Survival in Auschwitz

In school, over the years, I’ve ready many books and storieS about the holocaust and it’s victims and survivors. There have been countless movies and the like which also depict this period in history however Levi’s biography is a startling example of how, even after having read many books and seen movies this subject is still able to induce horror and sympathy. Levi’s way of writing and using words is remarkable and fascinating because just for a moment you are transported into the “hell” he is in because of his use of language. Some of the phrases he uses are haunting and remain in your mind even after the book is finished and the last page is turned. Levi’s words manage to recreate the reality of his time spent in the death camps of Auschwitz without sounding as if he is trying to recreate something from his memory instead the whole book feels real and disturbing. 
One of the interesting things about Levi’s book is his use of a ancient Greek mythology in order to explain the feeling of being without food. Tantalus was a mortal who offended the gods and was kept in Tartarus in a pit of water he could not drink below a branch of food he could never reach. In this way Levi has taken something cruel and terrible and made it work with some of the most incredible historical fiction. The story of Tantalus was in reference to the power of the gods and the cult of the gods because Tantalus was cursed to remain in that position forever without any hope for redemption. However, one key difference was that Tantalus actually did commit a crime whereas Levi himself did not commit any crime other than the fat that he was born into a certain race and part of the world. I think Levi manages to juxtapose the idea of the animal like cruelty which the people are subjected to with the example of Tantalus which is not a subject or idea everyone knows about making the injustice he faces even more upsetting. 

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Arlt, Borges and Hernandez

After reading Kafka’s short story I wasn’t expecting to like these short stories as much I did. The story about the cooked cat was one of the weirdest stories I have ever read – it seemed to be about nothing and everything at the same time. It’s not about telling an actual story or teaching us a moral instead its just about punishing an animal for behaving like its meant to. Borges’ short stories are interesting and intriguing – they are about normality things which turn into supernatural ideas, alternate universes and the like. The a library of Babel, Hakim and the circular ruins are my three favorite short stories. The story about Hakim is interesting Because it takes a diseased man and turns him into a legend and a demon, at the end when the mask is removed and you see that he has leprosy it makes the fact that he welcomed the other leprosy victims make more sense. The circular ruins kind of remind me of the movie inception, it’s like one dream within another without the inhabitants knowing that they are being dreamed up and are not actually real. This kind of inception like short story is weird and one of the most interesting stories I’ve read. The Circular Ruins is a strange and fascinating short story. However I don’t think that his stories are meant to make sense – they are not about telling moralistic short stories, or about having an actual purpose. Like Kafka, I think they exist just to exist, and that they are not there to show the reader anything but to take them on a journey to different worlds, just because.

Daisy Dolls was one of my favorite short stories – mainly because it was so strange and confusing and awkward that it was that much more intriguing. The idea that the dolls and the scenes drove the protagonist to the end it did is fascinating. In my mind whenever I think of him running towards the machines I think about him a) running into the room with the scenes and pulling at all apart, or b) managing to somehow kill himself within the scenes  because the scenes kept coming to life, even though they were his wife’s actions, the scenes kept smudging the lines between dreams and reality and he just couldn’t take it anymore and in the last scene where his wife is in the scene is like the last time he can take the fact that because of these dolls he is unable to distinguish between dolls and humans, between dreams and reality.

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The Yellow Wallpaper and Metamorphosis

I’ve read the Yellow Wallpaper many times before and each time reading it has been interesting. The protagonist’s thoughts and actions show the reader that it was possible for her illness – I assume she was depressed after giving birth to her child – to be cured or even helped. However, at that time, medicine did not allow for psychological illnesses to be considered ‘real illnesses’ and that is why her husband John does not truly believe himself that she is really as ill as she claims. John is an extremely unlikeable character in this short story. Whenever she wants company he says having “society and stimulus” would be bad for her and yet that is exactly what she needs at this point instead of being stuck in a hideous room. This short story also deals with the view of mental illness in the 1890’s – the protagonists husband refuses to accept the fact that she might be actually ill and not just suffering from some nervous disorder.

