Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book of the Month: The Bell

I was very hesitant to pick up a book by Murdoch and read it for the longest time. Byatt loves Murdoch and has published a work of non-fiction on her, and I felt as if my best friend was finally going to introduce me to this friend she had talked about almost every other time we had a conversation but I hadn't gotten around to meeting yet. That is sort of the best way to describe my relationship to Murdoch. Of course, I knew who she was, and I saw the film about her that came out after her death. Well, in my Directed Study last semester, I read Murdoch's Under the Net, her first novel, and I was completely lukewarm about it. Actually, I didn't really like it all. But it felt so good to be able to say that and not feel bad about it. However, this was not the case with reading The Bell, Murdoch's fourth novel, which I fell in love with. I recently finished it, and just felt this desire to talk about it with people. I hate sometimes how the people that I really enjoy reading never seem to find their way onto syllabi, or I just happen to be reading them by myself and no one else can talk to me about them. [I think Chelsea is right when she says reading can be boring.] Nevertheless, the story was very engrossing.

The novel details the events of the summer and the lives of the members of a lay religious community in Gloucestershire. Next to an enclosed order of Benedictine nunnery, the pseudo-Utopian community of Imber Court attempt to live life closer to the Earth and with a more pure existence. Renouncing all past life and prejudices, the members of the community interact with such subtle triangulations that Murdoch deftly crafts a story about sexual desire that is confronted with religious fervor and prejudice, at least that is my own personal spin on the novel. If you could claim a main character or characters for the text, you would most likely choose Dora Greenfield (an (dis-?)illusioned housewife who joins her academic husband at Imber Court) or possibly Michael Meade (the repressed homosexual and leader of the community). Of course a number of other characters hold just as much weight as these two do, and the figure of the bell, Gabriel, is in itself so captivating that its existence remains more intriguing than several of the characters.

I really how the novel made me rethink emotions. Although you might say that the feminist movement has transformed the plight of women a great deal since 1958 when the novel was published, Dora's feelings about marriage and relationships still hold true to day, particularly her analysis of marriage and how, even today, people feel so trapped by it:

"Dora closed her eyes and remembered her fear. She was returning, and deliberately, into the power of someone whose conception of her life excluded or condemned her deepest urges and who now had good reason to judge her wicked. That was marriage, thought Dora; to be enclosed in the aims of another. That she had any power over Paul never occurred to her. It remained that her marriage to Paul was a fact, and one of the few facts that remained in her disordered existence quite certain. She felt no tears and tried to think of something else." (p. 11)

I also think emotions like greed, shame, and jealousy, which the book explores in relation to the Michael-Toby-Nick triangle are particularly interesting. Until people can learn to love their bodies and love the act of sex, there will always be some loathing of the act and of our own bodies. I had always heard that Murdoch's novels were very philosophical, yet I found this book to be very psychological...very emotional. The Bell explored what it meant to have emotions and express them or repress them and the repercussions on acting on these feelings.

Anyways, it was a really good book, and for those of you that are readers, you should add it to your books-I-will-eventually-read list.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Battle of Carnival and Lent by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

In honor of the Mardi Gras season that I am currently missing in New Orleans, I thought I would pick this really cool painting from my A Year in Art book to share. I know with this picture the detailing is not quite as exquisite as one would hope, but you can at least get a sense for the grandness of the canvas. The Battle of Carnival and Lent by Pieter Brueghel the Elder is in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. Dated 1559, this canvas does sort of capture the amount of randomness of the carnival season in New Orleans. Things are going on all over the place, and who knows if there is really order going on. Surely, chaos is reigning in the picture, and it usually takes over at some point.

I was able to get this detail of the painting to share:

One a rather interesting note, when searching for images on the web, I found out that Zbigniew Preisner composed a short instrumental piece based off of this painting for one of my favorite films, Bleu. I can't wait to rewatch the film now and listen to the piece and see how it fits into the score/film.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Freshmen Dorm

May you rest in peace Boozman....

