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Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Book Blurbs (Oroonoko by Aphra Behn)

Oroonoko or The History of the Royal Slave by Aphra Behn (1640 – 1689) was published about 1688 and is a story written in the style of a biography and covers the story of the African Prince Oroonoko who is tricked, captured, and sold into slavery. Though Oroonoko is no common slave, as Aphra Behn makes a point showing. He’s a prince, honest, brave, and true who holds these qualities without the ‘civility’ of the Western culture and Christianity. The story, in fact, serves to critique the corruption and racism of the West, and the religion that seems to say “Do unto others… as long as they look and behave as you do”. The book is a short novel, and one worth reading for insights into the world of the 17th century and the limitations of the Western world as perceived by Ms. Aphra Behn.

If the divine, …

If the divine, cock-eyed Genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed for just one moment through your efforts, then “Ole”. And if not, do your dance anyway.

From Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius

I am afraid. Yes, I; fearful.

I am afraid. Yes, I; fearful.
The smallest noise makes me tearful:
A kitten on a summer lawn
Seems to me a devil’s spawn,
And little poofs of paws and fur
Seem to me a clever lure
Designed to draw me closer in
And their bloody feasts begin.
These are only small, remember,
Lacking weapons to dismember:
Neither teeth, nor vicious claws
Nor vile barbs and gaping jaws-

Those are things I will not mention
They take too much attention
From the thing that I fear most
More than goblin, grim or ghost
More than crooks and evil men
More than caves and shadowed glen
More than poverty, sin, or vice,
More than plagues from field mice

More than all a host of things
And all the darkest of the beings
What I fear most brings me such stress:
I fear failure and success

The Importance of Being Earnest (An Essay On The Scarlet Letter)

Language is a referential process of creating meaning; each word operates within a series of structures including history and people, objects and ideas, places and things. These structures create a symbolic framework in which language functions, and this associative nature of language is why written texts are able to convey both a simple story of characters interacting within a setting, while at the same time conveying a subtext suggesting that the characters are more than a textual re-creation of real people. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, for example, is, in terms of text, a simple story of an affair between a woman and a minister, and how that affair and the subsequent love-child affects the mother, Hester Prynne, and the minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. Their story then conveys a lesson on the sin of adultery and pre-marital sex. However, the text tells more than a moral story, and conveys a message deeper than abstinence: through Arthur Dimmesdale, Hawthorne demonstrates the importance of living an honest life.

Hawthorne states clearly in The Scarlet Letter that one of the lessons to be learned from “The poor minister’s miserable experience” is “Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!”” (Hawthorne 199), and this statement is the very heart of Hawthorne’s demonstration of the value of honesty. “Be true” speaks clearly enough, and Hawthorne takes the idea further by commanding the reader to “show freely” any unpleasant traits. However, he demands this level of honesty not because doing so is a more accurate depiction of human insufficiency, but because the act of lying creates inner turmoil which consumes the liar and prevents him or her from moving on to a higher level of spiritual development. Dimmesdale, when read with ‘truth’ in mind, becomes a symbol for spiritual progression as shown by three features of his character: his position as a minister, his guilty torment, and his inability to ‘move on’ until he’s confessed his guilt.

Dimmesdale’s role as minister (a spiritual leader) acts as a way to show both the fear of losing reputation, and the spirit in general. He’s described by Hawthorne as “the man of ethereal attributes” (119), and is deemed by his fellow clergyman as “a miracle of holiness” (119), both of which indicate a being nearer spirit than flesh. This and the minister’s general sickness indicate a man distanced from the physical, and approaching more and more the spiritual world. Ironically, his spiritual excellence is largely the result of his burden of untruth and hypocrisy. A burden of torment he struggles with throughout the text in the form of his constant illness, and manifested in the false doctor Chillingworth. However, Dimmesdale’s torment begins even before Chillingworth appears as the doctor.

During Hester Pryne’s public denouncement on the scaffold Dimmesdale urges her to tell the congregation who the father of the child is, saying “Be not silent for any mistaken pity and tenderness for him…though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, … better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life” (67). Here Dimmesdale both alludes to his own guilt, referring to the “high place” where he stood, and attempts to avoid personally revealing the secret by allowing the charge to come from Hester. This fails, however, because he must confess his wrongs with his own mouth, and since he would not do so at that moment he chooses to remain anonymous and guilty, and enters into a state of torment that prolongs his guilty life.

