Orwell on subversion

George Orwell in 'The art of Donald Mcgill' talks about the innocence of subversion and how it is one of the essential characteristics of human beings. The following paragraph is taken from his essay where he is musing about the necessity and the origin of the dichotomy of 'Sancho Panza and Don Quixote', 'Jeeves and Wooster', 'Holmes and Watson' etc.

"But though in varying forms he is one of the stock figures of literature, in real life, especially in the way society is ordered, his point of view never gets a fair hearing. There is a constant world-wide conspiracy to pretend that he is not there, or at least that he doesn't matter. Codes of law and morals, or religious systems, never have much room in them for a humorous view of life. Whatever is funny is subversive, every joke is ultimately a custard pie, and the reason why so large a proportion of jokes centre round obscenity is simply that all societies, as the price of survival, have to insist on a fairly high standard of sexual morality. A dirty joke is not, of course, a serious attack upon morality, but it is a sort of mental rebellion, a momentary wish that things were otherwise. So also with all other jokes, which always centre round cowardice, laziness, dishonesty or some other quality which society cannot afford to encourage. Society has always to demand a little more from human beings than it will get in practice. It has to demand faultless discipline and self sacrifice, it must expect its subjects to work hard, pay their taxes, and be faithful to their wives, it must assume that men think it glorious to die on the battlefield and women want to wear themselves out with child-bearing. The whole of what one may call official literature is founded on such assumptions. I never read the proclamations of generals before battle, the speeches of fuhrers and prime ministers, the solidarity songs of public schools and Left wing political parties, national anthems, temperance tracts, papal encyclicals and sermons against gambling and contraception, without seeming to hear in the background a chorus of raspberries from all the millions of common men to whom these high sentiments make no appeal. Nevertheless the high sentiments always win in the end, leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat always get more out of their followers than those who offer safety and a good time. When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic. Women face childbed and the scrubbing brush, revolutionaries keep their mouth shut in the torture chamber, battleships go down with their guns still firing when their decks are awash. It is only that the other element in man, the lazy, cowardly, debt-bilking adulterer who is inside all of us, can never be suppressed altogether and needs a hearing occasionally"


Mexico: Impressions

Barely a week has passed when 3 bikes with 4 riders started on their 5 day trip by driving towards the Tecate border crossing to Mexico. Mexico... The name has a vaguely identifiable ring of romantic imperfection associated with it. For a boy who hails from the chaotic environs of a continuously hyperventilating country, the measured dozes of unsullied oxygen sometime leave a gaping hole of desire. This innocent desire for the occasional mathematical imperfection of sweeping mountain curves, the infrequent sight of fault in the perfectly manicured fauna, the silhouette of a city to resemble, if only intermittently, more a dilapidated crone than a lady in short black dress- this desire makes me appreciate the ragged, jagged, relatively arbitrary world that Mexico has to offer. In its crumbling edifices of randomly packed matchboxes, in the arabesque pattern of its road network, in the decreased field of personal space, Mexico reminds me a lot of India. Saying that I love all of this all the time would be falling into a trap that we desis fall in all too easily. The trap of not loving the country but the romantic idea of it. But I do miss it occasionally. Striving for betterment, perfection, one sometimes misses the age of fault; much like that old television that had to be slapped on the side to improve reception, or that insufferable P.T. teacher who was all too ready with the stick.

So what is Mexico like?

The arbitrarily cracked asphalt is often overloaded with disintegrating pickup trucks with a driver in a shabby checkered shirt and seemingly doped passengers curiously staring at you from the open trunk. Children in tattered attires who haven't been told that every stranger is a pedophile wave enthusiastically at you while you pass them on your motorcycle and young girls with skin tight jeans and a bit too much rouge for a Wednesday afternoon giggle and whisper naughtily if they happen to catch your attention. Traffic follows street laws but things always seem to be hanging in a precarious balance, forever in the danger of snapping into a chaotic disarray if only you grew complacent for a second. There are speed limits but the police is refreshingly inept and corrupt so that the time it takes to get from one point to another depends only upon how much of a badass you can be. Shopkeepers humor you with generous help as you gesticulate with exasperated flourish and try to inquire about the price of one 'churro' in your impotent Spanish. Road workers, from behind the clouds of gaseous asphalt and sunny dust, raise the right thumb in a friendly approval of your foreign presence and meanly attired army men on infrequent check posts show more interest in the volume of your engine than the contents of your bag. Drunk girls with time at their hands and mischief on their minds shout from behind the germinating veil of night 'Do you speak English' as three Indians, quite unsure and slightly flustered, fidget and fumble and finally drift. Local bands bellow their loosely strung concoctions as the hopped up night swirls around them in an inebriated frenzy and the sauced celebrations stretch deep into the dark. And below the starry expanse of the unbridled sky with the swathed sound of the distant water and the intoxicating smell of spirited festivities, one sits on the rampart of simplified life and tries to make sense, and embrace to some extent, a world that is so different from the one that he has left for a little while. A very young boy selling insignificant tchotchkes is happy to sell off a considerable portion of his merchandise for 15 pesos and Bhatele remarks, "He finished off his shop" and we break into spontaneous laughter. He laughs too and stashing away the 15 pesos, moves ahead with the satisfaction of a business well done.

Hopefully I'll stop to reminisce some more for there are such beautiful memories.


"You are a good writer"

So two of my last three posts have been videos of other people with the last post dated a considerable time ago. Hmmm... can you hear the tinny screech of my iron-ical knowledge-spatula desperately trying to glean the last scraps of ideas from the dark, gaping barrel of imagination? Hopefully though, plain old lethargy has the same unmistakable sound; hopefully it has the same unmistakable feel of yielding which is vested in the sorry contortions of a soldering wire bent one too many times. The truth is, last month or so was eventful. Although eventful in a way I would not prefer other months to be but, nevertheless, a set of rollicking, saddling, galumphing, and sobering experiences. And no one, during such periods, has either the time or the inclination to stare at the screen for an hour or two while disjointed words string together to form incoherent sentences to be published as insignificant posts on barely read blogs! There are more worthy ways of setting fire to time.

