Tag Archives: american literature

As I lay dying: Faulkner

“the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself … alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat” ?

As I lay dying, wracked in pain  upon my bed, I wonder who I can give my advise to. I have no heirs, no pupils who hang on my every word. Is wisdom, My Wisdom to die with me?

I have written. My words are not written with the graphite of a pencil, that can be erased easily or written over. My words are not written on parchment or paper, which can easily be torn, or wrinkled and thrown in the fire…to warm ones toes. My words however can be lost in the annals of time, on some hard drive, or some cloud, where who knows who will read them in the future.

I am guessing that those who catalog, those archaeologists in the future, will dig down deep into our version of the present, might not, i hope not, just record my ramblings but read what is written and say as we do of Plato, or Blake… “How Profound”.

Has my ego got the better of me in my disease of age? I think not. I think we all desire to leave a legacy. We all desire to be remembered and thought well of. We all desire that someone will use the wisdom that we have discovered, unearthed, perhaps uncovered in dusty books in a dark damp cave of a library.

Some writers, as Faulkner has said, concentrate on matters of the heart, Love is illogical. If you ask someone why they love a person, true love can give no answer, as it is illogical. “the human heart is in conflict with itself”, it knows not which way to go. it has no logic. The heart needs to work in tandem with the head. One beats while the brain thinks. Logic itself, or love itself are somewhat useless. One must use both.

The body cannot do without the brain, and the human brain cannot do without the body. The body is the vessel in which the brain must operate. Artificial intelligence is not yet possible because logic without heart is useless. What good is brains without the body, other than to be food for dogs. What good is a body without a brain, except to follow the instructions of someone with a brain.

Do what you will with my body. Although I do wish you inter and bury me quickly. I have tried not to cause offence when living. I wish to cause no offence (by my smell) when dead.  I do not wish to cause trouble to those who must dispose of my body. Throw it to the fishes. Let the sharks feast on me instead of one still living. Give my body, complete with brain and heart to science, so they may study, and see how the three are connected.

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When everything else is stripped away, these three remain… faith, hope and love. When a person is on the way to the heaven he has faith in, then there is no need of hope, as the head has made him confident of where he is going. Faith is the head and heart working in tandem. The heart loves with an illogical love, the head says that it is the only thing to do..love, and believe. So the greatest of these is love.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

 

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“White is a metaphor for power” James Baldwin

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I just watched the movie I am not your Negro on the suggestion of my Literature teacher.It is an amazing movie which highlights the struggle that negro people, and other have had at the hands of white people for over 400 years.

Negro people did not ask to come to America. They were brought to America to serve white people.  They were slaves to the white man until 1865, but still considered inferior to white man until very recently… well some white people still consider anyone different from themselves as inferior. Negroes were not able to go to school with white children until 1957 following the civil rights protest at Little Rock High School.Image result for negro protests

Although the 15th Amendment of the Constitution allowed black men to vote from 1896, many states discouraged negro men from voting by including clauses which stated that black men had to be literate to be allowed to vote, and some states also put a tax on voting for negro men. It wasn’t until the 24th amendment in 1965 that Lyndon B Johnson removed all barriers to allow negro men AND WOMEN, the right to vote, thereby treating them as equal citizens.

Black people were shown in advertising from the 1890’s but the images were generally shown in subservient roles, such as Rastus and Aunt Jemima. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement that black people appeared as equals in advertising. It seems then that the nation was starting to come around.

Progressively the nation has included many different skin tones and racial diversions in all walks of life. In 1968 Robert Kennedy announced that America could even have a black president in 40 years. That proved to be true with the inauguration of Barack Obama 40 years later.

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The movie showed the rise and fall of such civil rights leaders as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jnr and Medgar Evers. These three leaders were strong voices in the civil rights movement which dared to say that blacks were equal to whites. Malcolm X was a black Muslim leader who thought that peaceful protest was useless. Martin Luther King Jnr was a leader who was a Christian who believed in peaceful protests through negotiation. Medgar Evans was a leader who was promoting desegregation primarily in the public school system. Because these men dared to buck the system, they were all assassinated. The idea was ‘to keep the blacks in their place’.

