Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where are we going???

So I have just read a marvelous book entitled Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman and as a reader of the book, and an English Education major with approximately 4 years of experience in dealing with this kind of information, I feel I am credited to make a brief summary followed by my take which (with the credentials listed above have shown) I feel is a relatively educated collection of thoughts. The book can briefly be summarized in several aspects. The start of the book is a comparison of two of the most influential dystopian novels of Postman’s time: A Brave New World, and 1984. Just as a brief explanation of these books I will include this comic strip:

In conclusion of this section of the book Postman comes to the conclusion that we are much more like the world of Amusing Ourselves to Death in the sense that the things that we love are destroying us, and that we are drowned in a “sea of irrelevance”. The book than goes on to discuss how as humans we have evolved past a typographical way of thinking and have and become an “image-based” society. The fear of this is that, by becoming a society focused on images, we have vicariously become a society focused on entertainment. And through this action politics, media, and even religion have become centralized around our new medium of “technology”.
In short and Lamen’s terms, that is the brief, very brief, explanation of Amusing Ourselves To Death.(the book was filled with so much information. I HIGHLY recommend reading it!). However, as it is in most books like this, outlooks may appear differently than what is presented in the novel. My views are simple. I entirely see the predictions Postman has made, and see his “future” coming to fruition. But, it’s almost illogical to assume that these changes are bad. They may be different, and even scary, but change is always scary. As I have mentioned in a comment on another blog ( ) as humans we have gone through this before already, and we came out still succeeding in the end.  History always repeats itself, and all we can do is set back, and let it change. Because, in the end, all we can do is sit back, wait, and hope.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Biographies pt. 2 //// Orlando... Magic? or Just plain Weird?

Let’s continue shall we, with another biography from the “amazing” Virginia Woolf. But before we continue I’d like to take a step back and clarify something. I’ve had several readers who have been confused on whether or not Flush and Orlando are novels or biographies. Let me digress for a moment to clarify;

Virginia Woolf is well known for attempting to reinvent many different aspects of literature, including the biography. So as for the question on whether or not these books are novels or biographies, they are both. (ridiculous sounding right? I know, but this is what literary scholars agree on) Besides being a novel for “obvious reasons” (as has also been said by literary scholars, with little to no evidence of why), it also attempts to show relations to the stylized writing of the biography. Woolf attempts to recreate the “art” of the biography through these novels. To put it another way, these novels are recognized as both novels and biographies, and it is for this reason that we are analyzing the strange, innovative, and even “ridiculousness” that protrudes from the pages of Woolf’s biographies.

Now back to the grind, this week we intend to look at another one of Woolf’s novels/biographies entitled Orlando. For those of you who have never heard of Orlando, its… umm… interesting to say the least; very innovative. So as best as I know how I’m going to give you an oversimplified, overly-sarcastic breakdown of the novel/biography Orlando:

Orlando is a 16 year old boy that has very feministic “girly” qualities and has an overwhelming love for poetry. He also has very feministic qualities in how he looks. He is described to be a very handsome/pretty “girly looking” kind of a guy, with slender features. Orlando goes through life trying to “find himself”. He gains the favor of the old queen and serves in her quarters (she kinda has a thing for him) until he meets a “tasty tart” and scores some lip action and more (as it often is in Woolf’s literature) so the queen boots him out of her kingdom. He then goes out and whores himself out to loose women and eventually settles down with a fiancĂ©. But one day he meets some chick that looks like a dude (and he finds that sexy) and makes love to her. But she runs off leaving him behind in a world of melancholy and depression. One day he is magically turned into a woman. (yes, that’s right, I said a woman) And he doesn’t feel any different. He/she feels like its normal. He/she sleeps around with some men, sleeps around with some women, and even pretends to be a man occasionally. Finally he/she settles down and gets married to a man who has woman like qualities. In his/her end of life he/she finally realizes that to find him/herself he/she has to realize that he/she is made up of numerous selves. (yeah, confusing… I know!)

