English 300 - Fall 2004

This is my class journal for Professor Sexson's Critical Theory class.

3.9.04

Journal #1

(Not really sure what I'm doing--hopefully this is somewhat correct!)

1. Address a text with religious consolation.

For me, a lot of Kafka's works have this effect, especially the shorter ones. One of my favourite ones is Die Bäume (Trees):

Denn wir sind wie Baumestämme im Schnee. Scheinbar liegen sie glatt auf, und mit kleinem Anstoß sollte man sie wegschieben können. Nein, das kann man nicht, denn sie sind fest mit dem Boden verbunden. Aber sieh, sogar das ist nur scheinbar.

Roughly translated this is:

For we are like tree-trunks in the snow. Seemingly/Apparently they rest standing smoothly, and with a small push shall one be able to push them over. No, one cannot, for they are bound firmly to the ground. But see, even that is only seemingly/apparent.

I like this piece because it really shows how fragile an actual reality is since it is subject to one's perception. Things can seem one way, but in reality they can be another. And that reality can be only apparent rather than actual as well. This is a piece of religious consolation because it reminds me how people can't REALLY know something for sure. Because of our perceptions, our "knowledge" is really just our interpretations. That really has to tie into literary criticism as well. It's impossible to know the "real" meaning of anything, because the work is filtered through our perceptions, and was written through someone else's perceptions. So everything can only "seem" to us; it can never truly BE.

Existentialism really is a great school of thought. :)

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2. Address a work that has changed your perception or sensibility.

Ok, this is harder. I could say how Golding's Lord of the Flies changed my views on anarchy or Quinn's Ishmael changed my views on the modern/capitalistic world, or how certain Bible verses changed how I think about the future.
Ok, take Daniel Quinn's Ishmael. We think that as a modern, technological society, we are an advanced species. But we have destroyed some of the most basic aspects of life. We manipulate nature, making "survival of the fittest" for humans nearly obsolete.
We choose what animals and plants we want, grow them in mass quantities, and leave others to nature while we run our own artificial nature. And instead of viewing death as a natural part of the life cycle, we fear it and search for as many ways possible to defy it. Thus we create a population of people who would not be living were it not for artificial, man-made means, which puts an unnatural stress on society. We destroy ourselves from underneath.

By trying to improve our species with unnatural methods, we are destined to meet a self-induced downfall. Quinn of course stated this all a lot more eloquently. But one of his metaphors was something like this:

We are on the first airplane. Knowing nothing of aerodynamics and such, it is a craft that by the laws of physics cannot fly. But we do not know about these laws. We push it off a cliff and glide for a while, but we are convinced we're flying. However, the ground is rapidly approaching, and unless we discover these laws (of physics, in this case) we will crash.

I'll leave you with that uplifting image. ;)

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