Wednesday, January 27, 2010

El Meson. Jalan Telawi, Bangsar, KL. Lunching with Immanuel.

(non halal)

Ever since I was in Primary School, in a little backwater coastal town, I was fascinated by history and literature. We had a starfruit tree in the front yard, and a lot of sleepy afternoons were spent lying on one of the branches, lullabied into a dreamy reverie by the gentle sea breeze. As my eyelids grew heavier, I always thought to myself. What if all of this is not real, and I am just a part of somebody else's dream, or am I dreaming now myself. What is reality? How does my brain will my little finger to bend? What if there was only nothingness and emptiness and darkness? I voiced my questions to my best friend in school, (Isa, if you are reading this, don't snigger) he said I was mad.

Interior of El Meson. Rustic and warm.

In my teen years, I discovered a subject known as Philosophy which attempts to address these questions. In fact, the Mathematician, Descartes wrote extensively on this problems and of course a very clever film maker made tons of money from The Matrix. I do not wish to bore you guys with Descartes, Putnam and Plato or technicalities, but try to Google "Brain in a vat" and read some very interesting arguments on Cartesian Dualism and Putnam's causal constraint.

Philosophy has also taught me to question a lot of things and help put things into perspective. Courses on ethics make me realize that most people do not know what they are talking about when they talk about ethics and morals. Please join Michael Sandel's course on Justice free of charge, right in the front row of Harvard University. You can appreciate what a good and interactive lecture he gives and why his course is one of the most sought after at Harvard. There is also an interesting forum at his site for you to discuss his lectures, plus assessment tests!

There is also Philosophy of Aesthetics. What makes music, art or even fragrance good? What is good literature? Why is some art repulsive or obscene? Why does a mother encourage her teenage son to view Botticelli's Birth of Venus at the Uffizi, yet shields him from a bare breasted playboy centrefold?

When I was El Meson, I heard a couple of tracks from Bebo & Cigala's Lagrimas Negras album. Take the Gypsy Kings, put it through a strainer and compress it to get the essence and mix it with a Quartet of Piano, Double Bass, Trumpet and Percussion. Why does Cigala's beautiful wailing move to to tears and make me smile at the same time? Flamenco is distinctively Spanish. Yet the Phrygian Tonal Modes and the undeniable Arabic influences has made it into an exclusively "Spanish" music. Any visitor to Spain will be able to see the influences the Moorish have left in the country. An interesting observation would be the commonly used expression "ojal√° que", which means "if it is God's will". It is derived from Insha' Allah.

Another dish from Meson is Gambas al Ajillo. Prawns sauteed with chilli and garlic. Beautifully succulent, large prawns sauteed in Olive Oil with garlic and chilli flakes. It tastes almost like Chinese fried prawns. Is the dish Spanish or Chinese? Does it matter?

Ontology which is a branch of Metaphysics which studies the basic categories and relations, whether the entities exist or do not exist and it's hierarchies. Terribly dry, and did not appeal to me at all, just like the next dish.

The Honey Iberico came highly recommended. But the one I had was too charred and although the meat had a nutty flavour to it, the overcooking rendered the meat tough, which is a pity because Iberico is considered the Wagyu equivalent of pork.

My favourite philosopher is Immanuel Kant. He is part of the German Enlightenment philosophers that included Schopenhauer, Hegel and Nietzsche. In 1784, he wrote an essay entitled "What is Enlightenment?". I would lile to share it's opening passage here:

"Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] "Have courage to use your own understanding!"--that is the motto of enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance (natura-liter maiorennes), nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. "

This was written in 1784. But isn't it amazing how it is still relevant 250 years later? The full text is available here. Reading it will only take 10 minutes.

The Piquillos stuffed with minced pork and beef was exquisite. The pepper itself was sweet and slightly spicy and had been slightly roasted before it was stuffed. Beautiful and fresh it is a source of amazement to me that this could be found in KL.

When I first discovered Kant, it was also a source of amazement to me as well. If you have a vision of Kant being a godless, degenerate and hedonistic Philosopher you will be in for a surprise. He is a pietist, which is a movement within the Lutheran movement and is particularly austere. He himself led a very simple, disciplined and frugal life.

