Thursday, May 22, 2008
I’ll admit, when we started the year off with “Red Shift,” I got a little worried. I came into the paper about it feeling very confident in my writing but not in my ideas, but despite receiving a high grade, I learned that my analytical writing still needed work. I think I truly found my niche at analytical writing when we wrote the explication of The Stranger. It was easier for me to find the deeper meaning and purpose in the text of a book or novel than in the poem, most likely due to inexperience working with poems. After finishing the Ted Berrigan poem, however, I started to feel slightly more comfortable with poems.
My college essay also proved to be a growing experience. I always thought that nothing remarkable had ever happened to me, that I was just the run-of-the-mill student. But, when I wrote my college essay, I found something inside me that made me different and made me think deeper about myself. It was an honor to write about my cousin and his impact on me, and maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to let him read it.
Then, when we moved on to independent reading, I was so excited to choose a book that interested me. I chose Reading Lolita in Tehran and it had a profound impact on the way I view things. That book took me inside what life is like for the women in Iran, and I gained an appreciation for my own life and my own ability to read and get an education. The assignments that went along with it, namely the creative piece and explication, were some of my best work of the year, and I am very proud of them.
The most difficult, challenging, and thought-provoking unit of the year, by far, was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. When we first began reading it, I knew that getting through a James Joyce novel would be a feat in itself. Using the dialectical journals seemed to help focus my thoughts, but learning about the criticism also was very useful in analyzing the text (once we understood it). The paper that we wrote for Portrait was the hardest paper I’ve ever written but turned out t be one of the best. Incorporating the feminist criticism and the psychoanalytic criticism was a skill that I had never learned before, but it is something that I can use in the future to write papers in college. As I said on my blog, it was the only paper that I stayed up past 1 a.m. to finish, so I hold it in a special place as a deeply challenging, yet successful, paper.
Hamlet was a welcomed relief, and turned out to be one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. Reading it together in class really helped me get everything out of it that I had hoped. From past Shakespeare experiences, reading it at home and then discussing it in class was the worst method for me, so the fact that we experienced it together as a class really helped me understand to my full potential. My Hamlet notebook was a guiding tool to help me remember what I had read and learned, so I feel as though I got everything out of Hamlet that I could.
Last but not least, the research paper was a great way to learn how to organize, categorize, and compile a successful paper that utilizes a wide variety of sources from different subjects, topics, and mediums. I never thought of myself as much of an art person, but I gained a new appreciation for the work that my artist Vik Muniz does. It doesn’t seem that analyzing art is that different from analyzing text. It’s all about the hidden meaning within and learning to interpret it with evidence. It was the longest paper I’ve ever written, but I found it easier than the Portrait paper because I found my own evidence to fit my original thesis, and that made it a lot easier to process.
Overall, my year in English has been very successful. I’ve been challenged to my fullest extent, and I especially enjoyed doing the work on the blogs. I think it is a very useful tool that classrooms should take advantage of. I will be ale to take all the skills I learned in this class and put them to good use in college. Thanks for a great year, Mr. G!
Monday, May 19, 2008
Contemporary artist Vik Muniz was born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1961. In the late 1980’s he left Brazil, moved to New York and began his career as an artist. When his interest in art first began, he was fascinated by sculptures and therefore, had ambitions to become a sculptor. However, as time went on, he began to transition to photography. He would photograph his art and sculptures, and before long, he turned his back on sculpture and focused solely on his photographs (“Vik Muniz.” Museum of Contemporary Photography.) During this time, he also worked in the advertising industry. In an interview in Verona in 1998 with Charles Stainback, Muniz remarked that “[working in] advertising made me aware of the dichotomy between an object and its images. This sort of tension has always been part of my work” (Stainback). Through working in advertising, he truly gained a new perspective in respect to art and modern icons.
According his biography from the Museum of Contemporary Photography, in the last 12-15 years, Muniz has been most widely known for his creative mediums, which consist of unusual, yet common, items, ranging from thread, to chocolate, to garbage, to dust. These pieces of art, however, are not completely of original origin; they are recreations of masterpieces that already exist or other pieces of art that a different artist has created. He arranges these various objects and substances in the shape of these previously-existing works, which range from “Narcissus” by Caravaggio to “Venus and Cupid” by Correggio. He also manipulates photographs by delaying the exposure long enough to create abnormal images within the photo, such as clouds in the sky created by the emissions of an airplane in the collection “Pictures of Clouds” from 2001 (Gallery. www.vikmuniz.net).
In 1997, Muniz ventured back to Brazil for a special reason. He volunteered his time and services to a newly-founded school called Axe. There, Brazilian educators create a safe and friendly environment to keep children and teens off the streets and in school. In an interview with Bomb Magazine, Muniz commented that “children for me are very important. They are in the same class as people who understand power, like magicians and con men,” (Magill). With this inspiration from the Axe school, he returned to his New York studio to create the collection “Aftermath” in 1998, which depicts the children he saw there created out of garbage.
In 2000, Muniz traveled to the town of Clayton, Pennsylvania to recreate images from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. In the collection entitled “Clayton Days,” Muniz catches a glimpse of life in America at the turn of the century. It profoundly impacted him in that he truly got to experience the lives of these people and expand himself as an artist (Feitlowitz).
