By Ian Bar, author of Enmeshed Within
You played this scene before, you played this scene before
I the mote in your eye, I the mote in your eye
A misplaced reaction ~ Incubus by Marillion
“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it”. ~ George Bernard Shaw
Before beginning with the main text and thesis of this treatise, I would like to harken back to my university years and the interaction with my professors of playwriting, theater, and writing courses. It might appear a long blog-posting, but the preliminary paragraphs will tie into the style I chose for Enmeshed Within. In addition, why I chose to defy academic literary convention as it is taught in today’s universities.
There was often time expounded as literary protocol that the writer was under the obligation of “showing not telling” the reader in any work of drama or literary prose. This seems little more than an adage and perhaps could be relegated to a mere platitude. Simply put, it is a game of semantics. What does it really mean? As a librarian, one responsibility is to instruct Information Literacy to students and faculty. [i] However, if the librarian is showing through instructions how students should evaluate information using a different set of criteria for a Web search engine as opposed to an Academic online database, insert the word tell for show, and the meaning has not changed.
Of course, the hierarchy serving the halls of academia will argue that the positing above does not apply to a creative work as it does for a classroom instructional lesson. Pray tell, how? It is common sense to recognize that either the author, protagonist, ingénue, anti-hero, or other characters involved will at some point tell you something. It begs the question, what is showing? Is it only the action of the characters involved that are articulated on the pages of fiction? Is this why current bookstores are cluttered with the latest action packed thrillers. I would argue that emphasis on 'show don't tell" has diminished the quality of fiction writing.
In one class that I had taken at the university, the course dealt with how the medium used for a story would change based upon the particular venue it was told through. For example, if one took a book and transformed it into a play, the latter would not be a verbatim translation of the book based upon the unique techniques used for writing a play. Furthermore, the same can be said when the book is adopted into a movie. The movie with its approximate two-hour limit must make compromises that cannot not fill-out the details found in the book based upon the time considerations and restraints. The movie might show instead of tell, but how many movies do we know that all incorporate tell aspect. One example of the latter is the 2009 Matt Damon movie (viz), The Informant.
It is here the concept of Literary Criticism plays a critical role in redefining writing styles for literary fiction, or what passes off as literary fiction in the modernism and post modernism. Believe it or not, the academic literary stooges also have something called post-postmodernism. Perhaps, these purveyors of professorship have a dry sense of humor we are unaware.
Literary Criticism is an invention founded about the early 20th Century. It really took off after WWII, and evolved into the absurdity that we now know of it in today’s university sink holes. Suffice it to state here that the Wikipedia entry for literary criticism admits that it is differentiated from Literary Theory, although is often used currently as interchangeable terms. However, literary criticism is interested in deconstructing a particular book/manuscript/work; whereas, literary theory takes a legitimate course in looking at all literary creations regarding rhetoric/writing in an overall overview. [ii] The latter will define aspects of the character Jimmy in Enmeshed Within.
The person that introduced literary criticism as it is known in modern academia is Jacques Derrida. In 1960 Derrida borrowed from the philosophical notion called “deconstructionism.” This blog-post will not indulge in the linguistic gymnastics and pedantic verbiage used by Derrida to resuscitate the idea of New Criticism from the 1940’s and 1950’s. [iii] What Jacques Derrida did, based upon a linguistic theory (emphasis on theory) was to take an interdisciplinary approach to critiquing literary works. Since language is difficult in ascertaining its meaning based on an array of unnecessary assumptions (see Occam’s razor), one must review the text of a literary endeavor while cross-referencing other fields in the humanities such as anthropology, history, sociology … etc.
Simply put, “deconstructionism” as introduced by Derrida, critiques a specific literary work based upon weltanschauung or zeitgeist. [iv] One can read the endnote I placed below for further context of the meaning of zeitgeist. A quick representation relating zeitgeist as it refers to Derrida and literary criticism is that each literary work and the language used within must comport with the intelligentsia that rule the halls of academia and universities. In other words, a creative literary work that is unique and presenting new ideas that might even appear revolutionary – or at least groundbreaking – will not face consideration as a legitimate literary creation. Instead, any literary work that does not meet the criteria of the dogma charading as established and unquestioned academic literary guidelines and rules will then be rejected based on the two former conditions. The literary work that doesn’t meet the academic standard and agenda is relegated to something nonliterary as opposed to an outcome of “sprezzatura.”
It should be noted here that anthropology, history, linguistics, psychology, and sociology are part of humanities, not a field of science. The list of the latter are not governed by scientific method, nor do they have laws prescribed to them. For example, the laws of physics (science) and Electronic Engineering employs the laws of physics. Anthropology, history, linguistics, psychology, and sociology are then subjective, even though some of those field of studies use statistics.
