Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fast Friends

One thing that stuck out to me while reading The Stranger, was how emotion-less Meursault was. No matter what happened between him and anyone else, he never really showed any feeling towards it. When Marie and Meursault go to their Masson's cabin, Masson is already trying to be their friend really hard, but Meursault shows no real emotion towards it.

"When we got back, Masson was already calling us. I said I was starving and then out of the blue he announced to his wife that he liked me. The bread was good; I devoured my share of the fish."

Masson straight out says that he wants to be friends with Meursault and that he really likes him, and Meursault gives no idea into what he may think about Masson. He just goes on to talking about the meal they had. To me, it is so strange that Meursault has no opinion on becoming friends with some random, new guy in his life. He just takes it as it is. In fact, he pretty much just ignores it. I do not really understand how a person can be like that. It completely baffles me how someone doesn't have any response to someone announcing that they like you in front of other people.

Existentialism

The definition of existentialism, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is, "A philosophical theory or approach that emphasized the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of will."

We discussed earlier this week if we thought that Camus was promoting or discrediting existentialism The Stranger or not. It seems to me, that throughout the novel, Camus is writing about how there is no meaning or order to the universe and people's lives. This was clear to me when Meursault killed the Arab. Nobody really seemed to care that the Arab was dead, it wasn't even that big a part of the story. The only reason that anyone cared about the murder at all is because Meursault had never felt remorse about anything--his mother's death in particular. How can there be rationality and order in the world when a life is taken and nobody cares? At that point in the story, I believed that Camus was supporting existentialism.
This belief faltered, however, while reading the very last line of the book. "I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate," (123). This made me think that, even with all of his oddities and revolutionary qualities, Meursault needed other people to judge and form himself by. This would contradict everything that existentialism stands for, and therefore made me question whether or not Camus supported existentialism.

Judgement and Justice

During Meursault's trial, the prosecutor uses social constructions to prove that Meursault is a danger to society. The prosecutor argues that Meursault's heartlessness is a threat to hide the true threat of his existential beliefs.

"We cannot complain that he lacks what it was not in his power to acquire. But here in this court the wholly negative virtue of tolerance must give way to the sterner but loftier virtue of justice. Especially when the emptiness of a man's heart becomes, as we find it has in this man, an abyss threatening to swallow up society" (101).

The prosecutor uses this argument as an opening to his suggestion that the court give Meursault the death penalty. He initially claims that Meursault cannot be blamed for his supposed lack of a soul or morals. However, the prosecutor quickly adds that in extreme situations, justice is worth more than tolerance. He ranks the social construction of justice above tolerance to condemn Meursault and protect the image of the system.

Meursault supposedly died for justice for the Arab, but historically the French did not care about the native Arabs. Meursault had to die because he stepped outside of the system, which could have caused its collapse if others also realized that the "true" social constructions were illusions. The prosecutor was correct about Meursault being able to ruin the system. However, it was his refusal to embrace the illusions of the system that made him a threat rather than his lack of emotion or violent actions.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It's All The Same

Meursault, the main character in Arthur Camus', The Stranger, has no concern for life -- his or that of others. This is evident in Chapter 5 when Meursault's boss offers him a promotion and a chance to work in Paris. Meursault responds by saying that it is all the same to him, showing absolutely no interest in the opportunity to improve his life. When his boss pursues his lack of excitement, asking him if he is not interested in a change of life, Meursault explains "[P]eople never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another and that I wasn't dissatisfied with mine here at all" (41).

Meursault expresses that it does not matter to him how he lives his life. But why does he think this way?  It certainly matters to most people.

At multiple points in the book Meursault is presented as an existentialist (or at least he shares some similar views). The reason that Meursault does not show any interest in changing his life is because he believes that in the end everyone is going die regardless of what they do.  And, since he is not religious he does not believe in an afterlife that would impact the choices he makes during life. Therefore, no matter the manner in which he lives he will end up the same way. Dead.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hot n Cold


Throughout the entire novel, heat has been reoccurring motif. Meursault stresses the heat on the day of his mother's funeral and on the day he killed the Arab. It seems that Meursault associates heat and the sun with living. In each moment that Meursault notices the heat, any other person would be feeling incredibly strong emotions. Perhaps Meursault expresses his emotions to the reader through temperature.

Meursault only mentions the cold at one point in the story. He states, "It was a mistake to let myself get carried away with such imaginings, because the next moment I would get so cold that I would curl up into a ball under my blanket and my teeth would be chattering and I couldn't make them stop (110)." The "imaginings" that Meursault mentions refers to his dream of a successful appeal and a life of freedom, which he knows is incredibly unrealistic. Once he returns to reality, he immediately feels cold. I believe this coolness reflects Meursault's understanding that his life is over.


The Never Ending Cycle

Existentialism is a liberating methodology, but it has limited practicality in our world. Its cyclic nature is hard to control, as we are constantly breaking systems, new systems swoop in to replace the old ones.

Individuality is definitely a key part of existentialism as well. I think that you be truly independent you have to make conscious decisions about what you value. And while the argument can be made that sticking to the traditional systems of comfort can end up hurting you, so can going against them. I'm not trying to make an argument for or against existentialism, all I'm saying is that there are definite pros and cons to choosing to be an existentialist, and choosing not to be one.

However, for some, it is not a simple choice. I would argue that Mersault is an existentialist of sorts, but did not make a conscious decision to be one. The argument still remains whether existentialism brings true happiness or not. Whether existentialism is something brought about from the events in one's life should also be considered when discussing existentialism itself.

Existentialism

With all the conversations of existentialism, I found myself honestly quite confused as to what I thought about life, and even what I thought about The Stranger.  Some things had made sense to me, like how we have systems that were once created by other people, and that try to disguise themselves so they don't seem like a system.  And I even realized that I had been fooled by these systems.  Dreams and goals that I had set for myself or thought about often were influenced by these systems that we step into when we join society.  Even though I do understand that, I think that there is a reason that these systems are there and why we think they are so important.  They give a meaning to life that some people honestly need to help them get through situations that otherwise felt too much for them to handle.  I can relate with that as well, so this talk that these systems are an illusion put before us made me a little angry and uncomfortable.  I was almost in denial with this information, but once I thought about more I understood why some people could think that way, and I realized that it was fine that I didn't agree. Although I saw some logic in it, I just cannot agree with all of it.

No Meaning and Meursault

Meursault is a man who only sees and accepts the realities of life. His seemingly lack of emotion is in fact a blatant acceptance of what he knows is going to come. Pain, suffering, and death are unavoidable and uncontrollable. Meursault understands that death is coming for everyone, so when his mother dies, it is not the end of his world. He feels her loss but it doesn't affect his life because she hadn't been there for the last few years. Throughout the story he can come off as heartless and cold, but he doesn't associate life with the normal "meanings" most people believe. Friendship, family, love, success, etc... are not prevalent ideas in the way he views the world. He does not stop abuse or pain he sees in his life because he knows his actions won't make a significant change. He believes that people are the way they are and nothing he does can stop the potential pain they will encounter.

Even though he doesn't operate in the same way that "normal" people do, Meursault still has the ability to feel joy or sorrow in the moment. I believe that the ideas of family, love, and friends are what sustains a person's emotions on a particular subject or idea. When a person cares enough to make connections in their life, they will have a lasting memory and feeling towards it until the connection becomes irrelevant. Because Meursault does not make those types of associations within his life, he can compartmentalize and experience only momentary feelings.

The Stranger and Existentialism

Throughout the novel "The Stranger" by Albert Camus, he shows a lot of his existentialist philosophy. In particular, he emphasizes the absurdity of life, especially in the last chapter. When Meursault is yelling at the chaplain, he repeatedly says that nothing really matters. He also says that the chaplain was " living like a dead man"(120). Because the chaplain accepted the social construct that is religion, we was not a radical subject and thus he may as well not be alive because he was living like a dead man.

But, just because someone accepts a social construct and lives by it, does that mean that they lead a life not worth living. According to Camus, yes. But, I have trouble agreeing with this view on life. These social constructs often serve useful purposes in society and were created by other people. And, since humans are social creatures, why can we not use ideas that were thought of by others? Why must we act purely on our own thought? If, for example, people did not use the ideas of others in physics or any other science, we would be nowhere in terms of our technological progress because each person would have to repeat the work of the last, and no actual forward progress would be made. So, it seems silly to arbitrarily say that we can't use others ideas for societal creations.

