Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
While the introduction of underground to mainstream African American culture was very apparent in the 1920's, does anyone else feel that a noninclusive language and underground meetings may have not been the best approach in regards to relations between cultures? Reed adheres to the "voodoo" and "jes grew" language as a man who is painting a picture of black/white relations. However, it's been said that that which isn't understood is often feared, which pushes a plot line, but primarily just causes more conflict. With that said, would Reed's work be as effective if he strayed from the language? Would the story's quasi-historical relation be blurred even further? Would Reed's story continue to work in the fashion it does if jes grew and voodoo were called something different?
Friday, September 24, 2010
Set in the year 1944 in spain, Pan’s Labyrinth breaches the realm between fantasy and reality. The main character Ofelia, who is the step daughter of the antagonist commander, ends up discovering an entirely new world. With the help of tree fairies and a mission dealing Faun, Ofelia discovers that she is the princess of this new world. However she must complete three tasks in order to claim her royal status. The trials and tribulations of her journey are exciting yet terrifying. This Spanish film draws an uncanny resemblance to the known American tale of “Alice in Wonderland”. However one of the main differences between the two is the uncanny dark element that Pan’s Labyrinth possesses. Below are a few screenshots and a link to show the differences.
( Alice In Wonderland) (Ofelia and the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth)
Here’s also a link to the movies trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqYiSlkvRuw
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
"The format and typography of Mumbo Jumbo are unique and make allusion to several typographic and stylistic conventions not normally associated with novels. The text begins and ends as if it were a movie script, with credits, a fade-in, and a freeze-frame. This is followed by a closing section that mimics a scholarly book on social history or folk magic by citing a lengthy bibliography. In addition, the tale is illustrated with drawings, photographs, and collages, some of which relate to the text, some of which look like illustrations from a social-studies book on African-American history, and some of which seem to be included as a cryptic protest against the then-current Vietnam War."
Indeed the format of this book is intriguing. I actually prefer this sort of layout than something like Double or Nothing because I find it more thought provoking. Throughout the book we are shown pictures captioned with quotes, drawings, newspaper excerpts, advertisements, along with other images. Just as the narrative is a sort of mumbo jumbo of history, religion, and culture that is both real and fictional, but presented as a truth- the pictures themselves follow this form of presentation. Real photographs are paired with the narrative giving it a sense of realism.
Maybe in a sense, Mumbo Jumbo is a good representation of the world today. We are always peppered with statements and beliefs. Like the characters in the story, we must pick out our truths, distinguish reality from fiction, and learn to think critically for ourselves rather than blindly following whichever political leader or religious doctrine we have chosen to believe. Especially if it is true that this book does somehow protest the Vietnam War, then it would make sense that it would emphasize conspiracy and propaganda. As of yet I don't really see any allusions to the Vietnam War specifically. I might be missing something.
I guess some questions we should keep in mind as we continue reading are:
1. How does the style of the book (ie. layout, photographs) help relay the story? Does it add to the story or take away from it in terms of the plot and the author's goals?
2. How does the presentation of story portray society and culture (American, African/Black American)? As well as black-white relations throughout history? What does it say about oppression and fear?
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Even when wading through sentences muddled with dated slang, Reed's examination of the 1920's via the Wallflower Order's struggle against Jes Grew resonates strongly and clearly with the condition of our time. We too are in an era that is reeling from an ongoing war on terrorism, desperate to escape and find room to breathe but wary of those who actually do. There are ways of thinking and acting that are morally reprehensible to much of conservative society, but still catch on in the very same way Jes Grew is catching in Mumbo Jumbo. Homosexuality, something that for years was downplayed and even ignored, is now a hot button issue that refuses to go away. More and more people come out, and more and more people fight against it. Sexual promiscuity is another similar issue that seems to be gaining more and more notoriety. Song lyrics are getting racier. Things that were once considered sinful are beginning to seem attractive.
My point is that Ishmael Reed's look into American relations in the 1920's sounds exactly like now, but without all the slang. Nothing is new under the sun, it would seem. Mumbo Jumbo stands to be one of those timeless novels.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Thankfully, I have taken an African American literature class, though it was a very cursory study, so some of the great figures mentioned were familiar. These being W.E.B. Dubois (a personal favorite), Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson and so on.
I suppose I understand the general notion of this work, but in true structured student of literary discourse style, because I cannot understand it in its entirety, I have a sense of anxiety or the great sense that I am missing...something....
However, I will venture into this textual mumbo jumbo for the sake of discourse, and because I feel there is much to be gained from this text. Unless, of course, its purpose is to feign significance like the great Federman work. Anyway...
The setting is New York during the 1920s, I believe. If so, this is a time of great revival. One of my favorites in American History, because this is the birth era of the Harlem Renaissance. Reed interestingly uses the growing fad of the "Jes Grew", and new slang as a growing disease of deep medical concern. As exaggerated as that sounds, he is not far off the mark concerning the general resistance of this new music, new movement in America.
Beyond American culture, Reed introduces many African influences into the movement. He speaks often of influences from Nigeria, and contributions from Haitian culture. That is to say this movement is deeply rooted in ancestry and heritage, not magic without influence.
This being said...if one can view this text satircally, what does it say about society? How does making this newly expressed black culture analogous to a "disease" reflect the thinking? Also, there are many references to black people; yet, within that lies differentiation between skin gradation. For example, the term "high-yellow". What does that say about the society within society, i.e. the black community?
Friday, September 17, 2010
As I got further into the book, though, the novelty started to wear off, and I was frustrated that, apart from this interesting style, there seemed to be no substance to the text. Our discussion about the idea of “surfiction” was useful in trying to grapple with what Federman was actually attempting to present – yet, in the end, I don’t think this book achieves the lofty goals he’s laid out. On page 14 of his “Surfiction” critical article, Federman says that, in the future, “the reader will be the one who extracts, invents, creates a meaning and an order for the people in the fiction. And it is this total participation in the creation which will give the reader a sense of having created a meaning and not having simply received, passively, a neatly prearranged meaning.”
I like the sound of this goal. It is true that there is a beauty to everyday life, and that its examination can yield valuable ideas, so Federman individualizing interpretation by shifting the brunt of the interpretive work to the reader (as opposed to the author) seems to me to be, in general, valid (yet not in every work – I think there’s still a lot of value in entering into and learning from a world that an author chooses to portray). But Double or Nothing is ridiculously unrealistic. For the vast majority of the book, I was totally unable to relate to the narrator(s), and so, upon finishing it, I have no idea where to even begin to “extract” or “invent” or “create a meaning.” Overall, I do see a value in what Federman is proposing fiction could be – yet I don’t think his actual attempt at fiction lived up to his standard.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Plot synopsis: A man, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife. Plot basically unfolds backwards to tell story.
Two stories are unfolding at once within this film. The first, in black and white, is completely in chronological order. The second, in color, is played in reverse. The ending of the film attempts to bring these two storylines together and make sense of everything that has happened.
Began his studies of English Literature at University College in London which is where he began making 16mm films. "...I studied English Literature. I wasn't a very good student, but one thing I did get from it, while I was making films at the same time with the college film society, was that I started thinking about the narrative freedoms that authors had enjoyed for centuries and it seemed to me that filmmakers should enjoy those freedoms as well."
This idea continued on into the films he produced later in life. His films tend to follow a nonlinear timeline which can be seen in Following (1998), Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006). It was his goal to change things and make his viewers rethink their idea of films. “I think audiences get too comfortable and familiar in today's movies. They believe everything they're hearing and seeing. I like to shake that up.” He took films from the linear, expected storylines that audiences were used to and could jump in and out of, and made people pay attention and question.“As soon as television became the only secondary way in which films were watched, films had to adhere to a pretty linear system, whereby you can drift off for ten minutes and go and answer the phone and not really lose your place.”
Monday, September 13, 2010
I've chosen some passages that connect the literary and narrative elements of the memoir. Structurally, the book is recursive, so hopefully these passages will give you a sense of the whole. The core of the book focuses on Bechdel and her father, and the revelation after her father's death that he had had a series of male lovers.
Bechdel's previous major work was the long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008), which [from wikipedia] "chronicles the lives, loves, and politics of a fairly diverse group of characters (most of them lesbians) living in a medium-sized city in the United States, featuring both humorous soap opera storylines and biting topical commentary." A selection of these previous strips is available here: http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/strip-archive-by-number. You might want to read a few to get a sense of Bechdel's aesthetics.
Fun Home is very much a book about aesthetics and presentation. For some details on Bechdel's artistic process for the book, see http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/art-close-ups and http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/booksellers/press_release/bechdel/. We will talk about the intersection the memoir's aesthetics and its content, which in many ways replicates Bechdel's father's sense of personal aesthetics (and has some similarities to Asterios Polyp).
Finally, Fun Home had a fairly substantive critical reception, and is fairing well in academic journals as well (I wrote half of a dissertation chapter about it). Here are two notable reviews:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/26/books/26gust.html (regular NYTimes review)
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/18/books/review/18wilsey.html (NYTimes Book Review)
In class on Friday, I want to start with the open question of why the memoir is framed in overt literary and aesthetic terms. How does this framing intersect with the content of the memoir itself and the question of artifice that novels like Asterios Polyp and Double of Nothing raise?
Bechdel also wrote a brief piece about how she revealed the book project to her mother, which might be of interest: http://www.slate.com/id/2162410/.
While, I think we can come to a general consensus that reading Double or Nothing can be troublesome because it is a fairly atypical book, I have found it rather interesting to be able to read the narrator’s thoughts as he writes the story of the young man—or is just thinking about preparing to write the story. Perhaps it is because sometimes when I am reading more traditional forms of literature, I think about what the author might be going through at the time—and while I know that the narrator is not Federman, I still find it rather interesting. I mean, surely you know that when you write—whether it is a poem, short story, or even an essay for a class—you aren’t only thinking about the task at hand. I will think about the fact that I have to go to work later that evening, the song that is playing, or that I need to call my friend back—a number of things really. But, what does this do to Double or Nothing? Does it enhance the piece? If you don’t think it does, is it because you aren’t used to this kind of writing, or is it honestly just useless? Clearly, Federman thought it was worth writing since he put so much effort into creating it, but would you write like this? Hopefully, the majority of your pondering wouldn’t be about noodles or toothpaste, but is what you’re thinking about at the time important to the piece? Do you think if Emily Bronte (actual Bronte—not some narrator she created) wrote down what she was thinking about as she wrote Wuthering Heights that your appreciation of the piece would be enhanced? Do you even care? How does the presence of the narrator influence your reading of Double or Nothing?
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Friday, September 3, 2010
While reading “Why Read?”, I couldn’t help but agree with Edmundsons argument. Well the argument the emphasized the lack of enthusiam that todays students seem to have. Or how it could be deemed socially awkward to have a vibrant passion, to question authority akin to Nirvanas “It smells like teen spirit”. It’s not hard to see the display of the constant charade of cool that many in my generation seem to thrive upon. This I can attest too.
However I cannot agree to the fact that reading should only be done with the purpose of knocking down walls so to speak. I don’t agree that in order to have deep fulfillment that a person should deprive themselves of entertainment. My question is, why is it wrong for a person to pick up a book with the mere intention of enjoying it? Or why can’t I have spirtual or emotional growth while having fun simultaneously? Sure when one looks at if from a philosophical stand point, fulfillment may seem like a serious “chore”. But doesn’t philosophy mean “The Love of Learning”. The last time I checked, when you love something you enjoy doing it.
