Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Final Poem Analysis

Throughout this poetry unit, there have been a lot of things that I didn't think I would like. But I actually really enjoyed the entire thing. When I first read my poem, I liked it well enough. It seemed a bit boring, all about fish and blue water. There wasn't a whole lot I could analyze with that. And I didn't have many questions. A few words here and there, words that were quite obscure to me, though they may be part of the vernacular of my poem's region. Upon closer examination they were not, however, they were just good, hard words. But as I progressed, I realized just how much there was to my seemingly simple fishy poem. I have learned so much from this entire process, not just the poem. I learned how to really look at something, how to incorporate other's ideas into my own, and how to fully understand something from multiple angles. From the poem itself I learned to respect nature and to recognize that everything has its own power. Going through all the different parts of this project has helped me understand everything about this poem so much better. I feel that I am better equipped to analyzing this poem now that I have completed all the parts of the project, and I am happy with how everything turned out. I believe I have learned a lot and, especially within the context of the project, have found out much about my poem.

There were always a few lines that really stood out to me. "a dark/veil kabala surrounding by whorls/of worship..." (Brathwaite 17-19).  This was slightly confusing to me at first, as the poem seemed light and calm. It was meant to be this way, having this jarring stanza put in to emphasize how dark the humans are. Humans are the dark religion, and we are leaving our stain on the world as we sap its resources. This was also made obvious later in the poem, when it says, "...there are great ob/-long blotches like a stain/of milk & a great spider spreading itself along the pale glazing bottom of/the water" (Brathwaite 36-39). At first I saw this as a good thing, despite the use of the spider imagery. I thought it meant starting over, making a mark but essentially beginning again from scratch. My view on this has changed dramatically from how it was before. Now I still think that it is starting again, but in a horrible way. It shows how humankind is taking over the oceans, making its mark, and slowly but surely erasing everything in nature to put in cities and make everything conform to how it wants. My new idea is supported by the lines that say, "until there is what shd not be here/on the water/white/footsteps of sand from the bottom of the ocean/become the thin road to Eleuthera..." (Brathwaite 10-14). Humans should not be there. Also there is the color white used again, showing the beginning again and starting afresh ideas. By forcing everything to start over the way we humans want it, we are actually harming everything irreparably so it can never go back to the way it was before. The way it was before was infinitely better, because everything was doing what it needed to do. Fish were going about their merry business, the water was clean and blue, there were no humans there and none were needed. And because we feel the need to impose our will on everything, there is no going back to that. 

One of the steps of the project was doing an interview with someone at least twenty years older than yourself. I interviewed my mother, and what she said was very interesting and helped shape my ideas. She said, "I think it represents the passage of time and the thought of that, you know, the oceans were here long before we were here, they're gonna be here longer than we'll ever be here." That changed my view of the entire poem and everything it represented. Suddenly I could see the changes, how everything in the poem fell neatly into a cycle of time. At first, everything is calm and cool. "First the dark meer/begins to breathe gently into green/into light & light green..." (Brathwaite 1-3). This represents the beginning of time, and the Caribbean oceans. I learned a lot form my research of the poem and the author. He lives in the Caribbean, and the water there is gorgeous. It makes you think of mermaids and magic and the world being born. But then there are bad things, poison things in the water. "until there is suddenly a black stone/a dark/veil kabala..." (Brathwaite 16-18). This is the arrival of humans, tainting the water with their black stone and dark religion. I did see this at first, but now I can see how it fits in with everything else and it doesn't confuse me anymore. This quote shows how people are truly unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, when the ocean could have continued doing fine on its own without all of the humans and their rules. But finally, at the end, there is peace once more, even with the humans and their darkness. "this great planet passing upwards towards us/out this silence & drifting & blessing of the water" (Brathwaite 39-40). Again, there is the concept of religion, which I did not notice until my mom pointed it out, only this time it has a good connotation. This time it feels as though the planet is going to be okay. Although it does sound like it's going to swallow us up and that's why it will be fine. But silence and drifting bring to mind the very beginning of the poem, of the merging and the colors. The poem is a circle. 

Looking at the poem through the lens of this project has been an experience. Through all the different parts, I have learned something different. The research afforded me a look into the life of my author, who was a lot more scholarly and prolific than I had expected. This expectation was based on absolutely nothing but the poem itself, but one poem is by no means an accurate measure of someone's overall amount of intelligence or amount of writings as an author. In my interview with my mom, my entire perspective of the poem changed, which was wonderful for my understanding it properly. She said a lot of interesting things, one of them being, "...humans are encroaching on nature, and we should...not." This is what I was saying, but I didn't see it as pushing nature away, like she did. I saw it more as destroying nature, but when you think of pushing something away, usually you aren't trying to destroy it. Talking about the poem with my mom helped me see things in both a harsher light, with the poem being about inevitable death by ocean, but at the same time like humans didn't quite mean to ruin everything. We just did. Even with this final analysis, I am still learning the more I ramble. I think I will also learn a lot from my presentation. One of the lines I plan on talking about is, "...10 thousand years later there are trees/glistening sunlight & listening rain & white streets...." (Brathwaite 32-33). This shows everything I want to prove with my poem. There is nature reclaiming what the humans have done, and there is another mention of white, showing the clean slate. Also, for my presentation, I have to have a metaphor. My metaphor is fish-shaped seeded paper pieces. You can actually plant the paper and wildflowers will grow. They are shaped like fish because fish are mentioned in the poem a lot. "...this fish.from the air of so many so many untangles..." (Brathwaite 30-31). That's the best fish line. It makes me think of a fish untangling itself from a net or getting free from a plastic bag that's wrapped around it. The seeded paper is a way to give back to the earth by planting flowers, and it looks nice too. Respect nature, help it along, and it won't eat you.

I am sad to leave this project behind. I enjoyed the majority of the work, despite the fact that it was, in fact, work. Learning about my poet was fun. On the day I did the blog post about him was actually the day after his birthday. He turned 83. But reading a poem by such a well-established author that I had never heard of, simply because he was from a different culture, came as a bit of a shock to me as well. I learned a lot more from it than I thought I would. I also got to talk to my mom. I do talk to her quite often, but this time it was about something meaningful and not just something like what I did at school. I learned a lot more than I thought I would from that conversation as well. I began looking at the poem in a whole new way, and I got an interesting look into how my mom looks at things differently from me. I'm not exactly looking forward to my presentation on Friday, but I wasn't looking forward to this analysis either, and I feel pretty good about this. I just intensely dislike public speaking, but it's something I'll have to get over. I will miss this project and all of the learning I did from it, but I learned a lot of skills that will be helpful forever.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Interview With My Mom

We decide to head down to the basement, since we don't want to bother my brother and his homework. He's got his headphones on, and there's no way he can hear us, but I agree and go downstairs anyway. We pass the guest room and settle down on the couch. My dog lies down by my feet, chewing on a rawhide bone. I pull up the poem on my computer and we sit in silence as she reads it.

I'm just playing on my phone while I wait for my mom to finish. Not two seconds after she's started reading, she asks, "What does 'meer' mean?"

"Um..." I can't remember. "I don't know. You should look it up."

"Aren't you supposed to know what all of the words mean?" she says.

I wave my hand at her. "Yeah, but that's what the Internet is great for."