Its not only in America where white people think they are superior to other races. We look at Apartheid in South Africa. We can look at the colonisation of various countries including Australia and India to name but 2. The treatment of native peoples at colonisation or invasion is appalling. White America does not have  a good record here either. The treatment of Native Americans, including Indian nations and Inuits still continues today.

The line that stood out for me in the movie was “White is a metaphor for power”. This is true the whole world over. James Baldwin equates it with Chase Manhattan bank. That is to say that White man considers themselves far superior to any other race on Earth,

Image result for dont you wish you were white

I saw a sign held up in a protest in the movie that said “Don’t you wish you were white?” No. I am ashamed of my skin colour and what it stands for. I don’t look at skin colour as a difference between people. However, I can see how other people, in suppressed minorities might look at me, as a white man, and be scared, even hate what I represent.

James Baldwin says in his movie that he doesn’t want to be a Christian, as he believes that in America at least, the Christians haven’t yet learnt the golden rule “Love One Another”.

All I can say is, I am sorry.

 

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Mark Twain: The Somber Side

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In our American Literature class, we have looked at Mark Twain as a person who can write from Experience and from the heart. He is able to sympathise and identify with the common man. Mark Twain had a family, which is not often written about.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) married Olivia Langdon in 1870. ‘Lily’ as she was known was a constant companion for her husband, accompanying him on lecture and book publishing tours. Lily often edited Twain’s work, sometimes somewhat critically.

The couple had 4 children, and while each gave them joy, they also brought heartache. None were without their troubles.hc-pictures-140-anniversary-of-twain-home-20140916

langdon_clemensLangdon Clemens was the first born of the Clemens children. He was the only son. Langdon was born premature in 1870. It was a hard pregnancy for Olivia when she contracted Typhoid fever. While Mark Twain was busy writing witty stories and columns, he spent a lot of his time nursing both Olivia and Langdon. Olivia’s father Jervis died that same year. Langdon got a cold on one of the journeys in April 1871 and died after it developed into diphtheria. He died in 1872 aged just 19 months. Twain blamed himself for his son’s death.

 

 

 

clemenssusy_headstone Second born was Olivia Susan Clemens. Suzy was born in March 1872. She was a happy playful girl who at times became very deep in thought when trying to understand aspects of life and its struggles. While the family was overseas and Suzy at college, she contracted Meningitis and died at age 24.

This is the headstone of Suzy’s grave which is in the Clemens plot in Elmira New York, Composer Dan Forrest was searching for some lyrics to go with a song which he had written for a little girl’s funeral. He found this epitaph in the graveyard close to his home. Dan wrote Good Night Dear Heart from the words of Mark Twain.

220px-Ossip_Gabrilowitsch_&_Clara_ClemensClara was the third of the Clemen’s children. She was born in 1874 and spent most of her early years being home-schooled as she travelled with her father. Clara was sent to boarding school in Berlin for later schooling. The whole family moved to Austria in 1896 so that Clara could study piano. Following her mother’s death in 1905 Clara had a nervous breakdown. in 1909, she married the Russian composer Ossip Gabrilowitsch. Her father died not long after that and Twain did not get to see his only grandchild, Nina who was born not long after. Clara was the only one of the Clemens children to live a long life, and she died aged 88 in 1962.

DSCN0175Jane (or Jean as she was nicknamed) Clemens was born in 1880. When 18 years old, she developed Epilepsy. Twain said of Jean, “There was never a kinder heart than Jean’s”. During her childhood, she gave most of her allowance to charities and had a heart for animals. Jean began two charities for the protection of animals and because of this love, her father had bought her a farm. Jean’s epilepsy was severe at times, causing her to have spells in sanatoriums for her recovery. She was never alone, and a trusted maid accompanied her on shopping trips and helped Jean with her daily needs. On Christmas Day 1909, she had a fit while in the bath and was drowned.

