Tuesday, 22 February 2011


"...Man's life is like morning dew,
A flame eating up the oil night by night.
Why should I strain my ears
Listening to the squawks of this autumn insect?
Better lay aside the book
And drink my cup of jade-white wine." - Su Shi's "Reading the Poetry of Meng Jiao"

Yeah, Chinese stuff. Forget that though. I found this amusing as well as insightful. It's the kind of issue I've been grappling with pretty much non-stop for at least the past year. You hear Meng Jiao is like a big deal (presumably), and you try to be open-minded and give him a shot, but he's a pain in the arse, and life's too short to be spent on things other people find exciting, for reasons that are more often stupid than not.

China rocks. When you put aside all the organ-harvesting protestor-shooting internet-censoring business. China rocks in a visceral, non-rational, more or less irrational way, which is the only real way for things to rock.

I'm thinking about this again mainly because I need to find another subject as awesome as China to do a degree in, but also because it represents some kind of point I keep trying to make to myself without much apparent success, which is one of those advantages you surprisingly don't get from limiting your conversation to yourself. This point has been illustrated again today (or technically last night), when I decided to return to the library my copy of the Analects of Confucius - which despite being Chinese is one of the dullest, most insipid and philosophically depressing books I have ever misguidedly begun to read - and to take out Spenser's The Faerie Queene, which has nothing to do with anything, but appears to be written by the real-life equivalent of S. Morgenstern

I have been forcing myself through Confucius in the thought that it is a good thing for a student of China with an interest in Chinese philosophy to do, especially if he has as much free time on his hands as I do, much like I have been forcing myself through countless conversations and relationships over the years in the thought that it is a good thing for a social person to do. And what I'm thinking right now is, who makes up these rules anyway? Stupid people, no doubt. Or people operating on stupid assumptions, in any case - I'm not sure you can actually define a person as stupid. I do feel pretty comfortable though defining boring shit as "squawks of autumn insects". It's not so much Meng Jiao, for me, as it is the people who tell me I have to read and admire and "appreciate" Meng Jiao, or would at least if we lived in China. I say fuck Confucius. But I wish I didn't feel so apologetic saying it.

Truly spiritually healthy people, according to a doctrine that probably has a name I don't know but that I stand behind anyway, know how to separate between that which they get a kick out of, and that which is basically irrelevant. I can tell that this sounds like some kind of call for impulsiveness, but I don't think I've said anything I can take back yet. Daoists claim you can find a way to connect to any activity; I claim there is nothing within the realms of reasonable real-life eventualities that could induce me to not hate every single second of telemarketing if I was forced to engage in it. And it's not because telemarketing is exactly bad (hey, bear with me here) in a moral or universally spiritual sense, but it does not mesh with the constellation of neuroses and timidities that is Naty Amitai. I can actually live with that, but I keep finding myself trying to fight it. Some things that don't work for me aren't as obvious as telemarketing. Confucius for instance. The Western philosophy program in the Hebrew University. It doesn't take long after the beginning to see that these things mean absolutely nothing to me (I'm looking at you, fucking Judaism), but you feel like you ought to humour the people saying it's actually really good and you just need to get used to it.

So what I'm saying is, you don't. Rules suck. Anarchy in the UK and stuff.


  1. Actually, telemarketing IS bad (speaking as one who had been a victim of it if not a perpetrator).

    Just one point: you are right that things need to be right for you, but you haven't addressed the issue of how long one ought to remain open-minded before deciding that something is only the squawk of an insect. One day? One chapter?
    What about things that take time to appreciate? E.g., wine is an acquired taste. Does that mean we just think we like the taste of wine, because when we were kids we didn't, and then we wanted to look older and more sophisticated, so we convinced ourselves we like it?
    What about when you're not interested in pretentious movies with no plot, but your son tells you that you suck for not attempting to watch them? (nobody specific in mind here).
    Sometimes it's worth keeping an open mind for a while, is it not???

    (P.S. If my comments and general existence embarass you, let me and know I'll delete them - the comments anyway).

  2. I don't mind if you post here, as long as you keep doing it as apologetically as you do here. We have had this discussion before. Sometimes you start reading a book and it sucks so intensely you know you're only kidding yourself when you say you're continuing to read it to keep an open mind. You're doing it because you think you ought to.

    There's a difference between slow-burning stuff and boring stuff. I don't know, to me anyway. It's a question less of patience than of emotional reaction. If you find something irritating, you should probably stop reading or watching it, even if it means I'll lose a lot of my respect for you as a human being (Zhang Yimou, man! Zhang Yimou!).

    I don't know about your wine example. Maybe I need to have more time to consider it, but wanting to drink wine so that we feel cooler isn't the same as doing it because we think somebody's expecting us to. It's not a question of convincing yourself you like it, but of convincing yourself that your reaction isn't the correct one and it will change over time. Some people don't like wine. Ever. Big deal.

    How long do you keep an open mind? As long as it feels like it actually is an opening of mind, and not just an attempt to appease and win the approval of the arbiters of taste. A mind has to close at some point. When it does you should recognise it. I think.