Thursday, March 10, 2011

America: The Poem

In Nature and The Poet, Emerson fixates on the concepts of clear vision (his idea that the poet can clearly see, understand, and articulate nature into a "stroke of genius") and "perpetual youth." Through this, he claims that America is a poem itself. In class we discussed that America represents perpetual youth because at the time Emerson was alive, America was a very new nation with an unexplored frontier. Along with Bryant's idea of nature ("Man hath no part in all this glorious work"), both of these writers felt that America alone was a poem and needed no translation from man. But today, almost 200 years later, there is very little nature left to be explored and observed. There seems to be poetry about human plight and urbanization, and the phase of Romanticism and appreciating the beauty of nature in great detail has been filed away on the bookshelves in our anthologies. Also, there are so many people today who label themselves poets, and who think each line they post on the internet is the work of a genius. What do you think Emerson would say about poets today? Do poets still posses clear vision? And is America still a poem, or has its "perpetual youth" run out?

Looking at the cover of our handy dandy Norton Anthology Volume B, the painting of the Hudson River Valley is the perfect example of Emerson's nature:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Just some thoughts on the poet and the scientist

Left: the poet's interpretation of nature :)
Right: the scientist's interpretation of nature :o
Today we were discussing the differences between the poet and the scientist and as the day went on I thought more about it. I believe the relationship between poetry and science, though they seem fairly different, is complicated and can only be looked at as opposite ends of the same spectrum. Poets are more in tuned with the beauty of the natural world, while scientists are more comfortable with explaining what happens in the natural world. It is a complicated relationship to establish, but the connection that brings them together on the same tangent is the need to understand the natural world. It seems as if Emerson describes the poet as being able to understand the language of the world and therefore being able to understand the world but only the beauty of natural creation, while the scientist attempts to understand the behavior of the natural world instead of what it is communicating to him/her.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"The Big Apple:" Good or Bad?

I want to expand upon a previous post to this blog titled "Cities in Literature." I was very captivated by Lydia Maria Child's Letters from New-York, as I live an hour outside of New York City and visit there regularly. She mentions places I like to go to, like Broome Street and The Battery. It was interesting for me to compare her observations of NYC in the 19th century with mine in the 21st century. While I view NYC as an inspirational, cultural hub where anybody can be whomever they want to be, she presents a more raw, harsh observation of New York and explores the contradictions within the city, from its poverty to its beauty. For those New Yorkers out there, or for those tourists of New York, what were your reactions to this reading? Or, how could you relate it to what you see in Washington, D.C.? I find myself arguing with friends here who have visited NYC a few times and dislike it compared to Washington. What do you think about "The Big Apple"?

I couldn't help but thinking about Bret Easton Ellis's postmodern novel American Pyscho, especially when she mentions Wall Street on the first page, page 1081, poverty in Letter XIV, and women's rights in Letter XXXIV. American Psycho is a reaction to the high crime rates in the 1980's in New York City, and the main character, unlike Child, has little sympathy for the poor or for women. This novel has stuck with me, not because I think it is so well-written, but because it is so disturbing. For those of you who have read the novel or have seen the film, what do you make of this more contemporary portrayal of New York City compared to Child's less gruesome, 19th century version? I suggest reading this article on the book, if you're interested in learning more about it and think you can stomach it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Nation vs. Race

Apess's "An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man" is a religious essay about what Apess called color prejudice and what we call racism today. This may just be a matter of semantics, but I noticed that Apess never uses the word "race" in this essay. I don't know very much about the origins of the word "race," but according to this website, the word originated around 1500. Therefore, the word "race" was used in American writings in the 19th century, but it does not appear once in this essay.

Instead, Apess uses the word "nation" quite a bit, especially in the final paragraph on page 1054. He indirectly says that whites, not Indians, can be charged with "robbing a nation almost of their whole continent, and murder their women and children" and with robbing "another nation to till their grounds and welter out their days under the lash with hunger and fatigue under the scorching rays of a burning sun" (1055). The footnote makes clear that the second quote references "the 'nation' of Africa, many of whose people were brought to the United States as slaves."

Why does Apess refer to Indians and Africans as nations instead of as races? How does this relate back to Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Communities," and the idea that nations are socially constructed? Sociologists also argue that race is a social construct. Do you agree? Also, when I first read this essay, I thought that Apess's main argument is that people of color are equal to whites and should be regarded as such. However, in this paragraph, he says "Assemble all nations together in your imagination ... Now suppose these skins were put together, and each skin had its national crimes written upon it—which skin do you think would have the greatest?" (1054). Here, and in the quotations above, it seems to me that Apess is implying that other races are morally superior to whites. What do you make of this?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Yes We Can?

In the spirit of reform week or reform literature and since we go to GW, we can never escape politics. President Obama was elected due to many reasons some but not all include 1) economic downturn 2) President Bush being a Republican 3) young 4) charismatic 5) lest not we forget CHANGE.
Don't get me wrong, Obama has tried hard time and time again to reform Washington (good luck with that) and yet time and time again people aren't buying into it. This got me thinking about William Apess and his calls for change. Have we really changed since he wrote An Indian's Looking Glass for the White Man? Whether we like it or not we are still a racist as well as a sexist society. (Woman make 75% of what men make) Can we call ourselves a democracy? Native Americans are still a disenfranchised group. I guess the ultimate question in all this is:

Why is change hard? And more importantly:

Why do we call for change and yet we oppose it?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

John Winthrop and Apess

I must be in a Winthrop mood this semester because I see him everywhere. Winthrop and Apess pieces were written with the intention of being spoken aloud. Both men wrestle with the notion of love...Apess sees love as a way of creating a more perfect Union however Winthrop sees love as creating that Union. How are Apess and Winthrop's delivery styles different?

To start things off, Apess is far more different direct with the reader "let me ask you" or even better "let me ask you, white man". Apess is more in your face than Winthrop. His questions make you feel uneasy almost shameful feeling: (p. 1054 middle)

"I am not seeking for office, but merely placing before you the black inconsistency that you place before me--which is ten times blacker than any skin you will find in the universe."

- Apess wordplay involving is genius here when i think of inconsistency i think of gray yet he paints it as black...what is he getting at?

The American Religion

William Apess' uses religion as the backbone to his argument that Native Americans should have the same rights a white people in America. Beginning to read, I quickly thought back to Mary Rowlandson and how (frustratingly so) much she used religion in her tale of captivity. Religion served as the set of principles for the early American settlers which made me wonder what Americans use now as their guides. What set of morals, if any, could Apess use as the center of his argument if he were still fighting for Native American rights. Has the difference between the Republican and Democrat agenda's become our new set of morals and thus our new religion? Is there no set of morals to turn to in a country where religion is slowly beginning to deteriorate?