Perhaps my favorite part of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War

11. What the ancients called a clever warrior is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.

12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.

13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

14. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.

15. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.

Kierkegaard on the role of the poet in the World

“The poet is the genius of memory. He does nothing but recall what has been seen, admire what has been done. He visits every man’s door with song and speech, that all may admire the hero as he does. This is his humble work, his faithful service, his crowning glory.” – Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

Dieter Rams on Good Design

Good design is innovative

Good design makes a product useful

Good design is aesthetic

Good design helps us understand a product

Good design is unobtrusive

Good design is honest

Good design is long-lasting

Good design is consequent to the last detail

Good design is concerned with the environment

Good design is as little design as possible

reflections on the first man

I just finished reading ‘The First Man’, Camus’ last, and unfinished work.I’ve always related most to Camus, of all the authors – with the rest, be they philosophers or linguists like Nietzsche, Baudrillard, Derrida and Sartre, or Novelists like Murakami, Mailer and Marquez, or the fantasy writers like Tolkien, Herbert and Jordan – being a little lesser in influence.It is something of his detached yet engaged approach, coming from the understanding that beyond Good or Evil, humanity just IS; and the paradoxical (or maybe perfectly logical) love and sorrow for life itself that has always appealed to me, that I found most of all in Camus’ writings.Like Nietzsche before or Sartre alongside him, he moved from the understandings of anarchism and nihilism that are the foundation for free thought, to the humanist approach to life — only, unlike the other two, he probably got a whole lot closer to achieving it. While Sartre may have burned a little brighter in the eyes of many, Camus’ flame and its relevance will linger on for much longer because of this.Anyways, I found it a deeply moving book, and put up this review on its Shelfari page:

Awareness of one’s intellectual ability, and the fulfillment of that promise in understanding the universe often makes us forget where we came from, where it all started. It is when that grounding goes that our systems of thought amount to zero; for it is that grounding which best tells us how we need to use those thoughts and engage with the world around.Perhaps the most reflective of his works. I went through the books remembering my own childhood. I loved every bit of the book, and am glad it was published. As fate would have it, Camus never finished his book, and the notes reveal some of the grandness his vision would have reached if accomplished.Nonetheless, It has it’s own charm for that very reason. We only know Jacques Cormery as a child then, and maybe that’s the best part, the innocent part of us we need to recall in ourselves. The rest of our lives, while maybe filled with success, can never quite match up to the promise of childhood.He lays out a lot of the thinking that shaped his beliefs, which eventually led to his alienation from Sartre and the left bank of that period. It takes courage to be reasonable; especially in times of war and crises — and it is that courage that elevates you to being human. That’s something his contemporaries learned much later, if they learned at all.

The shelfari review page is here. Other writings on the book can be found on the NYTimes (Boyhood’s dark fire, Camus’s Last Work, a First Draft, Shows His Life and His Style, Albert Camus: Being Right about the Left, and (on his notebooks) Uncomfortable in His Skin, Thriving in His Mind)The first review ends saying

The tragic humanism of Camus is not to be confused with pessimism. Camus knew that war, not peace, is normal; that Cain will always murder Abel — just as Dr. Rieux in “The Plague” knows that the deadly bacillus will not disappear. Hence the need for permanent vigilance. There can be no armistice in our struggle against suffering. The lesson Camus teaches is that we must learn to love that which is imperfect. This love must extend to loving that which is inevitable. Camus’s allegiance to life, the life he lost so suddenly and so early, was from the start joyful and desperate.

“One must love life before loving its meaning, and when the love of life disappears, no meaning can console us.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky.

reflections of a bored post-modernist


confessions of a bored post modernist, originally uploaded by s t e r n f a h r e r.

the band is on stage. sound check is over with. the lights fade out. a spotlight illuminates a little, where all was once light. the drummer starts a marching beat. the bass kicks in. half the concert is actually over. the lead guitarist and vocalist stepped out for a smoke half-way through the performance. the bassist steps out now. it’s just the drums.

the audience is listening, the audience is watching. this wasn’t part of the script, but it is. there’s an IPL game going on at the other end of the room. well, it was. this was weeks ago. i’m sitting three tables down from the stage. i’m sipping a Long Island Iced Tea. not really my drink of choice, but then again, i’m a little phlegmatic towards drink selection today, and i’m focused on the music anyways.

the drum solo continues. someone shouts out for Rock On (by the drummer, are you kidding me?) someone else shouts out for Moby Dick (the Led Zeppelin track, not the whale. probably). people are shouting for the rest of the band to get back into the venue and on stage, the drummer’s shouting, too! the Rajasthan Royals are back in the game. against Mumbai. pity, really, i like both teams.

