Jul 16, 2010

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

I'm not sure I could point to any passage of literature that has personally affected me more than this one. My brother introduced it to me when we were both discovering John Donne, who now is my favorite poet. I understand that this passage is almost a cliche, it's so quotable; that any one who knows of Donne knows it, and Hemingway only added to its significance. I also realize that it's almost a truism, a proverb that can ring meaningless in its universality. But for me, it changed my life.

No one has ever called me compassionate. I'm not sure anyone ever will. And once, I wasn't. I remember feeling distaste, when, as a child, I would consider people in unfortunate circumstances. Some things just weren't nice, thought the pupil of etiquette books and manners novels.

One day, when someone I knew faintly died, I felt torn about my emotions. I had met him once, some of my family knew him, and I knew a good deal about him. I wondered, was it dishonest to grieve? And I wondered, did I even feel grief? Was I trying to monopolize fame based on this tenuous tie? It was then that this quote came to me. And I grieved.

Since that time, I have never heard about the death of another person without thinking of that quote. It's not a selfish reminder; the focus isn't on the diminishing of yourself. It's a plea to recognize the importance of all mankind. It reminds me to care because my heart is too cold to do so naturally.

Somewhere along the line, I began to apply this quote to other areas of my life. Now it was not just a statement about mortality, it became the dictum to monitor injustice. What does it say about me if I live in world where people hurt one another? When humanity is ignored at the color of one's skin? When women can be raped, and no one cares? Where people can insult and assault others physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? Where people live without the ability to sustain their physical needs? Where we tsk, tsk, at the evil, and forget the humans? How can I relax with gratefulness that this has never happened to me?

I am involved in mankind. I'm part of mankind.

I care.

Jun 14, 2010


The Best Family In the World

I love this picture so much.

Jun 12, 2010


The Most Generic Review Ever

I think most of the spelling errors and syntactical struggles in this paragraph can be explained away by the fact that a kid wrote this, but the absolute lack of specifics?

"This novel was not the best I have read. Sure, it was OK, but I have read books that are much better. It had parts that I liked to read, but the majority of the book was slow and hard to understand. It might have been better, had the author made less filer and more storyline. I got the key portions of the plot, but it was hard to understand most of the minor characters in the story. The main parts I understood I liked, but during the important parts I usually did not understand what was happening. There are books that are much better, so go and read something else. For the average reader, this is a very hard to understand book that I would not recommend. Basicly, this book had some parts that were good that I enjoyed, but most of the time it was hard to understand. Now, this is my view of the novel, and other people might have a different opinion than I, so if you have read other reviews and choose to read this novel, hey, I'm not stopping you. This review was my thought of the book. In all, this is not a very good novel to me."

I actually am kind of impressed.

(This brought to you by the customer review section for The Witch of Blackbird Pond on Amazon. Wouldn't have read the above paragraph and automatically thought WofBP? Me either.)

Jun 2, 2010


Unusually Truly Good, vol 2

Anyone could tell you Anne Elliot is a good person. She always does the right thing. She behaves with regard to consequences, she cares about others, and she abides by that ultimate Jane Austen moral - prudence. When Anne is advised to break off an unsound attachment with the unknown Wentworth, she immediately does so, regardless of the pain it causes her. She never resents her authorities for dictating her life, even though she could blame her singleness, her disappearing attractiveness, and her lack of spirit upon them.
Most literary critics point out that Anne is the good character, and that Wentworth is the character that must undergo Austen's improvement arc. I wholeheartedly agreed with this interpretation up until my most recent reading of the novel. I still agree somewhat, but this interpretation does not completely answer.
We must admit that Anne's behavior does not change; she behaves with wisdom throughout the story. But Anne herself is not the same from beginning to end. How does she change from the insipid middle child, visible but forgettable, to a fully-developed woman, the force and strength of all who know her? I think this change is best explained by Anne's discovery of virtue. All of a sudden (prompted by circumstances; read the book), Anne stops thinking she did the right thing and starts believing it. Rather than allow herself to be passively good, Anne becomes a good person by fervently and passionately, even, deciding to be good. It is this conviction that allows others to rely upon Anne. It is this conviction that frees Anne from the bonds of her somewhat onerous social constructs. The courage to trust what she believes in, even when it hurts her, makes Anne one of the best good persons.

Apr 2, 2010


Unusually Truly Good, vol 1

Sometime in my life I stopped immersing myself in the stories I read and began to evaluate the characters. I learned in Adolescent Literature that moving beyond the immersion stage (stage 1) to moral analyzing (stage 2-3) is growth, so I guess you could say this is when I started to grow. I began to realize that the people I knew who lived by a codified moral system floundered when confronted with issues that weren't covered in their lists. For a while, maybe, it made me doubt the integrity of those systems, but then I realized the problem wasn't the systems. The problem was the attitude that fulfilling a checklist meant you were good.
Oddly enough, I didn't learn that rather cliched piece of wisdom from my parents, or my pastor, or my friends. I learned it from a couple of characters. These people finally gave some meaning, for me, at least, to the word "good."

