G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

Shel Silverstein : “Talked my head off Worked my tail off Cried my eyes out Walked my feet off Sang my heart out So you see, There’s really not much left of me.” ~

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Friday, May 31, 2013

J S MIll: Why I Don't Share Ashok Shahane's Frustration With G G Agarkar

May 8 2013 was  John Stuart Mill's 140th death anniversary and May 20 was his 207th birth anniversary. May is Mill!

 

Artist: Scott Garrett

 John Stuart Mill:


"Lord, enlighten thou our enemies. Sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions, and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers. We are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom: their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength."

 John Gray:

"To account for the Fukuyama/Wilson faith that mankind can achieve conscious mastery of its evolution, we need to look back to an early 19th-century cult - French positivism. Led by thinkers such as Henri Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte, the positivists were the inventors of the religion of humanity that has inspired the secular religions of the past two centuries. They had many eccentricities, including a version of the Catholic practice of crossing oneself in which they tapped the parts of the cranium believed by phrenologists to be connected with order and progress, but their religion has been vastly influential. It inspired not only Marx but also, through John Stuart Mill, many liberals, and it stands behind the faith in progress that is shared by all parties today."
  
Ben Yagoda, “When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It”:

"The nineteenth-century philosopher John Stuart Mill holds out a temptingly lofty rationale for a consideration of the parts of speech, claiming that they represent fundamental categories of human thought."
  
This is in continuation of my earlier post dated May 22 2013.

Sadly,  Ashok Shahane's (अशोक शहाणे) book 'Napeksha' (नपेक्षा) has no index- typical of many serious/ nonfiction Marathi books that are published.

While criticizing  B G Tilak (बाळ गंगाधर टिळक) for quoting John Stuart Mill in 'Gitarahasya' (गीतारहस्य), Shahane says: 

"....मिल आणि स्पेन्सर ह्यांचा त्यांनी विचारसादृश्य असणारे म्हणून ळटिपांतून उल्लेख केला. ही त्या काळच्या बुद्धीच्या दारिद्र्याची ठळक निशाणी म्हणून सांगता येईल. 

मिल आणि स्पेन्सर ह्यांची पुस्तके 'क्रमिक' स्वरुपाची आहेत, ही गोष्ट ध्यानात घेतली म्हणजे त्या काळच्या महाराष्ट्रातल्या वैचारिक नेतृत्वाची कल्पना येईल..."

["Footnotes mentioned (John Stuart) Mill's and (Herbert) Spencer's thoughts were similar (to Bhagavad Gita's or Tilak's?). This can be described as the bold sign of poverty of intellect of those times.

If one comprehends the fact that Mill's and Spencer's books were sort of 'text' books, one realises about the nature of the then thought-leadership of Maharashtra... "]

I strongly disagree with the assertion that quoting of JSM was a sign of poverty of intellect.

Shahane is free and maybe even justified to fault the then Maharashtra's thought-leadership but he can't blame the problem on Mill.


Gopal Ganesh Agarkar (गोपाळ गणेश आगरकर) was a great disciple / fan of John Stuart Mill.

In May 1893 (he died in June 1895),  he was very ill. One night, while in high  fever, as he could not sleep, he wrote a note to his close relatives and friends. 

A part of it reads as follows:

"...जॉन  स्टुअर्ट मिलसाहेब, पुढील जन्मीही तुमच्या पायाशी बसून शिकता आले तर मला अतिशय समाधान लाभेल. जर आपणास माझे सर्वात प्रिय व आदरणीय गुरु होणे शक्य झाले आणि मलाही आपला सर्वात नम्र आणि अज्ञात शिष्य होणे जमले तरच हे सुख मला लाभेल..."

('आगरकर', य  दि फडके, १९९६)

("....John Stuart Mill-saheb, in next birth if I can learn sitting at your feet, I will have great satisfaction. I will get that pleasure only if you could become my dearest and most respected teacher and if I could be your most humble and incognito student...",

 'Agarkar' by Y D Phadke, 1996)

Why is Mr. Shahane so much dismissive of Mill? (Btw- Why doesn't Mr. Shahane see G G Agarkar as a great Socratean figure?...More on this some other time.)

