Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Every Road Not Taken"

The Literature of this semester was not only an interesting introduction to English studies, but it was also a personal enlightenment as to which path to take in these studies. Robert Frost mentions in “The Road Not Taken,” any path will really be about the same, worn equally, so I might as well take the most enjoyable one. I, however, did not know the options of the paths until this semester. I knew that I would like to write, but did not understand where to focus my attention until I actually looked at the Minors that Kennesaw State University offers. I enjoy reading and writing literature and poetry, so I am going to focus on a minor in professional writing.

“The Moviegoer” by Walker Percy was my favorite book we read this semester. The narrative voice and internal over-analysis reminds me Quinton Compson in “The Sound and the Fury,” who is one of my favorite narrators of all time. Both his and Binx’s extreme flow of thoughts carry an intensity with them, but I suppose that if you typed anyone’s thought process into Word Processor it would look insane. Not only was the narrative voice interesting, but this novel also offered a small shard of hope – that in the great cycling and recycling of time, there will be good times after bad times, mania after depression.

I felt, this semester, that I could also connect with Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, the way she evokes such sorrow, yet holds on to her humor and modesty. She is very inspiring, to write such simple lines that evoke so much emotion rather than decorating the lines gaudily, something I may never learn. (Still inspiring nonetheless.) I also enjoyed doing close readings of poetry, both in class and in our own essays. All in all, this semester brought many valuable insights to my future in English studies, most notably that I should simply choose a path and not worry so much about every road not taken.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Geography III

I found Geography III to be a fitting title for Elizabeth Bishop’s collection of poetry. It read rather like a textbook, giving lessons in the geography of the emotions, as if you could read them with maps. Also, Geography played a major role in her poem, “In the Waiting Room,” for the narrator is reading a National Geographic at the time of her disillusionment. Geography is found again in the repetition of the reader being told time and place, as if Bishop is trying to focus on exactly where she is to distract herself from having to think about everything else all of the time.

The epigraph from “First Lessons in Geography” is also fitting, because the excerpt seems to mirror the emotion felt in the happenings of her poems. One can feel the emotion building up to the edge of catharsis. It starts by asking rather simple questions with childish answers, but builds into asking fifteen unanswerable questions; unanswerable because we do not have the much needed map.

My personal experiences with Elizabeth Bishop were rather eventful. Having only ever read “One Art,” I was surprised at how her other poems were almost, dare I say, better. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good poem. I really enjoyed the voice in which she spoke, the modest tones. It made her seem very humble and honest, which are both very good characteristics to have in a speaking voice. Perhaps I may just be biased on account of her being a lesbian though, which is rather cool as well…

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Glengarry Glen Ross

It takes a certain type of man to “always be closing.” This man must cast off all femininity and emotionality. This man must hone in on the weak and make a sale. This man must devolve to the past, to a time of patriarchy and even further still, to a time of predator / prey etymologies. This is the spirit of the man who sought out the New World and stole it from the natives. Anything goes, to this man, as long as emotionality is taken out of account (not one’s own deceiving sort of emotionality, for that can be useful as a tool, but rather true emotionality). One might call these Darwinistic men “assholes,” for they act without regard to others, all rational with no emotion. This is perhaps the type of man David Mamet is portraying in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

The negligence of female character plays an important role in David Mamet’s play. These men long to live in their manly business world, yet they did not get the memo that men and women are equal. All of their degrading curses hold the same weight as saying, “Go home to your wife.” A wife is not a manly thing in the least. They cannot see past the physical concept of masculinity and femininity to see that some of them have feminine tendencies as well and that the women, who do not even appear in the play, have more control than think. For instance, in James Foley’s film, Shelly Levine is constantly calling his daughter to check on her in the hospital. This is a rather nurturing role for such a man, but he always makes the call in private.

Also, Mister and Misses Lingk are a good example of this. James Lingk is weak. Ricky Roma saw him as injured gazelle, honed in on him like a lion and made the sale. However, this is not the Savannah; this is the twentieth century, and Misses Lingk, who obviously “wears the pants” in their relationship, told him he had to cancel the purchase. Thus Roma’s attacks on Mister Lingk’s femininity or emotionality were denied by Misses Lingk’s own masculinity or rationality. And this occurs again in the film with Shelly Levine’s client as well. When Levine arrives at the man’s house, the lead says that he must talk to his wife first, implying that she has power over those sorts of things, and denying Levine’s own advances on his emotionality.

What is rather sad about this play is that these are adventurous men, who long to do masculine things like exploring a newly discovered world. However, everything has already been discovered. These men are living with past ideals, doing things for the thrill of the hunt, yet they are stuck in the world of sales, and it is a terribly monotonous world. I know… I have been there myself.

Monday, February 23, 2009

“Keep a mid course between two extremes.”

Originally, Shakespeare’s King Lear seemed to speak mainly on the use of language to hide and uncover truths. However, I had not taken into account the absence of a mother figure in the play. Coppelia Kahn offers a rather unique approach to Shakespeare’s play in her essay, "The Absent Mother in King Lear." She argues that much of King Lear’s sorrow lies in the fact that there is no female counterpart to his overly masculine nature, thus he is gradually embracing the emotion, or “feminine” aspects of himself. This lack of femininity is apparent by the absence of a mother for Lear’s three daughters, and again at the banishment of his favorite daughter, Cordelia. During this particular scene, Lear says, “I loved her the most and thought to set my rest [o]n her kind nursery,” as if Lear thought Cordelia to be a replacement for the unappearing mother figure.

