Global Lit.

December 22nd, 2010

Final Blog

Posted by mea1234 in Uncategorized

So some of you may or may not know that the majority of this semester was, for me, spent bed ridden and miserable.  4 herniated disks were discovered in my lower back, causing the past few months to be extremely challenging for me physically.  As luck would have it, I was enrolled in this course, a global literature course which consisted mainly of blogging.  Although when the semester began, I like many of you other functioning bi-ped’s, questioned whether or not I would “have the time” to work, complete all of my other course work (6 classes in total), read all of the assigned works for this class and be able to maintain a blog page (something I had not done yet in my college career). In the end,  I actually looked forward to these blogs as a relief from the realities of my own situation. Being able to lose myself in some of these works and having the opportunity to blog about my thoughts was a welcomed distraction. And the most interesting part of experiencing the “western canon”, or as this course describes it “global literature”, under these circumstances was that, aside from the class blogs, I had access only to my own opinion and interpretation of the works we read in 255:  Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, Chinua Achebe’s “An Image of Africa: Racism in Heart of Darkness”, William Butler Yeats (selected poems), T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land”, Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”, William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”, Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”, Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father”, Junior Diaz’s “Drown”, Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior”.  This is the main way that my encounter with the “western canon” differed from that of my classmates.  So then, how did I feel in the end, had my venture in to the canon exposed me to a compendium of the greatest works of artistic merit?

Some of the questions I asked myself when producing this final piece: What is the “global literature canon”? What should be included on this list?  Why?  What goes on that list??  Can we honestly say that they are the worlds greatest books??  or that these are “the” stories worth reading?? One of the main objections to a canon of literature is the question of authority, who should have the power to determine what works are worth reading and teaching, so then who should? Is the whole idea of the canon out dated?? Should we be reading  “books written mainly by dead white European males”, that may not, “represent the viewpoints of many in contemporary societies around the world”, as Allan Bloom (1987) suggests?  While I will attempt to answer these questions, a difficult task to undertake, one thing that I can assert is, that undoubtedly, studying how literature is created and testing claims for its place in the canon makes us better readers, and hopefully makes us more aware of the writers choices, the strategies guiding them, and what kind(s) of beautiful or ugly effects it produces as it unfolds.

One of the things I admired about the list of assigned works for Eng255, was the fact that we were not only reading the work of a few dead white guys, our list included several female writers as well, and authors stemming from many different origins. While we tended to some of the more typically expected writers such as Eliot and Conrad, our list was perhaps more diverse than some of the standard lists offered by other universities/professors.  Another aspect I really enjoyed is related to the two works in which we opened up the semester with.  First we read Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and followed it up with Chinua Achebe’s essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Heart of Darkness”.  This was a fun exercise because we were able to be exposed to a work which has been highly regarded as part of the canon and at the same time introduced to a direct criticism of that work. I think that this part of the course worked extremely well for many of us in that it, from day one, made us think harder about what it means to be considered significant and by whom in the literary world.  The debate which surrounds these two works was one that I happily dove into.

Something else which was exposed in the indulging of these works was the absolute strangeness of T.S. Elliot’s “The Wasteland” and “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock”.  My first attempt at reading “The Wasteland” was one that I would love to forget; I struggled through it and when I finally reached the end I sat scratching my head wondering if what I had just experienced was “for real!?!?”.  However, after my second, third, and yes even forth attempts at deciphering this Da Vinci code, I was able to find some meaning if I looked at each verse as an individual, rather than trying to view the work as having an overall connection or cohesiveness.  For example In section II. A Game Of Chess, the dialogue which occurs between a man and a women who are seemingly trapped within a relationship where they’re “pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door” (ll.138).   They’re only playing this game of chess to pass the boredom and time, what a sad and joyless life.  In the same way that the high society women is described as being smothered and imprisoned by her riches and belongings, this women seems to smother her lover to the point that he doesn’t even care to engage in dialogue with her.  So much so that in ll.110-139 she is basically talking to herself, he’s hardly interested in her rambling.  The language used with in this section points to a dualism between death by dehydration or a lack of water and that of death by drowning (the recurring reference to the drowned Phoenician sailor-the man with pearls for eyes).