It's most likely because Nietzsche's antipathy towards British utilitarianism, expressed in the cartoon below, and its greatest proponent JSM : "Man does not strive for happiness, only the English do that." 

(This is how John Gray talks about Nietzsche: 

"Like innumerable, less reflective humanists who came after him, Nietzsche wished to hold on to an essentially Christian view of the human subject while dropping the transcendental beliefs that alone support it. It was this impulse to salvage a religious conception of humankind, I believe, that animated Nietzsche's attempt to construct a new mythology. The task set by Nietzsche for his imaginary Superman was to confer meaning on history through a redemptive act of will. The sorry history of the species, lacking purpose or sense until a higher form of humanity came on to the scene, would then be redeemed. In truth, Nietzsche's mythology is no more than the Christian view of history stated in idiosyncratic terms, and a banal version of it underpins nearly all subsequent varieties of secular thought. ")



Commenting on the list of current thinkers / intellectuals published by Foreign Policy magazine in 2011 and comparing it to an imaginary list prepared in 1861, Gideon Rachman says:

"...It is an impressive group of people (from 2011). But now compare it with a similar list that could have been compiled 150 years ago. The 1861 rankings could have started with Charles Darwin and John Stuart MillOn the Origin of Species and On Liberty were both published in 1859. Then you could include Karl Marx and Charles Dickens. And that was just the people living in and around London. In Russia, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were both at work, although neither had yet published their greatest novels. Even if, like Foreign Policy, you have a preference for politicians, the contrast between the giants of yesteryear and the relative pygmies of today is alarming..." 

(Financial Times, January 24 2011)

Look at the company JSM keeps in the statement above- Darwin, Marx, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky....(I don't say Dickens because very likely Mr. Shahane is dismissive of him!). 

Another important thing to note: along with Darwin, Dickens, Marx, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard,  Mill survives and remains relevant even today.

John Gray remains a fan of  JSM for:

"Not his utilitarianism, not his belief in progress, not his Victorianism - but his eclecticism. He took things from different systems of thought. The truth about human civilisation is very unlikely to lie in some single form. Which he understood."

'The truth about human civilisation is very unlikely to lie in some single form.'?...Even Shahane's 'darling'  Soren Kierkegaard would be impressed!



courtesy: 'Action Philosophers: Two Millennia of Philosophy in Comic Form' by Maria Popova

 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Has Humanness To Do With Everest Climbing?...मानवाचे माणूसपण असलेच


Henry David Thoreau:

“It is in vain to dream of a wilderness distant from ourselves.” 


Bertrand Russell, 'The Harm That Good Men Do', 1926:

"We all know that Galileo and Darwin were bad men; Spinoza was thought dreadfully wicked until a hundred years after his death; Descartes went abroad for fear of persecution. Almost all the Renaissance artists were bad men."


Orson Welles as 'Harry Lime' in film ‘The Third Man’, 1949:

"In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace - and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
 
John Gray:

"The Swiss may have produced more than cuckoo clocks, but it was the creative turbulence of the Renaissance that gave us the murderous modern world"

So what do you want? Creative turbulence of the Renaissance that gave the murderous modern world or brotherly love, peace and democracy but no Michelangelo and  Leonardo da Vinci? Remember, it's a package deal.

Pune edition of Marathi daily May 29 2013 Loksatta (लोकसत्ता)  is all Everest. It's celebrating 60th anniversary of Everest conquest.

I don't grudge it but I wonder why there is no introspection and 'the other side' of it.

