Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Frankl Remains a Human

Despite all of the hardships that Viktor Frankl faced while he was trapped in a concentration camp, he still retained inklings of his humanity. It's easy for a prisoner to be regressed to a state that shuns humanity in the name of survival. Frankl himself was no longer shaken by death, and is even able to continue eating after watching a man that he had recently spoken to die. He and other prisoners scavenge for useful goods off of bodies to boost the odds of their own survival, which would be frowned upon if they were not faced with such dire situation. Clearly the situation has removed all boundaries in the nam of survival, yet Frankl still shows human characteristics and honor at certain points.

Despite the terrible conditions he is in, Frankl still listens to the Capo's life troubles and offers psychotherapeutic advice. While this may only be done as a favor to the Capo in an attempt to get food,  Frankl is not obligated to do so. Later, a foreman calls Frankl a pig for taking a short break while working, insulting him and suggesting that he must have been a businessman. Even in the camp, Frankl still had pride, and quickly pointed out that he "was a doctor-a specialist," and "did most of [his] work for no money at all, in clinics for the poor." Instead of submitting to the foreman to survive, Frankl shows a sense of pride in his past work. Frankl shows his maintaining comradeship by assisting a fallen prisoner, breaking the pattern of apathy that he had previously been showing. Even in a dire situation that requires one to ditch all form of humanity, Frankl holds on to pieces of his.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sticks and Stones

Victor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" brings up the topic of dehumanizing people. At a concentration camp during WWII, Frankl talks about his experience. Throughout the story, Frankl brings up how he and the other prisoners are treated like machines. The guards depersonalize the prisoners. By doing this, it says that they aren't equal, they don't deserve respect, they are lower than animals, and they aren't even being treated like prisoners because prisoners are at least treated like human beings while the prisoners at these concentration camps are treated like dirt.

For instance, "For only one moment I paused to get my breath and to lean on my shovel. Unfortunately the guard turned around just then and thought I was loafing. The pain he caused me was not from any insults or any blows. That guard did not think it worth his while to say anything, not even a swear word, to the ragged, emaciated figure standing before him, which probably reminded him only vaguely of a human form. Instead, he playfully picked up a stone and threw it at me. That, to me, seemed the way to attract the attention of a beast, to call a domestic animal back to its job, a creature with which you have so little in common that you do not even punish it." This is just one of the many instances in which the prisoners where dehumanized and treated like machines or animals that are there for the guards benefit.

Truth and Lies

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Seeing and Blindness

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Women as Monsters

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Individualists Beware

Frankl's story was beyond powerful, and it provided a valuable insight on psychology as well. I was surprised to hear how easily he took being in the camp at first, and how completely unchanged he was when he was told he was a likely candidate for death very soon. His strength was inspiring, and poses a very nice parallel to the Stranger's Meursault.

Both men seem to lack certain emotions society would deem standard in given situations. In the Stranger, Meursault did not find any reason to feel guilty for his crime, nor any sort of regret or remorse over his mother's death. In Frankl's case, there was a lack of outward fear of impending death, at least initially. I think both case point to a certain philosophy; that it is up to oneself to find meaning in life, to define one's own terms for each emotion one will experience, from happiness to remorse to fear. And though society can greatly influence how one sees the world, it can't define it. However, taken too far, society may cast out what it does not understand.

Be free, but beware.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Two Men's Search for Meaning

What struck me the most about Frankl's A Man's Search for Meaning, was his response to the situation in which the SS guard beat him on the head with a stick simply because the man behind him stood slightly to one side of the line. He states that "at such a moment it is not the physical pain which hurts the most (and this applies to adults as much as to punished children); it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all" (36).  In this instance, Frankl is addressing the same irrationality and lack of reason that Meursault speaks of in The Stranger. Although both characters come across this significance in different ways, they address this randomness in pain and suffering and suggest attachment to others as a way to cope with the unreasonableness of it all.

While describing the phases that accompany one's survival at a concentration camp, Frankl notes that "the most painful part of the beatings is the insult which they imply." He adds that the relationship between those in power and those in the concentration camp is that of a domestic animal "with which you have so little in common that you don't even punish it" (36). I think that this take on relation with others and more importantly others' perception of you, is similar to what Meursault would have realized post-epiphany at the end of his life. Meursault lives nearly his entire life with the philosophy that attachment to others is simply a way to cope with life's pain and irrationality and that in order to truly be happy, one must remain unattached from other humans. Towards the end of the book, he begins to value connections to others, understands why his mother took a fiancĂ© at the end of her life, and even states that some recognition of his death (even if hateful) would be better than no recognition at all. While in very different situations at two very different extremes, both characters address the importance of human relationship as a way to cope with the irrationality of life.

Is Love all we Really Need?

Frankl’s piece was, undoubtedly, powerful, moving, and profound. His intense descriptions of his experiences in the concentration camp coupled with his revolutionary insights in his search for meaning make for a captivating experience for the reader. However, when he ties together all of his discoveries from his search for meaning, he concludes that it was the thought of his wife that allowed him to accept his suffering as it is and thus keep working as he was supposed to. Now, there is a question to be asked: Does love, or even just the thought of love, help us escape our suffering? The answer might not be as simple as it was for Frankl.

So, while Frankl was working himself beyond his physical limit in the labor camp, he could see and feel the presence of his wife with him. He even uses the phrase “she was there” to describe how he felt in that moment. The thought and sensed presence of his wife brings meaning to his horrible situation. Not to sound blunt, but it’s basically trying to tell us that “all you need is love.”

*Cue John, Paul, George, and Ringo*

I can’t think of a story I’ve come across that doesn’t involve some sort of tacit reference to the concept of love. Moreover, most stories, old and new, incorporate love as the driving force of the meaning of the story; the notion of love is an underlying answer to all problems that must be solved.

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, written several hundred years ago, Lear has a strong emotional attachment to his favorite daughter, Cordelia. Toward the end of the play, Cordelia is the only person Lear loves and truly cares about, and when she dies, he shows immense grief and dies himself shortly afterward. Here, the message is clear: we can’t live without love, we can’t go on. Love works in the same way here as it did for Frankl.

But let us not just focus on fictional stories. Frankl’s situation was real, and thus only real situations can be wholesomely compared to his. Love cannot solve all our problems, nor can it physically take us out of suffering. In our comfortable lives, we require more substance to our day-to-day living in order to truly find meaning. We need success, satisfaction, entertainment, and stimulation in order to discover this meaning. But take away all of our comfort, and what do we get? Well, Frankl already told us what we get. And what’s the only thing left in our lives after all of these constructs have vanished and are completely out of reach? Love, love is all that’s left.

So, realistically, love is (sometimes) all we need. We don’t have to change the lyrics to The Beatles’ song, though.

:| > :(

Meursault and Frankl have an obvious connection.
Or lack there of.
Frankl has a coping mechanism that provides him with a kind of staleness to the concentration camp he is placed in. A completely justified and understandable mechanism; however, when he is faced with indignation, his true colors show.
Frankl's reaction isn't far from Meursault's. Meursault has an obvious lack of care throughout The Stranger, however when he is faced with anger or a complicated struggle, he often gets heated. Literally and metaphorically hot.
Although, while Meursault has a sense of apathy towards women and relationships, Frankl clings to the memory of his wife and uses her as a guide through his time at the camp. He often questions whether she is alive or dead, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter because he has her memory in his heart (a little cliche I apologize).
In King Lear, emotions serve to be the heart of the play. Acting on emotions drive the plot. Lear, in a fit of rage, disowns his daughter, becomes insane, and ultimately the play ends in 5 deaths. With this contrast, a lack of emotion seems to be the preferred coping mechanism, compared to insanity or death.

Vae Victis

Frankl's stories were extremely moving. I am in awe of his mental fortitude and remarkable will power. I was looking at other blog posts and everybody is looking for connections between Frankl's article and King Lear or The Stranger. I think that we should step back and take in the beauty of some of the language and the power of Frankl's words.

The first line that really caught my attention was Frankl's quoting of Lessing, "There are thins which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose." And Frankl's phrasing, "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior." Nothing was normal about the concentration camps. When Frankl talks about the stage of apathy I cringe. To lose all emotional response to any stimulation is heartbreaking.