Currently, Muniz lives and works in New York City. His most recent collection, created in 2008, is the “Gordian Puzzles” series, which consist of famous icons and symbols created out of puzzle pieces. He continues to thrive and generate art, claiming that he has tried many different mediums that have not worked, but will try anything once. His work has been displayed in museums and galleries all over the world. His first exhibition was at Wortlaut: Konzepte Zwischen Visueller Poesie & Fluxus Galerie in Schuppenhauer, Cologne, West Germany in 1989. Since then, he has exhibited in his work in Spain, Italy, the United States, Holland, France, his native Brazil, and most recently, in 2008, Japan. He has been granted three awards in his career so far, including the “Líderes Latino Americanos para el Nuevo Milenio” [Latin American Leaders for the New Millennium] from CNN in 1995, “Ayutamiento de Madrid: Premio Villa de Madrid de Fotografía” [Advancement of Madrid, Award of Photography in Madrid] from Kaulak in 2005, and “National Artist Award” granted by the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Aspen, Colorado in 2005 (“Biography”).
Overall, Muniz is very deliberate in his choice of medium, even though it may not seem so. By creating these replications of well-known images with common mediums, Muniz calls his viewers to reconsider these pieces in a different light, from a truly different perspective. “Marilyn Monroe” from the Gordian Puzzle series, “Small Change” from the Monads series, and “Socrates” from The Aftermath series all utilize this strategy; “Marilyn Monroe” is made of puzzle pieces, “Small Change” is made from pennies, and “Socrates” is made of pieces of garbage. Because the viewer recognizes items they see frequently in his art, he or she becomes more receptive to the image and ideas that it stands for. In creating this feeling in his viewers, Muniz allows the viewer to generate a new perspective on an idea or theme that has always been held as commonplace.
Artists like Muniz often draw inspiration for their theories regarding art from many different sources, both past and present. In his essay “The Unbearable Likeness of Being,” Muniz acknowledges the philosopher Aristotle and his beliefs about art. Muniz writes that “Aristotle (perhaps out of annoyance) considered that form could only be known through its content and content through its form” (Muniz). Muniz’s art is founded in these principles in that he places an emphasis on the materials that he uses and what they come to represent. Furthermore, Aristotle defined art as “the realization in external form of a true idea, and is traced back to that natural love of imitation which characterizes humans and the pleasure which we feel in recognizing likeness” (“Art.” Aristotle.). This is also characteristic of Muniz’s style because he chooses works of art to reproduce based upon their familiarity with his viewers. The final aspect of Aristotle’s definition of art is that it should “portray events which excite fear and pity in the mind of the observer to purify or purge these feelings and extend and regulate their sympathy” (“Art.” Aristotle.). Art, therefore, is heavily tied to playing on the emotions of the viewer by using a subject that will arouse sympathy or pity. This is a major foundation of Muniz’s piece entitled “Marilyn Monroe” from the 2008 Gordian Puzzle series.
Marilyn Monroe is easily one of the most recognized faces in America. In 1999, she was acknowledged by Time Magazine as one of “The Time 100 Most Important People of the Century.” According this article that chronicles her life, rise to fame, and tragic downfall, “there have been more than 300 biographies, learned essays…tattoos, and Warhol silk screens,” (Rudnick) of her. “She has gone from actress to icon,” Rudnick concludes. Therefore, Muniz uses such a readily recognized face in order to create an emotional connection to the viewer and exemplify the complexity and intricacy that surrounds the image. “I favor images that are mainstream,” remarked Muniz in an interview, “easy to know. Or images that people don’t feel threatened by,” (Feitlowitz 6) he added. Monroe is one such image. Her face is so popular to viewers young and old that she can convey a message to anyone, “not just [in] a private world of the artist,” (Rosenberg 181).
The original photograph of “Marilyn Monroe” was taken on May 6, 1957 in New York City by the photographer Avedon. Upon first glance from far away, the new image that Muniz created from puzzle pieces looks so real that it is hard to tell that the pieces are even there. However, closer up, the pieces become more evident. They are lined up so meticulously that the lines between colors and shapes are not blurry, but perfectly straight. The use of puzzle pieces as a medium for an image of Monroe implies that there is a complexity and depth to her; there are many different ‘pieces’ that make up who she was. These many facets include the fact that she “died a suicide at 36, after starring in only a handful of movies” (Rudnick). The viewer, therefore, relates to the piece because he/she feels empathy at the tragedy that surrounded Monroe’s life. As for the puzzle pieces, they also reflect the theme of they are not arranged so that they fit together in the typical fashion. They are layered in multiple directions so that the defined shape of each piece is more prominent. They almost appear to be thrown haphazardly onto a board and then painted. The picture, however, contains all three dimensions of her figure, as compared to some older style portraits that seem very flat.
The background is varied shades of grey, with the lightest grey accenting around her body and face. It is darker, almost black, toward the edges of the photograph. Her skin is very pale in contrast to her dress and the background, but her lips are the darkest feature on her face. Her eyes are also very much defined in contrast to her light, flawless complexion. Her hair is textured in curls that frame her face, while her dark, halter-style dress is low-plunging with sparkles on the top. The dress is somewhat revealing for the time it was taken. Monroe’s expression is vague, as if she is distraught or confused. However, this longing stare is very common in her images that can be seen all around the world. According an essay about the emergence of the Pop Art movement, which featured Monroe as a highlight of Andy Warhol’s silk screens, “the sense of hidden meaning is enhanced by public tragedy. There is the gay, familiar, open-mouthed face. Surely lurking somewhere behind it is some cue, some information communicating a private agony,” (Antin, 288). This look is meant to draw the viewer into her world of tragedy through a new set of eyes in order to understand the complexity of her life.
