Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Structuralism Reaction

            In an attempt to flex my critical muscles (or rather, to build them), I am going to attempt a literary approach. More specifically, I am going to attempt a structuralism approach to Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Structuralism is a very analytical and, arguably, an emotionless critical approach, one which was built on scientific assumptions of objectivity and ultimate truth. The method’s hallmark goal is to identify and examine how a text conveys meaning, not why or with what. Structuralists take apart a literary system, breaking down its signs and codes, in order to see how relationships exist within a work’s meaning. One of the best ways to accomplish a structuralism approach to Brave New World is through binary oppositions.
            Roland Barthes, one of the prominent structuralists of the 20th century, developed the concept of binary opposition through linguistics. While the specifics are not necessary to divulge, Barthes developed the concept after studying differences in phonemes, where similarly uttered sounds differed in being voiced or unvoiced (Bressler 101). What Barthes drew from this, however, and what is most relevant to literary criticism, is that meaning develops through difference. Meaning in text can be derived by interpreting the codes, the binary oppositions that compose the system. This process can be accomplished, then, through using the structure of language itself (Bressler 102).
            When applying this to Brave New World, one can see definite meaning through binary opposition. These binary oppositions may be envisioned as fractions, with a numerator being a more valued entity than the lesser denominator (Bressler 105). The placement of certain discovered oppositions as either numerators or denominators is ultimately determined by the values of the reader. With Huxley’s novel, there are definitely several binary oppositions which may be gleaned from the text: unfaithfulness/loyalty, distraction/contemplation, science/nature, community/self, and government/religion. The valued and unvalued halves of these binary oppositions are up to the reader. Yet their existence as codes within the text, and the ways in which they transfer meaning, are of great importance to structuralist thought.
            Unfaithfulness and loyalty may be seen in the future society’s emphasis of freedom in sex, and the few individuals who find this emphasis appalling. Lenina very much characterizes the drive for multiple sexual partners, while either Bernard Marx or the Savage may represent the opposition. Distraction and contemplation are presented through soma. Soma, for the majority of Huxley’s Brave New World, is a break and vacation from life’s strains. Yet, when juxtaposed with the thoughtfulness of Bernard, the Savage, or Helmholtz, soma takes on a decidedly hedonistic and careless means of handling existence. The usage of soma becomes a matter of personal, consensual surrender of the faculties and character. This binary opposition may be strengthened when examining the conflict Helmholtz and the Savage incite at the hospital during a soma rationing.
            Science and nature is a binary opposition which may be seen primarily through the Brave New World’s reliance on lab-grown humans, and the social taboo of motherhood. Everyone throughout Huxley’s society is a perfectly engineered specimen, genetically outfitted for their role in life. Motherhood and pregnancy are subjects of great embarrassment to the populace, a fact which becomes highlighted when the Savage enters the Brave New World with his mother, Linda. Community and self are a binary opposition presented through the very social and moral codes of Huxley’s future society. The common individual espouses how “everyone belongs to everyone else”, while individuals like Bernard Marx and the Savage go against the grain. This binary opposition is very much connected to those of unfaithfulness/loyalty and distraction/contemplation. There is a personal desire for solace, reflection, and privacy which is considered harmful and problematic in the Brave New World, a fact conveyed through the numerous mottos and hypnopaedic verses of the society.
            Government and religion may be seen as another binary opposition. The usage of Ford as a sacred icon within the Brave New World very much discards the churches and faiths of old. Ford is used as a societal icon, a role model for the public, the father of the Brave New World’s progressive society. Religion, in its most pure and conventional sense, is dead within Huxley’s society. It has been replaced by meaningless bodily pleasure and twisted historical achievements, all for the purpose of furthering the name, power, and prestige of the world government.
