Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality

After today's class discussion referring to Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of Immortality" I found it in an old Brit Lit book. Because today we were talking about remembering, I looked for the relevance to this within Wordsworth's ode. In 1843 Wordsworth wrote a letter to Isabella Fenwick saying, "In later periods of life I have deplored, as we have all reason to do, a subjugation of an opposite character, and have rejoiced over the remembrances, as expressed in:
For those obstinate questions
Of sense and outward things
Fallings from us, vanishings
(lines 141-43 - all about getting older and wiser)

Wordsworth goes on to say:
"To that dreamlike vividness and splendor which invest objects of sight in childhood, everyone, I believe, if he could look back, could bear the Poem regarded it as presumptive evidence of a prior state of existence."

The introduction of the Ode begins:
The Child is Father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound to each by natural piety
(I think this speaks to the cyclical nature of existence)

Wordsworth was called the "poet of the remembrances of things past."

Wordsworth's recounting of the time of childhood, loss of innocence, and looking back at youth seems much like the climb on the ladder to knowledge and wisdom that we discussed today in class.

And to make up for my slights on dead, old, white men, I have to say some of my favorite lines of poetry, and the most beautiful, were written by Wordsworth in this Ode:

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be,
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

I do appreciate, at least to some degree, the shoulders of the men we stand upon.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.

OK - the setting is a cafe instead of a symposia, and the man is not as eloquent as Socrates and his cronies - but he is defining and describing love as he knows it. I think his thoughts of love and beauty are similar to Eryximachus' and Socrates'.

As a physician, Eryximachus views love in a scientific manner - there are loves and desires both healthy and diseased. The man speaks of the science of love he has created in order to gain a better understanding of it. He says he was a "sick was like a smallpox", he boozed, fornicated and committed any sin that appealed to him. And he figured out how men should love, instead of loving a woman first, one should begin with a tree, a rock, and a cloud - the healthy beginning of love - kind of work your way up to the "sacred experience" of loving a woman.

As Socrates recounts Diotima's wisdom concerning love, he too, speaks of the steps in progressing to the ultimate love and beauty. But it starts first with appreciating physical and external beauty then, appreciating beauty of the mind, beauty of institutions, laws and sciences, and finally an understanding the nature of beauty - the purest understanding.

The man in the cafe started developing his science because he lost a woman he loved, he then began to appreciate the beauty of nature and love of all things as a way to get back to the love of a woman - his ultimate goal. The speakers in The Symposium saw physical love shared with a woman as the basest expression of love. For Diotima, the ultimate goal is the creativity of men, not through the body, but through male intellect.

All the males in the Greek "men loving men" group would reject the man's goal to learn of love and beauty so he could someday be worthy of loving a woman.

I think the man telling the paper boy he loved him, was not an expression of Greek male love, but was part of his progression in loving anything and everything to attain his goal.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Symposium

I have a great little book I used during a philosophy course - I found that after reading some philosophers I was still a little confused over the points they were attempting to make. The book is Introducing Plato and this is what it says about The Symposium. I will paraphrase and make my comments in parentheses. "Symbosia" were after dinner drinking parties which usually involved games and entertainments of various kinds - this conversation is about the "true nature of love." The love they are talking about is homosexual love. For most males Athenians, heterosexual love was regarded as little more than an inferior procreative urge. Most Athenian women played very little part in public life and were confined to domestic duties. Marriage was not conceived of as a partnership between equals. (I would suggest that statements and beliefs such as these are why so many feminist scholars feel that reading the wisdom and scholarship of old, dead, white men is not only irrelevant to lives now, but is maddening as well - In our book p. 31 we read "Men whose bodies only are creative, betake themselves to women and beget children....But creative souls - for there are men who are more creative in their souls than in their bodies - conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or retain.")

Back to The Symposium, Nevertheless he (Plato) seems to have convinced himself that physical homosexual love could eventually be transformed into something transcendentally spiritual. Phaedrus begins by claiming that love is a good thing...It instills a sense of honor and self-sacrifice in individuals that experience it. Pausanias admits that love directed towards young boys and girls is merely the desire for sensual gratification. But when directed towards young men, it somehow becomes purer and nobler and results in life-long associations. Eryximachus insists that love is a cosmic force that constitutes the universe itself.
Aristophanes claims that everyone originally consisted of three genders - male, female, and hermaphroditic. As a punishment Zeus split everyone into single genders - so love is always the attempt to find one's own "lost half," whether male or female. Love is more than a quest for sexual gratification - it is the search for a lost self. (Ever see all those Hallmark cards for husbands and wives that refer to that person as "my better half?")

