Sunday, December 31, 2006

Taiwan Folk Beliefs Essay

December 31, 2006


Dear Friend,

I am happy to hear that you are planning to visit Taiwan for the first time. I am sure that you will find it to be a fascinating and vibrant place, with many exciting and interesting sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. Before you arrive, I want to describe some of the folk beliefs of the Taiwanese people. They may not strictly logical, but by knowing about them, you will understand more about the Taiwanese people’s religious outlook, which is marked by tolerance of different faiths and the ability to accommodate contradictory beliefs.

One aspect of Taiwanese folk belief that sets it apart from Western ideas of religion is that it is much more inclusive and flexible than what we are accustomed to. While our Western belief system is predominately shaped by the Judeo-Christian ethic, which, in whatever form it takes, is fundamentally exclusive of other belief systems, the Taiwanese folk belief system incorporates elements of Buddhism and Taoism, as well as less well-defined folk practices and beliefs that vary from region to region. Confucianism, though strictly speaking not a religion, also has an important role to play. All of these elements combine to create a unique system of beliefs. For example, it is not uncommon to find both Buddhist and Taoist icons in a local temple, along with other figures or artifacts representing local spiritual elements that fall into neither of the former categories. In a way, you could say that Taiwanese folk beliefs are very pragmatic; whatever practice or belief that seems to work for the local people can be adopted and absorbed into their spiritual and ritual life.

Something that you will find closely linked to spirituality in Taiwan is the burning of incense. Aside from its pleasing aroma, the burning of an incense stick has a practical spiritual purpose. By transfiguring a solid object into smoke, the worshiper is making an analogous transformation from the earthly into the ethereal, much in the way that bread is transformed into the body of Christ in a Catholic mass. This practice has a cathartic effect, as a result of which the tension between the earthly and the spiritual is mitigated. In every temple you will find a number of incense burners, one at the entrance of the temple and then others inside for each of the gods that reside in the temple. People can be seen walking from one god to the next, holding incense sticks between their palms as they bow and pray to the gods.

You may be surprised that I refer to “gods” and not “god.” Unlike our Western, monotheistic practices, in Taiwan there are many gods, and multiple gods can reside in a single temple. There is usually one main god to whom the temple is dedicated and who is accompanied by his or her retinue of supporting gods, and then any number of associate gods, sometimes accompanied by their spouses. It is important to keep in mind that, although each temple has a specific patron god, there is no hierarchy of gods, as you might find in the ancient Greek pantheon. Gods perform different tasks as needed, and therefore sometimes assume a higher position for that purpose, but otherwise all gods are equal and respect each other. In addition to gods, Taiwanese recognize the importance of the spirits of ancestors, as well as ghosts.

Although I differentiate between gods, ghosts, and ancestors, in reality the boundaries between the three are not fixed, but rather they exist in a state of shifting continuity. The usual order of worship at a temple is first to the patron or main god of the temple, which reflects an introspective attitude, then to the sky god, which reflects an outward attitude. After that, ancestors are worshipped. Finally, some tribute can also be paid to ghosts, which are usually ancestor spirits who either have no living descendants, or whose living descendants for some reason or other have been unable to support them sufficiently. Since ancestors depend on the living to provide them with offerings in order to live comfortably in the afterlife, those who don’t receive adequate offerings become hungry ghosts, who often cause trouble for the living if not appeased through the burning of “ghost money” or other offerings.

Offerings are not the only way in which the living can be in contact with spiritual beings. In Taiwan there are also spirit mediums. These are people who, through no action of their own, have the ability to become possessed by gods in order to communicate with the living. Often people who are experiencing some kind of misfortune call upon these mediums to intercede for them, or to obtain information from the gods on what course of action they should pursue in order to overcome the misfortune. The rituals themselves may seem strange to us, as they involve mortification of the flesh in which the mediums strike themselves with swords or spiked clubs, as well as speaking in strange languages and voices. There are other forms of mediation as well, such as using a god’s sedan chair to “write” answers to questions.

Individuals can also communicate with the gods without employing a spirit medium. This is done with use of divination blocks, or sometimes coins. The individual asks the god a question, and then drops two blocks. The way they land determines the answer to the question. If the individual doesn’t like the answer, he or she is free to continue asking—sometimes changing the question in the process—until he or she receives the desired answer. The blocks themselves are crescent-moon shaped, and are rounded on one side and flat on the other. If they land either both flat or both rounded sides up, the answer is no. If they land with one of each, the answer is yes.

When describing the folk beliefs of the Taiwanese people, it is necessary to also talk about the relationships of the people to the gods and other spiritual beings, as well as their relationships to each other and to their communities. Every neighborhood has its own “corner” temple where that particular community’s patron god is worshipped. As I mentioned before, there is no fixed hierarchy for the gods. Because each community of worshippers has a particular god that it adopts as its patron, and because these gods have an egalitarian relationship with one another, this means that the temples are considered to be equal in importance to each other. This extends to the relationship between these small, local temples—which are only attended by people from the neighborhood—, and the larger temples that serve the greater community. Because of this relationship of equality between temples, social boundaries—such as those between rich and poor—between the various groups of worshippers are flexible. The boundaries between temples and worshippers exist, maintaining each group’s identity, but because they are permeable, they can be crossed to maintain a social balance.

Finally, it is this social balance that I want to try to explain to you. Because the folk beliefs of the Taiwanese people are flexible, the followers of this religious tradition experience more liberty and personal freedom compared to followers of more strict religious frameworks. Since the emphasis is on wholeness and on the relationship between individuals, their community, the spirit world, and the earth, and because the boundaries between these realms is permeable, there is a place in folk society for everyone. This is reflected in the fact that even opportunistic behavior and attitudes of individuals can be accommodated. The flexibility of the belief system allows room for people to do what they want while still fulfilling religious obligations. This may seem odd to our Western sensibilities, and especially to those of us from the United States, where the ultimate authority in determining appropriate behavior is the law. In the Taiwanese folk belief system, however, the relation of individual to the state is indirect at best. The important relationships go from self to family, then to the local community, then to one’s ethnicity. The function of religion in this system is to transcend the tension between the individual and the collective, and thereby to establish a sense of social harmony.

I hope that this information will be helpful to you on your visit. I understand that it can seem confusing to those of us who grew up in a different tradition. In fact, I can’t say that I really understand it all myself. Still, by learning what I have about the folk beliefs of Taiwanese people, I feel that things that once seemed deeply mysterious to me are a bit clearer. Maybe armed with this knowledge you will experience less bewilderment and have a greater level of enjoyment of your time in Taiwan.

Your friend,

Mike

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Brazil

By the way, no one from Brazil has looked at my blog, which really hurts because Eu falo portugues muito bem.

Yickem Esuom? What the ... ?

Here's another example of a Taiwanese misspelling.
I'm wondering if maybe the perpetrators thought they were circumventing copywrite laws by scrambling the letters. Who knows? I guess someone ought to tell these folks that the images are copywrited, as well as the names.

In any case, I really doubt that a rodent named Yickem will ever be as popular as one named Mickey, even if he does live on a sweater that is tightly wrapped around a ... lovely bosom.

Sorry to wax pornographic, but the sight of such a shapely mannequin drives me wild with desire.

Hey, didn't Yickem Esoum run for Prime Minister of Israel under the Yensid party?

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Noisiest Place on Earth

Most buildings in Taiwan are made out of concrete. This means that when a house or apartment is remodeled, it involves the use of extremely noisy tools, like jackhammers. Also, because most apartments are individually owned (rather than having one landlord for a whole building), each apartment owner can remodel his or her unit whenever he or she wants. In my building, four of the apartments around mine have undergone renovations since I've lived here. For each renovation, I've had to suffer through up to three weeks of bone-jarring noise (as have all the other tenants). In addition, two units across the street have been renovated, also causing painful noise levels. The noise usually starts at eight in the morning and continues until five or six in the evening, including Saturdays and Sundays.

Here are a few videos from recent renovations. Currently there is another apartment being renovated just below me, but I haven't had the energy to document it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I used to be a pretty girl.

Sometime in the late 80s or early 90s

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Playing Bass


Patrick and I on stage.

In April I got a gig playing bass in a classic-rock cover band. I'd never played bass before, so I wasn't very good and made a lot of mistakes. Still, I thought it was the beginning of my new music career. Unfortunately, a few months later, my friend Patrick returned to Canada to have twins with his wife, and my connection to the music world disappeared.

