“Sons and Lovers”? No, “[Mothers] and Sons”

Hello all!

Further to our discussion last day, I’d like to summarize and flesh out my points a little bit regarding the relationship between Chapra and his mother – I think my discussion was a bit too hasty, and I apologize.

The three main points I had wanted to discuss were:

  1. The suggested nature of the relationship
  2. The effect of the appellation “Mother” or “Oka-san” as opposed to giving her a name
  3. Whether or not the relationship could be connected to things that we’ve studied in the past (e.g. FREUD)

So let’s get to it!

With the first question, I’m not necessarily looking at what Tezuka is explicitly saying – more at what layers we can extract out of, say, the relationship’s effect on Chapra and his self-perception, or what sub-messages might be conveyed by the way Tezuka depicts the characters and the dialogue he gives them. It’s true that the two of them depend on each other for their livelihood – they are, effectively, each other’s reason for living – but to what degree is Chapra’s idea of himself as a male changed by this dependence? When he becomes General Budai’s heir, or when he becomes involved with the Vizier’s daughter, how much is the reader made to think that those aren’t really things Chapra prioritizes – that the glory and the masculinity “brownie points” that come from continual victories and strong “lineage” lose their relevance because of how much Chapra is obtaining them just for his mother? I suppose, to use a colloquial term, that would make him more of a “mama’s boy” than anything else. Especially at the point when he had everything, I thought he would go bad and forget about his mother, but when the two of them die, their dialogue and the last image seen by the reader – of the two of them dead on the cliff – seems to suggest that Tezuka never intended for him to be anything other than his mother’s son.

With regards to the second point, I was intrigued by something that Christel brought up in discussion yesterday – Tatta calls Mother “Momz” too. Looking at the Japanese version, there’s nothing peculiar about how colloquial it sounds – it’s just part of the way Tezuka believes Tatta, a 7-year old boy, would talk, which is apparent from the rest of the diction in both languages. But more importantly, why does Tatta, too, refer to her maternally? It might just be because Chapra entrusted her to him, to take her as his own mother, but what I’m trying to get at is that this appellation changes the way she is viewed as a character, despite her appearance and her presumed age. She becomes nothing more than “the slave woman” or, more so, “Chapra’s mom”, which speaks to the amount of relevance Tezuka gives her as a character on her own.

Okay, now I think this is starting to make some sense.

Another point I’d like to look at is how Chapra interacts with General Budai – what the presence in his life, finally, of a father figure – who is of the caste he wishes to be – does, and how he grapples with it. The section on page 232-233 is of particular note:

 

General Budai: Watching you, I’m not sure your motives are good. It’s as if you’re trying too hard. You’re trying to wipe away your past by becoming a warrior of renown. That’s why you push yourself. Am I wrong?

Chapra: My past has nothing to do with it! I am Warrior Chapra, son of General Budai. That’s all that matters!

 

So even Budai can see that Chapra’s motivation to move upward isn’t really his. There’s something beneath the surface – his filial attachment to his mother, as strong as it was when he was a child. And however much he wants to escape his fate, it seems to come from his wish to give his mom the best things.

I might also note that in the Japanese version, Chapra calls Budai “Oto-san” – the equivalent, in formality, of what he calls his mother, “Oka-san”. However, for a family who is of higher rank, the typical term a son might use to express his reverence for his father and their station would be “Chichi-ue” or “Haha-ue”, which literally is made up of the character for “Father/Mother” and the character for “up” or “above”. Chapra the slave boy might not have known it; Budai may or may not have insisted on such respect in his household; more likely (in my opinion) Tezuka might have used it to suggest that Chapra is not fitting in that well to his new station. Names matter – especially to the levels of formality built into the Japanese language.

Finally, I think Chapra’s inability to “be his own man” could also be interpreted as an inability to progress from his childhood reliance on his mother – further accentuated by the fact that there was no father with whom he would be in competition for his mother’s affections. And if you’re really looking, some scenes, such as the oft-cited one in the cellar on page 90, or the ending, as mentioned above, could provide evidence for the Oedipus complex. When Budai appears in his life, and as he physically matures, he starts to act more characteristically, engaging in duels and trials of strength, and fixating on a female of his age. You could say that the introduction of the castration complex, with Budai, is forcing him to grow up. But being a man on the exterior, who is emotionally and at heart a boy, he regresses to his childhood reliance on his mother to his very death.

Ultimately, I think all this builds to the idea that Tezuka intended for Chapra and his mother to come as a package deal. No matter for how long they are physically separated, they always exist in terms of each other, if that makes any sense. If they are ever brought up again in later volumes, what will come up will most definitely be the strength of their bond – a familial one, between two members of a lower caste – and one demonstrating these so-called slaves’ humanity and capacity to love.

P.S. if you’re wondering about the title, come ask me 😉

Double Whammy, Part II

So as promised, and without further ado, we move on to discussing Slave Song!

I know a lot of people are vehemently calling Dabydeen out for his skewed presentation of Guyanese slave culture, especially in terms of race, rape, and violence. A lot of what I say is going to poke at you guys, because I’m attempting to sympathize with Dabydeen a bit more – I think he means well, and I feel like we need to be a little less up-in-arms and a little more open about what he’s trying to do and what it means for him. I will do my best to explain myself fully (I’m not always the best at that), but I hope that getting my perspective in along with yours and Dabydeen’s will make the picture a little fuller.

