The Palm Oil

I was thinking about the richness of proverbs. “The palm oil with which words are eaten” certainly sounds delicious. There is something not very European or at least not very anglo about this notions. Should language be simple and direct, perhaps more efficient? Or should it be more decorated and fruitful. Certain people would prefer a simple and direct language, it depends who you are. If you have a lot to say it might be better to simply say it. However I do find that this richness in language can be useful. We can speak with beauty even in simple ways.

Certain languages tend to be more circular in their way of speaking, spanish or italian, while others are more direct and efficient like english. If we were to extend the metaphor of eating words I think everyone would rather eat fruit or meat with palm oil or wine than simply eating bread with water.

One of the main points in Things Fall Apart is language. This richness and simple elegance in Ibo speech gives the African people a sophistication which they don’t have in Heart of Darkness. It fills their world with complexity and the intricacies of social norms and behaviors. Simply through language African “primitive” societies are shown to be equally complex and sophisticated as any other.

De Beauvoir, Nietzsche and the Boundary

In this blog post I will often refer to the present. In some cases the present means today and some it means the 1900’s or the 1800’s.

For the most part I agree with Simone de Beauvoir, The Middle Sex, especially with what she writes in the introduction. Women are and have been oppressed by men of all races and creeds, they can’t organize to fight because they are scattered and don’t have a flag. This was true up until the early 1900’s but before this being a woman was not a cause for unification, it was not a matter of identity.

I found that the movement to undo this has to be led by women. It is true that men are contributing to it but it still ahs to come from women because men are the oppressors. They can help, some of them, but it will not be as effective. The southern plantation owner would’ve never freed their slaves willingly, a little extreme example but not really. If women are inferior in terms of opportunities, education, independence it is because men made forced them to be that way, not because they are inferior in their abilities. It made me think if that is what Nietzsche was saying about women: He did think them shallow, stupid, vain etc. but he thought women were this way because men made them so. Is this possible? Is it true? I don’t know but something in my mind doesn’t add up when people say Nietzsche is a misogynist. All those aphorism against women are misogynistic but they have to be saying something else. He might not like women but he is too smart to say such nonsense.

Finally something that perplexed me was the boundary between femininity and oppression against women.  Beauvoir thinks it degrading and enslaving to carry a man’s child, it might be so in certain cases where women are treated as objects of procreation. She doesn’t think the term woman is empowering but entrapping. Is it not okay for a woman to want to be feminine, to embrace being a woman? To put it in a modern world example: the famous Nivea soap. They use pink bottles for the woman soap and blue for men’s. Is it not okay for a woman to like the color pink, to like barbies, to like dressing like a woman and looking beautiful? Is it not okay for a woman to want to have children and raise them? I think it is. Just as it is okay for a woman to be the opposite and to not want to have children, with what that implies. I don’t like to weigh in on these topics for I am not a woman and don’t know. I do it here because in seminar it might feel out of place. I think it is okay for a woman to be whatever she wants to be, even if what she wants is that traditional gender role.

We wished we were Romantics

It is hard not to be a romantic, at least not a little. I can’t quite figure if I like romanticism or not. Actually this is not entirely true: I do like romantic poetry and literature. Its style, its prose, its metre, they are all very appealing and aesthetically pleasing. Hardly anyone could argue that Wordsworth and Coleridge express a beauty so simple it can only be matched by the actual thing they are writing about.

However, the impossibility of the ideals is what truly concerns me. As for romantics I think there is only one type: the hopeless romantics. Not all those who are hopeless are romantics but all romantics are hopeless. Everyone, who has had a passion in life or a goal they desire above all,  has at one point been flooded by romantic impulses and idealisms. After actually pursuing this passion or goal, we often realize that it is not as beautiful and perfect as we imagined and can never be.

This is part of my problem with romanticism but it is also what I find appealing. Its impossibility is at the same time off putting and alluring because of the idealism that everyone has embedded somewhere in their soul. Everyone will eventually have their ideals blown up by reality but there is still in us a longing for that perfection we once thought to exist. The most realistic person might have abandoned any thought for perfection and ideals but, if they are still passionate about whatever inspired them, they will not lose hope for the ideal to come true in some magical way. In a way realized romantics are Knights of Resignation. The tricky thing is that there is no such thing as a realized romantic because once one realizes the true and ugly nature of things one ceases to be a romantic.

