Coppola x Han Solo x Vets

Last blog post! Wow.

I really dig this movie and have for a really long time. My dad’s a high school teacher and actually does a unit with his class (grade 10-11 I think) about Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. I’ve watched this movie a lot. Many, many times. And every times I re-watch it I find something new from ti.

One thing that I was thinking a lot about this time around was the way that the film explores American culture. I usually think about this film in the way it deals with abstract, high-levels ideas (absurdity, violence, etc), but I really find the exploration of American culture to be insightful.

There’s this little anecdote about the making of the film (I’m not sure how true it is) that I’d like to talk about here. It takes place during Willard’s meeting with the high-ranking Army officials, a scene which bears some parallels to the beginning of Marlow’s story in Heart of Darkness – when he’s in Europe and such. During this scene Harrison Ford’s character comes in and drops some files. Apparently, during the filming of Apocalypse Now when Ford came in and dropped the files, Coppola yelled cut, and asked Ford to do the scene over, because he had dropped the files. Ford explained to him that this was his intention though – he wanted to show the disorganized nature of the American war effort: the incompetence, the disorientation, the lack of information/muddling that the American’s had about Vietnam as a territory (jungle warfare) and political environment(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_Assistance_Command,_Vietnam_%E2%80%93_Studies_and_Observations_Group).

We might also think about the way that the film starts with Willard off-duty (drunk and most likely sufering from PTSD) as a commentary on the post-war lives of Vietnam vets. We don’t really get the full force of this in Canada, but in the states, Vietnam vets represent a huge chunk of the homeless population, and many came back deeply scarred. The movie starts with “The End,” but is this really the end? Of course not. These people go home afterwards (if they’re “lucky”), they go back to American society.  We KNOW this isn’t the end, there’s more to this story than just war.

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Goal

Apocalypse Now in three points:

  1. green
  2. smoke
  3. noise

The green thing was more of a problem with the specific screening. Jon and Jill tried to fix it (thank you), to no avail, but I’m including it in the list of points because it was just so green.

In reference to our discussions about Heart of Darkness and how people become bodies – Apocalypse Now definitely did that too, albeit in a different way. I can’t quite remember, but there’s a scene where the protagonist is met with a huge group of people all standing in boats and looking at him. As far as I can recall, they don’t speak or move at all. They’re just there.

I tried writing about smoke but it didn’t work so I’ll move on.

Noise. This is something that troubled me a little bit: it might not seem like it, but I generally dislike loud noises. In movies and TV, at least. When I turn on the TV and the volume’s above 10 (which happens often, because some members of my family turn up the sound), I literally can’t reach for the remote and turn down the volume fast enough. From about a quarter of the way through to about the end of the second third (my impression), it’s just constant, nonstop noise. It reminded me of this Hayao Miyazaki quote:

“If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness, But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.” (here)

Maybe an “epic war film” just isn’t for me. I found concentrating on what was going on difficult, too, because (to bring back what I said about Trouillot and Heart of Darkness), I found this movie cacophonus. Not meaningless, but cacophonus. Of course this is in part due to the fact that Apocalypse Now is a movie, and HOD is a book and books don’t have noise (unless it’s an audiobook). Also, it was so green. Jon remarked at the end of the screening that we probably got “the gist” of it. For me that was entirely accurate.

I said in tutorial that HOD is a book that maybe I’d reread a few years down the road, but I’m not sure I’d rewatch Apocalypse Now, for three main reasons: the noise, the violence, and the length. In general I don’t like watching movies, basically due to this:

“Reading a book is this entirely personal endeavor, an experience over which you have a fairly high degree of control. You decide where and when and for how long at a time you will inhabit this world, and while our movie-watching options are certainly expanding, they still don’t match our book-reading options. Plus, of course, books can be hundreds and hundreds of pages long and people will still read them. If a movie’s more than three hours or so, everyone starts getting upset.” (here)

Maybe not so much the part about having more book options than movie options (there are, after all, a lot of different stories that are specific to one medium), but definitely the part about control.

