Monday, March 21, 2011

Orhan Pamuk: Part I

All of the installments in this "Orhan Pamuk" series of reviews are written by Alia Salleh*, a friend of the Buku project's. Part II will be posted in a few days. Have fun =)

Review 1: Istanbul: Memoirs and The City

I know I love a book when halfway through I’d be itchy to write a review (a newfound urgent side thing I hope I do more). So yes, bits of this was written halfway. I hope that’s legal.

Of the book, to use a clich├ęd phrase, the author succeeded in “painting a poignant picture” of a city he loves. It is indeed a very mournful book - discussing “huzun” (sadness) in a major chunk, and bits of if throughout the book. It was a slow start for me (being undecided as to which book I should give due read), but once I got past the first chapter, as with other Pamuks, it flowed quickly. That is actually one very nice thing about this writing, how he makes the chapters flow by linking the end of each chapter with the next. Petty but that made an impression on me, of how structured he made his writing: making it hard for me to put the book down.

He has an amazing mind: I find my own incompetent in catching up. Often would I read a passage, get lost in it and stop myself, wait, what is this thing he’s saying again? and reread the whole stuff. Complex mighty interesting thoughts I thoroughly enjoy (even those I never understand still).

The content is a mix of personal memoirs and stories of the amazing city, which are inseparable; him in his city. Thus the apt name. It is a wonderful insight on Istanbul, whether you’ve been there or not; and a very deep insight into the author’s life. As with all dreamers that had to put down their sails, it makes me want to return there (here goes the slight remorse for not reading this before going), but anyhow, it is a good read into their culture, their modern history. I love the accompanying black and white photos and paintings - how they quietly complement the writing, helping to set the background; at times stopping me in my track with their humble awesomeness.

My favourite bit would naturally be the anecdotes from the city columns - an amusing insight on Istanbul’s media which had to resort to reporting and discussing daily social going-ons due to the very restrictive political pressure on newspapers. And the fact that the author used to paint, and studied architecture.

Upon reading through, I am constantly wondering on the idea of memoirs: dare you face yourself and put down your life on paper? Would that make you understand yourself more? Would thoughts your never knew you posses flow out? I find that dizzying.

I have to admit the apparent bias, with him being a current favourite author and Istanbul being the current favourite city. Of that I heartily apologise. But they don’t become favourites for nothing, thus my humble recommendation.

*Alia Salleh is a final year engineering student who has amassed quite an impressive collection of books. She resides in Coventry and is still learning to ride a bike.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell

This review is written by a friend of the Buku Project's, Nazri Awang*

I heard about this book from a friend of mine, who mentioned it to be quite a simple introduction to philosophy and philosophical thinking. I was planning to do this review two weeks ago, but instead I decided to spend some more time on reading it again, to have a clearer picture and understanding of the whole thing.

I had read one book each from the likes of Immanuel Kant, Francis Bacon and David Hume. It was not surprising that this literature, by Bertrand Russel is more accessible to any average Joe's, and easier to be understood and related to, as its author was of a fairly recent period of time in history (1872-1970). Its language style is not as archaic as Bacon's, as I
could hardly understand anything that Bacon had written in The Advancement Of Learning.

The book was relatively thin, about 200 pages long and was divided into 15 chapters. In each one of them, Russel tried to convey, and teach how philosophers
view the world. He started with how you see the world from your own senses, but in somehow different perceptions. He gave a simple example of a table. If it were to be seen from different angles, then that very same table would indeed look very different in each one of the realisations. However, all the slightly different images don't refer to a totally different thing.

He progressed further with the question of how "real" is reality? Might it then perhaps be that, our life is just a long sequence of a dream? As all knowledge have to be derived from previously known knowledge, there will be a point in time when there's no causality of and for the first knowledge. Knowledge in this case can also be seen as the "truth".

You believe in something, because you hold them dearly against more solid beliefs beforehand. Something that you are almost, totally confident is true, but how do you assure yourself when it comes to the first realisation of the truth? Russel pointed out, that as sometimes even in science we have several hypothesis to explain a certain phenomenon, would it be possible then perhaps, that several version of truths independently exist?

According to him, philosophy is meant to be studied for the uncertainty and baffling nature of its own self. Once a branch of philosophy attains a threshold of certainty with the strong backup of convincing arguments and proofs, it will then become a part of science. Just like how mathematics, astronomy, psychology and sociology were born out of philosophical realm.

However, once philosophical thinking is applied to its greatest extent, sometimes you just cannot help but to question everything that you can see and touch. Triviality can then be seen as utter complexity, at a few odd times. Sometimes, you will wonder if indeed you are awake or actually dreaming to be awake. You question too much, at one point you are never quite sure what is the meaning of the questions.

Russel mentioned a bit about religious facts and beliefs. This is one tricky part of the equation, as until now there are still a few things that you are just expected to believe in, without any solid rationale or explanation behind it.

Quoting the very last paragraph of this book.

"Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good."

Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in philosophy. Get it from Project Gutternberg for free.

*Nazri Awang is an avid reader on various genres and has been writing several reviews for the BukuProject. He now resides in Coventry and has a few more months of MORSE before he is due to graduate in July 2011.