The Screaming Face in the City of Glass graphic novel

Even on the front cover, this strange, and frightening misshapen face, mouth open in a seemingly endless cry, accompanies the other non-descript faces, standing out from the visual style of the comic. It represents some sort of symbol, a diversion from the norm, or maybe even a culmination of events. In this blog post, I will try to decipher what the screaming face means in the graphic novel and how it represents one interpretation of the novel.

The screaming face appears suddenly, shaking the reader from the usual visual language. It is like the font of a book changing mid-sentence or paragraph, or becoming all-caps. It does not fit with the other faces in the work, but what interests me is how the reader still identifies it as a face. Our eyes have the ability to transform meaningless lines into a recognizable shape, such as with butts, or making constellations with stars. Distant objects may appear to blurred for the viewer to know what exactly they are, so one tends to create weird shapes (at least in my experience) that are often completely different from what the real object is. We can recognize a human face by its individual features: two eyes, a nose, a mouth, largely-symmetrical construction, everything mostly positioned around the center. We can see faces in wall plugs, because we see the upper two grooves as eyes, and the lower one as a mouth. Therefore, it is no surprise that this face still looks very much like a face. It may not be perfectly proportioned like the other professionally drawn faces, but it still has many of the core elements.

When looking at the screaming face, one assumes that it is drawn by a child, because, naturally, most children (and even some adults, including me), do not possess the skills to draw a more true-to-life face. This links directly to the child characters in City of Class, Quinn’s deceased son, Auster’s son, and Peter Stillman Jr. And why does the face seem to cry out in terror? Obviously, one can link it to Peter’s confinement in a dark room, the crudeness of it symbolizing both Peter as a young child, and the horrors that his mind is experiencing. But the face is also used alongside mention of Quinn’s son. Does it mean that his son was also locked up? Or could this be an internal, childish expression of his inner fears? The fact that the death of his son caused him to retreat into his own dark room, locking out his social life and attempting to find ‘God’s language’ in the mystery novels he writes. (Maybe the mystery novel, with its search for the truth, can be seen as a search for God’s language, but I’m digressing here).

But what I believe the screaming face largely symbolizes is the act of drawing uninhibited by language, visual language in this case. Each artist may have their own drawing style in which they interpret the shapes, images and colors of reality in their own terms. But Peter Stillman Jr. is and was definitely not an artist, and so his drawings come from humans’ innate desire to draw and express their ideas through images. He knows what a face looks like, but he does not know how to draw a face the ‘right’ way. But he does it anyway, and this could be a more personal, closer expression than what visual artists portray. Like the word standing between the thing and the meaning, the visual language can stand between the thing and the drawing. Maybe alongside developing new languages and straying from ‘God’s language’ they designed new ways of drawing that divided people into those that can draw and those that cannot. Like the different languages we speak that allow us to see the world in different ways according to the words we assign to different objects and the grammatical structures in which we order our sentences using, the different visual languages artists use in conjunction with the crude drawing style that non-artists use can be seen as an imperfection, a deviation from the original state of innocence. So all in all, the screaming face may be Quinn or whoever else communicating to us through the language of God.

Loneliness and Abandonment in Austerlitz

Loneliness and abandonment are two themes that I believe pervades Sebald’s Austerlitz and help convey its striking sense of melancholy. Both of them revolve around a kind of ostracization and alienation, a sense of not belonging, which deftly encapsulates Austerlitz, who really has no idea of where his roots are before his early childhood memories become unlocked. Even then, he can only wonder what could have been if he had been raised in Czechoslovakia instead of in London, but he can never return to it. He is in a halfway space between countries, neither one of them feeling truly like home. There is England, which he grew up in, France, where he studied in, and Czechoslovakia, where he was born in. But they are unable to form a cohesive whole together, and Austerlitz seemed stretched across these three countries, never fully tangible in one exact place.

One important aspect of this book is how little Sebald focuses on the complex dynamics between people, instead choosing to explore their inward natures. He could have constructed a network of acquaintances and close friends that Austerlitz interacts with, considering that it is often a person’s friends that shape a character’s personality, but it is his absence of these that allows him to tell his story in full to the narrator, who acts very much as a window to the audience.   The narrator and Austerlitz connect not only because of their interest in architecture but also their solitary natures, the narrator also being seemingly free to wander about Europe not bound by any obligations to other people. Perhaps Austerlitz sees the narrator as someone that he can finally open up to, so much that he discards any form of greeting or pleasantries, as Sebald notes through the novel and instead delves straight into the story. Maybe the narrator can be seen as a figment of Austerlitz’s imagination, a long-awaited reprieve that never comes and so emerges out of necessity as a hallucination. Sebald’s treatment can be explained as a result of Austerlitz’s position, or perhaps a way to exemplify/exacerbate it; because Austerlitz’s predicament is so uncommon, having not realized who his true parents are even after turning more than 50 years old, he is not truly able to connect with people who have strong ties to their country, their home and their family.

“I was ill at ease among artists and intellectuals as in bourgeois life, and it was a very long time since I had felt able to make personal friendships. No sooner did I become acquainted with someone that I feared I had come too close…” (125-126)

Also worthy of mentioning is the different layers of relationships and interactions present within the book. The relationship between the narrator and Austerlitz is the ground level, the one taken for granted as a means to enable the story to be told. The second level, according to my understanding, involves Austerlitz’s relationships with other characters, which vary tremendously but also share a lot in common. Austerlitz’s solitary nature lends power to these relationships, as they exist only in relation to Austerlitz. We as the author never see these other characters through their own eyes, so the illusion is created that they exist to rescue Austerlitz from his isolation and loneliness; we are grateful for that but heartbroken when they leave, which they often do in some way or another. His friend Gerald dies in a plane crash, his history teacher Hilary does see him regularly during his college studies but is not mentioned afterward, so one assumes that he has died or drifted apart, Elias and Gwendolyn, despite not being that well-liked by Austerlitz do keep him company, and both of them are disposed of in quick succession, Gwendolyn succumbs to sickness and Elias grows depressed and is sent to an asylum. Further on, Gerald’s family also disappear, Evelyn and Alphonso also end up dying and Adela ends up moving to America; Austerlitz remembering her “unchanged, as beautiful as she was then” (111). Finally, Marie eventually leaves Austerlitz and breaks off their relationship. Each of the characters that keep Austerlitz company end up disappearing, causing him to revert back to his solitary disposition, his liminal state causing his relationships to eventually fade. Maybe the reason why he continues to search is because the narrator, as a kindred spirit, will not leave him, will eventually return after thirty years or so and be there to accompany him. But perhaps there is also a beauty in remembering someone as they were before; they become trapped in time just as photographs are, never growing old or digressing from what you remember them as, that uncertainty being what keeps you company. Austerlitz’s pleasant memories of being with Adela and Marie retain their power because they can never be replicated or degraded. If his relationship with Marie had ended in a more protracted manner, the bitter taste would have overwhelmed his vision of her as a kind individual who despite her family name selflessly cares for him after he suffers a nervous breakdown, and leave him uninterested to search for her whereabouts in the end. All in all, having only two people in a scene projects a sense of vulnerability; if one of them leaves, both of them will be left alone, and it is through this fear that the beauty of togetherness can be achieved and not taken for granted.

