Revisiting Rousseau

For my essay rewrite, I plan to revisit Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality. In my original essay, I argued that Rousseau successfully convinces his readers that the nascent man was happy than both the natural or modern man. However, as I reread and investigate his argument with new outside scholarly sources, I’m beginning to find faults in Rousseau’s claim.

While it may be true that nascent man was the”golden mean” in societal advancement, a happy medium between the natural, isolated protohuman and the modern, egocentric man, technology and the creation of a collective human experience through established society has actually proven to increase satisfaction in the general population. Studies conducted on modern happiness find that even though the complexity of the current era has created an excess of stress, we are more able to address and move on from stressors and are overall happier people than those in the past. The world is not as black-and-white as Rousseau would like to make it seem: though nascent man achieved a level of self-actualization that he could be satisfied in his existence without becoming susceptible to vice or corruption, the development of corruption and vice actually allows us to better ourselves as people. These things do contribute to civil unrest, but our ability to overcome and learn from past grievances and/or mistakes is what has allowed us to transcend and improve societal relations overall. If there was no dissatisfaction, how could we possibly better ourselves? Nascent man may have comfortable in his own blissfully ignorant existence, but in order to be the best we can, we must allow for some strife.

Narrative Voice in “City of Glass”

Narrative voice in both the comic adaptation of Paul Auster’s mystery novel City of Glass and the text in its original form plays a crucial role that, if altered, would significantly alter the reader’s interpretation of the storyline itself.

The constant shifts in the identity of main character Quinn add a dynamic aspect that moves the reader through the plot. In the classic format of the murder mystery, the author, detective, and reader move through plot together, bound by a mutually accepted set of rules. In City of Glass, the author is represented by both Paul Auster himself and Quinn under his professional pseudonym, William Wilson; the detective is represented by both Quinn himself and his recurring character Max Work; and we as readers try our best to follow the story as it’s laid before us. The detective acts as interpreter of events, but what we as readers glean from a text is significantly affected when an objective author becomes an unreliable narrator and, furthermore, a fractured self.

As Quinn becomes increasingly consumed by his quest to live out the fantasies of his work and protect client Peter Stillman Jr., he begins to lose grip on a single objective truth and we as readers are pulled down with him. By the end of the novel, Quinn has become a shell of his former self, devoid of his former drive and sensibility. In the graphic novel adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli,  the last panels of the story feature Quinn in solitude, naked and surrounded by darkness. As he begins his descent, we see Quinn in a fetal position completely embraced by darkness (129), an image that could almost be interpreted as a rebirth and a cyclical connection to Stillman’s experiences as mentioned prior.

How does Quinn’s complex relationship with both his work and his own identity change our interpretation of the novel as a whole?

The Significance of Memory

Since I just uploaded my blog post on Riding the Trail of Tears, I wanted to draw a parallel between Hausman’s cyberpunk historical fiction novel and author Alison Bechdel’s “family tragicomic”, Fun Home. Both works place great significance on the role of memory in the narrative frame.

Despite both pieces being entire different in genre and subject matter, the role of memory is one of the most prominent themes throughout each work. In Bechdel’s graphic memoir, she reflects on the relationship between her and her father throughout her childhood and how it has subsequently impacted her adult life. The story is told non-linearly, echoing the natural process of human thought by rapidly switches topics and time periods, while still working to create an overall cohesive narrative. This type of non-linear reflection is also seen in Riding the Trail of Tears: the chapters bounce between subjects, particularly between Tallulah’s tour group and the Misfits, while frequently referencing past events and memories.

The encorpation of memories in both pieces of literature serves to ground the narratives in some sort of identifiable time frame which the reader can identify and use to follow the complex story progressions. The memories laced within present-day narratives act as roots from which the story can grow. As Nick Sousanis said in his lecture on the union of text and image in comics, text is “tree-like” in that written storylines are rooted in specified events in time and space, which can then grow outward and more complex. Bechdel’s choice to use image as well as text in Fun Home allows her use of memory to expand the plot in ways that Hausman’s work cannot: Memories are now not simply told, but shown, adding to their significance and their emotional resonance with readers.

The Practicality of Historical Virtual Reality

I had this blog post written out to post during our Hausman week, but I forgot to upload since I was preoccupied with writing the essay! My apologies!


In Riding the Trail of Tears, Hausman poses a difficult question to the novel’s readers about the practicality of historical virtual reality. The incorporation of VR into literature allows indigenous authors to root their work in the new territory of cyberspace. In these western frameworks, the landless territory of VR is a way to reconnect with land-based indigenous history and blur the boundaries between historical and modern, physical and virtual, and can even grow to become space of radical empathy that folds the boundaries between self and other. Historical VR can serve as an investigatory or analytic space, a continuation and amplification of colonial violence that allows users to “know” history in different and more completest ways, thus allowing us in the modern day to reflect and learn from the crimes of our past in order to promote tolerance in the future.

