Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Internet choir

The internet surprises me everyday with the possibilities that it offers. I saw today a video of Eric Whitacre detailing how he came upon the idea of an internet choir. While it was not the first such idea that I came across, when I saw what they had produced, and the process they went through to achieve it, I was astounded. The music was not the best it could have been, but when faced with the idea of so many unrelated people coming together to make their contribution to this whole, it moved me enough to make the imperfections seem irrelevant.  Music can be enjoyed in solitude, and the intimate personal experience of the music when it is just the music and oneself is invaluable. But, the synergy caused by the shared experience of music in communal music forms such as choir music is inimitable in solitude. And what this video displays is communal music on an entirely new level.  


There is always something else

There is always someone else, or something else; or is there? How long before the inertia of a situation catches up, stifling, suffocating, pushing you to change something, anything. Of course, that doesn’t mean that just any situation will be acceptable. A vague but desperate searching, trying to find something that will effortlessly draw you away from the present situation. It has to be that way. You are caught up so thoroughly in the present situation that an uphill effort to achieve something else is not possible. The something needs to be alluring enough to announce itself and lead you away, even against your own resistance due to the inertia. That is what your eye is desperately searching for.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fanfiction, fiction and reality

I am a fan of fanfiction. Whenever I am faced with a new story, whatever the medium it is expressed in maybe, I am aware of the new world that it has brought into existence. The infinity of possible narratives that can spring up from one narrative : interpretations, elaborations, interpolations, extrapolations, modifications... overwhelm me. My discovery of fanfiction in its latest incarnation brought with it the revelation that a narrative is never complete, or definite in any way, for that matter. This was not new idea, I had come into contact with it in one form or the other several times before. But, faced with the deluge of hundreds of thousands of narratives that had sprung up from one book or anime, the idea was forced into the forefront of my consciousness, unlike the gentle nudging that accompanied all my reading before.

What is also interesting for me are the unspoken rules that evolved, and now accompany fanfiction: a particular fanfic could be judged to follow the canon, while another could be adjudged AU, but still a fanfic of the same piece of fiction. Fanfics are commended for originality, but readers are quick to deride narratives that are too alien, that snap the tenuous link that connects a fanfic to the original.

This brings me to the debate regarding the respective values of various forms of narrative. The realist narrative (word changed from 'tradition' earlier), it is said, mirrors reality, and hence is valuable as an honest chronicle of the state of affairs. Fantasy on the other hand (I include science fiction in this) narrates a story based on imaginary conditions, and hence its value is dubious.

This debate stumped me for a long time. I knew I liked fantasy genre, considered it valuable, but could not explain why. It was the workings of fanfiction that finally shed some light on the issue for me. I realised that fantasy is not baseless imagination. Or more to the point, much like AU fanfics that are too alien (with respect to the canon) are rejected, fantasy that is too alien is rejected.

Realist narrative mirrors (or at least tries to) what is there, there is nothing hidden, no circumspection, a depiction of reality as is. Fantasy moves away from reality, follows a narrative that is unlike any reality, but, it is not baseless, it does not snap the tenuous connection that ties it to reality (as I said earlier, those that are too alien are rejected), it merely engages with it in a circumspect manner. Is there value to be found here?

Sunday, May 29, 2011


The mechanism (or series of events, if 'mechanism' makes it sound more logical, structured, than it really is) that constitutes the formation of geopolitical entities (I'll call them 'states' for simplicity's sake, though it is too narrow a term) intrigues me. I wonder if there would be any states without an interested party seeking control 'uniting' people, or an external threat uniform to all forcing them to unite. At the same time I think about the term 'failed state'.

We are more organised than ever before in human history, the boundaries of our states are more fixed than ever before. At the same time there is more movement across boundaries, both of information and people than ever before. What does this mean for the State?

