Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Design of a Young Mother

So I was searching for a connection between Ponge and Frost and this turns out to not be the easiest task. Frost really likes form, particularly sonnets; Ponge likes to make you wonder if his poems are actually even poems. Ponge is very French; Frost is not. The differences outweigh the similarities you see. However, Frost's treatment of his subjects in "Design" (96) reminds me of the way Ponge treats the living subjects in his poems, specifically in "The Young Mother." In "Design," Frost says the moth is "like a white piece of rigid satin cloth" (3). This particularly close look is a method Ponge employs in just about all of his poems in The Nature of Things. More than that, I have noticed a trend in which Ponge personifies the objects he writes about and objectifies the living beings he writes about. In the line from "Design" Frost objectifies the moth by showing it as an inanimate object. In "The Young Mother" Ponge does a similar thing when he objectifies the mother by talking about her body parts, such as the "tall body," as separate from her being. Similarly, Ponge separates the "dead wings carried like a paper kite" from the moth, again using objectification. Overall, it is obvious the methods of Ponge and Frost are very different but these similarities connect their portrayal of subjects.


This relationship may seem a little far fetched right now, but I think it could initiate some interesting conversation in class tomorrow.  I feel there is something about Wittgenstein's view of language and Heidegger's idea of present at hand and ready to hand that make them go hand in hand.  Language as we know it is a mode of expression, so ultimately we should be able to communicate anything as we please.   I feel that language can be considered ready to hand according to Heidegger.  In this light, we use language as a mode of expression and communication, and we come to the conclusion that with language we can do so effectively; like the hammer, it is put to work.  However, as we have learned from various philosophers we have read in class, language can also be our biggest obstacle.  How do we go about explaining and/or describing certain aspects or experiences in life?  Here, we come to realize that language is present at hand when, as Wittgenstein states, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world" (147).  When there are simply no words in our language, we approach language as an object to theorize about.  We come to realize that language is not necessarily a window into reality; it is its own thing, and we in fact have the ability to discuss language as something that reduces experiences into explanations.

Emerson and Joyce

During our discussion with Dan Gunn and Ian last week, I briefly noted that I had made a connection between Emerson and Joyce.

Out of all the things we've read this semester, I think I latched onto and related the most to Emerson's "The American Scholar". In this essay, Emerson espouses the view that there really should be a balance between scholarly study and practical life action, but does seem to believe that "real" life is more important. "Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary... Thinking is a partial act" (9).

Now, while Joyce spends an entire collection of short stories writing in lush detail about common people, it is not in the best light. As he says in a letter to his editor, "I have written [Dubliners] for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness"(134). In truth, there is very little that is flattering about his characters in Dubliners, characters who Emerson would probably consider to be like the "practical" men he writes about.

Therein lies the contrast between Joyce and Emerson that I love. While Emerson praises the practical man and writing that "is blood-warm" (14), Joyce writes about the practical man in a fairly unflattering way. Still, for me, both pieces of writing are both beautiful and affecting.

"Symbols and Signs" of "The Dead"

There are thousands of everyday things that will always be considered ordinary that perhaps shouldn't be. For instance, we all woke up this morning, which is probably the most ordinary part of a person's day. How many of us stopped and thought about that moment when it happened? My guess is none of us, but really, shouldn't we all have? After all, if this simple, ordinary even hadn't occurred, then we would have found ourselves in the most ordinary/unordinary moment of all: death.

We have discussed death multiple times throughout the semester, and have come to the agreement that death is both the most ordinary part of life (what is life without death?), and also the most extraordinary part of life. We see death all around us: leaves falling off of the trees in fall, worms trampled on the pavement after a rainstorm, a story on the news of a woman being shot. We take all of these moments in stride, paying little attention to any of them, but everything suddenly changes when the death being discussed is attached to someone we know. When this happens, everything seems to change. We try to comfort our friend when we hear their grandmother has passed away, or we wonder how life will ever be the same now that grandpa is gone.