Overall, Muniz thrives on the fame of Monroe to embellish the intricacy of her life and the downfall of a Hollywood starlet. When it comes to “popular culture imaging and its highest-performing icons,” (Benitez Duenas 148) which is a prime focus of many of Muniz’s works, Monroe is a strong example of this. As author Roland Barthes concludes in his essay “That Old Thing…Art,” “nothing is more identifiable than Marilyn,” (Barthes 371). And that’s exactly what Muniz was looking for in his quest to create a strong connection with the viewer and create a likeness to an image that would trigger a viewer to take a deeper look from a new perspective.
The theme of a change of perspective is not only prevalent in the Monroe piece, but in Muniz’s other collections, as well as his life. He draws a large amount of influence from the tale of Metamorphosis by Ovid. “I read it everyday,” (Feitlowitz 6) he remarked in an interview. Ovid drew his inspiration from the changing rule in Rome and Europe. In a lecture on Ovid, Professor Ian Johnston clarified that “Rome’s very success led ultimately to the city’s downfall. The northern Germanic tribes, once Christianized, moved in to establish medieval Europe out of the remnants,” (Johnston). Therefore, in a time of political chaos, Ovid made his feelings known about the changes that he was experiencing living in Europe. However, it is the first line that grabs Muniz the most. “‘My mind is bent to tell of bodies changed into new forms,”’ said Muniz, “What a perfect way to start a work of art!” (Feitlowitz 6). This philosophy of change is evident in Muniz’s art in that he desires to change an existing piece of art from its original form into something new so that it can take on new meaning of its own.
To carry on the sense of “change” both literally and figuratively, “Small Change” which was created in 2003, is representative of Muniz’s critical view of change in society. The picture shows the figure of a quarter. The interesting catch, however, is that it is composed of different types of change, namely the penny. Because the large coin is made up of a quantity of small pennies, Muniz suggests that like the Monroe piece, there are multiple components that make up an image, and in turn, satirizes the plummeting value of American money.
The coin has all the trademark symbols, words, and images of a real quarter. Across the top of the enormous circle is the “United Sates of America” with the image of the profile of George Washington located in the center of the circle. It also has the trademarks “In God We Trust” and “Liberty.” Most of the design is made up of copper pennies, but there are some places that reflect silver, whether they are from dimes, nickels, or quarters. Since its inception, “the penny has been known as the cent, the pence, and minor (for minor or insignificant coin),” (Geer). This is quite appropriate as there are countless pennies that make up the one major image. Also, due to the composition of the piece, Muniz is punning on the value of money and the penny in American society. The composition of the penny was “pure copper from 1793 to 1837,” then to “97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper” (“A Brief History of the Penny.” USA Today.) in 1982. Overall, “the penny has gone through six different compositions since 1793,” (“A Brief History of the Penny.” USA Today.). Because a less expensive metal, zinc, has taken over the original composition of copper, it represents the change that both Muniz and Ovid sensed in society. In recent years, the value of the penny has dropped significantly. It now costs more to make a penny than a penny is worth. A penny costs “1.32 cents” (Geer) to manufacture. Consequently, an innumerable amount of pennies make up this one larger coin, reminding the viewer that something that is so common in everyday life like the penny is still changing and evolving with society.
The details of the coin appear to be in proportion to one another as compared to the realistic version of the coin. The background is completely white so that the places that are left blank for the words and image can be seen brightly and clearly. There are only two dimensions to the image, as it does not appear as a three dimensional coin. It is simply a flat, circular shape. Also, there are two lines left open around the outside of the coin to show where the texture of the metal changes on a quarter. Unlike the Marilyn Monroe, the lines are not as exact and distinct, given that coins are round, but they are fairly accurate. There is a thicker white outline on the left side of the quarter to give Washington a slightly raised effect, but overall, it still looks flat and two dimensional.
Author Marshall McLuhan explains money in the best way that shows Muniz’s take on society, as he writes that “money, like language, a store of work and experience, acts also as a translator and transmitter,” (McLuhan 131). Muniz therefore uses something universal, like money, that appeals to everyone, seeing as money is essential to survival. It is also easily recognized, as the penny can be found anywhere as one of the most common coins. McLuhan concludes with a line from A Treatise on Money by J.M. Keynes, which explains that “gold has ceased to be a coin, a hoard, a tangible claim to wealth, of which the value cannot slip away so long as the hand of the individual clutches the material stuff,” (McLuhun 131). This is clearly indicative of Muniz’s view on money because in this piece, a penny is no longer a coin, but a part of something larger: a new image that surpasses it in value and significance.
Muniz’s work, in light of being a manipulation on an original into something new, has been compared to a substance known as “ruin marble,” (Winston). Ruin marbles are stones that are created by layers of sediment to create “joints, healed joints, and color bonds, which create the ruined character” (Marko et al 243) of the stones. The stones are so similar to Muniz’s work because they “used to be very popular in the manufacture of luxury furniture from Renaissance to succession times,” (Marko et al 241). So, something that looked broken was changed into something new and meaningful, just as in Muniz’s pieces transform commonplace items into reproductions of original masterpieces.