Normal reactions are now completely opposite normal. One example of an abnormal reaction was when one of the inmates had to march with no boots and he found comfort with bread. He actually "munched with absorbed delight." This to me demonstrates the extreme will to survive. Not even being phased by things that would scar people nowadays forever takes great strength.

Not only were the inmates strong, but they all appreciated beauty. They acknowledged the power of love and the natural beauty of the earth. Frankl found that love is as strong as death and that love could keep you alive. One remedy to hopelessness was love. Another was the sunset. Seeing the sunset through the tall Bavarian trees resulted in more of an emotional response then did the death of a comrade.

Frankl's struggles showed me how strong people can be even when everything is lost.

How beautiful the world could be!

Similar Methods of Enduring

Meursault and Frankl use similar methods to endure their imprisonments. They both use memories to get them through their situation. While in prison Meursault uses his memories to keep him entertained, and to give him hope while he  is in prison.  Similarly , Frankl used the memory of his wife to give both hope and strength, and endure his current situation, towards the end of the passage he states that "The guard passed by, insulting me, and once again I communed with my beloved. More and more I felt that she was present..." Frankl used the memory of his wife to return to a happier place so he could endure the psychical and mental harm that he was forced to deal with. Meursault uses his memories to help endure mental pain as well.

Camus vs. Frankl

Despite coming from completely different backgrounds and experiences, both Albert Camus and Victor Frankl develop a similar idea: monotony and pain in the present is best combatted through the memories of a happier, more comforting part of the sufferer's past life.

Camus develops this idea in his novel The Stranger, where the protagonist Meursault deals with his prison sentence by recalling every detail of his apartment.  Each day he remembers more details, and this allows him to pass the time without much of an issue.  He concludes that "a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison".  All it takes is some memory, some nostalgia, and the human mind can overcome its hardship.

Frankl developed his version of this idea through his own experiences in the Holocaust.  He writes that he was able to survive through his wife, his beloved.  By holding imaginary conversations with her and recalling her image in exact, vivid detail Frankl was able to cling to his humanity in the worst of situations.  He argues that his memories of his wife and the strength they gave him allowed him to realize that "The salvation of man is through love and love alone".

While both of these ideas may appear to be more similar than dissimilar on the surface, there are a few key details that show that they are actually opposite interpretations of an idea.  Meursault's memories are only there to combat boredom -- he has no particular emotional connection to his apartment building.  In fact, he doesn't have any particular emotional connection with anything or anyone at that point in the novel.  He doesn't care for Marie, who is the closest thing to a beloved he has.  Camus, in his classic existential manner, believes memories are a way of averting boredom, of staying sane, of enjoying life while it is there.

Frankl's interpretation is more artistic and emotional.  For him, it is about the love that he feels for his wife that keeps him alive.  He does not remember her in order to entertain himself or to fulfill any sort of sexual desire, but to rekindle the flame of humanity within his beaten body.  He describes his wife as "more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise".  Meursault doesn't even bother to describe to the reader any specific part of his room.  However, Frankl does share some similarities with Meursault in that he would also think of his past daily life and of the mundane routine he used to go through as a way of coping.  This to me seems like something Meursault would do if he were placed in a situation more similar to what Frankl had to experience.

It is impossible to determine who is more "correct", primarily because no one is correct in philosophy.  However, it is also hard to truly compare the two because Frankl experienced the Holocaust, which is widely considered to be one of the most horrid experiences in all of human history.  So while it might be easy to say something like Frankl's memories of his wife wasn't necessarily true love so much as a prettier way of avoiding the present through the past, or that true love doesn't actually exist because it's a social construct, I feel that would be somewhat insensitive to blog about with the amount of knowledge I have on the subject.  I feel like I wouldn't want to declare myself as agreeing more with Camus or Frankl without putting more effort into understanding both sides.  Though I also feel it is important to truly consider both of their viewpoints, and to not completely dismiss Camus' ideas simply because Frankl was in the Holocaust.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

One Thing Is Not the Other

While reading the recent blog posts, I noticed that a few topics suggested comparisons to Frankl's experience with the Holocaust to either King Lear's "journey" or even Meursault's time in prison. I believe that we must be very cautious to avoid making such drastic analyses such that Lear's situation becomes anything analogous to that of Frankl.

Of course, there are thematic parallelisms between the two; there would be no point otherwise in examining the correlations. The motif of a natural state of being and its contrast with society's laws branded in my mind when reading "Man's Search For Meaning." Frankl concluded that his experience at Auschwitz ultimately drained him of his own humanity; the injunctions set in place by the Nazi regime hindered Frankl and millions of others from prospering as human beings. The implications of "King Lear," conclude that society and the rules that follow avail in the downfall of many principle characters (i.e.  Cordelia, Kent, Edgar, Lear, Edmund in some aspects). For many characters in "King Lear," the codes of society worked against their favor.

There are many more obvious thematic similarities between Frankl's experience and the story of Lear or that of Meursault already discussed in other posts (mine was a bit stretched). We as knowledgeable individuals, however, must be sure we are not forging similarities between the three. I'll give a little anecdote to express my thoughts:

I once heard an adult try to compare the Holocaust with the stress of high school in front of a Holocaust survivor.

With that being said, let's be sure that we recognize the difference between acknowledging certain aspects or motifs of Frankl's experience and that of Lear/Meursault as opposed to actually claiming that there are legitimate, concrete similarities between what Lear/Meursault went through and what Frankl went through during the Holocaust.

Theory in Agonizing Practice

When Lear and Cordelia are faced with the fate of being sent to prison, Cordelia breaks down into tears.  Lear, however, assures her that prison will be wonderful in each other's company.  He brushes away her tears as he describes the beautiful experience awaiting them.  That piece of father-daughter sentiment makes for a really feel-good moment as the readers in a play that's soon to end quite the opposite.  It almost makes us forget for a moment that we are reading a tragedy.  I mean, Lear is talking about prison!  That's no light topic.  While reading, I couldn't help but think, "Is he maybe being a little naive here?"

Frankl's time in Auschwitz is a real-life tragedy (suspending the fact that he did not prompt his placement there through his own actions).  While it's a very extreme example, Frankl's camp was a prison relatable to the prison Lear and Cordelia were bound to.  Death was experienced in each.  Lear had Cordelia physically, and Frankl had his wife spiritually.  In both cases their female counterpart sustained them through hardship.  Their individual reactions to the removal of that loved one, however, is key.  Lear, after having regained a small bit of lucidness, completely loses it and actually can not continue to live.  Frankl, however, was forced to deal with the physical absence of his wife from the very beginning of his imprisonment and furthermore had to deal with the pain of not knowing whether she was dead or alive.  Nonetheless, he keeps her memory in his heart and even says that had he known she was dead it would not affect the connection he felt with her!

Lear may have started out with an idealistic viewpoint, but he fails to maintain it when the going actually gets rough. His positive anticipation left him vulnerable to the coming reality.  Frankl, however, had no grand expectations and yet was able to achieve that ideal sense of companionship and love that transcended love.  It seems that preparation is key - as they say, hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Loss of Humanity

Viktor Frankl's "Experiences in a Concentration Camp" is a moving, disturbing description of a prisoner's suffering during the Holocaust. Frankl seems to conclude that fundamentally, life in a concentration camp robbed him of his humanity. The author describes his experiences as a degeneration into a more primitive existence as instinctual desires supersede feelings of empathy for other prisoners and in a more physical sense, his body becomes more like a skeleton than a living being.

It's hard to compare Frankl and Lear due to the disparity of their situations, but Lear, like Frankl, feels that he loses his humanity. Stripped of his men, power, and respect, he empathizes with the poor and unprotected people during the storm. He even attempts to remove his own clothing in order to physically experience how primitive and animal-like he feels mentally and emotionally. Like Frankl, he finds that he has regressed into a more natural, inhuman state.

