Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Great Gatsby: brilliant, elusive, beautiful, ironic, melodious

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Generally considered to be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s finest novel, The Great Gatsby is a consummate summary of the ‘roaring twenties’ and a devastating exposé of the shallowness of the ‘Jazz Age’. Through the narration of Nick Carraway, the reader is taken into the superficially glittering world of the mansions which lined the Long Island shore in the 1920’s, to encounter Nick’s cousin Daisy, her brash but wealthy husband Tom Buchanan, Jay Gatsby and the dark mystery which surrounds him.

The Great Gatsby is an undisputed classic of American literature from the period following the First World War, and is one of the great novels of the twentieth century.

I rarely read the introduction part which usually is a scholar analysis on the book. So my take on the premise of Great Gatsby might be different. After all each person has a different take on what he/she reads, depends on the circumstances that he/she’s in or what he/she believes.

For me, The Great Gatsby is a tale of people whose lives are not their own. Some belong to the past, some belong to an innocent dream of money and wealth as the promised land, some belong to their partner, some belong to revenge, some belong to the need to escape, some belong to the glittery nights, some belong to the addicting social validation. Neither of their friends are their true friends. Gatsby, a man whose imagination kept half of his life as his own but also gave the rest away to his past that took a life on its own. His life becomes his own fully when his story was contained by time and liberated by the memory of an observer.

In my point of view, this book, via its vivid narrative, seamlessly portrayed an insight about the clumsiness of our society (relinquishing their lives so that they are not their own). 5 words to describe my sentiment of this book: brilliant, elusive, beautiful, ironic, melodious.

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We might need to revolutionise the way we approach language

I studied psychology. Most of my assessment about people, including my potential boyfriend, are derived and shaped from the psychology framework. I am a believer in Jungian approach, more specifically archetype. I classified my date based on archetype and tried to analyse if the archetype matches with my own archetype. Pretty obnoxious, don’t you think? Especially when I am not really sure about my own archetype. Yup knowing myself fully is really challenging, especially when I do something that I thought was not of my so-called character. That is my shortcoming (or the shortcoming of the framework used – it sometimes makes us overgeneralise everything), I must admit, yet I cannot help but categorise people unconsciously based on the language I choose.

Another general case is intelligence. At the superficial layer, we can perceive intelligence and often are deceived by the language one’s used (I think that is why many people use jargon – they hide their incapability to form a sharp thinking – an escape valve and also it makes us feel intelligent). However to think about it, it also shapes the way we think. For instance, Indonesian language often relies on context, hence a word can have multiple interpretations. The negative side, it is a challenge to think and form a concise concept or “ngawang-ngawang” (maybe it is one of the reasons why we easily buy into politicians’ promise that is encapsulated by vagueness of the words yet sounds good. However the positive side of it is that we appreciate complexities in life. We embrace change and are adaptable to it. Maybe that is why despite of our economic condition, we are still one of the most optimistic countries. It is a different case with English that requires concise and precise thinking (if you work in communication or marketing industry, you know how it is sometimes tiresome just to find the precise and right vocabulary to express our thoughts in important strategy documents). On the hindsight, English-speaking people find it difficult to explain complexities of lives (hence the popularity of Eastern philosophy and culture).

The language challenge also happens when you connect with people of different language. For example, a relationship with people that speak different language (foreigners). You want to express a feeling but you cannot find the right word to express it then it leads to misunderstanding that might lead to unnecessary bigger problem. But then again, come to think again, we still find difficulty to find the right word to express our thought and feeling to people who speak the same language as we do. Words seem to float yet you do not know which one to choose. Then you settle with the second best word. You still feel that something is not finished, you don’t think that your partner really get it. This might cause people to stop trying to really communicate what they mean to people they love. “That is enough. If they really love me, they will understand” is the wishful thinking that we entertain to make us feel better. Then problems come. At one point, you will feel cheated because you find out that they get you wrong. Crushed hope. Loneliness. Endless longing for real connection.

A few days ago, I watched the first episode of “Touch”. It is a TV series telling a story about a father and his kid that is diagnosed as autistic in our existing framework, but is actually seeing the world in different lens, different language, the language of numbers, to be precise.The ‘autistic’ kid experiences the world in different way, he sees the pattern of the past, present and future and everything actually has a formula, some sort of calculation that if you understand it, you can predict why something happens and even the future. In short, the film comes with a premise that evolution of language signifies evolution of species.  In our world that we perceive as reality, evolution of language happens (often comes naturally with the invention in technology, social situation or context, etc.), from the slang words that its usage often indicates one’s age until the admission of new words regularly into dictionaries such as Oxford. Even with that, we still struggle to find the right word. In the “Touch” world, the struggle might lie into how to find the right mathematical expression for emotion or highly emotional concept such as love.

I often wonder about the Babel tower incident. The fable told a story about people that wanted to catch God up. They built a tower that is so tall in the hope of reaching God’s palace – my interpretation: they want to cheat death or they want to prove that they do not have to experience death to reach the Kingdom of Heaven. God was angry then took their ability to speak in the same language, hence different languages are born. Is it the envy of God that people actually have potential to open up limitless possibilities when are given chance to collaborate, forming collective intelligence? In the age of Renaissance, revolution was born in coffee shops where people gathered and exchanged opinions. In our time, people shared their knowledge openly via internet enriching our horizons  that helps us form better vision for the world and how to achieve it, scientists invite people to contribute in answering scientific question. This is our Babel tower now: collective intelligence to solve any problem.

Our different language has a benefit in one point. It creates divergence of perspectives. What people of language A do not think of are brought to realisation by people of language B. It opens up our thinking and possibilities of solution. This is the essence of collaboration. However as human, we also have a need of control. Hence there is structure inside structure. We create another language to convert different perspective into one language that hopefully everybody can understand. This is a good intention. But on the hindsight, as we are afraid that other stakeholder does not understand our intention, we spend more time to translate it into the structure, finding the right vocabulary, instead of focusing our resources to find new ideas (defeating the purpose of collaboration).

Right now I can only think of two scenarios to solve this problem. The first scenario, if the evolution of language brings us to the “pre-Babel” condition (one lingo that lacks of tangible form, some sort of telepathy). The second scenario, the division of labour that makes interpreters one of the most important jobs in this world. It does not limit to ‘geographical-based’ lingo only, but any lingo (jargon included). Interpreters, charge your client higher. Your profession is highly needed in order to make this world more efficient and productive.

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