Friday, October 27, 2006


"And life for its part? Was it perhaps but an infectious disease of matter – just as that which we could call the ultimate origin of matter was perhaps merely a sickness, an irritable proliferation of the immaterial? Here was without doubt the very first step leading to evil, lust and death.... "
-- from The Magic Mountain

I am feeling unusually gloomy these days. A mild, disinterested sadness is my standard operating temperature but these days it is feeling like a major distraction. I don't know where does this contempt for money, power, career, even sex and in short, life itself, come from? Shouldn't have the genes responsible for this been eliminated generations ago according to the Darwinian logic? How could someone so "unfit" for life as me come into this world? Or may be it isn't the genes, it is the environment and the way I was brought up? Though that is obviously not what it is. I had the most normal childhood as it was possible to have. What is then the origin for this disgust for human company? I am wondering all this because I just made up some really wild excuses to decline an invitation to a harmless dinner party this evening just because I felt spending an hour with the chattering classes would push me on the verge of madness!

Anyway, two books that I am in the middle of these days aren't helping matters at all. Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, a winner of National Book Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer prize, is an astonishing work of synthesis and scholarship. He blends together history, philosophy, medicine, science, literature, politics, economics, sociology, personal experiences, basically everything he could find on the subject of human sadness and melancholy and presents them in a lucid though oftentimes in a manner which becomes overwhelming. For example, in his chapter on suicide, he manages to bring in Marx, Durkheim, Schopenhauer and Dostoevsky, all in a single paragraph! One third of this book which is around 700 pages thick is devoted to just notes and bibliography! Fortunately there are no footnotes but only endnotes. Perhaps the most shockingly revealing part of the book is his chapter on Poverty because mental illness is generally thought to be the affliction of the leisure class. He shows why most of the social reform policies will remain ineffective and inadequte until we take the mental health of the homeless and the indigents into account. It is easy to pass judgments on poor people, people on the street, beggars, drug addicts, alcoholics, what is difficult is to understand what really goes on in their minds. What inhuman and devilish odds they are set-up against in their own minds! So far the book has made for an extremely grim reading. The last chapter is called "hope" which I haven't reached yet. May be there is hope after all this?

The other book, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia by French philosopher and feminist critic Julia Kristeva, is a little too dense and often impenetrable, at least for me, tome on melancholy. Kristeva approaches melancholy from the perspective of an abstruse philosophy of language and theoretical psychoanalysis. The gist of the book, as far as I could make out, is that Madness is a discourse and is just another name for "a failure of language" and "a loss of self." It is a state of extreme and radical subjectivity and is actually nothing but an epistemological isolation of one's consciousness. If you have a good background in the philosophy of language and theoretical ideas of Freud and Lacan, this book will prove to be irresistible.


jyothsnay said...

On the contrary, I am glowing with instructor in the gym teased me that I am in love.I nodded back n whispered under the thick cloud of tresses "yea, I am in love...with myself"....n I caressed that little squirrel who creates riot over those branches of tree everyday...finally!he came close to me today n defiantly nibbled on the nuts...
on Gloom, will write soon! inspired by you, am reading collection of Russian short stories....

Alok said...

Oh No! You make me feel even gloomier.

btw, How does one fall in love with him/herself? Do you have some how-to booklet? I am very interested.

jyothsnay said...

sometimes, I feel really happy about self for being so passionate about certain of them is "doing exercises" given in the Guardian Poetry Workshop...I write strings of words with no structure..
and the set of poets over there say just read your poem loud and be confident of it.
I was reading this lovely poem...
"How to Star in your own Movies" by Philip Rush

.....And always, when you enter a room,
you must pause to take everything in.
Remember to be sad when it's raining outside.
*this sentence is a beauty by itself.

End conversations abruptly
Or enigmatically.
Or with a significant gesture. Occasionally,
closing your eyes can replicate the jump cut...

And when you do fall in love at first sight,
as you surely must, surprise yourself
into becoming willing and able
to articulate your feelings, however clumsily,

...Clumsy is nice. Let's go slowly, one more time.
A relationship needs to be nurtured.
Kiss me. Be ready to die.

lovely na!
now, falling in love with self comes from a tiny thought philosophy...

you have a beautiful heart that the world fails to worry!
you have a lovely pair of eyes that glisten, but the world ignores worry!
you have such a pleasant smile,but the world fails to smile back at kiss your self.
you have those tiny drops of water,gleaming and sparkles upon every rippling curve of your skin...but the world cant see them! forget it....
when you are the world for yourself....why do you need the world? -Jyo

Alok said...

I feel slightly better now. thank you! Now let me think about my beautiful heart.

Aishwarya said...

The little I've read of Kristeva is rather tough...she's brilliant though. My knowledge of Freud and Lacan is pretty basic, so I'm not sure I'd dare to attempt this one.

Alok said...

Quite strangely I was often moved by the book though I hardly understood what she was actually trying to say! I had to make my own guesses and fall back on my own interpretations. It was like reading a book of poetry though it is written in a stiff academic tone. Try it if you can find it anywhere. I am off to find a volume of Psychoanalysis for Idiots then I plan to reread it.

wildflower seed said...

