Coppola x Han Solo x Vets

Last blog post! Wow.

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

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

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

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

Achebe x Fantasy x Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad x late post x close reading

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

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

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

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

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

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


Beauvoir x Reworking x Symbol of

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

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

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

And later she writes

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

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

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