Thursday, April 24, 2008

Three Dysfunctional Women Characters

Nicole Kidman as Margot in Margot at the Wedding. Having an extremely low sense of self-worth, she only feels alive, and tries to heal her scars, by hurting others.

Laura Linney as Wendy in The Savages. Wendy is also deeply unhappy. But she tries to heal her scars, and to regain a sense of worth, by desperately trying to be good to others. Causes misery despite her intentions.

Jane Adams as Joy Jordan in Happiness. She, a morass of compassion, misery and low self worth, can't seem to find anything which gives her a sense of joy, ironically.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Two Comments on Sports

- Enjoyment of team sports is largely linked to the tribal instinct. As cricket in India moves away from nationalist frenzy to leagues playing each other without a national or tribal identity, Indian viewers are having difficulty enjoying the spectacle. The spectacle was earlier thrilling only because one identified with a particular team because of patriotic or regional reasons.

See for example a letter in The Tribune.

- Should sports be subsidized? There is something called the "sports quota" in the public sector and higher educational institutes in India. Sportsmen who have merely participated in a major national or international event get a reserved seat in preference to a meritorious candidate. Obviously, there is a cost to this affirmative action. And the cost is passed to the general public. Since participation in sports is so career-defining in India, there is widespread corruption in the bodies which choose the various players and teams for national and international events. See for example a news item in today's Times of India.

Sports serve various purposes. Physical activity, competitive pleasure, a surrogate activity for the hunter-gatherer male (less so for the female), entertainment for the viewers, an expression of skill (e.g. in gymnastics or diving). In India, an artificial purpose to participate in sports has been introduced: one can be assured of a degree or a job if one is a good enough sportsperson. Mostly however, the definition of "good enough" is participation at a particular level. And this participation is controlled by political appointees in IHF, BCCI, etc. There is massive corruption in this arena.

In a poor country like India, one is loath to make the investment of time required to become a world class player. This investment is not lucrative on its own and it usually means one falls behind in the normal rat race. To remedy this and to encourage people to take to sports, the government dangles various carrots to budding sportsmen. Instead of these sops remaining as means to entice players or to compensate them, these sops have become the sole rationale for getting into sports. One observes young children being pushed into esoteric and uncharacteristic (in India) sports like Archery and Fencing because these are the gateways to a secure non-sports-related career. The less widespread a particular sport, the more the possibility that one will easily become a national-level player.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Easy Rider by Dennis Hopper

Oh I'd rather go and journey where the diamond crest is glowing and
Run across the valley beneath the sacred mountain and
Wander through the forest
Where the trees have leaves of prisms and break the light in colors
That no one knows the names of...

And when it's time I'll go and wait beside a legendary fountain
Till I see your form reflected in its clear and jewelled waters
And if you think I'm ready
You may lead me to the chasm where the rivers of our vision
Flow into one another...

I will want to die beneath the white cascading waters
She may beg, she may plead, she may argue with her logic
And then she'll know the things I learned
That really have no value in the end she will surely know
I wasn't born to follow...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Plagiarism in Bollywood

Saw Body Heat (a 1981 noir by Lawrence Kasdan) yesterday and realized that the Hindi film Jism (a 2003 film by Amit Saxena, who hasn't directed before or since) is an almost exact sequence by sequence copy of this film, albeit with a lot of song and dance and poor acting.

What is surprising is that Jism was written (sic) by a top writer/director in Bollywood: Mahesh Bhatt (incidentally one of the closest followers of the anti-guru U G Krishnamurti). Mahesh Bhatt has made a lot of good films, and this blatant plagiarism (obviously without any attribution) has finished any respect that I had for him.

Plagiarism in Bollywood is quite prevalent. There is a specific website devoted to tracking this phenomenon: Bollycat.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Philosophy and Happiness

This article was prompted by a reading of the following eulogy of Jacques Derrida.

Noam Chomsky has also written about this, though from another angle. His article is available here.

