Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Possible Choices for AP English Exam

Thinking about my possible choices for the AP exam, I've compiled a list of my favorite/most applicable options:

  1. Medea
  2. Oedipus
  3. Things Fall Apart
  4. Beloved
  5. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  6. Brave New World 

Medea and Oedipus are quite straightforward and easy to talk about. I find myself leaning towards Oedipus because I found it more interesting, so I think I'll end up using that. I really enjoyed reading both Things Fall Apart and Beloved, but I feel using both could be somewhat short-sighted so I think I'll stick with just Things Fall Apart. My biggest dilemma is having to choose between The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Brave New World. Both were my absolute favorite novels to read this year, but thinking in terms of the AP exam I find that Unbearable Lightness of Being would probably prove a more interesting essay than Brave New World. Then again, I find myself more familiar and able to write about Brave New World than I would for Unbearable Lightness of Being. Fate v. Free Will seems to be the overall theme for the majority of these novels. Although, I could talk about dangers of acquiring totalitarianism and losing truth and beauty within Brave New World. I could also discuss the effects of change on tradition within Things Fall Apart. Regardless, I hope I'm heading in the right direction with my choices. Which novels have you all considered/chosen?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Boy Who (Like Really) Lived

I LOVE crazy conspiracy theories. This is the first crazy conspiracy theory I've read about my most beloved series Harry Potter. This guy basically took Harry's prophecy and turned into something completely different. And it's really not even that farfetched. He essentially gave a whole new meaning to The Boy Who Lived.

Read it!

What do you other Potterheads think?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Legging Debacle


I read this article and was telling Mrs. Quinet about it, so I decided to post it. The article is really informative about why leggings should or shouldn't be allowed in school and whose "fault" it is. Read it and post what you think about it!

Rest in Peace, Gabo!

Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez Dies


I'm having a difficult time figuring out why Karenin is named after the Anna Karenina Karenin, besides that fact that Tereza was carrying that novel under her arm when she went to see Tomas. Other than that, there really are not any parallels between to the two- and I don't mean in the obvious way that one is a dog and one is a human.
For instance, after reading the last part of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Anna Karenina, I actually see both Karenins is somewhat opposite situations. In Anna Karenina, Karenin, Anna's much older husband, is this robot-like, unemotional, but also highly respected government official. Realizing she doesn't really have feelings for her husband, Anna ends up having an affair with Count Vronsky. However, towards the end of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tereza considers that possibility that she may love Karenin more than Tomas.
Needless to say, if there is some deeper meaning to the Karenin thing, I'm missing it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

States of the Warsaw Pact (and more music)

After WWII and during the buildup to the Cold War, the Soviet Union effectively controlled the entirety of Eastern Europe (including Czechoslovakia) which the Allies had conceded to it because Soviet Union bore the brunt of the European theater of the war.  In 1955, these countries' status as satellite states was effectively made formal by the Warsaw Pact.  Even without the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union was itself a federation of extremely diverse, semi-autonomous states like Ukraine, Belarus, and Armenia around the core Russian territory (hence the "friendly states around our friendly states around our friendly states" cartoon).  It was a major political and propaganda challenge for the Soviet Union to maintain control over all of these completely different groups.  Moscow's generally successful approach was to create a controlled sense of nationalism among these groups and identify it with the Soviet Union.  

A major facet of the Soviet government's propaganda was classical music; many works that remain in the standard classical repertoire, like Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony (which the LPO performed a few weeks ago) were originally sponsored by the Soviet government.  These works generally fall within the Soviet Constructivist style, emphasizing a sense of collective heroism over recognizable melodies or subtle emotional impact.  Several composers, including Shostakovich and Prokofiev, had to walk a fine line between satisfying the communist government and exploring a personal style.  An exceptional case, however, is Aram Khachaturian, who used a style highly independent of constructivism while running into little trouble with the government.  His style is nationalistically Armenian, using folk melodies, complex and exotic rhythms, and nationalist subject matter.  Listen, for example, to his Toccata in Eb Minor, which is a favorite among pianists for the showiness of the piece, the relative ease of playing it, and the fact that it is fun both to play and listen to:

The piece's rapid pace, eccentric harmonies, and compelling rhythm are all completely characteristic of Khachaturian.  This nationalist, blatantly emotional style was tolerated because it was entirely apolitical; it could be taken as a celebration of the Soviet Union's diversity without suggesting any sort of independence.  In retrospect, though, it was rather dangerous for the Soviet authorities to flirt with allowing nationalism to develop, as movements like the Czech Spring were fueled by nationalism, which was in that case furthered by classical music.

