Foe

I really enjoyed reading Foe overall, but I can completely see why some people here may have not enjoyed it so much.

It doesn’t lend itself to explaining certain aspects when it needs to – instead of clarifying certain back stories and messages at times, the text decides to include pointless details and troubling narrative scenarios (do we really need to know that Susan thinks Friday is incompetent every couple pages? Was it not apparent within the first section to the reader?).

However, for me at least, it was far from a dull read. I love the fragments it is broken into – the first being a recounting of life after Susan’s fateful crash on the island, the second being notes to Foe, some of which do not make it, the third being some deeper insight into the contrast between the orator (Susan) and the writer (Foe) and what the fate of her story shall become, and the fourth being some (this is what I gathered from it, anyways) subtle description of Susan murdering Friday, and then offing herself (?).

None of these segments dragged in particular at all, and thankfully the third segment ended with the closest thing as possible to a conclusion – with Foe and Susan engaging sexually for the first time and a glimmer of hope for Friday in terms of writing. Which is perhaps why I so easily dismiss part IV – sure, it left me confused, even after 5-6 re-reads, but the Coetzee seems to ultimately recognize it as an epilogue, full of metaphors and confusing imagery, but at the end of the day, not necessary in affecting the outcomes of any of the characters’ story arches.

One last thing to get off my chest, and perhaps this bugged me the most – when Susan was on the island, with Cruso still alive, she essentially attested to having intercourse with him solely on a purpose of what seems like pity – sympathizing with his loneliness almost entirely as a reason. Maybe women in this seminar could help me clarify this – surely I have never met a man who engaged in intercourse out of pity for his partner…

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Watchmen

I’ll get this off my chest first – why an alien, Veidt? I think the movie had it better (it is just an explosion – mind you not near as horrific as the comic book’s depiction).

 

So Watchmen is at heart, a graphic novel, which seems to be an increasingly popular medium for literature on a global scale. Personally I found that Watchmen’s story couldn’t have been told as well in a typical piece of prose. If the picture-only panels were instead replaced with text, and the combining panels of both text and images replaced with slightly more text, I feel that the text would not rise above the ordinary. So much of this piece, in my opinion, owes credit to the text. Specifically the beginning of Chapter 12, which are solely pictures of countless dead bodies and destroyed landscapes. To this day, something which not even Survival in Auschwitz could capture (despite how great it was), I have yet to read text which can encapsulate the feeling of pure trauma. It seems most novelists try to deal with the impact of trauma by simply mimicking its forms and symptoms, side-showing temporality and chronology, and offering repetitive narratives. Watchmen has many more ways to do this because it is a graphic novel, and has access to many stylistic options – such as disregarding it’s conventional 9-panel grid and replacing the first few pages of Chapter 12 with just full panel pictures. Instead of confusing the reader, which seems to unfortunately result from most prose fiction writers trying to create trauma through solely means of text, graphic novels have the capability to switch in and out of essentially movie like techniques – framing, wide-angle shots, fragmented narratives – all whilst still making sense.

Other than that, the drawings are really good, and that just helps you better envision the world of Watchmen. There are a ton of easter eggs and symmetrical images in the text that you would not be able to subtly include in a plain text.

I liked it a lot overall. Also it was probably the first book in this course I read 3 times over….

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Survival in Auschwitz

Like many other people have said here,  I also have some background with the history of WWII and the Holocaust. Going into Levi’s text, I probably had more background with the issues and themes at hand than any other texts, and perhaps this is the reason the text was so touching to me. Being half-German myself, I spent a lot of my childhood listening to stories told by my dearest Oma, who was one of the lucky Jewish survivors from the Holocaust. She had thankfully escaped before the camps had began processing at the immense rates they did at Levi’s time, but she still had stories of being locked in her house’s basement eating nothing but potatoes for weeks on end until her escape. To this day, she can’t stand the starch-rich food.

One of the things that most intrigued me about this text was the amount of optimism and humanity that Levi kept throughout his experience at Auschwitz. At the core of his experiences he still believed that Nazi’s were humans like him, not monsters. He recognized that an event like this could happen to anyone; with the right amount of brainwashing, anybody could become a fascist or even a communist. What is also surprising is how quickly he published his thoughts and experiences, seemingly clear of any debilitating trauma that would have prevented most people from writing a text like this. His intellectuality shines through with his interesting recounting, his literary references and once again, the undertone of optimism that peaks through every now and then through the narrative. He also stresses the importance of certain characters he met in the camp; both good and bad, and as an audience, I connected and felt moved by characters like Alberto, Lorenzo, and Charles – they evoke a sense of reality into the camp which is staggering. All the characters also serve to represent certain idea; For example, I correlated Elias with how madness could be consequently magnified within the camp.