When I bought all the books for this class, one that had stuck out to me was “Persepolis”.  It first jumped out at me in a visual way, I noticed that instead of words on the page, comic like strips with illustrations accompanied the text.  Initially I thought I had made a mistake, could this really be on an upper level English course reading list? Well it didn’t take me long to realize the value of the child like looking book and in the end it became the story in which I felt I gained the most insight and exposure from (although I would put “The Woman Warrior” on that list as well). Marjane Satrapi’s life story, beginning with details of growing up during a tumultuous time in Iran’s history, felt like an effortless read; not an easy task for a book with more “subtext” than actual text.  The words on the page were short and concise, much like the mind of the child narrator, 10 year old Marji, yet the topics addressed were  radical,  sad,  political, religious, often intense, and always surprising to a “Westerner” such as myself.  I imagine my experience of reading this for the first time, as I had little knowledge of the Iranian revolution prior to doing so, much like Marji’s experience. As she describes the shock and confusion of what is happening to the space around her, to her world as she knows it, as things are revealed  by her parents, friends or teachers, and even as she’s questioning all these things and more, I too share that with her.  Marji’s story belongs on this “list/canon” not necessarily because she is the most astute or learned writer, but rather because she is able to expose the inner workings of a society which few truly know about and through her experiences, as she discovers how to adapt and grow in an ever changing world (both in Iran and the US) we get as globalized sense of her and, perhaps, if we internalize it enough, of ourselves.

Faulkner’s “The Sound and The Fury” was another work which was complicated to sort out the first read through.  I enjoyed the “stream of consciousness” style of writing, as I am a psychology/English double major and have encountered this idea many times in my psychology studies.  While fascinating to try and dissect the different states of minds of our characters, it did pose an obstacle to try and read. It was often difficult to decipher what was really happening since the narrator changed from section to section, each offering a unique perspective and interpretation. What I will say is that I think, in some ways, the intertwined web of stories metaphorically offered a “globalized” look into a time and place.  For this reason I think it was a worthy choice!

December 3rd, 2010

The Woman Warrior

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“The real punishment was not the raid swiftly inflicted by the villagers, but the family’s deliberately forgetting her.”

Kingston reflects on her aunt’s story and the implications and significance of it. She concludes that the real lesson is not how the “No Name Woman” dies ( that is by drowning herself and her newborn after giving birth in a pigsty); but rather, why she was forgotten.  Kingston goes on to suggest that the act of writing out the story her mother tells serves as an act of remembrance to the No Name Woman. Because Kingston cannot ask about her unnamed aunt, she invents her own fantasies about why her aunt gave in to her forbidden passions. Kingston convinces herself that the baby was probably a girl(and as such would already have been considered practically useless to society, a theme that reappears throughout) and her aunt decided to kill her baby and herself in order to spare the child a life without family or purpose. At the end of the chapter, Kingston imagines her aunt as a lonely, wandering ghost, begging for scraps from the gifts given to other ghosts by their loving relatives.

[My mother] said I would grow up a wife and a slave, but she taught me the song of the warrior woman, Fa Mu Lan. I would have to grow up a warrior woman.

The struggle of Kingston’s aunt, is likened to the struggle of Kingston herself, who is attempting to make sense of the old customs and traditions (which she knows only from her mother) in an extremely different country. The story of Fa Mu Lan provides an alternative to the traditional Chinese beliefs. Kingston’s use of fantasy is what allows her to imagine herself as a warrior.  To be able to envision oneself in a position, enriches the chances of it happening.  She is a Chinese female, struggling to define herself in a place where the old traditional ways are esteemed by the elders (that is her mother and those in the old country) and the new forward ways put forth by this new/different society.  Role reversal and gender bending plays a role in many different aspects of the story, symbolizing in many instances her need and want to do “those things that men do”, rejecting her traditional role of womanhood.  Some examples: how Kingston’s husband in the fantasy leaves battle to return home and care for her son, how the men conscripted in the army are described as “lowly as slave girls,” or how ladies with bound feet go on to form a mercenary army.

The significance of Kingston’s fantasy is not that it transcends time and space, but that it transcends the rigid customs and traditions with which she grew up.Kingston is not ready to take on the role of mother or wife and rejects the limitations placed on women by both society and her parents. Rebelliously she burns food and refuses to clean dishes. She is repulsed by Chinese women who are entirely dependent on men, whose feet are symbolically bound by their role as mothers and wives. Still, she cannot escape the power of tradition, “the ghosts that still haunt her”, and is envious of those who, like Fa Mu Lan, are “loved enough to be supported.”What, then, is the point of Kingston’s fantasy? The last few paragraphs of the chapter compare the powers Kingston does have, her words, to the powers of Fa Mu Lan. Like the sky sword created out of thin air, Kingston’s words have only as much power as she can give them. The implication is that her words can poke holes through stereotypes. In this way Kingston can become a new sort of “female avenger,” one who can give birth to new ideas, not just babies, one who can also tear down her enemies as a fierce warrior woman.

Maxine Hong Kingston

November 22nd, 2010

“I never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn’t speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, Dubois and Mandela.”

