This short book was winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1999 and takes as its start point the graphic suicide of Virginia Woolf. The tragic loss of one of the leading lights of the 'Bloomsbury Group' in 1941, finally succumbing to the fatal depths of recurrent depression at the age of just 59, conferred a profound loss on the cultural health of a nation, yet posterity has rightly lauded the author's legacy. In his homage to Woolf, Michael Cunningham interweaves the thoughts and experiences of three female characters: Mrs Woolf (Virginia), Mrs Brown (Laura) and Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa), Located in 1923 London, 1949 L.A. and 1990s New York , respectively. Virginia is mulling over ideas for the fictional character yet to inhabit her most famous novel, while Clarissa and Laura are spending a day in preparation for a celebration in their respective times and place. Successive chapters rotate between the discrete storylines culminating in an unusual cross-over in the end, but the snapshots also draw on some common themes, which beset each of the protagonists, irrespective of the prevailing social norms in 'their' time.
What rescues the book from a sense of cerebral indulgence on the part of the writer though, is the moving beauty of the language and as the reader quaffs down the pages like a smooth, warming liqueur, it is good to savour the interplay of quite sumptuous tones. It also remains consistent with the 'stream of consciousness' storytelling deployed by Woolf in 'Mrs Dalloway' (published 1925), albeit this example is not entirely satisfying, given its fragmentary nature and slightly bitter aftertaste
Still, the takeaway theme for me from this book is the individual capacity, indeed responsibility, to create and shape one's life, within the context of the prevailing time and to weigh the personal sacrifices and gains that attend our choices. Some of the metaphors were also interesting, for example, some mistakes such as cake-making are retrievable, others require stoicism to deal with the consequences, but when it comes down to it, life and love is fundamentally fragile...and fickle.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson was the May book from the feminist book club on Goodreads called Our Shared Shelf started by Emma Watson. This book was written in a style that I was completely unfamiliar with and which at first really threw me off. It's written almost as a stream of consciousness where there are broken paragraphs that at first seem as if they have no connection to one another. In fact, the first paragraph is a detailed description of the author engaging in anal sex. I guess she likes to shock the reader and/or pull them immediately into her narrative. (Hint: It worked.) This is the story of the author as she begins a relationship with her gender fluid partner (now spouse) and the navigating of that relationship while deciding to have a child together. She also becomes a stepparent to Harry's son from a prior relationship which is completely new territory in and of itself. Since reading The Argonauts, I have embarked on a campaign of knowledge about Nelson because this book is simply a snapshot of a few years of hers and Harry's lives. At the time that she was experiencing the struggles of trying to get pregnant Harry was undergoing changes as well (I don't want to give this away because it's such a powerful part of the book). Her description of her internalized experience as well as the observations of those around her are unique and frankly thrilling to read. Her writing is brash, dynamic, and surprising. She hits back against stereotypes of what it means to be gendered, queer, and in touch with oneself. In short, it's a powerful book that seeks to wake the slumbering activist in all of us. I highly recommend this one.
When I'm not writing fiction I'm often out walking and pondering the nature of consciousness. This video makes the point that Quantum Physics proves that consciousness brings material reality into being. It then hodge-podges its way into a discussion of how the brain creates consciousness. So how can material reality and consciousness mutually create each other?
Here's a dilemma: Most psychologists are materialists and consider thoughts and consciousness to be epiphenomena. An epiphenomena is one that occurs parallel to the phenomena under study. It's there, but psychologists can't measure it like behavior, or treat it like a physical object. It's ephemeral, and undescribed. Materialists deal with matter, and thoughts aren't that. Whatever thoughts may be, they are not something that materialists are comfortable with examining.
Quantum physics presents a picture of reality that is very different than the one presented by classical, Newtonian physics. Although quantum physics was born over a century ago, some scientists cling to the materialism that grew out of pre-quantum, Newtonian physics. This works well for describing reality most of the time, but occasionally it biases what we consider possible, or restricts our methods of inquiry.
Quantum physics has called traditional materialism into question, and Amit Goswami questions materialist explanations of consciousness as well. Quantum physics proves that observers can't be separated from observations. Before an observation is made, little can be said about atomic particles--they only exist as probability waves. Only when observation collapses a probability wave, creating a measurement, can anything certain be said about particles. This finding has baffled many and continues to do so. Goswami believes it implies that consciousness is a force in nature. As such, consciousness is unitary in nature, however people experience themselves as individuals and only occasionally become aware of the One that they are expressions of. For hundreds of years religious mystics have sought direct experience of the One through prayer, meditation, fasting, sitting vigils, etc. For mystics, direct experience constitutes proof. For scientists, experimental results are required.
Goswami provides no experimental proof. He doesn't even suggest an experimental path to test his theory. Physicists critical of String Theory acknowledge its elegance, but complain that it lacks testability. Goswami's theory is likewise elegant but lacking testability. He suggests that proof may come through paranormal research, but much of that research is highly controversial. Too many paranormal-leaning scientists have accepted results that stage magicians have easily refuted. In the end, Goswami's ideas are more suggestive than explanatory. I'd recommend another book with a more convincing explanation of consciousness, but I haven't found it yet.