Another point I would like to make is Austerlitz’s overall view on the world and what is happening around hm. People tend to impress their current state of mind on their surroundings,  so that if they are happy, the day seems to shine more brightly, and if they are sad, darkness seems to butt their senses. This holds through for Austerlitz in his view of other people. When he arrives in Prague, he senses that the people appear to be “ill and gray[,] as if they were all chronic smokers not far from death” (143), and when walking the streets, he observes their “pale, sad faces” (201), and in other scenes, the people around him are often as morose and desolate as he is. For example, he describes two characters as being “pale [women] of almost transparent appearance” (146); his own state of mind perhaps discoloring their faces more than an ordinary person might see.  He is likely compensating for his own alienation by imagining and keying in on others as being equally alone. His description of other people rarely seem to be endowed with optimism or curiosity, he does not ponder about their background or what else they do outside of their current activity; it is simply plain and factual. Also complementing that is Sebald’s utilization of weather. “Dark, oppressive” (219) days predominate in many scenes within Austerlitz’s story, so that we appreciate the beauty of the sun as it finally emerges such as when he enters Germany for the first term, the train suddenly moving faster as the dark butts of his repressed memories lift, and Austerlitz’s recollection of his childhood in Bala involves the noticeable use of a winter setting, engaging in a kind of pathetic fallacy where the snowy, desolate landscape mirrors the coldness of these memories and the slow, lingering loss of life that Gwendolyn succumbs to.

Finally, both the narrator and Austerlitz explore abandoned places, such as the fortress of Breendonk and Terezin. In these places, shadows and gloominess prevail, and Sebald notes that there are rarely any other people in sight. When he first takes the train from Prague, he cannot see any other vehicles or people in the countryside except for the stationmasters. Also, when the author and the narrator visit the Greenwich observatory, they do not “remember meeting anyone” (98). Maybe their wandering way of life slots in between the normal routines of most people, so that they manage to procure historical attractions for themselves only. And it seems that what Austerlitz explores are often just as lonely and alienated as he is, languishing in time and space and waiting for someone to finally uncover them and allow them to tell their story.

Some of the many ways that Riding the Trail of Tears confuses me

I think it is safe to say that Blake Hausman’s Riding the Trail of Tears is not just any ordinary novel you might pick up of the shelves. There are many aspects of this book that confound me, likely intentionally so, that I can barely describe the plot before trying to make sense of its many diversions, quirks and fascinations. So without further ado, here are some of my thoughts on some elements I found particularly intriguing/aggravating:

1. What’s up with the narrator?

The first two chapters establish a narrator that apparently lives inside Tallulah’s head and later crawls into her hair. He (I assume, but I could be wrong) claims to know all about the inner workings of the TREPP, the Misfits, the Little People, the Little Little People and urges us with great warning to turn the page at our own risk, breaking the fourth wall.

And then he (apparently) disappears. While its true that we learn a lot, perhaps too much, about what Tallulah is thinking, almost in a Lieutenant Gustl-esque morality and righteousness only exists outside us way, he does not interject with comments about his own reaction to the events. He seems to fade into the background as a more typical omniscient third-person impartial/invisible narrator takes shape. Perhaps he could have made a witty remark when tour group 5709’s simulation goes off the deep end, or slyly comment on where Irma really is. Off the top of my head, I can offer a couple explanations. One is that Hausman simply decided that this dual-layered narrative/meta-narrative made an already fairly lengthy book too burdensome and only left the first two chapters intact. Or maybe he just forgot to continue it. Second is that the narrator somehow disappears from the narration after the first two chapters, he is only there to serve as an inserted frame, maybe just to explain some of the weird things that happen in the story.

And what about when Tallulah cuts her hair off? Does she know the narrator is there? How much does she know about what is truly happening? The story still continues after she does so, so does the narrator still hang on, or has he long disappeared from the narration?

2. What is the purpose and meaning of using both present and past tense narration?

One thing I noticed is that the chapters where Irma is the POV character are written using past tense and that the chapters where Tallulah is the person of interest use present tense. Considering the importance of time, both linear or circular, within the book, one could assume that this means something.

Chapter 19 ends in past tense. In chapter 20, the prose switches between past and present; it is mostly in past tense, but slips into present briefly on pg 327 and the end of pg 332-333.

It could be two separate narrators, one narrating using the past tense and the other using the present tense. It could also indicate that the scenes using past tense happen in the past and that scenes using present tense happen in the present.

Or the use of present tense could indicate the forward or intended flow of time, simple, at the moment experiences, while past tense, being able to convey feelings and events from the entirety of human history, could evoke a more expansive look at time, considering the eclectic mixture of past and present that embodies the Misfits. Tallulah’s dream is fixed in the past, and when she is jolted back into reality, the prose also jolts back into present tense.

3. The role of the Old Medicine Man and the Chef

In the beginning of the novel, the Old Medicine Man gets a lot of attention as this end-game consolation prize, a wise elder which supplies platitudes of inner strength and finding your calling. Despite talking about him, we never see him. The tourists are seemingly rejuvenated from their traumatic experience inside the Trail by seeing Old Medicine Man, and they act normally as they leave the attraction, even though they have experienced murder, rape and all other crimes that actual American Indians faced during the Removal. There must be something there that releases , that prevents the tourists from being “holed-up” as a couple of the characters end up doing, perhaps as a result of the realistic trauma within the trail. In this way, he can be seen as this connective tissue, absorbing the impact of the muscles on either side, a mediator between reality and virtual reality. The tourists know they are no longer in the game, but are still in virtual space, a kind of liminal, in-between world.

