Final Commonplace Book Reflection

What I am most struck by in re-reading my Commonplace Book is how well I am able to recall how each individual text has effected me. I remember the context in which I read each text, and why I think a text had a certain feeling. I remember feeling inspired and excited after reading ’Souls Belated’ because I had just gone on a Leadership Retreat. I remember writing about springtime in my first post on My Antonia because I was anxious for sunshine and warmer weather. The cold, dreary sky was starting to get to me, as were other outside forces in my life. It is a peculiar feeling to recall exact moments and feelings, particularly surrounding something as mundane as reading. Since I’m an English major, reading obviously plays a significant role in my life, however, I fear that the emotions it draws from me are ones which I often disregard. Or rather, I don’t acknowledge how my reaction to the books I read can serve as representations t0 how I am actually feeling.

As for what I noticed in my posts, I was quite happy to see the progression of my blog move towards a higher level of analysis as the semester aged on. Especially with my most recent posts on Lorde, Ellison, Diaz, and Plath, there is a heightened level of maturity in the writing. I can still definitely find areas in the posts that require re-writing or better synthesizing, but for the posts primarily being composed as a stream of consciousness, I’m pleased with myself. My first posts on My Antonia were difficult to write. I didn’t know where to begin. Now, I’m much better at immediately expressing my thoughts on any given text.

If I am to select a post which I think is my best, I would have to go with my post ‘Daddy Issues.’ Granted, I’ve read the poem many times–it’s one of my favorites–and I’ve written a literary analysis on ‘Daddy’. This certainly placed a part in why the post came together so nicely. Regardless, I still find it to be an impressive piece of writing for a simple blog post. Overall, my skills as a writer have substantially improved this semester, and I think a large portion of gratitude is owed to the Commonplace Book assignment. Perhaps one of the most vital parts of becoming a good writer is writing– continuously, constantly, always. Even if it sucks. And from a very young age, I’ve always loved to write, and I’ve always had a very distinctive ‘voice.’ I know I have a long road of improvement ahead of me; the only way which I’ll be able to manipulate my ‘voice’ into something coherent and aesthetically pleasing is if I constantly force myself to write something. It’s a rather painstaking process. Nonetheless, the ability to look back on this assignments and point out exact moments where I can capture myself becoming a better writer– suddenly the painful process is a distant memory, and all I can recall is satisfaction.

For example, I am very happy with the way my post for Wallace Stevens turned out. I had this weird idea to read his poetry over and over, thus forcing myself into different situations because I thought it would effect how I read his poetry. With the proposal of my plan to my suite mates, my roommates concluded that I had, indeed, finally lost it. They concluded that my soul had finally ascended to the English Gods. I was no longer with them. When I stuck my head out of my friend Lauren’s car and read the lines from Sunday Morning,”Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, / Within whose burning bosom we devise / Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.” I only confirmed their hypothesis that English majors are pretentious nut jobs. Not to say they aren’t right (because they totally are) but I was right, too. Poetry is awesome, especially when you stick your head out of a car window and read lines about the doubting of religion. Questioning one’s faith, feeling guilty– that’s deep stuff. And to read about it with the wind blowing past my ears and my roommate yelling at me that I’m a nerd… that’s deep stuff, too. It may be ridiculous. It probably is. But it’s still important. It still means something.

If this assignment has taught me anything, it has reminded me of the importance of self-reflection. Only through writing my initial thoughts on each text before coming to class was I able to gauge how I actually behave as a reader. I fear I often fall prey to adapting the “english major-y” perspective over my first organic interpretations. While I do think it’s good that my perspective of texts shifts post-class discussion, I would love to improve my reading skills by being able to combine both my academic and organic readings into something entirely unique. Books have the incredible ability to alter and change our perspective, and I think I owe it to myself to keep a better track of how they are effecting my own. Also, I feel the act of journaling about my English courses will help me exponentially in remembering class content. As I move further into my English studies, I may be affronted with a situation where I am enrolled in 3 or 4 English classes. For the sake of my sanity, I will need to write about each text I read, or I’ll end up forgetting everything.

