Hobbes’ Leviathan

I’d heard about Hobbes and his Leviathan in my politics class last year, and it was definitely not quite what I was expecting. I was thinking it would be very pessimistic and about the evilness of humanity, which I was sort of looking forward to, but it wasn’t really, at least not to the extent I was thinking. It wasn’t an easy read for me, but I usually tend to have a bit of trouble getting into the feel of these texts from hundreds of years ago. But I really like them, since I find them really interesting, and even though I don’t agree with a lot of what is said (I wonder how an argument between Hobbes and I would go…) I still enjoy them.

I wasn’t expecting all that at the beginning about speech and definitions. Leviathan felt a little bit more like a dictionary for a while there. But defining terms is very important when making an argument like this, and I understand why he did it. Though it was a little tedious to read.

I feel like fear plays a large role in all of our texts, which makes sense, since our theme is monsters in the mirror. But every now and then I go ‘wow, that really fits perfectly’. The reason we strive for peace and hand over unlimited power to the sovereign is fear of death, Hobbes says. The phrase “better safe than sorry” is coming to mind. He isn’t saying that given half a chance, we’d all be out to kill each other. It’s more that it’s a possibility that there are those who would, so ultimate power to the sovereign would protect us. Makes sense. But, I’ve gotta say, something about “unlimited power of the sovereign” brings to mind villainous cartoon characters cackling about world domination.

It’s easy to see how this has become a very renowned text. Sure, we don’t live in a 100% Hobbesian state, with our many rights and the fact that we can take away power from a “sovereign” (anyone heard the news with Rob Ford?), but you can see things that Hobbes would be pleased with, were he to ever visit Canada, as was brought up in the debate. Though I’ll say that I think there’d be more that he would be thoroughly displeased with. But until I finally get my time machine working (it’s in the planning stages) we’ll have to live with the uncertainty.

 I hope everyone has a great winter break, can’t wait to see you all when we get back! 

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Woo-hoo! Our first novel in arts one, we can actually call this a book and be right! That was a little exciting. I like novels, though I’ll admit it was a little frustrating reading with the deadline, being much more rushed than I usually would be with a novel, and the language took some getting used to, though I eventually got into the flow of it. And it didn’t really read very much like a novel, if that makes any sense. The lack of chapters and the narrative writing made me feel more like I was reading an autobiography of a man who really lived. Especially with the journal being thrown in there. I would almost call it a bit of a mesh between Columbus (the four voyages) and The Odyssey. The Odyssey because it displays so prominently the conflict of man vs. nature, which Odysseus has to face when he sails. And both have the element of religion being the cause for their suffering, though in very different ways. The god Crusoe believes in is not a physical thing that he interacts with, but he believes that his god causes his suffering, and similarly Zeus causes much of Odysseus’ troubles. There’s also the quest for home which takes much longer than expected that they share. With The Four Voyages, Crusoe and Columbus both have themes of colonialism and, again, voyaging across the sea, as well as the journal-y feel, though Columbus was writing letters which served a fairly specific purpose.

I was very interested in Crusoe as a character, as the situation of being isolated and alone on an island is very intriguing. But as a person, being in his head sometimes (reading his thoughts) was very frustrating. He makes his own kingdom and names slaves much the same way Prospero does. I’m wondering if I should interpret this as a comment by the part of Dafoe on human nature. Do we all wish in some sense to be rulers, when put in a situation where it’s possible? Do we naturally define ourselves as kings when presented with a plot of land devoid of others who we’d define as people? Also the fact that Crusoe relies so heavily to religion, and believes he’s being punished by god. Is Dafoe inferring we turn to religion in desperation? Or, was Dafoe religious himself, and trying to teach a lesson? Since it’s an older book it’s likely that the author was religious I suppose.

I’ll give it to Crusoe that I was impressed with some of his accomplishments of agriculture, as well as the things he makes and builds. In the back of my mind I was wondering how long I would last, trapped alone on an island. I wouldn’t stay sane too long I suspect, without anyone to talk to. Friday saves Crusoe in a very big way. Would he have lasted much longer without a friend? 