States need the people inhabiting them to associate 'home' with them for them to function, be secure. In the first instance a state comes into existence only through circumstance, and it is more likely to break down than not very quickly. If the state holds together for a while, usually due the threat of an external power, or a controlling party keeping it together by force, or a moral purpose in the minds of people manifesting itself in the form of the state...then, the state starts accumulating history, and the people inhabiting it associate themselves with that history. It is that sense of history, that feeling of home that is the basic necessity for the continued existence of a state. Failed, dysfunctional or healthy, a state continues to exist as long as there are people in the world who associate it with home: these people will fight for its continued existence in whatever form.

Of course, the feeling of 'home' is very nebulous. In a world with increasingly porous borders home becomes hard to pin down. It becomes harder everyday to accumulate history that is unique to a state, because everything around us, from everyday objects to entertainment to culture, comes from somewhere else.

Another thing that makes identifying with the state more difficult is its increasing complexity and impersonality. Earlier a state used to have a monarch, the physical manifestation of the state, an idol to look up to or curse, alternatively, and humanity loves idols. And what does the state have now? A book of rules? Innumerable departments with their rules and offices...a creature chasing its own tail? What inspires loyalty? Is it the history of the people? The ever changing rules that some of us decide upon? And why is this place home and not some place else?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Normalising the sub-normal

I often find myself surprised by how easy it is to decide on the right direction of change as long as there is a working paradigm to emulate. It is only the occasional internal rupture in the paradigm or a severe impediment in the path of the one 'catching up' that a serious reevaluation takes place, only to be covered up most of the time using a circumstantial explanation, on the way to getting right back into a headlong plunge to achieving the paradigm. Of course, it is even more difficult to resist the lure of the paradigm when it exists as a constant reminder right in one's face. 

This tendency subsists in all conceivable situations where there is a problem and a paradigm available to the ones seeking a solution. This lure might merely owe its existence to human laziness, or being more charitable to ourselves, the difficulty the human mind faces thinking of a problem as separate from an apparent working solution readily available. 

I am not against using pre-existing knowledge: what is history for if not to help us prepare for the future? It is our tendency to adopt models wholesale with only a superficial revamping that worries me. This issue can be brought to focus in its subtle working in various situations, but for now I will quote an obvious example. India upon its independence did not think too deeply on how its state should be organised. It drew from existing models and mixed up a cocktail. I do not deny the fact the changes and concessions were made to account for Indian uniqueness, but was that the best that could be done? Was not a more original system singularly suited to India, drawing up on every aspect of its situation, possible? But, as I stated earlier, the lure of a working paradigm is often too hard to ignore. To battle the lure of the surfeit of appealing political systems backed by their moral philosophies, showcased by 'shining examples' of working states, would have required too much courage.

Friday, May 27, 2011


I have an issue with specialisation. Of course the argument that specialised people become shades of what they could be has been reiterated several times, especially these past two centuries; that the sense of wholeness that came with the specialisation of before is lost now, the simplest of jobs have been broken down into smaller pieces. But that is not what I am talking about here. It has more to do with my issue with specialisation, personally.

I just find it incredibly difficult to stick with one thing long enough to be called a specialist. Not because the subject in question is uninteresting, or unimportant; I simply find it futile trying to ignore all the interesting data pertaining to other subjects, all this knowledge bombarding me relentlessly. It might have been easier a few decades ago where the most accidental information one gets is through a newspaper. But no, that is not the case now, information cries for our attention all the time, everywhere. Of course, for someone who is passionate about one thing, it might be argued that all that information is crystalised automatically, purposefully, to be focussed on the subject of their passion.

But that is not the case with me. I am merely a thinker; and what do I think about: everything and nothing. I have to think about the civil war in Libya, the financial crisis in Greece, the gender disparity in India, the spiraling climate change, the value of society, of life and death...At the same time, I cannot write a substantial paper on the war in Libya, the rise of China, the environment or existentialism, because I am not an expert. I know enough about each of those subjects to draw my own conclusions, to make my own judgement, but not enough to elaborate originally on any of them.

Potential for value is present in everything, but is only realised through recognition by the other. This blog is an attempt to see if there is 'market' for a thinker like me.