Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Concluding thoughts on 213...and Life?

Looking back on my experience in this class, I find it remarkable that I went from completely lacking any comprehension of what Prof. Sexson was saying, to a much more enlightened state. I mean, I think all classes strive to achieve such a transformation, but 213 truly achieved it.

What do I know now that I didn’t know before? That is a silly question to ask, because as I am now aware, we ALREADY know everything there is to know. The question should be phrased: What have I remembered that I had previously forgotten? I feel I almost couldn’t put what I’ve remembered into words, because they already have such a presence in me. But I’ll try.

Sarvam Dukham, Sarvam Anityam—All is suffering, all is fleeting. All is suffering to us; we laugh to keep from crying, we all experience sadness or personal tragedy at some point (or at least we read about it). And people have been suffering since the dawn of man, making it fleeting. It’s ironic because one would tend to assume that true tragedy and suffering stay with a person forever, making it anything but temporary. But fleeting refers to our human existence as a whole, how time is cyclical and how our own suffering is a fleeting moment in the circle of time.

Time. Eternities vs. the times. I will never be able to look at a newspaper the same way again. How can we live thinking that all we experience, all that we are, is a unique creation in this universe? People are innately the same, circumstances are innately the same (5 conflicts), and that notion is inescapable. Where do I go from here? Knowing that nothing I do or experience is ever totally unique? Well, I recognize that fact, and then I also acknowledge that I am circumstantially bound into this role that I am playing. I am somehow a necessary part of these cycles. I don’t exactly know what this role is, but I figure if I’m bound to do it, I can’t screw it up.

And it is not so bad, to have this new outlook on life, which is what this class has given me. You know the people that tell you life is not a game and you need to take things seriously? To them I would now say, what is serious? I have read the eternities and am now well versed in the human condition, and not once has the word serious come up. Rather, life is a game, and you shouldn’t be serious at all, you should be tragic and dramatic and comedic and facetious and tender and blissfully aware. Because if we are to exercise the gift of life, what better way to do it than experience all that we are and all that we are capable of as human beings? Don’t be afraid to give your heart away, or laugh at something silly, or endure the pain of loss, or feel the greatest joy. Don’t be afraid to search for those experiences and revel in them once they’re experienced. Why do we feel so deeply about them? Simply, they are what we are. They are the core of our being and the token of our existence. They are eternal, and we are eternal, and everything that is, has been, and will be again.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Andromache...Will you ever be happy?

I was looking up at my shelf at all the books we’ve read this semester, and realized that I’d only read 2 out of the 10 Euripidean plays. So call me a nerd, but I took the book down and thought I’d read another play or two. So I started reading Andromache, which is set after she is sailed over to the home of Achilles to be enslaved. Surprisingly, she was still unhappy about one thing or another…namely the sacking of her city, the killing of her husband, and her enslavement in the house of her husbands murderer…anything missing? Yeah I thought so too, how about the sacrifice of her child! The whole premise of the Trojan Women, ya know, ringing a bell?

Now I don’t know if I’m interpreting this wrong, or if I’m misunderstanding the play. Maybe the fact that tidbit is omitted is because it is already the focus of another tragedy, and Euripides simply wished to carry out Andromache’s awful fate again and again. But I found it kind of hilarious that in this play, Andromache is “again” faced with the decision to either sacrifice herself, or her son (the child she had with her master). This sounded oddly familiar to me. She was weeping and wailing about how horrid her life has turned out to be, and how it can’t get any worse than this (even though it always does), so on and so forth. And it just felt like I was reading a knock-off version of the Trojan Women a little bit. Like I had seen an awesome movie like Pirates of The Caribbean, and was then forced to watch the second, and third, which were total downgrades from the first and riding off the coattails of the original.

Now I’ll admit, I didn’t actually finish the play, because after Menelaus came in and told her that even though she gave herself up for her child (which is less dramatic in the first place because she didn’t have that option in the other play), his evil daughter might still kill her son, I gave up. I felt like it was a trick, only to make Andromache suffer even more, so I could have the pleasure of reading about her misfortunes for another fifteen pages. I decided to not have that pleasure, and instead write this blog and pretend that the sufferings of Andromache ended with her ultimate sacrifice in the other play.

Pandora and Psyche

I was thinking earlier about Psyche opening that box that was to be delivered to Venus containing the beauty of Persephone, even though she wasn’t supposed to. I thought it was kind of funny how there wasn’t really a consequence for her doing that, and how in fact it led her to be rescued by her dear Cupid. I wonder if the story would’ve gone differently if she hadn’t opened the box, and instead just delivered it to Venus like she was initially supposed to. I mean we wouldn’t have gotten the whole prince charming factor in there, it is much more romantic that way. But then again she was circumstantially bound to do so.

