Watchmen

That was a very welcome and interesting change of pace. I’m not sure what I was expecting, as I don’t often read graphic novels, but I was surprized by how dark it was. I wasn’t expecting it to be any kind of classic superhero story, but there were definitely a fair number of twists that I didn’t see coming. There were still some clichés of course: the misunderstood hero, the battle against time to save the world, etc. But the creative plot twists and overall story was done well enough that those weren’t particularly frustrating or unforgivable. The heroes possessed a level of complexity that challenged our very conception of what it means to be a hero or “good guy.” They were, in some cases, just as cruel as the villains. Furthermore, this unconventional superhero tale did not shy away from death. Both hero and the civilians died, breaking away from the expected invincibility of the protagonists.

This story was both in our world and completely separate from it. I had a little trouble at first as I tried to figure out if it was supposed to be more similar or different. What were the limits of the Watchman world?  Dr. Manhattan seems to be able to defy pretty much every law of physics, but normalities are also there. Similar but different. Monstrous? Hmm.

I was intrigued by the significance of masks. I found myself thinking of Anonymous, the “hacktivist” group. There was actually an attempt, not long ago, to ban masks in protests in Canada. A significant reason for that was due to the Vancouver riots, but it was also intended to be applied to all forms of protest I believe… My memory is a little vague on the details. But as a result of the Anonymous movement, more and more people have taken up wearing masks as part of their activism, especially the Guy Fawkes masks. The idea of anonymity is significant not only to this book but to our world as well. As well, it also begs the question: is the person behind the mask the same person with or without it? How can being secured in our anonymity alter our behaviour? To being us back to the beginning of this class, I’m reminded of Plato, and the invisibility ring, and the question of justice and good and bad. Masks serve a similar purpose to invisibility.

Great text to end the year with, I really enjoyed it.

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Foe… the foe?

Well, that was unexpected. Before last week I’d had no idea that Foe was a remodelled version of Robinson Crusoe. Interesting. I find it ironic that Susan struggles so much with her story being distorted by Foe, when the very book itself is a distorted story. I’m trying to figure out if I should be getting more of a statement out of that than just irony. Also, Defoe? Foe? Coetzee is just playing with us here. I just don’t know what to make of it. I mean, Foe is the writer, but he’s also the, well, foe! We’re led to dislike him, Susan dislikes him, she calls him a spider! He wants to turn her story into something she doesn’t want it to be. But are we meant to think of Defoe when we think of Foe? I have no idea, I feel like I must be reading too far into this.

Foe, the character, was just so incredibly frustrating. He felt condescending and forceful, I really just wanted Susan to ditch the whole thing and either do it herself or find someone else. The light repetition of “at last I could row no further” was significant in expressing the struggle she has with encountering so much resistance to the way she wants to do things. She struggles to find her daughter. She struggles to live. She struggles to tell her story. That’s something that the reader finds impossible to avoid, and it’s frustrating in many ways. Without this struggling there would not be much of a novel, but still, I couldn’t help thinking, what’s the point of all this? Couldn’t this all be avoided? However, I’ve heard it said, and I think I agree with it, that people write because they have to. When you have something to write about, you simply have to let it out and, often, show it to the world. I’m sure most of you know the feeling I’m talking about, a sort of need to get something down on paper, to let the gates down and have your words flow out? Susan has to tell her story. Foe becomes the vessel through which she can tell her story, and he attempts to bar her story. He forces parts that she doesn’t want to tell, and mutes the parts that she needs to have written in detail. That’s why I felt like he is the foe, the opposition. But I’m open to opposition here, does anyone feel like Mr. Foe was really not a foe at all?

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Cats, Dolls and Borges

We discussed briefly last week that a characteristic of short stories may be that they leave you with more questions at the end than you had at the start. I’d say that’s about accurate. All of these stories made me feel as though the authors have secret knowledge that they’re not letting us in on, lest it change our perspective of this brief glimpse. Some stories of course leave you with immediate burning questions that you itch to have an answer to, and others are more subtle, and become more prominent the more you think and reflect.

