The Kafka Museum Visit

November 16, 2016

As I was reading about the route Kafka used to take everyday to school accompanied by the family chef, suddenly the strains of HaTikvah was heard. It may not be much of a surprise since Kafka was known to have wanted to make aliya, the strange thing is that barely passing 8 bars, the music deviated from what I know so well. It then became apparent that this is not the Israeli national anthem, or a remix of it.

Recalling that the music of HaTikvah was adapted from some pretty pedestrian folk tune, I went to the Wikipedia page in hope of finding some confirmation that the presently playing piece was also a derivative of the same source. There, the name Smetana struck me familiar. Wasn’t that splendid hall where I listened to that underwhelming concert inside the municipal house called Smetana Hall? – It’s probably not the Prague Symphony Orchestra FOK’s fault, but my insisting in going to the concert after a whole day’s hike to blame. Now as the second movement of Smetana’s symphonic poem set, Vltava, greets me again, my hypothesis is validated. For some time, I enjoyed the discovery of the hidden links between these initially unrelated dots scattered all over my trip. But it seems to be a well known fact domestically.

Now as I think of it, isn’t it most suitable to choose this piece of music for that short film of Kafka’s Prague? On one hand, the HaTikvah-like melody alludes to his Zion heart, on the other, a Czech rendition reflects his cultural identity. By the way, this is not the only occasion where the museum designers show genius choice of music. Firstly I was met with some non-trivial ambient music in the introductory part. And close to the end in the literary analysis section, some spooky metal sounds are heard accompanying Kafka’s hand injury drawings made for his insurance company, creating a creepy absurd space. I would say the museum is quite experimental sonically and visually.

They also offered scholarly and deep interpretations for Kafka’s work, which were difficult to chew. To be honest, when I read Metamorphosis, I hardly saw anything beyond the storyline. But I’ll have plenty of chances to read between the lines now that I bought a set of three books compiling Kafka’s short stories from the museum shop – almost as impressive as the Autechre EP box that I got at the live show!

On a somewhat remotely related note, the nude with arms raised (and armpit hair exposed) by Pablo Picasso actually reminded me of George Samsa’s sister at the end of Metamorphosis, stretching herself to receive the infinite generosity from the sunshine as much as she could; her parents suddenly realize that here is a full fledged young woman ready for the future. This is not to say that I finally start to whole-heartedly appreciate that drawing. Although admittedly, Catherine’s explanation helped a lot towards that end. She says naivism tries to unlearn the academic training and focuses on the essence of what one wants to convey through childish paint strokes. In this particular drawing, I indeed starts to see the innocence, youthfulness and all the signs indicating the fresh positive, instead of singling out the grotesque squiggles supposedly representing her hair and hands. We also agreed that his intentional neglect of making her face pretty and leaving the natural underarm as is were an explicit challenge to typical modern viewers such as us, who are knowingly but irresistibly conditioned to popular media dictation of what is considered to be feminine beauty.

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From Forrester’s World Dynamics

September 18, 2016

The first half of the book is roughly a documentation of the model being simulated. I didn’t complain because of an early warning that conventional birth control will prove to have little effect on improving the final undesirable equilibrium compared to that without, a method I had imagined as a silver bullet to today’s major world problems.

In the result discussion chapter, I found out I wasn’t entirely wrong about my favorite method. The usual birth control programs do not set a constant birth rate, but which is subject to influences from other variables such as material standard of living, pollutions etc, manifested by their corresponding multipliers. That’s why the simulations faithfully report that with a transient rise of standard of living following a birth control policy, the incentives for increasing birth rate becomes even stronger. This result forces me to clarify myself that what I actually mean by birth control is to set a rigid birth rate independent of other system variables, which might require something like the womb system in Ergo Proxy on the implementation side, as my totalitarian nature quietly creeps up1.

Another thing I shall bear in mind is that there are other modes of disasters that cannot be suppressed by reduced population alone. In fact, the author views capital investment and pollution as primary leverage points and birth control the secondary tool – not the other way around as is my belief. I never really understand what capital investment means as I never comprehended money and its movement. Let’s say that it’s directly associated with industrialization. Then based on the assumptions of this model, the simulation result indicates that fewer people does not lead to hampered capital investment. Consequently pollution comes out to be the destroying force. Therefore birth control even in my stricter definition is not the silver bullet. A comprehensive program exercising self-restraint on multiple fronts including not only reproduction but also economic development, emerge as an attractive idea.

Recall that this is the state-of-the-art in 1970, it amazes me to see that people today are still spouting the ugly idea that technology is the savior of mankind. And I’m more ashamed of myself than amazed at them that I didn’t see the fallacy until the book clearly spells it out. In contrast to this indifference that new insights were received with, ancient ideas such as self-discipline have never been adopted by the mainstream either. I see traces of environmentalism in Greek mythology already, as the Greeks were temporarily confined in a small world centered around Greece so the transition from golden to bronze ages mostly as a result of human multiplication were perceived; certainly there were a couple of great Chinese thinkers who ages ago saw through the vanity of the rushing and blindly excited expansionists, tech-enthusiasts, growthists2… Oh yeah, there certainly is a possibility that we can escape from the confinement of the earth and continue to grow in some other earth-like planets. But it’s exactly those who insist in letting expansion go unchecked and willingly accept the consequential rising violence and danger of war as fated – some of whom by the way I personally know (!) – that are diminishing this possibility of space exploration by diverting huge funds to the defense causes. read more …

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Gone On the Road

July 7, 2016

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 traveling**. 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

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Further Than Diotima

February 12, 2016

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.

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Whales Through Melville’s Eyes

October 14, 2015

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 …

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