भारत I field/book notes & habits of despair: Delhi dash reading Camus & Consilience
8.2.2011. Fiumicino gate D08
at the airport reading The Plague by Albert Camus. omnipresent narrator that speaks of himself, «the narrator», in the 3rd person. he speaks for the community as a whole organism & the narrator is the voice of it.
this as we wait for a plane to Zurich & beyond. all «i» (hereby = «you») know of death is from books & movies. you have never seen a body (except from > 20+ feet) & never any at all that you've known in a live state.
in The Plague there is a writer who obsesses over the first sentence of his book, whose latter iteration is: «One fine morning in May a slim young horsewoman might have been seen riding a glossy sorrel mare along the flower-strewn avenues of the Bois de Boulogne.» in English this is a rather arbitrary sentence, but perhaps etymologically it carries more baggage in the original French: «Par une belle matinée de mai, une svelte amazone montée sur une somptueuse jument alezane parcourait les allées pleines de fleurs du bois de Boulogne.» elsewhere in the book Camus says:
in case you're wondering what the book is about, it's about a plague. but it's more about what Camus has to say about it, like he says things like: «The habit of despair is worse than despair itself.»
hassled for our passports because although we have U.S. ones we are living under an Italian visa leading to some confusion with the feeble-minded Swiss. through security again (they took away the water you just purchased in the airport), barely enough time to make our connection. as you've said before: «flying is the greatest human indignity you can experience in this contemporary life.» many languages going on all at once: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish & now Hindi.
finished reading The Plague & watched Wall Street II which was dumb. then you watched some French movie called Mammuth. Gérard Depardieu is a fat pig butcher in it. none of this has to do with India, where we are headed. in the weeks before this we put ourselves in the mood by watching the Apu trilogy. here is all of Pather Pachali:
landed in Delhi late night/early morning. 1st time in India! 1st time in Asia proper for that matter (not counting Southeast Asia or Japan) 1st impression was smoky. from the air, fires burning in every yard & all the exhaust make for quite a haze. had a delicious kati roll at 2 a.m. & now you are waking up looking at the expanse of Delhi (what you can see through the smog). concrete structures, wires, PVC pipe & pigeons out the window. where in the world aren't there pigeons?
you & j set out walking but were accosted by pesty touts wanting to take you places or sell you things, to lead you astray or reroute you for their own kickback. Delhi is not much of a walking city. ended up on the metro. got off in Old Delhi but it was hard finding our way around (no streets marked, or at least not in English). but eventually we found our way to the Red Fort (a.k.a. Lal Qil'ah). it was all overwhelming to the senses. smell of urine everywhere. open sewers & grime & endless traffic of cars & tuk-tuks & rickshaws & motorcycles & bikes all honking incessantly & threatening to run you over if you didn't step aside.
once inside the Red Fort we found this shop called Tularam & bought these amazing paintings done on old recycled book pages (with text still intact). right up your alley. one of them is show above, here is another (showing Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (the dude that also built the Taj Majal) sitting in the peacock throne back before the Persians stole & then destroyed it):
the backsides of these paintings also have text (Arabic), like here is the b-side of the above (also note bookworm holes):
there is no "artist" associated with the above except to say they are a collective group of some 20 artists working for the Tularam shop. you also got an antique wood block used for block-printing textiles. then we tuk-tuked back & chilled & met up with Ro (who we've also traveled with in Kenya & Bangkok) then taxied (in cool old Hindustan motor taxis) to some swanky hotel where we met some of j's other colleagues & ate at Bukhara which you guess was amazing but absurdly expensive (what happens when the likes of Clinton, Putin & Obama eat there). & ironic that these are people working in poverty!
the poverty workers had a meeting to attend so you were on your own so you tuk-tuked to Humayun's tomb. sprawling grounds & more Islamic temple complexes. dogs lazing about on bermuda grass. eagles (or hawks or kites?) circling & crisscrossing overhead.
the hexagon & star of David are reoccurring design elements/motifs in Islamic architecture (both at the Lal Qil'ah & here & also in other Islamic monuments we've visited like Alhambra). here's some views from Humayun:
you also saw some parrots in a drainpipe. people are annoying. you can find some quiet out of the way open space & people will come cluster around you like you must be sitting here for a reason. you retreated back to the hotel & had biriyani rice with black chick peas & spicy green chilies.
