Review: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and The Fall by Albert Camus

Siddhartha & The Fall
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and The Fall by Albert Camus are too famous to have another review. This is going to be a reflection on some stinging realities which these two works bring to light, and how many of their themes were rooted in the accepted societal beliefs, unable to break free from them.

Siddhartha says, to Govinda, that "knowledge has no worser enemy than the desire to know it, than learning", thereby implying that knowledge exists outside our realms and it is already there and we, by trying to learn it through our efforts, are belittling  it or misinterpreting it. But can knowledge exist without any existence at all? Can there be any known thing without the presence of any living being in whichever form, the bacteria, the single-celled, the microbes - none of it. But that probably takes us to a state of nothingness when nothing would have existed. So is Siddhartha (or Hesse) saying that Knowledge is like a magnetic monopole? That it can exist on its own without the need of existence? It is difficult to agree with this. Can nothing still encompass knowledge when there is nothing but nothing? Here, however, one needs to take things in context. Siddhartha believed in oneness of all things and experienced the flow of river as something which doesn't have any past, no future but only the present. It is present at different places at the same time. And as all the past, the present and the future exist at the same time, time does not exist. Scientific American described time in 2006 as: "The world is a series of events strung together by time. We see change, and change is the variation of properties with respect to time. Without time, the world would be completely still. Although time may not exist at a fundamental level, it may arise at higher levels—just as a table feels solid even though it is a swarm of particles composed mostly of empty space. Solidity is a collective, or emergent, property of the particles. Time, too, could be an emergent property of whatever the basic ingredients of the world are". But if no change at all happens, can time be detected or its flow felt? So Siddhartha's view of time here is merely theoretical and incorrect too: that the past, the present and the future can all exist at once. There can be no denying about the sequence, that is the before and after, of any event even if time is not used for describing that sequence.

At one point of time, Siddhartha feels he has lost himself in the process of searching for himself and by dissecting and removing all his peels of layers to uncover the core of all peels, nothing has remained of him. But realizing that nothing is of all us and there is no "core of all peels" in all and any of us is what doesn't happen often and even he missed it. That all of our existences are a mere coincidences no matter however important we would like to feel about ourselves is a realization which doesn't go down well in our current state of frenzied rush after everything temporal. He tries to learn from himself, looks around and finds the colours beautiful, the world full of interesting things like stars, moon, sun, mountains, animals and the like. But does he not realize that only in non-human things and beings does he see beauty? How could he miss it? Beauty, contentment, peace and mere unselfish existence only belong to non-humans and it is us, the humans, who because of our evolved brains are always in search for the noble truth which doesn't exist. He talks of an inner voice commanding him and his desire to dwell on nothing but what the voice asks him to dwell on. Inner voice? That is again reflective of a passed-down belief that our inner voices tell us what to do. It is nothing but gut feeling, which also draws from experience. Certain experiential and existential abilities are genetic - like a hand put in fire for the first time will kick-start the instant reaction of pulling it back, or having a stone in mouth instead of food will make us instantly vomit it out. But inner voice is never passed down. Each of us have to go through the whole cycle of experiences of elation and dejection to learn from it. Non-human knowledge, if it can be called so, is something which is passed down genetically - like the instinct of fear, knowing when to escape, the expression of anger are all present in animals. They don't need to taught those. But we humans need to learn all the other things. That which we call knowledge has to be acquired and it is not at all genetic, and this again squashes Siddhartha's belief that knowledge exists and our effort to learn it is an enemy. But Siddhartha's search for experience is only reflective of this just discussed reality - that because human knowledge and human experience cannot be passed down genetically, one has to sin to be able to live again. This should not be a short lived moment of excitement that we have come to know of it, but should rather be accepted as a static reality which doesn't change. But can we evolve in the millions and billions of years to come in such a way that even experiences and human knowledge can be passed down genetically? We can never answer that because we are as good as a tree in predicting things. Towards the end, Siddhartha stops fighting his fate. Fate? He acts on two counts which clearly indicate his alignment with accepting things - listening to inner voice to guide him and giving in to fate. That his fate already has been decided and that he is a mere actor playing along sequentially is evidence of his beliefs in a higher power.

