Sunday, 24 May 2015

Why Simply Reading is Not The Most Important Thing

Being a reader, it’s hard not to come across quotes such as these, and being a critical thinker, it is hard to not be irked by this simplistic view of reading. They seem to promote the idea that readers are superior to others, simply because they read. One quote implicitly implies, that people who take many selfies must be ‘dumb’, and in order to make them ‘smarter’ they should be required to read books, as if all books make you smart and all the selfie taking makes you, or shows that you are dumb.

The other quote goes on to equate reading to learning, laughing and even living. It’s shocking to see how superior an activity, some people consider reading to be, that they see everything else as a way of ‘not-living’, because why else would they say that not reading was equal to not living? This statement is insulting to people who use other mediums of media, such as video games, movies, TV shows, comics, podcasts, etc. in lieu of books, in this age of information and innovation, for both entertainment and learning.

Take my brother for example, who once wrote a beautiful and provocative flash fiction piece of a soldier not being able to shoot the ‘enemy soldier’, but instead helping the ‘enemy’. He’s not a ‘reader’, but doesn’t this show that ‘non-readers’ are capable too? Simply reading by itself isn’t something superior; I have learnt more from Doctor Who, a TV show, than I have from The Old Man and The Sea, by Ernest Hemingway and isn’t that what matters? We should emphasize the fact that we learn not necessarily how we learn.

I am not trying to say that reading is not an amazing phenomena, but that it does not necessarily overpower other ways of 'living'/feeling/learning. And that simply because the medium of a book has been used to convey something, does not necessarily make it better. There are bad books out there and brilliant movies too. Yes the books tend to be better than the movies, but don't forget that in those cases it's the movies being adapted from the books and such adaptations have a lower chance of being better than the originals considering so much of the book is usually left out. The reverse is much more rare: I haven't seen many movies being adapted into books. Therefore there is much less room for comparison. Also different stories tend to demand different mediums, thus bringing in even more subjectivity into the picture. There seems to be no unbiased way to say that books are simply the best medium for anything simply by the virtue of being books. 

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What home means to me

Up till now I’ve called nine separate locations my home and am in the process of turning a 10th place into my home. For a large part of my life, I’ve lived with my parents and my brother. Back then home used to be a place where we existed as a team. But unfortunately it’s no longer fully true for any of us because when I moved away, the physical distance eroded parts of our bonds.

I started living in my first boarding school about four years ago, in grade nine. For the first half of that year it felt as if someone had deprived me of my life force and I felt oddly disconnected with my surroundings; everything felt surreal, as if suddenly my life had turned into a bad dream I couldn’t wake out of. However, once I got past this initial phase and slowly started opening up and letting my guard down I built new relationships that tamed my yearning for the place I called home. One of my most memorable moments was when my friends and I were talking for the last time before a three-month long winter vacation and they said they would miss me. My first reaction to that statement was of gleeful surprise because I hadn’t yet realized how close we’d become in a matter of months or that I’d found a second home in an institution I once so uninhibitedly hated. Probably because it wasn’t really the institution I thought of as home but the place and the community I’d so firmly become a part of. In that strange place I’d found a new family.

I guess I could say I’ve got quite a few homes but only a few that I can go back to, the rest have been deserted by me and the people who made those places into homes and therefore no longer exist in my present but will always be cherished in my memories. So home for me seems to be a place that allows a community of people to exist together. But it’s more than that: it is a strong feeling of familiarity and liberating abandon. It’s the feeling you get after a long day when you go back to a familiar place filled with familiar sights and you somehow know that you belong in that strange system of things. Home is having a place to be alone with your feelings and not be questioned about your state of mind. Home is where rituals flourish and soon enough start becoming a part of you. Home is eating oats and watching ‘House’ in the mornings. Home is wearing pyjamas all day long. Home is smiling. Home is crying. Home is laughing. Home is compromising. Home is bittersweet honey that you itch for. Home is comfort. Home is staying up all night reading/creating/talking. Home is memories. Home is music. Home is freedom. Home is love. Home is magic. Home has the potential to be anything and everything and that’s why it always feels different for everyone.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Giving up Choice for Choice

 This essay will explore how Satan is a hero and moreover what makes him the tragic hero of Paradise Lost. For the purposes of this essay let’s assume that being a hero means being a protector and being dedicated against all odds. And a tragic hero is a hero with a major flaw, which in a way is the undoing of the hero. Satan is the protector and the leader of angels in opposition to God. He sacrifices a lot for his ideals: he’s willing to give up happiness to stand up against God for what he believes in, and facing eternal torment needs huge amounts of dedication. Below is the passage in question:

