Monday, March 28, 2011

100 Years of Solitude and Midnight's Children

While reading "Midnight's Children," I was reminded of "100 Years of Solitude." Both novels seem to have fantastical elements interweaved with realistic and historical events. For instance, we discussed the banana massacres that appear in "100 Years of Solitude," which actually occurred in Santa Marta from 1947 to 1957. Similarly, the conflict between religious factions like Muslims and Hindus discussed in "Midnight's Children" mirrors the historical violence in India.
Also, the concept of time seems to be a major theme in both novels. We talked about time as a cyclical element of life in "100 Years of Solitude," especially noting the prophecy and its implications. In Midnight's Children, time is often mentioned and prophecy appears frequently. For example, after Saleem's father discovers that his wife is pregnant with Saleem, he replies, "I told you so; it was only a matter of time." Saleem, after retelling his father’s words, makes this interesting observation of time: "... but time has been an unsteady affair, in my experience, not a thing to be relied upon. It could even be partitioned: the clocks in Pakistan would run half an hour ahead of their Indian counterparts..." (Rushdie, 86).
The unreliability of time also reminds me of Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," especially when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern converse about memory in their question games. What do you all think about the concept of time in these novels, as well as other pieces of literature we have studied? What else do “Midnight’s Children” and “100 Years of Solitude” have in common?

Midnight's Children and The Tin Drum

While reading Midnight's Children, I was constantly reminded of The Tin Drum and could not stop making connections between the two post-modern novels. Firstly, both works are narrated by unreliable, male protagonists in their thirties, who record their life stories in the presence of an audience who consists of a single individual. Both Grass and Rushdie employ magical realism in order share the tragic violence and hardships that plague their homelands with the reader. The protagonists, Oskar and Saleem, both commence their narratives with a story about their grandparents and build suspense up until the instant of their own births. At this point, they continue to share both the monumental and mundane moments of their lives with the reader. Recounting their stories in a stream of conscious manner, Oskar, Saleem, and the two authors comment upon the relativity of truth and whether or not one valid version of reality exists. Finally, despite being outcasts and feeling inferior, Oskar and Saleem, are meanwhile, both profoundly egotistical. What other similarities have you all found between the two novels?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Importance of Color in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"

Today Mrs. Quinet brought up the discussion of colors in Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead". We have discussed the signficance of the color yellow in other pieces of literature this year, like in Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." In Prufrock, yellow symbolizes decay and pollution ("The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, / The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes). Guildenstern on page 20 says, "'The colours red, blue, and green are real. The color yellow is a mystical experience shared by everybody'-- demolish." Could his discussion of yellow as a "mystical experience shared by everybody" relate to Eliot's portrayl of yellow in Prufrock?
Collin also mentioned in class that the colors red, green, and blue are the primary colors in science; Guildenstern refers to these as "real" colors. Perhaps he is hinting at the human tendency to regard science as fact rather than a subjective study of the world.
Colors are also mentioned on page 71 when Rosencrantz says, in his discussion of death, "They don't care. We count for nothing. We could remain silent till we're green in the face, they wouldn't come." Guildenstern responds: "Blue, red." What do you all think of this exchange and how it relate to the previous mention of colors? Why isn't yellow mentioned?

Hamlet- "The Puppet Master"

I really thought our class discussion on how Hamlet is the "puppet master" was very interesting considering his previous role in Shakespeare's Hamlet. I think it is a big statement made by Stoppard by portraying Hamlet as almost an evil character. Hamlet's manipulative personality and extremely controlling behavior results in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's actions. I think it is so clever to take a piece of literature and take a main character, turn him into a supporting character and change his personality completely. It makes me think how if our lives were depicted in a play, how would my role differ as a main character in comparison with a supporting character? What do y'all think about Hamlet's "transformation" from one play to the other?


As we discussed in class today, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to make sense of the absurdity that happens. When they find the second letter calling for their executions, they don't take action to prevent their own death. As the law of probability mentioned earlier in the play states, we want things to make sense. We try to talk our way into reasoning. However, they don't always work out the way they are "supposed" to. I couldn't help but by reminded of Pangloss from Candide. He always made philosophies fit his circumstances. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are similar to Pangloss in this sense because they are trying to create order in absurdity.

Can you guys think of any other references to things we've read in class we've yet to discuss?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Clarifying the Rules of Probability in Ros and Guil's World

In Act I of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Guildenstern is frustrated by the breakdown in the typical rules of probability. As we said in class, the laws of probability relate the "fortuitous" and "ordained" in a "union known as nature." Thus, their disruption makes fate just as obscure as chance. I think this is an important point, especially when one considers how Guil and Ros act differently toward the inexplicable occurrence. Ros simply accepts the streak of heads as a new universal rule; he sees no chance in the coin toss. Guil, on the other hand, tries to find a rational reason for the streak. However, he recognizes that implication that he is now at the mercy of fate and other supernatural rules. Here we must make an important distinction: probability's failure clearly affects chance, but it also affects fate. As we see later in the act, one coin comes of tails, destroying Ros's ability to expect heads mindlessly. Through his syllogisms on page 17, we see that Guil also deduces that he cannot be in a world controlled solely by the supernatural. This realization perturbs him further, as we see on page 21 when he wishes for unicorns. How can he exist in a reality operated neither by probability nor the supernatural? Reality can be just as arbitrary and inscrutable as divine will; the rules governing the universe change. Thus, fate is just as unpredictable as, well, chance.

