Posted in book review

All for the best: a tale of ‘Candide,’ by Voltaire – book review

Candide by Voltaire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Candide is a touchy-feely whimsical story about the absurdities of optimism against realism in a delightfully witty guise of romantic adventure fiction. An entertaining satire that is both intelligent and humorous at best, it is a collective coming-of-age story of a man whose anfractuous life passages enlighten him of the reality of life and the world.

As the novella’s title betokens, the protagonist Candide grows from a naïve young man sheltered in the Edenic castle of privilege and prestige in the protégé of philosopher Pangloss. Pangloss indoctrinates in Candide Leibnizian optimism, which posits that all is best for the best of all possible worlds. Candide’s expulsion from the castle because he was fascinated with his uncle’s beautiful daughter Cunegonde marks his journey toward the truth to the purpose of his suffering and what it means in life. Doctor Pangloss, a parody of collective complacent philosophers, keeps telling him that it is God’s will and that his life change is a manifestation of immanence, an intellectual belief in God’s presence in the world concreted by Spinoza. He preaches a pre-established harmony in the world because it is already the best in its most perfect form. Pangloss is an abstract philosophy and institutional religion incarnate in his glorious scholastic appellation and unyielding intellectual pride that refuses to recognize truth.

The adventure of Candide is similar to that of Gulliver in his travels to unknown worlds in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver is a ship’s surgeon full of ideals shaped by established a priori schools of thought until he encounters wondrous creatures in mysterious lands, all exhibiting the best and worst human characters manifested in their appearances. Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels to criticize the ills of society’s need for reformation as one of England’s leading literary figures with social consciousness. Swift was also one of whom lent a kind hand to Voltaire when he stayed in England to avoid the growing fury of France’s church authority. Volatile Voltaire was known for capricious terms with his literary peers, but his admiration of Swift’s work and him as a brilliant satirist remained loyal. Voltaire’s Candide is more straightforward and realistic, sans mysteriously curious creatures of a wide arc of imagination. However, both Candide and Gulliver share the same thematic elements of parodying the hypocrisies of religious doctrines, and human nature laid bare in the style of chivalric adventure fiction.

The story is a carnival of characters united by deceptive fallacies, chased by untenable ideals, tangled by insatiable desires, obstructed by variants of life, and succumbed to deceptive pleasures. Nonetheless, one can’t weigh the misfortunes of humans and set a just estimate on their sorrows just as Pangloss deigns to aver, for humanity is imperfect in the imperfect world. Therefore we must strive to make it better for the common good of society as best as we can. Voltaire dreams of a new community with callous palms of laborers conversant with more delicate tissues of resilience, self-respect, and heroism in real life, whose touch thrills the spirit in the most exhilarating way than the idle hands of thinkers and priests. By writing Candide, he creates a society of people who sailed through the vicissitudes of life in the triumph of epistemological a posteriori truth over ontological a priori precepts.

Candide is surprisingly easy to read and wastes no time for boredom. Voltaire himself was a man of no-nonsense whose simple but effective use of words is reminiscent of Hemingway and Stephen Crane, who were titans of literary realism. John Milton’s metaphysical poem Paradise Lost rang hallow in its abstruse display of classical knowledge. Homer and Dante lost their luster in the words that people did not use any longer. An authentic intellectual lives among people and puts his learning into action for the good of people. Candide is an excellent company to console your weary spirit and sorrowful heart if you are tired of eternal optimism and forceful positive thinking that has become a still fashionable mass mantra.



View all my reviews

Posted in Miscellany

ghost whispers

The plain girl who thought she was kept away from all things pleasant and pretty because of a suspected hex cast on her was walking toward the setting sun sinking into the west end of the horizon, smearing the sky with scarlet halos. The sky was burning, burning with a day’s unfulfilled passion, aborted wishes, and ridiculed hopes until a moon and stars appeared from the west and calmed the fiery sky that was still ablaze with shattered dreams. The sky was her heart as though someone with magical power had been watching the poor, plain girl all along, or so she thought.

Nothing miraculous would happen to her by her futile onion alone unless a kindly immortal being made her life merry and worthy of living because the plain girl was heading to her death. So first, through the forest paths out into a field of flowers, then upon the hill overlooking the wavering ocean, she loved so much for its wild, untamable nature that resembled her own.

