Buzzati-Induced Rant

This was one of the most depressing books I read in the past few months to be totally frank. Not to say that it wasn’t good (well written), but Drogo’s life is the exact opposite of what we all want our lives to be. He lives out his entire life waiting for a single moment of glory which comes too late. He doesn’t marry and dies forgotten in an unknown inn, wishing he could turn back time. However, he is not alone. Many others at fort Bastiani meet the same fate while waiting for an invasion to the north by the elusive tartars [1]. The myth captivates many, stealing away their opportunities and youth. Early on they trick themselves into believing that the invasion could come any time and that their golden years of glory will come soon. Being young, they have an indefinitely long future ahead of them, so it seems reasonable to wait in the fort for life’s promised goods. However, life promises nothing, and many die old and bitter including Coronel Filmore, Ortiz, and Drogo.

If you read Tim Park’s introduction, Throwing Down a Gauntlet, you’ll find that Buzzati’s work is loosely related (supposedly) to some modernist or postmodernist [2] works, including Kafka. It has something to do with the meaninglessness of modern jobs (think bureaucratic office) and the loss of a collective vision (or at least understanding that it is an illusion). I think that it works best as a cautionary tale about putting off life, though. Simply put, Drogo keeps putting off life to the point where time leaves him in the dust, and he is unable to live the life he had envisioned. Isolated from society and his own past [3], Drogo begins to forget who he is. When he returns to his hometown, he finds that most of his friends have moved on and are living vibrant lives with important careers. Aside from slight aging, he hasn’t changed a bit. His brothers have moved away, and he doesn’t feel the same emotional connection to his girlfriend anymore. He’s lost the mannerisms of his city and feels like a stranger in his ancestral home. Even though he’d told himself he would not return to the fort, he decides to return—a death knell to his future. On his next leave his friends will remember him even less and eventually he will be like any other officer to them.

Reading this was somewhat painful to me (it put me in a foul mood) because it hits close to home. I tend to feel that during the pandemic I’ve been putting off life. I should not have stayed home the entire time, but I did because of short-term comfort. I thought maybe I’d go somewhere for the summer but I stayed home. I tried to rent an apartment in the fall with Andy and Edgar, but we decided not to. Two months turned into five turned into nine, and it all feels like it whizzed by and I’ve come out the other end feeling worse than before. I tried a “digital detox” so to speak for a couple months, where I stopped using social media such as Youtube, Facebook, etcetera. This was not a terrible idea, but the timing was not smart (though, cutting out Youtube was brilliant); also, it meant I had to expend more effort to socialize, which was quite bad because it cut down on my social life in a big way. I feel that many of my MIT ties have weakened considerably; this is something I really want to improve on going forward; it is imperative. Before MIT I had passion and a vision for the future, and even on into sophomore year I still had it, but now I feel dull. I didn't really want to work for Nvidia or Fractal. I sort of pushed myself into it to have something to do so I could gap. I wanted to hit “pause” so I could live MIT campus life to its fullest. Perhaps gapping was a good idea, but I should have not thought of it as a “pause.” Since I psychologically understood that these endeavors were only temporary stop-gap measures, I was not motivated to perform to my fullest, and it shows [4]. Now I need to get my mental picture together. I’ve abandoned many activities (music production, taekwondo, bitcoin club, LAing, research, etc…) over the past year and a half or so to make space for the wildly important and avoid logistical stupidity [5], but I haven’t done as good a job of filling up the void I’ve left (especially for Taekwondo, especially during the pandemic). I need to stop waiting and go do what I want.

Another time I put off life was, to a lesser extent, in high school (maybe even middle school). My delusion was professional gaming. As less activities were forced on to me over time, I began to put more belief into this delusion [6]. However, around Junior year I realized how much of a fool I had been, with college apps coming up. With an air of excited desperation I changed gears to do hackathons, economic competitions, etcetera. Finally I began to achieve. This momentum is partly what propelled me through the beginning of MIT [7].

Anyways, after such a long period of not living life to the fullest, albeit intermittently actually doing so, I’m quite tired of disappointing myself. Also, slowly but surely I’ve gotten critical mass to be able to do things myself: I can drive, I have some money, I can find jobs, I have friends at MIT and still some from high school (our ibsen group primarily) who I'm willing to reach out to, and I’ve gone through the process of renting an apartment at least once. All I need now is to not be a wuss and expose myself to positive black swans. Unbounded gain from bounded loss is my new religion. I do not want to become Drogo (oof).

PS in situations of partial information you can’t expect to win more than half the time.

[1] There is a fort at the mountainous Northern border of a nation called fort Bastiani. It defends the nation from any threats that may come from the north, including the legendary Tartars and an unfriendly, unnamed northern nation. (return)

[2] Maybe more like surrealism or absurdism. I pick on modernism and postmodernism due to their depressed attitude about life. What is important is that Buzzati’s work depicts the clockwork of meaningless bureaucracy and regulations as well as the general meaninglessness of life when it is stripped of “the great collective illusions—religion and national destiny” according to Tim Park. (return)

[3] He’s geographically isolated from the city where he grew up in, and also he is psychologically isolated. The social bubble at fort Bastiani is composed of unpleasant people like Tronk, whose only friends are the rules and regulations because there is nothing better to latch meaning onto, bitter and/or regretful old men who realize they’ve wasted their lives on a dream, and a few friendly young officers who either buy into the Tartar delusion or leave as soon as possible. However, everyone is tied together by the monotony of life at fort Bastiani. The endless monotony that sucks the life out of everything and reinforces the illusion of the Tartars since there is nothing else to believe in. (return)

[4] Partly as a reminder to myself... this doesn’t mean I’ve been doing nothing! I built a multiplayer card game, finally succeeded for good with no-fap, which I’d been trying with trial and error for around a year or two previously, built a couple discord bots, completed two internships, got into decent swimming shape once more, started this blog, and read a lot of books (for which I wrote reviews/summaries). The second one is actually a biggie since it was a little bit of a psychological blocker for a couple years. My inability to stop caused great shame and pained me tremendously.I was for a little while able to break out of my shell at MIT (finally), but combining that awkwardness with the shame this brought was unbearable and led me inexorably back in. However, I know that the awkwardness is surmountable alone, and now I’m at the point where it is alone, which is really good. I can become who I want to be (no more BS about who I “should be” since that toxic line has not hindered me for a while now… it’s too backwards-looking). (return)

[5] Early on into my MIT career I tried to do too much, because at Harker I had done “so little” in my narrative of the time. This meant that I got nothing relevant done and began to feel incompetent. (return)

[6] Which reminds me, I think one delusion I had during the pandemic was that I would self-teach myself math, or physics, or who knows what and suddenly come back with magnified abilities. This did not happen, and is not likely to happen and I knew it deep down (I’ve gotten all these technical books since high school when I thought they’d help me get into college somehow and never read them). (return)

[7] The problem with gaming for me was primarily that I played solo queue, so I was somewhat isolated. This compounded over time, and eventually when I did get into MIT (before going) I slacked off my life for a good entire semester. I still look at our class photo from senior year sometimes when I am at home and yikes. You can find me in some remote corner with a blank expression and overgrown hair. All I knew for those last couple months was Overwatch. What a mistake, but I honestly don’t care because it’s puny compared to everything else. Also, it’s in the process. Now I know, and back even when I was doing things I didn’t know. I did them because I believed I had to. (return)