What we do see a lot of however is the Chef. He’s not advertised at all, but he becomes an integral presence. When Irma first disappears, she ends up in the Misfit Stockade and encounters him. In some ways, the Chef could also play an in-between role, breaking the intended structure of the game, slowing it down, creating something that is neither history nor present events, breaking the immersion in a way so that it accesses a new “glitch-space”. He addresses the tourists directly and knows about them, and he operates in a space initially separate (off-the-road, more precisely) from the Trail, just like the space I presume Old Medicine Man is situated within. Maybe he is the demented alter-ego of the Medicine Man, an apparently scrapped or discarded character that once served a similar role.

4. What’s the deal with all the passages about food?

I noticed that Hausman spends an abnormally large amount of time talking about food and its preparation. I think almost half of the scenes involving the Chef involve him preparing food for the other Misfits. It almost serves as the way in which he leads the Misfits. When the Misfits leave the stockade, nearly singular emphasis is focused on providing enough ‘travel rations’ for all of them, and the Chef demonstrates superhuman ability to prepare food for 1000 people within a short amount of time.

One thing to note is that Nell Johnson, one of the tourists, is holed up after being shot while running towards some peach trees. The other characters die without any relation to food, and they all make it out okay. Strange.

Also interesting is that the chicken marsala that the Misfits are serving in chapter 19 basically sparks a chain of memories from Tallulah. It is common to have an object or a concept that triggers certain memories from one’s past, both in narratives and in real life, but here it comes specifically in the form of food.

Something particularly noteworthy is that as a virtual reality platform, the sense of taste, which food revolves around, would be hardest to recreate. Surely the “Realskyn” and the visor, as described in the book would be able to recreate the sense of touch, sight and hearing and perhaps also smell, but the sense of taste . Maybe it is the character’s quite visceral response to food, and the fact that the characters eat the Chef’s food and enjoy it that truly blurs the lines between reality and virtual space.

Even outside of the simulation, the narrator clearly mentions the ‘single kitchen’ reality that connects all the various restaurants in the TREPP, and at the end, Tallulah cuts off her hair in a walk in freezer, using a scissor borrowed from one of the people working in the kitchen. I can’t quite piece together the connection, but I think Hausman definitely intended there to be one.

 

Some Thoughts on Panopticism

 

Foreword: This is a rather extensive digression on two topics and a series of thought experiments that particularly interest me.

Why we are not living in a panopticon at this moment: 

One of the most common pitfalls, in my opinion, when comparing the panopticon of a prison with modern day real life surveillance is the whole philosophy behind these two systems. The idea of a panopticon is that it allows the prisoners to know they are being watched as well as who is watching them, but does not actually watch them at all times. Real-life surveillance on the other hand watches without discretion, but does not instigate the same amount of fear and paranoia from the general populace. This is why I think that panopticism does not predominate in today’s society, which is probably a good thing.

Firstly, surveillance cameras are hidden from plain view. We are expected to believe that we are not being watched, in order to spare us the anxiety of having discrete cameras trained at us wherever we go . We might have cameras everywhere monitoring the actions of passersby, but their presence won’t be directly felt. One might then present two counter-arguments, one being that many places do come with warnings that announce the presence of surveillance systems, the other being that the indiscreet nature of surveillance cameras acts as the invisible eyes of the warden within the tower. As a rebuttal, even if there is a sign saying that a building is under surveillance, the cameras still won’t be clearly visible. One knows they are being watched, but without the looming tower hammering the point home. The role of the tower is not only to give the warden the ability to a survey the entire prison easily, but to strike fear into the prisoners through its unwavering presence. Hidden cameras do not provide that.

Secondly, surveillance cameras are truly all seeing, it does a lot, rather than doing little but making it appear like a lot. The prison warden in the central tower cannot watch all the prisoners at once, he relies on the psychological awareness of the prisoner and their paranoia in order to give the impression that he is all seeing. This is a kind of Schrodinger’s Cat situation, where the prisoner is both seen and not seen; but they must err on the side of caution. On the other hand, surveillance cameras are not able to psychologically outwit their victims to such a degree, instead, they ensure we are being watched at all moments. There is a clear dichotomy between whether they are surveillance cameras around, and whether there are not, as opposed to the perpetual uncertainty of the prison panopticon. It is costly to install a surveillance system and it consumes a large amount of energy as they continue to record even if nothing of interest is happening. The idea of the panopticon is that it maximizes the effectiveness of one prison warden. Inside a heavily surveilled location such as an airport or a government building there is no paranoid uncertainty; the cameras are there, we are being watched, instead of occupying a middle-ground between being watched

Thirdly, since the central tower of a panopticon is not truly all-seeing, but rather . One can gain a sense of pride when being put under the gaze of a camera. For example, some buildings place television sets or screens that show people directly what the cameras see; this can both serve to scare people into behaving, and also allow them to see themselves on ‘television’, and gain a sort of self importance. An ordinary person, upon realizing they are being filmed, may experience a feeling of vanity, that they are demonstrating to the rest of the world how they have nothing to hide and are perfectly law abiding.

So what would ‘real’ panopticism look like in everyday life? It has to be clearly visible, capable of using psychological manipulation rather than brute force, and must produce fear without vanity. One answer (purely out of speculation and more akin to a near-future dystopia/utopia like 1984 and Brave New World) might be the use of undercover plainclothes police officers or security guards, blending in with the crowd, but capable of responding much more effectively against a criminal threat than the ordinary civilian. In this case, the would-be criminal sees a potential member of the police force in every able bodied person they meet on the street. One might even train people who look nothing like a typical policeman for these roles, in order to further fuel the paranoia of potential wrongdoers.

Speculating further into the dystopia/utopia idea is the ability to strategically place these people in order to flush out potential criminals, similar to the concept of bait cars used nowadays but at a larger scale. This might have the unfortunate repercussion of allowing the government to force arrests and goad vulnerable demographics into committing crimes they otherwise would not have committed, essentially an indirect form of entrapment.

Another answer would be to divide a city into separate parts, for example into quadrants, and concentrate all surveillance and undercover security in one quadrant each day. The remaining quadrants may be especially vulnerable, but remember that the prisoners who are not currently being watched can do whatever they want but are discouraged from doing so. Finally, delving further into speculation is that knowledge of which quadrant is currently being watched can be incredibly valuable and destructive, much like a prisoner knowing the truth of what happens inside the central tower.

