Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Is Desiderio Supposed to Be Angela Carter?

As I was looking over The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman again, for another class, I noticed something very peculiar that I didn't think about before. Desiderio says, "Well, I walked the heels out of my silk socks and the soles off my patent leather pumps and I fell down to sleep and rose to walk again until this filthy scarecrow in ragged evening dress, his matted hair falling over his shoulders and his gaunt jaw sprouting unkempt beard, his lapel still stuck through with a blackened rose of stiffened blood—until I saw before me, one moonlit dawn, the smoking ruins of a familiar city" (Carter 221). This quote is on the very last page, and it happens after Desiderio has destroyed the desire machines.

 

In the quote, we see the result of the desire machines in the destruction of the city—the destruction cannot be erased just because the machines are now inoperable (the damage is done)—but it is interesting that, after the machines are gone, we see the real/true form of the scarecrow. This appearance is something that can change, because it is just an appearance; nothing has been done to affect it (no damage), at least we can assume. The scarecrow is now wearing an evening dress and sports a beard (meaning it is no longer just a skull; it has substance, skin). Moreover, the real shocker is that Desiderio mentions "his" "patent leather pumps" and "silky socks" (panty hose?). Thus, is he, in reality, a woman? Is "he" really a projection of Angela Carter herself? If so, how/why does Desiderio become a man when the machine gets switched on (Is this even important? Can/should we answer it?), and does anyone else's gender change after the machine powers on? We know for certain that Albertina's gender and form/shape changes throughout the book, so it seems possible. Am I seeing something that isn't there? We could probably argue that the comments about silk socks and pumps only suggest some kind of weakness or tiredness, that Desiderio is like a spoiled (rich) kid with nice things who happens to be tired (and is thus complaining, like Wilhemina in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). What do you think?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Summers' Feminism Lecture

I also went to Christina Hoff Summers' lecture on feminism last Thursday. Her anecdote about The Vagina Monologues vs. The Penis Monologues was interesting, and I quite agreed with her point about the double-standards surrounding the plays/events/mascots/etc. I also agreed with her points about gender war propaganda (e.g., "men are from hell," "men are 'potential rapists,'" etc.), that propaganda makes the aberration the new norm and, thus, is a bigoted institution. Additionally, Summers drew an interesting connection to the "white man's burden," perhaps without meaning to do so: She said that the current societal discourse is that we have to "rescue boys from themselves," from danger and self-destructive behavior. Thus, by bringing the "white man's burden" discourse into the discussion, Summers also drew a connection between feminist/gender theories and post-colonial theory, and I thought this was interesting, as it shows how the different literary/cultural theories can go hand-in-hand. Finally, I agreed with Professor Salisbury's points that Summers' speech/work seems racially and socially biased and that she uses too many generalizations (e.g., how BOYS and GIRLS play). Overall, it was a good experience, and a heated one at that!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lucy, The "Holey" Holy Woman

I don't think we mentioned this in today's discussion, but I think the word "holey" in Linda Anderson's "Blinding" is very interesting. We talked quite a lot about religion, and about Linda's holes, her "honeycomb" nature. The word "holey" seems to tie these two ideas together quite well, when Lucy says that she is "a honeycomb of holes. A holey woman." From this, we can surmise that Lucy is a "holey" holy woman. She is holy because of her connection to religion and, perhaps, because she represents THE woman, some sort of ideal, perfect woman; she is "holey" because she is actually imperfect (How can any human be perfect?), and because of the travesties and punishments she endures. She is broken, destroyed, filled with holes, even though she is holy, a saint, a "light unto the world."

Theory

As i read this article, i found myself riding the fence a little. I agreed whet the Hirsch, in some aspects, that the author's intent is the most important thing. Yet, i do not agree with him on the facts that the only meaning is the "author's intended meaning." I feel that by looking at the author's intent in the poem or their background can give great influence to what the true idea of the poem is. However i also do believe that the fact of the matter still remains that all people have different meanings of things. The world is seen through different eyes, therefore no picture, image, is seen the same.
Even in the later part of the article in the Language and Speech Acts, words have different meanings. A words meaning would all depend on the context in which it is used. For instance mole is both a small furry animal that digs holes in your yard, but it is ofter referred to as a spy or informant. This the ideas that confuse and complicate intent. That is why i would say that getting a feel for the author's intent would help the reader understand their poems better.

Against Theory

First off, I found it very interesting that, at the end of this class, we read a piece basically telling us that everything we did in this semester was a waste of time. I do think he brings up some interesting points about the problems with looking for authorial intent, and I think it's important to try to focus on the text and what it says to you personally, not what it says according to what other people say the person saying it was trying to say. (I know that's one of the most confusing sentenses I've ever written, and I think that speaks to the problematic nature of authorial intent). I may not agree with all the things that Knapp and Michaels are trying to say in this piece, but I think it's important that someone reminds us all to not get too locked in or stuck in literary theory and it's rules of analysis. How we analyze things in our own mind are important, too.

theory

My stance about theory before reading this article: while I do not wholly agree with some theoretical claims and the end they seek at times, I still appreciate the points of view that can be utilized when experiencing text.

My stance after reading this article: pretty much the same.

The article, for me, was a pretty rough read. It seemed to go in circles, and say the same things over, but with differently worded sentences. But, this was probably the goal. The authors point out specific problems, and then approach them from different areas. Intention versus meaning lasts for like 5 pages, and in the end, says one thing. Now that I think about this “method,” however, it seems that I am breaking the authors’ rules; I pointed out that there was repetition in the essay. I pointed out that this “seemed” to be part of their goal. In essence, I am interpreting their “speech act,” which is intentional/meaningful, through formal theory tools. They would disagree with use of theory. But repetition is a commonly used tool within the practice of “speech acts,” both spoken and written.

Going back on topic, it seems as though the beef with theory is that it tries to solve problems that don’t exist and that it is a tool used to replace literary practice. The latter would seem to come from a poet who has been critiqued. The former seems to be the larger problem. From the tone of the essay, theories are seen as attempting to become law. I do not see this, and if I did, I would not agree with theory either. As stated, I think of theory as a way to incorporate new ideas and points of view. If they were called "literary viewpoints" or something along those lines, would the authors still have the problem with "theories" attempting to solve something?

When the authors spoke of beliefs, it seemed as though one “theory” was left out, which is the “Reader Response.” This theory allows readers to impose their beliefs onto the text, to engage it in the way personally deemed necessary, but also realizes that these beliefs are not necessarily true. They are simply responses.

Response: Knapp & Michaels Against Theory

For our last blog, we were asked to respond to Against Theory by Knapps and Michael. The essay proposes that, "meaning is just another name for expressed intention, knowledge just another name for true belief, but theory is not just another name for practice. It is the name for all the ways people have tried to stand outside practice in order to govern practice from without. Our thesis has been that no one can reach a position outside practice, that theorists should stop trying, and that the theoretical enterprise should therefore come to an end."

For my part I do not recognize a problem with theory, and for the most part I believe that Knapps and Michael harm their claims by relying upon truth claims and value judgments. In fact, there is a fundamental element of discourse I believe may not have been covered in the section of the essay that we have read.

The way I understand it, all that is required for an assertion about a text in Critical Theory is that it needs to be grounded in the text. That is, for any assertion that one might make, one must first provide evidence present in the text to support such a claim. This is my grasp of the theoretical project. I do not understand critical theory to suppose value judgments or dismiss one interpretation of a text in favor of another, rather it is simply to propose a method of analyzing any given text which makes an interpretation possible. The goal of critical theory should never be to discourage or inhibit an interpretation, I should think, and no interpretation should be taken as definitive, including the author's: i.e. if the author reads a text in a certain way, while everyone else reads it to mean something else, then so long as these interpretations are grounded in the text, they are always valid. However more than anything else I believe the project of theory amounts to a demonstration of the subjectivity of meaning.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Against Theory" Makes My Head Hurt

I’m going to start off by saying that I agree with the other guys that this reading was egregiously loquacious and pretentious. Basically, it made my head hurt.

On a more serious note, perhaps the one thing I did get out of this reading involved the last two pages about Fish. This seemed to be the one part of the text that stood out to me as truly interesting and semi-comprehensible. “The truth of knowledge, according to Fish, is that no beliefs are, in the long run, truer than others; all beliefs, in the long run, are equal. But as we have noted, it is only from the standpoint of a theory about belief which is not itself a belief that this truth can be seen” (741). This little section, and the rest of the paragraph that follows, had me thinking – should we really throw away all beliefs just so we can separate Item A from Item B? Can one live without the other? Do we really need theory? Do I really need to keep asking questions like this? What I am trying to get at here is that Knapp and Michaels continue on to say that theory “has no practical consequences not because it can be united with practice but because it can never be separated from practice” (741). Fish, Knapp, and Michaels want us to go against theory? Well, after reading that entire text and still not being fully confident as to understanding what I read, I am going to agree with those three men and say, “To hell with theory!”