In a realization quite like Meursault's in The Stranger, Frankl finds that, although his physical, external state deteriorates in the concentration camp, his inner life and imagination intensifies. Lear is less successful in giving meaning to a simpler existence, perhaps because his suffering is primarily mental. However, when he considers the idea of being imprisoned with Cordelia, he too sees the potential to be happy even when living a primitive life in prison. Although Lear and Frankl's experiences are quite different, as they consider what emotionally and physically defines human existence, both discover that mental/internal and physical/external states do not necessarily parallel each other.

Common Themes

The passage “Experiences in a Concentration Camp” from Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl shares many of the same topics and motifs as King Lear. The theme of power is the first to come to mind, most likely because it seems to be very prominent between the two. The topics of weak men and suffering, however, are also present.

On page 32 in the passage, Frankl describes how a colleague of his sneaks into his “block” and gives advice on how to survive: “If you want to stay alive, there is only one way: look fit for work. If you even limp, because, let us say, you have a small blister on your heel, and an SS man spots this, he will wave you aside and the next day you are sure to be gassed.” This not only relates to the motif of weak men, it also falls under the category of appearance vs. reality. The prisoners are disguising their suffering and pain in order to stay alive.

This leads me to the next theme: suffering. As mentioned in previous posts, Frankl describes how mental pain can be more scarring than physical pain: “At such a moment it is not the physical pain which hurts the most…it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all” (36). Lear is also forced to endure a form of mental suffering after his daughters’ betrayal and loss of power.

There are obviously many more thematic links between these two stories, but I thought that these were some of the most dominant.

Mental vs Physical

I think the connection between Lear and Frankl's writing is greater than the connection with the stranger. Lear clearly displays how he is affected by the emotional and mental distress of losing his daughters and realizing he was a fool. He is not so much worried about the fact that he is on the verge of death and due to his physical state and age he no longer has a kingdom. Frankl's writing goes hand in hand with the mental struggle and pain Lear goes through. He describes the beatings he witnessed, the beatings he got, and the treatment he got while working. In these descriptions he evokes a repulsive image of pure brutality that should not happen to anyone. When he says that the stones he got thrown at him we was not too badly physically hurt, but extremely mentally hurt. The disrespect he feels and lack of acknowledgement of being a human he receives outweighs the physical damage of the camps. Both Lear and him value their mental state more than their physical state. I think this brings up a good point in our society today. We tend to put an emphasis on physical or material things. What we wear, how we look, what people see happen to us, is weighted heavily by society while the mental effects of situations are often overseen. Like we discussed in the Stranger, just because someone appears to be one way on the outside by no means lets us know what is going on within themselves. Lear's distress at the end of the play directly relates to Frankl's writing.

Lessons for Lear

Although both Lear and Frankl lived tragic lives, Frankl learned how to handle his suffering in ways that Lear could definitely learn from.

Frankl discovers that it is not really the physical suffering of his situation that is the worst but the "mental agony caused by injustice"(36). Lear also discovers the greater suffering of the mind when  his power is taken by his daughters and he is forced out into the storm. But unlike Lear, Frankl develops a way to deal with his mental suffering. Frankl develops apathy to his situation and this allows him to actually ease some of his suffering simply because it was a different outlook. He found that if he focused all his emotions and efforts on one task then his harsh reality dimmed.  If Lear had done the same, he may have saved himself some trouble.

Frankl also discovers that "the salvation of love is through love and in love"(49). Frankl found that if he focused on love this would ease his suffering as well. Frankl would picture his wife in his mind and have conversations with her and this is what saved him from some mental suffering. Lear  actually finds out this as well but not until the end of the play. Lear tells Cordelia that they will be happy to go to jail because at least they will be together and be able to live the rest of their lives with someone they love.

I also think it is very interesting that despite the terrible situation that Frankl went through, in his writing there is no hint of self pity. Frankly, I think as a concentration camp survivor that Frankl is entitled to some self pity but the fact that he does  not is remarkable. Lear on the other hand does have various instances of self pity and that does nothing to help his situation.

Lear could learn from Frankl's tactics of how to limit suffering in a terrible situation where it seems that hope is lost.


Holocaust Survivors, the Modern Edgars and Meursaults

                The short passage from Man's Search for Meaning called "Experiences in a Concentration Camp," written by Viktor Frankl talks about his experiences in Auschwitz surrounded by death and despair. Frankl firstly addresses that committing suicide is pointless because eventually, death will come and suicide would be done for you. Being surrounded by great acts of evil, a prisoner becomes numb to the horrible actions done against them and things that would disgust the common man seem like nothing. He also suggests that the only time when someone has indignation is when they are faced with an insult. The world's search for greater or more valuable products is not to have them, but to know yo are greater and more important than the dirt on the ground. As live around oneself becomes worse and worse, a person slips into a state of delusion that is probably better than their present situation.

              This idea of dealing with troubles and the sense of numbness coincides with both characters in King Lear and The Stranger. In Lear, Edgar is forced to run away from his family for fear of his life and persecution for his supposed crimes made up by Edmund. He then goes into disguise as a poor beggar completely giving up his royal and rich past. As he continues his "Poor Tom" act, Edgar becomes more confident in his act and is able to even talk with the now insane Lear as a fellow lunatic. When He returns at the end, Edgar fights and confronts Edmund, totally removing any numbness and bursting to the lies he told. Meursault in The Stranger lives life among people tasting delicacies and adapted to the social culture. But he does not fit in and shows little emotion throughout the book until he is challenged by the religious man before his death. Overall, the parallels between what Frankl experienced and the lives of Edgar and Meursault show interesting connections.

Frankl's Parallels Between Meursault And Lear

As many of the other blog posts have discussed tonight, Viktor Frankl's "Experiences in a Concentration Camp" opens similarities between what the class has previously read, The Stranger and "King Lear". Although I agree with Miles' post that Lear is more relevant to Frankl than Meursault is, I find parallels between them both.

While it is difficult and perhaps inaccurate to compare Meursault and Frankl based on what appears to be their lack of emotion, I find their setting's comparable, although Frankl's is definitely more extreme. On page 50, Frankl's description of escaping into his "inner life" as a refuge from the brutality of the concentration camp reminded me of Meursault. Both are confined to their surroundings, Meursault in jail and Frankl in the concentration camp. As a coping method, Frankl tries to remember the common tasks that he did in his apartment, such as locking the door, answering the phone, and switching on the lights. Despite the fact that the situation is less severe in Meursault's case, he does the exact same thing, attempting to remember every detail of his apartment to pass the time. In both cases, their memory provides them with a way to enjoy and put meaning to their lives.

As for Lear, the situations of their mental states were strikingly alike. Frankl describes a time when he was mending a railway track in a snowstorm. As a guard throws a stone at him, he is reminded that the worst pain is not the physical aspect, but the implication of his sub-human status. Lear, too, in the midst of a rainstorm, struggles to keep his strength as he is aware of that he has nothing left. Nonetheless, in the end, both Frankl and Lear are able to find parts of life that they find meaningful even when they have nothing.

Apathy for a non-apathetic

After reading Frankl's article about his times in a Jewish concentration camp during WWII, personally, I wasn't left with a lot of new information. Last year in my AP English class I wrote my junior theme on genocides which of course encompasses the Holocaust. Coming into this article I was already aware of the apathy of the prisoners in these camps, which I'm sure most people are aware of as well. Yet, the way Frankl wrote this article and the diction he uses to tell his stories is remarkable. He gives the non-apathetic reader a horrid image to resonate in their head.

On page 51 of the packet, Frankl describes a twelve-year-old frostbite patient saying "His toes had become frostbitten, and the doctor on duty picked off the gangrenous stumps with tweezers one by one." On the same page, he talks about a man dragging a corpse around by saying "the man with the corpse approached the steps. Wearily he dragged himself up. Then the body: first the feet, then the trunk, and finally-with and uncanny rattling noise- the head of the corpse bumped up the two steps." With many more examples in the article, Frankl uses this disturbing language to describe even more disturbing situations. But the only way his article can make an impact is if the reader isn't apathetic. They need to feel emotions to react to his stories. If not, then what is the point?