Franz Kafka’s “the Metamorphosis” was a short story I’d heard about many times. I read his other short story “The Hunger Artist” in high school and I found it weird and compelling and sad all at the same time. “Metamorphosis” was an extremely compelling short story. Having an ordinary middle class man suddenly turn into a cockroach (beetle? insect?) is surprising and strange. There is no explanation given for this transformation, nothing out of the ordinary happened to him and yet he suddenly just turned into a cockroach. Sometimes there doesn’t have to always be a reason for a short story to come about, it could be that just simply one morning he woke up a creature which he was not before and there’s simply nothing anyone can do about it. Kafka’s story-telling abilities are astounding in this story, I ended up feeling miserable while reading the story even though I hate insects and found the idea ridiculous to begin with. There’s nothing happy about this story – no happy ending, no idea of a better tomorrow nothing to give one hope and I think that sometimes with a story like this you kind of see reality because there aren’t always good endings there are just things which happen and sometimes you really can’t do anything about them.

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The Waste Land

Poetry is often confusing when at a first glance. T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is no different. However, during closer readings, and while thinking about it, this poem is sad and yet intriguing. One of the longest poems I’ve ever read but since it is divided into sections it becomes a little easier to think of as separate entities making up a whole. The first part of the poem reveals something interesting about the narrator – to him/her April is a month which brings back hurt memories and sadness and winter (and snow) becomes synonymous with forgetting these memories and moving, or pausing, life long enough to forget (or fake forgetting) the memories. Eliot also drops in moments where the reader is forced to think of birth and nurturing of a new life “feeding A little life with dried tubers.” However Eliot also drops in random moments of different languages, peoples actual memories and funny moments amongst the seriousness. Eliot’s reference to the “Hyacinth” girl is also interesting because in Greek mythology Hyacinthus was a mortal man loved by the Greek God Apollo who was killed which is also hinted at in the poem itself “I was neither Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,” because he was immortalized in the flower on which his blood had been spilled.

Eliot’s poem looks at different images and ideas which all appear to relate to death and rebirth, and in some cases, the state between living and death. The imagery he uses is especially striking and take the reader into a separate world with his intriguing and unique images. He adds another image of rebirth with the idea of a corpse being planted and “blooming” into something in the spring. He then switches to imagery about Cleopatra and Marc Anthony which then turns into a conversation about “nothing”. This section of the poem is interrupted by “HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME” which takes the imagery from Ancient Egypt into a typical bar closing conversation. Eliot’s ability to interlink, and jump from, two separate and completely unrelated scenes is fascinating especially since the title of his poem is The Waste Land, which brings to mind the idea that no matter where or when you are death, memories and rebirth follow. We are unable to escape from the waste land of our lives.

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Freud: Civilization and its Discontents

Having heard vague – and somethings strange – references and ideas relating to Freud throughout high school it was interesting to finally read his book. Although I expected a compilation of essays, or something else of the sort, I was surprised by his simple writing and a rather normal chapter form book. Freud raises some interesting points about religion, and the idea that it is there in order for humans to have something to rely on/give blame to/feel as if something else control their life. He looks at this as if it were a pitiful fault of humanity that they cannot rise above the idea of the “exalted father” who takes care, hears, prayers of, and is the person in charge of everything that happens to us. Freud also takes about the things which threaten to cause suffering in human lives: the internal, as in our own bodies inevitable decay; the external, our world around us, I suppose perhaps similar to Hobbes’ idea of humans beings afraid of being violently and suddenly killed; and the relations with other humans, the idea of this is how other people affect us and cause us suffering, this, according to Freud, is the kind of potential suffering which is ” more painful to us than any other”  (44).  Freud further talks about how intoxicating substances help alleviate suffering and increase happiness because they blank out suffering and it is interesting that while his ideas are not all right, or even good for us in some cases such as this, he writes so convincingly that it is important, in my opinion, not to get convinced by what he’s saying.

Freud paints an interesting picture of humanity and the things which affects it. While the most memorable things about Freud, from what people say, are his strange ideas this book shows otherwise. While the book is devoid of the usual disturbing Freudian ideas (the popular ideas, the ideas that everyone remembers) it shows another side to his theories and ideas and these are not as controversial seeming or as disturbing as the other ones. Its interesting to see how people choose one aspect of a persons ideology or theories and those become the only generally known, or ‘popular’, ideas from the individual. However when reading further and actually learning about the individual they are more than just one idea or one hypothesis.