I’m gonna end my final reflection with one of my favorite songs by my favorite band. I saw The Decemberists earlier this month, and I feel this song from their newest album captures the nostalgia I’ll inevitably feel for the month of May in a few months.

This is How You Lose Her: Initial Thoughts

One of the first things I took notice of in This Is How You Lose Her was the quirky and eccentric writing style. At times, it is very difficult to follow, and appears to be an aimless train of thought. With this in mind, I decided to approach the text searching for a continued motif or theme throughout the different short stories. I wanted to find out if there was a continuous symbol which interlaced all of the different stories, and I was rather surprised by the theme I came across: hair. In nearly every short story in This Is How You Lose Her, our narrator Yunior is quite fixated and fascinated with hair. I’m still not sure what the significance of this theme is, but I’d like to further explore it, because I think it’s important.

We see hair being brought up in the first paragraph of the book: “I cheated on her with this chick who had tons of eighties freestyle hair.”, which is the first description we receive of the woman whom Yunior cheated on Magda with. (1) It’s probably the only description we receive which doesn’t dehumanize or degrade the other woman. All of his other descriptions cover explicit descriptions of her body, particularly things like her breasts or her butt. Hair also appears in the very first sentence where Yunior describes Magda to the audience: “Let me tell you about Magda. She’s a Bergenline original: short with a big mouth and big hips and dark curly hair you could lose a hand in.” (5) I was quite interested with this description of Magda’s hair. It had a tone of nostalgia to it– as if Yunior missed the intimacy he shared with Magda, in which he could spend his time stroking Magda’s hair and losing his hands inside of it. Although, it could very well have a sexual connotation, and could allude to hair pulling. This wouldn’t surprise me, given the nature of the novel. With the next description of hair, we find out about Lucy’s hair before we even learn her name: “I meet a dominicana from West New York. Fly, of course. Triguena, with the most outrageous perm this side of Dyckman.

In the next short story, we again see a female character being introduced first by the nature of her hair: “She was Dominican, from here, and had super-long hair, like those Pentecostal girls, and a chest you wouldn’t believe…” (29). Further down on the page, we see her hair being described further: “But that was before she’d gotten that chest, before that slash of black hair had gone from something to pull on the bus to something to stroke in the dark.” (29). It was actually this description of hair which truly captivated me, and urged me to start keeping track of all the times Yunior talks about hair. In fact, after reading this line, I stopped reading, got up to grab a pen, and began to underline passages which I thought were important.  I was particularly captivated by this line for reasons which escape me. I’m not sure if I found the nature of this statement simply aesthetically pleasing, or I liked it because it appeals to the romantic which is burried somewhere deep, deep inside me. Regardless, it urged me to follow something I find very interesting. A friend of mine has been working on a photography project all year which centers around hair and self expression. It isn’t normally thought about, but hair is actually a significant part to our identity. It is telling of our ethnicity and our heritage, as well as a peek to our personalities. It has been used as a tool of violence as well as a peacemaker. I’ve also noticed that since I’ve stopped bleaching my hair blonde, I’ve began to grow far more confidant in who I am as a person. It also reminds me of my familial roots (no pun intended) because I have the same hair color as my mother. Furthermore, I also really love the message portrayed about hair in Lady Gaga’s song, ‘Hair.’ I’m not actually sure if Diaz had the same intentions in discussing hair and I or Lady Gaga did, but regardless, I think it’s an interesting conversation.

 

Lorde and Ellison: Institutionalized Racism

After taking an English class my freshman year which centered entirely around the texts of the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Empowerment Movement, I would consider myself quite familiar with both of these authors as well as the context in which they were written. Since I’ve read works by both of these authors, I went into reading their works with many preconceived notions. I knew what to look for. I knew that I wanted to pay attention to the ideas of anonymity, carnival, and identity in Ralph Ellison’s text. As for Lorde’s text, I was eager to read some of her poetry. I’ve only read transcripts of her speeches and some of her essays before, and I was interested in seeing a more creative side of Lorde. (Particularly because of how intrinsic art and creativity are to the Black Empowerment Movement).