            Such binary oppositions exist within Huxley’s work. After discovering and tracking these oppositions throughout the text, definite meaning has been be gathered (at least, meaning as far as structuralism is willing to define it). The portrayal of both sides within the oppositions appear, with relative lucidity, to demonstrate the morally, ethically, and socially corruptive nature of the Brave New World. Conversely, the individuals who stand in defiance of Huxley’s society demonstrate more wholesome, admirable, and inspiring values. Thus, through structuralist approach, meaning has been conveyed, with codes and signs of resistance to spoiled and corrosive societies, as well as defense of the individual and thought.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Aldous Huxley Reaction

            Aldous Huxley was a man of great insight. His studies into human nature, society, and the threats of government control create a foreboding vision of a possible future. Huxley’s novel Brave New World allows readers to be transported into the unsettling future which he had hypothesized. With the publication of Brave New World Revisited, Huxley was able to break down the society he had created, compare it with modern society, and explain the rationality behind his fears, warnings, and predictions. To absorb each and every page of Huxley’s writings as truth would warrant a very disturbed reaction. However, there are reasonable objections which may be made to Huxley’s postulations, primarily with reasons he himself espouses in Chapter XI of Brave New World Revisited.
            The eleventh chapter of Huxley’s non-fiction work deals with “Education for Freedom”. Huxley believes, among other paths, that avoidance to his dangerous future can be accomplished through education. Recognition of declining social conditions, knowledge of rational and irrational propaganda, and a guarded mind against government can help ensure liberty. “If this kind of tyranny is to be avoided,” states Huxley, “we must begin without delay to educate ourselves and our children for freedom and self-government”. This is a statement which bears much truth in any circumstance, as knowledge is key when facing an enemy.
            Huxley sees education in several specific subjects as key. He believes “an education first of all in facts and in values” is of the utmost importance, as such would aid in combatting appeals to passion and lies spread for a dictator’s gain. However, “an education in the proper uses of language” is of equal importance, as it allows individuals to recognize meaning and symbols, tools which can be skewed by dictators and propagandists to further a cause. Yet Huxley raises attention to the threat of undistinguished truth and falsity, and meaning and meaningless. Or rather, he raises attention to the lack of attempts to dispose of this threat.
            Through using the example of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (founded in 1937 and closed in 1941) Huxley makes a very poignant point about society. The Institute sought to analyze non-rational propaganda, yet was unfortunately juxtaposed with the Second World War As such, propaganda fast became critical in Nazi Germany, but in the Allied home fronts as well. Beyond the mental war effort, numerous groups, including military officers, clergymen, and businesses found issues with the Institute as disrupting and undermining their status quo. Society, even before the war, was centered, at least partially, on “the acceptance, without too many embarrassing questions, of the propaganda put forth by those in authority and the propaganda hallowed by the local traditions.” Huxley thus determines that a “happy mean” must be found for society to function while also enabling avoidance of mind-manipulation.
            The individual may draw many conclusions from Huxley’s statements in this chapter. I found it helped to validate my own thoughts which had sat ruminating within me throughout the readings of his works. The concept of a societal mean seemed to always come nagging back to me. Sure, I could get swept up in the Huxley’s terrible predictions. But I found that, for all his predictions, society still sits relatively close to where it was in his time. Dictators and totalitarian regimes may rise, but they can just as easily fall. Advertisements may run constantly which employ non-rational propaganda, but the general populace is knowledgeable enough to recognize them for what they are. Science could be working day and night to establish a system for domination of the individual, but the science I know is one with a general goal of well-being and understanding, technology a neutral tool.
            I suppose the main issue I have with many of Huxley’s arguments is the lack of a human element, and an oversight of history’s cyclical patterns. Now, I do not deem Huxley’s studies untruthful. His population estimates were fairly exact, and his analysis of threats posed by resources and society’s organization carry weight. But a totalitarian dictatorship, a world power of vast control, seems to be as likely as a meteor impact. Now, the latter is a not impossible event. Thus, I am recognizing the potential rise of a dictatorship. However, conditions which would give rise to such a power, and the circumstances necessary to carry the power in existence, can be frail when including the human element.
            “Every individual is biologically unique and unlike all other individuals.” Huxley makes this statement towards the beginning of the chapter. In the section, he is discussing how unfortunate and disappointing are the attempts made to reduce human difference and independence. I see, however, something much more. Later, Huxley writes that “In real life, life as it is lived from day to day, the individual can never be explained away.” Well written, Huxley. Indeed, the individual, I believe, can never be explained away. To generalize society as a fairly uniform body of culture, education, and values is to strip from it its great complexity. Individuals are the most dangerous threat to totalitarian regimes, and I refuse to accept the argument of something like the “Bokanovsky Process”. Nazi Germany and Hitler’s Reich committed grand atrocities, it is true, but they were not without their dissenters, rebels, and heroes. The individual is a constant of human existence. “Thus, if Bismarck and Lenin had died in infancy,” Huxley begins a paragraph, “our world would be very different from what, thanks in part to Bismarck and Lenin, it now is”. The individual possesses great potential to bring about change in their own society. In addition, an important reminder is that technology is useless without a wielder, and while dictators may try to use technologies to their full potential, there may always be the one hesitant bureaucrat who experiences a conflict of duty.
