Watchmen

After not really enjoying “Foe”, reading “Watchmen” was what I needed. A classic comic book tale to sweep me away and let me wander through this eerily similar yet vastly different world created by Alan Moore. I’d already read most of “Watchmen” in the far past, and had already seen the movie, so I had a very clear idea of the events to come, yet I didn’t expect to get so caught up in the little things in this reading through. I spent way too long looking at the backgrounds of panels, just observing the world which was so meticulously created. I relished at finding hidden and cut off newspaper headlines which gave a bit more life to the dark painting of Nixon New York the characters inhabit. Hell, I even read all of the segments in between the chapters, something I wouldn’t have even fathomed as a kid.

Part of the reason I like “Watchmen” so much is the characters in the story. It sounds incredibly generic and overheard, but I enjoyed “Watchmen” mostly due to characters like Rorschach, The Comedian, and especially Bernie and Bernard (the kid and the man of the newstand). Funnily enough, all the characters I really felt connected to ended up dying in some way. I mention the characters because I feel like this is where a lot of “Watchmen”‘s beauty lies. I really can’t recall any comic book or even book/novel which had this many dynamic and interesting characters. The reader is constantly getting to know different characters better in these constantly connected interactions. Interactions which not only give context to the character, but are also linked to the main story, and give the whole world context.

Maybe this is something people might dislike about the book. I could see it being a bit of a jumbled mess if you don’t have the patience and time to sift through the endless narration of “The Black Freighter”, wondering why a crazy survivor/pirate story is constantly coming back. But it’s like any sort of world you can get lost in, similar to Star Wars, Star Trek, or any other similar franchise which has an incredibly detailed world and characters to get lost within.

Perhaps part of the reason I enjoy reading “Watchmen” so much is because it naturally divides opinion. There are those who believe Veidt is the true protagonist and saviour, yet upon closer inspection nobody is able to be a proper hero within the story. Veidt lies to the world, kills half of New York (including The Comedian, and many of the minor characters in the city of New York the reader grows to love), all in a crazy plan to restore peace. He even goes so far as to try to destroy Dr. Manhattan! Is this what a hero looks like to you? But the alternatives are just as morose, with the wild Rorschach as the other main choice. A vicious man who lives with no regrets, constantly searching for truth and righteousness. That is my hero.

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Foe

Reading “Foe” took me directly back to when I was a child, and my parents forced me (didn’t let me read other books until I finished this one) to read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. While I look back on the past today surely acknowledging the masterful writing of Mark Twain (especially because my father has a large portrait of him in the living room), even today I can’t bear to even think about “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. It’s not that “Foe” is a book I immediately disliked for any particular reason, it’s just that it came exactly at the wrong time for me.

The reason that I didn’t like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” as a kid was because I often had a fat stack of Calvin and Hobbes comics waiting for me at the finish line. It’s remarkable how much the modern day case of “Foe” resembles this. After having just read one of my favorite (if not my definite favorite) book of the course by Primo Levi, and with “Watchmen” coming up right after, “Foe” seemed like an awfully misplaced book in this part of the year (especially for someone with very little self initiative and directive towards schoolwork). I would constantly be taking sneakpeaks at what was ahead, or thinking of reading a chapter of Primo Levi through again rather than simply reading Foe. On top of it all, I was in Los Angeles vacationing and working, so the story told by J.M. Coetzee was even more detached from my thoughts. It was a suffering existence of not properly getting immersed in the book, and truly not enjoying any part of it.

I just couldn’t handle the story, I didn’t like the way Coetzee meshed these worlds together, trying to be very artistic and fancy (changing names of characters etc.) when maybe just making up a totally new story would’ve been easier on everyone. Maybe a lot of my frustration with the book culminated when I read the final chapter. By then I had already been toyed with enough by Coetzee, and I simply wanted a resolution to this story I could not immerse myself within. Instead, the last few pages are nothing but a stacking up of things which bothered me about the whole book! Constantly trying to be overly artistic and perhaps impart some deeper meaning to the reader with a final chapter filled with (somehow) connected symbols and motifs which did not satisfy me or change my opinion of the book for the better.

While I’m sure “Foe” must be respected for the writing and maybe even for the story, but just like Mark Twain’s famous novel, it came at the wrong time and was never able to leave an imparting impression upon me.

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Primo Levi

After reading “Survival in Auschwitz”, I can easily say that it’s my favorite of all the books I’ve read so far this year. While the subject matter Levi was writing about was horrifying and tragic, the way in which he writes it all is beautiful. His writing reflects the bleak tone prevalent throughout the events, yet certain descriptions are so vivid that Levi brings this now dead world back to life. One of my favorite passages has to be the one in which he describes the rest siren of the camp:

“And at last, like a celestial meteor, superhuman and impersonal like a sign from heaven, the midday siren explodes, granting a brief respite to our anonymous and concord tiredness and hunger.”