So with this summary, as readers, we can already see the “innovativeness” of this feminist literature. The concept of having a “biography” about a man who becomes a woman seems preposterous, but so is the way of Woolf sometimes. But the plot alone is not the only “ground breaking” stylization in her writing.
Woolf is greatly known for a specific narrative style that many find intriguing (and others find annoying) called free indirect discourse (FID). FID allows the omniscient narrator to enter the thoughts of any and all characters at any given time; almost allowing us to read the minds of the characters as we read along.

This style of narrative writing in the form of a biography was also seen in Flush, but in a novel/biography like Orlando, this style opens us to whole new worlds of thought. In a book like this, where ambiguity in genders (and many other things) is a HUGE role throughout its entirety, the use of FID allows readers to not only gain a momentary perspective of this deep outlook of sexual ambiguity, but also a character’s mental constructs of thought on such subjects.
Another element of Orlando that redefines biographies is in its concept of time. As if turning a man into a woman wasn’t “magical” enough, Orlando also spans a period of 400 years. The main character, as well as several other characters, survive throughout 4 centuries and encounter the historical changes and differences together.
This obviously “unrealistic” idea is strange to toss into something that’s supposed to be more or less “non-fiction” as often a biography should. But by toying with the concept of time, Woolf allows readers to see how arbitrary such social constructs as gender, time, and even ambiguity, can be, and thus, makes an attempt to redefine and reinvent the biography.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Woolf's Biographies... Flush.. pt.1

Woolf’s biographies are very, umm... interesting to say the least. When you think about a biography what do you think about? Usually it’s a life story of a character told from an omniscient view that tells of actions, dealings, and important points in life. I can personally recall having to write a biography that was basically a narrative that summarized important plotted points on a timeline for a character's life. But Woolf does so much more! Woolf’s “biographies” (if you’re so inclined to call them so) are beyond even the categorization of “avant-garde” (or on the front lines). Avant-garde is widely recognized as “pushing boundaries” and Woolf definitely does this in her biographies.. Sow what right? wrong. Woolf pushes new boundaries and opens new doors for future writers to follow.
For those of you who have no idea what it is I am talking about, or who Woolf is, let me give you a brief description (hold all comments until the end please):
 Virginia Woolf is a famous author well renowned for her depiction of gender roles, and unfair treatment to women. In almost all of her novels (at least all the novels I’ve read) she has mention of a lesbian love, and was well known for having a passionate “more than platonic” love for women as well. She wrote two specific, biographies that are quite “redefinining” for the rules of biographies:  Flush, and Orlando. Woolf is widely recognized as a prominent feminist writer, and also a writer who changed writing for many future writers to come!
From first looking at Flush, we are raucously introduced to a new form of biography. Flush is the biography of a dog, about a dog: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog. This is quite unorthodox for a biography already, but what makes it even more so is Woolf’s use of FID (Free Indirect Discourse). FID can only be explained by basically saying that not only does the narrator take on the role of omniscient, but it is also capable of jumping from one character’s thoughts to another! Woolf created a whole new world to explore in biographies, the mind!
Woolf’s exploration of the mind allows us, the reader, to not only view the actions of the characters, but also see their true intents and thoughts behind it! Unlike in other biographies where we are simply told a character’s actions, in Woolf’s biographies we are directly linked to their thinking. By having a direct connection to the thinking of Woolf’s characters we are also vicariously tangled into, not only the main plot, but a mess of emotions, feelings, and thoughts, that cloud the mind of the character. Ergo, we almost become one with the character, and gain a much clearer (or sometimes more confusing) outlook on their actions as they unfold.
What’s more about Woolf’s biography is the sheer “audacity” she has to create a main character as an animal! 
The book Flush is not a children’s book, or a fantastical book, it is meant to be taken as realistic fiction. If we were truly able to see not only from the view of Flush, but also into his thoughts, this is what we are intended to see! So the idea of creating the main character as an animal, especially in her time period, is mind boggling! But, by doing so we are introduced to a whole new perspective; the dog’s.
It’s really interesting to see how a room, or a bed, or a table, or a new person arriving in a door, looks from a dog’s perspective; it gives brand new insight! 
But what’s more is what she accomplishes by doing this. As humans we create a world of classes and “haves” and “have-nots” and so too is it in this world of Flush’s. Even through the eyes of the dog we are able to see this separation of dogs into those with “pedigree” (which is resembled by his pure bred cocker spaniel coat) and those without (the mutts). Throughout the “life-story” of Flush we are constantly shown these concepts and are forced to compare and contrast them to our own views of aristocracy and classism.
Woolf brilliantly uses the medium of the biography to replicate this for us. She shows us and ridicules the dog’s upholding of pedigree only to mirror our own outlook at some of the precious concepts we hold so dear. By putting us into the eyes and mind of a dog in this era, we are able to follow his journey through the pages of Flush, and watch as he realizes (SPOILER ALERT) that the only way he was able to truly find a form of significant acceptance is when he loses his pedigree and becomes a nothing. It is then decided that there is nothing better to be, than a nothing. And thus, as the reader, we are able to directly translate the life and biography of Flush, to our own lives and thoughts on aristocracy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Love in Literature continued...

