UBC and recent events around U.S. travel, immigration and more

When the travel ban put in place by the administration of U.S. President Trump was announced in late January I was devastated. I couldn’t understand what was happening, nor how best to respond. I did the only thing I could think of at the time, which was to ask some questions on social media, which led to a suggestion for something to do by someone else at UBC, which led to an effort to gather people from UBC together into an email list to talk about possible responses by us as individuals and also by the university community.

I was heartened to see that UBC President Santa Ono put together a task force about the travel ban very quickly, and as they were meeting I was discussing with people on our hastily-put-together email list ideas of what we might do. As the suggestions started coming in I kept track of them all and eventually put them on a shared doc in the form of a letter. I was going to send it to the task force (second announcement about the task force is here) but then by the time I and a few other people finalized the letter and who wanted to sign it, we learned that the task force had given a new and final update.

We decided to send our letter anyway, and addressed it to President Ono only instead of the task force (which I believe is now finished, given the latest update being called a “final” one). We had some further thoughts for consideration and decided they were still worth sharing.

I want to emphasize that we appreciate the work of the President and the Task Force so far, and are offering further suggestions we would like the university to consider. I fear that the issues we discuss in the letter are likely to get worse, not better, as the weeks and months go on.

I share below a copy of the letter we sent to the President’s office today. I encourage others to share their thoughts in the comments below, and if you want to join our email list of UBC students, faculty and staff who are concerned about refugees, immigration, travel, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, hate and violence directed towards indigenous and LGBTQIA communities, please email me: c.hendricks@ubc.ca.

This is a long list of issues on the table, and I expect I have left out some groups and how they are being affected by recent events (please let me know!) but sadly I think they are connected. And all I can think of to do, again, is to talk with other people who care and see what we can do, given what we know and who we are and where we are right now. And to listen, mostly: to listen to those who are most affected.


February 20, 2017

Dear President Ono,

We write as members of the UBC community who are very concerned about the recent travel ban in the U.S. that affected so many people around the world, including at UBC, and about the violence committed against Muslims in Québec. Though the original travel ban is no longer in force, the U.S. President has said there will be a new one very soon that will be more carefully drafted so as to be more enforceable. Further, we fear that expressions of hatred as well as acts of violence against Muslims, Jews, and other marginalized groups that we are seeing in several parts of the world at the moment are likely to continue or get worse.

Recently we have also seen evidence of the new administration in the U.S. expending greater efforts to find and deport those who are in the country illegally, which could include students at institutions of higher education or their families. We are concerned about the possible disruption to such students and their families, not just in their studies but in their lives.

We were happy to see you respond so quickly to the travel ban in the U.S. by making a statement expressing deep concern and setting up a task force right away with funding to support it. We appreciate your efforts regarding this important issue and would like to support them.

We are writing with further suggestions of what we think might be useful for the university to do. We would also like to emphasize that the situation with the travel ban is very fluid and could change quickly, and some of the suggestions below are things that could be considered for the longer term even if the travel ban is not reinstated right away.

Actions that could be taken regardless of the status of the travel ban in the U.S.

 

Workshops, teach-ins, discussions at UBC

We would like to see more events related to racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQ violence, refugees, human rights and immigration at the university in the near future. First Nations and indigenous communities also continue to experience systemic inequalities, racism and violence, problems which are related to those we are raising here. There are quite a few people at UBC with a great deal of knowledge and experience with such issues, amongst students, staff and faculty. It would be helpful if there were a way for people to communicate and coordinate events and workshops around these issues, to avoid duplication and to be able to advertise them in one place.

We realize that such events are often organized by units at UBC rather than out of the central administration, but one thing that might facilitate more such events is to create a fund that could be used by units who wish to bring in speakers.

This is also a longer-term effort that could be undertaken in the portfolio of the Associate VP, Equity and Inclusion. As noted above, rhetoric, hatred and violence around Islam, Judaism, the LGBTQIA community, immigration and refugees is on the rise in many parts of the world, and this is a problem we need to be thinking about in the long term rather than only as a response to the recent travel ban.
World University Service of Canada Student Refugee program

Discussions with WUSC are currently underway to explore how best the university and Faculty can further support this program.  We encourage the University (and/or the task force) to continue working closely with WUSC and consider the recommendations coming from this student-led group.

 

Academic conferences

A number of professional associations are debating whether to possibly move their conferences or meetings outside of the U.S. We would like to ask the task force to consider how UBC might support such efforts, perhaps by providing a reduced price for use of rooms or catering. We recognize that many association meetings in Vancouver are held in hotels downtown, but for smaller meetings that could use UBC facilities we would like the university consider how to support moving such meetings from the U.S. to here.

There are also a number of academics who are choosing not to go to the U.S. at this time, and may therefore cancelling their presentations at conferences. If this is done out of conscientious objection, faculty members could note this on their CV’s and perhaps their cancelled presentations could still count for merit, tenure and promotion as if they had presented in person.

 

Actions specifically related to a travel ban, or to other reasons why students and scholars may not want to or be able to pursue their studies or scholarly work in the U.S.

 

Resource web page

It would be helpful to provide an up-to-date page with information about the current status of this or a future travel ban/travel or immigration concern in the U.S., such as the one at the University of Alberta: https://www.ualberta.ca/travel-ban-information This page could contain continually updated information as well as resources and people to contact with questions and concerns. It could also be a place to list events at UBC related to travel and immigration issues as well as those related to combating racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, and the like. Finally, it could contain information and guidelines around data protection and privacy for members of the UBC community who do travel to the US (in light of travellers being asked for device and social media passwords).

 

Students

  • Scholarships: It would be helpful if the university could fundraise for scholarships for those affected by this or a future travel ban.

 

Researchers and professors

Some may not be able to, or may not want to risk, going to the U.S. at this time though they may have been planning to do so (or are not able to return to their home institutions). We think it would be helpful if UBC could find ways to work with departments and research centres to provide temporary placement as visiting scholars. We recognize that this is complicated, of course, by the need for housing for such scholars as well as possibly their partners and families.

 

This letter has been circulated amongst an email list of faculty, staff and students who have come together around a desire to see the university respond in as effective and helpful way as possible to recent events. However, we are only a small number of people. We encourage the task force to consult widely with various people on campus, and in particular with those most affected by the travel ban, concerns around refugees and immigration, and Islamophobia, to ensure that the university’s response addresses what they see as the most pressing needs. We offer the list of things above as suggestions from a group of people who are concerned, some of whom have been personally affected, but who are nevertheless only part of the picture. We stress the importance of also consulting directly with those whose needs are most pressing at this time.

