Friday, February 25, 2011

The World is Gunna Know Your Name, Man!

Sorry folks, but I'm going to direct our attention back to Benjamin Franklin for a few moments. As the architect of the American Dream, Franklin believed in self-help, personal responsibility, and perseverance. Recently I found a video that portrays Alexander Hamilton as a man who embodied the American Dream more than, if I may be so bold, than our dear Ben Franklin. I was surprised to learn the hardships Hamilton had to endure in order to make it in America. Also, I was impressed by the presentation of Hamilton's story through contemporary poetry (aka rap). While I'm on that subject, what do you think of rap as an art?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sleepy Hollow - The Musical!

Oh, yes, I'm serious.

After a brief Google search on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", I discovered that Washington Irving's famous tale was actually turned into a full-fledged musical. Apparently the original show is no longer running (its website isn't up anymore) but here is a link to the most famous song from the project: (It's not half bad - unless you shy away from any kind of theatrical music - then you'll hate it)

I found another musical adaptation to the story here:
Looks like it plays in an outdoor theater around Halloween every year.

Once you get past the strange image of Ichabod and Brom singing their hearts out, it is interesting to think about how the musical fits into Sleepy Hollow's (and Irving's) legacy. Almost 200 years after the work was published, it is still being changed and interpreted by admirers around the world. Quite an impressive feat. Do you think this story deserves all of the attention it has gotten? Why are people drawn to it? And most importantly, would you pay money to see the Headless Horseman croon?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sleepy Hollow lacks "The Legend"

How would Washington Irving feel about Tim Burton’s film “adaptation” of his story called Sleepy Hollow?

I recently watched Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow and noticed the vast differences between the film and Washington Irving’s short story.

There are many differences between the short story and the recent film adaptation (which came out in 1999). Firstly, in the film Crane is a police officer, not a school teacher. Also, people are actually killed in the film, unlike the short story. Irving may not have liked so many plot changes.

But the biggest thing that probably would have upset Irving was the depiction of the Headless Horseman. In the short story, it implies that the Headless Horseman may have been Brom Bones in disguise. In the film, the Headless Horseman is real and terrorizes the town’s residents. In order to defeat the horseman, Crane reattaches its head and the Horseman is sent to hell. Irving is probably rolling in his grave.

The film completely misses the marks and the themes that Washington Irving conveyed. The book details about how the town believes in the Headless Horseman and carries on the legend by word of mouth, basically throwing out all natural and logical reasons for things in favor of the supernatural. The film shows the townspeople ought to be afraid for a reason. Also, the film shows that the Headless Horseman is real and in the short story it is not true. Irving is trying to show in his short story the power of legend and telling stories has, and proves this by showing in the end that the Headless Horseman is a myth all along.

Do you think that Washington Irving would like that his story has become a classic and has other artists try to convey his work? Or would Irving be upset that the popular film is nothing like his story?

The Network of American Writers

Was anyone else a bit dumbfounded when they read pages 944 and 945 of Volume B? These outlined an extensive, intricate network of American writers from 1820-1865. They all had contact with and influenced each other's most famous works! I found it incredible that the sphere of writing was this small. I started to compare it to today's world of literature and I feel that there are very few similarities.

Do famous writers today reach out to one another for advice and help? Who is our modern day Emerson? Thoreau? Dickinson? If they're not talking with one another, should they be? My inkling is that yes, communication and cooperation are crucial for the expansion and development of ideas. Society has changed though, and there is no doubt that most of us are self-centered when it comes to success. Perhaps the lack of fame and fortune made it easier for authors to be open and honest with each in the 19th century. With the millions of dollars and movie deals that are on the line today, we're a lot more reserved when it comes to sharing our thoughts. Unless, of course, the publishing deal is already on the table!

Any thoughts?

Founding Pirates

The piracy of music and movies came about with the advent of technology and has been hurtful to both industries. Some might even say that it has discouraged the output of new films and music due to the lack of money to be made. Based on the Norton introduction to Volume B, it would appear as if our founding fathers had the same problems, but in a different way:

"A national copyright law became effective in the United States in 1790, but not until 1891 did U.S. writers get international copyright protection and foreign writers receive similar protection in the United States. For most of the century, American publishers routinely pirated English writers, paying nothing to Scott, Dickens, and other popular writers for works sold widely in inexpensive editions throughout the United States. American readers benefited from the situation, but the availability to publishers of texts that they did not have to purchase or pay royalties on made it perpetually difficult for U.S. writers to be paid for their work in their home country." (935)

Perhaps this is why everyone finds Volume A of the Norton so boring, because the copy-write laws weren't signed until after the civil war...