Now I know last week I diverged from the path I claimed I was going to write about (love in literature) but this week I plan on returning back to this interesting and quite hilarious subject.  We have already discussed an interesting take on Romeo And Juliet, and the classic Pride And Prejudice, and viewed how love has a very different look in these classics than our original thoughts. Now let’s take a look at a few other classics: Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Importance of Being Earnest.
As an English Education major I’m required to read a lot of classic literature and these two books specifically struck me as very entertaining! In Their Eyes Were Watching God we are introduced to a very interesting character. The lead protagonist is Janie Mae Crawford and is an African American with “Caucasian” hair. In the beginning of the novel, Janie is described as a black girl who doesn’t even know her own color. We see this in a scene where she sees a picture of herself (at about the age of 9) and for the first time sees that she is black (and suddenly becomes distraught). This comical “poke” at race is a commonly seen concept in modern literature, but what really stood out to me was the look at marriage.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie becomes married three times; all for different (quite political) reasons. The interesting twist on these marriages is how they appear to be much more like a “job” than an enjoyment. Janie’s first marriage is an arranged marriage to a wealthy “nobleman” named Logan Killicks. Logan treats Janie as a commodity, worker, and a “mule” (read the book to discover the significance of that choice word), so Janie runs away and leaves this marriage behind. She then becomes married again to another man, Jody Starks. Jody plays out as the typical “politician” and “man of power”. To him, Janie is a trophy wife. He has her keep her hair up (this reacts as a metaphor to bondage). This marriage ends quite interesting (even for modern literature). Janie gets fed up with being a trophy and basically yells at Jody; and Jody dies (almost immediately after being yelled at).  Later she goes on to marry Teacake (her only real true love) but eventually has to kill him when he goes crazy after getting rabies. And this my friends, is the portrayal of marriage seen in Their Eyes Were Watching God. It’s quite a different  look then how we think of this institution (marriage/ love).
Oscar Wilde also pokes fun at marriage. One of the important concepts I noticed that was mentioned was in the triviality of marriage, or as it appears to be portrayed, in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. There are several scenarios portrayed in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest that show the concept of marriage portrayed in a darker light.
It is quite common for the institution of marriage to be teased and taunted and we see countless examples of this throughout Wilde’s play. We see one mention of this in the dialogue between Chasuble and Miss Prism that pokes a mention at the idea of the wife losing attraction to the husband after marriage:

“Chasuble. But is a man not equally attractive when married?
Miss Prism. No married man is ever attractive except to his wife.
Chasuble. And often, I’ve been told, not even to her.”

We are also brought into Wilde’s hilarity with the way in which Cecily engages Algernon (who she believes to be Earnest) without even Algernon’s knowledge of the matter. Such a concept seems ridiculous, but may in fact be teasing at the swiftness one claims to “fall in love” in these days. But perhaps what is even more discerning is in the importance of having the name of “Earnest” in order to become betrothed. Neither lady would marry simply because they didn’t know who it was they were engaged to. The name was what was important, not the person. Perhaps a reason for this light playfulness of marriage can be caused due to Wilde’s preferences. Because of the ridicule he had as a homosexual, perhaps this was his way of showing us that our institution of marriage is pretty “weird” too. And once again I say, love in literature is quite different from our perceptions of love. Quite different indeed.