Monday, August 19, 2013

Abrupt Recollection in Passing

This is a poem I wrote at work after someone walked by me and I smelt their perfume, or soap or something and it immediately brought up memories of hills during my childhood and then just as quickly they faded away. I think it is interesting how smell can instill such a deeply ingrained memory within us to call up images and feelings instantly just in passing. 

Green hills that seem to fade as fast as they come
I can see them, however
clear, precise, from the smell --
They are real, or apart of who I am
I am only but a memory, or maybe many.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Open Boat and the Sublime

This is a paper I wrote the my 'Philosophy Through Literature' class I took in the Spring. Used one of my favorite short stories, "The Open Boat," by Stephen Crane to help understand the sublime, or how we experience the sublime. While not a theological discourse, I still feel it had some value in understanding life and in some aspects religion and God, so decided to post it up here. Could be entertaining... We'll see. 

In Stephen Crane's, The Open Boat, we are introduced to the idea of nature’s indifference towards humanity. The story tells the tale of four sailors: The Correspondent, The Captain, The Cook, and Billie (the only one named) who is the Oiler. These four men, at the start of the story are lost at sea, all crammed into an escape dingy after their ship had sunk. The men find their way through the sea to the shore, but are unable to reach land due to the strong tide and tall waves. The story progresses as they oar their way down the coast, all the while unable to reach the shore. In this time we see a realization—a fear and understanding—of their predicament. It is in these contemplation's  experiences and conversations that the near dead crew has that I would like address. In them I find strong meaning in regards to a search for truth and placement within nature, (or outside of nature, as it were) as well as strong themes dealing with the sublime as addressed by Burke. By use of the story, The Open Boat, I hope to show how the experience of the sublime allows us to understand our relationship with nature.
Burke, in his essay A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, regards the experience of the sublime as produced through terror. He states, “Whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operated in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime,” (Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry 58). He goes on to say that it gives us the strongest emotion that one is able to feel. However, it is not the sublime that we experience when the terror is too great, or too direct. Rather, he shows that it is in a state of near terror, of observation in which we experience the sublime. There is a need of some separation from the events of terror in order for us to experience the sublime.
Burke also writes, “the passion caused by the great and sublime in nature . . . is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its emotions are suspended, with some degree of horror . . .” (Burke, Of the Passions).
But how does this relationship between the sublime and nature fit in to the view of nature that we gain from Crane’s The Open Boat? We experience through the short story of nature’s indifference to humanity through the plight of the four men in the dingy. “The tower was a giant, standing with its back to the plight of the ants. It represented in a degree . . . the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual—nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men . . . She was indifferent,” (Crane 28). It is particularly interesting that these feeling that one of the crew has (the Correspondent) are invoked from the towering waves which he spends much of the night rowing through and above. He sees that he and the others are regarded through nature as no more than an ant. It is through this insignificance that he (and the others) come to realize that drives the story into reaching the sublime. It is, as Burke points out, the astonishment of this realization that invokes a sense of terror in the crew on behave of their own insignificance. “He knows the pathos of his situation,” (Crane 24).
This idea of nature’s indifference grows through the story causing us to see a change in the behavior of the men. At first, they believed it to be God who would save them which disallows them to reach the terror of the sublime. We hear them curse their situation, “if I am going to be drowned, why in the name of the seven mad gods, who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?” (Crane 24). It is the leaving of this way of thinking that finally brings them to face the thought of their own demise. There is no special case for the men, and “they seem to have shown only that Nature and the gods are as mad as men,” (Spinoza 27). The seventeenth century philosopher, Spinoza, attributes God as nature. But this coupling of the two terms stands to show equality between men and all other aspects of nature. Nature, or even God, pays the men on the dingy no heed. This insignificants is key, it would seem, in coming to the sublime.
