Tis About Lit and Reading It

Monthly Archives: January 2011

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a book and this book that was assigned as a reading met a nicens little teenager named Nic..

No, this is not a story. But every thing is of Historical Fact. Her name was Nic and she had to read The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Not the best parody of the beginning of Portrait but I’m sure my endeavours paid off by amusing you plenty with my follies and idiocy. Haha. On a more serious note, encountering Joyce again in Portrait induced a sort of “weariness” in me (the same sort of “langour” that Stephen himself experienced in Chapter 4) that may be attributed to having read and done papers for the exam before. Also, I was more partial to his collection of short stories The Dubliners (an excellent read in my opinion).

However, the lovely and wonderful quality about Literature is that each book is like a never-ending onion of layers. You may think you have gotten to the core, but revisiting it, you realise that you have only just touched the surface and not core of the book. Unless every book is like Twilight where the layer is one fathomable ball of tissue, then Literature would perhaps not be a subject worth studying.

So back to Joyce.

My twentieth-century buff of a friend was hysteric over the book (albeit in a positive way, one need not fret for her nerves), possessing a certain Modernist streak herself. So you can imagine that I was not wildly enthused about the idea of reading Portrait again, not that I disliked it but the character was someone I had a love/hate relationship with. Fortunately, taking a second look at Joyce, the ambiguity that festers between the pages and yearning to create a new piece of Art is highly commendable. And I have begun to truly esteem the writer quite highly.

Stephen, however, remains a kind of hero. From one in childhood where he successfully triumphs over the ‘evil’ teacher, to several different overtures of religious piety and artistic epiphanies. He constantly eludes understanding (surely it is done on purpose) and categories that one never quite knows how to ‘deal’ with a character like Stephen. His blasphemies also border on a sacrilegious tone that seems to compliment the Eucharistic nature of the act of recreation- priests may balk while atheists may scorn the religious dependence.

Most of all, he creates empathy for the Irish. I never quite saw them as an oppressed race really. His patriotism is one that exceeds the romantic follies of his compatriots. Perhaps we inherit the same situations and circumstances. I speak a language I am not native to, and the betrayal on our tongues is a subtle indication of past and continued oppression. It is no longer that of physical invasion, but cultural and spiritual invasion. At least that is what Joyce intends to convey.

More on Joyce soon, but perhaps I shall venture on to Pamela (by Samuel Richardson) who has continued to delight me in every turn of the page.

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I know it has been awhile since any written post has graced this blog. Not that it has been sorely missed of course, if the ratings are anything to go by. No matter I shall endeavour in these posts, in case I actually do glean something inspiring or new from the texts.

In class, Crusoe’s faith credentials have seemed to come under fire by my classmates. Is his economic individualism a subset of his Puritanism? Or does Crusoe, like a lot of men and Sunday Christians I know, separate his spiritual life from his physical life? It is, no doubt, plausible that he is the potential poster-boy for the Prosperity Gospel in this day and age. However, one needs to analyse and compare the extended Prodigal Son-allegory raised in RC, no? The Prodigal Son returned penniless. On the other hand, some critics may raise the concern that Crusoe received a return unequal to his aforementioned rebellion and eventual ‘salvation’ he receives on the island.

Another question that was raised was another facet relating to the faith in question- Did he turn to God because of NECESSITY or true repentance and atonement? Personally, I favour the latter. The Skeptical tend to take on the former view.

Robinson Crusoe also exemplifies how Crusoe, at the mercy of God, counts his blessings and the multiple mercies bestowed on him. An adventure embodied in the form of Robinson Crusoe becomes instead a religious rhetoric grounded on spiritualism and Crusoe’s physical circumstances. The left-over ambivalence carries on to his next two novels (of which I have not had the delight to read). Reading from just Robinson Crusoe alone, this open-ended ambivalence challenges many things and majority of us are perhaps inclined to judge.

“The mere suggestion- peril and solitude and a desert island- is enough to rouse in us the expectation of some far land on the limits of the world; of the sun rising and the sun setting; of man, isolated from his kind, brooding alone upon the nature of society and the strange ways of men.” -Woolf, Virginia.

Indeed, Robinson Crusoe (both the novel and character) are not what they seem. There is “peril”. There is “solitude”. There is “a desert island”. But our expectations are further thwarted by his zealous spiritual confessions that border on recompensating the God who from Cursing him has Delivered him.


