Sunday, December 15, 2013

Main Theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude

I think Gabriel Garcia Marquez's main argument through One Hundred Years of Solitude was that reality is sometimes more unbelievable than fantasy. He does this through his use of magical realism and his explanation of multiple crazy occurrences. Magical realism links reality to the fantastical, but Gabriel Marquez does not decipher between the two when he uses magical realism. The fantastical occurrences, such as blood trickling for miles and miles through the village, do not seem unrealistic to the Macondonians. Marquez is trying to smudge the line between the real and fantastical by combing the two through his use of magical realism. He also illustrates events such as the banana massacre in his novel. The banana massacre is so monstrous that it seems unreal. Marquez is showing us that sometimes reality is more insane than fiction.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Their are so many Buendias in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Jose Arcadio Buendia is the founder of Macondo. He finds interest in the sciences as opposed to the magical objects the gypsies bring to Macondo. He also tries to find a path from Macondo to the outside world. Jose's wife, Ursula, lives the longest in the novel. In fact, she all three of her children die before she dies. Ursula somewhat understands the cyclical nature of time, a main theme in this novel. Colonel Aureliano Buendia leads the liberals into battle against he conservatives. After the war, he spends much of his time making little gold fish. Aureliano (II) Buendia is isolated his whole life, so he spends his time trying to translate Melquiades' scripts. At the end of the novel he eventually succeeds in translating the scripts only to find out that the entire village of Macondo is about to be destroyed by a tornado.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Leibniz in Math and Science

We've done some discussion of Leibniz's optimism and Voltaire's criticism thereof for Candide, and we keep mentioning that he was a mathematician and one of the developers of infinitesimal calculus (the integral and differential calculus we use today) along with Isaac Newton--in fact, we use Leibniz's notation much more than Newton's.  If you don't care about calculus, feel free to skip the following section.

Leibniz developed the d/dx notation for derivative--which is important, in part because it makes things like the chain rule make sense:

It looks like the "with respect to 'u' " cancels with the "differential of 'u' " by fraction multiplication, which makes it less awkward than Newton's notation of putting a dot over the variable to be differentiated, equivalent to modern prime notation.  It also allows for a more subtle definition of the derivative.  For example, what if you are trying to derive a function like 

z = sin(x)sin(y)

which represents a surface?  Newton's notation would suggest that

ż = cos(x)cos(y)

but this does not, in fact, make any sense.  What does it mean, say, that the "slope" of this surface at (x=0,y=0)=cos(0)sin(0)=1?  Geometrically, it has no real relationship to the graph, nor does it have any algebraic meaning.  Leibniz's notation lets us make sense of it. For him, we have to take the derivative with respect to a variable, so to take the derivative of z, we have dz/dx = cos(x)sin(y) or dz/dy = sin(x)cos(y).  Now we have some statements that do make sense: the derivative with respect to x is the change in z over x with constant y--the slope of the tangent line to the surface parallel to the plane y=0--and the same is true of the derivative with respect to y and the plane x=0.  This seems sort of abstruse or gimmicky, but it is actually very useful in fields like geometry and physics.  To give a brief example, you can use this concept to find the change in the volume of a cone over the radius given a certain height, or over the height of a cone given a certain radius.

The point, anyway, is that Leibniz understood much better what a derivative actually is: it represents the change in a variable given a change in a related variable.  Newton understood it incompletely as meaning the change in a variable.  

[No more calculus past this point.]

Leibniz also made some considerable contributions to physics.  His theory of "monads", while more a philosophical tool than a scientific theory, presupposed the existence of distinct elements of matter.  He also formulated an early definition of kinetic energy, calling it the most "fundamental" and immutable of "forces", which is very similar to conservation of energy.

Reflecting and Such

To be honest, I don't think I have a favorite out of all the works we've read this semester. They've all just been so different in their styles, content, plots, themes, ect. and I've reacted to them all so differently  that I really can't pick out one particular work as my favorite. However, the one that really pops out at me is One Hundred Years of Solitude. 
First, it was the magical realism. When I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude, I really just thought the fantastic events were kind of ridiculous. "What the heck?" was my central thought while reading it over the summer. However, once we started learning about the historical events that accompany the fantastic events, all I could think of was how much of a genius Marquez is. His recount of the Banana Massacre- enough said. 
Primarily, it's the way in which he uses the novel to practically construct an identity for Latin America. I mean in the way he uses/combines war, religion, magical realism, style, and characters to just meld an entire region. He really blows my mind. That final line though. 
"...because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second oppurtunity on earth."

