荟客厅:米兰.昆德拉(1)

我最喜欢的小说家是米兰昆德拉,他的作品围绕着人生中几乎不可避免的普遍冲突:灵魂与肉体,沦丧与救赎,媚俗与拒斥、流亡与回归、永恒与遗忘,最重要的是自由意志和宿命。

《搭车游戏》

讲的是一个身份遗忘和认同的故事。一对年轻的情侣在假期期间驾车出游时,趁着女孩买汽油之机,双方自觉地滑入扮演陌生人的游戏。女孩扮演起陌生的想诱惑陌生驾车司机的搭车姑娘,而男孩则扮演起诱惑搭车姑娘的驾车司机。

这是一个双方都确知的,充分假定的游戏。他们在此过程中,逐渐面对适应角色产生的心理冲突。女孩在面对男孩的讨好手段无法分清自己是男孩的女朋友,还是作为要诱惑陌生司机的搭车姑娘,是该作为女朋友的产生嫉妒,还是作为搭车女孩举止轻佻呢?

有大量精彩的心理描写,尤其是女孩的心理我觉得更加精彩(也可能因为自己是女生所以更能产生共鸣),其中有两个我印象特别深的描述女孩在身份变换后心理变化的句子摘抄在这里:

The alien life in which she had become involved was a life without shame, without biographical specifications, without past or future, without obligations; it was a life that was extraordinary free. The girl, as a hitchhiker, could do anything: everything was permitted to her; she could say, do, and feel whatever she liked.
Perhaps I want to resist necessity. To trip up causality. To throw off the predictability of the world’s course through the whimsicality of caprice.

《身份》

这本长篇小说讲述的也是一个恋人间的“身份置换”导致自我的迷失的故事。展示出个体所在环境加强了人与人之间、人与世界甚至是人自身的陌生化强度,加剧了个体对自我定义的模糊,或许真实就是人的每一种身份都是一种自我绑架,唯有失去是通向自由之路。

女主人公尚塔尔有一天发现沙滩上的男人们不再看自己,便生沮丧感。她的男友让马克为了帮助女友尚塔尔追回自信心,匿名写了数封情书,致使双方的身份发生了质的变化,结果双方都陷入了身份的尴尬之中。

最精彩之处是昆德拉提出的问题:究竟确切的是在哪一刻,真实变成了不真实,现实变成了梦?当时的边界在哪里?边界究竟在哪里?

《慢》

这是昆德拉的长篇小说。在在《身份》思考了个体人如果主动选择隐蔽自己的私密生活,主动地脱离摄影机式的透明世界会怎样。而在《慢》中作者意欲揭示现代人被迫公开自己隐私生活而导致对速度的追求,那种在透明状态下的从众压力。

小说名是《慢》,实际上是讲快,记忆的速朽,和精神的贫瘠。在公开的环境下,个人成为表演和作秀的机器,我感觉这更加接近现在的网络环境,每个人都争着展示自己,让自己被听见,在摄影机面前,美与丑,真与假没有本质区别,有的只是对社会时尚的追求,对大众审美的遵奉。

很喜欢昆德拉将小说中人的生存环境比喻成大贝壳,每个人讲的东西都会在贝壳里回响:

Nothing in this novel stays a secret exclusive to two persons; everyone seems to live inside an enormous resonating seashell where every whispered word reverberates, swells, into multiple and unending echoes. When I was small, people would tell me that if I set a shell against my ear I would hear the immemorial murmur of the sea.

Has mankind always lived inside such a resonating shell, without realizing it?

