Zen and Nausea @ BYOB Party in July 2017 (Part 2)

Some not so light books were discussed at the BYOB Party in July 2017.

Vishesh has a penchant for spirituality and so he got a book called The Way of Zen by the philosopher Alan W. Watts. This lucidly written book provides a basic introduction to Zen, starting with Buddhist roots steeped in Chinese Orientalism and the Vedic religion of India. “It’s written for a western audience,” Vishesh said, “but we are Western enough now.”

The book begins with a detailed history of Zen. Then the cultural aspects of the religion are discussed and the paradoxes of the zen koans are presented. Reading Watt’s interpretation gives a different perspective on what it means to live meaningfully and he also mentions the constraints that language has in providing solutions. Sourajit added that Alan Watts was, in fact, a good friend of the myth writer Joseph Campbell, the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

One more philosopher was discussed. Sartre was the winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature (he declined to accept it). His fiction on existentialism called Nausea is a difficult read, to put it mildly. So how did Pratyush manage to finish? “After ten pages, even if you are reading, you don’t understand. You have to read little by little and consistently and maybe then you will get an idea about what the writer is trying to say. And even that could be wrong.” Nausea is the story of Antoine Roquentin, a French writer who is horrified at his own existence. He journals his sensations regularly and Sartre conveys his existential philosophy through the conversations that the protagonist has with his alter-ego.

The conversation moved on to aspects of film noir in the book and this is possible as he wrote around this time. Sartre was the winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature (he declined to accept it). Here’s an excerpt that I found from the book, not the one that Pratush mentioned but another passage:

“I looked anxiously around me: the present, nothing but the present. Furniture light and solid, rooted in its present, a table, a bed, a closet with a mirror-and me. The true nature of the present revealed itself: it was what exists, and all that was not present did not exist. The past did not exist. Not at all. Not in things, not even in my thoughts. It is true that I had realized a long time ago that mine had escaped me. But until then I had believed that it had simply gone out of my range. For me the past was only a pensioning off: it was another way of existing, a state of vacation and inaction; each event, when it had played its part, put itself politely into a box and became an honorary event: we have so much difficulty imagining nothingness. Now I knew: things are entirely what they appear to be-and behind them… there is nothing.”

To understand philosophy a little better, Apurba recommended the School of Life Youtube channel and Sourajit supplemented that by mentioning Crash Course, a useful resource for students (co-created by John Green).

Another Nobel Prize winner’s work is discussed in Part 3.