Tag Archives: book reviews

Lifeline advice from Francis Bacon

Some wise people take shadows for true substances. Like medieval mounted knights in body armors, they skillfully protect themselves from the exploitation of their true substances in everyday interaction with the people they are forced to work with. How the wise accomplish this art of shielding amounts to an art of war in its defensive and offensive strategical tactics as well as to a discipline of cognitive behavioral therapy in its practical approach to noogenic neurosis or existential crisis. English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) knew all about this intricacies of human nature in conflict with existential planes, ergo he advised to the posterity how to keep our individuality from pressure of false conformity under the pretext of socialization.

According to Bacon, simulation and dissimulation are an armor and a shield to guard oneself from being a subject of malicious gossip or cruel bullying, if used wisely. The dichotomy of two principles is simple: simulation as being what he is not. That is, he pretends to be someone he’s not. Dissimulation as being what he is not by way of concealment. However, simulation and dissimulation should not be confused with signs of diffidence or cowardice. On the contrary, it is for the benefit of anyone whose softness is often mistaken for weakness, his hamartia in all things he hopes to achieve. In fact, Bacon posed the advantage of simulation and dissimulation as thus: (1) to quell opposition and to surprise – that is, being a wolf in sheepskin can be a good thing in social interaction as long as you do not hurt anyone with claws and teeth; (2) to reserve a fair retreat to a man’s self – which means by concealing himself to a certain measured degree, he can protect himself in a situation that he feels inappropriate to him. It’s better kept to yourself in a situation that feels and seems a bit averse to you; and (3) to discover the mind of another by letting the other party open himself and turn his freedom of speech to freedom of thought. Simply put, let the other one do the talking until the tower of barbel rings the bell of the talker’s mind to retreat into his chamber of thought. In the end you will remain unsullied by the pompous self-revelation.

As a coin has two sides to it, the principles have the disadvantage that is inescapable. It casts a shadow of fearfulness that discourages people to flock around the quiet one. Also, it transmits a false impression on others who might otherwise corporate with the the reserved one, which then unfortunately begets a deprivation of camaraderieship or closeness that the thoughtful one does not deserve. Hence, it will be the best to concoct doses of (1) prepossessing demeanor; (2) secrecy in habit; and (3) concealment in use – all for the power to feign, so as not to get hurt unnecessarily by those whose intellect, characters, personalities, and habits do not amount to your class and thus are unworthy of even tying your shoelaces. Bacon’s elegant treaty of simulation and dissimulation may seem heretical, treacherous even to the minds of today’s world where stark self-revelation is highly prided and treasured as a modus operandi of self-empowerment paddled by motivational speakers, clinical social workers, therapists, celeb-turned authors, etc… However, of all the chanting mantras of “being yourself”, Bacon’s method of being yourself by means of simulation and dissimulation to guard your most sacred mental sovereignty is still powerfully resonant with its practicality that strikes the hearts of those whose mildness is used against by the rabble.

for love of a tabby

praying-cat

Praying cats

As a dog person who always has a soft spot for the man’s best friend, I tend to give a rather stoic glance on a cat that seems so high and aristocratic to reciprocate my regard. Cats are the cool, agile, cynical, and independent lords of the households, the poised and legal Pharisees of the animal kingdom. Yet a comparison of superiority between the canine and the feline is a puerile way to exert one’s favoritism of one species to another, which is reminiscent of eugenic theory of a superior race aggressively peddled by intellectuals in the early 20th century. That said, this note on cats reflects my findings of cats as man’s timeless companions in historical contexts, casting different lights over their stereotypical sinister image that I had about them.

