Thursday, February 28, 2008

This is not a pipe.

Such that wholly or partially, it is to say that this preface, how shall I say, is nothing more than nonsense to me, or not me.

I’m not sure that I completely agree with Breton’s ideas in some of the things he discusses. I do like his notion of the insane “being honest to a fault” (5). However, I don’t agree that M. Paul Valéry’s suggestion of creating an anthology made up entirely of first sentences from novels is an insane one. I personally look forward each year to the new edition of The Best American Non-Required Reading, which contains a small section, dedicated completely to some of the year’s best opening sentences. I think if someone did create such a compilation as Valéry proposes, I would probably buy it.

Surrealism, as I am trying to understand it, seems very similar to magnetic poetry. The poems on pages 41-43 strike me as being just that, the only difference is that these poems were found poems clipped from newspapers, rather than being packaged up, themed and mass-produced to be sold at your local store of whimsy.
This fashion of combining thoughts that seem, at least on the surface, to be completely unrelated, feels to me more like a conscious effort to sound random. The sense that I get is that people who write surrealism, try to portray it as an absolute freeing of the mind, allowing it to wander where it may. I think when you let your mind wander, it tends to link things up closer together than demonstrated in this writing style. Thoughts, to me, trigger other thoughts: something reminds you of something else and that something else leads to another something else, etc. The samples of surrealism given here don’t seem to be doing that though. They seem incredibly forced. For instance, the answers to the questions on page 34 are so unrelated to the questions, I’m having a hard time accepting it as anything more than a complete disregard to the actual questions being asked.

Writing is such a conscious effort. It’s all about choosing the most appropriate words to get your thoughts across. As far as surrealist writing, I’m not convinced this is even possible. Thoughts are more dimensional than mere sentences and paragraphs can possibly portray. I think in the act of choosing the words to describe your thoughts, you are not entirely in a state of liberating your mind. I liked that Breton mentioned surrealist artists such as Picasso. It further helped me to try to grasp the concept by giving me a concrete visual. I think that visual art is a more suitable medium for the abstract idea of surrealism. When put into written form, it is messy and often hard to follow. The subjects are constantly changing. Although I think Breton did not favor the use of titles as Soupault does (23-24), I find them quite helpful for this sort of thing. Rather than adjusting yourself constantly from thought to thought, trying to decipher what is going on, the text is qualified in a way that prepares you for the shift in ideas. I both understood and enjoyed reading the “Secrets of the Magical Surrealist Art” on pages 29-32, than most of the preceding pages. The reason for this: subtitles.

Monday, February 25, 2008

As per usual, my reaction is 'Huh?'

Initially, I found myself nodding my head. Certainly, there must be something lost if one is attempting to write about man in an entirely logical fashion. The logical is only part of our experiences, a lot of what makes us what we are doesn't seem very logical at all. All of us, even in our adult lives I believe to some extent, stew in our imagination, if not in outright fantasies and dreams.

I enjoyed Brenton's poking fun of the “informative style,” the perhaps all too complete (-ly useless?) description of the room. Logically describing a room a character enters makes sense, but I've certainly never surveyed a room in such a manner upon entering it unless I was either for some reason making an attempt to memorize its contents, or was incredibly, incredibly bored and probably more awake and less easily distracted than I generally am. Remembering some creative non-fiction writing I read from other students, this interesting tendency to describe a setting entirely, or a new character completely upon meeting them was one that often rubbed me the wrong way, though I had difficulty verbalizing why. Something about it rings untrue.

A man cut in two by a window. It's an interesting piece of language, and I didn't blame him for perusing it, and it's strange materialization in his mind.

But this is where you lose me, whether it be because of my inability to understand or perhaps because I do and simply disagree? Some truth in the random firings of our minds, like the window phrase above? Hmmmm. Certainly there could be some truths about ourselves that might be uncovered by looking at the illusions we create or words that spew uncontrolled from our heads (if that's even possible, but I'm raising my skeptical eyebrow here). But it seems so abstract it becomes useless. He says our brains are dulled by trying to make the unknown known. Would that be, by his opinion, what I'm doing here, then? But if something is utterly, utterly senseless to you, why bother?

The waking mind is scarred to express itself, the dreaming mind satisfied and free. And I assume not scarred to express itself, so it reveals more truths? ...But the dreaming mind doesn't make sense to our waking minds. We're so incapable of grabbing hold of a dream. So how could it possibly inform our lives and our writing to such a great extent as he seems to imply it should? I feel like I'm being told to drink a cup of fog. There's water in there, so you can do it, right? But what use do I have for water that isn't in a form my throat muscles can work with?

And am I right that on page 21 he says he traced the outline of images from his head onto a paper? Like, literally, man?

I feel like I'm talking about nothing at all.

On a random note, just in general I do sometimes like a good unexpected juxtaposition, but...I had trouble connecting why these were important to him, how they connected with surrealism overall?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

surealist post

believe in the future resolution of these two states,, dream and reality. .. p 14
Also "
For how long, sleeping logicians, philosophers? I would like to sleep in order to enable myself to surrender to sleepers, as I surrender to those who read me with their eyes open, in order to stop the conscious rhythm of my thought from prevailing over this material."

Leads me to the movie favored among college students- Waking Life.

"Could not the dreams as well be applied to the solution of life's fundamental problems? Are these problems the same in one case as in the other, and do they already exist in the dream? Is the dream less oppressed by sanctions than the rest? I am growing old and, perhaps more than this reality to which I believe myself confined, it is the dream, and the detachment that I owe to it, which is ageing me."

This alliance, dreams and reality becoming equvial is still a radical notion.
Surrealist pieces still strike us, the modern day viewers, as "out of sync", almost 85 years later. Why?

