Fahrenheit 451: Feelin’ the Heat!

Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which books burn, and burn they do. But why do people burn them? In general, the main purpose of a book burning is to dispose of and forbid knowledge that might expose an authority figure as being wrong in some way. Burning books has never been uncommon; it has always been used to prevent people from knowing the truth about various matters.

Unexpectedly, however, the chief fireman, Beatty, owns a large number of books in his home, but claims not to have read them; however, he speaks in an educated way, and often quotes books, which means that, not only has he read those books, but he is a liar. He lies to Montag when he tells him that books say nothing and are not worth anything, and he lies when he says he has not read the books that line his shelves. Why, though, would he lie about this? Obviously he fears negative repercussions when people discover that he has, in fact, read the books, but, as discussed in class, the point of burning books is to keep people from reading them, because then they watch their television walls instead, which they cannot control. As Emma W. pointed out, Faber tells us, “You can shut [books],” meaning that we can close a book and think about them. With the “parlor families,” that is not an option. Beatty knows that people do not own books because of the same fear we can guess he feels, but he also wants to have the ability to control the knowledge he gains from the books he reads.

Another question is, how can he read books and then still burn them? This probably relates back to the idea of controlling knowledge. If he burns books, nobody else can learn what he has learned. Knowledge is power, everyone says, and if Beatty has knowledge, he has power, and if he has power, then, as discussed in class (I forget who raised this point) Beatty knows nobody will come after him, that nobody will dare to burn his house down.

Later in the book, in the third section (spoiler alert: if you have not yet done the reading, stop reading this, finish the book, and then read the rest of my post) Montag turns the flamethrower on Beatty and pulls the trigger, burning Beatty to death as well as the mechanical hound. Beatty knew perfectly well that he was endangering himself in giving the flamethrower to Montag, and did nothing to protect himself when he found the flamethrower pointing at him. Perhaps burning books did have deep psychological effects on him after all; he read the books, he learned their value, and he destroyed them. Guilt causes people to do crazy things; perhaps he helped the authority figures who gave him power by becoming a martyr, while at the same time sentencing to death the man with the books who could eventually learn what Beatty had learned, but it is also possible that Beatty’s letting Montag kill him is, in Beatty’s mind, poetic justice for all the books he destroyed in the past.

Finally, we have to consider the ending. The people living in the woods, watching the chase and murder of “Montag,” know that the government is a fraud, and that they instill fear in people while at the same time publicly but, interestingly enough, secretly killing those who might dare oppose them, the people like Clarisse McClellan, the first person to open Montag’s eyes to the censorship under which he lived. The government, of course, forbids the publics learning that they are not infallible, which is why it is the ones in the woods, who live out of the law, that reveal this final secret to Montag. But is it possible for them to win? Faber confesses a regret for not speaking out when book burnings started and expresses the idea that it is now too late, but can he be wrong? Or do you think that the ones in the woods are optimistic beyond reality?

Fahrenheit 451

Chile_quema_libros_1973Fahrenheit 451 brings up a new perspective on censorship. The censorship of books. This form of censorship comes in the most real way as burning books theoretically eliminates them forever. To bring up a point Meaghan made today, “isn’t it ironic that we are reading a book about burning books?”

While the main aspect of Montag’s life is censoring books, I also found that his life, and the lives of others, was censored as well. The first example is when Montag meets Clarisse. He realizes that he was simply wearing his happiness as a mask. By doing so, he was censoring his emotions.  The truth is also censored, as Beatty admits in regards to the fireman’s job, “Well, I’d say it really got started around about a thing called the Civil War. Even though our rule book claims it was founded earlier.” Why does the rule book lie about the beginning of the fireman’s modern job? Is this just a way to justify what they are doing? I do find this point to be quite ironic, as they are burning books, yet the firemen have rule books of their own.  The final form of censorship I would like to bring up is the censorship of education. By getting rid of books, they took out philosophy, history and language. Eventually spelling was neglected and ignored. To me, all of these forms of censorship came directly from the burning of books. Emotions possibly by the lack of communication that happens when Mildred, Montag’s wife, cares more about her “parlour family” than her own husband. The truth, comes from the burning of historical documents. With those gone, no one would know the truth as it was back then, only the new fabricated truth that “they” want us to know. (Who is “they” anyway?) The censorship of education comes from the lack of teaching literacy. These children in school simply pull thoughts from their head, rather than writing them down and making some sort of meaning from them.

Our discussion in class today in many ways brought up more points from the book. The point was brought up that the world in books isn’t real, which is also a point Beatty brings up when the firemen burn a woman’s books, and burn the woman with them. Is that justifiable? It was also argued that the fantasy in books can create a sort of escape when one is unhappy, which goes directly against the idea that books make people unhappy, which is stated in the book. When we think back to Mildred’s suicide attempt, is it fair then to say that books make people happy? Mildred must have been unhappy to some extent to attempt suicide, yet isn’t her “parlour family” the ideal in that society?