Here's me being introduced.


Here we are playing "Shame on You."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Push the Alarm Bottom


Here is another Taiwanese spelling error that I found in the Matsu Hotel in Lugang. On the fire extinguisher box, the instructions call for pushing an alarm "bottom." Now, I'm all for pushing bottoms, but will it help to put out a fire?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Tohams the Tank Engine



In yet another classic case of Taiwanese misspelling--not to mention trademark piracy--we meet Tohams, the lovable tank engine, and, well, frankly a group of letters and one nonsense character that might be intended to imitate the words "& friends," but actually comes nowhere near its mark.

Intellectual property protections are often cited as a major stumbling block between countries like the US and Taiwan (though not so much as between the US and less developed Asian nations). Despite assurances by governments to protect intellectual property, piracy is rampant. In Taiwan, unauthorized use of cartoon characters on clothing is a prime example (as well as in advertising, on store fronts, and on all kinds of household goods, office supplies, stationery, etc.). Almost every child in my kindergarten wears clothing with suspect trademarked images on it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Wu Duan-hou: Lugang's Lantern Master

When I was in Lugang recently, our tour group stopped at the lantern shop of Wu Duan-hou. He is a very famous lantern craftsman.

That's Wu Duan-hou in the background. He's the older man with the beard.

These next three pictures were intended to show how windy it was




Here's a short video clip outside the shop.


I got this information from the Chunghua County government's website that deals with master artisans in Lugang (also spelled Lukang).

Wu Duan-hou – Inheritor of Folk Lantern Art Skill
Residing in Jhungshan Road, Lugang Township, Changhua County, Wu Duan-hou is famous for his folk lantern art skill. His fame even spreads as far as USA, Japan, France, Netherlands, German, Korea, to just name a few. Wu’s family has lived in Lugang Township for generations. He opens a shop of his own, whose name is called “Wu Duan-hou’s Lantern Shop”. Wu won Traditional Art & Craft Award. He learned lantern art skill from master Wang since his childhood. He was taught to make Family-blessing Lantern in the shape of cylinder with names stereotyped by single color. Although he was struck with deafness in the year of 13, fortunately, he was not frustrated but remained his interest in making lanterns. At age 72, Wu has made lanterns for more than 50 years. His works have received high reputation for their delicacy and magnificence home and abroad. For the recent ten years, Wu is dedicated to teaching lantern-making art skills in Taiwan’s Municipal Social Education Halls and Culture Centers all around Taiwan. He also shows up in folk activities, elementary and high schools, wishing to make the intangible culture continue active.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Lugang, Taiwan


Last weekend I went on a field trip to Lugang. It is a historic city in Taiwan. There are a lot of temples and other interesting historic and cultural sites. I have a lot of pictures from the trip, but at the moment I don't have time to post them all. You can see them at my yahoo photos.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Tragedy of Dido: An Unresolved Epistemological Crisis


The Tragedy of Dido: An Unresolved Epistemological Crisis

Virgil’s account of the suicide of Dido in his Aeneid describes one of the most ironic tragedies in literary history. It is the story of a woman who is content and secure in her position, yet is drawn irresistibly into the world of intrigue between gods and men, a world that ultimately leads to her destruction. Unlike many tragically flawed characters in mythology, Dido does not bring disaster on herself by defying the gods. She is quite simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. A perfect tool for Juno’s plan, used to perfection by Venus, Dido succeeds in distracting Aeneas from his destiny, but only temporarily. A message from Jupiter is all that it takes to wake Aeneas from his complacency. Before she knows what is happening Aeneas is gone and Dido plunges down a path of self-destruction.

It is easy to lay the blame for Dido’s death at the feet of Aeneas. After all, before he arrives on the scene, Dido is content with building Carthage and remaining faithful to Sychaeus, her dead husband. It could be said that her epistemological footing is based on these two pillars. Unfortunately, under the power of Cupid’s poison, Dido falls in love with the hero, and this footing undergoes a change. Aeneas is only too willing to go along with her. Though he later claims to have harbored feelings which reciprocated hers, it is fairly obvious that for him, this is a relationship of convenience. In the meantime, however, his complicity in the love affair further reinforces Dido’s view of life. Anna, her sister, is impressed with Aeneas’ valor and lineage and encourages her to follow her heart. With this advice Dido’s last inhibitions fall away and she gives herself over wholly to her love of the hero. She has grudgingly let go of her past and is now dedicated to her new life with Aeneas, even to the detriment of her civic duties. Dido’s belief system, or epistemology, is now resting solely on what her relationship with Aeneas seems to be: a complete and permanent union. Her new base of understanding is firmly cemented. That is, as firmly cemented as is possible when the gods are involved.

Then the blow falls. Jupiter sends a message to Aeneas that he must continue on to Italy in fulfillment of his destiny. In his essay, “Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy of Science,” Alisdaire MacIntyre describes an experience like what Dido goes through when Aeneas is called away. What he calls an “Epistemological Crisis” basically means that one’s way of understanding the world, or how things seem, is suddenly shown to be out of accordance with the way things are. As he says about persons undergoing such a crisis, “. . . The relationship of seems to is becomes crucial” (MacIntyre 24). Dido has no doubt gone through such crises before and weathered them. This time, however, the crisis is too great. The queen is unable to reconcile the new evidence of how things are, namely Aeneas’ apparent willingness to throw her over in pursuit of Destiny, with how things have seemed to be up until now, namely that she and Aeneas were permanently attached. The crisis goes unresolved, with madness and suicide as a result.

But what is really behind Dido’s suicide? Certainly Aeneas’ actions seem cold-hearted in light of what the lovers have shared, but it seems naive to think that a woman as strong as Dido would fall apart so completely by a simple jilting. Not only has she gone through seeing her first husband murdered through the treachery of her own brother, but has been able to escape and found another city. Suicide is an act of utter desperation, and Dido is just not the desperate type. What is it, then, that drives such a strong woman to suicide? What prevents her from resolving her epistemological crisis?

The answer can be found in the fact that her love for Aeneas is not a natural one, but has been formulated by the gods, and is thereby beyond her control. Juno, who hates all Trojans for, among other things, Paris’ “ . . . unjust slight to her beauty . . .” (Aeneid 28), has made it her mission to destroy Aeneas. As Dido is queen of Juno’s favorite city, Carthage, it seems likely that goddess will try to use her to harm Aeneas. Sensing this, Venus comes up with the following: “I plan to forestall her [Juno] by a trick of my own and enclose the queen in such a girdle of flames that no act of divine power may divert her from submitting . . . to a fierce love for Aeneas” (Aeneid 48). Juno seizes on this opportunity to rob Aeneas of his destiny, and conspires with Venus to marry him to Dido, thereby diverting him from Italy. At this point it is clear that Dido is not in control. Once Cupid infects her with his poison, we are told that she is, “ . . . condemned now to sure destruction” (Aeneid 49).

Further evidence that Dido is not acting on a natural impulse can be seen in her own initial reaction to her sudden love for the hero. “But I could pray,” Dido says to Anna in reference to her vow of faithfulness to Sychaeus, “that the earth should yawn deep to engulf me, or the Father Almighty blast me to the Shades with a stroke of his thunder . . . before ever I violate my honor or break its laws” (Aeneid 97). Yet she does break the laws of her honor, and as a result of the conniving of Juno and Venus, consummates her desire for the hero. Further evidence that Dido’s attraction to Aeneas is beyond the ordinary can be seen in her actions after they are finally brought together in the cave, “Henceforward Dido cared no more for appearances or her good name, and ceased to take any thought for secrecy in her love” (Aeneid 102).

The deliberate meddling of the gods and Dido’s loss of self-control are indicators that Dido no longer has the means to make the adjustment from a life with Aeneas to a life without him. According to MacIntyre, in order to resolve an epistemological crisis such as this one must, “ . . . [construct] a new narrative which enables the agent to understand both how he or she could intelligibly have held his or her beliefs and how he or she could have been so drastically misled by them” (MacIntyre 25). Dido’s condition, that of being under the direct control of the divinities, makes it impossible for her to construct such a narrative. She is basically locked into her current narrative by the power of the gods.