Against What?

Okay, so I passed in and out of consciousness while trying to decipher this pompous work. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this post, but two things I feel the need to clarify:
Language, as they say, is intentional. The two are inseperable. Language is organized, and the purpose of language (its intention) is to communicate ideas effectively. Language, as they stated, is representational and is consitent of signifiers that are tangibles for the concepts they represent. Such that the actuality of the language is defined by the existence of that which it is trying to represent. The words on the ocean, if made by accident, represent nothing therefore the signifier is seperated from the signified, and it fails. So I think I'm with them on that.

The whole spiel about de Man's interpretation of naming Marion, or at least producing a sound that resembles Marion (seems like such an arbitrary distinction), is a bit much. Rousseau named Marion, nonetheless. He spoke words and language before the wondrous utterance of the resembling "sound," and he spoke language afterwards. But we are supposed to believe, upon Rousseau going back to the moment in his mind, that he is able to now re-interpret what the actuality of the sound was. At the moment, it seems, that he spoke 'Marion' it was language filled with intention. Going back to that moment, he has re-interpreted it as nothing but an immediate reaction, spoken by someone who speaks the language of intention, but not intending anything at all. Therefore, as author of this text 'Marion,' he himself has given to us two definitions. If we were with him when he said it and before analyzing it, we would agree with his author's intention which is the only viable thing, and called it language; now upon re-examination we call it non-language. Rousseau as author and intender leads me to believe that (1) there is an intention existant that is separate from the author's full knowledge (i.e., he doesn't know what he really means), and (2) that the concept of language itself can be separated momentarily from intention. We as readers, subscribing to author's intent now have come to believe two things. He meant it, now he didn't meat it. There is an intention existant and solid, immutable throughout this time period. Roussea's understanding of this intention is the variable. We as readers are the result of Roussea's misunderstanding of his intention. The language is mutable. And maybe there isn't such a rigid connection between the two.

I don't even know if I made sense just now. Anyways, the other thing that I meant to address is the difference between belief or knowledge, or non-difference as they put it. As if we can believe something without analysing our beliefs. I believe chocolate is good for me, but it doesn't lead me to become disinterested in studies showing that it may not be. An understanding of belief as being largely opinionated and unfounded (in a complete sense) by facts leads to an attempt to attain truth. I believe until I know. Belief is my journey, knowledge my destination. But one can also believe in facts, I guess, or that some facts are true and others skewed. However, information is nuetral, numbers I guess signifiers and defined only by the value we place on them. Interpretations exist on all levels. Without a belief that what you are saying is true, that you are speaking the truth, there is no connection between you and what you are saying. I don't know where I'm going with this anymore.

So I'll just end it here.

Against Theory

I completely agree with Shawn. There are a lot of points during class where it seems theories are applied just for the sake of applying them. I believe this article somewhat speaks out on this concept. Theories seem to generalize a lot about different interpretations of a text. It never seems so simple to just say, “you are using feminist theory” or “that’s a psychoanalytical analysis” because it is hard to shape your opinions into one underlying thought process.

To me, the conclusion of the piece seems something worth noting. I disagree somewhat with the authors when it comes to separating pieces. There seems to be too many small details and signs that are available in large texts. I also believe that some things may be separated. However, the authors’ main goal is to have readers regard the piece as the whole. I believe this should always be kept in mind.

Against Theory

"From the standpoint of an argument against critical theory, then, the only important question about intention is whether there can in fact be intentionless meanings. If our argument against theory is to succeed, the answer to this question must be no (727)." This statement is all that I got out of the entire article. As many of my classmates have stated earlier, this article is one we could have done with out. The arguments were very confusing and quite frankly not very convincing. Hirsch never gave a firm argument for his theory or lack there of. His argument that "the meaning of a text "is, and can be, nothing other than the author's meaning" and "is determined once and for all by the character of the speaker's intention (725)." His argument is flawed. One can not only rely soley on the authour's intent. Sometimes there are things that come out with out the author even realizing it. This is why we analyze and interperet text using a wide range of techniques. The authors intention is only one aspect of analyzing and intepreting texts to is full potential.

Against Theory

This question is one I have often pondered and I think this article has some serious implications. It is very accurate in the fact that it highlights the ability of the individual to have their own personal interaction and reading with a text. Literary theory is problematic because it hinges on the individual experience and is therefore open to argument and refute. With the position of the field of literature today it seems that any theory and any ideology, as long as it is well argued, is theoretically possible within the text. This presents a problem, since there could be an almost infinite possibility of readings of any text. Any theory could be applied to any text and since authorial intent is no longer of concern or regard to the interaction of the individual with the text almost any reading could be applied. I do not necessarily agree with the article, yet it does bring about very relevant and important issues dealing with the literary field today.

"Against Theory"

Many of the points made by the Knapp and Michaels were indeed difficult (though not impossible) to follow. It may be because their work is groundbreaking and they therefore have to lay much of the groundwork for their arguments themselves. Nevertheless, the discussion on intention captivated me. In speaking of meaning and intentionality, the authors support the idea that the meaning of a text can never change. They state that "in all speech what is intended and what is meant are identical. What is intended is The authors admonish against reaching separate conclusions based on perceived authorial intent. One of their more pressing points is that there can be no intentionless meaning. If x states I think therefore I am (let us think of the statement as y), then that is exactly what x means. A consideration of why, for example, x stated y would prove incongruous if it led to the conclusion that the statement means: You that don't think are not. This would be considered a case of intentionless meaning. I want to argue against this. In the above case of x, what we have is an intended meaning in: I think therefore I am. In the strictest of senses, x is merely reflecting upon his own (specific) reality. However, there is (not an intentionless meaning, but) a (possibly) unintended meaning of: You that don't think are not. By assuming that what is intended is identical to what is meant, we assume that one cannot mean what they did not intend. For example, in x's statement of y, x may not have intended to comment on anyone else, but he did. X commented on others that do think and those that don't think. Here, x may have stated y based on a societal, value-spefic impression (acknowledge or not) of thinking, especially considering how people may have been deemed thinkers and non thinkers in that society. Therefore, x's statement, outside of what he intended, means something different or has an expanded, unintended meaning. To restrict our understanding of x's statement to simply what we see in his illocutionary expression is a practice in oversimplifying an extremely complex world. Exploring unintended meanings can help reduce their frequency (especially if those unintended meanings are harmful in one way or another). A closing question to consider: Let us assume that x is a man living in a society that previously believed that women are incapable of thinking (whatever thinking is); By stating y, what meaning has he forwarded about other people in general, and women in particular, that he may not have intended?

A Post Against "Against Theory"

I will say flat out that I did not enjoy this piece.  To me the authors were needlessly wordy and complex and they began losing me as soon as they introduced their whole ocean-writing-Wordsworth analogy.  Much like Roger stated in his post, all these hypothetical situations started getting annoying and made me feel as though we were losing ground with reality (or anything worthwhile for that matter); thus, the logic was difficult at times to follow and at others made me not even want to try to follow.  Furthermore they have all this discussion about meaning and authorial intent that just seems pointless as we were taught from the beginning not to assume to know what the author was thinking when he/she wrote the piece we're analyzing.

Christina Hoff Summers

While I happened to sit in front of some rather rude listeners that spoke and snickered throughout the entirety of the lecture, I did manage to pay attention and take copious amounts of notes. While I find myself on the fence when it comes to much of what she said, of particular interest to me in Christina Hoff Summers's lecture was her focus on education. While taking the male side of the argument, Professor Hoff Summers seemed to shoot herself in the foot, so to speak, when it came to her ideas regarding male education. Apparently, at an early age, boys are incapable of actually engaging in true academic subjects, favoring playtime and rough housing instead. Also, as an English major, as all of us here are, I felt unconvinced at her assertion that literary and artistic fields were dominated by women, while the sciences were dominated by men. With all these points in consideration, the core of her arguments seemed to involve a lack of belief in gender as a social construct. As I said earlier, I am still on the fence about a great many of these things and perhaps life experiences will set my own beliefs on one side or the other.