And it’s not just this small passage which is so vividly described, every memorable instance Levi lived through in the camp is meticulously described. Reading the book, it was a constant experience of not wanting to read on (due to the tragic nature of everything written), but having a drive to know more about what had happened. Part of this is also due to the way the book is put together, while it is constantly fairly depressing, certain sections are thrown in (like the chapter entitled A Good Day) which give a sort of break to what could become monotonous and bleak descriptions of a horrible existence.

What I found incredibly interesting (after having read the book) is that Levi wasn’t a writer by profession. He was a chemist, who after these dark experiences in Auschwitz began telling stories of what he’d been through. Little by little, he began to write more, and using the years of suffering he’d been through, he channeled that into his poetry and other works. While this bit of biographical history might seem fairly uninteresting or not useful, I feel like it really shows the importance of writing.

I got this sense from reading “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and especially the small explanation Charlotte Perkins Gilman included with the story about her writing it. Writing truly seems like one of the few outlets for our mind. The way we cope with certain things is to write, probably because talking to yourself out loud seems like a fairly strange method. It’s something we have in common as a species which is becoming more literate, as it’s our way to communicate, share, reveal, and express what we feel. It seems like that’s a very important part of how Levi managed to write these amazing works, as it was his only outlet.

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Borges, Hernandez, & Arlt

Amongst the well-known works of Borges, I’m glad we got the chance to read “The Cooked Cat” and “The Daisy Dolls”. These two were definitely my favorite, and probably rank within the top five of the whole Arts One reading list from this year. I liked them both for different reasons though, they were two different types of stories which left a very solid impression upon me.

“The Cooked Cat” is a story which shocks you. It doesn’t shock you with the actual cooking of the cat (considering it’s revealed in the title), but it shocks you because from the way this family is described, the idea of Aunt Pepa cooking a cat is completely possible. It was in the little things which the cruelty really got to me. The scene with the pharmacist, where he would flaunt his earnings, for absolutely no gain to himself. And maybe because it’s something to do with the people I’ve met in Italy (old ladies very similar to the likes of Aunt Pepa), or maybe it’s the way the story was written, but it was all incredibly realistic to me.

So while “The Cooked Cat” is a story which shocked me, “The Daisy Dolls” really made me reflect and think. While I may be completely wrong, but I felt like a large idea of the story was the idea of impressions. What I mean by this is more like “first impressions” or what you could call “judging something by the book of its cover”. Our protagonist, Horacio is a man who continuously does just that. He’s always trying to judge these scenes, interpret what they could be from just a single impression, only to often find out his first impression is wrong. Perhaps it ties in with the whole idea of dolls, and the way we would judge someone who has dolls and treats/loves them the same way Horacio does? I’m not sure about that point, but still, the rest isn’t so bad.

Perhaps what’s the most prevalent element within these stories is a heavy sense of darkness. And by darkness I mean sadness, desperation, and the idea of violence Jon mentioned. They seem really prevalent within south-american/spanish/italian writings, whereas novels and stories from other regions tend to have a bit of a lighter air. I don’t think this really says anything about the cultures, but rather is just a characteristic of their writing culture.

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Yellow Wallpaper & Metamorphosis

I remember when I signed up for Arts One and I saw Kafka on the reading list. I’d never read anything by him, but when I saw it I immediately thought to myself “That one’s gonna be worth reading”. It’s not that “The Metamorphosis” wasn’t worth reading, it’s just that I found “The Yellow Wallpaper” so interesting that Kafka’s work was a mere afterthought. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed “The Metamorphosis”, it’s just that I hated Gregor so much. Everything about him. His weak and clouded mind, being taken advantage of by his family as he continuously frets and works for them.

However in comparison, the lady from “The Yellow Wallpaper” was extremely interesting. While she too is undermined by other characters (especially her husband Jon), as she loses her mind, she also seems to gain her own freedom from his oppression. He constantly told her what to do, not to write, where to sit, how to rest, and while she did end up going crazy, the final scene is so rebellious and uprising that it almost makes me respect her. “Her” being a strange way to refer to the character, especially if it’s still “her” as in the woman who wrote the journal the entire time. We don’t really know, as the scene where she tears out the wallpaper begins to meld the woman from the wallpaper with the one outside of it.

That’s why I liked “The Yellow Wallpaper” so much, it’s open to interpretation and makes you think. Reading and re-reading you find little interesting details which perhaps make the case that she’s been trapped in the wallpaper, and others which lead to other conclusions. Whereas reading “The Metamorphosis” I had no doubts that Gregor was turned into a bug, and there was no mysticism about it all. He became a bug. Nobody cared. He eventually died. That sort of a plotline really fails to excite me, whereas the “The Yellow Wallpaper” has extremely interesting storytelling elements which leave the reader unsure about what happened, and especially what they can trust of the text.