Edmundson certainly hits some points squarely on the head. However it definitely seemed to be a myriad of unfinished points/questions that he left floating in the air. I truly believe that this book is intended for everyone to practice their critcal thinking skills. If not that, then it has to be nothing more than a stream of consciousness.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
I think Edmundson makes some very valid points in Why Read?. His attack on the consumerist agenda of the university really did make me think about how I view the classes that I take. Do I enroll in the name of self-improvement or because this is the expectation for someone of my age? The university appeals heavily to the student as it would a potential customer. This is a fact that seems hard to miss, considering that ICES forms hold legitimate sway in the academic world. I believe this to be a perversion of the democratic ideal. It is necessary that students should give feedback but when I am asked "if the work load was too much or too little" I wonder why this was not addressed sooner in the semester, perhaps by the professor and not a Scantron form. The analogy that springs to mind is limiting the country's presidential voting pool to only those people who planned to leave the country immediately upon their vote being cast. I have watched people bubble a line straight down the sheet and walk out almost immediately. Certain components of the system seem to cater to those who would prefer not to question their education and ignore the individuals who are in fact asking for change. It is a system that seeks only to improve itself, and not those who make its inner workings. More five-bubbles does not mean greater satisfaction, it only means less disapproval.
Edmundson talks of the power and danger of influence and this is where he starts to lose me. He speaks many times throughout the book of his love of influence. "To me, there are few pleasures greater than being influenced: learning something I need to know from another."(100) However, I believe that the source of influence within a literature class should not be the professor, but in fact, the literature at hand. Edmundson continues on to cite his generalized theory of why professors do not like to ask their students "real questions."(101) To summarize, the professors who are fearful of their influence are those that are most dismissive and reductive in regards to their students' capabilities. I believe that this is not the case. Given my opinion that the source of influence should in fact be the works being studied, I believe it is Edmundson who is most critical of his students' abilities to deduce meaning from a great work. He believes they cannot truly "learn" unless he steps in and shows the way. Positive influence at the college level, either subliminal or overt, is something that requires a student's voluntary acceptance. Within the confines of a classroom, it is not possible to force a change in someone's life views. Edmundson's hypocritical argument against professors choosing to be un-influential stems from his inability to believe that students do not require his guidance to change their Final Narratives.
I was surprised in class to learn that several people dislike the process of historicizing, finding it more of an inhibitor than an aide. In my favorite English classes, the professors presented the historical background of the narratives or poetry being studied in an attempt to enhance our understanding of the pieces. I respond well to this type of analyzing because it offers me more than just my initial interpretation; I am given an additional focal lens through which I can enjoy the discovery of different perspectives and thus interpretations.
While studying Why Read?, I initially thought Edmundson shared the dissatisfied view that our discussion Wednesday touched briefly on, due to his chapter entitled “Literary Life,” in which he criticizes studying the historic context of literature. This topic recurred during the sections “History Now” and “Always Historicize?”. However, his musings were drastically contrary to his initial statements found in earlier sections. In the first, Edmundson states that “by studying history we can attach ourselves to human efforts and human energies larger than ourselves and bring our personal force into the great wave of unfolding, collective hopes” and that “without history to teach how hard it is…one is likely to be content with mere literary half-truths” (p 116, 118). Again, this is precisely how I view the practice of historicizing: it is an enhancing guide that ultimately broadens our literary experience. Understanding the complex, nuanced motives of the author and the time period that he or she was living in helps to color our original interpretation and gives us a foundation that we can more easily expand upon. Then in the later section he revisits his earlier negative views and sarcastically alludes that by concentrating on the past, readers fail to connect works with the present. I could not disagree more, as I have made clear. Then he shifts positions again and claims that “…historical interpretations …allows us to read a past text in more nuanced ways” (p. 119). For me, the last section of this book is almost obnoxious due to Edmundson’s consistent tendency to vacillate.
Why did Edmundson write his sections regarding historicizing (or any others, as indecisiveness is a common occurrence in this book) in this way? Do you agree with the way that I have read this final section? What are your feelings on the process of historicizing itself and how has it affected, negatively or positively, your study of literature?