Philosophy has become incredibly arcane and out of reach of a reasonably intelligent individual. Like modern Law and its practice, there are expert practitioners of philosophy not because they are lawful or philosophical or wise or clear, but because only they know what the terms mean, the terms whose obscurity keeps them in-demand and well-paid in their professions.

In the 20th century, and even more so in the 21st century, philosophy has become a discipline with its own highly specialized terms, theories, texts and testaments.

Academic philosophers, e.g. the French crop of post-x and post-y intellectuals and their American counterparts, have an astonishing degree of influence in the current debates on philosophy.

Philosophy is no longer a personal passion, it is just another subject, another specialization for one's arts degree. No doubt, one can find passionate academic philosophers, who become red in the face while arguing for or against a certain position. But that passion has nothing to do with their real lives. When they have won an argument, nobody has gained an insight which will enable them to be freer or happier. It probably will result in a published paper, at best.

The word Philosophy literally means "the love of wisdom". And the acid test of wisdom is how happily one can live in the world as it is. The wisdom that is inapplicable to real life is not worth the time spent upon expounding it.

Unfortunately, philosophy has become divorced from real life. It is a remarkable state of affairs that one can study philosophy and even teach it while all one does study and does teach is the history of western philosophical thought. Philosophy is now but another department in colleges and universities where dons and donnas debate whether the writings of philosopher x are convergent or divergent with the writings of philosopher y, whether one fashionable nonsense can be considered compatible with another fashionable nonsense.

The major philosophers of the day are professors in various universities around the world. They expound meaningful-sounding tomes on highly abstract positions, and nobody but qualified practitioners can make any sense out of them. I daresay I find Bailey and Love's Short Practice of Surgery a much better read than Sartre's Being and Nothingness.

In this age, examples of philosophers to practice what they preach have been conspicuous by their rarity. Is it because there is nothing to practice perchance, because it is all drivel anyway?

And when one does come across some acts of philosophers, they have been mostly symbolic events (e.g. returning a prize, making a statement, being a signatory to a petition, etc.) The question is not whether a philosopher should start fighting wars or start harvesting crops. Without a doubt, the philosopher's skill and expertise is mental and intellectual. The question is whether that skill remains engaged with the issues of one's own life and of the world at large, whether it brings clarity to a tangible problem beguiling oneself or others; or does that skill become a way to invent imaginary problems and then to solve them?

Wittgenstein was probably the last great western philosopher. His seminal works were not to create imaginary problems or to give opinionated and cross-referenced answers to abstract ones. In fact just the opposite. His whole life was a clarification of the various issues in philosophy as preventable confusions in the mind. In his very words:

"Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. Philosophy does not result in 'philosophical propositions', but rather in the clarification of propositions. Without philosophy thoughts are, as it were, cloudy and indistinct: its task is to make them clear and to give them sharp boundaries."

In the eastern regions of the world, philosophy was always subsumed by spirituality and the pursuit of mystical salvation, since that was the only way to permanent peace and happiness (or so the sages thought). Since this pursuit was so subjective, and reason and language were condemned as limited tools (or even evil), it never became a mutual activity. It remained deeply personal and incommunicable.

This also was unfortunate. If the west has gone into the rarefied echelons of institutionalized philosophy, the east has also not bothered to rise from the mystical subjectivity or spirituality. And both have become marginalized. Today, there are as few remarkable philosophers in the west (from whom one can learn anything of value), as there are remarkable sages in the east (from whom one can learn anything of value). The sages are repeating the same adages as those prevailing 3000 years ago, and the western philosophers are not making much sense anyway.

The marginalization is not of their influence, in fact spirituality and institutional philosophy are having a field time as far as attracting people is concerned. The marginalization relates to the complete absence of a meaningful or original contribution from the experts in both of them.

The uninitiated westerners as well as the easterners are still enchanted by their promises. Someone born in the west gets tired of the rat race and starts exploring eastern spirituality. And someone born in the east gets discontented, sheds off the yoke of "society" and organized religion and starts on a study of western thought or the practice of a particular meditation. Both spend many years scouring the field, and either reach a stage of delusion and denial where the original goal has been all but lost, or a state of bitterness where no solution is deemed possible or practical.

