Saturday, August 31, 2013

Biloxi Blues

Biloxi Blues is a play about Eugene Morris Jerome, who after being drafted into the United States Army during WWII, has to deal with the challenges of basic training along with his fellow recruits in Biloxi, Mississippi. Since the St. Martins Theatre Department is putting on this show later in the year, we read and analyzed the play in my Theatre II class. After doing a basic read through, we delved into each one of the characters. One character in play, Joseph Wyzykowski, was especially rambunctious and quick to fight to defend himself even when it wasn't necessary. When talking about why he was so defensive, we decided that he was just immature. After learning more about the Polish involvement in WWII, I started to consider Wyzkowski's Polish roots as a possible explanation for his defensive stance. Soon I realized that Wyzkowski's attitude represented the attitudes of many in Poland as a whole. Poland wanted so badly to protect their newly found independence that they insisted on fighting until the very end. Just as Poland didn't want to be pushed around, Wyzykowski would do anything to resist being told what to do, even if that meant putting himself and his troop in difficult or annoying situations.

Music not in Nazi Germany

Continuing in the vein of my last post, the Nazis not only sponsored music that they thought served their purposes but also suppressed any music they saw as subversive.  Nationalist composers in particular were not appreciated.  For example, they banned the music of Frédéric Chopin, a Polish composer of piano music.  This is a video of his Étude Op. 10, No. 5, commonly known as the Revolutionary Étude.  The turbulent music and the reputation as a symbol of resistance and Polish nationalism (I remember hearing that it was the last thing broadcast on Polish national radio during the Battle of Warsaw, but I can't find any sources to confirm it; you can read more about Chopin's connection to nationalism here) would definitely not be in accordance with Nazi propaganda.  The music was composed to reflect Polish resistance to Russian occupation, which ties in with Oskar's own conflicted Polish nationalism in The Tin Drum.

The Germans also banned Jewish composers as a matter of course; Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn (of wedding march fame) were two notable German victims of this censorship. 

Music in Nazi Germany

Since the presentation Megan and I did on music in The Tin Drum was supposed to be limited to music in the post-war era, I didn't say much about music during the war.  Mrs. Quinet mentioned in class that Wagner, along with Beethoven, was particularly favored by the Nazi regime due to the legendary themes of his music that, conveniently for the Nazis, conjured up a mythic bellicose Nordic spirit (which, according to the Nazi leadership, Germany was in the process of reclaiming).  In The Tin Drum, Oskar describes seeing Wagner's opera The Flying Dutchman.  His masterpiece was Der Ring des Nibelungen, a cycle of 4 operas (and, taken as a whole, one of the longest pieces of music ever written) based on the German epic the Nibelungenlied, which was written around 1200 and is based on Norse sagas.  The following is from the second opera, Die Walküre (the Valkyrie).  I chose it because it's familiar to most people, but the martial spirit that the Nazis were trying to inspire is evident in it.

Another composer we mentioned in class was Richard Strauss.  I think he gets a bad rap for doing projects for the Nazis; you can read more here but essentially even though he was initially a favorite he was uninterested in politics and he refused to comply with all of the Nazi demands. 

As we continue discussing The Tin Drum, and the Holocaust, my mind keeps flashing back to the banana massacre scene in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The banana massacre reminded me of a smaller scale holocaust, in which the banana company unjustifiably killed around three thousand innocent men. However, the banana company managed to conceal their miniature holocaust; whereas, the Nazis killed on such a large scale that it was impossible to cover their tracks. Instead, the Nazis tried to justify their massacres by racial superiority. 

Aside from the fact that Oskar is a lunatic, it seams quite rational that he’d like to crawl back into the cradle or his mother’s womb. Living through the terrors of World War II, Who wouldn’t want to escape back into their innocence? If I lived throughout the holocaust and Nazi Germany, I know that I’d want to escape. By refusing to grow up and banging on his tin drum, Oskar can, in ways, avoid the realities of the war. However, it becomes inevitable to completely avoid and isolate himself from the world. Therefor, he is often forced to cope with reality and the world in which he lives. 

