*

“Homo Sentimentalis cannot be defined as a man with feelings (for we all have feelings), but as a man who has raised feelings to a category of value. As soon as feelings are seen as a value, everyone wants to feel; and because we all like to pride ourselves on our values, we have a tendency to show off our feelings…

.. No one revealed Homo Sentimentalis as lucidly as Cervantes. Don Quixote decides to love a certain lady named Dulcinea, in spite of the fact that he hardly knows her. In chapter twenty-five of book one, he leaves with Sancho for the remote mountains, where he wishes to demonstrate to him the greatness of his passion. But how to show someone else that your soul is on fire? Especially to someone as dull and naive as Sancho? and so when they find themselves on a mountain path, Don quixote strips off all his clothes except for his shirt, and to demonstrate to his servant the immensity of his passion he proceeds to turn somersaults. Each time he is upside down, his search slides down to his shoulders and sancho gets a glimpse of his sex. the sight of the knight’s small virginal member is so comically sad, so heart-rending, that sancho, in spite of his callous heart, cannot bear to look at it any longer, mounts rosinante and gallops off…

..it is part of the definition of feeling that it is born in us without our will, often against our will. As soon as we want to feel (decide to feel, just as Don Quixote decides to love dulcinea), feeling is no longer feeling but an imitation of feeling, a show of feeling. This is commonly called hysteria. That’s why Homo Sentimentalis (a person who has raised feelings to a value) is in reality identical to Homo Hystericus..”

-Kundera, “immortality”


52.

26Jan08

it has been a long time since the last post. a few events, rushed days and the feeling of time spent, and one stops writing. gradually, realize the total lack of real necessity of writing, and grow content in its absence.

we write to chronicle the events in our lives, and we write because it is a means of transforming the random inadequacy of random happenings into the illusion of events. To imbue it with a vague notion of sequence, which belies and begets the idea of progression and movement.

for me to say that ‘life has been good’ then is really to say that life has not been futile, and has managed to disentangle itself from the static notion of the past.  and to say that ‘life has been meaningful’ is not really to say anything, except that i feel intuitively good about myself, over and above any retrospective rationalization of meaning and purpose that is given.

In succint sentences: i have been playing the guitar like crazy. back jamming again weekly with the same gang. auditioning singers tomorrow after placing an ad for a singer on soft. look forward to gigs. I have been buying too much guitar gear. commodity fetishism. we all gave conan a fender telecaster for his birthday, made him jump into the singapore river, and made him serenade random girls. i am probably going to relief teach gp at hc. talking to barnard i realize that i can speak to him much more casually and informally these days than i ever could as a student, perhaps its the age bug catching up. i read kundera’s immortality and it was lovely. halfway in the book, saw an anecdote that wilson told me a long time ago, remembered wilson. i am soaking back into the accumulated pool of an old life: old contacts and habits. i search possibly for some sort of synthesis.


4th of december was my last day in camp. it was a bittersweet day. the goodbyes were rushed. had a long talk with my co who was effusive in demonstrating his appreciation for the effort put in. was a much welcome affirmation, considering the many doubts i had on the job itself. cleared the last of the off and leave records. finally left camp at 9 (another overtime day). went up to the troopers bunk to say a final farewell, but most of them were either at the gym or exercising. had a small chat with those who were still around, the usual congratulatory remarks and well wishes, then went to the smoking point for a last chat with my platoon sergeant. shared a rare and final stick. offered him the usual advice and reminders (dont forget to indent ammo!), then walked off into the night to the busstop, feeling peculiarly weightless.

i am definitely not sad leaving. my brain is however more nostalgic than it wills itself to be. i am proud of what i have accomplished. considering how i had to overcome myself first, the constraints of my personality: introspective, non-confrontational, lazy perhaps, in doing a proper job. considering how everything was a mess when i came in. though i know i didnt do as much as i would like to. i could have been more assertive, or warm. i wont miss the people, but i will remember them fondly. and of course, there were great moments, even while suffering in silence, although i half suspect this is another retrospective quibble.

