As we talked about in class on Wednesday, the question of power and ‘acting’ versus ‘thinking’ really stood out from the reading in the discussion. Not in an evangelical sense, as Blake began the early stages of our discussion on, but in a sense of having the power of decision within the realm of our culture, ideology, gender, etc. versus the supposed pre-determination of our actions from the specifics of our existence. Professor Seaman demonstrated this with her example that being born on this day in this country to this family doesn’t really give you an ‘inevitable’ obligation to act a certain way. On the contrary, you are able to enjoy a variety of choices based on factors like culture, ideology, gender, race, social class, etc. The idea of simply being ‘beholden’ to these aspects of your person—or ‘subject’—is actually quite comforting. Though our previous discussion on subjectivity did leave me down and depressed feeling as though I have no power over my life, this discussion served, for me, to lighten my mood a bit on this issue.
According to this chapter, your range of choices relating to the ‘beholdenness’ of your power even gives you the option not to respond, which (as we discussed)is a sort of freedom and choice in itself. Thinking of my own experiences, I have found that my decisions have largely been based off my ideology and culture and background experiences, even if I decided not to do something. For example, I chose (and still do) not to take up smoking because my family—many of whom do smoke and some of whom have quit—have lectured me time and time again of the horrors picking up that white cylinder will inevitably cause. The choice was still mine, and because I was born in a certain era didn’t dictate what I would or would not do (as there are numerous smokers today); ultimately, it was my decision.
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 really enjoyed the introductory section to the essay on Marxism in “The Wife of Bath” that explained exactly how to do a Marxist reading of a text. Critiquing specific factors such as race, class, culture, etc. seemed to coincide with Tompkins’ essay promoting the cultural implications which are necessary for analyzing texts and their significance to the canon. I especially enjoyed the idea that the text “does”, insinuating that social forms or economic conditions don’t come from our consciousness but vice versa. When thinking about this in class, it seemed to make perfect sense. According to subjectivity, of course we construct out class, identity, racial, etc. consciousness from the events of our time period. Post-war literature didn’t end the war, but rather was written after the war had ended. It goes without saying, then, that the ideas about the recently ended war are constructions of post-war attitudes formed by one’s geographic environment. This example made it easier for me to truly try to grasp this elusive concept. We don’t decide what sort of society we live in, but our opinions towards our society is a result of its creation around us. We usually don’t make economic decisions without some sort of pre-decision initiation, either. When attempting to industrialize a developing nation, they don’t institute one policy or another, in this case we’ll go with market-friendly neoliberalism. Rather, the movement towards this policy had already begun, and upon becoming aware of this they categorized it and called it their own. I could be terribly wrong, but this is my interpretation of the whole theory that our consciousness comes from our social forms/economic conditions.
The material for class on Wednesday was very interesting to me. Coming from our prior discussion on subjectivity and the ‘self’ versus the ‘subject’, the idea of intellectual property seemed intriguing and immediately sparked my interest. We discussed how everything these days can seem like plagiarism when taken to an extreme definition; however, it relates back to the idea of subjectivity. If we are simply a construction of our society and personal cultural experiences, then of course every idea we ever have won’t be completely original but subconsciously drawn from some other idea or source of inspiration. Labeling this as plagiarism, therefore, seems somewhat severe, especially when—according to subjectivity—we cannot control how our thoughts or actions are shaped by the world in which we live.
On the topic of ‘intellectual property’, I found it extremely surprising that lawyers exist who deal with intellectual theft! How can we lay claim to a certain idea or work as strictly ‘ours’? It seems to me that once you display your thoughts publicly, they’re up for grabs. In the Renaissance, Enlightenment, or other movement, if those thinkers had simply kept their discoveries to themselves in order to protect their ‘intellectual property’ from being abused or stolen, where would we be today? Certainly not as advanced as we consider ourselves. I understand that advocating someone else’s direct words as your own is unacceptable academically (and, for some, morally), but my question is where do we draw the line? If I read an article on a subject and agree with their points, I will certainly cite any strict ideas gained from them, but I hesitate to consider that my opinion plagiarizes theirs. The point of persuasive essays is to convince a reader of your ideas with the hope that they will adopt them as their own; therefore, upon reading a critical argument, I see no reason why I shouldn’t take their ideas into my own consideration. In terms of subjectivity again, their ideas are social constructions, so I may either share the same conclusions due to similar societal influences or view the same arguments differently due to my own set of social constructions.