Here Chillingworth enters as a manifestation of guilt, tormenting Dimmesdale under the guise of a healer. Hawthorne writes that Chillingworth, after verifying the minister’s guilt, “became, thenceforth, not a spectator only, but a chief actor, in the poor minister’s interior world” (117), demonstrating through Chillingworth that a guilty conscious prohibits spiritual strength through torment, and shows the effects of the torment through Dimmesdale’s descent into a weaker and weaker state. A torment Dimmesdale can only escape from by first accepting his guilt privately, then publicly acknowledging his fault, and by doing this Dimmesdale is allowed to continue forward as spiritual emblem.

Hawthorne shows this through the moments when Dimmesdale is able to align his actions with the truth of his guilt, that is, when the minister is able to privately accept his guilt. One moment comes when the minister stands on the scaffold of shame late one night, and sees Hester and Pearl, their child, on their way home from a death bed. He calls them up to stand with him and holds their hands, showing the sleeping world his secret. Doing this “there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life… pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system” (126). Here the warm, new life of truth invades Dimmesdale’s guilt ridden heart, suggesting that aligning himself with earnestness by confessing his guilt is essential for his step forward as a spiritual emblem.

Later, Dimmesdale himself bemoans his lack of honesty when he is again alone with Hester and says, “Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a seven years’ cheat to look into an eye that recognizes me for what I am!” (153). Relief, in short, is what comes for those spirits who walk in truth. However, Dimmesdale’s confession to Hester and Pearl is, nonetheless, hidden the darkness of night and the forest, making it incomplete. The truth must be shown in the light of day, in front of the whole congregation in order to have value. For Hawthorne, the suitable stage for confession is the scaffold where Dimmesdale refused to stand, a place of both shame and elevation, which allows Dimmesdale to both reveal himself and rise to another level of spiritual well-being.

Chillingworth, the embodiment of poor Dimmesdale’s guilt, expresses the necessity of the minister’s confession on the scaffold, “‘Hadst thou sought the whole earth over,’ Said he, looking darkly at the clergyman, ‘there was no one place so secret, – no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me, – save on this very scaffold!’” (195). The scaffold is essential because the guilt derived less from the adulterous act, and more from Dimmesdale’s fear of standing with Hester in the first place and being an honest man. Had he done so, he would have been guilty of a sin, but would have walked in open truth where guilt has little power.

Reading The Scarlet Letter in this way is possible because the simple, direct language employed by Hawthorne to describe the anxiety of the minister’s experiences, and stating that the lesson from the ordeal is: “Be True!” (199). Hawthorne uses settings and images that suggest the difference between private confession hidden in darkness, and public confession exalted on a high place in the light. The characters are used to portray qualities of the minister’s guilt, and he is only able to progress spirituality by taking responsibility for his sin in broad daylight as made evident by Chillingworth’s inability to act when the minister ascends the scaffold. Through Dimmesdale’s story in The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne demonstrates that an honest life, though perhaps one of shame, is a better life, and shows the vital import of being earnest.

Citation: Murfin, Ross. The Scarlet Letter (Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism Series). 2nd Ed . Bedford/St. Martins: New York, 2006. Print. Pages in text.

Ant Variations I

Ant Variations I

My newest gallery of an unlikely hero on a quest for enlightenment

Letter Found Near A Quiet Tomb

My Dear

Do you remember that box you lost in grandma’s attic? I found it the other day while sorting through her things. She- passed- I guess you heard, and I’m sorting through everything. She had so many things; you wouldn’t believe all the ceramic cats. You know, those ones that crept you out? A whole collection of cats with little numbers on the bottom; I’ll count them later. –
But that box. I think you said it had pictures, and trinkets from your father, it does, and it also has a few things from grandpa, and some of our old letters. I wish you were here to see them. There are pictures from when you were a kid and living in that ugly brown house you told me about, and some from when you lived in Washington, at least according to the backs. There’s also that pocket watch that Grandpa gave me. The one that he claims was given him during the war by a civilian he helped, and a few of his war medals.
From your father are some of those water colors he drew of the “Saints and Effigies”, as he called them, and a letter from when you were in the hospital the first time. Also our letters from our first summers together, remember those? I always loved getting letters from you, even when I’d written to you online before hand. There was just something better about seeing your handwriting-
I catch myself expecting another from you, like those last few weeks in the hospital, when we’d exchange letters every evening about the little details that happened that day. I placed those in a three ring, and added them to the box. –
But, I just wanted to let you know I found it, and I wish you here-
and I miss you,
and I love you

