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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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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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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Beauvoir x Reworking x Symbol of

Hi everyone. Sorry for missing the seminar on Friday, got my wisdom teeth pulled (still a little bruised today).

Just finished up The Second Sex. I found the way that Beauvoir reworks psychoanalysis really insightful. Even the form/style which she uses to rework and discuss it is great. She presents certain theories of psychoanalysis and doesn’t just attack them straight away, she discusses them, points out some of their flaws (in a much more amiable way than Paine) and works in her own ideas. I mean, her deconstruction of penis envy is really, really solid:

“The little boy obtains from his penis a living experience that makes it an object of pride to him, but this pride does not necessarily imply a corresponding humiliation for his sisters” (43)

And later she writes

“If the little girl feels penis envy it is only as the symbol of privileges enjoyed by boys” (44)

She’s reverse engineering Freud. Instead of the outside world being symbolic of sexual desires/fantasy/etc, sexual desires are themselves symbolic of an outside world. It helps to find a place for the social in Freud’s psychoanalytic model.

Beauvoir’s mention of the “purposiveness of existence” (46) also provide a really provocative broadening of Freudian psychoanalysis. “If we do not go back to the source, man appears to be the battleground of compulsions and prohibitions that alike are devoid of meaning and incidental,” Beauvoir explains (46). This is something that bugged me about Freud’s work: everything come back to desire – but desire for what? I mean this in the sense that, while sex is the foundation for Freud’s model, it can’t possibly be just the pleasure of sex in itself which drives all of our action. Beauvoir suggests that there’s something more, that there is meaning to be found beyond the “battleground of compulsions and prohibitions.”

 

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Paine x Attacking the Burke x Idealistic

Hope everyone had a nice break. Trying to finish up my Foucault essay now, definitely having a lot of trouble. I’ve been wondering if I might have an easier time writing these essays if we received the prompts beforehand, or wrote them without prompts altogether (choosing our own essay topic kind of thing). Every time I take a crack at these essays, especially essays on non-fiction works, I find myself wishing I could re-read the entire text with the prompts in mind. I’ve been trying to guess essay prompts for Rights of Man, I guess we’ll see how that turns out.

I don’t follow current American politics very closely, but I can’t help but laugh at the way Paine goes at Burke and how familiar that feels. Political discourse in the states is centered around attacks and rebuttals, and Rights of Man is like watching a period piece on bi-partisanship. Paine just goes for it. He slips in ad hominem attacks whenever he can. I know its supposed to be a counter-attack to Burke’s criticism of the French Revolution, but it comes off as super aggressive and a little silly at time. I guess its funny to see what the current tradition of party politics evolved from.

I’d like to put forward a question to finish off this post. This text strikes me at times as highly idealistic. Flashes of pragmatism are evident in this text, but Paine’s high hopes for government and society are a lot more prominent. He characterizes the French Revolution as principled over and over again, but it often feels to me that these principles are inherently idealistic and unworkable. Any thoughts?

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Hacking x Mysticism x History of Science

Sorry for the late post, still working on my essay rewrite, which has proved to be more challenging than I originally thought it would be. Nice to see how certain techniques and stylistic features of the non-fiction works we’ve been reading the past couple of weeks have permeated into my writing though. For one, I find myself making clearer distinctions (especially though negation – Fanon and Hacking both used a lot of this i.e. “Freud is not trying to say ____ nor _____.”) in my writing, and words that bring a lot more texture to relationships (“network” “operates as” etc.).

The Hacking text was a pleasant read, although I found the discussion of statistics and quantitative methods quite challenging. I really dug his discussion of trances and other discussions regarding mysticism and mystical elements. Thee discussions were focused on the place of mysticism in society (i.e. the trance as an “eastern” phenomenon), and I believe that at several points he was suggesting that the mystical explanation was used in order to make sense of multiple personality disorder before it became a “condition”. Disclaimer here though, havent been able to finish the book yet.

The way he clarified schizophrenia and separated it from multiple personality disorder was also really interesting for me, because I have long held the misconception that schizophrenia was characterized by multiple personalities.

Found the way that Hacking deals with philosophy and history of science very engaging. Always easier to work with science when its in a narrative and historically contextualized form. I’ve read a few other works in the similar vain (Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything might be familiar to some of you). The only thing I can of find funny about reading about history of sci is that it tends not to stick with me the same way as fiction does. Bryson’s work especially, is a blur to me. History of science is mildly interesting while you read it, but it lacks the emotional grasp to burn an imprint on the brain. It’s a narrative, and its science, but it’s not much more. Wondering if Hacking’s little science stories will go the same way. We’ll have to see I guess.

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Foucault x Relations x Lists

Going to skip pleasantries and preambles this time around, hope no one takes offence.

Perhaps not the most central to the text, I’d like to suggest that Foucault’s History of Sexality vol. 1 aims to cast power as essentially a matter of relation. So much of Foucault’s description involves mechanism and economy. Like sex, there is always relation and interplay in Foucault’s understanding of the world. Uncovering the relations (power-knowledge and the like), therefore becomes the method through which one can find meaning.I find this idea provocative, although I suspect I’m drastically over-simplifying things here.

Foucault’s has a surprisingly enjoyable writing style considering the density of his ideas. He doesn’t attempt any fancy techniques, and he comes across as a very honest writer, which is endearing. Would also like to mention his use of lists and tendency to connect multiple independent clauses with colons and semicolons. His stupendously long sentences generally flow really nicely, and I have a hunch that this stylistic feature is characteristic of the french language.

EDIT:

I made some outrageously bold claims in original post. The whole book is not about relations. But I think that understanding the relations for Foucault are a lot more important than describing the essence of sex and sexuality.

