Friday, February 28, 2014

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Russian poetry: To A Poet by Alexander Pushkin

(from Russian Poets, reviewed earlier)

by Alexander Pushkin (trans. A. Myers)

No poet should set store by public acclamation.
Ecstatic praise will pass, an instant in the ear;
The empty crowd will laugh, the fool will have his oration,
But you must stay quite calm, unbending, and austere.

A king, then, live alone. You choose your destination,
Go where you questioning mind shall now elect to steer
To bring perfection to the thoughts you hold most dear,
Requiring no rewards, achieving consummation -

They lie within yourself. As judge you are the best;
In valuing your works, severer than the rest,
Do they bring you delight, O artist most exacting?

They please you? Well. then, let the crowd protest
And spit upon the shrine where burns your fire
And rock your tripod in their childish, rough play-

Diana Senechal has provided a nice literal translation to the poem here.
For more information on Alexander Pushkin:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Russian poetry: Arion by Alexander Pushkin (trans. A. Myers)

(from Russian Poets, reviewed earlier)

 by Alexander Pushkin (trans. A. Myers)

There were many of us on the ship;
Some were tightening the sail,
Others were plunging the powerful
Oars into the deep
Water. Leaning calmly on the tiller,
Our skilful helmsman steered the loaded bark
In silence; and I - full of carefree faith -
I sang to the sailors ... Billows
Were suddenly whipped up by a storm...
Both helmsman and sailors perished!
- Only I, the mysterious singer,
Cast ashore by the storm,
Still sing my former hymns, and dry
My wet clothes in the sun, beneath a rock.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Russian poetry: 'I've dissolved for you, in that glass over there' by Marina Tsvetayev

by Marina Tsvetayeva (trans. D. McDuff)

I've dissolved for you, in that glass over there,
A handful of my burnt hair.
So there will be no singing, no eating.
So there will be no drinking, no sleeping.

So your youth will lose its freshness,
And you sugar will lose its sweetness,
So at night you'll be locked in strife
With your young wife

As my golden tresses
Have turned to grey ashes
So your year years will be quite
Turned to winter, white.

So your ear will go deaf, and blind your eye,
So like moss you will become dry.
So you will vanish like a sigh.


For more information:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book: Bouvard and Pecuchet by Gustave Flaubert (1881)

I was unsure about "Bouvard and Pecuchet" when I learned that Flaubert passed away before completing the novel. However, I am glad for having read it: it is a wonderful oddity, an encyclopaedic tour de force that baffles and bemuses. Also, like Don Quixote, it is a book that leaves you unsure about how to feel about the two protagonists.

Flaubert’s survey of the state of knowledge and thinking at the time is a mighty feat; it is said that he read over 1,500 books for the task. As for what the author was trying to achieve with B&P, Wikipedia provides the following quote:

…the novel is "a kind of encyclopedia made into a farce... I am planning a thing in which I give vent to my anger... I shall vomit over my contemporaries the disgust they inspire in me... It will be big and violent." It is possible that the stress contributed to his death as he was drawing near to the close of the novel. Indeed, in 1874, he confessed to George Sand "[it] is leading me very quietly, or rather relentlessly, to the abode of the shades. It will be the death of me!"

Bouvard and Pecuchet start of as two copyists who strike up a friendship. When one of them falls into wealth, they decide to move to the countryside to live the good life. Everything they need to know they can learn from books, courses, etc.  

This is the setting for the tragi-comedy and the rest of the chapters sees the pair falling over themselves to acquire every scrap of academic knowledge to make their understanding complete, in an effort to make a success of their ventures. However, they do not learn from their mistakes, their executions are ill considered, and any successes they enjoy are down to luck. They are given to endless diversions, which means their knowledge on any one topic is rarely anything beyond superficial, and they either ignore the people around them (villagers, farmers, etc), or fall into heated arguments with them (there is a classic argument with a local doctor early on in the novel).

Over the course of the story, Bouvard and Pecuchet form opinions and make muddled in-roads into an endless stream of disciplines, including the likes of: agriculture, chemistry, medicine, physiology, astronomy, veterinary science, brewing, geology, architecture, history and literature (including attempts to write plays).

