Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Tragedy Teaches Us

What Tragedy Teaches Us

During the course of Classical Foundations of Literature, I developed a respect for the ideals behind the class title. In order to acquire this thriving respect as well as understand it, I had to go through my own metamorphosis. Does this sound somewhat familiar? At first I didn’t realize the implications of the class title and I was skeptical whether this would be a worthwhile class for me to take. I didn’t have any idea what to expect until the first lecture, that’s when everything began to change, in pure Ovidian spirit. During the first class, I realized that I was in for an interesting semester. Dr. Sexson effortlessly captured my attention, and the first lecture laid the foundation for the entire class. As the semester progressed my learning did as well, I entered the cocoon stage of my metamorphosis and put my blinders on.

I now look back on that first class as if it was a cornerstone, the very key to the structural rigidity of our learning. “The past always possesses the present,” a sentiment that stuck with me and was essentially burned into each and every student’s mind. When I think of the past possessing the present, I like to interpret it in literal terms as they apply to our lives and not the literary terms we have learned so much about. This is a really interesting concept, when you strip the quote down to its single elements. The past, by my definition, is anything that just happened with everything before that included. So every word you read, slips into the past, basically. In most cases there would be no such thing as the present without the past having come just before it. The present solely depends on the past, if you decide to pour a glass of milk, you better be sure you put a glass on the counter in the past.

The past teaches you what to do and how to act in the present, without that prior obtained knowledge you have nothing. If you don’t have a past, you might have something called amnesia, though even in a case as extreme as that the past is still affecting the present. In contrast, my past was affected by the present while learning about the foundations. Once the connections were made, it became clear that everything I remembered about trivial things, like movies, is plain wrong. I almost felt like the writers and directors were pulling the wool over my eyes in a sense. Now I know that these people were simply using the past to affect the masses in the present, and doing so effectively and covertly.

So how does the concept of the past possessing the present relate to tragedy, while staying within the overall theme of transformation? The real question here is, when is my transformation complete? If I had to pick one word to sum up the entire process and the moral behind it, the word would be: Change. In order for the present to become the past, something has to change, namely time. Publius Ovidius Naso revolved his greatest literary effort around the concept of Change. In his metamorphosis, we encounter various examples of change ranging from serious to comical. Nonetheless, all of the examples include at least some form of tragedy.

Tragedy is well rooted in change, when one encounters tragedy they often see change; likewise, when something changes, that change could be considered tragic to some. As for most cases in Ovid, the change was somewhat tragic, often only to the person involved. Otherwise ‘normal’ gods and goddesses enact strategic changes over people, making them see clearly their error and facilitate the lesson learning process. In a way, Ovid teaches us to learn from our mistakes, but more importantly, to recognize our actions as mistakes before we act. Ovid effectively allows us to avoid tragedy all together, if we play by the rules. In order to arrive at the right choice we must remember our past as if it was the present, because we know that in doing so we recognize the past’s effect on our lives.

We all know that David Malouf’s book, An Imaginary Life, is based on Ovid’s book of metamorphosis. Within the book, the text is broken down into 5 different parts. Each part is especially important, as they reflect an example of how our past does posses our present, and furthermore it explains how people interoperate different fears and anxieties. The novel follows the exile of Ovid and the various supposed happenings all representing something different to Malouf. The final part of the book, leaves Ovid at the end of a stretch of tough times, internal bantering, and a series of successes and failures.

Most importantly Ovid has no more dreams, and he is ‘realized’. At this point, he is at the end, the point teetering on the brink of death and rebirth. In this realized state, the death of his dreams and desires is apparent. So what? What is the importance behind this? How about we ask Wallace Stevens? Dr. Sexson subtly presented a challenge at the end of a recent class, though it seemed no one was looking for that challenge. That challenge came looking for me. Dr. Sexson orated a quote, “death is the mother of beauty.” It made me think, I liked it, though I wasn’t entirely sure why. Why is death the mother of beauty? That was the question; along with explaining and understanding the reason Wallace had said it. A task that Dr. Sexson pointed out would take us nearly 20 years, if memory serves.

“Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams And our desires.” This is the entire line, found in Wallace Steven’s poem “Sunday Morning.” This is what sparked me to realize yet another example of how modern literature is reflective of the past, further exemplifying how the past possesses the present. The meaning of the line can be decided several different ways, depending on what perspective you choose. If you look at the line in the context of the poem itself, Wallace is describing a woman who is trying to understand the meaning of her life, and how it applies to her as a person, but also to her soul. This line suggests that due to religious belief, the realization of dreams and desires is only achieved in death; or heaven in the Christian extension of the meaning.

In a different context, I would like to draw comparison between Ovid and the woman. In the final stage of An Imaginary Life, when Ovid is devoid of dreams and seemingly at the end of his life, he realized that death was the final answer. The woman in this poem is basically thinking the same way as Ovid, as Wallace plays with the interaction of reality and how the power of your mind influences your reality. Perhaps Wallace is paying tribute to the original Ovidian tales, though connecting the two is a stretch. Instead, I believe that it is more probable that while Malouf was writing An Imaginary Life, he simply observed what Wallace and other authors before him have, that literature tends to build intricate foundations. What he observed in Wallace’s poetry (if he did indeed read any of it) is that death is one of the greatest forms of tragedy in existence. That being said, it is also one of the most beautiful; because without it none of our dreams and desires would be realized. This explains the bittersweet mentality about a natural death, from something like old age.

This leads me to believe that without death and tragedy, there would be no way for the past to possess the present and the system would become flawed. The beauty that Wallace speaks of is the realized dreams and desires being accentuated by a death, or in other his words, death birthing beauty. If the system became flawed and the past no longer dictated the present, then my metamorphosis would be put on hold. As I explore more and more examples of how the movies today reflect the stories of the past, I see why the Times should be traded in for the eternities. As the class comes to and end, it leaves me wondering when my metamorphosis will be complete. Now that I have obtained the knowledge of the past and how it affects the present, I have to reevaluate how I view things. Most importantly, it has changed my perception of tragedy for the better, helping me understand and deal with greater ease. The greatest outcome of my ‘change’, was realizing why this course is so important when attempting to understand other literature.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


So, basically Semele was this babe that even a God could not keep his eyes off of. As she swam in a river below, Zeus towered above unnoticed in the form of an eagle. They soon developed a love affair because Zeus has an insatiable sex drive, even though he is old enough to be her great great grandfather and by some accounts is related to her by some strange stretch of the imagination.

Semele later becomes pregnant after Zeus' repeated visits. Hera, the typically jealous wife of Zeus, decides this is the last straw and takes matters into her own hands. She disguises herself as a common nurse, working in the Theban court of King Cadmus. The next set of circumstances replicates a common theme in this realm of storytelling.

As the nurse, Zeus' wife connects with Semele and befriends her. As a common friend, Hera plants seeds of doubt in her head. She suggests that Zeus could not really love her and that something fishy is going on. This thought toys with the uncertain Semele and she begins to doubt the sitation is realistic.

This is much like the story of Psyche and Cupid. The same "seeds of doubt" are present as when Psyche's jealous sisters try and come between her and her anonymous husband.

Hera the nurse, convinced the confused Semele that the only way to know if the man presenting himself to her as Zeus is really a God, is to ask him to show himself is his "godly form."

After some resistance, Zeus acquiesced to her request by turning himself into the equivalent of a lightning bolt. He did this even though he knew the result it would provide. For a mortal like Semele to look upon a God mean ultimate death. Semele instantly burst into flames, dying with a fetus in the oven.