The idea that a world without books makes people happy seems to come from what Beatty told Montag later in the chapter, “It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.” Is this a fair assumption? Are they the people who burn book because of the truth that they want? Do they fear one another to such an extent that they hide their emotions? Are they the generation who fear the next generation to such an extent that they “dumb down” education to an extent where no one really thinks anymore? Or are they simply misguided?

We may not burn books yet, but we hide emotions, we fabricate the truth, we tend fear those who are smarter than us. While this may not be true for every individual, I find that main aspects of this book almost “predicted” the future, the future of our REAL society.This is a real life example of books being burned in Chile. Are we becoming the society, or are we already the society, that has been presented in Fahrenheit 451?

This link may not be 100% accurate, however I find that it relates quite closely to this text, and to our recent discussions of censorship.

Controversy between Science and Religion

Is it possible for a person to be both religious and accept science at the same time?  The debate between science and religion has occurred for centuries.  Ever since the Classical antiquity, these two different views of acquiring knowledge have been a hot topic with many different views and opinions.  Science generally acquires knowledge by using reason, empiricism, and evidence, whereas religion relies on revelation, faith, and belief in the unseen.  In The Eye of Allah, the Abbot’s faith is tested when he discovers pathogens under a microscope.  He finds himself in a situation where science interrupts his life and causes him to pick whether he wants to keep his faith or turn to science and reason.

In early 1200s AD, religion dominated life.  Religion was the main answer to why things happened because technology had not evolved yet, but mainly because scientific reasoning was not conventional.  The conflict between church and science was created because scientific thoughts were sins and were not accepted in society.  The church often ruthlessly persecuted many scientists or people who spoke out against the church, causing narrow-mindedness.

Rudyard Kipling in The Eye of Allah introduces science in a time when society is not ready for it.  When the Abbot is faced with the challenge of keeping the microscope or destroying it, he says, “’it would seem’, he said, ‘the choice lies between two sins.  To deny the world a Light which is under our hand, or to enlighten the world before her time” (170).  It is true that the Abbot does not know what to do, but in the end he chooses to pick his religion over science.  The reason is unknown, but it can be assumed that he wanted to censor the world from this new technology or simply because he wanted to save his position in religion.  In the end, was he right to choose religion over science?  Was the Abbot really helping society?  And is it indeed possible to believe in both religion and science?

Controversial Writing- The Marquis de Sade

marquis de sade When it comes to the Marquis de Sade, much controversy is in play. He was imprisoned for many acts that suggested extreme immorality, and his writing suggested the same. During his time, in late eighteenth century France, what he wrote was extremely shocking to people. Times have obviously changed a considerable amount since then, and with all the information that the media displays today, it is often difficult to be shocked by anything we learn. However, Sade’s writing would still astonish a good amount of people today, based on how graphic its content is. The major question we face now is whether or not his writing should be restricted.

Many would argue that his writing is not appropriate to be sold nor viewed, particularly when it comes to youth. It has been proposed that some of his writing, which can be classified as violent pornography, has the power to influence people in a very negative way. Ted Bundy, one of the earliest known serial killers, told an interviewer that he read the work of Sade and was hugely impacted by it. This is not to say that everyone will be affected in the same way, or that Bundy only committed his crimes because of violent pornography, but it is possible that this kind of material can heavily influence somebody. Some would say that if it is possible to influence one’s mind to replicate such acts, then Sade’s writing should be restricted, especially to young people.

On the other hand, it seems highly unlikely that most people would be influenced in the same way Bundy was, so it would not really be fair or necessary to restrict Sade’s work. Personally, I don’t think there should be restrictions, because there is no way to prove that if people like Bundy had never read violent porn they would never have committed their crimes. I think it is up to each individual whether or not he or she chooses to read a certain piece of literature. This material goes against some beliefs, so the people with those beliefs do not have to read it if they disagree with that. However, some people may be interested in it, so why stop them from reading?

It might even be important that we keep Sade’s work around. It can “’serve to remind us… of the absolute evil of which man is capable’” (290). To forget the dark side of human nature would be the wrong thing to do; we need to understand our ability to do wrong in order to properly fight that. This knowledge is necessary to have because if we don’t understand the bad in humans, we don’t really understand ourselves.

So, how do you think Sade’s work and other work of his kind should be dealt with?

Transcendence of Fiction

PrintThe Electric Ant was far the most reality bending, mind-blowing acid trip of a story I have ever read. Reality is a very baffling aspect of life that can never be explained, and the nature of it’s complex facet can be seen through Philip K Dick’s short story The Electric Ant. After reading such tale, my mind was engulfed and flummoxed by the amount of ideas and theories The Electric Ant entertained with.