The Cooked Cat was definitely the former. I couldn’t believe the narrator seemed to so calmly report back to us this example of how cruel the aunt is. Similar to The Metamorphosis, I was passionately wondering why the narrator wasn’t freaking out as much as I was. The ending felt disturbingly abrupt and I wanted sit that woman down and yell her. We know her motive for killing the cat, and we’ve been told from the beginning that this family is obscenely cruel and cold, but it still felt as though those final few lines came rushing unstoppably at me. From the moment I read the title I had my suspicions that something exactly like that would happen, but I hoped up until the very end that I would be proved wrong.

The Daisy Dolls felt like it eased me into the story a little more, and even eased me out, despite the disturbing, eerie nature of the ending. I felt a little creeped out throughout the entire thing, with this whole things about the dolls… But that could just be because of all the phobias to have, I’m scared of mannequins with faces. Not severely, but crazy as it sounds I don’t like turning my back to them. They freak me out. So right from the get-go this was bound to be a story with something I didn’t quite like about it. It was very well written and extremely laden with significant details and symbols, but I just was not much of a fan of it. I can appreciate it, but not love it. Blame the dolls.

There were quite a lot of Borges stories, and while I didn’t love all of them, I did enjoy most of them. Emma Kunz was one of my favourites, and I think Borges is quite good at intriguing beginnings. With many of the texts we’ve read I’ve had to push my way through the first few pages, but I was generally interested right from the beginning with his stories.

I’m quite curious about how the lecture will weave together so many different stories. Despite having similar themes, they’re all unique in their own way. Looking forward to it. 

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Paper and Bugs

I began The Yellow Wallpaper slightly confused. I was trying to figure out what exactly was making her sick, and had initially come to the assumption that it was depression. But as things progressed it quickly became something more like schizophrenia, as she was seeing these women “creeping” around her from this wallpaper. I was trying to solve a sort of puzzle as I read, picking up pieces of clues as to what it was she had. But post-reading, that felt not quite right to me, so I reread it. The madness that she has at the end of the story isn’t something she had all along, it’s something she’s driven into. Her husband seemed to want the best for her, but the strict guidelines he forces her to follow, hoping they will help her, are in fact was drive her into insanity it seems. I found the progression of her becoming more and more paranoid and obsessed with the wallpaper actually quite incredible, and subtly well done. On a side-note, I read this on a train at night and was actually a little bit freaked out, as my imagination got the better of me as I was reading the final page with all the “creeping women” outside her window. Looking out the window into this dark forest rushing by… seemed like the perfect place for creeping. Maybe I’ve just seen too many ghost stories. Anyway, I was quite fond of the story and all it’s delicacies.

            The Metamorphosis also had me slightly confused at the beginning… and also slightly bored. I got into later, but it was a slightly slow start. I was trying to figure out what was going on, if he was a human-sized or small insect, what type of insect he was, and if he could talk or not. I had heard he was a cockroach, so that’s how I pictured him, but the story never explicitly says. Relating to the yellow wallpaper, this transition is also very subtle and well done. Though George is quite suddenly and inexplicably turned into an insect, he slowly changes from a very human bug to a very buggy… bug. He clings to his humanity, but looses it in many aspects. There is a moment when he wants his furniture removed to allow for crawling about, but quickly feels a great sense of panic about letting go of these objects which tie him to his old self. But at the end we see a very significant change in him when he hears his sister’s music again. He once thought of her and wanted to send her to music school, but at the end he merely wants her to stay with him always, and play for him alone. He stills seems human because of the way his thoughts are presented, and is certainly not at all the same person he was at the beginning. He seems to stay the same as we are with his thoughts most of the story, but at the same time changes greatly.

Hope everyone had a great reading week, see you tomorrow!

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The Waste Land

When I opened up the poem and looked at the first line, I was immediately thrown back to grade 12. Not because I’d read it before, but because in my writer’s craft class the teacher used to give us prompts to begin writing something at the beginning of most classes. One of these prompts was “April is the cruellest month…”. I don’t even remember what I wrote to follow it anymore, but I’m sure it’s still somewhere at home, on a scrap piece of paper buried under piles of notes. I almost wish I could go find it now, but I guess I’ll just have to wait until the summer, if I remember that long. I feel like my teacher may have mentioned it was the first line to a famous poem, but I had never heard of it before so it didn’t register. Now I’m stuck with a feeling of nostalgia for a poem I recently read for the first time, and a curiosity that can’t be solved at the moment. It’s odd though, how much the memories that first line brought about impacted how I read the poem. I had a sense of fondness all throughout, and it felt like a secret was being revealed, the secret of what’s meant to follow “April is the cruellest month”.

