“Life’s great happiness is to be convinced we are loved.”
– Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (1862)
Among the many types of mental fallacies, confirmation bias has got to be my favourite. Mostly because I’m so often guilty of it. Confirmation bias means the tendency to seek out information that validates your assumptions and beliefs, in the process screening out those which don’t.
The example most relevant to this blog would be my awareness of a constant uncanny ‘echoing’ between my daily reading and my daily living, which I’ve written about here and here and here.
As much as I’d like to think of myself as some Minister of Literary Humanism, deep down I suspect that these ‘coincidences’ are less so manifestations of an uncanny ritual, as they are simply a testament to the fact that I read a lot of humanistic fiction, which, of course, is made up of events drawn from this activity called human living.
“Your library is your paradise.”
– Desiderius Erasmus, circa 1520s
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
– Jorge Luis Borges, 1955
When Henry James dissed Victorian novelists for writing “large, loose baggy monsters”, he kind of had a point: in an age where distractions abound, the idea of spending time on the nitty-gritty ins and outs of imagined people does seem quite cavalier. What is the use, what is the point, what is the objective end goal target achievable of reading fiction etc etc.
And yet, utilitarian checklists, dull and soul-sucking as they may be to some, are beautiful in their slavishness to time efficiency. As such, the combo of boxes-and-ticks is often the boon of corporate-minded souls, or just people who find solace in structure and reassurance in the regimental.
“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”
– Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)
Rockstar outta space penthouse hideaway
Fountain blue getaway King of Diamonds where I lay
Yeah, fresh wheneva we wanna play free band A.1. LBG man we global
Yay, yay yeah we selling plenty coke have a drink have
A toast nigga we don’t brag or boast so Rolls Royce
Lamborghini doors suicide open up your brains now your casket closed
Im in NASA outta here 3 carats in my ear
I can make you disappear drape like a chandelier
Astronaut when I shine racks on racks
Now Im understanding crystal clear
– Future, ‘Space Cadets’ (2012)
How often do you notice the presence of irony in your life?
For as far back as I can remember, things usually happen in series of ironic ‘echoes’ for me. What this means is I’d be aware of something that hasn’t happened for quite a while, or someone who I haven’t seen for quite some time, only to – lo and behold – find myself experiencing or encountering these somethings and someones shortly thereafter.
Call it the sixth sense, or a ‘woman’s intuition’, but despite the regularity with which this pattern occurs, I’m always slightly taken aback or bemused (or freaked out – context depending) whenever it does.
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877)
“All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,’, says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel…”
– Vladimir Nabokov, Ada or Ardor (1969)
Last week, I finished reading the fourth and final sequel in John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy.
First love, last rites (left to right): Rabbit, Run – Rabbit Redux – Rabbit is Rich – Rabbit at Rest
For a fiction maniac like me, this is cause for celebration, because I don’t think I’ve ever fully completed a novel series. I abandoned grew out of Harry Potter after The Half-Blood Prince (6th book), and – shock horror – I’ve never been big enough on Tolkien or high fantasy to plough through the LOTRs.
In fact, after an extended period of fiction sampling in the past 10 months, I can pretty much confirm that my literary taste tends towards the opposite of sci-fi and fantasy, which is realism, and American realism, in particular. British realism is more in the tradition of Charles Dickens, George Eliot and – if you want something grimmer and more naturalistic – Thomas Hardy, all of which are authors I have grown to love and admire, but wouldn’t put at the top of my ‘to-read’ list any time soon.
We read fiction because it makes us less lonely about being a human being. We read about what other human beings feel – what they are driven to do, how they often work for their own destruction, how they are in the grip of appetites that are beyond them and they can’t control or harness.
– John Updike, ‘The Post’, 1998
I’ve come to notice that a lot of people don’t read fiction.
To each his/her own and all that, but I can’t help feeling a bit sad about this. Not trying to convert any Freakonomics fans into Frankenstein buffs here; it’s just that those who ignore what imagined words and worlds can offer are missing out on a whole other dimension of human experience. Long story short, your life becomes all the richer for having read fiction, for you having ‘lived’ multiple lives, ‘inhabited’ multiple landscapes, and ‘stepped into’ multiple pairs of shoes.
“Scholars, together with the whole apparatus of the library, formed an immensely complex and constantly evolving creature which had to be fed with myriad of words, in order to bring forth myriad of words in its own turn.”
– W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz, 364
After three years of self-imposed exile, I’m finally back on home turf.
It’s the strangest feeling, like having my umbilical cord glued back onto the navel from which it fell off 20 years ago. It’s been a week since I’ve started taking the metro to work, and I still can’t get over how densely populated Hong Kong has become. I miss the HK of my childhood – for one, it was a heck of a lot more spacious.
So, sandwiched between white-collared crowds, every morning I imagine myself as an outsized goldfish, gasping for air as I wade through my peak-hour comrades.
You know what else I miss that’s like a goldfish?
So: looks like shit’s finally hit the fan for Greece.
In Matthew Arnold’s 1888 essay ‘On Wordsworth’, the sage writer criticises the poet for being too provincial (“homely” is the word he uses) in his subject matter and personal interests. His lyrics may convey “profound truths”, but the guy’s still an English bumpkin from the North, is Arnold’s point. Of course, the Oxford-trained Arnold is from Middlesex in the southeast of England, whereas Wordsworth hails from the northwestern crags of Cumbria.
So, just another case of South-on-North snobbery – no surprises here, really. Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 social novel North and South couldn’t have portrayed it better.
But the way Arnold illustrates Wordsworth’s parochialism is interesting, if not a bit peculiar.