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Thank the elements for Amazon UK. I just found out they are selling Byatt's book a full five/six months before the US even publishes it. Needless to say, having been working on Byatt for the past four years, I am excited about this. I find myself counting down days and researching for the book's existence the way I re-watch movie previews to make sure I can remember the images of the film before it comes out. I remember watching the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix trailer about 28 times in the Morrison computer lab back in the day and pausing it every second so that I can get it frame by frame. What I am currently thrilled about is Byatt's new book, The Children's Book. Here is a little description from Amazon UK:

"Olive Wellwood is a famous writer, interviewed with her children gathered at her knee. For each of them she writes a separate private book, bound in different colours and placed on a shelf. In their rambling house near Romney Marsh they play in a story-book world - but their lives, and those of their rich cousins, children of a city stockbroker, and their friends, the son and daughter of a curator at the new Victoria and Albert Museum, are already inscribed with mystery. Each family carries its own secrets. Into their world comes a young stranger, a working-class boy from the potteries, drawn by the beauty of the Museum's treasures. And in midsummer a German puppeteer arrives, bringing dark dramas. The world seems full of promise but the calm is already rocked by political differences, by Fabian arguments about class and free love, by the idealism of anarchists from Russia and Germany. The sons rebel against their parents' plans; the girls dream of independent futures, becoming doctors or fighting for the vote. This vivid, rich and moving saga is played out against the great, rippling tides of the day, taking us from the Kent marshes to Paris and Munich and the trenches of the Somme. Born at the end of the Victorian era, growing up in the golden summers of Edwardian times, a whole generation grew up unaware of the darkness ahead. In their innocence, they were betrayed unintentionally by the adults who loved them. In a profound sense, this novel is indeed the children's book."

So, I am like so excited and can't wait. I hope you all think it sounds interesting and might be interested in reading it. I have found that Byatt is one of those under-appreciated contemporary authors that sometimes drifts into and out of the classroom. I hope that I can keep her alive through my syllabi and hopefully get others to read her too. In fact, this whole blog sort of stems from her concept of lamination that is in the Potter Quartet. Anyways, if you haven't read anything by her, put a book on your list. I would suggest starting with something like or Possession or Angels and Insects or The Djinn and the Nightingale's Eye.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dancers at Rehearsal by Edgar Degas

I have this really cool A Year in Art book that has been sitting in my office all alone and untouched for almost a semester and a half. I had it propped up on the shelf for decor purposes, but today I felt inspired to take it down and see what painting was [emblematic] chosen for today. I feel the start of a new feature to compliment one of my favorites blogs, progress on the prairie's, Sunday Art Chat.

Edgar Degas's Dancers at Rehearsal, 1885-1890, is accompanied with a quote by the artist: "Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do."Firstly, I think this painting is quite pretty. I know that Degas has a number of canvases that detail the life of the ballet girls, and before cracking this book, I had not seen this particular one before. According to the text, the painting is housed a the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, which may have something to do with it not being seen by me; nevertheless, I do think this is one of the more interesting entries in the ballet series. I like the angle of the gaze in this painting. With the little wooden feature that covers the upper-right hand corner, I feel that the view is obstructed slightly because it is almost a clandestine gaze going on. Do these girls know that they are being watched? Certainly, this is a question I had after pondering the image for a while. Another would be, what is the connection between the groups in the painting? The sort of begging, enchanting gesture of the group on the left seems at odds by the nonchalance perpetrated by the group in the far left, and yet, this perfectly captures the sense/schemes of rehearsal that go on.

