Our Urgent Need for Philosophy Today

More so than ever, we live in a frenzied, unstable world. Between a fluctuating economy, continued global political instability, and a (mostly) bleak future presented to us by our modern literature, we are becoming restless souls drifting through existence. The meaning behind the work that we do on a daily basis is lost, creating an intellectually confused species.

These issues have troubled me for some time, and I have thus immersed myself in a study of philosophy to better understand just what’s going on in our modern world. That complex, difficult to describe branch of knowledge that, whilst key to almost everything we do in our lives, has become relegated to the hallowed halls of universities and its proper application in the real world has become lost.

I think that a study of philosophy can help guide us in navigating the turbulent waters of modern civilisation.

Philosophy is a study of the nature of knowledge. It literally means the “love of wisdom,” and it is urgently needed today more so than ever. Because wisdom has so often been shunted to the side in favour of the bottom line, of feeding the capitalist machine and surging us ever forward to that elusive lifestyle we are presented with by the media. As a species, we are lacking wisdom, our thoughts becoming lost amidst the continuous chatter of social media.

Thus, a study of philosophy can help us to develop a mindset of calm, of rationality and the ability to think about the big issues, and understand our role, our place, in the grand architecture of the Cosmos. More so than any other tool, a study of philosophical ideas can enable us to think about, and positively affect, a sociocultural landscape that has become wrought with instability and convoluted systems that simply create unnecessary stress.

Even better, though, than simply studying a course in philosophy, is reading broadly from a range of philosophical ideas across a wide range of history, thinkers and systems, and then choosing the best ones to create your own basket of wisdom, a little intellectual arsenal with which you can combat the daily challenges.

Embarking on a journey of philosophical study can be rather daunting. I’ve found one place on the electric internets (to borrow this humorous phrase from Bill Nye the Science Guy) that can help initiate the journey to discovering wisdom: The School of Life.

Watch this video, and begin your journey today:

And remember… as the beloved Laozi once wrote: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Tao Te Ching, verse 64)


How long should a blog post be?

Blogging for about six years now, I’ve often asked myself: how long should each post be? And as such, you’ll probably notice that Pixelated Thinking has a wide spectrum of post lengths, from 2000+ word essays, to simple quotes less than 100 words. This probably answers my question – that I don’t exactly know what the perfect blog post length is.

But thinking over it, I’ve come to realise that, despite its rootedness in the fast-paced world of technology, blogging is fundamentally an art form, a means of writing and expressing one’s thoughts and ideas. And, as we’ve known from thousands of years of world literature, there is no fixed limit to how long a discourse should be. It can be as long as the 1.8 million word Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata, or as short and lucid as Lao Tzu’s 81-verse Tao Te Ching. Both are incredibly powerful texts, presenting complex ideas and philosophies, yet they’re of two significantly different lengths. This in itself indicates how uncertain the idea of length is on a piece of writing.

In school, we’re taught to conform to word counts – 200, 500, 2500 words maximum. Anything over, and you’ll lose marks. Whilst this is a good framework for forcing students to get straight to the point and thus structure their pieces rigidly, it can sometimes be quite limiting. And so, the world of blogging, a world where there’s hardly any rules, becomes a virtual playground for us lovers of the written word. But it can also be a curse, bringing the argument straight back to the classroom framework: the freedom to write as much as you like can start to make your work tiresome to read.

The Internet age has definitely shortened our attention spans. Twitter’s 140 character limit is both a fun way of succinct expression, and a reconditioning tool to shorten our focus ability. And so I think that, in trying to answer this popular question of any blogger, one must look to what humans enjoy most: variety.

Writing isn’t about numbers, it’s about expressing yourself. So instead of worrying about how long a piece is, rather focus on the content, and on the best way of converting your thoughts into words. Doing so, be mindful of your audience, of their retention rate on your blog, and also of your content spectrum: by shaking things up with a few long-form pieces amongst an array of quick-burst thoughts, you’ll have a lively blog that can generate its own discourse.