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Mohammad and Muezza

Cats as a symbol of witches betray the fact that a revered religious figure such as Prophet Mohammad was very fond of a cat. So much so that his pet cat named Muezza was treated with the utmost tenderness. It is said that Mohammad used to shiver without his cloak in the cold rather than disturbing sleeping Muezza. Further to the Mohammedan episode of his beloved cat, cats have a sacred pedigree in Christianity as well. It is said that a local tabby, after a fresh wash, instinctively jumped in and laid down next to Baby Jesus. The cat’s warmth and soothing purr, all the more added by a pleasing after-wash scent, were conducive to an undisturbed sleep of the baby. In fact, researchers claim that letting a cat sleep on your bed at night will relieve you of symptoms of insomnia due to its calming purring sound that sends relaxing positive signal waves to your mental as well as physiological wavelength.

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C.S. Lewis and his Cat

C.S. Lewis, Author of the Chronicles of Narnia, also loved cats and had a stray cat he loved tenderly. Every morning he took his hat off when greeting his cat with pleasantly resonant “Good morning.” Moreover, when his veterinarian told Lewis to euthanize the cat due to its senility, the great Lewis refused to do so and nursed the cat for years until it finally met its creator.

Baby-Jesus-and-the-tabby-cat-artCome to think of it, cats have appealed to the fountains of imagination and boundless perception in the human mind. The ancient Egyptians worshiped the lithe beauty of cats that distinguished itself from other animals. Edgar Allen Poe also saw something magically fascinating in a feline creature as his creative muse in literature. For me cats do not seem to be as cold, arrogant, and coquettish as they used to be. I even say hi to my neighbor’s big beautiful cat in sight, although it sends me a quizzical look as if I were a Prodigal Daughter. But above all, now I think that not only dogs but also cats will go to heaven.

solo button for joe meek, really

JoeMeek

Joe Meek at work (from google)

I had thought Joe Meek as an imaginative character in the eponymous title of electronic music by Matmos until I came upon an article about the real Joe Meek from this month’s History Revealed. Since I liked the music, I read it with relish, which was also a great pleasure entertaining a long commute time on the last train home after work. It was indeed worth the reading because the article was both informative in telling about this highly sensitive artist who was ahead of his time and reflective in leaving the reader to ponder about what rushed into to cancel his own fate in his own hand.

Joe Meek was an innovative and unique record producer in 1960s, but he was more of a maverick figure in the music industry because of his uncompromising individuality in musical taste paired up with his blazing volatile temper, which were attributed to his thespian epilogue. But according to the article, the most capital assumed factor contributing to the tragedy of Meek was said to be his homosexuality in the time when it was an illicit tendency of warped minds and degenerate souls that belonged to Sodom and Gomorrah. That is to say, shoehorning obsession with sexuality into the sine qua non of a man’s demise is a non sequiter without considering other evidentiary elements.

It seems that Meek had cultivated the trauma of violently depressed, pitifully unstable childhood into a grand unified theory of self-loathing that in turn became self-indulgence to an inordinate measure. It was more of a lack of parental love and support in his childhood that fueled Meek’s high-strung disposition like an unquenchable prairie fire in wilderness. It is a precipitately formulated hypothesis that Meek’s tragedy ensued from his paranoia of persecution of homosexuals in his time. For a panoply of unpleasing manifestations, including alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive copulation, enduring guilt, and an inability to form a lasting emotional relationships, are also shared with heterosexuals. To me what Joe Meek suffered from was his inner conflicts with his unhappy past, his sovereign artistic sensibilities that made him uncommunicative and estranged, and his sense of insecurity, all pitchforked in existential reality of life where he as an indie producer had to constantly worry about what to do next if his records did not produce lucrative results. To corroborate this hypothetical theory, Joe Meek was said to have a Janus personality, redolent of the characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because he was also a very affable person with polite manners and a sense of good humor in to the bargain.

Such a man of complex inner world is often prone to fatal mental breakdown, which happened to Joe Meek. What carried Meek over the last sacristy of his sanity was his being interrogated by the police for the infamous “Suitcase Murder,” an epochal murder plastering the headlines of the media in January 1967 when the raped and dismembered body of 16-year-old Londoner named Bernard Oliver was found in two suitcases near the city. The police was hell bent on investigating all homosexuals in the city, especially the high profiles ,one of whom was the unfortunate innocent Joe Meek. Consequently and patently, the Inquisition let loose his sanity, resulting in his shooting his landlady and ending his own life thereafter. He was only 37 years old.

