Literary Kinds 2012
Welcome to Literary Kinds, an English course offered in Spring 2012 @ Bryn Mawr College. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.
Who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our course. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. That's the second thing to keep in mind here. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared explorations. Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE.
I had too much fun creating this video. Some clips were cut off too soon, and others need to be cut, but I think I'll just keep it the way it is!
"Do it all."
A professor of mine just past me on the sidewalk. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes. This literally happened five minutes ago, so my thoughts may still be a bit jumbled, but if I wait to write this down I may loose this feeling, and I'd be doing the exact opposite of his advice- "Do it."
Somewhere along the line I was taught, or taught myself to believe, that the truely great people are the ones who invest themselves entirely in their passion. Mozart in his music. Martha Graham in her dance. I think I've conditioned myself to believe that if you truely want to be great, unique, groundbreaking, you have to choose a passion and develop into it.
Five minutes ago, my professor said, "Do it all." DO IT ALL...
I thought having more than one passion meant you had to split yourself up, and therefore never fully commit yourself to one thing, one mode, and become truely great. I'm not sure I think that anymore. Maybe a person is more whole than that, and is able to take their "self" completely from one passion to the next, never spiltting, but fully investing with each new passion.
I don't know what I knew before and I don't know what I know now. I knew I didn't know anything before and I know I don't know anything now.
My tongue is “jumbled and jangled”1. Growing up speaking Arabic, English, and French, I am most self-expressive juggling between all three, casually in conversation. I relate feelings and emotions with specific language expressions that are meaningless if not incomprehensible when translated. The importance in the phonetics in the Arabic language allows me to translate my emotions in the stress of the sounds in words. Saying “stupid” in Arabic is not only the same word for “ass” but also has an “h” sound that resonates from the roof of your mouth, as if having a bundle of red chili peppers scorching one’s throat while shouting out a sharp “HHH’OT!”. I cannot however participate in a serious, intellectual discussion in Arabic but rather speak English, my language of education, from which I have learned the big words and forms for argumentation. First learning French from TV or overheard conversations between my parents, I speak it to communicate my work and education to those who do not understand English. All three languages have become inevitable pieces to my language and cultural puzzle that intertwine to translate my thoughts and ideas to others.
A note on citations: The War of the Worlds is in the public domain; as such, I read it online, in a digital edition that lacked page numbers. This makes citation somewhat tricky. I have chosen to cite by chapter number, as consequence, both for The War of the Worlds and (for the sake of consistency) for Slaughterhouse Five. Thus, in Slaughterhouse Five, parenthetical citations are author and chapter number (Vonnegut 1) and in The War of the Worlds parenthetical citations are author, book number, and then chapter number (Wells I, 1). If this is unacceptable, I can change it. However, I find that I rather like this form of citation. Considering the differences in pagination in various editions of the same book, it does not make things much more difficult to reference than page numbers would; either method would involve some flipping through pages to find the quotation cited.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the genre of magic realism as a “literary style in which realistic techniques such as naturalistic detail, narrative, etc., are similarly combined with surreal or dreamlike elements (www.oed.com).” This is clearly not a genre we looked at in class, and yet it is not all that different from other genres we have studied. For example, the OED defines science fiction as “imaginative fiction based on postulated scientific discoveries or spectacular environmental changes, freq. set in the future or on other planets and involving space or time travel (www.oed.com).” If magic realism is the combination of realistic and surreal elements and science fiction of fictional and scientific elements it is not unfounded to say that these two genres are cut of the same cloth.
In Slaughterhouse-5, Vonnegut presents us with Billy Pilgrim, a man who was subject to all of war’s physical destruction and mental hollowing. Throughout the novel, Pilgrim wonders through in acceptance of all of the situations that are presented to him. He readily allows himself to be kidnapped by Aliens, he accepts when he will die and he accepts that he is in war. Despite the main character’s acquiescence, Vonnegut displays the Serenity prayer in the novel, a mantra of free will:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom always to tell the difference.
Does Billy (or do any of us) have the ability to follow this advice? The Trafalmadorians only follow the first phrase, acceptance, but Earthlings believe that we have the agency in all of these phrases. Is Vonnegut suggesting that Billy does have free will and that we can choose not to have war?
To explore this theme, I’d like to look at the contrast between the Trafalmadorian view of agency versus the Earthling view. The Trafalmadorians believe that the idea of free will is exclusive to those on Earth:
Very often I turn to my friends at the dinner table and say, “You know what would be cool…” or, “I have this great idea…” or, “What would you guys think if…”. Very often ideas pop into my head and I spit them out like rotten cherry tomatoes. What makes them rotten is because as soon as dinner is over and we leave the table, the idea leaves my mind or I become disinterested. The idea rots. But, not this time. I refuse to believe this idea will become rotten, and I’ve instead committed to its growth: I will create a literary lab that applies the scientific method to story creation, and I’ve devised a model and a 4 step guide to making it a reality.
The world of Hollywood is very intense and cut-throat, each person trying so hard to be more unique than the next. With well over several decades of history and probably thousands of brains that have contributed to the success and reputation of Hollywood, screen writers and movie producers are trying more than ever to be unique and original. However, as much as society pretends that it is not, Hollywood is still very much a part of life, a part of biology. Years and years of studies have established biological concepts on survival and fitness that not only apply to humans and living things, but also apply to the elements that are part of our lives, just like entertainment and film. More specifically, the principles of adaptation that the discipline of Biology has well established can be applied to film, and has been used to successfully transform novels into film, as shows by the movie Adaptation, which was very loosely based on the novel The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.
