Monday, January 18, 2010

On The Metamorphosis...

The Metamorphosis, written in pre-WWI Germany (or Czech Republic, depending on source), by Franz Kafka has been interpreted in so many different ways that it becomes impossible to conclude anything about the story or the motifs within the story almost at all. Some would argue that it is representative of a childhood illness or fear of paternal figures that Kafka wrote into many of his various shorts. Others see him criticizing the very pretentiousness of his characters, and by extension the portrayal of "the artist" found in other works (i.e. James Joyce). What I see is an easy way to identify with my Big Question: Kafka has written The Metamorphosis under pretenses of declining foundation and crumbling structure. This makes perfect sense, as we have a story where a man, Gregor, wakes up to find himself an insect. The term "metamorphosis" is indicative of progression, whereas transforming from a complex life form such as a human being into something less distinctly complex into a bug (for this reason, Kafka never describes Gregor's appearance), is more backwards than forwards. Ironic as it is on the surface, this major plot element is only central to the story by default -- we are told in the first sentence that he has undergone this change, rather than watching it happen chapter by chapter. This is destructive by nature, in that we are forced to assume that something else must be behind his metamorphosis -- even if there is an obnoxious feeling that Kafka is simply toying with us. By making Gregor what we automatically assume is inferior, we conclude that there is nothing but death for him and his family, for one who simply wakes up in such a state probably wasn't much good to begin with... couldn't he have just died in the night? Instead, we watch him struggle for communication with which he is familiar with, be kicked along not as the family pillar as he once was, but a sour bit of paint on the wall, nothing more than a burden upon his co-occupants. Who exactly is benefitting, and how? We are presented with questions, but we must ask them before we know how we want to ask them. And, accordingly, there are no answers. Kafka's brilliance, and his pointedness, both at work.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On James Joyce and pretention; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This is one of the most thoroughly written books I've ever really read. In that though, in my own thoughts and in the ideas of several articles, Joyce is serving up a plate of elitism.

His ego, and the ego of Stephen Dedalus are fascinating, let there be no doubt, but it is almost too complete to be respected. While it allows Stephen a route for maturation, Joyce's writing is too self serving and nondepreciating to be taken seriously.

This is the first post where I won't write about structure. This is how the book is. It is an awesome transformation from child to student to adult, and the book ends with Stephen just as confused as he is at the beginning. Is this supposed to be indicative of life's great paradox? Joyce is too balanced and witty to let his reader assume that. There must be something else, and we're just only scratching the surface of his profundity. We're so cute when we try this hard.

I did like this book. Really, I did. Don't get the impression that I found it to be a waste of my time, or that I thought the writing was sub-par or derivative. None of the above. I just feel for the reader who takes the work too seriously, on top of taking themselves too seriously, whom, it has been noted frequently, Joyce writes himself towards.

Stephen Dedalus has a little bits of the average that makes us relatively unified as a species. We identify with his thoughts, his confusion, his awe, because we feel we should, and because we may actually see what he sees. The latter is maybe a little less likely, the earlier a more obtuse generalization.

I can make a tie to my other posts by saying that A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is indicative of a select society clinging to it's exclusivity. This is not really a horrible thing. Writers like Joyce, we must remember, enjoy their inside jokes. Except, I realize, that inside jokes reside entirely within the writer. We just pretend to be a part of it. Our author can smile and turn over in his grave: Stephen Dedalus is way more interesting than the non-artist that is James Joyce.

On Vonnegut and Funny Loneliness.

I love Kurt Vonnegut. I love everything I've read which he has penned, no exceptions.

I picked up his novel Slapstick to read for an independent study of a book, with a pretty open ended direction - identify a concrete motif and theme, and explain it's significance to the work as a whole.

So, I picked the very prevalent theme of loneliness, and the main character's gag reflex to laugh at his misfortunes. Looking back, the novel fits my blog well. Really well. In fact, the entire piece is essentially a falling apart story. The US is now a series of nation states, and the last president has issued an initiative to make a dwindling population more unified. The solution? Assign a middle name and number to every citizen. This way, he reasons, people will help each other on the basis of family. It works fantastically, so much that people risk their lives for the wellbeing of others. Nonetheless, it turns out, the continent is in decline. Humans begin clinging to what they know. They know a leader is imperative. And, that's about it. President Swain becomes the King of Manhattan, who begins negotiations with Dukes of Michigan and the like. He lives with his closest kin, who happen to be his granddaughter, an aspiring slave, and her lover. They are 19 years old each.

In this, Vonnegut paints a dreary picture. At the same time, however, he writes his characters into hilarious situations. What else can one do, he asks, but laugh at the ultimate absurdities in life and death?

His grasp of this concept is what made Slapstick so enjoyable and interesting. Structure may coax us in a direction that allows us to progress, he indicates. But the crumbling of such is what makes a life worth examining.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Playboy of the Western World

I'm would find it a bit redundant now to keep reiterating on the same point I've been making. That is, human life is defined by it's boundary and structure, and dissolves along side it. Somehow, the titles that we read in class do a remarkable job of continuing to make my point; JM Synge's comedy Playboy of the Western World is no exception.

