Weimar Cinema

A bit late, but finally here is my last blog post of the year – it’s been a long journey, with both ups and downs, but it was a fun one and undoubtedly a great experience.

Now, onto Weimar Cinema.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1921). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

The expressionist films of the Weimar period are renowned for their visuals and dramatic tension, which was a result of attempting to compensate for the films’ lack of words and dialogue. Notably, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari directed by Robert Wiene features a unique, twisted set design, and exemplifies the dark, brooding atmosphere that is often found in films of this era.

The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari Lobby card (1920). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

The town in which the film is set in is all sort of distorted – the buildings are jagged, curved, and defy the laws of physics, the people drift aimlessly down the carnival, in a strange perspective, and the darkness clashes with light at every turn. A scene in which all of the set elements come into their greatest degree of influence is the film’s climax: Cesare, controlled by Dr. Caligari, sneaks through the night to kidnap Francis’ fiancee. The woman is lying vulnerable in a bed of pure white; the insomniac creeps through the windows, surrounded by a shroud of darkness, and flanked by the jagged pillars next to his entrance. As he approaches, his dark figure merges with the background, and it is as though the shadows themselves are encroaching upon the unprotected damsel. Here, the set design is not only laden with symbolic meaning, but is also a huge part of what makes the scene so dramatic.


Buddha Statue at Dawn (2009). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.


Given my interest in reading manga, I was excited to know that we would have the chance to read and discuss Buddha, a work by the famed manga artist Osamu Tezuka. Although I knew the work would be touching on themes much more mature than those generally from that era of manga (which tended to be geared towards younger audiences), I was not sure what entirely to expect. I can now say that I was quite pleasantly surprised on how many interesting parallels between this work and the others we had read this year could be drawn.

While Tezuka’s work does not nearly approach the deep and philosophical questioning that is now occasionally found in some modern works, he masterfully weaves complex ideas into the entertaining medium of what was then children’s literature – while keeping the book humourous and easy to read, he explores many mature themes such as death, sexuality, social class, and the validity of religion. Throughout the novel, the brahmins’ religious legitimacy is questioned, and the class system seriously threatened by the controversy of Chapra’s position in the army and society. While in the end the rigidity of tradition and caste ends up banishing Chapra and ultimately takes his life, he poses a final challenge to the brahmin council:

“And so who decided it had to be that way? People? Or was it the gods?” (374)

Here, Chapra is not only defying his own fate, but the basis of Indian (and human) society – what is the right of humans to decide the rights of others? Who is the hand that writes fate – mere mortals, or a higher power? What is the meaning of belief, if all it benefits is a select few?

City of Glass

Strangely enough, Auster’s City of Glass was quite possibly my favourite novel this entire year. It was weird, confusing, at times disturbing – but surprisingly relatable. Quinn, a writer without any goals, wandering aimlessly, finding himself everywhere yet nowhere. He finds himself in reality, yet at the same time, does not see himself as real.

Despite the narration being in third person, and the aloofness of the character, I found that in the novel, Quinn was still a sympathetic and somewhat understandable character (for most of the book). On the other hand, I found myself much more detached from the story, and much more distant from the Quinn that was being portrayed. Yet perhaps that is what makes this book so fascinating to me – the variety of interpretations the story can have, and the characters that are so strange that their personalities are almost shifting and malleable. I do not see either graphic novels or conventional literature to be a “superior form” – rather, in this blog post, I will try and explain how these mediums shaped my own interpretation so differently.

New York City – From the roof (2007). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

“My name is Peter Stillman. Perhaps you have heard of me, but more than likely not. No matter. That is not my real name. My real name I cannot remember. Excuse me. Not that it makes a difference. That is to say, anymore.” (Auster 27)

Perhaps the most drastic change of perspective I had when I moved on to the graphic novel was the depictions of the characters, especially that of Peter Stillman (Jr.). While in the novel form, Peter was undoubtedly a strange and mentally troubled figure, it was when he was drawn in the graphic novel that I truly felt the sense of being disturbed. From page 15 – 23 in the graphic novel, Peter’s “speech” is depicted, yet in a much different fashion from the novel. Each page is drawn in a symmetrical 9-panel layout, at first depicting Peter, staring, unmoving. After the first page the scene shifts to numerous objects and figures, sharing the same theme, with each speech bubble apparently being sourced from an inanimate object. Instead of having just Peter’s broken speech, and leaving the imagery to the reader’s imagination, the graphic novel uses this symbolism to perhaps portray Peter as one of these broken, unmoving objects, comparing him to these strange things which should not have a voice.

