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? 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Climbing trees is beautiful

I've never been a big reader of Robert Frost, but wholly cow am I in love with "Birches".

The first part that I particularly latched onto was "[b]ut swinging doesn't bend them down to stay / As ice-storms do". Any kind of allusion to New England weather will always be a hook for me. Ice storms are also completely ordinary to those of us who live in New England-- they happen all the time. However, the way ice and snow looks outside is something (even for those of us who aren't the biggest fans of winter itself or have seen a thousand ice storms) that never ceases to be stunningly beautiful.

"So was I once myself a swinger of birches. / And so I dream of going back to be. / It's when I'm weary of considerations, / And life is too much like a pathless wood".

I particularly liked this line because it highlights the comfort of something ordinary and familiar. Any time life gets hard or complicated or simply too strange, I think most people find solace in ordinary things or behaviors. Not only is climbing or swinging on birches a familiar thing in Frost's poem, but it is something done during childhood. Nothing is more familiar than the simple things you do as a child and much like we return to ordinary things when feeling lost, we also return to things felt in childhood because they tend to be simpler.

Designing Conflicts

I got caught up in the word choice on Robert Frost's poem "Design."
The first paragraph is a contradiction of word choice in almost every sentence.
The starting phrase 'I found a dimples spider' is simple and innocent.  It has a vibe of 'look at this isn't it cool', but the following descriptors of 'fat and white' ruining the initially assumed beauty and intrigue of the creature.  This is followed by the moth looking like satin cloth within its grip, but yet it is rigid, the opposite of silky cloth.  The spider is a snow-drop, the flower resembles froth and the dead wings of the moth are similar to the cute paper kites used by the Asians.  The middle lines compare morning's light with a witch's brew and assorted characters is kind of ruined by the addition of 'of death and blight.'  In addition, there is the usual symbolism of white usually being peace and innocence, but the rarity of this unusually white flower has resulted in the slaughter of the moth who only wished for survival (ignoring the spiders equal need for survival.)
I understand the paragraph's meaning questioning a higher being and silently asking if such a plan is also laid for the entirety of humanity as well, but the first paragraph's meaning eludes me.


I wish I knew exactly what about the heal-all this speaker finds so sinister. "What had that flower to do with being white?"; more like "What's the big deal about this flower's whiteness?" Is the flower also dying? "Froth" and "blight" suggest this, but that doesn't help my comprehension any. In the third quatrain, I wonder if the trouble with this plant is that it's more white than "wayside blue," and this whiteness concealed the spider, which caught and killed the moth? And therein lies the "design of darkness to appall..." The only reason I doubt this is that the capture seems to have occurred "in the night," which renders the whiteness irrelevant. Perhaps it is meant to be ironic.

Anyway, I read this as a response to writers like Emerson, who saw "design" in nature, but saw it positively. This speaker seems to say: if a 'designer' even deigns to govern something as small as this, his is a dark design. Which is more comforting-- no designer here, or an evil one? On that note, I can't help but read "the design of darkness to appall" as the poet's capability, as well as the deity's. This is a sonnet, after all, and a carefully constructed one, at that. I don't know if this conflation of poet and God is intentional, but design governs in a sonnet, right? And a sonnet is a relatively "small" poem, hey?

So, we have here either a sinister God or a sinister poet, and in either case, the spider and moth are but ignorant, helpless pawns. In the second reading, does this speak to the reader, as well? Is this an omen that Frost is sending an albino Aragog after me? That was a joke. I think the second answer is in line with pragmatism, and I certainly prefer it to the first idea of a some evil, mocking deity.

Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same

In the poem "Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same" Frost raises an important, and I believe, heavily sought after question. He says that in the music that birds make we can hear the influence of Eve. He states his opinion on this question in the ending couplet in which he says, "Never again would birds' song be the same / And to do that to birds was why she came" (13-14). Frost is stating God's purpose in creating Eve in this final line. He implies that God created humans in order to affect nature and the world he had already created. I think we have to look past whether or not the reader believes in creationism and simply look at this poem from a Christian lens. And so the debate here is whether Frost is correct in saying that humans were meant to alter nature and be the greatest influence in the world, or if nature is the true influencer and humans are actually subject to it. I think this is something many people question because as humans we tend to think of nature's purpose to serve us, while some think nature came first, and therefore, should be held in higher reverence. Also interesting is that Frost highlights this question by putting it in the couplet where it stands out the most. It is interesting how the answer to a largely debated question of existence can be placed within two lines of a poem.


After reading the four poems by Robert Frost, I found the one that I was most interested in was "Birches," so that is the one that I will be writing this blog post about.

Once I finished reading this poem, I realized the reason why I liked it so much was because of the way it was set up. Frost begins it as if he is imagining a reason why the birch branches are all bent the way they are, saying, "I like to think some boy's been swinging them" (line 3), but then almost immediately he seems to argue with himself, saying that it is more likely that ice-storms have been what has bent the trees so. I guess I like this because here he is trying to imagine something sweet and innocent, but then the world and the truth break into his daydreaming, forcing him to admit that his daydreams are very unlikely to be true. It seems to me that this happens to people all of the time, where they will dream about something, but then reality will push its way into their minds, forcing them to admit that what they are dreaming is probably not so or likely to happen.

However, even though reality does get in Frost's way, he doesn't let it taint his daydream. It's almost as if he is saying, "Yes, I realize that the trees were bent because of ice-storms, but wouldn't it be so nice if this was why they were bent instead," and then goes on to create this whole scenario about how little boys were the ones to bend the trees instead. I like that he recognizes reality, but doesn't let it get in the way of his thoughts, or at least that he doesn't let it take over his thoughts.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Slang in The Dead

One concept I was thinking about while reading "The Dead" was the ordinariness of slang language. In our own cultures, regions, and groups we have various slang words that we use on a daily basis, often not aware that we are using the slang version of the term as opposed to the formal term. In our own cultures, generations, communities, etc. we use slang words without notice. Once we step out of these groups and enter new ones their slang words seem strange, inappropriate, and often comical. I was thinking of this as the term "screwed" was continually used throughout the story. It is first introduced in the narration on page 175 and is lucky explained in the footnotes to mean "drunk." If the term was not defined I would not have known what it meant. At this time in America "screwed" means something entirely different and perhaps someday it will mean something else. We often reappropriate meanings of words over time. I'm not sure how or why these words' meanings change, but they just do and in our societies we except this and use words based on what we have been told what they mean without questioning it. And so, when Aunt Kate says to Gabriel "don't let (Freddy) up if he's screwed. I'm sure he's screwed. I'm sure he is" (182) the characters and the narrator do not comment on the use of the term, but the story goes on. As an outsider to the time and place in which this story is based, I find this term bizarre and it sticks out to me like a sore thumb each time it is used. We've talked about appropriation of objects and words. To me there is nothing more ordinary than a slang term I use from day to day, but to someone outside my culture it may be extraordinary. We are oblivious to how strange "our" words and their meanings may seem to outsiders. We don't sit down on a regular basis and analyze terms unless they are foreign to us or someone labels our own terms as strange. I'm realizing that this kind of seems like a tangent, but I think it can fit into our discussion of ordinariness and the ability for something to be completely mundane to one person and rather strange to another person.