went for my first family holiday in 4+ years right after (indeed if it wasnt for this holiday booked months in advance, i would probably have extended a few more days until the unit evaluation was over). went to south africa, and it was a beautiful country. however, didnt really like the way the tour (first tour in a long time too) took a very superficial exposure to the country. an understandable obsession with safety ruled out the chance to wander the streets of the big cities. toured johannesburg and pretoria on a bus, sheltered from the world outside by the glass wall of the window. didnt get to see many places other than the tourist traps. it was a fun holiday though, and i guess the emphasis was really on entertainment, not discovery or whatever tentative attempts at cultural connection.

today was my first weekday out of the army. i am determined not to waste my time, to make up for 2 gone years. practised the guitar until the calluses start to form again, reassuringly. finished the last of my university essays (thank god, the nightmares of a didactic formulation of self on paper), read and read some more. i shall go on a run when it finally stops raining.

the feeling of freedom is uplifting. too often though, it can descend into the despair of purposelessness. another constraint of personality to overcome. finding meaning, keeping it.


Ramona, come closer,
Shut softly your watery eyes.
The pangs of your sadness
Shall pass as your senses will rise.
The flowers of the city
Though breathlike, get deathlike at times.
And there’s no use in tryin’
To deal with the dyin’,
Though I cannot explain that in lines…

I can see that your head
Has been twisted and fed
By worthless foam from the mouth.
I can tell you are torn
Between stayin’ and returnin’
On back to the South.
You’ve been fooled into thinking
That the finishin’ end is at hand.
Yet there’s no one to beat you,
No one t’ defeat you,
‘Cept the thoughts of yourself feeling bad…

I’d forever talk to you,
But soon my words,
They would turn into a meaningless ring.
For deep in my heart
I know there is no help I can bring.
Everything passes,
Everything changes,
Just do what you think you should do.
And someday maybe,
Who knows, baby,
I’ll come and be cryin’ to you.
– bob dylan

in retrospect, the problem with isolation is the problem of meaning. how do you commit to life if you so distance yourself from the very people that constitute life in its immediacy? all talk of courage, of love, all deal with the same problem: the problem of contact- the necessity of the journey through the wastelands of the heart into the real world of uncertainty, disappointment and possibly joy.

to live for oneself in all entirety is to provoke a crisis of faith. this is because in the absence of others, the self is often nebulous, a mash of half thoughts and feeble gestures, inert philosophies. this is because we can only always look beyond ourselves for that spark of transcendence, that epiphany that will then transform the self.

empathy is a conscious decision because the natural state of humanity is an interminable decline into apathy. from the very act of enjoying ourselves in the midst of great privation and inequity, we are adept at forgetting, at enjoying the restfulness of an amnesiac. to empathize is then not just a matter of haphazard remembrance upon our memory being triggered, but the discipline of caring beyond the dictates of the atropic self.

that is then my resolution: to commit to people. it has been too long, but the army is over. today i am filled with the image of strawberries. bergmansque, hopeful.


australia was a worthwhile experience. while the attraction of phuket was the sense of utter anonymity and effacement of responsibility that comes from being a tourist, wallaby was about taking on the weight of total responsibility. no weekends or bookouts to distract. a platoon of 40 soldiers became my sole preoccupation for nearly 3 weeks. wallaby was good in that it stopped me veering into the side of lightness and is promise of faraway illumination. back to the heaviness of existence, the consequence of decisions, and a commitment to affecting the balance of the world around me.

restored my faith in myself, in some sense: lately have been drifting away from the exigencies of leadership. now ready to step up and fulfill my role with renewed confidence for the last 1 month of my service. conan talks about organizational responsibility and ethics being void in real terms: he is true, it is a ethical commitment to people not organizations that matter at the end of the day, and it is not for the army as an abstract entity (or an imagined concept, much like a ‘nation’) but for the people around and under me. cliches are cliches by natural evolution: a unusual resonance or closeness to common sentiment that renders repeated usage – i will not let the ship sink under my watch. with 1 more month, some final goals to settle: clearing up the mess that is the off and leave records, training the commanders and soldiers to a standard that is satisfactory to me (and hence ready for assessment), improving standard routines in admin (feedback and co-ordination meetings), and motivating the men.

all this is banked on the very real sense that i and the platoon have grown since wallaby: our first overseas exercise, training of a standard unheard of in singapore, and being forced to live in close proximity with no option for respite for nearly 3 weeks. happy hours and getting drunk, having long and unrestrained conversation over cans of victoria bitter and packs of malboros. during the r and r, cramming in a hotel room playing dumb drinking games and losing the military inhibitions that characterize most interactions. becoming better soldiers along the way.

