Monday, November 29, 2004

Influence of "Big Ern"

this semester i read Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." i had already read some of his short stories but this was the first of his longer works that i read. in short this book is brilliant. it is one of those books that engages you while you read it to the point of not being able to focus on anything else. i finished this book ahead of the reading schedule, not because i am a diligent student, but because i could not stop reading it.
The basic plot of "The Sun Also Rises" is about WWI journalist / ex patriots "working" in Europe as correspondants for American publications. I say working with a good deal of irony because (the way Hemingway describes it) the characters seem to spend their days lounging in the sun, chasing beautiful spanish women, and drinking heavily. It seems like their goal in life is to be as comfortable as possible, and little else. They accomplish this by traveling around France and Spain on permanent vacation pursuing casual hobbies such as going to bullfights and fly fishing. Oh, wait, did i mention they like to drink, too?
i cannot say what is my one favorite aspect of this book because i have so many. Each of the characters are profoundly complex from a social and emotional perspective throughout the entire novel. the main characters all have uniquely distinct personal qualities, but they also have serious vulnerablilities the other characters do not necessarily recognize. Finally, they live such a fantastically comfortable lifestyle that at some moments they seem to go in and out of a dream-like stream of consciousness narrative. The most fascinating part about this is that Hemingway fuses his own literary genius into the fragile minds of his characters, marked by emotional stability and impaired by da BOOZE.
i guess i enjoyed "The Sun Also Rises" because i got wrapped up in the lifestyle of the characters. After we discussed this book in class i went out fishing that afternoon with another classmate and a bottle of merlot. Some part of me felt like i was obligated to do this as an english major living in montana. Being in a literary criticism class with a brilliant instructor i was compelled to find some meaning out of the text i had read. After catching a few small fish and a good buzz standing there in the creek i caught something bigger. For a moment i saw into the mind of Ernest Hemingway and experienced something like Jake and Bill did on that river in Spain.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Studying for the Quiz

from the handful of poems i have been assigned to memorize throughout my academic career ive learned a good way to memorize something is to write it out. So with that said, heres Wallace Stevens comin at you:

The Idea of Order at Key West
She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman of the veritable ocean.
The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard.
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.
For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.
If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone. But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.
Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.
Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Island in the Sun

so to give a more detailed answer to a very important question:

if you were stuck on a desert island, what books would you bring ?
so i already mentioned that i would bring the bible, because it would be inspirational to anyone in a troubled situation, such as being stuck on an island. But also the Bible is a fantastic collection of individual stories that are fascinating enough on their own. The Bible consists of creation stories that border the genre of magic realism. it also has complex geneologies about various tribes of ancient people in the middle east, but these have generally been interpreted to be a crude history of the human race. interesting stuff, huh? Thats even before you get to the Gospels, which many organized religions claim tell the story of a higher being ( GOD ) and his experiences on planet Earth. Finally, the book of Revalation talks about some downright scary shit that will happen if people dont live a moral life. Fascinating stuff, just make sure youre sober when you read it or you will be afraid to look toward the sky for a week.
Another book i would probably bring with me would be Crime and Punishment by dostoyevsky. First, this long ass book would take me forever to read, so i would have plenty to keep me busy on my own private island. But lets go deeper than that. this book tells the story of a young college student who questions the validity of state imposed law and struggles with his conscience when he breaks the law. Raskolnikov suffers horrific guilt for his crime to the point of a nervous break down. his health and sanity only return when he comes to grips with his guilt and faces the consequences for what he did. Crime and Punishment is a great story about human suffering, and it reminds the audience that things are never quite as bad as they seem.
i first read this book for my ENGL 123 class back in the day. to make a long story short, i got off to a bad start with the professor that turned into a nasty habit of skipping class. So of course i procrastinated reading this ( what is it, some 500 pages long?) book until two days before the test. There i was at 2 AM sweating bullets because im convinced that im failing the class and doing well on the test is a matter of life and death ( dont worry, i got a B for the class). So all of a sudden i had this epiphany. here i am, a humble college student developing a pretty impressive ulcer, trying to do whatever it takes to correct some bad decisions by getting this book read.
But you ask " What was the book about?" why, it is about a college student going crazy because he screwed up big time and he knows it. he fears what will happen because of what he did, but he knows whatever result is unavoidable. WOW. Right there, without even realizing it, i made a deep personal connection to the character in this book. Literature is some potent stuff.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

About the Canon

The canon is a very important aspect of literary criticism. Some feel that a literary scholar must be familiar with the canon in order to establish authority and cridibility. Others feel that the canon only exists because of stuffy old scholars that claim a text is important simply because someone higher than them on the academic food chain says it is. Does that make sense?


Before i get started, a quick reference to the Harmon and Holman's definition of the canon:


  • a standard of judgement; a criteria. The term is applied to the authorized or accepted list of books belonging in the Christian Bible by virtue of having been declared to be divinely inspired
  • the accepted list of books by any author
  • the formation of the canon has been interpreted as the work of one part of society to make its own labors central and to reduce the work of others to marginal or trivial outside the canon

Some books are a part of the literary canon simply because they are generally consicered sublime pieces of writing. Other books are included in the canon because of the contribution it made to society. For an example of this one need look no further that Charles Darwins Origin of Species. But there are still other books whose presence on the canon remains largely unexplained. A recent discussion from Dr. Linda Karell's class on autobiography concerning the formation of the canon attempts to resolve this question.

Who is responsible for the formation of the canon? it seems that these people work in reading and writing programs at Universities. They inadvertantly suggest what books are important through the texts they select for their classes. This makes sense, because i probably would not be near as familiar with the literary canon were i not an ENGLISH LITERATURE major. Another interesting thing to note is that the post civil rights era in the United States has allowed ethnic minorities to achieve status and recognition in scholastic fields. As this multicultural trend spreads across the country, students and teachers alike are exposed to literature from a very broad cultural spectrum of writers.

now this is not to say that the old white dudes in short pants and powderded wigs were over rated in their literary skills. One of the most intriguing and inspirational things i have ever read was Benjamin Franklin's autobiography. But as one student from Dr. Karell's class pointed out, of the ten different autobiographies we read this semester, only two were written by caucasian writers.

What Do You Think About This?