Articles by melanie cole

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Genres

I seem to be having trouble thinking of an even slightly cohesive topic for this week’s blog post.  As I seem to be really into Walter Benjamin lately, I keep going back to that “constellation” thing we discussed in class.  On second thought, since I’m using Benjamin extensively in my final paper, I don’t want to talk about him now. How about the genres?

I have to admit that I am prejudice against the “genres.” As much as I would like to think that I am open minded, I am not. I don’t really view much of it as academically legitimate, whatever that means. I am a product of my environment and really have never spent any time being taught about any of it. As far as the overwhelming presence of the genres in Oscar Wao, I think I’ve glossed over it. It all just seems to reiterate the fact that Oscar is indeed, a huge nerd. I’m sure that there is legitimacy in the extensive use of this kind of material as discussed in last class. I find myself having a very hard time feeling engaged with it though. Perhaps it is because I don’t take it seriously that I have trouble engaging with it in an academic atmosphere.

I suppose I’m a little disappointed in myself for being so closed off the the possibility of a new literary device. I can see that I do let my own opinions and judgments get in the way of my education at times. I’m certainly not saying that this won’t happen anymore in the future. I will, however make an effort to at least be more aware of it. It’s not fair to discount an entire genre simply because I don’t find very much interest in it and it has been historically made fun of.

EL&IC

I still find it very interesting how difficult  it is to articulate some (well, most) aspects of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I love this book and I do think it’s cute.   As someone who experienced loss similar to Oskar’s as a child, I find the accuracy and profundity of his thoughts and experiences to be spot on.  As a child I was much less creative, eccentric and adventurous than Oskar, but this is fiction after all.

In the course of reading this novel there are so many moments when I say to myself, “I love that.”  There are so many little heartbreaking moments as well.  Maybe it is because I feel a strong personal connection to the story that it is difficult to think about it critically.  Sometimes when you enjoy something so much it can seem to suck some of the pleasure out if it to analyze and dissect it.  This seems to lead to a larger question which I have considered in the past as to whether analysis and criticism of art takes away from or adds to ones enjoyment of it.  I think it can do both depending on the circumstance and the work of art itself.

I don’t think it will lessen the enjoyment of ELIC by analyzing it.  I don’t think it’s necessarily important which genre the novel may or may not fit into, I’m  more interested in the characters themselves and what they are going through.

The Road and Trauma

It seems as though “trauma” is an inadequate word to describe what the characters from The Road have been through.  Trauma of this magnitude has never been experienced, especially over such a prolonged period of time, therefore in a psychological manner if would be difficult if not impossible to predict what kind of effect such an experience would have on humans.  I feel like McCarthy has done a pretty good job of depicting just this.  Although the behavior that the man and the boy exhibit do not really fit into the PTSD niche as described in “The Black Hole of Trauma,” this is not your everyday sort of trauma.  The man from The Road seems to be existing almost on survival instincts alone. 

He simply will not allow himself to remember, as many trauma victims do, because for him he knows that remembering means dying.  The only time his mind temporarily escapes to the past, whether it be good or bad memories is in sleep when he does not posess control over his consciousness.  He believes that having any sort of positive hopes for the future mean death as well.  Anything that takes him out of the immediate moment could potentially mean death for both he and his son.  He is so focused, almost frozen in the present, hyper vigilant and overcautious that he is not able to experience many of the typical side effects that many trauma victims suffer, according to the article. 

It is interesting, though,  that the only time his mind remembers is in sleep.  I think this exhibits the human mind’s tendency to remember and relive traumatic experiences, because that is what happens when he is forced to let go of his thoughts in sleep.  It is only in the waking hours that he keeps a tight, vice-like grip over his consciousness which does not allow him to remember for fear of dying.