            All of the above writing may or may not be a complete mess of editorial reaction. The subjects described and explored by Huxley are of a very conflicting and deep nature. To compose a more focused and organized essay would require more time, more research, and more inner-thought. Yet, I believe my main points have been made clear, whether or not I myself fully believe what I have written. Of all things, however, I am at least certain in one regard: acceptance of a dark fate is a danger that cannot be afforded. Allowing ourselves to fully believe in the coming of a totalitarian dictatorship encourages passiveness. Any possible preventive measures are neglected, and hope is extinguished, when the postulations of people like Huxley are taken as near-prophecy. Still, it is through men and women like Huxley that a serious reality-check is provided, and we may, as a society, recognize potential threats and hazards in our progress.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

O'Connor Style Imitation

“Remember when we met?” questioned Jack. There was silence. “I remember when we met,” he continued, “and how we both fell in love.”
            At this statement, Jack sat up, his frail frame swaying like a tall palm tree in the breeze. His pale skin and gaunt cheeks created a ghostly appearance that was only accented by his coal-black hair. The wind outside the shack moaned, eager to slip inside and dishevel everything like a rude houseguest. Jack brought his frame closer to the fireplace and rubbed his arms. A pinkish hue began to color his cheeks as he tossed various newspaper articles onto the burning mass. Again, he swayed like a tall palm tree, and fell back on a stained, mildew-laden mat.
            “We met at the dance. Gee, that was a month, to the day! How time flies!” Jack let out a soft chuckle that turned into more of a rasping cough. His lung contemplated leaving the body, but decided on staying for a little while longer. Silence filled the shack.
            “I was leaning against the wall, staring at the lights. They were not that bright, but for some reason they annoyed me. They kept on spilling out white blankness. What’s up with that? And- and then a song came on. It was a real good song, too, the kind you listen to when you’re alone and think ‘Gee, this is a nice song.’ But, it was a slow song, and I didn’t have anyone to dance with, so I just kept on leaning and stared at the lights, crying a little. When I looked down, I saw you.”
            Jack smiled, showing his toothy wolf-smile, the kind of teeth you see on a nature show, covered with blood and satisfaction. Jack’s smile was not bloody, nor was it satisfied. Snowy drifts continued to pound the weak pane on the shack, and Jack sniffed a little.
            “I sort of just stared,” Jack reflected, “and gaped a bit. You were beautiful. That way your hair was tied up in a knot, with your bangs still covering your eyes, stole my soul. You took a little step towards me, and your blouse danced about even though there wasn’t any breeze. When you held out your hand, I- well, well I- I was speechless. But I took it, and we danced. The song played, and your body moved with mine, and your feet glided across the floor, and I thought to myself, ‘Gee, this is happening.’ Then the song was over. And you left, and then I left.”
            Jack shot up off his mat, resembling an awakened corpse springing from the grave. A tear sat on his cheek, a perfect droplet of sadness. “We talked a bit in the halls, you know? A simple ‘Hello’ and ‘Hi, there’ to start. Then we ate lunch together a few times. That was fun, right?” Jack tried to laugh, but this time he just coughed and another tear fell out of his eye. “That’s when people started whispering. And you stopped talking to me for a bit. I didn’t know what I did. I thought we were friends. I tried writing letters, leaving notes. You didn’t-” Jack stifled a sob, and continued. “You didn’t reply. Then that girl, your best friend, told me ‘Get lost’, like she knew what was good for us.”
            The shack was shaking all about now, its rusty nails holding the planks the same way gum stops a leak. Icy winds howled, battering the glass. Jack threw some clothing, a hair-tie and a blouse, onto the fire, and felt the expanding heat on his frozen hands.