Read its leader here and I quote a part of it:

"...प्रत्येकाच्या मनात एक एव्हरेस्ट असते. किंबहुना असायला हवे. तसे असेल तर मग त्याचा ध्यास लागतो. ते शिखर गाठायची ओढ अस्वस्थ करते आणि तो अस्वस्थपणा जगण्याचे प्रयोजनच बनून जातो. हे शिखर खेळांतील असेल. लेखनातील असेल. संगीतातील असेल. चित्रनाटय़शिल्पकलेतीलही असेल किंवा साध्या शिडाच्या होडीतून सागरभ्रमंती करण्याच्या इच्छेचेही असेल. कोणतेही असेल. पण ते असणे हे आवश्यक असते. कारण ते तसे असणे हे प्रयोजन असते आणि प्रयोजनाशिवाय जगणे हे फक्त तगून राहणे असते. मानवाचे माणूसपण असलेच तर ते या आणि अशा एव्हरेस्टच्या ध्यासात आहे...."

 ("...there is an Everest on every person's mind. In fact it should be there. Only if it's there, you strive for it. You become restless to scale it and that restlessness becomes the life's objective. That peak could be in sports. In writing. In music. Even in cinema-drama-sculpture or the desire to navigate the sea in a simple sailboat. Whatever it is. But it is essential to have one and living without objective is just a survival. If there exists man's  humanness then it exists in this and such Everest objective...")

This is absolute nonsense, load of rubbish. (I have tackled this theme earlier on the blog. Therefore, I'm likely to repeat myself.)

Who told them every one has to have a lofty objective in life? For most people on the earth, the only affordable objective is 'survival'. And what is wrong with that objective?


Mel Brooks says in a lighter vein : Nietzsche whispers to you: ‘Without audacity there is no greatness.’ Freud whispers to you: ‘Why must there be greatness?’ That fight’s still going on. And you don’t understand either one, because they’re both whispering in German."

The most important point there: Why must there be greatness? 
  
George Orwell on sports:

"...Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved. it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.
Even a leisurely game like cricket, demanding grace rather than strength, can cause much ill-will, as we saw in the controversy over body-line bowling and over the rough tactics of the Australian team that visited England in 1921..." 

What has 'humanness' (माणूसपण) to do with excellence in competitive / commercial sports, music, sculpting, writing etc.? We all know how many of the great artists are/were lousy human beings.

Most acts of humanness in man's history have been carried out by ordinary anonymous men and women and remain unrecorded.

What about climbing Everest itself since 1953?


Noam Cohen in The New York Times on June 18,2007:

"...While praising Mr. (George) Mallory as “a man of today” and a “pioneer,” Mr. Geffen conceded that because of those qualities “he wouldn’t go to Everest today — people are crawling all over it.”

Lukas Eberle in Spiegel Online International on October 5 2012:

"...Since the first ascent on May 29, 1953, by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, some 3,836 people have climbed Mount Everest, with almost three quarters of them making the ascent in the last 10 years. The Himalayan peak has become "an amusement park," says top Italian alpinist Simone Moro, who has summited Everest four times...."

MICHAEL J. YBARRA in WSJ on June 21 2012:

"On Everest—where about 350 people reached the summit over two days this spring—Sherpas do virtually all the work, fixing lines to the top and sometimes even attaching the clients' ascenders (a metal device that clamps onto the line) so that they don't have to remove their mitts. There is less hand-holding on K2, but some of the 2008 expeditions employed their high-altitude workers as de facto guides, and all of the expeditions—with the exception of a single climber, Alberto Zerain—depended on ropes fixed by Sherpas. "We climb twice," Chhiring tells the authors. "First, Sherpas go up to set the ropes and camps, then we go down to collect our clients and take them to the top.""

(review of 'Buried in the Sky' By Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan)
  
Caitlin Dewey in Washington Post on May 29 2013:

"In the weeks leading up to today’s anniversary, climbers have complained that the mountain has gotten too crowded and commercialized, often with rich, inexperienced tourists looking for a high-prestige vacation. (It’s indicative, perhaps, that one of the most widely circulated videos from the 60th anniversary celebration was essentially a commercial for the Austrian energy drink Red Bull."

 
Artist: Gahan Wilson, The New Yorker, July 3 2000

Why is this obsession with action? Why can't we just see? Why can't we just listen?

