Tag Archives: Literature

A Scientific Perspective to Complement the Philosophical

This video, from a favourite news source of mine, details the reasons why fiction is so helpful to the brain, and so important for our development. Just watch it. You’ll see.

Also, here’s the link to a previous blog post which specifically explains the idea behind fiction:

http://wp.me/p44y5q-7E

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The Philosophy of Victory – Machiavelli and Sun Tzu

Two great books, two timeless texts, two manuals on the differences between victory and defeat, success and failure. These two texts, I believe, cannot be read separately. I myself finished them both this December and found them to be everything I imagined them to be.

A short background: Machiavelli was a Renaissance court employee who bore witness to the daily affairs and politics of Europe’s leaders. He saw the way they handled themselves both in war and in peace and observed the traits which ended up leading to their success. While being a nice guy himself, he came to the conclusion that to succeed as a leader (or Prince), one has to be ruthless, conniving, bribe-happy and, most importantly, rule by terror, as opposed to love. Sun Tzu was a famous Chinese general who seemed to win every battle he was involved in. He collected and wrote an anthology of texts explaining the art of war, and how careful planning is to go into every battle. He outlined how and when to attack, when to retreat, how to deceive one’s opponent and how to ensure victory every time.

Why it’s important today if these two men lived 400 and 2600 years ago: The lessons learned from these texts extend to canvass far more than just the art of ruling a kingdom or fighting a battle. They are manuals of management for any environment, from managing a restaurant, to running a family, to building a corporate giant.

It goes without saying that there’s so much win in these two books that successfully applying either of them can ensure that your life will be one big victory pie. But it’s not that simple.

Lessons from each book which I thought were interesting:

The very first thing Sun Tzu said: “The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death,  a road to either safety or ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

The very first thing on the agenda is to assert a huge contradiction to the attitude which dominates western thought. When in a state of war, you cannot ignore the uncomfortable things. War is itself a brutal affair. One cannot worry about how to treat the prisoners when the war has not been won yet, or ignore all of the possible dirty tricks one’s enemy may attempt, simply because that wouldn’t be fair. When in a state of war – in business, or in actual war – you cannot choose to ignore certain details in the hope that your enemy will also ignore them. If you do not choose to consider every possible betrayal and low move, those will be the things that surely lead to your demise. If you do not actively take those options into your strategy, then you will be disadvantaged throughout the fight. This is a rule that is ruthlessly applied to the corporate environment, but in everyday ‘moralistic’ life, people choose to ignore this fact, and pretend life is good, virtuous and easy. Unthinkable acts are just that: unthinkable. That’s all well and good if you’re a simple citizen, but if you want to play the big game and if you want to win, Sun Tzu says that you should, at some point, come to the realisation that going all out is the only rule. Failure to go all out will result in failure across the board.

Machiavelli likes to go on about the best possible way to ensure that your rule is long-lived and successful after the initial victory, rather than just looking at how to defeat the enemy’s army, which is why I think his philosophy complements that of Sun Tzu very well. The most intriguing lesson he brought forward was the effectiveness of two opposing methods of maintaining control over one’s kingdom: terror and love. Terror implies ensuring that your subordinates know that double-crossing you or under-performing at their jobs means harsh punishment, while love implies debauchery and a benevolent rule which benefits them, and thus results in an obligation to you. The problem that surfaces with the method of love is that when things get tough, and you are no longer able to supply your subordinates with a lavish lifestyle or keep low taxes, they will not be so loyal and will quickly get used to the idea of treachery, while a rule of terror will ensure their submission and loyalty no matter the situation.

A man is only as good as the books he reads. So read these books.

I’ll be writing again soon, I hope. Stay tuned/connected.

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A Must Read: Freakonomics

How does one draw common qualities between sumo-wrestling and teaching in the USA? Well, Levitt can do it.

Here’s  a TED video where Levitt talks about one of the many topics he covers in Freakonomics.