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Jekyll’s idea that man is not one but “two” is interesting because it is as if he took the idea of the duality of human beings and turned it into a science experiment. Humans are by nature capable of both good and evil and because of this in every one human it could appear that two different individuals could come out of one singular entity – I think that Dr. Jekyll took this idea of human duality and a little too far and instead of discovering something incredible he discovered the unnatural. The reason humans are so dual is because one individual is then capable of both good and bad and thus one individual is not left wholely on one side. If individuals were defined by good and bad and incapable of being the opposite than the world would be an incredibly difficult place to live in. There would be a large distinction between people which would result in the world itself being divided into strict good and bad people (for example good people would not be able to do anything ‘bad’ and vice versa) which means that minds could not be changed and people would not longer learn to control their bad qualities and instead would begin to believe that because they were the ‘bad’ half of the unit their actions would have no consequences because it would be in their nature to be evil.

While reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel my mind kept going back to the idea of Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who plagued London and walked the streets at night but was never caught. While this novel might be completely unrelated the idea of Mr. Hyde walking the streets at night and hurting first the young girl and then killing the prominent gentleman and then completely disappearing. Jack the Ripper was never found and convicted of the heinous crimes he committed he could really have been anyone. The idea that this criminal could, in the darkness, commit such crimes and yet at the same time never be found out because he could have been anyone in the daylight. This case seems familiar to that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde where Mr. Hyde disappeared and actually was Dr. Jekyll the whole time. The idea that someone who could commit those horrible crimes could at the same time be someone with such a renowned and proper reputation.

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On The Genealogy of Morals

These essays seem immensely similar to Rousseau’s writing and his ideas. I was surprised how many times Nietzsche’s words reminded me of Rousseau and even his ideas seem slightly Rousseau-esque while his writing style brings to mind that of Plato’s. Nietzsche starts of the collection of essays with the idea of the etymology (in his own way) of the words good and bad and he points out that the word good seems to stem from the rich and noble and that the word bad appeared to stem from the poor and unfortunate – in this way it reminded me of Rousseau’s idea that property become peoples the instant one man decided that a section of land was his. Nietzsche also has an interesting idea about resentment and anger in humans which is a little bit confusing but seems to somehow lead to creativity (in the section about the slave revolt) and this all somehow led to the idea that ‘slave morality’ needs a hostile environment in order to exist which is interesting because people sometimes think that if something bad had not happened to them then it would have been better but they seem to forget that without such experiences (and in this case hostile environments) creativity and action does not just instantaneously happen it needs inspiration and according to Nietzsche that inspiration comes from a hostile environment.

It is also interesting to note that Nietzsche uses many references to Ancient Greece – like Rousseau did – and it seems as if most philosophers and authors use Greek texts, myths and philosophers as a starting and reference point in their own essays, novels and the like. It somehow seems as if most people consider Ancient Greek texts as a reference point for all of their ideas and thinking. Nietzsche even talks about how Hesiod found it difficult to put Homer’s Greece into understandable sections so he had to subdivide Ancient Greece – this subdivision appears to have become how the Greeks explained the absence of the gods since one division ended with the Trojan War and that was the last known point in myth where the gods roamed the earth. It is also interesting that Nietzsche calls mans “the maggot” – which is a creature which eats  flesh (dead or alive) and consumes other creatures from the inside out, a parasite of sorts. Nietzsche’s text, while difficult to read, has some interesting points and ideas.

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When I was younger I went through a phase where I only read old British and American classics. While I read most of them somehow Frankenstein managed to slip through the cracks. Perhaps it was because I wasnt sure what horrors I would find (considering the fact that every cartoon had a Frankenstein mockery running around destroying things and the only image I had in my mind was of a large man running around with bolts in his neck in black and white) so when reading the book I was largely unprepared for the actual text. Everyone I know whose read Frankenstein love the book and I didn’t expect myself to like it as much as I did because when everyone loves something you start the book with certain expectations and more often than not those expectations are not met. However Frankenstein is one of those novels where whole paragraphs resonate and you are so intrigued by the whole book that putting it down is not an option.

