In Jazz, Toni Morrison ends the novel by asking the reader to “remake” the narrator (229). They directly address the reader, and by doing so aid us to the recognition of a codependence between recorded history and narrative fiction. Through the use of fiction, the reader is engaged with characters and their stories and given insight into the world that shapes them. This adds a new dimension to history, giving personality and humanity to people that would otherwise be seen as statistics by most. Morrison recognizes that a key element in the collective perception of an era is heavily based on story rather than fact, as well as the narrators role in shaping the stories that are seen in the end as being as important as data and numbers.
There are numerous points in the novel in which the narrator ‘breaks out’ of her role, becoming less of a passive omniscient force and more of a creator; they become a storyteller rather than one who regurgitates, weaving the tale as the story progresses, improvising. The narrator is portrayed as an artist them self, and therefore is recognized as a subjective storyteller, one who is not entirely reliable. This allows the reader to recognize that history is not only shaped by fact, but by those who recall the stories, the humanity of events. Due to the unreliability of the human mind, we cannot trust any narrative as entirely objective.
The novel ends with the narrator revealing that they have never had love like that which was described. They ask the reader to “make me, remake me”, then forcing them to recognize the placement of their hands directly on the book. The reader is shown that the novel is in fact a story, historical yes but a work of fiction nonetheless. We can change these people, reinvent them for the sake of anything. They are fluid, just as history is. The storyteller possesses the ability to change recorded history and the responsibility to do so.
Jean-Jaques Rousseau remains an influential figure not only for his writing, but as an interesting individual.
Interestingly, Rousseau seems to be just as interested in himself as anyone else. This seemingly contradicts with his idea of “amour propre”, or self love. Some may ask why Rousseau believes that he can spout ideas freely why contradicting himself, as he does it quite often. Rousseau had five children put in an orphanage, then later wrote a book on how to take care of and educate children. However, I believe that Rousseau is not a hypocrite; he views himself as a reflection of the human species and diagnoses it’s ills based on his own problems.
As the dubbed “Father of Romanticism”, much of his inspiration relies on innate emotional reasoning. Part of the strength in Discourse on Inequality is the feeling of nostalgia he is able to create for the past despite using little evidence to prove how good or bad it was. Rousseau’s knowledge relies not on facts and data, but on a sense of “knowing” that isn’t the least bit quantifiable. Rousseau sees with his heart, favoring what is moral over what is “progress” to the aristocracy of his time. He forms his opinions on his state because people seem to lack this sense of reasoning, favoring solid facts over what we should know is right. He looks inward to address society, and if he finds problems within himself, chances are that other people face similar ones.
Rousseau may seem self indulgent at times, writing autobiographies and such, but this doesn’t disprove his ideas– in a way, it gives them credibility. Rousseau doesn’t stand from afar telling the world that they have problems to fix. He recognizes that he himself is a part of society; a reflection of it’s ills, and a unique voice to help fix them.
Over the course of history humanity has used literature to express the ideas of countless individuals so that those ideas could be passed down generation after generation. An interesting aspect of Mengzi is that despite being an influential voice in the philosophy of his time, he didn’t write his own book. At the time, books were far too cumbersome to transport and reproduce efficiently. Mengzi, near the time of his death, had a book written by his followers on his teachings, compiled from notes that they had saved. This wasn’t only culturally significant to China; many writings from all over the world follow this pattern, the most prolific being the Holy Bible. The Bible was written after Jesus Christ of Nazareth’s passing by his followers, and could easily be compared to Mengzi (despite its religious significance). Although this differs from our modern method of philosophical writing, there have been numerous examples of contemporary philosophers and writers receiving honoring texts and other works. A good example would be Franz Kafka, and how despite writing in his will that he wanted his works to be burned, his good friend Max Brod decided against this, publishing his larger stories and later compiling his notes and poems into other volumes. The idea of writing about someone after they’ve passed may seem strange in terms of the modern era; books have become so easy to produce that one can take their existence for granted without thinking of their impact on the spread of ideas. Books used to be much more difficult to produce, and could only be reproduced by hand for hundreds of years. Luckily, we’ve had countless individuals throughout history who’ve seen importance in the preservation ideas. Without them, the world would be a much different place.
Although Plato’s vision of the perfect state may seem highly functional and productive, he fails almost completely to recognize the arts as a staple of our cultural experience and shuts down freedom of expression. Ironically, Plato states in book three of Republic that musical education is crucial for the cultivation of the soul, and places it before physical education because in his opinion, the cultivation of one’s soul sets a strong precedent for the cultivation of any other aspect in one’s life. However, when Plato begins to discuss the censorship of harmonies according to one’s place in society, it seems as if he defeats the purpose of the soul in music altogether.
How can one adequately channel one’s “soul” through music if it isn’t treated as a form of expression, but more of a device for conditioning members of society to better fulfill their rolls? How can one’s thoughts and feelings be translated if they aren’t allowed to utilize the vocabulary that will help them best do so? One of the many problems with Plato’s interpretation of the arts is that they are much too analytical and free of any concept of abstract thought. On the subject of lamenting harmonies, Plato asks, “Shouldn’t we exclude them, then? After all, they are even useless for helping women be as good as they should be, let alone men.” (P.82) Although the scales could be seen as lamenting, artistic expression isn’t as straightforward as Plato takes it to be– after all, the harmonies they discuss are the basis for the majority of “Sweet Home Alabama”, which is hardly considered a lamenting tune.
But the question of why Plato underplays the arts in Republic remains unanswered; does he not understand its abstract nature, or does he view its purpose as a waste of time? It would be strange to view Plato as a completely concrete thinker; much of his work revolves around the idea of a “soul”, which of course is a very abstract idea, especially for his time. One cannot see the soul, yet Plato still argues for its significance and rests many of his ideas on an assumption of its existence. On the other hand, Plato’s views on music seem to be contradictory to the idea that he sees the arts as a waste, as even he requires musical training before one enters the gymnasium. However, one could easily infer from his writing that Plato may be afraid of the arts and their power rather than dismissive of them. “A change to a new kind of musical training is something to beware of as wholly dangerous. For one can never change the ways of training people in music without affecting the greatest political laws.” (P.108) Who is to say that Plato’s republic is repressive of expression for fear that it could be the downfall of the polis he has outlined? This would surely make sense of his categorization of musical harmonies by social occupation, as well as his ideas on censorship of poets’ portrayals and impersonations of the gods and various other figures unless met with his criteria. Not only does Plato seem to want to cultivate only the finest individuals, but wants them to disregard any thoughts of change, not to mention a different way of government, lest they rest within the bloodlines of the elite. It seems as if unless one is born with gold in their blood, Plato’s republic is where ideas go to die.