 

Sincerely,

Christina Hendricks, Professor of Teaching, Philosophy, UBC

Afsaneh Sharif, Faculty Liaison, Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology
(Personal viewpoints and do not reflect CTLT)

Tammy Yasrobi, Manager, UBC IT
(Personal viewpoints and do not reflect UBC IT as an organization)

Amy Scott Metcalfe, Educational Studies, UBC

What’s up with Midge in Vertigo?

Last week in Arts One we discussed Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” along with Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Yesterday in class I asked students to write down what they thought Midge’s role in the film was, and whether her character fits in some way with Mulvey’s analysis. I’m sharing their thoughts here, as well as a couple of my own.

Students’ comments

Not an object of male desire

  • Midge can seem a fairly unimportant character because she is not mysterious or “sexy” like Madeleine is
    • Because she is not/no longer an object of desire for Scottie, she loses her identity: women in the male gaze in cinema only are significant insofar as they are objects of that gaze
    • She ends up alone in the film, walking down the hall in the hospital by herself, sadly, in the last scene where we see her. After that she disappears from the film entirely.
  • She could serve to distance us from Scottie b/c we sympathize with her and dislike how Scottie treats her
    • An alternative view: that she broke off their engagement (according to Scottie) might give the audience a reason to forgive Scottie’s lack of attachment to her
  • She is a mother figure, taking care of him, not an object of sexual attraction
    • We talked in class about how in the first scene that we see them together, Scottie looks at the bra she is drawing and asks what it is, and she say: “It’s a brassiere. You know about those things, you’re a big boy now” (7:30).
    • She also says, when she is with him in the hospital after his breakdown: “please try,” “you’re not lost, mother’s here” (1:26:45).
    • There are other places in the film where we could see her taking on a kind of motherly role that we didn’t discuss in class…I’ll let students find them!
  • She represents a mature kind of love, whereas Scottie wants a more mysterious woman and a sexual passion kind of love

She might be a threat to Scottie because she is an independent woman

  • She doesn’t need his help like Madeleine does; she is an independent woman with her own job, unmarried. She helps him rather than needing help. Not the typical female role at the time.

Represents rationality, reality

  • She is rational, a sort of touchpoint for reality whereas Scottie is living in the realm of fantasy and falsehood by being attracted to Madeleine and then trying to make Judy over into his fantasy

Shows how Scottie is an object of attraction

  • That she is attracted to him, wanting to have a relationship, shows him in an enviable male position of being adored by a woman

 

My thoughts

I just have one other things to add, that I didn’t get a chance to bring up in class yesterday. Otherwise, the things I have in my notes are already mentioned above.

Midge is herself an investigator

She is intelligent, inquisitive:

  • She takes him to see Pop Lieble at the bookshop, who provides information on Carlotta; it is her connection that gets Scottie that information (I think one of the students also said this in what they wrote)
  • She investigates Scottie to some extent, like he investigates Madeleine:
    • she asks him what he is going to do after quitting the police force
    • she asks him why he wants to know about Carlotta
    • she asks him what he is up to when he disappears for awhile
    • she investigates the Carlotta painting and understands enough of what is going on to paint herself as Carlotta
  • So here too, she is not playing the typical female role but taking on more of a male role as observer, investigator

Democratic limbo

This is a short post, and it doesn’t directly have to do with teaching and learning in Philosophy or Arts One or generally (but yes indirectly).

I am staggered, horrified, utterly floored by the executive order about immigration and refugees to the U.S. that was signed yesterday. And I found myself wanting to do something, lots of things (which I’m already starting…more on that later, probably). One of those things was to contact lawmakers and ask them to respond, to resist. But I realized I’m in democratic limbo.

I am an American citizen who is a permanent resident in Canada. I live in Canada, and have since 2004. I don’t have a representative in the U.S. Congress anymore. I can vote in U.S. Presidential elections (and I always do), but I can’t vote for Congress members.

[update!] — turns out I was wrong about that. I CAN vote in federal elections, which includes not just for President but for members of Congress. Okay, so time to step up!

 

How about contacting MPs (Members of Parliament) in Canada? A tweet I saw this morning suggested Canadians do so:

But I can’t vote in Canada; I’m not a citizen. What is my legal status in terms of MPs representing me? Some web searches are not helping me. I mean, I can still contact them and all, but it’s also a question of: if I can’t vote, do they, philosophically, represent me? Beyond the crass question of whether they care what I think because my vote can’t help or hurt them, are they theoretically beholden to represent permanent residents?

Or am I in a democratic limbo?

I am not at all suggesting that my limbo is anything like the limbo that some people who can’t get into the U.S. are experiencing right now. It’s their situation and my extreme anger about it that led me to this question, and my drive to do something about it. There are many, many things I can and am working on doing, but the calls to contact representatives and MPs is leading me to wonder what the status of immigrants who are not citizens in Canada is, in regard to such efforts.

In the meantime, I’m starting work on a few other avenues of resistance. Stay tuned.

 

professional ethics in philosophy

I was invited to speak on a panel of people talking about professional ethics to a colleague’s class last week, but unfortunately I was sick the day of the class. So I offered to provide my thoughts on the questions we were asked to talk about, in writing. I figured why not post them here, in case anyone else finds them useful, or the students themselves want to see them later, after discussed in class next week.

I’m organizing the post according to the questions I was asked to talk about.

 

What does the term ‘professional ethics’ mean to you?

For me, “ethics” has to do with the rightness or wrongness of how we act, where those are determined by rules or guidelines or virtues that aren’t only tied to laws or institutional rules. We philosophers often talk about ethics as how we should act even if there are not rules or laws to that effect. For example, there may not be any laws or institutional rules saying that those with quite a bit of money to spare should donate to those in need, but the ethical question is whether it would be morally right for them to refuse to hep anyone else.

Still, what is morally right or wrong may coincide with laws or institutional rules: e.g., lying under oath in a courtroom is against the law, and also could be morally wrong even if there were no law against it. So ethics can be about what is right or wrong to do morally, whether it coincides with laws or not.

When I consider the term “professional ethics,” I think it’s about the way we should act, morally, as members of a particular profession. There might be specific ways one should/should not act as a result of the professional role one plays in a society.

