June 20, 2016

G. B. Shaw, Umberto Eco, and Banana Yoshimoto

Monday, October 17, 2005

Celebrating Shaw, a Serious Optimist

Critic's NotebookBy BEN BRANTLEY
The New York times: September 16, 2005
THE old man is never going to shut up, so we might as well let him into the conversation once again. After all, it's not as if the subjects that raise middle-class hackles have changed so very much in the 55 years since George Bernard Shaw died, leaving mountains of plays (more than 50, and their prefaces and postscripts) and essays and pamphlets and treatises and letters and reviews to rumble on in an ardent and exasperated eternity.
Consider intelligent design, the God-incorporating alternative to Darwinism that is such a hot-button topic among scientists, theologians, educators and anxious parents of schoolchildren these days. Now, the Irish-born Shaw - whose exceptionally long and fecund career as a center of London theatrical and political life is being celebrated beginning tomorrow in a festival of talks, readings and performances at the New York Public Library, titled "Man or Superman?" - devoted rivers of ink to expounding his personal variation on the theory of natural selection. It was called creative evolution, a name that sounds a lot like intelligent design, don't you think?

Still, proponents of that theory probably don't want to hitch their wagons to Shaw's venerable star. While he had some problems with the biological randomness of Darwin, Shaw also pretty much eliminated God from the equation of how human life develops.

Creative evolution, put forth in jovial but dead serious dramatic terms in Shaw's play "Man and Superman" (published in 1903; first performed in 1905), is based on an ever upwardly striving phenomenon called the life force, which propels us away from our inconvenient bodily impulses and toward a state of pure cerebration. The life force, by the way, is transmitted by rare, world-shaking men of genius, "selected by Nature to carry on the work of building up an intellectual consciousness of her instinctive purpose." In other words, men like Jesus, Julius Caesar, John Bunyan, Napoleon, Goethe, Wagner and - but, of course - George Bernard Shaw. Shakespeare, by the way, almost doesn't qualify by Shavian standards (too pessimistic), but for a while there it looked as if Hitler and Stalin might.

Here is Shaw's alter ego in "Man and Superman," an asexual variation on that immortal rake Don Juan, on why he thinks religion is "a mere excuse for laziness": "It had set up a God who looked at the world and saw that it was good, against the instinct in me that looked through my eyes at the world and saw that it could be improved." And improvement of the species - which involved setting fire to rotting, imprisoning conventions and throwing cold water on smug faces - was always the first purpose of Shaw's plays. "It should be clear now that Shaw is a terrorist," wrote Bertolt Brecht, who knew from guerrilla theater. The critic Kenneth Tynan described Shaw as "the demolition expert."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Va Ra, Bharati and Sri Aurobindo

Va Ra became a rebel and he shunned the Tamil Brahmin orthodoxy and it was he who invented the modern renaissance Tamil prose as we all know today. Va.Ra (1889-1951) is even now considered a phenomenon. There was none like him before or after. He came in early contact with Sri Aurobindo andMahakavi Bharati in Pondicherry and it was here he learnt Bengali, translated the Bankin Chandra’s Bengali novel into Tamil. All his adult life was devoted to the uncertain world of literary pursuits. With very little money this band of highly talented writers took to creative writing as a sacrifice for a big cause. In this their contributions vindicated their beliefs. He lived truly like a yogi or a sanyasi, no assured job, no income and no settled life.The one great achievement of Va Ra. is his defence of Bharati as a maha kavi.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Integral Yoga And Lizard

The Integral Yoga
One of the foremost Indian philosophers of the twentieth century, Sri Aurobindo was also a political activist, a mystic and a spiritual leader. Between 1927 and 1950, Sri Aurobindo remained in seclusion while perfecting a new kind of spiritual practice he called the Integral Yoga. During this period he gave detailed guidance to disciples and seekers, responding to thousands of inquiries. This correspondance constitutes a major body of work on the practice of yoga-sadhana. The present volume brings together a comprehensive selection of Sri Aurobindo`s letters, organized by area of interest. An ideal introduction to his work and vision, it will also serve as an invaluable daily handbook for seekers of all paths - beginners and experienced practitioners alike. Copyright (C) Muze Inc. 2005.
The first collection of short stories from the Japanese writer Banana Yoshimoto. The stories capture the spirit of twenty-somethings--newlyweds, aerobics instructors, writers, office workers, lovers--in the author`s unadorned voice. Copyright (C) Muze Inc. 2005.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Name of the Rose