Their buffoonery is amusing, and the pair’s passion, dogged determination and insatiable zest to keep learning (albeit superficially) is admirable. Nevertheless, the two men are idiots in the sense that they never learn from their mistakes and so are quick to lose their way, over and over, with one disaster following another disaster, never appreciating the flux state of knowledge and always, as the sleeve of the book puts it, ‘wanting to conclude’ in matters where truth is a shifting quantity..”

The second part of the book is the excellent Dictionary of Received Ideas, which is a book in itself and will be looked at separately.  

I will also post some choice fragments from B&P in coming posts.


B&P gets an extra half a star as it serves as a rare warning shot, telling reader to be wary of trying to acquire impossible truths that may not exist, and also not to get over one’s heads in the world of knowledge acquisition, a trap we can so easily fall into now that we have the internet at our disposal.

Confession: I’m not saying I see elements of B&P buffoonery in myself, but my plan for the weekend includes researching the biological role of caffeine and its withdrawal symptoms, an investigation into the latest thinking on willpower, and the current position on epigenetics. I also have many thousands of internet bookmarks and many hundreds of books to read on my Amazon WishList.

Photos: Lego Space Mechanic gets to work on my Audi 80

Now that the Lego movie is out on the big screens, I just had to take few more lego pictures. Also featuring a replica model of my car : )

Book: Getting Even by Woody Allen

After reading "Side Effects" not so long ago, I had to get a hold of Woody Allen's "Getting Even", which is effectively a sequel. For this reader, Getting Even doesn't quite scale the dizzying heights of Side Effects, although there was still much to be enjoyed. The stand-out feature is the biography of the Earl of Sandwich ("Yes, But Can a Steam Engine Do This?"), which comes close to "The Whore of Mensa" for it's exquisite, surreal brilliance. You can read the bulk of the story below.

*** 1/2

My favourite fragments from the book:

On literature (preserved insights from the great Helmholtz): "All literature is a footnote to Faust. I have no idea what I mean by that."

Rapid Reading: ...This course will increase reading speed a little each day until the end of the term, by which time the student will be required to read The Brothers Karamazov in fifteen minutes. The method is to scan the page and eliminate everything except pronouns from one's field of vision. Soon the pronouns are eliminated. Gradually the student is encouraged to nap. A frog is dissected. Spring comes. People marry and die. Pinkerton does not return.  

The bulk part of "Yes, But Can a Steam Engine Do This?": 

"The sandwich," it read, "was invented by the Earl of Sandwich." Stunned by the news, I read it again and broke into an involuntary tremble. My mind whirled as it began to conjure with the immense dreams, the hopes and obstacles, that must have gone into the invention of the first sandwich. My eyes became moist as I looked out the window at the shimmering towers of

the city, and I experienced a sense of eternity, marvelling at man's ineradicable place in the universe. Man the inventor! Da Vinci's notebooks loomed before me—brave blueprints for the highest aspirations of the human race. I thought of Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare. The First Folio. Newton. Handel's Messiah. Monet. Impressionism. Edison. Cubism. Stravinsky. E=mc2 . . .Holding firmly to a mental picture of the first sandwich lying encased at the British Museum, I spent the ensuing three months working up a brief biography of its great inventor, his nibs the Earl. Though my grasp of history is a bit shaky, and though my capacity for romanticizing easily dwarfs that of the average acidhead, I hope I have captured at least the essence of this unappreciated genius, and that these sparse notes will inspire a true historian to take it from here.

1718: Birth of the Earl of Sandwich to upper-class parents. Father is delighted at being appointed chief farrier to His Majesty the King—a position he will enjoy for several years, until he discovers he is a blacksmith and resigns embittered. Mother is a simple Hausfrau of German extraction, whose uneventful menu consists essentially of lard and gruel, although she does show some flair for culinary imagination in her ability to concoct a passable sillabub.

1725-35: Attends school, where he is taught horseback riding and Latin. At school he comes in contact with cold cuts for the first time and displays an unusual interest in thinly sliced strips of roast beef and ham. By graduation this has become an obsession, and although his paper on "The Analysis and Attendant Phenomena of Snacks" arouses interest among the faculty, his classmates regard him as odd.

1736: Enters Cambridge University, at his parents' behest, to pursue studies in rhetoric and metaphysics, but displays little enthusiasm for either. In constant revolt against everything academic, he is charged with stealing loaves of bread and performing unnatural experiments with them. Accusations of heresy result in his expulsion.

