May 02 2014

Hamlet as an “artistic failure”

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For my final article, I chose to find something intriguing on Hamlet.I found this article after searching for something controversial. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/essay/237866
In this article, it is explained that T.S. Eliot called Hamlet an “artistic failure.” Eliot calls Hamlet the “Mona Lisa of literature” because it is considered a work of art because people find it interesting. People do not find it interesting because it is a work of art. Eliot also asserts that Hamlet is “puzzling and disquieting as none of the [other plays].” This is because it is Shakespeare’s longest play and also his most laborious, yet it still has “superfluous and inconsistent scenes which even hasty revision should have noticed.” Eliot criticizes Shakespeare’s style for his inconsistency throughout the play. He says that some parts are very mature and developed, while others resemble Romeo and Juliet.

I thought that this article was kind of funny because I liked Hamlet, so to see such a harsh and concise criticism by T.S. (pretentious) Eliot was surprising. I guess Eliot’s writing is okay because he writes consistently in language that is too high for all of us peasants.

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May 02 2014

Wuthering Heights as a Female Bildungsroman

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The article I read this week was “The Waif at the Window: Emily Bronte’s Female Bildungsroman” by Annette R. Federico, found on the SIRS database. In the article, Federico argues that the development and maturation of Cathy Linton constitutes a Bildungsroman; she refutes the arguments of other critics (Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar) by choosing to focus on the later generation as an example of this, rather than Catherine and Heathcliff. The main part of the article compares Cathy’s development throughout her life to that of her mother, Catherine; Federico argues that Catherine’s story cannot be considered a Bildungsroman because she never matures or becomes an adult — “Catherine and her male soul-mate [Heathcliff] remain stubbornly adolescent from beginning to end”. Federico compares Catherine’s selfish, demanding nature to her daughter’s sensitivity and growing knowledge of her relationship to others. While Catherine never outgrows selfishly manipulating those around her (particularly Edgar and Nelly), as Cathy grows older she becomes more and more aware of herself and those around her; Cathy overcomes her “adolescent absorption with romantic notions” (her relationship with Linton) by conceding that Nelly knows Linton’s true nature better than she does. Federico also discusses Cathy’s desire to make amends with Hareton, their relationship in general, and their eventual marriage as further evidence of a Bildungsroman; unlike Catherine, who follows the typical Victorian custom of marrying a man in order to gain status and wealth, Cathy marries Hareton to improve his status rather than her own, taking on the role of mentor and teacher in the place of a traditional male figure, and becoming an adult in the process. I agreed with this article a lot; Catherine’s (and, by extension, Heathcliff’s) nature never changed throughout the novel, remaining stubbornly the same no matter how much time passed, and Cathy was a very different character. Throughout the second half of the novel we see basically her entire life, and it is obvious that throughout it she matures greatly and becomes a much different woman than her mother; she isn’t manipulative, selfish, or demanding, and her eventual relationship with Hareton was a much healthier one than Catherine and Heathcliff’s.

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May 01 2014

A Modern Candide? (5/2)

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Article Title: Invisibility, Impossibility: The Reuse of Voltaire’s Candide in Emile Habiby’s Sa’eed the Pessoptimist

Source: Student Resources in Context, originally from Arab Studies Quarterly (Spring 2010)

Author: Ahmad Harb

This article discusses a modern tale of Arab-Israeli conflict inspired by Candide. This story, Sa’eed the Pessoptimist, was written by Emile Habiby, an Arab satirist. In Chapter 22 of Sa’eed the Pessoptimist, a character who is Sa’eed’s friend explains that “Candide was an optimist but [Sa’eed] is a pessoptimist.” Harb attests that this distinction characterizes both Sa’eed and the Arab people as a whole. As a response to possible criticism over his choice to “imitate Candide,” Habiby, through his narrator, responds, “Don’t blame me for that. Blame our way of life that hasn’t changed since Voltaire’s day, except that Eldorado has now come to exist on this planet.” The Eldorado Habiby refers to is the shining but inaccessible state of Israel, which has effectively decimated its Arab-Muslim population through prejudice, racial profiling, and perpetuation of economic inequality, which some argue is comparable to the United States’ treatment of its Native American Indians.

