2010
10.12

“Perhaps women were once so dangerous that they had to have their feet bound”.  This short quotation, found at the beginning of Kingston’s White Tigers, speaks of the courage and independence that are so triumphantly displayed by Kingston throughout this chapter.  Despite her culture’s history of condemning woman to a life of service and solitude, Kingston possesses the courage to see her true potential as a woman.  Rather than seeing the practice of foot-binding as brought about by woman’s lack of strength or importance, she is keen enough to recognize that it could have very well been brought upon by their ability to surpass men’s expectations, posing a threat to the traditional power structure.  To believe in the power of women meant to be shunned by her family and rejected by her peers, yet Kingston, inspired by the tales of women warriors, she remained adamant in her disposition, striving to achieve more for herself than was allowed.  Though she was unable to lead armies into battle and smash the oppressive force like the woman warrior she celebrated, through her courage and fierce independent spirit she discovered her source of power in language and the written word.  This enabled her the ability to transcend the restrictions placed on her by her birth.  Kingston’s writing is incredibly inspiring.  Her adoration for mysticism and heroic tales compounded with her ability to convey the struggles of an early Asian American woman makes for an incredibly rich reading experience that is entertaining, touching, and informative.

2010
10.05

John Okada did a tremendous deed to the Japanese-American community, and also to American society as a whole, when he published his only first and only novel No-No Boy.  Though his community and the country at large initially rejected it, time has revealed that this is an incredibly important novel as it personalizes the experience of the Japanese Internment and exposes its effects on the lives of those involved.  Furthermore, it speaks to the experience of the first generation American who inhabits a world of uncertainty and the longing to reconcile one’s past with one’s present. Ichiro is representative of such a quest of reconciliation.  As a no-no boy returning to his community after 4 years of isolation, he finds himself an entirely different person.  All of the relationships he once had with his family and friends all come into question, for there are several people who view him differently, and there are others Ichiro resents for their actions.  As Okada’s novel progresses, Ichiro seems to be unable to move beyond his choice to stay out of war, a decision that looms over every encounter he has.

In the middle of chapter 7, Ichiro find himself in need of a job, searching for “someone who would hire him without probing too deeply into his past” (146).  This is exactly what he finds in Mr. Carrick, an older man who is wholly American and also wholly sympathetic towards the process of Internment, calling it a “big mistake” (150).  Mr. Carrick couldn’t be more thrilled with Ichiro and promptly offers him a job without ever questioning his background, to Mr. Carrick Ichiro is just as American as he is and sees no reason to deny him an opportunity.  In this instance, Ichiro is given exactly what he set out for, an employment opportunity with a unbiased employer who recognizes him as an equal.  Rather than rejoicing in the fact that he has finally found a place of belonging, Ichiro cannot help but obscure himself and willfully expose himself as a no-no boy.  Unaffected by Ichiro’s “confession”, Mr. Carrick remains enthusiastic about providing him with employment, urging Ichiro to forgive himself for his actions.  However, Ichiro’s conflict with himself is too much for him to resolve at this moment.  Even when faced with the opportunity to better his life, his indecision regarding his past prevents him from seizing it.  It is not until he can forgive himself that he can accept the kindness and forgiveness of others.

2010
10.05

“The Waste Land” Revisited

Following Thursday’s discussion of Eliot’s “The Waste Land” I found myself a bit more enthusiastic to make an attempt at interpreting this poem.  However, even with Prof. Gross’ insights on the poem and its attempt to convey the incapacity to love in the modern era, I still found myself lost in Eliot’s illusive language.  Being able to identify the shifts in setting and speaker and grasp a vague idea of what this poem is addressing does little to facilitate the reading experience.  His writing is so dense and filled with so many obscure references that any point that Eliot is trying to make is lost in the process of him writing about it.  Though, it is clear that he is writing for a elite audience, one that would be able to identify with many of these referred works, outside of Eliot himself and Erza Pound, it’s very difficult to identify who that audience may be.  In time, maybe I will give this poem the care and attention so many claim it deserves, but for now I’m through trying to pound my head against this text.   All that Eliot’s “The Waste Land” has shown me is fear in a handful of pages.

2010
09.29

Laid to waste

To say that Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” is a convoluted, complex, and confusing text would be an understatement.  In addition to this, what his intentions were in crafting such poetry are also overwhelmingly unclear.  After spending some time stumbling through line after line of Eliot’s odd language, I have emerged puzzled; puzzled as to how one should approach this poem, puzzled as to what actually transpires within this text, and puzzled as to why Eliot chose to write “The Wasteland” at all.  It seems to me as if Eliot is excavating the depths of his mind, searching for all those moments of consideration and inspiration that had led him to this point and recording them haphazardly, hoping to compile a self-defining work of art.

