Sigmund Wao: Psychoanalytic perspective on the work of Junot Diaz.

In Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, one can see how the title character has a lot in common with the author: a penchant for apocalyptic fiction, Dominican heritage, unfortunate love life–but Diaz sought to differentiate himself from Oscar by one detail:

Oscar was a composite of all the nerds that I grew up with who didn’t have that special reservoir of masculine privilege. Oscar was who I would have been if it had not been for my father or my brother…

At the risk of committing an intentional fallacy, it appears as though the text attempts to depict, at the behest of the author, what it looks like for a young man to lack a masculine role model to emulate and, therefore, leads a tragic hero to have a tragic flaw, namely social awkwardness. The curse that Oscar inherits from his father might not be an actual curse, but that of not having a father around to show the youth how to surpass the previous generation. One can even consider this story to be like Oedipus as Oscar falls in love with a prostitute a bit older than himself, signifying that he may be loving his mother vicariously through this other woman. Granted, one should not base an entire analysis based on one or two details, but considering how these themes pervade the text, one cannot help but play devil’s advocate and ponder if  these stories are at all Freudian in origin.

Barbaric West: Postcolonial ideas in The Courter.

A staple of western literature is the ‘othering’ of foreign lands, particularly those deemed impoverished or technologically lacking. Those cultures, therefore, were deemed fit only for subjugation as a means of liberating them from the chains of their barbarism. However, in the 20th century, after those colonies garnered a freedom of their own, the savagery turned from being the topic of the uncivilized to the ‘civilized’. At the end of The Courter, the narrator speaks of characters going to various nations and lands, and in doing so, encountering perfection of one sort or another–Finding monetary prosperity, the perfect spouse,  etc. However, for the main character, though life is marginally good, his is mentioned explicitly as having imperfections. One sees the progression towards this idea of third-world savagery being something of the West in Heart of Darkness. The protagonist in that story speak lowly of the native Africans, but unlike the very cold wording in Robinson Crusoe, Conrad’s character speaks sympathetically as well, and occasionally poorly of the way in which his European allies treat the barbarians. The Courter puts all nations at the same level and, at times, switches the role entirely, providing a keen example of how postcolonial literature, disenfranchised by the prospect of imperialism and and colonization, making the colonizers just as poor as the colonized, or even considering the colonized as the ugly all along and the subjugated as imprisoned beauty. As author C.S. Lewis said, “Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”

Blood-Pump of Shadowiness: Modernism in Heart of Darkness

As Modernism tends to deal with the discourse a character feels when disconnected from the normalcy of their life, it is important to note that the driving factor in the plot of disconnection is the effects that it has on the protagonist(s). In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz’s sequestration from most of civilization–with the exception of a questionable Russian–leads him to dabbling in the the practices of the people whom he deems savage and barbaric. However, as the story progresses parallel to the discoveries of Kurtz’s thoughts and situation, one sees how his gradual decay as a product of solitude moves the novella forward. It goes from him being an ideal European employee, to not being heard from in a while, to considering how to deify himself, to being genocidal, to being ’savage,’ to being sick, insane, then dead. The advancement of adventure in Modernism is dependent on the devolution of self as a product of removal from what is once held as dear and good.

Confused Cockroach: Empathizing in Modernism

As addressed in class discussion and presentation, one potential goal in modernist writing is for the reader to feel as disjointed and disconnected as the subject. In Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, this does not mean that the reader is meant to feel like they’ve turned into a giant insect (with pains, new tastes, & lost pleasures), but that they feel as dejected and out-of-place as a man who has. In reading this material, one can be reminded of Brian’s presentation in how it provided background information on Kafka’s insistence on no particular insect being shown on the cover, in that doing so would cause the reader to maintain a concrete idea of what the bug-man looked like, thereby making him too specific with which to empathize. That being said, if modernist fiction seeks to put the reader in the shoes of the subject, an author cannot add too many specific details about the author, lest they become to other-ized and unapproachable. The “I” of the character must echo the “I” of any reader, and the objectification, or ‘me-ing,’ of the subject must be familiar enough so that the reader can perceive themselves as being ‘me’d’ to the same extent. The disconnect between Gregor and his family is seen by the reader when the family sees Gregor, as his sister can have some sort of emotional attachment to him as long as he remains under the sofa and out of sight. The same can be said of the reader. As long as the other remains just vague enough for readers to see themselves, it is plausible–and for that matter, probable–for the reader to show empathy.