I always had a difficult time grasping surrealism as an art/literary movement. I can pop out flash card trivia like who was in the movement and when...etc but it’s something that I could never recreate. Anybody with bad eye site can recreate Impressionism, anyone with a hard jaw line and scissors and attempt to make deconstructivism, people with a grasp of metallurgy or graphic design can install huge constructist pieces, but surrealism takes something, someone removed.

This is because in order to be surrealist, you have to forsake all logical thought.

"We are still living under the reign of logic: this, of course, is what I have been driving at. But in this day and age logical methods are applicable only to solving problems of secondary interest."

The reason behind the abandonment of logic - that all logical thought is bourgeois- is an argument that doesnt make much sense to me.

In Memory of Lawrence King

This incident didn't really make the national news. When I heard about it, I couldn't help but think of Paul and Dargelos. One possible reading of Dargelos behavior is that he was motivated by the same things that motivated Lawrence King's killer. According to some critics, it's the snowball that ultimately kills Paul.

Student is declared brain dead; Lawrence King, 15, was shot and wounded at an Oxnard campus Tuesday. A classmate faces murder charge.

An Oxnard junior high student who was shot in the head by a classmate earlier this week was declared brain dead Wednesday, and the 14-year-old male suspect now faces a first-degree murder charge, authorities said.

Lawrence King, 15, was declared brain dead by two neurosurgeons about 2 p.m. at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, said Craig Stevens, senior deputy Ventura County medical examiner. King's body remains on a ventilator for possible organ donation, he said.

He was shot early Tuesday in a classroom at E.O. Green Junior High School.

Authorities initially believed that King was improving. But the boy's condition worsened early Wednesday, and he was placed on a ventilator a few hours later with his family nearby, said an official, who asked not to be named.

David Keith, an Oxnard police spokesman, said the family would have no comment and asked the media to respect their privacy.

Police said the suspect, whose identity was not disclosed because of his age, shot King at least twice at the beginning of the school day and then fled the campus. The boy was apprehended by police a few blocks away and is being held in Juvenile Hall. He is scheduled to appear in court today.

Ventura County Dist. Atty. Gregory Totten said prosecutors would decide whether the case should remain in Juvenile Court after reviewing the police investigation. Under state law, prosecutors can ask the court to try the suspect as an adult, he said. "In all probability he will be charged in adult court," Totten said.

Police have not determined a motive in the slaying but said it appeared to stem from a personal dispute between King and the suspect.

Keith and Totten declined to elaborate.

But several students at the south Oxnard campus said King and his alleged assailant had a falling out stemming from King's sexual orientation.

The teenager sometimes wore feminine clothing and makeup, and proclaimed he was gay, students said.

"He would come to school in high-heeled boots, makeup, jewelry and painted nails -- the whole thing," said Michael Sweeney, 13, an eighth-grader. "That was freaking the guys out."

Student Juan Sandoval, 14, said he shared a fourth-period algebra class with the suspect, whom he described as a calm, smart student who played on the basketball team.

"I didn't think he was that kind of kid," Sandoval said. "I guess you never know. He made a big mistake."

"Their lives are both destroyed now," said student Hansley Rivera, 12.

Several students said that a day before the shooting, King and several boys had some kind of altercation during the lunch period.

If the suspect targeted King because of his sexual orientation, the case could rise to the level of a hate crime, authorities said.

"We've heard that and a lot of other things," Keith said. "But I can't say what the motive is until we finish our interviews."

Totten said he could not comment on the specifics of the case until he reviewed the police investigation. But a hate-crime enhancement is something that prosecutors would consider as they move forward, he said.

"It's something we will look at," he said. "But the case is going to be reviewed as a murder involving the use of a firearm, and that carries a potential sentence of 50 years to life."

Jerry Dannenberg, the school district superintendent, said the school's staff was aware that King had butted heads with other students, including the suspect, and offered both students help.

"They had been doing a lot of counseling and a lot of work with [King] to help him deal with some of his concerns and issues," Dannenberg said. "But I can't go into specifics about what was going on."

Bullying in schools has long been a problem. But recent studies show that a student who comes "out" as gay or lesbian is far more likely to suffer abuse than others, said Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network based in New York.

A student thought to be gay was five times as likely to be threatened or injured by a weapon, a 2002 California Department of Education study said.

Jennings said other studies have found similar results. His group advocates more teacher training on how to handle bullying and harassment, specifically of gay students.

"This Oxnard shooting is very upsetting but not surprising," Jennings said. "The real issue is not the kid coming out, but the kid sitting next to him. Schools must teach that we may not like one another, but we must respect one another."

Teachers and counselors at E.O. Green Junior High, meanwhile, sought to calm fears about escalating violence at the south Oxnard campus.

About a quarter of the school's 1,000 students stayed home Wednesday due to fear of reprisals, Dannenberg said.

He said the school would have extra staff and police on campus for the next few days.

Counselors will be on hand as long as needed, Dannenberg said. The school district will hold a meeting for parents next week to discuss concerns.

This week's shooting was a first, not only for the school but for all of Ventura County, which has never before seen a classroom fatality.

Dannenberg said school administrators can take steps to keep guns out of schools but that nothing would ever work perfectly.

"It's not just the schools," he said. "We have a societal problem. Last week, it was gunfire at a City Council back east. And this week, unfortunately, it was us."



