Sunday, December 14, 2008
The other day I was looking through the news and I found an article about Muslims making a pilgrimage and throwing stones at some pillars in Mina, Saudi Arabia. The article said, among other things, “A large security force monitored worshippers headed for the stoning after slaughtering sheep in a ritual for the Feast of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) to recall Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son on God's order.” The full article is here: http://www.middle-east-online.com/ENGLISH/?id=29133
Slaughtering sheep? Muslims do animal sacrifice? Maybe that’s old news to you, but I was shocked. I had no idea that Muslims did animal sacrifice.
Not that there’s anything wrong with animal sacrifice, in theory. The righteous Israelites of the Old Testament did it all the time, and their animal sacrifices were approved of God. But, wow, you know. Animal sacrifice. That’s heavy.
Well, after the news sat in my head for a few days, last night I thought of this funny story about Muslims kidnapping pet rabbits and sacrificing them, and I wrote it down in my last blog post. I think it’s funny, but I hope nobody gets offended by it.
Muslims do animal sacrifice!
Just thought you’d like to know.
How do I know that Muslims do animal sacrifice? Well, it all started yesterday morning when my pet rabbit went missing.
I woke up and had my freshly-squeezed tangerine and poppy-seed juice, looked at the paper, and then I went over to my rabbit’s little wooden rabbit house in the backyard, just to tell my rabbit good morning and wish him a happy sun-shiney day, you know?
Well, I went out there, and Perry’s little rabbit house was empty! It gave me such a shock. Perry was always there in the morning, nibbling on a carrot or sometimes he was busy decorating Easter eggs and thinking of clever places to hide them. (Perry is a Christian rabbit, you know.) But yesterday morning Perry was gone!
Oh, and “Perry” is short for “Periwinkle”. Periwinkle’s my favorite color. And that was the color of Perry’s eyes, periwinkle.
“Oh no!” I yelled. And then I yelled, “Perry, where are you? Perry, where are you?!” And I started to cry.
Panicking, I raced through the neighborhood, calling “Have you seen my rabbit?” and “Where are you, Perry?” I went to the flower shop. I went to the candy store. I went to the bakery. But nobody anywhere had seen him! Nobody anywhere at all forever!
Just then a chilly wind blew, and I realized that it was cold outside, and Perry probably wanted a warm blanket and some rabbit food, and he was all alone out there somewhere, lost in the streets or maybe lost in the forest, and Perry was probably crying like I was crying!
Oh! The mind does such horrid things when a pet is missing!
With added speed I knocked on all my neighbors’ doors, asking everybody if they had seen Perry. My neighbors were all very friendly, and one very kind man even invited me in for a game of hide-and-go-seek, but of course I couldn’t play hide-and-go-seek; I had to find my rabbit!
I ran and ran and ran and ran, all around the town, but I couldn’t find Perry anywhere, and I started to cry again. (A little boy like me cries a lot when a pet is missing, you know.)
And then in a different part of town I came across a funny-looking building that I had never seen before. It looked like it had a giant ice-cream cone swirl on top of it. But it was a golden-looking ice-cream cone, a flavor that I had never tasted or even seen before. The dome on top of that strange building was sort of caramel-colored, but not really like caramel. It wasn’t chocolate, either. It was lighter than chocolate.
Butterscotch! Yes, that’s what it was! Butterscotch! Mmmm… Butterscotch-flavored ice cream…
But I couldn’t think about food. I had to find my rabbit!
So I went up to the building and knocked on the door. Right after I knocked on the door three times, knock, knock, knock, I saw a sign on the building that said in very big letters, “MOSQUE,” and then beneath that in smaller letters it said, “WE ARE MUSLIMS”
“Hmmmm…” I thought. Muslims. What are Muslims? Do Muslims know where my rabbit is?
Just then, while I was deep in thought, and worrying about Perry, a big man with a long black beard came to the door. He didn’t look very friendly at all. And then I noticed that the big man with the long black beard had a gun! Oh my! And it was a real gun! And the man pointed the real gun at me!
“Grrrrr…” the Muslim growled. “What do you want, little boy?”
I was scared, and I almost started crying again. But I held back my tears and I stuck out my chest, (because that’s what I do when I try to be brave- I stick out my chest) and I said to the Muslim in my very deepest voice, with my chest stuck out as far as it would go, “I’m looking for my rabbit.”
The Muslim put his gun down and wrinkled his forehead. “Hmmm… Did your rabbit have periwinkle eyes?”
“Yes he did,” I said, gaining hope, still talking in my very deepest voice, and still sticking out my chest. “Some people say Perry’s eyes are cornflower, but they’re not cornflower, they’re definitely periwinkle. I know. I’ve looked very closely at him, and he’s my rabbit, so I should know.”
That’s when the Muslim said the most awfulest thing he could ever say! He said, “Oh yes, I remember Perry. I killed him.”
“What?!” I cried. I went back to my normal voice and fell on the ground, writhing in agony.
“I said I killed your rabbit,” and then the Muslim started laughing!
“But that’s so cruel! How could you?” My tears came out like waterfalls, and I was banging my fists on the ground as hard as I could, and I wished with all my wishes that I was really sleeping and this was all just a ghastly nightmare. I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming, but I found out that I was still alive, and Perry, my pet rabbit, was still dead, and now I hurt even more because I pinched myself really hard!
Then the Muslim spoke again. “I killed him for Allah. Muslims do animal sacrifice, and I’m a Muslim.”
“Oh no!” I cried. And then the Muslim started shooting me with his gun!
Then I ran away before the bullets hurt me too badly, and I cried and I cried and I cried, and I ran and I ran and I ran all the way back home, and I never saw that mean Muslim again.
And I never saw Perry again, either, because Perry was dead.
When I got home I thought about Perry and cried. I went outside, in the backyard, to try to stop thinking about that horrible Muslim man with the long black beard. But then when I was in the backyard I saw a half-eaten carrot by Perry’s little wooden rabbit house, and I cried again, and then I thought about his periwinkle eyes, and I cried even harder.
Now it’s been over a whole day, practically two days, since I lost my poor little Christian rabbit.
Sometimes, though, when I’m feeling very sad, sometimes I find some of the Easter eggs that Perry had decorated and hid around the house, and those eggs remind me of Baby Jesus, and then I start to feel better inside.
So that’s how I know that Muslims do animal sacrifice!
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I just got an email asking me to take a survey about Taskstream. What is Taskstream? Taskstream is a new-fangled fancy-schmancy online sensation for educators everywhere! It’s a lesson-plan creating, rubric-generating, resume-building, web site authoring, school state-standards locating, interactive thingamajig! And it’s on the Internet!
Oooohhh… the Internet… it’s sparkly… Taskstream, yes, Taskstream has synergy! Oooohhh… Synergy!
I like that word. Synergy! Taskstream has synergy! And Taskstream has people dressed up holding briefcases and smiling. Oooo… smiling…
Professional! That’s what Taskstream is! Professional!
Moving on, I hate to admit it, but I’m an active Taskstream account holder. But not by my choice! I had to buy it for school. NAU made me do it. They said, "If you don't get Taskstream, you don't get a diploma," and "If you don't buy Taskstream, that means you're not serious about being a good teacher, and if you're not serious about being a good teacher, then we'll need to seriously reevaluate your admitance into NAU," and, "NAU said get Taskstream. Are you a part of NAU, or aren't you?" and, "You wanna play in the big leagues? Well, big-leaguers by Taskstream," and, "I have a knife. Here it is. Look at it. It's a real knife that cuts people. People like you. Are you gonna buy Taskstream or not?"
I think I spent about $70 getting a two year subscription. Here’s a link to it:
I just got an email asking me to take a survey about Taskstream, so I took it, and I gave them a piece of my mind, I’ll tell you what. Here’s what I wrote in the comments section of the survey: (I liked what I wrote, and I got worked up, so I copied and pasted it. That’s how I have my comments here, verbatim.)
Maybe I'm not the best person to be taking this survey because even though I'm a Taskstream account holder, I only got it because my college required me to get it, and now that I don't have to use it anymore for my classes, I don't use it anymore. I don't mean to sound harsh, but I thought Taskstream was pointless, and a waste of money. The standards finder was kind of neat, and the lesson plan formats were kind of helpful, but really I would have rather not bought the product. I understand that you're a company out to make money, and, that's fine, but higher education is already expensive enough. Tuition keeps rising and rising, and I think that the more expensive college is, the greater the gap between the haves and the have-nots will be. Why don't you help students be able to afford college a little bit more by stopping your habits of getting universities to require their students to buy Taskstream accounts? Really, all your services could probably handled through free things like Google docs, or students can just turn in things on paper, or they can email it to their teachers. As far as the state standards, it was nice to have them so readily accessible and organized like Taskstream did, but those state standards are all easily available on my state's department of education website. Seriously, a lot of my fellow students felt this way. Taskstream is superfluous, in my opinion. It looks fancy, and some of the bells and whistles are neat, but the bottom line, in my opinion, is that it's not worth the money. It'd be great if the service was optional, so that teachers in training and current teachers could buy your services if they wanted help with their lesson plans and state standards and they wanted a good place to communicate with other teachers, but the way you get colleges to require it of their students is horrible. Several students I know bought a Taskstream account only to use it only once or twice, to submit one or two assignments. That, to me, is frustrating and a waste of money.
Ha! I told them! After getting such a horrible survey response, I bet the Taskstream people will come to their senses and close shop for good.
No need to thank me, I’m just doing my small part to make the world a better place.
Friday, December 12, 2008
The other night I was up late working on my term paper about metaphors and somehow I ended up learning about Steve Vaught, a.k.a., the Fat Man Walking. Have you ever heard about this guy? He weighed 400 pounds and he was depressed so he decided to take charge of his life and to take charge of his weight and he walked across the country! He lived in San Diego and he walked all the way from San Diego to New York City, in 2005 and 2006. He got tons of media attention back then. Now he gets less media attention, because he’s old news, I suppose. His story is no longer current.
Steve Vaught took a laptop along with him on his walk across the nation, and he maintained a website, which is at the other end of this link:
That night when I first discovered Steve Vaught I spent about two hours reading his journal. I was procrastinating homework, you understand. I didn’t read the entire thing, but I read a good chunk of it. It felt really immediate and natural and honest, and I thought I had stumbled on to something really special. I thought I had stumbled on to the Great American Story. And I know it sounds funny, but I kind of felt like Steve and I were kindred spirits, that we were feeling the same emotions and thinking the same thoughts. It was like Steve and I transcended our own individuality, somehow, and entered into eachother's minds.
Steve’s journal shared a lot of elements with On the Road and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Into The Wild. Enjoying the freedom of the open road, battling with demons from the past, relying on the kindness of strangers, getting into adventures, having lots of time alone with one’s own brain- all the stuff I like to read about.
