Catherine Malabou: “Plato Reader of Agamben From Homo Sacer to the Myth of Er”

Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 5 – 7 pm Catherine Malabou will deliver a talk entitled “Plato Reader of Agamben From Homo Sacer to the Myth of Er”

Event held at UC San Diego – Structural Materials Engineering (SME) Rm. 149

Talk sponsored by: Visual Arts; Communication; De Certeau Reading Group; Philosophy; German Studies; Literature; Research Group Politics, Ethics, Ontology; Science Studies.

Catherine Malabou is a French philosopher. She is a professor of philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS and professor of modern European philosophy at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) at Kingston University, London. She is known for her work on plasticity, a concept she culled from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which has proved fertile within contemporary economic, political, and social discourses. Widely regarded as one of the most exciting figures in what has been called “The New French Philosophy,” Malabou’s research and writing covers a range of figures and issues, including the work of Hegel, Freud, Heidegger, and Derrida; the relationship between philosophy, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis; and concepts of essence and difference within feminism.

Catherine Malabou’s philosophical work forges new connections and intellectual networks that imaginatively leap across existing synaptic gaps between, for example, continental philosophy and neuroscience; the philosophy of neuroscience and the critique of capitalism; neuroscience and psychoanalysis; and continental and analytic philosophy (notably Kant). As well, her work is explosive and iconoclastic, shattering perceived understandings of Hegel, feminism and gender, and the implications of post-structuralism.

 

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Call for Papers – Harvard Graduate Music Forum Conference 2015

poster-draft

 

Call for Proposals

 This interdisciplinary conference takes as its premise that  music is inseparable from the economic conditions of its production and consumption. Through presentations, lecture-recitals and composers’ colloquia,  we seek to explore the intersections of music and economics from a diverse array of perspectives including labor, practice, material culture, and capital.

Questions include but are not limited to:

  • How do musicians and their employers understand musical labor, and how does this  impinge on issues of amateurism, professionalism, and institutionalization?
  • How have shifting economic systems — for instance, from patronage to mass consumption, or from liberalism to neoliberalism — altered the place of music in society?
  • How have issues such as postcolonialism, the North-South economic divide, and globalization, intersected with various musical practices to forge divergent models of economies of music?
  • Where does music succeed and where does it fail in transforming economic relations?
  • What are the economic consequences of the material means of musics’ dissemination, such as manuscripts, published scores, phonograph recordings, streaming and live performance?
  • How do questions of cultural and economic capital combine in appraisals and contestations of musical value?
  • How has music symbolically represented economics and status? What is music’s role in this endeavour today?

Submissions

We welcome submissions from current graduate students on these and related topics. We seek proposals on all repertoires, musical practices and historical periods, and representing a broad set of methodologies. Formats for presentation include:

  • 20-minute papers, audiovisual presentations, or exploratory text works, with 10 minutes for discussion
    Please submit abstracts of a maximum of 350 words and, where appropriate, up to 4 additional pages for figures. Please add a short statement regarding AV requirements.
  • 30-minute composer colloquia, performances, or lecture-recitals, with 15 minutes for discussion
    Please submit details of the work to be presented in a maximum of 350 words and, where appropriate, links to relevant sound recordings and/or scores or supplementary documentation.

Deadline for proposals: 5 December 2014

Please e-mail submissions to: harvardgmf2015@gmail.com

“Jesus Christ, What Happened?”: Rape Culture in the World of Kids

 “Casper: Jesus Christ, what happened?”

-Final dialogue, “Kids” (1995)

Polaroid by Larry Clark, 1993

 

Created by Ernest G. Bormann, fantasy-theme criticism was created to provide insights into the shared worldview of groups of rhetors.[1] Through studying the processes of communication in small groups, Robert Bales found that group fantasizing or dramatizing often included an increase of excitement, a quickening of the tempo, and a tendency for participants to forego their self-consciousness. By extending Bales’ fantasizing phenomenon into Bormann’s symbolic convergence theory (based on the assumption that communication creates reality, and that symbols found in this communication can create a shared reality) and fantasy-theme method, one may also apply this criticism to social movements, political propaganda, organizational communication, and other various types of rhetoric.

