Questions for Carpentie

Alright folks. Here are some questions I have about Carpentier’s text

Essentially every character in this text takes violence to be a norm. Violence is everywhere and Carpentier makes it graphic. Violence is public, violence is private, spoken and unspoken.

-Is Carpentier arguing that violence is simply a reality of Haiti and of slave societies? –                  -We also talked a little bit about fetishised objects last class. Is                                       violence fetishised? If so, who fetishises it?

-What can be said about Pauline and Soliman’s relationship? Do they “fall in love”? Why does he freak out so much during the statue/corpse scene? Can we make an assessment about the power dynamics in the relationship, or does Carpentier not allow us enough information to do so?

-“All the bourgeois norms had come tumbling down” (77) is how Carpentier describes the situation of the slave owners in Cuba. There’s definitely something going on there, in terms of significance and meaning for the larger work. The slave owners become free, in a sense. Why do the slaveowners just waste away in sin as they do?

-At the end of ch. 4 (pg. 127), Ti Noel returns to his straw pallet and questions whether “he had really gone to the Cap”. Is this just an example of Carpentier playing with the temporal? Or can more be said about this and the horrors he witnessed in town.

-Apparently, there’s a prologue written by Carpentier (not found in our versions) which outlines his idea of “lo real maravilloso ” and such. Why would the editor not choose to have this prologue in the edition?  What can be said about an author’s writing about his own text – does it help us read it better, can it limit our analysis? Considering some of the fantastical elements found in this novella, is a prologue necessary?



The Kingdom of this World

A couple of things really interest me about Carpentier’s The Kingdom of This World. The use of imagery was striking, most likely because of the fact that none of the works up until this point have used it to this extent. Additionally, the fact that I was in the process of writing an essay about Rousseau at the same time that I was reading this essay made me realize some of the differences between unpacking a work of non-fiction and a work of fiction. I found myself trying to decipher and find some sort of symbolic order to the nature imagery in the text, while simultaneously reflecting on my own efforts to do so. The clip I posted about Kafka in my last blog post is mostly at the root of that: acknowledging one’s analytic tendencies as a function of cultural is not something I had ever thought of before. I mean, there is evidently some difference between Carpentier’s form of storytelling and what we might consider European fiction.

Towards the end of the novel it became clear to me that there was a case to be made for a reading of Carpentier’s imagery as deliberately distinct when different perspectives/worldviews are in focus. The way imagery is used when Pauline Bonaparte first sees the Plaine du Nord is drastically different from the imagery at the beginning of the novel when Macandal is central.

Beyond just the imagery though, how much should one try to make sense of magic and the fantastical? Should a reader try to make sense of that which is outside of the realm of reality and sense?


I found a really cool audio clip of David Foster Wallace speaking about Kafka. I think it answers this question I asked in the first class in some weird, round-about way. I would also like to take a second to apologize for that question, which I felt like a complete dofus about immediately after asking it. Anyways, I also feel like DFW sums up why, as a North American undergrad student interested in studying/analyzing literature, I may have asked it.


Silencing the Past

As much as Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past advances ideas concerning history and historiography, I could not be more stirred by Trouillot’s meditations on present-day Haiti. One idea I find especially provocative in this work is taken up only briefly:

“With time, the silencing of the revolution was strengthened by the fate of Haiti itself. Ostracized for the better part of the nineteenth century, the country deteriorated both economically and politically – in part as a result of this ostracism. As Haiti declined, the reality of the revolution seemed increasingly distant, an improbability which took place in an awkward past and for which no one had a rational explanation.” (98)

Trouillot adds a short end-note after the second sentence, in which he simply references another one of his works Haiti: State Against Nation. The dynamics between past and present that Trouillot mentions makes what he is discussing more relevant and more tangible. Elsewhere, Trouillot discusses the way revolutions and dissent in the Caribbean during the 18th and 19th Century was viewed as a replication or result of European revolutions/revolutionary ideas. I found this intriguing on a personal level; I had done quite a bit of research on revolts in French colonies around the time of the French Revolution for a research paper last year, and always treated them as a subsidiary of the Revolution in Europe. Haiti is a state that the “developed world” has more or less left behind. I can’t help but think that if we were taught more about the revolution in Haiti (and as a Haitian revolution, not a European-influenced one) we would pay more attention to a country that is much closer to us then Europe. Of course, the idea of a white, middle class male “paying attention” to Haiti has its own bundles of problems, but I suppose those are things to be worked out in time.

All this to say, it is incredibly refreshing to read an author who is outside of the “Western” (I use that term reluctantly as a simple reference point, as Trouillot does spend some time discussing it) tradition. Silencing the Past has sparked a curiosity in me when it comes to Haitian and Caribbean history.

Questions for Leviathan

Couple questions about Hobbes’ Leviathan. A bit late, but hey, maybe something can be made out of them.

1. How much does fear play a part in Hobbes notion of the state?

This is in regards to the idea of man in his pre-social condition, and I suppose could be complemented by the question:

2. How can we view Hobbes work, especially the idea of man in his state of nature, through a psychoanalytical lens?

3. How does the idea of being imprisoned factor into Hobbes sovereign state?

4. Is Leviathan, undoubtedly a utopian or normative project, does not seem to fit into Hobbes’ definition of the imagination. How do we place this text within Hobbes’ philosophy when considering it as a creative work?

