Heroism Grows Up

I think I could argue that there are more important statements about Life (with a capital L) in this novel, then in something by Rousseau or Hobbes. There is something about an actual story of people trying to achieve humanity. I think it can show you more than just a narrator telling you what is the best way to achieve humanity. And Humanity (with a capital H) is a pretty important idea in Watchmen. The idea of ‘regular superheros’ is important. All these characters are us, some of us in each of them. We cannot disconnect ourselves from their lives so easily as you could superman or batman. There is so much in this story, so many important moments and quotes and ideas, that it is almost impossible to fit it all in a blog, but structuring it around the characters will be a good start.

Rorschach. If I had to pick one really important theme for this whole book it would be ‘what is good’. Yeah, about as broad as you get, i know. More detailed: I think there is a huge tension between two philosophies: Utilitarianism and that other philosophy where there is one strict moral code to adhere to. (can’t remember its name) Rorschach most often represents the latter philosophy. In one sense, his world is simple. People who do bad are bad people. If someone commits murder they should be killed. An eye for an eye. Obviously this doesn’t really make sense if a person extracts revenge through murder. It puts one on an equal plane with the criminal. I think this is the interesting thing about Rorschach’s philosophy. He despises the system he lives in so much and tries to distance himself from it, but he is the one who lives within it the most. He is disgusted by humanity, but he himself is what most people would see as disgusting or crazy. His mask is his connection to power and identity. It’s like a more perverse Batman. Still idealistic, still masked, but so reliant on that identity that there is nothing else left.

It makes sense that Nite Owl, (Dan Dreiberg) and Rorschach were partners. Although they seem like opposites they both share a similar set of values. Dan is an idealist, in a sense almost like a child. Although this is something all The Watchmen share, Dan reminds us of the childhood dream of becoming a superhero, wearing cool costumes, and just ‘doing good’ in general. Dan, and all the Watchmen, are the ones who never really grew out of that mindset.

Dr. Manhattan has ultimate power, but a disconnect from the human. He says “a live body and a dead body have the same number of particles, there is no difference.” Because he is removed from a human perspective, does this make him right? And what about the element of humanity that he still has?

So far, I’ve only barely scratched the surface of this book. Even what I wrote was very basic. But one more thing: the actual conflict. Veidt chooses to kill thousands in order to save the world from certain war. Only by uniting against a common enemy are we saved. So who is the real superhero? Is Veidt the only one that ever really “grew up”?

I love the work of Alan Moore and am really excited for the lecture and seminars.

man makes story/story makes man OR I still love you Coetzee

Well, Coetzee seems to be getting a lot of hate from Arts One LB1.But my trusty friend Wikipidea tells me it’s not only us. Upon it’s publication, Foe was ill-received even by the fancier critics. Interesting.  I’m tired of doing my usual lame synopsis blog thing, so i’m going to talk about that a bit.

In the immortal words of Kyle, “this story is a retelling that molests all that I once loved.” While that’s just really funny, I think it’s also an important statement about the way it affects people. And I think that is the point. Robinson Crusoe was (and is) a well read, well respected book. It’s one of the staples of modern day literary society. The fact that Coetzee should choose this book to frame her narrative is important. She is trying to “molest” the idea. That sounded strange, but making us rethink the way a classical narrative exists seems to be trying to reach a furthur goal than just ‘bein’ weird’. That’s why I like this book. It is similar to The Yellow Wallpaper in that its actual writing style means something more than just the book itself. It’s about the way we read as well. Sorry to quote Kyle again, but he had a really good blog that made me think about stuff. Anyway, he says “Friday’s nationality, charismatic entity, and worst of all his own voice are literally cut away from this retelling.” and I think that is the point. While the original story presents his nationality and voice as being ‘naturally’ silent in a hegemonic sort of way, Foe makes it more of a question, making you think about the original text as well as the one you are reading. Just in the one fact that Friday’s tounge is cut out says everything about race relations, discrimination, and the power of minorites. And sure, you could read stuff like that into almost anything, but you get the feeling that this is something Coetzee is consciously doing. I think people tended to see Crusoe’s character as a noble thing, that shows the power of the human spirit, etc. Foe challenges that. Does industrious expansion really have that much allure? What about when the island is full, but there are no supplies left? Is it tradition or rather a fear of change? I think that is why this book is brilliant but also easy to hate. It shows characters and things in a way we DON’T want to see them, thereby raising questions about people and the stories they tell.

