On Saṃsāra

Saṃsāra, Sanskrit for the eternal cycle of death and rebirth, of endless reincarnations determined by karma, is a concept that permeates many Asian religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. It means “wandering through”, and is used to highlight the impermanence of life. It teaches one to abandon over-attachment to worldly desires and experiences.

Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson, the creators of the marvellous Baraka, ground their film in this concept, through beautifully crafted filmography, void of any dialogue or explanation. It is a purely image-driven film. Ranging from the beauty of the earth, to religious worship, human discipline, sombre examination of consumerism, the film is a wondrous accomplishment. A fantastic tribute to humanity that also underscores the transience of our momentary existence, Saṃsāra is an altogether awe-inspiring experience.

Saṃsāra truly begins and ends with Tibetan monks painstakingly crafting sand mandalas and subsequently destroying them. “A sand mandala is ritualistically dismantled once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolise the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.” The film embodies the struggle of reconciling the vibrancy of life and its impermanence, something that deeply resonates with me.

It brings to mind a favourite haiku by Kobayashi Issa, written a month after the passing of his daughter:

The world of dew —
A world of dew it is indeed,
And yet, and yet . . .

Watch the trailer below. A masterpiece.

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On Cloud Lamps

I just really, really want one of these for my room. The Cloud by Richard Clarkson is “an interactive lamp and speaker system, designed to mimic a thundercloud in both appearance and entertainment. Using motion sensors the cloud detects a user’s presence and creates a unique lightning and thunder show dictated by their movement. The system features a powerful speaker system from which the user can stream music via any Bluetooth compatible device. Using color-changing lights the cloud is able to adapt to the desired lighting color and brightness. The cloud also has alternative modes such as a nightlight and music reactive mode.”

You heard right. You can now experience a mini-storm within the comfort of your own room. You can now own your own pet thundercloud then reacts to your movements.

This piece of art reminds me of that Ray Bradbury story Powerhouse, which is an incredible short story ( 9 pages in my book!) that celebrates electricity, humanity and spirituality in a deserted powerhouse. I can’t help but think Bradbury, the man with the electric mind, would be delighted with this lamp. And then you have the Chihuahua version of the cloud: Tiny Cloud, also kindly produced by Richard Clarkson.

For the full experience: Vimeo

On the Alhambra

The Alhambra is a mystical, beautiful place, a Moorish fortress palace sitting atop a hill rising above the Spanish town of Granda. It is a relic from the time when the Moors ruled Granda and filled it with music, artists, poets and poetresses who dreamt up poetry “like the language of doves”. Granada, the birthplace of the spirited poet Federico Garcia Lorca and his passion for duende. Lorca, Leonard Cohen’s greatest influence and probably the greatest Spanish poet to have graced this earth, lived and died in his beloved Granada at the hands of fascist soldiers during the Spanish Civil War.

Lorca, who weaved immortal words from duende, Spanish nights and roses:

Today in my heart
a vague trembling of stars
and all roses are
as white as my pain.

Listen to Frances Mayes describe the Alhambra’s Courtyard of Lions:

“The root of the word paradise means “walled garden”. The enclosed Islamic gardens profoundly influenced the western medieval gardens. The cruciform designs of the monasteries conveniently paralleled Christian iconography, but the design previously reflected the Islamic concept of paradise, with four rivers flowing out in the cardinal directions from a single source. “Four-chambered heart,” Ed muses. “Did they think of that too?”

Leslie Stainton speaks of the view from the Alhambra:

“From the heights of the Alhambra I have often watched the sun linger on the horizon and contemplated the mournful sound of Granada’s church bells at dusk. Lorca said there were a thousand of them. They blend with the music of the city’s two rivers and its hundreds of fountains and hidden springs. The water in Granada is somber. In its presence you feel you have touched the city’s pulse.”

Intricate and elegant Arabic inscriptions have been carefully carved into the walls of the Alhambra. Tourists and visitors continue to be perplexed by the artful words, a language beautiful but incomprehensible. “The form of script is angular kufic, whose uprights sprout into decorative foliage, or intertwine; curlicue cursive; or a mixture of forms. In a culture that banned human images, the form as well as the content of the calligraphy was designed to exalt temporal and heavenly rulers.” These writings have been decoded by researchers and they reveal stunning lyricism.