Therefore, to conclude that it was all about his homosexuality and nothing more causing his tragic end seems to ignore other more mental, spiritual, and existential matters that Meek must have struggled with. A spiral of loneliness, insecurity, frustration, and disorientation was Joe Meek’s quagmire, and from this quagmire in turn came his own killing field. “See though fear. Face the fear. Recognize a lie or a masquerade for what it is and deal it with a mortal blew,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson during his lecture to young men. But sadly, Joe Meek was too beaten down in harsh existential life where he felt unwelcome all the time despite his great artistic achievements. Thus, to end himself seemed to be the only escape from emotional turmoils, “for who would bear the whips and scorns of time… the pangs of despised love… when he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin?” –Hamlet, Act III, sc I.

Author’s Note: This writing is based upon my review of an article about Joe Meek from this month’s historical magazine History Revealed. Normally, I would bypass an article of similar nature, but this one held my attention for the following reasons: (1) Joe Meek’s dilemmas ensued from his inability to cope with the demands imposed on daily tasks in life due to a constant grip of depression and anxiety;  and (2) application of Freudian psychoanalysis on his miserably repressed sexuality in public to the proximate cause of his tragedy disregards the more essential elements of humanness. For these reasons, I felt pathetic toward his life, and thus wrote this writing.

‘A Pale View of Hills’, by Kazuo Ishiguro – review

A Pale View of HillsA Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Being biliterate and bicultural gives a writer a magical third eye to look into the universality of truth of humanity, the commonality of the standard of sentiments and judgment, under a veneer of anthropological ramifications of tribalism. It’s something of a textual witchcraft of the writer to see through the minds of one culture and the other and to conjure up One Whole Mind in the peculiar alchemy of literature. However, it’s a tricky craft that requires consummate narrative skills without infelicity of awkward expressions. That is why A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro, an English writer born in and moved from Nagasaki, Japan at the age of five, reigns supreme as a master storyteller in a class of his own writing that holds the curiosity of the reader throughout this mysteriously haunting and enduring story of a woman living in the blurry boundary of the past and the present.

Told by a first protagonist narrator named Etsuko, a Japanese woman living in an English countryside alone, it is a continual fugue of recollections, ironies, visions, and imaginations translated into an elliptical and atmospheric elegy of a woman with the feeling of being adrift on a life sea, trying to come to terms with a surrendering of the past that binds her to the memories of the calamities and absurdities all by herself in a land that shares no common history of her own. In fact, Etsuko’s narrative becomes her own story house, her own Mathom House, a museum of mental paraphernalia filled with the flotsam washed up by the past. All the apparatus therein is the detritus of her convoluted residues of all the memories of Japan, devastated by the calamities of World War II that has become part of her. The result of her story is a spiritual effect of exorcising a knocking spirit in the house that wanted to possess her body and mind altogether locked up in the feelings of guilt, regret, disappointment, and frustration.

Drawing on a wealth of imaginations based upon his own cultural backgrounds, Ishiguro creates a polyphonic work that elegantly interweaves multiple strands of historical, spiritual, and cultural contexts into a wholly solipsistic experience with his cracking narrative skills worth the reading. The best of all, Ishiguro writes with an intention to tell a story of an individual with whom the reader can associate or is familiar in daily life. His characters are felt real, and the words he employs are fluid and elliptical. Which is to say that his world of literature is quite existential but also imaginative. Just as Charlotte Bronte pronounced her identity as a”writer” not as a “woman writer” on her authorship of Jane Eyre, Ishiguro is an English writer whose subjects are universal and common to all as regards the principle of sentiments and reason. Nothing is alienating but everything is encompassing, which is why this book is appealing to the reader.