To elaborate on symbolic convergence theory, it is important to note that as a part of communication creating reality, “the chaotic and disorderly sensory world is organized and made manageable by the symbols that are devised to dominate it.”[2] When in the midst of social, religious, cultural or societal disorder symbols are introduced and agreed upon, a kind of tangible, impermeable clarity becomes possible through linguistic expression. In 1967, Robert L. Scott argued that rhetoric was not intact for the purpose of lending usefulness to truth, but of creating truth. Just as the metaphors of the brain are manipulated and molded with the advancement of research, these metaphors and symbols are connected to the reality we define and experience. When two or more symbols converge to create a shared reality, the second assumption of symbolic convergence theory is fulfilled in convergence. It is through this very means that humans commence in building a shared consciousness, and achieve mutual understanding. Although the rhetoric’s actual literature is essential, because fantasy is the “creative and imaginative interpretation of events”[3], it is the sharing of the word, phrase or statement – the message itself – that is seen as most significant.

Within feminism, rape culture is a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of society where the prevailing attitudes may allow for, turn a blind eye toward, or even excuse rape.[4] In the 1995 film “Kids,” often criticized director Larry Clark paints an extremely controversial picture of a group of teenagers’ daily life in urban Manhattan. Through a lens of glorifying addiction, manipulation, high-risk sexual behavior and violence, rape culture is introduced, and permeated. With Clark’s provided insight into some of the darkest depravities faced universally by youth today, one may use fantasy criticism to identify the three themes necessary in creating the drama to describe the world from a group perspective: settings, characters, and actions.

The setting of the scene is inner-city New York in the mid 1990s, away from most adult supervision, resulting in what the New York Times then labeled “a wake-up call to the modern world.” The setting is one of substance abuse, the rise of the AIDS epidemic, and rape culture. Although the lone teenager may serve as minor protagonists (notably the female leads Jenny and Ruby) offering the brief glimpse of hope for humanity in their efforts at solidarity and moral responsibility, “Kids” has no heroes. As main characters (male) Telly and Casper make no attempt to hide their motives, their “fallen” nature is easily identifiable. As Ruby and Jenny’s principle objective is to warn others of the rapidly spreading AIDS virus (perpetuated by the leading men’s sexual behaviors), Telly and Casper’s main intent remains to engage irresponsibility, recklessness and manipulation in seemingly any mode possible. When Jenny learns she has contracted AIDS via Telly, the sole individual she has ever had relations with, she sets out on a mission to locate, inform, and stop him. Unfortunately, as reality often echoes, this undertaking ends in atrocious tragedy, with Jenny unknowingly and unconsciously left in the hands of Casper to confirm the ultimate expression of rape culture.

Due to the highly sensitive nature of the offense, it is estimated that anywhere between seventy-five to ninety-five percent of sexual assault crimes go unreported.[5] Unfortunately, this makes the publicizing of unambiguous statistics in regard to sexual violence a challenge. Regardless, it is no secret that many have dealt with such tragedy personally, or by means of someone they know. It is because of this singularity that the dramatizing and sharing of a group fantasy become possible. While the release of this film caused much concern for multiple people groups, it is safe to say much discourse has been had surrounding the depicted rape in the final scene of the film. In 2000, Roger Ebert plainly stated “Kids is the kind of movie that needs to be talked about afterward.” When a piece of rhetoric enfolding a reality that gives way to this type of reactive conversation occurs, it forms a rhetorical vision called fantasy type. By establishing this fantasy type, a larger rhetorical vision becomes possible, capable of providing a “credible interpretation of reality.”[6] When a group is able place new events and experiences into familiar patterns, a shared consciousness is either born or reinforced, and the rhetorical vision may forge a larger rhetorical community lending to a new, shared reality. It is through this shared reality that motives for change are borne, and carried out. This is one of the predominant reasons a fantasy-theme critique is appropriate in the analysis of social and political movements.