Zeus took the fetus, and decided it would be prudent to sew it into his thigh. That way, it would live and prosper and not fall victim to his mother's mistake. Ultimately Hera won the battle, but the war goes to Zeus, who can do pretty much anything and get away with it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Members Only
This is a photograph of a Mister David Malouf, author of An Imaginary Life.

I feel like many of the themes within An Imaginary Life fit perfectly with what we have been discussing in class.  This text seems to closely relate on many key points, but they all go back to the overriding principal, the past always possesses the present.

While the the text obviously relates to our class discussion, I wonder how An Imaginary Life compares to an ordinary life?  IF we are to believe that transformation is the single most important happening within these texts, then how does this transformation interact with our everyday lives.  Now, immediately I would say that it doesn't bind us on a daily basis, the idea of transformation pays respect to the grand scale of our lives.  

What I mean here is, from age zero to one hundred, we transform.  And generally that transformation takes time, literally the entire time were alive.  In the Ovid stories of metamorphosis, the characters are born to make their mistakes, which essentially represents us as humans beings.

The retribution for these mistakes is much more instant with Ovid, bringing the faults of the characters to attention with drastic punishment in most cases.  The punishments for the most part are fitting, and usually eternal, which is the same sort of thought process pushed upon us as people today.  The whole, "if you do wrong, you will burn!" type sentiment.


Jesus and Horus talk

(His eyes are closed behind the sunglasses)

I just wanted to add a note about a blog I was reading.  Ben Miller offers plenty of connections between Jesus and Horus, while referencing Jake's blog.  He also mentions a documentary film about Horus, that connects Christianity with other world religions.  I found this really interesting, as well as consistent with some of my new found beliefs.  

I recently rented a documentary called "RELIGILOUS" made by HBO personality Bill Maher. Personally, I agree with most of the things he says, though I find him to be a bit preachy at times.  Often lecturing on for longer than required, smashing in the finer points of truth from upon the highest horse.  

Either way, his film is an eye opening example of how the past really does posses the present. The film documents how a religion based solely on the past, greatly dictates our present day society.  I realize this is the broadest of comparisons, though I feel like the general population never realizes the past/present connection.

I'd like to make the argument that the Dinosaurs died for our sins, you don't see any other Dino worshipers out there do you?    

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud

Monday, February 23, 2009

Thoughts on Thoughts

"Today in class as we graded each others tests, Dr. Sexson said the exam grades are not as important as our blogging grades. Well shit, that doesn't leave much room for me; most of my blogs have nothing to do directly with the readings or discussions, rather interesting points or topics that hit me on a personal level. I mean, when the class first started I was under the impression that our blogs were OUR blogs and we could write what WE wanted. I am not saying I am not allowed to manage my blog at my own discretion, but rather that I might not recieve the same grades as someone who just does reading responses as opposed to short stories. We are both engaged in the material and are both trying to uncover a deeper meaning, but because mine seems more conceptual or creatively based I don't have as good as a blog? Well i got sour news for ya jack! it is as good! I feel engaged in the material and by my taking the ideas given in class and shaping them to a personal level, the story comes alive".

This quote came from Sam Roloff's blog, and is in fact his latest blog entry. There are a few reasons why I wanted to post this here.

First, I wanted to say, Sam, thank you. You effectively expressed my exact sentiments regarding the blogs in general. Your insight, regardless of how correct or incorrect it is, aligns with how I feel. How am I supposed to touch upon relevant readings from class when this is supposed to be MY blog? Prof. Sexson gives us very interesting ideas to write about, though they tend to cause me to stray farther and farther off topic (which I love).

Second, I haven't been keeping up with my blogs as well as other people. Does that mean I haven't been paying attention, No. What it means is, I (at first) failed to realize exactly how important blogging really is. Once I wrote my first post, I was shocked by the feeling it gave me. I liked it, I really did.

