The Sense of an Ending

I thought this was really, not beautiful in itself, but just true to life in a way that feels beautiful. I think I loved it so much because it's this big heady idea about the fallibility of memory and how we cultivate a personal narrative for ourselves, but it never feels big in the telling. The moments and ruminating don't feel like some heavy piece of this philosophic burden, they just feel grounded and honest. It has very little affectation and writery writing. Even when the narrator is overtly philosophising, it feels natural.

I've had a fascination with memory for a while, since mine is just terrible. When people have memories from their childhood, it seems like magic to me. I used to not believe people, that they could actually remember the things they do. I mostly have no connection to my past. When I hear stories from others about me, it's always a little weird, because I'm essentially learning something about myself for the first time. "Oh I did that?" and then I have to decide how I feel about whatever it is I did. It just always feels weird, because now I'm making these judgements or assessments about myself, based on the actions of what feels like some dude I don't even know. 

Anyway, that's all relevant because the book is largely about how we use our memories to build our own personal narratives, and specifically how we, intentionally or otherwise, manipulate what we remember in order to serve our narrative. Memory is inherently unreliable to varying degrees. When you "remember" something, you're actually rebuilding that memory at the time of recall, based on all the details you have filed away. Your brain sort of redraws the picture based on a description, but you can't retain the complete description of a memory so your brain fills in the blanks. And the next time you pull up that memory, you're effectively pulling up the description from the last time your brain drew the picture. If you've ever noticed how sometimes when you have a memory about someone from a long time ago, they sometimes more or less look how they look now. The description of the memory might just have "Jason" in there, so your brain throws in it's idea of "Jason", which might not be "Jason at age 13". An easier example for me is hairstyles. If I have a memory of my girlfriend from when we started dating, in the memory she generally has her current hair (in fact I forgot what her hair used to look like until I recently saw a picture from then). The exception of course is when the memory specifies the hair for some reason. I digress. Memory is inherently unreliable, or at least flexible. So overtime, your memories can shift about to support your changing personal narrative.

For me specifically, with my memory being what it is, it just got me wondering about what that does for my own personal narrative. I have so little support to lean on. I don't even care if it was manipulated to make me think something about myself, at least it would be there. It makes me wonder if maybe that's why I feel like I change so much (I feel like I change a lot). I feel like my state of mind is heavily dictated by it's current and recent circumstances and stimuli. Maybe that's because I lack my own historical context. I'm not a scroll that unrolls, I'm a wax cylinder that can only hold as much information as fits onto its surface. Maybe that's why I sometimes have a hard time really caring about things, especially over time. I don't know. It's always a bit uncomfortable thinking about this kind of stuff, and I've thought about it before, but this book brought a lot to the conversation for me.

Although, it has a weirdly vague twist ending, and I hate twist endings. 1 star. do not recommend.

Stoner

I loved how simple and small this was. There's not some big important event, it's not grand and climactic. It's just one unremarkable man's small and familiar life. This might be thematic bias, since I've been wrapped up in thinking about how much of a role momentum plays in our lives, but I felt like momentum was a heavy theme. I felt it was about the current of life and the evolution of self, in contention with the pressures of relationships and occupation. But it's all so relatable and small. It's a moment of shame in leaving your parents behind, or a moment of nervous excitement on meeting your fiancees family, or a feeling of promise in a new career. All these little moments and feelings that build a life and shape a person.

It all felt so familiar. When moments and feelings that you recognize are given the deliberate consideration of a novel's introspection, it transfers the emotional perspective and growth so much more effectively because it's a life you already understand. In more grandiose or more contrived fiction, you can still garner values that apply to yourself, but the application is more abstract because of the disparity between your reality and the fictive reality. In this, it's all so grounded and familiar, that any philosophical or emotional revelation you have can map onto your life and person effortlessly. And because it's so grounded and true to life, it never feels forced or preachy. It just presents a piece of a normal unremarkable life, and tries to understand it.

On Bullshit

I actually really liked this. At first it's just fun how seriously it takes the subject, but the analysis itself is surprisingly deep and interesting. It's more than just finding a more discrete definition of the word, it also expands into it's cultural significance and it's relative values as compared to lying. It's explantation of the intent of bullshit, the reasons for it, who uses it and why we seem to generally accept it a certain level, I think says a lot about the cultural context in which the bullshit takes place and is allowed to take place. It's weird that the dumb little profanity of 'bullshit', and this strange little booklet dedicated to it, could explain so much of what makes me feel uncomfortable about the world at a large scale. 

It also has a surprise twist ending that totally caught me off guard. It carries all the momentum its built up against bullshit and at the very last second diverts it all against the idea of sincerity. The general conclusion about bullshit is that it is made with disregard for truth and reality (whereas lying is in opposition to truth) and is made solely to give some desired impression of the bullshitter. It then says that when confronted with the difficulty of maintaining an objective understanding of truth and reality, instead of trying to discover the reality, we remain "true to [ourselves]". But since we as individuals are fluid and changing and even harder still to know and understand, that holding to ourselves in this way is in itself a disregard for an objective truth and thus a form of bullshit. 

I admit that my initial reaction to this assertion was negative, but as is typically the case with writing these reports, the act of thinking about things more deliberately has moved my feelings about it. I think the issue is just the use of the word sincerity. I understand better what is being said, and I may even agree, but I don't think sincerity means, at least not to me, what is being described here. Or maybe sincerity is too large a word which both of our understandings is true. For me sincerity is the opposite of affectation, meaning that the impression given matches exactly the intent, whereas with affectation the intent is to give an impression. Using these meanings, sincerity stands in opposition to bullshit, with affectation being almost a synonym for it. I can't imagine how someone could sincerely bullshit, as the two very ideas are so opposed, so I can't agree with the closing statement that "sincerity itself is bullshit". I agree with the sentiment presented, but not with it's misappropriation to the virtue of sincerity.

The Glass Bead Game

This was less powerful than most other Hesse I've read so far, other than Demian I guess. It leans way more on the intellectual and the philosophical than it does the introspective and the personal, so while it was still super interesting, it didn't have the same impact.

It’s a fictional biography about a student and eventual master of this cloister-like super-school. You go to live there at a young age and never leave! There’s no real conflict to speak of, it’s just this nice little journey watching this guy grow and learn. Everything feels soft, everyone’s pretty nice, everything goes smoothly.

At the center of the school and book is the glass bead game, which isn't really a game and it doesn't really involve glass beads. The game itself isn't all that well defined. It’s left sort of vague and grandiose, but as I understand it, it’s based on finding and drawing connections between multiple fields and subjects. The primary examples were between music and math with some philosophy thrown in as well. So a game begins with some artistic or mathematical or philosophical prompt, maybe with a second separate idea that the player then has to tie those ideas together. That’s how I understood it at least. They never “show” a game being played so it’s not concrete at all. Not having a full understanding of the game felt limiting. I wonder if Hesse had a complete picture of the game in his own mind and decided not to get into it, or if he just wanted the core idea.

While this one gives way less cause to look inward than previous Hesse, it’s through line of all disciplines being connected is interesting, but I don’t know if it extends beyond interesting for me. It holds learning and academia in such high esteem and treats it with such reverence that’s a little contagious. I came out of this wishing I could dedicate myself to that concentrated almost monastic level of study.

The ending though, I don't know. It came out of nowhere. I really don't know what to think of it. I try to assume everything an author does is for a reason and then try to figure out what the reason was, but I don't know. The only things I can piece out don't really slot in thematically.