I’ve also been thinking lately about what exactly makes certain texts or stories not more or less interesting, but simply more or less comprehensible, to go back once again to Miranda’s blog post. For instance, a lot of us in LB5 (just my impression, again) didn’t fully understand Leviathan, and a lot of us (I think) didn’t like it a lot or at least didn’t want to touch any of its essay topics with a ten-foot pole. Yet I think a lot of us understood Freud pretty well; it’s just that there was hate for it. Jon told us in seminar that whether we liked the Freud text or not, some of his ideas are still a part of our world. Same deal with Leviathan. What is it that makes certain things easier to understand than others? I know it’s the end of the year and everyone’s tired, but I’d love to hear what the rest of you have to say. Thoughts?

(For your consideration, here is a pertinent tweet I found a little while ago.)

Thanks for reading, everyone, for the last time. More than once I’ve spent Tuesdays wishing it was Wednesday, and glancing at the clock during seminar and being relieved that we were only halfway through. I’d like to think I’ve taken some good notes. You’ve all been great.

 

Things Fall Apart

Huh, our last book proper for Arts One. I’m glad it was such a short and easy read.

Still, if I could describe my experience reading this book in one word it would be: underwhelmed.

I was expecting a lot more from Achebe, especially given his scathing criticism of Conrad. The book itself just felt like a commercial novel. Very middlebrow entertainment . The novel taken in tandem with Heart of Darkness and other works feels a bit more worthwhile, but then there are other works that are primarily canonical endeavours (contingent upon a canon or asking questions of said canon) that managed to be more promising stand-alone works. It was a good story, a good portrait of another society, a nice subtle critique against colonialism, a humanist vindication, but until the very last part it doesn’t feel thematically cogent.

A dilemma I have been grappling with: Is moral imposition imperialism? I believe certain cultural practices can be immoral; examples within this book being the status of women and children in Ibo society, ritual sacrifices, the abandonment of twins, etc. But post-colonial scholars are apt to attack this as moral imposition of one society’s values onto another, a sort of attempt at imperialistic homogenisation? The debate first came to my attention when I was reading about Female Circumcision/Female Genital Mutilation (depending what side of the debate you’re on). This argument bothers me on several levels, but then, I can’t help but think of the Prime Directive. Thoughts?

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Achebe x Fantasy x Culture

I read Things Fall Apart about 3 years ago, and I’m giving it a second read over now. I remember feeling distinctly disappointed with this novel on my first read, but I’m getting more out of it this time.

I think I expected it to be really profound and symbolic on my first read, because I had been told to hold Achebe in high regards. It’s not that kind of novel though. It is (the first half at least) a character sketch, and a “culture sketch.”

In some ways I think it’s way too easy to write aspects of this novel off as lost in translation. It’s an exploration of tradition and of culture, but I don’t think you need to having a backing in Nigerian culture to understand what’s going on.

There’s one little passage that I wanted to share here because I had flagged it in my novel

“‘The rain is falling, the sun is shining/Alone Nnadi is cooking and eating’ Nwoye always wondered who Nnadi was and why he should live all by himself, cooking and eating. In the end he decided that Nnadi must live in that land of Ikemefuna’s favorite story where the ant holds his court in splendor and the sands dance forever” (35)

I love this model of imagination – a land of fantasy and story at the root of culture.Our understanding of the world is fashioned by our stories and myths.

One of the things that I’ve noticed on second reading of this text is the way in which Achebe is critical of tribal culture. Sometimes it’s light poking, as with his depiction of koala nut meetings which always skirt around the important topics (I like this one because I think this kind of formal dialogue is pretty universal), and other times it’s pretty focused and intense, like with Achebe’s criticism of the gender imbalances at play.

His criticism also takes on an interesting dimension in the villagers discussion of neighbors and neighboring villages. “All their customs are upside-down” (73) says Okonkwo at one point of a pair of neighboring villages. It is incredible how quick we all are to carry out value judgments on foreign cultures while failing to interrogate our own. Okonkwo’s line of thought seems ridiculous, but it is the same line of thought which was the base of colonial occupation in Africa by Europeans.

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the end is near

Well, this is awfully strange. I’m sitting down to write my last official Arts One blog post. (Since we’re watching a movie next week, I probably won’t blog.)

