Friday, October 10, 2008

Meta Blog

A personal update and some musings (can be skipped)...

I am moving back to India in a couple of weeks. I had decided to move back sometime mid of this year but it kept getting postponed. I can technically still stay but I feel it is now time to say goobye to this weightless and unheimlich life and go back to what is home. It is probably evident from the blog that where I am doesn't really decide what I blog about in any way (if that were the case my home would be somewhere in Europe of distant time) but I don't know if I will be able to blog as regularly I do once I am in India. I doubt if the readers of the blog even know where I actually live (or for that matter my nationality or academic background, job, age or even gender, well may be gender is easily guessable)! Susan Sontag in one of her interviews said that for her writing was a means of self-transcendence and not self-expression. Now before you start throwing stones in outrage, I am not comparing myself to her or calling this blog "writing" but in general I believe we all should strive to transcend our passive, imposed identities (language, religion, nationality, gender, really nothing should be off-limit), only then we can live our lives based on potentiality, rather than actuality.

Anyway just to set the record straight, for the first year of the blog's existence, I was in Chicago, which now that some time has passed, I remember fondly though at that time I hated it and thought it was driving me mad. It is a very beautiful city but also bleak and brutalizing. I sometimes regret that I should have utilized (or at least I should have tried harder) my time spent there better (by reading, thinking, blogging etc.) rather than looking through the window and wishing for apocalypse as I did most of the time. After spending around a month in India I came back to US, this time in Stamford (Connecticut). I feel a little better about the last two years spent here. A nice, small (but sufficient) library was practically next door to where I lived and of course new york city was not that far either, both of which I will miss when I leave.

The awareness of the passage of time naturally gives rise to anxiety, at least when one feels the need to account for the time that is already past. I have been able to read a lot, watch a lot of films, even been able to think about them a little, even record most of these in whatever hopeless manner, but all this has only made everything more uncertain and filled my head with more doubts than ever before. The thought of life that lies ahead of me now fills me with dread, which as philosophers (like Kierkegaard) say, is different from fear in the sense that it doesn't have any determinate object. It just is. Unlike fear it doesn't help me to act, on the other hand it is paralysing. This is the natural effect of spending too much time alone following the trail of your own thoughts. Social life or even the thought of being with someone makes me afraid. You open your mouth to talk and then realize that it is only garbage that is coming out. At work you talk about all sorts of technical things and realize that absolutely everything you say is pure and utterly meaningless nonsense. At least from reading these books I now have the vocabulary to talk about it. I can talk about how the fear of losing one's self leads to anxiety, how it is nothing but the terror of falling into the world. I can now quote Kierkegaard and Heidegger but to what purpose? May be just another case of "shameless intellectualism" as one of the commenters noted.

There was one long comment (I think early last year) that I got on this blog which, after granting that the blog is "useful" and "informative", ridiculed it by calling it "hopelessly bookish" and advised me to go out in the world and see for myself and then I will realize that, as he (or she) emphatically concluded, "life is not shit just because it is written in the books." I remember the comment because it was true and it stung me. All this talk of trying to learn how to live an "examined life" is mostly an exercise in self-delusion. There is too much "examination" and too little "life" and I spend time examining precisely because it helps me escape from the life. One reads about all the life-experiences, one is moved by their portrayals in films but when an opportunity comes in real-life to gather experience of one's own, one runs away in fear to take refuge again in representation and detached thinking. One likes to think that there is something important and personal at stake in thinking like that but that is again self-delusion.

I realize now that I have mixed up first, second and third person ("I", "You", "One") above which again shows how uncomfortable I feel writing things like these but I will let it be.


foldedletters said...

I only just found your "meta blog", but I've enjoyed it. Ideas are an escape. Reality can be a cruel schoolmaster. And books can feel like friends. Don't feel dread for life. It can't hurt you anymore than you let it. And you do need to be with people (I should talk). I think everyone has these same anxieties, just to varying degrees. That can be comforting. We're all so similar, just looking through different eyes.

Good luck in India. That's a place I've always wanted to visit. Maybe one day.

Jabberwock said...

