February 6, 2013
The Puritan Paradox: An Epistemological Dilemma Confronting New England Puritans of the 17th Century

*note*  This paper was accepted and presented at the Literary Buffs 2013 Conference at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

            In the late seventeenth century, political foment quickly gathered around the administration presiding over the dominion of New England.  Edmund Andros headed this administration as governor and was not elected to the position but rather appointed by James II of England.  After James II was deposed, the entitlement of Andros to govern could be called into question.  The period of these protests leading to the eventual arrest of Governor Andros will be the setting of this paper.  A remarkable swelling of political activism against the Andros administration manifested itself in an abundance of political tracts, broadsides, and sermons.  T.H. Breen, a scholar of American history, observes certain intellectual developments, which followed from this increased civic activity, that I believe, warrant further examination.  Specifically, these include a transformation in the style of rhetoric used for these political compositions that suggests a shift from dogmatic obstinacy to worldly tact.  In other words, the participation of the Puritans in an intellectually demanding campaign seems to have culminated in a decreased reliance on Scripture in their political tracts and an increased appetite for empirically sound argumentation.  In fact, in this turn toward empiricism the Puritans ironically seemed to adopt some of the qualities of imposture—that then prevailing scourge of deceit and false identity, that they vilify so thoroughly in one of the most unusually and telling document from the period, The Humble Address of the Publicans of New-England.  The dynamics behind this shift reveal the outline of a deeper mechanism at play.  I believe the transformation that Breen observes to be indicative of a greater truth; namely, that the art of lying is predicated upon an epistemologically evolved disposition which seems to be incompatible with dogmatic approaches to faith.

In its most basic form, The Humble Address of the Publicans of New-England is a lambasting of political corruption.  Several pamphlets and tracts of this time period assume similar crusades, but The Humble Address of the Publicans of New-England is especially blunt in its castigation — perhaps because of the anonymity of its author.  It is a vilification and denunciation of all that is wrong with the people in power.  Furthermore, it seeks to publically alert New Englanders of a believed epidemic in the colonies: the plague of lying, deceit, and trickery.  In addition, it proposes a solution to end further abuses of power.  Governor Andros and his appointed courtiers are these people in power.  They are appointed, not by the constituents of New England, but rather, by a remote and distant monarch.  At the hands of this debauched Andros administration, the industriousness of the Puritan people is being perversely harnessed to enrich the legislators  of New England (Andros 233-234).  To bring an end to such tyranny and enslavement, the people need to enact a republic or so the Humble Address argues (Andros 241-242).  But, like many artifacts of history, The Humble Address provides much more information than is available on a surface reading.  Certain rhetorical fixations and recurrent themes, if read in a symptomatic light, provide insight into the epistemological tumult of the time period.  In detailing the abuses of the Andros administration, one sees language dealing with the topic of imposture and the “Arts of Flattering Lying, and Cheating” (Andros 244).  The propensity to use such language within The Humble Address of the Publicans of New-England, betrays an underlying fascination with the subject of imposture in general.  Like the temptation of forbidden fruit, perhaps the cloistered nature of the Puritans at this time was contributing to the allure of worldly tricks and traps.

The Puritans were incited to protest  because of the corruption of the Androsadministration and its effort to limit their liberties.  The “Publican is a creature that lives upon the Commonwealth,” (Andros 231) begins The Humble Address.  Not even worthy of the status of man, the publican of The Humble Address is reduced to the status of creature, signifying the bio-political approach if its author.  In truth of course, the publicans were Englishmen, like Andros and his minions, sent and favored by the king.  They presided over the government of the Massachusetts bay Colony and neighboring colonies and were not representative of the colonial inhabitants.  In fact, as Breen  observes, “the Publicans across the Atlantic envied its wealth almost as much as they hated its virtue” (Breen 163).  Yet, it is important to keep in mind that the publicans were not some warring clan pillaging the commonwealth by force.  They were legitimate agents of the state engaged in effectively running the colonies as best as they saw fit..  This particular point creates a vexing problem for the Puritans.  They cannot engage in outright violence without appearing mutinous, and yet they must prevent further embezzlement of their commonwealth. 

Thus the purpose for our pamphleteer is born.  The Puritans took fervently to the propagation of politically motivated tracts in order to bring their vision to fruition.  Breen aptly observes that “the Puritans of this period wanted to hear about rights and property, not about moral reformation” (T.H. Breen 161).  Thus we have all the indignation and hatred of a people who earnestly believe they are being attacked, bottled up and filtered within the pages of political tracts such as The Humble Address.  The barely restrained hatred towards the publicans becomes more visible when one views the tenacity with which the Puritans declare that “these Drones are not only greedy as Hell to devour whatever they can get, but they are so inhumane and cruel as to destroy the very Bees that feed them” (Andros 242).  Such statements seem as close to verbal warfare as one could possibly imagine.