I mainly think this book is about the power of language. Friday can’t talk, he has no power. Crusoe has power in a place where language is unneccesary, but does not make it to a world of communication. Foe himself creates an entire story, but it is what he makes it, and he has power of Sarah. Something I wonder about is, does the story make the man or does the man make the story? Yeah. I think that is what this book is about. What is more real, the event or the telling of the event.


Primo Levi: Significance of Account

One of the reasons my blog is almost late (but not late) is because Survival in Auschwitz is difficult to analyze. It’s written really well and simply. In one sense,  it was the easiest book to read so far just because it is written a bit more like a traditional novel, rather than the philosophical text type things we been looking at lately. In the sense that it was linear it was easy to read. In terms of subject matter it was definitely not a ‘light romp’, and this is one of the most important subjects of our time to try and understand. That being said, there are so many pieces of Holocaust literature and WW2 is so drilled into our brains from grade 3 onwards that it can seem tired. I understand how horrible that is to say, but often the way we learn about the Holocaust involves numbers that are supposed to shock us, and memorization of certain camps, etc. But when you are forced to memorize numbers, that is just what they become, just numbers. The Holocaust is the tradgedy of human history, and is hard to understand in just numbers. So here is what i’m trying to say: Primo Levi’s story is hard to write about because it is an account, a story. This happens , then this happens. There are no big allegories for me to notice and feel clever about. I can’t break apart metaphors in my blog. That being said, Survival in Auschwitz did a really good job of tapping into the humanness of the Holocaust, which I think is what our brains sometimes miss. It takes something so hugely awful and makes it personal and close. It’s sad, but it’s not just numbers anymore. I’d guess Primo Levi was one of the first people to do this so well, and that makes this book very very important. The Holocaust itself seems so very inhuman, like one big scary machine of our past. But the most important thing to remember about it is that people did it. People did the murdering, made machines of genocide, and people were the ones murdered. It seems like a simple concept but in history class it can be missed. REAL PEOPLE, like us.

Concerning the actual text: Levi presents to us a deconstruction. I get the feeling of a human soul being deconstructed. Taken apart kind of like a machine. And this seems to be separate from the physical body. The death comes afterwards, but first your soul is destroyed. Levi’s writing gives me this impression.

Towards the end we are left with the questions of significance. Yes, we need to remember such a horrible act, but time keeps moving on, and I can only imagine the massive philosophical void that these survivors were left with. ‘All these people died, I have been through hell, but now I will get old and die in a normal world’ Did it really mean anything? What can history do with such an event? It’s a serious question that’s for sure.

What People See vs. What People Know

For now, all I have read of Borges is the 15 short stories Jon assigned. While this is enough to understand the lectures, I get the feeling that in order to fully understand Borges I would need to read all his collected works, and even I then might not have one definitive picture. In a sense it is similar to the Wasteland. Although each story can be read on it’s own the fragments also feel like part of a greater whole. Anyway, what i’m saying is that I still don’t really know who Borges is, or ‘whats his deal’, but I do have some thoughts on his stories. I thought they were really, really interesting.

