Some Thoughts on the Essay Genre

The word essay comes from the French word meaning, “to try”.  In all instances, the genre is an attempt to write about any subject matter – relevant or mundane though maybe on the outset – in the hope to capture an interesting thought, experience and insight from it.  Compared to other genres in literature, essay is the least explored and may be considered to be the least popular, but the scope of this genre is huge, ranging from the formal, clear-cut essays popularized by Montaigne, Addison and Steele and Emerson to the informal loosely-constructed ones popularized by Scott Russell Sanders, George Orwell, EB White and other contemporary writers these days.

The history of the essay goes back to the works of Continue reading

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Medea, as a Woman

The exploration of the politics of gender is indeed evident in the play Medea by Euripedes.  The play is about a passionate woman named Medea, a sorceress and a princess, who faced a dilemma when she was abandoned by her husband Jason.  This in turn fueled Medea’s revenge that led into a horrifying series of murders.  The play is likely to be seen as a feminist material, but it can be also seen and analyzed in the misogynist point of view.  More importantly, it’s an exploration of the psychological state that women undergo every time they were rejected by their lovers, or faced with extreme anger or alienation.

Medea

The play also challenged the power play between man and woman in the context of strong patriarchal context.  Medea at the early part of the play didn’t have any choice when her husband left her and resolved to cry and lament all day.  Jason can reject the domestic responsibilities that concerns with her former relationship with Medea, and was free to marry the daughter of King Creon.  But as the play progressed the change is evident in Medea’s temperament – from weakness to revenge, suicidal to sadistic fury, feminine to masculine.  In the end, Medea defied gender inequality as she assumed a masculine disposition. She denied her husband Jason to bury their children after murdering them, aggravating his pain.

In Medea’s soliloquy in the early part of the play, I couldn’t help but sympathize with her – she was a woman unreasonably rejected by her former lover, ordered to be banished by the king, a woman who rebels against her own wretchedness.  But the rage in her heart would not disappear without a certain kind of release, to which revenge is only the proper to do it and the most likely to happen.  So as a reader I began to feel what Aristotle’s concept of ‘fear’ in a tragedy would feel like, especially when Medea was brewing her plans to avenge herself.  With cleverness and natural devious attitude, she began to maneuver the course of the play, the gruesome manipulation of her own children in her horrifying revenge that led to their pitiful deaths.

What the play shows us was that human beings are the sole authors of their own misfortunes.  God or any divine being was not responsible for any consequences of the horrible actions that the characters need to bear and endure.  The limits of human knowledge is indeed obvious in the play – this serves as the dramatic irony – the audience are more aware of the deceit of a character to another character than anyone else.  A woman such as Medea, passionate and once deeply in love with her lover, can turn into violent vengeful woman because of her all-consuming love.

The Importance of Burial in Antigone

The concept of ‘body’ in Greek culture is very holy that the Greeks deemed the physical body as something to be taken care of.  More so of the concept of burial, where it is a belief that without proper ritual or burial or any form of memorial service the body of the deceased will doom to wander in the River Styx in Hades.  The Greek culture puts a higher premium that the deceased should merit solicitous attention from the relatives.

This custom is very much exemplified in Sophocles’Antigone. The main character Antigone buried his brother Polynices “with a little dirt” despite her sister Ismene’s warning not to defy Creon’s orders.  Usually women in Greek culture are expected to mourn over a dead relative but because Creon forbids the burial of Polynices, Antigone must have felt like she was robbed of her duty to pay her last respects for her brother.  And so, the very courageous act of burying her brother Polynices “with a little dirt” jumpstart the first movement of the play.

Antigone’s decision to defy Creon’s orders does not mean that she wanted to be a martyr, or act heroic in any matter, but I think her decision to bury her brother is motivated because of filial love for her brother, the sincere outpouring of her loss.  This act also exemplifies the culture of honoring the deceased, a typical Greek custom.