            “I listed to our song every day. Our song. I thought to myself, ‘Hell, we were together before. We can be together now!’ So I followed you home from school that Friday afternoon, with a rose. You didn’t notice me when you walked in, or when you ate dinner, or when you stripped and started to shower. I waited till late, and then I broke in. I knew you’d have to accept me when you saw the rose. How could you not? How could you NOT?!” Jack let out a painful wail, tears streaming from his cheeks like twin rivers in flood season. Outside, nature herself let out her sorrow and grief, chilling everything to its core.
            Another stifled sob was uttered, and Jack tried to compose himself. “It was- it was real hard to explain everything to your father. He had the baseball bat and I had the rose and I thought it might have been funny if it wasn’t so serious. Well, it got more serious, and you walked downstairs, and saw me with the bloody knife.” Jack cried once more, but it sounded as if he were screaming, the sharp sound piercing through the noise of the wind like a blade. “You- you screamed! And I screamed! As soon as I saw the phone in your hand, I knew what you were trying to do. I- I didn’t know how else to act! Everything sped up, and life just slipped by, like I fainted. I remember the light on the ceiling, how it just poured out whiteness. And I looked down, real fast, like waking from a nightmare. Then- then…”
Words failed, and Jack broke down. Utterances of deep, destructive passion sounded beyond the shack, into the forest. Nature had ceased her inclemency, forfeiting to the storm within Jack’s heart.  Tears pooled about the ragged mat. The fire faded and died.
Jack gazed across the shack through his blood-shot eyes, struggling in vain to breath, to speak, to recall.
            The corpse of a young girl gazed back.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The O'Connor Reaction

Occasionally, when experiencing a certain kind of story, readers grow anxious. The medium is irrelevant: film, literature, and videogames can all have it. Gradually, the atmosphere of a work becomes disconcerting and tense. Something about a situation does not sit well with the mind, or the heart, or the soul. One’s feeling of comfort progressively shifts and wanes, finally combusting in an interjection. “Oh, God!” or “It couldn't be!” or even “Why?!” might slip the tongue after a particularly poignant case of this phenomena. Flannery O’Connor’s stories are particularly steeped in this recurring usage of shocking, thought-stifling events.
            For sake of brevity, the occurrence heretofore described will now be referred to as the O’Connor Effect. Throughout the three stories offered in Norton (A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Good Country People, and Everything That Rises Must Converge), the O’Connor Effect is very evident. Flannery O’Connor seemed to delight in weaving a plot of slow realization, of irony, and foolishness, and the dark harshness of human existence. She accomplished this through the usage of settings which are common and seemingly innocent. Her fiction is not composed of obscure situations intangible to the average person. As such, the O’Connor Effect becomes all the more affecting, and all the more unsettling.
            A Good Man Is Hard to Find begins with the innocence of a road trip (Innocence, by the way, is a rather major role throughout the three short stories). A family decides to take a trip south, expecting a nice and enjoyable vacation. Of course, as their trip wears on the flaws of the character’s dispositions become evident, but they are barely different from any other family. The grandmother, whom the story mostly focuses around, fills the trip with (as a personal opinion) the inane chatter of a person longing for faded youth and thoughtless save for nostalgic reflections (Her wearing a nice outfit should she die in an accident is testament to her rather foolish mind).
            Irony rears its head in two instances during this story. The first, which is stated during the introduction to O’Connor’s work in Norton, is that of the grandmother’s proper attire. In order to demonstrate to the world that she is a lady, even in death, she travels in floral and elegant attire. In the end of A Good Man Is Hard to Find, the grandmother lies dead in a pool of her own blood. But, hey, at least passer-by will stop and say, “Gee, what a fine lady she must have been.” The second instance of irony, which I find too perfect, is in the appearance of the Misfit, a killer whom the grandmother rants about prior to the family’s trip. Of course, placing yourself in the family’s place yields a fairly terrifying feeling, horrible and lamentable. Yet, on the outside, the darkness seems to dim a little with examination of how O’Connor set the story up.
            Good Country People continues with the O’Connor Effect, though certainly not as dark as the preceding piece. Irony within this plot arrives in the nature of Hulga and her situation at the end. Throughout the story, Hulga stomps about with an air of conceit, feeling intellectually superior to the people with which she resides. Her philosophical pursuits, however, have left her with a loose grasp on reality and a weakened understanding of people. With the bible salesman, Hulga feels controlling, feeling as if it’s a game, that she is seducing him. Lo and behold when the salesman unveils his true nature, has her helpless in a barn, and absconds with her prosthetic leg to satisfy some obscure fetish. Hulga, for all supposed intellect and comprehension of life, receives a rather hard knock back down to Earth.