Well, as I was stressed out about doing one of my last papers for the fall 2008 semester, the idea of leaving it all and running away appealed to me. After a few minutes of reading Steve’s online journal, I was emotionally invested in this guy. I wanted him to get to New York and I wanted him to lose weight and I wanted him to become more emotionally healthy, and I wanted him to demonstrate to the nation what a little perseverance and determination and wanderlust can do. I think I even said to myself that night, when I was emotionally invested in the Fat Man Walking, that Steve Vaught was my new hero.
Here’s some stuff that he wrote in his journal and published on his website that particularly inspired me:
I will make it to New York because it is important for more than just myself to do so. Unless I decide to stop at the New York state border, seven miles short of Times Square, and then just go home having failed to reach my goal. Either way I still win because I will be a happier and healthier person because of the experience. Incredibly, so will all of you, because everyone who encourages a person to face down their fears and freely walk into the firestorm of their own personal demons, has helped more than just that person. They have helped all of us, because there is one more happier person in the world.
Isn’t that inspiring? Doesn’t he sound determined and wise? I agree with Steve that one more happy person in the world helps the whole world, somehow.
Here’s another wonderful tidbit I copied and pasted from his online journal:
Is it a diet that we need or a comedy club? Do we really need to learn to count carbs and run screaming from fats or do we need to learn to let go and try to live a happy life. In the process defeating the demons and taking away the things that hold us down. I don’t know the answer, I am looking just like everyone else but what I do know is that the answers that we have so far are not working all that well and maybe it is time for some new ones. Happiness seems like a good place to start. Now go and call someone that you haven’t talked to in a while and let them know that you were thinking about them. Then sit back and consider the ripple effect of so simple a gesture.
Wisdom! Truth! Inspiration! Hooray!
Steve became sort of a celebrity, and lots of overweight people were so inspired by his story that they began to go on long walks and get into shape and they began to take charge of their lives. People may dismiss this whole story and the Steve-followers as pop-psychology, or watered-down philosophy, or watered-down spirituality, kind of like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, but… it seemed to be working for a lot of people and it seemed to be inspiring a lot of people, and Steve’s journey seemed to be a force of good in the world.
His description of the countryside was beautiful. I could just imagine him out there, on the side of the road, walking and walking and walking. Walking off a little ways from the road at the end of the day to set up his tent and sleeping bag, seeing the sun set in the evening, seeing the sun rise in the morning, not being confined by the walls of some third-story apartment.
I was especially excited when Steve went through Flagstaff and through the Route 66 area. He stayed on Route 66 for a long time, I believe. There’s something so American about that pathway, the mother road, winding through the heartland of America, all the way from Chicago to L.A., wandering through the thickest part of the country. So much history happened there, on Route 66. (And so many souvenirs are for sale in gift shops along Route 66 now!)
But something about Steve’s journey wasn’t right. My first tip-off that something was amiss was that he left his wife and kids to go walk across the country. He was just going to leave them alone, and the Vaught family wasn’t too well off financially, either. But at the outset of his journey he said that when he got back from his journey, he would be a better father and a better husband. So I went along with the story and I agreed with Steve. “It’s good that he’s making this cross-country trek,” I said to myself. He just needs a little time and space to breathe and exercise and get his head together, you know what I mean? We all need time like that. And since his case was extreme, since he was very overweight and very depressed, he needed an extreme solution- he needed to walk across the country!
It all sounded so romantic.
And then I read that he got a divorce.
A few months into his journey, and… Steve and his wife decided to get a divorce. What?! Where did that come from? His journals made no mention of problems in his marriage, really. In his journal he focused on the beauty of the nature and he gave impromptu sermons on how to treat other people decently and how to live an emotionally and spiritually full life.
I thought that all his newfound head-clarity would make him more content with his marriage. I thought part of the purpose of him walking was to improve his marriage, not end it. But Steve wrote something like, “This is my journey. This is my life. I’m doing it on my own terms. I can share or withhold as much personal information as I deem appropriate. Only my wife and I know what’s really going on with our marriage, and you don’t know us well enough to criticize our decision to get divorced.”
“Fair enough,” I thought. “I understand that I can’t fully understand Steve's situation. I don’t really know what he’s going through. Who am I to judge this man who is doing so much good for the world?”
I kept reading his journal.
And then something else happened to make me doubt Steve’s majesty: he got tons and tons of corporate sponsorships. Lots of companies learned about his story and they gave him backpacks and shoes and money for hotel rooms and stuff like that.
But really I didn’t mind all that. After all, Steve wasn’t asking for that stuff, he was just graciously accepting attention and products. Wouldn’t you do the same if you were in his place?
Then something else suspicious happened. He decided to take a month off and go train in Los Angeles with some hotshot personal trainer named Eric the Trainer. Eric the Trainer paid to have Steve flown out to Los Angeles and live at his gym and work out for a month, right in the middle of his cross-country journey.
That sounded fishy. It sounded like Steve was selling out. It sounded like he was giving up the romance of the road for a comfy life in some swanky gym in LA. What was that all about? But, again, Steve was in charge of his own narrative, and he explained it all perfectly. He talked about how walking was getting his lower body in pretty good shape, and it was helping him lose weight, but his upper body wasn’t getting any attention. Once again, Steve wrote something like, “This isn’t a movie. This is my life. I don’t care if anybody thinks that the ‘story’ should be different. I’m just an honest man doing the best I can to make things right.” I believed him, and I was enthralled with his story.
I kept reading, and finally, over a year after he set out from San Diego, and after filling up a lot of pages in his journal, Steve got to New York City.
Hooray! He was on Oprah! And the Today Show! And on a lot of news programs!
But that was just the climax of his media attention. Steve had actually been followed a long way by a documentary crew, and nearly every little town that he walked through sent out their local newspaper and did a story on him. His website also received something like a gazillion hits a day.
“Hooray!” I thought. The story was over and his life was better in so many ways. A book deal was in the works, a documentary was being made about him, he had offers to walk across Europe or to walk in different cities, or to somehow take part in the giant industry that gets money from fat people who want to look like the people they see in magazines and on TV.
But then I wanted to know about where Steve was now. I left Steve’s website and I googled him. And I quickly became very disturbed. You have to understand that this was all going on late at night, when my emotions were heightened, when tears came easily.
Well… the documentary failed. They finished making the film, but nobody would buy it or distribute it. The book deal failed, too. In fact, the publishing company sued Steve for something like 70 grand because he apparently signed something and the publishing company already spent a lot of money on a ghostwriter and Steve hated the book and broke his contract or something.
Here’s another crazy thing. Steve won’t let anybody see him step on a scale. Nobody really knows what his final weight was. Steve claims to have lost about 110 pounds on his journey across America, but at the end of the journey, Steve’s still a very fat man. Just look at pictures of him. It doesn’t really look like he transformed himself very much at all. And one of the guys on the documentary crew said that Steve couldn’t have lost more than 40 pounds on his entire trip. Remember, Steve started out weighing 400 pounds, and he spent a month in a fancy LA gym, and he spent more than a year walking across the country… so, you would think that he would have lost a little more weight, right?
Well, after Steve’s big NYC appearance, someone other than Steve paid for him to get a flight back to San Diego.
And then I read this news article about how only a week after he arrived in New York City with a huge crowd of people cheering him on, only a week after he was featured on Oprah, he was back in San Diego, broke and homeless.
Rumors surfaced. Rumors about how much Steve had actually walked. Maybe he got a lot of secret rides across the country. What were his next plans? He was a car mechanic or something before, would he go back to that line of work? No, he said, he wouldn’t do that. He never wanted to do that again. His next plans didn’t really involve getting a job at all.
His plan for the future was to just roam the world, relying on the kindness of strangers.
Sounds wonderful, huh? Kind of wonderful and romantic… roaming the world… seeing the sights… meeting people… thinking, keeping a journal…
Does it sound wonderful and romantic, like Steve Vaught is really in tune with something that we who stay in one place and hold down jobs are not? Or does it sound like Steve’s crazy? Or a false prophet, or… just a guy looking for 15 minutes of fame, or... misguided?
Who was this man?
Who was Steve Vaught?
Was he a hero? Was he a fraud? I really want to know.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I've been paying attention to the news somewhat lately, and it seems like the stories that interest me are the ones about people or things that just seem out of the ordinary.
Three girls took a bath in the deep sink of a Kentucky Fried Chicken and they took pictures of themselves and put it on the Internet. That's the story.
And some technical scientific genius made himself a robot wife, sort of, and he lives with her. I wonder if she’s real enough to have a soul. Some technical genius in Canada, I think.
And someone found a skeleton somewhere. I don't know all the details, but there was a skull involved. A skull that fell out of a trash bag.
Oh, and in other news, the news industry isn’t doing well. Well, the newspaper industry isn’t doing well. People aren’t reading the newspaper much anymore.
Uh… OJ Simpson got sentenced to serve some jail time…
There’s some kind of uproar about corruption having to do with the Senate seat in Illinois or something… bribery or something is going on…
This next thing isn’t new news, but something funny I heard about recently was online hunting.
There's this company that rigged up a webcam to a rifle, and you can pay to go on their website and aim the gun at a deer and shoot the deer and kill it in real life and the company will dress it for you and fix it all up and ship it to your house. Pretty crazy, huh?
“Frank, I’m a buzzard.” The buzzard said, standing in the kitchen.
The sound of the bird-voice startled Frank. He spun his head around and looked at the buzzard.
“I came to tell you that you are the Chosen One,” and then the buzzard added, “No I’m just kidding.” Neither of them laughed.
The buzzard looked at Frank and Frank looked at the buzzard. They had an eyeball connection. Like a soul/karma thing.
Frank waited for the buzzard to speak again. It was a few seconds before he did.
“Frank, stop looking at me. And stop looking at those houses. Come out to the balcony with me.”
Funny, Frank never realized that he had a balcony before. But the buzzard walked Frank over to the balcony, and there it was- a balcony.
The buzzard put his wing around Frank and Frank began to feel more comfortable. It was a friendly buzzard.
“See this neighborhood?” The buzzard motioned with the wing that wasn’t around Frank’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” Frank said.
“This is your neighborhood and I’m a buzzard.”
It sounded obvious, but the way that the buzzard said it, it was like it was profound, and true. “This is your neighborhood and I’m a buzzard.” It was so simple. Yeah. And it was true. Truer than… than a lot of things you think are true but really they’re just well intentioned things that are nice but not really true because they can’t be true because they’re just opinions, like “That sweater looks good on you.”