After another few moments of silence, my mom says, "What's 'lann'?"

Leaning over, I point out how in the previous stanza, it says "eye" and then the next bit says "-lann", which forms the word "island". And I sincerely hope I'm right about that. There are a bunch of words that are spelled weirdly in the poem, and I've been guessing what they meant. Then I tell her that she needs to wait for the actual interview to start before she asks any more questions. Mom clamps her mouth shut jokingly and finishes the poem in silence, mouthing the words as she reads them.

"Okay, ready to start?" I ask.

"Yeah." My mom pauses. "Can I ask you questions now?"

"Hold on a sec." I press record on my phone.

"Okay," I say. "So...now that you read it..." I'm trying to properly format the question in my head before I say it. "What...like, what do you think it represents?"

She takes a deep breath. And says nothing. After a few seconds of silence and me staring at her and glancing at my phone to make sure it's recording, she says, "I'm thinking," in an undertone.

"I know," I reply quickly. We sit a moment longer. I listen to the dog chewing on her bone, noting that it is very loud and hoping the recording won't pick it up so I can hear us talking clearly.

My mom takes another deep breath and starts talking. "Well, I think it represents the passage of time...and...kind of the...the thought of that, you know, the oceans were here long before we were here, they're gonna be here longer than we'll ever be here." My dog climbs up onto the couch next to me and shoves her face into my leg. "I think he's sort of overwhelmed by the depth and the beauty and the vastness of the sea."

I nod approvingly, petting the dog. "Wow. Yeah, I would agree. The other thing- the thing that I thought it meant was respect nature, you know?"

"Mmm, mmhmm." Mom hums in agreement. She scrolls through the poem again, glancing over it.

"Cos it's so...big..." I trail off, losing the thread of what I was thinking. I start trying to remember the other questions I wanted to ask.

After a moment of looking the poem over again, my mom says, "It was interesting, the part about like we're sort of staining it with our presence." She's started using her hands to describe what she's saying.

"Uhuh." I keep petting the dog. I definitely agree with the thought that we, as humans, are staining the earth with our overuse of resources and taking far more than we give. The earth is not meant to be stripped bare of everything is has to offer, because although these things do regenerate over time, what people take is far more than the earth could provide in many lifetimes.

"And ten thousand years later there are trees...this is interesting, now that I'm reading it again, I'm like, first I was like 'blech, I don't like this'." I laugh softly at her reaction. "Cos I don't like not being able to understand something, but whatever."

There is another long pause as the dog jumps back down from the couch, retrieves her bone, and starts gnawing on it again at my feet. We sit for another short while. I'm thinking about how the poem does seem somewhat hopeful, how there are trees again at the end. And humans are the dark religion, staining nature's purity. Then my mom says, "Well, and he's sort of saying here like..." Mom murmurs a few of the lines. "'until there is here what should not be here on the water...' Yeah, I think you're right, where it's like we're...humans are encroaching on nature, and we should...not."


"We're bad. Ocean good, ocean life good, people bad," Mom says, and I start laughing.

"That's very deep, thank you." I smile. Okay, next question. "And what do you like...and dislike about it?"

She readjusts the computer on her lap and answers very quickly. "I like the description of...um..." She finds the line she's looking for in the poem. "I like glistening sunlight and listening rain, that's stellar, cos it rhymes." Then she stage-whispers, "It's poetry, it's supposed to rhyme." And immediately after, adds, "I'm kidding, I know it's not supposed to rhyme. But I do like that phrase. That phrase is spot on." She gives a thumbs-up and continues. "And I do like all the colors. Black stone, green water, light and light green...that helps me...ozure, indigo...Is that supposed to be azure?"

"Yeah, I think so? I looked it up, and there's no definition for it, so I just assumed so," I respond.

"Okay. And I really like white streets, that helps to picture it." She pauses to think about what she didn't like. "I don't like the end, with the stain of milk and the great spider. Like it makes me think, you know, it's gonna sour and last a long time. I didn't think of it as, like, white, I thought of it as...yuck."

I laugh again, but also say, "That's really interesting, that you see it that way." I see it more as wiping the slate clean, starting from blank white so that the people can build whatever kind of world they want. To me, nothingness isn't inherently good or bad, and neither is growth. If anything, growing and changing are inherently good, because if nothing grows then everything will stagnate and nothing will happen. I see more of the change that comes after the stain of milk, while my mom sees the stain itself as an object of malicious intent.

"You can quote me on that," she says, laughing with me.

"I have to!" We both laugh.

Trying to stay focused, Mom starts again. "Well, you know it's funny, the image of a spider is kind of these eight legs, you know, spreading, and it kind of feels like, that kind of big black scary with the legs, you know, um..." My hand slips and I drop the still-recording phone, so as she keeps talking I pick it up and carefully lean it on a pillow so it can still hear us. "It's sort of a scary image to me, of a great spider spreading itself, almost like a great evil spreading itself about." Then, after thinking a moment, she continues. "Well, if you think about it, spiders are good, but I don't think that's where he's going with that."

"Spiders are gross," I add.

"But spiders are good, they eat the insects, that's what Charlotte's Web taught me anyway." A pause. "They kind of are gross."

"We got way sidetracked. Okay...pfff." I wiggle my tongue around and get the hair out of my mouth. "Dog hair in my mouth. Okay. Okay...Do you think it has, like, religious undertones at all, or not? Cos there's like a little mention there of kabala, 'the forbidden religion', and it's worship dark green water scallops jewels and...fish."

"Hmmm..." Mom hums again. "And blessing... well let's think about this, then."

Oh, good, I'm thought-provoking. I readjust myself on the couch as I wait for the response.

"Well...you could say, you know, people associate fish with Jesus, if you want to go there," she says at last.

Thinking about that, I reply, "But isn't Kabbalah...Judaism?"

"Right, it's a spiritual Judaism. It's very much there is a God of some ilk and it's...spiritual." She waves her hands in the air to demonstrate spirituality and keeps talking with her hands. "Yeah, it almost seems like, you know, like is the black stone evil? Is that Satan, if you will? Or the evil of the world, or again that's us, the people that are messing up the whole ocean...I would say the religion of it would be nature, not necessarily a God-based religion, it's all about nature and not marring nature and...spirituality."

I've been nodding and mumbling my agreement, but now I actually speak. "Yeah, it's like there's a road, and then just like suddenly there's a black stone and a dark, forbidden, veil religion surrounded by worship, and there's waves and fish and then ribs again...which could be biblical..." At the confusion I see, I add, "...the whole Adam and Eve thing..."

Mom says, "Ooh, nice! Look at that, creation with ribs and all that, look at you! Nice!" As Mom's voice gets louder in her excitement, the dog looks up and smiles at us, breathing through her mouth. Then she runs over and noses my hand as my I start talking.

"It's supposed to be about what you think..." I mutter.

"But now that's in my head, so it is what I think." Mom scans the poem again as the dog starts licking my hand. "See, it almost sounds like here, there'll be villages, thousands of tongues, there'll be people and that's not good. There'll be all these problems when the people come. You know, people walkin about, talking to each other, and an echo- And I think he just kinda...he really feels like people should not be messing up nature. I believe that is the underlying theme."

