Friday, January 5, 2018

Ph.K.Dick's Transmigration

As I predicted in the recent post
I could not resist to torture myself and read the third-and the last,
thanks to the Skies!-part of the Ph.K. Dick's "VALIS" trilogy:
"The transmigration of Timothy Archer". In fact the trilogy's
final part was supposed to be "The owl in daylight", his unfinished
novel, for which he collected advance money from the publisher. But
he died before he even thought out the plot or defined the
characters. There is a discussion about the "Trilogy", but
PKD himself called "The transmigration..." part of the trilogy,
because of the common theme.

It seems with time of writing the subsequent novels, PKD's amount of
amphetamine or whatever he was using was getting smaller, as the amount
of unreadable religio- pornography decreases somewhat towards the end of writing.

In the first part, his use of ink on VALIS is large. In the 2nd part VALIS
is mentioned only two times, and in "The transmigration...", his final
completed book, it was not mentioned at all. "The transmigration..." was
nominated for the best SF work in the year of his death, 1982, but I think
it must be like a hommage, more than the real value of the book.

Timothy Archer is an Episcopal Bishop, who really transmigrates
into not being bishop any more, but taking a lover. He gets
obsessed with find and translation of Zadokite scrolls, where is
a notion from 200 years before the Christ, which invalidates the
meaning of him as a son of God. Plot is set in 1980, and starts
with the killing of John Lennon.

The book is characterised as postmodernist and philosophical. I would
not call it none of this, but just a product of an ill mind. It might
be philosophical only for someone who learns philosophy from PKD and
history from Dan Brown. Which is not so bad, it would mean (s)he at
least reads something, not just stare in the screen.

So, in 2017 I succeeded in reading the VALIS. Was it worth the effort?

No, it was not.

Except if we follow the Marxist "learn your enemy" advice, where
"enemy" is for me the claim that VALIS would be one of top heights of the
PKD's writing. True, it has valuable moments, as PKD was, definitely,
a good writer. But good writing can not hide the heavily troubled
personality. PKD produced VALIS after a spiritual experience, which he
would not attribute to medication/drugs use. I think that such text could
be brewed only in the USA, and later it is accepted (more or less) elsewhere
based on the placebo effect of ... thinking.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Orphan of Asia

"Orphan of Asia" by Zhuoliu Wu is a strangely modern book-from 1945.
It is my second reading of this book, after almost exactly 8 years, and
I still had a lot to learn. After 2009 I spent a substantially different
5 years in Taiwan than the previous 5 years, and learnt it from the other angle.
With the distance I have now, 3 years after returning to Europe, I start
seeing the experience of Taiwan in yet another light.

The book was written in Japanese language, at the time when Japan was
just ceasing to be a heavenly ruler of Asia, and some other more earthly
masters went into ruling it. Taiwan just stopped being the Japan proper,
and soon became a dumping place for Chinese failures of Nationalists:
Kuomintang party of China took over, with help of their beastly losers.
But this is still to befell on Taiwan- in the time of writing, it is a
Japanese backwater, where Masters are teaching their underlings to be
human, that is, Japanese.

Taiming, a boy from the mountain village, knows nothing of it-as
was, and still is, the case with so many a Taiwanese boys (even at
the age of over 50) today. He starts his classical Chinese education
with a master in the mountains, an opiate addict, who lives a virtual
classical Chinese life in a seclusion. Boys play, but also soak into
the mind-narrowing classical learning. Which, after all, is what makes
Chinese being Chinese: an anachronism, almost an atavism, which survives
until today because of sheer powers of life.

Nothing less could explain how such an impenetrable culture, which
virtually prevents dissemination of knowledge to its population (c'mon,
15 years of hard work just to learn to read and write?!). Probably the
explanation is that for a human society to thrive, having only basic
education is better than giving wide knowledge to everyone-it just brings
problems. It is much, much easier to govern a stupid, uninformed mass of
people, than a well educated body of citizens. This is why Heavenly Empire
of the Country of the Middle was one of the last empires to fall. And when
it fell, it fell to a similarly stupefying mindset, which immediately brought
caricatures (in bad taste) of any free minded thought.

Taiming actually succeds, he goes to Japan to study, but because of his low
(=Taiwanese) background, fails to obtain appropriate position in the
Japanese driven society. He is utterly rejected.

When he moves to China, he is rejected doubly, as a Japanese subject, but
even more as a Taiwanese. To be able at all to work in China, he has to
hide that he is Taiwanese, so low is the esteem his compatriots have in China.