This is what makes Dido’s story so tragic. She had no real part in her own destruction. She was not being punished, as she was not guilty of any sin against gods or humans. Nor was she struck down for hubris as many of her contemporaries were. In fact, she never had the option of choosing her course as they did. Venus and Juno, each for their own purpose, conspired to push Dido into the path of oncoming Destiny, and Cupid tied her to the tracks. “. . . [M]adness or death,” says MacIntyre, “may always be the outcomes which prevent the resolution of an epistemological crisis . . .” (p. 25). Dido’s fate is sealed. She goes mad with grief and longs for death. There can be no resolution for her among the living. Used and discarded by the divinities and by Aeneas, and stripped of her honor, she must find her peace in the underworld.


Works Cited

Virgil. The Aeneid. Baltimore: Penguin, 1963.

MacIntyre, Alisdaire. “Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and The Philosophy of Science,” Comp. Lit. 300 Course Packet W96: 24-34.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

REPORTE DE NOTICIAS DE MEXICO, 4-4-1996

REPORTE DE NOTICIAS DE MEXICO

4-4-96

1. Hay dificultades en la investigación sobre el accidente del avión de secretario de comercio de los Estados Unidos Ron Brown. Los investigadores no pueden encontrar la "caja negra" del avión.

2. Oficiales de la seguridad rusos desmienten que un individuo allí disparó tiros contra la residencia de presidente Boris Yeltsin.

3. La policía española descubró una lista de setecientos personas que serían objeto de ataques de un grupo terrorista que se llama ETA.

4. El Ejército Republicano de Irlanda retractó su decisión de llevar a cabo actos de terrorismo contra Gran Bretaña por causa de su dominio sobre Irlanda del norte.

5. Son recapturados en Brazil seis de los cuarenta y dos presos que ayer se fugaron de un carcel en el estado de Goiás. Otros dos fueron abatidos por los fuerzos de seguridad.

6. A pesar de esfuerzos de la comunidad, violencia juvenil en Chicago está creciendo. Expertos citan la abundancia de drogas y armas como un factor principal en el fenómeno.

7. En Chile suben nuevos datos sobre los autores intelectuales del asesinato de senador Jaime Guzman.

8. Las fuerzas militares de Rusia continuan su conflicto con los rebeldes de Chechenia.

9. En los EEUU agentes del FBI encontraron materiales para la fabricación de bombas in la casa de un hombre que podría ser el “Unabomber”.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Snirkles: Is Google Evil?

Here's what my pal Snirkles found on Google-Watch. It is kind of scary, and if you go to www.google-watch.org you'll find all kinds of other scary stuff about Google.

It just goes to show you that when someone tells you how great they are and how they "do no evil," it is a good idea to dig a little deeper.

Snirkles: Is Google Evil?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Made in Taiwam


A few days ago I bought a six-pack of Tsingtao beer at the supermarket. I like Tsingtao better than Taiwan Beer, and it was on sale.

Originally TsingTao was a Chinese beer. The Tsingtao Brewery was founded in 1903 by German settlers in Tsingtao, China. Germans=better beer.

Because of the hostility that exists between mainland China and Taiwan, some Taiwanese people feel that drinking Tsingtao is unpatriotic. However, Taiwanese breweries now have a license to brew and market Tsingtao locally. To make sure that people understand that it isn't mainland Tsingtao, the Taiwanese brewers make a great effort in their labeling to ensure that people know the beer is made in Taiwan. As you can see from the above photo, it says "Taiwan" on the can as well as on the cardboard box that the cans come in.

The problem is, they spelled the name of their own country wrong.


Attention Taiwan: A little thing called "spell checker." Look into it.

Actually, I kind of like "Taiwam" better. It has more of a snap to it. I'd probably spell it "Taiwham," though, just to emphasize the difference from the original "Taiwan."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Character as a Function of Perspective in Modernist Literature


Here is another essay on Woolf's Mrs Dalloway.

Character as a Function of Perspective in Modernist Literature

In Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway, we see the characters from various perspectives, thus allowing for a more dimensional understanding of each character’s personality. Rather than being antagonists or protagonists, Woolf’s characters are more subtle, more complex, and more real than could be described from a single viewpoint. We see Hugh Whitebread as a rather nice chap from Clarissa’s point of view, whereas Peter Walsh cannot bear his presence. Walsh himself is seen differently by Clarissa than by the gentlemen at Lady Bruton’s Luncheon. Part of what defines this novel as “modern” is this fluidity of perspective that allows the reader to arrive, within limits, at his or her own interpretation as to the nature of the characters, and how they function in the work as a whole. In this way modernist literature attempts to present characters in the way that they exist in real life; that is, in the context of the society in which they move.

Although we get various views of each character in the story, the best example of a character as seen from multiple viewpoints is Septimus Warren Smith, the focal character in the novel’s “counter-plot.” He has no overt relationship with the main “plot” of the novel, Clarissa’s party and her relationship with those who attend it, but he helps to define the manner in which we are to evaluate the idea of “viewpoint” in the novel. As the result of the strangeness of his character, the reader may find Septimus to be the easiest of the characters to define. When we look at how he is seen by the other characters in the novel, however, we find that each of them has a different view of who he is and how he should be dealt with.

To the reader it is clear from the earliest encounter with Mr. Smith that things are not as they should be with him. When his wife tries to distract him with the spectacle of the sky-writer spelling the name of some brand of toffee, he begins to cry. Then as a woman near him begins spelling out the name, Septimus goes on what appears to be some crazy acid flash-back. We find out later that he is a veteran of the war and is suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome which may or may not be complicated by some pre-existing emotional problem. At the time the novel takes place he is pretty much around the bend, though it isn’t clear whether those around him have realized this yet.

Lucrezia Warren Smith probably has the most accurate view of her husband, as she spends more time with him than any of the other characters. Indeed, it is this very intimacy which causes her a great deal of anxiety when no one else will believe that the problem she perceives exists. She is the only one to witness his fits of bizarre behavior, to have read his papers, to have heard him describe his hallucinations. Oddly she maintains a kind of hope-beyond-hope that her husband can and will recover. At first she resents him: “He was selfish. So men are. For he was not ill. Dr. Holmes said there was nothing the matter with him” (23). Later, when Septimus experiences a rare moment of clarity, Rezia seems to believe their former life will be restored. She declares her refusal to part with him, and begins to pack their things. Then Dr. Holmes arrives.

According to Dr. Holmes, all Septimus needs is something to take his mind off himself. Stiff upper lip and all that. Nothing a couple of bromides won’t cure. We don’t actually see Dr. Holmes, except in Rezia’s remembering his advice, until near the end of the novel. When he does appear, it is just in time to witness Septimus’ suicide. He makes his opinion of the late Mr. Smith quite clear, referring to him as “The coward” (149).

The other professional to whom the couple go for advice is Sir William Bradshaw. He finds the patient to be deeply disturbed and in need of isolation and rest. He recommends that Septimus go to home where he can rest and avoid excitement. Sir William Bradshaw’s methods are simple: “He shut people up” (102).

Peter Walsh even gets a brief look at Septimus in the park. His view of Septimus is unique. “And that is being young,” he thinks as he sees him apparently arguing with his wife (70).

We also get a fleeting glimpse of Septimus when Maisie Johnson asks him and Rezia the way to Regent’s Park Tube station. Though she only sees the couple for a moment, they make a life-long impression on her, “ . . .this couple gave her quite a turn . . . so that should she be very old she would still remember” (26). Septimus stands out particularly, “ . . . and the man-he seemed awfully odd” (26).

All of these examples show how Woolf uses multiple viewpoints in the creation of a character. In Septimus’ case, the differences in perspective are more pronounced than they are with any other character. This is due in part to the extreme nature of his personality in contrast to the more subtle attitudes of the other characters. The greater the extreme, the greater chance for misinterpretation, as in the case of Peter Walsh’s brush with the Warren Smiths in the park. It is also due in part to the physical circumstances of the other characters’ encounters with him. The scope ranges from a momentary encounter on a street corner or in the park to the intimacy of husband and wife. It is easy to disregard the more fleeting of these observations as trivial when evaluating Septimus’ character. But Woolf included each with the intent of illuminating some aspect of his appearance, his personality, his self.