‘The Secret Language of Flowers’, by Samantha Gray – review

The Secret Language of FlowersThe Secret Language of Flowers by Samantha Gray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lily says “You’re a good friend,” and Camellia wishes “Good Luck.” Daisy promises, “I will never tell.” They talk in silence, and their beautiful reserve is all the more appreciated by the sophisticated secret messages they carry. It’s the elaborate world of Floriography, language of flowers, based upon the legends and folklore ascribed to flowers exquisitely developed in the Victorian period, when an expression of feelings and emotions was constrained as an indication of propriety and ethical virtue. For years, Floriography has been something of flower-version of Morse Codes through the use or arrangement of flowers to deliver particular sentiments in the most subtly compelling way among those who find a niche in a quiet revelation of emotions and yearnings safely guarded in the secret garden of heart. In this regard, The Secret Language of Flowers by Samantha Gray is a treasure garden of 50 flowers speaking in their own words with beautiful illustrations that promises a dazzling treat to the eye as well as the mind of the reader.

Of the 50 flowers of Gray’s own choice, my selection of flowers is threefold: Crocuses and Lilies for their meanings that chime the bells of my heart resonate with their stories and meanings. A crocus, dedicated to St. Valentine, a Roman physician and a Christian priest during the reign of Claudius II, was sentenced to death for his faith and just before his execution, Valentine gave a jailer whose blind daughter he had treated a note for her in which he had wrapped a saffron crocus, the source of healing herb, saffron. As the girl opened the note, her sight was restored, and it was the yellow crocus she first saw that was shining like the golden sun. The message the condemned physician wrote was: “From Your Valentine”. It is said that if anyone who likes crocuses has a deeply spiritual aspect to his/her nature expressed in writing, painting, dancing, and music with a caring heart.

Lilies symbolize female beauty, purity, majesty, and charm against evil. Legend has it that a lily sprang from Eve’s tears as she was expelled from the Garden of Eden. It also has a different name of “Our Lady’s tears” as it came to being due to the tears by Virgin Mary – also revered as the Second Eve – at the Crucifixion. Furthermore, it is said that when Mary’s tomb was opened, Thomas, one of the Twelve Disciples, saw that her body had been assumed into heaven, and the place was filled with fragrant lilies. However, a sacredness of lilies do not confine in Christianity in the history of civilization. A lily was first discovered in the garden of an ancient villa in Crete about 1500 BC; it was dedicated to the Greek goddess Hera. According to legend, Zeus intoxicated Hera to nurse his son Hercules whose mother was a beautiful mortal woman named Alceme. When Hera awoke, she chucked the baby out of her breasts in horrified surprise, during which some of her milk gushed through the skies, creating a cluster of stars – the Milky Way- and some of it fell to the Earth, from which grew the first lilies.

Further to the divine touch of this modest pure beauty, lilies are known to ward off evil power associated with curses, omens, and possessions. Planting lilies in a garden protected it from ghosts and evil spirits, and monks accordingly grew them for decorating altars like stairways to heaven. But the most interesting fact about lilies that piqued my special attention is that it has been used as a tonic for strengthening a weak memory by applying it on the forehead and on the back of the head. Besides, it is known to boost common sense and impediment of speech. So maybe it’s high time that the reader in search of a magic portion to improve academic performance or develop the faculty of the mind wanted to check local herbalists to procure a tonic made from lilies.

Reading this book is like walking through the author’s private garden full of enchanted flowers that are in full bloom lovingly cared for by the gardener who understands the language they speak in silence. At the heart of this book lies the author’s love of Nature and Humanity that is fancifully nuanced in her story-telling like narrative with a collection of her own paintings that I find soothing and loving. Each of the 50 flowers speaks to the heart of the reader in its own language that is magical and fascinating in this world of grand collapsed grand hokum, fake news, and many a competing vehement opinions out of unbridled angst and anxiousness in a paroxysm of existential vertigo. Both a painter and a writer, Gray draws the reader to the world of Nature where the earth laughs in flowers. Upon reading this book, the reader cannot help but agree with Hans Christian Anderson: “Just living is not enough… One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” This is a beautiful read that tallies with its beautiful subject.