Existentialism in Paths of Glory

In Stanley Kubrick's war drama Paths of Glory, about a regiment of French soldiers fighting in the trenches of WWI, we are struck, early, by a scene very contrary to the triumphant tone of the title. The scene begins with General Mireau strolling through the trenches addressing the soldiers every so often, asking them, "ready yo kill more Germans?" Their answers are invariably yes until the General runs into a soldier suffering from shell shock. The man, seriously disturbed by the reality of his fate, is an example of the absurdity of life and how pain and death are its only certainties. The General perceives the soldier's realization of life's futility as cowardice and has him discharged from his regiment.

As the movie progresses, more examples of the system's interaction with the individual arise. Again Mireau misinterprets the actions of his men as cowardice and has three soldiers arbitrarily punished. Through this, Kubrick intends to convey how randomly pain and suffering is divided among people.

"Look, just like I'm trying to tell you: if you're really afraid of dying, you'd be living in a funk all the rest of your life, because you know you've got to go someday, any day. And besides, if it's death that you're really afraid of, why should you care what it is that kills you?"

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Are You Feeling Depressed? But Your Feedback's Important [To Us]

On NPR, Ruth Kastner said, "If you send two electrons off to the opposite ends of the galaxy, quantum physics tells us that they are still somehow in direct communication, such that the result of a measurement performed on one of them is instantly known to the other." 1 An intrinsic component of Existentialism is the idea that existence must precede essence, meaning one of the critical objectives for individuals is that they are individuals—independently acting, independently responsible, and independently conscious beings—unfettered from constructed labels, roles, definitions or any other preconceived categories. However, entanglement can relate to unseen forces that guise social interaction.


While entanglement applies to atoms it shows these paradoxes in this world, this philosophy, and how that compromises the idea of a free agent, if viewed as a parallel with human connection. We can’t live in a world of complete existentialism-heavily reliant on independent actions/and the individual “essence” if entanglement is a constant state in the universe. Our actions, that according to Existentialist philosophers, ultimately make up our being, are just the bi-products of another’s actions. We can’t ever truly be free agents, and only as a whole do we begin to act as an “individual”.

German-American philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist, Herman Marcuse, criticizes existentialism from a Marxist perspective,
"Existentialism thus becomes part of the very ideology which it attacks, and its radicalism is illusory."




Existentialism in The Stranger

After talking about existentialism in class, it was clear that Camus' The Stranger had many existentialist themes throughout it. The main character in The Stranger, Meursault, was a prime example of existentialism, specifically the idea of radical individualism. This is the reason that Meursault was found guilty of murder and set to be executed. Radical individualism places the rights of the individual over society, instead of the other way around. Because of this, the individual tends to isolate him/herself, which is what Meursault does in The Stranger.

We first see this at the beginning of the story when Meursault learns of his mother's passing. The uncertainty that is seen when Meursault receives the telegram is one of the first instances we see that he is detached from society. Later on, when Meursault is walking in the funeral procession, he is never focused on the funeral itself, rather the heat (which is also a recurring theme). He never cries at the funeral, and never feels remorse when he kills the Arab on the beach. Because Meursault puts himself above the rest of society, he is punished for his radical individualism. This may be why writers tend to avoid being called existentialists in order to avoid the scrutiny that they may face.

Living Outside the System

Albert Camus really surprised me at the end of his L’√Čtranger. For most of the novel, Meursault has been very cold, and unemotional. Throughout the novel, his character lacks emotion. When his girlfriend Marie asks Meursault if he loves her, he claims that he loves her just as much as the next person. Meursault doesn't even cry at his own mother's funeral. That's why, at the end, the biggest surprise was his sudden burst of emotion when talking to the priest. In this scene, Meursault gets irritated and angered at the priest, claiming that he doesn't want to spend the little time he has left before his execution to talk about God. Honestly, I didn't think Meursault would even have the emotional articulation to protest.

In the story, Meursault comments, "Since we're all going to die, it's obvious that when and how doesn't matter" (114). His thoughts on life are so depressing. I don't think that Meursalt ever really lived. And while it can be argued that there are different ways of "living," I do believe that it is impossible to live a life if one doesn't have a purpose. And I don't think Meursault has a purpose. Meursault simply floats.

In the world of existentialism, maybe the depressing world views of Meursault are the outcomes of such a living. Meursault "lives" outside the system of love or sadness; and instead embraces a life without the comforts (and lies) that structure humanity.

My Meaning of Life

To me it doesn't matter which side of the board you fall on, agreeing with the "illusions of life" or existentialism, I think everyone is seeking happiness. Some people find comfort in religion or love or relationships whereas others might find it in trying to be their own person, free of the social constructs that "plague" everyone. Some people simply don't think about the negative aspects of life only focusing on the positive. To me none of this matters as long as you're happy. There is not a correct side of the board. There is no correct outlook on life. There is no correct meaning of life. The way to rate any of these is how they work for each individual and how happy they make you.

I believe that the universe is random, that pain and suffering come to people in no particular order. In other words the world is absurd and no one can do anything about it. Also everyone is going to die someday and one day there won't be anyone to care. So what. Worrying about it won't make a difference. The way I see it I have the option to do what I want and be happy in the context of my own life so i choose to. While this outlook satisfies me i understand that others will disagree and I think they should if it make them happy. In other words "you do you."

¨True¨ Meaning of Life

I strongly disagree with the concept of existentialism. Like most people, I don't enjoy being told that the way I live my life is a lie or that I'm being tricked. I believe my passions, family, friends, and religion are what give my life meaning. I know an existentialist would probably respond saying ¨you're being tricked.¨ But me personally, I know that these things make my own life meaningful.

Look at Meursault, he may be alienated from the system, but is he happy? I would argue the exact opposite, he seems miserable. He has nothing to look forward to and can doesn't have something or someone in his life that he loves-this, to me, sounds horrible.

I know that I would much rather live my life living in the system and being tricked, but happy than being alienated from the system and miserable. I would rather spend my life doing things and spending time with those I love, than be isolated from the world but have found the ¨true¨ meaning of life.

Who Really Cares About the Meaning of Life?

Who really cares about the meaning of life? We all have to, or rather get to, live life and that, in itself, should be enough. We could all go crazy trying to figure out the meaning of life, but the more you try to think about it, the smaller you feel. Little problems in your life start to feel insignificant when compared to the vastness of the universe, and its hard to imagine how any of it could possibly matter. But the truth is, it does matter. It matters because it matters to you and that is reason enough. Why should we have to deny our feelings and dismiss them as if they are some product of a scheme that every human being ever bought into? We should take advantage of what makes us human, our higher level of thinking and feeling, rather than throwing it away because it seems easier to live without feelings.

Meursault, in The Stranger, is driven by his physical desires, and as we see after his death sentence, has a very matter of fact outlook on life. He decides that God is a waste of his time and that it really shouldn't matter if he dies now or in twenty years. He even states that he will be forgotten about after he dies and that is okay. But it shouldn't have to be. It should be okay to be affected by things such as friends and family and life and death on more than just a physical level. I also think that it is impossible to have nothing but physical drive to live life. I believe that Meursault feels more than he is willing to admit, and that he suppresses his emotions to make accepting his fate easier.

As much as Meursault likes to believe that he doesn't care about living or dying too much, I think that he still found his own meaning in life. He does long for things, such as the beach, and his freedom, and even Marie, even though he often doesn't admit it. It is exactly the desire for such freedom that gives his life meaning.

The idea of existentialism I think is nothing more than an extremely pessimistic outlook on life. Humans should embrace the emotions that make them human and, whether life has meaning or not, we should find things that give it meaning for us. Even if we feel a sense of fulfillment from love and friends simply because it is a made up trend, we still feel it, so it shouldn't matter where it came from. I also don't think that someone long ago made up those feelings. There is something in human DNA that makes us capable of those kind of emotions for a reason, so we should just go with it.

Death Happens

It is something that we don't like to talk about. That we don't like to think about. But it is always there. A horrifying idea.

Dying. Eventually we all will die.

Nothing that we do will change death's inevitability. No matter how we live our lives we are all subjects to the same fate.

So, what is the purpose of life?

We might believe that it love, friendship, success, or family. But in reality these are just social constructs that are made up systems of control. They are not transcendent, a priori, or absolute and believing that they are is “bad faith”.

