Talking to Texts

Intro

One of the most profound and striking books on my mid-year reading list was Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. It was perhaps this text which not only prepared me for this semester’s weekly task, but inspired a desire to commence an ongoing dialogue – or should I say relationship – with the texts I read. Gone are the days of one-sided conversations – here’s to an age of carnal love: of not gently caressing a book’s pages, but fervidly blotting every inch of white with my own ink; of not simply wondering about what I do not understand, but demanding and scavenging for answers; of not momentarily envisioning its scenes, but finding them in all I see. Here on this blog I will expose the joys and passions, the pains and frustrations, and every emotion and feeling which these texts evoke from me – vulnerably, honestly.

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To Kill A Mockingbird

Drama Blogs (NY), The Literature and Drama of New York

“Write a blog post that compares the portrayal of one character from the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird with the way the character is presented in the stage version. Do you think the director and actors have altered the character in any significant way and if so, does it change the way we understand the narrative or specific theme from the text?”

I wanted to focus on what to me was the most changed character – Atticus – but felt like I couldn’t do that without highlighting the differences of Calpurnia’s character as well. The alteration of both these characters goes hand-in-hand in order to change the way the narrative is communicated to modern audiences; no longer is Atticus the White Saviour – the hero of the story – but he is now simply a man trying to do what’s right in a world gone wrong, and making mistakes along the way.

Unlike in the play, the film version of Atticus is portrayed as a perfect man; although he is still unpopular amongst his fellow townspeople, the characteristics which they dislike in him only seem to highlight the flaws in the other characters, as opposed to cast Atticus in a bad light. An example of this is his placid, unaggressive nature – his ability to maintain his cool in any situation, including confrontation. In the stage version, however, we see a more hot-headed Atticus who brings out his fists when confronted by Bob Ewell. On top of that, we see an Atticus who is constantly defied by the people he appears to be defending. The tension between Atticus and Cal through the entirety of Tom Robinson’s trial – her “passive aggression” towards him – highlights her dissatisfaction of not only his behaviours, but the attitudes which fuel them. However, Calpurnia does not behave simply out of spite, but refines Atticus’ character throughout the narrative. Simultaneously, she shows the audience the true struggle of African Americans from their perspectives; she gives her people a voice and an active role in their story, as opposed to their passive presence which is overshadowed by Atticus’ righteousness in the film version.

(image: https://goo.gl/images/1kdA7k)

True West

Drama Blogs (NY), The Literature and Drama of New York

“Write a blog post that identifies which theme(s) you believe are central to the play. In your post you must consider whether you believe the performance has communicated this theme (or themes) affectively through their use of theatrical semiotics. In other words, how has the director and actors ensured (through the elements of drama such as symbols, gestures, set, lights and so forth) that they have translated the play accurately from page to stage.”

On Tuesday we watched James McDonald’s production of True West on Broadway. I had such mixed feelings about the production. On the one hand, I thought the acting and the technical aspects of the production were outstanding. The way the set was crafted was incredibly clever, with the actors utilising the space in a way which mirrored and hammered in the meaning of their dialogue and the themes they presented. In my opinion, the major themes explored were the role of power within family structures, and how the family unit represents humanity as a whole, as well as how reality and fiction are constructed by individuals, as well as society as a whole.

From the first second of the play there is a clear divide between the brothers. Before they even open their mouths the audience are able to sense the tension, with the set being distinctly halved; Lee remains in the homely, domesticated side of the kitchen, whilst Austin types away in the lush outdoor-like half of the sitting room. The brothers remain in separate halves of the house in the first two scenes of act one and whilst there is clearly discomfort and tension, there is no outrageous collision – this only occurs when they are in the same section of the house beginning in scene three. It is here that the power-play between the characters is most tangible, almost as though they’re passing a ball back and forth. This power-play is explained as the parallels between Lee’s story and the brothers themselves unfold: both men are afraid, not knowing where they’re going/where the other is taking them. The use of space mirrors the meaning of the brothers’ dialogue, as there is a visual contrast between scenes.(Image: https://goo.gl/images/KQCdQB)

Waitress

Drama Blogs (NY), The Literature and Drama of New York

“Choose a theme that has some resonance with American life or culture and comment on the way this is explored in the musical version of Waitress. For example, you might write a blog post that critiques the musical in terms of its exploration of American middle-class apathy OR its critique of American capitalism. You are encouraged to explore a theme that has not been discussed in class.”