Yes, I am a Canadian-born Chinese, but I also lived in Hong Kong for a few years during some of the formative years of my childhood. I still remember the musk of the city air as it was in the early 2000s – the aroma of smoked-sausage street stores intermixing with the putrid waste air emitting from double-decker busses heading to and fro…everything is still vivid to me. Looking at his Wikipedia page, Dabydeen left Guyana when he was 13. He has a couple of years more on me when it comes to being steeped in the homeland’s way of life, so I’d assume as he grew into an adult he would have even clearer memories, clearer ideas, of what it means to be Guyanese.

But his years spent studying in England changed him, took him further away from his homeland, because those years weren’t spent there. He continues to grow, now an Englishman from Guyana, as the social, political, economic status of his homeland continues to endure new developments. Even if he was smart enough to keep tabs on it all the time, which second-generation immigrants nowadays definitely have the technological resources to do, he still wouldn’t be living and experiencing it. In addition to that, because of the different set of cultural values he grew up with, he might have found it difficult to connect with through-and-through Englishmen, or even just people who had lived in England all their lives. This resonates with me as well – within Vancouver’s large Chinese population, there are many second-generation Chinese-Canadians who have lived in Canada all their lives and never in the “homeland”. They are steeped in the culture of their heritage insofar as their parents’ domestic environment forces them to; yet because they are raised Canadian, they feel little-to-no connection with the real culture of the homeland. Thus when something happens – like, for example, the Umbrella Revolution that took place in December 2014, which saw students take to the streets in a pro-democracy movement that frightened my parents and their milieu with its similarity to Tiananmen only 25 years before – they have a nominal connection, but no real idea what exactly is going on. And for someone even further in-between, like me, like Dabydeen – when we have truly lived it, but our homelands have changed so much since the last time we’ve been there, when the street vendors and old shopping malls filled with Japan-imported trinkets and kind old ladies serving free desserts to children have disappeared, replaced with high-end name-brand chains and cultural assimilation and aggravating political disagreement – a great sentiment arises that urges us to do something, to play a part in the fate of the homeland to which a part of you belongs.

But what?

The Cantonese language is in many ways an oral language. To read it orthographically in its current form is a little baffling for speakers of other Chinese dialects, because its grammar is very different. However, it is important to note (and don’t take my word as-is, this has only come up in discussions with my father and other Chinese enthusiasts) that Cantonese more closely resembles Middle Chinese, which is what was spoken during the time that much of Classical China’s greatest poetry was composed, thus being extremely important in preserving its poetic cadence and authenticity. Hong Kong (and Taiwan as well) also uses the Traditional Chinese writing system, maintaining the Chinese language’s orthographic tradition, as opposed to the Simplified Chinese used and proliferated within Mainland China. Based on these things, one can say that the Cantonese language and culture, as used today, is an integral part of the Chinese identity. So when the Chinese government is closing in on Hong Kong from all sides, not only political, but also educational and cultural, seeking to take its independence and intermixed British-Chinese heritage away from it, I must say that I disagree. I’m sorry if I offend anyone with my quasi-political-cultural views, but it is a heritage that I have to at least some degree lived, and one that surrounds my life and my identity. I believe that in any case, regardless of the individual strength and authenticity of the voice that speaks it, the voice of a culture under fire must be heard.

So what of Dabydeen?

I do not know Guyanese culture as well as I probably ought to – but because I am in-between, equally in love with the culture that raised me and the one that adopted me, I don’t think we shouldn’t listen to him, even if we think his idea of his own heritage is perverse and wrong. I don’t think we can deny that he tried – if not necessarily to be completely historically and sociologically authentic, then at least to provide “an imaginative rendition and reconstruction, a private fantasy” (Dabydeen 10) of what he thinks his cultural heritage might have felt like. We should keep in mind that the life of an archetypical slave does not necessarily abide by moral rules; we also have to acknowledge the depravity of humans under circumstances in which they have themselves been deprived. He may have bastardized his own culture, he may come under fire from green mango-sellers who are literate enough to read his work, and true, as Farah said, his voice may not really be purely Guyanese, but somewhere in-between British and Guyanese – but I, as a reader somewhere in-between Canadian and Chinese, with a perceived similarity of experience, an equally-cherished tie to both sides, and a strong desire to invoke the ties to the place of your ancestry, and somehow rekindle a part of your identity therein…I am glad that he chose to speak up, to do his utmost to promote and preserve an inkling of his unwritten heritage.

David Dabydeen, I appreciate your efforts, and I thank you.

The evening lights of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. By User User:Dice on zh.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

The evening lights of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. By User User:Dice on zh.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Double Whammy, Part I

Before I say anything, I just wanted to forewarn you all that my parents are playing an Eagles CD in the background as I write this. While the Eagles are wonderful and all, I have no idea what effect their music tends to have on people’s writing, so…

Anyways, for those who weren’t in seminar today, we had a fascinating (and at times bordering on aggressive, if I may say) discussion on race, culture, and identity, stemming from David Dabydeen’s Slave Song, but also from our various experiences within and in between our own cultures. Before I talk about that too, I’d like to interject a message from our sponsors, a.k.a. the work I had mentioned in class today, the ballet Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins, with music by Philip Glass: (it’s only about a minute and a half long, so you might as well watch it)

There are two things I’d like to note in this video that convey my feelings effectively when it comes to Strickland’s Ballad of Sand and Soot.

