334 Fragmentary Thoughts

Nietzsche liked to write in fragments, Cioran followed suit. Some people like the style, but others hate it because fragmentary thoughts resist systematic understanding. Examples:

“What do you do from morning to night?”
“I endure myself.”

Having always lived in fear of being surprised by the worst, I have tried in every circumstance to get a head start, flinging myself into misfortune long before it occurs.

— “The Trouble with Being Born”, E.M.Cioran

The following paragraph is a rather self-explanatory account for the merit of fragmentary writing:

In any book governed by the Fragment, truths and whims keep company throughout. How to sift them, to decide which is conviction, which caprice? One proposition, a momentary impulse, precedes or follows another, a life’s companion raised to the dignity of obsession …. It is the reader who must assign the roles, since in more than one instance, the author himself hesitates to take sides. The epigrams constitute a sequence of perplexities — in them we shall find interrogations but no answers. Moreover, what answer could there be? Had there been one, we should know it, to the great detriment of the enthusiast of stupor.

— “Anathema and Admiration”, E.M.Cioran

The purpose of fragmentary writing is interrogating without providing an answer. Among questions that have no answer, the meaning of life is king. I don’t trust any answer to the meaning of life, neither do I accept the notion that this question has even an answer. Can you find any religion which acknowledges that life is pointless, and that suffering is meaningless? That’s why I am not committed to any religion.


Interesting quotes about religion or superstitious beliefs

from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2011/03/13/signs-signs-everywhere-signs-seeing-god-in-tsunamis-and-everyday-events/?WT.mc_id=SA_DD_20110314

The youngest children in the study, the three- and four-year-olds in both conditions, only shrugged their shoulders or gave physical explanations for the events, such as the picture not being sticky enough to stay on the wall or the light being broken. Ironically, these youngest children were actually the most scientific of the bunch, perhaps because they interpreted “invisible” to mean simply “not present in the room” rather than “transparent.” Contrary to the common assumption that superstitious beliefs represent a childish mode of sloppy and undeveloped thinking, therefore, the ability to be superstitious actually demands some mental sophistication. At the very least, it’s an acquired cognitive skill.

This sign-reading tendency has a distinct and clear relationship with morality. When it comes to unexpected heartache and tragedy, our appetite for unraveling the meaning of these ambiguous “messages” can become ravenous. Misfortunes appear cryptic, symbolic; they seem clearly to be about our behaviors. Our minds restlessly gather up bits of the past as if they were important clues to what just happened. And no stone goes unturned. Nothing is too mundane or trivial; anything to settle our peripatetic thoughts from arriving at the unthinkable truth that there is no answer because there is no riddle, that life is life and that is that.

Just an interesting concept: Magical thinking

from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_thinking

Magical thinking is causal reasoning that looks for correlation between acts or utterances and certain events. In religion, folk religion, and superstition, the correlation posited is between religious ritual, such as prayer, sacrifice, or the observance of a taboo, and an expected benefit or recompense. In clinical psychology, magical thinking is a condition that causes the patient to experience irrational fear of performing certain acts or having certain thoughts because they assume a correlation with their acts and threatening calamities.

“Quasi-magical thinking” describes “cases in which people act as if they erroneously believe that their action influences the outcome, even though they do not really hold that belief”.[1]

331 “改变世界不如改变自己” Do you really know what it means?

In my previous article on the Batman comics (229 Batman: the Killing Joke), I failed to elucidate the complete meaning of Joker becoming mad, leading to an “interesting” misunderstanding that Joker’s madness is just some random and arbitrary “tag”. Before becoming the Joker with which we are familiar, Joker was overwhelmed by some random yet fatal accidents, and the madness is a consequence of that. In fact, Joker explained very clearly his going mad:

“So when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant train of thought, heading for the places’ in your past where the screaming is unbearable, remember there’s always madness. Madness is the emergency exit. You can just step outside, and close the door on all those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away … forever.”

This is self-explanatory. Joker’s going mad is a half-conscious act to deal with the reality: instead of changing the world, he changed himself by manipulating his memories. Since the process is a rather conscious act, the interpretation is more close to existentialism rather than psychoanalysis.