On the basin of the Fountain of Lions:

For, are there not in this garden wonders
that God has made incomparable in their beauty,
and a sculpture of pearls with a transparently light,
the borders of which are trimmed with seed pearl?
Melted silver flows through the pearls,
to which it resembles in its pure dawn beauty.
Apparently, water and marble seem to be one,
without letting us know which of them is flowing.
Don’t you see how the water spills on the basin,
but its spouts hide it immediately?
It is a lover whose eyelids are brimming over with tears,
tears that it hides from fear of a betrayer.
Isn’t it, in fact, like a white cloud
that pours its water channels on the lions
and seems the hand of the caliph, who, in the morning,
grants the war lions with his favours?

And in the Hall of the Two Sisters, it is declared:

I am a garden adorned by beauty:
my being will know whether you look at my beauty.
Oh, Mohammed, my king, I try to equal
the noblest thing that has ever existed or will ever exist.
Sublime work of art, fate wants me to outshine every other moment in history.
How much delight for the eyes!
The noble one renews his desires here.
The Pleiads serve as his amulet;
the breeze defends it with its magic.
A gleaming vault shines in a unique way,
with apparent and hidden beauties.
The hand of a devoted to Gemini;
and the Moon comes to converse with her.
The stars wish to rest there,
and not turn around the celestial wheel,
and they wish to await submissively in both courtyards,
and serve tenaciously like slaves:

The Alhambra stands as one of the pinnacles of Islamic architecture, overflowing with light, shadows and the Arabic love of numbers, poetry and geometry. I shall continue to dream of it, hazy in the golden sunlight, the sound of water trickling past walls carved with untold stories, a paradise tended to by the hearts, hands and minds of men.

Begin anew each day

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

On Rabindranath Tagore

Just a brief post on the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, who received the Nobel Prize for literature a century ago. I shall let his words speak for themselves. Interspersed with vibrant pictures of Holi powder by Marcus Palmqvist.

Unending Love

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, its age-old pain,
Its ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time:
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.

From The Gardener: 

My heart, the bird of the wilderness,
has found its sky in your eyes.
They are the cradle of the morning,
they are the kingdom of the stars.
My songs are lost in their depths.
Let me but soar in that sky,
in its lonely immensity.
Let me but cleave its clouds
and spread wings in its sunshine.

And my personal favourite from The Gardener:

My soul is alight with your infinitude of stars. Your world has broken upon me like a flood. The flowers of your garden blossom in my body. The joy of life that is everywhere burns like an incense in my heart. And the breath of all things plays on my life as on a pipe of reeds.

On Stanley Kubrick and the meaning of life

“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

I recently watched Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I finished my last day of lessons for the semester, met up with my brother and we caught the IMAX showing of Interstellar, which was mindblowing. But that is for another day. Afterwards we bought trays of sushi and discussed gravitational time dilation, the cheesiness of love as a “quantifiable” force. That night, through googling Interstellar I learnt that Nolan had been heavily inspired by 2001. I’d heard of Kubrick’s work: the massively violent A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut etc. but I’d never been moved to watch any.

vlcsnap-2014-11-16-23h22m01s201

Watching 2001 was a strange, awe-inspiring experience. Rather than what Hollywood expected, Kubrick gave us a massively artistic work that would not be out of place in some avant-garde museum or arthouse cinema. From the first act of the dawn of mankind, the iconic transition from the bone to the spaceship, the haunting end, it is a painstakingly crafted film. Though filmed in 1968, its influence on modern space films is evident: Star Wars, Sunshine, Interstellar, Aliens. Kubrick was incredibly visionary. Artificial intelligence, robots going bad, distrust of technology and TPTB, aliens (and NOT little green men or crude monsters, but sleek, menacing black slabs). The maddening, dizzying techno wormhole at the end, with mysterious shapes resembles an LSD trip. How insane it must have seemed in the confines of a neighbourhood cinema in 1968. Some might call it a boring, tedious film, but its purpose is not entertainment; it is to provoke thought, it is Kubrick’s thesis on our place in the universe and our future. This is him throwing down the gauntlet.

I might do a full review on 2001 someday, but my mind is still unsettled. I went to sleep afraid of waking up to a black monolith standing over my bed.

Stanley Kubrick was an insightful man. His interviews are a joy to read. While I am writing this, I am listening to a 1966 audio interview of him, which can be heard here. My favourite interview has to be the 1968 Playboy Interview, courtesy of Brainpickings which featured some extracts in an article. They are reproduced below and are infinitely inspiring, much like Carl Sagan’s words.

Playboy: Thanks to those special effects, 2001 is undoubtedly the most graphic depiction of space flight in the history of films — and yet you have admitted that you yourself refuse to fly, even in a commercial jet liner. Why?

Kubrick: I suppose it comes down to a rather awesome awareness of mortality. Our ability, unlike the other animals, to conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychic strains within us; whether we like to admit it or not, in each man’s chest a tiny ferret of fear at this ultimate knowledge gnaws away at his ego and his sense of purpose. We’re fortunate, in a way, that our body, and the fulfillment of its needs and functions, plays such an imperative role in our lives; this physical shell creates a buffer between us and the mind-paralyzing realization that only a few years of existence separate birth from death. If man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility. Why, he might ask himself, should be bother to write a great symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the unimaginable immensity of space?

Those of us who are forced by their own sensibilities to view their lives in this perspective — who recognize that there is no purpose they can comprehend and that amidst a countless myriad of stars their existence goes unknown and unchronicled — can fall prey all too easily to the ultimate anomie….But even for those who lack the sensitivity to more than vaguely comprehend their transience and their triviality, this inchoate awareness robs life of meaning and purpose; it’s why ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ why so many of us find our lives as absent of meaning as our deaths.

The world’s religions, for all their parochialism, did supply a kind of consolation for this great ache; but as clergymen now pronounce the death of God and, to quote Arnold again, ‘the sea of faith’ recedes around the world with a ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,’ man has no crutch left on which to lean—and no hope, however irrational, to give purpose to his existence. This shattering recognition of our mortality is at the root of far more mental illness than I suspect even psychiatrists are aware.

This segment cuts to the ultimate question of why we should value life. And his last line (my favourite quote of his) inspires such hope (or the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without words).

Playboy: If life is so purposeless, do you feel it’s worth living?

Kubrick: The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism — and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong — and lucky — he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

On e. e. cummings: And death I think is no parenthesis

I never really “got” e.e.cummings in the past. Being used to reading the smooth lines of Neruda, Shakespeare, Lorca, Blake, I was utterly unprepared for Cumming’s jagged manner of writing. It’s different now, and I’m glad for it. e. e. cummings is truly a wordsmith, breaking free of the rigid rules of grammar and syntax. To think that such avant garde poetry came from a man born in 1894, at the turn of the century. His love poems, of course, are the most famous of his near three thousand poems. And I confess a deep desire to hear them read at my own wedding. But remember how you get so unsatisfied with movies adapted from books? How the actors never quite get the words, the essence of the prose? I am convinced that no one can ever get the spirit, the cadence and the emotions of e. e. cummings poetry across. They just never get it right as what I imagine in my mind. His words are best left to the mind; what you imagine will be vastly better than what could ever be spoken aloud.

My favourite (it’s pretty unoriginal of me, but so there) poem of his:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

 

Quite apart from the tender words, the depth of feeling to this poem, is the magnificent cadence of it. It trips and falls, and swirls upwards swiftly in the penultimate stanza, the adoration swells in a rush of words. Excuse me while I dissolve into a puddle of emotions.

