Friday, May 15, 2009
Although cynical to consider, Rochester’s treatment of Jane shifts dramatically following his accident, revealing greater levels of dependence whereupon. Prior to it, Rochester dictated and influenced all Jane’s decisions, subtlely prodding her to bend to his will. Even in his initial marriage proposal he noted, “Little scpetic, you shall be convinced” (253). This concession on the part of Rochester serves to exemplify his domineering nature- that Jane never seemed to find disagreeable. This overbearing even authoritarian nature was all but effaced following the accident, where Rochester in his second attempt at marriage notes, “A poor blind man, whom you will have to lead about by the hand?” (433), after Jane initially agrees. In stark contrast to his first attempt, rather than using his influence to convince Jane, Rochester appears shrunken, seemingly attempting to convince her not to marry him. At this juncture in her life, Jane has also achieved a greater level of independence and self-worth outside the realm of love and marriage, through her trials with the Riverses. During that period, Jane accrued a great deal of personal wealth and rejected another marriage proposal, which if accepted, would have solidified her position as inferior. From such, one could argue that the equality produced from the marriage to Rochester was a result of Jane’s growing independence, produced while away from Thornfield. Although I find this in some respects true, Jane’s subordination to St. John during her stay with the Riverses suggests her inability to separate a desire for personal independence from a male influence. It appears then that the scruples of Jane were not quite as effective in creating an equalizing gradient than Rochester’s accident- Rochester had to be degraded in order for the two to become equal. Jane herself even concedes in the last chapter, “Mr. Rochester continued to be blind the first two years of our union: perhaps it was that circumstance that drew us so very near…” (439).
After so long refusing to be bound to the doldrums and repetitions of a domestic life, Jane ultimately agrees to the marriage and by the last chapter, the two are wed. Although Jane speaks with rapture of the decision, her comments speak little of personal happiness outside of Rochester. She notes, “I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and white what I love best on earth…we are ever together” (439). Although content, it would be impossible to say that Jane was fulfilled. Hearkening back to her early time at Thornwood, Jane noted, “the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes…” and continued on to say, “it is narrow-minded…to say that they [women] ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stocking, to playing o the piano and embroidering bags” (116; 117). In ultimately marrying Rochester, rather than being fulfilled, Jane unconsciously molds herself to this domestic ideal.
In reiterating the fate of St. John in the final chapter, the readers are reminded of the entirely dominating figure he represented to Jane, in his modes of control and influence. Although her marriage to Rochester contrasts with her idealism and personal values, a marriage to St. John (reminded again in the last chapter) would have produced complete and total subordination. The continued use of St. John as the foil to Rochester merely conveys Rochester as the lesser of two evils.
Alex Fodor’s scene opens with a shot of a very advanced looking voice recorder and then pulls away to reveal a close-up of part of Fodor’s face, particularly his eyes. Fodor’s eyes are frequently zoomed in on, to convey the sense of reflection during the soliloquy. As Fodor says, “To grunt and sweat under a weary life/But that the dread of something after death…” for example, the camera slowly begins zooming in on his right eye. Thus as Fodor contemplates which is a worse fate- continuous struggle during life or the possibility of worse after death, the shot of his eye and the increased emphasis on the eye convey the psychological aspect of the soliloquy. Hamlet’s growing despair is also developed at length through camera shots in Fodor’s interpretation. The director chose to disperse shots of Hamlet’s dead father sporadically throughout the scene, to provide a basis for his desolation. These shots, which presented a younger Hamlet and Queen Gertrude kissing the dead king, appear sinister as the characters are saturated in a sickly green color. The inclusion of these memories not only serve to justify Hamlet’s current desolate mindset, but through the greenish color especially, suggest foul-play, perhaps murder.
The setting, however, simple in Fodor’s interpretation was utilized especially to convey Hamlet’s growing sense of isolation. Through the course of the scene, Hamlet is situated in a bare white room, with only a voice recorder in front of him. The physical bareness of his surroundings, bordered by no one and nothing, parallel his mental and emotional isolation. The room appears cold and sterile and even the scenes in Hamlet’s memories are similarly vacant. Even the inclusion of the voice recorder, to justify Hamlet’s speaking aloud to himself, seems to convey an emptiness and a coldness. Rather than releasing his emotions by simply speaking the lines aloud, Hamlet had to plan prior to speak into the voice recorder. The soliloquy was premeditated, which conveys a greater sense of a manic distress as he was mulling over the thoughts rather than an explosively releasing his emotions.
Overwhelmingly however, it was Fodor’s minimalist delivery of the lines that truly reflected Hamlet’s state of mind. His voice was at once measured, soft, and his expression, eyes wide, hardly changed through the course of the soliloquy. Rather than being prone to bursts of emotion, Fodor’s tone and expression remained the same, even after dredging up memories of his father’s death. Hamlet’s disconnection from his emotions suggests deep psychological suffering especially if memories of his father’s death did not move him. As Fodor says, “and by a sleep to say we end/ The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks” (60-61), his eyes are wide and unfocused, appearing to contemplate the possibility, the temptation even of suicide. His voice remains slow and drawling throughout the soliloquy, however, gains speed as he says, “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,/ Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,/ The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,/ The insolence of office, and the spurns/ That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes” (69-73). As Hamlet lists off the negatives in living, he appears to gain more confidence in choosing suicide. However no sooner does he concede this, that Fodor’s voice grows slow once more and his eyes look off from the camera as he says “But that the dread of something after death,” appearing to consider once more either the implication of committing suicide (which religious doctrine believes is hell) or simply the implication of no longer living. This shift from a slow cadence to a quick cadence back to a slow cadence as he contemplates the possibility of suicide also suggests Hamlet’s indecisiveness through the course of the soliloquy. He concludes much the same way he began, with deliberate and drawling speech, however, concludes with a hint of anger as he concedes that “enterprises of great pitch/ and moment/ With this regard their currents turn awry,/ And lose the name of action,” (85-87).
In light of Fodor’s performance, the interpretations of Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh pale in comparison. Their use of more overt emotions and displaying the daggers that could be used in the potential suicide detracted from the psychological aspect of Hamlet’s state of mind. While he clearly was beset by emotions such as anguish and even perhaps anger at the intemperate nature of women, Fodor’s portrayal de-emphasized the obvious emotions and thus made him appear more manic, as Shakespeare hoped to convey.
The setting, a simple, darkened room within the castle, mirrors Hamlet’s growing isolation and a sense of foreboding. Olivier notes “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable/Seem to me all the uses of this world” (134-135), and proceeds to stand up and look about him. The viewer is provided a panorama of the scene, in which, gray columns dominate the eye. Beyond such architectural structures, a table and a few chairs are placed in the room. However, there is a feeling of melancholy and gloom even within the setting of the scene. Olivier comments, “things rank and gross in nature/Possess it merely” (136-137) and as he does so, he walks by one of the aforementioned columns. The zoom on the column reveals its rough, uneven texture. Later in the scene, Hamlet walks over to a table overflowing with papers, near a few chairs. As the camera zooms out to reveal the entirety of the surroundings, Hamlet himself appears small among such elements of setting. Rather than being the focal point, he seems to blend into the background further conveying a sense of isolation and solitude. Further, Olivier begins and ends his soliloquy in what appears to be a red chair. The fact that Olivier got up from the chair, paced, and then returned to it, reflects the same cyclical nature of his thoughts, which came full circle, while also cementing the thoughtfulness of his actions. The simplicity of the setting however allows the focus to remain on Hamlet.
Unlike Branagh’s interpretation of Hamlet, Oliver’s use of music lends itself to the eeriness of the scene. Although never loud enough to drown out the measured whisper of Olivier, the music remains in the background of his thoughts, providing a musical undercurrent to the words. The music begins with low string instruments, perhaps a bass or a cello. The darkness of the notes and instruments reflects the darkness of the atmosphere. The use of music creates a juxtaposition between the darkness of the music and Olivier’s impassioned whispers.
