marți, 7 august 2012

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

One of the few writers that can convey such moments of pure transcendental awareness that you are left feeling utterly amazed. It has helped me realize that some problems are bigger than others (mainly how I would feel about the subject of Earth being what it is and therefore here, not demolished).
I read the entire trilogy and found it refreshing and delightful. The first book is about discovery and the rest of them are about being completely and continuously perplexed at the things that are in the Galaxy. Ford Prefect (one of my literary models) acts so nonchalantly in just about everything and manages to get Arthur Dent in all sorts of adventures throughout the Galaxy. Trillian and Zaphod only add to the rich context of stories that engulfs your imagination whilst at the same time enhancing your creativity.

Threading through the book, big questions like “how”, “why” and “where” receive different answers which fail to provide a sense of knowing, let alone comfort or cognitive stability. The only way to take the book and its characters is just to read it and enjoy it for what it is. I did that and at the end of the last book, “Mostly Harmless” I felt that something beautiful was laid in front of me and now it was fully unraveled and that I’m not capable of thinking like that on daily basis. I sure know I’ll try. The book has helped through some serious life events and provided me the opportunity to change perspectives and therefore to grow in an exponential manner in which I did not think I was capable of.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had become one of my favorite books so far and the style of the author, Douglas Adams, charmed me and made me longing for more.

I warmly recommend it to anyone who feels at time life is just too much. Take a ride in the Total Perspective Vortex, imagine a multitude of parallel universes in which Earth and its inhabitants live and you will end up feeling a lot more at ease with whatever you have to deal with.

sâmbătă, 21 aprilie 2012

The Satanic Verses

There are a lot of things which can be said of a novel that has caused religious debates

I found the novel interesting, and to sum it in a word, brilliant. I must confess, reading about the fact that a death sentence was issued to the author for writing it, made me curious and willing to pay great attention to every metaphor or other stylistic approaches to literature. I found the book to be a clear account of the lives of two main characters, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin (Salahudin) Chamcha. I couldn’t find any remarks or any passage that could indicate any mockery towards any religion.

The story seems very awry and is filled with mythological references and historical facts that could be attributed to the period in which the Prophet made the revelation. The main characters are the only survivors of a plane hijack and both are trapped in Britain trying to rebuild their life after the plain crash. Because they are listed as dead by the official statement of the aviation company they seem to have a period in which they must prove to themselves and other that they are in fact alive. Gibreel Farishta finds this to be much easier than Saladin Chamcha because he was a great Bollywood superstar and apparently is recognized be many. Saladin Chamcha goes through a series of transformations in order to regain his identity. The characters are presented in an antithetic fashion, Gibreel, for whom any mistakes are forgivable, and Saladin a man who is seen as threatening and must prove himself as a British citizen through times of abuse and maltreatment.

Due to the way in which Rushdie builds his novel, the plot and its tension seem to gradually arch and bend in each episode, as the characters go through metamorphosis and transformation. The author constructs the novel be creating narrations in narrations, using the metaphor of revelation to provide continuity. Gibreel assumes the role of the Archangel Gabriel and Saladin is sometimes perceived as Shaitan (the devil) especially through his ordeal in London in order to regain his old life and identity. Both characters seem to have problems with identity, Gibreel presenting episodes of recurring schizophrenia and Saladin having problems with British authorities. Although the characters are Indian they seemed to me to be universal, because I could relate to them and the problems which they sought to solve are universal. Both seek love and a way of living it with the person they love. Each of them seems to have a distorted view of love (one due to mental illness and the other due to an illusion regarding the British way of life and his wife’s morality). In fact their ethics about love and morality are tested and in the end one of them manages to construct himself and live accordingly while the other succumbs to his misinterpretation and distortions of reality due to mental illness.

