Finished On the Road by Kerouac*. Throughout the majority part of the book, I wasn’t particularly interested. Rundown shacks, ragged lives and beaten souls everywhere. My skin turns greasy automatically when imagining walking in their shoes. On top of that was a not-so-friendly language wielded only by college dropouts – I’m not referring to the tech nerds – a bizarre consequence of street talk coming from a mind drenched in years of literary activities. On the other hand, I didn’t get particularly bored either because, as it was my book on the road as well, I only turned a few pages while waiting at a bus station.
But towards the end, somewhere before the Mexico trip, I had become fascinated by Dean’s madness. He “digs” whatever he sees with attention of monstrous intensity like laser beams; every trifle that is going on around him warrants his equal devotion; only he could see and let the godsent revelation flood through him and eventually reach us like a torrent. The outward manifestations are constantly sweaty face, bulbed eyes, throbbing veins, rubbing of his belly and a finely selected vocabulary of “Yass, yass! Wow! Man! Phew!” ranging from howling to moaning. It would have seemed pretty dumb in the beginning, but now that his contagious spirit makes sense to me… Yes, only Dean can “dig” the way beyond what the word itself intends to mean.
Just as I thought by now I was fairly used to the gross ways of life they are leading, the tropical bug T-shirt episode pushed it to a newer level. But the Mexico trip really had me hooked – it’s really not at all about those drug and sex thingies, but the thoughts that emerged from a fierce spring that never runs dry: how they make of the landscape and various people they met – something that never happens to me when I am travelling**. At the height of it, I was informed that the awful Dean left the fever stricken Sal. And shortly after was their last meeting. Friends that had done so many crazy things together could just part forever like that without a warning. In contrast to the frantic rushing, the final few words sound markedly quiet, poignant as though they were written down after days of meditation. And then, profound sadness engulfed me.
* James Zabiela was the one who introduced this book to me.
** Because after all, I am of an entirely different breed
More than a year ago upon first hearing it, I was taken aback by the chiptune-like arpeggio in the opening track but subsequently discovered the sparkling loveliness adorning the rest of the 40 minutes. The impression still persists. But somehow the light of the gems suddenly was able to pierce through my heart as I picked it up again, perhaps because my BoC fever has finally receded to a healthy level.
If Boards of Canada evokes imagery of my world view and abstract emotions, then maybe R Plus Seven by Oneohtrix Point Never is more like a personality portrait. Be it an individual track or the flow of the entire album – if there exists in it such a thing as a flow at all – unexpected turns of events or an abrupt abortion of an ongoing theme can occur anytime anywhere. And of course it never happens in an unpleasant way –
After the ostentatious opening, ‘Americans’ brings twenty seconds of calming air from a distant afternoon playground before a rapid change of focus on a secret garden rising out of a fresh downpour. The dazzling young green rocking up and down as dewdrops roll off is my first favorite melodic moment. I could stare at this for hours but no lingering is allowed. A long interval of fast-forward with space warping and human voice jittering throws me onto the clouds and left me gradually descending into the world of Botanicula, where the sap running through the transparent leaves resonate with peculiar little creatures making their own noises. The unique signature of choral elements in R+7 is notable for the first time. At first, one bright-eyed creature sings a note or two and immediately disappears to give way to another. The tiny random contributions thus piece together rhythmic patterns that friskily hop into different keys.
All that vanishes before my eyes and a short practice session ‘He She’ makes the transition to a hushed ‘Inside World’. The female vocal has a sparse but coherent line accompanied by broken pieces of sounds. It feels as if hearing my cell splitting and blood circulating with slight irregularity. Then comes the gliding waves gently pushing me to the realm of mind. It too is so brief that soon the first theme returns again.
And before I am drowned in my inner bodily reflection, ‘Zebra’ lashes out its briskness at full force. The first theme is repeated for two minutes with naughty brass and joyous choir scattered around before it breaks down and comes back to a state of ‘Inside World’. Fragmented electronic church bells sway in the ambiance; random horn melody wanders aimlessly further and further away. And then a prolonged pause. read more …
Overtime I am conditioned to the muted colors of Čiurlionis’ paintings.
