On The Genealogy of Morals

Nietzsche’s On The Genealogy of Morals was an appropriate read after discussing the central issues in Frankenstein. At the basis of what we define as monstrous, lies the issue of what we define as good and bad. Nietzsche’s ideas on the origin of good and bad are really relevant to our formation of a definition because he deals with the idea of perspective, which is crucial. For Nietzsche, “good” is a construct of the noble, the rich or those with the most power in society. Their perception of good is an inward looking one. They look to themselves as models for what is right and good. They seek out what is wrong or bad in order to reaffirm their own goodness. Therefore what is bad is only what contrasts them.

This aspect of the first essay is what most stood out to me because it relates to Frankenstein in its emphasis on the superficiality of the creation of monsters. Society labels Frankenstein as a monster on the superficial basis of his appearance. Society looked to themselves and saw their physical appearance as normal or “good”, and after constant reaffirmation, the idea that anything that looks too far from their norms is bad became ingrained. The second part to Nietzsche’s argument is that, those who have been labeled as “bad” attempt to rid themselves of the oppression. Resentment arises as a reaction to the external environment according to Nietzsche. Unlike the formation of what is defined as “good”, resentment is an outward looking emotion, which rejects what is around it. In terms of Frankenstein, the monster’s actions are reflective of this kind of mentality. Faced with a society that rejects him, Frankenstein’s monster grows resentful and retaliates. Ultimately, his actions only lead to further marginalization. For Nietzsche, both these mentalities are dangerous as they are they basis from which prejudice grows. It becomes commonplace in society to think certain people are good or bad based on predetermined characteristics that may not necessarily have any bearing on the individuals morality.

Overall, I thought these essays raised interesting points and made me think about how things come to be defined as good or bad. As the course goes it’s becoming clear that “good” and “bad” are just social constructions. While this leads me in the direction that all monsters are simply misunderstood, it also makes me wonder what society would look like if we were looser with definitions of good and bad. Having black and white definitions of good and evil generates monsters where they may not have existed otherwise, but it also simplifies things when it comes to issues of crime and punishment.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein was an enjoyable read, and it makes it easier that the general storyline has become common knowledge. I haven’t read this book before, but since it’s so iconic, i was already familiar with a lot of the story and the ideas behind the book. For me, this book envelops the essence of monster in the mirror. as we discussed on the first day back from break, monsters can be figments of our imagination. Though in an isolated state, they may not be monstrous, we create the context which makes it easy to discern man from monster. After we create the world around us, we decide that anything that falls outside of our picture of regular life is monstrous. In reality, we fear what we don’t know. In Frankenstein, this idea is taken one step further. Frankenstein’s monster really does exist in a tangible sense. The monster is composed of human body parts, yet it remains somewhat inhuman. What makes Frankenstein’s monster all the more scary is that it does have human characteristics. Frankenstein works tirelessly to compile the parts necessary fort his creation and when he finally reaches the end he realizes that what he’s created is far from what he expected. This, to me, is what makes this book powerful. Monsters arise as humans create them. This book ties in well with the ideas of Rousseau as well as it highlights the danger of progress. Rousseau’s theory is one of regress because he believes that too much human progress only leads to a monstrous society. Frankenstein is the monster in the eyes of Rousseau because he goes beyond his means and tries to create life. In doing so, everyone around him suffers. On the other hand, one could argue that Frankenstein used his natural ability to create life. How can striving for success really be painted as monstrous? Like Rousseau and so many other authors we have read this year, Frankenstein is a story of balance. Desire must be balanced with caution in the case of frankenstein.

Arts One Monster in The Mirror- Deji Oluwadairo 2013-01-07 21:09:09

A Discourse on Inequality was difficult to grasp given the longwinded and slightly confusing writing style of Rousseau. However, the book itself raises thought provoking questions and really makes the reader think about society in its present state and the various processes that must have occurred to achieve society as we see it now. Rousseau is constantly looking to the past to ask and answer and questions, and, in doing so, he reveals the complexity of human existence. along side his complex analysis of the past he also highlights the excesses of complexity within society at present. The juxtaposition of these ideas is interesting , but it does make it slightly difficult to understand what exactly Rousseau is looking for. his ideal state is somewhere in between the two extremes that he highlights, but it is not completely clear how this reality is achievable.