Prufrock: The almost feminist.

Prufrock’s depictions of women and things deemed ‘feminine,’ though potentially limiting, are not to be thought as objectifying women, but that each part of them is captivating. Prufrock claims that he has encountered before—more, that he has “known” (49)—all of the women that he might experience should he draw near, but does not call them women straight out. He only calls them by certain key features, such as perfumed dresses, bracelet arms, and fixed eyes. One is quick to think that he is reducing women to their most bare, surface-level components, like an urbanite thug drooling over a woman’s rear-end, but each of them brings him to an enervated pause. The eyes are not just pretty spheres, but fix one “in a formulated phrase,” like an insect on a pin; the wafting smell of perfume causes him digression as opposed to sole arousal; and the arms cause him to ask, “How should I begin?” (55-69).

Still, their effect on him is passive in nature—a customarily feminine quality—in that they do to him only what he allows them to do; their influence is based on his perception of them, not their interaction with him. The women are beautiful and grand, but for all that he might gain by interacting with them, he could also lose in a heartbeat: “Do I dare / Disturb the universe? / In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse” (45-47). Though Prufrock defines women by  their feminine components, it is done less with misogyny and more-so with romance.

Nora or A Doll’s House?: The significance in title.

There has been debate as to whether or not Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” is in reference to the protagonist of the play, Nora, the characters as a whole in relation to their society, or both. However, as a prime example of how cross-cultural interpretation either enlightens or modifies meaning, a letter to an Italian production company shows how Ibsen discovered that His play, “Nora,” had changed to “A Doll’s House” instead. However, in his letter, Ibsen did not argue that this was a gross misunderstanding of the play, as he wrote to argue how the play’s ending was being altered. If Ibsen was at all in the clarifying mood, it stands to reason that he would have addressed that more negatively if it weren’t to be the case. Granted, this is an intentional fallacy to assume that the play is just about Nora being a plaything because her name is more prominently portrayed as a doll, it does show how comparing how two different takes on the same work can reveal a central message that shines in any decent reproduction, as long as it doesn’t stray too far from the original work. Though this altercation does not state if all of the characters are under the umbrella of being dolls, it does confirm that the mental perceptions of the play–both by audiences and authors–at least mean for Nora to be at least one doll, if no one else.

“Well, I ‘m goin’ do some’in’ wid dat fiddle, va!” Vernacular in Chopin

You mus’ n’ do dat, Fifine,” expostulated her father. “Dat fiddle been ol’er ‘an you an’ me t’ree time’ put togedder. You done yaird me tell often ‘nough ’bout dat Italien w’at give it to me w’en he die, ‘long yonder befo’ de war. An’ he say, ‘Cléophas, dat fiddle – dat one part my life – w’at goin’ live w’en I be dead - Dieu merci ! ‘ You talkin’ too fas’, Fifine.

The witty banter between Fifine and her father in Chopin’s short story, A Very Fine Fiddle, excellently illustrates the usage of writing in the vernacular, a staple of Realism, which is the art of writing in a way that people actually speak, not how the rules of their language tell them they ought to speak. Diderot did not seek to do this in his Supplement, choosing to voice Orou’s diction in a manner that all could relate to, whereas Chopin sought to portray her characters in a voice similar enough to understand, but different enough to recognize them as a form of ‘other.’ One can almost hear how the characters would would have sounded not just in sentence structure, but also phonetic pronunciation.

Granted, it can be difficult at times for the reader to keep track of what is being said midst all of the punctuation liberties and off-spellings, the point is not to present them as personas comfortably, but realistically—and ironically so! In making the characters just difficult enough (but not too difficult) to understand by attempting to make them seem as authentic as possible, Chopin compels the reader to subconsciously think of them as real because of her attempted realism; in adding details to something that’s not actually there–by giving an accent to something that cannot actually speak–Chopin, and others who use the same tactic, trick readers into believing that fables are facts.

