People have always been meddling on things which may either take them towards greater heights or shove them down to an irreparable damage, never to rise above or at the very least return to where they were once were. The daily routines they engage themselves into shape them to the very image they may have wanted all along, or to something else that they could have not thought of in the first place. There are many ways to achieve what people want in their lives, notwithstanding the dreams that they seek with utmost earnestness, or perhaps with utter nostalgia that consumes their very persona. In the sense that the world is a reality that gives us knowledge, oftentimes through our very senses and at times through our very contemplation of our thoughts about our realm, the very attainment of this knowledge is a separate task in itself in comparison to the means in which we grasp the essence of what we desire to understand. There are far more valuable lessons in life which we can learn on how we do things rather than merely bagging the rewards of our labor in the end.
Emancipation from the void
Apparently, Charlie Citrine almost had the world before his feet at his disposal. One of the many things a writer could ever adorn himself is his reputation, notwithstanding the material wealth one can harness. In fact, the very presences of these worldly objects which we amass ourselves apart from the intangible treasures we get— luxuries which fill our capacity to bear more than what we basically need, things which are in themselves valuable at least for the deprived—seem to swallow our very sense of direction. The more these things strangle our consciousness the more we dizzy ourselves with the unbearable heights of being overwhelmingly bestowed with objects that please our physical being. Before we know it, the course of the path of our lives has been blurred where vision is limited to a narrow understanding of what only appears immediate for our consciousness.
The realization that there is something unmistakably erroneous about being able to slide past the torrential waters of life and eventually surpass and excel points to a far more illustrious terrain which has so deceived man in many ways. That the fact that we are able to grant ourselves of more than what we yearn and being able live by it through days and nights without utter nostalgia is compelling. The callous heart knows not of the appalling grimace of the picture of one drowning mercilessly in a vast ocean of worldly objects.
There is something in the story of Citrine that reminds us of Plato in his philosophy. For the most part of the latter’s work, it is worth noting that he argued for the magnitude of being able to flex the mind into thinking and doubting if indeed what we already think we know in this world are the things that we indeed ought to know. Or at the very least, Plato gives us the presumption that the material world is one which is reeking with flaws and is not the perfect state that there is, or that it is not the state that we may even want to live through for the rest of our lives. There is a way to relinquish the world of objects and that is to grasp the world beyond our immediate experience, the ultimate reality of things which provide the fountain of genuine knowledge. To deprive ourselves of what is intrinsically good and true is to funnel away our chances of arriving at our real desires and relieving ourselves of the unspeakable contortion that rests in our indifference and utter dissolution with material contentment.
The Platonic forms
In Plato’s allegory of the cave, let us look into some of its details. Consider that a prisoner is, then, relieved from the chains and is induced to stand up and face the opposite side of the gaze the prisoner have had all throughout. At first, the light coming from the enormous light will blind the eyes of the prisoner and the passing figures will look less real than their shadows. Or suppose the prisoner is drawn into the sunlight out of the cave. In such case, the prisoner will be so blinded by the light coming from the sun that an immediate vision of what is outside the cave is yet impossible. With eyes hurt, he will then be able to see shadows at first, and eventually brighter and clearer objects. And with such increasing level of brightness of things, the sun is the last object he would be able to see.
The allegory of the cave gives us an insight into Plato’s theory of forms. Believing that the material world is not the real world, Plato further deems that the world we know of as the material world is merely a shadow of the real world. Roughly speaking, the forms are more like blueprints for the flawlessness of objects. These forms are perfect in themselves such as that they are essential to the constitution of things, or that they are the very essence of objects: without the form, a thing would not be the kind of thing as it is. In other words, for the object chair a form of chair grants the possibility of the chair to exist. Similarly, the form of a table makes possible the existence of the table in the material world, or that the form of a dog is the blueprint upon which the tangible dog is structured. Or that what we draw on paper as a circle makes us realize it is a circle because of its form. All of the forms dwell in the world of forms and is detached from our world. Consequently, the world of forms is the ultimate basis of reality.