I nod. This is what I've been thinking, after all. I glance at the clock and I decide we have time for one more question before I want to get food, so I ask, "So, would you say that the poem is like...hopeful? Or, like, dark undertones, like humans are screwing everything up, or like it's all gonna solve itself?"

Mom doesn't even hesitate. "I definitely think it has darker undertones, I think it's pessimistic, cos I feel like, you know, nature, if you will, was doing just fine, thank you very much, and then we have this fish that shouldn't be here-

"So people are fish?" I interject.

"I think, you know how like evolution...there's that evolution picture that's like the amoeba in the water sort of thing, so that's us, that's people, shouldn't be here, footsteps, here we come." I walk my fingers across the mousepad. "Walking, and the black stone, evil. I mean a dark veil of kabala, that's evil. First fish out of creation, so Adam and Eve, ribs, and then look, we've made civilization, and we're...effing it all up!" I laugh as she reads the a few lines of the poem aloud. "'this fish from the air of so many untangles and ten thousand years later there are trees...' Now, to me that's a good thing, that there are trees, but maybe he's saying, you know, that the world was so much better when it was just a bunch of water, and everything was allowed to live and be and...yeah, I don't see any hope at all."

I'm a little surprised by this, since I consider the end to be quite hopeful, so I scroll down to the bottom of the poem and ask, "Not even at the end?" We both speed-scan the ending. "Like, that last line, just makes me feel like the Earth's gonna swallow us up," I say.

"Yes!" she exclaimed. Wait, I thought she disagreed with me... "That's exactly what I thought!"

Okay, well... "So then it's not positive for us, but from the poetry's point of view, it's the point of view of the fish, like, they want all the humans to be fish food."

"Yeah...It's almost like..." Mom reads a few scattered words I can't make out. "Like the water's gonna overtake us and be like, you messed everything up so we're gonna swallow you up again and start over."

We pause again. The dog tries to lie her head down on my feet, decides they are uncomfortable, and noses her way under my feet instead. "All right, so, I think I have enough. It's been a good fifteen minutes...okay." I stop the recording.

"That was fun," Mom says as we go back upstairs. The dog races in front of me and almost makes me trip.

"For sure. But now I want food," I say.

I think our conversation was quite beneficial to me in analyzing the poem. My mom and I did see things quite similarly, but some of her points were very different from mine. I see the end of the poem as hopeful, the humans coexisting with nature and all the fish. The ocean would swallow us up to return peace, but humans are resilient. We would have come back. But my mom saw it the end of the poem as more bad than good. She thought that the world would have gotten rid of all the humans, almost like it was exterminating them intentionally. She thought that the poem was not hopeful, and that it was foreshadowing certain death for the bad things on the planet, which were humans. She also saw things very differently, the first thing she got out of the poem was the passage of time. I looked at things more directly, thinking about fish and nature and humans screwing up the ocean, but my mom saw it as more of a progression, cause and effect, of the circle of destruction and rebirth. The world was fine before humans, but then the humans did come around and take too much. But then at the end everything is fine because the people are gone again, so the world can start over. This experience has been very beneficial to my understanding of this poem and I am glad that I had the opportunity to do this.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Poem Research

Kamau Brathwaite was born in Barbados, and lived there for most of life. He went to Harrison College in Barbados and got an honors BA at Pembroke College in Cambridge, England, and also a Diploma of Education. Mr. Brathwaite worked as an education officer in Ghana and teaching at the Jamaican campus of the University of the West Indies for some time. He later got a Philosophy Doctorate from the University of Sussex. Despite having written many nonfiction works as well, he is best known for his poetry. He usually writes about things that are deep and touching for most people, things that go back to the African roots of many people who live in the Caribbean. The poetry tends to talk about historical events that are very important or impactful to that particular geographical area.

The poem, at first glance, seems serene and cool. Clear blue waters, fish swimming about, calm scenery. But with closer inspection, as well as a dictionary to look up many of the odd words, it becomes clear that the poem is darker than it initially seemed. "...footsteps of sand from the bottom of the ocean/become the thin road to Eleuthera/long & thin upon the water walking/until there is suddenly a black stone/a dark/veil kabala surrounding by whorls/of worship..." There are dark jewels and salt, making landscapes that make sharp sounds and civilizations becoming increasingly more intertwined, spreading through the water, but remaining silent. It's almost scary how everything just changes, from being so calm to being so worrisome. And then everything ends just as silently as it began. "and this great planet passing upwards towards us/out this silence & drifting & blessing of the water". There are connected beaches, connected by their languages and tastes for fish. It starts out about the fish, but it ends with the humans spreading across the ocean like a stain, perhaps representing how humanity tends to devour what is in its way and take the best parts of what it wants - precious jewels, salt - leaving little regard for what it leaves in its wake.

Works Cited

"Writers of the Caribbean - Kamau Brathwaite." Writers of the Caribbean - Kamau Brathwaite. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2014.

Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 13 May 2014.

"Eleuthera Bahamas :: Island of Freedom." Eleuthera Bahamas (Eluthera Eleuthra) Maps, Rentals, Hotels. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2014.

"Open Letters: An Open Letter to Arabic Labials." McSweeney's Internet Tendency. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2014.

"Pellucid." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 13 May 2014.

"Kabala." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 13 May 2014.

"Meer." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 13 May 2014.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Herman Hesse's Siddhartha has many different themes, but one of the most central would be the idea of oneness. Being at peace with oneself and at peace with the surroundings is something that all humans fundamentally strive for. This is shown throughout the book by the various uses of the word "Om". Om is the word of oneness, and of inner peace and concentration. In the beginning of the book, Siddhartha uses the word to meditate, which is fairly meaningless to him. Yes, it is important for his education, and yes, he does learn from his frequent bouts of self-reflection, but it is something he does because he is told to and something he does by rote. The same is true when he goes with the Samanas. He follows the rituals, reduces everything about himself so that he may find his true, inner self. But he realizes that that is not the path to finding oneness. When he breaks away from doctrine, he discovers the path and the passion for true enlightenment, but he he does not use the word Om, just the basic principle. And then after he is mired down in pleasures, basal instincts, worldly pleasures that should mean nothing and kill his spirit, the word Om brings him back. He wants to be enlightened. And when he follows his own path, he is. Siddhartha does get help along the way, but in the end he was the one that decided to be enlightened and he was the one that brought it all about. He was enlightened by the river, by the word Om, by oneness and perfection. In the book, Om represents the path to and the success of personal enlightenment. It shows how even if someone is stuck in Sansara, going around and around the circle with seemingly no way out, Om can be the path to being enlightened. And then if this person listens, Om will be all around them, helping them and showing them the way.

