Monday, April 23, 2012

The Armory and Epistemology

The Armory Show of 1913 is incredibly diverse, demonstrating the radical ideas that were presented to unsuspecting eyes of the time. If students like us, who have, at one time or another, seen modern art of sorts in the past, can be appalled with the immense differences in abstract representations of humans and nature, it can easily be assumed that those present at the Armory showing 100 years ago were even more shocked and amazed with the distinctly unique works of art quite unlike the realist artwork of the past.

Kenneth Hayes Miller’s The Waste brings up particular thematic similarities to Elliot’s “The Waste Land.” Not only is the title representative of the works of both artists, but the overall feeling of a futuristic, yet regressed un-civilization pervades the viewer/reader. Miller’s oil painting uses light to capture the darkness of the scene, an ironic combination that shows the beauty that once was. We can only assume that The Waste represents a scene of destruction, shown by the woman’s disheartened expression as she sits among the desolate land next to what looks appears to be the sea.

Edward Munch’s Vampire is very much a modernist piece merely in regards to theme. Like his other paintings, faceless people are the center of each work of art, which allows the viewer to create imagined emotions of the characters as there is no facial expression to base an emotion off of. Through the use of color, black in his Vampire painting, and abstract positioning of each character, the viewer is able to create a reality of his or her own. Munch’s Vampire does differ from his other works of art in that the undead vampire does have facial characteristics: eyes, cheekbones, and a nose. Because the vampire is not a human, she is provided with unique characteristics, clearly setting her apart from the rest of the scene. This painting would have been considered grotesque and disturbing to those at the Armory show 100 years ago, those that were used to the lifelike and relatable artworks of realism.

Like Hemingway’s In Our Time, each work of art in the gallery, like each short story, can be looked at as individual representations of a scene, or as connected pieces, and deciphering which of the two it is “supposed” to be can confuse the viewer or reader, which is more likely than not, precisely the point.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


“The Revolt of Mother” parallels “The Yellow Wallpaper” in a broad sense, with the revolt of the female protagonist against the domination of a male partner, and in some ways against the social norms and gender roles of the time period.

However, the two stories, even with a very similar structural plot, differ in many ways; “Mother” is overtly rebelling with a visible, thought out plan to achieve her clear and attainable desires, while the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” rebels from her oppression in more obscure ways, by writing in secret, creatively dreaming up patterns in the wallpaper without the knowledge of others in her household, and defying her bedridden orders by “creeping” in the night. She becomes free, in a sense, through the wallpaper, by identifying characteristics of herself in the wallpaper, and coming to the eventual realization that in order to truly free herself, she needs to show her previous rebellion by ripping down the wallpaper and freeing herself and the woman trapped behind the pattern.

Sara, in “The Revolt of Mother,” clearly states her desires to her husband, in the expected respectful manner, without receiving what she wants in the end. After being dismissed by her husband, she takes matters into her own hands, involving her family, and under the watchful eyes of her astonished community members. Her husbands realization of Sara’s revolt results in the characteristically “unmanly” response of tears. The gender roles and power dichotomy is reversed.

The unnamed narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” an incapable sick “girl” in the eyes of her husband, never directly states her discomforts of her situation to anyone but her journal. She is fearful of her husband, often standing up for him, even when she is herself irritated with his actions. The first time he becomes aware of her secretive rebellion, he finds that she has destroyed the room the  has been confined to, ripped down the wallpaper, and “creeps” around in front of him. The result manifests when John becomes unconscious after witnessing this event, again reversing the power and gender roles, though, again, in a much more obscure manner than the narrative in “The Revolt of Mother.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Freedom (2)

“I dwell in Possibility --” - Dickinson

Dickinson’s sense of freedom was understandably connected to the strict gender roles and oppression of women in her time. For her, freedom is the ability to defy though belief. If someone told her she couldn’t, she would only try harder, feeling obligated to overcome. Instead of focusing on what was being taken from her, (poetic expression, public freedom, etc.) Dickinson would “dwell in possibility,” capitalized in her poem to emphasize the dynamic and subjective nature of both the word and it’s meaning.

“Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago.” - Whitman

Whitman, a free white man, fights against the commonly supported practice of slavery. He believes that all humans are connected and fully equal beings, brought together through common experiences, across time and across space. While freedom in the sense that no man belongs to another, the abolition of superiority and inferiority, should be something natural to all, Whitman further argues that complete freedom comes with the understanding of oneself and the connectedness we have between our souls, each other, knowledge, and nature.

“In the right state, he is, Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking.” - Emerson

Emerson’s notion of true freedom depends on personal experiences, interpretations, and imagination. His vision of the free man, “in the right state,“ can take the words of others, filter through and combine them with his own knowledge and experiences, and create a new, unique set of beliefs. Enslavement on the other hand is a tricky concept, particularly for the enslaved, as they have no means of visualizing their dependence because they are so wrapped up “mastering” another’s words. The bookworm, the most hopelessly trapped man following in the footsteps of others, the “parrot” of another man’s thoughts, fully relies on another human being for his perceived knowledge, intelligence, and freedom. For Emerson, freedom lies within the beholder - the defiant, questioning, creative intellectual.

