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. 

The Lathe of Heaven

Typical spoiler warning. I want to work out the themes of the book which requires specific details from the book.

So generally speaking Lathe of Heaven is about an unfortunate man who’s dreams have the power to change reality. He’s afraid of this power and this sends him on a drug induced downward spiral until he’s eventually forced into psychiatric help. The doctor then discovers this power and begins to manipulate the dreams via hypnotic suggestion, trying to change reality for the better. Which each new alteration, a benevolent intention often has some pretty terrible implementations. Think genie wish tricks.

This is one of those stories where I’m not sure what relevance the message has in real life. One of the things I like about certain sci-fi is that it can abstract an idea from life or some human characteristic and outline it with, or question it by, placing it in unfamiliar territory. You get to test the construction of some philosophies or beliefs that you’ve maybe taken for granted. With this book however, while it has some interesting questions you can ask yourself, I just haven’t been able to tie them into life.

The only real question I found was “Would you do it?” or “Is the doctor wrong?”. I’m sure I probably would. I’d at least give it a couple tries. Maybe if things didn’t work out so great I wouldn’t keep trying, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t try. The doctor isn’t really painted as a bad guy, just overly ambitious and maybe a bit farsighted (a lot farsighted I guess). The general attitude seems to be that you shouldn’t try to change things. Not like, you shouldn’t work towards change, but that you literally shouldn’t change the past or how things are. Which, I don’t know, I’m not sure I agree, but we can’t. Why have the conversation at all?