It seems as though “trauma” is an inadequate word to describe what the characters from The Road have been through.  Trauma of this magnitude has never been experienced, especially over such a prolonged period of time, therefore in a psychological manner if would be difficult if not impossible to predict what kind of effect such an experience would have on humans.  I feel like McCarthy has done a pretty good job of depicting just this.  Although the behavior that the man and the boy exhibit do not really fit into the PTSD niche as described in “The Black Hole of Trauma,” this is not your everyday sort of trauma.  The man from The Road seems to be existing almost on survival instincts alone. 

He simply will not allow himself to remember, as many trauma victims do, because for him he knows that remembering means dying.  The only time his mind temporarily escapes to the past, whether it be good or bad memories is in sleep when he does not posess control over his consciousness.  He believes that having any sort of positive hopes for the future mean death as well.  Anything that takes him out of the immediate moment could potentially mean death for both he and his son.  He is so focused, almost frozen in the present, hyper vigilant and overcautious that he is not able to experience many of the typical side effects that many trauma victims suffer, according to the article. 

It is interesting, though,  that the only time his mind remembers is in sleep.  I think this exhibits the human mind’s tendency to remember and relive traumatic experiences, because that is what happens when he is forced to let go of his thoughts in sleep.  It is only in the waking hours that he keeps a tight, vice-like grip over his consciousness which does not allow him to remember for fear of dying.

The Road Film

I’m going to work with the scene early in the novel where they come upon a supermarket and the father finds a coke and gives it to the son.  The first issue I’d like to address is the landscape in general.  The novel’s descriptions are so clear in often defining it as gray and covered in ash.  I’d like to really accentuate the grayness of the landscape.  I thought about the idea of filming in black and white so that it would have no choice but to be gray, but I’d rather film in color and really concentrate and bring attention to the grayness and the ash.  I think this is important as the ash represents what once was and its complete destruction.  The general color scheme exemplifies the doomed mood of the story. 

I would want the supermarket to have the same, dull, abandoned feeling and appearance of the landscape in general.  As they are sifting through the drab rubble and refuse, the Coca Cola can would flash a bright glimmer of red for just a second until the father anticipatingly dug it out of all of the surrounding trash. 

The boy drinking the soda would be one of the few soft moments in an overall hard and relentless story.  It would be a touching scene, perhaps the lighting would become softer and some slightly sentimental music would cue.  This scene would be representational of the small possibility of hope for some sort of future in this desolate and supposedly hopeless world.  The father and son’s simple dialogue would be spoken softly and tenderly.  The scene would fade out showing the boy sitting on some sort of surface, perhaps a chair, or even a box, and the father crouched next to him, enjoying and savoring the boy’s enjoyment of the cola.

A Simple Parable

Parable of the Sower was a quick and simple read, perhaps too simple. The parallels which Butler drew between slavery and her near-future society were alarmingly obvious. It didn’t seem to me to be so much a parallel as it was a re-telling, set in a different time. I also had issues with the whole Earthseed religion. There should have been more background or explanation as to why, or how this teenage girl, Lauren receives these messages. That would have made it more believable and realistic. The situation struck me as random and contrite. Where does she get this “wisdom” from? Is it connected to her hyperempathy?

I am used to having to work harder to find meaning and parallels in novels while Parable just kind of puts it all out there. This future society is obviously a critique of patriarchy while humankind is slipping back and indulging in old atrocities such as slavery. The heroine is there to save it all with Earthseed. One of the saving graces for me of this story, which isn’t actually in the novel, is finding out that Acorn was a failure. The indeterminate ending lent bit of realism to the story;s Butler’s critique on the very idea of utopia. One can look at almost any aspect of society in Parable as a commentary on the status of today’s society (or society at the time the book was written). This sort of straight-forward parallelism makes me uneasy, I feel like I should have to dig deeper and search through layers for meaning. It’s refreshing in a way, but also leaves me wanting something with a little bit more substance.