That we must change for Heav'n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he [ 245 ]
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: fardest from him is best
Whom reason hath equald, force hath made supream
Above his equals. Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail [ 250 ]
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n. [ 255 ]
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: [ 260 ]
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n. (, Book 1)

Satan calls out to the ‘profoundest Hell’, the most intense version of Hell it seems, implying that the nature of Hell can vary. This call may be seen as an attempt to harness the power of what is most evil and thus what is most opposite to God in order to fight him. He says ‘Receive thy new Possessor’ suggesting that there was an ‘old’ possessor, who could only have been God since God created Hell, and Satan just seems to have ‘discovered/been thrown into’ it. ‘Hell Receive thy new Possessor’ shows that Satan wants to ‘possess’ Hell in the way God may ‘possess’ Heaven, showing that Satan too wants to be a leader and the protector of beings on his side which is exemplified in his speech in Book 2 where he states that he shall sacrifice himself for the fallen angels by taking the punishment for perverting ‘man’. Satan seems to be trying to mirror God, though he doesn’t want to abide by the ideals followed by God, Satan desires a position that parallels God’s, his desire to reign evident in the line: ‘reign is worth ambition though in Hell’. In his twisted way he is aspiring to be like God: the one being he wants to be the most unlike. (This is a very strong parallel to the political figure Oliver Cromwell, someone Milton once looked up to, who fought against absolutist rule and went on to become an absolutist ruler himself.) Moreover, Satan’s idea of possession of Hell is a metaphor for free will: he thinks he is going against God by being evil because he assumes that God wants everyone to be good and how can one be good if one possess Hell – the opposite of good?
Satan says: ‘Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.’ He is arguably the creature most determined to have free will, almost in a monomaniacal fashion: he chooses to do evil, knowing full well, as evident from the discussion in Book 2 that their (the fallen angels) punishment could get worse if they choose to do more evil, and that he would have to go through even more torment for his actions. He could have done good actions and not meant it and still reaped the rewards of being good in Heaven, but he didn’t; he gave up joy for free will, or at least his version of free will. It is interesting to note that Satan was the first being who ever disobeyed God (according to the poem), which means that there was no precedent for it and that would have required courage and dedication to his principles.
In lines ‘mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.’ there is an implicit assumption that the ‘mind’ belongs to Satan. Also the idea that the mind can make ‘Heaven’ or ‘Hell’ suggests the power the mind can have. Satan demonstrates that Heaven and Hell can be inside us no matter where we are, which also links back to the idea that the nature of Hell can vary since no two minds can create the same Hell. Moreover it is also suggesting that the mind has the power, to a certain extent, to control the Heavens and Hells inside us, which further shows that he thinks he has free will. This quote demonstrates what Satan thinks is the extent of one’s power over one’s own life. He is hence trying to convince himself that he can choose for himself, while also perhaps preparing himself to be strong and courageous through this ‘pep talk’ to himself. This directs ‘good’ and ‘bad’ inwardly suggesting therefore that good and bad are more than simply good and bad actions.
Satan says ‘fardest from [God] is best’, but being away from God means farthest from what is ‘good’. He feels a deep sense of loss for a life lived in joy when he calls Hell ‘mournful gloom’ in comparison to his description of Heaven in the lines ‘Farewel happy Fields / Where Joy for ever dwells’. Even though he protects the right to choose ‘evil’, that doesn’t by itself make him someone who would ‘enjoy’ a joyless/mournful existence. He perhaps is one of the few characters who really understand what it  means to be good because he understands what it means to be ‘evil’ and is living a tormented existence. He seems to believe that the farther away he is from God the less he would be affected by God’s will or power, but that is perhaps a delusion he creates for himself in order to cope with God’s overarching will.
In lines ‘‘Here / We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built / Here for his envy’, Satan again deludes himself into thinking that Hell, a prison designed by God, will set them (the fallen angels) ‘free’, because he protects the right to ‘choose’ evil, to defy authority, and to carve out a path, however ‘hellish’, for one’s own self. He however mistakes the right to choose evil to be the same as doing evil regardless of what one may want to do. In this way he protects the right to have ‘free will’, but part of what he is protecting is a delusion.
Satan’s major flaw, therefore becomes denial. The poem hints in two ways that everything is God’s will. One is the way the poem keeps explicitly referring to God as ‘Sovran’ and ‘Almighty’, suggesting that he wills everything. However we can’t be sure that God wills everything simply because he has the power to do so. Satan seems to have some idea of God’s overarching power, which is why he wants to be a separate entity from God and why he resorts to being evil. Therefore in Satan’s quest for executing free will he actually gives up his right to choose, because he thinks that the only way to have free will is to do evil, in spite of what he may actually want to do. Because he was created by God in the first place, one could argue that there is a little bit of God in Satan. He isn’t able to accept that he cannot be completely separate from God and in not being able to make the ‘will of God’ his own, he becomes tragic.
Furthermore, this passage is an excerpt from a speech that he’s giving to his army of fallen angels to reassure them of his dedication to the cause. By being a speech, the cause becomes much bigger than if it were a simply a soliloquy; and he becomes a hero for these angels at least if not for anyone else. His speech also functions to convince himself that he will be okay in his ‘mournful’ prison and that as long he has his mind he can turn his Hell into Heaven, because the price (‘eternal torment’) he has to pay for what he perceives to be ‘free will’ is hideously great. His determination here is exemplary, but his denial to move on from this paradoxical situation of attempting to separate himself from God makes his Hell even more hellish. It is because of this ambition of being completely ‘free’ that he carves out a singular path of ‘evil’, therefore in his denial to see what is really going on, he gives up his ability to choose the one thing he most desires and suffers Hell for.
Works Cited,. 'Paradise Lost: Book 1'. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.

