Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road is widely seen as quintessentially Beat, to use the term that Kerouac himself first used to define him and his friends years before. On the Road is an autobiographical story except for changed names and a few tweaked details. Kerouac’s counterpart in the novel, Sal Paradise, embarks on countless trips back and forth the American continent in the 1940s. Sal is searching for something, but even Sal himself is not sure what that something might be. Critics have analyzed the novel in terms of this something, pointing to different things Sal seeks throughout his travels—an understanding of his sexuality, acceptance into the American culture, male dominance, cheap thrills, and a sense of belonging to a community. For the most part, Sal’s travels are driven by Dean Moriarty, the novel’s portrayal of Kerouac’s close friend Neal Cassady. Continue reading
All throughout our discussion of agency, I was thinking of Donnie, a character from the Wild Thornberrys, a brilliant 90′s Nick cartoon. Donnie was raised by orangutans but has been adopted by the Thornberrys. He’s an interesting study because he had parents but they were killed and so the monkeys they’d been working with took care of Donnie until the Thornberrys came along. He’s 4, according to wikipedia, so he might be too young to be a perfect example, but he’s a decent example of what someone would be like if they were not part of society. In this case, I suppose the moral of the story is that humans require community to develop so an absence of society is really just as impossible as we said in class.
The point about agency being more common than one might initially notice was a good one. I’ve been rereading Cat’s Cradle and one of Vonnegut’s main studies in the novel is the morality of science after the invention and use of the atom bomb. Hoenikker, the fictitious co-inventor of the bomb, was simply a brilliant man with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and experimental problem solving. He got a lot of response for the bomb both from people thanking him for his contribution to ending the war and from people chastising him for being so brutal. Vonnegut paints Hoenikker as someone who neither particularly cared to end the war nor who cared to be brutal. He simply was given a task and did it well, but now it is seen how science, despite being morally neutral, can be used in morally impermissible ways regardless of the wishes of the scientist. Post-atom bomb, scientists have to be careful when they do research because of the ways the results might be used.
This applies to our discussion of agency in moral situations. Science has been complicated by the atom bomb and now the science-minded folk cannot just take agency when deciding to work in science or in something else. They must take agency in what they are studying within science. They must take agency in sharing what their research yields. They must take agency in respect to accountability of any application of this research. Well, I guess this applies to most things, really. If I decide to leave the library and walk to the waterfront, I’ve taken agency in making that decision, but it doesn’t stop there. At every intersection, I have to take agency and decide to go left, right, or straight, and while it will not change the place I end up (assuming I keep my course generally southeastern), these decisions are still active choices that affect the entire experience.
Our readings this week had appropriate timing with current events yet again! I really appreciated the Differences chapter in TT and its citation of very similar statistics to those fuelling the Occupy protests which had an extremely eventful week of raiding and re-prioritising.
The Wife of Bath reading on psychoanalysis was fun as well. I like how Freud suggested this approach, then it was interpreted by different people of different times and places, and we are left with the head-cocking notion that we can psychoanalyse a text to psychoanalyse the characters to psychoanalyse the author and then we look at how we analysed all that so we can psychoanalyse the reader. Uhhh. Okay! I really enjoy looking at all the levels of the literature experience psychologically. I am naturally inclined to look at things in life in psychological ways so it is nice when I can carry that over to literature. It’s definitely a useful tactic for strong characters like the Wife. I can definitely think of a few examples where psychoanalysis isn’t useful on a character level, though. For example, the characters in Hard Times do not come across as particularly psychologically profound. I suppose it is useful to apply this to Charles Dickens because it points to the distance he felt at the time, the way he felt industrialism was prohibiting him from engaging deeply with others. And maybe that brief analysis is wildly telling about the way I see things! Oh the multi-faceted application of literary theory.
It was very useful to look at the two project proposal examples in class today. I’ve actually yet to have to do a project proposal at the College and was feeling kind of lost about the whole thing. I do feel a bit better now, albeit not entirely because I have the daunting deadlines of other assignments looming overhead. Speaking of which, off to the lands of productivity!
I wasn’t struck with anything off the bat to write for the blog this week. It wasn’t until I began thinking about the word “post” that my thoughts began churning. First off, “post” is a great word because it anagrams pretty widely for such a short word.
