The Real Superhumans

Wow. I cannot believe that we are on our last book of the year. And what a horribly depressing way to end off. Why couldn’t we have just read something else? Why did it have to be Watchmen?

I thought comics were supposed to be fun. I thought superheroes were people you could count on and look up to. I thought I would enjoy this book. I thought wrong.

Instead of being a break from reality and societies falling apart and people killing themselves and racism and moral monstrosity, reading Watchmen was like waking up from a good dream into a nightmare.

I think Alan Moore tried extra hard to make sure that none of the characters were at all likeable. They weren’t like your classic Superman. They were old, out of shape, grumpy, cynical, arrogant, and just plain violent. They were like superhumans in the sense that they were amplified versions of everything bad about the average person.

Well, you know, maybe they were just fed up with it all. Maybe they were just tired of looking after people and cleaning up after their “moral lapses”, knowing that it was all only a temporary solution. People were bringing about their own destruction, and why should it be the heroes duty to stop it?

Okay, but still, that’s no reason to be bombing people with weird poison gas grenades to calm them down…

Honestly, I don’t know how to feel about the characters in Watchmen. On the one hand, they are amplified versions of all that is wrong with us – all our lousy attitudes and self-righteous, unempathetic actions. Some of them, especially The Comedian, are absolutely terrible people. But on the other hand, you can see how much contempt they have for the way society is going. And you kind of have to agree with them.

But no. I like my Supermans nice and heroic. After all, we need someone to look up to.


Okay, don’t ask me anymore about Watchmen. I have to go take a walk. Clear my mind…


Masculinity in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

Wow, this book is hard to understand. I mean, it’s wonderful to read and imaginative like an old folk story, but when I look back on what I’ve read, it’s insanely complicated.

One of the main things I wanted to explore in this blog post was the different representations of gender roles in the novel, and the attitudes of different characters towards them. I would also like to ask where these attitudes fall in the context of what is traditional view of masculinity vs. femininity.

The first character we meet is of course Okonkwo, and it is pretty clear where he stands on the issue of gender. According to him, masculinity equals virtue, femininity equals weakness. Everything about him screams an obsession with being masculine – an obsession for power, reputation, wealth, and the ancient ways where men were men and women were women.

Okonkwo seems to have a certain contempt for the feminine, which is mostly due to his father, who had failed in his manly role and brought shame upon the whole family. This contempt is reciprocated onto his son Nwoye, whom Okonkwo thinks weak for spending too much time with his mother, and also for joining the Christian missionaries.

However, I do not think it is possible to say that Okonkwo’s views are exactly congruent with the views of the rest of the tribe. For example, he believes that to be manly, one must be aggressive and exert one’s power over others. He takes this view too far, though, on several occasions, namely beating his wife, almost killing her, killing his “adopted” son just to show he was not a coward, and killing someone at a funeral (albeit by accident). The other members of the tribe do not approve of this kind of behavior, and generally think that he is a violent and dangerous man. He also rarely thinks about things, and instead acts based on instinct and anger.

His exile provides him with an opportunity to “get in touch with his feminine side”, but instead, he reassures himself that his manliness is his virtue and that all his unmanly children are the ash from his roaring fire. He also grows contempt for the more diplomatic nature of his maternal tribe, and stubbornly refuses to accept the need to change his attitudes.

I’m stuck wondering whether there is some meaning in Okonkwo’s failure to change – what is Achebe trying to say about traditional (or ultra-traditional) attitudes?

And also, if the tribe’s attitudes are not quite as radical as Okonkwo’s, then is Okonkwo in some way defying tradition, or just overexaggerating it???

Is Achebe commenting on masculinity, or just drawing out a problem?




I think I’m losing my mind.

Evolution and Situated Freedom in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss

Our lecture yesterday was wonderfully insightful… but my god was it complicated! So much to think about on so many levels! I think my head will explode as I write this blog post.

The one thing I think I understood well enough to reflect on is the idea of evolution and how it is portrayed in the novel. Specifically, I’d like to focus on that very last slide that we were shown in lecture, the quote by Karl Marx, and how this relates to ideas in The Mill on the Floss.

Here’s the quote, for your convenience:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

The first thing that comes to mind through this quote is the idea of “situated freedom”. Yeah, that phrase didn’t come up until Beauvoir, but it nevertheless applies to The Mill on the Floss, and I think it’s useful to understanding how the concept of evolution applies.

So here we have Tom and Maggie, one who is kind of “thick” and the other who has unlimited intellectual potential. But because of their respective genders, they are both forced into different niches in the community. Tom (the “thick” one) is expected to do well in school and become the next breadwinner in the family. Maggie (the smart one) is not supported in her education because she is a girl, and has to be confined to her traditional role as a female. Their randomly inherited traits of gender and intelligence, as well as the environment they are born into, become their situation, under which I believe they can exert some control, or try to “adapt” their lives in a new direction.