In some ways he does succeed for “The Wasteland” is emblematic of modernist writing as its use of language, rhythm and structure bears absolutely no resemblance to poetry that predated it.  However, it is these very factors that prevent me from following this text.  The barrage of obscure references and metaphors tend to have an alienating effect and are only outdone by the cryptic footnotes which fail to illuminate any aspect of the text.  Any flow that these words develop is brought to an abrupt end by such elements.  The poem is always constantly shifting, or at least I think it is, from one environment to the next, from one emotion to the next, and from one perspective to the next.  None of these changes are clearly defined, which only adds to the confusion as I struggle to identify whose thoughts I am reading.

Because of these factors, I find Eliot’s text intimidating and ultimately uninteresting, at least at this point.

2010
09.28

The speaker of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is coping the confusion and anxiety brought on by existing in the modern era, where a peaceful evening is more “like a patient etherised upon a table”, than a soothing experience where one could have previously enjoyed the solitude of nightfall.  Unimpressed with himself as an older man and disappointed by the offerings of modern life, he finds himself unmotivated.  In situations where he had previously be active and confident he was now docile and cynical.  Eliot’s speaker had envisioned much more for himself as a maturing individual, but has now seen that there is nothing left for him to achieve.  For the pursuit of women or status or sophistication left him only temporary satisfaction and eventually he finds himself opting to not contribute.

This then leads to the asking of the question at hand, “would it have been worth it, after all” or, have any of his life’s pursuits left him with a sense of satisfaction or completion?  The answer offered by Eliot is no, such things are not rewarding or fulfilling, regardless of how they are presented.  Rather than devoting one’s existence to the acquisition of temporary pleasures, it is much more beneficial to invest time in more permanent aspects of life, such as love, art, or finding peace within oneself.  The pleasures of the flesh and possessions will always deteriorate and as the world becomes increasingly isolated and strange, it is vital to find one’s satisfaction in something that remains fertile.

2010
09.23

Bulosan’s autobiographical journey from the farming fields of the Philippines to and endless cycle of travel in the Western United States is a touching and troubling piece of writing.  As an immigrant without the option of returning to his native land, Bulosan is constantly searching for his home, a place where he feels he can reside peacefully without the troubles and difficulties that plague his existence.  As the novel progresses, I felt as if this was something Carlos was unable to achieve.  His declining health and destructive tendencies, along with his status as an immigrant,  seemed to have doomed him to a life of nomadic squalor.  For the reader, this can be  incredibly frustrating, for it seems that Carlos must relive many of the same negative experiences time and time again before he can escape them.

It was not until he committed himself to writing that he was able to stray from his tragic path.  This dedication to a craft, one that allowed him to express himself and relieve the weight that had burdened him for years, greatly facilitated his ability to concentrate on his life’s work of achieving justice, equality, and compensation for himself as well as other immigrants who shared in the same experience.  To me, Bulosan’s purpose in composing this text is to urge individuals to contribute to a cause or purpose greater than the self, to dedicate a portion of your own experience to a craft that will enrich the lives of others.  He has provided an entire novel’s worth of evidence that selfish actions motivated by the acquisition of money and power lead to paths of destruction and immorality.   While the pursuit of education and generosity proves to be a much more beneficial, productive, and rewarding experience.

2010
09.14

There seems to me to be a certain problem that is inherent within the writings of both Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad, and that problem is one of context.  Though both of these individuals are extraordinarily passionate individuals, devoting themselves entirely to their craft, their beliefs, and their practices, they seem to fall short of being able to separate themselves from the context in which they operate.

For Joseph Conrad and his intended audience Heart of Darkness, is the ultimate turn-of-the-century adventure novel, which celebrates a man’s journey into a strange, uncharted land that is “monstrous and free”.  It is written by a well-educated and privileged white man and intended to be read by individuals of the same pedigree, thus it is written with the attitudes and beliefs of the time firmly intact.

Very similarly, Chinua Achebe is an author and activist of African descent who is writing his critique of Conrad 75 years later in America following a nearly a 2 decades of radical civil-rights reform and activity.  Thus it would be nearly inconceivable for one to expect a man such as Chinua Achebe to conduct a modern reading of Conrad’s text and not be appalled by its reduction of “Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind”, especially considering the political climate of the time.

One cannot expect to a text which is now well-over a century old to uphold the values and expected standards of our “modern” era.  Conrad was not the only individual who referred to these unknown areas and peoples in this manner, nor can it be said conclusively that he shared in these beliefs.  Heart of Darkness is a mainly a novel that struggles with the effects of colonization on the colonizing people and whether that colonization takes place in Africa, or South America, or Southeast Asia has no effect on the trajectory of the story.

With that said, I don’t believe that the content of of Achebe’s essay should be simply disregarded, for he is a great figure in modern literature what he has to offer is vital to the evolution of global literature and furthermore what is considered acceptable, and above all, responsible writing.

2010
09.07

As Marlow’s obsession with the character of Kurtz and his supposed degradation from a highly-civilized, educated, and well-respected gentleman to a savage, godless, brute, furthers, it gradually becomes the main focus of the text.  Conrad encourages his audience to pay close attention to this shift in character and its significance, as it allows the reader to come to a fuller understanding of the environment that engulfs Marlow, Kurtz, and the rest of the characters.

