Category Archives: Reading Response

Marcel Proust Swann’s Way

The way the narrator talks about his mother is on an entirely different level than the way he talks about anyone else. This caught my attention because he refers to his father as father, and his mother as Mama (145).  His mother is very important to him, mainly, because the he depends greatly on her to tuck him in at night.  “Why I went to sleep in the end even though Mama didn’t come to say goodnight to me,” (145). The narrator asks this question to himself, which shows that normally  he wouldn’t be able to sleep without her goodnight ritual. He mentions this need for his mother to come kiss him goodnight several times through out the reading. Another example, ” My sole consolation, when I went upstairs for the night, was that Mama would come kiss me once I was in bed …,” (150). It is quite normal for a child to love their mother the way the narrator does, but the way he writes about her seems like he is fantasizing about her. It is not clear whether or not he knew that his father found their goodnight ritual to be absurd, as a child, because he doesn’t care about what his father thinks. All he wants to do is satisfy his desires.

The narrator starts to seem obsessed with his mother towards the middle of the reading when he talks about preparing to kiss his mother by deciding where he is going to kiss before hand (160). This sounds like a predator preparing to attack their prey, but his plan failed because he was forced to go to his room without being able to follow through with his kiss. At this point he could not sleep, so he even tried to ask the cook to hand a letter to his mother for her to come, but that did not happen. He ended up having to lie about the contents in order for it to be delivered (162). This did not work either, but he does not give up, and now he is willing to upset his mother just to kiss her goodnight (163). He threw himself at his mother when he heard her coming up the stairs, and he told her to come say goodnight, but his father heard it and thought his life was over (166). Surprisingly, his father told his mother to sleep with him. At last  he got what he wanted, but now that he is no longer deprived of his mother, he is able to move on. Even though he was supposed to be happy that he got what he wanted, he wasn’t. He wants what he could not have, but when it was given to him he no longer wants it.

Would his desires changed if he was never deprived of it from the beginning?


When mental processes cripple functional abilities

Existentialism and Behaviorism, or the ideas of looking at behaviors through the lenses of free will and extrinsic conditioning, have been conflicting rather than supplementing one another. This opposition was examined by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in ‘Notes from Underground’, specifically, when the Underground Man, an Existentialist who advocated the role of free will, was vehemently crippled of his functional abilities by all of his mental processes and idealistic fantasizing.

‘Notes from Underground’ has two chapters. The first chapter describes the misanthropic Underground Man’s mental processes and idealistic fantasizing, specifically, his conflicting rebuttals of the Enlightenment and Romantic ideas and his advocacy of Existentialism, or free choice. He wrote these refutations with zeal and bitterness but at the same time he was constantly contradicting himself, either through his language or through the very basis of his argument, leading the audience to question his credibility, objectivity and even sanity. He mocked the Enlightenment, Romanticism and even current thinkers through incessant sarcastic questioning of ‘two times two makes four’ and ‘the beautiful and sublime’ and ‘the gentleman of the nineteenth century.’ However, his rebuttals did not hold waters because of countless contradictions. Even he was not certain about his view of Existentialism, very ambivalent whether he had free choice at all? Thus, thoughtful and somewhat neurotic as he was, he failed to establish an ideal for himself. Yet, his fiasco came when he tried to interact with other people in the second chapter.

The second chapter, then, delineates how the same obsessive, neurotic and inept Underground Man was constantly at a failed war with himself and those around him, from the officer to Zverkov and the gang to Liza. First while pondering about the event at the tavern where one man was thrown out of the window, the Underground Man inadvertently blocked an officer who then silently moved him to the side and did not even seem to notice him (662). Infuriated, the Underground Man devised many schemes in his head to confront the officer but never had the courage to successfully execute them. In fact, whenever he was about to confront the officer, his nerve departed him immediately and he shrank and fell like a coward (665). Then there came the incident with Zverkov and the gang when the Underground Man was vehement in joining the party to prove his dignity but failed miserably. After a disastrous and embarrassing dinner he constantly paced up and down the room ‘from eight o’clock to eleven’ in the hope that Zverkov and the gang would notice him, but no one did (679). Next, his coup de grace ensued when he attempted to salvage Liza from prostitution through an eloquent, bookish and moving speech (684-694). However, when Liza came to visit him a few days later his little composure departed him completely and he threw a tantrum at her then attempted to treat her like a prostitute by unsuccessfully forcing some money into her hand (701-708). His tirade, coupled with his attempt to treat Liza as a prostitute completely exposed him of how cowardly and hypocritical he was in real life despite all his idealistic fantasizing and philosophical contemplation.

