27. november 2012

On Martian Chronicles

My reading of Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles had different stages. Firstly there was an anxious state of expectation. Searching for the truth about horrible Martian race but none was there to be found. Secondly, the desire to meet the truth about fine Martians, the saviors of our doom, but there were also none there. After a while I learned that the Martian Chronicles aren’t about Martians at all. It’s on the truth of our, human race. Here are two examples.
Firstly, the chapter The Earth Men is a good example of what can be scary when exploring the unknown land. There is no bigger disappointment than not being accepted as you expect to be. Captain Williams and his team suffer the inevitable death, but the lesson here is pretty simple: never forget that your reality can be regarded merely as a delirium of a madman. And what is more, there is no way you can prove otherwise. Ad usum delphini here is a Bradbury’s logical statement repeating Leibniz’s: our world is only one of numerous possible worlds. Never forget that.
And secondly, similar thing occurs in the story of The Third Expedition. John Black, along with his team mates projected themselves their own heaven, where there apparently is no death and time. Meeting with their past, with their relatives and beautiful memories is a plot that can be read as a test. A test on how far can you can go in wanting things? Can you be in a totally unknown land and at the same time enjoy happiness with your most known and intimate things. No, of course not. But happiness is a state of mind, not some physical object. And material objects do not change just because we want them to. So Black and his comrades fail the test of separating the desires from real life. They ought not to.
Every story in the Chronicles has some hidden footnote between the lines. It’s just that there is none on the Martians.
Bradbury, however, introduces himself as a superb psychologist and logic.

Ray Bradbury: The Martian chronicles. London : Flamingo : Harper Collins, 1995

23. november 2012

In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king

Wells is one of those authors who explored the vast space outside known realms and at the same time dug into the questions of inner laws that rule the societies. One thing he managed to convince me, is that some lines aren’t meant to be crossed. In at least two of his superb works.
The Island of Doctor Moreau is a tale of many themes and motifs. I understand it mainly as a tale of frustrated, “mad” scientist, who is banished from the native country because of his idea of mocking the nature itself and having the god-complex. Moreau managed to create the world in which he is the creator and the ruler of all beings. He did everything to create a new civilization, where even laws appear to work as they have to. But things have their inner necessities. As such, “stubborn beast-flesh” (1) can’t become human. That line, as story tells us, isn’t meant to be broken.
Another work and even harder argument: The country of the blind addresses the argument how the borders of our language are necessarily also the borders of our world. Nunez had come and sought new possibilities in a place, where everyone is blind. What at first seems an advantage, soon becomes the dividing line that cannot be crossed. And through each day that he seems to assimilate into their order, he just cannot stop using words that have no meaning to his new hosts: “There is no such word as SEE … Cease this folly…” (2). Ultimately he, at the pressure of losing his eyes, recognizes this border, raises his white flag and leaves.
Wells convinced me that one has to do a lot of thinking before he/she walks down the path to the terra incognita. Rules that apply to our kind of thinking not necessarily apply everywhere. And when this comes from “The Father of Science Fiction" (3), the lesson is even more important.

(1) H. G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau, eBooks@Adelaide, University of Adelaide, last updated Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 12:25; http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/w45is/index.html, page 129

(2) H. G. Wells, The country of the blind, in The Door and the Wall, and other stories, eBooks@Adelaide, University of Adelaide, Last updated Tue Aug 24 14:41:54 2010; http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/w45td/index.html, page 118

(3) Adam Charles Roberts (2000), "The History of Science Fiction": Page 48 in Science Fiction, Routledge found on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._G._Wells

19. november 2012

A search for perfection

Shelley's novel Frankenstein is one of the best examples of Romanticism. The very nature of a human and his/hers desire to reach his/her individual perfection leads to deadly utopia. The story of Frankenstein teaches that the radical search for perfection ultimately terminates the searcher.