The Tempest

Coming back to Shakespeare feels rather natural, having done one of his plays every year of high school, and preformed a few of them throughout elementary. Though I’m more used to his tragedies than comedies, so this was a bit of a change. I do admittedly enjoy Shakespeare, having done so much with it in the past. The language isn’t as foreign or tricky anymore, though it does still have its challenges, just to a lesser extent. Perhaps it’s just because I’m used to Shakespeare’s plays that I like them, I feel a little more confident in my ability to write an essay on one.

            Though I wouldn’t say The Tempest was my favourite play, I did like it. I found, for one thing, a few Machiavellian ideas that ran through it, prominently with Prospero. Arial does his dirty work, and so he very effectively keeps his hands clean. He’s certainly manipulative and deceiving, never letting on to how much he’s pulling the strings.

            I found the most interesting characters of this play to be Caliban and Ariel. I guess I’m intrigued by their suffering, I feel as though these characters had the most depth of them all. Though I’m not discounting the others, I do believe they all have very multi-layered complexity and are by no means overly simplistic. It’s just that Caliban and Ariel most caught my curiosity. This could have something to do with the fact that I read a book a few years ago called “eyes like stars” by Lisa Mantchev, which portrayed Ariel as a very significant character who was slightly villain like, and deceptive and tricky. So, coming into the book, that was the impression I had of Ariel. While reading the book, however, I didn’t interpret Ariel like that. Though he certainly causes trickery and deception, I took this as only to be Prospero’s bidding, which he’s doing to serve his desire to be freed. He’s not like puck, who takes more joy in his mischief.

            I pictured Caliban as a sort of hunchbacked man, somewhat like Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. He was given fish-like qualities but I interpreted that as greasy hair and his odd frame. I suppose that my mind went to lengths to picture him as human, despite evidence to the contrary. I was reminded of Richard III, probably largely because of the hunchback, but they both seemed misinterpreted by those around them. Caliban is not as cruel as Richard III was depicted to be, however. But his appearance did play a very large role in how he was thought of.

The Prince by Machiavelli

I really like this book, I’ll just get that out there. This is not to say that were I ever to magically become a 16th century prince I would adopt its principals, but I do find it very interesting, and therefore an enjoyable read. An old teacher of mind mentioned that it was possibly written as a sort of joke. I don’t think, however, that this is a commonly held belief, but I do see how it could be viewed satirically. Was Machiavelli intending to be sarcastic? Perhaps the lecture will address this. On the topic of defining “The Prince” I found the form of it very intriguing. As it was written as a sort of gift, it feels very much like a letter at some points, almost conversational. And yet it’s also very much a “how-to” type book. If you want to be a successful ruler, this is how to do it. Again, I’m not entirely sure if this was Machiavelli’s true opinion, but for now I’ll treat it as though it was. And what an opinion it is. That’s one of my favourite parts about this text, the bold statements it makes, such as how he says that, in a way, cruelty is more compassionate than compassion itself, for it sacrifices a few for the sake of many. What I’ve been taught and how I’ve been brought up leads me to morally object to this, but I’d like to avoid simply brushing him off by saying ‘no Machiavelli, you’re wrong and a meanie’.

As an argument, it’s all very logical, in a pessimist way. Near the end he states “men are always wicked, unless you give them no alternative but to be good”. With this point of view, his opinions on ruling do seem necessary. This reminds me in many ways of Hobbes, and his need for the ‘leviathan’ to keep people in check. Another logical he has is about change. Though it seems very simple, he essentially says change leads to more change. But, this is what causes a whole wealth of problems, he believes, for princes. This is interesting in the context of modern democratic politics, because change is the thing most politicians base their platforms on. Though I suppose it’s no surprize that things have changed drastically since the 1500s. Still, this idea of change begetting change stuck in my mind.

