Thursday, March 26, 2015

It is written...

"Maktub," the merchant said, finally.
"What does that mean?"
"You would have to have been born an Arab to understand," he answered. "But in your language it would be something like, 'It is written.'"
This word is basically equivalent to destiny/fate. Much like the Greek concept of the Moirai with their thread of life, the crystal merchant(and at some moments Santiago) believes that destiny governs everything from chance encounters to suffering. It reminds me of the choose your own adventure books I read when I was in middle school. Based on the choice you make, the destiny is already predetermined. You have many choices, but a cause and effect scenario still exists. For Santiago, all of his choices are leading him down a particular path to find his personal legend. It is a basic human question: Why do I exist? Writers and philosophers would have little to discuss if this question did not burn at the psyche of a majority of humanity. Holden struggles with this same issue in Catcher in the Rye while he suffers from survivor guilt after his brother dies. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Oasis is not a respite from omens

In this section, Santiago meets Fatima, a beautiful young girl. He immediately tells Fatima that he will marry her and surprisingly, Fatima, concedes after talking with Santiago each day when they meet at the well. Perhaps, Fatima is his treasure. She urges him to complete his personal quest and she will wait for him. While discussing the books, the Englishman explains that the “alchemists spent years in their laboratories, observing the fire that purified the metals. They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves.” As a woman of the desert, Fatima understands that in order to understand himself, Santiago must experience his personal legend. If he does not, then he will never be complete. At the end of this section, Santiago watches as two hawks attack each other and he visits the chieftans to tell them about his vision. According to the camel driver, the tribal leaders are skilled in the way of omens. Santiago thinks that his vision is a harbinger of war approaching the oasis. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Soul of the World...tapping into the universal language or every self-help book you have ever read

"I have watched the caravan as it crossed the desert," he said. "The caravan and the desert speak the same language, and it's for that reason that the desert allows the crossing. It's going to test the caravan's every step to see if it's in time, and, if it is, we will make it to the oasis" (Coelho 79).

In this section, there are many references to the importance of understanding the universal language. Santiago understands that intuition is connected to the "universal current of life"  and the Englishman suggests that this current is called the "Soul of the World." Much like Jung's collective unconscious, every thing on the earth has a soul and is undergoing a continuous transformation that is linked with all other souls of the earth. Whitman says in "Leaves of Grass" that "every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you." Therefore, elements are intertwined with each other. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Emerson...

In order to succeed at finding your Personal Legend, you need to be open to the universal language a.k.a omens. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Philosopher's Stone...Did I miss Hogwarts Express?

Alchemy-[al-kuh-mee] -a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding universal solvent and an elixir of life.

Up until this point, I had forgotten that the book was called, The Alchemist, because there have been no references to the title. After leaving his work with the crystal shop merchant, Santiago has enough money to buy new sheep and return home. However, he decides that he still must see the pyramids and the treasure while he has the chance. Santiago joins a caravan to the desert and this is where he meets the English alchemist who has joined the caravan because he seeks to find the Philosopher's Stone aka the Elxir of Life aka a 200 year old man who can turn any metal into gold. After his experience with the cyrstal merchant, Santiago realizes that not every person who realizes his personal legend wants to fulfill it. Although the crystal merchant says that his is going to Mecca, he believes that if he fulfills this dream then he will have no reason to live. I think the crystal merchant's dream is to be rich and famous. When Santiago helps him get his business flourishing again, the crystal merchant seems content and won't travel to Mecca even though he has enough money to make the trip. Perhaps, he is afraid that his dream will be a disappointment. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fate or Free Will?

At the end of Part 1 after Santiago meets the crystal merchant, his perspective returns to a more fatalistic view. His mood had been more optimistic when he looked for the omens to confirm his choices and coax him into believing that his life-altering decisions had not been in vain. Initially, he had desired to work for the crystal merchant to get money so he could make it to the pyramids because the money he received from the sale of his sheep was stolen. However, when the crystal merchant tells Santiago that he could work for a lifetime and still never make enough money to visit the pyramids, Santiago experiences a "moment of silence so profound that it seem[s] the city [is] asleep." It seems as if his story has come full circle when he exclaims that he "needs money to buy some sheep." Santiago must have felt like Sisyphus as he rolled the boulder up the hill only to witness it return to the bottom every time. The crystal merchant also feels stuck in a relentless cycle and fears that his life course is set because "he ha[s] been in the same place for 30 years" as the result of choices he made as a young man. Perhaps, the crystal merchant is another omen for Santiago or a guide for his journey.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Nugget of wisdom

This quote surmises what happens on pages 1-30. The old man suggests to Santiago that to "realize one's destiny is a person's only obligation." Santiago is at this moment in his life: he must realize his "Personal Legend." This quest for realization consumes the young shepherd which reflects the old man's observation: "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."  This is similar to the concept of intuition: the weird and strange inclinations we have without rational explanations. I like to describe the universe's conspiring as a feeling of restlessness much like the one young Santiago is experiencing. Whenever I am not where I need to be(in a cosmic sense of course, not literally), I feel a bit unbalanced and like I am constantly struggling to regain that balance. It is reminiscent of the way Holden Caulfield describes walking across the road and feeling like he is disappearing: an unsettling, irritating harbinger. Perhaps, this quote foreshadows Santiago's quest for his "Personal Legend or it may just be the ramblings of the mysterious old man.

Why I chose The Alchemist

I chose The Alchemist because it always shows up on the AP list and I have never read the book. I am about 20 pages in and I don't like it quite yet. I hope it will get better. The whole pastoral shepherd motif is troubling.