Ellison’s text, “A Party Down at the Square” reflects the socialization and conditioning of young white folks. More than anything, this story proves that people are not born racist; they are born into racism, and are forced to succumb to the societal norms. I found this theme being especially spoken in how often the N-word appears in this text (over forty times). It expresses how often our narrator hears the word, and it almost seems to have an omnipresence throughout the story. Another instance of assimilation to culturally imbedded racism occurred on page 2717, where when the mass of the crowd was running away from the flames, so our young narrator “ran too.” When, in earlier parts of the story, our narrator was in fact stepping towards the black man being burned at the stake. He wasn’t afraid or disgusted, he was only curious. However, as the story progresses, he understands that he meant to be disturbed by this scene, so he also runs away with the crowd.

One of the main reasons why I think these were important authors to read in this class is their importance to the discussion of racism within America. White America has often been succumbed to the belief that with the Civil Rights Movement came the end of racism; many white Americans believe we live in a post racial society. However, both Lorde and Ellison’s texts are instrumental in proving that America is far from post-racial. Both of their texts are important now more than ever, as the question of police brutality is called into question, it is important that people make it known how much history lies behind this movement. Especially in Audre Lorde’s ‘Power,’ one is able to observe the results of police brutality against black children, “The policeman who shot down a 10-year-old in Queens stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood.” (3373) Perhaps what is most resonant and disheartening about this particular portion of the work is how well it translates to cases today– instances such as the murder of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice. All too often, black children are stripped of their childhood and forced into a bleak adulthood of facing the fact that their lives do not matter in the face of police officials.  

Daddy Issues

I apologize for the tasteless title of this blog post, but it was just all too tempting.

Diving into the world of Sylvia Plath, one is bound to find themselves in material which is profound, impactful, and sometimes even disturbing. Her work can often intimidate a reader for its heavy content, however, Plath’s careful and very deliberate choices to discuss such intense material make her work all the more memorable. “Daddy” is no exception.

Before reading Plath, I was never a big fan of ‘haunting’ poetry. I preferred poetry which comforted me–not works which I found unsettling. However, there’s a rather addictive nature to Plath’s works. I’m a huge fan of Sylvia’s, and I’m very happy that we’ll be discussing her poem ‘Daddy.’ I actually wrote an essay on ‘Daddy’ last semester. My analysis/thoughts will contain adaptations from the paper, however, my reading this time around was a bit different. While many of my observations are similar to the first time I dove into this work, I am interested at how differently I read this poem based on the context of our class. I’m eager to see what other students have to say about Plath’s work.

From the first line, readers can pick up on some kind of inner turmoil. The opening line reads, “You do not do, you do not do” (1). As readers, we have only just begun the work; we cannot be sure to whom or what the narrator is referring to, however– through the repetition of the phrase “you do not do” we hear a repeated, rhyming “oo” sound. In the rest of the stanza, Plath continues this assonance with “do,” “shoe,” and “achoo.”  This deliberate choice in rhyme does several things for the narrator’s tale. This “oo” sound begins the poem on a note of solemness; it is a quiet and sad sound.  The “oo” sound can also lead someone to imagine a person whimpering or crying, as “oo” is reminiscent of the sound “boo hoo.” Often, an immature “boo hoo” sort of cry comes from the mouth of a baby, which can then be related to the narrator herself. Her quiet, whimpering, and baby-like crying sound is so prevalent, she cannot help but cry in the first stanza of her poem. Perhaps her voice is shaking. This adds to the effect of the author sounding very underdeveloped, as if she herself is still a baby.