The citizen's of the small Irish village in which the antagonist Christy stumbles into are essentially driven by gossip. So boring is their existence is that they will almost literally drop everything in order to get involved in the latest scandal. In this, they are so dependent on a new source of interest that they become completely entranced when there is one, and destitute when there is not. Christy, it becomes apparent, is just another one of the many dramatic instances to which the townsfolk gravitate towards, but is nonetheless a huge part of the two days he spends in total with the locals. In this, he becomes the structure to their lives. Their everything, even for that very abbreviated amount of time. His story is unimportant, actually. It matters not that he claims to have killed his father. He could have crashed his fishing vessel 30 miles down the shore, and he would still be infatuationalized. This is the elemental gravitation. This is human life.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On King Lear

A reminder: my blog is an open question regarding human structure.

Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear also clearly exemplifies the nature of humans to cling to fantastical structure. Lear's descent into his own world dominated by a lack of sense and clarity, and his attempts at saving himself qualify the argument that a human without a unit of routine and certainty is flesh without a skeleton.

While not much is known about Lear before the play begins, an audience can sense something is wrong when as a king, he is giving his estates away long before he dies, or at least presumably. This in itself is puzzling, though he compounds his issue by assigning the only real power he holds into the hands of daughters who will then refuse to care for him, whilst also banishing those he should be holding dear.

Again, it is basically impossible to assume that Lear wouldn't have collapsed so completely had he simply kept his land, or even given it only to his loving daughter, Cordelia, but the venture is unlikely. Lear's inability to recognize his own errors in judgment on such a grand stage until the final minutes of his life are representation of something rather less picturesque. He has voted himself out of office without casting a ballot, one might say, by erasing everything that he requires to exist upon. Shakespeare discludes any real detail of the way King Lear rules his kingdom, and for good purpose: it is unimportant. King Lear could be anyone, really, and by the end of the play, Shakespeare has made him exactly that -- a nobody. He is illustrious in his account of the scourge of a king's power, but for no purpose other than to provide the thought that the king is not really 'the king'.

Lear's descention into madness upon a roundabout realization that he has stripped himself of his own being is nothing abruptly original. I don't wish to sell it short, but it is merely one more example of man's inability to live without boundary, without order, and especially without control.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Okay, so my URL isn't written correctly...

But you seem to have gotten here nonetheless. Welcome. It's nice to meet you.

To topic:

There are lots of easy questions to ask about just about anything. There are the who, what, where, when, why, and hows for any given situation. These questions form what could be called the base of knowledge. From this base, we can continue to ask more specific, and even more specific questions, culminating in a complete, well rounded (or edged, depending on circumstance) understanding of a happening. Accordingly, we as humans often ask of ourselves similar questions; the familiar "why are we here" and "where will death lead us" types of things. Typically, we find ourselves making up answers for the sake of having answers, explaining phenomena and impossibilities with simplistic (and entirely faked) logic. There isn't any problem with this. After all, if we didn't want the answers, we wouldn't ask the questions. Who cares?

Following this mindset (or perhaps, avoiding it entirely), I attempt to ask the questions that I may actually have some chance at answering: questions that have a lot to do with argument and logic. As one can guess, these two don't necessarily correspond.

Adolescence is a tricky stage. I probably should be consumed by something else, but for some asinine reason, I am drawn to the way human beings live their lives. Why do we rely so heavily on a sense of structure? I already have some sorts of conclusions, drawn from readings on culture, philosophy, geography, religion, etc. Here, I elaborate on some of these observations.

The Road, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, offers a unique perspective on humanity: the earth has just been scorched into oblivion by apocalypse. Few organic things have survived. You are a human man, traveling down a desolate road with your son, searching for canned goods and anything that will aid you into the next day, marching towards the sea. Though it remains fiction (and hopefully will continue to do so), The Road is a scary conjecture. While most of us can deal with boredom to some extent, how mind blowing would it be to to have nothing to do but simply survive? No bed, no home, no neighborhood to return to. No alarm clock, no English muffin, no obnoxious boss. Just a will to survive. If it happened tomorrow, I have my doubts that any survivors would stick around. Not because they have the desire to die, necessarily, but because they would have no desire to live. Natural optimists, we are. But if there really is nothing to look forward to, why look forward at all? This, I believe, is so frightening because people and their sense of sanity is based heavily upon ritual, be it physical, spiritual, or mental. There is no need for push-ups, praying, or philanthropy on a planet where the willing harvest human slave limbs for something to eat. Call it unrealistic, but we all know how certain people (people we work with, live with, love) get when something as simple as not adding a packet-and-a-half of Sweet n' Low to their coffee will ruin a whole week. Is it really so profound to assume that if we as a species ever encountered such a situation, we would kill ourselves off rather than exist in what would be considered a state of primitivity? Why have we let ourselves become so defined by routine?

Do we know the answers? There is always a simple answer to that... No. Is it fun to make up answers? Sure is! That's why this isn't going to be the only post on this blog. Tune in soon...