Abrams Reading: Synaesthesia

April 5, 2011

One aspect/paragraph of the reading that I found particularly interesting was the discussion of synaesthesia, and Abram’s comments regarding how reading is actually a form of synaesthesia because the eye and ear are brought together forging a link between seeing and hearing. I found this interesting because I have heard about synaesthesia before, but the way it was described to me never gave me the indication to think about the phenomenon in the context of reading. The concept was explained to me not as a phenomenon that could apply to anyone, but rather as something that certain individuals ‘had.’ For example, a teacher of mine told us that she had synaesthesia, and therefore saw colors in letters—letters became visual to her in colors. So she named her daughter based on the colors of the letters in her name—pink, green and white. I always thought of synaesthesia in that regard, therefore, and didn’t think about the very right application of this idea to reading. It is a linkage of senses, a manifestation of your eyes seeing words into your ears hearing those words. As I write this now, it is somewhat unnerving for me to recognize these processes working simultaneously—the way I see the words coming up on the paper but not as individual letters that I’m typing, rather as words that I can hear and say. This paragraph was very interesting and illuminating to me.

Poetry Assignment: Grief

February 25, 2011

Hey all! Here are the two poems our group chose. The theme is grief.

After great pain, a formal feeling comes – (372)
by Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was   it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
That only men incredulous of despair,
Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,
In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy dead in silence like to death—
Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:
If it could weep, it could arise and go.

A Conflict of Ideas…

November 17, 2010

It is hard for me to pinpoint the mood portrayed in Nighthawks because I find the painting to be full of contradictory or competing thoughts that I am having a hard time reconciling. For example, the mood given off by the bar patrons certainly seems to be a somber one. Though we cannot see the solitary man’s face, he is hunched over, masked by shadows which add to the darkness of his suit, and he is alone: all gloomy elements that contribute to the perception of the man as sad, desolate, insert “depressing” adjective here. Similarly, the couple on the other side of the bar seem to have serious expressions on their faces, which in addition to their slouching postures do not give the impression that they are having a good time but rather that they are involved in a serious discussion, or are reflecting on a somber topic. So the figures in the painting are giving off dark, somber vibes. And yet the painting is awash with light! In fact had I not been given clues in the form of the closed stores, the empty street, and the title of the painting, I would have thought that the painting took place during the day, perhaps during a ‘partly cloudy’ moment to account for the undeniable darkness in many corners of the painting. My point, however, is that there seems to be a contrast, almost a contradiction between the abundance of light spilling out of the bar and the supposedly somber mood of the patrons, as light usually indicates happiness and positivism. Which made me wonder about two contrasting ideas that the light can be portraying: is it a positive thing that the light is spilling out of the bar, bringing light and brightness to an otherwise dark area, or is a negative thing, as in the light is intruding on the natural state of the street and of the night, just as technology often intrudes on nature? I find both of these views compelling, but feel almost compelled to take the latter view to coincide the lightness of the painting to the somberness I originally perceived.
There is another visual aspect of the painting that I felt t be somewhat contradictory: the physical structure of the main building, both the storefront and the bar itself, seem to be closed off—the triangle shapes of the bar and building make it hard to distinguish an entrance or exit, and we certainly don’t see one from our view of the building (unless that yellow door is an entrance to the store.) So by viewing the physical structure of this building, we get the idea that the artist is trying to close us off from the building, keep the bar and its patrons isolated from the rest of the world. But if that were the case, than why have such open windows. It isn’t just the window directly facing us—one can argue that there is a need to keep that window open to view the inside of the building, but the shape still indicates that it’s closed off. If that were the case, than why have another wide-open window on the other side of the bar? Or why not have blinds visible at the top of the window to give the indication that they could completely close off the view inside. No—the artist clearly wanted these windows to be open, clearly wanted the light to spill out and seemingly touch everything around it, giving off an idea quite different from the idea of closing themselves off. So the building is physically closed off but visually open—I find that to be contradictory and interesting.
But perhaps these contradictory ideas are what Hopper wanted to portray to viewers in the ‘newly modern, electrified, urban world,’ because perhaps these conflicting ideas and images most accurately reflected what people were feeling about it. Granted, by 1942 light was not exactly a new phenomenon, but the idea of everything becoming electronic, mechanic, technological, connected, was becoming more and more prevalent and more of a reality every day and perhaps people were still trying to decide how they felt about it. Like the two points of view I present above, it’s a necessity as it provides light, or some other important societal need satisfied by a new technology, but on the other hand, it intrudes on natural space, on natural air. And even if you try to contain ‘the light’, as Hopper tries to do with his triangle building, it still reaches out everywhere and touches everything, affects everything. Being that Hopper’s painting generates such conflicting ideas and moods, at least to me, this strikes me as the most appropriate conclusion.