In the same way that diegetic and non-diegetic music take turns in film, so do the characters and audience take turns in dramatizing the shared fantasies. As assuredly countless viewers of the rhetoric have engaged in the shared rhetorical vision surrounding the portrayal of rape culture in the film, so too have the protagonists and antagonists performing. The female roles (specifically Jenny and Ruby) are often seen complaining or protesting in regard to the many ways they are objectified by men. During these conversations, namely one discussion at a sleepover, the classic idea of the sharing of fantasy-themes and a rhetorical vision is frequently evident. Each time one of the females describes something (be it an act or attitude) that the male desires/requires, she is met with the exchange of shared laughter, bodily posture shifts, moans in annoyance and other general expressions of commonality. The male roles (not only Telly and Casper, but frequently the supporting actors throughout) are also seen sharing fantasy-themes and a rhetorical vision, only from the opposite perspective. Whereas the women desire to be independent and empowered, the men are portrayed holding the desire to conquer, occupy and manipulate. This is apparent in arguably every scene of “Kids” in which a male character is present.

Although many fantasy themes are exhibited either by image, dialogue or concept, the two chief opposing forces revolve around a patriarchal archetype of domination, the expressed desire for control either by subversion, persuasion or force, and the constant underlying (yet apparent) representation of rape culture. With the females expressing either the desire to transcend this theme (or the disputably feigned façade of “female empowerment” by giving in to the male’s primal desires) and the males expressing little more than a dogged determination to obey their animalistic urges at all costs, the audience is provided a robust platform on which to fashion their own version of collective consciousness, rhetorical vision, and shared reality. In a culture where the atrocities depicted in the film occur far too often in reality, through questionable to be sure, “Kids” remains a film hailed by many to be a documentary style work of art, succeeding at very least in bringing to light some very important issues.

Fantasy-theme criticism uniquely illuminates the artifact because it allows for the deconstruction of a complex and sensitive rhetoric into smaller, more tangible symbols. As a final example, one of the most telling fantasy themes portrayed may be found within the film’s 90 second trailer. Regarding the symbol of travel, the male is often seen running, jumping, or most importantly, skateboarding. In contrast, the female is seen walking slowly from the clinic, stumbling in a club under the influence of an accidental hallucinogenic ingestion, and despairingly transported in a male-driven taxicab. Where the male is free to participate with his surroundings with freedom as he chooses, the female is constantly depicted as slower, more ‘weighed down,’ and restrained. The film begins, and ends, with the complete theft of female innocence. By giving this type of heartbreak a voice to speak, we may not only open previously nonexistent dialogue circuits and enable the unifying of diverse audiences, but pave the way for “affecting the nature and outcome of public controversies.”[7] It is not only women who suffer from this culture – males are also victims. Overall, few are immune to the tragedy the loss of innocence through the loss of personal will. When the devastating, horrifying utilization of the word “rape” becomes heard in the same breath as “culture,” we’ve no choice but to ask ourselves, “Jesus Christ, what happened?”

Polaroid by Larry Clark, 1993

 

 

 

[1] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996, p. 121

[2] Ibid, p. 122

[3] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996, p. 123

[4] Williams, Joyce E, George Ritzer, J. Michael Ryan, ed. The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 493

[5] “Without consent: A report on the joint review of the investigation and prosecution of rape offences.” Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate. January 2007, p. 8. Retrieved 24 March 24, 2014.

[6] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996, p. 125

[7] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996, p. 130

what should we do with our brain – a metaphorical critique

“The brain has always been described by means of technological metaphors.” [1]  neural pathways

One of the first handlings of this idiom occurred in Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics: “Metaphor is the transference of a name from the object to which it has a natural application…” (Aristotle, Poetics, 21). More recently, individuals such as I.A. Richards, Kenneth Burke, and Max Black have made consequential advances in the field of metaphorical criticism, enabling its use to aid heavily in ornamentation and decoration, as structuring principle and discovery and description of the truth.[2]

According to Richards, all thought is metaphoric because when individuals attribute meaning, they are “simply seeing in one context an aspect similar to one [they] encountered in an earlier context.”[3] Though the work of theorists including Michael Osborn and Robert L. Ivie, we have a better understanding of how language relates us to reality, and how we as humans constitute reality through our use of symbols. When we process symbols to better understand reality, we are often using the metaphor. Phenomenological anomalies become accessible to us through the development of a physical materialism that often comes to life via symbols. When we attribute names or symbols to these phenomena, we are using the metaphor.

Along with the above, a number of others have stressed the importance of the metaphor. Nietzsche argued that it is simply the way in which we encounter the world: “A nerve-stimulus, first transformed into percept! First metaphor! The percept again copied into a sound! Second metaphor! And each time he leaps completely out of one sphere right into the midst of an entirely different one.”[4] In these viewpoints, metaphor occurs prior to and generates the discovery of ideas.

Foss explains a great example of this usage in Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice via the metaphor that “time is money.” By using terminology such as “I’ve invested a lot of time in someone,” “You need to budget your time” and “this gadget will save you time” we begin to equate time through a financial viewpoint; it now shares its level of worth with money. In metaphoric criticism, Max Black has developed an influential method known as interaction theory which juxtaposes two terms in the metaphor generally regarded to belong to two differing classes of experience. The first term is called the tenor, principal subject, or focus, while the second term is called the vehicle, secondary subject, or frame. For example, “The brain is a machine” is a metaphor for which brain is the tenor, and machine is the frame. The process from there then is to discriminate what traits are commonplace by the tenor and vehicle, and form a type of discerning argument. As the associated characteristics of the tenor and vehicle interact, some are accentuated while others are contained. As one goes through this progression of deconstructing tenor and vehicle of the metaphor, it becomes apparent that the metaphor serves an argumentative purpose: metaphor constitutes argument.[5]

To choose a common metaphor and artifact to further describe this process, the human brain has been the target of metaphoric assignments for quite some time: mirror, projector, computer, economy. (Tabbi, 1998) Others have termed the brain central telephone exchange, machine, and even government. While some illustrations appear more accurate than others, there are those who feel as a society that we’ve sorely missed the mark. In Catherine Malabou’s innovative work What Should We Do with Our Brain? (2008) she issues the challenge of deconstructing what we’ve always thought of our brains, and bestows an even greater one: what should we use it for?

Malabou begins the work by repetitiously stating “Our brain is plastic, and we do not know it.” The concept of consciousness is paramount to her: she not only calls attention to the many cities at work neurologically, but the fact that we do not know it. From “know thyself” forward, awareness has been the crux of academic and technological progress. Malabou’s critique of our neuronal dogma is an attempt not only to break away from the ideological presuppositions the field of neuroscience currently includes, but a call to become conscious of them-and of ourselves.

The first method of metaphoric criticism we may employ includes simply dissecting the metaphor. How does it function? In which way is Malabou trying to shake the current opinion of its role? Previously (as mentioned above) common symbols used for the brain include computer, central telephone exchange and machine. However, with Malabou’s concept of plasticity, the rigidity of these allegories will no longer suffice. Machines, computers and central telephone exchanges have a control center; an unyielding and stiff method of prescribing action and processing information. Plasticity is rigidity’s direct anonym, and as we have seen that metaphor not only tells a story but constitutes an argument, new metaphors must come into play. Our brains are no longer known to be entirely genetically determined, static or even simply flexible. “Plasticity, in effect, is not flexibility. Let us not forget that plasticity is a mechanism for adapting, while flexibility is a mechanism for submitting.”[6]  We must ascertain a new meaning, and this is Malabou’s challenge. She must use a metaphoric criticism to tear down the current views and instill the new.

We have now seen how the tenor and vehicle of “brain as machine” will no longer suffice. Let’s take a look at what Malabou uses as alternative: brain as plastic. Taken from the Greek plassein, to mold, plasticity has two basic definitions: one is to receive form, and one is to give form. “Plasticity in the nervous system means an alteration in structure or function brought about by development, experience or injury.”[7]Instead of mindlessly accumulating new metaphors for our brain, Malabou relies on the fact that we are the minds who make the metaphors, and sets out to explain just why the old metaphoric arguments won’t work. She offers perspective and a choice to the audience, just as Foss speaks of in Rhetorical Criticism, “If the audience finds the associated characteristics acceptable and sees the appropriateness of linking the two systems of characteristics, the audience accepts the argument.” In the context of modern day capitalism, Malabou creates a fantastic charge and call to consciousness, taking aide from European metaphysics, political engagement and neuroscience. By changing the terms (linguistically, semantically and literally) of the game, Malabou effectively provides a metaphoric critique to the prevailing comprehension of the function of the human brain.