On the subject of 9-panel layouts, a realization dawned upon me as I looked upon page 37 of the graphic novel: the symmetry and geometric layout of each of the panels, and formation of the panels to create a larger scene, gives the perfect impression of a window. Here, we stare into Quinn’s home, these private quarters, where he is vulnerably naked and holding his head in frustration. Although the panels can still be read from left to right, and the papers in each panel are aligned in that order, it appears to be a larger scene, and the shape of the page completely resembles a window frame. Up until this page, I had been wondering about the precise geometric shapes, and the odd panel layout of the graphic novel, but it was not until this page that it hit me – each page is a window into Quinn’s life, another surface in the “City of Glass”. Although we may seem to be told all the details of the story, the novel is merely a frame, a glimpse of the bigger picture that we cannot understand. At the same time, Quinn’s character becomes increasingly more alienated from both us and the real world: the transparent layer of glass forces us to stay on the outside of the story, unable to connect to his mind, and unable to understand the book’s strange mystery. It is almost as though we are no longer readers – we are merely viewers, confronted with our own isolation.

And after all this time, I still feel as though I have merely scratched the surface of the book…City of Glass was an intriguing novel indeed.


Toni Morrison is actually one of the authors I am somewhat familiar with – I had read and analyzed Sula, another one of her works, back in highschool. While Sula was much different than Jazz in terms of writing style and narrative form, it dealt with many of the same themes: the urbanization of the country, the radical shifts in ideas and identity, and the development of the African-American lifestyle. What I found most interesting in Jazz which I had not encountered in Sula was Morrison’s use of the narrative voice: instead of the third-person narration that was used in Sula, the narrator in Jazz seems to be much more connected with the characters, and even occasionally switches to the characters’ perspectives.

File:Adi Holzer Werksverzeichnis 899 Satchmo (Louis Armstrong).jpg

Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) (2002). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

The perspective of the narration in Sula tended to be a very distanced view from the characters of the plot, with numerous references to the view of other townsfolk, and mentions of gossip and the image of the main characters in the eyes of their society. Jazz also seems to do this, albeit in a very different way – the opinions given are that of the narrator himself/herself, instead of a general comment by neighbors.

“This notion of rest, it’s attractive to her, but I don’t think she would like it. They are all like that, these women. Waiting for the ease, the space that need not be filled with anything other than the drift of their own thoughts. But they wouldn’t like it. They are busy and thinking of ways to be busier because such a space of nothing pressing to do would knock them down.” (16)

The narrator assumes that he/she knows these women, and gives his/her opinion on them – without providing any evidence of how she obtained her knowledge. While there would have been little problem had the narrator shown himself/herself as an omniscient narrator, there is little to show that he/she actually does know of the minds of these characters. In fact, there seems to be more evidence leading to the opposite conclusion: the narrator is just another character of the town, and makes assumptions of the other characters’ lives as opposed to truly knowing about them. The narrator often presents himself/herself in this way:

“Joe probably thinks that the song is about him. He’d like believing it. I know him so well. Have seen him feed small animals nobody else paid any attention to, but I was never deceived.” (119)

Here the narrator presents himself/herself as not only an interconnected character, but as a well-knowing acquaintance – even though he/she never reveals how or in what nature he/she obtains this information. While this does give us a perspective that is possibly more well-knowing of the characters, thus increasing the reader’s personal connection to the events in the story, the narrator’s position as trustworthy becomes even more doubtful.

Sorry for the late post!

Lieutenant Gustl

The final German short story (and final text of the term) that we read was “Lieutenant Gustl” by Arthur Schnitzler, also in Appelbaum’s Five Great German Short Stories.

