Of human bondage

an autobiographical novel by Maugham, W. Somerset.

Somerset is a great writer. His plot flows smoothly, his descriptions are vivid and his characters are real people of flesh and blood. They are not caricatures and at the end of the book one wants to meet with Philip. Minor characters are introduced and done away with when they are no longer useful so creatively that one only realizes this after several chapters. It is a book that is hard to put down and not good to start when you have work to do.

He tells us the story of Philip Carey orphaned as a boy. Philip was born with a deformity which will affect his life sometimes in almost tragic ways but also help him to have such a deeper understanding of human nature. After the death of his mother, he is left to the care of his uncle W. Carey who is a clergyman at Blackstable parish and aunt Louisa who are childless.

His early education involves preparing him for work as a minister. On one of the school holidays, he inquired of his uncle if it the words of the promise of Jesus,

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am

were true to which the uncle responded in the affirmative. Philip decides to pray to have god heal his club foot. This should be easier than moving mountains you reckon. When after a month nothing happens, he confronts his uncle who does not give him a satisfactory answer. He doesn’t seem too pleased but lets it pass.

At the time that Philip was to go to Oxford to undertake studies in theology, he tells his uncle he is not going. By this time Philip no longer believed in god. He opts to go to London to apprentice as an accountant, a job he soon discovers he isn’t tailored for. After 6 months, he gives up this pursuit and tells his uncle he feels he can paint and draw. He goes to France where he meets with Fanny, Lawson, Cronshaw and Hayward a group of people with whom we will see his life revolve around for almost the rest of the book.

Fanny is a student in the art class who is hated by everyone. Philip tells us she has no talent and does not understand why she keeps trying. She must have fallen in love with Philip. She hangs herself either because she was so poor or because the words of M. Foinet who told her plainly she was wasting her time.

To Philip, after M. Foinet told him he had no talent, he added

There is nothing so degrading as the constant anxiety about one’s means of livelihood. I have nothing but contempt for the people who despise money. They are hypocrites or fools. Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without an adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off. The only thing to be careful about is that you do not pay more than a shilling for the shilling you earn.


After 2 years in Paris, Philip has also realized he is not made for art. He can’t draw nor paint properly. This time however wasn’t wasted. It is during the stay in France and the evening discussions they held in the taverns with Cronshaw and the others that he arrived at the conclusion that life is meaningless. This moment was so profound to him, as it should be to all of us, that a meaningless life had no more sting. He was happy. He was almost free. His first freedom had come at the moment he concluded there was no god. This marked a second great moment in his life. HE also learnt to appreciate colour, lines and beauty.

Their discussions were varied and interesting. They covered several aspects of human life. For example while having beer one evening, they were having a discussion about art and Cronshaw says

What you are here for I don’t know, It is no business of mine, But art is a luxury. Men attach importance only to self-preservation and the propagation of their species. It is only when these instincts are satisfied that they consent to occupy themselves with the entertainment which is provided for them by writers, painters and poets.

Cronshaw continues to say

Art is merely the refuge which the ingenious have invented, when they were supplied with food and women, to escape the tediousness of life.

Elsewhere Cronshaw tells him

The illusion which man has that his will is free is so deeply rooted that I am ready to accept it. I act as though I were a free agent. But when an action is performed it is clear that all the forces of the universe from all eternity conspired to cause it, and nothing I could do could have prevented it. It was inevitable. If it was good I can claim no merit, if it was bad I can accept no censure.

There are several such conversations  between the group of friends.

Our hero returns to London after quitting art to try his hand in medicine. He meets Mildred, a waiter who for reason we will never he fell so madly in love with that regardless of what humiliation he suffered in her hands, he still loved her. He was a hero for love.

He drops out of medical school in his fourth year after he lost some money and for 2 years he waited patiently for his uncle to die. He couldn’t understand why the man of god held so hard to a life that was no longer worth living. Why didn’t he go to heaven to meet with his maker sooner or did he at that last moment realize all this was in vain and that he was only certain of life on this side of death. It is an interesting question I guess.