How freedom and security can coexist (temporarily): 

For me, freedom and security, in regards to Foucault’s modern society, are incompatible. In North America today, we sacrifice freedom for security. Governments have to make the difficult choice between how far freedom of speech can stretch; where does it become harmful and a threat to the stability of our society? To what extent are we able to keep our personal data private from government eyes, even if it concerns national security? (e.g. Apple vs the FBI)

In regards to what I am discussing further on, I see freedom as the ability to express and act upon one’s inner desires and ideas. Under this definition, Criminal acts are often the result of unearned or forcefully acquired freedom, for example, robbing or shoplifting is simply the act of taking, but through means forbidden by society. Murder is the act of killing without higher level authorization. In this case, security is simply keeping freedom in check, preventing any dangerous desires from flourishing and presenting a threat to society. We still have some freedom in our day to day lives, for example,  in our own homes and among close friends and family, we can discuss topics and express opinions that may not be appropriate for outside exposure (I find it difficult to imagine that anyone would attempt to remain entirely politically correct even among private situations), but overall, in public, we are surveilled both by our fellow citizens and by cameras and the ability for anyone with a smartphone to take pictures or video-recordings of any heinous acts.

Taking it to the extreme, if we are watched all the time, even inside our very homes, we may be able to achieve maximum security and prevention of criminal activity, but we will have to conform at all times to societal demands. If the idea of surveillance extends even to our minds, the idea of the thought-crime, perhaps we would eliminate any trace of criminal or deviant behavior, but we would lose a sense of who we are, the individuality shaped by our unique flaws and ability to transgress.

On the other extreme is a state of anarchy where one is free to do whatever they want, but without any form of organized society that allows for some semblance of fairness, justice and equality. If one is free to answer all their desires, then one is free to be the recipient of another’s potentially harmful desire. There would be no complicated network of families, friends or communities, as even the concept of banding together for mutual support requires giving away some freedom since one is then obligated to share their belongings and aid one another. We would then be left alone to fend for ourselves, a Rousseau-like existence, and physical brutality would be the key to success.

Once we arrive at a middle-ground between these two extremes, one may then consider freedom and security to be part of a Foucault-like power relation. Security is initially assumed to predominate over freedom, but one can stretch the relationship to gain more freedom by sacrificing security. Joining a criminal gang would obviously cause a person to be vulnerable both to law enforcement and rival gangs, but it gives them the freedom to participate in activities previously prohibited by ordinary society. These types of deviant lifestyles are ways in which one can stretch the freedom-security relation . Another example is the fact that in dictatorships that curtail freedom of speech, people still protest, often at the risk of their own lives. Revolutions occur when freedom is stretched too far and the power relation is flipped, with security straining against the bounds of freedom and eventually restoring control.

From this, a cyclical pattern emerges, which tells me that the quest for both freedom and security is continuous; the wheel endlessly turning between left and right wing influences. We do want both of these elements, we want to strain for freedom without losing out on our security.

One possibility would be to divide into two areas. The first is filled with heavy surveillance and is a true panopticon, so that no one is willing to step outside the bounds of acceptable activities, but everybody is safe from crime and unlawful activities. The second is the opposite, with limited surveillance so that people are free to live however they wish, but with a higher crime rate. There, those who crave freedom will gravitate towards the latter area, and those who desire security will choose the former. People can move between the two areas, allowing them to choose which of the two they prefer to live in at any given moment.

But this is still a trade-off. You can either be surveilled and be safe, or have freedom but expose yourself to greater risk. It does not address the incompatibility of these two elements.

In order to achieve both freedom and security, a society must exist in which someone can do whatever they want, but no matter how despicable their actions, no crime is ever committed. One may think that this is impossible; in today’s highly globalized and interdependent society, how can any of our actions not have repercussions?

But this leads me to a conclusion that involves the idea that freedom is also more psychological than security, and an illusion of freedom can often suffice, even if it is momentary. You may be sitting in your room, perfectly law-abiding and integrated into society, but currently reading a novel, watching a film, or playing a video game designed to glorify crime. Foucault writes that novels or stories depicting criminals as heroes grew in popularity due to the brutality of punishment spectacles, but I also see that as a result of the careful discipline of modern society, the rigid division of one’s life from elementary, middle, high school, university or college, their part-time then full time jobs, the selection and pursuit of a career path, their marriage, their family and their retirement. Enthralled inside whatever forms of media, we escape the pressing momentum of time and the what-if dilemma facing every decision, instead allowing ourselves to become these fictional characters that go unpunished for their crimes and live outside the bounds of society. Why do people watch films involving mobsters or planet-wide engagements involving superheroes? Why have video games, the majority of which involving the gruesome act of murder, become one of the dominant forms of entertainment? Perhaps this is an acknowledgment by modern society that the rigid discipline discussed at length in Discipline and Punish demands an outlet, the desire to strain against the power relations governing our carefully planned roles in society without really straining it at all. Just for a moment, after we have finished reading a book, watching a movie or playing a video game, we believe we can do anything and the discipline forged within us fades, and that is enough to satisfy us.

So the short answer may tentatively be yes, we can have both freedom and security, as long as the freedom is illusory, in the form of ultimately unimpactful entertainment. This raises an interesting question, is real freedom necessary, or is an illusion of freedom sufficient. If the former is true, how can real freedom be proven? Are we not all trapped one way or the other, whether we are citizens in an urban society, or Rousseau-like natural human beings out in the wilderness? In that case should we strive for real, perfect security, and deceive ourselves with illusory, perfect freedom?

 

The Cinematic Genius of Vertov

One element that stood out for me from Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera was the sheer creativity he demonstrates with the camera. The camera isn’t just a window into the world of film but a character itself; Vertov uses it in different ways, not only to communicate literary meaning but also to show what was possible in cinema at the time. Although I don’t know that much about precise film terminology, I’ll try to point out what interested me after looking at this film more closely.

(I apologize for the 2000+ word count, but this is in lieu of me forgetting what I wanted to say about this film)

1. Split Screen

Vertov uses split screen fairly often throughout his film; usually the individual parts are thematically related, but are not always shot at the same angle/distance. Of particular interest is that fact that many of the split screen effects are horizontal, rather than vertical, which is the type of split screen mainly used nowadays. This shot, in which the cameraman is setting up his camera, presents a good example of how Vertov uses this technique to create a complex composite image:

Here, Vertov presents two different angles and sizes that contend for the viewer’s attention. The screen is not evenly divided, leaving the bottom image, the close-up of the camera, to act almost as a platform for the top image, which contains a long shot of the cameraman setting the camera on the tripod, as the camera in the bottom image and the hill in the top image line up.

