[Technically we’re one hour into Saturday in my current timezone, but to abuse the famous quote: it’s always five o’clock somewhere – in this case, on a Friday, so THERE!]
So… reading. Well, this week has been a peculiar one. Between researching a subject for my potential PhD (which seems to be turning into a Master’s – just to improve my chances of actually completing a PhD if and when I want to) and my morning reading, I’ve ended up with a strange mix.
Books I’m currently thumbing through:
Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl
This isn’t what you’d call a cheerful read; Frankl tries to deal with his experiences in prison camps during the Holocaust through the scientific lens of his profession (he was a professor of neurology and psychiatry). At the moment, he’s describing the three major phases the prisoner (in this case, he) went through – the initial shock of camp life, the self-preservation and maintenance phase once it became a habit, and finally the post-liberation phase. I’ve not made it to the last one yet, but so far, I’m quite intrigued by what Frankl has to say. While not a strictly sterile, scientific text, it’s fascinating to watch his attempt to divorce himself from his own experiences and break them down in a way that could be useful to anyone – without actually becoming preachy! It does get kind of mushy – which is expected, I mean, it’s about trying to make sense of extremely traumatising events. OK, I’ll admit, as someone who’s recently been near death (in a completely different way), it’s possible I’m biased.
Still, I think even if you’re not looking for hope as the cover would have you believe or seeking your life’s higher purpose, it serves up an interesting slice of insight into what life was like in a prison camp, alongside some refreshing philosophical ideas about the choices we can or can’t make. I’ll confess I was skeptical at first (I generally am with regards to any book that claims to be ‘life-changing’ or meant to help you reach some sort of realisation) but he’s slowly changing my mind. Damn him.
As an added bonus, Frankl quotes loads of other writers and philosophers (mainly Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky). Here’s my favourite quote from the book (I mean, that he’s not quoted from someone else) so far:
it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.
Poetics – Aristotle (translated by Joe Sachs)
Where to begin with a book that has influenced people who think about art and philosophy for so many millenia? Legend has it the Poetics are a collection of Aristotle’s lecture notes. To put it simply (and rather crudely), good ol’Aristotle is having a long, complex rant about his favourite kind of performance. What makes a tragedy a tragedy? What makes a ‘good’ tragedy good? And so on… Of course, Aristotle just declares his opinion as if it’s a fact. Art is imitative (he got that from Plato, who possibly got that from Socrates…), and of all the kinds of performance there are, tragedy is the one he fancies the best (admittedly, I don’t blame him – the ancient Greeks did write some great ones). In His opinion, tragedy should deal with the imitation of persons of a greater moral stature and try to move audiences through pity and fear to a sort of emotional cleansing. On the other hand, comedy isn’t worth bothering with because it’s not serious.
Once you get used to the arrogant-sounding tone, Aristotle does make some interesting and valid points. Some of them are so obvious that you’d think it’s ridiculous someone felt the compulsion to write them down, but they are actually things that performers today still have trouble with. I’m thinking specifically of his ramble about the magnitude (length/duration) of a tragedy, which according to him should suit the action, and not end up dragging on. Unfortunately, he’s got a point there.
I must confess I’m reading this as an e-book, so I hadn’t seen the fancy cover (although I do have a different translation in Cyprus). I’ve also discovered Aristotle is ridiculously difficult to paraphrase, perhaps because he’s so precise about everything! I’m sure he was the pedant in the friend group…
Oh yeah, and he totally loves Homer (not Homer Simpson – I mean the other guy who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey). A blossoming (one-sided) fanboy bromance there.
Here’s a quote (if I’m not mistaken, Aristotle used it in the Metaphysics, but it is mentioned somewhere in the text):
wonder is only the beginning of philosophy
Kafka On The Shore – Haruki Murakami
This book is completely different to the other two. I’d go so far as to say it’s not like any other book I’ve ever read. I’m not sure how much of the plot I want to give away, mainly because Murakami has this amazing style that drips with lyricism and poetry while not becoming tiring or excessively flowery (does any of this make sense?). It starts off with 15 year old Kafka who runs away from home. Also, I peeked at the next chapter (I read one chapter per day, usually) and it seems to have a talking cat in it. No idea how that’s relevant, but hey, it’s Murakami!
I just wish I had one millionth of the talent (and guts) he does! I can live with the delusion of grandeur and in vain hope. 😛
That’s all I’m going to say for now.
A big chunk from this one, because it’s insanely difficult to not lift all of the book and stick it here:
Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.