The Sickness unto Death by Soren Kierkegaard

“…the very notion of a self is vague,”

The measure of one’s truth is in what drives a person to despair. How does one live? What faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to happiness? Is it by virtue of the lack of sorrow? And what faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to sorrow? Is it by virtue of the lack of happiness?

Soren Kierkegaard spoke about the idea of despair as being an eternal phenomenon as the “self” is an eternal force of nature. So the loss of despair is the loss of one’s “self” in which there can occur an annihilation of one’s relation to not only the outside world but to the “self” itself. The Sickness Unto Death is his profound, intellectual, and ceaseless conversation about self-actualization. His writing is easy no task to bear but if you are patient and amicable enough, the book is better than any self-help book you’ve ever read.

For Kierkegaard, this sickness of despair is not as conventional as physical sickness that may or may not drive one to death. Despair is rather an omnipresent, an underlying manifestation of the consciousness. It doesn’t alienate us from perception rather it elevates the intensity of the experience to the point of uninhibited self-expression, or what Kierkegaard calls “faith.”

One despairs in being oneself. One despairs in wanting to be oneself. One despairs in not wanting to be oneself. This tug of war between a self’s authentic and inauthentic despair is the formula of human existence.  The biggest danger, however, is “that of losing oneself, one can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.”

Read all my highlighted passages from the book here.


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The Plague by Albert Camus

Begetting such symbolic human helplessness against the unbendable forces of nature… perhaps seen through an evolutionary standpoint makes The Plague an unfortunately arresting book. It’s symbolic in that it’s about the bubonic plague taking place in the 1940s, spread across the city of Oran. The plague could be Albert Camus’s allegorical interpretation of war and/or his absurd and atheistic interpretation of good and evil. One can view this book through many lenses.

The story is grotesque and uncompromising. It doesn’t dramatize death. The protagonist carries out his role as a doctor in the midst of this epidemic as an abstraction. An abstraction that trumps happiness and heroism. For pity, grief, and anger do not offer any strength against such a hardening blow. What’s left is cultivating logical habits that do not leave a person cold and empty.

This abstraction applies to most everyday things of life. We yearn to succeed at something not because it’s the ideal way to live. But in order to avoid failing at it. We’re constantly in fear of not knowing that it forcibly and impulsively compels us to know. Transitioning this thought to the question of good and evil where life is not evil nor is it good. Rather it’s the living of it that affects our judgment on the stand.

The book raises many such questions. Why human behavior is “more or less ignorant” rather than a “vice or virtue?” How appalling it is to understand love not by attaining it but withholding from it. And finally, a question that makes one aware of the enormity of our infinitesimal existence, “But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, after all.”

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Wind/Pinball: Two Novels by Haruki Murakami

His first debut short novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, are the first strings that tie Murakami’s fantasy together. The stories are rich, captivating, and vivid. They transcend layers upon layers into the characteristic vitality and loneliness that Murakami never fails to bring page after page. The lives of the people permeate everything. I couldn’t understand how else the language and longing of the protagonist are brought to be understood by so many.

The novels are centered upon ordinary realities whose very essence and soul are rare and unforgettable. I enjoyed revisiting the pleasant and nostalgic sensitivity of Murakami. Where his deepest and conscious thought is so effortless to make sense of. The book demands little in return. Consider it a light read… a moving work of literature. Meditative and tranquil; containing the sum total of one’s lonely, quiet, and vigilant voyage.

If what you seek is wisdom and meditation that’s lurking beneath the surface, you’ll find it in this story. All it does is give you a taste of that flawless and enigmatic purity that Murakami achieves in his later works. If you’re attentive enough, these short stories reveal the beauty of such seasoning of life.

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The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

It’s like going to sleep in this reality and waking up in another. A reality bereft of meaning but burdened with formulaic lifestyles. The book tells you that your character is a lie; forged as a result of denying pain and anxiety and suffering in the world. You validate and create your own supposedly infinite values so life’s possibilities may appear abundant, final, and redeeming.

We’ve all incurred this trait as it reaches an unconscious and almost robotic stage. Where, to break the pattern, the repression of these lies and delusions, one has to not only step out of this world but step out of the shoes that one, from childhood into adulthood, had tightened the shoelaces of. The Denial of Death calls this “the final terror of self-consciousness” under the light of facing up to one’s own death.

There is no doubt this book is consolatory for such times when our biological fate seems too hollow and out-of-hand. Evolution dictates the continuity of science, of geographical and historical precedence, but one does wonder if humanity is the real nature of the world. These “character defenses” we collectively but internally manifest and project out into the world is an attempt to delay the realization and acceptance of the only philosophical question about the human condition.

The “hero” is not the one with the answer but the one who bears the question without an explanation. Who lives undeterred by, but as a result of, the nothingness of life’s alibi. There are many definitions of death; poetically, we must return to the very form that created us, to dust; scientifically, our cells die and our organs do not regenerate; philosophically, death is nothing but the living of life. None do explain the accompanying awareness of death. And while we continue to form our own symphonies to bridge time, space, and existence – it’s books like The Denial of Death that broaden our understanding of our place in it. Don’t read it if you want answers, read it if you can start asking the questions.

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How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

Reading Proust and meditating on his literature and wisdom are unique but strange experiences. His descent and inquiry into igniting every compassionate nerve in one’s body are exceptional. And Alain de Botton accomplishes the rare task of compiling Marcel Proust’s most significant and learned possessions.

The book comprises of life’s most sought but unrequited questions. Perhaps it’s not about people that we need to learn about. Nor is it about acquiring more words under the guise of knowledge and wisdom. Rather, it’s understanding the varied dimensions to loving and being.

Presence, which goes above and beyond sensory perception is often unwelcome in the realm of friendships and loves.

Proust takes you a step further into the logic of such a philosophy. And when other philosophy books seem perplexing and perhaps too embracive, Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life makes the same sentiment more alluring than just a glance. It’s intense, simple, and within the realm of one’s emotional, intellectual, and platonic possibilities.

There is a lesson in each question. Two of them that, in homage, I offer to time’s quickening spirit is ‘How to Suffer Successfully’ and ‘How to Read for Yourself’. Read this book as a reminder or merely a kind of repose which offers mind and creative courage. Alain de Botton delivers an unforgettable and imaginative evaluation of what Proust so eloquently discovered in his books.


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