Living. Not just being alive, but living a life that we want to live.

And, yes that may make us a weirdo, a loser, and maybe even a sociopath. But, if we continue to follow the social constructions we will not be truly living.

If we do not let ourselves truly live. Then our lives become meaningless.

The Stranger by Albert Camus gives us a perfect example of this philosophy. Meursault (the protagonist) was a existentialist. Throughout his life he did what he wanted to do, not what society expected of him. In the end his actions would lead to his death. But Meursault knew that one day, like everyone else, he would die anyways and because he lived without being a slave to social constructs he died happy.

The Stranger and American Psycho


Throughout the beginning of The Stranger I continuously related the book the the movie “American Psycho.” This film is about a man, going about his life and doing regular things, but he appears to be a sociopath, seeming to lack feelings and a conscience. Meursault in The Stranger reminded me exactly of this movie character in all of his thoughts and his overall outlook on the world.

I do agree that Meursault seems to be a radical subject, perhaps an existentialist whether Camus intended so or not. However, I do not think Meursault’s mentality is healthy or normal at all. He seems to entirely lack a conscience and feelings for his friends and family. These values that he lacks suggest a serious mental issue. I believe that humans have evolved in certain ways which allow and promote further development of humankind. Personally, I think that things like emotional attachment to people are a part of human development. Meursault’s lack of feelings and a conscience suggest that he is an abnormal, and perhaps unhealthy individual.

Although Meursault is a radical subject, this is not an attainable goal for most people. Evolutionarily, humans pass down genes and traits that are healthy and promote the betterment of the species. If you watch “American Psycho,” you may see relations between the main character of the film and Meursault. I think this reinforces the idea that Meursault is not a sane man.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Are We in a Bad System?

Existentialism suggests that we are tricked by a system into thinking that relationships with others, our jobs, and our religion create meaning in our lives. But are we really tricked, or do we choose to make these things the meaning of life?

I would say that we choose these things to create meaning in our life. Existentialism suggests that we must cast all our relationships with others away in order to become radical subject and truly enjoy life. But to me, this seems like the worst way to enjoy life and unlock its full potential. The times that I enjoy life the most are usually times that I am with family or friends. Alienation does not seem like it would unlock anything, but rather lock us away.

The same goes for careers. I believe it is easy for people to find the meaning of their life in their careers. If they want to help others, and believe that the meaning of their life is to help others, then how can anyone say they have been tricked into doing their job. If they are doing what they love to do, then they have not been tricked, but rather chosen their path.

To say that the meaning of life is unlocked by casting away jobs, religion, and isolating ourselves is absurd. Life is random, and death is inevitable, but that does not mean that we have to cast all the things we were "taught by the system". What we choose to make the meaning of our life is something we choose , not something a social construct told us to choose.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Why did Camus Cross the Street? Because this Act was at the Core of His Radical Self and Free From Societal Influence

What is the meaning of life? Nothingness. Randomness. Entropy. Disorder. Chaos.

If Camus is to believed. Yet, I believe that Camus is wrong. I disagree completely with the theories of existentialism.  Existentialism argues that life is random. Death is the only constant and that no societal values (like love, friendship, family, money, success, jobs, etc) actually contribute to the essence of life. Camus explains that to be truly grasp life and to embrace your humanity, you must release all societal values from your grasp. Instead you must realize who you are at your core and embrace your "radical self". You must stop letting any external pressure affect you in any way and instead act on your intrinsic impulses. It preaches that you must reject all "bad faith". It says to achieve this perfect state of humanity, you must be super aware and conscious of these societal values and reject them completely. Yet I think that this act of rejection is intrinsically ignorant and an act brought out by unawareness of one of humanity's most important tendencies; peoples sociability. To accept existentialism is to reject the essence of all other forms of life. Social values did not just come from thin air; they were constructed by other people, by other forms of life. I think that the essence of life cannot be derived from cutting yourself off from the rest of life. I believe that though the essence of life is chaos, chaos is bound to order and that order comes from societal values.

If existentialism and Camus are to be believed, then I don't think there is a meaning to life. After-all, meaning itself is a social construct, and how do you derive meaning from randomness?

Margaret Atwood and Radical Subjectivism


The word hand floats above your handLike a small cloud over a lake.The word hand anchorsYour hand to this table,Your hand is a warm stoneI hold between two words.

In a section of Margaret Atwood's "You Begin," she follows the mind of a child in the process of learning words, and uses it to emphasize the limits of language as a social construct. By this logic, language can be added to the left hand section of the board along with religion, friendship, love, morality, etc. Without discrediting the validity of Atwood's point, it is safe to say that language gives us the advantage of communication and advances the human connection. Without it, what would we use? Body language? That's a language too. I guess we could each evaluate the "energy" that another person gives off, but that seems a little abstract to use as a form of communication. Language is necessary for the human connection!
You can't have a system that promotes limitless individuality without losing some of the influence that people naturally have on each other. Radical subjectivism wouldn't work without the loss of human connection. Is it worth it to feel the freedom offered by the suggestion of a world without social constructs if it means you are alone? If each person has their own set of guidelines and experiences, doesn't this make us less social? Don't we already have the privacy of our own distinct minds? The vastness of the world is an attractive concept, but using every bit of the world's potential just doesn't seem feasible.

These Are All Lies

What is the meaning of life?

Walking into a room and seeing this question written on the board can mean nothing good. Answering this question is possibly the greatest conundrum humans can face because every answer that is given can also be debunked. But, this begs the question of why must we answer this question?

Who ever decided that life has to have meaning? By agonizing over the answer, we are fulfilling the expectation given to us through society that nothing can simply be. We've all experienced the class where a teacher stands in front of the room and asks a question along the lines of; "why did the author make the curtains red? What does this mean?" (this happened a lot while we read Jane Eyre in my class). My automatic response, and I'm sure many others', is maybe the author wanted red curtains so they are simply red. This one detail, and response the teacher is looking for, probably cannot contribute much to the story and perhaps we shouldn't focus a whole 48 minute period to it.

While life is not as simple as a detail like the color of the curtains, I have the same response. If life is something that we only get to experience once, we should be able to accept the inevitability that throughout life one experiences many different emotions. But, if life is enjoyable, it does not need meaning, in fact struggling to find or create meaning of life prohibits you from experiencing it in it's raw form. Any answer you come up with is a lie because, in finding this answer, you have prohibited yourself from living life thus, your answer cannot be accurate since you have not experienced it. Since it is also said that everyone experiences life in a different way, there is no outcome that would be applicable to all of life. So when I'm asked, "what is the meaning of life?" I respond, "why does it need one?"

What Gives Meaning to Mersault's Life?

In The Stranger by Albert Camus, Mersault goes through a lot internally and externally that shapes his mindset on life and how it actually plays out. In life, we think about and discover what gives our life meaning. The essence of life. What variables are involved that change us as a human. How we respond to life and its complicated structure. Mersault is a character that represents this complex life experience as a whole. He experiences a plethora of emotions throughout the book, ranging from stability to suffering. These shifts in a character allow a reader to understand the significance in not only Mersault's life journey, but also their own and how their life works.

Thinking about the meaning of life and what gives life significance is essential while reading this book because the main character struggles with life. Mersault is very removed from society and the things in life that usually contribute to its importance don't matter to him. Whether it's marriage, death, success, relationships, or morals, these aspects don't seem to affect Mersault. Sometimes I think he chooses not to be aware or care, but I also think he doesn't know better at times. He pours his emotions into things that wouldn't normally matter as much as something like death. When his mother died, he didn't seem to care, and he is blamed for this throughout the book. Moreover, after killing a man, he wasn't deeply impacted.

The interesting part of the book and the paradox of his character is shown while he is in jail and on trial. He's honest yet seen as a threat to society. He goes from calm at one moment to restless and anxious to get out of jail. His recognition of freedom while in jail allows him to realize that he's not free. His understanding of life is inconsistent because he doesn't really have a sense of good or bad. Mersault is a unique individual because he reacts to something based on how he feels, not what the world will think or what's right. Most characters aren't like him in books, therefore it's interesting to watch his life play out and the choices he makes. Mersault gives life meaning by the way he lives. In a way, he ignores the values and details that shape one's life and instead feels a certain way because of his mindset. It's confusing and complex yet fascinating. Figuring out the essence of life isn't easy.