In my opinion, philosophy departments and the academic discipline of philosophy have become a self-perpetuating silliness. The teachers teach philosophy, and the students then start teaching other students philosophy without there being any meaningful contribution to human existence or without anyone being the wiser or happier or clearer due to their work. They can be replaced by the excellent postmodern essay generator and I don't think anybody will miss them.

And again, in my opinion, spirituality and the associated claptrap has become a self-perpetuating sickness. The masters kidnap their disciples' brains, and the best disciples then proceed to leech on others (it is a Multi-level Marketing Scheme) for the rest of their lives. There is monstrous corruption and exploitation in the spiritual circles. I will not touch about organized religion because most people I have talked to do see the stupidity of that.

Nobody is willing to admit that both philosophy (as it is now practiced in academia) and spirituality, are deeply flawed responses to the human desire for peace and happiness.

The pursuit of wisdom and the pursuit of happiness are two of the deepest passions of a human being. One must never forget one's goal that one had when one started studying philosophy or started seeking happiness. It is as if one came into the kitchen to get a glass of water but forgot all about it as one became engrossed in appreciating the various dishes and recipes on show. After a while, one may oneself not remember what one had come for in the first place. It is good to remind oneself again and again that one reaches one's destination not when one can spout endless wisdom, but when one is happy, harmless, clear and content.

While serious seekers will sooner or later give up what doesn't work and what doesn't make sense, it is without a doubt that many millions will spend many years of their lives sorting through the garbage. This waste of one's time is perhaps an unfortunate necessity for people to realize the garbage-ness of garbage.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Is Mr Jagadish Vasudev saying anything new?

Considered by his followers as the most brilliant new guru on the terrain, Mr Jagadish Vasudev (or Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev) has the following insights to offer:

You are not the body.

"These states are maintained for certain periods to establish the distinction between you and the body."

"To start with, you work with the body, then you move to the breath, then to the mind, then to the inner self."

"Those who go into Samadhi states beyond pleasant or unpleasant, or nirvikalpa, we always keep them in protected states as their contact with the body has become very minimal. The smallest disturbance, like a sound or a pinprick would dislodge them from their body."

Liberation is in a non-sensory world.

"Liberation means becoming free from the very process of life, birth and death. Liberation means becoming free form the basic structures of body and mind. For all these, the karmic structure is the string which holds them together."

Leave your intelligence at the door.

"You cannot understand the other dimension."

"The whole effort is to move to a different dimension. If that needs to happen, first you must stop understanding. You have to see that you cannot understand, and that there is no need to understand."

"As you get closer and closer to a master you become an utter fool."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls by Michael Haneke

71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance by Michael Haneke is a 1994 Austrian film. It is the last in his emotional glaciation trilogy. The first two films were the superlative Der Siebente Kontinent (The Seventh Continent) and Benny's Video.

In this trilogy, Haneke attempts to show how the insularity and lack of emotional connection with another human being leads to an inhuman, cold habitat. Violence, depression and separation are the seemingly inexplicable effects of this climate. In each of the three films, a very violent catastrophe happens as if without any motive. The art of the director in these films is he lets viewers get a full-on non-verbalized understanding of how that violence comes into being. The director attempts to show, very obliquely, that that violence had to happen.

The film can be naturally seen at two levels: the level of the wars (shown in news casts) happening in Eastern Europe and in the third world (the hot wars), and the empty, frustrated, alienated lives of the people living urban, middle class lifestyles in a modern city in Austria (the cold wars).

Weaving a masterful, disjointed narrative to a shattering climax, Michael Haneke illustrates that war and murder is inexplicable only if we don't see what is happening all around us. I disagree with him that there is something particularly wrong in the modern lifestyle so as to lead to violent outbreaks. He seems to imply that violence and war are the mass expressions of the modern emotional glaciation. War has been happening since the dawn of man, and the malaise is deeper than just the alienation of human beings in the post-industrial society.

What is instructive is to see how the modern lifestyle, and the technology, accentuate the separation in man, how this emotional disease is leading to an inhumanly pathological state of affairs.