First is the opening that I mentioned in class. The dancers walk across the stage in opposing directions with great conviction, their paths weaving among one another. Once in a while, some dancers pause, perhaps coming together and dancing with each other, then continue on their way. This sort of spontaneity is well-used in many contemporary ballets, but Glass Pieces conveys it on a grander and more imposing scale than many other ballets. The repetition and pulse of Glass’ music, as mentioned in the video, probably contribute to that sensation. It is also interesting to note the costuming of the “alien couples” – their materials are synthetic, tying in somewhat with the silicon and carbon motifs found in Ballad.

Second is the pas de deux (partner dance for those who don’t speak ballet) amid the “silhouette assembly line” background of the corps dancers (the corps de ballet, who tend to perform similar choreography and move as a body or a unit). The lighting and mood as contrasted with the first movement seem to connect with the variation of colours used as backgrounds in Strickland’s poem. Moreover, I feel that this section puts the sense of repetition, pulse, and the occasional human interaction into a physically-manifested form. While others continue in the humdrum labours of life around them, two people – who could represent anyone – share a dance, one that lasts minutes and then ends, symbolizing the single, momentary crossing of paths between “Sand” and “Soot” that I believe each individual section of the poem represents. The very transience of dance itself as an art form, along with its usual division into short movements – solos, pas de deux, group sections, codas, all of which cannot last too long for consideration of the dancers’ exhaustion – also connects well with Strickland’s short stanzas and erratic diction.

I know I might be reading into it a little bit too much, and I’m kind of throwing a lot of stuff at you guys, but I think that dance is definitely lacking in academic appreciation as an art form. So, a little “Ballet of the Day” for you.

I will post Part II tomorrow! I promise…

Nonchalance and Decadence in the Weimar Republic?

Hello, fellow Arts One students!

For my inaugural post / presentation of the year, I would like to focus on the motif of “showmanship” or performance in some of the films we’ve discussed this week. In particular, I think “Caligari” and “Dr. Mabuse, Part I” display this idea more strongly, but given enough thought, I think it could apply to “Nosferatu” as well.

I have always been interested in exploring the profound influence of World War I on the culture of the time as well as the dawn of the 20th-century modernist mindset. The Roaring Twenties in America (the culture of which was partially exported to Weimar Germany, as Prof. Lieblang discussed in lecture) witnessed, among other things, the predominance of the cabaret, the dazzling lights of show business, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the sort of jaded decadence that we harken back to in narratives from “The Great Gatsby” to “Chicago” – a decadence that I suggest is influenced by how Germans reacted to the results of the war. I’m also interested in exploring the notion, also brought up in lecture, of this decadence being “dancing on the edge of a volcano” – what exactly got them to the edge of the volcano? Why are they dancing? My aim is to present the films, particularly “Caligari” and “Dr. Mabuse”, for you in a new light – looking for evidence of a need for spectacle, a desire for attention, an empty bombast that signals the cultural ambiance of the age.

I wanted to look for a cool picture that encapsulates what I'm talking about, and it turns out there's this sculpture called "Dance on a Volcano" by Ludmila Seefried-Matejkova that expresses this concept exactly. My work has been done for me. By p.schmelzle (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I wanted to look for a cool picture that encapsulates what I’m talking about, and it turns out there’s this sculpture called “Dance on a Volcano” by Ludmila Seefried-Matejkova that expresses this concept exactly. My work has been done for me. By p.schmelzle (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

First question – why are they at the edge of the volcano? One can assume that the volcano itself – the thing that will eventually cause the end of the decadence – would be the Great Depression looming on the horizon, or the political instability that eventually leads to Hitler getting elected, or any number of things signalling the fragility of the peace and the approach of the next war. I would like to suggest that despite all this, the partiers of the Twenties, in Germany, America, or elsewhere, didn’t really care. I don’t feel highly qualified to provide flawless commentary on the social conditions of the time, but the end of the last war perhaps was so precious to them that all they wanted to do was celebrate with reckless abandon (or, at least, that’s what literary works depicting the time suggested).

Secondly, why are they dancing? I have several interpretations for this. First is the idea that “dancing on the edge of the volcano” is meant to be read as a single phrase; the people of the Weimar era are intentionally taking the risk, intentionally engaging in casual sex (as we referenced in Schnitzler’s “Reigen” for Austrian society, albeit before the war) or moral depravity or intense partying because they know it’s not going to last. Another idea is that they’re disoriented, stepping to and fro like a drunk, which is why it seems as if they’re dancing, but also in danger with every (mis)step they take – the decadence is a way for them to cope with the trauma of the war, the devastation that it brought to Germany. I think both of these points are valid; I think maybe both of them could even be true, like a Nastasya Filippovna-sort of thing, continually ruining herself and knowing that she’ll probably die, but doing it anyway.

