Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Final Thoughts.

Well, the semester is just about over now. One more class and a final and we will be leaving for the summer. The other day in class, Prof. Sexson asked us to write a summative statement about the semester as the final post on our blogs. Here's mine.

I wanted to say that I absolutely enjoyed this class. Rare as it is to take a class in which one feels genuine enjoyment of discussions all the time, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I'll say it simply. We had fun! And we learned a lot as well.

At the start, I was shocked when Prof. Sexson learned everyone's names by the second day. That stunt, especially on a college campus, is practically unheard of. From the very beginning, the class felt personal to me, even though Sexson kept repeating that none of us were original and he'd met us all before. This wasn't just another core class where you can tell the professor honestly doesn't care if you really get it or not. Sexson actually knows about what he's talking about; hell, he quotes Shakespeare as if he's actually reading it!

As a class, I think we were more comfortable as well. Sexson didn't constantly split us up into awkward groups to talk about things, yet our class seemed more comfortable together. No one likes giving presentations in front of a whole group of people we feel are judging us every waking second. In spite of this, however, everyone got up there and spoke openly about what they'd been thinking about, what they'd experienced, what they actually felt. We staged group presentations that, from the audience, must have seemed like parties! We drew on the board, we volunteered to read, we marveled at things like Rio's famous pen.

We talked about the ancient tragedians or comedians and their abuse of the audience. I feel like we saw a little of that in the class, whether it be our classmates volunteering us to participate (against our will) or them throwing candy hard enough to injure someone. Or indeed, whether it be Prof. Sexson telling us we are stupid or, in my case while reading Lysistrata, "The person who will read this will have to be quite shameless. Christina! You look pretty shameless today!"

Now, as the semester draws to a close, we are looking back at a semester's worth of interaction. We remember being shocked at coincidences (that are never coincidences) whose odds of happening are (let's all say it now) one in three. We remember the smiles, the silly discussions that went on and on about philosophy and about Stewie Griffin or Groundhog Day. We remember the low points, the great tragedies of the past and our own great tragedies. We remember sacred rocks passed delicately from person to person as we learned to love the simplest things. We remember, when it is all over, how connected we are, not only to one another, but to the world as a whole, past and future. We remember not to be circumstantially bound, but rather to branch out beyond even ourselves. We remember.....all the things we have only forgotten.

As a fitting end to the journey, to our laughter and the tragedy, we conclude our class with revelry. Dancing and drinking (even if it is only cherry Kool-Aid) and laughing together, we leave all this behind. Until the day when we choose, once again, to remember.

Looking Back

Rather than making up for every post I may have missed, rather than begging for more points by posting over and over in the next few hours, I would look back on the semester and laugh at every seeming digression, every oddity, every singular moment of true joyfulness. I've been looking through my notes. Every time some phrase catches my ear or makes me laugh, I jot it down, right next to heady discussions on Plato or Euripedes. I'd like to post them here.

First, I'll post some drawings I made in my sketchbook during class or about something we said. There aren't many, but one in particular always makes me laugh (if i do say so myself). =D It's about "A tree. A rock. A cloud" (i think that title's right....)

This second one is just some quotes from Plato I jotted down with a few sketches I did in class:

Here are more random moments, quotes, etc. from the semester:

"There are no boring things, only boring people."

"It's the ordinary things that change our lives."

"I was there."

(music) "it is not some academic thing we study; it is the heart and soul of who we are"

"make mischief and make music!"

"Hermes lives. His name is now Stewie."

"that which is awesome is awful"

"we all share these things, and some of us have the scars to prove it"

"Here for a moment and then it's gone, fleeting like a light between the womb and the tomb, is life"

"We don't have problems anymore. We have issues!!"

"We need to transcend this kind of world to get to what's important"

"our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting"

"What did you do in classical literature today? ...We felt rocks."

"I know how to hover. I do it fairly well"

"We need to explain to stupid people that they're stupid."

"I've been teaching now for.....good God" =D

"that's cool!! Like dolphins!"