Siddhartha's assertion that one needs to find in life rather than search in life is a practical one - that often one looks for happiness with only that in mind, and forgets to experience whatever else one goes through. He does realize that there is no meaning to our existence and life and just resigns himself to this, and stops comparing the world to some perfect world he imagined and starts loving and enjoying being a part of it. He talks of how a stone is not just a stone but might become a human someday. He says how one thing is everything and everything is just one. This is an appealing idea, that when we die we just get converted from our current forms to some other forms - our feelings, our emotions - they vanish - but our bodies, they get converted to other forms, either by being eaten or swallowed or burned. So our physical existence just takes another form, but our mental doesn't. This, that our mental doesn't, is not at all stated by Siddhartha and probably doesn't think about it. That for us, we are our minds first then our bodies. But for many we are our bodies first and then our minds. But ultimately we are a mixture of both. But we always strive to give more importance to our minds and that is why this endless cycle of running around, creating self-importance and projecting ourselves as somebody above the other beings on earth. Our yearning to separate the mind from the body is what lies at the core of everything - our happiness, our sadness.

We now move to Camus' work. Jean-Baptiste says that "being master of one's moods is the privilege of the larger animals". But are we, humans, the larger animals, master of our moods? We can to some extent affect our moods, it is a sort of physio-psychological effect which one can exercise and to some extent affect the release or suppression of chemicals in one's brain. Job, family and organized leisurely activities, which will give a "good clean life", are indicators of the Marcuse's one-dimensional-man. The feelings of satisfaction and self-esteem keep us moving forward, he states. But later, as he acknowledges, these aren't feelings of satisfaction or self-esteem in isolation but only in the midst of a societal audience. That we play a role in and for the society doesn't escape him. His opinion that no one meditated in cells or prisons but only on accessible heights is a sharp observation: it points that we position meditation and such thoughtful activities directed towards us in becoming thoughtless in such a way that we visualize ourselves being on a plane higher than that of others, that we have already become enlightened and peaceful just by thinking of it and risen above the plane of everyday doings and ascended to a phase of higher-self. Baptiste's energetic youth in which he was at ease with everything but satisfied with nothing can be looked at as being a caustic remark even on the current and all the future generations as well. We are satisfied by nothing (which is the presence of everything) and nothing (which is the absence of everything) is a dreadful hell we wish to avoid at all costs. Our fledgling morals are touched upon and well criticised - that our slaves must not be called slaves and we must never admit it which will presuppose our guilt. To avoid our own suffering we must deny of somebody else. His brief reflection on death relieving us of the compulsions of relationships, especially those of love and that many marriages are nothing but formalized debauches, is too short-lived. The desire to be free of the clutches of love, only death can deliver it. But it frees as well as chains. The memories would haunt one forever till the mind is numbed. His thoughtful scrutiny of of our behaviour with those who are superior to us is charming - we rarely confide in somebody better than us; our weaknesses are shared with the likes; and hence we never want to be improved or bettered. Our efforts of passing unnoticed are efforts at garnering more attention when the audience realizes its folly of ignoring or forgetting us. We hide to be called out; we cry to be cajoled; we laugh to be called mad; we get hurt to be nursed; we fight to become friends; we come closer to go away; and live to die with the hope that we would die and live as we couldn't when we lived.

Truth, he says, is a colossal bore. And he is right. Who wants truth when the lie is beautiful, joyous and enticing? Who wants to examine when the unexamined is a thousand times attractive? The guilt of us all and the confusion over our innocence; that men are enough to create guilt and punish; that murdering a man will always have and need reasons, but his continuing to live needs none and how crime needs lawyers but innocence needs only rarely - all of this, all of it, just makes too much sense to be ignored. In the past, Baptiste continues, we were sentimental about lakes and forests but now about prison cells speaks of our fall. Freedom, he goes on, is a solitary race, a court sentence, and heavy to bear when down, lonely or distressed. But why does loneliness worry him so much? What is about being lonely that he thinks is missing out by being with others? Did his realization that he played out only for others and its dispensability not make him wise on this count? It did not, somehow. He became afraid of freedom and the solitariness of death. Yes, he did say that slavery is collective. And it is true. His right to judge us as he accuses himself all the more is nothing but another form of making one's self equal to or lower than others and then bringing them down. It is a variant of what he had said earlier, that we share weakness only with the likes.

Towards the end, Baptiste, just like Siddhartha, accepts duplicity than being upset about it. They exist despite of existentialism. They both become enlightened and find comfort, after which they were throughout their lives, in that duplicity. But how can duplicity at all be comforting? That they could be content with the ways of life and be okay with accepting their own anti-behaviour? How can one ever accept it? That they could deride everything and still live in complete acceptance of that derision? How?

And, more importantly, why? Why at all?


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