English 220 Blog post – Beowulf

This is really really late, but it’s been a while since I have been able to sit and reflect about Beowulf.  Given my essay on Beowulf is coming out… tomorrow or within a week, I best get this down before I reword my response.

Surprisingly enough, when writing the Beowulf essay, I honestly didn’t expect it to be easy to get to 1200 words.  I mean 8 lines, on Hrunting’s description, what could I possibly get out of that?

Welllp I ended up having to severely reduce my word count.  It was quite hilarious towards the end where I ended up squeezing words out as tightly as possible.   And I must say, my respect for Seamus Heaney and the poet (Skols?  Poets?  gets confusing since its been recomposed so many times) has gone up.  the deliberation that is in the poem to create just a weapon… astounds me.  Its almost as if Hrunting was an actual character in the story.  Not to mention I really found myself taken back into the moment, the time and the period, as I read the text closely.

All in all, I quite liked Beowulf.  Although I had some issues with it, it was nice to re-read this epic even closer and write another essay on it.

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“Kafka and His Precursors”


Jorge Luis Borges’s “Kafka and His Precursors” begins oddly: “I once premeditated making a study of Kafka’s precursors.” The use of the verb “premeditate” is odd enough, in the Spanish (“Yo premedité alguna vez”) as much as in the English, not least because it is most usually found in juridical discourse: a premeditated crime is one that is considered and planned in advance, as opposed to a crime of passion or an outburst in the heat of the moment. This strange invocation of legal discourse might suggest that some wrong-doing is afoot, or that we are hearing some kind of confession. And yet–and this is the second strange aspect of Borges’s opening gambit–it is also suggested that the crime was never committed. “I once premeditated making a study” implies that the study remained unwritten or unmade; it was only planned. We have the guilty mind (mens rea) but not the guilty act (actus reus). The crime was averted, perhaps because some flaw was found in what was otherwise a perfect plan.

But this then leaves us asking ourselves about the status of the text that we have before us, which (as the title promises and as further readings confirms) turns out to concern precisely the topic of the projected but unwritten or abandoned study: “Kafka and His Precursors.” Yet if this is not that study (perhaps because it is too short, incomplete), nor is it the premeditation of that study: at best it is an account of that premeditation, a summary and reflection upon the preparatory “notes” that would have aided in the writing itself. It is an intervention between the plan and its execution, between intention and act.

In short, the text that we have here is perhaps triply parasitic, or three-times removed from its ostensible object: it is the summary of notes towards a study of Kafka and his precursors. It is also strangely located in time: it is the reflection on a plan in the past to write a study that is still unwritten (and so is postponed to the indefinite future) about a now-dead author and his precursors that (we soon find) proceeds by enumerating them “in chronological order,” beginning with the most far-distant.

As often in Borges, the part mimics the whole or (perhaps better) we find an almost fractal arrangement in which patterns are repeated at various orders of magnitude, albeit to produce less the comfort of familiarity than a vertiginous sense of the uncanny and a shattering of logic. Elsewhere, we see this effect in his description of the “aleph,” a shimmering ball (found in the banal surroundings of a Buenos Aires basement) that contains within itself the entire universe. But Borges also suggests that such apparent oddities (or impossibilities) are remarkably common, even quotidian: think long and hard about anything, and it soon becomes (or is revealed to be) an aleph of its own. Here, these opening lines anticipate the central problematic of the essay itself, which is about the ways in which texts are related and how strange fissures or reversals upset linear temporality, just as it in turn makes (or unmakes) its point through performance as much as through argument or exposition: for this text about Kafka and his precursors is in its own way about Borges and his precursors and in it Borges himself rewrites our collective past and disturbs our conceptions of sequence and priority.

