in defense of Conrad, the racist and mysoginist? i know, i was surprised too.

after reading and discussing Conrad and HoD for the second time in my academic career, I have resolved that at least at this point in time I am a fan. I do not see Conrad or HoD as fundamentally racist although I think that there are certainly racist elements. I would however attribute such elements as literary devices or historical to the time rather than evidence of any inherent racism on Conrad’s part. this was a somewhat startling revelation for me as I studied HoD and Things Fall Apart last year and I felt very much the opposite. my teacher, who I admired greatly, HATED Conrad and I think that may have contributed to how I read him – it is very easy to hate Conrad. so to be perfectly honest, when I chose my essay topic discussing the racism of Conrad, I hadn’t as of yet formed any conclusion. I initially sought to prove the lack of racism in HoD simply to be the devil’s advocate, as proof of his racism is a much easier argument. however, I ended up convincing myself that, even if there are racially insensitive undertones in HoD the overarching theme and message of it, of the ambiguity of evil and race supersedes them. at what point do we do we allow a work of literature to simply be literature? I could be equally disgusted by Conrad’s treatment of women in the text, i think that there is just as much evidence to support his being a misogynist, as he actually explicitly comments on the role of women, but his opinions on Africans are always a bit more vague. the point is, though, that whether he is a racist or a misogynist, I dismiss these concepts out of deference to the greater message of the text.

i hate it when critics attempt to hold moral absolutism over writers as though they are supposed to be correct on every social and political issue of the day in which we are reading it. so Conrad was guilty of racism and misogyny just like everybody else was at the time. so what? he still wrote one of the greatest literary introspections of the human soul, in which he ultimately concludes that morality is not related to race or gender or stature or anything else. that is something worth celebrating in him.

here’s a quote from the photo blog post, Humans of New York, that says it much better:

“I can’t stand moral absolutism. You know, there’s always that guy who wants to point out that Martin Luther King cheated on his wife— as if he obviously couldn’t have been a great person if he did something like that. Or someone will bring out an inspirational quote, and get you to agree, and then inform you that Hitler said it. As if a good thought couldn’t come from Hitler. Moral absolutism keeps us from learning from the past. It’s easy to say: ‘Hitler was a demon. Nazis were all bad seeds.’ That’s simple. It’s much harder to say: ‘Is that humanity? Is that me?’”

my essay in part deals with the idea that it is not racism that is so offensive to us itself, but that it is offensive to our idea of ourselves as a morally superior society. and as modern readers we are prepared to pounce on any word that may threaten our carefully built perception.

to further illustrate this, here is a section from my essay that I decided to cut out due to length and relevance but I still like:

There is always a price for progress. For the rapid pace and convenience of communication we have sacrificed the charm and value of human intimacy. For the quantity and access of information that we have at our fingertips we have surrendered the sanctity of the truth. And for the price of a socially conscious, politically correct and egalitarian society one must constantly speak with caution, because every word uttered is judged, analyzed and condemned if found offensive to any of our cherished principles. Constant critics, we examine each connotation, allusion and innuendo with a fine-toothed comb, ever on the lookout for something that could be deemed morally dubious, culturally insensitive, or as a modern reading of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness may suggest, downright racist. Soon, with banners flying, the very values that we originally sought to promote are neglected in our race for moral supremacy.

As this is my last blog post I would like to conclude by first apologizing for the lateness of it. I can only attribute my delay to my excitement upon the writing of the blog post and the length of time that it requires for me to sort our all of my thoughts inspired by lectures and seminars into something coherent. it is a testament to how interesting the course is :).

Thoughts on feminism, identity and culture

First of all, my sincerest apologies for the lateness of this post.

1. Wollstonecraft

As likely evidenced in seminar I am a big fan of Vindications and of Mary W. In part due to her husband’s unflattering posthumous memoire, W’s reputation was severely damaged until the last century and she has thus not received much of the credit that she is due. I think that she is due credit as writing and therefore initiating the FIRST comprehensive discussion on women’s rights – and as a result human rights – and especially from a female perspective. there was nothing before her! no concept of women’s rights before she started writing about them. I find it interesting that some found W’s argumentation linking women’s education to being better wives and mothers as hypocritical. As noted in seminar I found the way that she structured her arguments brilliant in strategy, as it must be recognized that she was trying to appeal to men and she had to convince them that women’s education was worth their while, that it would benefit them. Regardless of her personal motives, I think that W should be applauded for her brilliant foresight and argumentation. Any woman can write an angry rant about our misogynistic society and men’s oppression of women – how successful do you think these women have been in truly advancing egalitarianism? It is women like Mary Wollstonecraft who are truly responsible for advancing the rights of women and society’s view towards them, through logic and well supported evidence, not through hyperbole and angry vitriol.