John Gray: "Other animals do not need a purpose in life. A contradiction to itself, the human animal cannot do without one. Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see?"

In Satyajit Ray's 'Kanchenjungha', 1962, in the last scene,  the mists at last roll away from the
awesome summit but  the industrialist Indranath Roy (Chhabi Biswas) is so preoccupied.  he no longer cares to admire it.

Although I often enjoyed climbing small hills alone near Miraj fort while in school, I never dreamt of climbing Kanchenjungha. Although I lived in the east for a while, I never even went to see Kanchenjungha.

But when I see the last scene of Ray's  'Kanchenjungha', I am never preoccupied. I just see her. She then occupies me. I scale her and she scales me right back!



Satyajit Ray's 'Kanchenjungha'
 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Just a Scratchy Throat...But No Ranbaxy Generic Please!

T N Ninan wrote in Business Standard on May 25 2013:

"A Country for scandal?/ What do IPL and Ranbaxy tell us?"

"Pillorying the government of the day for pervasive corruption is the easy thing to do, whereas it might just be an escapist option. It helps those of us who are neither in politics nor in the government to pretend that we are not tainted, and therefore have the right to point fingers at politicians, who we assume are not. The truth, as recent events have brought home forcefully, is that corruption has permeated fields that have nothing to do with politics and government...

...And what does one make of Ranbaxy - once a poster boy for the emerging India, but which now stands exposed for falsifying its research results, and then selling what must presumably be described as adulterated drugs to unsuspecting consumers, at home and abroad? The US authorities have slapped a penalty of half a billion dollars (about Rs 2,800 crore), but where have India's own drug authorities been all this while? What about the criminal liability of all those who were in the company and part of the fraud? What is the responsibility of the company's directors of the time, including many well-known worthies - who, according to the whistle-blower, chose to ignore the red flag that he waved?..."

Bishan Singh Bedi, The Hindu, May 26 2013:

"IPL bares the soullessness of some of the giants of Indian cricket who cannot stop raving about it. It is nauseating to observe, day in day out, India’s former greats competing with each other to outsmart the cricketing dictionary."

Kanti Bajpai  wrote on May 25 2013 in The Times of India:

"...Our national game is corruption — nothing gives us more pleasure than for our media to uncover the next great scam, bigger and bolder than the last great scam, and there is no doubt a league table of corruption in our heads that excites us. The only right we truly care about is to do whatever we please and devil take anyone who objects. And our consuming passion is yammering endlessly, mostly to criticise everyone else.." 

Look at me, an ordinary man, in the picture below. On the left. And any corruption scandal these days for me is just a scratchy throat.

But No Ranbaxy Generic Please!



 Artist: Richrd Decker, The New Yorker, November 27 1937

p.s.

After I published this post, this is what I read on FB: "Mumbai hospital advises doctors against prescribing Ranbaxy drugs".







Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's Me Solomon Grundy on...

Today is my birthday.

"Solomon Grundy,
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Grew worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday.
That was the end,
Of Solomon Grundy"
   
I feel today I am on Thursday (By the way, I was borne on a Thursday)...or who knows even Friday!


 

Artist: Charles Addams

courtesy: The Charles Addams Mother Goose (UK; public library), 1967 and one of the greatest wonders of the internet http://www.brainpickings.org

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Søren Kierkegaard: Why I Don't Share Ashok Shahane's Frustration With Lokhitwadi and Co.


Soren Kierkegaard :


 “The world is reduced into flat, surveyable, two-dimensional world events; and we can all enjoy the illusion that we know exactly what has happened in the last twenty-four hours and what precisely to think about what has happened. Except that the meaning and significance that even the most averse to thought among us need, remain lost. The news and opinions, the perishable, ephemeral and valueless facts with which alone we are bombarded is as much of a substitute for the truths we long for, as a telephone number is for its subscriber. So it is not so much that we know more and more about less and less, but that we know more and more about the less and less important; and the more the precision of our knowledge increases, the more trivial the questions we seek to answer.”
 