Michael Silk’s New Things about the Iliad

Iliad

Reading Michael Silk’s interpretation and critical analysis about Homer’s epic Iliad, I find that some points he actually emphasizes deserve to be given a considerable time to ponder on.  He starts his discussion about the epic by giving us the feel of the milieu of the ancient times, from which he first raises a significant observation that Homer is not made of a singular entity, but Homer is presented as a ‘multiple author’ with ‘different voices’.  One of the characteristics of an epic includes the fact that it came from oral tradition, and so Silk emphasizes in his analysis that because of this the oral transmission must have changed overtime, and when it was finally written down there might have been some changes. The oral-improvisory technique is possible for these alterations.

Another relevant remark that Silk lays out is the fact that Iliad is not a tight, organic structure in Aristotelian terms, or organically whole like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.  The actions do not follow a causal logic, but the epic is organized into a circular structure referred as ‘ringform’ – “it begins with a ransom and argument and ends with a comparable sequence in reverse” (the A-B-A shape).  It’s a full circle, sort of.  Also, there are sections in the narrative where there’s a tendency towards autonomy, that defiled the Aristotelian concept of ‘organic whole.’

The epic poem also embraces the structural technique which the critic calls as ‘illusionist’, where readers are given a kind of illusion of the length of time.  With regards to style, the poem employs extended simile, but the use of metaphor, according to Silk, is largely absent in the Iliad.

In terms of themes and heroic ideology, the character Achilles is presented as the embodiment of the ‘poet’s theme’, the warrior who fights for glory.  In a section that discusses about the character Achilles, Silk highlights that Achilles is the only character that can be considered as a ‘round’ character (with depth) in a modern sense.  Other characters are only defined through stock epithets and were differentiated in their own capabilities, but generally not considered as ‘men with multiplicity of traits and interest’, and therefore considered as static.  These characters show no capacity for development and are not affected by any subsequent experience. They are contrasted with the character of Achilles, which becomes the focus of interest in the poem mainly because even though there have been times when divine interventions affect him, there are also times when he had the chance to reveal himself – his true qualities without the external pressures (like war and divine intervention).

Silk observes that for all the battle scenes, heroic deaths and defeat, the epic poem’s emotional flavors are restrained due to the author’s style.  Homer wrote objectively, and so in terms of emotions, the readers may feel distant.  Homer’s characters does not expressed their feelings explicitly but conveys them either through the observations of other people or through detailed descriptions in things.  The latter can be associated with Eliot’s objective-correlative technique, which is a modern day concept.

Lastly, the critic states that the epic is primarily celebratory, not exploratory.  It presents to us the experience of certain types of people, and lacks the in-depth emotional exploration (with exception to Achilles) of some characters.  Silk likens reading the Iliad as watching sports, him (and the readers) as an spectator.

To further explore more about the Iliad, read Michael Silk, on The Iliad.

Asian Literature

There is a wide array of ideals to emulate in Asian literature, from India’s passive resistance and nonviolent protest, China’s Yin and Yang, to Japan’s concept of ephemeral beauty.  Asian literature holds some of the finest and notable works of literature – Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Tale of Genji – these works carried the country’s own distinct ideals and customs.  From these three major countries, I learned a lot how their religion and their ways of lives affect the modern countries that they are today.

India, one of the oldest countries of the world, the cradle of the ancient Indus civilization, is rich and diverse in terms of culture and religion.  It is known for its devotion to the discipline of the senses, the eradication of worldly pleasures for spiritual purification, and core idea and passionate commitment to fight against moral violence.  The Bhagavad Gita, known as the Upanishad of all Upanishads, holds many of India’s philosophy that is widely known in the world – the creed of nonviolence, heartfelt devotion to public service and the moral battle to righteousness.  I am particularly impressed with the greatest Indian leader and reformer Mahatma Gandhi who once practiced the philosophy of it.  And also he inspired and influenced some of the greatest political thinkers and reformists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela later on.  In our country, the idea of nonviolence can be seen in the 1986 EDSA Revolution, where a bloodless revolution eradicated Marcos’ aristocratic leadership, granting the country its freedom from dictatorship.