"But would a society of pastors, perhaps a church assembly or venerable presbytery (as those among the Dutch call themselves), not be justified in binding itself by oath to a certain unalterable symbol in order to secure a constant guardianship over each of its members and through them over the people, and this for all time: I say that this is wholly impossible. Such a contract, whose intention is to preclude forever all further enlightenment of the human race, is absolutely null and void, even if it should be ratified by the supreme power, by parliaments, and by the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot bind itself, and thus conspire, to place a succeeding one in a condition whereby it would be impossible for the later age to expand its knowledge (particularly where it is so very important), to rid itself of errors,and generally to increase its enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature, whose essential destiny lies precisely in such progress; subsequent generations are thus completely justified in dismissing such agreements as unauthorized and criminal."

You have to forgive his writing style. It is terribly convoluted and bad. He means to say that the people who hold power in a religious organization, in this case the church, cannot bind it's believers to a particular interpretation of the bible for eternity. As a society progresses, our knowledge and capacity for knowledge changes.

The Octopus Salad was disappointing. The amount of octopus i barely detectable and was soft and mushy. Serrano Salad was as good as the Ham, and Natillos with Chocolate mousse was unremarkable.

The Gutenberg Printing press led on a mass dissemination of knowledge that led to the Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe where the old order was destroyed. The Catholic Church resisted the change and never realised that frightening the masses with the bogeyman of Hell and Satan did not work anymore. It did not reform itself when challenged with Luther's Theses at Wittenburg and lives to suffer the consequences until today.

"A prince who does not find it beneath him to say that he takes it to be his duty to prescribe nothing, but rather to allow men complete freedom in religious matters--who thereby renounces the arrogant title of tolerance--is himself enlightened and deserves to be praised by a grateful present and by posterity as the first, at least where the government is concerned, to release the human race from immaturity and to leave everyone free to use his own reason in all matters of conscience."

We are now facing a second wave of information explosion. We are connected to information everywhere. Our phones have data packages. Our ipod touch and soon to be launched ipad is connectable to the internet. Starbucks and even Mamak shops attract customers by offering wi-fi services. There is no way you can stop a person from thinking and deciphering the assault of information available out there in the internet. It is a change or be changed scenario now.

And one last quote from the essay,

"Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom; and the freedom in question is the least harmful of all, namely, the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters. "

My journey in Philosophy has not been easy. It is one fraught with more questions than answers. But as someone close to my heart once remarked, it is the journey and the questions that are important, and not the answers. And I agree. I would not want to be led by my nose all my life and be told what is good or bad by accepting it blindly, nor delude myself that I already know everything there is to life just by accepting blindly what was written in a book. I will not allow my feelings to overcome reason and I will never ever delude myself that whatever selfish motive I have is for a greater cause.

I hope this little post which had barely scratched the surface of Philosophy have not scared you away from my blog, and sincerely wish all readers would take the journey of enlightenment, free from any encumbrances of what we have been told or taught and to start thinking for ourselves and maybe inspiring a few daring souls, to attempt to read philosophy.

All the quotes in BOLD letters are from Kant's Essay, "What is enlightenment?". Link above.

My lunch while musing about Immanuel Kant's essay after reading the newspaper was at:

El Meson
61 Jalan Telawi
Kuala Lumpur

Tel: +


thenomadGourmand said...

i think i spent 30mins of my sleepless night on this post..and while I hv to admit I may not understand all, the points here did got me ways reflect on issues tht I never did. TQ.

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

i hearted some of the food i tried in el meson but heart ur damn deep thoughts even more..

cant seem to think kant and kan..almost there hor?

Paprika said...

Damn PA, your posts never fail to make me feel like a bimbo! lol. But I really love them all the same. Now if I could only say the same for the food eh?

minchow said...

250 years ago and we still haven't caught up, what good is philosophy if we insist on placing them in some inaccessible cloud thousands of feet above us. Here's to each and every of our personal journey with philosophy.

Paranoid Android said...

@TNG: Thanks for your inspiring comment!.

@Joe: One letter off, comparing his name, but many numbers off from his intellect lor.

@Paprika: Who says you are a Bimbo? I will scald him/her with Carbonara.

@Min: Thanks, Angel. Let's make tham accessible!

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