Finally, if what Borges is ultimately saying is that a writer (that writing) has the strange power to intervene in history, to remake or remodel the past just as Kafka creates his own precursors (by making us see an otherwise disparate collection of historical texts as oddly “Kafkaesque” avant la lettre), he is also unabashedly claiming that there is nothing new in this notion. This observation precedes Borges and this text, and so confirms (what is now) his repetition of what can present itself as an established fact. For in another detail, a footnote–a classic paratext or parasite, neither fully part of nor fully detached from the text itself–draws our attention to T S Eliot’s Points of View, whose very title in this context becomes simultaneously uncanny and revelatory. After all, is this entire essay not about “points of view,” and the ways in which they are constructed, obscured, or undermined?

In a rather good essay on Joyce and Borges Patricia Novillo-Corvalán, whom I am here myself copying or appropriating to some extent, notes that “Eliot postulates an aesthetic principle, through which writers are not read in isolation, but as part of a living tradition in which the new alters the old, the present modifies the past and, as a result, texts are continually re-valued from the perspective of subsequent texts” (60). And Rex Butler’s “Everything and Nothing” points out that what makes Borges original–what makes the greatest authors the most original–is precisely the fact that they “can actually appear unoriginal, to add nothing to literature, to repeat what has already been written” (134).

At which point, as I observe that I in turn am in large part simply “repeat[ing] what has already been written,” remaking and remodeling it for my own purposes, creating precursors who sadly are not quite as disparate (or quite as unpredictable) as those of Borges and Kafka, perhaps it’s time to stop what is after all only a first approach to these issues. It’s time to end, in other words, so that we can at last begin.

Borges, Hernandez, Arlt

From the beginning of “The Daisy Dolls” I felt it was pretty clear how crazy the story was going to be. The way things were laid out, though, I was expecting it to be one of those short stories where everything makes enough sense, initially, then at the end it’s revealed how completely insane the situation is. Besides that, I found the entire story quite confusing. It’s unclear where exactly the machines are, what they’re for, if they’re for making the dolls… And the whole thing with his shop. It’s mentioned briefly in the beginning how he has salesgirls in his “shop”, but then it’s never brought up again, like he doesn’t go back. And it almost seems like Frank could be working for him at the shop, but that is also unclear. The ending was not unexpected though. It seemed obvious that his affection for the dolls would wear off, because really, they don’t do anything. It must be exhausting taking care of them. You have to lug them around like a sack of potatoes, pretending that they’re real, dress them, and refill their hot water all the time. Seems like a lot of effort to me. Anyways, I liked the story well enough, just the details bothered me with their complete lack of clarity.

With “The Cooked Cat”, I thought the characters were really special. I couldn’t point out one of them that seemed completely normal. The husband is angry his wife went to the “dentist”. Not that anyone is believing that, but they all seem so strange. There’s the guy who’s consciously trying to make the other feel bad, by counting out his money on the counter right in front of him. The ending really fits with the character of the story. Completely strange, but not unexpected.

Borges has quite an imagination as well in his short stories. The Lottery of Babel was my favourite. It’s such a great conspiracy. The ending is really great, because it’s the kind that makes you question the rest of the story and what you assumed was true. I thought it was great how ludicrous it became. It was ingenious putting the negative side into the lottery and the myriad of punishments and how you could even choose your punishment for someone else sometimes. The fact that pretty much everybody played was confusing, but also added to the story. Just crazy good.

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The Metamorphosis, The Yellow Wallpaper

I’ve never really liked “The Metamorphosis”, probably because he becomes a disgusting cockroach-beetle thing, but also because I could never figure out how I felt about Gregor. On the one hand, he’s an idiot and his family takes advantage of that, living off of him, siphoning off money, locking him in his room, throwing apples at him, and he still thinks the best of them. On the other, he’s really just trying to be a good breadwinner for his family, and maybe a bit slow to not realize they’re actually quite hostile towards him, especially near the end. It may also be that none of the characters are likeable, they’re all very horrid. Grete puts on a brave face at first and tends to Gregor, which is nice, but she slowly develops resentment towards him. It seems that this occurs when she gives up hope he will return to being human. The mother is annoyingly fragile. The first thing she does when she sees bug-Gregor for the first time is silly, she faints. The whole women-fainting-because-they’re-delicate-and-fragile thing has just gotten irritating. Then, there’s the dad, who’s just selfish. He throws apples at his own son and lets them rot in his back. He’s also really disgruntled when he finally has to get off of his chair and out of his pajamas to go out and work. All in all, it’s a very depressing story, and I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