The fact of being a Japanese subject at a time of WWII, complicates the
things, and he has to flee back to Taiwan. Interestingly enough, he did not
make a fame there-people of his stature, with university diplom from Japan,
were not many. But again, as a non-Japanese he did not really have a chance,
and his lack of zeal for sacrifying his life on the altar of Imperium, did
not help. He was conscripted into army, and went into fight on the mainland,
but so disgusted he was with what he saw there-and from the hands of his own
army, Japanese soldiers-that he just went crazy, literally, and was
repatriated as inept for the service.

Back home, he recovered, but with a new distance to everything going on
around him. He went to introspection again, and slowly, painfully, he
allowed to himself to be what he really is.

But this does not stop the course of history, and Taiwan did not get well in
the troubled waters. When his family suffers, Taiming feels he himself was
responsible for it-as the best educated person from his village, he should
do more to protect them. In his introspective way he takes the blame and
goes crazy, this time for good. For him, a Taiwanese, immersed in the
deeply troubled identity of a non-nation, the historical moment was too

In the first reading I more saw his troubled, confused personality, than the
persistence with which he tried not to succumb to strong currents of history
around him. And fails. As Taiwan eventually failed in the XX ct., and is
only now, with the new, globalized generation, trying to define some new
identity. It will not be anything like what their forefathers could imagine
or approve, but this, exactly, is how the rough waters of history tumble the
ideas of the past into the reality of the future: sometimes they are
crashed and cast anew into a completely new form, which would be impossible
to predict at the previous level. A bit like we can not predict what will
come of the outspring of a family in few generations-they will find their ow

In my life, I saw one re-birth of a nation, in my own country. But Croatia
had a history of a 1000 years, and even a pre-history (although, as it
usually goes, mixed with plenty of mythology) as a well defined Slavic
tribe. So, in not too good times of cronysm, rampant primitive
ultra-catholicism and general decay of values going on there since its
birth, there always remains the virtue of "we are ourselves doing it to
ourselves, so we probably deserve it".

"Taiwanese" were never a tribe, and definitely were never a defined
nation. It is, today, a nation to be born. That is, if Chinese Communist
Party will be too busy with itself to allow for it. On the other side, they
would never profile as a nation if there would not be a contrast and
fearsome Big Red Brother accross the sea. How they will fare the troubled
waters remains to be seen. I would give a credit to some of the youth there,
who do not want to fill the Party lines, and prefer instead a more
self-introspective mode. Which is today not less dangerous than it was in
the Taiming's time. Levi'Strauss was wrong, History, some new one, just starts, and
it is completely unpredictable.

There is another level in this book, which might be useful to Western expatriates
who find themselves puzzled by the inconsistencies in the Taiwanese everyday life.
They survived in Taiwan from the first half of the XX ct., and the writer removes
well the obscuring layers of history from some of them.

In the Columbia University Press edition, this book was a part of presenting
Taiwanese writers at the beginning of the Millenium. It was a good effort, but not
so easy to follow as it was not easy to find the books. Now, when it became easy
because of online bookstores, I will follow the other publications, to learn more.
This is one of the virtues of the new times, with which modern Taiwan fares better
than in the old, obscure and elitist ways.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Divine invasion

In a previous post, Valis,
I prophetically wrote that I will go after continuation of Philip K. Dick's
"Valis", after I recover from the bull-shit of the 1st book. I am a certified
masochist, and I like PKD's writing, really, even when it shows he used too
much of illicit chemistry at the time of writing.

So, there I was, "The Divine Invasion". As usual for PKD, it kicked off
magnificently, with humans living on another planets as a senseless
guardians of the senselles colonization of the extrasolar worlds across
the Galaxy. And yes, they are dead, as PKD liked to have them. Or almost
dead, as they are held in criogenic suspension until organs for replacement are found.

In "Valis", God, who was a girl, Sophia, dies. Here it is reborn, in a
virgin conception which happens on another planet. Emmanuel, the boy, is
folloved closely by Elias, who is a beggar even in the alien planet. The
conception happened under the auspicion of the local alien god of a small
hill, Jah. Did we hear the story anywhere? But PKD, helped with tonnes of
good psychodelic, produces a well informed and, yes, readable version of the
story from The Scripture. It is definitely one of the best rendering of it
which I read. Halleluyah, Philip.

Emmanuel the kid devised a way to forget his own godly plans, so he could
exist in the real world, but is permanently having flashes of reminding, as
do the people around him. He is guided around by a little girl-Athena,
Diana, he guesses, but it shows to be his own adversary-or angel-a less
known Talmudic being. Belial himself appears as a small stinky black goat-and
is killed by a Linda Fox, pop singer, who is the angel, appropriately.