I will explain how the above is executed with an anecdotal and personal experience from my days studying theater at a major university, using my honed surgical dissecting skills in debate and rhetoric. In less eloquent phrasing, I am going to rip this professor a new one.
There came a time that the head of the theater department sat me down to discuss my direction and purpose for obtaining a degree in theater. I told the professor that I did it mainly to further my skills in replicating character dialogue as I wanted to be a writer of fiction and playwriting. At the time, I was also doing an internship at a hospital in the field of Social Work doing assessments on last stage alcoholic and heroin addicts. The internship as a social worker involved visiting the patient in the hospital room, asking a series of questions and then going back to the office to manually record the conversation. This was water over stone for the professor interviewing me about my direction and purpose for obtaining a degree in theater. He stared … blankly. Then, without missing a beat, he continued his priggish academic discourse, stating that a writer writes all the time.
I wasn’t sure what metric this professor used for “writing all the time.” Perhaps, a writer should always have his/her notebook and pen at hand, including sitting on the toilet, riding public transportation, and waiting for a cashier to ring up a bill of sale. In extreme cases, there always writing on the thigh of your pants. If after all this perfunctory dedication one still produces a piece of shit, take comfort in the fact that it might still pass the literary criticism qualifications of language comporting to meeting the interdisciplinary test of deconstructionism. The author of this piece of shit can also take comfort knowing it passes the standards of postmodern fiction and ready for placement littering the shelves with many other pieces of shit at Barnes & Noble.
No. I did not vocally present this argument to the professor. Instead, he asked me what motivates me to write. I quoted something that should be attributed to Tennessee Williams, if I’m not mistaken (viz), “I don’t write because I want to; I write because I have to.” He smiled wryly, because he knew that I knew that was one of his favorite playwrights. In the next moments, I sensed the professor use a counter attack. The professor then went on to explain about a student in the same program that wrote pertaining to “what he knows” i.e. this student’s rough life growing up in a particularly tough part of town. I wasn’t about to divulge to the professor my current life courting with hustlers. In fact, Enmeshed Within contains real life experiences from seedy persons I was involved with during that time. I did entertain the notion that perhaps “writing he knows” is simply an autobiography that doesn’t rise to the level of literary etiquette. No. I did not state the matter vocally either.
The professor then continued with his tacit counter attack with wanting to know what style of writing that I employed. At the time, I was writing a play that used some of the techniques of Jean Paul Sartre’s, No Exit. I wasn’t about to go into the details of the play I was currently writing – because I was due at the college bar where drinking a pitcher of beer was time better well spent. I simply stated that I followed the minimalist writing style of Samuel Beckett.
My simple explanation would not deter the didactic ethos this particular professor wanted to establish as any narcissist would do to delude he/she is in control. The professor posited an erroneous point that is actually jaw dropping from someone like himself that received the support of some of the most distinguished in the drama world. He stated that Beckett came to the minimalist style through the development of his writing. In other words, Beckett slowly evolved his style. The professor’s proposition is simply wrong. It is not even one that can be debated from a duel position.
Samuel Beckett admired the writing style of James Joyce. Beckett heaped accolades upon Joyce, and did it writing essays in defense of Joyce’s writing style. However, Beckett realized that he could not follow in the footsteps of Joyce, because he felt the latter had become so noteworthy with his writing style that it exhausted any effort for anyone that would attempt duplicate it. Beckett then made a conscious choice to take his writing in a new direction.
From the horse’s mouth:
"I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.” [v]
Although Beckett developed his minimalist style, he was cognizant that he was making a one-eighty departure from a writing style that he employed during his early writings. Case closed. Student: plus-one. Professor: zero.
No. I did my voice my evidence vocally at the time, because I was before a mere indoctrinated regurgitate, instead of a true scholar. Interestingly, the Wikipedia page I placed in the endnotes mentions that Beckett received therapy sessions from the Tavistock Institute, but that is a topic for another blog entry dealing with conspiracy theories. [vi] Regarding Beckett’s minimalist writing style, perhaps Beckett went too far with his use of minimal usage in later years. I would argue that Beckett’s minimal style in his later writings overshadowed the expression or thought pursued in his plays. The style a writer decides to use should not inhibit the craft of his/her writing. It comes down to a properly employing polarity and understanding that imposing an extreme can act as a distraction. This kind of extremes has infected and become endemic in the postmodern art world. I refer to the writings of Miles Mathis on the latter topic. [vii]
At times, I search the Web to check up on what my old professors are up to, and regarding the above professor I noticed that he does talks before Broadway shows. One such presentation concerned Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical Cinderella. This professor’s talent for making erroneous statements still held sway decades later, as well as his self-pleasure of pontificating his supposed vast knowledge of the Drama world.