Plath also uses a dramatic comparison to describe the narrator’s relationship with her father throughout “Daddy,” being that of a Jew and a Nazi. “Nazi” has quite a heavy discourse: the word has a long and heavy history, and should not be used lightly. And while the narrator never outrightly states her father as a Nazi, the image is quite clear: she describes his “Aryan eye,” (43) her lover looking like her father with his “Meinkampf look” (65) and how “I thought every German was you.” (29) She even goes as far to place herself in a concentration camp: “A Jew to Dachu, Auschwitz, Belson./I began to talk like a Jew./I think I may well be a Jew.” (33-35) Some might say that this kind of comparison is insulting, for it can come across as an appropriation of the millions of lives which were lost at the hands of Nazis. This claim is completely viable. The narrator’s comparison does convey a dramatic effect, but it can come across as disrespectful. Using genocide for dramatic effect is not permissible. However, this insensitive comparison can serve to further explain the narrator’s emotional stunt. Her comparison, while uncomfortable and inappropriate, undoubtedly get her point across: her father has done nothing but harm to her. It is a child’s mistake to draw this kind of comparison without fully realizing the heavy discourse behind the statement.

We can see our narrator’s stunt being even further emphasized by the use of whimsical language: “I have always been scared of you,/With your Luftwaffe, you gobbedygoo.” (41-42) This second line can certainly make a reader tilt their head in confusion, for English-speaking readers would most likely find themselves unfamiliar with the words “Luftwaffe” and “gobbedygoo.” Upon further inspection, a reader can discover that while “Luftwaffe” is German for “air force,” but “gobbedygoo” has no meaning. It is gibberish. The narrator’s choice to use a silly, made up word here further shows her inability to grow. Speaking in gibberish and nonsense is something a child does, not a woman in her thirties.

While this poem is difficult for its’ disturbing content, it has an underlying message of truth. Perhaps this is what makes Plath’s work so unsettling– the dark subjects she writes about are dark and disturbing, but they are undeniably honest. However, her poems do not always end on a solemn note. In “Daddy,” this particular text covers the journey of the narrator moving on from from her father’s death. We are clearly able to see the pain which she feels, and Plath helps readers understand the narrator through her use of assonance, meter, and diction. It is difficult journey, but she ultimately does move on and calls her father out for the pain he has caused her: “Daddy, daddy, you bastard. I’m through.” (80)

 

Snyder, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac

Upon first reading Snyder’s Riprap, I was immediately drawn in with the playful and imaginative feel of the poem. His words begin by sounding short and concise, make the poem sound clipped: “Lay down these words/ Before your mind like rocks.” The effect of the clipped language drew the effect of sounding like rocks fallings down a hill, or feet crunching with rocks under each step. Either way, there is a definite sense of energetic movement in this poem. He also introduces an interesting by contrasting solid objects with intangible ideas with “mind” and “rocks.” The narrator continues to continue with a playful, jumpy feeling: “placed solid, by hands/ In choice of place, set/ Before the body of the mind/ in space and time:/ Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall/ riprap of things.” The imaginative nature of the poem, I feel, is particularly emphasized through Snyder’s coined term ‘riprap.’ Usually, when I come across a made-up word in a poem, it sounds like silly gibberish. This makes the narrator sounds underdeveloped or immature. However, in this poem, it gives the effect of playfulness, with an underlying sense of seriousness. The imagery in this poem reminded me of scenes in Studio Ghibli movies, created by filmmaker Hayao Miyakai. Miyazaki’s films are animated and created as children’s films, however, his films always carry an underlying seriousness as well as a political message. I feel this approach to entertainment is quite resonant to that of the Beat Movement. 

(I also just really love Studio Ghibli films and wanted to plug them in case anyone hasn’t seen his work. This is a clip from his newest film.)

The main thought I have concerning I Am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti is that I think this poem, similar to Howl, deserves to be heard read aloud. I’m not sure that one receives the full effect of this work unless it is read aloud. That being said, I found a recording of someone reciting the work:

 

As I read more and more works from the Beat Movement, I find that I am actually quite fond of their creations. I am a big fan of free verse spoken word poetry, and these poems seem to be the pioneers of this genre. Spoken word is very powerful, and is in it’s nature political and resonant.

