Austerlitz & Adorno & Cabaret

Last seminar we discussed a lot of interesting things, but one of the things I found most interesting was our many varied responses to the quote from Theodor Adorno, “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbarism”. As a class we offered pros and cons and potential interpretations to this quote, but some of the most important things (I think) that were brought up were first the idea that it is important to use art as a way to remember and be conscious of the past while still moving forward from it, as well as the blurring between history and fiction that occurs when fictional characters embody the stories of true events.

This reminded me of a production of the musical Cabaret that I saw recently. Similar to Sebald’s approach with Austerlitz, one doesn’t quite realize the story’s connection to the Holocaust until towards latter half of the play in the second act. The show takes place in a cabaret in Berlin the early 1930s, on the precipice of the fall of the Weimar Republic – exhibiting the remnants of the “dancing on the edge of the volcano” attitude.  In the opening of the show (0:40-2:30 in the video below), the Emcee encourages the audience to leave their troubles at the door because in the cabaret, “life is beautiful, the girls are beautiful – even the orchestra is beautiful”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KW5eFCFnW9c (embedding was disabled on this video for some reason)

Both the audience and the characters leave their troubles at the door, but soon the reality of the polotical situation becomes undeniably present in their lives. While nothing is explicitly addressed, the audience has a sense of what the outcome will be. The closest to a direct reference to the Holocaust that is made in the play is in the final scene, linked below, though the ending is left somewhat to the audience’s interpretation and each production stages the ending slightly differently.

In the finale, the Emcee entertains the audience until the very last moment when he removes his coat to reveal his striped pajamas. In the specific production that I saw, silent figures representing nazi officer were shown applauding after the Emcee said “auf wiedersehen” and gave his final bow, suggesting that the cabaret performers wound up in a camp like Theresienstadt where they were then performed for their lives – similar to what may have happened to Austerlitz’s mother. Though they take place on opposite points in time in reference to the Second World War, both Cabaret and Austerlitz take the audience/reader on a guided tour through an artistic and beautiful story taking the weight of focus off of the atrocities that occurred while not forgetting them all together.

My main question is: do you think that creating fictional characters in a difficult historical period in similar situations to true events, as Austerlitz and Cabaret both do to an extent, helps to inform the collective perception of the holocaust or do they lean towards romanticizing the events?

*Note: since I didn’t end up posting this before seminar I figured I might as well include some of the responses we generated in our seminar. I think a point was made that Sebald very deliberately avoids talking about the Holocaust directly, and that his approach to leave space for the voices of those who did really experience it to be heard allows him to be safely within the boundary, though he does so in a way that does rely somewhat on the reader’s likely romanticized preconceptions of the Holocaust. I feel that Cabaret on the other hand is a lot closer to the boundary and has more potential to romanticized, depending on the particular production – the one that I saw I felt was very conscious of this and therefore was more in-line with Sebald’s technique of not hitting you over the head with the facts of the event. Instead they both give small suggestions here and there before turning around and returning to their narrative, leaving “ghost images” that the reader/audience creates in their mind.

Something that Professor Mota pointed out was that Theodor Adorno likely used this quotation “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbarism” as a question or as a challenge to artists, and rather than saying that it shouldn’t be done he is really asking “how are you going to create art after Auschwitz? How is it going to be move forward without ignoring the past?” I think these two works both successfully explore the possibilities of this challenge.

Humpty Dumpty and the Great Fall

For some reason, I found the Humpty Dumpty/egg motif in City of Glass really interesting. At first I thought it was just a humorous idea put in to make Peter Stillman Sr sound even crazier, but the egg motif continues to reoccur after that, and as was brought up in seminar Humpty Dumpty himself shows up frequently in panels towards the end of the graphic novel. In the novel, Peter Stillman Sr calls Humpty Dumpty “the purest embodiment of the human condition” while he is describing his theories to Quinn, making the connection that humans, like eggs, have not yet reached their full potential (Auster 127). Stillman calls him a “philosopher of language”, quoting a passage from Through the Looking Glass,

Humpty Dumpty page from Lewis Carol's "Through the Looking Glass"

Humpty Dumpty page from Lewis Carol’s “Through the Looking Glass”

“‘When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less. The question is, said Alice, whether you can make words mean so many different things. The question is, said Humpty Dumpty, which is to be master – that’s all.’“ (Lewis Carrol as qtd by Auster 127). Throughout the rest of this chapter and the next, Quinn makes many other comments relating to eggs – “you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs” (150) – even going so far as writing a list of all the egg-related phrases he can think of in his red notebook (197). The more the Humpty Dumpty and eggs get referenced by Quinn, the less clear their meaning becomes to the reader. In the graphic novel, however, Humpty Dumpty takes on a second layer of meaning in that its recurring presence almost seems to be taunting Quinn with the memory of his late son. Considering this, I decided to do my own detective work and see if there were any other meanings to be found in the use of Humpty Dumpty and eggs in the novel.