Credit: Times Staff Writers
Caption: PHOTO: VICTIM: Lawrence King was shot twice Tuesday morning at E.O. Green Junior High School.; PHOTOGRAPHER:Lawrence K. Ho Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In the beginning of the novel, it is the snowball thrown by Dargelos that plunges Paul deep into the fantasy world of the Game and the confines of the Room, both of which are manipulated in ways both physically real and apparently supernatural by his older sister. It is Dargelos, or rather Paul's attraction for that ideal, that gives Elisabeth the power she needs to keep Paul in her grasp. For Elisabeth, the fatal snowball is one of her miracles, as is the mysterious "poison", both gifts from Dargelos that draw Paul further into the Room and in the case of the latter gift, permanently. "She invested the poison with symbolic properties: it was the antidote to pettiness and parochialism; would, must-surely-lead to the final overthrow of Agatha" (164).

We know that Elisabeth is physically attracted to her brother (not necessarily the other way around). She is "melted, almost to tears, by the grace and beauty of his body" (36). I think that attraction as well as her fear of being left alone fuels her desire to possess him completely. On page 42, she attempts to get him to play the Game by submitting to being hypnotized by her. At this point in the story, it just sounds like an innocent child's game. I see a parallel here with her Shakesperean scheme that takes place later in the novel in regards to the letter. As she wanders through the mansion like a vampire or a spider (I think the text refers to her a few times as both) manipulating the others, she encounters zero resistance from any of them. Although it isn't explicitly stated, the absolutely ridiculous ease with which she succeeds suggests to me that she has literally hypnotized the other three enfants. Perhaps the Room interacts with the real world through Elisabeth and the Game. Paul, at this point, seems detached from all three due to his feelings for Agatha (whether or not they are genuine) and has just as little power as both Agatha and Gerard themselves. Elisabeth senses Paul's premier design for Agatha, subjecting her to his will (something he could have never done to Dargelos), and calls this "cheating" (94). Why? Is it because the physical resemblance of Agatha to Dargelos-Athelie threatens to upset Paul's fixation on the Dargelos already contained in the Room, the Dargelos in the photgraph and in Paul's various clippings?

In the end, it is Elisabeth and the Room that win. The final miracle, the "poison", leads to their deaths, but it also rejoins Paul and Elisabeth in the Room, "where incest lurks no more" (181). Paul is referred, I believe on the same page, as Elisabeth's prey. Agatha calls out to Paul as a way of pulling him back, but he is already gone and "to disturb a player once this third stage had been accomplished was considered unforgivable" (34). Agatha is finally abandoned by the Room, overthrown by Elisabeth.


This book, from beginning to end, reminded me so much of the movie Sunset Boulevard... both have to deal with a vampire or spider-like femme fatale that ensnares a man in her seedy fantasy world and go mad(der) in the process of trying to possess him completely, destroying them both. The fictional Norma Desmond, no doubt one of my favorite Hollywood personnages of all time, is a real piece of work. Even though Elisabeth shoots herself at the end of this book, I think the book ends on a happier note than that movie. I'm interested to see what sort of mood the ending of the film version of Les Enfants Terribles has.

Oh, and even though Cocteau approached the director to do the film and worked with him on it, I don't think they were able to agree on much... and the final product did not please Cocteau at all. I think I read that somewhere. Interesting to know for those interested in comparing the book to the film.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

What DID make her think she cold prevail by commonsense? Haha, that nut.

It surprises me how no one has mentioned yet how this book is obviously a metaphor for WWI. Elizabeth is the Entente Powers, Paul is clearly the Central Powers, Gerard is Italy and the United States, Dargelos is the Ottoman Empire, the Room is Europe, and the Treaty of Versailles is represented by...

Ok, no. Though the talk of it earlier in class put me a little more at ease, I still can't help but struggle with what this book means/is about, if only because it feels like we're so trained to see allegory in everything we read at school. Ostensibly I can be cool with the fact that it's not one, but there's got to be something it's, er, 'about' besides some bizarre siblings, or the book wouldn't even be remembered, am I right? 'The human condition?' Or is it saying something about reality and our minds? But I still barely know what to make of what's being said here. Clearly Cocteau is trying to jar and unsettle us out of our comfort zone, but to what end?

I really don't remember much of anything I've learned about literary movements (who does? ....and anyone who's raising their hand right now, stop showing off), but glancing over wikipedia and enotes, my findings suggest this book is, I can say, pretty poster child surrealist. (My findings also suggest Cocteau wrote the book “in a week during a strenuous opium weaning.” ...It's really sad that's the thing that shed the most light on the book than anything else found in my search.) I always have trouble understanding this kind of thing, so forgive me if I'm skewing or leaving out something important here, but I guess surrealism is “a reaction against rational thought,” about letting go of things like conscious thought, self-censorship, self-control, and prized the meaning of dreams or unfiltered irrational thought over them? Or on enotes I see not dumping rational thought but trying to expand the potential of the mind by reconciling the two?

But the characters in this book aren't writing this stuff, they're living it. (And they certainly don't seem to be reconciling the two.) Control, “moral preoccupation,” “aesthetic self-censorship,” out the window to make room for their game and their Room, things they seem to hold above whatever goes on in the outside world. (ok, i'm not entirely sure I know exactly what “aesthetic self-censorship” is. But any meaning i can guess at, they're throwing that away ^_^) And it's all they can do. Paul at the very least it explicitly states could work with the game but when he tried conscious self-analysis he failed miserably. what? Is what we see in this book supposed to be some sort of unfiltered reality? Maybe I'm just misunderstanding what surrealism is (am I lame for now being kind of curious about reading those manifestos now? ...yes. Yes I am.). Still, sorry, but Liz and Paul's world looks exceedingly unreal to me. But, well, that's what anyone's reaction would be upon being introduced to this. I've watched them for a whole book, so I feel like I ought to know better, see the real behind the unreal, but...

*flips through the book again*

...Nope, they still look pretty lunatic.