In his childhood, Siddhartha was quite good at his studies. He was looked at as one of the best Brahmins in the village. He was excellent at meditation and getting in touch with his inner self. "When the usual time for the meditation exercise had passed, Govinda arose...Siddhartha gave no answer...Thus he sat, cloaked in samadhi, thinking Om, his soul an arrow on its way to Brahman" (Hesse 8). Siddhartha hadn't really given a lot of thought to oneness at this point. He was simply using Om as a tool to propel him further in his life and better himself however he could. That is not how Om is meant to work. It can be a helpful tool, but that should not be all it is. Maybe Siddhartha realizes this too, through using it, because he decides to go to the Samanas and be taught their ways of enlightenment and doctrine. But they do not help him find the true path, they only help him destroy himself. "'We find consolations, we find numbness, we learn skills with which to deceive ourselves. But the essential, the Path of Paths, we do not find'" (Hesse 17). Siddhartha realizes that finding Om within himself might be easier if he finds it outside of himself. Om is what helps him on his way to great realizations, but at this point he is so separated from himself that he cannot find enlightenment through the Samana ways. Since separation is all they teach, Om will not help him. If he breaks his Self, then no true Self can be achieved. His Self cannot become what it needs to be if there is none of it left. And when Siddhartha leaves the Samana and the Buddha and all doctrines behind to follow his own soul, he feels Om all around him. But he also leaves Om behind. He decides that he needs absolutely none of the old doctrine, even that which is helpful. "I am no longer who I was...What would I do at home with my father, study? Sacrifice? Practice samadhi? All these things are over now; they no longer lie along my path" (Hesse 36). Unfortunately, this decision to leave all of these things behind is what causes Siddhartha to fall into the hole of material desires and resorting to things such as gambling to find satisfaction. Siddhartha loses touch of Om, because he gives up everything related to doctrine. Using what one is given, even if it means listening to a teacher, can only help. If someone is given something that could potentially help them, it's not a good idea to throw it away on principle.

Here Siddhartha loses the path of finding himself. He has a goal, he is continuously searching and trying to achieve. But he loses himself along the way to this goal, as can happen. "'Anyone can reach his goals if he can think, if he can wait, if he can fast'" (Hesse 54). Unless those goals happen to be enlightenment. Already Siddhartha has forgotten that he left the Samanas because their tricks were not useful for finding himself. And yet that is all he uses to get what he wants. In life, people tend to be hypocritical. They say that they are renouncing something, for it has brought them nothing but ill, and yet they keep returning to it, keep going back to what they know even though it is terrible. Siddhartha is doing that. He knows that thinking and waiting and fasting are Samana traits, he knows that they will not bring him enlightenment. But he uses them to get to his new goal, which will supposedly help him learn the ways of the world and help him find Om. But he is pushing himself further and further away from true oneness with everything he does that is not his own path. And thus, Siddhartha loses himself. "Property, ownership, and riches had captured him in the end. No longer were they just games to him, trifles; they had become chains and burdens" (Hesse 67). Siddhartha has lost sight of Om a very long time ago. He has fallen to the very thing he had been hoping to avoid; feeling that material desires are all that matter. He used to think himself above everyone else, but as time went on that stopped. Om is about feeling at one with everything, feeling equal and happy. But by feeling superior, by getting meaningless things to prove his superiority, Siddhartha lost what it meant to be at peace. So he wants to die. But one thing saves him. "...from distant reaches of his soul, from bygone realms of his weary life, a sound fluttered...And the moment the sound Om touched Siddhartha's ear, his slumbering spirit suddenly awoke and recognized the foolishness of his actions" (Hesse 75). The foolishness of committing suicide when there is still so much life left to be lived, so much more that Siddhartha has yet to learn. Om helped Siddhartha realize what he needed again. He needed to find himself. He had been lost amongst the transitory bits and pieces of what other people cared about and the trifles of the rich. Siddhartha needed help, and he needed to learn from somebody again. So he turns to the river and the ferryman to teach him Om.

Now that Siddhartha has been saved from himself, he can seek help. Since he almost killed himself in the river, he started listening to it and almost talking to it like it was another person. "'It knows everything, the river, and one can learn everything from it" (Hesse 89). The ferryman has learned much from the river. He has learned how to listen. Until now, Siddhartha had no idea how to listen. By putting himself before all else, he had neglected a very important ability, and that is listening. Being a good listener is the most important thing a person can be, for if one doesn't listen, they can never gain anything from another person. If people never listen hard, take into themselves what the other person is saying, then they will not be happy. If they cannot listen to others, they cannot be one with them. Siddhartha figures this out, sitting there with the ferryman. He has learned to listen, to laugh, to lose, to love. "And when Siddhartha listened attentively to this river, to this thousand-voiced song, when he listened neither for the sorrow nor the laughter, when he did not attach his soul to any one voice and enter into it with his own ego but rather heard all of them, heard the whole, the oneness - then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of only a single word: Om, perfection" (Hesse 114). Siddhartha has received the river's wisdom and has found true oneness. By listening to the whole, by allowing his life to take him where it needed to go, he has found oneness. He needed to go through so much before he could find his true place among everything else, and he did that not by losing himself but by allowing himself to become everything. Realizing that it is okay to feel sorrow, joy, lust, lethargy, and all of the emotions at once is what makes humans human is what pushed Siddhartha towards enlightenment. He realized the true meaning of life, and he is enlightened by it. And before he dies, he gets the chance to share it with someone. Govinda, the devout, ever following the doctrine set before him, arrives at the ferry to meet the wise ferryman. Siddhartha shows him the way of his enlightenment. "He [Govinda] no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha; instead he saw other faces, many of them, a long series, a flowing river of faces, by the hundreds, by the thousands, all of them coming and fading away, and yet all of them appearing to be there at once, all of them constantly changing, being renewed, and all of them at the same time Siddhartha" (Hesse 125). The use of the word river is important imagery here. It shows how Siddhartha, and perhaps his past lives or just the ones around him that he has accepted, are all there together, flowing in a river of faces, of feelings. The river is nothing but a river, but it is saying that everyone is a river. Everyone has all the lives around them to accept and listen to, to bring into themselves and allow to become a part of them.

Om is a powerful concept. Finding something as simple as a sound that could help someone achieve eternal enlightenment, Nirvana, the one true goal, is simply fascinating. More people should want that, but people tend to brush off such simple things, thinking that the universe has to be complicated. Siddhartha's journey, as guided by the word Om, does nothing else but prove that Om is all that one needs. To be at peace with the world, to find the one true self, is to be perfect. Om is about oneness and perfection. Siddhartha managed to find that, despite straying from the path. His childhood brought him close to enlightenment, filled him with ideas to lead him towards the ultimate goal. When he was a young adult, he began to leave the path by losing himself in an effort to discover his true self. Then he became an adult, obsessed with transitory, worldly things. He had truly lost sight of where he was meant to go, but he pushed on anyway. Om saved him. Om brought him back to life, reignited his spirit, showed him that what had happened was meant to be. He had to commit foolish sins, forget all that he had learned about becoming perfect, just so that he could start over as a child and learn everything again his own way. Finding his own way was the only way that could work for him to truly achieve enlightenment. That everything in life is the way it is meant to be, that a person is able to completely start over, and that finding their own path is a person's only hope of actually achieving enlightenment are all good takeaways. But that is all still so complicated. Perfection, having oneness with the world, that is all that matters. And all that can be conveyed with only two letters. Om.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bermudas by Kamau Brathwaite

First the dark meer
begins to breathe gently into green
into light & light green
until there are like blue

ribs upon the water. dreaming
and the ribs of water’s colour are the gills
of the first fish breathing
the first land the first eye

until there is what shd not be here
on the water

footsteps of sand from the bottom of the ocean
become the thin road to Eleuthera
long & thin upon the water walking
until there is suddenly a black stone

a dark
veil kabala surrounding by whorls
of worship green water scallops
folding into themselves like soft

jewels the first huge fish
out of creation
w/ribs veins glimpse
of a tail & deep channels in between

where they will be mountains & ridges
& villages & ozure indigo sunsets
of lapis lazuli & white salt marking its finely corrugated edges
& stretching out into thousands of tongues. miles

of soft drifting labials. like pellucid love
on the water. this fish
from the air of so many so many untangles
& 10 thousand years later there are trees

glistening sunlight & listening rain & white streets
& houses & people walkin bout & talkn to each other on the water & across
its blue echo
& thinking of horses & houses & now soon after midday there are great ob

