Tag Archives: literature

Of Human Bondage

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A dark, depressing book brings me some peace. That book is “Of Human Bondage” by Somerset Maugham.

In the novel, Philip loves Mildred, a woman that tortures him and never loves him back. He loses hope and questions the point of being alive. An acquaintance tells him the meaning of life can be found in a Persian carpet. Before he can unlock the mystery of the carpet it is destroyed.

Later on when he keeps thinking about the lost carpet, he unlocks the secret. The patterns in the carpet, the cycle of life and death, are all we have. Life has no meaning on this rock hurtling through space. But this insignificance gives Philip power.

Forget about the meaning of life and just find a place in the pattern. Failure and success are all the same. Just live as best as you can.

Nivana is a big nothingness in an Eastern culture. The elimination of life on earth is the goal.

My Western mindset pursues meaning in life. A life that does not end in death but continues on to a blissful, new afterlife.

The Eastern viewpoint makes more sense to me than the Western one.

It’s kind of odd that meaninglessness provides more comfort to me than everlasting life. Getting composted back into the All seems to be a useful occupation for the dead. Not too shabby to be One with the Cosmos.

But how much do my sensibilities matter in the grand scheme of things? For all I know, this universe may be running on Calvinist principles. If that hurts anyone’s sensibilities, no one cares.

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A Fabrication by Any Other Name

I prefer books over screens for my entertainment. I scoff at people that find joy in gluing their eyes to a computer screen. Surely reading is a superior way to spend time. To be fair, on closer inspection, just how different is virtual reality from fictional reality?

Human interaction suffers when life is lived predominantly within a computer screen. Yet many times, I get so involved in a book that I dread any human interfering with my turning of the next page. I want to stay in my fictional world. Screens and books are best as solitary endeavors.

I too feel the draw of a world filled with ubiquitous screens. I waste time clicking and scrolling through computer articles and photos. The dog and cat videos make me laugh. But I fear the sway of advertisements that push me to buy what the most powerful social media forces out there are selling. I try to resist this modern siren call.

Besides my Etch-a-Sketch, the television was the only screen I could stare at when I was young. My staring was limited to one-hour per day. And that hour had to be broken in half. So a half hour in the morning, another half hour in the afternoon. Maybe that explains why I read. I could explore fictional (and non-fictional) worlds with the flip of a page.

A flip of a page or a swipe of a screen, are they so different? I’m sure I could be swayed by reading too; that is if I only read one book. A wide and diverse reading list protects independent thinking. Social media lies behind a heavy curtain.

My father took me to the Detroit Institute of Arts one Saturday when I was young. I fell in love with this exciting, brand-new world.

Years later, I took my son and his cousin to the art museum. They were bored to death. I thought the suit of armor exhibits would surely interest them. More boredom. Unlike me, they had already spent hours playing video games and had a broader access to television. Television and computers were part of their school curriculum. How can a bit of paint on a canvas compete with the fast-changing and addictive colors and sounds that run across screens?

And yet, I admit to my own addiction. An addiction to the arrangements of 26 letters across a page. How can I judge others?

Books energize me, too much screen time depresses me. A screen has the power to dull a mind and passively lead a person to buy the ideas and products displayed so attractively on the virtual shelves.

Reading is far more active. A reader interacts with the author, with the stuff already read or experienced creating a solid foundation to build up ideas. Who knows, it can even bring about a change in long-held beliefs. Books breed independence and knowledge building. The ceaseless chatter of information on a computer ends up feeling shallow.

My prejudices lead me to forget that the oral storytelling tradition led to books and then books led to computers. Perhaps this is an inevitable course of events that is not necessarily better or worse, just the progress of imagination. The end of the oral tradition weakened our connection to each other. In turn, we connected with machines. Human to human, human to machine, machine to . . . How does the story end?

Quantum Style: Or Torturing Too Many Subjects in One Blog Post

Marxism and a Renaissance poem. The scene described in this one poem included a feudal manor, with its outbuildings of barns and houses, livestock, crops in the field, peasants, and the lord of the manor and his family.

I read that poem in the 1980s during a Renaissance literature class. Sociological interpretations of literature were hot topics. Critics highlighted cultural, economic and political issues found either implicitly or explicitly. A twentieth-century view applied to a different time.

The professor asked us to read the poem with a Marxist point of view. The peasants performed the actual work on the farm and reaped little benefit. The lord sat back and drew in rent from the farmers along with ample supply of foodstuff for his sustenance and pleasure. Even the lord’s wife and daughters worked on a decorative embroidery project outside the manor house. The manor lord was the only one without the need to perform labor and just oversaw the wealth the real workers brought to him.