...absolutely everything you say is pure and utterly meaningless nonsense.

This is true for everyone, but yes, it's also true that too much self-awareness about it can be crippling/petrifying. Very nice post, Alok - I can relate to a lot of it even though I probably lead a more social life than you have the past few years. (Mind you, it's still fairly unsocial compared to most people I know! On the rare occasions when I have to visit an office or spend an hour or so in even an informal meeting in my status as a consulting editor, I feel completely detached from what's happening around me.)

Hope things work out as well as possible for you, and I hope also that you find the time to keep blogging, at least sporadically. I greatly enjoy your very particular style (informal, often short but deeply reflective posts, with personal introspection thrown in) of writing about books and films, as well as the comments discussions we've had over the years, and I hope it continues - even if less frequently.

Also, don't be too hard on yourself. The comment you mention ("life is not shit just because it is written in the books"), though useful for someone who might want to be shaken up a bit, is hardly "true" in any absolute sense. Life (and literature) affects people in different ways and we're all free to make what we want of it.

All the best!

km said...


Best of luck on your move etc etc.

More than anything else, your blog has served as a pointer to what else I should be reading and watching. So for that reason alone, I hope you do keep up your blogging.

//I was tempted to philosophize, but then I read Jabberwock's comment and realized he had already said everything I had to say :)

lalegini said...

Dear Alok! I found your blog lately and I am so happy about that. Honestly. Living in exile (for me) is bitter and having idendity crisis is unbearable. I am so happy for you that you moving back to India. I wish I could as well. Life is beautiful anyway and so is your moving back to your homeland. Good luck my virtual friend.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the move to India!

I really hope you do continue blogging, regularly or not. It's been a good read all along and for that, Thank you! :)

Madhuri said...

Welcome to India - hope you are getting the entire collection of your books and movies with you so at least I can savor a remote possibility of borrowing them from you sometime.
Perhaps staying away makes it easier to escape life in examination, and a homecoming will help restore the balance between the two. In any case, you will sure find the balance that suits you, even if it is leaning towards examination.

Alok said...

thanks everybody. I feel a bit embarrassed about the melodrama but once in a while it is okay.

madhuri: let me settle down. I think we have quite a few books in our libraries that we can exchange.

narcotic: thanks. I will keep blogging, I just may not be able to do it on a regular basis.

lalegini: I don't want to call it "exile" because it is mostly voluntary but yes that constant nagging feeling of "homelessness" (unheimlich captures it better) always remains. One feels like floating, weightless and certainly never "at home."

km: thanks, yeah the blog should continue. I anyway do too much blogging.

Alok said...

foldedletters: yes I know being with other people is important otherwise one develops this "theoretical" attitude towards life which I think has happened with me...

jai: thanks. Blogging has certainly helped me a lot, in both keeping me motivated about watching films, reading books and actively thinking about them and also making me aware that there are so many more things to learn. In real life I am surrounded by people (even self-proclaimed film buffs) who think Montgomery Clift is a name of some mountain... it is then nice to come to blogworld and see other people and be humbled and inspired.

About the other problem of detachment, I think I have never been able to adapt myself to life in this foreign land even after spending so much time here. It is like one of those self-fulfilling things... one spends time in the library and in books because one feels like an outsider which in turn sends one back to the refuge of books and movies.

abcd said...

Well..I cannot resist the temptation of posting a comment('I can resist everything but temptation' is the Maxim). I owe a lot to this blog. I recieved one book yesterday which was one among the many books I learnt about from this blog. Thanks man! I sincerely hope the frequency of posts on this blog will go up.
Regarding the advice to go out in the world rather than spending time reading books, I for one always think that insofar as one cannot explain in cogently concievable terms the void that yawns between animals and man (Which Mann talks about at length), every human act is logically sustainable and so an attempt towards evaluating various paths would be asinine.
So too I think this homelessness must have played a bog role in keeping you from falling into the world.

Wish you the best out in India. And sorry for the stupid philosophic grabage above. Carrying coal to Newcastle, I know.

Space Bar said...

All the best with the move, Alok. Like everyone else here, I enjoy your posts and would naturally wish that they don't stop; but I can totally understand the need to take a break or move on, whichever comes first (or at all!).