Against Theory

I suppose I'll only be another voice in the chorus when I say that I think this reading was both insightful and brought something completely different to the course and our thinking about criticism. This argument that Knapp and Michaels bring forward hinges on something they talk about very early in the article. That is, "The mistake made by theorists is to imagine the possibility or desirability of moving from one term (the author's intended meaning) to a second term (the text's meaning) when actually the two terms are the same" (Knapp & Michaels 724). This really spoke to me when I read it because of my belief that one of the most pretentious things we can do as students is to begin to believe that we understand a work better than the writer of that work. Should we really be in a position to say what a work means in cases where the author has already stated it's meaning? I think that, in certain cases, it is beneficial to explore the meaning of a text, especially when the writer was not able to tell readers what he or she meant the text to say. In the case of Hirsch's explanation, it is clear to see the dichotomy that exists within his own explanation of criticism. To try and say that we need to find the meaning of a piece and also the intended meaning is to say that the author did not know what he or she was writing. This is a big leap to take and also one that I am not prepared to do without much trepidation. I think that to criticize a work or try to explain it's meaning is okay, but we should keep in mind that what we think may be completely off. It's not up for us to decide in most cases what works say, because the author already made that decision.

Against Theory

In truth, I had a rather tough time following a lot of the reasoning laid out by the authors of this piece. At first, they present the scenario of the ocean writing a Wordsworth poem in the sand of a beach. From here, they fly through a series of explanations as to what could have caused this appearance until they reach the conclusion that the poem could not possibly be language, and should therefore be meaningless, if it was written by the ocean. With this statement, they completely disregard the importance of an individual's perceptions of a text, as they do repeatedly in their attacks upon the ideas expressed through literary theories themselves. They have effectively stripped away the human element that not only seeks understanding, but is, in the end, the only involved party that can possibly understand anything. Further, they attack the very foundations of language itself, citing other theorists who have postulated that language is some sort of aberration of pure sound. Not much of this makes a lot of sense to me, but the ending seems to contradict the entirety of the rest of the piece, with a sudden shift to the reader's beliefs vs facts.

The Feminism of Christina Hoff Sommers

When I attended Christina Hoff Sommers' lecture on the war against boys, I fully expected her to be some example of the feminism backlash that such authors as Susan Faludi have addressed.  I must admit that I was delighted to hear that she herself is a feminist as, from the moment I heard this, I stepped back from attack mode and was more receptive to what she had to say.  I felt she had some important points about the radicalization of feminism.  Her example about the University of Rhode Island allowing giant inflatable vaginas to be erected and celebrated while such responses as the Conservative Club's mascot, Testicles, were persecuted for celebrating male genitalia in the same manner was a very effective/representative point about our society.  I also found some merit in her point that the Vagina Monologues is bad because it does not present one decent male in the play. . . I've never personally read the Vagina Monologues, but if it is true, then I'd be most disappointed.  Lastly, I found her data about boys falling behind girls in school (because of the preference towards the ease of teaching the latter) to be exceptionally interesting and alarming.

If I have any critique of her, it's that her speech was very jumbled and felt disorganized.  As such, I felt like there were a lot of gaps that had to be filled by the following Q&A session; I will say that I felt she handled Q&A very well, especially in the face of Dr. Salisbury (sp?) becoming aggressive about not including information on racial aspects of feminism.  Overall, she used a lot of anecdotes in her piece, but she also supplemented these with what seemed to be legitimate statistics.

"Against Theory" article

Like some other people have already stated in their posts, I too found the Against Theory article illuminating.  

One point I focused in on especially is the following: "Our point is that marks produced by chance are not words at all but only resemble them.  For Juhl, the marks remain words, but words detached from the intentions that would make them utterances." (732)  This has been my problem with deconstructionists, who seem to believe that texts can largely stand by themselves, without any sort of authorial intention or motive.

I therefore think I largely agree with what is put forth in this article.  It is not possible to separate authorial intention and a text's meaning/interpretation.  They are one in the same: "The mistake made by theorists has been to imagine the possibility or desirability of moving from one term (the author's intended meaning) to a second term (the text's meaning), when actually the two terms are the same.  One can neither succeed nor fail in deriving one term from the other, since to have one is already to have them both." (724)   


   

Against Theory?

After reading “Against Theory” I would have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with the authors on some issues and completely disagree with them on others. In examining the question as to whether or not one should apply some sort of theory to their critical analysis of literature I would have to say that theory is not as rigid as the authors make it out to be and that it greatly helps in the analysis process. The authors of the article seem to think, and in some cases I am sure that they are correct, that theory limits the analysis of literature. I would argue that while there are some limiting characteristics of a theory it is ultimately beneficial. I believe that theory is a tool that allows the individual analyzing literature to retain focus and give them a means of simplifying and breaking down robust pieces of literature. In fact, I would view theories much like a I view stereotypes, in some situations stereotypes allow one to quickly assess a situation based on previous knowledge, but there are many instances in which the stereotype is not applicable and is harmful. The danger with theories is that sometimes I find myself oversimplifying literature according to some theory or attempting to make round literature fit into the square-hole of theory. In this I am kind of on the fence between agreeing and disagreeing with the article.
The one aspect of the article that I did not necessarily agree with was the section dealing with the importance of words that have no author. The article states that if one was to read a passage that seemed to have been written by the ocean in the sand, then it would not be language or words but would just resemble language and words. What I found problematic about this was that they did not seem to consider certain pieces of canonical literature that do not have known authors. Beowulf and Sundiata are two examples that immediately come to my mind. While neither epic has a known author, since they were passed down orally, they are still very much collections of language and words that combine to create powerful stories.
Overall I found the article to be interesting and helpful, although I am sure that if you really wanted to you could make a case for the article being somewhat postmodern, which would seemingly disrupt the main point of the article.

Against Theory

When I first looked at the title of this article, I was quickly reminded of a conversation I had with Prof. Brewer in regards to her first viewing of "The Empire Strikes Back". Immediatley after she said it was simply, "ok", she began to apply several different critical theories to it. This almost drove me nuts as it didn't seem like she was watching the film for the sake of having a fun time watching a fun movie, but watching it for a critical analysis. In regards to this article, whether or not one critical theory applies to a particular text or film is 100% known to only the author, intended or unintended. Granted, as we have done with our recent presentations, applying such theories to our favorite subjects is interesting. But there are just sometimes when we have to sit back and enjoy our text or film for the sake of have a fun time, not feeling like we should have to work at applying something that might not even be there to begin with. Am I against theory or for it? I guess I'll have to say I'm half and half on the matter: can critical theory be applied to several mediums, yes. Should they on a reguler basis, well I wouldn't do so, enjoying a good book or film, as previously stated, shouldn't have to feel like an extended homework assignment.

Against Theory

The article "Against Theory" brought up some very interesting points concerning literary theories and analyses. However, I noticed some problematic statements throughout the article. The main problematic statement that I would like to address is the statement that literary theory disallows one to uphold one's belief in the "truth" while analyzing a literary text through a certain literary analysis (Knapp and Michaels 739). As I have noticed thus far throughout this course, literary theory and analysis is able to support a belief in a certain "truth" within a literary text, and this support can be provided by textual evidence, historical background, biographical background, social-class disparity, racial disparity, etc. This belief in the "truth" of what a text is trying to convey is not thwarted by gazing into a literary text from a certain perspective, but many times one is able to discover many evidences that will support one's belief in a textual "truth." Also, if one's belief in the "truth" is false, than literary theories and analyses are good devices to use in order to discover problematic beliefs in one's "truth" concerning a text. A reader does not have to separate him/herself from their beliefs, or the text, in order to discover support for a certain belief in the "truth" of a text. In fact, sometimes a certain literary theory is able to allow the reader to come closer to the text by understanding some of the different aspects of the text's background.

The Article that Nullifies This Class

While Against Theory, by Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels, is an interesting read, I am not sure what I think of it yet. The article focuses intensely on "what if" situations, and thus, I find it difficult to take it seriously. For example, when the authors mention the wave poem, they do so in a way that says, "What if we saw the wave generate a second stanza, thus realizing that neither stanza is really a stanza?" Okay, but what if we did not? What if we immediately left the beach to go look up the poem and find out if it was a previously published poem or an original (if we did not know)? What if we left to do something else entirely? What IF? What IF? What IF? By not seeing the wave generate a second stanza, we would not realize that there was no "intention" or "meaning." We would perceive it as language. Moreover, I find it difficult to think that, just because the poem has no "intentional" creator, it therefore has no meaning. It does not matter! If I see words, I am going to perceive them as words, especially if I do not ever find out that they ARE NOT words. Therefore, I will see meaning in them because I myself will see language; I will see something that I recognize as language, and therefore, it will have meaning to me, whether or not it has an "intentional" creator. Who knows? Maybe it is God himself, trying to tell us/me something. Do these writers believe in God, or a god? Needless to say, the article is very frustrating, almost to the point that I think it is an experiment or a joke. It is not a joke or experiment, though, right?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A need for theory???