In the same way she illuminates the characters of the main plot. Clarissa, Richard, Peter, Hugh, and others are all seen through their own and many other eyes. The contrasts are not as drastic as they are in people’s perceptions of Septimus, but they are there. Still, there is a general type that all eyes seem to assign to each character: Hugh is a snob, Richard a rather dull, outdoorish type, Peter is good-natured but incompetent, Clarissa is cold, yet a gifted socialite. By including the seemingly more mundane images her characters project, Woolf makes them more alive and accessible than is possible from single-viewpoint narrative. One of the goals of modernist literature seems to be to depict characters this way: as the amalgamation of many perspectives. This gives an insight into what modernist writers consider to be important in defining the nature of identity. Particularly that they see the self as being largely determined by how it exists in relation to society at large. The character of Septimus Warren Smith is the exception that proves the rule. Unable on a fundamental level to conform to society, Septimus self destructs.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

January 18, 2038

Dear Reader,

On January 18, 2038, the universe as we know it will end. That is the good news. The bad news is no one will come to clean out the Honey Buckets.

On a more serious note, I've been getting a ton of SPAM with the dates spoofed to 2038 (which, by the way is an annoying trick that would easily be defeated by ISPs and web-based email programs if they had the will to do so). It turns out that this is a date similar to the the Y2K date that was supposed to cause so many problems. Whether it will cause problems (with UNIX systems) doesn't matter. Some fool decided it would be cute to pretend to sell viagra and mortgages using this date. Not that he or she is reallying selling anything--as with most SPAM scams, the trick is just to see if your email address is still active, and and if it is it is added to a list which can be sold to someone else who wants a big address list to advertise too.

No one likes SPAM, and even though it is a cheap way to advertise, it isn't really that effective (after all, only the true idiots ever respond to an obvious SPAM email), so why does SPAM keep going on?

SPAMMERS have friends and relatives (despite the fact that they are the foulest sort of human filth short of torturers and Republicans), so why can't these friends and relatives exert some sort of pressure on their SPAMMER relations?

I mean, SPAM affects everyone, and it only benefits a microscopic few. Doesn't it seem like a SPAMMER's mom or uncle would tell him or her to quit it?

It ain't being done by robots!

The Films of Josh Green


My friend Josh has been going to film school in Georgia for a long, long time now. That is him on the far right of the picture. I've included a link on my "friends" list (look to your right) to a few things he's put on YouTube. His films are a bit abstract and might make you feel woozy, but I like them. Here's a link to get to Josh Green's films on YouTube.

A little background: I met Josh in 1997 when we both ended up in a little town in southern Spain called Cádiz. We were roommates for a little while, and generally spent our days and nights making merry with our band of friends, the cruzcampeones (so named after our usual appearance with liter bottles of Cruzcampo clutched in our fists). In the last few years we more or less lost touch (as I have will all of the cruz gang), but I still consider him a good friend.

An Essay on Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway"

Here is a rather informal essay I wrote while reading Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway.

Mrs. Dalloway

It is very difficult for me to characterized Woolf’s style, especially in terms of masculine or feminine. I think that part of my problem is the context that I am reading the novel in, that is, the context of the other things I am reading at the same time. One of the other classes I’m taking is basically just reading, talking, and writing about Tolstoy’s War and Peace. My third class is “The Scope of Literary History”. So far in that class I’ve read some Virgil, some Dante, and some Shakespeare. We also touched on some essays by Mink, Kuhn, and MacIntyre (these last three were way over my head). What I’m trying to say is that Mrs. Dalloway is so different from any of these in its point of view and the sense of the movement of time that I really don’t know how to classify its stylistic characteristics.

The viewpoint is interesting. It seems to flow from one person to another without any particular announcement of a change. Sometimes it even seems to be coming from two directions at once, as in the scene when Peter Walsh pays Clarissa an unexpected visit. Other times it seems to be unattached to any particular person, but comes from some kind of omniscient voice. It is tempting to use the term “stream of consciousness,” but it is not really that. What it seems to be doing is what we talked about in the first few class sessions. Namely, looking at what is going on from many different angles.

In comparison to the other works we’ve looked at, I’d have to say that Mrs. Dalloway comes closest to The Dead in style. The subject matter, at least up to the point I’ve read, is similar. Also the fluidity of the mental and emotional states of the characters is similar. What is different is that in The Dead, things seem to be happening in a linear sequence, all according to how Gabriel perceives it. One thing proceeds from another and so on. In Mrs. Dalloway, things seem to slide together from different times and from different peoples’ perspectives.

The masculine versus feminine question is difficult for me to address. While it is more that obvious that the respective situations of men and women have been and are at great variance, I think that any argument that places any group of people completely in one pigeon-hole has to have some fatal flaw in it somewhere. I do agree with the points made in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, but I don’t think that what she says means that one way of writing is reserved to one or the other sex, but rather that each writer must find his or her own words rather than trying to copy the arrangement of someone else’s. I have a feeling that a lot of my view comes from the fact that I am a product of my own time period, and to the fact I’ve been lucky enough to read a lot of really good books by a lot of different kinds of writers in the last few years (mostly due to all the community college lit. classes I attended). All this aside, I can see a lot of the features that we ascribed in class to female writers in Woolf’s writing. For example: non-linearity, digression (what the heck was that sky-writing part about, anyway?), association, and I guess explorativization (exploratoriness?). The problem is that I’m not sure that these characteristics are really an accurate description of “Feminine Literature.” I’m not sure I know what feminine literature is. Is it women’s literature (and here we run into Woolf’s problem in Room when she tries to define “women and fiction”), or is it a certain style of literature that more often than not is written by women, but that could be written by a man. I don’t know.

I do enjoy the book, I just wish I had more time for a second reading so that I could really get a handle on what is going on. As one of the philosophers I read in “The Scope of Literary History” said in his essay (I’m not sure which one), there is a difference between following a narrative and having followed a narrative that adds a greater depth to one’s understanding of that narrative. I’m sure that if I had the chance (a fat one, at this time) to read this text again, I would have a better grasp on it. And, of course, I still have about two thirds of the novel to go to get my bearings.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Essay on Chapter 23 of Ellison's "The Invisible Man"

I wrote this about Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

Chapter Twenty-Three: Rinehart and the Recognition of Possibility

In chapter twenty-three of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man the narrator takes a major step in understanding the nature of identity and how it can be manipulated to further one’s own needs. Up to this point he has always defined himself narrowly, and by someone else’s standards. As either the dedicated student and later prodigal son figure under Bledsoe, the alienated paint mixer under Emerson, or the figurehead of the Brotherhood’s Harlem franchise under Brother Jack he sought to live up to the identity imposed on him. However, when suddenly forced to disguise himself in order to escape Ras’s thugs, he learns how flexible and subjective a thing identity can be. The events of the chapter combined with the introduction of Rinehart cause the Invisible Man to re-evaluate himself and his relationships with those around him. Instead of defining his identity according to necessity, he begins to define it according to possibility.

It starts out simply enough. The narrator dons a pair of dark sunglasses in pursuit of anonymity. Not only does no one recognize him, but to his surprise he is recognized as someone else, a man named Rinehart. He finds that Rinehart was many things to many people, seemingly all at the same time. “He was a broad man. A man with parts who got around” (498). The realization of Rinehart’s ability to play many roles simultaneously leads the narrator to consider for the first time the idea of the possibilities of life. “His world was possibility and he knew it. . . . The world in which we lived was without boundaries” (498). For the first time he realizes that it is possible to live in more than one reality at a time. He now sees the possibility of saying one thing, and doing another.

This change in the narrator’s attitude is directly related to his “coming-to-know” of Rinehart. By not only witnessing someone who lives in many worlds at once, but by actually being repeatedly mistaken for him, the narrator begins to see the possibilities that exist in his own world. He begins to understand the fluidity of identity. “If dark glasses and a white hat could blot out my identity so quickly, who actually was who?” he asks (493). He realizes that he has been acting foolishly by limiting himself to a narrow self-definition. This new understanding affects not only the way he sees himself, but how he sees himself in relation to other people. When he goes to speak to Hambro he thinks, “I could feel some deep change. It was as though my discovery of Rinehart had opened a gulf between us . . . so great that neither could grasp the emotional tone of the other” (501). Then Brother Hambro tells the narrator that the Harlem district is to be sacrificed in the interest of the greater good of the Brotherhood.