As a whole: There are definitely recurring themes in almost all these stories. You never really know “the whole story”, and I think that is part of the point. In the story of Hakim, the Masked Leper, or The Man on the Pink Corner, or Circular Ruins, you are led to believe in one reality (e.g. that Hakim is a messiah)  and the last page often does something to dramatically shift this perspective, altering the whole story. I guess this isn’t a new way of writing by any means, and i’m sure that even when Borges was writing the interesting plot twist was already being employed frequently, but there is a way he does it that seems to make a more lasting statement. It’s a tension between what people see, what people tell, and then what people know. I think maybe Borges is cool because instead of combining these three things into one analogous narrative, he can separate then so they work independently. What we see, what we tell, and what we know all gain some distance from each other. It even makes you ask “is there a whole story? Is there any point to knowing a ‘whole story’?” Considering my obsession with seeing things in life as unified, this is an important question.

Circular Ruins was good at asking these questions. Borges was writing about inception long before Hollywood picked up on it’s marketability.  He also can create a lot of premise in a short amount of time. The Traitor and the Hero: more things within things. My favorite story of the ones we had to read was “Library of Babel”. Is this a whole world of some significant metaphor? Perhaps but there was so much in that story, and so many ideas, that I hope we discuss it in class or in the lecture (you listening Jon?)

The last thing I was interested in was the mashing up of cultures. There is imagery of desert plains and battles fought in the name of Allah, and then a Spanish bar fight. In terms of faith, these far off ideas are actually closely related, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition in this work of… collected works.




The Perception of Change

I found The Metamorphosis to be very Kafkaesque, which makes sense I suppose. Although I don’t think stories always need a definitive meaning, it makes it easier for me to write about The Metamorphosis if I figure out some consistent ideas and themes. So here is my main focus for this story: The perception of change, and the difference between mental and physical change. Although I can’t say that these issues were Kafka’s intention points in writing the story, it seems like he makes a lot of interesting statements on these issues throughout.

1. The way we as humans adapt to change. After his drastic transformation, Gregor continues to worry only about what he knows and understands. He gripes about problems he can control, rather than those he can’t deal with or those beyond his power. (such as being an insect) Even after he is fully aware of his buglike nature he still worries primarily about work and money. Maybe i’m reading too much into this, but it seems like humans do this; tend to focus on the trivial and understandable. Is drastic change more acceptable because we have more to compare it to or less?

2. Dissociation of identity. Eventually, Gregor’s sister begins to talk about the bug as being something different from Gregor. His appearance has changed although his mind and narrative seems not to have.  SO, there ends up being a lot here on the MIND VS. PHYSICAL. It once again raises the question of what truly makes a monster; the way they appear, and the fact that they are different, or, the way they think. Gregor’s appearance is a key reason that he loses the support of his family. So what defines identity?Another key factor in this is communication, which seems to create monsters in all our texts. (Well, usually the lack of communication or the warped nature of communication)

3. I think there is a lot more to discuss, but I had this one last weird thought I wanted to share. The story is told to make it seem like Gregor has changed. This might sound crazy, but I found myself wondering in this text: who has really changed? Gregor once asks “was this still my father” and the gentleman lodgers are not surprised to see the monstrous bug as his family. Apart from a described physical change, perhaps this story represents more the change of others, and his obvious disparity is just a sort of ridiculous reference point.

And…. The Yellow Wallpaper.

Not much to say for now, really. I thought it was brilliant. Apparently one of the goals was to make you feel like you are going insane and it surely worked. You think you know what’s going in and whose plot you are following but there is a subtle shift somehow and you aren’t sure anymore. This ties in with the critique on the way mental illness was approached: if you look at it in linear fashion things will warp anyway.

TS Eliot: Fragmented World/Poem

It’s true that we read for plot quite often. It’s all about a good story, and some conflict, and a climax and a resolution. Heck, when I was younger I would sometimes skip the pages with emotional interludes so I could get to the story. I thought I already knew about emotions. I wanted to know what had happened to make so and so sad, not a soliloquy about why so and so was sad. But for me poetry has always been an exception to this, and The Wasteland is without a doubt the most beautiful and intriguing text we have read so far. It combines the beauty of language with the evocativeness of association: I feel like I’ve done all this before, somehow. Anyways, without waxing poetic on the genius of TS Eliot, i’ll point out some things that are a bit more tangible.