Secondly, “post” serves both as a word and a prefix. This week we were using it as a prefix mostly but I think the word as a noun lends itself nicely to the notions pointed to by attaching things to the prefix. A post, as in a fencepost, provides a nice mental image suiting for the progression of thought from thing to post-thing. The history of literary studies is not comprised of a single strip of fence ending with a post; rather, it is a series of these fences (being the things) and posts (being the post-things)that create a common fenced in area, literature. No single literary movement is the be-all, end-all of studies because, as a lot of the posts we studied this week show (post-modernism, post-colonialism, post-structuralism), the truth is wildly fluid and complex and subjective. It relates to our conversation about historicism in that we are presently partaking in events which become history as soon as they happen. Our present trends which situate us in English studies are going to be another criticism to be considered, another segment of the fence of literary understanding. Perhaps we will have a different term for our current schools of thought, be it fence or post, but it will still not be the ultimate answer.
They played with “post” for a quick second in TT, joking that we are approaching a post-post office society (moment of silence for the art of letter writing and letter receiving). That made me smile.
There’s also the verb “to post,” which is what I am about to do with this here blogpost (<– ooh, see, it's everywhere! Inescapable!).
This seems like an appropriate time to write this week’s blog post on time/space and history– I guess I fell asleep at a weirdly early hour and ended up waking up at 3 AM. It feels kind of wrong to be hanging around, doing things, having coherent thoughts at 3 in the morning without the lingering guilt from staying up until 3 intentionally or the utter dread of waking up at 3 to catch a flight or something. I’m up right now, and I am not tired, and I will not be tired tomorrow, and soon I will tire and sleep again but there will still have been this odd little bubble of awake at this usually very asleep time. The understanding of 3 AM is a human name for an event during which one should be in bed and dreaming. I play along with that normally because it helps me function in society, but there is nothing inherently bed-y or dreaming-y about 3 in the morning so of course it is just as weird for me to wake up at 9 AM as 3 AM. The perception of higher weirdness is a human construction.
History was on my mind as well this week as I finished reading a biography of Jack Kerouac. He’s an interesting man because he very violently became a product of his surroundings. All people are such products, but I find myself feeling that there is more to Jack’s subjectivity. And, as this particularly biography addressed a few times, there are differences in the “factual” history of his life. He lived from the twenties to the sixties, and he wrote slews of journals documenting almost every day of his life, but still we cannot be sure what exactly happened. It seems miraculous, then, that we could ever trust world history to be unaltered truth when such a perfect candidate for accurate remembering has proven to be so mystifying. It brings me back to my favourite notion of the week– that just as we do not, cannot, fully experience and understand the present, we cannot, and do not, fully experience and understand the past.
I’m pretty grateful that we are addressing culture and ideologies and media in an English class. Speaking about such topics gets me too worked up and upset and most importantly makes me feel like I cannot do anything to change things, so I have steadfastly avoided giving into my natural interest in the way we communicate/what this “we” is/why we need to communicate/what we communicate about/etc/etc/etc. I am as of yet unable to channel such strong emotions efficiently and productively so I’ve just let them be, but it’s futile really because avoidance isn’t really my style. So, long and short, I’ve got plenty of bottled-up thoughts about the whole mess.
The media section in particular has been on my mind a lot recently. I skim the New York Times daily because it is free where I live and the clippings make nice decorations on my wall. My first issue with this is that a recent issue of the Times– the day of Qaddafi’s death, I believe– had a front and center story about how football can damage the brain. It had an entire “Homes” section about selling large apartments with small closets for optimum profit. It had easy to snag pull-out sections for Sports and Arts (mostly movies) but you had to lug the giant front section around to find any international, national, or New York news. It just seemed despicable to me, a terrible display of priorities that I fear is representative of today’s culture. We’re really devoting front-page space to old news about sport? Maybe if we ran out of news, that would make sense, but something about the revolutionary air these days tells me that is not the case. We’re worried about helping the rich profit off of their homes when the number of homeless people in rising to perilous heights? We make it more convenient to indulge in sports and movies interests than in vital news?
Daily, I read some of the stories in the NYT, not nearly as much as I should because of those feelings of crippling helplessness, but I still end up being more politically aware then a lot of people– not just peers– and that fact saddens me. I don’t think of this as a competition or anything, but it comes back to the base fact that apathy is prevalent. I usually skim the city paper at work, and recently I handed a page I tore from it about the race for mayor to a close friend majoring in International Relations, to which he glanced at it and responded, “Ehh that’s boring, I’m just going to go Stumble for a while instead. I pick the one with the glasses.” An International Studies student can’t be bothered with local politics? A close friend who can’t even pretend to care even if just to appease me? I love Stumble as much as the next person, but the nonchalance displayed is all too wretched and common. And, yeah, nice try, but three of the five candidates were pictured in glasses.