This choice of medium as highlighted by “ruin marble” comes into play most importantly in the third photo is entitled “Socrates” from the collection “Aftermath.” Created in 1998, the piece depicts a young, African-American boy standing in the middle with a vague expression, staring to one side, while holding something in his other hand. The picture is created from countless pieces of “junk” arranged on the floor and then taken a picture. A review of this collection states that “the materials are chosen because the medium has some strategic and critical relation to the concepts of formal problems that concern Muniz, or a social relation to the subject matter,” (Leslie 154). With respect to “Socrates,” it is more likely a social relation because Muniz is highlighting an actual experience that he had. He volunteered his time at a school in Brazil called Axe, which helped children stay off the streets by engaging them in activities ranging from art, to sports, to games. It was from these school children that Muniz drew his inspiration for the Aftermath series.
The boy in the center of the picture seems to be created out of dust or dirt. It is a very grey color with some darker black lines. There are some places that appear to be shaded, which could have been done easily with dirt or dust. The lines are fairly straight, with a slight bit of shading around the edges and in the folds of his clothing to make it look more three dimensional. Muniz explained the choice of making the children out of dust in an interview, where he clarified that “the children [in the Aftermath series] are the same color as the city. They’re dirty. They literally absorb the atmosphere,” (Feitlowitz 8). This exemplifies the children before the influence of the Axe school, which brought them into the light and away from the “junk” surrounding them. In relationship to the whole image, the boy is the brightest image there, and Muniz acknowledges that as well. He also explained that “people referred to them as the garbage children, and I said no, they are the Light Children. They are made out of light, not garbage,” (Feitlowitz 8). Therefore, the children who have entered the program, like the boy in “Socrates” represent the knowledge and truth that they have come to know. They will be the future of Brazilian society, as they will be pulled away from the remnants of their once broken lives and pulled toward lives of fulfillment and education. Muniz concludes, “Children for me are very important,” and this is evident in this collection.
More specifically in the image, the boy is standing up and his legs are crossed. He seems to be holding some type of pole and container, with the pole stretching around behind his back and out either side. His clothes are too big for him, with a baggy sweatshirt and oversized shorts. He has bare feet with no shoes. He has fairly short black hair, and one of his hands is not visible in the picture, as it is behind his back. There are two black, dark lines across his shirt in the upper right hand corner, which could be smears of dirt. The boy looks weary and tired, as if he is unsure of what he is doing or is exhausted and fatigued. The object that he’s holding is unclear, but it is made of a substance that is a different color from the boy. It is a more orange, light brown, almost clay, color, as compared to the gray on the boy and the pole. The boy, overall, seems to be positioned exactly in the middle of the image. Though this exact image may have only been a photograph before Muniz created it from garbage, the image of an impoverished child is a sight that many people are used to seeing or hearing about, whether it be on the news or on televeision. Muniz reminds in a personal interview that “I am not using the images themselves. I am only using what we know about them as raw material,” (Muniz). From the children, he extracted their innocence, their influences, and their struggle to make it in society, and captured them in the light amongst all the dark.
The junk in the background is made up of so many colors that it is hard to differentiate which item is which, but there are a few areas of color that stand out. For example, there seems to be a piece of green hose or tubing running down the right hand side of the image, which looks eerily reminiscent of a snake. There are also some red dots here and there that stand out from the rest, similar to red lights from a stop light or apples straight off a tree. There are many small areas of white, but they are not as noticeable in the primarily dark background as the other colors, including a few lavender points as well. Overall, however, the image has a very dark feeling. In his essay “The Impossible Object,” Muniz defines this dark quality as the following: “We know from experience that everything decays and changes, yet we fail to recognize this in images; their fading or tarnishing does not seem to affect the subjects they portray. The damage is often perceived as simply superficial,” (Muniz 36). By creating the image out of dingy garbage, Muniz brings out this “fading” and “tarnishing” and “decay” of society’s effects on the children in Brazil. They are surrounded by it everyday, just as the boy is in the image, but in the end, they are the light that can pull through and overshadow the darkness.
Muniz drew the name for the piece from a famous philosopher, Socrates. The Greek philosopher “wrote nothing because he felt that knowledge was a living, interactive thing,” (Hooker). In the case of Muniz’s work, the boy represents knowledge because he literally is the living thing that is meant to carry on the knowledge into his future. Socratic thought is also described by “the truth being pursued, rather than discovered,” (Hooker). The child in the image is characteristic of this search for the truth because the child is set on a path to redeeming their life from harsh conditions, not just told how to be. The program allows the child to forge their own path, which is perfectly in line with Socratic thought. Muniz reminds the viewer that “I want to make you aware of how much you want to believe in the image, to be conscious of the measure of your own belief, rather than of my capacity to fool you,” (Muniz). As a result, the image of a child that many viewers would be sympathetic to is supposed to draw a change in perspective. Even though a child is born into tough circumstances, they can still overcome them and develop into their own successful person, and Muniz wants his viewer to see that.
In his essay “Surface Tension,” Muniz divulges that “faith has little to do with pure interpretation. As surfaces emerge, new rituals should follow. The role of the artist is to adapt ritual material to contemporary surfaces,” (Muniz). The new material, garbage, has been regenerated with a new meaning, as a medium for a work of art. He strives for the viewer to place their faith in him to put a new, contemporary twist on conventional thought. Art, therefore, is evolutionary, and changes with the time, just as surfaces do. In “Socrates,” the surface is the key to the piece. After the shock factor has worn off, it provokes many questions in the viewer’s mind, just as Muniz wants.