Bhagavad Gita is my personal favorite Indian work; it encapsulates all Indian philosophy in a nutshell, an all-in-one credo to attain enlightenment.  It is universal and complete, literature and philosophy combined.  Some of the Indian works of literature are hard to read and analyze like the ancient epic Mahabharata but most of them concerns with the idea of the attainment of supreme enlightenment, a typical Hinduism thought that influence China and Japan’s

Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita

Buddhism.

Literature and religion in China is heavily influenced by Indian philosophy.  Along with Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, the Buddhist religion first originated in India but deeply stemmed out and flourished in the neighboring China, and eventually to Japan.  Chinese literature is known for its simple and profound verses about nature, the silences and the wisdom of the images used in the ancient songs, verses and hymns, and the rough and fresh ideas and images in the works of Tu Fu, Li Po Wang Wei and Po Chui, inspired by Taoism, Buddhism, and Zen in nature.  The founding principles of Chinese philosophy can be seen in the works of The Analects by Confucius and Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.  Both works and considered pillars of thought in Confucianism and Taoism – two of the greatest philosophical schools of thought in China.  I also like the Chinese symmetrical relationship of the Yin and Yang: that one cannot exist without the other.  For me it deeply emphasizes the harmony between two different things in the physical universe as well as the harmony of the mind and the body.

The Chinese poems are simple yet powerful short verses; they are concentrated with vivid images that evoke emotions of solitude, joy and wishful thinking.  I love the poems of Chu-i Po: the sadness and the melancholy in his poems are melodies of profound human experiences: losing a loved one, missing one’s own brothers and sisters, and the experience of being lonesome.

nature in Japanese poetry

nature in Japanese poetry

Japanese poetry has a lot in common with Chinese poetry, since the latter influenced the former.  And so, Japanese poetry are also imagistic, full of pathos, and their poetry uses the images in nature to express the emotions.  Although Japanese and Chinese poetry are fond of using nature as a metaphor (akin to TS Eliot’s objective-correlative concept) I think that Japanese poetry is much more intimate and personal.  There is also more restraint in the expression of emotion.  Japanese poems, usually short ones, are also easy to understand, sentimental, and reads almost like a diary entry.  The concept of the impermanence of life, the interplay of permanence and transience, and finding beauty in ephemeral things are just few of the themes one may find in Japanese poetry.  Usually, poems like these use the images of the cherry blossoms, the passing seasons, or even the moon.  Generally I like all Japanese poems discussed in class because they contain in them tantalizing and brief images of seasons and their associative emotions.  Like the passing of seasons, there is a certain kind of brief flashes of experiences that reverberates in the minds of the readers.  Japanese literature is more sensitive to the moods: they can clearly hear the sounds of insects and birds and they always emphasize the ever-changing nature.  Perhaps what I like about their literature is the recurrent concern of identity, self-awareness of beauty and the affecting isolation in the moments of pathos.  These themes are major constitutes to the Japanese aesthetics, powerful and rich, and different to the Western’s ideas.

Japanese literature is as rich as Chinese literature, from which they are intensely influenced – from the royal dynasties, art of writing, and religious philosophy.  Japanese culture really interests me a lot:  from the early novels like The Tale of Genji, the concept of Japanese theater, to the beautiful and exotic geishas. Every work of literature depicts clearly the Japanese life; the Tale of Genji for instance, vividly portrays the aristocratic Heian court of life.  The samurai is also a famous Japanese cultural feature:  loyalty and honor to their overlord are strictly practiced; there is supremacy of political over personal considerations.

Equally interesting are also the Japanese concept of theater, which includes the famous ones like Noh, Kabuki and even the Puppet Theater.  These three kinds of theater project that kind of sophistication based on the art of movement through disciplined speech, gesture, dance and body of the actors.  I also learned that geishas are not courtesans, that their ways are governed by the art of entertainment and pleasure.