All romantics are hopeless but not in their own eyes. A true romantic will always have hope, a strong a realistic hope, of achieving idealism. We see romantics as we see children in their innocence: how cute they are, playing and avoiding the rules of the world, how ignorant and clean they. This being said, I doubt there is anyone in the world who, even for a moment, hasn’t wished to return to childhood. How many of us would like to have the resolve of a romantic because there is one thing romantics will never lack: purpose.


Feeling Oceanic?

As I read Freud I started to wonder whether I ever felt an oceanic feeling. The answer didn’t come easily, I think it never truly came. Every time you start to wonder about the past and about your emotions you realize it is impossible to recreate the emotion itself. You can remember you felt happy, or sad or angry but you can’t remember the emotion itself. That is why it is very difficult for me to know whether I ever felt the oceanic feeling.

Furthermore, I realized that if I did ever feel it it would be useless and potentially problematic: for someone who feels the oceanic feeling it is very hard to face reality. The world is a cruel place and a dark place where good things happen as well but for that is not the norm. For somebody who felt that he belonged to something greater finding out that this thing has become so bad and so cruel could be devastating. How can you accept that you belong to something greater when there is so much chaos going on? The oceanic feeling is not compatible with reality.

For me, reading about Eros and Thanatos was a relief. Now I didn’t to fight to make goodness fit in the world because it is simply a chaotic place with good and evil, just like any other person. In the end I do believe that Eros can prevail. Although there will always be Thanatos en everything, people will learn to control it and empower their Eros and perhaps sublimate their Thanatos into other minor destructive acts.

In conclusion, I don’t think I ever felt the oceanic feeling. When I was young, and more susceptible to the idea of religion and God, I didn’t have the consciousness and the maturity to reflect on these issues. Now that I do have it, to some extent, I don’t really feel it. This leads me to think of another question: can anybody feel oceanic without thinking about it? Can the oceanic feeling exist without you being aware of it? It seems to me that as soon as you think about it disappears.


The first comments I received highlighted the good relationship maintained with the thesis and the rest of the essay. During my entire essay it was very clear what the argument was saying and how it related to the thesis. I was also told that my first essays showed strange transitions between paragraphs that sometimes broke the fluency of the essay. I worked on this by adding transitional phrases and improving the arguments in my essay so the tied better with one another.

In some of my essays I was told to improve the use of evidence, specially in my Plato and Hobbes essays. In these I didn’t use so much evidence because the work itself didn’t facilitate finding the necessary evidence. Honestly in the Hobbes essay I also had a deadline for another class so I couldn’t make as much effort. To remedy this I tried to organize my evidence better and earlier in the week. I choose my topic earlier and start marking of potential pieces of evidence. This also involves going back to the books and reading parts of them again to acquire more pieces of evidence. I think this has worked and in my Shakespeare and Carpentier essays I did it quite well.

In my writing I have made some careless mistakes like typos or silly sentences. This is not because of lack of knowledge or craft but because when I write I try to let my mind free and just pour out a lot of information. I always revise my essays several times but some mistakes always go unnoticed until its too late. I guess there is no safe cure for this but reading every essay very carefully, almost word for word, and try to make sure nothing escapes my view.

This term I will work on perfecting my essays and make them excellent essays. I will work on more details and try to make the logic and the rhetoric in my essays flawless. I think I started of well with this in my Carpentier essay. Christina mentioned that in this essay questions arose and I answered them promptly. I will also try to get rid of careless mistakes that bring down my writing.

I lean more towards Rousseau

Rousseau, the great romantic, the great writer.

I don’t fully agree with his ideas about government, humanity, animals, archeology, or anything else. However I do think I can agree more with him than with Hobbes, who is too pessimistic and machiavelic.

Rousseau, romantic as he is, has a much more hopeful view of humanity. This might appear ridiculous to some and definitely anyone who has a basic knowledge in the evolution of the humans as a species. I don’t really think there was ever a noble savage quiet as Rousseau describes it. We were either animals or humans, primitive as we were or are. Once there is reason there is humanity that is clear. Our body as we know it didn’t coexist with the brain or the spirit of an animal.