“My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.” - Douglass

Douglass presents the most literal definition of slavery amongst these four writers. His resistance and rebellion against the horrors of slavery hold an entirely different kind of weight than that of someone like Emerson, a free white man, due to the fact that Douglass was himself a slave for so many years. Douglass’s multitude of experiences have shown him the true meaning of enslavement, and the direct effect it has on all people involved, slaves and slaveholders alike. Both become de-humanized, dependent, narrow-minded, instinctual creatures. For the slave to become truly free, he must realize his power, worth, and ability to defy, learn, and overcome.


“themself” -from Dickinson’s 613

The word “themself,” in it’s grammatically incorrect, confusing placement in this poem, provides the most insight into Dickinson’s idea of freedom. Since this poem is about the rebellion against oppression, (of women, language, etc.) it makes sense that she would use “themself” to emphasize her idea of Dickinson vs. the enemy (one single entity). She also switches pronouns in her poem, from “themself” to “she” to “himself,” which also emphasizes the abstract notion of a greater being, perhaps society itself.

This word demonstrates Dickinson’s precise use of wording in her poetry to complete an entire thought; each word, and often each line, cannot hold meaning by itself, but when placed together with other lines and other words, the whole poem becomes much more than the sum of it’s parts. She defends her creativity in poetry, as she describes that when “they shut me up in prose,” it only created a greater desire in her to seek freedom from “captivity.”

Thursday, March 8, 2012



They shut me up in Prose --
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet --
Because they liked me "still" --
Still! Could themself have peeped --
And seen my Brain -- go round --
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason -- in the Pound --
Himself has but to will
And easy as a Star
Abolish his Captivity --
And laugh -- No more have I --

They shut me up in Prose --

Who are “they“? Why is prose capitalized? Is she referring to prose as a negative, non-creative, hindering idea of language? The phrase “in Prose” could literally mean that she was told to be quiet by another in writing, but it could also mean that she was being forced to only write “in Prose.” As a poet, is Dickinson resentful for not being allowed creativity? Is this is reference to herself, society, or writers in general?

As when a little Girl

A metaphor infers that she (the narrator) is no longer a little girl when this event took place, but is this possibly a real memory of an event when she was a little girl? Or is the entire poem metaphorical for the hindrance of language and creativity in general? Why did Dickinson use a specific gender as her subject? Maybe this relates to a protest against female oppression…

They put me in the Closet --

“They” becomes a mysterious captor. Is the “Closet” a metaphor for something larger? A one-sided viewpoint or method of thinking? A society? The phrase “put me” infers that she was forced into a way of being that she does not approve of or enjoy. Where might the outside of the closet be? Or what could the outside be compared to?

Because they liked me "still" --

“Still” could mean a lot of things - Literally, physically still, mentally still (no brain functioning, no thinking), or maybe just quiet (without speaking, writing, or communicating). Is being “still” comparable to writing in prose? Why do “they” prefer her to be still? This could again, in reference to the gender of the subject, be related to female oppression, or to the hindrance of creative language.

Still! Could themself have peeped --

She is angered, frustrated, and scoffing at the word “still,” as if it was impossible or outrageous that forcing a behavior on someone would work. She states that if anyone would “have peeped” they could have easily seen that stillness was not forced upon her after all. Why did she use the word “themself,” which is grammatically incorrect, instead of themselves”? Is she trying to make a single entity out of one that is in reality much larger? Maybe she is referring to a society?

And seen my Brain -- go round --

She states that if they had looked inside the closet, they could have seen her “Brain -- go round--.” What are the dashes supposed to imply? Moments of thought? Dickinson’s scattered thoughts? Why is Brain capitalized? Is it another metaphor for something? Is her brain going “round” because she has nothing left to do but think when she is held captive in a closet?

They might as wise have lodged a Bird

In comparing herself to a bird, she exemplifies her need and desire to be free from the closet, to free her mind. If you lodge a bird in a confined space, it will not give up until it has reached escape, like the narrator. Why is “Bird” capitalized? Why does she use the word wise? Is she inferring that her capture is not the wise one, but unintelligent, and that she is actually the wise one?

For Treason -- in the Pound --

Why does Dickinson use the word “treason” out of all the crimes to be imprisoned for? Is it because it is the most unrelated crime to a bird? Why does she take a very American fear (treason) and contrast it with “the pound,” which is a very inhumane, animal-centered place?

Himself has but to will

Why does Dickinson use the pronoun “himself’? Because the little girl in the beginning of the poem, would be a herself, is she referring to the bird as a male? Does this line mean that all one has to do is “will” and they can be freed? Or does she mean that when one is held captive, the only thing they have left to do and think about it how badly they want to escape?

