kiri win

Mostly public

This journal is mostly public with some friends-only entries that will primarily be visible to my close real-life friends.

I'm currently in the process of importing my thousand-ish entries from my mammoth Diaryland journal which I have decided to abandon because it's not letting me archive my entries. Hopefully that would be done sooner rather than later.

Leave a comment if you want to be added.
Roger facepalm

Second Tennis League Match

I played my second tennis league match today. I lost 6-2, 7-5.

I really could have won the second set. In fact, I really could have beaten this guy.

But guess what? The universe decided to fuck me over today and conjured up the worst possible weather conditions for me to play in. It wasn't that it was overcast; in fact, the less sun there is, the better, because squinting into the sun makes it hard to see the ball.

No, the problem was this: the wind. And then, as I was serving to stay in the match at 6-5, the heavy rain. And a few minutes after I lost, the rain stopped.

Thank you, English weather, for conniving against me. It was so windy that I really didn't care anymore; I just wanted to get off the court as soon as possible. It wasn't even that I gave up because I was losing; it was that I could not handle the bloody wind and every time a huge gust of wind smacked me in the face, I wanted to cry. I kept it close in the second set, could've broken for 5-4 and then serve for it, but oh my god, I kept missing these returns and the wind kept coming at me and it was just awful.

I know that my opponent had the suffer the wind too, so I'm not making excuses for losing. Still, I really hate playing in these blustery, crazy windy conditions. I hate it. It gets into my head and stays there until the match is over. I tried to stay positive (indeed, I wasn't even losing in the second set until the end), tried to play through the wind, but NO, I simply couldn't handle it.

Apart from that, I love how my groundstrokes take turns to desert me. In my first match, I had no rhythm on my backhand. Today, I didn't hit a single forehand in the sweetspot. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is, I couldn't find my range on the forehand at all. My backhand did all the work today, for which I am grateful because I was getting really frustrated at my poor timing on the backhand when I played with Jay last Saturday.

Above all else, though, I really struggle with players who don't hit conventional shots, who are able to just get the ball over the net. I like playing from the baseline; I don't like having to run forward every other shot. My opponent kept drawing me to the net, where I really don't want to be, because he was able to get the racquet on the ball and send it quite weakly over the net. But that's the only thing we have to do when we play tennis, is it not? Get the ball over the net, keep it within the boundaries of the singles lines. That's it. So why did I keep hitting my returns into the net? Such an idiot, I am. But the point is, unconventional players can beat me quite easily by just getting the ball back and letting me self-destruct. My plan today - my default gameplan, really - was to be aggressive. Hit the ball hard, go for the return winner, just go for it. But I am also awfully inconsistent. I would hit a gorgeous backhand return winner down the line, then hit the next one into the net. I would hit a forehand winner down the line, then hit the next one into the net. You get the idea.

I honestly don't feel very often that my opponent has beaten me. Sure, today's opponent played some good shots, but I think, in theory, my tennis is at a higher level than his. So it was basically me fucking shit up, letting the stupid wind get into my head, being overly-bothered by the wind, not wanting to stick around because of the wind, and making all these dumb-ass errors. Fubbing an easy overhead, as always; indeed, why go for the overhead even? Why not let the ball bounce and put it away with the forehand? Oh right, I forgot, I played without a forehand today.

When am I gonna bridge the gap between what I know I should do and actually doing it? Despite all this, I still love tennis, so I'm gonna post this entry now and set up the next match, then go to the library and finally finish the paper, I hope.
kiri win

The Foundation of Now

I am reading my old entries while having lunch because I am self-absorbed like that, and I came across an entry that I wrote in January 2013 that pretty much formed the basis of my PhD: The challenge of proper reasoning.

This is the whole problem that I am addressing in my PhD:

What's the alternative [theory of rights] that we've been offered by the courts? Community > individual; individual loses. Too bad.

I think it is safe to say that going to the LSE was one of the best decisions that I have ever made in my life. In that regard, Cambridge's decision to reject me for the LLM was one of the best instances of failure that I have ever experienced in my life. If I had been accepted at Cambridge, I probably would have chosen to come here, which means I would have missed out on Dr K's stimulating classes which provoked me into thinking about rights in Singapore and taught me about how to reason properly and clearly. Of course, it is entirely plausible that I would have been exposed to a similar level of stimulation at Cambridge; after all, it is Cambridge. But it is equally true that the LLM syllabus here is more traditional and less experimental than the one at the LSE, and so so I might have found it less stimulating, less provocative, less inspiring. Accordingly, I might not have got a first if I had done my LLM here; and without a first, I would not have been admitted to the PhD programme.

In short, the LSE saved my life.


Is it not true that most, if not all, of our philosophical positions are formed and shaped and constituted by our personal experiences? Life is a philosophical question; and thus, so is the issue of having children. Is life intrinsically valuable, or is it valuable only if it can be lived well, according to the individual's conception of a worthy life? Does it change the story if I concede that most of us don't think of ourselves as agents in this sense, mapping out a particular conception of the good life and spending our lives following through on it? What happens when there is an novus actus interveniens that fundamentally disrupts the agent's capacity for autonomy?

Is life intrinsically valuable? Is it valuable only if I can live it well? Is it valueless if I can no longer live it well?

Four years ago, I didn't think that life was intrinsically valuable, and so I questioned the assumption that life is a gift. Is it really? Camus says that suicide is only true philosophical question. What do you do when you are alive to the absurd - that is, the knowledge of the futility of our efforts at finding meaning in life, of being trapped in a mindless routine of the same thing every day, of Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a mountain, just to watch it roll back down, and repeating the same action for eternity?

I'm not sure what I make of the fact that, four years later, my position on these questions remains the same. If the issue of having children is a philosophical question - and I think that it is - then I have answered it in the negative four years ago.