Still, even if less than it was the case with the first part of the trilogy,
the book is full of references to the Old Testament, and reads for long pages
as a Jehova Witness text. Not that lenghty and disturbing the flow of the story
as in "Valis", but still, unnecessary. A pity PKD, or his editor, did not
remove that.

I was asking myself what to hell do I get from this reading, should I not just
throw it away. No, I am a masochist, obviously.

I acquired the third part, and the beginning reads really well. Good for me and
the world that PKD did not produce more of it!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Vegetarian reading Hemingway

Being vegetarian, to read and, even more, to enjoy reading "Green hills of
Africa", a classical Hemingway hunting narrative-which in this case is a true
biographical text, not a novel, might seem awkward. Indeed, it brought
some mixed thoughts to me at certain moments. But then, I am a descendent of
shepherds, who were not exactly softies, when it comes to killing, skinning
and eating sheep. Vegetarianism is, in my native part of the world, still
unusual choice.

So, my focus was rather on writing, than on blood.

Hemingway writing is at his best here. The way he writes is above
skin, meat and horns. It is life itself.

I liked that he had doubts, at some moments, about his right to kill...but he
justified it easily with "it is natural, going on all the time here in the wild,
and my single killing to million killings happening in the same time does
not add nothing".

What is so good in Hemingway's description of killing? Nothing, he keeps it
clean, he defines a good kill as a chirurgical work. What is good is his
conveying of emotions, his way of can be lazy, ignorant,
thick-headed with him, or moved, motivated, furious...drunk.

Describing the natives and nature, he is impartial, very realistic. I like the way how
he sees them, I think I would try to do the same. Not abstract their
humanity, but also not assuming too much. It is a real clash of
civilisations, and he could equally well visit some other inhabited planet
anywhere in the Galaxy.

Yes, he is a hell of a writer-is, as reading a good writer is like a
discourse, even when (s)he is centuries dead.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"We Have No Idea" by J. Cham & D. Whiteson

PhD (Piled Higher and Deeper) Comics is a Jorge Cham's art work since the
beginning of the Millenium, and is alive and kicking. This Caltech graduate
made life funnier for many a student gnawing through her/his study
experiments and university (lack of) life.

In addition to comics, Jorge worked on movies and books. I read the book
"We Have No Idea", which he published together with physicist Daniel
Whiteson, trying to show-off not so much what we do know about physics, but
what we do NOT know. And when they write "do not know" it means really,
completely and deeply not having any idea what to hell is happening there.

Like it is with Dark Matter and Energy, why is Gravity so different from
other forces, number of dimensions, why the speed of light is the largest
one around, are we alone in the Universe,... and many, many other questions,
which you for sure asked yourself or your physicist friend.

The book is funny, full of witty and cheeky puns, and very accurate. It is
not your usual gibberish from the newspapers or even "scientific"
periodicals. It is a rather well-informed text, from which even a
professional physicist can learn. Or at least have some fun with well and
fun posed questions, and some answers.

Jorge Cham advertises it as a book for 10 yrs old to PhD's, and he is right,
it is fun for everyone who likes to pose questions at the edge of our
knowledge. Or in the middle of it.

It is challenging, and true, to think that we are, with all our
sophistication and Academia, only at bare bones od Science. Some later
generations will look at us like we now think about Ancient Greeks or Middle
Ages priests doing science, offering explanations for the miracles of the
world. It is hard to exaggerate the responsibility of every one of us, who
had or have the luck, chance and privilege, to work in some of the branches
of Science, for the spreading of the good (and, sometimes, bad) news of

If scientists are not doing their job in explaining Science to the public,
false prophets are taking over, and the dark knights of ignorance are always
ready to overcome the bright side of the powers of nature. Jorge Cham found
his way, for the good and delight of many a reader.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Drakulic on Mileva Einstein: Theory of Sadness

A well chosen title, as a physicist I was immediately drawn to the book.
Unfortunately, what followed did not justify (my) expectation.

I write this 2 days after Einstein's Theory of Relativity finally
was awarded the Nobel Prize-in fact, its last experimental check.

Einstein himself was awarded the Nobel Prize for other contributions, though
the most important test of his theory of gravitation had already been made
at that time. However, Relativity did not seem attractive enough, Academia
establishment did not quite believe it.

Today they trust Einstein unconditionally, for everything that this little man has
predicted in equations, persisted. In fact, this last confirmation of gravity waves,
even himself would have troubles to swallow, because he thought the gravity waves
did not carry any energy, so they would not have any effect on the matter through
which they pass. A. Trautman, a Polish physicist, proved him wrong in a paper
stating that gravitational waves do carry energy and were, consequently,
measurable. But, stubborn as Einstein was, he never accepted it and in effect
hindered early development of that part of physics.

