Friday, March 19, 2010

Ordered Chaos

"The Babysitter" by Robert Coover is a strange and perverse tale of a babysitter for the Tuckers. Some people believe that the Babysitter is simply told completely out of order, and that this tale can be reordered to become the original piece. I, on the other hand, felt that the babysitter was a jumble of time and possibilities.

Metafiction is described by Daniel Green as a medium that "simultaneously expose[s] the artifice involved in literary creation and work[s] to restore the value of that artifice." Thus, Metafiction focuses on the medium, the very text and language that is used to create a story, and tries to bring it to the attention of the reader. "The Babysitter" does this by jumbling the events into unordered blocks. Each paragraph is placed out of order to give the reader something that is disjointed, thought provoking, and that will force the reader to order. This method forces the reader to take a deeper step into "The Babysitter" because each reader may walk with the short story differently.

I felt that, while the baby sitter could simply be an unordered story, the story could simply be a jumble of time and possibilities. The story, at first, seems to take steps in a direction that could indeed be coherent; the baby sitter arrives, we see her boyfriend talking about calling her, we see the kids having fun, getting baths, etc. It all seems to just be out of order, but then the story seems to take a step in a more complex direction. We add in day dreams and fantasies of the boyfriend and the husband, Mr. Tucker. Are they mere fantasies or alternate realities?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What makes a Human?

"The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka is a story that comments upon humanity and brings about the question, "What makes us Human?" and "Is it a desirable trait to have?"

Gregor Samsa was a very hardworking kind hearted man. In his life he had taken up the task of raising his family. After his father's business had caved and the family had acrewed some heavy debts, Gregor had taken up a job in order to keep the family afloat and to begin paying back the debt. Gregor is described as being kind hearted and helpful. He constantly worries about his family and about hurting their feelings.

So, let me be the first to say that, when Gregor Samsa discovered that he had become some kinda of hideous bug, I was very surprised. A bug is very hard for a human to affiliate with. It is not a mammal, and it does not have any similarities to a human other than invading the same living space. A bug, especially a giant bug, is viewed as something that is grotesque and unappealing. This is something that is very contrary to Gregor's character; and yet Gregor remained the person he was despite his new bug form.

This was not something the family was able to see. The family was made up of Gregor's sister Grete, Gregor's father, and his mother. All of them were living off of Gregor's hard work. Grete had been kinda hearted but simply wore pretty clothing and lounged around. Their parents used to call Grete useless and didn't think she was good for anything. Gregor's father had failed at his business and as a result was a broken man who sat in the chair all the time. And Gregor's mother was a very kind but soft spoken women. After the transformation, Grete takes on the task of feeding and cleaning after Gregor. At first, it seems as if she does this out of the kindness out of her heart, but it becomes a task that is hers and hers alone until finally she begins to resent Gregor begins to grow into a woman. Gregor's father must get a job as well as Grete to make up for Gregor's change. He quickly becomes a man of uniform and one who is proud, but angry. He begins getting fedup with Gregor as well. Gregor's mother, continues to try and love Gregor, but she continues to get worse and worse over time and actually helps lead Grete and Gregor's father towards their more selfish selves.

Gregor's family struck me as even more like worms than he, but it occurred to me that perhaps they had something he did not that allowed them to remain human. I believe that the difference that they held over Gregor was their selfishness; Gregor had become selfless and as a result had lost his humanity and simply become a "bug" of the workplace. As a result he had lost his taste for the better things in life such as music and art. It is actually ironic because in his bug state Gregor begins to appreciate these things. Gregor first, while trying to grasp onto his humanity, clings to a portrait of a woman in a fur coat. He holds onto it and ensures they do not remove it from his room. The second thing he does, is when his sister is playing music for everyone, Gregor is drawn to it and feels the power of it. This is interesting because Gregor says that he did not like music before. It is as if by becoming a bug, he began to find the human things he had lost so long ago.

Kafka desires us to never truly see Gregor's transformation. When he talked with his illustrator about the cover; he explicitly asked to not show Gregor in any pictures. What affect does this have on the reader? To never show or fully depict the creature, but to simply show it through the fear and reaction of those who lived with it and through its own eyes and ears. This creates a feeling and position that may have been otherwise unattainable. One cannot simply feel disgust for Gregor, for we are fully aware of his feelings and how he perceives the world. We are not simply left with the terror of the family at Gregor's condition, but also at the agony and suffering of Gregor. It creates both pity and sadness to know how much he suffers and yet it goes unnoticed.

