Watchmen and my first impression on comic books

This is the first time ever I am reading a comic, and I am wondering what took me so long. Watchmen has changed my entire perspective on comics. I never thought they could actually deal with serious matters, have highly complex characters and the dynamism and detail of a well-crafted story.

The text itself (dialogue, journal entries) is fantastic. It is witty, at times funny, full of voice and most of all, the comic book structure allows for a very fluid sense of dialogue. In a book, it is annoying how usually when someone says something, the author has to make it clear who said it. Yet, in a comic book the dialogue flows from square to square and you can tell instantly who says what. It seems much more real.

Since the text is already so good it could be a novel all by itself, the drawings then become such a treat. It is kind of like if Northanger Abbey or Heart of Darkness came with illustrations for every single scene. Not only are they fabulous from an art perspective, but they are also full of information that is just as valuable as the text. Seeing how well text and image work together to create a cohesive story really makes me understand the idea that a comic is “co-creative intermedia”. It is truly a work of art.

Furthermore, I can see how the book is irresistible to translate to film. Yet, as mentioned in lecture, it would leave no room for self-interpretation. With books sometimes I feel there is not enough descriptive information, while with movies, there is an overflow. So with comic books, it is a great balance between showing you implicitly what is happening, yet leaving enough room for you to interpret it as you wish. The use of stock colours (no shading) and that you obviously cannot hear the voices leave it up to the reader to imagine. The result is a much more personal story that will probably resemble the spaces and voices of your life.

Although the end of studying Watchmen is nigh, I don’t think it will be the last time I pick up a comic book.

Misogyny in Things Fall Apart is not too different from Conrad and Racism

It is difficult to read Things Fall Apart without being very disgusted with the gender roles and the attitudes towards women in Umuofia. Okwonko’s treatment of his wives as lesser, weaker, stupid beings is unacceptable. His behaviour is very reminiscent of Blanca’s abusive husband in Until the Dawn’s Light.

Coming to terms with the misogyny in the novel, I am confused as to what Achebe is doing. Ultimately you could say the book is simply being historically accurate. Gender roles were probably just like that in Nigerian villages of the 1890s. Instances of misogyny are just part of the setting or “context”. However, wouldn’t he be doing the same thing as Conrad, whom he criticizes extensively?

Achebe did not like how Conrad depicted black people as primitive beings, “not inhuman” or sometimes mere body parts. Achebe says it is wrong for Conrad to use this racism as a background for his own story about European colonization. It seems to me that Achebe is then doing the same thing: using sexism as a way to tell his story about Okwonko’s damaged personality.

Apart from this, I am not even sure if either are wrong. If you write about something horrible taking place (racism, misogyny) is that the same as advocating for it? What does worry me is how quotes like “the birth of her children, which should be a woman’s crowing glory…” sound like statements of fact (77). This is said not by Okwonko, a character who we know is flawed, but the narrator.

Overall however, the novel has a lot to offer and I have enjoyed learning about Nigerian tribal culture in a very close-up and detailed way.

The Mill on the Floss and Floods and Evolution

After the lecture, it was clear to me that there are so many things going on in this book! The Mill on the Floss deals with the topics of gender roles, marriage, bildungsroman (coming of age), history and religion. What stood out to me the most, was the theme of natural history and evolution. I never thought a novel could deal with topics like evolution and natural selection. I think it is really cool how Eliot took scientific ideas of her time and put them into a novel that deals with normal people and daily life. The Mill on the Floss then becomes a way to understand evolution/natural selection in a personal, daily life kind of setting.
We see it occur in Maggie and her brother, herself being the smart one while her brother is not. The one who should reproduce and is “fittest to survive” is therefore Maggie. The question of whether or not she will marry and have kids becomes connected with evolution. What Eliot does is the equivalent of taking a modern-day scientific/history theory like for example Hacking’s “looping” theory and writing a novel showing how it takes place in the lives of some normal people.