No Emotion

While reading The Stranger the main thing that came to mind was the mental detachment of Meursault to the outside world. It is sort of haunting the little guilt he feels for the crime he has committed. As expressed when Meursault thinks to himself, ¨It was then I felt a stirring go through the room and for the first time I realized that I was guilty" (90). Although Meursault has been in prison for a while now he is just beginning to understand that he is guilty for killing an Arab. This is a prime example of his emotional detachment as he isn't feeling any of the emotions he should be. 

Another example of this is his odd relationship to Marie. When I was first introduced to Marie I felt that she was just a casual lover that would come and go. As the novel progressed she plays a much more prominent role in the plot however. Although Marie as strong feelings for Meursault and definitely shows them he is not expressing the same feelings towards Marie. She greatly wants to get married, but Meursault doesn't see a purpose in getting married. Additionally he feels that it wouldn't matter who he marries. 

I really don't even know what to think when it comes to Meursault. It seems that every situation he's given he  is emotionless towards. His entire thought process is super bland and he doesnt't think too deeply into every situation. Yet, the question is does he truly feel nothing or does he feel it all?

What do you think?

Mersaultphus

Camus describes Sisyphus as a happy. He says that Sisyphus is happy because he knows exactly what his fate is and he no longer has to worry about his life changing. Sisyphus is perfectly happy to push the rock up the hill over and over again.

Mersault, the Protagonist of Albert Camus's The Stranger, finds himself in a similar situation where he is imprisoned for a long period of time because of murder. Mersault reaches a similar mindset that Sisyphus found. He came to terms with his incarceration. At first Mersault is unhappy because he cannot smoke, be spontaneous, or even attempt to spread his seed. He realizes that these are terms of his imprisonment. He eventually adapts his mind to prison life and his days become less troublesome. Mersault comes to the realization that he knows exactly what his future is and that nothing will ever really surprise him.

Mersault finds peace in his prison just as Sisyphus did in his punishment.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The ACT Problem

During this whole college application process, I have one main question: why on Earth do we still have the ACT/SAT?

Although it's true that no part of your college app can define you as a human being (not your grades, not your essay, not your letters of rec) the part that tells the least about you by far is your ACT score.

How do you recieve this one number? You sit in a room for four hours with no food, no water, no exercise, and you take a series of specifically structured multiple choice tests that are specifically engineered to be too long to finish within the time period. The test is designed to be stressful, miserable, and to make you rush to finish.

These four hours give you one number that supposedly gives people a good idea of how smart you are. But what about the other factors? What if you're incredibly bright but can't focus for periods that long? Many students are very smart in their schoolwork but can't manage to do well on tests, which doesn't reflect their intelligence at all. What if you didn't get a good night's sleep the night before? What if you just happened to be distracted by something in your life? All of these factors can have a severe impact on your ACT score, and unless you're willing to pay to take the test again (and again and again and again), that score will determine which colleges you can go to.

While there's more to your application than just your score, it's still a large factor. Many colleges have a minimum score for incoming applicants. If you screw up your test (that four hour test!) it can keep you from going to quite a few colleges you might truly be qualified for.

But it's far more than that. Students who study from the officially issued ACT/SAT books (costing $20-$30 a pop) are guaranteed to do better than students who don't. And students who pay to take the prep classes are guaranteed to do better than students who just study from the books. The ACT is constantly coming up with new materials and services that test takers can pay for to improve their performance on the test.

These tests are businesses. This is what many people tend to forget. These companies exist to make profits, and they are making HUGE profits off the backs of students desperate to get into college.

So why do colleges still even consider these scores when considering applicants? Why do we still let students in American be defined by one number they earned on one day of their life? Why do we still think that intelligence can be measured by filling in boxes and being able to sit still for four hours?

Existentialism in the stranger+ Sisyphus

I found the short essay Albert Camus wrote on the "Myth of Sisyphus" to be very insightful and helpful in understanding existentialism in the Stranger. One of existentialism's main components is the fact that you are responsible for your actions and your fate alone, and this was very well illustrated in the "Myth of Sisyphus". Camus argues that Sisyphus, although faced with a seemingly horrible and grueling task, is in fact the most liberated among us or perhaps blissful because he accepts his fate and takes hold of it. Similarly, Meursault in the story accepts whatever life throws his way and eventually his terrible fate at the end, not because he has given up, but because he has chosen to accept rather than push away. Meursault is the (almost) perfect example of the existentialist.

However as I have come to know the existentialism and the various French philosophers associated with it (Camus and Sartre), I have found many problems with the idea that "life is meaningless, and therefore everyone is confused". To me, "The Stranger" and the "Myth of Sisyphus" overlook the idea that the world is not all artificial pain and suffering, in fact this view I would argue is incredibly cynical while being very narrow. It is important to remember intrinsic values as well as extrinsic values when measuring "artificiality" and what really matters, for at the end of the day aren't Meursault and Camus arguing that something matters in life for their desire for people to accept their fate? "Nothing" after all is something in the end.

Maursault: On trial for Murder or Mother's love

Meursault does belong in prison, that is a fact. He murdered a man for no other reason than the sun was too hot on his head that day, but does he belong on death row? No. In his trial he was judged unfairly, instead of being tried for murder he was tried for if he loved his mother or not. The prosecutor asked him and his witness questions about his mothers funeral, if he cried or not and their life together. He then judged Meursault for getting into a relationship with Marie only a day after his mothers funeral, which lead the jury to despise Meursault, not for killing the Arab but for not loving his mother which eventually lead to his death.

Meursault...a Psychopath?

While reading The Stranger, I'm having a very difficult time not getting angry with Meursault. I know that as a good reader you aren't supposed to try to relate to the character, but I still feel aggravated by Meursault's constant indifference. When he tells Marie that it doesn't matter if he loves her, and his boss that his life would be just as good if he didn't move to Paris, I want to scream at the book. How could he be indifferent about these things?! It's mind boggling to me.

Another aspect of Meursault that I can't understand is how unwilling he is to form emotional attachments to people. This, along with having no empathy, are two qualities he shares with psychopaths. Although I'm not sure that I believe Meursault is really a psychopath, I don't think that his indifference is just another personality trait. I think there is more of a story behind it.

Holden Meursault

The main character, Meursault, in "The Stranger" kind of reminds me of Holden from "Catcher in the Rye". Both characters are kind of jumpy and don't really ever show affection until you least expect it. The way that Camus and Salinger write is kind of similar in the way that they make the characters, who are pretty different, come off as really similar.

Knocking on the Door of Unhappiness

So far in The Stranger, Meursault has been a very interesting character. He seems to have no emotional reactions, but then he analyzes the things around him in such incredible ways. This can be confusing to many people because people often think that to appreciate things and understand them fully, we must be able to establish some emotional connection. I am not sure if this is true. Meursault can see things so clearly, perhaps this is because he is very unemotional. When his mother dies, he doesn't seem to have a reaction that most people would have if their mothers died. He doesn't really even think about her very much until he remembers that she said that people can get used to anything. Then later, when he is back at his apartment, he spends an entire day just observing people from his window. He watches the world go on around him and details the most everyday things as if he were seeing them for the first time. I think that this is what allows Meursault to get through his time in prison and be completely fine with whatever is happening to him. Camus wrote that when Meursault was shooting the Arab, he was knocking on the door of unhappiness, but besides a few things that he initially misses when he gets to prison, Meursault seems to be doing just fine. Without so much emotion, he doesn't have to miss and worry about his old life--he is able to create a new one. He can pass all the time in the world in the prison because he is able to remember the smallest details that keep him occupied. I think that as the story progresses, we will see that Meursault can adapt to any circumstance and still come out alive.

Meursault is a Hero of Self Independence

Throughout, The Stranger, by Albert Camus, Meursault is constantly creating problems for himself due to him just being who he really is. Starting at the beginning of the story, Meursault really doesn't show much grief or sorrow or any emotion for the most part when he is dealing with his mother's death. He also never went and visited his mother and, he said that he loved her but with no real enthusiasm. Later in the book, he gets criticized for this and it becomes a key part of his trial. This is also shown in his relationship with Marie. Meursault reaches a point in the story where he is basically Marie's boyfriend/fiance. However, when Marie asks him if he loves her, he says probably not and that this could have happened with any girl like her. These two essential parts of the book highlight Meursault and his thinking which, support the idea of him having true independence. He doesn't conform to society and he is not afraid to share his true emotions. In the end, that is his downfall. Meursault is truly who he is and is fine with the consequences that come from his actions.