 

What does the term ‘professional ethics’ mean to your profession?

This is a little difficult for me because “philosopher” doesn’t really have a clear job description! Most professional philosophers work as professors in universities, though, so much of what I’ll say here connects with being a professor at post-secondary institution.

The American Philosophical Association (APA) recently (2016) adopted a Code of Conduct. It includes legal requirements (based on United States laws, which is where the APA is mostly housed…many of us in Canada belong to the APA too, though): these include respecting laws about nondiscrimination and avoiding sexual harassment. But it also goes beyond what laws require, to talk about how we should act towards students, colleagues and others as professors in classes and as people dedicated to hearing many sides of arguments and making the best decision after weighing all views carefully. For example, the APA Code of Conduct says that in classes, philosophy teachers should:

  • Treat students with dignity, never intentionally embarrassing or belittling them, and always communicating with them in clear, respectful, and culturally sensitive ways.

  • Nurture intellectual autonomy by maintaining a classroom environment in which students might raise hyperbolic doubts and float views that do not reflect prevailing beliefs and values, while at the same time maintaining a classroom environment in which all students—particularly students from disenfranchised groups—feel welcome and supported.

The first point above is what any professor should do, but the second, I think, speaks to the specific profession of philosophy in that one of the things we do as philosophers is listen to all legitimate arguments for or against a claim, treat them as possible candidates for truth, and make a decision based on which view has the best argument supporting it.

However, this does not mean encouraging or making everyone listen to statements that promote stereotypes or suggest that some people are worth less than others based on their group status (e.g., gender, ethnicity, ability, religion, etc.). The Code of Conduct goes on to talk about bullying and harassment this way:

Bullying and (non-sexual) harassment includes any degrading, hostile, or offensive conduct or comment by a person towards another that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause the target to be humiliated, intimidated, or otherwise gratuitously harmed.

This is somewhat similar to the UBC policy on discrimination and harassment:

Harassment, a form of discrimination, is a comment, conduct or behaviour that humiliates, intimidates, excludes and isolates an individual or group based on the BC Human Rights Code’s thirteen grounds of prohibited discrimination.

Finally, the APA Code of Conduct includes a section on “electronic communication,” including online works such as blogs or websites, and social media. Among other things, it says:

  • In a professional setting, it’s best to avoid ad hominem arguments and personal attacks, especially if they amount to slander, libel, and/or sexual harassment.

  • Language used in professional electronic communications should use the same kind of inclusive language and reflect the same kind of mutual respect as is expected in the classroom or other face-to-face interactions.

These both go beyond institutional or legal rules, except if what one says amounts to “slander, libel, and/or sexual harassment.” And they were prompted, in part (I think) by some online exchanges that have happened in recent years.

 

What importance, if any, do professional ethics play in your job?

To me, professional ethics are crucial to who I am as a philosopher, a colleague, a leader, and a professor. Treating people with respect and dignity, treating students and colleagues fairly and equitably, being transparent in what decisions I’m making (regarding my classes or work I do with colleagues) and why, are of utmost importance to me. I couldn’t call myself a philosopher or a professor if I didn’t hold these values to be crucial. And if I ever fail at fulfilling them I want people to tell me (in a respectful manner!) so I can correct what I’m doing.

Beyond that, of course, if one doesn’t fulfill institutional or legal rules of professional ethics as a professor, one can lose one’s job (e.g., for bullying, harassment, discrimination).

 

Describe real-world example(s) of where professional ethics went missing or were called into question.  This can be a personal example or one that you have heard of.

There have sadly been several instances of alleged sexual harassment by philosophy professors, with students or colleagues. Daily Nous, a site with news about the philosophy profession, has quite a few stories about these and related issues, here. This is not an issue that plagues philosophy professors alone, as there are too many other stories of professors (and students) allegedly engaging in sexual harassment.

There has also been, in the past few years, a very significant situation in which one philosopher acted online in ways that many people, including myself, found problematic. The philosopher in question was at the time a leader on a website that ranked philosophy graduate programs, and quite a few philosophers signed a statement in 2014 saying we would not participate in those rankings until the philosopher stepped down from his leadership position with that ranking system. He did eventually step down. The saga continues, though, as some of the original people who criticized that philosopher have been sent feces through the mail by an anonymous source in 2016. This was also covered by the New York Times. There have been threats of lawsuits as well (here is a story in the UBC student newspaper, The Ubyssey, about a possible lawsuit). 

 

Any advice for handling ethically challenging situations? 

One of the best things I can think of is to talk the issue over with someone you trust, and who isn’t directly or indirectly involved but can offer good advice.

And think not just about the impacts on yourself for making one decision or another, but on general practices in your profession: if one person does something, is it an action that you think would be okay if many people did? If not, why should that person be able to do it?

Consider also: would more people be harmed if one doesn’t do anything to resist what’s wrong? Think about the precedent set for the future for people who will be in the profession, and those who are affected by the profession, if a certain pattern of behaviour becomes accepted because people didn’t speak out.

Still, I don’t think it’s morally required for people to sacrifice their own careers for what is right. Seek help and advice to find ways to address problems that could have less ramifications on your own job, or find people who can do something because their position is more stable or they have more power than you do. I feel much more comfortable speaking out these days than I did before I had a stable job, and I will sometimes offer to be the person who does so when others want to say something but their own position is more fragile.

 

Any more general advice for young professionals entering into the workforce?

Often, following rules of professional ethics is not just something one does because one is supposed to; it’s often also a matter of ensuring that the kind of work you’re doing, which should be of benefit to yourself and others, is actually done correctly. Professional ethics for a philosophy teacher and researcher means actually doing philosophy teaching and researching as opposed to just appearing like one is doing them from the outside!

Coming to consciousness in the yellow wall-paper

Another post on readings we’re doing in Arts One: this week we discussed a couple of works by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Our Androcentric Culture and “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” I gave a lecture on these works this week, and you can see the slides here if you’re interested:

 

I’m using this post to point out something I didn’t have time to talk about in class, either in lecture or in seminars, and see what others think.

 

A “phantasmagoria screen”

There are multiple ways to interpret the wallpaper itself; I found the one by Carol Margaret Davison in “Haunted house/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’” (Women’s Studies 33.1 (2004): 47-75) very intriguing:

A … detailed portrait of the narrator’s conspiratorial fears and suspicions is revealed in the yellow wallpaper that decorates her nursery bedroom…. Indeed, it becomes a type of phantasmagoria screen onto which is projected her sense of her situation. (60)

I like this idea of the wallpaper being a kind of screen that she projects her own sense of self onto, that she externalizes it onto, as if through projection of a film. It emphasizes the visual aspect of the story and the wallpaper.