This poem was certainly tricky to navigate, and not easy to understand at first glance. But then again, as mentioned in the seminar today, maybe poetry isn’t meant to be “understood”. A poem is not a vault of secrets that can be opened by a select few with the right perspective. Or maybe it is? Did Eliot have something specific he wanted each reader to take away from this poem? The thing with poetry is it’s open to interpretation, and frequently means something different to every person. The teacher previously mentioned once gave a group a bad mark on a presentation for “interpreting the poem wrong”. We, of course, were all up in a fuss about this, as the idea that one can interpret a piece of art the “wrong way” just seems ridiculous. Perhaps it’s not that poetry has no meaning, but in fact has too much meaning. I’m sure we all connected differently with different passages. For example, lines 315-318 are some of my favourites, along with the first stanza.

Secret meaning or not, it’s certainly a beautiful poem. Looking forward to the lecture, see you all there!

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Freud– Civilization and its Discontents

I’ll begin by saying that although I don’t often read the introductions to our texts (shamelessly, I skim through them at best) there was no way of avoiding reading this one. I’m quite fond of Christopher Hitchens, and keep meaning to read a book of his, though I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Some of his opinions on religion are a little too aggressive for me to wholeheartedly agree with (that’d be the Canadian in me), but I definitely think he’s an intelligent man with more than a few points to be taken note of. Anyway, point being, I read the introduction and found it quite helpful. He brought up Plato’s Republic and Oedipus Rex, and although the later is frequently associated with Freud, the former was a less expected connection for me. All-in-all it was a nice transition into the text, and I especially liked the quotes he brought up, such as the one by Ernest Jones. He said that “Human happiness, therefore, does not seem to be the purpose of the universe”. Surprise surprise.

Getting into the text itself, I found myself entering it with many preconceived notions about Freud. Mostly I knew that he put quite a lot of emphasis on sex and sexual desire. Then of course I knew about the id, ego, and superego, terms which he coined himself. I put a small note at the front of my book, however, as I had to keep reminding myself about the meanings of each. Got it all down pat though now. I learned a little about him in grade 11 for a class on psychology, sociology and anthropology. I don’t think knowing about him and his theories beforehand hindered my reading in any way though, as it was mostly just helpful to recognize a few ideas throughout the text. I was frequently reminded of Rousseau and Hobbes as read through “Civilization And Its Discontents”. For one thing I held a wary eye as I saw him criticizing civilization for much unhappiness in humanity, and was waiting for him to propose “going back to nature” in some form. However, he quickly surprised me by criticizing the vary people who believe this. On the second page of chapter 3, he says its “astonishing” that people would take up “this strange attitude of hostility” toward civilization. Though he doesn’t believe things should stay exactly as they are, he doesn’t believe we should abandon it completely. He later makes a point Rousseau would wholeheartedly agree with by saying (on page 73) that we should not believe that civilization is synonymous with perfecting. This also brings up Frankenstein, and the belief that pursuing science too aggressively is not necessarily “progress”.

I also felt hints of Hobbes’ Leviathan at certain parts as he mentioned that civilization requires the removal individual power in exchange for communal power, a power “bigger” than the individual. Though he is not an advocate for the civilization that Hobbes wants us all to believe in, Freud saw some truth in this understanding of it.

Though I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about some of his arguments, I found this to be a text I enjoyed. He’s certainly interesting and I didn’t frequently find my self lost, as I have with many of the past texts.

Looking forward to the lecture, hope everyone had a great weekend!

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Jekyll-Jekyll-Hyde-Jekyll-Hyde-Jekyll-Hyde!