There is so much more I could discuss about the text, but from a first impression, it was overwhelmingly amazing. This is a masterpiece of a text and I am very glad to have read it.

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Arlt, Borges and Hernandez

Alright, since there were quite a few stories to read on this week, I’ll go over some of my select favorites from each author (Borges being the only one with multiple…).

The Cooked Cat:

This stood out as a very weird, fragmented story to me. The nature of the characters are sadistic, and the writing style he had seemed very chaotic – I can visualize all of the characters and spaces in the story to be rugged, messy and unorganized – it’s just the general feeling I got from the narrative. Don’t get me wrong – I did enjoy it, but why we studied it, I’ll never know… I could name a collective of stories that have similar themes, like Story of O or any number of episodes from Ulysses. Also, just when I thought we hadn’t had enough translated texts in the course… ????

Daisy Dolls:

This was yet again another odd piece.  I derived the theme of deconstructing expectations from this, as we find ourselves reading about a man, Horatio, quite bourgeois, recreating pornographic scenes with dolls. In what seems to be yet another sadistic piece, I want to believe that it has to do with the staleness in Horatio’s life that makes him accountable for his weird tastes. The narration doesn’t even give the protagonist a name until part way into the story, perhaps illustrating a lack of self-identity in the household? Whatever way you want to look at it, Daisy Dolls is worth a read – perhaps one of the most obscure short stories I’ve read in recent memory.

Borges:

Now, with Borges, it’d be unfair to talk about just one of his stories… at least that’s how I view it. It’d also be rude to try and summarize his writing style, as quite a few of his stories are completely contrasting to each other. However, probably my favorite two from the lot would be Lottery in Babylon and Library of Babel, as they seem to share the same type of intense, critical imagery that Borges is most likely infamous for – many of his ideas are so abstract that I think the only way to process them would have to be through the medium of a short story – trying to understand any sort of message or implication from something like film or a picture would be confusing. There’s this looming discussion of infiniteness throughout his stories, and specifically Library of Babel, which I really enjoyed. These discussions are infinite in themselves, and I had a great time trying to understand what the stories were all about. But perhaps that’s the point in itself – why do are we pre-occupied with always finding answers for things?

Why can’t we just bask in the mystery?

 

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The Metamorphosis & The Yellow Wallpaper

The Metamorphosis has now become one of my top 10 favorite short stories of all time. Yes, I absolutely loved it. The story hooks you in from the very first sentence, and it brings clearly to light one of the big themes of the entire work in that opener – the absurdity of life. It’s a tragic story in parts – from the cruel rejection by his family (..and thus the ‘monstrous’ themes come into play), to Gregor’s overall inability to find self-identity… I really enjoyed it. It benefits from interesting, captivating narrative, which I think a few literary classics in this course have lacked (namely Frankenstein). I think it could have actually been presented without any form of dialogue too, since that in itself doesn’t add too much to the story – however, it isn’t that big of a concern.

 

As for the Yellow Wallpaper, which I didn’t like as much, it felt much more like a slog through the text… I’m not sure if I get the format, which is line after line… (might have just been the online version I read. Sure, it offers some dynamic of suspense, but other than that I can’t really think of a reason for presenting it. The visuals in it were pretty haunting to say the least, and I like how the narrative style changes as you discover her (the narrator’s) spiral into the depths of insanity. I guess overall I didn’t really like the message that I got out of it, which seemed to be a critique about the conventions of women in traditional marriage. My problem more has to do with my loathing of discussing the subject – especially nowadays, where discussion over hegemony seems to only result in an unstoppable argument with no intention of mediation.

Overall though, I did enjoy the collective of these two texts. I’m glad that we’re covering many different types of texts in this course at this point – long, enveloping novels, historical texts, discourses, essays, and now we seemed to have switch gears into short stories!

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The Waste(d) Land

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the movie “World’s Greatest Dad”.

