Hobbes, Leviathan

Five Questions on Leviathan 

1. Hobbes indicates how the state should be ruled in certain ways. But does he mention how people should obey under certain powers/rules?

2. Hobbes has atheistical views in some parts, whereas in other part of the book he emphasizes the power of religious authorities. What is it that he is trying to discuss?

3. Is religion a tool for power?

4. Can a person only be categorized in one of the two parts, “good and evil”? Who makes these judgments? If people are following the rules of God, then does God have a right to enforce human beings between happiness and unhappiness?

5. Is freedom of an individual equaled to an unlimited power of a ruler?


Black Is the New Devil

When I first started reading Leviathan, I had to reread the first lines a couple of times because they just went waaaayyyy over my head. Then, I fell into a trance like state and managed to make it through the rest of the text.

I thought Leviathan was difficult to get through because I felt so emotionally unattached without the presence of any characters. It was as if Hobbes’ was giving me a seemingly never-ending lecture on the mechanics of a human being, almost like a manual or dictionary on every single human quality that one could possess.

It wasn’t until quite a few chapters in that I came upon this quote and had a good chuckle,
“there was nothing which a poet could introduce as a person in him poem, which they did not make either a god or a devil.” (pg. 68)

One interpretation that automatically came to my mind was frequent discussion among us english students as to why everything in short stories, novels, poems, etc. always have to have some sort of deeper level of interpretation, or in Hobbes’ argument, everyone must be good (symbolizing god) or bad (symbolizing the devil). Of course, I do understand that sometimes the signs that point to an object or person’s symbolism and they do hold a deeper level of interpretation. But what these authors really just wanted to say that, “the man was wearing a black shirt”, not because he symbolizes the devil, but because he just had nothing to wear that day except for the black shirt.

That’s all for now! Goodnight everybody.

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Art for art’s sake


Does anyone know of a phenomena called Bengali hour? More commonly known here as Filipino hour, but I’m just saying, South-West Asian people tend to be late for everything.

So, yes, the book at hand, The Master and Margarita, one of my favourite books ever. There’s oodles and oodles to say about this book and I’m going to try and say too much and get muddled up and not say anything, so please bear with me, but first:

Does anyone else think Tim Burton (not current Tim Burton, but like Tim Burton from 1993) should direct a film adaptation of The Master and Margarita? I think the two aesthetics would really jive together.

To try and ham-fist a clever segue from that point about aesthetics; it was brought up in the lecture that The Master and Margarita can be seen as a novel celebrating “art for art’s sake”, which I hadn’t considered before but makes complete sense for me.

I alluded, in a question, to the fact that The Master and Margarita feels much more post-modern than modern to me. The narrator’s voice is distinctly recognizable as a character in its own right that directly addresses the audience, and may in fact be Bulgakov’s voice (or a proxy/caricature of it), which reminds me a lot of Kurt Vonnegut. It moves with a haphazard grace, jumping through time and space and bending the standards of linear chronology (a staple of the post-modern novel), but more than all this; the novel comments, and alludes to (with the tongue placed firmly in the cheek) its own creative process.

The Master is a thinly veiled self-insertion (with a heavy dose of self-deprecation) of Bulgakov himself (Bulgakov referred to his last wife as “my Margarita”), as shown with the manuscript burning incident**. The Master mentions that his novel about Pilate ends with the lines “the fifth Procurator of Judea, the equestrian Pontius Pilate”, and the novel we read ends with those same lines (again, Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five says at the very beginning what words the book starts and ends with; “Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time” and “Poo-tee-weet?” respectively).  This, at least to me, makes me wonder about the delineation between the fictional novel in the novel, and the novel itself; are they one and the same? The questions this raises about the boundaries between fiction and reality, or fiction and fiction (consider that this is a novel reworking a poem and an opera, reworking a play, reworking a legend, which could possibly be reworking reality). Still, this seems like a wry celebration of the very fact of writing the novel, or novels, or writing, in general.

