Thursday, December 27, 2007
This was not going to end well. She knew that she was going to have to handle the situation herself, since her less responsible counterpart was clearly not capable of solving the lovely conundrum into which she managed to place herself. The pressure of responsibility weighed heavily on her shoulders. She hadn’t the slightest notion how to handle the situation, yet it was left up to her to come up with a solution. What was she to do? She felt completely trapped in an un-winnable problem. Considering her options, she realized that any direction in which she moved, she was going to cause damage. She could attempt to cover for her sibling and take the blame herself, or try to soften the impact of the scenario, but that seemed doomed to fail miserably.
Just then her sister pounded her way into the closet where she sat mulling her options. She looked at her sister’s face, and understood the anger and fear and violence expressed on it with a sense of assuredness, but felt no emotion. The girl sitting on the floor watched as her sister’s jaw muscles tensed and released, watched as her lips darted with irate words, watched the face skew itself into some unrecognizable misrepresentation of the person she knew. Yet in spite of the presence of a scenario in which equivalent desperation would have been the appropriate response, she was aware only of a low, throbbing numbness. She understood the predicament perfectly well – if she had one talent, it was recognizing the circumstances of a situation quickly and clearly – but she still felt nothing in the way of sympathy. Her sister had an unintentionally cruel inclination towards putting her into positions like this frequently; now, she felt she had solved quite enough of her sister’s problems.
Watching her sister’s rabid caricature launch into yet another tirade, she felt only the lack of compassion. She listened quietly to the seemingly endless stream of verbal abuse, but did not hear a word. Her sister had managed to put herself into another tiresome predicament, and yet again she was expected to solve it; but this situation was different. There was no possible way that she could be at fault, since she was not driving; no possible way that she had caused these results. Her sympathy well was bone dry, and, knowing that this was an unfixable, unmovable, unchangeable scenario, she simply let the situation lie.
She sat and listened to her sibling rant endlessly without feeling anything for her or expending the energy to process a single word. The girl felt that she was unable to move, yet strangely enough she felt no desire to even attempt to think of a solution. It was about time that her sister was served justice for her irresponsible actions, but she never for a moment felt hatred or schadenfreude – just the reassurance that retribution for irresponsibility was occurring.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
We stood on the street corner in the middle of the city. Our hours of rehearsal were done for the day, but we still wanted to sing, so we headed out to the streets for an impromptu recital. The Madrigal Singers had traveled across the US to rehearse and perform for five days, and today was our last day in San Francisco. We had barely started the first few bars of “Danny Boy” when an old man stepped forward from the crowd, laughing and smiling, and began to “conduct” us. It wasn’t the laughs of our small audience that struck me, though; it was the look of pure happiness on his face.
From the first time I heard the Madrigals sing as a freshman at Tabor Academy, I knew I wanted to be a part of the choir. Of the six choral groups at Tabor, the Madrigals are by far the most selective. Singing had always been my passion, but I had never had any formal training. But now here I was, only two years later, making beautiful music with some of my favorite people in the world. What more could I possibly ask for?
I reflected on the last five days of rehearsals. We spent hours in the conference room of our hotel, up to seven hours in a single day, perfecting every last note of every last bar, nailing down rhythms, and learning to match vowels perfectly. I knew I was disciplined and focused, but I had no idea that I could be so happy doing anything for seven hours. But there was something special about our rehearsal time that made it even more worthwhile, and I couldn’t seem to place the feeling.
On that street corner on the other side of the country, it finally made sense. Being part of this group was more than an accomplishment; it was a privilege. We were capable of bringing unadulterated joy to people with our music. Here, in this moment, we all became part of something that was much bigger than ourselves.
We finished the song, completing the last few bars as we had so many times before. The man slowly made his way into the applauding crowd; we looked at each other and smiled. There was nowhere else in the world I would rather be.
