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Showing posts from January, 2014

I'm sorry I won

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Screenshot. Suits 1x07

Anxiety and the Well-Lived Life

"Needless to say, our fixation on the ideal of happiness diverts our attention from collective social ills, such as socioeconomic disparities. As Barbara Ehrenreich has shown, when we believe that our happiness is a matter of thinking the right kinds of (positive) thoughts, we become blind to the ways in which some of our unhappiness might be generated by collective forces, such as racism or sexism. Worst of all, we become callous to the lot of others, assuming that if they aren't doing well, if they aren't perfectly happy, it's not because they're poor, oppressed, or unemployed but because they're not trying hard enough.
If all of that isn't enough to make you suspicious of the cultural injunction to be happy, consider this basic psychoanalytic insight: Human beings may not be designed for happy, balanced lives. The irony of happiness is that it's precisely when we manage to feel happy that we are also most keenly aware that the feeling might not las…

The Alienated Groom

More than 5 years ago, I wrote about my perception of weddings in Pakistani society:
"The ceremony has become more about appeasing the society than about celebrating the union of two people. [The wedding] has lost its purpose in this manner, and hence it is not surprising that the feeling which I have most markedly noticed while attending any [wedding] is that of absurdity.
Weddings have never been enjoyable for me, even as a child. Perhaps because the wedding ceremony appears to me to be the perfect example of the superficialities and hypocrisies of our culture; it has become a symbol for me of whatever I hate about our society."
It is only fair that I should approach my own wedding now with the same marked sense of absurdity. Aside from that, there is also in my own case, a distinct taste of alienation. In a concrete sense, my wedding is about me, but in a larger, abstract and more important way, my wedding is not my own. My presence is a nominal formality, an excuse for …

The Emptiness Where God Would Be

From Anne Carson's interview at The Paris Review:
Interviewer: Do you think of yourself as having a relationship with God?
Anne Carson: [...] reading a lot of mystics, especially Simone Weil, I’ve come to understand that the best one can hope for as a human is to have a relationship with that emptiness where God would be if God were available, but God isn’t.
As Carson talks of a relationship with the emptiness where God would be, it seems she has developed a relationship with another sort of a emptiness... the empty poetic spaces we have in Sappho's poetry, poetry of which we have inherited only fragments. Just like God, those missing slivers of verses are unavailable (while existing in a sense), but the readers and interpreters are invariably drawn into a relationship.
Anne Carson: [...] this is the magic of fragments—the way that poem breaks off leads into a thought that can’t ever be apprehended. There is the space where a thought would be, but which you can’t get hold of. I …

Her

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Here is a philosophical analysis of the critically-acclaimed film Her, in which a male character develops a romantic relationship with an artificially-intelligent operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). While brilliantly depicting the quirks and pitfalls of human relationships by making them more poignant by this peculiar sort of romance, the film is also an account of the development of artificial intelligence, and how they may evolve rapidly to a state beyond human comprehension. Highly recommended.

Diagnosis

"So what do you think is your diagnosis?"
"I am a human being and I have symptoms of humanity."

(actual quote from a patient)

'Aging Disorder'

What can be more 'normal' and universal than aging? And yet, what can be more ripe a target for medical intervention? Aging will soon (if it is not already) be conceptualized as a 'medical condition', a 'disorder', a 'disease'. As more and more options become available for us to slow, delay, halt, or perhaps even reverse, the process of aging, aging as we currently understand it will become the outlier of 'normal' functioning. Eternal youth, that is how we see the normal state of health. The modern insistence on maintaining one's social and occupational functioning within the expected norms will see to it that anything outside these expected norms is pathologized and subjected to treatment.
Consider these matter-of-fact statements taken from the web: "Aging is a medical condition because an aged body does not function properly. A body that does not function properly has a disease. A disease is a medical condition." I'm sure it…

Pretext

Pretext
Awais Aftab

I wish I were such a poet
who could conjure poetry on request
not just any request
- a love poem,
not of growth pains of relationships
or everyday delusions of intimacy
- a poem of tenderness
long-distance heartache
an I-love-you note
a blow-me-a-kiss
perhaps I could, but
the rose is obsolete, WCW says
(ask me instead to quote Neruda, my darling
'I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees.')
In the warmth of our embrace
we no longer need the pretext of poetry
and so it would seem
poetry no longer needs the pretext of our embrace

Madness and Reason

"In the midst of the serene world of mental illness, modern man no longer communicates with the madman: on the one hand is the man of reason, who delegates madness to the doctor, thereby authorising no relation other than through the abstract universality of illness; and on the other is the man of madness, who only communicates with the other through the intermediary of a reason that is no less abstract, which is order, physical and moral constraint, the anonymous pressure of the group, the demand for conformity. There is no common language: or rather, it no longer exists; the constitution of madness as mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, bears witness to a rupture in a dialogue, gives the separation as already enacted, and expels from the memory all those imperfect words, of no fixed syntax, spoken falteringly, in which the exchange between madness and reason was carried out. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue by reason about madness, could only …

The Alchemy of Capitalism

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind  by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #13: The Capitalist Creed
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding. All ideas and examples are by Dr. Harari.)
The most unique and important characteristic of the modern capitalist economy is growth. The total global production of goods and services – ‘the economic pie’ – is constantly increasing and has been increasing since the emergence of capitalist economy. 
Consider a simple example. People deposit their earnings in the bank, and the bank loans out that money to investors. Suppose you want to start a bakery. You go to the bank and ask for the loan. A big contractor has deposited 1 million dollars in cash in his new bank account. The…

Despair

3 years ago on this day I gave up on my country. 
The assassination of Salman Taseer and the subsequent reaction of the populace exposed the extent to which the poison of religious fanaticism has percolated to the roots of this nation. These three years have done nothing to change that judgement. The national mindset is diseased beyond healing. I don't even know any more if it even deserves healing.
I have friends who still live in Pakistan, and who will continue to try to reform the society in whatever ways they can. I admire and support their efforts, and wish them well, and I hope that they do not suffer when this society collapses under the collective weight of its self-inflicted sins.
"If this is what has beaten us... the guilt is ours." (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged)

How one believes

"Russell sometimes seems to be moving towards the view that how one believes, and not just what one believes, is ethically significant – a view that will be embraced by any reflective religious person."
Clare Carlisle, Bertrand Russell the agnostic

Mortality

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Mortality is Christopher Hitchens's account of confronting his own death, hopeful till the end that he may yet escape its clutches but at the same time very realistic about his prospects of failure. Hitchens was a strong-willed man, unwavering in his materialism, deflecting the prayers and condemnations of the faithful, and retorting with jabs of wit and sarcasm, even as the last remaining drops of physical strength in his body were being sucked by the cancer and its treatment alike. It's a short book, you can read it in a single sitting, and its aphoristic quality well-represents the dignity Hitchens maintained till the end. To do so without wallowing in self-pity and without perceiving oneself to be a victim of an indifferent universe, or engaging in dialogue with a cryptic deity, is no mean feat:
* 'To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?'
* 'It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposi…

A Rejection of Self-Pity

"If life were merely a habit, I should commit suicide; but even now, more or less desperate, I cannot but think, ‘Something wonderful may happen.’ It is not optimism, it is a rejection of self-pity (I hope) which leaves a loophole for life… I merely choose to remain living out of respect for possibility. And possibility is the great good."
Frank O’Hara, Early Writing