Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thoughts on Words

Sometimes words let me down.

I'm a student of English and a strong believer in the transforming power of language. As trite as it sounds, I am back in school because I feel a connection with literature and the way humans have used words to convey the most complex emotions, situations, and outlooks on life.... and the way that I can read their thoughts on paper, a hundred years later, and say, "that's exactly how I feel. His thoughts echo my own."

I can write the most convincing literary argument and get that "A." I can interpret historical documents and find meaning in the speeches of people I've never met and never will.

Yet sometimes when I want to express what's most important to me, in relation to people in my life and not out of a Penguin paperback, I fall hopelessly short. Then I'm left wondering how much I'm sacrificing because I cannot formulate my feelings into words beyond the superficial.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

White Noise, by Don DeLillo

I have been recommending White Noise to many of you since reading it for my Contemporary American Fiction class. I suppose that some more justification for its "amazingness" is in order.

I must begin by expressing my wholehearted devotion to American modernism. Despite the fact that I enjoy literature from many different time periods and cultural affiliations, I find myself particularly drawn to the writings of the "Lost Generation" and the historical contexts that make those works so interesting and relevant. I originally intended to take a Modernism class this semester, but it was cancelled, and on the day before class I found myself buying 10 Postmodern novels in the bookstore and wondering if I would be able to comprehend beyond the first page of each. I had a Postmodern class with Nancy Wurzel, and I really enjoyed it, but come on, that was Nancy... this is graduate school. I feared that everyone in my class would provide wonderful insights while I was still trying to decipher the plot. Some of my classmates are rather intimidating (mainly the PhD students), but I have found this course to be fairly enjoyable thus far. My favorite book (out of the 4 we have read to this point) is White Noise.

The novel is at once a satirical commentary on 1980s American culture and an investigation into the fears and anxieties we hold deepest (and sometimes most secret).

Jack Gladney is a powerless protagonist. While he ironically holds distinction as Chair of the Hitler Studies Department at a cozy little college, his actions and demeanor label him as a man who does not possess the instrinsic strength to determine his own fate. This idea -- of determining one's fate -- pervades the novel and posits the question to readers, "How much control do we really have over our lives?"

Death stands paramount in this book. Despite the fact that a classmate argued me on this point (claiming a more optimistic reading than my own), I retain my stance. This book's nexus is death and its related issues -- especially how we find meaning in a life that is terminal, among people we love whose lives are also fated to end. Even further, it discusses how we distract ourselves and convince ourselves to ignore what frightens us most, even while deep down knowing that the 'noise' that diverts our attention momentarily means nothing compared to the issues that gnaw at our minds and hearts, occasionally speaking above a whisper and forcing us to confront them.

In an intense conversation between Jack and his wife, and one of my favorite passages of the book, Jack expresses:
"How strange it is. We have these deep terrible lingering fears about ourselves and the people we love. Yet we walk around, talk to people, eat and drink. We manage to function. The feelings are deep and real. Shouldn't they paralyze us? How is it we can survive them, at least for a while? We drive a car, we teach a class. How is it no one sees how deeply afraid we were, last night, this morning? Is it something we all hide from each other, by mutual consent? Or do we share the same secret without knowing it? Wear the same disguise."


Despite the seriousness of the book's major theme, DeLillo's witty remarks on American society provide for an entertaining read. His non-nuclear family, alone, is a cast of characters with personality quirks and sitcom-like dialogue that contrasts enjoyably with the Leave it to Beaver prototypes of the past.

Some students and scholars have argued that the book has "no point." They say that "a lot of stuff happens" that leads to no change, and no consequences. Yet why must there be an easily definable "point"? Can't a piece of writing, through its language, characters, events, implications, and atmosphere make a statement without a blaringly obvious plot sequence? Do we need a denouement? Do we ever obtain resolution in life, beyond short-lived moments of acceptance? If not, then why should a novel need such clear-cut lines of demarcation? Can't we enjoy the book for what it is, and interpret the process as somehow significant rather than the outcome? Isn't that the "point" DeLillo is trying to make, anyway?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Something new

Tonight I decided to create a new blog. I am not getting rid of my old one; rather, I'll keep posting in it as usual and just as often. But I felt the desire to create something new, that would have a different theme than my regular blog, which contains personal stories, day-to-day events, etc. This site will be different. It will be viewable to everyone and contain a more philosophical and thought-provoking set of posts. Sometimes I'll post several times a week, and other times there may be weeks without anything new. But often I'm inspired to write about a movie, a book, a conversation, a specific musing that has no connection to anyone I know, and thus seems irrelevant to post in my blog. This will now be the outlet. I especially want to discuss books I am reading -- currently I am in the midst of Reading Lolita in Tehran, and two works by C. S. Lewis: The Four Loves and The Business of Heaven (an edited collection of his religious philosophical writings, one for each day of the year). So discussions of those works will definitely be forthcoming. I hope this is of interest to some people -- and at the very least, I will enjoy writing freely about intellectual topics for a minimal audience of one: myself.
Finally, I'd like to note that the title -- "The colors of our dreams" -- was inspired by Reading Lolita in Tehran. Azar Nafisi mentions a conversation with one of her former students, in which the young girl spoke of painting the colors of her dreams. Nafisi ponders, how many people actually have the chance to paint the colors of their dreams? The theme of colors vs. black and white is prominent in this novel, and I am only in chapter 2 thus far. But we live in a world of colors, of vivid images that are emblazened sharply in our minds, of memories that endure. Dreams differ from one individual to another, and the colors are not uniform. But we all have dreams, whether we acknowledge them or not, and we all see the world through a multi-dimensional spectrum. Sometimes, though, recognizing the seemingly most simple properties of our world -- the colors -- can be an experience in itself. The foundations of beauty are found in colors, and if I could, right now I would plant myself at the shore of the ocean and drink in the soft blues and mellow greens and warming yellows and nurturing pinks. For today, for this very moment, those are the colors of my dreams.