Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Modern-day Slavery

Throughout my 12 years in school, I have read countless articles, short stories, and novels based on slavery or about slavery. I think over the years, students' ears have become numb to the term slavery just because it is so widely discussed and taught in school. It is not that children have stopped caring, just that they have lost sight of its true weight. Slavery is still prevalent in our world today and should continue to be taught through all levels of schooling.

I find slavery so fascinating in the way that I can't wrap my head around how human beings were once treated so poorly on the same land that I live on today. However, our "progressive" world that we live in today has not progressed as far as we like to believe, as Ta-Nehisi Coates argues. In fact, there is a living, breathing example of slavery that is a humongous issue in the United States right now- the prison system.

The Netflix documentary, Thirteenth, displays the similarities between slavery and the US prison system; the truth is shocking. The film explains a loophole in the 13th amendment that the government has been able to use to get away with slave-labor in the jails. The amendment states, "Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The evidence of this exploitation goes all the way back to 1865, just following the Civil War. After the Confederates economy was decimated, they needed a way to boost income. However, they could not use slaves, as they had been doing. So, they found a loophole in the amendment and re-enlisted many slaves for minor offenses. The South now had free labor.

Since then, our courts system has gotten out of control and has allowed millions of African Americans with minor charges to be placed in prison for unnecessary sentences. The documentary's first line is that one in four African American men will serve prison time at some point in their life. The probability for white men is tremendously smaller.

When I think about slavery, our prison system is not the first thing to come to mind. However, it should be. It is our modern-day construction of slavery and it is not going away until we, as Americans, see it for what it really is.

While very upsetting, it is the truth that we continue to live in a racist society. But putting racism on the back-burner and arguing that slavery is in the past and not necessary to teach our children works against us. In order to live in a racially equal society, everyone must be knowledgeable and everyone must be held accountable for knowing his/her history. We cannot build a successful, loving world off of ignorance.

How To Become A Grown Up

In Toni Morrison's Beloved, Denver straddles the line between youthful innocence and adult responsibility. She usually embraces the headstrong role of a young woman, but still pines for the childhood she lost to Beloved's curse. Denver's struggle to truly live as a young woman is only hindered by Sethe's view of her still as a young child.

When Paul D begins to stay at 124, Denver bluntly asks him how long he planned to "hang around" (52). Paul D's offense at the comment shows that it was not a sweet child's inquiry but a brash woman's question. It also proves that Denver had no illusions as to what Sethe and Paul D had been getting up to. However, Sethe does not view Denver the same way. While talking through the incident with Paul afterwards, she remarks Sethe claims, "Grown don't mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? ... In my heart that don't mean a thing" (54). The infantilzation of Denver by her mother makes Denver's identity far more confusing. It is very hard to see yourself as an adult if nobody else does.

Denver also displays a lack of fear of Beloved's spirit. Even Sethe and Paul D are unsettled by Beloved's presence, with Paul D even backing away from the house at the sight of the red light in the doorway (10). Denver, however, does not find the baby "evil" nor even "sad"; rather she thinks it feels "rebuked" (16). She wishes for signs of its spite, expressing no trepidation at its presence. Denver has a heart of steel, not that of a young child afraid of monsters under the bed.

However, Denver's longing for Beloved has a second connotation. She herself admits that she misses the baby's presence as it was her only semblance of a friend (14-15). She feels cheated out a childhood, pining for her innocence and friends her age to run and play with. When Denver breaks down crying, she remarks that, "The tears she had not shed for nine years" fell on "her far too womanly breasts" (17). Denver has forced herself to grow up too soon. She doesn't want to be a strong and fearless woman, she wants to have a normal childhood back. However, she knows that she won't get it, and chooses instead to put up a mature front.

Throughout the novel, Denver's character struggles with her identity. She still holds onto her childish innocence, but is simultaneously trying to present as an adult. This conflict will surely be essential to the development of her character, and perhaps that of Beloved - the literal embodiment of youth - as well. However, this struggle is also characteristic of any young adult. The excitement of growing up goes hand in hand with the fear of leaving childhood behind in the life of every teenager. It is certainly apparent to many of us now, having to face the reality of applying to and picking a college. As exciting as the idea of moving out and becoming truly independent is, we all must hold some trepidation of leaving our parents' protection and having to fend for ourselves in the world.

Past to Present is Confusing; is It Necessary?

Toni Morrison's peculiar way of writing has been discussed a lot during class. Although very intricate and talented, her flowing writing that transitions between past and present can be quite confusing. Morrison does not make it clear when she begins describing a memory and when she shifts back to the present. If the reader is reading carelessly, it is quite easy to miss the transition. As a result, the reader becomes confused and must reread the passage.

I think this is a brilliant technique used by Morrison. Not only does it force the reader to slow down and understand the book, it also requires them to appreciate the details of the story. Morrison paints magnificent pictures with her intricate details and fantastic use of literary techniques. For me, it takes time to genuinely appreciate the beauty of her work. Reading out loud and breaking down the passages section by section makes the book truly come alive in my eyes. Additionally, the story can be tough to follow with the amount of characters with similar names, their vivid memories, and similar settings. However, if you truly submerge yourself in Morrison's writing, you will find that in fact each character has their own special attributes, unique experiences, and interesting side stories. It was difficult to dive into the book and enjoy it. But after slowing down and approaching this book as entertainment, rather than a homework assignment, I found that it is a fantastic piece of work. I encourage anyone who is struggling to enjoy the book, to really reconsider their approach, as I believe they are missing out on marvelous opportunity to learn and broaden their spectrum of good writing.

What if the Grenade Had Not Gone Off?

The movie "Trust", by Hal Harley, often shows Matthew, one of the protagonists contemplating suicide. Matthew's weapon of choice is a grenade brought back from the Vietnam war by his abusive father. Throughout the story there is this assumption that the grenade is fully functional and that functionality is actually vital to the story. After watching the grenade fail to explode immediately once Matthew pulls the pin I could not stop wondering how different the film would have been had the grenade not been functional.

This idea took me to two different views of the film. One in which the audience knows the entire time that the grenade does not work, and one in which the audience finds out at the same time as Matthew that the grenade doesn't work in the final scenes of the film. For clarification, the grenade does in fact work and ends up causing Matthew to be arrested for detonating it in his former workplace, a computer factory.

In my first alternate movie reality I imagined the movie as a comedy in which all of the long scenes where Matthew holds the grenade as some sort of cop out or escape from society as almost comedic. It would show his futility against the system that America has created and would completely change the dynamic of the story.

More importantly though I imagined the second scenario. One where I had no idea what would happen when Matthew finally pulled the pin at the computer factory. What would happen as literally nothing happened and he was faced with the reality that his life was changed forever and for such a aimless cause. Then I realized that it already was. The factory may have exploded but years from then, few people would even think of Matthews crazy act of rebellion against the system. Matthew would effectively prove that society doesn't care if your an individual. Matthew might be placed in a prison but the vast majority of society will forget about him, and business will still be conducted and people will still shy away from their individuality. I liked the movie a lot and I also enjoyed the real ending but thinking about the alternate one diminished all that I thought Matthew had accomplished.

The truth Is, I Did Not Really Like Trust

I wasn't huge on Trust. I thought that it was okay. The fact that I missed the beginning could have very well affected my opinion. When I was watching it, however, I felt uncomfortable. This may have been because of the acting. I realize that the acting was purposeful and thus highlighted a deeper meaning but, if anything, it distracted me. I think that the acting hampered me from connecting the movie to reality because it made the story seem almost superficial. The plot itself didn't help the acting. While the characters were experiencing jarring experiences, they seemed to lack emotions. I know that their reluctance towards emotions connects to the existentialism in the movie but the fact that nearly all characters acted like this made the existentialist theme overtly forced.

The camera shots also somewhat irked me because at several points in the movie, someone was talking but the camera never actually faced them. Instead, it stayed on another character's face for much longer than it needed to be. The lack of footage on the speaker, again, distracted me but also took away a crucial part of the movie -- the speaker's body language.