Walking back to our hotel later, a realization hit me. Singing with this group hadn’t just made me a stronger singer – it had made me a better person. I understood passion, dedication, and discipline on an entirely different level, and I had learned to translate it into schoolwork and life. I love what I do, I thought to myself. And in the end, isn’t that what life is about?
That it was a ploy
To get my attention
So I’d look up
And see you there
But honestly now
Hitting on another girl
Is not the way
To get me
Maybe if you weren’t so
You’d see that you’ve
For so long already
But now I feel
Like a stupid girl
Stupid for liking you
Stupid for thinking
Even for a second
That it might be
I mean honestly
God forbid my life work
Why are you leaving me
Hanging on like this
I’ve fallen already
At least do me the decency
Of catching me
Just this once
Please God just once
Let me be right about this
If you want my attention
And stop trying
To get me to open my eyes
And open up your own.
The easy potential
Brilliantly drains into
An open bottle
And flashing the lid clangs
To the floorSicut, the bright one
Who fills his days
With these bottles
And sees no purpose in
Trying to find purpose
Falls behind himself
Failing the ultimate test
Which is to connect, only connect
What is it to connect?
He fails in his heart
For his heart beats but does not play
The sweet, sweet music
For which it is built
Only the steady reverberation
As yet another bottle cap
Falls listlessly to the floor
What is purpose?
It has only failed him
So today he drowns his sorrows
Yet againAlong with his career
Because he seeks to find
Not purpose in these walls
But only escape
He sees the bottle
As a porthole to another world
But again the indolent one fails
For this other world
This alternate reality
Spiraled by fermentation
Not of hops but of the soul
Is found only at the bottom
Of the glass gateway
But this threshold cannot hold
And with a snap
There is no magic gateway, child!
There is no escape!
And don’t be afraid to live here
To love here
To grow here
For I have watched you try to see
Does the liquor give you these?
No. Of course, it can’t.
Only when the gate is gone
Only when the lock is thrown
And the last of the monotonous foam
Can you truly connect, truly!
For what good is there in deceit?
This habit will ruin your future!
The alcohol will tell you lies!
And I beg you child, beg you, stop!
I know it’s hard.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Tereza’s close emotional connection to Karenin causes her to feel the same sense of loss as she would feel when losing a close friend. Therefore, when he falls ill, she finds herself suffering through his death over and over. Kundera writes, “Tereza went out into the garden. She looked down at a patch of grass between two apple trees and imagined burying Karenin there. She dug her heel into the earth and traced a rectangle there,” (294). This demonstrates to the reader that Tereza has already experienced Karenin’s passing in her mind, and, by the time the event takes place in the physical world, it has already happened repeatedly in the cognitive realm. Tereza aches at the idea of losing her beloved dog, but yet she cannot stop the event from occurring again and again in her mind; when the day comes, “She had everything carefully laid out and thought out, having imagined Karenin’s death many days in advance,” (301). Consequently, Karenin’s death transcends the ephemeral state of a one-time occasion, becoming something significant rather than a fleeting moment.
In her sleep, Tereza also experiences her own death as well. Her set of dreams takes her through death long before it happens: “The first was of cats going berserk and referred to the sufferings she had gone through in her lifetime; the second was of her execution and came in countless variations; the third was of her life after death, when humiliation turned into a never-ending state,” (58). Tereza’s fear causes her to live these events over and over again. Although to Tereza the dreams seem to be a constant source of terror, she is actually cementing the legitimacy of her own existence in her mental world. Because she relives her own death repeatedly, she gives weight and meaning to her own death, and, by association, her life. Death is generally considered to be the ultimate one-time event; there is no means of doing it again once the physical event transpires. However, because Tereza’s dreams are recurring, she is actually living through death cognitively, and therefore causing the event to be significant in its repetition.