 

Then there is this; words which dazzle…

 

dive for dreams

dive for dreams
or a slogan may topple you
(trees are their roots
and wind is wind)
trust your heart
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward)
honour the past
but welcome the future
(and dance your death
away at the wedding)
never mind a world
with its villains or heroes
(for good likes girls
and tomorrow and the earth)
in spite of everything
which breathes and moves, since Doom
(with white longest hands
neating each crease)
will smooth entirely our minds
-before leaving my room
i turn, and (stooping
through the morning) kiss
this pillow, dear
where our heads lived and were.

silently if, out of not knowable

silently if, out of not knowable
night’s utmost nothing,wanders a little guess
(only which is this world)more my life does
not leap than with the mystery your smile
sings or if(spiralling as luminous
they climb oblivion)voices who are dreams,
less into heaven certainly earth swims
than each my deeper death becomes your kiss
losing through you what seemed myself,i find
selves unimaginably mine;beyond
sorrow’s own joys and hoping’s very fears
yours is the light by which my spirit’s born:
yours is the darkness of my soul’s return
-you are my sun,my moon,and all my stars

I can’t really comment more on them; the words speak for themselves.
 

it is at moments after i have dreamed

it is at moments after i have dreamed
of the rare entertainment of your eyes,
when (being fool to fancy) i have deemed
with your peculiar mouth my heart made wise;
at moments when the glassy darkness holds
the genuine apparition of your smile
(it was through tears always)and silence moulds
such strangeness as was mine a little while;
moments when my once more illustrious arms
are filled with fascination, when my breast
wears the intolerant brightness of your charms:
one pierced moment whiter than the rest
-turning from the tremendous lie of sleep
i watch the roses of the day grow deep.

Who knew words and punctuation could be moulded in such a way.

i have found what you are like

i have found what you are like
the rain,
(Who feathers frightened fields
with the superior dust-of-sleep. wields
easily the pale club of the wind
and swirled justly souls of flower strike
the air in utterable coolness
deeds of green thrilling light
with thinned
newfragile yellows
lurch and.press
-in the woods
which
stutter
and
sing
And the coolness of your smile is
stirringofbirds between my arms;but
i should rather than anything
have(almost when hugeness will shut
quietly)almost,
your kiss

all which isn’t singing is mere talking

all which isn’t singing is mere talking
and all talking’s talking to oneself
(whether that oneself be sought or seeking
master or disciple sheep or wolf)
gush to it as diety or devil
-toss in sobs and reasons threats and smiles
name it cruel fair or blessed evil-
it is you (ne i)nobody else
drive dumb mankind dizzy with haranguing
-you are deafened every mother’s son-
all is merely talk which isn’t singing
and all talking’s to oneself alone
but the very song of(as mountains
feel and lovers)singing is silence

The quiet ache of this gem:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
-the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for each other: then
laugh leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.

Though I have said that no one will ever read his poetry in the way we can imagine it, Tom Hiddleston does this poem (about an affair) justice:

And his other poems, well they leave me breathless sometimes as well.

I Will Wade Out

i will wade out
till my thighs are steeped in burning flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
Alive
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness
in the sleeping curves of my body
Shall enter fingers of smooth mastery
with chasteness of sea-girls
Will i complete the mystery
of my flesh
I will rise
After a thousand years
lipping
flowers
And set my teeth in the silver of the moon

You can find more of his poems here. You might also want to listen to this soundtrack while reading them. I will end off with this:

If I Believe

if i believe
in death be sure
of this
it is

because you have loved me,
moon and sunset
stars and flowers
gold crescendo and silver muting

of seatides
i trusted not,
one night
when in my fingers

drooped your shining body
when my heart
sang between your perfect
breasts

darkness and beauty of stars
was on my mouth petals danced
against my eyes
and down

the singing reaches of
my soul
spoke
the green-

greeting pale-
departing irrevocable
sea
i knew thee death.

and when
i have offered up each fragrant
night,when all my days
shall have before a certain

face become
white
perfume
only,
from the ashes
then
thou wilt rise and thou
wilt come to her and brush

the mischief from her eyes and fold
her
mouth the new
flower with

thy unimaginable
wings,where dwells the breath
of all persisting stars

Vincent Brady: Of Fireflies and Planetary Waltzes

Vincent Brady is in love with the night sky and fireflies; and so are we all. There is a particular phrase that comes to mind, Stanley Kubrick in his interview with Playboy magazine who uttered this truth:

However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

And Brady has done it. If our age is one of disillusionment, terrorism and the degradation of morality, then Brady’s work must be one of the millions of flickering lights out there, to provide respite from the darkness. He captures the stately waltz of planets, stars, galaxies, dark matter in his series ‘Planetary Panoramas’. From the heavens to the earth, where the dazzling displays of fireflies are suspended in time, forever, in his timelapse series on fireflies in the wild. And the message is clear: there is still beauty left in the world. We are part of something extraordinary, all six billion of us. There is something worth treasuring. We have to look no further than the skies above us.