1738: Disowned, he sets out for the Scandinavian countries, where
he spends three years in intensive research on cheese. He is much taken with the many varieties of sardines he encounters and writes in his notebook, "I am convinced that there is an enduring reality, beyond anything man has yet attained, in the juxtaposition of foodstuffs. Simplify, simplify." Upon his return to England, he meets Nell Smallbore, a greengrocer's daughter, and they marry. She is to teach him all he will ever know about lettuce.

1741: Living in the country on a small inheritance, he works day and night, often skimping on meals to save money for food. His first completed work—a slice of bread, a slice of bread on top of that, and a slice of turkey on top of both—fails miserably. Bitterly disappointed, he returns to his studio and begins again.

1745: After four years of frenzied labor, he is convinced he is on the threshold of success. He exhibits before his peers two slices of turkey with a slice of bread in the middle. His work is rejected by all but David Hume, who senses the imminence of something great and encourages him. Heartened by the philosopher's friendship, he returns to work with renewed vigor.

1747: Destitute, he can no longer afford to work in roast beef or turkey and switches to ham, which is cheaper.

1750: In the spring, he exhibits and demonstrates three consecutive slices of ham stacked on one another; this arouses some interest, mostly in intellectual circles, but the general public remains unmoved. Three slices of bread on top of one another add to his reputation, and while a mature style is not yet evident, he is sent for by Voltaire.

1751: Journeys to France, where the dramatist-philosopher has achieved some interesting results with bread and mayonnaise. The two men become friendly and begin a correspondence that is to end abruptly when Voltaire runs out of stamps.

1758: His growing acceptance by opinion-makers wins him a commission by the Queen to fix "something special" for a luncheon with the Spanish ambassador. He works day and night, tearing up hundreds of blueprints, but finally—at 4:17 A.M., April 27, 1758—he creates a work consisting of several strips of ham enclosed, top and bottom, by two slices of rye bread. In a burst of inspiration, he garnishes the work with mustard. It is an immediate sensation, and he is commissioned to prepare all Saturday luncheons for the remainder of the year.

1760: He follows one success with another, creating "sandwiches," as they are called In his honor, out of roast beef, chicken, tongue, and nearly every conceivable cold cut. Not content to repeat tried formulas, he seeks out new ideas and devises the combination sandwich, for which he receives the Order of the Garter.

1769: Living on a country estate, he is visited by the greatest men of his century; Haydn, Kant, Rousseau, and Ben Franklin stop at his home, some enjoying his remarkable creations at table, others ordering to go.

1778: Though aging physically he still strives for new forms and writes in his diary, "I work long into the cold nights and am toasting everything now in an effort to keep warm." Later that year, his open hot roast-beef sandwich creates a scandal with its frankness.

1783: To celebrate his sixty-fifth birthday, he invents the hamburger and tours the great capitals of the world personally, making burgers at concert halls before large and appreciative audiences.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Russian Poetry: The Poet by Mikhail Lermontov

by Mikhail Lermontov (trans. A. Liberman)

A favorite of war, my sharp, unblemished blade,
   It did not ever bend or waiver;
Long, long ago in Eastern smithies it was made
   And worked upon by an engraver.

By a Caucasian mountaineer it was possessed
   And left its victims dead and riven;
It did not seek rewards for thrusting through a breast
   Or ripping coats of mail to ribbons.

It shared its master's joys like an obedient slave
   And boldly wrought retaliation;
To set it then in gold, embellish, and engrave
   Was but a waste of decoration.

A Cossack raised it too, to cut at war and chop

   (He took if off the owner's body);
It later gathered dust in an Armenian's shop
   With other goods, unused and shoddy.

Its scabbard, scratched and scarred, was lost for good
    and all;
  Without a sheath in which to sink it, 
 It glitters pleasantly - a toy upon the wall,
   An unheroic, harmless trinket.

And no one's loving hand, with interest and care,
   Will clean again the dagger proudly,
And no one's lips will say a fervent morning prayer
   While reading its inscriptions loudly.

You, poet in this unmanly age of ours
   Have, like that dagger, lost your station
And traded off for gold the sacred ancient power
   That filled the world with adoration.

It happened in the past that combatants went up
   To your steady rhythm;
Your trenchant word was like a sacrificial cup,
   Which stayed in war and worship with them.