Victor is a protagonist of Romanticism par excellence, doing a lot of self-reflection, contemplating the nature and being very sensitive. When his dying mother addresses him her wish (“… my firmest hopes of future happiness were placed on the prospect of your union…”, p.41) and later his father (“… I have always looked forward to your marriage…”, p.161), this becomes ultimately deadly for Elisabeth. Victor marries her in spite of his knowledge of what will happen. Victor is attached to fulfilling his parent’s wish until the very end. And with this “attachment”, Victor goes to Ingolstadt, where he seems to find his own inner desire,”…animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm” (p.50), to make something big: giving life to lifeless matter. And this seems to be point breaking in the whole story. He follows his inner wish and completes his task. But later we see how Victor’s creation destroys his love towards his family and their desires. Ergo, it is the exact fulfillment of his dreams (though non-satisfying) that leads to death of his loved ones (“… all was the work of my thrice-accursed hands”, p.92). Victor as a searcher of perfection is realizing that he is facing the impossible task. One can never reach perfection in fulfilling everyone’s request. Unfortunately Victor does not realize that soon enough and due to this the story must end the way it does.

Frankenstein is a novel of imperfection, anxiety and suffering. And a protagonist who is trying to make perfect creature, embracing high ethical standards and thus creating universal scheme of utopia. Victor is in all of us.

Shelley, Frankenstein or The modern Prometheus, London: George Routledge and sons, 1888.

16. november 2012

On a choice of characters

Fantastic literature can often be seen as a writers attempt to tell us what ought to be done in order to keep the world out of the hands of evil. In the case of Stoker's Dracula, the novel can be read as symbolic representation of virtues and tools needed to keep the prosperity of London safe.
Dracula is a representation of pure evil. It desires to come to London ("I long to go through the crowded streets of your mighty London…" p. 60) . Why London? London seems like an allegory of Eden. A Place that is embraced by objective (modernity and prosperity of the developed city) and subjective good (cosmopolitan city with Lucy’s, Mina’s and Jonathan’s stories of love; lunatics hidden behind the bars). This perfection is ruined by a coming of Dracula. Evil works in many ways so there are many things needed to defeat it. What is crucial here is the author's choice of characters: the protagonists could be randomly picked through the story, but we can see their roles of love, revenge, money, science, and experience. And - as it is omnipresent in almost every breath of the book - the most important are faith in God ("…we go as the old knights of the Cross…" p.398) and artifacts of Christian rituals. Maybe only outsider can help us see things we don’t (Van Helsing) and maybe we’ll need to face our deepest nightmare (Jonathan’s return to Transylvania). These are Stokers weapons of choice and with everyone playing their role, London is saved.
This reading thus brings such level of understanding the work: It’s a reminder towards the inhabitants of London that they should not forget to deepen their religion and scientific knowledge (among other things) due to the dangers superficial beauty of the city might attract. As we saw, some elements direct us to Stoker as a critic of Victorian London. 

Bram Stoker: Dracula, Barnes & Noble Classics, New York, 2004

Bram Stoker (1847-1912), photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org

Framing the reality

Carroll's stories Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass are astonishing works and one can find numerous interesting observations therein. One of those has its beginning a few years before they were published. Science, industrial revolution and especially Darwin, changed a lot in human mind. In this aspect, especially Through the looking glass made a very good attempt in telling the world, especially children, that the truth isn't always rational and systemized. And where is the path to the other side.
It's just seeing/knowing things differently. Firstly, If Carroll built an imaginary world only to bring smile on a child's face, then no Goats were there, preaching them, what they (like Alice) ought to know (p.32). Author speaks to a child, proving that even vivid dreams have elements of serious life. Secondly, conversations that Alice has with everyone, can help us get to the Carroll's criticism of Darwin and strict science. Remember Alice's talk to the Gnat and how we name the insects only for our purposes (p.35) - this goes to authors academic colleagues, reminding them that they need to observe nature in every possible way. And thirdly, even if life contains strict rules of the game, the whole game can consist a lot more than there is seen prima facie. Chess is a game and Alice knows how to play it, but a pawn is never merely a pawn. It’s not like Alice needs new realities; she already embraces them. The real trick here is reflecting this to us. Carroll is giving us a reality-check. And to everyone, who believes “contrariwise”, Alice has a shout: ''I am real!'' (p.51).
Carroll and his stores are on powerful mission here: though criticizing, they neither deny Darwin nor seriousness of life, but enrich our perception of reality. Once more it’s shown how fantasy frames the reality.