It gives off a dreamy air like in Miestas , a white city shrouded in the late afternoon haze, which a moment ago I took a glimpse while in sleep, but now the memory fades further and away so that what remained are only the milky tone and a blurred architectural form. Yet these things I will soon lose hold of forever too.
Or it evokes other-planetly imageries as in Pasaulio Sutvėrimas , chiefly due to the warm color tone but also because of the peculiar structural orderliness — the almost repetitive pattern displayed by the growing things. The crystal growth over there also leads to flowering and fruit bearing; when the time is ripe, the fruit of crystallization falls to the ground into gleaming fragments, accompanied by silverly clinks (La Planète Sauvage). This low saturation could also represent a chaotic beginning of nebulous void, from which distinct thoughts emerge and disappear in the form of symmetriads, asymmetriads and mimoids (Solaris).
More often, when it comes to the religious themes, the obscurity corresponds to the inexplicable part of the primeval yearning for worshipping. In Himnas , thick clouds briefly break apart, letting through rays of sunlight onto the distant horizon that dispel the gloominess. A natural wonder alluding to a divine existence somewhere over the clouds, a path leading to eternal happiness whose entrance no mortals can reach. In Praeitis , the colossal slab that marks sunrise seems to embody ritualistic spirits in the innocent ages (even though the Macedonian sun has evidently become a cliché by the time I finished the book). And a recurring motif is the eagle messengers out of the west [82, 142], bearing blessings from the lords and disseminating hope among the mundane world.
Even a soulless person such as myself can be a bit shaken by such awe-inspiring depictions. It makes me ponder whether the urge of worshipping is a conciliation between the desire of perfection and the knowledge that it’s beyond reach. Or if it stems from their weaknesses of the constant needs to be loved, to be watched over, to anchor their inner selves at some secure place however their lives might float around.
There are numerous other examples that are more explicit on this theme. Especially towards the end, the perfect hierarchy of the universe in the artist’s mind is entirely revealed [212 – 214]. However, as I have never made peace with the rule that the last movement of a musical piece always has to climb to some apex, it also dazzles my eyes to see all that grandiose and overflowing bliss on the canvas.
Of course for me, a charming painting does not speak to me without an admirable painterly effect. Unlike the obelisk cypresses seen elsewhere, the austere Mountains and Cypresses in  become abstracted by only wild curves and color stretches that begin to flow and intertwine; the Winter forest  I’d rather consider it to be a collection of rare white leaf samples against an amiable backdrop of cosmic latte; the midnight Forest  wakes up to be a lively band of naughty ghosts, whose playful silhouettes can be dimly discerned under the sleepy stars; a rather brooding sort of Stillness  whose disquiet is betrayed by the disturbed water and air.
The overall experience browsing through Čiurlionis’ paintings is that of a positive buoyancy concisely summarized by Rojus , originating from a mind constantly exploring the infinite forms of beauty of the world as its wings grow ever broader.
The encomiums delivered by those proceeding Socrates are all fine to look at. But apart from over-generalization (Eryximachus), baseless speculations (Aristophanes), what the weakness that I dimly felt really is was specified by Socrates as “to attribute to Love every species of greatness and glory, whether really belonging to him or not, without regard to truth or falsehood”, whereas Socrates, or rather Diotima strove to reveal his innate nature and her conclusion is quite illuminating to my delight:
the love of the everlasting possession of the good… of immortality.
In deriving this, I have no objection to the assumption that
Nor is there any need to ask why a man desires happiness; the answer is already final.
– a principle I base my entire life upon! Only that -as I’m still in a sophist’s spirit- the notions of the good, beauty, virtue etc are frequently used without substantiation, which can be subject to various interpretations. Despite the minor flaw, I have to admit the mysterious idea of beauty absolute sounds so compellingly romantic even though nothing of substance is said about it. Added to its charm is an interim stage where one recognizes that
…the beauty in every form is and the same! And when he perceives this he will abate his violent love of the one, which he will despise and deem a small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful forms…
Feeling myself on the right track, isn’t it natural that I’ll be burning with curiosity to know what sits at the destination of the trekking? Nevertheless, even though her words strike my heart ever so powerfully, I carefully reserve a space at the back of my mind not to be won over so easily. For I do not wish to despise anyone anything, especially in a sense that I want to cultivate a humble soul that does not put procreation in the rank of barbarism, ignorance and backwardness or hold a pregnant mind that conceives child of wisdom at such high esteem. (The other narcissist self is currently banging behind the bars screaming “I totally do!”) Because after all, I doubt the existence of the good absolute. Consequently I shall not sneer at others without concrete scientific evidence of my own good being compromised by that of the others.