An Ap(ple)athy a Day will Make the Doctor Okay

Frankl observed that the second emotional phase of the concentration camp inmates was apathy. It was the only they could survive the terrible abuses going on in the camps. He describes how, "Reality dimmed, and all efforts and all emotions were centered on one task: preserving one's own life and that of the other fellow" (47).  They had to put all of their effort into staying alive that they had no time to feel the pain. Being surrounded by so much death and destruction, the inmates developed an indifference pretty quickly.

Similar to Frankl, Lear quickly experienced apathy after the betrayal of his daughters. In fact, he went a bit mad. In the beginning, when Lear was thrust into the storm he was bothered by the storm. However, he soon forgot to feel all physical pain and could just focus on the betrayal. He developed an indifference to the howling storm beating down on him, and kind of emotionally shut down. Frankl described his despair in the camp,"it is not the physical pain which hurts the most (and this applies to adults as much as to punished children) it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all" (42). Just like Frankl, Lear is preoccupied with the injustice done onto him by his daughters, and thus feels no physical pain. He has discovered that the world is unfair and that he can do nothing about it, so he adopts apathy in the form of mild insanity.

The question is, is this form of apathy healthy for the mind? Frankl says that it was a defense- mechanism for the inmates to survive. While I don't doubt that it was absolutely necessary for them, I have to wonder the long-term effects of such emotional hardness. Obviously any survivor of the holocaust would be terribly scarred, but in applying this emotional response to people today it is important to evaluate the consequences. I believe once apathetic, it is hard to regain the passion and emotions one once held. Lear only had a few moments of clarity after he went "mad." He was sane when he was reunited with Cordelia, but once he allowed himself to feel happy, she was torn from him and he went mad again. Therefore, I must conclude that while apathy was perhaps necessary to save the lives of the Frankl and his fellow inmates, it  does not lead to prolonged psychological health, and thus is not a healthy way of coping with stress.

Lear's Walk Through a Concentration Camp

Most wouldn't seek out a connection between Shakespeare and concentration camps. Although Lear's suffering is fairly dull when juxtaposed with that of jews in Nazi Germany, he nonetheless was emotionally and physically abused. Lear's emotional development throughout the play is explained by Frankl's depiction of the thoughts of inmates in a concentration camps.

When I look at Lear's regression into childlike vengeful behavior after being betrayed by his two daughters, I think of his reaction as immature.  Frankl puts things into perspective when he says, "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior" (32). 

A clear similarity between Lear and inmates is physical state. In every performance of the play,  Lear is portrayed as weak when he is out in the storm. He may have remnants of strength from when he was a king, but they are waning. His clothes are in shambles, and he hobbles around with an air of dejection. 

Frankl describes prisoners retreating to an intense life of inner questioning and development (47). Lear shows that very process. He empathizes with the homeless and philosophizes with Poor Tom. He may seem crazy, but in reality, he's compensating for loss of tangible riches with gain of inner riches and growth.

There are two main ways to explain Lear's actions. He was either immature because he was using apathy as "a necessary self-defense mechanism" (40), or he was blinded by immediate needs and could not think about his actions in the scope of things. 

Apathy can defend us from stress, but not in the long run. Fighting fire with fire doesn't quench a flame.  Lear learned this the hard way.

Looking at Lear's situation throughout lens number two offers an interesting perspective: sometimes people need to deal with the immediate and imminent before they can focus on the larger, more complex issues-- the big picture. Lear was blinded by the need to react to his daughters' hate. This approach reminds me of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs: we first need to deal with our most pressing issues before moving up the pyramid towards self-fulfillment. Lear suddenly found himself at the bottom of the pyramid.

Although there are obvious differences there are also many parallels to be drawn between the psychological processes undergone by Lear and concentration camp inmates

Is Meursault Apathetic?

After reading Vikter Frankl's article "Man's Search for Meaning," I looked at some of the blog posts people wrote about the article to get ideas. Two of the three blog posts I read discussed how Meursault is similar to Frankl once Frankl becomes apathetic. I thought that this conclusion was strange and indicative of a misreading of The Stranger. Apathy is a lack of emotion, and I think it would be wrong minded to say that Meursault lacked emotion.

The reason Meursault was sentenced to death was that the jury could not understand that anyone may express or experience emotions in any way contrary to the popularized forms. This inability (or refusal) to understand Meursault's emotions led them to conclude that he had none. Meursault clearly does have emotions. He is irritated on the beach. He is, at first, frustrated and bored in jail. He is excited and happy when he is being led to the guillotine. Just because he does not cry at his mother's funeral does not mean he is apathetic. Just because he does not think he loves Marie does not mean he is apathetic (this should be fairly obvious to present-day readers with the prominence of "hook-up culture").  Apathy can also mean uninterested, but Meursault is very interested in water and people.  He just has different interests from society's.

I think Frankl is much more similar to Lear. He finds that "it is not physical pain which hurts the is the mental agony" (36). In the storm, Lear also finds that he is almost oblivious to physical pain because he is preoccupied with his mental state. He also says that he "understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved" (49).  This statement perfectly explains why Lear tells Cordelia that they could be happy in prison together.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

To Feel

Vikter Frankl’s article called Man’s Search for Meaning describes his experiences while being prisoner in a Nazi Concentration Camp during World War 2.  Similarly to Meursault, Frankl learns to not demonstrate any emotional reactions while in the concentration camp, however differently from Meursault his lack of expression resulted from trauma whereas Meursault chose his lifestyle and did not have to adapt to it.  
Frankl says, “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.  Even we psychiatrists expect the reactions of a man to an abnormal situation, such as being committed to an asylum, to be normal in proportion to the degree of his normality.”(pg. 32). Meursault believes that when presented with an abnormal situation he should combat it without expression so as to avoid using social constructs to mask his abnormal emotions.  
Another instance that Frankl and Meursault conflict opinions is over the concept of love.  Throughout the novel Meursault is stalked by the opportunity for successful love, however, he always ceases to exploit it.  Meursault always remained indifferent to Marie’s enamoration for him because of his resistance to the social construct that society created called “love.”  As opposed to Meursault, Frankl chose to accept love and rely on it to help him survive.  Frankl says, “The salvation of man is through love and in love.  I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.” (pg. 49).  Frankl decides not to reject love and instead rely on it for relief from random suffering and allow it to help him survive.

Two Prisoners' Final Escapes

Frankl's experiences are rich with parallels to Meursault's experience in The Stranger  as well. What struck me most on page 50 of the packet. One of Frankl's peers pointed at him and declared "Of all of you he is the only one who must fear the next selection". In response, Frankl smiled. HE SMILED. I was bewildered by his, seemingly, resilient response.

His action here ultimately introduced Frankl's recognition of the inevitability of death while in the concentration camps; the theme is later expanded in the text. But at the point, I immediately thought of The Stranger. Just as Meursault was finally content when he understood the inevitability of his death, Frankl was as well as he smiled amongst his peers. Frankl cites the previous example to convey how his feelings were "blunted", ultimately making up the "second stage". The main symptom of the "second stage" was apathy and just as Meursault's apathetic/indifferent attitude protects him from the pressure of social constructs, Frankl cites it as a "necessary mechanism of "self-defense" to avoid the chaos of the word (54).

The two characters faced very similar situations; however, one was self-inflicted while the other was not. And I believe the two differ, as represented by the line "it is the mental agony caused by injustice, the unreasonableness of it all" (50), in that Meursault's inevitable death is not unreasonable at all (I understand that it also quite controversial-- but for argument's sake). It is here that the reader recognizes the incredible strength of Frankl during his time in the camp. The lack of emotional attachment in this story saddens me, honestly.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Animalism and Agony

So as we've been reading King Lear, we've grown accustomed to the many references to the animalistic lifestyle of the impoverished characters, whether they be disguised or legitimately stripped of any dignity or possessions. We've also watched as Lear himself descends, particularly during the storm of Act III, into an agonized mental tempest, supporting the theme from throughout the play that mental anguish is worse than its physical counterpart.

And then we read about the Holocaust.


As captivating and disturbing as Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning is, at first I had no idea how it was going to "expand the conversation" for our understanding of Shakespeare's tragedy. I'm sure in both instances people lost eyes, but that isn't particularly profound or fun to think about; it's just gross.