To Fight or Not to Fight?

In this essay I will look at “The Waste Land” by T.S Eliot and Audre Lorde’s poetry. At first glance these two texts may seem to have a similar form of poetry, but on closer inspection one can see a clear distinction between Eliot’s narrative poetry and Lorde’s lyric.  This essay shall analyse at how The Waste Land treats violence as non-preventable and non-correctable, while Lorde’s poetry treats it as an internalized phenomenon that needs to be realized and mitigated, with respect to their individual forms and contexts. Lorde’s lyric presents a more constructive view of violence with a possibility of change, unlike Eliot. I will also look at Eliot’s views on poetry in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and how those views don’t necessarily fit the rules that Lorde’s poetry is based on. His essay argues that the individual is a channel for tradition so that past can also interact with the present and that the good poet is one who can separate her/his individuality from her/his poetry.
Lyric is about the expression of the individual (“Narrative, Lyric, Drama”); a typical example could be Shakespeare’s ‘Fair Youth’ sonnets (1609). Lyric stems from the idea of the individual as separate from the community, but still the same as other people who form the community. Therefore though traditional lyric assumes an individual, it does not necessarily assume the probability of that individual being different from other ‘individuals’. It is traditionally written in a way that the reader can easily place herself/himself in the shoes of the ‘I’ (the poet) in the lyric and in cases where the lyric is addressed to some other person, the reader can easily replace that person with her/his own candidate. This replaceability tends to happen because many lyrics are unspecific in their descriptions and thus, leave a blank space that can be easily filled with a variety of people. As a result of this quality, and because lyric tends to directly speak to the reader, it is very relatable to its audience due to its form and its content.
Lorde’s lyric stems from a time after “The Waste Land”, by when the transition into a capitalist society (that was more focused on individualistic importance than the importance of a collective) had been completed to a much larger extent in America. Since capitalism depends on creating a culture of consumerism, it bolstered the idea of importance and hence freedom of the individual to choose.  For consumerism to work people need to believe that they are worth the money they invest in consumer goods and by extension, if they are worth it, then that would mean they are important as individuals. Also Lorde wrote in an age that saw a considerable amount of change concerning social attitudes towards various groups that are discriminated against, which lends to the greater emphasis and power the individual has in her poetry. This way Lorde adapts the traditional form of lyric into one that brings out the differences in individuals, but is still relatable. In doing so, she conforms to the idea of adhering to tradition (of lyric being relatable) as mentioned in Eliot’s essay, but also lets her individuality and the experiences particular to certain oppressed groups of people flow in her poetry.
Conversely, narrative poetry is about telling a story; a typical example could be Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1475). Narrative poetry stems from the idea that living in a collective social environment is the norm. Its traditional form used metered verse that often rhymed. Some of the rhyming couplets in The Canterbury Tales only clumsily rhyme and seem to have been forced together. This gives a certain sense of a forced/pretend harmony on the level of form which was also present in the socio-economic background of the text where the means of production were artisanal and thus requiring the people to get along well (at least on the surface) with one another. This is the kind of tradition that “The Waste Land”, being a narrative poem flows from and also the tradition it laments that has gone to waste. “The Waste Land”, however, unlike traditional narrative poetry, does not try to pretend that it fits together within itself, allowing the readers to see the fragmented nature of its reflection of society. It was written after the First World War and never before had the cost of war been so fully destructive in leading millions to their deaths due to the huge technological advancements and industrialization. Also this was an age where people were moving away from public spaces into private ones, e.g. they could listen to music by themselves on a gramophone or a radio and no longer had to go out and absorb music as a collective. This move into private spheres in a way lent itself to the fragmented nature of society presented in Eliot’s poetry, since people were getting less involved with others and living more by themselves.
The Waste Land” treats violence as a part of the society it reflects; the poem is littered with violent construction of poetic lines:
“My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised ‘a new start.’
I made no comment. What should I resent?”