Am I missing something here? Or is trying to find the 'super-real' part of this book going in totally the wrong direction in trying to understand it?

...Also, what's the deal with that Michael guy being, er, allowed in the room after he's dead? What, now he's dead and away from the rational world he makes it in? That seems rather a paltry excuse. I feel like I'm missing the mark.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

youre to Jung for this...

Elizabeth and Paul's relationship borders on the unhealthy. The concept of the "Game", the constant togetherness, stealing etc. The concept of personal space and borders do not exist between Elizabeth and Paul but between the world and Elizabeth and Paul. "No notion crossed them... even faintly of the external impression they produced" p59. Cocteau points out how close they are. After the death of their mother, their relationship became even more dysfunctional close.
I kept thinking of the idea of the anima and the animus. Anima is the unconscious female and the animus the unconscious male. The Anima and animus are shadow selves of each other. The female/male is not a genderized or sex trait specific expression but a symbolic one.

Jung also set out a hierarchy or "levels of development” in which each that each gender had to work though in order to maintain a healthy relationship with the opposite sex.

Only when you could achieve perfect balance of your anima/animus could people have a healthy relationship.

I am thinking about other untraditional relationships between a man and a woman-- such as the straight women/gay male relationship.

Although Paul and Elizabeth are brother and sister, they still are friends. The gay male/straight female alliance has been under recent fire lately, due to shows like Will and Grace.

So why did I infer Paul was gay? Up to this point in the book he idolizes the athletic youth, and seems to have crushes on his male friends. ( Worshipping the athletic youth is one of the levels in the anima/animus)

The isolation of Paul and Elizabeth reminded me of Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews. This book has gained a huge cult following. It details the sexual feelings of a Cassie Dollanganger to her Chis brother while being trapped in an attic.

Paul/Elizabeth Cassie/Chris and even Will and Grace- feel isolated and depend on their "other half" to complete them. They exhibit signs of L’Amour Fou- or Mad Love. This emotion was described to me as "an all consuming passion for each other, to where the world does not exist- only love exists"
To my cynic mind.. maybe they need more analytic psychology and spend some time apart.

love is a battlefield

(clears throat) I'm sure we are all familiar with the song, right?
The Holy Terrors opened with a scene in which a snow ball fight was occuring. Even after reading on to scene's with doctors and nurses and hotels, I couldn't get over that first scene. I had to read it and reread it. I think this is mostly because I wasn't sure what had actually happened. The way in which this scene was described made me unsure at first if it was actually a battlefield. I understood that there were teenage boys running around with injuries to their knees, but the passion with which the whole incident was despribed was quite a bit more than a snow ball fight needed.
Then, once I concluded that there wasn't actually a battlefield, but more a figurative one, I stumbled over the gangs a bit. Was that also an exageration?
OK, now to the really good stuff... who the hell puts a rock in a snowball?!?! This whole incident was just one thing after another that I couldn't quite put my hands on. I understood things once Paul made it home to his sister, but up until that point things seemed to fluid for me to be able to hold in my hands. Gerard felt guilty or scared about saying Dargelos had put a rock in the snow ball. Was that because it was a lie out of jealousy or because he was afraid of retaliation? And why was Dargelos so angry at Paul in the first place? He just wanted to make sure this guy was safe. Is it such a crime to care about another person, even if that person does not return the care?
I was uncertain what was really going on when all of this went down, but it seemed almost as thought Paul had interupted Dargelos from getting beat up, in which case there should have been some appreciation.
Maybe all of this is just too delicious for my mind to be able to understand it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I am struck by the second to last paragraph on page 81:

Of this instructive session, Gerard retained one imprint and no more: namely, the moment when Elisabeth had addressed him for the first time by the familiar “tu.”

Although I like to think that I can speak French, I do not remember enough high school French to pass as fluent. However, I remember enough to know that “tu” is the familiar form of you, while “vous” is the proper form of you. This happens as she is taunting Paul with the crayfish and Paul has just hurled a glass of milk at her. I think it is strange that although Elisabeth is familiarly acquainted with Gerard, she refers to him in the proper form. I think that Elisabeth is too self-centered to consider someone else being above her. I guess I am just not understanding the relationship that she has with Gerard and the significance that Gerard finds in this occasion.

We talked in class about Les Enfants Terribles being translated to The Holy Terrors. I think we could all agree that The Holy Terrors accurately fits the characters in this book, but I still don’t think that it is an accurate translation. The Bad Children to The Holy Terrors. I am really curious as to what liberties a translator has in translating a book, and how my small knowledge of French is affecting how I am interpreting this story. Obviously some things are not easily translated, English does not have a familiar and a proper form of “you” so the “tu” had to be kept in the text to make a point.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pat Dorman Women's Studies Scholarship

I received this e-mail from Lisa McClain, the director of the Gender Studies program:

Hello everyone,

The deadline for the Pat Dorman Women's Studies Scholarship is approaching. I encourage you to, in turn, encourage your students to apply for this scholarship. You may recall, last year we did not have any applicants and the scholarship went un-awarded. What this means is that the award will be more substantial this year. You can tell your students that the $350 on the application is the minimum amount we award and that in the past we have been able to award several hundred additional dollars, depending on how the scholarship fund performs in the market.

I am including the link to the scholarship application below.