Habiby draws parallels between Leibniz’s philosophy of optimism (embodied by Pangloss) and the complacency of the Arabs during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Optimistic sayings from the Koran, taken out of context and stretched to the point of ridiculousness, were part of the reason (according to Harb) that the Arabs lost the 1948 war. Examples of such phrases include: “Whatever happens to you is from Allah,” “It is good that it happens this way and not the other way,” “You may hate something which is in the final effect to your own good.” It is easy to see how similar these are to Leibniz’s theory  that the world, since it has been created by God, must be the best possible world, and that therefore all evil that exists, if taken into the context of creation as a whole, creates good. This way of thinking is ridiculous when Pangloss applies it to the destruction that was created by the war between the Bulgars and the Avars, just as it is ridiculous when applied to the Arab-Israeli war in 1948.

In Habiby’s tale, Sa’eed is a Palestinian Candide who has been kicked out of his “castle” (Israel) and exposed to the brutality of the outside world: oppression, homelessness, loss, and human suffering. The end results for the two characters differ, however, despite both ending in Turkey. While Candide ends with the hero calling the reader to “cultivate our garden,” symbolizing working hard to achieve success and happiness in life, the fate of Sa’eed and other Arabs who returned to Israel is much more complicated. Palestinian Arabs are expected to be loyal to the state of Israel or be suspect of anti-Israeli sentiment, but must also maintain their Palestinian identity through continued support of the Palestinian cause, or be accused by fellow Arabs of siding with Israel and betraying their race. Arabs who vacated their homes during the war are not permitted to reclaim them due to the “present-absentee” law.

Habiby transcends the language barrier between himself and Voltaire by mimicking Voltaire’s diction. Pangloss especially uses short clauses linked by the words “for” and “since” (ex. “For all this is for the best, for if there is a volcano at Lisbon, it cannot be somewhere else, for it is unthinkable that things should be where they are, for every thing is well”) to create a satirical mockery of optimism’s circular thinking. Habiby, in the original Arabic text of Sa’eed the Pessoptimist, links very short sentences with the Arabic letter F, “whose function in the text is to accelerate the immediacy between action and reaction by canceling the objective distance between subject and predicate.”

Another difference between the two tales is the point of view from which they are told. Candide is written in third person. Harb says that this is a conscious choice on Voltaire’s part, in order to give “the young Candide to assume the role of a receptive student who listens, compares, asks questions, learns, and at the end of the journey reaches a conclusion of his own, a realization of his new situation,” while the only first-person interruptions into the narrative are by characters other than our hero, each with their own sufferings and philosophical views 0n life. Separating these characters from Candide through use of a third-person narrative allows Candide to develop his own philosophy. Habiby’s Sa’eed the Pessoptimist is told in first person. Sa’eed tells his own story, which is one of intent, not realization. Unlike Candide, Sa’eed is an older man, which makes Sa’eed the Pessoptimist unable to be a bildungsroman. The focus, therefore, is on the situation, not on the philosophy and the protagonist’s realizations.

Sa’eed, Harb argues, is a combination of the traveling trio of philosophers in Candide: Martin, Pangloss, and Candide himself. “He combines the naivete of Candide, the foolish optimism of Pangloss, and the deep pessimism of Martin.” 

Sa’eed also has a teacher who fills the role of Pangloss.  Though he possess limited knowledge about the subject he teaches (which, ironically, is Arabic language and history). The teacher has a twitch in his left eye, causing him to “wink” sporadically. This is a clear reference to the one-eyed Pangloss.

I think it’s really interesting how Candide (and, by extension, Voltaire and his ideas) are applicable to other cultures and political situations. I suppose that shows that human nature is universal, and history does, in fact, repeat itself. Despite living in a very Euro-centric world, we see time and time again that non-European cultures apply the same veins of thought to their literature. I also like that the Arab-Israeli conflict is being discussed and viewed from the Arab point of view. Because of our alliance with Israel and the general anti-Arab, anti-Islam sentiment post-9/11, Americans don’t often look that things from the Arab viewpoint, and the author’s choice of retelling a European classic (Candide) in this way forces us to do so. I’m going to try to get my hands on a copy of Sa’eed the Pessoptimist as soon as I can.