2. Hacking

I really enjoyed Rewriting The Soul and found the discussion of DID very interesting. As evidenced by my essay topic my main interest with this work is Hacking’s discussion on identity and the “self.” While Hacking may not say that identity is exclusively a societal construct, I think that that the case is made that it is still largely societally constructed. But while this may be true I think that identity is still a necessary and fundamental part of humanity.

3. Fanon

The concept of culture in Black Skin White Masks is something that is not unique to the time or specific culture that Fanon was discussing. It is something that many people especially in Canada struggle to define. Canada has always prided itself on being a multicultural country, the land of 200 languages but this has also resulted in losing a sense of what Canadian culture is. It is hard to describe to other Canadians never mind non-Canadians, what Canadian culture or identity is, often falling on tired clichés like maple syrup, hockey and amiability. Salim Mansur, a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario says that “a multicultural country has basically indicated it is a country without a core culture, or the core culture that once gave it cohesion, identity, framework, anchor, has been jettisoned to embrace a multiplicity of identities.”

an unapologetic critique of the Haitian Invasion and boycotting Pride and Prejudice

dearest and most loyal readers, I apologize for my long and unexpected absence. i’m sure that you were most pained by it and can only hope that my future posts will make amends for this grievous blow.

in regards to Carpetnier’s Kingdom of This World, it is no secret that my enjoyment of this book was largely non-existent. on an individual level I found the book aimless and dull, with perhaps a few interesting passages only to be found in the very last pages. in a broader context my reading of this book occurred in the middle of “the great Haitian Onslaught.” it was the second of not two, not three, but FOUR books on the Haitian revolution, the latter two which were plays about the same thing. my ire for this book might have been lessened had it not been for the bombardment of three other varyingly dull texts on the exact same topic.

I appreciate that one of the aims of Arts One is to provide students with instruction on “great” texts and at the same time expose us to material and subjects which are perhaps more obscure and less ubiquitous. this is a legitimate goal but I think that it was taken to an EXTREME MEASURE in regards to the Haitian onslaught. IT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE to me why there is such a disproportionately large focus on this particular topic in the syllabus. the fact that this is a revolution that is less known and studied, for largely ethnocentric and racist reasons, is true and valid but this was understood and appreciated with the reading of the first text. the second was unnecessary to make this point, and the third and fourth were just beating a dead horse. by the time that I read Kingdom I was ready to throw Carpentier and Trouillot out the window. by the time I finished Walcott and Cesaire I was ready to throw myself out the window. rather than instilling an interest to read more on my own about the Haitian Revolution, as perhaps reading just one of the texts might have, I am now confident that I will never voluntarily read another text on the subject EVER AGAIN. in this case I don’t think that the balance between studying great texts and being exposed to new material was evenly or logically struck, grossly in favour of the latter.

my feelings for Northanger Abbey are directly related to the fact that I read it (as well as Lyrical Ballads) almost immediately after I fled the Haitian Invasion. therefore I hold it on a particular level of esteem, mixed with my own relief and gratitude.

let me say however that while Jane Austen is god, and because she is god, her worst book is vastly superior to most peoples’ best (including all of the books that we read about Haiti), Northanger Abbey is definitely my least favourite of her books. the heroine, Catherine Morland, is probably the most simplistic and least admirable of Austen’s heroines. She is naïve, sheltered, gullible, easily manipulated, and very ignorant about most things in general. Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse would eat her for breakfast. she is very susceptible to the manipulative and self-serving Isabella Thorpe, and her bumbling idiot brother, John. These two DRIVE ME INSANE!! I cannot emphasize how much I loathe them. every scene that they are in enrages me. they are incredibly annoying and its SO DAMN OBVIOUS from the beginning what kind of people they are. the fact that Isabella is a gold-digger is the least surprising plot twist ever. only a character As naïve and honest-to-god-dumb and oblivious as Catherine would have believed her and failed to recognize what she was. Elizabeth and Emma would have stripped the Thorpes a new one in the first chapter and sent them off packing.