What really offset Olivier’s performance from Branagh’s however, was the delivery of the lines themselves, which reflects a man undergoing psychological turmoil. Rather than speaking the lines, Olivier read the script off stage and later dubbed the sounds in. The soliloquy suggested Hamlet’s thoughts, rather than reading the lines aloud and speaking to himself. In simply reading the lines as Hamlet’s thoughts rather than his speech, Olivier conveys the introspective nature of the scene. Olivier’s whisper, full of desolation and despair, accurately depicts the content of the soliloquy. There is a clear hopelessness in his discussion of suicide; he croaks out the interjections, “O God, God” (132), as if he does not even possess the will to speak, let alone live. As the soliloquy shifts from a personal self-reflection of suicide to a disgust at his mother, Olivier speaks his only line aloud, “Within a month,” (153) noting that it was only within a month that his mother remarried his uncle. The use of spoken word for this line, rather than the presentation of thoughts as before, suggests that Hamlet is speaking to himself, answering his own thoughts. The shift in his thoughts towards his mother is reflects a growing disgust, rather than simply a moroseness. As the scene continues and Olivier becomes more and more enmeshed in thoughts about his mother, the speech becomes faster as if his thoughts were running wild. “O God,” Olivier spits out, “a beast that wants discourse of reason/Would have mourn’d longer” (150-151). The quick pacing of this line is juxtaposed with the slow drawn-out manner in which Olivier says, “married with my uncle,” (151) in the very same line. The statement, unlike the ones that precede it, is so full of venom and disgust at the mere suggestion of his mother and uncle being married. Olivier later says the statement, “Within a month” (153) again, and chooses to say it in the same manner as originally, the same inflection and emphasis. In doing so, Olivier conveys Hamlet’s fixation to his mother, by noting his attachment to the small time frame between his father’s death and his mother’s remarrying.
The manner in which Olivier acted as Hamlet also contributed significantly to a growing feeling of dread. His desolation is clear from the onset of the scene as the camera is pulled in quite close to his face, presenting eyes downcast, and creases of worry in the brow. As Olivier utters the line, “Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d” (131), he looks up to the heavens, almost imploring God to retract his law against suicide. “O God, God,” (132) Olivier goes on and he is presented closing his eyes and pulling his head down almost in shame. As he paces around the room, his footsteps appear heavy and slow; the walking aimless, just to fill time as Olivier attempts to sort his thoughts. At the concession, “Heaven and earth/Must I remember?” (142-143), Olivier allows himself to fall forward onto chairs, suggesting that the memories of such trying times are truly too much to bear. Similarly, as he states, “Let me not think on’t!” (146), he whips around as if trying to use the force of the movement to remove his thoughts and while he says “O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason/Would have mourn’d longer” (150-151) he falls against a column as if resigned. By the conclusion of the scene, Olivier returns to the red chair and places his head in his hand, exuding hopelessness. However, Olivier’s depiction of Hamlet, regardless of undergoing mental turmoil, reflects someone of dignity and high station, as he walks with his hands clasped behind his back throughout much of the scene.
Laurence Olivier’s depiction of Hamlet is particularly strong for its subtlety and ability to suggest Hamlet’s psychological and mental disturbances. Rather than being taken by fits of anger, Olivier presented his Hamlet as full of misery and despair. The scene further reflected the foreboding aura of the book, the eeriness and gloominess that was missing in the scene by Branagh. The quieter, more nuanced more performance of Olivier was effectively able to convey Hamlet’s growing isolation and despair.
Throughout his interview with Elizabeth Alexander, Stephen Colbert utilized his brash humor in order to disseminate ideas on her poem, “Praise Song for the Day” and on poetry in general. During the course of which it became clear that Alexander’s poetry in many ways reflected the ideals of deceased poet Charles Olson, especially in her discussion of emotional truth. However, in form the two highly juxtapose, Alexander emphasized a general structure of three-lined stanzas where Olson rejected structure to convey speech. Although Alexander’s poem may have resonated with Olson thematically, his emphasis of the abstract would have put him at odds with her.
After initial introductions, Stephen Colbert launched into the question, but “poems aren’t true?” which was greeted by an explosive round of laughter. Although humorous, his flippant question allowed Alexander to explore the difference between emotional and literal truth. As she described it, poetry does not have to be “true in the strictly factual sense” but rather “emotionally true.” Truth was therefore objective, different for every reader, depending on how he or she interpreted it and what emotions it conjured. Her response would likely be quite comparable to Olson’s, had Olson too been interviewed. Olson’s abstract poetry, that was highly reliant on imagery, emphasized an emotional rather than literal truth. In “Song 2” of “Songs of Maximus,” Olson writes, “how get out of anywhere (the bodies/ all buried/ in shallow graves?” which conjures images of corpses atop the earth, making movement difficult. His imagery emphasizes an emotional truth- being moored to an area, rather than a literal truth. This idea is further conveyed in his essay “Projective Verse,” especially in his discussion of perceptions. He noted, “ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION.” In choosing to use the word “perception” rather than truth i.e., Olson (like Alexander) contends that poetry reveals understanding in a different manner for different people.
Colbert later posed the question “what’s the difference between a metaphor and a lie?” which was not answered in depth. Olson, like any poet, does employ rhetorical devices to convey his ideas. In the poem “Maximus of Gloucester, to You,” Olson writes “love is form, and cannot be without/ important substance (the weight, say, 50 carats, each of us perforce,/ our own goldsmith’s scale.” In this manner, Olson utilizes a metaphor to emphasize the importance of substance by comparing it to an important substance, gold. In spite of using these stylistic elements in his poetry, Olson would be opposed to Colbert’s consideration of metaphors as simply “flowery language” that are only used to “dress up” writing. Olson contends in his essay “Projective Verse” that descriptive language can be a central aspect of writing as long as it doesn’t detract from the ideas and is used sparingly. He writes, “The descriptive functions generally have to be watched, every second, in projective verse, because of their easiness, and thus their drain on the energy which composition by field allows into a poem…if allowed in, [they] must be so juxtaposed, apposed, set in, that it does not, for an instant, sap the going energy of the content toward its form.” Olson qualified his discussion of figurative language that it was only relevant until content suffered for the sake of form.
Olson’s discussions of content versus form would place Alexander very much at odds with him. In her own poem “Praise Song for the Day,” Alexander consistently uses stanzas of three lines with about 9-11 syllables per line. In the converse, the structure of Olson’s poetry is immeasurable. The lines and line spacings are always distinct, providing different breathing and pauses. This is evident even in his reading of the poem, “Maximus, To Himself” where extra pause was given between the lines that ended with “obedience” and “that we are all late/ in a slow time,” as the latter lines were offset. Olson noted that “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT” in his essay “Projective Verse.” It is the content itself and an expression of everyday speech that should forge line length, spacing, stanzas. “Each of these lines is a progressing of both meaning and the breathing forward, and then a backing up, without a progress or any kind of movement outside the unit of time local to the idea,” Olson wrote. Alexander’s strict adherence to stanzas and syllables for form’s sake rather than content’s remains in disagreement with Olson’s ideals.
2009 AP ENGLISH LITERATURE AND COMPOSITION
FREE RESPONSE QUESTIONS
ENGLISH LITERATURE AND COMPOSITION
Total time- 2 hours
(Suggested time- 40 minutes. This question counts as one-third of the total essay score.)
The following two poems present two views on the moon, from the perspective of women. The first, is a post-modern poem written by Sylvia Plath, the second, a romantic poem written by Mary Darby Robinson. Read each poem carefully. Then write an essay in which you compare and contrast the two poems, analyzing the techniques they used to forge their complex ideas on the moon and how it affects the speaker.