I do not know if I agree with this article, but I found it very interesting. I have been wondering, for most of our class, if we are right in assigning specific criticisms to specific literary works. I am not saying it is wrong to assign critiques, I have just been curious about our criticisms. This article addressed this issue head on by stating the supposed fallacies and problems of literary critiques. By far the most fascinating argument was that of the wave and the poem. I gave serious thought to this example and I found that I actually agreed with the idea of erosion. If the poem appears randomly, by way of erosion, then I am not actually looking at language but rather a coincidence of sand pebbles falling in the correct place. The erosion may appear to be language because it is decipherable but in actuality it is not language in the typical sense. Although, I did see the justification in Juhl’s discussion of the parrot and his intention, I tended to agree with our authors. In the end, I think the authors are wrong because I think that certain literary criticisms give poignancy to texts and arguments. Certain types of criticism I can see as redundant or not necessary; but I appreciate other criticisms. Knapp and Michaels have made a compelling argument for their belief in literary theories, rather their belief in our need not to have literary theories.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Infernal Machines of Desire and Gender Theory

Desiderio seems to have no problem succumbing to his sexual desires throughout the novel. When looking at Desiderio's sexuality as a means for executing his masculinity and domination over women the instances of pediphilia and rape come to the forefront as he uses his sexuality. The rape of Mary Anne, the constant sexual play with the nine year old Aoi, the daily sex with mama, and numerous other instances all give Desiderio power over those whom he interacts with.
This search for power through sex is turned on Desiderio when he is raped by the Acrobats of Desire. After using sex to give himself agency and a sense of masculine self worth, Desiderio becomes the object of desire and is raped. The Acrobats all rape him repetitively and this take away Desiderio's agency and masculine power. As the sexual themes throughout the book suggest this play with gender roles and the sexual agency of their desires is pervasive and powerful.

Infernal Desire Machines and Psychoanalysis

In addition to dream interpretation, I think the focus on sexual desire and phallic images in this book also leaves it open to a psychoanalytic analyisis. I think one of the most obvious applications of this school of thought is the Count. The Count clearly seems to represent the id, or the unbridled sexual desire that humans fight their whole lives to suppress (according to Freud). All the Count cares about is achieving his own desire, no matter the consequence. The most interesting thing about this to me is that there is no specific foil to this character in the book, there is no completely balanced and reasonable person to counteract the desire of the Count.

Also, all the phallic imagery leaves it open to psychoanalytic interpretation. The most striking example of this is when the characters are at the strange masquerade-type party where they wear penis suits. But in this book, Carter seems to mock the sense of power that the penis is meant to represent in most cultures by portraying it in such an over-the-top way, like we were talking about in class with the racial construction of some of the characters.

Infernal Desire Machines

This is my second go-round with this book, and it is still pretty weird. I enjoy it, however, and the seemingly endless array of tools it uses. There were a couple of things I wanted to explore during class but did not get the chance to, so I’ll just offer them in the blog.

We talked about hierarchal structures during class, coming to the overall dominance of patriarchal societies. Within the book, this is shown. The first page of the first chapter (p 15) defines cities as either male or female, with this one being “obtusely masculine.” Desiderio even goes on to later say that the Minister had become the city on page 28, the representation of what the city wants. What struck me, however, was the figure of the Cathedral, which was destroyed by Dr Hoffman. It was “the greatest national monument” (p. 29) and “stood for the spirit of the city” (p. 34); it was vitally important to the city. This struck me because of the possible inference to the Cathedral as being a female figure. It was described as “sublimely chaste” and the dome exploding like a “fiery parasol” (p. 29). The definitions of parasol I found often attribute their use to women, and the idea of being “sublimely chaste” seemed like trait that would be sought in something feminine. While this may be a bit of a stretch, I found the chaste statement to support the parasol one. If this is true, that the Cathedral is feminine, what could Carter be saying about one of the most important structures in the male city? What could she be saying about religion?

The other question I wanted to ask was about the idea of dreaming in this novel. Desiderio begins to explain to us how reality and dream continue to become one, and this continues throughout the novel. On page 30, his dream becomes his reality, as he explains that he awoke while still knowing he was asleep. From this moment on, his experiences continue to become subject to the “unreality” of Hoffman. What I would like to explore, however, is the passage on page 63, when Desiderio explains his experience with the Determination Police. He goes on to say that he should sleep to clear his head. If sleep brings about the unreality, is it possible for him to clear his head by rest? Just a few things.

To Beg the Question

In this blog we were challenged with the question of how to read Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. However, the question assumes the premise that in fact there exists a "correct" way to read this particular book. I therefore porpose that it is fallacy to prefer a specific method of analyzing any particular text at the expense of another method. Inasmuch as it is an already established fallacy to read a text for the purposes of artistic intent, thus also it a fruitless endeavor to propose that a book should be read in a specific way; rather one may only propose how a book may be read in any analysis, and for the aforementioned reasons I would assume this ethic to be the foundation for all of critical theory.

I will use another example of a text from the modernist movement in order to demonstrate my point. James Joyce's novel Finnegan's Wake is a novel which I feel perfectly demonstrates that a right way to read a text does not exist. Similarly, we must not assume that a correct way to read The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman is required for an analysis of the text, for such an analysis would be the result of bias by virtue of its premises. Furthermore, interpretations are also subject to subjectivity and whether or not an audience perceives a text to be racist-which its the accusation leveled against The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman in particular-is no doubt determined by context.

The particular problem under discussion arises from assuming that the protrayal of African natives in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman-by use of stereotype and the unfavorable image-encompasses all persons of African ancestry. Indeed, one might assume any portrayal of a minority or that of peoples unlike the author in this or any other text to represent be the result of a discriminating generalization. However, this is in an audience's assumption of the author's intent, which, while valid and possible, cannot be called definitive. This bias could not therefore be assumed a universal truth-across time and circumstance-of this or any other text which inspires a similar reaction.

Works of fiction are also complicated by the mechanisms of vaguery, satire, and pastiche in the way the works of non-fiction could not. One could not deny that the Mein Kampf is a racist text, but what of The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman where the themes of racism, where they can in fact be said to appear, are at best subsidiary to the rest of the plot? Were we to summon the presence of an author of any work and obtain their verbatim account that their texts were indeed created with racist intentions, should their interpretation alter the body of critical theory which depends upon her work? Given the argument above and accepted fallacy of artistic intent, I would say no, it should not.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dr. Hoffman's Infernal Desire Machines

To start out with, I want to say that I completely agree with Rob's post. To say that Carter is misogynistic or racist seems absurd to me. This is because of the nature of the book and it's tone. This book, as we talked about last Monday, is a type of pastiche that imitates certain forms to mock or undermine them. In the case of the cannibals, Carter takes one of the worst stereotypes possible and goes over the top with it. This is not done to liken Africans to cannibals, rather it is done in the manner it is to show the absurdity of the belief that all Africans were cannibals. Another example of Carter using stereotypes to undermine them is in the case of the Acrobats of Desire that Robe wrote about. Clearly, Carter does not aim to imply that all gymnasts are gay or that all gay people have sexual tendancies that would lead them to rape, we would probably not be reading this book if Dr. Brewer suspected this to be the case. Lets be honest, we would probably not read this book if that were the case, even if it were assigned. While there are examples of stereotypes found in older literature, the reasons for these stereotypes being used are to undermine them rather than to reinforce them. Carter chooses a very interesting setting and plot to convey this to the reader, but sometimes isn't it better to not be force fed an ideal, but rather to figure it out on our own?

Doctor Hoffman and Dream Interpretation

If anyone were to read even the back of the book for a basic premise summary of “The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman” and they were taking a Critical Theory course like this one, one of the easiest theories that could be applied to this novel is Psychoanalysis. Since Psychoanalysis is essentially dream interpretation and the titular Desire Machines focus on people’s dreams, interpreting them would be a challenge. A good example that this theory could be applied to this story is early on, page 19, “By the end of the first year there was no longer any way of guessing what one would see when one would opened one’s eyes in the morning for other people’s dreams insidiously invaded the bedroom while one slept and yet it seemed that sleep was out last privacy for, while we slept, at least we knew that we were dreaming although the stuff of our waking hours, so buffered by phantoms, had grown thin and insubstantial enough to seem itself no more than seeming, or else fragile marginalia of our dreams.” The rest of the paragraph goes on to describe some of the phantoms and sights that people see either awake or asleep, from “dead children” to “abandoned lovers”. Adapting Psychoanalysis to these dreams and probing deeper into them with interpretations of our own would make for a very interesting paper on the matter.