To justify and defend his purpose, Muniz remarked, “I tend to believe in Gombrich’s theory of schemata,” (Muniz). Schemata is defined as “a continuously active organizer of knowledge structures,” (Lawler), and Gombrich’s specific theory “argues that every existing image is a copy of another image ad infinitum,” (Muniz). Many of Muniz’s critics see his work as no less than mere attempts at mimicking or mocking the masters who originally created them, as purely simple copies, but Muniz’s art takes an image in this way and replicates it with a new twist. Gombrich also believed in “avoiding ideology, plain iconography mere sociology of art,” (Gombrich’s Legacy: Art History as Embodiment of Values). This is very similar to Muniz, who wants to create new meaning through new form, not through simply coping something that already exists.
In conclusion, Muniz relies on familiarity to connect with his audience. He uses images that are easily recognized so that the viewer is more receptive to them and is less likely to shy away from digging in for new meaning. He makes his intentions very plain in an interview about his purpose as an artist, revealing that “when people look at one of my pictures, I don’t want them to see something represented. I prefer for them to see how something gets to represent something else” (Muniz). His medium, therefore, is just as important as the image itself, as the process he took to create the image is the most important. “Change” is a major theme across all of Muniz’s collections, whether it is social, emotional, or physical. The materials used are far different than any other artist, and though his works physically change the original form of the image, he challenges the viewer to take on a new perspective and “change” old ways of thinking.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Vik Muniz’s “Gordian Puzzles” are a collection of pieces that are comprised of puzzle pieces arranged into representations of famous works, one of which is a photograph of Marilyn Monroe. It was taken on May 6, 1957 in New York City. The photographer was Avedon.
Upon first glance from far away, the image looks so real that it is hard to tell that the puzzle pieces are even there. However, closer up, the pieces become more evident. They are lined up so meticulously that the lines between colors and shapes are not blurry, but perfectly straight. The background is varied shades of grey, with the lightest grey accenting around her body and face. It is darker, almost black, toward the edges of the photograph. Her skin is very pale in contrast to her dress and the background, but her lips are the darkest feature on her face. Her eyes are also very much defined in contrast to her light, flawless complexion. She has a vague expression on her face and looks either confused or distraught. Her hair is textured in curls that frame her face, while her dark, halter-style dress is low-plunging with some sort of sparkles on the top. The dress is somewhat revealing for the time it was taken.
As for the puzzle pieces, they are not arranged so that they fit together in the typical fashion. They are layered in multiple directions so that the defined shape of each piece is more prominent. They almost appear to be thrown haphazardly onto a board and then painted. The picture, however, contains all three dimensions of her figure, as compared to some portraits that seem very flat.
The second of Muniz’s photos is “Small Change” which was created in 2003. The picture shows the figure of a quarter. The interesting catch, however, is that it is composed of different types of change, namely the penny. It has all the trademark symbols, words, and images of a real quarter. Across the top of the enormous circle is the “United Sates of America” with the image of the profile of George Washington located in the center of the circle. It also has the trademarks “In God We Trust” and “Liberty.”
Most of the design is made up of copper pennies, but there are some places that reflect silver, whether they are from dimes, nickels, or quarters. The details of the coin appear to be in proportion to one another as compared to the realistic version of the coin. The background is completely white so that the places that are left blank for the words and image can be seen brightly and clearly. There are only two dimensions to the image, as it does not appear as a three dimensional coin. It is simply a flat, circular shape. Also, there are two lines left open around the outside of the coin to show where the texture of the metal changes on a quarter.
Unlike the Marilyn Monroe, the lines are not as exact and distinct, given that coins are round, but they are fairly accurate. The one thing that’s missing, though, is the small letter below “In God We Trust” that indicates where the coin was manufactured. There is a thicker white outline on the left side of the quarter to give Washington a slightly raised effect, but overall, it still looks flat and two dimensional.
The third photo is entitled “Socrates” from the collection “Aftermath.” Created in 1998, the piece depicts a young, African-American boy standing in the middle with a vague expression, staring to one side, while holding something in his other hand. The picture is created from countless pieces of “junk” arranged on the floor and then taken a picture.
The boy in the center of the picture seems to be created out of dust or dirt. It is a very grey color with some darker black lines. There are some places that appear to be shaded, which could have been done easily with dirt or dust. The lines are fairly straight, with a slight bit of shading around the edges and in the folds of his clothing to make it look more three dimensional. The boy is standing up and his legs are crossed. He seems to be holding some type of pole and container, with the pole stretching around behind his back and out either side. His clothes are too big for him, with a baggy sweatshirt and oversized shorts. He has bare feet with no shoes. He has fairly short black hair, and one of his hands is not visible in the picture, as it is behind his back. There are two black, dark lines across his shirt in the upper right hand corner, which could be smears of dirt desired to look like the dirt or like something else. The boy looks weary and tired, as if he is unsure of what he is doing or is fed up with what he has been doing. The object that he’s holding is unclear, but it is made of a substance that is a different color from the boy. It is a more orange, light brown, almost clay, color, as compared to the gray on the boy and the pole. The boy, overall, seems to be positioned exactly in the middle of the image.