I also found Rousseau’s analysis of present society interesting because of what he thought were the dangerous and undesirable qualities. It seems Rousseau is really concerned with the issue of pride and vanity, and the possession of private property. Rousseau sees these things as having a corruptive quality in that they divide the human race and cause us to want to cause harm to one another. In a past time, Rousseau believes we would have no reason to do these things to each other. The issue of pride in particular is interesting to me because it’s been a big issue in a few of the books we’ve read.  In Rousseau’s opinion many of the characters lives in the books we’ve read could have been spared or made better by the elimination of their pride and all its negative implications. Overall I think Rousseau is telling a story of balance. He’s saying that humans can’t live with all the primitive instincts of early humans, but they also should not exist within the corruption and excess of present society. A society bound within these two extremes is ideal because they will experience true freedom.

The Four Voyages

The four voyages is a story of perspective, and given the great historical importance of the events that took place, we get a unique 20/20 hindsight on the passages. With detailed footnotes highlighting and clarifying the initial assumptions made by columbus and his crew, we start to look at columbus and his crew in the same light that they viewed the “indians”. To the modern reader, the admiral and the crew seem somewhat misinformed and ignorant much like their assessment of the indigenous peoples.

The letters give us the unique opportunity to view both the crew and the indigenous people as foreign. Though the letters are intended to be read by citizens of 15- 16th century Spain, we get to see the whole picture, and to us, both the indigenous people and Columbus’ crew are strangers. Though, the letters are written from a viewpoint that is a closer reflection of modern western society than that of the indigenous people, I found that their are elements of the indigenous lifestyle that are preferable or more civil than ours.

Columbus’ entire voyage is fuelled by a society so intently focused on it’s place in the global hierarchy. A sense of ethnocentrism is  very prevalent all throughout the letters. The admiral and the crew feel that they’re bringing a sense of civility to the beasts in the indies. Columbus and his crew automatically assume their  way of life is superior to that of the natives because they don’t see large cathedrals or extravagant lifestyles. Something that kept coming up in the letters was that the indigenous peoples did not use iron. this was particularly important to me because it demonstrated a completely different stand on what was important in life. Columbus and his crew represented a society that was obsessed with building and expanding, so iron was almost a centrepiece of society. To them, any society that didn’t make use of iron was a society of lesser value than theirs. That’s where perspective come into play. In most cultural exchanges, what is given is something that is of little value to that particular society and of high value to the other. The indigenous people of the indies don’t value gold in the same way the spanish do. Gold was not a measure of wealth, but rather just an ornament for decoration. Therefore gold didn’t control their lives like it controlled the life of the spanish. They valued objects that they believed came from “Ture” or the sky. So, to them, the trifling objects given away by the crew, were far more precious than the gold, which was the main object of importance for Columbus and Spain.

 

Beowulf

Beowulf was definitely an exciting read and a nice change up from some other things we’ve read. A prevalent theme that we’ve dealt with so far is reputation and honour in life as well as in death. Beowulf wants to make sure that his actions are remembered and that his name lives on even after his death. In many ways I think parallels can be drawn between the characters of Beowulf and Odysseus. They are both deeply concerned, and at times consumed, with the notion of a strong reputation in both life and death. It can be said of both characters that their willingness to enter into harms way is predicated more on honour and respect than it is on the protection of those they set out to protect. However, at  the end of the day, the people who both Beowulf and Odysseus are helping probably don’t care so much about the motive behind their actions but rather the final outcome of their actions.

Reputation in the Odyssey and reputation in Beowulf are viewed slightly differently, and even though both characters in both poems value their reputation, what the author’s are saying about reputation are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Odysseus’ desire to spread his fame is the root of his troubles as it causes the cyclops to put a curse on him.
In Beowulf, however, the desire to have fame in death and always be remembered is the difference between him attempting to fight the dragon and choosing instead to let someone else handle the situation. One of the most major sections in The Odyssey comes when achilles is talking to Odysseus in the land of the dead and tells him that even with all his fame in death, he would much rather be alive and be nobody than be dead. This passage underpins the message of the entire poem and reinforces the idea that fame is nothing to die for. Life, in The Odyssey, shouldn’t be traded for any amount of fame our honour. Beowulf’s death definitely doesn’t fit this mould, and it sends the opposite message. Death is the ultimate sacrifice, and anybody willing to step into a position of power must also be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. The poem begins with a description of a man who is cut down in his prime defending his people and the poem ends with the word fame.