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荟客厅:陀思妥耶夫斯基(1)

《白痴》

《白痴》是一部近600页的长篇小说,描绘了一个纯洁男主——梅诗金公爵,他被很多人视为白痴,因为长期在国外疗养,回国后和周围的生活脱节,显得不谙世故,但他有着一颗水晶般纯净无邪的仁爱之心,光明磊落,任何权术城府和他都是不沾边的。在一个由伪善虚假编织成的罗网里,一旦有人捅破那层薄薄的遮掩,这妖魔化的世界便不成体统。一切都是颠倒的:善良成了白痴,仁爱变成无用。而最终梅诗金公爵也没能撼动这张根深蒂固的网。

在回俄国的火车上,他遇到了罗果仁,一个痴迷于美丽的娜斯塔霞的富二代。娜斯塔霞,各种小说戏剧影视中描述的红颜薄命的女子中的一员,并没有给我留下深刻的印象。她美貌、聪慧、出生悲惨,处于阴谋的中心但不甘心受人摆布,敢于在富豪权贵头上动土,最后香消玉损,这样的形象仿佛是嚼了几个世纪的口香糖,无感。反倒是罗果仁,因为其内心的阴暗和对娜斯塔霞病态的迷恋最终导将他们三个人都拖入悲惨的结局,这样一个邪恶而愚蠢的人格,让人印象深刻。

陀氏笔下的梅诗金公爵反映了作者本人对“完完全全美好的人”的定义,他认为真正美好的人物在这个尘世必定是可笑的,美好者不知自身价值,反而遭到嘲笑,于是引起同情,也衬托的真实社会的丑恶。作者对公爵的性格描绘显然受到了圣经福音书的影响,圣徒一样的公爵在社会上饱受欺侮,可是他不愤怒,不反抗,总是逆来顺受,还时不时为自己“以小人之心度君子之腹”而自责,和周着世界形成触目惊心的对比。此外,在某层面上白痴这本书本身就有一种基督降临的寓言的味道——完美的梅诗金公爵带着某种高尚的使命从瑞士疗养院来到彼得堡这样一个充满人性罪恶的鱼龙混杂之地,他用自身的爱和宽容感化拯救周围的人。

小说中的每个形象通常代表了那个时代的某一种观点。作者对人物性格的描绘方式有些“不着一字,褒贬风流”的感觉。陀并没有用花很多笔墨去直接描述人物性格,而是用实时记录言行的方式,好像有架摄像机,实时的在暗拍,观察他们都在说什么,做什么。作者带领我们在这些人的交谈行为之间穿梭,由读者自己去理解背后的潜台词:

  • 梅诗金公爵:纯洁,高尚,富有同情心,体谅一切人间疾苦因此显得和社会格格不入
  • 罗果仁:杀气腾腾,他的存在仿佛恶之花的绽放,因为梅诗金公爵对他的宽恕和容忍与其本身的恶形成对比,反而更加憎恨公爵。
  • 娜斯塔霞:美丽,轻浮,内心深处却又善良。
  • 叶班钦将军:成功又是传统的家庭型男人,白开水一样的人,平淡,寡味,但适合过日子。有作死到不行的老婆和女儿,他这样的性格对家庭的维系至关重要
  • 安格拉雅:将军的最小的女儿,美貌幼稚,对家人的期待有很强的叛逆心理,典型的不作死就不会死的角色,一会绿茶婊,一会圣母婊,关于安格拉雅的部分是我最想跳过的,但因为其何主人公关系密切,又跳不过
  • 加尼亚:想要金钱又想要爱情,但却悲剧性的面临无法两全的境地,最后将一切矛头指向他那个死要面子,不切实际的父亲——伊沃尔金
  • 伊沃尔金:加尼亚的父亲,一个自私病态的角色,沉浸在昔日的辉煌中无法自拔,逢人便夸夸其谈讲述许多臆想出来的往日辉煌,除了关心自己外对家庭没有丝毫责任感
  • 列别杰夫:谄媚者,溜须拍马人格,毫无道德感可言,也是一个具有病态的丑恶角色。
  • 读完全书可以感觉到,陀将孩子看成美好灵魂的载体,这一孩子气的纯真是成年人失去的。书中为数不多的几个正面形象中,有两个都是孩子:加尼亚的弟弟郭力亚,一个忠实,正直的男孩;薇拉(列别杰夫的女儿)和她的父亲截然不同,她富有同情心,温柔的甚至有些软弱。至于公爵本身,也是和孩子一般,天真、诚实,极其容易信任周围的人,即使受到伤害也很容易就宽恕对方。即使是个成年人,但他保存了很多孩子的特质。我觉得这一点和娜斯塔霞的红颜薄命一样,有点陈词滥调。

