The School of Psychological Sciences

I list here a few of the novels that moved or inspired me, including some short comments (this may be developed in the future, if I will find the time). I group this in few (perhaps arbitrary) categories.

Modern Literature

Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges (The Garden of Forking Paths), Ernesto Sabato (The Tunnel/On Heroes and Tombs), Milan Kundera, Isaac Bashevis-Singer; Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot); Eugen Ionescu; Jean Paul Sartre; Boris Vian; Michail Bolgakov (Master and Margarita)

Haruki Murakami is probably the writer that fascinates me most these days.  His mix of magic realism, depth of observation on human nature, exciting narrative, and excellent mix of funny dialogue with serious metaphysics is both inspiring and moving. I recommend in particular the following:  The trilogy of the ratHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (this one is my favorite; it involves two parallel stories that involve the metaphysics of Consciousness); Kafka on the Shore;  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Science Fiction

I have a weak spot for the Sci. Fi and fantasy genre, as they allow the freedom to explore novel and alternative models of reality (or to expand it that in new directions). Although my threshold here is somewhat lower than in other novels, there is a lot of boring Sci. Fi. (meaningless spaceship fights with poor plot of the everything-goes kind and with shallow characters), for which I have zero interest. The kind of Sci Fi I like is the one that explores some philosophical ideas, with coherent (and not too predictable) plots and whose characters posses some minimal complexity. Here are few examples:

Philip K. Dick is an excellent example. His novels stretch the mind in all directions and deal with philosophical problems, from the nature of consciousness and reality, parallel alternative worlds, transcendence and sanity. I recommend in particular The man in the High Castle  (an alternative world in which Nazi Germany and Japan won the 2nd war world) and the VALIS trilogy (dedicated to an exploration of gnostic theology motivated by a mystical experience in which Dick felt to have acquired a special knowledge about the illusory nature of the normal reality, and his doubts of his own sanity). I also enjoyed The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

Dan Simmons-The Hyperion/Endymion novels are the best I read (in this genre) in terms of complex and exciting plot with interesting characters and frequent reference to classical literature (John Keats’ Hyperion theme about the battle between Gods and Titans is translated into a war between humans and AIs, and the poet John Keats plays an important part in the story). The moving story of the woman scientist, who being affected by anti-entropic currents, starts to age backwards, fighting each day against unavoidable memory and identity loss. Truly outstanding and impossible to stop reading.

Cliford D Simak – the City: a sequence of stories that tell the stories that the dogs tell each other around the fire, about the legend of the mythical “man” who is thought to have helped the dogs in their early days. The stories, which go from our days into a remote future, tell the story of the end of the human civilization that is not one of destruction, but simply of isolation. One of the most powerful  Sci Fiction books.

Kurt Vonnegut – Slaugterhouse-five

Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker guide to galaxy): the super-race who felt a strong need to resolve the burning and fundamental question about “the life, the universe and everything”. Towards this aim they build a super computer whose aim was to find the answer to the fundamental question. After waiting for a million year (and a half) the computer was obtained an answer. It was “42”. When the people complained they do not understand the answer, the computer explained that this is because they cannot formulate the question properly. As it comes out the Earth (with al its organic life)  is build by the super-race as a faster supercomputer that will provide the proper question. More in the book…

The Israeli connection

Ari Shavit – My promised land: the Triumph and Tragedy of Israel.

David Grossman– “See Under Love” עיין ערך: אהבה

Pinhas Sadeh was an Israeli writer and  poet whose writing achieved a cult status. His first novel, Life as a Fable is a kind of autobiography written at the age of 27. Some parts of it are of outstanding beauty. I enjoyed in particular the Preface (unfortunately this did not appear in the English translation. Here is a selective and amateur translation that I did together with my friend Dan Tidhar: preface; I hope someone will do a better one). Another outstanding book is On the Human Condition ([Al Matzavo Shel Ha-Adam]; unfortunately Sadeh did not finish this book and it only appeared in Hebrew. Like “The forbidden forest” (see below) it is one of the books that moved me most deeply.

The Romanian connection

Although I left at 16 and I only visited twice since, I love Romania and its culture and, according to a famous identity test — what football team do you support? — I am still Romanian.  While I do not have much opportunity to speak the language, I do enjoy reading and I feel moved by Romanian literature and music. Here are a few examples (see also the Music page).

Mircea Eliade is internationally known as an historian and philosopher of religion, who developed important interpretations of religious experience. One of these is the distinction between the sacred/supernatural and the profane, which he thought to be a central part of human experience. (While a religious life can provide a way to meet this central human need of transcending the daily profane reality into a higher order one, I believe that science, philosophy, arts and literature, can do so to). Eliade also wrote some very interesting fiction novels (though most of them appeared in Romanian only), whose stories gravitate around the possibility of the individual to transcend the daily routine into the sacred or supernatural realm. Themes such as destiny and fate are also central to his stories. Among his books I very much recommend the following two that have been translated in English.  i) Maitreyi (“La Nuit Bengali” or “Bengal Nights”). This is Eliade’s first novel and it gives an almost autobiographical account of the time he spent in India (age 21-24), studying Indian and Yoga philosophy and Sanskrit with Surendranath Dasgupta, a Professor at the University of Calcuta. The novel includes a lively and perceptive description of Calcuta and the Indian culture in the 1930s, as well as a dramatic love story between him and the daughter of his teacher, Maitreyi, which met angry opposition from his teacher, that made Eliade leave Calcuta cut connections with Maitreyi, with much pain. Interestingly, 40 years later, Maitreyi Devi, discovered the book written by Eliade about their love encounter (the Bengal Nights), and wrote her own moving book about the story (It does not die), which ends with a dramatic meeting between the two (40 years later). Eliade’s best novel The forbidden forest (“Noaptea de sanziene”, Rom.), which is his magnum opus, that deals with his central themes, like fate, destiny, transcendence,  within a complex, moving (and at times comic) and dramatic plot that spans throughout Europe, from Bucharest and some Romanian villages to London during the Nazi WW-II bombardment. The Romanian title, signifies the “night of the faeries”, which is a Romanian folk-label for the solstice night, when it is believed that a gate is open to higher realities. Unfortunately, during the years that preceded the WW-II, Eliade was a member of the Romanian Iron-Guard, a Fascist and Antisemitic organization that supported the Nazis. It is a sad puzzle to me how a person such as him, could fall prey to become a Nazi sympathizer. (I wonder if the early life rejection by his teacher Dasagupta, was not a factor that pushed him towards nationalism, as a reaction.)

Mihail Sebastian  was a Romanian novelist and playwright of high sensibility and esthetic power. One of his books, translated into English is his Journal, in which he described the difficult time he had as a Jew in Fascist Romania, and his struggle to maintain his sanity, his faith in humanism, and to sustain his literary creativity during the war. A central part in the Journal is the sad observation of his abandonment by other intellectual friends (like his best friend, Eliade), during the Nazi years. Feeling part of the Romanian culture and identity, Sebastian was puzzled and saddened about the forceful antisemitism that  plagues Europe for 2000 years. His novel (De doua mii de ani), in which  he tries to grasp the nature of this phenomenon, was received with antagonism in both Jewish circles (who probably misunderstood him) and in the Antisemitic circles of the time (who felt he was making fun of them).

Mircea Cartarescu is a contemporary Romanian novelist whose Magic Realism is one of the most powerful I  have read recently (somewhat like Murakami). The following book (Nostalgia) has been translated to English and contains a collection of some his his novels. The one I liked in particular is REM.