Your verse would cover all with its gigantic wing,
   It moved like the Almighty's spirit.
And you yourself were like a bell whose sound 
   would ring,
So men in joy and grief could hear it.

But proud and simple words today annoy and bore,
  We love the bell that only tinkles;
Alas! Our wilted age is a wilted whore
   That tries to hide with rouge her wrinkles.

Oh, prophet ridiculed! When will your dagger thrust?
   When shall we witness the explosion
At which you noble blade will leave its bed of rust,
   Its shameful scabbard of corrosion?


For more information:


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Russian Poetry: The Beggar by Fyodor Tyutchev

(from Russian Poets, reviewed earlier) 


by Fyodor Tyutchev (trans. F. Cornford and E.P. Salaman

My God, send down Thy consolation
   To him who on the pavement’s heat,
Past the green garden, like a beggar,
   Drags heavy feet;

To him who sees beyond the paling
   Smooth lawns where the cool shadows lie,
Green hollows that he may not enter,
   But passes by.

No, not for him the trees in welcome
   Spread shade across the sultry way;
And not for him the fountain scatters
   Its smoke of spray

And not for him shall misted grotto
   Beckon as through a veil outspread,
Not dewy dust from waters falling
   Refresh his head.

My God, send down Thy consolation
   To him who, on life’s stony street
Like a poor beggar, past the garden
   Drags weary feet.

Roger Angell on "Life in the Nineties"

Roger Angell is a 93 year-old writer for the New Yorker. He has just written an admirable piece on life as a nonagenerian.The essay is is an uplifting account of a man who is grabbing at life as his body breaks apart, and offers much wisdom that we can all learn from. Here are some fragments, finishing on my favourite paragraph:
..Now, still facing you, if I cover my left, or better, eye with one hand, what I see is a blurry encircling version of the ceiling and floor and walls or windows to our right and left but no sign of your face or head: nothing in the middle. But cheer up: if I reverse things and cover my right eye, there you are, back again. If I take my hand away and look at you with both eyes, the empty hole disappears and you’re in 3-D, and actually looking pretty terrific today. Macular degeneration.
...I’m ninety-three, and I’m feeling great. Well, pretty great, unless I’ve forgotten to take a couple of Tylenols in the past four or five hours, in which case I’ve begun to feel some jagged little pains shooting down my left forearm and into the base of the thumb. Shingles, in 1996, with resultant nerve damage.
...Like many men and women my age, I get around with a couple of arterial stents that keep my heart chunking. I also sport a minute plastic seashell that clamps shut a congenital hole in my heart, discovered in my early eighties. ...Counting this procedure and the stents, plus a passing balloon angioplasty and two or three false alarms, I’ve become sort of a table potato, unalarmed by the X-ray cameras swooping eerily about just above my naked body in a darkened and icy operating room;
 ...My left knee is thicker but shakier than my right. I messed it up playing football, eons ago, but can’t remember what went wrong there more recently.
...The lower-middle sector of my spine twists and jogs like a Connecticut county road, thanks to a herniated disk seven or eight years ago. This has cost me two or three inches of height, transforming me from Gary Cooper to Geppetto. After days spent groaning on the floor, I received a blessed epidural, ending the ordeal.

I’ve endured a few knocks but missed worse. I know how lucky I am, and secretly tap wood, greet the day, and grab a sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds. The pains and insults are bearable. My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Russian poetry: I Have Outlived Most Things and People Round Me by Peter Vyazemsky (tr. A. Myers)

(from Russian Poets, reviewed earlier)

 by Peter Vyazemsky (trans. A. Myers)

I have outlived most things and people round me
and weighed the worth of most things in this life;
these days I drag along though bars surround me,
exist within set limits without strife.

Horizons now for me are close and dreary
and day by day draw nearer and more dark.
Reflection's dipping flight is slow and weary,
my soul's small world is desolate and stark.

My mind no longer casts ahead with boldness,
the voice of hope is dumb -- and on the route,
now trampled flat by living's mundane coldness,
I am denied the chance to set my foot.

And if my life has seemed among the hardest
and though my storeroom's stock of grain is small,
what sense is there in hoping still for harvest
when snow from winter clouds begins to fall?

In furrows cropped by scythe or sickle clearance
there may be found, it's true, some living trace;
in me there may be found some past experience,
but nothing of tomorrow's time or space.