My experience with the story of Jekyll and Hyde before reading the book (or, novella, I suppose? It’s so short!) had been quite limited. Everyone knows the vague story of course, as with Frankenstein, as it’s referenced frequently. Prominently, I remember a song from the kids show “Arthur” that was pretty great, and the basis for the title of this post. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiB4dMwDFtg). But I had no knowledge on how the story was originally written, which is why I was surprised that the protagonist was not Dr. Jekyll, but more Mr. Utterson.

I was expecting the story to be told from the point of view of Jekyll and Hyde, and was at first slightly confused with who this Mr. Utterson was, and what his significance was. But it quickly started to make sense as I realized this is a sort of mystery novel, and Mr. Utterson is our curious detective. Unfortunately, there was really no “puzzle-piecing” to be done by us, the reader, as we all knew the plot twist before we even opened the book. However, despite being cheated out of surprize, it was still a good read. Not fantastic, but good. I guess I just didn’t find any of it particularly exciting or captivating. It was good, don’t get me wrong (side note: you’d be hard pressed to find a text in this reading list that I strongly dislike.) but it didn’t inspire any particularly strong feelings in me. Though I did feel significant disbelief that Utterson doesn’t read the letter given to him Layton right away. How could he have so much control of his curiosity? What kind of make-shift detective doesn’t investigate all the clues? The lesson to be learned here is that lawyers make bad detectives. But, somehow he doesn’t read the letter until Jekyll really is dead. I was also quite confused by Dr. Layton’s death. He sees the transformation of Hyde to Jekyll, has some kind of break down, and soon dies…? I mean, I’m sure it wasn’t a pretty sight, and I’m sure the knowledge would be quite traumatizing, but he really just dies? And doesn’t tell anyone what he saw?  I was a tad perplexed by that. But, my complaints aside, the issue of Dr. Jekyll’s personality spit was quite intriguing, and I’m looking forward to the monster discussion that may occur. Is Dr. Jekyll a monster as well as Mr. Hyde? Jekyll is the one who “creates” Mr. Hyde, by bringing him out from within himself. And yet, Jekyll is still a “good person” and doesn’t do anything terribly atrocious beyond creating Hyde. I have to say, it was nice to have a monster who was quite evil for the sake of being evil. He wasn’t mistreated by society and as a result becomes cruel and unfeeling. From the moment Hyde emerges from Jekyll his purpose is really solely to be destructive, let out steam. Looking forward to seeing how this is discussed in the lecture, see you all there!

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Nietzsche’s ‘On the Genealogy of Morals’

I started out this text really expecting to like Nietzsche. As much as I love fiction, I find these philosophy texts present, for the most part, bolder and more intriguing questions. However, while Nietzsche was certainly bold and intriguing, I found this text quite frustrating and difficult to get through. Though I could read his writing with less difficulty than Hobbes, I felt as though some of his arguments went straight over my head, despite the conversational tone he writes with. Usually I would say a conversational tone is more effective, as it makes the reader feel more included in the argument and resulting conclusion. But in this case I don’t think it did much for him. I’m greatly looking forward to the lecture to find some clarity for the ideas I may have misunderstood.

Going with the theme of interruption from Frankenstein, he even seems to interrupt himself every now and again. On page 96, after talking about the cost of ideas and our need for a man to redeem us, he says “But what am I saying? Enough! Enough!”. He then proceeds to leap into his third essay. It’s as though his argument is accidental, and simply come up with on the spot. This makes it feel slightly less organized, despite the distinction between the three different essays and the parts within each essay.

Nietzsche had an interesting opinion of language, a subject I’ve been hearing a lot about lately, in my psychology class and from Rousseau. He blames the way we phrase things (the need for a subject) for the way we perceive good and evil. His examples of the lamb and the bird of prey made clear an opinion which I haven’t encountered before, but seems to come across as common sense. That we associate action and will where we should not, as a bird cannot avoid acting and behaving like a bird, despite that we seem to say it has a choice.

