ENG 300 Journal

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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

9/28: Ahhh, the Romantics

Quotes of the day:

(from The Four Ages of Poetry) "A poet in our times is a semi-barbarian in a civilized community. He lives in the days that are past. His ideas, thoughts, feelings, associations, are all with barbarous manners, obsolete customs, and exploded superstitions. The march of his intellect is like that of a crab, backward. The brighter the light diffused around him by the progress of reason, the thicker is the darkness of antiquated barbarism, in which he buries himself like a mole, to throw up the barren hillocks of his Cimmerian labours." -Thomas Love Peacock
*according to Homer, the Cimmerians lived in a land where the sun never shone.

(from A Defence of Poetry) "Poets have been challenged to resign the civic crown to reasoners and mechanists on another plea. It is admitted that the exercise of the imagination is most delightful, but it is alleged that that of reason is more useful." -Percy Shelley

(from A Defence of Poetry) "Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science, and that to which all science must be referred... It is the perfect and consummate surface and bloom of things; it is as the odour and the colour of the rose to the texture of the elements which compose it, as the form and the splendour of unfaded beauty to the secrets of anatomy and corruption." -Percy Shelley

A little history:
Above in Thomas Love Peacock's 1820 Four Ages of Poetry he challenges the Romantics, and other modern-day poets as old-fashioned, living in the past dark ages before the onset of reason and rationality. Peacock's was the day of science; thriving industry and economy spawned the rapid expansion of factories, new advances in navigation were making the world a more familiar place. Many believed the time employed to write poetry would be better spent contributing to such advances, and the Romantics were often criticized for it. Percy Shelley, one of the five or six main Romantics, ardently defended poetry, claiming poets to be the "unacknowledged legislators of the world."

My soapbox:
I'm not going to lie. I used to hate this stuff. Read... analyze... analyze... analyze. Maybe I was lazy, but I actually think I just didn't get it. I wanted to read something and take it for what it was on the surface - why make things so complicated? I was more science-based than I would like to admit. Then I met the Romantics and voila - I saw the light. I tend to agree with Shelley. While technogical advancement has its many benefits, we need more people like the Romantics to balance the world. If we've got a hundred scientists creating new hybrid roses, it wouldn't hurt to have a hundred Romantics taking the time to smell them. Once again, I strongly detest being called a hippie; no I don't smoke weed and yes I shave my legs. But what's the matter feeling the grass under your bare feet every once in a while or taking the time to marvel at God's sunsets? He didn't put beautiful things on earth to be taken for granted.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

9/23: Censorship

Mississippi School District Bans Book on Censorship: "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray BradburyFebruary 1, 1999

West Marion High School in Foxworth, a rural Mississippi town, is the place where recent events aimed at censorship occurred. The book, Fahenreit 451, was on the reading list for several of the English classes. However, after a parent complained to the superintendent about the use of the word "God damn" in the book, the book was removed from the required reading list. Interestingly, the complaint did not surface until the book report was due -- more than a month after the reading assignment was given.

Fahrenheit 451 is an engrossing futuristic tale of a society where all printed material is banned. In this country of the future, officials believe that people who read and are able to think for themselves are a threat to the nation where individualism is strongly discouraged. The inhabitants of this society all seem to be suffering from sensory deprivation and their only link to news and entertainment is a large television screen on the wall where broadcasts are continually transmitted to the "family." All the people are members of the Family. Even though they aren't forced to watch the telecasts, they all do.

It is the job of firemen (this movie was made long before they were referred to as firefighters) to hunt down subvervives and burn the caches of books they've secreted away. The title, Fahrenheit 451, is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and starts to burn.

I thought the above article was extremely ironic - censoring a book about censorship. I wonder if the parent had actually read the book... I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school and thought it was brilliant, right up there with 1984. Both are simply exaggerated versions of where our society is headed, and both suggest premonitions that have since come true in a way. Another book in this category, my personal all-time favorite, is The Giver by Lois Lowery. The fact that it has been banned in some districts really makes me scratch my head. For those of you who have not yet read these books I HIGHLY recommend them. They all concern the government overstepping its bounds and basically eliminating individualism and freedom of thought.