On another note I was also intrigued by the recurring theme of ‘the flood’. I could not help but connect it with the biblical story of Noah’s ark. This story, although religious, is also a story of survival of the fittest. God decides to save Noah and his sons because they are good people and therefore “the fittest” to father humanity, while the rest do not survive due to a natural cause – a flood. I thought it was interesting how the book deals a lot with religion, in particular Maggie’s faith, and then ends with a flood – a classic Christian motif that it is also inherently scientific and connected to evolution and natural selection.

The Yellow Wallpaper and who is Jane?

I really enjoyed reading The Yellow Wallpaper since there are so many things going on. It made me think about the narrator and question her sanity. That is not usually something I do when reading. Narrators are almost always trusted and their mental capabilities are not questioned. I can only think of The Penelopiad, or even Until the Dawn’s Light (if you take the book to be Blanca’s journal) as other books where the narrator is suspicious.
I also liked the format of the story and how it is happening in ‘real’ time. The stops in her writing and comments on what she is doing make the story seem very realistic. At one point she even says she is “sitting by the window now”, creating an instant mental picture of the writer in real time. This also made me think about the act of writing, since you literally envision the protagonist of the story writing the story. I thought about what writing does for her health and what it might mean also for the actual author Gilman.
Finally, what intrigued me the most was the last paragraph where she says: ‘I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane.” The name or character of Jane is never mentioned in the story so this made me think that this is the woman in the wallpaper speaking. Jane is the protagonist of the story. If you interpret the story in this way, it’s really creepy because the woman in the wallpaper comes to life and actually speaks. It also made me question if the woman in the wallpaper narrates the story at other points or if they are the same person all along. Regardless, it was quite thrilling to hear the voice of the woman in the wallpaper, affirming she is real and that mental disorders are real.

Lyrical Ballads and Organic Sensibility

A phrase that really stood out to me from the lecture on Lyrical Ballads was ‘organic sensibility’. This concept actually comes from the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads when Wordsworth says:

For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: but though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached, were never produced on a variety of subjects but by a man who being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility had also though long and deeply. (Wordsworth 146)

I think this quote really sums what Wordsworth and Coleridge are trying to do. From their poems they seem like extremely sensitive human beings, not in the sense that they are easily moved to tears, but that they are very aware of their senses and surroundings. They seem very alert, with a sort of wakefulness that is very youthful and energetic. I see this in the detail of their poems like in “We Are Seven” when he describes the girl as having “a rustic, woodland air” (59). Just reading their poems makes me want to go out on a walk through nature and take in all the sounds, smells and sights around me. There seems to be release of the senses going on, where rather than ignoring your surroundings and input from the body, one looks outwardly and takes in everything the senses detect.

At the same time, this organic sensibility if full of wisdom and thought. I really like how the poems are both wakeful and full of wonder, yet pensive and reflective. In “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey” Wordsworth writes of the nature around him, the “deep rivers and lonely streams”, while reflecting intensely on memory (111). Not only does he conjure images of the forest but he also understands its healing powers and how the memory will provide “life and food / For future years” (111).

Finally, organic sensibility brings to mind what was first discussed in lecture: the chalk portraits of Wordsworth and Coleridge. The small chalk marks create texture, different shades of light, and focus on the face, in particular the eyes and mouth. When I look at the portraits, the organic sensibility of Wordsworth and Coleridge really comes to life.

Reflection on Term 1 Essays

1. Textual Evidence
For my first three essays I received comments saying I needed to provide more evidence. My essays on the Odyssey, Plato and Antigone could have used more textual evidence and quotes from the texts. For example, in my Plato essay I talked about the Sophists but I didn’t give any evidence from the text that they are seen in a bad light by Socrates. For my essay on The Tempest however, I did have a lot of evidence which my peers noted, and since then I don’t think it has been much of a problem anymore.

