I’m Late, Again, But I’m Not Sure What For…

So today I’ve been in a completely excellent, and wonderful mood. I’ve been a shiny happy person, bouncing about, making milkshakes for people, taking puppies for walks, going above and beyond for guests at work… All is well with the world. I like that; especially when you feel so good about yourself that you want to be nice to people. I like making people happy, if I can.

I’ve even managed to not eat rubbish, and I’ve been to the gym. I feel like a little superhero. I bought myself a preposterously extravagant new mid-year diary too. I love it, because it is just completely beautiful. The cover feels precious, and I’m one of those people who adores pretty stationary, and filling in the information in the front is quite possibly the most exciting thing, well, ever.

Everyone knows what I mean. The excitement of fresh paper can’t ever be rivaled by digital takeovers, and sometimes you must have a piece of equipment that doesn’t rely on a battery pack, or need an extra charger. Holding onto a physical object is quite comforting, and scribbling things down is satisfying. Ticking things off on a Blackberry simply isn’t as extravagant as scribbling it off with a pretty pen, in a pretty book. There’s a sense of romance surrounding the concept of the diary, and the ability to write in it. It is personal in a way that software is not.

This is of course, the trouble with all this eco-friendly work. There’s no romance in electricity, and there’s no personality in a Microsoft software package. Paper gave us a sense of age, and of character, because we used handwriting, and tucked our favourite photos inside them, and made them ours. OneNote is a fantastic academic program, and there’s no doubt that it has made my filing system much, much more efficient. But a pretty diary is special; it might be materialistic, and I’m sure that the environment objects to my using of a diary. But I cannot ignore such a prominent sense of nostalgia that I associate with beautiful paper, and colourful patterns. It’s a permanent record of a period of your life, and the fact we haven’t got time to write down our trivialities anymore is quite shocking.

Everything is to-go. I am always running about, thinking where I have to be next. We don’t really sit down, and just, well, be there. At least not without thinking about something else. There are a million to do lists tucked away inside my head. And I’m always planning a new project and most of the time I haven’t quite finished the first, which is why I have half a room dedicated to ‘graveyard of projects past’. There’s so much to do, and it seems like there’s so little time.

And I realise it’s terribly trivial, and that diaries do not create time. But seeing those pages spread out before you provides you with a sense of perspective; there is a physicality to when things will be done, and when you will be able to do things. I think that perspective is worth all the money in the world.

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

– Oscar Wilde

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White Noise Is Rather Tough To Take…

 

White Noise by Don DeLillo was a novel I was expecting to dislike. For some reason, the front cover was repelling me, and I thought it was going to something similar to a postmodern ghost story. I was right, to a certain extent, because Don DeLillo does write a prelude to a ghost story. He maps the mentality of death, and an abject fear of what is to come, and what comes afterwards. His protagonists, Jack Gladney, and his wife, Babette, represent a kind of paralysis of mentality; their fear of death overrides their sense of everything else.

This, I think, can be considered both an advantage and a disadvantage. A disadvantage, because they live, believing that they can and will be dead at any moment; their marriage is overshadowed by a fear of the other dying, and so their petty rows, and Babette’s ‘arrangement’ with Mr Gray is insignificant, in comparison to her fear of losing the physical and emotional entity that is Jack. Therefore in many ways, the sanctity of marriage and union itself is questioned.

The cover that so unnerved me… (1)

Their sense of death however is an advantage because it allows them to explore the parameters of marriage in terms of a whole existence. Instead of a focus on small events, the couple manage to look at everything as a whole. The ‘airborne toxic event’ is not an individual disaster, and instead, the protagonist seems to focus on the impact it has on his entire life; the fact that it is shortened by this unknown threat. In some ways then, the fear of death provides a mechanism so that both protagonists can stay united by the unresolved fear.

The novel places a very heavy emphasis on the importance of technology to modern-day life. Throughout the text, phrases such as “the radio said” are used. This reminds the reader of George Orwell’s 1984, because there is an outside force that influences the character’s movement. The instantaneous information that is available through the television and radio influences the fear of death that Jack and Babette experience; unreliable information seems to only emphasize the unreliable nature of life, and the unpredictability of death. The relative power of the medical industry is also highlighted by Jack’s “brackets and stars” status. His doctor represents an omen, and therefore towards the end of the novel, Jack refuses to visit him, to find out more details of his impending death. This refusal shows a monumental step in his life, because he refuses to indulge the fear itself.

By far my favourite scene however, is when Jack shoots Mr. Gray, the man who has allegedly created the drug that removes a person’s fear of death. The shooting can be seen as an irony, because Mr. Gray represents being fearless. Therefore by causing him serious injury and plotting to kill him, he metaphorically attacks the idea of being unafraid of death. Gunshot wounds are an unnatural way to die, in the same way that it is unnatural to be unafraid of one’s own passing.

The novel itself is an interesting comment on 1980s society, especially because of the novelty value of technology at the time. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I should.

(:

(1) http://theasylum.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/whitenoise.jpg?w=470

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To Read Or Not To Read; That Is the Question

I’ve often wondered about literary opinion, and how literary opinion differs between people. Everyone understands the world in a different way to somebody else, and so naturally, they will understand literature differently too. Literature, and one’s attitude and understanding towards it, depends on experiences. Experiences of education, literature, whether you enjoyed your lessons when you were in primary school, whether you have a natural love of reading. These are all key factors in understanding what literature is, and whether you enjoy it, or despise it.

I know people who have yet to finish an entire book, and I suspect there are people who go their whole lives barely reading books and magazines. This is of course, a life choice. Whether you want to read or not is entirely up to you; education demands a certain amount of reading. If you choose a literature, or essay based degree, you’ll find reading to be nonnegotiable. Arts courses tend to be much more vocational, and this choice depends very much on the style of learning one is accustomed to.

Philosophy of the Mind (1)

It’s difficult to know how you’ll feel about different kinds of literature, until you experience it. For example, I don’t like all kinds of literature. I really dislike mythical Greek and Roman texts, as well as finding James Joyce’s Ulysses utterly intolerable. Some regard it as an example of the greatest literary creation of all time. I think it is a grammatical abomination, and something that is so complicated that it begins to lose its point, because it’s completely inaccessible. Conversely however, I thoroughly enjoy T.S Eliot, who is well-known for regarding literature as an elite pursuit and past time.

Philosophy is something else that is considered highbrow, and rarely brought down to an accessible level. It is complicated because it involves thinking about the makings of the universe, and theorizing on that most illusive of characters, knowledge. However it’s less complex than some think; it’s a matter of having a good teacher and a simple reader, to introduce someone to the rudimentary elements of philosophy. There’s no need to over-complicate things, and dive straight into analysis on Plato’s dialogues.

I consider literature to be one of my greatest loves, and I consider almost everything to be literature. I think that the well-written blog can be considered literature of all sorts; some blogs can be understood as literotica, some can be understood as beautiful prose. New writing is the writing that will one day be considered classic, and will belong to the modern cannon, and so I think it’s important to look at new literature, read magazines, of all kinds; fashion, photography, literary; they’re all part of a modern culture that will, like all cultures before it, be revered by future generations.

It’s all about enjoyment, you see. Culture is formulated through the things that people enjoy; a city with a strong opera programme tends to become linked to the opera as a pursuit and therefore becomes a cultural construct. To this end, we create our own culture. I’d like to think we do, at least.

(:

(1) http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/workshops/_files/Philosophy-of-Mind-Workshop.jpg

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On Knowledge, Books, and Post-modernity

We all have something that we collect, something that we cherish; some people collect stamps, others collect antiques; some collect photographs, and some people just collect friends. I collect books; I have a couple of hundred of them, in all shapes and sizes. I love the “new book smell” and I love how they all sit together on my bookshelves, looking out over my room. I like the order, and the consistency; I love that they all, in one way or another, relate together, and are essentially the same. I like the continuity there.

Post-modernity however (I’ve been reading introductions to it all day), would disagree with my “unified” bookshelf; it would create “the other”. It would differentiate between genre, and the time in which it was published. Post-modernity essentially subverts the essence of an object in order to form a critique of itself, making post-modernity a paradox that cannot be unraveled, because the definition of something is the playground of its subversion. “There is nothing outside the text.”- Jacques Derrida.

Trust somebody to make a mess. It's a beautiful example of postmodern art however, by Marcus A. Jansen. This is however not quite the same as post-modernity, which has a broader focus in society and politics.

You see, I like to play with paradoxes, but the challenge I have is that I’m not logically minded; I end up having to make spider maps so I know what I mean, and what I think. The same thing applies for when I’ve read a complex essay. It seems that my brain resembles a computer; sometimes you have to use the disk defragmenter to clean up all those little nuggets of knowledge, otherwise the computer might slow down, heat up, or just outright explode. I often suspect the latter.

I spend an awful lot of time pondering how my lecturers have spent as much time as they have in the research lab; how they’ve understood all these magical things, how they’ve written groundbreaking papers about the forefront of literary criticism. I can barely understand my introductory postmodern research, and I’ve already made six diagrams about Derrida. It is humbling when you realise that you know absolutely nothing at all, in comparison with what they already know. Even they don’t know everything; nobody does, but they know more than most of us ever will do. This is mainly however because it’s their career choice; it’s what they wanted to do. I like that they can inspire you to enjoy a text purely because they’re so passionate about it that they can present you with facets of it that you couldn’t hope to find on your own.

So, back to my beautiful bookshelf. I love the order, and the tidiness of it. I like it’s superficially orderly ways. But what I like the most, and the reason that I will continue to collect them, is that behind that smoke and mirrors facade of order, and logic, is a world that can’t ever be fully dissected. It can be examined and explored hundreds of times, but no one will ever know every secret of every book. And I like that behind this simple exterior, is a rich, decadent world. But what I like the most is that by looking at this world, I will obtain a degree, alongside invaluable skills in analysis, close reading, and research. And I really do enjoy it, too.