I don't inherently dislike anything about the movie but I am also not particularly in love with any part either. I did, however, like Maria's and Matthew's backgrounds. Their similar backgrounds helped create a certain intimacy between which added to the overall appeal of the movie. While their age difference hindered this appeal, it in some ways also helped. It helped because, at least I think, it gave the character's choices more stake and helped reveal Matthew's immaturity and Maria's maturity which together created an equilibrium. Also, it made their love seem forbidden which, connecting to existentialism, made the two outsiders, whose love was immutable despite its societal challengers (such as Maria's mother, Matthew's father, or the townspeople).

In summation, the plot itself was pretty good but many of the directorial techniques were not my favorite.

DQ: Did certain techniques such as the acting or montage of the film increase or decrease how much you enjoyed the movie?

Beloved Holds the Key to Sethe's Future

124 is haunted. Sethe and Denver describe the house as having feelings and reactions much like those of a person. It is treated as an autonomous being that its inhabitants can do little to control. For the whole time Sethe has lived there, this haunting has been constant and omnipotent. But, with the arrival of the mysterious character who calls herself Beloved, 124’s antics seem to subside. Beloved’s presence and attitudes are almost as strange as those of 124’s -- but they do not exist in parallel, just as how one person cannot be in two places at once.

124 traps Sethe, by isolating and ostracizing her from the community, and constantly reminding her of the harsh memories of her past, without giving her a way to move past them. The novel opens with Morrison asserting, “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver was its only victims” (3). 124 is a constant reminder of the hardships Sethe faced at Sweet Home and during her escape, which are briefly alluded to in flashbacks. When Paul D sees the scars on Sethe’s back for the first time in the kitchen and Sethe remembers the pain of her stolen milk, 124 reinforces the memory as it began shaking jolting both the people and the furniture to the ground (21-22).

With Beloved’s arrival though, Denver finds new purpose in being her caregiver, and Sethe finds new solace in recounting once painful memories to answer Beloved’s questions. Morrison wrote, “Sethe was flattered by Beloved’s open, quiet devotion...the company of this sweet, if peculiar guest pleased her in the way a zealot pleases his teacher” (68). Moreover, 124 remains silent when Beloved enters. When Paul D first came, it shook and shook as he brought memories of Sethe’s past to the surface, but Beloved silences the apparently vengeful house.

I think Beloved’s entry into both 124 and Sethe’s life, or maybe more appropriately her re-entry, is a marked turning point in the novel. Sethe’s person was confined to the irrational will of 124 and her mind to the memories that stirred when 124 did. But, with Beloved’s entrance, 124 is calmed, and Sethe is able to be a more autonomous character. She now recalls her “rememory” at her own mercy, which I think in the long run will be the key to freeing her from the hold her past and 124 have on her.

The Supernatural

Since beginning Beloved, I have noticed a possible theme in the text, the supernatural and ghosts. Beloved begins its story with an introduction to supernatural forces, 

124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. 
For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old—as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (1).

Morrison introduces, what I think, is going to be a prevalent theme throughout the novel. This first page struck questions about the baby and why only some ran away from the house. Looking at the text closer I can see the only ones running were the boys and men. But, this idea of the supernatural and ghosts doesn't disappear as it shows up soon after, "Baby Suggs died shortly after the brothers left, with no interest whatsoever in their leave-taking or hers, and right afterward Sethe and Denver decided to end the persecution by calling forth the ghost that tried them so" (2). Sethe and Denver approach the ghost with a casual tone. The description of how they react to the ghost isn't fear or running from it like the men did when it was previously mentioned. 

At this point I am not sure whether or not these supernatural mentions are manifested in the physical world. One idea could be that these instances, where supernatural forces play a role in the lives of these characters, are ways they are understanding and acknowledging the world around them. But, on the other hand, these encounters with the ghost and other supernatural mysteries are actually occurring. If that is the case, I am very interested in the story behind it all and what it means.

Discussuin Question: Do you believe these supernatural occurrences are "real?" If so, why do some react the way they do?

Slavery in the Mind

Throughout the first couple chapters of beloved, I have noticed the theme of slavery and how it destroys a persons identity. Slavery is no doubt one of the worst things that can happen someone and while slavery has an affect on someone through the endless labor that is required, perhaps its biggest influence is on someone's family, mind, and self esteem. Sethe, Paul D, and Baby Suggs all experience the effects of slavery on their families and in their minds.

In particular, we can see the effects of slavery wearing off on Sethe throughout the beginning of the book. In slavery, Sethe was treated as subhuman and seems to be alienated from herself and filled with seth-loathing. For example, when Paul D is rubbing the back of Sethe she becomes very insecure. All throughout slavery, a tree of whips has been growing on the back of Sethe and she feels relieved when Paul D comes to rub her back. When Paul D was rubbing her, Sethe says, "What she knew was that the responsibility for her breasts, at last, was in somebody else's hands"(21). Sethe was experiencing the aftermath of slavery ever since she escaped and now she was happy that Paul D is there to help take the responsibility. Also, later on in the book, Paul D says, "For a used-to-be-salve woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love"(54). Because Sethe seems to be full of self-loathing, she sees the best part of herself through her children. Paul D realises this and calls her out on it. Sethe says that she will be able to protect Denver when she is alive and when she is dead. While this is not possible, Sethe believes that Denver is a part of her and she needs to take care of her forever, even when she is not a child.

Slavery has also affected Baby Suggs and destroyed her family. Baby suggs self conception has been shattered through the loss of her family members which permitted her from being a caring mother. Baby suggs says that "men and women were moved around like checkers"(27). Nobody was safe slavery and it can take away anybody at any point in time. Baby Suggs children were all sold away or taken before she had a chance to see them grow up. She says that the longest one of her children stayed with her was for 20 years. Baby Suggs could not do anything about her children leaving and that takes a toll on a mother let alone one whose eight children were all taken. This must be why Sethe takes such good care of Denver as if they are the same person. Sethe does not know when the endless game of checkers is going to end especially when her own child might be a checker one day.

A Loaded Gun

Abuse. Punishment. Threats. Abandonment. These are words that are not generally associated with family, but in Hal Hartley's "Trust" they all fit perfectly. The 1990s film follows a teenage girl, Maria, in the aftermath of being dumped by her boyfriend and accidentally causing her father's death. In this film, Maria is verbally abused and treated like a servant by her mother and sister. Yet, she still longs for a family. She wants to get married, she wants to find love, and she wants to have children (someday). Why? Why would a person who has endured so much pain at the hands of her own family want to continue that trend? Perhaps it is her naivety, perhaps it is her ignorance towards the problem. Maria's newest friend, a self-proclaimed drifter and possible psychopath, says it best: "A family's like a gun. You point it in the wrong direction and you're going to kill somebody."

Maria's friend, Matthew Savage, has experienced his own familial faults with an emotionally and physically abusive father. Unlike Maria, Matthew shows little interest in family life. Matthew has been turned off by the charms of family. He realizes that family is nothing more than a hand grenade waiting to explode. The volatile situation he foresees in family comes from a variety of notions: love too powerful to contain, emotions too strong to be rational, even hate too strong to subside. Family, particularly as portrayed in this film, is a dangerous situation. There are few movies that show the truth behind this statement- most portray tight-knit, willing-to-do-anything for one another, happy ever after families.

Families are a natural breeding ground for tension, mistrust, and abuse. While there is great potential for a family to become the loving and supportive image we idealize, it is far more likely that familial relations will end poorly. Matthew and Maria are both examples of this paradox, and Mattew is the only one of the two who seems to have the maturity to accept this.

Review of Trust

I had many problems with the movie. Mainly, the characters did not develop enough to make any  of them likable. They stayed too stagnant to "root" for a character. At the beginning of the movie, Maria was very naive. She thinks everything will work out and be happy between her and her high school boyfriend because "love conquers all." She did not put any thought about how much money it costs to raise a child, where they are going to live, and the sacrifices that are going to happen. By the end of the movie, she is still naive. She wants to marry Matthew, and still thinks everything is going magically work out in the end. They probably have known each other for a month. I don't know the exact timeline. Maria doesn't even know the definitions of words people use everyday. The fact that she didn't know what naive meant made me cringe. Also, the way Maria pronounced naive was unacceptable to me. In addition, she ran into the building that Matthew was going to blow up. Where is her judgement? Matthew was the same brooding and dark man throughout the movie. However, at least I can somewhat understand why he acts the way he does because of his extremely abusive father. Matthew had common sense and was realistic about things. Also, I liked how he called it how it was. Maria's mom was very uncomfortable to watch. Also, Matthew's dad made me uncomfortable. He screamed at Matthew for not cleaning the bathroom, even though Matthew cleaned it endlessly. Second, there was not a clear plot. In my opinion, it was just the daily adventures of Maria. Finally, the characters were too predictable. The whole movie was awkward and I could not enjoy it, in my opinion.

