Unlikely Aristotle

On contradiction

September 8, 2009
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The universe thrives in its duality, and yet at the same time, many pantheists believe in the oneness of the universe, seeing God in everything. Contradiction? How can it be a oneness if it is many things? Because, to use a very poor analogy, if everything in a room is made of plastic, it is all plastic, even though it comes in different forms. This belief in singularity of the universe is also, in my convoluted mind, an extension of the dual nature of the universe. Because there is the infinite and there is the absolute zero. There is light and there is the absence of it (darkness is just a state of the absence of light). There is life and there is death. Chaos and order. Man and woman. Young and old. Earth and air. Air and water. Water and fire. Rich and poor.

I’m not surprised at all that many religions and old cultures have been enamored by the concept of opposites, of balance and of duality. There’s the inescapable symmetry that inspires poetry and deep thinking, there’s the sudden innately human (or should I say animal) urge to achieve that symmetry, and maintain it, that perfect, perpetual yin and yang. Of the religions I respect the most, I always look at their take on balance. It’s a true indication of how reasonable and ‘good’ this religion is (good being my completely subjective opinion). Yoga, derived from a Sanskrit (ancient Indian language) word, meaning ‘to unite’, evokes the balance between the body, the mind and the soul, as the practice places an emphasis on all of them.

Although I’ve mentioned that this duality inspires the poet in many, I find myself thinking that this is the natural state of the universe, that the only poetic thing about it is the way it sounds or looks. War and Peace, etc. There is actually nothing poetic in what it is. However, true poetry for me has always been irony, something I always look for, and it always comes up in spades everywhere I turn, you can’t help but find it. In this era that we live in, if you don’t learn to appreciate irony, you’ll probably end up a very bitter person.

Turn on the TV. I can bet you all the money in my bank account (you won’t be getting much, though), that on one channel you will see images of people dying. Or dead. This will either be the news or it will be some thrilling new forensics show. Change the channel, or wait till you get to the commercials. You will now see an advertisement for L’Oreal or Cliniques or whatever’s new ReGeneVive Eye Rejuvenation Serum (or some such handle) or Wrinkle Smoother or Collagen Plumper.

There’s a whole book on irony in those two clips right there. First of all, there’s the news, lamenting the inevitable deaths of hundreds (you lose track after a while) of souls who have lived and died to serve as tools for the powers that be, helping shift power from one greedy hand to another faster than a hot potato. These deaths exhibit speed: the speed in which they occur and that with which they are forgotten. People will click their tongues, shake their heads, shrug their shoulders, maybe someone might shed a tear. Then, there’s the ads. While other condemned hurtle off with violent speed towards their deaths, Andie McDowell and Eva Longoria prance off wrinkle-free towards hers, because they’re worth it. As though the latest skincare product will somehow erase, or even delay for one instant, the only certainty that exists in life; that it will end.

Then there’s the irony of choice. Capitalist-pushers enjoy parroting the mantra that in such a country you have choices in your life that other economic systems just don’t contain. But in a recent discussion about everybody’s sudden obligation to buy HD-compatible TV’s to fit in with the new satellite and cable requirements, I wonder what choice we are really being given. Sure, I mean you can choose between a Panasonic or a Sony HD, both exceedingly pricy, but you can no longer choose between an HD and the cheaper regular one. So while we are yet again enthralled by the choices we are given, we fail to notice the choices that are being denied us. Smoke and mirrors, all of it.

I always check myself to make sure I never end up sounding or becoming some kind of cracked conspiracy theorist. But I refuse to believe that we live in a world where the benevolent dictators that surround us are giving us any real and viable choice in the matter and quality of our lives. All you need to do is open up a statute books and see how your rights are being raped so that you can get the privileges you lust for.

I also usually check myself to make sure I never write in the second person, but I’ll make this one time an exception. Because you’re worth it.

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Book(s) of the Week: The Twilight Saga (Stephenie Meyer)

August 22, 2009

This is going to be a book review… and a confession. I always thought of myself as a ‘serious’ reader. I was just so damn arrogant all the time! After getting bored of Danielle Steel novels, my teen reading years were filled with this crazy theory. I thought that the only way I could ever appreciate true literature was to start from the beginning. I must read all the classics, like the classic classics, in order to be able to fathom stepping into modern literature. What’s wrong with me?