The sentences are violently cut by space and picked up again with a capital letter and as if they were a new sentence not another part of the previous one. And the lines are broken by the recurring period, resulting in a continuous effect of fragmentation. The content itself is brutal, but presented with the nonchalance of a laundry list. The reader is left looking out through the victim’s empty eyes, whose heart is being crushed by her feet so she feels no resentment against her violator, who is promising a new start as if it is easy enough to salvage her heart and put it back in her breast. The act of rape has been undermined into being called an ‘event’, as if it were not murder resulting in dead heart and the silence of its victim. The only ‘emotion’ here comes out in the weeping of her violator, causing the focus on the consequences of violence to shift from the victim to the perpetrator. This incident makes it look like the violence present in the society is irredeemable precisely because the consequence is so great that the victim is already dead. Therefore, even if there is “a new start” it would not help, but one will not hear the victims saying that because they have been emptied from inside. If the only emotion left is that of the perpetrator, what use is the new change?
            The text perhaps treats violence in such a way because it was written post First World War, where violence meant death most of the time and death is not correctable, so the victim of this violence is the perpetrator (and the families, whom Eliot does not really mention) who killed in the name of his country and has to live with the act of killing in the form of emotional and mental disorders[1]. It is hard for the reader to feel sorry enough for the violator to think about working towards a new start for people who violate grossly and claim to suffer because of it. Since once the violent act has murdered its victim there is no use in attempting to fix it, one wonders if one can prevent the act altogether. One may assume that Eliot would prefer if he could prevent violence, because “The Waste Land” ends with ‘Shantih Shantih Shantih’ which means peace and so one can assume that peace is what he would like to witness in the society he was living in. This peace is achieved in Part Five of the poem when the demons, humans and gods interpret the word ‘DA’ of thunder in their own way through conscious self-reflection. However, for Eliot this consciousness has been lost among people in his time; humans have become “neither/Living nor dead,” because they have become “human engines” with “automatic” body parts (the hand in this part of the poem). Since, machinery is mechanical and cannot by definition have a ‘conscience’ then people cannot actually self-reflect in order to find out what they need to do to achieve peace, or even realize that they should be working towards peace in the first place. Therefore, Eliot’s version of violence can be interpreted as non-preventable and non-correctable, at least in the context in which he wrote “The Waste Land”.
            Lorde’s lyric also treats violence as a part of the society, but in a more internalized sense, so that the violence isn’t as explicit at the surface level as it is in “The Waste Land”. She brings out this internalized violence that many people in her society took for granted as a social custom, by taking on the perspectives of the victims. Lorde’s sentences too are cut up into uneven lines, but in a way that is musical/lyrical rather than fragmented, e.g. in “From the House of Yemanj√°”:
My mother had two faces and a frying pot   
where she cooked up her daughters
into girls
before she fixed our dinner.