Could the Underground Man’s neuroticism have caused him to lose contact with reality and subsequently crippled him of his functional abilities? The Underground Man, in all of the three scenarios with the officer, Zverkov and the gang, and Liza, could confidently overthink all he wanted, but when it came to actually executing his schemes, he failed miserably. This conflict between his mental processes and functional abilities demonstrates the conflict between Existentialism and Behaviorism, or, free choice and extrinsic conditioning. The first chapter describes the Underground Man’s Existentialist conviction that he would rather act on his free will than believe in “the beautiful and sublime” or “two times two makes four” or even trying to be “the gentleman of the nineteenth century.” However, convinced as he was of his ideology, his reactions in all the three social interaction scenarios were completely driven by the situations and external factors with little to no chances for him to exercise his free will, proving that behaviorism is true to some extent that we are all bound by the circumstances. Thus, I believe that Fyodor Dostoyevsky has done a great job juxtaposing mental processes with functional abilities and question whether Existentialism can be harmonized with Behaviorism.
Now, I also believe that, through seemingly improbable, “Notes from Underground” actually advances the very dilemma of harmonizing our ideologies with our environment. Contemplation and adaptation, which is more important? And is ‘The Underground Man’ and inherent part of us, constantly torn and estranged, even though we pretend to be otherwise?

Emotional Attachment and Worldly Death

When I read Ghalib’s “Now go and live in a place”, “I’ve made my home next door to you” and “It was essential”, the conflicting themes between emotional attachment and worldly death led me to notice how spiritually and emotionally attached Ghalib was to other people, particularly his wife, his adopted son and the Hindu courtesan, then these emotional strings were put to the test when three of them, one by one, departed him. In the end, he appeared to be seeking a sanctuary where his emotions and feelings could be alleviated by eliminating human contact.

In “It was essential”, Ghalib mourned the death of Arif, his adopted son through the use of ghazal and constant repetition of the phrase “for a few more days.” The question lingered on, why couldn’t Arif live for a few more days, why couldn’t Arif stay with him for a few more days, why couldn’t….for a few more days? On average, people live for years, yet death is just a moment, then eternity, so how long should we make of ‘a few more days’? And if Arif had indeed live ‘for a few more days’, would Ghalib surely wish for ‘another few more days’ of Arif’s existence? In fact, to Ghalib, a few more days or a few more years did not make a difference, because death is death, pain is pain, and loss is loss, and Ghalib felt them profoundly. He mourned over the fact that all of his beloved left him rather than he left them. “It’s my destiny/ to continue to wish for death/ for a few more days” (line 57-60)  Ghalib knew that death is inevitable, himself not exception, but he could not refrain from the excruciating pain felt at the death of his beloved. How short life is, how much ‘a few more days’ could make a difference, and how emotionally attached Ghalib was to his beloved, but all of these will eventually have to yield to worldly death, an eternal separation.

Next, “I’ve made my home next door to you” was another attempt by Ghalib to immortalize his beloved, in this case, the Hindu courtesan, through the use of ghazal and the constant repetition of “without a word being said.” Two versions of the same poem do not differ much but the addressing subject. In the secular version, it was “she” and in the sacred version, it was “He” (capitalized). Could Ghalib be comparing his worldly courtesan to some form of God, thus immortalizing her and asserting his deepest feelings to her? Moreover, the phrase “without a word being said” at first seemed to  imply how emotional attachment could eliminate the needs for words, or, it’s more important how people feel towards each other rather than what’s being said. However, as the poem progressed, conflicting themes begins to appear, as no one can apparently get away without saying ‘tormentor’ or ‘infidel.’ What are the words implying? Could the idea of the courtesan be ‘tormenting’ Ghalib, forty years after her premature death? Could the idea of an emotionally powerful relationship between the Islamic Ghalib and Hindu courtesan be a sin of ‘infidelity’? The only words that needed to be said were so painful and unfaithful. Either way, Ghalib was not only deeply and everlastingly pained by the courtesan’s death, but because of the many other conflicting attributes that he could not fathom for himself.

Finally, in “Now go and live in a place”, there is a deliberate mention of severing all human interaction and dying alone. Could this be the solution that Ghalib was seeking to end all the griefs and scars that death and separation had on human beings? He did not want anyone to ‘fathom [his] verse” (line 2), “share [his] speech” (3), “keep [him] company” (4), ‘keep [him] safe” (4) or “mourn [him] there” when he died. Indeed, after much sufferings from emotional attachment and eternal separation, Ghalib just wanted to a peaceful and solitary dead, no more sufferings for both himself and other people. Thus, the conflicting themes in his poetry proves Ghalib to be a person who was constantly torn between his emotions, ideologies and situations.

The World is Too Much with Us by William Wordsworth

With all the excessive advances in technology in the past decade, specifically in the social media like Facebook and Twitter, there have been a lot of concerns about us losing touch with the real world. Interestingly enough, even though “The World is too Much with Us” was published over two centuries ago, its theme is synonymous with the same idea of losing touch with nature. Right from the beginning the poet, William Wordsworth, is straightforward about his message. “The world is too much with us” he says “late and soon” (line 1). He points out that it is not just the problem of his time. With “late” he implies that this has happened before; adding on “soon” implicating that it will continue to happen in the future, and evidently, two hundred years later as we can see, he was right.