I spent most of my teen years reading Homer, Tolstoy, Bronte, Austen, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, the dreaded D.H. Lawrence, etc. The result? I can whizz through a more ‘modern’ book, because it’s not weighted down with five pages of descriptions of the maiden’s dress, or what not. I still love many classics, but thankfully, I soon got over this obsession with conquering the classics, and more interested in the 20th (and now the 21st) century works.

Still, I was arrogant. After having read the greats, would I deign to look at a Danielle Steel novel again? Who do these people think they are to come up against the giants of centuries past? I was SO DAMN ARROGANT.

So, I come home from college for the summer, and see that my sister has bought me a set of books as a present. That’s to be expected, most of my birthday presents were (saved me a ton of money, too!). However, the set was a collection of the Twilight series. I gaped at the offensive box in my room, trying to understand what went into my sister’s shaky train of thought as she came to this decision. My sister’s not as much a fan of books as I am, so I’m pretty sure she just picked out what seemed to be the most popular at the time. Fair enough.

Did I mention how arrogant I was? Damn arrogant. I refused to lower myself to that tweeny standard. I defied the black and red box in my room, going on to spend my summer with more modern classics: Harper Lee (finally!), Tolkien, Pynchon, Orhan Pamuk, and so on. All fun, all thought-provoking, all very grand and glorious.

And as my list of books started to dwindle down, I figured, why the hell not. I might as well read one of them to tell people how much it sucked and how painful it was to read.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

So I read the first one, Twilight, finished it in a day.

Pfft, I thought, I think this Meyer chick gets paid by the adjective. Also, what a waste of trees! The pages had what felt like a two inch margin all around! Maybe I’ll read the second one too, you know, just to see if it sucks as suckily as the first sucky book.

So I read the second book, New Moon, finished it in two days.

Gaaaah, was my first thought, why is this Bella girl so maddening? I hate her to bits! She’s so obnoxious, so self-deprecating, she might as well be saying ‘PLEASE PITY ME’, it would be more honest! And glittering vampires? WTF! This is nauseating. You know what? I can’t take this anymore, I’m going to go read Moby Dick to get the proverbial bad taste out of my mouth.

In one week, I had read about 80 pages. FAIL.

Yeah, so maybe I’ll go read the third one, you know, so I can have more reasons to hate Bella Swan?

So I read the third book, Eclipse, finished it in two days.

Grrr… my inner voice was getting weaker. I had a mini identity crisis for the rest of the day. By the way, remember when I said my books were dwindling? I lied about that. I have no less than 30 other books waiting for me, and that’s just at home. Back in my apartment where I go to college, I’m pretty sure it’s over 50 unread little (and big) gems. And I was reading the Twilight series. What’s wrong with me? Am I regressing? Has my IQ decreased for enjoying the inane, asinine, ridonkulous musings of the world’s most FUCKING ANNOYING teenager?

No, I just like the books.

So I read the final book, Breaking Dawn, finished it in two days.

I liked it. I liked all of them! Don’t get me wrong, I still think Bella is the most annoying character in the history of liter- umm, the printed word. But, dammit, I still like those damn books. I’m secretly grateful to my sister for the gift. Secretly, because I’m too damn arrogant to admit that I like it! It’s like when I sometimes buy Happy Meals because it’s just so fun, but never mention it to anyone… yep I’ve done it. So that’s two confessions now.

I enjoy this treacly, pathetic excuse of a novel. It’s fun to read, and if another one happens to come out, damn it, I’m going out there to BUY it.

Ok, I believe in the power of three, so let me make one more confession.

I hate Moby Dick.

I’m still going to read it, though, because I never leave a book unfinished. But I wish so deeply that I never created this rule for myself. If there would be an exception, this would be it. Why does this guy feel the need to write a chapter about the importance of whales in history, a chapter about the greatness of the color white, a chapter about his version of the classification of whales… Ever heard of an editor, Melville?