It is at this time that the narrator decides to use Rinehartism to get even. Armed with this new knowledge concerning the possibilities of identity, and faced with the abandonment of his people and himself by the Brotherhood, he sets out to construct himself anew. While pretending to be working for the Brotherhood, he can actually be working to undermine them. “For now I saw that I could agree with Jack without agreeing. . . . I would have to move them [Harlem] without myself being moved . . . I’d have to do a Rinehart” (507). He decides to follow his grandfather’s advice and “ . . . overcome them with yeses, undermine them with grins, . . . agree them to death and destruction” (508). This duplicity is new to the narrator. Though he might not always have been certain of his own motives, he never sought to mislead anyone. Now he plans not only to give false information to the Brotherhood, he plans to spy on them by entering into the confidence of one of the big shots’ wives.

Invisible Man is a novel that is very concerned with the idea of identity. Up to chapter twenty-three the narrator has formed his sense of self around that which was necessary for him to fit in. His single minded desire to succeed, first at college, then in the work force, and finally in the Brotherhood, is reflected by the narrowness of how he defines himself. Though he often questions the roles he is forced to play, play them he does. Until he discovers Rinehart, he does not entertain the idea that he could maintain multiple identities, living in one while projecting another to those around him. When he does learn of “Rinehart the rounder” and his split personalities, he realizes that he has been defining himself in terms of how society, particularly white society, wants to see him (or not see him). He sees that “ . . . Jack and Norton and Emerson . . . were very much the same, each attempting to force his picture of reality upon [him] and neither giving a hoot in hell for how things looked to [him]” (508). What he has learned from Rinehart is that “freedom was not only the recognition of necessity, it was the recognition of possibility” (499). Suddenly he feels a new and frightening sense of this freedom. He realizes that he no longer has to hide his past, nor hide from it, for it is that past which defines him. He begins to see that it is the inability of society to see him as other than a “ . . . material, a natural resource to be used” (508) that has caused his identity crisis. Now that he is aware of how he is “unseen” by society, he embraces his invisibility with the intent of using it against the very forces that made him invisible to begin with.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sutpen and Gatsby: The Tragedy of Self-made Men














This is a comparison of Jay Gatsby, from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Thomas Sutpen from Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!.



Sutpen and Gatsby: The Tragedy of Self-made Men


The characters of Thomas Sutpen and Jay Gatsby are both examples of the American myth of the self-made man. Though their stories and their characters differ somewhat, the motif of the determined individual pulling himself up from impoverished obscurity and rising to the highest levels of society is common to both. Both novels suggest that attempting to create one’s own identity according to some kind of plan or design that is based on an idealization can only result in disillusionment and eventual collapse when the designs are corrupted by reality.

In both Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, we are introduced to characters who feel compelled to “pass” in a higher level of the social hierarchy than the one in which they were born. Both Gatsby and Sutpen believe that the key to achieving this goal is money, and both are successful in obtaining it. The difference between what drives the two characters is that while Gatsby seeks to fulfill some kind of romantic illusion, Sutpen is motivated by vengeance for being slighted as a child. Gatsby’s motivation is to fulfill some idealized version of social grace by entering Daisy’s world through the back door. Sutpen’s is to defeat those who snubbed him by insuring that his own son will never receive the same slight.

The history of the characters is similar. Both come from poor rural backgrounds from which they escaped at an early age in order to pursue some dream or design. Both possess the ability to focus on their design to the exclusion of any other considerations. This ability is manifested in both characters as a kind of innoncence as to the possibility of failure. However, while Gatsby gives the general impression of being a decent, if not entirely honest fellow, Sutpen exudes an aura of evil. Part of this difference comes from his motivations, and part comes from his methods. While Gatsby seems to be content by doing self-improvement exercises and ingratiating himself to people who can help him like Wolfshiem and Dan Cody, Sutpen uses animal agression against people like the schoolmaster, who told him of the riches of the Indies, and the rebellious slaves in Haiti. Also, Gatsby is portrayed as someone who is desperately attempting to conform to some kind of ideal of social grace--that is, he tries to put on a great show of manners in regards to his reintroduction to Daisy, and in his “legitimate” relationships in general. In contrast, Sutpen makes no attempt to adopt the social amenities of upper class society. He still brawls with the slaves and doesn’t even attempt to conceal his contempt for women and people who have “black blood” in their veins, as evidenced by his treatment of Miss Rosa and his first wife and son.

Both characters started out near the bottom of the social hierarchy. They were about as low as a white person could be in their respective time periods. Both rose to the highest levels, at least financially, before coming to their tragic ends. Sutpen’s trajectory was more obtuse than Gatsby’s. He rose more slowly, achieved more, and then began his descent before being murdered. Gatsby, on the other hand rose quickly, peaked early, and was snuffed out before he had a chance to actually establish himself in society. Much of this difference is a function of the time period covered in the novels, that of Absalom being decades while Gatsby takes place in a matter of years.

In both novels, unforeseen events took place that interrupted the designs of the characters. In Gatsby’s case, it was not so much the car accident that destroyed his plans as it was the simple fact that his image of Daisy was inaccurate. Though she was unhappy with Tom, she had no intention of leaving him for Gatsby. It is also doubtful that she had been waiting for Gatsby as he imagined. Gatsby never had the chance to find this out for sure, but Nick saw it. If he hadn’t been killed, Gatsby would have seen it soon enough. His carefully constructed identity would have crumbled when its purpose for being suddenly ceased to exist. Jay Gatsby’s plan allowed for no such contingencies. Even had he lived, the Jay Gatsby that Jimmy Gatz created would no longer have existed.

An integral part of Gatsby’s design was his pursuit of Daisy. His entire identity was created in order to impress her. Having known Daisy for only a brief period of time followed by an abrupt parting, most of Gatsby’s image of her had to be manufactured. His image of her was that she never loved anyone but him and that she only married Tom because Gatsby never returned. In his self-created scheme of things, Gatsby believed that all he had to do was show up and impress Daisy with the fact that he was wealthy enough to support her, and she would leave Tom. He had invested so much in his constructed reality that it was impossible for him not only to deal with any divergence from his plan, but even to accept that such a divergence was possible.

In Sutpen’s case his design fails because he is unwilling to accept any reality that falls short of the one he has created in his mind. Even though no one would ever have known about his first wife’s ancestry he finds it necessary to renounce her and their son. It is at this point that his plan begins to fall apart. Later on this first mistake becomes compounded with the arrival of Bon on the scene. Still Sutpen is unable to allow for this variation from his design and so refuses to aknowledge Bon’s relation to him, even in such a way that only the two of them would know. It is this rigid adherance to the predetermined course of events as set forward by his design that causes the collapse of his dreams.

Originally, Sutpen’s goal was to somehow defeat the caste system that allowed him to be slighted. The only way he knew how to beat someone was by making the playing field even. Following the rifle analogy, he set out to obtain what his betters had in order to overcome them. What he didn’t understand, and what his design did not account for, was that by obtaining all the wealth and power of his enemies, he also became one of them. Without realizing it, he adopted the very values that had caused him to be insulted in the first place, namely racism and classism. These values were what prevented him from being able to accept Bon and his mother.

Faulkner and Fitzgerald both deal with the concept of identity and how it is constructed. In creating the characters of Sutpen and Gatsby they adhere to the modernist idea that identity is in some way the sum of many different and constantly shifting perspectives. What sets up these two characters as being tragic is their own view of themselves and the selves they try to project on the rest of the world. They are both limited in their view of themselves because they can only see themselves in light of their particular design. These designs are flawed because they attempt to control the characters’ worlds in ways that are beyond human ability. They, like everyone else, are subject to the arbitrariness of life, yet their plans do not allow for such arbitrariness. When something unplanned for comes along, they lack the imagination and the flexibility to incorporate it into their design and consequently the design falls apart. In short, since identity is necessarily and inescapably something more than a single-minded idealization, the dedication to a rigid plan for the creation of one’s own identity is a course that is doomed to failure.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Sonnet: Syllables, Meter, Rhythm, and Feet

Syllables, Meter, Rhythm, and Feet

Syllables are pieces of sound. All words have at least one syllable. Syllables can be just one letter or a group of letters - it's the sound that matters.

One way to understand what syllables are is to think of a song, like "Happy Birthday." Each syllable is a different beat in the song, i.e: "Hap - py Birth - day to you."

These words have 1 syllable: walk, go, home.
These words have 2 syllables: happy, birthday, because
These words have 3 syllables: September, underneath, Internet

In English, syllables normally have a vowel or the letter 'y' in them.
Mon - day Syl -la - ble

Meter is the rhythm established by a poem. It is dependent on the number of syllables in a line.