THE MOON AND THE YEW TREE
THE MOON AND THE YEW TREE
This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.
The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky --
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.
The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness –
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars
Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness - blackness and silence.
ODE TO THE MOON
PALE GODDESS of the witching hour;
Blest Contemplation's placid friend;
Oft in my solitary bow'r,
I mark thy lucid beam
From thy crystal car descend,
Whitening the spangled heath, and limpid sapphire stream.
And oft, amidst the shades of night
I court thy undulating light;
When Fairies dance around the verdant ring,
Or frisk beside the bubbling spring,
When the thoughtless SHEPHERD'S song
I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars
Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness - blackness and silence.
Echoes thro' the silent air,
As he pens his fleecy care,
Or plods with saunt'ring gait, the dewy meads along.
CHASTE ORB! as thro' the vaulted sky
Feath'ry clouds transparent sail;
When thy languid, weeping eye,
Sheds its soft tears upon the painted vale;
As I ponder o'er the floods,
Or tread with listless step, th'embow'ring woods,
O, let thy transitory beam,
Soothe my sad mind, with FANCY'S aëry dream.
Wrapt in REFLECTION, let me trace
O'er the vast ethereal space,
Stars, whose twinkling fires illume
Dark-brow'd NIGHT'S obtrusive gloom;
Where across the concave wide;
Flaming METEORS swiftly glide;
Or along the milky way,
Vapours shoot a silvery ray;
And as I mark, thy faint reclining head,
Sinking on Ocean's pearly bed;
Let REASON tell my soul, thus all things fade.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
April 17, 2009
In creating the paired-poem prompt, my goal was to find a romantic era poem that although was in some way similar to Boland’s sentiments, on the whole, offered new ideas and offered a range of techniques for discussion. This proved the most difficult aspect of the assignment and I ended up devoting hours sifting through poems in order to find one that fit my own stipulations. Early through my research I came upon a poem by a French romantic “Femmes Damnées” (Damned Women) by Charles Baudelaire. This created a two-fold conflict; first, the fact that I was reading translations and interpretations of the poem made it impossible to discuss techniques, as the techniques I was reading were the techniques of the translator and not necessarily Baudelaire himself. Further, the subject matter Baudelaire discussed highlighted the indefinable quality of women- “O virgins, O demons, O monsters, O martyrs,” and while this idea could stimulate a range of essays, I didn’t think it could so easily be connected to women’s role in society itself. I also did much research on William Wordsworth as I found that he wrote numerous poems that discussed female gender roles, including “The Idiot Boy,” and “Her Eyes were Wild” but none seemed to fit my needs. It was through the research on Wordsworth however that led me to Charlotte Smith and her poetry, as an essay was written comparing their roles in the romantic feminism.
Once I found “Sonnet XLVII To Fancy,” it became clear that that was to be the poem I would use, connecting them on the idea of plateauing- of an inability to act or do as one pleased, and especially contrasting them through tone (among other techniques) that caused the two poems to diverge. However, my qualm about utilizing this Smith poem, which is a problem that arises any time I analyze a poem, is that I’m misreading it. If in fact I misread Smith’s poem, it would then be impossible to write an essay about it whereupon.
Smith’s poem contrasts highly with Boland, especially in her use of a desolate, rather than indignant tone. It was this divergence of tone that forged one poem that chafed at the position of women and the other served as a melancholy self-meditation. Smith’s poem begins, “Thee, Queen of Shadows!” (1) and already in the first line, the imagery hearkens to the subordinate position of women by noting the characteristic of shadows- suggesting that the woman figure is shrouded and covered by more powerful entities, i.e. men. She continued this metaphor, expanding it to include light throughout much of the poem, noting that “When on mine eyes the early radiance broke/Which shew'd the beauteous rather than the true!” (Lines 3-4); when women did garner attention it was for their physical beauty rather than their more substantial attributes. Similarly, when Smith wrote, “And now 'tis thine in darkest hues to dress,” she not only expanded upon this light/dark metaphor but similarly used “darkest hues” to suggest the desolation that is inherent within the poem. The student may even note the parallel that forms between the two poems, in which Boland utilizes fire and light imagery to convey masculinity. In this manner, the two authors use contrasting images of light and dark to suggest the contrasting ideas of masculinity and femininity, respectively.
Boland too emphasizes the generic, archetypical role of women, however, unlike Smith who emphasizes the idea of physical beauty, she highlights a greater irony than her romantic counterpart. Boland writes, “So when the king's head/gored its basket—/grim harvest/we were gristing bread/or getting the recipe/for a good soup/to appetize/our gossip” (28-35). Each emphasized the contrast between expected duty and personal desires. Smith later conveys this juxtaposition through personification, noting, “The spot where pale Experience hangs her head/O'er the sad grave of murder'd Happiness!” (7-8). By personifying experience and happiness, Smith simplifies the idea that experience overshadows personal happiness. Each reached a similar conclusion however that so-called women’s duty overshadowed their personal happiness.
From this statement, the students who were to write the essay could create a contrast between the ideas of Boland and Smith. Smith concedes that it was society, or an external force, that was very much dictating her actions- as she noted, it was her “wayward destiny,” destiny implying that it is not something she herself could influence. While each came to a similar conclusion about women, that they are discontented with their current social positions, Boland asserts that it is very much women who create this self-perpetuating cycle of subordination. As she herself notes, the women consciously fill their domestic niche and choose to serve as caretakers, cooks, and cleaners- it’s their “alibi,” (25). The use of the word “alibi” in line 25 suggests that women consciously choose not to adapt but to remain stagnant. A student could also discuss their diverging tones, where Smith appears woeful, Boland sounds appears much more indignant, noting that “still no page/scores the low music/of our outrage,” (40-43). In contrast, Smith utilizes words such as “darkest hues,” “sad grave,” and “fancied pain” to convey a sense of despondency and even hopelessness of women’s current plight (6; 8; 10).
Nevertheless, in spite of the clear parallels between the two poems, a student may have difficulty analyzing Charlotte Smith’s poem “Sonnet XLVII To Fancy” beyond the surface content. They could write an essay merely contrasting Boland’s discussion of women’s stagnation within society and Smith’s discussion of women’s de-emphasis in society, each case overshadowed by men. In order for the student to answer the question successfully and effectively, the student would be required to note the techniques as well as the themes of the poems. In Boland’s case, a discussion of the fire imagery, the irony, and indignant tone would be necessary while with Smith’s poem, the student should be able to discuss the dark imagery, the personification, as well as the despondent tone through the essay. The student may also feel threatened by the romantic language, which is clearly elevated. However, any vocabulary that the student does not understand i.e. “sportive” can be deduced by context clues.
The following two poems present two views on a women’s role in society, from the perspective of women, the first, a contemporary poem written by Eavan Boland, the second, a romantic poem written by Charlotte Smith. Read each poem carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze the techniques each author used to forge their complex ideas on the roles of women, especially highlighting their tones and imagery. The student should take note of the contrasts and comparisons between the two poems both thematically and through the authors’ distinct literary techniques.
IT’S A WOMAN’S WORLD
Our way of life
has hardly changed
since a wheel first
whetted a knife
Well, maybe flame
burns more greedily
and wheels are steadier
but we're the same:
living by the lights
of the loaf left
by the cash register,
the washing powder
paid for and wrapped,
the wash left wet;
Like most historic peoples
we are defined
by what we forget,
by what we never will be:
It’s our alibi
for all time that as far as history goes
we were never
on the scene of the crime.
So when the king's head
gored its basket—
we were gristing bread
or getting the recipe
for a good soup
And it's still the same:
By night our windows
moth our children
to the flame
of hearth not history.
