English 220 Summary of my favorite works and what I liked about the course

Hmm… I would like to talk about one piece of work in the course, but I’m not sure exactly which one, so in the aftermath of the exam, I’m going to talk about…. well the highlights.

Coming into English 220 I had the benefit of being lectured by Professor McNeilly in Arts One.  Moreover, I was practiced in writing literature papers that examined specific themes.

In English 220… I came across some works I really hated, but some works I surprisingly liked.  I also returned to works that I had studied in Arts One, the Tempest and Beowulf.  Beowulf was particularly one of my favorites, but while I perhaps admired it in Arts One, English 220 only deepened my respect for the work.  The in depth discussion and later opportunity to really close read and then interact with the work in the form of my first essay and term paper really opened my eyes and gained me greater appreciation for both Beowulf and its translator, Seamus Heaney.

The Tempest, was a bit of a different experience.  The discussion of Shakespeare, and message on performance, art and the function of spectacle was intriguing, since I was a theatre orientated person… the colonialism undertones didn’t really stand out to me.

Now these works weren’t the only ones I was also exposed to during the course.  There were some new works, some I liked, some I didn’t and others I’m not so sure of.

Take Oronooko… I liked Behn.  I really liked her very persuasive writing style that while occassionally long winded, had a sort of reasonableness to it.  The character of Oronooko, and his wife Imoinda, stood out to me as one of the most tragic couples I’ve ever read about.

Yet, I hated Paradise Lost with a passion and oddly enough, I’m religious.  Perhaps it was the time of year, but I couldn’t read through Milton’s… almost…end on end… colliding sort of writing style that had me constantly guessing on who was speaking what.  The themes and description was good, but I could never appreciate the work so well… perhaps I should return to it in time.

Surprisingly enough, the works within the course, which I consistently liked were found in Metaphysical Poetry.  Two favorites I had were John Donne’s Elegie and Marvell’s The Garden.  I used to hate poetry… now I actually kind of like the metaphors, the conceits, underlying themes of sexuality and gender roles.  The poems that we looked at this year, were… really just good, beautifully sounding, perhaps odd, but still intriguing poetry.

Canterbury Tales and Gulliver’s Travels are the two works I have difficulty thinking about.

On one hand, I expected to like Gulliver’s Travels… recalling the old childhood stories, but I was rather… surprised to say the least at the dark themes and discussions of the ugliness of human nature within the tale.  Not to mention, I just didn’t really like Gulliver’s character… he was gullible.  Still, I admire Swift’s satire, which was explained in great detail by Professor McNeilly.

As for Canterbury tales.  I initially couldn’t make head or tales of the Middle English, later, I was able to, but I still sometimes had to refer to or look up an English translation for reference.  But once I understood or came to grasp with the themes in the General Prologue and Wife of Bath’s Tale and Prologue, I actually found I liked Chauser’s work.  Its funny, discussive, and yet highly intelligent and stimulating to read and think about.

Now, the lectures themselves… its difficult to say on what exactly I learnt from the lectures.  They were very enlightening, although, I admit I sometimes lost track of what was being said.  There was a lot of density in the discussions in class… and powerpoints, which probably would have made the class more rigid (a bad thing because I liked the class’s flexibility and the fact you’d learnt something new or interesting/unexpected every time you’d enter it), but would have made it easier to track and follow the lectures, were lacking. However, I found talking to Professor McNeilly over specific topics after class very enlightening and informative, and often were able to answer any issues I had after the lectures.

All in all, I liked English 220.  I liked it was writing intensive, I liked the works in general.  While I would have preferred it for the lectures to be well not structured, but at least more directed along a very specific theme/topic that could be grounded, the lectures were informative and did provide me with some interesting topics to think about.  It was a fun course to attend.

Thanks Professor McNeilly for a great 1st term of second year,

Vincent

 

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Oronooko… staged so that it really hits you when you least expect it.

My feelings for Oronooko is hard to pinpoint.

At first glance I thought it was a tragedy set in the scenes of the age of European Empires.  I did notice its critique on the crime of slavery, and frankly I liked Oronooko as a character.

The lectures shed light onto the story in a way that took me aback.  I did notice something odd about Behn’s way of telling the story… it was as if it was personal, for she keeps inserting herself into the narrative, but at the same time distance, critical of the things she sees, but not actually critical.  The explanation on how Behn is satirizing and dramatizing the scenes and the people in Oronooko revealed quite a bit on why she chose this narrative approach.  It is able to stage the scene very well, like a theatre, and yet like some types of theatre like Brechian theatre, it works to distance the audience from the scene, and force them to ask questions about race.  For, when Oronooko speaks, its as if he is speaking to us, the audience about the crimes of slavery.  And yet, this is Behn’s account of what he speaks… it isn’t really Oronooko’s and it is Oronooko’s.  It still hits you, but the story first gets you into this mode of questioning, that finally forces you to asks the questiosn Behn is wanting you to ask….