Now it’s nice that many phenomena of love can be explained by quote (1), where immortality is the key. However, this kind of phenomena that has been so for the past thousands of years need not be so in the next thousands of years. Recognizing the finiteness of everything earthly, why cling to something that is unattainable even theoretically? I could understand and appreciate that I’m able to write down these gibberish today all thanks to countless such futile attempts accumulated in the entire human history. All of a sudden this ungrateful small fry starts to talk about abandoning this axiom that nature imprinted on all the living things and that almost exclusively defines what life means?
But I find something more axiomatic than quote (1) that is quote (2). To me, quote (1) betrays a horrible sense of self-importance. Our mind has evolved to such a degree that we have generalized numerous traditionally narrow concepts to broader senses. For example, Diotima praises poets and artists who “conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or contain” alluding to the inferiority of the conceiving of mortal children. We definitely could eliminate the redundant association of happiness with immortality, which is probably genetically embedded in us in the beginning. But our happiness is now more governed by the product of our minds than any other materialistic things. Therefore it’s not hard to desert the cruel path of pursuing the everlasting once we recognize that it’s filled with agony and suffering. And if I must be labelled as one who has a self-destructive tendency, I must confess my intense love for the breathtakingly tranquil ending rather than the uncomely finale that the foolish pursuit of immortality is bound to yield, all the while noting that there WILL BE an end – the question is only how.
As for this transient moment, contemplating beauty, full of love of the infinite possibilities of the mind that creates fair and noble thoughts, I could not resist but, like in a swinging crib, be swayed by such flowery rhetorics, hither and thither.
Browsing through the highlights and notes, the brilliant moments from the long journey of Moby Dick came to life again. I remember being repelled by the second half of Heinlain’s A Stranger from A Strage Land, despising its complete derailment from the story and the endless spouting of his unimportant opinions. But I totally enjoyed the random thoughts and musings Melville offered.
The narratives of the plot constitute just a small part of the volume. In an unintruding manner, the various aspects of the whaling business was laid out. If these descriptions are more out of necessity for later understanding, then what branches out from them emitting witty insights and wild deduction, touching ancient history, philosophy, social issues, are pure brain food. One example is taken from the last passage of the chapter debuting Ahab’s harpooneer Fedallah,
…according to Genesis, the angels indeed consorted with the daughters of men, the devils also, add the uncanonical Rabbins, indulged in mundane amours.
As Melville’s ambition commanded, the book also contains large quantities of encyclopedic entries. Similarly, his comments are most worthwhile paying attention to. In particular, he revealed one peculiar aspect of the whale’s vision system: the sideway positioned eyes separated by a dead wall of face, thus two completely different images at the brain’s processing center, and thus two fronts and two backs! I’m surprised how I have never thought of this amusing problem. I’m less troubled by his classification of whales as fish though. He explained reasonably, and that’s his personal choice. But it’s indeed questionable whether his description of whale’s exceptionally small brain is true by today’s standard. That aside, it nevertheless illustrates Melville’s powerful armament of similes.
… hidden away behind its vast outworks, like the innermost citadel within the amplified fortifications of Quebec.
Perhaps the tranquil tropical cruising that Melville so lavishly and untiringly depicted – which I already quoted before and had better refrain from doing so again – is truely the source of the freest thoughts seen all over the book. Yet my constant theme has always been the conflict between the strong sympathy towards the whales and reading of what the main characters are doing to them. This is intensified by the author’s own manifested contradiction of attitudes. He did not withhold any bit of admiration for or marveling at the whales’ mild profoundness and joyous swiftness. But no less praising was given to the whaling business and killing scenes. I don’t attempt to guess which side he stands, but he clearly knows what they are doing down to the core – read more …