Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Literary studies...

Becoming a student at this stage is the smartest thing I've done so far in my academic life.
Like many of you might have picked up on, I'm currently a student, and my subject of choice is English. In the English course we are expected to learn grammar, lexicology and phonetics (the last two for next semester), and British, American and Global literature (the last one for next semester).

When I was fresh out of high school I went on to study music, and I did so for several reasons. For one, my parents are musicians. Then there is the undeniable fact that I am a talented singer (and I still am...). Further I felt a certain expectancy from family and everyone who had heard me sing... "You're such a talented singer, you should totally go that way" (I paraphrased several comments of this kind into this juvenile thing as I was quite young at the time...), and being a young woman I was easy to convince. What's more, at that age you're completely convinced the world is ready to listen to whatever you have to say (or in my case, sing). When it then becomes apparent that the world has more than enough with what's already in it, it's rather depressing. And I couldn't cope. There are obviously several reasons to my leaving the conservatory, but I can't reveal everything... I always loved Mozart...even through the hard times, he was the only constant in my life at the time!
I had some bad teachers back then, I know I did (because I have now had the honor of making good teachers acquaintance, and it really, really matters...), but in the end I made a choice of not continuing my fight with the theory of music (I must add, the presenting part of music was never the problem).
So going back to school was a big deal for me...
Now I'm enrolled in classes where I get to read a lot, and I also get to share my thoughts with my classmates. Whether or not they enjoy my sometimes strange comments, that's not a topic for discussion. But reading Romeo and Juliet and Moll Flanders as homework, that's really my cup of tea.
Reading Frankenstein and To the Lighthouse as well.
Getting to know Art Spiegelman in his meta novel, Maus, and experiencing how cruel a writer has to be to tell stories that are really upsetting in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is really lifting my spirit.

Yes, even here we came across stories and writers who must have lost quite a bit in the head department to even write a small part of what they did write... Like Sarah Kane and her  Cleansed. I mean, and this I stand by, she needed doctors, not publishers... My point is sort of underlined when we know she ended up killing herself. But now comes another question I have asked myself this semester. In order to write stories that are noticed among all the white noise out there, do you have to be cracked? Virgina Woolf didn't live an easy life, and she chose to end it. Mary Shelley experienced severe loss in her life, and still she continued writing.
Shakespeare himself lost his son, and we still read and perform his plays. So I am sensing a pattern here. In order to write stories with literary depth, the writer's life can't have been empty.
But all in all I have enjoyed my literary journey this semester... I think myself a better person for it.

I'm sitting here now preparing for my final exam before Christmas... British Literature, my favorite classes. Our teacher could easily have taught at Oxford, she's that good.
 Whenever we have a comment, no matter how far fetched, she plays off it, and manage to use it to teach us even more. She turned me completely around on the Cleansed part... I was, before my lecture, convinced that Cleansed must be the most revolting and appalling thing written in the history of literature...
I did, however, consider the play (Cleansed is a theatre play) for its worth after the lecture. She also managed to make To the Lighthouse interesting. When I read the novel I felt that it was a tiny bit dull. But having attended the lecture, I saw so much deeper (one of my favorite lectures this autumn, by the way). And I can't remember even one teacher from the last time I was a student managing this, to engage the students in a way that inspire in stead of destroying...not one teacher... I'm using strong words like destroy, because after ending my music studies, I couldn't listen to music with meaning for many years...I'm not saying the teachers of music destroyed everything, but they didn't help...that's for sure...not at all resentful, no really, I am feeling better :-) Besides, finding Marillion and Muse made up for many years of longing for that lost music part of me (which is quite significant). I mentioned that Mozart never left, but some things are constant, like Mozart and Shakespeare...Marillion and Muse!

For years I have enjoyed English, and then in particular British. I discovered Shakespeare at an early age, and wouldn't have it any other way as Shakespeare has given me so, so much (here represented by Fiennes...mmmm)!
I probably could have gone back to school at an earlier stage. But playing that "what if - game" is not helpful... I'm at university now, and feel very comfortable being a student. I'm also lucky enough to live in a country where being a grown up student is possible. So there are several things for which I am grateful. And the being grateful part out-wheigs the being nervous about my marks... Because I know I am a better person now than what I was only four months ago! I still love the things I loved before getting back to school (here represented by Kenneth Branagh from Much ado about nothing), but now my heart and mind are filling up with more...and I love it!

