Law Of Chance

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That which they called Providence,
A divine scheme of God’s purposes,
Was the handiwork of Fair Fortune,
The ancient idea of lucky chances
Of adventures and misadventures,
Knocking the doors of a poor man’s hut
With a pouch of lucky stars regardless
Of what the world saw for his worth,
Pacifying his ills of grief and grievances.

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The doctrine of providence that a man’s life was an intricate handiwork of God’s mysterious purposes was a tenet of protestantism which, as a countercultural way of resisting medieval Catholicism, advocated zealous work ethics in an effort to combine a practical faith with an active self-reliance and independence. That riches and authority came of men’s industry and diligence, of their labor and travails, not of miracles as a result of mechanical recitations of prayers and devotions to saints was the canonical principle of the reformed church. However, the folks who were not well-off, not-too-rich, poor, and very poor never subscribed to the doctrine of providence. They still clang to the concept of luck because it accounted for any misfortune befalling them only regardless of merits and efforts when others wayward seemed to prosper. By believing in luck or chance that reformists condemned, he who in travails did not have to japadarize his self-esteem as something of a metal analgesic against the strains of his contemporary life, lest he should fall by the wayside, and thus could reconcile himself to the environment he lived. Hence this belief in luck survived the seismic protestant reformation and still thrives on in our time. 

The Sun Also Rises – short story/novella

IMG_3826“Hello, this is Sally Lamb of 62 Errant Terrace, Apt 1C, Ritterford. May I speak to someone in the accounting department?” Sally really did not want to call her apartment management company. She would avoid calling them at any cost because it was operated by the descendants of Scrooge; or so they seemed. Despite the fact that Sally had been a conscientious tenant who paid her monthly rent fees on time, the company never responded to her requests for any repair of out-of-order fixtures through no fault of her own. Their response was always uniformly scripted as thus: “Put it in writing.”  She had acceded to the blimpish command  as dutiful tennant to landlord, but she then gave up pleading for any mercy with the shylock company. You see, it took Sally’s guts to call the management and asked for the particularly supercilious woman dealing with her apartment matters.

IMG_3790“Yes, what is the matter?” the usual callousness of the woman on the other line punctured her heart, but Sally tried to muster what vestige of courage left in her spirit. She was Lamb to the slaughter. “Yes, I just would like to know when you can pay me back for the overpayment of my apartment rent fees? Can I get it next week?” Upon decanting what had troubled her spirit and soul for long, Sally was still unsure if she had done the right thing because she had a premonition that the request would be thwarted. “No, it will not happen soon. You have to wait at least for 30 days to get your money back. It’s our company policy!” Then came silence on the other line. The minion of Scrooge hung up on Sally after shooting off her mouth. This made Sally godforsaken and dumbfounded. How could anyone possibly do such an inhumane thing? Sally wondered if that woman would still attend Sunday morning Mass tomorrow and receive the Communion for the sake of her family and her shamelessly haughty self.

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Sally became distraught, but her spirit resisted being downtrodden. Fretting over tomorrow and languishing over what happened will do nothing good for me. Come on, Sally. you know it better than anyone. Cheer up! Emboldened by her ever resilient spirit, Sally got herself together and changed her cloth to get out of her delipidated apartment and headed for Snoopy’s on Main Street to get fresh coffee and a cake. When Sally got there, Ms. Long, the spinster owner of the coffee shop, greeted Sally in a way a loving grandmother would do when seeing  her dear granddaughter. Ah, that touch of love and kindness touched Sally’s heart. Sally wondered what if she would have only heart not intelligence like a kind of sweet imbecile; would the condition enable her to deal with strains of daily life easily, since the brain would not command “pain” to the neurons in the senses? ‘Oh, just forget about all the worries for now, and let me enjoy this moment of comfort and warmness. For didn’t Jesus say “Do not worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will worry about itself, and each day has enough trouble of its own”?  Well, I have experienced a day’s woe and endured it, so no more anxiety is granted. It’s all in the past now. ‘ Thereafter, Sally began to read a new issue of this week’s The Spectator.

thanks-for-reading-Rok-Hardware

 

‘Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of Reading Brain’, by Maryanne Wolf – review

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading BrainProust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The act of reading is a noble achievement of mankind that has been developed through a succession of ages; it is a collective biological, cultural, and spiritual progress because human beings were never born to read according to Maryanne Wolf in Proust and the Squid. Wolf guides the reader in the capacity of a learned cicerone to the ancient worlds of Sumer, Egypt, and Greece to show us the cultural history and the neurological development of reading through a succession of ages. Wolf’s provocative theory that we were never meant to be natural readers corresponds to Darwinian evolutionary theory in terms of its illuminating reconstruction of fundamental beliefs in the reading brain that we take for granted in this book about the magic and mechanism of reading.

