Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Wuthering Heights

Of all the possible ways that this novel could have ended, the least likely was chosen. I did not see a ghost story coming! Lockwood's dream predicted it, and maybe a second reading would reveal more obvious foreshadowing, but it did come as a shock to me.

It was a rattling story all the way through, actually. A slew of unpredictable (and sometimes savage) characters in a matching landscape. Colin was right, there were strong education themes; Hareton is 'tamed' by Catherine's teaching and any character with sense is educated. Even the maid begins her tale by attributing her good breeding to the study of all of the books in the library. The central themes, jealousy and vengefulness, are carved out unabashed in cruelty. I can't stress the cruelty part enough. The characters were engaged in nothing but abuse towards each other. Heathcliff can only be described as a devil. The feeling of the story is so strange, and so disturbing, I'm at a loss to call Wuthering Heights anything except haunting.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Taming of the Shrew

After Oedipus, it seemed natural to me to continue either with something Greek, or with something dramatic. I couldn't keep myself from Shakespeare.

Even though I found the comedy hilarious and the characters well-drawn, it's been difficult for me to decipher what Shakespeare's meaning was in The Taming of the Shrew. Even Harold Bloom had nothing to say about it, devoting only three pages of his disquisition on the bard to Kate and Petruchio. He calls them the happiest married couple in all of the plays and insists that the secret of it is in Kate's final speech. The meanings of strength and weakness have been switched, says Bloom, and Kate has preserved her voracious will in a way far more refined than that of her sister and the widow.

Muir mentioned the play last term, and ascribed Bianca's mildness to her study of the classics. By extension I assumed he meant that Kate's taming in the same way was prevented by the smashing of the lute and refusal of the tutor. She refuses the activity of a heightened mind, so must be treated like an animal undergoing domestication.

Bloom and Muir differ greatly in their estimation of Kate's mental capacity, and I'm not sure who to believe. Her acid tongue and quick wit make me lean towards Bloom. I do wonder what education has to do with the meaning, since all of the suitors have obviously studied the classics (Petruchio gives an example in his speech about wealthy but venomous women, mentioning Florentine, Sibyl, and Xanthippe).

And why has no one mentioned Bianca and Lucentio? Bianca plays opposite to Katherine, acting perfectly mild but ending the play disobedient. Bloom reflects on this, calling it social commentary. Women can only be 16th century ideals (silent, obedient, pretty) or shrews.

Lucentio abandons his studies to court Bianca, turning Tranio into himself. If the transformation from servant to Lord is a metaphor, education can certainly be counted as a major theme in TOS. Tranio is allowed to don Lucentio's lordly garb after he promises to attend the University in his place. Or, that's just a joke, and Shakespeare's meaning is that the only difference between servants and their masters are clothes.

The play as a whole is equal parts amusing and puzzling. There are so many threads I can hardly count them all. They do weave together nicely into a happy caricature of young people.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus

Keeping with the Greek theme, I finished two plays by Sophocles last night. What a perfect theme for how I was feeling. I had no idea the plays would affect me so much. A couple of tears were shed shortly after finishing. Oedipus' lamenting guilt was so powerful in Oedipus Rex, I couldn't help but feel moved. He feels most passionately for those related to him, even more than he feels for himself. His immediate empathy was so powerful. I felt inspired to be more like him in his feelings towards those close to him.

Concerning his culpability, which feels like the central theme of both the plays, Oedipus is morally innocent. He avoids Corinth, even though he longs to see Polybius and Merope, because of the prediction of the Oracle (he will kill his father, etc.). It's the irony and the strange fate that make the play the interesting thing that it is. His intentions are always good -- though sometimes falsely suspicious, such as his accusations towards Creon. He leaves willingly when convicted, ending the city's famine and condemning himself to a life of wandering.

Oedipus at Corinth begins near the end of his life as a wanderer. Sophocles writes this sequel in a similar stage of life, he was ninety years old. Blind, and led in his wandering by his poor daughter Antigone, Oedipus stumbles into a garden at Colonus. His stumbling into a kind and beautiful place, after years of misery, is something of a symbol for the whole play: the Oracle places a value on his final resting place, and consequently Oedipus enjoys a momentary restoration of some small amount of respect. I have to disagree with Sophocles' choice of last words for this play. He places too much emphasis on divinity of fate, instead of the randomness of fate that characterises Oedipus Rex.

Oedipus the King:                                                         Oedipus at Colonus:
O you who are mortal, look upon life's end,                 Now cease,
and on your own.                                                           and lift no more your wailing cry,
Count no man happy until without disaster                  for the events
he pass the last boundary of his life.                             which now have been fulfilled
                                                                                      there lives divine authority.

It's useful to compare the final lines, however, because I think it gives us the most clear example of what it was Sophocles needed to add to the Oedipus character to make him complete. The king is exonerated of his guilt and allowed to forget his life of shame, if momentarily, while the fates shine on him. It's this circularity which defines Oedipus' character. He curses his sons for their heartlessness towards him, which reminded me once again of his empathetic reaction to conviction in Thebes. Oedipus' only comfort in his time of death is that his body is more useful to the world than his life. He goes off to die with no witness except the king of Athens. He is swallowed up by the Earth, leaving no mourner but his daughters.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Herodotus, and the First Week of Free Time

It's been a week since spring session began, and I've been enjoying my time outside of school. The decision not to attend classes has proved to be a great one -- thanks Colin. I've gotten lots of reading done in the past week. Today I tore through a tiny volume of Herodotus titled Snakes with Wings & Gold Digging Ants, and found it hugely entertaining. The book is comprised of short selections from his Histories. The 'Father of History' certainly takes some creative liberties. It was worth it for the captivating, if somewhat fictional, account of many civilizations around Egypt, Libya and Persia circa. 400 BCE.

I'm also most of the way through an Oxford very short introduction to Wittgenstein (required reading before I finish Dave's portrait of W.) and Marcus Aurelius. The Meditations rattle me every time I pick them up. Consequently it's hard to put them down. I'll write a short paragraph for both of them once I finally finish. Also on the desk waiting to be read are Aristotle and Wagner. The bookcase keeps such fantastic company. Slightly less strenuous but equally enjoyable books on the table are Hauser (Psychology) and Woodman (inner work).

As far as summer jobs are concerned, though I'm still looking for work with kids for July-August I've found an interesting employer for the time being. I'm modeling for the WPG Artists, my first shift is on Tuesday. I'll write about how it goes.