Religion, then, makes perfect sense. We stipulate the existence of a higher being, an all-seeing, all-knowing God, to solve the existentialist question. But it is because its function is so rationally obvious that I do not believe in its truth.


This is disjointed, incoherent, and does no justice whatsoever to the reasoning skills that I picked up at the LSE. I know there are gaps in what I am writing. But I literally don't have time to develop it further now, as I have to get to the library and finish my paper. Hopefully, the paper contains better argumentation than this entry, yeah?
kiri win

Happy Birthday, Dad

It's my dad's birthday today. I called him on FaceTime while I was in the library last night; it was about 7am in Singapore. I wished him happy birthday. He asked why I was still in the library so late and said to hurry back home as it was late and it could be dangerous. I told him that my room is just 30 seconds away from the library so it was all good.

My mom sent photos of him and his two little pieces of cake today. It made me miss him - and her - very much.

So it's a good thing that I had French class and my homicidal paper to occupy my mind, thereby preventing me from sinking into a state of melancholia.


I have to finish the paper tonight. I think I am on my last point, so if I remained in the library till midnight today, I should be able to do it.

I am honestly incredibly stressed out by the fact that this paper will be read by people other than my supervisor. I know there will be at least 4 others: Tom (the other convenor), Barry (who said he's going), Josh (who's probably gonna go) and W (who also said he's going). John, too, if he's back in Cambridge next week. I am so insecure about the quality and rigour of this paper that thinking about it being read by others makes me rather sick. So I really have to finish the first draft today and give myself the next two days to revise and polish it. Ugh, so much stress.

At the same time, I kind of get off on stress of this nature. Barry and I were in Fitzbillies over the weekend and it was mad crowded as it usually is on the weekends, and we both agreed that we could not deal with that kind of stress - that is, of an endless stream of customers expecting to be served within a certain time period, barely having enough time to take a breather for hours. I couldn't deal with that kind of stress; in contrast, the PhD stress is quite manageable.


French class was fun, as always. We revised grammar. It made me realise that I hate grammar. The Chinese language is great in this regard: it has no grammar. My learning English as a child is also great in this regard: I have no recollection of learning grammar, and I don't know what the grammatical terms mean; it is all intuitive to me. Because it is intuitive, I don't have to learn the rules; I just know them.

But French grammar is such a pain. It is just rote learning, I know, but oh my god, it hurts my brain.


I am feeling really, really, really sleepy, which is very worrying.


I cheated on Fitzbillies today and bought a flat white from the new cafe that opened opposite the Round Church. Matt wasn't working today so there was a high chance that my FB flat white would not be as good, so I thought I would try the new cafe. It's one of those typical hipster establishments, and the aroma of coffee that wafted through the little shop space was rather heavenly.

The coffee, too, was amazing. Just amazing. It hit the perfect blend of milk and coffee, with a suitably delicious sour aftertaste. Unfortunately, I let it sit in the library untouched for 10 minutes while I took a walk around the fellows' garden with Barry, and when I got back to it, it had gone cold and wasn't as nice anymore. So next time I will drink it as soon as it's made to keep the flavour.

I don't foresee myself going there more than going to FB though, if only because this new cafe is further than FB and I can't be bothered to walk all the way there for coffee when I can just cross the road to FB. 3 minutes vs. 5 minutes. I think it makes a difference.


I had a quick chat with Matt yesterday about his uni life. Well, by that I mean I asked him what he studied at uni, and when he said 'film', I said, 'Oh wow, that's really interesting!'

'That's the usual response I get from people,' he said wryly. 'Essentially they mean that it's not a real degree. Well, it's got me really far, hasn't it?'

In actual fact, that was not what I meant; it wasn't even what crossed my mind. What crossed my mind was, 'Wow that's really cool, because there was a point in my life when I thought of studying film, too.'

I was 16, I think, and watching a bunch of movies because I was really into them at the time. But it didn't stick, just like how music didn't stick; the only thing that's stuck is literature. The power and beauty of the written word.
kiri win

(no subject)

I am so incredibly stressed out over this paper that I have to present and discuss with people other than my supervisor on 27 February. I am way behind my mental schedule; I thought I would be done with it by now, but I still have two sections left to write. The worst part is, I don't really understand what the fuck I am arguing. Perhaps it was a bad idea to focus on this new, barely-developed chapter for the discussion group session; perhaps I should have listened to Dr P and submitted Chapter 2, which is way more developed.

But I am sick of Chapter 2 and I was excited about the ideas that Chapter 3 discusses, and so I wanted to take them for a test drive. Now, though, I am just confused. I feel like I am making these obvious arguments that are not even worth making. I feel like my PhD so far lacks serious intellectual rigour. It is very annoying.


I left the library at 12.20am. I foresee that this is going to be happening over the next three days. Joy.

I was, however, distracted by W. He texted me at 11.10pm apologising for taking 3 hours to reply as he was at dinner. I did not have the self-discipline to leave my phone in my room, and definitely did not have the self-discipline to avoid flipping over my phone (which is usually screen-down on the table) every 10 minutes (not specifically to see if he'd replied; just to check for messages in general. I should add that my phone is usually on silent, non-vibrate), and so I saw his message...and replied.

That spurred a back-and-forth that went on for the next hour which obviously distracted me from writing the paper. How silly of me, right?

Some of his messages were quite cute though. I told him that my paper was killing me. He replied, 'Oh no! A homicidal paper! Do not let it kill you - tell it you owe me a drink!!!'

I said that I always write too much. He said, 'You've just got a lot of intellectual love to give [heart-shaped eyes emoji]'

I asked him how he coped with being confused about the points that he wants to make when writing a paper. He said, Rationalise them, etc; 'if you can express them really simply - then maybe they're not the right points. Occam's Razor applied to law.'