I have been exposed to Western ideas, culture and literature – the hegemonic concepts in general – and it is truly satisfying to find a different approach in aesthetics and philosophy in Asian literature.  If the Western culture believes in the eternal beauty of art and the things in general, I find the Asian culture (particularly Chinese and Japanese culture) concepts different because they find that the ephemeral quality in things more beautiful, therefore, they must be cherished and appreciated more.  Some of the famous concepts in the Western world are already present in the works of Asian literature, even much before, just like the concept of TS Eliot’s objective-correlative in the works of early Japanese poetry, post-modernist style in the Indian play Shakuntala and the all-knowing and shifting narrator and the free indirect style of narrative in some of the Tang stories discussed in class.  It means that Asian literature is never far behind the Western culture.  They should be appreciated more because Asian culture and literature is much closer to our own understanding, and it is ours.

Poetry

It strikes me that the brevity of poetry can encapsulate and embrace a totality of an experience, as much as the lengthy characteristic of fiction. In just few words, the poet can spill out subtle details of human experiences – falling in love, fatal attractions, adultery, the pain of rejection or losing a loved one, in a sweeping sudden effect. Such is the pleasure of poetry, and I began to understand this more this semester.

Every time I come across with a good poem, or become entirely persuaded by the reality of experience that the poet is trying to channel to me (and to the readers) I realize that poetry is not wholly meant to be understood, per se, but it should be experienced. There is an inherent power in good poetry that enables the readers to feel the poet’s psychological state and emotional movements. As I read through good poems I can see the words dissipate in the page and only images stay behind, in their utmost clarity. A good poem can give us that undulating calm of mind, transcending, or the refreshment of freedom. Also, in poetry we are able to empathize with someone’s loss; thus we began to explore our own losses too, or rage against prejudice and social constructions.

The good thing about poetry is its aesthetic quality of rereadability. Our own understanding towards a certain poem is different throughout the years, thus it adds excitement and anticipation that renders it immortal. As what Wordsworth said, “Poetry is immortal as the heart of man.”

In writing poetry, I learned that words are precious word by word, and I began to examine the weight of these words and their functions when placed side by side with others. These words have different language textures, and they show to us different textures of reality. During the course subject I wrestled against the limitations of my English language, in terms of expressing what is originally thought in my mind. Nevertheless, undergoing workshops one after the other enabled me to exercise my own style of writing, and realized that it emanated from within my own consciousness, not imposed by external force.

Most of the poems I have written had undergone rigid revisions because of the lack of lucid expressions and mismatched metaphors. I fleshed out more of the speakers’ natures of their desire and did more extensive emotional explorations. I also learned that proper control of psychic distance between the speaker (as the central consciousness) and the reader/s attributes to the emotional quality of the poems.

The poems I wrote during the course of this semester were mostly about profound relationships and depictions of small moments of human interest.

Wallace Stevens: Imaginative Metamorphosis

When I read several poems of Wallace Stevens, I found them difficult to understand mainly because of his choice of words. It is not easy to grasp the meaning of Stevens’ poems in an instant, but there is a certain kind of lyricism that is evident in his poems: his style includes repetition of words or phrases and incorporation of sounds (assonance and alliteration) that renders the poems pleasurable when read aloud. I came to like more his later poems, in which they showcase the creative power of the poet’s mind. The Stevensian poetry employs diversity in form, style, melody, and feelings.

Most of his poems are written in free verse, and there are wide variations of rhythm in his poetry collection. Most of his poems deals about human relationships, poems about nature, artistic imaginations, ephemeral quality of human life (as shown in the poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”) or anything that is moral, philosophical or even religious in nature.

Wallace Steven’s poems are meant to be spoken aloud, the very feel of words in his poems in one’s mouth is pleasurable. Take for example, the alliterations in the poem, The Emperor of Ice- Continue reading

It’s Nothing Really

One of my favorite Shakespeare play is Much Ado about Nothing. It’s a lighthearted comedy about love and misidentification. It’s a double plot – the story is focused on the comedic game wit of Benedict and Beatrice and the love problems of Hero and Claudio.