“Defoe’s first full-length work of fiction seems to fall more naturally into place with Faust, Don Juan and Don Quixote, the great myths of our civilization.” – Ian Watt. “Robinson Crusoe as a Myth” By thus enshrining Crusoe as a legendary religious character, the novel Robinson Crusoe seems to suggest that physical reality transcends into spirituality. Or does it? The gate-way erected between these two boundaries perhaps implicitly suggests a certain close proximity between God and the work that Crusoe does; which is nicely illustrated by the Protestant work ethic that Crusoe displays – perhaps as an active covenant between him and God.

What particularly caught my attention was the archetypal use of the parable of the prodigal son:

“… I broke loose, tho’ in the mean time I continued obstinately deaf to all Proposals of settling into Business, and frequently expostulating with my Father and Mother”

No doubt, this act of childish rebellion (subject to opinion) receives its comeuppance in a storm, his first shipwreck where he “seriously [begins] to reflect upon… how justly [he] was overtaken by the Judgment of Heaven” leaving his father’s home. There is a faint mocking in Defoe’s writing (or am I wrong?) of Crusoe’s fate; however, I believe that his follies and subsequent (unjust) rewards is a slightly different take of the parable of the Prodigal Son. His resolutions, like the modern-day New Year’s resolution, are breakable for he does not, “like a true repenting Prodigal, go home to [his] Father.” Crusoe does not learn his lesson the first time; instead, he sells the Moorish boy who saves his life for money. Robinson Crusoe’s entire narrative reflects Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy of Utilitarianism, Put crudely, the “greatest good for the greatest number”; in fact, I will go even further by saying that element of Utilitarianism is superimposed on the narrative to create a certain “devil-may-care” attitude about Crusoe at the beginning. Ironically, this slight distortion of the Prodigal Son parable is one that reaps high returns. He returns better, wealthier than his Father was. Rising higher than the “middle State”, the “State”that dictated that “thing were all either too far above me, or too far below me”, Defoe seems to infuse the element of “in your face”-ness at the end of the novel. And so involved are we with the text that the latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning.

The story of sin-redemption-atonement” as the basis of Puritanical economic means; the emotional transactions that Crusoe has with God seems to follow this line of logic: Because I have committed sin thus if I am punished, it is just. Rather interesting, no? By playing on this certain ‘logic’, we have a better understanding or comprehension of how Crusoe works on the island. Many academics have noted how Crusoe keeps a rather careful tally of his stock and money. Although money he has no use for on the unnamed island, his possessions multiply under his care. Like Adam (from Genesis), he plows and works in his Garden of Eden. He is in the island, but not of it. He surveys his island with an ecumenical eye that seems to border on the acceptance of stewardship of the island; of course, he resents it and merely wishes to survive and seek deliverance out of his terrible fate. However, as his Mind begins to reject his desire deliverance, he receives the gift of knowing that he has already been delivered; he does not toil or labour, but does his work with pleasure. Like Adam before the Fall, He takes great care of his livestock and nature. He shares a kind of kinship with them, but he does not allow sentimentality to override his practical nature.

Despite all that, however, he retains his calculative nature (or Protestant work ethic if you will) is etched into the very fabric of this novel. The duplicitous nature of the selling of this novel is one that is “so amusing, that girls read them for novels; and he gives them such an air of verisimilitude, that men read them for histories.” (Quincey, Thomas. The Double Character of Defoes’ Works). Defoe’s composition of the novel itself is an economic investment. If you read the biography of his life, one would immediately conceive of how he became the accidental artist. I can’t quite tell if he enjoys writing, since my lecturer says that he could be a “literary tradesman”.

I wonder if I should detest such a mercantile writer, however, perhaps practicality was paired with his religious (or faithful) views, and one can’t quite divorce one from the other.


Synopsis: Robinson Crusoe is about the everyman, Robinson Crusoe (surprise, surprise) who is cast-away on an island (near Venezuela). There, he is alone and learns the economic art of provision from his surroundings.

The novel rewards analysis as many things – an exotic adventure story; a study of solitary consciousness; a parable of sin, atonement, and redemption; a myth of economic individualism; a displaced or encoded autobiography; an allegory of political defeat; a prophecy of imperial expansion...”

– Introduction to Oxford World’s Classics: Robinson Crusoe

(The writer of the introduction was unspecified, or I was rather careless and missed the author’s name).

Written by Daniel Defoe in his middle-aged years, it has become one of his most famous books ever written by him. The rest seem to pale slightly in comparison, as even a layman knows the title “Robinson Crusoe” without having ever been a Lit major. At the same time, it has inspired several sequels like The Swiss Family Robinson or even video games (The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, refer to picture).

Having breezed through half the novel (I found it a more comforting read than Oranges), I have grown quite fond of this folly-able character, Robinson. Of course, the Puritan Christian themes also appeal to the Christian in me. The allegory to The Pilgrim’s Progress (another novel of Christian literature) does not look coincidental, and I believe that by subjecting Robinson Crusoe to this journey of atonement, he learns something about God and himself.

