Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hamlet vs Don Quixote

I keep coming across references to this essay by Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev at different places but have never found the actual essay anywhere. In the essay Turgenev says that the whole mankind can be divided into basic character types - Hamlet and Don Quixote. One who thinks, but all his thoughts are devoted to doubts and self-criticism, which eventually result in hesitation, paralysis of will and failure of action. The other type, that of Don Quixote, is intent on action but is so drunk on his certainties and his ego is so completely drawn outward that he doesn't feel the need to think. He tilts on the windmills, attacks a flock of sheep because he is already convinced that they are in fact giant monsters and armies of the enemy!

In one of the chapters of The Man Without Qualities, Ulrich the hero, wonders if it is possible for we thinking and conscious beings, specially in the modern world when there are no absolutes left to rely on, is there any possibility left when it comes to human action? Is it even possible to decide ANYTHING? Very depressing thoughts! Now back to work.


Cheshire Cat said...

And I think Queneau divided novels into two types - the type of the Odyssey and the type of the Iliad.

Ulrich is such a wet blanket. Why melancholy rationalism when one can be obliviously irrational...

Alok said...

wow, for a professional mathematician you seem to be a very balanced person. you have already taken to Musil's lesson. :)

the main thing is how to be "obliviously irrational"? what if the mind insists on taking things apart?

Cheshire Cat said...

Science is the most insidious of belief systems - it proclaims the virtues of skepticism but is itself least skeptical concerning the possibility of knowledge. The mind does not insist, it submits, submits to the tyranny of Science.

Are you not free?

Alok said...

It is an old problem. I feel trapped inside my own head.

What you say about irrationality reminds me of many characters from Dostoevsky. To commit irrational act, just to assert your freedom, isn't that same as madness? that's a slippery slope at best.

[I won't get into the science debate again :)]

Cheshire Cat said...

I just think rationality should pertain to existing as best we can within our circumstances, rather than in an allegiance to some relentless logic. So much agonizing can't be good for anyone - what's the use of rationality then anyway?