One way that Wordsworth portrays his sadness about how things are in the present and how they will be in the future is by consistently referencing the past. He uses his imagination and talks about the Greek gods Proteus rising from the sea and Triton blowing his shell horn. With these last two lines of the poem, Wordsworth accomplishes so many things. He draws an image of a simpler time where everyone was so in tuned with nature, such as, a god who controlled the sea and also the people that believed in that god. In doing so, Wordsworth himself is becoming one with nature as he looks across the sea.

Wordsworth does not ignore the fact that the theme of the poem, man versus nature, is probably very unpopular. In fact he acknowledges it. He easily says that he would “rather be a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn” emphasizing how terrible the times are now (lines 9 and 10). Although, I agree with Wordsworth, it is after reading his poem that I’ve changed my mind on this issue. I used to think that technology is the reason why we have lost touch with nature, but as we can see from this poem, we have had this problem even before all of these new inventions and ideas. I think what Wordsworth is trying to say is that the cause of this problem is not any worldly thing, but “us” ourselves.

Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In “Frost at Midnight,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet uses the imagery of nature throughout the poem to compare the different parts of nature that is visible in the country side, to the city. For example, “This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,” would be the ocean, mountains, and trees that you would see in the country side (line 11), but in the city the only parts of nature you would see are the sky, and stars. Coleridge seems to be in love with nature, and because of his love for nature he wants his child to grow up in a place that offers more than just the sky and stars (line 54-58). As a child, Coleridge had an horrible experience growing up in the city. He did nothing but dream, and when he is in school, he would try to look for someone that he knows because he had nothing better to do (line 39-41). He does not want his child to go through the kind of childhood he had to go through. The experiences that his child will go through allows him to live the life that he dreamt  of., through his child. This  seems selfish in a way, but he wants to spare his child from the boredom that life in a city would bring.

Coleridge has grown to hate the city, and started to love the countryside, but would this change if he did not grow up in the city. His love towards nature makes him seem like he hates the city, which leads to the whole idea of urbanization, and how he is probably against it. In the poem he does not mention much about his childhood, but he does talk about the beauty of nature that could only be experienced outside of the city. His experiences in the city must have been a lot worst than what he has mentioned because you don’t make the decision of moving out the city just because of the boring childhood he had.

I could see how Coleridge fell in love with the environment of the countryside because it is an magnificent sight, but the city has its own kind of beauty as well. I am not convinced that being bored made him want to move out of the city.

Ihara Saikaku–Life Of A Sensuous Woman

by Tien Dang

The story is such a great piece of literature that upon reading it I find so many thoughts and ideas for discussion running through my head. However, the one topic that I choose to discuss will be, as the underlying theme of the story is promiscuity, can the cause justify the effect?

The old woman first told the story of her libertine younger years by an account of her affair with a samurai when she was 11, an affair which devastated her, had her family horribly shaken and ended the samurai’s life. Following the event are numerous stories of her having affairs with other man. However, Sakaiku seems to draw the audience’s attention to the woman’s harsh life situations with few or even no choice for her at all. First she was born into a high class family, then lost her privilege and her life just spiraled downwards, to the most despised occupations and lowest social status, with little to no financial or personal security to herself.

It can easily be said that her harsh life situations, as aforementioned, ensnare her into sleeping with so many men for a living, and even for her own sensuous self. However, upon closer inspection I find that her promiscuous youth, though could understandably be initiated first by ignorance and inexperience, is ultimately her own choice.

The woman even admitted to her overindulgent lifestyle when she just went whenever the flow takes her. Over the course of the story, she voluntarily slept with ten thousand men, as she claimed, to satiate her amorous and sensuous self.

Hence, I don’t find the justification for the woman’s promiscuity as a product of the environment very convincing, because ten thousand men are simply to many to blame the vicissitudes of life.

The cause doesn’t justify the effect, apparently, in this case.

On ” A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” Wollstonecraft

(Post by Nadia Rodriguez)

In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft emphasizes the significance of “order” in women’s educational development to gain equality to men because without it one is simply resting on life experience and, as she states, a “negligent kind of guess-work” to form judgments and assessments that are inherently flawed because of the inadequate method of deduction used. The only education provided to women was one of acquiring traits and mannerisms that would make them suitable wives. As such, their only true value in society is provided by man, weakening their character and maintaining them in a state of subordination. For women to be able to enter the male public sphere, women must first have access to the same knowledge that men are privy to so that they may too use educated methods of logic and reason to deduce and come to informed conclusions.

In the text, Wollstonecraft is not merely stating that aristocratic privilege and patriarchal rule have similarities, but that they are intrinsically one in the same. A hierarchal system which ranks the educated male above all others, and subjugates the female.

However, the author also emphasizes that the value the rich put on artificial refinement and vanity render them helpless and undermine the “foundation of virtue” that she claims is imperative to “influence on general practice”. In other words, because the aristocratic are transfixed on frivolity they cannot have an overall worthy participation and influence on matters common to all. This notion can also be applied to womankind; who in their misfortune have been limited to an education based on such superficial notions in reference to their societal participation.