And still no page
scores the low music
of our outrage.
still reassure: That woman there, craned to the starry mystery
And still no page
scores the low music
of our outrage.
still reassure: That woman there,
the starry mystery
is merely getting a breath
of evening air,
while this one here—
a burning plume—
she's no fire-eater,
just my frosty neighbor
1982 -Eavan Boland (1944-)
SONNET XLVII TO FANCY
Thee, Queen of Shadows! -- shall I still invoke,Still love the scenes thy sportive pencil drew,When on mine eyes the early radiance brokeWhich shew'd the beauteous rather than the true!Alas! long since those glowing tints are dead,And now 'tis thine in darkest hues to dressThe spot where pale Experience hangs her headO'er the sad grave of murder'd Happiness!Thro' thy false medium, then, no longer view'd,May fancied pain and fancied pleasure fly,And I, as from me all thy dreams depart,Be to my wayward destiny subdued:Nor seek perfection with a poet's eye,Nor suffer anguish with a poet's heart! 1789 -Charlotte Smith (1749-1806)
25 March 2009
Roy Lichtenstein: The Revolution in Banal Art
Roy Lichtenstein was born on October 27, 1923 in New York City to Milton and Beatrice Werner Lichtenstein. A solitary child by nature, Lichtenstein grew up developing an interest in science and science fiction, as he listened to Flash Gordon and Mandrake the Magician on the radio. Science fiction would later be highly influential to Lichtenstein’s style, specifically his works reminiscent of pulp and comic books (Kimmelman).
Lichtenstein’s interest in art was developed independently of his schooling, as there was no art department available at his high school. Jazz offered an early outlet to Lichtenstein’s passion; he would draw portraits of the musicians and their instruments during concerts at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. It wasn’t until 1939, when Lichtenstein attended classes at the Arts Students League under Reginald Marsh however, that he gained any formal artistic training (Waldman).
By 1940, Lichtenstein arrived at Ohio State University in order to earn a degree in fine arts. College was put on pause for three-years however when Lichtenstein opted to join the war effort during WWII. War had a significant emotional effect on Lichtenstein which later surfaced through his pieces; as April Kingsley noted in her article, “Review: Roy Lichtenstein’s Drawings,” “His reactions to the violence and horror of war were expressed in cartoon stereotypes derived from action comics,” (Kingsley).
Following his stint in the army, Lichtenstein returned to Ohio State University and began learning under the tutelage of Hoyt L. Sherman, who would have a profound effect on Lichtenstein’s later work. “Sherman’s method was to flash various images onto a screen which the student was then trained to draw from memory…thereby providing a perfect grounding for Lichtenstein’s cold, depersonalized, mature style,” (Kingsley). Lichtenstein himself even conceded that “the ideas of Professor Hoyt Sherman (at Ohio State University) on perception were my earliest important influences and still affect my ideas of visual unity,” (Swenson).
Lichtenstein began to produce pieces for show upon entering the graduate program at Ohio State while simultaneously being hired as an art instructor. His works in the early 1950s focused on flora and folklore, but especially the American West (Kimmelman). Lichtenstein’s style and subject matter however shifted significantly through the course of his career, refined especially during the period Lichtenstein painted full-time, following 1963. By 1961, comic strips on children’s bubblegum wrappers stimulated the development of his “reductive” comic book style, while his subjects were influenced by “the most kitchy and clichéd forms of printed mass communication: comic strips, newspaper advertisements, even the telephone book Yellow Pages” (“Lichtenstein” 5). The mid to late 1960s also saw the development of Lichtenstein’s “subversive” commercial illustration techniques to convey common objects (Pascale 90). The 1970s and 1980s noted an expansion of Lichtenstein’s traditional stylistic elements as he focused more fully on abstract expressionism, adapting images of Picasso and Mondrian, attempting to make “clichés that occur in Picasso more clichéd,” (Sylvester).
Roy Lichtenstein died September 29, 1997 of pneumonia in his home in New York City. His emphasis always remained on the absurd and clichéd throughout his long career however.
Roy Lichtenstein, rightfully deemed one of the fathers of the Pop Art movement, forged a style that was reductive and bold, in which common objects splashed the subjects of his canvasses. Seeking influences especially from communication media: comic books, advertising, and even the yellow pages, Lichtenstein’s artwork reflected the generic, standardized subjects of those influences. Through the course of his career, this genericism manifested itself in his art as comic book characters, common commercial goods, and eventually the reproduction of masterful works such as Picasso and Matisse. He created pieces that were easily accessible to the masses through either recognizable characters i.e. Mickey Mouse, recognizable household objects, or a recognizable pulp style, all the while remaining irreverent. His use of Ben-Day dots, bold, flat colors, and reproductions allowed Lichtenstein to retain a sort of flippant outlook on the impersonality of an industrial American culture and its inherent clichés in relationships, consumerism, war, and fine art. What he forged was a sort of anti-art, in which he ironically and humorously “convert[ed] the banal into art and debase[d] fine art through commercialization” (“Roy Lichtenstein”). Beyond merely acting as social commentary, Lichtenstein’s art was always a reflection on what precisely made art, art.
Roy Lichtenstein’s piece, “The Kiss V,” painted in 1964, reflected his interest in cartoon imagery, combining primary, flat colors and thick, black outlines. The bold image that Lichtenstein forged, the exaggeration of the couple’s physical characteristics parallels the exaggeration of their romantically-charged situation. As Lichtenstein himself responded to the query of why paint images of emotional or romantic scenes, “I think that it has a lot to do with all kinds of things presented through the media in the modern day I mean, it’s even in the movies- you know, two people are about to kiss, and in reality you’ve got a guy at the camera with a cigar in his mouth,” (Bowie). In this manner, Lichtenstein created his kitschy, emotional scenes to address the realities in American relationships rather than to pay homage to love. Through such a painting, Lichtenstein used a cliché (the couple’s emotional embrace) to hearken to the realities of a 1960s couple, while the style itself reflected a distancing from traditional artistic forms in choosing to present the couple as two-dimensional cartoon characters.
“The Kiss V,” a 1964 silkscreen print, presented a man and a woman locked in an embrace. At the forefront of the image was the woman; dominating the left side of the picture was the woman’s hair: wavy, bright yellow, which was highlighted by thick, black lines to convey individual hairs. Unlike the rest of the image, her hair did not possess the Ben-Day dots characteristic of the couple’s skin tone and the background. It is also one of the brightest aspects of the picture along with the woman’s lips and the man’s shirt. The woman herself is tipping her head up to rest it on the man’s shoulder and cheek, while simultaneously looking into his face. A vertical black line on her forehead, between her eyebrows suggests a crease of anxiety. While similarly, two short horizontal lines by the woman’s right eye also suggests squinting as she cries. The tears on the woman’s face are extremely well-defined, rather than a few stray tears by her eyes, the tears resemble small puddles of light-blue. In comparison to the woman’s flesh tones and tears, the color of her lips, hair, and man’s shirt are extremely bright. Her lips are a bright hue of red, and on the bottom lip, a white line suggests a certain shine or sheen on her lips, characteristic of lip gloss or lip stick. Beside the woman’s face, the woman’s hand resides, which takes up about half of the forefront of the image. The stray black marks on the woman’s hand suggest the motion of her gripping the man’s shirt. The perspective of the image seems to be slightly skewed and one-dimensional as the woman’s left eye is visible in spite of the fact that the image is directly facing the right side of the her face. The woman’s eyebrows and eyelashes utilize significantly thicker black lines than the rest of the image, conveying a sort of grooming- makeup.