In the presentation, the professor went on spouting in a very animated way about the relationship between Rodgers and Hammerstein’s was not as close as often presented by Broadway and Hollywood media. In addition, he then glossed over some of his research related to the historical background on the story of Cinderella. He had dated in back to ancient Egypt. In the Ancient Egypt text the girl is known as Rhodopis, and comes from Greece and sold into slavery.
In Rhodopis, it is more about the other servants forcing her to stay and do chores, as opposed to evil stepsisters. In addition, the story is not about status, but rather, race. Furthermore, it is a falcon that drops the rose red color slipper to the Pharaoh, and in other renderings, it is the falcon that grabs the rose red slipper off Rhodopis feet and drops it before the Pharaoh. [viii]
The story surrounds the import of political intrigue in Ancient Egypt and the demands of the gods that were dictums that had to be adhered. The adaptation from ancient historian, Strabo, is more concerned with divergence from Ancient Egypt’s monarchal and political dictums and organizational structure than it is to do with a sense of chivalry, romance, and status gleaned from the mere presence of beauty. All of the latter were a contrivance of Western Civilization’s adaptation of the story.
There are a certain amount of plot lines that are used in literature, including fairy tales, and this might be one explanation for the story of Cinderella being well-known throughout various cultures from around the world. Although, it is important to remember that these cultural understandings and variations give different significance even to the particulars found in the story of Cinderella.
Concerning the influence of Western Civilization from the Ancient Greece world, the story of Cinderella takes on the cultural dressings of the Western World. This is where it become important to have an understanding of Friedrich Nietzsche’s, The Birth of Tragedy, Oswald Spengler’s, The Decline of Western Civilization, and Carroll Quigley’s, Tragedy and Hope. In this essay it would be lengthy to go into the details of each of these historical philosophical views. Suffice it to say The Birth of Tragedy looks at the how the decline of the Attic Play during the Hellenistic period was due to the schools of Socrates, which the latter allowed everything to be questioned in philosophical schools. Thus, the nature of the Attic Play did not have the same cultural cohesion that it did in the past. The balance between the Dionysian that gave the individual a sense of losing himself/herself in a total connection with Nature, coupled with the Apollonian prophetic revelation regarding man’s fate became lost during the Hellenistic period. It marked the decline of Ancient Greek civilization and its contribution to meaningful Art.
Spengler in The Decline of Western Civilization took the ideas from Nietzsche and extrapolated the latter’s ideas unto all markings for the rise and fall of culture/civilization – with the culture being the milestone preceding the rise of its civilization stage. Once the culture comes to the civilization stage it then begins its decline, since culture rose from the rural experiences of a particular congregate of people. The civilization stage is marked by an influx of metropolitan settings where the people move into these cities and lose the sense of it connection with Nature and spiritual attributes. Truth then become subjective and everything is questioned, and hence the society become unproductive.
Spengler asserts in his tome that there are seven eight high cultures: “Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Mesoamerican (Mayan/Aztec), Classical (Greek/Roman), Arabian, Western …" [ix] Each of these new high civilizations/cultures bring new sets of imperatives for its cultures and societies. In other words, there is no causality or concatenation to history. Each culture brings something new from its unique set of perspectives. Certainly, it could be argued that there is an underlining tone that penetrates every culture throughout the world, especially when considering that fairy tales and their connection to Astrotheology. [x]
If one would perform Cinderella as it is now known from the Broadway musical and Walt Disney's renditions, it would be incomprehensible to the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks. It might even appear as mockery to the gods and the direct line the Pharaoh has with the universal. In much the same way, these ancient cultures would be baffled by slavery based upon skin color. In the ancient world, one became a slave simply by being a conquered culture.
Carroll Quigley evolved from the premise of Nietzsche’ and Spengler when the great polymath, Quigley unfolded – or enumerated the seven stages of a civilization:
- Age of Expansion
- Age of Conflict
- Universal Empire
Quigley posited that Western Civilization was unique in the fact that it had overcome several Age of Conflict, as opposed to other civilizations collapsing after one Age of Conflict.
For now, I will return to my professor pontificating as if on a vacation cruise ship espousing the wonders of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella to the retirees enamored with whatever is stated by a media talking head. In another jaw dropping moment, he mentioned that the waltzes from Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella were better than the waltzes created and performed by Strauss. The person the professor used an authority to making this pronouncement was no other than Julie Andrews. The entry in Wikipedia for Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella states:
“Cinderella is the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written for television. It was originally broadcast live on CBS on March 31, 1957 as a vehicle for Julie Andrews, who played the title role.” [xi]
Yes. The musical Cinderella was a “vehicle” for Julie Andrews – just so it is understood how objective the positing from Andrews actually is (sarcasm). When fulfilling the passions that a person has for the performing arts, one should at some stage recognize the difference between promotion and self-promotion and when one has crossed over into having no shame?