            Everything That Rises Must Converge features a more depressing ending than the other two (well, alright, it ties with A Good Man Is Hard to Find). The son within this story is jaded with life and the society around him. Again, as in Good Country People, the character’s history with education leads to a more disappointed view of the world. A mentality of “I am above this” courses throughout the son’s disposition and expressions, and extends even to his treatment of his mother. With racial tension as a backdrop, the son pictures himself as enlightened, seeking assimilation with colored people, in opposition to his mother’s sentiments. The character longs to see his mother put in her place, to have her experience an ideological shift into the new age, even by arguably harsh means. What could be more perfect, then, to have the mother endure just such an experience, only to become jeopardized in health and to have the son pouring out emotion for his dear, sweet mamma?
            Indeed, the O’Connor Effect relies heavily on situational irony, and it works. Flannery O’Connor certainly found an effective means of relating statements and emotions. The fates and experiences of her characters are frightening, sorrowful, and unfortunate. However, a feeling of justice is occasionally at work, as well, if one were to look with an open enough mind. Nothing can beat those moments of realization, those epiphanies exhibited with the O’Connor Effect, which really drive a chill down the reader’s spine.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Pyre of Books

Rejected novel drafts serve as the best kindling. Passionate flames of authorial disappointment quickly consume a page, leaving barely a trace to scoff at. Yet compound that single page into chapters upon chapters of dismissed text, and a veritable explosion is primed to ignite. Character arcs; plot twists; spelling errors; all yelp and holler with the crackling combustion of cherished labor. Literature degrades into neglected ash, allowing a homicidal phoenix to rise and take flight. Though well aware of this fatal trait, Herman Mildew, most infamous of editors, was recklessly preparing a funeral pyre of extinguished hopes beneath his feet.
I knew Mildew well. He was my editor for close to ten years, ever since I dropped out of college to pursue my youthful dreams of writing.
Taking a year to complete my first novel, I struggled to scrape together enough money for rent and Ramen. Luckily, I had also managed to pick up a gig as a restroom attendant at a night club. With a life of text by day and abuse by night, I gradually transformed myself into a fledgling writer. Then the heart-pounding day arrived in which I planned to place my draft before the world. Thanks to fate, the world just happened to be Herman Mildew.
After sending the draft off to Puffin Publications, I waited. With each passing dawn, I would lie awake, stomach churning with anticipation of how my work would be received. Weeks crept by, then a month. A feeling of resignation began to seize my mind, and I started preparing to move in with my uncle in Boston. No sooner had I surrendered my goals to life’s cruel hand, however, than I received a rank, garlic-scented manila folder in the mail.
Stealing away to my apartment like a roach caught in light, my mind began to sway. Questions of my own self-worth began weaving in one ear, out the other. My hands shook; the seal ripped open; my eyes hungrily attacked the material contained inside.
I was underwhelmed.
Smeared offensively across the front of my (now stained) novel draft was a Post-it note reading: “The protagonist is too whiny. Man him up.” Attached beneath the note was an address and hours of business, as well as a most unforgettable name: Herman Mildew.
To satiate your curiosity, my novel was a bildungsroman of life in Japanese-occupied Manchuria during the twentieth-century. That “whiny” protagonist Mildew referred to was an eight-year old orphan boy living in a bombed-out ghetto.
With flushed cheeks, red like cherries, and with a stomach and wallet both on empty, I stormed in to see this “Herman Mildew”. At the publishing house, I was let into a hazy, smoke-filled office. At the back of the office reclined the most offensive, grease-haired, red-nosed, double-chinned human I could ever care to meet. In a large ash tray sat the working draft of a novel, burning with sorrow, flicks of paper rising on its heat currents. Mildew took out a fat cigar, lit it over the combusting composition, and stuck it between his yellow teeth. My eyes met his, and I felt like I could see into the pits of Hell, deep and black. He kicked out a chair, and said, “Congratulations. Your novel I kept.”