This rant ties into our discussion of media’s reciprocal relationship with society. It brings me to the Media 2.0 section. In the past, I’ve written off social networking and all internet communication as an outlet for low culture, but recently I have decided to embrace my desire to explore how it can be used meaningfully. The TT discussed about this very notion– using social networking as a reliable source of media– and it resonated strongly with me. I can honestly say that, despite my daily NYT skimming, I have found out about more of the big news stories of the past year through Facebook statuses than headlines. It’s not a wide reality, and it’s not as though every friend I have on Facebook is constantly posting high cultured content, but I don’t see why that belittles the fact that it CAN and HAS been used productively to any real extent.
Oh, and I love the implications of the different pronunciations of “ideology.” Emphasising the “id” brings out the root word, “idea.” Emphasising the “ol” makes the “id” part sound similar to the “id” in “idiot.” Heeheehee.
Our reading on culture focused on the dichotomy of high versus low culture, but I think the more gripping dichotomy is that of the American dream versus the American culture. America is called the Melting Pot for a reason, and that reason is the diversity of people who are (supposedly) welcome to come to our country to seek a better life. But any pot must boil to melt, so it seems strange to me to pretend we have something as solid as a culture. Cultures necessitate a unified group of people practicing similar activities over time. Perhaps I am blinded by my current placement in time and space, but I venture to say that 18th century Spain, or ninth century China, or present day Iceland have stronger cultures than America has had at any point in history. This is not to discredit the diverse complexity of any of these places (I hardly have the knowledge required for any insult to bear any real weight, anyway) but America operates in a constant state of turbulent bubbling. It a melting pot, and it is boiling. Always. As a country, we hit the ground running. Other countries that are more historically conquerors or isolated have had more time to develop independently before embarking on engagements with the international world, a world which challenges and inevitably varies the cultural identities. We have sub-cultures and we have at least one unifying characteristic beyond geography, the American Dream, but that is just what it’s called– a dream. I see a strong difference between our shared vision and our shared reality.
I really don’t feel qualified to say with any certainty the things I am trying to say, so I will stop. Consider it more a theoretical musing than a factual opinion.
It’s definitely eerily good timing to have this discussion as Occupy Charleston protests for 99 hours straight a few miles down the road. The difference between the shared vision and the shared reality is being challenged. Of course, the “shared vision” cannot imply a unified, detailed goal of what we want our country to look like or we wouldn’t have these issues, but rather the shared vision of a place where dreams come true and life is just. A real-life Disney world.
That’s the sticks portion of my blog, and as for the stone portion I must say I was fascinated in unexpected ways by Jeffrey Cohen’s talk tonight. The complex diversity of the world is overwhelmingly fascinating– to think there are people (plural!) whose lives revolve around the philosophical implications of stone! I can hardly get over that enough to appreciate how I am now capable of toying with the notion that stones might have a life, be it literally or spiritually. I daresay this is long enough so I’ll cease typing my thoughts here. ‘Twas a thought-provoking week, albeit a short one!
OH AND the food was exquisite!
The title is a song title by this spectacularly awful and awfully spectacular band called Math the Band. As far as I recall, the song is unrelated to Marx but the title had me inwardly giggling all through class.
In a strange way, the thing I kept thinking about during today’s discussion of Marxism was the requisites for canonisation. Using Marxism was such a useful tool to understanding the prologue and tale that I was a bit taken-aback when Dr. Seaman mentioned the forthcoming psychoanalytical approach. We’re going to read another article which will contribute just as much to the understanding? Is that even possible? Of course it is, and Tompkins rightfully asserts that this success of continued scrutiny is what makes a work a classic. Theoretically, I accepted this before but in my British literature class, we’ve read a lot of different works in one or two different ways and then moved on (as it is a survey course) so I haven’t encountered the full breadth of Tompkins’ definition’s implications since reading about it. Now, I’m slightly dumbstruck at the truth of the definition because it encompasses so much. It’s fascinating how we search for a very specific strength in a work of literature to define as “good” when in reality the goodness is incredibly broad and that is what makes it literature. Also, it was cool how using the Marxist approach released discussion on the feminist aspects of the work while our class discussion, which was more structural, didn’t. I like how the different treasures of the work are unveiled through use different tools.
Monday’s class was such a worthwhile way to spend a class period. I am so glad it was included in the schedule! As I said in class, there were a lot of wildly disheartening statistics and truths presented to us but somehow I left feeling uplifted and excited for this world of bitch jobs and poverty. A huge fear I have is of grad school– that it is this awful mammoth of debt, attendance of which I am in denial but undoubtedly must complete in order to have a successful career in publishing. I suspect it is because I have a close friend who went for her doctorate in psychology and ended up entering the real world with a lifetime of debt before she’d even begun facing life’s bigger monetary commitments (house, kids, etc), but I equate grad school with burdensome debt. The professors’ advice of not going to grad school unless you’re paid to do so was a truth I really needed to hear to reconcile my expected and feared future.