However, then I arrived at this line: "At such a moment it is not physical pain which hurts the is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all" (Frankl 36).

Although not in Shakespearean English, it's as if the words could have come from Lear's mouth. He felt betrayed by his daughters and, stripped of any sort of power, it is the injustice he feels that gives him such mental despair, overshadowing his homelessness in the midst of a horrendous storm. Frankl, having been beaten for no reason by a guard, feels the mental destruction of a complete loss of agency and humanity more pronouncedly than he feels the physical pain of the beating.

Frankl continues to describe working conditions, and how the workers resembled "only vaguely...a human form," and how they were instructed as one might "call a domestic animal back to its job" (36). In his experience, he had been stripped down to an animal-like form and was being treated as such, and from this experience he drew the realization that "[t]he most painful part of the beatings is the insult which they imply" (36). It is the mental agony of having been stripped of all humanity and agency that is the most painful. Lear, in the storm, reaches a similar conclusion, as does Edgar, who, disguised as Poor Tom, discovers that if his mind is free of trouble, then being stripped of everything and treated as an animal is less painful than being a supposed king and having no power or respect.

All in all, Frankl's realizations about humanity, dignity, and mental struggle reflect many of the character struggles in King Lear. Now if only there was a way to tell Lear to emotionally disconnect, because that seemed to work for the members of the concentration camp. But that's someone else's discussion.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mortification of the Normal Human Reaction

This week, we read a story by Viktor Frankl. He provides an account of his experience in the concentration camps during the Holocaust and explains the degradation of the normal human psyche when continually exposed to such inhumane conditions. It is impossible, in my opinion, to try and grasp how horrific the Holocaust was, simply because we haven't experienced something so cruel nor life- threatening in our own lives. I can't picture anyone becoming accustomed to life within the concentration camps, yet Frankl argues that humans can "get used to anything" with enough exposure. Frankl says that there are common psychological reactions to an environment that all humans go through as they become accustomed to the abnormal.

It is awful to think that with such often exposure to human cruelty and death, one can come to view other's suffering and death with dull and blunted emotion. This apathy, Frankl explains, became commonplace around the concentration camps and served as a defense mechanism for many of the prisoners. I think to destroy someone's sense of empathy is just as wrong as killing someone. Although to kill someone is utterly disgusting, to destroy someone's sense of empathy is to destroy the one characteristic that I think makes people human. Empathy is how we connect to one another, and to obliterate that sense and desensitize someone to such horrors is like killing all human-like quality. I think this has profound effects on the mental health of individuals, which makes death almost preferable to a life without emotion. The prisoners are left to imagine the essentials that once made their life enjoyable (i.e. sex, food, and love).

To torture fellow human beings in such a disgusting way of depriving them of human essentials, enhancing and prolonging the suffering that precedes their death, is atrocious. Hearing a first- hand account of these evils that plagued innocent people consistently manages to make me question just how evil humankind can be.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Not Meant for a Movie

Today in class those who did not go on the field trip to see King Lear live watched a movie rendition of the play. I thought it was pretty bad . Most of the actors were not very good and the movie was just not put together very well. Regardless of this, I think you could have some of the best actors and film makers in the country create a movie version of King Learn and it would turn out as a decent movie at best. This is because it is not meant to be a movie and when it was written it was intended to be performed in front of an audience .

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I Cannot Heave My Heart Into My Mouth

After analyzing the first act of King Lear in class, one section really stood out to me:

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond; no more nor less.

Cordelia said this when her father, King Lear, demanded that all of his daughters tell him how much they love him while he was deciding how he wanted to divide up his inheritance. While Goneril and Regan showered their father with meaningless compliments, Cordelia actually spoke her mind. Cordelia said that she loves her father "according to my bond".
I admire Cordelia's ability to speak her mind even when it is best for her to just lie to get what she wants. Her honesty shows that she respects herself and her father. She refuses to "heave her heart into her mouth" because that is simply dishonest. Her integrity prevents her from making false statements. Cordelia is incredibly empowering through how she handles this situation, but Lear's response shows the downsides that can come from speaking your mind.

Lear takes Cordelia's unwillingness to explicitly proclaim her love as an insult even though it is exactly the opposite. This error of judgement appears to be detrimental for Cordelia even though her actions had the best intentions.

I think this interaction outlines the struggle that many people face when they decide what to say in difficult situations. Saying something with the sole purpose of pleasing a person is a short term solution for what can be a long term problem.

To Fool or Not To Fool...

In the traditional sense, a fool is someone who acts slow-witted to entertain others.  When you read about the Fool in King Lear, however, the term 'fool' actually becomes a double entendre.  The so-called fool is incredibly witty - sometimes so much that he's hard to understand.  Through it all, he manages to turn around his title from a noun to a verb that he carries out on other people; King Lear, in particular, he continually fools and makes the butt of his jokes when no other character could in even a nice way (take Kent as the prime example). 

In fact, the Fool outright calls Lear a fool numerous times.  "All thy other titles thou hast given away.  That thou wast born with." (I.iv.153)  "That such a king should play bo-peep and go the fools among." (I.iv.181)  "Thou wouldst make a good Fool." (I.v.38)  At first his jabs are met with shallow warnings.  Disguised Kent protests that the Fool's comments are more than just jokes, and Lear warns the Fool that he will be whipped. None of these threats follow through, and by the third quote Lear responds by proclaiming his fear of becoming mad.  The Fool, though he expresses a desire to be anything other than a fool, actually has power in that position: he not only is able to make fun of the king but is able to quite poignantly critique the king with a clear impact.  As one of the king's closest companions after dividing his land, the Fool also has a tough responsibility.  He is the only one with the power to reach the king's senses and reveal to the king his deteriorating condition.  While the Fool manages the task quite deftly, that sounds a little difficult to me.  You can almost imagine a little Hamlet creeping in.  To Fool or not to Fool... Whether 'tis nobler for the King to suffer the slings and arrows of ignorance mighty, or to take arms against his naivete, and by opposing, hurt him?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Break on Through to the Other Side

Scrolling through the blog, I've noticed a lot of people are deciding to use their one college-rant post up this week.  It's totally understandable seeing that we are in over-drive mode at this point for all those early applications.  Although I've clearly set myself up to broach the subject, I don't think I'm ready to get my rant out.  In fact, while I completely understood and felt myself many of the complaints of my peers, I want to respond with a little look on the other side. 

Colleges are deluged with applicants in a nation that overbearingly pushes the necessity of the experience (albeit this may be largely colleges' fault).  To continue to be profitable and considered "good", colleges must wade through their applicant piles to find the students who will not only do well and push themselves while attending, but will also make the campus a better place to be and make a good name for the college by doing well afterwards (plus hopefully repay them with hefty donations).  Test scores and GPA will likely inform a college as to the first point, but they don't display what kind of personality they are accepting onto their campus.  But just as it's impossible for a student to explain their whole life in a single essay, colleges are left in the position of never being able to know as much as they'd like, no matter how many questions they ask.  And their admissions counselors certainly wouldn't have enough time for it if there was a way.

So colleges have screwed us over, but they've also screwed themselves over.  College admissions go badly for everyone involved, until the tuition deposits flow in and it all seems to gloss over again...

Is Camus all Sunshine and Rainbows?

Wouldn't embracing existentialism naturally yield conflict? You're challenging the bedrock of humanity's identity: people are going to push against you. Hard.

Yet,  In 'The Stranger,' Albert Camus portrays Meursault as living an easy, care-free life in Part I. No one gets in his face as we would expect until he breaks the law: is that the only line that cannot be crossed?

Up to that point, Meursault was living a fine life with no real enemies. I understand that being free from social constructs can liberate, but where is the opposition to Meursault's upheaval of social conventions?

He seems to get by too easily…

Exestentialism is Hard Work

After listening to Mr. Heidkamp's talk about existentialism and reading The Stranger, I have realized the existentialist lifestyle is actually hard work.