Discussion Question: What were your thoughts about the film?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Open Endings

With the exception of dramatic cliffhangers and harrowing documentaries, it's hard to find a film today that doesn't include some sort of idealist ending. Whether these be true "happy endings" or simply endings that provide some sense of closure, they tend to wrap up story arcs in an unrealistic way. Even The Stranger closes with a moment of profound acceptance and self-awareness on Meursault's part that makes the novel feel complete, despite his impending death. While a protagonist coming to terms with his/her own death can certainly be emotionally raw for the viewer, so many films have done it well (Leon: The Professional in particular) that the concept is now cliche.

What I found intriguing about Trust is that despite Matthew's comically predictable suicide plot, the movie lacks the sense of closure I've come to expect. Sure we see Maria staring longingly at the police car as Matthew is taken away, but there's no cheesy subtext that they'll someday reunite once he's freed. The baby is gone, their marriage has been seemingly acknowledged as a sham, and Matthew's gone to prison over nothing. His dramatic grenade stunt didn't give him the dramatic exit he was looking for, and yet Maria's saving him didn't magically fix everything either. Real life doesn't neatly wrap itself up when a particular story has been told through, just as the characters in Trust don't end the film with any sense of content or finality.

The only thing implied by the films ending is that perhaps Maria has matured finally, symbolized by her glasses and plain dress in lieu of her old, superficial style. That being said her father is still dead, her mother is still hugely manipulative, and her relationship is over. It's silly to think everything will be perfect for Maria now, but it gives the film's events purpose in the context of her development. I like to view Trust not as an individual story but instead as only a piece of Maria's turbulent life. By ending the movie as he did, Hal Hartley was able to give it a sense of something bigger that one would never expect from a low budget indie drama.

A Working Definition of Trust

When I look up "trust" on google, I only see financial websites popping up. I thought it might be a good idea to look over some and try to analyze the financial definitions and connect them to the real world (emotionally, not financially like they already are):
Revocable Trusts: A trust that can be changed by a person throughout their life time, whether it be completely altered or revoked entirely.
Real world (emotional) application: Don't our own personal truths change and alter due to our memory and beliefs? Possibly, this financial term could be another way to describe the fact that people consistently change their own beliefs and truths to match their own actions, and possibly that is why the truth is "revocable".
Charitable Trusts: A trust that is attributed to a charity or the public in general.
Real world (emotional) application: Sometimes, we decide to trust people not simply because we know them well, but because we think that they can handle the weight of us depending on them. Charitable trust could be choosing to rely on someone who has let you down before.
Constructive Trusts: A trust that is implied and established by a court.
Real world (emotional) application: An implied trust...could be someone that society has nailed into your brain as someone you should be dependent upon. Like a parent, or a sibling, or a spouse. Isn't that a pretty short list? Isn't that creating an internal struggle for the trustee, if they don't have a trustworthy "constructed" group of people?
Totten Trusts: A trust that is a gift from the trustee to someone else, and can only be received after the trustee's death, or when the person the gift was given to has fulfilled some action that the trustee requested.
Real world (emotional) application: Conditional trust is something we see a lot. Particularly with parents trying to discipline their children. "Do this, and you will receive this from me." Sound familiar? Is this the proper way to go about gaining trust, though? In my experience of being a child trying to receive something, and even today as an 18 year old, no one is intrinsically motivated to gain trust. They may want something else out of the situation or transaction, if you may.

So what are your working definitions of trust?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Define Love

Maria informed Matthew, "I'll marry you if you admit that respect, admiration, and trust equal love." He nonchalantly agreed and responded, "Okay, they equal love."

I interpreted this scene as kind of a big joke. Right off the bat I was annoyed by the fact Maria gave Matthew an ultimatum for as to whether or not they were one-going to get married, and two-the definition of love! I have grown up in a society in which marriage is a big deal, and weddings are huge events for people to enjoy. So when Marie and Matthew took marriage as a casual act to do, I was slightly taken aback. As for her definition of love, I disagree with her!! I believe love is something one cannot express in words. It is a feeling that overcomes one with a plethora of emotions, and is much more complicated than just three simple words. Love is more than just respect, admiration, and trust. I acknowledge that those three factors definitely are a part of love, but not the entirety of it! So it was quite humorous to take in that scene. However, I was annoyed as well because Marie was portrayed as such a naive young girl, filling such a typical stereotype. It was the 90's so our progression was not as full fledged as it is now, but it was upsetting watching the stereotype of a typical dumb teenage girl be naive in the face of the world. There are intelligent and driven young women out there in the world who are still being undermined for their sex, which is so unbelievably frustrating. The stereotype of a young woman acting dumb is hurtful, and does not help with the ongoing gender gap our world has.

I was also drawn to reflect on Matthew's response to Maria. It led me to immediately think of The Stranger, when Marie asked Meursault if he loved her. Meursault responded the same exact way Matthew had, with blatant submissiveness and calmness, which displays their simultaneous lack of interest in societal standards. Neither of them are interested in going above and beyond to fit into society, but are indifferent in what life brings them. Matthew and Meursault are not completely alike, but definitely possess some of the same qualities.

Trust makes me :( then :) then :(

Maria and Matthew need each other to help one another escape their toxic situation, as it seems we are helpless in regards to self awareness and self care.

Maria's mom wants her to live with her forever and do tenuous chores daily; Not to mention the CONSTANT emotional ABUSE. Maria accepts this fate and continues to endure her awful mom.

Now Matthew is also trapped in an abusive home with a belligerent dad. He is abused physically and emotionally as he meticulously is forced to do pointless domestic chores.

When Maria and Matthew are with one another they see that one another deserves better, a realization that they tragically don't see for themselves. Maria saves Matthew from his degrading life and Matthew encourages her to leave hers.

How come Maria can't see that she deserves better than how her mom treats her and how come Matthew can't see the same? If it weren't for them meeting they would be miserably stuck in their personally tailored hell. So i'm sad because of their lives, happy because they help one another, and sad that it was dependent on one another.

This is compellingly applicable to our reality. We see a struggling friend and fervently try and help them out of a toxic situation whilst we are choking on our own words and actions as we are blind to see that we also need to get out of a similar predicament.

Love to Trust or Trust to Love?

In Hal Hartley's film Trust, Maria Coughlin has just been dumped after telling her high school sweetheart that she is pregnant with his child. The boyfriend revokes all previous statements of love and support he has given to her, and screams at her to get away, as he has to focus on getting a football scholarship for college. Because of his sudden abandonment and empty promises, Maria's quest to find trust and love carries her throughout the rest of the film. A common criticism of young love is how naive and suffocating it can be. Maria exemplifies the typical unsophisticated and malleable young person, who then goes on to think they understand the world simply because of this experience. The issue I take with this movie and primarily this character, is how she uses this past relationship in order to find the exact opposite of it in her next, rather than taking the time to reflect and learn. Her immediate reaction to her break up, is to find what she now thinks is real love, someone to trust. However, in my opinion, trust does not have to be present in order to love someone. Part of what love is, which is a popularized opinion, is that to love another is to risk your own well being to feel validated and supported in return. Maria's naive and protective response to her initial break up pushes her into a relationship with a stranger, who, one could argue, is the first person in her life to worry about her health and happiness. She requires this boyfriend, Mathew, to promise her that love requires trust, admiration, and respect. This forceful and insecure route to feel she is in love pushes her to get into unsafe situations solely on the basis of her wanting to feel what she didn't get out of the first relationship. I believe people can love each other without trusting, especially if we are to differentiate love and being in love. Being in love is a far more selfish and individualistic philosophy on love; which if anything, is where Maria and Mathew are at.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Development of Maria

In Hal Hartley's 1990 film, Trust the changes of the main characters, specifically Maria, over the course of the movie are drastic and notable. Maria Coughlin and Matthew Slaughter are by far the most important characters of the movie, everyone else simply furthers their development as their lives become intertwined. Both social outcasts and frowned upon by society.