'Isn't Occam's Razor about eliminating an unnecessary stipulation from what is otherwise a coherent argument?' (Which, by the way, it is.)

How is that different from what he said? he asked. 'Wouldn't it then be "if you can express them really simply, then they are the right points"?' I replied.

'Can't*. Autocorrect fucked me.'

I found it hilarious. He said he assumed I inferred from the context; I said I assumed he made a mistake. But of course, Super Intellectual W never makes these rookie mistakes; he was even astounded that I posited the plausibility that someone would get Occam's Razor wrong. In the end, I conceded the point.

Then I said that I was going back to my room, and just as I typed and sent the message 'This conversation distracted me from finishing the last sentence', I received his message 'I feel like I've distracted you'. I was very amused by the simultaneity of our messages on this specific question.


Despite the weird and kind-of-shitty second half of our Friday night date and some of the negative feelings that it induced in me, I am looking forward to seeing him on Thursday. The flirty-flirt first half was really fun and I loved discussing literature with him, so I would like to do more of that. I like that I am in full control of Thursday; I told him that I would 1) buy him a drink; and 2) pick a place. I haven't decided where to go yet. I will most likely think about it on Thursday itself.

Also, it was kind of cute, too, during the second half of Friday night when we were in his kitchen talking about how he always carries a bottle of water with him, but in a steel bottle because he doesn't like to produce plastic waste, and I said, 'Isn't it heavy?' and he said, 'It's ok, I'm strong', and I cocked my head to one side (the right) and said, 'Are you?', and he imitated me with this look of amusement on his face, as if he thought it was adorable.

See, silver linings; not all of the second half of Friday night was bad.
kiri win

Some Silver Linings from a Tennis Match

I signed up for this Cambridge Tennis League to play more tennis, and I played my first match today.

All I can say is...I mean, I know that I am a theoretical person, but there are times when one has to ditch the theory and go straight into the practice; or rather, one has to apply the theory to the practice. I would think - indeed, any normal person would - that tennis is such an occasion, but for some reason, my being, my self, my whatever, refused to execute today.

I played with an old man with a granddaughter and I lost 6-0, 6-0. I think this is one of the lowest points of my tennis-playing life, at least judging by the scoreline and what seemed to be a plausible victory on paper.

But here are two reasons why it has not spurred me to quit tennis. The first reason is his playing style. It suddenly hit me when I was trailing 0-3 in the first set that he played with absolutely zero topspin. Every single shot was a light touch of the strings against the ball, sending it skidding over the net, just within the service box, away from me. His entire game is the summation of my biggest weakness that isn't entirely within my control: short slices, balls that skid, balls with no topspin.

I realised this, I tried to deal with it, but I simply couldn't. I couldn't. My serve was actually quite decent (only one double fault) but he just tapped it back over the net and I had no time to get to it. I was dragged into his pace, his style, and I couldn't time my shots, I was rushed into errors, I couldn't set up properly, and he dictated the pace. I realised this (I would've been dumb to be oblivious to what was happening) but I didn't know how to deal with it except to just go for it, hit the shit out of every ball...but of course, the downside to that was that I ended up making loads of unforced errors, primarily because my backhand wasn't clicking at all. I knew this from the warm up and hoped that it got better as the match progressed, but the skiddy balls to my backhand did not help matters at all. I had no time to prepare, I was rushed into lunging at the ball, I was off-balance; I tried to slice a few but it did not work. The only thing that worked were my backhand returns. Even then, I did not mix up the direction of my returns, constantly hitting it down the line and leaving the court wide open for him to hit a clean winner.

So what do I do when I have no time whatsoever to get to the ball? Now I have some theoretical insights to this problem after texting my tennis coach friend Ryan; but during the match, I just tried to hang in there. This brings me to the second reason that I am not quitting tennis over this match: I didn't get down on myself, I wasn't resigned to a loss, not even when trailing 0-3 in the second set; not even when trailing 0-6, 0-5. I hung in there, tried to make something happen, got up 0-30 on his service games, and shrugged and said 'too good' when I couldn't get to his shots. It is extremely hard for me to play against people with unconventional shots; I already cannot deal with short balls against conventional players, let alone really short balls that skid away from me, barely bouncing. I also tend to absorb my opponent's pace, and so if someone is hitting the ball hard at me, I absolutely love it because it allows me to take a huge swing at the ball and redirect the pace.

Today's opponent, however, played with no spin, barely any pace, and kept slicing his backhand. He was essentially my biggest nightmare. There are clearly too many things about my tennis that I have to work on, but the ability to deal with a playing style like this is undoubtedly one of the most pressing. And so I was quite pleased that I didn't give up mentally, that a part of me still believed I could get on the scoreboard even though it looked increasingly unlikely.

So silver linings, right? I think so too.


I started the game quite well though. On 0-15 in his opening service game, I pulled him out wide with a forehand up the line, then hit the backhand to the open court. That was pretty glorious. Too bad I couldn't do more of that.
kiri win

My Irrationality Knows No Bounds

It is 11.56pm and I am in the college library. I literally have not worked till so late in years, not even when I was intensively and intensely re-writing my first year paper last summer.

I don't even have to do this. I don't even need to produce 7,000 words of the next chapter for Tuesday's meeting with Dr P; his 7,000 words was just an arbitrary guideline to which I am not bound.

I currently have 4,279 words. And I take it as a personal challenge to hit 7,000 words for no reason whatsoever, no rational reason at all - except to prove that I can.

I will bloody do it even if it means being here for two more hours and/or producing utter shit. At least I have something to revise if there is shit. It is better than no shit.