While the Puritans were becoming increasingly interested in designing a government that could securely safeguard the fruits of their industriousness, they remained oblivious to the humanist undertones of their enterprise.  After all, such designs were not without intellectual ambition and necessitated some participation in the marketplace of ideas.  Part of this participation may be seen in the Puritan’s awareness that understanding the art of dissembling would be required in order to embed preemptive measures in their future republic.  Such awareness of the importance of imposture can be found in the declaration that “there is almost continual War between Publicans, and the rest of Mankind, in which the People are always too strong for the Publicans at Blows, but the Publicans too hard for them at Lying, Dissembling, Flattering, and Cheating” (Andros 249).  One gets the impression that, given an equalized mastery of these arts, scales would certainly tip in favor of ‘the rest of mankind.’ 

The fact that an inquiry into the phenomenon of lying and deceit and its implications for society exists within a political tract speaks volumes about the preoccupation that humanist inquiry held for the Puritans. We are not witnessing a stubborn reliance on higher powers to restore justice through some divine intervention, but rather a confidence in the dissemination of knowledge. We may view the mechanism that is a Republic government as the piece de resistance of such dissemination in the following passage:

The Publicans make Common-wealths, as Malefactors make Laws; for were there no

Malefactors, there would be no need of Laws: and were there no Publicans, there need be no Republiks. (Andros 246)

It is important to notice the critical assumptions embedded within this passage.  First, they were aware that the sanctified medium of law making was being leveraged for conspiratorial and unjust pilfering.  Second, they understood that laws are based on the anticipation of criminal motivations; and third, that in their circumstance, the current mechanism of anticipation instituted by their current government was failing their society.  All of these assumptions depict a cognitively engaged and astute populace who are enthusiastically pursuing a working model of the behavior of humanity. Indeed, the humanist streak in The Humble Address may be seen even more directly in the perceived correlation between deception and intelligence as espoused in this passage:

But the only difficulty was, that though the simplicity of the People made them the easier to be imposed upon, as to the passive part yet for the active it made the work more difficult for that simplicity and plainness of the People was attended with a certain sort of Dullness and Stupidity which rendered them very incapable of Learning the Arts of Lying, Cheating, Dissembling, and Tricking, with some other fundamental principles of the Publican profession. (Andros 234)

One may see a duality emerging in the context of this passage,which strives to encompass a greater philosophical truth about society in general.  Ultimately, I believe such humanist inquiries would profoundly affect the Puritan populace of New England.  After all, the civic activities of the Puritan people would shape the political landscape of the American Revolution to come a century later.  Additionally, similar sentiments are visibly ingrained in the spirit of our founding fathers. 

            In political tracts after the reign of Governor Andros, a dramatic increase in secular argumentation may be observed.  This transformation is well noted by T.H. Breen, who states that “the justification for the overthrow of Andros turned out to be more important to the political and intellectual development of New England than were the actual events of the revolution itself, for local pamphleteers defended their rebellion in language novel to the Bay commonwealth” (Breen 152).  The Puritans were becoming increasingly aware that the effectiveness of their arguments could be directly affected by the refinement of their presentation.  Again, Breen goes on to observe that “they dropped the scriptural rhetoric which had permeated much of the political writing in the Old Charter period, and attacked Andros’s government for defects which had little or nothing to do with Puritanism” (152). For in their posturing to their mother country they became, by their own definition, that which they sought to destroy: impostors.  Of course, their core values would remain intact, and they were not in danger of becoming corrupt or malevolent arbiters of the law.  Yet a certain characteristic feature of the Puritans had been compromised.  There are certain properties about calculation, anticipation, and political tact that contain an aspect of worldliness that Puritans were religiously inclined to disdain.  Of course, this intellectual development was complemented by their deep-residing virtue and would inspire the very framework upon which our modern government resides: a government that is arguably unrivaled in its sophistication of checks and balances.

            This is the Puritan paradox.  The impetus for the engagement stemmed from an interest in sustaining the health of the religion, but the age of the impostor delivered a blow with a sword the Puritans failed to comprehend was double-sided.  In the beginning when they speak about imposture and the nature of deception, they seem to dance between condemnation and fascination with unsure feet, but after the events surrounding Governor Andros come to climax, they become necessarily committed to an empirical mode of argumentation as a means to appease their cosmopolitan audience.  And in proscribing the antidote for avoiding deception, they were unwittingly drawing from the same humanist pool of thought that had caused so many problemsfor the Holy Roman Church.  Ultimately, the Puritans were forced into a position that was as impossible to survive, as it was fascinating to observe.  


February 4, 2013
Discovering the Pertinence of Narrative Framing in The Good Soldier


Trying to read Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier directly is equivocal to squinting harder-and harder at a fine Monet painting in the vain hope of arriving at a substantial understanding of his stylistic genius.  Obviously, the chance of the daubs of paint giving any particularly illuminating insight will remain highly unlikely.  They will remain dubious constituents of a remarkable whole.  Likewise, the attempt to directly correlate particular passages in The Good Soldier to matter-of-fact analysis  may prove troublesome as well; the logical design of the work discourages a normative reading.  The logical design of The Good Soldier depends on a complex and unorthodox sequence of frames which influence how the narrative itself may be interpreted.  We ought to state a few fundamentals about the text.  First, we are reading a non-chronological reconstruction of events from a man named John Dowell.  Second, all observations, opinions, and conclusions have been filtered through the senses of this man.  Thirdly, the ostensible agenda undertaken by this man is to reconstruct a period of his life involving Florence Dowell, Edward Ashburnham, and Leonora Ashburnham.  Lastly, the narrator is simultaneously a self-conscious character of the work he seeks to create.  This last quality requires the deployment of a reflective first person voice which is present throughout the work.  Treated carefully, I believe the exploration of these logical features will allow a clear sentiment to emerge.  Namely, I posit that an impressionist lesson is embedded within the The Good Soldier.  However, the reader must comprehend the complex layered narrative structure before the lesson may be learned.