The relationship between Plato’s forms and his allegory of the cave thus gives us an insight into what he deems as reality. Like prisoners in a cave, what we may have known all the while are merely shadows, and that the essences—the forms—of the objects we know dwell beyond what we were made accustomed to. In fact, what Plato argues is that the forms are not within us. Rather, they are in a separate realm quite distinct from the material world we know of.
In general, the allegory points us to the idea of Plato that the physical or material world is not the perfect world where perfect objects can be found. Quite on the contrary, the material world is the world where imperfect objects, or mere copies of the forms, can be realized. And thus, what we know of in the material world are mere copies of the forms, and that these objects in the material world do not give us the essence of themselves.
In relation to the situation of Charlie Citrine, one can find the strand which parallels Citrine’s search for the essence of things and Plato’s theoretical suggestion for attaining the truth. The diminishing of Citrine’s clamoring for the material substance of life and the shift into the vision of an alternate reality, one which is shades apart from the world we empirically know, directs us to the Platonic sense of the world of forms. The human yearning for the ultimate reality of things goes beyond mere sensible satisfaction. In fact, it exceeds it far beyond. While the basis of the structure of the physical and flawed world rests on our immediate experience of these things, the alternate world envisioned by Plato and that which is being sought after in the story requires more than mere sensory understanding. For the most part, the senses fail to imbue in us the reality which lay hidden beneath the material objects and far-off from the expanse of the world where we meddle with both solitary and sociable creatures.
The chains in the allegory of the cave may very well represent the material things we own, some of which may come in exceedingly wealthy proportions. If we are to acquire more and more of this objects into profane amounts, the lesser we are able to move ourselves into the direction that we ought to take, one which leads us into the realization of reality and the very essence of life. The grip of the chain on ourselves become tighter and tighter as we acquire more and more of these chains that tie us down and in seclusion from the reality of things. Knowledge, thus, escapes those who are firmly tied down to the chains that they regale with erroneous significance. With the advent of worldly objects pocketed in the arms of the physically deceived man, knowledge then is secluded from one’s view. Plato could have argued against the craving for more and more of these things which delineates the very distortion of our consciousness if he were to live this day. Citrine could have had a reawakening from his psychic slumber and relegate his thoughts what indeed is essentially important not only for one who is a writer but to humanity in general.
The dichotomy between the perceived world or the material world we commonly know of and of the Platonic world of forms is of crucial significance in shedding light to the subtle details of the novel and of the story as a whole which centers on the life of the main protagonist Citrine. This dichotomy further reforms the structure of the story in the sense that the very fact that Citrine yearns for something else other than the glory of being able to possess material things which satisfies or delectates the senses of man. Rather, it entrenches the fact that the abundance of material wealth, or even the mere acquisition of pleasurable objects for most of humanity, does not promote any sense of completeness to one’s being. Quite apart from the completion of the void that chokes our sensibility and daubs anxiety over our minds, the quest for the intangible, the metaphysical satisfaction which eludes our being even in the presence of objects is far more delicate and exonerating. What can be said with the task of unraveling the mystery that lay beneath the quest for the metaphysical essence of life and of being able to live with sense is that it delegates our very being unto a higher level of satisfaction, that this realm of the intangible poses more sense than just physical fulfillment alone. This is what Charlie Citrine is thirsting to explore.
On the understanding of being
The knowledge of one’s own being is indeed a daunting feat, one which may actually frighten the very senses of man and destroy one’s effort or thought of dipping into the task of exploring the very being of one, and the being of man in general. Yet for the most part though not exclusively every part, the task in itself teaches us only a few of the worthy fruits of being able to achieve such knowledge. Rather, what is far more emancipating are the valuable lessons one can harness long the way. It would be quite certain as of this point that Citrine may have not come into full circle at all if indeed he was able to achieve that which he have always yearned to know and to understand beyond the expanse of the physical satisfaction he could reap.
Ironically, the more Citrine acquired material possessions and the more he fulfilled his desires at least on the physical level, the more he feels deprived, further devoid of what makes him feel more human than anybody else, barely chipping off the layers of his sanity until nothing is left of him.