I managed to exceed 7,000 words by a little bit, but I definitely cheated. I typed out long chunks of quotes from Appiah's book without stating their relevance to the argument or what I was trying to do with it. I was too tired to pin down the link I want to make between his explication of identity, and Daniel A. Bell's theory of constitutive communities.

Hence, I shall revise this really crappy draft after French class later today. I don't feel particularly pleased at all that I produced a draft because of how crappy it is. I might as well have done nothing, really.

Speaking of French class: as usual, I did not revise anything. I didn't understand at all how time is told in French last week; just like the way they count, it involves too much mathematics for me to grasp immediately. I mean, the word 'minus' is in the way time is told in French. That kind of sums it up, doesn't it?

The last thing - last two things - that I want to say are the following. First, I really did end up giving in to my chocolate craving and bought a chocolate cake from Fitzbillies (or rather, Barry bought me one; he's still paying off the 17 pounds that he owes me for the guest ticket that I booked for B's friend, which eventually went to Will when the said friend cancelled). I tried to resist, I really did; I didn't buy it when I went to get coffee at about 2.30pm. But I found myself thinking about chocolate while I was sitting in the library, trying to write the 7,000 words, and when Barry texted me at 3 asking if I wanted coffee and he's going to get cake, I bloody gave up the resistance. I bought myself cake.

We ate it together in the MCR and I cannot even begin to describe how good - how life-changingly good - the chocolate tasted. It didn't even matter that parts of the cake were a bit too tough or that the sponge wasn't super soft. The whole point was the chocolate fudge. I was in heaven. It was almost orgasmic. I think I need to be realistic about this sugar-free thing, i.e. it is fundamentally opposed to my love for chocolate (and delicious cake, basically). Maybe I should just indulge in it once a week. I exercise so much anyway, and I've increased the time that I spend in the gym much to my chagrin (because working out in the gym is so bloody boring), so surely I need to ingest something to burn at the gym?

Okay. I will see how long I manage to last before thoughts of chocolate threaten to take over my brain. Hopefully it's not shorter than 6 days, or I would really think that I have a problem.

The second thing that I want to say is... I think Matt flirted with me? I went back to FB with Barry to get the cake, and while we were in the queue, Matt emerged from the back room and saw me.

'Back again so soon?' he said. 'Did you miss me?'

I didn't even register what he said, or I would've played along, or said something more direct. I always do, for instance; or Are you flirting with me? Instead, I replied, 'Of course!' and then immediately after that, 'And I really want some chocolate cake.'

'I thought you're doing sugar-free?'

'Yeah, I was...'

He completed my sentence for me: '...until I gave you that piece of cake. So it's my fault then.'

(Writing about chocolate cake is making me think about it, which in turn is making me want to eat it. Oh my god, die already, this horrible craving!)

Yep, the blame falls squarely on his shoulders indeed. But I think it's worth it anyway, all things considered: it made me happy when I was feeling shitty, and it also led to my refining of an anti-Finnis argument, so the ends justify the means in this case, I think.

Anyway, so that was quite cute. He made a cup of latte with cashew milk. I stared at it for a while, wondering what non-dairy milk was in there which prevented latte art and foamed as one circle at the top. He said it was cashew milk and gave me a bit to try.

It was so tasteless. So tasteless. If I really focused on it, I could taste a tiny hint of some nutty flavour, but it was mostly water - exactly like how soy milk is in this part of the world. It is mostly water with less than 10% of soy beans. What a far cry from the rich, delicious soya milk that I get in Singapore, especially the one that my mom makes.

I told him, 'It's tasteless.' Isn't it wonderful how I have this tendency to say whatever I am thinking without considering whether it would come across as rude? Oh well.

I ought to stop drinking coffee with regular milk, but the flat white really doesn't taste like a flat white with non-dairy milk. It has nothing to do with the quality of the milk substitute; it is simply the fact that the coffee and dairy milk mix in a way that brings out a special flavour that non-dairy milk does not bring out. And it is this flavour that I love, this bit of sour after taste, this fragrance of a combination of espresso and milk steamed at just the right temperature...I love this so much that it's almost worth the painful bloating that I sometimes get. Almost, I think, but not quite. But it is so hard to quit it.
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kiri win

I Won at Tennis

Jay and I are so dedicated to tennis that we played early this morning (at 9am) in a the lightly-falling snow; and we didn't get off the court until a little after 11am.

I would've gone on, actually, if it weren't for the fact that it was so cold, and that I think I injured my left wrist due to all the lousy mis-timed backhands which had an especially jarring impact on my frozen left hand. At one point when we were hitting, I thought maybe I would slice all my backhands because it was too much of a tall order to time my backhand properly and it didn't seem like a good idea to keep mis-timing and sending all these bad vibrations through the wrist, up the arm. Alas, my backhand slice is even more unreliable than my topspin backhand (which is actually my better shot when I time it properly).

My left wrist hurts now when I flex it. Now I wish I had brought over these muscle pain sticker packs (I don't know what they're called) that my grandparents gave to me when I was in Taiwan. I really hope the pain goes away tomorrow because I cannot not play tennis; it's one of the few things that keep me sane.

Anyway, tennis was great today. It was great today because, for the first time in a really fucking long time, I won a set. When Jay and I played in the past, I had always chosen to serve first so as to get the service game out of the way; but because my serve is a piece of crap, I always start off getting broken and on the back foot, already trailing and trying to get back into it from the losing position.

Today, I pulled a Federer against Nadal in a grand slam match (I forgot which one though). I chose to receive. (Federer always chooses to serve first when he wins the coin toss, which is why it made such an impression when he chose to receive against Nadal after winning the toss.)

Jay's serve is also weakest part of his game, like me; and the psychological advantage when one starts off a set breaking one's opponent is quite unlike the psychological mess that one is in when one starts off a set being broken by one's opponent. Before I knew it, I suddenly found myself up 4-0. It was crazy. It was so crazy that I inadvertently found myself picturing the finish line, finally winning a set for once; and of course, once I started visualising the end, visualising the victory, the wheels started to come off.