-long blotches like a stain
of milk & a great spider spreading itself along the pale glazing bottom of
the water. and this great planet passing upwards towards us
out this silence & drifting & blessing of the water

Monday, May 5, 2014

Siddhartha Reflection Chapters 7 through 12

There are a lot of pieces about something inside Siddhartha dying or changing. In chapter 7, Siddhartha talks about how his new life makes hime feel. "Property, ownership, and riches had captured him in the end. No longer were they just games to him, trifles; they had become chains and burdens" (Hesse 67). He is sad and he isn't doing well anymore, because the things that were meant to give him pressure are just making him feel worse. That's quite a commentary on the worth of physical items. He adds a bit more to that in the next chapter. "He was filled with antipathy, filled with misery, filled with death; there was nothing left in the world that could tempt him, console him, give him pleasure" (Hesse 73). That is very sad, but it goes with the theme of sadness from his life of wealth. Then Siddhartha is transformed. I was waiting for this, but he doesn't actually become enlightened until later, he is just saved. And he decides to learn from the river and the old ferryman. "One who understood the water and its secrets, it seemed to him, would understand many other things as well, many secrets, all secrets" (Hesse 85). This begins the learning-from-the-river theme. I like the river. Rivers are great. And Siddhartha was going to drown in it, but decides to learn from it instead. Now that's a metaphor.

There is a lot in there about the river. The river represents how much life changes, how people go through many different appearances but remain the same, somehow. And the river is also a good advisor. "'Ask the river, my friend! Listen to its laughter! Or do you really believe that you committed your own follies so as to spare your son from committing them?'" (Hesse 101). Oh yeah, Siddhartha and Kamala had a son. He's really annoying, but I suppose he helped teach Siddhartha to listen to the river more. Or at least trust its wisdom. The river helped Siddhartha get over the boy and allow him to go on his way. I really didn't like him so it was no great loss in my opinion. Siddhartha was very upset, but that's understandable. Anyway, the river does more with Siddhartha later. It teaches him how Vasudeva is enlightened. "All became the river, all of them striving as river to reach their goal, longingly, eagerly, suffering, and the river's voice ran out full of longing, full of burning sorrow, full of unquenchable desire" (Hesse 113). Siddhartha has learned how to listen to the river and see what it means in relation to life. And that is good for everyone who's reading it too, even if Siddhartha doesn't think doctrines will help a person get anywhere. I think that listening to Siddhartha listen to the river is some powerful imagery and a powerful way to look at things. Different is good. And Govinda gets enlightened too, by the river and by Siddhartha. Well, maybe he's not enlightened. It's incredibly unclear. Anyway, he kisses Siddhartha's forehead and learns some stuff that we can also benefit from. "...he saw other faces, many of them, a long series, a flowing river of faces, by the hundreds, by the thousands, all of them coming and fading away, and yet all of them appearing to be there at once, all of them constantly changing, being renewed, and all of them at the same time Siddhartha" (Hesse 125). Govinda is maybe seeing all of Siddhartha's past lives, and understanding how everything works all of a sudden. I think that it is just very nice that Govinda is seeing this different river by the watery river and is being enlightened by it the same way that Siddhartha was. And even if you're not Hindu you can learn about having an old soul or past lives or what have you. It was a very nice conclusion to the story.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Siddhartha Reflection Chapters 1 through 6

Something I noticed about the first few chapters of Siddhartha is that they talk a lot about beauty and grace. The way that Siddhartha himself is described is almost sensual and very much about his physical appearance. "Delight leaped into his mother's breast when she beheld him, watched him as he wlked and sat and stood, Siddhartha, the strong handsome boy walkiung on slender legs, greeting her with flawless grace. Love stirred in the hearts of the young Brahmin girls...[when they saw him with] his radiant brow, his regal eye, his narrow hips...He loved Siddartha's eyes and his sweet voice, loved the way he walked and the flawless grace of his movements..." (Hesse 4). The way Siddhartha is described makes it sound like he is being looked at through the eyes of a lover (which he is, occasionally) and puts a lot of emphasis on how he seems to be very attractive. I find that a little odd. Just because it is like Siddhartha has everything, so naturally he would be attractive as well. There is just a lot of describing it. But then later, when he gives everything up to become a Samana, there is still a lot of emphasis put on how different he looks, how different they look from everyone else. "The flesh vanished from his thighs and cheeks. Hot tears flickered in his enlarged eyes, his nails grew long on his withering fingers, and from his chin grew a dry, patchy beard" (Hesse 12). These descriptions make it sound like he is becoming more and more unattractive, and that is written very specifically so. Now that he has given up all pleasure, he must also give up his looks. But then they meet the Buddha, and his physical features seem to not matter except to convey his amount of peace and divinity. "...he scrutinized Guatama's head, his shoulders, his feet, his quietly dangling hand, and it seemed to him that every joint of every finger on this hand was doctrine; it spoke, breathed, wafted, and glinted Truth" (Hesse 26). The words used are those used to describe a gem, or jewelry, or perhaps the spirit. The Buddha is a very spiritual person, and that is conveyed using specific words that basically ignore his body as a whole to describe the feeling he gives off. The body is used as a powerful device in this story to portray feelings, and appearances seem to matter a great deal with regard to metaphors.

But as the story progresses, the appearances matter less as Siddhartha goes his own way about enlightenment. They still do matter, but it is no longer only about the body. It is about beauty in everything, everywhere. "...no longer the meaningless random multiplicity of the world of appearances..." (Hesse 35). Siddhartha is thinking to himself about how, now that finding himself is most important, more important than losing himself so that he may be at one with the world, everything is no longer governed by appearance. Everything matters in its own way. But then he meets a beautiful woman, and wishes to be taught by her in the ways of love. Her lips are continually described as figs, and here again is the concept of physical appearance equating to wonderfulness. "'Your mouth is like a fig split in two, Kamala,'" (Hesse 49). Siddhartha is using her appearance almost as an excuse for what he wants. That's not exactly what's going on, but she being beautiful is certainly part of Siddhartha's sudden desire to learn about love. He may have already wanted to learn, and was only searching for a mentor, but somehow I think that seeing a beautiful and rich woman helped with that a little bit. But perhaps not. In the next chapter, there is a particular description about how he feels that makes a lot of sense, looking back over the story. "...Siddhartha saw it all as a game whose rules he was striving to learn but whose substance did not touch his heart" (Hesse 57). Maybe after being a Samana for so long, he doesn't want anything to be so deeply ingrained in him again. He wants to learn about the world but preserve himself in the process. I think that to learn properly, you have pour yourself into something fully and devote yourself to it completely before you will learn anything of note about it. But perhaps Siddhartha is going about things differently. It shall be an interesting journey.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Partner Blog - Sarah and Ryo

"Weren't the gods mere shapes, creations like you and me, subject to time, transitory?" (Hesse 5).