As far as the quote that accompanies the painting, how true. I think I understand what Degas is saying. When one is a pedestrian in a certain field, it is easy to learn and master because as a newcomer, you know so little. And yet, as a master of a particular field, it is so much harder to learn how to improve because you have often commanded so many skills up until a certain point. In a way, for me at least, Degas's quote sort of explains a little bit of this anxiety I have been having about grad school. It is like you reach this point, and you know there is something beyond it, and reaching the next point becomes harder and more obscure. I'm reminded of a recent blog/note from a friend, "How much can my writing style change by this point?" (I'm paraphrasing/inventing just a bit.) And I have been feeling a little bit of the same. I have been in school for almost 20 years, I have done this whole college thing, and what now?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bannings Classes

I know I have been posting a lot lately, so if you are sick of hearing from me, I'm sorry. [I have been using blogging as a coping mechanism, I think.] Anyways, aside from that, I am truly outraged at some news that I just read on feministing. I was saddened to hear that Georgia republicans want to ban the liberal arts. I don't want to copy the whole blog entry, but you have to read this quoted part:

"This is not considered higher education," [State Rep. Charlice] Byrd said. "If legislators are going to dole out the dollars, we should have a say-so in where they go."

Byrd and her supporters, including state Rep. Calvin Hill, R-Canton, said they will team with the Christian Coalition and other religious groups to pressure fellow lawmakers and the University System Board of Regents to eliminate the jobs.

"Our job is to educate our people in sciences, business, math," said Hill, a vice chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. He said professors aren't going to meet those needs "by teaching a class in queer theory."

To see the whole post, click here.

It's bad enough that people are losing jobs across the nation, but now Republicans want to eliminated entire academic fields in college classrooms. Disgusting! What does this mean for people who don't "business, math, and sciences"? Are our subject no less valuable? Maybe we need subjects like history and English because they teach acceptance and difference.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TV Show of the Month: Upstairs, Downstairs

For my British-Irish Modernism class, I have to create an annotated bibliography for the historical contexts of E. M. Forster's A Room with a View. I came across this really interesting article by Carl Freedman, about the connection between the Merchant Ivory production and a 1970s TV show called, Upstairs, Downstairs. Thus, in the course of research and in honor of feeding my habit, I decided to put the first season on my Netflix, and I finished it just now. While the show covers quite a long time period, the first season focuses on 1903-1909, which works really well with researching the Edwardian period. The show actually starts the same year that Queen Victoria died and features an episode in October 1908, which is the same month that A Room with a View was published. [This episode was a little lame, "The Swedish Tiger." It didn't really fit into recreating history the way a number of the other episodes have.]

This TV version of Altman's Gosford Park has a number of interesting plot lines and twists that makes Altman's attempt to capture the intrigues of early twentieth-century British life as a feeble attempt at best. While their plots are not the same, the documentation of classed and gendered life in Upstairs, Downstairs is amazing! I would say the stand out episodes from the first season would be the first one, "On Trial," episode two, "The Mistress and the Maids," and episode eight, "I Dies from Love." The show does a great job of showing what life for the upper and lowers classes was like and how gender relations were conducted between the classes. Of course, you see the men cheating on women, the servants fighting and dying for the chances of love, and surprisingly, the mother, Mistress Belamy, having her own affair.

This video is from the episode where the maid, Sarah, and the Mistress Marjorie Bellamy are both being painted by this artist only for their paintings to be displayed in public, which goes on to create quite a scandal in the Royal Academy.

Along with the really interesting episodes/writing, the show has some first-class acting. The show went one to win BAFTA and Emmy awards. One of the anchors of the show is Jean Marsh, who plays the main housemaid, Rose, and in fact she helped to create the show with fellow actor, Eileen Atkins. [You might recognize Marsh as Mombi from Return to OZ or Queen Bavmorda from Willow.] I would also note that Pauline Collins, who plays Sarah, is another very interesting actress whose role on the show is great. I've never laughed so hard in my life.

Anyways, I just thought I would share this rather interesting "Bits and Bobs" (as one of my favorite EW blogger says) from Britain would be something cool to share.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Feeling Honored

Oh my! I just found out I am quoted on the Scholars' website. I don't think there is any higher honor that I could feel at this moment.