Automobiles in “The Great Gatsby”

November 10, 2010

While there is an abundance of technology throughout The Great Gatsby—from the use of the telephone, the green light and the lights at Gatsby’s house, the heavy emphasis on the Midwest, indicating the use of trains to get to New York, etc.—the technology that I found to be most emphasized and that plays the largest part in the novel is the automobile. The use of cars sets much of the plot into motion simply by allowing the characters to go from place to place, not to mention the pivotal accident towards the end of the novel that determines the fate of the characters. However, I also found the heavy emphasis on cars interesting because it seemed to me that automobiles were used as metaphors for social class, wealth and power, pivotal themes in the novel. When we look at the cars associated with each character, we see that each automobile truly seems to represent its persona.
The first car association we have is when Nick tells us that he has an “old Dodge.” The inclusion of the adjective ‘old’ leads us to believe that the car is used, possibly not in the best condition, in line with Nick’s house that he describes in the line before, “a weather-beaten cardboard bungalow.” Nick is able to afford a home and a car, but it is not nearly as nice or as new as his wealthier friends’ cars. Rather it is more unassuming, as Nick himself is. Alternatively, Gatsby drives a beautiful Rolls Royce that Nick clearly seems to admire as he explains it in depth: “[Gatsby] saw me looking with admiration at his car… It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory, we started to town.” Nick also mentions that everyone had seen Gatsby’s car, everyone knew what it looked like, which echoes Gatsby’s desire for the ostentatious and grand. It also symbolizes his vast wealth, that he was able to afford such a car, and his power in having such a big noticeable car.
Another interesting incident involving the relationship between cars and social class occurs when Gatsby and Nick drive into town, and Nick sees, “a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.” Here was a car with passengers that, in Nick’s mind, did not seem to fit together because it negated his stereotypes  of a black driver and white passengers, or perhaps because he wouldn’t have thought that black people would have been able to afford being chauffeured. Certainly he couldn’t imagine them on his level, able to look at him as a ‘rival.’ It is a strong image of social and racial stereotypes, and also provides insight into the idea of class norms in the 20’s.
Lastly, this idea of automobiles serving as metaphors or symbols for social class and power can be seen not necessarily through an actual automobile, but also through other associations with them, specifically Wilson’s service station. Wilson lives in the Valley of Ashes. He is not incredibly wealthy, and if I’m not mistaken we never see mention of him actually owning a car. Instead he services the cars of the wealthy, interacts with them as the lower-class gas attendant. It is just an interesting portrait to consider in the face of the wealth around him, that his position is so clearly marked as serving them.
There is so much more to be said about the automobiles, and technology in general, in the Great Gatsby. I just thought that this representation o the characters through automobiles was particularly interesting.

Hunting vs…?

