|So, today brought the colloquium to an end, and we were assigned something a bit different for our morning writing. Yesterday, they gave us a heads-up so we could be thinking about it in advance and bring our ideas ready to write, since they wanted volunteers to share with the whole group. The assignment was thus: choose any of the poems from the collection and connect it with any of the stories we've treated, pulling in short references to as many of the other works as we can.
Last night, then, I jotted some notes, and today wrote a ton on "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot and "Patriotism" by Yukio Mishima (see below). I pulled a bit in from what I've written on the story in the last few days (you may note a couple of lines from the post below), but most of the following was written this morning. I'm pretty darned pleased with it, though I ran out of time, so the end is rushed, and missing more references I'd intended to include to other stories. But I was also the first to volunteer to read (my UD profs would've been shocked, I'm sure, but at least now I can tell my students that I do practice what I preach!), and everyone seemed impressed. So, you tell me. Here it is:
Personal Action in "Prufrock" and "Patriotism"
A Study in Opposites
"Do I dare eat a peach?" (122) Question of the ages, or a mark of sheer pathetic failure? The inaction of J. Alfred Prufrock stands as a mark of the inadequacy of modern man, yet the complete commitment of Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama and his wife Reiko in Mishima's "Patriotism" demonstrates that humanity may not be lost in the contemporary world.
Our relationships, either personal or social, are defined by the choices we make, and our willingness to act upon those choices, as well as the beliefs we hold. The essential problem of Prufrock is that he cannot act because he cannot even manage to make a choice, to commit to anything. Because he cannot bring himself to even speak to women, but rather allows himself to be reduced to a mere insect, "pinned and wriggling on the wall" (58) by what they might be thinking about him, and out of fear that should he speak, should he engage them, or, God forbid, pose that "overwhelming question" (10), a romantic involvement might ensue and he then might be vulnerable to rejection and failure—because he cannot do this, his life of "indecisions" (32) and "revisions" (33) crush, cripple, and ultimately "drown" him (131). Prufrock is the ultimate slacker. "There will be time, there will be time" (26). Why do anything in the now, when we can put it off for later? Surely later will be just as effective as now. Surely nothing will prevent these actions if we just delay a bit longer. And a bit longer. And a bit longer. And yet, when we look at Prufrock's world, we see what his inaction has created. It is a world "etherised," insensate, with "half-deserted streets," "one night cheap hotels," and "sawdust restaurants," of superficial people and blankets of pollution (2-7). Prufrock's is a static world where right relationships cannot develop. And he is this world's spokesman.
On the other hand, Shinji and Reiko, is "Patriotism," treat their marriage with the sacred devotion it requires. There is no question for them, no doubt. From the opening of the story, and throughout, we know that Shinji is honourable, that he holds the structure and honour of the Empire as the highest ideal, that his death is not an act of weakness, but one of loyalty to something greater than himself. Further, we know the measure of Reiko, whose loyalty to her husband is also without fault. She is, as is the lieutenant, a subject only by choice—because it is right, it is good, it is most just to submit to this highest ideal. Shinji sees a potential breakdown of the honour of the system in which he lives; if he, an Imperial soldier, attacks other Imperials, then he degrades not only himself, but the Empire as well. Suicide, distasteful as it may be to us in the West, is the only way he can remain honourable. Given this choice, he does not hesitate, does not shrink from this action. What must it take to commit to such an action? And what strength, what love must be required to witness this act, and them commit the same? Are we today ready to choose such a course if it be required? Prufrock certainly isn't. But shouldn't every one of us ask ourselves these questions in our own relationships—our own commitments? Not in the way of suicide, of course, but for devotion to something outside of ourselves. The suicide in the story is no trifling matter. It is done for the highest ideal and, in the case of the wife, for love. Though the act, the manner of demonstrating the commitment, is different, is this not what Christians are called to do? Are we not asked to defend the Faith in word and deed, with our lives if necessary? Though suicide does not square with our beliefs, the commitment behind it does—it is a giving up of ourselves for others, or for some concept that is above us, that is an ultimate good. Throughout the story, Shinji and Reiko's thoughts are not of themselves, but of each other. The narrator notes that their passion was not merely of the physical variety, but also that "their hearts were sober and serious" (146). The couple understands the necessity of commitment, and they act upon that understanding. "The lieutenant was resolved" and "there was no room for vacillation" (147). The ritual suicide is, then merely a reflection of the devotion these two lovers exhibit in every part of their lives. As Shinji is devoted to honour, he is also fully committed to his relationship with his wife, and she to him. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Prufrock, who is more concerned with his baldness than committing and acting. Prufrock cannot ask that "overwhelming question" because he cannot fathom devotion to something outside himself.