Thoughts on the Eel Scene

I think Grass did a good job achieving his goal in the Good Friday chapter, as I was utterly disgusted by the eel scene. Something about eels just grosses me out, and the horse head didn't help either. After talking about the scene slowly in class, my feelings only got stronger. The symbolism of the eels was interesting and gave me a new outlook on the book, but that still didn't make a severed horse head with eels coming out any less sick. For this reason, Good Friday was probably my least favorite chapter in the book.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Good v. Evil

Many times throughout The Tin Drum, Oskar see's himself as both Jesus and Satan. Oskar mainly describes himself as Satan when he sing-shatters the glass protecting the stores, and allows people to choose between their inner selfishness and selflessness. In a way he is the ultimate judge; he decides who is worthy and who is not. However, when he's instructing the Duster's what to do and how to do it, it's almost as if he's their "creator." He's always watching from afar, never really taking part in what takes place - especially in the church when he disfigures the Madonna and Jesus. He just gets the ball rolling, basically, but he's never in on the action completely.

I feel there could be many different meanings for this, but I'm still somewhat confused as to exactly why he feels he embodies both. Does anyone else have an interpretation for this?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hussars: The Protectors of the Amoeba

The hussars were the elite calvary of Poland between 1570s-1776.  Their infamous 'wings' were created by attaching a wooden frame consisting of eagle, ostrich, swan, or goose feathers to the back of the soldier, which gave them the image of an angel in battle. There has been many theories as to why they wore these wings. The most popular theory states that the wings created a loud, clattering noise that made the army seem much larger than they truly were, and resulted in the other calvaries horses to become frightened. Others speculate that the wings were used to help defend the backs of the men against swords, or that they were worn to make their horses deaf to the wooden noise makers used by the Ottoman soldiers.

In relation to The Tin Drum, the Post Office defenders are similarly embodying the image of these hussars. This small militia of common postmen rise to defend themselves against the German regime. They call themselves "uhlan" many times throughout the novel, and as we began to discuss the hussars in class, I began to envision these men as blazing warriors on horses, rising to defend their beloved country. However, as I thought back to Jan, Vincent, and Koybella I had to realize that these people were just normal, everyday people; they had no interest to engage in war.  Even though the book recounts the event very accurately, we do not see how the postmen actually feel during the event until we are given the opportunity through Oskar's perspective. At the end of the chapter the surviving postmen surrender to the SS soldiers. As depicted in the photo above, it's safe to assume that Jan and the other survivors were killed in a similar manner. Although they might not have been blazing hussars on horseback, their spirit remained the same.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Tin Drum: A Reluctant Criticism

I wished I liked it. I really do. But I don't. Reading The Tin Drum was an experience not unlike the time I read The Bell Jar. The protagonist of The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood, is clinically depressed and suicidal. The author of the novel, Sylvia Plath, committed suicide not long after The Bell Jar's first publication. The tone and general writing of Plath's famous novel is so intense and captivating that the depression became practically tangible to me. It's next to impossible while reading it not to feel the dark feelings of Esther Greenwood. However, I was and still am completely enthralled with The Bell Jar.

 I wish I could say the same about The Tin Drum. Like The Bell Jar, The Tin Drum has an intense tone that reeks of mental disturbance (for lack of a better word). The, what I see as, cynical tone of The Tin Drum, made me cynical. The mundane chapters in which Oskar meticulously described things such as his grandmother's skirts were tedious for me to read. To be honest, I had to read it chapter by chapter, because reading more than one chapter are once was just too much for me. I could never quite connect with Oskar. I think that was my main problem while reading. I didn't understand or ever feel sympathy or really anything for Oskar.

My brutally honest feelings being said, I can see why The Tin Drum received the acclaim it did. I hope our class discussions will have me rooting for Oskar, or at least understand him and the story better.