now, the hero Henry Tirney, isn’t such a ridiculous character but his romance with Catherine is. Austen repeatedly states that the reason that he is essentially interested in Catherine in the first place, and why he falls in love with her, is because SHE is so obviously in love with him. she hangs on to every word he says, worships him, compliments him, and makes it goddamn obvious that she’s into him. that is why he likes her. she flatters his ego. that is the most pathetic and absurd basis for a love story that I have ever read.

the only saving grace for this book is Austen’s witty and humorous narration. I would hate this book if it were written by anyone else. but the fact is that Austen knows how ridiculous these characters are, she makes fun of them, especially Catherine, all the time. she’s mocking not only gothic texts that were popular at the time, but archetypical characters in literature and society.

having said that, I fail to understand the purpose behind reading this particular Austen book, or its connection to Lyrical Ballads. unfortunately I was unable to attend the lecture so hopefully my classmates can shed some light on this in seminar. my suspicion is that there was a desire to do an Austen text, as she is a “great” writer, but not one of her more well known texts which infuriates me.

it’s the Haitian Invasion all over again. THE CLASSICS ARE CLASSICS FOR A REASON. If we are reading Austen we should be reading Pride and Prejudice, Emma or Sense and Sensibility. you don’t study Shakespeare and skip over Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet and Othello and only read Timon of Athens. no one thinks, hmmm we’re going to learn about the greatest playwrite in the English language, we better skip all of his most beloved and famous works, pick the most obscure unknown and legitimately worst play just for the heck of it. THIS IS LUDACROUS.

they are beloved and admired for A REASON. boycotting texts just because they are widely regarded is just as stupid as boycotting them because they aren’t. in summation it we should not be reading texts simply to be exposed to new material, just like we should not be reading texts solely because a bunch of dead rich white guys decided that they were “great” works. the texts should have value, quality and insight to offer us on their own. it infuriates me that we are reading some texts that I feel have very little merit or purpose in this course and in literature in general, while we are ignoring amazing texts simply because they are considered to be “great”.

it’s like people who don’t like The Beatles just because they are so popular.

i think that i can speak for all of us when i say that they have lost the privilege to have ears and should have them forcibly removed. maybe their entire auditory cortex, temporal lobe and their sorry excuse for a brain.

and people who say that we shouldn’t read Pride and Prejudice just because it is too popular share the same circle of hell.

overidentification with Jean

my reading of Rousseau has been subject to tremendous variation. the original criticism and, quite honestly, my unabashed derision that I felt for him has faded into near reverence. to be clear there are a number of things that I take issue with in Discourse: Rousseau’s obtuse misogyny, rampant hypocrisy, superiority, limitless and sometimes baseless conjecture and the fact that his arguments rest solely on his own opinion of men and interpretation of history rather than any facts. As he says, “Let us begin by setting aside all the facts, because they do not affect the question.” Rousseau is not terribly concerned with the facts but with emotion. This is something that would typically gall me, and in a less talented writer (like Plato) it certainly would. But regardless of the holes in Rousseau’s arguments, by the end of his essay he has totally captivated me. His discussion on the inequality of governance and how men consign themselves to oppression and disparity is very compelling, with some very powerful lines like “citizens allow themselves to be oppressed only so far as they are impelled by a blind ambition” and ” fixing their eyes below rather than above themselves, come to love domination more than independence.” reading Rousseau felt very familiar to me and actually reminded me in some ways of my own writing style. not that I could compare myself to him in a stylistic sense, and my depth is an entirely lower level (several hundred levels below in fact). but his strengths and weaknesses are very similar to mine in the sense that he has a very strong position, and perspective, and he can be very persuasive. however, he is also prone to making sweeping generalizations, extreme hyperbole, and controversial judgments which would be fine if he relied on more than his own opinion as evidence to back it up, but alas. the other frustration that I have with him (similar to myself) is that he doesn’t always relate back to his thesis; he is so passionate about such a variety of topics that he often goes on lengthy rants about agriculture or jealousy without specifying the relevance that the topic has to his thesis. this caused me to become lost a number of times in the detail, attempting to determine what the hell he was talking about. I felt like he started off strong and then went on for about twenty pages about animals and farming and then finally by the last third of the essay he came back to his original topic. his saving grace is that Rousseau is an exceedingly talented and compelling writer, if not, I would have stopped reading very soon into the essay.

