Tag: Literature

Penelope’s Choice

By: Michael Grenke

The Odyssey’s Penelope is a Thinker, a person who is effective in facing her world and its problems by thinking her way out of them. She is, perhaps, even more of a thinker than her much-devising husband, as he is still, occasionally, given to “solving” his problems with brute force. It is in Penelope that Homer more purely explores the possibilities and limitations of Odyssean cleverness. The emblem of Penelope’s cleverness is the device by which she tricks her suitors for three years, her weaving. She uses the weaving to buy herself time, but the weaving is itself an image of time. Time is a weaving and unweaving; it makes and unmakes beings and relations. In her deception, Penelope gives the impression time has no consequence for human beings. And understood thus, time poses a great difficulty that attends and deforms the kind of thinking in which Penelope engages.

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Trump’s Banality of Evil

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

What does fascism smell like? It’s a question the late Christopher Hitchens used to ask, and one that’s worth revisiting. In 1945 it might have smelled like Zyklon B, whose reportedly almondy aroma rose with the ashes from the brick chimneys of Nazi death camps into the skies of Europe. In 1988 it might have smelled like the sick yellow waves of chlorine gas that swept over the northern provinces of Mesopotamia during the Halabja massacre, when the Baathist regime tried, not for the last time, to eliminate the Kurdish people of Iraq. Americans in New York and Washington DC certainly knew what it smelled like in September 2001. Last Friday though, it took on a seemingly more innocuous smell, one that could have been synonymous with any other summer night in America: the bitter odor of a thousand citronella torches in the streets of Charlottesville. 48 hours later, the President proved himself incapable of performing the most basic of moral duties: to stand behind a podium for a scripted ten-minutes and call this stench by its name.

I’ve scanned enough Facebook fights to have seen the word “Nazi” appear somewhere in my feed at least once a month, and I’ve been to enough rallies to have seen a black toothbrush mustache smeared on the face of at least every major world leader, regardless of context. The problem with throwing around hyperbolic clichés so lightly is that they lose what little currency they already have in discourse. Indeed, what makes clichés so tyrannous is that they’re true but useless. As a writer, I have a visceral aversion to platitudes perhaps more than the average person, and the reductio ad Hiterlum approaches the very top of my list. But the cliché of calling someone a fascist is somewhat supported by the fact that fascism is itself a cliché. The irony of the events in Virginia last week and the President’s colossally mishandled response to it, was that this banality was conspicuously absent precisely when it was called for.

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Life is More Binary than Fiction: A Writer Reflects on Political Polarization

By: Shannon Kirk and Political Animal

Shannon Kirk is a novelist, a practicing attorney and law professor in Massachusetts, and also an avid follower of politics. She, like many of us, finds Trumpian politics incredibly distracting. In a world where the President-elect is constantly saying new and outrageous things on Twitter, how are news junkies supposed to get anything done?

In a great column on The Thrill Begins, Kirk addresses this problem, and outlines the system she’s using to try to stay focused. We highly recommend reading the whole thing.

One particularly interesting point is her observation that our current political climate encourages people to sort ourselves into two hostile camps based on our political identity. From a novelist’s perspective, this is maddening. Depth and contradiction make characters believable–because human life is complex. So why are we so attractive to binary extremism in our political life?


The following Is an excerpt from The article originally published in The Thrill Begins:

A good friend has a great response to try to chill me out every time I get spun up about the current political environment: “Is this going to impact the happiness of your cats?” Meaning, is this really going to lead to something that will change your life in a catastrophic way? I wish I could have this outlook on politics. I used to. I used to be able to tune most of it out and concentrate.

Now?

I confess. I have a problem. I’m addicted. I am distractified by Trump. But since I acknowledge this serious weakness, I’m hoping to fight my way back to my old ways and not let him win. I have devised a system, which I include at the end. No idea if this will work.

The distractification of Trump has impacted my writing in three ways: To lose time. To wallow in the quagmire of arguing about the fallacy of binary extremism. To resist bullying.

