Friday, February 04, 2011

Reflections: The Madman

I am a fan of Kahlil Gibran’s poetry. The Madman contains poems and lyrical fables that are a bit satirical and bitter, as Gibran mocks at our ignorance, prejudices and the ironies of the world.

The poems can be interpreted as Gibran calling himself a madman because his thoughts and ways are so out of tune from “normalcy”.  It's about the number of different contradictory faces we wear in order to be part of society. Gibran talks about removing his “masks” and being liberated to be as he is. Once we try to shed our masks of social propriety, I am sure most of us will be regarded as mad! The stress and strain of having to be artificial and always doing and saying the politically right things really wears me down, and I wonder how so many do it so artfully and manipulatively. Anyway, this book is hence both philosophical and vituperative in its critical views of the world and its prejudiced ways...the world and the people who try to bring in order, justice and peace, seem to be the most contradictory of all. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it... but it was thought-provoking nonetheless.

The book is arranged into themes, and Gibran lyrically concocts a story or a fable to put across his views. They are all allegorical of course. Some, such as Gibran’s views on wars, really hits home and resonates with my thoughts. Another one that I quite liked and that kind of defines the theme of the book is:

“Said the Eye one day, “I see beyond these valleys a mountain veiled with blue mist. Is it not beautiful?"
The Ear listened, and after listening intently awhile said, “But where is any mountain? I do not hear it.”
Then the Hand spoke and said, “I am trying in vain to feel it or touch it, and I can find no mountain.”
And the Nose said, “There is no mountain, I cannot smell it.”
Then the Eye turned the other way, and they all began to talk together about the Eye’s strange delusion. And they said, “Something must be the matter with the Eye.””

And one more favorite:
“Said a blade of grass to an autumn leaf, “You make such a noise falling! You scatter all my winter dreams.”
Said the leaf indignant, “Low-born and low-dwelling! Songless, peevish thing! You live not in the upper air and you cannot tell the sound of singing.”
Then the autumn leaf lay down upon the earth and slept. And when spring came she waked  again - and she was a blade of grass.
And when it was autumn and her winter sleep was upon her, and above her through all the air the leaves were falling, she muttered to herself, “O these autumn leaves! They make such noise! They scatter all my winter dreams.””

Some allegories are simple like the above, and some a little more involved. In all, this is an interesting  thought-provoking, and quick read. 


Karthik said...

Even more than one of your earlier posts, this one convinces me that I should try Gibran! Unfortunately, I can't understand or appreciate highly poetic writing, but this style seems well within my reach. I enjoyed the two pieces you've reproduced here.

Neeraja said...

You should surely try Gibran! I actually would recommend The Prophet more than this book. Trust me, his writing and poems are quite accessible :)

Rafiki said...

Hey Neeraja. I haven't read this collection. I think I will love it. Gibran is one of my favourites too. I have read the Prophet and A tear and a smile. These two books I feel have an answer to everything. :) I will try and get a copy of The Madman. I loved the verses you have selected to put down here. Beautiful.

Neeraja said...

Rafiki, I am sure you will like this collection too, although I found it a little sarcastic and bitter in comparison to his more popular works. I haven't read a Tear and a Smile yet. I definitely agree with you on the feeling that the Prophet contains most answers and wisdom to life's questions :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Neeraja, your blog surely helps someone like me who is trying to read a bit on philosophy.

And I loved the allegories you've written down here for our benefit! Thank you!

I've just read a few pieces of your blog, and am already in total admiration of you! Great work! Keep it going... I'd love to read and comment a lot more on many of your pieces.. but the thoughts that your posts convey and evoke, are in fact very hard to express and will also take a lot of thinking :) Hope I'll do little by little of that as time goes by.

Your writing deserves a tribute!

Neeraja said...

Anonymous, your comment is the highest piece of encouragement and appreciation this blog and my writing has ever received. Thank you very much! Hopefully I live up to it.

I forced myself to start writing about philosophy because I had lots of questions, but struggled to express myself intelligibly. I used to ponder on topics for days before I could pen down my thoughts, but I realized I sorted out thoughts much better when I write. It's helped me immensely. It's been a while since I wrote in that genre - need to get back soon!

I always appreciate discussions and different points of view, for that's how one learns and gets deeper into the subject. So, I look forward to your views! :)

Anonymous said...

You're welcome, Neeraja.

What you said is very true - I also realized in the last few days that writing thoughts down is a good way to sort them - particularly on the subject of philosophy, where there are so many different views on the same thing, sometimes opposing arguments, and many of the concepts I ponder about are abstract, hazy and grey. Writing down definitely helps to consolidate and finally arrive at a conculsion. And if it was sufficiently and strongly thought about, and passed a number of iterations, sometimes that conclusion becomes a personal belief. I feel this thinking, rationalizing, believing and practicing cycle is a great way to achieve personal growth.

And you're a person who has read and thought about so many things - now you know why I admire you... Digesting the kind of profound, abstract material you write about is itself a challenge.. You delve effortlessly into great depths of it, you assimilate what some says and then think and rationalize things in your own way and then express your own thoughts beautifully here. I feel that your writing has the power to illuminate, if people are willing to think and capable of thinking with you.

Neeraja said...

Anonymous, I'm surely not worthy of your generous words! I still have a long, long way to go. In all honesty (not humility), I must stress that my thoughts are mostly half-baked. My goal is to keep going over these thoughts at different points in my life to make them satisfactorily complete and robust. None of my posts, especially the ones on philosophy, have been effortless :). I have wrestled with words and thoughts, and the posts merely reflect the conclusions I could reach at that point in time. The questions still abound!

But I wholly believe in the think-believe-act cycle too, and in its pivotal role in personal growth and self-awareness. I'm really glad I've come across someone who shares my interest and views on the significance of "analytical thinking" :). My interest in philosophy is often ridiculed and argued against, and I must admit, sometimes I find it disappointing that in the "real world", survival tactics and street-smart-thinking are more important than abstract or "profound" thinking :).

Thanks again for taking the time and interest to go over my posts. If you'd like to start with a book, I would highly recommend "Sophie's World"... it gives a bird's eye view of philosophical thoughts across the centuries in a very simple and coherent manner meant for a young girl :). If you break it down, it's the words that complicate simple concepts, and make them sound abstract and daunting!

Which brings me to the final point - gathering from your comments, I really like your writing and strongly feel it's a valuable tool to express yourself! Please consider starting a blog, if you haven't already :).

Neeraja said...

P.S - I also regularly read the questions posed on this site:

Actual philosophers and professors of philosophy reply to the questions. Reading their answers, you'll realize how inadequate my posts are :).

Anonymous said...

Neeraja, yes, thoughts such as these need rounds and rounds of iterative thinking. Even after significant thinking, questions still abound. Sometimes, there are no conclusions at all… but then I feel that from all this thinking, there comes a mental maturity. For example, in several situations in life and in relationships, you are able to handle yourself much better when you have thought about philosophy, morality and psychology - you don’t get disappointed easily, you don’t expect easily, you always know why someone would have done something, you will be able to put yourself in the other person's shoes better, you start thinking about bigger things, a wider harmony, you realize that your own family is just a small set of people whose lives you can impact in a positive way, you realize that’s the least you can do in this birth, with this life… About profound and abstract thinking versus survival tactics and street-smart thinking, you're right. As with anything in life, we need to be able to strike a balance everywhere. I am saying all this casually and as if I know everything. Its all easier said than done :)

Again, thank you very much for the suggestion regarding Sophie's World. After going through a few of your posts, I already got the idea that you were recommending this book as an introduction to philosophy. I was thinking of picking it up at the local library :) Thanks for sharing the Ask Philosophers link.. And I really don’t think I'll find your posts inadequate even after I read those profs or a hundred other books on philosophy. I feel there is an independent and absolute value in every individual mind's thoughts and work, when the thoughts and the intentions are good.

Neeraja said...

I absolutely agree with your first paragraph. I decided to dedicate actual, tangible amounts of time to think about questions on morality, precisely to handle a challenging phase in my life. The exercise has indeed helped me gain far more perspective than I ever thought possible. It helps one to look at the root of problems, and understand how one can rearrange our thoughts to either solve, or endure them. And focusing on bigger questions always make our existence and mundane troubles trivial :)

Thanks again for your kind words. Our interactions remind me of the time when I corresponded with a like-minded pen-friend :). I would be up for such email correspondences, if this medium gets unwieldy for some discussions :).