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May 01 2014

in preparation for the AP test…

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Here are 100 synonyms or alternate words for “bad.” I bet you could use them to talk about pretty much any antagonist in any text!

http://blog.writeathome.com/index.php/2013/12/100-ways-to-say-bad/

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Apr 25 2014

Criticism: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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My article is called “Criticism: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” from the Student Resources in Context database. The author had some interesting interpretations for T. S Eliot’s poem and I thought that they would be fun to share. This article begins with pointing out the juxtaposition of the title of the poem. The author explains that not only does the whole poem represent Modernism but, “even the title manifests a decidedly Modernist ‘split’ in its juxtaposition of the full romance of the term ‘love song’ against such a highly formalized name as J. Alfred Prufrock”. The author goes on to point out that Eliot tries to get the reader connected on an emotional level by using second person. But whether the “you” Prufrock is speaking to begins as the poet Eliot or as some imaginary companion, it is evident, according to the author that Prufrock ultimately is talking to himself. Prufrock is addressing a “you” who is also himself and now a pattern is set for a division between Prufrock and the world he contemplates—until he stands separated from that world. This is supported in our interpretation during class with part of himself dying in the last few stanzas. The author’s final point is that Eliot’s choice in rhyme supports his love song music and also pulls emotions from the reader. The author uses Ann P. Brady’s opinion that there is a juxtaposition of lyricism with the tone of satire and creates a Modernist tension. She also finds the satire unusually effective in Eliot’s coupling of rhyme words that “are absurd,” particularly “ices-crisis, platter-matter, flicker-snicker,” producing what she calls “deflation by association”. From all of these interpretations I think that we can learn a little more about T. S Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and maybe create our own interpretations as well.

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Apr 25 2014

Optimism in Candide

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The article I found this week involved a discussion of the principle of Optimism. The article was quite long and involved, part of which I used in support of my research paper. The excerpt I read this time, however, focused on Pangloss specifically, and the reasons behind Voltaire’a lampooning of Leibniz. The article informs the reader of the social impacts of Optimism, including a reduced incentive in those who believe that all is for the best. The author tells us Voltaire’s criticism is not aimed at a positive attitude, but rather at the use of Optimism to preclude a need for change. Many see that they live in “the best of all possible worlds” and for this reason refuse to instigate change. According to Leibniz, f God has arranged a world in which everything happens with purpose, then humans have no responsibility to work to improve their lot. Voltaire, the author asserts aimed to reveal to his reader the folly of this thinking and entirely undermine the credibility of those with whom he did not agree. Voltaire, he claims, was working for the change that Leibniz was incapable of.

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Apr 25 2014

The Very Unlovely Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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This article is from an unknown source and is called “The Very Unlovely Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The author begins with the irony that the “love song” is not really a love song. The allusions are attempts and failures at romance that show that Prufrock is undesirable and broken. The first metaphor that the author mentions is the sections about the yellow fog and the cat metaphor. The cat metaphor is emphasized by phrases like “rubs its back,” “rubs its muzzle,” “sudden leap,” and “curled once about the house.” The author then considers the reason for the cat imagery – cats are not sociable, and neither is Prufrock. Elliot specifically chose cats to emphasize the flaws in Prufrock’s character. The entire poem is Prufrock’s attempt to talk to a girl, but because of his unsociability, he cannot explain himself; “That is not what I mean, at all.” Also, the “yellow fog” and “yellow smoke” are imagery for Prufrock’s “clouded” mind. Yellow also means cowardly, so Prufrock is a conflicted and confused coward. Similarly, words like “lingered” in the paragraph emphasize Prufrock’s reluctance. With the cowardly, yellow fog, reluctant words like lingered, the cat accomplishes nothing during the stanza and ends up falling asleep. Similarly, Prufrock’s actions are insignificant and he cannot accomplish anything of real value.
Then the author goes into the crab metaphor, which emphasizes Prufrock’s “egotism.” Prufrock wants to be insignificant, so Elliot uses the insignificant crab. The fact that Prufrock wishes he were insignificant implies that his is currently significant – he believes that he can “disturb the universe.” Also, the use of “silent seas” shows that Prufrock “wants to be alone, and wants to escape from the real world.” He wants to be a crab so that he doesn’t have to worry about being social. The crab metaphor shows that he is really over-thinking everything and that he “wishes he wouldn’t be so mentally paralyzed.”
The part of the poem that talks about “squeeze[ing] the universe into a ball / To roll it toward some overwhelming question, / To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead, / Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all.” The metaphors and allusions continue to get stronger and further away from the “real world.” Prufrock believes his question is important enough to be as important as the entire universe. Prufrock’s over-thinking makes his simple “love song” a huge deal. The allusion to Lazarus shows how dramatic Prufrock is being, because he believes that his dilemma is “as painful as Lazarus’ death,” which again emphasizes his egotism.
Prufrock is so conflicted and indecisive that he cannot even function in day to day life, and he is “paralyzed.”