"The Metamorphosis" heavily comments on the industrial age and the new arising workforce. Gregor was a traveling salesman. He was miserable at his job, but simply did it because of the money he made and because he knew he needed to help his family out. This feeling of disgust for a job is not uncommon. Many people wake up each day and dream of the day to end. The idea of doing a job for a paycheck and being so devoted to the job almost takes away our humanity, as it did with Gregor. At the same time, Gregor's family must all find jobs after the transformation; their work seems to have the opposite affect, they are able to transform or change because they find jobs and are able to work hard.

Monday, March 1, 2010


"The Demon Lover" by Elizabeth Bowen is a story about World War I and World War II in London during the bombings. Our protagonist, Katherine Drover, has returned to retrieve some things and recognizes her old lover.

There are many interpretations on the story of "The Demon Lover." Katherine has returned to her house to discover a letter on the table. Believing the caretaker to be away that week, she is unsure as to how it had made its way to the table, and even more worried when she sees that the date is today. Aside from this letter, Mrs. Drover returns to discover that her home is just as she left it, a ring in the place she had left it, stains and marks of long use remain on the walls and stairway. It is almost as if her home was a timeless place, unchanged.

Heading upstairs to find the items she had originally come to retrieve, Kathrine finally decides to open the letter and discovers that it states that she had left but that she was expected back and that they should meet at the hour set aside. The letter is signed with the letter K, the same initial as Kathrine. Some believe that the letter is signed by herself, a Kathrine who had been left behind during the World War I bombings, and that she had awaited for her return. Upon reading the note Kathrine recalls a lover she once had; a soldier who had to leave for war, one that did not treat her well. In fact, rather than any normal goodbye, he simply had pressed her hand into his button as if to leave a mark of remembrance, but Kathrine had forgotten. She had forgotten his face, and could not remember what he was like or how he had been. She remembered having been engaged, but she had married another believing that he had been missing.

She believes he has come back and is frightened out of her mind. To escape her past lover, she gathers her things and quickly runs out of the house to catch a taxi, but upon sitting in the taxi, she realizes that she has found the designated meeting spot. She is last seen screaming as the car drives off quickly at hellish speeds. Is it her lover who is driving? Has she been found by him again? Or is it simply someone she has mistaken for him? The lover was World War I, and this new lover is World War II. She may have been caught in the bombings, but he had found her.

Just like the house, the war had awaited her return; waiting in the pause of time. She had escaped and moved on in her life, but in returning, she had given him another chance. She had returned to her old self and married herself away to the war, and to her end.

The power beauty

The difference between an object and a subject is a connection. Although some people people do not like to admit it, those who are not known and not close to us, are not important to us. This is not because we necessarily dislike them or have hard feelings towards them, but simply because to know every person and every thing intimately is simply not possible. As a result, there are plenty of things that humans are simply callous about, but this is out of necessity. If one were to find a human body washed up on shore, in todays society that person may call the police and file a report, but once that was complete, it would be out of sight and out of mind. Should that body resemble someone they care about though, then the situation would be completely different because a vested interest would exist. This is simply human nature. So when a body of an unusually large man found its way to shore and the entire village found a connection with this man, it was not a very usual event.

"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World", written by Gabriel Marquez, is a story of just that, a village that discovered the body of a man of unmistakable beauty. When the body is first found, it is by the children. They believe it to be an enemy ship, and then when they find it to have no flags, they believe it to be a whale. Upon discovering it to be a body, they begin to play with it; burying the body and then digging it up again.

The town, being a small town of twenty families, soon discovers the bodies presence and has it brought into a house to be cleaned and prepared for burial. The men head out to see if they can find any relatives of the man, while the women stay behind to clean the body. At first, the women are astonished at what they find at cleaning up this large man. They first notice that he did not die a lonely death at sea as many other men, and that he also did not die a death in a river. Then they realize that he was the tallest, strongest, most virile, and best built man. So amazing in fact, that he did not seem to fit into the home within their minds.