I have some philosophical interests and I pursue them through my academic work and my novels. Even my books for children are about non-violence and see, the same bunch of ethical, philosophical interests. And then I have a secret. Did you know what will happen if you eliminate the empty spaces from the universe, eliminate the empty spaces in all the atoms? The universe will become as big as my fist. Similarly, we have a lot of empty spaces in our lives. I call them interstices. Say you are coming over to my place. You are in an elevator and while you are coming up, I am waiting for you. This is an interstice, an empty space. I work in empty spaces. While waiting for your elevator to come up from the first to the third floor, I have already written an article! Umberto Eco

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Matrix

"The Matrix" is a science fiction film released in 1999 that has achieved a cult status like no other science fiction movie since "2001." Like many science fiction films it presents life in the future as dominated by unseen forces and dehumanized so that it is difficult to tell people from machines, and the world itself is trashed. What makes "The Matrix" different is that it was the first movie to explore the implications of cyber-existence taken to an extreme, that is, that all of everyday existence is in fact a "world pulled over your eyes," woven like wool by unseen forces. In other words, individuals inhabit a world in which they are enveloped and enslaved, in fact, created as a part of this world for use by the creators. They are prisoners trapped in a system in which experience is essentially a computer program, "The Matrix," that has been downloaded into the individual mind while the hibernating body powers the system with biological energy. The protagonist, Neo, a throwback to the romantic hero and in daily life a computer programmer named Thomas Anderson, discovers that he has been leading two lives. Everyday life is one in which every second of consciousness has been programmed for him by the Matrix, while a second, hidden life also exists potentially free of external influence but stripped of aesthetic pleasure, "the Desert of the Real".
Critics of contemporary culture take "The Matrix" as a reflection of a collective mindset. The foundation of political power in America rests on the ability of politicians to create, with the help of a colluding media, an artificial world, a world that works in the interests of the creators.[3] The administration of George W. Bush justified the Iraq war with a series of "spins" – that Iraq held weapons of mass destruction, that the Iraqi government was tied to terrorists that were dangerous to the United States, that United States was creating freedom in Iraq - all of which have turned out to have little basis in fact but in which the American public continued to believe.[4] Life becomes dematerialized and transformed into a virtual reality of spectral show manipulated by invisible powers. A line in the recent John Sayles film "Sunshine State" echoes this conceit. A developer in Florida responding to a question about what to do with the neighboring jungle terrain asserts that there is no problem, "We'll disneyfy it." From this standpoint, Disneyworld has become the contemporary Matrix of American consumer life.
The idea, horrifying to Neo, that the world is created by an other, that our very consciousness is not ours, goes against the American ideal of the willful, self-made man, the modernist rational ego orientation, and the subjectivist foundation of the Western mind. Yet, the idea is not new. In the Hindu mind, life on earth is an emanation of the mind of the sleeping god, Vishnu. Life as dreamed by a god is analogous to life programmed by a Matrix. Plato imagined the life perceived by humans as an illusion of shadow play. The structure of the first great novel, Don Quixote, consists of level after level of story-telling, creating the effect of an infinite hall of mirrors making it difficult to keep track of the level of "reality" being depicted. William Blake, the great English romantic artist and poet, imagined an archetypal artist, Los, whose museum of art objects consisted of every moment of human consciousness.
The idea of reality as created is itself archetypal and enacted in movie theaters and psychotherapy chambers thousands of times every day. From the standpoint of depth psychology, the terror of the power of the "alien" and the control of world creating technology in science fiction stories is an expression of dread of the Other as the unconscious, expressed in "The Matrix" as the fear of slavery to a computer. We are "programmed" in part by our unconscious so that our experience is created both from our past life experience and according to the universal patterns that each one of us carry. We both "throw forward" (project) onto the world and are thrown projected) by the world, both of the world and in the world, at once, master and slave. Psychoanalysis is the procedure of examining consciousness so that this creative process, a dual dynamic of being, is revealed as the work of imagination. Through analysis we come to take a more conscious part in weaving the fabric through which we see, creating the world as we inhabit it. Since we are always already in the process of co-creating reality through fantasy in conjunction with an Other, the horror to the modern mind is that there is nothing of reality beyond the "silver screen" of imagination, that what is present is always an absence.
In "The Matrix" the mentor figure, Morpheus, suggests to Neo that he must feel like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole and offers him a choice, "You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed, and believe what you want to believe. You take the red pill and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes." This is an allusion, of course, to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the grandmother of contemporary science fiction, written in 1865 by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson who went by the pen name of Lewis Carroll.[5]

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