As far as science understands, humans are the only animals acutely aware of their own mortality. To some, this knowledge may be viewed as a tremendous weight to carry, and it is; however, it is a necessary and ultimately helpful burden. It is only in the knowledge of human mortality that the lives of human beings actually begin. The lives of men are often completely weightless and free, which would, it seems, make them unmemorable. Yet an integral part of human society is the reverence and remembrance of the dead. How is this possible, if life is so weightless? Despite nature of life, which is light and transient because it lacks repetition, death is an even which is lasting because it is replicated continually in the psychological world. This final event, the one event of life which is permanent, is the one moment which makes the lives of men more than just a collection of fleeting moments.
The rape of his friend Hassan is a memory which haunts Amir throughout the novel. This scene is significant in the framing of the novel by demonstrating that triumph is not absolute. Despite Amir’s joy at winning the tournament – and therefore his father’s admiration – the victory is quickly turned sour by witnessing such a traumatic event. However, although Amir and Hassan are both deeply affected by antagonist Assef’s egregious actions, the world as a whole remains blissfully unaware that such an event ever occurred. This calamity proves the truth of part of saying: just as a broken axel on one kochis’ wagon will not affect those around him, our personal crises do not affect the lives of those around us.
Decades later, after Amir has rescued Hassan’s son Sohrab from the now-Taliban-enlisted Assef, he finally witnesses a small moment of joy in Sohrab’s otherwise tragic life. In a sense, this is a moment of catharsis for Amir, as he is finally relieved of some of the weight of responsibility for Sohrab’s unhappiness. However, though this is a joyous occasion for Amir and his wife, though, it is simply a small footnote in the lives of those around them. Few others took notice of the small, lopsided smile that crossed Sohrab’s face, and it did not significantly impact the lives of any of the other members of the Afghan community. This scene serves to frame the novel in that it again plays off of the themes of tragedy and triumph: though Sohrab has suffered greatly, he finally found a small moment of happiness.
Amir’s experiences both as a child and later as an adult serve to frame the novel as one of both loss as well as victory, and the interconnectivity of the two. The Afghan saying serves to unify the novel by juxtaposing these themes, noting that life is a continuous journey, and that ultimately the forces of good and evil balance each other. Hosseini’s major point however, is that the world as a whole remains unmoved by the individual’s experiences. Though to Amir each moment will remain with him as monumentally important, life is continuously moving forward; in spite of our best efforts to become significant, we are, and will remain, nothing more than fleeting shadows.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Though ostensibly Ophelia and Polonius’s relationship is just a father/daughter interaction, it is actually a prime example of female subordination. After Ophelia tells her father of Hamlet’s odd behavior towards her, Polonius simply responds:
“That hath made him mad.
I am sorry that with better heed and judgment
I had not quoted him. I fear’d he did but trifle
And meant to wrack thee. But beshrew my jealousy!” (II, i, 111-114)
This demonstrates Polonius’s complete control over Ophelia; he even feels as though her actions are his own. He realizes that she acts precisely how he instructs her to act, and capitalizes on this sad reality. Ophelia, meanwhile, knows that her father governs her behavior, but is not strong enough to confront her father and be and independent person. This affects Ophelia understandably, but it also affects her father: because he is so convinced that he is capable of handling his daughter’s life, he fails to realize that Hamlet may have an alternate agenda, thus playing into Hamlet’s scheme. Indirectly, Polonius’s control over Ophelia also affects Hamlet as well. Though Hamlet’s sanity is debatable, it seems as though his spurned relationship with Ophelia drives him to kill. If he were satisfied with at least one major aspect of his life, perhaps he would have stopped short of absolute revenge.