If you think about it, in order to be viewed as successful in our society, you have to master a set of systems. You have to be good at the school system, juggle the college application system, end eventually navigate the job market if you want to be "successful." We follow systems in all aspects of life and for many people, these systems are a source of comfort. They provide a set of instructions for how to live a "good life" and most of the time, people don't question these systems.

When I began to digest Mr. Heidkamp's lecture, I became overwhelmed with how so many people blindly follow systems every single time. It is exhausting to question these systems and even more exhausting to face the criticism of others if you dare separate from these precious systems. I think that this is maybe why Mersault was so unemotional for the majority of the novel. Maybe he was worn out from questioning the systems and constantly having to chose whether he wanted to go with the flow or take a step back and analyze how he really wanted to live his life.

Mr. Masturbatory Meursault

Although I was cut off by the bell, signaling the end of 3rd period, my argument that Meursault was redundant and masturbatory still holds strong.

In all honesty, I don't think that and entire Part 2 was necessary. I suppose Meursault reaches a greater human truth at the end of the book, but having the readers follow him through the dull life of prison is simply unnecessary. Perhaps he could have given us a solid summary of his time in prison, however, Camus would never give us such a simple straightforward answer to our existential qualms.

While reading Part 2 was enjoyable, it simply repeated itself over and over. Yes, we understand Meursault is different. Yes, we understand he has reached a higher level of understanding than us. Yes, prison is about killing time. We get it. Move on?

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Value of Truth

In both The Stranger and King Lear, honesty condemns the main characters. In the Stranger, when Mersault is truthful about his apparent indifference to the traditional societal values, the public views him as a monster. He is accused of being a sociopath, and condemned to death. In King Lear, when Cordelia honestly tells her father that she cannot profess her love with theatrics equal to those of her sisters, he banishes her. Instead of lying and and "heaving" her heart into her mouth, she tells him simply that she loves him as a daughter should love a father, no more and no less. Lear is shocked by this honesty, because he was expecting all of his daughters to play into the game and flatter his ego.

Both characters refuse to conform to pressures from both society and family. Instead they are honest and vocal about their feelings, and for this they are condemned. While this courage and honesty condemns the characters, it can serve to help establish respect for the characters, if they are understood. For example, Kent and the King of France respect Cordelia once they hear her stand up to her father and tell him the truth. My question is, would I have the courage to tell the truth in that instant? Sure, we all like to think that we are brave enough to be honest about our feelings. But in keeping with the theme of being honest, I would probably lie to gain a third of the kingdom. I'm not proud of this, but in reality, I would not be as courageous as Cordelia or Mersault. That being said, I think that being honest and true to ourselves like these characters is something that everyone can strive for.

Memba Dis, Shakespeare? Yeah, He Does...

After class, Yohana and I were talking about Shakespeare, and he suggested that some elements of Shakespeare's plays "have been done before."  When thinking about this, I could not shake the feeling that he might partially be mistaking Shakespeare's influence for a lack of originality; that is, confusing the chronology of different works of art.  Then, I thought about the ways in which he was right: Shakespeare lifted many of his plots from ancient plays and stories and used many methods found in Renaissance drama.  I could not help feeling that this was not a bad thing.  Does this mean he is not original or worth reading? No, it does not.

I think the fact that Shakespeare's plots were not always original is beside the point (or more accurately the point itself).  Shakespeare used these plots and elevated them into a higher art form with more psychologically complex characters and intricate language.  But this does not mean they are merely remakes superior to the originals.  His use of known plot elements was a tool.  Shakespeare was combining elements of different sources to create a hybrid form.  A sense of his taking material from different sources is most obvious when he uses anachronisms (he was aware that historically they did not fit, but they fit in a more artistic way).  In this way, I think Shakespeare's plays are all the more interesting for being "unoriginal."

F. U. B. A. R.

Caution Spoilers

Although we have made sort of a large leap from The Stranger to King Lear, we should not move on from existentialism. For me at least, the past discussions of existentialism have gotten me thinking about systems and how to live life a lot. Those discussions have helped to make me conscious of life and what I believe its meaning to be.

I have started seeing Sisyphus smiling and existentialist ideals everywhere. I was watching Saving Private Ryan last night and I could not help but let my mind wander into the maze of existentialism once again.

Part of existentialism is acknowledging random pain, death and suffering. There is no better time to come to grips with death and suffering then during a World War. As you watch the group of eight men go looking for one Private Ryan, you start to see how they accept death.

The squad loses two members before they even get to Private Ryan and in the end only one of the original squad members survives. You watch this group of brothers cope with death after death, and by the end even the viewer has learned that death is hard but inevitable.

Captain Miller is comparable to Sisyphus in that he takes the crappy mission to which he is assigned and does it to the best of his ability. He motivates his squad and leads them into battle against the all mighty rock, or Nazis, with a smile on his face.

Even when I am trying to relax I am letting myself fall into the clutches of philosophy and thinking.

Existentialist Day

One of my favorite (and least favorite) things about philosophy is that once you learn about a new philosophical idea, you can't help but encounter it wherever you look.  And existentialism really exemplifies this phenomenon.

For example, let's look at one of my favorite philosophical films Groundhog Day starring the one and only Bill Murray as Phil Connors, a grumpy man who gets caught in a time loop and has to live the same boring, meaningless day over and over again.  No matter what he does, he cannot escape it.  Even if he wakes up and kills himself, he just gets to jump to the next morning and keep on living his absurd life.

When you look at it, his predicament seems a little familiar.  It sounds a lot like what our buddy Sisyphus has to deal with: immortality without hopes of escape and a life seemingly devoid of meaning.  But, if we want to believe what Camus has to say about Sisyphus, is is Sisyphus is happy because he is able to acknowledge his fate, to accept it and mentally move on, so to speak.

So, after a good deal of time, Connors is able to come to the same blissful conclusion that Sisyphus does: it doesn't matter what he does, his life wont change.  He feels he is condemned to relive Groundhog Day over and over, and that is just how it has to be.  So he starts being a good person, even though in the grand scheme of things it appears to be pointless.  He saves people, learns piano and french, and gives a kick-ass speech about Punxsutawney Phil for the newscast.  He does it because he is assigning meaning to those tasks, and that's what makes them important --  not because there is any inherent meaning, but because of the whole existence precedes essence idea.  And in the end, he is able to become free after learning these lessons.  But he didn't have to become free in order to be happy.  Much like Sisyphus, Connors would have been content to stay in his little Groundhog Day world forever, because he recognized the absurdity of the situation and accepted it.

If you're more interested in the deeper ideas at work behind Groundhog Day (Trust me, there are a lot of philosophers who can be associated with this movie), I encourage you to look up more essays/analyses online.  There are some good ones about the movie in the context of Aristotelian ethics and Nietzsche's own existentialist ideas.

Don't you just love philosophy?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

College app system

The last few days I have solely worked on the college application process. While working on the surveys, essays, and transcript forms necessary to apply, I question every aspect of the process. First, how much is a rec letter actually worth? whether it is from your counselor or a teacher. While filling out the extremely long and tedious questionnaire that will "help" my counselor write a rec letter for me, I constantly kept thinking of how much of this will he really put into the letter. Also, does the college board even care or read deeply into this letter he is writing? If I am giving him all this information, what would it matter if I just wrote a self-recommendation letter, would there really be a difference? The other thing that I have struggled to feel comfortable on is the decision of a major. I know that it is easy to change majors once at the school, but senior year, for me at least, is full of classes that could very well influence my decision of a major. Then there are the essays. These "personalized" questions are supposed to give college admissions people a look at who you really are. But there is no way to get everything out in a single story, or a 600 word maximum prompt. And do they even take these seriously, for the common app a simple click can send the essay to any college that accepts the common app. This has increased the amount of applicants insanely. So, do they really look into these? how much does it mean?  I feel like I have been educated to believe it is all GPA and ACT.

An Appreciation of (Good) Acting

Today in class we were each challenged to read a line of "King Lear" and convey the feeling of the character who speaks. I found myself rather stumped by my line, which was a part of Goneril's speech to flatter her father, because I don't think Goneril's emotions as she delivers this speech can be easily identified or reduced into one explicable feeling. Although her words are loving and full of compliments, her speech is forced and exaggerated because, as she articulates in later scenes, she does not truly hold her father in such high regard. Clearly, her emotions in this scene are complex and conflicting.