I believe the feminine aspect that Kahn speaks of is the motherly one that takes use of emotion, goodness, and empathy. Thus the females that actually do coexist with Lear during the play, Goneril and Regan, do not offer these qualities to him in the least, for they betray him. This search for balance between masculinity and femininity serves as an explanation to the beginning scene, where Lear is asking his daughters how much they love him, as if their womanly love could counterbalance his manliness, or boyishness for that matter. King Lear’s “id” seems to be running rampant and there is no physical “super-ego” to keep him in line. The search is finding this motherly or fatherly aspect within himself, as the Ancient poet Ovid said, to “keep a mid course between two extremes.”

Although Kahn’s explanation of masculinity versus femininity does seem apparent, and although I do personally believe that there should be an equal balance between these two opposites in all people, I feel King Lear is best analyzed in Freudian terms. After all, masculinity and femininity have rather relative definitions, based on the social beliefs of a certain place at a certain time, but when one speaks in the terms of holding on to one’s “ego” and balancing the “id” and the “super-ego,” it is more easily relatable to a wider variety of people using more definable terms. This would also explain why some refer to Shakespeare’s work as some of the first studies in Psychology. Thus I believe that Kahn offers an interesting and, for the most part, true analysis of King Lear, I feel that one must view the whole work in several different lights in order to see the entire picture.

Monday, February 9, 2009

“Politics and sentiment don’t mix.”

Perhaps in Marjane Satrapi’s comic-strip memoir, Persepolis, her father felt that the quote above was rather sound. Having lived in Iran through the fall of the Shah and the Iranian Revolution, the new government that was installed was founded on strict religious beliefs, thus the women were forced to wear veils in public and anything secular was prohibited. And though Iranian politics and sentiment do not mix, sentiment was the only thing that allowed Marjane and her family to live within the confines of the Iranian government.

Some families in Iran, like the Satrapis, threw parties despite the dangers of being caught by the Iranian government. Marjane explains some of the Iranian’s views: “Without them it wouldn’t be psychologically bearable,” or “Without parties, we might as well just bury ourselves now”. On the way home from one particular party, the Satrapis get stopped by a law enforcement officer and he follows them home. Marjane and her grandmother pour out all of the alcohol in the house, for it is forbidden, but then her father pays off the officer and is disappointed that all the alcohol is gone, saying, “My G-d!..I need a pick-me-up…”

Marjane has a certain way of putting a dark-comedic spin on such horrifying events, and this dark humor is patch worked throughout the entire memoir, giving it a certain life force – unearthing the horrifying nature of the fighting and repression in Iran, yet allowing the reader to actually continue reading without feeling the need to down a whole bottle of anti-depressants, as Marjane does in the film. Instead, she uses her own humor as a medicine for the reader, which is exactly how the Iranians themselves got through these difficult times. For instance, Marjane’s childhood friend, who lost his arm and leg in the war, made jokes as a way to cope as did many of the soldiers.

At the end of the first part of Persepolis, Marjane’s family sends her to Vienna to further her French education and to allow her free spirit a bit more freedom from the repressive Iranian government. Thus politics and sentiment can mix, if one finds the right concoction. Marjane herself said that she would move away from France today if public smoking was illegalized, finding the correct mixture of politics and sentiments for herself yet again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Moviegoer

One afternoon, while listening attentively to a radio program, I heard the host tell of how a holy man once described the human experience – a description that stuck with him over the years. This holy man told him that life was similar to walking down a long corridor, with distractions on the left and on the right. Over here is a religion, and over here is a novel. Over here is a guitar, and over here is a beautiful woman. Over here is a song, and over here is a sexual experience. Over here is a political system, and over here is a sunset, and so on and so forth. The whole point is to experience these things, but not to get too fixated on one certain thing, or else one would not make it to the end of the corridor. Upon reading The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, I feel that the protagonist, Binx Bolling, would have learned more from this transmission, rather than the love/hate relationship he had with the radio program This I Believe in

I also find it odd that Binx says that he has “never analyzed a thing in his life,” for throughout the whole novel, he was analyzing nothing but his life – relating everything he saw: all the people, everything in the town, and every social situation, to some character or scene that he had seen in a movie. He is attempting to reconcile the doldrums of life by finding the hidden meanings behind all things – a man on a search for… something. Call it “Greener Grass Syndrome” or what have you, he knows not what he needs, only that he needs it.

However, there is a progression up the rungs of Kierkegaard’s existential ladder. At the beginning of the novel, Binx was a model citizen by the world’s standards. He was solely fixated on obtaining money and having flings with his secretaries – entranced with giving aesthetic purpose to his life, which became far too dull and the malaise always set in. Toward the end of the novel though, Binx shows signs of climbing up a rung to the ethical way of living. Through the scenes in the Epilogue, on the day that Lonnie dies, not only the way he treats his step-siblings, but also the way he treats Kate, show that he is beginning to care for others rather than himself. He helps Kate with her problems by giving her meaning to her own life. By telling her exactly what to do and where to go, she is able to not bother with her big search, a search Binx himself was on, but rather she has easier, smaller searches. Instead of finding meaning for every minor detail of life, she can simply find some government documents for Binx from a Mr. Klostermann, etc.

This is something they both desperately need. Now Binx and Kate can walk down the corridor of life together, helping each other along the way – through the periods of malaise, until the next big accident can liven things up a bit. Binx does not achieve the highest level of Kierkegaard’s way of living, but he shows definite improvement in his situation.