Then, when you finally start asking the right questions, Oronooko really hits you when you least expect it to…

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English 220 #3 Post The Voice of Digging and Beowulf

Digging is one of Heaney’s first poems published in his first major compilation of poems Death of a Naturalist.

Compared to… let’s say Donne’s poems, Heaney’s Digging lacks the metaphors that so characterize Donne’s Elegie: to a mistress going to bed.  Digging uses very direct word choice, as opposed to Elegie’s highly complex metaphorical conceits.  Heaney is weighty, almost plodding as opposed to Donne’s persuasive charm, his lewd lilting voice.

Yet, for some reason, Digging although perhaps not as persuasive, not as immersive as Elegie speaks to me better.

Perhaps this is why I decided to choose to examine Digging when asked to expand my close reading of Beowulf and look at the translator’s other works.  The poem, is semi-autobiographical and concerns the cultural reconciliation through language.  Starting with Heaney sitting behind or at a window, the poem shifts to describe the the poet’s forefathers.  Each cut of turf, each scoop of dirt, the poet’s grandfather and father dig potatoes and cut turf, activities heavily associated with Ireland’s history.  These are simple, peasant activities, without Donne’s sexiness, or Behn’s rich imagery, but they have such weight.  The voice of Digging makes these simple actions appear as the most concrete things in the world.

Imagine my surprise when I found the same sound in Beowulf.  The same epic scale, weight directness is spoken in Heaney translation of Beowulf.  He writes that he did this to preserve the words “sounds of sense”  and because he wanted the poem to be able to be spoken by his forefathers, in their Scullion voice.  Why though? I can understand why Heaney chose to portray Digging in his father’s voice, he is talking about his forefathers after all and what better way to reconcile the fact he will follow their footsteps with a pen, then to preserve their voice in his pen?  Why recompose this Anglo-Saxon epic in an Irish voice?

I say, in my essay, that Beowulf and Digging both share the same theme of cultural reconciliation through language.  The use of the Scullion voice was part of Heaney’s efforts to reconcile himself, to connect his heritage with the epic’s heritage.

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English 220 Blog Post #2 Donne

I like Donne.  I’m not sure why I do.  When I read Elegie: To HIs Mistress going to bed, I thought his imagery was fascinating and downright beautiful at times.  He has an incredibly good grasp of metaphor and simile, which goes on to create highly visual poems… that at the same time not just inspire a visual image, but also appeal to your other senses.  Yet, I find that he’s a bit of an oddball.

After all, in Elegie: To HIs Mistress going to Bed, he did strip himself first before his mistress and in fact was fantasizing in advance of his mistress stripping… He comes off as suave, charming, dominant in fact because of how he persuades the mistress to strip… but then we suddenly find out, its he who has submitted, its he who has taken off his clothing.  Say Whaaa?

At the same time, could it be said that Donne has gained a sort of… control over his mistress?  By placing himself in a vulnerable position, by making this beautiful speech to his mistress, he is making a very strong demand for his mistress to join him.  If not over his mistress, over his audience?  By entrapping us in these brilliantly structured metaphors, and spiriting us away to America, we are held in his metaphysical grasp, only for him to let us down and in a sense trick us, bewitch us…

So, in that case… who is the fool?  Donne or the audience?

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English 220 Blog post – Beowulf

This is really really late, but it’s been a while since I have been able to sit and reflect about Beowulf.  Given my essay on Beowulf is coming out… tomorrow or within a week, I best get this down before I reword my response.

Surprisingly enough, when writing the Beowulf essay, I honestly didn’t expect it to be easy to get to 1200 words.  I mean 8 lines, on Hrunting’s description, what could I possibly get out of that?

Welllp I ended up having to severely reduce my word count.  It was quite hilarious towards the end where I ended up squeezing words out as tightly as possible.   And I must say, my respect for Seamus Heaney and the poet (Skols?  Poets?  gets confusing since its been recomposed so many times) has gone up.  the deliberation that is in the poem to create just a weapon… astounds me.  Its almost as if Hrunting was an actual character in the story.  Not to mention I really found myself taken back into the moment, the time and the period, as I read the text closely.

All in all, I quite liked Beowulf.  Although I had some issues with it, it was nice to re-read this epic even closer and write another essay on it.

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Watchmen, on Heroes and Monsters

After the horrible experience of reading Foe, I got to read Watchman.  I had watched the movie prior to reading this book, but it didn’t give me the best picture.  Lots of people have said they really liked Watchman, I enjoyed it, much more than Foe and admired it in a sense.