    掩卷而思,这样一本近600页的小说除了是一个悲剧性的故事之外还有什么?小说中有一幅画多次出现,是书中角色罗果仁家的一副临摹霍尔拜因(Hans Holbein)在1521年创作的《基督在棺中(The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb)》,陀曾经在巴塞尔看过这幅画,留下极深的印象。这幅作品画的是刚刚从十字架上被取下来的基督那扭曲,折磨致死的尸体,其表明了一个神圣的灵魂在罪恶的人世间无法存在。这就是作者设计一个悲剧性结果的寓意么?我觉得不是这样的。因为作者同样描述了书中那些芸芸众生各种“矛盾”的心理,让人感觉到即使再卑鄙的人,也不全是恶的,时不时脑子里也还存有一丝善念,也会偶尔真心忏悔。我想陀希望突出的不仅仅是像公爵这样悲剧性富有同情心的高尚角色,对于那些灵魂堕落的角色,作者也时不时解开帘幕一角,稍纵即逝一瞥这些自私虚伪嘴脸背后善犹存的爱、友情、同情甚至是自尊。在人类种种行为背后有某种救赎的力量给人以希望,我觉得陀思妥耶夫斯基最根处还是乐观的。

    总结起来,这本书读下来我的脑中有这样一些关键词:无神论与基督教;虚无主义与垂死的社会秩序;真实和虚伪;本我、自我和超我(弗洛伊德精神分析学说中的三个概念)。阅读这本书有感觉迷人的时候,也有不耐烦的时候,但不管怎样,在这样碎片化的时代,系统的读完这样一本并不让人轻松的小说,花时间去思考作者背后想要传达的思想以及如何通过笔下的各种人物将他的思想传达出来,这个过程本身感觉像是一种思维试验,个人觉得对碎片化阅读给我们造成的负面影响有中和作用。

    《穷人》

    这是陀思妥耶夫斯基在1845年发表的一部中篇小说,陀突破了之前俄国文坛集中在地主贵族庄园的局限,开始将笔锋扩大到“小人物”身上。《穷人》中的主人公马卡尔.杰武什金就是这样的典型人物。他是沙皇衙门里的小官吏,没有靠山,在衙门里做薪水菲薄的抄写工作,凭工作卖力、字体端正挣钱,常常衣食不周。表面上逆来顺受的杰武什金的灵魂里还存有爱情的火焰。孤女瓦尔瓦拉德痛苦遭遇引发了杰武什金灵魂深处的激情,他竭力保护瓦尔瓦拉不受坏人的侮辱,他身上的一切美好品质和孱弱的斗志都因为他热爱瓦尔瓦拉而被调动起来,由此可以看书,这些“小人物”所以胆小怕事,逆来顺受,并非生性如此,而是受环境压迫所致。我觉得杰武什金对瓦尔瓦拉的感情不是情欲上的,而是精神上的。这个孤女满足了杰武什金感情上和道德上的需求,他觉得因为帮助她而使得自己的生命不仅仅是为了活着,而有了一种叫做意义的东西。然而到最后,在社会环境的重压下,瓦尔瓦拉还是被阴险奸诈的商人夺走,这让杰武什金悲痛不已。这篇我并不推荐,因为觉得并没有很特别的地方,陀显然很喜欢书信体,而且书中的人物表述自己的时候总是极为拖沓。让我想起一个美国同事告诉我他在俄罗斯工作那一年适应那边交流文化的艰辛。看来俄国人讲话比中国人要绕得多。