In Burke’s view, we are able to reach the sublime by all at once experiencing the terror of the situation, to cause us to “seize up”, as it were, and have this height of emotion while still being separated from the actual events and fear of death. This theme is even addressed in the story as the Correspondent, (as we are to understand as Crane himself) contemplates on a story regarding the death of a soldier, (Crane 25). While rowing over the seas he understands that at one time, when first hearing the story that there had been a separation between himself and the soldier. This caused him to not care about the man’s death: “it was less to him than breaking of a pencil’s point,” (Crane 25). However, upon experiencing the crew’s dilemma he comes to an understanding of the soldier’s death and perhaps the understanding of his own inevitable demise. In his situation, Crane remarks, “the correspondent, plying the oars and dreaming of the slow and slower movements of the lips of the solider, was moved by a profound and perfectly impersonal comprehension. He was sorry for the soldier of the Legion who lay dying in Algiers,” (Crane 25).
The sublime, in this sense, and I feel that on some level, for the reader of Cranes story, can be experienced through the terror “viewed” through the words written. In Cranes aestheticizing of the story it does not seem that we lose something in the terror of the events, but rather gain a greater understanding of the situation. We see the terror of the crew through the use of aesthetics.
We are able to gain this same experience through other similar works, such as Joseph Turners Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbor Mouth. In this painting, depicting catastrophe of a steamboat just off from the harbor, so near safety, like that of The Open Boat the viewer cannot help but get a sense of terror in looking at the painting. The light coming from just beyond the boat gives a sense of hope, but the darkness immediately surrounding the steamer also gives the viewer a sense of dread in knowing that the steamer is beyond help. Here, in viewing this work of art we become distant, bringing about the sublime as Burke says, “but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful, as we every day experience,” (Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry 60).
This dread is also experienced by the crew, learned through the correspondent, when they realize that nature thinks nothing of them. They are nothing special or unique in the eyes of nature, but a mere product, perhaps separated from nature. This truth, once leaned brings about a certain direness when the correspondent recollects, “thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation,” (Crane 24).
It is the experience within nature, as well, and not the representation (through the story) that we are able to understand certain aspects of nature, for Immanuel Kant would argue against the notion of the representation of nature as helping one to reach the sublime, rather, it is through the experience (that of the crew) on the open sea that can bring about a sense of terror within themselves. Kant argues that one can only apply the sublime aesthetic to nature only. “The natural sublime removed the original intent of the author or artist as a factor in judging the “aesthetic power” or value of the object,” (Kelly 326).
In reaching the sublime, however, it seems that one key notion, showed throughout Cranes story and hinted at throughout Burke’s essay is the correlation between language and experiencing the sublime. Burke speaks of a “short circuiting” of sorts in relation to our understanding when experiencing the sublime, (Crane, A Philosophical Enquiry 58-60). This concept is shown throughout The Open Boat: that we lose reason and give to passion. There is a limit to our own reason, similar to fear of dark, which brings about limits to our knowledge and perception. Here, we can see that experiencing the sublime is brought about when our very reason is limited or otherwise altered as to limit our experience to focus on the terror of the situation. As an example through Crane’s, The Open Boat, we experience the crew’s sudden shift in behavior as night sets after that first day at sea. No longer do they speak of food, or rescue or making it to land. Each is silent, exhausted, and unable to focus on anything but their certain circumstances. The correspondent gives his thoughts throughout the night. Thoughts of terror show through the loneliness he feels.
Language is stunted through the night, leading the men to only speak momentarily, such as the captain giving quick orders. Through this lack of language we see not a lack of words, but an understanding of the situation so fully in each of the sailors that words no longer carry meaning. If our separation from nature could be classified though our unique ability to communicate, then certainly the lack of words in Crane’s story can indicate a coming back to nature through the sublime. This, coupled with the realization of our insignificance in nature solidifies this idea that when we experience the terror Burke speaks of, we not only reach the sublime, but the sublime puts us back into nature, after a separation through language.
It is through the experience of the sublime that we not only come to understand nature, but also reenter our place within nature. Understanding our own insignificance with nature, becoming, again, a part of nature gives us a sense of what we once were before language, and through its terror we are able to, as Henry David Thoreau says, “reduce it to its lowest terms, and if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world,” (Thoreau 173). Stephen Crane’s short story, The Open Boat, gives the reader a sense of the sublime, if not, on occasion, allowing us to experience it through the understanding of the situation they are in, and allows us to perceive this oneness with nature, going beyond language and into the sublime.

