I remember when I signed up for Arts One and I saw Kafka on the reading list. I’d never read anything by him, but when I saw it I immediately thought to myself “That one’s gonna be worth reading”. It’s not that “The Metamorphosis” wasn’t worth reading, it’s just that I found “The Yellow Wallpaper” so interesting that Kafka’s work was a mere afterthought. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed “The Metamorphosis”, it’s just that I hated Gregor so much. Everything about him. His weak and clouded mind, being taken advantage of by his family as he continuously frets and works for them.
However in comparison, the lady from “The Yellow Wallpaper” was extremely interesting. While she too is undermined by other characters (especially her husband Jon), as she loses her mind, she also seems to gain her own freedom from his oppression. He constantly told her what to do, not to write, where to sit, how to rest, and while she did end up going crazy, the final scene is so rebellious and uprising that it almost makes me respect her. “Her” being a strange way to refer to the character, especially if it’s still “her” as in the woman who wrote the journal the entire time. We don’t really know, as the scene where she tears out the wallpaper begins to meld the woman from the wallpaper with the one outside of it.
That’s why I liked “The Yellow Wallpaper” so much, it’s open to interpretation and makes you think. Reading and re-reading you find little interesting details which perhaps make the case that she’s been trapped in the wallpaper, and others which lead to other conclusions. Whereas reading “The Metamorphosis” I had no doubts that Gregor was turned into a bug, and there was no mysticism about it all. He became a bug. Nobody cared. He eventually died. That sort of a plotline really fails to excite me, whereas the “The Yellow Wallpaper” has extremely interesting storytelling elements which leave the reader unsure about what happened, and especially what they can trust of the text.
So I guess this all shows me something. Don’t have big expectations? I’m not sure, but then again, every short story or short piece of literature we do in Arts One seems to be awesome, therefore I’ve got big expectations of short works (Borges better not let me down).
The Wasteland is a text of mysteries. While there might be some that tear their hair out over these mysteries, analyzing with scrupulous eyes, I embrace the mystery. I try to read the text for what it is, pretty sounding words put together nicely, and if there’s a deeper meaning to find, hopefully I’ll see it. In the past I really tried to delve deep into the true meanings of books and stories, often looking to hard to even appreciate the work for what it is.
But I had a revelation with “The Wasteland”. At first I was completely puzzled by it all. Truly lost, trying to find meaning within sentences which eluded me and confused me to no end. Yet my revelation came when I remembered a conversation with an old friend from highschool. He was midway through reading James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” for a school project, and when I asked him how he managed to make sense of it all, he told me this. “I don’t make sense of anything anymore, there’s no use. Instead I just read the words for what they are, if Joyce says ‘Bisons is Bisons’, well then ‘Bisons is Bisons’.” He ended up doing pretty well on his project, so I guess he’s got this wild complicated literature stuff figured out.
It’s not that I’m saying we should avoid discussion or not ponder what “The Wasteland” means, but perhaps we should just try to read it and simply enjoy it. But of course, part of the fun of “The Wasteland” is its intricate allusions and references to older more ancient texts. It’s almost as if T.S. Eliot was re-tweeting all of the great writers of the past, throwing in his own little phrases amongst the references.
Perhaps a large part of why I enjoyed “The Wasteland” so much is that it was nice and short. Perhaps I should thank Ezra Pound, who trimmed out the unnecessary fat from T.S. Eliot’s original work. While the Wasteland is dense and colorful writing to analyze, it’s a different type of density compared to let’s say Hobbes’s “Leviathan” (probably also because it’s not sitting at around >400 pages). I really can’t say I made too much sense out of “The Wasteland”, but it’s easily one of the most memorable texts so far. I saw it almost the same way I see interpretive dance (something which I don’t know anything about), something that is there to be appreciated, and if you find deeper meanings, well that’s awesome!
As someone who had never previously read any of Freud’s writings, the only conception I had of his work was his incredibly uncomfortable familial sexual theories and perhaps a little bit of stuff surrounding the unconscious. Strangely enough, after reading Freud, it was one of the few texts within which I actually liked a large part of the ideas which luckily for me weren’t as complicated as I was fearing.
It was from his opening, talking about the oceanic feeling some people get when part of a religion, that I could tell that Freud wasn’t just obsessed with sexual theories, but rather had some really solid ideas. Funnily enough, I found out that I agree with a lot of Freud’s ideas and theories. While I’m not religious myself, I grew up with some relatively religious grandparents who often took me to grand Venetian churches to admire not only the religious aspect, but also the artistic aspect. In fact, while I’m not religious, I’ve almost found a bit of wonder in how devoted people are to their religion. I find it incredibly impressive how in many cases religion is an incredibly uniting factor for many groups of people. The feeling of being part of something greater is what it can provide (that “oceanic” feeling that Freud describes), and honestly, sometimes I’d like to be part of something like that.
While it seems easy to constantly criticize religion, it’s amazing the way religion has helped guide people’s lives. Part of my childhood was spent in Dallas, Texas, a hotbed of very religious people. And I remember after having sleepovers at friend’s houses on Saturday night, Sunday morning their family would take me to church with them.The first time I was blown away by the feeling of inclusion I found. Even though I had spent a couple of hours sitting and listening to a man tell stories which may or may not have been true, amongst the choir singing and praying around me, it was a nice feeling to be part of something greater.
But this is all slightly off topic from Freud. To sum up my experience with Freud, I was very pleasantly surprised. I think that while Freud and his theories had faults, many of them were extremely spot on. Part of the reason that some seem to dislike his writings is perhaps due to the fact that they don’t want to acknowledge that perhaps they do in fact have strong sexual urges towards their mother. I remember there’s an old Italian saying which goes along the tune of, “A man will always find love in a woman who cooks just like his mother”. While Freud might have left out the cooking part, in Italy there’s a noticeable and almost eerie pattern of men who marry women who are extremely physically similar to their mothers. Perhaps this is just a strange occurrence, but I’m of the opinion that Freud hit a lot of nails on the head in “Civilization and its Discontents”.