Someone, a literarily very talented person, told me that I'm a very good writer. The arid night had the surprising signature of moisture. I could have sworn that I believed that the washed out sky should have had the full milky moon. And the voice, in its calmness betrayed anger, in its monotonicity-sarcasm. Now Sarcasm is a beautiful thing. I adore good sarcasm for its fluid, razorlike strokes which can make clean incisions without making you immediately aware of the gravity of the cuts. Like an altimeter, it celebrates with equal vivacity both height and depth at the same time, depth being the more sinister part of the equation. The higher the praise, the greater the schism and, thereby, the more biting the actual intent. I am, therefore, happy that on that calm, windy night I wasn't pronounced an excellent writer.

So do I care? I wonder... what exactly is good writing? Wilde's 'The decay of lying' is one of those pieces of literature which has left a lasting impression on my thinking. More than it being a praise of the 'art of lying', it is an emotional and resounding case for the plain, simple joy of unbridled expression which is unmindful of the clutches of reality, and heedless of the boundaries of mere reason. 'What is a good lie? Simply that which is its own evidence.' Unapologetic, unabashed, bare, brazen, and honest. And it doesn't take a huge stretch of imagination to see that the only effort in this world that is completely unapologetic, wholly unabashed is the one that is done for one's own happiness and nothing else. By extension, good writing, like a good lie is one that gives pleasure to the writer. And I cannot really think of any other activity which is as pleasurable to me as the effort that makes a set of words not just a sentence but so much more. When the transmittance of a mere idea is taken from the dull precincts of efficiency and elevated by grammatical adornments and lexical embellishments, when surprising connections are revealed between mundane reality and obscure ideas through weird interconnections of neurons, to quote Fry, when the tripping of the tip of the tongue touches the top of the teeth to transport one to giddy euphoric bliss, when... I think we get the idea. So do I care? Not if incorporating any changes suggested to me would decrease the amount of pleasure I derive from the effort.

Sorry for being a slacker these last few weeks :).


Science, reality, religion etc.

It's interesting how I tend to get entangled in extended durations of 'investigations' into specific subjects. Of late, the subject has been science in general. Actually calling it science would be narrowing the scope to a very orthodox view. It has more to do with the human effort at understanding how nature works; while we happen to gain those insights with science, the more important idea is the effort at understanding. This brings us to the topic of how precisely does reality correspond to our explanations and how long shall it keep doing it. Moreover, why exactly is it comprehensible (I think it was Einstein who said that the incomprehensible fact is that nature was so comprehensible), what makes us believe in the relative validity of theories which are just a result of our imperfect impressions gathered by our imperfect senses, and finally, if our scientific explanations are ephemeral (as history has proved time and again), what makes them vastly more credible (at least to me) than the religious/mystic (non)explanations.

Below is part of a video of the brilliant Feynman expressing his views on some of these topics. The relevant points start at 3:20.

Anyway, the book that started this wretched chain of thoughts is David Deutsch's 'The fabric of reality' and it is quite simply, a work of genius. The brilliant thing about this book is that it boldly argues and presents conjectures on such difficult topics and manages to provide convincing arguments for its case. Deutsch doesn't dabble in mollifying opposing viewpoints and thus presents a book which is as incisive in its insight as it is overarching in its reach. He lays the grave of such philosophical junk as solipsism, inductivism, positivism and doesn't shy away from pointing where some of the most brilliant minds (Weinberg, Wheeler, Hawking, Penrose etc.) went wrong. He manages to narrow down his discussion to four of our best theories: quantum theory, Karl Popper's theory of epistemology, Darwinian evolution as modified by Dawkins, and theory of computation (Turing principle), presents the underlying unities among all of them and clarifies as to how all these theories, together, provide us with the most comprehensible and integrated view of our world yet. In other worlds, our first 'Theory of everything'. Its an intense book and I've already started it again in order to make more sense than the 5% I have managed to make after the first read :).


Mnemosyne vs. Camera

It was raining hard today and I went on a drive. I went to a place called Mount Soledad from where you can see vast expanses of San Diego and the endless ocean and as I peered down from the mountain top I saw one of the most beautiful views of SD I've ever witnessed.

For a second I thought, hell! why do I not have a camera, it's a shame that this view will dissolve into the ravenous night in a few minutes and all that I'll be left with are faint impressions on an uncertain canvas. And dissolve it did. But I still stand by my aversion to a camera and my dislike for photographs. Photographs are too perfect to be interesting. They are too truthful to be beautiful. What memory preserves in jars of translucent glass, pickled in spices of uncertainty, salted with a heady mixture of imagination and lies - a photograph crams it up in definite color schemes between the convenient borders of a 4X6. At this point, I'm not sure if the background far into the ocean today was dark green or blackish gray, or if the patches of rain far into the distance overwhelmed the sunny green land but mnemosyne, in all her supple grace, paints a picture that has a vague tint of satisfaction and peace. They say that the most erogenous part of the body is the brain. They say that the best actors in the world are the ones that we carry in our heads. I agree. A photograph is only perfect. Too bad it fails to do any better.

About Me

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Like a particularly notorious child's tantrums, a mountaneous river's intemperance, a volcano's reckless carelessness and the dreamy eyes of a caged bird, imagination tries to fly unfettered. Hesitant as she takes those first steps, she sculpts those ambitious yet half baked earthen pots.