As long as there is there is the physical and conceptual presence of the worldly objects, one will find it difficult and far less rewarding to detach one’s self from the ambiguity and vagueness of everyday life in this material world. As Martin Heidegger points out, ‘man is not the lord of beings. Man is the shepherd of Being. Man loses nothing in this “less”; rather, he gains in that he attains the truth of Being. He gains the essential poverty of the shepherd, whose dignity consists in being called by Being itself into the preservation of Being’s truth (Hedegger).” What Heidegger refers to with Being is the ultimate sense of being and not the individual beings each one of us has. To lose the things which, again, fasten us down to an immobile and fixed position is the grand undertaking one ought to choose in the crusade for knowledge. That is, while we are strapped on to such an uncomfortable and restricted arrangement, we can never grasp the knowledge of our being and Being in general.
The availability or the very existence of the superfluous objects which are in the proximity of our disposal, our thought may easily submit itself to the compelling aura of these tangible ambrosias. On the part of Citrine, he was able to feel the void that loomed just above his head in the midst of the things which are coming in and out of his life, shuffling his sense of direction every now and then, pushing him at first into the randomness of human error. He was prompted by the thought that, quite unmistakably, there is something wrong, something nullifying with material prosperity.
It is at that point where Citrine is able to notice that there is something lacking, and that something is not readily available nor is easily or can be provided by material prosperity. To say it in another way, the essence of knowledge which flees our minds which have become deeply embedded and lost in the skin of the material world remains disengaged from the scopes of that world. Thus, to obtain the essence of that knowledge one has to refocus one’s consciousness away from the material world and engage it into the alternate reality. But this, as pointed out earlier, is not an easy task in itself even so with the mere recognition of such a fleetingly distinguishable task.
The inherent goodness of man
For the inherently good man, the recognition of such a task is inescapable, only that such a good man may nevertheless ignore such task right after being able to comprehend it. However, Mencius pursues the point that all men are inherently good in themselves, which includes even the wicked criminal the law has ever punished or has ever brought before its courts of justice.
Central to Mencius’ philosophy is his belief that men by nature are good, that, therefore, all men have the inner capacity to do good things and seek that which is good. Mencius asserts staunchly that individuals are intrinsically good and already posses the four beginnings. These beginnings eventually lead to the four constant virtues.
Mencius strongly proposes that men are naturally imbued with the four beginnings. What he says is not to be interpreted in such a way that men are already sage-like within themselves, or that they are already in a state of being perfect or at the very least of becoming nearly perfect. These are the four beginnings according to Mencius: “The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of human-heartedness. The feeling of shame and dislike is the beginning of righteousness. The feeling of modesty and yielding is the beginning of propriety. The sense of right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom. (Yu-Lan)”
It would then be no wonder, following the philosophical view of Mencius with regards to the nature of man, as to why Citrine recognized the void that was swallowing his being. For the most part, it guarantees us that Citrine himself was having quite a hard time figuring out what was so wrong or unfulfilling with gaining material objects, though what seems to be more important is the fact that even the very thought of recognizing the emptiness have crossed his consciousness thereby leading to a yearning for the missing slate that perhaps he might have lost along his journey in the literary world.
Mencius also proposed that all men desire to seek heaven (not necessarily in the Roman Catholic sense). This is rooted on the assumption that all men are intrinsically good and, hence, will desire or ought to seek heaven which fulfills the very essence of being human. The very result of this seeking is the completion of the four beginnings and, thus, the realization of the four constant virtues. These details may not be perfectly synonymous with the case of Humboldt’s Gold’s main protagonist, Charlie Citrine, yet it tells us that what Citrine appears to do or want to do is to obtain the essence of knowledge which tantamount to the Mencius’ concept of the nature of man, that the former is perhaps intrinsically good all along and has the imminent desire to relieve himself of the troubles—sickening, adverse, and haunting troubles—of the life of a writer.