Knowledge really is power!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Twin Peaks

"The owls are not what they seem."
Back when I was a young girl...I had my future ahead and I was ready to conquer the world, it was the early nineties, and life was swell.
In Norway, at that time, we didn't have many channels on TV (unless you had cable or stuff like that). So we had to make do with the national channels and they counted two at the time...
Most times there was nothing on...creating an early love for movies... but then came along this little pearl of a television series that made the whole nation stop and watch. Every Friday we were swept off to the tiny town of Twin Peaks.

We got to know Agent Dale Cooper.

He was always in awe of that "Damn good cup of coffee!"
His sidekick is Sheriff Harry S. Truman.

And together they try to solve the murder of Laura Palmer, a young prom queen with apparent secrets, as it turns out.

This series was made by eccentric writer and director David Lynch.
Lynch is known for films like (among others)
Blue Velvet

Wild At Heart

And my favorite... Dune

Featuring in many of these films is Kyle MacLachland. I'm guessing that Lynch
and MacLachland had this special magic as some directors and actors find... And I'm not complaining!
And now I'm taking a trip down memory lane watching Twin Peaks.
I've also introduced it to one of my friends, but I think he's being polite when he says he likes it. And I really don't blame him, because in light of all the brilliant series we have today, Twin Peaks is a bit far fetched. And what is being told in five episodes, they say in half an episode today...the tempo is so much faster in series today than what is presented in Twin Peaks. But because of its far fetchedness, and because of the slow tempo I still love it.
Remember the silent sequences, the scary parts happening in bright daylight, the strange dialogue, the weird dreams, the wonderful characters (so delightfully off Hollywood),
 and the completely absurd story... I love it!
Even though it still scares me to death, I can't not watch it...if you know what I mean, and I suspect I'll be watching it again and again...as I feel like I did back then when it aired the first time, back when I was young, had my future ahead and was ready to conquer the world.

Friday, November 25, 2011

T. S. Eliot's Journey of the Magi

A little analysis of

T. S. Eliot's

The journey of the Magi 1927
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling 
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky.
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel, 
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for Birth or Death? 
There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt.
I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.”
What I hope to find are the different angles from which you can see, or interpret the Journey of the Magi.
It is a Modernist poem and one of the main ideas of the Modernist period is that there are now as many points of views as there are people to have a point of view.
There is no longer just one written general truth. And there was a strong sense and need to do something new in order to convey authentic human feelings.
Novels are no longer plot-based, and we see a stronger focus upon the self.
If we were to describe the Modernist Period with one word, it would be Self.
We also see a deeper dive into the psyche of narrators, often emphasised through dramatic monologues.
The Journey of the Magi is written as a dramatic monologue. It’s also written in free verse, no rhyme or rhythm, developed to resemble everyday speech, all though (a little fun fact), Eliot himself meant that free verse was not the term for a poet who wanted to do a good job. He felt the need for some sort of restriction and rules still.
To get back to the dramatic monologue, it was developed in the Romantic period and gave a close psychological or philosophical observation described in a specific setting, e.g. William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (in which the characters develop through dramatic monologue).

I have narrowed it down to two and a half, three different ways of interpretation.

1. The actual journey of the Magi.

In this poem the narrator is one of the wise men, the kings bringing gifts, from the Gospel about Jesus from Nazareth.
The superficial, and apparent interpretation is the story about a long and hard journey with a purpose of seeing the prophesised new born king.
As they walk along they find themselves longing for the life they left behind.
They are lamenting the fact that this life can never be lived again. Seeing the Christ child is a life altering experience. The Magi knew at that moment that their old way of life is no more. Having witnessed the birth of Christ they are compelled to live a life with only one God. And converting to Christianity is not only a joyful experience, but it also involves sacrifice.
In the end, the only thing left is waiting for death, and hopefully ascending to heaven sin-free.  