In conclusion, a metaphoric criticism is best employed here simply because it is what the author employs herself. As Foss further states in Rhetorical Criticism, “Whatever metaphor is used to label and experience a phenomenon, then, suggests evaluations of it and appropriate behavior in response.” The old metaphors used suggest a worldview of a time passed, before the age of functional and real-time neurological imaging. The new formation of the model of our brain must be in line with the modern self: dynamic, transforming and revolutionary. We can no longer think of our brains, our neuronal selves, as but flexible and anonymous; as machine. We must affirm our capacity for change and confess our plasticity: evolutionary, adaptive, explosive. We must no longer consent to depression via disaffiliation; to be “blind to our own cinema.” Our brains tell us a story-whether we choose to listen or not. Karl Marx once stated “Humans make their own history, but they do not know that they make it.” As Malabou so eloquently proves throughout her work that a simple metaphor does not suffice and thus hinders a proper understanding for the plastic brain, she relies on concepts such as ecological, self-creating and emancipatory instead. Plasticity cannot be domesticated. The brain is ever-changing; so then must our conception of it be also.

“…At bottom, neuronal man has not known how to speak of himself. It is time to free his speech.”

-Catherine Malabou


[1] (Jeannerod, 2004).

[2] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, 2nd Ed. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996., p. 359

[3] Ibid, p. 359

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Falsity in their Ultramoral Sense,” in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Oscar Levy, trans. Maximilian A. Mugge, II. New York: Macmillan, 1911., p. 178

[5] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, 2nd Ed. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996., p. 361

[6] Marc Jeannerod, 2004.

[7] See the entry “Plasticity in the Nervous System,” in The Oxford Companion to the Mind, ed. Richard L. Gregory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 623.

Sing me to sleep: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

 

We accept the love we think we deserve

 

            How does one interpret reality? Psychologically speaking, one may take a number of viewpoints. Countless factors come to play, first and foremost being the common argument of ‘nature or nurture.’ Aspects such as religion, race, culture, gender, sexuality, economic status, and mental health history can all work together to create vastly differing versions of reality. In stories, “narratives help us impose order on the flow of experience so that we can make sense of events and actions in our lives. They allow us to interpret reality because they help us decide what a particular experience ‘is about’ and how the various elements of our experience are connected.” (Foss, 399).

When someone reads a story, listens to a song, or watches a film, what determines their overall opinion and stance on what has transpired? As we mature from children into adolescents and adults, our methods of discernment have the capacity to shift radically. Not only upbringing and the norms of childhood, but also life experiences contribute to the process of modification in how one perceives their world.

Many narratives are chronologically organized, that is, organized in a time-observant sequence of events, while others may focus more on a specific character or theme. Narratives may come in the form of graphic novels, films, television, conversation with others, speeches, short stories, graffiti, music and other folklore. The use of symbols throughout the different forms are what arguably best categorize them as such, and to demonstrate this, I’d like to look at a poignant and inspiring ‘coming of age’ narrative entitled The Perks of Being A Wallflower. How does one interpret reality; but even more importantly, how is the construction of a narrative used to determine how we interpret reality?

Set in Pittsburgin the early 90s, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story of the transformation of desperate introversion in an extroverted high school universe. Throughout the novel, the protagonist Charlie anonymously writes letters to an undisclosed recipient detailing the meaningful and turbulent journey through his freshman year. As the narrative begins, Charlie’s best (and only) friend has just committed suicide. Due to this, Charlie’s introversion and acute timidity as a new student are greatly challenged as he meets a spectrum of new friends along the way, not least of all, his English teacher Bill. As his relationship develops with this mentor, he is introduced via his surroundings to music, literature, love, sex and drugs. Throughout the novel, the reader is constantly subjected to perceptions of reality from many different perspectives. Sam, the beautiful and popular but taken woman of Charlie’s affection, her gay stepbrother and Charlie’s new best friend Patrick, and others including his family and peers make up the vastly different interpretations that all come together to challenge and question Charlie’s previously understood ideas and worldview. As Charlie as introduced to new musicians like The Smiths, Ride, Nick Drake, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, U2 and Nat King Cole, his journey becomes increasingly personally psychoanalytic as he learns to relate, in one way or another, to these musicians.

To begin analysis, I’d like to start by looking at our main question: how does the author use the narrator and protagonist’s surroundings and cultural arena to construct a perception of reality? Charlie begins his textually prominent setting of high school in the immediate aftermath of an incredibly traumatic event: losing his best and only friend to suicide. Not only do we commence our journey in what is known already to be a daunting period, we also begin through the eyes of a painfully shy boy who is emotionally damaged and alone. Our opening and lasting impression of him describes the death of his favorite aunt, and later in life, dear friend.