Then the buzzard was gone and Frank was back inside and the balcony was gone, too.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Maybe you're tired of me talking about global warming, but I just have to tell somebody something, because right now I'm worked up. I just went to the Drudge Report and read an article, written by a reporter for the Associated Press, at
which is about how man-made global warming has been proven by the UN IPCC (United Nations Inter-governmental Committee on Climate Change) at the latest IPCC meeting in Poland.
And then I read another article about how global warming has not been proven. This second article said that there are 650 skeptical international scientists speaking up about global warming! 650!
Bwaaaahhhh!!!! This global warming stuff is making me crazy!!!
Here's the link to the second, better article:
Why does everybody I know (no, not everybody I know, but a lot of people at college I know) blindly accept that man-made global warming is real? It infuriates me! One of my college professors, in the English department, not the science department, mind you, said in a cock-sure manner, during a lecture, "Come on, is there any question any more that global warming is happening?"
And I regret to say that I was a coward, and I didn't voice my skepticism. I guess I felt intimidated and out-numbered. But one other brave student said, "I don't think there's any debate that it's happening, but I think there still is some debate about if it's human-caused or not." Bless his heart.
To make up for my cowardice, I told the English 105 class that I teach that I didn’t believe in man-made global warming, so, you know- and I'm writing on my blog about it - so, I feel like I'm doing my duty as a citizen of the USA and as a trying-to-be-honest man, you know what I mean?
Please read the article from the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the article at the other end of the second link, and tell everyone you know, and get involved, and write to your political representatives or something! Hopefully we can start to shift the madness about global warming in this country, and the world can stop wasting money on a non-problem. It’s just insane about how much money we’re spending on global warming- billions and billions of dollars - and what good has become of all that money being spent? NOTHING!!!
I’d be happier if politicians spent the money they were spending on global warming on jewels or cars or ridiculously over-priced outfits or booze for themselves - at least that would stimulate the economy! Or, if the government stopped throwing money down the global warming vortex, they could, I don’t know, pay off their debts, or give it back to the American people, you know, the taxpayers- the workers who give the government their money in the first place. Just a thought.
Global warming isn't real!
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
But this semester in ENG 500: Graduate Literary Studies, I learned about a lot of different types of literary theories. Literary theories are lenses through which you look at a text. Or in some cases, a literary theory just seems to concentrate on one thing more than another. Like, feminist literary critics look for feminist stuff in a text, Marxist critics look at power relations and economic concerns in a text, and post-colonial critics look at the effects of colonization (the spreading of the British Empire, the cultural American stuff being exported to other countries, etc.) in a text.
I wanted to write a mock essay proposing a new kind of literary criticism that I invented, Unicornism, in which I look for unicorns in texts where it looks like there are no unicorns. But if the serious unicornist scholar looks hard enough, there’s bound to be unicorns, or at least unicorn-ish undertones or unicornist imagery, in say, I don’t know, King Lear, the Raven, and even in those little jingles little girls sing when they play hopscotch. I started the mock essay a while back and it was funny for a paragraph or two, but then I got bored, so I quit.
Anyway, for my essay that I put in my last blog post, I chose a psychoanalytic perspective, and so was concerned with stuff like the subconscious and the conscious mind and the Oedipal complex and wacko-Freudian stuff like that.
My English 500 class used the second edition of the textbook Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, by Peter Barry. That book provided a quick survey of several different theoretical platforms that “professional” literary critics use. (I put professional in quotation marks because it’s unclear what professional really means in the case of literary critics. I mean, who pays somebody to sit around and read books and write scholarly articles about literature?) The book covers liberal humanism, structuralism, post-structuralism and deconstruction, postmodernism, psychoanalytic criticism, feminist criticism, lesbian/gay criticism, Marxist criticism, New historicism and cultural materialism, postcolonial criticism, stylistics, narratology, and ecocriticism.
That list of theories seems daunting, I know. It still seems daunting to me after I took a class on it. But what’s important to realize is that there are mountains and mountains of academic journals filled with mountains and mountains of articles on literary criticism.
Where do all those journals come from? Who writes them? Who subscribes to them?
Well, imagine all the colleges in the world. Probably most of those colleges have an English or a literature department. And probably most of those English or literature departments have faculty members trying to get tenure or trying to get a better job somewhere else. One way to get tenure or to secure a different, better job at a University is to get published in an academic journal. So there’s a ga-zillion college professors who try to get published in these things.
Of course, I’m sure that for the most part they really care about what they’re writing about, and I’m sure the subscribers to the academic journals also really do care about the quality of the articles, somewhat… but… sometimes it’s hard for me to care about all those different theories and all those different literary interpretations. Who cares about the feminist undertones in some novel you’ve never heard of? Why is literary criticism important, or is it important?
Literary theories and those who practice them seem worlds away from guys like Joe Six-pack and Joe the Plumber, you know what I mean? It’s like literary critics go off in their own little world and talk about stuff that has virtually no real-world application.
That doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing to talk about books in a scholarly way, though. And that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing to set up mental structures like feminist criticism or deconstruction so that interested scholars can agree on terms and ideas, and so that interested scholars can more easily communicate. Joe Six-pack’s a great guy for sure, but, he’s just not familiar with the world of literary criticism, so he can’t communicate with literary critics about literary criticism stuff.
I’ve often thought that I enjoy reading literature much more than I enjoy literary criticism. Have you ever tried reading literary criticism? It’s a lot like my last blog post, only denser, duller, and longer.
But what I really wanted to talk about in this blog post was the first type of literary criticism covered by Peter Barry, liberal humanism. See, before we’re taught in school that things in novels represent things, we have natural reactions to the books that we read. You know, we relate to certain characters; we hope that one character will die or just go away, and we hope that two particular characters will fall in love. And a lot of times after we read a book, we think, (or at least I think) what was the moral, or the main thrust, of that book? What lesson did I learn? Am I in some way enriched after reading that book? This “natural reaction,” generally speaking, is at the heart of liberal humanism.
Barry says that liberal humanism is sort of literary theory before literary theory came around, if that makes sense. He says that if you claim to practice literary criticism, but don’t know which flavor of literary criticism you subscribe to (New Historicism, postmodern, etc.) then you are a liberal humanist literary critic.
Peter Barry lays out “Ten Tenets of Liberal Humanism,” in his book on pages 16 – 20. One of my favorites is # 1 “The first thing, naturally, is an attitude to literature itself; good literature is of timeless significance; it somehow transcends the limitations and peculiarities of the age it was written in, and thereby speaks to what is constant in human nature.” Mmmm, that sounds good. I like that.
Another good tenet is # 6:
“The purpose of literature is essentially the enhancement of life and the propagation of humane values; but not in a programmatic way: if literature, and criticism, become overtly and directly political they necessarily tend towards propaganda. And as Keats said, ‘we distrust literature which has a palpable design upon us,’ that is, literature which too obviously wants to convert us or influence our views.” (I think this one applies to novels and poetry and stuff, but not to the Scriptures. The Scriptures have a very clear message, and the people who write them are unashamedly trying to convert us.)
I think liberal humanism appeals to me more than any other literary theory because I am a Mormon. I believe that we are all spirit children of a Heavenly Father, who loves us, and so we are all spirit brothers and sisters. I believe that everyone born on this earth has the Spirit of Christ shining in him or her. I believe in an absolute, objective reality. I believe that “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my [God’s] ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
In contrast to having faith in God and in an ordered universe, some literary criticism nearly requires the literary critic to believe in a “decentered universe,” (Barry 62) a universe with no absolutes. A lot of these theories say that basically there is no such thing as reality, there is only language. Nietzsche, for example, said somewhere, “there are no facts, only interpretations.” Operating off of a relativist platform such as this, how can you ever talk about a fixed “human nature” or “morality”?
Do you see why literary theory doesn’t play nicely with my religious convictions? Do you see why I had a little bit of a tough time in ENG 500, being presented with all these secular types of literary criticism? Here’s an example of why some of the literary theory stuff conflicts with my views: On the first page on the chapter on post-structuralism, Barry is comparing structuralism to post-structuralism. He writes:
“…one of structuralism’s characteristic views is the notion that language doesn’t just reflect or record the world: rather, it shapes it, so that how we see is what we see. The post-structuralist maintains that the consequences of this belief are that we enter a universe of radical uncertainty, since we can have no access to any fixed landmark which is beyond linguistic processing, and hence we have no certain standard by which to measure anything” (Barry 61).
That’s a little bit like the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, and it’s a little bit like my salt and pepper anecdote, that I put in a previous blog post, you know, the idea that language doesn’t merely reflect reality, but that language shapes reality. And because everybody speaks a different language and because everybody has his or her own idiolect, there is no fixed reality. In other words, everybody creates their own reality with the language they use.
Moving on a little bit, but sort of staying on the same subject a little bit, and rambling a little bit, I was talking with a friend the other day from my Graduate Literary Studies class. He was talking about how with language, you could defend pretty much any thesis and get an A on the paper. It’s just like Ed White wrote in his My five paragraph theme- theme. “Does God exist? Well, you can say yes and give three reasons or no and give three different reasons. It doesn’t really matter. You’re sure to get a good grade whatever you pick to put into the formula.”
Rhetoric is so powerful. It’s funny, you know we say that you can “twist the truth” by the words you use. But really you can never really “twist the Truth,” with a capitol T. The Truth is unchangeable. No matter what we say about it, no matter what words we use to describe it, the Truth is True forever.
Godless literary critics, godless philosophers, and godless scientists, are basically building a modern Tower of Babel. They are trusting in their own intellect and talents and strength to get to… I was going to say “Heaven” but maybe I should say “Mental Utopia” or “Enlightenment” or “Ultimate Awareness.”
Maybe you think that even though some of the literary theoretical platforms don’t set well with me, I could just play the game. You know, I could set aside my beliefs and practice post-structuralism or post modernism or something like that. I agree that I could do that for a little bit, just for the sake of the class, but why would I ever choose to do it outside of class? When I have a yummy steak with sautéed mushrooms and a big fluffy roll on a warm plate before me, why would I choose to eat oatmeal?
I am not advocating that Mormons or people of faith retreat from the world and all attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah or anything like that. I’m not saying that we ought to refuse to participate in anything secular or not totally in line with our religion and morals. After all, the thirteenth LDS Article of Faith says, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” But if we’ve looked into something a little bit, like post-structuralism or godless literary criticism, and seen that it is empty, why should we continue practicing it?
Monday, December 8, 2008
He Laughed, Then Became Serious: Subconscious Desires of the Russian in Heart of Darkness and Marlow in Youth
December 8th, 2008
In this article, “He Laughed, Then Became Serious: Subconscious Desires of the Russian in Heart of Darkness and Marlow in Youth”, author Telemoonfa gives a close reading of the Russian and Marlow from a psychoanalytic perspective. Telemoonfa compares and contrasts the two characters, giving special attention to their youth and sense of romance and adventure. After giving many examples of the subconscious mind coming through from the texts of these two works by Conrad, Telemoonfa concludes that the Russian’s and Marlow’s subconscious desires are very different from their conscious desires.
