ENG 300 Journal

Friday, December 17, 2004

12/17: What should be in the canon?

Passage of the day:

1984 is a must-read. The belief that we have complete freedom and privacy in this country is a dangerous fallacy. I apologize if this posting digresses from the original point of this board but it seems a good place to do so. As alluded to in 1984, such a place as Oceania would not be possible without technology or, at the very least, would be much more difficult to establish. While I understand and embrace technology, I feel that most people have very little understanding or respect for it. How many people really contemplate what actually happens when they send an email, talk on a cell phone, purchase online via credit card, etc, etc. The same technologies that grant one more freedom have the same capacity to harm and to enslave if not respected. Like many, I used to think 1984 was simply a great work of fiction with little chance of actually becoming a reality. The frightening truth is that to a large extent, it already has. The terabytes of information compiled on every citizen already exist. All that is required is the motive to abuse it, as surely it has been for those individuals that have "popped up" on their radar screen as meriting surveillance. For those that haven't already familiarized themselves with it, look up the "Homeland Security Act" recently passed by congress. On the surface, it's a great idea for protecting the country from terrorism after 9/11. In reality, it gives the government carte blanche to acquire and use information on ANY citizen at ANY time and for ANY reason without anyone's knowledge or consent. The ends don't justify the means if, in the process of defending our "beacon for freedom", that beacon is threatened. Also look up "TIA" (total information awareness). 1984 might have been prophetic afterall.

There was not an auhtor on this page, this was a post by an insightful reader. (website: http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/1984/) I feel he or she perfectly sums up the way I feel about this book. I argue that it should be in the canon simply because it is a haunting foreshadowing of our society. And I'm not even the paranoid type! No it's not a trite epic and no it doesn't have revolutionary style or form. But it's message is one that has been the source of many debates, with good reason. Although I'm a Romantic with passion for simple beauty in a text, I ambiguously feel that literature undoubtedly serves a purpose, to inform. Orwell takes advantage of this brilliantly.

My soapbox for the day is that there are two items that receive much more attention than they deserve in my opinion: Shakespeare and Catcher in the Rye. I hope JR reads this and responds because maybe he can shed some light on how Catcher in the Rye is so wonderful, I personally got nothing from it and was very disappointed in all the hype and controversy. I could be wrong, but I would need someone to point out why. And 'ol Shakespeare, ya know he's great but he really doesn't knock my socks off. That's all folks.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

12/9: Individual Presentation

Well the flu caught up with me and I missed class this day. Surely Sexson won't test us on my stuff since I wasn't in class, but for those of you who may be interested I've pasted my paper below... enjoy.

Carpe diem!
Some spend this interval [life] in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among “the children of this world,” in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us… For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake. (Pater 841)

When I first considered the topic Literary Criticism and the Well-Lived Life, I really struggled to draw parallels between the two. Then I thought back to the above quote by Walter Pater, which to me sums up all of the mysteries of a “well-lived” life. I would argue that to live life well, you must live life to the fullest, exceeding its full potential or at least attempting to. However to do so, one needs inspiration, and what better inspiration that art?

Americans are busy people. Living in the world’s most "powerful" nation has brought about a false sense of what is important. To us, time is money, and money talks; in turn, fewer and fewer people are taking the time to smell the roses. This is not to say that Americans do not see the roses, but take them for granted and make the excuse that they will “smell them” later when they have the time.

Enter Walter Pater. He urges that we squeeze as many “pulsations” into this interval as possible. One may expend years of his life saving every spare dime so that when he retires he will have the means to relax and take time for the little things that matter. First, not every one reaches retirement age! Second, if that age is attained, at best one has fifteen to twenty-five good years left, if lucky, when he or she is healthy enough to seize the day. Yet even if the last twenty years are packed with family, friends, travel – whatever is important to the individual – it is too late. The ship has already sailed. There have been millions of opportunities to appreciate life’s little wonders that can never be recaptured.

An important aspect of Walter Pater’s argument is not only that we do things to expand this interval, but that we feel. Emotions are something that cannot be imposed, but rather inspired. One must present his or herself with opportunities for passion; these opportunities often come in the form of art. Music, poetry, sculpture, or visual art can have any variety of effects on someone.