Nor, it should be noted, can Aylmer in "The Birthmark" by Hawthorne. While Aylmer's devotion to knowledge, to science can be admired, it must be remembered that this devotion comes at the expense of his wife. Because he cannot accept Georgiana's flaw, his inhumanity—a cold, unfeeling rationalism that cannot grasp what true beauty is—destroys what he ought to have loved. In Georgiana, we have elements of both spirit and earth. Aylmer, as representative of the mind, completes her in the bond of marriage. However, Aylmer's inhuman action, his unwillingness to love even the flaw of his wife, breaks her connection (and the connection inherent in the marriage) to the divine. Ultimately, his inability to commit fully, and accept her fully, is a rejection of the sacred bond of marriage. In them, then, we see a negative image of Shinji and Reiko. Both Reiko and Georgiana show unerring devotion to their husbands, but Aylmer fails where Shinji succeeds, in devoting himself to something outside himself.
Thus, in closing, we have a choice—to reject choice and action, like Prufrock, or to commit ourselves fully to others and to the Good, to give ourselves over to something greater than we are.
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 5:25 PM
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|22 June 2008
|Unfortunately, I've been unable to locate an online version of the short story "Patriotism" by Mishima Yukio, but if you can locate a copy in a library or an anthology somewhere, please read this wonderful story. It's one of the stories we've had to read in the colloquium I've been attending, and I found it to be one of the most powerful, beautiful, moving stories I've read in a long time.
It's by no means an easy read, as it involves a very descriptive presentation of seppuku, but I think it's an absolutely necessary read in these slacker days where a commitment involves a vague attempt to decide what fast food restaurant to eat at, or if one is really serious about committing, what form of contraception to use (and never, alas, a consideration of morality in said hypothetical decision). Sure, it involves cultural aspects that don't fit with a Western mindset (and one could argue that they don't much apply to the modern Japanese, either), but ultimately, I think the idea of commitment to an ideal higher than ourselves, the concept that some things really are worth dying for (or at the very least worth defending and standing up for) is infinitely applicable to our culture these days.
I put this out there primarily because I was greatly moved by the story. It's wonderfully appropriate to the Senior AP class I'll be teaching this year on Sovereignty and Stewardship, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what the students make of it. But also, as things fell out in the colloquium, the story has been a point of severe anger on my part these last couple days. Not, it should be clarified, because of the story itself, but because of the lecturer who presented it. The lecturer made certain at the outset to state that we cannot of course judge a culture as radically different from ours as the traditional Japanese using our own cultural standards. Sounds good, right? For truly, it's really hard to understand ritual suicide from a western perspective which sees suicide not only as sinful but as a sign of weakness. Alas, as she proceeded, she went right in and did just that--cast judgement upon the story and the characters and even to some extent the author from a western perspective.
I don't normally get riled by bad interpretations (well, okay, that may not be 100% true...), but this one felt like there was an axe what needed grinding, and at the same time it was offensive to tradition, a rather beautiful and easily misunderstood tradition at that. The position was one that did not understand what honour truly is (from any cultural perspective, I might add). And I think what really clinched it for me was that no real discussion time was allowed over this, and thus no chance to counter the lecturer's inane and hostile reading of the story. (This is, in fact, one of the biggest failings of the colloquium--too mush time devoted to the lectures and not nearly enough to teachers coming together to discuss these stories. What can I say? I love Socrates.)
Each day we begin with a 30-minute writing session on pre-chosen selections from the day's stories. Since I was denied the opportunity to share mine that day, I'm posting them here. Should you be able to read the story, I hope you might look back on these musings, and perhaps even email me your own reflections, of any disagreements. For anyone else, with the exception of a few brief references to the story, these reflections are mostly idea-driven, and should be accessible to anyone. (By the way, I reveal really nothing here in the way of spoilers, as the ending of the story is revealed in the opening paragraph, which is the selection we were to write upon.)