If we journey deeper into the material, it becomes apparent that the narrator has a modern voice.
It could very well be the magus talking, but an older version of him looking back. Or it could be a modern voice trying to imagine what the Magi would have felt like on their journey following a star and fulfilling prophesies.
On this note the reader becomes a factor to understanding the poem.
The reader knows more than the narrator, for instance that Jesus died on the cross, taking away our sins.
The Magi aren’t in possession of this knowledge. They continue walking night and day, and the only thing our narrator can do is to let his mind wander.
The narrator Magus sees the three trees on the hill (a point which is emphasised through near alliteration. It isn’t alliteration, but close, another point which confirms Modernism.), they are symbolising the three crosses seen on the crucifixion of Jesus.
He sees the old white horse running past him, symbolising the old ways running away, the death of Paganism running over the hill. However it has been suggested that the old horse is that of Jesus from the coming Apocalypse, but in this poem the horse is not a strong war stallion, what’s more, it has no rider, so it is my belief that it’s a reference to the old ways, and this notion is strengthened by the fact that the horse is old as are the ways.
He mentions pieces of silver, symbolising Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for Thirty Pieces of Silver. This could also mean that the Magi feel betrayed. Because all of this is leading up to the prophesised resurrection, and this is a point the Magi has difficulties comprehending. Upon return to their kingdoms, they did (according to the Bible) try to live by the new rules. But they looked at their people and saw them still leaning on more than one God. They had to come to terms with the fact that “The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces, And the silken girls bringing sherbet” is not really a Godly way of life. Knowing what they know, having seen baby Jesus, they couldn’t possibly go back to this way of life. But also, they had a hard time of it, leading the new life. And although seeing the prophesised king gives a certain satisfaction, I get a strong feeling of disappointment. I can also sense the feeling of being betrayed.  
I also believe the three stages of penance are presented.
The first stanza represents the contrition of sins.
Then, out of order, we get the satisfaction from being forgiven, by the Magi finding Jesus and Virgin Mary.
In the last stanza we are presented with the confession, leaving them without the satisfaction they so desperately search.
The last line of the poem is: “I should be glad of another death.”
This could be the Magus longing for his own death, even wanting to take his own life in order to be free of the strict rules now opposed on him.
It could also mean he’s longing for a conformation that Christ did in fact give his life on the cross. He’s not sure. The reader is sure, but the narrator of the poem might not be.
Or it could simply mean he wishes a change would come, not just in his life but in everybody’s lives.

2.  A journey of any individual on a spiritual quest.
This would be a general interpretation of the poem where any person searching for understanding or meaning could relate.
At some point of a quest like this the feeling of hopelessness would probably separate the brave ones from the ones running away.
It’s easy enough to give in to despair and conclude that a journey like this is folly.
It’s harder to find purpose when a great deal of self-involvement and sacrifice is expected in order to reach fulfilment and satisfaction in life and in the afterlife.
In Christianity we know that faith is the biggest portion of being a Christian. A good Christian is expected to believe in a manner which proof shouldn’t be needed.
But in the Journey of the Magi, the magus craves just that, proof.
So, leaving behind the safe haven, taking on a quest of this magnitude, one would (being a magus or not) expect the reward to be enormous. And if one completely embrace faith, and trust that the Lord will endure his agony to come, then the last line is an expectance of ones own journey to paradise. 
But if believing is hard, and proof eludes the one on the spiritual quest then the death would serve as proof and maybe even satisfaction.

3. Eliot’s conversion from Unitarianism to Anglicanism in 1927.
As mentioned earlier there is a presence of a modern narrator in this poem. T. S. Eliot converted from Unitarianism to Anglicanism on June 29th 1927. He had then felt, for some time, that Unitarianism didn’t provide him with the comfort he needed. With one foot in USA and one foot in Britain, he searched for something constant in his life.
The Journey of the Magi is written shortly after his conversion, and the link between his personal life and the theme of the poem is very strong.
“this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.”
The conversion was not easy, but it was a burden lifted off his shoulders finally finding his religion, and further, meaning.
Not taking the writer and his experiences into consideration would be wrong, as there would not be a poem without the writer. And his reasons for writing this poem are quite clear, many find it a reaction and a comment upon his own experiences.
But then again, I’m not quite agreeing with myself here, because a poem standing alone without focus upon the writer might be considered timeless in spite of the time in which it was written, and in some way I think this poem does. But on the other side, I found Eliot’s story rather fascinating, and deemed it a good move to focus on as I’ve done.
And all though The Journey of the Magi contains dramatic irony (a technique used to show that the reader knows more than the narrator), the actual journey of the wise men, it presents the three stages of penance, the birth and prophesised crucifixion of the redeemer, and is based upon the gospel of Matthew, the modern voice present is Eliot’s.
Eliot became a warden in his church, and all though he took pride in not being a religious poet and writer, his personal feelings shine through, as they should and must if a writer is to give his works soul.
“I should be glad of another death.”
These are the sentiments of a person coming to terms with his own mortality.
A person ready to accept that in order to enter paradise, in order to live through change, a “death” must occur. Not necessarily a physical death, but leaving something behind, as if dead, to get a taste of paradise in life.