“My Story”

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Having a first person narrative in Kidnapped caused the plot to move slower, making the story more intimate, but less interesting to me, while having Nelly tell the story in Wuthering Heights slowed the plot down and created dissonance, it added to the overall story.

In Kidnapped, David spends a lot of his journey exhausted, and there are many long paragraphs devoted to the description of his physical state:

There was no such thing possible for me. You have heard grasshoppers whirring in the grass in the summer time? Well, I had no sooner closed my eyes, than my body, and above all my head, belly, and wrists, seemed to be filled with whirring grasshoppers; and I must open my eyes again at once, and tumble and toss, and sit up and lie down’ and look at the sky which dazzled me, or at Cluny’s wild and dirty sentries, peering out over the top of the brae and chattering to each other in the Gaelic (2029).

David’s journey out of the Highlands is filled with similar paragraphs. I can understand how these drawn out metaphors impart the feeling of David’s exhaustion better than simply saying he’s exhausted over and over, but I quickly grew weary of hearing of his physical state. The first person narrative often lends a good perspective for trying to understand the Highland/lowland cultural differences, but hearing the story mediated through David’s physical and mental state. Slowing down the story with these descriptions maybe gave a more accurate impression of David’s journey, but it also fostered a disinterest in the narrator. The first person narrative of a young boy was probably chosen in part to create a feeling of intimacy, and a way in to Highlander culture for the non-native reader. However, these winding descriptions of exhaustion exhausted me. They slowed the story down too much, without giving the story something of value. I can get a sense of the difficulty of the journey without hearing David’s constant narration on the theme.

 

This harping on a theme creating a dissonance between me and the text also occurred in my reading of Wuthering Heights. I grew to dislike Nelly’s biased advice giving, which runs through the entire narrative. One of the first times she admonishes Heathcliff she tells him “They are good children, no doubt, and don’t deserve the treatment you receive, for your bad conduct” (583). Nelly quietly joins the side determined to misunderstand Heathcliff, but wants to keep her meddling fingers in all the pies. Watching this trait in Nelly throughout the story created an intense feeling of frustration, while at the same time offering a perspective on Heathcliff that is more intriguing than simply hearing his internal monologue.

 

The dissonance created within Wuthering Heights by the mediation of the story teller was much more effective than in Kidnapped. Recognizing Nelly’s character flaws helped inform a political and economic reading of the text. Listening to David describe his exhaustion, on the other hand, only weighed the text down.

 

 

 

Jane Austen’s Bath

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In Bath, height is everything. The further up the hill you are the more important you are. In country society, land is everything.

Except that conception, even as its presented in Persuasion, is turned on its head. Sir Walter cannot afford his own home. He’s so taken up with his own worth, that he completely degrades it by spending too much money on fripperies and status symbols. Also, continued living at home would practically guarantee Elizabeth’s spinsterhood, and therefore the end of Walter’s direct line.

Bath means more contact with others of equal or higher standing, and this continual rubbing of elbows means that people like Sir Walter and Elizabeth can grow even more delusional and obsessed with status. At least at home, their delusions stayed at about the same level, because of the stasis of status. In Bath, the chance to interact with people coming in from London for the season means a constant evaluation of status against others.

Bath was meant to stop the decline of the family, but it actually seemed to increase it. Because of the larger, and more changing population of the city, the rise and decline of fortunes seems much more likely. For instance, when the hill has been built up as much as possible, a new group of wealthy can build their own house and create an area more prestigious than the highest house on the hill. In country society, the families held their lands and places within society with a much more firm grasp. Change mostly happened with the advent of marriage.

Society in Bath, where the creation of Laura place can circumvent the hierarchy, marriages between navy officers and landed gentry is more likely and more approved of. It’s within the city societies such as Bath, that the old class structure loses its potency.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, born in the Streets of London

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Ever since fourth or fifth grade, I have adored Terry Pratchett. I read Tolkien’s works at about the same age, but I haven’t returned to them with the same frequency as I have Pratchett’s imaginary world. His characters charmed me even before I could truly appreciate them. Each reading, as I got older and learned more about the world, became more complex. For instance, Wyrd Sisters, uses a lot of elements of MacBeth, and so while I loved the story long before reading Shakespeare’s play in high school, there were many more nuances for me to enjoy after having experienced the play.

The most pervasive aspect of the novels has come to life here in the streets of London: the city of Ankh-Morpork that most of the novels take place in. The city houses the prestigious Unseen University, where the most skilled wizards teach students. The wizards are characters in lots of novels. They are obsessed with ritual, can’t be seen in anything other than the traditional wizard’s robe and hat. They don’t care much for their students, but love to eat. The novels often satirize their obsession with food. The books in the Library are magical and so chained to the bookshelves so they can’t escape (they’re practically sentient, especially the really old ones).

I saw and loved the humor in these aspects and many more, but Pratchett’s world has gained a more vivid life in my imagination from seeing the roots of it in Pratchett’s. The most striking is how filthy Ankh-Morpork and its river is. In Discworld, the river is so thick with sludge that you can almost walk across it, no boats can sail up the river. Talking about Swift’s river of filth, seeing the dirty water of the Thames, and walking along the streets imagining how the filth of 200 years ago looked has given my imagination new scope in Pratchett’s city.

Exploring the Museum of London added another dimension to the story, with its description of the 6 meters of rubbish that London is built on, and of the guilds that used to run the city. I could go on for pages about all that I noticed about Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork connecting with London, but I think it best to leave you with my favorite one: that of filth.

