Showing posts with label literary criticism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label literary criticism. Show all posts


Video Repost: Jacques Derrida in 1 Minute

By putting emphasis on Derrida as a literary theorist, I must say this bloke does a pretty damn good job of expounding on Deconstruction in a nutshell. 

P.S.: The last ten-second analysis of Lord of the Rings in both structuralist / deconstructive terms is entertaining.


The 4 Train On Sunday

He told me this morning the four train is beast. Not beast as in animal. But beast as in best. I had taken it on Sunday after a visit to my Shrink. (I capitalize her name to make it proper). So I knew what he was talking about.


"The Red Wheelbarrow"; Or, A Poem About Poetry

In this post, I write about my favorite William Carlos William's poem  "The Red Wheelbarrow".
"The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams has fewer words than his other famous poem "This Is Just to Say." 28 compared to 16. "This is Just to Say" is simple: desire. "The Red Wheelbarrow" is complicated because it is not about desire. It is about language. And meaning what we say. A poem about poetry. I don't think I am saying anything different than what a poetry professor would say. It just seems right. My reading.

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams

so much depends
a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white


Notes on "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire"

Walter Benjamin on Marcel Proust on the Madeleine
I remember Walter Benjamin's writings on Marcel Proust's madeleine, the moment, in Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time, when an avatar of Proust bites into the pastry, memories of his childhood flood into his brain, what Proust calls a memoire involuntaire; but, I never noticed before this statement Benjamin (writing about Proust) makes about the search for an object related to a lost memory:
"As for that object, it depends entirely on chance whether we come upon it before we die or whether we never encounter it" (Benjamin Illuminations 158).
Lacan's Objet Petit A
This comment reminds me of Lacan's objet petit a.

It's Lacan's psychological concept for the lost object. The object of desire responsible for obsession and deranged fantasy. It is that object of desire that drives the desirer mad in search of it.

The object of desire, in the symbol of the madeleine, is a marker for that object that we may chance upon, involuntarily, or may never have at all. I think about myself, here, and my desires. If there is a "madeleine" for me, I may taste it, or I may not; the memoire involuntaire is totally necessitated by chance; I happen upon the object, the memory comes flooding in like an impressionistic painting. But, I may never come upon this memory, locked forever in some lost object of desire.

Is the Job of the Poet to Hearken Back to Lost Memories?
If it is the poet's job to unlock these memories, then I applaud the poet. If it is a poet who can open up a madeleine of lost memories, let's laud him with a crown of laurel.

I am sure there is a poem hidden in a taste yet to be eaten.

Am I hedonistic to wish for such a bite?

Proust entrances his reader with the opportunity to invoke memories through the senses. It is the poet who puts these sense impressions into language. Cognitive science confirms Proust's intimation that the senses (e.g., smell and taste) trigger a memory. Proust is right.

Proust Via Benjamin Via Lacan Are Onto Something
The memory Proust, and I think Benjamin is onto something, is alluding to is not a factual memory stuck at a particular moment in time. The memory is much broader than a recollection. Baudelaire (via Benjamin) uses the term shock - an expression meant to suggest a memory linked to trauma. The shock is a sense impression outside of some romantic notion of memory, and instead of a memory of the crowd.

I put away silly notions of private memory. The artist does not pull from something deep inside of him to produce art. It is not a private string of emotions the artist must articulate so others can understand. The memory the artist exposes is already there, involuntary.

Works Cited: 

Benjamin, Walter. Eiland, Howard, et al. Gesammelte Schriften. United Kingdom, Belknap Press, 1996.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. United States, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.


What is the Difference between Comedy and Tragedy?