Distractified by Binary Extremism (frustrating my notion of character development)

Let’s first set the table and acknowledge the objective fact that we are living in La La Land right now. Nothing is normal, and, yes, nothing is logical. If your objective is to disagree and say that things are logical, then you are trolling this article; please move on.[1]

The reason it’s easy for me to get distractified by all this is actually nothing new; it’s something that’s always been a gripe of mine, even before Trump—just now more acute and in my face every single damn day, and in alarming ways. It is indeed a core issue I try to battle in my writing: the pushing of people into simplistic, binary camps. Example: Your character is a scientist, so she must be an atheist. I battle this notion, I reject it.

Here’s where we are, I liken it to the Fruit Loops vs. Cheerios Political System. Each Fruit Loop represents a position on an issue, and each Cheerio its “opposite.” If you are on Team Fruit Loop, you MUST accept and agree and support all Fruit Loops, likewise with Team Cheerio. Never may a Fruit Loop cross-pollinate the Cheerio world, and NEVER EVER may a Cheerio contaminate a Fruit-Loop-protected zone.

This is a binary system.

This is bullshit.

We would never allow such simple sorting for fictional characters, so why is it being pushed in reality?

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Silence as Speech: Reading Sor Juana’s Primero Sueño in the Light of her Final Silence

By: Rich Frontjes

Speakers and Listeners in Public Discourse

American public discourse is theoretically founded on the freedom of speech.  This freedom to speak, however, in no way guarantees entry into conversations where the common good is considered, assessed, or decided.  Free speech is the freedom to speak publicly—but participation in public discourse requires inclusion.  And inclusion is variously brokered: depending on the conversation, its participants, and the power dynamics at work, any given stream of public discourse involves a boundary.  On one side are the participants, and on the other side are the listeners—or, frequently, those whose attention is focused elsewhere.

In contemporary society, the boundary between participants and listeners exists partly as a function of access to media.  Individuals or groups with the (financial or other) power to gain access to media increase their chances of entering the public discourse.  The powerless, of course, are typically also voiceless.  But financial power has not always been the key that opened the door to participation in public discourse: various epochs and cultural moments have likewise had various modes of adjudicating participation in public discourse.

The present power of media outlets to perform this boundary-keeping function once resided largely within other institutions.  The Roman Catholic Church and its functionaries exercised considerable control over public discourse for centuries of European history and cultural development.  Exploring how participation in public discourse has been adjudicated in a specific past instance elucidates a dynamic which clarifies the nature of contemporary public speech.  In the example of the Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695), we discover a turn of events in which ecclesial power brokers attempted to enforce silence upon an otherwise astoundingly prolific poet.[1]

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Varys – His Riddle

PART 3 OF THE CHARACTER DISCUSSION OF VARYS

One of the central questions in the book is Varys’ riddle…George R.R. Martin

Varys is a figure of vital importance in A Song of Ice and Fire. He is key to both the political action of the series and its political wisdom.

The core of his political philosophy, if one can use that term, is encapsulated in a riddle. The riddle — which concerns the nature of power itself — first appears in Chapter 3 of A Clash of Kings, where it is posed to Tyrion Lannister. Varys has found Tyrion at a King’s Landing inn, where the latter is ensconced (secretly, he believes) with his mistress, Shae.

Before Varys takes leave of Tyrion and Shae, he poses the riddle: “In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the name of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me – who lives and who dies?”.

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Discussion is Coming!

Over the next few months, we are going to examine the political insights of A Song of Ice and Fire through a series of character studies. Join us!

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Medieval Heart, Postmodern Mind – Umberto Eco (1932-2016)

Howl of the Day: Feb 23, 2016

It was a week of dying for remarkable people.

The U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, passed away on February 13th, to be followed just six days later by both the novelist, Harper Lee, and the Italian thinker and writer, Umberto Eco.

Each of these individuals is surely due their tributes, but this one is for Eco, a man whose fertile imagination and wide-ranging labors were with few peers in today’s world. Born in the Piedmont region of Italy, Eco would, over the course of his life, make many and numerous contributions to literature, as novelist, essayist, and critic, to the university, as teacher, scholar, and even founder of a department for media studies, and to thought on such subjects as semiotics, philosophy, art, popular culture, and communication. His was both a deep and an industrious soul – a rarity.

It seems that there was also a riddle at the center of Eco’s existence, one that in the mentioning of it might serve as a fitting way to commemorate him.

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