Works Cited

  1. Burke, Edmund, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Third Edition, Harvard University Library, June 14, 1963.
  2. Burke, Edmund, On the Sublime and Beauty, the Harvard Classics, 1905-14.
  3. Crane, Stephen, The Open Boat, 1898, Dodo Press, 2009.
  4. Kelly, Michael (ed). Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, Vol. 1 and 4. NY: Oxford University Press. 1998.
  5. Spinoza, Benedict, Ethics, Penguin Classics, pp.27, (1996).
  6. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden, Bantam Books,  pp. 172-73, (1962).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Memories of a Fallen Branch

This poem was just posted here. Thought I'd share it here as well:

Innocence splintered when I watched the tree branch fall
Sleeping in tight corners
     the wind , the rain, the mourning trees—
     they all spoke my name as I heard them cry out.

But in those sounds—the creaking, the whining and pounding—
     the whistling of the wind between leaved and branches.

There was clarity in the possibility of death
     so that we may all sing laments neither for us, nor for our souls
     but for the nature in which, through language we have left.

And I left it, staying within safety, if there was any to be had,
     understanding the difference I, a product of selection, shared

But in passing, in seeing the destruction and its forms
     I returned to the woods, to the breath of what we know and saw,
     fear in m own eyes
     in the frailty of nature, and of myself through a birth of civility.

If you'd like to know what I had in mind while writing this, or what it is about just ask. I don't want to write it here in case someone likes interpreting it alone.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When I Was

In the ninth grade
my friends who I use to sit with at lunch
many of which went to the same Sunday services as I
handed me a note
as I went to sit down with them
holding my lunch tray uneasily in my hand
One sat it on the brown plastic
next to my single slice of pizza and looked away
As did they all

I read the note alone
Too ashamed to let them see me read it
or to let anyone see
in case they knew
what it meant to read a note
huddled in the hall where no one ate
They said I could not be their friend
That I made them uncomfortable because
I was gay
But I was not gay

And as middle school children often are
they were mean
They did not leave it alone
and let me simply cram the letter in my pocket and shuffle away
in silent
tear filled silence


They took the wrinkled and ripped paper from me
and read it aloud
for all of my peers to hear
And what could I do but listen as I got shoved back
while trying to take it
These scars run deeper than any others that stain my body

When I was a senior in high school
I dressed myself in black
I felt that this was who I was
And secretly
when no one was around
I worried that I might be gay
You see
I liked the way men dressed
I liked how they looked
and tried to look
as they did
The men on band posters and in magazines
I would see them and know they were
attractive and what I wished to be

And I'd silently wonder
if I was gay
After all
what does it mean to be attracted to someone

Was I

I could not tell anyone
I was too scared
Too ashamed of what they may think
or say
Was the note true
I could not bare to know
Society told me that it was not natural
And so
I kept quiet
all the while remembering that I had a girl friend
That I was attracted to them as well
And this was different in some ways
I did not want to be them
but wanted to be with them

But there are others
whose rights have been taken
Whose childhoods
are filled with similar stories as these
but at the same time
nothing at all the same
They walk the halls as I have
alone in the gray lockers that make up time and stories
and memories
that will inevitable shape us into the person we are today
And although the laughter may be hidden
it is there
biting and hating and drowning

There are those who are denied the love of another through marriage
There are those
still called names by men
who are more like the adolescent middle schooler
than the wise
seasoned adult
There are those who still fear their own truth
for fear of many who they themselves
have come victim to abuse
name-calling and the scars that come with

growing up.

But some
still stand with hope
and conviction that a day will come when men unite together
in a common understanding of good
and truth
and moral rightness
Where we will embrace our brothers and sisters
and daughters and sons in loving arms
Taking hold of their dreams and pushing them forward
Showing them the things that a future brings
where tolerance and acceptance are given
with the simplest touch from another human being

Friday, January 18, 2013

Response to I Am Vertical, by Sylvia Plath

This is a response to a poem by Sylvia Plath, I Am Vertical:

 I am Vertical

But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf, 
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted, 
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling, 
And I want the one's longevity and the other's daring.
Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars, 
The trees and the flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping 
I must most perfectly resemble them --
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation, 
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.


Response Paper to Sylvia Plath's Poem I Am Vertical

In Sylvia Plath's poem, “I Am Vertical” the speaker conveys their desire to, through comparisons of living vertical and horizontal, become stable within life; comparable to natures stability that she sees around her. Through poignant oppositions in her vertical living and natures horizontalness she weaves a web showing a desire to become “a part” of nature—being horizontal—and, through the poem the slow path in this progression of laying down.