Maria opens the movie putting on purple lipstick while asking her father for five dollars, which he promptly declines and a few minutes later he dies of a heart attack. Maria's mother then kicks her out and her boyfriend breaks up with her. Maria's life looks dismal, she is a pregnant, high school dropout with no future or hopes of ever succeeding. Everything Maria held in her life, her boyfriend, her status, her family were suddenly all gone.

Then in walks Matthew, the quirky electronics genius with an abusive father and a restless spirit and attitude that never allows him to stay in the same job for more than a couple months. Matthew allows Maria to stay with him and his father for a night and her irresponsibility is immediately obvious through the mess she leaves in the kitchen and simply ignores.

The first turning point for Maria is after her clothes, which are neon and skimpy are ruined and she puts on Matthew's mother's old blue simple dress. Without her intensely curled hair, intense makeup, and outrageous clothes, Maria already seems to be a completely different person.

Matthew's room hold a seemingly endless supply of books, many on topics Maria never ever heard about before. She begins to read some and her transformation into a more than just a shell of a person becomes more solidified as she begins to ask questions, about herself and the world.

Maria and Matthew eventually become a couple, and have a connection neither of them had ever felt before. Together they discuss love and what it means to them. To Maria is its respect, admiration and trust, hence the name of the film. Even though Maria and Matthew become engaged they never marry and the life they had planned never pans out the way the thought. Also, Maria has an abortion after seeing Matthew in bed with her sister Peg, though it was a set up by her mother who wanted to get rid of Matthew.

The movie ends with Matthew being driven away in a police car after pulling the pin out of a grenade in the factory where he used to work. Maria finds him and when the grenade does not detonate, Maria takes it and throws the grenade to attempt to set it off. Even though it eventually explodes, no one is hurt and Matthew is arrested. Maria stands in the street watching him being driven off, looking and being nothing like she was at the beginning. Her hair in a ponytail, glasses, a plain blue dress. Her letterman jacket the only remains of her past.

Friday, October 27, 2017

What Is Trust?

"Dad, give me five dollars"

The opening line of the film Trust is delivered in a monotone way by Adrienne Shelly, as she applies her purple lipstick and stares blankly into her compact mirror. This shot establishes all that there is to know about the character, Maria -- a pregnant high school drop out who is a perfect case study for youthful entitlement and vanity.

The film's other main character, Matthew, is a moody electronics repairman who gets tossed around by his abusive father. It's a clear vision from that start that both the characters inhabit a heightened version of the world around us. But as the film goes on, slowly the personas beneath Matthew and Maria are revealed, the feeling of disillusionment they experience seems to come from a place of intense emotional pain. The film's attitude toward marriage and parenting is somewhat of a different take on it than many films. Ultimately the film puts the idea of marriage as something that is artificial and a detrimental institution. From the characters of Peg to Matthew's father, we see that marriage never sticks, it never makes either happy.

As for Maria and Matthew, we see them start on the path to marriage with him proposing to Maria and planning on running away to get married with her unborn child. But that slowly comes to a halt with the end of the movie as we see Maria betray the premise of the film, that trust, admiration and respect are better than love, by having the abortion. She finds Matthew with Peg in bed, though we don't see any emotion from her, the next scene is Maria at the abortion clinic which we can infer that she has felt betrayed by Matthew and therefore she no longer trusts him, she no longer has the trust, admiration, and respect for Matthew. In a way I see this standstill on their path to marriage as a way to save both Maria and Matthew from the heartbreak and disappointment that seems to follow any marriage in the movie. Maybe, just maybe, Hartley wanted to preserve the only good and honest thing in the movie by not playing out the ending to Maria and Matthew's story.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Respect+Admiration+Trust= Love

When you ask people what love is they usually can't describe it. They say something along the lines of, "You have to experience it to know what it feels like," or "It's not something you put into words." In the film Trust, the character of Maria believes that love can be defined, and that there is a simple formula for it--respect, admiration, and trust. In this film, Hal Hartley explores many socially constructed systems, some of which being love and marriage.

None of the characters in the entire movie had happy marriages. Maria's mom was freed when her husband died, Matthew's dad lived alone, the woman at the bus stop was so bored of her marriage that she stole a baby, and Peg is divorced and has kids. Marriage is portrayed as just something that people do, and then they always end up being unhappy because of their choice. Maria asks her sister, if she misses her kids and hates her husband, and Peg answers yes to both questions. Maria then asks if she would get married again, and Peg replies "of course." Like many of the characters in the film, marriage ruined them, but they would still do it again. This is a clear commentary on the downfalls of the societal construction of marriage. If it makes people unhappy, then why do they do it? There is no reason other than it is what society expects people to do.

The one relationship that I have not yet mentioned is that of Maria and Matthew. Though they do not end up getting married, they do get engaged and discuss the concept of love. Matthew accepts Maria's equation for love and asks her to marry him. However, on their path to get married, the viewer sees them prematurely slipping into the consequences that come along with marriage. Most notably, there is a scene where Maria comes home and see Matthew sitting on the couch watching TV. She says to him, " Your job is making you boring and mean," and he replies, "My job is making me a respectable member of society." They are on their way to marriage, jobs, and other systems people have to buy into to be considered "respectable members of society,"and because of this, Matthew is already becoming boring and loosing the characteristics that make him special to Maria. This exchange is an example of the ways that socially constructed systems change people in a negative way and stop them from living happy lives.

From Maria's formulaic view of love to the overwhelming portrayal of characters unhappy with marriage, Hal Hartley's Trust causes the viewer to question the ideas of love and marriage. Could Maria and Matthew ever be happily married? Do they love each other? Could they ever be together without changing each other or letting society change them?

The "Other"

From the beginning of the book, we can tell that something strange is going on in 124. Sethe's dead baby daughter haunts the house and her ten year old daughter Denver seems to be connected with her in some way. All of the community also knows that something is not quite right with the house and the family. As a result, drivers "[whip]" their horses "into the gallop local people felt necessary when they passed 124" (5). In addition, Denver later says that she "can't live [there]" because "nobody speaks to [them]" (17). From these quotations, we can assume that everyone in the community knows about their issue with the house and the ghost of Sethe’s dead baby and that they are the reason why no one talks to the family. When Paul D arrives, Denver is upset because she believes that everyone has been abandoning her. She resents her mother for reuniting with Paul D and jumping right back into a life that they had shared all those years ago. Then, when the house begins to move and shake due to the baby’s ghost, Denver is described with “terror” in her eyes, but a “vague smile” on her lips (21). Later on, Denver was coming back to the house that she viewed as a “person” rather than a “structure” when she saw a “white dress” next to her mother who was praying/talking in Baby Suggs’ old room (35). Although the other’s differentiation is not necessary race in this instance, we are able to see that because of a small and relatively insignificant difference, they are treated completely different. In more than one way, the family can be seen as the Other, especially Denver.

I found that the book and the quotations above especially connected to the foreword by Ta-Nehisi Coates. In the foreword, he talks about the process of “Othering” (xii). His argument suggests that colored people were/are considered as other beings, below human. Coates argues that to come to the conclusion that one is so inferior that ill treatment is justified takes a high degree of psychological work by the mind (xii). When we talk about racism in history, specifically between white and black, it is always told as African Americans being discriminated against with the justification being that they are inferior beings. When we study slavery, common opinions are that slave owners were incredibly cruel, racist, and unjustified in their actions. I find it kind of ironic that Coates argues that African Americans were seen as not even human while present day, people often refer to extreme radicals and the way that they treat others as inhumane. Both the oppressor and the oppressed are called the other. We learn about the ways in which African Americans and other colored people were discriminated against, but we focus on actions rather than thoughts and beliefs. To me, that section was one of the most powerful parts of the foreword because it suggested a totally new way to look at the long historical story of racism and slavery. 

Lastly, another part of Coates’ foreword that stood out to me was when he pointed out the use of the words race and racism. He said “racism precedes race” and that many common phrases such as racial segregation, chasms, divides, profiling, etc. are proof that society has combined the two words together to be practically the same thing, which they are not. I thought about it and I have no doubt that there have been times where I've used "race" and "racism" interchangeably, not intentionally, but used them nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sincerely, Dangerously, Trustworthy.