Arthur Schnitzler Lieutenant Gustl (1901). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

-Contradictions in the train of thought

While pondering his planned suicide, Gustl ironically questions the motives of those who commit suicide, declaring that it is “unbelievable, the things people shoot themselves over! How can people be jealous, anyhow” (133). At the same time, he decides that suicide is the only possible course of action, and reveals his jealousy at both Steffi’s unloyalty and his previous self, before the whole incident: “What a fortunate person I was an hour ago…Then Kopetzky had to go and give me the ticket – and Steffi had to stand me up, the slut” (125). Gustl makes numerous other contradictions, possibly pointing to the insecurity of his state of mind, and his confusion on what to do or believe in. Contradictions and the changing stances of one’s mind (at least for me) is common in the train of thought, and I wonder if Schnitzler created these contradictions in thinking to mirror our own strange streams of consciousness?

-Exposing anti-Semitism through the eyes of a perpetrator of anti-Semitism

According to the editor’s introduction, Schnitzler encountered many problems being Jewish during his life in Austria. I found it interesting how, instead of exposing injustice against Jewish people, the short story is written in the perspective of a man who clearly does not like them. Early in the story, Gustl idly ponders the foolishness of his girlfriend’s lover, claiming that “he didn’t notice a thing-unbelievable! Anyway, he must be a Jew! Sure, he works in a bank, and that black mustache…” (109). Not only does he perpetrate a Jewish stereotype, he makes bold and clearly anti-Semitic statements against him. As he realizes that the man may also be ” a lieutenant in the reserve”, he muses that “he’d better not come to my  regiment on active duty! And anyway, why do they always make so many Jews officers – all that talk about anti-Semitism is just a story!” (109). While claiming that anti-Semitism is “just a story”, he simultaneously hopes that the man will never visit his regiment, and complains about the abundance of Jewish officers. Similarly, he mentions that the “Mannheimers” are “Jews themselves, converted, of course…”, but notes to himself that their good looks are surprising: “you can’t tell by looking at them – especially the woman…so blonde, her figure pretty as a picture…” (109).

-Meaningless story? Or is it through lack of meaning that we achieve meaning?

The story of “Lieutenant Gustl” seems very circular and pointless and the entire conflict which defines the plot seems almost meaningless. The soldier is struck with a debate within his mind about whether or not to kill himself after being “dishonored” by a baker. Although this seemingly pointless cause for suicide is later shown to be grounded in some reason, due to the harsh expectations of military society, to me it still appeared a very trivial matter, and not enough to ponder with the amount of self-loathing and self-pity that Gustl brings up. By the end of the story, the baker is revealed to have died of a stroke, and Gustl returns to his old life – energetic, full of confidence, and just as arrogant as before. The story and the personality of the lieutenant seems to have progressed nowhere, and it makes one wonder if there was truly any meaning to his wondering at all. At the same time, much has been revealed of Gustl’s character, which would have been obscure had the event with the baker not occurred. Perhaps the absence of development and his return to his egotistical personality is a testament to the unchanging nature of a person, and shows that even with the lieutenant’s regaining of hope for life, there is in fact no hope for his redemption?

Kliest, Hoffman, Tieck, and the Brothers Grimm

Last week we read several short stories by famous German writers, several which were from Appelbaum’s collection, Five Great German Stories, but also two others not featured in the book. What I found particularly interesting was the narrative style of each story: while similar, the slightest differences can help create a completely different atmosphere in each tale.

Schneewitchen. In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

“Earthquake in Chile” by Kliest

The narrator of “Earthquake in Chile” has a tendency to spout large amounts of information – in the first sentence alone, we find out that the setting is “Santiago, the capital of the kingdom of Chile”, the time frame is “the great earthquake of the year 1647”, the consequences of the event “in which many thousands of people perished”, and the main character, “a young Spaniard accused of a crime, Jerónimo Rugera” (5). The sentence doesn’t even end there, and it is revealed that at the start of the story, Jerónimo has been imprisoned and is on the verge of committing suicide. In one long sentence, a massive amount of information has been revealed, and it almost seems like the narrator is in a hurry to get to the climax of the story.