In the background of the image is the man, partially obstructed by the woman. Of his features, one can only make out one eye, part of his face, and an ear. His eye is turned downward to face the woman, whose face is right below his eye. Three tiny parallel lines are adjacent to his eye conveying a crease of worriment. His eyebrows consist of extremely thick black lines, thicker than the width of the woman’s eyebrows. In addition, a sort of shading is employed below the ear in order to carve out his jaw-line. Taken together, the aforementioned elements suggest a masculinity in the man. What’s visible of the man’s cheek is dominated by three curving lines, emphasizing the force with which the woman is smashing her own face to his. His shirt is a deep blue in color.
The physical appearance of the man and woman that Lichtenstein forged were highly exaggerated to convey the archetypical 1960s man and woman. The woman herself appears extremely well-groomed, with bright yellow, wavy hair, bright, shiny red lips, and dark, thick eyebrows and eyelashes. Each element suggests a form of makeup or grooming, from the use of hair curlers, to lip stick, to penciling-in eyebrows. Similarly, the man exudes masculinity through his blue shirt, well-defined jaw line, and thick eyebrows. Both the man and the woman’s physical appearance maintained their traditional roles in society, where the man appeared strong and rugged while the woman was polished and refined. Lichtenstein thus used the physical appearance of his subjects to develop a cliché of gender roles in American society, in which the man was brawny and the woman graceful. Further, “the subjects [the man and woman] looked as though they came straight out of the most kitschy and clichéd forms of printed mass communication: comic strips, newspaper advertisements, even the telephone book, Yellow Pages: Lichtenstein’s rendering imitated the impersonal ‘unartistic’ look of such imagery” (“Lichtenstein” 5), especially through his use of Ben-Day dots which were reproduced for use on the couple’s skin tone. In creating his art to reflect such influences of mass communication, Lichtenstein elevated the banal to art while simultaneously stratifying traditional gender divisions, which were especially reinforced through the image’s content.
Lichtenstein’s image of a man and woman embracing does not necessarily present a symbiotic relationship, but rather that in which a distraught woman is forced to rely on a man for emotional comfort. In the image, the woman is crying upon the shoulder of the man; her tears are extremely large and there is evident worriment in her face. In spite of her sadness, the woman’s face notes a hint of relief in being in the man’s arms. She grips his shoulder tightly and forcefully positions her face against his. Similarly, the man appears at ease in his position as comforter, holding the woman steadily in his arms as he looks down upon her. In creating an image during a couple’s embrace, or “the tense and climactic moments in narratives when the effects of masculinity and femininity are at their most extreme, Lichtenstein polarizes gender roles that are constructed less rigidly by the comic book,” (Whiting 9). Lichtenstein subtlety addresses women’s dependency on men and men’s dominating nature in American society during this era.
Lichtenstein’s “The Kiss V” presents an image of a man and woman locked in an emotional embrace. What on the surface appears to be simply a romantically charged presentation, even an affirmation of love and trust, Lichtenstein subtlety exaggerated to create a cliché of a standard 1960s man and woman in their traditional societal roles. He prods the audience to consider the garish facet of relationships. Lichtenstein’s focus on comic book imagery helped to propel the prosaic to the level of fine art, and in doing so, he emphasized a nihilistic tendency in breaking accepted artistic rules.
By the mid-1960s, beyond simply cartoon representations of poignant scenes, Lichtenstein’s style shifted to reflect a growing interest in consumer items and mass production. By removing the brand names from his paintings, contrasting himself with other “Pop-Art” artists including Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein established an inherent genericism in American consumer culture. Lichtenstein still employed irony in his paintings, however works such as “Tire” and “Hot Dog” address consumerism in America, while still further boosting the commonplace to the level of art. As Lichtenstein himself noted, “Why do you think a bill or a tree is more beautiful than a gas pump? It’s because you’re conditioned to think that way. I am calling attention to the abstract quality of banal images,” (“Special Report: The Story of Pop!”). In this way, Lichtenstein addressed a pervading irony in his consumer pieces, that beauty is based on perceptions.
1962’s “Tire” characterizes Roy Lichtenstein’s shift in subject to consumer items, while his style still retained a similar rendering of cartoon imagery. Unlike his other images, and even other consumer images of Lichtenstein, “Tire” is two-toned. The background of the image is white, while the tire itself is black and white. Gray is not employed to convey degrees of darkness, but rather a certain amount of shading by deciding how much space to put between lines. Close-set black lines on the hub cap of the tire suggest minimal shading compared to the use of black on the right-hand side of the tire (left-hand side of the picture). As a result, the tire seems to be placed in some sort of light source as the majority of the tire is white, while the parts that are not exactly in that perspective are darkened. The most elaborate aspect of the tire is the treads on it, which employs a continuing pattern of pentagons and triangles. Beyond the treads of the tire, the image appears quite rudimentary in design, with few details. Even the hub cap appears to be just an outgrowth of the tire, and beyond the shading, possesses few features. To provide further evidence to attest to the tire being under a light, the hub cap too possesses a shading conducive to the availability of light and the inclusion of shadows. The upper portion of the cap is white, with a few lines, short curved black lines to convey the shape of the cap and also the inclusion of some shadows. While further, the lower portion of the cap is completely ensconced in darkness- shadows. Lichtenstein similarly used thick black lines to structure his piece.
Lichtenstein’s focus to commercial items reflects his desire to unearth a new facet of American culture- its consumerism. This analysis of the genericism within mass consumer culture was evident both in his subject matter and use of branding (or lack thereof). Both the style and subject matter of the piece reflect Lichtenstein’s unwavering desire for his art to reflect life- a nihilistic approach to art in his rejection of artistic forms and movements. Lichtenstein’s commercial pieces therefore do note the impersonality of American consumer culture, however more importantly Lichtenstein’s commercial pieces reflected on the increasingly industrial nature of America (Swenson).
“Tire,” a painting completed in 1962, notes Lichtenstein’s tendency to display a singular object against a blank background. The greater emphasis granted to the tire as an isolated object notes a “forced genericness,” according to author Michael Lobel. Unlike his Pop-Art counterpart Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein opted not to create rows of identical objects, focusing on genericism rather than standardization (Lobel 44). Beyond merely the presentation of the single object, the monochrome palette of the image reflects a flatness and impersonality. Rather than being splashed with an array of colors, Lichtenstein painted “Tire” in simple black and white. This propensity for plain colors was evident in other consumer works including “Kitchen Range,” in which a stove and food was painted entirely in a royal blue with a yellow background, and “Hot Dog” in which the meat in the image was simply presented with red hues and the bun in a standard yellow. As Lichtenstein himself noted, he created such a limited palette in order to create “the most contrast. Each colour had a certain character to me: the yellow was acid, and a colour that seemed to contrast as much as possible with it was a blue that was almost violet … I got some of these colours from supermarket packaging. I would look at package labels to see what colours had the most impact on one another,” (Lloyd). The plainness of the colors paralleled the plainness of the source- advertising.
Beyond simply the color palette that Lichtenstein employed, it was his decision to shift away from branding that truly conveyed the genericism of the image. Prior to his inclusion of consumer images, Lichtenstein frequently focused on the well-known images and characters in his works. “Look Mickey” created in 1961, featured both Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, while others included Bugs Bunny etc. As Lichtenstein’s subject matter began to reflect American consumer culture, he began to shy away from the use of well-known objects. This shift from well-known objects to more generic subjects paralleled his amendment to no longer utilize brand names in his paintings. Characters such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse alluded to the brand of Walt Disney, ergo once Lichtenstein shifted to consumer images, the images were devoid of both branded characters and branding in general. This decision contrasts highly with works of other Pop-Artists, including Andy Warhol, who frequently displayed brand names in their works, including Campbell. This shift from branding is especially evident in the work “Golf Ball” painted in 1962, where author Michael Lobel compares Lichtenstein’s creation of the “Golf Ball” image to the original advertising that he was reproducing, in his book Image Duplicator. The most profound change, Lobel asserted, was the “removal of the brand name from the golf ball’s depicted surface,” effaced by moving the dimple marks of the golf ball (Lobel 44). In removing the brand names from his images, Lichtenstein continued to emphasize the standardization of American consumer culture. However, all of his consumer images continued to achieve his objective of creating art out of non-art.