I’ll Live A While Longer

I guess I’ll live a while longer
Knowing that I will grow stronger
Nothing is the greatest bliss
Offer me not a good night kiss
Would you suffer with him now
Nettles, briars on your brow
Or would you go to hills and hide
Taking with you foolish pride
Turn back turn back and go to him
He’ll forgive you of your sin
Embrace you in his loving arms
And let you start again
Now nothing lingers of that life
Sorrow sins and woe and strife
Were washed away by Him
Erased and forgiven by His
Resurrection after death

Dear You: I’m publishing my first novel

Dear You,

Have I told you my first book will be published soon? Well, relatively soon; I’m starting production next month.

This means that I’ll start working with editors, and getting feedback from people who criticize books for a living. They’ll tear apart my grammar, my word choice, my story. Then they’ll offer feedback as though they haven’t just torn my work to little pieces. I imagine my book bleeding red ink, with the horrid fluid just dripping from the pages.  I wonder if this is how some parents feel when they send their child off to college; years of time and energy poured into a single person, then slowly parting from them to let them fend for themselves, and worrying excessively.

It’s nerve wracking- but it’s necessary: what good can a book do for the world kept hidden in a writer’s drawer?

Books must venture out into the world, otherwise the books are not books but private notes. I hope my book does well; like most parents do. I plan to post “verbal pictures” of my child as she goes through editing and matures over the next few months. Ideally, I’ll show snap shots of the changes she’s undergone in the last two years as a sort of preview for potential readers.

I hope all is going well with you and your family,

Your friend,

Judah

When, At A Distance

When, at a distance, discerning death
Idles past along the hills in their horizontal undulations
Waving flags and singing songs
In joyous approbation of those who have gone before us,

Then, at that distance,
Death’s light is quenched by the blinds of the moment;
For the yard is warm and safe with trees and swings,
Tall cottonwoods, and lilac bushes
Which set their scent in the spring time air
With fresh-growing grass, and alfalfa fields,
And water running through a little ditch.

And the air is clean and it smells like nature,
And it smells like the sweat of cows

And it smells like baking bread.

Then the scents of smoke and haze waft there,
And smoke makes the hills seem closer
And smoke covers the other smells

And the orange flags which waved so calm on the horizon
Take shape and rise above the houses
And they wave and they pile together
Until their weight overcomes the houses
And the houses collapse in darkened frames

While flames send volley’s up towards the sky

Then Death’s song comes clearly to the senses
And Death’s banners are clearly seen

And the hanged are waving flags
And the marching heads on pikes
And the songs are screams and dying sighs

And crows caw in joyous approbation of their merry feast
As they guide the spirits to the netherworlds.

Then one understands the horrible beauty of death’s parade,
When the yard seems distant, and the flowers fade,
Then one understands that singularity of death’s directive;
how death, and its proximity, changes one’s perspective.

The Falling Leaves

So autumn came again this year,
And leaves began to fall, my dear,
Round and round down through the air
And to rest just over there.

However this is not so strange,
Though the leaves do thus arrange,
In blankets, piles, and coverlets
So pretty that one oft’ forgets:

Although the fall with pretty-sweets
Physics still this beauty greets.
Observe you then what Nature’s laws
Explored by human reason draws.

Mayhap this leaf weighed thirteen grams
A meter by the second falling
(Bough to ground five meters speeds)
Obtain the work from these small leads

Understand this referential
To work in energies potential
First the falling speed be squared
And the weight from grams repaired

Learning weight and speed and then
Let them multiplied again
In their product half derived:
Nought point nought nought sixty five

Going then to falling speeds
Learn the height from which it fell
Ending then this weight and height
And multiplied by falling flight

Verily the problem given
Extracts another naught six three se’en
So finds our work is less than few:
Negative naught point five se’en two

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