However, historical VR is not without its flaws. By characterizing real people and turning tragic events into a tourist attraction, we eliminate a sense of horror and realism despite experiencing the Trail firsthand. In trying to get closer to history, we actually distance ourselves from it. Where Hausman further complicates this issue is by taking the question of historical VR’s morality and reflecting outward at the readers themselves. We as readers see ourselves in the fictional tourists of Tallulah’s group 5709, enamoured with the concept of VR and its transformative abilities; yet because of our omniscient perspective of the novel as a whole, we are able to learn from the mistakes of characters in the novel itself and have a much more profound understanding of society’s past crimes against First Nations Peoples than if we ourselves had ridden the TREPP. Pretty meta huh?

So, what do you guys think? Is historical VR a good way to teach the youth of today about the tragedies of the past, or by trying to experience historical events firsthand do we undermine their significance?


Seminar Presentation: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

In the first half of Monday’s lecture by Jason, we discussed greatly in depth how all of the artistic decisions, even those that seem rather insignificant or minute, in the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari greatly influence everything about how we, the audience, perceive the storyline. The sets and exaggerated movements of the silent actors in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari contribute to the overall tone of the film and further the plot by creating an expressionist dream world that captivates the audience by communicating emotion in unconventional ways. For example, using yellow lighting during daytime sequences and blue lighting during nighttime sequences conveys a feeling of warmth and safety in daylight that is lacking at night as Cesare rises strikes.

Additionally, how does the irony of Francis being the truly insane one influence our understanding of the storyline? How is that irony affected by the addition of a frame by the director? To ~frame~ this question (pardon the pun), during the making of the film, the director framed the movie by filming an unwritten opening scene in which we see the now disturbed Francis in an asylum, retelling the story of how he ended up here and that of Dr. Caligari. This scene was added against the artistic wishes of the writers, as the original film was meant to be purely the story of a madman: “[It] dishonours our drama – the tragedy of a man gone mad by the misuse [by another] of his mental powers – into a cliché, in which the symbolism was to be lost.” The inclusion of the frame to the film took it from a “revolutionary critique of murderous authority” to a “conformist film: simply the deranged fantasy of a sick mind (under the care of benevolent authority)”. The critique of societal and government structure was entirely lost, completely altering audience perception of it both then and today.

The Uncanny: Cognitive Dissidence

When we think of psychology, we often think of Sigmund Freud, the glorified conspiracy theorist whose widely popularized concepts of wish fulfillment, dream interpretation, and the systems of the psyche have left their stain on the modern science as we know it today. Despite some of his rather absurdist notions, particularly on the subject of natural incestuous inclinations in what he refers to as the Oedipus complex, Freud’s interpretations on the subject of the Uncanny may still have some merit in a social setting.

Freud differentiates the vernacular adjective “uncanny” from his noun, referred to as “the uncanny.” Uncanny in its form as an adjective is defined as “partaking of a supernatural character; mysterious, weird, uncomfortably strange or unfamiliar”, and although Freud’s Uncanny is more of an applied form of the term, it has its roots in the same concept of feeling. The Uncanny is most commonly triggered by the fear of castration, intellectual uncertainty, and primary narcissism.

As you may have noticed above, I personally am of the opinion that Freud’s theories on the fear of castration and repressed desires redirected toward our primary caretakers in our infancy are absolutely preposterous. Perhaps Freud may have promoted these concepts because he himself was often the victim of incestuous impulses and felt the need to ease his own conscious by tarnishing the reputation of psychology in its entirety within the world of science because he couldn’t keep it in his pants. However, I believe the concept of primary narcissism in particular as it pertains to the Uncanny is not as bizarre as it may seem.

In lecture today, Professor Lieblang’s presentation on primary narcissism as an expression of the fear of death in children particularly fascinated me. In order to live in the natural world (throwback to Darwin’s natural selection), wouldn’t an inherent fear of death be a reasonable primal fear to ensure the survival of our offspring? If children are naturally afraid of danger or dying, they would most likely stay away from activities that could prove injurious or fatal, thus passing down the optimal trait of survival to their own offspring thereafter. Freud’s idea of the splitting of the self as most apparent in children who have not yet been conditioned to repress that fear, and its return as triggered by situations in adult life, such as doppelgängers or passing glances in mirrors, is no where near as crazy as Freud himself may have been.