Revisiting "The Dead."

I finished reading "The Dead" yesterday while sitting on a bench beside the UMF pool. I'd been intermittently reading and watching my daughter jump around in the water in her yellow floatie ("Mom, look at me!"). I made some notes as I read -- I thought particularly about "Signs and Symbols" (or, wait, is it the other way?), wrong numbers, and incompatible language games. That is, I thought about failures of communication and interpretation, which the story seems to foreground from its opening. I vaguely remembered the snow and some of the references to Irish politics from my first reading of it, when I was twenty.

And then I got to the last few pages (beginning with Gabriel's rhapsody watching Gretta at the top of the stairs).  How had I forgotten all this? I didn't entirely forget -- I remembered enough to know during the rhapsody that Gretta was thinking of Michael Furey -- but I had no memory of being moved, no memory at all of the awfulness of the revelation that, this time around, felt like someone squeezing my lungs with a giant fist:

Gabriel felt humiliated by the failure of his irony and by the evocation of this figure from the dead, a boy in the gasworks. While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind with another. A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror. Instinctively he turned his back more to the light lest she might see the shame that burned upon his forehead.
Had I not been moved? Had I not understood enough then to feel what was at stake in this moment? Had I registered it but then forgotten? In any case, I had, I have, no access to that person reading these same words fifteen years ago.

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.
Scrupulous meanness, indeed.

I want to echo Noelle and Devin, both of whom connect "The Dead" to Emerson's "Experience." For me, too, this story speaks (brutally, really, mercilessly) to what Emerson calls "the most unhandsome part of our condition," the "evanescence and lubricity of all objects which lets them slip through our fingers then when we clutch hardest." The ungraspable objects here being not only other selves, but also one's own self. I read in Gabriel's self-refelection above an alienation  from himself: "he saw himself as a ludicrous figure."  And this distance is as profound as his distance from Gretta (-- which is profound. Even in the act of recognizing his error, it seems to me, he's still missing her, still making the error. I don't see any evidence that Gretta "had been comparing him in her mind with another." She seems simply not to have been thinking of him at all.) 

I have mixed feelings about the snow. More on that tomorrow.

Showing off

In honor of Symposium, I would like to talk about presenting.

"Gabriel could not listen while Mary Jane was playing her Academy piece, full of runs and difficult passages, to the hushed drawing-room.  He liked music but the piece she was playing had no melody for him and he doubted whether it had any melody for the other listeners, though they had begged Mary Jane to play something.  Four young men, who had come from the refreshment-room to stand in the doorway at the sound of the piano, had gone away quietly in couples after a few minutes.  The only persons who seemed to follow the music were Mary Jane herself, her hands racing along the key-board or lifted from it at the pauses like those of a priestess in momentary imprecation, and Aunt Kate standing at her elbow to turn the page." (pg. 186)

It is almost an obligation for those surrounding someone accomplished to invite them to share their wisdom.  In the story, Mary Jane has been asked repeatedly to show her piano skills and play play something that showcases them.  When she finally agrees, and seeming to be a modest person elsewhere in the story I assume she only did it for their enjoyment, they don't really care.  They seem to get very little enjoyment from the fantastically difficult piece and the young men who came over to listen actually leave as she gets in, only to return when it is done to pepper the air with applause and praise as if they truly enjoyed the experience.  The only people who truly enjoyed the display was the presenter and the ones who helped them reach where they are and take the success as proof of their effort as well.  This is much the same for page 192 and 193, where Gabriel stresses out of the possibility that his speech quote could be taken negatively or incorrectly and so he decides to change it.  It doesn't really matter in the end.  Everyone is so touched by the speech as a whole that they don't care if there is a small part they don't understand.  No one takes offense to a speech willing made to honor other people.
It seems so similar to my experiences from Symposium.  I know that at least science majors are required to attend a certain number of presentations and write up summaries for class.  They don't attend out of their own interest and pride in others, but instead in a... (selfish?) need to finish an assignment.  All of the time that went into the presentation is unimportant as long as they have enough facts to scrape together into a decent grade.  Everything is about quantity, not quality.  I hear rumors the presentation on Rachel Carson's book was forced to cut from 20 minutes to only 5 because everyone before them ran over and she was the unlucky person who had to bear the cut.  I can't imagine what I would do if someone had told me to take the years worth of work I had already condensed and then practiced for hours and cut most of it out, so it was barely worth it to present, since nothing important could be gotten to.  But they gave her her couple minutes to show that she is worth something, so what do they care?  They make a big deal of the Wilson scholars and pay them to come present to the word in a 'distinguished' area, but the Scholar presentations are from what I saw the worse attended of the presentations of the lot.  Presenters who know that already request that the rules be bent so that they can go present with the rest of the presentations of their subject, where they will at least have professors who understand and care about their work.
At the end of the day?  The happiest, proudest and most inspired people are those who stood up on that stage (and their faculty sponsors), not any of the attendees.  This is just the nature of presentations, and if you disagree, where you honestly happy and inspired by all of the long, dragged out graduation speeches from high school by the state superintendent and principal and president's second cousin twice removed?

The Ordinary in the Extraordinary

After reading this story, I could very easily discuss many examples of the "ordinariness" that resounds throughout the entire thing. There is the ordinariness that comes from the argument that Gabriel has with Miss Ivors (after all, who doesn't have arguments with friends?), the ordinariness of Gabriel's feelings for his wife as they return to their hotel, and the ordinariness of having a previous love that we learn about Gretta. However, instead of any of these moments, I am going to discuss the dinner that these people partook in.

"There was a great deal of confusion and laughter and noise, the noise of orders and counter-orders, of knives and forks, or corks and glass-stoppers. Gabriel began to carve second helpings as soon as he had finished the first round without serving himself. Everyone protested loudly so that he compromised by taking a long draught of stout for he had found the carving hot work. Mary Jane settled down quietly to her supper but Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia were still toddling round the table, walking on each other's heels, getting in each other's way of them to sit down and eat their suppers and so did Gabriel but they said there was time enough so that, at last, Freddy Malins stood up and, capturing Aunt Kate, plumped her down on her chair amid general laughter" (pg. 198).