"-it was all a lie, it all stank, stank of lies, it all gave the illusion of meaning and happiness and beauty and all of it was just putrefaction that no one would admit to." (Hesse, 12-13)

"...there is a tiny hole through which something strange is flowing into his world of oneness, something new, something that wasn't there before and that cannot be shown and cannot be proven: This is your doctrine of the overcoming of the world, of redemption. With this tiny hole, this tiny gap, the entire eternal unified law of the universe is smashed to pieces, rendered invalid." (Hesse 29).

"From this moment when the world around him melted away and left him as solitary as a star in the sky, from this moment of cold and despondency, Siddhartha emerged, more firmly Self than ever before, solidified." (Hesse 37).

Monday, April 21, 2014


Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis includes many different ideas and concepts. Some may even say that it is very similar to the parable, with its moral lessons and theories. Modernism seems to be the biggest theme. There are many ways to interpret those pieces of Kafka's writing, however; David Foster Wallace suggests that humor may be the way to go. Kafka may seem quite depressing and gloomy, but Wallace says that therein lies the humor, because the reader is only proving Kafka's point that things are sad. That is a twisted, dark sense of humor, but can still be considered funny in a way. Modernism is all about moving forward and leaving the outdated ideals of society behind. What better way to show that than to have a miserable character that does nothing about his situation, despite the fact that he can see just how bad he has it? Now that's funny. Kafka's stories are also far ahead of his time, which is another important part of modernism. Thomas C. Foster uses things that are also very forward-thinking, like the idea that vampirism doesn't need to include literal vampires. And Kafka's ideas that Gregor's parents are simply sucking the resources out of Grete and Gregor were new, since in his day and age parents were meant to be doting and helpful. A slightly different perspective of modernism is that humans have the power to do and create, and that means looking at everything that exists in a new light. Which means reexamining the power of a simple meal. In The Metamorphosis there are many meals, all of which symbolize different things in the story. Gregor on the outside looking in is one of many of powerful representations of his loneliness. Thomas C. Foster explains the dynamics and strength that a meal provides. Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis is a dominant story that teaches lessons in modernism through a variety of methods, which are humor, vampirism, and communion.

Modernism, especially in writing, is often hard to find humorous. But David Foster Wallace is correct in thinking that humor may be one of the best ways to interpret modernism and Kafka, regardless of how difficult it is. The things he sees in Kafka are difficult to understand, but Kafka honestly does have some humorous bits, though. They're just really difficult to pick out. And when they are finally discovered...they're just not funny anymore. "The neurology of jokes can account for part of the problem in teaching Kafka. We all know that there is no quicker way to empty a joke of its peculiar magic than to try to 'explain it'" (Wallace 1). This is quite unfortunate, since to understand Kafka and see the modernism symbols it is necessary for humor to play a part. It's the little ironies that the reader has to see and relate to modernism or just to their own lives. Like when Gregor is trying to get out of bed. He doesn't even notice he's a bug because he already felt that way. "'O God,' he thought, 'what a demanding job I've chosen! Day in, day out, on the road'" (Kafka 1). He is so deprived by the work that he chose. In a way, he is the reason for his own misfortune. Gregor is quite modernist, because he feels so done with society's ideals and the lifestyle that it forces him to lead. But he does nothing about his problems, and that is where the humor comes in. It's funny that Gregor is willing to put himself through all of this nonsense in order for his family, the horrible people that do nothing for him, to live a happy life. Wallace puts it slightly better. "The claim is that Kafka's funniness depends on some kind of radical literalization of truths we tend to treat as metaphorical" (Wallace 2). But what he's saying is that Kafka's humor is all about the metaphors. Gregor was sad and lonely. His loneliness was a metaphor for how he wanted everything to change. And the way he did nothing about it showed that although he may have thought like a modernist, he was really nothing but a symbol of one. 

Symbols are really everything in Kafka's story. Gregor's parents, for example, are metaphorical vampires. They also represent how forward-thinking is a big part of modernism. Gregor's parents use a variety of tricks, usually guilt, to suck all the resources out of Gregor and are working on Grete when Gregor dies. "...it struck Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, almost at the same moment, as they looked at their daughter, who was getting more animated all the time, how she had blossomed recently...into a beautiful and voluptuous young woman" (Kafka 27). That is not only a super creepy way to describe their daughter but a disturbing metaphor. They see her young life and they want it. They know that if they can get more from her, they can get more out of society and their lives, simply by not caring about their daughter and taking all that they can from her. This is certainly creative and very modernist of them. Foster says of this, "So vampirism isn't about vampires? Oh, it is...but it's also about things other than literal vampirism: selfishness, exploitation, a refusal to respect the autonomy of other people..." (Foster 16). All of these things are what Gregor's parents did to him. They were selfish and used Gregor to further their desires. They are vampires that feed on youth and wealth, like ticks, growing fatter and draining their host. The parents are like parodies of real people. They pretend to care about something other than themselves, but they don't. Parodies are an important part of the theory of modernism as well. Foster sums it all up pretty well. "Using other people to get what we want. Destroying someone else's need to live in the face of our own overwhelming demands. Placing our desires, particularly our uglier ones, above the needs of others. That's pretty much what a vampire does, after all" (Foster 21). To a vampire, they just want to be better, and who cares if anything gets in their way. They are hardly real. Gregor's vampiric parents embody a host of modernist traits, like being parodies, and moving forwards to make their lives new and better, so much so that they aren't even people anymore. They are vampires, and ones that can change to be whatever they need to be. They never cared about Gregor or Grete, much as it may have seemed they did. They are simply modernist vampires.

In Kafka's writings, there are a few scenes that include meals. They may not seem important at first, but under a modernist light, everything must be reevaluated. And with the help of Thomas C. Foster, the symbolism of a simple meal means so much more. Foster talks about how sharing a meal is very important in the real world, and is as important, if not more, in any written piece. "...in the real world, breaking bread together is an act of sharing and peace, since if you're breaking bread you're not breaking heads" (Foster 8). In The Metamorphosis, there is not any breaking of heads. But in modernism, it is clear that perhaps some heads must be broken if they are standing in the way of progress. The family gets rid of Gregor, who is inhibiting their progress, by isolating him. Throughout the story, people spend less time with Gregor, leaving him lonelier than ever, and more time talking about him at meals. Gregor himself spends increasingly more time eating alone and listening to his family through the door when they are at mealtimes. "For two days at all meal times discussions on that subject [Gregor] could be heard on how people should now behave..." (Kafka 11). Another part of modernism is changing specific reactions towards things. The family does not know what to do now that their sole benefactor has been put out of use. So they must discuss how to proceed, how to deal with Gregor, and how to change their behavior for the sake of success. Everyone in this family has a modernist mindset - making progress, moving forward, having the greatest possible success. And they discuss these things at meals, making them less of a meal and more of a planning session. They're certainly not eating anyway. Foster says that a failed meal is as powerful a device as a comfortably happy meal. "What if we see two people having dinner, then, but one is plotting, or bringing about the demise of the other?" (Foster 11). This plotting is all that Gregor's family is really doing when he's not around. They don't think of him as a human anymore, now that his exterior has changed. That is modernist as well, thinking that Gregor has changed and now can't be brought back, that he must only be dealt with as best they can. And without modernism, the symbolism of all the mealtime planning and mealtime isolation could never have been brought to light.