The poems title seems to be, in most cases, the beginning. “I am vertical.” While the reader is not yet aware of what this could mean, a second reading shows instability and weakness, which is made obvious by the authors comparison of this truth by stating, “I am not a tree with my root in the soil.” (line 2) It is interesting to see the similarities made between Plath, (who we assume to be the reader), and the tree, while obvious differences spring out. While both Plath and the tree are vertical, neither are naturally horizontal, there is a sense of woe in that Plath does not have the same strength, stature or foundation that the tree has, through its roots, (horizontal). Not only is strength given to the tree, but also a renewal of life through this horizontal grounding: “each March I may gleam into leaf.” (line 4)
Through these beginning lines, we see a major difference between the tree and Plath's life. The similarities are almost painful, as if, being vertical would be tolerable, if only there was a stable rotting in place for her verticalness. Through this stability—which is lacking in the speaker—the tree gains immortality. “A tree is immortal,” (line 8) she writes. This shows a major difference between her acknowledgment of her inevitable “unpetal” (line 7) and a tree, whose immortality must come from no such understanding of death. No measure of time. All the tree can know is how to live. This shows the first major binary opposition in the poem: mortality and immortality. Not because one is this literally, but because of ones view of life—immortality through cycles of nature, in being “a part” of nature.

These cycles show several times throughout Plath's poem. In one major jump, she moves from the comparison of the nature around her to the sky above her. “Tonight, in the infinitesimallight of the stars.” (line 11) In this new moon sky, the moon is hidden, dark, and only the stars are there to give her any—all though, very little—light. The start of a new cycle, a natural cycle, a cycle that indicates this immortal feeling of horizontalness; of being a part of the nature around her. She, in fact, feels so a part that she feels as though “none of them are noticing.” (line 13). This vertical life has left her estranged from nature.

However, she sees a way in which she is closest, and hints towards her entrance into horizontalness and becoming “a part” of nature. She first feels this becoming nature as she lies down to rest, as her “thoughts [go] dim,” (line16) she loses herself in absence of thought or consciousness. She falls into a darkness similar to the night sky with no moon to brighten the trees and flowers; the moon that would have made her presence known.

This, “is more natural” (line 17) to her. Here, she is a part of nature, part of the stars and trees and flowers she has around her. The oppositions she worked in earlier fall apart as she senses a oneness with nature. Her mortality through her dimming thoughts wanes into immortality, her individuality becomes a part of nature, her consciousness becomes a part of natures unconscious thought. Her life becomes death.

And she sees, through death her usefulness, “then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.” In death, the binary opposition she lays down for us in her verticalness disperses and all that is left is her body, horizontal. She is no longer “in” nature—she, walking through the trees and flowers, under the stars with no moon—but will become “a part” of nature. This journey through death, gives meanings through the cycles of life in the trees who “may gleam into leaf”. Her journey through death brings a darkness, like the absence of the moon, where, soon, as the cycles move on, so does the moon, bringing the light she wants, through completing a cycle and becoming, finally, a part of nature.

Plath's poem shows, through an eventual merging of binary opposites, a desire and necessity to become a part of nature. Showing natures greatness through its foundations in living, through a rooted body, as well as its immortal, or eternal nature in which it lives through cycles of death and life stretching on in its thoughtless bliss, unchanging and yet, remaining strong.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Man Progressing

I have decided to post the papers I write this semester, as there are going to be a lot of them. I hope you enjoy them (Please comment if you have any critiques or suggestions, or just want to comment/discus). 