 

Oedipus The King

Oedipus The King was a really interesting read. Though I hadn’t read the play before, I knew about the “Oedipus complex” and understood the main idea of the play. However, after actually reading the play, I find that it’s less about the disturbing acts of Oedipus towards his birth parents and more about the natural suffering that each human is destined to face. As mentioned in the Odyssey, sometimes the gods seek revenge for sinful acts by directly punishing the faulty parties. However, the gods may also use mortals as a vessel of their wrath and revenge. In this case, Oedipus is nothing more than a channel of retribution for the gods. He never really does any that warrants all the pain he receives by the end of the play, but through him, so many people suffer and the prophecy finally comes true. The final words of the play summarize the idea that life is painful and true peace is only found in death. This idea is also reflected earlier in the play when Oedipus firsts finds out what he’s done. He wishes the shepherd would have just killed him so that he wouldn’t have to go through all the anguish, and so he wouldn’t have to cause all this pain for those who surround him. Life, for everyone in this play is torturous. The towns people are being plagued amidst all the shame that’s surrounding kingdom, and after Oedipus is exiled, a power struggle ensues for the throne by his two sons. Nobody has peace in the play, and powerful people are continually reduced to nothing, as is common in most greek tragedy. Oedipus’ blinding of himself is done so he can no longer look upon the pain and suffering he’s caused, and he subsequently wishes he was deaf, so he could live in a world almost completely free of pain. For him, being blind and deaf is as close as a person can get to death while still living because they are closed out to the pain of the world. Another thing I found interesting about this play is that Oedipus recognizes the difficult life his children will have to live. He especially recognizes that it will be difficult for his daughters to survive in a world where they will most likely be unmarried and alone. However, he doesn’t kill them. That being said, Oedipus was much more connected to power than Medea.

The Republic 2

As Plato continues in his search for justice and a perfect just society, it becomes increasingly clear that, though the text is set up as a series of revealing points and counterpoints, in the end, it represents a very monocular and narrow minded viewpoint, which is Plato’s viewpoint. As one of his fellow philosophers points out, Plato is a master of words and a skilled debater. He spins his opponents round in circles and by the time he’s done he’s made his opponents contradict themselves in some way and claims victory for himself. By pointing out the fact that his opponent is wrong, he rationalizes that he must be right. Plato’s inability to take into account the viewpoints of others, in my opinion, is the reason his arguments aren’t widely accepted. Furthermore it’s the reason he can’t see the inherent flaws in his own thought experiment.

The Allegory of the cave is an instant in which plato follows his train of thought so far that he can’t see anything but his own ideas. Plato establishes, at one point in the book, that one thing cannot perform contradictory actions at the same time and in the same way. He later uses this logic to describe the idea that something cannot be both knowledge and ignorance at the same time. Rather, he described this state of flux between knowledge and ignorance as “opinion”. In the allegory of the cave, the halfway point between the truth (the sun) and the ignorance (the shadows), is the puppeteers and their instruments. The puppeteers used various artifacts and objects to create a false sense of reality for the observers in the cave.  The truth, in Plato’s OPINION, can only be reached if someone of knowledge and rationality pulls you out. Plato’s monocular vision of reality comes into play at this point because he believes he’s somehow saving people from the shackles of ignorance and showing them reality. He fails to take into account the idea that reality is not some objective “thing”. Many would say reality isn’t “out there” it’s not something that is existing somewhere that can be found. Rather and argument can be made that reality is just a shared subjective construct of our surroundings and our senses. The people who see images on the wall in the cave live in their own reality which is a construct of what they see and hear. They believe the shadows on the wall are living things because they see them and they can hear them. They create a completely rational idea of what life is given their context. Their idea of life is no more false than Plato’s. They both reached conclusions on what reality is, based on their rational connections between what they were surrounded by, and who’s to say Plato won’t be dragged reluctantly from his reality and shown the “real” reality. Plato’s ideas, just like all others, are flickering shadows on the wall, and he’s just another puppeteer floating between knowledge and ignorance.

Republic

Plato’s Republic was another tough read, and I agree with some of the other posts, in that,  it required so much concentration and patience just to get through it. That being said, the book definitely raises a few important questions and takes a close look into issues that hold relevance in our modern society, so, at the end of the day it’s a worthwhile read, in my opinion. It’s transcendence through time and culture are reflective of it’s poignant remarks and essentially unresolvable conflicts. This struggle of thought is enough to keep this book’s ideas in my head because it’s very nature demands deeper analysis of it’s contents and personal struggle with the issues it raises. Plato’s Republic is the perfect example of a book that remains alive because we haven’t found it’s meaning  yet.