Please don't hate me Gunter Grass or Oskar-enthusiasts.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Tin Drum... A Really Weird Book

I absolutely LOVED The Tin Drum. Why? Because it was so weird!!! I thought I would just list all the things I found strange about The Tin Drum. First, the fact that Oskar thinks he's Jesus. When he's in the church, trying to get Jesus to play the drums, I smiled a little, but when he sits on Mary's lap while the dusters raid the church, I really laughed. I found it so bizarre and just awkward I guess. The nurse fetish seemed so random when I was reading, too. After class today, I understand why Grass included such an obsession in his book and how it relates to the Oedipus complex, etc. Another odd characteristic of Oskar: his random poetic spurts. At one point he even apologizes for randomly inserting such a weird, poetic section into his story. Which points me to another irregular characteristic of Oskar that we briefly pointed out in class today, his insertion of unrelated phrases into his recounts. These weird little random tidbits of information were probably what made me love the book so much. I would be reading and all of a sudden Oskar would draw my focus in a total different direction because he would state something I wasn't even thinking about. His spontaneous, almost ADD mind proved for a fun, change of pace.

Hitler's Pawn: The Margaret Lambert Story

When my group was assigned "mass entertainment" for our Tin Drum history project, I immediately thought of an HBO documentary I had watched a few years ago- Hitler's Pawn: The Margaret Lambert Story. Before I watched this documentary, I had no idea of the events surrounding the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Any thought of the 1936 Olympics had never once crossed my mind. The documentary covered the life of Margaret Lambert, who, as I mentioned yesterday, was a young German Jew studying in London a couple of years prior to the Games. She was used by the Nazi's to end the boycott of the U.S., Great Britain, and other nations, who threatened not to attended the Games in Berlin. She was undoubtedly their "pawn." The two years leading up to the 1936 Games for Lambert were filled with fear and anger, and WW2 had not even begun.
Margaret no doubt fell victim to the severe disillusionment caused by the Nazi party that so many people in Germany and around Europe fell victim to. We see this disillusionment throughout The Tin Drum. Margaret's story is a perfect example of the Nazi's manipulation and control of their people, as well as the suffocating atmosphere, which is frequently visible in The Tin Drum, they created during their reign.

By the way, I seriously recommend this documentary.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Art after the Holocaust in Prague

In class today we talked about this different types of self expression in Germany after the war. Many people expressed their thoughts through violent imagery or coped by recreating their experiences. This summer I went to Prague, a city in the Czeck Republic. We visited the Jewish Quarter and a very old  jewish cemetery with overlapping tombstones. This was a very moving shrine to all the people killed in concentration camps in the city. The rooms were filled with people's names written on the walls. There was a room dedicated to an art therapy program that was implemented for children as a way to cope from their experiences during the war. These children were asked to draw their homes, the camp, their fears, and their family. The drawings that stood out to me the most were the few papers of red and black scribbly demonic monsters that represented their fears. This art program helped the children cope with aftermath of the war just like the German artists mentioned in class today.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Time Loops in 100 Years of Solitude

When we began discussing the cyclical nature of the Buendia family and the repetition of days, I couldn't help but think of the movie Groundhog Day. The correlation between the movie and 100 Years of Solitude were strikingly similar. For those of you who haven't heard of it, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an egotistical weatherman who finds himself stuck in a time loop. When he realizes this he begins to take advantage of everyone he meets, since he doesn't need to worry about any long-term consequences. However, as the days repeat over and over again, he slowly becomes despondent. It is only after he tries to commit suicide multiple times that he re-examines his life and priorities. He learns to become a better person, and falls in love with a woman he keeps failing to acquire. When the time loop is broken he emerges not only with the love of his life, but also as a better person.

So now you might be wondering, how does this relate to 100 Years of Solitude or the Buendia family? Well, I found that just as Phil was stuck in an almost "eternal" time loop, so were the Buendia's. When Jose Arcadio Buendia states, "This is a disaster. Look at the air, listen to the buzzing of the sun, the same as yesterday and the day before. Today is Monday too." I interpreted the Buendia family as being stuck in this time loop that could only be broken by a some type of change, whether that be in personality, actions, or both. Phil becomes stuck in the same day because he is, in a way, being taught a lesson for his past actions. Similarly, the Buendia family becomes stuck due to the various sins they commit (incest, murder, etc). However, unlike in Groundhog Day, the Buendia's never really break their time loop. Although their days are not repeated literally, their history is. They find themselves making the same mistakes generation after generation, and it eventually leads to their downfall. It seems to me as if Marquez is trying to make us realize that by passing on the knowledge of our past mistakes, we can avoid creating the same future.

