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.
Adaptation was entertaining. Mostly, it seemed like a cautionary tale about the perils of telling other people’s stories, of what can happen when someone becomes so obsessed with telling a story that he becomes part of that story and truth and reality bend and everything is confusing and unclear. In this way, I think this movie fits nicely with a lot of the conversations we’ve had in class. Here’s something that I read this morning that I liked because it offers another way to think about how we tell and share stories:
Yesterday's discussion about passion encouraged me to share this video with you. I have provided a link to a brief biography of the speaker and the link to the video in case any of you are interested.
My most persistent obsession is with summer camp. I’ve been obsessed since age 12. This obsession has taken different forms over the past decade, but it has always centered around a rocky hill in Vermont and moldy poster boards with song lyrics and guitar chords on them. In some ways, my friends at school understand my obsession with camp. At the very least, they know that I am obsessed...camp permeates from my pores. I orchestrate ice breakers and ask for chek-ins and play the banjo and camp people come to visit and I try to convince school friends to work at camp. I’m pretty open about this obsession.
When I left class today my head was buzzing with different random ideas that I didn't now how to fit in to the conversation we had today. For starters, I know we had the question about the smell of Orchids. I don't know if Orleans tells us what the ghost orchid smells like but she does talk about the scent of other orchids.
Some orchids have straight-ahead good looks but have deceptive and seductive odors. There are orchids that smell like rotting meat, which insects happen to like. Another orchid smells like chocolate. Another smells like an angel food cake. Several mimic the scent of other flowers that are more popular with insects than they are. Some release perfume only at night to attract nocturnal moths. p. 46.
So that was the answer to one of the questions we didn't get around too.
I've also had a question buzzing around my head. In class it was mentioned that the full title of the novel is The Orchid Thief A True Story of Beauty and Obession...but how can you have a true story about beauty? We've been talking about this idea of truth and fiction and perception and I think beauty is a perception that can have no truth. Beauty varies between societies and between individuals. I don't like that she calls this a true story about beauty, it leaves me with this big question like "Beauty according to who?"
For the first time in a really long time, I don't have much to say. I find myself confused between what I thought was clearly the message of Slaughterhouse Five, and the discussions we had this past week.
I thought that Slaughterhouse Five clearly showed the effects of war and how it cannot be reversed, can never be properly addressed, and most certainly, that the very root of the problem, which is war itself, can never be stopped. This was done by what appeared to a lack of structure, by the juxtaposition of Billy Pilgrim's so-called "time travels" and his reality, by the clever invention of Tralfamadorians and what they have to say. It seemed as if on the outside, Billy Pilgrim has gotten over what he has seen at war, by merely saying "So it goes" for every death he has to encounter or remember, relive. In reality, however, he still cannot escape his tragic past, and the way which he copes with it is by imagining this world of Tralfamadore, where everything already exists, has already happened, where he is not accountable for anything he had no power over, and where the inhabitants seem to be nonchalant about even the most devastating events like death, because there's no other way to correct, alter or change them. Tralfamadore was his escape, where he need not feel guilty for how he felt, being unable to stop the bombing in Dresden. I thought the message was to show that these are inescapable effects of war, that there is no way of changing it, just as his imagined world of Tralfamadore perceives time and events.
"That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?
"Yes." Billy, in fact had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.
"Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why."
(Slaughterhouse Five, Chp 4, pg.97)
In my computer science class, we have started to look at data visualizations and my professor showed us this one in class on Thursday:
When I read dglasser’s post on stoicism and Alicia’s post on free will, I can’t help but think about the insertion of the Serenity Prayer in the locket around Montana Wildhack’s neck:
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.
Part of the prayer is stoic in accepting the things that you cannot change and part of it believes in free will in that it encourages taking action and making a change. Hmmm.
It’s a common prayer/mantra for people in AA and the other side of the locket has Montana’s alcoholic mother, so it makes me wonder what alcoholics have in common with the state of mind of the characters in this book.
Should this prayer be taken at face value that we do have free will and we can make a choice (how to live, whether or not to drink)? Is it meant to be ironic since Billy and Montana are merely following along in the life that the Trafalmadorians have created for them in the same way that an alcoholic may not want to drink but at times they do so anyway – it’s just the way the moment was structured?
I think the heart of the prayer has to do with the “wisdom to tell the difference,” but how do we do that? Is war inevitable and something that we need to accept or is it something that we can change?
The epitaph on page 156 states that free will was the deciding factor between Billy Pilgrim wanting to tell his wife about the war. Free will allow us to make the choice whether or not to tell people others about certain events that have taken place in our lives. We only know the reason behind our words and actions; free will allows us to put these thoughts out there in a coherent way. Trust involves another person, regardless if we trust him/her enough to share our experience with, it is our free will entitles us to keep quiet or not.
So, I’ve decided to read Slaughterhouse Five as an anti-Stoicism novel. After today’s class I can’t stop noticing parallels between the Tralfamadorians and the Stoics, and I can’t stop viewing Billy Pilgrim as a perfect example of the faults in this philosophy.
First, let me explain Stoicism, to the best of by ability, based on my readings of The Handbook by Epictetus which I was assigned to read in one of my philosophy classes last week. Stoicism is a philosophy that sees the world as a whole, neither good nor bad, and because that whole is not entirely visible to human perception, a human can only do his best to eliminate blinding emotion and act in accordance with reason. To act in accordance with reason, Stoicism provides two major claims, of which 52 precepts follow: 1) Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us; 2) Nothing good or bad happens in nature. By accepting these two claims and the subsequent precepts, a person can live “The Good Life”- one of equanimity and inner peace.
After I finished reading Slaughterhouse Five on Sunday, I was mostly confused and just a little bit annoyed with Billy Pilgrim. Throughout the week, I got successively more irritated with Billy...he became the epitome of the word pathetic. In class today, I was thinking about Billy and all the other pathetic characters I’ve had to deal with in books and in life. Mostly, I was irritated. I would not let them question my understanding or my beliefs, I let their pathetic existence affirm me. I told myself that sincerity is always better than satire.
So as I was reading Slaughterhouse Five I realized I had a lot of trouble really following it. For starters, I was reading it on my Kindle, so I was unsure where the story actually began. For most of the first chapter I felt like I was reading some introduction (until I got to chapter two and realized I was reading chapter one). After finishing, I can totally see where the lines between "fact" and "fiction" are blurred in this tale.
Honestly though, I'm having a harder time digging through what's "reality" and what's "fiction" because our discussions in class have completely destroyed any solid ground I have had on which is which. I can barely get though my day without wondering if everything I'm experiencing is true or not. How can it be if the only proof I have to offer comes from my memories? Facts, fiction, I don't know what the difference is anymore. I don't know if there's a point in distinguishing between the two anymore. Throw opinion in there and I lose it.
How can we say that this is fact or fiction? Did the author actually have a friend who he went back to Dresden with? Did he hear a story about a guy who inspired Billy? If the character of Billy was based on someone then how can we say whether or not his story was true?
I don't know. I'm so confused by all of this.