Since the first time I blogged, it’s been 6 months and 11 days, 192 days total. In those 6 months, a lot has changed for me (as I’m sure it has for most first years). I don’t want to talk too much about not-the-book, but I would just like to say that Arts One has been an incredibly positive experience for me and one that I would absolutely recommend. The things I’ve learned, the books I’ve read (or mostly read) and the people I’ve met have made me think about the world differently and that’s always a good thing in my eyes!

Okay, on to the book now. I really enjoyed this one! There’s something very honest and eye-opening about Achebe’s tone, and this made the book very readable. In anticipation of our final in-class essay, I’ve been flagging things I think are important and I’ve probably flagged every other page. So I don’t go on forever, I’m going to just pick a couple of flags to mention here.

“To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength.” (28) This reminds me of when we talked about ‘manliness’ as opposed to effeminacy – the manly man is strong, the effeminate man is emotional and seen as weaker.

“Okonkwo was specially fond of Ezinma … But his fondness only showed on very rare occasions.” (44) Along the same lines. A father isn’t allowed to be affectionate towards his daughter without coming across as weak?

Also I want to point out the treatment of women. It’s bad. I’m not going to say anything more about this because, as we all know, I’m not much of a feminist (ha). Other recurring things: the presence of music and chants, as well as the presence of spirituality. Hmm. I’m interested to hear more about this in lecture/seminar!

That’s all folks. It’s been real.

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Grand scheme of things

I like this book.

To begin with, a quote:

“It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme.” (134)

This reminds me a little of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: how the White Witch knows about some magic from the beginning of time, and because of that magic Aslan has to surrender, but he comes back because of something that happened before the beginning of time. There’s an authority but there’s also a higher one, and eventually in a worst-case scenario the higher authority will come into play.

I definitely think that there’s going to be a prompt about gender for this book, and I don’t know; I might write it. There’s something about how Achebe depicts sexism without being sexist himself.

(Will calling a prompt in a blog post affect its chances of showing up?)

The Evil Forest also reminds me of the fields in Gathering Blue, and looking at it now, the parallel is probably at least slightly intentional on Lowry’s part – although in Gathering Blue, people are left in the fields when they are no longer able to work (injury, etc.), whereas in Things Fall Apart, people are left in the Forest if they pose a danger to others (illness, etc.). (Wait – gathering, falling apart. I just noticed that. Okay, maybe a little more intentional then?)

One of the things that really stood out to me on the first read, though, was how clearly Okonkwo’s character is presented. You could probably write an adequate summary of his character almost completely with one-liners from the book. Maybe that’s why I like this book? The story and characters are all laid out. If you’ll allow me one more reference, it’s like A Fine Balance: another book where the plot and all the characters and their own backstories are, well, laid out super clearly. It’s a pretty long book, but it’s not hard to read at all. Although this might also have something (probably not everything, of course) to do with the fact that these books are quite a bit more recent, and the syntax and vernacular is so much more familiar to us. Years go by and hearts start to harden language starts to become incomprehensible, as evidenced by all the footnotes in so much of what we’ve read. It’s kind of weird to think of things slipping away (falling apart) bit by bit like that. If it’s a difference of a few years, like in Antigone’s Claim (if you can call fourteen years a few), Butler’s reference to Bill Clinton is just a reminder that the book was written a little while ago. If it’s a difference of, well, maybe a generation or two, you’d probably get a “huh?” (maybe with a topic a little less prominent than U.S. political scandals – something more in the realm of pop culture. Like, say, “Who shot J. R.?”) Obviously you can google things like that, but explaining what kind of influence it had is more difficult and probably most easily done through a comparison to something more recent, which would be pretty subjective.

(Apparently I was wrong when I said “one more reference”. Sorry, everyone.)

Okay, I got off track, but this post is way long again and I’ll just stop here. Thanks for reading, everyone.

[edit: the idea that language changes with time, even though they appear to us stationary words on a page, goes all the way back to Miranda's intro lecture for us on The Task of the Translator. Funny how everything comes together, in a blog post about a book about things falling apart?]