I liked “The Yellow Wallpaper” a great deal more. It has just the right mixture of sanity in the beginning and insanity for the end. It was written very well with the details. The yellow wallpaper is mentioned very subtly to start, and then the obsession develops, but the progression was really great. I’m not concerned with if she’s crazy or not when she’s creeping at the conclusion, but I am disappointed she remained stuck to the wallpaper, not even leaving the house. I was hoping that as her anger towards John grew, so would her craving to escape. It feels like a hollow victory. Yes, she’s finally defied John, but she still remains in his grasp. When he wakes from his faint, he will regain control of her, though probably not her mind, and she will be admitted to a psych ward. Really cool story, though.

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This wasn’t my first time reading Frankenstein, and I still love it. I found that the exact era where this was written had the perfect language. It’s not of the modern world with our lack of elegance in diction, but it’s not so far back that I need a dictionary to understand it, like with Shakespeare, where it’s completely ludicrous and pompous. I’ve always liked the different ways Shelley conveys the story, like with the letters to his sister, and the complex dialogue within narrative within letters. I’ve also always thought that Frankenstein should have made the monster a mate. Considering Frankenstein was supposed to be some sort of expert within his respective fields, I figured that he could have made a mate without reproductive abilities. He simply doesn’t think out the logistics too carefully, so that he even destroys the second monster partway through construction. It just seems that Frankenstein is altogether too rash and irresponsible. He never thinks things through or asks the right questions. He blames his father for telling him something was rubbish, instead of explaining that the scientist’s theories had been disproved. However, little Victor could have asked why. He always lays the blame on someone else. It’s his father’s fault he wasted his time on the scientist, it’s the monster’s fault that his brother is dead, that he’s miserable etc. He fails to consider that it’s really his fault for creating the monster and consequently running away. Victor is also so convinced of his righteousness he conveys it to Robert Walton on the ship. Then, later, when the monster arrives, Walton is completely convinced the words that speaks the monster are all lies, no matter how eloquent. It seems that Victor Frankenstein has surrounded himself with great people and taken advantage of their trust in him. His innocent little brother is killed, Justine is hanged, Elizabeth, after she marries him while he knows the monster’s threat to her, is also killed, poor Clerval, a great, loyal friend, is murdered as well. Finally, though Walton lives, Victor fills his head with his own truth, which remains warped and biased. Though Victor is a horrible man, it remains a great novel in my eyes.

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This was the first novel I was actually completely stoked to read. Before I started reading Watchmen, I was expecting a relatively fast read, like a darker Archie comic. I soon realized how wrong I was. When I first began reading, from all the books and texts from arts one, I went into an automatic reading mode, and for the first few pages I almost completely forgot about all the pictures, and the significance they could potentially hold. Once I started looking at both the text and the pictures, it got better and better. This was definitely, by far, the best selection from arts one. Considering I had seen the movie already, I knew very little of what was happening, or where things were going. Apparently the only thing I really remember very well is the Rorschach blots on the mask and how they moved. That’s the one thing I can say the movie improved upon. The rest, well, I don’t really remember. So, as I read I didn’t realize Ozymandias was going to blow up New York City, that was a surprise bonus. However, it seemed a bit lengthy getting to the whole plot to save the world, there was a huge amount of build-up, especially where not too much happened. I did love this graphic novel, but that was one bit I found a bit tedious. The rest was amazing. The drawings were pretty cool, and I love that Adrian Veidt blows everyone up. Though some people think that what he did was wrong, I definitely think he was the hero. Rorschach has his morals which he sticks to, and that works for him, but he really never accomplishes much past the petty criminals. Ozymandias saves the world from nuclear war. I just think that the hero is the guy that gets it done. Not necessarily the best guy, and he now has enemies in Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl and those guys, but he did save humanity from itself, which is pretty impressive. In any case, I thought this graphic novel is worth the hype. The illustrations are great, the storyline is cool, and I’m glad I finally read it and know what’s going on.