Hughes and McCay: Poetry of Harlem

Perhaps one of McCays most moving and ambiguous pieces is America. America, with its broad and vague title immediately draws an audience in who wonders what McCay might have to say about America. Through the poem, we learn that the narrator is describing some kind of beast, and the beast “feeds me the bread of bitterness.” This excerpt is from the very first line of the poem, and can illustrate several interesting thoughts. Firstly, we learn that whomever or whatever the narrator is describing is female. (The quote, completed, would read: Although she feeds me the bread of bitterness”). When choosing what McCay’s beast would look like in this poem, he made the deliberate choice to maker her female. I’m still not quite sure why McCay made this choice, but I do think it is noteworthy. The only lead I have is that in western culture, we have a tendency to name powerful ships, buildings, and natural disasters after women. I’ve always found this to be an interesting phenomenon, to name powerful events/objects with female names, particularly since we exist in such a misogynistic culture. However, I do think it is worthy to mention that while these things receive female names, they are very much inanimate objects often accredited to being controlled by men. They are allowed to be powerful, yet they cannot speak, nor do they exist without their male creator. Perhaps this is how McCay pictures America as an embodied whole, and this is why he attached a female pronoun to his America. Another aspect which peaked my interest in the first line which reads “she feeds e bread of bitterness” is the last part: “bread of bitterness”. It is quite a confounding statement. Bread is most often attributed to being a sustenance of life. It also carries a biblical connotation. On the other hand, ‘bitterness’ is most often ascribed to something unpleasant to eat– even poisonous. It seems strange that bread, something which we rely on to live, could be deadly. Perhaps without our knowing.

This was my first time reading McCay, and I am astounded at the complexity and truth of his work. I particularly enjoyed reading his work alongside Hughes; their works are arguably speaking to one another, as many authors of the Harlem Renaissance seem to be.

As for Hughes’ poetry, his work I am quite familiar with, yet enjoy reading it whenever I do. I was very happy that our class seemed to enjoy his poem I, too for I consider it to be one of my favorites, however, I wish we oculd have read more of his works from his collective Fine Clothes to the Jew. It is just such a beautiful work, and I would have loved to discuss and write a blog post about poems such as “Let America be America Again” and “The Weary Blues”. Below is a reading of Langston Hughes’ “The Weary Blues” performed himself. I just love this rendition of Hughes reading the poetry alongside jazz musicians.

A View from the Bridge: Repressed Sexuality, Modernist Drama

In reading A View from the Bridge, I was once again affronted with the theme of repressed sexuality. As it has appeared in other readings, there are underlying homoerotic tendencies found within this text, and it appears as a slightly taboo topic. I am beginning to wonder if it is merely from the selection of readings for this class, or if repressed sexuality is a continued theme throughout twentieth century literature. I think it’s interesting to consider how differently writers in the twenty-first century write about queerness, as opposed to the century before us. For many writers in the twentieth century, it had to be done in a subversive manner (particularly for women). For example, Willa Cather masked her own queerness in My Antonia by distancing herself from her story with a male protagonist. Nella Larsen created a veil for Irene’s queerness in Passing by making it seem as if her race is the only thing Irene is passing for.

A View from the Bridge offers a very different approach of discussing queerness. This is attributed to the fact that A View from the Bridge is a drama, and because the character Eddie quite overtly struggles with his forbidden sexual desires in front of the audience. I actually quite enjoyed how uncomfortable Eddie’s relationship with Catherine makes the audience, especially with his overtly creepy dialogue:

“Alfieri, rising: But Eddie, she’s a woman now.

Eddie: He’s stealing from me!

Alfieri: She wants to get married, Eddie. She can’t marry you, can she?

Eddie, furiously: What are you talkin’ about marry me! I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!” (page 2848).