Another example would be this triple split screen:

In this shot, Vertov stacks three similar shots together to create the illusion of a large crowd; the higher up on the screen, the smaller the people get, simulating how distant objects appear smaller and how the . What fascinates me is how

Although this may have seemed fresh and exciting at Vertov’s time, split screen has now become prevalent in television and some later films, making this a definite harbinger for things to come.

2. Multiple exposure

I first learned about this technique when I was researching this film a bit more, but from watching the film itself, it is plainly obvious that Vertov is fond of the effect. He superimposes multiple images for sometimes bizarre effects, such placing the camera-man inside a glass (~55:19), or combining multiple images after a series of increasing quick cuts, which begin still decipherable by the human eye and speed up into a flicker of shots that last barely more than a frame before merging together, as seen below:

And the image of an eye superimposed into the lens of the camera is rich in symbolic and thematic meaning, characterizing the camera as a powerful, all-seeing eye. Through this technique, Vertov creates images the human eye can only imagine but never create, demonstrating the camera (though somewhat deconstructing his Kino-eye theory) as an imaginative/evocative as well as realistic apparatus.

3. Off-angle shots/Dutch angle

I was surprised to see how frequently Vertov uses this technique, but what stood out to me the most is how he uses a changing camera angle to achieve several emotional effects. During the scene where the cameraman is filming an upcoming train, there is a series of shots in which the camera rapidly tilts back and forth, which amplifies the tension and disorients the viewer, simulating the shock of the event. Additionally, near the end, there is a brief sequence (~ 56:00) where the camera also swerves back and forth, producing a sense of vertigo for the viewer and replicating how humans under duress tend to view things, unfocused and shaky.

Finally, there is this shot, which is undoubtedly one of the most memorable in the film.

The two halves of the shot fold into each other, the composite symmetrical image of the city appears to collapse in a brilliant illusion. What we are seeing is entirely an editing room creation, the results of extensive post production; in a sense, this is the camera, or the Kino-eye playing magic tricks on the audience, showing just how superior it is to the human eye .

4. Tracking shots and other camera movement

This is a film in which the camera is truly alive. It captures moving vehicles, keeping pace alongside them, following the action instead of letting it slip by the frame. There are multiple segments in which the cameraman rides alongside different vehicles, and even on a merry go round, and shots where the cameraman is seen standing in a car filming another car to acquire these shots.

Some other examples of techniques that I find commonly in modern films, but not at all in the other two silent films for this week are the hand-held, point of view style of filming in ~17:25-17:35, where the unseen cameraman follows the on-screen cameraman, which definitely reminds me of how documentaries and other genres of films are made nowadays, as well as a unique 360 degree camera rotation in ~41;54-59 (commonly used for dramatic effect in modern cinema, as far as I know), and the panning between two women sitting near each other to simulate the effect of a back and forth conversation in ~35:15-35:21, somewhat as a precursor to the many techniques used nowadays to add visual interest to a generally dull conversation between two characters.

In that sense, this advances the paradigm that the camera’s movement is as important as the movement of the objects and people within the scene. Unlike something like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which uses fixed sets without much depth or sense of space, the entire city is Vertov’s set, and he can explore it, manipulate it, experiment with different angles and distances, so much that the sense of claustrophobia from the close-ups of machinery and the sense of grandeur and scale from long-shots and expansive tracking shots are both equally prevalent.

5. Slow-motion

Even though Vertov does apply the opposite effect, speeding up some of the scenes (for example, ~43:44, where my butts moving in the sky above the bridge imply a long time has passed, an effect commonly used nowadays), the use of slow motion in the athletics scene is particularly effective in conveying the magnitude and emotions of the events happening before our eyes. The high-jumper’s feat is made all the more impressive when we see just how he clears the bar. It is quite obvious how slow motion has impacted modern cinema and filming; we see it everywhere, and it is surprising how Vertov, in the 1920s, uses it for essentially the same purpose as we do nowadays, to punctuate and add emphasis to a scene. It literally stretches (or compresses) time, another clever effect that a camera possesses in contrast to the fixed speed of the human eye.

6. Erotic and graphic material

It is all too easy to assume that early black and white silent films were rather limited in what they were allowed to show on screen. However, Vertov presents the audience with some jarring material, in particular the childbirth scene, cross-cut with scenes of a funeral, and quite briefly depicts the newborn child, with its umbilical cord, being pulled out of the uterus. I did not expect such a scene, but it certainty adheres to Vertov’s idea of an objective cinema, free of so-called moral censors.

Additionally, the beach scene contains a few examples of nudity as women rub mud over their bodies. There isn’t a lot of emphasis placed on the nudity, indicating that this wasn’t a big deal at that time.

Despite this, Vertov on several occasions allows his camera to linger on certain suggestive scenes that even today would probably be frowned upon by major production studios. The woman at the beginning of the film is filmed putting on her stocking, along with her , which is accompanied by a close-up of her back. A shot near the end of the film which depicts a young woman dancing is shot from below the subject, bringing emphasis to her legs and the revealing nature of her dress.

But what strikes me as unorthodox is the focus put on physically active women, in comparison to the maternal ideals of the past century. Women are seen participating in athletics and team sports, pulling weights and shooting rifles, all typical masculine activities. Women are also seen working in factories, or as typists or radio operators. This all helps contributes to the idea that this is a Marxist-Leninist film, in that it glorifies the working female proletariat rather than demonize her.

7. Stop-motion animation

Vertov dedicates nearly a minute to a scene (~59:39-1:00:32) in which the camera and its stand move on its on accord, seemingly through magic, but practically through stop-motion animation, which is where models are moved by small increments and filmed to achieve the illusion of movement. This is another way in which the camera plays tricks on the audience’s eyes; through film editing, objects can be made to move without human interference by simply removing human interaction from the film recording itself. In the context of the film, this also demonstrates the camera as a character by itself, capable of moving around and setting up shots by itself.

8. Cross-cutting

Vertov makes excellent use of cross-cutting, or shifting between multiple scenes, presumably happening at the same time, in this film to create a sense of anticipation for upcoming shots, and this enhances the lively, rhythmic nature of the film and its editing. Cross-cutting is used in both thematic contexts, to juxtapose scenes, or simply to build tension. Near the beginning of the film (~14:43-15:18), shots of people interacting machines is crosscut with the cameraman climbing a tall tower; there is a sense of progression and anxiety with the cameraman that is created by splicing individual sections of his ascent with scenes of people and machinery. The juxtaposition of rote activity with something more exciting is something that I believe is remarkably effective for enhancing tension and providing momentum, and I have seen it many times in more modern films. An example of thematic cross-cutting is where Vertov presents a variety of shots where people are washing objects in the city or themselves (~11:24-11:42). The idea of water connects the scenes together but also links the people and the city together (as stated in lecture), presenting a fully united communist state. Also, the cross-cutting between childbirth and a funeral generates entirely unusual emotions. A funeral is solemn and mournful, yet childbirth is intense but eventually joyful. These aspects contrast each other in every way, essentially cancelling each other out to relieve the instinctual emotions present when viewing such scenes.