One can assume from the reading that, prior to his arrival and subsequent journey in to the heart of unchartered Africa, Kurtz was the pinnacle of what it meant to be a modern individual.  Well-educated, compassionate, dedicated to his work and improving the world in which he inhabited, Kurtz seemed to be on the path to greatness.

All of this changed as he “penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness”.   Judging by Marlow’s descriptions of the same land that Kurtz travelled, I assume that they were troubled by similar aspects of the environment.  Marlow describes his surroundings as “a thing monstrous and free”, a setting completely opposite of the tamed, urban landscape he and Kurtz were accustomed to.  In addition to this, they are forced to inhabit this land alongside “the prehistoric man” with whom they could not communicate or positively interact with.  As Marlow puts it, they were “cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings”.

This immersion into a world in which all of their control was immediately stripped from them, must have been a severely traumatic experience, especially for Kurtz, who’s former life was one of supposed sophistication and enlightenment.  Here, he was faced with nature in its rawest form and it completely shattered each and every conception about life he held.  It seems that following this, he abandoned his attempts to civilize this setting and chose, rather, to recognize his “kinship with this wild and passionate uproar”.  Instead of reaffirming his once heartfelt beliefs, he chose simply to abandon them and adopt the lifestyle of his surroundings.

Attaining once valuable research and even more valuable resources, such as ivory, held no relevance once Kurtz arrived in the “heart of darkness”.  Instead, he embraced the lifestyle that was presented to him and allowed it to consume him, using it as a means to flesh out all of his primal urges, long buried by his former lifestyle.

2010
09.02

English 255 Intro Post

I’ve always been a fairly sporadic reader, and what I mean by that is that I’m inconsistent. I’ll often go through periods of my life where don’t crack a book for months, whereas other times I’ll be in the midst of reading up to 4 or so different texts. I can’t explain why I’ve taken this approach really, it just seems that often several different books will come to my attention all within a certain, brief timespan and I will then spend the following weeks or months devoting my attention to these chosen texts.

English, to me, has always come fairly naturally to me. As a high school student, I began to take further interest in the subject as I was exposed to more modern or contemporary texts, such as the works of J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald. For whatever reason, these works seem to resonate more with me than the older, mainly British works I had been taught. For me, there is a strange kind of ambivalence present in most modern American texts that feels familiar to me. Since becoming exposed to the previously mentioned authors I have enjoyed the works of Hemingway and Kerouac, as well as more contemporary writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and Junot Diaz.

2010
09.01

Edith Eaton’s Mrs. Spring Fragrance is a text that appears to be holding back the entire truth.  What constitutes that truth, however, is fairly ambivalent.  Eaton supplies her reader with scarcely any information regarding Mrs. Spring Fragrance’s trip to the “city of the Golden Gate”.  One can assume that she is encouraging her reader to examine her text closely and deduce an individual interpretation of what really occurs, what relevance, if any, it has to her marriage.

For me, this text conveys the impact of misinterpretation and miscommunication in the lives of a select number of Chinese immigrants.  Mr. and Mrs. Spring Fragrance and their peers seem to selectively subscribe to the American way of life, championing the acquisition of goods and achieving a level of status, while their ideals remain as “the ideals of their Chinese forefathers”.  In this way, these individuals are neither wholly Chinese or wholly American, yet a strange hybrid for the time, struggling to reconcile the differences in culture and custom.

The most obvious example of miscommunication comes from Mr. Spring Fragrance’s inadvertent overhearing of “the secret talk of women” that occurs between his wife and Laura.  Mr. Spring Fragrance mistakenly assumes that the poetry his wife recited was in reference to their relationship, which startles him, mostly because he is unable to grasp the meaning of the phrase.  His pompous neighbor then proceeds to supply Mr. Spring Fragrance with a interpretation that he sees as “disobedient to reason”, and is therefore troubling to his sense of identity.  Mr. Spring Fragrance feels vulnerable because of this, for this simple line of poetry has forced him to reexamine that which has defined his life.

What occurs with Mrs. Spring Fragrance in San Francisco remains a mystery to me.  The “making of  American ‘fudge'” puts forth several implications, however none that I can identify as being reinforced by the text.  It is probable that a similar instance  of misinterpretation arises in her situation as she attempts to make sense of a sprawling, integrated, American city.  What I find most striking about this section of the text is her willingness to accept her newfound country as free of any flaws, urging her husband to merely forget about racial profiling and the detainment of his own brother for no other reason than he is not white.  Mrs. Spring Fragrance positions herself “under the wing of the Eagle, the emblem of Liberty” quite suddenly, and all without any evidence of critical thought.  Perhaps she assumes that in order to become wholly American, she must blindly follow all of what is merely suggested to her.

This is a certainly a convoluted text that I hope will unfold itself with some collaborative effort.  There is certainly some comments being made by Eaton on the importance of finding a balance between an immigrant’s inherited and acquired culture.