Theme: feminism

It was really special that we got to see Waitress on Broadway only a few days and streets away from the Women’s March which I witnessed. I have to admit that whilst I was aware of gender inequality and the impact it had on so many people, I never fully understood its effect on a personal level. But it was in that darkened theatre, hearing the sniffles of so many women around me and seeing so many struggling to hold back there sobs during “She Used to be Mine” that I finally understood why there was so much outrage.

 

Whilst the musical version of Waitress was emotive, technically clever and highly comedic, I think its exploration gender roles and inequality was quite flawed, especially in comparison to the film. Neither version adhered to the conventions of Realism – especially the musical – but the film version still conveyed the severity of the issue of gender inequality, whereas it was not so strongly communicated in the musical. I believe this has more to do with directorial decisions as opposed to the medium of the musical, however. The one scene that constantly comes to mind is the birth of Jenna’s daughter. In the film, Earl has to be dragged away kicking and screaming when Jenna dismisses him from her life. This displays his violent, aggressive nature, highlighting that it is an issue many women face: being unable to escape abusive relationships because of how their partner would react. In the musical, however, Earl walks away with no resistance. Whilst the intention of this may be to empower women, or perhaps even make a social comment on how far they have progressed in terms of self-defence, it is highly disillusioning.

(Image: https://goo.gl/images/TeCW1a)

The Great Gatsby

Literature Blogs (NY), The Literature and Drama of New York

“Choose a painting that you have explored at the MET (or The Moma or The Whitney) and discuss how it has amplified your understanding of the literary themes and forms that we have been exploring in the early 20th Century Literature of New York.”

 

Thomas Benton’s mural titled “America Today” was detrimental in reminding me about the realities of the roaring 20s and the early 30s. After observing it at the MET, The Great Gatsby only seemed to offers a slice of a preview into this time period – it is easy to associate this era with jazz music and dance parties, wealthy bachelors and well-dressed flappers. But we forget that this was almost a second Industrial Era, with the working-class contributing to the current state of the then-modern society. The 10-panelled artwork captures the multilayered essence of the American Dream, and the various facets and elements which gave birth to it. The largest panel – “Instruments of Power” – was to me the most striking section. Benton used painting techniques to express how these various vehicles are, in a sense, larger than life; the way he presents them not only makes us realise how “powerful” these vehicles are, but it also allows viewers to realise the wealth of knowledge and power humans use to create these “instruments”. It is this power which fuels the unending journey towards the American Dream.

 

I found that the entire room was one big paradox. One panel seemed to be a collage of the daily comings and goings of the middle and upper class; well-dressed people riding the subway, attending dance parties and boxing matches. This greatly contrasted against the dark, sweat-slicked figures slaving away in the other paintings, as well as the hands outstretched, begging for food and money in another panel. It made me realise that more often than not, the success of the rich is built upon the labour of the poor.

 

And whilst this was not within any of the museum and galleries we visited, I would argue that the interior decoration of the Plaza Hotel was a work of art in itself; the extravagance of the place, the high-ceilinged rooms was gargantuan chandeliers suspended above truly allowed me to see what kind of people Tom, Daisy, Gatsby and Jordan were. It gave me an idea of what kind of money they came from, and where they classified themselves in social ranks.

 

image: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/499559

Mannahatta

Literature Blogs (NY), The Literature and Drama of New York

“Washington Square / Poetry blog: Choose one of the stanzas from Walt Whitman’s poems (in LEO) and discuss how it has amplified or enhanced your understanding of a particular place or event seen in today’s travels through New York. Try to imitate the style of your poem by writing one stanza which describes the place or event that you have chosen to focus on.”

I struggle to choose only a single stanza of this poem; its entirety has completely shifted my perspective of this city, allowed me to see it afresh and in ways I would not have ever thought of.

 

During our tour of Brooklyn, we came to a hilly sort of footpath which gave us a view of the wharf, the river, and the city. I couldn’t help but think of Whitman’s description of the water – “the countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model’d” (LEO texts). Looking down at the wharf, I saw no “brown-faced sailors”, no ship merchants milling ’round the wharf, no boats docked at the waters’ edge. Instead, there was a walking track where the fit and keen braved the bitter cold, and young tall men played in the undercover basketball courts. Ball with a view, I thought. A place I’d like to hang out after class. This was perhaps what I felt changed the most – Mannahatta was no longer a harbour city.