as i mentioned Delhi is not much of a city for flâneuring. not just on account of the pesty touts & maniacal traffic but because most of it (outside of old Delhi) is spread out & nodular (in much the same way as you found Nairobi to be). the node we were nearest is Connaught place which is like the black hole of Delhi. on the map it's like a spider web with 3 circular roads radiating out & some 15 perpendicular spokes extending off it (here it is on google satellite). the first day or 2 you taxied or tuk-tuked everywhere & got a piece of dust or exhaust cinder in your eye that still scratches. by the end of the day your hair is greasy with soot. you came back & exercised at the hotel gym, something you never get to do back in Rome. nice break from running. watched RAI TV in Italian, not that you understand it all. maybe not understanding is what you like about it. lately you get bored of reading stuff where you don't learn anything. you don't learn much from TV so may as well learn language. storytelling seems to bore you as of late. reading Camus you were most interested in learning about the human reaction to the plage, but once he got into specific personal stories your attention waned.
you finished The Plague & now you gave into the hype & are reading Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by E.O. Wilson. so far he's recapping unification theories in philosophy & science & pretty much summarizing everything under the sun. rather ambitious, even trying to rein in Derrida: «there is nothing outside the text.» you suppose a few interested tidbits have come of it so far, like: «Our species and it's way of thinking are a product of evolution, not the purpose of evolution.»
sometimes you wonder if you spend too much time thinking about thinking. you guess that's better than worrying about worrying. or being tired of being tired. or bored of being bored.
not that we're so far east of home but you don't feel jetlagged much. your sleep cycle was already screwed up though before coming so maybe flying here only set it straight. after Humayun you tuk-tuked back & walked to Connaught place to get a kebab at Mizam Kathi since it gets the 2nd highest rating on Tripadvisor. it was good, but greasy. total dive.
crossing streets here is like that Frogger game. you seriously have to run & dodge cars & tuk-tuks & motorcycles who speed up & incessantly blare their horns & try to hit you. no such thing as crosswalks. Indians become complete dicks the second they are at the wheel of a motorized vehicle. so much for the kindness & compassion for your fellow man that Gandhi preached. even in standstill traffic they will try to close the gap between them and the car in front as you are trying to squeeze through. people will often gather in packs to cross thinking they are safer in numbers but this only feeds the fire of chaos. as you've mentioned before in Africa, everyone's trying to fight diseases & whatnot but it seems no one cares much about the dangers of traffic. from this BBC article about traffic in India:
language is tautological. no, better yet, all knowledge is tautological. it's all founded on it's own inherent hypocrisy. you're not sure why you wrote that in your travel notes. presumably you were reading E.O. Wilson because next you quoted him:
Delhi is smelly. not just the open sewers, animal shit & urine, but of good things like curry & spices & incense. got tired of tuk-tuks so got an unlimited Metro pass & rode the packed trains & surfaced here & there. walked around old Delhi. even in the narrowest of alleys there's the risk of motorcycles & bicycles hitting you. they'll even speed through crowded bazaars blaring their horns & people obediently or apathetically get out of the way.
if you knew where you were then you'd get yourself lost again until you saw another Metro sign & you'd retreat to the crowded but relatively clean trains then resurface elsewhere. everywhere chaos & ramshackle & jank beyond what you've seen anywhere, even Africa. live wires hanging down to the ground & sewage & garbage & piss. you can't believe some structures are even standing. this is how most of the world lives.
you wound through alleys of old Delhi constantly grazed by bikes & motorcycles, pushing & jostling, like being in a pinball machine. then retreat to the Metro again packed beyond belief. the Metro is relatively new to Delhi so it seems some don't really now how to ride it. there's a panic when a stop approaches & everyone jostles & shuffles & argues, preparing to disembark. for good reason as the incoming tide will not wait (despite the pairs of cops stationed at each door) for everyone to get off. you saw a few people get trapped not able to physically disembark.
then back to another street with more throngs & vendors & goats & cows. 90% men on the streets, guess the women must stay home.
it feels like a cross between Nairobi & Bangkok to you, with a bit of Fez thrown in. but filthier & jankier than any of these.
you found yourself around Karol Bagh around lunch, which you suppose is a «nicer» area, reminded you some of Sukhumvit (Bangkok) with it's elevated metro though the malls not nearly as modern. 3 things most hustled to you in hushed tones: hashish, dick massages & Flash drives.
ate at Suruchi's which is the top-rated restaurant for Delhi on Tripadvisor. worth the hype you think. you had a Punjab thali with all sorts of spicy goodness. the waiters hovered spooning more of all sorts of curries, dahls, yogurt, chutneys, etc. on your stainless steel platter.
E.O. Wilson starts to get all psycho-babbly by the chapter on drugs & dreaming but the part about snakes was interesting being in this cobra-crazed culture. come to think of it cobras figured prominently in your dreams last night—something about a table whose legs were made from cobras, this before you read this chapter.