I especially like Shelley’s way of writing because she turns descriptions into beautiful images through her use of words. Shelley also has a way of making you feel both pity for the “creature” and horror at what he does. Shelley has created a character so complex that on one hand he is an innocent and extremely lonely infant almost and on the other he is a cruel and diabolical monster of sorts. Perhaps if he was only feared and not isolated he would have resembled the Greek gods in his immaturity and immense power – a combination which is frightening in any form. Frankenstein himself is the creator of this being and his actions show us the consequences faced by any man who tries to become and behave like a god. Frankenstein is not only a book about monsters and the creator vs the creation but it is also about consequences and the cruelty of humanity. We all say and behave as if we would not isolate a creature because of its appearance but would instead judge it based upon its actions and, until the murder of William, the creature does not do any harm to anyone and he even helps out the De Lacey’s in their poverty. Frankenstein himself could not bear to look upon his own creation and I find that incredibly sad because the creature was his responsibility and perhaps if he had gotten even an ounce of love or kindness from anyone he might not have been as monstrous as he appeared.


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A Discourse on Inequality

While I do not like reading political and philosophical books Rousseau’s A Discourse on Inequality was strangely enough an interesting read. Rousseau’s book is an easier read than many of the other books related to politics and philosophy which we read over the semester and yet it is the easiest one to read out of all of them. Rousseau uses interesting and diverse imagery in order to emphasize the points he is making and those images help to highlight his own character and personal traits such as the idea of the cows which cry when they are about to go to the slaughter house and other animal comparisons (such as when he compares the rich people to wolves) showing the importance that animals played in his mind and his writing. Rousseau also mentions ancient Greece and Rome when he compares how Nature treats them to how the Law of Sparta “treated the children of its citizens”; he also mentions Ceres and the festival “Thesmophoria” which is festival in honor of Ceres (or Demeter in Ancient Greece) I learned about in a Greek/Roman myth class and it strange that he mentions this particular festival because it is an all female ritual which was held near the seat of male power in Athens. Since Rousseau does not really mention women throughout his essay it is interesting to note that one of the only times that he does reference them (in any way) he talks about a ritual which showed a strong female character in a patriarchal society being worshiped so near the male seat of power.

Another facet of Rousseau’s essay I found particularly interesting was the idea of the tree being pictured in the mind. Rousseau points out that the second imagination enters all general ideas become “particular” – then they are no longer one out of a large number, instead they become unique. Upon further htought it is almost impossible for two people to imagine the same tree (although now it is less impossible because of media and films, if I were to mention the White Tree of Gondor I’m sure almost everyone could imagine the same tree, but even then it would be dependent on how you remembered the same tree) with exceptions and yet even if the trees were almost the same something or the other would be different because of perspective and the person imagining the tree. Rousseau’s idea that imagination changes things is fascinating and something I feel like we all live with and forget to really think about on a daily basis. How unique our imagination really is.

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Hobbes Leviathon

Every fairy tale and epic adventure looks at fear a different way. However in most cases they believe that fear must be embraced in order for the protagonist (reluctant hero or wannabe Hercules) to fulfill his eventual destiny – involving defeating the “monsters” and getting the princess. Hobbes says that there are no monsters in life but there is fear, a prevailing and corner of the eye living fear of a violent and sudden death. While this idea is interesting and fits in quite well with our society – scientists trying to find the cure to fatal diseases, people spending millions wanting to find immortality, the prevailing themes of books about fantasy worlds is the capability of not dying – its interesting that Hobbes says this fear exists while at the same time saying that monsters don’t. A monster can be anything really, a monster does not have to be a living (subjectively) tangible being but instead fate itself could be a monster. And is it not fate that decides our end, at the end? Hobbes attempts to remove all idea of the fantastical and the imaginative. Hobbes says that demons and the like are merely from our own minds however could it be that people decided to create these demons and monsters in the dark in order to explain the facts of life which mere chance could not? At some point in time, when bad and unexplainable things happen isn’t it easier to create a monster or a being who could take all the blame and make it appear as if what happened was inevitable? Perhaps that’s the basis of all of these monsters in the dark, that we are only afraid of looking in the mirror and realizing that everything bad that has happened, happened because it was meant to happen. Are these monsters our ways of looking away from the mirror and allowing a manifest being to become the reason for all misfortune? With the removal of monsters from society and the acceptance of a underlying fear throughout our lives of sudden and violent death are we left with having to face the mirrors and realize that what we see, and what happens to us, is merely what happens and there is no real reason for some of the terrible things that occur except that some man, somewhere, made a decision and acted upon it? That, that is it – the answer to everything

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