New Orleans vs. Macondo

The documentary that we watched in class on Friday gave me a new perspective of the culture of Macondo. I imagined Macondo's culture as less tribally oriented. Due to Garcia's focus on the family and shifting passage of time, I never had a consistent image of the Macondo culture. The best reflection of their Latin American heritage was the festival that crowned Remedios and Fernanda as queens. While I was watching the video I couldn't help myself but to compare aspects of the clips shown to aspects of similar american culture. As they crowned the prettiest girl in each town, it reminded me of beauty pageants. The dancing and festivities in the streets reminded me of Mardi Gras as people danced in costumes. I thought of my experience in a Mardi Gras court as they crowned Remedios and Fernanda queen. I was a maid in the Krew of Argus. After attending balls and wearing many frivolous costumes, I have a new appreciation for not only the history and culture of New Orleans, but Macondo also.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

54 Years of Solitude: The Real Life Macondo

One of the things that most interested me about One Hundred Years of Solitude was some of the background story of its author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When researching Marquez, I soon found out about his close friendship with Fidel Castro. I began to see the novel in a totally different way. I began to reflect on my own time in Cuba and immediately saw the connection between the fictional town of Macondo and Cuba. While Marquez may have been a revolutionary sympathizer, he saw that communism can only work in a bubble of isolation. Macondo under Jose Arcadio Buendia is a perfect example of an idealistic communist community, but when interventions from the outside world comes into play the system can not function as planned. Also, just as in Macondo one corrupt government was overthrown and replaced with one worse, the Batista power was replaced with the dictatorship of Fidel. The Cuban government is also aware just how important isolation is in maintaining its current system. Looking back in my dairy from the trip, I realized just how much I wrote about experiencing a sense of solitude. Most of the people we talked to knew little to nothing about the progressing world around them as they drove around in cars put on the road before the revolution took place. They seemed perfectly happy not having TV's or computers, and instead of scurrying around with their heads buried in their smartphones, they would actually make connections and conversation with those around them. Never was the phrase, "Ignorance is bless" more true. In a stanch comparison, however, were the people who weren't stuck in the bubble of solitude. Those who actually had the ability to interact with people outside of Cuba began to see just how isolation they are. Our guide, for example, recalled stories of the first and only time he left Cuba and had the opportunity to see the outside world. What he previously saw as a perfect existence in Cuba crumbled and was replaced with an image of no opportunity for himself and his family. Since our visit, the guide has decided to leave Cuba and to find a new home in Canada, with hopes of eventually coming to the United States. The Cuban governement knows just how important it is to keep its people from learning much about what is happening around them, for they know that knowledge is power. With the technological advancements occurring every day making information so easily accessible, the 54 year struggle to keep its people in their bubble of solitude may soon become too hard to manage. 

One Hundred Years of Solitude vs. Tin Drum

I personally liked the Tin Drum more than One Hundred Years of Solitude. Though both were decent enough novels, I enjoyed Grass's writing style more than I enjoyed Marquez's. It was hard to decide which I liked more though because they were rather similar. Both mixed magic and reality, both showed events from history from a unique perspective. Overall, I liked the Tin Drum better, but One Hundred Years of Solitude wasn't bad either.

Reflection on the Tin Drum

I thought that the Tin Drum was a strange book to say the least. It had several disturbing parts and Oskar's thoughts were sometimes very odd. That being said I thought that it was really interesting to view WWII from the eyes of a dwarf child (or eternal three-year-old or whatever he is). After I started getting farther into it, I really started to like this book.

Reflection on One Hundred Years of Solitude

When I first started reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, I didn't think I was going to like it; I found the constant character introduction annoying and the indifferent manner with which Marquez described the events tedious. After I read further into the novel, however, I realized that I actually enjoyed the chaotic story of the Buendia family. Though I still find his writing style annoying, I think it was a decent book overall.