Also, note how almost all the bureaucrats terrorized by Woland are also bureaucrats working in the area of “arts”. The Soviet Constructivist approach to art is mercilessly ridiculed here, with both Riukhin and Homeless declaring their poetry to be complete garbage (and Riukhin seems to understand how poetry actually works so little that he says Pushkin is remembered only through luck!). Bulgakov declares what many before and after him have; Soviet art isn’t art, it’s kitsch, and that this appropriation, this defiling of art seems to be one of the worst sins to commit within the world of The Master and Margarita. Even Koroviev and Behemoth chastise the members of Massolit for not being true writers (quick aside: the song “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones is said to have been inspired by this novel; funny, since it’s both scrawled in my lecture notes and mentioned by Miranda in the lecture). After learning that Bulgakov was forced to stop writing and instead worked as a “consultant” at a Soviet theatre and at TRAM, it’s easy to see where these feelings would stem from.

There’s the very prominent motif of magic. Throughout the novel, the almost fanatical secularism of the USSR is lampooned, to the point where they cannot understand the very obvious acts of the supernatural happening in front of them, but the counterpoint of Pilate and Yeshua’s spiritual connection, and the wonder and transcendence through that relationship, makes the loss of this in the lives of the modern Russians seem very tragic.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, this book feels very un-Russian. It has this anarchic (I think that Bulgakov also seems to imply that the artistic is very Dionysian, as many others have said, and Woland/Satan represents this chaotic nature, thus why his associates discuss the nature of writing and imagination), playful, joyous nature to it that most Russian literature lacks, and it is honestly very, very fun, in the way that makes me remember why I love books and stories and reading. The Master and Margarita is a celebration of the fantastical and the theatrical and the spectacular such as can only be found in art.

**I find it insane that Bulgakov burnt a manuscript of this book and rewrote it. I once lost twenty pages of poetry at a pizza place out in Langley and I can’t remember a lick of what I wrote. It makes me wonder just how much all the great writers and poets of the ages lost or forgot to write down.

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Good Queen Margot

Five (seven) questions on The Master and Margarita.

1. Why is the book organized the way it is? (split narration, different stories)

2. Why is Margarita’s second wish (rather than the first) for the Master? (282-284)

3. Archibald Archibaldovich appears once to bail Koroviev and Behemoth out, and then promptly sets the building they were in on fire. What purpose does he serve? (354-358)

4. Why does the novel end with an epilogue? The rest of the book, as novels usually do, shows what happens. The epilogue is a shift to telling. Why does Bulgakov do this?

5. When Margarita’s husband leaves for a business trip, “no one could prevent her from thinking what she like or dreaming what she liked” (220). What prevents her from doing that when anyone else is around? What does that say about what her married life is like?


I wrote these five before today’s (Wednesday’s) seminar. Here are two more that came up today:


6. Why don’t Margarita and her husband have any children?

7. Why doesn’t the master have a name while Margarita does?


what the devil

So, before I go rambling on:
1. be ready for the rambling. prepare yourself. buckle down. close this tab. whichever.
2. know that I didn’t finish the book. As I write this, I mean. I have a lot more to go. I probably won’t be finished until Friday. Just so you’re aware.
3. I tend to focus on the little things, which is something you’l notice as this post goes on. This is mostly because I haven’t finished the book yet, ha.

Before I read the books on our lovely, long list I usually read a summary of them first. Just to make sure I’m getting the gist of things in terms of theme and other rhetorical blah blah. That being said, here’s what the summaries I read told me about The Master and Margarita.

There are several things at play. Bulgakov weaves in satire and realism, art and religion, and history and contemporary social values. The lecture on Monday gave me a ton of helpful context to better understand the little pieces Bulgakov gives that relate to the Russian society he was living in. There are also three story lines. There’s that of Professor Woland, his assistants, and their shenanigans. (I just used the word shenanigans, what is going on?) That of the Master and his Margarita. And the story of Pontius Pilate and Yeshua. It wasn’t until lecture that I learned that Pilate’s story goes through several reworkings, a fact I find extremely important and interesting, and something I’ll probably read later. Anyway, before I started reading I learned that Pilate’s story would connect the two stories of Professor Woland and the Master. This is probably one of the more interesting aspects of the novel for me. And probably a cool discussion point too; just in terms of how the story of Pilate connects the two, why, the dynamics of each story and how they reflect each other, and so on and so forth.