In the 1990's film Trust, the characters of Maria Coughlin and Matthew Slaughter develop a perplexing and complex relationship. They both start from the lowest points in their lives. They are two people who don't bear characteristics to be included or excepted by society.

They are outcasts, at different points in their life, that find each other and become of value to one another. Maria and Matthew find comfort and stability from their obscure lives when together. All of this is because they view each other in the same light, which is different from social norms.

This is seen specifically when writer and directer Hal Hartley places Maria and Nurse Paine in the diner together. Because Nurse Paine holds importance to Maria ever since the her going to the clinic, she strikes up a conversation. While talking about how she's not sure she wants to get married, she describes Matthew from a deeper perspective.
Maria: "He's dangerous but sincere."
Nurse Paine: "Sincerely dangerous."
Maria: "No, he's dangerous because he's sincere." 
When Maria says this she displays how she knows he is different from the rest. While others view Matthew as rage filled, bitter and resentful, Maria recognizes him as candid and real. This is exactly what they both needed, someone who will no just overlook the other, and brush them to the side. Maria admits that she is unnerved by him, but only because she has never experienced someone who authentically shows concern and responsiveness towards her. Their bond is heartfelt and trustworthy.

Is Everything in Life Worth "Trust"ing?

It seems that throughout the entire movie, Trust, seems to claim that nothing in life is forever. This concept is strange to many of us, who have been instilled with the ideology that we live for what we have -- everything is permanent. Yet, Trust shows us many scenes in which nothing is truly here to stay. Things come and they go.

Firstly, we have Maria and her boyfriend. In the beginning of the film, Maria seems to believe that her high school relationship with her boyfriend will last forever; so much so as she actually drops out of high school for her "relationship". Yet, her boyfriend officially breaks up with her, and at this point, Maria is left with nothing. She saw her relationship as long lasting.  Her relationship didn't mean permanence to her boyfriend, though.

In addition, Maria thinks that her baby will be permanent as well. She believes that once she gives birth to it, she will have a family with her boyfriend. However, towards the end of the movie, she gets an abortion, and like her relationship, her child is lost.

Yet another example of the idea that "nothing is here to stay" is that Trust seems to highlight Maria's father. In the era that the movie was created, women did have more agency than they did in the earlier centuries. However, even in the 20th century, it was thought that women were defined by their husbands. In Trust, though, Maria's father dies because of a heart attack. Again, this highlights the idea that nothing is forever -- even family.

Eventually, Matthew and Maria become a couple. However, similar to Maria's ex-boyfriend, Matthew does not stay forever. Although their relationship blossoms in the strangest way, and their connection is very strong, Matthew goes off to jail and Maria is left with nothing again.

Ultimately, Trust, highlights the idea that things do not last forever. Although we value family, friends, and relationships in our society, we have to remember that nothing has permanence, therefore we cannot find true happiness and commitment in them.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Psychopaths and the Stranger

I found no redeeming qualities to Mersault. I wanted to punch him in the face if I'm being honest. He's the type of person who flees a hit and run scene. Or holds up a soup kitchen because he's too lazy to make his own food. In fact, I felt his personality most closely resembles a sociopath. Is it possible that Camus wrote Mersault's character as someone struggling with the antisocial disorder known to psychopaths and that is why he lacks any emotion? To kill someone and feel so little regret or self reflection from it is a typical sign of sociopaths and most typically psychopaths who are usually but not always serial killers because the general definition is, "caring neither for societal rules, norms, and laws, nor for other people." 

A sociopath has no empathy which we see demonstrated multiple times throughout the Stranger, especially when talking about Maman's death. "The day I buried Maman, I was very tired and sleepy, so much so that I wasn't really aware of what was going on. What I can say for certain is that I would rather Maman hadn't died. (65)" Most of the gathering information before the trial resulted in Mersault's lawyer trying to unearth some magical trait of humanity Mersault might possess deep down but to no avail. Just based upon his response to the question of how he felt on the day of Maman's funeral, shows that he mostly cares for his own needs such as how sleepy he was rather than the fact they were putting his mother in the ground. 

This leads me to my question of Camus' intentions writing the character of Mersault. Something tells me that the writer would never release a statement helping wondering readers analyze Mersault however that might be part of the appeal. That the reason for his lack of sympathy and emotion could be interpreted by the reader and what they want to believe.

Alone in a Crowded Room

Mersault's personality throughout The Stranger made me thoroughly conflicted on whether I hated the character himself, or the way he was written into the book by Camus. His mentality was along the lines of nothing really mattered, since we were all going to die anyway, which can make for a pretty flat character. He was unfeeling and cold, even to the girl he was planning to marry. Now I can’t tell if this is how Mersault desired his relationship with the rest of society to be, or if deep down, he is searching for a way to connect with people and doesn’t know how. Throughout the story, Mersault is surrounded by people. From the funeral, to his neighbors, to the beach house, or to the courthouse, there are always people near him. Yet, he seems so alone.

However, Mersault doesn’t actually seem to care that he is alone. He genuinely seems indifferent about Marie, and only agrees to getting married because that’s what she wants. At one point in the book, he says something along the lines of “this was the first time I actually felt like I was going to get married” but that’s all he says. He doesn’t elaborate on how he feels about the situation, and he barely talks about the situation too.

I know that Mersault is supposed to be a reflection of a real person in society instead of some overblown character that needs to feel a certain way in order to further the plot line, but honestly I have a really hard time imagining any normal civilian in society feeling and acting this way on a day to day basis. The lack of interest and motivation he displays throughout the book is astounding, and I would like to hope that the average person works for something in their life, instead of just waiting to die.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Man Who Lives A Day

While in jail, Meursault details everything he goes through. He talks about the things he misses, the things he doesn't miss, and the memories he has. After recalling that memories he has outside of jail, he says, "....the more I thought about it, the more I dug out of my memory things I had overlooked or forgotten.  I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from being bored. In a way, it was an advantage" (79). Later Meursault remembers a news article that he read once, and now he replays it in his head several times a day. He also talks about he would go around his jail cell, memorize the things in there, and then memorize where everything is. Obviously, one day can involve so many different stimulus that if you recalled it all it would be endless. However, I think it takes a certain person to be able to find the excitement in the number of steps you took in the one day, the color of the trees you passed, or the temperature of that particular day.  In Meusault's case, he has nothing he cares about enough that plagues his mind.  I don't think a man who lives one day can live a hundred years in jail without boredom, that's a gross exaggeration. What do you think?

Trust vs. The Stranger: The True Absurd Hero

Though The Stranger is regarded as the ultimate work of Existentialist literature, at least by high school students worldwide, it is not actually a perfect representation of the philosophy. Meursault embodies the absurd hero in many ways, such as his rejection of social norms and his epiphany about the irrationality of existence at the end of the book, but in other ways he does not. His disregard of any other person he encounters suggests that he does not align with the individualist aspect of existentialism, and he does not seem to embrace his death until the very end of the book, only the deaths of others.

Trust, despite being an obscure indie film, is, at least in my opinion, a much better depiction of existentialism. Maria is a true absurd hero. When faced with disastrous circumstances, she casts off her entire personality and all of her relationships in order to rebuild herself from the ground up. She takes a literal and blunt, but still not cynical, view on the world. Despite being a pregnant teenager thrown out of high school, she decides to educate herself and take only actions that she believes are right, refusing to buy into any relationship binaries that try to control her.

The main difference between Maria and Meursault is that while Meursault lives an entirely passive life, taking no part in his surroundings or relationships, Marie is constantly active. Meursault either accepts ideas or ignores them; Maria rejects all predefined ideas and builds her own. Marie even comes up with her own definition of love, while Meursault maintains that love doesn't matter.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Life's Struggle: Pointless?

