Friday, May 28, 2010

It's Alive!

Memorial Day Weekend! This afternoon we take off for Flatiron Lake: fishing, camping, and tomfoolery (Did I just use that word?). There will be eating. There will be drinking. There will be kids, dogs, and pregnant women running about. And, of course, there will be a campfire every night, and Iza's smiles will twinkle in the glow. And I will look at her and eagerly take in each moment, because soon a time will come when she will prefer to stay home, watch TV, go to the shopping mall with friends, and--God forbid--hang out with boys. I always wonder whether this love of the outdoors will stay with her or will she move into a big city, get a cat, and buy Prada when she grows up.

I would like to think that this love of nature, the mountains, and sleeping under the open firmament of a million flickering stars comes from your parents. It's acquired, like eating with a knife and fork and drinking coffee every morning. But then how did I get it? My parents owned a camper. Mom would never sleep in a tent. And the thought of not bathing in the morning or of peeing in the woods sends her into conniptions. My parents never hiked, skied, climbed a mountain, and certainly never had a desire to scale a rock face. Although, there was that time when I took my dad hiking up Mt. Washington. He still tells everyone I tried to kill him.

So it seems the classic nature vs. nurture balance scale, despite Mr. Piaget's assertions, leans heavily to the nature side. But if this is so, I feel cheated: I wanted a daughter that I could mold into Mini-Me. I had grandiose ideas of instilling in her not only the love of the outdoors but also a passion for reading, music, art, philosophy, beauty, coffee, gourmet food, travel, rock climbing, skiing, etc. I thought she'd automatically want to be like me! It turns out, however, that I have no control over the development of her personality.

Is that such a great loss? Eh, Nature... do what you will! I'm sure there will remain a residue of me in her. She might not turn out to be my double, a mirror image; but, like in a kaleidoscope, she will create her own image out of colored beads and pebbles I gave her. Her beauty will shine with its own unique light. And me? I'll be the candle in her sunshine.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Roll out Those Lazy Days of Summer

What a gorgeous morning! I've spend the early hours reading in bed under an open window with Indie snoozing at my feet. Oh, Mr. Blake, you certainly had a vision!

I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings to me.
Oh, what sweet company!

I remember the endless summer days when I was a child. Not a care in the world! Every day filled with infinite possibilities. I did not know the concept of limitations. My problems consisted of losing a marble and scraping a knee. How soon we forget that innocence, the simple pleasures? How soon we willingly become slaves of society?

But to go to school in a summer morn--
Oh, it drives all joy away!
Under a cruel eye outworn
The little ones spend the day,
In sighing and dismay.

Western culture teaches us to get an education... Why? So we can be enslaved in a job for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. If we don't work at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, we're "underemployed." Why do we work? So we don't have the time to think too much. Why? Because if we start thinking, looking around us, musing, ruminating, we'll realize that the life we're leading is merely the existence of an automaton, of a machine. That instead of swallowing, we should chew first, and perhaps, if we don't like it, spit it out occasionally. That we're not living at all. That our life is being led for us. We are programmed from an early age to reject life and choose civilization.

There is a reason why I'm attracted to 19th Century literature... more precisely, Romantic literature: the Romantics were Leavers. We've all read Ishmael, but Quinn didn't invent the wheel. The Romantic poets (including the American transcendentalists, such as Henry D. Thoreau and Ralph W. Emerson) were all Leavers! So was Immanuel Kant! They realized that Mother Nature was more powerful than they are themselves and that perhaps Her voice sounds truer to the people and offers more in terms of quality of life than the voice of Mother Culture. Romanticism was a brief period in our intellectual history, when some of us realized that perhaps the next step--the Industrial Revolution at the end of the century--will end in an uncomfortable, bloody face-plant. Environmentally and socially it was disastrous; economically it was beneficial and changed the world as we knew it. We all became slaves to market economy. And the Romantics naively (according to later Victorians and all others who followed) were satisfied with Nature and what it offers.

This is probably why lovers of modern literature are often so viciously opposed to Romanticism: it's just not ambitious enough for them! The Romantics questioned morality as it was dictated by cultural standards: they asked, "Why is it right or wrong? And who says?" They knew that there was a limit to their knowledge and that being at the mercy of the gods--certainly not Christian gods--is probably what we ought to opt for, rather than struggle and strive to control every aspect of our environment. Kant drew borders around the island of human knowledge and recognized the ocean around it inaccessible to us. And the ebb and flow of the waves hitting the banks of that island whispered, "Embrace uncertainty!"

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Big Bite

So let's talk about my comps list. This is a painful topic. I'm staring at the list right now. It's long. It's intimidating. It's staring back at me. I've kind of come to a screeching halt after Burke and Wollstonecraft. Why? Aside from home improvement activities? Well, let's face it: the political squabble about the Revolution doesn't exactly tickle my fancy. It's too concrete! Give me poetry of ambiguity and emotion and fluffy clouds and swaying daffodils and "beautiful idealisms of moral excellence."

But you'll say, "Hold your horses, ma chère étudiante de la littérature. You need to learn the historical context. Otherwise all this poesy has no meaning!" Au contraire, my confused new historicist anti-friend, the ideas expressed in poetry of the time, although influenced by current events and cultural trends, can easily be divorced from their historical context because they participate in an eternal and timeless discourse on human nature. How outdated is this idea? This is what I'm talking about: my ideas are archaic, obsolete, and, frankly, offensive to any English scholar. This formalist trend has long died out, and no one wants to see it resurrected. What's wrong with objective theories, I ask?