The Great Gatsby: The Jazz Age, brought to life

Baz Luhrmann crafts a cinematic love letter to the “Roaring Twenties”, at the same time cleverly bridging the gap between that era and our own, in his latest film The Great Gatsby. A film tasked with bringing to celluloid (or, rather, digital projection) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus will undoubtedly be faced with many challenges. How is it possible to capture the very essence of an epoch in the same way that Fitzgerald managed to, almost effortlessly, chronicle it in his Great American Novel?

Lurhamnn’s film is perhaps an answer to that question.

Opening with a beautiful invitation to the 1920s, the film’s photography suggest that of a dream. Lurhmann’s unconventional direction (evidenced in Romeo + Juliet) presents a take on the Gatsby tragedy that is at once both a stunning display of insight into the story, and a presentation that, by its very difference, incites one to journey with the director into exploring the mind of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The film is beautifully crafted, there’s no doubt. Each and every piece of it was carefully considered; everything, from the opening titles, to the set design, to the camerawork, even the actors matched to their respective characters, was pondered to great extent. That was evidenced in the film’s execution. Interspersing text with dreamy visuals, cameras weaving between the buildings of New York and the void between Gatsby and Daisy’s homes – “the Green Light at the end of the dock” – those were all very clever touches. Which brings me to the actual aspect of the “green light” concept.

Studying this novel in my final year at high school, the metaphor of the “green light” was stressed to a great extent. It is, after all, an important concept in considering Gatsby’s unrelenting hope, his unyielding vision to attain his grand dream. However, I felt the whole concept a bit too stressed, too implied in Nick’s narration. What was excellent, though, was how Luhrmann played with this concept: opening the film with it, thus implying its importance from the get-go, using it in the most important scene in an interesting way – tracking the camera away from it as Gatsby’s vision slowly recedes – and fast-cutting to it in various scenes. Showing, not telling, is the key here.

I thought the idea to portray the narrator, Nick Carraway, as a psychologically damaged individual recounting the events of that fateful summer an interesting decision. It allowed Lurhmann to transcend many of the beautifully crafted words from the novel into film, without losing its essence or forcing anything through implications and cumbersome dialogue. Nick, played by Toby Maguire, becomes the eyes through which we perceive the tragic tale of the great Jay Gatsby. Maguire’s portrayal of this complex character was executed brilliantly – I thought he conveyed the distinct traits of the written character. However, the constant voice-over narration did seem a bit overwhelming at times; it felt like the director was choosing to “tell, not show” us the events unfolding, or allow us to read the character’s emotions through the individual actors. All in all, though, Nick’s step from the book to film was superb, and those familar with the novel will be hard-pressed to not make some connection between Nick and Fitzgerald – especially in that final shot (I don’t want to give any spoilers here… go watch it to understand this!)

Let’s talk about the music. The decision to use big-name rappers like Jay-Z, Kanye West, pop stars (sadcore singer Lana del Rey, rock extraordinare Jack White, even will.i.am and Fergie) was indeed controversial. “How could you possibly link these artists to the 1920s?!” it was decried from the high halls of Fitzgerald aficionados. Well, Mr Baz Lurhmann managed it – and managed it quite well. The way I interpreted this choice of soundtrack was linking it to the jazz music of Gatsby’s time. Jazz was to that era what our music – Hip-Hop, pop, electro-dance, alternative rock – is to us: a platform to chronicle the zeitgeist. By using contemporary music in a period film, Lurhmann inadvertently forged a bridge between these two times, essentially making Gatsby’s story relevant to us, indicating it to be a tale that could have happened just as much then as it could now. And also: it would draw in a younger crowd who would otherwise dismiss the opportunity to witness this film. Essentially: he makes this oft-complex story accessible to a generation perhaps struggling to get to grips with The Great Gatsby.