The following page in the mentioned in BKJ actually moved me when I first read it:

Once a victim of contingency, Joker is the vanguard of contingency (could be regarded as a philosophical hero or antihero). He is so fanatic about his belief he doesn’t hesitate to risk his life showing (not proving) it. I find Joker very fascinating in this aspect.

Another example of dramatically changing oneself is Leonard Shelby in the movie Memento. (I wrote about this movie before, here) It’s hard to say whether his medical condition, anterograde amnesia, is his conscious choice, which is very unlikely. He does in some sense exploit his condition, his facticity in the terminology of Sartre’s existentialism, to deal with his reality, his profound loss and sense of guilt.

Even the movie Black Swan can be read in this light.

Next time when you think of the motto “Change yourself instead of changing the world”, please think of Joker, who is an excellent speaker for the very motto.

229 Batman: the Killing Joke

I rarely read comics, let alone Batman comics, but Batman: the Killing Joke (BTKJ) is one of the rare exceptions, as well as Watchmen and V for Vendetta comics. Should you ask why this one is special, I would prompt you to notice that the writer of this one-shot Batman comics is Alan Moore, who is also the writer of Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Should you don’t know Alan Moore, Watchmen, or V for Vendetta, I would say that this short story provides the clearest and deepest description for the motivation and the mentality of the famous Batman villain, Joker, and that in this book Batman is revealed to share much similarities with Joker. The movie, the Dark Knight (TDK), featured a Joker which has been highly influenced by the one in the Killing Joke.

Among all the villains, obviously Joker possessed a demonic charm which other villains lack. He is not some random lunatic whose madness is just induced by accidents or the result of an evil plan. Instead, his madness is existential. The justification he gives for his crime cannot be ignored and is highly related to the things that drive him mad. His frightening vision of the world is so unbearable that not much sane people can live a normal live while being aware of it.

Batman is also a very dark hero. Who the hell will dress up like a bat flying in the dark… Considering the way Batman goes out from the dark and attacks people, he is deliberately inflicting both pain and fear on his enemies, i.e. he is explicitly exploiting the fear of others. Bruce Wayne feared bats, and it is tempting to think that he discovered the power of fear from its childhood trauma.

The story of Joker’s going mad has several versions, but they should share the same nature. In TDK, there is no much hints about Joker’s becoming mad except some very vague sentences (How do I got this scars?), but Killing Joker offers a much more elaborate story. Before going mad, Joker was a lab assistant in a chemical plant, but later he thought he had talents in telling jokes and he quit the previous job and decided to be a stand-up comedian. His new career turned out to be a disaster and made his and his wife’s life very difficult. Under tremendous economic pressures, Joker reluctantly agreed to act as an accomplice for two other people who planned to steal from the chemical plant where Joker worked before. Just before the real action, while Joker was not at home, his wife accidentally got a electric shot and died. Sad as he was, he still had to participate in the action. The plan went wrong and Joker fell into a chemical pool, leading to his insanity. The genuineness of the story is surely in doubt, and in fact Joker himself admitted that sometimes he remembered one way sometimes the other. Anyway, all the points are there in that story. As Joker put it, “all it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy”. Joker’s wife’s tragic and arbitrary death, along with the depression inflicted by his unsuccessful career, was so unbearable to Joker then that he couldn’t live with it anymore. He went mad. He is one victim of contingency.

It might be helpful to elaborate on madness in the existential sense. Some experiences are so traumatic that the integrity of the self is in threat. When the self fails to incorporate the experiences in ordinary way, it undergoes dramatic changes at the cost of losing some grips on the reality. In Joker’s case, he cannot recall the genuine memory of the time before he went mad. This is madness.

Bruce Wayne is also a victim of contingency, or “one bad day”. His parents died of robbery and the subsequent murder. The worst part is, had Bruce not demanding early exit, his parents would have been saved. This demonstrates Joker’s point, “life is random injustice”. Suffering without meaning. How can people live with such a vision!