Ford Madox Ford establishes John Dowell, the sole narrator, as clearly unreliable.  As such, the reader is tasked with the responsibility of determining the extent of the unreliability.  By his own admission, “Nine years and six weeks [of John Dowell’s life] vanished in four crashing days” (Ford 11).  For nearly a decade, the sensibilities of John Dowell had remained arrested and deceived.  He waxes philosophically for a moment, “If for nine years I have possessed a goodly apple that is rotten at the core and discover its rottenness only in nine years and six months less four days, isn’t it true to say that for nine years I possessed a goodly apple?” (12).  If the only property being evaluated is skin-deep, then perhaps John Dowell has a point.  Alas, one would like to think otherwise.  An unignorable and glaring feature, the reader is forced to take severe implications into account quite early in the narrative.  Either the external forces holding John Dowell sway must been of a particularly cunning sort or he is a fool.  Ford places our judgment in suspension.  Use of such suspension is an early indicator that we may need to look in unorthodox places for a firmer foundation of understanding.

The quickness with which Ford deploys this conflicting impressions thus inducing our suspension of judgement should not go unnoticed.  In “On Impressionism” Ford urges writers to “always consider that the first impression with which you present him will be so strong that it will be all that you can ever do to efface it” (III. 8).  Applying this advice to The Good Soldier, seems peculiar at first but revelatory after initial consideration.  With such conviction that early details are endowed with greater impact, Ford selects uncertainty as John Dowell’s modus operandi.  The narrative is rife with questions asking whether “is all this digression or isn’t it digression?” (17) John Dowell answers seemingly every question with “again I don’t know” (17).  A mental ellipsis hangs loosely over the silhouette of John Dowell, approaching and retreating from clarity as the novel continues.  Because we are reserving varying portions of our judgement, we are denied the occasion to appropriate the whole arsenal of our emotions onto our initial glimpse of John Dowell. At the same time, due to human nature, we are also forced to take some apprehensive gambits.  If we are to stay in line with the advice of “On Impressionism” with the actual structure of The Good Soldier, we arrive at an important conclusion: John Dowell’s indecisive opinions and ambiguous narration is hinting at the subject, pointing us along the right path.


In addition to a less-than-robust confidence in his narration, the motives for furthering the plot seem to self-implode as the novel progresses.  If we are charitable and not unwarrantedly suspicious, let us take John Dowell as an honest agent in an unfortunate circumstance: an honest agent who feels a moral imperative to document the deception in hopes of gaining greater insight into the overall incident. In short, the tale of the victim.  Because such an estimation would provide us with an honest impetus for the creation of the text it seems to serve a reassuring purpose to the reader as well. If we are to keep our logical expectations intact, we must now expect John Dowell to elaborate on the external forces which kept him deceived for so long.  Naturally some agency must be culpable for the deception.  If not, the incompetence of John Dowell’s senses must be held accountable.  Outing the perpetrators, vilifying their amorality, gaining some sympathy — from a god-fearing listener — all of these are well established features of the victim tale trope.  When John Dowell recounts “bursting out crying… for the whole eleven miles” (13) we are certainly prepared to sympathize with the man.  A regular man, we assume, must have experienced quite a crafty and horrible betrayal to be brought to tears for so long.  But our cathartic tension is never relieved, we are never able to swiftly condemn any subject as morally abominable.  For his cheating spouse, Dowell reassures us that he does not “blame Florence” (12).  In fact, in regards to both Edward and Florence he states, “I do not believe that I would have separated those two if I had known that they really and passionately loved each other” (67).  For a victim trope, this is blasphemous! This acknowledgement constitutes a shocking castration of the very motivating forces which give the genre life.  Because the victim trope paradigm does not satisfy our expectations, we can no longer read The Good Soldier in such a manner.  Essentially, John Dowell shoulders us with a problem we can only resolve by looking outside the boundaries of the genre.