The Tempest: Shakespeare’s Dynamic Duos

It’s no secret that Shakespeare favours the dynamic duos: From Benvolio & Mercurio (Romeo and Juliet), to Antonio & Bassanio (Merchant of Venice), to even Rosencrantz & Guildenstern (Hamlet), Shakespeare continually strives to break up tension in his tragedies by providing comedic relief. One unique example of this rule: The Tempest.

Though The Tempest is traditionally considered a comedy rather than a tragedy, Shakespeare still uses comedic duos to alleviate tense scenes. However, he does something particularly unique in this play: he provides two sets of comedic relief that parody one other, Antonio & Sebastian versus Trinculo & Stephano.

Many different parallels can be seen between the two pairs. While Antonio and Sebastian provide internal comedic relief via sly comments, Trinculo and Stephano provide external comedic relief via inebriated physicality. In this since, either pair could be mocking the other. The over-exaggerated movements and dialogue of Trinculo and Stephano mimic just how ridiculous and childish Antonio and Sebastian can be, despite nobody noticing their private antics. Similarly, Antonio and Sebastian being so juvenile and idiotic despite their high status lowers them to that of the commoners, also known as “savages.”

Throughout the play, the character of Caliban is frequently referred to as a savage, but he is not the only savage in The Tempest: Antonio and Sebastian could be considered “savage nobles”, while Trinculo and Stephano could be considered “noble savages.” Both pairs attempt to murder the rightful kings, and the deceit by the little brothers Antonio and Sebastian of their older brothers demonstrates how they are no better than the drunken butlers and jesters that are usually deemed the savages. Anybody can be a sh***y person, regardless of socioeconomic status!

We see ourselves in these two dynamic duos: we all crave power that can sometimes drive us to stoop to low level regardless of our intelligence or our place in society. And sometimes, we all just need to have some good ol’ fashioned drunken fun.

Hildegard of Bingen

To be or not to be: Feminist

People often discuss the question, “If you could have a dinner party with 8 people, living or dead, that you want to talk to, who would you invite”? Among my list would be some of my favourite authors and activists (e.g. Shakespeare, Harvey Milk, etc. – definitely NOT Plato), and after reading some of the selected writings of Hildegard of Bingen, I would consider adding her to my guest list. Not necessarily to stay for dinner, but perhaps just to stop by or take a polygraph test on the truthfulness of her visions.

Our discussion in seminar today really got me thinking: Was Hildegard an early Feminist? Were her constant references to her gender identity a mere projection of women in society at the time, or were they being used to gain the respect and support of her male counterparts in the church? In my opinion, the truth must lie somewhere in the middle. As people, we are often conditioned and shaped by the societal norms we see around us as we age. During this period of history, women played relatively no substantial roles in the church: This may have influenced Hildegard’s self-deprecating remarks and beliefs about her gender identity, claiming to be “timid” and “miserable and more than miserable in my womanly existence” (Hildegard 3-4). Nevertheless, Hildegard could also have been using her gender identity to her advantage. By presenting herself as meek or somewhat uneducated, her claim that her visions were bestowed upon her by G-d is strengthened: Male heads of the church that questioned the validity of her visions would not be challenging Hildegard as a woman, but rather G-d himself. What could be more powerful than that?

I guess we’ll just have to invite her to dinner to see.


Hi everyone! Hannah here from ARTS 001B, LB4.

I often struggle with introductions because I frequently worry that I’m not coming across the way I’d like. But sharing this fact about me seems like a good place to start!

I came to UBC from my hometown just outside San Francisco. I love to travel, so, with the added turmoil of this American election season, attending university in Canada seemed too good to be true. I am majoring in psychology with a minor in creative writing, so feel free to approach me about either subject any time!

The more you talk to me, the more you will come to see that I am a sarcastic nerd who is always up for philosophical debates and self-improvement. This is partially what attracted me to Arts One; I loved the idea of a course that had both a large lecture and a small discussion group where I could meet and discuss ideas with many different kinds of people who possess many different outlooks on life.

(Also, I’m one of those people that can read Shakespeare without translation and absolutely adores his writing, so seeing The Tempest in our booklist was a big plus. It’s odd, I know.)

Now, for some personal fun facts:

  • My middle name is quite literally Rhythm, and yes, I will answer if you address me as such.
  • As my middle name suggests, I am a concert addict and avid musician, as I have been writing my own music and playing guitar for over a decade. No, I will not play for you (I’m too shy), but I’d be happy to be your concert buddy!
  • I also write poetry and perform in slam competitions!

Thanks for reading and I look forward to a wonderful year in Arts One with you all!