It always seems like a bit of a cop-out to say how much I “liked” the book at the beginning of a post like this. But I really have to do it this time. I think, for some strange reason, this is my favorite story of all we’ve read so far. I’ll try to analyse this adoration, and hopefully in doing so make a blog post worthy of reading.
Duality is, to me, one of the most interesting ideas in the world. We as people have always liked to separate things into readable segments. Deconstruction for the sake of simplicity, if you will. Racism, Sexism, Violence and a whole bunch of nasty things seem a lot of the time from the idea of “parts”. There is this part, and it is good. There is this part, and that is bad. There is the part of politics that involves economy, and the part that involves environment. You are in charge of that part, he is in charge of that part, etc, etc. I’m not sure if things would be better or worse if we thought of these parts as a whole, but it would sure be different. That’s what religion does in a way, is make all these separate parts a whole. I’m fairly atheist at this point in my life, but I think that seeing things as a whole is a far more accurate view of people, and of the world. For example, economy and environment exist together, look after the environment, over time the economy will also change. This might sound like a rant a bit, but this is whole idea of a fractured whole is something that really fits into Jekyll and Hyde, and is why I can really ascribe to the idea that Stevenson is writing about the mix of good and evil in a person as a whole, rather than just the two parts as separate entities.Yes there is duality, but it is unnatural duality. It only shows us what is inside anyway. I think Stevenson might be saying that by forcing ourselves (all of society) to separate ourselves into good and evil we are causing ourselves more harm than if we just accepted both natures as a whole identity.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the ideas of repression, and the way that leads into the sexuality of the characters. This novella is burgeoning with repressed ideas I think. One of the reasons it was so popular might for that very reason. We need a literary or media related way to deal with repressed thoughts and feelings, and that is precisely what hide is. He is a walking bundle of human repressed thoughts. This is sort of a cynical view, that we as humans are all walking around hiding dark, malignant, malicious thoughts, and that definitely may be, but I think it’s interesting that by reading into a story like this in such a number of different ways we are still really just realizing our own perceptions and repressions. Good job Stevenson.
In both the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, Nietzsche at one point bemoans the problems of writing philosophy: people will always misconstrue your argument, misunderstand it, or only take specific points out of context in order to further their own argument. I suppose I’m probably just another not-complex-enough reader, but I did find Nietzsche’s arguments often hard to follow and it was even harder to actually grasp something tangible. Perhaps it’s the translation, but The Genealogy of Morals felt at times like a constant thought stream in which ideas jump around all over the place. It was as if I was trying to chase Nietzsche through a huge complex system of alleyways and I kept getting lost. I think in the end I got the point, though: Morals really don’t exist in any direct or easy sense. Every moral system in place in society is the result of a norm created by some sort of historical development of man. There is no true basis for Good or Evil, no easy commandments to follow. Good and Evil is simply a history lesson. Eg, Guilt came about because of owing people things, and fearing the repercussions of not paying them back. Good and Bad is an idea based on how people were treated over time, not how they should be treated. Dear Nietzsche, I’m incredibly sorry about bastardizing your complex theory and fitting all it’s complexities into a few sentences, but I hope that it will eventually lead to me “getting it”. From Sam.
The interesting thing is that Nietzsche seems to question literally everything. It is hard to make a definite argument because every definition is also in question. I think this is probably a good way to see the world. I strive to think like that. People (including me) like to see the world in concrete shapes, and in things that are definitive and can be classified. Nietzsche seemed to be pushing against this in The Genealogy of Morals, and complicated as it can be, I think it’s very important.
When I got to Ecce Homo things changed. This section is written very differently, and seemed more to suit the modern first year attention span. In a few paragraphs Nietzsche can go from the morality of equality to the problem with tourists… “They climb mountains like animals, stupid and sweating; one has forgotten to tell them there are beautiful views on the way up.” After a few such maxims he goes on to figure out how we are who we are, which is handy.
Looking at this blog, it seems to come across as just a broad summary of my reading experience. Maybe I am too desperate to see Nietzsche as one whole unified theory, and am trying too hard to pull all the ideas together. One particular idea that stuck with me was when he defined culture purely as a means to domesticate man. I think we as a society often feel the need to domesticate ourselves, and have created this system of control purely to feel safe. Then we complain about freedom, or being in a rut, although we really wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. Nietzsche’s definition reminded me of animals in kennels. I don’t doubt that’s what we are, the interesting thing is we built those kennels ourselves.