"ignorance is not bliss; it's oblivion. If you want oblivion, then be ignorant."

"We've stricken two questions from Jillian. Stricken? I was about to say stroked!"

"we don't have real tests in this class. So the answer is? Stag."

"it really is a horse of a different color! ..... where were we.....Oh, Aristotle!"

"there is no resolution. you never get your shit together. EVER."

"father may I sleep with you? If you incest! .....sorry."

"Jupiter says, 'Oh my god!' Wait, he can't say that. He is a god. He says, 'Oh my!!'"

"you're sort of......sorry about this, stupid."

"There are no people! There are only these machines that do these horrible things to you!"

"Would you get the door here? I fear there are people...listening in." =D

(And of course, from the group presentations the other day: "Nothing says love like a flaming toilet.")

Posting Furiously

Well, I have a feeling many of us will be posting furiously tonight in a mad dash to make up for past procrastinations in this class, desperately searching through their memories for any topic they may have forgotten to blog about then frantically putting it all into words. I will be honest and say I myself was sorely tempted to do this. I've never blogged for a class before, so I never really knew all semester what was expected of me. I simply wrote about things that moved me. Prof. Sexson would give us assignments like "have a bad day," and I would think about them a lot, but not always did I write about them because in many cases I had already worked it out in my head. If I was at peace with an idea or concept, I did not always feel the need to write about it. Writing...is for when you have something to say. Or something to discover in the words. This was when I wrote for this class.

I don't know if this blog will stand up to all the criteria Prof. Sexson gave us. I don't know if I have enough. Still, I would argue that, as in life, this is not about quantity, it is about quality. I believe that I have written with some level of analysis and introspection. I am proud of all my posts as I am proud of the thought behind each one. Honestly, I didn't think I'd like blogging much, but now, I definitely see the benefit (even if not many of us actually read the others' posts). I never thought I would have more than one of these...but now I have three. =D

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Group One: A Modern Day Symposium

As requested, here are my thoughts on love as presented in our group presentation on Friday. I chose to approach this topic for our modern symposium by viewing the idea of love through the lens of the arts...and also my own belief that love is not, as this society professes so openly, a system of codependence fueled by past scars and barely concealed bitterness, nor is it something paltry and inconsequential. Rather, love is....more than all this....yet contained in everything we ever see.... We cannot think of it divorced somehow from who we are or from this world. We cannot think of it as existing with no connection whatsoever to our souls and our lives, the purpose of our existence.

"In the arts, love is a constant, beating energy as real as the canvas before us, the brush held in our hands. It feeds our every inspiration. Love of life, love of passion, love of truth. Every painting you have ever seen has something to do with some form of love in this life, or the absence thereof.

In my case, I am in love with life. I am in love with the light in a street puddle. I am in love with the bare branches of a dormant tree lit up by one lonely street lamp. I see my life, my art, my love, in every wistful cloud, every full and perfect morning, every single breath of air. In these moments, I am in love, perhaps not even with the sight itself, but with my ability to see it and with my heart for its ability to withstand such joy. Love is no passing compulsion; it is not a pastime or luxury. Love is life.

In one writer’s words, “It is with a sense of life that one falls in love—with that essential sum, that fundamental stand or way of facing existence, which is the essence of a personality. One falls in love with the embodiment of the values that formed a person’s character, which are reflected in his widest goals or smallest gestures, which create the style of his soul—the individual style of a unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable consciousness” (Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto). True love, then, is the quickening in the heart of this recognition, the meeting of souls as from a great distance.

Far too many speak of love as some sort of bondage. From the moment one feels its touch, they say one is taken prisoner. Love is a sickness. Love is blind. We have all heard these expressions. Love is none of these things. Love is freedom.

When we feel love, we feel the falling away of all fleeting ambitions, all preconceived notions, and every self-imposed boundary or limitation. While in its grasp, we are the fullest versions of ourselves that we can possibly be. And that thought terrifies us. No other force on earth reveals so fully or so truthfully exactly who we are. In our choice of partner we betray the secrets of our soul.