The book made me think about my own struggle with my identity and made me realize that part of the resolution lies in the persons you manage to have around you, because if you have people around you which can offer support when you need it, you can grow and become stronger and therefore a step closer to living your life in a full and enjoyable manner.

duminică, 19 februarie 2012

My Life as a Fake

I never have suspected that the life of poets was filled with so much adventure. 
Carey’s characters are defined by the search for an extraordinary work of genius. They search it in one of the strangest places, Malaysia. Here they unravel the mystery of a man that came into being from a hoax created in Australia by Christopher Chubb. An editor (Sarah Wode- Douglas) in search of her own piece of information that can put order into her life finds herself gripped by the power of the hoax, in which she sees an opportunity to publish one of the greatest poetry of her decade. Although her family friend (John Slater) tries to warn her of the danger of this endeavor, she finds herself gripped firmly into a morass of fine deceiving and drama. She must record the history of the hoax creator in order to get the product of the man which came into being from the hoax. Christopher Chubb created a fictional character, Bob McCorkle, in order to mock the Australian society for its lack of literary culture. When his friend is being prosecuted for his hoax, he tries to hold himself accountable, but cannot undo the wrongdoing. Even worse, a man claims the name of Bob McCorkle and then pursues in assuming this identity, in the process claiming Chubb’s sanity. McCorkle kidnapped Chubb’s daughter, and so the pursuit of the man and his daughter commence.

The entanglement of fiction is maintained in a fine balance by personal details and a great deal of events which seem so unreal and yet so powerfully human. The writing appeals to a hidden part of humanity, one that can carry us through great trials in order to achieve our goals. Maybe this is the book’s charm, in that it carries you through a world so far and exotic and still being an expression of an inner need and fear (the need for a purpose in life and the fear of losing a thing/person that defines our existence).

Because the work of Bob McCorkle is never and published we can speculate that the hoax becomes real only when the creator realizes the destructive potential of his creation. Maybe this is the moral point of the novel: that we must be careful in what we want to obtain when deceiving other because we might end up deceived.

The author draws his inspiration from a real hoax devised by Harold Stewart and James McAuley, in which the poet’s name is Ern Malley and exceeds this by adding details of personal dramas and creating a world full of feelings and angst.

luni, 13 februarie 2012

If a Lion Could Talk - How Animals Think

In my pursuit to understand how cognition appears it seems natural that I would be inclined to read about how animals process the information around them. It was indeed necessary to take into consideration the idea that all the research and study into animal intelligence carries a powerful bias, that of anthropocentrism. The fact that we as humans are bound to our own experience of consciousness, of how we perceive the world around us, limits the understanding of other experiences, namely of that which other animals might have. 

Budiansky’s account of cleverly designed experiments is a proof that we need to take into consideration a lot of factors and conditions before we can state something about the way in which a different species reacts based on the stimuli it receives. The very nature of our sensory organs bounds us “to see” only a part of the environment, the one that is the most important to our own survival. Because we are social specie we put emphasis on the accurate perception of those signals that can offer information about other members of our specie (the social position, symbols of power or wealth, relations amongst ourselves) much like other social species: monkeys, chimpanzees, dogs, horses etc. We tend to consider these signs as those of greater intelligence, just because we are used to intelligence being expressed in this manner. 

Every organism learns through associations during its lifetime. Animals do that all the time and it’s a big advantage to their survival to do so. Learning and responding appropriately to the environment guarantees a better chance at transmitting the genes, and continue the legacy of every species. Only those organisms that adapt can maintain a competitive edge against other members of their species. Associations between stimulus and a response from environment (reward: food, water, sex, inclusion in the social environment etc., or punishment: food deprivation, injuries etc) are a powerful tools in learning. Dogs and other social animals exhibit this feat mostly because we know how to perceive it, but other animals do to. Budiansky offers a great amount of evidence to support this.

Some remarks are so true that I feel compelled to mention them. For instance: “Many animal researchers are fairly confident that more-sensitive experiments will show that apes, at least, do possess some ability to attribute mental states. But the entire search has been a vivid reminder of the dangers of anthropocentrism. The things that apes are good at are the things they evolved to do to survive in their particular ecological niche. And the things an animal is good at generally do not require three decades of ambiguous experiments to discover.”(p. 188) This particular point made me think of all the implications in every aspect of scientific research, mainly the idea that when we set ourselves to test a hypothesis we limit the perceived reality to only a narrow bit, the one that fits into our experimental instruments.