Thus, our attention is inevitably redirected back to the ambiguity-as-subject premise. The novel opens with the lines, “this is the saddest story I have ever heard” (9).  Heard is a curious verb choice given the fact that John Dowell is recounting a tale based on his own experience.  The reason the story is heard for John Dowell as opposed to experienced results from a severe fracture paid only subtle attention..  If we pay closer attention to the fracture we realize that there exists a fundamental discord between the events John Dowell has experienced and the events he wishes to express to the reader.  “Til today… I knew nothing whatever” (9) about the events which he himself has experienced.  Til today, is important in that it highlights a distinct feature of the work.  The feature of the dynamic — as opposed to conventionally static — present frame which constantly disrupts the cohesiveness of the past frame.  John Dowell is reconciling with the events he perceived but now understands under drastically different terms due to an external character.  In actuality, there exist three temporal states within The Good Soldier: the present time of creating this text under a recently enlightened pretext; the interim of time between the suicide of Florence and redefined understanding of events; and the static past of John Dowell’s unenlightened memory of an idyllic time spent with Edward, Leonora, and Florence.  All three of these temporal settings are interwoven into the progression of the story and often undermine the credibility of John Dowell.  Yet, the weirdest aspect of the present tense is that it refuses to remain in a suspended omnitemporal setting.  When he admits “I am writing this now, I should say, a full eighteen months after the words that end my last chapter” (155), the present is realized to correlate with an actual timeline.  Likewise, when he writes “[s]ix months ago, I had never been to England” (9) we may infer that the present also correlates with a physical space.  Also, with that temporal admission, the opinions held by John Dowell in the beginning may be different than those held now.  As a result, one may observe Ford intricately carving a setting of realized time and space in which his narrative character has room to showcase his true nature directly to the reader.  The invention of a dynamic evolving narrator, who is attempting to mash several perspectives into one cohesive narrative of events he himself has participated — but failed to understand — is the crux to comprehending The Good Soldier as an impressionist text.  

Impressions are the most substantial subject in The Good Soldier.  The experimental form complements the particular subject well. There exists a cacophony of competing impressions in the mind of John Dowell: those imparted and those experienced.  Of those experienced, he relays easily to the reader.  Of those imparted, however, he becomes fidgety and scrupulous.  In these states of anxiety, he breaks with the suspension of belief and writes in his realized present.  He cannot adopt the impressions of others without feeling “horribly alone” (12) as a result.  With such a meta-cognitive subject confounded by distress, the necessity of the experimental dynamic frame becomes perfect.  With too straight-forward of a presentation, much of the nuance of John Dowell’s brain would remain eclipsed by simple confusion.  In the end, The Good Soldier is a document which simulates the trial of man in the throes of an epiphanic terror: a terror induced and revealed by a steadily progressive realized time in which he creates the work.  Thus, impressionist labelling of The Good Soldier becomes more clear.  John Dowell seeks to replicate the truest form of the human experience: an experience marked by perpetual and progressive revisions of fleeting impressions after fleeting impressions.

April 21, 2011

April 21, 2011
The Island of Dr. Moreau and “Who Goes There?”

In both H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau and John W. Campell’s “Who Goes There?”, the grotesque character of evolutionary embodiment occasions a crisis of abjection.  Discuss Well’s and/ or Campbell’s respective treatments of this cultural and psychic trauma.  What do Wells’ and/ or Campbell’s principal characters find most frightening and repulsive about evolutionary process?

We are witnessing the dissolution of the divine.  In an epoch where the totality of the human form is being reduced to a mere causality of biological persistence; a happen-stance of rudimentary cellular advancement; an unfolding of molecular sovereignty; Wells and Campbell expose the socially constructed nature of the morality and civility that we hold most dear.  Both authors have the same target in their cross-hairs: the imperative belief that the human race is removed far from their bestial ancestors.  That some mysterious and intangible entity, call it the soul, can form a bastion fortifying us from the horrifying insinuation that we operate upon the exact base desires and instincts in the animals we observe.  While Wells and Campbell share similar targets, they differ in their choice of fear-inciting objects to dissolve the dignity of the human race.  The object Wells’ utilizes to elicit fright is the potential sentience of the animal kingdom in The Island of Doctor Moreau.  Campbell’s approach differs in that his object or ‘embodiment of evolution’ is one that exists hierarchically above the human race.  With the questionable morality and motivations of the Thing in “Who Goes There?”, the human race is dethroned from our previously unquestioned mastery of the universe.  Both approaches resolve to force realization of one tenet: the human race exists on a developing and therefore incomplete, linear spectrum.  Objection to this realization arises in that spectrum and binary exist in stark conflict with each other.  This tenet provokes the ‘cultural and psychic trauma’ in Wells’ and Campbells’ principal characters.