I really enjoyed Benjamin’s piece, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Well, maybe “enjoyed” is notthe proper word, but I got a lot out of it. Many of his points relate directly to some of the main themes in White Noise. According Benjamin, once a piece of art is reproduced, it loses a part of its “aura,” its uniqueness and its authenticity. The act of reproduction also “shatters tradition” as the original piece becomes less directly associated to whatever moment in history and culture that it was created in. He points out that photography and film have accelerated the ability for art to be mechanically (now, digitally) reproduced.

A reproduction of something is not the original, it is fake and separate from the original. This theme appears in White Noise in the way that simulations often take the place of true, original experiences. The SUMVAC team stages various disasters, allegedly for the purpose of practice so that when an actual disaster occurs they are prepared. However, when a foul chemical odor descends upon the town, everybody ignores it. The characters in this novel are stuck in their simulated, or reproduced reality. Another example is the sunset. After the Toxic Airborne Exposure, the sunsets have been technically enhanced and people flock to the highway overpass to watch them. This didn’t happen before when the sunsets were merely average. The enhanced sunset is relates to what Benjamin points out about photography and film and how it can be manipulated. People would prefer to see a seamlessly edited film rather than rough cuts barely patched together. The characters of White Noise also prefer their altered sunset.

I found it remarkable how current and topical Benjamin’s piece still seems today, 70+ years later. I wonder what he would think about Hitler mash ups and modern, multi-media art installations? Would they even possess an aura?

JC Food Court

In the JC food court. I usually try to avoid this place as much as possible, the noise, the crowd, the “kids.” It’s early, so there aren’t that many people here yet. I’m still looking for patterns and codes though. The noise of the fountain in the background, distracting yet soothing? But not really. What is the point of that? Is it supposed to make us feel as though we are at a waterfall? It makes it feel more like a mall. Plenty of young people walking around dressed inappropriately. Somebody shrieks and hugs. People dressed sloppily, in pajamas. If this is our future I’m not impressed. The chatter of those sitting closer to me, some at ease, some uncomfortable with each other. People eating, drinking coffee. People on the phone. Patterns? Codes? Not yet. So far the most common thing I’ve observed is a sense of self importance possessed by these students. I’m sure that I am no exception to this. How has technology contributed to this sense of importance?

Instant access to all our our most immediate and pressing emails. The ability to post my thought,s feelings and most mundane actions to the internet for all to see, as if they care. This bothers me. I will not allow myself to give into this temptation because of a sense of embarrassment and shame. Sometimes I feel like I would like for my friends and strangers to know exactly what I am feeling, thinking, doing at all times of the day. When something funny happens, they must know now. When I have a revelation, I must share it with the world. But, no. Who am I to think that they care? Who am I to impose this upon them. In order to maintain a more structured sense of self I like to talk to my friends and tell them these things. And the strangers, well, the strangers will never know, and that’s fine with me. The idea of celebrity does not appeal to me. But, I am of a slightly different generation than most of these people. The main pattern I’ve observed thus far is one of self importance as I mentioned earlier. People look preoccupied and impatient, as though there are far more important things they’d rather be doing. I think that the technology available to us contributes to this sense of importance we seem to possess.

God’s Hammer

The first thing I’d like to touch on is the title, Lucifer’s Hammer. I think that something alone the line of God’s Hammer would have been more fitting. Obviously the wacko minister would agree with this title because he viewed the comet as God’s work, a way to think out the population and destroy all of the evil, man-made atrocities. There were a lot of people who also, in a way, got what they wanted when the Hammer fell. Harvey Randall, for example, was let go from all of his familial and financial obligations. Gary Vance was brought back from the verge of suicide after the comet struck because he felt he now had something to live for. Maureen Jellison finally felt as though she had a purpose in life as well. The novel is filled with character’s who flourish after the comet strikes.