Though it may be quite trivial as to whether human nature is genuinely good, we can never deal away with the presumption that every man has the capacity of being able to do good, either unto himself or to another even if we are to disregard whatever nature one has. And for whatever reason or end there may be in so doing good deeds, what matters most is that through its possibility one is able to equip himself with lessons and understanding that he may not be able to harvest at a stationary life.
Gandhi on Citrine
Mahatma Gandhi said “My soul refuses to be satisfied so long as it is a helpless witness of a single wrong or a single misery. But it is not possible for me, a weak, frail, miserable being, to mend every wrong or to hold myself free of blame for all the wrong I see. The spirit in me pulls one way, the flesh in me pulls in the opposite direction. There is freedom from the action of these two forces, but that freedom is attainable only by slow and painful stages. I cannot attain freedom by a mechanical refusal to act, but only by intelligent action in a detached manner. This struggle resolves itself into an incessant crucifixion of the flesh so that the spirit may become entirely free. (Rao)”
Another apparent dichotomy can be observed in the philosophy of Gandhi—that of the spirit and of the body. In the context of Citrine’s exploits, one can easily pinpoint the glaring dichotomy which reflects almost all throughout the novel. While Citrine himself dares to go beyond the expanse of his chains—the cause of the misery of his being and the rope which holds him back from releasing himself from the apathy being all too human.
In the novel, there is the struggle that beheld Citrine’s thoughts about the life of a writer who is on the verge of exploring the unfamiliar terrain of an alternate reality, between the thin line that separates matters of the flesh and matters of the spirit. The struggle in itself is one key in understanding the core of the story, that one can never get away from the feeling of melancholy even at the point where one has reached the pinnacle of success or has been there before, either once or for many instances. At that point, the inquisitive mind develops a strong urge of questioning, that even the most basic facts and strikingly obvious reasons are being suspended for the consciousness of man to rethink things over and to arrive at valuations which one assumes will fix and restructure the frame of his being and to replenish the dried essence of one’s life, sweeping off the dust and grime of such a lethargic feeling that results from the realization that humanity is prone to the nauseating and perilous hazards of the dizzying heights of success and the trenches of human anxiety and fearfulness.
Gandhi tells us to a certain extent that for man to be able to rid himself of the feelings of anxiety and fearfulness, we should relieve ourselves of material things which comes in staggering proportions. The reason to this is that these material things serve as the very root of anxiety and fearfulness that spring from the bosom of man’s primordial dissatisfaction and discontent once he has learned to live with the presence of these worldly objects. Thus, Gandhi could have been right all along that man, in order to emancipate himself from the clutches of mental frailty and physical discontentment, should pluck out whatever it is that restrains him from achieving the full understanding of himself and the being of other people that surround him.
If there is a philosophy in this world which aims at explaining and revealing the details of the mysteries and esoteric foundations and evolution of the world in terms of man’s spiritual aspect or mentality free from the influence and hold of the senses, it has to be anthroposophy. This embodies the possibility of uniting the self with the spiritual realm or the metaphysical world that dwell just beyond the limits of our senses. Citrine appears to be taking the path offered by the thoughts of Rudolf Steiner, that one has to change a part of himself so as to arrive at the realization of the truth. Steiner clearly points out that “a person seeking inner development must first of all make the attempt to give up certain formerly held inclinations. Then, new inclinations must be acquired by constantly holding the thought of such inclinations, virtues or characteristics in one’s mind. They must be so incorporated into one’s being that a person becomes enabled to alter his soul by his own will-power. This must be tried as objectively as a chemical might be tested in an experiment. A person who has never endeavored to change his soul, who has never made the initial decision to develop the qualities of endurance, steadfastness and calm logical thinking, or a person who has such decisions but has given up because he did not succeed in a week, a month, a year or a decade, will never conclude anything inwardly about these truths. (Steiner)”
Thus, if Steiner is right and holds a strong claim for his argument, then Citrine could be very well on his way to attaining the understanding of the truth or that of reality for Citrine has given himself the benefit of relinquishing his former self so as to obtain and incorporate within him the most subtle changes and realizations one may pry on either intentionally or accidentally.