In all seriousness I can probably realistically blog with full awareness and understanding about the first ten chapters. Excuse me while I weep with self-pity. I shall, however, finish this cursedly thick thing. And learn to love it. Or understand it, at least. It’s interesting so far, I’ll give it that.

Here are some things I picked up as I read. Some of them I tossed around. Some of them were actually relevant. Some of them I had to ditch as I went on because they turned out to not mean what I thought they did.

  • Case in point: the devil’s glinting eye. In his retelling of Pilate’s story Kaifa’s eyes flash and later when the devil finishes the story he says he was there. I briefly entertained the notion that the eye flashing was connected and that the devil was Kaifa (which would have been crazy interesting, btw). Alas, it was not meant to be. So I ditched that observation.

Now for the more promising observations.

  • At first the constant mentioning of “to the devil” and “what the devil” and “how the devil” around said devil was amusing for me. I mean, it still is amusing, but I’m starting to notice that it has more meaning. At first I thought it was Bulgakov throwing in some more irony. But then I started thinking about speech and the power of word and its relation to action (calling back to Antigone anyone?). Much of the pivotal moments in terms of action in this novel start as forms of speech. People seem to invoke the devil just by thinking about him or saying “devil.” Speech and power are related! Eureka! *commence fervid discussion*
  • Will someone please tell me if there’s a symbolism in the sparrow because that blasted little bird keeps showing up and I don’t know much about the spiritual meaning of sparrows. So I kind of just notice it and go “what are you doing here” and keep reading. But it shows up in Pilate’s story and it flies again in The Seventh Proof on page 44. What are you doing in this novel little bird?
  • Another nature element I’m curious about! The sun. And with that comes of course: shadow, light, being blinded and so on. I mostly noticed it in Pilate’s story when Yeshua shied away from the sunlight as it got closer to his feet. What was that about? And then Pilate, who seems to be eternally bothered by his headaches and the heat and then he gets blinded by the sun and guilt and wow, Pilate’s life really sucks doesn’t it? And let’s not forget that moment when Kaifa’s shadow “shrunk to nothing by the lion’s tail” on page 37. Just how small is by the lion’s tail anyway? And my goodness sun, what are you up to?
  • Tiny side note in relation to the sun. There’s an east/west dynamic at play here and I remember reading it, but didn’t mark the page. Story of my life, ugh.
  • Other tiny side note! The diamond triangle? What is that supposed to look like? The first thing that popped up in my head was a Delta. It most likely does not look like a Delta. But it shows up twice in relation to the devil. Is it his symbol or? (I just google imaged it – it does not really look like a Delta, but I’m not entirely crazy because Deltas are, in fact, triangles.

Now onto the little things I pondered about as I read.