Reading for the Win

On the day we ditched Candide for fifty minutes of sweet conversation, we briefly discussed the benefits of reading. It made me think of this article by the Huffington Post I read a few months ago-
 "7 Unconventional Reasons You Absolutely Should Be Reading Books."

My Favorite Reason: "...intellectual activity strengthens the brain against disease." Another one of my favorites: reading can "chill you out." There has never been a time in my life that I've needed to chill out more than now #seniorprobz.

The full article is really interesting. If you're not already a dedicated reader, it just might convert you.

Currently Reading: We the Living by Ayn Rand and I already love it and her. Creds to Father Milican for telling me about it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Janizary Style

As I promised during the Ottoman presentation, here are the pieces I referred to in the discussion of the "Janizary Style":

The first video is of Arcadi Volodos' version of the Alla Turca section of Mozart's Piano Sonata no. 11 in A Minor.  I posted it rather than the original because everybody has heard the original too many times (no offense, Mozart).  It's a continuation of the impulse to write the hardest possible pieces for piano, for which Volodos (the pianist in the above video) is known--nobody else can play that piece with the same precision and vigor, which is exactly why he wrote it.  He wrote a version of Mendelssohn's wedding march in similar style.

The second piece is the "Turkish March" from Beethoven's incidental music to The Ruins of Athens.  It is also very well-known and written in even more typically Janizary style; you can clearly hear the percussion accompanying the "band."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hunger Games and Blood Tax

While studying for the humanities test and reviewing the Ottoman Turks, I thought of The Hunger Games when looking over the “blood tax” that had to be paid. In The Hunger Games, each district must send two teens as tribute to the capitol to compete in the hunger games. Similarly, each community under the Ottomans had to send their best young men as tributes to join the army. Except, this was much more humane and effective than in the hunger games. At least the Ottomans would send the most qualified men rather than any teen at random. The Ottoman’s system also promoted loyalty and support, whereas the hunger games’ led to an uprising. Also, these young men in the Ottoman Empire had to work together rather than kill each other off.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

More Modern Examples of Satire

Keeping with the current trend of blog posts, I thought I'd add a few more modern examples of satire. Without a doubt the most common are tv shows like The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, The Office, Parks and Recreation, and SNL. They all effectively critique today's society in a very humorous way. I also thought of Tyler Perry's "Medea" as a use of satire in movies. If you haven't seen Medea, I highly recommend that you do. Tyler Perry is hilarious. Here's just a small clip from one of his movies.

Onions and Goldberg

In class and on the blog we have been talking about modern day uses of satire. Another example is The Onion, which is a satirical news source. When you search it on Google, six topics pop up, Politics, Sports, Video, Entertainment, Science/Tech, and of course Let Me Explain Why Miley Cyrus. The last of those six I find very amusing..... My friend Adam Goldberg also made a satirical news blog which I think is very funny. I thinks it's pretty good for an amateur. If you want to check it out, here's the link-

Blood Sugar

While reading chapter 19, when Candide comes across Mr. Vanderdendur’s slave, I instantly thought of the blood diamonds in Sierra Leone. In the 1990’s, the illegal trade of diamonds helped fuel a civil war in Sierra Leone and caused the death of many innocent men, women, and children. Some of you might have seen the movie Blood Diamond, which is about the recent conflict in Sierra Leone. In Candide, the slave explains, “Twice a year we get a pair of linen drawers to wear. If we catch a finger in the sugar mill where we work, they cut off our hand; if we try to run away, they cut off our leg. I have undergone both these experiences. This is the price of the sugar you eat in Europe.” Just like the sugar in the New World, whenever people find something valuable (ivory, diamonds ect….) in Africa, war and blood always seem to follow. Throughout Candide, it was sugar. In more recent years, it was diamonds. There always seems to be a devastating price for our demands.

P.S. If you haven’t seen Blood Diamond, I suggest that you do so.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What if...