The women first began to build him up in their minds, the perfect man with a house enormous enough to fit him, and a bed made from a midship frame. The women begin to build him up as one of the greatest men to have lived and even dismiss their own husbands as being lowly. It here that the first connection is made. The women name him Esteban. Esteban is another way of saying Stephen, which is the name of one who is king, or crowned one. And he was viewed and treated as one. The women first try to clothe him with the biggest clothing they have, but this does not work, so they end up sewing him his own clothing. As the women continue to imagine how he lived, they begin to picture fighting over him and they are unable to fully appreciate the man he was, and so they create new stories; stories of a man who had to duck at every doorway, and could not remain in anothers house for long. They began to make him more human and pity him for his inability to live a normal life, being as strong and large as he was.

The women first elevated Esteban to a idol, but upon realizing that they felt intimidated, they bring him back down to their level, that a connection might be formed that they love the man Esteban once was. Although they have no clue as to who Esteban was, or of his real name, they are blissfully content.

Upon the return of the men, they are quick to desire to toss the body of Esteban to sea, but when they discover, due to their wives continued placing of treasures and tributes with the body, that he was a very handsome and amazing man, they are shocked and a connection is made. The men now feel a connection with the man and decide to hold a proper funeral for the man, spreading the word across the land; that their village might one day be called Esteban's Village.

While initially there is no connection to this body, the beauty of the now dead Esteban allows the village to form a connection with this man they never knew. A complete stranger is redefined as a man from their village. The idea that beauty transcends the barrier of simple objects and allows for the creation of a subject. This is a part of the human condition; beauty creates a connection.

Essence of the Artist

Franz Kafka's "A Hunger Artist" is a critique on both humanity and upon the artist, be it paintings, music, dance, or any other form of art. "A Hunger Artist" focuses specifically on a hunger artist, but the artist is a metaphor for humanity. To explore the metaphor, we must first take a look into the hunger artist.

A hunger artist is a person that deliberately starves themself as a form of art. The artist usually places themself into a cage and simply sit by while people watch and pass by. The image of such an artist in "A Hunger Artist" is that of a limp man within a cage, slumped down in the hay, rather than in a chair. The artist's ribs stick out prominently and he sticks his arm out through the bars to allow people to see how skinny he is. The hunger artist might answer some questions and nod at those watching or who passed by, but much of the time of a hunger artist is spent sitting and thinking inwardly with half shut eyes and maybe taking a sip from a small glass every so often.

To enforce the validity of the hunger artist's task, a watcher would be stationed outside of the cage to watch and make sure that the artist did not eat. Kafka describes two groups of these watchers: those who watched and those who would sit distracted, maybe even play a game of poker with a friend, as if to allow the artist to sneak a snack. The artist usually hated the second kind because they made their task seem all the more impossible, as if there was no faith that they could actually do such a feat on their own.

Alas, all of this starving eventually would come to an end around forty days because any more would be pushing the attention span of the people too far. They would no longer be interested and would leave the hunger artist alone to his own devices. If the artist should allow them to finish the count at forty days, he would be greeted by a multitude of people ready to see a show, and, with the help of two women, would be helped over to a table to eat his first meal since he began his fast.

The hunger artist was never satisfied with this end; making it forty days, he believed he could go much longer. Eventually he would return to his fast and upon exceeding the forty days, he would find himself alone. Wishing to be seen, to be validated and accepted, the artist would find his way into the circus where he would be given a place to continue his fast as long as he should desire. At first the artist will be viewed and reminisced. People would remember how when they were young, they too saw an artist as such, and for a time the artist would be content. This would not last. Eventually many of the other attractions, including the main attraction, would pull people away and the days of fasting would be lost, no record maintained. The artist would continue to starve until finally on his dying breath, the hunger artist would collapse.

The hunger artist is a depiction of all other artists. Artists, as well as humanity, is focused on doing well, and doing better. When an artist creates something, they are usually unhappy with it, they believe that they can do better and that people simply do not understand. When people stop to look at the artists' creations, they simply feel that they are alone and work even harder to gain the attention, but often times, once they have left the spotlight, they have been passed up and are old news.