This particular paragraph was probably the most ordinary part of the story to me, because all I could think about as I read it was my own family during the holidays, and it is very much described here: all of my family sitting around one long table, delicious foods spread out before us, everyone trying not to drool as Grandpa cuts up the ham or turkey. As we eat, the general noise in the room increases every now and then as everyone partakes in various discussions, and Grandma runs around making sure that everyone has everything they could possibly need, while we are all telling her to sit down and eat too. To me, this is ordinary, even if it only happens under extraordinary circumstances.

The Ordinary Dead

“Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. 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.”

I chose this passage for two different reasons, both of which are things I consider to be at once quite ordinary but also unique.

Gabriel is confronted by the fact that his wife Gretta was once very in love with another man. After she falls asleep, he realizes that he has never loved a woman the way Gretta loved Michael Furey. What I consider to be ordinary here in the idea of being blinded by your own emotions. In my opinion, I believe that everyone at some point in their life has a sudden epiphany (the way many of Joyce’s characters seem to in “Dubliners”) that their emotions are not what they had originally thought them to be. Speaking as a young woman, I have believed myself to be in love multiple times before only to realize later that I wasn’t. Love isn’t the only emotion that fools you. I believe that happiness, anger and multiple other feelings can manipulate and trick you. Denial and the power of suggestion are powerful motivators. Yet, regardless of how ordinary it is to be tricked by your emotions, no one will ever be tricked exactly in the same way that another person is tricked thus making it a unique experience.

The other and more compelling reason that I chose this passage is due to Gabriel’s contemplation of the dead and death. It takes Gretta’s story about Michael and his death to really push Gabriel to his contemplation of death. We’ve talked about this before in class but to me, death is at once the most ordinary and unique thing that happens to us. Death happens every day, every where, all the time and we have absolutely no control over it except to possibly put it off for a few extra years by eating well and exercising. However, even though death is everywhere and we will all inevitably experience it, it is profoundly different for each person. In this sense, when I say experience death I mean experience it in a way that is somewhat removed from us i.e. the death of a loved one. That experience of death is not the experience of death but it is the only way we experience it while we are alive. Even though death is the ultimate end of our lives, we will never be able to fully experience it because once we do-- hey we’re dead!

Also, I love this story. 

A thought-tormented post

Inaugurated at the beginning and carried throughout is a sense that some implicit reality in "The Dead" is being read against-- by Gabriel, of course, but also by the reader, who is sort of helplessly dragged along by an inconspicuous but intentional narrator. I have always felt that the first two or three lines of the story are sexually misleading-- a young girl is tirelessly helping men men undress in a little, hidden pantry? I think the narrator is playing with us here-- but in such a way that we are relatively helpless in the matter, until we read further on. In a sense, Gabriel is similarly helpless to his own misreadings of the world. This is made evident in his false construction of his wife while she listens to the piano (211)-- perhaps false is not the right word here, but it is distinctly off; he is as helplessly blind to her here, as he constructs his imaginary painting of her, as he is when he imagines her to be as lustful and impassioned as himself in the hotel room. This seems to be characteristic of Gabriel-- to be not quite aligned with the reality of the story (a reality that, it should be noted, we are not quite aligned with, either, as I assert the narrator is constantly playing with us).

I was vaguely reminded of Wittgenstein's "the limits of our world are the limits of our language" as I read Gabriel's speech. It appears to be an almost ritualistic gathering of phrases and words that had been scattered throughout the beginning of the story: he admonishes the "new generation" as he did Miss Ivors on the dance floor; he borrows the word "thought-tormented" from his review on Browning ; "...will not willingly let die," the endnote tell us, is taken from Milton; the Three Graces are, of course, taken from mythology, but also from the preview of his speech we are offered earlier; and I'm sure there are many more instances I'm missing. Similary, the story itself seems to be a gathering of pieces: actual, geographic locations in Dublin, certain biblical names, and Irish slang. I think this points to the layered and collective nature of humanity; those gathered experiences that differentiate us also serve to set us into our own seperate realities which never quite align, an idea which we saw in Emerson's "Experience" and which we see here with Gabriel and Gretta.

But there is a hopefulness at the end-- well, perhaps not a hopefulness, but I don't know how else to describe it-- as the snow falls uniformly, covering everything over in whiteness, turning everything into a "grey impalpable world." This, of course, counteracts what I said in the previous paragraph; this points toward something which is universal, which is common to all, living and (fascinatingly) dead. I don't know what this is, or that it can be talked about ("whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent," and all that). Anyway, it's brilliant. That's all I have to say.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The ordinariness of experiencing

I truly enjoyed reading The Dead, and felt very emotional by the end of the story.  I picked up on Gabriel's desire to be in control and felt how awkward the two encounters were when he was not in control.  This first encounter being with Lily, the servant at the party taking coats and the second being with his wife when he finds out there was another love in his life.  

The part in this story that registered most with the topics of ordinariness that we have been discussing in class would be the moment when Gretta was frozen in the middle of the room listening to The Lass of Aughrim: “Gabriel watched his wife who did not join in the conversation.  She was standing right under the dusty fanlight and the flame of the gas lit up the rich bronze of her hair which he had seen her drying at the fire a few days before.  She was in the same attitude and seemed unaware of the talk about her.  At last she turned towards them and Gabriel saw that there was colour on her checks and that her eyes were shining.  A sudden tide of joy went leaping out of his heart.” (213).  At this moment in time it is made clear to the reader that something about the atmosphere is striking Gretta, putting her in a daze, has her husband watches unaware of what it is.  She later reveals to him that the song reminded her of a boy who once loved her and took his own life and that listening to the song brings back images of his eyes.  This scene reminded me of our discussion about how ordinary objects, or sounds in this case, can bring back memories of specific events in our life.  In Experience, Emerson writes “Life is a train of moods like a string o beads, and, as we pass through them, the prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each knows only what lies in its focus.  From the mountain you see the mountain.  We animate what we can, and we see only what we animate.  Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them.  It depends on the mood of the man , whether he shall see the sunset or the fine poem.” (pg. 4).  I believe that the same is true for Gretta and the song The Lass of Aughrim.  That song reminds her of the mood that she passed through after loss of a loved one.  Each time she hears that song, it brings her back to that same feeling.  If Gretta had been in a different mood when experiencing that song, then she would feel that way whenever she experienced that song again.  Life is a all sorts of different emotions strung together and the ordinary objects (nature, books, sounds etc.) bring us back to those moods we felt when experiencing the object again.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012


While I am thoroughly interested in Wittgenstein's theory, I am perhaps more interested in the stylistic transformation that took place between the Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations. The Tractatus, in form and content, seems written without an audience in mind, or at least without a questioning, doubtful, human audience, anyway. Philosophical Investigations, on the other hand, anticipates skepticism, and at times even calls out directly to the reader. I first became conscious of this on 152, where he writes: "Do the others, perhaps, hover before one's mind? All of them? And while one is saying the one sentence, or before, or afterwards? --No. Even if such an explanations rather tempts us, we need only think for a moment of what actually happens in order to see we are going astray here." First of all, I love the emphatic "No" he frequently uses. (I love it the most at the bottom of 163: "Can you give the boundary? No." It's as if he's saying, "No, you can't, so why don't you just listen to me." I cannot recall any such feeling in the Tractatus-- there was instead an implicit feeling of "if you don't understand, I don't care.") Secondly, he recognizes and anticipates where the minds of his audience might stray and preemptively guards against this straying, exhibiting a consciousness of audience that prevails, ultimately contributing to this text's (vs. Tracty's) readability.