I think I’ll get this off my chest first – I’ve never been a fan of poetry. What I am about to explain about that could be attributed to any other form of expression too I assume – music, movies, novels – but personally I find it troubling in poetry. The definition of poetry (as offered by dictionary.com…) is “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.”.

Perhaps it was because I had just come back from my third viewing of “World’s Greatest Dad”, a masterpiece of cinema most likely sold short due to the name. It seems like no coincidence that I watched this film whilst we study this poem – both retain the focus on the sterility of modern culture. However, where the format becomes interesting is in distinguishing the different formats of both these art forms – one shows it wit with nonsensical sounds, while another shows its wit in satirical dialogue with masterful timing. These are both very dark pieces, and I am sure T.S. Eliot’s work at one point or another inspired critically acclaimed director and actor Bobcat Goldthwait.

There are an absolute plethora of comparisons you can make between the poem and Goldthwait’s movie; take the symbolism for water for instance. Its ability to bring about rebirth is just as relevant to its ability to bring death in Eliot’s poem, as it is for the monumental third act in which the protagonist Lance Clayton dives into the pool to start a new and accept the death of his son.

But besides all those obvious references (even though they are extremely important to a filmmaker as myself), I’d have to say I enjoyed The Waste Land. I really don’t like the format of poetry though; very rarely do I find it has a hook, and for those who say you get more out of it on an additional read – I’ll have to agree. However, I think if it was written in a different style, you would be able to get across many more themes of the text the first time around whilst keeping the readers attention.

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Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Wowza.

For me, this piece of literature was fantastic. A big theme that is consistent in this is the duality of human nature, but I confer it is even simpler – that being, duality in general, plays a big part in this novel. One of the example of this is just seeing how much we truly know about the text. We aren’t given another perspective of the whole chain of events leading to Jekyll/Hyde’s death other than Utterson’s, until the very last chapter, which is solely Jekyll’s written work. Another aspect of duality can be seen through the descriptions of the weather; The continuous occurrence of unpleasant natural elements (fog, “black winter”, coldness) throughout the book hints at the obscure secret that will become clear at the end of the novel, underlining Dr Jekyll’s psychological and spiritual loss. These weather elements show signs of duality – condensation and evaporation. In fact, most of the objects in general do – the cheval glass is a pretty good example, as it shows another side of view to one’s eyes by looking into it.

Other than that persisting theme, a few comments on the writing style – I didn’t quite understand why the chapter were split up how they were. I realize the book is short, but some chapters (like the final one) will have narrative over many events, while others will be simply desolated as chapters on the sole purpose that they contain somebody reacting to a note, or a small crisis otherwise. I did enjoy the different narrative perspectives though. Specifically  Jekyll and his statement of the case at the end because it runs in such a fast pace and successfully combines Jekyll’s thoughts leading up to particular moments we already saw while explaining earlier unanswered questions. I’d like to think of it as more of an epilogue than a concluding chapter.

Overall there are a ton of things to discuss about this story, which is quite remarkable for the short length. I will be reading this story again in my near future, that’s all I know.

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Nietzsche’s Physics

To explain the title, I call it Nietzsche’s Physics, because like preliminary and continued studies of physics, ideas develop and expand continuously, growing from a twig to a tree – much like the philosophy found in “On the Genealogy of Morals.”

With that point in mind, it becomes the biggest  benefit and handicap of the text. The development of Nietzsche’s arguments contradict what is previously said or implied; for instance, with his first explanation of the origin of slave morality, he uses Jews as an example for its roots, and infers that it was their poorness and weakness that led them to hate the rich and strong, thus creating an opposite disparity to master morality. On my first read, and I’m sure many of your first reads, it seems as if he is using this explanation as a negative light, however as the text progresses you can see that he finds their concepts far more “interesting” than that of master morality. I felt waves of misconception over misconceptions hurl me over whilst reading this text – it seems nothing stated initially is how it is eventually. But at the same time, the development of ideas (from twig to tree) allows the reader (or at least me) to follow Nietzsche’s train of thought in an almost chronological sense.

There are so many issues of contention I have with the text (all three essays) that it would be impossible to fit it into your average blog, like the disregard for a middle point between slave and master morality, the idea of society making us predictable  beings (when instinct/state of nature/Rousseau stuff shows that without society, a pattern is ever so obvious), the fact that his explanation of (modern) bad conscience doesn’t take into account accidental circumstances…. the list goes on.