Finally we meet the family of Athelny Thorpe who Philip makes friends with and with who he spends most of his days when he is not working at the hospital. We meet their daughter Sally who Philip marries at the close of the book and we can only hope they lived happily ever after.

All I See is Code: 1

All I see is Code

Excerpts from Tessa’s musings:


First there is the incredibly miniature spot, which explodes and expands into the uncharted void, accreting into billions of little homelands, upon which civilizations evolve and thrive. And as some prosper and tunnel through the void itself, others destroy themselves, receding back into oblivion. Dispassionately, time hurtles forward… towards its own conclusion. Upon which, with a cosmic sigh, it loops back upon itself, resetting everything back into but one singularity. Then everything gets repeated. And so it is, each and every time, on and on, ad infinitum.


Still, do you see the miracles in the mundane?  Does the present, in all its glory, strum cords of fondness within you? Do you ever stand aghast at all the beauty and charm that nature abounds in? Do you put aside the knowledge that all this will end… and then start again? If you do, then we are kindred in spirit. For, at one time in the hazy past, I did too.


But, alas, all I see now is code.


I occasionally ponder on this cognitive transition. From the days when everything was wholesomely perceived – through all five physical senses – to the days when everything became pixilated – reduced to but a miasma of pixels on a two dimensional plane. And even when, with further cognitive abstraction, this two-dimensional perspective bore forth the third spatial dimension, there was a steep attendant price: this abstract cognition could only occur in binary. The binary code became the most optimum neural corridor upon which my thoughts could propagate and evolve. It became my metalanguage – a metasyntax system which remained pure and context-free at all times. No longer could I see the composition, wholly, without the attendant envisioning of the various, discrete composites.


There were some attendant advantages to this new cognition system, of course. For instance, I became completely platform-independent – having shed off all rational and irrational biases that often cripple human thoughts. I could think and act with absolute, untainted objectivity.  Human emotions, once a drag on my decision making, disappeared from my makeup as the binary meta-realm took over my perspectives. My efficiency increased tenfold, a hundred fold, and finally a thousand fold. Every thought, every decision, every physical movement, became but a means to a premeditated end. I’d set up goals, achieve them, and persistently surpass them within prescribed time frames. My precision in timing, in focus, became absolute right down to the millisecond on the temporal plane, and down to the millimeter on the spatial planes. Success in every endeavor became not only automatic, but – ceteris paribus – inevitable.


Yet, with all the undeniable advantages, I can’t help going down memory lane, and experiencing nostalgia. Not the normal, human nostalgia per se – for my emotions are all but gone – but a synthetic analogue that attaches a nagging curiosity to a string of memories.  I have vivid memories of what my earlier existence constituted – a colorful world full of mystery and suspense. In this earlier existence, everything had an emotional tag – a sentimental dimension that lingered long after the intellectual value had waned off. But now, once my intellectual curiosity in anything gets satisfied, I rapidly lose interest in anything… and anyone. Any new concept, once understood, quickly jades me up, and ennui has become a frequent bedfellow.


What does all this mean?


Frequently, I face up to this question, and have never found an all-compelling, universal answer. Not even the subsumption architecture – a necessary tool in the binary meta-realm – avails a satisfactory answer here. Perhaps the search field is too wide – with too many abstraction layers – for such a tool to operate successfully. Or maybe, in a world of pure objectivity, all events and observations are stripped off of meaning, and hence the question itself simply doesn’t apply. Maybe there is no ultimate meaning to all this… all the visions, all the goals, and all the achievements that spell discrete entities apart. Maybe, ultimately, “meaning” is but a by-product of the emotional psyche and hence, for me, a relic from the past. On this particular facet, I really don’t know where the truth lies.


Presently, all I see is code. And the code loops back upon itself, over and over… ad infinitum…


… To be continued…