Third, the fact that blogging is more important than the exam grades is an interesting concept, and plays with some sort of funky scholastic role reversal I am unaccustomed to, though I like the root of the idea. Blogging serves the purpose of letting me let loose as a writer, and to get the jumbled thoughts from my head into writing, where they are more useful.

Now if I can learn by the example of Nick Axline, who's blog flourishes with an all encompassing coverage of the texts, discussions, and personal anecdotes, then I would really be in business.

Song I Sang When I Was 6 Year Old

My parents said that I admired the 'Muffin Man' song when I was about six.
We always used to have breakfast at this small cafe where the place mats had the lyrics:

Oh, do you know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Oh, do you know the muffin man,
Who lives in Drury Lane?

Oh, yes, I know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Oh, yes, I know the muffin man,
Who lives in Drury Lane.

I also listened to the 1993 Kids Album put out by the Grammy Award winners non-stop.
The song I remember best was the Little Richard version of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider"

January 30th, 2009 #2: Music To My Ears

What is the best band I have ever seen live? When? and Where?

I would have to write about my top 3 choices, because they all mean something different to me.

1. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jay-Z. 2002. Verizon Amphitheater. Charlotte, North Carolina
-I was a Jr. in high school, and had recently transferred to a private school in the south, I had NO friends until that night.

2. Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio, and Tim Reynolds. 2005. Together, Live, Las Vegas, Nevada
-I had made plans to see a multi-day music festival in Vegas months in advance. One week before, I snapped my Fibula (lower leg) which cause me to view the concert in a wheel chair, from the FRONT ROW handicapped section.

3. Band of Horses. 2008. The filling station. Bozeman, Montana.
-This was one of the best live performances I have ever seen, it was prefect, and a great show for Bozeman.

Deja Vu: January 30th, 2009

Deja Vu. This is an extremely interesting concept. Simply stated, it means 'already seen'. Now there are many things that could fall under this particular category, things that you have already noticed, perhaps a movie you have watched before or a good book you decided to re-read. Though, the term Deja Vu does not apply to these instances. Even if you do watch a movie that you have 'already seen' doesn't mean that it will be the same. Think about it, you may notice something completely different about the cinematography, or you might even blink during a different part and miss something vital. Deja Vu has a much deeper meaning that the subtle translation lacks, and even more so for a person like myself.

I have had hundreds of personal experiences with Deja Vu. I do not claim to be some sort of guru or prophet as exemplified by some of the characters within our texts, though I do leave the door open to the possibility of the unknown. For me, it can be something simple:

A woman in a red dress slinks down the granite steps. "Didn't I see her do the same thing last week?", I ask myself. No, I did not actually see her, rather it was the feelings that she projected that caused my mind to reference the situation as if it were a faint memory. If it were a heavy-set man in black would my mind react the same? I would guess not.

It can also be more complex: I find myself sitting in my best friend Ben's black Jeep in the parking lot of our town social club, called the Woodlands. This is a place I find familiar, I spend much of my time, home, in Maine, sitting in this exact spot. Then it hits me, something extremely noticeable. Not a physical reaction to my surroundings, but a feeling or weight, that is better described as an alternate viewing experience through saran wrapped covered eyes.

This feeling triggers my mind to react instantly, a reaction that leaves only one conclusion: I have lived this before. Just then, as if my mind had casually mapped it out, Mr. X, the well-known trial lawyer exits the tennis bubble. 'Huh?', I think, I KNEW that was going to happen, odd. Just then I imagine a situation that he drops something, as I glance over and watch him retrieve his car keys off the damp blacktop. 'uh, this is too real' my inner thought quips, as I go on to guess correctly the color of his fine German sedan.

'How did I know this was going to happen this way?', is the only question I find appropriate at this moment. Only in slight variation to this question comes the next, "Did I know this was going to happen this way, or should I attribute this to the phenomenon of Deja Vu??

Friday, January 16, 2009

background photo

I took this photograph just 36 hours before the presidential election, an interesting time to be in D.C.
More later...