This is the theme that I have found myself thinking about over the passed few days, and there are two texts that jump to my mind while doing so: "Symbols and Signs," and (naturally) "The Dead." Both discuss death in interesting ways that force one to think, such as in "The Dead" when Gabriel thinks about the melting of the living and the dead into one world: "Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling" (pgs. 224 - 225). "Symbols and Signs" makes one think more of how sometimes death is a release, and how many people would prefer it to living, such as when the author talks about the boy, saying, "The last time the boy had tried to do it, his method had been, in the doctor’s words, a masterpiece of inventiveness; he would have succeeded had not an envious fellow-patient thought he was learning to fly and stopped him just in time. What he had really wanted to do was to tear a hole in his world and escape," (part one). I think it would be very interesting to compare the two authors' ideas of death, and see just how ordinary or extraordinary it truly is. 

Symbols and Signs of Pragmatism

We kind of talked about this is class, but I don't think we actually labeled it as pragmatism.  When we were discussing the story Symbols and Signs, we talked about whether we should take the objects/actions of the story to be symbols.  We couldn't decipher what the true answer to who was calling and decided that the true answer was that we weren't really supposed to know because we couldn't find support for any theory, which created support for the no-answer idea.  In pragmatism, truth is the outcome of making sense of the world.  It is a property of humans and has nothing to do with whether or not the thing is real or not.  We can't deny that the story exists, along with every option mentioned in the story, but we don't know what it means because that isn't written and we can't find clues to make one option obviously more useful for the other.  The only truth we have is that we have observed most stories using symbolism in the past, so it makes sense that that trend continues in current story.

Dichotomizing the Kosmos

James notes at the end of "The Stream of Consciousness" that "each of us dichotomizes the Kosmos in a different place":

"One great splitting of the whole universe into two halves is made by each of us; and for each of us almost all of the interest attaches to one of the halves; but we all draw the line of division between them in a different place. When I say that we all call the two halves by the same names, and that those names are 'me' and 'not-me' respectively, it will at once be seen what I mean. The altogether unique kind of interest which each human mind feels in those parts of creation which it can call me or mine may be a moral riddle, but it is a fundamental psychological fact."

I consider it a fun game to apply this demarcation to the reader/writer relationship specific to each work. In Barthes' The Pleasure of the Text, he writes (of the author of a "prattling" text): "You address yourself to me so that I may read you, but I am nothing to you except this address; in your eyes, I am the substitute for nothing, for no figure.... [F]or you I am neither a body nor even an object... but merely a field, a vessel for expansion." I imagine this to be the way Wittgenstein's first essay was written. The person of the reader was irrelevant to the text; it was written to no one as much as it was to anyone. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a writer like Nabokov, who actually wrote the reader's psyche into his text, as if he were almost (but not quite) a textual character. I'm really interested in this difference, specifically between Wittgenstein and Nabokov, but also between philosophical and creative works in general-- in what bearing the placement of this "dichotomy" has on the text, and how it reflects the ideology of the writer in question.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Poetry v. Essay

Throughout this semester, we have explored many different philosophers, poets and ideas.  On thing that I still explore in my mind is the idea that philosophy can be expressed through poetry or through essay style.  This interest me because I believe that the two styles give off two totally different approaches to ideas that are trying to be expressed.  An an example of this would be works done by Emerson and works done by Ponge.  Although Ponge is described as a poet with essayist style, how he describes natural objects is so different to how Emerson does in his essay Nature.  It could be argued that their writing styles have effect on why their similar topics come off in such a different manner.  
Looking at Ponge’s work in The Nature of Things, he described common things and avoids applying to emotion and symbols when writing about those objects.  Instead, Ponge creates a world of experiences from everyday objects.  An example being in The Orange as he writes “While the peel alone limply regains its original form, thanks to its elasticity, and refreshment, to be sure---but often a bitter awareness too of a premature expulsion of seed.” (pg. 20).  This quote provides an example of the simplicity of work when written in a poetic structure. 
Emerson, on the other hand, is not afraid to apply emotion and symbols to his work.  As a matter of fact most of his work is very metaphorical.  In his essays, his style is to present a questions that he will to lay out through out the entire poem.  In the essay Nature, the statement he is laying out is argue through the essay is “nature is a metaphor of the human mind.” (Language).  So it is clear that these two writes have very different approaches to similar topics revolving around the theme nature.  But as readers, how are we suppose to interpret the different approaches philosophical ideas in poetry and essays?  Are we suppose to just know that in essay style works we will find emotional and metaphorical writings that allow us to draw our own conclusion and that in poetry style works there will be less guided emotion and more realistic descriptions?