Despite Polonius’s best efforts to keep his daughter away from Hamlet, the prince still manages to gain control over Ophelia. Though never specifically explicated, Ophelia and Hamlet’s sexual relationship is strongly implied. Throughout the play, he uses subtle innuendos such as, “Lady, shall I lie in your lap?” (III, ii, 108) to remind her that he has control in their relationship; in the society of the play, it would be considered much worse to have intercourse out of wedlock for a woman than for a man (yet another gender stereotype). When she confronts his innuendo, Hamlet laughs off her remarks, saying, “Do you think I meant country matters?” to which Ophelia replies, “I think nothing, my lord,” (III, ii, 112-113). This shows Ophelia’s willingness to submit to Hamlet. She realizes that she is not in a position to contradict the prince due to the potential for damage to her reputation if their relationship became public, so she allows Hamlet to behave in an impolite manner. Another example of Hamlet’s control over Ophelia is when Hamlet says to her, “Get thee to a nunnery. Why, wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” (III, i, 121-122). While possible that Hamlet is encouraging her to live a life of celibacy, it is more likely that he is suggesting that she associate with people like her – in a brothel. Hamlet’s blatantly rude remark bewilders Ophelia, but she does not seem as shocked as would be expected, implying that their relationship tends toward this track of subordination.
Perhaps the most interesting relationship of all, though, is the relationship between Queen Gertrude and her husband’s advisor Polonius. Gertrude is technically above Polonius socially, yet he still manages to control her, both directly and indirectly through Claudius. Because the king trusts Polonius, he is willing to take his words at face value, and pass them on to Gertrude. Claudius says, “[Polonius] tells me, my dear Gertrude, he hath found \ The head and source of all your son’s distemper,” (II, ii, 54-55). Gertrude objects, saying, “I doubt it is no other but the main, \ His father’s death and our o’er-hasty marriage,” (II, ii, 56-57). Though Gertrude is almost certainly right about the cause of her son’s supposed madness, Claudius disregards her view in favor of the less reliable (but decidedly more masculine) opinion of Polonius. Though it would be unacceptable for Polonius to contradict the queen directly because he is of a lower social standing, he still manages to control her by controlling the ear of her husband. In addition to his indirect control, he also realizes that she will do his bidding, and abuses this in an attempt to garner information against Hamlet. He says,
“’A will come straight. Look you lay home to him,
Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with
And that your Grace hath screen’d and stood between
Much heat and him. I’ll silence me even here.
Pray you be round,” (III, iv, 1-5).
Although Hamlet proves too cunning and Polonius pays for his plot with his life, if the prince had not been inclined to murder it is likely that Polonius would have gathered the information he needed in order to send Hamlet out of Denmark forever. Therefore, Gertrude is a tool for Polonius, a means to an end, even though she is above him in the social hierarchy. If it were not for her gender, Polonius would not be able to manipulate the queen in this manner.
The lack of power of the female characters is primarily due to subordination by their male counterparts, but their lack of strength must not be ignored. If Gertrude and Ophelia were stronger individuals, they would not be forced into submission by the men, but rather would be able to defend themselves. The male characters in the play compel Ophelia and Gertrude into a lower position because they are not able to assert themselves. So, while the lack of feminine authority partially the fault of the men, the women must take part of the responsibility as well. Until Gertrude and Ophelia can assert themselves and break their gendered stereotype, and until Hamlet and Polonius learn to encourage strength instead of preying on weakness, absolute equality will never be achieved. Both genders will have to change in order to attain balance between masculine and feminine power.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Vladimir and Estragon are undoubtedly alive, but visibly stuck in an endless cycle of waiting. The two characters return to the same spot, each day, looking outside themselves to someone (or something?) called Godot for solutions. Their very existence pivots on this cycle of waiting, creating a false sense of purpose for the two men. Vladimir and Estragon fall into the most common trap of life: the two mistake their movement for progress. Although they are acting, the protagonists are not actually moving towards their goal, because they fail to look to themselves for salvation. In this sense, although they are both alive, neither character is actually living.
This connects to philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s growth pattern towards truth. Most people find themselves stuck somewhere between Kierkegaard’s state dubbed “crisis of despair” and his state known as “paralysis and dread.” Estragon and Vladimir are visibly trapped in a state of paralysis, as evidenced by the end of each act: “Let’s go,” they do not move. Despite its dire name, the state of paralysis is actually quite comfortable, and the state in which most of society dwells. In both Godot and in real life, this state of existence prevents the people stuck in it from experiencing life. In order to live to life’s fullest potential, one must be willing to push beyond the comfortable state of numbness and seek the answers to life’s most challenging questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is real?