Devotion. Pure and simple, and rendered gorgeously. Devotion to ideals beyond oneself, to a sense of justice and commitment, to love and right action. The opening of "Patriotism" is profoundly powerful and beautiful in the stark simplicity with which the author paints these acts of devotion. It is interesting that the entire story is here contained--that ultimately we do not need the detail and description given in the remainder of the story to fill in the how and the why (though this unfolding itself is beautiful and moving). Here, in this short paragraph, we know all. We know that Shinji is honourable, that he holds the structure and honour of the Empire as the highest ideal, that his death is not an act of weakness, but one of loyalty. He is no mutineer. Further, we know the measure of Reiko, whose loyalty to her husband is also without fault. She is, as is the lieutenant, a subject only by choice--because it is right, it is good, it is most just to submit to this highest ideal. And here, I think, is where we really hit the point of the story--choice. In the face of injustice, what do we choose? Can something that in the west we look upon as weakness (as in "Oh, he couldn't handle it so he offed himself") actually be noble? And what must it take to commit to such a course of action? And what strength, what love must be required to witness this act, and then commit the same? Are we ready to choose such a course of action if it is required--and is this not the same choice the martyr must make? And shouldn't every one of us ask ourselves this question before we commit to marriage?
This last question, I admit, came into my mind off a conversation my wife and I once had. Somewhat humourous, but at the same time deadly serious. We were talking about vampires, and she said to me, "If I ever become a vampire...." She did not need to finish the statement nor ask the question. I knew what she was getting at (as the married will do) and cut in with, "In a heartbeat. I'll drive a stake through your cold, undead heart, my love." And she was glad of it. Because that's the response, if you're truly commited to love, and the necessary salvation of the souls of those you love.
So, um, yeah. There you go. If you can, read this story. It's worth it, and it contains something we're in sore need of these days. In me own 'umble opinion, of course.
Note: Our local library has the 5th ed. of Norton's anthology of short fiction, which has the story in it. I imagine, it should be available in most libraries.
A friend sent me a link to the story online! Thanks Rufel! So, go. Read. Enjoy. "Patriotism"
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 8:42 PM
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|08 June 2008
|Brief Interlude in the Whole Catching Up Business
|So, my Horror Lit class, as the first (and they would argue best), decided they really wanted their own t-shirts. I could do nothing officially, of course, because then it would need to go through proper channels, get admin approval, and the shirts still couldn't be worn at school because of dress code regulations. But I did allow a sort of contest amongst them, and the winner was set up on Cafepress so that those who wanted a shirt could get one for themselves.
All this is, of course, backstory to explain the following image, which represents the whole of the Horror Lit class of the 2007-08 school year. Personally, I love it.
(Click for a much bigger version.)
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 9:13 PM
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|Cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be so closely associated with Plato!
Your Score: The Idealist
You scored 10 Materialism and 30 Phenomenology!
Plato's Republic makes you feel fuzzy inside. You can rapturously quote from the Kant you agree with (and ignore the Kant you don't). You're the Idealist.
Idealism got its start with Plato, and confusingly enough, Platonic idealism and Platonic realism are the same thing. The material world disgusts you as an imperfect shadow of what is Ideal, the eternal perfect forms of objects that exist somewhere beyond our sensory experiences. Any specific tree, for example, is merely a representation of the idea of treeness in Platonism.
Still with me? Hello?
Thinkers you may agree with: Plato, Zeno of Elea, Plotinus
Thinkers that may challenge you: David Hume, John Locke, Aristotle
Again, Courtesy of Happy Catholic
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 8:50 PM
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|05 June 2008
|It was a good (and somewhat odd) year for music. I'll deal with the odd later. For now, the good.