Through Mersault's life we see his acceptance in everything from the events occurring such as the death of his mother and the murder he committed to his very positions within life such as being in prison. While many may be quick to view this as either simple indifference or him giving up all hope, it may very well be something much deeper altogether. It's possible that this acceptance is Mersault seeing his position in life and life itself as what it really is; something that continues on and changes with little concern for his thoughts or opinions let alone anyone else's. While this would be almost certainly be seen as an extremely pessimistic view on life and its workings, it could be argued that Meursault lived a less sad life then most other people could even dream of. The murder of another human being did little to cause him the usual emotions that follow such an act such as anxiety, shock, and tremendous fear. Being put in prison easily became a cake walk as he found ways to past the time remembering menial things and did little suffering as he disconnected himself from the things that usually cause inmates stress such as sexual desire and interaction with others.  Even the death of his own mother brought forth no emotions from him as he was easily more concerned with the others around him and what they were doing.  Through these many trials, Meursault does little to no real suffering whether emotional or mental pain.  It can be said the he lived a life with less internal conflict than anyone else by seeing life for what it is and simply accepting it.

My One Argument Against Absurdism (Take That, Mr. Heidkamp)

The absurdist argument holds that humans have a tendency to apply meaning where it does not exist. While humans are naive creatures who are afraid of their mortality, we occupy a universe that is cold, uncaring, and absurdly random. Basically, we could die at literally any time without warning, and there is nothing we can do to stop that. If we were to fully recognize this fact in all of its magnitude and futility, many of us would probably go crazy. Thus, in order to maintain our sanity, we deny, deny, deny.

Mr. Heidkamp, when teaching this concept to us, was very thorough in his shooting down of everyone's arguments against it. For that, I'm rather impressed. However, there's one major problem with this theory that has not yet been brought up.

It goes like this: Are we as humans not part of the universe ourselves?

The absurdist argument relies very strongly on the assumption that we as humans are soft and smushy and caring, while the universe is cold and oppressive. But aren't humans a part of the universe themselves? Are we not made of stardust like everything else? Giving such a rigid distinction between humans (us) and the universe (everything else) is giving us too much credit, and the universe too little. The universe cannot be completely cold and terrible and random, because we are a part of it, and we are curious and kind!

What does everyone else think? Anybody want to refute this position? Comments, questions, concerns?

An Existentialist Rambling

Existentialism has, quite frankly, brought me to the place I am now, writing this blog post two periods before it is due. As Mr. Heidkamp says, "Nothing matters! Why do you come to class? Everybody goes to college! Why do you go to college? To finally be able to do what you want? Guess what? Nope! Then you're like oh maybe at my job I can do what I want, but still, no....There's no point!" Those that know me well know that coming back from the most insane summer of my life, my take on life had completely changed. By the end of August, I fully embraced the "Nothing matters" mindset and let go of most inhibitions. This has both served me and hindered me. My brain is completely clear, very much free of any concern, which is beneficial, but on the other hand, I do not do my homework quite as I should. I draw a lot of parallels between this new me, free and successful in a social and spiritual aspect, and Meursault after he was forced to leave college and lost all motivation. Except it is significantly more problematic for me, as I have not yet applied to or gotten into college.

When our class had the lesson on existentialism, it was a pretty big day for me. I found myself agreeing with so much that was being discussed, and it was exciting. This was the only true way to live, and I had been trying to put it into words since I returned for the school year. But there were also many things I disagreed with, namely love being deemed a social construct. I would love to embrace a fully existentialist mindset, but I feel too strongly about too many things to completely detach myself. If I was truly an existentialist, I probably would not be doing this blog post at all. I doubt Meursault would do this blog post. 

Perhaps it will take me as long as it took Meursault to gain a fully cohesive perspective on life, instead of where I am now - "Nothing matters!!! (Except like getting okay grades and maintaining decent relationships and pursuing my interests!)" The clarity Meursault achieved in his grand realization before death is something I hope to experience, that crystal clear moment where everything makes sense. Until then, I will continue to ramble on about my contradictory thoughts and beliefs in last minute homework assignments. 

The Stranger and Mutual Recognition

In The Stranger, Meursault tries to live an independent life without other people. He creates an identity that is solely his own. This style of life is entirely opposite the framework of identity posited by Jessica Benjamin in The Bonds of Love. Benjamin argues that one must create their identity through recognizing all others as full subjects in their own right. This sort of identity requires others to be part of your life.

Meursault does not recognize anyone other than himself. He truly subscribes to an objective view of others. They are either helpful to him or no and that's how he determines value. This is demonstrated through his view of the tediousness of visiting his mother and how he feels about his "friends" Celeste and Raymond. Because of this view, he cannot achieve a fulfilling identity according to Benjamin.  

How else do Benjamin's theories apply to The Stranger? Where does Meursault get involved of relationships of domination?

Existentialism in Prison

Existentialism is most evident in The Stranger, while Meursault is in prison. During Meursault's time in prison, he experiences a time of boredom and loneliness. A time unlike Meursault's life in the free world. While incarcerated, Meursault has nothing but time to contemplate life and try to assert a deeper meaning for existence.
Before being locked up, Meursault was independent but he was too influenced by his surroundings and didn't live life with much purpose. Meursault was only focused on remaining honest and truthful with everyone in his life, but he had no deeper reason to care about life. Part of living life with meaning, is a person's ability to be consumed by a topic or a person. Meursault never seems to deeply care about the people that are close to him, he just seems to have respect for them. Meursault is incapable of delivering his own opinion and remains indifferent to almost every one of his decisions.
It is not until Meursault is incarcerated that he recognizes an importance in life after the court hearing. It is after Meursault is sentenced to death, that Meursault starts to live his life in fear of his inevitable death. While he is waiting for his call to death, he can only sleep at specific times in the day and becomes consumed by the idea of being dead. At this point Meursault starts to evaluate the importance of those who were close to him and finally understands why Maman took to a new man as she was nearing death. By the time of his execution, Meursault can only hope for there to be a large hateful crowd to be present at his execution.
It was not until this time that Meursault could finally experience some personal growth and begin to understand the importance of those around them. It took the looming execution for him to find a reason to do more than just exist in his life. In the end, Meursault was able to take some responsibility for his life.

Why The Stranger

It was 8 am the morning after homecoming. I was at my friend's house and we turned on the TV to watch the new netflix episodes of Degrassi: Next Class. I honestly wasn’t paying that much attention, but then I noticed that one of the girls on the show was holding a rather familiar looking book. After closer evaluation, I noticed that it was in fact Camus’ The Stranger. Now this caused me to wonder- What is it about “The Stranger” that makes it such a popular book in high school curriculum? I know that it’s not only English classes that teach it because the French teachers at OPRF had it incorporated into their curriculum last year as well. This caused me to go on a bit of a reconnaissance mission in attempts to understand why exactly The Stranger is such a quintessential high school novel. To be honest, the answer seemed quite obvious after just one google search- existentialism. The philosophical ideology that emphasizes the importance of free will and choice against society’s constructs. Now, to be quite frank, I do not believe that by reading The Stranger in class anyone was acutely driven to become an existentialist (speaking for myself this was very much the case). So why is it important that we read it?

Question: Why do we read The Stranger? What do you think you benefited from by reading it?

Four Gunshots

After Meursault kills the Arab by shooting him five times, he says, "And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness" (59). The fact that Meursault knocks four times when he shot the Arab five times is confusing. However, Meursault had first killed the Arab in one shot and then shot four more shots into his dead body. These extra gunshots were the four knocks on the door.

But what does this mean about Meursault's character? He believes that what condemned him were the four extra shots. He killed a man, but doesn't seem to care about that, only the fact that he shot him four extra times. He does not seem to feel guilty about actually killing the Arab, just that he shot him four extra times. This gives testament to Meursault's odd emotional sentiments. Because even if he hadn't fired those four extra shots, he would still be condemned for murder. The four extra shots gave him is own unhappiness, his own feeling of guilt, because those four extra shots proved to himself that it was his own fault, not the fault of the sun in his eyes.

Does Meursault Actually Dislike Prison?

Meursault certainly hates life in prison at first, he hates not being able to smoke, he hates not being able to be with women, and most of all he hates not having the idle freedom he was so used to. However, once he gets acclimated to life in prison, he is living like his life has purpose, something he was not doing when he was on the outside. While his life is still extremely repetitive, even more so, he doesn't actually seem to dislike life in prison.