    《白夜》

    这是陀思妥耶夫斯基的另外一篇中篇,比《穷人》乐观多了,但终归是一个遁世者自作死沦为备胎的故事。主人公是彼得堡的穷知识分子,由于看不惯周围人的庸俗无聊、尔虞我诈宁愿把自己孤立起来,不与人接触,编织种种幻想,晚上在街道上信步乱走,和没有生命的房屋对话。有一个晚上他偶然看见一个年轻的姑娘倚着沿河的栏杆抽泣,便开始安慰女主,他的真诚渐渐获得的少女的信任。于是少女将自己如何爱上之前的房客,这个房客如何与她相约一年之后回到彼得堡等等一一告诉男主。姑娘梨花带雨的讲述深深打动了这个幻想家的心,于是他接连四个晚上陪伴姑娘在河边等房客,无可救药的走上了备胎的道路。最后那个房客带走了女主,顺利做实了男主备胎的桂冠。如果不把这个中篇当作写景和写人物性格心理自白的艺术品看的话,我极其不推荐这篇,情节没有什么动人心弦的地方,也没有什么特别的哲学思考,文风还是一贯的磨叽,磨叽,磨叽。

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    Personal Knowledge Management — What, Why and How?(1)

    Organised common (or uncommon) sense – very basic knowledge is an enormously powerful tool… You have to have a temperament to grab ideas and do sensible things. [Charlie Munger]

    I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library. [Jorge Luis Borges]

    Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes [Peter F. Drucker]

    What is PKM?

    Here is what I got from Wikipedia:

    Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a collection of processes that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in his or her daily activities and the way in which these processes support work activities. [Wikipedia]

    But I have my version of definition:

    Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a collection of processes that a person manages information, extracts and refines knowledge, share with others, uses knowledge to do sensible things and breaks boundaries between disciplines. [Hui]

    Why PKM?

    It takes me very long to realize I badly need PKM. I love books (learning) which has been the case since day one. However, I was not on purposely selective about what I read. As a random reader, I went to a bookstore, randomly picked book and read whatever seemed to interest me at that time. Or sometimes my friends recommended book to me. It actually has been my attitude towards many other things: choose from whatever come to me that seemed interest me instead of knowing what I really want and go to get it. Unfortunately, I happen to be the kind of person who is interested in a million things under the sun. I randomly tried new things that I thought were interesting as if I would never die. It is not hard to imagine how I get myself in trouble…

    What made me think I need to change? It goes back to Apr 2012 when a friend and I founded a statistical consulting company that provides statistical training and consulting in Beijing. One year later, both of us quitted and handed it to someone else for different reasons. Actually I was extremely passionated about running the business at that time but I was very unhappy and anxious. I became a terrible stranger to people who are important to me, someone not loving and caring. Later I read about focusing illusion which may explain my situation at that time.

    Focusing Illusion: Nothing In Life Is As Important As You Think It Is, While You Are Thinking About It. [Daniel Kahneman]

    I could hear God saying: “Hui, stop and think about what you really want.” So I did.

    Our happiness is thus not affected to a large extent by reflecting on our lives, but by the flood of feelings that are constantly generated within us. [“The Optimism Bias” by Tali Sharot]

    Anyway, I learnt a lot from the experience. Here I just want to mention three learnings that are related to PKM:

    1. There are big gaps among:

      Information —> Knowledge —> Skill

    2. I have to be selective: figure out what I want then go to get it
    3. I need to put effort on building Mental Framework

    What is mental framework? It is what Charlie Munger calls Latticework of Mental Models:

    You have to learn all the big ideas in the key disciplines in a way that they’re in a mental latticework in your head and you automatically use them for the rest of your life. If you do that, I solemnly promise you that one day you’ll be walking down the street and you’ll look to your right and left and you’ll think “my heavenly days, I’m now one of the few competent people in my whole age cohort.” If you don’t do it, many of the brightest of you will live in the middle ranks or in the shallows. [Charlie Munger]

    Reading itself is not enough: you have to be able to grab key ideas and make sense of them. In order to found a sound framework:

    Once you have a framework, you can do something we call 触类旁通 in Chinese. Personal Knowledge Management, in my opinion, is a way to build Mental Framework. It aims at:

    1. Learn a set of strong, useful concepts from each discipline and tie them together in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
    2. Know the edge of our competency, know that there is much larger part of the world we don’t know.
    3. Be able to tell what we can do, what we can’t; what is important, what is not. And do the important things that we can do.