It is interesting to contrast this view of the individual with the view of society at large under a similar light. Maggie especially, being more intelligent than most, is seen as an unexpected variation from the “emmet-like” (ant-like) people around her. They are said to operate with collectivity and instinct, as though they were mindless animals travelling on the path of evolution. Whereas they stick to tradition, Maggie is more willing to go against it, and thus would be a more adaptive person than others.

By all Spencerian logic, she should be among the “fittest” in her society – she is smart, literate, resourceful – and should therefore survive. But both she and her brother (who may be considered “unfit”) die in the flood, along with many other people. Were her traits undesirable? Was there no place for her in this world? No. It was just random, like Darwin said. Even though her variation made for a better individual, it did not survive in the greater population due to the chance happening of a disastrous flood.

So there we have it that the next generations would not have Maggie’s traits or her brother’s, but the traits of the others, who though individually worse-off, were collectively better-off in terms of number and establishment of their own niches.

Much like this blog post, it’s all just random…

Reflection Time… Yay…

Oh these wonderful reflections! I simply love evaluating my own “improvement” and reminding myself of all those things I promised to do back in January! What fun!

Actually, all in all, I’ve been pretty happy with my essay writing this term. I was kind of afraid that I might slack off and start procrastinating as with other things. But surprisingly, I’ve managed to keep up my routine of starting and finishing early which has been really useful in giving myself enough time to develop my ideas.

As for my promises, I don’t know if I’ve fulfilled them – though I’ve certainly tried. A major focus has been on the “flow” of my essay from point to point and presenting information in a clear and logical sequence. I think I’ve addressed this issue by working on my thesis statement – making it precise and understandable – and the topic sentences (and concluding sentences) of my paragraphs. My aim was to make it so that the most important information was summed up adequately in just a few well-written lines. As a result, my paragraphs have also gotten much more concise, and hopefully less of a bother to read.

Also, I’ve been working really hard on keeping my discussion relevant to an overarching thesis, and linking my individual points back to it through single sentences near the ends of my paragraphs. My earlier essays really lacked this technique, which may explain why they seemed to miss the “bigger picture” argument. I feel that implementing this is something that has really aided the general effectiveness of my recent essays.

Finally, the last promise I made was to obtain more textual evidence in my essays and better use it to illustrate my ideas. It used to be that my textual evidence was quite skimpy and not always entirely related. But I feel I’ve stepped it up and really tried to find the perfect quotes to fit into my discussion.

Of course, each of these things can be further improved on, which will continue to be my goal until the end of the term. That, and being a faster reader. Because it seriously takes me forever to read books. I think I’m just too easily distracted.

Well… that’s that! I don’t feel too bad, I guess. I think I did improve to some extent.

There’s still two essays left to prove myself!

Wish me luck!

Woman as The Relative Gender

Personally, I found de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex quite difficult to understand, partially because I know nothing about feminism, but also because it is generally hard to relate to the strong opinions of others. Nevertheless, there were several interesting points that I found have resonated with me.

I will mainly talk about the introduction of the work, as I haven’t had a chance to get through the whole thing. What immediately struck me was the lack of self-identity that Beauvoir was conveying about the way women are conventionally treated by both themselves and men. She talks alot about how men are viewed as the superordinate of everything human, as the word “man” is used to apply to both male and female, as well as to only males, and thus represents woman as just a part of man. Men become the prototype of what it means to be human, and women are just deviations from this prototype. Therefore, the female gender is not seen as equal and opposite to the male, but rather as a defective version that just happens to be useful in procreation. They are seen as “the other”.

This idea that the female is a defective or imperfect male resonates alot in everyday life, and thinking about it this way helps to illustrate the extent to which “otherness” has developed in a sociohistorical context. For a long time, women have been seen as much weaker than men: mentally, physically, emotionally – you name it. They never really played a big role in conventional history. It was always the men who went to war, the men who made great discoveries, the men who earned the money. Women were there just to support them. As was brought up in lecture, the word “woman” itself, means wife of man (in English and other languages). They were identified by who’s wife they were and the profession and success of their husband. Nobody cared about what the women did.

One reason, de Beauvoir says, that this has failed to change to a great enough extent is that women lack a sense of self-identity. “Women do not say ‘We'” when they refer to themselves (xlviii). “Men say ‘women’, and women use the same word in referring to themselves” (xlviii). Other oppressed groups have learnt to unify themselves against their oppressors through self-recognition. But the “other”-ing of women has been so silent – so widely accepted – that it has gone unrecognized all throughout civilized human existence. The point here is that women themselves contribute to the way they are viewed by society at large by blindly conforming to the gender roles placed on them by men.

