Heroism Grows Up

I think I could argue that there are more important statements about Life (with a capital L) in this novel, then in something by Rousseau or Hobbes. There is something about an actual story of people trying to achieve humanity. I think it can show you more than just a narrator telling you what is the best way to achieve humanity. And Humanity (with a capital H) is a pretty important idea in Watchmen. The idea of ‘regular superheros’ is important. All these characters are us, some of us in each of them. We cannot disconnect ourselves from their lives so easily as you could superman or batman. There is so much in this story, so many important moments and quotes and ideas, that it is almost impossible to fit it all in a blog, but structuring it around the characters will be a good start.

Rorschach. If I had to pick one really important theme for this whole book it would be ‘what is good’. Yeah, about as broad as you get, i know. More detailed: I think there is a huge tension between two philosophies: Utilitarianism and that other philosophy where there is one strict moral code to adhere to. (can’t remember its name) Rorschach most often represents the latter philosophy. In one sense, his world is simple. People who do bad are bad people. If someone commits murder they should be killed. An eye for an eye. Obviously this doesn’t really make sense if a person extracts revenge through murder. It puts one on an equal plane with the criminal. I think this is the interesting thing about Rorschach’s philosophy. He despises the system he lives in so much and tries to distance himself from it, but he is the one who lives within it the most. He is disgusted by humanity, but he himself is what most people would see as disgusting or crazy. His mask is his connection to power and identity. It’s like a more perverse Batman. Still idealistic, still masked, but so reliant on that identity that there is nothing else left.

It makes sense that Nite Owl, (Dan Dreiberg) and Rorschach were partners. Although they seem like opposites they both share a similar set of values. Dan is an idealist, in a sense almost like a child. Although this is something all The Watchmen share, Dan reminds us of the childhood dream of becoming a superhero, wearing cool costumes, and just ‘doing good’ in general. Dan, and all the Watchmen, are the ones who never really grew out of that mindset.

Dr. Manhattan has ultimate power, but a disconnect from the human. He says “a live body and a dead body have the same number of particles, there is no difference.” Because he is removed from a human perspective, does this make him right? And what about the element of humanity that he still has?

So far, I’ve only barely scratched the surface of this book. Even what I wrote was very basic. But one more thing: the actual conflict. Veidt chooses to kill thousands in order to save the world from certain war. Only by uniting against a common enemy are we saved. So who is the real superhero? Is Veidt the only one that ever really “grew up”?

I love the work of Alan Moore and am really excited for the lecture and seminars.

man makes story/story makes man OR I still love you Coetzee

Well, Coetzee seems to be getting a lot of hate from Arts One LB1.But my trusty friend Wikipidea tells me it’s not only us. Upon it’s publication, Foe was ill-received even by the fancier critics. Interesting.  I’m tired of doing my usual lame synopsis blog thing, so i’m going to talk about that a bit.

In the immortal words of Kyle, “this story is a retelling that molests all that I once loved.” While that’s just really funny, I think it’s also an important statement about the way it affects people. And I think that is the point. Robinson Crusoe was (and is) a well read, well respected book. It’s one of the staples of modern day literary society. The fact that Coetzee should choose this book to frame her narrative is important. She is trying to “molest” the idea. That sounded strange, but making us rethink the way a classical narrative exists seems to be trying to reach a furthur goal than just ‘bein’ weird’. That’s why I like this book. It is similar to The Yellow Wallpaper in that its actual writing style means something more than just the book itself. It’s about the way we read as well. Sorry to quote Kyle again, but he had a really good blog that made me think about stuff. Anyway, he says “Friday’s nationality, charismatic entity, and worst of all his own voice are literally cut away from this retelling.” and I think that is the point. While the original story presents his nationality and voice as being ‘naturally’ silent in a hegemonic sort of way, Foe makes it more of a question, making you think about the original text as well as the one you are reading. Just in the one fact that Friday’s tounge is cut out says everything about race relations, discrimination, and the power of minorites. And sure, you could read stuff like that into almost anything, but you get the feeling that this is something Coetzee is consciously doing. I think people tended to see Crusoe’s character as a noble thing, that shows the power of the human spirit, etc. Foe challenges that. Does industrious expansion really have that much allure? What about when the island is full, but there are no supplies left? Is it tradition or rather a fear of change? I think that is why this book is brilliant but also easy to hate. It shows characters and things in a way we DON’T want to see them, thereby raising questions about people and the stories they tell.