The dominant themes of the play are love and misidentification. Love is shown between Beatrice and Benedict, Hero and Claudio, as well as in other minor characters such as Leonato and his love for her daughter and Beatrice and her sympathy to her cousin. Misidentification, on the other hand, is exemplified when Margaret is misidentified as Hero, which in turn made Claudio assume that Hero’s sweet nature is a false quality of her, thereby calling her ‘rotten orange’ and a disgrace. There is also misidentification on Don Pedro’s part, in which at the start of the play he believes that Don John has changed for good and that he deserves a second chance.

But on the lighter note, my favorite parts of the play are those parts in which Benedict and Beatrice are in their witty conversations, and take note on the transformation of this sour bachelors into romantic lovers – it is definitely what makes the play enjoyable and comical.

What I notice on this play is that it is focused on the plot and its structure than the character development. It focuses more on ‘what would happen next’ and much attention is given to the effects on the discovery of truth that is blurred by deception and misidentification. So that’s why in the context of the play, although Don John is generally claimed to be the antagonist, still for me, Don John has no ‘justifiable cause’ for his villainy mainly because Shakespeare didn’t focus on the development of his character. He is just this villain who hates seeing other people happy because it makes him sad. However, had Shakespeare focused more on his character development, he would’ve explained Don John’s background for his villainous actions.


I love Dogberry’s character too. Laughs. Really, much attention is taken into nothing.

Dr. Faustus

 

“If we say that we have no sin
We deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us.
–Faustus to himself, Dr. Faustus

 

 

No one can deny Dr. Faustus remains to be one of Christopher Marlowe’s famous plays. Personally, I think the play The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus is far better than any plays of Shakespeare and can be equated with the standards of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.

The story is about Dr. Faustus, a famous scholar in Wittenberg, whose obsession was to know more, and whose passion geared towards studying necromancy, or conjuration of the spirits of the dead. While he was still in his study, the good angel and the bad angel went to him. The good angel persuaded him to stop his ambition to become a necromancy practitioner and fear God, while the bad angel persuaded him that by studying necromancy he could be rich and powerful above all. Things got really dark when Faustus told Mephistopheles that he was ready to surrender his soul to his master Lucifer in exchange of luxurious life and power for 24 years. And so, Faustus made a pact with Lucifer, and for 24 years he traveled the world with evil in his mind. Some of these were drugging the Pope’s ministers with a sleeping potion, convincing the Pope to condemn a man named Bruno, performing annoying tricks to some people, and most of all, condemning the existence of God.

After 24 years, Lucifer and Mephistopheles were now ready to take Faustus’s soul. Although throughout the play he was bothered with repentance and fear of damnation, it was in the end that he finally realized the folly of his actions. But it was already too late for him.

What’s good about Dr. Faustus is that Marlowe incorporated the conflict of the good and evil in the form of good angel and bad angel, and this conflict became Faustus’s internal struggle. But due to his insatiable desires and thirst for more knowledge and supreme power, Faustus is bound to be damned. The readers would feel his moments of contrition, but since he always ended up choosing evil in the end, then we also feel that he should be doomed. He was too driven with greed and ambition.

Meeting the Sandman

“I enjoyed nothing better than reading or hearing horrible stories of goblins, witches, pygmies, etc., but most horrible of all was the Sandman, whom I was always drawing with chalk or charcoal, on the tables, cupboards, and walls, in the oddest and most frightful shapes.”

-Nathaniel in The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffman

It would be really traumatic that at such a young age you were told that there is one person in this world that exists only to steal eyes in children who wouldn’t go to sleep, only to feed them on his own.I think every child (that includes me, when I was once), had their shares of frightful experiences.When I was young, I used to imagine scenes in my mind from the sounds that I heard, and sometimes, those mental images that I created haunted me in my dreams.Or maybe there might be some instances when your parents (or anyone older) would scare you off with something (or someone) just to make you do something you wouldn’t want to do, like sleeping in the afternoons or eating your vegetables.I, for once, have been told that the old man living three blocks away from our house kidnaps children who wouldn’t sleep in the afternoons.I’ve believed that with all of my heart, and that old man (who happened to be a noble retired soldier) became my object of fear for quite a long time.

At some point we find it hard to distinguish the thin line between reality and fantasy. Continue reading