Monday, December 26, 2005

The Winter of Our Discontent

December, or perhaps more precisely, winter seems to me the time for melancholy. A time when a peculiarity of the cold forces open an invisible pinhole deep within. When something about the cant of the light, that tepid, raw sunlight of the late afternoon that sinks you deeper into you. When you reach out... for something - anything. The air, getting drier with every breath, crackles with yearning, a longing always only beyond reach and sight. And then you burrow further into yourself and smile.

Winter is a time of wistfulness, of discontent. It brings forward the shortcomings of the past and makes me desire better; more, as it were. My need for something higher is only intensified in the winter but more often than not... the yearning is entirely unidentifiable. I don't know why the soul feels so fragmented or what more it desires. One would think that I dislike this feeling, this disjunction. But somewhere from these random shards emerges a cut, a line... which brings a seeping... spreading... ubiquitous... joy.

(Don't you think joy is much more a happy word than happiness/happy. Something about the way it rolls and trickles into the crevices of your mouth, perhaps.)

There is a loneness, an individuality about the winter which other seasons do not allow you. The monsoon is, in my experience, so much a shared exercise. A game of monopoly, in the dark of a murmuring late afternoon; numberless cups of chai (tea) in smoke circles; walking out in the rain to find that one man selling bhutta (corn on the cob) - and everyone feeling entirely pleased with themselves. But it is only in the winter, in its incisive isolation, that you can truly belong to and indeed, dwell in, yourself. And strangely, its melancholy beseeches understanding but forbids sharing. How do you share something that you don't quite understand?

In a different vein, I also think the melancholy of winter accentuates the appreciation of beauty - in every way definable - and I've always wondered, in the most satisfyingly circular manner: am I truly more vulnerable now or am I merely over-reacting, surrendering to the hyperbole I am usually so inclined to?

There is this lovely, lovely song by a young Algerian singer, Souad Massi, that's been making me feel so deliciously blue. The song is called Deb - which means heart-broken - and is the title track of her second album.

You can find a brief artist profile here and an interesting review of the album here. Should you want to hear the song, you can download it here. Please let me know what you thought - and this means you, all you lurkers who refuse to speak though each post asks you to - indeed you, who I should like very much to get to know. :-)

One last thought. Not mine but Camus'.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
—Albert Camus

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Midnight Epiphany

It is past midnight on Saturday when she rises from her bed to stand in the middle of the room, seeking purpose. It is a beautiful room, painted with colours chosen when she was sixteen. A tangerine wall looks sideways at bottle green curtains that move gently with the muttering undertones of night. At the head of a pile of mattresses, amber and gold blend intimately to slither off a clay jar and illuminate the ruins of settling into a new home.

There is no one here with her - but there should be. The overwhelming thought of the day.

Abruptly and silently, the weight of living alone in the big city bears down. She walks to the front door to slide heavy locks into place. Melancholia undulates in those twilight spaces as she makes her way back and settles into her bed and her book. Eighteen minutes later, the letters begin to lose meaning as her eyes lift into the corner cradled by the window sill and curtains.

Tonight, winter has come calling. Lying in bed, listening to the wind saying "rush, rush... but wait" and watching the street lights dancing their way into mosaics on the window pane. My tongue slides out a little. This moment tastes different. Not the vanilla of monotony but salty - like anticipation.

This moment smells of moonlight and peaches, taking birth into the sepia of this midnight.

This moment feels like blue ink drawn slowly... labouriously... beautifully... over scarlet paper into lines of wisdom and emptiness.

Like the underbelly of a fuzzy fruit. Grotesque and tantalizing.

Strange. To be brought, unawares and extempore, to the cusp of something big. Or something small. To feel the blue air and myself intermingling and coalescing to send something bursting forth into sudden, delightful... but hestitant animation.

How I ache this night. Simply living this moment. An eternity in this ephemeral epiphany. A riot of blue and scarlet, brown and copper, and green and tangerine.

For this night, dreamscapes of warmth and a whisper of peace. For this night, a journey to be begun... a road not yet taken. For this night, strength and fragility, forgiveness and surrender. For this night, memories. Old and worn, lovely and cherished.

