admit sincerity in collective endeavours, given that the individual, all by himself, is the only entity capable of feeling). It was teeming and rowdy group of animated idiots, who passed by my outsider's indifference shouting various things. I instantly felt disgusted. They weren't even sufficiently dirty. Those who truly suffer don't form a group or go around a mob. Those who suffer, suffer alone.

What a pathetic group! What a lack of humanity and true pain! They were real and therefore unbelievable. No one could ever use them for the scene of a novel or a descriptive backdrop. They went by like rubbish in a river, in the river of life, and to see them go by made me sick to my stomach and profoundly sleepy.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Catching up with Bollywood


I went to see a hindi movie in theatre after a really long time. The last time was "Mangal Pandey" a couple of years back and it was a really traumatic experience. I saw Rang De Basanti and Taare Zameen Par both last year on DVD and regretted having missed them on big screen. I had some serious problems with the "political" content or the "message" of Rang De Basanti and how it went about delivering it but it was still heartwarming to see a mainstream Bollywood movie trying a little harder. I loved TZP too and was really glad that it became such a big commercial success and a general topic of discussion. I don't know how much was it able to change people's perspectives but if it made them think critically about how our schools and colleges behave as if they were factories and how dehumanizing competition can be for children, it still served its purpose.

Now coming to Ghajini, I actually rather liked it. One of my friends had warned me about it saying that Aamir Khan has moved into the Sunny Deol's "Haath nahi hathoda" territory so may be it was because I went with lower expectations and consciously tried not to think about those two earlier films. The romantic track was wonderful, very natural and spontaneous. It was nice to see a new actress getting so much screen space and opportunity to shine and she did a really good job. I liked the way the love story was cut short by tragedy just after the wonderful song "Kaise Mujhe...", it could have been even better if their mutual acceptance had remained in their hearts before the tragedy struck. But that's probably only me with my masochistic leanings.

It is still hard not to express disappointment over a nice opportunity wasted. The story about memory loss could have gained some depth if they had concentrated on how the awareness of passage of time is essential to grieving and moving on and how without it the wounds never heal, even the emotional closure that craving for justice and revenge provide may prove illusive. Then there is the idea of identity, how to form relationship with other people based on trust and how all this is linked to memory, and who knows even an allegory about the dangerous effects of "live for the moment" philosophy. I mean, I wasn't looking for a course in existential philosophy but these things do cross our minds when we sit alone and think. Memento also didn't veer into these territories so for me it was ultimately a shallow film, a clever puzzle yes but ultimately uninteresting and shallow.

I was trying not to think of Rang de Basanti all the while but that scene after the protest in which he breaks down is hard to forget. Specially when, as in this film, he just screams and growls and moves his hands randomly all around. I really hope he doesn't let all the success of Ghajini get into his head and treat it as just temporary distraction.

A Wedenesday

This took me completely by surprise. Extremely impressive and very cathartic after a terror-filled 2008. An excellently made thriller with a stirring and provocative "message" in the end, all the more disturbing because it comes straight from the heart. I can't think of a better film which captures the psyche of ordinary people after so many senseless terrorist attacks that India saw in 2008. It gets even more impressive when you realize that it is the work of a debutante director (Neeraj Pandey). I am really looking forward to whatever he does next.


This was just a random choice, not something I expected to like and it was exactly what I expected it to be - shallow and dumb moralizing about the evils of modernity. I didn't think it was unfair. I am no fan of fashion industry. It is dehumanizing, exploitative and alienating (just like many other jobs such as, ummm, software programming?) but there is a difference between moralizing, using your received ideas and cliched opinions and criticising something on ethical grounds which requires thinking through your ethical principles and applying them to reality.

Singh is King

Inanity. Beyond any commentary.

Next up on my bollywood catch up (planning to see): Chak De India, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye, Jodhaa Akbar (?), No Smoking, Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na (?)

Question marks are because I feel ambivalent about these films. First because of Aishwarya and second because of teenagers.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Self Help

Nice article on the growing menace of self-help books. I liked this comment about the "law of attraction", a very common motif in these books:

"This law posits, quite simply, that thoughts become things. If you ask the universe for what you want, focus on having it, behave as though it's already there and are open to having it then the universe will deliver, whether the object of your desires is a new dishwasher, clear skin, a baby or a million dollars. Guaranteed. Thousands of books now exist based on this simple principle, many of which have spent months on the New York Times bestseller list.