Prendick embodies the hesitance and anxiety of general society to come to terms with the linear spectrum of evolution.   This is not to say that he cannot fathom the possibility but rather is unable to cope with the reality.  We see awareness forming when he states that a “strange persuasion came upon [him], that, save for the grossness of the line, the grotesqueness of the forms, [he] had here before [him] the whole balance of human life in miniature, the whole interplay of instinct, reason, and fate in its simplest form” (Wells 145).  This observation by Prendick lends itself well in demonstrating the multi-tiered dimensions of acceptance and understanding.  On the cerebral level, Prendick can acknowledge the microcosmic qualities of the island he inhabits yet he is also aware of his conditioned reflex of repulsion towards the beasts.  Drawing upon Kelly Hurley’s conjecture of liminality in the “Abject and Grotesque” seems appropriate when attempting to comprehend Prendick’s aversion to the beast people.  The puma vivisected to resemble man occupies multiple positions and stands in the threshold between many different categories.  This liminal quality “undermines crucial binarisms as nature and culture, human and animal” (Hurley 139).  The mechanics of the binary are of absolute necessity to understand before deconstructing The Island of Doctor Moreau for the novel heavily critiques human beings dependence upon the binary for affirmation of identity.  By relying on ‘othering’ through subtle distinctions and negative attribution to the foreign we build a fragile pedestal on which humanity stands upon.  This leads to an identity which can be easily undone when objects are introduced which “collapse the distinction between human and animal” (139).  With this collapse and the acceptance that “mental structure is even less determinate than the bodily [structure]” (Wells 125) morality and civility come under scrutiny as an objective or valid belief system.  When postulating that this belief system is nothing more than “an artificial modification and perversion of instinct” (125), we have masses of the population in upheaval and unrest as religion and morality play a vital role in maintaining order within society.  
Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” dabbles in the ambiguity of a foreign, alien creature and focuses almost entirely upon our reaction to the encounter.  Because the object of fright has the characteristic of being able to assume any shape, the alien creature itself only takes physical and discreet form within the beginning of the narrative.  This ability to evade form is innately terrifying to the human identity and ego according to Kelly Hurley’s conception of self-differentiation.  The thing closely resembles our infantile traumatic experience of creating an ego as the monster lacks “bodily integrity” (Hurley143) and thus “knows no boundaries” (144).  This resemblance occurs because we have to undergo a process of distinguishing what is ‘I’ and ‘not I’ and in doing so the process can be described as a “sickening experience of entrapment at the border between identity and non-identity” (144).  When the monster appears to be functioning upon a nondiscriminatory boundary of form the principal characters elicit feelings of terror associated with the psychic trauma experienced as a newborn.  Also, the shape-shifting talent of the Thing can be utilized as a rhetorical mechanism on the part of Campbell to focus attention primarily towards the human characters in the piece and the defining aspects of the human condition.   By turning inquisition against one another on suspicions of being inhuman Campbell delves into the qualities that only a human could possess.  

By the end of the piece, it is established that the “minds that race must have” (Campbell 297) are vastly more intelligent than the human race.  The effortless ability to develop anti-gravity with tin cans removes the human race as the most intelligent known race.  With this assertion, the human race must then fall into a spectrum of linear ordering.  The destruction of the binary once again occurs as the implicit ordering becomes arranged as such: animals species below, humans in the middle, and the thing race on top.  

March 18, 2011
The Presence of Immanuel Kant’s Metaphysical in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves

In The Waves, Virginia Woolf takes upon herself, self-admittedly, an impossible task.  The science of her time has shattered “a perfect world” (54) and throughout this experimental novel one witnesses Woolf’s attempt to not only piece together some meaning from the fragments but to also describe the implications of its demise.  The world “soon to disappear” (54) is mechanically balanced, geometrically comprehensible, and “dominated by form” (55).  Newtonian law explains and justifies the existence of every atom and as such, purpose is derived from the comprehensibility of the universe.  However, as technology and industry tail the footsteps of discovery, mankind and their philosophy are forced to resign to the eternal embrace of entropy.  To aid Woolf in re-interpreting her universe, Immanuel Kant is called upon heavily throughout the text. Within the soliloquies, sublimity’s application to humanity, as experienced viscerally and internally by six distinguishable consciences, is explored and artistic illustration of Kant’s philosophical premise is achieved.  However, because the sublime, as affirmed by Woolf in The Waves and stated by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, is “an object (of nature) … of which determines the mind to think of the unattainability of nature as a presentation of ideas” we see her trace along the utmost boundaries that illuminate the interminably evasive nature of meaning as fundamental to the human condition.  These boundaries are fundamental, by definition, as a novel must always force nature into a presentation of ideas by the very premise of its existence.  Also, Woolf formulates prose-poems of a sun powered sea with two simultaneous aspects of intention.  The first of which is to allude to the enduring and cyclical nature of human existence by framing six individual lives in the context of a single day.  The second is to reveal intuitively, the constant infusion of energy into an isolated system; insinuating that our inevitable failure at distilling a single life into “a plain and logical story” (Woolf 251) is a property and casualty of this occurrence.

Each of the six characters within The Waves develops a personalized relationship with the sublime which is tailored to the substance of their identity and is instrumental in maturating their persona over the trajectory of their life.  In the “elevat[ion] of the imagination” (Kant 125) as occurred when encountering the sublime, the character’s furthest limits of experiencing existence are tested.  For Bernard, the realization that language itself cannot encompass the vast magnitude of nature acts as an object in channeling the sublime.#  This is because while he can ground himself safely amongst the world by “making phrases” (Woolf 76) and charming his friends and those around him, he is keenly aware of the “inadequacy of our greatest faculty of Sense” (Kant 117) and more specifically that he is condemned to “see every one with blurred edges” (Woolf 51).    Jinny absorbs herself in the physical world and the subtleties of the interactions to be found between the genders relating to sexual attraction.  While this pursuit represents her gambit of life, so to speak, it also carries the properties of the sublime.  When in pursuit of the ecstasy of attraction, she loses sense of her body and in this loss a comparison to the infinite is implied.  While both Bernard and Jinny can be seen to mitigate between objects of their sublime for the purposes of sanity, Rhoda foils arguably all five characters in that she is consumed by sublimity.  In this consumption, comes desperation and complete loss of identity, as she is swallowed whole by what Immanuel Kant would call, the “irresistibility of its might.”  To be sure, Rhoda is at once frightful and detached her entire life.  “Identify failed me… We are nothing… and fell” (64) as if the dissociative reality that she perceives is always and at once too much to cope.  The hint that Rhoda committed suicide on the jagged precipice of nature, exactly the kind of nature to illicit the sublime, is indicative and metaphorically suggestive of her being destroyed by the sublime.  Woolf is able to capture the sublime only because she creates and give life to her characters solely through the internal monologue.  This is essential because the sublime can only take place “in [the] mind [as] we find a superiority to nature even in its immensity” (Kant 129).  If she were to try to paint a story of someone the way Bernard attempts throughout the novel then she would lose the perspective that is necessary to interpret the divine and illusive nature of one’s personal thoughts in contrast with infinitude of their environment.