Dancing can also be aesthetically beautiful, and that’s one way we can connect this “volcano” imagery to its literal, cultural manifestation. The “Weimar glitz”, as I’ll call it, looks fun and fancy free on the outside – like we see in “Dr. Mabuse” with the opulence of the gambling clubs, including the technologically-superb Petit Palais that features near the end – but on the inside, at its “heart” (Conrad reference right there) is full of emptiness, bitterness, secrets, plotting – the immorality of gambling, the ambiguity of relationships between “Hugo Balling” and Hull, between Hull and Carozza. Secrecy and a dissonance between what others perceive and what is actually true looms large for both Doctors Caligari and Mabuse; Ellen in “Nosferatu” also struggles for a while between keeping herself hidden from Count Orlok and sacrificing herself, the “better” outcome but also a fatal one for her.

And now, showmanship!

Dr. Caligari initially wants to “show off” the somnambulist Cesare to the audience; I also interpreted this scene as Caligari using the fair as the means to pick his next target (and Alan, unfortunately, fell victim to the plot). The way I look at it, Caligari is actually using a public spectacle to perpetuate the secret plot – as if showmanship will hide the underlying motives of what exactly is going on.

Another scene that struck me is that of Dr. Mabuse at the stock market. Above the crazy activity, he stands alone, nonchalantly, on some sort of platform and proclaims, “I’m buying!” “I’m selling!”. I wondered, how is nobody noticing him, wondering why this guy is standing there so calmly? Doesn’t he seem suspicious? While everyone is tearing their own hair out, with their heads buried in the sand, wondering about their own wealth, Mabuse takes advantage of the confusion and his prior knowledge, and looks cool at the same time, like a master thief pulling off a grand heist (which he pretty much is). A cool exterior belies a secret, malignant knowledge and conviction.

What about Nosferatu? Well, his aesthetic has clearly been well-thought out; Nosferatu himself is a frightening and imposing figure, with his long nails, elongated jacket, and, of course, the unmoving eyes of the undead that, if put on a living person, might instead convey a strong sense of confidence or intention. Given the tone and plot of the film, public spectacle doesn’t seem to play a major part, but a lot of things about Nosferatu call attention to the character himself – attention that is sucked from every human being he crosses paths with (see what I did there?).

In the end, I’m trying to say that the idea of attention, image, performance, showmanship, as featured in the films, seems to belie an internal depravity, a dissatisfaction. Yet at the end of all the narratives, all the “showmen” are eventually caught and unravelled: Caligari (at least in Francis’ dream) is put into the asylum, Nosferatu is destroyed by Ellen’s sacrificial revelation of herself (the idea which I referenced before being a pretty cool topic to explore), and Mabuse (thanks, Jake, for spoiling it in seminar) is caught. The villainy, the decadence, the dancing is put to an end; the jazz music is silenced, and Germany is again thrust into an antagonistic role in the next war.

But I believe that in the end, there is redemption. Part of the reason why I think performers perform is to battle with the darkness within themselves; the famous dance artists of the time, Sergei Diaghilev and Vaslav Nijinsky in particular, are famous in ballet history for their turbulent psychologies and the way that affected their art. That’s a story for another time, though! I think Caligari, Nosferatu, and Mabuse, in their desire for attention and performance, are representative of the desire of the Germans at the time to have fun and look snazzy, and try to forget all the bad things that happened to them. Even though they get beaten down again, great performers, when they fall down, plaster a smile on their face and get back up; the Germans perform again, and they’ll keep on performing.

If New York is the Big Apple, is Vienna the Big Croissant? IDK.

So, before we realized it, we’ve reached the final blog post of the term! I would probably say something sentimental, but in my opinion, what we’re going to talk about today is far more compelling than anything I can drum up 😛

(By the way, I apologize for the delay of this post – in my opinion, Austria-Hungary is one of the most interesting political institutions in history, and I wanted to make sure I did it some justice before I continued.)

Today, I want to talk about cosmopolitanism in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and particularly in “Lieutenant Gustl”. The introduction to the text discusses the “cosmopolitan nature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire” (105); this was something that I really wanted to consider and explore. Let’s see how this idea can help us make some sense of what diversity and cultural interaction mean in both “Gustl” and in our society.

I think I can cite an example most of us are familiar with:

That is, if you're a female between the ages of 18 and 35 who digs fashion trends and celebrity gossip. Or you might not be. I don't judge.

That is, if you’re a female between the ages of 18 and 35 who digs fashion trends and celebrity gossip. Or you might not be. I don’t judge.

But alas, I digress. (I just needed to insert a mildly relevant picture.)

So I guess the key question we’d be seeking to answer is: based on these points, how exactly would we define cosmopolitanism, and how does such an undertone fit into the narrative of “Gustl”? I think that cosmopolitanism can be defined as a collection of dichotomies, on multiple levels. There is the cosmopolitanism of high society – the idea of being in tune with the trends and steps of the elite – but there is also a second idea, of the mishmash of differing walks of life – from the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, to throw in a Marxist reference – that tends to exist in high-density cities, like Vienna at the time. The interaction between the two is something worth exploring more in-depth.

