Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

With the new adaptation of this masterpiece released, I should refresh my memories a bit, before watching the movie, which had very mixed reaction from the followers of literature. I am not too keen to know what is the version of the movie fans. I haven't seen it yet. However, reading the book was important, as I have highly prejudiced view about film adaptation of literary works. 

In the year1925, after his stint the world war I, he wrote his third and most recognised novel , which encompasses all that he has seen and observed in the social strata of the US. The "roaring twenties' as it was called later which saw unprecedented growth of US economy, largely as a result of the post war boom, as well as the rise of the Jazz generation. His hero, Jay Gatsby, is the representation of all that a US youth stood for during the 20's. Highly ambitious, constantly on the look out for the ways to get rich and famous by whatever means, the need to be visible and recognised, urge for flamboyance and glamour and new ways of leading highly 'exaggerated' living with lavish parties. Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire living in the West Egg area of rich Long Island neighborhood , known for his extravagant parties. Nick Carraway, a World War I veteran now working in a New York financial firm, stays at the adjacent house of the vast mansion of Gatsby. The acquaintance of neighbors grew over a period, with Nick's fascination for Gatsby. On return , Gatsby request the help of young Carraway, to get his cousin Daisy Buchanan, already married to Tom Buchanan. Nick on his own carry a romantic relationship with an upcoming golfer Jordan Baker, being introduced to him by Daisy and Tom Buchanan. It is through Jordan, Nick ( and we the readers) gets to know glimpses of the early life of Gatsby and a 5 year old love affair he had with Daisy.  A love affair started at Louisville where  Gatsby an officer, did not go well as the once poor Gatsby ( then James Gatz) had to confront the realities of the rich and poor divide. While Gatsby was serving the war in Europe, Daisy marries Tom Buchanan, a n extremely rich , but brutal man and moves to New York. The rest of his life was focused on the pursuit of wealth . The 'grey' five years of his life, riddled with the death of his mentor, his shot to fame and richness, his dubious friends in the business. Once rich, he returns to New York, cleverly choose the location of his mansion, across the bay from the house of Daisy, living in East Egg , throwing lavish parties, hoping to meet Daisy. As his reputation grows, the speculation of his previous life is strife in the air and his which is attributed to his involvement in 'boot-legging' and other similar activities, but none of which prevented the crowd ( invited and many uninvited) from attending his parties. Daisy did appear, with some help from Nick, and the newly re-triggered love was again on flourish. In a dramatic incident this was made public to Tom himself.  The parties and various love affairs,  Nick with Jordan, Tom with Myrtle( wife of a motor workshop owner) and Gatsby with Daisy nourished amidst this  back ground and this conspicuous surrounding. All that seems to be good has to have an end, which came through a motor accident, resulting in the death of Myrtle, causing a chain reaction of incidents.

What is impressive about the whole book is it simplicity. The freshness of language and narration is intact nearly after 90 years and the interest is rekindled in the reading world with many screen adaptations ( six already).  The vibrant life of the 20s through  the characterisation of Gatsby and the general life style of the elite is depicted visually.  Nick Carraway, likely with many elements of the writer himself, mostly form as the catalyst, the distant observer to the world he is living. Despite the high living, there is a moral shallowness in Gatsby, his own knowledge of his unworthiness despite the money he flaunt, the feel of abandonment and loneliness ( all that who throng his parties have no connect to him in any emotional way , including his own employees in the mansion) he feels within him. Nick, then become his only confidant, despite the reluctance of Nick to be in that circle, knowing his own limitations.  

Fitzgerald wanted to writer ""something new--something extraordinary and beautiful and simple + intricately patterned." and that is what he has done. At the outset, it is a typical love and lost story with a tragic end. As a clever writer, Fitzgerald distances himself from the morality of the tale and at no point tries to win sympathy for his main character. Many characters is retained as 'superficial' as they appear to us with no attempt to get into their psyche. Even, the elusive Gatsby, despite the attempt from Nick Carraway, is not revealed in complete personality. For traditional readers, we find it difficult to accept a completely developed characterisation. To me, the brilliance of the writer is here, in not allowing you to grow your affection on his hero, and  keep a distance between the character , plot and the reader.  Even the narration- the first person narrative of Nick Carraway-  is fast paced. Little gem of a book.
The Great Gatsby ( 1925 )

F Scott Fitzgerald

Heritage Publishers

173 Pages

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mastery - Robert Greene

"Mastery is not a function of genius or talent. It is a function of time and intense focus applied to a particular field of knowledge."