I am not one of these people that think the world is over since Bush has been reelected. Yes he is conservative and I do believe at times he dismisses separation of church and state. Yet I don't think in four years we will have lost all freedom of speech. Our government really does not need to take extra lengths to squelch Americans' imaginations - we have done it to ourselves. Really, what have we done with our freedom so far? We've cranked out 8 dozen reality TV shows and during the commercials we flip over to MTV to see how short our skirt needs to be to be 'in' this week. The cummulative effect? We are mass-producing Americans, not necessarily meaning we're breeding like rabbits, but that all these baby bunnies look exactly the same... just fall asleep in a tanning bed, bleach your hair, wear jeans with a 2 inch crotch, get a boob job, buy an SUV and a pet chihuahua and you'll fit right in. Who needs an imagination? Who needs books?

I'll step off my soap box for one minute, but only to address those of you who are fighting tooth and nail to keep your children from being exposed to bad words in good books. Forget it, you're efforts are futile and ignorant. If your child does not read a bad word in a book, they will hear it on TV. If you do not let them watch TV they will see it on the internet. If you take away computer access they will hear it at school. If you send them to a private school where only the most prim and proper are allowed to attend, even here there will be a bad egg just waiting to try and corrupt your child. And if you stave off all of these evil influences what are you left with? A child who knows nothing about reality. I'm not telling you to give up all efforts and let your kids run willy-nilly. But if you see one bad word in a book your child brings home, don't be so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If your child isn't so busy being mortified by a word they've never seen before, they may actually gain a bigger message from the book, and you might too.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

9/21: The sublime

Quote of the day:

(from On Sublimity) "All human affairs are, in the nature of things, better known on their worse side; the memory of mistakes is ineffaceable, that goodness is soon gone." -Longinus

(from On Sublimity) "The universe therefore is not wide enough for the range of human speculation and intellect. OUr thoughts often travel beyond the boundaries of our surroundings. If anyone wants to know what we were born for, let him look round at life and contemplate the splendour, grandeur, and beauty in which it everywhere abounds." -Longinus

(from On Sublimity) "Sublimity raises us towards the spiritual greatness of god." -Longinus

"Sublime" refers to an aesthetic value in which the primary factor is the presence or suggestion of transcendent vastness or greatness, as of power, heroism, extent in space or time. It differs from greatness or grandeur in that these are as such capable of being completely grasped or measured. By contrast, the sublime, while in one aspect apprehended and grasped as a whole, is felt as transcending our normal standards of measurement or achievement.

What things that I've seen do I perceive to be sublime?
These are just a few things too awesome to be fully grasped... words do not do justice.
-The Grand Canyon - You've never felt small until you've stood on the edge.
-The Northern Lights - Knowing nothing about scientific causes, this is as good as magic to me.
-Sunsets - How can something this magnificent happen every single day?
-Babies - The epitome of a clean slate.

Once again, as a Romantic at heart, I feel that more simple things seem sublime to me than to others... no, I am NOT a hippie!!!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

9/16: What painful experience changed me?

Quote of the day:

(from Rhetoric Book II) "The emotions are thos ehtings through which, by undergoing change, people come to differ in theri judgments and which are accompanied by pain and pleasure, for example, anger, pity, fear, and other such things and theri opposites." -Aristotle

*I find it surprising that he speaks of emotion, given that he exhibits absolutely none in 30 pages of Poetics.

What painful experience changed me?

I consider myself a very fortunate person. Few things have happened in my life emotionally painful enough to even remember as significantly painful. However there is one experience that comes to mind that was particularly sobering.

I grew up in a small town where when there is a tragedy, everyone knows about it and shows support. When I was 17, a little girl in second grade was hit by a car in a parking lot and was killed. I attended her open-casket service on a sunny winter afternoon where from my seat I could see a dainty nose peaking out of the pine box. As we awaited the commencement of services I listened to the innocent remarks of Amanda's 7 year old classmates behind me, and then, a noise that still chills my bones. Clink, clink, clink. Everyone turned to stare, and our eyes were met with the saddest sight you'll ever see in an ingnorant, small town. Amanda's father walking up the aisle in his prison jumpsuit, hands cuffed and feet shackled. Two guards escorted him to the front of the church, were he broke down and wept over his tiny daughter for the few intimate minutes he was allowed.