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Twain was heartbroken. “She was all I had left, except Clara, who married Mr. Gabrilowitsch lately, and has just arrived in Europe.” Twain said to gathered journalists on the morning of her death. “My daughter was trimming the tree yesterday and I was helping her,” he said. “She was so anxious that the lads and lassies of the neighborhood should have a tree, so we brought this one in and began to trim it for them. Tomorrow there were to have trooped in to see the tree and to get presents from it”.

 

 

A life full of sorrow and grief. Mark Twain died just 4 months later, in April 1910 of a heart attack in Redding Connecticut. He was buried alongside the others in the family who had passed before in the family plot in Elmira.the-family-plot-of-mark

Apologies with some of the typesetting. I bet Twain never had these problems.

Dave

Some of the websites visited:

http://www.design.caltech.edu/erik/Misc/Twain_eulogy.html

http://www.marktwainhouse.org/man/clemens_family_tree.php

http://www.marktwainhannibal.com/twain/biography/family.shtml

http://www.marktwainonline.com/site/577770/page/924842

http://www.marktwainonline.com/site/577770/page/924743

http://www.twainquotes.com/19091225.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain

 

 

 

 

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Mark Twain, prose writer and protester.

Mark Twain has been called “the Father of American Literature” and his work Huckleberry Finn the Great American Novel.

Samuel Clements was his real name. He took the name Mark Twain after his time as a riverboat captain on the Mississippi river; Mark Twain meaning deep water, of a safe place to passage.

Mark Twain is taken, on face value, as a humourist. He was the master of colloquial language. This is what brought him success as a writer.

A lot of his writing comes from his own experiences. While looking at his biography, I was amazed at how much he did during his life. Twain tells us to write what we know. It is because twain had a lot of life experience that his writing could be so diverse and plentiful.

Twain knew what it was like to be poor, he knew what it was like to have plenty…and then to lose it all again. He started life as a poor boy who had to leave school at 10 to work in the mines. He made a lot of money with his works and with his lectures and essays. Twain was a master in the newspaper and magazine world while he was still working in the area. Then he lost it all when he invested in a printing or typesetting machine that was too complex to run.

Mark Twain became outspoken in his later years and spoke greatly against Imperialism. America was going to war with Spain to make the Phillipines an American territory. Twain thought at first that America was trying to liberate the Phillipines to create a new republic with their own government. It was when he discovered that the Phillipines were not to be free but come under the power of an Imperialist American government, he penned a short prose entitled The War Prayer.

This is a dramatised version of that short story.

Mark Twain was saying to us, to think before we act or even pray. For praying for victory in battle is to pray that some fellow humans lose, not only their battle, but their lives.

Twain accomplished something that  I too wish to do with my writing. While my main mission remains the same… “to bring beauty to those who cannot see it for themselves”, I choose also to highlight the atrocities of war, of cruelty and injustice done to all people of the world, in hopes that by highlighting, people who in a position to stop the abhorrent acts committed against fellow human beings, may read my words and be persuaded to act.

Twain told us that in remaining silent, we perpetuate the lie that all is well. To ignore atrocities is to endorse them. Let us act with compassion towards our fellow humans. If we as single voices cannot cause change in the hearts of a regime who promotes injustice and inhumane acts, then we as a collective can do more by uniting our voices, in protest against those acts.  We need to make our voices public.

Twain by writing the War Prayer was voicing his disgust at the senseless violence of war. By writing Huckleberry Finn, he was using sarcasm and irony to voice his opinion about slavery. The novel is in fact about freedom. Freedom not only of the slave Tom, but freedom for Huck, from people who would bind him, cause him to conform to society and their practices.

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TRANSCENDENTALISM IN AMERICAN LITERATURE

The American writers who coined the term transcendentalism were of the belief that one has more to learn from one’s connection with the earth, and nature, than in schools or books. These writers were anti-establishment, and therefore anti capitalist in thought.