Going off of this idea, I was thinking that as the story goes along, the narrator could be bringing her sense of self and her situation more and more into consciousness, to the point where she finally merges with the woman in the wallpaper because really, that was her all along. She had projected her sense of self outwards, and finally takes it back inwards, so to speak.

Towards the beginning of the story, she just finds the wallpaper confusing, uncertain, contradictory; then she dedicates herself to studying it (650) and slowly it starts to make sense to her–she starts to get some clarity about it. At first (650) she thinks she sees a kind of “formless figure” behind the main pattern, and then on p. 652 she starts to become certain that the figure is that of a woman. Laterthe narrator realizes that the woman is trying to shake the pattern to get out (654). I don’t think it’s only because I’ve lectured on Freud numerous times for Arts One that this reminds me of Freud and repression: one could say the narrator starts to become more and more aware of repressed thoughts and feelings as she begins to recognize them as those of a woman who is inside the wallpaper.

This could connect with her desire to have no one understand what is in the paper but herself, to keep it to herself; after she caught Jennie looking at the wallpaper the narrator says, ““I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody shall find it out but myself!” (653). On a Freudian reading of the woman in the wallpaper representing repressed content, this is not something that the narrator would want other people to know. Of course, there’s a flaw here: if it were truly repressed content, then the narrator herself wouldn’t want to know it; repression is, by definition, a process of the mind keeping things from consciousness that some part of oneself doesn’t want to have surface. Still, even if the repression theory doesn’t fit exactly, the idea that the narrator is bringing to consciousness aspects of herself that she didn’t really face before could still work.

 

Going round and round

As I started thinking about this idea of coming to consciousness of herself, something else struck me. There are suggestions in the story that the narrator has actually been doing the creeping she says the woman does, during the day, inside the room. On p. 654 she points out that there is a strange mark on the wall: “It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even smooch, as if it had been rubbed over and over.” Who did the “smooch”? Possibly the room has held other women in similar situations, or the children who used to be in the nursery did it. But there’s also the fact that at the end of the story the narrator is going around and around in the smooch herself, her shoulder perfectly fitting into it. It’s possible she had been doing that for quite awhile before she came to consciousness of doing it. This would explain why Jennie says the yellow gets onto the narrator’s clothes (653); but it wouldn’t explain why Jennie says it’s also on John’s clothes. The narrator sees the smooch earlier in the story, but doesn’t realize that it was she herself that made it through going round and round the room.

The thing that really brought this idea out for me had to do with teeth marks on the bed, though. On p. 655 the narrator points out: “this bedstead is fairly gnawed!” And then shortly after that she says she got so frustrated at not being able to move the bed “[she] bit off a little piece at one corner –but it hurt her teeth” (655). She is clearly gnawing on the bedstead herself, and had she been doing that for awhile without realizing it?

So it could be that as the narrator comes to consciousness of her own thoughts and feelings, and her situation as a woman trapped behind “bars” like the woman in the wallpaper (the pattern on the wallpaper becomes bars in moonlight (653)), she also brings to consciousness what she has been doing during the day while John is away and Jennie thinks she is sleeping. Even while the narrator herself thinks she is sleeping (she says on the top of 654 that she sleeps a lot during the day).

At least, I think this is a plausible interpretation!

 

Day and night

One other thing that might be related here, if only indirectly: there are differences in what happens between day and night, including in what the wallpaper is like. By night the pattern becomes bars, as noted above, and the woman shakes the pattern to try to get out. In the day, in the pattern there is “a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind” (653). During the day the pattern is “like a bad dream.” And by day the woman is quiet (652), only moving around and shaking the pattern at night.

If we take a Freudian view (again), then the idea of unconscious material coming out in dreams could fit here: the woman moves, the woman is clear to the narrator at night, insofar as that is when one is usually asleep and dreaming. And perhaps the narrator is actually asleep and dreaming at that time, if during the day she is moving around and around as suggested above. But this interpretation would suggest that the narrator isn’t actually hallucinating but dreaming, and I’m not sure I want to go there. It diminishes the severity of what seems like a very real illness.

Here’s a perplexing thing to me about the day/night discrepancy: the woman in the wallpaper gets out during the day (654), but at night is stuck behind the bars. The narrator sees her creeping out of the windows in the daytime, and at the end the narrator says that she expects that at night she will have to back into the wallpaper (unless she tears it all off). I expect there is something going on here with space: something about seeing the woman outside the bars of the windows of the room during the day and inside the bars of the wallpaper at night, but I haven’t gotten very far with this. I think there are a lot of interesting things one might do with space in this story: why it should focus on wallpaper inside the walls of a room, with a lot of discussion of what happens outside the windows and the narrator saying she can see the woman both inside the bars of the wallpaper (at night) and outside the windows and their bars (during the day). I’d love to see an essay on this if anyone feels so inclined!

 

So, I’m curious if you have any thoughts about any of what I’ve suggested here…. Feel free to argue against my interpretation; it may not work entirely!

 

Reading the beginning & end of Lt. Gustl

 

In Arts One this week we discussed two German short stories:

Heinrich von Kleist’s “The Earthquake in Chile” (I just discovered that there’s a 1970s film version)

Arthur Schnitzler’s “Lieutenant Gustl” (the translation linked to here is different than the one we read; this is the one we read, and the one I’m citing below)

We focused on Gustl yesterdy in class, and my brain and emotions just weren’t working as well yesterday as they usually do (last day of class issues? who knows), and I didn’t get to do some close reading of the beginning & end of the story as I had planned to do. So I thought I’d write a bit about that here on the blog.

Beginning

I noticed that one can get a great deal just from the very first page (first three paragraphs) of the story.

Impatience & concern with time

noun_517277_ccThe first thing we get from Gustl’s internal monologue is: “How long is this going to last, anyhow?” (107). We did discuss in class that a similar sort of sentiment is expressed on p. 141, when he asks himself, “How long will I keep sitting here?” (referring to sitting on the bench in the Prater). Right away we get a sense of his concerns about time, and even his impatience. He is at a concert at the beginning, and doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself and is impatient to leave.