‘guys, get back in here’ shouts the drummer. they’re outside. they can’t hear him. ‘keep going’ shouts the audience. they’re loving it. they were here for a performance. they’re getting one. scripted, or maybe unscripted. who knows? the band comes back on stage. they’ve got to play another hour. they invite friends on stage to perform.

this is not quite a rockshow. it’s not quite a performance. it’s not quite a cricket match. it’s not quite a dinner. it’s not quite an evening out. it’s not quite a rockshow. it just is. definable, undefinable.

there are no questions, but one, no answers but one.

are you entertained?


L’homme . révolté

“In more ingenuous times, when the tyrant razed cities for his own greater glory, when the slave chained to the conqueror’s chariot was dragged through the rejoicing streets, when enemies were thrown to the wild beasts in front of the assembled people, the mind did not reel before such unabashed crimes, and the judgment remained unclouded.

But slave camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy or by a taste for the superhuman, in one sense cripple judgment. On the day when crime dons the apparel of innocence — through a curious transposition peculiar to our times — it is innocence that is called upon to justify itself”

– Albert Camus

free . to . choose


free . to . choose, originally uploaded by s t e r n f a h r e r.

There’s a hum in the air. I’m sure I can hear it. I can feel it. It’s so loud, it hurts my mind. I’m numb, I can’t take my mind off it, I don’t know what to do about it. No one can help me. No one else can even hear it. I’m writing this down. In the middle of nowhere, in the middle of notime, with no thought in my head. Only the humming in the air around me, and footsteps approaching.

Who is it? I can’t see. It’s dark. “Who is it!?”, I shout. The darkness laughs back in silence. Am I awake, or is this a dream? What does it mean, to be awake, if this is being awake? What does it mean to be dreaming, if this is a dream? If this is a dream, whose dream is it? It can’t be mine. It must be someone else’s dream. But how can that be? Can you be awake, can you be aware, in someone else’s dream?

The mind shudders to accept what should not be.

A light approaches. No. It’s not approaching. It’s fading away. Should I follow? I’m afraid. Being in the darkness for so long I now fear the light. Do I stay here and wait? Do I follow the light?

I move towards it. The hum grows stronger. Am I doing the right thing? The hum reverberates in my head. The light dancing on my eyes breathes new horror with each flicker. But it’s all in my mind. I’m sure I have to follow this light. I walk.

There’s a door, made of blinding light. I walk through. It’s light everywhere. Bright, white, blinding light. I keep walking. I look around, I look back. There’s nothing there. It’s all light now. Only a speck of darkness in all of it. The dark door from which I emerged.

The humming starts again. It dawns on me then. I am lost.

the existentialist’s burden

I must confess, that U2’s Pop album has always been my favorite. It had the panache of Achtung Baby and Zooropa, tempered with the memory of the innocence of The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum. Pop was genius, it was also a spectacular show.

The fault lines of the self, only glimpsed in early U2 were laid bare in Pop. It was an almost Nietzschean rejection of all that came before, and in that sense, probably a catharsis that the late ’90s demanded, before they rebooted, with All that you can’t leave behind and How to dismantle an atomic bomb.

Within that record, Please has always been my favorite. I like to call it the existentialist’s burden. How does one become an existentialist? Most of us are engendered into some religious way of thinking, long before we ever engage with Sartre or Camus or Heidegger or Kierkegaard. Please raises an interesting question, in that; whether you take Camus’ endless dances of master-slave relationships, or go back to Nietzsche’s unflinching embrace of life; you more-or-less do away with the notion of ‘faith’. The Lion of “I Will” defying the Dragon of “thou shalt”. Love on the other hand, is best explained with a grounding in faith of some form, faith being integral to its constitution. On the one hand, Camus didn’t see a problem with it; on the other, Sartre did, and went along a rather destructive path of the unflinching deconstruction of the various forms of it.