2. Strength of the Argument (B1,B2,B4,B5)

The biggest concern with all my essays has consistently been the strength of the argument. My points often need more explanation or clarification. This was noted in my essay on The Tempest since I didn’t really explain what I meant by the natural forces of the play and in my Hobbes essay too with my reading of liberty and laws.

3. Organization
My organization has also been a problem sometimes. My peers have often suggested I reorganize my paragraphs to improve the flow of the essay, or when I am using new terms, to define them in the introduction. I could have done this in my Trouillot essay by starting with Silencing the Past instead of Appelfeld.

For my essays in Term 2 I want to focus on fully explaining my arguments. This might mean providing more of an introduction to my ideas instead of going straight to them, like I could have done in my Tempest, Trouillot or Hobbes essay. I also need to remember to address possible flaws in my arguments even if they seem minor or easily over-looked. I could also try discussing my arguments with someone before I start writing so they can point out any major flaws. For organization I also want to have proper balance between texts when I am referencing more than one book and to pay attention to the order of my paragraphs, especially when I am using terms that need defining.

Freud and the Origins of Religion

Where does religion come from? This is a question I had never thought about before reading Freud. I’ve always assumed religion has been a part of society for ages to the point where we wouldn’t characterize as human or society without having had it at one point. Freud however, speculates on the origins of religion and is convinced it began in childhood. He states it derives from “the infant’s helplessness and the longing for a father” (Civilization 35). This explanation makes sense since many religions such as Christianity focus on paternalism and a sense of protection. However, what stood out to me in his reasoning was the fact that he goes back to childhood and infancy. Freud seems to be kind of obsessed with childhood and seeks answers in it for all his questions, like for example people’s source of natural aggressiveness and libido. So when it comes to religion, I am not surprised Freud goes back to childhood once again.

When I think about the origins of religion, I think more about how we function as a society. How maybe having a religion is useful in promoting peace and morality within a community, or how it gives comfort, hope, and reassurance in difficult times such as war, disease or death. So the logical explanation for me is that religion originated when societies began to grow and become populous enough that measures such as religion became very practical and beneficial. This is a historical approach to the question, very different from Freud’s psycho-analytical explanation based on childhood. What works so well with Freud’s explanation is that it is separate from any historical context or sense of time. No matter when, humans have always had fathers and mothers from where to draw that sense of “helplessness and longing”. Freud’s references to childhood, not only with regards to religion, are great in this way because they are universal and detached from time. Everyone was once an infant, no matter the place or time when they existed. Thus, following Freud’s explanation, religion cannot be pin-pointed to a certain type of society or place in time, but rather it becomes an organic, almost essential part of being human and a child. In my opinion, a much more satisfying and thought-provoking answer.

Hobbes and Language

When first reading the Leviathan, I found Hobbes’ preoccupation with labelling every single word, providing very specific definitions and pointing out the differences between words a nuisance. However, as I learned more about where he was coming from I began to feel pity for him and understand his obsession with definitions and nomenclature.

During Hobbes’s time (1558-1679), I can only imagine the confusion and ambiguity with words. Dictionaries and encyclopedias did not become popular until the 18th century and many of the terms used today were not coined yet. To a modern audience many of these concepts or words seem obvious, but that is only because they have been shaped and moulded into their current definition during the centuries of their use.

For Hobbes however, the clarity of language is so bad that he cannot even begin to present his argument without defining the words he chooses to use. It is similar to how Newton had to invent calculus to explain his physics theories, doing double the work because that type of math had not been invented yet. This made me think that language has not always been the same but is constantly evolving and perfecting itself, and we owe the complexity and breadth of the English language to authors like Hobbes, or Shakespeare, for taking the trouble to define its words.