I mainly think this book is about the power of language. Friday can’t talk, he has no power. Crusoe has power in a place where language is unneccesary, but does not make it to a world of communication. Foe himself creates an entire story, but it is what he makes it, and he has power of Sarah. Something I wonder about is, does the story make the man or does the man make the story? Yeah. I think that is what this book is about. What is more real, the event or the telling of the event.


Primo Levi: Significance of Account

One of the reasons my blog is almost late (but not late) is because Survival in Auschwitz is difficult to analyze. It’s written really well and simply. In one sense,  it was the easiest book to read so far just because it is written a bit more like a traditional novel, rather than the philosophical text type things we been looking at lately. In the sense that it was linear it was easy to read. In terms of subject matter it was definitely not a ‘light romp’, and this is one of the most important subjects of our time to try and understand. That being said, there are so many pieces of Holocaust literature and WW2 is so drilled into our brains from grade 3 onwards that it can seem tired. I understand how horrible that is to say, but often the way we learn about the Holocaust involves numbers that are supposed to shock us, and memorization of certain camps, etc. But when you are forced to memorize numbers, that is just what they become, just numbers. The Holocaust is the tradgedy of human history, and is hard to understand in just numbers. So here is what i’m trying to say: Primo Levi’s story is hard to write about because it is an account, a story. This happens , then this happens. There are no big allegories for me to notice and feel clever about. I can’t break apart metaphors in my blog. That being said, Survival in Auschwitz did a really good job of tapping into the humanness of the Holocaust, which I think is what our brains sometimes miss. It takes something so hugely awful and makes it personal and close. It’s sad, but it’s not just numbers anymore. I’d guess Primo Levi was one of the first people to do this so well, and that makes this book very very important. The Holocaust itself seems so very inhuman, like one big scary machine of our past. But the most important thing to remember about it is that people did it. People did the murdering, made machines of genocide, and people were the ones murdered. It seems like a simple concept but in history class it can be missed. REAL PEOPLE, like us.

Concerning the actual text: Levi presents to us a deconstruction. I get the feeling of a human soul being deconstructed. Taken apart kind of like a machine. And this seems to be separate from the physical body. The death comes afterwards, but first your soul is destroyed. Levi’s writing gives me this impression.

Towards the end we are left with the questions of significance. Yes, we need to remember such a horrible act, but time keeps moving on, and I can only imagine the massive philosophical void that these survivors were left with. ‘All these people died, I have been through hell, but now I will get old and die in a normal world’ Did it really mean anything? What can history do with such an event? It’s a serious question that’s for sure.

What People See vs. What People Know

For now, all I have read of Borges is the 15 short stories Jon assigned. While this is enough to understand the lectures, I get the feeling that in order to fully understand Borges I would need to read all his collected works, and even I then might not have one definitive picture. In a sense it is similar to the Wasteland. Although each story can be read on it’s own the fragments also feel like part of a greater whole. Anyway, what i’m saying is that I still don’t really know who Borges is, or ‘whats his deal’, but I do have some thoughts on his stories. I thought they were really, really interesting.

As a whole: There are definitely recurring themes in almost all these stories. You never really know “the whole story”, and I think that is part of the point. In the story of Hakim, the Masked Leper, or The Man on the Pink Corner, or Circular Ruins, you are led to believe in one reality (e.g. that Hakim is a messiah)  and the last page often does something to dramatically shift this perspective, altering the whole story. I guess this isn’t a new way of writing by any means, and i’m sure that even when Borges was writing the interesting plot twist was already being employed frequently, but there is a way he does it that seems to make a more lasting statement. It’s a tension between what people see, what people tell, and then what people know. I think maybe Borges is cool because instead of combining these three things into one analogous narrative, he can separate then so they work independently. What we see, what we tell, and what we know all gain some distance from each other. It even makes you ask “is there a whole story? Is there any point to knowing a ‘whole story’?” Considering my obsession with seeing things in life as unified, this is an important question.

Circular Ruins was good at asking these questions. Borges was writing about inception long before Hollywood picked up on it’s marketability.  He also can create a lot of premise in a short amount of time. The Traitor and the Hero: more things within things. My favorite story of the ones we had to read was “Library of Babel”. Is this a whole world of some significant metaphor? Perhaps but there was so much in that story, and so many ideas, that I hope we discuss it in class or in the lecture (you listening Jon?)

The last thing I was interested in was the mashing up of cultures. There is imagery of desert plains and battles fought in the name of Allah, and then a Spanish bar fight. In terms of faith, these far off ideas are actually closely related, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition in this work of… collected works.