With Plato, I think most of us were very sceptical that his ideal state would actually work. Now, with Machiavelli’s guide to ruling, do you think this would actually work? Morals aside (though as we’ve established, this isn’t exactly possible) do you think fear is logically more effective than love at keeping citizens loyal? Are people wicked by nature? I still haven’t quite decided whether I’m more of an optimist or pessimist, as my opinion changes fairly frequently. But I think I may agree with certain elements of human nature that Machiavelli brings up, though he didn’t quite persuaded me of his solution.

The Four Voyages

I’ve had little experience with reading this type of literature, the journal/letter style, though I find it very interesting. Mostly because I do enjoy history, and so find first hand accounts of things intriguing. Still, the closest thing I have to compare this to would be a collection of letters from Toussaint L’Ouverture that I read this past year for an assignment on the Haitian Revolution. And that’s still a few centuries after Columbus, meaning this was a fairly unique read to me. Not to mention that reading something as a “primary source” versus as literature has a slightly different feel.

I’ll admit, I felt fairly judgmental as I read this. At every turn I was looking down on Columbus as he wrote back to Spain of his exploits. The way he talked as if he was so incredibly respective of the people he encountered, then casually mentioning that he ‘seized some natives” for information. I suppose that’s not an ideal mindset to read The Four Voyages with though, not that I know entirely what that would be. But I guess I should try to think of things more from his perspective? Imagine the mindset of the time and all. I’m never sure what place modern perspectives have when reading old texts. Should I try to read objectively, or just let go and allow my views to alter my reading of the text? Anyway, on the topic of wondering at Columbus’ mindset, I couldn’t help but laugh a little to myself at all his exaggerations. He was very desperate to seem successful of course, and so resorted to spinning propaganda, essentially. If I were to highlight every line involving gold or converting natives to christianity, I would have a fairly colourful copy of The Four Voyages. His sponsors had clear reasons for funding his voyages of course, so he would cater to their interests. He makes himself out to be quite the conqueror.

I wonder what a discussion of monsters will be like in the context of this text. How will we define a monster this time? On a side note, I find our various definitions of monsters very interesting, and really like that each text merits a new definition and understanding of the term. I’m always tempted, with each of our texts, to just throw my hands up and call everybody and everything monstrous.

Thoughts on Beowulf

Talk about contrast from our last book! Fate plays out exceedingly well for Beowulf, compared to Oedipus. Both men are good intentioned and heroic, but fate deals Beowulf the better hand by far. He’s a hero in the old fashioned sense, being incredibly strong and courageous, defeating monsters and saving lives. Something that stuck with me was the constant emphasis on glory. This isn’t a new theme in this course, but I still feel the need to comment on it. The thing with glory and fame for me is that, as much as Beowulf is emphasized as a perfect hero in many ways, his motives seem much less honorable when they seem to be done simply for the glory. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there’s little fun in a perfect character who isn’t at least a little selfish or flawed. I guess I’m just wondering at the definition of a hero. We’ve spent all this time wondering at the definition of monster, we may as well think about hero as well. If we were to presume Beowulf’s only motive for killing all those monsters was fame, we would probably think of him as slightly less heroic. But if we say his only motive was to bring peace, and the glory simply came as a bonus, he’d seem more heroic for his selflessness. In the poem, I think Beowulf has a fairly healthy dose of both, but this is just for the purpose of my wonderings. Since this was written, how has the general definition of ‘hero’ changed? Just something to think about, as a “modern hero” is probably fairly different from Beowulf, evil dragons and monsters aside.

Beowulf reminded me of The Odyssey in many ways. They’re both poems, of course, and the main characters can be easily compared and contrasted. Odysseus was made to seem heroic because of his wisdom and cunning, while Beowulf was glorified by his strength and bravery. They both achieved fame and admiration in the end, prominently though adventure and overcoming monstrous obstacles. However, one significant difference between the two is that Beowulf does not seem to change much. His character doesn’t have a drastic change of perspective or understanding, I’d say, the same way Odysseus does.