Hold onto your hats

I don't know if this is common knowledge already, but it's news to me. The Giver has been made into a movie and it's coming out this year. As if that isn't exciting enough. Meryl Streep is in it. Watch the trailer. It looks intense. It made me want to reread the novel, so I am.
This news got me thinking about this recurring appearance of dystopias in literature and film recently. I don't know if it's just me, but they seem to be everywhere right now, especially in young adult novels. Divergent, The Hunger Games, Among the Hidden, Never Let Me Go, The Maze Runner- just to name of few. And then there's the classics- 1984, The Handmaid's Tale, Brave New World. I'm not complaining. I always love them.

Bedřich Smetana

Since this may be my last opportunity to ramble about Romantic-period music, I'm just going to hammer Czech nationalism in.  I kept mentioning Bedřich Smetana in my last post without really explaining who he was.  Born in 1824 in Bohemia, his career was fairly similar to Dvořák's; after initial struggles as a musician, he earned recognition as a composer in the 1860s with a series of operas which are now rarely performed outside the Czech Republic.  The works for which he is now internationally known were not composed until near the end of his life.  The only Smetana works currently in the standard repertoire are one of his operas, his cycle of symphonic poems Má Vlast, and his String Quartet no. 1 "From my Life".  Here is a recording of Má Vlast:

The suite as a whole is performed quite rarely; most performances include only one piece at a time, most commonly Vltava, which depicts the river that runs through Prague.  That movement contains Smetana's most famous melodies and orchestration.  The entire cycle is concerned with Czech landscapes and folklore, and is unsubtly sentimental and nationalistic.  It epitomizes Smetana's "Czech style" by using techniques from Berlioz, Beethoven, and sometimes Wagner to depict a nationalistically Czech program.


Last summer I went to a wedding in Prague and Mrs. Leslie (Erin's mom) researched Prague a little bit once we got there. She tried to tell us a little bit about Czeck's government and about their history, but we didn't get the full story. It is so interesting learning about Prague because I have recognized a lot places in some of the pictures we have seen. The cover of the book is the bridge we walked on to get to the tower shown on the left. That tower is where we saw the fireworks shooting over the river at sunset. (I am pretty sure I told y'all that story.) So thanks Mrs. Quinet!

Dvořák and Czech Nationalism

Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being frequently references both the Czech identity (at least implicitly and indirectly) and music.  I don't think that it is coincidental that a great deal of the most well-known Western classical music has come out of the modern Czech republic.  During the 19th century the territories of the Austrian empire then known as Bohemia and Moravia served as the homeland of several of the most important pioneers of nationalist music, like Smetana, Dvořák, and Janáček.  Before those composers, music had primarily been focused either on the church (in the 18th century and earlier) or on satisfying particular patrons.  The Czech composer Bedřich Smetana, building on the earlier examples of Chopin and Verdi, wrote some of the first entirely nationalist music, built around folk melodies and programs from folklore or the natural landscapes of Bohemia.  

While Smetana pioneered the Czech style, in terms of international recognition Antonín Dvořák is by far the most famous Czech composer, and in his technical style he was probably the most innovative. Dvořák was born in 1841 near Prague.  He was trained as a musician, and played as a violist in an orchestra as well as an organist.  He increasingly composed symphonic works on the side, and by 1878 his string quartets had won him a good deal of fame.  Nationalist pieces like the symphonic version of his piano duet Slavonic Dances further gained him the attention and support of composers like Brahms.  In 1892 he began a stint in New York that lasted 4 years; during this period he composed his 9th Symphony From the New World, which is his most famous piece and among the most-performed symphonies of any composer (it's a bit ironic that a nationalistic Czech composer is most well-known for his imitation of American music) and his American string quartet.  Upon his return to Bohemia he composed five somewhat sentimental symphonic poems based on his life and Czech folklore, which are my favorite Dvořák compositions.  Here is a recording of one of them, The Water Goblin (1896) by the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra:

The symphonic poem is based on a Czech poem, which is in turn supposedly based on folklore.  It is highly programmatic and tells the story of a woman and her daughter, who live by a lake inhabited by a water goblin.  The daughter, against her mother's advice, walks over to the lake, falls in, and is abducted by the goblin.  The goblin forces her to marry him and they have a child.  The daughter convinces the goblin to allow her to her return to her mother for a single night, but she does not return to the goblin by morning, and after a storm the mother and daughter find the baby's decapitated body outside their door.  

The initial theme played by the flutes is the water goblin's motif; the emphasis on the first three beats of every four-beat measure continues virtually throughout the piece.  At about 1:47, the daughter's theme is introduced, followed by the mother's at 2:48.  The mother's theme, although it has essentially the same rhythm as the goblin's and is also in B minor, is reversed in the direction of the phrases.  The piece is built almost entirely around these three motifs, with the percussion almost continually emphasizing the first three beats of every measure. 

The folkloric subject of the piece is completely typical of Dvořák.  Although the program of the piece is extremely gruesome, the tone is nostalgic; you can almost tell that Dvořák just returned from a long trip away from his homeland. Pieces like this by Dvořák, Smetana, and Janáček are very influential representations of the Czech national identity.