Jay went on to hold for 1-4. Serving at 4-1, I found myself dropping serve when Jay approached the net and killed off these shitty short balls off my racquet that barely made it to the service line. He held for 4-3, and then the pressure was really on.

My service game at 4-3 was quite honestly one of the toughest I have ever played. I don't even remember how it got to deuce, whether I saved any break points or blew all my game points, but I found myself playing multiple deuces, fending off break points, and I had one clear thought in my mind: If I blow a 4-0 lead, I should really fucking quit tennis.

At advantage-out (break point), I saw an opportunity for a forehand up-the-line off his relatively weak return. I cannot begin to describe how clearly in my mind I saw this shot; I knew that I had to take it. I knew that I would make it. In my mind, I saw myself hitting the ball up the line, catching more line than not, before I even hit it. And so when I stepped up to the ball, took a swing at it, directed it up the line, I was not at all surprised to see the ball hitting its target, exactly like I had intended.

This shot right there is the whole reason I play tennis. It was one of the most in-the-zone shots I'd ever hit in my life. There was literally no way I could have messed it up, and no way it could have been returned. It was the perfect winner. And it felt so fucking good.

Unfortunately, I messed up a rather routine backhand a couple of shots after that and blew a game point. Like Andy Murray, I involuntarily yelled out loud at myself; you stupid, you idiot. And then the same thought: If I blow a 4-0 lead... And then more positively, Federer describing his mindset in the Australian Open final: You play the ball, not the opponent.

I think my disproportionately high losing percentage really exposes my weakness of mind, especially given that I have a pretty solid baseline game. Half of tennis is in the mind, which is what makes it so intriguing: it shows your character, how you deal with adversity, whether you're just a shitty quitter. My high losing percentage has certainly got into my head, such that it's become a vicious cycle: I play a set thinking I will lose, when I find myself losing I think, well, how unsurprising, and then I lose. It's got in my head so much that I wasn't convinced at all, leading 4-0, that I could seal the deal.

But you play the ball, not the opponent, not even when a part of this opponent is yourself. So I played the ball. And I found myself holding for 5-3 after that long service game that almost brought me to my knees. And then I thought, I have to break and win now; I don't trust myself to serve it out.

Jay quickly went down 0-40 (a combination of his double faults, poor play, and me swinging quite freely). At 0-40, I received a normal-paced serve to my forehand. I pounced, hit it deep and aggressively cross-court, chased it to the net; and he netted his reply.

OH MY GOD YES FINALLY! Granted, I went on to lose the next mini-set we played 4-2 (first to 4 games) but I didn't care anymore at that point; all that mattered then was that I won that set.

This slight euphoria that I felt, due mostly to the forehand winner on break point, really makes playing in the cold and in the light snow so very worth it. Right now, I don't even care if the rest of my Saturday is completely fucked due to fatigue + a bad night's sleep; my tennis was on point today and I am very happy.

(It wasn't just that winner; it was the way most of my shots really connected with the racquet. Of course, I profited off his errors, but I usually gift loads of points to my opponents with my errors, so it's just the nature of the game. But it feels so good to hit so freely, so accurately, directing the ball as if you are in total control of it. Tennis is wonderful.)


There is a bit of a downer though, for I thought, Who should I tell about my wonderful day at tennis today? Someone who gets it, someone who would be enthused, someone who would say, 'I'm so proud of you.'

Someone, then, who is absent, who is gone, whose role in my life is a gaping hole that I sometimes still struggle to fill. Do I miss the person or the thing? I think I miss the person and the thing.


Why, though? I honestly thought that I would be totally over it by now but that's clearly not the case. This defies all logic and rationality. And it is because I hate these kind of feelings that I wish I could stop feeling entirely.

I couldn't help but think of him when I had to serve drinks at BA yesterday, for it was only a week ago that he was there with me. I was nervous about it, just like I would be nervous bringing someone who was important then to a social event; but I was also excited. My intuition lagged behind the facts; I thought it was sweet when, during dinner, I told him that I hadn't booked anything for the movie that we were talking about watching, and he said, 'Leave it to me.'

I left almost everything (if not everything) to him, didn't I? I responded to his overtures. I followed his lead. I reacted to his show of interest. I didn't say no when he wanted to meet on Sunday after spending hours together on Saturday, even though I was looking forward to spending the Sunday afternoon by myself. I went against my nature and was spontaneous when he texted me at 4pm one day and asked if I could meet him for dinner.

I don't know how I got from saying 'I like him but not enough to be devastated if he fucks off after I tell him about herpes' one day, to 'I really like him and I don't want to not see him' the next day. It doesn't make any fucking sense. None of this makes sense. That I am still affected a week later doesn't make sense. I just want to know what the hell I need to do to not care anymore because this whole shit is really pissing me off.

Oh actually, I know: I need to stop writing this crap, wash the plates, shower, say hi to Matt at Fitzbillies (i.e. buy coffee), and work on my bloody PhD in the library. That is what I need to do.

I wish I could destroy my feelings the way I destroyed Jay's break point with that forehand up-the-line winner. That would be amazing.
kiri win

The Good Life that Goes Well

(I wanted to read the Muriel Spark while having some leftover wine that I nicked from the MCR after pre-drinks - which I had to serve for the last time, thankfully - but after going back to the library at 9.30pm when drinks duty was over and reading more of Appiah, I have all these thoughts that I need to get down. So Miss Jean Brodie's prime and her stories will have to wait.)

