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Archive for March, 2016

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Printer, inventor, diplomat, founding father

Benjamin Franklin

 

Once early in his newspaper career he had to deal with the rival paper Mercury, which had the patronage of William Penn’s sons and Franklin as with many other patriots disliked their policies. One day a delegation of well meaning friends, Quakers, called on him at his house. They were there to warn him to moderate his political views. Anticipating what they were there for he invited them to stay for dinner, which consisted of some kind of mush and water. Franklin spooned the mush onto his dish and began to eat. His guests also tried to follow his example but they could not speak their point of view without getting the mush sticky in their throat. Franklin quietly tackled his food as he was well used to it. Finally the Quakers could not suffer the fare any longer and asked what it was.

‘You see what humble food I can live on,’ snapped Franklin, ‘He who can subsist upon saw-dust pudding and water doesn’t need the patronage of anyone.’

Note: There is a parallel to this in the life of Cato the elder. Plutarch writes about Marius Curius, a neighbour of Cato who had in his day scored a great victory over the Samnites. This War had lasted 298-90 BC. His simple living and hard work were well known. He continued to live in his humble cottage, working over the little patch of his land with his own hands even after he had celebrated his three triumphs. It was here that the ambassadors of the Samnites had found him sitting in front of his hearth boiling turnips. They offered him large sums of gold, but he sent them away, telling them that a man who could be satisfied with such a meal did not need gold.

 

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I n t r o d u c t i o n

 

What is an anecdote? It was the redoubtable Dr. Johnson who in his Dictionary (1755) defined the word as ‘something yet unpublished; a secret history.’ On the anvil of usage a word gets beaten till it comes to mean quite something else. The doctor as concession to vagaries of time, in a later edition amended the definition as follows: ‘A biographical incident; a minute passage of private life.’

 This second book of the Representational Man contains more anecdotes and the intent is same as the first.

Man as a key and symbol. Since we come with a physical and inner life should we not be represented both visible and in inner life as well? The representational men ought to serve as a key to our inner life or our lives in the spirit.

No action of man can be understood without asking what his motives were. Why did VI Lenin resort to a violent overthrow of the Tsars while MK Gandhi adopted non-violence as his weapon? This can only be understood by the role ethos shaped their thinking. Ethos is defined as the disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement. (AH dictionary)

Alexander of Macedon is a representative man for the ilks of Julius Caesar and Napoleon whose fame and fortune are all hitched to the physical world. Their actions also prove where their emphasis lay. For the Great Soul as MK Gandhi is called, ahimsa was an article of faith and for this he owed to the teachings of Gautama Buddha and to the epics. Prince Siddhartha Gautama forsook his kingdom and the worldly advantages and yet became a representational man. He turned his loss to advantage. He became the Buddha after he put his finger on the pulse of our existence to show us a way forward. For all those who value a life in the spirit he is a representational man.

Conquerors of world empires or of our hearts and minds, prophets or saints, fools or sages have all made their mark using the same arena, the earth. Only they placed their emphases differently.

Spirit of the times is the oxygen we breathe even as they and yet we see our world through their eyes.

Diogenes of Cinope could tell Alexander to keep out of his sun because he saw his circumstances under the sun applicable to the great man as well. How come they are representational men and we are not? We are connected to representational men because we breathe the same air and create the spirit of our times in the manner we contribute however small, for the common fund. And yet we often forget what spirit we are made of; neither we cash in on the wisdom which the representational man has well made use of. Representational man in a manner of speaking is our admission we fell back in the race of life.

If we are not true to our own thoughts we are reduced to deal in second hand goods passed on by others. If we have failed to think noble thoughts or act upon them we may be forced to settle for the second best which another has thought for us. It is in this context we look up to the representational man who has succeeded where we never even tried.

I shall end this by quoting two authors who more or less approached study of history from focusing on men who made history. Scholars of present day history may not fully endorse their approach but the following quotes suit my purpose well.

My intent is not to write histories but only lives. For the noblest deeds do not always show mean virtues and vices but sometimes a light occasion, a word or some sport makes man’s natural dispositions and manners appear than the famous battles won…”

(Plutarch-The Life of Alexander)

“No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of the great men”.