Other moments: pg. 157-- "Do not say: 'There isn't a last definition...'"; pg. 163-- "... don't think, but look!"; and the very fascinating moment when he writes of "the author of the Tractatus Logico--Philosophicus," effectively putting even the past version of himself into his intended audience.

What's in a name?

I think Wittgenstein's discussion of the meaning of words in "Philosophical Investigations" fits nicely into our discussion of the ordinary. At the beginning of the course we talked about how the ordinary is often something we take for granted. We do this every day with words. We use words, not thinking about the origins of their meanings or how we learned them. But in fact, as Wittgenstein says, we put a lot effort into ingraining the meaning of words in young children. We train them until the words' meanings are so ordinary they do not give them a second thought when using them. I am little confused when he says "it is not the purpose of the words to evoke images" (151). I know he sees words mainly as a form of identification, but isn't associating pictures with the word based on its meaning part of the identification process? I guess he sees it as an unnecessary consequence, but I don't really agree with that. Perhaps, I am just splitting hairs here, though.

Pictures and Pears

I accidentally read ahead for last class, so my post for Monday is actually relevant to this reading. So now, I will write about something else that struck me in Philosophical Investigations.

Wittgenstein's ideas (2.12-2.15) regarding pictures as models of reality immediately made me think of Stevens' "Study of Two Pears."  Wittgenstein's ideas are as follows:
2.12 A picture is a model of reality.
2.13 In a picture objects have the elements of the picture corresponding to them.
2.131 In a picture the elements of the picture are the representatives of objects.
2.14 What constitutes a picture is that its elements are related to one another in a determinate way.
2.141 A picture is a fact.
2.15 The fact that the elements of a picture are related to one another in a determinate way represents that things are related to one another in the same way.
(pages 144-145)

Upon analyzing Stevens' poems about pears, it seems that one can never get to the pearness of pears because other details get in the way; one begins to see other aspects (color, shape, form, etc.) with every passing moment, as demonstrated in Stevens' poem.  While the painting attempts to show the pearness of pears, in a way, this painting is only successful at doing so with these two particular pears the picture represents.  That is not to say that this picture does not represent reality as Wittgenstein claims, but it only represents the reality that once was when these particular two pears served as the model for this painting.  However, this reality is no longer. While other pears may share similar elements to the two pears in the painting, they are not identical. According to Wittgenstein, I believe pears are related to each other in a determinate way because of this. The two pears described in the poem are representatives (and representatives only) of the two pears the artist of the painting was painting, to which, I believe is safe to assume, Stevens and Wittgenstein would agree.


Unfortunately, I was unable to be in class Friday but what I have gathered from the blog post many did not like Wittgenstein’s numbering style.  Although I didn’t mind the reading, I would have to agree that Philosophical Investigations was much more interesting to read because of the increased detail and examples with each numbering.  
Throughout the reading, Wittgenstein often relates learning the meaning of a word to a child learning their native language and refers to it as a language game: “We can also think of the whole process of using words in (2) as one of those games by means of which children learn their native language.  I will call these games “language-games” and will sometimes speak of a primitive language as a language-game.” (pg. 151).  What intrigued me most about this reading and the idea of the language-games is that all of us have experienced learning to speak a language, but it happened at such a young age that we can not recall how we learned.  Also, anyone who has learned how to speak a second language has experienced this, but in a different way than a child learning their native language because they already have a language with words and meanings to relate new words to.  What also caught my attention, in regards to the language-games, would be the part Wittgenstein talked about deciphering the difference between color, shape and number when pointing to an object.  “...-You will say that you ‘meant‘ a different thing each time you pointed.  And if I ask how that is done, you will say you concentrated your attention on the colour, the shape, etc.  But I cask again: how is that done?” (pg. 158).  This made me question how that is done and the only conclusion I could come to is the person being asked must have a base knowledge of colors, numbers and shapes before being asked.  Thinking back to my own childhood, I am not sure I how I was taught to decipher the difference, but I believe that our culture prepares child to learn how to speak from a very young again by all of the different child toys and books that focus on shape, color, feeling and number.  Those toys act as tools as a base understanding of their native language so when they do learn to speak and are asked color, number and shape they have a better understanding of what is being pointed to.  

One-way mirrors and having kids

Did this make anyone feel really self-conscious about their sentences/word-choice for the rest of the weekend after reading this?  I never thought about it before, but it guess the most terrifying part of having kids is teaching them to speak.  I don't know how to explain numbers and things with multiple names and colors and non-physical words to someone who doesn't share a language with me.
Aside from all of the however, the part that stood out to me was 25 on page 156:
"It is sometimes said that animals do not talk because they lack the mental capacity. And this means: 'they do not think, and that is why they do not talk.'  But --they simply do not talk.   Or to put it better: they do not use language --if we except the most primitive forms of language .  --Commanding, questioning, recounting, chatting, are as much a part of our natural history as walking, eating, drinking, playing."
As he corrects the others, I must correct him on the idea that they do not use language.  True, they do not use our language but that does not make them incapable of communication, just relies more on tone and octave of noises and body language more than word sound.
Other than that, I just spent most of this reading realizing I didn't have any good way to teach someone anything more that the object nouns.

More Than Words

I must begin this post by stating that I liked this reading of Wittgenstein more so than the last one. Even though he still had numbered points, I liked that he explained each point within a detailed paragraph, instead of breaking it down into smaller decimals. It was much easier to follow along this way, and while I know I didn't understand everything that he tried to talk about, I can definitely say that I understand more.