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I really enjoyed reading Foe overall, but I can completely see why some people here may have not enjoyed it so much.

It doesn’t lend itself to explaining certain aspects when it needs to – instead of clarifying certain back stories and messages at times, the text decides to include pointless details and troubling narrative scenarios (do we really need to know that Susan thinks Friday is incompetent every couple pages? Was it not apparent within the first section to the reader?).

However, for me at least, it was far from a dull read. I love the fragments it is broken into – the first being a recounting of life after Susan’s fateful crash on the island, the second being notes to Foe, some of which do not make it, the third being some deeper insight into the contrast between the orator (Susan) and the writer (Foe) and what the fate of her story shall become, and the fourth being some (this is what I gathered from it, anyways) subtle description of Susan murdering Friday, and then offing herself (?).

None of these segments dragged in particular at all, and thankfully the third segment ended with the closest thing as possible to a conclusion – with Foe and Susan engaging sexually for the first time and a glimmer of hope for Friday in terms of writing. Which is perhaps why I so easily dismiss part IV – sure, it left me confused, even after 5-6 re-reads, but the Coetzee seems to ultimately recognize it as an epilogue, full of metaphors and confusing imagery, but at the end of the day, not necessary in affecting the outcomes of any of the characters’ story arches.

One last thing to get off my chest, and perhaps this bugged me the most – when Susan was on the island, with Cruso still alive, she essentially attested to having intercourse with him solely on a purpose of what seems like pity – sympathizing with his loneliness almost entirely as a reason. Maybe women in this seminar could help me clarify this – surely I have never met a man who engaged in intercourse out of pity for his partner…

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I’ll get this off my chest first – why an alien, Veidt? I think the movie had it better (it is just an explosion – mind you not near as horrific as the comic book’s depiction).


So Watchmen is at heart, a graphic novel, which seems to be an increasingly popular medium for literature on a global scale. Personally I found that Watchmen’s story couldn’t have been told as well in a typical piece of prose. If the picture-only panels were instead replaced with text, and the combining panels of both text and images replaced with slightly more text, I feel that the text would not rise above the ordinary. So much of this piece, in my opinion, owes credit to the text. Specifically the beginning of Chapter 12, which are solely pictures of countless dead bodies and destroyed landscapes. To this day, something which not even Survival in Auschwitz could capture (despite how great it was), I have yet to read text which can encapsulate the feeling of pure trauma. It seems most novelists try to deal with the impact of trauma by simply mimicking its forms and symptoms, side-showing temporality and chronology, and offering repetitive narratives. Watchmen has many more ways to do this because it is a graphic novel, and has access to many stylistic options – such as disregarding it’s conventional 9-panel grid and replacing the first few pages of Chapter 12 with just full panel pictures. Instead of confusing the reader, which seems to unfortunately result from most prose fiction writers trying to create trauma through solely means of text, graphic novels have the capability to switch in and out of essentially movie like techniques – framing, wide-angle shots, fragmented narratives – all whilst still making sense.

Other than that, the drawings are really good, and that just helps you better envision the world of Watchmen. There are a ton of easter eggs and symmetrical images in the text that you would not be able to subtly include in a plain text.

I liked it a lot overall. Also it was probably the first book in this course I read 3 times over….

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After not really enjoying “Foe”, reading “Watchmen” was what I needed. A classic comic book tale to sweep me away and let me wander through this eerily similar yet vastly different world created by Alan Moore. I’d already read most of “Watchmen” in the far past, and had already seen the movie, so I had a very clear idea of the events to come, yet I didn’t expect to get so caught up in the little things in this reading through. I spent way too long looking at the backgrounds of panels, just observing the world which was so meticulously created. I relished at finding hidden and cut off newspaper headlines which gave a bit more life to the dark painting of Nixon New York the characters inhabit. Hell, I even read all of the segments in between the chapters, something I wouldn’t have even fathomed as a kid.