So, you see, love is not something of chains and imprisonment, nor of battered hearts besieged. The height of love is the height of true, absolute freedom. One writer put it most succinctly, “Love is reverence, and worship, and glory, and the upward glance” (Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead).

We crave love in this life because we crave the fulfillment of our true selves. This does not come from another. It comes from ourselves in the presence of another, our equal.

As an artist, I have chosen to follow an ongoing tradition of those dedicated to their love. I hope thereby to find my freedom."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Individual Presentations

First of all, I'd like to say congratulations to everyone for a job well done with the individual presentations. You guys really thought about what you had to say and presented some really good material. Here are a few topics that certainly grabbed my attention:

Misaki's use of props with her presentation was incredibly creative. I don't think I've seen it done quite that way before, where visual aids folded out. It was very interactive, like a graphic presentation more than a show-and-tell, point and shoot approach.

Heather's analysis of love and death was interesting as well. Some phrases she said that caught my eye (or ears, rather): "even death needs to be loved" and "death is the tool to keep people together".

Erica's argument, "if catharsis is so effective, why do we need to suffer in life at all?" is arresting in its simplicity. What a question!

Of all the presentations, however, a few were more personal than others. It requires a lot of courage to speak openly and truthfully about oneself, one's own life, especially with thirty or so kids staring at you in breathless expectation. I admire the people who took that on. Nick made us laugh with his "i'm terrified that you're all looking at me right now" comment. Kris spoke to a personal battle and ongoing tragedy. Zach Morris told us the touching story of his mother and the lullaby she sings. Each momentary presentation spoke volumes about the person behind it, and it was nice to see so much attention to detail in their execution.

Thank you all for doing a great job! I'm looking forward to the upcoming group presentations.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Absolute Man: The Pursuit of Transformation

Truly, we like to think of ourselves as entirely individual and isolated entities, following solitary paths of pain and love imperceptible to the average passerby. We devise new ways of conceptually cutting ourselves off from the world and its masses by defining our role within that greater continuum in terms of differences alone. Yet, there exists a struggle in us between this fascination with total autonomy from the unknown forces of this world and our ultimate need to let go and be wholly encompassed by those same forces. We remake ourselves again and again, following the shifting shapes of serial transformations in order to achieve one or both of these ideals. For Ovid in David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life, these transformations of self occur through the power of imagination as he walks through waking dreams more real than any life restricted by the bonds of place or time.

In the first of five parts of Malouf’s work, the character of Ovid struggles to transcend his circumstantially bound identity in order to achieve some sense of peace in exile. The novel opens with Ovid’s lonely isolation and with two dreams of great significance. In the first dream, Ovid travels across a vast and terrible valley in order to dig into the earth itself only to find wolves digging alongside him with increasing fervor. The dream stems from Ovid’s fear of death and brings to light his attachment to the world as he knows it. In the second dream, hordes of centaurs gallop towards a meeting with Ovid, frightening him enough so as to wake him abruptly. “Let us into your lives. Believe in us” they call, and something of a divine, animal nature rises up in Ovid to converse with the centaurs; the world of myth demands this recognition if only in dreams (24). Ovid grapples with this fear of relinquishing control even until the final words of this passage when suddenly, he finds some revelation. In the form of the poppy, he sees the path to true awakening, a way to, as he states, “work the spring” within himself (32). In naming there is becoming. By letting go of his former self, Ovid can define and awaken the forces within him needed to fuel the transformation of self and achieve ultimate transcendence of this physical world. “You will be separated from yourself and yet be alive” (33). These are the words he reflects upon in this passage, the words he dedicates to the beginning of a journey.