… it occurr’d to my Mind, that I pored so much upon my Deliverance from the main Affliction, that I disregarded the Deliverance I had receiv’d… ” -Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe.

The use of mental distancing from his plight or “Affliction” has been assumed by his secular literary critics as an adjustment or perhaps spiritual adaptation to his solitary living. Skeptics, of course, say it to be just one of religiosity but personally, I think that it has real literary merit, not counting  the religious themes.

What dost thou think?


20th Century Literature has largely been marked by interesting figures- most of which have been the avant-garde type; those that do not inspire sequels, variations (well, hardly anyways). It is perhaps one of the reasons I have never quite looked so kindly on them. How is their deviation from the conventional novel an attempt to relate to their readers? Is their reality really reality?

As many of you know, the novel, like any story, has a certain structure. A plot, a climax and an ending.

For the Modernists, the Novel  seems to elude.

The evolution of the novel thoroughly fascinates me and today’s lecture on Modernism has put a dent in my prejudice against 20th Century novels, namely modern and post-modern novels. No doubt, their flexible structure often irks me (and they probably will continue to) but I believe I have found a soul-mate in a certain Virginia Woolf.

Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration of complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible? – Virginia Woolf.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

The novel derives from its literary counterpart of the word “novel”, it refers to the experimentally new. I have never quite seen it in that light before, and have often stuck to my own notion of what a novel should be. My prejudices ran counter to the original idea of a novel.

However, I do understand that books are meant to appeal to everyone and anyone. It really depends on who reads it and how they read it and the meaning they receive from it.

 


Nature’s chief masterpiece is writing well.” – Lord Mulgrave

Today, I had my first 18th Century Literature lecture. Despite being a ‘huge fan’ of the (literary.) novel, I have never quite pondered the significance or why the novel is a.. well, a novel.

The “novel”, no doubt, derives from the word “novel”. A new idea. A new concept. (Who would have thought?). The beauty of 18th Century Literature that appeals to me so much would be the language and organised, yet  deep, plot that delves underneath the onion-like layers of the common  man.

Interestingly, the rise of the novel is particularly denoted by titular heroes (as quoted from my lecturer) ie. Robinson Crusoe, Pamela and the like. They appeal to the individual self and life. This is rather ironic as by focusing the spotlight on ONE character it becomes (or is already) the common malady of Man himself.

The reason we have the novel today. The reason for my frequent trips to Starbucks and state of mind should pay its dues to economic circumstances of the 18th Century. We owe it to the restless women who needed to occupy their minds with Radcliffe’s romances and Austen’s witty banter.

I conclude this post with telling you that I have started reading Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Maybe I shall blog about it soon.

The novelist’s task is to draw his own likeness to any human being… Isn’t our attitude to all our characters more or less: There, and may God forgive me, goes myself.” – Graham Greene.

 


It has been a short while since I have last blogged. Nevertheless, my reading remains constant still, no less.

There are times when I think of what Austen and her other writing contemporaries would say if she read Woolf, Joyce or even Winterson; I am sure they would be appalled at their indecent exposure of their follies and vulgarity.

Anyways, in this chapter (Exodus), Winterson continues her background story as a missionary child who is overzealous about the Bible, the Church but she has yet to mention God. She makes an interesting allegory to Mary and Elizabeth (from the Gospels) in her attempt to make something meaningful out of her endless drought of receiving academic recognition. To be religious, was to be abnormal. Unfortunately, her attempts to “make [her]self as ordinary as possible” pay little dividends and thus, explains the reason for the chapter title: Exodus.

“I had told all the others about the horrors of the demon and the fate of the damned. I had illustrated it by almost strangling Susan Hunt, but that was an accident…”

Exodus was the book in which Moses was put in front of the Pharoah and told him to “Let my people go!”. Winterson perhaps portrays herself as the little ‘modern-day’ Moses; the pseudo-Hebrews are no less the children who are too young to comprehend her (mis)intentions. In an ironic twist, later in the novel, Jeanette is banished from her ‘cosy nest’ of overzealous Pentecostal evangelists.

The child Winterson tries to make sense of her surroundings and the society she lives in by opening up her imagination- ironic. On one hand, her imagination conforms to Biblical themes. On the other hand, she is at a loss as to who she is. Like the Emperor Tetrahedron, she  “[has] so many faces”.

Interestingly, the persona does not experience or personify her emotions. But rather, uses events to illustrate her point of view and her surroundings. The narrative is driven by events that run along the tangent of her religious overzealousness.

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