Is Their Another Side to Mersault?

I have enjoyed reading The Stranger so far. I think that Mersault is a very interesting and unusual character. He responds oddly to certain situations and I am curious about the reasons why. Chapter one starts off with the death of Mersault's Maman. Mersault does not act like a person regularly would about the death of someone close to them. First, during his mother's vigil, Mersault was smoking and he feel asleep. Then when it came time for his mother's funeral, he did not shed a tear. There is something in me that seems to think Mersault is trying to hide his true emotions. He kept on declining the offer to see his mother's body, so maybe he is in denial and does not want to face his real emotions.

On top of all of this, after Maman's funeral, Mersault goes and sleeps with one of his coworkers, Marie. People were discussing in the fishbowl this week whether Mersault was acting appropriately by doing this. Some thought that it was heartless of Mersault to do considering his mother had just died. I agreed with the other half that said that maybe this was Mersault's way of griefing. Everybody has different ways of coping with loss and I think this is how Mersault is attempting to. I think he is trying to distract himself from facing the reality of Maman's death. Additionally, Mersault won't tell Marie he loves her, but yet he has agreed to marry her. I think that is very odd. This all leads me to wonder why Mersault is hiding his emotions or if maybe this is just how he is. What do you guys think?

If Meursault is to Sisyphus, then Marie is to the Rock

Meursault's life, even though he seems to not care about anything, is similar to Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain. Every time Meursault gets close to some milestone, he is often left with nothing, the same as Sisyphus at the top of his mountain.

This similarity is seen with his mother dying, but is most clear to me with his relationship with Marie. While he doesn't really care whether or not he marries Marie, his relationship with her is serious and the energy he has put into their relationship is analogous to the energy Sisyphus has put into his effort to push the rock up to the top of the mountain. Meursault's imprisonment is the end of his solid relation with Marie, and because of this his situation is similar to the rock falling down the mountain. He came so close to having a nice relationship, just to have it crumble, like Sisyphus getting to the top of the mountain and watching the rock fall back down.

While Meursault is in jail, there are also parallels between what he's thinking and how Camus interprets Sisyphus's walk back down the mountain. It is here that they both have only their thoughts to keep them company, and seem to find a real grasp on their world. Due to these similarities, it appears that Meursault is condemned to a similar punishment that Sisyphus was forced to endure.

The Most and yet the Least Sensitive Man Ever

From the first sentence, it is clear to us that Meursault is not only emotionally distant, but insensitive. His lack of empathy for other beings could contribute to an argument of his potential to be a sociopath.

Many instances where his emotional insensitivity is obvious are used as evidence against him in his trial, and many of them have to do with his inability to mourn the death of his mother.

Despite all of this, Meursault experiences physical sensations incredibly intensely. One could even argue that the only meaning in his life is what he experiences physically.

This is what makes his narration style so unique; he is emotionless and yet stupendously passionate. This is why he is both the most and least sensitive human being to ever have been imagined.

Guilty: Meursault's Trial

Meursault is guilty: that much is obvious. It's not as though he's denying it. But his trial isn't about whether or not he pulled the trigger, or if he had good reason to. It's about whether he loved his mother, and the prosecutor even admits it himself-- Meursault is accused of "burying his mother with crime in his heart." Whether Meursault loved his mother is a weird question with a sort of ambiguous answer (no, he didn't cry at her funeral, or have any idea what her age was, and yes he did hook up with Marie right afterwards, but he's not necessarily emotionless. Or entirely emotionless, anyway.) But, while the prosecutor could probably have gotten a guilty verdict on the facts alone, what with the shooting the man five times in what could barely be called self-defense, he chooses to go with "he didn't love his mother." I get the idea of character witnesses, but it does seem a little bit much.

Also, I get why Meursault almost ignoring the fact of his mother's death is considered bad, but I actually don't see it so terribly. What harm does seeing a comedy, or sleeping with Marie, or not crying at a funeral do? It's not like acting properly sad is going to bring his mother back from the dead.

Meursault vs. Camus' Sisyphus

When I was reading Camus' analysis of Sisyphus' struggle, I couldn't help but think about how similar Sisyphus seemed to Meursault.

  • Sisyphus' crimes and mischief during his life = Meursault murdering the Arab
  • Sisyphus' underworld = Meursault's jail cell
  • Sisyphus' unending rock-moving task = Meursault's repetitive prison schedule
  • Sisyphus' hour of consciousness = Meursault's moments of deep thought/room exploration
Of course, the parallels aren't perfect. Sisyphus is damned to eternity pushing a rock up a mountain, and Meursault is only in jail for a year. Meursault is able to speak with guards, go for walks, and eat meals, whereas Sisyphus just spends all of his time pushing a rock up a mountain and then walking down to retrieve it when it falls. Still, it's obvious that Camus' belief that people can get through anything shines through in both The Stranger and "The Myth of Sisyphus." I wonder which he wrote first, and if one could have influenced the other.

Why Does Marie Stay With Meursault?

As I read Part I of The Stranger I couldn't help but wonder why Marie likes Meursault so much and why she stays with him even as he is put on trial. Meursault seems to be interested in her merely sexually, and responds with indifference as she persistently asks him if she loves her and would marry her. Even though Meusault shows no signs of emotional investment in the relationship, Marie (who seems to value emotional as well as sexual connections) sticks with him even after learning that he had killed a man, and believes that she and Meursault will get married after he gets out of prison. Why is she so invested in the relationship? Could Meursault's passivity be what attracts her to him?

Memories, Adaptation, and Prison

While reading The Stranger, I cannot help but notice how incredible the descriptions of everything are. The one description that really stuck out to me was Merusault's extremely detailed description of the prison and his life in prison. The way that he first describes the hardships he has had to go through first, but then describes how he overcame it, really proves his point that anyone can adapt to anything.

I also think that Meursault's idea of memories is very interesting. I don't think that a person realizes how many memories they really have until that is the only thing they are left with. Meursault proves this. He states that he would remember everything. He would go through entire rooms in his house and think about every little nook and crannie that was there, and he also had a memory for every little thing he remembered in a room. A person collects a lot of memories in just one day. Camus makes the point that memories help people through jail, and that even if a person was born the day before they went to jail, they would have enough memories to help pass the time.

Whenever I heard about jail, I always thought about how terribly boring it must be, and though Camus does not make jail sound appealing, he shows how people get through it. People learn to adapt to any situation they are in, no matter how different it may be from what they are used to. People use their memories to pass the time.

Meh.

In the first chapter of the novel The Stranger by Albert Camus the main character of the story Meursault has just received news of the of his mothers death. As Meursault attends the funeral he is not at all sad about his mother's death. He isn't glad that she has passed away either, so he isn't pertrayed as a monster, but it is difficult at this time to categorize his personality as he seems to lack emotion in everyday interaction and situations.

Clueless

Meursault really doesn't get it. Throughout his entire experience speaking with the magistrate and his lawyer, as well as throughout his trial, he helps the prosecution paint an image of him as an unfeeling, cold-blooded killer. He tells his lawyer he felt no sadness when his mother died because he was too tired. In court he tries to help the caretaker, who is testifying against him. At one point he even ignores the magistrate's questions as to why he hesitated before shooting again. It is no surprise after hearing all his actions the courtroom seems to hate him. Even though he realizes this he continues to not make an effort and I predict this book will not have a happy ending for the man the magistrate calls "Monsieur Antichrist".

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Existentialism-- To What Point?

Surprise, surprise, the Stranger is an existentialist book! w0w!

Anyway.

It's interesting to see someone depict existentialism this way and to think about how far some of these things go. I have plenty of friends who live their life like the narrator does-- day in, day out, nothing really matters. Just with the flow. However, can I imagine my friends killing someone just because a knife was flashed at them in a conflict that really doesn't concern them? Of course not! But it's interesting how when you look at it in that full perspective, it makes perfect sense when he does it. And only then, it seems, at least from him calling the next four shots 'knocking on the door of despair,' he snap out of it. At least I predict. Part 1 of the story is simply showing how one can get in a funk-- and then you don't realize what you have until it's all gone. At least until he fires the shots, I would almost argue that the narrator is more of a nihlist than an existentialist-- he finds no meaning or importance in anything that he does.

Interesting.