Never have I experienced, and witnessed, so many strong emotions cascading my heart in one fail swoop. Realization that life is so fleeting. Sorrow for the driver of the car who may never overcome her guilt, for the mother trying so hard to make ends meet. Guilt that I had had seventeen years of wonderful experiences that Amanda would never know. Longing to spare her young classmates from such a wrenching loss of innocence. Admiration for their teacher who was a rock throughout it all. Curiosity at the father's thoughts, embarassment for they way he was treated - spared no dignity.

This experience absolutely rocked my entire being, yet in a way I cannot even begin to describe.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

9/14 : What made me cry?

Quotes of the day:

(from Phaedrus) "[Writing] will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality."

(from Phaedrus) "O dear Pan and all the other gods of this place, grant that I may beautiful on the inside. Let all my external possessions be in friendly harmony with what is within. May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold, let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him." -Plato

What made me cry?

Though I am a passionate Romanitc at heart I cannot say there has been a work of literature that made me cry. As for a work of art? Braveheart. Now a lot of people see this movie and ask, "Would you like some wine with that cheese?" But to me there is nothing more moving than someone giving their all for something they absolutely believe in. Whether it's a beautiful blue-eyed man like William Wallace dying for the justice of his lost love or a scrappy team of underdogs beating all the odds (like Hoosiers), unleashed passion is a beautiful thing when employed for the right reasons.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

9/09: A cited passage from my touchstone literature:

From the book The Prophet, I simply could not choose one passage, but barely narrowed the samples of Kahlil Gibran's wisdom to three...

"And the priestess spoke again and said: Speak to us of Reason and Passion. And he answered, saying: Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite... Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes."

"Then said a teacher, Speak to us of Teaching. And he said: No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge. The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingess. If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind."

"And then a scholar said, Speak of Talking. And he answered, saying: You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts; And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime. And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered. For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly."

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

9/07: What one book would I take to a desert island?

If I had all the time in the world to kill on a desert island with only one book at my fingertips, (and "How To Survive on a Desert Island" was out of print) I very well might choose The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Not only does it provide universal wisdom for people of all races, nationalies, and religions, but also fills every of its brief 96 pages with eons worth of interpretation. You may apply Gibran's prophetic advice to your own life in many ways, but rest assured that any which way would better you. What better way to spend your endless days on an island than bettering yourself - just in case you can rope a couple of sea turtles and ride back to civilization.

The Idea of Order at Key West by Wallace Stevens at first seemed a complete mystery to me. But thanks to a little google research I think I've got a grip on this poem. On the surface we see a man watching a woman sing on the shore of the ocean. For a moment he is lost not so much in her words, but in how the music makes him feel. As he turns back toward the town he sees things differently, perhaps more distictly... "ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds." I believe the overall message of this poem is the need for art and the transformation it sets in motion within its admirers. More specifically, art transforms our perceptions according to the way we perceive the art. The listener in "The Idea of Order at Key West" cannot even hear the lyrics of the music... but it's not about the song, it's about what the experience of the song does to the listener. This ties in nicely with Critical Theory as we study the multiple ways to experience art, namely literature. Not only may we impose our personal bias on the literature, but we must also look at the art hand in hand with social movements, genres, historical periods, and various issues.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

9/02: Art that consoled me, art that changed me:

Today in class Prof. Sexson asked what works of art comfort and console us, and what single work of art changed our perceptions. Though when I first read Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken I was only in junior high, I knew that it was the end-all-be-all summary of my perceptions... along with the quote, "When you follow the herd, you walk in the shit." I latched onto Frost's poem as a reassurance that my adolescent, insecure decisions to do things differently were ok. Now, as I see many of my former black and white views being muddled into grey, this poem still comforts me. It reminds me that though the road bends in the undergrowth, preventing confirmation of where my decisions may lead me, I must have faith in my instincts. One work of art that has muddled my black and white perceptions, thankfully, is George Orwell's 1984. This brought to light so many social and political issues. Often we look into the future and shudder to think what may be. That is exactly what Orwell did, and much of it came true in a sense. To put it in a nutshell I see this as a clue that what we shudder to think of may someday be.