The prose-poems break up the soliloquies of the novel and serve to mark a new stage of life in all of the six characters.  As the sun rises to the top of its apex, the characters lives ripen in age to their zenith as well.  We see the personalities of all the characters come into full and then as they decline the sun begins to set behind the horizon.  This technique, employed by Woolf, is set apart from the rest of the novel in that it provides objective structure.  There is an omnificent perspective, giving detail to the ocean and describing with rich imagery the geographical splendor of nature, not being processed or interpreted by any of the characters.  It is significant that within these prose-poems no human being is ever entered into the descriptions.  Woolf is insinuating that objectivity can only be placed in the framework of natural environments and that human beings are disruptive of this objectivity.  When nature and humans are within the same frame, a flower “becomes six-sided” (229) meaning that there exist six different flowers fracturing from each of the characters point of view.    

Origin of power and the philosophical implications of such play a continuous theme throughout the prose poems.  The universe has changed from being a mechanical one in which all forces can be seen as subservient to the physical matter that guide them to a world in which tremendous force is being exerted at all times on matter, willingly or not.  In Turner Translates Carnot, this premise is seen in the advancement of technology.  Pulleys harness static energy and in this function illicit perceived control by man over the world in which they live.  Steam engines harness energy by the combustion and ignition of fuels.  Because the energy stems from ignition of fuels with “fire, everything changes, even wind and water” (Serres 56).  Thermodynamics is the new science ushered in forever leaving Newtonian mechanics to a world of the past.  Woolf intertwines this fundamentally into the prose poems as the greatest fire of all generates the waves of the ocean: the sun.  This is necessary for the entire structure of the novel.  The reason the characters struggle with finding meaning is because of the world in which they live.  In the context of this newly discovered scientific world-view, they are small molecules, no longer living in a balanced and comprehensible system of mechanical formula.  By having a source of energy outside of the system constantly creating impact on the system in which they live i.e. solar thermodynamics powering the waves of the ocean, a balanced and orderly equation is no longer feasible.  There is a constant variable of flux altering perpetually the contents of a system.  There can be no accountability or meaning in a world where the equation is not balanced in the context of a single human mind.  Because Bernard, Louis, Neville, Jinny, Rhoda and Susan are undeniably pieces of matter they are subject to force.  This brings us full circle to actual causation for the phenomena of sublimity.  The idea of sublime as defined by Kant is absolutely supportive of this world-view.  Without being dominated by the universe in which we inhabit, one could not reflect upon this and enter into the channel of the revelatory sublime.  Indeed, Woolf envisions the new world of thermodynamics and the grandeur chaos of meaning that it creates then provides the philosophy of Kant as an answer to the character’s ultimate request for purpose.

March 18, 2011
An Inspection of Morality in Huckleberry Finn

Huckleberry Finn

Morality and ethics in the context of society remains a predominant theme within Huckleberry Finn.  Twain critically explores the authenticity of ethics by juxtaposing morals constructed by the individual versus those codified and perpetuated by society.  As the novel progresses, Huck Finn becomes situated in an ideal position to speculate between the validity of the two moral approaches.  His position is ideal in that he stands neatly between the threshold of civilization and wilderness.  For the most part, society has failed to protect Huck or encourage his development in any form.  Neglect and apathy from society spur Huck Finn to abandon all precepts and contrivances of society in favor of the Mississippi river where external influences are limited and personal objectivity of thought is maximized.  This flee from society can be viewed as both rationally and economically sound; Huck receives absolutely no incentive from society via protection, education, etc. yet has to endure its codified absurdities masquerading as judicious ethics that only prove harmful to his sense of order in perceiving the world.  This failure leads to a general mistrust of the same system that supposedly# fosters the foundation of ‘civilized’ rationality and logical morality.  The following passage from Huckleberry Finn contains direct microcosmic insight into the internal strife Huck faces in countering socially rooted beliefs with the far braver and brighter light of his conscience:

They went off, and I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong, and I see it warn’t no use for me to try to learn to do right; a body that don’t started right when he’s little, ain’t got no show—- when the pinch comes there ain’t nothing to back him up and keep him to his work, and so he gets beat.  Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on,—-s’pose you’d a done right and give Jim up; would you felt better than what you do now?  No, says I, what’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong , and the wages is just the same?  I was stuck.  I couldn’t answer that.  So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time.