In addition to how many syllables are in a poem, its Meter is usually also dependent on the way those syllables are accented. This rhythm is often described as a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.

In English words, some syllables are stressed more than others; We say them more forcefully. Usually, English words stress the first syllable.
Mon - day Jan - u - a - ry

(Be careful though, because the stress on words with a prefix usually changes to the second syllable rather than the first, for example hap - py or un - hap - py.)

What is a foot?

The rhythmic unit is often described as a foot; patterns of feet can be identified and labeled. A foot may be iambic, which follows a pattern of unstressed/stressed syllables.

For example, "The DOG / went WALK/ing DOWN / the ROAD / and BARKED.”

This simple sentence has five feet. “The dog” is one foot. It has two syllables. “The” is unstressed, while “dog” is stressed. You can see from the next foot that sometimes words can be divided between more than one foot. “Went walk” is one foot, while the end of the word walking appears in the next foot: “-ing down.”

Because there are five iambs, or feet, this line follows the conventions of iambic pentameter (pent = five), the common form in Shakespeare's time.

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
-From Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130”

Writing Assignment: The Sonnet


Here is the full text of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130:

1 My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
2 Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
3 If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
4 If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

5 I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
6 But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
7 And in some perfumes is there more delight
8 Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

9 I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
10 That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
11 I grant I never saw a goddess go;
12 My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

13 And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
14 As any she belied with false compare.

Notice how there are fourteen lines that are divided into three groups of four lines (quatrains), and one group of two lines (a couplet).

For your assignment today, you will begin to write your own sonnet. Don’t let Shakespeare’s style of writing scare you. In your poem you won’t have to rhyme or follow a particular rhythm. All you have to do is make sure that each line has ten syllables. Also, for this assignment, you only have to write the first four lines (the first quatrain).

In these four lines you will introduce the theme or main idea of your poem. You can choose any topic, but it is helpful to remember to be as concrete as possible. In other words, it is easier to write about a real-life problem (like your school exams or a bad haircut) than it is to write about an abstract idea (like happiness or love).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Descripción de un animal misterioso

Descripción de un animal misterioso

¿Puede Ud. advinar qué animal soy? Si fuera pescador, lo sabría. No tengo aletas, pero los pescadores tienen que cogerme antes de coger un pez. También si fuera granjero me conocería. Vivo en las granjas con otros animales. No tengo cuernos como una vaca ni alas como un pollo. A mí me gusta el barro, pero no soy un puerco. Ayudo al granjero en el cultivación de la tierra, pero no soy el caballo del arado. Suelo andar siempre por la noche porque tengo miedo de la luz del sol (no, no soy un murciélago). El aspecto irónico de la situación es que aunque nosotros, los de mi especie, casi siempre estamos muy cercanos, normalmente anadamos sin ser vistos.

¿Requiere Ud. de más pistas para comprender quien soy? Pues, bien. Le daré más indirectas. No vivo sólo en las granjas, vivo en muchos otros lugares, también. Vivo en bosques y parques y aún en su propio patio de recreo. Normalmente prefiero vivir en un ambiente húmedo. Me gusta comer las hojas que se caen apartado de los árboles y otros materiales de las plantas. ¿Ha adivinado mi identidad todavía?

Tal vez si le revelo un poquito más sobre mí, entenderá el enigma. Vivo en un túnel, o más bien una serie de túneles subterráneos. Desde el momento en que vivo oscuro, no tengo ojos ni orejas, pero soy muy sensible a las vibraciones de cosas que se mueven cerca de mí. Se puede encontrar mi tipo en todos partes del mundo. En Seattle (y la mayor parte del Hemisferio Occidental) mis parientes son rojizo-castaño en color. Mis primos en Inglaterra son verdes. Yo, como la mayor parte de mis parientes, crecerá ser nada más que diez pulgadas en longitud. Mis parientes en Australia, sin embargo, ¡ puede crecer a diez pies! ¿Sabe ahora lo que soy?

Tengo muchos otros parientes (más o menos distante) que viven en lugares diferentes y que hacen cosas diferentes. Algunos de ellos aun viven dentro de otros animales. En lugar de ser útil, como mis hermanos y yo, ellos están dañosos. Es por éste y por otro razones similares que a casi nadie nos le gustamos.

¿Ya ha descifrado mi seceto? No hay mucho más que puedo decirlo sin revelar mi identidad. Sin embargo, mi secreto no es muy difícil adivinar. De hecho, se ha dicho que mi tipo es tan ordinario como la tierra.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gatsby Chapter Nine: Nick Goes Home


More on Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

CHAPTER NINE: NICK GOES HOME

In the final chapter of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, two interesting things happen simultaneously. On the one hand, many of the myths that surround Gatsby are dispelled. Gatsby’s father, Mr. Gatz, sheds light on “Jimmy’s” early life. The mysterious call and the revelations of Meyer Wolfsheim help to clarify the nature of Gatsby’s vocation at the time of his death. Missing pieces of the puzzle of the title character’s life fall into place. At the same time Nick is going through a kind of moral transition while doing some myth building of his own.

The first part is Nick, alone with Gatsby and a crowd of strangers. He realizes that he has become responsible for taking care of Gatsby’s affairs “because no one else was interested . . . with that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end” (165). Neither Daisy nor Wolfsheim can be reached. Nick searches in vain for some clue as to who he should call. The next day he sends the butler to Wolfsheim, who sends a note in return. He says that he cannot get involved in Gatsby’s death. Nick begins to have “a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all” (166). It is at this point that Nick’s image of himself as Gatsby’s best and only friend begins to form.

Later, Nick receives a mysterious call from Chicago, apparently from one of Gatsby’s business associates who has not yet heard of his demise. Though it is the shortest section of the chapter, it is very powerful in bringing the character of Gatsby into focus. At this point it is clear that he is involved in extralegal activities. Still, Nick feels compelled to answer for him by informing the caller that Mr. Gatsby is dead. Nick’s perception of Gatsby’s abandonment grows.

Three days after the murder Nick gets a telegram from Gatsby’s father, a Mr. Gatz, asking to hold the funeral until he arrives. Mr. Gatz apparently has his own version of the Gatsby’s myth. All he knows about his son is what is represented on the photograph he has of Gatsby’s house. Nick assures Mr. Gatz that he and Gatsby were close friends, in effect strengthening the image he is forming about their relationship.

After Mr. Gatz falls asleep, “the boarder” calls asking for his shoes. Nick is angered to find out that he doesn’t plan to attend Gatsby’s funeral and hangs up. Then Nick goes to Meyer Wolfsheim’s office to get him to come to the funeral. Wolfsheim reveals another part of Gatsby’s past, but still refuses to get mixed up in the murder by attending the funeral.

By now, Nick’s role as Gatsby’s only true friend is firmly embedded in his mind. He is the only one who really knows this Gatsby character, not his gangster “gonnegtions,” not his hangers-on, not even his father.

When Nick returns from Wolfsheim’s office, he finds Mr. Gatz wandering around Gatsby’s house in awe of his son’s possessions. He shows Nick the plan “Jimmy” wrote in the back of a book. To him, it seems to be clear evidence of the young Gatsby’s potential for success, and it reflects the spirit of distant hope that so impresses Nick.

No one comes to the funeral. At the cemetery, there is only Nick, Mr. Gatz, the minister, five servants, and the postman. At the last minute “Owl Eyes” arrives. Ironically, the only one of the party guests to show up to the burial, he is one of those guests who never actually met Gatsby. All the others are there either out of curiosity or obligation.

In the next part Nick makes a kind of “declaration of self.” He describes what the West means to him, especially what coming home to it means. After the war Nick had been restless, and went to the East in search of excitement. He realizes that he has been led away from the things that are important to him by the glare of big city lights and all that comes with them. He decides to return west. This is an important moment. Nick has decided to reject the world of the East and all the illusions it brings with it.

Before going home, however, Nick has to finish up his business with Jordan. Their last meeting is brief and not without the expression of some hard feelings. Jordan calls into question Nick’s honesty in regard to their relationship. Nick, having realized that his excursion into the East has been illusory, replies that he is “ . . . five years too old to lie to [himself] and call it honor” (179). He seems to be saying, both by breaking with Jordan and by returning home, that he now sees that he was fooling himself in thinking that life in East was right for him.

