Diary Feb.20. Buddhism, David Foster Wallace, Crime and Punishment, and the Sea

2-20

It was a fine day. I finished an Arendt, read some Dostoevsky, some Blake, some CaoXueQing. The Story of A Rock is a great work, but it is really a bit long; although it is always these long volumes that change one’s life. Reading these really long things is like entering a cult. It transforms you (hopefully in a good way).

That moment of connection, when one thing and another thing suddenly links itself together, is the moment every philosopher (in its wider sense, as in, the lovers of wisdom) live for. For example, this morning I realized that the illusion of the ‘self’ that the Buddhists talked about was the same as the Psychoanalytic differentiation of the ego and the unconscious (although the whole thing is more nuanced than that); or that Raskolnikov’s estrangement from the world can be explained in DFW’s theories about loneliness, truthfulness, and love. At those moments it is as if the beauty of the world—its interconnectedness, its profundity, its logical structure—has unveiled itself to you, however fleetingly. It is like when the Archeologist stumbles upon some ancient site, or the scientist coming up with some new hypothesis. Mistress Truth has just accepted your courtship. The most frustrating thing is that these connections does not happen when one leaves oneself alone and thinks—at least, it does not come for me—but when one engages in a dialogue (either with a person or with an author), and it is in these Socratic dialectics that the crucial philos in philosophy is imprinted onto one’s being. (This, I think, is also Isaiah Berlin’s view.)

Later on in the day I went out with Mom, Dad, and Brother for a walk along the coast. It may sound cliche, but the experience of looking out into the ocean is absolutely sublime. On the ocean was the amber imprint of the setting sun and on top of it herds of seagulls. The ocean is constantly changing but also always feels the same. The world seemed to be in complete harmony the whole time that I stood facing the sea (for how long?). It felt like, as Leibniz would say, that here is the best of all possible worlds. If not the best of all possible worlds, well, it is the one universe that we have. 

There I was reminded of a famous Chinese contemporary poem, it goes like this: 

从明天起,做一个幸福的人 

喂马,劈柴,周游世界 

从明天起,关心粮食和蔬菜 

我有一所房子,

面朝大海,春暖花开

… 

From tomorrow onwards, be a happy person

Feed horses, chop wood, travel around the world

From tomorrow onwards, care about grain and greens

I have a house, 

Facing the ocean, blossoming in the warm spring 

(My own translation)

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