Thanks to my wife and a co-worker of hers, I've discovered several bands who are most wonderful. First and foremost is Eisley. They are a brilliant young band from Tyler, Texas who have a unique blend of bizarre, yet catchy lyrics and folksy-popish music (though their recent album Combinations is much more of the rockin' variety, and they do it well). I was even more happy to find out that one of their songs, "Invasion," is based on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which I had the pleasure of teaching in my Horror Lit class this year. Plus, it's just an awesome song--one of their best. We actually got to see them in concert here in Dallas a couple weeks ago at the House of Blues. Terrific concert, which led to our discovery of another truly wonderful band--The Myriad. Both opening acts were really good (which in and of itself is something of a miracle). The other band, Vedera, was definitely more of a me band than a kashi band, but we both really liked The Myriad. They're sort of like a neo-prog rock with a splash of alternative thrown in. They've got a bit on You Tube, should you be interested, and we both highly recommend them. Their new album, "With Arrows, With Poise," is thoroughly addictive.
Another new band (to us, anyway) is Thrice. They're apparently a screaming, screeching metal band most of the time, but have within the last year put out two concept albums (all of a piece), called The Alchemy Index, which is based on the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth. "Fire" has a fair amount of their screechiness, but the other three are of a wide variety of musical styles and textures, with rich lyrics and sounds. "Come All You Weary," on the "Earth" album is about one of the best songs I've heard in a long while. These albums led me to seek out lead singer Dustin Kensrue's solo album, "Please Come Home," which has a bit of a down-homey feel to it and is also quite wonderful.
I've only recently discovered (based on an Amazon.com recommendation) A Fine Frenzy which is really just a young artist by the name of Alison Sudol. Not kashi's cup of tea, partially because her singing can be a bit raw at times (which my somewhat tin ear really has no problem with at all), but I'm really hooked.
Finally, I am pleased to announce that after more than ten years, Portishead, that wonderfully enigmatic band from Bristol (they're named for the nearby town of Portishead) has put out a new album. I (and many others) had begun to wonder if it would ever happen, but now it's here. I cannot recommend it for everyone. I think you have to be terribly warped to truly enjoy their music in general, but this one's rough going unless you're particularly warped. Previously, they'd been credited with helping to create (or at least define) the trip-hop genre. Never ones to be labelled, however, they've forged a new sound, which the media (at least for the nonce) is calling "torture chamber pop." It's rather apt, actually. There's something terrifically painful, dark, and mournful about this album. It's like a trip through some nightmarish landscape that is somehow beautifully haunting at the same time. It's somewhat hard to describe, really, but I suspect one either loves it or is driven insane by it. I don't know that this description sells it, but I myself have quickly grown to adore it.
And then (as promised), there's the odd. Me. Singing. Never thought it'd happen, but there you have. I'm not good, but I'm learning. Back in November, I finally decided to throw my voice into our parish choir. We're small, and notoriously short on male voices. I found myself increasingly distractible in the congregation, and thus, all factors combined, decided to see what I could do in the choir. It's grown on me a lot, and I'm learning more all the time. I was actually somewhat surprised to find out I'm a bass. But it has given me a new appreciation for those with serious talent, 'cause it ain't easy.
Right. So there's the school year in music. Next: Likely film and television, though we'll see what my mood decides.
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 10:41 PM
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|Rather amusing results, considering my novel....
Which Norse God Are You?
created with QuizFarm.com
|You scored as Odin|
You are Odin. You are the leader of the Norse Gods. You are the wisest and always fight evil. You sacrificed your eye for knowledge, as well as hanging for 9 days with a spear in your side. You are the God of Philosophy and Poetry. You will lead the Gods into Ragnarok (the end of the world)
Via Happy Catholic
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 3:17 PM
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|03 June 2008
|Of Monks and Men
|As promised, a review of A Canticle for Leibowitz.
I chose to teach this book to my AP kids on something of a whim. I knew it by reputation as a classic sci-fi work, I adamantly refused to teach the work one of the other AP teachers was doing--the abysmal-sounding Riddley Walker (in its defense, it's also well-thought of, but to me smacks of the gritty, realistic, recycled-urine form of sci-fi, which I just cannot get behind)--and it sounded like a perfect follow-up to Eliot's The Waste Land.