We can’t blame Rousseau for this fallacy because, well, it wasn’t known at the time. But I do think that this raises an interesting point: humans are naturally good and made bad by society. I completely agree with this, I don’t think that in a state of nature we would be naturally inclined to steal and loot and murder and rape. Hobbes asserts this because he is assuming that the state of nature is a place of need and scarcity and danger, an apocalyptic situation. This might very well be true for New Orleans during hurricane Katrina but the original state of nature, assuming there is one which I don’t think there is, doesn’t have to be dangerous. In this scenario humans are naturally good. We feel empathy, pity and love. We do this and feel all this and love some people even in current state of decline and filth that we currently live in, that this is the state of society at that point is agreed by Rousseau and Hobbes.

I do think societies can change for the better and often governments have a lot to do with this but the ultimate transformation of societies happens when people do good for the sake of good and not because of fear. This happens in nowadays in some countries were people don’t need the training wheels of governments in the form of fines and imprisonment. This transformation can only happen from within or at most at a family level. If we assume that we were once good we now can strive to being naturally good again and harnessing some of that natural goodness. I do believe we can reach a world were governments aren’t so powerful and were people can do good for the sake of good. Of course there will be cases were people do bad for the sake of bad but these are exceptions: after all there are also some people who would want to commit suicide in a Hobbesian state.

Hobbes didn’t watch Lord of the Rings

I have some problems with Hobbes.

First is the fact that he simply choose to ignore the law of human nature that power corrupts. I think it this has been proven in practice many times in human history and it is ridiculous for him to either not recognize it or ignore it. Didn’t he watch Lord of the Rings?

Second: if people can’t question government and are forced to obey it in every sense of the word even if it is explicitly wrong then we are all pretty screwed. Am I expected to find solace in the possibility that this ruler will be punished by God if he enforces the wrong rules? What if I follow a different God than he does, what if I am an atheist? Then what happens? If government isn’t good enough per se and if its mediocre then are all fucked.

Third: If I, not only get a mediocre and incompetent government (granted democracies often choose mediocre and incompetent governments) but also get a government that might not be incompetent but is adamantly against what I believe then I am thrice as screwed. I get a highly effective and competent government that follows a different set of values than me, call it what you want, and is determined to exterminate me! But it gets even worse: that government is doing what is right according to its own set of values and to its people, who see all these atrocious acts as something that is not only correct but admirable. It sounds a lot like Nazi Germany.

This things makes think that Hobbes’ ideas aren’t universal, sorry to disagree with Robert Crawford. How can such a brilliant philosopher discard something as certain as gravity as is the law that power corrupts? It is ridiculous.

While I disagree with Hobbes I can’t think he is stupid or ridiculous so I am forced to draw this certain conclusion: The Leviathan is not only not universal but it is also very specific to the political situation in England at the time. This brings me to my fourth problem with Hobbes.

Fourth: His political ideas are based on a country divided within itself in the form of kingdoms and feuds with different legislations, private armies and two conflicting religious ideologies. It is a country that desperately needs a strong central power to unite the country and enforce a unique set of laws to avoid the fragmentation of said country. This state will impose order and law and prevent the people from falling into the state of nature so proudly feared by Hobbes. It will enforce peace even if its forced, despised and oppressive peace.

The Story of the Grotto: A Summary of the Allegory of the Cave

caveBook VII of Republic is perhaps the most important book of this work and certainly the most iconic one. 

In this section Plato, or rather Socrates, presents us with an interesting and disturbing image: the allegory of the cave. This “S & M” image starts out with some men trapped in a cave with chains wrapped around their heads in some fashion that doesn’t allow them to move their heads or necks. They are always looking forward into a wall. Behind them there is a stone wall, behind the stone wall there is a fire. People walk between the fire and the wall carrying different objects. The wall serves as the wall which puppeteers use in their show.

The prisoners can only see shadows of the objects and people that pass between the fire and the wall. Since they have been chained up likes this their whole existence, this is all they know. The shadows are their reality, our reality. They are in the imagining stage of knowledge and knowing the forms.

One day, somebody decides to set one of the prisoners free. He does so and as he looks at the fire and the objects he is confused and his eyes (metaphor for the mind) are blinded by the light and by reality he accepts that this images are real. The shadows were mere reflections of the reality. He now is in the state of belief.

After this he walks out of the cave. His eyes (remember, metaphor) aren’t yet adjusted to reality and light so he can only look at reflections and shadows of things. After his eyes adjust he looks up and sees the sun, the source of all that he is able to see. The sun is the form of good. By exiting the cave his eyes where able to see reality and acquire knowledge of the forms.