The moon was full and high now, and the world became alive with spirits and sprites rejoicing the serenity of the night and the silence of the day. The plain girl saw the souls of the dead at sea rise from the tidal waves and walk on the crest of waves toward the mysterious melodies coming from the west of the moon. They all looked enchanted, so she coveted the enchantment and followed the watery paths she believed would lead to meet the Fates and ask them to give her a new fate.

Posted in Miscellany

why she wrote

Like muffled drums in rains of thunder and lightening, her heart was still beating as the intuitive leap within her was on the verge of falling into the crevice of darkness. She hoped that life would be better or that if life wasn’t unresponsive to her hope, she could seek an elbow room in her writings blog, her glass castle of the soul. In this regard, her purpose of writing and that of George Orwell agreed that it was for sheer egoism of being an individual and recognizing it. For all she had read and seen, her spirit wanted to record it in writing before leaving the world without a trace. How pathetic it would be!

If only. The girl hoped to articulate her thoughts to the unseen public somewhere out there. But above all, the girl used her writing practice as an autodidactic exercise to improve writing skills in the language she fell for. She loved the English language so much that she was ready to forsake the native language if she must choose one. She would have wished to possess the art of English Writing if a benign fairy had asked about what gift she would want. Perhaps she would have made a Mephistolean pact for the craft. Yet her love was alone because she loved the language more than it reciprocated the appreciation to her. How cruel it was!

To pure lead into an open wound, the girl realized her brain was not as alert as it used to be in the locomotive of thinking. As thoughts shape language, she reasoned that a slowly deteriorating neuroplasticity in her brain might have contributed to her difficulty in reading and writing. Something ominous was happening to her, and it was gripping her spirit under its diabolic aegis for the sheer pleasure of tormenting the soul in hopelessness. Words she saw refused to make a coherently complete sentence and enter a faculty of thinking. The circuits to the control center of the brain felt blogged or damaged to the point of making telegraphic phrases swiveling at a vortex of frustration. It had never happened until last year. But why was it happening to her? Alas!

She tried to find reasons for the ghastly maladies and self-diagnosed the following:

  1. Moving to California
  2. Demanding nature of her roles and tasks at the workplace
  3. Attending her elderly mother
  4. Approaching her end with no security for future

She further decided that the existential frustrations were exhausting her will to essay her creative and experiential values in fulfilling her meaning of life to be expressed in writing. All of it was tantamount to the enormous boulder Sisyphus had to roll up on a steep hill in Hades as punishment for his trickery on gods. But the girl was more akin to a Caryatid, a sculptured female figure used as a pillar supporting an entablature of a building on her head. 

But what then was her solution to untangle the web of the menacing spider? She had nothing but her will and resilience born of eruditeness and level-headiness. It helped her sail through some of the difficult adventures between the Scylla and Charybdis in her life’s odyssey. Like an earthling who never gives up hope on getting a signal from an extraterrestrial being via radio transmission, every day, she would write even if it would receive no response. Thereby hangs a tale told by a mad girl in hopeless love with words, full of words and madness, but signifying something.

Posted in Miscellany, Novellas

the changeling

coastal_wildflowers_poppies_point_buchon

If she is pretty, she is never lonely because she is wanted and loved. This much is truth, no? Beauty works a miracle in the eyes of a dull man without imagination and of a cruel man without tears. Oscar Wilde, who always had something to say about beauty, affirmed that it’s better to be beautiful than to be good because beauty captures your attention. So, if you are bereft of beauty, then you must work very hard to get people to know who you are. Beauty is indeed a joy for all seasons, rain or shine, and is also a privilege to be loved first before loving.

Judy always must be in love with someone who didn’t even know of her existence because the feeling of love would transform her from a plain Jane to a sultry Cleopatra as if a pixie had cast a glamour spell on her, pitying her denied sense of pleasure and detachment from a constellation of lovers. Judy, despite some flattering feedback on her appearance from onlookers, was always discontent with what she saw in the mirror that seemed to reflect her what she didn’t want or couldn’t see in her true self. She felt that her features were in want of spectacular beauty that would make herself loved, and her solitary disposition dipped in an exclusive flavor of selectiveness doubled the inaccessibility of the worldly sensuousness that even not so pretty or homely women were allowed as their feminine rights.