A Marxist lens can be used to critique any piece of literature in this way. A feminist lens? Of course also possible. The women peasants on the feudal manor received less recognition for their work on the farm and the home. The women were not only under the control of the lord of the manor, but also under the control of their fathers and husbands. Even the lord’s wife and daughters owned nothing of their own since they themselves were possessions of the manor lord.

So how about a capitalistic lens? The farm yields are thriving, the animals look well fed, the peasants look healthy, busy, happy enough, the buildings are sturdy and maintained. The lord of the manor must be a superior administrator to handle the business of running this small economy. Would any college student consider this point of view today?

Fast forward to my son, born in 1980s with straight, blond hair. As he grew older his hair grew darker and curlier. He also grew up to be tall and slender. Whenever he went to the local mall and entered the Abercrombie and Finch store, the staff tried to recruit him to work at the store. He never once asked for a job. Later on Abercrombie and Finch received brutal criticism for an advertising campaign that favored good-looking, young white people and excluded the diverse American population. So at the mall, a lens of white privilege.

A few years later when he was in college, his hair grew even darker and curlier. On a bet he and his friend vowed to stop cutting their hair and the first one to get a haircut would lose the bet. His friend’s hair grew past his shoulders. My son’s super curly hair grew up and out into an afro by the time he cut it and won the bet.

In the meantime, the police stopped him repeatedly while driving. Most times he ended up with a ticket for a small driving infraction. For years I have heard that the racist police consider “driving while black” a crime. Just recently I began to wonder if my son’s frequent run-ins with the cops may have been partly due to his driving around the suburbs looking like a young, black man from a rear view. Same kid, another lens.

Can diverse ideas exist side by side? In quantum theory choices are random. Something becomes “real” when people look at it. The location of a particle is fixed only when someone observes it. As soon as someone finds a new observation point, the particle may appear elsewhere. This holds true for the infinitely small particles. But science also finds large patterns reflect smaller ones.

Maybe we see what we want to see in literature and life. Truth and quantum theory seem to contradict each other. Point of view is literally ever-changing. A single-lens view limits a landscape with no limits. Can we take a huge leap and apply quantum theory to literary criticism?

With each remarkable scientific discovery we realize how little we actually know. The suns, planets, life; all the stuff we know about makes up only 4% of the universe. We know nothing about the other 96%.

I walked into a Philosophy club meeting at the same university I had studied that Renaissance poem. The club allowed alumni as well as current students to attend meetings or so the website blurb advertised. I have never felt more unwelcome in my life. My generation didn’t trust people over the age of 30. That mistrust of the old must be doubly true today. Before I left my one and only club meeting, one young woman quietly and with some frustration said that truth must exist somewhere.

Truth is a scattershot experience. If your eyewear only sees a sociological point of view, what is the rest of the story? The where and the when of truth. In the incomprehensibly ancient sky, we really don’t know stars at all. The universe is spinning too wildly out of control to anchor it to a new center. Although science is paramount in truth-finding missions today, it does not prevent us from longing for other epistemological methods to search out truth.

Give War and Peace a Chance

Read “War and Peace.” Pushing Tolstoy’s novel, what an out-of-date idea to tackle. Who is going to buy this viewpoint?

Reading is fun to me. But telling you that “War and Peace” is fun, may be a step too far. Yet I can’t let go of the belief that reading this book, and many other books, would benefit the humans I see in my community and on the Internet.

I know that respecting a dead (or living) white male writer is unpopular in and of itself. Even worse than reading his writings is probably pushing the more distasteful idea of reading substantively. I know people that shun reading any book. They cannot think of a more horrible activity.

The world runs fast, who has time to read more than a handful of words on a screen. Short, pithy remarks are as far as we go to research a subject. I noticed this years ago when I thought I could do away with my dictionary or thesaurus. I would look up a word online and find quick, simple, incomplete explanations of that word. My old three-volume dictionary went into so much more detail that it came from a different world. A world where an in-depth look at words and ideas mattered.

I started to love reading when I was quite young and the love of my life in third grade read Greek myths. I pursued his interests in reading in order to have him love me. The love of this boy did not last, but the love of reading stuck.

I read even more, because I did not trust my mother. She told me things that sounded false to my young mind. I wandered the shelves of libraries. That’s where I found “The Second Sex” and other feminist literature to teach me alternative views to my mother’s “something horrible happens to girls when they get older.” I discovered the horrible was only natural. I also discovered a feminist viewpoint that suggested that a man without a penis is preferable to a man with one. So I also learned to filter my reading.

The women in “War and Peace” are far more traditional and sentimental than any 1960s feminist. The woman’s place is in the home in Tolstoy’s book. That does not strip them of depth, passion, and ability. They grow and change as they learn more about the world and themselves at every turn in this tumultuous period in history.