There are many other references to his impatience in the text, including in the second paragraph of the story, which starts with him saying to himself: “Well, then, patience, patience! Even oratorios come to an end” (107). The most obvious example of his impatience is when he gets into the altercation with the baker. He is clearly being impatient trying to get his coat on the bottom of p. 117, and then the baker says to him, “Patience, patience!” (119). The baker also tells Gustl, “You’re not going to miss anything!” Gustl says something similar to himself, later, when he’s out wandering on the street: “slower, slower, Gustl, you aren’t missing out on anything, you have nothing left to do–nothing, absolutely nothing left!” (133). He also asks at one point “Why am I dashing along like this? None of my trouble is running away …'” (125). There are more examples of places that show him being impatient, but these are enough for now.

“I must look at my watch” is the second sentence of the story (107) (compare to the same statement on 143, when he wakes up in the park and wonders what time it is). He is frequently wondering what time it is in the story, along with being impatient. In the first paragraph he notes that it is “Only a quarter to ten?” (107). He hears the clock strike 11 after he leaves the theatre (125), thinks it must be past midnight in the park (141), wakes up at 3 in the park (145), hears a clock strike 3:30 when he’s walking back from the park (147), and notes that it’s 5:45am when he is getting close to his coffeehouse (157). He also decides to set himself the time of 7am to shoot himself and then later thinks, well, he could put it off another hour or so.

I asked in class: what should we make of his concern with time and his impatience? What might be the significance of these in the context of the story? He might be impatient at the concert because he is bored and wants to get out of there. But he also finds himself rushing when he’s out on the street. There might be something going on here in terms of him rushing ever forward only to be heading to his own death–so some kind of irony? I also wondered if it might signify that he is spending so much time looking outward, worrying about how he looks in the eyes of others, going to the places he is supposed to go in order to be seen, that he doesn’t slow down and self-reflect. But I don’t feel really strongly about that interpretation.

I think I still don’t have a good sense of the significance of his impatience.

 

Being out of place

Back to the first paragraph: after noting that he wants to look at his watch, Gustl says “probably not polite as such a serious concert” (107). This starts to bring up an idea that maybe Gustl doesn’t belong in the particular milieu. He doesn’t really know for sure how to act. We can see this also later in the paragraph when he wonders what kind of song it is and has to look at the program: “Yes, that is: oratorio. I thought it was a Mass.” I remember hearing last year when we discussed this book that Gustl is being presented as if he doesn’t really belong in this space. He doesn’t have the right knowledge to really understand this cultural event. He was given a ticket; he didn’t really choose to go because he wanted to attend this kind of concert. He even tells himself in the third paragraph of the story: “By the way, they sing very nicely. It’s very edifying–I’m sure!,” suggesting that he doesn’t really know if it’s edifying but figures it must be. Still, he doesn’t really get how it is so, if it is.

Gustl feeling out of place continues in the story, after the altercation with the baker. Gustl can’t believe what the baker did–he keeps asking whether or not it really happened, and as it is happening he can’t understand what the baker says (119)–because it doesn’t fit with his understand of social relations in his culture. Bakers just don’t do that, and then when it happened Gustl had no ritual to fall back on, no clear way to deal with the situation. When he goes out into the street he is figuratively lost, wondering where to go and what to do: “Where have I got to? What am I doing out on the street? –Yes, but where should I head?” (123). He wanders aimlessly, not really knowing where he is going until he just finds himself in certain places unexpectedly. At one point he even notes that he is sitting on a bench in the Prater “homeless” (143).

 

Worrying about what others thinkman with large eye watching over him

In the third sentence of the story Gustl worries whether someone will see him looking at his watch: “But who’s to see it? If someone sees it, then he’s paying just as little attention as I am, and I don’t have to bother on his account” (107). He’s concerned how he looks to others and what they think of him, but if others are doing the “wrong” things too by not watching the concert and looking at him, then he doesn’t need to worry about them. We get a great deal of evidence of Gustl being concerned what others do and will think of him throughout the story; I don’t need to enumerate them here as they’re quite easy to find!

 

Social manners, ritual, honour

In the second paragraph of the story, Gustl talks about how he got the ticket to the concert from Kopetsky, and since he is bored he thinks he should have given the ticket to someone else who would have enjoyed it more. “But then Kopetsky would have been insulted” (107). Here is an example of social manners he feels he needs to hold up–he is concerned about social roles and expectations. That’s also the reason why he doesn’t want others to see him looking at his watch, looking bored, at the concert–he worries that that isn’t appropriate in this social situation.

At the end of the third paragraph of the story, Gustl’s thoughts take on a tone of foreshadowing: “Yes, the day after tomorrow I may be dead and cold! Oh, nonsense, I don’t believe that myself!” (107). He is ostensibly talking about the duel with the doctor scheduled for the next day, but it could also foreshadow his plans later in the story to kill himself. Then the last two sentences of the third paragraph refers to the duel directly: “Just wait, Doctor, you’re going to lose your taste for making such remarks! I’m going to slice off the tip of your nose …” (107). So here we’re introduced to the social ritual of the duel.

These things are significant because the social manners and rituals that Gustl is used to are broken in when he gets into a scuffle with the baker. Before this, the story is setting Gustl up as someone who plays by the social rules, at least outwardly (while inwardly, as we discussed, he thinks all kinds of things that may or may not fit into the social rules and practices at the time). When the baker doesn’t play along, Gustl is left without a playbook, not knowing what to do.

 

Ending

I also find the very end interesting to read closely, along with the beginning. I’m just looking at the last paragraph here.

Time and being out of place

Gustl is back to paying careful attention to time. He schedules out the rest of his day: “In a quarter of an hour I’ll go over to the barracks and get a cold rubdown from Johann …  half past seven is rifle drill, and half past nine is formation” (163). He then refers to the duel at 4 that day. He now has plans again, he can schedule his day, he knows what he is doing and where he is going, as compared to being lost and out of place the night before.

By the time the story ends he is back in “his” coffeehouse, with the waiter he knows, and he comes back to himself and his plans for his life. He is full of confidence, whereas earlier he had started to wonder where he was, where he was going, and doubting himself (147, 151). By the end he says he’s going to insist that Steffi make herself available to him that evening, and he is certain he is going to win in his duel against the doctor–whereas earlier he was a little unsure (he thinks he might die in the duel (107, 127) and states that he is “unqualified to give satisfaction” in the duel because of what happened with the baker (125)).

