Tag Archives: existentialism

‘The Remains of the Day’, by Kazuo Ishiguro – review

The Remains of the DayThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ask anyone and you will find everyone has something to talk about life with natural octaves from the highest note to the lowest and best registrar recorded over the vicissitudes of life as if living an ordinary life without a material curriculum vitae were a sign of defeatism synonymous with rootlessness. More often than not, a straightforwardly elliptical, honest-to-goodness narrative is not considered a smashing subject matter for a bestseller that merits an entire aisle of any bookseller, but the story of English butler Stevens shoehorns his ordinary work experience into a suitably fashionable stance for a modern-day memoir that reads like a continual fugue of flattering hopes, misguided beliefs, despotic self-denials, cruel disappointments, and smothered pleasures, all elegantly interwoven into a polyphony of life in The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

The Moment of Reckoning Stevens falls into, pace the general opinion of the mass, results not from his disillusioned loyalty toward Nazi sympathizer Lord Darlington but from his own disoriented value and belief systems in accordance with the changing zeitgeist in the wake of the two great wars. Lord Darlington epitomized what dignity and magnanimity meant to Stevens in a way that his position as a butler was as equally prestigious and sovereign as that of his aristocratic employer Lord Darlington, a figure of respectful English peerage that deserved of his dedication and devotion. It’s really a case of ‘Qualis rex, talis glex,’ meaning “As is the king, so is the people.” And it was this belief system that made Stevens endure occupational humiliation from arrogant guests of high birth, the grief of the death of his father, and tender feelings toward Ms. Kenton, a former head housekeeper at the Darlington Mansion. In fact, such belief system based on seemingly antediluvian values in the post-modern era was Stevens’ lifeline that had kept him going until he took a trip to see now married Ms. Kenton, a kind of Beatrice-like figure guiding Dante from Hell and Purgatory to Paradise.

Stevens’s existential dilemma stems from his existential vertigo in the aftermath of the wars and the subsequent social changes that upended the foundations of the collective value and belief systems of society. Stevens’s inner world was put into an existential vacuum, a void that can only be filled by a sense of purpose and new attitudes toward life in search of finding meaning therein. Rather than bemoaning his life as a boring butler, Stevens kept trying to find meaning in what he had been doing, what he was still doing, and what he would do by asking himself the question of his own life to which only he could answer; that is, to a life he could only respond by being responsible. And it was not a reactionary response with his fists clenched in bitterness and a sprit of French Revolution against the privileged few, but his own examination of his life that felt a void in a sense of direction in life.

Kazuo Ishiguro created a character whose existential dilemma is relatable and pitiable with his mastery of characterization, the wealth of imaginations, and study of human nature, in his signature elliptical narrative skills laced with nuanced emotions that never lay the whole character bare to the eyes of the public. He’s a fantastic writer who shows readers that a good writer is capable of travel and metamorphoses no matter where he was born or what he looks like. I wonder how many writers tried to break free from their biological planes and even dreamed about being who they wanted to be, confidently and naturally crossing the boundaries of culture and race just as Ishiguro did without branding his Japanese cultural and Asian traits as a convenient foundation for suitably fashionable “ethnic” literature. All in all, this is a fascinating book to observe how social changes can affect an individual and how one copes with such historic and cultural juggernauts in search of meaning in life. This book is a testament to the magical craft of writing that a writer should be all that he is capable of becoming no matter who he is. For a writer is also a magician of words, a wondrous sort of shapeshifter in letters.

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img_0162All lawyers are educated, expensive mercenaries of fortune with a high chance of variable expediency in allegiance to whoever employs their burst of legal pep, or “intelligent drudgery,” so to speak. Lawyers know no fear but lots of hubris that can move heaven and earth because of their Napoleonic credo of “There’s no word for impossibility in my dictionary.” To Sally, it’s a real case of Sartre’s existentialism which dictates that “Experience precedes essence.” And yet, the images of gentlemanly lawyers in the characters of Atticus in To kill a mockingbird played by Gregory Peck and Kavanagh QC portrayed by John Thaw are hard to be disembarrassed from Sally’s abstract ideas of fine lawyers.

img_0164Sally’s position of legal assistant wears many hats: secretary, paralegal, accountant, receptionist, calendar person, and whipping girl paid to do a one-man show at a high price. You may yoke the concept of the position into that of a pricey maid, sort of an upgraded modern version of educated head maid you may see in TV period dramas, such as Upstairs and Downstairs, Berkeley Squares, and The Duchess of Duke Street. Accordingly, like a dutiful head maid in a manor house, docile Sally exerts all her efforts to fulfill incredibly hectic demands imposed upon her daily tasks with graceful patience and her very pretty smile.

img_0163“It’s all a mind game, a sort of mental Tetris in which I have to find out a way to accomplish my tasks without being jammed with constantly generating tile blocks to be upgraded to the next level. And I want to win in this game.” Surely, as consciousness is the foundation of the universe, marshaling self-discipline and courage to perform her tasks to the fullest extent possible is the sine qua non of her happy metier. After all, the nature of lawyering turns its practitioner into a professional inquisitor of wickedness of mankind as observed by Arthur Schopenhauer.

 

Jay’s Angels – fiction

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Move over Charlies Angeles. Here come Jay’s Angeles. (from l to r: Stephanie, Gwen and Monica): Illustration by Gwen B.