Is there any way we could learn from past mistakes in history based on this similar conundrum? The above problem was obviously solved with copy-write laws, but now that such laws already exist and are still being broken how can we possibly fix the problem? While the internet has made it easier for smaller artists to get exposed, they are still not making any money off of their myspace plays and even the ones that do get signed to labels aren't making enough to sustain themselves. The only two real solutions I can think of would be for labels to make music downloadable for free and make money off advertising or for the internet to be monitored. Both solutions seem ridiculous but something must be done to save the arts.

Cities in Literature

The introduction to Volume B of the Norton Anthology discusses how literature was influenced by the social/political culture of certain eras. One of the ideas talked about was urbanization in the 1800s and how that led to writing about "mysteries of the city" (937). In general, literature is closely tied to the concept of setting - either the home/travels of the author or the way a real place comes to life in his/her imagination.

If I think about contemporary Washington DC, I see a relationship between literature and setting in many ways. Dan Brown comes to my mind (ignoring the quality of the writing) because his latest book "The Lost Symbol" dealt with DC's monuments, heroes, and potential dark side. We as residents of the city are given a sense of pride when we read about it while readers who don't live in the city they are reading about feel a sense of wonder. What other values do we see in urban literature?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It always comes back to Benedict Anderson

With all this scandalous talk of whether or not Olaudah Equiano actually was taken from Africa and traveled through the Middle Passage to America, and how it affects the authenticity of The Interesting Narrative, it brought me back to a passage in Chapter 2 of the narrative, of which I had circled and starred and wrote 'Benedict Anderson!' in the margin when I read it. The passage reads:
"The[ manners and customs of my country] have been implanted in me with great care, and made an impression on my mind, which time could not erase, and which all the adversity and variety of fortune I have since experienced, served only to rivet and record; for, whether the love of one's country be real or imaginary, or a lesson of reason, or an instinct of nature, I still look back with pleasure on the first scenes of my life, though that pleasure has been for the most part mingled with sorrow"

We had discussed in class that, even if the community of a nation is 'imagined' as Anderson says, it still effectively instills pride for one's country, and a bond between citizens of the country. How does this reconcile with this passage from Equiano's narrative, with the knowledge that Equiano may not have actually ever lived in Africa and danced the tribal dances? I personally felt that, whether this was Equiano's story or not, it is definitely someone's story, and still holds a lot of truth and authenticity. Perhaps, though Equiano claimed it has his own, it serves as the collective story of all the slaves brought to America from Africa, and although the author didn't personally experience it, many others did, and that's what makes the love of their country 'real'.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Olaudah Equiano bought his freedom for 40 pounds. This fact, stated in his biographical exerpt, made me think about the importance of money and the various aspects of freedom. Yes it is good he was able to buy his freedom, as it was his best shot at being his own man. On the other hand, the fact that liberty can be bought strikes me as questionable, and I wonder if this is a trend that my idealism helps me ignore. Does freedom always mean the same thing, no matter how it is gained?

Not to stretch too far, but I feel this connects somehow to the events in Egypt and other countries involved in political change because in class we discussed the construction of America and its values. Where do we find the balance between our ideals and the practicality of enforcing them?

Check out this article:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Who is actually 'civilized'?

Our discussion in class today got me thinking. Crevecoeur, or the narrator of Letters From an American Farmer, Farmer James, wrote out a whole plan for escaping 'civilization', and becoming adopted by and assimilated to a Native American tribe, to live simply with them, the 'savage' ones, away from everything. But who really are the savages here? Farmer James in his letters also tells us the horrifying account of a slave being punished by being left to die in a cage in a tree, being picked at by all sorts of insects and birds of prey. He tells of how hunting, without also growing ones' own crops, makes the spirit mean and greedy. With all these not-so-civil-sounding things happening in the world, it led me to question who exactly is civilized? How do we define 'civilization'? Could it perhaps be the other way around? Were the natives the civilized ones, and the Americans the savages? That question led me to the beginning lyrics of the well known song in Disney's Pocahontas, Colors of the Wind:
"You think I'm an ignorant savage
And you've been so many places
I guess it must be so
But still I cannot see
If the savage one is me
How can there be so much that you don't know?"