Judy was sitting like a pillar of melancholy at the dinner table embarrassed by the ordinariness of her appearance in the presence of handsome Fred who made Judy feel like an awkward wallflower that nobody would pay attention to. You would say she obviously lacked self-confidence, but self-confidence is also built upon the kind of feedback you get from others. Judy was a firm believer of existentialism which says that experience exceeds essence and of Robert Cooley’s sociological theory of “Looking Glassed Self” that you become the way how others treat you. Or you might say what she lacked in appearance could be compensated by her intelligence, wits, or those other “inner” qualities, all of which she did possess. But let’s be honest, my dear readers. Beauty is the power and the wisdom of women regardless of leaps of times, distances of places, and differences of races. Any man- rich or poor, bigoted or liberal, young or old- loves a pretty woman and will act on his best behavior with kindness. Likewise, Judy, who was not drop-dead gorgeous, always kept herself guarded with a stern look at the sight of a man who might be unkind or curt. However, Fred was different. He was being very affable to her with a genuine smile. This time Judy wanted to claim her right of happiness and make her existence visible to her figure of love, so she secretly wished for a glamour spell to change herself from an insignificant wallflower to a beautiful rose that would make Fred crazy about her.

 

Posted in Novellas

good bye to sunday

img_0456

Sunday is the saddest day of a week because it heralds a start of another week that brings unknowns to all mankind: employed/unemployed, men/women, affluent/impecunious, and educated/uneducated. Every minute of Sunday hastens to its end like as the waves make towards the quicksands. For Paul Collie, who works as a manager at a supermarket, is an imperturbable person hardly under the weather, Sunday means constructive solipsism in which his artistic sensibilities and intellectual proclivity are manifested in such forms of gardening, reading and writing otherwise smothered under the pretext of financial needs and familial responsibilities during weekdays. Gardening, because it gives him a sense of being a master of fine arts akin to Michelangelo; reading and writing, because he it teaches the styles of writing he can employ in his own writing. On this late afternoon, Paul is having a jovial time with his like-minded friend Hans Cow, a senior librarian at Tolkien Library and a part-time private investigator, who called on him to talk about the current affairs of the week. This week’s topical subject of the Sunday talk: “Elitist Art exclusive of the undesirable”

Hans: “Did you read an article about Snotty Museum turning down an annually pledged largess from Johnny Mojo, the chairman of the cleaning company Mojo? The reason for the rejection was said to be of moral, ethical standards because Johnny Mojo was a one-time drug addict and affiliated with some kind of money-laundering scheme. But you know what? I think it’s all about posturing, gestures of some kind of uneducated, former jailbird upstart trying to hobnob with the big wigs and the celebs that these so-called “Guardians of Fine Artsimg_0458” do not want to approve of. For Mojo – let’s be brutally honest – does not meet their standards of impeccable donors. What they want is immaculate man without original sin!”

Paul: “Yeah, I read that Mojo guy. You are right in saying that Snotty Museum’s decision img_0457was rather foolhardy and rash, groundless in their a priori reasoning that a donor should be also morally and spiritually immaculate to support artistic causes. Which is a supercilious stance on the puritanical touchstone of sponsorship. That a company doing a dubious business should not contribute its munificence to the museum is a hokum, nothing but a supercilious illustration of elitist art exclusive of the populace. The museum do not want to be involved in moral money-laundering, or “art-washing”. I want to think that Mojo’s intention to donate his wealth to the museum was bona fide because art is open to all, not a prerogative of the moneyed. Besides, art is for art’s sake and not should be used as a tool for political campaigns or social dogmas. Lucy Maud Montgomery expressed the same sentiment, and W.H. Auden also concurred that art should not be trapped by political and social systems. The museum’s decision shows that even a realm of art has been a domain of social Spencerism…

Pleasure and activity make the afternoon hours seem short as the discussions seem to have no ends. There’s nothing like a merry heart that goes all day when talking and listening to a kindred spirit who understands your mind’s world and encourages to continue cultivating your mind’s garden. The sun has moved closer to the horizon, and soon the evening will come. Then this Sunday will become a part of the memories of the past as a new Monday comes. Then it all seems legit to chime the timeless Latin phrase: “Tempus figit”. So it does. Times flies.