For those who are familiar to Robert Greene's books, this will be an extention. I have liked reading the previous three books and that prompted me to take this up for read. What I like in his style of writing is the way they are organised. Unlike the typical management, business or self help kind of books which are too verbose to my comfort, Greene writes in a style which is more subtle and with examples from personalities which are well known in the fields of their own expertise. After a brief narration on the chosen one, he links the points of discussion effortlessly , giving possible 'reversal' angle as well.

This book, supposed to be the resulted from the previous three books. He noticed the similarities in the way the 'heroes' he studied and described went about in their life to be what they are known for. The path, method and progress can be constructed in to a structured model.  Continuing his work on this aspect of their life, Greene came about the theory on "Mastery".  From the life of some of the masters of yester years and by interviewing some of the celebrities of current ( living) generation, the books comes out with the steps that can be generalised in the path to mastery. 

the evolution of mastery begun with the primates. The human brain started developing, differentiating themselves from the animals in the early stone age. The improvement in techniques of hunting, the use of stones and woods , shaped to assist the hunt might be the earlier significant steps towards the 'evolution of Mastery". The social intelligence came in much later, thus making human a much more evolved species. We continued to develop and horn our skills to achieve greater levels of mastery over the generations.

There are three steps in the life of any work / task or learning. The first is the acquaintance phase, where one need to get acclimatized to the surroundings , the task and the people. The second phase is that of apprenticeship where you start learning the skill. It is during this phase of 'life' you strive towards mastery. It's often painstaking and laborious. It demand commitment and dedication and most importantly guidance. The post mastery phase is the phase of 'creative output' , which is the reflection of all that you are learned and practiced over many many hours or years.

Greene summarizes the path to mastery into 6 steps, detailed into different chapters.

Discover Your Calling: The Life’s Task
Submit To Reality: The Ideal Apprenticeship
Absorb The Master’s Power: The Mentor Dynamic
See People As They Are: Social Intelligence
Awaken The Dimensional Mind: The Creative-Active
Fuse The Intuitive With The Rational: Mastery

Citing examples from the lives of Mozart, Charles Darwin, Einstein, Goethe  and new age masters like V S Ramachandran ( neuro sciences), Daniel Everett ( Linguist) , Paul Graham, Yoki Matsuoka ( Artificial intelligence and robotics) ,Freddie Roach( Boxing) and many others, each chapter elaborate into the nuances of the respective aspect of mastery.

While there are questions raised on some of the practicality of the aspects, the overall suggestions are pretty interesting. Fairly easy read, and engaging through out. No jargons or 'registered' phrases. Dense, but not as rich as the the other books : there are no side notes nor any microprinted quotes. But, a good read nonetheless.
Mastery ( 2012 )

Robert Greene

Profile Books

336 Pages
Wiki, LA Times

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Point Omega - Don DeLillo

Omega Point : describe a maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which he believed the universe was evolving, says the description. A word coined by  French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin , says the universe is moving towards a point of supreme complexity and consciousness at all the time. Don DeLillo, reversing the words order, trying to tell us that there is no evidence of a super consciousness, but in the 'time, space and substance' triangle its the chaos that reign. “Consciousness is exhausted. Back now to inorganic matter. This is what we want. We want to be stones in a field.”

Richard Esler, a defence scholar and consultant, worked with the CIA in the days prior to the Iraq War, is now retired and living an isolated life in the deserts of California, in an attempt to find possibly the 'point omega', a spiritual life, in search of himself and the wisdom of self awareness. Jim Finley, a small time film maker, wants to direct a documentary film about Richard Esler, and to gain insights to the world of military intelligence and war. Tracking him down the desert, Jim attempt to get Esler talk, wanting to record his film in a natural free flowing monologue, as and when and how the reluctant  Esler like to do it.  In the pages that follows is the high level of intellectual setting, where two confront each other and lift themselves to the level of complexities regarding the various aspects of life and war. Esler, was to conceptualize the war as a haiku. "I wanted a war in three lines...".  Eslers, daughter joins them a few days later, adding to the overall setting in the isolated desert, being sent by her mother( estranged wife of Esler) in order to get her out of the influence of a possible stalker( lover?). The otherwise, slow sparse narrative takes a definite turn with the disappearance of the lady and the following search in the vast desert for possible clue.