As the title of the book indicates, Wolf’s analysis of the history and development of reading encompasses the two dimensions in the reading process. – biological/neuronal as symbolized by the squid with tentacles of each different function vis-a-vis cognitive/spiritual by Marcel Proust, a French visionary writer who sublimated a reading experience into a sovereign miracle of transcendence into a spiritual realm. These two complementary dimensions in reading process are a testament to evolutionary traits of our reading brain and our innate spiritual essence that is our prerogative. Wolf starts with explaining the neurons and the brain structure responsible for decoding letters and grasping their meanings in coherent linguistic arrangements. We come to understand the context of reading by dint of retinotopic organization of the eyes and capabilities of neural circuits until the received information reaches the frontal lobe, the control room of all our cognitive activities. What seems to happen in a blink of eye is the grand beginning of a wondrous phenomena of human psyche from the moment of perceiving letters to passing over to the world of the book itself and mind of the writer. In fact, this reading brain is an epigenetic manifestation, which explains a modification in our genes can upend the whole functions of neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to rewire the connections between neurons) and neurogenesis (the ability of the brain to form a new neuron). The epigenetic revolution in the brain started with the invention of writing in the form of Sumerian cuneiform developed out of accounting necessities. Then came the Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Phoenician, Linear B Script of Crete, the Greek, and the modern day global lingua franca English, and what’s more fantastic is that the evolution still continues in our time.

The leitmotif of this book is to know the history and development of our reading brain, which are a remarkable collective human biological, cultural, and cognitive progress, and to preserve it against the prohibitive surge of the Internet on which we mindlessly surf the on-screen letters for instant information. Wolf’s concerns about the increasing dependency on the Internet for easy information relate to Socrates’ disagreement to the encouragement of reading at the time when the ancient Greece was in transition from the oral tradition into the written culture. It was not that Socrates was a Greek version of luddite against reading, but that he distrusted the effects of the written words to become internalized knowledge itself in the minds of readers because by reading, readers would absorb the letters without wholly understanding the gist of the meanings. The mutual misgivings of Wolf and Socrates are understandable, but I opine that they stem from the unfamiliarity of the new modes of learning at their incipient development. Just as Socrates were unfamiliar with the power of the written words as an unlocking key to the inner dialogue with the mind of the other, Wolf seems to magnify the manifest and latent dysfunctions of the Internet that can be used as an effective educational tool for spreading knowledge under sagacious guidance. For instance, nowadays volumes of classic literature can be retrieved from the Internet, let alone be downloaded as e-books on Kindle. Books are books in whatever form they are fashioned. A book is merited by its content, not by its design or form. Moreover, it’s up to the reader’s ability to merit the content of the book and to reach the most profound realm of spiritual experience, which Wolf seems to disregard.

Perhaps, Wolf should have considered the case of Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Roman Catholic priest who volunteered to die instead of a married Polish man in a Nazi concentration camp; he was all for the advantages of modern technological inventions, such as films and radios, to use them for the benefits of mankind under wise discretion, instead of worrying about the presumed dysfunctions. All of the human inventions are neutral, and whether or not they are harmful to our human enterprise boils down to our own wisdom and guidance of how to use them to our advantage.

Written in a kindly tone of an altruistic scholar trying to explain the modus operandi of the reading brain and process as easily as possible, the book is not entirely intended for the uninitiated without  basic knowledge of neurological terms and the brain structure in the background information on the ancient civilizations. Also, Wolf’s frequent dichotomy between the Chinese language and the English language in attempt to differentiate the neuronal and cognitive functions in the mechanism of the reading brain is less effectual than her assumed efficacy, for the syntaxes of the two languages are not totally apples and oranges. It could have been more apt for Wolf to pinpoint a language whose grammatical structure is wholly different – say, Japanese or Korean belonging to the Ural-Altaic lingual family that also includes Turkish, Finnish, and Hungarian – from English of the Indo-European lingual family.