The origins of “Humpty Dumpty” as a nursery rhyme are hard to place and with a quick Google search I ran into multiple theories. Some say that the character of Humpty Dumpty was a reference to King Charles I and his great fall from power leading to his execution. Others argue that Humpty Dumpty refers to a large cannon used in a civil war in England that caused the wall of St Mary’s Church to fall down during battle. It wasn’t until Lewis Carrol’s novel Through the Looking Glass that Humpty Dumpty was depicted as an egg. Peter Stillman Sr theorizes that Humpty Dumpty “sketches the future of human hopes and gives clues to our salvation: to become masters of the words we speak, to make language answer our needs” and goes on to say that “all men are eggs … we exist, but we have not yet achieved the form that is our destiny” (128). Further, he says that men are fallen creatures as is illustrated in the book of Genesis, and Humpty Dumpty has also fallen. Then there is the story of Columbus’s egg – “when faced with the problem of how to stand an egg on its end, he merely tapped slightly on the bottom, cracking the shell just enough to create a certain flatness that would support the egg when he removed his hand” (129). According to Stillman, Columbus sought paradise when he discovered the new world of America, and with Stillman’s contributions it will become paradise. Perhaps the phrase “you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs” suggests that humanity can’t reach its full potential without making some sacrifices along the way. Or maybe at this point Quinn cracks.

Either way, the more thought I put into this particular motif the more I realized that it is not the point. “In the good mystery there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant. And even if it is not significant, it has the potential to be – which amounts to the same thing” (15). These details have the potential to be significant, but are not. It turns out that Auster subtly points this out right on the first page – “the question is the story itself, and whether or not it means something is not for the story to tell” (7).

Hitchcock & Carter – Mirror Mirror

I found our discussion on mirrors in Hitchcock’s Vertigo last day in seminar very interesting, but I felt a bit of deja vu for some reason and I couldn’t figure out why. In particular, the scene in Judy’s hotel room:

Judy in Mirror; Vertigo. Hitchcock, Alfred. Time stamp: (approx) 1:36:53

Judy in Mirror; Vertigo. Hitchcock, Alfred. Time stamp: (approx) 1:36:53

In lecture, it was described as the true Judy being split into two parts by Scottie’s gaze – the “independent, common yet rational Judy” is the real Judy, standing in fron of the mirror. She isn’t what Scottie wants, but the “helpless, aristocratic unstable Madeleine [is], whose possibility reappears in the mirror”. It is at this moment in the film, after looking at herself in the mirror, that Judy begins to give in to Scottie – after perhaps seeing herself as he sees her. After thinking about the scene in that way I finally realised why i found it so familiar:

“I saw him watching me in the gilded mirrors with the assessing eye of a connoisseur inspecting horseflesh, or even of a housewife in the market, inspecting cuts on the slab. I’d never seen, or else had never acknowledged, that regard of his before, the sheer carnal avarice of it; and it was strangely magnified by the monocle lodged in his left eye. When I saw him look at me with lust, I dropped my eyes but, in glancing away from him, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. And I saw myself, suddenly, as he saw me, my pale face, the way the muscles in my neck stuck out like thin wire. I saw how much that cruel necklace became me. And, for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.”

– The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter

While the two scenarios aren’t necessarily the same, Vertigo’s plot being far more complex and the relationship in the bloody The Bloody Chamber far more problematic, there is a similar feeling to the situations. I feel like it was this type of situation that Angela Carter was trying to exaggerate in her stories in order for people to notice the potentially problematic things that often go over our heads.

*sidenote: Carter’s book was published in the late 70s and Mulvey’s article in the early 70s – I wonder if they ever discussed this, I feel like they would have gotten along.

 

Carter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber, and Other Stories. New York: Penguin, 1993. Print.

Liebalng, Jason. “Mulvey, Hitchcock, Vertigo.” Prezi.com. 01 Mar. 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

Vertigo. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. James Stewart and Kim Novak. Paramount Pictures Corp., 1958. Shomi. Web.