Throughout the first portion of our novel, we see Charlie’s more intellectual habits develop-the way he rereads books twice to more fully understand them; the way he accepts all the extra essay assignments from his English teacher (and later mentor) Bill with a vigor. In the beginning, our perception of reality is formed through the eyes of an overachieving boy who simply wants to get through, and possibly fit in. His definition of reality is one of survival-of holding it all in as long as he possibly can.

The second way we are introduced to his existence is the mode in which he meets new people. Through his surrounding of stronger, more single dimension characters such as Sam, Patrick, his family and teacher Bill, we are shown how Charlie slowly enables himself to become a somewhat social being. In a largely stable environment, however, Charlie remains the wildcard, frequently being prone to crying over what is termed “silly things” and repressed feelings of guilt from the tragic death of his aunt in particular. The deeper in to the narrative we go, the more objective our surroundings seem, and the more subjective Charlie’s character dimension and experience prove. As a deliberately vague description of what happened between his aunt and he at a young age reappears throughout the work, we begin to slowly understand this trauma has played a far larger role in shaping who he is than previously thought. It is himself, and his aunt that prove to be the most round and conflicted characters of the narrative, thus allowing them the greatest space for growth. Charlie is a radically dynamic figure growing in knowledge, experience, and maturity more and more until he finally accepts his loss of innocence.

Another way we can examine Charlie’s social worldview is by asking what parts of his culture are privileged, and what parts are repressed. Through Charlie’s friend Patrick’s secret homosexual relationship with the quarterback of the football team, Charlie’s heightened embarrassment over his frequent display of emotion in crying and his family’s unrealistic expectations of Charlie’s older brother’s college success, we may see his culture is not too far from our own. The ‘popular’ kids in school remain those in financially advantageous situations; the outcasts remain the quiet or socially awkward. In Charlie’s world, blending into the crowd is desirable, while individuality and deviance is highly discouraged. In this way, Sam is able to retain a strong sense of acceptance due to her beauty and class status, while her brother falls socially down when word gets out of his sexual identity. What this says about their system of ethics is that the patriarchy reigns. The privileged prevail while the less privileged do not. The beautiful thing in Charlie’s developing social situation is that these lines become more and more blurred as he is able to find true acceptance from the outcasts and privileged alike.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about Charlie’s point of view as narrator. Chbosky has given Charlie a very human and humble tone, beginning quietly and ending more confidently. As the overall theme of the work is coming of age, loss of innocence and psychological resilience, it should be noted what Charlie learns, and most importantly, what he realizes in the end. As a child, Charlie was repeatedly molested by his favorite aunt. He only comes to understand this in the final pages-in the epilogue, no less. Through all of his pain, loss and personal turmoil, Charlie tells us a story of hope through friendship, love and music, how to get by in the tough world of adolescence, and the upside of being a wallflower. Charlie is not omniscient or omnipresent-he is just a boy, trying to figure out how to become a man. In Charlie’s indirect narration, we are shown a world of people who are tangible and relatable to every era. His story is trustworthy, reliable and raw. By the sense of established confidence in Charlie’s letters, we are shown a brilliant world of living splendidly through trial.

In conclusion, applying a narrative criticism best illuminates this artifact because it allows the reader and critic to more closely examine what is revealed about the individual’s or culture’s identity. It allows us to ask probing questions into their worldview and motives for action by looking at subjectivity in character dimensions. Narrative criticism enables one not only to analyze the content of the worldview, but the form and structure of that worldview as well. By looking deeply into the sexual and emotional trauma Charlie has undergone, by looking at all of the external factors including ethical, cultural, religious (or lack thereof), social, economical, and intellectual combined with his internal processing revealed to us by the author, we can truly appreciate what constitutes this hopeful ‘reality’ our protagonist has found.

Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Ed. Sonja K. Foss. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, Inc. 1996.

The Sound of Prose: Omensetter’s Luck

For anyone interested in music theory in terms of form and analysis, musical syntax or the ‘sound of prose’ and how it may work closely with its more literary neighbors, there’s a great post just up at An und für sich already yielding some interesting discussion. This post (On Some Sentences of William Gass) is part of a book event on William H. Gass’s Omensetter’s Luck of which I will soon be submitting. As someone indulging in a bit of literary analysis from a music background of sorts, I’ve already found it quite interesting, and wager you will as well.