Knowing What’s Real: Weinstein on Realism

Put otherwise, realism situates its protagonist in a compelling here and now. Composed so as to be knowable though not yet known, the subject is cleanly figured against a ground of familiar space and time, pregnant with the future. He is birthed as one who will in time rebirth himself, by way of an achieved self-knowing–one who, creator-like, will negotiate (in the form of recognition) all that he has passed through.

Weinstein’s analysis of “The Anatomy of Realism” presents realism, as opposed to representation, as something closer to truth and, therefore, of a somewhat higher caliber than the latter. The two examples that protrude most prevalently are Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The former is critiqued as being sub-par because of how in trying to be like every man, the protagonist (Everyman) ends up being like every Christian man, whereas Crusoe is more akin to each person by being more specific to an actual character, and therefore more relatable. However, as Weinstein briefly addresses, it is still fully a matter of perspective on the part of the reader, therefore it stands to reason that the protagonist of both stories can have equal accessibility. Furthermore, Weinstien, though he praises realism, in some ways, for its objectivity, he contradicts its objectivity by revealing how it is objective on what it thinks its objects actually are. That is, it reveals subjective properties in objectifying objects. That being said, this chapter tends towards a praise of the objectivity of realism, but is subjective in its address thereof, leading to a contradiction of that same quality.

“Unfortunate Men”: Moral Bias in Diderot & d’Alembert’s Encyclopedia.

Slave trade is the purchase of Negroes made by Europeans on the coasts of Africa, who then employ these unfortunate men as slaves in their colonies. This purchase of Negroes to reduce them into slavery is a negotiation that violates all religion, morals, natural law, and human rights.

The above quote is a chief example of how–among other topics–Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedia states biased perspectives on issues, philosophies, and events, as opposed to objectively defining the topic(s) at hand. The Slave Trade, which was not abolished in France until 1794, was already deemed by this entry’s author, Louis de Jaucourt, as a violation of morals and “human rights,” as opposed to simply defining it as an ongoing practice of taking African natives from their homeland to places  elsewhere in hopes of using them for labor, regardless of whether or not it was by their own volition.

The entry seeks to argue to the reader that the Trade ought to be abolished and that mankind will be more prosperous for it in the end, though the initial ramifications for ending it would be deserved, saying of the English economy, “[their] commerce would temporarily suffer: I wish for this.” So, not only does de Jaucourt seek to sway readers toward abolition, but away from the status quo of colonization as well.

To say the least, this wealth of knowledge is more of a blog than a database; a soapbox more than a an unbiased collective, as it aspires to sway its subscribers to a specific worldviews as opposed to simply showing them the different worldviews from which they can pick. Though it does give readers a taste of what each topic consists of, they cannot take Encyclopedia’s definitions as one-hundred percent true as long as they are tainted by it’s numerous author’s even more numerous ideologies and personal dogmas.

Crusoe as reminiscent of American captivity narratives.

In reading Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, one might notice its similarities to the non-fictional captivity narratives of colonial America, in spite of being a work of fiction from England. One particular work that comes to mind is that of the infamous autobiography of Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, wherein Rowlandson constantly speaks of how her preservation can only be explained–in her mind–by the intervention and Divine Providence of God in her life, even going so far as to apply this to her captors, saying, “And here I cannot but take notice of the strange providence of God in preserving the heathen.” Similarly, the title character in Robinson Crusoe repeatedly contributes his success and sustenance on the island to The Almighty, even once, after finding some barley on the island, saying, “I ought to have been as thankful for so strange and unforeseen a providence as if it had been miraculous…”

This speaks to the protestant notions of the idea of God in the lives of the pious, as not some sort of deistic observer that never meddles in the affairs of mere mortals, but as an intentional Deity, interested and invested in the journey of the individual soul, though at times, quite confusing and perplexing.  Furthermore, this also goes to show how this idea was not simply a colonial American notion, but an English one as well, as the two societies were intertwined so intricately in theology, philosophy, and literature.