Offering structure and guidance in an increasingly secular society, these bibles can easily be regarded as merely repackaging the same inspiration historically provided by our languishing religions; to consider the Law of Attraction as merely a new, benign, more digestible name for prayer. But there is a crucial difference between the two - while prayer by its very definition acknowledges that ultimate control lies outside of the self (and atheists can equally substitute fate, destiny, gravity or particle physics for a deity in that construction), positive thinking and the Law of Attraction invest ultimate control in the individual, suggesting that by using thought, said individual can effect seismic shifts in their outer world, with nothing whatsoever attributed to social structures, cultural roles, interaction, genetics or dumb luck. The Law of Attraction posits that thoughts create reality, investing in the individual both extraordinary power and extraordinary responsibility. Egocentricity is central. Craving becomes having. Wanting becomes deserving. "

Female Gaze

Well, not really because the camera is still standing in for the male gaze but this is still a very interesting shot!

Still is from the 1970 french film Les Stances à Sophie. Photo copied from Glenn Kenny's blog.

I am curious about what the feminist film theorists have to say about the recent trend in bollywood movies of male actors shedding their clothes and the camera objectifying their bodies. (The contours of Aamir Khan's naked torso are on national news.) So is it the film makers acknowledging the existence of a female spectator finally?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Bigger Than Life

This is another film on my to-see list - Nicholas Ray's Bigger than Life (or "Delirium of Madness" as the Spanish poster has it). Martin Scorsese heaps a lot of praise on this film in his documentary on the history of American cinema. Film Forum is screening it this week and they have put up a nice page full of quotes and links about the film, including one to the original new yorker article which inspired the story. Hope it gets available on the dvd soon.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Classic Film Posters

This site has a great collection of posters of classic films. Here is a selection of classic film noirs.

Poster above via Dave Kehr's blog. I am glad to see Richard Brooks' "In Cold Blood" being selected for preservation. I saw it once on big screen and it was an unforgettable experience. Gripping and actually quite frightening. Surprisingly it is not very well known, even after the success of the recent films about Truman Capote.

Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 in Reading

I didn't read a lot of fiction this year. Nothing like last couple of years when I discovered Robert Musil, Thomas Bernhard, Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Alberto Moravia, Italo Svevo and others for the first time. (Last year's list here.) I spent more time reading non-fiction and even there, mostly essays and fragments, the most provocative and disturbing of which was "Modernity and the Holocaust" by Polish-British sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman. After this I tried reading his other works on consumerism and modern societies and found similar provocative insights. Basically he explains how the scientific-technocratic-instrumentalist worldview which defines our modern world poses grave problems to an ethical life though he ultimately, like most philosophers, is better at diagnosis than at treatment. One of his essays is titled "Does Ethics have a chance in a world of consumers?" He is quite pessimistic about it. I have probably become oversensitive to the whole issue now. I just bristle when I see the language of science, technology or economics being applied in the domain of personal human affairs. I am looking forward to exploring more in this direction, specially the work of Jurgen Habermas.

I also spent a lot of time this year struggling with Heidegger's philosophy though without much success. Still from whatever I read and understood, he had me convinced that the story of (so-called) human civilization was actually a story of decline and disaster and that we all have probably come to this earth a few thousand years too late. I didn't understand his ideas about the various modes of being, authenticity etc totally but they kept moving around in my head for most of the year. His essays on the origins of the work of art and on technology were also provocative and in fact startling (and it is true for his other writings as well) in the sense that it showed me the nature of the process of thinking itself rather than just the result of some thought. George Steiner's short monograph on Heidegger was specially brilliant.

The three best books of fiction I read this year were all from Latin America. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas by Machado de Assis was without any doubt the most entertaining book I read the whole year. Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo was a strange, evocative and densely layered ghost story which stayed with me for a long time. Senselessness by Carlos Moya was no less strange. It kept me thinking about what to really make of it.

The most disappointing book of the year for me was Journey to the End of the Night by Celine. I had wanted to read it for such a long time but found it tame and boring. A slog through and through, absolutely contrary to its reputation. I was also extremely annoyed by Cultural Amnesia, the essay collection by Clive James. Sartre was an idiot. Neruda was a fascist. Brecht was a moron. And on and on. It had me actually depressed realizing that just reading a lot and having an opinion on everything doesn't make you wise, interesting or open to different ways of looking at the world and yourself. A great lesson to learn, specially for bloggers.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Revolutionary Road

I have been reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates these days. Initially I thought it was quite conventional and straightforward in style and the theme of ennui and quiet despair of suburban life pretty hackneyed but it really sucked me in, to the extent that I found it really unsettling, even terrifying. Most reviews of the movie talk about pressure of conformism in the America of the 50s but it is much more than that. It made me think of what the underground man says in Dostoevsky's novella, that for ordinary life in modern cities the consciousness of an insect would be more than enough, that one doesn't need the consciousness of a human being (he further says that he wants to be an insect). The tragedy of the Wheeler couple is that they have a human consciousness with all its romantic aspirations and intimations of potentialities but they lack the spiritual and moral strength to take action. I am quite eager to see how the movie turns out to be. I wish Fassbinder would have made a movie out of it, though many of his films did tackle the same subject.