[edit 2: the idea that language changes with time is also something I touched on in my Césaire/Walcott blog post.]

Conrad x late post x close reading

Nice to be reading fiction again, it has definitely been a while (last one was Austen I think!). I have read Heart of Darkness before, as well as an excellent history of the Congo under Belgium rule titled King Leopold’s Ghost.

In the lecture, Rob Crawford gestured to the idea that the grove of death scene is the most significant in the novel. I’ll take a shot at a close reading of at least a section of that scene.

For one, I think it’s important to take the general setting into account – this is an open air prison of sorts. Marlow talks about chain-gangs and the mysterious hole as perhaps “connected with the philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do” (84). The space is open, but the prisoners are contained. In fact, we might go so far as to say that the boundaries of this prison are unclear. The prison is everywhere, therefore meaningless is everywhere.

The description of the African prisoners in this scene is undoubtedly a very carnal, bodily description: it fits with the idea of a primitive people. “Black shapes crouched, lay, between the tees leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth half coming out, half effaced within the dim light” (84). Natural environment and primitive man are fused, and man is crawling towards civilization. But think about the implications of this in reference to the last passage, where we saw an undefined setting, an undefined natural world and open-air prison. This is the human condition, the human condition is one of entrapment, pain, and bodily despair, “dim light” only blanks out part of this condition. Even this is ambiguous though: “effaced” what a word! We lose something in the glory of enlightenment, we loose part of ourselves.

Later, Marlow describes a man sitting “with  his chin propped on his knees, star[ing] at nothing… his brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness” (85). Note the pronoun here, not “his brother phantom rested his forehead” but “its”, this is impersonal, cruel, dehumanized. At the same time, if we are to give Marlow the benefit of the doubt (as being not a racist…) I might suggest that what he is describing is the phantom of history and trauma – a concept, not a man. History as weary! Think about the significance of that… history as weary…

I wanted to finish this by bringing in a piece I read by Teju Cole (thank you Avash) a while ago. He has a reference to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, although I wasn’t really sure what to make of it at the time. Any insight or discussion would be greatly appreciated.

 

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It doesn’t matter if you’re yellow, black, brown, or normal!

UPDATE: 1:15 AM, attempting to write my essay that was due Monday, scouring the text, having my mind continually blown. There is so much in this novella. It is so dense. I feel like I could spend my entire life studying it and still not be able to pierce its impenetrable heart of darkness.

Conrad’s portrayal of race is really very interesting. I don’t know whether or not I would call it racist. It might be, but well meaning, if that even makes any sense. The specific description of the natives as distinct from Europeans tends to make me hyper-aware of racial difference, and at least for me, that dehumanizes both groups of people (I will admit, that a few benign descriptions me profoundly uncomfortable, “woolly head” was one).

Achebe’s criticism feels a little bit unthought out for me; trying to shoot at an easy target without really thinking it out. I think Marlow’s distaste and alienation upon his return to Europe.

A weird thing I wa picking up on in this text is an almost primordial association with sound, voice, and language. Sound is often an act of creation, the entire tale is framed as a onversation. I think even more than the light/darkness dichotomy which is really played with in this text, the sound/silence one is more prevalent. Ultimately though, silence in the text proves futile.

Anyone played Spec Ops: The Line? Really good adapation of Heart of Darkness. In fact there’s a lot of videogame adaptations of Heart of Darkness. Wonder what it is about this story that resonates particularly within the videogame medium?

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I love it!

I LOVE THIS BOOK. what could it possibly be that makes me love this book? Is it the great character structure of protagonist? yes. Is it the terrific plot? yes. Is it also that it indulges in an under-appreciated area like the Congo? yes. This book is whimsical evil, there is not much more to describe my enjoyment in reading the plight of Marlow. Ruthless, manly, cunning and bloodthirsty. Traits that people that want to ascend to power need. I need a great trilogy, I think I found my major because of this book. The history of the Congo, we got imperialism; an attempt of drastic extreme ideologies and an appearance from Che; I have truly found a major that needs drastic and extreme respect. I shall give it that.

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