    How PKM?

    PKM needs time to develop and I told myself to be patient. Here is my PKM MindMap (yours can be different):

    Personal Information Management

    Let’s start from Personal Information Management(PIM). I have been working on it since 2015 (You can see my PIM here). I break the process down to three steps. I will go through it one by one.

    Gather Information

    There are many information sources (book, magazines, newspaper, radio, internet…). Here are my personal opinions.

    … There are other souces of information (such as talking to friends, professional groups etc) and I am not going to list all.

    Classify Information

    Next is to classify the information you have. I roughly classify them into 21 categories (see Reading Notes)

    > unique(dat$Category)
     [1] Art                        Beauty&Health              Biography                 
     [4] Biology                    Business & Economics       Data Science              
     [7] Gender                     History                    IT                        
    [10] Law                        Medicine                   Novel                     
    [13] Novels and Plays           Novels and Plays-detective Other                     
    [16] Philosophy and Psychology  Politics                   Proses, Essays and Poems  
    [19] Self-development           Society and Culture        Statistics                
    

    Then it is important to further decide your target knowledge and skill. What are the difference? Here are my definitions:

    Clean Information

    If you keep on collecting, you will eventually feel overwhelmed. That is why you have to clean it. Cleaning follows Occam’s Razor principle:

    Occam’s Razor: Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence, the simpler one is usually better.

    I generally consider it as law of parsimony and try to apply it in different dimensions of my life. Reducing unnecessary complexity has always been my principle.

    If you bat away many things, you don’t clutter yourself. [Charlie Munger]

    Take “Predictable Irrational” by Dan Ariely as an example. After cleaning the information, what I recorded in my Reading Notes are like this:

    The notes shown here may not make sense to you but what is important is that it makes sense to me. I hope you get the idea and you should have a way to clean information that makes sense to you.

    Extract & Form Knowledge

    Now we get to the difficult part of PKM. So far what we have is just information. There is significant gap between information and knowledge. As I mentioned above, you have to think deeper about the information to make it knowledge. Answering the following 3 questions will guide you through the process:

    1. What is the basic concepts for a discipline?
    2. Did I learn similar idea before?
    3. Is there any situation that I can apply the knowledge?

    I will continue the discussion in the next post. Be happy everyone : )!

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    Autobiography In Five Short Chapters

    I first read the poem “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" by Portia Nelson in 2015. Sogyal Rinpoche adopted it in his book “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”. Several days ago, I read it the second time in an article. It describes the growth process of many. It is difficult and effortful to grow because we have the natural inclination to keep things the way they were, to cling to the old maps and old ways of doing things even after we fall. La Rochefoucauld says:

    We have more idleness in the mind than in the body.
    Portia Nelson was lucky to have the whole five chapters in her life. Unfortunately, many people simply repeat the first two chapters all their lives. But there are people do grow. What is the force that push those people to change, to walk down another street? It is love.
    Love was defined as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves. It is through love that we elevate ourselves. And it is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves. Love, the extension of the self, is the very act of evolution. It is evolution in progress. The exclusionary force, present in all of life, manifest itself in mankind as human love. Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy. ----- From "The Road Less Travelled" [M Scott Peck]
    According to the second law of thermodynamics, in billions and billions of years, the universe will completely wind down until it reaches the lowest point as amorphous, totally disorganized, totally undifferentiated “blob” in which nothing happens any more. Our human body follows this law. It is inevitable that we will decline physically as we getting older. But the spirit may evolve. Even we are not growing along a straight line but spiral. The important thing is we do grow if we want to. Go through the whole five chapters and don’t stop at chapter two…...
    Autobiography In Five Short Chapters
    By Portia Nelson

    Chapter I

    I walk down the street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I fall in.
    I am lost... I am hopeless.
    It isn't my fault.
    It takes forever to find a way out.

