Archive for December, 2010

The Inevitable Multiple Question Mark Review (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and STILL Hate The Blog)

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

The concept of comparing the old school of thought with the new revolutions is as old as revolution itself is.  Some people yearn for older, simpler times, while many have a preference to more advanced and realist ideas.  Literature is no exception, with books being compared, analyzed, and otherwise evaluated in order to determine the worth of the story to humanity’s long list of achievements.  Of course, opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got them and they’re all full of shit.  What makes my opinion any more valuable than my professor’s, especially considering my professor is definitely more well versed than I am in her studies? Still, everyone is entitled to their ideas and this class is a forum for us all to bring them to the table, not so much for answers but intellectual exchange.  I’ve already shared my ideas about Old Canon versus New Canon, but I’ll take this opportunity to elaborate, share my ideas, and (hopefully) get a better grade.

The Old Canon and the New Canon are actually more alike than people think.  When people think “old literature” they seem to get this image of a white-dominated, peachy keen collection of stories where the main characters are all dressed like Little House on the fucking Prairie. To be sure, I think that description of “old literature” only applies to two things: T.S. Eliot’s works and my grandmother’s crappy stories at Christmas and Easter.  I do see a common thread between between certain works of the Old and New Canons in the issues they address.  Sure, the authors were mostly white in the old days, but to be fair black education and influence wasn’t what it is now (to say the very least).  That doesn’t stop Heart of Darkness and Dreams from My Father, in my eyes, from covering common ground of race issues.

People often accuse Conrad’s story of being racist, portraying Africans as savages.  Hell, this criticism even appears in Obama’s book when an Afrocentric friend of his finds it! What most people miss, however, is that Marlow views the Europeans as more savage than the people whose land they’re plundering.  It’s not a story of the glory of European expansion, but rather a criticism of it and how power can drive a man insane.  Obama’s memoirs have also come under attack, being seen as a political tool just to gain votes.  I say that the most political thing about the book is the fact that the author became the President.  Obama evidently had a love of helping people, and he is portrayed as a man who wants to make a difference, even in small ways, to his community.  He’s shown a taste of power when he becomes the only black executive at a major corporation, but he turns it down because it’s not as fulfilling to him as being a community organizer.  Yes, he’s got great power now, but it’s different from being an executive in that it’s not just a money game: he can make real decisions to affect the world and his people.  Both books deal with race relations appropriate for the times: Conrad showing the horrors of dehumanization of Africans in the most objective way possible, and Obama growing up as a mulatto and coming to embrace his black identity.  Marlow ends up with mental scars from witnessing Kurtz’ depravity, while Obama decides that a power trip is neither in his best interest nor the interest of the community.

The Canons also have their differences, don’t get me wrong.  I’d like to assume that Eliot’s trite is about some sort of sexual encounter (because God knows if he was half as much of a whining bitch in real life that he didn’t have many) in the same way that some of Diaz’ stories are.  Granted Diaz writes in more graphic (and straightforward) terms than Eliot, but the use of Latino slang in order to bowdlerize sexual terms could be seen as something similar to Eliot’s burying his work in figurative flowers.  It’s comparing a disco song to a reggaeton song: one uses disgustingly sweet terms, the other uses an actual foreign language.  They both beat around the bush instead of straight up saying “let’s fuck,” and ultimately they’re both just shitty dance music… Actually, you know I take back two things: using these examples as differences, and calling the Bee Gees shitty.  Certainly, though, sex was not as openly discussed back in the day, even though it predates you or me (and believe me, we wouldn’t be here if it didn’t).

For all that, though, I’ve professed myself to be, and still remain, faithful to the Old Canon.  Make no mistake, I wish we could all just shut up about the merits of one versus another and just enjoy the books, but there’s something about Conrad and Hemmingway that speaks to me.  Hell, maybe even that schmuck Eliot was right in not coming out and just saying what he thinks! There’s an art to conveying emotions in writing.  I’ve always been told about writing that it is imperative to “show, not tell.”  I like the way Conrad doesn’t just come out and say in his writing what Heart of Darkness is about, but rather he lets his writing speak for itself.  It’s a testament to his writing that it is so hotly debated, even if I disagree with certain opinions on it.  Fact is that books like that are more appealing to me, not because they’re classics but because they’re timeless.  Obama’s memoirs will only have significance because it will be studied as current events now, or historical research in the future on both his history and the state of America.  He talks a good game, but ultimately I don’t believe that Dreams from My Father will hold up as anything more than insight to a civilization; it won’t be studied with the same passion as Conrad’s work.