Five years later, I was finishing my second book and ate three square meals a day. Five years after that, I was traveling to seminars and fan meet-ups around the world, living a life of fulfillment. Now I am judged before you, accused of murdering the only editor I have ever known. Suffice it to say I am not surprised Herman was murdered. Yet by no means did I take his life.
Though my writing and work became successful under Mildew’s eye, not all potential novelists shared the same fate. Too often had I seen bright-eyed people, whose pupils echoed the rays of the sun, enter the red-brick publishing house on Fifth Street, only to leave with tear-stained cheeks and broken spirits.
During my time at conventions and seminars, I would overhear whispers of “that gross sack of perspiring hatred.” Mildew had established himself as some sort of legend, or rather a curse. Of all editors, alive or dead, he had been fixed as a villain, a sinister force in the world of literary careers. I, an acclaimed best-seller due to Mildew’s guidance, observed from afar as sentiments began to bubble and broil.
I knew Mildew for ten years. Within those ten years I had seen him make a living out of burning novels before they could live, before they could inspire, or teach, or comfort. I had seen aspiring writers leave the publishing house swearing oaths of hatred, even vengeance. The thing is, though, Herman Mildew saw it, too. He saw the waves recede, and could smell the tidal fury of disgruntled writers fast approaching. Mildew just laughed. Sometimes I wondered if he had a heart. I would drift off over my coffee, contemplating all the repulsive habits and acts of that reckless man.
After a while, I came to a conclusion of sorts. Herman Mildew was a self-righteous individual, who believed he had to purify the literary stream by fire. As an editor, he felt a divine calling to view works and their creators with a terribly judgmental eye, seeking to ascend only the greatest to authorship. Do not mistake me: I object to any notion that I am some form of master-race writer. But, in Herman Mildew’s mind, I might have been.
I do not know how Herman Mildew perished. Perhaps he died of a stab-wound, right through the clogged artery. Maybe someone shot him in the shower, penetrating his thick, bull-headed skull. Or, maybe he was burned on a pyre of books; a most ironic and befitting end for an editor of his reputation.
Whatever his fate, I did not play a role. Herman Mildew paved the way for my success, my happiness, and my life: I would never repay him with bloodshed.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Initiation Reaction

            The “Initiation Stories” are a familiar literary concept. The bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story, is an often-read style of text. In fact, the bildungsroman and the initiation story are both incredibly similar in their themes of growing up. Both include pursuits of growth and learning, as well as development of character. Most importantly, they both involve the trials and tribulations of youth as they progress through varied circumstances. Where an initiation story seems to differ, however, is in its short length and focus on one major plot point.
            In defining initiation stories as such, they may be receiving an oversimplification. However, there definitely seems to be some sort of contrasting trait which sets the style apart from a bildungsroman. To support the claim, there are several examples in the section of The Norton Introduction to Literature.
            In Stepdaughters, the plot focuses on a timespan of around two to three years (No, I am not going to go back and check). Yet this passage of time is summarized succinctly within seven pages of text. The author accomplishes this by focusing on one key element throughout the story; that is, the daughter’s involvement with shot-put. Emotion and thoughts are conveyed, but the lengthy extrapolation and development of a bildungsroman are left out.
            In Gorilla, My Love, the main character presents a set of circumstances which all tie into the theme of youth against establishment, and the underestimation of children and their aptitude. Again, as in Stepdaughters, the plot covers a span of time yet is covered in a few pages. The key focuses, the words and descriptions which leave the most impact and meaning, are the ones that stay. In fact, an initiation story may very well be a trimmed-down (heavily trimmed-down) bildungsroman. They are the results of condensing a novel into a short story.
            Now, this may have been obvious to many readers of the “Initiation Stories” section. However, one of the included works does not fit this “condensed” category: A & P. Instead of featuring a lengthy timeline of events, A & P transpires over a few minutes, half an hour at maximum. Nary has a bildungsroman boasted a novel-length plot which covers just thirty minutes. What, then, can be concluded on the matter? Well, A & P, though it covers a brief instant of time, features a relatively altering life experience for the main character. The author does not divulge on the events. Rather, a critical moment in youth is chronicled over a brief set of pages.