So one might say that he starts the story in a place where he’s somewhat out of place (the concert) and then feels lost & homeless in the streets, but finally comes “home” to his coffee house by the end and feels more confident. He’s back in his usual military life with its usual time-table. Everything make sense again to him.

picture of an arrow going around in the circle and coming back to where it startedAnd as we discussed in class, he hasn’t changed much, if at all, by the end. His life goes back to the same things: Steffi, the duel with the doctor. Gustl even says on the last page that “No one knows a thing, and nothing has happened!” (163). The first part is true, but not the second–something has happened, and Gustl earlier suggests that it should matter even if no one else knows. But now that no one else knows or can know, for Gustl it’s as if nothing even happened at all. He has completely left it behind, and the event has left no mark on his life.

 

I don’t often do close readings of portions of texts, but I always find it valuable when I do, so I want to make sure to do more of these in class in the future!

 

 

 

 

Frontispieces in Blake’s Songs of Innocence & of Experience

This week in Arts One we discussed Songs of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake. We only had one seminar meeting discussing this week because there were no classes yesterday, Remembrance Day. In our one class we focused in part on considering, based on the poems in Innocence and Experience, what “innocence” and “experience” might signify for Blake. We also spent a little time in small groups discussing particular poems.

One thing we didn’t spend much time on, but that is important for the theme of the group we’re in this year, “Seeing and Knowing,” is the fact that the poems are bound up with images. We did talk about a few of the images while discussing poems, but there is so much more to consider. One set of images I wanted to discuss if we would have met in class yesterday, is the frontispieces for Innocence (plate 2) and Experience (plate 28).

Frontispiece for Songs of Innocence

There are numerous versions of Blake’s book, each coloured slightly differently by him (the engraving outlines are the same, but the colours he did afterwards are different). Here is one that is somewhat similar to the one in our book.

From Wikimedia Commons, public domain

From Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Here’s a very different version of the same image, from the British Museum.

This image connects to the “Introduction” poem to Songs of Innocence, clearly, as it depicts a piper and a child.

From Wikimedia Commons, public domain

From Wikimedia Commons, public domain

There’s much to say about this poem in itself, but I’m only going to mention a couple of things I noticed: (1) the repetition of the song the piper is piping, several times, and (2) that the song changes in terms of media. Here’s what I mean: at first, the piper is just piping a song, some song of “pleasant glee.” Here, clearly, the song is just notes from the pipe. Then the child appears and asks him to pipe a song about a Lamb, so he does that–no longer just a song of pleasant glee of some sort, but a song about a specific thing. The child asks to hear it again (repetition), and weeps.

Then the child asks him to change the medium: “Drop thy pipe thy happy pipe / Sing thy songs of happy cheer.” So now we might consider that the song has words–though perhaps the piper could just be singing the notes without words at this point. Again it’s the same song, but with a voice rather than a pipe.

Next the child asks him to write the songs “In a book that all may read.” The sounds have disappeared into words and pictures: the piper makes a pen out of a “hollow reed” to do so. But notice that a “hollow reed” can also be something you can use to make music. And these poems are still “songs”–the aural aspect of them is still emphasized. They are not just words on a page, but meant to be heard as sounds (perhaps).

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this repetition and progression from sounds to words, though one thing it does is to preserve the sense of sound into the words; the piper starts with music in the “valleys wild,” and this music is transformed into a song about a Lamb that is repeated in different ways until it ends up in the book. It almost feels like we’re getting a kind of direct line from sounds in nature to sounds on the page.

Another thing that’s interesting is that the child on a cloud disappears when the piper writes the book; the piper no longer has the child for an audience, but instead writes songs in a book that “Every child may joy to hear.” Instead of the one child, the piper has many children (us) for his audience. And as we discussed in class, the “children” mentioned here could be the “innocence” aspect of adults as well as children.

I just want to say a few things about the frontispiece image, because mostly what I am thinking about comes out when we juxtapose it to the frontispiece from Songs of Experience. The image seems pretty straightforward: there is a piper who has stopped piping and is looking up at a child who is floating in the air and looking down at the piper. The trees form a canopy over both of them, which is something I noticed happening pretty often in Songs of Innocence (e.g., plates 6, 8, 9, 10 and more) and not nearly as often in Songs of Experience (e.g., there are more trees without leaves, such as in plates 32, 33, 42, 43 and more). There are sheep behind the piper, which might suggest that he is also a shepherd like in “The Shepherd” poem, which follows “Introduction.” Unlike in “The Shepherd,” though, the piper isn’t looking at his sheep, and seems to be walking away from them but stops to pay attention to the child. I have more to say about this image below.

 

Frontispiece to Songs of Experience

This version is the closest one I could find online to the version we have in our book.

From Wikimedia Commons, public domain

From Wikimedia Commons, public domain

The main difference between the one above and the one in our book is that the figure with the winged child on his head is clothed in more of a blue-green colour in our text.

From Wikimedia Commons, public domain

From Wikimedia Commons, public domain

This image might go along with the “Introduction” to Songs of Experience like the frontispiece to Innocence went with the “Introduction” poem there, but if so it’s a bit harder to tell, and I don’t have much in the way of thoughts about that. From Innocence, the Introduction is about the writer of the poems as a piper who seems fairly simple and connected to the “wild,” while in Experience the Introduction suggests the poems are given us by a “Bard” who has much more knowledge of the world (“Who Present, Past & Future sees”) and who is calling “the lapsed soul” and also Earth to “[Rise] from the slumberous mass.” The Bard is more insistent, more commanding, telling us that we must “Hear [his] voice” with an exclamation point right at the beginning of the poem. This speaker, far from simply piping songs of “pleasant glee” in “valleys wild,” has “heard, / The Holy Word”–he has knowledge of religion and scriptures, and is perhaps using that to help Earth to arise and return from her slumbering. As we see in “Earth’s Answer,” though, this is not so easy; she complains of being “Prison’d,” “Chain’d,” cold and frozen, and can’t seem to free herself.

But that’s not my emphasis here; what I’m more interested in is talking about the image in the frontispiece to Experience and comparing it with its counterpart in Innocence.