Related image   Image result for thoreau

Studying Emerson’s “Nature” and “Self Reliance”  reminded me of the following story. It is a story that asks the question: Why is money so important?

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An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.  The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos.  I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part.  When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire.  Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Our capitalist society builds the reliance on money. Where does it takes us. Jesus said “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his soul?” When we strive after money and things, we can sell our own soul. We can give up that which is important to us.

I can bring back here the question of if colonisation was good for the native people of a land. People seemed content with what they have, until they are told they can have more, better, faster, stronger things. How often do you update your mobile phone? Native people who are not westernised, are content until the west interferes.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson and Thoreau ask us to be individual. To have our own thoughts and ideas, to forget what has come before and reinvent new ways to do things. But is anything original anymore? Emerson and Thoreau were of the same school as Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth before them. Blake became disillusioned with his mentor/pastor Swedenborg, but Emerson and Thoreau embraced the man’s teachings; primarily because Swedenborg was also against establishments, particularly organised religion.

We should all think for ourselves. If one is to follow Jesus, it should not because others have told you that is the correct things to do, but that you have a personal revelation; you discover for yourself that a Messiah is for you.

One person in Australian culture from the 80’s that was truly an individual who thought for himself was Mark (Jacko) Jackson.

Jacko called himself “A genuine original”. I am sure that nobody would argue with that.

This post is my attempt to put a little fun and interest into what is a dry topic in literature. I hope you have enjoyed it, and it has gone a little way to helping you understand transcendentalism.

Dave

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Patrick White and Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Ok, I am going to be a bit cheeky here and include this post under both Reading Australia, and American Literature. Why? Because I feel it belongs in both. I believe we can see Emerson, Thoreau and other transcendentalists in Patrick White’s writings. Patrick White was a man who was obsessed with the need for spiritual connection. It is evident in his books and in his life. Is my lecturer going to allow my marrying the two subjects? Paraphrasing Thoreau and Emerson… I am doing it because I believe its the right thing to do, therefore I have confidence in myself and will go on a path that is not often traveled.

In The Tree of Man, Stan Parker is in essence a Christian with ties to a conservative kind of church. He grew up believing in God and the institution of the church, he baptises his kids into the church, he prays and seems to be the spiritual rock of the family; even though he is a man of few words, his conviction is strong. At the end of his life in the book, he has a revelation. He has been striving his whole life for a connection with God, in church, praying and at times cursing a silent God. All that time, God was revealing himself through nature. He is the God in the storm and on the gentle breeze. He is there in good times and bad, even if we cant see it at the time.

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Patrick White had an epiphany, or a revelation when feeding his dogs one night, and slipping in the mud, that God is everywhere. Before this point, he was searching for a church that was uncompromising in its message, but liberal in its acceptance of people. He was seeking a church that was fervent in sticking to points of scripture that White considered important, while relaxing on the things that didn’t really matter.

I just had an epiphany myself. I have been doing the same thing. As a Gay man, I felt totally rejected by the Christian Church when I came out. Before coming out, I was denying who I was, while in church. I have been striving ever since to find a church that will compromise on the issue of homosexuality, or being accepting of gay people but conservative on other areas of teaching. I can stop searching. I will never find a perfect church, because while it may be perfect for me, it will be imperfect for others, or visa versa.

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

 

In the words of U2, I still haven’t found what I am looking for. But you know what, it doesn’t matter. I don’t need a church to justify my belief in God. The church says “follow the leader, follow the rules of those who have gone before. Thoreau says to travel the road less worn, to make your own way. Emerson says to be self – reliant, trusting your gut instinct, your intuition.

For those who are getting caught up in Gay Marriage debates around the world, I say, do not listen to the voices or politics to sway you into voting one way or another. Rely on your gut, and vote your own way no matter how the crowd is swayed. ( sorry to get political).

I hope this post has been informative, and insightful to you, Please leave a comment.

Dave

Each man must walk his own journey. One must not look merely at the teachings of the elders of before but be a leader of our own spiritual journey.

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