The junk in the background is made up of so many colors that it is hard to differentiate which item is which, but there are a few areas of color that stand out. For example, there seems to be a piece of green hose or tubing running down the right hand side of the image, which looks eerily reminiscent of a snake. There are also some red dots here and there that stand out from the rest, similar to red lights from a stop light or apples straight off a tree. There are many small areas of white, but they are not as noticeable in the primarily dark background as the other colors, including a few lavender points as well. Overall, however, the image has a very dark feeling.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
“I find thee apt;
And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
Wouldst thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear:
‘Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown.”
When the ghost of King Hamlet comes to visit Prince Hamlet and tell him of his betrayal by his brother, he tells the story through a series of symbols, allusions, and imagery, which emphasize the treachery of the act. King Hamlet alludes to hell and the Adam and Eve story from the Bible in order to connect his murder with original sin. Also, he characterizes Claudius, the murderer, as a devil figure in order to tie him in with sin as well.
King Hamlet begins by admitting that his son is “apt” or capable, of comprehending his story and carrying out what he will eventually ask him to do. He wants Hamlet to stay sharp and attentive, unlike the “fat weed/ that roots itself in ease on Lethe’s Wharf.” Though his betrayer is not mentioned until later, this is King Hamlet’s first description of his murderer, Claudius. Lethe is the river that flows through Hades, or hell, so he is implying that Claudius is solely a lazy man who does not deserve to be where he is. It also implies that he came from hell, similarly to the devil, which creates the image of Claudius as the devil.
Then, King Hamlet begins the story of the day of his murder. The allusion to this day is the story of Adam and Eve, where Eve took the poisonous apple from the serpent, or the devil, despite God’s direction not to. Thus, she created the original instance of sin. In comparison, King Hamlet is “sleeping in [his] orchard” when “a serpent stung” him. Though it seems to sound literal at this point, he continues to say that “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown.” Claudius now wears his crown as King of Denmark, so this solidly explains that it was he who killed his brother. Alluding to serpents is typically connoted with evil, but in this instance, it is referring to the devil himself, as indicated by the Adam and Eve story. King Hamlet, therefore, feels that his brother’s betrayal is equal to that of Eve’s betrayal of God and the creation of sin. King Hamlet, evidently, must have been very startled to believe that his brother murdered him if he could compare it to this type of sin.
By the end of his father’s story, Hamlet is completely set against his uncle and must avenge his father’s death. Because he is supposedly trying to take on the devil, or Claudius, this also sets Hamlet up as a type of Christ or God figure, as he is the ‘good’ force pitted against an ‘evil’ force. King Hamlet believes Denmark is being “rankly abused,” just as the devil would abuse any of his followers. It is as if Claudius has a spell over the people of Denmark just as the devil enchants mortals to sin, as he did with Eve.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
At the beginning of the poem, the speaker starts to describe the setting; this is the most concrete information in the entire poem. He states the time, “8:08 p.m.” (line 1) and describes the “biting, February” (line 2) air. The speaker clarifies that it is a “winter streetscape” (line 3) that he is painting in the mind of the audience. He describes his body as an “ample, rhythmic frame” (line 1) while the wind does “fierce arabesques” (line 2). He clearly defines the setting in order to establish a base of where his thought process began. Without a starting point, it would be impossible to follow the train of thought. It proves that the configuration of the poem is methodical, not random.
The first shift in tone occurs two lines further, at the point where the speaker is able to “lean/In,” (lines 5-6). It is the bridge between the foundation and the memories that will substantiate the rest of the poem. When transitioning between two such things, the clarity level decreases, because memories can never be remembered to perfect accuracy, as time morphs and distorts them. He also begins to sound disillusioned and reminiscent, commenting that the “streets look for Allen, Frank,” (line 6). These two names symbolize two of Berrigan’s contemporary beat generation writers, and according to the following line, “Allen/is a movie” (lines 6-7) and Frank is “disappearing in the air” (7). This suggests that Allen has become very popular, like a movie, and Frank is gone, essentially from the world. Thus, the speaker seems depressed and lonely, feeling as though he has been abandoned. This is a sharp contrast to the beginning of the poem where is describing the setting in an upbeat tone.
Consequently, from this point on, his thoughts seem to wander farther and farther away from where he began; each thought takes a turn from where it was originally going. He begins with a question, asking “Who would have thought I’d be here,” (line 13) and that indicates a shift in topic and tone. He then elaborates that “love, children…money, marriage/ethics, a politics of grace” (lines 15-16) are “up in the air” (line 16), which implies that the ideals that were once held are no longer there. The “up in the air” reference, that was used previously to describe Frank, suggests that the views that once held true no longer exist around him, and he is frustrated because of it.
The boy with eyes that “penetrate the winter twilight” (line 20) is his first answer to the question, and the first sense of anger in the poem because the word ‘penetrate’ has a connotation of deep-seeded emotion; his gaze is breaking through the setting that the speaker created at the beginning of the poem, which is also representative of that shift in tone. His second answer is a “pretty girl” (line 21) who is “careening into middle-age so/To burn & to burn more fiercely than she could ever imagine” (lines 22-23). Fiercely also represents the anger and tenacity of the speaker, and he sounds as if he knew that events would turn out in such a way, and the people whom the events were happening to had no idea that it was happening. He could have been angry because of their refusal to believe in the situations that life was presenting them with.