The question of the good life and what makes life goes well is one that contemporary (political) philosophers are concerned with. The commonplace that has emerged, at least as far as I can tell, is that we, as rational beings, have the capacity to choose our own conception of the good life, and the ability to live in such a way as to enable ourselves to realise this conception. This, of course, presupposes an autonomous individual who chooses her own ends; the exact specification of the scope of this autonomy has been debated over and over, starting with the communitarian critique of Rawlsian liberalism. So in short, and to over-simplify, there are two conceptions of the autonomous individual. First, the Rawlsian (though this is a bit of an unfair attribution to Rawls, given that he revised his liberalism following the communitarian critique; but it is convenient so let's go with that) individual, standing apart from her ends and her social setting, as if in a blank slate, choosing the kind of life that she wants; Michael Sandel calls this the 'unencumbered' individual, while Charles Taylor, if memory serves, criticises this view of the individual as atomistic. The second conception of the autonomous individual is one that communitarian (loosely-called) philosophers have endorsed, though it is perhaps contentious to call this conception of the self an alternate conception of the autonomous individual. This view, in any event, is the situated individual: she who is situated within her social world, encumbered by everything that makes up her social reality, including the history of her nationality, ethnicity, gender, etc; including her familial obligations. Thus situated, she does not so much choose her ends as she discovers them; this, at least, is Sandel's view. But other communitarian philosophers would probably endorse a conception of the self that more or less varies along these lines.

So perhaps the question arises as to why I call this the communitarian conception of the autonomous individual, for surely she cannot be autonomous if her ends are not chosen, but discovered. Autonomy and choice, after all, go hand-in-hand; to be autonomous is to choose, though not just any choice would do, but a choice that one arrives at after practical reasoning and self-reflection. So this idea of discovering one's ends seems to negate our ability to choose, and so it follows that it is not really a conception of the autonomous individual.

I think Appiah's writings on this issue provides a pretty good account of how we can be autonomous situated selves. Like I said in the entry about his usage of Mr. Stevens to illustrate his point about individuality, though, he doesn't really say anything new or controversial; the point, to me, is pretty self-evident. But what I like about it is the way he puts it so neatly and clearly; and so I will quote it in full before moving on to the two things that I want to say about this.

Living a life means filling the time between birth ... and death with a pattern of attempts and achievements that may be assessed ethically, in retrospect, as successful or unsuccessful, in whole or in part. And the ethical dimensions of the life include both the extent to which a person has created and experienced things - such as relationships, wrosk of art, and institutions - that are objectively significant and the degree to which she has lived up to the projects she has set for herself ... A life has gone well if a person has mostly done for others what she owed them (and is thus morally successful) and has succeeded in creating things of significance and in fulfilling her ambitions (and is thus ethically successful). Your individual identity, your individuality, defines your ambitions, determines what achievements have significance in your own particular life. Your individuality makes certain things a significant part of the measure of your life's success and failure, even though they would not be elements of the measure of success in every life. In my novelist's life - a life that is a novelist's life because I have chosen to make it one - the fact that I have not written that witty and intelligent satire of contemporary urban life ... is a significant failure. My life is diminished by it. In your philosopher's life, the witty and intelligent satire you have written is an accidental thing, adding little to your life's value; and its cost was that you failed to complete the thinking-through of metaphysical realism that would have made your life wholly more satisfactory.

To create a life, in other words, is to interpret the materials that history has given you. Your character, your circumstances, your psychological constitution, including the beliefs and preferences generated by the interaction of your innate endowments and your experience: all these need to be taken into account in shaping a life. They are not constraints on its shaping; they are its materials. As we come to maturity, the identities we make, our individualities, are interpretive responses to our talents and disabilities, and the changing social, semantic, and material contexts we enter at birth; and we develop our identities dialectically with our capacities and circumstances, because the latter are in part the product of what our identities lead us to do. A person's shaping of her life flows from her beliefs and from a set of values, tastes, and dispositions of sensibility, all of these influenced by various forms of social identity: let us call all these together a person's ethical self. (pgs 162-163)
(emphasis in underline added)

The Life that I Have Chosen

In the first paragraph, Appiah's example of the novelist life versus the philosopher life seems to suggest that these two things can't be chosen at the same time by the individual; she is either a novelist or a philosopher, because writing a successful satire about urban life adds little value to a philosopher's life. If she can be both a novelist and a philosopher, Appiah is unlikely to have said that writing a successful satire is accidental to the philosopher's life.

One can contest whether he is right to suggest that we can only choose one lifeplan for ourselves, but that is not the point that I want to make. The point that I want to make is a decidedly less philosophical and more personal one. I read this paragraph in the library and the notion of failure - the failure to write a successful satire - stood out to me. If Appiah's point is that realising or fulfilling the measure(s) of success of the life that one has chosen makes one's chosen life go well, then I cannot help but wonder what it is that I have chosen; the life that I have chosen. I am putting things a bit backwards here; my starting point now is not the life that I have chosen, but the measures of success ordinarily taken to evaluate whether one's chosen life has gone well. In other words, I start not from the premise that I have chosen the life of the philosopher, for example, and I have not done x to fulfil this life, or I have done y which is accidental to this life. No, I start from the fact that I have done x and y, and I wonder what these things say about the life that I have chosen for myself.

The fact that I am doing a quasi-philosophical, theoretical, and barely-legal PhD at the Law Faculty of the University of Cambridge would suggest that I have chosen a particular life for myself. This could be a philosopher's life (though I wouldn't be so full of myself as to call myself a philosopher), a theorist's life, a legal academic's life... But if that is the case, then why do I sometimes feel as if I have not achieved those measures of success that point to the going-wellness of my chosen life? Does this not mean that I did not choose this life as much as I fell back on it? Indeed, it seems as if my ostensible choice was, as Appiah said, influenced by my own history, my social circumstances, the various forms of my social identities. I am doing a PhD in Law because I have law degrees, so it makes sense to do this; I am doing a PhD because I didn't like practice (both domestic and international) and I didn't like working in the government, so the PhD and academia were the logical choice after a process of elimination; and then there's the question of why I chose to go to law school in the first place. I went to law school because I did well for my A Levels and this was what everyone with my grades did with these grades - social conditioning, then. My decision was influenced by my social environment, by the norms set by my sociality. Was I autonomous then? Was I autonomous two years ago when I decided to apply to PhD programmes? Was I autonomous for ostensibly choosing this life?