  • Ivan and Misha/Mikhail react very differently to the devil. This probably has to do with the fact that Mikhail sees the checkered man before the devil shows up and Ivan does not. But there has to be something else, right? Something I/we don’t necessarily know? What is clear, however, is that their relationship and how the devil affects their lives is connected to this. This then ties in to all the notes I scribbled around how the devil spoke (key word SPOKE) about Mikhail’s death, predicted it and all, and how he implored Mikhail right before he dashed off to believe in the devil. Would Mikhail not have died if he did?
  • This is also the point where I have to say how much you can pull out of Pilate’s story just from the first telling. The things brought up, the relationships that you could dissect! Oh, it’s like candy. But it also needs time. And I should probably read the retellings of Pilate’s story further in the book. So we’ll save that for another blog post.
  • Tiny question: is the seventh proof the devil’s proof? seriously, whose proof is it?
  • When the devil said that he was alone and always alone on page 43 I couldn’t help but wonder about Doctor Faustus there. In Faustus those who pledge their souls to the devil can’t have real lovers or partners, marriages and the like – only concubines and meaningless flings that fill pleasure and distract. Nothing wholehearted and such. Interesting and relevant since this novel is seen as a retelling of the Faust legend. Moving on.
  • My interest in how the sun is mentioned throughout the novel comes in again on the last page of The Seventh Proof. Berlioz sees a “gold-tinged moon” just as he died and I couldn’t help but think of how that would appear like a drained sun in terms of color. And what does it mean to see the sun or the moon? Then there’s the passing of hours and time in the novel. I haven’t really noted each one but eleven kept popping up for a few consecutive chapters so it’s probably something I’ll keep in the back of my mind.
  • I also couldn’t help but relate Ivan’s chase of the professor to be much like that of Polyphemus and Oedipus. Ivan keeps imploring people to find the consultant and send guns after him and catch him, but he seriously forgets that no one knows who the consultant is or what he looks like. So Ivan now has the pleasure of being Polyphemus in my head as he tries to send anyone who will listen to him after Nobody, resulting in people thinking he’s crazy.
  • Oh, and can someone please clear up what happened to Riukhin in the last pages of Schizophrenia, As Was Said because after he says “devil take them!” some really weird stuff starts happening and I’m not sure if I should read into it or not.
  • In the disappearances of the naughty apartment there are technically eight or nine of them. I don’t count Berlioz because he died, he didn’t disappear in the way the rest of them did. And I’m not sure if I should count Grunya because the devil admits to sending her on vacation. The number of disappearances probably isn’t as important as the fact that they’re happening so this point is really just a random musing. Carry on.

Right, okay. I just realized I ran out of observations.
So I wish this could be more cohesive, but it really isn’t. Read the book, self, then it will be.
Thank goodness I don’t have to come up with direct questions just yet. I hope this wasn’t too all over the place if you managed to get all the way to the end without thinking I was a bit insane or something. Let it be noted that I did not proof read this blog post because I’m about to rush off to dinner.
I’m leaving for Walk the Moon in a little over an hour so I wanted to get this typed out and up. Me going to a concert also means I will not be fully functional tomorrow. Oh joy.

Villains in Arts One Litterature

Recently I got a chance to read the newest book by one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman. He’s generally writes creative non-fiction with a heavy emphasis on culture studies. His newest work, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Read and Imagined), explores how some villains and bad guys are depicted fictionally, but spends more time on how we treat/think about/craft real people publicly deemed to be “evil” (see: O.J. Simpson, Newt Gingrich, N.W.A.).

As the name might suggest, Klosterman also explores his own relation to villains. The preface closes with a conversation between Klosterman and his editor in which his editor suggests that Klosterman is writing the book because he’s concerned that he himself is a villainous person. Klosterman sort of addresses his editors suggestion at the end of the novel.

The Arts One texts I read while working my way through I Wear the Black Hat led to a kind of blending of ideas. Klosterman’s thesis is that a true villain is someone who knows the most but cares the least.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to apply Klosterman’s ideas to the villains we’ve encountered so far in the Arts One readings.

The villain in Genesis is kind of hard to pin down. The snake is probably the more obvious villain, however the entire story casts quite a bit of light on Klosterman’s theory The snake certainly knows quite a bit; he knows that the fruit from the tree in the center of the garden will grant Adam and Eve great power, but also that it will come at a price. He definitely cares the least in the story, showing little remorse in convincing Eve to eat the fruit. Inevitably, Adam and Eve gain the power of knowledge, and therefor the ability to be a villain – in some ways, Klosterman’s view falls within a very Christian notion of ethics.

Kreon, most likely the villain of Antigone’s speaks an awful lot to the structure of power and our own fear of radical change. He also fits very snugly into Klosterman’s criteria. He’s aware that Antigone is his niece, he’s aware that his son Haimond loves Antigone, and he’s aware of the laws restricting and supporting Antigone’s burial, but he cares the least, up until Tiresias’ prophecy at least. At the same time, Kreon’s position as upholder of state laws forces us to re-asses our allegiances to and faith in government.