One of the literary criticism theories that we learned this semester partially refutes the arguments I have presented: formalism. "Formalist criticism is not interested in the feeling of poets, the individual responses of readers, or representations of "reality"; instead, it attends to artistic structure and form" (Norton Anthology 17). T.S. Eliot in his essay Tradition and the Individual Talent claims that, “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality” (1097). Art without emotion; is that really possible? I must argue that there is emotion and personality in absolutely everything we do. What arouses an artist’s interest to create a work if not emotion or feeling? Though I believe that the artist’s feeling must at least exist to create a decent work, it is even more significant that the one viewing the art must engage emotion to benefit from having viewed it. And not only is their emotion significant, it is unavoidable. As I mentioned above, feelings are innate and natural, not voluntary.

There is an element to this theory that is credible, pertaining to art for art’s sake – that art must be appreciated in itself without polluting the aesthetic value with issues such as politics or personal agendas. Too many critics forsake the work of art itself because they are hunting for support for their personal beliefs. Nearly anything can be read and twisted into an “attack on feminism,” or a “push for communism.” It just takes a little imagination on the part of the critic. However this imagination would be much more meaningfully applied by evaluating the work for exactly what it is – art, nothing more and nothing less.

Contemporary Irish poet Seamus Heaney is perhaps the master of our time in creating art for art’s sake. His poetry is music, a most delightful experience that cannot help but arouse emotion or feeling within the reader. In his essay Redress of Poetry he argues that we must restore poetry to its original beauty. “Poetry cannot afford to lose its fundamentally self-delighting inventiveness, its joy in being a process of language as well as a representation of things in the world,” (283-84). Art, perhaps second only to nature, is our society’s most ample source of emotional inspiration. Degradations created by some critics must be put aside. “The good of literature and of music is first and foremost in the thing itself, and their first principle is that which William Wordsworth called in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads ‘the grand elementary principle of pleasure’, the kind of pleasure about which the language itself prompts us to say, ‘It did me good.’ (Heaney 74)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

10/14: Moderns and Feminism

Quotes of the day:

(from Modern Fiction) "'The proper stuff of fiction' does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss." -Virginia Woolf

(from Professions for Women) "...you may not know what I mean by The Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it - in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathise always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all - I need not say it - she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty - her blushes, her great grace. In those days - the last of Queen Victoria - every house had its Angel. And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: 'My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.' And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself, though the credit rightly belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money - shall we say five hundred pounds a year? - so that it was not necessary for me to depend solely on charm for my living. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing." -Virginia Woolf

The first quote above I included both to further refute the idea of formalism, and to sum up the Moderns.

Sorry that the second passage is so long, but I felt every word of it was important for all to read. This essay was written in 1942, a significant time for the progression of women. Not only does in illustrate what was expected of women of the time, but it reiterates my belief that there must be feeling in writing. (No, I'll never let the formalists alone!)

There is something that Virginia Woolf does better, in my opinion, than any female writer I've read. She urges women to stand up and be strong without saying all men are terrible oppressors and must be castrated. This is very important. Like my entry about war, men, like soldiers, do what has been ingrained in them, so do women. People are always going to follow patterns set by those before them, whether that means expecting your woman to bring you a beer and tell you you're wonderful, or expecting your man to dismiss your thoughts. In conclusion, don't blame the men, blame the system. There are too many women sitting around bitching about how they've been terribly oppressed by pompous men (and I am by no means denying that these men exist and need to have their egos bluntly severed). Women's time would be better spent doing something about it as Virginia Woolf did 60 years ago. There is no reason in the year 2004 in America women cannot attain their goals.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

10/12: Student's Remorse

A few things I really wish I'd known for today's quiz....

Wallace Stevens' poem "The Idea of Order at Key West"; there's something to be said for listening on the first day of class!

Coleridge's definition of the imagination: "a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM." Still not sure I understand that one...

All those darn Greek words: hamartia, amathia, deus ex machina, dianoia, can grande, Deus Insidus, Grosse Anima, Catharsis, anamnesis... yada yada ya.

That so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow... this seems like kind of a cheap shot!

The all-important chart:

Element Period Approach
work modern objective
artist romantic expression (of course I knew this one...)
audience neoclassical pragmatic
world classical mimetic

Thursday, October 07, 2004

10/7: The ever-present deeper meaning

For today Prof Sexson asked us to write a little using quotations... such as when people are talking and the make the quotation gestures with their fingers suggesting an alternative meaning deeper than the superficial. I really got a kick out of this class discussion today.