If I may be permitted to share some of his wonderful fine art photography:

Vincent Brady: Fireflies &emdash;

Vincent Brady: Fireflies &emdash; Fireflies of Fitzgerald

Vincent Brady: Fireflies &emdash; Fireflies and Lake of the Ozarks

And from his Planetary Panoramas: 

Vincent Brady: Planetary Panorama Project &emdash; Milky Way Rising at Delicate Arch

Vincent Brady: Planetary Panorama Project &emdash; Landscape Arch and the Milky Way

Give his magical time lapse videos a watch:

Visit his website here.

On Reading American Psycho

This book was an experience. Bret Easton Ellis, for all his twitter mishaps, is a master at satire. It was bloody, hilarious, dark, helpless, disquieting. The copious amounts of blood spatter and gore and body parts aren’t easy to stomach. And yet I cannot imagine the book without it. The rampant materialism, the detachedness, the superficiality of the 80s yuppies culture is made fun of so much in this book. I alternated between giggling and shocked horror in reading this violent, mad work.

Patrick Bateman is both a likeable and horrifying character, he undergoes an existential crisis (Is evil something you are? Or is it what you do?), he is awkward at times, painfully sharp at others, cutting through the absolute bullshit some of the other characters spout. He is both human and inhuman. I don’t know if he really killed all those people, or whether they were wild imaginings of his very sick mind. He is without doubt, a psychopath, but a fully functioning one. One that is able to navigate Wall Street, give fashion advice, who goes for facial treatments and shiatsu massages. It is both chilling and comedic, wrapped up in the psychedelic descriptions of the 80s clubbing scene, of snorting cocaine and moo shu custard.

The first part of the book was dazzling but Patrick’s true nature is still obscured to us. The second half becomes progressively weirder, bloodier, as we see Patrick lose his grasp of reality, as he loses the last strands of control over his inhuman desires and motivations. Even he knows and starts to panic, quietly. The rest is a haze of drugged violence, decimating his final vestiges of morality. Inside what the world knows as Pat Bateman, is nothing.

…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel my flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable,  I simply am not there.

It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being. My personality is sketchy and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard) if they ever did exist. There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference towards it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed.

Yet I am blameless. Each model of human behaviour must be assumed to have some validity. Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do? My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this- and I have, countless times, in just about every act I’ve committed- and coming face-to-face with these truths, there is no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself, no new understanding that can be extracted from my telling. There has been no reason for me to tell you any of this. This confession has meant nothing

But I am not convinced. Deep down, there is a shrivelled up, weak and bleeding part of Patrick that can feel something apart from self-professed greed and an urge to kill. The fact that he can assert that he feels nothing, this self-awareness, indicates that he does feel. There are moments of sparkling clarity in the book that serve to show the humanity in Patrick. His insecurity about his hair, his nervousness when meeting up with Bethany, his jealousy, his imitation of the trends of the 80s, his spouting of meaningless music reviews, these are all reflections of any of us. Trapped in the nightmarish, superficial world as he is, Patrick wants people to see him. Remember his conversation with Bethany, perhaps the only girl who ever saw and heard Patrick, the real Patrick, not the facade he puts up. He even confesses to her: “I…want…to…fit…in.”, admitting the “pleasures of conformity”.

I mean, does anyone really see anyone? Does anyone really see anyone else? Did you ever see meSee? What does that mean?

And when the people around him don’t see him, he pushes the boundaries. How far can he go until people see the “real” him? That deep dark nothing inside of him. He can’t believe it himself how easy it is to get away, as shown clearly in his killing of the child at the zoo. He experiments with cannibalism, all in an attempt to see how far he can push the boundaries of morality and still keep up the facade of being a human.