The reason there is a question mark is because there has always - always - been a nagging sense at the back of my mind that I am not realy doing what I should be doing; and so Appiah's example of the novelist life struck a very personal chord. It seems as if this PhD that I am doing and whatever measures of success will flow from it are accidental to, not definitive of, whether my life is successful; and if I feel this way, it seems to follow from my reversal of Appiah's argument that I have not actually chosen the life that I want. I regard the fact that I have not written anything in more than 8 years, let alone a novel, to be a failure. Why should it be failure if I have ostensibly chosen the legal/theoretical/philosophical academic route? It suggests, then, that I did not choose the life that I really want.

This brings me back to the question of autonomy. I find it hard to disagree with Appiah when he says that creating a life is interpreting the materials that history has given me. But what if I interpreted it wrongly? What if I made a mistake along the way? At what point is it too late to put a stop to this and say that I want a do-over? I suppose he wouldn't object to this; but I wonder how autonomous I really am if, despite feeling like I am not doing what I ought to be doing, I can't imagine doing anything to change that. I can't imagine doing anything but finish this PhD and go into academia. Am I really choosing? Am I choosing, or am I just going with the flow? Or am I choosing to go with the flow?

It seems to me that if I were to really choose, if I were in full control of my autonomy, I would choose a different life; I would choose the novelist life. It is what I have always wanted to do; and writing is the only thing that I have ever been good at, without which I would not be doing a PhD at Cambridge today. But this is why we are not Rawlsian individuals. We cannot separate ourselves from our encumbrances and decide in a vacuum what ends we would like to pursue. If it is too autonomy-restricting to say, a la Sandel, that we discover our ends, then Appiah is right to say that we interpret the materials that history has given us in choosing our own lifeplan.

It is an obvious point, of course. No one would deny this once they really sit down to think about this. But why is it so hard to change course? Why is there such resistance in me, this inertia, this fear of the unknown? Perhaps I have just answered my own question; it's the fear of the unknown. It's also the maybe-false security of the comfortable present.

But there is something to be said about my conception of failure. When I stop to think about it, I really feel as if I have continuously failed and am continuously failing for failing to write, failing to complete a piece of writing, just failing to do what I have always wanted to do. Maybe that's why I write so much in this journal. Or rather: at least I still write in this journal. But it is definitely not the same, and it makes up for absolutely nothing.

Critical Reflection on One's Life

I don't want to sound like an intellectual snob, but these philosophical ideas about a good life and living well aren't really philosophical to me at all; rather, they are so obvious and commonplace that I can't imagine how anyone doesn't think about these things. How can anyone not reflect on what makes their life go well? How can anyone not have a conception of what would make their life go well? The various philosophical conceptions of the self - especially the liberal one - have been criticised for being too idealistic, not matching up to reality, not describing how people actually see themselves. Critics of autonomy say that people don't actually behave like this; they don't critically think about their life, their options, and choosing on the basis of the result of a process of practical reasoning. Most people simply don't think very hard about these issues at all, and so exalting autonomy as the ultimate, or one of the most important, values is misconceived.

The point that I want to make now has little to do with all of that, though I will say that the mere fact that the ideal of the autonomous self doesn't match with how people live is neither here nor there; this conception of the autonomous self is an ideal from which political principles should be derived because it is better to err on the side of caution and confer more rights based on this conception of the individual than less rights based on a 'realistic' conception of the person. But anyway.

The point that I want to make is this. It is very important to me that the person that I date - for good, maybe - critically reflects on his life. In fact, it is very important to me that he realises that nothing about him, what he purports to believe in, his identities, is beyond rational revisability. Because if he thinks that he's answered a moral question and it's case closed and nothing can ever change his mind, then perhaps he's not a very critical thinker after all; and honestly, I just find that really unattractive.

John expressed surprise to me that there are people who have lived their whole lives without any of their views challenged by others. To me, though, it is not surprising at all. To me, that's really the way that the ordinary person lives, and our lives are not of the ordinary in that sense. We talk about these issues because we are doing a PhD on these issues, because we are interested in giving good, proper reasons for a particular substantive moral position. But most people don't think in this way. Most people are happy to accept whatever they have been told and get on with their lives, because life is too short to be serious (on the contrary, I think that life is too short to be unreflecting and...well, dumb; though the shortness or otherwise of life has nothing to do with whether we should reflect and think about important things; indeed, this rather goes to the quality of one's life and not its duration). And so I want someone who isn't like this because I don't want an ordinary person. I don't want someone who doesn't reflect, who doesn't think, who doesn't question the supposed truths that he thinks he believes in. I don't think I can ever respect someone like this. And I don't think there's anything particularly intellectual about the process of critical reflection; it is something that anyone can do if one is minded to do so.

Last week, when B and I had our final conversation, I told him that he was the first person who made me rethink my stance against having religion in my personal life. His immediate response was, 'I don't want to change you.'