And easy as a Star

Why a star? Stars are very incomparable to birds or little girls, the other two subjects of this poem. Would freedom come easy to a star? Is she relating size (stars are HUGE) to the likelihood of one becoming free?

Abolish his Captivity --

This phase sounds very driven, powerful, and full of emotion. Abolish is such a strong word, like in reference to slavery. Dickinson is furious at the notion of captivity - captivity of the mind? Of thoughts? Of the expression of language? Of women? Why does she use the pronoun “his’?

And laugh -- No more have I --

Why would she laugh after spending all of the previous lines expressing scorn and hatred at a concept? Is she laughing at the idea that one can enforce captivity and take away someone’s freedom? Is the phrase “no more have I” referring to the narrator laughing or the narrator being in captivity?

This poem is clearly about rebellion. This is Dickinson’s “F You” to all of the people that told her she couldn’t write poetry, which was strictly a man’s territory at the time. This poem is filled with imagery and metaphors which make it a little more open to interpretation about some of the meanings of certain words. All of the “they’s” and “themselfs” refer to a greater being, society perhaps, that is oppressing Dickinson’s opportunity to express herself through writing, to have a free mind. She tries to express to her reader that one shouldn’t be worried about that, because the more one is oppressed, the more he or she will fight back, leading to even greater expression of thought and freedom of the mind.

Monday, March 5, 2012


For all three of these authors, freedom is a mental challenge.

Emerson defines freedom in the example of ‘Man Thinking”- a theoretically free man who’s thoughts and notions stem from his own experiences, interpretations, and beliefs. The exact opposite, an enslaved man, the bookworm, is filled to the brim with useless knowledge, that of pure imitation, without any self-education. Emerson makes it clear, particularly to students in academia, that dependence is slavery, the bookworm is the slave, and to break free, we must experience, interpret, and think for ourselves - an ongoing mental challenge that will change us from “the man that thinks” into “man thinking.”

Whitman has a slightly different view of freedom, yet with similar themes of mental rather than physical struggle. Whitman’s abstract idea of freedom is much more of a spiritual concept, that in which a free man can understand and delight in the ever-present connections between all people, their souls, nature, and the universe. We are connected by experiences, feelings, and shared moments, in the present and across time. Each student in this class is connected to one another by the shared experience of creating this blog post. Whitman goes on to express that freedom of and from oneself is ironically hindered by the Self, halting and (protecting?) us from showing our true selves to the world, naked and unveiled, out of fear of societies expectations and judgments. Whitman’s struggle for freedom is deeply personal, yet at the same time, entirely reliant on everything and everyone else in the universe.

Douglass makes a clear, outward resistance against physical slavery, OBVIOUSLY. However, under the surface, he spends most of his narrative explaining that slavery in actuality is more of a mental oppression. A slave can be a slave “in form“, a slave “in fact“, both, or neither - the choice, a very independent decision, is one that brings the slave that much closer to freedom, as a choice, in itself, is a free, uncontrolled act. This understanding of choice becomes the key to freedom, but also the hardest obstacle to hurdle. To begin to break free from the chains of slavery and become merely a slave in form, a slave must understand their worth. For Douglass, this worth came in the form of his paid labor. Why should he have to work for free when his labor was worth almost $9 a week?

While all of these notions of freedom share the need and desire for a mental transformation, all three authors have different ideas on the way to go about achieving personal freedom.

All have one major theme in common: Think, do, act, and be yourself.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Man Thinking

“Each philosopher, each bard, each actor, has only done for me, as by a delegate, what one day I can do for myself.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay titled “The American Scholar,” places much emphasis on the importance of being your own person. His entire speech, from his idea of the effects of nature on the soul, to his ideas of “the bookworm,” the influence of the past, and of great writers like Shakespeare, becomes permeated with this theme of independence. Emerson entitles his “independent” and free thinking scholar “Man Thinking,” emphasizing that freedom from imitation and dependence, becoming one’s own self, is an ongoing and perpetual process. Emerson discusses the importance of nature, such that every aspect of nature can be duplicated by another similar aspect of our soul, mentioning that the understanding of the circular power among the two can allow the scholar to become “Man Thinking.” This ideal scholar is also never a “bookworm,” as such a man only uses another author’s mind to formulate an unoriginal and imitative experience for himself. Emerson explains that for “Man thinking,” books are merely a tool, and that real experience comes from within. Emerson means to say that through the works of talented authors and writers, a good scholar will come to learn of and value their opinions, but the formulation of the scholar’s own opinions will come from his own mind and his own experiences. The author’s opinion is only a thought that will pass through “Man Thinking,” and he will move on to the next one.

“The American Scholar” provokes thought in any reader, but particularly in the University student, as Emerson is speaking to the swarms of students, imitators and followers, that believe that true education involves the experiences that professors decide we need to experience, and by being able to interpret and “Shakespearize” well-renowned authors and professionals in academia, we too have succeeded in bettering ourselves and our knowledge of the world.