Feel free to forward the link to interested students or just print out the application and make as many xeroxes as you desire. Hopefully we will have some great students applying this year. Please help us ensure that we award the scholarship for 2008-2009. This is an honor to Dr. Pat Dorman, one of the founders of the Women's Studies Program (now Gender Studies) here at BSU and its first Director.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It took me a while to get into this book. The overly abstract-flowery language seems substantially less once Gérard gets Paul to his uncle’s house. I did attempt those first five or so pages a few times and finally managed not to find myself napping during my final attempt. The boys of the snowball fight, on page 4, are referred to as “—the terrors of the Fifth”… “A year from now, having become the Fourth.” I can not figure out what this means; however, the capitalization and the fact that it is here in the novel at all, make me think it might be important. If anyone can explain to me what they are referring to, that would be fantastic.

Sexual identity is something that Gérard, Paul, and Elisabeth seem to be trying to figure out for themselves. In the beginning, Gérard is quite infatuated with Paul, but by page 85, he seems to be more so with Elisabeth. I wonder if this has to do with their dominance levels. Before that, he flirts with an entirely different possible fetish. “There had been something of a perversion, almost of necrophily, in the delicious pleasures of that journey with the unconscious youth; not that he envisaged it in such crude psychopathic terms” (32). Paul in the beginning likes Dargelos but then takes to picking up girls on the streets. Elisabeth, I think, is going through teenage girlhood as expected, insecure and seeking constant approval. The incest stuff is something that I won’t even attempt to assess. On page 75, Elisabeth is said to be “using Gérard as a stooge.” Is this sexual?

The rich, parentless, incestuous siblings reminded me of that movie, Cruel Intentions. I looked into it and found that I am wrong. That movie is based off a much older French novel. It helped me though to gain perspective for these characters since I personally, have a hard time relating to them. Here is how I am tracking them as I read:

(Elisabeth & Paul)
A few other things that struck me as dominant throughout this first half of the novel are the death of parents, dominance among peers, charity (both giving and receiving), and inhibitions of various settings: (alone vs. being with people you are quite comfortable with vs. people less familiar to you).

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Holy Terrors

I must admit that this is a rather interesting book to read, a little bit lighter than Swann and therfore slightly more enjoyable on that level. The characters are very eccentric and I do not relate to them on many levels, it seems, but that does not keep me from enjoying the book greatly. I suppose there are two things that really stand out to me that I want to discuss, The Game, and What they think.

The game is a interesting notion to me, and comes up countless times through out the story, or what we have read. Now the game is clearly something that these twins do for amusement, which has no set rules per se, though it is mentioned on pg 35 that "To disturb a player once this third stage had been accomplished was considered unforgivable". Other than that though everything generally seems to be fair play. Whether it is disturbing each other's sleep, physical violence, torturing small children, petty theft, nothing seems to be out of bounds.

What is the point of the "Game"? Well it seems to be just amusement for these twins. Sure, Elisabeth doesn't want her brother to become too slothful, but other than that they have no real goal besides their own entertainment. They both adopt roles and push each other in odd directions because it seems like they have nothing better to do, as if they are building a world of fantasy for themselves to live in. I can not find the quote but earlier in the book it mentions that their room represented some sort of world/city for them to create and control. Later on it mentions that Paul's half of the room in the hotel was the upper half while Elisabeth's was the lower half, demonstrating the power struggle between them.

Twice in the book it also distinctly mentions that they did not care what others thought about them, which I question the voracity of. They certainly do seem carefree and aloof, free from social structures and bounds, but I highly suspect that they care about what each other thinks, and I believe that is the root of the game, to get inside one another's mind and to screw with the other's perceptions of who they are and what they think. Ultimately I am fairly intrigued by this book and look forward to seeing how it progresses.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Which Swann?

In the final section of Swann's way, Marcel continues to draw parallels between Swann and himself. Ostensibly, this epilogue is mostly about his burgeoning love for Gilberte (staring at almost any given page from this section, I am amazed at the number of instances that "Gilberte" makes an appearance), but what stood out most to me was Marcel's ongoing preoccupation with Swann himself. He has pointed out their similarities a few times over the course of the book. Here, he talks about finding qualities in Gilberte that "literature or conversation have taught him are among those worthy of inspiring love, so much so that he assimilates them by imitation and makes them new reasons for his love, even if these qualities were the most diametrically opposed to those his love would have sought so long as it remained spontaneous" (426). Marcel then directly refers to Swann having done the same with Odette. So what would his love have sought had it remained spontaneous? I don't know about the rest of you, but I read that as a pretty thinly veiled confession of the narrarator's true preference. Perhaps Swann's as well.

Swann becomes a mythical, supernatural creature to the young Marcel despite his fleeting appearances in the last fourty or so pages. Seeing Swann makes his heart pound and he compares him to a historical figure that impassions him (423). He experiences a "delectable melancholy pleasure" upon hearing that Swann had... bought an umbrella? (431) Finally, I'd like to point out a conversation Marcel has with his mother where she rants about a 'horrible, frightfully vulgar woman' who said that Marcel was "too nice looking for a boy" (430). It makes me think back to the prostitute at his uncle's house who said that Marcel may grow up to be an 'artist' or the only kind of man who really understands women. Marcel is not at all shy about asserting his dandyishness, something I think is linked to the snobbish attitude both he and Swann share concerning history and the arts.


Well, there goes the first book, but before we bid Adieu to both Swann and Marcel, lets take a look at that last section. As mentioned in the other post, Marcel clearly takes after Swann in his obsessive manner, or maybe Swann just exemplifies this obsessive streak inside of him. Marcel definetely had the obsession before we were formally introduced to Swann, via the desire for the kiss. Now we can see his obsessive nature when it comes to objects of love. I find slight irony in the Marcel's attraction towards Gilberte as Gilberte clearly echoes Odette and Marcel echoes, or at least seems to follow in the foot steps of, Swann.