Both Joker and Batman, after experiencing their horrible bad days, became obsessed with their sufferings. Normal lives are impossible for them. They are searching for meanings of their sufferings. Both of them have a point to prove, though the the points are quite different. In some sense, a meaning is a perspective on an event. Batman sees the injustice he suffered from as a preventable incident, so he fights against every villain to prove his point. In contrast, Joker sees his going mad an inevitable consequence when facing with the reality, so he is always busy setting up a drama in which people will go mad under some extreme circumstances. In BTKJ, he shot and tortured Barbara (commissioner Gordon’s daughter), and later put the naked Gordon in a cage in order to drive him mad. In TDK, Joker successfully drove Dent mad but failed to have the people on the two boats blowing up each other. By the way, in light of the BKJ, the point of the two ships set-up is to drive the survivors mad as much as to horrify the public.

One last question is why Joker, as well as Batman, is so obsessed in proving a point? Especially, in the two ship set-up, why didn’t Joker play some tricks on the bombs or the ships so that one of the two ships will blow up whatever the passengers do? In that way Joker could have inflicted maximum horror on the public. It seems that Joker also wanted to prove it for himself. Logically, to prove his point Joker needs to driving everyone in the world to madness, but in real life we just see that many people are so convinced of the inevitability of their personal experiences that they don’t bother discussing them with other people. Why is Joker so apparently unconfident about his point so as to go a great length to put so much people to madness? If all other people who go through the suffering of Joker all go mad, then it is fine. However, if some of them survive, then it is possible that Joker’s going mad is not so inevitable as he claimed and that to some degree he chose to go mad. Now we touch the thing people are afraid of: our own freedom. When we choose we are aware of that there is an alternative and hence the transcendental values of our situation which many of us are accustomed to depreciate. In other words, the feeling that our situation has a solid meaning will be gone if we realize that we can choose and hence assign subjective meaning to our situation at the cost of the transcendental one. Joker is surely afraid of that his madness is chosen by him and that his meaning of suffering will flee from him. This is Joker’s deepest fear. The thing that is more unbearable than one’s suffering is the awareness that his suffering is meaningless.

224 Dreams, Frustrations and the Absurd

The dreams I am going to talk about are dreams in the literal sense, not ambitions or ideals.

For me, dreams can be wonderful, but sometimes they can be extremely frustrating. In fact, frustrating dreams impress me more than wonderful dreams do. One major recurrent theme in my frustrating dreams is being late for school. This is intriguing because I cannot even recall a single instance of being late for school in my real life, excluding undergraduate time of course.

There are two major variants in my being late dream. The first variant is that many things happened to me, preventing me from even getting out of my home, let alone going to school. All kinds of annoying things could delay me, such as not being able to find the textbooks. In the second variant, the situation was ridiculous. The bus I took (in real life I didn’t take bus to school, I always walked) did not arrive at the right station. There were a lot of things on the way distracting me. Sometimes I could not recognized the correct routes to school. Sometimes, the whole city was restructuring itself to work against me! This is plainly absurd! When I read Kafka’s novels, like the Castle and the Trial, I was amazed that the frustrating situations encountered by protagonist resemble to the situations in being late dreams. The short story the Metamorphosis, also by Kafka, provides another good example. The protagonist woke up one day and found himself transformed into a insect-like creature, but he still tried to tackle the situation like he did before. At the end he died.

Those dreams also reminded me of a philosophical concept, the Absurd. While there are many versions of the definition for absurd, I prefer the one used by Albert Camus, in his book The Myth of Sisyphus. (Translated loosely from the Chinese version) The Absurd is the conflict between man’s desire to understand the world and the world’s silent refusal to be understood. This silent refusal sometimes may resemble a invisible hand preventing you from achieving anything significant, like I being kept from arriving on time for school in my dreams. I also like the way Sartre phrased the Absurd. He said, (also translated loosely from the Chinese version) Absurd is a state that there are no sufficient reasons for everything in the world to exist in the way they are; everything is contingent.

The second kinds of frustrating dreams can be roughly described in the following sentences. In the dream, I remembered there were something interesting, such as things and books, in a particular place and I was going there to buy it. When I arrived at the destination, I could not spot the thing I desired. Then I discovered something similar but less desirable, so I continued searching for something better. As I searched, the interesting but less desirable books or the items started to transform something mundane. In the end, everything at the place lost their appeals. I cannot find a word to express my frustrations at that moment. The interpretation of this type of dream is actually quite ordinary. It is just the reflection of my hesitation when facing potentially important decisions.