(Carlyle)

(This is selected from my book: Representational Man in two volumes-self published through http://www.lulu.com)

Benny


 

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Our generation can be truly called the film generation. Our modern world having survived quite a few cataclysms like two World Wars, the great Depression   can still be accessed. Lessons from history thanks to it are not forgotten if not really learned. I do not intend to discuss this aspect but rather film as art. For those who consider film as their bread and butter my approach may seem that of a lounge lizard. Nevertheless I am an artist. While I am an amateur in the Seventh Art my life I take in all seriousness to be lackadaisical about this medium. I have pursued it with the monomania associated with a butterfly collector who in order to add to his collection, would pursue one rare specimen to the ends of the earth. I have skipped a 1962 University exam in order to see The Streetcar Named Desire in its last run. For me exams were part of preparing for a career but a film meant much more. Like the doomed heroine Blanche I pursued the magic of art in life in whatever form I could distil, amateur or not.

Art in its essence is man’s touch with reality of his world that has more than one point of view. Palaeolithic art of a running horse discovered in Lascaux or a Bison charging (Altamira) are examples where his touch with reality forces him to fix the physical aspect of what makes up his world; in order to succeed in hunting a bison for instance, he needed an accurate knowledge of it as well as to capture its spirit by magic as it were. A filmmaker as an artist does in essentials the same as his stone-age ancestor. He works as a chronicler of his world in which his point of view may take several positions: his world vision licked into shape by life experience and also his role as a translator of the spirit of his age. Of the second let me merely say film art gets its force from that spirit of his age one of which is technology. Technology has made development of film possible but the basic principles of film, remains the same. Modern art for example did not change art but allowed the artist another vision. Cubism in the way Picasso demonstrates it, say Demoiselles d’Avignon, is about the genre of painting nudes but its meaning rather extended. His art, his experience of formal kind is clothed with elements of primitive art. A filmmaker similarly experiments in art and his technique may change with the help of technology as we see films of today. What with the electronic age is not Neo-Realism of Rossellini of Vittorio de Sica as dead as a Dodo? As Stanley Kauffman says in his essay on The Film Generation (A World on Film-the New republic) a film ‘has its roots –of content and method-in older arts. yet it is very much less entailed by the past than these arts.’

Reel Life is a movie list as a collection of 120 best films chosen from world Cinema with a preponderance for American and European films. There are a few Japanese and Russian films, which I am familiar with. There are equally significant films from many other countries but here again it is my personal preference dictated the list.

2.

I am an old man. But don’t get me wrong; it calls for a celebration of sorts. This present book of movie list is the summing up of my lifelong fascination with films. Many passions that convulsed me from time to time, I can now recall with a smile, were over-prized and with age I have given their due place as part of learning process. It cannot be without reason the films included in this book hold an abiding interest in me. Movie list is the reel life for me. As I rerun images from films in my mind’s eye I see their significance all the more clearer. My second childhood isn’t a bad thing at all if a worldview could sort it out better.

How do I know it for sure? Of course second time around I do not swallow everything that my eyes see as I had done once. Magic of the movies tempered with life experience makes this phase something to celebrate, explore (of the art behind the medium) and to seek perhaps some aspects that sets Truth in a way I can subscribe to.

Is Truth out of place in a medium that is as contrived as cinema? ‘The Mongrel Muse’ as Raymond Durgnat would call it in his ‘films and feelings’ is a synthesis of arts. If arts do hold any connection to life, in a moral sense or aesthetically, film also must bear relation to Truth. While I watch a film I am fully engrossed and not conscious my being except as a vehicle for various emotions or thoughts, of which I can only vouch for after having experienced them. Somewhat like our dream-state. Life for me, as a moviegoer does not cease but I have absorbed from the experience, a heightened sense of Truth, despite those flickering images so contrived to pass for real.

As a child what made me lap them up and what do I now with a sure sense of purpose are altogether different. So be it.

Much of what is presented in the Reel Life is collated from existing reviews, essays and information provided by others, and I have acknowledged the source wherever I could. However each film bears my worldview and my attitude to life and art. Somewhat like a book packaged from writers whose contributions forms a part but not the whole. My choice of films itself tells its own story. My life experience and its conscious thrust over the material justify my work. In short the book is my reel life.