To give some necessary context, we need to understand just how multi-cultural Austria-Hungary was in comparison to its contemporaries. While other nation-states such as France, Germany, and Great Britain were forming or had formed cohesive national identities based on shared (or forcibly shared) linguistic traditions and cultural values, the territory and ethnic groups that Austria-Hungary encompassed were vast and heterogeneous. Yes, the Austrians spoke German; but within the Empire, there also lived Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ruthenians, Slovenes, Serbs…you name it. Because of this, Austria-Hungary was a hotbed for ethnic nationalism, one of the big reasons why it played such an integral role in the sparking of World War I. To keep the Empire and its mass of differing perspectives together was a never-ending struggle, and the foundations of this struggle stemmed from the reactionary effort of this man:

Trust me, the role of this man in our story will make sense.

What, Elliott!? Another boring portrait of some long-dead European dude?? But hey, at least he’s not wearing a powdered wig. Trust me, his role in our story will make sense.

This is Prince Klemens von Metternich, the Chancellor of Austria from 1815 until 1848.

The period between the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and the outbreak of World War I are known for several political movements in Europe – the rise of classical liberalism, Victorianism in England, or, later, the Belle Époque in France – but in Austria-Hungary (separately Austria and Hungary until 1866, when Austria lost to Germany in the Austro-Prussian War…but that’s another story), the government, with Metternich as its head, was known for being reactionary, extremely conservative, and oppressive – what later would be termed the “Age of Metternich”. Censorship was widely employed, and ethnic groups within the Empire were denied self-determination.

Yet Metternich himself was what could be called a “pan-European”; he spoke five European languages fluently, and was considered handsome and trendy, the epitome of the privileged liberalist and the high European culture of the era. When revolutions fuelled by dissatisfaction with the class structure broke out across Europe in 1848, Metternich was forced to flee from office; yet the political ideas he supported in spite of his “cultural savvy” continued to create tension between Austrians of German and non-German heritage into the 20th century. Evidently, Prof. Frackman was not exaggerating when he said that the Austrian government was, and had been, a mishmash of polar opposites and contradictions. We can also see a stratification forming – the prestige of the European “North” taking precedence over the culture of the oppressed Slavic peoples in the “South”.

We can note where this tradition of conservative bigotry and division in society emerges in “Gustl”; the Lieutenant passes judgment on the people he meets every which way, from the “tarts” to the volunteer officers. I especially enjoyed the discussion we had in seminar on Mrs. Mannheimer and her Jewish ancestry, as it was interesting to note the dichotomy between her social status and her racial heritage – both what Austrian society, in all its apparent anti-Semitism, makes of it, and what Gustl himself makes of it, with all his petty dreams of climbing the social ladder.

Despite these social attitudes, however, the way that these diverse classes come together in Vienna is nothing but intriguing, and well-represented in both “Lieutenant Gustl” and what little of “Reigen” I was able to pick up on. Gustl himself is friends with officers of non-German descent, such as Kopetzky, a more Eastern European surname. Similarly, in “Reigen”, Viennese citizens of different social classes “interact” with one another, brought together by the same carefree attitude of “cultural exchange” and vivacity present in the city at that time. “Reigen” seems to suggest that in a city as busy with life as Vienna was, people engage in casual sex with one another to alleviate their solitude; this sexual freedom almost seems like an accessory to the intellectual freedom the city, and the rest of Europe, enjoyed at the time.

In sum, Prince Metternich had been the epitome of cosmopolitanism, the classy sort, and perhaps representative of the traditional, upper-echelon, Austrian faction in Viennese society. Yet, as evidenced by his policies, he refused to understand the gripes of the oppressed around him, creating tensions in the cultural makeup of the city he loved. As a military man, Gustl would probably identify himself with this caste and this idea; it is likely for this reason that he believes himself fit to pass judgment on those who are in classes below him. Since class stratification, no matter where or in what context it happens, tends to foster animosity between classes, “Lieutenant Gustl” and the shaming so central to the story seems even more like a pointed finger to the structure of Viennese society. The disparity between what is expected of a man of Gustl’s rank and Gustl himself seems to reinforce such an argument.

Yet despite all its flaws, this dissonance and diversity of peoples, views, and experiences were what gave Vienna its cultural richness and centrality. The construction of the Ringstrasse and the cultural area around the city centre, and the circular path that Gustl takes, just around the Prater as well as beginning and ending at the coffeehouse, seems to suggest a whole – one formed by the conglomeration of Gustl’s encounters with different people. A city full of bright colours, bright lights, and bright people is one we would consider cosmopolitan, both in reality and in our imagination. Just consider some world capitals like Tokyo or New York, that are famous for “bright lights, big city”, or fictional metropolises like Coruscant in Star Wars. It is this diversity of experiences that gives big cities their exoticism and allure – an adventure that one can never really complete. Perhaps Gustl, knowing how much he has left to do (frolic) in his life, sets forth towards his duel with an eye toward the future, and uncovering what else there is to do in a great city like Vienna.

Hope you guys have a happy holiday! Thanks for reading.

 

Blake is Bleak? Or is he Lively? ;)

Hello, friends!

For today, I’d like to pose two questions:

A. Are Blake’s poems “beautiful”?

B. In what ways do Blake’s poems fit with the ideas of Romanticism? In what ways are they different?

Now, before the people who are in love with Blake’s poetry burn me at the stake like a little boy lost (heheheh), let me defend myself: it’s not that I don’t like Blake – in fact, I highly admire him. It’s just that I don’t think his poetry is conventionally “beautiful”, in the same way other Romantic poets are. Take this passage from John Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn, for example:

 

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave

Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;

Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,

Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve;

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

 

I looked up "fainting" on Wikimedia Commons and this was the closest thing I could find. A gif would have been better.