I just checked the site stats. It is still in the well of gravity, so I offer a bonus to my readers who took pain to go through the paragraphs above. I will describe my most frustrating “spring” dream. I will skip the offensive details. So there were me and another female. We were going to have some action. As I stripped off her clothes, her breasts transformed to a flat male chest before I could even touch them. Similarly, the female genitals transformed into male genitals. Could you imagine a situation which is more frustrating than that?

223 damage

Things can be ironic. On the one hand, I hope my blog can be as influential as possible, on the other hand, I hope the damage inflicted by some of my articles is minimal. In fact, it is more easier to do damage than having positive influence on others.

I complained a lot in the early days of my blog. The first few articles in this blog actually did quite a lot of damage. In an article which was deleted long ago, I complained about my life in the primary school and claimed that some of my classmates should be held responsible for my misery. I forgot what I wrote until one day I invited one of my former classmates to visit my blog. Immediately she expressed her anger because she was one of the classmates I resented in that article. That was really unexpected.

So these days from time to time I will check my previous articles to see if there are anything damaging, including comments on former classmates, or teachers. If any article was found inappropriate, I will edit it or just directly remove them.

In the first year of my university life, many of my former classmates didn’t seem to understand the difference between UST and any ordinary universities in mainland, except that the tuition fee of UST is much higher. While in some middle schools in GZ, graduates who were admitted by UST, CU or HKU were treated as “celebrities”, I didn’t get any treatment from my middle school. I was so upset then and after some former classmates repeatedly shown interest in the amount of tuition fee I paid, I went so far as to verbally attack them. I don’t want to mention the results. Why did I care about these? After all, I was a person who would go after vanity.

In retrospect, this is really unnecessarily damaging. In fact, I could have done many things much better…

Don’t you think Sunday night is a bit depressing?

222 My Frustration as a Blog Writer(2)

I am writing this in a slightly depressed state.
The Great Firewall imposed by the Chinese government should also share some blame for my blog’s obscurity. These days GFW is blocking my handful of readers off my blog (it seems all wordpress blogs get the same treatment). Even when it is not blocked, the crappy Internet connection in Mainland can be so bad that it can be considered effectively blocked. Once I tried writing in Sina blog. Censorship in mainland is so annoying that I don’t bother to do it. This is the link to my blog on Sina which has not been updated for a while : http://blog.sina.com.cn/cain1jw.

Though my major is physics, I seldom wrote anything about it, nor did I write anything about science. Mostly I wrote about philosophy. Not long ago I realized I didn’t and still don’t know much about philosophy. I will avoid writing philosophy from now on and will only write things that I am familiar. These days I rarely had the urge to write, which is a symptom of mild depression.

The reason why I care my blog so much is that I was not popular and I am still not popular. If you think this reason is a bit shallow, I will immediately provide you another one: my world is always small. I don’t know why but I am always ending up living in a small world, so small that sometimes I felt suffocated. My blog should have been a door to a larger world but my blog has failed me.

So frustrating… so depressing…

221 My Frustration as a Blog Writer

Recent views statistics of my blog shows that I am at the lowest point in my entire blog-writing history. I cannot help complaining.
I treat blog-writing as an important part of my life, so obscurity is definitely not what I want.

But this time I will try to analyze what leads to my frustration:

In the early days of my blog writing, I received much encouragement from my friends, my classmates and even my mother. This is good. But in retrospect, as a starting blog writer, besides encouragements, what I need most is feedback. Without feedbacks I cannot improve. Without feedbacks I don’t know what should I write and how should I write. It’s true that I have got some feedbacks, though very few in number. I have submitted two articles to the mainland student-run magazine, and both of them got accepted. I was glad that they were accepted, but what the hell? I got zero feedback! That was a very frustrating experience for which I don’t write for that magazine anymore. Just a waste of time.

Anyway, besides that visitor who routinely wrote me tons of comments, very seldom did I get useful feedback, and without feedback I cannot go any further.

I am so frustrated I cannot write any more.