 

What I realised had not changed was the inhabitants: “immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week”. I remember touching down in JFK airport, and being surprised that the first few voices I heard did not have American accents but Mexican, Indian, Chinese – this should have been expected, considering New York is known as the cultural capital of the world, and a refuge for outsiders since Whitman’s days, perhaps even before then.

 

Another somewhat unchanged element was the city:

“vehicles, Broadway, the women, the shops and shows,

A million people—manners free and superb—open voices—

hospitality—the most courageous and friendly young men,

City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts!

City nested in bays! my city!”

 

By the end of the trip, I almost wanted to call New York my city, too. I am certain it was not simply the novelty of my experience which made me fall in love, but there was something about the city – a feeling of aliveness, a sense of thriving – which captured my heart. The “vehicles”, yellow taxis which weaved through the madness of the grid; “Broadway”, “shows” which made you understand why anyone who wanted to be someone in the arts industry dreamt of making it big here; the “million people… hospitality”, the kindness of strangers and fast-food staff shouting me a large meal… It was all so overwhelmingly, beautifully bustling, and I loved every minute that I was a part of it.

 

(Note: whilst this is written in prose instead of verse, I tried to imitate Whitman’s flowing, accumulative style of writing. I hope this was noticeable.)

 

Catcher in the Rye

Literature Blogs (NY), The Literature and Drama of New York

“Write a paragraph in the style of J.D. Salinger – and using Salinger’s style of narrator – describe a location in New York that gave you a new understanding of the novel. Briefly say what this new understanding is.”

It was only on the last day of our trip that I got a chance to walk through Central Park. It was kinda depressing that I was too lazy to go myself earlier on, but it had been real cold out and the last thing on my mind on those down days was to voluntarily expose myself to the elements. So I went with the rest of my class on the Friday before we left. It was real nice but kinda dull all at once. I like being out in nature, didn’t get to do that ever since we landed in the city. Back at home, I was at the beach almost every day, going for swims and walks in the national parks and all. But walking through Central Park was different. The raggedy landscape was phoney: our tour guide said that it was all man-made and meticulously designed to represent the real thing. That was depressing. Why ruin something natural to recreate?

 

It was good to be out there with my friends. When the general fatigue started kicking in at the start of the walk and we were too bored and tired to pay attention to the tour guide, my pal Adam and I started making up our own facts about the statues and our surroundings and all.

“That statue of the dog right there is called a memorial to the Ultimate Good Boi, and every year all the dogs of the world undertake their pilgrimage to pay their respects and take his blessing. See, there’s one right there.”

“On this walkway Michael Schumer broke the record for the World’s Longest and Fastest Moonwalk, completing it in 5.36 seconds.”

 

It was good fun for a while and all, but then the exhaustion kicked in even more and I couldn’t be arsed being stupid and creative, and I just wanted to appreciate being surrounded by trees and walking on soil for the first time during the whole trip. But at least when I stopped and the tour guide started talking, I was more entertained than when he talked at the start of the walk: all his facts seemed so insignificant and phoney since we started making up our own. They all sounded the same.

 

I guess by the end of the walk I finally got Holden – really got him. I got why he found the city so depressing, and why everything seemed phoney and all. It’s funny just how much our reality is fantasied, romanticised, made to seem something it isn’t…

 

But man, it’s damn good believing in an illusion.

ENGL329 Summative Entry

Summative Entry (VIS), Visionary Imagination

Visionary Imagination, as expressed in the work of William Blake, Patrick White and Brett Whiteley has given me a new way of seeing and understanding the world.

ENGL329 has been one of the most challenging units I have ever participated in, yet it has simultaneously been one of the most eye-opening. It not only allowed me to study the works (and world) of William Blake in much depth, but it also introduced me to other “literary prophets” including Whiteley and White.

Beginning the unit with Allen Ginsberg, we were shown a most extreme display of the impact of Blake’s visionary imagination on other like-minded visionaries. Ginsberg’s essay describing his vision of Blake and the consequent revelations he had about life – about the beauty in the mundane, about the power of the spirit – is one such example of how Visionary Imagination can provide a new way of perceiving and understanding the world.

We then began analysing and dissecting the works of Blake independent of other authors and artists. Our study of Blake’s illuminated works was especially eye-opening; when analysing the poems and composite artworks side-by-side, deeper meanings within the writing were uncovered. One such example was the Nurse’s Song from “Songs of Innocence and Experience”. Reading the poems as a pair and then analysing the accompanying artworks helped me be more aware of the differences between a child’s and adult’s mentality, as well as my own view of life. I began questioning whether my outlook was too optimistic and trusting when I ought to be more cautious and weary of the world.