Nosferatu and the Uncanny

 

So it took me an inappropriately long time to write this blog post, probably because I spent far too much time trying to figure out how I could reference one of my favourite SpongeBob episodes without revealing that I am secretly a twelve year old boy. Here’s the best that I could come up with:

First off, I know a lot of people weren’t thrilled at the idea of watching silent films but I was one of those weird people who was actually kind of excited. Sure, they had a tendency to get a little slow sometimes when you had to stop and read all the intertitles, but all in all I thought they were like watching a really cool piece of history unfolding before your eyes.

In seminar we talked a little bit about the uncanny elements of the films, why they were uncanny at the time, and why audiences today may not see them as uncanny in the same way. (Also, Bruno already wrote a great blog post about this topic last week, so I won’t go into it too much here). What I am interested in discussing further however is the elements of the films that can still be seen in modern films, and what it is that makes them worthy of being repeated.

Again, we discussed in seminar certain elements of the films that we noticed in modern films, such as the parallels between The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and many of Tim Burton’s films, especially Edward Scissorhands. One scene where this particularly stood out to me was the scene where Cesare the Somnambulist is kidnapping Jane; the contrast between Cesare all in black with eerie makeup and Jane in her white nightgown reminded me instantly of the image of Edward Scissorhands (played by Johnny Depp), all in black with eerie makeup, hugging Kim (played by Winona Ryder), also dressed all in white. (I couldn’t find the exact picture I was looking for, but look it up and hopefully you’ll see what I mean).

However, the film that I most wanted to talk about was Nosferatu. While watching this film I felt an uncanny sense of déjà vu. I knew that this film was essentially the first film version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but it wasn’t until the lecture that I found out that it was unauthorized. This made the film make a lot more sense to me, because I’ve read Bram Stoker’s Dracula many times and was thrown off by the details that were changed in the film for what I thought had been no reason. I also found it really interesting how there were so many classic horror film clichés exhibited in Nosferatu, because at this time these techniques were brand new. The door to the castle opening and closing for the victim as if of its own accord, the dramatic organ music being played and the monster in the black cloak are all elements that would have been new and uncanny at the time, but now have become almost comical.

One place where this example can be found is in this clip from one of my favourite episodes of SpongeBob Squarepants, called “Graveyard Shift”, which is probably one of the reasons that I was excited to watch Nosferatu in the first place. (I told you my inner twelve year old boy would come out).

 

Lt. Gustl – Well, that escalated quickly…

Lieutenant Gustl is a story written completely in interior monologue, and was the first novel of the sort to be published. In this style, the reader gets to know the setting solely as it is described by the protagonist, Gustl, and we are exposed to his views and biases. This story also differs from other stories in that the protagonist undergoes almost no character development throughout the course of the circular plot line – most of which is spent on the Lieutenant deciding to commit suicide after a confrontation that had many readers thinking, “well, that escalated quickly”. While it can seem that there is nothing going on in this story, there is actually a lot being said.  Lieutenant Gustl is a character quite opposite from the author, Arthur Schnitzler, who was a Jewish Doctor who was involved in the military.  With this in mind it is much easier to understand the satirical comments being made throughout the novel underneath its dark comedy.

All this being said, is Lieutenant Gustl an effective work of satire? Was this story an effective way for Schnitzler to convey his views of Viennese culture and anti-Semitism?

Nathanael the German Romantic

While writing my essay on the German short stories this past weekend, I reread E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman” and made some connections that I hadn’t previously noticed. Throughout the story, the main character Nathanael’s love of creative writing and poetry is referenced, mostly in relation to how his love interests react and respond to his work. Nathanael writes a poem for Clara in which on their wedding day the “terrible Coppelius appears and touches Clara’s lovely eyes, which start from her head and penetrate Nathanael’s breast like bloody sparks” (71). After revisiting Professor Lieblang’s lecture slides on German Romanticism I noticed that Nathanael seems like he might fall into that category , were he a real author. His dark fixations and deeply emotional reactions to the world around him seem, to me at least, to fit with the German Romantic themes. Along with this, he also strongly resents Clara’s rationality and her “cold, prosaic spirit” (69), which fits with the idea of  romanticism being opposed to calm and rationality.

It seems, through my interpretation, that Hoffmann is painting German Romanticism in a negative way, seeing as Clara is shown in a more positive light throughout the story and the reader is assured that she has a happy ending. But seeing as Hoffmann is categorized as a German Romantic, why would he do this? I don’t know a lot about Hoffmann as a writer or of his views, but if this parallel was in fact intentional and not just something that I projected on the story, I can’t really grasp his motives. I was wondering if anyone else noticed this, and if so, what are your thoughts?