Director/Writer/Producer: Stephanie S.

Illustrator: Gwen B.

Ambiance Coordinator : Monica K.

Stars: Stephanie S. (Legal Assistant), Gwen B. (Accountant), and Monica K. (Legal Assistant)

Synopsis: Three ladies who are recently hired at a downtown LA law firm by a top notch  lawyer Jay C. sometimes get together during lunch hour to share their flattering hopes for their futures, remote but not that far-fetched anticipations of meeting white knights on steads, picky valuations of Mr. Rights, and other simple vignettes of their romantic adventures in Love El Dorado, all under the pretext of helping Stephanie to morph into a seductive la femme fatale, so to speak, to elevate her status to that of Irresistible Aphrodite in Pantheon of Love.

The Ladies get kick out of their funny raillery about all and sundry, ranging from a best face washer to their erstwhile significant others or would-have-been, from the pros and cons of their de facto bosses to their next best wishes and wishful thoughts about their better tomorrows. But who can deride their maiden dreams as pettifogging idleness indigenous to womanhood when they are hard-working women fulfilling everyday demands placed upon their daily tasks from within and without?

Mind you that due to their innately highly whimsical and capricious nature laced with covert extraordinary spiritual prowess, they sometimes change themselves into the Witches of the Biltmore. So it’s a league of their own, and it’s members exclusive, and it’s highly selective. But don’t you let them scare you away, my dear reader, for they are also mortals whose blood is red and hot and heart is warm and pumping. They are Jay’s Angels.

 

Author’s Note: Working in office requires lots of social skills: diplomacy, adaptability, modus vivendi, persona, euphemism… It requires a sense of humor, a handmaid to productivity imbued with can-do attitudes and stoicism to accept misfortunes and fortunes as they are – but with lovely smile all for the love of yourself – . Be it ever so naive or gullible, but one thing is certain that although my life at present is attuned for the office life as my primary reality for livelihood, which is why I lag behind my list of to-read books, this new kind of reality has called my attention to its adventurous digression from my textual existence rooted in reading the worlds of others. No, that does not mean that I trade myself for recklessly rash frolics, but it might help me to widen a social horizon to encounter a panoply of unknown characters, as piped up by  Shakespeare thus: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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‘Essays in Aesthetics’, by Jean Paul Sartre – review

Essays in AestheticsEssays in Aesthetics by Jean-Paul Sartre

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jean Paul Sartre was something of a celebrity in the European Intelligentsia in the Swinging Sixties; despite his rather homely exterior equipped with a pair of thick horn-rimmed spectacles covering the squint eyes, Sartre was brought into celebratory limelight with a panoply of illustrious epithets- L’Enfant Terrible of the European intelligentsia, a precursor of modern existentialism, and husband of Simone de Beauvoir, a trailblazer of modern feminism – The truth of the matter is that Sartre loved the attentions bestowed upon him. In fact, he thrived on it. On a question of fame relating to his celebratory statue as an intellectual, Sartre answered with forthrightness: “Fame is good, even at forty or fifty is desirable; there is happiness, an intense enjoyment, in pushing one’s way into the spotlight like this.” It is this unusual, feisty frankness in conjunction with his audacious existentialism vis-a-vis Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotheraphy that inspired me to find out more about the man’s school of thought in this book written by Sartre himself.

This light volume of essay collection draws on Sartre’s exceptional knowledge of the arts and the creators and yokes it to the tenets of existentialism, which means that the reader should have at least rudimentary knowledge about existentialism. The substratum of existentialism is the experience, the action taken by himself, which constitutes a man’s identity in the world. This might sound materialistic and even bathetic at first blush. However, do we not tend to judge our own self or other people based upon the manifested achievements or deeds, regardless of the character, personality, and/or other planes of circumstances pushing the doer into such actions? With every one of our actions, we particularize our self, thus creating a ‘self’. It is this realization of the abstract self existing as an abstract essence that results in the following dictum: Experience precedes our essence, establishing our own self identity in society.

In terms of existential analysis of a meaning of life or a sense of purpose in life, our actions becoming our experience make us responsible for our own lives, including our missteps and achievements. In other words, this explication of existence shows us how we look and what we are like as the touchstone of our existential selves in everyday life, as the Russian writer Anton Chekhov once said: “”Man will become better when you show him what he is like.” In this regard, existentialism coincides with Logotheraphy, which identifies a meaning of life, freedom of will, and will to meaning with fulfilling demands placed upon our daily tasks, to achieve ego qua meaningfulness.

In sum, Sartre’s existentialism strikes the zeitgeist of our time convoluted with reality shows, fake news, selfies, social media approbation, and grand collapsed narratives in which we often find ourselves uprooted in the midst of inflated self-aggrandization, however overtly and incorrectly exalted. Sartre tells us: “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself in the midst of his infinite possibilities without help.” That is, the purpose of our life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost by actualizing our purposes amid our daily lives, for we are what we do and create our own reality of the world by acting out our ideation. This book will be a good primer on more in-depth world of Sartre’s existentialism with his no-nonsense perspectives on the nature of humanity and proverbial touchy-feely approaches to the real world and a man’s place as a human being therein, all marked in his literary craftsmanship that is all the more enjoyable to the reader.