Nick runs into Tom and confronts him about Wilson. He finds that, indeed, Tom told Wilson that it was Gatsby’s car, that Gatsby had killed his wife. Nick sees the futility of arguing the point with him. He can’t condone what Tom has done, nor admit to liking him, but he still seems to reserve judgment and shakes his hand.

The final part is Nick talking about the cab driver, his spending his Saturday nights in the city to avoid the ghosts of Gatsby’s parties, the obscene word, and his lying on the sand and contemplating the wonder of everything. His mind wanders to the wonder that the first Dutch colonizers must have felt on arriving in the “new world” and the boundless hope that it must have inspired. To Nick the most wondrous thing about Gatsby was his capacity for infinite hope, his single-minded purposefulness. He must feel a certain kinship for someone who seems to have in abundance the quality that he so values in himself. For, as he makes clear, Nicks values the habit of reserving judgment, and as he says early in the novel, “Reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope” (1).

Chapter Nine reveals that the novel was really about Nick and the journey he has undergone since his return from the war. It shows how he, a restless young man yearning for meaning in life, became caught up in the illusory world of the high-society scene of the early ‘20’s. Led willingly into the intrigues of the people around him, he learns that beneath the surface nothing in this world is real. He reaches thirty as the novel comes to a climax, an age that represents an important transition to him. He can no longer allow himself to be carried away by the mythologies and illusions of others, but must remain true to his own mythology; his Middle West, perhaps his girl back home, and his friend Gatsby, who “ . . . turned out all right at the end” (2).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Something Kind of Creepy

I was looking at the statistics of who has visited my blog again. I'm starting to think that the less I know about who is out there looking at blogs, the better.

Someone from Hong Kong entered a Google search for "punishment stomach burst." Scary, eh? Anyway, because in my fairy tale the troll's stomach bursts, and because another post I have mentions punishment (actually it says that my blog doesn't have any capital punishment pictures), he or she found his or her way to my blog.

Well, I guess I can't complain. At least someone out there is accidentally finding me...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dangerous Scientific Experiments


Some people have been messing around with mentos and coke. Here are the videos on YouTube: mentos and coke.

My friend Bernie did his own experiment with Reeses Pieces and Sierra Mist.

Scary stuff.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Essay on Chapter Four of "The Great Gatsby"

How Do the Parts of Chapter Four Fit Together?

I think that the parts of chapter four serve two purposes. The first purpose is to expand on the myth of Gatsby. The second is to show how Nick is being drawn into the world of illusion that surrounds Gatsby.

The first segment of the chapter is simply Nick listing the quantity and variety of people who take advantage of Gatsby’s parties. Show business people, politicians, high society and low attend, usually without ever actually seeing their host. Nick seems to view all of these people with some measure of contempt, yet he is attracted enough to the phenomena of their revelry to record their presence.

The next part is Gatsby telling Nick his life story. It is so obviously a fabrication that Nick is hard pressed to keep from laughing. He doesn’t laugh, though, nor does he make any attempt to get the truth out of, or even to let Gatsby know that he knows that the story is made up. Nick would probably want us to believe that he is just “reserving judgment,” but it seems more like he is unwilling to pop Gatsby’s--or his own--bubble. In fact, that seems to be the case through most of the novel. As long as things are going well, Nick seems to go along with them.

The next part, lunch with Meyer Wolfsheim, adds another layer to the mystique of Gatsby. Wolfsheim is obviously a shady character, yet Gatsby seems eager for Nick to meet him. I have to admit that the logic of this part eludes me, but I think that Gatsby’s purpose in this chapter is to impress Nick sufficiently that he will go along with the plan to get him and Daisy together. Maybe he intended buy Nick off by making a “gonnegtion” between Nick and Wolfsheim, but aborted the attempt when he saw Nick’s surprise. Or he may just have been trying to impress Nick with how gonnected he himself was. In any case it tends to heighten the mystery of just who this Gatsby fellow really is. When he disappears after being introduced to Tom, this mystery intensifies even more.

The next part is what Joyce might call the epiphany of the chapter. We finally get enough information from Jordan to make sense of Gatsby’s bizarre behavior. The realization that Gatsby was the love of Daisy’s youth brings together all of the seemingly unrelated parts of the novel together. The hidden relationship between Daisy and Gatsby ties all the characters together in a new way, deepening the significance of Nick’s relationships with both the Buchanans and with Daisy. Nick becomes the catalyst for Gatsby’s plan.

The final part of the chapter show us how much Nick has been drawn into the world of New York society in general, and of Gatsby in particular. Not only has he allowed himself to become part of Gatsby’s plan, but he has become involved with Jordan. The romance that surrounds him has swept him away. The fact that it involves infidelity between Daisy and Tom reflects interestingly on Nick’s own predicament with his girl back home.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

John Rogers Elementary School



I went to John Rogers Elementary School when I was a kid. That was sometime around 1971 to 1978, unless my math is worse than I realized.

La poema épica: Un género literario

La poema épica: Un género literario

En la literatura, hay muchos géneros diferentes. Los géneros son clasificaciones de varias formas literarias. Cada forma tiene ciertos aspectos distintos de las otras. La poesía, por ejemplo, tiene el aspecto de un énfasis en la rima y el metro. Usualmente la poesía usa palabras muy figurativas, también. En cambio, la prosa da énfasis a la claridad. Los dos géneros pueden estar divididos en subdivisiones. En la prosa hay obras de ficción no novelesca. Hay novelas, cuentos, libros de texto, y anuncios y letreros. Todos se pueden incluido en el género de la prosa. La poesía tiene ciertos subdivisiones también. Hay poemas cortos como el haiku de Japón, poemas un poco más largos como los sonetos de Shakespeare, y poemas épicas como El Cid o las obras de Homer. En este ensayo quiero hablar un poco sobre estos ultimos poemas.

El término épico (de epos del griego, que significa "palabra" o "cuento") se aplica a una variedad de obras imaginativas, de la poesía oral más antigua como las obras de Homer o ciertas novelas modernas como Cien Años de Soledad por Gabriel García Márquez. Un poema épico es una narrativa larga que describe eventos importantes en la vida de un héroe central. Usualmente este héroe funciona en la obra como una representación de su cultura. Los primeros poemas épicos se compusieron antes de la invención de la escritura. en una forma de verso que desarrolló por muchas generaciones de bardos orales, quienes fusionaron narrativa original con frases tradicionales. Normalmente episódico, estos poemas tratan de personajes muy típicos sin mucha dimensión en lugar de personajes polifacéticos e incluye símiles detallados y digresiones extendidas. Estos primeros poemas orales son depósitos de mito en el que los héroes humanos actúan recíprocamente con los dioses.

La Poema del Cid es el mejor ejemplo de una poema épica, o cantar de gesta, en la lengua española. Fue escrito en 1140 (más o menos), y trata de las hazañas del héroe nacional de España, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. Para la mayor parte la obra es realista y tiene una buena base en la historia. La composición evita los elementos fantásticos que se puede encontrar en los poemas épicas de otros países. La trama describe el destierro injusto de El Cid de Castilla, su perdón, el matrimonio y traición de sus hijas por su enemigo, el Leonese arrogante, y la venganza del Cid.

Nosotros podemos aprender mucho de la cultura y historia de un país por su literatura. Un género muy importante en esto es la poema épica porque nos da perspicacia de los personajes y mitos del pasado que tomaron parte in la formación de la mentalidad nacional de hoy día.

Double Ten Day: Taiwan History

This entry is about a month late, but I'm still going to put it in.

October ten is Taiwan's "birthday." Something like American Fourth of July. They do the same kind of stuff we Americans do. Take the day off, have a barbecue, and blow stuff up.

Here is a little background on Ten Ten Day. There are a few typos, but they are not mine.

Quoted from Taiwan Magazine, Oct. 2006 --

Double Ten

On Tuesday, October 10, the Republic of China celebrates Double Ten, its national holiday. There will be festive entertainment throughout the island, the national flag will fly everywhere, and the exterior of public buildings will be lit in brilliant colors. A National Day rally and parade, reviewed by the President, will be held in the morning at the president building square, with a lot of people participating. The president building in Taipei fully lit inside and out, will be particularly beautiful to observe at night.