The next answer is the “painter” (line 24). The speaker says he will “never leave [the painter] alone until we both vanish/into the thin air” (line 25). The air reference means that he is intensely devoted to this other man and nothing can tear them apart. The painter, consequently, will never leave the speaker “not for sex, nor politics,/ nor even for stupid permanent estrangement” (lines 27-28). This represents his deep attachment, and almost obsession, with the painter, because neither of the most popular reasons for two people to no longer have a relationship/friendship will ever tear them apart. He is holding on so tightly that it is becoming overbearing, and that is what he portrays in this segment of the poem.
The last eleven lines are the most irate of all, and this tone comes to the forefront when the speaker discusses death. He firmly states that he “will never die” (line 31) and will “never go away” (line 32). Because of his strong sentiments here, the speaker is afraid of death in a way, because he says he is “only a ghost” (line 33) and “you will never escape from me” (line 32). This attempt at speaking directly to the audience begins here, and so does the high level of ambiguity. He says he is “only pronouns” (line 35) and that is the biggest key to the vagueness at the end of the poem because he uses a multitude of pronouns that do not always have antecedents. In this aspect, the speaker is leaving the interpretation up to the reader of the poem, because it had a certain meaning to him, but it may have other meanings to whoever reads it. He says “now nothing/will ever change/That, and that’s that” (lines 37-39). The short, choppy sentences with very few syllables reflect his anger because the complex thoughts from the beginning and middle of the poem are no longer in use. He just says whatever comes into his head.
The last lines show the outcome of the speaker’s anger and his internal struggle. He says that he “slip[s] softly into the air” (line 41), which defines his ascent from the world. He is finally leaving his anger behind. Overall, the multiple shifts in tone reflect the thought process. A thought can trigger a repressed memory, and that memory causes one to diverge completely from his or her intended path and stray into the realm of thoughts that reflect hidden emotions of anger, frustration, and fear. Such is the case with “Red Shift.”
The first instance of his insensitivity is at Maman’s funeral. Her friends, the other elderly residents from her nursing home, come to keep vigil around her casket. Meursault first mentions them as a “rustling sound that woke me [Meursault] up” (9). In his eyes, they are nothing but a mere noise, completely insignificant to what he is thinking about. He observes that the women all have “bulging stomachs” and he says that he “never noticed what huge stomachs old women can have” (10). Elderly people are often highly respected members of society, and younger generations have a natural tendency to speak of them with courtesy. Meursault, on the other hand, uses rude, disrespectful terms, such as the aforementioned bulging stomachs, or “toothless mouths,” (10). Camus chooses these words because it reveals the first sign of Meursault rejecting emotion. Meursault has “the ridiculous feeling that they were there to judge [him]” (10) and because he thinks that about innocent people who came to pay tribute to his mother, it is an indication of his insecurity.
Meursault’s insecurity grows further on in the passage as well. He emphasizes multiple times that one woman “kept on crying” (10) and he wish that he “didn’t have to listen to her anymore” (10). This woman comes to the funeral to pay her respects to Maman and to express her sympathies to Meursault. This act of compassion is met with resistance; Meursault, annoyed by her crying, is only concerned for himself and not for her. He does not want to face the sadness of losing his mother, and hearing crying, a sound of sadness, might trigger emotion, so he dismisses it as an annoyance. His sentences are very short and choppy, structured with simple subjects and verbs, and their directness conveys his agitation. The caretaker of the home tells Meursault that the woman was a very good friend of Maman’s, and that now she “hasn’t got anyone” (11) but that is the last that Meursault speaks of the woman in the passage. The commentary about this woman stops here because Meursault does not want to deal with the feelings that might stir within him if he interacts with her. By acting like he is tough and does not care about the woman, who could conceivably be one of the only links left to his mother, Meursault is putting up a masculine façade in order to divert the emotion.
After this point, Meursault shuts down; his diction and tone are more inappropriate and reckless, as he tries to overcompensate for his lack of emotions. Meursault states that the woman “finally shut up” (11). The phrase ‘shut up’ is usually used by teenagers or children, not adults talking about their elders. He complains about being “tired” and that his “back was hurting” (11). This physical need overtakes any other feelings or emotions, and a stereotypical man puts his physical needs, desires, or feelings before anything else. A “strange noise” (11) then aggravates him, and he identifies it as a “weird smacking” (11) sound that the elderly people are making by “sucking at the insides of their cheeks” (11). The connotation of this description is more like animals than it is like humans, so Meursault cannot relate to them directly. His diction here is demeaning, and it is particularly so because these people are hurt by Maman’s passing, and attend the funeral to support him and mourn the loss of his mother. His final thought of the passage is that “the dead woman lying in front of them didn’t mean anything to them. But I think now that that was a false impression,” (11). He refers to his own mother as a ‘dead woman’ and that shows that he is indifferent to the whole situation, almost as if he is looking in on these events from the outside. He is a stranger to emotions, as the title of the book suggests, and his coldness covers him up so that emotions cannot penetrate within him.
On the whole, the diction of the passage shows how Meursault hides his emotions behind a wall of overcompensated masculinity. A funeral generally brings about emotions in some way, but his complete lack of feeling, coupled with a desire to put his own physical needs above his emotional needs, Camus exposes this character flaw in Meursault. This is not the only time he does this, however. He takes another emotional situation, one of abuse, and confronts Meursault with it.