By the 1970s, Lichtenstein had again shifted the focus of his subject matter to reflect reproductions of masterful works, reflecting on what precisely made fine art, “fine.” He reproduced works from Picasso to Matisse to Mondrian to Monet. In each case, Lichtenstein exaggerated and copied the elements that made the masters famous, reducing them to clichés. Rather than elevating the banal to the position of art, Lichtenstein ironically converted art into the banal and kitschy. His 1969 painting, “Haystack,” accomplishes this by creating a cliché of Monet’s seminal paintings of wheat-stacks.
1969's "Haystack" modeled after Monet’s wheat-stacks, as it is pentagon in shape. The lines of the stack consist of very thick, black lines, characteristic of all Lichtenstein’s works. The haystack itself is a bright, yellow in color with unvarying hues, in spite of being placed in a light source. Rather than affecting the coloring of the stack, the sun created shadows on the right-hand side of the stack with thicker black lines and on the ground, beside its right side. The lines that comprise the stack are wavy but do not reflect the material of the haystack and show no texture. The haystack was created as very much a blob, given structure only by the few lines around the haystack, which formed the pentagon. The haystack resides on a hilly ground that differs in color from the haystack only by the inclusion of thick Ben-Day dots. Unlike other works by Lichtenstein the Ben-Day dots in this particular image are especially pronounced, granting greater emphasis to its banal quality. To convey the sense of hilliness, Lichtenstein utilized two thick wavy lines over the ground and a wavy line as the outline thus creating a sense of unevenness.
Besides the haystack, which is the only object in the scene to be devoid of Ben-Day dots, the most evident structures in the piece are the trees in the background. On the left hand side of the picture, a group of four trees are grouped together; their leaves appeared to be conjoined. Lighting is explored in depth in the picture and as a result the trees are ensconced in shadow and darkness. Similarly, on the right-hand side of the picture, a black blobby structure, outlined in wavy lines suggests the inclusion of more trees or shrubbery. The sky is a very pale blue in hue, perhaps a pale cornflower or pale sky blue.
Many of the stylistic elements in “Haystack” reflect Lichtenstein’s convention of creating pieces directly influenced by printed mass communication. The background, for example, was forged directly through the use of wide Ben-Day dots. Similarly, the color scheme was minimal, employing only the same tone of yellow, black, and a pale blue for the sky. These colors did not vary in hue while the shapes were similarly unvarying, with no inclusion of texture. By these such elements, it would appear that Lichtenstein is forging one of his standard pieces, in which either the subject matter or the style or both deems the picture non-art. The difference in this case relates to the fact that the subject matter, far from banal, was already used as a subject in the influential work of Monet. Lichtenstein took the elements that had originally made the piece so notable, exaggerated them, and created something very much banal of them. Especially resembling the Monet piece, “Meule, Effet de Neige, le Matin,” Lichtenstein reproduced all of the present elements including the wheat-stack, the wheat-stack’s shadow, the hills on which the wheat-stack sits, and the flora in the background. The name of Lichtenstein’s piece even reflects this desire to simplify, as his piece is called “Haystack” while Monet’s haystacks were always referred to as wheat-stacks; he removed the details that made Monet’s piece elaborate. His simplification of masterful works created pieces that were comparable to “five-and-dime store Picasso or Mondrian…[thus] making the clichés that occur in Picasso more clichéd” (Sylvester). In this manner, Lichtenstein noted what precisely he thought made the pieces so distinguished and created a cliché out of them. This exploration of what makes fine art “fine” was especially prevalent in Lichtenstein’s works with brush strokes however. In such cases as 1965’s “Brush Stroke,” he generated images of brush strokes that were bold and reductive, with thick black outlines and a flat color palette. “Formally a vehicle of expression, the brush stroke now took on additional tasks: it was an ironic cliché signifying ‘fine art’” (“Lichtenstein” 5).
Lichtenstein’s focus on masterful works of art allowed him to continue his reflection on art itself. While previously utilizing banal situations and objects and advancing them to a level of art, the shift towards reproductions achieved the opposite result, his reproductions took masterful subjects and perverted them into the banal and kitschy. Utilizing a different approach to the same goal, Lichtenstein explored what truly constituted art, creating a cliché of those elements that originally propelled the masters to distinction. Throughout his 30+ year career, Lichtenstein’s style always retained a sort of frivolous air, “in which parody is more than balanced by a hypnotic visual simplification that compels attention,” (Roberts 514) within his work. His style, which always reflected the influence of printed mass communication, gave a lighter air to Lichtenstein’s social commentary, creating as noted, parody rather than derision. In spite of Lichtenstein’s flippant commentary, at its core, Lichtenstein’s artwork revealed his desire to both understand and influence views on art. Hearkening to the Dadaist movement of the 1920s, Lichtenstein chose to break accepted artistic rules in order to return art to its simplest form. He questioned accepted subject matter and styles, propelling pulp stylization into the mainstream. Despite Lichtenstein’s shifting styles over the course of his career, he always retained an irreverent outlook on American art and American society.
Fallaces sunt rerum species. Seneca
In the overheated catacomb,
in the beastly dark,
a solitude was taking possession.
The immortals, discoloured,
with dropped eyelids,
thickened into slime and darkness.
The blind whiteness confounded
the dreams of men.
the last flickers
of a light within
the invisible wilderness.
Savage hyena in a bath of glitter,
moored to a game of dominoes, a merry dance of death for
This papier-maché Mephistopheles,
under the pretence of progress,
rendered inhuman by primeval instincts.
An immense snake uncoiled.
Tin-pot imposter, harlequin.
The gnawing devils of hunger, the glow of fires beckoned
germs to the world.
Sand-banks, marshes, virgin forest.
Red gleams that wavered, bloodthirsty.
The paw strokes on bowels of the land
fetched a deep sigh
from the apple-pie earth.
The hippo will be butchered.
Grass growing through ribs.
The Earth Seemed Unearthly (59)
Appearances are deceiving. Seneca
In the overheated catacomb (22),
in the beastly dark (118),
a solitude (31) was (26) taking possession (59).
The immortals (106), discoloured (73),
with (83) dropped eyelids (80),
thickened into slime (22) and darkness (117).
The blind whiteness (70) confounded (76)
the dreams of men (6).
the last flickers (64)
of (115) a light (108) within (108)
the invisible wilderness (116).
Savage (30) hyena (70) in a bath of glitter (49),
moored (80) to (80) a (80) game of dominoes (4), a (80) merry dance of death for (92)
This papier-maché Mephistopheles (48),
under (27) the pretence (59) of progress (15),
rendered (131) inhuman (59) by (11) primeval (43) instincts (124).
An immense snake uncoiled (11).
Tin-pot (47) imposter (19), harlequin (88).
The gnawing devils of hunger (69), the glow of fires (125) beckoned (15)
germs (6) to the world (129).
Sand-banks, marshes (8), virgin forest (48).
Red gleams that wavered (108), bloodthirsty (87).
The paw strokes on (69) bowels of the land (50)
fetched a deep sigh (42)
from the apple-pie (28) earth (21).
The hippo (68) will (67) be (67) butchered (67).
Gaped black (13).
Grass growing through ribs (13).