Obviously, we had talked significantly about probability already. I just think that we have to consider the irrationality of fate as well. Am I digging too deeply into this? Did anybody else notice what I am noticing? Perhaps somebody sees another reason for Guil to desire unicorns? I think the discussion is important, as understanding the laws operating opun Ros and Guil is crucial to reading the play.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Baby Gregor

Hello Class,

Today, I was outside exploring nature when I stubbled upon a bug that very closely resembled Nabokov's intepretation of Gregor. I know my pictures are poorly excecuted (the bug was scuttling at super sonic speeds) and that it is difficult to visualize this bug in its entiretly, but trust me, it was basically a baby Gregor! Both Gregor and this bug have 6 legs, a very rounded body, large jaws, a swivleable head and are covered it dust and dirt. I hope that from these two pictures ya'll can visualize this clear resemblence and if anyone knows what type of bug this is, please let me know.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is Gregor really the bug?

I thought our discussion today about how Gregor's family seems to be the unit who undergoes a metamorphosis, rather than Gregor himself, was extremely interesting, and I would like to further explore the issue. Gregor exhibits some bug-like qualities prior to the physical transformation. As a human, he is stepped upon by his boss and misunderstood. Further, he has already lost his humanity as both his family and job exploit him for money. Following the transformation, Gregor retains several human characteristics and acts more humanely than his family members. From this perspective, Gregor truly does not experience a metamorphosis. Instead, he simply comes into his own, while his family experiences the metamorphosis as they become aggressive and overly neglectful. It seems as if Kafka intends to represent Gregor's family members are bugs. Perhaps, the father could serve as an evil, violent wasp, the mother a spider, and the sister a bee, who first appears sweet before stinging her prey. What do you all think?

The Metamorphosis and Death of a Salesman

While reading Kafka's "Metamorphosis", I am constantly reminded of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. Gregor's obsession with getting to work and being successful is similar to Willy's ambitious nature. Additionally, both Willy and Gregor experience a type of metamorphosis; Gregor's is physical, in that he transforms into a bug, while Willy's ambitions lead to his mental instability. To me, the largest difference between the characters is that Gregor is selfless, wanting to provide for his family. Willy Loman yearns for professional recognition and self fulfillment as a successful business man.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Talented Mr. Ripley and "The Metamorphosis"

Over the break, I watched "The Talented Mr. Ripley," a great movie starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. Matt Damon plays Mr. Ripley, a complex character who pretends to be a Princeton student and is sent to Europe to bring Dickie Greenelaf, a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy, back to his father. Mr. Ripley fails to pry Dickie from Italy, where Dickie is living in luxury without any thoughts of coming back to America. As Tom stays in Italy with Dickie, he begins to crave his lifestyle and starts to emulate his behavior. Tom, who lies about himself from the beginning, begins to shift between personas, eventually assuming Dickie's identity. When we talked in class today about Gregor undergoing an identity crisis, I thought of Tom Ripley and his transformation, although his was a voluntary one. Gregor's conversion affects his thoughts, actions, and the lives of the people around him, just as Ripley's personality shifts damage those around him and especially himself.
Can you all think of any other movies or things we have read this year that relate to identity crises?

Franz Kafka

Although we already discussed Kafka's background today in class, I decided to further explore the complexity of the anguished author. Firstly, I will share what I learned about his political views. We discussed today that Kafka was against bureaucracy, but we didn't mention that he was a socialist. Kafka was drawn toward socialism in his youth and wore a red carnation to school to openly demonstrate his support of the party. This is also evident through a diary entry written during his adolescene in which he commented upon how the anarchist philospher, Peter Kropotkin, influenced him. Kafka even attended meetings of a Czech anarchist organization that opposed both military and religion, known as Klub Myladych. In terms of his personal life, Kafka had a few romantic relationships. Between 1912 and 1917 he corresponded with a woman from Berlin, named Felice Bauer, and proposed twice before the engagement was broken in 1917. Subsequently, he was involved in a brief affair with the Czech journalist Milena Jesenska in 1920. His most serious relationship was with Dora Diament, a young Orthodox Jewish woman. Aside from what we already mentioned in class today, in which ways do you all think Kafka's personal life influenced "The Metamorphosis"?

Saturday, March 5, 2011


While researching quest narratives online, I found this handy little picture demonstrating the typical progression of a bildunsroman or heroic quest. The literary term for this narrative pattern is a monomyth (here, "The Hero's Journey"). Since it seemed applicable to Julia's earlier post, I thought I would post it here.

I find it interesting that this image suggests a cyclical construction in heroic quests, particularly in the light of the work we did with the Grail quest in class. In my Waste Land essay, I wrote about how the modern, Western literary convention of linear narratives may have grown out of cyclical fertility myths. Earlier in the year, we talked about how bildungsromans seem very linear, with a progression from boyhood, through knowledge, and into manhood. What do you think? Do bildungsromans like Huck Finn and The Catcher in the Rye contain cycles? If so, where? Can anybody think of other examples? Or is this picture just poorly designed?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cornell's Boxes

I was extremely intrigued by Cornell's boxes. His collections of small, unique items preserved in a small box illustrate his attempt to capture elements of the human experience. Considered a symbolist, Cornell hinted at more elaborate or abstract ideas. I think Cornell truly embodies the definition of a post modernist artist, since he constructs colorful, but somewhat ambiguous settings that relate to modern human life. Some of my favorite boxes were those that involved birds, like this one.

I wonder, if I were to imitate his style,  what kinds of items I would put in a box to represent the current 21st century human experience (a computer maybe?). What kinds of symbols would you guys include in your "boxes"?