Voltaire - Candide (Summary)

"Candide: or, Optimism" - This is the first work by Voltaire that I have read. Voltaire was fleeting covered in our school history as one of the critical influences for the French Revolution. This story is about Candide, a young man who is thrown out of a castle and his adventures as he travels wherever his fate takes him.

The story begins with Candide living in the castle in Westphalia. Alongside is the baron's daughter Cunégonde and their tutor Pangloss among others. Pangloss is an ardent believer in Leibniz philosophical thought that teaches that this is the "best of all possible worlds" and "all is for the best". Candide is attracted to Cunégonde and they are caught kissing one day. The baron throws Candide out of the castle. Candide roaming around is caught up in a brutal war between two armies and is conscripted. Nearly executed, he escapes to Holland where he meets Jacques and by chance Pangloss (who is sick and in bad shape). Jacques takes both of them in and cares for them. Pangloss revels that the castle was destroyed in the wars and everybody was killed. Candide mourns the loss of his beloved. Traveling to Lisbon, Jacques is subsequently drowned while saving someone. Pangloss stops Candide from rescuing him saying that this harbor was created for him to drown and provides an optimistic commentary of their situation. They both are captured by the inquisitors and condemned. Candide is flogged and Pangloss is hanged. Left to his state, an old lady leads Candide to a house where he meets Cunégonde who reveals her terrible escape from near death in the castle. She is now owned by a merchant and an church official who take turns to her company. Candide slays both men and escape to Americas with Cunégonde and the old woman. During the voyage, the old woman reveals her unimaginable horrors that she had faced. On reaching Americas, in Buenos Aires, Cunégonde gets separated from him. Candide escapes with his valet (Cacambo) as he is being pursued. They together face countless adventures (wars, cannibalistic tribes) until they reach El Dorado. In this fabled land of unimaginable riches and utopia, they stay for a month. But soon Candide longs for Cunégonde. The king of El Dorado provides them with many sheep full of diamonds for their journey back. Candide and Cacambo travel back to Suriname slowly loosing the treasures. At Suriname, he sends Cacambo back to Buenos Aires to buy back Cunégonde and to meet him in Venice while he proceeds to Venice directly. Candide needing a companion for his journey back to Venice hires the services of Martin (who is a Manichean and a believer that the world is inherently evil). The rest of their journey is made over lengthy discourses on philosophy.
But then, to what end," said Candide, "was the world formed?"
"To make us mad," said Martin.
"Do you think," said Candide, "that mankind always massacred one another as they do now? Were they always guilty of lies, fraud, treachery, ingratitude, inconstancy, envy, ambition, and cruelty? Were they always thieves, fools, cowards, gluttons, drunkards, misers, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, and hypocrites?"
"Do you believe," said Martin, "that hawks have always been accustomed to eat pigeons when they came in their way?"
They reach Venice and wait for Cacambo. Cacambo arrives and tells them that Cunégonde is taken as a slave in Constantinople. They all leave to retrieve her. On the ship, Candide comes across Pangloss (he survived being hanged by inquisitors) working as slave in a ship. Candide buys his freedom. They all reach Constantinople where Candide is united with his beloved. Cunégonde is now ugly and pale shadow of her former glory but Candide still marries her. With whatever diamonds left, Candide buys a farm and they all (Candide,Cunégonde, Martin, Cacambo, Pangloss, the old woman) live together. Eventually boredom catches with them and each is now much more unhappier with their lives. Each of them philosophizing over their state and the turn of events. They go to a dervish to seek answers.
Candide asks "Master, we come to entreat you to tell us why so strange an animal as man has been formed?"
"Why do you trouble your head about it?" said the dervish; "is it any business of yours?"
"But, Reverend Father," said Candide, "there is a horrible deal of evil on the earth."
"What signifies it," said the dervish, "whether there is evil or good? When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt does he trouble his head whether the rats in the vessel are at their ease or not?"
"What must then be done?" said Pangloss.
"Be silent," answered the dervish.
"I flattered myself," replied Pangloss, "to have reasoned a little with you on the causes and effects, on the best of possible worlds, the origin of evil, the nature of the soul, and a pre-established harmony."
At these words the dervish shut the door in their faces.
Confused, they leave for home and on way, they meet an old man who is content selling the fruits of his farm.The old man tells them that his whole family works on their farm and work keeps three great evil as bay - boredom, vice and want. Returning to their home, Candide and all reflected on what the old man said. They decided to work without reasoning as that is the only way to make life bearable. Things start looking up and each one is meaningfully engaged and productive. Though Pangloss still sometimes insisting that see ultimately all turned out to be the best and used to saying
"There is a concatenation of all events in the best of possible worlds; for, in short, had you not been kicked out of a fine castle for the love of Miss Cunégonde had you not been put into the Inquisition; had you not traveled over America on foot; had you not run the Baron through the body; and had you not lost all your sheep, which you brought from the good country of El Dorado, you would not have been here to eat preserved citrons and pistachio nuts."  
"That is all well said, but we must cultivate our garden", answered Candide
*****