The Metamorphosis is full of metaphors and symbols. Throughout everything, though, modernism is the common thread bringing everything together. With modernism, Kafka can be funny. Without modernism, there never would have been the vampiric parents with their modernist ideals  or the discovery of the deeper understanding of the simple meals. Though it was a difficult journey through Kafka's work, and a sad one at that, modernism helped make everything actually make some sort of sense. Modernism is what propelled the story forward on its most basic level, and in the higher levels of understanding it helped The Metamorphosis have a deeper, more profound meaning. Gregor Samsa isn't just some guy that got turned into a bug. He was the victim of modernist vampires, he was held prisoner by his own way of modernist thinking, and he was privy to some of the most modernist people ever holding conversations about him and about their situation and how to move forward in their modernist way. Gregor himself had to keep moving forward, and keep pushing himself harder, despute breaking himself in the process. Modernism. That's all there is to it. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reading Reflection

In Foster's writings, the concept of a meal is very important. This is also an important theme in Kafka's Metamorphosis. In Foster's work, he talks about how sharing a meal is very important in the real world, so it is as well in any written piece. "...in the real world, breaking bread together is an act of sharing and peace, since if you're breaking bread you're not breaking heads" (Foster 8). This makes sense because oftentimes a meal will be used as a plot device to prove a point or perhaps to illustrate the relationship between characters. And like Foster says, if people are eating together then in general they are not killing each other. Both things only happen in things like Game of Thrones. In Metamorphosis, Gregor spends increasingly more time eating alone and listening to his family through the door when they are at mealtimes. They only ever talk about him, and they hardly ever eat for worry. Foster says that a failed meal is as powerful a device as a happy, shared meal. "Two people are at dinner and a third comes up, quite unwished for, and one or more of the first two refuse to eat...we know what they think about the interloper" (Foster 11). This mythical third person that comes up is akin to Gregor's transformation. The family quite dislikes Gregor's changing, so they do not eat. They are disgusted and will not eat. Foster is quite correct in that a failed meal has the same effect as any other meal. A meal is powerful imagery and helps move any story along in whichever direction it needs to.

Foster did have another chapter in the reading, however. This chapter was about vampires, metaphorical and literal (but not sparkly). In Metamorphosis, Gregor's parents are the vampires. They suck all the resources out of Gregor and are working on Grete when Gregor dies. Foster says, "So vampirism isn't about vampires? Oh, it is...but it's also about things other than literal vampirism: selfishness, exploitation, a refusal to respect the autonomy of other people..." (Foster 16). All of these things are what Gregor's parents did to him. They were selfish and used Gregor to further their desires, and then never allowed him any freedom. That does sound like a type of vampire. A vampire that feeds on youth and wealth, like a tick, growing fatter and draining its host. Foster sums it all up pretty well. "Using other people to get what we want. Destroying someone else's need to live in the face of our own overwhelming demands. Placing our desires, particularly our uglier ones, above the needs of others. That's pretty much what a vampire does, after all" (Foster 21). He is absolutely right.  A vampire has no cares but to feed their own addiction. They kill and don't worry about their trail of destruction. Gregor's family is the same way. At the end of the story, when he is dried up and flat and dead, he is swept away with the garbage. He is no longer useful so they had to get rid of him. But the point is that they didn't care what happened to him, their own caring son. Because they are vampires, plain and simple.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Empathic Civilization

In Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa's situation and mindset are good analogies for nihilism. Throughout the story, he goes from incredibly caring and selfless to becoming more selfish and eventually just apathetic. Gregor doesn't care about much of anything anymore, which is what nihilism is. Nihilism is also the theory that nothing can be known or communicated. Gregor loses the ability to speak fairly early on, and that means that he can't talk to his family and make them understand that he is still human on the inside. Gregor's lack of communication is what ultimately leads to him not caring about basically everything. Also, when Gregor dies, he is shriveled up and the family throws him away with the garbage. He had been reduced to nothing because he couldn't tell his family that he still meant something, even if it was only to himself.

The way Gregor dies is very interesting. He dies because he has an apple lodged in his back, which is nutrition and sustenance, but he can't reach it and dies of starvation. He's been stabbed in the back by his father, the hand that feeds him. Then there's the whole Old Testament parallel. The apple, the Forbidden Fruit, is the one thing that brings suffering and self-awareness into paradise. And in Metamorphosis, an apple is what brings an end to the life of a mere worker bug. Apples are also often used as symbols of a new beginning or coming full circle. Gregor dying after suffering for so long is very similar to how he is turned into a bug after working himself to death in his job as a traveling salesman. He is essentially forced to be something he doesn't like, shoved out of his old life, and pushed around by the whims of his family. And in both situations, he was made to feel worthless and was only given scraps. Gregor led quite an unfortunate life.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Metamorphosis Reflection

In Kafka's Metamorphosis, the entire family is pretty awful. Even Grete. At the beginning, she could have been okay, but as the story goes on it is clear that she is just as bad as the mother and father. Towards the very end, she says, "'I don't want to call this monster my brother, all I can say is: we have to try and get rid of it. We've done all that's humanly possible to look after it and be patient, I don't think anyone could accuse us of doing anything wrong'" (Kafka Part III 27-28). Grete has begun calling her brother an "it". She clearly no longer regards him as anything but a bug. He has done nothing to deserve this. Yes, his life was turned upside down, impacting the lives of his family. But that is only the more reason to stand by him. His family does the opposite of that, because they are all terrible people. The father in particular is quite awful. When he first sees Gregor as a bug, he breaks down crying, but his second reaction is far worse than a few tears. "Nothing would stop Gregor's father as he drove him [Gregor] back, making hissing noises at him like a wild man" (Kafka Part I 10). Mr. Samsa, from the moment his son is transformed, ceases to view the giant bug as his son. From the moment the human-looking Gregor is gone, everything about Gregor is gone in the father's mind. This shows how awful and shallow the family is. Appearances are everything, and it never once crossed Mr. Samsa's mind that Gregor could still understand and was trapped in the bug's body. But the way Gregor's mother reacts is perhaps the saddest of all. She claims she wants to help him, but refuses to enter Gregor's room until he can no longer be seen. Once he is away, she tries to help make his living situation better, but only succeeds in making Gregor feel like he needs to conform to the demands of others like he did when he was human. And then as soon as she sees even the slightest hint of him, she freaks out. "Gregor's mother already looked uneasy in his room...she stepped to one side, saw the enormous brown patch against the flowers of the wallpaper, and before she even realised it was Gregor that she saw screamed: 'Oh God, oh God!' Arms outstretched, she fell onto the couch as if she had given up everything and stayed there immobile" (Kafka Part II 19). She reacts like this because she has hardly seen her son since he was changed, and she wants to believe that he is still somewhat human. But when she sees him behaving like a bug, she can't handle it. This is what distances her from Gregor for the rest of the story. This is the final straw that makes her believe that her son is no longer her son. It is so especially sad because the mother is the last one to stop believing that Gregor is human. Grete was only helping him out of duty. She saw what he looked like. When he didn't act like a person anymore, she believed he was gone. Mr. Samsa stopped believing Gregor had any humanity when he first saw him. But Gregor's mother only stopped believing when she had adequate evidence to prove that her son was gone. And she could barely take it. All in all, the family as a whole is still not a very good family. Sometimes they have their redeeming moments. But more often than not, they are all a bunch of pricks.