Life's balanced the accounts, she is unable
to render back what has been prised away
and what the earth, in sounding vaults of marble,
has closed off, pitiless, from light of day.


For more information:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Concerning willpower and the changing of habitual behaviours - a 30 day project

I thought it might be interesting to test my willpower over the next thirty days by striving to achieve the following goals:

STOP activities
- Television
- Sitting on sofa
- Caffeine (tea, coffee, etc)
- Sugary foods (e.g. cake, biscuits, fizzy drinks, chocolate)
- Half carbohydrate intake
- Complaining

START activities
- Daily: Go the gym
- Daily: Run (distance irrelevant)
- Daily: Meditate for 5-10 minutes
- Daily: Stretching exercises for 5-10 minutes

Additional ideas (optional): brush teeth with left hand, write with left hand, gratitude (acts, diary, communication)

Why thirty days? There is an idea floating around that it takes 30 days or thereabouts for a new habit to form. I haven't looked into the validity of this idea but I needed to pick a number and 30 days was also the length I chose for the weight loss experiment that I attempted a few years ago. It is long enough to be testing and meaningful but not so long that I can't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

To make the environment conducive to success I have taken the following measures:
- Deleted the tv guide app from my ipad
- Sellotaped shut my box of tea-bags
- Finished my stock of coffee
- Restocked the fridge with loads of healthy food (and no junk)
- Added some new music tracks and podcasts to my ipod to add (to pep up the gym sessions) 

I intended to spend a bit more time in the preparation phase, putting a meditation plan in place and thinking up various low carb, high calorie meal options, etc, but this would have meant delaying the start date. Preparation can go on forever and as they say, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

In terms of rules this is not an all or nothing experiment where a single failure kills the whole project. Indeed, I fully expect to fail on some days, on some of the goals.

Where this differs to other challenges along these lines is that it is not a goal orientated enterprise. There are clear distinct goals out of necessity (and a great many of them to boot!) but the focus is on understanding, not transformation. I hope to observe myself over the days and in so doing better understand my willpower, the pull of the existing habits and temptations, and the effectiveness of potential strategies to maximise the probability of success. A few changes may well result which would be to the good, but I am not banking on it.

Today is day one of thirty. It isn't over yet but I can report that I haven't experienced the caffeine crash that I was concerned about, and have experienced before. Perhaps it will strike tomorrow when I'm at work, where tea-making visits to the canteen are very much a habitual behaviour; during the working week, I'll easily consume around ten mugs of tea or coffee through the day and then a final one when I get home.We'll see. Hopefully everything goes swimmingly.

I'll be keeping track of progress using good old pencil and paper, so won't post on again the topic for another thirty days (or less, if it all goes to ruin).


A spot of carb over indulgence the night before the experiment kicked off!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Book quotes: The Doctor and the Soul by Viktor E.Frankl (2/2)

Here is the second batch of quotes and notes from The Doctor and the Soul, reviewed earlier.

The more he grasps the task quality of life, the more meaningful will life appear to him. ..existential analysis teaches people to see life as an assignment. But the following addendum must be made: There are people who go a step further , who, as it were, experience life in a further dimension. They also experience the authority from which the task comes. They experience the task master who has assigned the task to them. In our opinion we have here the essential characteristic of the religious man: he is a man who interprets his existence not ony in terms of being responsible for fulfilling his life tasks, but also being responsible to the taskmaster.

In the light of existential analysis there is no such thing as a generally valid and universal binding life task. From this point of view the question of “the” task in life or “the” meaning of life is – meaningless. It reminds me of the question a reporting asked a grand master in chess. “And now tell me, maestro – what is the best move in chess?”. Neither question can be answered in a general fashion, but only in regard to a particular situation and person. The chess player, if he took the question seriously, would have had to reply: “A chess-player must attempt, within the limits of his ability and within the limits imposed by his opponent, to make the best move at any given time.”

It is life that asks questions of man.  …it is not up to man to question; rather he should recognise that he is questioned by life; he has only to respond by being responsible; and he can answer only to life by answering for his life.

On death: Finality, temporality, is only an essential characteristic of human life, but also a real factor in its meaningfulness/ The meaning of human existence is based upon its irreversible quality.

Man acts with the matter which fate has supplied him.

To do one’s best implies that one also includes the relativity of an accomplishment in the judgement of its value. The accomplishment must be judged in reference to the starting point..

