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. " 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. " 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. " 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. " 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.**