Agathon agrees that love is a kind of yearning: it moves towards an object of beauty which remains unpossessed. Socrates uses the story of Diotima, a woman of wisdom, who told him that love is the link between the sensible and spiritual worlds. If love is that which moves towards what is beautiful, and wisdom is beautiful, then love is the manifestation of the human soul seeking out the true wisdom of the Forms. (It would take a whole philosophy class to explain the Forms theory). True love must eventually evolve into a purely spiritual quest which embraces goodness and happiness. It is associated with the creative force that sustains all art and progress. A higher and nobler kind of homosexual love leaves behind the physical world of sensation, but it is not sterile because it procreates ideas and discoveries, and is one of the root causes of civilization itself. Alcibades brings the conversation down to a more human level. He tells of Socrates resisting Alcibades attempts to seduce him.

This helped clarify - wish I had read it before I read The Symposium, but I did go back and reread and could better appreciate what was being said. It still sounds like a bunch of guys going out for the evening drinking beer trying to impress each other with their vast knowledge.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Powerful passage(s) from Steiner's "Antigones"

I believe the whole section from pages 234-242 where Steiner writes about the male/female conflict are powerful - some of which was covered in Friday 13th class discussion. But there are a few passages that I think are particularly important and of the most interest to me. Steiner writes on page 237, "there can be no doubt as to the fullness and authority of the realization of masculinity and femininity in the pivotal collision in Antigone." In my blog on the 12th when I compared the two translations of the drama, I was interested in how Creon was responding to a
female who had disobeyed his edict. I believe Creon is more concerned with the problem of a woman disobeying him - although he does mention her youth, that doesn't seem to be what infuriates him the most - he is concerned about the consequences or ridicule he would face when it is learned that it is a woman who defied him. But if you reread Antigone's and Creon's exchange and especially when Antigone speaks beginning at line 497, her conflict with Creon is not because he is a man, she would have buried Polyneices if a female leader had decreed he remain unburied. Although Antigone calls Creon a "tyrant," a "mere human being," and a "fool," she does not see the conflict between them occurring because he is a man, nor is her focus on that. The conflict as Antigone sees it is caused by the unjust proclamation that Polyneices remain unburied, the conflict is between the "gods' unwritten laws" in which she believes, where "Hades longs to have the laws obeyed," and at least in this instance, the unjust laws of humans. I think we could also see the conflict between the individual and society here at least to some degree. But for Creon, the main concern is the belief of the female as an inferior acting against male power. In Creon's exchange with Ismene when she asks if he would indeed kill the bride of his son, Creon responds "There's other ground for him to plow, you know." Kind of a variation of "all women are the same in the dark." Another good example of Creon's beliefs comes out in his conversation with Haemon. Steiner says "The furious debate with Haemon further intensifies, but also vulgarizes Creon's doctrine of male prepotence" pg 239, and pg 240, "Haemon's mere speech is, according to Creon, no longer that of a man. It betrays that reversion to the spheres of animality of which woman is enigmatically, an extension, and which if allowed free play, let alone dominion, will undermine the city of man...But to him and, one has every reason to believe, to the very great majority of Sophocles' audience, the logic of coexistence is one of clear masculine primacy." When Haemon defends Antigone's actions of burying Polyneices using the reasoning of gods' laws vs laws of man, he says "You have no respect at all if you trample on the right of gods!" Creon responds "What a sick mind you have: You submit to a woman." Even when his son pleads with him to look at justice/injustice, gods' laws/laws of man, Creon just brings it all back to a female standing up to male power. I think this might be a good time to write what is past possesses the present.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Another translation of "Antigone"

Friday 2/6 we were asked to find another translation of Antigone. The one I have is in Literature - An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry and Drama. Antigone was translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. I went to the translation we are using in 213 and found the lines I had marked when reading, the ones where Creon refers to Antigone, and the conflict between men and women. Although we have discussed the conflict between male and female language, Creon, in both translations is much more concerned about the "place" of women and not just the differences between the sexes. While concerned about an individual defying the edicts of society I believe Creon is more concerned with a female defying the wishes, or proclamation, of a male. In the Woodruff translation, lines 484-485, Creon says;
Listen, if she's not punished for taking the upper hand,
Then I am not a man. She would be a man!
In the Fitts & Fitzgerald translation Scene II lines 82-3;
Who is the man here,
She or I, if this crime goes unpunished?