“The Sandman” by Hoffman

What’s interesting about the narrator in “The Sandman” is that he is not an objective, omniscient narrator like the ones found in the other stories – he/she is connected on a personal level to the characters in the story and informs the reader that he obtained the letters at the beginning of the story from Lothar himself. He/she refers to Nathanael as “my poor friend”, implying that he/she sympathizes with his story, and even knows about his personal feelings, stating that Nathanael’s plight had “completely occupied [his] heart, mind, and thoughts, driving out all else” (61). Given the secrecy and controversy of Nathanael’s actions, and his difficult to understand mind, it is very strange and highly unlikely that the narrator would know these events to the degree that he/she claims, especially since he/she has established that he is human and likely not omniscient. Pardon me if I am skeptical, but it does not seem like he/she is the most reliable narrator in the world.

“Fair-Haired Eckbert” by Tieck

“Fair-Haired Eckbert” uses the conventional narrator, but also utilizes the concept of a “story within a story” – much of the narrative is narrated by Bertha, Eckbert’s wife. Not only is the reader distanced from the story because of the 3rd person narration, the reader is further alienated by another narrator within the main story. The mystic elements in Bertha’s story are further enhanced by this, and the reader becomes even more unsure of what is actually going on in the story, especially when the knight questions himself whether or not he even had a wife.

“Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm

The narration in “Snow White” is poetic and flowing, adding to the “fairy tale” aspect of the story. Often, many metaphorical statements appear quite literal, such as when the Queen “turned yellow and green with envy” (250). Although still possible to take in a metaphorical sense, given the nature of the story it does seem not out of the ordinary for her to turn yellow and green in an almost comical way (and part of this interpretation I blame on Disney cartoons). In general, the smooth and easy to read narration creates a mystical atmosphere throughout the story.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Analysis of poetry is hard, not because of the difficulty of interpretation, but because of the amount of different interpretations that can be gained from a single poem. Blake’s poetry is no different in this regard: while we can make some assumptions on his purpose with reference to his known life and religious faith, it’s impossible to be 100% sure of the meaning of his poetry. And this is exactly why I do enjoy analyzing poetry – it’s very interesting to see the different interpretations and perspectives each person may have for a single piece of writing.

Infant Joy, painting and poem by William Blake (1789). In the public domain. Accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

Innocence, and experience – two supposed opposites of the human state, yet so interwoven. Innocence is the lack of experience, and thus cannot exist without it; if there is no distinction in levels of experience, then innocence would not be possible. On the other hand, innocence is the base standard, the comparison level to which the different levels of  experience are held to. Although Blake separates the two sections of his book with a clear distinction, there are many parallels and explicit similarities between poems of both sections. Take for example, the two poems, “Infant Joy” and “Infant Sorrow” – while both are very different in form and structure, there is a clear parallel between them, up to the point where even the colours of the art surrounding the poems share close links and draw from the same basic shades. “The Chimney Sweeper in the Songs of Innocence section shares the exact same name with its counterpart in the Songs of Experience section, and both share the same themes of despair and suffering (though the former does end on a much more optimistic note). Finally, there is “A Divine Image” near the end of Experience, which although was likely a later addition, is quite possibly meant to contrast with “The Divine Image” from Innocence.

The constant reference to children is interesting. Interesting not because of their presence in every poem (since they’re about innocence anyways, so it’s not surprising), but because of their portrayal in both the visual art and the poetry. Throughout Innocence, children are often painted with bright colours amidst fantasy-like settings: in “Infant Joy”, the titular infant is shown surrounded by family members inside the flower of a giant twisted plant. In contrast, “Infant Sorrow” shows a child in a much more believable place – a well-furnished indoors room, adorned with many artificial drapes and cloths. This is seen in other areas as well – the cover art of Songs of Innocence shows a woman and several children under a mesmerizing sky and a towering tree, while the art for Songs of Experience is painted with drab, urban colours and features the indoor area of a building reminiscent of a mortuary. Innocence equals fantasy, and therefore in a way, fake, and experience, the suffering, pain, and grief is the true reality of the world. It does not seem as though Blake is painting innocence and experience as contrary states of the human soul – instead, it seems like he is showing the falseness of innocence and the harsh reality that is experience.