I have a few questions just to finish up here. I’m sorry this was long, but perhaps it will be useful. My questions are:

  1. In what ways does lacking self-identity contribute to being oppressed and treated as “the other”?
  2. How can we explain women’s failure to assert themselves through the concept of self-identity?
  3. Can we maybe draw similarities or make contrasts between the case of women and other forms of oppression we’ve read about in Arts One (i.e. Penelope in The Penelopiad, Blanca in Until the Dawn’s Light, Slaves in Kingdom of this World)

Cool. Okay, now to study for my midterm.

The worthy words of Wordsworth!

Seriously, try saying that 10 times fast! And now to the point…

I absolutely loved reading Wordsworth! He’s been one of my favorite poets since high school, and I think he always will be. I mean Coleridge is okay too… but, you know…

Well, reading the Lyrical Ballads this time got me thinking about why it is exactly that I like Wordsworth so much. And I think the answer has two parts to it: the content of his poems, and their style.

I noticed that the subjects of most of the poems in the collection are ordinary people – often poor farmers or homeless people. He paints a realistic and somewhat sentimental portrait of life in rural parts of the country, where people are far from the bustling cities and in harmony with nature. These are the kind of individuals that wouldn’t usually end up in poetry, the kind whose lives might be considered insignificant or boring. But Wordsworth chooses to capture exactly this kind of lifestyle and to expose the underlying depth and meaning with which these people experience their lives.

Secondly, Wordsworth directs his poem to the reader themselves in a very inviting way. He approaches you as his equal, unlike Nietzsche, for example, who claims he is so much better than everyone else and that nobody can actually understand him. Plus, in the preface, he states that he believes that there is a formula through which he can convey his experiences to people, which will cause them to mentally feel what he felt and reach the same conclusions.  Wordsworth is very human in his writing – he does not strive too hard for marvelous poetic achievement, but rather writes as though to think on the page and calmly observe the world. His style is not poking and hateful, but reflective and contemplating.

I think the reason I like him so much is that I feel he was truly trying to help me in some way, rather than just insult me and tell me what I’m doing wrong. And what he says is true. In modern times, we are all so obsessed with celebrities and politicians and what they are doing at every moment of every day. We sometimes forget to appreciate the events of our own lives. I think Wordsworth was trying to tell us to slow down and take a look around us – to pay attention to who we are as individuals and who we are living our lives for.

TL;DR: I like Wordsworth.


Siding with the Underdog

Reading Trouillot and listening to today’s lecture brought me back to a time in my life where I had significantly less homework and significantly higher marks: high school. Ah, how I remember it! Like it was just last year I was roaming the halls and getting away with procrastination. Oh, wait! It was…

Anyways, Silencing the Past reminded me of something my good old History 12 professor said at the very beginning of the very first class of the semester before we started to learn about World War I and whatnot. He said: “History, my friends, is written by winners. What I’m about to teach you is quite possibly a lie.”

After having read Trouillot, this notion makes much more sense to me than it did before. Especially as it applies to the larger scale, such as with countries and revolutions and wars involving many people. But, I still don’t know if I would completely agree with the idea. Perhaps this is true of the way things were in the past – and I use the term “past” carefully in relation to this text – when people valued the glory and fame that came along with being the winner and looked up only to those at “the top of the food chain”. Going back to high school again, we learned about Beowulf in English 12 , and how he was so well respected and revered exactly because he never lost to anyone… ever…

However, I do believe that there is a certain romanticism in being the underdog which would make people interested in hearing the loser’s story as well. Let me take an example from daily life, and yes, I do mean almost daily. My brothers often fight with each other over little things like who’s going to do the dishes or who is smarter or faster for their age. Other times, though, they fight over bigger things, and it does occasionally get physical. Whenever these bigger fights happen, it is always the older one who “wins”. Always. But it’s also always the older one who gets ranted at by my parents and blamed for letting things get out of hand.

As the victim, my parents (and me too, I’ll admit) tend to hear my youngest brother out and give his story precedence over the older one’s. Because he is younger and weaker, his suffering seems more valid than the other’s, and the so-called history is written by the loser whom we are inclined to feel sorry for. Obviously, this is extremely annoying, and I’ve had it happen to me about a million times as well when it was myself vs. either one of my brothers. Ask any older sibling. This seriously happens every single time. And parents always listen to the younger kid.

I wonder if it is like this in real life sometimes as well? If we don’t sometimes pay closer attention to the loser’s story simply because they are the loser? I think that as we have become more open to different people and different cultures, we are also more open to feeling empathy for individuals of another heritage, language, and race, and are more likely to inquire into what their side of the story is too. I wonder if a modern individual could go back in time and “rewrite” history, would they bring back something entirely different than what has been thought of before? I think so.

Maybe not entirely different, but certainly less one-sided. Or maybe even more so, but in the opposite direction.

Does Hobbes think we’re evil?