This book is not about sex. It is not hoping to find the essence of sex through the evolution of sexual practices through history, nor is it trying to find some absolute truth about sexuality. This work, I believe, is set on finding the way that sexuality operates as a function of power.

Even what could be considered the more “bodily” depictions of sex in this book, that is, the discussion of perversions, are less concerned with the perversion or fetishes themselves than with the way that they played a part in supporting the norm, the “incorporation of perversions and a new specification of individuals” (42-43).

This is a quote I feel that is essential to this book and to the vague blur I’m trying to get at here:

“By creating the imaginary element that is “sex,” the deployment of sexuality established one of its most essential operating principles: the desire for sex – the desire to have it, to have access to it, to discover it, to liberate it, to articulate it in discourse, to formulate it in truth. It constituted “sex” itself as something desirable” (156-157)

Sex is only “sex” insofar as it is part of a network, part of a system. That, if anything, is the essence of sex.

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Fanon x arrangement x history

Enjoying Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks quite a bit. A couple of things make this a really good read

For one, Fanon’s unconventional style, which blends theory, poetry, and quotations, makes this text easier to approach (compare to Butler). The way Fanon remakes and re-arranges quotes from other works, especially Cesaire, is fascinating. I find this style really provocative when we keep in mind the way we process and understand information in our modern “internet age”. The way Fanon works with quotations and poetry corresponds with the way we jump around and consume massive amounts of seemingly unrelated content online. Fanon’s style is really admirable because he takes a mass of information and makes sense of it, re-arranges it into something coherent.

In regards to content, Fanon’s argument that the black social experience (as one always in relation to whiteness), is characterized by a constant re-living of history stands out most prominently for me. I cannot stress the importance of the link he makes between the past and the present in regards to race. Indeed it is easy as an outsider to wonder why somebody can’t just “get over” and “forget about” the past. When the past is constantly being re-lived, positive development and progression becomes inconceivable.

The way that Fanon utilizes media and textual analysis to help argue this is insightful, although I feel that in many respects it could be stronger. Cultural analysis (he deals with comics and cartoons most noticeably) seems sort of like an after thought to his work, although I regard it as a lot more compelling then his argument founded in the psychosexual.

 

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Freud x myself x delusions

Freud is a very well known and ridiculed intellectual figure. For that I love him. He was prominent in my household as a child and apparently as a toddler I chewed on his brightly colored books. Ya ya have fun dissecting that one. I did have trouble reading Dora, though, because I couldn’t separate him from his work. The cocaine, the dingy, damp, sexual analysis of everything, the cigar jokes. It’s too much. Here’s a little catharsis, because we all need that right?

J: Why does it feel like your psychoanalysis shares similarities with  conspiracy theories?

Freud: Conspiracy theories you say? What about that painting on your wall? Tell me more about that painting you have up

J: No seriously, every denial becomes further proof of repression for you.

Freud: Ah a lizard. I see….

J: Your analysis of Dora reads like a detective novel you sadistic pig.

Freud: *footnote* the lizard is a traditional symbol for a desire to eat macaroni. As I have explained already, macaroni has been found on cave painting, stuck to the wall with cheese. This has significance to the second dream, as we shall see later *end footnote*

J: Do you find pleasure in doing this? It really seems like your getting a kick out of snooping in on Dora’s entire family and their medical history. Gotta say though, do dig your stuff about desire for self-punishment being  rooted in “penitence and remorse” (pg. 39).

Feud: So you want to kiss me and my smokey, smokey mouth?

J: Hombre, Hombre…

Freud: Tell me about your PHantasy…

J: Also why does it seem like your playing musical chairs with the direction of Dora’s desires? One minutes its for Frau K, then Herr K, then her own father, then back to Herr K.??? I should also add that these ideas seem really simplistic – isn’t there more to life then sex and guilt? What about genuine compassion? What about creative production? What about taking care of house plants? Isn’t that a non-sexual activity?

Freud: Your choice of words there cannot be accidental. Tell me more about your genitals relations with house plants.

FIN

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Northanger Abbey x Shaun of the Dead

Want to start off with a quick personal note here – didn’t know parody was so central to Austen’s work. Enjoyed Northanger Abbey much more than I expected.

A couple of things really interest me about the work. One involves the indirectness of the novel,in the sense that it does an excellent job at conveying meaning without being reductionist. It entreats the complexities of the real and the romantic/the imagined. Although I believe the work can be seen as an attempt to dismantle the excesses of the Gothic genre, the way that fiction becomes just as much a part of the “real” (because it is a novel, after all) world of Northanger Abbey is really provocative. The lines are blurred, there is no clear-cut binary. In fact, it presents an intriguing “other side” to the same coin – the “real” world that Austen tries to capture in this novel is exactly that, in a novel, in a fictional work. The real is a part of the fictional just as the fictional (lies, stories, reveries, novels, perhaps even the whole notion of a high society)  is part of the real in the world of Northanger Abbey.

I realize that I’ve gone on about the real and the unreal/imagined/fictional at length before, and also that Austen is addressing a very complex notion of a “romanticized” or “gothicized” unreal. I’ll try to work out these kinks in the next few days.

I don’t see it as much of a stretch to draw comparisons between Shaun of the Dead and Austen’s work, as many I have talked to have suggested. This might interest folks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_and_Prejudice_and_Zombies. Parody is parody, and parody is great, no matter the era. Shaun of the Dead, as an exceptionally clever and enjoyable movie, manages to say as much about the monogamy and dullness of daily life as Northanger Abbey. In fact, I think it’s important to remark that the film finishes more or less where it started – with Shaun sitting on the couch and leading an exceptionally simple and meaningless life – only this time, he’s with a girl. The world has changed around him, but he hasn’t changed all that much.

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