"Midway in my life's journey, 'I stumbled into a wood.'" 
 Dante, Inferno, Canto I, Line 1
    What is the difference between comedy and tragedy? We enter the woods; at the threshold of woods and plain are the dividing lines between tragic and comedic, between love and loss. The woods represent chaos in literary symbolism. Or not. Everything depends on the red wheelbarrow. Is it how we see it? In Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, when the eloping lovers enter the woods at night, all hell breaks loose. Lovers are switched. A wayward actors' troop is also lost, set to perform at a state wedding, but one of their players is turned into an ass, being an ass anyway - his name is Bottom. Puck, the mischievous sprite, pours a potion into the Queen of the Fairies' eyes and she falls in love with Bottom.
    In the morning, though, after all the enchantments have worn off, everything is turned right - the basic structure of a comedy. A comedy is technically a narrative that begins with a conflict, like mixed up lovers or lost in a wood, but in the end conflict is resolved - which is why Dante's journey through Hell is called a comedy. Dante goes through the stages of hell and survives to tell the tale. Dante, with Virgil the poet's help, makes it to Purgatory and, eventually, with Beatrice's intercession, ends up seeing the beatific vision (which is quite boring, if you ask me). Isn't the journey in the telling?
    And what is the difference between a comedy and a tragedy? Is the line always direct, written in the sand? I agree the line is a thin one, as played out in Woody Allen's farce Melinda and Melinda. The movie is a demonstration of the thin line between both genres. Is life at its essence tragic or comic? The movie tells the story of Melinda from two perspectives, one tragic, the other comedic. In the tragic version, Melinda shows up at her sister's dinner party unannounced and all hell breaks loose. She dumps her husband for a younger photographer but the center cannot hold and she ends up in the tragic version in a mental hospital. In the comic version, Melinda shows up at the dinner party as a childless and down-trodden neighbor who captures the attention and delight of the guests. The film cleverly goes back and forth between the two stories as a way to illustrate the point the difference between tragedy and comedy. For the ancient Greeks, tragedy was primarily a cathartic experience. To process tragedy, the events of the narrative are re-enacted on the stage and by seeing the horrible events unfold on stage (or on screen) the spectator comes away cleansed from the experience. Thus the invention of drama. Emotion is processed publicly as a way to experience collectively the pain of tragedy. Even today don't we go to a sad movie and cry? What happens in this experience? Are we sad for our own sorrows or someone else's? Are our tears and identification with a character on the stage? Do we cry so we can replace our own sufferings with the sorrows of someone else, an emotional scapegoat? Tragedy is not a private act, but a public one. We publicly place sorrow on the stage to feel better afterward in the same way we laugh collectively in front of a prime time TV show even when it is not funny. Catharsis is a purging of the emotions but the same can be said when we witness, and privately enjoy the suffering of others; a little bit of schadenfreude, gaining pleasure from the downfall of others somehow makes us feel a little bit more exalted. Even though we don't like to admit it, don't we often say to ourselves about someone else's tragic story, I am glad it isn't me?
Odysseus slays the suitors
Comedy and tragedy depend on a slight twist of fate; Woody Allen likes to play with this idea, beginning Melinda and Melinda with a discussion of the difference between the two. It is a gross deduction, but life is a comedy when we are the ones who do not suffer and it's a tragedy when the tables are turned. When Dante is in hell he is a comedy for he goes through hell commenting on the suffering of other people. Dante meets Odysseus in hell, the man of many wiles who was separated from his wife and family for twenty years. Dante punished Odysseus in hell for his extreme pride or hubris, a lack of understanding of his own human weakness. Odysseus in life is punished to roam the seas in a search for home because he relied on his own intellect and not on the gods. Odysseus returns home, rids his halls of the suitors and he reunites with his wife and son. Dante does not view Odysseus so comedically, however, and remains suspicious of Odysseus as if inspired by Poseidon's rage. Dante sees Odysseus as the man of many deceits. The flip flop is directly related to fate, perception, choices, and perhaps luck. If I am deceived to believe life is merely either a comedy or a tragedy, I deceive myself. Pride and self-deception cause war; cause intolerance - the inability to see truth in any given situation. The blindness is our own. Someone may ask, why are seers physically blind? By losing their physical sight, they gain an inner sight of the mind. It is not what you see but how you see it. The narcissist sees only himself. The hero sees his victories. A murder does not see his crime. A lover sees an ideal. I am blinded from truth not because truth is absolute, but I am unable to decode properly what I see before me. The Greeks seem to have understood this which is why they created the blind seer who could see but they also saw that most of us are Cassandra and we do not listen. It is not that we do want to listen, but rather, we are blocked - flustered for a bit, and we cannot read properly. It is in the tangle of interpretation that we go back and forth: comedy, tragedy, comedy, tragedy, comedy, tragedy, comedy, tragedy . . .


Book Review: The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald

Pairing image with text in a narrative is contradictory: the flowing voice of the narrator with the frozen, almost totemic, images, is a strange combination.  The experience of the novel is oddly anti-nostalgic. The recounting of memory, of four different German expatriates, in Sebald’s The Emigrants, the text reads like a journal entry, as if the reader has stumbled upon a found notebook, scribbled with memories, and affixed with images, almost as if, negating the idea of a novel.  The images gesture toward a heuristic, as if they are supposed to add meaning to the text.
    For example, the image of a train track, with a copse of trees in the background is coupled with “In January 1984 news reached me … that on the evening of the 30th of December … Paul Beryter, who had been my teacher at primary school, had put an end to his life” (27).  Floating above the narrative voice stands the image of a train track, taken at ground level as if the photographer were lying on his stomach on top of the rails.  The track curves a little to the right and vanishes out of view where the school teacher, apparently, “had lain himself down in front of a train” (27).  The “photographer” is the character, a stolen shot, of his own death.  Looking at the image, the punctum is the shot of the skewed line punctuated with the narrator’s voice.  The meaning of the passage is inextricably linked with the image itself.  Removed from the pastiche of story, the image is not a referent to the story; it could be inserted into any other narrative of train tracks in the woods, and take on another meaning, altogether.
    But, here, as if purposely placed to evoke expression, like the drawing of Beyaert’s classroom (33) coupled with the expression in the text of recognition of another classmate who schooled with the narrator under Bereyter’s instruction.  The two, “immediately recognized each other,” both separately reading in the British Museum, coincidentally looking up and noticing one another “despite the quarter-century that had passed” (33).  The drawing of the classroom seating plan somehow is supposed to evoke the chance meeting of the two students, and their discussion of their dead professor.
    The plan of the classroom, assigned by Bereyter as a classroom assignment, apparently an exercise in drawing space to scale, becomes a memento of both the student’s meeting together by chance in the British Museum, and also, an object representing their shared time in the same classroom in 1946.  The images are not seemingly “pictures” of the past. They are rather representations.  For example, the photographs of the school children seem to be archival, meaning that they are not autobiographical.  The narrator says, about the pictures, apart from his own shared experiences (not pictured) that he was “scarcely distinguishable from those pictured here, a class that included myself” (47).  But, you are not supposed to point him out.  Nor is the stern teacher in the background supposed to be Beyert.  It is as if the history is lost but the images remain.