A Strange Life Indeed

The one factor that remains ubiquitous across Mersault's life is manner by which he lives it. He seems to be going through life just to go through it. On the surface it seems as though the reason for why he goes through life is that he cares for no one. For example, his mother's funeral should be a time where he feels sorrow; however, his aloofness is almost an indicator that he has no emotion whatsoever. However, an even more interesting perspective is if Mersault is in fact the most emotional person in the story. His relationship with Marie although somewhat superficial on the exterior seems to be very invested in the moments he spends time with her. When they are at the beach and he lays on her stomach he remarks that the most memorable part is her heart beat. The fact that Mersault remembers such a fact is quite interesting because it suggests that he does care. Indeed this may also implicate Mersault as someone who cares so much about people that he fears to get attached to them and explanation is the reason for why he lives in a very passive manner.

Camus says, "Not so fast!"

In The Stranger, by Albert Camus, the first line is, "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know." Monsieur Meursault is the man behind these words. Immediately I thought he was heartless. Who doesn't know what day their own mother passed away? As I continued to read the first part of the text, Camus laid out examples, what I considered evidence, of Meursault as an emotionless character. Some examples include Meurasault not crying at his mother's funeral and sleeping with another woman the next day, not reacting to the abusive relationship between Salamano and his dog, and finally helping Raymond right a threatening letter to someone he does not know.

However, in the last paragraph of part one Meursault describes the four shots he fires at the Arab like "knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness". In other words, I believe Camus is telling readers, "not so fast!". He is telling readers we can not write off Meursault has an emotionless person. I guess the "door of unhappiness" is suggesting that Meursault was happy until that point. With this in mind, I re-read some earlier scenes of Meursault and Marie at the beach. The sentences are short and have a cut and paste feel, but the imagery and diction make the text magical. The use of physical words such as brushed and touched are used in a poetic way. I think his observations reveal more about Meursault's passionate side. Meursault has a knack for recognizing beauty. Beauty in the sky, at the beach, and more. 

Also, at first glance, I thought Meursault feels the time pass in prison because he is agreeable and does not stand up for himself. Moreover, I thought when he was done talking to the prison guard about freedom, that he accepted giving up his freedom. With closer reading, Camus suggests that Meursault is a genius for adapting to prison life, and in turn he does not give up his freedom. Once he starts to orient his thoughts around prison life he makes the idea of freedom attainable for himself. Freedom can permeate all boundaries and situations. 

I am not a hundred percent sure that freedom is universal as long as you have freedom of thought. Freedom of thought definitely is important but I think there is more to it. Overall, Camus presents Meursault as a complex character, one that readers need to be patient with in order to understand his uniqueness. 

Can We Really Get Used to Anything?

When a philosopher writes a book, it's a safe bet to expect that they will include their philosophical ideas in it, and The Stranger by Albert Camus is no exception. Camus's ideals are represented throughout the book by his main character, Meursault. While reading The Stranger, I began to ask myself about Meursault's idea that after a while, we can get used to anything.

So, can we actually get used to anything? I approached this idea by thinking up hypothetical scenarios. First, I started with Meursault's predicament - his imprisonment. I fully believe that anyone can get used to prison. Meursault is a perfect model of how someone can learn to tolerate prison, and to argue that one cannot get used to prison after reading The Stranger would be very difficult. I believe that we can accept most other kinds of suffering as well. Similar to Meursault being confined in prison, my fellow students and I are confined in school everyday. Almost none of us get a healthy amount of sleep, our extracurriculars combined with our homework load can produce severe stress, and we are forced to sit for most of the day, often through boring lectures. But we are used to it, and it isn't so bad. I accept it for what it is, and I almost don't mind it at all. If people can get used to school and prison, they can probably get used to almost any other aspect of life as well.

However, there is a place where a line can be drawn. In my opinion, people can never get used to anything that oppresses their humanity. Take slavery, for example. The slaves in America had countless years to get used to slavery, and yet they never did. I believe this is not due to the harsh nature of their work, seeing as how many people who do physical work get used to its intensity and don't mind after a while. I believe that slaves never got used to slavery because they were not being treated as human beings with rights, which is intolerable. There are certain things that can never be accepted, and that is why I disagree with Camus/Meursault's belief.    


The Peculiar Indifference of Meursault

The Stranger is a relatively simple yet intriguing novel that centers around a man, Meursault, the protagonist of the novel. He is characterized greatly by his emotional indifference, his way of thinking contributing to the book's lasting reputation as a haven for existentialism themes and questions. Meursault's contentious attribute is most obvious when he fails to react 'normally' in situations which might receive a great emotional response from most people.

While having an indifferent attitude towards what is happening to you can be beneficial, especially in very painful or stressful situations, it will mostly get you in trouble. For example, when Marie asked on more than one occasion if Meursault loved her, and his iconic response in telling her that it didn't mean anything but that he didn't think so, it caused her to look sad. So although they don't say that they love each other, or really even acknowledge their mutual feelings besides with sex, they stay together. Meursault gave almost the exact same response when asked if he wanted to marry her, "It doesn't make any difference and that we can if you want to."


Besides the obvious interest in how Meursault gets through his day and how he continues to deal with people, I'm mostly curious on what sort of emotional trauma Meursault must have gone through to obtain his emotional indifference, or if it only appeared with the death of Maman in the beginning of the book.


Another occasion where Meursault's indifference was prevalent was in the case with Raymond and his woman. Maybe it was just the culture and built-in misogyny of the time or simply his personality, but when Raymond asked Meursault to give a statement that the girl was cheating on him and that her abuse was justified, he thought nothing of it. All he said on it was that he wasn't expecting anything, and besides he didn't like cops. Reading that was a major "yikes!" moment for me.


The Stranger makes the readers question nice topics like existentialism and human emotion, and Meursault makes for a very interesting character analysis.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

L'Etranger

We have started reading "The Stranger" by Albert Camus in class. I read it last year in French class and am curious about the difference between reading books in their original and translated languages.

The English copy of the book I received has a note from the translator about Camus' style and how he picked the translation of certain words to maintain the style. There I discovered reading a translated book in a way is shaped in the opinion of the translator. Not that it is a bad thing but choosing certain words that denote some meanings as it relates to the feel of the book could once be interpreted in different ways by the original author is given a concrete meaning in the translation.

Personally reading the book in English after reading it in French first I find myself picking out and translating in my mind which makes it really frustrating to read because translating is so mentally exhaustive and I can't seem to turn it off. I really love French so I think poetic value is really added to the original.

 I am looking forward to read both versions of the book and I hope after reading the English version I'll have a more developed opinion on how translated books add or subtract from the overall value. One thing that hasn't changed between the two is how frustratingly apethetic Meursault seems at times.

Relationships in The Stranger

Before reading The Stranger, I expected it to be full of binary relationships and have a main character struggling with identity like the short stories we read. After the first three chapters, Monsieur Meursault seems to be struggling with his identity, but for a different reason than the characters in the short stories.

Rather than being surrounded by binary relationships, Monsieur Meursault seems to avoid having any close relationships. He describes his friends Emmanuel and Céleste from an impersonal view. Additionally, his relationship with Marie Cardona, his crush, is distant. Meursault has a bad kiss with Marie at the movie theater, and although they go back to his apartment together, Marie is gone in the morning before he wakes up. Even after the death of his mother, Meursault was not very upset, and agreed with his neighbor that it was "bound to happen sooner or later".

In regards to personal development,  Meursault seems to be just as far behind as the characters in binary relationships. He makes me wonder which one is more damaging, being stuck in power relationships or avoiding close relationships altogether. In both scenarios, the person cannot truly understand others or be understood by others. As the book progresses, I hope Meursault forms closer relationships with those around him so that he can establish and develop his personal identity.

A letter to Abner Snopes

Dear previously valued member,

Here at Pyromaniac's Anonymous, we famously accept those of all stars and stripes. However, we have been made privy to a situation that we cannot and will not tolerate. The egregious relapse that Abner Snopes has experienced is dangerous to the victims and to all current members who have been, for lack of a better word, in a tizzy all week. One member, who had made admirable strides in his recovery, was especially excited by the news that he went home and burned several bales of hay. To burn a bale of hay is one thing but twelve barns is grounds for immediate expulsion from our organization. We apologize to for any inconvenience that Mr. Snopes' reckless actions have caused his family but he does still owe us 12 bushels of corn in membership fees.