Alan Moore basically takes the stereotypical ideal of heroes and neutralizes it, grounds it into mincemeat, does what the machine did to Dr. Manhattan.  The ‘heroes’ in Watchmen are different from the ‘heroes’ that we have studied within the texts and in pop culture.  They do not just have one Kryptonite, not just succumb to anger easily, or get beat by a dragon or old age, and certainly not fate.  The ‘heroes’ in watchmen, are all flawed, incredibly flawed, and some more than most.  They have powers, or certain advantages, but apart from that, they are very flawed, more like real people than characters (i’ll talk about this later).  Rorschach may come to one’s mind when I mention this, but I am talking about Nite Owl, who can see in the dark, but at the same time, he can’t really see in the ‘dark’ of the world’s underbelly, who to an extent, abandoned his fellow heroes, and lacks determination.  Dr. Manhattan, the overpowered, super powerful man, who is so powerful, he actually isn’t really human is also another example.  The Comedian?  He’s incredibly flawed, but at the same time it is his total A-hole attitude that lets him see into the darkness of society.

I found it interesting that artsoneb (in whoever’s blog) said that the characters in Watchmen are not ‘characters’, but are people, with incredibly detailed backstories.  I sort of agree… and sort of not.  The characters in the graphic novel are incredibly detailed and are very realistic, but they are still characters.  They are meant to fulfil a specific role within the story of the graphic novel and prove a certain point.  This means that some parts of them are fictionalized, despite how realistic they may appear to be.  Certainly, Watchmen provides a certain degree of stark/dark realism, but there is still a certain boundary between the art and reality, which makes the characters, characters.

So are the heroes in Watchmen actually monsters?  Hard to say.  I’m actually not sure.  It is very subjective and it actually should be for all of the supposed ‘heroes’ we’ve read.  Odysseus may be a hero to his family, but certainly not to the cyclops or the suitors.  Beowulf is a hero to the Geats and Danes, but not to Grendel’s mother.  It seems, that who is a hero and monster really depends on a person’s point of view.  Rorschach for his determination and black and white beliefs, which leads to his brutality, is a sort of monster, but at the same time, I see him as possibly the most naive hero of them all.  Despite that there is no moral compass within the abyss, he continues to deliver retribution according to his own form of ‘justice’ (please correct me if I’m interpreting this wrong) and never compromising despite of that.

Vincent

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Foe: A Rant About How I Dislike it.

I did not like this story.  I mean, I have not enjoyed some of the readings in Arts One, but I still had a hearty respect for them.  Mainly I just had a problem with the rhetoric, or these were simply works I would not always read.  For Foe though, I vindictively hate this story (though not the discussions that it brings up).  So much, that I honestly consider it to be a little more than glorified fanfiction. It certainly begs me to question on how did this story gain the Nobel Prize for Literature, for while the discussions and the points it eventually brings up are interesting, the character of Susan Barton just makes me want to scream.

To be up front, I set some higher expectations when I went into this story.  I expected this alternate version of Robinson Crusoe to be quite interesting.  Mayhap a discussion on the role of women.  What I read, is about a quarter of the story in which Barton basically throws herself into Crusoe’s arms.  Crusoe, painted as this flat, ornamental, deranged man who can’t seem to care for himself.  His backstory on how he came to the island is interesting and I liked the references to the original Robinson Crusoe.  However, I was mortified to see the original character reduced and twisted literally a shadow.  I much rather preferred the original.  The entire island sequence, was so boring, why is Barton even bothering to ask Foe to write this story?  Friday, is far more interesting, but this does not compensate for my dislike of how in my opinion, how the author twisted DeFoe’s text.  I mean yes, the plot is that Foe relentlessly distorted Barton’s tale and I find it rather disgusting that the author’s character takes advantage of Barton like this.  However, there are events within this story that do not make sense, that I see no purpose in being there.  The entire tale on how Barton details her travels with Friday, was useful in showing how alienated she was, but that went on for a quarter of the story!  Then after this extraordinarily interesting discussion with Foe about literature, one of the few parts in fact of this book which i found worth reading, Barton, is so disillusioned she mistakes a stranger for her daughter, and then throws herself into Foe’s bed… .  … What?  Just. what?  The story does get a little interesting when they start discussing stories and literature again, but events like those simply make me go what the hell just happened.

Now why do I hate Barton.  For a multitude of reasons, she’s weak-willed, delusional, her perception of reality non-existent, proven by the fact she thinks this girl Foe hired is her daughter.  She’s so distorted, so… lame.  That’s the word, lame.  for a person who wants to record her and Crusoe’s experience, she does a horrendous job of it.  She has some interesting things to discuss with Foe, but that’s it.