Only under the hammer blows of fate, in the white heat of suffering, does life gain shape and form.

“Life is not anything. It is the opportunity for something” – Hebel

It is true that many persons, mostly those with a neurotic tinge, insist that they could have fulfilled themselves if only they had gone into a different occupation.   But that assertions is either a misunderstanding of what occupation means, or is a self-deception. … the meaning of a doctor’s work lies in what he does beyond his purely medical duties; it is what he brings to his work as a personality, as a human being.  Frankl goes on to accept that a person’s prevailing condition of work may distort their opportunity for meaning/self-actualisation/fulfilment, but then then they have their leisure time, although they may be too tired and need to recover their strength for the next day.

The jobless man need not necessarily succumb to unemployment neurosis (people who take up reading, music, voluntary work, hiking, games, friends, community work, etc realise that human life without paid work doesn’t equal meaninglessness. Also, an unemployed person who maintains their morale has a better chance of finding work ).

…both employment and unemployment can be misused as means to a neurotic end. …The capacity to work is not everything; it is neither a sufficient nor essential basis for a meaningful life.

The satisfactions of work are not identical to with the creative satisfactions of life as a whole.

Russian Poetry: Siletium! by Fyodor Tyutchev

(from Russian Poets, reviewed earlier. Note, the translation below is actually from Nabokov, which I much prefer over the one by C. Tomlinson in the book)

by Fyodor Tyutchev (translated by V. Nabokov)

Speak not, lie hidden, and conceal
the way you dream, the things you feel.
Deep in your spirit let them rise,
akin to stars in crystal skies
that set before the night is blurred:
delight in them and speak no word.

How can a heart expression find?
How should another know your mind?
Will he discern what quickens you?
A thought once uttered is untrue.
Dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred:
drink at the source and speak no word.

Live in your inner self alone
within your soul a world has grown,
the magic of veiled thoughts that might
 be blinded by the outer light,
drowned in the noise of day, unheard...
take in their song and speak no word.


For more information:

A few photos from the surrounds

The first picture is a crop selection of a local underpass. It has a utilitarian and perhaps dystopian aesthetic which I find strangely appealing. 

The pictures below are of the River Thames at sunset.

And here's the above picture post-processed to the nth degree to produce a kind of HDR effect, but not:

Friday, February 14, 2014

Russian poetry: I and You by Nikolai Gumilev

(from Russian Poets, reviewed earlier) 

by Nikolai Gumilev (trans. V. De S. Pinto)

Yes, I come from another country,
To your world I can never belong.
Tinkling guitars cannot please me,
I want a wild desolate song.

I do not read my verses in drawing-rooms
To black-coats and dresses like shrouds.
I read my verses to dragons,
To the waterfalls and to the clouds.

I love like an Arab in the desert
Who flings himself on water and drinks,
Not like a knight in a picture
Who looks at the stars and thinks.

I shall not die in a bedroom
With a priest and a lawyer beside me.
I shall perish in a terrible ravine
With a mass of wild ivy to hide me.

I shall not go to a Protestant heaven,
Open to all in tidy blue skies,
But to a place where thief and publican
And harlot will cry: “Friend, arise!”


For more information:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Film: Dallas Buyers Club

Another heavy film (cinema is getting exhausting!). 

Dallas Buyer's Club is an extremely well made movie, with excellent turns from Matthew McConnaughey and Jared Leto. It is loosely based on a true story, although this fact neither attracts nor detracts from the picture. Overall, this is a fantastic but emotionally taxing character study, that tells the story of a man who is up against the clock, the odds, and the state laws.

Interestingly, the movie opens and closes using the classic Times New Roman typeface for the film credits. Is this a retro font already?


Book quotes: The Doctor and the Soul by Viktor E.Frankl (1/2)

Here are some notes and quotes from the The Doctor and the Soul, reviewed earlier. More to follow.

Logotherapy is ultimately education toward responsibility; the patient must push forward independently toward the concrete meaning of his own existence.
 …man is by no means a product of heredity and environment . There is a third element: decision. Man ultimately decides for himself!

..the aim of the psychotherapist should be to bring out the ultimate possibilities of the patient, to realise his latent values  - remembering the aphorism of Geothe, which might as well be adopted as the maxim of psychotherapy: “If we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they are what they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming”.