Now what I have chosen to write my blog post on is on the idea of tones and facial expressions. It takes a lot more than just words for language to make complete sense. There are plenty of sentences and ideas that can be taken more than just one way, so it is important to be able to pick up on a person's tone, or to be able to read their facial expressions in order to realize what they are meaning. For example, "I'm great" is a fairly common response to the question, "How are you?" and those two words can mean a number of things. Perhaps the person really is great, which you can probably tell by their smile, but perhaps the person is actually quite the opposite of great, in which case it is necessary to realize that in the tone of their voice. There are other times when you can tell exactly what a person is thinking or feeling without them having to say anything, simply because of the look on their face. Although words are clearly extremely important, it takes more than that to form a successful language.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Philosophical Investigations

First of all, I felt a bit better about this reading that the "Tractatus." I liked that Wittgenstein still used a numbering system that was much more straight forward and way less insanity-inducing for me.

In our discussion in class about language being primitive or things that existed pre-language, I really liked the topic of young children and learning to speak. Wittgenstein's description of a child using language in "Investigations" really struck me: "A child uses such primitive forms of language when it learns to talk. Here the teachings of language is not explanation, but training."

Is this true? In teaching children to teach, are we simply training them and not explaining anything? I don't know that I agree. I think teaching kids to talk is in a way explaining the entire world to them. I'm not sure if Wittgenstein is purposely trying to divide explanation from training, but I don't think those two things should be split. In training someone, particularly a child how to speak, you're not only explaining something to them but giving them the tools to then explain things themselves. Those two concepts work together.

Friday, April 20, 2012


I don't get the Tractaus. I am utterly baffled by the form. I do not grasp, except in the most rudimentary way, what is meant by "a picture theory of language." The text seems, on the one hand, almost inhumanly logical -- like something generated by a robot or a computer -- and on the other hand to gesture, startlingly, in places -- toward poetry and feeling: "there are indeed, many things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical." Wittgenstein sometimes talked about "the more important unwritten second half" of the Tractatus -- ie, the realm of ethics and metaphysics to which he points but of which he insists we cannot speak. It seems to me that the dominant note is quite similar to Marianne Moore's "Silence" ("the deepest feeling always shows itself in silence..."). In Wittgenstein's text, as in Moore's we have to read silence in addition to reading the text itself. And once we do that, we will, according to Wittgenstein, be able to "throw the ladder away." I'm interested here, in the idea of limits: the limits of language, the limits of the world, the limits of thought and meaning -- and the profound way in which a limit always also suggests something beyond. I'm also interested in the relationship between thought and feeling in Wittgenstein's, which seems to me deep, complicated and strange.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I will be honest, I am feeling complete frustration with Wittgenstein and this piece, so please excuse my negativity. I don't really like the set up. You would think a list format would be less confusing than a normal paragraph full of complex ideas, like that of Heidegger or any other philosopher, but I think I would have that preferred that more. Each number starts with a statement and then each decimal goes backwards to explain it. I would rather begin with the support and facts and then work towards a conclusion. I like an explanation that is like a funnel, narrowing as it goes, rather than a pyramid, which is narrow from the beginning. One thing that I may have possibly grasped onto, is that he did not seem to give his definition of "thing." Please tell me if I am wrong because I may have missed it, but unlike facts, objects, state of affairs, and everything else he does not explain what he means when he says "things." This is a very general term and I surprised he did not elaborate. Does anyone have a gloss on "things?"

Struggling with W.

I'm not going to lie, I had a really hard time with this reading. Even though Kristen gave us an open topic, I'm going to take the "on thing I understood (maybe)" route here and discuss what I didn't really understand (everything else) in class.

Wittgenstein deceived me early on, trying to fool me into believing I would understand what the hell he was talking about. In the preface, Wittgenstein states that "what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must consign to silence." Okay, I get what he's saying here-- if something can be properly stated or talked about, it's clear. It's expressed in a way that's understood and causes no confusion. If something cannot be stated properly, it's not to be talked about because it will never be right or understandable. Again, I get it but I don't agree. Why keep silent? If we don't understand something, how are we to ever reach a point of understanding if we simply don't talk about it? How am I ever going to understand this guy if we don't talk about him in class tomorrow?

In a way, this reminded me of our talk regarding men and women in classrooms. We discussed how men are usually completely comfortable answering a question without having their response completely formulated but instead work through the answer while responding while women tend to only respond if they have an answer completely worked out in their heads and are 100% sure they are correct.

What in a scientific name?

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus?  Why?

The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, commonly known as the Wittgenstein, is a confusing creature that I have never before encountered.  It is highly intelligent, but is not a fluent communicator and speaks in chopped, short sentences.  This communication, while short is very effective and to the point, communicating well with other members of the Philosophicus.  Those outside of the species however, may become quickly confused.  In this reading of recorded Tractatus calls, there are many simple inconsistencies.
2.01:  'If a thing can occur in a state of affairs...', but 2.012 defines a 'state of affairs' as a combination of objects.  The existence of the 'if' theorizes that there is a way to have several objects that together do not form a group, which goes against the definition.
Also, what is wrong with 2.0123?  Possibilities make the object, and new possibilities can not appear afterwords?  What does that mean about spray air, which people have killed themselves by breathing?  Does it cease to be spray air or what that possiblity know when it was created?

Of Princesses, Unicorns, and the British Army

I cannot decide if I like Wittgenstein's set up or not. On the one hand, setting his writing up in numbered steps makes it easier to follow along, but then on the other hand he complicates it by adding multiple sub-steps to each original step, making it hard to keep track of which steps go with each thought. He also seemed to say the same thing (or a very similar thing) in his sub-steps, that were just worded a bit differently than in the original thought.

In his philosophy itself, I also am unsure of how I feel about him, though I'm leaning toward disagreement at this time. In step 3.02 he says, "A thought contains the possibility of the situation of which it is thought. What is thinkable is possible." He goes further in 3.03, writing, "Thought can never be anything illogical, since, if it were, we would have to think illogically." I don't agree with either of those points, because I don't think that whatever is thinkable is possible, nor do I think that thought can never be illogical. Many little girls think about owning a unicorn and being princesses, but that's impossible (the unicorn part for sure, the princess part more often than not), whereas I would guess that in 1774 and before that it seemed pretty illogical to many colonists that they would ever be broken away from the British and under their own rule, and yet it happened (and just thinking about the few colonists going against the British and winning still seems pretty illogical, and yet it happened). Perhaps Wittgenstein meant something different from how I read his words, but until I understand it differently, I just can't agree with him.


One thing that really resonates with me is, "45. The demonstrative 'this' can never be without a bearer. It might be said: 'so long as there is a this, the word 'this' has a meaning too, whether this is simple or complex.' But that does not make the word into a name. On the contrary: for a name is not used with, but only explained by means of, the gesture of pointing" (161). This statement really got me thinking. When I type "define: this" into Google, this (yikes!) is what I get:

Pronoun: Used to identify a specific person or thing close at hand or being indicated or experienced: "is this your bag?".
Adjective: Used to identify a specific person or thing close at hand or being indicated or experienced: "don't listen to this guy."
Pronoun: To the degree or extent indicated: "they can't handle a job this big."