The book titled Freakonomics is the result of combining the brilliant creative vision of a left-brainer with the know-how of a fully trained economic analyst. If you ever want to develop a decent understanding of the world and its dynamics, you have to read this book. They have also published other books following this one. If you wish to read them all, I encourage you to do so, but at the very least, read one of them and understand the message behind it.

Enjoy.

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Fictional Literature’s Role in the Real World

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world – P. B. Shelley

Shelley

While Shelley was obviously a little biased for poetry, I believe what he said, but I extend it out to the genre of fiction as well, which is closely tied to poetry and all literature which embraces the obscure and the abstract.

One of the most annoyingly incorrect statements one can make is that fiction is a waste of time, an unnecessary hobby of mankind which we could do without. I cannot express through the written word how that statement frustrates me. But, I find solace in the fact that it is usually exclaimed obnoxiously and with false confidence by those who know next to nothing of reading and literature in general, or by 4chan’s /lit/ page, for which I still haven’t forgiven them.

Here’s the truth :

Fiction of all kinds acts as a kind of time capsule in a way that non-fiction cannot. It preserves the mannerisms and cultural idiosyncrasy of an epoch within the pages of a book, or the lines of a poem without ever emphasising them. It is a masterful skill, a difficult thing to do with success. It requires absurdity from the very beginning, or it will collapse simply from being unoriginal. It ironically creates another, separate era which does not exist and places those mannerisms within it in such a way that the true culture can be observed, scrutinised, and critically analysed.

By rejecting the relatively temporary surroundings of its contemporaneous age, a fictional work affords itself the ability to stand the test of time. By giving itself a unique setting, a fictional work can be understood universally and across different cultural ages. Consider the fact that literature is itself a means to empathy. This definition would thus place fiction at the pinnacle of all literature.

This is what Shelley thought, just for the augmented insight:

Poetry comes from the erudite and the thoughtful. When a system is in dire need of change, it is the poets who trigger this change through their poetry. They change minds, liberate thoughts and foster dissent against that which would oppress the otherwise oblivious man. As he describes the thought racing through everyone’s heads in Mask of Anarchy, Shelley shows us how overwhelmingly powerful an idea can be compared to, say, brute violence and undirected anger, which usually ruins more than it can fix.

What is your favourite genre of literature and why? Comment like you’re being paid for it.

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George Orwell’s 1984

A heartbreaking, gut-wrenching novel. If I were a little more melodramatic, I might have fallen to my knees and wept.

Some Background Info:

1984 is a speculative story about a totalitarian world. Imagine every fascist, communist and demonic creature ever conceived and smash them together with a hadron collider. The product of this twisted experiment would be called ‘The Party’. This party is impregnable, infallible, indefatigable. They annihilate their enemies and destroy the world’s hopes of freedom, equality and most importantly, progress. They change  history as they see fit and there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – you can do to stop them. All for sheer power. There is no means, there is no ideology, there is nothing to stand for. They literally want power and nothing else. What’s more, they’ve conditioned the population to love them for it.

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I am not a light-hearted reader. In fact, being South African, I am by default exposed to some of the most raw and unfiltered literature in the world. Books like Antjie Krog”s Country of My Skull cover some gruesome human rights violations. Besides that, I love reading all sorts of gory Science Fiction from all over the place. This novel was above that. It went beyond individual human despair and destroyed the very idea of freedom with no hope of bringing it back. I have known the word ‘nihilism’ for a long time. I’ve even explored many facets of it (on an academic level), but I’d never had a sample of the hopelessness and despair that came with it. I now can say I’ve experienced the aftertaste of nihilism. It’s not pleasant. Damn.

It’s a very rare occurrence when something moves me this much, so I couldn’t leave it alone, I had to blog about it, despite wanting to reserve blogging on literature for later.

To all seven people who end up seeing my blog, have you read 1984? If not, what have you read that you would place on a similar level, compared to what I’ve described above? Do you enjoy reading literature that does not give  a solution at the end, that leaves one with a question rather than an answer?

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