If the reader should find the List incomplete, I alone am to blame. Out of thousands of films I have merely picked 120 best films that for some reason or other had better claims on me. For example The Blue Angel has been remade in 1959 with Curt Jürgens and May Britt in the roles played by Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich. I have chosen the original version of 1930 for the wonderful performance of Emil Jannings. Personal tastes in this case decided what to be included or left out. I hope to follow this up with a second book.

(Selected: My Reel Life/introduction-2014)

benny

 

 

 

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Boredom is the enemy #1 to every serious occupation in life. A story which concerns St. John, a favorite disciple of Jesus is that he was once seen sporting with a tame partridge, by an archer who thought that the holy man should not waste his time in such frivolities; The apostle replied that if the archer did not at times relax his bow, it would lose spring.

Can there be time out for holiness? For a saint like St. Francis even frivolities shall prove his human quality in its naturalness. Addressing the sun as Brother Sun or the birds the revered figure of Assissi proved his time out was in fitness of God’s kingdom. He could forgive since he knew the essence of his place among wonders that were for all. The sun shines for good and the evil alike; similarly rain. Merely because he was a man of God and the other a wicked man he need not curse him for his evil deeds. For him forgiving comes easier because he is not only thinking of himself but also of another. Tyrants at home demand service and not understand those who serve also have sometimes difficulties in meeting their demands. They have simply forgotten others since they are full of themselves. Those who slash and burn rain forests do so because they want to aggrandize themselves at the expense of others. How can such fellows call themselves as human or decent?

The great Caesar as Plutarch tells us, on one occasion sought shelter under the roof of a rustic shepherd. At dinner time the meal cooked in rancid oil and served to him made the companion bristle with indignity. Caesar could accept the humble meal and thank him for his hospitality. Caesar proved his greatness even under straitened circumstances. He did not forget where he was and his place. He was a guest and having forced himself on another man’s hospitality knew how to behave. Like Caesar each of us is a guest here on earth. There are unwritten house rules. You may be overqualified with degrees and to your own hurt if your educated guess of your place on the earth is to take the food out of mouths of your offspring. In order to ensure their wellbeing, let your humanness show.

Can there be time out for holiness? Or let us rephrase it like thus: Can there be time out from being human?

Tailpiece: there is nothing that can fix a problem like capitalism than fixing who we are and our decency to others who also have found sharing the space. None of us owns the earth. Perhaps education that we tout as cure-all is a travesty of true purpose of education. Think of damage done under initiative and free enterprise! Colossal damage done by cretins in the name of bold initiative, Pshaw! Education on these fellows seems to fit the proverb: ‘casting pearls before swine’.

(This is a modified version of an earlier post-An Apocryphal Story published in my blog 2012)

benny

 

 

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In my novel Aesop represents Good Sense and is Everyman. We see him as a foundling taken under the wings of Apollo who also undertakes his rearing despite the dire circumstances his physical life need cope with. Law of Compensations works out thus: His rustic upbringing provides all the wherewithal when he is freed from slave duties. Those animals and their characteristics make his fables real and life-experience add insight to the reader how he or she ought to conduct in the world. Prudence, moderation,humility, impartiality and friendship, forbearance are little gems to be found out in his fables. In any age where intra-personal relationships are the means to determine outcome of an enterprise success owes to character, which is to be adequate for the purpose man is best fitted out. Generally speaking character of man is his humanity. If one speaks of public life this humanness must be able to discern his times,purpose and his best interests. Similarly a man of success would have learned how to be relevant without sacrificing his own worth.

Life is short. Aesop began life from a disadvantage but each step brought along something positive that was like interest adding up: life experience is the capital. so is friendships and knowledge. In the Classical ethos Apollo stands for such positivism while Silenus is that of excesses with which one not self-disciplined can easily fall an easy prey to. Such compensation is marked in the moral compass and is so true even in this crass superficial age real worth of man and his success remain the same..

This is a fictional biography where I have incorporated lessons I learned and thought out in some seven decades. .

-benny

16-1-14

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16-1-10

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