On a side note from the text itself, I have to say to was nice to have pictures on the side, childish as that sounds. They didn’t contribute much to my understanding of the text itself, but there was definitely some interesting historical context to be found.

Oedipus The King

Ah, the irony. This was one of those books that makes you cringe a little as you read, and shake your head in sympathy for the characters. Oedipus starts out so well, as valiant king who’s determined to save his city. But it all just disintegrates into a tragic mess when the murder and incest are revealed. Oedipus blinding himself with needles is a fairly effective way of conveying his complete and utter pain. I couldn’t help but note the role of the messenger, who describes these events to the chorus. In Medea, we also see a messenger describing the fairly gruesome moments of the play. I wonder if these were simply moments that would have been too much of a hassle to act out, or if they would have been thought to be too unpleasant.

The idea of fate being inescapable is a fairly prominent theme in the play, and I can’t help wonder how things would have played out if Oedipus had grown up with his real parents. Of course though, that’s a thought that goes in useless circles, as that’s simply not how the play went. However, there is something to be said on the inescapabilty of fate, and the implied lesson that the prophesy should have merely been accepted, despite the complete lack of explanation for it’s existence.

This brings up the slightly confusing topic of justice. The play began with the strong certainty that justice must be served, and he who killed Laius would be punished. However, if Laius died purely because of a prophecy, what justice is there in punishing the vessel through which it was carried out? And I was also thinking, though I could be completely off track, was it implied that Laius trying to avoid the prophesy is what ultimately brought about the tragedy? Would he perhaps have been spared if he’d accepted his fate? These riddles and prophecies certainly make for very intriguing plays.

Plato’s Republic (2/2)

            I feel like Plato just led me on a very extensive tour of his ouwn paradise. Although I don’t think I’ll be looking for a place there any time soon, he was a fascinating guide and I’m glad I didn’t miss out on the tour. …Clearly i didn’t quite pick up Plato’s way with words through reading this book. Ah well.

           I found book VIII particularly interesting, in how Socrates describes the way the perfect state may transform to a timarchy, an oligarchy, a democracy, and finally a tyranny. Wealth, he claims, plays a major role in this decent from perfection, and has an inverse relationship with virtue. When reading this I found myself reminded of when I was a child, and how I naïvely thought that all problems would be solved if there was no such thing as money. It seemed so logical at the time, everyone would be able to have whatever they wanted. Not that I’m comparing Plato to a child, I just feel as though it must be something that’s crossed everyone’s mind at one point or another. Both in a naïve sense in youth and again in a more analytical and reflective way as a young adult. His opinion on that matter is probably shared by many others, and i wonder what his thoughts on modern capitalism would be. 

            This may seem insignificant, but I found it interesting that Plato believed dreams revealed hidden desires. Socrates says “Our dreams make it clear that there is a dangerous, wild, and lawless form of desire in everyone” on page 242. Although I’m not sure if it’s our dreams that reveal this, I do agree that everyone has a side to them that’s kept hidden, and possibly not ever revealed. What I mean is, put under the right circumstances, I think anyone could be “evil” or monstrous as I suppose I should say. I disagree with him in his reaction to the existence of this ‘dark side’ of human nature, however.

            I really enjoyed reading the allegory of the cave, although I’m still a little bit unsure of my understanding of ‘forms’. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what Jill Fellows has to say about it in the lecture, as I’m sure there are parts that went straight over my head, despite my efforts. I have to say, I hadn’t actually heard of the allegory of the cave before this year, except for a sign on my old principal’s door that said ‘Plato’s Cave’. Glad to finally understand what that was all about.