Beckett uses Waiting for Godot as a mirror to society. He poses the question: if most of the world is living somewhere between cognitive paralysis and denial, is this world real? By never providing a definitive conclusion to the play, Beckett forces the audience to take a long, hard look at themselves for the answers. In a sense, it is the audience that is the third act of the show. Estragon and Vladimir never understand that their solution lies not in Godot, but in their own acceptance that nothing in life is certain and that they must move beyond paralysis to begin to accept what is real. Because the characters never manage to understand this, the audience must realize that their lack of thought is holding them back from seeing truth. This forced introspection pushes the audience to think about what is real in their own lives. Beckett’s ultimate goal is to push the audience to realize that in some regard we are all waiting for our own Godot. In order to fully experience reality, we must change the image that we see in the mirror and fight the paralysis which we too easily sink.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
One of the primary signs that Hamlet is not insane is that he openly admits that he might be. When talking with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet tells them, “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw,” (II, ii, 368-369). This open acceptance that he may be mad is a good indication that he is not, as people who are genuinely crazy believe that they are perfectly normal. For Hamlet to recognize that he is misaligned with the world around him and to demonstrate conscious awareness that his behavior is sometimes abnormal shows that he is aware of what is socially and culturally acceptable, and he realizes that he is sometimes against the predetermined standards. The lack of consciousness of what is truly normal is a characterizing trait for the insane. Hamlet has no trouble recognizing that his behavior is sometimes strange or even viewed as crazy, yet he is not bothered by how others view his actions. Hamlet knows that his conduct is strange, and this demonstrates that he is not crazy because he is consciously aware of what is normal.
Another indication that Hamlet has not gone mad is that he has planned his odd behavior as part of his revenge. After seeing the ghost of his father and hearing the ghost’s instructions, Hamlet informs Marcellus and Horatio of his scheme:
Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd some’er I bear myself–
As perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on… (I, v, 176-180)
In these lines, Hamlet shows that his plan is to act as though he has gone insane in order to make his revenge against King Claudius possible. Perhaps by acting mad, he will not be viewed as a threat by the king and his men. Hamlet fully intends to force those around him to think that he has been driven to insanity, and this comment demonstrates to the audience that he has not gone mad, but rather is acting in such a way in order to ensure his revenge. This line is intended to show that though it may be possible to make a case for his insanity on account of other pieces in the play, Hamlet’s behavior is actually a means to an end, and should not be viewed as his own. His actions are not actually rash and impulsive as they seem, but actually part of a carefully premeditated plot to set right the injustice done to his father.
Hamlet also demonstrates that he is not mad in that he speaks civilly when he is alone or speaking to Horatio; he lapses into prose only when feigning insanity. This change is most obvious in act 3, scene 2. Hamlet trusts Horatio, as demonstrated by his line, “Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man/As e’er my conversation cop’d withal,” (III, ii, 52-53). This close bond of friendship allows Hamlet to speak freely about his plans and his difficulties with Horatio. His eloquent verse which follows shows that he still retains his sanity. However, as soon as Claudius returns, Hamlet once again speaks in prose: “Excellent, i’faith, of the chameleon’s dish. I eat the air, promise-crammed. You cannot feed capons so,” (III, ii, 91-92). This sharp return to prose in response to the King’s presence shows that Hamlet’s insanity is simply a part of his plan to revenge his father. If Hamlet were truly going mad, his manner of speech would not change depending on the person to whom he was speaking. That he is able to speak as normally and civilly as any other character when he is talking to a trusted friend demonstrates that Hamlet is not actually insane, but putting “an antic disposition on” so that he may revenge his father’s murder.