See you tomorrow!
Frankenstein has always been one of my favorite books. I like reading ominous messages about society, and I like reading books where you are reading the actual story only partly, but it feels like there is a far bigger subtext just carrying the whole thing along. That’s what I really like about Frankenstein; everything just feels so significant, everything IS so significant. That sounds like a sort of childish approach in which I just say “look guys, it means something, and I know what!” but a lot of the themes here are very basic, and maybe that’s what makes them so powerful. The most valuable interpretation to me is that of this book as a warning. And there are warnings within warnings. The Monster is a warning while it is alive, Victors tale is a warning, and he uses it to warn Walton. And the whole book is like the monster in that it is peiced together with different texts to form a hideous warning about science and knowledge. It’s simplicity is also valuable in making it just as applicable today as it was when Frankenstein was written. If our scientists today could create the hideous form of life in this novel, I don’t doubt they would. Modern science combined with humankind’s constant need for development has already created a number of figurative Frankensteins that damage our lives. Science is valuable, there is no questioning that, but things like genetic mutation or engineered viruses come with that fear that things could become beyond the hand of our control, and Frankenstein speaks eloquently towards that. As well as a warning against unchecked progress comes the fear of losing control, another important factor for me in this book. It also raises the question, what are the extents of our control, and who do we deserve to control? Who do we have a right to control?
The religious metaphors are pretty cool as well. I don’t have an exceptional analysis of them or any such thing, but this entire book plays on the original creation of man, and makes man the new God. Frankensteins access too knowledge and his subsequent rejection of the “God” that made him bears striking similarities to the biblical stories, and when I heard that Mary Shelley would refer to the monster as Adam it made me wonder what she is really trying to say about mankind’s consciousness of being.
I always want Victor to just make a companion from the monster. How would it have turned out? Would The Monster have stuck to his word and left? For a monster he was extremely human, and Victors rejection of him on an aesthetic principle is something uncomfortably realistic. If The Monster had not been ugly this would have been a different tale. Sure, that’s obvious, but still. It’s a shame.
As always, lots of questions, few answers. But that’s ok, I guess. See you soon!
As with most things, I am of multiple mindsets when it comes to Rousseau.
Firstly, there is a simplicity to his argument that is pretty appealing, and a number of his one liners about society are the type of things someone might post on Facebook to sound compassionate (not me surely) and insightful. A sort of hippie-esque notion that things are better when they are basic, and you can free yourself from a “system” and live according to your instincts. In fact, I actually know someone who did a “back to the land” movement and lives in a Teepee. He is actually a big fan of Rousseau. Sort of ironic because he is reading literary works and thinking complex thoughts in a very un-savagelike way, but there you go. What I’m trying to say is that although Rousseau is definitely complex and is studied in detail everywhere, for me there is one underlying “give up possessions and vanity, live and love simply, everything belongs to the earth” notion that is fairly broad and basic. And to be honest, I really like that notion. Cheesy as it is, I do feel like as we have advanced as a society a lot of things about ourselves has regressed, in terms of both the individual and the community. HOWEVER…
However. Robs lecture did open my eyes to a few things, mainly the MASSIVE AMOUNT OF PRESUMPTIONS Rousseau makes about… well, everything! At times he includes a sort of “history of man” approach in his writing, where for a few pages he will sound scientific and educated. Even after reading his notes, I am now almost fully convinced that he largely made up the history and attributes of mankind to suit his argument. A lot of his assumptions I probably agree with. A lot of them I don’t. Sure, he didn’t know about evolution yet. But that still doesn’t justify the liberties he takes and writes of as though they are fact.
This is the first time i’ve written a blog after the lecture (bad I know) but it’s also useful because I have Robs thoughts in my brain as well. For example, a very interesting question that I still haven’t made my mind up about is this: when do we become human? A biological part of me wants to say that human is just a word for homo sapiens, which is the species we have always been since we moved on from Neanderthal. But Rob argues that Rousseaus argument is flawed because we only truly became human once we started doing all those things that sent us downhill. Consciousness of self in relation to others etc. It begs the bigger question are we as humans fated from the start to failure or was it just a few mistakes along the way the got the whole failure thing rolling.