And what melodrama?!

Cheshire Cat said...

I am not surprised that you feel alienated in the West, but I also be surprised if you don't feel alienated in India... Remember the Amit Chaudhuri quote in one of your earlier posts about there being no space for the marginal, for the outsider?

Then again, the fact that the concept of marginality isn't realized there might a marginal existence more authentic.

For myself, I find the idea that real life is somehow more valuable pure fantasy. One's inner life is always going to have more creative potential - a theatre in which the play and the audience are one offers a greater density of experience than the ritual theatre of the interpersonal.

Perhaps the question is: does one prefer the apothegm to the novel?

Alok said...

cat: I think it is very impotant to be able to get out there in the world and somehow still able to be "yourself" (which is hard, may be impossible). Otherwise it is another prison, you can have a rich and interesting inner life but it is still a prison, of one's own consciousness. Like Kierkegaard it is just one of the stages of life, the aesthetic stage - which should ultimately give way to "ethical" and "religious" stages otherwise it is just Boredom (with capital B) and nihilism.

What you say about India is true. In fact if you think of big cities there is hardly any difference when it comes to cultures, way of lives, values etc between "east" and "west". I have just been unable to find any "grounding" here, i feel floating in the air all the time and I don't like it that much. it may be the same in india too...

sb: I thought it was good melodrama, with philosophical pretensions even :) thanks for the comment. I will definitely not let the blog die... it is quite high in my list of life-priorities :)

abcd: thanks, I am glad you found it useful and interesting.

Alok said...

and I loved that phrase: " the ritual theatre of the interpersonal"

dan visel said...

Hi Alok,

I'm getting to this late - I was on my first trip to India for the past two weeks, which I find myself completely at a loss to describe sensibly - but I'd like to add to the chorus of thanks for this blog. I like watching the way you think things through, and I very much hope you keep it up. I find your writing is more rewarding to read than that of most litblogs - probably it's where your coming from.

Not entirely sure why - this isn't a direct analogue - but your explication of your relation to the US puts me in mind of an essay on Edmund White by Diane Johnson in the Review of Contemporary Fiction number on White/Delany - it doesn't look like it's online at Dalkey's site, but it shouldn't be hard to track down. Relevant quote:

“But perhaps more essential, in The Beautiful Room Is Empty (the rather enigmatic quotation is from Kafka) are [Edmund] White’s descriptions of the discovery of the world of art, a subject not often explored by American writers. The novel begins not with a discussion of the young man’s sexual awakening but of his hunger for books, music, painting, information – commodities almost all Midwestern writers report being starved for. . . . The narrator is an interesting rarity, a budding artist and intellectual in Michigan. Normal Mailer, writing somewhere of James Jones, speaks of ‘the terrible inferiority complex of the midwestern writer,’ meaning perhaps the feeling many Midwesterners have of coming upon culture suddenly or by accident, whether by going East to school or to Europe in a war, and having the impression that they were just now being let in on something other people had always known. . . . Though every American region has its apologists, the Midwest, which has produced so many of our greatest writers, has the fewest, is the most resolutely ‘a country where no one else was like me.’ Writers who start out there have tended to move (as White, who lives in Paris, has done) and not to take their flat, unromantic heartland for a subject. Just as blacks, from Baldwin to Baker, have found a more agreeable life in Europe, so the Midwesterners – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gellhorn, Jones, Herbst, to name a few – have their own set of circumstances to flee, those White describes so well.”

Maybe you'd find it interesting? Maybe not. But keep up your writing . . .


Alok said...

I can understand this. This is a common anxiety of not belonging to the "centre".

V. S. Naipaul's writings explore this sentiment with great power even though sometimes I find his bitterness and self-hatred (expressed in his violent repudiations of his origins) hard to take.

Szerelem said...

Alok, I am extremely late in commenting here - there has been too much going on unfortunately - but I thought I must. I think Jai has already said everything I wanted to but thank you for this blog, I don't think I exaggerate in saying I have learnt a lot from your posts and hope they will continue...
Best for your India move.

Alok said...


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