I know, shock horror gasp, I don’t like the damn book. How could I be so treacherous? Turning away from the ‘great American novel’ and preferring Twilight? Well, it’s true guys. No one in my real life will ever know this about me, because I’m too chicken-shit to admit it in real life. I like the image I’ve built up for myself as some sort of book expert. Do you know what this would do to my cred? Well, my anonymous Internet Friends, now you know this about me, and though you will never know who I really am, you will know that somewhere in the world, floating around cyberspace, are the words of literary apostasy.

My guiltiest pleasure

My guiltiest pleasure

Book of the Week: The Crying of Lot 49 (Thomas Pynchon)

August 17, 2009
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I should wait until I’ve actually finished reading this book to review it, but this isn’t exactly a review, more like a guide to help me understand this book myself.

Once upon a time, I thought I was smart. I thought I was smart, so I bought myself a mammoth of a book, also known as Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Against the Day’. I felt very cool and very hip, sitting there reading a Pynchon, thinking, ‘not everybody can just pick up one of these bad boys and get through it.’ And I was right. Not everyone, including myself.

It was so mind-boggling, overwhelming, and – a word very commonly used by Pynchon critics I noticed – dense, I had to put it down after a while. That’s the kind of book you need to sit down with in a silent, comfortable room without a single distraction, and just read.

Back to the Book.

I would suggest anyone wishing to tackle books written by Thomas Pynchon, a pioneer of postmodern literature (I still have to figure out what postmodern means, by the way), to start with this one. First, and I believe most importantly, it can’t be used as a substitute for a brick, like most of his other books. Believe me, this may sound like a superficial thing to say, but it’s not. His books are so difficult to follow, that anything past 200 pages and you can see cartoon-y birds flying around you, chirping. In the 75 pages that I’ve read so far (which is half the book, I feel smart again, yay!), there has been quite a lot to take in.

I actually like this about books. I don’t think it’s necessary to spin a yarn a mile long talking about the intricacies of the protagonist’s cousin’s surprisingly pointy left thumbnail. There’s a lot of meaning in every sentence. Apparently this is what the author is somewhat known for. Indeed, upon some light research, I found that several allusions to the Beatles and the whole ‘British Invasion’ have been touched upon in the book. I don’t like ruining this kind of thing for potential readers, it’s part of the fun.

So, let’s try to get to the plot.

The main character’s name is Oedipa Maas. Ok let’s pause for a minute again. Can I just say something here about how much I love the kooky names in this book? Her shrink is called Dr Hilarius! Back again.

She finds out that she has been named the executor for the will of her ex-boyfriend who has recently died. She travels to a (fictional, I believe) town of San Narciso, California, to fulfill his final wish, and soon finds herself drawn into a mystery regarding a mail company conspiracy. I haven’t really gotten to the thick of it yet, just the point where Oedipa starts to put the pieces together that there ‘might’ be some kind of conspiracy.

My review is mainly about Thomas Pynchon’s unique style. Of course, every writer has his own style, bla bla. But right now, reading this book, I’m confused. I have no point of reference, because I can honestly say I’ve never read anything with a style quite like this before. I mean, I can tell the element of satire is quite strong in it, but I always get the feeling that there are layers of metaphors just wooshing past me while I have noooo clue.

The book is mostly fast-paced, and yet at times, certain paragraphs seem to slow it down, but in a good way. Kind of like that much-copied Matrix scene when Neo is dodging bullets and there’s that really cool special effect which shows the scene in slow-motion. Here’s my favorite part so far:

“Oedipa nodded. She couldn’t stop watching his eyes. They were bright black, surrounded by an incredible network of lines, like a laboratory maze for studying intelligence in tears. They seemed to know what she wanted, even if she didn’t.”

I absolutely adore clever descriptions. I guess it’s because there’s nothing I loathe more than banality when describing a person’s features, which is so horrifically rampant in the literary world. It’s small snippets like these that make a big book worth reading, that separate the serious writers from the ‘trendy’ ones. You’ll notice that when I say trendy, I don’t usually mean it in a good way. Some trends are cool, but most, you might agree just piss me off. Like the whole tinted shades thing. I used to have every color in the sun. Why was I such a damn fool?

Read this book

This makes me so happy (Guy starts dance party)

August 12, 2009
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This clip actually made my year. It makes me so inexplicably happy!!

Can everyone be a part of this just once in their lives? I think it would do every human being a world of good to just dance. Not Lady Gagme dance, but really dance. Everybody please do this!