Part of the reason I like “Watchmen” so much is the characters in the story. It sounds incredibly generic and overheard, but I enjoyed “Watchmen” mostly due to characters like Rorschach, The Comedian, and especially Bernie and Bernard (the kid and the man of the newstand). Funnily enough, all the characters I really felt connected to ended up dying in some way. I mention the characters because I feel like this is where a lot of “Watchmen”‘s beauty lies. I really can’t recall any comic book or even book/novel which had this many dynamic and interesting characters. The reader is constantly getting to know different characters better in these constantly connected interactions. Interactions which not only give context to the character, but are also linked to the main story, and give the whole world context.

Maybe this is something people might dislike about the book. I could see it being a bit of a jumbled mess if you don’t have the patience and time to sift through the endless narration of “The Black Freighter”, wondering why a crazy survivor/pirate story is constantly coming back. But it’s like any sort of world you can get lost in, similar to Star Wars, Star Trek, or any other similar franchise which has an incredibly detailed world and characters to get lost within.

Perhaps part of the reason I enjoy reading “Watchmen” so much is because it naturally divides opinion. There are those who believe Veidt is the true protagonist and saviour, yet upon closer inspection nobody is able to be a proper hero within the story. Veidt lies to the world, kills half of New York (including The Comedian, and many of the minor characters in the city of New York the reader grows to love), all in a crazy plan to restore peace. He even goes so far as to try to destroy Dr. Manhattan! Is this what a hero looks like to you? But the alternatives are just as morose, with the wild Rorschach as the other main choice. A vicious man who lives with no regrets, constantly searching for truth and righteousness. That is my hero.

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Reading “Foe” took me directly back to when I was a child, and my parents forced me (didn’t let me read other books until I finished this one) to read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. While I look back on the past today surely acknowledging the masterful writing of Mark Twain (especially because my father has a large portrait of him in the living room), even today I can’t bear to even think about “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. It’s not that “Foe” is a book I immediately disliked for any particular reason, it’s just that it came exactly at the wrong time for me.

The reason that I didn’t like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” as a kid was because I often had a fat stack of Calvin and Hobbes comics waiting for me at the finish line. It’s remarkable how much the modern day case of “Foe” resembles this. After having just read one of my favorite (if not my definite favorite) book of the course by Primo Levi, and with “Watchmen” coming up right after, “Foe” seemed like an awfully misplaced book in this part of the year (especially for someone with very little self initiative and directive towards schoolwork). I would constantly be taking sneakpeaks at what was ahead, or thinking of reading a chapter of Primo Levi through again rather than simply reading Foe. On top of it all, I was in Los Angeles vacationing and working, so the story told by J.M. Coetzee was even more detached from my thoughts. It was a suffering existence of not properly getting immersed in the book, and truly not enjoying any part of it.

I just couldn’t handle the story, I didn’t like the way Coetzee meshed these worlds together, trying to be very artistic and fancy (changing names of characters etc.) when maybe just making up a totally new story would’ve been easier on everyone. Maybe a lot of my frustration with the book culminated when I read the final chapter. By then I had already been toyed with enough by Coetzee, and I simply wanted a resolution to this story I could not immerse myself within. Instead, the last few pages are nothing but a stacking up of things which bothered me about the whole book! Constantly trying to be overly artistic and perhaps impart some deeper meaning to the reader with a final chapter filled with (somehow) connected symbols and motifs which did not satisfy me or change my opinion of the book for the better.

While I’m sure “Foe” must be respected for the writing and maybe even for the story, but just like Mark Twain’s famous novel, it came at the wrong time and was never able to leave an imparting impression upon me.

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