The Advantages to the "Unreality"

The “unreality” created by Dr. Hoffman’s machines is interesting because it seems to create the perfect environment for a postmodern analysis of Carter’s novel. The machines operate by distorting everybody’s view of reality by creating an “unreality” in which the desires of those affected by the machines is unearthed from their subconscious and projected into a new reality. That is to say, everybody views their own different version of reality and that there is not one true reality. When I first thought about this I immediately made a connection to postmodernism in that postmodernists would say that this is how history and literature should be viewed and that there is no ultimate truth or ultimate reality where the different observations made by individuals are little more than their perceptions of certain illusions (or “unrealities”).
With that said, I also found it interesting that one could easily apply any of the methodologies learned in class to this book. Postcolonial, race, gender, gay/queer theory, and modernism could all be used to analyze this book. I also feel that the robust nature of the text that allows for this sort of analysis is what made it such a difficult book to sift through. Most books immediately lend themselves towards one theory or the other and allow the reader to establish a method of analyzing the book at an early stage in the text. Carter’s book just seemed to keep the reader off-balance and made for an interesting read. Just looking at the range of methodologies used in blogging on the text one immediately notices the array of analyses and should realize why we read this book for a critical reading class.

Mamie Buckskin in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

In lieu of the heated and time-consuming discussion of race in class last time, I'm afraid we never got to talk about a queer/gender analysis of this book which I think could have been particularly interesting.

While there are other situations one could examine in the book that deals with either of these themes, one character I found particularly interesting was Mamie Buckskin, a member of the traveling carnival that we meet in the chapter entitled "Acrobats of Desire."  Mamie is identified as a sharpshooter who sexually prefers women.  "She was a paradox--a fully phallic female with the bosom of a nursing mother and a gun, death-dealing erectile tissue, perpetually at her thigh" (108).  This passage tells us that something is not right about Mamie, she is paradoxical because she is both masculine and feminine at the same time, she does not fit the mold of how a woman should act, of her 'proper' gender role.  Not only that, but we understand that Mamie also likes Desiderio because he does not fit the typical assertive, powerful gender role of a man.  "She took a great liking to me for she admired passivity in a man more than anything . . ." (109).  To say she defies the norm may even be putting it lightly.

Ultimately Mamie is a part of this carnival of freaks and other extraordinary individuals that, from the point of the view of the puritans in the last town they visit, are hopelessly damned (115).  Desiderio even repeats this idea among the last lines of the chapter when he states, "Saints and damned had died together . . . " (119-120).  It is not hard to imagine that the town-folk would think Mamie is damned because she sexually prefers women in conjunction with her defiance of typical gender roles.  It may have had something to do with her act in an American burlesque house where, pretending to be a cowboy, she shot all the clothes of her beloved mistress "whom she had abducted from a convent" (109); of course, they probably did not know that story, but it is still a good ground for damning a person.

What does everyone dying together at the end of this chapter have to say about Mamie however?  Does this show that, despite her unconventionality, she is no more damned than the supposed saints who die right along side of her?  Of course being damned would refer to her afterlife which we are not given any insight into, but surely the mass death has something to say about the fundamental equality of the sinners and the saints, especially since it was nature that killed them (through which God has been known to act).

Fun with Postmodernism

I strongly agree with Thomas. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman holds similarities with “Apocalypse Now” (Thomas said Heart of Darkness). What seems so interesting is the story of Desiderio. He encounters many different people and cultures, but in the back of his mind is always this mission to kill Doctor Hoffman. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow pilots the boat into Africa for his own enjoyment. Captain Williard’s tale in “Apocalypse Now” is very similar to Desidero’s tale.

That being said, I would have to The Infernal Desire Machines from a post colonialist literary perspective (which previous bloggers have commented on). What makes this story interesting to the perspective is the idea of post modernism. When indigenous people bow down to Captain Williard or Kurtz, that is to be taken as a sign of imperial superiority. But since The Infernal Desire Machines is a post modern piece of literature, the book satirizes this concept of imperial superiority. Desidero says, “it was quite possible to feel that they [the river people] were not fully human” (73). Most post colonialist literature gives this feeling of inhumanity, but few pieces of post colonialist literature actually comes out and says it. The absurdity of the sentence (as well as many others) makes this book easier to understand as a piece of a post modernist satire.

This idea continues throughout “the River People” chapter. Carter writes, “I [Desiderio] found the perfect place to hide from the determination police and a never-before-longing in my heart now found itself satisfied” (76). This begins to tackle concepts of social Darwinism. The belief that the River people are removed from the world banks on the notion of inferiority. Even more ridiculous is the second part of the sentence. The longing in his heart to join the river people implies that Desiderio thinks he is part of the natural. It also implies his wish to leave “civilization” (92). The notion that Desiderio leaves civilization to join the river people is a piece of social Darwinism. Desiderio may leave European culture, but he does not leave civilization. Once again, since Carter is a postmodern novelist, she understands that many writers before her (Conrad, for example) implored these post colonial images, and now she has the chance to poke fun of them.

Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

This was without a doubt the strangest book that I have ever read; however, I think that may be a good thing. This is not a book I would have just read for fun, it’s not my top of book; but I have thoroughly enjoyed discussing this book with the class (even if we spent too much time on race). No other book has provided me with the ability to discuss drug use, rape, consenting sex with a minor, centaurs, cannibalism, carnies, and a host of different things. This book is almost indescribable because it is so strange and different.

For my final paper I really want to talk about this book because there are just so many different ways of viewing/reading it. I think a post colonial analysis will be the most interesting because then I can touch on the ‘anti-conquest’ nature of the book. We discussed in class how there were so many similarities between this book and other books; obviously Gulliver’s Travels but Heart of Darkness and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are two other examples. All three of these books are considered conquest books because at their most basic level they are about a journey or an ‘adventure.’ Infernal Desire Machines is another book about a journey, but it seems to be critiquing and expanding on the traditional conquest narrative.

One thought that keeps reoccurring to me is what kind of bad guy is Dr. Hoffman, and who does he remind me of? I came to the conclusion that I think Dr. Hoffman is a mix between Kurtz, The Riddler, and Andrew Ryan/Atlas (the ‘villains’ in the video game Bio Shock). If anyone else has an opinion on the matter or any thoughts, I would love to hear them. I think the Kurtz similarity is relatively obvious, especially with the river boat ride. On page 70, towards the bottom, there is a very Conradesque passage describing the River People. “Since, however, they bore no goodwill to the whites and very little to the blacks, if it came to that, they took a cool pleasure to witness from the security of their portholes the occasional havoc in the towns through which they passed” (page 70). If anyone has played the video game Bio Shock, I think it is almost impossible not to see a little Andrew Ryan in Dr. Hoffman.

Do You Smell A Racist? I Know I Don't!

I am going to have to agree with Roger here. I also found it tedious and trivial that all we focused on was race. We were talking about a book that focused on the suspension of reality, thus nothing was what it should be. For instance, there were centaurs. Need I say any more?

Going through some parts of the book again, it only cements this idea that there is indeed no racism present in this book, although I can see why some of the students felt there was. The “Coast of Africa” chapter did use some stereotypes on indigenous peoples of Africa, but like I stated previously in class, these kinds of stereotypes were present for many groups and such in the novel. This is apparent with the Acrobats of Desire who all gymnasts. Now, these male gymnasts all rape Desiderio…so does this mean that Carter is stereotyping all gymnasts as gay and that all gay men would rape a straight men in a heartbeat? I’m pretty sure that is not the angle she is going for here. Once again, the angle here is the suspension of belief.

Now, if we were going for the stereotype angle towards females…well, that one is just easy. Look at Albertina, her name can be rearranged to spell “Trainable.” Coincidence, I think not. Albertina is literally a puppet for her father and sees things the way her father does. Furthermore, the female centaurs are basically alive just to be degraded. That is their whole reason for existence. Is Carter being a misogynistic writer? I don’t think so – she is just suspending the reality in the novel and allowing us to see a twisted world where everything is distorted and topsy-turvy.

On a final note, to just reinforce the idea of what Roger calls the “Unreality,” look at how sex is viewed: a lustful way of releasing one’s desires and sexual angst. Not once is it viewed as a beautiful thing, except when Desiderio is about to make love to Albertina, but that never comes to fruition because of the search party looking for Desiderio. Most would think of sex as a way to show their love for another, but in the novel, it is used as a forceful way to show dominance, power, and/or lust over someone (as in the cases with the Count and LeFleur, the Acrobats and Desiderio, Desiderio and Mary Anne, and the machines, just to name a few). Sex is distorted as a lustful and meaningless tangible object that has no emotional attachment to it at all.