Another major theme throughout the story is Gregor's unwillingness to accept help from anybody and only ever do things himself, despite the fact that he believes he is worth next to nothing. When he is first turned into a bug, he still is ready to get up and go to work. He doesn't even care that he's now a giant bug, though he can't help but at least notice it. He even starts thinking to himself about how much he needs to leave. "'First of all though, I've got to get up, my train leaves at five'" (Kafka Part I 2). He's so used to being a figurative bug that being turned into a real bug doesn't faze him in the least. It probably should bother him at least a little bit, but not being human doesn't bug him until he sees other people's reaction to it. He is overly concerned with what other people think, but that doesn't mean that he wants their help. Gregor is incredibly self-deprecating. As a matter of fact, he is worried about the burden that he is imposing on his poor, selfish family. "...some of the time was spent in worries and vague hopes which, however, always led to the same conclusion: for the time being he must remain calm, he must show patience and the greatest consideration so that his family could bear the unpleasantness that he, in his present condition, was forced to impose on them" (Kafka Part II 12). His lack of own self-worth is symbolized by him being a bug. Now his outer self represents how he sees himself, and the rest of the world treats him the way he feels he deserves to be treated. He firmly believes that he is someone to be looked down upon, and now the rest of the world is doing just that. He must feel that he is nothing but a burden. If he did not, why would he worry for his family, the family that has done nothing to him but push him away and force him to make up for their shortcomings? And yet he still loves them. Even when he is dying, he still seems to wish that he could support them all as he once had. "Gregor hardly slept at all, either night or day. Sometimes he would think of taking over the family's affairs, just like before, the next time the door was opened" (Kafka Part III 23). He really just wants to help everyone. The question here is why does Gregor want to help everyone else so much when the idea of those same people helping him is so repulsive? Does he believe that he is better than them, that he is the only one capable of helping others? He's probably correct, if that was the case. But Kafka is saying that Gregor does not think of himself as good enough to deserve the help and is only capable of doing whatever he can. This is quite a sad thing to think about oneself, and yet if one was turned into a giant bug, it can be assumed that that is how they would feel. Being a bug has that effect. But based on what Kafka tells the reader about Gregor, he was incredibly self-deprecating and had low self-esteem even before he changed. And in this situation, the outer self finally represented the inner feelings.

**I used a slightly different translation so that I could copy and paste it into Google Docs, but I can transfer my annotations to the other translation if that would be better. When I started reading it I was unaware that I could have downloaded and used the translation on the class website, and I had already started annotating the other one, but it is not too difficult to switch now.**

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

(Abridged) Biography of Franz Kafka

"So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being." ~Franz Kafka
 As a brief prelude to the actual biography of a very interesting individual, I would like to present this quote as proof of how wonderful he is. I agree with this quote so very much. Food is basically one of my favorite things in the world. I know it has a deeper meaning beyond some middle-class white girl enjoying eating things, but...seeing as that's what I am that is how I plan on interpreting this quote. Anyway. I really like him so far, but that might change as I find out more about him. So...on to actual informative information!

Kafka was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Germany. His two brothers died before he was six, but he had three sisters. Their names were Gabriele, Valerie, and Ottilie. His parents were not often home. His first language was German, but he was fluent in Czech as well. He was educated at an all-boys elementary school, and his Jewish education did not extend beyond his bar mitzvah at thirteen and going to synagogue occasionally. He went to university and got his degree as a Doctor of Law.

In his adult life, Kafka was engaged twice to a woman named Felice Bauer, but their relationship ended in 1917. Also in 1917, he got tuberculosis, so he was having many problems with his health and relied upon his family to support him. He developed a relationship with Milena Jesensk√°, and then he moved to Berlin to get away from his family's influence and focus on his writing. There, he lived with Dora Diaman, who became his lover as well. She was also Jewish. Kafka suffered from clinical depression and social anxiety, but that didn't stop him from being able to get a job at a big Italian insurance company.

Kafka's influence was widespread. He wrote Metamorphosis, which is still being read and analyzed today as an accurate representation of today's society. He was against his father's materialism, and that influenced his books as a portrayal of how he felt. Materialism is still a big issue we face in the world today. His works were written decades ahead of their time and address issues that are more prevalent in the worlds of today than ever. 

On June 3, 1924, Franz Kafka died due to his affliction of tuberculosis. He was buried with his parents in a Jewish cemetery in Prague. There was nothing written on his tombstone, but Milena Jesensk√° wrote about him, "He wrote the most significant works of modern German literature, which reflect the irony and prophetic vision of a man condemned to see the world with such blinding clarity that he found it unbearable and went to his death." That is about the best sendoff he could have received, unless he had written it himself.

"Franz Kafka." - Biography and Works. Search Texts, Read Online. Discuss. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.
"Franz Kafka Quotes." BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.
"Kafka's Life (1883-1924)." The Kafka Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

Monday, March 17, 2014

For In That Sleep Of Death...

What Dreams May Come pulls a lot of inspiration from Dante's Inferno. Hell itself is very similar to how Dante described it. Everything is dark and fiery and highly unpleasant. It's also a similar story, how someone goes into hell with every intention and ability to get back out, who has a soulmate to find and has a guide to lead him and explain how everything works. The movie has some very clever allusions to Dante, like the gate of hell. The gate has a big boat marooned outside, and a river they have to cross to reach hell itself. The big boat is a gigantic destroyed battleship, with everything on fire and lots of people strewn about around it. They're not dead, but it seems that they can't get up. There is also a blank banner, like how it is in the vestibule of Dante's hell. Back to the ship. The giant boat is called "Cerberus", and like in Inferno, it guards the gates. Another clever way to bring in some of Dante's ideas is the way that there is a specific place for everyone in hell, but the punishments are varied and quite personalized. When Chris finds his wife, she is stuck face-up in the dirt, in a sea of faces. This is like the punishment in Canto XIX, where Simoniacs are buried head first in the ground with only their feet sticking out. In the movie, the punishment is reversed, but it was very similar to Inferno.

Something done very well in What Dreams May Come but not as well done in Inferno is symbolism. Now, hold on. In Inferno there is a TON of symbolism. It was just a bit heavy-handed. Like, the Pope is mentioned twelve kajillion times in hell because Dante didn't like him. And there are all these famous people in hell, also because Dante had issues with them. And he talks to all of them to prove how much better he is, and that he can get out of hell. Cos he's just too cool.  In What Dreams May Come, everything was more subtle and subdued. It was all about the colors, that quick shot, the feelings from the scenes. For example, everything with death had purple. When the children were killed, their dad waved goodbye surrounded by purple flowers. Before Chris died, he had a purple painting with him. In heaven and in hell, all of the flashbacks were accompanied by a flash of white and purplish light. And when Annie commits suicide, she is wearing purple pajamas. Everything in hell is dark, red and black and brown. Everything in heaven is bright and happy, golds and blues and reds. Especially when Chris is in the painting. Everything is gorgeous there. Every single shot of the movie has symbols and meaning to it, but it was done tastefully, unlike Inferno. But that is just personal opinion.