What if I liked eating other humans, only had one butt cheek, loved a monkey, made you run the gauntlet, thought diamonds and rubies were pebbles, dumped poop on your head, and casually came back to life every once in a while. Would ya'll still be my friends...?

Our Satires vs. Theirs

I was trying to think of some modern examples of satire, and the only thing that kept coming to mind was Saturday Night Live (I know Ms. King mentioned this week- I just can't remember in what context). I realize there are countless of contemporary satires, but I really think SNL is the most widely known and comprehensible. It's certainly written for and enjoyed by the masses.
Google describes satire as "the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose or critique people's stupidity or vices." I could not think of a better explanation for SNL. It's almost comical to think Candide is in the same genre as SNL, but it certainly shows the progression of satire from Voltaire's time to ours. While discussing Candide in class, all of us often laughed out loud at his audacity- the monkeys come to mind. However, now that I'm thinking of the novella in comparison to certain SNL sketches (specifically when they're targeting politicians), it really doesn't seem all that, for lack of a better word, irreverent or shocking as I had originally thought. 

Voltaire's Skepticism

Throughout Candide, Voltaire makes a meal of critiquing optimism. Voltaire's own philosophy of skepticism can be found at every turn. I also find there are several similarities between the skeptic philosophies of Montaigne, the father of modern skepticism, and Voltaire's own philosophy. Especially in Chapter 25 of Candide, Voltaire’s skepticism becomes all to obvious. Candide continues to suggest pieces of literature and great authors to the count, and the count continues to criticize them all. When Candide mentions that he found the music of the concerto Pococurante ordered to be delightful, Pococurante replies, "Music today is only the art of performing difficult pieces, and what is merely difficult cannot please for long"(234). When Candide mentions Milton, Pococurante replies, "Neither I nor anyone else in Italy has been able to enjoy these gloomy extravagances" (236). And finally, when Candide mentions Homer, Pococurante replies,"...all that bores me to tears"(234). Through the count, Voltaire ultimately suggests that nothing can make humans happy. 

From this, I think we can conclude that Voltaire was quite a joy to be around.
 Really a bundle of laughs...

Virtuosity in the Enlightenment

The concept of virtuosity--having excellent technique as a performer, usually in music--only dates back to the 18th century or so.  There are examples of famous solo musicians before then; the earliest I know of is Orpheus, the Greek hero whose "superpower" was his ability to charm with music.  However, his and other early famous soloists' reputations were centered around a sort of miraculous ability given by God or a god.  By the late Renaissance, we saw some musicians who made careers primarily as soloists, like John Dowland.  However, the first people who are virtuosos by the modern definition of mastery of the technique of an instrument were in the early 18th century.  I'd say that the threshold is probably J.S. Bach with the organ in the first half of the 1700's.  The word "virtuoso" came into its modern use around 1780.
There were several reasons that the term and concept only came into use so late.  First, the Enlightenment really celebrated individual achievement and the capacity of reason and progress, all ideas that led to the celebration of individual musicians for their mastery of the technique of the instrument.  Second, the instruments themselves had to be developed enough that people could be impressed by the technique of the performer.  Early harpsichords and even pianofortes, for example, were universally quiet, had little range, and had clumsy, inconsistent mechanisms.  It took better materials, machines, and techniques to make better instruments.  The 1800s began a fashion for truly showy pieces; violinists like Paganini (who wrote a series of 24 extremely difficult caprices, setting off a tradition of virtuosos writing 24 studies, one in each key) and later a series of pianists like Liszt, whose tours set of "Lisztomania"--that's actually what they called it--toured Europe and made reputations first as showy performers and then as refined composers.  Here is Liszt's version of the last of Paganini's Caprices (the same one that Rachmaninoff would later use for his famous Rhapsody); it is a serious competitor for the most virtuosic piece ever written for piano:

The piece is the last of Liszt's Grandes Etudes de Paganini, all based on Paganini's Caprices.

  The epitome of self-indulgent virtuosity, well beyond the Enlightenment ideal of the restrained but well-trained performer, is Balakirev's Islamey.  Mily Balakirev was the leader of the "Mighty Handful" of Russian nationalist composers; after a trip to the Caucasus, he decided to write an orientalist piece that would also happen to be absurdly, showily difficult.  Here is a recording of it:

This grew out of a demand for ever more difficult pieces; it was and remains popular simply as a sort of rite of passage for pianists to show that they have completely mastered the piano technique--as I said, far from the enlightenment ideal of the performer, but still an outgrowth of the same idea.