5. Does Hobbes’ materialism undermine the importance he puts on power in Chapter X (especially section [5])?

or am I just unclear on what materialism is…

Villains in Arts One Litterature

Recently I got a chance to read the newest book by one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman. He’s generally writes creative non-fiction with a heavy emphasis on culture studies. His newest work, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Read and Imagined), explores how some villains and bad guys are depicted fictionally, but spends more time on how we treat/think about/craft real people publicly deemed to be “evil” (see: O.J. Simpson, Newt Gingrich, N.W.A.).

As the name might suggest, Klosterman also explores his own relation to villains. The preface closes with a conversation between Klosterman and his editor in which his editor suggests that Klosterman is writing the book because he’s concerned that he himself is a villainous person. Klosterman sort of addresses his editors suggestion at the end of the novel.

The Arts One texts I read while working my way through I Wear the Black Hat led to a kind of blending of ideas. Klosterman’s thesis is that a true villain is someone who knows the most but cares the least.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to apply Klosterman’s ideas to the villains we’ve encountered so far in the Arts One readings.

The villain in Genesis is kind of hard to pin down. The snake is probably the more obvious villain, however the entire story casts quite a bit of light on Klosterman’s theory The snake certainly knows quite a bit; he knows that the fruit from the tree in the center of the garden will grant Adam and Eve great power, but also that it will come at a price. He definitely cares the least in the story, showing little remorse in convincing Eve to eat the fruit. Inevitably, Adam and Eve gain the power of knowledge, and therefor the ability to be a villain – in some ways, Klosterman’s view falls within a very Christian notion of ethics.

Kreon, most likely the villain of Antigone’s speaks an awful lot to the structure of power and our own fear of radical change. He also fits very snugly into Klosterman’s criteria. He’s aware that Antigone is his niece, he’s aware that his son Haimond loves Antigone, and he’s aware of the laws restricting and supporting Antigone’s burial, but he cares the least, up until Tiresias’ prophecy at least. At the same time, Kreon’s position as upholder of state laws forces us to re-asses our allegiances to and faith in government.

The Devil, as presented in Dr. Faustus and The Master and the Margarita, is a far more complex character to work with, and I’ll touch on him just briefly. There are some definite inconsistencies between the character in the two plays, however I think that both are intrinsically linked to knowledge, and knowing. On the side of caring, the Devil in Dr. Faustus is more than a tool of Faustus’ moral transgressions than anything else. The Devil in The Master and The Margarita is incredibly interesting to me because he doesn’t seem to really do anything particularly bad: he predicts a death, but its ambiguous as to whether he causes it, he fools a lot of people, however its mostly their own greed that clouds their vision to the trickery, and it seems as though he’s actually punishing them for that. It’s difficult to call such a character a villain, and I think he’s outside of Klosterman’s criteria, because he’s a tool for a critique of Stalinism.

More important than the criteria for a villain, I Wear the Black Hat gathers significance in the literary realm in the way that Klosterman describe his own psychological interactions with villainy. Throughout the book, he argues that the way we think about villains says a lot more about us than we care to admit.

This brought me to explore the idea of a sort of “methodology of the villain” – by reading a text through the presentation and interactions of the villain, we can gather a very significant amount of meaning. This is a methodology I hope to employ (maybe half-seriously? I’m not sure how seriously I take this idea yet to be honest) in future readings for Arts One.

The Book of Genesis and Oneness in Judeo-Christian Culture

The second set of readings for the #ArtsOne course was the Book of Genesis and Kant’s Conjectural Beginning. The Book of Genesis translation which we were assigned to read was Robert Alter’s 2004 version.

As I was reading Genesis this morning, I kept stumbling upon this tension between unity and individuality. I noted evidence of this tension in Kant’s commentary on Genesis as well.

Here are some of my notes pertaining to instances where I think there might be a move away from unity/oneness towards individuality in Genesis:

1:26 – “our image” – god creates humans in “our image” not in his image, which leads me to believe that he is creating humans in this image of “the good”, as all his creation before (plants etc. etc.) had been deemed “good” by the creator. “Our” implies that others are part of the creation process – meaning that all that he has created is also part of his image, and humans, made in his image, are part of everything else he’s created as well. The pronoun “our” suggests an inter-connectivity.

Around 1:27 – Alter notes that there is controversy over the translation of the pronoun representing Adam. Could Adam be androgynous before his rib is used to make Eve? The transfer of the rib is itself a hint at a sense of oneness, and the idea that Adam is androgynous before this (which Alter seems to reject under the pretext that it unleashes “dizzying paradoxes”) would mean that much like the way god divides in Book 1 of Genesis (in all honesty a lot of the first chapter of Genesis should be mentioned here), the creation story is about a crumbling, or falling apart of a unity.

2:18 the use of the word “sustainer” – suggests a sort of loneliness inherent in humans – they are not really part of the inter-dependency of the animal world.

9:? Following the Fall, further indication of humans being separated from the oneness of creation becomes apparent. I noted that in chapter 9 Alter suggests that the way that humans move towards a carnivorous diet suggests that humans are exercising a sort of inner violence upon the animal kingdom – the notion of ruling over the animal kingdom is also apparent, Kant notes, in 8:114.

Chapter 10 – The Tower of Babel is a pretty well-discussed instance of human dis-unity. Once united under a similar language, humans loose that sense of collective when they are punished for trying to build a tower to the heavens. Babel could be seen as the real end of unity – humans are isolated individuals

The Fall can really be seen as the turning point between unity and individualism. I think that this tension and sense of duality should be examined further considering that a lot of what modern spiritualism promotes is re-aligning oneself with the oneness of the universe. Many stories in the Bible have this inherent individualism that I’m sure makes many skeptical. – I’ll explore this more in my essay

Just some thoughts, nothing to be taken too seriously. nothing should ever be taken too seriously relaly.