Plato’s Republic (1/2)

Honestly, I really enjoyed reading (the first half of) Plato’s republic. It confused and intrigued me, and what most interested me about it was the way in which arguments were presented. Being a former member of the debate club, (yes… I’m just that nerdy) the many different devices one may use to convince someone to agree with your opinion has always spiked my curiosity. So, although I have to get it off my chest that the lack of quotation marks seriously frustrated me at some points as I tried to keep track of who was talking, I really liked this… book? I find I’m now hesitant to call each of our readings a “book” or define them in any way other than simply as literature as they may be merely disguised as a book, and in fact be something else.

            I have of course heard a lot about (Plato’s portrayal of) Socrates before opening Republic, but was still not quite prepared for his incredibly unique way of arguing. I found myself having to reread certain passages to try to follow the chain of arguments leading to the opposition being convinced or unconvinced. Hopefully that wasn’t just me? There were, however, many familiar aspects I found in way the debate went on, the defining of terms being one.

            I tried to view the description of this grand, ideal state without any particular bias of my own opinion, for a change, as I really just wanted to focus on the development of the argument and the presentations of ideas. However, this didn’t entirely work, and I’d still like to comment on a few literal elements of the argument. First off, the idea of anything being perfect is absolutely ridiculous, just to get that opinion out of the way. But Socrates valiantly tries to describe and envision the ideal state, and spends a great deal of time describing it, and the people within it. I found the suggestion of every person having only one occupation interesting, as I know very few people who have stuck with one profession their entire life, having known it was right for them from the beginning of their education. This is assuming everyone will only ever want to do that one thing which they are best at. However, I must also say that I was glad at last to have seen an argument put forth advocating that women are equal to men, and therefore the positions of “guardians” should be multi-gendered. One thing I’m not entirely sure of is, is Socrates using this ideal city merely as a device to prove his argument, or is this supposed to be something he genuinely believes to be feasible?

Over and out,

Thoughts on Genesis

Genesis was an interesting read, though I’ll admit that at times it was difficult to stay focused while reading it. This was largely because of the passages that focus merely on who begat who, at what age they did so and how long they lived. Despite this, there was still an incredible amount that was very intriguing when given the right amount of focus and consideration. Being an atheist, I view the text from a different perspective than those who are religious, so I’m trying to take into account that this is a very important text to many.

One aspect of Genesis that I really enjoyed reading was the beginning, as various creation stories have always been very interesting to me. I found it fascinating the way different elements of Earth were said to be created, and what came before what, and how it all happened in seven days. One interesting thing about the first part of the text that a friend pointed out to me was the slightly different way it was written. The repetition and style of the first section is not seen again in quite the same way. The theory, they said, was that someone different wrote the first bit and then someone else continued it.

I found things happened both very quickly and slowly, depending on the event, and because of this I may have missed a few things while reading. I surprised by the minimal justification God gave to “blot out from the earth the human beings I have created”. There were all of a few lines of observation of wickedness before the plan for the flood was created. This was a very different feel from the gods of The Odyssey and Medea, as one of them would not single handedly be able to wipe so much life from the earth without consequences. On this point, as I read Genesis I found myself continually comparing this god to the Greek gods, and was fairly focused on the role of the divine throughout the text. However, in hindsight there are many more aspects about humanity and the societies of the time that are depicted to focus on. For example, Joseph’s story was particularly interesting to me with its issues of anger, jealousy, revenge, and forgiveness. I wondered, for one thing, how the brothers dealt with the guilt of having sold Joseph as a slave. Many very emotionally charged events were slightly downplayed I felt. If I were Joseph, having been sold and then wrongly accused of sexual assault, I would be far more damaged and faithless. But I suppose that’s where the role of God came in. that’s another thing I found very interesting, was the total faith that is portrayed in Genesis. With the Greek gods, the characters know that the gods are not always dependable or helpful. But with this god, anyone who is favored by Him must display complete faith.

I would like to comment on the portrayal of women in Genesis, but unfortunately there is simply too much to say. This is a topic I feel I could write multiple essays on for each of the books we’ve read so far, but I’d like to simply not comment on it in this blog post as I would likely ramble for far too long.
Over and out,