I find it contradictory that Nietzsche slams English psychologists for not having historical spirit when many of Nietzsche’s own concepts are simply his definitions and conclusions founded by pit stops on his train of thought (see what I did there). And in searching for answers to a few of his claims (like the lack of any ‘middle’ between slave and master morality) I am left stumped… If slave morality is essentially felt toward the masters, and the whole world has now converged to slave morality, who are these masters? Oh hang on, apparently there is somewhat of an answer (moreso of a rephrasing)… but I have to read Beyond Good and Evil to find out that there is (afterall) another level of complexity in our modern world…

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Frankenstein!

After many bus rides to and back from work, I have finally managed to finish Frankenstein. Probably one of the first observations I made about it was how much it felt more-so science fiction than gothic/romantic (as it is usually referred as).  I had some trouble staying tuned into the story at times (although bumpy bus rides probably didn’t help my focus…). Mary Shelley’s prose was first person, but often second or third hand (one person telling another person’s story who was then telling yet another story). Nevertheless, it did make for compelling reading at times. Secondarily, whilst the monster’s creation and subsequent actions have influenced the plot well, the story is focused on the life of Victor Frankenstein, the monster’s creator, and his family. I have yet to see a movie rendition that focuses on this, not to say there isn’t one out there, but if you mention the name “Frankenstein” it is more often than not referred to as the monster rather than the man who created him.

Probably one of the biggest problems I had was that I did not relate to any of the characters probably because none of them had any redeeming qualities. Victor Frankenstein came off as arrogant and thought he could play God by “creating” a creature from bits and pieces of the dead and revived via lightning. The way he removes himself from the people that care about him (Elizabeth for instance) and drowns in his frantic pursuit of knowledge is heartbreaking. The creature had every opportunity to learn right from wrong and appeared to have done so, but ultimately let revenge and self-pity rule over his decisions. The cumulative havoc the two cause to those around them is shocking and pretty inexcusable. Whilst the characters can be sometimes relatable, I feel like the strength of the book lies through its conveyance of themes, and as Mary Shelley seems to promote (subtle, we elaborated on this in the seminar…), I may have benefited from giving the book a second read.

Nonetheless, it was pretty enjoyable. It wasn’t the most thrilling piece of literature we have read in Arts One, but again I tend to enjoy philosophical texts a bit more….

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Rousseau and the Discourse of Inequality

The first notable aspect I found about Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality is that it essentially conceptually counters Hobbes’ ideas about the power of society. In Leviathan, Hobbes’ concepts of natural right, states of nature in which life is nasty, brutal and short, and that the strong have complete power over the weak but that society exists as a way to remedy this. However in Discourse, Rousseau argues that it is society and social relations that spawn inequality, essentially turning Hobbes’ concept on its head. Rousseau states later that society teaches us to be self-aware and reflective, and whilst this can lead to improvement and advancements in technology , it also leads to pride and our realization of strength and weakness.

The argument he sets forth in Discourse is that modern moral inequality, which is spawned by agreement between men, is unnatural and dissimilar to the real nature of man. Throwing Biblical reference out of the picture, Rousseau attempts at guessing what a state of nature for man would look like. He finds very few discrepancies between man and animal, seeing as they are motivated by two key principles: self-preservation and pity. The one thing that does separate man from animal, however, is perfectibility.

It is one thing to have natural abilities in the state of nature; it is another to be aware of them; and it is another to be aware that others are aware of them and that you can use them for mutual assistance or personal gain.

By the end of the discourse, I felt a little disapointed by the fact that the essay didn’t even get into the discussion of inequality until the second part. Mind you, not too big of an issue since I intended on talking more on the conceptions of the body (which is more relevant in the first part). It is unfortunate that Rousseau was a few generations older than Hobbs; after reading both these (Leviathan and Discourse) I would have loved to see some rebuttle of ideas.

If anyone here watches NBC’s Community I think it’d be worth re-watching the “Debate 109” episode after reading both these texts, as the subject of the episode has to do with man being fundamentally good versus evil. Personally, I am more inclined to believe that society does more good than it does evil, but I disagree with Hobbes on our monstrosity in natural state and tend to side with Rousseau’s ideas of being perfectly self-preservable in our natural state. What are your thoughts?

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