The Tin Drum in The Tin Drum

Probably the most obviously symbolic single thing in The Tin Drum is Oskar's drum itself--it just has no reason to exist except as a metaphor, since nobody actually walks around beating on a tin drum day in and day out.  It is not obvious, though (at least to me), what it actually represents, so I'll take a stab at interpreting it.  Oskar uses the drum to bring up memories by evoking the sounds of what happened, so it possibly represents a connection to the past.  However, the drum is also used, for example at the rally, to influence people and make them "march in step"--which, if I'm not just over-thinking this, is definitely in keeping with the events of the novel, id est the Third Reich.  I don't really see a strong connection between these two: the drum as a metaphor for memory is more explicitly stated in the novel, but I don't see how it ties in with the historical elements of the book; meanwhile, I see complicity as a strong theme of the novel, but I find it hard to find a workable correlation between the two.  Any ideas?

Finally Coming Full Circle

Towards the end of the documentary we watched yesterday, the narrator stated, "...a collection of people without a common cause." Frankly, I can't remember if he was referring to Colombia, Latin America, or the Buendia family, but truthfully, I don't think it matters. I believe this quote applies to all three. In my previous post, I had talked about how I viewed each Buendia as living within their own individual solitude. Even though the entire family is secluded, I view each family member as also being secluded from each other. Although I had realized this, I didn't quite grasp why or for what purpose.  However, when the narrator said "...a collection of people without a common cause," everything completely clicked for me, like an epiphany.
We've talked about how Macondo is a metaphor for Colombia. Now I think the Buendia family, or at least aspects of it, is a metaphor for all of Latin America. The family is a bunch of secluded individuals who continuously make the same mistakes, never learning from the Buendias who came before them. Each have different goals. Whether it be Arcadio and his obsessive need for power and order. Whether it be Colonel Aureliano Buendia and his failed initiative to bring down the corrupt Conservative party. Or Jose Arcadio Buendia and his endless pursuit for practical knowledge. The family never quite is in sync with each other. Just as Mrs. Quinet pointed out that Latin America was never in sync during the post-colonial period. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as well as other Latin Americans, attempted to give Latin American its own identity. Their problem? It didn't have a obvious identity. They had no common cause.  They were a melting pot of idgenious peoples, Europeans, and international imperialist/traders. They worked against each other, instead of along side each other.
Maybe this is why Garcia Marquez and so many other artists turn to magical realism to give Latin America an identity. As we saw in the documentary, this magic is ingrained in everyday life throughout all of Latin America. Maybe that is their "common cause."

Destruction and Creation in The Tin Drum

One of the major motifs I noticed reading The Tin Drum was that of the creative aspect of Oskar, chiefly represented by his drumming, and the destructive aspect of his screaming.  He makes the comparison several times in the book: the Devil keeps telling him to shatter the windows in the church and he talks extensively about Goethe, a refined, scholarly figure, and Rasputin, a figure of excess and lust.  I suppose for Grass the years the novel describes, between 1920 and around 1952, might have seemed like a balance between the destructive and creative powers of Germany, with the creative ability demonstrated by the flourishing of science and culture in the Weimar republic (during some of, for example, Richard Strauss' and Heisenberg's most productive years), the German recovery after the Great Depression and, later, the Wirtschaftswunder, and the destructive power demonstrated, of course, by World War II.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Inception: Solitude within Solitude within Solitude

The most puzzling aspect of 100 Years of Solitude to me is the metaphorical meaning/usage of solitude. Literally I understand the use of solitude in the novel. Several of the characters seclude themselves after dealing with traumatic events. For example, Rebeca withdraws from society after the death of her husband, Jose Arcadio. I personally am not a widow, but I can see how loosing a spouse would lead a person to withdraw. However, the deeper meaning of solitude in the novel is not quite as clear to me. Miranda pointed out to me that essentially all of the Buendias die alone or in solitude. This rather depressing observation got me thinking about the cyclical nature of the Buendia family. Frankly, I find it rather frustrating how members of the Buendia family constantly make the same mistakes as their family members. For example, you'd think they would have eventually figured out the whole incest issue. Nope. They continue to reproduce with siblings, cousins, ect. until they finally pop out a kid with a pigs tail. Why can't they just learn from each other's mistakes? I mean, they basically have a collective memory. Did various mistakes and consequences just not make the collection?