It is difficult to properly convey Goneril's exaggeration of her love for Lear while also accounting for the fallacy of her words and her discomfort in the situation. Identifying Goneril's predominant emotion and "giving 500%" sounds simple in theory, but it's challenging to deliver the lines of a character with such complex feelings. This might upset our friend Nabokov, but I think an actor needs to really understand and empathize with the character they are playing in order to accurately convey their emotions.

As someone whose theatrical experience is limited to a couple of middle school plays I'd rather forget, I know I feel challenged by our reading of "King Lear." However, I've realized that reading a play out loud allows our class to understand characters in a different way from reading novels. Acting challenges us not just to analyze characters, but also to bring them to life.


This blog post is influenced by my lack of inspiration to write anything... blog post and college essay alike.

It seems quite odd that we can go on talking about ourselves until we are actually asked to talk about ourselves, doesn't it?

I'd like to believe that I know what kind of person I am and what I enjoy doing because there's no one who knows me better than myself. The same most likely holds true for all of us... yet whenever I am asked "what's your favorite ______," I always find myself without any idea as how to answer the question. This is precisely why I have procrastinated on finishing my supplement essays: I can't even start. Perhaps I'm over-thinking what the college is asking me when they ask for an essay on my favorite TV show or movie or book or website, but how can they expect anything less than a senior over-analyzing the essay? These essays are arguably the only factor we can directly control! If they're not satisfactory to our standards, what will be?

Similarly, I probably have a lot to say about King Lear and Camus and existentialism, however I find that when looking at the blank page of a blog post, I struggle to find an original idea that I can elaborate on. There's nothing more unsatisfying than feeling as though you have a point to address and being unable to phrase your argument in words.

I'm sure many others have experienced similar frustrations as my own, and I could probably go on a plethora of tangents about this topic, however I've found myself in the midst of a writer's block... hence the reason for this post.

Folger Shakespeare Library: How important is it really in understanding Shakespeare?

Thunk! I looked in front of me to find a thick purple novel.

"Folger Shakespeare Library" it read. I admit I groaned (to the point my neighbor gave me a funny glare) for in years past, I struggled to appreciate Shakespeare while reading his stories in English class. I couldn't help but doubt that this year would be different. "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "Hamlet", "Romeo and Juliet": I've read each, always feeling somewhat indifferent at the end of the play. My struggle was depending on something besides "No Fear Shakespeare", like Isabel said. Yes, I could understand the basic events of the story; however, underlying themes or emotions often escaped me. My frustration grew as my teacher pointed out the universality of Shakespeare's texts through his numerous themes because I struggled to find them myself.

However, I found an idea to cling to in "King Lear". The story chronicles a King and how he must choose to divide his Kingdom for his three daughters as long as they yield to his desires. His youngest daughter, Cordelia, confesses her love for her father but also defies his wish to have her married. Her rebellious, independent spirit excited me as I continued to read on in the novel. As Nabokov would argue, a "true work" encourages the reader to understand the view of the characters directly from their viewpoint. And Mr. Heidkamp's exercise for tomorrow only yields itself to that point. As we each take significant roles in various acts, I am expected to portray Cordelia tomorrow. To understand the story from the Cordelia's viewpoint. Mr. Heidkamp's alternative to solely reading the text seems daunting, but, also, potentially fulfilling. As a woman who values her independence, I have found little trouble in understanding Cordelia's internal struggle and I'm eager to find out if that connection might help my understanding of the text. A complex text with relatable themes, "King Lear" seems like a no-brainer to add to the Senior English Curriculum; here's to hoping we all appreciate the novel as it seems the rest of the world already does!

Systematic Way of Life

When we wake up everyday we enter a system. When we go to sleep everyday we fall asleep to the tune of another system. Finally, everything in between that we experience in our lives is induced by a system.  How can we walk into class one day and listen to our teacher tell us that everything that we experience and come to rely on is a social construct?  Although this new knowledge seemed shocking at first it somewhat made sense.
As soon as we are born we are introduced to social systems.  We are born into the world finding out that families consist of a father, mother, and sibling, however that system is now rarely successful.  We learn that love is rare and monumental but is also necessary for happiness.  We begin the education process as early as possible and become worried if educational standards are not met.  Finally most attend church every Sunday in an effort to worship or exercise our beliefs.
All these systems are concepts that we rely on everyday, except Im not sure that the reason we rely on these systems is because of the constant random suffering that the world continues to inflict.  We seek out these systems in fear of loosing them.  After grasping these constructs so vigorously we cannot bear to loose them maybe they provide the comfort and support that we need as human beings but they also give us a sense of normality.

Having character

Something that I find interesting in "The Stranger" and "King Lear" is the idea that a person's character is more powerful than the actions that he or she chooses. This idea is particularly manifested in "The Stranger," and the theme comes up in different parts of the book. For example, throughout the trial, I was frustrated, along with Meursault and the defense, that he was not really being accused for killing an Arab. Rather, his murder was used by the prosecutors as an excuse for his character. Because the courtroom views as him as heartless because of his reaction to his mother's death and his response to her death, he is sentenced to guillotine. Another example, though not as strong apparent, is Raymond. He beats his wife on several occasions, but never faces serious punishment for his actions, because her behavior (cheating) is viewed worthy to his actions, according to society.

In "King Lear," Cordelia is banished from Lear's kingdom because her sincerity doesn't please the King. While the older sisters flatter the King for their own personal gain, Cordelia is a genuine character, recognizing the potential consequences of what she says, yet remaining honest. It is not that she does not love her father, either, but that she feels she should not have to appease his insecurity. In this way, I think she is similar to Meursault, in that they are both authentic people who live their lives according to what they feel is right. Having character is an interesting idea that arises in both works. 

"No Fear Shakespeare"

With the start of King Lear, I'll admit that I was quite nervous and intimidated by the very hyped up difficulty that is associated with works of Shakespeare. Although I had read Shakespeare previous years in high school, I was preparing myself for nightly "No Fear Shakespeare" summaries that would follow every night's reading and trying to gather enough endurance to muster through the first act without any help. I realized today in class that I, as well as many others I'm sure, tend to view reading Shakespeare with this hyped up expectation and are forgetting to see the value in working with his literature. Sure we might appreciate the writing and understand why it is significant, but I think that when it is viewed with this assumption that you will not understand it, we are actually just making it harder for ourselves.

While it does take a great deal of effort as well as time to understand it fully, I think it can actually open our eyes to a whole new take on a language that we have come to be so comfortable with, which is really interesting. By attaching this "fear" element to Shakespeare, it is scaring many students, including myself, from even wanting to try and understand the original text, which ultimately is defeating the purpose of reading his work in the first place. I have not studied Shakespeare in depth enough to know the specific intentions of his writing, but I don't think that Shakespeare intended people to "fear" his work. As Mr. Heidkamp was saying in class today, his work was not written to be published in a book, but rather to be read aloud in a poetic performance setting. While it's a bit of a stretch to say that his work isn't any more difficult than the average english reading, I think that reading it with this play/performance aspect in mind can make for a more open-minded, not-intimidated attitude and hopefully help us to dispose of this predetermined failure attitude that I think is holding us back from the potential of working with Shakespeare.

My life in 250-650 words

Since I have no clue what else to write about, I am going to rant, so bare with me. The college application process is so bizarre especially the essay part. These apps are supposed to tell an admissions officer who we are? I just do not understand how that is possible. Us human beings are extremely complicated creatures and I am pretty sure, although I may be wrong, that my GPA and ACT scores are not telling someone who I am as a person. But wait, that is when the essays come into play, right? Wrong. How is it possible for me to fit my personality/character in less than 650 words that solely revolve around one question? The answer is that it isn't possible. Some of these essay questions are so specific that we are only able to show them a glimpse of part of our personality. I think that the whole process is absurd and I guess we have to face the absurdity of life to be happy but personally I believe that the college process would be a good one to escape from.