One reason for this harmonious quality is that she does not capitalize the first letter of every line, only the first letter of the sentence unlike Eliot. This non-capitalization gives a visual effect of flowing sentences. Despite the seeming cohesion the reader understands that there is violence in what she is talking about, i.e. the image of ‘cooking up’ people. This violence beneath the seemingly flowing lines of poetry could reflect the larger apparently stable society Lorde was living in, which is teeming with violence once one looks deeper as evidenced by the multiple references to violent acts happening around her, in her poetry.
In these lines, she talks about two faces of her mother that is repeated and elaborated into one face being “dark and rich and hidden” in the other “pale as a witch / yet steady and familiar” face. The phrase “dark and rich and hidden” could be representative of the suppression of African American people, causing them to seem “hidden” from the society and a comment on them being ‘rich’ in their culture, personalities and passions as any other race. The other face seems to represent the white/pale ancestry of her mother which is “steady and familiar” because it’s been in power for a long time, the term “witch” suggests unfair means used in staying in power. The phrase “cooked up” suggests that the cook is majorly altering the ‘raw’ state of whatever she’s cooking by following a recipe where “her [emphasis mine] daughters” are meant to turn into simply ‘girls’. This change from being someone’s daughter into a nondescript “girl” projects that one’s individuality along with one’s relations need to be shed in order to fit into this recipe of what makes a girl according to the society, which is represented by the pale side of her mother. Since one knows that the ingredients are human beings who come in all shapes and sizes, not only differing in their physical but also mental dispositions this act of cooking up humans using one recipe is comparable to the bed of Procrustes, where attempting to fit everyone into the same box often leads to the death of the individual. And the fact that this poem ends in the lines “[I am] … where day and night shall meet / and / not be one” shows that the narrator’s ‘darkness’ will only ever meet the recipe’s ideal ‘paleness’, but that it will never be ‘one’; her identity will never conform to society’s expectations. Thus she brings out the violence of forcing social conformity within a family, a group that’s supposed to nurture one, that it becomes more important than ‘fixing dinner’; more important than basic sustenance.
            Lorde also pulls out the extreme extent to which brutal physical violence towards suppressed social groups is internalized in a white patriarchal society that leads to further internal destruction in “Power”:
they had dragged her 4'10'' black Woman's frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.

I have not been able to touch the destruction
within me.

A police man shoots a ten year old boy because of his colour, and the perpetrator of this unforgivably, innocence ripping, emotionless act is set free due to the eleven white men on the jury. The only black woman on the jury is “convinced” under the burning pressure of “white male approval”. The narrator says that she let go of “the first real power she ever had”, because the barrier for her was the social construct built over centuries by white men, which she could have fought with her “real power”, the ‘realness’ of which came from her legal position, but she did not. In not fighting she might have saved herself socially, but ossified the possibility of saving the children of her colour from such brutal deaths and from the social suffrage, for the future generation, that results from the violent silence of the current one. This murder showed how much power her people have and how they are not willing to give themselves up for their children and their cause thus they are the ones living “without loyalty or reason”. The narrator has “not been able to touch the destruction within” her because this “destruction” resulting from the social acceptance of this violence on an innocent child could shatter her.
            Thus, the nature of violence that Lorde describes is internalized at both social and individual levels that needs to be realized by people in order to work against its power. Her description of violence portrays a huge violation not just something ‘rude’; it is the violence that rips people apart. The violence she describes can be overcome, because people have the power to empathize with the people they or others violate and thus, bring in change. Because of Lorde’s use of lyric the reader can empathize with the narrators of the poem and she gives her voice to all the ones that have been silenced: dead boys; suppressed women and oppressed sexual expressions. She recognizes the political, historical and social forces working through people and tries to address them, and urges people to break out of the prison cells society made them build for their selves; to not to line their wombs with cement, to not ossify themselves at the command of society. She believes in shouting out.
            Lorde’s poetry works as a better call to action than Eliot’s, partly because he may not really be trying to do so and partly because he does not allow the reader to identify enough with him or any of his characters, unlike Lorde. In his essay, Tradition and the Individual Talent, he says “the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates”. Now the idea of what perfection means is debatable but if we think of perfection as effectiveness of poetry on people, then Lorde’s poetry despite being personal, or perhaps because of it, has the potential to affect people greatly. She does have a historical sense that one can hear the echoes of in her poetry that manages to be personal and also a medium for channelling the suppressed voices of her ancestors and of people like her. Both these texts provide separate views on violence through their form, content, context and views which have been shaped by different historical and social forces behind them. Eliot’s view is more of an observation and is to an extent left at that, whereas Lorde’s view is a dissection of the power structures she’s surrounded by and she brings focus on the hidden internalization of violence.

References,. 'Narrative, Lyric, Drama'. N.p., 2015. Web. 4 May 2015.
History of PTSD,. 'World War I'. N.p., 2011. Web. 4 May 2015.,. 'From The House Of Yemanj√° By Audre Lorde : The Poetry Foundation'. N.p., 2015. Web. 4 May 2015.,. 'Power By Audre Lorde : The Poetry Foundation'. N.p., 2015. Web. 4 May 2015.,. 'The Waste Land  By T. S. Eliot : The Poetry Foundation'. N.p., 2015. Web. 4 May 2015.

[1] ‘Rather, the trigger for war strain was considered to be intense emotional arousal and the subsequent suppression of sympathy for others’ (History of PTSD)