I then think of Pandora and her box, and how she suffered the greatest consequence of all: introducing evil and all things unhappy into the world. How does that work? Pandora gets the rap for doing what should only come naturally to someone when told to possess a box yet not open it, while Psyche ends up with a fairytale ending. I mean a beauty induced sleep comes in a close second to the release of evil, naturally. But it’s actually kind of a funny parallel, because Pandora bore suffering, while Psyche bore pleasure.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Term Paper: Nothing is as is seems

At the beginning of this class, I had a difficult time grasping the point and aim of our discussions and readings. Naturally, however, as time progressed, I became aware not only of the significance in “the past possesses the present”, but of something else that was causing my confusion at the beginning of the semester. This notion, which I have come to believe in more and more, is the inescapability and the inevitability that nothing is ever how it seems (or at least not until you complete this course). The only comfort I can find is in knowing that this is infallible, always has been and always will be, and I will probably forever walk around in a fog of skepticism.

The exception of this, I can already think of, being the condition of the Greek men in Lysistrata, there is definitely no misinterpreting that. But we see this example in old comedy, which everyone knows is just grotesque jokes anyway. More seriously, the study of tragedies we’ve done led to a lot of questioning and uncertainty on my part. I’ve realized that my personal tragedies will never be anything close to those that others have experienced. What seeming misfortunes I have in my life come closer to being labeled comedic rather than tragic. As we know, the sacrifice of a child seems to take the cake in that department, dying for the honor of your brother is a close second, and the death of my pet really is nowhere near that arena. So just to clarify, stop thinking anything you’ve experienced is tragic, because it’s not. Just ask the Trojan Women.

As if the tragedies in my life being unremarkable aren’t enough, I now also fear for my own originality. I don’t know if that everything that is past possesses the present is alluding to that or not, but if everything that is my present has already been a present, how am I ever to consider myself original? How are any of us? It’s like that kid on the playground who tells you that his dad made up some popular joke. If I could go back in time, knowing what I do now I would say, “Well actually that joke has literally been around for ages, originating from Aristophanes Lysistrata, and it has only just followed a cyclically predictable path back into the mind of your unoriginal father”. Talk about a slam-dunk, he would stand no chance of responding. That joke is not as it seems, when what was an original funny bit of comedy, can turn into a worn-out gag, in holding this notion of unoriginality. But maybe we cannot value originality on the grand scale of things, and rather must appreciate it for what it is in our own time and space.

Physical transformations, the most obvious example of “it’s not what it seems”, prove deceiving as well. What appears to be a wild boar is in fact King Pentheus. Lucius is an ass. Calisto is a mama bear. Acteon is a stag. Who’s to say that my dog isn’t Amelia Earhart? I mean nobody knows where she went; it’s not out of the question! These things are definitely not as they seem, but how would anyone be to know? In these transformations we see mothers and sons turn against one another, friends turn to foes, and nymphs into bodiless voices, to name a few. We seem to be surrounded by a veritable garden of transformation, with hardly a clue about what is real. And if our senses are so greatly deceived, what is left to rely on? The only solution, it would appear, is to refrain from eating meat, not uproot any trees or flowers, and know where your son is before you go boar hunting.

When our physical forms are changeable, is too our nature? Are things like love, desire, and grief transformable? Diotima says love is an intermediate stage, there is always desire; it is a stepping stone. If love, which all humans strive to achieve, is not an ultimate goal, what then is? Is any earthly thing as satisfying or completing as we make it out to be? Maybe it is an eternal struggle, to find that which completes you. Malouf begs this question in The Imaginary Life. What is the true destiny of man? At the beginning of the novel, Ovid believes that the civilization of the Child is what would serve him best, when in the end it proves to be the exact opposite. We see a reversal occurring. Bird calls transform from meaningless song, into a beautiful and unique language like our own. The child who originally seemed to be the student, in fact became the teacher. With this widening of perspective, Ovid becomes aware of his place and his destiny. The exile, which seemed to be an unimaginably heinous fate, was always in fact a necessary step to his finality.

Our own fates, destinies, paths, whatever you like to call them, are not so different from Ovid. I think you can relate it to the idea of blessings in disguise. For example, a rejection letter from your dream college could lead to you going elsewhere, and in turn meeting the love of your life. You then find yourself praising what was once a disappointment. We make decisions everyday that guide us in one direction or another; that may drastically alter our course without our knowledge. And we must become aware that our lives are not as they can seem, mundane or predictable at times. We have become who we are through a very precise chain of events that could have resulted in a million other outcomes. It is true that as humans we are circumstantially bound, but it’s not as if we know what we are bound to.