November 3, 2010

When searching for images, both of 19th century landscape paintings and 20th century photographs of the Chicago stockyards, it becomes quite clear that there is a glaring difference between these two times. Many of the paintings I found depicted idyllic images, animals grazing or bathing in a calm lake, oftentimes accompanied by humans, particularly children to emphasize the purity and peacefulness of the situation, with calm and beautiful shades of calm and beautiful colors making p the sky and earth in the background. In contrast, the cows cramped into the Chicago stockyards, the domination of animals by men as opposed to the happy living side by side depicted in the 19th century paintings, the harsh black and white of the photographs—all of these details indicate the ‘bad’ of the 20th century versus the ‘good’ of the 19th century.

But I found another painting from the 19th century, the one you see above, that made me wonder if these times were really that different? This painting is called “Buffalo Hunt,” and depicts just that—a Native American on his horse, charging after the buffalo with his bow and arrow to hunt and kill the animals. I am going to quote from the commentary that I found for this painting as it says, “[The painter’s] dramatic use of composition and color further accentuates the heroic imagery of the buffalo hunt. Staged against the sweeping plains of Montana, [the painter] charges the foreground with intense energy and movement captured in the escaping buffalo and charging horses.” As the image shows, and the commentary further highlights, the act of controlling the animal by hunting and killing it is depicted as heroic, is painted in a positive light. And why wouldn’t it be—how would they have food if they weren’t hunting for it? We wouldn’t criticize them for survival. My point is, though, that we have to think about what we are criticizing and commenting on when we see a picture of the Chicago stockyards, or of a butcher like the one I posted above. Is this butcher not doing essentially the same thing as the Native American in the painting? Killing, butchering, controlling an animal for his survival? Of course there are differences—the change from a hunt of one or two animals to the factory-like mass slaughterings in Chicago and elsewhere is one thing we can comment on. But I can’t help but wonder when I see a painting like this one—was America really so innocent before the ‘era’ of the Chicago stockyards, or were the stockyards in Chicago just not as guilty as we let on? I’m not defending the idea of mass production of animal meat. I’m just saying that humans were controlling animals long before the Chicago stockyards, and the proof is in the painting.

The Irrational Creator

October 27, 2010

Sigmund Freud’s ideas of psychoanalysis and psychiatry include the idea that the human mind is essentially dual in nature. One part of the psyche, known as the ‘id’ is “passionate, irrational, unknown, and unconscious,” and the other part, the ‘ego,’ is “rational, logical, orderly, and conscious.”* Keeping this in mind, I’d like to make the case that Frankenstein is a story of these two natures, of the duality of mankind, and that as a creator, Victor Frankenstein shows himself to represent the ‘id’, acting irrationally and solely to satisfy his own passions, disregarding consequences, while simultaneously creating a manifestation of the ‘ego’ through the monster, representing this second part of the dual psyche.
It is clear that Victor Frankenstein was passionate about science, and his studies and his ideas etc, and I think it is appropriate to say that this passion played out in the irrationality of creating a new being. Throughout the whole process of Victor creating the monster, he repeatedly says how he is driven by excitement, enthusiasm, this passionate pursuit to create a human life. When he explains to the reader why he is doing this, never gives a rational reason for doing so other than the excitement of taking his science to the next level. He even mentions that he changes his original intention and decides to create a massive being, 8-feet tall, another irrational decision as creating a smaller being and bringing that to life would prove his research just as well. His act of creating was driven by impulse, passion, all representing the ego.
In this irrationality, however, what Frankenstein did in creating the monster was to create a physical being that represented the second part of the dual psyche, the id. When we think about some of the things that the monster did and said throughout the novel, he often acted and spoke with a voice of reason, the rational character between creator and creation. Take for example the monster’s request for a female companion, “with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being,” is truly a rational request, and the way in which he expresses it to Frankenstein, as well as his telling to his creator how Frankenstein is to blame for the monster’s crimes, relates logical, well-thought reason: “I am malicious because I am miserable…If any being felt emotions of benevolence towards me, I should return them an hundred and an hundred fold…What I ask of you is reasonable and moderate; I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself: the gratification is small, but it is all that I can receive, and it shall content me. It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another… (pgs 98-99).” He is right—it is Victor’s duty as his creator to provide him with the happiness that he had been previously denied. Other actions of the monster also show signs of rationality that Frankenstein lacked. After he realized his affect on people, he waited for the right time and setting to confront de Lacey. He spent his time in seclusion not mourning, but learning the language and things he knew he would need to survive. On the flip side, Victor shows time and time again his irrational thought and behavior. As was previously mentioned, clearly his obsession with exploring the unknown led to the irrationality of making the monster. It was irrational not to take the monster’s threats seriously, irrational to abandon the monster after creating it, thereby leaving what was essentially a newborn to its own devices. He didn’t think enough when he didn’t inform his family about the danger that he had brought to them, when he didn’t come forward and save Justine’s or Elizabeth’s life etc.
Freud built on the idea that it is the mind that is dual in nature, and I think that is so clearly seen in Frankenstein. It was Victor Frankenstein’s mind that came up with the idea of the monster. And perhaps readers can see rationality in the way he behaved at certain times,. But I think even more clearly we can see that his creation, the monster, was a physical manifestation of rationality and logical truth that Victor, perhaps lost, but was certainly blind to, when he created the monster. The monster was the other side of Victor’s mind, of Victor’s psyche, the rational ego to his creator’s irrational id. As a creator, Frankenstein was certainly passionate about what he was pursuing, but governed by his id as he was, he did not think it through.