For this night... may your rest be joyous.

She closes her book and switches off the light. Her smile warms the darkness and the street lights dance steadily on. In a heartbeat, she is asleep.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

On Technology

A friend was kind enough to send this brilliant article written by Umberto Eco in his column, La Bustina di Minerva, in the Italian news weekly, Espresso, in the September of 1994. I do not want to paste the entire text of an article into a post but this is something that I HAVE to share. This article is also something I did not find a hyperlink for - and I may not have looked around much!

Umberto Eco, professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologna, is one of those few writers whose authorship is an unmitigated joy to be involved in. And no matter how long his sentences or how waxiloquent you think his prose, he is a riveting and an utterly enlightening read. The only times I put The Name of the Rose down was to fill all the gaping holes in my education which, Eco so effortlessly exposed.

His writing is lyrical and witty, not something you would expect to find in a story of medieval religious intrigue and politics, set in a Italian monastery where a monk has been poisoned. A Franciscan monk, William of Baskerville, with his apprentice, Adso of Melk, has been sent to investigate the crime. Along the way, Jorge Luis Borges and Aristotle, the supression of knowledge and strong reasoning make for a enthralling journey. To say the least, the end is astonishing, and for any of you who think The Da Vinci Code is a good, well-researched book, I sincerely recommend you give The Name of the Rose a shot.

On a different note, the movie of the book is one of the few that attempts to do justice to the book. Personally, I do not see how that could ever be possible because the book is layered with stories within stories and you'd need to make a three week long film to do full justice to it. :-)

Among his other works, I savoured every word of Baudolino with its exquisite detail and subtlety and some of his essays and lectures on language and meaning sent me into raptures few writers, especially of the academic sort, can. However, I did not understand a word of Focault's Pendulum and am in the process of re-reading the book, this time hopefully to a modicum of comprehension.

When I grow up, I want to write like him - even if just one paragraph.

To meander back to the article on hand, I had myself a huge laugh at this one in the middle of mind-numbingly boring day at work and since I am in the business of technical writing, knowing the quirks of one side over the other, I found this even funnier!

I hope you enjoy this!


Friends, Italians, countrymen, I ask that a Committee for Public Health be set up, whose task would be to censor (by violent means, if necessary) discussion of the following topics in the Italian press. Each censored topic is followed by an alternative in brackets which is just as futile, but rich with the potential for polemic. Whether Joyce is boring (whether reading Thomas Mann gives one erections). Whether Heidegger is responsible for the crisis of the Left (whether Ariosto provoked the revocation of the Edict of Nantes). Whether semiotics has blurred the difference between Walt Disney and Dante (whether De Agostini does the right thing in putting Vimercate and the Sahara in the same atlas). Whether Italy boycotted quantum physics (whether France plots against the subjunctive).

Whether new technologies kill books and cinemas (whether zeppelins made bicycles redundant). Whether computers kill inspiration (whether fountain pens are Protestant). One can continue with: whether Moses was anti-semitic; whether Leon Bloy liked Calasso; whether Rousseau was responsible for the atomic bomb; whether Homer approved of investments in Treasury stocks; whether the Sacred Heart is monarchist or republican.

I asked above whether fountain pens were Protestant. Insufficient consideration has been given to the new underground religious war which is modifying the modern world. I find that whenever I tell people about it they immediately agree with me.

The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits.

It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach - if not the Kingdom of Heaven - the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.

DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself. Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It's true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions: When it comes down to it, you can decide to ordain women and gays if you want to.

Naturally, the Catholicism and Protestantism of the two systems have nothing to do with the cultural and religious positions of their users. ... One may wonder whether, as time goes by, the use of one system rather than another leads to profound inner changes. Can you use DOS and be a Vande supporter? And more: would Celine have written using Word, WordPerfect, or Wordstar? Would Descartes have programmed in Pascal?

And machine code, which lies beneath and decides the destiny of both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that belongs to the Old Testament, and is talmudic and cabalistic. The Jewish lobby, as always.