/

alot of people are ord-ing, me in 1 month due to my decision to extend (a decision regretted when in the company of now-civilian friends). slowly i am picking back up old habits. reading for example, has been intensified. especially econs, and slowly i am finding excitement in the controversies that dominate that subject again. have been exploring intensively the post autistic economics movement with its websites and its newsletters, its indictment of traditional economic methodology and the predominance of a neoclassical model to the detriment of other models. the chief message, as much as i can discern so far, is a clarion call to a pluralistic approach, one that combines both the scientific rationalism of mathematical proofs with sociological, behavioural, and psychological explanations. also, pluralism in viewing economics in a historical context: neoclassical economics, as the current mainstream, is merely a particular movement of economics, rather than the be all and end all. it should be taught, but so should keynesian, marxian, institutionalist and other economic models. especially since neoclassical econs is given the mysticism of truth yet is fraught with logical and mathematical errors. finally: the urge to abandon economic’s perennial obsession with being a science- the sooner we acknowledge the impossibility of this aim, the quicker we can align it toward the context of a social science and make attendant changes in methodology.

at the same time, realized that the phrase ‘conventional wisdom’ was invented by galbraith, who introduces the concept in a brilliantly written chapter in the affluent society.

/

since last year, some things have changed. i no longer have the urge to maintain contact with people not immediately around me. whereas last year i would actively seek out chains of communication with friends who were either overseas or whom were not in close proximity, this act of communication seems to have lost its urgency this year. almost as though when everyone came back in aug/sept, i got my fix of contact and now it has lost its promise, allure, mysticism.

perhaps the greatest threat is in getting used to isolation. not to mention, people are often unexpected strengths, the sudden inexplicable jabs of meaning and colour.


48.

15Oct07

phuket was a nice experience. Not just the place, but the anonymity of being a stranger in a strange place, the utter effacement of responsibility. For a few days, the feeling of being a complete civilian. the fruit of the mulberry tree.

bought beer singlets, drank alot of cheap thai beer, ate alot of salty food, shopped a little, got heavily sunburnt, and essentially, having good conversations with friends discussing the most inane things. lost my spectacles, discovered the sleazy phenomenon of patong, and strangely enough found out that most of the shopkeepers at patong are not thai but indian migrants.

*
the corollary of writing is a sense of inaction. when we are busiest, we hardly find time to process our thoughts, refine them into linguistically comprehensible structures. nor does it occur to us to blog (unless it has become a matter of pure habit, independent of insight). paradoxically, writing about action is a substitute for action itself. it is perhaps the mark of a season of listlessness, the air growing heavy with words.

therefore: if i do not write, all is well. if the writing offers no satisfaction, my life is eventful.

*
going to australia in a few minutes for training. the terrain is difficult. the distance is large and empty.

*
a few discoveries since the last time, namely the phenomenon of the mp3 blog. have been downloading free albums of bands i never really got down to listen to. young upstart indie bands doling out vibes confidently, as well as older shoegazing and dreampop bands- music sounding a distance away.


47.

08Oct07

finally understand the feeling of imminent closure. amidst clearing bits of off and leave, went home for the first time in 2 years on a weekday afternoon with the sun still out and the train packed with young students staking their claim to the revels of the day. A feeling unexperienced and almost forgotten.

when faith mentioned, months ago, about resurrecting those halcyon long gone days of blackadder, it startled me in realizing that my predominant memory of those days before army was holing up in ians house till late watching seasons upon seasons of blackadder with ian and faith after studying till the night. not to mention saturday nights and the occasional snl episode shown on tv.

What of last year? meeting up with friends the day before enlistment at NYDC, to discover all of us with our hair shaved to near baldness and everyone wearing thick black-rimmed spectacles. laughing it off, eating. walking along lorong asrama with blistered feet in file formation, weapon slung to the ready, green in front, to the sides, behind, and suddenly being hit with a wave of self-pitying existential depression that made me feel shitty for a week. In school of armour, getting fucked after a lousy battle course, told by the instructor i was useless and that i had an integrity problem. overcoming demons and doubt. sleeping on the ramp of a tank in taiwan and waking up in the middle of the night in near zero temperature near death shivering. comissioning with a sigh of relief.

going to phuket later. going off to get supplies now. shall update when there is more time.