Our trip to see Brett Whiteley’s artwork “Alchemy” again presented me with another way of looking at the world. Whiteley’s use of colour – half the work gold-hued, the other half blue – was especially striking. It seemed to me that there was a clear distinction between his idea of the spiritual, inner world (gold), which exists beyond the barriers of time and place, and the physical, where science and matter is god. Ultimately, the central panel – “IT” – encapsulates one’s existence: that central thing between life and death. My personal experience of / reaction to “Alchemy” was a sense of the sublime; the artwork made me all too aware of my insignificance in the great scheme of things. Inversely, the incorporation of Blake’s grain of sand helped me remember that there is an extraordinariness in the ordinary.

 

 

ENGL202 SUMMATIVE ENTRY

20th Century Literature, Summative Entry (20th)

“Twentieth Century Literature has expanded my understanding of what human beings consider to be really important in our experience on earth”

 

The above statement could not be more true for me. This semester ENGL202 has expanded my understanding of so much more than just 20th-century literature – it has opened my eyes to all the different ways of human experience, especially what is important to different individuals, cultures, and times.

 

The first writer which really struck me was Gerard Manly Hopkins. I would say that Hopkins’ writing not only encapsulated what was important to him in his experience on Earth but beyond as well. His appreciation and admiration for the natural world were strongly influenced by and rooted in his faith, as he not only perceived that world as God’s creation, but managed to find metaphors and characteristics of God embedded throughout nature’s design. He also clearly believed in the importance of creativity and literature, experimenting with the form of the poem and creating his own style for which he is so widely known.

 

After Hopkins, we studied the war poets and novelists. Previously, I had often overlooked the war/history genre – found it rather dull – but studying these works gave me a newfound appreciation for my own life which I had so taken for granted. It was Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” in particular which opened up my understanding of what is truly important in life, told by those who had lost so much of it. I learnt that it was important to be appreciative of the simple things, and of those who love you, and of being sufficient – if not rich – in wealth, status. Because ultimately, in the face of death, you with not wish for material things – no, you will seek human connection.

 

The works of the Modernists helped me realise the extent of their influence on the writing of many novelists and poets today, including my own. These writers, including Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, and T.S. Eliot, championed the importance of the subconscious, and how it filters into our own perception of the world and our surroundings. The texts we studied, including “The Mark on the Wall”, helped highlight how the events of one’s inner life are equally – if not more – impactful and prevalent than the events which happen in the external physical world. Ultimately, they express the importance of emotion, of being in touch with one’s thoughts and feelings.

 

Finally, the poems of Marlene Nourbese Philip highlighted the importance of one’s own culture – particularly the role of language – in shaping humanity. Much like George Orwell, Philip highlights the power of language and how it can be used to unify and segregate, make peace and make war, create a sense of belonging and alienation. Being exposed to these works, particularly “Discourse on the Logic of Language”, allowed me to re-evaluate my own relationship with my mother and father tongue, and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of both, and their role in my daily life.

20th Century Literature – Peer Review 2

20th Century Literature, Peer Reviews (20th)

Hey Mikaela,
There’s not a single thing I don’t adore about this post! The first thing I love so much is its relatability to this current time… You’ve somehow managed to make your own flow of mind and thoughts something which I’m sure everyone living in this day and age – or at least in the West – can agree with, or identify with. I was especially floored by your statement: “My body likes to remind me of time passing when my mind doesn’t keep track”. I feel like that was the turning point of this piece, where there is a clear distinction between when you are focusing on the physical, and when you begin to turn inward. I’m so glad I got to read this piece. Don’t stop writing!

 

Comment posted on: https://mikaelaswords.home.blog/2018/09/09/the-flow-of-my-mind/

The Visionary Imagination: Blog 2 (Creative)

Creative Blogs (VIS), Visionary Imagination

“In your own words, using your own imagination, continue a story that begins: “Once I saw a Devil in a flame”….”

 

Once I saw a devil in a flame,

her eyes bright with enthrallment,

engulfed in a scarlet passion, a frisson

of desire which she thought could sustain her but…

that was all it was:

a shudder, a passing sensation which fizzled out with

him.

 

The devil in the flame

could not sustain

the sensation alone. No,

and once it wore off it was pain

that charred her,

pain which swallowed her whole.

 

Then out of the ashes:

a tender bird,

white and light as a cloud.

She took the sky on outstretched wings

and the zephyr blew her past to dust.