He Laughed, Then Became Serious: Subconscious Desires of the Russian in Heart of Darkness and Marlow in Youth
The Russian that looks like a harlequin in Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness and Marlow in Youth both have subconscious desires that are not recognizable to the hasty reader. But a more thorough reading, and a psychoanalytical outlook, brings their subconscious desires to light. In this paper I will compare and contrast the two characters and see what darkness I can glean from their brains.
Both the Russian and the Marlow in Youth are literally young. (From now on in this paper I will refer to Marlow in Youth as “Marlow B”, so as to distinguish the Marlow in Youth from Marlow A, the Marlow in Heart of Darkness.) Conrad actually gives us precise ages. The Russian plainly says, “I am twenty-five,” (Conrad 124) and Marlow B is twenty years old (4).
Age seems to be an important, defining characteristic of Marlow B and the Russian, especially in Youth, as age comes up quite a bit in the story. Marlow’s youth is contrasted with the age of Captain Beard and Mahon. Upon first meeting Captain Beard and Mahon, Marlow B says, “between those two old chaps I felt like a small boy between two grandfathers” (5). Later in the story Marlow B says, “I had never noticed so much before how twisted and bowed [Captain Beard] was. He and Mahon prowled soberly about hatches and ventilators, sniffing. It struck me suddenly poor Mahon was a very, very old chap. As to me, I was as pleased and proud as though I had helped to win a great naval battle. O Youth!” (22). One can picture Marlow standing up proudly, showing off imaginary medals on his chest, drinking in the fun and the adventure of it all, whereas the two older sailors, “grandfathers”, are looking somber and jaded.
The Russian and Marlow B are literally young in body, but they are also figuratively young in mind. The Russian has lived a vagabond life. He ran away from his father, an archpriest, and ran away from his hometown of Tambov. He wandered around aimlessly, not engaging in commerce or in the usual vocations of young men, until somehow he stumbled upon Kurtz’s ivory kingdom in the heart of the African jungle. Marlow A says of the Russian’s wanderings and of his youth, “For months- for years- his life hadn’t been worth a day’s purchase;” In other words, the Russian had not been working and earning money. The Russian had not been growing up or assimilating to typical culture. “and there he was gallantly, thoughtlessly alive, to all appearance indestructible solely by the virtue of his few years and of his unreflecting audacity” (126). To further illustrate how the Russian was figuratively young as well as literally young, Marlow A says of him, “The glamour of youth enveloped his parti-colored rags,” and “If the absolutely pure, uncalculating, unpractical spirit of adventure had ever ruled a human being, it ruled this be-patched youth” (126).
When it comes to a carefree attitude, Marlow B’s youth is different from the Russian’s youth, though. Marlow B does not wander around like the Russian does. Marlow B signs up to work for a company that is in the business of shipping things via the sea. He takes the responsibility of second mate, and performs his duties well, but he does not take responsibility for the cargo the way that the older gentlemen on the ship did, or even the way that the stockholders back in London did. But Marlow B’s youth and spirit of adventure is illustrated in this scene: The Judea is near sinking, and everybody on the ship has to take turns using pumps to get saltwater out of the boat and back into the ocean. Marlow sees “By the light of the lantern brought on deck to examine the sounding-rod I caught a glimpse of their weary, serious faces” (11). But imagine how Marlow B’s face would have looked when he exclaimed, after hours and hours of pumping the water out of the ship, and while still in the act of pumping the water, “By Jove! This is the deuce of an adventure- something you read about; and it is my first voyage as second mate- and I am only twenty… I was pleased. I would not have given up the experience for worlds. I had moments of exultation” (12). In contrast to the old, weary faces of the other men pumping out the water, Marlow B’s face must have been joyful, because he had the spirit of youth inside of him.
Even though the Russian’s idea of youth and adventure was more reckless than Marlow B’s idea of youth and adventure, they both sound an awful like Henry David Thoreau, who went to the woods because he “wished to live deliberately” (Thoreau 490). Only Thoreau was more methodical, calculating and economical in his approach to his adventure. Nevertheless, looking closely into Marlow B, the Russian, and Thoreau, we see in their ideas of youth and adventure an abandonment of typical endeavors, a journey, a sense of independence, a retreat from society, and self-reliance, wonderment at the sensation of being alive, and a soaking-up of the magic of life.
Another similarity that the Russian and Marlow B share is their unusual emotions. Marlow B seems emotionally distanced from the rest of the crew. He does not mention any real friendships he developed with his shipmates, although the entire voyage lasted over a year, and surely they must have gotten lonely, all alone out there, on the boat, at sea. Further, Marlow B’s emotions do not coincide with the emotions of the rest of the crew. While the rest of the crew is miserable, and tired, Marlow B is off in la-la land, fancying himself as the hero in some grand adventure, much like Don Quixote fighting windmills as he thinks he’s fighting giants. In reality, the voyage of the Judea is a complete financial failure. The cargo, 600 tons of coal, ends up at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, along with the burned remains of the Judea. But Marlow B didn’t care. As he puts it, “…the owner, the underwriters, and the charterers squabbled amongst themselves in London, and our pay went on” (Conrad 16).
As for the Russian, he is a mess of emotions. Indeed, I would go so far as to diagnose the Russian as manic-depressive. Notice the way that the Russian talks, in garbled speech and disjointed thoughts, in sentence fragments, like a smooth stone skipping on a lake, jumping from subject to subject (The ellipses are quoted, not my addition).
“You don’t talk to [Kurtz]- you listen to him,” he exclaimed with great exaltation. “But now” He waved his arm, and in the twinkling of an eye was in the uttermost depths of despondency. In a moment he came up again with a jump, possessed himself of both my hands, shook them continuously, while he gabbled: “Brother sailor … honor… pleasure… delight… introduce myself… Russian… son of an arch-priest… government of Tambov… What? Tobacco! English tobacco; the excellent English tobacco! Now, that’s brotherly. Smoke? Where’s a sailor that does not smoke?” (123)
The text also says of the Russian’s rapidly shifting moods, “His face was like the autumn sky, overcast one moment and bright the next” (122). His roller-coaster emotions have a manifestation not only in his facial expressions but also in the clothes he is wearing. The Russian’s clothes, like his emotions, are multi-colored and sewn together.
I have now reviewed some of the striking similarities between Marlow B and the Russian. My next object is to investigate what is going on inside their subconscious minds, as opposed to their conscious minds, and propose possible interpretations concerning their repressed desires and thoughts. I will treat Marlow B first and the Russian second.
Marlow B consciously thinks he is nigh immortal, but his unconscious mind is fearful of death. His subconscious fears of death creep up and peek through, as it were, in bits of the text.
Throughout Youth, Marlow B brings up death and death imagery frequently. Here are a few examples: Marlow says that the ship, Judea, as it was burning and sinking, “burned furiously; mournful and imposing like a funeral pile” (35). Marlow remembers Judea, “as you would think of someone dead” (12). When the people on the ship were desperately pumping water out, Marlow B says, “We pumped watch and watch, for dear life; and it seemed to last for months, for years, for all eternity, as though we had been dead and gone to a hell for sailors” (12). Again, when they were pumping water, the sailors were “without spirit enough in [them] to wish [them]selves dead” (12). Again on page twelve, we learn of the words written on the Judea’s stern: “Judea, London. Do or die.” Death and dying is constantly brought up.
Death is also brought up in less obvious and more telling ways. Near the beginning of the voyage, Marlow B describes the weather this way: “It was January, and the weather was beautiful – the beautiful sunny winter weather that has more charm than in the summer-time, because it is expected, and crisp, and you know it won’t it can’t last long” (10). Is it too much of a stretch to say that the sunny weather is like life, and the cold weather is like death? Marlow knows subconsciously that the icy hand of death is coming just as he knows consciously that the icy weather of winter is coming. It is important to note that the subconscious information does not come out consciously, so that even though Marlow B is not aware of it, the carefully reading psychoanalytic critic can spot the subconscious’s mind coming through (Barry, 105).
Another spot where Marlow B’s deep-rooted fear of death is made manifest is when Marlow B is watching the ship sink. The burning and sinking of the ship is like death, the sadness, severity and absoluteness of death. “The unconsumed stern was the last to sink; but the paint had gone, had cracked, had peeled off, and there were no letters, there was no word, no stubborn device that was like her soul, to flash at the rising sun her creed and her name” (Conrad, 35). We can see from that quote that the sinking ship is dying without any last words, any last requests, or any last meal, so to speak. Judea, in her final moments, is a nameless, creedless, mess of burned wood and coal that sinks into the infinite, pitiless sea.
Elsewhere Marlow B compares the mercilessness of the sea to the mercilessness of time. Marlow B says that time is, “more cruel, more pitiless, more bitter than the sea” (30). And what comes at the end of every mortal’s time? What happens when time is through with its short day of mercy? We all know the answer. Death, of course. Death.
Thus we see that Marlow B is subconsciously afraid of death. Subconsciously, he wants to cheat death, to go on living forever. Marlow says, “I remember… the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort- to death” (36, 37).
Marlow B also reveals his subconscious desire to go on gallantly living forever when he speaks of reading Sartor Resartus. “I didn’t understand much of [Sartor Resartus] then; but I remember I preferred the soldier to the philosopher at the time; a preference which life has only confirmed” (7). At first reading, this statement might seem insignificant to the story. In fact, it is out of place in the plot of Youth. Most of the story focuses on the adventures and fun times that Marlow B was having, and about the itinerary of Judea’s journey from London to Bangkok, but for some reason Marlow B stops his narrative to tell us about some books that he read in his free time. Why is the business about the books included in the story? I think it’s included because it is a release of Marlow B’s subconscious. It is very telling that the young, adventurous, but secretly scared of death, Marlow B prefers soldiers to philosophers. Philosophers tend to sit around thinking about death, thinking about reality, and the purpose, if any, of life. But soldiers do not think about death and life the way that philosophers do. They cannot. If soldiers were to think of death in the midst of battlefield combat, they would freeze, they would enter a state of mental paralysis, and be killed by the enemy. Furthermore, if soldiers stopped to think about what it could mean to put an end to the life of another man, perhaps they would not kill so hastily. Marlow B does not want to think about these weighty matters. He prefers mindless adventure. He prefers the motto on the ship’s stern, “do or die.”