The final passage of the book is another idea that made me think, mainly because it manages to sum up different ideas about evolution. “It is always dangerous to draw moral lessons from the blindly amoral process of evolution. But if there is a lesson here, it is that all of the creatures that evolution has fashion are remarkable in their own right. All have hit upon unique ways to make a living against all probability. And that is something to respect, and to treasure.”(p. 194)

joi, 12 ianuarie 2012

The God of Small Things

Living doesn’t seem to require much thought or any cognitive effort, I thought. When reading the book I realized that all the time we see things, we imagine alternatives, we correlate different images, we see much more than we perceived. It was wonderful. 
As a psychologist, I try to keep in touch with myself and  see how the events affect me and in what way I change with every challenge or task, and still find myself unable to grasp the concepts that could help me better understand my life. Roy’s language and mastery of words has helped me find a new way into looking at things around me, and made me much more willing to use words in a synesthetic way, thus compelling more meaning than before. Somehow the language was inside me and I needed a push to bring it into use, a model of some sort, and that model came from a brilliantly written book.

The subject of the novel transcends culture, and speaks to the inner human nature of us all. Although the cultural background of the characters is different, because they live in India, the torment of trying to find a way to live life in the most meaningful way possible is universal. The story of love, of stereotypes and prejudices towards other people, the story of how we can make social barriers so tall that we cannot climb or overcome during a lifetime, is one that needs to be read over and over again until we are left with only the truth about human life. That is to see that we need love, that love is different throughout our life, that it evolves from one pure, almost demanded, love possessed by children, into an ideal that eludes everyone who happen to be in a society which dictates how love must be and who can live it.

That pure connection often thought of as true love might come in different shapes, one between two twin brother and sister, one between a single mother and her children, one between a divorced man and his ex-wife and daughter, and one between an old woman and a twisted notion of love. We can see the pursuit of love throughout the book, mainly through the pains which accompany the feeling of fear of losing it. Rahel, the main character, a view-point narrator, takes a journey back to the house where she discovered love and felt she lost it. It’s a detailed account of events in which grief takes many forms, starting with the grief of losing a loved someone, to the grief of losing a sense of love and trying to find it once more. Rahel and Estha, the twin dizygotic brother and sister, represent in a way a metaphor of trying to live a life only half-filled with love, because they need the presence of each other in order to feel complete. 

The great charm and mystery of the book was, for me, the ability to pin point certain raw aspects of relationships between humans, how we let our fears rule society, or how we can let our fear rule our life in a way that can only bring us sadness and pain. It is after all our decision about how we want to live our life.
One of the fragments that I enjoyed mostly from the novel is: “D’you know what happens when you hurt people? (…) When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.”

I end my review with this brilliant conclusion:
It is after all so easy to shatter a story. To break a chain of thought. To ruin a fragment of dream being carried around carefully like a piece of porcelain.
To let it be, to travel with it,(…), is much the harder thing to do.

miercuri, 4 ianuarie 2012

Pleasured By Philip Hensher

To be able to describe moments in history is great. To be able to make others feel some tension from the collision between human history and a nation’s history is a gift. Hensher’s description of a brief moment in the life of Friedrich and of how he perceives the falling of the Berlin Wall represents a portrayal of mixture between small moments that culminate into a big event. 

Life is meant to be lived as a series of events, and sometimes the events come together and mix and mash into something much greater than the person. To try to think that you can be the piece of the puzzle that can change the game is an erroneous way of thinking. Friedrich and Mr. Picker want to do just that, with their plan to sell drugs in East Germany in order to show them what fun they are missing in a liberal society. It’s a mocked plan, and even Friedrich doesn’t abide by it, in fact he plans to take the money from Picker and go his way, but his nature, and the fact that he starts to like Picker as a person makes him act otherwise. He returns the money, confesses the whole scheme and in the end resumes a somewhat strong friendship with Picker.

The other characters Daphne and Marion represent two different things. Mario a socialist spy, that betrayed his father and fled to West Germany and organized a fraction to undermine the political state of Federal Germany, and Daphne a young student, in love, and with minimal political aspiration or beliefs behind her action. Although they manifest themselves against the structures of society, each seems to think that no political system could in fact do justice to the people. It is the people who must choose how to act. Not a pamphlet or political dissemination. Yet this is what they try to achieve by their vandalism of capitalist small businesses. 

At first the novel didn’t startled me with a great sense of something great happening, but by the end I was glad to be able to have read it.