To Be or Not To Be

A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
-- Louisa May Alcott.
...........hmmm....that more or less describes my situation !!

~A Wise Man Said~

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
-- Aristotle

Monday, February 06, 2012
I was cleaning a room and, meandering about, approached the divan and couldn't remember whether or not I had dusted it. Since these movements are habitual and unconscious, I could not remember and felt that it was impossible to remember - so that if I had dusted it and forgot - that is, had acted unconsciously, then it was the same as if I had not. If some conscious person had been watching, then the fact could be established. If, however, no one was looking, or looking on unconsciously, if the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been. [Leo Tolstoy's Diary, 1897]

And so life is reckoned as nothing. Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one's wife, and the fear of war. "If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been." And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.

— Excerpt from Victor Shklovsky’s ‘Art as Technique’

Most of our lives seem to be full of ‘habitualized’ or ‘automatic’ activities, things that don’t provide us any sensation at all, things that we go about doing without knowing what we are doing. We go through the motions of everyday living, so to speak, with nothing to interrupt its ebb and flow, or make us start from our unconscious reverie. We yearn for ‘sensation’, whether it is in books, in movies, in music, in travels, we want to feel ‘alive’, to consciously ‘experience’ a thing. Which is why we are drawn to novelty, to excitement, to adventure, to experiences that we are not ‘familiar’ with, and which promise the maximum ‘sensation’. Shklovsky talks about how this desire for ‘sensation’ is exploited even in art, by making objects ‘defamiliar’ so that we are forced to take notice, to actually experience or perceive them. Techniques in art are used so that the same objects or experiences, though familiar and habituated, may still kindle ‘sensation’. Poets come up with novel ways of describing the beloved or the sunset, and each time, it is like seeing the beloved for the first time, or watching the sunset with new eyes…the same experience affords sensations as if we were experiencing it for the first time. We see it as if it were something new, we actually ‘perceive’ its beauty.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder how a balance between monotony and sensation could be best achieved. I am convinced that a balance is important, because just as a person cannot be eating rich food all the time because it affords ‘sensation’ (in any case the sensation would disappear when one gets habituated, and damage one’s health too), so also, one cannot be drenched in sensation all the time, to feel like one is ‘living’ every moment. At the same time, one cannot be going on living in monotony, going about work that does not involve the mind or heart at all, and deadens one’s spirit so that one may as well not be ‘living’ or ‘consciously experiencing the sensation of life’.