That said about the course material, let’s get on to how the course is presented.  I gotta say, I like the informality of the blog.  However, I don’t like the blog itself.  I wouldn’t mind assignments like this informal essay being presented less frequently than the twice a week schedule we’d been abiding by all semester.  I like having ideas germinate, having me wrestle with them so I can come to a point of view rather than reading a part of a story and meditating on predictions and limited knowledge.  To me, it’s the difference between a diary and a memoir.  Not to say that diaries can’t be insightful, like Anne Frank or Nikki Sixx’s, but I’d prefer to write a better reflection with a clearer idea of what I’m experiencing as a reader than keep a diary of my progress in the book.  I do feel that this class was ambitious and moved a little too fast for that sort of approach, which resulted in shoddy performance on my part.  For that I do apologize, but I hope that you can understand my feelings on why I don’t believe that the class’ online  methodology was a success.

That said, in contradiction to my criticism of diaries, let me take this opportunity to express how cathartic and pleasing I’m finding this particular entry.  This is what it’s all about: reflection, opinion.  The informality doesn’t hurt either, I can be sharp with my criticism, I can be funny or sarcastic.  I appreciate the relaxed guidelines for writing, and as I’ve said before I do believe that if the workload was lightened up a bit that the rest of the class could have been as enjoyable as this.  I do feel that I got a lot out of the blogs I’ve submitted, being able to exchange ideas with the entire class and keep a permanent record of my thoughts.  True, the blog felt like a chore, but when I felt capable of doing it I appreciated it.  That’s not to say that this was a bad class, not at all.  As I’ve said, I’ve enjoyed the readings and parts of the assignments, I just feel that it could use some adjustment.  What couldn’t though? The internet is a new tool to the classroom, because it is still being innovated and evaluated on how it can be used.  I’m not holding this particular class against you, it’s a new thing, it’s okay to fumble a bit.  I’ve done it, you’ve done it, no biggie.

I don’t think my opinion of the course changed much, but I’ve come to appreciate the opinions that people have and shared in class.  We may not always agree, but I think it’s wonderful that this class in particular stresses the opinions and individuality of the students.  It allows the students to come into their own as writers for these blogs and papers, develop their own voices.  This isn’t a class on hard analysis, this is about you finding what you can in the book, along with evidence to back it up and saying it as you believe it.  I’ve not had many classes like that, but I do wish to have more.  Hopefully this blog thing will be fine-tuned in the future so I can see what a more fully realized version of this format would be like.  You learn from your mistakes, too, and I think this class has given me some pointers as to what I hope to do, or not do, when I become an English teacher.  I’ll keep these critiques and use them as a guideline to design courses, asking myself “what would I have wanted when I was in their desks?” I want to encourage people to develop their voices: as writers, as critics, as people.  This course, for all my gripes and faults, has given me a new appreciation of what an opinion is, what individuality is.  I thank the class and professor for that, and wish you all the best.

One Last Thing Before I Quit

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

So, the end of the class hangs near.  In all the time that we’ve had, it adds up to almost two days worth of group discussion of literature.  Admittedly my transportation arrangements have made it a bit spotty attendence-wise and my blogging has been sporadic, but a decent run.  The question lingers though: what the fuck do I, or does anyone else taking the class, have to show for all this?

We were warned that the first half of the class was “The Canon,” the literature approved by scholars to be of some value to the academic world.  This shit’s supposedly worth our time reading and pondering.  We were also warned that it might be difficult to deal with.  Me, I dug it mostly.  Heart of Darkness is always a favorite, though I stand by my opinion of Eliot being a pretentious and melodramatic twat.  The Sun Also Rises was also a pretty cool guy, eh talks like a child and doesn’t afraid of anything.  All in all, not too bad.  I wouldn’t read any of this because of its endorsement by that dude from Masterpiece Theatre but it wasn’t as painful as the professor made it out to be.

Next, we had the uncharted stuff that the professor added to the syllabus in order to shake things up.  More contemporary works that are widely studied, but are the “gnostic” books of the course in the sense that they aren’t books with a legacy.  Of note was Obama’s memoir, which regardless of your politics is a pretty interesting story.  Of all the promises that he made on the campaign trail, his promise to be a person of the people seems most tangible in his writing.  If you didn’t know it was the president, you’d almost be inspired to think that even a mouth breather like you could write something worth reading! Persepolis was an interesting look at what’s gone on in a part of the world that gets no sympathy from most people.  Hopefully it’s expanded at least someone in the class’s mind and opened them up to the political plight that every nation potentially faces with an extremist government.  Faulkner’s story was alright, too.  A canon book in the second half of the course, but held up as well as anything.