Gregory Chaffin
Personal Relations Head
Pyromaniac’s Anonymous

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Fiesta 1980 - Sibling Relationships

In Fiesta 1980, the relationship between Yunior and Rafa is unique and extremely interesting. At first I thought they were going to be the typical brother-brother relationship, where they punch and make fun of each other, and in the end, they truly have each other's back. However, in this story, I do not think Yunior and Rafa have that relationship. Although Yunior and Rafa do joke around with each other as they call each other names and playfully hit each other, once their dad looks at them, everything changes. Rafa backs away from Yunior as if he barely knows him. I understand that Rafa leaves his brother alone because he is scared of his father, but I would think that their abusive father would make them closer. It is just interesting to me because I can't even imagine not having a good relationship with my siblings. Yunior's environment and father, I believe, make it hard for him to have a good sibling relationship.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Why the "Why" Essay Needs to Die

Let's take a look at the college application:
  • Common Application
    • Basic Information
  • Grades and Test Scores
    • Academic Strength
  • Recommendation Letters
    • Overall classroom behavior
  • Essay
    • A evaluation of writing ability, as well as giving the student the opportunity to express the things that make them unique
Is this list everything you need to completely define a person? Of course not. But this "why us" essay that so many school require does not get us any closer to that goal. In fact it doesn't really seem to do anything of use.

Me: Yeah I'd like to apply to your school
Them: Great, I'll just take a look at your application here and... oh... you seem to be missing the "why us" essay. It's required.
Me: "Why us"? What is that?
Them: It's an essay where you write why you're applying to our school.
Me: Why does that matter?
Them: Well now, we wouldn't want you to apply to us if you don't really want to go here. This is all for YOUR sake.
Me: Of course I want to go here, that's why I'm applying in the first place!
Them: Yes, but why? Why do you like us?
Me: So you just want me to compliment you?
Them: Yes, but be unique. If we can replace our name in the essay with the name of any other school, we won't be impressed.
Me: But the reasons I'm applying to YOU are pretty much identical to the reasons I'm applying to all the other schools I'm applying to!
Them: Well that just won't fly here sir. Come up with an unique reason of why we're great, or don't bother applying. Good day.
Me: ...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Jessica Benjamin: To write a college essay we must see the admissions officer as humans, too.

The last couple weeks we’ve talked a lot about what is going to make our admissions essays the “red envelope”.  The real question is, what do they really want to hear about?  How many of us are going to write a funny essay? How many of us are going to write a serious essay about serious things that have happened to them? How many will write out a list of all the brown-nosing volunteer work they’ve done in high school?  What I realized this week while trying to pick a style is that there is no correct style.
It’s a toss up
It’s a crap shoot.
Why? Because you have no idea who you’re writing to.

How do you know that your essay about your volunteer work at the Human Rights Campaign isn’t being read by an eighty-year old conservative?
Ya’ don’t.
How do I know that my slightly racist, yet ironic comment about how Asian people are good at violin isn’t being read by a now-very-pissed-off Asian lady?
Ya’ don’t.
These essay readers are humans too. They have their own biases, their own preconceived notions, and their own sense of humor.

How can you know?

I didn’t write this blog post because I have an answer to this predicament. I don’t. Comments, tips, and anecdotes appreciated.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Fiesta 1980

In class, we had the chance to begin talking about the conclusion of the story "Fiesta 1980". At the end of the story, Yunior is puking in the car, just as he was at the beginning of the story. As the reader, I was excepting some sort of climax within the story. I was expecting that Yunior would be cured of his car-vomitting or that his relationship with his dad would come to a head and explode in some  way.

Initially, I was frustrated with the lack of climax and excitement in the story. I wanted a jolt, some sort of surprise. The story disappointed me. However, as I reflect more on the story, I'm coming to appreciate the lack of event within the story. I believe the beauty of the story is in its simplicity and missing climax. The lack of climax was itself the surprise in the story. Most stories have a strong build up and explosion, but "Fiesta 1980" did not, which makes it unique
In the short story Roman Fever, by Edith Wharton is about the relationship between two "friends" Ms. Ansley and Ms. Slade in Rome with their daughters reminiscing of the early childhood inRome and of their deceased husbands. In the beginning of the story it seems as just a look into the happiness of two bffs, but the deeper you go you see the true feelings and attitude toward each other pick up rather quickly. You see they shared a love for one man when they were younger Ms. Slade's husband Mr. Slade. Then you relate it's not about friendship you see its about who got the man of their dreams and and who didn't. Power becomes the weapon and ultimately exposes their "friendship" for what it was..nothing just two women faking it the entire time. But at the end it shows neither Ms. Slade nor Ms. Ansley had more power than the one another. They were equal.

Review of Roman Fever


Roman Fever tells the story of two old women, who completely misunderstand and misjudge each other. The story is very long and boring, leading to a ending that is meant to shock readers. Mrs. Ansley reveals that she had an affair with Mrs. Slade’s husband. Overall, I did not enjoy the story. The story includes two women who never accomplished much at all. Instead, the women spend their time judging each other. This reinforces the idea that women are meant to compete with one another, rather than having bonds and loving one another. The women’s success in the story depended on the women’s relationships with a man. The lack of strong or successful female characters in the story bored me and reinforced ancient stereotypes. Some may enjoy Edith Wharton's thoughtful and old-fashioned story but I did not.

Bird Agency

In George Saunders’ story “Escape From Spiderhead” the main character finally escapes the experimental prison by committing suicide. While many authors choose to end the narration when the main character dies, Saunders simply allows Jeff to transcend into his next life. His reincarnation was freeing but as I thought about it I came to a realization:

Assume that Jeff died and became a bird. What did the other birds think about this new bird appearing out of nowhere? Did he just take over the body of an already existing bird? Why do the birds not talk to each other? Why are these birds still subject to humans even in their own realm?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Roman Fever Organization and Setup

Edith Wharton's short story, Roman Fever, is exceptional for its organization and the overall setup of the story. The story is very different from the rest of the collection that the class is reading due to the real slowness and ambiguity of the beginning. The introduction and the first part of the story doesn't really draw the reader in as most of the other stories do. Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley are two women who are recently widowed and are vacationing together in Rome. The two seem to be friends and are out on a veranda-type area enjoying each others company. As I read, I didn't find the story that compelling. Then, in the middle of the story, the two characters begin to think about their relationship and, the story becomes very interesting, and shocking, from that point on. Even though Wharton starts slowly, I think that her method of engaging the reader is great. The change of pace really propels the story and creates a change in perspective that begins to introduce new thoughts and new interpretations. This all culminates with the twist at the end where Delphin, Mrs. Slade's husband, is actually Barbara's, Mrs. Ansley's daughter, father. The change of pace and the twist at the end of the story both helped to created a terrific story.

Love of “Roman Fever"

The best part about this story was that, despite its seemingly boring setting, the plot itself was very interesting. In Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever,” she writes about two middle-aged women who are visiting Rome with their daughters. One of the women’s name is Grace Ansley, mother of Barbara. And the other woman is Alida Slade, mother of Jenny. And in the story, there is a bit of a rivalry going on between the women over their daughters as well as over the affections of Delplhin Slade.

At the end of the story, when Ms. Slade reveals that the letter Ms. Ansley received from the Delphin was actually from her, I was shocked. And when Ms. Slade brags that she was able to be with the Delphin for 25 years, Mrs. Ansley responds, “ I had Barbara.” When I first read this line, I was so surprised. What a bombshell at the end! 

I think this story definitely shows that love is a double-edged sword. In almost any Disney princess movie, true love always solves everything. But in “Roman Fever,” love is instead used as an instrument for destruction. Alida loves the Delphin and is afraid of losing him. So, she writes a letter pretending to be Delphin telling Grace to meet him at the Colesseum. It was Alida’s hope that Grace would show up and be dissapointed. Because of her love for Delphin, Alida was willing to wreck her friendship.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story and its characters. I believe that Edith Wharton did a wonderful job of brining these characters to life.