Meursault and Marie are having lunch at Meursault’s house and they hear Raymond having a fight with his girlfriend. They rush outside to see what is happening. They hear “thuds” and his girlfriend screaming “in such a terrifying way” (35). He acknowledges that the woman is in trouble from the beginning, but this acknowledgement is strayed away from; he does not want to have to confront it. Marie is concerned, and asks Meursault to find a policeman to help, but Meursault refuses to because he “didn’t like cops” (36). His inactions here reflect his chauvinistic sentiments, but he must lie to get his way out of helping the woman because he does not want Marie to see how he truly feels about women. Meursault’s sentences are shorter and more direct again after this; they dictate the events of his afternoon with Marie that leads up to his conversation with Raymond. Meursalt “finished fixing lunch. But she wasn’t hungry; I ate almost everything” (37). Marie has clearly been affected by the events that she has seen because she does not want to eat. Meursault however, is completely unconcerned with what he has just experienced, and eats his lunch like nothing happened. Camus shows this contrast between men and women here, because Merusault acts hardened, like the stereotypical man, while Marie acts emotionally, like a stereotypical woman. Meursault does not want to dwell on the event, because he is outrunning guilt. If he does not think about what he has done, it will not affect him.
The feeling comes back to haunt him, however, as Meursault finds Raymond at his door later that day. Raymond recounts the events of the day, and in order to play along with Raymond, Meursault comments that “she’d gotten her punishment now and he ought to be happy” (37). Raymond has a strong influence over Meursault’s behavior because he is acting very masculine about putting a woman in her place. The terms he uses to describe the event are not very graphic, so Camus stores Meursault’s memories away and chooses to only tell what makes Raymond appear to be the victim of the situation. So in order to fit in with Raymond and not allow his emotions to get the better of him, Meursault puts on the act that he condones the beating and that Raymond was correct in his actions. Meursault eggs the behavior on even more when he “agreed to act as a witness” (37) for Raymond. Though Meursault acts like testifying for Raymond “didn’t matter” (37) to him, he clearly tries to remain indifferent to the situation. Raymond abused his girlfriend, but Meursault, who wants to side with a ‘man,’ decides to help him out.
In both instances, Camus describes Meursault as a stranger to his own feelings. In his indifference, he sails through some very difficult events, including his mother’s funeral and an assault of an innocent woman. To keep from feeling these emotions, he puts up a wall around himself so that he does not have to feel sad, upset, angry, or hurt; acting like a man makes up for his inability to have feelings, and he can use his status as a man as validation for his actions. Camus exposes that tendency in men, as opposed to women, who bare it all. The woman cries at Maman’s funeral, and Marie cannot eat after witnessing the attack. This is one of the main differences between the sexes, and Camus differentiates between the two with the reactions to these events.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
(1.1.21-39) Focus: Character foreshadowing Hamlet
At the very beginning of Act 1, the guards mention to Horatio that they've seen a ghost. Horatio tells them that it was their "fantasy" or imagination, and is quick to discredit their information. He emphasizes over and over again that "t'will not appear" and that they are being foolish. I think in this way Horatio is foreshadowing the inability to trust in Hamlet's personality. THough the men witness the ghost twice in a row, Horatio still does not believe it until he sees it. Hamlet, therefore, might be very wary of who he places his trust in and who he believes is a credible source for information. Maybe he was betrayed by one whom he trusted, and that caused him to become so unable to trust others.
Entry from Act 2 Scene 2
(2.2.96-150) Focus: Polonius' Character Development
When Polonius tells the King and Queen about Hamlet's letter to Ophelia, he just won't get to the point. They accuse him of "art" or flowery speech (rhetoric), which is indicated by his lengthy introduction to what he's even talking about. This shows the reader that Polonius is unconfident because he feels that he has to act in a way to impress the King and Queen. In this way, Shakespeare characterizes Polonius as someone who wants to impress others and get approval from them. He cannot stand on his own. He needs his flowery diction to hide his insecurities. From what I learned about rhetoric last year, a writer will often disguise their weaknesses in different strategies, such as repitition, like Poloius does when he says " 'tis true, 'tis true, 'tis pity, And pity 'tis true.." He seems to be rambling, but in his mind, he thinks he's sounding intelligent and worthy of speaking to the King.
Entry from Act 2 Scene 2
(2.2.359-419) Focus: Words, Words, Words, along with Polonius
As Hamlet welcomes the players to Elsinore, he refers to the King and Queen as his "uncle-father and aunt-mother." Hamlet is definitely confused and disillusioned by their marriage, as he doesn't know what to call them or what their relationship to him actually is. So, it is evident that Hamlet is really feeling the separation between himself and his 'family.' When Polonius arrives with delayed news that has already happened, Hamlet calls him " a great baby...not yet out of his swaddling clouts." Though this could refer to any baby, the main image in my mind is of the baby Jesus who is typically known to have swaddling clothes. So, Hamlet may be implying that Polonius, despite his royal ties from working for the King, is not accepted by everyone or is looked down upon because he hasn't accomplished anything (like a baby). The allusion to Jephthah is also very interesting, as he must sacrifice his daughter as the result of a vow he made in war. The daugther's wish was to lose her verginity before he did it. So, this relates to Polonius because Hamlet is implying that Ophelia has been with Hamlet and may be lost for a sacrifice. This, to me, is foreshadowing Ophelia's death at the hands of her father.
More to come...