The Devil, as presented in Dr. Faustus and The Master and the Margarita, is a far more complex character to work with, and I’ll touch on him just briefly. There are some definite inconsistencies between the character in the two plays, however I think that both are intrinsically linked to knowledge, and knowing. On the side of caring, the Devil in Dr. Faustus is more than a tool of Faustus’ moral transgressions than anything else. The Devil in The Master and The Margarita is incredibly interesting to me because he doesn’t seem to really do anything particularly bad: he predicts a death, but its ambiguous as to whether he causes it, he fools a lot of people, however its mostly their own greed that clouds their vision to the trickery, and it seems as though he’s actually punishing them for that. It’s difficult to call such a character a villain, and I think he’s outside of Klosterman’s criteria, because he’s a tool for a critique of Stalinism.

More important than the criteria for a villain, I Wear the Black Hat gathers significance in the literary realm in the way that Klosterman describe his own psychological interactions with villainy. Throughout the book, he argues that the way we think about villains says a lot more about us than we care to admit.

This brought me to explore the idea of a sort of “methodology of the villain” – by reading a text through the presentation and interactions of the villain, we can gather a very significant amount of meaning. This is a methodology I hope to employ (maybe half-seriously? I’m not sure how seriously I take this idea yet to be honest) in future readings for Arts One.

Discussion Questions

Miranda’s lecture today honestly covered a lot of the questions that were floating around my head while reading The Master and Margarita. Regardless, here are a few discussion questions.

1. I’m not sure if anyone picked up on this, but i noticed that there was the mention of several types of birds throughout the course of the novel, such as the sparrow in the tale of Pontius Pilate and Margarita calling herself an owl while sitting on the bench just to name a few. So my question is: how do the appearance of these birds contribute to the text in any way? I haven’t figured it out yet myself, so I am curious as to what the rest of you may think about this.

1b. On a similar note, do the mention of the other animals, besides Behemoth, in the book play significance to the plot? Why does Bulgakov use animal characteristics to describe humans and objects? (the frogs, the hog, the candelabrum with branches in the form of snakes)

2. In a discussion about the text so some other members of other seminar groups, someone pointed out that the characters in the book all had several names in which they were referred to. Sometimes they would be addressed as their occupation, their first names or their last names (or maybe their nicknames? Yes, I’m referring to “Homeless”). Why does Bulgakov decide to address the same characters with different names in the same passages? 

3. In a couple sections in the book, it hints at a potential maternal curiosity in Margarita. When Margarita sees the little boy in the window, why does she take the time to stop and comfort him in the midst of the chaos? Why does Margarita show interest in the story about the infant and the handkerchief?

4. Why does a select number of characters use the phrase, “God knows”, while the rest of the characters address the devil instead?

Sorry for the delay! I didn’t realize this was set on private until now…


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Dr. Faustus, I presume?

Let’s all just pretend this wasn’t uploaded as late as it was. Faustus really is a fantastic play though. I’d love to stage it someday. Anyway, without further delay, here are my questions for Faustus:

1. What purpose does Marlowe’s constant self-parody in the play serve? (Referring to the juxtaposition of dramatic scenes/comedic scenes and their mirror relationship)

2. How are Wagner and (especially) Robin and Ralph able to use the black magic which Faustus had to sell his soul to obtain?

3. Related to the above; the use of books as containing knowledge, often fatal knowledge, is a prevalent image in Faustus. Does the play adopt a pro or anti-print stance (particularly regarding the dissemination of books)?

4. Of Faustus himself, not much is known at the beginning, apart from his intelligence and his base birth. How do particular presumptions of Faustus inform our understanding of his actions? Does our understanding of Faustus’ actions change because we know he is of base birth? Does our understanding of Faustus’ actions change if we presume him to be young? Old?

5. The play, after Faustus’ contract with the devil, does not have the clearest sense of chronology. How do Faustus’ attitudes at the end of the play compare to his attitudes at the beginning of the play? His relationship with Mephistophilis? What happened in the sections of the 24 years we did not see?

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