Machine Gun Etiquette

Through "Bonds of Love", Benjamin’s psychoanalytic dissection on how masculinity and femininity have become linked to the roles of master and slave, she attempts to explicate why and how this situation corrupts our amatory lives and worse, our social existence. Junot Diaz parallels the root of Benjamin’s concern in his short story, "Fiesta 1980". In this piece, there is no room to argue that Yunior’s father, Papi, holds a forcefully dominant position over the rest of the family, while the mother takes a much less assertive position. Papi is heavily abusive to his wife and kids, particularly towards his oldest son Yunior (the narrator) over any of the other children. Whether it is expressed by the physical abuse towards Yunior, the dismissive scoldings at his wife, or his ability to make his youngest daughter’s lip quiver “like some specialized tuning fork” at the sound of his voice-the Man has all the power at home, in the car, and else where. The Woman, being the subdued, well rehearsed, nurturing Woman that she is [forced to be] tiptoes her way through the story finding her place comforting her son, or chatting quietly with her sister in a corner. While yes, this story has a specific focus on dynamics of Hispanic culture, I do think Diaz’ story parallels greatly to all aspects of society, and Benjamin's approach.

Militant Empires

Cell One raised an interesting question in my mind: to what extent is the police/military force overreaching their bounds in countries like Nigeria?

Well, to answer that question we must look to the moralities of characters in short stories like Cell One, as well as real life examples. The story establishes from the beginning that the system in Nigeria is set up in a way that victimizes characters like Nnanambia, but we cannot put the blame completely on this system. We know for a fact that Nnanambia knows right from wrong, despite his decisions to choose wrong. And while Adichie makes it clear he chose wrong when stealing from his parents, we don't know for sure if Nnanambia chose wrong when he was thrown in jail for "cult activities".

But we do have the old man as a prime example of injustice. The old man has committed no crimes, yet still bears the suffering that is life in the jail. Nnanambia, knows this is wrong, but decides to defend the old man, even knowing the consequences of cell one.

I've come to the conclusion that Nnanambia has made some unsavory choices in his past, but is subject to punishment that overreaches his actions. This is a part of the injustice of military force in countries today. A modern day example of this is drug trafficking. A drug smuggler might face incarceration in a country like the United States, but in some countries, such as Indonesia, Singapore, (to name a few), drug trafficking leads to the death penalty. So why must one suffer indefinitely for an act (or lack of act in the old man's case), while the other gets an alternative punishment? Will the world ever come to a consensus about what is an acceptable punishment for a particular crime?

Abner's Relationship with Power

In "Barn Burning", Abner is put at the bottom of many relationships. In his past all of his employers have asserted power over him and his family which is unacceptable to him. Due to his power seeking tendencies, Abner fights the system in an attempt to gain more power for himself. This seems like a noble cause, but his other actions throughout the story are not seen as such.

The method Abner uses to gain power is not a very effective one. Burning down barns does seem like a major insult and inconvenience for Abner's employers, and due to lack of evidence Abner is never incriminated for his crimes, but I fail to see how this betters Abner's situation. This seems like a childish response to an unfair system.

In addition, Abner also seeks power within his own family. As the father he tries to assert his dominance over everyone in his family, which only perpetuates the system which he seems so against. Although I understand Abner's struggle for power I do not fully understand the actions he takes to reach his goal.

Short Stories: Value

We've been reading short stories recently, and, much like short films, the thoughts going through my head are much like: "why haven't we been doing this for YEARS?" Short stories are fun, versatile, and sometimes much easier and rich in the intellectual quest for the "deeper meaning" of a work. Theme has more contention, and hieroglyphs are everywhere.
Why HAVEN'T we been doing this for years?

Pretty much 'cuz our teachers think we're dumb, and even more so, we don't understand our full potential. But that's another story!

On another note, so many authors have written short stories but we just decide to read their books. I feel like the value of a long book would be accentuated by the reading of a short story the author wrote first. In the spirit of  "show, don't tell," one can get a feel for  the author's style and syntax, voice in general, before delving into the full work.

Those are my thoughts. Let me know if you think differently.

Human and Environment Influence in Cell One

I personally thought this was the best short story out of all of them. They all offered interesting themes and developed characters however, this story stuck out to me. From its family ties to the individualism of the brother, it was very striking through its plot. In addition, there are several different emotions and this leads to how each character wants to act in a certain situation.

Nnanambia is initially impacted by the older people at his school who steal. He then goes to to steal his mother's jewelry.  The parents often feel worried for their son, but they also give him the benefit of the doubt when he steals things. The father thinks they should've punished him from the beginning but they don't really do anything to him. Throughout the story, the sister is for the most part close to her brother.  However, things take a turn when he is thrown in jail a few years later with some other guys. This is when the family begins to worry for their son and wish they would've acted earlier.

They not only fear their son not getting better by stopping his stealing habits, but they also fear his life in jail.  The people are treated horribly in there and some people can be transferred to Cell One which is nothing but danger.  The family visits him just about everyday.

The part of this story that was really interesting was Nnanambia's reaction to the innocent old man in jail. This old man was tortured for something his son did but his son is nowhere to be found, so they throw him in jail. Nnanambia is devastated by what he has to witness happen to the old man.  It's surprising to me how he doesn't feel guilt when he steals or commits crime but he is really hurt by the man getting abused.

The environment of school changed him to act like a thief and the human influences from the old man caused him to feel bad.  This paradox is very symbolic to the story as a whole.  The family is the same way. They go from feeling very close to their son to almost as if they don't know him anymore. Lastly, the end scene is very striking. The son gets out of Cell One and is speechless. The sister and her parents are always prepared for Nnanambia to make an excuse or tell them a story.  Except he was silent. Was he scarred from the old man? Did he feel bad that his family had to go through this? Does he regret stealing in the first place? Is he the same person with the same habits but doesn't want to talk?   As the reader, this left me thinking

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Swimmer: Reality or Illusion

In the short story The Swimmer by John Cheever the reader is taken on an adventure down the 'stream' the Lucinda but what started off as merely a fun afternoon activity for Ned turned into a truth seeking reality check.
When the story began I had no doubt that the events were actually unfolding in 'real' life, I believed Ned was actually hopping from one pool to the other conversing with his neighbors and trying to get home. It wasn't until Ned arrived in the Lindleys' backyard and his memory was seeming to fail him that I got the feeling that something wasn't right and that this swimming adventure may not even be real. As the story continues Ned has an even harder time remembering important events about his life and his neighbors (and friends) lives, it starts out with little details, not being able to remember whether his neighbors moved or are just away for the summer to forgetting that his friend had major surgery, Ned even says himself "was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth?" His forgetfulness gets more serious when Ned is in the Halloran's pool and Mrs. Halloran talks about his misfortunes (selling the house and that his children have moved out) but Ned assures her that none of those things has happened. When Ned arrives at the Biswangers’ to have a drink Ned overhears Mrs. Biswanger say “They went for broke overnight—nothing but income—and he showed up drunk one Sunday and asked us to loan him five thousand dollars" however this information doesn't seem to affect Ned at all and he goes on to  continue his cross country swim.
When Ned finally arrives at home the windows are dark and the gate was locked, Ned could not remember where his family could have gone until he finally realised that nobody was home and everything Mrs. Halloran and Biswanger had said was true. The first steps for Ned to recover from his apparent illness is to understand what has happened and know that his family is gone. This swimming adventure of his may just have been an exercise to do just so, and that it was all in his head.

Overlooking the Cults of Cell One

In "Cell One" I found it interesting that, while his family was very aware of the many questionable actions of Nnamabia, it was his younger sister who was scolded or just simply ignored. I first really realized how much the mother especially held Nnamabia on a pedestal when Adichie talks about the person in the supermarket asking why she wasted her fair skin on a boy and left the girl so dark. The rest of that paragraph goes on to explain how Nnamabia was forgiven, or never punished in the first place, for his many misdemeanors. I feel like the author is only further emphasizing the "good" connotation that goes along with white skin.

Both the parents found a way to rationalize all of Namibia's actions, like when he stole the test answers and sold them, the parents said he needed more spending money instead of showing him it was wrong to steal the answers for profit. This leaves me to believe that jail was a much needed experience because it made Nnamabia realized that people are not invincible and that includes him. After seeing the man getting beaten and taken advantage of, I think it humbled him.

There is a pattern of what I suppose is "purposeful ignorance" because the entire town seems to be aware of the thieves and the cults, and yet they simply hide in their houses and pretend like it isn't their neighbors that are killing people and breaking into their houses. They even say that they know who the thieves are, but if they know then why do they let them get away with it? Is it just because they are always the attractive, popular boys? The narrator even admits having a crush on the boy who broke into her house. The mothers passive attitude and the narrators invisibility only acts to strengthen the male dominated attitude of "Cell One."