Now I think that there should be slightly more leeway granted Marcel when it comes to matters of love, considering that he is notable younger than Swann. Such a level of Obsession is slightly more acceptable when he who is displaying it is a child. Obsession is childish, in a sense, because it shows a lack of maturity or a will to control desire. When we see Marcel tearing himself apart pining over Gilberte it is almost cute, because we consider such things to be the norm when one is a child. However, in reference to Swann doing it, we see it as very distressing because while this pining is on the level of childlike behaviour, we all indulge in it.

I felt as if this last section really didn't wrap up too much, or expand upon too much either. At the end we get to touch upon the theme of Memory, having Marcel wander around the garden and think about the past. We also get the theme of obsessive love come up via and Gilbrette, and reality being different from imagination when Marcel gets suddenly sick and is unable to go on his Grand Tour of Italy. I pray that my classmates can sympathize, or even empathize, with this sort of plight, to desire something so bad and yet not be able to attain it due to things outside of our control. A fairly common theme in this book, like the Kiss, or Odette. Ah yes, Odette.

So, apparently Swann and Odette got married. How cruel of Marcel to inform us of this at the end of the novel and provide us no explanation. But beyond that, isn't it a little bit funny how Marcel views Odette, I mean, literally. Whenever he describes Odette his focus shifts to that of her fashion and how she carries herself. He isn't interested particularly in who she is, or what she does, but how she looks. Also, when making a comment about Swann, he says he wishes he could be bald like Swann. This is a bit tenous, but perhaps an example of his homosexuality. Homosexuals are apparently know for their love of fashion, and Marcel is certainly showing his colors when he comments upon her clothing, and also how that clothing was so much better rather than this pish posh bird cages in hats sort of thing.

But even beyond that, the whole, GASP! part was Odette and Swann marrying. WHY!!!!???? I mean at least that was the first question that popped up into my mind. Why would Swann marry someone he got over, and why would Odette marry someone she has very little interest in? Marriage of Convience? Maybe they do love each other and they needed to get over their inhibitions? I find it to be strangely fitting at least, Swann did get what he wants, and judging by the descriptions of Odette, she got what she wanted too. I suspect what really ties these two together is the Child. When one has to support a child one isn't too inclined to be a prostitute, I imagine, and who wants to care for a Prostitute with child? Swann probably took mercy on Odette and took her under his wing when she was pregnant, helping her through that time monetarily. But this is just conjecture, obviously. Damn Marcel for springing this upon us and leaving us to hang. If only I had the free time to read the other thousand pages he had written. Oh, if only.

In summation I Really enjoyed the book, though I Felt like the last section was a little lack luster. Maybe because it was shorter than the other sections and didn't provide as much in depth study of emotion and thought as I was use too, or maybe it was because I was tired while reading the book and therfore not as receptive as usual. It made for a good end to books, as endings go, but I Felt like Marcel was giving me more of an ending rather than than a continuation of the story. Sure we have the little sub plot about him and Gabriele, and there were definitely a number of loose ends wrapped up in this, as well as one or two more mysteries created, but ultimately Swann was tidying up what he had laid down and giving us a sort of enticement to read his next book. Understandable, but this part just didn't have as much pull on my heart/soul(as it where), than the other parts. Very pretty, no doubt, but much too brief. Overall though, good book, I enjoyed it. Heres to the next one!

So What Does it All Mean?

Surreal is the best word I can think of to describe Swann’s Way. The book has this dreamlike quality; at times while reading, I didn’t know if I was awake or asleep. As I read the final section, I found myself wondering why Swann was the object of Marcel’s fascination. Is it accurate to say that Marcel was obsessed with Swann to the same degree that Swann was infatuated with Odette? Would Swann’s Way have been just as effective had it not contained a novel within a novel? These questions stand out the most as I try to wrestle with what this book really means.

Originally, I said that Marcel had more in common with his Aunt Leonie than he did Swann; Swann was merely an idol that Marcel looked up to. However, it would appear that there is a connection between Marcel and Swann that is more involved than what the reader first experiences. As a reader first delves into Swann’s Way he/she is struck by the story of the Madeleine and Aunt Leonie and by the language that Marcel uses in his reminiscences. The people that Marcel talks about the most are those that are closest to him, he interacts with these people, even if it is on some basic level. Swann seems to be part of the backdrop. Why would Marcel take such interest in a man who trespasses against his time with his mother?

Keeping in mind that the story of Swann in Love came to Marcel came to Marcel through some other means signifies that Swann plays a larger role in the scheme of things. In other words, Marcel did not include the story of Swann and Odette’s love affair because it struck a chord; he found a man that he can relate to on a deeper level.

Just as the story of Marcel’s first taste of the Madeleine is a memory, so is the story of Swann in love. There seems to be a connection between involuntary memory and love. It is the theme that is played out the most throughout the book. Just as the cookie is Marcel’s catalyst for remember, Odette seems to be the prop that propels Swann to realize his own self deception. And yet, I sit here trying to wake from the dreamlike quality of the book and I wonder how Marcel was deceived. Did the real world not match up to the fantasy world that Marcel created? Did Marcel have greater hopes for a man like Swann? At the beginning of the book, one could certainly say that Marcel was deceived by the taste of the Madeleine, but there has to be more to Marcel’s deception than what revolves around a cookie.

This book has been difficult for me to read because I cannot seem to make sense out of all my disconnected thoughts. Have I succeeded in answering any of my questions? No, I have only managed to raise more. Personally, I was frustrated with Swann’s Way because there was not a character that I could readily relate to. And yet, I am intrigued by the book as a whole. The novel inside a novel is fascinating to me. One thing is certain, this novel is very thought provoking. I realize I have not managed to say anything profound as I wrestle with the meaning of the book, but I am trying.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Major Themes 2/5/08

DJ and Mike: Ambiguity of Perception (257, 253)
You see yourself one way and another person sees you another way. Odette's taste. "What a charming place . . . " (257). "The notion she has formed of society people is not accurate . . . ". What we perceive may not be truth. Our perceptions are skewed by our opinions. Swann sees Odette as a pristine thing but she's not.