I liked this essay because I really enjoyed reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Most of the article we went over in class, but I really liked the part about the cat and the fog. I think we mentioned the part about Prufrock’s egotism and the crab metaphor, but this article had some good insight into the metaphors and allusions. This article cleared up any other questions I had about Prufrock.

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Apr 25 2014

The Conte

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My article is called The Conte Defined by Robert M. Adams and can be found in his translation of Voltaire’s Candide. In the article, Adams focuses on the different aspects of Candide including rhyme, irony, content, and morality. He starts by saying that at a time, Candide  was considered and easy read; rhythm of its prose, the content of the story, and the morality vs immorality motif were all things that older critics considered fairly simple. As the English language has evolved throughout history however, more modern critics have begun to note Candide as complex. Adams then says that a possible cause for this complexity is because of Voltaire’s use of irony in Candide and how modern critics note that, “Voltaire’s irony, for all its swiftness and levity, appears to have a destructive power that is hard to limit.

Adams thus begins his explanation of his own word which may describe the story structure of Candide, the conte. He refers to the conte as “an account of an anecdote or adventure, marvelous or otherwise, told for purposes of amusement.” He also notes that a conte is like a short story or a parable, and as the story progresses the structure mirrors the structure of a novella, and then becomes even more complex like a roman. “Contes are the slightest, lightest, and least pretentious of prose novel.” I found this article to be interesting because Adams introduces an argument for a new story structure I had never heard of before, and he makes an interesting case for his beliefs.

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Apr 23 2014

Hamlet and His Problems (4/18)

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I found a critical essay on Hamlet done by T.S. Eliot, and I thought I ought to share it with everyone.

Article Title: Hamlet and His Problems

Author: T.S. Eliot

Source: Student Resources in Context, original text hosted on Bartleby.com

He begins the essay by summarizing and criticizing the analysis of other critics of Hamlet, saying that previous analysts have “possessed unquestionable critical insight, and […] made their critical aberrations the more plausible by the substitution–of their own Hamlet for Shakespeare’s.” Essentially, Eliot says that critics of Hamlet have a tendency to project their own ideas and issues onto the play’s hero, skewing the intended meaning of the play. He then cites J.M. Robertson and Professor Stoll of the University of Minnesota, two recent (to his own time) critics of Hamlet as being a step in the right direction, due in part to their knowledge of psychology, and in part to their focus on Hamlet as a whole rather than only on Hamlet as a leading character.

T.S. Eliot says that all previous attempts to analyze Hamlet have failed to do so properly because they looked at the play as an independent work. In actuality, Hamlet, like many of Shakespeare’s plays, was adapted from another source. Previous incarnations of Hamlet (or stories similar to Hamlet, with a few details changed) include a German adaptation that was performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime, an older play by Thomas Kyd, and “the tale of Belleforest upon which Kyd’s Hamlet must have been based.” The plot and purpose of these earlier incarnations was entirely different from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The original tale does not include madness at all: the only reason Hamlet takes as long as he does to kill the king is the simple fact that the king is surrounded by guards constantly. When Hamlet’s madness was introduced in a later version of the play, it was only as a ruse to avoid suspicion. Shakespeare’s Hamlet was the first to suffer actual madness, and therefore the first to transcend the simpler plot of the revenge play, abandoning it for a more complex moral dilemma. Eliot, however, does not believe Shakespeare to be enough of an individual thinker to have invented Hamlet’s moral dilemma on his own, and proposes that there was another incarnation of Hamlet between Kyd’s and Shakespeare’s, “perhaps Chapman,” that introduced the idea. Eliot notes that “there are verbal parallels so close to the Spanish Tragedy as to leave no doubt that in places Shakespeare was merely revising the text of Kyd,” an insight overlooked by previous critics of the play. Eliot also holds the opinion that “far from being Shakespeare’s masterpiece, the play is most certainly an artistic failure.”  Linguistically, he says, the play is lazy and immature, far from Shakespeare’s best plays (which T.S. Eliot names as Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra) in style, workmanship, and depth. Eliot compares the success of Hamlet to that of “Mona Lisa:” popular not for its artistic merit, but its mystery, and its ability to draw in anyone who, as mentioned in the beginning of the essay, may project their own issues and ideas onto it. His opinion of Shakespeare and his work is clear in the final paragraph: “We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him. Why he attempted it at all is an insoluble puzzle; under compulsion of what experience he attempted to express the inexpressibly horrible, we cannot ever know.”

