Natsume Soseki’s Sanshiro

Books like Sanshiro make you reminisce about that one event in your life from when you started to understand yourself a bit more attentively. When you felt the heights of your reality falling right toward the depth of your identity. When you began to observe the beauty in truth rather than search for unrequited truth in beauty.

Soseki draws together the wakefulness of the protagonist’s young innocence with that of the chaotic and eager tide of city life. Perhaps “coming-of-age” novels like Sanshiro depict the loneliness of growing up in a strange place. Soseki also explores the ordinariness of existence. The anguish of bearing a simple life is enough when one is still looking at one’s feet before taking a step rather than looking up at the sky wondering how it came to be. It being the universe.

That’s not to say that Sanshiro is not a complex read. It is. But it’s complex in a way most books aren’t. It’s intelligent in a way certain thoughts are instinctual. There is no structure or tenet that makes Sanshiro an imaginative and masterful story. Soseki beautifully traces the ongoing celebration of living. The places mentioned in the story are the places you want to visit. The conversations of Sanshiro are conversations you want to remember.

Sanshiro discovers the timeless philosophies of Eastern culture – which is the characteristic takeaway of most Japanese literature. It radiates wisdom, freedom, love, friendship, and self-discovery in ways unimaginable in real life.

Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H.

A person’s self is everything that time fails to be. A self preoccupies space in translation. It moves through itself, through others, and through passions. Time’s ephemerality is unable to hook this net of presences that only run deep into a self’s soul.
Time’s soul is rather quiet, it flows like a river, into the ocean, and with it takes from a self most of its memories. Does time ever conquer a person’s self? Perhaps it does; when time is even more powerful in its own absence than the self is in its.

You’ll never read any book the way you’ll read Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H. Perhaps some stories aren’t stories at all. They’re transient realities of dreams through which desire, imagination, and melancholy summon up the courage to shine forth. Every page is a contemplation of life. Every utterance felt alive and perceptive from the dawn of the writer’s mind.

What is the book about? It’s hard to say because I’m yet to recognize what the reading felt like. Clarice Lispector writes like a magician. In this book, she has weaved together a very conscious way of savoring life’s idiosyncrasies. Her words are meant to be read one after the other as if new words appear anew page after page. As a book that hasn’t been read yet, it sits on your desk or shelf as a bundle of blank pages.

Clarice Lispector urges you to understand her words as an ode to all the passions of the selves you’ve inhabited over the years. And as an ode to the unrequited longings of the selves you’ve had to let go off. She wraps language with the divinity of time and belonging. Only to give birth to a truth that is misunderstood and cast aside. That beauty is not the answer to a human’s miserly and intolerant existence, it’s identity. When for her “reality is the raw material,” language is the way she embraces to search for it.

Moliere’s The Misanthrope

This is, by no measure, a foolish book. It is, as the title so blatantly confesses, a misanthropic read. It’s sincere and grim. And it gets better as the story deepens and reveals its philosophy organically. Even better was its effect after having read Cioran’s The Trouble With Being Born. If there’s one constant in my philosophical endeavors, it’s this yearning for what exists independent of human emotion and thought. Consequently, it is what governs our lives so emphatically.

The Misanthrope is Moliere’s play. It focuses on many key aspects of what possesses human consciousness and habituates the subsconscious. Since it’s all dialogue, the characters and their revealing and burgeoning discomfiture with society feel palpable, which is ironic. Their hate, frustration, hypocrisy, and outcries are general, not fictionalized. You can reach out and stroke their angst and nausea as if they inhabit physical dimensions.

This play should be read as a serious universal comedy; where humanity is mocked and criticized for its coquettish and greedy mannerisms. Seneca wrote that “a man is unhappy as he has convinced himself he is.” Moliere wants this to echo throughout his play. That mankind and his genius, which is not a matter of courage but ideals, can never be reasonable. For in a world of fools, it’s better to be nothing than what the world thinks of as wise.

So the defect is not in human flaws, which society often condemns, and paradoxically implants in our psyche. But it’s in the appeal of the absurd cultural and social conventions of society. The subconscious of the world that makes the world function on self-interest, meaningless embraces, and empty words.

Arundhati Roy’s Azadi

Books like Azadi, swelling with soul and spirit, can be read in a single breath. And if you happen to read it, bit by bit, musing over her choice of words and her literary coordinates that point you to this human-made “doomsday machine,” you’ll begin to view the world differently.

Arundhati Roy truly translates the untranslatable. Azadi, her book of essays, chalks up the discomforts and bearings of today’s world. Writing about the country’s caste, class, language, politics, and literary contours, Arundhati Roy has brought back the becoming and beingness of humanity only to plant it right in front of society’s inherently skeptical lens. Would it be better to say then that the horror of life is in the eyes of the beholder?

The book also cradles Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The depths of both novels, their poetic and political orchestra. Azadi will spur you to read and stitch together a present that’s quieter, perhaps less ambiguous in the world of literature. The questions that throw light on unsettling answers. The answers that overshadow the questions that were never asked.

The result is a book that is humanizing and relentless. Arundhati Roy’s Azadi is not a calling card for action. Nor is it a staple that holds the country’s vocabulary together. Just like her novels, her essays are complete in that they are alive and intimate. They don’t feel detached or alien, even to a stoic, because you don’t just read her writing, you feel it like a confession.

E. M. Cioran’s The Trouble With Being Born

There is no other writer so gifted to have diagnosed Time as Eternity’s disease and to have endured it as a means to verify Existence as Emil Cioran. Existence, according to Cioran, would be very impractical were we to discard all our illusions. For even a single illusion of time, history, or life is enough to propel the rest of humanity forward. Such a philosophy is rare because it ties up no agonizing ends. It has a language of its own that is perpetually abnormal, profound, and instinctive.

The Trouble With Being Born is a collection of morbidly gratifying aphorisms about death, religion, time, history, and self-ness. The book has a bit of everything. No utterance of thought feels out of place. There is not a single alienated sentence in the book. Not the slightest trace of dissimilarity between the passages. I can read it over and over again – it is reality and unreality itself. What is when nothingness is the norm? And what dies when nothing can?

Cioran’s “inner metamorphosis” through his soliloquies feels absurdly familiar. His nihilism is sincere and it does not nullify humanity, it resuscitates it. He would blatantly argue with somebody who believes that philosophy is optimistic. He questions normalcy as a disease of life; and life as “a disease of matter.” This is a condition we have manufactured ourselves to become everything except what we already are.

There is no “whole truth” but there are varieties of experiences that we shed like dead skin for the sake of being born. And this burden, this responsibility, Cioran believes, is something that all of us will end up regretting sooner or later. Because to commit to any one ideal, in this realm, seems like a delusion. It is as it has always been and “probably always will be until there’s nothing left anymore.”

Here’s a completely different video review of the book.