Hobbes’ frustration really comes out through the pages of the Leviathan, in particular with what he refers to as the “School”, whether he refers to philosophers of the institution of the church. I appreciate how he points out the absurdity of language because as a student reading other old works, unfamiliar or vague words is usually the biggest obstacle in understanding something. Luckily for us we have dictionaries so it is simply a problem of vocabulary, but for Hobbes and his audience of the time there was nowhere to go and look up the meaning of a word.

Historically, I think the Leviathan offers great insight into the state of language in the mid 17th century and the problems scholars, early pursuers of science and politicians were confronted with when trying to express themselves or understand each other through language.

Until the Dawn’s Light

What has really impressed me about Appelfeld’s writing is the depth and complexity of his characters. Blanca’s character especially is so real that I often forget this is written in third-person. The novel seems more like her autobiography.

Appelfeld retells every little thought that goes through Blanca’s mind, almost like a stream of consciousness but it doesn’t feel forced at all. Her character is not static or one moment angry, one moment sad. What she feels is complicated and confusing, the way actual feelings are like. Her daily life and thoughts seem organic and very personal. The insight into Blanca’s character is so profound that it is not clear or easy to describe what she is like. The same way one cannot use three words to describe someone, people are more complicated than that. Blanca is Blanca, that is all. I am amazed at Appelfeld’s ability to create such a human-like character.

Blanca is my age for a lot of the book (she is 18-19 when she marries?). It is so strange to me that a 63-year-old man can make such an accurate and realistic portrayal of what is like to be young woman. I find I can relate to Blanca, which weirds me out because this is actually a 63 year-old man I am relating to. Appelfeld has never been an 18 year-old-girl or a daughter, so how does he know these things?

It is clear to me that Appelfeld truly understands the human condition and psyche since his characters have a level of complexity and authenticity I have never encountered before.

The Republic – Book VIII

Plato returns to his discussion of the city and man constitutions in book VIII. Previously he described the ideal philosopher-king/queen and the kallipolis, now he sheds light on four other types of government and people that can result from a city. He also expands on the idea that “everything that comes into being must decay,” including the kallipolis (216). Plato explores why a city decays in the first place, concluding it happens when its citizens have less consideration for music, poetry and physical training, resulting in civil war and intermixing of the metal classes (217).

From the aristocracy evolves a timocracy, mainly concerned with honour, courage and military victory. In the individual it is the spirited part of the soul which rules. The timocratic city or individual secretly adores money and neglects the study of music and poetry.

Then the city decays into an oligarchy, a society that values money and wealth over everything. Therefore they appoint the rich as rulers, rather than the most educated or rational. This city is also strongly divided into rich and poor and it is ravished by crime and poverty.

Next it decays into a democracy (note the negative connotation of decay) when the poor manage to overtake the rulers and divide the powers of the rulers equally amongst each themselves. They are governed by freedom and have no control over their appetites.

Finally, the city becomes a tyranny when a single leader arises from an opposing facet. Once in power, this man or woman feels no restraint and kills both enemies and friends that might be a threat, until he or she is all alone. The city is a slave to its ruler and so is the tyrant, ruled by his or her insatiable appetites.

Plato plays equal emphasis on the city and the individual. Throughout the entire book, he never looses sight of the parallels between city and man. In particular, I liked how he condenses the entire process of decay into four generations, each father being one kind of constitution. I think it points out how much a city is responsible for your upbringing. The way each son is raised is compared to a generational movement in a city, their ideals and the kind of atmosphere they grow up in. It is as if the city were the father and the citizens its children. It makes the cities seem much more close-knitted and passionate.

I was intrigued by why Plato would present an “ideal” city and individual that eventually decays. However by mentioning the process of decay, Plato might also be pointing out the true nature of humans and how both his argument and city are inevitably flawed. Although the concession or acceptance that his models are not perfect technically weaken his argument, I do think it defends it against anyone claiming he is an idealist. By pointing out the flaws of his argument, he is paying attention to both sides (flaws and strengths) and presenting a much more balanced, rational and moderated claim.

Spam prevention powered by Akismet