The second portion of the novel then continues, building on this initial revelation. Now, rather than thinking only of his superiority over the rural people he has come to live with, Ovid tries to understand the forces of nature, and of the divine, inherent in them. Speaking of Ryzak, the clan leader, he says “believing in nothing I couldn’t see [. . .]—what can I know of the forces that have made this man, this tamer of horses, whose animal nature he somehow takes into himself and gentles” (40). In this reference to Hector of Troy, we gain new insight into the dream of the centaurs in the previous section. In the centaur, the melding of horse and man into one being, we see the natural world and the world of the mind working in absolute harmony with one another. Ovid wonders as to how Ryzak is able to retain his humanity, his individuality, while simultaneously embracing the unknown, the uncontrollable in nature. Rather than completely surrendering himself to the unknown, Ovid still desires to maintain some sort of control over forces too great and too subtle for him to define in concrete terms. This desire to retain some sense of ultimate individuality or sovereignty over himself can be seen in the dream he has deep in the woods in the presence of the Child. “We have all been transformed,” he dreams, “the whole group of us, and become part of the woods [. . .] I am a pool of water” (61). This pool of water does not fear the deer or the Child drinking it up; he fears the wolf gorging himself on the sweet liquid just as the waking Ovid fears the violence of passions he cannot control, the violence of falling completely away into seeming nothingness. In this same passage, Ovid’s eventual death is foreshadowed in the brief words, “I sleep. I wake” (62). The sleep of death will be an awakening, though Ovid has not entirely reconciled himself to this concept in his waking consciousness.

The revelation in this passage comes with the identification of “some power in us that knows its own ends” (64). Ovid realizes that every version of himself that he could possibly become, all aspects of the universe are contained within him. “We have only to find the spring and release it,” he says (64). By embracing the entirety of the world, one does not lose oneself, for the entirety of the world is contained within that self. Though the passage ends with the shockingly violent capture of the Child, the vital weight of this realization cannot be subdued.

The violence inherent in the physical bonds used to restrain the Child does not last long, however, in the third and fourth sections of the novel. A shift begins to occur from the physical bonds, representative of place or time, to the figurative bonds of attachment similar to that of perceived nationality, family ties, or possession. Ovid teaches the Child ownership by giving him a ball to play with, creating, as Ovid describes, “the web of feeling that is this room [. . .] I feel, even in darkness, the invisible twitching of strings” (82). Here lies Ovid’s final attempt, through the person of the Child to control nature, to define that nature, human or otherwise, in terms of circumstantially bound definitions of place. Aptly, he uses the word web, a trap, to define this state of being.

By wondering at the ancestry of the Child, Ovid betrays his lingering fear of complete abandonment of the restricted self he has known, yet he also wonders “does not knowing make him free?” (89). Because the Child is not rooted to the physicality of life contained in concepts such as time and place, he is free and completely his own being. When he imitates birds and other creatures, Ovid says, “he is not, like our mimics, copying [. . .] He is allowing it to speak out of him” (92). Here again we see the child as the ultimate form of individuality enmeshed in the greater web of life. He exists completely unto himself yet enfolding all things; all forms of life live in him, in the singular aspect of his body, his soul. Perhaps paradoxically, by being all things, the Child finds a wholeness in his singular identity more original than any other. Finally, Ovid begins to achieve a transcendence of self, saying, “I must drive out my old self and let the universe in. [. . .] The spirit of things will migrate back into us. We shall be whole. Only then will we have some vision of our true body as men” (96).

In the final section of the novel, in a world beyond metamorphoses, beyond even imagination, Ovid achieves true wholeness of self and everlasting peace. The chapters begin with “No more dreams” (141). No longer needing to remake himself because he has achieved the entirety of his awakening, dreams and the imagination are needless as well. They are but agents of change between transformations.

Malouf ends his novel with Ovid’s final transformation and the words, “I am there” (152). Our Ovid has achieved the ultimate level of awareness, a state of being in which he encapsulates all that ever went before him and all there is to come, the fullness of man as he was meant to be. This man exists wholly unto himself and wholly within the world. The Child and his natural fire and spirit fade away upon the breeze just as the mind of Ovid sinks into the earth, into the sky. Somehow, he exists even then in all things.