Jean and Bethany are possibly the only ones to get close to getting him feel something. And they are not part of the world he lives in everyday either. Jean and Bethany (and to me, the whole host of beggars he meets, the prostitutes he kills) are the genuine characters, and he simultaneously craves and is afraid of their ability to see him. The entire conversation he has with Jean at the end provokes some of his clearest and most intriguing thoughts. Jean, who is in love with him, is probably the only genuine girl in his life, and is the only one he considers being happy with:

I imagine running around Central Park on a cool spring afternoon with Jean, laughing, holding hands. We buy balloons, we let them go.

There are more things I can talk about. Patrick’s reaction to Luis Carruthers, how disarming it is to be the object of homosexual love. Patrick’s insecurity about his hair. He talks about this “nameless terror”, worrying about the Fisher account, his obsession with fashion and securing reservations. His blatant confessions (real or imaginary?) of insanity to the bland characters around him, and the pervasive subculture of self-absorbedness, superficiality, materialism and suppressed violence. The mindless world he cannot escape, and we ask ourselves, in a world such as that, how could one not go insane? The only thing more terrifying that Patrick is the world and culture that made him.

Surface, surface, surface, was all that anyone found meaning in…this was civilization as I saw it, colossal and jagged…

This book is a must-read. I have to go return some videotapes now, so I end with the words from the beginning and the end of the book:

ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE.

THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.

P.S. More gems from the book:

I stare into a thin, web-like crack above the urinal’s handle and think to myself that if I were to disappear into that crack, say somehow miniaturize and slip into it, the odds are good that no one would notice I was gone. No… one… would… care. In fact some, if they noticed my absence, might feel an odd, indefinable sense of relief. This is true: the world is better off with some people gone. Our lives are not all interconnected. That theory is crock. Some people truly do not need to be here.

Where there was nature and earth, life and water, I saw a desert landscape that was unending, resembling some sort of crater, so devoid of reason and light and spirit that the mind could not grasp it on any sort of conscious level and if you came close the mind would reel backward, unable to take it in. It was a vision so clear and real and vital to me that in its purity it was almost abstract. This was what I could understand, this was how I lived my life, what I constructed my movement around, how I dealt with the tangible. This was the geography around which my reality revolved: it did not occur to me, ever, that people were good or that a man was capable of change or that the world could be a better place through one’s own taking pleasure in a feeling or a look or a gesture, of receiving another person’s love or kindness. Nothing was affirmative, the term “generosity of spirit” applied to nothing, was a cliche, was some kind of bad joke. Sex is mathematics. Individuality no longer an issue. What does intelligence signify? Define reason. Desire- meaningless. Intellect is not a cure. Justice is dead. Fear, recrimination, innocence, sympathy, guilt, waste, failure, grief, were things, emotions, that no one really felt anymore. Reflection is useless, the world is senseless. Evil is its only permanence. God is not alive. Love cannot be trusted. Surface, surface, surface, was all that anyone found meaning in…this was civilization as I saw it, colossal and jagged…

Everything failed to subdue me. Soon everything seemed dull: another sunrise, the lives of heroes, falling in love, war, the discoveries people made about each other. The only thing that didn’t bore me, obviously enough, was how much money Tim Price made, and yet in its obviousness it did. There wasn’t a clear, identifiable emotion within me, except for greed and, possibly, total disgust. I had all the characteristics of a human being – flesh, blood, skin, hair – but my depersonalization was so intense, had gone so deep, that the normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful erasure. I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning. Something horrible was happening and yet I couldn’t figure out why – I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I laugh maniacally, then take a deep breath and touch my chest- expecting a heart to be thumping quickly, impatiently, but there’s nothing there, not even a beat.

P.P.S Here are some brilliant reviews that helped me understand this book further: here, here, herehere. Also, a vlog.

I am aware of DFW’s criticisms of it as expounded in the second last link: “In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend Psycho as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that.”

I can’t help but question DFW’s definition of “good art”, though he is, after all, entitled to his own opinion. Does good art have to be a beacon in the dark for us? Is there no value to nihilistic art? What is “good” art? This is intensely subjective. Isn’t Bret pointing out the flaws of society, reminding us that materialism, superficiality, the surface can lead to nowhere good, isn’t that a valuable lesson to learn?