Erin, Amanda F., Nora: Self-Deception (284, 390)
"To think that I wasted years of my life. . . ". Brings back the story with Odette and how he deceived himself. "How often we sacrifice . . .". They sacrifice what they like for immediate pleasure. Self-deception keeps coming back.

Ronia, Mel: Identity; how you see yourself vs. how society sees you/truth and falsehood (254)
Discussion about antiques; fitting people into stereotypes v. how people really are. For her, it seems to be more about the appearance of being a certain way than actually being that way. Also, on 373, using lies to gain truth.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Section One: (Page 1-48)

"If you knew everything they thought, I bet you'd wish they they'd just shut up."-Modest Mouse

In the introduction to Swann's Way, when Proust is begging publishers to print his book and offering to pay them to do so, they seem to be complaining about two things, his long sentences and his inability to get to the point quickly. Personally, I agree with Proust that some sentences lose meaning or strength when they are chopped up into smaller sentences. I do however agree with Ollendorff's complaint about taking "thirty pages to describe how [a man] turns over in bed before he goes to sleep." (xiv)

Proust delves far into common experiences that are easy to relate to. He seems to be accomplishing the feat of making such familiar experiences, unfamiliar. Mostly, I think this is accomplished because people are not used to dwelling on such things for so long, maybe in thought, but when it is on the written page, the time actually spent on occurring thoughts before sleep and awaking from dreams takes much longer to digest. I found it challenging at times to stay focused on the writing when he goes on for pages and pages about things that seem almost trivial such as wanting a goodnight kiss from his mother.

The silent power struggle among the grandmother, the aunt and the father is complex. I was surprised at how submissive Mama is toward her husband, while her mother, grandma doesn't think twice before telling him how to raise his son. I find the aunt's obnoxious surliness very amusing. Between the Aunt and the protagonists overwhelming awareness of the intentions of his upbringing, Proust has built himself a means to spout off every arts and cultural thing that seems to be accessible at this time. I think that it is a great way to preserve some of the culture of the time and it reinforces the social class of this family. At times, however it seems almost pretentious. On page 29, the protagonist nearly outright calls Francoise, the servant, primitive.

I don't know what to make about the boy's insecurities about his mother's affections. His out of control crying and seemingly meaningless sadness make the part of Little Miss Sunshine, when Uncle Frank, the Proust scholar, who tries to comfort his emo nephew with the wisdom of Proust, quite amusing. In the movie, he tells the kid that Proust was a sad and miserable child and when he grew up, he was miserable as well, but he realized that it was those sad times of his youth that shaped him and made him the way he was.

On page 19, the narrator talks about his family's clueless behavior towards Swann's social class. When he talks about "the simple act that we call 'seeing a person we know' is in part an intellectual one," and then goes on about recognizing the physical aspects that make up an individual and then attributing our associations with that person, I thought of Roland Barthes' "Sign" system. I'm not sure if that's what he meant or not, but I felt that connection anyway.

Tegan & Sara Quin, sporting their mullets, or as the French say, their “Bressant-styles”(14) proving that, like Swann, you can actually get away with wearing your hair this way and still manage to attract women.

Section Two: (Page 49-191)

The conclusion that Marcel comes to in his own mind on pages 86 and 87, about the desire for human emotion without having an actual person is quite an interesting idea although I’m not sure I agree with him. He finds this to be an attractive element of reading. You can feel the same things the characters are feeling, without having the “dead weight” of an actual person. I can see the interest in empathizing with a character without actually having the possible awkwardness of having to deal face to face with that person, whatever it is they are going through. For instance, if someone’s mother dies and you get a sense of what effect that has on them on the written page, somehow you still have exposure to the experience, but because it is a fictitious event happening to someone unreal or at least, unknown personally to you, you don’t have to deal with the possible difficulty in consoling that person. You also don’t have deal with your reactions wholly by figuring out how you are going to deal with them around that person. In reading, it is just you and the idea of the emotion-evoking circumstance.
On the other hand, going through life with the idea that real people in real life situations is unnecessary when you have the alternative of experiencing life through books, seems pretty ridiculous. I’m not sure how much you would actually gain since reading about something without having experienced it yourself, versus reading about something you have been through is quite a different experience. I guess, in a way I agree with Marcel that it can be somewhat desirable to gain some exposure to things in life that can give sensation or feeling to a person, but I wouldn’t put as much weight on the benefit as he does.

Often times, Proust uses language that seems to me, somewhat ambiguous and I’m not sure what to make of it. I would say that this is an instance where his long sentences do more harm and would not lose meaning, but clarify meaning if it were shortened. On page, 148 when Marcel is saying goodbye to the hawthorns, ruining his nice clothes and curled hair and his mother has found him, he says, “putting my arms around the prickly branches, and, like the princess in tragedy burdened by vain ornaments, ungrateful to the importunate hand that with such care had up my hair in curls across my brow, trampling underfoot my torn-out curl papers and my new hat.”
My first read of this had me thinking, well here’s a fine example of this boy exemplifying youthful “dandy-like” behavior. The more I read it though, the less confident I am that he is referring to himself as the “princess.” Is he referring to the flowers, or his mother instead?