January 16, 2009
Heart of Darkness Metacognitive
Joseph Conrad’s piece, Heart of Darkness, was extremely rich in detail and imagery, thus finding interesting words or phrases was not difficult, and by the end, I found I had highlighted at least one word or phrase every page. My initial difficulty sprouted from a lack of organization- I had jotted down so many words and phrases but didn’t know where to begin or how to manipulate them. It became imperative that I organized myself: first, I thought of an overarching idea or theme that I could to connect each of the three sections of the poem (as there had to be some cohesion) and settled on the idea of appearances are deceiving. The vagueness of this idea made it a perfect epigraph, which I found in Latin. The title of my poem, “The Earth Seemed Unearthly” not only served as an example of deceiving appearances but noted the somber mood that was prevalent throughout. I then delved into the specific themes and ideas apparent in the individual sections that could be connected to the deception of appearances. Section one noted much discussion of light and dark and hinted at humans’ inherent darknesses that may not necessarily be apparent. Thus, section one of my poem focused on this idea of the darkness of one’s heart, section two, the uncivilized nature of the “civilized” imperializers, and section three, the folly of exploiting the earth for gain. Further, I titled each section of the poem, rather than using Roman numerals, because each section was dissimilar and attempted to convey very different ideas.
The first section, which I entitled, Flicker, is meant to convey the impermanence of light. I wrote, “In the overheated catacomb,/ in the beastly dark,/a solitude was taking possession.” The darkness being addressed is one of an internal rather than external variety, although the imagery discusses a physical darkness. The importance of the first line also sprouts from the idea of a solitude, the implication being that men who appear content may be harboring a darkness, a sadness, which offsets them from the rest of the masses. By the end of the first stanza, I note, “Gnawing/ the last flickers/ of a light within/ the invisible wilderness.” I used invisible wilderness to serve as a metaphor for the heart, noting that as the darkness seeps in, it begins to overshadow one’s goodness, eventually quelling it entirely. I used few periods in the first section, the punctuation was more dominated by commas, which allowed a flow rather than choppiness to develop. This flow was mirrored by the structure of the poem itself in which certain lines were not justified, resembling, in my mind, the flow of water, the flow of darkness into one’s heart. The cadence of the speech is meant to at least in some respects parallel the cadence of the first section of Heart of Darkness.
Section two moves on to the idea of savagery, still keeping in mind that appearances are deceiving. I coalesced these two ideas into the theme: those who appear savage are not truly while those who appear civil are actually savage, entitling the section, Civility. The section begins, “Savage hyena in a bath of glitter.” The first line already establishes the irony of imperialism- imperialists who are quite savage, quite brutal are nevertheless valued for their work (“bath of glitter”). The section goes on to not only establish the weak motives of the imperialists (“Envy./ Admiration./ Glamour.”) but continues to note that they only feign positive motivations. Much of the imagery in this section is used to convey this point of contention, between what the imperialists truly are and what they pretend to be i.e. “papier-maché Mephistopheles,” “pretence of progress” “immense snake uncoiled,” “tin-pot imposter,” and “harlequin.” The flow of this section changed as well, mirroring the climbing action in the book. As skirmishes developed, intrigues, and the establishment of camps, the savagery of the “civil” became more and more apparent. The firmness of the words is produced especially from the greater use of periods over commas.
Section 3, Meat, serves as the culmination of all these ideas- savagery and darkness, especially in relation to Kurtz. Kurtz who initially thought himself noble for spreading European refinement not only proved to be the antithesis but ultimately caused an emotional unraveling, as he came to terms with the poisonous effect he had on Africa. To establish this complex idea, I initially spoke of “The gnawing devils of hunger, the glows of fires,” which “beckoned/ germs to the world,” suggesting the inherent desires of imperialists (whether that be to spread civilization or merely augment their economy), motivating their explorations. The use of the word “germs” to convey explorers/imperialists/colonizers was to also convey a sense of disdain of their actions and note their poisoning influence on the world. The rest of the section, prior to the line break, was responsible for establishing setting and noting the negative effect of the imperialists, especially through the lines “The paw strokes on bowels of the land fetched a deep sigh/ from the apple-pie earth.” The personification of the earth addressed the fact that the negative effect of the imperialists was not going undetected. It’s a difficult concept for me to try to explain. But, essentially, seeing the physical effect on the earth- the destruction of groups of people, the destruction of natural habitats helped to inspire Kurtz’s epiphany, even if it was too late. In my mind then, the earth was responsible for the epiphany, for the mental awakening, and I personified the earth, suggesting that it was a conscious choice by the earth to awaken Kurtz, that it was the earth that ultimately had the last effect. This was conveyed especially through the lines, “The hippo will be butchered./ Gaped black./ Rotting./ Grass growing through ribs.” The hippo, a not-so-subtle jab at imperialists, was to be was going to be severely hurt- “butchered,” “gaped black” noting the darkness of imperialists’ hearts that is inevitably produced. The line “grass growing through ribs” was especially effective in conveying the idea that it is the earth that has the final effect on men rather than vice versa. The separation of the last four lines and the use of periods provides a greater forcefulness to the sentiments and choppiness of cadence. The ideas of darkness and savagery seem lead up to this idea and thus it is given extra weight.
Having been absent for one of the peer editing days, my poem was only edited by two people, Vanessa and Mary. They talked a lot about the mood of the piece, how strong the style was, etc. However, its significant use of imagery and metaphor, focusing on theme rather than plot detracted from understanding. Much of their understanding of the poem came from my explanations later and I deem this a weakness. Although I am content with the final product and am glad that I chose not to recycle plot, my writing took away from understanding perhaps. In revision, I didn’t change much beyond grammatical details including the change from Roman Numerals and subtitles to simply subtitles, noting that subtitles more clearly emphasized a shift in topic.
The final product was overall fitting for what I hoped to convey. The point of view was consistently 3rd person omniscient, understanding all of the flaws of humans and the thoughts of inanimate objects. The imagery was profuse and varying from metaphors, to personification, to symbolism. I changed certain punctuation choices throughout to note a shift in mood. Even line spacing contributed to the work as certain lines were offset to give them more weight. It was however difficult trying to connect each of the three separate ideas to the idea of deceiving appearances, although, I think I did so effectively.
My poem, “The Earth Seemed Unearthly,” was an attempt to look at the development of theme throughout the book. The overarching idea I noted was that appearances could be deceiving, an idea that manifested itself both in smaller themes and characters, ie, Kurtz. It was this idea that connected my 3 sections together, making it one cohesive poem.
Specifically, I chose to focus on darkness in poem one, savagery in poem two, and the relationship between humans and the earth in poem three, each of these corresponding to the part in the story. Darkness conveyed the suspicions of people’s dark motives, in relation even to Marlow who seems to question his own choices after the fact.
Savagery focused on the irony of the imperialists’ own savagery. They spoke of the savagery of the Africans within the Congo merely because their culture and society differed from their own. Those presented as “civil” are ironically exemplified as savage through their inhuman treatment of the Congolese, chaining them i.e., and mechanizing the natural beauty of the jungle.
The last section was more than anything a comment on Kurtz, who was developed in greater detail in the last section of the book. A refined man, with many skills and good qualities as noted by the Belgium and his fiancée, on the surface Kurtz appeared noble in his explorations. Although perhaps initially just, Kurtz hoped to churn the land in order to spread European civilization and refinement. However, his plans degenerated as greed and brutality overshadowed his original motivations. I focused on this character development in the last section, especially in context to the overarching result: as men took it upon themselves to “civilize” the land, it was the land that ultimately had an effect on men.