In Response to Emerson’s, the American Scholar
Man Progressing

When I was a child I was taught to enjoy reading. Reading, I was told, free’d the mind. It opened not only doors to the imagination, but doors to the soul, to ideas and thought and discovery of oneself. However, as a child, I did not believe this. Or rather, I did not understand how printed words on paper could speak to ones soul; could encourage, enlighten or uplift. This is not to say that i did not enjoy reading, I enjoyed it very much. But rather, I skimmed the surface of many books that were brought to my attention rather than drinking a deep glass of cool crisp water.
This persisted. I spent my time engaged in creativity, through reading and other artistic avenues, but never understanding what it is I should be getting out of the stories. Lord of the Rings, gave me adventure, but was only a “neat” and “exciting” story. Books read at school brought words and knowledge, but nothing as notable as to stir my soul.
To be honest, I found my truth in the forests of central North Carolina. I would spend my days beneath the glinting sun which shone through the tall trees. I experienced pain when falling from a tree and landing on my back, glee when swinging on vines that nature provided, and fear when coming across abandoned clothes of a homeless man. I watched in wonder when a hurricane went on land and tore down many of the trees I had once climbed, forever changing the landscape into something new--proving the universal law of complexities through change.
As Emerson has said, “Life is our dictionary.” (Emerson) I gained, through my experiences through nature, definitions of life. A greater understanding of what it is to live.
And now, having long since past my adolescent stages of ignorance I find myself often looking back at these experiences. They, now, give definition to my books. It is a foundation of truth that has brought meaning to many of the books that I have read. But more so, they have encouraged a way of thinking. Of interacting with the authors and drawing out more that I had when a child. Through experience, it is evident that we gain truth, but is it not also truth that we gain through our understanding of a text, or work of literature that resonates with our soul, because of our own personal experiences? “There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise, when this poet . . . says that which lies close to my own soul.” (Emerson)
However, through lethargy, it would seem that many move from the child-like innocence of discovery; of this truth that can be found, not only when one is a child, but when one looks at truth in a lens of creativity and replaces it with gained and memorized knowledge with nothing of intrinsic value to compare it to. “Instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm.” (Emerson) There must be a gaining of knowledge, which can be beautifully gained through books, but truth comes through an idea that life becomes this very truth. That not all of our time should be spent on reading books, but that thinking, and writing, even encourage a relationship to truth that will bring about a form of understanding of nature and the human condition.
When we are pressed in our mind of thoughts that bring us our own truth we discover our most true form--ourselves at our root. Descartes says this beautifully, “I am, however, a real thing and really exist; but what thing? I have answered: a thing which thinks.” (Descartes 28)
I am thoroughly convinced that truth can only come through these criteria: knowledge, (through our study of books), experience, (through aesthetic wonderment. Art. Science. Nature. Etc.), and our ability to think, (this mystery of consciousness defines us). Our souls, our essence--consciousness, awareness--breath through us in waves of truth when we exploit these things to generate creativity.
The true scholar, the Man Thinking, it would seem must come through the ability to create, using their facilities to learn creativity and to build on such a thing. We tie together our gained knowledge of books with childish adventure and wonderment to bring ourselves a deeper understanding of those experiences.
But what of current experiences? It would seem that we must build continually on our selves in order to better understand what truth is, for truth does not seem to be static. What was once true of oneself, may not be true to another, or to oneself at another given point in time. Does this discount experience or book-knowledge? Or do these truths build off one another to find a higher form of understanding, a creative process in which we find ourselves more becoming the Man Thinking than being the Man Thinking? “Is there no fact, no event, in our private history, which shall not, sooner of later, lose its adhesive, inert form, and astonish us by soaring from our body into the empyrean.” (Emerson) Current experience then would not discount what were once truths, but reinforce this process of building upon truth, or creating a better truth. Because what is truth but what is of inner importance and significance to us. Truth must be subjective to our experiences, be built by our knowledge through books, and be made progressive through a building of creativity.
My books were adventures, but nothing more. I, without knowing was made to “accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote [their] books.” (Emerson) However, through writing, through thinking, I grow on what I learned and read from the authors of my youth, and the authors of today, becoming, not the Man Thinking, as Emerson incorporates with the scholar, but rather progressing towards the unobtainable Man Thinking. Rather, I write and am the Man Progressing. I am the embodiment of my own truth through experience, and the prophet of such a truth through my written action.
What truth that is to be can lead to many different roads, but what roads are there to take when all that is laid in front of us are fields of tall grass begging the Man Progressing to enter into the prairie, and carve the path that his own.

1. Emerson, Ralph Waldo, The Amersican Scholar, The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, pp. 43-62, (2000).
2. Descartes, Rene, Meditations on First Philosophy, Simon and Brown, (2011).