The paradoxical presentation of Huck’s internal monologue is the most revealing aspect of this passage.  Simply put, his thoughts are framed as innately self-doubting and submissive to what he believes to be the greater legitimacy of socially constructed ethics.  Yet, he does not yield to these constructs.  To do so, Huck would be required of course to betray Jim to the slave-hunters.  We then have to inquire into the reasons Twain delivers Huck’s rationality in terms of self-acknowledged non-rationality.  Society provides codified morality but the implications of this are only fully realized when we observe that with this proscribed morality also comes the foundation of cognition itself.  That is, we depend on reading between the lines of society’s verdicts on matters of slavery and such for an actual cognitive method in which to judge and think about matters which occur in our personal encounters.  The problem for Huck is that this foundation has been steadily crumbling with each abject failure on society’s part ‘to do right’ by him.  The only recourse of action for Huck Finn remains thusly to content himself with what he can only view as non-logic.  In truth, Huck is breaking completely with the proscribed ethics by evidence of his actions, however, in the absence of a foundation, he lacks the confidence to justify outright to himself, the weight of this grandiose decision.  In the self-deprecation of Huck’s thought process, a myriad of assertions emerge on the behalf of Twain.  Attention and awareness is directed towards the immense difficulty involved in truly transcending societal influence.  Ethos is evoked in purest form from the reader by Twain in the sympathy we feel towards the ‘misfits’ of our world.  By foiling the absurd, harmful, and unjustified laws of a society that legalizes slavery with the earnest spirit of an adolescent who is at once logically justified and timidly petrified, we become outraged.  This outrage, on the greater spectrum of the novel, fuels Twain’s’ rigorous appeal for a more sane society.

March 17, 2011
On the Aesthetic Education of Man

The following essay in regards to Friedrich Schiller's “On the Aesthetic Education of Man”.

The prompt responded to when writing this essay is as follows: Rewrite Schiller’s “On the Aesthetic Education of Man” from your own cultural and historical perspective.  Be sure to refer to at least two of the works we have read as you make your own argument.

An Ode to Objectivity

Truly, the grievous assault and interminable violence which civilization has proceeded to wage against the individual spirit has revealed itself in most discrete form. We have arrived in the epoch where Schiller’s accusations have found themselves, in totality, respective realities and concrete examples for each and every of his seemingly abstract forewarning.  Nothing in his premises has been proven incorrect and quite contrarily, all of his arguments have found themselves eerily resonant echoes in the sadness and loneliness which I witness my fellow human beings tolerating in the modernity of our age.  With the manifestation of Schiller’s ideas in such real world daily encounters, I find myself vacillating between absolute despair in the intensity of his erudite depiction of our self-slavery, and feverish purpose in the privileged and liberated state of mind that has come to absorb my being solely by means of cohering with his plea for a revival of philosophical inquiry in such an adamant and earnest manner.  Yet, keeping in mind the dualistic nature of fright and empowerment that I have presently been consumed, this consideration of Schiller’s “On the Aesthetic Education of Man” will attempt to reinvigorate the ideal of Art by unveiling, likewise, the perfected mechanisms currently capable of fracturing the severely reduced Modern man while devising stratagem in which he may free himself from the “yoke which [he] finds as difficult to dispense with as to bear” (492).    

If Schiller may be received as tentative in stating that “[his era does not] seem to be going in favour of art,” (483) I will assert more boldly, as beneficiary of existing in his future, that this trend has revealed itself as an exponential force hellbent on subduing all under a fragmented comatose yielding any appreciation of thought on aesthetics nearly unattainable.  This boldness stems from several principles he has justified in his work.  The first observation, is that of the state, and the assertion that with increased complexity comes necessarily, specialization, and therefore valorization of increasingly divided, particular intelligence.  Within the last century, the globe has felt the immense power and insurmountable force to be harnessed through capitalism.  While accruing great wealth and presence on the global scale, the State has vetoed any claim to the humanity of its citizens.  In fact, capitalism itself has had a fundamental impact upon the construction of thought in our culture and its sheer dominance has led to an unquestioned acceptance of this alteration of thought.  In addition, the need of ‘Utility’ above all else is a requisite pretense in a society whose conditions for survival and success lay in the creation of material goods as efficiently as possible.  The second observation is that, utility coupled with the rapid growth of science, specifically technology, occupational fragmentation has consequently, increased at a similar rapidity.  What Schiller may not have predicted, however, is the infringement upon the leisure hours, technology has facilitated.  While his occupational fragmentation hypothesis has held true, an interesting fracturing of attention span in our ‘off-the-clock’ hours has appeared on the scene and coincidentally captured my attention.   With these two elements combined, no sanctuary remains for the pure and delicate appreciation of divine beauty.  With our priorities set in the production of material by the ambitions of the State, our entire processes of thought have been tainted with the obsession of commodity.  Such an obsession has had an obfuscatory effect on our need for beauty and truth, attainable only in the arts, “that the worker loses reality to the point of starving to death” (Marx 653), not as he intends literally, but as a metaphorical starvation of the soul.  Technology has acted as a catalyst to this priority of production. In the following inquiry, it will be these two observations which will be fully explored:     