Much Ado About Nothing

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Theater Entry – Much Ado About Nothing

Because the play takes place outside of London, the possibilities within the play open up. To most of the audience, Messina is in a sense unreal, because of that, the play can have more leeway with its plot devices. From what I understand, the play probably came from an Italian story, so placing the play in Messina probably gave Shakespeare’s audience a context from which to understand the plot. Perhaps Italy is seen as a place of romance. It’s probably easier to believe such unlikely endings take place in a foreign land, and not your hometown. It’s easier to romanticize and idealize a place you’ve only heard stories about.

To the modern audience, such marriages are entirely unreal, however, the setting in both place and time allow a suspension of disbelief for the action of the plot. We can accept Hero being treated as an object, men dueling, and the attitude of the upper class because we know them to belong to a different time and place. The setting allows a modern audience to not be completely repelled by the treatment of women and the portrayed idiocy of the lower classes. Just as we can listen to stories of a land somewhere over the rainbow, we can listen to a story of a land far away in a time long ago, and accept a social reality that would repel us if it still existed. For Shakespeare, placing the story in another land is a much safer way to offer commentary on his own people. If he is saying something about social class in London, its probably much safer for him to code it within a space that doesn’t exist or tie directly to his own space.

Science Fiction is Literature

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Visiting the Science Fiction exhibit at the British Library is one of my favorite parts of the trip thus far. The exhibit seemed to have an agenda: proving the worth of science fiction. It explored the different sub-genres of science fiction in how it connects with real life. One of my favorite quotes was from China Mieville, who wrote one of the books we read for this summer course. He said that there is something unreal about reality, and that science fiction allows him to explore this concept much better than realism does.

Reading 1984 was one of the pivotal moments of high school. Orwell’s imagined world, based on our own, opened my eyes to aspects of society that I’d never considered before. I firmly believe that science fiction is an excellent way to explore social and culture concepts. We understand things in terms of their opposites; looking at the societies found within science fiction novels can help us understand our own.

In some ways, Shakespeare’s plays are a kind of fantasy. In Midsummer there are fairies, and in Much Ado About Nothing, there is a society that barely resembles our own. Yes, that society is our ancestor, but to the majority of the population, Shakespeare’s time is as real as Captain Kirk’s. In a sense, all of our stories and narratives have an unreal element, which is what allows us to see our reality more clearly. I think that discounting a genre because it is popular is as foolish as calling the lower classes more sinful because they are poor. My feminist roots grew from reading science fiction and fantasy. Reading of worlds where women had their place beside men led me to expect the same in this world. For academia to ignore it is to ignore part of human nature.

The Production of Space

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Roads are for driving. Sidewalks are for walking. Bikes can use both and ignore some of the rules for both. Tourists may bike or drive, but their place seems to be the sidewalks and public transit. It is interesting to watch people cross the street-Londoners cross anywhere, anytime they can, while tourists stay within the dotted lines and green man walking lights. Except when traveling in a group with a leader; then tourists don’t feel obligated to obey local traffic customs because the need to stay with the group takes precedence. I can’t imagine that the locals care for this, but it seems to be resignedly accepted as inevitable.

Also the road space does not work the same way in Kansas City whatsoever. Cyclists, mopeds and motorcycles are free to find their way through regardless of lines. Cars do the same, to some extent, depending on what the buses are doing. The street crossings almost all have “Look Left” or “Look Right.” Every bus stop has a small map, detailing the stops of each bus, as well as a large sign giving the bus numbers that is visible from  a distance. The tube system is color coded, and has maps of its stops all over the place. Inside each train is another map of the line, and the stops are announced in advance. If a stop has a famous site, then that is often announced as well. All of these things help define London as a center for visitors. Travel within the city has been designed with the outsider in mind, unlike the typical U.S. city.

Space for the visitor within London is much more accommodating than for the visitor of Ul Quoma or Beszel. London was founded by foreign cultures, and Britain has been hit with wave upon wave of other cultures. Also having a culture interested in history and categorization led London to house multiple fantastic museums; leading to the desire of other peoples to visit these museums. Mieville’s cities do not hold much for the outsider, which connects with the traveler’s difficulty in navigating this space.

 

Writers as National Heroes

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Ever onward goes the search to define and understand, the nature of humanity in particular. As creatures of language, it’s only natural that poets should be honored alongside politicians and war heroes. From what I understand, there was a movement in around the late 18th, early 19th century that moved poets to an exalted position within their societies. Poets became the voice of the nation, the people who could stand outside the nation and reflect it. The reflections that haunt us with their poignancy, beauty, and/or accuracy have helped etch out the Poet’s place in society.

As creatures of language, we need narrative. Poets give us a story that satisfies. It helps meet the need to define ourselves as a group. While sometimes the poet that comes to define a certain group gets chosen for reasons I might not agree with or respect, it’s the test of time that truly gives a poet immortality. I don’t think immortality should be a goal of a work or an author-there’s no way for them to know if they’ve achieved it, so why focus on it? I do think that it should be a goal of society to preserve the past to share with the future. The problem comes in effectively communicating what’s been preserved. It’s not enough to revere the heroes; a better homage would be a dedicated engagement with their ideas. A part of that engagement would be working to understand how the idea came to be and why it’s important in the context of today.

Going to a museum is a personal experience. The pieces, displays and exhibits frequently interact with the viewer with no medium of school or outside text. It’s important to go to museums to not simply stare in awe at the work of an “immortal” but to connect the piece to more than just “the awesome vacation I took.” Writers are national heroes because their works come in a medium more accessible than art-the written word.

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