Today I’m amazed to see young women around me that forsake promotions in the careers they have forged. They cut back on their hours or stop working for a few years and chose to stay home with their children. A more traditional and sentimental view of themselves than the past fifty years have been teaching them. A young woman doctor I know who graduated in the top 3% of her class, actually said that she won’t pursue a more demanding medical specialty because she doesn’t want the long workdays. She sees herself as the primary caregiver for any children she may have and sees this view as still being the way of the world. A practical and emotional draw to domestic life that has not been severed by modern goalposts.

A quick, tweet-length summary could never define any one character or scene in the book. You need nearly 1,700 pages to get a partial grip on the characters and the story. Rereading may be required. The century I find myself living in relentlessly reduces ideas into flat simplifications. If you can’t fit it into a blog or Facebook post, forget it.

One of the most remarkable bit of writing in “War and Peace,” is the near-death experience of Prince Andrew on the battlefield. Foreshadowing the modern times his world was entering, Prince Andrew became disillusioned with the great leaders he idealized and lost his belief that war brings glory. As I read this part, I felt as if a dreamlike, born-again atheism was let lose on the world as a valid and attractive alternative.

Tolstoy critizes the egos of Napoleon and Alexander. Both French and Russian leaders believe the world revolves around them. But just as the earth had been displaced as the center of the universe, so have the ruling classes. Napoleon and Alexander ultimately have little to do with the overall progress of war and peace. The lowliest member of the army has more to do with the final outcome of the chaos that is war than those on the highest rung of the social order. The military orders that come from the two great leaders are mostly senseless and impossible to carry out. Small unknowns on the battlefield make or break the outcome. The serf triumphs or dies from his own decisions and wins or loses the battle. Tolstoy died just before the Russian revolution and “War and Peace” anticipated the uprising.

Today’s power players in politics and personality must conquer the electronic media. Streaming video, audio, quick bites of words, work on fleeting emotions rather than a depth of thought. The hard work of reading substantive fiction retains what is the best in human.

I agree with George Eliot when she said, “Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.”

If you limit yourself to social media posts and the mesmerizing bells and whistles of sound and colors appearing across screens, than you are merely a consumer and the consumed. Beware of what you buy into, passive scrolling may be the new opiate of the people. Escape a new servitude; read, read, read.

Read and open a narrative with the author, with yourself and the cumulative ideas already pinging around in your brain. Do not be force-fed gruel. Allow unknown worlds into your brain. Challenge your interpretation, go off on a tangent. Add to your experience, don’t just replicate them. Build upon ideas.

The Internet periodically publishes articles calling for the closure of libraries. The argument is that libraries are archaic, expensive, and unnecessary since the Internet is a superior source of information. I believe the real rebels of the future will be found in the libraries and bookstores where the reading selection is more haphazard and not media-driven. Used bookstores are especially of value, unusual and out-of-print books lurk about there. If everything can be found on a computer, who needs books, buildings, or librarians? But how would you know what is being filtered out of the information found on the screen?

Who needs arms and legs and a way to experience the outside world? (I know I’m missing out on a database eternity.) Why keep your music in a box connected to your head and miss out on listening to all the other music out there? Including the sight and sound of birds, the wind, the insects, the turning of a page.

Launch Defense Mechanism

One-word Prompt: Launch

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/launch/


Gaming addiction

“A word made flesh is seldom”

Flesh on paper — Saved

Lofty Aspirations

Daily Prompt: Lofty

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/lofty/


Know me like a book

Open the paper treasure

Immortality.

 

Snow in the Summer

DAILY PROMPT
That Stings!
Franz Kafka said, “we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.” What’s the last thing you read that bit and stung you?

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/that-stings/

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That last book was “Snow” by Orhan Pamuk. His books give me a glimpse into a land and culture that I am blind to and gives me inklings of understanding.

“Snow” explores the author’s country of Turkey. His land has been and is at the crossroads of the east and west where a complex pull of secular and religious ideologies struggle for power.

The whole book had a scorpion effect on me, but I remember a particular bite and sting in Chapter 32, “I Have Two Souls Inside My Body.”

In this chapter Ka,the main character, writes a poem that speaks of a “. . . sadness of a city forgotten by the outside world and banished from history.” He imagines that he is in a Hollywood movie, the image of the earth spinning pans in, the camera moves closer until you see only one country — Turkey — with its surrounding seas, Istanbul, trees. and laundry, until the film stops at Ka’s own bedroom window.

I received a bit of a jolt when the camera settled in on a location several thousand of miles away from my personal view of the same Hollywood movie. My earth stops spinning on the Great Lakes, Detroit, a Ford motor plant, a birdbath. This may be my American egocentrism at work here, but it is probably a natural vision most people go to in their minds.

I love to read books that take me out of my skin and for a second puts me in another’s place. To me this is better than physical travel. Travel may take you to tourist spots and remove you from controversial images or people. Your mind can take you more places. I prefer Dickinson’s room to Melville’s open seas.