Plato’s discussion of justice and injustice was particularly interesting to me because the points of logic the were making, all strung together well and all made rational sense. Valid points were supported by valid points and, when either person disagreed, a logical statement was made in return which the the other person actually took into consideration. However, taking the sociological perspective and applying to the society at large doesn’t work by sitting in the living room and reasoning out, point by point why society is the way it is. What’s not taken into account in the discussion is the idea of a non scientific, but still valid, way of attacking the argument. The part of us that just doesn’t mix with the idea that injustice disguised as justice is right is what the either man takes into account. Nor does either man take into account the societal conflict that is inevitable if certain members of society are constantly treated to injustice and told it’s justice. Ultimately, I think the biggest thing missing from these great logical debates is a practical real world application, which often tends to complicate even the most well thought out plans. Especially when the plans deal with humans who are volatile, in a sense, because they are subject to emotion and a change of ideals which is an, almost always, immeasurable detail. Overall I enjoyed reading the republic so far and look forward to the rest of the book.

 

Genesis

Genesis was a tough read, mostly because of the lack of action and the dry writing style, but it’s important to note that this is the first book of many books of the bible. It serves as an exposition and lays the foundation for more interesting and more notable passages of scripture. Though the book isn’t particularly interesting to read, it does outline various morals and viewpoints that have become centrepieces of controversy in the modern day.

God created all humans and all animals. He’s all knowing and all powerful, so when  the devil tempts Eve and Adam also consumes the apple, God knows. At the moment when he asks Adam and Eve why they are hiding, he knows why. God, created the tree and God created the serpent.  He knows that Adam and Eve will consume the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and there eyes will be open to ability they possess to what’s wrong and what’s right. Ultimately, The message that’s trying to be passed along is one of human choice and free will. From the start Adam and Eve have the choice to eat the apple or not to. If they no longer have the option of whether or not they will eat the apple, their actions are meaningless. i.e if the no longer have the option of whether or not they will obey God, the actions are meaningless in the eyes of God.  God gives Adam and Eve the choice to eat the apple and once they eat the apple they no what’s good and what’s evil. From that point on they have the choice to do what’s good or bad with full knowledge of the weight of their actions. In doing so, God adds a certain moralistic value to doing good and a sense of shame for doing evil.

This idea is where I find links between The Odyssey and the Bible. The divine entities, in both books, seem to gain something from human sacrifice and worship. They gain something when humans make the choice to do “good” instead of “evil”, whatever that may be in the circumstances.Though they are exceedingly more powerful than humans, they are somehow lifted higher when humans show their appreciation or their unconditional loyalty.The Odyssey and the Bible are similar in that they are both pretty hollow stories if the humans have no choice in the outcomes of their lives.

 

Medea

I really liked this play, and I feel the fast paced nature of the piece takes nothing away from the level of complexity. Within the tight margins of the script, I felt a strong and memorable message was still delivered, and the chorus was woven into the play in such a way that they didn’t distract from scenes but rather carried the message. I liked that, at the end of the play, the chorus asks the question, “who won” directly to the audience. It really highlights the moral question each person asks themselves once they finish the play, which is “was she completely justified in her actions?”. That question is what I find most impressive about the play. It manages to create a vivid and complex character (Medea) so quickly. Her actions in the play also force us to think of the social forces at play in the Medea’s world. What life was she subject to after Jason left her? How did society perceive an unmarried woman with two kids? Essentially, what were the social issues at play that might have made killing her own children justifiable in her eyes? I think Jason is also an interesting character. I think he had good intentions by trying to strategically give his sons connections to the throne, but he didn’t account for the life Medea would have to live without a husband, especially since Medea had already sacrificed so much for Jason. What makes Medea monstrous to me is the fact that she focuses so much of her energy on making Jason suffer for leaving her. It’s one thing to want justice for a situation in which you feel you’ve been wronged and it’s another to simply want someone to suffer. Even if it involves making herself suffer, she does everything within her power to make Jason feel broken like her. She’s obviously a resourceful woman, and there’s a chance she could have got even with Jason without having to kill her sons, but her anger is so strong that it essentially turns her into a monster.