Another example of cross-cutting is where Vertov inserts shots of the audience during the athletics scene and also during the magic trick scene (~50:28-51:04). This emphasizes the gravity of the actions occurring and the sheer amount of scrutiny being placed on it, and this is almost ubiquitous in editing nowadays I believe. Cutting to different people and their reactions to the ongoing scene acts as a measuring stick for both the character in the film (if they are recurring), and the audience as well, and a way of providing forward momentum by staggering the main flow of events.

9. Variety of shot compositions

The last technique I noticed was how Vertov contrasts different types of shot compositions, ranging from symmetrical and orderly images to the swiftly moving scenes of machinery turning and vehicles moving along the road. One example I found of a symmetrical, tightly composed shot, was this image of a car, which is perfectly square to the camera, the grille at the front allowing perpendicular lines to run across the screen. It is almost too perfect, uncanny in a way, yet after this the audience sees only scenes of moving cars.

Additionally, I find the scene involving the merry-go-round (~53:42) to be very skillfully made. It places the merry-go-round and the people riding on it into focus and the spectators out of focus, creating both foreground and background elements. This is an essential part of modern cinema from what I’ve heard, the skill to manipulate focus, who or what to focus on, whether a deep or shallow focus is necessary.

Finally, I noticed that Vertov films from different heights, often from rooftops, or other higher elevation, and also from different angles, tilting the camera upward to gaze at objects from a much different perspective. These angles, in my opinion, help lend a more varied feel to the film which made it much less sleep-inducing than Berlin, Symphony of a Great City, at least in my opinion.

 

 

The Use of Veils in The Earthquake in Chile and Lieutenant Gustl

I find both short stories to make considerable use of metaphorical veils, both to hide or to justify acts of morality. These interact with the catastrophes that shape each story, possibly strengthening, creating and altering these veils. I will go through some of the veils that I think are most influential to each story and how they link to catastrophe as well as descent of morality, which I think is an important theme that both stories share.

I would say that the initial state of morality in both stories is nothing to be proud of. In The Earthquake in Chile, one can analyze morality in two levels, first in the eyes of the protagonists, Jeronimo and Josepha, as well as the society of Santiago. In the eyes of society, their immoral treatment of Josepha, such as throwing her in prison right after she gives birth, is veiled by their strict laws forbidding adultery. These laws act as justification for Josepha’s execution and obscure the inhumanity lying beneath. In the case of the lovers, they fully realize the immorality of their actions, but by secretly consummating their love, by veiling their affair, they manage to escape lawful retribution. However, this veil fails when Josepha gives birth, thus setting in motion the in medias res conflict. So here we can see veils being used both as methods of obscuring, or justifying immorality and hiding it, and that the hiding veil is weaker than the justifying veil.

In Lieutenant Gustl, I think the veil is much more obvious. His true thoughts, which are expressed , are veiled by the privacy of his mind. No one can discern what he is thinking, except the readers, so this allows him to get away with many opinions that one would consider immoral. He considers beating up people who get in his way and lusts for women he spots around the concert hall, among other things. Therefore, it is seen that here, the veil serves to hide his immorality. Where it does falter is through his incident with his baker, where he lets too much aggression through and loses his honor as a result. Again, we can see that veils used to hide immorality are susceptible to failure.

Now the catastrophes in both stories shake things up considerably, and that they themselves can also be veiled, not in the mind of the characters, but in the mind of the reader. I feel that point of view is essential to understanding the catastrophes that happen in each story. First of all, the earthquake in Santiago, in the eyes of the two lovers, can be seen as a blessing because it saves their lives and their romance. After they reunite, they retreat into a valley, celebrating instead of mourning. An earthquake is undeniably a great tragedy, but considering that Jeronimo and Josefa are protagonists, through their eyes, we see the catastrophe being veiled by triumph. The opposite effect happens in the church massacre. In the eyes of the mob, the massacre has a rectifying effect, acting as retribution for the two lovers’ sins. If the story were told in the view of a person who has lost everything due to the earthquake, then obviously Jeronimo and Josepha’s death, among others, would lose much of its tragedy under the veil of vengeance.

A similar thing happens in Lieutenant Gustl. Since we are literally looking through his eyes and thoughts, his point of view is extremely biased. He treats his encounter with the baker as a great blow to his honor, and through his interior monologue, what would have been seen as just a minor incident in the eyes of others, is now a profound catastrophe. It even overshadows the catastrophe of the baker’s death, which, if one were to liberate the point of view into a more omniscient form, would be undeniably a tragic event. However, under the veil of Gustl’s impending suicide and shattered honor, this becomes a catharsis, a liberation, much like the earthquake was for Jeronimo and Josepha, but on a more interior scale. Here, one catastrophe veils another. The catastrophe of the baker’s death is obscured by the resolution of Gustl’s confrontation with the baker, and we as the audience are profoundly tricked into believing that a single threat in retaliation to Gustl’s insults. Both of these stories veil our natural compassion and morality for humanity as a whole by providing catastrophes that solve the problems of the protagonist through an influx of tragedy, forcing us to make moral decisions. More often than not, we tend to choose the protagonist, be it a hero or an anti-hero.

Lastly, I would like to point out how the catastrophes create veils not only for the audience, but their perception of the characters’ fates as well as the characters themselves, ultimately degrading their morality. In The Earthquake in Chile, a veil is creating through the surprising unity that the disaster has engendered among the surviving people. They cooperate with one another, and Jeronimo and Josepha seem safe. This, however, is followed by the massacre at the church, foretold by Dona Elvira. Here, the veil is temporal, presenting a state that one assumes will last, but which quickly dissolves into its exact opposite. This extreme juxtaposition can only create uneasiness. In the massacre itself, the earthquake is used as a justification, a veil that hides the brutality of the mob under the presumption that God is unhappy with them for allowing the sin of adultery to bloom. This is an extreme version of the earlier veil that justified Josepha’s execution, as the immorality hiding behind the justification is much more severe and brutal, thus providing a tragic ending.