But does this really give me a definitive definition? I think not. These definitions imply that I am referring to something to be defined, but the reality is when looking up the definition for "this," what is "this" cannot be defined! Here, "this" is too ambiguous to be defined, for when looking for such a definition of "this", what is this of which you speak? This (oh no!) really gets the wheels turning in my head, and reveals to me how often the demonstrative "this" is used. It also reminds me of the song "This" by Darius Rucker, where the "this" in the song can be inferred, but can one ever really know? How can one know what "this" is if one can't truly define "this?!"

Over all, I agree with Wittgenstein in that "this" can never be without a bearer in order to understand and fully know what "this" actually is, and this (ha!) is something I have never thought of before.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

1. The World is all that is the (Dr.) Case (or, Now I See Why You Assigned This)

While I am tempted to consign myself to silence, I suppose I should make some attempt at elucidation. My main struggle with the Tractatus is the tension between its form and ideology. It seems to promote a philosophical vision of the world that is in line with our quotidian life, but it does so in a way that almost resists natural thought patterns. He refers to his own propositions as "steps," but my mind does not function in such a way that each thought is processed and refined by proceeding thoughts. I will admit that this text is easily navigable if one is moving backward, but certainly not if one is moving forward. I recognize the caveat of 6.54 ("...anyone who understands me eventually recognizes [my propositions] as nonsensical, when he has used them...")-- the problem, then, is using them.

I haven't "climb[ed] up beyond" Wittgenstein's argument. I have moments of clarity that are ill-served by their following decimals, and I am left feeling as though, perhaps, everything might as well be consigned to silence. Is that the point? I certainly hope not. I certainly hope the fault here is in me, and that my picture of Wittgenstein's philosophy simply does not align with its reality.

I am occupying the world of the unhappy man. 


I really enjoyed reading Wittgenstein because his work is unlike any others that we have read this semester.  The way that he numbered the points that he was making, much like a slide show, made it very easy to follow.  I also find it hard to believe that if his work was to widely followed in the 1920s that he only published one book in his life time.  But then again, it took a few years for his beliefs to catch on, the earlier ones, and the later ones are finally catching on today. 

What I did like about his work is that it is so different, not only the set up, but what he is saying.  Wittgenstein talks a lot about the world, how things in the world are true and how language is the only limits of the world.  When I was reading his work, it made me think about Emerson--mostly because of the radical differences between the two.  Where Wittgenstein states: “How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for what is higher.  God does not reveal himself in the world.” (pg. 148).  This differs from Emerson so much because of his beliefs on the relationship between man, nature and spirit (nature being something Wittgenstein has not touched upon yet and probably won’t because we should know it is a truth because it is in the world).  

Lastly, a quote that caught my eye was: “Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death.” (pg.148).  This quote caught my attention because it, also, reminded me of our first class discussion about the ordinariness about death.  I don’t believe that this quote is making death extraordinary, in fact I believe that it is reminding us that death is a simple and ordinary part of life, and to live life not worrying about death.  This idea instantly reminded me of our class discussion of the ordinariness of death , but how experiencing the loss of someone close makes it extraordinary.   

Monday, April 16, 2012

An Atlas of the Difficult World XIII. (Dedications)

When reading Adrienne Rich, the poem that stood out to me was from An Atlas of the Difficult World XIII. (Dedications).  The title in itself stood out to me because it makes me wonder is this taken from An Atlas of the Difficult World or is that a part of the full title.  Also, before reading the poem I wondered who the dedication was to.  

Once reading the poem I realized that the dedications were to every type of person that Rich describes in the poem.  It also made me realize how little time people leave in their busy lives to read for enjoyment.  The times that people pick up a book to read a poem are as they skim a book at the library, sitting of the train to pass time from one destination to another or while at home in between caring for a young child.  All of the examples given show that people do not leave enough time to enjoy the work of poetry.  To fully enjoy a poem there should be no other distractions taking place while reading the poem.  

This poem made me see how the ordinariness of everyday tasks have taken over the time that use to be spent enjoying poetry.  It use to be that sitting down, in a peaceful setting and reading a poem was ordinary in itself.  Today, everyone’s lives have gotten so busy, that is just seems ordinary to be jumping form task to task, making no time for the enjoyment and ordinariness of reading.  I am guilty, just as much as every person Rich describes in her poem, and it makes me want to make more time in my life to sit down in a peaceful setting and enjoy the ordinariness of reading a poem or book for pure pleasure.    

Language in "21 Love Poems"

I am most interested in the way Rich envisions language throughout these poems. In II, the speaker has written the poem of her life, but hesitates to show it to anyone. It does not seem to be out of dissatisfaction with the poem-- on the contrary, it seems to be because the poem too accurately describes her life for her to feel comfortable showing it off. At the end of V, though, she refers to civilization as an "act of translation, [a] half-world," which suggests the insufficiency of translation in referring to the world. She parts completely from the sentiment in II at the beginning of VII: "What kind of beast would turn its life into words?" This poem speaks of using words, and wonders how we live in them, but reaches no conclusion regarding the status of language's accuracy-- in fact, it ends in a question mark. In IX, she fears "this inarticulate life," is waiting "for a wind that will gently open this sheeted water/ for once," as it has not happened before-- as language has never done. Later, in reference to the same "inarticulate" lover, she writes, "You're telling me the story of your life/ for once, a tremor breaks the surface of your words./ The story of our lives becomes our lives" (XVIII). There is no longer a question of how or if words correspond to our lives, but instead a declaration that are lives are, in fact, our words. She concludes in XX that when she had previously tried to speak, she "was talking to [her] own soul." The conclusion seems finally to be that, if language corresponds to anything, it is the self who speaks it-- and here lies the seat of its power, but the power of the speaker as well-- like in "Power," "her wounds came from the same source as her power." It is not that the language of the poem in II revealed the secret of her life, but the "poem of [her] life" came to being through these words; the poem and the life become one and the same.


I have chosen to write about Rich's last poem, "Dedications," from "An Atlas of the Difficult World." Honestly I don't have a whole lot to say about it, other than that I just really liked this poem. I liked how she was writing directly to the reader, as if she knew them personally, or at least well enough to know what they were doing as they read. More than that, I liked that I could very easily picture each scenario that she came up with, even though they were all very different from one another. I think my favorite scenario was the older man or woman, reading the poem "through your failing sight," (line 26) because I loved that image of an elderly person squinting through his or her thick glasses, refusing to stop reading because, as Rich says, "even the alphabet is precious" (line 28).
Thinking about this poem in the sense of "ordinary" and "unordinary," the entire thing is both or either, depending on the person reading it. To me, it is unordinary to think of myself pacing back and forth with a crying child on my shoulder as I read, but to any mother or father, that is as ordinary to them as waking up in the morning. Ordinariness in this poem changes from person to person, and all depends on the situations that those people find themselves in.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


I highly enjoyed the article.  All the symbolism... and irony.