A couple of things strike me right away about the frontispiece to Experience: (1) the adult figure is holding the child figure, now winged, on his head, and (2) both are looking intently, straight ahead. In the Innocence frontispiece they are looking at each other, but here they are staring straight at us. I find it a bit unnerving, as if they are coming out of the page in a way, interacting with the reader in ways that aren’t common in the rest of the text. If we connect this image with the “Introduction” to Experience, then it could be that the adult figure is the Bard, and the Bard is speaking directly to us when saying “Hear the voice of the Bard!”. In that case, the speaker of “Introduction” wouldn’t only be speaking to Earth, who is addressed in the poem as well, but also to us, the readers, who are being addressed with the eyes of the two figures in the frontispiece.

The other striking difference to me in the two frontispieces is that in Experience the child figure is no longer flying free, but held down. It’s as if the child has lost its freedom in some way–it still has wings, but is grounded, not flying. There are many other interpretations possible here, and I’ve seen some things in my online perusings (which I didn’t keep track of like I should have!) saying that while the child figure in the frontispiece to Innocence seems like a child, this one is more like a cherub, a religious figure of some sort; this child also has a halo, signifying some aspect of divinity. So perhaps the adult figure here has experience with religion in a way that the one in the Innocence frontispiece does not.

There are still sheep in the background, and the adult figure is still walking away from them. It’s clear that in the first frontispiece he is walking with his left foot first and here it’s his right, but I haven’t been able to find anything in my minor efforts at research online to explain what might be significance of that.

 

I haven’t been able to come to any major conclusions by going through this exercise, and I bet we could have come up with more things to say if we had been able to discuss this together in class! I always learn more by doing that than by sitting, thinking and writing by myself. But hopefully this post points to some ways in which one might do a close reading of images (though it could be closer than I have done here), and perhaps will spark some new thoughts in some of the students for their essays!

 

Sights, Sounds and Words in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

In Arts One this week we discussed Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I just noticed that I have two other blog posts on this book from Arts One as well: see here for a post on the play and on the film Forbidden Planet, and here for one on how to interpret Prospero’s “magic” or “art” and why he might give it up at the end (also talking about Peter Greenaway’s film Prospero’s Books). I guess I like to write blog posts on this book!

I’m writing this one because we ran out of time to talk about something in our seminar meeting that I wanted to discuss. We were focused on reading the script, but this is a play, after all, and I thought it would be useful to look at some scenes from performances of the play to think about what we lose (or gain?) when we just have the words vs when we have the visual and the auditory elements of a play. Clearly, a play is much more immersive and vivid, but one thing it does is to present the audience with a particular interpretation of the words, by the way the characters speak, their facial expressions, their movements on the stage, the stage set, and more. If you just have the words, there are multiple interpretations one could give to them, multiple ways one could imagine the story going, whereas a performance narrows those options down by the way it’s staged (there can still be room for interpretation, but I think it might be lower…?).

This means the bare words alone give directors a great deal of freedom in how to stage the play. I picked a couple of examples of the same scene played two different ways, in the videos below.

First, we have two different versions of Act I Scene 2, in which Prospero and Ariel are speaking together for the first time, and after describing how he performed the storm, Ariel asks for his freedom and Prospero gets angry.

This one is from Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company, 2014. I can’t get the link to work with a start and end time for the clip, only a start time. So just watch until about 21:40.

And this one is from a Globe Theatre production in 2013. This one ends at the end of the scene so you can watch it until the end

 

There is quite a difference in how Ariel is played between these two scenes. In the first one it is clear that he remembers Sycorax well, and his imprisonment in a pine tree–indeed, his memory is played out directly on stage. Prospero in this scene seems cruel, torturing Ariel by bringing up this painful memory again. As someone said in class, Prospero could be said to be inflicting psychological torture on Ariel by reminding him of this experience every single month. It makes Prospero seem like he is using this memory over and over to express his power over Ariel.

In the second video, it’s less clear. The actor playing Ariel seems to have trouble remembering where Sycorax is from, and his facial expressions earlier in the scene suggest that he doesn’t really have that vivid of a memory of her. The way Prospero is played, he seems mostly to be exasperated at having to remind Ariel over and over what he has actually forgotten. This changes the dynamic between Ariel and Prospero considerably–if Ariel really is this forgetful, then we can see why Prospero gets upset at having to constantly remind him. Prospero could be read as less cruel and more just frustrated. Though, at the same time, one could argue that Prospero doesn’t really need to remind him of this experience over and over except to keep Ariel in his power. So maybe the ultimate function of this reminder is the same as in the previous video; it’s just that Prospero could seem less cruel.

 

I also wanted to point to something about how the characters move on the stage as indicating various interpretations that are left open by the mere words in the text.

In this clip from the Globe Theatre’s 2013 production, I think the way Caliban and Miranda move is quite telling. This one you can stop at around 5:30.

In this scene we find that Caliban is quite literally stuck in a “hard rock” (1.2. 342-343). He often stays low to the ground, something that we see often in performances of Caliban. Possibly it’s to signal that he is not entirely human (and so doesn’t stand upright), but it also shows his subordinate status to the rest of the characters.

In addition, I find it interesting how Caliban’s movements suggest both anger and desire for rebellion against Prospero, but also significant fear. He runs at Prospero, pointing and shouting, but then also cowers backwards, hiding behind a pillar. You can see this in particular when he gives the lines about how the island is his, from Sycorax, and Prospero has taken it from him.

Then, when Caliban talks about how at first Prospero was kind to him, he is suppliant, staying low to the ground. But when he talks about how he showed Prospero various good things on the island, he starts to get angry and stands up, walking around. Then he attempts a magical incantation against Prospero: “all the charms of Sycorax…light on you!”

Miranda’s movements are telling in this scene too. She starts off cowering behind a pillar, clearly afraid of Caliban. But then when Prospero reminds Caliban of his attempted rape of Miranda, and Caliban says he would have peopled the island with Calibans, Miranda can’t take it–she gets angry and comes out shouting, moving quickly towards Caliban, who immediately cowers and drops to the ground.

Finally, we get a clear demonstration of Prospero causing Caliban pain, around 4:40. When Prospero says he is going to fill Caliban with cramps, Caliban writes on the ground–clearly, Prospero is already doing so. This we can see from the stage production; it’s not necessarily clear in the text.

 

These are just a few examples of what one can see when looking at performances vs. just reading the words. I haven’t talked about things like set or costumes, which also can convey meaning through vision. Reading the text of a play is in some ways just a small sliver of the meaning one can get from the work, but at the same time, it’s more open to multiple interpretations because the words can be said in so many different ways, with different facial expressions, different movements, etc. So reading the text could leave one’s imagination freer than watching a performance!