How would Crevecoeur respond to that song? Thoughts?

100 Years From Now

Looking a hundred years into the future what do we think that the future students would say about the Letters From An American Farmer? Will this "machine" that we discussed for the brief time in class slow down or at least leave certain areas alone. I think it is safe to say that it will never stop because I don't think its possible. I say this because I live in a community that is mostly farming and have notice over time how land has been lost due to expansion of cities and most recent the airport taking my neighbors land to extend the runway 1000 feet. What happens when the land is gone and the "machine" has no where to go? As long as I am asking this right What might the future students say that differs from what was said in class or what might they say in general due to the way things are going now? I hope I am making some sense here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Benjamin Franklin's Oscar Opinions

I know, I know, Benjamin Franklin lived and died long before the age of film, but Franklin always thought about the future. Besides being a thinker and inventor, he was also very much involved in designing an image for the United States when it first became a country. Now, long after Franklin’s death, a staple in American culture and how the rest of the world sees us is our film industry. The Academy Awards recognizes the best of the best in the film industry. Since it the Oscars are only a few weeks away and Ben Franklin had a lot of opinions about subjects, I thought it would be interesting to pick Franklin’s brain and figure out what his opinions are on the ten films nominated for “Best Picture”.

· 127 Hours- Great story of survival through every possible obstacle. Inspired Franklin and wishes the troops during the American Revolution could have seen it so it could have inspired them to survive. Oh well, we still won.

· Black Swan- Is a good look at a mental breakdown, seen through the eyes of the victim. Good psychological thriller, but not Franklin’s cup of tea.

· The Fighter- Good story, but wonders why Lowell (a city only forty-five minutes away from Boston) could be so trashy. Boston is Franklin’s first home and it gives Boston a bad rap.

· Inception- He thinks this movie is interesting and he loves that it makes you think. He loves the twist ending and that it leads the viewers up to their interpretation. Likes that it prompts discussions and analysis.

· The Kids are Alright- Families are a lot smaller than in Franklin’s time, where families had many children. This film confuses but enlightens Franklin on different types of families. He is pleasantly surprised.

· The King’s Speech- Well made, but he can not support it because of his Revolution mentality. He chooses not to support England or anybody named King George (no matter if it’s III or VI)

· The Social Network- Is impressed by the script and was surprised. He assumed that it would be a simple story over the founding of a website, but it is actually a story of friendship, power, and betrayal. If he didn’t know any better, it sounded like a plot of a Shakespearean drama.

· Toy Story 3- Likes the animation and the story of friendship. Can relate because it was hard for him to leave home at first too. Franklin also wishes he invented talking toys before he passed away.

· True Grit- Thought the acting was good but thought it was anti-climatic. Didn’t like the way that the US was betrayed. Franklin likes the city and has no desire to move to the country after seeing this western.

· Winter’s Bone- He, like the rest of the county, has never heard of this movie.

Benjamin Franklin’s choice winner: Inception, because he loves to think and pay attention for over two and a half hours at a time. It’s on his daily schedule.

Something New

I am one of those people that can stare at books for only so long. With all the reading I have to do then looking at the book background on this blog and I had to change it. I figured since Benjamin Franklin was also a man of science I would change the look of the blog to show something different. As far as I can recall at the moment Franklin didn't do anything with astronomy, (Feel free to correct me if I am wrong), but I put as a background on what I would call the ultimate science. Astronomy also happens to be my favorite. I will always understand science a thousand times better then I ever will literature. Just as we use these books of literature to understand the past, present, and possible future writers and their styles,, we also use telescopes (and writings of course) to understand the past, present, and future of the universe. Just some words of my wandering mind.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jefferson against Universal Health Care?

In Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson (TJ) makes it really clear religion and government are two separate things and government should not enforce a religion. I came upon this quote on pg 662 that made me think...

"Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now...Government is just as infallible too when it fixes systems in physics." (p. 662)

TJ' use of the word MEDICINE really stood out. Is he against Obamacare?

Don't get me wrong Jefferson is a true scholar, but that's his ultimate problem. As the father of American republicanism (agrian society and states rights), he (along with others) laid the seeds for the Civil War

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sororities: What Would Benedict Anderson Say?

When Benedict Anderson wrote about communities he was basing his ideas around nationalism and how it makes large groups of people imagine connections between themselves and those they will never meet. But that hasn't stopped me from trying to think of ways in which this idea of imagined communities could be brought down to a much smaller scale. I find the idea of communities being all in our heads oddly fascinating because it's one of those instances where I understand that it's a tad ridiculous to feel connected to people I will never truly know and yet I still have those sentiments. It's an odd phenomenon.

My most recent community of interest has been that of greek life organizations. I don't know if it's because rush and recruitment are in the air but it seems like I can't escape all of the brotherly and sisterly love! I wonder how the idea of a community is changed when you get to pick the people who are included in it. Are the connections more intense? It would seem as though a community such as a sorority should be more real (less imagined) than an entire nation . . . but is that really so? When I think of the "families" that are created it all just seems pretty inauthentic to me, pretty imagined. Especially the way that as soon as someone new is initiated the sisters claim to love that girl as if they've known her all their lives. It's all a bit over the top if you ask me. I'm not trying to offend people who are involved in greek life by any means! I just think it's interesting that small communities of people imagine bonds similar to those an entire nation creates, that on some level all communities (even close-knit ones) are imagined.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Women in the Hands of . . . ?

I don't know about the rest of you, but when I heard that Jonathan Edwards had writings that would be a lamb compared to the lion that was "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" I just had to see for myself. I looked through the Norton and found myself reading Edwards' tribute to Sarah Pierpont, the woman who would become his wife. I'll post an excerpt here for you all:

"They say there is a young lady in [New Haven] who is beloved of that almighty Being . . . [who] comes to her and fills her mind with exceedingly sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on him - that she expects after awhile to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up into heaven; being assured that he loves her too well to let her remain at a distance."

~Jonathan Edwards "On Sarah Pierpont"

Well it looks like we found Edwards' soft side. I was pretty shocked to see that the same God who "holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire" could also be expected to sweep a woman off her feet and bring her right on up to heaven! Obviously the intent behind each writing is very different, but I found the way these two pieces contrast against each other to be intriguing. Can we reconcile a God who is so merciless but also so adoring?

Also, from my recent bouts of insomnia, I've been watching way too much reality TV and couldn't help but think of The Bachelor as I was reading this tribute. Bear with me for a minute here . . . "She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness, and universal benevolence of mind. She will sometimes go about, singing sweetly, from place to [place]; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure." Is it just me or does that sound an awful lot like how those in the fog of reality TV view the people they are falling in love with? As if they are perfect creatures with only pure sweetness to offer the world? Just food for thought.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Apprenticeship vs. Internship

This is completely random and not quite related to our reading. Well it kind of is. I was reading Ben Franklin's autobiography and on p. 480 it talks about how he served as an apprentice. According to Wikipedia, apprentices do "most of their training while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade, in exchange for their continuing labour for an agreed period after they become skilled". Ben Franklin's father was pushing for him to sign on as an apprentice to his brother to serve from the age of 12 to 21! He felt pressured and ended up eventually breaking from his brother after a few years. But it brought me to college we are all pressured to get internships. Maybe its more GW specifically or because we are in a city and we need to take advantage of those opportunities. Either way, its a great way to find out what you like...or don't like. I know people that do internships completely unrelated to their fields or what they want to do just simply to have it on their resume. These people aren't even paying you! I kind of wish I could just have an sounds much simpler. You get trained in what you are passionate about and then have guaranteed employment. Although I definitely did not know what I was interested in doing with my life when I was 12....I still thought I was going to be an olympic swimmer. Anyways, my friend just came back from studying abroad in Denmark and she said most people don't even go to graduate school because they basically get modern day apprenticeships. Saves money, time, ect. What are your thoughts? Do you like internships and the flexibility of choice (but the risk of unemployment) or the idea of an apprenticeship?