But that's not the point, is it? This response suggests that there is something sacrosanct and inviolable about the positions that we have adopted; but the mere fact that we have adopted a certain position says nothing about whether this position was arrived at after a process of critical thinking, or whether it was arrived at on a whim and fancy, and it'd simply stuck over the years, or whether it is even right, or good, or desirable. Why shouldn't all our positions be open to rational revisability? In fact, why shouldn't everything that we do be open to challenge by someone else? There is nothing so special and inviolable about a person's character that shouldn't be changed, especially if there is something about this person's character that is bad, or unsavoury, or self-damaging. You wouldn't tell a drug addict to continue living his life this way on the pretext that you don't want to change him, so why should other aspects of this person's life and convictions be immune to challenge?

My reply to him was that there was no reason why I shouldn't revise a position on something if I have thought about it and realised that my position didn't much make sense, or didn't stem from any kind of critical reflection. That seemed to me to be the case with my stance against religion in my private life; I thought about it and it didn't make sense anymore why it should be a deal breaker when there are things about the religious person that I like, when his values align with my own, when we get along and there is chemistry, and when he doesn't seek to impose it on me. Despite the fact that it didn't work out with B, and perhaps because it didn't work out, I think I learned something pretty important about being open to changing my mind about something. For all the shit I have written so far on uncritical lives lead by uncritical minds, I am rather narrow-minded when it comes to revising my viewpoints. I tend to dismiss too quickly viewpoints that differ from my own, labelling them 'conservative' and thus idiotic, or something equally mean.

But I am straying from the point. One point is this: not wanting to change someone makes sense in the ordinary meaning of the sentiment (i.e. you take your partner as he/she comes, plus people can't really change anyway), but it doesn't make sense when you really think about why a person's beliefs or habits should not be open to challenge and revision. Why should I hold on stubbornly to this ridiculous stance I had against religion in my life if letting go of it would invite a wonderful person into my life? Why should he not tell an ex-girlfriend to stop drinking if drinking too much isn't good for her anyway? Sometimes, we should want to change our partners (and vice versa) because part of a relationship is bettering the person. Of course, this is rather paternalistic, but 1) it's not so bad if it's not imposed by the state; and 2) more seriously, a committed couple should bring out the best in each other, even if it means changing the other party.

The other point is this: critical reflection of one's life. Do we know where we are going with our lives? Do we know what we want? Do I? Maybe I don't, maybe I don't have all the answers, maybe I really shouldn't be doing a PhD in Law; but I know other things. I have thought a lot about why my relationships keep failing. I know the kind of relationship that I am looking for. I know the quality of the life that I want to lead. Maybe I think too much; but I would rather think too much than too little. After all, some dead ancient philosopher did say that 'an unexamined life is not worth living'.
kiri win

Philosophy + Literature = Very Happy Me

Reading the first chapter of Appiah's book brought a huge smile to my face. The reason for that has nothing to do with his arguments or the point that he was making, but his usage of a literary character to illustrate his point about individuality.

His point about individuality is the following. He says that we can develop and pursue a rational life-plan for ourselves even within the confines of what Rawlsian liberals would term oppression, or lack of freedom, or in-built social constraints. Contrary to what some liberals would think, individuality isn't developed de novo, in a vacuum, in an abstract original position situated behind a veil of ignorance (okay, he doesn't explicitly make reference to Rawls' thought experiment, but I think the experimenet captures quite well the idea of an atomistic individual); and contrary to what these liberals think, authentic individuality can be developed by the self situated in his or her social world.

To illustrate this point, he uses Mr. Stevens from Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, one of my favourite books. Mr. Stevens aims to be the best butler that he can be. This, to Appiah, is Mr. Stevens exercising his autonomy to develop and pursue a life plan that makes sense for him, that fits his social world, that plays to the strengths of his identities.

Of course, this point isn't particularly controversial or insightful; it is rather common sensical and self-evident. Appiah doesn't claim to say anything novel in the first chapter, merely seeks to lay the foundation for the arguments that will follow. After spending over a year reading the literature on liberalism vs. communitarianism, his point is also self-evident to me.

So the only interesting thing, the thing that made me smile, was his use of a literary character to illustrate his point. I love it when I catch glimpses of my first love in the reading that I do for my work. Of course, his reading of the character isn't quite what Ishiguro intends, but that is also the beauty of literature: the reader's response to the novel is ultimately personal, and so is her connection with it.

There really isn't anything I find more pleasurable in the world than connecting with an amazing, well-written novel.


On another note, I have been utterly destroyed by the cake that Matt gave me on Monday. Ever since indulging in that piece of chocolatey heaven, I have been craving sweet things like a drug addict. I walk past chocolates on display in supermarkets and cannot help but look longingly at them. My corridormate throws away an empty box of some Portuguese dessert that I'd never seen before in my life and I start imagining how amazing that sweetness would taste in my mouth. I look forward to waking up in the morning so that I can have my Freefrom Sainsbury's muesli for breakfast and savour the sweetness of the raisins in the muesli. How ridiculous.

Today, after dinner, I couldn't take it anymore so I made myself a soy strawberry and bananas smoothie...with a little bit of honey. Is that cheating? Surely it's okay to have some honey if the goal is to abstain from sugary desserts, right? Oh, how sweet the sweetness tastes. Why am I doing no desserts again? The plan was to fit nicely in my Chinese dress for my Chinee New Year formal (which I still need to write about), but that's over already, and I did fit quite nicely into it, so surely I can ditch the abstinence now?

Having said all that, the masochist in me rather gets off on this - on this resisting of temptation, on this pushing my own boundaries of what I can withstand, as if I have something to prove, as if I prove something, by resisting the temptation, pushing aside the craving. It's a bit like resisting the urge for a random hook up despite biology commanding me otherwise; even if I have no good reasons to resist (though I think I have at least two good reasons in this regard), I resist anyway - just because I can.

It is rather perverse, isn't it? It also rather makes me feel alive. I quite like it.


I shall wash some dishes now and head back to the library. It is so bloody cold in there. I can't wait for this dip in temperature to pass; it is killing me!