In the case of Lieutenant Gustl, I find several similarities. Not only does the catastrophe of the confrontation with the baker warp the audience’s perception of the baker’s death, but also Gustl’s reaction. He celebrates instead of mourns, providing a severe juxtaposition, triumph against sorrow. This time however, sorrow is the outward force while triumph is the veiled force. Nonetheless, the distinction remains; Gustl’s elation at another man’s death, simply because he insulted his honor, is disturbing, and even more so when he feigns sadness and boasts at his success. Here, the hiding veil is ironclad, and the fact that he finds catharsis in the baker’s death indicates that his morality has degraded even further. Even though the ending of this story may seem like a triumph for the protagonist, considering these aspects, it is very much a tragedy.

I believe this is the format I want to use if I write my essay on this topic, so hopefully this makes logical and coherent sense.

Darwin’s The Descent of Man: Discriminatory Evolution

While most people would agree that Darwin’s theory of evolution revolutionized modern biology, this does not mean that all aspects of his work was boundary-pushing. Darwin, in The Descent of Man, attempts to use the concept of sexual selection, a “less vigorous” form of natural selection that acts on one gender as they struggle against each other to mate with the other gender to demonstrate that the human male is biologically more modified and thus superior to the female. Admittedly, this is not surprising for his time, as feminism had not yet gained much traction, but it does hold several interesting implications.

To begin, where does sexual selection fit into Darwin’s theory of evolution? It is included in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species as a companion to natural selection, but clearly takes on a subsidiary role based on the selection we have of this publication as Darwin goes into far further detail regarding natural selection. It shares similarities to natural selection in that it involves a struggle that leaves certain members of a species better able to reproduce. Males with more outstanding physical traits, such as strength, prominent features including horns and antlers, or colorful plumage, are able to fight off competition and attract better females earlier. Although failure in this struggle does not include death, it follows the same principles of natural selection in that it preserves these traits among the male offspring, albeit through the selection of the female rather than the impartial hand of nature.

While this is relatively accurate when referring to animal species, it is in The Descent of Man that Darwin applies this to the human species that he stumbles in his brilliance. He initially links personality traits to these “secondary sexual characteristics” that appear in male animals, claiming that men are not only stronger, taller and heavier, but also braver, more creative and more energetic. Both natural selection and sexual selection among animals only preserve physical attributes, so the fact that men and women possess physically differences can be chalked up to the biological effects of sexual selection. But bravery and creativity are nowhere near as quantifiable as physical attributes and are not solely confined to the male gender. While a peacock will always have its extravagant plumage and a peahen will not, a man can be cowardly while a woman can be brave. Therefore, physical and mental attributes cannot coexist as products of sexual selection.

However, this is only the beginning. Darwin makes a further claim that men innately possess superior mental capability compared to women. As a person living in the 21st century, I obviously find this to be very discriminatory, but aside from that, I do want to investigate the methods in which Darwin applies his 19th century prejudice. Firstly, the superior mental faculties of men involve the ability for reason, imagination or ‘deep-thought’ (this faculty in particular seems so arbitrary for me and so surprising coming from such a mind as Darwin), and Darwin is quick to applaud the “genius” of man while emphasizing its non-existence in woman. He admits that she possesses greater intuition, perception and imitation, but these, sadly, come from a “lower state of civilisation” (269), and do not belong in the stratosphere that men’s mental strengths occupy. Is there any concrete evidence that reason and imagination is the result of greater modification than is intuition and perception. Which of these attributes is more useful for survival? Secondly, this mental superiority exists because men experience struggle to a greater degree than women and are thus more exposed to the effects of natural and sexual selection. He presumes that in a savage state, men had to hunt, protect their families and attain enough status to win a wife. The invention of weapons requires the so-called higher mental faculties; the men who invented and used such weapons would be less likely to die and more likely to impress the tribe and thus win a better wife, therefore men who possess these higher mental faculties will be selected for preservation. However, Darwin fails to take into account the role of women in society, be it savage or civilized; perhaps he thinks so little of it that he believes it is not even worth mentioning. For example, doesn’t caring for a child, the stereotypical feminine role, also require the presumably male-dominated faculties of observation, reason and invention? Or is it a mindless task, unable to expose women to any meaningful process of selection? These are questions that I believe are important today, now that the issue of gender roles has opened up and their previous rigidity has loosened.

Finally (this post has almost reached essay length), if Darwin can assert a mental inequality to the issue of gender, then it can certainly be applied to race and culture as well. Instead of stating that the lack of prominent women figures in history is due to their inability to pursue male-dominated arts and largely patriarchal societal structure, one can simply say that men are more modified. Likewise, instead of attributing the differences in cultural habits and technology among different nations across the world to social/political/economic forces, one can claim that certain races have been more modified, more exposed to the evolutionary processes and further along the tree-diagram. As strange and deluded as it might seem nowadays, the idea of social-Darwinism was not unpopular in late-19th century and early 20th century Europe, if I recall correctly. Therefore, this has really put into perspective how this idea acquired its name, as I can definitely see similar methods and assumptions made both in the issue of nation/race/culture and gender.

 

Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality: Is Progress Worth It?

In his Discourse in Inequality, Jean-Jacques Rousseau describes the stage in society known as nascent man to be the “golden mean” (115) between primitive and civilized humans, portraying it as the “happiest epoch” of human history. But what about nascent man makes him happier than all others, if we look at the seemingly endless luxuries that our 21st century Western society now enjoys, be it electricity, computers, cars, jewelry etc? I would say that Rousseau’s argument isn’t based around the idea that nascent man is always happier, but that nascent man can easily obtain happiness in ways that civilized humans can only dream of.

One of the major differences between nascent man and civilized man, in my opinion, has to be the concepts of needs. Nascent man possesses a few simple needs whereas civilized man possesses many complex needs. What do I mean by that? I will start by explaining the difference in needs between nascent and civilized man. First, Rousseau claims that commodities acquired over time by a gradually civilizing society “[degenerate] into actual needs” (113), and make people “unhappy in losing them” (113) without making them happy when they possess them. Civilized man, as he acquires commodities, gradually integrates them into his life as necessities, and once they have become necessities, he searches for more. He “is always active” (136) so that inevitably, one way or another, one or more of these needs will not be met, and will cause him grief that an “indolent savage” (136) will not be able to comprehend. Modern computers fit this description surprisingly accurately, as they are seen as necessary instead of beneficial by many of us here in North America today. Our ability to access the Internet using these devices is taken for granted now, so much that we won’t be very pleased at all if we lose it. And simply owning one device isn’t enough, we have to own a cell phone, a tablet, a smart-watch, and who knows what in the future.  Nascent man is “limited in [his] needs” (113), Rousseau states that they need only basic requirements for life and a mere consideration for others (169) instead of dependence, and that they acquire pleasure from “blowing into a bad flute” (169), whereas we would only experience irritation. They need very little in their lives, and thus they need very little to be happy. There is something to be said for this lifestyle, where happiness comes from sources that we have long since eclipsed.