" wasn't until exploring the "rise and fall" of English in my graduate school department that I realized how vital an education I received at Scholars'. Scholars' overall approach to the Text and Traditions program is actually amazing. My experience in T and T was one that placed emphasis on all disciplines and did not curtail any particular agenda. Likewise, by dividing class into lecture and seminar, having a Fulbright Scholar in T and T to cover art in the Ancient World, and a push for intense research in the final sections of the class, T and T truly did prepare me for graduate school and my goal in exploring textuality as it is conceived in the 20th century. The unique system of voting on classes and controlling the variety of electives that one takes is almost unheard of in other institutions. To be able to tell a professor that you are interested in the connection between psychoanalysis and 20th century feminist fiction and see both a classroom and intensive academic research and theoretical training come out of it is something that none of my graduate classmates are able to claim that they have experienced. Scholars' is great place, a sacred place for the communion between mind and knowledge and between experience and thought. Without my time at Scholars' I would not have been prepared for graduate school. Without Scholars' I would not have been prepared for life."

M. Griffin

University of Tulsa
Master's Candidate

I don't think words could express how extremely proud I am in this moment. Those of you that were there will remember the day I broke down crying when a certain director-who-shall-remain-nameless told me that this director would prefer for me not to participate in the Scholars' Day functions. I promptly attempted to embarrass Scholars' by wearing my pajamas for a mock T and T class. Well, I guess the joke was on me because no one really noticed.

I am happy to see what has been going on with Scholars'. It is so good that Davina has been hired because having a stable director is really beneficial for the college. It's also great that programs are expanding, funding is being put in somewhat decent places, and people seem to be staying in Scholars' rather than transferring out. (Retention was a huge problem the years I was there. My class started in the 50s and ended up with 12.) I may have had problems with certain administrations both past and present, but I really do stand by what I said above and by so much more. Scholars' truly was this magical place for me, and I hope to return in an official capacity one day.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tagging, But Not the Kind You Think

One of my grad school friends tagged me on her blog, Nothing Elegant. I hardly ever see her anymore so I figured I would do this as a way of playing catch-up with her. I decided not to delete a question.

Step 1: respond and rework—answer the questions on your own blog, replace one question that you dislike with a question of your own invention, add one more question of your own. Step 2: tag—eight other un-tagged people.

1) What are you wearing right now? Long johns, boxers, black pants, undershirt, t-shirt, flannel button-up.

2) What's the last thing I read/ are currentlyreading? Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and Genre by John Frow. I am about to start A Room with a View by E. M. Forster and Beloved by Toni Morrison.

3) Do you nap a lot? Of course, I am grad school. I just told a co-worker that I slept from 3-10 to Tuesday. Quite random. But that might not qualify as a nap. I do usually nap at least twice a week though.

4) Who was the last person you hugged? My dear friend Beamish. And maybe hugged through my words, my boss Hall.

5) What's your current obsession/addiction? TV, as usual. Expect a blog entry in the coming weeks on my new found show, Upstairs, Downstairs.

6) What was the last thing you said out loud? "Yeah. No. I don't think so." (My boss just told me I should text this guy to see about a date for Valentine's Day.)

7) What websites do you always visit when you go online? E-mail,,, abc. com/ (to catch up on missed shows), Current Sauce webpage (my undergrad newspaper), NY Times Book section, facebook...

8) What was the last item you bought? A subway sandwich.

9) What is your most challenging goal? To get healthier and lose weight.

10) If you could have a house totally paid for, fully furnished- anywhere in the world, where would it be? Southwest or Northeast England.

11) Favorite Vacation spot? D. C., New Orleans, or London.

12) Say something to the person who tagged you: T, I feel like we never see each other. I totally planned on getting together for lunch last semester, but I just never got around to it. I kinda got swamped towards the end because the paper for Laird's Directed Study was due the week after the break, and then, things just got out of hand. I would like to know how things are going with you though. Maybe soon karma will bring us together--kinda like this post.

13) Name one thing you just can't resist no matter how bad it is for you: food.

14) You are on the Oregon Trail. How are things going? I am probably not doing to well since I am not that fond of camping, and I've also never played that game in school.

15) If you woke up tomorrow and were a boy, what is the first thing you would do and why? I wouldn't really freak out because I'm a boy already. Hehe.