Is Freud still valid?

I don’t know about you guys, but I find Freud really interesting. Maybe because I like some of his theories, or maybe because I over analyze things way too often so I guess we have something in common. Anyway, despite his obviously controversial theories, I think many of his ideas have merit. Hear me out; obviously I don’t think all of his theories are correct. I’m not a believer in the “Oedipus Complex” or his theory of “penis-envy” (which we didn’t really talk about but is basically the female parallel to “castration anxiety”), nor do I think those ideas would go over very well if he tried to propose them in this day and age. What I do admire about Freud is his way of thinking, especially in a society that was extremely repressed at the time. Rather than politely explaining away people’s problems, he looked at aspects of the human psyche that most people were afraid to look too closely at. While many of his theories are only loosely based on scientific facts and are arguably far too fixated on sexual desires, he tried to make sense of things that had previously gone without any explanation. Some of Freud’s theories I enjoy because they are grounded in some aspect of plausibility, while others I find are just plain entertaining. I think that humans have an innate desire to explain things that we don’t understand, which sometimes results in people jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions. While Freud’s conclusions are in no way ‘jumped to’ – he makes many somewhat far-fetched connections between certain things in order to reach his conclusions – there is no way to confirm or deny for sure that they are truly the reasons for the behaviours in question.

I think what Freud was trying to do with his whole concept of psychoanalysis was to help people better understand themselves, whether it be as a way to alleviate ‘hysteria’ or to understand their own unconscious behaviours as a way to be happier in the future. As we discovered with Oedipus, knowing about yourself doesn’t always make you happier, but it can definitely allow you to change your behaviours in a positive way (or scratch out your eyes, whichever feels right).

What I’m trying to say is that while Freud’s theories are extremely difficult to prove and are in many ways controversial, we shouldn’t necessarily discredit them completely. Someone in seminar mentioned that it would be interesting to see what Freud would think about himself if he applied his theories to his own behaviours, and I definitely agree. What if his need to uncover unconscious desires is rooted in a childhood experience that he is repressing?freudian slip

Either way I think Freud is super intriguing and still valid to discuss in a modern context, whether or not he was correct, seeing as he did contribute a lot to the development of psychology.

Rousseau on Seeing and Knowing

-I had intended to post this before seminar today, but I haven’t blogged since my introduction so I’ll admit that I actually forgot how to post on my blog. I’ve figured it out now.-

Seeing as our theme for the year is “Seeing and Knowing”, I thought I’d take a look at Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality in that light. In Part One of his Discourse, Rousseau describes what mankind might have been like in the purest state of nature. This “noble savage” (as Professor Crawford dubbed it in lecture) is unaware of the fact that it is alive and lives completely on its own, and in this natural state is content. In this sense, all men are equal, and the sexes are essentially equal as well. It is not until man begins to interact and reason, create language and the idea of property, and eventually form a society that Rousseau pinpoints the beginning of man’s descent into inequality. (This is of course an extremely brief summary of his argument).

In Part One, Rousseau states his view that “the state of reflection is a state contrary to nature, and that the man who meditates is a depraved animal” (Rousseau 85). In our day and age we often express how proud we are of how far humans have come in terms of gaining knowledge of the world around us and inventing tools and medicine to improve our lives. Throughout the book I got the overwhelming sense that Rousseau did not feel the same way. In fact Rousseau has a far more negative view of knowledge, believing that it is reason and the knowledge of others that leads to comparison, which eventually leads to dissatisfaction in ourselves and what we have. Might he have a point? Everything that we’ve invented has led to some sort of inequality or problem for mankind, according to Rousseau, so would we really just be better off without reason or knowledge?

Self-Introduction

Hey arts one people! My name is Analisa and this is my blog 🙂

I chose to take Arts One because I like to read and I wanted to improve my essay writing skills. I also liked the fact that the class size is smaller than other classes that I am taking so I have an opportunity to actually get to know people. I’m kind of shy and I went to a small high school where I knew everyone in my grad class by name, so I was glad that I might have a better opportunity to make new friends!

I also have a part-time job at Indigo Books which I really enjoy, but am starting to realize may not have been a good idea because I am surrounded by books that I no longer have time to read! My favorite current TV shows are American Horror Story and Doctor Who, but I also love to binge watch Friends (who doesn’t lol) and other shows. I also like music and art and musical theatre and I think I am way funnier than I actually am. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to what this year has to offer. Thanks for reading and see you in class 🙂