            The safest route to follow in this reaction is to determine that bildungsroman and initiation stories are, in essence, the same. Bildungsroman may possess a more attractive name, and may be longer in length, but the two styles focus on the same material. So, then what has been accomplished with this writing? Very little, but a fairly certain conclusion has been reached on the nature of initiation stories. Though lesser in size, they contain the same emotionally provoking topics and ideas as their novel counterparts. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Beowulf Reaction

            A deep part of me, some ancestral chunk of my mind, truly wanted to enjoy Beowulf. I thoroughly anticipated to be whisked away by an age-old skald of heroics and valor. There, on the pages before me, was a well-known epic which had always been brought up in discussions. However, as I sank my literary teeth into Beowulf, wanting to savor every word, I realized one thing: Beowulf is not Tolkien.
            My imagination had always played with the concept of Beowulf. Ever since I was young, I had heard brief snippets detailing the deeds of its hero. In Fifth Grade, I had participated in a re-enactment of Grendel’s attack on Heorot. Yet such details were the extent of my knowledge. I always expected more, much more. When I heard the name Beowulf, a fantastic journey, full of intense action and glorious set-piece moments, reverberated throughout my thoughts. I now feel underwhelmed.
            Beowulf in and of itself is not bad. I do not dislike the epic. I also wholly appreciate the work people like Seamus Heaney have put into translating the poem into a decidedly less Anglo-Saxon format. Beowulf’s journey through Scandinavia was a pleasurable experience, through which I was finally witnessing such a cornerstone of English canonical literature. I met Hrothgar, Unferth, Wiglaf, Grendel, and Hygelac. I witnessed the great mead-hall of Heorot, and the notorious dragon’s barrow, and the hideous lair of Grendel and his dam. I immersed myself in the warrior-code which guided all Geats, Danes, and Swedes, and felt the warmth of boasts and victory. But it all seemed so sudden, and so shallow.
            I believe the problem rests in my own expectations and understandings. The former were too high, and the latter were nonexistent.  Of course Beowulf is quick-paced and short. The story was written between the 7th and 11th centuries, composed in a time when novels were unknown. In addition, Beowulf is an epic poem, and is meant to be read aloud as a performance. Few people take the time to read a whole novel in one sitting, at least not to an assembled audience. And, as an epic, Beowulf is a fairly lengthy poetic work.
            Even given the narrative’s limitations, I cannot feel myself completely engrossed by it. I have, I believe, been spoiled by modern culture. Movies and video games have provided engaging stories and intense action, allowing myself to be more greatly absorbed in their material than with Beowulf. In Bethesda’s TES V: Skyrim, I can assume the role of a character who is Beowulf’s equivalent. In Gladiator, I can watch as Maximus abides by his own code of honor and conduct, struggling against immense trials which only boost his fame and glory. Yet, I have been most affected by the literary works of writers like Tolkien, and especially Tolkien, who weaved a rich fabric of history and identity into their text.
            Comically ironic, in this situation, is that Tolkien was heavily inspired by the work of Beowulf. Tolkien desired a mythical history for Britain, his homeland, and the work of Beowulf was a considerable factor in his pursuit. The Lord of the Rings, a cherished fiction of mine, could be seen as a veritable result of Beowulf and its impact on modern English literature. At this point, I must bring myself back to the limitations of the epic poem’s original creation. Tolkien had an abundance of text to draw inspiration from, and likely possessed greater academic insight than Beowulf’s composer, enabling him to create a more immersive and engaging work (the availability of paper is also a major bonus).
`           If I were asked to summarize both The Fellowship of the Ring and Beowulf, I could probably do so in the same amount of time, even the same amount of sentences. The plots of both are manageable and memorable. Ask me to analyze the works, however, and I guarantee there will be a difference of length. While the themes and topics explored in Beowulf are just, I find myself more attracted to the substance of modern fictional creations, such as Tolkien. The Geats may be a proud and noble people, but I will take the Hobbits of the Shire any day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Wuthering Heights Reaction

            Wuthering Heights is a peculiar literary beast. Certainly, there were aspects of the novel I found engaging, or at least enough to pique interest. However, Emily Bronte seems to have successfully created a novel which affects the reader based on their gender. No, I am not trying to make a comparison between Wuthering Heights and Fifty Shades of Grey. Emily Bronte’s novel towers far above that… pile of words. I do, however, mean to make a statement on the somewhat exclusive nature of the novel.
