Sunday, June 20, 2010

Chameleonic Thinking

Interesting, the spell checker did not flag “chameleonic”. I thought I was making up the word, meant to mean thinking like a chameleon.

All of us have ego, eh? We are self-confident of our understandings most of the time, and our opinions flow from that confidence. If we are shown to be wrong, we tap dance out of it some way, never quite having to strike the realization “I was inadequate to that task”. We go on as confident as before, leaving our errors behind in the dust of time and other people's forgetfulness.

I've dabbled with fictional writing now and then but was always a “C” level writer when the markets demand “A+”. I continue to read regularly, always packing a tad of envy about how other authors wend a phrase so beautifully. But my latest book goes beyond that. Beyond envy or even admiration. It is one of those rare works where the writer's intellect goes so deep that it is hard to grasp without re-reading the illusive passages two or three times. It is one of those works like Finnegan's Wake or David Copperfield that stretches the brain in ways it has not been stretched before. It is an amazing book.

The title is “Night Train to Lisbon” by Pascal Mercier, translated from German to English by Barbara Harshav. The writing is a little confusing because of the translation, for German cadence meets English half-way sometimes and leaves one guessing about who is really the subject of a particular paragraph. But the beauty is in the reaches of the views on the human condition. Take this excerpt from the preface, English translated from Portuguese:

Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves. So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them. In the vast colony of our being there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways.

Fernando Pessoa, Livro Do Desassossego

Hah! Well, that explains why I can rip Philippine society one moment for mediocrity and lack of sense, and turn right around and express amazement at the depth of beauty and soul that surrounds me. My surroundings are the same, but my inner point of view shifts.

That self-confidence I mentioned earlier is born of our ability to be chameleons of the mind.

Of course, this suggests we are all a tad disingenuous if not downright deceitful, playing tricks on ourselves so that we can play tricks on others. I must remember that and not get so upset at the posturings of blog-writers who seem to me to articulate half baked ideas.

Let me just open the book and type a paragraph I find there. Okay, page 171, right at the bottom.

I would not like to live in a world without cathedrals. I need the luster of their windows, their cool stillness, their imperious silence. I need the deluge of the organ and the sacred devotion of praying people. I need the holiness of words, the grandeur of great poetry. All that I need. But just as much I need the freedom and hostility against everything cruel. For the one is nothing without the other. And no one may force me to chose.

This is the protagonist translating the writings of revolutionary hero Amadeu Prado. Prado is the magnet who drew our reflective hero to Lisbon on that night train.

I am of no organized religion myself, as I find the fairy-tale delusions expressed by the preachers with such earnest conviction a little scary. I love cathedrals for the same reason stated above but I could never articulate their attraction so richly. My favorite cathedrals are in Santiago de Compostella, Spain, where history is written into the architecture of the huge, vertical building, and the one in Cordoba, Spain, with its wild and woolly red and white striped arches. The stained glass windows there push ghostly patches of pink and yellow across the floor and walls as the sun transverses God's little kingdom below.

I just grabbed that random page of the “Night Train” book to make a point. Any page in the book will provoke thinking.

Generally that is a good thing.

It gives us more perspectives, more colors to change into as we argue the chameleon's various visions.

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