The novel starts with an anonymous entry of a movie screening of the '24-hour psycho' where a man leaning against the wall is watching ( continuously for the 6 days, the exhibition was running) the various people coming and going in the hall. As he observe the slow 2 frame per second psycho unfold on the screen, we see various specimen of the society walk in and out , which supposedly include people that resembles Esler and Jim , Eslers daughter, who gives him her contact without revealing her name among others. There are different readings into the anonymity chapters, which can in a way initiate ( in the first) and solve the overall puzzle of the disappearance and there after.

Typical to DeLillo's writing, the words are sparse, the sentences are crisp and moulded in the high intellect and complexity. There isn't strong story line to say. The interpersonal conversations are generally tense and had uneasy space in between. The silences and omitted sentenced ( I dont know if that is the right way to put it) are often provide the connection. The language and the prose are very lyrical and attractive. But, the air of uncertainty, unclear nature continue to torment the readers, especially in the middle pages where every thing is vague, directionless, pretentious and very artificial.

Point Omega ( 2010 )

Don DeLillo


117 Pages
Wiki , Shigekuni

Sunday, June 09, 2013

പ്രണയത്തിന്റെ മൂന്നാംകണ്ണ് - K V Mohankumar

Dropping off his education, in search of 'nirvana', the ultimate truth , Rahulan starts his journey away from his dear and near. He need to find a Guru, who could guide him to the path of 'nirvana'. At home, in Muchiri, the preparation of his return, as 'graduate' is in full swing. His father was working for the biggest trader of the port. Upon his death, Rahulan and his mother was living under the protection and support by the Trader. Jabala, the daughter of the trader is pursuing her love for Rahulan and their wedding is on the cards, awaiting the triumphant return of the boy after his studies. He is expected to lead the team and the ship on its scheduled journey and Jabala, preparing to join him on his right side. However, the wait is of no positive consequences. Rahulan had different plans. He is now a wanderlust, in search of the path to 'Buddhahood', seeking direction in his path to nirvana and looking for someone who will lead him there. His journey ends at a 'black-smith' girl, who takes him through the spiritual journey of 'ultimate love and desire' interpreting this as the union of souls and bodies in the supreme coherence of power, through which you approach the divinity and 'nirvana'. In completion of her prescribed task of guiding him through this phase, she return to her folds, saying all that is to be learned in the 'paths of 'tantra' is now been imparted to him and hehas to fend for himself. Rahulan continues his travel through the world for the final salvation and the one-ness with the universe. In this phase of his life, he continue to meet people whom he was encounters in his pre-yogic days, including his mother ( who dies in his hand, savouring the last drops of water poured by him) and finally Jabala herself, Captaining the ship on his absence.

The book is inspired by 'tantric Buddhism', and an attempt to merge the mystical and spiritual world of Buddha to the world of  'Osho'. At one side, the quest for 'nirvana' and on the other the 'liberation of self through fulfilling the desire of the physical body through the five sensory organs'. The premise and the context of the book is interesting.

I would like to look at the book ( and his writing) in two parts. The Two parallel tracks he was trying to carry through the book, with a possible and predictable convergence. The parts of Muchiri, with ever waiting 'soul mate', his mother and the port and trade community in general was beautifully written. On the other part, the one with Rahulan's quest for 'nirvana' and the resulting spiritual 'endeavor' in general wasn't as free flowing. At many places it felt forced and superficial. The inner turmoil, the constant doubt on himself and the path he has chosen, the uncertainty regarding the 'Guru' and 'karma' ( in the real sense of work) oriented learning of the 'truth' instead of 'dhyana' oriented approach etc are written and accounted very well. How ever, the tight narrative, to me looses its sheen, when it comes to the 'sensory love', the one-ness of body and soul, the spiritual emancipation of the desires, living the physical and sensual life to the extreme under the guise of mystical reunion of  the plough and the land ( a metaphor appear through out the book ): while it looked good as a theme, it wasn't very appealing in the end.

K V Mohankumar , IAS Officer and presently the District Collector of Kozhikode. He is not new to literature, having published many books already. I haven't read any of his previous books. From what I seen in this book is that he is good at his work. Though the theme he choose to explore is a bit vague and in the end did not deliver to the promise it created at the beginning, the parts of Muchiri and parallel track were beautifully written.

പ്രണയത്തിന്റെ മൂന്നാംകണ്ണ്  ( 2012 )

K V Mohan Kumar

D C Books

184 Pages
The Hindu, Penmai