    Chapter II

    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I pretend I don't see it.
    I fall in again.
    I can't believe I am in this same place.
    But it isn't my fault.
    It still takes a long time to get out.

    Chapter III

    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I see it there.
    I still fall in... it's a habit... but,
    my eyes are open.
    I know where I am.
    It is my fault.
    I get out immediately.

    Chapter IV

    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I walk around it.

    Chapter V

    I walk down another street.

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    Chinese New Year v.s Super Bowl

    Today is Chinese New Year Eve and 2016 is Monkey year [The 12 Chiense Zodiac]. How big holiday is it in China? It is Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year all combined. Since it is such a big deal, something called Chunyun happens every year:

    “Chunyun (traditional Chinese: 春運; simplified Chinese: 春运; pinyin: Chūnyùn), also referred to as the Spring Festival travel season or the Chunyun period, is a period of travel in China with extremely high traffic load around the time of the Chinese New Year. The period usually begins 15 days before the Lunar New Year’s Day and lasts for around 40 days.”

    In my memory, it was a frustrating yet hopeful trip because once you survived it, you would see your family! Of course, there were awesome FOOD for two weeks which made all the suffering during the trip worth it! I would start from my parents, to grand parents, to uncles and aunts, to cousins, to childhood friends then go back to my parents……After this, not surprisingly, I gained 10lbs : )

    Now back to real life, last night I spent two hours sending/receiving all kinds of “Happy New Year” messages to/from family and friends before I went to bed. When I wake up in the Sunday morning and sat besides the breakfast table, the first thing to do was to continue replying messages accumulated while I was asleep. The most common question is: “Hui, how do you celebrate Chinese New Year in US?” They haven’t realized that I am in Iowa NOT San Francisco. In their mind, US is the same as California. Iowa? Where is Iowa?

    After I talked to parents, it was late Sunday night in China. My cell phone finally fell asleep with them. I took a deep breath and set out for Church. Then the magic happened. All of a sudden, everything about the big festival stopped. Everyone around me was talking about Super Bowl Sunday……It was like the spring festival had never existed. For a second, I thought that I might be in a dream. Either one hour ago I talked to people in China in my dream, or now people were talking about Super Bowl in my dream.

    Pastor Bill said in today’s sermon: “We should listen to other people more!” I think that is a great idea. If my friends ask me again:

    “Hui, how do you celebrate Spring Festival in US?”

    I will reply:

    “Listen to people talking about Super Bowl.”

    It is called culture difference which is the beauty of the world: we are different! By living in another country, you not only extend your microcosm, the more important is that you know you are only part of the world, a tiny part. People don’t necessary care what you care and they don’t have to. We are in such a situation that human must deal with each other who have vastly different views as to the nature of reality. However, our particular culture, our family and childhood experience influence our understanding so much because these happened during our formative years. As a consequence, each one believes his/her own view to be the correct one. The world should function like we expect. Mom used to say :”I can’t believe there are people in the world don’t eat rice everyday.” And I replied: “Sorry Mom, but there are plenty people here can get away with bread. And I am not joking.”

    Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen. – Albert Einstein

    This is the paradox. When you make effort to resist being self-centric, you are actually on a process of self-enlarging. Put yourself down, then you can start to learn more about the world. Why should we learn more about the world? Because it gives us better understanding of our place in the world and deepens our understanding of what life is all about. We all want to be understood. We all want to meet people who can understand us, care for our feeling and love us. But do we understand ourselves? do we love ourselves? If even we can’t do these to ourselves, how can we put the responsibility on others? If we need to understand ourselves, then can we do that without understanding the world we are at? Can we do that without undersatnding people around us? In order to understand ourselves, we have to learn more about the world. In order to learn the world, we need to be open to people with different mind. In order to be open, we have to put ourselves down. There is no contradiction. It is a synergistic process. I like the way Erich Fromm defines Mature Love:

    Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality.

    We are together but we preserve our own integrity. By learning from the difference among us, we improve our perception of the world and make one another better human. Those are words I give to myself at the beginning of 2016. All the best wishes to my family and friends. Thank you for all your help and love during the way.

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