And in Woodruff, lines 524-5;
Go to Hades, then, and if you have to love, love someone dead.
As long as I live, I will not be ruled by a woman.
In Fitts & Fitzgerald, scene II, lines 118-9, don't refer at all to Antigone being female;
Go join them, then; if you must have your love,
Find it in Hell!

In Creon's exchange with Haemon, in Woodruff, lines 678-80;
And there must be no surrender to a woman.
No! If we fall, better a man should take us down.
Never say that a woman bested us!
In Fitts & Fitzgerald, scene III, lines 47-8;
And no woman shall seduce us. If we must lose,
Let's lose to a man, at least! Is a woman stronger than we?

Other translations were read aloud in class on Wed 2/11, Antigone's opening speech, this is Fitts & Fitzgerald's translation;
Ismene, dear sister,
You would think that we had alaready suffered enough
For the curse on Oedipus:
I cannot imagine any grief
That you and I have not gone through. And now-
Have they told you of the new decree of King Creon?

Woodruff's translation is full of images. I like it better. I also think Woodruff's translation brings out more of male/female conflict throughout the entire drama, not just the few lines I focused on.

It was strange that you asked the class on 2/11 if we had experienced the death of someone,
it is the date my dad died when I was 16. I don't know if this classifies as "suffering"
but it has definitely affected how I have viewed and experienced the world since that day.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

January 26-30th classes - notes and comments

Looking up a few of the works of authors mentioned in the lectures - I found a good essay at "The Renaissance of 1910: Reflections on Guy Davenport's Poetics" by Marjorie Perloff. She is looking at Davenport's essay, "ThItalice Geography of the Imagination." A couple of his ideas are meaningful in context with our class, "What is most modern in our time frequently turns out to be the most archaic...there is nothing quite so modern as a page of any of the pre-Socratic physicists, where science and poetry are still the same thing and where the modern mind feels a kinship it no longer has with Aquinas or even Newton." I also liked "Our age is unlike any other in that its greatest works of art were constructed in one age and received in another." "The Geography of the Imagination" for anyone interested, is published in Davenport's Forty Essays, but was originally given at the Distinguished Preofessor Lecture @ the University of Kentucky in 1978.

Returning to visit Nietzsche was not like visiting an old friend, I hadn't cared for him much when I met him in a Philosophy class. His first book, The Birth of Tragedy, proposed a solution to the
origins of Greek tragedy, focusing on Sophocles, Euripedes, and Aeschylus. He said the Chorus is the interpreter of Being which plays with appearances, and that music is the language of Being, of the will hidden within individuals. I like this - especially after our discussion on the importance of music in Friday's lecture. The idea of time being not linear, but cyclical, the eternal recurrence or return, says that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur in a self-similar form an infinite number of times. Nietzsche wrote in The Gay Science in 1882,"What if some day day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more,' would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him, 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine' ?" Thinking of Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day, learning to become more sensitive, less self-absorbed, and he eventually got Andie McDowell at the end of the movie, when his lessons had been learned. A pertinent quote from the Bible is Ecclesiastes 1:19-20 "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said,"See, this is new?' It has been already in the ages before us."

Reading in Steiner's Antigones, the conflict between youth and old age, Antigone and Creon, to me is even more personally relevant than conflict between the sexes. Much of my view of the world and my place in it was determined by the decade in which I was an adolescent - the 1960's the "battle" between the young and idealistic and the elders and those who refused to consider any but the traditional ideas. The truth of war, the cost of lives, the thought that no one over the age of 30 could remember or participate in what was new or revolutionary - movies like "Easy Rider" pitted the culture of youth against the "establishment." If I had to find a solution to the quandry of age vs youth, it would be to remember what it was like to feel the idealism of youth - to remember that the morals and guidance we try to instill in youth are often very different than how "adult" lives are lived. The age-old idea that it is wrong to kill, but necessary in wars as a current example, and for Antigone, the idea of respect for the gods and to follow their laws, can be pushed aside when it comes to the burial of Polyneices. I'd say the best plan for raising children is to remember your own youth and not to dismiss feelings and ideals of the young, it's very possible there is more wisdom and truth there than in the clouded, perhaps jaded memories of the older generation.