            I have fancied calling myself a romanticist before. Emotion is a sultry temptress, and romance is her champion. Yet I refuse to understand how the characters in Wuthering Heights can have such appeal, nor can I comprehend how women find themselves whisked away by Heathcliff’s devilish, albeit passionate, personality. Throughout my reading, I was increasingly dismayed by the level of foulness which emanated from practically every character. Romance, while wholly existent (I completely agree that Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s relationship is one fraught with lovers’ zeal), is quite disconcerting. The malign and offensive behavior which lines every event in Wuthering Heights seems to outweigh, for me, any endearing qualities.
            Take, for example, Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw (the most obvious example to provide). The two grow fond of each other in adolescence, gallivanting about the moors wild and free. As they reach adulthood, their emotions, and love, become more intense, and they feel as though part of one another (Which, I will agree, is a rather tender sentiment). Yet, when Catherine is bitten by the Lintons’ dog, and she remains with them for an extended period, she comes back to Wuthering Heights with romantic feelings for Edgar Linton. In fact, Catherine is so taken by the Lintons and their more refined society that it dictates her decision to wed Edgar, and Heathcliff is left behind, loved yet unloved.
            In my opinion, Catherine acts rather outrageously in this instance. Her desire for material and social gain (In the moors, of all places; what society is there in the moors?!) causes her to abandon the most passionate lover she knew, Heathcliff, in favor of the more genteel, reserved Edgar Linton. Do not misunderstand me; I rather like Edgar Linton (Perhaps that speaks to my personality). But I find Catherine’s entire conduct during the event to be irrational. Later, Heathcliff goes on to perform equally irrational, and wholly monstrous, acts due to how he has been wronged.
            In commenting on the characters, however, I can bring the topic nicely to an analysis of Wuthering Heights and its themes. Bronte’s novel is very much a work of Gothic fiction. The description of faded, forlorn moors and rustic backcountry certainly portray this (Bronte’s descriptions of the moors are likely my most favorite aspect of the novel). There is a slight undertone of the supernatural (Catherine’s specter and her haunting of Heathcliff), which is also a tool of Gothic writing. Lastly, all the characters possess some manner of sinister quality, or some unappealing trait which makes them very much of the Gothic stock. Heathcliff is, of course, one of the better examples in the text (The man is even likened to a devil. A devil!). Also in accordance with the Gothic style, mystery is abounding, as Heathcliff’s origins and his whereabouts during his prolonged absence are never fully detailed.
            In case you were wondering, Yes, I enjoyed Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte’s novel had several hooks which caught me. No matter how oblivious I shall remain to the appeal of her fabricated romances, I can at least partially understand the emotion. Love is always a welcome topic in literature. Occasionally, however, we possess contrasting opinions on that most fickle of human constructs. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Microstory: “One Question"

            One question killed me. One question destroyed me. One question ravaged my life, my work, and my purpose. One question burned itself into my mind, refusing to be ignored. It was one question which twisted me into the wretch writhing before you, abandoned by the Universe for the sadistic act I committed. One question … and one face.
            A faint lamp sat humming patiently on my desk. Outside the lab, a furious, sleepless city beamed its bright lights and honked its loud horns, drowning out the world. Yet my lab was on a towering floor, resting loftily above the rabble. The only light was from my lamp; the only sound was from its hum.
            In this atmosphere of desolation, I toiled. I slaved and labored over my immense task. Days and nights passed before I could blink. It seemed as though life were holding its breath, had paused in its tracks, anticipating the moment of my work’s completion. A revolution, a change in the fabric of existence, was on the verge of fruition.
            Now all I had to do was turn her on.
            With immense trepidation, I activated the system. Lights, blue lights, coursed like veins across her body. Fingers and toes flexed, arms lifted, legs shifted, all to the symphony of whirring gears and mechanisms. The eyelids flew open, and out poured the intense vision of synthetic life, awe-inspiring and gorgeous. In the abyssal void of my lab, she beamed with the soft intensity of a thousand nebulae.
            I, too, beamed, fueled by pride and power. What sat before me was the first, true artificial intelligence. Her capacities were to be unmatched, her skills unlimited, her memory eternal. My beautiful, metallic Eve was going to alter creation itself.
            But before I could run any protocols, test any software; before I so much as said a word, she said five. Eve turned her blue, innocent eyes on me, and from her parted lips came one unforgettable question: “Do I have a soul?”