(:

(1) http://www.contemporary-art-dialogue.com/image-files/postmodern-art-surreal.jpg

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Thoughts on Post Structuralism

Today, I was typing out my post structuralism notes into my laptop; remembering how bemused I was, in comparison to today, made me realise that university does inspire a degree of progress in a person; even though most of the time, you feel as though you are swimming against a tide, attempting to conquer the ever-growing reading list (an impossible task). The vague understanding of week three, in comparison to today’s more developed understanding made me think about how much I adore my course; despite the quagmire of definitions, reading and concepts, it does work. The ideas must be percolating in my head; spinning around in a subconscious, dream-like kind of way, ethereal and inexplicable, but they are there. And so then I began to think.

The most appealing idea of post structuralism is the idea of the “ghosts of meaning” proposed by Jacques Derrida. Nothing in linguistics can be absolute; it is in flux, continuously evolving and each linguistic interpretation is different to each person. This means that when you are in “discussion” with your parents about for instance, the wing mirror that may or may not have detached itself from the car door, you can simply argue that this is just their interpretation of events based on their background which then allows you to argue that your background (and therefore your linguistic experience) is different to theirs. This opens a whole new range of ways to try to prove your parents wrong. This is of course to be done at your own risk.

Another brilliant facet of post structuralism is the idea of the de-centred universe. This means, simply put, that you cannot even be sure of where, or even what, you are because there is no external way to measure yourself against something else. Nothing has a central, solid meaning, because like language, everything is in flux. Being completely unaware of your position in the universe is fascinating, and to a certain extent, also liberating. You are in some ways therefore completely free to consider yourself as being absolutely anywhere in the universe. Again, this can be used as a mechanism to argue with authorities, e.g. parents, and teachers. Unfortunately, even the most open-minded teacher is unlikely to accept the argument that because of the theory of post structuralism, you are not entirely certain that you are at a true school at all, and even less sure that your supposed exam board is real, and therefore why should you have to write five thousand word pieces of coursework? If you were feeling particularly inventive, you could even drop in a word or two about string theory physics, and the meaning of the universe. If anyone really succeeds, then please let me know.

Of my critical theory repertoire, post structuralism is the one I identify with most clearly, despite the immense complexity of it when applied to any given text. It’s also fascinating when applied to real life. I think a thesis on Derrida would be extraordinarily complex and yet extremely rewarding. I’m sure several brain cells would die attempting to process such a seething mass of information. Nonetheless, I’m looking forwards to being able to revisit the theory next term; I like understanding difficult ideas. It’s a good thing too really, since I’m at university.

(:

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Plato’s Symposium

Attending a philosophy reading group serves to make you feel simultaneously more intelligent, and one hundred times more ignorant than one ever considers possible; it shows you that there are relatively few people in the world who truly get to experience philosophy, however that you are no better than anyone else in that the concept of it is baffling.

The Genius of Plato (1)

Plato’s Symposium is influential in a number of ways; primarily, it tries to define the nature of love, and declares that the highest and most developed form of love is the love of knowledge, and prioritising a love of knowledge over a love of physical engagement with another. Plato in this text also attempts to conceptualize love; love as a part of everything to music, to medicine and of people.

Gender issues are also raised in this influential text; the highest form of love, Plato suggests is that between men; women are given relatively little significance, performing only a reproductive function when engaging with a man. Feminists here would stomp their feet; especially when the issue of the creation of humanity is discussed.

According to this diatribe of ideas of love, the woman was created when God split his creation into two, causing a person to search for their other ‘half’ for the rest of their life. However, this makes some of us distinctly uncomfortable, when one considers that without a ‘great’ love, or a soul mate, we are not complete, or whole. This suggests a lack within ourselves, that we will attempt to fill; however raises more questions than it answers.

– What is the soul?

– Do people ‘lack’ something within themselves which means they have to find others to build off, and grow with?

– Are we truly only halves of ourselves, and so do we need to search for the missing piece of ourselves?

– Can we be truly happy without our other ‘half’?

– Is it possible that human nature will cause a person to be so ambitious that their perceived ‘lack’ can never be truly filled, and thus can a person become so overfilled with other ‘pieces’ of people that they simply cannot be themselves or exist in their own rights?

So honestly, I am not in support of Plato’s Symposium; whilst I like the narrative style, almost as a story of a conversation as opposed to a simple theory presented in essay format, which leads the reader to the point gently, with all of the information driving the assumption, I believe the essay conceptualizes love to the point where it becomes intellectually removed from the emotional feeling; every person experiences love differently, and no relationship between two people will ever be the same as another. I think this may be because I’m a romantic at heart; I have loved, and I will continue to do so, and I will never fall prey to the intellectualism of a feeling; emotion, emphatically, cannot be rationally understood.

I did enjoy the discussion however; Professor Kate Hext has some wonderful ideas about philosophy, and I can’t wait for next week, when we get to argue over the merits of Aristotle’s Poetics over vodka lemonades and crisps.

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1. http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/plato/schath.jpg

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