* Ross C Murfin

Industrial Revolution Factories

October 20, 2010

I don’t know that this image is exactly ‘provocative,’ but when I think “steam engine,” my mind automatically goes to the Victorian era Industrial Revolution (perhaps because of my affinity for Charles Dickens) and I felt that this image represented that time, as well as the incorporation of the steam engine into society. This picture shows a factor, or perhaps several factories, in England in the mid 19th-century, and there are a few things I found striking in the image. Firstly and most noticeably are the heavy clouds of black smoke spewing out of the factories, indicating the pollution that was a direct cause of the new technologies and factories. These black clouds are mixing with and almost overtaking the natural, pure white clouds of the sky, depicting the very dominating quality of pollution, that it can pervade and saturate the environment, and certainly did so for the people living during the time of these early factories. Writers from Charles Dickens to Elizabeth Gaskell to Friedrich Engels did not take kindly to the Industrial Revolution, and all wrote essays and books on the poor, dirty, unhealthy conditions of the working class and the city as a whole that came part and parcel with the new factories that were built to accommodate the steam engine’s new machines. As impressive as the industrial revolution was for the advances in technology it brought, it was also a dark (pun slightly intended) time for cities that were faced with pollution, cramped conditions due to the migration of workers to cities, and other factors that led to a poor quality of life.
The other part of this picture that I found interesting is the inclusion of what appears to be remains of a destroyed building or something that has been torn down, located in the front/left of the factory. These ruins remind us that this factory, this steam engine, machines in general, replaced something—specifically manual labor and for many a rural way of life. I think that this is an important idea of new technologies—they are taking the place of whatever came before it, and though that is often to better our quality of life or make things easier for us, it also destroys the livelihoods of those who worked in what ever came before, and just in general destroys a simpler way of life to make room for large, pollution-producing factories.

The Tempest: The Power of Technology

October 12, 2010

While William Shakespeare’s The Tempest encompasses many ideas, at its core the play seems to focus on one primary theme: power. The struggle for power, the exertion of power on inferiors, and the desire to be in control are issues that appear continually and consistently in the play. Shakespeare illuminates this theme by using technology to emphasize the means by which power can be attained and held. In multiple instances in the text, Shakespeare indicates that when one controls a technological vehicle, some sort of manufactured, artificial medium, they gain more control and more power over others and over the environment around them, as Prospero and Ariel do with their own unnatural, man-made technology, their art: magic. Moreover, Shakespeare demonstrates, most notably through Gonzalo’s foolish dream, that the opposite holds true as well: without the aid of technology, people are weak and futile, and a world without technology, such as the one Gonzalo describes, simply cannot function in the way that one supported by technology and manufactured arts can.