I am not sure whether to agree with Eliot or call him an intellectual elitist. There are many critics of Hamlet who I feel have projected their thoughts, consciously or unconsciously, onto Hamlet and his struggles. Frankly, some analyses of the play are ridiculous. I also think that taking Shakespeare’s methods of writing “remakes” of older tales should be taken into account when reading his work. By noting the changes he made to older works and asking why, readers may gain a better understanding of the intended purpose of the play. Knowing that madness didn’t factor into Hamlet’s struggles until Shakespeare’s interpretation makes the madness all the more significant to the story.

Knowing what we know about Eliot, especially how he didn’t feel the need to “lower himself” by making his writing more accessible to those less educated than himself, it is understandable why he didn’t like Shakespeare, a (mainly) self-educated man who attempted to appeal to nobles and groundlings alike in his plays. That’s something else I always found interesting: in his day, Shakespeare’s writing was considered immoral trash (until the royal family endorsed it, that is), and today Shakespeare is synonymous with intellectual literature. I wonder if, a few centuries from now, today’s “trash novels” will be considered high-class literature, and taught to children in classrooms around the world?

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Apr 17 2014

Ecofeminism in The Bluest Eye

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This article is by Abhinav Ahlawat from the Maharshi Dayanand University. I’m not really sure if this guy is actually in the Department of English because this paper has tons and tons of mistakes. I read through the paper and tried to overlook his errors because I had never heard of ecofeminism, so I thought that it would be an interesting take on the novel to research different aspects.

http://www.ijhssi.org/papers/v2(8)/Version-3/J0283056058.pdf

In this article, Ahlawat discusses The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Beloved, so I only read about the parts pertaining to The Bluest Eye and how ecofeminism is represented in the novel. Ecofeminism is a type of criticism thank links feminism with ecology. Often in these types of criticisms, women and nature are equated and, subsequently, the degradation of nature is compared to the oppression of women, two realms which are controlled by men. This interpretation lends strength to women as they seek to gain control over male dominance because the link between women and nature is a “…unifying force that clarifie[s] the violation of women and the earth as part of the same drama of male control.” Morrison’s imagery of rape, menstruation, and seasons connect women with nature in The Bluest Eye. As a result of this ecofeminist link, “Morrison shattered the stereotypical image of black women and addresses her with strength, wisdom, and rebellious spirit of exploring themselves.”

I apologize for the botched summary, but this article was tough to get through because of all of the errors. A lot of his points are undeveloped  or just blatantly opposite of that he was trying to say. At one point, he tries to say that the setting of the kitchen where the novel takes place and the description of housework contributes to the connection of women and nature. This point was presented exactly as that, unsupported, and it came off as contradictory to me because housework is nowhere close to natural and saying that women belong in a kitchen is completely  non-feministic (yes, I made that word up). I do see ecofeminism in the novel by the changing of the seasons and how the seasons relate to the development of the girls. The degradation of Pecola in relation to the passing seasons allows Claudia to gain self confidence, which we, as readers, are told in the end. This paper taught me what ecofeminism was and then gave a summary of the novel, not really pointing out an points that would arise from an ecofeminist interpretation of the novel, so I think I will look up more articles related to different interpretations of The Bluest Eye filtered through different types of criticism.

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