When the hunger artist dies in "A Hunger Artist", he is replaced by a panther. The panther is something new and exciting, but also the opposite of what the hunger aritst was about. The panther is full of life and pounces around his cage eating raw meat and he does not seem to miss his freedom as the hunger artist may have seemed in his miserable state. It is said that the people, while "crowded around the cage, ... did not want ever to move away," but I wonder if this is simply another phase just like the hunger artist. Is "A Hunger Artist" simply a commentary on the desire in humanity for more and new entertainment? Or does the story focus even more on showing the passing desire to see a loss of humanity, and self inflicted pain, and the lasting desire to see something alive and full of freedom and life?

I feel that "A Hunger Artist" manages to do both. Within the context of the story, there is nothing to suggest that this panther, full of freedom and life, will ever be replaced; and yet through the image of the hunger artist in his fallen fame, it is possible that such a thing could occur. Is Humanity doomed to forever desire?

Women in Fashion

Are humans, in particular women, slaves to fashion? Does fashion become who we are? Fashion has been around for hundreds of years, initially a medal of status, it has now become a symbol of status. One might say these are the same, but a medal is awarded while a symbol might be earned or created. Status, the class system, was once a stagnant thing; it dictated how we lived and who we interacted with. With the introduction of the industrial age, this all changed. Status became something that could be earned. Clothing was not awarded to those with status, but simply purchased by anyone who could earn it.

In the early days, it was the man who worked and the women who became the symbol of family status. Living in the home, she was a "trophy wife." The less work she looked capable of doing, the better off her and her husband were. Of course, stories like "The Necklace" commented on this idea of status representation through fashion. Mathilda believed that she could find that social status and glory through dress, and she did for a night; but the cruelty of fashion is its ever changing standard. Fashion changes so frequently that, to identify those on top, to be well off was to stay on top of the curve. As Benjamin said "Fashion prescribed the ritual by which the fetish commodity wished to be worshiped."

Fashion dictated the age. By analyzing the fashion, one could potentially determine the age; although this only works to a point. Fashion began changing very rapidly, new styles almost weekly. Fashion also dictated social status, as anyone who could earn enough could stay on top.

Much of the fashion industry targeted women. As they were always in the homes and had time, they were the customer to whom the industry sold to. Women were expected to purchase commodities and to desire the frivolous and pretty new products. Thus, women were bound to fashion, desiring to purchase it as well as being defined by it.

Growing up

The Grave by Kathrine Anne Porter is about two young children growing up and discovering death. Paul and Miranda were about the ages of twelve and nine. They were visiting their family graves, but not because they were paying tribute. The land had been bought and the graves were being moved, so the land had recently been dug up. The two children, being interested in, but not fully understanding, death, decided they were going to look around the pits that had been left in the wake of moving the bodies.

While searching the graves, Miranda had found a dove, but it was a screw cap for one of the coffins. Her brother Paul had found a golden ring with flowers on it and the two of them exchanged findings and trotted off with their treasures. Even thought the graves had belonged to their family, they still felt like trespassers and they quickly left to return to their hunting.

The two children enjoyed hunting together. This made Miranda a sort of tomboy. She enjoyed wearing boyish clothes and walking in the mud and shooting, but the village disapproved. Amusing over the ring, Miranda is filled with the feelings and desires of being pretty; rather she felt ashamed of her ways. The ring is a symbol of adolescence, of growing up, but it is also tied to pretty things, away from the grime of the bad. After they find a rabbit, the brother shoots it, but he discovers that it was about to have babies. The sight of these babies helps to connect their understanding of death, as they see a similarity to baby cats and then babies.

After twenty years, Miranda is reminded of the even years ago when seeing small creatures in the market. She instantly remembers her brother holding the dove in his hands, turning it over. The dove was something associated with death, but it has become an image of the innocence that was affiliated with a Miranda and her brother before she was awakened to the world. "The Grave" is a story about growing up and holding onto childhood and innocence. When Miranda was still a child, she did not think twice about killing an animal, it was simply something she did; but growing up changed that, made it more personal. The image of the baby rabbits forced them to grow up and understand death as more; but as people, we still hold onto that innocence.

This same principal applies to most human. Soldiers in war must forget that the enemy is human, because to realize what one is doing, is to go insane; it is to lose a part of oneself. People do not look at death well, but by re associating it, we can look at it differently. Miranda does that with the dove, an image, although tied to death, that is innocent of the truth.