There was an essay by James Wood in the new yorker about Yates and Revolutionary Road.

Monday, December 01, 2008

It's been longer than expected but I don't really feel like blogging anymore. Just waking up in the morning and getting on with normal life feels like an act of resistance these days and on top of that I have to sort out so many things. Hopefully it gets over soon...

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Will be back in a few weeks. Or sooner.

To keep you company here are David Lynch (words), Angelo Badalamenti (music) and Julee Cruise (voice)

A brief note on Synecdoche New York which I saw today. The basic theme seems to be the melancholia of "being-toward-death" but otherwise it is too fragmented and too full of small and seemingly chaotic details. It definitely needs more than one viewing, extra careful and attentive ones at that. There are some funny moments, in that awkward and absurd way which made his earlier films distinctive, but which don't really work here. There is no mistaking the sincerity and seriousness of intent though. He shouldn't have too many hopes for Oscars though. It will definitely go over their heads.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lev Shestov

I came across this website which collects the writings of Lev Shestov, a Russian religious-existentialist philosopher who also wrote books on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky. The basic motif of his thinking seems to be that accepting 2 plus 2 equals 4 is accepting a spiritual death. Well, almost! The website also contains lots of articles and essays written about him. This review by Emmanuel Levinas is a good short introduction and contains this nice summary of existentialist philosophy.

"In a world clarified and explained by reason, only the general counts: my destiny is nothing important, my pain is nothing exceptional, my despair is nothing unique; if I carry a sadness or a shame in the depth of my soul, that does not trouble the universal order. My speculation assigns to these things a place in the whole, and my only wisdom can only consist of my submitting to its laws. But before speculating, I exist. My existence goes on precisely in this pain, in this despair. Far from arranging themselves in a whole that would embrace them, that are all mine. They have their history, their truth, their weight, their own exigencies. I can drive them back, but I can never fully suppress them. Their voice tears my being in spite of my submission to universal necessity. My speculation, itself, is it wholly independent of them? Can it be legitimately abstracted from the human condition, for its destiny, for its death? Whatever the response that one gives to these questions, it is important to pose them, it is important to respect the internal meaning of the events that constitute our existence, before interpreting them through the universal order constructed by reason. This is the task of existential philosophy."

There is also a very good article by Czeslaw Milosz:

"The "I" has to recognize that it is confronted with a world that follows its own laws, a world whose name is Necessity. This, according to Shestov, is precisely what lies at the foundations of traditional philosophy—first Greek, then every philosophy faithful to the Greeks. Only the necessary, the general, and the always valid will merit investigation and reflection. The contingent, the particular, and the momentary are spoilers of unity—a teaching that dates back to Anaximander. Later Greek thinkers exalted the all-embracing Oneness and represented individual existence as a crack in the perfectly smooth surface of the One, a flaw for which the individual had to pay with his death. From a Shestovian perspective, Greek science and morality both follow the same path. The sum of the angles in a triangle equals two right angles; the general, eternal truth reigns high above breeding and dying mortals just as eternal good does not change whether or not there is a living man to aspire to it."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Synecdoche Reviews

I really hope I get a chance to see "Synecdoche New York" before I leave but it seems unlikely. Most American reviewers are complaining about how glum and joyless it is (further adding to my excitement!). I don't know, it is like asking Woody Allen to keep doing the same "early funny ones" (as one of the characters says in his "Stardust Memories"). Kaufman's earlier films as screenwriter were funny and quirky but one couldn't but notice a deep seriousness of intent and engagement with Life, something very rare in mainstream Hollywood. Reading the reviews, even the critical ones, it seems he has only gone one step further. Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich were already five out of five stars masterpieces.

The best magnifying glass

"A shard in your own eye is the best magnifying glass."

-Adorno, Minima Moralia (full text here)

Nice thought even though in real life pain often becomes a smokescreen, hiding from us the truth rather than magnifying it.

