Tag Archives: Self-Knowledge

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.

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.

Othello: Venetian Hero?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term hero is another way of saying submarine sandwich, but more importantly for this blog post, a hero is “a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities… the chief male character in a book, play or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.” While Othello may not end in the happiest of ways, upon evaluating his life’s work (as Othello does himself in act 5.2), it can be said that Othello was a virtuous man of strong moral conviction, and while it led to his demise, many who were surrounded by Othello over the course of the play admired him.

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Othello states that he had “done the state some service (5.2 line 338),” as we must assume due to his position as a general of the Venetian army from the onset of the play. From Iago’s complaints at the beginning of the play, we can figure that politics are behind all choices regarding the military. Despite the fact that “three great ones in personal suit” tried to convince Othello to pick Iago to become the next first lieutenant, Othello chooses otherwise, much to Iago’s dismay: “But [Othello]—As loving his own pride and purposes—evades [my advocates] with a bombast circumstance, horrible stuffed with epithets of war, and in conclusion non-suits my mediators (1.1 line 7).” All of this, including the fact that the person who beats Iago out for the job has “never set a squadron in the field, nor the division of a battle knows more than a spinster [meaning: an old woman without children who has never married].” Looking past the anger of Iago’s words, readers can observe that he still makes valid points that attest to the fact that decisions of this nature have more to do with personal connections rather than the level of an individual’s experience. It is then all the more admirable that Othello manages to reach such a high post in the Venetian military in the face of all of the racism he deals with. Seeing how blatantly disrespectful the Venetian people are towards him long after he has achieved this high post, one can only imagine the racism he dealt with before his many promotions. So let’s check a few things from our hero qualifications list: Othello is a man who was almost certainly admired or idealized for his courage and/or outstanding achievements in war, and his noble qualities may be what got him to the position of general in the first place.

But why should we, the readers, be sympathizing with him? Because, similar to another one of our favorite heroes, he unknowingly commits crime and fulfills the low predictions people hold for his existence. It was said outright to Oedipus in Oedipus the King that he would kill his father and marry his mother, compared to the discreet jabs taken by characters at Othello throughout the play: “What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe if he can carry’t thus?(1.1, line 66)” And how could we forget about Brabantio’s refusal to believe that Othello managed to court his daughter Desdemona in a sober state of mind? He would rather attribute Othello’s marriage to Desdemona to her being bound “in chains of magic (1.2, line 63).” Getting back to the point, though, after Othello does lose the composure that we come to know him by, he kills Desdemona after being falsely led to believe that she has cheated on him. Not too long after killing her on their marriage bed, Othello discovers that Iago lied to him the entire time. No longer justified by revenge for Desdemona’s infidelity, Othello finds himself guilty of murder. And so Oedipus and Othello’s paths converge, in their harsh self-imposed punishments: Oedipus gouges out his own eyes, and Othello stabs himself fatally. Many in our preceptorial class have sympathized with Oedipus, due to the fact that his crimes were committed unknowingly. It is not so cut and dry in Othello, because he still did kill a woman, regardless of whether or not Desdemona cheated on him. A definition for hero that we pondered with in class was that a hero was somebody capable of showing unique traits or powers. Having the poise to kill oneself on one’s own accord and choice (unlike Oedipus who essentially had no choice) is a trait that not many possess.

Going back to our Oxford definition (the non food related one)… it states that readers are expected to sympathize with the hero in question, but we certainly don’t have to. Regardless, Othello’s legend lives on for what is believed to be over 400 years later. The fact that we as readers can still evaluate and discuss Othello’s life all of these years later is proof enough that he belongs in the same discussion as Oedipus, Prometheus and countless other literary heroes.

What are your thoughts? Is Othello a hero in your mind?

 

Oedipus the King and Self-Knowledge

In all of the texts we’ve discussed so far, we’ve seen that knowledge often comes at a price. This is certainly also the case with Oedipus in Oedipus the King. Oedipus’ struggle to plumb the depths of his own history reveals for him a terrible secret, though ironically, it’s a “secret” he knew all along. The play is a meditation on a type of knowledge that we haven’t seen much of yet—self-knowledge—and this raises a number of questions.

How much do we really know about ourselves? How much do we want to know? Can we, like Oedipus, often be blind to our own inadequacies? These problems take on a contemporary flair if we consider the ways in which science and technology have made it possible to know things about ourselves that we could never know before. Genetic testing, for instance, can now give us insights into our susceptibilities to certain diseases. How should we react once or if we know our likelihood of dying from a particular malady? Can we change our lives to lower our risks, or is such behavior, like Oedipus’ attempts to change his fate, ultimately futile? If you could find out whether something terrible awaited you in the future, would you want to know?

Part of what Oedipus shows us is that this sense of control that we feel over our lives and ourselves is illusory, and this is a scary message indeed. Despite having the best of intentions, Oedipus could not escape his destiny.  This lesson applies to us too: even if we solve all of the riddles and get to the bottom of all of all of our questions, this does not necessarily grant us the power to change what it is that we actually find. And, what’s more, once we have made the discovery, we must still decide how to react …and live with the consequences.

Jocasta gives the following advice to Oedipus as he barrels down the pathway of discovering his true identity: “[it is] best to live lightly as one can, unthinkingly” (978). While this is certainly one way to react—to tamp down our thirst for knowledge entirely—to live a blissful life of ignorance—Oedipus himself also provides a model for how to seek out knowledge: once he finds the truth, he faces it and bears its consequences with a sense of dignity and personal responsibility.  Oedipus suffers dreadfully, but perhaps some amount of suffering is the price we must pay for knowing ourselves.

 

On a lighter note, do please enjoy this re-enactment of the Oedipus story with vegetables as actors: http://vimeo.com/19152100