Is there anything I enjoy about this story?  A few.  Friday in particular.  His character was quite wonderfully developed and I loved reading about the discussion between Barton and Foe about him being a slave or a cannibal.   He was the highlight of this story for me, while Barton was useless, Foe was an ass, Crusoe an ornament, I found Friday quite refreshing and the discussion that revolved around him brought out the more interesting parts of the story.  The imagery was good and the use of repetition was neatly done. In fact, the general discussions between Barton and Foe were the parts of the story I most enjoyed.  They brought up some interesting issues in the telling of literature and of stories.

Still, I consider Barton’s character lame and thus, the story in general to be basically glorified fanfiction with some interesting arguments about literature.  For some reason, I’m not sure why, but my hate stems from my view that the author twisted DeFoe’s text, in a way I dislike and took it in a direction that I disliked.  I consider, that Defoe’s text is the original, the author built her story from it.  If the circumstances were different, my opinion would be different, and that is interesting, because the originality does affect how I see these works.  Moreovoer, I read Robinson Crusoe a long time ago before Arts One, and I liked it, as boring/repetitive some parts were, I found it a good story.  Of course the story is that Foe distorted Barton’s tale… but the original fragment that Barton had… was so… pointless, that I think that if the events of this story were true… I’d prefer reading Defoe’s version.

P.S… Jon, if you chose this text by any chance. FORGIVE ME!!! I just really could not sympathize with Barton.

 

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Auschwitz: At Man’s Limits

If there’s anything that Survival in Auschwitz emphasizes is that not only the importance of the physical survival of man, but the mental and moral survivability of man.

Auschwitz’s as Levi emphasizes is completely different from the outside/normal world.  It has its own rules.  Its own society in a sense.

As shown in the several inmates who are surviving   They in a sense, become monsters in  order to survive in this monstrous war.  They do so by various ways.  The physical, the mental, invoking pity, invoking fear.  In a sense, even Levi becomes monstrous, stealing in order to stay alive.  The horror of Auschwitz, isn’t meerely contained to the physical, it is also the mental and the moral.  In a world that is monstrous, that pushes man to his limits, a man has to become essentially a monster, or take up monstrous abilities to survive.  He instead becomes an outcast, stealing to keep himself alive.  Taking advantage of the system and pushing it to the limits.

This brings up a critical question.  Do we have to turn into a monster when we are confronted by a monstrous situation?

 

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Borges, Labyrinths, Humor

Reading Borges I have to say was humorous in some ways.  Interesting in others, but regardless of my feelings on the subject, he definitely is an excellent short story writer.

The Two Kings and Labyrinths was what really struck out to me.  The labyrinth with many features, gilded and obviously complicated, could not compare to the absolutely featureless, yet so much more vast labyrinth that was the desert.

The South was very interesting.  As we learnt in the lecture and as I noticed while reading the story, there was a sort of disconnect.  It was as if the guy wasn’t actually there and it made sense since it is implied he died in the sanatorium.  The language used, the subtle hints, Borges was a master at that.

The Library of Babel?  Blew my mind.  Books upon books, overlapping books, somehow unimportant due to the massive overlap, yet somehow important because each one is ever so slightly different.

Pierre Menard’s Don Quixote perplexed me.  I understand it a little more after today’s lecture.  The idea that if it was written by Pierre Menard, in a different time, by a different person, would the meaning be the same?  Just because you change the milieu it came out of, does the story’s meaning change as well?

Emma Zunz made me go Huh?  But now that I reflect on the lecture I kind of get it.  Everything she said was true… to an extent, but what was changed was the milieu, the setting, the circumstances… which meant that everything else.. was false?  Or was it true?

I am eager to discuss this in the seminars, if I can make it out of bed tomorrow because I feel absolutely horrible.

 

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Yellow Wallpaper and Metamorphosis

I tend to be a rather direct disliking absurd or strange ways of writing that deviate from convention.  However, I did admire the Yellow Wallpaper and The Metamorphosis and I actually quite like The Metamorphosis.

The major reason i liked The Metamorphosis was that the dialogue in the Metamorphosis most resembled some of the plays I studied when I was still in IB Theatre arts, these were called absurd plays, where the dialogue was repetitive, the characters said the opposite of what they meant, or their phrases cliched or just so absurd and confused that it sounds like no normal human being would say anything that way.  The Metamorphosis sort of resembled that type of story.  it was about a group of characters thrust into a really absurd situation, in which one of them in for without any reason at all, changed into a monster.  Hence I actually found the ways they tried to cope with Gregor quite understandable, as crazy or absurd as they were.

The Yellow Wallpaper, was very image rich for such a short story.  Visual and sensory imagery were prone in this story and I noticed a lot of synaesthesia as well… a condition that possibly points to Gilman’s earlier madness.  I did find this a rather disturbing tale though and a very convincing depiction of madness.  Apart from that, I am actually not quite sure what to think about the Yellow Wallpaper…

This weeks essays are going to be really interesting for sure…  Poems, absurd stories, a short story about madness… hmm…

 

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