I think that this is partly because Meursault knows that he is guilty, so he sees the merits of him being imprisoned, and because having a small space completely to himself allows him to become the master of his own personal space. He is given his small cell, and he spends months exploring it. Mentally charting very single stone, and keeping inventory of every speck of dust. For someone as methodical as Meursault, especially someone that doesn't particularly like most human interaction, it's no surprise that this is heaven for him.
Does Meursault's idea of existentialism change throughout the novel? Toward the beginnign of the novel Meursault maintains a carefree mindset, to the point where the world almost revolves only around him. He lives his life without specific meaning and makes decisions on the spot.  “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home…”(3). The death of his mother is almost irrelevant because he sees it as a natural occurrence, and it was supposed to happen this way. Although this is how he acts in the beginning, his mindset is altered shortly before he is supposed to be publicly executed. In this moment specifically he recalls people crying at his mother’s funeral and not they thinking they deserved to cry for her. At his execution though, he wanted to people to cry for him and to mourn in his loss. This change in mindset is also a change in his views and the way he lived his life.     

Sisyphus vs. Meursault

Albert Camus asserts that Sisyphus' punishment is that he knows that all his labor is meaningless. Camus says that if Sisyphus was under the impression that he would succeed someday, then it would not be a punishment. He attributes this to life; if Sisyphus thought that he would someday succeed then he would willingly keep struggling. This is how most people go through life. They do not let failures or setbacks get them down because they believe that they will eventually find the meaning in their lives.
Meursault is not one of these people though. He, like Sisyphus sees that there is no greater meaning in what he is doing. You would think that this would lead to a life of misery just like Sisyphus, but Camus argues that Sisyphus finds peace in his greater understanding of his situation. He is able to come to peace with the fact that his labor is ultimately fruitless, just like Meursault is able to come to peace with the fact that life has no greater meaning.

The Allegory of the Cave, Existentialism, and Societies Systems

Three years ago in my world history class, we discussed Plato's Allegory of the Cave. In it, Plato proposed that if prisoners were chained inside a cave for their whole life, so that the only things they ever saw were the shadows on the wall, they would come to believe in a two dimensional world and that there was nothing beyond their wall. If an individual is led outside of this illusion, they would attempt to teach the others in the cave of the real world, but would most likely be killed in order to preserve the prisoner's worldview.

I feel that this allegory has a few interesting connections to The Stranger and existentialism. Firstly, the entire idea that those who are able to break free of societies rules and find their own truths are the free ones seems to parallel existentialism and the themes of The Stranger almost perfectly, even down to the punishments for ignoring those rules and regulations. By the end of  The Stranger, Meursault said that he was essentially executed because he didn't cry at his mother's funeral (121). He makes this statement while he's "snapping" at the chaplain that visits him at the end of the book. This nearly directly parallels the hypothetical sharing of information that happens in the Allegory of the Cave that proceeds the "free man's" death.

I can also see an argument against existentialism lurking inside the Allegory of the Cave despite its parallels to existentialism. The way it was presented to us, existentialism is a way to get the most out of life while accepting the randomness of death, pain and suffering, and that the things we hold dear such as love, family, success, justice, etc. are all just distractions to keep us from facing the truth. Essentially lies that we tell ourselves to make the world seem less scary. This statement is where I begin to see problems. We have talked of systems (the distractions from the pain of life) as distractions, but not as solutions. The way I see human culture is as a dynamic machine. Constantly changing and evolving with the times, working to become a perfect system where there is no longer any randomness to pain and suffering. Obviously we are nowhere near that utopian destination right now, and I have no place to say what a perfect society would look like, but I think there are some clear trends that we are slowly moving in the right direction. Maybe. Humans naturally try to eliminate suffering from their lives. This is why we find systems to try to "distract" ourselves from pain. We did not want to have to move around all the time, so we settled down and began to develop agriculture. Eventually we got tired of most of the jobs that eventually arose from specialization, and we got machines to do it for us. Our culture is a representation of this universal human desire to be free from suffering.

Some argue, however, that by maintaining all the systems that are in place and subscribing endlessly will only eventually lead to a complete loss of individuality, and a loss of freedom. I can understand this critique, but I have a solution there too. This is where the Allegory of the Cave comes back into play. Also math. Everyone loves math. So if we imagine the chains on the prisoners in the Allegory of the Cave as the systems put in place by society and the wall as our worldview, things seem pretty bleak. The world that is available seems pretty finite. Math jumps in here and kind of messes that up. If you look between the numbers zero and one, there are in infinite number of numbers in a finite space. Therefore, there are in infinite number of choices you could make if you were to have to chose a number randomly between one and zero. Connecting this back to the wall and a highly structured society, those who are born into a society with a large number of systems will still be able to find the wiggle room to be themselves that they need. They do have an infinite number of possibilities on who and what they become after all. The only constraint is that with the systems that society has developed, they will not be subject to the pains we know today. From where we are now, this kind of society seems like a prison, but I think that to someone only exposed to that kind of structured "perfect" society, our own would seem chaotic, torturous, and plain stupid.

I'm sure I missed some part of my argument in here, so feel free to ask any clarifying questions, and I would love to hear what you have to say on these subjects. Do you agree? Disagree? Have anything to add?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Is Existentialism a death wish?

Although Camus' intentions with The Stranger may not have been to make a comment on existentialism, it is hard to deny the parallels between that ideology and Meursault’s progression through the story. As a character, Meursault struggles with judgement and purpose up until his moment with the lawyer, when his lack of feelings end up costing him his life. Meursault’s sudden burst of anger is both uncharacteristic and defining. To me, this self actualization (or lack thereof?) is when Meursault had committed himself fully to existentialism as well as death.

As Meursault's jail time went on, he began to remove himself from what little human pleasures he had (cigarettes, women, etc). It seems that the only thing Meursault cared about afterwards was his imminent death. In this sense, Meursault decided that the world’s pointlessness far outweighed the existentialist belief that life is worth living simply to live. Unlike Sisyphus, Meursault took no pleasure in the struggle or tragedy of living. Realizing that true free will is impossible in today’s society, Meursault figured death was the only way out.

With that thought, how can any true existentialist be living? If almost every human survival mechanism is predicated on social interaction, are existentialists trying to gain free will by giving up their will for life?

Camus, adulthood

This may be a bit of a stretch, but Camus, intentionally or not, seems to have developed the idea that adulthood is just another societal illusion that distracts from life. For example, Meursault has several characteristics that could be considered childish. He acts on his material desires almost solely, in way many people would consider shallow or immature. He tells a girl that he will marry her in order to secure his sexual relations with her, and he writes an intentionally harmful letter in exchange for some blood sausage. He has so little control over his emotions that he shoots a man in the way a child might punch a pillow. And according to Kohlberg's stages of moral development, Meursault has the moral maturity of a young child, only doing things in order to benefit himself (although he also has some characteristics of a more morally 'developed' person, so the point may be moot). Yet this same man also readily receives punishment for his actions and accepts his death more easily than most people would.

In contrast, those who would normally be seen as adults demonstrate 'childish' characteristics as well. Marie, the girl who follows the adult expectation for women at the time and tries to get married ends up in a rushed and one-sided relationship with a man she barely knows. The magistrate who does the expected adult thing of figuring his beliefs ends up having a tantrum over Meursault's refusal to accept Christianity. The chaplain who takes the 'mature' path and prays for other people's souls and tries to save them from what he believes to be a mistake ends up in tears after hearing Meursault's rant about life. The people who try to escape their childhood by accepting adulthood end up worse off than the one man who stays a child.

Add Smile to the Motif Pile

In The Stranger, Albert Camus forms the idea of life having no purpose due to the fact of inevitable death. The novel leaves readers with a rather negative out look, however the story discloses small breaks from the pessimistic outlook. Camus uses a motif of smiling to show the contrast between Meursault and the rest of the human race. He is able to form a character who is seemingly pushed out of society due to his paradoxical point of views.

Through out the novel, Camus encompasses concepts of death, heat, and sleep through Meursault's variety of behavior. From his thoughts and actions, it can be inferred that Meursault, more often than not, holds a somber expression on his face.

Camus is able to use this to create an clear image of the contrasting point of views of Meursault from, what seems like, the rest of humanity. He does this by introducing the repetition of smiling. A smile is generally considered a reaction to express emotions of happiness and contentment. Camus has spent the whole novel building a character who is the complete opposite of this concept. Therefore, when he introduces this motif, the distinction is apparent.