As civilized humans acquire more and more needs, these needs grow more and more complex. Rousseau introduces metallurgy as more complex than hunting and gathering, as it requires others to supply its practitioners with food (117). Even for such a basic craft, we see interdependence beginning to blossom. Without work that requires  “the collaboration of several hands” (116), people are free and happy. They can both profit and acquire happiness from their work. However, we have greatly surpassed this stage, as now commodities are the byproduct of innumerable steps. Returning to the idea of computers; one needs to manufacture the individual components, assemble them, sell them, ship them, supply customer support, and even hire people to oversee the transitions between these steps. Each step features thousands upon thousands of people that go about their jobs with little knowledge of the end product. They can no longer directly profit from their labor, nor can they take happiness from it; this is only remedied through salary.  We no longer fulfill most of our needs ourselves, but rely on others through the use of currency. This has the ramification of placing our well-being and the fulfillment of our needs into based on the hands of others. We need to have faith that our food isn’t poisoned, our medicine actually works and our bank account isn’t sabotaged, and even then, there is still a case for worrying.

If we can pursue a way of life that allows us to obtain happiness from simpler commodities, as seen from Rousseau’s account of a Native American chief selecting a wool blanket from the various other “civilized” gifts that he was presented, why do we choose to live with an increasing “multitude of new wants” (119)? Why do we relentlessly pursue progress if it simply demands more progress and requires more and more complex systems of interaction in order to achieve the same goals that a so-called “savage” wandering around the forest can so easily fulfill. This is something that truly makes me question what purpose this excessive desire for “self-improvement” (88) has for humanity as a whole.

Plato’s View On Equality

I am writing this post as a way to present some of my thoughts on the essay question (#12) that didn’t make it into the essay.

Book 5 of Plato’s Republic is highly fascinating because it makes propositions unlike anything that we have seen so far. First of all, Plato argues that women should be afforded the same opportunities as men, which, during his era, must have been seen as borderline ridiculous, but less so nowadays. But what is even more surprising is are his propositions that marriages must be controlled by the state (Plato, 149, 459e), people should live and dine together (Plato, 155, 464b) , women should be shared amongst the men (Plato, 147, 457c), and children should be raised by special nurses. This results in a society where the idea of a family unit disappears. Instead, the city, the polis, is your family. Your brothers and sisters are those who are of similar age, your fathers and mothers of older age, and children of younger age (Plato, 154, 463c). You feel pleasure and pain together as a whole (Plato, 155, 464a) .

Amidst all this strangeness however, is the idea of equality staring back at you from the other end of the tunnel, opposite that from which you came. It is not equality of opportunity or equal rights for everybody, but another form altogether. Everybody is equally happy (Plato, 103, 420c); the city smiles as a whole. You are not responsible for any people, nor is anybody responsible for you. You love each other, but you love no one.

Turning back from this puzzling sight, you return to a society that you are familiar with. There, you are faced with a conundrum. Two trains are about to crash, and you can only stop one of them. A handful of family and friends has boarded the one on the left, and a crowd of strangers occupy the one on the right. Which one do you choose. Your family and friends will be forever grateful, some strangers may forget your face altogether.

In Kallipolis, no such problem exists. The distinctions are erased. You try to save the most people as possible. Is that really a bad thing? Or are we bound by the unquestioned belief that family, and those who you value more than others, are a natural part of human existence. Should we take for granted our freedom to choose who we want to be with, love who we love, avoid those who we hate, and does that count as equality and a representation of a just society? Perhaps Plato is more of a supporter of equality than we are, with our multitude of separate communities, distinctions, conformists and misfits, all vying for control of our minds. Or maybe he’s just an eccentric.

Introduction

Hello everyone, my name is Mabon Foo and I am proud to be an Arts One Seeing and Knowing student here at UBC.

Formalities aside, I would like to take the time to reveal some of the things that interest me and the reasons I chose Arts One.

First of all, I have always been keenly interested in the humanities and liberal arts. I was an IB student (which stands for International Baccalaureate) at my high school before I came to UBC, and I remember eagerly awaiting English and History class to learn about and even attending my Theory of Knowledge class at 7:00 am fueled not by coffee, but by an insatiable desire to discover the ways in which we attain knowledge. Perhaps I am exaggerating slightly with my enthusiasm, but I do see myself in the future pursuing something in this vein.

I also have a passion for music, both performing and writing. I have completed Grade 10 Royal Conservatory Piano along with playing clarinet in my high school concert band and written a variety of songs and classical pieces. I may get to sharing some of these once I start polishing and recording them.

Moving on to Arts One, in my opinion, one aspect that intrigued me was the sheer variety of disciplines that it encompasses. Not only does it include classic literature such as Shakespeare, but also works of philosophy, poetry, films and even graphic novels. What’s more, these texts span across over 2000 years of human history. This sheer breadth, I believe, presents an opportunity for us to look at these works through an open-minded approach, not through the lens of any particular subject area.

This aforementioned variety not withstanding, the other attractive feature of the Arts One program definitely has to be the writing and the discussion components. Most of the time spent in my high school English class involved reading the texts and conversations that quoted Sparknotes and Wikipedia in lieu of actual opinion (I may be exaggerating here again, but you get the point). I am truly glad to enter an atmosphere where people are both interested and willing to share their thoughts, be it insightful, dramatic or just plain off-topic.

I also see this course as an opportunity to refine my writing skills. Considering that I have to submit approximately 1600 word paper every two weeks, I don’t think that this is a course you can slack off on either reading or essay writing and still manage to scrape through with a passing grade. The sheer number of essays that you have to submit will probably ensure that I pay close attention to improving my writing style and hopefully eliminate mistakes that beginning academic writers make. If everything goes to plan, I will be up to the challenge of 2nd year writing assignments and beyond. If it doesn’t, well, I’ll probably figure something out.

I guess this is the end of my first post, so I hope you enjoyed reading through all this rambling. Have a nice day.