So I guess this all shows me something. Don’t have big expectations? I’m not sure, but then again, every short story or short piece of literature we do in Arts One seems to be awesome, therefore I’ve got big expectations of short works (Borges better not let me down).

 

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The Wasteland

The Wasteland is a text of mysteries. While there might be some that tear their hair out over these mysteries, analyzing with scrupulous eyes, I embrace the mystery. I try to read the text for what it is, pretty sounding words put together nicely, and if there’s a deeper meaning to find, hopefully I’ll see it. In the past I really tried to delve deep into the true meanings of books and stories, often looking to hard to even appreciate the work for what it is.

But I had a revelation with “The Wasteland”. At first I was completely puzzled by it all. Truly lost, trying to find meaning within sentences which eluded me and confused me to no end. Yet my revelation came when I remembered a conversation with an old friend from highschool. He was midway through reading James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” for a school project, and when I asked him how he managed to make sense of it all, he told me this. “I don’t make sense of anything anymore, there’s no use. Instead I just read the words for what they are, if Joyce says ‘Bisons is Bisons’, well then ‘Bisons is Bisons’.” He ended up doing pretty well on his project, so I guess he’s got this wild complicated literature stuff figured out.

It’s not that I’m saying we should avoid discussion or not ponder what “The Wasteland” means, but perhaps we should just try to read it and simply enjoy it. But of course, part of the fun of “The Wasteland” is its intricate allusions and references to older more ancient texts. It’s almost as if T.S. Eliot was re-tweeting all of the great writers of the past, throwing in his own little phrases amongst the references.

Perhaps a large part of why I enjoyed “The Wasteland” so much is that it was nice and short. Perhaps I should thank Ezra Pound, who trimmed out the unnecessary fat from T.S. Eliot’s original work. While the Wasteland is dense and colorful writing to analyze, it’s a different type of density compared to let’s say Hobbes’s “Leviathan” (probably also because it’s not sitting at around >400 pages). I really can’t say I made too much sense out of “The Wasteland”, but it’s easily one of the most memorable texts so far. I saw it almost the same way I see interpretive dance (something which I don’t know anything about), something that is there to be appreciated, and if you find deeper meanings, well that’s awesome!

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Freud

As someone who had never previously read any of Freud’s writings, the only conception I had of his work was his incredibly uncomfortable familial sexual theories and perhaps a little bit of stuff surrounding the unconscious. Strangely enough, after reading Freud, it was one of the few texts within which I actually liked a large part of the ideas which luckily for me weren’t as complicated as I was fearing.

It was from his opening, talking about the oceanic feeling some people get when part of a religion, that I could tell that Freud wasn’t just obsessed with sexual theories, but rather had some really solid ideas. Funnily enough, I found out that I agree with a lot of Freud’s ideas and theories. While I’m not religious myself, I grew up with some relatively religious grandparents who often took me to grand Venetian churches to admire not only the religious aspect, but also the artistic aspect. In fact, while I’m not religious, I’ve almost found a bit of wonder in how devoted people are to their religion. I find it incredibly impressive how in many cases religion is an incredibly uniting factor for many groups of people. The feeling of being part of something greater is what it can provide (that “oceanic” feeling that Freud describes), and honestly, sometimes I’d like to be part of something like that.

While it seems easy to constantly criticize religion, it’s amazing the way religion has helped guide people’s lives. Part of my childhood was spent in Dallas, Texas, a hotbed of very religious people. And I remember after having sleepovers at friend’s houses on Saturday night, Sunday morning their family would take me to church with them.The first time I was blown away by the feeling of inclusion I found. Even though I had spent a couple of hours sitting and listening to a man tell stories which may or may not have been true, amongst the choir singing and praying around me, it was a nice feeling to be part of something greater.

But this is all slightly off topic from Freud. To sum up my experience with Freud, I was very pleasantly surprised. I think that while Freud and his theories had faults, many of them were extremely spot on. Part of the reason that some seem to dislike his writings is perhaps due to the fact that they don’t want to acknowledge that perhaps they do in fact have strong sexual urges towards their mother. I remember there’s an old Italian saying which goes along the tune of, “A man will always find love in a woman who cooks just like his mother”. While Freud might have left out the cooking part, in Italy there’s a noticeable and almost eerie pattern of men who marry women who are extremely physically similar to their mothers. Perhaps this is just a strange occurrence, but I’m of the opinion that Freud hit a lot of nails on the head in “Civilization and its Discontents”.

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Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (from now on DJMH for short) was quite a relief to read. After somehow managing to power through Rousseau and Nietzsche, a classic tale like DJMH was relaxing and definitely did me some good. Yet obviously, like all good things, there was something that bothered me about DJMH. It’s the incredibly nosy Mr. Utterson. Now it’s not to be rude to Mr. Utterson, but Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s personal life is not his business! Perhaps another thing that bothered me about this book is the large amount of secrecy throughout it. I wanted to constantly be able to hear every character’s thoughts. I was intrigued to see everyone’s motivations, especially Jekyll/Hyde’s in depth.

