Gnomicon 251

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  251
Friday 18 January 2013
Read gnomica 1-250 here!

In the West, we want answers for everything.
Everything is right or wrong, or good or bad.
But in the wayang, no such final conclusions exist.
Look at Prince Arjuna.  He’s a hero, but he can also be fickle and selfish.
Krishna says to him,
”All is clouded by desire, Arjuna, as a fire by smoke, as a mirror by dust.
Through these it blinds the soul.”

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
See some stills (with music) here.

A character named Billy Kwan (brilliantly and compellingly played by Linda Hunt [photos] – she got an Oscar in 1983 as Best Supporting Actress for her rôle [as a man!]) utters these lines while showing the protagonist Guy Hamilton (played by Mel Gibson) a bit of Javanese shadow puppet theater known as the wayang.

It may be that I import a romanticized take on what I understand to be a kind of Indonesian pop culture – for similar reasons I am likewise much enamored of the writings of W. Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad.  If so, so be it!  But Kwan’s observation makes a lot of sense to me, sense in a way that has definitely not always been the case.  As I get older, I come to think of myself as more and more analog in my view of things and less and less digital.

What do I mean?

When you look at the exterior temperature gauge hanging over a bank, for example, and clearly visible two blocks away, you will see that the temperature suddenly and within less than a second changes from, say, 85° to 86°.  But you know that the temperature did not just jump one degree.  No:  85° on its way to 86° first changed to 85.1° and then to 85.2° and then eventually got to 85.9° and 86°.  And before it went from 85.1° to 85.2° it went from 85.1° to 85.11° and … so forth and so on.  Another way of putting this is that the gauge on the bank falsifies reality, for when the temperature actually is 85.23° the gauge incorrectly indicates 85.2°.  And so forth.  But, whether we think about it or not, it is a venial falsification that does not inconvenience or disrupt our negotiating our life as we live it day by day.

Billy Kwan’s point is that the West (we) wants a kind of certainty about things that warrants no fuzziness – something either is or it is not:  it is black or it is white, it is a digital view of a reality that is at heart very much analog.  I have no problem with the fact and at times necessity of dealing with the world on digital terms (where would those very Western developments we call modern science and modern technology be without a digital understanding of the world?)  And that works fine there.  But for Kwan (and, I confess, for me, too, as the years unscroll) a digitally discrete segmentation that works so fabulously well for the designing and building of, say, jumbo jets and drones simply doesn’t always work all that well when it comes to dealing with  one’s personal reality.  Here – in the analog world we do inhabit — one simply has to learn to live with the ‘falsifications’ and accept that much in this realm just is not always a question of either or, “right or wrong, or good or bad”.

Approaching life as an entirely digital construct and always acting on such an understanding will get me in trouble – that just isn’t the way it is.

For it is what it is!

Finally, The Year of Living Dangerously may not be the greatest piece of cinema you’ll ever see, but I find it as moving today as I did thirty years ago when I first watched it – you could do worse of a Friday evening than spending some time with a friend and this beautiful but ultimately very sad film (available at Netflix).  And do pay attention to the pervasive imagery of sight and vision – close-ups of eyes, etc. – do we … can we ever ‘see’ clearly, or must we be ever mindful of Krishna’s admonition to Arjuna the dwarf that ‘All is clouded by desire’?

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