Electric Ant has its own rhythm, its own slow grind towards Dick’s proselytizing of reality as a sustained and consensual hallucination. In broad strokes, Garson Poole wakes after an horrendous accident. It’s the near future, and yet. The loss of a hand, something Garson has ostensibly suffered, is still a setback. A slow dread mounts as Garson prepares himself for living with the best prosthesis future-money can buy. And yet, the absence of pain, and the absence of phantom-limb complex allows for an entirely other kind of dread to steadily mount. Why is there no pain?

Garson Poole of course is the titular Electric Ant, parlance for an organic robot. Garson Poole is an object, property that is owned, that has been traded, positioned into an artificial life, and ultimately is replaceable. His steady relationship with his partner, his friendship with his corporation’s CFO; these are nothing more than controls implemented by Poole’s perennially unseen owners.

How scary is having to reconfigure your life after the loss of a limb? It really is nothing compared with the deletion of a history. It was 1969 and PKD crafted a tale of pure terror. Electric Ant was and remains an exhilarating ride into fear, where perpetually unseen forces dehumanize the human spirit.  Electric Ant is also the unfurling of the human spirit. Taking his existence into his own hands, Garson Poole begins to manipulate the paper reel that runs his punch-card code that controls his reality. Garson Poole, on the terms of his new existence, begins to edit the code that represents his reality. And he slips anonymously away from objecthood into personhood. Very literally, Garson Poole re-humanizes himself. There is an indomitable refrain that appears. Not just in Poole’s courage to manipulate reality, but in PKD also. It is 1969. And PKD’s idea of reality being locked into place as a perception of a wide spectrum of possibility, narrowed to one code that must constantly re-run is 15 years ahead of Kanerva’s famous algorithm of distributed memory. It can be obviously dictated that the impact of PKD’s work is immense. It is a wave, reaching backwards in time as far as it crests forward.

However, with all this said there is also another theory that has unraveled itself through research of PKD himself. The theory of how there is a parallel that can be observed through the story of The Electric Ant with hallucinatory drug experimentation. PKD acquired a reputation as a “psychedelic writer” during the late sixties because of his fiction. In a interview, he even stated that he had a big drug problem, however it was only from prescription amphetamine abuse. To paraphrase from his explanation of his experience from lsd, the landscape froze over. God was judging him as a sinner and it went on for a thousand years. He could only speak Latin and the only part that captivated him was that when he looked in the refrigerator he saw that it was full of stalactites and stalagmites. Convenient and interesting how such a simply experiment can relate to so much of the experience explained within Electric Ant. Although many people including myself may prefer the first theory of PKD being ages ahead of his time, it doesn’t dispute the second theory that maybe he just got lucky with all the drug experimentation. However, no matter what PKD still transcended time with his story writing and opened up a whole new landscape of fiction and theory.

The Psychology of Evil

Below is a video of a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk by Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment, an experiment to which Paul referred in his comment on Jess’s recent post.

In this talk Zimbardo raises a number of questions about the nature of humans and their capacity for evil which intersect, in many ways, with a good number of the texts we read (and especially Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

The talk also raises interesting questions about the capacity of humans for evil (and good) which might prove pertinent as you think about the readings about Sade for Monday.

TED Talk: The Psychology of Evil

Frankenstein Archive Online

I am writing to draw your attention to a new archive, just put online, of the manuscripts of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The novel went through several drafts and revisions, and the digital copies provide an interesting insight into the process of writing and revision that Mary Shelley undertook while crafting this classic piece of literature.

The Frankenstein Notebooks

 

 

Scientific Knowledge- When is it too much?

In this blog post, I would like to ask your opinions on scientific knowledge and what your views are on this complicated subject. Firstly, Roger Shattuck, the author of the article “Forbidden Knowledge” addresses the issues of atomic bombing and genetic research on DNA. The atomic bomb was constructed because of the fear of an “unprecedented attack on civilization” (173). In order to make an atomic bomb, scientists had to go explore further into science and technology to understand how to make something so difficult. By under coving this knowledge on how to make something so dangerous brings out both pros and cons. Some pros are advancements in technologies and safety mechanisms for warfare. However, the most important negative effects for exploring this scientific knowledge is the fact that finding out the knowledge to make these dangerous weapons allow other people to make them as well. It also raises the question of what is moral when fighting in warfare? Do you think atomic bombs are appropriate weapons in war? Are the health risks associated with them worth it?

