Archive for April, 2011

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

April 13, 2011

Alright, this is one of the assigned stories in a class I’m teaching this winter.

Something that I think needs to be mentioned is that the entire story is also an allegory – in other words, everything means something beyond what it says it is.

Faith = faith

Man in Long Black Coat = Devil

Of course, the forest also means something, as does each and every person Young Goodman Brown (YGB) encounters. The Deacon stands for something, Goodie Cloyse stands for something, the Minister stands for something. They all mean more than just, “Hey, these folks are in league with the devil.” ‘ Another thing: is everyone sure of what the story is actually saying? It reads as if YGB has went into the forest, was tempted, but resisted and then shunned all of his neighbors as horrible sinners condemned to Hell and he lived a miserable life because of it. But is that really what happened? I would draw everyone’s attention to page 364. About halfway down there is a paragraph that begins: “There,” resumed the sable form, “are all whom ye have reverenced from youth.” Re-read that paragraph real quick. What’s the devil saying here? He goes through and lists how all of these different people have sinner, and that takes up the biggest chunk of the paragraph. ut look at the last few lines. It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin, the fountain of all wicked arts… Is that not what YGB suffers from after he leaves the forest? Everywhere he goes, he sees people as sinners. He no longer sees the people. He only perceives the sin. And then does this little phrase gain a double meaning? Not only is it the curse that YGB lives with, but is it also not a sin then in and of itself? Is this at the heart of what Hawthorne is saying in Young Goodman Brown? That divorcing the intellect from the heart (as YGB no longer feels any sort of compassion – or emotion from the heart – for anyone in his town or life), that coldly judging others is the “fountain of all wicked arts?” YGB penetrates this mystery by becoming it.

*alright,this has been sitting in my draft pile for ages. I, frankly, don’t feel like adding anything more to it, though more can be said. At this point, I’d rather just get it up and move on.

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Djinn by Russell Banks – short story review

April 1, 2011

Recap: a man is sent to Gbandeh by his company. The first time everything goes well, he gets into a routine of hanging out at a particular cafe, until one of the locals, one of the many “mad men” who live there, comes up to him one day and acts as if he knows him. And the narrator can’t shake the feeling that maybe he does. Soon, the owner of the bar comes over, chases the mad man (whose name is Djinn) away. The narrator quickly leaves and doesn’t return for the rest of his stay in that country.  15 months later, his company sends him back and he quickly falls back into his previous routine. Of course, Djinn shows up again. This time, however, Djinn scales the side of a building and is shot and killed by a plain clothes policeman. This greatly upsets the narrator who later ends up scaling the same building. Another plainclothes policeman is there, draws his gun and tells the narrator to come down, though the policeman now calls the narrator Djinn. The narrator successfully scrambles up the rest of the side of the building and onto the roof, the cop puts away his gun, and everything returns to normal. The story ends with the Narrator/Djinn on the roof of the building, watching the night sky move towards the morning, and the stars disappear. At the end the Narrator/Djinn tells he is “alone.”

A djinn is “In Muslim legend, a spirit often capable of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over people.” Going with this definition, we can make a fair assumption of why the crazy man was called this. We also get an idea of why the narrator was referred to as this out of the blue. Also, it fits the strange compulsion that overtook him to climb the building and put himself at risk of being shot – his description of what propelled him could fit very well with the idea of being influenced by a spirit.

At the same time, this is also the closest the narrator comes to truly bridging the gap between himself and locals. While he moves about on their streets, he has a solid working relationship with the people his company employs and who he is training, he doesn’t truly belong to the community until he makes himself one of the mad men.

By becoming one of the madmen, or one of the djinn (as it appears this might be the common term the locals use for all crazy people), the narrator also attains a certain anonymity. Until one of the djinn goes out of their way to draw attention to themselves, such as climbing buildings, the locals don’t notice them. The narrator does, and he often seems perturbed throughout the story when the original Djinn wanders into the cafe and, literally, isn’t noticed by the locals.. So while he becomes closer to the locals on one hand, he also makes himself less visible to them. And the narrator realizes this at the end of the story, realizing that, sitting on the roof, he is “alone,” and may have been alone the entire time. By becoming a djinn, he is pulled away from the curtains he allows to shade him from the reality of his foreignness. While he can go to the cafe every day, while the bartender remembers his name and what he drinks, while the locals don’t pay any special attention to him, he still doesn’t fit there, he doesn’t belong. This only becomes apparent after his transformation.

Typewriters, the new bottled water

April 1, 2011

I have a feeling that, among thirty year olds, I might be a bit of a rarity. I remember Johnny Carson, not from best of videos but from staying up far too late at too early of an age to watch him. I remember Cheers and Nightcourt, also not from re-runs. I remember the Atari 2600, DOS, and a time when the Lions were a decent (though not good) football team. And judging from my girlffriend’s poetry class, knowing what hammer is may also be a rarity (three guys, no idea what the claw of the hammer was called, one confusing it with the handle, which I’d personally love to see in use). I have also used a typewriter, manual and electric.

Apparently they are coming back into style.

I find this cute. Every typewriter I have used has been a sturdy, well constructed machine. There is something reassuring to this. The slap of the keys, the movement of paper, the rise and fall of the ribbon of ink, revealing a new letter with each fall. They were also a pain in th ass. You make a mistake and you have to break out the whiteout, brush it over, move the paper down, hope to god you line it up right, re-type it.  Rewriting was a literal thing then. To redo something, you literally redid it, from start to finish. If you happned to start moving too quickly and your fingers slipped a bit, you would suddenly find yourself with a handful of metal keys jammed together, stuck.

Personally, I don’t miss them. The keyboard might not offer the same tactile pleasures and reassurances, but it offers a helluva lot of convenience.  Maybe it’s one of those things where, unless you had to do it in some point in your life, it has a certain nostalgic appeal. But having to use one in the past, I don’t miss them, and I’ll make this trade every day of the week. Viva la office suite.