Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot

To be human among humans one has to constantly prove one’s humanity. The value of which, in the minds of others, is somehow directly juxtaposed with the value of what the society lacks or has too much of. Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot showcases the psychological blindsided-ness of the ‘others’ and of ‘society’.

Simply put, the protagonist, Prince Myshkin, is our Holy Fool.

The book is wisely-crafted though seemingly naive. It touches upon many topics. Society, religion, free will, fanaticism, politics, love, money, and morality. It seemed to me that Dostoyevsky crafted an abnormality (i.e. the Holy Fool) whose very existence seems so conceited and unexceptional that one is driven to his defense. The tone is very ironically detached which is characteristic in a Dostoyevsky novel as it pulls you closer to what it has to offer.

At times, the characters felt completely corrupted by their own seriousness. The price they pay for never truly coming to terms with a money- and power-hungry world. The book portrays the external rather than the internal struggle of such humanity. It deals with nihilism through crisp and wry dialogue, but at the same time, it feels symbolic.

The protagonist is honest but a fool nevertheless. He is privileged but his naivete and sickness make him unfortunate. He is a grown man but his unstirred sexuality and apathy make him a bit unbelievably inane. Prince Myshkin is a man of conflicting natures. And those around him who are pegged as the “minor” characters: Aglaya, Kolya, Rogozhin, and Nastasya. Though in the book they seem to exist as Prince Myshkin’s mirrors. For me, they became more real, vulnerable, and sincere as the story met its end.

Ernest Hemingway: An Ode to Books I’ve Read

One of the things books gave me, back when I had started to read, was the ability to surrender myself to the openness of experience. The kind of experiences that did not include me in them… experiences that were never supposed to.

Reading Ernest Hemingway became synonymous with rediscovering myself, as if for the first time, out of the hibernation and dullness that was reality. From it, I took a flight out of the false identity that stranded me and found, renewed and roused, a kind of nostalgia and melancholy for the selves that I would be.

This marks the beginning of my love for literature. Everybody has a story that precedes their love for books.

My story is like any other.

A Moveable Feast is the epitome of my life as it was when I had first read it. It’s the lens through which I viewed fiction and reality side-by-side. It exists as a memory that one always evokes, not to relive it but to feel.

I can tell you why you should read Ernest Hemingway. I can also tell you why you shouldn’t.

Some people I know revere his writing, his unfiltered creativity, his world through themes that you would now perceive as outrageously cliched. Some people I know think of Hemingway as the hackneyed American with his highbrow, brawny, and grandiose literary style.

My advice to you would be to not make a fuss about it. Reading Hemingway is no different than learning a new word. You can live and experience the language without it,  undeterred by its luxury and appeal.

But if you do read Hemingway, read it not to be “well-read” but to experience and feel.

There’s joy in remembering where you started from. It’s oftentimes necessary to do so. Perhaps, for me, reading about the ordinariness of life in Hemingway’s books kindled the ordinariness of my life. His short and incisive sentences intensified the fleeting sensations of my existence. And that is why all the books I will read will always retain all the books I’ve read.

Michel de Montaigne’s How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing

“Nature drives us that way, too: ‘Leave this world,’ she says, ‘just as you entered it. That same journey from death to life, which you once made without suffering or fear, make it again from life to death.’ Your death is a part of the order of the universe, it is a part of the life of the world.”

Michel de Montaigne’s moral clarity lies in being obligated to oneself; while foregoing that obligation only so far as our living takes us. So that, in the face of death, we are not stripping ourselves of this obligation, but rather carrying it forward just as absurdly as we were carried to our own births.

‘How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing’ refers to this ambivalence and absurdity of life. When we think we’re struggling against something, some force that exists outside of us, it’s only those moments that truly illuminate the actuality of what’s inside us that we are wrestling with.

Through that, all we live, we have lived twice over – in darkness and light. All we’ve built, we have built two ways – from beginning to end and from end to beginning. And all we are, we have already been before.

We live as we carry out this unraveling of life.

This vanity of words is, as Michel de Montaigne writes, an act of deception. But by recognizing our words and what they mean, we can turn abstract to matter, melancholy of life to that which compels us to live.

His essays are enlightening and inspirational.

Certain words he uses sink deep because they are not noise but music. A tune that, in anguish and illness, makes you acutely aware of your own obscurity and disappearing of self.

Perhaps it’s in such moments that Montaigne’s soliloquies reverberate through the dense despair.

Conquering through you, and not for you, the weight that was bound to crush you.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness

An intelligent and prolific science-fiction writer at heart, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote The Left Hand of Darkness abiding by an expansive understanding of the universe. The story is tied to the uniqueness as well as the sameness of human nature.

How can humanity exist and prosper without gender?

How does the understanding of a self dictate one’s existence when it is unified by a construct as concrete as Duality?

This book is imaginatively stimulating. It has many underlying themes but what really stands out is the awareness of one’s gender. And, for that matter, the emotional and psychological aspects of man and woman.

And while the descriptions remain vivid as ever, there is a sense of lingering ambivalence in the way the characters have been mapped.

Depriving humanity of the default templates of gender, the story deepens and navigates the sea of complexity. How, at the core of any human experience, lies genuine exploration and an animated kind of universe.

In The Left Hand of Darkness, in Ursula K. Le Guin’s universe, the search for meaning is tied together with a person’s language, expression, and way of being.

Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet

A novelized autobiography. An attempt to interiorize the indifference and absurdity of existing. A mirror through which one is conscious of consciousness itself; of everything that we live for – love, loss, happiness, sadness, melancholy, and comfort.

Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is a book dreamt of in reality. Pessoa writes in crisp and vivid awareness of his thoughts. If life is tiresome and existence is monotonous, no one escapes from its clutches better than him.

The panorama of these entries stupefied me out of the tedium that is life. They’re written as if idyllic and ‘prophetic’, they’re not descriptions, they’re echos that make up for everything in life.

The Book of Disquiet has been on my shelf for over 2 years. I’ve read it twice. First, when it was a year old and now when it’s two. The pages have turned from white to a dullish, light shade of beige. The pages I had dog-eared from last year have imprinted themselves even when I try to flatten them.

What is more vivid is the earthy, smoky scent of the pages. Such memories are only intensified when a book finds you and not the other way around.

Fernando Pessoa has written The Book of Disquiet using a heteronym, a fictionalized author. Though the book doesn’t follow any underlying thematic structure or narrative, it is as comforting to read and understand. It’s as if a light breeze moves through you; the force of which touches you just enough to tickle your senses. It’s about imagination, nature, society, politics, religion, and aestheticism.

The most enlightening of them all is to possess the imagination to dream.

Pessoa writes,

“How painful everything is when we think of it as conscious thinkers, as reflective beings whose consciousness has reached a stage by which we know that we know. To think or to feel?”

The answer lies in renunciation but even that, because of our futile sensations, is not satisfying just so long as we remain alive.

Cutting a path through the obscure forest of life, we manifest the weariness from having to live. It wakes us up from reality into this restful state of dreaming where we can finally live out everything we are capable of possessing and will ever possess.