 

Sketchnotes on Plato’s Republic

We are talking about Plato’s Republic this week and next in Arts One, and over the summer I started getting interested in doing sketchnotes–basically, trying to take notes with both images and words.

I have found this a really useful method for forcing myself to take in information and make it my own, to condense ideas down to what I think is most important, and to put that into my own “words,” so to speak. I think it helps me remember things better than just copying down as many words from a lecture or presentation as I can by typing on a keyboard (what I would otherwise be doing).

I have a long way to go before my drawings are attractive (and I’m slowly working on that), but I’ll be sharing my sketchnotes on our Arts One lectures throughout the year, here on my blog.

Here’s the first set!

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What’s the focus of Sophocles’ Oedipus?

Oedipus & the Sphinx, pottery decoration from circa 470 BCE

Oedipus and the Sphinx, c. 470 BCE, by Carole Raddato, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0 on Wikimedia Commons

 

In Arts One last week we discussed Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. We put a bunch of questions/topics for discussion on the board and didn’t get to all of them (unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence in Arts One, but fortunately, it’s because students are so engaged and want to discuss!).

I wrote a question on the board that I had myself:

What of the Oedipus story is included in the action of the play and what occurs before or after? What takes place on stage versus off? And what do these say about what the play is about, what it’s focused on, and what message we might get from it (if any)?

We didn’t have time to discuss this question, so I thought I’d take the opportunity of doing a blog post to provide some of my own thoughts. As with all texts we read in Arts One, my interpretation is only as strong as my evidence–like those of students as well. This is to say: I am not arguing that mine is the only way to answer this question, just because I happen to be the instructor in our seminar group.

What takes place within the action of the play itself?

There are numerous elements to the Oedipus story, including:

  • the oracle to Laios and Jocasta that their son would kill his father, and his subsequent abandonment to die as a baby
  • his growing up in Corinth thinking Polybos & Merope are his biological parents
  • the oracle’s message to him that he was going to kill his father & marry his mother
  • his killing of Laios, answering the riddle of the Sphinx, marrying Jocasta
  • the plague in Thebes, Oedipus trying to find the murderer of Laios and in turn discovering who he is, what he has done, and that the oracle was right; his self-blinding and asking to be exiled from Thebes
  • his exile from Thebes and what happens afterwards

Only the second to last bullet point, above, is what takes place within the action of this play (Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonnus and Antigone address the last bullet point). More specifically, what happens is that Oedipus vows, as king, to do what Apollo said in his oracle to Kreon and find the murderer of Laios, and he continues to search and search for the truth until he does. It’s kind of like a murder mystery in modern terms, except that the audience knows all along that Oedipus himself is the murderer.

So we might say that one focus of the play, at least, is on the seeking of knowledge, and gaining self-knowledge. One could argue that it’s also about a king trying to save the citizens of his state from a plague, trying to do fulfill his kingly duties by doing what the god Apollo commanded–find the murderer of Laios and punish him.

But there’s another aspect to what happens within the action of the play as well: there is a focus on the issue of the knowledge of humans vs. the knowledge of gods. Oedipus is at first treated as a god by the priest in the beginning (and Oedipus himself seems to be answering their prayers as if he were a god at the top of p. 33 in our version), and yet the audience knows that his knowledge falls far short of that of the gods. So we see him not only gaining knowledge and self-knowledge by the end of the play, we see him in the process realizing that he is not at the same level as the gods (though, at the end, he knows as much as they do, so do what you will with that …).

The Chorus states that only Zeus and Apollo see and understand “the dark threads crossing beneath our life” (46), and then later they reflect on the nature of human life and how we are all like Oedipus:

man after man after man
o mortal generations
here once
almost not here
what are we
dust ghosts images a rustling of air
nothing nothing
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
we are you
we are you Oedipus (78)

According to the chorus, then, Oedipus does not have the same knowledge the gods do, and neither do the rest of us. Humans are only “dust ghost images a rustling of air”–very little, or perhaps “nothing.”

Similarly, he comes to realize, during the play, that the oracles all were true (and that Teiresias was right about what would happen to him). Despite Jocasta (and Oedipus) saying that we don’t need to pay attention to oracles, it turns out that they were right even when humans think they have discovered that they aren’t.

What takes place off stage or on stage?

Partly this question is going to be answered by the nature of staging drama in ancient Athens. There was a stage with very little in the way of backdrops or props. From what I understand, showing Jocasta hanging herself or Oedipus blinding himself would have been difficult or just not part of the normal way of doing plays at the time. Still, we can maybe glean a little from what takes place onstage vs. off stage in the play.

On stage

  • Mostly conversations: Oedipus and the chorus, Oedipus and Kreon, Oedipus and Teiresias, Oedipus and Jocasta, Oedipus and the shepherd, etc.
  • Mostly Oedipus is on stage except a few times when he’s not there
    • The chorus is sometimes on stage alone
    • Jocasta also prays to Apollo without Oedipus at one point
    • Jocasta, the chorus, and a messenger speak without Oedipus; she learns of Polybos’ death before Oedipus does
    • A servant comes out of the palace to tell the chorus & audience that Jocasta has hanged herself and Oedipus has blinded himself

Off stage but still within the action of the play itself

  • Oedipus sends for Teiresias (he says on p. 36 that he has done so, but Teiresias hasn’t come yet)
  • Kreon hears of Oedipus charging him with treason; on stage p. 46 he says he has come to answer those charges
  • Polybos dies; onstage, a messenger comes and tells Jocasta and then Oedipus
  • Jocasta hangs herself; Oedipus blinds himself

So we see that most of the action onstage is Oedipus talking to others, and most of it is him learning the truth about the murderer of Laios (himself). What happens off stage are mostly things that don’t have to do with Oedipus trying to find the truth (except for the first bullet point, above, but that’s a fairly trivial action). This again suggests that Oedipus and his quest for knowledge is at least one of the foci of the play.

 

Conclusion

I don’t know if this exercise has revealed anything that people weren’t thinking already, but I think it’s useful when one is considering a play to think about what parts of a story the dramatist chooses to include within the action of the play, what takes place onstage and off, to glean some insight into what the play is about. I may try this again with the next play we study in Arts One this year, Brecht’s Galileo. And I’ll be thinking similiar things about the films we watch. And I suppose really, one could also do something similar with novels…

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, questions, disagreements if you have them! Just write in the comment area, below.