"Even if you offered me a place in the great edifice of the system, I would rather be the kind of thinker who just sits on a branch."

May 5 2013 was SK's (1813-1855)  200th birth anniversary. Widely considered the father of existentialism,  Strindberg, Ibsen, Nietzsche, Kafka, Borges, Camus, Sartre, Wittgenstein, Derrida are among his 'children'...what a troublesome family!

As far as I know leading Marathi daily Loksatta (लोकसत्ता) did not celebrate the anniversary event.

 I don't think the entire Indian media really bothered about it. So why do I single out a Marathi periodical?

The short answer: Ashok Shahane's (अशोक शहाणे)  book 'Napeksha' (नपेक्षा), 2005, one of the best Marathi books of this century.

 In an essay from the book, Mr. Shahane writes that he is frustrated to note that 19th century Marathi social reformers-essayists-creative writers such as Lokhitwadi (लोकहितवादी 1823-1892), Chiplunkar (चिपळूणकर 1850-1882), Agarkar (आगरकर 1856-1895) , Tilak (टिळक 1856-1920), Ketkar (केतकर 1884-1937), despite being his 'contemporaries',  were NOT influenced by Kierkegaard at all . 

"कीकेंगार्डच्याच काळात लोकहितवादीनी लिखाण केले आहे, कीकेंगार्डपासून युरोपमध्ये विचारांच्या क्षेत्रात एक नवीनच वृत्ती आली. कीकेंगार्डने तर्कबुद्धीला प्रचंड धक्का देणारे लिखाण हेतुपुरःसरच केले आणि आमच्या लोकहितवादीनी मात्र सबंध विचाराचा पाया केवळ बुद्धीनेच घातला जावा अशी धडपड केली. कीकेंगार्डच्याच काळात लोकहितवादीनी लिहिले ही निदान आता तरी क्रूर थट्टाच वाटते."

("Lokhitwadi wrote during the times of  Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard brought a new attitude in the field of thoughts in Europe. Kierkegaard wrote what purposely gave a big jerk to logical reasoning and our Lokhitwadi struggled to build the base of entire thought by intellect alone. Lokhitwadi wrote during the times of Kierkegaard at least now looks a cruel joke.")


Artist: Edward Gorey, 1960

Does Shahane expect them to learn Existentialism 101 from Kierkegaard? Even Europe waited for a long time for that.  And what if they didn't agree with what Kierkegaard was saying?

In 21st century, A C Grayling (1949-) attacks Kierkegaard thus:
"Some religious thinkers in the nineteenth century adopted versions of fideism as a response to the advance of science, thus exempting themselves from having to put their beliefs to the same tests as scientific hypotheses standardly undergo. The most extreme fideist is the Danish writer Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55), who said that faith requires a leap in the face of reason and evidence, and is all the more admirable therefore. What horrors can be justified by appeal to the authority of the non-rational, the traditional, the superstitious, the suppositious, the evidentially unsupported, and so forth, history too often bloodily teaches."

(Wikipedia informs fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths.)

Can't we say that some of these 19th century borne Maharashtrians. opposed fideism- remember some one like Agarkar was clearly an atheist-  and hence did not approve of philosophy of Kierkegaard? And if so, how can they be influenced by him?


In the same essay, Shahane expects Agarkar to catch the 'virus' of  Nietzscheism (Kierkegaardism in turn) present in the 19th century air even if he did not get to see his books- a kind of induction working on great minds across geographies and vast distances.

Be that as it may, I wonder how much writing in Marathi from any period since 1813 has been  influenced by Kierkegaard.

My answer: very little.

We already know his 200th birthday has been ignored.

Even Vinda Karandikar's (विंदा करंदीकर) award-winning book 'ASHTADARSHANE’ (अष्टदर्शने), 2003 has Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson, Charvak.

Therefore,  I am not all that frustrated with 19th century Marathi greats on Kierkegaard count.



"Soren Kierkegaard in the coffee-house", 1843

Artist: Christian Olavius Zeuthen

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons


(to be continued...)