From the very beginning of the play, Prospero emerges as the most central and most powerful character. After all, we meet him just minutes after he manipulated nature and orchestrated a storm to shipwreck his enemies. From that introduction to his character and continuing throughout the play, there are numerous references linking Prospero’s power to his magic, clearly stating that it is his magic that makes him strong, and that allows him to be in control of everyone. In Act 1, Scene 2, Prospero shows in back-to-back instances that he knows that he has power and that he is in control, first by putting Miranda to sleep (1:2:185-186) and then by summoning Ariel (187-188). Indeed, when Ariel comes, he gives a little speech praising his master and pledging obedience to Prospero (189-193). Minutes after we meet Prospero, he is using magic to control his daughter and his servant, and we recognize him as a powerful man because of his craft. As he himself describes in Act 3, scene 2, when referring to his enemies, “My high charms work…They [my enemies] now are in my power (3:2:87-90).” He controls through his magic.
So recognizable is Prospero’s power through his art that they are often described as intertwined, indicating that Prospero would not have power or control without his magic. When Caliban plots to kill Prospero, he informs Stephano and Trinculo that the only way to destroy the sorcerer is to take away his magic, thus stripping him of his power. He says, “Remember first to possess his [magic] books; for without them he’s but a sot, as I am… (3:2:85-93). Caliban tells them that without his craft, Prospero is powerless, like Caliban and the other characters without magic. Prospero himself echoes this idea of his magic and power being so intertwined in the epilogue of the play: “Now my charms are all o’erthrown, and what strength I have’s mine own, Which is most faint…(Epilogue, 1-3)” Prospero admits that once he relinquished his magic, his art, he only controls his own strength, and is therefore very weak, not the powerful man we were used to seeing. There is no denying that Prospero, perhaps the most central character in the play, is powerful only if and when he has magic, his artificial, manufactured craft on his side.
An additional example of the power that technology can bestow on a person can be seen in an unlikely source: the enslaved Ariel. Throughout the play we see Ariel as seemingly being in a position of little power; he is constantly doing the bidding of Prospero and begging Prospero for freedom, the ability to be in control of his own life instead of having to answer to a master. But by orchestrating all of Prospero’s demands, Ariel is seen to have a substantial power and control over many of the characters in the play. In fact, Ariel can be seen almost as a technology himself, a manufactured spirit and offshoot of another, used by this creator to execute unnatural, inorganic activities like making a storm or a phantom feast. As Prospero tells Ariel when commanding him on another mission, “Go bring the rabble o’er whom I give thee power (4:1:37-38).” By acting on behalf of Prospero with magic, the same art as Prospero, Ariel is given power over his master’s own spirits and his enemies.
The direct influence of technology, of an art, over power, specifically Ariel’s power, can also be seen when we first meet him. Prospero relates to Ariel, and thus to the reader, how Ariel came to work for Prospero. Prospero explains that Ariel was once enslaved by a witch named Sycorax, but Ariel was too weak to get free, either by fighting back or by doing Sycorax’s bidding. “…thou wast a spirit too delicate to act her earthy and abhorred commands…(1:2:270-275).” However, when Ariel began to work for the more powerful Prospero, Ariel learns more magic and becomes more powerful himself. We therefore see him emerge as a more central character in the play, one that, with this magic, this art that he’s attained over the years, most directly sets into motion much of the plot. Ariel himself might be enslaved, but there is no denying that because of his ability to control an unnatural craft, magic, he exerts significant power over other characters in the play.
Shakespeare not only proves the importance of technology in attaining power by emphasizing Prospero and Ariel’s arts, but also highlights the opposite, the weakness of man without technology. This is most clearly illustrated when Gonzalo relates to his peers his desire to be the leader of a natural land, uninfluenced by any technology or any sort of manufactured means. In act 2, scene 1, Gonzalo speaks on and off from lines 140-160 about this dream, this land that he wants in which there will be, “No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil…All things in common nature should produce without sweat or endeavor… need of any engine would I not have; but nature should bring forth of its own kind… (2:1:149, 155-160).” Gonzalo enumerates several manufactured and technological items that he would not want to have on his land. He wants to be king of a land that survives only on the direct products of nature, things produced organically and naturally. However, Sebastian, Antonio, and Alonso who are listening to this speech all mock him and deride his vision because they know that it is just a dream. They know that this idea of a land with no technology and nothing manufactured will never happen, and is implied can never happen. Without technology aiding this kingdom, Gonzalo will not have a kingdom, because a crucial source of power will be missing.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a play with many ideas and many characters, but when it comes down to it, all of these ideas and characters converge in the thirst and quest for power, and there is no denying that in that quest, the characters that emerge as stronger and more powerful are those with magic, a manufactured mode of influencing nature and other people, just as more conventional forms of technology do. Indeed, the idea of using craft and technologies to gain power and control is so pervasive that the notion of a world functioning without such arts is quickly dismissed. By providing a contrast of examples illustrating characters both with and without technology on their side, Shakespeare clearly proves that technology is an important tool, a powerful tool, and one that is practically essential for anyone to emerge as a strong, powerful, functioning individual.