I looked up “fainting” on Wikimedia Commons and this was the closest thing I could find. A gif would have been better… See page for author [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sorry for that. I just think Romantic poetry in general is really lovely.

(Just a bit of an autobiographical aside…my high school English career featured a diet of primarily Romantic poetry. My teacher was basically the patron saint of literary techniques and emotional responses. Some classes, all we would do was sit around in a circle and talk about poems by Keats, or Wordsworth, or P.B. and Jelly (our affectionate nickname for Percy Bysshe Shelley), and have a jolly good time. So I might be a little biased. :P)

In contrast, however, as Prof. Mota stated, Blake’s diction is much more direct and understandable – a far cry from the lavish and happy turns of phrase of other Romantics, some of which might remind you of frolicking through a meadow or watching a tree’s leaves blow away on a temperate autumn day. (“I wandered lonely as a cloud…”) Also, the poems found within Songs of Innocence and of Experience take on a variety of speakers, from the Little Black Boy to the religious observer found in “Holy Thursday”. Most of the time, other Romantic poets seem to enjoy portraying the Rousseau-esque “prissy nature boy”, awed by nature to the point of loquaciousness. I know that authors like Shelley did write pieces that were more overtly critical of society, such as The Mask of Anarchy (that one’s quite a read), and I don’t know enough about Blake to say he doesn’t care much for nature in the same sense, but I think it’s safe to say that praising nature and its beauty isn’t what he’s famous for.

Indeed, again quoting Prof. Mota, maybe Blake would be more of a proto-Romantic. Some of the ideas of Romanticism are definitely present – some veneration of nature can be seen in the artwork and in pieces like “The Tyger” – but there are things that more immediately harken to eras before and after, from the rhythmical meter reminding me of Medieval ballads (“Night”), to the themes of poverty and societal distress looking forward to 19th-century realism (“London”, “The Chimney Sweeper”).

So, in a way, Blake is kind of an enigma to me, and that’s why I wanted to present about him. He seems to represent, for me, the very nature of poetry, precisely because there are so many possible definitions and frameworks under which he could be interpreted, and also because his subject matter – “Innocence” and “Experience” – allows him to portray an extremely wide variety of situations found throughout life. It’s almost like he takes us on a journey through life – one that goes backwards, forwards, and sideways, from understanding to ignorance, from perceived maturity to actual infantility and back again. His Songs seem to beckon – “Follow me on the road, and I will show you why nothing is as it seems.” He was such a rebel that it doesn’t seem so outlandish for him to still be showing new truths to us today.

Hobbes: Heretical or Holy?

Without further ado, we have arrived at my second official blog post! (The fact that we are already this far into the year is a little shocking…)

Today, I wanted to discuss Hobbes’ perspective regarding God, religion, and the legitimacy of sovereign power. As was custom at the time, Hobbes would have been a faithful man and a church-goer, as to not be one would essentially mean his exclusion from nearly all facets of life. He also does give his due respect to God as well as give numerous biblical references for his arguments (the appendix in the back gives a list of his mentions and references). But if he had “done his duty” as a Christian man, what was so contentious about his work that would have placed it under scrutiny for heresy?

One possibility might be that Hobbes, despite an exterior persona of being dogmatically correct, is actually anti-religious, and despises the church on the inside. The entirety of Ch. XII is devoted to the discussion of religion, and how most religions are invented by men as intellectual crutches, when they have need of an explanation regarding the causes of things (XII.2, 63). He also discusses man’s reliance on miracles for the sustenance of faith (XII.28, 72). However, when he seems to be pushing for the absurdity of religion, he also discusses God’s choice of the Israelites, who follow the “True Religion” and live in accordance with its correct laws (XII.22, 71). So, it seems to me that though he disparages religion in general, he still bears regard for the Judeo-Christian tradition.

If it’s not about the doctrine, then, it might be about the people. The conclusion Hobbes reaches at the end of that chapter is that he “may attribute all the changes of religion in the world to one and the same cause, and that is, unpleasing priests” (XII.32, 73-74). Well, then, his vendetta isn’t against God, but against God’s ordained representatives on earth, the clergy, who have (unlike the sovereign whom he espouses) undergone a specific training process to be able to represent God properly. That seems like a reasonable justification for him to be branded a heretic – turn your nose up to the people in charge, and watch them raise hell in your life (sorry, had to make the pun). Rising up against church authority actually seems like a very English thing to do, given the shining example of Henry VIII, who separated an entire nation from the Catholic Church in the 1530s just so he could divorce his wife, Anne Boleyn.

(I don’t know if memes work under copyright law, but I’ll just leave this here. The portrait itself is under Wikimedia Commons, so it should be fine???)