Bulgakov on Doctor Faustus

The Master and Margarita is definitely my favourite of the works that we have studied thus far in Arts One. Many consider it to be one of the greatest novels of Russian literature, if not one of the greatest pieces of literature of all time. It encompasses so many themes and topics; it’s a satirical political commentary on Communist Russia, a religious debate, a love story, and an exploration of mysticism and realism, and I’m just barely scratching the surface with this summary. It is also a fabulous read, a little hard at first to get into, but definitely worth it. There is absolutely no way that I could effectively communicate the depth and brilliance of this novel in this short blog, although I will certainly try to in my essay. Interestingly, reading Master really helped with my interpretation of Doctor Faustus. They both play on similar themes, and even similar plot elements, but while Master is clearly a clever political allegory attempting to derail the policies of Stalin’s regime, my initial reading of Doctor Faustus left me very confused with Marlowe’s purpose and opinions. As an anti-Calvinist I would think that Marlowe would portray the failings of it’s doctrine, but Faustus is a very poor example of the failures of these teachings. He is a ridiculous and unsympathetic idiot who brings his demise upon himself, and ultimately proves the Church’s values. After reading Master it occurs to me that Marlowe may have intended Faustus in the same way that Bulgakov intended Master, a critical and satirical allegory for the times, exposing the flaws of society or the institution that he is criticizing through the flaws and even idiocy of his characters.

plato, meet judith – AKA when my brain exploded

so I kinda struggled to get through Antigone’s Claim by Judith Butler. it is a seemingly short book containing an exceedingly and unapologetically dense commentary on Sophocles’ Antigone.

to start off, I absolutely love Antigone; I’m not always sure where I stand on it, whether I support Antigone or Kreon or both, but I love it all the same. after reading Antigone’s Claim my adoration for Antigone is in serious jeopardy. to me, Sophocles is a genius – a master playwright, he was able to infuse amazing and perhaps unprecedented depth and meaning into a simultaneously dramatic and entertaining piece. and there is no doubt that modern dramatists, including and especially Shakespeare, were enormously influenced by his writings.

I am not a fan of Butler. never have been. I haven’t read any philosophical works of hers prior to Antigone’s Claim, only articles and interviews, and suffice it to say reading one of her actual books did not help me to glean any further understanding of her – at least in her favour. I liken her to the barnacle on a whale, a parasite, or maybe a mosquito would be a better example, feasting on the misery of others and gleaning any kind profit from the labors of others. this may seem a little hyperbolic but that’s what reading butler does to me – it really sends me over the edge. seriously – my brain – all over the wall right now.

you know how in English class there’s always that kid who can’t help but ponder the metaphorical resonance and glean the deepest meaning about every friggin thing, and the rest of us are like hey, maybe what the author wrote is exactly what he meant, when he said that the curtain was blue, that was all that he meant – there is no abundant metaphorical resonance in the color of the goddamned curtain!

well that kid’s name is Judith friggin butler.

Antigone’s claim is butler’s weak attempt to ponder the deepest kind of metaphorical resonance of the blue curtain – so deep that it is non-f%^*$# -existent. who does she think she is, riding Sophocles’ coattails. butler. I swear to god – it was some kind of divine intervention that spared us Plato and butler from living and writing in the same era and thus preventing their procreation and the continuation of our species.

Socrates vs. Plato: Style vs. Substance in Plato’s Gorgias

my relationship with Gorgias is still in in the works, however, in a very short amount of time it has already undergone several transitions. I compare my relationship to Gorgias to someone who has undergone a serious trauma like the death of a loved one.

#1. confusion – anger

when I began reading Gorgias I had to keep rereading sections because I truly was mystified: was this a play, a novel, an essay? the answer is none of the above. as someone so aptly put it in seminar, this reads like “Socrates fanfiction.” Plato’s hero-mentor, Socrates literally goes from orator to orator, challenging them about their own profession, their ethics, and the nature of man. he engages them in debate, supposedly in order to “remodel their souls,” but really it’s more pontificating on Socrates’ part than genuine debate. soon it becomes clear that the person that he’s interested in talking to is himself and his own arguments are the only ones that he values. my initial reaction was a mixture of awe and confusion. who the hell is this guy, that he has the audacity to harangue and caustically humiliate gorgias and company, under the self-righteous guise of attempting to demonstrate the errors of their ways. I mean where does he get off?! His self-importance is staggering; his belief, that he, Socrates, alone, has the answers, that all others are inferior in their thinking and morality, and are merely waiting for him to enlighten him with his superior wisdom leaves you with an urge to throw this book into the giant fountain in the middle campus.