The story is very dense in terms of events and story line. Events move fast and episodes of chance meeting of characters and characters narrowly escaping death are far too many to be believable (I do not think it even tries to be a realistic story). The story touches the political and religious climate of early 1700s Europe that was caught in internecine wars, religious persecution, slavery and exploitation all around. The torture and the evil around shows its face over and over again and nowhere does Candide ever gets a chance to redeem his optimism. Slowly his faith in optimism is shredded away and by the end, Candide ignores the Pangloss continued optimism and says that "we must cultivate our garden". The story does not develop any over riding moral tale or theories on human ethics or the nature of evil. It is endless series of adventures with evil and exploitation (and satire thrown in equal measure) that covers the face of the earth and in all classes, be it kings, or clergy or common-folk. Voltaire is very critical of religion (in fact of all religions) and widespread slavery and the incessant wars that the Europe saw. Unimaginable brutality (including sexual violence) is common in the story. At the end, Candide sees through that absurdity of philosophical argument and realizes events will happen on their own accord and what he can do is to work and take responsibility of one-self. Debating over the issues that afflict human condition or having an optimistic outlook does not absolve one from the need for individual responsibility and action. Good may or may not always begets good, but inaction always begets boredom and dissatisfaction. Pangloss belief that evil is part of the larger good and world is in pre-established divine harmony is discredited in endless tale of horror and misfortune. The faith in larger Good, in the benevolent God, in optimism all amounts to nothing. Candide seeing all the misery around him, finds the world anything but harmonious. Any perspective or theory provided, can not and will not solve or even explain the workings of this world. The only way to make sense of this world, is to do the work required of you and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXXV


I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kiss'd
How many Kisses might it take -- and give!

This is the thirty-fifth quatrain of the FitzGerald's Rubaiyat. Again a very very opaque quatrain. The Vessel (that earthen bowl of the previous quatrain), the one who replied with an obscure answer to the poet's questioning. The poet says I think that the vessel once did lived and used to partake in countless merry and frolic. I kissed its cold lip and pondered over the incoherent replies given to me. I wonder how many kisses (like these) will the Vessel give and take. I am curious how many hands will this Vessel pass through.

The Vessel, the earthen bowl of wine was once dust, but was also once live. In Abrahamic religions the belief that God created human from dust is predominant. And human turns to dust once dead. The Vessel might have been human once. In the circle of life and death, dust to dust will keep going on and in each life of these countless lives, I will always keep looking for answers beyond myself but the only answers I get are at best incomprehensible.

Translation - Zamanaah Sakt Kaam-Aazaar Hai (Ghalib)

zamaanaah sakht kam-aazaar hai bah jaan-e-asad
vagarnah hum to tavaqqau ziyaadah rakhte hain

Line 1/2 - The age is rigidly lacking in torment, on the life of Asad I swear. Otherwise, we were expecting for more. The poet says, I swear by my life - the torment and the tyranny is lacking the hardness. Otherwise I was hoping for more. The age has delivered rigidly less torment. The juxtaposing of sakht (rigid or painful) and kam-azaar (less of pain) makes it a nice figure of contrast (an oxymoron) - 'painfully painless'. Such is the misery of the poet, even after seeing all this and going through all this, he swears that he was expecting more pain in his life but the life seemed like painfully painless. Coming this far in life and seeing the apathy and rebuke of the beloved (earthy or supernal), I swear I was expecting much more pain.

Meaning of difficult words -
zamaanaah = age, period
sakht -  hard, rigid
kam-aazaar - lacking in torment, less annoyance
bah jaan-e-asad = on life of asad
vagarnah = otherwise
tavaqqau = expectation

Read more posts on Ghalib.

Borges - Dreamtigers

In my childhood I was a fervent worshiper of the tiger—not the jaguar, that spotted "tiger" that inhabits the floating islands of water hyacinths along the Parana and the tangled wilderness of the Amazon, but the true tiger, the striped Asian breed that can be faced only by men of war, in a castle atop an elephant. I would stand for hours on end before one of the cages at the zoo; I would rank vast encyclopedias and natural history books by the splendor of their tigers. (I still remember those pictures, I who cannot recall without error a woman’s brow or smile.) My childhood outgrown, the tigers and my passion for them faded, but they are still in my dreams. In that underground sea or chaos, they still endure. As I sleep I am drawn into some dream or other, and suddenly I realize that it’s a dream. At those moments, I often think: This is a dream, a pure diversion of my will, and since I have unlimited power, I am going to bring forth a tiger.
Oh, incompetence! My dreams never seen to engender the creature I so hunger for. The tiger does appear, but it is all dried up, or it’s flimsy-looking, or it has impure vagaries of shape or an unacceptable size, or it’s altogether too ephemeral, or it looks more like a dog or bird than like a tiger.

The is the complete story of Borges's Dreamtigers. How I wish to be The Maker, even better than the Maker. In my dreams I can be one. I want to dream of things more subtle and more grander than the real. But see how miserable do I fail. Instead of a tiger, I do not know what I have dreamed. With my failing sight and spirit, I have brought life to an apparition. A spectre of the real that is not capable of anything. Of not even existing!