Look at all of the problems my parents go through to see me.  They would be better off not wasting their time to come visit, only to be turned away because the nurses secretly don't want to deal with them, but want me to keep bringing in money for them.
Back when I was younger I was naive and stupid.  I didn't see the evil that lurked around me.  I didn't notice all of the hatred being aimed at me.  What danger I put myself into without even knowing.
Look at how much worse this paranoia, this disease  has grown.  I have only gotten worse, so much worse.
Why are they thinking about how to bring me away from this sanitarium?  I have been prevented from escaping this cruel world three times by this place.  If I am home, can I finally succeed?  They must be doing this because they want me to end this all.

Jam represents the sweet things in life.

Apricots symbolize love.  The entire journey out to the sanitarium is hard and stressful for us, but we love our son and want to see him, regardless of the struggle it is to get there.
Grape is the symbol for fertility and money.  Back in Europe when the boy was born, they had a maid and the husband made good money and all was right with the world.
Plum plants are healing.  As she is drawn out of her awful memories of the war to the sound of her husband awakening, she is reminded that is all in the past.  The feelings are not nearly as awful now as they were when the events were occurring.
Quince stands for protection.  They decide that they will do whatever it takes to bring their son back to them.  Surely they can keep an equally good eye on him and protect and cherish him more than they or the staff can.  They can protect him from his demons.

The crab apple is the last jam the father gets to.  It stands for, among other things, immortality.  If the girl now knew how to dial the correct phone number, then the phone number was unrelated.  The son is now eternally free of his demons.

Twenty-One Love Poems

I am choosing to write about "Twenty-One Love Poems," but particularly VI (page 947). The poem discusses hands, but goes on to describe what could be done with these hands. When I read this poem, I realized that I too often overlook my hands and the tasks I am able to accomplish with them. In this light, I feel that hands are "ready to hand" according to Heidegger. I am able to act through my hands while my hands themselves fade into the background, even though my hands are doing the work. I can accomplish tasks using my hands directly; I do not have to ask permission of my hands to do something on my behalf. This tendency to overlook my hands in fact illuminates my hands as extraordinary objects when they are brought to my attention like the way they are in this poem. It's true that hands protect those they love, handle power-tools, drive with steering wheels, turn unborn children the right way in the birth canal for a safe delivery, steer great ships safely, and piece together broken artifacts of a krater-cup, and so on. Humans' hands are only extensions of humans themselves, but deserve the attention that humans are too often credited with instead.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

For class...

Since I'll be leading discussion for the Nabokov story, I'd like to request that everyone have an idea in class as to what the final phone call will be. I think that'll be a good place to start discussion.

Symbols and Signs

I chose to write about the short Nabokov story because I'll be talking about Adrienne Rich plenty in class and I'd never read this story before.

First off, I'm still puzzling about the title of this story. I'm not sure what the "symbols and signs" are supposed to represent in this story. Now, I know that the title of a story does not have the be obviously represented in a story, but Nabokov must have had some reason to name this work what he did. Does anyone else have an idea?

Other than my wondering at the choice of title (and not really in spite of it or anything), I really enjoyed this story. It made me sad though, which sounds very shallow outside of my brain. The entire tone of the piece to me seemed very perfunctory and even ordinary. It seemed as thought Nabokov thought to emphasize a feeling of ordinariness even though there was nothing truly ordinary about this family. Crazy son, immigrant parents who had faced much hardship in the "old country" but getting up, riding multiple forms of public transportation to visit their institutionalized son only to be told he's recently attempted suicide (again) so he's unfit for a visit is something they simply do. It's part of their life, their routine, and so it is ordinary for them.

For me, that's one of the most interesting parts of "the ordinary." No matter how truly out of the ordinary something may seem to you at first or someone looking into your life from the outside, if you do it long enough or encounter it long enough, it becomes ordinary and no longer seems odd or different.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Paper Nautilus

Standing in opposition to the usual toil of the world, the nautilus is special because she is not required to play to the popularity of those who depend on her.  She lives within her fortress, sheltered from others' criticisms by her dream of hope.  This hope is in a circle effect with her courage: the courage protects the hope, the hope gives her courage.  Although this hope is fragile, portrayed with glass and thin pearl lines, it is strong and uncrushable, even with herculean strength.  Powerful enough that she would trust it to protect her eggs, her children and livelihood.
I'm having trouble wording it, but this... conflict is best personified in the title.  The nautilus, a strong, hard carbonate shell which the nautilus calls home,  is named to be nothing but paper, weak and fragile in all situations short of shanks, especially in water.


I struggled with Marianne Moore quite a bit. However, I feel like I have a grasp on her poem "Silence." In a nutshell, I feel the poem is a warning about the temperament of "superior people." Particularly, I feel this poem comes from the point of view of someone whose father shared these thoughts with him/her. If such people do not stay for long visits, it's probably because their haughtiness gets the best of them. Although they are self-reliant, they are so in a way that they victimize innocent bystanders, like the mouse to the cat. They reward themselves for their victimization by being in solitude, away from anyone "beneath" them, meaning not up to their standards. I found the line "The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence" (line 10) particularly strong, mostly because I do not associate keeping strong feelings inside of me, and nor do many of the authors and philosophers we read, I feel. However, these "superior people" may choose to keep their deepest feelings in silence so as to control the situations they find themselves in, which is implied by the following line that states, "Not in silence, but restraint" (line 11). At the same time, this father allows his child to "Make [his] house your inn" (line 14), which upon first impression is a nice gesture, but inns are temporary. Therefore, it is plausible to assume that this father/child relationship has dwindled, and now the child has become the type of person his/her father previously warned him/her about. In a way, this may be a message about growing up and going out to experience new things and losing touch of family values. How did others interpret this poem?

A Grave

I, like Devin, also chose to focus on "The Grave" but did so for no other reason than I found this poem more haunting than the others and I was in a rather somber mood. For whatever reason, I loved this poem.

Lines 4-5 were particularly interesting to me after our discussion of Heidegger's "standing in the truth." This poem/Moore says that "it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing, / but yuou cannot stand in the middle of this" (4-5). What is it in human nature that compels us to stand in the middle of anything? Humans seem fairly invested in being a part of things and experiencing them first hand instead of simply observing.