The prisoner is the returned to the caves. His eyes have to adjust again to the shadows. This represents that once the forms have been known the philosopher must return to the shadows to rule over them and their inhabitants.

The philosopher is the one that knows the form of good, that is the key. But how does he achieve this? By studying mathematics and dialectic. This education allows him to transition from the visible realm, to the intelligible realm.

Children are to be chosen, according to their skills, to be raised as philosophers. They will endure physical training as well as education. The best will come to be chosen as philosophers the others as auxiliaries. They are to rule for the city and its people and according the form of good they have already grasped.

If all of this works perfectly the city will have people who have seen the form of good and can not see or do anything that disagrees with it. They are compelled to be good rulers.


The Anti-Penelopiad?

Everything was perfect. Odysseus was a hero, a master of cunning and diguise. Telemachus was a brave young man following his father’s footsteps. Penelope (thanks to Toph Marshall) was a loyal, clever and incredibly lovable character. I loved The Odyssey, it was a book with an ending that left me completely satisfied until Margaret Atwood came along.

She is obsessed with the figure of the maids that are hanged by Odysseus for sleeping with the suitors. Hanging for this, if they were at all guilty, is excessive but to be fair they are portrayed as villains in The Odyssey. Taking into account the horrible ethical frame of the time, it wasn’t completely absurd or wrong that Odysseus hanged the maids. It served to protect him and his family from further harm.

As I read Penelope’s side of things I realized that maybe there is a different story to be told. Maybe the maids were innocent, probably they had no other option when it came to sleeping with the suitors, surely they were in an undesirable position.

They were slaves. That is all one needs to now. They were slaves before, during and after Odysseus. Upon his return their condition wouldn’t improve and suddenly they wouldn’t have to satisfy unpleasant men. Probably they would now satisfy whoever Odysseus wanted them to. They are completely incidental to whoever is around them. I don’t think they are evil or betraying. They have to be on the side of whomever is with them, that is how they survive and that is the only role they are expected to fulfill.

Who can know if they were really spying for Penelope on the suitors or if they were actually doing so for the suitors, maybe they did none. Maybe they were naturally and forcefully on the side that was present at the moment.

Their death sentence comes from Eurycleia. If what The Penelopiad says is true then Penelope sends the maids as double agents and tells them to openly flatter the suitors and disrespect Odysseus. She did not tell this plan to Eurycleia so when Odysseus trusts wise and loyal Eurycleia with the decision of the maids lives she does what is good for him. She fulfills her duty as a servant. Which would in turn mean that Penelope sent her beloved maids to their deaths. That is what really haunts me. She loved them so much and yet sent them to their deathbeds, the most innocent and misunderstood characters in The Odyssey.

Out of all the perfect images I had of Odysseus, Telemachus and Penelope the one that ironically suffered the most was Penelope’s. I don’t know if this book is supposed to redeem Penelope or not but it certainly broke my admiration for the only person capable of outsmarting Odysseus.




“Wow you’re from Colombia? That is so cool!”

I get this a lot. I find it ordinary that I am from Colombia, everyone back home does. This tends to happen everywhere in the world. I run into Canadians and ask them where they are from. “Nothing to exciting, just from around here (Vancouver, Burnaby, BC, Canada).” A Canadian in Colombia or anywhere outside from Canada or USA would be considered exciting. Just as a Colombian in Europe, USA or Canada would be considered extravagant but an ordinary sight in Ecuador, Venezuela, Perú, Brazil etc.

My name is Vicente Gonzalez. I came here to Canada after a long sequence of unpredictable and fortuitous events. Of all the places my mind thought of when imagining my future, Vancouver was practically inexistent until a couple of months ago. But anyways, here I am.

I love reading and writing, in spanish and english as well. Philosophy and literature became throughout high school my two favorite areas of study as I fell in love with (platonically) with Plato’s reflection on reality and love. My identity is strongly linked to that of my country, especially through the works of Garcia Marquez which have tremendous value and impact and the person who I am and will become.

If any day I look mad, don’t worry. Odds are that one of my soccer (football actually) teams lost and that really pisses me off.

Anyways that’s a little about me, a breve synopsis. I didn’t want to spoil the ending.

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