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However, he also states that “to make covenant with God [Himself] is impossible” (XIV.23, 85). God must be have an earthly representative in order to be communicated with. Hobbes brings up the biblical examples of Moses, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (the latter two of whom are actually God, but I won’t talk about that here) to show that this has happened without trouble in the past, because of the divine legitimacy of God’s chosen representatives (XVI.12, 103) – but what makes the appointed sovereign any better than a clergyman or a pope? Is it the fact that the multitude willingly transfers their rights to the entity whom they see fit (XVII,13, 109), rather than their being appointed as the pope is? Does this favour of the vox populi somehow mean that God, too, has chosen them? Then what makes the Stuart line any more legitimate as a monarchy, given that the only reason they held power was not because they were elected, but because they were related to the Virgin Queen who came before them? What does that say about Hobbes’ regard for the Stuarts – whether he actually liked them, or if he just wanted someone to call the shots and fill the position of power?

In my opinion, these are contentious points in Hobbes’ perspective that perhaps point to the political turbulence of his times and his potential desperation for strong government to reunite a battered country. Still, it would have taken a whole lot of desperation for a mind like his to forge an entire political theory around reinstating a potentially illegitimate power structure! And maybe he was really a church-man, through and through – or maybe he was just manipulating his biblical education to support his reasoning. We’ll never really know – but we can educatedly guess at it!

Thanks, folks.

A Crossroads

So, most of you guys probably don’t know this yet, but one thing about me is that I am a huge Disney fan. I grew up saturated on Disney princess movies and the wonderful world of Pixar, and as such, believing in grand narratives of life, love, and adventure. One might say I started getting used to finding these overarching themes in the different media I was exposed to.

If you know anything about Disney (or Star Wars), you might also know that Disney purchased Lucasfilm Ltd. in 2012 at an estimated market value of $4.06 billion. Having avidly watched films from both franchises (now you know this too), this came as a shock to me at first. What would this mean for the future? Would we suddenly have Buzz Lightyear facing off against toy X-Wing star-fighters? Might Stormtroopers walk the streets of Tomorrowland? And can we finally have a Mos Eisley Cantina created lovingly by the hands of the Walt Disney Company Imagineers? (Sorry for all the references. Just so you know, one of these is untrue, one of these is already true, and one of these will be coming true. Try and guess which is which.)

Anyways, I visited California’s Disneyland Resort this past summer to see the revelry of the Diamond Celebration for myself. (I won’t talk about that anymore here, but if you find me in person I could talk your ear off about it! haha) In preparation for that, I re-watched every single Disney-related film I could find…which now meant watching the Star Wars films again, too. I watched Episodes I – VI in successive order, the first time I had ever done so, and the first time I felt that I fully comprehended the overarching narrative of the saga. As the school year had its start and we began to read Oedipus Rex, I began to notice more and more similarities between Oedipus and the (arguable) protagonist of Star Wars – Anakin Skywalker, more famously known as Darth Vader.

*cue heavy machine breathing* (Spoilers follow, if you haven’t seen the films.)

Darth Vader. By Ron Riccio [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Darth Vader. By Ron Riccio [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Beginning

The six films of the Star Wars series are set during a precipitous time in the fictional galaxy “long, long ago” and “far, far away”. At the outset, the Galactic Republic is on the verge of collapse, and the evil Sith Lords have a hidden representative among the senators who is slowly gathering power for himself – Senator Palpatine. Aside from the references to the formation of the Roman Empire, and basically every other totalitarian regime throughout history, the meteoric rise of Palpatine, and the reverence with which the senators view him as he is granted emergency powers to stop the impending war, seemed to harken to the relationship between Oedipus and the people of Thebes. Both of them won their ennobled status through merit and salvation for the people; both of them adopt a patriarchic attitude towards the people they are intended to protect; and both of them upset the order that existed before they came to power.

However, the primary parallel begins when we encounter Anakin, the son of a slave living on the desert planet of Tatooine. The interesting thing about him is that he was conceived without a biological father; his mother became pregnant through “midi-chlorians” (this whole thing sounds weird, I know), which are the biological representation of the Force – the life energy surrounding all things that gives the lightsaber-wielding Jedi Knights their power. As a result, Anakin is born with an astronomically high concentration of midi-chlorians within him, and a prophecy begins to emerge from times long past – that he is the Chosen One who will eradicate the Sith and the dark side, bringing balance back to the Force. The parallel with Oedipus is apparent – the ambiguous birth, parentage, and childhood, the prophecy that signals a burdensome fate, and, to carry the “order” motif forward, a return to balance that comes with that fate.

As Anakin is rescued from slavery and begins his training as a Jedi Knight, he grows tremendously in skill, mental acuity, and virtue – but also proportionately in pride. He also falls in love with Padme Amidala, a senator from the beautiful lake planet of Naboo, whom he met when they were children. As Jedi are forbidden to partake in romantic relationships (le gasp), this, coupled with Naboo’s escalating political role in the Republican crisis (double gasp), causes a great commotion both within Anakin himself and with his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Anakin’s other great flaw is an impetuous hot streak – when he receives a vision that his mother is in danger, he flies back to Tatooine with Padme even while on a mission to act as her bodyguard. Then, when they discover that his mother has been killed by nomadic desert raiders, Anakin, in a fit of rage, tracks down their village and murders every last person there. Finally, Padme and Anakin are secretly married (triple gasp escalating conflict yo!!!). In both Oedipus’ and Anakin’s adult lives, the similarities grow ever more apparent – exceptional talent, pride in their own abilities, forbidden love, and even family-related murders rising out of angry emotion.