Another complicated topic that Roger Shattuck discusses is genetic research on DNA. Scientists now have been able to crack the code of life by learning how to analyze DNA to test for genetic disorders. A few examples used to do this are to test individuals for one carry of a gene for a disease that requires two copies of a gene. Scientist also uses genetic research on DNA to test prenatal diagnostics. Shattuck states that, “as increasing numbers of fetuses are diagnosed with serious disorders, abortion has become a widely practiced therapeutic procedure” (177). Is this necessary right? Is it fair and right for expecting parents to test for diseases before the newborn is born? Is it right to get an abortion in order for the child to not suffer knowing it will when it is born into the world? This scientific discovery is extremely sacred because it influences the lives of other people. Also, being able to test for genes for certain diseases that require both genes from the parent can help two people decide to not conceive and have children if their baby will have the disease. Is this right? Is it our responsibility to mess around with creating life? Should we have science influence who should be born and who shouldn’t?

These two topics are current controversies in the world that connect to a lot of the texts we have read in class. We have discussed consequences of knowing too much but more specifically what are the limits of scientific knowledge? In the world we live in today we strive to keep learning and growing and gaining more knowledge but at what point do our morals take over? Should we be making atomic bombs that protect us but also put ourselves in danger and should we be playing God and messing with human lives? One major point that Roger Shattuck argues in his article is that science is basically just the “habit of simple truth to experience [which] has been the mover of civilization” (224). Is this the right way to look at it? Is science just simply the truth that is there for us to explore? Science is there no matter what which is why it is so tempting to keep researching it because essentially as a scientist “you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest power possible to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values”.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Looks Can be Deceiving

Ever since the time we are little we are told that first impressions are everything and it’s crucial to make a good impression on the people we are meeting.  Likewise, we often times judge people – even if it’s inadvertently – on our first impression of them and in the process form conclusions and opinions about them regardless of whether they are factual or not.  However often times there is more to a person than meets the eye.  In the case of Dr. Jekyll what we see on the surface reveals very little about what’s inside.

When Mr. Utterson first describes his impression of Dr. Jekyll he states “He is not easy to describe.  There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something down-right detestable.  I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why.” (Pg. 53).  So often we judge people on their appearance, or are quick to get a bad feeling about someone.  But many times there are people that we dislike, or form opinions about subconsciously yet we never really know why.  For Dr. Jekyll while the Mr. Hyde that he becomes draws immediate images of a monstrous murderer, there is more to Mr. Hyde then meets the eye.  Mr. Hyde for Dr. Jekyll represents freedom.  He represents freedom from the constraints of Victorian society, freedom from anything holding him back from the lifestyle he wants to live, and most importantly it represents freedom from the parts of himself we wants to forget about.

Ultimately looks can be deceiving, what we think of others and the impression we have others only often tells half the story.  Many times people hide their real selves from others because they fear the reactions and judgment that will be passed upon them.  In the end whether we choose to look past our first impressions and find out the full story or we choose to let our own uniformed opinions define what we think of others, we can never ignore the question who are we?  Are we the people others think we are or we the person that we see ourselves as?

Human Nature in Jekyll and Hyde

In the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the duality of human nature is one of the major themes. The question if people are born good or evil isn’t answered in the text but we are able to see how it could go both ways, and the views of the author on this subject. Stevenson is able to show his readers that humans aren’t born inherently bad or good, but somewhere in the middle. By separating the good, Dr. Jekyll, and the bad, Mr. Hyde, we are able to see that humans have both and one without the other can sometimes be overpowering.

Throughout the novel it is hard to imagine Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde being the same person because of their differences. It is apparent that Mr. Hyde is full evil, but what isn’t as noticeable is that, Dr. Jekyll, who is suppose to be completely good, has these desires which can’t be fulfilled on his own. He knows that everything he feels isn’t right but inherently there is a desire to learn more, and to be curious about these things he’s been told not to do his whole life. This led to the creation of Mr. Hyde and the release of all things evil inside Dr. Jekyll.

This novel is able to explain why good people do bad things. Even the best people want to know how far they can push their boundaries and what they can get away with. The creation of Mr. Hyde was Jekyll’s way of doing this and releasing his inner demons. There is no such thing as an all-good human; Jekyll says at one point  “man is not truly one, but truly two.” Meaning that he is fully aware that there are two personalities inside of people, and he learns very quickly after successfully completing his experiment that you need the one to balance out the other.

In Dr. Jekyll’s case there is too much good, he feels responsible for all his actions and he knows exactly what is right and what is wrong. He always does the socially acceptable thing and never strays away from that. With Mr. Hyde it is the opposite, he is filled with bad and does everything wrong. He feels great joy when doing the wrong thing. Eventually the bad starts to take over and this is when Jekyll realizes how wrong his experiment was.  He becomes aware that good and bad balance each other out. Being too good isn’t always the best option, without a little bad life gets boring, which is why he wanted to create an alter ego. The same goes for being all bad, there has to be good to balance it out.

Union College | Professor Watkins

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