Essentially the Buendia family faces its 100 years of solitude, until eventually they become extinct. However, maybe within the entire family's solitude, each Buendia lives within their own solitude. As Miranda pointed out, they essentially all die alone. Maybe they simply can't learn from each other's mistakes because they are prevented by their own personal seclusion.

This theory makes me question the overall "collectiveness" of the family. Yes, they appear to share memories. Yes, they share names like it's nobody's business. And yes, they share their own special, incestuous blood. Aside from these common threads, the family really only has one thing holding them together- Ursula. Each Buendia lives such diverse lives (except when various brothers decide to share lovers) that there's really no significant common thread. As we talked about in class, they're connected by the glue that is Ursula, at least until her death.
I mean, I don't seem to recall any mention of Buendia family Scrabble nights.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cycles of Morals

One of the major themes that we have discussed in One Hundred Years of Solitude is the cyclical nature of history. When talking about the linear progression of Macondo versus the cyclical nature of the Buendia family, I thought about the progression of technology all over the world versus the cycle of values that many cultures are experiencing. While many societies are becoming more progressive, some are trying to revert back to their non-secular and moralistic roots. For example, when Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey, he envisioned a secular and modern nation. Soon it was named the 17th largest economy and was one of the most diverse places in the world. Recently, however, the Turkish government have begun to implement more conservative policies, causing many to fear that the country is moving away from its secular, modern roots and toward an Islamic state. Bizarrely, one sign of this movement that angered many was the announcement of Turkish Airline's decision to implement a more modest uniform for its workers. Many see this shift toward modesty and Islamic values is regression, not progression.

Russia has also experienced a change in its values that can seen as a regression toward more conservative values on the issue of gay rights. In June, Vladimir Putin put into effect a law that would ban any "gay propaganda," which effectively puts talking of homosexuality on a similar level to that of pedophilia. In Russia, instead of surveys showing increasing gay acceptance such as in most of the world, gay acceptance has decreased since even 10 years ago. Many fear this movement toward more conservative values will hurt its standings with the rest of the modern, progressing world, even going as far as to protest the 2014 Olympics being held there.

Here's an article with the pictures of the Turkish Airlines uniforms if you'd like to see:

Throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude, we see much of the Buendia family’s traditions and fears contrast much of society's fears and traditions. Instead of moving out after marriage, the Buendias extend their house to include the growing family. Ursula struggles to accept any of her family member’s departure. Most of the Buendias are afraid of leaving Macondo and would prefer isolating themselves inside the comfort of the original home. One of my biggest fears, and most of society’s, is never moving out of my parents house. For us, it is traditional to move out and start our own families in our own house. The Buendias continue to live together throughout generations. As the family grows the house grows, which contributes to their inevitable isolation. 

BIg Fish and Marquez

As we began discussing One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez himself started to remind me of the main character in Tim Burton’s, Big Fish (it was originally a book but I’ve only seen the movie). In the movie, a son tries to recount the events of his father’s life, but from what he has been told, cannot separate truth and fiction. Throughout the son’s life, his father told fabricated stories about his past. Waiting at his father’s deathbed, the son asks his father to finally tell the stories of his past the way they actually happened. The son becomes frustrated as the father continues to tell the same fictitious stories and neglects fact. The son begins to believe that he will never truly understand his father.

Marquez and the father’s stories both contain elements of magical realism. Both serve as a fantastic metaphor to the past. As we later discover, there are elements of the truth in the father’s story. The father only embellished his actual past with interesting fables. The son believes he never knew his father, but truly, the tales are what defines the father. Marquez uses mythical elements to create an image for Latin America; likewise, the father uses these elements to create his own identity. Both Marquez and the father ask their audiences to trust in the “marvelous real.” While Marquez isn’t retelling his own past, he is basing his stories off of Latin America’s past. Both the father and Marquez use elements of reality and magic. By changing their stories to be accurate and factual, they loose parts of their own identities. Fiction and reality coexist throughout both of their stories. Eventually, the son accepts that the father will immortally live on through his stories and that the stories became part of the father. Marquez and the father both use magic to create memorable identities.