Before reading this, I was largely unfamiliar with the concepts of nihilism and asceticism. I’d never heard of asceticism, and only briefly of nihilism because of a friend named Nile who claims, ironically, to be a nihilist. At first I had a little trouble grasping the meaning of asceticism, but some definition searching helped me out. (Side note: that’s one thing I enjoy about these philosophy texts. Learning about concepts I’ve been mostly unknowledgeable about beforehand). Nietzsche’s understanding of “ascetic ideals” are set out right at the beginning of the third essay, and I must admit I couldn’t help but laugh when he decided to “start again” in the second section. At least we know that defining his terms is quite important to him. I should really take that into mind when I write my next essay, and remember to clarify certain words.

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Frankenstein—the bad parent

Well, I must admit, I was one of those who thought that the monster’s name was Frankenstein, and that the scientist was just… some guy. I have been deceived. I also thought that the monster was going to be much more monstrous than he really was in the book. I was actually looking forward to it a little bit, to finally have a monster who is undoubtedly a monster, undoubtedly evil and vicious. But as much as this monster was a murderer, and his namelessness leads him to simply be called ‘Frankenstein’s monster,’ he really wasn’t that truly terrible. Again, we see a creature sadly misunderstood. While his appearance is certainly terrifying, and… unnerving (dead things brought back to life… zombies, anyone?) I can’t help but sympathize with him for being judged so superficially. Especially since the first person to reject him so harshly is his creator, Frankenstein, the closest thing he has to a father. That leads me think Victor would make a fairly bad parent, if you ask me. Again we find ourselves faced with the question of who is the monster. I would be one to lean toward answering this question with neither, as both the monster and Frankenstein do cruel and terrible things, but are also put through cruel and terrible things. I’m not incredibly brave, I would probably run away from something with “watery eyes” and “black lips” as well. But I would also probably be quite cruel if the only thing I knew from the beginning of my life was rejection and loneliness.

If, at the end, the monster had not come and given Victor that final farewell, I would perhaps be more open to calling them both monsters. But the fact that the pain he feels over the terrible things he’s done leads him to tell the people that he’s going to kill himself puts a whole new dimension to him, even so close to the end of the book. He knows his creator wanted him dead, and decides to carry out those wishes, even though he could have simply walked away, free from Frankenstein. He fears for others who he may harm, and says “I shall collect my funeral pile, and consume to ashes this miserable frame” (pg. 224). That one hit me right through the heart. We have on our hands a suicidal monster. Who, I believe, is really no monster. He did monstrous things, he did terrible, tragic things, but no one had ever shown him love or compassion, and so I cannot place the blame entirely on him.

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A Discourse on Inequality by Rousseau

Well, we’re back into the swing of things. I hope everyone had a great break! Book number one of term two is done and we’ll soon be writing our essays. But for now let’s just focus on Rousseau.

            I thought this text was a good start to the term. I got into it fairly quickly and the only real trouble I had with the language was when I got frustrated at the run-on sentences that lasted for a paragraph. But other than that, all was well. Rousseau quite nicely explained what the “object of this discourse” was right at the beginning, and there were no points at which I felt I couldn’t follow his logic. All-in-all, I really enjoyed reading it. I still had disagreements of course, but that didn’t really interfere with the fact that I found his opinions quite interesting. I got really intrigued when Rousseau was talking about pity, around page 101. He asserts that pity is enough to stop cruelty and, as he says, save an old man from being robbed. I realized, reading that, that I’ve never given much thought to the power of pity. It certainly can be a powerful emotion, but is it really enough to be able to prevent murder or robbery if a person, alone and deprived of food, saw another person eating something they’d been unable to acquire? I feel like pity would play a small role.

            Part two was much more interesting than the first I felt. Part one was really just setting the stage for what he wanted to say about oppression and inequality once he was done clarifying terms and setting himself apart from Hobbes. This is when Rousseau starts to look less optimistic about humanity as he describes when certain vices came into play, and much is to blamed on society. (side note, it reminded me of our talk of monsters). Rousseau comes to define the “savage man” and the “civilized man” quite differently than is usually thought, as the civil man is made out to be more savage than the savage man himself. He talks about civilized society, and the different forms of government that can be established. At this point I was strongly curious about what he would think of Canada. We talked about what Hobbes’ opinion would be, could he come forward in time, which is why I think it’d be very interesting to do the same for Rousseau. Are we close enough to a state of nature for Rousseau? 

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