We live in an age where meaning is derived from the function of the goods we produce.  Hindered within circular reasoning, we are slave to producing goods as a means to afford consuming goods.  Against every natural instinct we have been told, not through reason, but brute force and repeatability, one can find salvation in the function of the products we accrue.  Of course, this is an illusion, merely a carrot on a stick which perpetuates the process.  The State is not to be blamed, as it is and will remain, an institution void of conscious. However, our naivety in trusting an institution to foster the best interests of its citizens remains less forgivable.  If we intellectuals are to reclaim the “aesthetic of the Ideal” (Schiller 482), we must understand that worker loses power as long as he continues to fund the system that, by means of consumption, he participates.  And in the participation, the more divided from his identity he becomes, handicapping him ever increasingly from justifying true worth in the objective world.  Karl Marx agrees with his sentiment in an Economic and Philosophic Manuscript of 1844:

For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful the alien objective world becomes which he creates over-against himself, the poorer he himself —- his inner world —- becomes, the less belongs to him as his own. (Marx 653) 

Thus, within this inner-world, we are impoverished.  Our only refuge being art and aesthetics to rescue us from this impoverished state.  Yet, the more impoverished our inner-world, the harder it becomes to be shrewed in discerning beauty.  We can see this degradation of discernment by judging what has been established commonly as artwork.

When we turn to art we begin to see the true enigmatic and permeating property of commodity-driven mentality.  Art, as we traditionally think of it, has begun to blend and flirt with the dangerously saccharine consumerist mentality. Yes, aesthetics’ boundaries remain far more vast than the mortar and brick perimeters of galleries and museums, but in investigating the forefront of what is commonly accepted as ‘high art,’ I believe one can acquire a barometer indicative of overall health and sensibility of a society.   After stating about Athenian society, “poetry had not as yet coquetted with wit nor speculation prostituted itself with sophistry,” I am inclined to believe Schiller would also have added ‘nor art marketed itself as base materialism’ had he lived to see our epoch.  We witness such marketing in the emergence of artists such as Takashi Murakami and his self-declared opinion that “art and commerce will be blended” (Murakami).  Murakami essentially continues to build upon what Warhol pioneered but with a particularly ostentatious flare with acts such as designing handbags for Louis Vuitton.  The collaboration of Murakami with corporate fashion is profoundly disturbing.  I postulate Murakami to be an apt metaphor for the crisis of aesthetics in our modern epoch.  Ubiquity appears to be synonymous with the acceptance of its integrity to the undiscerning public.  Simply because of the pervasive nature of consumerism in our culture, the common masses are content to let the most sacred of temples of aesthetics become fettered within its domain.  Murakami postures himself as an artist yet violates the most important principles and fails to “create what they need,” but instead, “what they praise” (Schiller 492).   If the “tribunal of Pure Reason” (484) was being held in Schiller’s era, one might be correct in stating that the verdict is being executed in our own.  As we let these frail, substance-less images pass as a substitute for hitherto vessels to the sublime, we intellectuals have lost the tribunal.

After establishing the tribunal to be at an unfavorable end, the natural question must investigate what changes in our era within the last two centuries are responsible for such a ghastly result.  Schiller takes great effort to record the impact of increased complexity of the state.  The hypothesis that a myopic focus on specific types of intelligence produces the upshot of reduced gratification in the individual.  An aspect Schiller could not imagination, however, is with the domination of fragmentation in the workplace, a migration took place, and the theatre of war against free-thought moved to conquer the remaining leisure hours of the modern man.  No more distinguishably can this be observed in the acceleration of technology and the increased access to information.  By following the progression of the world wide web, heralded at first for being the great liberator of our era, one can truly observe the ingenuity with which common man can leverage his creations against himself.  Instead of pursuing the limitless fruits of intellectual knowledge to be reaped from the Internet, we have chosen to perfect means by which to inundate us with fragments of utterance.  To be social online in the twenty-first century means to be participant of a host of networking sites that seek to reduce opinions to status updates or worse yet, tweets — conditional upon being 140 characters or fewer.   And the delightful submission from which we take these insultingly blatant restrictions upon our thought!  It evokes Hegel’s notion of the master-slave dialect in Phenomenology of Spirit but with an interestingly modern fatality.  We pour ourselves into these conglomerate collective pools of thought for recognition of self and place as individual object in relation to the whole.  We become the submissive slave in eager expectation of experiencing visceral vulnerability in our predicament.  We do not, however, realize the truly devastating properties of the master we give our identity.  The cold, anonymity of the hive-mind cares not for the dissatisfaction and incompleteness of being the master, in fact, it cares for nothing at all.  It is an empty void, from which we hand over our terms of approval.  If our society is to have any claim to Aesthetics in this epoch, certainly, it will need to first rid itself of such an insidious ‘bondsman.’    I implore any person who could read Schiller’s text and not be convinced of its literal materialization in these social networking sites to state his or her rebuttal.       

Hopefully, I have established a portrait of the present, however apocalyptic and dismal, vivid enough to imbue direness in the rarefied few who possess sway in the public form.  As I document the “civilization which inflicted [these] wound[s] upon modern man” (486), I am fearful in coming across as too pessimistic, over-zealous, deliriously emphatic.  A risk, I suppose, only to be accepted as a casualty of earnestness.  For in staunchly rejecting accessibility via mind-numbing optimism, I display the spirit of the Ideal for which I campaign.   


March 17, 2011
Maxwell O’Roark [author] (me)

Maxwell O’Roark [author] (me)

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