"Now let me think about my beautiful heart."

Thought is the culprit. Thought takes all the divinity that exists, and brutalizes it beyond all recognition.

But no, the mind needs something to grind on, doesnt it?

"The last chapter is called "hope" which I haven't reached yet. May be there is hope after all this?"

More than a little wisdom? I give you :

George: I mean it's gotten to the point where I'm flirting with operators on the phone. I almost made a date with one.

Jerry: Oh, so there's still hope.

George: I don't want hope. Hope is killing me. My dream is to become
hopeless. When you're hopeless, you don't care, and when you don't care, that indifference makes you attractive.

Jerry: Oh, so hopelessness is the key.

George: It's my only hope.

Alok said...

hey, glad to see you here :)

Thought is the culprit. Thought takes all the divinity that exists, and brutalizes it beyond all recognition.

Dostoevsky's Underground Man curses God for giving him a human consciousness. He says, to live a normal, successful and happy life in society, a consciousness of an insect would be enough!! And yet if you remove thought and self-awareness what else is left of your human self?

Too much thought and pointless brooding on the other hand is unhealthy and destructive. But often man is helpless against his own mind.

wildflower seed said...

"And yet if you remove thought and self-awareness what else is left of your human self?"

Well, thought and self-awareness are, in my understanding, two very different things, i.e., I wouldnt conflate "self-awareness" with "identity-awareness" - but this technicality aside, you have still asked what I think is an absolutely crucial question.

I can assure you that I do not have the answer, since I have not had the experience, so I can only offer some opinions.

Firstly, I feel it is ok to ask the question, but not ok to stop short if an answer does not appear to emerge out of a logical framework of premise and conclusion - because the essence of understanding what that state of mind might be like, is to experience it, rather than to map it out beforehand. In turn, experiencing it is a tatonnement process of trial and error, whose ultimate resolution can only be had when it happens, if it happens.

Secondly, answers to this question has been attempted - whether they will appeal to your sensibilities is a totally different matter. In academic circles, this question would probably fall under the purview of the philosophy of the mind, but unfortunately, a lot of analytical philosophy (and especially Western philosophy) is, in my opinion, completely stuck at the level of epistemological questions whose answers, where they are to be found, are of little or no practical help. For me, at least, the clearest, most "actionable" answers to this question are to be found in Indian philosophy. If you are interested, and want to make a go of it, I would highly recommend a book called "Lessons in Gnani Yoga" by Yogi Ramacharaka. Some of Sri Aurobindo's writings are also extremely insightful - in fact, it is precisely your question that forms the basis of much of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy of the Supramental Consciousness. Unfortunately, Sri Aurobindo in the original, can be dense and impenetrable. For a start, consider reading Indra Sen's very lucid 1952 account entitled "Sri Aurobindo's Theory Of The Mind". It's a journal article published in "Philosophy East and West" Vol. 1, No. 4. If you are interested, I will email you a copy.

Thanks for the space.

Now, cheer up!

bhupinder said...

In your case, sadness sems to be a manifestation of an intellectual restlessness rather than an emotional state.

BTW:I liked this statement/quote:"
It is a state of extreme and radical subjectivity and is actually nothing but an epistemological isolation of one's consciousness."

Anyway, on this Friday evening, I hope you have some good French wine and the Diwan e Ghalib handy with you :-)

jyothsna said...

without spending too much time on theories and philosophies, i want to talk from my experiences (includes my interactions with just ordinary/average people in the streets)
I am not negating anyone's opinions, but trying to see the other side of it

# Thought is the culprit...segment it, slice it. you find better tasting slices of that fruit.
whether or nor good the thought, it ascertans the fact that the person is living.that consistent dialogue, chatter, rambling is necessary for one to's the restless mind to provide something for the body to work on and execute...I feel restless, I want to write a few lines,thoughts run like wild children! it's good a sign that the human is functioning, not dead internally.

Unseen struggle on his table
empty white paper getting paler,
infinite layers of silence
getting unloaded over the pen
a thin brown layer of
restlessness over the tea,
the breeze stayed still
behind the window,
someone is holding her breath
who is in the corner?
the writer
at the crossroads?
who is dead

# Hope kills me....dnot you hope to be seen as careless,reckless or someone who stares at life? dnot you secretly hope that the world to recognise you as careless...n falling for that irresistible veil around you...hope, I feel, makes one aware of his/her stance in the world,makes one aware of how fallibale n imperfect one is and empowers one to revolt against the norms (if he/she wishes to) or stay different from the milieu. I say, hope is that unseen force in you! one cant kill it as it defines your existence!
I, on some days, drive to my work in a very uninteresting fashion....but find self ashamed when I see that crippled man making such a laborious effort to take a single step (partially paralysed body, he wavers a lot before he could take one more step) to reach that market place where he can sit finally and beg for alms...
# I agree with Dostoevsky's Underground Man...
but your thoughts and intensity of self-awareness makes you distinct from others.
thoughts create more spaces of self-consciousness in you, during that brooding state of mind.It's a bit dark in there, sadness and gloom linger somewhere in the corner,someone is working all alone...
it's wholly isolated a space, where you can hear the wind howling & that thin robe of solitude, your shoulders are naked, your eyes pierce deep into that beautiful skin spread hold the tremble firm and rock to & fro, tears flow down, is it because of that deep stare or is it the happiness that you finally reached at the comfort level with self, devoid of all those unhealthy & nagging expectations or those things you seek from the world...
Gloom leads me somewhere, it replaces that accumulated dirt and unnecessary belongings of the world i greedily gathered, with a layer of mist which clings to the surface of an object...I just have to stretch my hand, wipe it off softly to recognise the object! it could be desire!Gloom makes me light-hearted and opens me to one more insecurity of mine,takes me into the lab to dissect it....I emerge lighter!