Nothing profound, just an observation.


Please, U2, Live at Rotterdam


Please stop fighting, please

Let’s talk, please

So you never knew love

Until you’d crossed the line of grace

And you never felt wanted

Till you’d someone slap your face

And you never felt alive

Until you’d almost wasted away

You had to win, you couldn’t just pass

The smartest ass at the top of the class

Your flying colours, your family tree

And all your lessons in history

Please, please, please

Get up off your knees now

Please, please, please Leave it out

So you never knew how low you’d stoop

To make that call

And you never knew what was on the ground

Until they made you crawl

So you never knew

that the heaven you keep You stole

Your Catholic blues,

your convent shoes

Your stick-on tattoos,

now they’re making the news

Your holy war,

your northern star

Your sermon on the mount

from the boot of your car

Please, please, please

Get up off your knees now

Please, please, please

Leave it out

‘Cause love is big and love is tough

But love is not what you’re thinking of

September, streets capsizing

Spilling over and down the drain

Shards of glass, splinters like rain

But you could only feel your own pain

October, talk getting nowhere

November, December Remember,

are we just starting again

Please, please, please

Get up off your knees now

Please, please

‘Cause love is big, it’s bigger than us

But love is not what you’re thinking of

It’s what lovers deal,

it’s what lovers steal

You know I found it hard to recieve

‘Cause you,

my love,

I could never believe

Please, please, please

Get up off your knees now

Please, please, please Please, please, please Please

on the american dream

A period in Paris, just after the war brought Bellow in touch with existentialism and post-war American writing is the subject of some ironic reflections in a famous essay Bellow published in 1963, “Some Thoughts on Recent American Fiction”. (The piece was written just as he was about to publish Herzog.) Here he reflects on the current appeal of new American fiction for European intellectuals; recalling the title of Wylie Sypher’s brilliant and then influential study of modernism, ‘Loss of the Self in Modern Literature and Art’, he observes that a literature of the lost and inauthentic self has become a staple of contemporary writing. In Europe, in the work of writers like Gide, Beckett, Sartre, and Camus, this arises from the crises of contemporary history, and the breakdown of Enlightenment thought, and has clear origins in philosophical theories of the human condition. ‘American writers, when they are moved by a similar spirit to reject and despise the Self,’ Bellow then adds ironically, ‘are seldom encumbered by such intellectual baggage, and this fact pleases their European contemporaries, who find in them a natural, that is, a brutal and violent acceptance of the new universal truth by minds free from intellectual preconceptions.’ In European writers he sees a nerveless collapse of humanism, a sacrifice to history or necessity or logic. In post-war American writing the violence of being, the absurdity of existence, the state of alienation are presented as plain and brute empiricism, a view of the way things just are.- Malcolm Bradbury

I don’t know if it is post-war or if it actually started before the war. Of the European philosophers, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Derrida and Baudrillard would be my greatest influences. Thoreau and Paine are the Americans I am reasonably familiar with. Thoreau and Paine and Baudrillard have always seemed the “Free-est” of the lot — Thoreau and Paine by virtue of, as Bellow points out, having a natural (if brutal — not comfortable with the flavor of this word, unless understood in an exact intent) outlook, Baudrillard by virtue of having ripped apart (or rather, progressed to the next logical stage) of contemporary thought, with his precession of simulacra and the hyperreal. Nietzsche tried to break free of the shackles, and succeeds somewhat, but he, like Sartre, I think, is encumbered by the baggage of prevailing politics — which for Sartre was his movement towards communism.Camus is the odd one out here, somewhere between Thoreau and Derrida, I think sometimes, scraping against the outer arc of the idea, the event horizon of contemporary thought (I’d like to call this event horizon The Theater of the Absurd) without really breaking free of it.Still, the tools these thinkers set into place have great value. One I haven’t mentioned, since I am still getting acquainted with his work, is of course Wittgenstein. Anyways. I found this piece rather interesting, and, having now been immersed in these ideas for a while, I can’t help but thinking of Friedrich Holderlin’s words…”We are in the period of darknessbetween the Gods that have vanishedand the God that has not yet come,between Matthew Arnold’s two worlds,‘one dead, the other powerless to be born’”Those thinkers are all gone, Baudrillard was the last. But their work remains incomplete.