Marlow B’s preferment of the soldier’s life to the philosopher’s life does not change, and his conscious love of youth and his unconscious fear of death also do not change throughout the story. That is odd, because most stories have the protagonist change, like Ebenezer Scrooge discovering the true meaning of Christmas. But in Youth, according to W. F. Wright, “There is no revolution of character; Marlow when he arrives is as young and unthinking as when he started” (Wright 11). If there was no moral of the story, no getting older and getting wiser, then the reader might ask, what’s the point, or the interest, of the story? Wright explains,
“The interest [in Youth] is neither dramatic or epic; it is lyric. And every detail of description and incident is to be enjoyed for itself alone. The only inherent connection between the details is their vivid and precise picturing of the youth’s living from moment to moment, absorbed exclusively in that moment and dominated by one basic emotion, a feeling of the magical nature of being alive. The buffeting of the waves does not increase his courage; it does not teach him anything. But it does require his undivided attention. It gives intensity to his sensations, in which intensity only can he be said most fully to live… [Marlow B] has succeeded in isolating and discovering with Conrad the profundity of wonder, and profundity which only intensity and singleness of focus can give” (11, 12).
Marlow B lives in the sunshine of life while he can, subconsciously knowing that the chill of death will eventually come. We have seen through several examples that Marlow B is fixated on death, but I also wonder if his drinking habit is a way of becoming a solider and not a philosopher, a way of forestalling death. Remember that numerous times during his storytelling, Marlow B says, “Pass the bottle” (10, 12, 16, 21, 24), and on the last page of the story, the anonymous narrator says of Marlow, “He drank,” and “He drank again” (42). Clearly Marlow drinks like a sailor.
In addition to his fear of death, Marlow B is also subconsciously desirous to overthrow his elders and to become the captain of the ship, or at least to obtain some role of authority. He often boasts of his own strength. For example, when they are pumping water out of the ship, Marlow B says, “here I am lasting it out as well as any of these men, and keeping my chaps to the mark” (12).
Later in the story, after Judea has sunk and the little emergency boats are on their way to Java, Marlow B is determined to get to land first. He was ordered to stay close to the long boat, in case of bad weather, but Marlow B expressed, “I wanted my first command all to myself. I wasn’t going to sail in a squadron if there were a chance for independent cruising. I would make land by myself. I would beat the other boats” (34). Of course Marlow B knows consciously that he wants to beat the other boats, but what he doesn’t understand or think about is why he wants to beat the other boats to shore. Freudian psychology tells us that Marlow B, like most men, has a form of the Oedipal complex. He subconsciously wants to kill his “grandfathers,” Captain Beard and Mahon, and become the leader. But consciously, he will settle for the trivial bragging rights of making it to land before the other boats do.
Now for an examination of the Russian’s subconscious. Several literary critics have discussed the Russian before. (In general, more work has been done on Heart of Darkness than on Youth.) In an article that discusses how the minor characters in Heart of Darkness shed light on the mysteriousness of Kurtz, Gelaff writes, “Although commentators have seen the Russian as anything from the archetypal harlequin to Kurtz’s Fool to Conrad’s way of exercising his anti-Russian biases, the character sketch mainly emphasizes the naiveté and the strangeness of such a personality in such foreboding circumstances” (Gelaff 128). Most of the research that Gelaff cites, though, is more about the Russian’s role in the plot of the novella, whereas I am more concerned with what’s going on inside the Russian’s mind.
Before examining the Russian’s head, though, it’s fitting to analyze the setting in which we find the Russian, as compared to Marlow B’s situation. After all, the environment in which one lives, and the experiences one is performer of or subjected to, have a great impact on one’s conscious and unconscious mind. We find the Russian in the middle of the jungle, the heart of darkness, with Kurtz, a madman. He lives in a place where the decapitated heads of natives surround Kurtz’s dwelling. The Russian has possibly participated in the midnight rituals of the natives. The Russian had been practically alone for two years and has somehow found himself in an area of the jungle that Marlow A tells the men sitting peacefully on the Nellie on the Thames, “I assure you that never, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness” (127). Indeed, the entire mood of Heart of Darkness is much more dark and foreboding than the light-hearted mood in Youth. I could go on about the terrible circumstances that the Russian lived under, but suffice it to say that the Russian has had more traumatic experiences than Marlow B has had, and those traumatic experiences, no doubt, have had a profound impact on the Russian’s mind.
Consciously, the Russian is in love with Kurtz. Not in a romantic or sexual way, but much like the love that a zealot has for a deity. The fanatic devotion, or the blind faith, that the Russian has for Kurtz is manifested when The Russian says, “You can’t judge Mr. Kurtz as you would an ordinary man. No, no, no! Now- just to give you an idea- I don’t mind telling you, he wanted to shoot me, too, one day- but I don’t judge him.” (128). After the Russian tells Marlow A the story about how Mr. Kurtz nearly killed him for a tiny bit of ivory, Marlow says that Mr. Kurtz must be insane. But the Russian readily defends Kurtz, saying that if Marlow A had just heard Kurtz talk for a while, then Marlow A would understand things better, and would have never even hinted that Kurtz is crazy (129). It’s as if the Russian has had a mystic experience while talking with Kurtz, a religious, mystic experience that the Russian can never properly explain. And when the Russian does try to explain his mind-expanding all-night talks with Kurtz, it comes out like this: “It was in general. He made me see things- things” (127). (The questions follow: Are the Russian’s conversations with Kurtz unexplainable because they are inherently incommunicable, like mystic experiences? Or, are the conversations with Kurtz unexplainable because there’s actually no substance to them? Those questions could be the subject of another paper.)
Consciously, the Russian adores Kurtz, and will defend every action that Kurtz takes, whether it be abandoning the station for weeks at a time, killing the natives and putting their heads on sticks, making the natives crawl whenever they approach Kurtz, or even attempting to kill the Russian for a small bit of ivory.
Subconsciously, though, the Russian is afraid that Kurtz is a false god. The Russian must know deep down that Kurtz and his midnight sermons on love, justice, and etc. are crazy and empty. The Russian makes up for his subconscious doubt with more fanaticism and devotion. He nurses Kurtz through two illnesses, when perhaps what he wants to do subconsciously is kill Kurtz.
Consciously the Russian wants to stay with Kurtz forever in the jungle, but subconsciously he’s afraid that Kurtz is insane and they’re all going to die.
A psychoanalytic literary critic would not be too far off, I think, if he or she were to diagnose the Russian as co-dependent, in addition to being manic-depressive. After all, the Russian has become very lonely in his years of wanderings, and now that he’s found Kurtz, he can’t stand to be separated from him. To the Russian, Kurtz is a powerful father figure, a surrogate father in place of his real archpriest father he ran away from. The Russian’s son-like feelings for Kurtz are well illustrated when the Russian waits longingly when Kurtz is away in the jungle. “… but as a rule Kurtz wandered alone far in the depths of the forest. ‘Very often coming to this station, I had to wait days and days before he would turn up,’ [the Russian] said. ‘Ah, it was worth waiting for! – sometimes’” (127, 128).
We have now seen how a careful psychoanalytic reading of the Russian in Heart of Darkness and Marlow in Youth reveals their hidden desires. Marlow B consciously wants to have fun and to be a strong man and a good sailor, but subconsciously he wants to overthrow Captain Beard and become Captain Marlow. Marlow B also consciously wants to live forever, but subconsciously he knows that death will come for him just as surely as the cold winter weather will come. As for the Russian that looks like a harlequin, he consciously wants to believe that Kurtz is a God, but subconsciously is afraid that Kurtz is empty and meaningless.
Conrad, Joseph. Youth and Two Other Stories. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page and
Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. 2nd ed.
Manchester: Manchester UP, 2002.
Burgess, C. F., “Conrad’s Pesky Russian.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 18.2 (1963): 189-
Galeff, David. “The Peripheral Characters in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’” Journal of
Modern Literature 17.1 (1990): 117-138.
Reppen, Joseph, and Maurice Charney, eds. The Psychoanalytical Study of Literature.
Hillsdale, New Jersey: The Analytic Press, 1985.
Stape, J. H., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad Cambridge: Cambridge
Thoreau, Henry David. “Walden.” The American Tradition in Literature 9th ed. Ed. George
Perkins and Barbara Perkins. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999. 446- 508.
Wright, Elizabeth. Psychoanalytic Criticism: A Reappraisal. 2nd ed. New York:
Wright, Walter F. Romance and Tragedy in Joseph Conrad. New York: Russell and
Thursday, December 4, 2008
The other day I was in the writing center at NAU helping a student on a research paper on global warming. Included in her paper was the picture at the other end of this link:
(I tried my best to put the picture on my blog but I no good computers not technology.)
Now isn’t that a nice picture? So pretty and friendly and wonderful. Yes, that picture shows us all the nice things each and every one of us can do to save our planet from the oncoming threat of global warming. The end to global warming starts one person at a time. We can change our light bulbs, ride bicycles, plant trees, have no more than two kids -
Wait… uh… what was that? Have no more than two kids?
That’s right folks, to stop global warming, we should cut back on reproduction. In fact, why don’t we all do even more to save the planet by have one kid instead of two? That would be even better for the planet, right?
Hey, what about having zero children? Perfect! Obviously having no children would be the most courageous thing adults could do to stop global warming from killing us all.
The math is simple:
0 children = 0 people in a hundred years or so = happy polar bears!
Yes, if only there were fewer people around, if we could cut the population down by, oh…, 95 % or so, global warming would just go away and never bother us again! Hooray!
Well, I suppose some people could still live on the planet and not contribute to global warming, like the indigenous peoples of the world who live in harmony with the earth- people that reject the Industrial Revolution and all its evils, people like the Amish… No, not the Amish. It’s cool the way they have a really small carbon footprint, but let’s face it, the Amish are just a bunch of self-righteous animal-exploiters!
In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic.
I don’t like them wacko-extremist environmentalists!
Yee-haw! I’m a cowboy!
Seriously though, isn’t that picture disturbing? I’m sure there are people who want the carbon emissions capped and there are people who want there to be tons of global laws coming from the UN or Nobel Prize-winner Al Gore to stop us from driving our cars too much and to stop us from using the wrong light bulbs. But maybe there are people who want to enforce laws about how many kids couples can have. And maybe those people are getting more and more powerful and influential and rich and maybe the United Nations Reproduction Police will come to neuter me after the birth of my second child! Yikes!
It’s a slippery slope, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a slippery slope.
One other disturbing thing about the picture. It comes from learningfundamentals.com.au. According to the “About” section of the website, Learning Fundamentals is an organization committed to making available to all students indispensable learning techniques in an enjoyable and interactive manner.” So I guess the good people of Learning Fundamentals go to schools to speak to schoolchildren about school things. You know, school things, like, math, English, studying techniques, and the joys of eugenics.