Finally, Hamlet demonstrates that he is still sane by ensuring King Claudius’s guilt before going through with his plan for revenge. In soliloquy, Hamlet says,
…I’ll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks;
I’ll tent him to the quick. If ‘a do blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil, and the devil hath power
T’assume a pleasing shape... (II, ii, 581-587)
This shows that Hamlet is still sane because he recognizes that he is not to believe everything which he hears. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that the ghost who appeared before him was the ghost of his father, he realizes that it is possible that the devil may have taken an appealing form so that he can manipulate Hamlet’s grief. Hamlet, however, knows that he must not allow himself to be taken advantage of, and uses the players to watch Claudius’s reaction. Hamlet says, “I’ll have grounds more relative than this. The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” (II, ii, 591-592). His plan has been well thought out, and he refuses to be caught in the devil’s snare. Hamlet’s idea to catch the king’s guilty conscience is not the idea of a madman – only a sane (and brilliant) man would be able to devise such an intricate plot, even though it would have been much simpler to simply take his father’s ghost at his word and kill Claudius without proof.
Though it would be possible to make a case that Hamlet is mad, the case would have to ignore the understated signals of his sanity. The recognition of his grief and the possibility that he may be going crazy demonstrates to the reader that the prince is actually quite sane, and simply mourning the loss of his father. Hamlet is using his ostensible insanity in order to achieve his revenge – a madman is not viewed as a threat to the king’s power. Additionally, to diagnose Hamlet with a mental illness would be poor psychoanalysis. Every single psychiatrist would have to note that Hamlet has lost a man very dear to him recently, and would have to account for the toll his mother’s abrupt marriage took on her son. Though it may be possible that Hamlet is suffering from some metal disorder, it is not possible to conclude that definitively within the context of the play – the events which have recently transpired have been too traumatic, and account for the symptoms of Hamlet’s perceived insanity. Ultimately, Hamlet is clearly not crazy. Any symptoms which may point to a possible diagnosis are accounted for by his loss, and he also demonstrates that he playing the part of a madman in order to revenge the death of the rightful king of Denmark.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard believes that there is a growth pattern toward truth. Unfortunately, most individuals find themselves stuck between Kierkegaard’s “crisis of despair”, in which they are unsure of what is right, and “paralysis and dread.” Estragon and Vladimir are visibly trapped in a state of paralysis, as evidenced by the end of each act: “Let’s go,” they do not move. This state, however, despite its dire name, is actually rather comfortable – Estragon and Vladimir are not striving for truth or some higher form of knowledge, but rather waiting for someone (or maybe something?) called Godot to arrive and solve their problems for them. This state of existence, though to the audience apparently meaningless and empty, is the one in which most of society dwells.
Estragon and Vladimir become visibly agitated when they run out of matters to discuss and are nearly relegated to the confines of their own minds and forced to listen to the voices which surround them. But what if the voices are more than just constant chatter? Perhaps the reason that the characters are so set against listening to these voices is that only in death can the soul finally see truth – that is, they are pushed beyond physical paralysis into the realization that nothing is certain. This notion can be quite painful and difficult to cope with. Maybe some voices speak of their discomfort at seeing the truth; maybe others lament their own inability to see truth in life. However, understanding that nothing is certain can also be freeing: what if some of the voices are attempting to pass this concept on?
So the question which stands is one of existence. If most of our world is living in a state of denial and paralysis, is the physical world truthful? And if there is no truth in this world, is this existence real? Maybe it is only in transcending the physical realm that truth can be realized, and it just might be that in this reality, truth cannot exist – humanity as a whole is too paralyzed. But the voices are always there, speaking constantly about the world they know. And maybe it would benefit Estragon and Vladimir to try to move beyond their paralysis and possibly comprehend the truth by listening to these ghosts of the past.
And while they listen, perhaps we should listen, too – so long as the voices speak, who knows what they may tell us.