The significance of October 10th dates from that day in 1911, which is considered to be the date of the establishment of the Republic of China.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who had been exiled because of his involvement in the anti-Ch'ing movement, organized the Revolutionary Alliance, based in Tokyo. This organization sponsored a network of revolutionaries inside China. On October 10th a popular rebellion broke out in Wuhan on the Yangtze River, in Szechuan province, and within days other provinces, inspired by its success, began declaring their independence also. With the overthrow of the 267-year Ch'ing dynasty of the Manchus, and the abdication of the child Emperor Pu Yi, the revolution ended more than 46 centuries of monarchical rule in China. The first republic in Asia was established.

Chinese revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen, 45 years old and the first graduated of Hong Kong's college of Medicine, returned from 16 years of exile and on December 29. he was elected president of the United Provinces of China by a evolutionary provisional assembly at Nani. On January 1, 1912, Dr. Sun Yat-sen assumed the provisional presidency of the new republic. Its foundation would be the Three Principle the People: Nationalism, Democracy and Social Wellbeing.

Northern China continued to be effectively ruled by supporters of the Ch'ing dynasty, however, and many years of civil war ensued between rival militarists and Dr. Sun Yat-republicans. It was not until 1926, following the Northern Expedition led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, that the Chinese nation was united under the central government. The nationalist forces, led by Chiang Kai-shek eventually occupied most of China, setting up a Kuomintang regime. Internal strife continued, however.

With the invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese in the early 1930s and the Japanese efforts t China's northern provinces, the Kuomintang government was forced to retreat first to Hankow and then to Chungking. At the end of the Second World War civil war began again between nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek and communist forces under Mao Zedong. The Chiang Kai-shek forces retreated from mainland to Taiwan.

The achievement of the Republic of China onTaiwan since that time, have been truly remarkable, and economic and social progress are continuing without respite. The transformation from poverty to prosperity, from one party rule to multiparty democracy, and from authoritarian rule observance of human rights, stand out as an example to much of Asia and the world.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Capital Punishment Pictures?

Okay, this is creepy. I was just looking at the stats of people who have accessed my blog (yes, I can see where you come from, and what page referred you to me), and I saw that one person found my blog--by accident--when he or she was doing a search for capital punishment pictures. Let me assure you my blog is capital punishment picture free.

They were sent to my Cheng Huang Temple post, so maybe those three words appear randomly in that text... yes... I believe they might.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hsinchu Cheng Huang Temple (城隍廟)

These pictures are of the Cheng Huang temple in Hsinchu, Taiwan. I have pedaled, motored, and wandered past this temple scores of times since I started living in Hsinchu, but until recently I'd never been inside. In fact, I didn't even realize that there was a temple there because it is so surrounded by food stands that you can't see its exterior.

An interesting thing about this temple is that it is the main temple of its kind in Taiwan. From what I can tell, and this might be totally wrong so don't quote me on your term papers, but I think that major temples have a geographical hierarchy in which they can be named the official temple of the prefecture, province, or capital in regards to the worship of its particular god. Apparently the religious capitals don't necessarily correspond with the political ones. In the case of Cheng Huang, Hsinchu hosts the capital temple.

Cheng, roughly translated, means "city" or "wall," or "city wall." Huang, as far as I can tell, means "moat" or "ditch with no water." So depending on how you look at it, Cheng Huang is either the city god, or the city wall/moat god, or maybe the god that protects the city. What I've learned that he is more of a god of punishment than anything else.

Cheng Huang's role, or at least one of them, is to protect the social peace. He is the ruler of the Chinese equivalent of Hades, or the underworld. As such, he serves as the punisher of the living or the dead, particularly law breakers (see photos of the policemen below).

This is the angry police officer. He is responsible for the apprehension and punishment of bad people. Note his cranky expression and his lack of a beard. Sometimes he is depicted sporting a set of nasty looking Chinese handcuffs.

This is the happy police officer. He is responsible for finding lost items and solving problems. He has a happy expression, and a beard!

This is professor Chiang explaining the significance of the figures, the offering of food, and the role of the Taoist priest to us.

This is a god whose name escapes me. His two-tone appearance has to do with his connection to both the world of the living, and the world of the dead (sorry, no Star Trek connections).

I don't know the significance of the rest of these pictures, but they give you an idea of what the temple looks like on the inside. I actually tried to take a lot more pictures, but my camera battery was dying, so what you see is what you get.







Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bodas de sangre, “la película”


This essay is written about Carlos Saura's

film and dance adaptation of Federico García Lorca's play Bodas de sangre.



Bodas de sangre, “la película”

A algunos de los estudiantes de nuestra clase, la película de Carlos Saura, Bodas de Sangre, no les gustó. Para la mayoría de ellos, el problema fue la primera parte en que podemos ver entre bastidores a los bailes y músicos antes de la danza. Pero, para mí, la primera parte es una parte integrante en lo que hace de la película una obra de arte en sí mismo. Por supuesto, Saura no incluyó la primera parte por casualidad, sino por razones de la “licencia poética.”

Hay mucha evidencia que la película de Saura es una obra en sí misma. Podemos encontrar con la evidencia el hecho de que Saura hiciera ciertas decisiones sobre el contenido de la película. Incluyó e excluyó algunos elementos de las obras de Federico García Lorca y Antonio Gades, y añadió otros elementos nuevos. Por ejemplo, todo el diálogo fue excluído. Por otra parte, las canciones fueron incluidas. En el baile, la escena de la pelea entre Leonardo y el Novio fue añadida a la obra de teatro, y en la película las primeras escenas fueron añadidas al baile. Estos cambios de la obra original dan apoyo al concepto de la película como obra de arte separada de las otras obras.

Es sólo en la última parte, la parte de la danza, que la película se refiere directamente a las otras obras. Aun en esta parte hay diferencias entre la película y la obra de teatro, pero la mayor parte de estas diferencias ocurren porque la película es una interpretación de una interpretación. Los elementos de la obra de García Lorca que Gades no incluyó en su baile son evidentes en la película. Un ejemplo muy obvio es la exclusión de todo el diálogo. En lugar del diálogo, Gades y entonces Saura decidieron usar el baile para expresar las oraciones de los personajes. Pero la película de Saura no es simplemente un recuerdo de una obra de baile.

Hay distinciones entre la película y las otras obras en términos de énfasis, también. De hecho, en la película la danza sirve como el telón de fondo para un drama muy sutil. En el primer nivel, este drama trata de un grupo de artistas - bailes, músicos y cantantes - y su preparación para y ejecución de un ensayo general del baile Bodas de sangre. En otro nivel, el drama trata de los pensamientos introspectivos del coreógrafo. Finalmente, en el tercer nivel la drama trata del nacimiento de una obra maestra de baile.

Hay otras diferencias profundas entre las obras de García Lorca y Saura también. Por ejemplo, en la obra de teatro, el énfasis está en los elementos abstractos como el honor y el destino, y los personajes simbólicos como la Luna y la Mendiga, tanto como en el triángulo de amor o la acción de la trama. En la obra de García Lorca, el autor puede hablar más o menos directamente con su audiencia por el uso del diálogo y del simbolismo de los personajes y sus palabras. Pero en el baile y en la película, el énfasis es por necesidad en cosas más visuales. Es por eso que en el baile podemos ver la lucha entre Leonardo y El Novio, un suceso muy visual. También es porque no necesitamos comprender cosas históricas como los problemas entre las familias de los Félix y del Novio para comprender los sucesos de la danza.

Con su énfasis en la acción como en el baile, y en los otros niveles que no figuran en la obra original, la película hace muy claro que es más que una nueva versión de Bodas de sangre. Al contrario, es una nueva composición sobre un tema familiar. La película no es solamente la versión cinematográfica ni de la obra de teatro de Federico García Lorca, ni del baile flamenco de Antonio Gades, sino que se vale por sí misma como una obra de arte autónoma. La obra de teatro y la danza le dan énfasis al cuento que tuvo su origen en una noticia. La película de Carlos Saura, por otro lado, le da énfasis al drama que ocurre entre bastidores tanto como al cuento. De la misma manera que la obra de teatro tuvo su origen en un periódico pero Lorca la llevó a un nuevo nivel, la película de Carlos Saura tuvo su origen en la versión flamenca de Bodas de sangre y la llevó a un nivel distinto. De la misma manera que Bodas de sangre como obra de teatro es más que la noticia original, y Bodas de sangre como baile es algo más que la obra de teatro (o, de todos modos algo diferente), Bodas de sangre como película es otra vez más. Es el resultado de la visión e interpretación de un artista del cine.