Authentic Schmauthentic

Dec 31 2023

What the fuck does authentic mean anyway? … The term ‘‘authentic’’ … is essentially meaningless. ‘‘Authentic’’ when? ‘‘Authentic’’ to whom? But it sounds good and wise doesn’t it?

Anthony Bourdain. ‘‘14. Alan Richman is a Douchebag’’. Medium Raw

Some things leave a clear semantic trace in my mind — I don’t remember the exact words1, nor the circumstances, but they leave a dent. In my mind, Bourdain’s acerbic takedown of a journalist questioning the authenticity of Creole cuisine is up there with Siracusa expounding on sports, or the final shot in Ozu’s The Only Son. They contain multitudes in so little, and not just because they’re akin to pithy aphorisms — they nudge me to research, read, learn, and ponder on their meaning endlessly. They enrich my life, my work, and relationships, even if it involves uncomfortable introspection.

Questioning the authenticity of food especially evoke a deep-seated rejection fermented by years of pondering on Bourdain’s words, and my own cowering behind that empty word. This isn’t to say one can’t criticize food (or any cultural product), but if you see fit to judge and expound on it, be decent enough to admit what you’re doing and why — maybe you wanna feel superior, or occupy space in the conversation, or be seen. You can do that without empty gestures towards authenticity.

Funnily enough, what I yearn is for people to be genuinely authentic (in the sense of be honest about what you’re feeling or wanting) with me.

  1. which is just as well, since I enjoyed re-reading this chapter, and the book, perhaps just as much as the first time, in the process of finding this excerpt. Bourdain could write and cook — I’m still not good enough at the former. 

The Responsibility of Non Residential Intellectuals

Dec 9 2023

It is easy for an American intellectual to deliver homilies on the virtues of freedom and liberty, but if he is really concerned about, say, Chinese totalitarianism or the burdens imposed on the Chinese peasantry in forced industrialization, then he should face a task that is infinitely more important and challenging—the task of creating, in the United States, the intellectual and moral climate, as well as the social and economic conditions, that would permit this country to participate in modernization and development in a way commensurate with its material wealth and technical capacity.

The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Noam Chomsky

I have lived in the US for over 6 years. I feel like I’ve come of age here — certainly I didn’t dwell on my responsibilities much when I lived in India. I want to live here, but what of this responsibility I feel (with my freedoms) to do something about injustice in India? Why do I feel this strong responsibility to oppose injustice?

Answering these questions1 are important to me, since it clarifies the root of disagreements with family, friends and colleagues, and how to effectively fight injustice in India. I don’t have a great answer yet — but the strong whiff of bullshit from me (and sensed by me) when opposing injustices in the US when India made me is a good enough motivator to find an answer.

So what are the responsibilities of the non-resident intellectual beyond seeking the truth back home, and the historical context of the truth? Supporting intellectuals and activists back home must be one of them, if not the foremost one.

  1. which resurfaced after a tiring conversation with an amoral, fatalistic friend 

I'm thinking of ending things with attention again

October 9 2023

Two years ago, I thought I would ‘discipline’ myself by being deliberate with the way I spend time online. I have failed, quite spectacularly at that. I can’t keep myself off hacker news, reddit, twitter, or any of the million blogs out there. More often than not, there’s nothing there when I visit them. But the random reinforcement of something that might scratch my itch always has me coming back.

What is to be done? The fix-the-system crowd wax philosophy about how loverly it would be in their world where we’re one with nature, and how we need to organize and fight corporations. My patience is thin with these pleas, especially with this issue. What’s more likely to happen — that I discipline how I allocate my attention, or that the internet economy re-aligns itself through self or external regulation around the amorphous concern of ‘attention’?

I’ll take my chances with disciplining myself.

The centre is not where it seems

September 5 2024

Nick Heer talking about the centered Apple logo on iPhones 11 (and all iPhones after that as of the writing of this post):

I can’t find it right now, but I remember an old piece of advice — possibly in the HIG — that said that items mathematically centred vertically tend to look like they’re lower than they are. The suggestion was that a visually vertically centred item typically needed about twice as much space below the item compared to the space above it.

Page 184 of Apple’s HIG guidelines from the 2003 edition:

[the] distance from the bottom of the window to the top of the Dock (if it’s at the bottom of the screen) should be approximately twice the distance as that from the bottom of the menu bar to the top of the window.

Matthew Butterick on centering page contents using margins:

To make the text block ap­pear cen­tered ver­ti­cally, try mak­ing the bot­tom mar­gin about a 0.25″ larger than the top mar­gin. Oth­er­wise, the text block can look like it’s sag­ging.

Finally, David Lynch as John Ford to Sammy Fabelman (Spielberg):

Where is the horizon?…Where is the goddamn horizon!?…When the horizon’s at the bottom it’s interesting. When the horizon’s at the top, it’s interesting. When the horizon’s in the middle, it’s boring as shit.

Eternal Darkness of the Mutating Thought

August 25 2023

Human memory is flawed and gets worse with time. One phenomenon where I face my own memory’s fallibility, with increasing regularity, is the contrast between an actual event that occurred in my past, and the memory in my mind many years after. I wanted to record one as I process it, even though it is a memory of a poem I read, so not strictly an event.

Only one Thirukural of the hundreds we had to memorize in school has stuck with me. I don’t remember the words of course, only the rough meaning:

A son’s duty (to his parents) is to ensure that others speak highly of/praise him to his parents.

As I write this, I probably read this kural 12 – 15 years ago. As it turns out, this wasn’t one kural leaving a trace in my memory, but two. Both are from the Book of Virtue, in the chapter dealing with children. The first, kural 69 is about one’s duty to their mother1:

Eendra Pozhudhin Peridhuvakkum Thanmakanaich
Chaandron Enakketta Thaai

A woman rejoices at the birth of a son, But even more when he is praised.

Kural 70 is about duty to the father:

Makandhandhaikku Aatrum Udhavi IvandhandhaiEnnotraan
Kol Enum Sol

The son’s duty to his father is to make world ask, ‘By what austerities did he merit such a son!

I’m glad to realize now, in my wise age of 29, that even Valluvar had to resort to padding. Usually I lament my memory’s fallibility, but in this case, I’m glad my mind saw the redundancy and reduced them to one thought.

Unfortunately, the amount of mindspace this thought occupies is more than two or four verses, and will only grow with time. Every day is a slow realization how true the verses are when they shouldn’t be, and a reminder how I’ve not done enough, even though I’m enough.

  1. in transliterated Tamil. I cannot be bothered to get fonts for Tamil on my blog just yet