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Check it out: Obama

WEB DuBois declared that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” He further wrote that beyond the challenges of interaction with their lighter-hued and more powerful compatriots, America’s people of color had to wrestle with an interior double-consciousness, the task of merging their “African and American” identities. (If this interestests you take a look at this:  also interesting :

Often individuals of multi-racial backgrounds feel like they are forced to choose only one part of the racial identity to define themselves. W.E.B. DuBois theory of ‘Double Consciousness implies that as a black person, one has a dual identity. This theory relates to the theme of racial identity in Barack Obama’s book, Dreams from my Father. Barack discusses how he was aware of this idea of a spilt identity at a young age.

“I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking as I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me,” said six-year old Obama.   This notion came after Obama read about blacks’ unsuccessful attempts to lighten their skin and become white.   “I began to notice Cosby never got the girl on I Spy..nobody was like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog, and that Santa was a white man..I kept these observations to myself.”(52).

The ideas of racial tension and how Obama chose to try and not make his bi-racial heritage a topic of interest while pursuing his political aspirations is something I rather admire. “I hear the spirit of Douglass and Delany, as well as Jefferson and Lincoln; the struggles of Martin and Malcolm and unheralded marchers to bring these words to life.   I hear the voices of Japanese families interned behind barbed wire; young Russian Jews cutting patterns in Lower East Side sweatshops; dust-bowl farmers loading up their trucks with the remains of shattered lives. I hear the voices of the people in Altgeld Gardens, the voices of those who stand outside this country’s borders, the weary, hungry bands crossing the Rio Grande.   I hear all these voices clamoring for recognition, all of them asking the very same questions that have come to shape my life.” (437-438)

Overall, I did not find this book to be one big propaganda ridden text with “vote for me, vote for me, vote for me” as subliminal subtext hidden within.  I felt like I could be reading anyone’s story, not necessarily that of the now current President of the United States.  Obama seemed to me, for the first time, a real person; one who sat on some of the same steps and stoops as I on the UWS of NY, one who despite many advantages in life, still struggled to make it and to define himself, one who tried to answer the question of “What does it mean to be American?”

November 16th, 2010


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November 10th, 2010

April 8, 1928

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In this last section, Easter Sunday 1938, we have no single first person narrative, the only one like this in the book.  Here the focus is on Dilsey.  It can be said, that while the Compson’s grow weak by looking inward, Dilsey gains strength and power by looking outward, that is relying on her faith.On this Easter Sunday, Dilsey takes her family and Benjy to the ‘colored’ church. Through her we sense the consequences of  the way in which the Compsons have lived for decades. And even though Dilsey is mistreated and abused, she remains loyal. She, with the help of Luster, cares for Benjy, as she takes him to church and tries to bring him to salvation.

The tension between Jason and Miss Quentin also comes to a head in this section. The family discovers that Miss Quentin has run away in the middle of the night with a carnival worker, having found the hidden collection of cash in Jason’s closet and taken both her money (the support from Caddy, which Jason had stolen) and Jasons life savings. Jason calls the police and tells them that his money has been stolen, but since it would mean admitting embezzling Quentin’s money he doesn’t press the issue. Good, I think he deserves what he got!!!!

The novel ends with an unsettling image. After church, Dilsey allows her grandson Luster to drive Benjy in the family’s horse and carriage (another sign of decay) to the graveyard. Luster drives the wrong way around a monument and this slight variation from the norm is enough to disrupt Benjy’s state of mind. Benjy’s hysterical sobbing and violent outburst can only be quieted by Jason, of all people, who understands how best to placate his brother. Jason slaps Luster, turns the carriage around, and Benjy suddenly becomes silent. Luster turns around to look at Benjy and sees Benjy drop his flower. Benjy’s eyes are “…empty and blue and serene again.”

November 4th, 2010

April 6, 1928

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In this section, Jason is the narrator.  He is, out of the lot, the most straight forward with his thoughts and actions.  I do like this quality about him, however, its the only one I admire, since he is, how can I say this as nicely as possible, a jerk!!  He assumes the financial burden for the family, howver, this makes him bitter, spiteful and at times flat out mean.  He goes so far as to blackmail Caddy into making him Miss Quentin’s sole guardian, then uses that role to steal the support payments that Caddy sends for her daughter. Jasons treatment of Caddy at her fathers funeral is also shocking and it is evident that, although he economically supports the family, emotionally he is void of all connections to them and his greed and need for money and power seems to trump all else, inluding stable human to human relationships.

November 2nd, 2010

If it had been cloudy…

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“If it had been cloudy I could have looked out the windowdy, thinking about what he had said about idle habits.  Thinking it would be nice to  for them down at New London if the weather held up like this.”