Next week we have a "quiz" in English 300.
Next week there will be a big, fat, ugly, menacing test and if you blow it your life is over. But maybe if I call it a quiz you'll still give me a nice teacher evaluation.

I did not have "sexual" relations with that woman.
Of course I did! But you can't touch me - I'm the president... What's that you say, I'm under oath???

Yes I "did" all of today's assigned reading.
Real meaning - are you kidding me? I "skimmed" it, I read the first and last sentence of every other paragraph on every third page... after I got home from the bar. If I read one more page of Aristotle my eyes will permanently cross.

I'm late because I had a "flat tire."
I'm late because last night I had 18 Fat Tires.

I "respectfully" disagree.
You're a raging liberal, go hug a tree.

I "respectfully" disagree.
You're a power-hungry Republican, why don't you hop in your SUV and kill the rainforest.

Disclaimer: I would like to note that I have "never" used any of the above excuses.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

10/5: Formalism... ugh

Quote of the day: (Absurd quote of the century)

(from Tradition and the Individual Talent) "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality." T.S. Eliot

What is formalism in a nutshell? "Formalist criticism is not interested in the feeling of poets, the individual responses of readers, or representations of "reality"; instead, it attends to artistic structure and form." -Noron Anthology

Only someone who wrote The Wasteland could have written the above quote about turning loose of emotion. I must argue that there is always emotion. Some may be able to hide it well, but the thought that we can completely voluntarily depart from emotion is absolutely false. Yes I am a raging Romantic, but hear me out.

First the formalist idea that emotion should be omitted from art: pure rubbish. Are you serious? If there is someone reading this who can defend this view by all means please leave a comment and explain yourself. I will never make sense of this on my own. I'm really struggling to even grasp this enough to tear it apart. If an artist nonchalantly creates something, putting absolutely no feeling into it what has he done? And if the reader or listener or viewer takes in the art without considering how it makes them feel, has he had a lobotomy?

The idea that feelig should be omitted is prepostorous, but I would more urgently argue that it is impossible. If one cares enough to write something down that is feeling in itself. I'm no visual artist, but even if I'm drawing a goofy stick man jumping off of a cliff I'm still attempting to convey his loss of sanity. Is that attempt in itself not emotion?

To cure what ails all formalists I suggest they read The Giver by Lois Lowery. It is a society who tries to eradicate all differences. Jobs are appointed, mates are randomly selected, history is locked away and there is an absence of weather, color, topography, and in effect, laughter. No good can come of squelching feeling, it is unnatrual. I have no more time to waste discussing such an absurdity!!!

Thursday, September 30, 2004

9/30: Victorians

Quotes of the day:

(from "Dover Beach")

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
-Matthew Arnold

(from Studies in the History of the Renaissance) "Some spend this interval [life] in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among "the children of this world," in art and song. For our chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us... Of such wisdom the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most. For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments' sake." -Walter Pater

A little Victorian history:
European Victorians suffered from an anxious sense of something lost, a sense too of being desplaced persons in a world made alien by technological changes that had been exploited too quickly for the adaptive powers of the human psyche. -Norton Anthology

I would describe myself as an eternal optimist sprinkled with temporary bouts of extreme pessimism. The above quote by Matthew Arnold captures this feeling for me. While I am the last to believe that world holds no love nor light, in times when kids are shooting eachtother in school and our national representative is committing adultery is often seems this way. At those times I feel more in tune with WB Yeats' "The Second Coming." However the way people come together in a time like post-9/11 proves that there is help for pain, but indeed no certitude. The last line really nails war to the wall, appropriately I believe. I absolutely support our troops. The are a cog in a wheel of society that is not to blame - I blame society... not the US per say, but every fighting society that has ever existed. They are ignorant and clash by night, in the dark, with a false sense of what they are doing.

If I was forced to condense my ideas on life into one quote is would be Walter Pater's argument above for art for art's sake - a very Romantic idea to seize the day and let yourself really FEEL. I believe very few do this. Though I try to practice what I preach I know I have often failed. While this is a literary criticism class, I (like my alter-ego Wordsworth I suppose) have a volatile love-hate relationship with criticism. There is much to be said for examining a text and applying more than one narrow view. Yet, sadly, we often overdo it, compartmentalizing things in a nifty little box where there is no room for passion. At that point we have distanced ourselves from the true value in art.