So lady and gentlemen, this is why Carter is NOT a racist and is only perpetuating the “Unreality” and distorted world of that in "The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman."

Friday, April 4, 2008

"UNREALITY" in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

About halfway through class on Wednesday, I began to get a little discouraged. It seemed all we were talking about, in response to Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, was race/stereotypes. Don't get me wrong: I don't mean to say that these are not important issues in the book. However, there are so many other things to talk about! Thus, I think we got to John's point (I think it was his), that the book is about the perversion of reality, WAY too late in the class. In fact, I wanted to mention it about 20 minutes before he did, but I didn't want to interrupt the flow of discussion (and perhaps I should have). Nevertheless, Professor Brewer's question (I cannot remember what it was, now) provided an excellent point of departure, and if no one else brought up "unreality," I was going to. Thankfully, John DID bring it up.


It is interesting that—before we started talking about the (unreality) machine and its effects—we spent so much time on race. What is it about those two chapters about indigenous peoples of Africa and America that brings out this topic? Why, when we could talk about all the other perversions, and, yes, even stereotypes, did we focus so much attention on race and racism? It seems our Wabash educations and our own specific identities have conditioned us to be sensitive of race, which is good under most circumstances but not, necessarily, for the purposes of discussing this particular book. I think that, to discuss this book properly, we first have to recognize the perversion aspect, and THEN discuss why that element is important TO the racism in the book. What does Carter's use of unreality vs. reality say about racism? Is it supportive of a NEGATIVE attitude TOWARD racism, or does it SUPPORT racism (the latter of which seemed to be the only question we entertained on Wednesday)? Carter does not seem to be prejudiced in any OTHER section of the book, does she? So why these two?


What about on page 16, when Desidero goes to the opera and sees all the peacocks? Animalization comes to mind. Another example is when Desiderio sees his mother as a "fat, white owl" (26). There are more, but I think that is enough. My point is that there are plenty of other instances where Carter portrays people as animals, less than human, etc., and many of them are NOT in the two chapters on indigenous peoples. I thought we would talk more broadly about these themes, rather than talk almost exclusively about racism itself.


Finally, another theme that I was sure we would get to is the panopticon, or voyeurism. We have already talked about this theme in class, quite extensively, and I was sure someone would mention it; so I will do it now. The following is one such instance of a panopticon-like gaze: "[...] on the window-ledge itself, I would have been visible to any watcher in the square as if it had been daylight and, when I let the blind fall with a faint rattle, the sound provoked a volley of knocking on the door so I knew the guard was wakeful" (63). There is another example on page 65. I find it interesting that Carter uses the panopticon here, as it reinforces the idea that ANYONE could see the prisoners/subjects in the panopticon, not just guards/doctors/etc.


What else can we talk about in relation to this book?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tucker Max and the Hegemonic Male

http://www.tuckermax.com/ (read a story to understand)

I have always been a diehard fan of Tucker Max’s writing. To me, there is not a better story teller (in terms of humor) in the United States. Upon preparing for my presentation, I have done a lot of research of the basis of hegemonic masculinity. This has led me to ponder why, exactly, do I love Tucker Max and can he be defined as a hegemonic male?

In terms of hegemonic masculinity, Tucker Max can be defined as a hero. He drinks, parties, and sleeps with a lot of women. Although, not necessarily a “positive” role model, there are many men throughout college campuses wishing to associate themselves with his specific attitude and lifestyle. According to his stories, he is the dominant man. He has the pen, and thus, cannot be questioned. He lies, insults, and scams his way in order to keep himself as the authority.

An important aspect of hegemonic masculinity is the identity of the heterosexual. Most, if not all, of Max’s stories center on sexual encounters with women. With this, heterosexuality and homophobia are essential to the concept of hegemonic masculinity. As Max Donaldson writes, “Male heterosexuality is sustained and affirmed by hated for, and fear of, gay men” (“What is Hegemonic Masculinity?” pg. 6). Max has a specific story (“The Worst Conversation Ever”) where he follows one of his female friends into a gay bar in Chicago. Initially, Max is frightened by the bar, but this passes as time goes on. Then, a gay man walks up to Max and tells him that “you [Max] have probably had sex with a man before.”

At first, Max ignores this, believing that the gay man does not know what he’s talking about. Then, the man goes into detail on how Max could have had sex with a man in the past. The more details the man goes into, the more scared Max becomes. Finally, Max becomes so affected by the gay man’s words, that it throws Max into a “funk” where it takes him weeks to recover. This is where Max, as a heterosexual hegemonic male, proves his fear of gay men. This leads to a better understanding that Max can be considered a hegemonic male.

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman

To begin, I must state that this book was indeed one of the strangest I've ever read. I'm still having trouble figuring out not only the plot, but the overall style as well. There are so many different themes (feminism, sexuality, colonialism, etc.) intertwined with theories like modernism and post-modernism that, unfortunately, make me think that I'm only at surface-level with this work, and that there is a much deeper current I'm unable to reach.

All that being said, the most intriguing aspect of the book for me was Desiderio's pent-up passion in the beginning of the novel, and whether it is further repressed or, instead, released through his encounters in the peep show.

Desiderio recalls, "I was an exceedingly romantic young man yet, until that time, circumstances had never presented me with a sufficiently grand opportunity to exercise my pent-up passion. I had opted for the chill restraints of formalism only out of sharp necessity. That, you see, was why I was so bored" (41). The first time he experiences the peep-show, Desiderio says that he sees a representation of the Prime Minister's penis in one slide and the face of Dr. Hoffman's ambassador in the other. I wonder if this points to an underlying homosexual impulse in Desiderio, that perhaps when in the state of arousal he fantasizes about men he is familiar with. Certainly, the notion of Desiderio being purely homosexual is strongly challenged by his later relationship with women in the novel, notably the very young Indian girl on the river, and of course, with Albertina. Yet the inclusion and mention of phallic symbols which appear throughout the novel, and the fact that Desiderio IS the one telling the story, make me believe that it is at least credible to believe that perhaps there is some sort of homoerotic tendency within him. I don't think I personally believe this, but after finishing the novel, it was really the first aspect I thought about.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Death and the King's Horseman: Jones & The Elesin's Hesitation

Elesin Oba: "My will was squelched in the spittle of an alien race; and all because I had committed this blasphemy of thought-that there might be the hand of gods in a stranger's intervention" (57).

Just as Shakespeare's Hamlet ritually abstains from taking his uncle's life, thus also Elesin Oba, the anti-hero of Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman, avoids taking his own. In fact, Jones comments that Elesin Oba's wish to remain in the world of the living is neurotically present from the beginning of the play; he writes, "By the end of the first section of the play the Elesin's involvement with things of this world and his evident irritation at being reminded of his coming death have sown doubts about the firmness of his will" (152).

Jones insists that just as the colonial authority Pilkings ignores the religious significance of the Yoruba people, so also does Iyaloja dimiss the significance of colonial intervention in Elesin Oba's failure to perform his own suicide. Regardless of his father's fatal pause and its significance in the Yoruba community, Jones argues that Elesin Oba is redeemed by the sacrifice of his son and the child he may have planted in his newly taken bride. "In this willing acceptance of his role, and in the promise latent in the unborn child, lie the society's hope of regeneration and of continuity" (154). Elesin Oba, on the other hand, appears to be the victim of an unyielding fate: his people blame him for the failure of the suicide ritual.

Jones' secondary focus upon the temporal relationships present within the play; that being the triad of the dead, living, and unborn; is of no consequence, and in fact betray the far more provocative and telling implications of his analysis of Elesin Oba's death, of the pause that preceeds his death. Elesin Oba, is perceived by himself to be the victim of insensitivity: the insensitivity of his own people to the role played by Pilkings in delaying his death, and the insensitivity of Pilkings to the role played by his own people in causing his death. Understood correctly, both the oppressor and the oppressed powers in this situation have cruelly juxtaposed Elesin Oba between them in this circumstance. However, I would argue that this relationship is particularly destructive for the Elesin and Iyaloja, for while she even refuses to recognize the significance of Pilkings' interference in Elesin's ritual, at least Pilkings is willing to subject the situation to his own gaze-in one case we have an particularly disturbing lack of recognition, while in the other we have a mere instance of insensitivity. I would argue that one must at least be aware in order to be insensitive, but Pilkings' seeming invisibility to Iyaloja expresses an inability to recognize power-and therefore the right to assert that power upon one's self.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Jones' Criticism and Our Culture

I'm with Roger on this piece not having really any significant thesis or any real purpose outside of a simple summary.  I will agree that, for a summary, it did do its job and explained the play quite clearly.  Criticism, however, does not seem to be the focal point of this piece, despite the fact it was in a section under that label. 