Wilson then attempts to tackle the mind—the mother of all complex systems. you yourself find it paradoxical to even attempt to study our minds with our minds. nevertheless, like Hofstadter (see ««I» am a Strange Loop» is a Strange Loop), Wilson persists:
you think the general population of Delhi qualifies for «those portions of the world» not needing to know how the machinery of the brain works, and you don't either.
macaque monkeys climb around in trees over busy intersections. a girls picks lice from her submitting friend's hair, scrutinizing her nimble fingertips.
people don't bother you much if you pretend like you know where you're going. if bothered you say you're Italian. or you just give baffling responses or engage them in a Socratic line of questioning, like when asked: «what hotel are you staying at?» you answer:«why?» & you keep questioning their questions with questions until they give up.
everywhere you go you are frisked or pass through metal detectors. into the hotel, into any monument, on the metro.
Wilson speaks of idealized language symbols where the patterns mimic the actual neuronal configuration in the brain that store & decipher them, the closest to the ideal being Chinese calligraphy: «The observer reads the script unfolding not as ink on paper but as electrical patterns in live tissue.»
Consilience is all over the map, trying to incorporate & unify everything into one big all-knowing theory: magic, fear of snakes, facial gestures, phoneme construction, mother-infant bonding, schizophrenia, prisms, incest, cave painting, etc. problem is unlike the likes of Deleuze & Guattari (who also tend to navigate wide & seemingly random waters), E.O. Wilson merely recapitulates & attempts to claim as his own, offering no insight. & ultimately, in your opinion, like most scientists since Darwin's time, E.O. Wilson comes off as a pompous ass, which makes it all difficult to swallow. he completely distorts the meaning of meme (after arrogantly saying he «suggests» the name, long after Dawkins coined it!) trying to link it to nodes of semantic memory and its correlate in brain activity. he puts way too much unfounded faith in neuroscience at the price of semiotics. distancing us from the code that got us here, turning the brain into just a manifestation & receiver of memes. the interpreter, or product of. who the fuck is he to say? at this point you tended to write things like «BULLSHIT!» in the margins & are not sure you can keep reading, given his arrogant & self-important tone. he makes grand statements like: «no subject is intellectually more important.» or will quote himself extensively or create dialogues between his «empiricist» self and his alter-ego religious self. what's up with calling yourself an «empiricist» but in the same breath saying you don't deny the existence of god? Wilson says he «leans towards deism». what a pussy. it's like he's straddling middle-ground to try to gain a wider following. Dawkins might be pompous, but at least he's man enough to stick to his guns & knows what he believes. don't trust any scientist, especially biologists, that aren't atheists. the two are mutually incompatible. you guess that's what you'd expect from an American, a country whose director of the N.I.H., perhaps the most powerful scientist post in the U.S. government is a fervent Christian appointed by Obama. America is going to hell in a handbasket. and Wilson even has the gall to criticize those that «...enter established religions, succumb to cults, dabble in New Age nostrums. They push The Celestine Prophecy and other junk attempts at enlightenment onto the bestseller lists.» when it sounds like he is describing himself! This theory of Consilience is just that, cultish new age junk that is no better than the Celestine Prophecy. or he'll make proclamations like «To the same end I count it paramount and feel obliged to plead, that the new reckoning include a powerful conservation ethic.» duh! we'll get right on that Mr. Wilson! how could we have overlooked that! no one else has pointed out that the world's population is hemorrhaging and biodiversity is declining! the world will be inherited by the meek, not egomaniacs like E.O. Wilson. not to sound grim, but you'd rather put your head between your legs & kiss your ass goodbye rather than listen to the self-righteous sweeping generalizations (with no solutions) of E.O. Wilson. as Camus says: «The habit of despair is worse than despair itself.» what good is this theory of Consilience if you can't eat it, or use it as a contraceptive (unless it bores your partner to sexual inactivity which is highly possible). ok, you can shut up now & get back to the streets of Delhi.
we all know India is the 2nd most populated country in the world & destined to be the most populous soon as they aren't curbing their population like the Chinese. the only one that can do anything about it is India.
you metroed again, to old Delhi & lost yourself. then you found yourself thanks to a rickshaw.
you found yourself at Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. you climbed the minaret & got an aerial perspective of Delhi.
you lost yourself & found yourself again at a Jain temple (Digambara) across from the Red Fort. in the bookstore there were books with naked priests on the cover. they seem to consider nudity to be the purest state, which you guess makes sense, but hard to take seriously. zig-zagged though more alleys & bazaars, whole areas of paper-makers or spices or book-vendors. at times feeling detached, floating, out of body, losing yourself to the filth & chaos. so many interesting people to take photos of but you don't like taking pictures of people. too intrusive or patronizing. not that they care here, often people would ask you to take their photo (in which case the photos usually aren't interesting). or people would want their photo taken with you.
to add to the list of hawker wares of Flash disks, hashish & dick massages, there's also the guys with Q-tips wanting to clean your ears. or they'll shave you right there on the street.
metroed back to the black hole of Connaught & had an idly & a dosa at Saravana Bhavan. that's about all you have to say for now.