Notwithstanding the dissension as aforesaid, the book is an informative guide to the history of how our brain has been geared to read through the ages, which speaks to the wondrous capabilities of the brain and the infinite varieties of the human mind that is always in progress of evolution. All in all, the book transforms an act of reading to an act of magicking in the panoply of the biological, cognitive and spiritual dimensions that creates the wonders of connecting us to the minds of the others in solitude, uniting us with the souls of the book, and thus making us a citizen of the world. For this reason, we become what we read, and we are never the same ones we were before reading the books of our choice. And Wolf wants to make sure we know of this secret magic of reading. That is the beauty of this book.

‘Goodbye to Forty-Eighth Street’, by E.B. White – review

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To come upon E.B White’s essay “Goodbye to Forty-Eighth Street” could not have been more opportune than at the time when I was in the middle of sorting out flotsam and jetsam of the paraphernalia that imperceptibly commandeered in my dilapidated apartment over the years. The logistics of moving from one place to another is, I think, really a Herculean task of clearing the famously filthy Augean stables; you have to decide which ones to discard or bring along with to your new habitat, which you would not find easier than you presumed. Then there comes the physical exertion of putting the stuff into boxes or thrash bags before movers come and have those lucky select items of yours shipped out to your new domicile. In peculiar synchronicity of literature, White’s musings on this task of dispensing the contents of  the apartment chimes the bells of my feelings and thoughts in tandem.

I ditto to White’s witty comparison of a home to a “reservoir equipped with a check valve that permits influx but prevents outflux” on account of its being filled up with the detritus of the sundry things that have come to me and clung to me even though many of them escaped my radar of affection quite a long time ago. Maybe I don’t have the guts to throw it all away, but as those things now all of sudden show me a phantasmagorical display of the memories of how they came to me, it’s most likely that I will bring them with me to my new place.  I believe that whatever you have possessed for a long time or wherever you have lived for long, you have ingrained a vestige of your spirit, your inner parts in them, willed or unwilled. It’s called “place memories,” imprinting part of you to the outside of your world. Thus you become part of that something, and that something part of you.  Come to think of it, wouldn’t these place memories also become ghosts themselves in haunted places?… Just a thought.

The solitary process of upending the apartment would have been brutally lonely and cruelly vexing were it not for my fortuitous reading of the essay by Mr. Whites whose own moving experience strikes the chords with me. That’s the joy of reading: you get a fresh viewpoint of your own matters, making you feel you are not alone in it. With this uplifted encouragement, I shall complete the Aegean task of moving out before heading for my new sunshine destination in less than a month.

She bewitches Marc Anthony

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All about her beggared all description,
For she was none other than herself
Femininity incarnate vested in erudition
That no other woman could ever excel.

Her beauty was a perfect federation of
Sensuality and Intelligence dazzlingly
Pleasingly enchanting all in the contact
With the Last Hellenistic Queen of the Nile.

One day, she rode in a gilded barge with sails
Dressed as Venus with her entourage as cupids
And nymphs to meet a Roman general who was
Marc Anthony with untamed virility like Hercules.

For her own person as Venus, the goddess of love
And beauty, she bewitched the general and made
Him her slave of love with all her charms spelled
With the most delightful voice he had ever heard.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Last night, I read an anecdote of how Cleopatra encountered Marc Anthony for the first time as described by Plutarch in The Lives. The most interesting thing I learned about the proverbially seductive queen was that she was not exactly a gorgeous woman with a face that would launch a thousand ships. Rather it was her demonstration of all-around erudition, intelligence of speaking a variety of languages in such an euphonious voice, and her general demeanor, all of which curiously made her enchanting to anyone in contact with her.

This irresistible charm of Cleopatra corresponds to the principles of aestheticism expounded by Thomas Aquinas, which are: (1) Element of being – her existence as a woman; (2) Actuality of Form –  her presence as a woman achieved a higher level of perfection in its form by being beautiful to the degree in which she perfectly attended to the form of femininity; and (3)  Actuality of Action – the manifestation of her intelligence contributed to the perfection of her beauty as regards the aforesaid principles by grounding beauty in whatever she did, thus making her being a beautiful person.

I think Cleopatra was more beautiful and real femme fatale than Helen of Troy, who was said to have a face that launched a thousand ships. It seems to me that Cleopatra’s attractiveness will be no less appealing to the eyes of the modern men than those of the ancient men.