The Hertfordshire countryside in England, on which Naboo is partially based. Jack Hill [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Hertfordshire countryside in England, on which Naboo is partially based. Jack Hill [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Adult Years

As the Republic enters its twilight years and descends into full-scale war, Anakin reaches what will be the peak of his abilities as a Jedi, and is praised throughout the galaxy as a war hero. However, a complication arises – Padme is pregnant (!!!) and Anakin has been receiving troubling visions from the Force that Padme will die in childbirth (okay red alert right here). Padme attempts to dissuade his visions, saying that “the shapes of prophecy lie”, that “they are all illusions” (Sophocles 62, lines 1099-1100), but, overcome with confidence in his ability as a Force-wielder, Anakin begins to search for a way to use the Force, directing it on his terms to save people from death. Soon, he is coerced by Palpatine and the dark side – who promises that his wish to save his wife will be fulfilled – and his heroic virtue begins to descend into paranoia about the Jedi friends he trusted. This screams Oedipus, who takes himself as Apollo’s vigilante fighter (Sophocles 34), approaching his task with ferocious intention, and starts to mistrust those around him – Teiresias and Kreon in particular.

The conflict comes to a head when Anakin, in an attempt to protect his only chance at saving his wife, kills another Jedi who has apprehended and unmasked Palpatine – Darth Sidious. Realizing that he has committed something unspeakable, and blinded by the task before him, Anakin pledges himself to Sidious, joining him in the future two-man tyranny of the Galactic Empire and thereby becoming Darth Vader. The climax of the movie occurs on the volcanic planet of Mustafar (a very dramatic setting for a final battle), where a concerned Padme who has learned the truth from Obi-Wan confronts and is Force choked by an enraged Vader. Vader and his former master and friend, like Oedipus and Kreon, then engage in perhaps one of the most epic film battles of all time, the dramatic tension of the story adding ever more to its significance. The fight finally ends with an exchange as such:

…after which Vader is maimed, burned by hot lava, and left to die.

Padme, having lost the will to live, dies in childbirth, but not without giving birth to fraternal twins, Luke and Leia, who will be raised apart, each unaware of the existence of the other, in order that they may be “a New Hope” for the galaxy when they come of age. As for Vader, he is finally encased in the suit that will hold him together for the rest of his years, and the reign of the Galactic Empire begins. The potential thematic references to Oedipus are many – the confrontation between Oedipus and Kreon, once good friends but now victims of paranoia, the death of Jocasta because of the revelation of Oedipus’ truth, and the entrustment of Antigone and Ismene to Kreon, only for them to rise up against his tyranny in Antigone.

The Conclusion

Many say the original trilogy (films IV-VI, set during the reign of the Empire) is better than the prequel trilogy (I-III), but since Vader is the antagonist and a largely static character through those three (aside from the infamous “I am your father” scene that changed everything), we’ll summarize those plot points more briefly. 19 years later, Luke and Leia come together and stand up against Vader and the Empire, forming the Rebel Alliance. When Luke, who discovers his identity and trains as a Jedi, confronts the Emperor and his father, Vader, in a change of heart, kills the Emperor before being fatally wounded – thus ending the Sith and bringing balance back to the Force. In this way, Vader dies to himself twice while Oedipus does only once – Vader with the physical destruction of the body and his final, “balancing act” of sacrificial death, Oedipus in the blinding. Yet for both of them, the prophecy is fulfilled, and though they are brought to ruin by their respective prophecies, this ruination brings “balance” back to both their worlds.

Closing Remarks

Ultimately, both Anakin Skywalker and Oedipus feel to me like tragic characters who were victims of both their destinies and their fatal flaws as human beings. The rest of the parallels are probably circumstantial – though it feels to me that Star Wars definitely drew inspiration from Oedipus Rex in terms of plot points as well as philosophical and political themes like knowledge, or democracy vs. dictatorship. (And I swear I’m no science fiction geek or anything – I just thought this was really interesting as I was watching and reading and promised myself that I would write up something like this before we were done with Oedipus.) Finally, I think that both of them are great works of literature in their own times and themes. You can dismiss Star Wars as popular culture, but the fact is that plays were probably just as sensational in the heyday of Athenian tragedy as films are to us – and the original trilogy films have actually been kept by the U.S. National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” And what better thing to do on a weekend late night than try to synthesize two great works of literature? Isn’t that what we’re all in Arts One for? Isn’t that what we enjoy? 😀 😀 😀

Thanks for reading, folks.

Introduction

Hello, fellow scholars! My name is Elliott Cheung, and I am a member of Prof. Christina Hendricks’ seminar for Stream B, Seeing and Knowing.

I am originally from Richmond, British Columbia (which, FYI, is just south over the bridge), and a graduate of Richmond Christian Secondary School, where my grad class was just over 65 people. As a high schooler, I was most interested by subjects like English Literature and History, and so Arts One seemed to be the perfect fit for me.

My favourite poets are probably John Donne and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, so feel free to send me a message if you’re up for some discussion!

Aside from academics, I enjoy contemporary dance as well as watching excellent films and finding new places to enjoy a good cup of coffee.

I’m so excited to spend an amazing first year at UBC with you all!