I suppose Lucifer’s Hammer is an appropriate title because it refers to an event that killed the majority of the earth’s population and lead people to murder, loot, and cannibalize. It’s much easier to point to a devastating event such as the Hamner-Brown comet and characterize it as the work of Satan rather than the work of God. Perhaps this apocalyptic event was merely just a chance for the few survivors to find a real purpose and calling in life. However, a title like God’s Hammer might put too much focus or sway on the evangelical aspect of the novel. Since the only real mention of religion is associated with the aforementioned wacko minister, a title involving the word, God may have narrowed the reader’s field of vision.

Meat

The word “meat” appears fifteen times in Lucifer’s Hammer. With only one exception all uses of the word meat are literal. The exception is the word’s first use in the book, on page 35 when Harvey Randall is in the shower and, “he imagined himself as meat being massaged by hydraulic pressure.” This is a scene in which Harvey is trying to relax and momentarily escape from the outside pressures of overwhelming debt. The last use of the word pre-Hammer is by the astronauts. Johnny warns Rick that he is burning the meat to which he responds, “burn, baby, burn” (99). This could serve as a foreshadow to the Hammer itself as both of these astronauts end up being the ones witnessing a burning mass of rocks pummel the earth.

The remaining thirteen uses of the word meat are used post-Hammer and refer to actual meat. All of these instances seem to be linked to the notion of survival. Many times the meat being described or talked about is human meat. The horrifying notion of cannibalism is confronted. Some in this new society view it as a necessary vehicle of survival while it still of course repulses and deeply offends most. When not referring to human meat, it is animal meat that is being spoken about, often in the context of hunting or rationing. Food, meat particularly has become an increasingly valuable commodity in this post-Hammer world. It could represent the population’s physical ability to survive.

Obviously in today’s world, meat doesn’t carry such a heavy significance. Meat is, after all, the body and flesh of another, once living being. That can be easy to forget today because of how easily attainable it is. The people living in this post-Hammer world are forced to act more primitively not just in the procurement of meat since there are no more supermarkets, but in the ways of society since their civilization has been crushed.

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Personals Ad – Hamner

Pre-Hammer:

SWM iso SWF who appreciates intelligence and wealth.  Interest in Astronomy is a plus but not a must.  Looking for someone to share long evenings in my (yes, I own it) remote observatory.  Please do not be staunchly independent as I do require a fair amount of attention and coddling.

Post-Hammer:

SWM iso SWF with street smarts.  I need help and protection.  Please have a working knowledge and practice of firearms, I have no idea what to do with a gun.  Aggressive and skillful drivers are a plus.  It has recently come to my attention that I am fairly useless in this new environment and I’d love to meet a woman to help me build my self esteem.

One of the binary oppositions that was listed in class was civilization or culture vs. nature. A classmate brought up in discussion that to them, civilization seems more cyclical than nature and nature is more unpredictable. I take issue with this assessment in both the novel and actual life. In his article, “The Archetypes of Literature,” Northrop Frye asserts that, “in human life a ritual seems to be something of a voluntary effort…to recapture a lost rapport with the natural cycle” (103). Therefore the cycles or repetitive aspects of our lives and our culture stem from nature itself and our desire to perhaps be closer to, or emulate it.

In Lucifer’s Hammer, nature (the comet) wreaks havoc over civilization and seems to be a random and catastrophic occurrence. This natural, catastrophic event does bring the survivors closer to nature (I would assume, I haven’t actually read that far yet). The comet was a natural disaster that forced humans to exist more like primal beings, like animals. It is also true that in the novel, many characters seem to wish for the comet to strike. Fred Lauren believes the comet will strike so that he can grant himself permission to commit murder. Less outwardly, Harvey Randall wishes for this disaster so that his financial and domestic life will be erased.

By desiring this disaster that is basically the destruction of their civilization, it is possible that these characters are unconsciously hoping to start fresh. This fresh start will be closer to nature and they will be able to begin new cycles more closely connected to nature. Their new lives will exist without all of the extraneous elements that civilization and culture bring along with them like marriage, debt and law. The cycles of nature and civilization are connected and become increasingly intertwined like most of the oppositions found in the early part of this novel.