Space Bar said...

can so sympathise. at least you don't appear to get snarky when you're in a bad mood. this ought to be the place where i apologise for snapping your nose off in my comments section...sorry!

Madhur said...

alok, the whole 'madness' theory by kristeva is bleddy interesting, even frederic jameson calls schizophrenia
a 'language disorder', i think i got some material to write upon :)

Madhur said... was actually jameson quoting lacan.

scarecrow said...

i don't know if am qualifed to say sth seeing my own frequency of gloomy days...anyhow am writing so be it...
Bhupinder rightly said its more because of intelectual restlessness. just see how every sentence of yours was a question in the first para...
i don't know..., how could..., shouldn't have..., i am wondering....

somebody said:
....within and without simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life....
which i guess is right given the absurd nature of the world..its inevitable to feel both ways but still we can choose(but what if gene's are trying otherwise)... i mean just see how the way Jyothsnay approaches it all..

well, my inner self is rightnow saying 'look who's saying that'..
anyhow, i brought the copy of 'selfish gene' yesterday. lets see how much it repells or enchants me..

Alok said...

wfs: that paper on maharishi aurobindo's thought sounds interesting. when I was in India last time I came across one of his books but found it a little too abstruse. Also the problem is that these eastern philosophers have their own tradition and vocabulary though they are concerned with the same question and often even their methods are also in correspondence if not the same. so if you read one of these books after reading, say, plato or nietzsche it is all very confusing.

but frankly, i am not too troubled with philosophy or answers to my questions. it is more of a practical problem in my case. I just need some basic motivation for to go on with the "normal" life rather than follow thoreau's footsteps and proceed for vanaprastha and sanyas.

if you have the paper in pdf or word file, it would be great if you can send it on my email (alokranj at gmail dot com)

Alok said...

bhupinder: will try your galib+wine medicine today evening. though I am already feeling better just by the thought of it :)

Gloom leads me somewhere, it replaces that accumulated dirt and unnecessary belongings of the world i greedily gathered, with a layer of mist which clings to the surface of an object...I just have to stretch my hand, wipe it off softly to recognise the object! it could be desire!Gloom makes me light-hearted and opens me to one more insecurity of mine,takes me into the lab to dissect it....I emerge lighter!

i hereby present to you the commenter of the year award on dispatches from zembla :)) I loved that line.

madhur: wow, so you have read all these theory guys. please do write something on your blog. i go almost daily and i feel disappointed. i hope this is sufficient pressure for you :)

Alok said...

space bar: err, did i miss something in your comments box? i sometimes try hard to be aggressive and snarky but always fail. passivity runs in my veins. i don't know what to do about it? reading seven habits of highly effective people didn't help at all.

scare crow: wow, hope you like the book. For Dawkins observing and trying to understand how the world works is synonymous with the joy of life. i try hard to follow his advice but still...

jyothsnay said...

when we sink into a state of gloom and inactivity, we feel as if we are being crushed under some unknown heaviness...if I pause here, and bring in Nietzsche and Milan Kundera...
the heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, we are pinned down to the ground...
that's why I said I feel lighter...
the heavier the burden, the closer we get to the reality, the sharper definition of ourselves, the more and truthful we become..if not to the world, but to selves...this makes clearer in our approach to the wonder, it reflects how assertive one becomes...ah, hail Gloom!

jyothsnay said...


a brief encounter with nothingness
whipped me back in the pursuit of being...what should I say...

thank you for the award from such an elegant space!

I loved it too, spur of the moment analysis! can i link this back to my blog?

Alok said...

a brief encounter with nothingness
whipped me back in the pursuit of being

Wow, you amaze me!!

You can of course link it and put everything in one place on your blog. that would be great

km said...

My $0.02.

*Most* of us who blog are introspective people. OK, some may call it navel-gazing...and most of us are wrapped up in thought, not action. I am totally with my buddy WFS when he says "thought is the culprit".

Thought makes action impossible. To hell with thinking. I mean in the sense of being completely submerged in it.

I hope you felt better over the weekend.

Cheshire Cat said...

The most deeply introspective people do not blog for, after all, writing is action. The question is : to what purpose? The question is: should that be the question?

Alok said...

Sometimes it is not possible to just stop thinking. Mind gets a life of its own. And even alcohol or the company of pretty women can't stop it from thinking!

I feel good now though :)