If the statement from the professor offering Julie Andrews opinion on the quality of the waltzes in Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella as better than Johann Strauss II doesn’t constitute a paralogism, i.e. the logical fallacy of an appeal to authority, then it begs the question as to what the motives behind the Broadway professor’s caveat really are. I suspect it is one of unabashed promoting of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Evidently, Stanley Kubrick wasn’t compelled by the espousing of Julie Andrews, since Kubrick decided on using the music of Johann Strauss II for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It’s a given that Julie Andrews, despite all her talent, is not a musical archivist, librarian, or cultural critic of music history. She is someone that sang in the Sound of Music. Yes. The Sound of Music, which ignores the privation that took place during WWII, and centers on a rich family that employs a governess that is deciding upon whether to become a nun. Instead, her mother instincts take over with a love of the children, and her hypergamy kicks in and falls in love with the outrageously rich man. Nice.
Incidentally, privation was the major factor in the deaths that took place in WWII, as opposed to those involved in the actual fighting. Take comfort that romance won the day in the Sound of Music, no matter, how the writers’ decided to finish the ending. It’s a romance that seeks to charm you that love conquers all. You can watch the Sound of Music with a glass a wine and eat chocolate and pretend you understand the atrocities and horrors of WWII. Unless, you were someone that suffered privation and your vital organs failed from a lack of resource to food and water. The latter brings the proper perspective to quite a different but actual story.
Let’s set aside for the moment that Julie Andrews is not a competent intellectual to act as a historical music critic. The American musical represents all the pedestrian delusional aspects of the pseudo-culture found in the United States. As Carroll Quigley accurately pointed out, there is no such thing as American “society,” since most of United States obtained its society from the influx of European migration to the States. Therefore, America is just a “group” of imported European culture.
During the professor’s monologue on Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, he mentioned how the musical Oklahoma was rejected by a producer on Broadway. I thought to myself: yes – common reason and aesthetics existed to recognize that the musical Oklahoma is a piece of shit. Oklahoma is trite and does not belong in the field of serious theater, but most American musicals fall under that category.
My above commentary on the American musical might appear derogatory, but it comes after deep observation and reflection. The two latter are central aspects to the character Jimmy from the book, Enmeshed Within; however, Jimmy has not learned to detach from the emotional entanglement. What should become a calm/cool, perhaps even cold scrutiny, becomes judgmental and vindictive when articulated by Jimmy. Regardless, Jimmy is presenting an accurate zeitgeist of his social environment. Jimmy’s scrutiny of those around and interacting with him are in some cases from events actually witnessed by the writer of Enmeshed Within. The rendering of these events seem harsh commentary and hit-and-run slurs upon his social surroundings, but the backdrop is from a working class town run by the higher middle classes that control the economics and politics of the town in Enmeshed Within.
One can argue that the American musical is lighthearted and supposed for pure entertainment. Although, can the same be said for West Side Story? The latter is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet transferred to the streets of west side Manhattan. The musical is communicated through the pure rhetorical medium of pathos. It does not delineate and make lucid the angry, hatred, and violence of such a desperately depleted socio-economic status sharing an area of New York City that is made of past and current immigrants. West Side Story deals with the territorial disputes It morphs the suffering into the emotional plagued understanding through music – but where is the bloodletting as known in the time of Shakespeare? <to be continued>
[i] ACRL: Association of Research Libraries. (2015). Information literacy competency standards for Higher Education. Retrieved November 2, 2015, from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency
[ii] Literary criticism. (2015, October 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:24, November 3, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Literary_criticism&oldid=685046365He
[iii] New Criticism. (2015, October 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:40, November 3, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=New_Criticism&oldid=686550250
[iv] Zeitgeist. (2015, September 25). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:15, November 3, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Zeitgeist&oldid=682742399
[v] Samuel Beckett. (2015, October 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:51, November 6, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Samuel_Beckett&oldid=688196357
[vi] Tavistock Institute. (2015, October 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:22, November 7, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tavistock_Institute&oldid=686565805
[vii] Mathis, Miles. (2014). The best art writings of Miles Mathis. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from http://mileswmathis.com/best.html
[viii] Rhodopis (The Egyptian Cinderella): adapted from the Strabo, historian, 64 BC – 24 AD. (n.d.). Lit.Scribbles: A blog of Fairy Tales in literature, art, and popular culture. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from https://litscribbles.wordpress.com/fairy-tales/rhodopis-the-egyptian-cinderella/
[ix] The Decline of the West. (2015, November 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:26, November 11, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Decline_of_the_West&oldid=689692055
[x] Mikhaél, Dan. (2015). The Meaning of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and More. Zen Sauce. Retrieved November 12, 2015, from http://www.zensauce.com/video/the-meaning-of-snow-white-cinderella-sleeping-beauty-and-more
[xi] Cinderella (musical). (2015, September 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:17, November 21, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cinderella_(musical)&oldid=683159018