October 28th, 2010

The Sound and The Fury – Faulkner

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“Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life”

So now that I have read some more, I understand, a bit more clearly, why Benji is always saying that Caddy “smells like the trees”.  Caddy seems to spend most of her, stolen, time entertaining the local boys, and, to say it nicely, is a free spirit. So then, is it her earthy smell that seemingly has all three of her brothers infatuated with her in some way? Perhaps.  Benjy is triggered by the smell of her perfume, causing him to cry; although he does not necessarily understand the sexual implications of Caddy’s behavior, he knows something is not right. He seems to be the only person who has any effect on Caddy, causing her at times to feels guilty about her promiscuous ways since she often assumes a motherly role for him. Quentin’s problems with Caddy’s behavior, although it can be taken as his disappointment in her lack of morality, is also jealous in a creepy, incestuous way. In his defense, she is the first girl he ever sees slightly disrobed and acting upon her sexuality; but come on Q, your sister?? Really?? Ewww, gross. haha….

I still cant seem to make much sense of the events of things, since hearing the story through Benjy’s perspective does not really allow it;  perhaps this is intentionally done.  That the idea of time as a method, as a quantitative way to measure things, to measure ones life or story is neither necessary or efficient, that it can either trap or free.  If you think of time as an inevitably closing lid, it can be your Psyche’s enemy, trapping you in a particular time or place. This seems true for Quentin. For Benji, time has little effect, since he has little perception of what an abstract concept such as time really means and in this sense he is free of the restraints that time has over most.

October 26th, 2010

The Sound and The Fury – Faulkner

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The difficult part of getting through this first assigned section of reading was the fact that the narrator, Benjy, seems to have little, if any at all, conception of time.  It was strange to me that Faulkner titled the section based off of a date, which would lead one to believe that it would be significant, when in fact, the events of April 7, 1928 were rather insignificant.  It is hard to keep track of Benji’s ever wandering mind, which seems to jump around in time, making it difficult to decipher past from present events, as he seems to discuss everything in the text in the present tense. Benjy’s mental disability leaves him with little capacity for subjective thought. From his perspective, life is merely a string of images, sounds, and memories that he is unable to interpret, express, or organize in any meaningful way. He does not seem to understand the real meaning and implications of death, love, family, virginity, intimacy, and marriage (etc). He seems to live in an ever “present’ time, where events of the past intertwine with those of current. He does not seem to understand that the stories he remembers are memories from the past. So how does one organize their life if they do not have a concept of time?  Isn’t that the very thing that we as humans use to control, plan, understand life? Overall, this section had me scratching my head as to its significance and as to what exactly Benjy is trying to relay (if anything at all).  Despite my current ambivalence toward the story, I did find myself empathizing with Benjy’s situation.  The only people who seem to truly care about him are Caddy and Dilsey, and I would imagine that as a lonely existence for someone who already has an impairment hampering him from grasping the world around him.  It would be hard for me to say when this section came alive for me, since I haven’t grasped a full understanding of it and its perhaps relevance to the rest of the story that sits before me.  Perhaps I will return to this idea in a later blog.

The Sound and The fury, Part 1 Here’s a link to Part 1, the movie version.  The visual helped a bit for me, maybe you’ll have the same experience?

October 21st, 2010

Persepolis, a closer look…

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The Photos above show the charred remains of The Cinema Rex

Here’s an excerpt I found which explains the events of what happened that day and how it helped spark the protests which inevitably led to the Iranian revolution:

” Several events in the 1970s set the stage for the 1979 revolution:     The 1971 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire at Persepolis, organized by the Shah’s regime, was attacked for its extravagance. “As the foreigners reveled on drink forbidden by Islam, Iranians were not only excluded from the festivities, some were starving…..the other factor was the August 1978 Cinema Rex Fire in Abadan where over 400 people died. Movie theaters had been a common target of Islamist demonstrators but such was the distrust of the regime and effectiveness of its enemies’ communication skills that the public believed SAVAK had set the fire in an attempt to frame the opposition. The next day 10,000 relatives and sympathizers gathered for a mass funeral and march shouting, ‘burn the Shah’, and ‘the Shah is the guilty one.”

All that was left after the fire....

The passage which stood out most for me was a scene which took place early on in the story. In the section titled The Bicycle, Marji shhhhhh’s God in the middle of one of their visits and over hears her parents talking about the burning of the Rex cinema. A horrific event by either account, however conflicting reports were given from “The BBC” and “The Shah”. This event was one of the main factors leading up to the up-rise and revolution in Iran (see above). The text on pages 14-15, are written much like a good journalist would have reported, short and blunt, to the point. The text here points at the dis-symmetry that is happening between the people of Iran and it’s government.  “The doors had been locked from outside a few minutes before the fire. The police were there. They forbade people to rescue those locked inside. Then they attacked them. The firemen didn’t arrive until forty minutes later. The BBC said there were 400 victims. The Shah said that a group of religious fanatics perpetrated the massacre. But the people knew that it was the Shah’s fault!!!”

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