Thursday, 21 October 2010

Dostoyevsky agrees!

My favourite character in Dostoyevsky's classic novel Crime and Punishment is the passionately intelligent, unrestrained bear of a man, Razumikhin. Of all the characters in this incredible novel, he is the one with the least artifice, who speaks the most intelligently and vividly, from the heart. It is also no coincidence that Dostoyevsky almost certainly derived Razumikhin's name from the Russian word 'razum', meaning 'reason'.

In this wonderful passage, a drunk (on vodka, on life, on Avdotya Raskolnikov's beauty) Razumikhin,
escorting Raskolnikov's sister and mother back to their lodgings, rails against the vile use of cliche, and how its use pervades all our lives, obscuring truth:

'What do you suppose?' Razumikhin shouted, raising his voice even louder. 'Do you suppose I'm going on like this because they talk nonsense? Rubbish! I like it when they talk nonsense! Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over other organisms. It's by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I'm human. Not one single truth has ever been arrived at without people first having talked a dozen reams of nonsense, even ten dozen reams of it, and that's an honourable thing in its own way; well, but we can't even talk nonsense with our own brains! Talk nonsense to me, by all means, but do it with your own brain, and I shall kiss you for it.
To talk nonsense in one's own way is almost better than to talk a truth that's someone else's; in the first instance, you behave like a human being, while in the second, you are merely being a parrot!
The truth won't go away, but life can be knocked on the head and done in. I can think of some examples... we're all of us, every one of us without exception, when it comes to the fields of learning, development, thought, invention, ideals, ambition, liberalism, reason, experience, and every, every, every other field you can think of, in the very lowest preparatory form of school! We've got accustomed to making do with other people's intelligence - we're soaked in it! It's true, isn't it? Isn't what I'm saying true?' cried Razumikhin, trembling all over and squeezing the hands of both ladies. 'Isn't it?'

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The sea is not blue

The sea is not blue.

Some time ago I sat on an old stone jetty a few metres above the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. The sea is blue, said my mind. I looked at the sea. And then I realised, with a eureka-like shock, that the sea is not blue. That in fact the very idea that 'the sea is blue' was preventing me from experiencing the sea as it actually was, in that moment; a heaving mass of incredible matter that was absorbing and reflecting and refracting the sunlight in amazing ways..
And beyond that, I saw that there is no colour.

Colour is an idea.

I realised that we have built our entire idea of what reality is by using a battery of concept thinking, based on a set of linguistic cliches. We think in cliches. We experience life through these cliches. We talk in cliches.

These cliches are preventing us from actually experiencing life as it is.

If you live your life through cliches, your life will in fact be a cliche. You will have lived and died with almost no direct experience of the world you are living in. And what is profound, shocking and fundamental, is that reality, beneath, beyond, before the cliche, is more amazing, more vibrant, richer and deeper, than anything you can possibly imagine from a cliche-based perspective.

I believe it is our duty, as thinking beings, to wake up to this reality, and go beyond the cliche. Think about it. No, go on, don't just dismiss this idea, think about it. Think about how you define your life by stories, by sets of cliches; and I don't just mean now and again, I mean all the time.

Think about it.