You can’t live like that, thinking that you are just a pawn in the grander scheme of things. That frame of mind can translate into a license to be reckless or uncaring and just assume it’s all in the cards that way. Although we may be products of our circumstance, we are similarly products of ourselves. It seems a bit daunting at times, but as with most everything, it takes balance, and with that you can then operate in the worlds of both ignorance and enlightenment harmoniously. Meaning that, an awareness of our human condition and past as present will serve you well. But it serves equal importance to hold onto your own experiences and thoughts to appreciate them for what they are, and your role as an individual.

You have to take everything in stride, because the world we live in is chalk full of ambiguity and hidden meaning. It may not actually be hidden, but unless you know what you are looking for, it will never reveal itself. What am I talking about? I am talking about an echo, or a windflower, or Groundhogs day, or a current event in the newspaper. These things that are so present in our everyday lives, yet we are not aware of their pasts. And when you come to realize the significance, the importance of these things, what have you gained? Simply, and satisfyingly enough, the ability to chuckle here and there when you read the caption “Groundbreaking New Story!” or see the flight of a swallow, knowing that none of it is as it seems.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cupid and Psyche

While I was reading Cupid and Psyche, I was thinking about what the heck kind of pictures I would find...only because the story is so long and there are so many amazing scenes. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed to find that mostly all of the images were just of Cupid and Psyche together in an embrace. They are beautiful pictures, don't get me wrong, and many do a great job of reflecting the emotion between the two, but they are just all sort of the same.

I was anticipating great depictions of Psyche alone in Cupid's grand palace, or her awful nasty sisters, her tasks she completed for Venus, or even a final depiction of her becoming immortal, a portrait maybe. I didn't quite find any of that, but there is a painting of Psyche in the act of revealing Cupid's identity, which a thought was refreshing in a sea of feel-good and erotic paintings and sculptures.

I personally hadn't heard this particular story before, and was fascinated by all the facets of it. The innocence of Psyche seemed to assure her a miserable fate from the beginning, but turns out that her consistent innocence led her to great things in the end. She never seemed to act much like a victim, but went about her way in order to continue to do what she thought she must. And I think she totally deserved her happy ending. It was a great story and I really can't stop thinking about it. I looked it up on Wiki (of course) to figure out where it originated from, and it actually said it first emerged from The Golden Ass. This kind of surprised me a little because I was half expecting it to be from some collection of stories by another great and less well known author like Ovid. But go figure, I guess that's enough proof that this book truly is a classic in the foundations of literature.

The Transformation of Lucius and comparison

Lucius’s transformation is quite interesting compared to all the other one’s we’ve read about. In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, all the transformations occur because of extreme events that force the alteration of their subject. Another theme also seems to be that those transformations were somewhat sudden and unwanted, arising out of some despair or violence. In The Golden Ass, Lucius’s transformation is nothing like this. It isn’t sparked by anything other than his curiosity to experience and understand the ways of the infamous witches of the town, and is brought on by his own hand—or rather at the hand of his Love. Of course, he did turn into a creature that he wasn’t intending, but all the same, the intent to transform was always present.

The other thing, was that with Ovid, the story always ended with the transformation. But with this novel we get to experience the transformation towards the beginning, and all the aftermath, which makes for a really enjoyable read. This transformation is also much more lighthearted and comical than others, which I know has to do with the style and subject of the book, but also the fact that he was turned into an ass, and the funny middle ground he experiences between having human thoughts and the impulses of an animal. He often doesn’t seem super distressed about his form, but rather accepts it and is looking towards amending the situation. I find the level headedness of Lucius is quite admirable and totally hilarious at the same time.

The Golden Ass: Pg. 1-80

This book is extremely entertaining so far. It was good to read the intro and learn how Grave’s translations differs so much from the others. I really appreciate modern and conversational translations, because they make it so much easier to read and enjoy. That’s kind of an obvious statement, but I think a lot of people would be surprised that some of these Greek classics are so readable.

But in any case, I find the format of this book fantastic. There is absolutely no chance of becoming bored or predicting what will come next, because the events occurring at times seem totally unrelated! (Then again I shouldn’t act fooled because as we know from this class, everything is related). The more you get into the novel, the more everything makes sense, and turns out to be totally connected. Like when Thelyphron tells his tale about protecting the corpse, I at first thought we were off on another crazy tangent, when as it turned out it was another connection to the mysteries and transformations of the witches.

What I have found most interesting so far, is the relationship between Lucius and Fotis. What at first seemed like a minor part of the story has turned out to catalyze a myriad of events. Fotis grabbing the goat hair for her mistress instead of the hair of the Boetian man, her mixing up the transformation potions, and her knowledge of the anecdote, all of consequence. I’m interested to see how their relationship continues to unfold. It seems so perfect and unblemished, and I don’t know if I’ve been reading too many tragedies, but I fear it isn’t going to last! The fact that Lucius is currently an Ass had potential to get in the way ☺, but we’ll just have to see. I’ve had no idea what direction this book is going in, so I’m not about to make any assumptions!