Category: literature

A Somewhat True Story

Today, something a little different…

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A couple days ago, in the evening, I got into a little accident driving home. Nothing much, just a little tap on the bumper when the girl in front of me started braking right after I merged behind her into her lane. I blame the wet roads and heavy traffic.

After pulling over to the shoulder, we both got out and, after glancing at our vehicles I said, “Oh, this doesn’t look too bad. Just a little scuff mark.” I looked over to the girl I’d run into, a few inches shorter than I and probably my own age. She was studying me very intently.
“You don’t look too bad,” she said, as though this were just the natural sort of thing to say in this situation.
Always quick on my feet mentally, I said, “Uh, what?”
She then looked past me into my car. “Is that your little sister in the passenger seat?”
I looked back and confirmed that the person in the passenger seat was, in fact, my sister.
“I see.” She looked into my eyes. “I went to see a fortune teller today.”
“Oh, really?” I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable, and my voice shook just a touch.
“Yes. She said I would meet my future husband today. That he’d be with his younger sister, and would run into me with his car.”
There was silence, except for the light rain and a passing car.
“Well,” I began, “uh, you’re looking pretty nice yourself, then.” I really had no clue how to handle this situation, so I figured I’d just run with it for a while.
“Thank you, but…” she trailed off, and her eyes wandered to her left.
“Yes?”
“She said that he would hit me, not my car.”
“Most people, when they’re hit, though, just say ‘He hit me,’ not ‘He hit my car.’ She could still be right.” Defending the fortune teller’s prediction may seem like a strange thing to do, but this girl was really cute.
“Yes, that’s true.” She paused a moment, made eye contact again, then continued. “So, now what do we do?” Apparently she was as new to all this as I was.
“First, let me get an umbrella. It’s starting to rain a bit.” It was drizzling rain, but mostly I wanted to buy some time to consider my next course of action.

As I walked away, though, my Intended got hit by a young man driving another car with his sister. Last I heard, they’re going to have the ceremony as soon as she recovers from her broken leg.…

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Authors and Writers

What’s an author? Someone who writes a book, right?

Well, according to Michel Foucault, it’s not quite that simple. While one could define an author as “someone who writes,” as I understand Foucault’s argument an author is also a person created, in a sense, by his work rather than the other way around. “Shakespeare,” for example, is both a proper name indicating a specific person, but also has a meaning intimately connected with his work. The meaning of “Shakespeare” would change significantly for society if, say, we learned that it was actually Bacon who wrote the plays traditionally attributed to the Bard.

The argument is interesting, but unfortunately I can’t really speak of it except in general terms.…

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Fleurs du Riens

For a long time, I’ve considered it a point of pride that I’m relatively lo-tech. Part of that is only seldom using Wikipedia, and certainly never bothering to edit a page (well, besides once adding two words to the French version of the Beatles page). So it was with a sense of adventure that I set out this evening to find a Wikipedia page for the express purpose of making a substantial edit to it.

Now, consider this task for a moment. On one hand, Wikipedia has over 2 million articles, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one that could use some tidying up. Indeed, I found several that suffered from spelling or grammatical errors, and fixed a couple of them. However, also consider that Wikipedia has about as many users as my last Computer Science project had syntax errors. With so many others working on this undertaking, finding an article in need of substantial editing – and one that I’m able to substantially edit – is nearly impossible. Ultimately, I settled on the entry for Les Fleurs du Mal. Not that I was able to add a whole lot, but I did specify exactly which of the work’s poems were banned.

Truly, I can only stand in awe of my amazing ability to be mildly usefull.…

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But Am I Amusing?

You probably won’t read past this sentence if said sentence does not amuse you.

Maybe that’s too presumptuous, but it’s a thought I had while reading about Dickens World, one of the more surprising attempts at making education entertaining I’ve seen in a while. The place is just what it sounds like – a theme park based on the life and stories of Charles Dickens. While there is nothing wrong with making literature more interesting, a full theme park is too much.

If this all seems trivial, consider this. First, if Dickens cannot stand on his own, then there’s no reason for him to stand at all. When a piece of literature becomes so dull and irrelevant that it requires a theme park to maintain interest, then the theme park is too late. The work does not matter anymore. While the general public is far from discerning in its tastes (the fact that The DaVinci Code sold any copies at all is proof enough of this) Dickens appears to have done well on his own without such gimmicks, both in popular and academic circles, and such an attraction only cheapens his work to just another object to amuse us, like a monkey with a squeeze box.

Second, on a larger scale, I see this as another symptom of the scourge of entertainment value. If something is not entertaining, it does not register in the popular mind. How many news sources reported on Paris Hilton going to jail? Why does anyone oustide the Hilton family even care? I think this attitude is well summed up in this post from the Literature Compass Blog:

Yet the museum comes across confidently, its intention of ‘art for entertainment’s sake’ appearing in a quote from Hard Times that encircles the four walls of the entrance: “People must be amused, squire, somehow. They can’t be always a-working, nor yet they can’t be always a-learning.”

Dickens World has clearly been planned with the emphasis on amusement combined with a smattering of learning.

Art does not need to be entertaining. As with any form of communication, it sometimes is far from amusing. By emphasizing “amusement” with just a “smattering of learning,” one teaches that the former is the more important of the two.…

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