I don’t know if i’ll ever really know what this poem is “about”, but I think that is part of the point. Human history is a succesion of desperate attempts to find meaning. I read on Wikipedia that TS Eliot beleived a poem should suit the age it was written in, and that would make a lot of sense considering this was written after the first world war, and people were trying to validate things and give things a purpose. We always do that. If this poem is obscure of fragmented, that is a part of the art of the poem, and a reflection upon what we as a collective population do. The constant allusions only reinforce this idea. This poem is a patchwork, and all these separate patches form a whole. It couldn’t happen with just one patch and one giant patchless blanket could never exist. This comes back to my pseudo-idea about the way we view the world in partitions, and the reasons that’s a bad way to think. Eliot seems to be saying something similar, although it isn’t really in a negative or positive light, it just is. The world is a mix of latin and greek and dialouge and highbrow master narratives.

Let’s talk about feelings. I finished this poem not really sure what it was as a whole, but appreciating the incredible complexity of language AND, an overwhelming feeling of nihilism. It’s a sort of apathy which, again, (sorry) comes back to it’s fragmented nature. Things are deteriorating in this poem. Things are just getting old and that’s what happens, the end. It’s simple and sad, but I think worth all the other parts to see a whole picture. In the end my childish self still really wants to see one whole, simple picture. TS Eliot says that will never happen, sorry.


Freud: Happiness is Contrast, or, Why I Can’t Have A Pool.

Before reading Civilization And Its Discontents I had associated Freud with scary ideas about your subconscious and such. There was a sort of stigma attached to the idea of Freud. I understand that this is but one of his published works, but I found myself agreeing with almost all of his ideas and finding them to be in a far different form then I had expected.

Religion. I’ve struggled a lot with these questions of religion. I’m pretty atheist (no not a pretty atheist, although that is how i’m known in some circles) and have never thought it a good idea to listen to what a diety has to tell you. That being said, I desperately want to believe we as global…globe, are connected somehow. I think we need a way to see that all the biological parts of this world amount to some sort of unified whole, and it has some meaning. I think lots of people feel this way, obviously that’s why there is religion. In any case I really like Freud’s explanation of it. He says that religion is really more of a sense of the oceanic rather than faith. He then explains this oceanic feeling by bringing in the ego. What I got from it was that when we were born our ego was less of an internal entity. It didn’t exist as much, really, because we hadn’t had a chance to develop it. We didn’t think about ourselves in the context of ourselves, we thought of ourselves in context with the rest of the world around us and were therefore more connected to the entire world. Our ego was the world so to speak. This is why we have this nagging feeling of connectedness, and why we build fancy churches to bring us together and such. Is it based in any solid science? No, not really. Does it make a lot of sense? Yeah, I think so.

Other things that Freud said that I liked: We as humans must do something in order to deal with reality, such as gardening. Happiness is an episodic phenomenon…Ah yes, contrasting happiness! That was a fairly cool thought. This idea that all enjoyment or pleasure ever is, is a contrast. We could not experience “goodness” if all we ever had was goodness. It ties in a bit with our “death principle” because we can never stay in the current state of things, we need to create chaos somehow in our lives in order to understand and appreciate peace. This is interesting, especially when applied to a political global theory.

I’m not sure if my mother read a lot of philosophy, or was just a wise woman, but she seems to get to a lot of the points of these philosophers in her motherly advice. When I was little, I wanted to have a pool because my rich friend had one. Our own pool! But my Mom told me I didn’t really want a pool because then I wouldn’t enjoy going to my rich friends house to swim. It wouldn’t be special. BAM. FREUD. Thanks mom.

Jekyll and Hyde: A Fractured Whole

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.


Nietzsche: Problems with Tourists and History

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 and Adam

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!