I remember the day I hit my little brother in the head with a rock. It was a hot afternoon in the summer in southern Arizona, in a small town, named Sahuarita. It’s a copper mining town, mostly, and there’s a big pecan orchard that a lot of people work in, the biggest pecan field in the world, they say. And then there are also the people who drive to Tucson to work in the city. My father didn’t work in the copper mines, or in the pecan fields, or in Tucson. He worked, and still works to this day, for US West, the phone company, which is actually called Qwest now, because it was bought out by a phone company called Qwest. Sometimes my father has to climb telephone poles, and that worries my mother, but Dad hasn’t had a fall yet. My mother stayed home to take care of us kids and take care of the house. My Dad made enough money so Mom could stay home with the kids.
The day I hit my brother in the head with a rock was one of those lazy, carefree days of summer, when the sun comes up early and heats up the ground so that you can’t stand on it barefoot for too long. We children had nothing to do. No school, no work.
This was in the days before computers and TVs and video games came along to gobble up childhoods. Well, to tell the story truthfully, we did have a television set. It was a hulking wooden thing that sat on the floor in our living room. It only got a few fuzzy channels, and the only thing on in the long stretches of late morning and afternoon was soap operas and talk shows and other programs that didn’t interest little boys. I remember one station was in Spanish.
In those summer days when we children had nothing to do, we sometimes rode our bicycles around the neighborhood and on trails in the desert, not too far from our house. Sometimes we built tree-forts in the desert, too. Now, this wasn’t the type of desert you might be thinking of, this wasn’t the Great Sahara desert where water never runs and bushes don’t grow higher than a foot. No, this particular desert had some Palo Verde trees, which is a type of tree with green bark for those of you who aren’t familiar with the plants that grow in southern Arizona. And other types of trees, trees I don’t know the names of, grew to be at least twenty feet tall, I’d say.
Now, my memories of this time of my life, my boyhood, blend together. I can’t remember when exactly it was that me and a friend of mine went down to Anamax park one morning, found a big piece of cardboard lying around. We held that thing in front of us, ran with it, and dove on the ground and tried to see how far we could slide on the grass of the baseball field. We must have liked the park so much because there was grass there. Green grass. Everywhere else in Sahuarita there was just dirt and rocks. Oh you know, except for the golf courses, and except for some people’s lawns, but they really had to work to keep those things green.
But I remember that on that day when a friend and I slid on the ground on a big piece of cardboard, we ended getting little scrapes on our forearms. I only bring this up to tell you that I can’t remember when exactly it happened. Was I short then? Was I, say, five feet tall by that time? Was I in elementary school or in middle school? Had I got my glasses yet? No, I don’t think I had my glasses yet. But, about the other stuff, I can’t be sure.
Anyway, the day I hit my brother in the head with a rock was hot, I remember. Only a few wisps of cloud hung in the sky, close down to the horizon, but the rest of the sky was a brilliant, rich blue. It was a sky that seemed to get bluer the more you looked at it. The heat that day seemed to wrap around us like a wool blanket, and it made us sweaty. Me and a friend of mine, Kyle, were jumping on the trampoline in my back yard.
The trampoline was situated in the wide spot of a wash, just behind the house that I grew up in. It just occurred to me that you might not be familiar with the word “wash” if you’re not familiar with southern Arizona. A wash is a basically a natural ditch that gets formed from water flowing through it. There wasn’t much water that came through Sahuarita - Sahuarita was a desert, after all – there were no rivers or lakes or anything like that, and when there was enough rain to make puddles, the puddles didn’t survive very long before the thirsty earth soaked them up. But rain did come heavily during the monsoon season, usually around late July and most of August. I guess you could call a wash a streambed without the stream.
I remember that there was a tree that helped us get on to the trampoline, too. A Palo Verde tree. We would grab on to the skinny trunk of the tree and hoist ourselves up that way. And when we children got older and taller we could get on to the trampoline by just running and making a leap for it. Part of the tree, in fact, would hang over the trampoline, so if you jumped too high in one particular part of the trampoline, you’d get some small leaves and branches and maybe even some thorns in your face.
Now this part might be hard to believe, but all around the trampoline was a bunch of cactus. Jumping cactus, prickly pear, pencil cactus, and some other cactuses I forget the names of. So if you were to accidentally fall off the trampoline, you might not only get a twisted ankle or some bruises, but you’d get a bunch of stickers in you, and somebody would have to yank those stickers out of you with a pair of tweezers. And if you’ve never had cactus needles yanked out of you, well, let me just tell you, it hurts.
Maybe you think my parents were bad parents for placing that trampoline where they did, so close to the cactus. Maybe you think that we would have been better off without a trampoline at all.
But why don’t you just ask anybody who came over to our house to jump on the trampoline, and see what they say? You’ll see that all our friends who came over to jump on the trampoline had a good time. Even the ones that fell off the trampoline and got a bunch of stickers in them ended up having a good time. It sounds crazy, but if you ask the people who were there, you’d come to understand what I’m talking about, and you would come to understand the appeal of that trampoline, and the people who jumped on it.
These days it seems like parents are overprotective in some ways but too permissive in other ways. For instance, there’s a house in my neighborhood with a trampoline in the backyard, and this trampoline sits right in the middle of one of those new, manicured, green lawns, no cactus anywhere near it. And no kidding, the trampoline had these big nets all around it - held up by bright orange, foam padded poles, so that there was absolutely no way the kids could fall off. Whenever the kids jumped on that trampoline, it was like they were trapped in that big net. Not that I actually ever saw the kids jumping on the trampoline. I’ve only seen that trampoline empty, probably because the kids that live there spend most of their time inside the house with their nice air-conditioning.
You might think that the parents in this family are great parents, that they care about their kids safety and they don’t want them to fall off the trampoline and get hurt. Well, I’m sure that’s true to a certain extent, but this same family, (and I won’t name their names - I’ve never been the kind to gossip) this family with the super-safe trampoline, doesn’t seem to have any problems leaving their big-screen TV on all day, and letting their kids just sit there all day watching the TV from the moment they roll out of bed in the morning until the moment they drift off to sleep at night. And their TV gets over 500 channels - 500 channels! - I heard from a very reputable source, so those parents are letting all that profanity and sex and violence into the house through that TV set, and they’re just letting their children sit there and watch it!
That’s modern society for you. Parents won’t let their children jump on a trampoline that hasn’t got nets around it, but they’ll let their minds and their morals go to rot from watching TV all day. Now that’s hypocritical, if you ask me. Hypocritical or just backward-thinking.
But back to the day when I hit my brother in the head with a rock. That’s the story I told you I would tell you. My friend Kyle and I were jumping on the trampoline, soaking in the afternoon heat of southern Arizona, having a good old time. I was scrawny at the time, and shorter than a lot of the other boys my age, and Kyle was average in height, but our appearances don’t matter much, I suppose.
He was a Catholic and I was a Mormon, though we didn’t really know what those words meant at the time. It was only when we were much older that we learned that our religions were different. Later in life Kyle and I wouldn’t see eye to eye when it came to the correct path of a disciple of Christ, and it turned out that our religious differences would actually get in the way of our friendship. But on that day when I hit my little brother in the head with a rock, when we were jumping on the trampoline in the heat of the southern Arizona afternoon, Kyle and I merely knew that we were young, and that we had the whole summer to ride bikes in the desert and make forts in Palo Verde trees and jump on the trampoline. We were young, then, and we were boys. And that’s important, you see? It’s important that we were young, and it’s important that we were boys.
I don’t remember much about the events leading up to the time when I hit my little brother in the head with a rock, but I remember that my little brother Paul, named after Paul in the New Testament, started jumping on the trampoline, too.
“What are you doing here, Paul?” I said.
“Nothing.” He said, avoiding eye contact with us two older boys. “Just jumping on the trampoline.” He took small jumps around. I remember that when he landed on the black, stretchy material beneath him, the dip that he made was smaller than the dips that were made by Kyle and I.
Kyle and I kept jumping, trying to ignore my little brother. We were probably talking about comic book superheroes or something like that. And somehow I got an idea.
“Let’s play dodge-the-rocks,” I said.
I jumped off the trampoline, picked up a few dirty pebbles from the ground, and then used the Palo Verde tree trunk to hoist myself back on the trampoline. I let the pebbles drop from my hand to the black stretchy trampoline surface beneath us and let them bounce around. We laughed as we dodged the pebbles bouncing around. If any of you have jumped on a trampoline before and done this, you know what I’m talking about. You know the way the rock bounces around in an unpredictable manner. You have to keep your eye on it, and if you get touched by it, you’re out, and you have to get off the trampoline, and the last person to be on the trampoline that hasn’t been touched by the rock is the winner. Some kids were good enough to purposely land on the trampoline a certain way, when the rock was in a certain spot, and bounce the rock off the trampoline altogether, and it would land in the cactus or in the dirt.
Well, we played that game for a good while, but soon enough we got tired of it, and I got off the trampoline and looked for something else to do. Kyle got off the trampoline too, and we stood around by the back of the house. (The house was only about fifteen feet away from the trampoline) Somehow one of us, I don’t know which one, got the idea to start tossing more rocks on the trampoline for Paul to dodge. Little stones. Nothing too big or heavy.
Now, this is the part of the story that I really remember well. To be honest, some of the story I told you so far is a little bit made up. It’s all basically true, you know, but I can’t remember exactly what was said- I don’t remember the exact words that came out of our mouths that day. But this next part of the story I remember really well.
Instead of just putting rocks on the trampoline for Paul to dodge as they bounced around, I started throwing rocks closer and closer to Paul, and I remember Paul saying something in protest, like, “Cut it out,” or, “You’re throwing the rocks too close to me!” But I kept looking around the dirt, digging into the earth with my fingers, finding more little smooth rocks to throw at him.
And then this is the part of my memory that I’m most sure about. The sound and the smells and the sights of this time are very fresh to me. I can tell you this part of the story straight, as if it happened yesterday, or as if it was happening right now.
I remember the look of the tennis shoes and socks that set on the small back patio. (We would take off our socks and shoes whenever we jumped on the trampoline and set them behind the house, so that’s why I remember the tennis shoes and dirty white socks so well sitting there behind the house.) I remember very distinctly the back wall of the house, the texture of the vertical wooden boards painted dark brown, boards that had gotten worn and splintery from the sun beating down on it for so many years.
I don’t know why I was throwing rocks at my little brother at the time. I guess I was annoyed that Paul would tag along with me and my friend, who were much older, and at the time I’m sure Kyle and I thought we were much cooler.
I was standing next to a water spigot that leaked very very slowly, nothing more than three or four drops a minutes. I remember watching a droplet of water slowly collect on the mouth of the spigot, on the lower lip, and then when the droplet got heavy enough, it would drop to the ground and make a tiny little splash. There wasn’t any hose hooked up to the spigot at the time, on this afternoon, when I hit my brother in the head with a rock.