Some truths weren’t so easy, such as that you should choose the school by program and money, not location. My current plan of moving to Chicago after graduation and figuring something will work out there miiigghhhttt not go well with this very sensical advice, so that’s something I’m working on coming to terms with. Our discussion even veered into the post-grad life we aspire for, that of having a job. Again, though, there was no room for delusions as they stated that most jobs will be lots of work for little money. Carol Ann Davis mentioned getting comfortable living off of little money and how, when you want to do something you love that doesn’t pay well, you will always be able to find ways to cut costs in order to make that possible.
I suppose, generally, my optimism stems (as I’ve found most of my optimism does) from acceptance of a pessimistic view. I’m prepared to be in school for a long time, to do jobs I hate that pay well when it’s necessary, to do jobs I love that pay poorly most of the time, to maybe deal with some debt, to sacrifice certain luxuries for a fulfilling experience, et al. I can see finding happiness in that, so if it turns out to be better than this, jolly good! If not, swell! If it’s worse, that’s unfortunate but I don’t feel like there’s a giant black hole of doom waiting for me a handful of years down the line.
Though it wasn’t something we read, this week the idea I keep mulling over in my mind was a bit from class today when we were looking at examples of responses to Tompkin’s essay. Dr. Seaman said to be analytical, not evaluative. I cannot deny that I am a strongly opinionated individual, and the bothersome kind that likes to let you know said opinions (and in depth) despite the level of interest to others. I don’t like to give that up because I think it’s important to talk about such opinions but I must put that aside when the assignment calls for it. It’s not like I cannot have and cannot share these opinions—I just cannot harp on evaluative opinions when the assignment asks for an analysis and expect it to be fine.
I was surprised to see how acceptable the second example response essay was and how underwhelming the first was. Perhaps due to my high school studies, I am naturally more inclined to lean towards the type of essay presented first. The nun who taught me about English Literature in the twelfth* grade would have a conniption over the latter essay. She would see it as a well written but off-topic tangent that is not sufficiently directly related to the original essay.
Oh, and I did really like the concept of borrowing ideas, not books. It seems clear to me that it is a very true statement in theory, though it does allow the notion that one can own an original idea. If you believe you (singular) can own original ideas, it follows that you believe you can own an idea in general. It also follows that only one person can own an idea. I suppose I can fathom the ownership of an idea, but I see the transfer of ideas more as a gift than a loan. If I read an idea that I like, I can’t readily give that idea back. At least not without Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-esque neurological tools. The idea has become mine. This doesn’t mean that the original idea-haver no longer has ownership; I’d like to think of it as joint custody. I should still cite the idea in a paper because it is still an issue to claim the originality of the idea. So, I guess I come to the same conclusion as they do in the MLA handbook (plagiarism is bad) but I come from a slightly varied route.
*Not to be completely off-topic**, but I simply detest the spelling of the word “twelfth.” Just look at all of those consonants fighting to be pronounced! Ugh. Gross.
**Err, unintentional proof of my opinionated nature and my need to share these opinions. Heeehhhhhh.
The text I have selected for my research project is “On the Road” by the dashing Jack Kerouac. Widely seen as the defining piece of literature from the beat generation, “On the Road” is a novel published in 1957. Kerouac wrote it as fiction but many of the characters and events in the novel have direct references to real life events. It is a canonical text that follows a group of friends on many road trips across America. I originally picked up the book towards the end of last year when I was itching to get into a car and drive somewhere, anywhere, but could not due to it being two weeks before exams (and I suppose the fact that I do not own a car was a factor). I figured that if I could not have a road trip, I could read about one. I had to return the book before finishing it and I have felt incomplete about the matter ever since. This assignment is the perfect way for me to finish reading it and begin to examine the layers of meaning.
While I loved the feeling I got after reading a chapter, I recall feeling like it was an awfully long text with quite a drag for such a canonized work. Now, having begun to explore the canon and various theoretical approaches to literature, I think I will get much more out of it. My present understanding is that it has been canonized because it is a novel based so firmly in a turbulent time period that it offers a strong sight into life at that time. However, after reading Tompkin’s essay, I believe that a work is not canonized simply because of socio-cultural merit and so I look forward to exploring the alternate ways in which Kerouac’s work is a success. A basic adventure in the library tells me that I will have no problem finding research materials.