Oedipus the King

The first text of the year was, I admit, not one I was particularly enthusiastic about. As I read through the text, Oedipus’ unfolding tragedy (which I had learned about several times in the past) seemed to me as a foretold train wreck: a man who, curse upon curse, sealed his own destiny. However, looking at the play in a more analytical light allowed me to notice many interesting writing choices and themes that I would perhaps not have picked up reading aimed solely to uncover the plot. In a sense, knowing the outcome freed me from the burden of anticipation and curiosity, and allowed me to focus more on the words than on the story itself.

In Oedipus the King, many key sections of the play reference the motifs of light and darkness, as well as the associated motifs of seeing and blindness. Light represents not only seeing and the related aspect knowing, but also peace and happiness. On the other hand, darkness is closely linked with blindness and the inability to see the truth. However, light is not synonymous to seeing, nor is darkness exactly the same as blindness. Light also seems to represent divine influence, in particular the actions of Apollo, who is associated with light and the sun. Seeing is shown as the ability to find knowledge and the truth; yet this is contradicted by the ironical differences between Teresius, the blind prophet who knows everything, and Oedipus, the man who can see with his eyes but not with his mind. Darkness is intertwined with Oedipus’ self-blinding, yet also hangs over his future, obscuring the truth from him and the Chorus until the dramatic reveal at the end of the play. Blindness leaves Oedipus a crippled and dependent man, but it causes him to see the arrogance of his ways.

GordonsPhotos. Black and White Sunrise. Digital image. Gordonsfotos Nature Blog. N.p., 30 Oct. 2005. Web. 18 Sept. 2015.


never again flood these eyes with your white radiance, oh

gods, my eyes.” (Lines 1491-1493)

Throughout the play, the Chorus and Oedipus describe their reverence to the sun, and comment on its relation to the events. As the sky clears, they perceive this as a good omen, and it raises their hopes for the mystery of the murdered king. Ironically, the sun is what casts this darkness on Oedipus’ life. Apollo, the god of the sun, brings light to each day, but also brings down this horrible fate on Oedipus. Strangely, Oedipus acknowledges that his life has been ruined by the gods, yet he continues to speak of them highly and does not seem to resent their influence, instead bringing the blame onto the shepherd who had spared his life. Perhaps his self-blinding was an action not only to prove his control over at least something in his life, as he declares to the Chorus, but also to banish Apollo’s influence, represented by light (and seeing)?

“All he had, all this man was,

pulled down and swallowed by the storm of his own life,

and by the god.” (lines 1983-1985)

But is Apollo really the one to blame for the king’s misery? Are the gods and fate, external factors beyond mortal control, the ones who created this tragedy? Oedipus claims that he was cursed because of the hate of the gods, but was it really their actions, or was it all just coincidence and mortal folly? An interesting point that was brought up in the discussion was that Sophocles was one of the later Greek philosophers who questioned complete devotion to the gods. Is the play a testament to the unyielding law of the gods, or is it highlighting the inability of humans to trust their own judgements and actions? Could it be that Oedipus and his parents’ efforts to avoid the prophecy, which paradoxically ended up dooming them, be Sophocles’ criticism of those who trust the words of the divine?


An Introduction…

Hi, my name’s Terence, and I’m from Taiwan. I was born here in Vancouver and lived in the Greater Vancouver region for 7 years, after which I moved to Hong Kong for 3 years and then to Taipei, Taiwan, where I lived for another 7 years and graduated from high school. And now I’m back in Vancouver, finding a vastly different world than the one I left 10 years ago.

I participated in Jumpstart, so I’ve settled down for quite a while, but the sheer size of the campus has made it that I’m still not quite familiar with everything around here. I’m also an I.B. student/survivor, so I’m no stranger to small group discussions, and I’m also quite interested in seeing how different university writing will be to high school writing.

I was thinking of possibly majoring in English, so hopefully Arts One will help me see if it is the right choice for me, and also improve my writing and analytical skills as well. Overall, I’m looking forward to this class (not really the workload though…).