James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain

There was a point in my life when I thought that past a certain age, I’d have it all figured out. At least the “big” stuff. The job, the personality, the social circle (or lack thereof), and the ambition.

Because then, once the dust settles, the blank canvas would have some boundaries, here and there strokes of color, the entirety of a portrait that not too long ago was poked and scrutinized by others. So that past a certain age, I have that portrait of myself, that totality of my being – you can call it my shadow, my shield, or my ghost.

It’s because of books like Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain that the colors that were once so vivid have now completely evaporated. Because the thing is that the moment I let a part of my being harden on that canvas, let those colors dry up forever, erasing it would be just as painful. And to believe that I can be just one thing, possess one definition, the light of my existence goes out.

Go Tell It On the Mountain is a book about self-discovery and individuality. In terms of length, it’s a short read. But in terms of depth, it’s quite intense.

James Baldwin reflects on the stubbornness of being oneself. The stirrings of a soul to live despite what one inherits in culture, in society, and in the world. It touches upon many topics – religion, race, and family.

The most vivid of all are the descriptions of people. Reading about the violence and misogyny in the name of dogmatic beliefs is difficult, I must point out. It’s terrifying because this is James Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical novel. And it highlights love, hate, loss, and gain. It reclaims suffering and heartbreak for those who are not equipped to face it.

The thing about James Baldwin is that he translates the untranslatable. His writing is swift, poetic, and emotionally penetrating. His vivid prose remembers the horrors of inequality and harrowing scales of organized religion. You read it once and it demands to be felt forever.

Frank Herbert’s Dune

To understand the myth of the hero, we must first assume that the hero is real. Then continue along that trajectory to assume that the humanity that presupposes the role of a hero is also real. The truth, from that point on, is governed by a set of rules, tests that dictate the social and political bind that ties the hands of those it governs.

The idea of the “greater good” is then used as a weapon to foreshadow the truth. Until that vicious cycle of heroic ideals is stripped bare and those governed play the part of heroes themselves.

Dune is a science-fiction and universally-timeless novel about political philosophy, history, human rights, and prophecy. The story is a fertile soil possessing many roots. Perceptive realism, cosmic consciousness, the exploration of an individual’s instinctive, inherited state of mind, and of course, the deep connection of the mind with the body.

The writing and characterization of Dune can easily be translated into a vast cosmos of ancient, archetypical, and modern structures. You can extend your hands and grip in each character the mythical and psychological traits that makes humans seem immortal.

These foundations are familiar, debatable, and undeniably felt in both fact and fiction even today.

Whether you digest this story as art or literature is beside the point. Because when looking for proof that rebellion, in any kind of social construct, is inevitable and hope is merely an illusion, this book contemplates what’s beyond.

“Mankind has only one science… it’s the science of discontent.”

Dune is the first in a resounding series of sci-fi novels written by Frank Herbert. I am convinced that Dune can seductively wipe out the illusion of the hero.

In an interview, Herbert said that he wrote Dune “for readers who do not read science fiction.” He coalesces shades of religion, environmentalism, mythology, politics in an imaginative plot. The writing makes his characters futuristic as well as historical. A book that forces you to rely on your senses in order to be wholly read.

Carl G. Jung on The Intuition As Psychic Alertness

The idea, today, is to meditate on our psyche’s intuition. As understood/elucidated by Carl Jung in his collected works, Psychological Types.

“Intuition means to look at or into. I regard intuition as a basic psychological function. It is the function that mediates perceptions in an unconscious way. Everything, whether outer or inner objects or their relationships, can be the focus of this perception. The peculiarity of intuition is that it is neither sense perception, nor feeling, nor intellectual inference, although it may also appear in these forms. In intuition, a content presents itself whole and complete, without our being able to explain or discover how this content came into existence. Intuitive knowledge possesses an intrinsic certainty and conviction…. The certainty of intuition rests equally on a definite state of psychic alertness of whose origin the subject is unconscious.”

The origin of intuition in an individual’s psyche paves the way for creative freedom and the cultivation of one’s character. 

When it comes to determining what shapes personality and drives a person to do the things one does or says, we automatically rely on intelligence and reasoning. Perhaps even on our emotional tendencies. 

Our sense perception, owing to the outside world, relies on these facets of human psychology. The reason for this is that we see it everywhere. Intuition is perceived as a spiritual need. Not a concrete one. It’s a function of the unconscious for which there is no place in society.

But what if I told you that intuition exists beyond what we perceive as real or unreal? 

It is what associates the self with objects, with people, and with ourselves. It’s a portal through which we can view ourselves a bit more transparently and non-judgmentally.

So that we don’t put on false disguises only to exist.

We create our own happiness on our own terms rather than the terms set by the world.

Our intuition claims our individuality and uplifts us from the parade of puppets.

The sooner we understand this fact, the sooner we can begin to unveil our true selves.

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.