Similar stuborness costed his family and hinself a lot. But one is expecting
some trouble from a genius, no?

Einstein's biographies have passed a full circle of biographies of great
men: from the saintly idealization to the ugly muds of private life. I hoped
that S. Drakulic would do it the way I liked in eg. her writing about Dora
Maar. The task to present Albert's shadow/wife is a proper one
for this writer.

She started well, showing the beginning of a common life, somewhat similar
to Marie Curie biography. But shortly afterward, the three-dimensional character
loses its depth. In the end, only the two-dimensional picture with
the broken cover remains,

Maybe it was the problem with the available material, the letters? That would be
strange, the legacy behind Einstein should be big and enough to gather more
data than this mentioned in the book. Or some of it was destroyed? If so,
the author should find a way to describe the reasons for the lack of it in the
book. This would maybe explain a kind of plain feeling about characters.

Even so, it clarified to me how Einstein came to his theories, in discussions
with Mileva and other friends of their student circle. I could hardly
imagine him to do it any other way than in heated discussions. Also, I was
suspecting that Mileva helped greatly in writing, ordering the material in

In his family life with Mileva, Einstein did what even in theory would not hold
water, even less so in practice. It had tragic consequences. He was not
enough mature to think about person he has from the other side, a
potentially depressive and insecure person. He should support Mileva much
earlier to be on her own, not push her down. Then he would also have gained
more freedom of action, which obviously he needed.

Mileva's father commented well when the marriage finally came to an end,
that he respects Albert as a scientist and father of his grandchildren,
but that he noticed early that he was not good as a husband. And he was not,
as he did not show enough concern for either Mileva or the children.

Mileva had unrestrained support from her father in paying for her study, which
for that time, early 20th century, was not a small step for the Balkans.
Albert did not ignore her needs either, in the early days. She actually
was of a troubled psyche, with a strong tendency to depression. And
insufficient self-confidence.

And lack of luck, chronic lack of happiness.

Really a pity, with a bit more happiness, she could have been like
Marie Curie, she had the ability to be. It's sad to see someone's potential
crumbled under the pressure of everyday life.

A bit more information from documentation would not hurt in this book. Or a
description of why the author could not get to it. This way, there remains
a broken picture from the book cover:

Except if... maybe that's the only way possible? Mileva Maric was just that,
a broken existence?


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Svetlana Hramova: "My wrong You"

My Russian, learned at times when there was no money for
mathematics and physics textbooks from the West in Yugoslavia, with time is
expanding to literature reading. During the recent visit to St. Petersburg,
I bought a book of the currently popular author in Russia, Svetlana Hramova.

It is a new time for Russia, so we have to finally move to its new literature,
away from the Cvetaeva, Ahmatova, Dostoevsky, and alike Saviours of the Soul
of the World.

The book "My wrong you" would be good for a crime scenario. "Life
coach", a young woman with a bit of personal history on the subject of
love and life, finds happiness with a man with which she should not spend
a minute, regarding her own rules. Love is happening in a minute, sex too.
The book is +18, but still, the emphasis is on emotional, not physical.

This work would not be much more than a romantic novel, if the author would not
mix into the text many comments and quotes from Simone de Beauvoir.

Simone was an icon of the feminism. In her life she gave her unconditional
love to only one man: American writer Nelson Algren, who gave her first
orgasm in life, sometime in her late 30's, and remained a lifelong love.

But she could not live with him, because she was needed to J.P. Sartre.

Hramova consider the life story of Simone an ultimate failure, a lack of
courage to take action, love and be loved. Woman in a novel does not make
such a mistake: she surrenders completely, immediately.

I know almost nothing about Simone de Beauvoir, but this seems to me a good
way to learn, through the fragments of her letters. Already with it this
booklet fulfilled its role.

In addition, she also gave me insight into post-feminism in Russia. This is
interesting in itself, because in social realism women had a very ... real
role, even in the Soviet Orthodox environment, they were not left to be only
a decoration in men's world.

This cultural jump was too big for only the 20th century, so it has a
continuation today.

Also, it was worth for a little update of my Russian. Now I'm ready for
some other book in that language. Whenever I can, I read the original,
even if I would need 5 times more time. It's a very good brain massage.

Ha ... last month I brought from home a bilingual edition of Lu Xun's "Ah Qu",
let's see you now, maestro, when will you manage to read THAT in the
original version?!