Tag Archives: literature

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