16) Name one thing you can not live with out: I'm not sure. I would like to be sarcastic and say something like oxygen. I've been thinking a lot about this though, and I kinda think that I could probably renounce quite a bit of things.

17) Has a celebrity's haircut ever influence you on your own hairstyle? Maybe, but not one that would be worth noting, I'm sure.

18) What is your favorite characteristic or quality about yourself [not appearance-related]: ??? Um, I think I can be quite clever. I like to make people laugh. But I also like to have great conversations, too. So, I would lean more towards my speaking skills.

19) What brought you to blogland? I've always been a very unsuccessful journal writer. Blogging just sort of interests me. You can be/write what you want. And I thought it would be an interesting way to act out Laminations of my own. Byatt is my favorite author. (I kind of envision Frederica working for the Huffington Post if she were a real person.)

20) New Question: What attracts you most to another person? Their intellect and usually their appearance.

21) New Question II: If you had to choose between a goose who laid golden eggs for Easter or fizzy lifting drink, what would you choose? The goose. (I want it now!)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Queen Anne's Lace

I just finished reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson for Dr. Taylor's class that meets in like two hours. Throughout the book, the narrator, Ruth, mentions walking through the town and seeing this particular flower, Queen Anne's Lace. I am not all that hip as to what certain flowers look like, but I do remember this particular name because of a reading in my Survey of American Lit II reading. We covered William Carlos Williams that semester, and I distinctly remember reading this poem and want to talk about it. We never got around to thought because every liked the one about ice cream and we had to cover the "13 ways of looking at a blackbird" a poem by Stevens that we had read that day.
Her body is not so white as
anemone petals nor so smooth--
so remote a thing. It is a field
of wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand's span
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being
stem one by one, each to its end,
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty, a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over--
or nothing.

Flowers and sex. I found this incredibly awesome quote about the poem, "Williams shows us how the stem splits into a cluster of stems radiating upward, each supporting a white flowerette which, edging the others, composes the flower's lacy head. When Williams personifies the plant, his rhetoric carefully preserves its unique structure. The sun becomes an ardent male who creates a lover for himself touch by touch [...]" (from "Some Versions of Modernist Pastoral: Williams and the Precisionists." Contemporary Literature 21:3 (1980), 383-406.) My notes certainly reflect this pull of reading the poetry sexually. I annotated lines: "he touches and creates" and the label "sexual" remains above the poem. But there is also some sort of tint in the poem upon rereading of contamination and destruction from "his" touch as well. What is this purple blemish but a bruise that man creates when he touches flowers, alters their shape.

Flowers seem to attract sex poetry, or is it the other way around? By that way, is it me or is this blog becoming like a flower poem blog. Haha. Well maybe this is be the last one for a while. Although, Lawrence's poem, "Snap Dragon" is pretty awesome, and I am sure my boss would get a great big kick out of a blog about the saxifrage. Oh! Mighty Saxifrage!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Old Notes

I was going through some old notes for Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook when I came across this recycled phrase on my notepad that never found its way into my paper: “Why can’t we say something like this—we are people, because of the accident of how we were situated in history, who were so powerfully part—but only in our imaginations, and that’s the point—with the great dream, that now we have to admit that the great dream has faded and the truth is something else—that we’ll never be any use” (51). This line comes from Anna who is debating with Molly over issues such as gender equality and the fall of the Communist Party in the late 1950s. The book, of course, deals heavily with these issues, and yet, so many of its queries and commentary on 1950s British society could apply to so many other countries and times. How effective is a philosophy like socialism when it counteracts its positive impact by its very underpinnings and workings? This is something Anna has to come to terms with throughout novel as she evaluates how effective her work has been for the CP.