Candide and Catch-22

I really enjoyed Candide, so I decided that I wanted to read some more satire. The satire I chose to read is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I'm not too far into it, but the two are very similar in some ways. For instance, they both criticize war, and both certainly use lots of dark humor. That being said, the books are also very different in other ways. As opposed to the naive, well-meaning, and simple Candide, the main character of Catch-22, Yossarian, is much smarter, lies constantly, and is almost solely obsessed with his own survival. Also, Catch-22 takes place much later during WWII. That just shows how broad a range of topics satires can cover.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Purposeful Isolation vs. Complacency

I know we talked about this a bit in class regarding the conclusion, but I wanted to talk about it a little more. I personally think Voltaire wanted to present the complacency like that of the sailor who let Jacques drown as something different from the old man's shunning of the the rest of the world. I disagree with this view. I really don't see how they are very different, especially since both approaches lead to inaction, which then leads to no one stopping others from suffering. If both lead to suffering of others, how is purposeful ignorance any better than complacency? Candide's little group may be able to find something like happiness, but if they don't share that happiness with others, how are they any less greedy than they were when they were seeking material wealth?

I did a little research on El Dorado in National Geographic after we read about it in Candide. The myth surfaced in the 16th and 17th century. All the rumors say tribes in the Andes mountains at Lake Guatavita would cover their new chieftains with dust and throw gold and precious jewels into the lake to an under water god. The Spaniards called the ruler El Dorado. A different tribe captured this area in the 14th century. Spaniards found many other places around the exterior of the region causing them to believe there was one area of concentrated gold. In 1545 they found the lake and tried to drain it. They found hundreds of pieces of gold but not the major treasure in the deeper water.

They even made a children’s movie about it that I used to watch when I was little.

Frederick the Great's Patronage

The first time I heard of Frederick the Great was during a flute lesson in middle school--I was playing a duet by Johann Joachim Quantz and my teacher told me that Quantz was the court musician to Frederick the Great, for whom he wrote most of his music.  Frederick the Great also patronized C.P.E. Bach, the most notable son of Johann Sebastian and another prolific composer of flute music.  Between Quantz and Bach, Frederick's court produced a huge portion of the current flute repertoire; Frederick was also a flutist and amateur composer when he wasn't supporting Voltaire and company or off on campaign.  Here's a painting of the court; Frederick is playing flute, Bach is at the keyboard, and Quantz is against the wall on the far right:

All of this was partly because Frederick really did enjoy the flute, and partly because he wanted to convey the image of the learned, cultured, enlightened ruler--although when I read about Frederick, I'm actually more inclined to think that by the time he was free to sit around his palace and play flute, he was already so respected that he could really just do what he wanted.  Anyway, Freddie had a lot of impact on music and especially the flute: one of Quantz's jobs was to make Freddie's flutes, which led him to come up with some innovations in the key design, materials, and technique of the instrument; his flute method (a treatise on how to play the flute) is still in use today.  Also, both Quantz and Bach were to some extent against the old ideals of Baroque music (think J.S. Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi)--big displays and glorification of the patron.  They both tried more to evoke an emotional response, which foreshadows the late Classical period (Mozart, Haydn) and early Romantic (Beethoven and Mendelssohn).  This is a sonata for flute and oboe by Quantz:

I swear I don't support cannibalism

I really enjoy the part in Candide when Cacambo humorously pokes fun at the wastefulness of Europeans while speaking with the Biglugs. Think of it as if they were killing animals instead of people. I’ve always been against killing animals just to hang up on your wall and not even use the meat. I feel like most people can say the same. It seems pretty wasteful to throw away the meat and not even eat it. Basically, thats kind of what Cacambo claims the Europeans do. They kill their enemies and waste the meat but continue to kill more to satisfy their hunger. So in a way, the Europeans are much more savage do to their excessive killing. Although I don’t believe in cannibalism, I can see through the perspective of the Biglugs. What’s the point in letting good meat go to waste? Especially the meat of your enemy.