(cited) Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass. Web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide. Accessible via http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/carroll/lewis/looking/index.html

Alice Through the Looking Glass (Colin Smith) / CC BY-SA 2.0

15. november 2012

The element of sacrifice in Grimm's fairy tales

Among different perspectives of the tales, this essay will try to focus on one of these, so I would like to point out one: the element of sacrifice. In Grimm’s tales the element of sacrifice is a neutral act in itself, but always bonded to the moral ground of the character who performs the sacrifice. Even the intensity of sacrifice does not change that. It only depends on the person who makes it.

Look at the tales of Aschenputtel, The Almond Tree or Snow-white, where really false intentions drive the antagonists to do horrible things to get what they want. In the Aschenputtel we see how the mother tries to put her daughter into the golden shoe with the order ‘’Cut the toe off…’’ , just to make the foot fit (p.107) and later it don’t pay. Same happens with the stepmother of Snow-white, who has extremely sick desire to be the fairest of us all – decides to sacrifice the Snow-white (in even more absurd cannibalistic manner), but the stepmother fails at the end. And the most evil representation of this emerges in The Almond Tree, where the evil stepmother also fails.

And how sacrifices can help and reward good characters in the end: The Frog Prince couldn't be a human prince if the King’s youngest daughter wouldn't sacrifice herself in the bargain for the lost golden ball; and the father of Hansel and Grethel did make the horrible sacrifice of their children, but at the end it all ends well; also the stories of The Twelve brothers and The Six Swans – the ultimate sacrifice of the sisters, preparing to give their lives for their brothers, was, as the sisters were good intended, rewarding.

As seen here, a sacrifice itself in Grimm’s tales do not guarantee the reward in the end. Goodness in character does.

Post scriptum: esejčič smo na Courseri pisali na podlagi izbora Grimmovih pravljic, ki je bil objavljen leta 1886. Gre za prevod Lucy Crane z ilustracijami Walterja Cranea, nekaj ilustracij iz te izdaje je na voljo na http://topillustrations.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/household-stories-by-grimms-illustrated-by-walter-crane/ Knjiga je prosto dostopna tudi na Project Gutenberg.

(Walter Crane, The Almond tree)

11. november 2012

Some thoughts on Poe and Hawthorne

J. Lacan, controversial psychoanalyst, once wrote: ”I love you, but because inexplicably I love in you something more than you, …, I mutilate you.” This is a statement on human relations. It deals with not accepting the loved ones as they are and rather pointing to redesigning them according to one’s wishes. That’s exactly what some of Hawthorne’s and Poe’s works are asking and telling us: how far are we ready to go when we love something in somebody (and not this somebody as a whole)? And their answers do produce horror.
Hawthorne’s The Birthmark, the story of a scientist Aylmer and his wife Georgiana, is evidently going in that direction. No one doubts on his love towards her, but there is the birthmark as “… a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana’s beauty …’’ (p.5). He seems much more intrigued with her small birthmark than with anything else. Obsession that ultimately ends with “… the parting breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere and her soul … took its heavenward flight.” (p.21). Similar motif occurs with the story of Rappaccini’s daughter, where Giovanni couldn’t accept Beatrice as how she is, but tried to “heal” her, to “save” her, to be “purified from evil” (p. 69). And she also said her farewell.
The Oval portrait by Poe reveals this theme even better. It's seen in the deadly relation of the painter who loves something in his wife and must catch that something (life); to catch and embody it in his painting. This story answers our question from the first paragraph with a definite: until the end.
Thus we see how Hawthorne and Poe knew these dark sides of human relations as their characters - because of their own needs - are prepared to “mutilate” their loved ones. Unfortunately the redesign process often ends miserably.

J. Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan , Book 11), New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998, see chapter 20

N.Hawthorne, Mosses from the Old Manse and other Stories, ebook from Project Gutenberg, release date: September 13, 2008

E.A.Poe, The Complete works of Edgar Allan Poe, Delphi Classics, 2011

N.Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales, ebook from Project Gutenberg, release date: October 11, 2004

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