While reading Malouf’s work, perhaps we recognize some silent force within us, some ancient spring that will trigger a change of consciousness. As we fully succumb to this next great transformation, perhaps we will glimpse a bit of ourselves in all things and feel wholly connected with all of life, past and present. Perhaps, we will see, rising within us, the birth of a new man, a god that breathes in tandem with the beating of our hearts. In this, and in all aspects of awakening, we are reborn.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sterilized Lives.

Prof. Sexson made an offhand comment the other day on our modern day adaptation of the power of love in the form of Cupid. We have taken the god himself and transformed him into a "fat baby with wings" in Prof. Sexson's words. What an idea!

What role does love play in our society? In every part of the world, love is a mainstay of creative thought and the focus of most, if not all of our energies. Yet, we have no idea what it is or even how to truly define it. Love is something that shows itself in many forms, something ephemera,l and it defies our pitiful attempts to place it in some sort of sterilized box for safekeeping. It moves us....beyond the limits of acceptable conduct....and with only the slightest touch. By transforming the youthful god of tricks and dreamlike rapture into that of a commercialized baby figure with fat rolls and disproportionate wings, we attempt to create some distance from this power, the power of love. We like to fool ourselves into thinking that we actually succeed in this.

Few people would ever admit to being fools in love; those that do are rarely fools as they know more of the true nature of love than most who claim to retain some small semblance of control, yet that is what we all are. Simple fools. We say that love is blind. Rather, we cannot know this concept in its entirety. Anything we cannot explain we then qualify. With platitudes such as these we escape culpability for our choice of companion, our mirror in this life. "Love is blind," we say and say no more about it so as not to have to examine ourselves fully in the light of truth. But there is so much more that needs to be said! Love is not blind simply because we are blind to its meaning.

Sadly, we like to think of ourselves as truly modern, unable to be fooled by such silly, naive concepts of love and beauty, honor or integrity. Those are the dreams of bygone eras, the souls of greater men than us perished in the black abyss of time. I am taking another English class this semester, and what I have found in our class discussions on certain pieces of literature was a revelation to me. Every piece that affected me the most, for the author spoke of nobility, of integrity of spirit, every such piece was ridiculed and picked apart in class days after I had scanned the final lines. The knight is an antiquated, unrealistic concept. The love between brother knights is homoerotic and nothing more. The author seems narrow-minded. The hero is a wimp. The glorification of this hero is but the implementation of European ideals on the savage mind. He's not really that courageous, there's just no other way he can be.

These were some "insights" I gained from my peers during these sessions of outright skepticism and derisive criticism.

I leave these classes feeling worn and...disappointed.

Far from being naive, I have seen as well. I have witnessed the degradation of mankind in so many venues and in so many ways. Yet...somehow, I continue to believe in the heroic potential of the human spirit. I continue to believe in a version of man who lives with integrity and strength of self. I continue to believe in a passionate love that leaves one senseless to the condemnation of the world. I believe in ultimate truth, though it may not be conceivable as we are now. I believe...in man.

Yet these people, these masses, for I cannot term them truly individual when they lack the courage to embrace life itself, pitifully and regrettably seek to distance themselves from their own ideal. The best version of who they themselves could be stands directly before them, waiting to be recognized and sought after, yet they continue to deny, efface, and condemn him. With platitudes and off-color remarks, fat babies and sissy knights, they turn away from the power of that sight, the power of that other world. This world, devoid of qualifications and other injustices.

Psyche held the absolute power of love, devoid of such qualifications, in her very "soul". By seeking some sort of contextual definition in the form of a beautiful shape, she sought to gain some power over her situation, over love. For this she was punished, not because she saw Eros in his fullest form, but because she tried to distance herself from, to give a name to some great force that must only be embraced with wild abandon.

In the same way, we must embrace our lives without those self-imposed boundaries and petty fears. Give up fat babies and live in the glorious presence and power of something greater than yet contained in ourselves...in our souls.