Cultural Recon

The pleasure of visiting a foreign country increases a great deal with some knowledge of the local culture. I’ve been sifting through books and movies to learn more about Chinese and Spanish customs, and here is some of what I’ve been checking out: Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is a classic tale of Spain during the civil war.  Also, his journals from the 1930s-1950s, collected in “By-Line: Ernest Hemingway” portray his own experiences during the fighting.  For language reference, “501 Spanish Verbs” and “Dimelo Tu!” have both proved useful. Linguists claim it’s nearly impossible to attain natural fluency in any language after the magical age of about four, but it doesn’t hurt to try.  “Waiting” by Ha Jin is a story of China after the cultural revolution. The novel chronicles the life of a military doctor, who is prohibited for decades from getting a divorce. Rob Gifford is an …

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19,800 Miles of A-moving

“When [God] aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it longways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man. . . . [I]f He’d a aimed for man to be always a-moving and going somewheres else, wouldn’t He a put him longways on his belly, like a snake? It stands to reason He would.” -Anse, in “As I Lay Dying” by W. Faulkner I’m leaving for my trip in less than two weeks, a-moving to Spain and China, longways. After sitting around without any obligations for two months, up-and-down ways, the upcoming travel will include more movement than I’ve participated in for some time. Anse Bundren would have been disgusted with my adventure, but he was an idiot, and had no teeth. I’ll be moving across 19,800 …

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Reaction to Mailer’s “The Executioner’s Song”

  My first remark is that this is a story so massive, with so many people involved and so many issues confronted, that for me the elements of the story became the main focus of my reading and the style of writing took a secondary role.  I was really more concerned with the characters than the author, which isn’t always the case.  I’ll still try and make some comments on both here.                     Parts 1 and 2:   From the beginning the story is very descriptive, and on the surface seems objective.  Mailer isn’t being very obvious about his judgment of the characters.  He is showing them in excruciating detail.  I can see the similarity between this story and Capote’s In Cold Blood.  The Executioner’s Song promises something else though, mainly; the inclusion of a desperate female character in Nicole, and Gary’s potential for reform through the help of …

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1 Henry IV and the Use of Power

Greenblatt’s assumption that “no character with a clear moral vision has a will to power and, conversely, no character with a strong desire to rule over others has an ethically adequate object,” accurately describes the characters of King Henry and his son in 1 Henry IV. In the play Richard III, as Bolingbroke charges his way to power, his Machiavellian instinct is on display as he affronts the king and aligns himself appropriately with allies around the country. When Bolingbroke returns to England from banishment, he lobbies that “If my cousin be King of England / It must be granted that I am Duke of Lancaster,” (Richard II, II.3.123). In the next act, however, Richard quite easily resigns his crown, stating “What you will have, I’ll give, and willing to / For do we must what force will have us do,” (Richard II, III.3.206). Bolingbroke’s previously stated pacifistic intentions are …

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Tom Wolfe – “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby”

In Wolfe’s style of writing, the ‘New Journalism’, he places himself dead center in the middle of whatever story is going on, and writes himself as the protagonist, affected by the American carnival swirling around him. He writes what he hears with little filtration, turning dialogue into a context from which to evaluate the whole situation. I think what New Journalism intended to do was disrupt the style of convention, assume a highly intelligent person was the audience, and also find evidence of a new culture growing in the US. The New Journalism was also an attempt to fuse imaginative storytelling with factual reporting. Wolfe’s style wanders through made-up phrases – “Hemingway or a lot of other goddamn-and-hungry-breast writers,” “the Barbasol Sound,” and “Williams College boys,” obscure references – “Brancusi,” and “Dionysian,” and pop-culture name dropping – Cassius Clay, Cary Grant, the Avanti Studebaker; devices often left out of fiction. …

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Kurt Vonnegut – Player Piano

I just finished the first novel I have read by K. Vonnegut. The story revolves around Paul Proteus, a high ranking engineer in the city of Ilium. Paul suffers from a feeling that his work doesn’t actually benefit society. Ilium exists inside of a society where machines virtually replaced men in most occupations, leaving engineers as the only citizens enjoying a wealthy and respected lifestyle. The story is entertaining, and at times believable. Many people can sympathize with the feeling that your life’s work is trivial or even destructive. Vonnegut draws on this disenchantment with industry in the post-war landscape, taking engineers and machinery on as a target for criticism. This novel was written as the development of computers were just beginning to take place, and Vonnegut explores the possibilities technology changing the future. Like a player piano, the engineers of Ilium imagine most machines can get along just fine …

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