But I'd like to turn and respond to Jeremy's entry.  He writes, ". . . Elesin's strugle, his goal is not to let his people down.  This is an exceptionally foreign idea to most [of] us, being as there are elements within modern culture that frown upon patriotism and the things that go along with it."  I whole-heartedly disagree.  I think that even though we do live in an incredibly individualistic environment due to our capitalistic societal upbringing, we can make a strong connection with this idea of not wanting to let others down.  One only need to look to sports (of which I admit for the most part I am ignorant) or the family unit to see that one does not want to let down one's team or parents.  And to say that patriotism is frowned upon in America is a shock to me.  Just think of our soldiers who still continue to sign up for the army and get shipped over to Iraq... this display of patriotism is not admonished, rather those that go (and possibly return) are shown immense respect for not letting down their country and serving to bring democracy to the world.  Even those who do not agree with the war still praise those who go off to fight it for their courage and sense of duty.

So, I guess in lieu of that, I still fail to see the significance of Jones' piece.  It is not an idea outside of any cultural understanding as I believe Jeremy claims.

Jones' Book Report

For obvious reasons I chose to read Jones’ “criticism” of the play and was both disappointed and impressed at the same time. I would have to agree with both Roger and Jake in how I viewed this article and say that it is an incredibly easy to read summary of Elesin’s situation, somewhat equitable to an in depth middle school book report, but it was not much of a criticism. That is to say that a well done criticism doesn’t have to literally criticize the author, but has to contribute something useful to the academic discussion of the literature being examined. This is where Jones’ piece fell short for me, and probably most of us who read it. It doesn’t oppose Soyinka’s presentation of ritualistic suicide or offer any additional scholarly analysis of the play; it seems to merely summarize a common perception of the play and barely supports this summary with a few selected quotes. I will say, however, that the presented summary of the play is easy to comprehend and presented in a rather “user friendly” manner that allows the reader to perhaps further his or her own understanding of Elesin’s situation. While it is not a terribly written book report, Jones’ piece seems slightly less relevant to the world of academia than many of the other criticisms we have read throughout the course of this class.

Death and the King's Horseman

Although I didn't find Jones' Criticism of "Death and the King's Horseman" particularly deep or profound, there were some things I found interesting. The main thing was his idea that the failure of the suicide and the tragedy is caused mostly by the Elesin's hesitation. I thought this was interesting, and it would also complicate a seemingly cut-and-dry argument against colonization that I thought was taking place through this play. This would also support Soyinka's Author's Note before the play, which basically says this play is, in fact, a play inspired by a real-life event, not just simply a call against colonization or anything else.

Hepburn's Hybridity

In her article Hepburn seems to argue about the role of the individual in the overall community. What I will focus on from her article is her placement of blame on Elesin. Elesin's failure to commit his ritual suicide is placed solely on his own shoulders and on the supposed flaws of his person. Yet this article fails to take into account the broader aspects of hybridity and the colonial system in effect within the settings of the play. Regardless of Soyinka's own comments that this play is not a commentary on political or social issues, it is impossible to divorce the rich themes and events of the play from this context.

Elesin's flaws as outlined by Hepburn are clearly his own and thus he is subject to his own unfortunate failure. This issue is complicated when looking at the play from the idea of hybridity. It is quite apparent that the influences on Elesin are those of the hybrid ideology of the colonial culture, just take his wife for example. Elesin's own flaws and problems although solely his, are tied almost irrevocably to his inherent hybridity within the culture. This hybridity is far from ideal and it is through this that we see the root causes of Elesin's failure as not his own flaws but those imposed on him through the colonial system.

Jones and "Death and..."

I kind of want to respond to Roger in depth about Jones’ essay, but I have to read an entire book by Carter. However, there are some things I want to say. Jones’ piece is not great, but there a lot of points in the essay that helped me determine what, exactly, was going on in the play and how the play could be read.
Jones’ essay “Death and the King’s Horsemen” was not a masterpiece by any sort, but it did help clear out a lot of actions in the play that I did not understand. If there is any literary theory that would somehow connect to this piece, I think it could be somewhat (vaguely) along the lines of a psychoanalytic interpretation in a colonialist setting. Jones speaks a lot about the human condition that seems to be present in the play. Jones’ says, “By the end of the first section of the play, the Elesin’s involvement with things of this world and his evident irritation at being reminded of his coming death have sown doubts about the firmness of his will” (152). Personally, the first eighteen pages were a tough read for me. However, after reading Jones’ piece, there is noticeable situations throughout the Elesin’s dialogue in the first act where he will begins to wan. Jones then points to all of the items that the Elesin asks for before his death. The man is supposed to die very soon. Why would he ask for so much pleasures of the flesh? This all seems to become clearer.
I also wanted to read the play against Soyinka’s wishes as a post colonial piece of literature. When I originally read the play, it seemed to me that the majority of the problems were caused by Pilkings’ arrest of the Elesin. However, Jones writes, “Pilkings’s intervention does not start the weakening of the Elesin’s will and is ignored by Iyaloja as a major factor in the Elesin’s failure” (153). This takes us back to the Elesin’s personal failure of the self sacrifice. When staring death in the face, “the human will is apt to flinch” (152). This is what the Elesin does. The problems begin because of him, not because of Pilkings. Iyaloja does not even consider Pilkings as any kind of a threat, seen by her constant reference to Pilkings is “child”. This shows that Pilkings is not made to understand and that Iyaloja, as the mother of the market, would rather take her attacks towards the Elesin who understands the trouble he has caused.

Jones and Culture

The apparent argument brewing between Roger and Thomas over the Jones article has its merit, but something is being overlooked in it. We, as Americans of (only mostly, of course) Western European (See. Christian) descent are shocked by what we read in this play. The play itself is but one of many examples in a long line of West African literature detailing the three-sided awkwardness felt among Christian missionaries/converts, older Muslims groups, and those who still hold to the indigenous belief systems. Making up only one third of the concerned parties of the story, we will generally only identify with and understand one third of the participants.

As Jones makes clear in the semi-thesis that Roger expertly points out, Elesin's struggle, his goal, is to not let his people down. This is an exceptionally foreign idea to most us, being as there are elements within modern culture that frown upon patriotism and the things that go with it. Further, western society has always been pretty squeamish around the concept of suicide, even though it exists in religious forms (as seen in this play) all around the world. I would, in fact, like to compare this social structure seen in the play with that of medieval Japan, wherein a knight (samurai, bushi, horseman, etc.--insert your noun of choice--cavalier?) will commit suicide for the sake of his ruler. The world is bigger than us. Accept it.

Joan Hepburn's analysis of "King's Horseman"

I chose to read Joan Hepburn's analysis of "Death and the King's Horseman", titled "Ritual Closure in Death and the King's Horseman."  What I found to be the most intriguing point raised in the essay was the notion of community in the play.  I hadn't really thought about how incredibly important the welfare of the community is to the characters in the play until I read this analysis.

In the play, the welfare of the community is supposed to trump the welfare of the individual.  As Hepburn herself states, "...in Soyinka's drama the individual will is subordinate to that of the collective.  It is the community one seeks, at all costs, to save, not one person" (180).  The collective community expects Elesin to sacrifice any selfish/individual desires and give up his life for the good of the community. 

Hepburn also gives the example of Iyaloja giving up the bride of her son to Elesin to highlight the importance of community welfare: "Yet Ivaloja consents to this marriage, which robs her son of his bride, for she hopes by her decision to better enable Elesin to perform his ritual task of benefit to the Yoruba community" (185).  The tragedy of the play emerges from the fact that Elesin doesn't commit the ritual suicide.  It is debatable who's fault this is, but it is undeniable that the tragedy originates from this point when the welfare of the community is disregarded.  

"Death and the King’s Horseman": It’s All Greek to Me

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s essay on Soyinka’s “Death and the King’s Horseman” is a very interesting read because it keeps going back to the idea that Soyinka’s play is rooted to the Greek tragedy. Gates describes the play’s structure as “classically Greek” (155) and claims the “adaptation of a historical action at a royal court was compellingly Shakespearean. This, I thought, was a great tragedy” (155).

Elesin’s tragedy is quite Greek if one were to think about it. There is an issue at hand, pleasing the gods and keeping up with customs is necessary, there is an ultimatum, and then people die in an extremely dramatic way. The play pretty much follows this pattern.
Gates describes the characterization of Elesin as classically Greek too because the play “records the reciprocal relationship between his character and his fate” (157). Essentially, Gates is saying that Elesin’s weakness is not in his lack of respect or through evil-doings, but in his complete “error of judgment” (157). Due to Elesin’s love for life and the earth, this ultimate love becomes his death when his son, hoping to save the tribe’s future fortunes, kills himself in place of his father. This becomes the death of Elesin as he commits suicide with the chains. That is the perfect Greek ending – a loved one dies because of the other loved one’s actions and then the second loved one kills themselves.