Hegel, Valéry, Aesthetics and Existentialism: In Response to Mademoiselle

“He who wishes to record his dream has to be awake.”

            -Paul Valéry

            Mademoiselle, published in 1981 by Bruno Monsaingeon and translated from the original French by Robyn Marsack, is a compilation of conversations of the great musician and teacher, Nadia Boulanger. These dialogues with Monsaingeon took place during the final five years of Boulanger’s life, as she became closer and closer to death. It seems fitting, then, to be a time of reflection on the relationships arisen, mistakes ill-profited from, and lessons realized. In Boulanger’s ninety-two years, she became an incredibly accomplished pianist, prolific conductor, and remarkable teacher of music. Some of her most acclaimed students included Aaron Copland, Roy Harris and Virgil Thompson-and therefore it can truly be said that she “changed the face of American music.”[1]

Characteristic from the onset until the very end of this publication is the apparent amount of charisma, devotion and passion Boulanger exhibited through her music and life, despite the physical setbacks present. One specific constituent to her character was her driven and unwavering view of herself in the lack of contentment she found in her own music. When conversing about the difference between a masterpiece and a simply respectable composition, she was asked to explain the criterion. She states, “For me, this always comes back to faith. As I accept God, I accept emotion. I also accept masterpieces…I believe that there are conditions without which masterpieces cannot be achieved, but I also believe that what defines a masterpiece cannot be pinned down.” There is much wisdom to be seen in this: it is necessarily true. It returns Hegel’s rational and even empirical question of aesthetics: What makes something beautiful? What constitutes good art? The answer can be nothing but subjective and relative to the perceiver, and yet I would agree that masterpieces are borne under but certain conditions. To paraphrase Hegel, nothing great has ever been accomplished without passion.

Another important notion Boulanger emphatically stood for lay in the realm of desire. If one’s desire is such that it may be tainted by lack of opportunity, want of time or simple laziness, the desire had truly no stock in the first place. She speaks of Plato and Schubert, and the greats throughout the age. They are remembered for being truly great, and why; because of their sheer dedication, stanch discipline and distinctive passion to create, to know, to be. Boulanger states earlier on in the work that she believes if one does not value existence, they cannot play well, think well, or live well. If one is not engaged consciously; if one is not thinking, he temporarily exists in vain, he has lost himself. Whether we rely on Hamlet’s “Words without thought to Heaven never go,” or the deductive Cogito of Descartes, whatever one is doing, it must be with purpose, and it must be with discipline.

Lastly, the ideal I have found to be of most exhilarating worth is the basic early existential concept of freedom, responsibility and choice. It continues on from the above: we are what we do; we end only where our actions lead us. She speaks of different types of people-ones who exist in a simply content state in their everyday lives, lacking attention and self-awareness. There are others, then, who live in an entirely different place: one of extreme focus, attentiveness and in possession of an extraordinary need to develop. When the latter engage in literature, a piece of music or in some sort of academia, they are engaged. One such as this is interested by their very nature. Life is entirely what we may draw from it, never the other way around. Ingrained in humanity is the potential to produce; to create great things. But one may not have only talent, or only technique, one must have the devout ardency and will to arrive. Valéry stated specifically, “It depends on you, o passer-by, whether I am tomb or treasury. It depends on you, friend; do not enter without desire.”

            In personal response, I found the conclusion of the dialogue to be incredibly poignant, and sadly little-known truth. The main metaphysical questions-how do we know, what do we know, and what can we know-about life, love and music, she answers with painful yet simplistic candor. It is the Socratic coming of age, and it is but the very wise who may say:

 

                        “You’re pushing me…You’re asking me to lay down truths…I’m simply amazed to have some intuitions…I have to admit that I do not know. And when I say I do not know, I am proclaiming a great victory for thought. I do not know, therefore I think along better and more essential lines, because when I do know, I am aware that it’s only in a human measure. I know all the notes, do re mi so…semi-quavers and so on…I can analyse everything. But one page, one line, one bar of Schubert, I do not know.”


[1] Monsaingeon, Bruno. Mademoiselle. (London: Carcanet Press Limited, 1985) 13.