What is "Five-Hundred Percent," Actually?

Today in class, we were asked to read our assigned lines from King Lear at “five-hundred percent.” Let us all take a moment to consider what these exaggerations of numerical values really mean.

So, there are twenty-five or thirty seventeen and eighteen-year-old standing in a circle in the middle of a classroom at ten-thirty in the morning. They’re told to read a bunch of words in Old English at “five-hundred percent.” The circle is soon thereafter filled with raised eyebrows, side-eyes, and nervous giggles.

To this group of exhausted, socially conscious teenagers, this so-called “five-hundred percent” just sounds ridiculous. They’re all probably thinking: what are we supposed to do, roll on the ground and do jumping jacks while screaming our lines at the top of our lungs? Most of the baggy-eyed students subsequently read their lines just as they would read the directions from their Calculus textbooks. Being told to perform the lines at “one-hundred percent” or to their “greatest acting potentials,” I believe, would be much more effective.

“But saying ‘five-hundred percent’ is just emphasizing ‘one-hundred percent’ more by attaching a larger number!” Okay, sure. But no one will take the phrase seriously because they know that it is not possibly achievable, as it is such an absurd number. This “five-hundred percent” does not exist and thus cannot be taken as a motivational tool. The activity, then, becomes more of a joke than a time for the students to work on their delivery in preparation for the upcoming scenes they must act out in front of the class.

Now, I’m not criticizing Mr. Heidkamp’s methods of motivating students to be successful performers (nor his teaching methods whatsoever); I am simply proposing an alternative way to tell a person (a student, a family member, a friend, a coworker, anyone) to give it his or her all. In school, we often hear teachers asking for our *insert number above one hundred here* -percent effort on studying for a test or doing a project. Okay, so they want us to try really hard. But if we can just throw around non-existent percent values over one hundred, then what does one-hundred percent mean anymore? It means nothing. Herein lies the problem with our methods of motivation.

Watching vs. Reading Shakespeare

I think Sam made a really good point when he was talking about how reading Shakespeare out loud can help understand the text better. I also think that King Lear, and other works by Shakespeare, have hidden meanings that can only be discovered when read aloud. By merely reading Shakespeare, one tends to loose insight that watching or acting in a play can give you.

Mr. Heidkamp has assigned us to act out King Lear. By doing so, we will be able to fully understand the text. For instance, he was talking about how Shakespeare didn't leave any stage directions which means it is up to the actors/readers to interpret how a character left and/or entered a scene, and whether something was deliberate or accidental, or just about anything else that can help the audience/reader understand how the characters were truly feeling. I think that by acting out Shakespeare, our class will be able to pick up on clues we wouldn't have seen by simply reading King Lear.

Thou Shalt Always Question

When we were discussing existentialism and what it means to live separately from social systems, I remembered a song I liked when I was younger. I kind of hate it now, just because of the sound, but the message remains powerful. It's by an english duo called Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, and was released in 2007.

I googled the band as I know nothing about them, and apparently they split up last month. Something interesting I found on their wikipedia, though, is that "Scroobius Pip"'s stage name comes from a poem by Edward Lear that is essentially nonsense. That little fact just felt like it was relevant. The video itself isn't very special (low quality, literal, and mostly just brings interest in little editing tricks) but listening to the lyrics, the men deserve quite a bit of credit. It's a repetitive, poem-like chant of things to not do, specifically regarding the music industry. While you may immediately think "hm, if this is all about thinking for yourself, why are they telling me what to do?" I think that's taking it too literally. The song only encourages you to question things and the music you like. I whole-heartedly agree with the message and I think it's a nice pause from the usual things we hear, but I am also entirely comfortable with announcing I'm listening to Nicki Minaj as I write this. I don't think that makes me a hypocrite. I don't think anyone can deny that a catchy, dance inducing pop hit has an important place in the world (personally I believe that many of those have a lot more to them, but that's besides the point). Not even Scroobius Pip and Dan le Sac. Even bands that many would think about as "real music", that the song mentions, need to be criticized and not treated like gods.

The message is fairly simple and has been said a thousand times before: question everything. While Meursault might not have been actively contemplating the systems he avoided, he definitely maintained a counter-culture point of view. Similar to how existentialism is unattainable and is more of a way of thinking, it's probably impossible to reach a destination of having a perfect, non-conformist iTunes library. However, is important to think about why you like the music you like. If you solely listen to the top 20 station, is it because it's easily available and the first thing that comes up? An equally, if not more questionable music habit: do you avoid popular music because you think you're too cool for it?

More About Meursault

I, and I think many other readers of The Stranger,  first brushed Meursault off as being simply indifferent to life and emotions. However, Meursault is neither simple nor indifferent and it is in the last few pages of the novel that  I truly grasps how complex and deep Meursault is.

In the beginning of the story, Meursault seems to lack emotion at his mother's funeral and is criticized for it.  This is, in fact, is one of the examples used to convict Meursault during his trial. But it is Maman's death that also reveals a more complex side of Meursault when he is in jail.

Meursault says as his is sitting awake waiting for dawn, "For the first time in a long time I thought about Maman"(122). For someone who thought Meursault was nothing but indifferent, the shear fact that he thought about his mother after her death is significant. What's more interesting, is that Meursault finds ways to relate to her. He understands why she took a "fiance" towards the end of her life. He  now feels the same freedom she felt towards the end of her life because he is facing the potential of death. It is for this reason that Meursault says no one had the right to cry over Maman's death. He feels the same as she did, that he is ready to live life all over again, and he believes that crying over Maman would not fit this belief.

The belief that Merusault was repeatedly criticized for, that he was indifferent to his mother's death, proves false in this last scene. The reader learns not only that Meursault was able to relate to his mother but also that he found that death made life seem able to be lived again. While he may have appeared indifferent to life, Meursault was actually very invested in life and his connection with his mother. The final pages of the book revealed not only truths about life and humans but also more about Meursault.

The Power of Voice

Today Mr. Hiedkamp introduced us to King Lear and explained to us that we would be reading it out loud as class. We all had a line to read and were told to over dramatize each line. It may seemed like a pointless exercise to do but it really wasn't. Shakespeare's plays were all written in a somewhat different kind of English from what we know today. I felt that Mr. Hiedkamp made a really good point when he said that if we can get the emotion right when we speak the play will be a lot easier to understand. This is because even if we can't understand the language that is being used we as humans can still infer what is happening based on the way the dialogue is read. 

       Much of being a good actor is the ability to use your voice in an effective way; that is why many auditions for TV shows and even movies just involve the actor or actress sitting down and reading from a script. I'm glad we are reading King Lear out loud as a class and I think it will help all of us understand the play more thoroughly. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wherefore art thou, Meursault?

I know we just started reading King Lear, and that's a Romeo and Juliet reference, but ah well.

It was definitely an interesting jump from Camus' deep thoughts about the construction of lives to Shakespeare's impassioned characters, but I think there's something that can be gained from this leap. After all, King Lear himself within the first act decides to be rambunctious and disrupt social constructions with a hot-tempered wave of his crown.

In many ways, Meursault's quiet struggle to maintain his position as an agent of his own life is reflected much more openly in Cordelia; she was loved most out of the daughters and most accepted of any into the system of Shakespeare's world, being the youngest, fairest, and soon-to-be richest. But when Lear requests an arbitrary profession of her total love to him, she refuses and criticizes the idea altogether. She is then essentially disowned, despite the King of France choosing to be with her even still.

Although it isn't an exact parallel, Marie chooses to be with Meursault despite his nonchalance and refusal to abide by the construction of love. The King of France chooses Cordelia for her outright criticism of the same structure. Meursault is thrown in jail and beheaded for acting, and defending himself, along his individual guidelines. Cordelia is thrown out of the kingdom and disowned for the same.

Whether we like it or not, thinking about philosophies of life and possible escapes from the systems around us are in everything and now that the ball is rolling, even Shakespeare isn't safe. It's inevitable, given that we are all individuals living our own lives in, around, and outside of an infinite number of systems. From the first scene of the play, the critical thinking is already there. Meursault haunts us and every character. The question is, to what end?