The discussion of the ocean as something humans simply cannot stand in the middle of seemed to me to be a warning, whether Moore intended it to be or not. Too often, humans operate under the assumption that we have conquered nature and that it can never hurt us for we are evolved and more intelligent. This is not so. The ocean doesn't care if you think you're smart. It's so much more powerful and uncaring that everyone should be terrified of the ocean. Thoughts like this remind me to feel small and remember that as a human, no matter what I think, I am not more powerful or important than nature. Nature and the ocean were both here long before I was and they will be here long after I am gone.


All right, so all of the poems took a while for me to try to wrap my mind around, but the one that I think I was able to wrap my mind around most was "Bird-Witted." If I am analyzing this poem correctly (which it is perfectly possible that I am not), it is about changes in life and how they can happen unexpectedly. Allow me to explain my thinking a bit more clearly: we begin the poem with three mocking-birds that are clearly getting big enough that they should be leaving the nest soon. This is made clear with lines such as: "till they see/their no longer larger/mother bringing/something that will partially/feed one of them," (lines 6 - 10). It is clear that these birds should be leaving the nest, but the tone of the poem does not make it sound as though they plan on doing so any time soon, which seems to be wearing on the mother bird. "What delightful note/with rapid unexpected flute-/sounds leaping from the throat/of the astute/grown bird, comes back to one from/the remote/unenergetic sun-/lit air before/the brood was here? How harsh/the bird's voice has become," (lines 31 - 40). Towards the end of the poem however the cat comes in, introducing a new, unforeseen danger, one that the younger birds don't fully understand, but which the mother bird understands quite well. "since nothing fills/squeaking unfed/mouths, wages deadly combat,/and half kills/with bayonet beak and/cruel wings, the/intellectual cautiously/creeping cat," (lines 53 - 60). Suddenly the birds' worlds have all been changed when this new danger was introduced, even though up to this point the younger birds had not had to worry about anything. Perhaps Moore was trying to tell her readers that no matter how much we try to play it safe in life, there is always a possibility that something could happen to change your reality.


I don't know if I've mentioned it already this semester, but I really struggle with poetry. I'm a prose girl. I like paragraphs and linear thoughts clearly spelled out. That being said, it is no wonder that when I came to "Silence" and thought I finally understood one of the poems (kind of), I was actually wrong. I first read "Silence" online without any annotations. When I read it at first I believed that the speaker's father was talking negatively of the "superior people" he mentions (2). Firstly, it seemed a little like mocking to use the term "superior people" instead of upper class, gentry, or something similar. Secondly, the image of these people as a cat preying on a mouse seemed rather sinister to me. Then I read the version of the poem in the anthology as well as the annotation that comes with it. The annotation shows that this phrase was borrowed from Moore's father and that he was referring to himself when he spoke of these "superior people." So it seems he was not be negative after all, but is the speaker, the one remembering her father, being negative? Is she mocking him or being ironic? Seriously, I don't know, so if anyone has any insight please let me know. I tend to be very literal and it is highly likely that I've taken this in the wrong direction altogether.

blah blah allegory for the rhythms of life, etc.

Moore's a real jerk about making me play by poetry's rules. I have been reading and rereading "The Fish" to no intellectual avail, and have thus been forced to acknowledge my brain's own futility in parsing out this poem. I have nothing left to talk about but my own feelings, a fact which leaves me feeling sufficiently vulnerable and annoyed. With that in mind, here goes:

What I sense occuring in the "The Fish" is a battle between that which is passively steadfast and that with is actively regular. The cliff becomes aged and weathered by the sea--is, in fact, killed by it--but seems to derive its life from that very destruction. Yes, the mussel-shells are adjusting "ash-heaps" and the fish are "wad[ing]/ through black jade," but they are living fish and mussels, nonetheless. There is a strange, unidentifiable tension between life and death that remains unrevealed by the ambiguity of the final line; is it the cliff that "can live/ on what can not revive/ its youth," or the sea? Or the combination of the two? The final "it" of the poem suggests it is the cliff face that prevails, but can it be so easily extracted from the sea? The cliff is dead but, paradoxically, also teeming with life. The sea is ruthless and infinitely regular, but "grows old," anyway. It seems to me that the seat of life in this poem is within the sea's invariable abuse of the cliff. Even the regularity of the poem's structure seems to suggest this; there is some comfort in this regularity, even as the poem marks the regularity of the sea as abusive.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Grave

When reading Marianne Moore, I liked how she added quotes to her poetry to give it more meaning.  But, I found it harder to read and comprehend her longer poems because of all of the quotes.  It often felt like I was trying to decode the poem.  The poem that grabbed my attention the most was A Grave.  What caught my attention was the line “the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave.” (line 6).  This caught my attention because so many of the other philosophers that we have read this semester would have a much different look on mother nature’s oceans.  But Moore explores the the other side.  That quote got me thinking that, although the ocean is beautiful when calm on a day at the beach,  it also has a dark and mysterious side.  There are many parts of the ocean and creatures that live below it’s surface that we have not even explored.  
In line 20 Moore writes: “moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were no such thing as death.  When reading this I just pictured boats, very small on comparison to the size of the ocean, scurrying all along the surface forgetting what is bellow them and that at any moment the water can turn resulting in death.  Thinking about Emerson and writing about man and nature, this poem helps me to believe that nature is a far more powerful source than we give her credit for.  In the many stories of man verses ocean, there are very few resulting in man with the win.  In this poem, it is nature that man is living in, not nature surrounding man.  It is nature that controls man and can ultimately take mans life.  Emerson wrote about different brooks or streams, but I would love to read his thoughts on the nature of oceans and were man stands.   

Monday, April 9, 2012

After Apple Picking

After Apple Picking
Robert Frost 
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough. 5 
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass 10 
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell, 15 
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear. 20 
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound 25 
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, 30 
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all 
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap 35 
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his 40 
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.
I related this poem, obviously, to the reading Wild Apples by Thoreau.  This poem by talks about the hard work that goes into apple picking and what happens as soon as the apples have been picked.  The lines that particularly reminded of Wild Apples were: “Of the great harvest I myself desired.  There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall. (lines 29-31).  The word ‘Cherish’ reminded me of something that Thoreau would say about apples, because of his belief that apples should be handled with care and eaten in their natural habitat.  Also, the end of the poem talks about going to sleep, which is a metaphor for fall (apple season) ending and winter starting.  This also reminded me about how Thoreau talked about apples through all four seasons and how every season is important for the harvest of the apples.  I believe that Thoreau would also be eager to sleep through the winter to get to the harvest of the apple as Frost writes in the ending of this poem.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Heart of Autumn

Heart of Autumn
Robert Penn Warren

Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes.
Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray
Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese
Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.

Some crumble in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season's logic,

Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wing-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider - they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.

That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have known time and distance, but not why I am here.

Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same - and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Heating the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,

With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance -
Toward sunset, at a great height.