Next to the water spigot, next to the pipe that emerged from the ground and rose about a foot and a half, my eyes found a jagged, white stone. It was the peculiar shape and smell of this stone that sticks out in my mind so vividly. It wasn’t an ordinary rock, it was more like a crystal, parts of it were milky white and smooth, but more of it was jagged, and harsh. I picked up the rock, felt it in my right hand, and I remember getting the feeling that I should stop throwing rocks at Paul.
That feeling was the Holy Ghost telling me that I ought not to pick on my little brother so, that I ought to put the rock down and do something else. But I ignored the Holy Ghost, I guess, and with a sunken feeling in my chest, I looked at Paul, saw his little body bouncing up and down, and saw that he was close to tears for the way we were treating him, for the rocks we had already thrown, and for the harsh words we had said to him. I threw the rock underhanded, the white stone left my right hand, and I watched the rock go towards my little brother.
The rock struck Paul in the middle of his forehead, right where David must have hit Goliath.
But that’s a bad comparison. David was an Israelite with the Lord on his side, and Goliath was a wicked Philistine, whereas I was just a boy, throwing a rock at a younger boy, my own brother.
Immediately Paul wailed in pain, and blood gushed out where the rock had hit him. And I was scared. I didn’t mean to hit him. I only meant for the rock to get really close to him without actually hitting him. That sounds dumb now, but boys don’t think things through the way that adults do.
I knew I was in deep trouble. I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. I thought that maybe Paul would need to go to a hospital in Tucson and get a doctor to stitch up the hole in his forehead.
I remember seeing the blood come out of the middle of his forehead from where I was standing by the back of the house. The dark, red blood oozed out of Paul’s face, ran onto his nose and onto his lips. He sat down on the trampoline and held his little boy hand in front of his wound, and wailed. Kyle looked at me in shock, and I stood in shock, and the sinking feeling in my chest compressed and deepened. Never before had regret had such a physical effect on me. Before that moment, I had only felt regret in my mind. Before I had only mentally understood that I had done something wrong, but at that time, when I watched my brother wail in pain, from something that I had done, I felt the regret, physically, in my body.
I ran inside to get my mother.
“Mom?” I ran through the house. She was in the kitchen, her hands bubbly with dish soap.
“I hurt Paul. I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to. He’s outside. On the trampoline”
“Did you hurt him bad?” Mom said. She was scrubbing a white glass plate with a soapy rag.
“Yeah. He’s bleeding a lot.”
Mom looked at me and saw that I was crying.
Mom went out to the back yard, out to the trampoline, and found Paul, still on the trampoline, holding his forehead and crying. A small puddle of blood collected on the trampoline’s surface. Mom went to the edge of the trampoline, reached her arms out to Paul, and motioned for him to come to her. Paul crawled over to his mother, who took him in her arms and started carrying him towards the house. Mom walked over the concrete slab of a carport, and I silently followed them. I remember seeing the blood drop from Paul’s forehead onto the gray concrete, making dark red stains wherever the blood dropped.
And that’s pretty much the end of my vivid memory. That’s the end of the part that I remember like it happened yesterday. I’m pretty sure, though, that what happened next is Mom took Paul into the house and into the bathroom, where she was able to stop the bleeding and clean up the wound. And then what probably happened, what I seem to remember happening, is that Mom sent Kyle home and it turned out that Paul didn’t need to go to Tucson, to the hospital, to get stitches.
I don’t remember apologizing to Paul, although I’m sure that I must have. I don’t remember what my father said when he got home from work, although I’m sure he must have had some stern words for me. And I don’t really remember the scab that formed on my little brother’s forehead, the scab that must have slowly faded away as weeks passed, but I’m sure there must have been a scab, an ugly and itchy one, right in the middle of his forehead, for a good while.
Here’s another crazy thing about the story, though. Nobody remembers it but me.
See, I distinctly remember talking about the day I hit my brother in the head with a rock years later, when I was a teenager, in high school. I was a senior in high school, and I only had a few months before I was going to head out of the house and attend school at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher, Arizona, which is another small Arizona town, where cotton, cattle and copper provide most of the work there. It’s a town where a lot of Mormons live, and actually one of the Mormon prophets, Spencer W. Kimball, grew up there.
Anyway, one night, years after the day I hit my brother in the head with a rock, I was hanging around the house with Paul, who was much bigger at this time, and probably would have been in middle school. I asked him if he remembered that day I hit him in the head with a rock, and, I know this is hard to believe, but he said he didn't remember it.
“Yeah, you remember,” I said to Paul, “I hit you right in the forehead with a rock. It was in the summer and you were jumping on the trampoline and Mom carried you into the house and the blood was dripping from your head onto the carport. Remember? My friend Kyle was there.”
“No, I don’t remember that,” Paul said.
I got my mother too, and asked her if she remembered it, but Mom just frowned and wrinkled her forehead.
I started talking louder. “Remember, Kyle was there, and he was jumping on the trampoline and
I threw a rock at Paul and it hit him right in the forehead?”
“How long ago was it?” Mom asked.
“I was maybe ten, or eleven… or maybe I was twelve.”
“No, I don’t think I remember that,” Mom said, shaking her head.
“He was bleeding everywhere. I saw the blood come out of his forehead and I saw it drip on to the carport. How can you not remember that?”
“Well, look, I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I’m just saying that I don’t remember it,” Mom said.
That night after Paul and my Mom told me they didn’t remember anything about it, I went outside to the carport to look for the stains of blood that I had watched fall the earth so many years before.
But I couldn’t find any. No obvious blood stains, anyway. There were some smears that could have been blood, but they could have been something else. There were little splotches of paint here and there, and some oil stains from where one of our vehicles had leaked oil. It's a really old carport, so it had lots of different smears and stains and such. But maybe, I thought, some of those oil stains covered up the blood stains. Or maybe bloodstains on concrete don’t really last that long, anyway. I don’t know.
And that’s the end of the story. I’m the only one that remembers it, and now as I look back on it, I wonder if it really ever happened.
I think it did. I remember that rock, that crystal-like, jagged rock that I threw at Paul. Honestly, I remember the way it felt in my hand like I was holding it in my hand right now. Although, it doesn’t matter a whole bunch, I guess, in the grand scheme of things, whether the story really happened or not. Paul wasn’t permanently hurt, and our family is doing pretty good these days. The story’s just one of those funny things that an old man wonders about.
Here's an essay I just finished for my Language and Linguistics class. It's about metaphors, and I think it's pretty interesting. Enjoy.
Metaphors and Why We Use Them
History of My Understanding of Metaphor
My understanding of metaphors has changed over the years. When I was in middle school, during a unit on poetry, my class learned about metaphors and similes. The teacher taught us that a metaphor is a comparison between two things using the words “is” or “was”, and that a simile was a comparison between two things using the words “like” or “as”. The teacher also gave us the impression that metaphors were creative, imaginative things that creative writers invented.
That explanation of metaphors and similes from middle school more or less stayed with me until two years ago, when I took a college class on poetry, and we used the book, The Teachers and Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms. The book said that, contrary to what I had been taught in secondary school, there were four types of metaphors, represented by the following four formulas: X is like Y (my love is like a red, red rose.) X is Y (my love is a red rose), X of Y (Girl of rose), and XY (rose-girl). (Padgett, p. 114) Those four formulas expanded and shifted my understanding of similes and metaphors. I learned that a simile was just a subset of the larger category of “metaphor”, and that a metaphor was basically a creative comparison of two different things.
But now I consider both the middle school explanation and the Handbook of Poetic Forms explanation to be over-simplified. Those two explanations seemed to put an undue amount of emphasis of trivial word usage, usage of words such as “is” or “like” or “of.” Those two explanations may have been user-friendly for creative writers, but they failed to get at the heart of what a metaphor was really doing. The explanations also ignored research on metaphors coming from the field of linguistics.
My understanding of metaphors grew again in ENG 504, when I read about metaphors in Edward Finegan’s textbook, Language: Its Structure and Use, in the chapter on semantics. I was surprised to see a section on metaphors at all in a linguistics textbook. I was even more surprised when I read, “Metaphors occur constantly in day-to-day speaking and writing because they are a fundamental part of our thinking” (Finegan, 2008, p 189). And then Finegan gives several examples of common everyday metaphors, including this one found in a newspaper:
“The dollar is falling sharply.”
At first, to most people, that sentence doesn’t even sound metaphorical. Some would not even recognize that any figurative language is going on. But a closer examination reveals otherwise. When the newspaper says, “the dollar is falling sharply,” it’s not reporting on a story in which someone drops a dollar bill from a tall building or something ridiculous like that. The newspaper is obviously talking about inflation or buying power, things which do not literally go up or down. Abstract things such as inflation and buying power may increase or decrease, but they cannot literally psychically gain or lose elevation in the atmosphere. Only physical things can literally rise and fall. So, the sentence, “The dollar is falling sharply” is metaphorical in nature. That sentence is relying on two underlying metaphors, which could be expressed as: “money is an object that can fall” and “down is bad”.
But where did this thinking about underlying, unconscious metaphors begin? And who began to notice the common, everyday metaphors, apart from the metaphors used by poets and other creative writers? To answer these questions, we have to turn to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.
In 1980, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson became the pioneers of metaphor research when they published Metaphors We Live By. In that book, Lakoff and Johnson introduced the idea of conceptual metaphors and everyday metaphorical linguistic expressions. Lakoff and Johnson’s “conceptual metaphors” are expressed in writing as A IS B. An example is “Argument is war” and “Love is a journey”. People don’t normally go around saying these conceptual metaphors out loud, but they have these metaphors in their minds, unconsciously, and it affects the way they talk. In other words, the conceptual metaphors affect a person’s metaphorical linguistic expressions. For example, a man who has the “Argument is war” conceptual metaphor in his brain will use expressions like, “Your claims are indefensible,” “He attacked every weak point in my argument,” “His criticisms were right on target,” and “I demolished his argument” (Kovecses, p. 5). Those four sentences would not make much sense to the listener if the listener didn’t also have the “Argument is war” conceptual metaphor in his or her head.
But it’s not like one or two people out of ten have these conceptual metaphors in their heads. No, everybody has them in their heads. The conceptual metaphors do differ slightly from culture to culture, but every culture has conceptual metaphors in their heads, and everybody uses metaphorical linguistic expressions. Nobody speaks absolutely literally all the time. Indeed, it is impossible to speak absolutely literally all the time. And the interesting thing is that people don’t know that they have these conceptual metaphors in their head. Conceptual metaphors are tacit. It’s much like much knowledge of language. We cannot explain what we know. We unconsciously know what verbs and nouns and adverbs are and how to use them, but that doesn’t mean that we can perfectly diagram sentences.