I like how Jekyll and Hyde both had their places, which slowly changed throughout the book. What I mean by places is how at the start, Hyde is constantly ramping through the streets, free of worry until he trampled a girl and beat a man. During all of this Jekyll was almost always reserved and in his room. But as the search for Hyde grows, it is he who becomes more reclusive, hidden from the streets, whereas Jekyll is now more active and outside free to roam the streets and correct whatever deeds Hyde committed in the past.

Other than a few very insignificant complaints, DJMH was very enjoyable. I really liked how Dr. Jekyll seemed like a bit of an unlikely tragic hero. His hamartia (tragic flaw) is his want to transform himself and free his good and evil sides, yet the dark side ends up taking over. This is a story where the hero is defeated, by himself… Maybe it’s supposed to say something about us as people, that somethimes we’re not always able to be the best person. Sometimes our darker side manages to take over, and in Jekyll’s/Hyde’s case it leads to the protagonist (and maybe even the antagonist’s) death.

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Jekyll & Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (from now on DJMH for short) was quite a relief to read. After somehow managing to power through Rousseau and Nietzsche, a classic tale like DJMH was relaxing and definitely did me some good. Yet obviously, like all good things, there was something that bothered me about DJMH. It’s the incredibly nosy Mr. Utterson. Now it’s not to be rude to Mr. Utterson, but Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s personal life is not his business! Perhaps another thing that bothered me about this book is the large amount of secrecy throughout it.

While I understand that the secrecy and mystery is what makes this book so enjoyable to read, but what I would give for another version written by Robert Louis Stevenson completely in the perspective of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. We would get to see the inside of a character who is definitely having some identity crisis problems, and we would get to see details into the way Jekyll/Hyde live and interact with their own thoughts and actions. Like Caroline mentioned in the lecture, who really wrote the check? It seems like that scene, in the perspective of Jekyll/Hyde would be amazing, as we’d get to see the tension behind the situation, and we’d get to see who made the call of writing the check (whether there was any [internal] disagreement), and who ultimately truly wrote the check out.

Other than these two very insignificant complaints, DJMH was very enjoyable. I really liked how Dr. Jekyll seemed like a bit of an unlikely tragic hero. His hamartia (tragic flaw) is his want to transform himself and free his good and evil sides, yet the dark side ends up taking over. This is a story where the hero is defeated, by himself… Maybe it’s supposed to say something about us as people, that somethimes we’re not always able to be the best person. Sometimes our darker side manages to take over, and in Jekyll’s/Hyde’s case it leads to the protagonist (and maybe even the antagonist’s) death.

Nietzsche

Nietzsche is definitely a tough read. It’s dense, ideas flying everywhere, and a sense of anti-everything pervades the three essays in “On the Genealogy of Morals”. His ideas of the anti-foundation, and the way his writing style is one which lacks a solid foundation itself is interesting… not to use another word. It’s probably that, his writing style, which made this work so difficult to read. Modern day “essays” of most types have an extremely solid foundation. A modern essay will have a main claim (which is stated in the introduction), and then this claim will be systematically proven through a series of interrelating paragraphs all containing information relating to the original claim. Finally, this is all rounded off with a conclusion, clarifying and simplifying the information and restating the original claim. Nietzsche doesn’t do this in his essays. His essays are more like the ramblings of a madman, recalling occasional ideas, interrupting himself with different ideas, and expecting us to be able to follow his train of thought which left the tracks long ago.

Putting my dislike for his writing style aside, I also have some beef with Nietzsche’s ideas and points, but I’m going to start with what I’m in agreement with Nietzsche. His deduction of guilt and its connection to debt, which then goes on to his idea of punishment is incredibly well thought out. In fact, it’s a common truth that when one is in debt, and is unable to pay it off, one will feel guilt. And the idea of repaying your debts with punishment is one which while I don’t think applies to a lot of modern day scenarios, is fairly true (especially if you’re considering a multitude of gangster movies in which Joe Pesci helps many men repay their “debts”).

However Nietzsche is against the objectification of ones views. He (an introspective lunatic) is a strong believer in broadening your perspectives by conversing with others. He’s against the notion of objectifying your perspective, in fact, having no perspective at all, and to me this makes little sense. He says that it castrates the intellect, yet I have to disagree. Objectivity is an incredibly important aspect which cannot be underestimated. Some of the greatest works (especially philosophical ones) are achieved through the objectification of ones beliefs. While I don’t think we should be eliminating our own perspective completely, objectification is an aspect which a lot of intellectuals find very important to conceiving their work successfully.

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