Gates even states that the “antiphonal structure of the Greek tragedy is also perhaps the most fundamental African aesthetic value, and is used as the play’s internal structuring mechanism” (161).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Death and the King's Horseman"

Thomas and I seem to have differing opinions. Perhaps partly because of its generic title, Eldred Durosimi Jones's "Death and the King's Horseman" does not strike me as particularly profound criticism of Wole Soyinka's play of the same name. As far as I can tell, Jones's thesis is this: "The play examines the Elesin's response when the actual call for which his whole life has been a preparation, and on which the future of his people depend [sic], sounds in his ears" (Gikandi 151). In addition to the fact that "depend" does not seem to agree grammatically, this sentence is cumbersome (re: unnecessarily disrupted) and, on top of that, holds no critical value; by this latter point, I mean to say that the thesis is not argumentative, but descriptive. If this is not supposed to be the thesis, or main point, then Jones definitely "buried his lead." If it IS supposed to be the thesis, it is not a typical "academic" thesis, the kind we are used to as English majors/minors (re: argumentative).

As for the rest of Jones's essay, it is mostly a summary of the play itself, with few arguments or explanations of quotations that I can see. When Jones gives a quote, as far as I can tell/remember, he does not explain it except by using more summary of what happens AFTER the quoted passage. This over-summarizing becomes especially frustrating on page 153, where Jones gives a long quote, and then goes on to tell what happens afterward. While the information Jones DOES supply after such a quote is important to the story of the play, it does not show an especially deep connection with the text, a connection that is an essential aspect of literary/cultural criticism. Thus, while Jones offers a good summary of the play, and is able to bring the cultural beliefs/aspects of the play to the foreground, he does so with such subtlety that I cannot find any argument; to me, it seems there is (nearly) nothing but summary. I am slightly disappointed with the essay, then, because I prefer my theses/arguments to be not only developed but CLEAR.

Did anyone else have this reaction? Maybe I am alone on this one. In any case, I didn't feel like I "walked away" from this essay with any new information.

Death and the King's Horseman by Eldred Durosimi Jones

I rather liked Jones’ piece on “Death and the King’s Horseman.” Besides the obvious length of the piece, which was an absolute bonus, I thought that he made a well thought out argument. His main point “this loss of honour and the sacrifice of his son make up the Elesin’s real tragedy” (154), was spot on. After our class discussion on the play, it seemed that the majority of the class agreed that in some shape or fashion, the play was about moral choices and the decisions we make. Elesin was forced to make a moral and very difficult decision. Suicide cannot be an easy decision, I imagine that it is a very painstaking and terrible ordeal; but ritualistic suicide, the kind Elesin was being asked to commit must be even more difficult. He was being forced to end his own life, with the entire community watching. But Jones would argue, and I agree, that the real tragedy is the loss of pride and face that Elesin is forced to endure. Pilkings stopped the suicide and forced Elesin to endure endless scorn from the townspeople. This is the true tragedy of the play. It does not matter if Elesin was having second thoughts about his own death, I believe that he was actually going to go through with the suicide; but his destiny was deterred by Pilkings, and Elesin’s son was forced to take his place.

Here in lies the true tragedy that Jones argues for. The loss of the son and the loss of pride are what truly make Elesin’s life tragic. If Elesin had been permitted to commit suicide, all would have been right in the world. Elesin would have followed a time honored tradition, his son would still be alive, and Pilkings would not have been forced to take drastic measures that eventually led to an ‘innocent’ bystander’s death. I thought that Jones’ analysis of the play was interesting because he attempted to address one of the central issues of the play. He did not try and apply a literary criticism that did not make sense. His discussion of Elesin’s tragic demise was similar to what our class discussed and what our class agreed upon.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Criticism by Eldred Durosimi Jones

The criticism is written very well. The flow of the piece follows the pattern of death, to who is supposed to die, to who actually dies. Even thought there are other aspects of the criticism that were good, i wish he would have focused more on the idea of duty. The second paragraph talks a little bit about Elesin's duty to the King as well as the people. Yet, I would rather the criticism focus more on the son. The son seemed to have a greater appreciation for the ritual, then the father. I was even shocked to see the son having no problem killing himself for the people and his king, which he was torn away from. I would ask if his being away gave him the greater sense of appreciation. The problem with thinking this is that Olunde has seems to carry the ideals of his people to Britain. This is seen just by his words to Jane about "your people." As he talks to Jane about the Capitan’s suicide he finds honor in dying for others. I would want to look closer into his character to find his true motivation of fulfilling his father duties.

Death and The King's Horseman

During class the other day I was pondering the attempted suicide by Elesion. When we were talking about it, it seems most of the class did not share my opinion of how the power was giving to the colonizer by leaving the attempted suicide out of the play. The power is given to the colonizers because he stopped an ancient ritual seemingly with little effort. Not only does this grant the white colonizers power, but by leaving the attempt out we never get to see the hesitation of Elesin. Therefore without the hesitation from Elesin, the power of the colonizer is greater because it seems the failed suicide is solely placed on Pilkings.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Code Geass-Adapting what i've learned to Anime (My God the madness is sinking in, lol)

Ok, I know everyone is not a big fan of anime. However, I've just discovered a particular new series that could tie heavily into some of our discussions thus far, particularly in regards to our recent look at Post Colonial Theory. The name of the series is Code Geass, a brand new anime from Sunrise Studio (Mobile Suit Gundam, Cowboy Bebop)

The following summary comes from Wikipedia (but it's pretty accurate from what I've seen so far):
On August 10th, 2010, a.t.b., the Holy Empire of Britannia overpowered Japanese forces and conquered the country with their robotic weapons, the Knightmare Frames, in less than a month. Japan lost its freedom and rights and was renamed Area 11. The Japanese people, renamed as "Elevens", were forced to survive in ghettos, while Britannians lived in first-class settlements. Rebel elements persisted, however, as pockets of Japanese organizations who struggled against the Empire for the independence of Japan.

After his father, the Emperor of Britannia, did nothing to pursue the terrorists who murdered his mother and crippled his sister, the young prince named Lelouch vowed to destroy Britannia. Seven years later, living in Area 11, he encounters a mysterious girl who gives him the power of Geass. With it, he finally has the power that he needs to defeat Britannia and fulfill his two wishes: to seek revenge for his mother and to construct a world in which his beloved sister can live happily.


The show brought up plenty in my head from past classes and the shows regard to Britain as an oppressive power that conquers and leaves to rot reminded me of the documentaries we watched about Ireland and India suffering under the hard oppressiveness of Britain during it's imperialistic phase. The fact that Japan and it's people get a name change to Area 11 and Eleven's respectively was a real shock as to how far Britannia would go to instill its order upon the weakened and oppressed people.

History lessons aside, from what I've seen of this show so far, it is a lot of fun to watch. But, f course, some people need that particular studious reason to watch any particular program, so that's my reason for most of you. For me, Code Geass not only let me apply what I've learned in class to my favorite medium (I can't believe I just typed that), but gave me a reason to love Anime all over again.

Ladies and Gents, Code Geass can be found anywhere online, but if you want an English dubbed version, it will premiere at the end of April on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim Saturday Action Block. Check it out.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ezra Pound Lecture

The Ezra Pound lecture by Mr. James Longenbach (forgive me if I misspelled his last name) was a pleasant surprise to me. My attention was quickly captured by Professor Hudson’s introduction of Pound and Mr. Longenbach’s subsequent facts and findings. I was most surprised to hear about Pound’s exile-esque way of life, which sort of hit a cord with me considering I just did a paper of the pros and cons of the life of an exile for my Postcolonial Literature and Theory course. What I really liked about the presentation as a whole is the possibility of placing all of Pound’s poetry into a singular volume and calling it the Artistic Biography or Ezra Pound as each poem in one way or another illustrates a key moment in his life right up until his death (as I realized with Contos 20 which I read after the lecture). What I find kind or ironic and sad is how little Pound thought of himself and his accomplishments throughout his life. While he never achieved the “Renaissance” utopia he dreamt of his entire life, he is still a revered author and one of the greatest literary minds of our age with a large list of accomplishments and places traveled, including here at Wabash. This lecture helped to instill this thought in my head and actually feel sorry for the poor guy. If only he could see today just how much of a profound affect his works have had on the literary community and English courses everywhere. All in all, it was a hell of a good time. Good work Mr. James.