January 6, 2009
The Politics of Art
Sonia Sanchez, poet, playwright, and activist, used her upbringing as the backbone to her writing. Much movement and displacement early in her life eventually brought her to Harlem, where she resided for 30 years. Her experiences as an African American woman in Harlem highly influenced her writing, which simultaneously were a means of self-analysis and an exploration of the community. Her writing became a platform to disseminate issues of race and gender relations, prodding readers to make changes within their own communities. Sonia Sanchez’s writing raised self-awareness and did so especially through her use of conversational, informal diction, concise syntax, and slang, which rejected traditional structural techniques of the written language. In this manner, Sanchez both emphasized self-empowerment at her refusal to adhere to tradition and connected her closer to her audience by reflecting their own style of language. Sanchez’s audience would therefore be more receptive to the ideas she presented.
Wilsonia Benita Driver more commonly known as Sonia Sanchez was born on September 9, 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama. Her father Wilson Driver was a drummer in a jazz band while her mother Lena Jones Driver passed away when Sanchez was only a year old. It was then that Sanchez began living with her paternal grandmother, amicably referred to as “Mama” (Uminski). Mama and the new environment fostered Sanchez’s love of the written word; at the age of four she learned to read. Sanchez herself noted, “It is that love of language that has propelled me [to write, and] that love of language that came from listening to my grandmother speak black English” (Kelly).
Mama’s death when Sanchez was six proved to be a devastating emotional blow for her and catalyzed the writing of her first poem in an attempt to manage the grief. The next period of Sanchez’s life was characterized by aimless movement until she eventually settled in Harlem with her sister, Patricia, her father, and her stepmother, where she remained for 30 years. Her love of logopeia was further developed at Hunter College in New York, where she took creative writing classes and studied poetry with Louise Bogan. She eventually formed the “Broadside Quartet” with Etheridge Knight, Don L. Lee and Nikki Giovanni, characterized as a group for radical poets (“Sonia Sanchez Biography”).
Sanchez however earned her B.A. in political science, an interest that both manifested itself in her writing and fueled her political activism throughout much of the 1960s and 1970s. She became heavily involved in the civil rights movement and eventually joined the activist group the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). At this juncture, Sanchez befriended Malcolm X who not only influenced her politics but her writing as well. Malcolm X’s candid style of speech, especially in terms of black heritage, soon became characteristic of Sanchez’s own poetic style. “From Malcom X she also learned how to present her poetry and always sustain the attention of the audience,” (Uminski).
Between 1965 and 1967, Sanchez taught in San Francisco at the Downtown Community School and then at San Francisco State University until 1969. It was there that she helped establish a Black Studies program, nonexistent prior to this time.
By the late 1960s, Sanchez had compiled her first book of poetry, Homecoming. “Sanchez's early work responds to political and personal upheavals of the 1960s with radical experiments in form, style, and theme,” (“African American Literature”). Other works include Homegirls & Handgrenades, which was published in 1984 and Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems which was published in 1999, among more than 10 other books, a number of plays, and a CD. Although the subject matter differs from piece to piece, Sanchez’s work always remains deeply personal, lyrical writing that coalesces the political with the personal (“Sonia Sanchez”).
This cohesion between social and personal issues was present in the poem “Personal Letter No. 2” from the book Shake Loose My Skin. In it, Sanchez dually emphasizes the loneliness and self-empowerment that comes from aging and being a black woman during this period. Sanchez accomplishes this especially through her deemphasized use of language structures including lowercases, profuse punctuation, and unconventional spellings. Sanchez’s tone conveys a particular nostalgia for her youth while her diction is concise but lyrical. In this manner, Sanchez touches upon gender relations by maintaining that it is both a gift and curse being a woman.
The speaker of the poem employs the personal pronoun, “I,” and in this manner, the first person perspective forges a highly personal piece, further attested by the title, “Personal Letter No. 2.” At least initially, the personal letter seems to refer to an ambiguous “you,” as the speaker notes, “i speak skimpily to/ you about apartments i/ no longer dwell in” (Sanchez 1-3). It is here that Sanchez also establishes the nostalgic tone as she discusses elements of the speaker’s past. Beyond simply the apartments she “no longer dwell[s] in,” Sanchez conjures images of children in choruses, likely referring to those from Church choruses or school choruses, regardless, both being aspects of the speaker’s childhood. Her old community in Harlem, NY and later Philadelphia, PA deeply resonated with Sanchez and her inclusion of childhood details merely attests to this. She goes on to add “if i were young/ i wd…” (Sanchez 7-8). The inclusion of the word “if” adds a condition to her ability to use “wild words,” implying that it is age that thwarts the speaker from using them (Sanchez 9). Childhood is viewed wistfully, as a time of possibility.
Most overwhelmingly however, the reader notes Sanchez’s structural and organizational techniques throughout the poem. In the very first line Sanchez writes, “i” (Sanchez 1), visibly lower-case. Her decision to use lowercase was a decision to reject the overemphasis on self, and the constrictions set by society- arbitrarily determining “I” be capitalized. Her movement away from such traditional structural practices was also evident in her use of “wd” as a spelling for “would” and disobedience spread between two lines as “dis” and “obedience.” The language is also simple, with very few descriptions beyond the concession of “skimpily” in the first line. In this manner, Sanchez uses her structure to not only free herself from the constraints of the English language but to also make the writing more readily reflect its audience. As the JRank Encyclopedia stated, Sanchez “used the language of the streets instead of the language of academe” (“Sonia Sanchez Biography”).
A shift occurs in the last three lines of the poem however that most actively manifests itself in the shift in tone. After speaking wistfully of an aspect of her life that will never return, Sanchez notes both a dual self-empowerment and solitude. She resigns herself to a fate of aging and change noting, “but i am what i/ am. woman” (Sanchez 12-13). The speaker accepts her fate because it is inevitable and unchanging, but then uses the negative concession, “I am what I am” as a tool of self-empowerment, of being a woman. This fact is especially emphasized through Sanchez’s use of periods separating the words “am” and “woman.” The periods provide an extra pause between the two words and thus the reader is able to further contemplate the implications of being a woman. Another smaller shift occurs in the second to last line as Sanchez concludes the poem. After evoking images of womanly strength and worth, the tone becomes melancholy again. She notes that she’s a woman “alone/ amid all this noise” (Sanchez 13-14). While proud of being a woman, the speaker concedes that she will always be a solitary force among dissenters, or “noise.” In choosing to conclude with a focus on solitude and loneliness, Sanchez establishes that a woman, unlike a man, always suffers within a gender-biased society, and that this emotion overshadows even female pride.
This poem touched upon many of the common characteristics of Sanchez’s poetry, including but not limited to her unconventional use of the English language: lowercases, abbreviations, spacing, etc, sensibilities from the ghetto, and her activist stance. In this case, Sanchez focused on the identity of a black woman and the dual pride and loneliness that results, however in other poems she chose to focus on specific race relations or gender relations. Still in more samples, she spoke to specific groups of people urging them to create changes for themselves or others. In the poem, “Malcolm” she praised the work of Malcolm X to whom she forged a close bond with. Writing became a tool of release for Sanchez as she struggled with instability and the loss of a beloved grandmother and especially when she became more cognitive of the mistreatment of African Americans as a child (“Sonia Sanchez Biography”). The images of her youth were the subject of many of Sanchez’s poems, with elements of the sights, sounds, the characteristics of the women and men, their speech, etc. While simultaneously, Sanchez’s political activism remained at the core of her poetry, hoping to instill changes. Beyond simply her ability to address the pervading issues of the time, Sonia Sanchez was always a starkly original writer and performer. Like her social and political ideals, she refused to be confined to the structural techniques of the English language including punctuation and capitalization and thus her writing style reflected self-empowerment even in the text itself. Sanchez’s writing is truly an expression of identity and heritage coalescing the political and the artistic and as she herself concedes, “I am keeping the love of life alive, the love of language alive. I am keeping words that are spinning on my tongue and getting them transferred on paper. I'm keeping this great tradition of American poetry alive,” (Kelly).