I think that the expectation that the canon would lose the class, at least for me, is someone a very generalized statement.  Both parts of the class had their ups and downs, but I personally had a preference for the first books we read.  I don’t say that because of their place in history, but rather because they transcend history.  There’s an intangible qualilty about the stories, an intricacy that they have that seems to run deeper than some of the latter stuff.  Yes, Persepolis is moving, but from a purely literary perspective I think that Kurtz’ death is much more striking due to the fact that it lacked pictures, making the very nature of the character as mysterious to the reader as it is to Marlow.

I don’t pay the history of the books any mind, to be honest, but to me the older works evoke more of a mood than the newer ones.  Is this because books like Dreams from My Father and Drown were written in an age where pictures have become so ubiquitous that even telephones and Barbie dolls have cameras? Or is it because Conrad and Hemmingway are simply better writers? I don’t really know, to be honest.

I’m not quite sure that anybody who asks questions in the literary world ever really knows the answer, or hopes to find one.  These things I ask because, yes, this class has in some small way changed how I think about literature.  It has opened my mind to different writers, works, and perspectives.  The blog, as much of a pain in the ass as it was and will forever be to me, was an unfiltered way for me to share my (admittedly sometimes tactless) thoughts.  The class reflected these sentiments, in that questions and opinions were raised but conclusion was seldom found.  That’s the wonderful thing about literature, though: it is always going on, even when you close the book.  You write essays in the present tense when you talk about these stories because the issues and themes presented in them never stop.  They’re on-going intellectual challenges to scholars and newcomers alike.  Everyone has their own opinion on what literature is or what a book is about, and no one opinion is right.  This class has made me realize that though I am an English major and will always be wrestling with the words on a page, I don’t need to expect conclusions for everything I read or think because of the text.  Nobody needs to have answers in literature, only ideas to be shared and compared.

Also, in closing, I say this song best sums up T.S. Eliot:
“Pink Cellphone” by Deftones

The Schizophrenic Song of Oneself

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

On any given day, one person can play various roles.  Maxine’s mother, as we all do, is not the same person from day to day.  Humans are creatures who constantly change based on their environment.  Evolution is a process that ensures that only those who can adapt survive.  Look at science, for instance: treatments for cancer and AIDS are being looked into, better bombs are being built, and outer space is being looked into for colonization, all in the name of being able to survive.

It’s not just threats to the quality of life that demand people change, it’s their place in the world as well.  The company a person keeps, as well as their social class often demand different behaviours.  I wouldn’t treat a stranger exactly the same way I’d treat a close friend of mine.  They’d get a degree of courtesey, but respect must be earned.

Mood is also something that can alter how a person is on a certain day.  If I’m in a bad mood, I’d be less willing to do something carefully as opposed to taking my time.  It’s a bit selfish, but that’s how a bad mood can be.  If I’m sad, I’d be sensitive and quiet.  People do the strangest things to meet their needs, and sometimes the needs of others.

What Makes a Swordswoman?

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

I found it most interesting when the parallel was brought up in class to the Disney movie Mulan.  I’d always suspected that there was some fable the story came from, since Disney rarely does anything creative or original any more.  At the same time, Mulan was an awe inspiring story to me as a child.  I can’t take that away from it, but I did take away my view of gender roles from it and these same views are presented in the text.

Women throughout history have often been said to have a place as homemakers and caretakers.  These gentler qualities are said to be “feminine,” while violence and work are “masculine.”  Mulan and Maxine both want to embrace their masculine side and be the kinds of courageous heroes that society claims only men can be.  I don’t see how androgyny can hurt society, to be frank.  After all, in the animal kingdom gender roles that humans claim to be the norm are sometimes subverted.  We look at the lioness who hunts or the pregnant male seahorses for no better examples.

At their core, swordsmen are defined better by the phallic object they wield to cut down their opponent instead of their actual penis.  Agility, precision, and grace are all essential to swordsmanship, though, and are also common “feminine” attributes.  Certainly the qualification for female heroes can be met.  The other thing that swordsmen have is honor, which is an androgynous trait.  Stereotypically speaking, men have their honor that they must fight to keep and so do women, but in more subtle ways such as virginity and homemaking.  The truth is that while everyone is constantly seeking heroes, sometimes one can be a hero in their own small way by leading the life they live normally on their own terms.

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar