Author Archives: grace chang

Uncanny similarities between “Eckbert” and “The Sandman”

It seems that for the past few weeks, the uncanny has been a recurring theme in both lectures and seminars. “The Sandman” was directly analyzed by Freud for a source of the uncanny, and in turn, the three short stories we’d read this week were questioned for the uncanny as well.

As I read “Fair-haired Eckbert”, I couldn’t help but notice a similarity it had to “The Sandman”: the character of the old woman appearing at different parts of the story, but under false aliases. Similar to how the Sandman disguised himself first as the lawyer Coppelius and then the barometer vendor Coppola, the old woman in “Eckbert” first disguises herself as Walther, Eckbert’s longtime friend, and then as Hugo, a knight whom Eckbert befriends after Bertha’s death.

Reading both stories, I had felt a certain sense of uncanny to both of these mysterious characters. Both had immense power and had shown up in the stories without explanation. They are also the only characters who possesses these magic powers in the story, which makes the readers further question their origins. Not only this, but both are set stories are set in realistic places, as the authors does not take advantage of the settings.

Could the uncanny lie in these facts?

It also fits well with Jentsch’s theory of the uncanny, that it stems from intellectual uncertainty. It also fits with Freud as well, with the idea of repetitiveness (also something he neglected to explore with his own analysis of the Sandman being the motif for the uncanny).

The Sandman and the old woman, both under disguises, set in real life, and appearing suddenly: all of these qualities gives a reader a sense of unease, as if what happened to Eckbert and Nathanael could happen easily in their lives.

It could be argued that this also occurs in Snow White, when the the Queen takes up disguises to visit Snow White in an attempt to kill her; this action happening multiple times. The Queen also has magical powers, but the realistic setting of the story contrasts the existence of such powers. However, with the knowledge that this story is a Grimms Fairytale, the fact that the Queen and her magical powers and talking mirror does not faze us.

So then, Freud would be right about the genre being something that could hinder the feeling of uncanny, but is that truly all it takes to take away that eerie sensation?

The similarities between these stories is something that should be explored, even more so when the question of our uncanny feelings are added.


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“Tea Without Sugar, Along with Our Twitter” and the Trouble with Rousseau

Out of the many books that we’ve read for Artsone so far, I’ve thought greatly about each text and have found the connection it has with Western ideas; specifically and especially with the different types of governance each of these texts has offered. With Oedipus it was his complex way of how he was a ruler and a person–on one hand he cared deeply for his people, and on the other he can be seen as ignorant and corrupted. With Plato, it was his Kallipolis. With The Tempest it was Prospero and the great power he held. And with Hobbes, his idea of the Leviathan.

So what was it with Rousseau? While I did find what he had to say about civilization and the growth of men bold and largely relatable, I couldn’t get myself engaged with the text. It was surprising because many said it was an easy read–and while admittedly it flowed quite nicely–I often found myself lost in the text. The bad kind of lost. I can not grasp any clear concepts he presents, besides the fact that he thinks humankind is deteriorating with what we think is progress.

But perhaps it is because every time I think about Rousseau’s text and try to connect it with something I know–history has by far been my greatest help so far–I get into a place where I am afraid. Although Rousseau wrote Discourse in the mid 1700’s, the direct parallel I find with modern times within his text and his criticism on society and mankind sends a chill down my back.

Before I explain this, though, a bit of context here: My old math tutor often got angry with us whenever we forgot a certain formula and then he’d go on a rant on how much technology –mainly the Internet– was destroying our brains, and then he’d talk about how perhaps we are at the peak of our time and it’s nothing but downhill from here.

And yeah, maybe it was because he was an Old Man who didn’t quite understand technology, but he was smart. Like, human calculator smart. And the worst thing was that I could see how he was right. While we as a society often praise the efficiency technology has brought us, there are also disadvantages. We become dependable and our memories as well as our attention span has deteriorated. I once watched a TED Talk by a woman named Zeynep Tufekci that praised how quickly and widely the news–and in turn, many protests as well as social movements–can spread nowadays thanks to technology and social media. But she mentioned something else. The price we pay? These movements are often short term. While they take flight in the guise of “Trending Topics” on Twitter and other forms of social media, it isn’t soon after that these titles are forgotten as the Internet as a whole moves on to other things.

She also mentioned how the amount of work and organization that has been put into these movements before social media has allowed and manifested a group of people who can think collectively and act collectively. Tufekci’s comparisons of famous historical civil rights movements to many of the movements she’d be a part of is an interesting one. There is nothing different about these protests now, people still participate, still help each other, and still make life-long friendships. It is the fact that we as a large collective struggle with making change in the long term, to agree as a collective the step-by-steps necessary to– in Hobbes’ terms– agree on a new social contract.

While she ends her Talk on a positive note, Tufekci still goes back and emphasize the importance of her analogy on earlier forms of protests organized without social media: Tea without Sugar. And some part of me thinks that if Rousseau was still alive and kicking today, he would agree with Tufekci to a certain extent that media has, in some forms, worsened the civil society and how we move forward.

In fact, I think Rousseau would be very much like my old math tutor.

And to be honest, I had a point before this blog, but now I am lost as well, just like I am in Rousseau.

So…There’s that.


The TED Talk here, if you are interested:

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Of Challenges, Hobbes, and History

At the end of her lecture, Professor Hendricks challenged us to think about thinking of the sovereign as not-so-monsturous. This morning, Professor Crawford pointed out several times that Hobbes represents a far more modern way of thinking than Plato. He also had a lot to say about the paradoxical relationship between Hobbes and the liberal tradition.

Going into Hobbes, I at first dreaded it like I had with Plato. Plato’s views on authority and governance, though interesting, was hard to decipher and grasp as a real physical concept. Mainly the struggle was with his Kallipolis, Plato’s Ideal City that existed in his brain and described in The Republic.

Hobbes surprised me. Not only did I enjoy much of what Hobbes had to say, but I also found myself nodding along as I read through Leviathan.

I liked Professor Hendricks’ challenge because whether you agree or not, I think there are benefits to Hobbes’ Leviathan. That is to say, if the sovereign is one that is just and good, wouldn’t the people lead a just and good life as well? Wouldn’t reforms be made in a much better and efficient way?

Let’s take, for example,  Peron’s rule of Argentina.

He ran for presidency in 1946 and won, but in 1945 he’d pretty much secured that seat when he was released from military holding after only 8 days due to public pressure. This very closely relates to how Hobbes describes how the ruler is the representative of the people; and how, like Professor Hendricks had suggested, that the Machine (people) and the Monster (sovereign) works together.

Peron, like many other leaders in Latin America, began his presidency by dissolving other opposing governing parties, making Argentina a single party state. Not only this, he also held personal power over his own party.

Despite the singular control Peron had on the people of Argentina, the reforms he made benefitted the people (albeit only for a short period of time before the economy turned on them). Women were allowed to vote, hospitals and orphanages were built for the underprivileged, and working tools such as sewing machines were given away so that the average people could earn a living from home. All these reforms were made fairly quickly, and– like Professor Crawford mentioned in today’s lecture– allowed the people to live a good life, something that us as humans naturally want, according to Hobbes.

Peron’s rulership was described as “fascism with sugar”, a striking resemblance of the paradoxical relationship between liberty and authoritarian leadership. Peron was an authoritarian– a single party state ruler that decided what the people “shalt or shalt not do”, but he was also a liberalist in the sense that he provided equality and a good life to the people. He was not overly oppressive to his people; his most repressive law was perhaps the censorship of media.

Professor Hendricks’ challenge, in the scope of historical examples, is one that can be approached more easily if one could look at the benefits such a sovereign state can create for the people.

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Kallipolis: Is Plato for Real?

In trying to define justice and injustice, Plato creates–in theory–a “good” or “just” city, the Kallipolis. This city in his mind expands as the dialogue goes on, with a class structure, education, a constitution (or, as Plato details later on, a Philosopher-King) and even how to deal with children and women.

What drew me further into the text was the complexity of this governance that did not fit with neither right, left, or centre. On one hand, Plato thinks that power within the city should lay only within the Philosophical Rulers and that stories and music should be controlled; suggesting a more of a right wing governance. However, he also suggests the sharing of land (& to stretch it even further, women and children), which is more of a left wing governance (though to be fair, Marxism, or Communism, only suggest sharing of land as well as personal belongings). Another fair point of Communism was when Plato said that everyone would get things according to their needs being met. He also mentions that men and women should be treated as equals–and while in the USA women were being shoved back into their roles as housewives even though they helped in the war effort of WWI, USSR allowed women to work alongside men (Communism: ANYONE can WORK).

The Republic was one of most foundational texts in Western Philosophy, so it struck me as strange when it seems to me that, while most constitutions today has implemented parts of the Kallipolis whether consciously or not, Plato’s Kallipolis as a whole itself has not been attempted to be bought into existence.

Karl Marx, the philosopher who penned the Communist Manifesto, had his Kallipolis bought to life by Lenin, 69 years later after its publication at the first attempt at a communist government. It was a failure as it never reached the fourth and final stage: the leader stepping down and allowing the People to rule themselves. As time passes, communism never surpasses its third stage–with the likes of Cuba and China–therefore one cannot call these countries to be 100% communist.

As I read The Republic I’d desperately done just what Glaucon had questioned & what Lenin probably thought as he read through the Communist Manifesto, to attempt to see Plato’s Kallipolis in real life, or perhaps, in the modern world. I wonder how it’d work out, every last bit of it. While Plato was correct when he said that the type of constitution he’d described so thoroughly would be hard–but not impossible–to be brought to existence, there has to be some flaws, right? I became frustrated with the text, trying to dissect where it could go wrong if it was brought into existence, but how could I when such a constitution has never been attempted?

When I brought this up to my sister, who’d studied Plato before, she brought up the fact that one of my favourite books, The Giver (also, did you know that this is A SERIES?), was based upon Plato’s Kallipolis. The Giver was the Philosopher King, who is able to see the “real” world (to relate, Plato refers to this as the Sun), children were birthed from fertilization & assigned a specific role in society once they reach a certain point in their lives, and it was a very controlled society (remember when they were like, “You’re hungry, but you’re not starving,” when this one kid was like, “Man, I’m starving,” at lunch). Much of the general public in The Giver were in the cave Plato described in Book 7.

But The Giver, while perhaps posing some questions and problematic things that could occur should Plato’s Kallipolis comes to fruition, is still just a fictional novel and does not completely paint Plato’s dear city exactly.

Will Plato’s Kallipolis ever be realized? If so, then what kind of governance does it categorize as?




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Skepticism & Punishment

A very interesting topic was bought up in the seminar on Thursday, which was the skepticism of the existence of gods in the 5th century. Such skepticism arose alongside great thinkers, and manifested itself in Oedipus Rex. Oedipus’ agency & his obvious defiance to the gods is an obvious example–what is alarming, however, is the doubt that arises within the chorus.

As the elders of Thebes, one would expect them to be defiant to Oedipus’ actions in the play, and to stand by the gods. This does show at first though, right after Teiresias confronts Oedipus for being the man who murdered Laios and Oedipus denies his involvement. The chorus instead takes on neutrality, claiming, “Zeus and Apollo know/they understand/only they see” (pg. 46), taking note that only the gods know the truth, not the prophet nor Oedipus. Sure, a small amount of skepticism shines through with the chorus’ questioning of whether or not the prophet (speaker of the gods, hello) could really see more than anyone, but ultimately the chorus places the fate & answer to the plague of Thebes to the gods.

This firm belief ends–or perhaps, wavers– as the play approaches its climax, or Oedipus’ Enlightenment (he is the son who killed his father). The chorus shows their doubt with, “…o Zeus if that is your name” (pg. 63, l. 1153) and then further when they state, “nobody prays to the god of light no one believes/nothing of the gods stays” (pg. 63, l.1158-1159). This was bought up in class on Thursday as well. This is read as an ultimatum of sorts, as the chorus basically says in this passage, “If the man who murdered Laios is punished, then we will no longer believe in the gods.”

A stark contrast then follows, when it is revealed that Oedipus did indeed murder Laios. What’s also worth mentioning here, I believe, is that everyone other than Oedipus believes that him being alive is punishment enough. As the shepherd says to Oedipus, “If you were the baby that man took from me, Oedipus/ what misery, what grief is yours!” (pg. 77, l.1490-1491). Even the chorus does, as in the next passage it seems that their faith in the gods has been restored, contrasting the belief of “nothing of the gods stays” (pg. 63 l.1159) with a new belief, “…nothing human lasts” (pg. 78, l. 1522).

Paired with the fact that Oedipus Rex was shown during a time where religious skepticism was surfacing, the chorus could even be compared to Athenian society; that by the end of Oedipus Rex, their faith is restored as Oedipus is punished by the truth, or the light (Apollo). Ultimately, then, Oedipus’ punishment lays within his existence, and not by what he bestowed upon himself (stabbing his eyes out, removing himself from society).



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