Sharon Olds, “Summer Solstice, New York City”

September 15, 2010

Sharon Olds’ poem, Summer Solstice, New York City, is written almost as a story, with a clear central plot of a man considering suicide, the emergence of defined characters such as the tall cop and the man on the roof, and with a comprehensive setting, detailing time, situation, and place to provide a strong backdrop for the poem. Emerging from this seemingly cohesive narrative structure, however, is a certain duplicity of ideas and images; throughout the poem, Olds frequently compares the natural world to the mechanical world, a past time to the present time, using metaphors and similes to not only highlight the unadulterated earth and world of the past, but also to bring attention to the influence that technology and modernity have had on that world.

Beginning with the title, Olds’ poem is filled with ironic pairings of natural and manufactured images and elements; summer solstice, the longest day of the summer, is an event that reflects the real cycles of nature—the rising and setting of the sun, the movement of the planets, the passing of the months, etc.—whereas New York City is perhaps the epitome of a manufactured, technologically impacted and man-made city. This contrast of natural and unnatural repeats itself throughout the poem. In the first few lines, Olds brings in many manufactured elements—tin, iron, tar, “the huge machinery of the earth,”—to set up the scene of the man about to commit suicide, and in the very next line, in the middle of a description of the very modern cops and their bullet-proof vests, she describes the police’s “suits blue-grey as the sky on a cloudy evening.” Her metaphor for these very advanced uniforms is a natural, unadulterated scene, one that can’t be made by man. Later, when Olds describes the safety net being unfolded, she compares it to the way a “sheet is prepared to receive at birth. Again, Olds compares a modern, manufactured, technological advancement of a trampoline, with the most natural thing on earth—childbirth. What is further interesting about this comparison is specifically the way the child is received—through a sheet. A very old-fashioned image, reminiscent of midwives and home births and an older time, without the impingement of the lights and technology of hospitals. Through this image, as well as in her final image of “the campfires lit…at the beginning of the world,” Olds seems to highlight this idea of the simplicity of the past, and in fact though her poem begins with a litter of manufactured, modern elements, it ends with that simple image of the past, the fires of the past, seemingly indicating to us that this is perhaps the direction we should go in to, towards simpler things, and that specifically the central character needed to move in that direction. There are many interpretations for Olds’ heavy use the manufactured in her poem, but there is no doubt that her multiple references to technology, and specifically the placement of these references alongside natural images and events, make for an intriguing poem.

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