I like this quote a lot though, even though it never found its way into my paper. I guess one reason why was because this quote didn't really impact the second-wave feminist reading of the text that I was going for. However, I think one reason I copied it out was because I was reading this novel during the election season last year. I always think about my own reason for existence and the effective-ness my life has had on people around me. And it seems that at least in this renunciation made by Anna to Molly that they both have to admit their own redundancy, something that people struggle with all that time I think. How much of our life is accident or chance and how much "written"/fated? And is that what truly distinguishes humans from so many other species and even intra-species--that we are nothing more than accidents who think more of themselves. Just some thoughts to ponder...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Movie of the Month: Revolutionary Road

Please let this be fair warning, but if you didn't see Revolutionary Road, you may not want to read the rest of this blog entry. There is a part of me that does not want to share any of this information with someone who hasn't seen the film and there is this other part of me that feels like I need to be like a newsie on the street corner begging people to see this film. Needless to say, if you haven't seen this great movie yet, you need to. In fact, you need to go as soon as possible because I don't know how much longer it will be at the theatres, and you should see it before the Oscars so that you might have a good vantage in judging it in comparison to other films. Also, as just a side note, I think I might start this new "Movie of the Month" entry post. So, Revolutionary Road will be my selection for the month of January, consider this post two days late.

The films stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Frank and April Wheeler, two people disillusioned and maybe reillusioned by 1950s American culture. Plot-wise, the film follows Frank to his city job where he feels like nothing but a machine in a cog, while April remains at home in the suburbs as nothing more than a copy of those around her. Both are jaded by their intellectual understanding of what it means to fit in. One of the lines in the movie suggests that once thought they were above it all, but as April soon realizes, they are not above anything--that they are nothing but copies/machines, things that they hated before moving to suburbia. Of course, the film contains a number of other sub characters, but perhaps the one worth mentioning would be Frank and April's realtor's son, a former mathematics PhD who has been previously committed in a mental home/insane asylum. While seemingly "abnormal," this character, whose names escapes me, acts as the Shakespearean "fool" who contains all of the knowledge, who attempts to inform the Wheelers of the full impact of their decisions, and in fact, seems to be the only one that can understand them and their lives.

Non-plot wise, what I found interesting was the film's indictment/assessment/evaluation of American suburbia. I was able to do a minimal bit of research about the film and the book in which the film is based off of. The film seems to take on not only problems about life outside of the city, but also issues of gender, sanity, economics, sexuality, and parenthood. What does it mean to have children? What causes someone to fall out of love? How much danger is involved in having an abortion? Why do men's desires take precedence over women's in relationships? All interesting questions. All questions tackled with in the film.

Now, the little bit about the film that I truly want to talk about is the ending, which, of course, I know have to give a spoiler warning about. [So don't read on if you don't want to know what happens.] The "climax" of the film seems to be when April gives herself an abortion, post-12 weeks, which the film has repeatedly claimed is dangerous to do after 12 weeks. When April does give herself an abortion, she walks downstairs and stands in the open window way--what we see is Revolutionary Road, we see the street they live on, the world they inhabit. She stands there as if claiming, "Look at what you have done to me. Look what you made me do." As she remains there, the camera shows blood spots on her dress and a pool of blood forming below her. As the point, the viewer sort of realizes that things aren't going all that well. She runs to the phone, calls for thing, Frank is in the hospital telling his neighbor that she waited to long to get to the hospital. I think this is the crux of the film, and for me, something I really want to debate with people. Is she just giving herself an abortion because that is what she wants to do, or is she committing suicide? There are so many signs that suggest the latter. Perhaps that was the only way out of escaping suburbia.

For me the scene echoed a number of instances in Byatt's Babel Tower when Daniel gets calls at the hotline from mothers who abandoned their children, wandering about England and wondering if it was the right thing to do. They were so illusioned as to what life was supposed to be like, what women's roles where supposed to be. This film just made me think about this more and more. Is the only way to escape something is complete abandonment? But it also made me re-evaluate my own desires and my own wants/needs. This is a question that I have continually asked myself, again and again, and I am sure it is a question that I will continue to grapple with more and more in the coming years as I mature into adulthood.

Go out and see Revolutionary Road. Hopefully you will think it is a great film! And if you enjoy it, hopefully you also cried because of how sad it was.