Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I've finished re-reading Siddhartha. Siddhartha fans all over the interwebs (and there are many--I know, because I have googled both "Siddhartha navel gazing" and "Siddhartha self absorbed" and have learned that while I am not alone, I'm part of a small minority: most folks love Siddhartha), yes, Siddhartha fans will call me unenlightened, but I'm giving it a D-.* I didn't care for it in high school (although caring for literature might not be the point of high school book selections), and I don't care for it now as an apparently jaded adult. Maybe I should have read it during that magical window of late-adolescent/young-adult questing and self discovery, only I'm not sure I ever experienced a window like that.

I'm impatient. It takes Siddhartha almost his entire life--71 out of 81 pages in the Dover Thrift Edition--to figure out that other people's feelings are as important to them as his own are to him, that his actions affect others, and that he just needs to, ya know, chill. Three years of asceticism here, 20 years of sinful high life there, and nearly an entire lifetime feeling superior to everyone else (save for a few days when he realizes the past few years have totally sucked and he wants to kill himself): well, those are long temporal investments for largely unsatisfying returns. Of course, Siddhartha enjoys a few rapturous epiphanies in between his career/quest-path changes, but oy. It's like a lifetime spent studying quantum mechanics, when your true love, fluid dynamics, is staring you in the face.
He saw: this water flowed and flowed, it kept on flowing, and yet it was always there; it was always and at all times the same and yet new every moment! Oh, if he could only grasp that, understand that! He did not understand or grasp it; he merely felt the stirrings of a premonition, a distant recollection, divine voices. (Siddhartha, 1922, Dover Thrift Edition, 1999, pp. 54-55). 
The river eventually reveals all. Hermann Hesse's first wife, by the way, was Maria Bernoulli, of the same family as Daniel Bernoulli, famous for "Bernoulli's principle" in fluid dynamics. So we see that it is just as Siddhartha explains to Govinda at the end of the book: everything in the world, past, present, and future, is connected, is one.

Women are scarce in Siddhartha, and they are represented by three main flavors: (1) mom, (2) voluptuous aroused seductress (a.k.a. "a female animal in heat," p. 28), and (3) sex teacher/courtesan (the only female important enough to get a name, Kamala). Kamala dies while on a trip to see the fading Siddhartha Gotama (the supreme Buddha), because a black snake bites her under her dress (p. 60). Is that retributive Freudian symbolism, or is an under-the-dress snake bite sometimes just an under-the-dress snake bite?

Reading to the end of Siddhartha's quest has brought me midway through my literary quest. My experiment--re-reading books I disliked in high school to determine whether they're why I don't much enjoy reading fiction as an adult--has brought me back to three books since April: The Scarlet Letter, The Odyssey, and Siddhartha (with a delightful David Sedaris detour and a whole lot of Ken-Ken and Sudoku mixed in). Next up: A Tale of Two Cities, which, based on other Dickens novels that I read during and after college, I entirely expect to enjoy this time around.

*56 words and a delayed verb! I clearly learned something from re-reading The Scarlet Letter.


Unknown said...

Try Huckleberry Finn.

Liz Paley said...

Ooh ooh! I have a copy waiting to go. I'm saving it for later, though, because I remember enjoying it the first time around.