Joseph (of Biblical fame; Mary and Joseph)
Joseph sticks out to me especially when I recall Claudio from Much Ado About Nothing. Joseph's situation actually appears worse than Claudio's. Joseph has tangible evidence of Mary's infidelity (she's actually pregnant), while Claudio has only overheard sexual moanings based on the reports of a man with a bad track record before and during the play's history. While Joseph is entering into what appears to be an arranged marriage, Claudio professes love of the most romantic kind. (The play, of course, establishes that his idealistic "love" is inappropriately pragmatic, selfish, and shallow, but that is another post). His love at least should have inspired some compassion, or even respect, but he cannot summon either. Joseph, in the midst of a seemingly far more patriarchal culture, had lawful justification to have his future wife scorned, and possibly stoned. Now, you could argue that Joseph was a pushover, unwilling to make a scene, but none of the accounts provide evidence to support that claim. The Bible, however, does provide the catalyst for Joseph's behavior in one crucial statement. "But Joseph, being a just man, was determined to put her away privily." Guess what? Joseph was a good man. That's it. His desire to do right superseded any stirrings of ego, love, hate, or revenge. He didn't have anything to prove.
I never realized how unusual Joseph's character was until several things happened.
1) For several months, I was daily in the company of a girl on the brink of engagement. Her boyfriend was away, but they spoke on the phone, wrote letters, and sent emails. She was excited about their future. And then one day he broke up with her. Genuine grief I was prepared for. Endless insults were another story. Two days before she had been praising this guy; now she was calling all her pre-boyfriend friends to dish about his faults. Before, he was the best boyfriend a girl could ask for. After, he was a rude, self-absorbed jerk and they were better off apart. I'm summarizing and moderating, but you've been there. You know what it's like.
2) Another friend had broken up with his girlfriend. His situation was somewhat different than the girl above; his breakup was as mutual as breakups ever can be, but he missed her. A lot. Up until the day he found someone new. All of a sudden, the previous girlfriend was evil. Not just to alleviate the insecurities of his new girlfriend, because all of us, his friends and family, heard about the 1st girl's unsuitability.
Big deal, you say, everyone drags down their exes to help save face, or move on, or just because they can now say what they've been holding in for months.


Joseph didn't.

Jan 13, 2010


Criticisms from Bellow

I began reading Herzog a couple days ago. I got about 4 pages when something akin to my conscience kicked in.

Herzog isn't exactly happy, and so he conducts a little self-examination:

"He admitted that he had been a bad husband-twice. . . To his son and his daughter he was a loving but bad father. To his own parents he had been an ungrateful child. To his country, an indifferent citizen. To his brothers and his sister, affectionate but remote. With his friends, an egoist. With love, lazy. With brightness, dull. With power, passive. With his own soul, evasive."

I think I was scared the first time I read it. I honestly felt as if Bellow were describing me. So I read it about four more times, feeling guiltier with every rereading. And then I read the next sentence.

"Satisfied with his own severity, positively enjoying the hardness and factual rigor of his judgment, he lay on his sofa, his arms rising behind him, his legs extended without aim."

Don't think that it made me feel any better. I only felt worse. The first quote compelled me, but the second quote hammered me. Bellow directed his mocking tone toward Herzog, but he mocked me too. I'm fabulous at self-loathing examinations. No one can describe my faults in greater detail or with more accuracy than myself. And the point of them, Bellow correctly implies, has nothing to do with innate honesty. It just gives me the opportunity to "positively [enjoy] the hardness and factual rigor" of my examination.

So now I'm caught in this meta-spiral of guilt. I feel guilty because the first quote describes me, then I feel guilty because I think the second quote describes me as well, which means that I should probably stop my selfish self-loathing examinations, but when I stop them then I become a jerk who needs the self-loathing examinations. Etc.

(It's not any prettier or more sensible where I sit.)

And even after all that, I'm still convicted by the last phrase, "With his own soul, evasive." He could not have chosen a more perfect word than evasive.

Dec 31, 2009


A Nerd's New Year's Eve

I'm sitting in front of a fire with various members of my family, eating ice cream and watching Live from the Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic.

I love it.

Nov 9, 2009



So I have no time for a post right now, but I just want to say, Antigone is fabulous. Why do I never know these things? You would think I would be prepared for a famous Greek play that has survived through so many years and philosophical systems, but I honestly was staggered by what I found.
It is SO good.

Oct 6, 2009


Because I'm trying not to write a paper . . .

Choosing The Garden Party for my paper seemed like a good idea. The story inspired some controversy over its last line, I'm always interested in the behavior of people, and class consciousness stirs up my sense of justice.
Except I can't think of an argumentative thesis that could possibly argue something that isn't blatantly obvious about this story.
1. Duh, it's a criticism of class separation/consciousness, etc. (see the house up and the house down and the road that divides)
2. Duh, it's a coming of age story
- This is the worst because coming-of-age is a universally designated description. And it's vague.
3. Duh, death destroys any kind of distinction between people groups.
4. Duh, Laura is naive and needs to open her eyes to the world
What am I supposed to say that the story doesn't already say? When I look back and remember what really interested me about this story, I only remember the anger I felt when I read the last bit of the story. Laura has looked at the dead man, she is overcome with emotion and flees after apologizing for her trivial hat. Okay, so far, so good. She has made the first step toward honesty. And then she sees her idiotic brother, and in her effervescent sorrow she sobs, "Isn't life marvelous." I wanted to hit her then. I could just see her, so overcome with the Grandeur and Significance of her experience that she completely misses the point.
Of course, this is not a evidentially-supported feeling. The author mentions that The Garden Party reflects her own beginnings into world-consciousness, essayists remind us that Laura's experience with the dead man shatters her trust in her mother's world and begins her life as an aware being. But I don't see it that way. I see her fully embracing her former lifestyle, but this time it's worse. This time she knows about death and darkness, so she will live comfortably with her sunflower hats and endless roses, because she has already had her soul-opening experience.
She has paid her dues to sorrow, so she will never realize that one sad experience does not an enlightened person make.

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