This idea is first proposed when Marie goes to visit Meursault in prison. While talking, Camus provides a direct comparison between the couple.
"I was feeling a little sick and I'd have liked to leave. The noise was getting painful. But on the other hand, I wanted to make the most of Marie's being there. I don't know how much time went by. Marie told me about her job and she never stopped smiling" (75). 
Meursault is more focused on his comfort level and his surrounding than Marie sitting right in front of him. He mentions how he didn't want to waste both of their time before Camus introduced the smile. "She never stopped smiling," is a direct contrast from Meursault's melancholy mood while he is simply sitting there. He is finally getting a break from his dull daily routine and getting to see the girl he used to spend time with. But instead he finds himself being irritated by his atmosphere.

This passage mentions the verb "smiling" five more times before ending chapter two, of part two with, Meursault back in his cell looking at himself in his tin plate. Pensive, he thinks,
"My reflection seemed to remain serious even though I was trying to smile at it. I moved the plate around in front of me. I smiled and it still had the same sad, stern expression"(81). 
With this mention of smiling, Camus reveals another level to Meursault's complex personality. Here he is attempting to explore what seems to be the opposite of his usual self. His attempt at producing something seen as pleasant result in him just proving himself right.

Throughout the end of chapter two, part two, Camus intelligently wove the motif of a smile into his writing to be able to not only reaffirm what we already knew of Meursault, but further add a level to the complexity to him. Camus' skillfully written passage allows the contrast of Meursault's routinely somber face and Marie's smile to construct a seemingly new side of Meursault. He knows how he feels is different than how he should. He knows that even though death is inevitable, he should still have moments in life where not everything is so forlorn. Even when he tries to conform to how everyone else thinks and force a smile, he cannot seem to operate so fabricated and factitious. It's not who is is.

Finding Meaning in its Lack-There-Of

Albert Camus’s The Stranger is most nearly the anti-christ, to the scholarly, perfunctory perspective of how modern literary study has come to assimilate us. In the broad scope of literature, Laurence Perrine claims that the theme of a work is its “controlling idea or its central insight… [and] unifying generalization about life”. Camus's novel is a radical agent because it suggests that a narrative does not need theme to establish meaning, and then suggest that you can then find meaning in that very absence. But we must ask ourselves if the power of the central message then can lie within its lack-there-of? To grasp this, It first must be conceded that to there say there is no theme to the book is wrong. However, to give substance to any single derived meaning from The Stranger is to miss the central message entirely.

The importance of The Stranger lies in its inconsistencies; it lies in its invariable and very intentional struggle to state a general constant about the condition of being alive because it claims that such a constant does not and cannot possibly exist. To try and take solace in any of the individual themes or ideas that Camus portrays, is to fall victim to the very demonic constructs that relentlessly antagonize Meursault throughout the novel. To fall victim to these demons is to accept that there is reason or definition to the chaotic world at hand; this chaos, if anything, the one unifying body that Camus revisits throughout. Like Camus reasoned in his evaluation of Sisyphus, in order to be truly enlightened by the work, we as the reader must also settle, upon rolling the boulder to the top of our condemned hill, with looking on the stone with purpose as it rolls slowly back to where it had started, being satisfied not knowing anything more about the human condition at the novel’s conclusion, then we did at the start. That frustration, that fleeting futility, is the true ¨theme¨ that Camus strives to convey through Meursault´s experiences.

God is Dead, and We Have Killed Him

"God is dead... and we have killed him." This quote by 19th century Prussian philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche embodies his ideals as one of the most influential existentialist thinkers in history, as well as the father of nihilism. Nietzsche's beliefs were founded on the idea that the prevailing Judeo-Christian values of the western world were inherently false and damaging to society. This is much the same in Albert Camus' The Stranger, demonstrated in the novel through Meursault's actions and attitudes. First and foremost, Meursault rejects the common Christian culture and values of Algiers and the belief in the Christian god. He openly defies these religious laws and customs through his lack of emotion after the death of the Arab at his own hands.

Nietzsche believed that all humans must strive to be ubermensch, or supermen, and in doing so existed beyond good and evil, acting instead on their desires. Meursault demonstrates this belief in his lack of guilt for the murder he commits, claiming that the sun was the cause of the event. He instead acted on desire; desire to kill the Arab, desire to be (physically) with Marie, desire to smoke, desire to eat, etc. He sacrifices the ideas of good and evil and opts instead to act on what he wants in that moment. Because of this, Nietzsche would characterize Meursault as an ubermensch. What's more, Nietzsche was a firm believer of the notion that without God, life is meaningless, and that God himself is dead. Meursault again echoes these principles in his disbelief in God and the clear lack of meaning he finds in life. 

Nietzsche laid the groundwork for future existentialist thought, most popular through his assertion that God is dead and that real men are above good and evil, but act on their own desires.  Camus echoes many of these assertions through his text The Stranger, demonstrating just how influential Nietzsche has been in the world. 

Perseus, Daedalus, & Ostracism: A Revisitation of Greek Mythology

A common motif within the genre of Greek mythology, beyond Camus' inferred theory of Sisyphus' existentialism, are the perils of ostracism and exile. Behind stories of gorgons and sphinxes lies a very genuine fear of not only the other, but of being the other. Those characters which commit sins too great to forgive or hold powers too great for the good of humanity often end up cast off from Greek society, much as Meursault ends up socially and legally banished at the end of the story. The dread of isolation from civilization is one universally shared through the ages, its consequences and implications stressed throughout all of human existence.

In Greek mythology, exile is often regarded as the ultimate condemnation of the living, sometimes painted as a punishment more severe than death. In the story of Daedalus (post-Icarus), the inventor has a new apprentice by the name of Talos. Talos soon proves himself some kind of miracle craftsmen as he spontaneously invents the saw and compass. Bitter, old Daedalus quickly gets jealous that his twelve-year-old nephew can best him in inventing, and, naturally, pushes him to his death from the top of the Acropolis. Athens deems this behavior on Daedalus' part as more than deserving of a time-out, and he is promptly banished from the city. 

In a slightly contrary vein, Perseus is a widely acclaimed Greek hero who began his path with exile. His mother, Danae, was impregnated with him by Zeus himself (big surprise). Danae's father Acrisius is alerted of this instance and also informed that little fetus Perseus will one day kill him. Without batting an eye, baby Perseus and Danae are thrown into a chest and thrown into the ocean.

In both these myths, the subjects are exiled with reasoning entirely justified by fear. People tend to fear that which threatens physical danger or which is incomprehensible in ideology or magnitude. Yes, Meursault did shoot and kill someone, and his death sentence can most definitely be attributed to this obvious fact. However, Camus stresses more the importance of Meursault's social and emotional separation from the society which condemns him. Meursault is condemned as Camus says "because he did not play the game." People fear both his crime (as with Daedalus) and, arguably more importantly, his incomprehensible lack of empathy and compassion (a concept more akin to Perseus' godly power). 

The ending of the book is perhaps the most telling section, in which we get not the details of death or ascension, but a passing 'hope' from the narrator that he be greeted at his execution by a crowd which hates him. In these words, Camus abolishes meaning in even the Greeks' 'fate worse than death;' ostracism is rendered just another fabricated system which the human race blindly follows.

The End

"For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, 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 line left such a flexible interpretation for the author to take advantage of.

Personally, it infuriated me. I pitied Meursault for this last thought. I believe he meant the generated emotional response from the crowd at his execution would justify his life having meaning. A rousing cheer of hateful cries from the spectators would have confirmed for Meursault that society ponders on the borderline of his same philological attitude. Although this goes against Camus' belief that everything is equal because nothing has meaning, I believe Meursault thought himself superior to everyone when facing the crisis of execution. I wonder if he thought himself a hero, because the expectation of anyone else in his position would have been to freak out, but Meursault faced the execution with a sort of humor. He wished that people would greet him with cries of hate. That is because he would have gained satisfaction from them since those cries of hate would have confirmed for him he went about life correctly. By giving nothing meaning, he lived a "successful" life, which in the end makes him superior. Everyone else who lived life with meaning, and those who would attend his execution to cry cheers of hate, are distracted by the emotional, unworthy events of life.

Meursault's wish for alienation in the face of death is something I found quite remarkable, and frankly is so bizarre to me just like the rest of the Stranger, but his wish truly clinches the ending to demonstrate one last time how detached he is from the norms of society.