Another instance of Proust’s writing that has me stumped, is the instance of Marcel looking in on the lesbian girls. The first thing that struck me is the perception in which this scene is told. It seems to be limited to what Marcel can see and hear as he is observing the scene through the window. However, the thoughts and intentions of that are given on pages164-165 of Mlle. Vinteuill are far more insightful than anything that can be seen through a window.
On page 167, Marcel says that one girl encouraged the other to spit on the picture. But going back to review the conversation, it seems as only the girlfriend had that intention. She wasn’t encouraging Mlle. Vinteuill to do it nor was she being encourage by her. Was this intended to make the narrator seem less reliable?

Section Three: (Page 195-250)

One thing that surprises me about Marcel’s family is the amount of walking that they do. I would expect them to take a fancy coach everywhere rather than spend hours walking everywhere. It doesn’t always sound like a leisurely activity. Marcel says they choose the Méséglise way when the weather is bad. I was relieved in this section that Swann had a coachman drive him all around town looking for Odette. I have been wondering where the coaches are.

The attitudes the Verdurins have about women and lovers that they “were not afraid of a woman having a lover provided she had him at their house, loved him in their midst, and did not prefer his company to theirs” (197), surprised me a little in regard to opinions of female sexuality considering the way people reacted to the lesbians.

I think it’s hilarious the way that Odette is so ignorant about the arts and has an almost incapacity of learning about them. I think it’s really odd that when most single girls at this time held in the back of their minds, music they would want played at their wedding, Odette has chosen a song she wishes to be played at her funeral.

Section Four: (Pages 251-396)

The contrast from the beginning of this section, when Swann’s opinion that the people at the Verdurins are more “intelligent, more artistic, they are than high-society people!” (257) compared to reality of Swann among people of his own class, where the Princesse des Laumes gets his humor and the tastes of the group are far more refined, is interesting.

What is the difference in Princess and Princesse? I thought at first, it was a translation thing but then realized that both forms were being used: the Princess of Parma, and the Princesse des Laumes. (Hawthorn fruit
as Princesse des Laumes
wore in her hair)

Following the process of Swann’s heartbreak was fascinating. The denial of Odette’s actions, the mishearing of conversations in order to comfort himself, hoping for his death and then hers, visiting brothels to get information about Odette, sending visitors to check in on Odette instead when he is the one that really needs the company, make his tragedy seem so realistic.

It reminds me of Marcel saying that you can read about the experience without having to go through it, we as readers can probably relate to those jealous feelings and we feel for Swann but we have the luxury of not having to actually go through the agony that he does. “The pain he was now experiencing resembled nothing he had imagined.
I found it quite amusing when Swann ponders the people in lower classes and comes to this conclusion: “In these almost working-class neighborhoods, what a modest life, abject, but sweet, nourished with calm and happiness, he would have agreed to live indefinitely!”

On page 323, Odette accuses Swann of “trying to flaunt their affair, that he was treating her like a prostitute.” I think that Swann is the only person that doesn’t treat her like a prostitute. Even her beloved Verdurins hoar her off to any man they see fit at the time.

I have to admit that I actually thought that Odette and Swann would ultimately reconcile. With all of the talk in the beginning of the novel that Swann had married so beneath him, I figured that Odette, a call girl, certainly would fit that description. I began to have doubts until Mme. Cottard told him how much Odette really does love him. Then on page 383, Odette refers to herself to Swann as “Your little Odette,” implicating that she might not mind him feeling ownership of her. I was surprised when Odette left and Swann came to his senses about ever liking her in the first place.

Knowing how much Vinteuil’s music meant to Swann, the scene in Cambray, when Swann talks to Vinteuil, makes more sense on why Swann would talk to an outcast when it is unpopular to do so. It also makes me wish that Vinteuil would have been kinder to Swann know the comfort Swann took in his music while dealing with his heartbreak over Odette.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sometimes I don't have the words I need...

There are so many things that I am struck by while reading Swann's Way and would love to point out and break down for annalysis, but I just don't seem to ever have the words I need to express quite what I'm thinking. So, I've thought and thought about what it is about this book that strikes me so odd.
I'll start off with a story. I was taking Theatre 101 and the teacher went on a rampage about how we know things about people, and it is really only through their actions and reactions. He said that people like to think that someone could pick up their ipod or diary and really know who they are as a person, but that isn't the case. That gave me plenty of thinking to do for a while. Infact, I can't seem to go for any long amount of time without being struck by that idea again.
I think that people try to put on a show for others. When we write in our diaries we do it assuming that someone will read it some day. When we get dressed in the morning we are putting on a face that is there for others to see. I have been working on getting together photos from my wedding and while I do it, I picture someone some day flipping through it while I tell them little insights about the different pictures and moments.
I think that is what this book reminds me of. I am sitting down beside Marcel who is flipping through a photo album. I am only seeing little clips of his life with not all that meaningful commentary from him, and trying to put meaning to all of it. It jumps around and doesn't ever tell me quite as much as I really need to hear to understand, but I am doing what I can with what I have.
I'll see one moment of this boys life followed by another. They aren't necessarily related to one another, but I try to connect them and fill in the blanks.
I wonder if my filling in the blanks says something about me. It's like the narrator said how a reader might know something about themself through reading. Does the connection of these events that I create shed insight into myself?
We really are given very little information and we make more of it than we should. We make assumptions and we make judgements. Can we do that from just looking into a few clips of one persons life? If it's just fictional, does it matter?
Whether it matters or not, I can't help but make a connection between these ponderings and that comment fromt he narrator. I can't seem to escape it. I read about people living lives, but I don't really live one. I just can't help but wonder how much I have learned from the lives of characters that I might not have learned otherwise.
And now, because I know I'm a long winded person, I will end this rant with one final question:
Why do I always end up with more questions than answers?

(the you tube video wouldn't embed)