Erwin Straus … has shown that the reality of man’s life … is inconceivable apart from the historical time factor. This is especially true in neurosis where man “deforms” this (sense of time). One type of deformation is the attempt to desert the original human plane of being. Straus calls this attempt “presentist” existence. He is referring to the attitude which repudiates any sense of direction in life; to behaviour , in other words, which is neither based on the past nor guided toward the future, but related only to the unhistorical pure present. Thus many a neurotic expresses a preference for living “far from the struggle for existence” upon some solitary island where he would have nothing to do but lie in the sun.  That may be fitting for animals, but not for men. Only in his self-forgetfulness can such a person imagine that in the long-run … such a life would be human, worthy of man, and tolerable. The “normal man” may and can only take a presentist attitude only at certain times, and then only to a degree.
The time and occasion for this is a thing of conscious choice. …This (the bourgeois) class is swelled by those vast numbers of human being who, hard at work all week long, on Sundays are overwhelmed by emptiness and lack of content of their lives, which the day of idleness brings into consciousness. Victims of “Sunday neurosis”, they get drunk in order to flee from their spiritual horror of emptiness.

How crucial is an affirmative attitude toward life.

Pleasure is not the goal of our aspirations, but the consequence of attaining them. Kant long ago pointed this out. … It is evident that adopting the pleasure principle would, on a moral plane, lead to a levelling of all potential human aims. It would be impossible to differentiate one action from another, since all would have the same purpose in view. (Frankl goes on to say that under the pleasure principle a person might with equal justification spend their money on a cake as a book, as they both yield pleasure – imo, this is a gross simplification of the idea of short-term utility, which surely allows for lots of different types of pleasures.). 

When we set pleasure up as the whole meaning of life, we insure that in the final anlaysis life shall inevitably seem meaningless. Pleasure cannot possibly lend meaning to life. For what is pleasure? A condition. The materialist …would say that pleasure is nothing but a state of cells in the brain.

Life itself teaches most people that “we are not here to enjoy ourselves”. Those who have not yet learned this lesson might be edified by the statistics of a Russian experimental psychologist who showed that the normal man in an average day experiences incomparably more unpleasure sensations that pleasure sensations.

How often one of our patients bewails his life, which he says has no meaning since his activities are without any higher value. This is the point at which we must reason with him, showing that it is a matter of indifference what a person’s occupation is, or at what job he works. The crucial thing is how he works, whether he in fact fills the place in which he happens to have landed. The radius of his activity is not important; important alone is whether he fills the circle of his tasks. (there is some truth to this but to me the idea doesn’t really hold water  - one to investigate further, perhaps Camus’ take on Sisyphus is of use?).

… life proves to be meaningful even when it is neither fruitful in creation nor rich in experience. The third group of values (first was creative values, second was experiential value ) lies precisely in a man’s attitude toward the limiting factors upon his life. His very response to the restraints upon his potentialities provides him with a new realm of values which surely belong among the highest values.

At one time we are called upon, as it were, to enrich ourselves by our actions, another time to enrich ourselves by our experiences. Sometimes the demand of the hour may be fulfilled by an act, another time by our surrendering to the glory of an experience. Man can be “obligated” to experience joy. Frankl describes a man sitting in his car, reading a newspaper, instead of looking up to enjoy the sunset or breath in the nice smell of flowers, as someone who may be described as being negligent to this obligation.

..human freedom is not a “freedom from” but a “freedom to” – a freedom to accept responsibility.

The rules of life do not require us to win at all costs, but they do demand that we never give up the fight.

…in view of the task quality of life, it logically follows that life becomes more meaningful the more meaningful it gets.

But if the patient should object that he does not know the meaning of his life, that the unique potentialities of his own existence are not apparent to him, then we can only reply that his primary task is just this: to find his way to his own proper task, to advance toward the uniqueness and singularity of his own meaning in life. As for the matter of each man’s inner potentialities – in other words, how a man is to go about learning what he ought to be from what he is – there is no better answer than that given by Goethe: “However can we learn to know ourselves? Never by reflection, but by action. Try to do your duty and you will soon find out what you are. But what is your duty? The demands of each day”.

No man can ever know what life still holds in store for him, or what magnificent hour may still await him. No man is justified in insisting on his own inadequacies – that is, demeaning his own potentialities.