My Bibbie invented Gabazoogoo the Talking Dog when his grandsons were little. My sister and I, Bib’s first great-grandchildren, grew up with Gabazoogoo too. Stories rolled effortlessly off of Bib’s tongue, and when he spoke, it felt like I could sit still for an eternity, mesmerized by wisdom. I knew that Gabazoogoo was make believe, but Bib had knack for combining the fantastical with the very real, and I know his stories helped me to learn this world.
I'm very disappointed with Bryn Mawr's time limits for classes. I thought our discussion of Adaptation was an important one to have since we compared the movie to the book and talked about what the movie was about and it's value etc. However, I was so disappointed with what was not said - or rather what there wasn't time for. OK, we can't agree on if Adaptation was a good/poor representation/purposeful-non-representation of The Orchid Thief. Fine. I guess I thought we could take the film at face value at least - meaning what the movie in of itself does and how it reflects the messages in The Orchid Thief. I guess the example that stands out to me the most is that Charlie kept saying he wanted to show people that flowers were pretty. In the movie, Charlie "writes in" a scene that didn't happen in The Orchid Thief. When John is leading Orlean to see the ghost and John is lost, he gets very frustrated. John says (something along the lines of), "People are always leeching off me. Get your own passion! Stupid bitch." When Orlean sees the ghost orchid, she says, "It's just a flower." She couldn't adopt anyone's passion or fascination with orchids because it wasn't hers. This scene parallels Charlie's inability to make a movie that 'shows people that flowers are pretty.' This is precisely because even if he had made a movie that exhibited flowers, he would not have succeeded. He would not be able to force his audience adopt an appreciation for flowers.
I'm quiet in class and I have trouble focusing on serendip. I can't follow our discussions and there's something that blocks up my ideas and makes it incredibly difficult for me to form ideas. It doesn't mean that I don't have them. I'm just haven't adapted well to the environment that is our classroom. I would make a very poor orchid type.
So I guess I'm just going to ramble my random ideas for a little bit.
For starters, I really didn't like the movie Adaptation. Not because of the way it was made or the circular movement of it. No, I didn't like it because they represented a very real woman, Susan Orlean, as a drug addicted, violent, ragged character. I was shocked. I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that she had seen this movie and didn't sue everyone involved. That's what really bothered me about the movie. If it was trying to say that it's impossible to represent someone else's story accurately then I guess they succeded because I don't think they represented her at all.
Okay, so that's my two-cents about the movie. I didn't like it, I felt like I was watching someone's reputation get destroyed by vicious middle-school girls.
For this webpaper, I have made an artistic rendition of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", inspired by Kim Northrop's Neil Gaiman-inspired paintings. To accompany this, I have also played with my writing style. Once upon a time when I was in Year 10/11 (so the equivalent of high school freshman/sophomore), I did a GCSE course in fine art. We had to document our work, and I used this style to present the process that I used to create my piece. Within this style, however, I have used others, such as a letter format to communicate my ideas. With this documentation in the form of a "portfolio" of sorts, I hoped to parallel the method that Rebecca Skloot used to write her book. However, a lot of the things that I have written are ironic in the sense that I take the book as full "truth". But, my final piece changes this a little bit as I use it to problematize Skloot's first line: "This is a work of non-fiction."
I've put images of the final piece and the pages from the "portfolio" here rather than embed them into Serendip as the image size was too big. Just click on the pictures and you'll see a bigger version of the piece!
Adding on to today’s discussion, I believe that no movie that is based on a book will ever be faithful to the book in its entirety because the creative team working on the movie will heighten a particular aspect(s) for the sake of entertainment. As for the statement of being original within a genre, we adapt what belongs to other people (discussed at the beginning of the semester) in the process of writing (it may be inevitable). In the case of working on a movie, it also involves the process of representation in the big screen. A good example to represent what I just mentioned is the scene where Donald asks his brother Charlie for a suggestion on how to kill someone in his screenplay and when Charlie does,his brother asks if it’s ok for him to use his idea.
I noticed in class that everyone's movie version of The Orchid Thief emerged from their own personalities. I am the most ironic romantic - a story for another time - and consequently, my movie was a love story. I was thrilled by the idea that a writer searching for the 'facts' who seems really down to earth, who claims she isn't passionate, etc. totally falls in love with LaRoche. Even when I read the book, I kept waiting for something to happen between them - it was killing me. So my movie was a love story of a mismatched couple.
KT prefaced her movie with "we need something to draw people in." KT worked in marketing; therefore she was most concerned about making something that would sell.
Anne told us that her movie is "very word based." She took one quote from the book and made it her first scene. Then she based her other scenes off of other quotes from the book she had picked out. No wonder Anne wanted to preserve the book's message as much as possible - she's an English teacher.
"It's not my story. It's my responsibility to Susan". -- Charlie
When I picked Adaptation up from the library, I knew that it was going to provoke a lot of rich discussion. Why? Because in a class where we've talked about the originality and authenticity of a text, it seemed really exciting when I saw Spike Jonze AND Charlie Kaufman as the filmmaker and the scriptwriter respectively. Watching the film, I started to see very purposeful and really, REALLY self-aware moments that seemed contradictory to the quote that I started this post with.
Charlie attempts to stay true to Orlean but comes across so many personal barriers to meeting with her and finding out the truth. And this parallels the barriers to staying true to the book when you have so many huge personalities working on the same production. Is the final product "true" to Orlean? I'd say no. I'd actually argue that it fits in more with Spike Jonze's work as a director and with Charlie Kaufman (the "physical" one that isn't portrayed by Nicolas Cage!) as a screenwriter.
Inevitably, it seems that there is no way of completely translating the book to a movie that stays true to the "original" writer. As Donald aptly puts it "We have to realize that we write in a genre. We have to find creativity in our genre."