Friday, April 11, 2014

April Fools

In class we the other day we were talking about the kids who had the most genius but wrong answers to tests. Just to make everyone's day a little better (since April is the cruelest month) I thought I'd share some comedic relief.


number 20 has to be my favorite..

"I am runing away becas you think I farted when I dident. 
PS youraremean"

It actually sounds like something I'd say... 

And here is the link to the one we were talking about in class....

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Warhol and Basquiat Poster

And here's the poster.
One of my favorite artists is Jean-Michel Basquiat. His work was inspired by primitivism and neo-expressionism. His work dealt with many issues such as racism and social commentary. He worked a lot with Andy Warhol, the two became close friends and inspired each other's work. He died when he was 27 from a drug overdoes ( so he was inducted into the 27s club....)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I enjoy reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I like how we see multiple characters' perspectives and how the timeline isn't straightforward. But, even though the timeline isn't straightforward, it's still easy to find your place in the novel. The characters are interesting as well; I especially like how Teresa analyzes her own situations like we would analyze them as readers. For example, when she analyzes her dream about Tomas and the naked, dancing women. Usually, we as the audience would read about Teresa's dream then analyze what it means. Instead, Teresa does the work for us. She comes to the conclusion that her and Tomas' relationship brings back the same mindset that she attempted to escape from by running away from her mother and getting into a relationship with Tomas, the mindset that bodies are not unique and a person should not cherish his/her body.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Conceptual Art

Shakespeare's Hamlet v. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead


A recurring theme in the art and literature that we've covered is the impossibility of unambiguous communication by language.  Kafka, for example, is filled with grand misunderstandings and meaningless, improbable events; Dada is sometimes deliberately nonsensical and devoid of meaning; and in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the central characters don't understand the profound and important events happening around them and they constantly misunderstand each other.

The reason I'm thinking about this is that I recently ran into an enigmatic Medieval/Renaissance text during my trawling of the interwebs.  The book is known as the Voynich manuscript, after the Polish book dealer who rediscovered it in 1912.  The manuscript, dated to around 1420 in Northern Italy, is an extremely eerie series of diagrams, ranging from mundane drawings of plants at the beginning to fantastical and disturbing machinery and nonsensical astronomical diagrams.  The picture below, for example, is in the "astronomical" section of the text; to me it was one of the weirder pages.  The most bizarre thing about the manuscript, though, is the accompanying text.  Every diagram is accompanied by what appears to be a description, in some 30 different glyphs arranged in words and paragraphs.  However, they do not resemble any known alphabet, and cryptographers, linguists, and historians have been totally unable to extract any information from them except for a few simple patterns, leading to speculation that it is, in fact, simply meaningless nonsense.

You can see the entire manuscript here; I took the following image from that pdf:

Considering this as well as the nonsensical nature of the diagrams, I think that it is likely entirely meaningless--created either as a fantastically elaborate prank or for the amusement and fascination of the author or a patron.  It is extremely intriguing to look at, like an encyclopedia from some long-lost civilization, and I don't think it is unlikely that its creator could have made it expressly to create that effect.  I think it is also possible that the creator was just completely out of his mind, considering the obsessive interest that went into the diagrams and the amount of time it would take to invent such a convincing but utterly indecipherable language, as well as the disturbing content of the diagrams, especially toward the end.

Getting back to my tenuous connection with post-modern art, I think that this text shows that our interest in ambiguity and nonsense is nothing new.  Nobody could argue that the Voynich manuscript is not a deliberate attempt to imitate language in a completely incomprehensible way, and it's hard to defend the claim that it's an attempt at communication at all.  Instead, it seems like something created for the fascinating quality of its ambiguity and mystery.  I think that if the manuscript is intended to be seen by other people at all, it is supposed to be a piece of art, in which case it is a remarkably original and prescient one.

The MOMA in New York

Fun Fact: Apparently only 8% of art on display  in the MOMA has been done by females. On the "Modernist" floor a performance art student wore this shirt protesting that the female artist Agnes Martin'a work was in the museum but was never put on display. For one of his credits he was drawing this clear lack of female art to everyone'a attention in the museum. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ros & Guil

I really enjoyed reading Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In the beginning I thought they were already dead, and that the play took place in the "void" they now resided in. This would give some rationality to why the coins kept flipping heads, why they could no longer remember themselves, and why everything seemed so disorienting. Unfortunately I was wrong, but I do like the way the play gave substance to a seemingly unimportant scene. It's interesting how Stoppard makes us question free will and fate through an actual play which, of course, makes it ironic that his characters cannot operate freely at all. I think it's also interesting to note that Stoppard criticizes what humans think of death and how we interpret it. We see it, according to Ros and Guil, as romantic and passionate and theatrical, but in reality it is only the absence of someone and no matter how theatrically executed, nothing will fill the hole left behind.

PS. Here's a clip of Benedict Cumberbatch (AKA Sherlock) playing Rosencratz in a production of Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead on PBS.