The choice turned out to be a good one. It's not big on characterisation (though Brother Francis is really sympathetic in his naïveté), mostly because it's comprised of three vignettes spread across several thousands of years. What it does give us is a glimpse into humanity's failings and her beauty. It looks at us honestly, and notes our ridiculous qualities and our amazing capacity for enduring. It's serious, without being overburdened by gravitas. And actually there's some rather wry humour in it, as well. It's also a fairly easy read, which was a boon for my students who'd just come out of Faulkner and Eliot, and were preparing for the AP exam. They needed a book whose depth was somewhat more straightforward. Anyway, a worthwhile read. And for those who want intellectual discussions, it raises some great moral issues which are quite relevant to today's world.
So, now that the year's over, I have summer reading to look forward to! For once, I'm not taking education classes this summer, so I'll have much more time for reading and writing, and can hardly wait to get started (alas, I'm having to finish up the narrative for my school's accreditation self-eval, so I've got at least one more day to wait, dagblast it). Of course, there's the inevitable school-required summer reading (Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich) and I need to re-read some works for the new AP class I'm teaching (see the previous post), but I've also got a sizable list of long-awaited books ahead of me.
So, in no particular order (except the first, which will be first because I've waited far too long for it already):
White Knight - Jim Butcher
The Unvanquished - William Faulkner
The Grand Tour - Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome
To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis
The Chronicles of Chrestomancy - Diana Wynne Jones
Olympos - Dan Simmons
Bag of Bones - Stephen King
There may be more, but I'm also attending a nine-day colloquium on short stories, which will require a fair amount of reading, so I don't want to plan for too much and then be disappointed. Especially as slowly as I tend to read.
All right, that's it for today. Next up: Music.
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 9:16 PM
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|02 June 2008
|And Thus, Like That, It Was Summer, And He Didst Post
|I'm really and truly amazed anyone at all has visited this thing recently. Ah, well, that gives me hope that I'll not be posting merely into the aether this summer.
So, it be summer and thus it's time to play catch-up. As usual, there're so many things I've no idea where to begin. Assessment first, I guess. Third year of teaching--definitely when you hit a certain stride. I'm not saying it's a breeze, nor am I saying there was no stress, nor again am I saying I exactly slept as much as a human ought for the last month. What I am saying is that this year was frakking awesome (and I'll get to my Battlestar Galactica addiction later). I owe a lot of the success actually to the kids themselves. I was blessed this year by some of the most wonderful students ever. My regular Juniors had some terrifc discussions (especially in regards to The Sound and the Fury which hurt their brains, yet got them thinking in a way many never had, and might not ever have otherwise). My AP kids were strangely determined for me to lecture at them all year, which I refused to do. Funny how the best and the brightest are the least desirous of doing the hard thinking themselves.... But they were a good class--and at least I learned a great deal. Now, I just need to see if they actually made it through the AP exam or flopped horrifically.
The real gems, though, were my Horror Lit kids and my Sophomore Honours class. It's so strange to have students who are actually sad to be leaving at the end of the year. I don't doubt they were tired of school and in need of a break, but they actually enjoyed the learning, and are missing it even now (I know, because they still post to the class forum their lamentations--okay it's not that bad, but still, there's a kind of love there). Individually, I had the pleasure of teaching some ridiculously bright minds. These students absolutely blew me away time and again. And they liked thinking and learning. What could be more satisfying than that?
Though I fully intend to enjoy the heck out of this summer, I'm actually looking forward to next year already. Horror Lit and Soph Honours again, but the rest is very different. This'll be the first year I've not had Juniors. Instead, I'll get to teach Senior AP, which, if my syllabus ever gets approved (come on already, College Board!) will be très, très exciting. I'm doing this whole Sovereignty and Stewardship thing, which ought to generate some great discussions. Book list is as follows:
Beowülf - Heaney translation
Richard II - Shakespeare
Emma - Austen
Fathers and Sons - Turgenev
Great Expectations - Dickens
Saint Joan - Shaw
Murder in the Cathedral - Eliot
Lots of good short works as well, including snippets of Dante's de Monarchia and Macchiavelli. Should be fun.
Wow, lots more to cover, but I'm getting tired, so I think I'll save it for Part Two.
Next Up: A review of the wonderful A Canticle for Leibowitz and my summer reading plans.
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 10:32 PM
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