I think that many people may be too quick to label Hobbes as having a pessimistic view of human nature. But, obviously, I do not blame them.

Hobbes is pretty explicit in his presentation of humans in the state of nature. He states that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against ever man” (pg. 76, ph. 8). The life of humans in a natural state is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (pg. 76, ph. 9). Basically, in Hobbes’ opinion, “primitive” humans have a natural tendency towards chaos, because they are each only looking for what is best for themselves, and will do whatever is necessary to secure this – things that we from a modern perspective may consider unthinkable.  But is this bestial image of humanity evidence enough to claim that Hobbes believes we are naturally evil?

I personally do not think so. Hobbes, to me, is not a pessimist, but a realist. The logic behind his argument pretty much makes sense: in nature, people do what they do because they want to survive. Just as we cannot call a shark evil for killing and eating seals, we cannot call a person evil for killing another person if they are threatened by them or if doing so will benefit them in some way – it is only nature that they shall want to survive and thrive. Men (as in mankind) are each guided by their own passions, desires, inclinations, etc. which are “in themselves no sin” (pg. 77, ph. 10), and “no more are the actions that proceed from those passions, till they know a law that forbids them” (pg. 77, ph. 10). It proceeds that justice and injustice are imagined concepts that exist only in describing the position of an action relative to the laws created by a sovereign and upheld by society. There is no good or bad in the state of nature.

Though it may be somewhat of a stretch, one could even argue that Hobbes is actually pretty optimistic about the human condition. He comes up with an entire set of natural laws that describe what humans would be theoretically inclined to do – that is, make contracts of peace with each other and give up their bestial rights for the sake of being protected by a higher power. Human rationality makes us strive away from chaos and toward safety and order – what we may call society – of our own voluntary decision.

Poor Hobbes. I feel as though he was always quite misunderstood 🙁

Magic and Power in the Tempest

I think that The Tempest is a play that many people can relate to. It’s got a political aspect for all those smart politically-inclined individuals, presents a wonderful social-commentary for fans of satire, and is wonderfully humorous to the layman looking for a good laugh. For me, what interests me most about The Tempest is the element of the supernatural in the play. In other words – MAGIC!

Magic in The Tempest can be seen as a kind of power that places Prospero at the top of the food chain. Through the use of his magical possessions – his robe, his staff, his book, and of course, his control over Ariel and the spirits of the island – Prospero is able to manipulate, deceive, and affect the other characters in the play. From a behind-the-scenes position, he influences character’s decisions, catalyzes the formation of certain alliances, causes some to get lost on the island, and holds others as his slaves. It seems like Prospero can do whatever he wants and that he is basically bending the storyline to his will.

In this way, it makes sense to draw the similarities between him and Shakespeare. Like a playwright, Prospero has essentially created a problem on purpose – he has summoned his enemies to his island via a huge storm – in order to achieve some goal. Through dramatizing a problem, a playwright can often expose many things about society, life, or whatever they want, I suppose, or even come up with some kind of solution. Similarly, in The Tempest, Prospero has set up a situation that he hopes will result in his getting revenge on his enemies and establishing greater power through getting Ferdinand to marry Miranda.

Again, I still have swirling thoughts about this whole issue, but I guess that makes sense – after all, it is The Tempest.

My Thoughts on Antigone

After somehow managing to get through The Republic, I was under the impression that I would never again have so many questions about a single piece of writing. As usual, I was wrong.

Looking back on Sophocles’ Antigone, I realize that there are many little things that confuse me now that I seem not to have noticed on my first read through. For example, in Kreon’s speech to the “elders” (pg. 27 – 28), he states his belief that “he who rules in a state and fails to embrace the best men’s counsels, but stays locked in silence and vague fear, is the worst man their is”. However, Kreon proves on multiple occasions to be exactly the man he is describing. He doesn’t take the advice of his son, nor of Tiresias the prophet, until it becomes clear to him that his own doom is approaching.  Why he would say this and then go so obviously against what he proclaims is his long-held belief (28) is beyond me.

The second major confusion I had concerns the opening dialogue between Antigone and Ismene (pg. 21 – 25). At first, Antigone is said to have called Ismeme to a secret meeting for a reason – to ask for her help in burying their dead brother Polyneices. However, when Ismene tells her that they should “be sensible” (23) and obey the king’s explicit orders not to, Antigone becomes really harsh toward her sister. She says that “even if [Ismene] were willing to ‘be senseless’, [Antigone] wouldn’t want the help [she] could give” (23). Antigone even goes so far as to state that she would hate her sister if she kept silent about the burial. Why so harsh? Seriously? Antigone’s attitude makes her very hard to relate to in my opinion, and honestly, I don’t like her very much.

There is also a variety of other aspects of Antigone that I still haven’t created an opinion about, but I’m hoping that you guys will be able to help me when I make my presentation tomorrow.

See ya then,



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