#2. rage – awe

not gonna lie, while some may call him one of the greatest minds in history, to me, reading Plato’s Gorgias felt more akin to gouging my eyeballs out, one socket at a time, while doing the splits on a crate of dynamite. First of all: SOCRATES. this guy – jesus Christ – is he a self-aggrandizing bastard. he talks so much, he would probably interrupt you at his own funeral – oh wait! oh wait! as legend would have it he actually did. right up until the hemlock was down his throat, Socrates couldn’t stop philosophizing about whatever struck his fancy; the nature of the hemlock, the method of his execution, the weather – the existential symbolism and pathetic fallacy of said weather too, I’m sure.  that’s gotta be the real reason he was executed: he drove Athens crazy to the point that the only conducive solution was to literally shut him up. In fact, Socrates is so fascinated by his own arcane musings that at one point he actually stops questioning the other orators ad simply questions himself. not only does he love to talk, but the sound of his own voice is obviously his greatest source of pleasure and amusement; being an abject narcissist he derives a peculiar kind of pleasure from his own person that he cannot achieve from any other person. and my god is he pretentious. to quote John Green, he “never took a piss without pondering the abundant metaphorical resonances of human waste production.” you just know that he was that kid sitting at the front of the classroom, his arm permanently hovering in the air demanding the teacher’s attention. and I swear to god he never had a date in his life.

#3. awe – acceptance

eventually I came to the realization that just because Socrates may be a wholly unlikable character, doesn’t mean that his arguments don’t hold up. in his time, the only way to make an argument was oratory, which like it or not, is exactly what Socrates does. just because he adds a “do you agree?” in once in a while doesn’t take away from the fact that he is a pontificating bastard, who makes longer speeches than gorgias (you know, only the eponymous character), polus, callicles, and chaerephon combined x 1000. so he’s a hypocrite. who isn’t? in order to appreciate the genius of Gorgias you have to do exactly what Socrates wants you to do: look at the truth and content of what he is saying and not the manner in which he is saying it. Socrates looks down on oratory because he believes that it is a false and impractical form of “flattery” that aims to please and dishonestly persuade rather than make a true and honest argument. in his view, orators rely on style rather than substance. when reading Gorgias many of us are unable to get over the verbosity and length of Socrates’ speech, and the nature of his character, but once you look past the delivery and straight to the arguments there is, in fact, a lot of depth and truth to them. I won’t relay said arguments since I’m sure that all of you have read Gorgias at least 5 times and as such are well versed with Socrates’ views on oratory, suffering, self-interest, good vs. evil,  and the nature of power and who really wields it.

and you know that even if the character has Socrates’ name, the views are Plato’s and he’s got a hell of a lot to say that is worth reading. so I urge you to return to this text even if it appears daunting and frustrating at first. you may want to eviscerate Socrates, but you can’t help but admire Plato.




greetings fellow members of the greatest and most illustrious arts one seminar! there are some things that I cannot talk about without sounding utterly pretentious – model united nations, the history of the British monarchy, film (who says film? – just call it a MOVIE) and myself. I feel like Plato will probably be included in this category. hopefully by this point you know that my name is Ariela, I am steadily approaching coffee addiction and I love to sleep. unsurprisingly, I love to read, write and argue with other intelligent people about whatever thought strikes me at any given time. oh I also am strongly opposed to capitals and punctuation. except in essays. I don’t have a definitive idea of what I want to major in or pursue as a career, maybe history, poli. sci, international relations, English lit. don’t really know. which is why I am also taking intro to poli. sci. this year and Arabic. for those of you who are like, wait that’s slightly random – well, umm no, it actually isn’t. Arabic is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world today usually tied with Hindi if you count Wikipedia as a reliable source. Since I am potentially interested in pursuing foreign affairs and international relations, a language is kinda a necessity. and I’m very interested in the Middle East – politics, history, culture etc. oh, and I speak Hebrew fluently and they are soooooooo similar. Most importantly, I am really excited to study such a diverse and interesting selection of the Western Canon with this group; I can tell that we will have no shortage of debates this. it’s sure to be good. so I think that that was moderately less pretentious then it could have been, and trust me it could have been a lot worse.