Examples of Everyday Metaphors
When I learned about these metaphorical linguistic expressions, I wanted to find some of my own examples. Instead of looking at stories and poems, (places I would have looked before this semester if I were on the hunt for metaphors) I looked through newspaper articles, chatty blog posts, and transcripts of interviews and conversations. I ended up finding many more metaphors than I thought I would. It seems like once you start looking for metaphors, you will begin to see them everywhere, even in places you thought they would never be.
I found many examples, but one passage of speech is enough to illustrate how prevalent metaphors really are. The following is taken from a transcript of a conversation between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Sargent Shriver on February 1st, 1964.
Shriver: Oh God, I think it would be advisable, if you don’t mind, if I could have this weekend. I wanted to sit down with a couple of people and see what we could get in the way of some sort of plan. Because what happens, at least what my thought is, [that] you announce somebody like me or somebody else, and they don’t know what the hell they are doing or what this program is going to be specifically, and who is going to carry it, then you’re in a hell of a hole, because they are going to call you up and say, “Well now, what are you going to do? (peacecorpsonline.org)
Here are the metaphorical linguistic expressions (MLE) with accompanying conceptual metaphors (CM) I gleaned from the foregoing passage: (Some of the following CMs I borrowed from Lakoff and Johnson, and some I invented.)
MLE: “have the weekend”
CM: Time is an object
MLE: “see the plan”
CM: Logical structure is a psychical structure
MLE: “Get a plan”
CM: Logical structure is a psychical structure
MLE: “My thought is…”
CM: Thoughts are things that can be expressed in words
MLE: “Carry the program”
CM: Logical structure is a psychical structure
MLE: “You’re in a hell of a hole”
CM: Down is bad
By now in the paper it is clearly established that metaphors and metaphorical language are constantly occurring in day-to-day life, unbeknownst to most people. But why are metaphors used so much? Why don’t people just clearly say what they mean? Why don’t people speak literally and plainly? I have thought about and read about these questions, and come up with some answers.
Why Do We Use Metaphors?
1. Metaphors Sound Better
First, I think sometimes people use metaphors because it sounds better. Language use is a creative thing, even sometimes an artistic endeavor. People like to hear neat new twists, and so storytellers and journalists have intuitively learned to use metaphors well. For example, which of the following sentences sound better?
1. “Tennis star Serena Williams breezed through the early matches.”
2. “Tennis star Serena Williams efficiently won the early matches.”
Most would agree that sentence 1 sounds much better. Sentence 1 paints a better picture, so to speak. Why? I would venture because “efficiently won” does not conjure up in the mind of the reader any clear, nice images. “Efficiently won” is an abstract, as opposed to a concrete, richer phrase. “Breeze,” on the other hand, is a word that conjures up images and sensations of a slow-moving wind. Perhaps when a reader reads “breeze” instead of “efficiently won” the reader will think, if only for an instant, of a pleasant afternoon picnic or a morning stroll in which the breeze is lovely. And so there is connotation involved in the way storytellers and journalists and such select metaphors, too.
Let’s try another one. Let’s find a sentence that uses a metaphorical linguistic expression, replace it with a more literal expression, and see how it sounds.
1. “His speech was a catalyst for a new popular upheaval.”
2. “His speech started a new popular upheaval.”
Which one sounds better? To my mind, the first sentence sounds better. Why? The first sentence sounds better because the word “catalyst” calls up in the mind of the reader machinery, something tangible, whereas “start” is more boring and abstract.
2. Everybody Else Is Doing It
We use metaphors because everybody else is doing it. This isn’t much of an answer, and I admit that it’s a little bit of circular reasoning, (We all use metaphors because we all use metaphors.) but keep in mind that we learn language from other people who are constantly using metaphors. From the time we are infants, we absorb the metaphors that are used in everyday speech, and we learn to use metaphors the way all the other people are using metaphors. We can never break free from metaphors and speak completely literally.
The most convincing argument I have heard that explains why we use metaphors goes like this: We use metaphors to understand abstract things in more concrete, tangible terms. Remember how “breeze” sounded better than “efficiently won” and how “was a catalyst for” sounded better than “started”? Well, “breeze” and “catalyst” sounded better because they are more understandable, concrete terms.
Zoltan Kovecses explains it well when he explains the difference between “source domains” and “target domains.”
The two domains that participate in conceptual metaphor have special names. The conceptual domain from which we draw metaphorical expressions to understand another conceptual domain is called source domain, while the conceptual domain that is understood this way is the target domain. Thus, life, arguments, love, theory, ideas, social organizations, and others are target domains, while journeys, war, buildings, food, plants, and others are source domains. The target domain is the domain that we try to understand through the use of the source domain. (p. 4)
Thus, when we use metaphors, we draw on concrete things we are tangibly familiar with, like food and plants, to explain abstract things that are tougher to explain. It would follow that the more abstract a conversation gets, the more metaphors would be used. A conversation about spirituality would likely have more metaphors in it than a conversation about how to make sourdough bread, for example.
4. Reality is Metaphorical
My final reason attempting to explain why humans use metaphors all the time gets weird. My thoughts are not completely clear or straightened out yet. (But this paper is due today, so straightened-out or not, here my thoughts come.)
We also use metaphors because “reality” and “literalness” are hard to pin down. The line dividing metaphors from non-metaphors is fuzzy. We can’t speak literally all the time because there is no Literalness with a capitol L, so to speak. “Meaning” itself is hard to pin down. It’s hard to talk about metaphors this much without getting philosophical. In fact, many of the books on metaphors in the field of linguistics do get very philosophical. Lakoff and Johnson, for example, end Metaphors We Live By with chapters titled, The Myth of Objectivity and The Myth of Subjectivity, chapters that read like they belong in a book on philosophy or science, not in a book on metaphors.
Where does meaning reside? Meaning does not exist merely in the individual words one uses. “The boy kicked the dog.” And “The dog kicked the boy” both contain the same words, but the syntax drastically changes the meaning. But ultimate meaning doesn’t come from only the combination of lexical items and syntax. Pragmatics and sociolinguistics teaches us that context-specific features of an utterance, such as body language and voice intonation, add to the meaning of utterances. For example, “That movie should win Best Picture for sure,” spoken one way, could have a “literal” or a conventional meaning. But if those same words in that same order were spoken another way, with a different voice intonation, “That movie should win Best Picture for sure,” would be sarcastic.
Is meaning, then, just the combination of words, syntax, and social factors? Not exactly. David E. Rumelhart wrote a brilliant essay called Problems with Literal Meanings that explores the question: “Where does meaning reside?”
In a section of his essay titled, Are Conveyed Meanings Ever Literal Meanings? Rumelhart discusses the meaning of the following sentence: “The policeman raised his hand and stopped the car.” Rumelhart explains that readers will most likely read this sentence and think of a traffic cop, who is directing traffic. The reader would also assume that the traffic cop stopped a car that had a driver in it. But where did that assumed meaning come from? The sentence does not explicitly say that there was a person driving the car. Nor does the sentence explicitly say that the policeman motioned for the car to stop and the driver pressed on the brake pedal with his foot. If one were just relying on the words and the syntax itself, one could interpret the sentence to mean, for example, that a policeman raised his hand and pressed his hand up against an unmanned car that was rolling down a hill, perhaps because the person who had parked the car forgot to set the emergency brake or turn their wheels toward the curb. Thus, Rumelhart claims that conveyed meaning is not solely gleaned from words or syntax or immediate utterance-specific factors, but that conveyed meaning “depends on our real world knowledge” (p. 77) In other words, our previous experiences and our wisdom of the real world helps us understand every new utterance we hear or read.
To further illustrate how meaning does not solely reside in the words, syntax, or things like body language and voice intonation, I would like to add to the Rumelhart’s discussion of the sentence “The policeman raised his hand and stopped the car.” The conventional, normal interpretation of “The policeman raised his hand and stopped the car,” (sentence 1) is different than the conventional, normal interpretation of a sentence like, “The clown went to the store and went to a movie,” (sentence 2). Sentence 1 could be rightfully understood as “the policeman stopped the car by raising his hand,” or “the car stopped because the policeman raised his hand.” The “and” in “The policeman raised his hand and stopped the car,” suggests a causal relationship between the first and second clauses. But no one would interpret the sentence “the clown went to the store and went to a movie”, to mean, “the clown went to a movie because he went to the store.” That’s absurd. The meanings of sentence 1 and sentence 2 lie not in the individual word “and” itself. It’s not like the “and” of sentence 1 and the “and” of sentence 2 have separate entries in the dictionary.
The point is, the location of meaning is tricky to pinpoint. The more you think about these issues, the harder it is to perfectly define was “literal” and “metaphorical” expressions are.
OK, We All Use Metaphors, but Do We Really “Live By” Them?
Now that I have established that we all use metaphors in our day-to-day lives, and now that I’ve discussed some possible reasons explaining why we use metaphors, one more important question comes up: Do we really “live by” metaphors, as Lakoff and Johnson claim? Do the conceptual metaphors in our heads and the metaphorical linguistic expressions we use really affect the way humans live?
To a certain extent, yes, the metaphors in our heads and the metaphors we speak affect our way of living. Lakoff and Johnson put it this way:
How we think metaphorically matters. It can determine questions of war and peace, economic policy, and legal decisions, as well as the mundane choices of everyday life. Is a military attack a “rape,” “a threat to our security,” or “the defense of a population against terrorism”? The same attack can be conceptualized in any of these ways with very different military consequences. (qtd. in Finegan, p. 190)
It may be a strange idea to think that language shapes not only our understanding of reality, but also our actions. But I have an anecdote that illustrates how the way we say something affects the way we actually do something.
The other night I sat down to dinner with metaphors and linguistics on my mind. I was having some mashed potatoes, and I first seasoned the potatoes with salt, and then I seasoned the potatoes with pepper. I wondered, “Why did I salt first and pepper second? Why do I always do that? Certainly the ordering of the sprinkling of the seasonings makes no difference in the food’s flavor.” Then the answer came to me, “I use the salt first because I say “salt” first when I say, “salt and pepper”. Brilliance!
Try saying “pepper and salt” out loud to see how peculiar it sounds. It just doesn’t sound right, does it? No, the set phrase that we all use is “salt and pepper,” and I believe that the order in which we say “salt and pepper” affects the order in which we use the salt and pepper.
So it is with metaphors. Metaphors are not just interesting linguistic peculiarities that linguists study to pass the time. And metaphors are not the mere poetic devices I thought they were long ago. Metaphors are virtually everywhere in human communication, and they greatly impact our opinions, dispositions, and our very way of life. That is why it is important that psychologists, linguists, philosophers, and other scholars continue to investigate the fascinating world of metaphors.
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