So here's my dilemma: apparently my comps list is boring. What's on it? Most importantly, primary literature of England 1789-1845 and its criticism. This list, although it includes some provisional writers such as major women poets, focuses mainly on the Big Six: First Generation Romantics (Blake, Coleridge, and Wordsworth) and Second Generation Romantics (P. B. Shelley, Keats, and Byron). That's not trendy enough to land me a job in academia a few years from now. It's been done: books have been written, articles, courses taught, theories formed, etc. These theories, of course, were formed by people much smarter than me over the last couple of decades, such as Mr. Abrams, Mr. Bloom, and Mr. Chandler. Talking about anxiety of influence...

On the other hand, I don't quite understand the trend to dig up minor literatures of the period (minor women poets or literature of the colonies or insignificant genres of the period such as drama) for the simple reason that they aren't any good. While I can appreciate the humor in reading the fabulous drama Harlequin and Humpo by the infamous Mr. Dibdin and provide ample ridicule and delicious supercilious remarks, I think we all agree that there's no literary merit in the work. It's value lies in the understanding of the culture at the time and its fascination with such ridiculous humor. So Mr. Cox's discipline really approaches the extremity of English study and verges on becoming cultural study or sociology instead. Women poets, on the other hand, a very lively bunch, but if no one has found any literary value in their works in the past few centuries, why are we trying to make a sculpture out of dung (and let's leave Chris Ofili out of this)? Honestly, a woman's perspective is indeed interesting as she battles the evils of patriarchy, but that's again a digression: feminist studies ought to pick that up. Doesn't anyone study English anymore?

The Ofili tendency seems to pervade our generation, but what's a scholar who values the classical aesthetic ideals of beauty to do? You might have noticed though that my list extends beyond the 1820s. It covers the so-called Third Generation Romantics (Beddoes, Clare, Tennyson) and some Dickens. That's the ace in my pocket! I have an interest in the transitional literature between what we call Romanticism and the Victorian Period or more specifically, Mr. Shelley's influence on Mr. Beddoes.

Let's touch upon my extremity now: philosophy (yes, I know, that's boring too). Is there no end to my masochism? My special topic is the philosophy of time. If time, than memory; and if memory, than history, you say. Yes, indeed, but the theory of history, not so much history itself. I'm not quite sure how that's relevant to Shelley and Beddoes, but I'll figure that out. I was going to argue that the violent events of the French Revolution screwed up the entire generation's consciousness of time. The question is how and to what extent? This question I need to answer in my dissertation: it has something to do with an apparent fragmentation of time and the continuity of history.

So that, my friend, is what I'll be doing for the next couple of years. Which reminds me: I gotta go read!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Good morning!

Since confusion and chaos reign in my life, I figured I would use modern technology--a cheap alternative to psychoanalysis--to work out my problems and discover my calling. I'm not sure whether I will be able to keep this up and, if at all, then for how long, but the worst that can happen is that it will get boring. After all, talking about myself is my favorite thing to do! I don't ever have enough guts to actually talk about myself to other people, because, man, who'd want to listen. But here, in my personal blogging space, I have the opportunity to talk my heart out, organize my thoughts, practice my writing skills, develop my sarcasm, and wallow in my own misery... all, might I add, to a fabulous, tolerant, understanding incognito audience. Unlike on Facebook, in this blog I become the Star of the Show. Others may read and comment, but they always will only make guest appearances. That idea appeals to my only-child syndrome.

Here's the rub: if I'm to write about something interesting everyday, what might the topics of such posts be. It has been a gnawing bother lately, that I don't really know how to do anything well. "Well," of course, being the key here. My rock climbing skills are mediocre. Skiing skills? Mediocre. My mountaineering endeavors hardly can be considered ambitious. My intellectual pursuits don't seem to incite any interest whatsoever in anyone I know. My fellow graduate students don't care to socialize with me, either because they find me utterly boring or disturbingly intimidating. I even begin to question whether this attempted Ph.D. in Romanticism makes any sense at this junction in my life. But that topic is inexhaustible and undoubtedly will be regarded in much detail. I'm also a mediocre instructor of English literature, mediocre artist, mediocre poet, mediocre art director, and a mediocre designer. I take mediocre photographs. And sport a mediocre personality saturated with sarcasm, bitterness, and attitude. And that, my imaginary friend, is rather troubling to me, since mediocrity is my biggest enemy. Despite this mediocre description of my own mediocrity, I consider myself quite a unique individual--worthy and talented, intelligent and even occasionally brilliant. So I will use this blog's safe space to find out what I can do well. Specialize. Because after I finish this doctorate, I will need to enter the so-called "Real World" and leave this illusion behind, which means that I will need to come up with an honest, respectable way to make money in order to pay for the little luxuries I can't live without, such as climbing, mountaineering, reading, and drinking.

About the title: Why "Promethean Mornings"? Every morning, I spend sitting around with a pot of coffee in front of my laptop musing. However, as William Langland has so aptly put, "The more I muse thereinne, the mistier it semeth." I'm sure you are bright enough to figure out the Promethean metaphor, so I won't bother explaining. The myth of Prometheus is one of my favorites (along with Isis and Osiris, Pygmalion, and the rape of Persephone), and P. B. Shelley's Prometheus Unbound is my favorite rendition of it.

Currently on my plate are topics a plenty ranging from finding a method for an effective and successful preparation for comprehensive exams to mindless musings on the awes and pleasures of daily life. And So without further ado, I will proceed to the blogger leather couch. Let the therapy begin!