Upon first reading this play, I did not think it belonged to the modernist genre. However, after our discussion in class, my opinion has shifted. I believe A View from the Bridge is a modernist play for the continued discussion of queerness, and for the role of our narrator, Alfieri. Alfieri frames the play, and frames what he thinks the audiences interpretations should be of the character’s actions. The entire play is told through a lawyer’s mouth, which is meant to be a voice of reason, but he nonetheless shapes the audience’s perspective. Since lawyers study law created by our government, lawyers are a therefore voice of our government. They are also the objective voice of the government; they are the ones who settle disputes and arguments. As normal citizens, we are meant to trust them. However, if we consider the context in which this play was written, it is difficult to consider a voice of the government as objective.

Arthur Miller, the author of A View from the Bridge, was himself interviewed by McCarythy’s communist suspectors. McCarthy’s interviews were conducted by the government, and Miller was quite openly opposed to the Red Scare and McCarthyism. By choosing to frame his drama with a lawyer, a voice of the government whom we are meant to trust, the audience can begin to wonder if we can indeed trust Alfieri. Our government was made distraught by this time of hysteria and confusion, and it makes it difficult to trust the laws and decisions made by such a government. It is for these reasons that I believe A View from the Bridge is a work of modernism. To me, a vital point of modernism is the role of an active reader. Having a play with an unreliable narrator certainly creates an active audience member, especially when the narrator is someone whom we are meant to place our undying trust in. If one is an active reader, one may find themselves questioning the agency of lawyers, and by extent, the reliability, authority, and agency of our entire government.

Predisposed Distaste of ‘Of Mice and Men’

Having grown up in a part of California where the economy is heavily based upon farming and agriculture, I felt a personal longer to Steinback’s writing of the California ag setting. I have never been a big Steinback fan, but his descriptions of the culture and setting made me quite nostalgic for my hometown’s vast fields and clear blue skies. I do miss living in an ag town occasionally, and it was nice to read a story based in Salinas– a town not unlike my own. However, while the novel’s descriptions of landscapes were much more appealing to me than the first times I read this novella, I was again reminded of what I did not like about this novel: the choppy dialogue and static characters. I acknowledge that this is a novella which doesn’t allow a ton of space for good character development. Nonetheless, after just finishing ‘Passing’ which I found to contain very rich and captivating characters, ‘Of Mice and Men’ can certainly appear to fall short. Perhaps it is personal preference, but I have never truly liked the characters in ‘Of Mice and Men.’ The themes which this story seeks to explore, mercy killing and mental disabilities, seems to be too simple for my taste, which makes the whole story appear a bit cliche, and sort of undermines the importance of the themes. This is a bit dangerous, especially since mental disabilities are a topic which should be discussed with great sensitivity. There’s also the general ableism of a text which discusses mental disabilities without sensitivity, or describes a person with mental disabilities to act like a child. John Steinback is guilty of both of these with the character Lennie. I understand that Steinback wrote and existed in a different context, however, when we consider a novella containing extreme ableism to be a classic, it proposes the idea that ableism is permissible for the sake of literature. That just doesn’t sit well with me.

Since I’ve read this book three times for school, I can’t help but wonder why it is that I’ve been assigned this book so many times. I am especially curious, because this text is one which I don’t particularly like. I think this text was too advanced when I was assigned it as a freshman in high school. I can’t imagine why my teacher thought it was a good idea. Frankly, I don’t think many 14 year olds are mature enough to have a conductive dialogue about mental disabilities. I do, however, understand why I was assigned this text when I was a junior in high school; it’s more difficult than the average text, and it encouraged a good discussion of foreshadowing and justice. Those ideas were challenging and important to me at the time. As of late, I am finding that this text below my reading skill. It especially seems like a step back since we have been reading quite complex texts in this class. This is definitely not a modernist text (not in the sense which I would consider) and it isn’t challenging to read. Which, again, causes me to question the peculiar reasons of our professor’s for choosing this text. I’m sure there are several sound reasons, and I am perhaps prejudiced against liking this text because I don’t particularly like the characters. However, I am quite eager for our class discussion on this book, despite my negative standpoint. I don’t like disliking books, and I would much rather have a more agreeable opinion of this book.