The fast-paced camera work, at times soaring and then fast-cutting, might be a bit disconcerting. But here, I interpreted this as a conscious decision by Lurhmann: a means of implying the restlessness of the time, the juxtaposition of Nick’s home in the staid Mid-West with the boom of Wall Street and dynamism of a fledgling New York. Using those fast-cut shots and dissolving transition effects in the early scene at the Buchanan residence allowed us to glimpse snippets of dialog lifted straight from the novel, whilst absorbing the aura of trouble about to brew.

Leonardo DiCaprio must be commended on his performance. I don’t think there’s anyone else who could play Jay Gatsby as well as I witnessed here. He brilliantly plays the quintessential charming, mysterious figure that inspires such speculation and masks an incredible ambition. This could very well by DiCaprio’s performance of his life. His Gatsby is carefully executed, tenuously wrung-out until that final explosion of anger and fear in the swelter of the Plaza room at the film’s main confrontation.

Carey Mulligan’s Daisy was just as I’d imagined her from the book: beautiful yet superficial, a woman who represents Gatsby’s “unattainable dream”, and, by extension, the great American Dream – the chance of dreaming big, of having enormous hope; the romantic notion of believing in the dream and fighting for it, in this case, to the very bitter end. Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan was superb: he manifested the “foul dust [that] floated in the wake of [Gatsby’s] dreams.” His confrontation with Gatsby was perhaps my favourite scene between Tom and Gatsby, well played by both actors. I was also pleasantly surprised by Amitabh Bachchan’s Meyer Wolfsheim. Whilst only in a small segment, and clearly a ploy on the studios to attract the lucrative Asia-Pacific market, the Bollywood legend seemed very well suited to the shadowy role of this mafia boss.

This adaptation of Gatsby is perhaps the most honest one yet. Yes, it’s a film that, aesthetically, is made very different to what many cinemagoers would expect. This is, after all, the daring Baz Luhrmann directing. However, I felt that the essence of the book was intricately carried over to the film. Many of the book’s major lines were not, as so often happens, truncated, or weirdly changed for some arcane cinematic purpose. Understandably  not everything will make it over to the film, but the choices Luhrmann made were good ones. The book’s ability to chronicle the zeitgeist of the Jazz Age was indeed mirrored in this film’s retelling of that, with the added touch of making it relevant to our time. It’s not something that can be achieved easily, and Luhrmann should be commended for that.

Reviews are quite mixed on aggregator sites like Rotten Tomatoes, and understandably so. The book’s been around for over 80 years now, so there’s bound to be many people with highly opinionated ideas of how this story should be told on the big screen – if it should even be told at all. You could listen to them, and decide not to watch this film. Or, you could take the chance and experience something magical, and interpret for yourself what this film means for the legacy of Fitzgerald, and of this remarkable book. And maybe even just have a good old time enjoying a well-made, entertaining cinematic experience too.

I’ve been waiting to watch this film for nearly two years now – ever since it was announced that Baz Luhrmann would be adapting this novel. I’d become familiar with Luhrmann’s style from Romeo + Juliet. His unique direction allows him to bring to life stories that are oft-plagued by the dense study of their eras. With Romeo + Juliet, he modernised the classic love story as a feud between two rival business families, adding guns and cars to the mix. And here, with Gatsby, the music, the visuals, the glamour, the lavishness and the decadent colours and sets transform the black-and-white words into a stunning portrayal of the classic Great American Novel. However, with the audacity to be different, to take existing, well-respected literature and just let yourself go, you’re undoubtedly setting yourself up for (very harsh) criticism. In that vain, I think this film won’t go down too well with some people. However, what can be gleaned from this is the willingness to accept another’s interpretation of this work. Literature by its very nature is open-ended, and up to the consumer of that literature to extract meaning. This film is just one man’s understanding of a very well written tale. And I thought he accomplished it with aplomb.