Tag Archives: philosophy

Truth is “Stranger” than . . .

Albert Camus, gagnant de prix Nobel, portrait en buste, posé au bureau, faisant face à gauche, cigarette de tabagisme.jpg

It may sound like the LAST thing you’d want to read right now, but in a weird way it could be the feel-good novel of the year. The Plague, by Albert Camus, is the story of a major city under siege by a deadly virus. Set in Oran, Algeria, in the 1940’s, it’s a graphic portrayal of a city suddenly infested with Bubonic Plague, strictly quarantined and cut off from the rest of the world. With little outside help, the city and its stunned residents must cope with the unreality of their situation alongside its very real threat to their lives. With contagion and corpses around every corner, the moral fiber of the populace is tested to its limits.

La Peste book cover.jpg

As in all his major writings, Camus questions the fundamental nature of life and death. As hard as it is to define those questions, the answers are even more elusive. But The Plague is a beautiful, yes beautiful, frightening and inspiring study of human nature in all its imperfection. And while we all want to escape, somehow, from the sadness and fear that right now bombard us from every direction, perhaps a deep dark look into the mirror of literary fiction is a truer escape, one that might comfort us longer and reflect a bit of light upon our path.

WHITE BIRD, by RUTA SEVO

“It’s an adventure you haven’t had yet, Thomas. Sit.”

Thomas smiled. He was thinking of his dog Sally.

For a long time I’ve had a fascination with westerners who expatriate themselves to remote places in the Asian Subcontinent. The way they make full and rich lives for themselves, steeped in eastern tradition, and yet often accomplish great things for the welfare of the local inhabitants, somehow intrigues me. I’ve heard some pretty amazing stories. Well, here’s a pretty amazing book:

Picture

In her novel White Bird, writer-scholar-translator Ruta Sevo skillfully explores the unusual demographics of present-day Nepal and the clash of cultures that confronts an American visitor and raises some very fundamental questions about what life is, or ought to be, all about. Thomas Rusak, the American, has come to Nepal with his brother’s ashes in search of the most meaningful spot for scattering them to the wind and rain. This mission turns, necessarily, into a search for his brother’s mysterious past in Nepal, a past that Thomas feels he must unearth in order to finally understand his brother and the lifelong complexities of their relationship. And Thomas cannot open up that past without intruding intimately into the lives of two extraordinary women.

As it turns out, Sevo tells this story with such pungent detail, such a “sensory onslaught” of Nepali life and landscapes, that it becomes more than just a story about individuals. It becomes a story about cultures. It becomes the equally mysterious search for the essence of that great magnetic pull that eastern philosophies have over westerners, who sometimes chuck it all for the rustic spiritual life in places like Nepal. Thus, White Bird is a dazzling, swooping mystery that lifts itself to different altitudes. Like all good mysteries, there may be answers for every question on one level, but ten questions for every answer on another.

Bow-Wow

I have decided to be a dog. Dogs don’t have a President. And they do just fine without one. Well, they could use a few more parks and a few less kennels.

Or a bird. Even better. Birds can fly above all this nonsense. They can fly to lakes or forests, over mountains or almost as high as the sun. Donald Trump cannot control the sunshine, or the land, or the oceans. Except for global warming, that is, which he won’t lift a finger for.

Our mistake is confusing reality with our society. You won’t find reality in this so-called world that we’ve created. Reality is in nature. It’s in the deserts and canyons and jungles and rivers. It’s in all the beautiful species who cohabitate. Go out and take a hike today, explore the hills, trees, whatever you can find. Be a dog. Chase a rabbit. Howl at the moon.

Ruff, ruff.

Old words, still true

Above all, innocence alone

Commands a kingdom of its own.

This kingdom needs no armed defense,

No horseman, nor that vain pretence

Of Parthian archers who, in flight,

Shoot arrows to prolong the fight.

It has no need of cannon balls

And guns to batter city walls.

To have no fear of anything,

To want not, is to be a king.

This is the kingdom every man

Gives to himself, as each man can.

Let others scale dominion’s slippery peak;

Peace and obscurity are all I seek. . .

Death’s terrors are for him who, too well known,

Will die a stranger to himself alone.

— Seneca, Thyestes (1st century A.D.) – translation by E.F. Watling