In other news, I am dismayed by this new advertisement promoting atheism. I do think it is very important to counter all sorts of religious propaganda so this is definitely a good idea. What I don't like is the second line which smacks of smug and petty-bourgeois hedonism to me which I strongly disapprove of. It should rather have been "There is probably no God. Now read Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and most of all START WORRYING!"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Literature in the Marketplace

The TLS has a review of a book by some right-wing nut who says that literary critics are unjustifiably hostile to market and commercialism and argues for something called "commodity aesthetics" (do words really mean nothing anymore?). The review itself is quite good and really worth reading.

"It is paradoxical for an advocate of the Western cultural tradition to laud market capitalism. For in the very brief period in which it has held earthly power, market capitalism has essentially destroyed that tradition – profaning everything sacred, evaporating everything solid, and directing its destructive might with particular intensity against the autonomous individual. It has instituted the rule of appearance over essence, of signs over things, of things over people, of dead labour over living labour. It exploits base appetites and fosters insatiable desires, giving rise to epidemic addiction and depression. There have been many societies in which large numbers of people dedicated their lives to the pursuit of economic self-interest through the market. But there have been no societies in which the pursuit of economic self-interest through the market was held to be an admirable way to spend one’s life. Our society is unique in having produced that philosophy. One of the reasons to read the literature of the past is to learn how anomalous our society is in its self-interested single-mindedness. "

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Death of One's Own

"[T]he desire to have one's own death is becoming more and more rare. Shortly it will be as rare as a life of one's own."

- Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

I saw Paul Schrader's Mishima a few days back. I haven't read anything by Mishima yet but watching the film reminded me of this line from Rilke. I don't really like this morbid romanticization and fascination of death. A lot of suicide bombers are probably inspired by the same belief too - having a death of one's own. Ironically (and tragically) their religion makes it sure that they never live a life of their own.

I like the idea of Memento Mori. We should be mindful of our own end without which we won't have any perspective to life. But this idea that death is the realization of life and life gets meaning only in death - this I find hard to accept.

A good illustration of this idea is in Heidegger. Below excerpt is from George Steiner's book on Heidegger ("rationalist quacks" made me chuckle!):

"The inalienability of death - the plain but overwhelming fact that each must die for himself, that death is one existential potentiality which no enslavement, no promise, no power of "theyness" can take away from individual man - is the fundamental truth of the meaning of being. Dasein is always a not-yet, an unripeness. To be is to be incomplete, unfulfilled. But at the same time, all authentic being is a being-toward-its-own-end. "Death is a way to be, which Dasein takes upon itself as soon as it is." And Heidegger quotes a medieval homily which instructs us that "as soon as man enters on life, he is at once old enough to die." The essence, the motion, the meaning of life are totally at one with being-toward-death, with the individual's "assumption" (Sartre's derivative, key term) of his own singular death. Thus "death is, in the widest sense, a phenomenon of life"; indeed, it may well be the identifying phenomenon, though it cannot itself "be lived" (a point on which Heidegger concurs explicitly with Wittgensein). The point to be stressed is at once existential and logical: the possibility of Dasein depends on and makes sense only in respect of the "impossibility of Dasein" which is death. The one cannot be without the other.


Holding before itself the constant and total possibility of death, the possibility inseparable from its thrownness into the world and process of individualization, Dasein "is in anxiety." Angst is the taking upon oneself of the nearness of nothingness, of the potential non-being of one's own being. "Being-toward-death is, in essense, anxiety," and those who would rob us of this anxiety - be they priests, physicians, mystics, or rationalist quacks - by transforming it into either fear or genteel indifference alienate us from life itself. Or, more exactly, they insulate us from a fundamental source of freedom. The passage, to which the entire death-and=freedom dialectic of Camus and Sartre is no more than a rhetorical footnote, is a famous one: Angst reveals to Dasein the possiblity of fulfilling itself "in an impassioned FREEDOM TOWARD DEATH - a freedom which has been released from the illusions of the "they," and which is factual, certain of itself and anxious." We can see now that the very meaning of Dasein is "in time." Temporality is made concrete by the overwhelming truth that all being is being-toward-death. The taking upon oneself, through Angst, of this existential "terminality" is the absolute condition of human freedom."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Weltflucht: nice word to know. Quite simple actually - it means flight from the world - but it is still nice to have it as one word. Somewhat similar in intent with the hindi word "Vanaprastha" which means departing to the forests before final sanyas (renunciation). My favourite word still remains Weltschmerz ("world pain" or pain of being in the world). Basically Weltschmerz leads to Weltflucht.

Actually I found it in this article which I got to by randomly searching something. Looks like some German philosopher has written a book called "Critique of Cynical Reason." Certainly a very interesting and relevant subject since cynicism is the default mode in which most of us operate in the world now.