Category Archives: Aesthetics

Scapeygoat

“Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another — physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.” — The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

‘Twas beauty and romantic love
Did gyre and gimble in her heart:
All mimsy was the dreamed-up stuff
That caused her dreams to smart.

Beware the mythic blue-eyed Doll!
The hair that’s blonde, the cheek that’s white!
Beware Maureen, she comes in Fall,
bewitching folks she’s right.

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the diz’ying drink he drought.
To rape his girl was not his plan;
To love a doll he’d sought.

And as in uffish state she cow’red
Old Soaphead Church, with eyes ablaze,
Came promising an iris flower,
But doll-eyed death, the gaze.

One, two! One, two! The blood is shed!
Pecola’s self-esteem and child,
She left for dead, and dropped her head
Gone crazy for a smile.

“And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come, give an answer, Miss Pauline!”
Our sons and daughters in the stocks
Condemned; the Doll, serene.

‘It seems very pretty,’ she said when she had finished it, ‘but it’s rather hard to understand!’ (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) ‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate.’  — Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

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the California Raisins? (Steinbeck in Little Miss Sunshine)

Does anybody remember the California Raisins — the singing, dancing raisins that seemed to be racially black? What was with that? So Strange!

Anyway, I chose that name to introduce a short list of how The Grapes of Wrath (GOW) drives the plot of Little Miss Sunshine (LMS). (A fun, great movie!) This is old news and has been written about seemingly much (see this or that). But I just want to add my list to the inter-webs because I like having things in list, easy-to-read formats. (NB: list not exhaustive!)

Following the list I have an original note of analysis about GOW which I have not found on Sparknotes, Cliffsnotes, or Wiki. That’s not to say it isn’t in any commentary but I hope not?

Starts with one member coming “back from the dead”
-Prison (GOW)
-Suicide attempt (LMS)
Family in dire circumstances living in Am. South/Southwest
Opportunity arises in California
Family takes long car trip to California
Granddad dies along the way
The Law and Corporate America trouble them along the way
Every member experiences tragic personal failure
Youngest member is their last hope but that member also fails
-Baby stillborn (GOW)
-Daughter loses competition (LMS)
The family unit is their salvation

 

Here’s my hopefully new (but probably not) insight into The Grapes of Wrath.

Rose of Sharon. Her family calls her “Rosasharn” as Steinbeck renders it. SPOILER! In the final scene she lends her breast to a starving man to try to nurse him back to health.

Now, it’s nothing extraordinary that she plays a Madonna kind of role. For Steinbeck, I feel like almost every female character is the Madonna.

However, consider her name. “Rosasharn.” Sounds an awful lot like nothing in English. But sounds strangely like “Russia” in Russian, which I might render phonetically “ros-ee-ya”. Not perfect, but close.

Steinbeck got into trouble with this book. He was labeled a communist for this and other writings. He certainly portrays capitalistic America very poorly.

The take-away, in my read, of The Grapes of Wrath, is that the Law, corporate America, and the rich will not help the poor; the poor must help each other. Rosasharn’s selfless act of nursing a starving man is the one glimmer of hope in this story of attrition. Her baby stillborn, her family penniless, she does what she can for another suffering family. I don’t know much about Steinbeck’s political ideas. I know in the end he visited Russia and Ukraine and wrote scathing pieces about what he really found there. But in the 1930s, it’s plausible that he was taken with the idea of a country where the poor rose up to take destiny into their own hands, while his own country was squashing the poor further into the dirt.

So, yes, Rosasharn is Mother Mary, but she is also Mother Russia.

New blog?

I am getting ready to shed the skin of this identity: the devil at divinity school. I don’t want to be “a devil” anymore. I don’t want to be “a divinity school” student anymore.

I’ve thought about continuing blogging in another blog, a new one (you’d have to ask me the url; I might tell you). I don’t need a blog to help me define myself but I certainly may use one. The names I have thought of are “screwed-up, not a screw-up”, “bruised, not broken”, or “ashes”. These names kind of suck — suggestions welcome. The content would be on the same topics and ideas but also more writings about literature, movies. I am a fairly analytical reader, and I might use the blog to post my readings of certain pieces of art and get responses.

I also have some poetry I’d probably post to it. Below is a poem of mine on Endo’s Silence. This book has been pretty significant for me this past year and through this blog. I wrote this poem for a class I took first semester. It should be read after having read the book, but please enjoy even if you haven’t read Silence. (A “fumie” is a small wooden carving or image of Christ or Mary. Fumies were banned at this time in Japan.)

Sacrifice

“He will now trample on what he has considered the most beautiful thing in his life, on what he has believed most pure, on what is filled with the ideals and the dreams of man…. The priest placed his foot on the fumie. Dawn broke. And far in the distance the cock crew.” — Silence, Shusaku Endo

christ s purest face in dreams i d see
i m christ s i used to comfort me
now christian faces all ablaze
surrender all to god for me

japan s a swampland and a maze
oppressing christ the silent gaze
of padre god are you still here
ferreira tempts my fall from grace

betraying what i ve held most dear
the screams of martyrs in my ear
a hideous christ shouts trample me
i join the mocking spitting jeers

i drop my foot the martyrs free
i m judas yet you died for me
a new life christs inside of me
a new life christ s inside of me

“‘My struggle was with Christianity in my own heart.’” — Okada San’emon, formerly Sebastian Rodriguez, in Silence, Shusako Endo

Beauty, love, mystery

A related question to the question of God is whether our universe is a closed or open system, whether there are phenomena that cannot be quantified or logically explained, which have no natural explanation. Here I’m not so much going to consider traditional miracles as the phenomena of beauty, love and mystery in general.

Not long ago, I was exhausted from my studies and decided it was past-time I had taken a break. I decided to take a walk to a nearby park, to enjoy the fall foliage and listen to my Eric Whitacre Pandora station. Once I arrived I found myself drawn in toward a specific spot where I could sit and listen and look at the bright afternoon sun hit bright yellow leaves. As I sat, I listened to what I believe is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard — “Bogoroditse Devo raduysia” by the Rose Ensemble (album, Fire of the Soul).  People have different ways of describing what I felt in that moment: some would say they were “transported”, “moved”. I cried. I had a fucking stupid toothy grin on my face for that whole song and several songs following. My giddiness from the music was intensified when I moved to lie beneath those golden trees, staring up into their fingers of light. I felt, and have felt on similar occasions, that if I were doomed to die soon but could keep the sun and music just as they were at that moment without changing I would die perfectly happy.

I deeply hope you have had experiences like this yourself, what C.S. Lewis called “signposts” and believed were pointers to the joyful reality of God. In my mind now, these experiences – those of beauty – are one of the strongest supports for the truth of a transcendent reality. I say this because appreciating beauty so deeply is enshrouded in mystery. The only natural argument I can conceive of explaining these experiences would be one of stress-relief: that such experiences allowed early humans a way to escape from the dire necessities of their existence of gathering food, protecting their clan, etc. But, does that fully explain the intensity of the experience, the “strangeness” of it?

I know intense love of family and friends. It is mysterious to me, too; for example, my devotion towards my dad seems hardly beneficial to the propagation of humanity.  I don’t have a lot to say about romantic love from personal experience, but this too is strange, especially when it leads to relationships where no children are possible (for example, between elderly persons).

And as I described in my recent Fall experience the mystery is more than just that we experience beauty and love. The mystery is in the essence of those things themselves — who can experience them and be fully satisfied with natural explanations?

Of course, the person who commits to naturalism must be. They must deny that anything ever happens which is empirically inexplicable. For them, there can be no fairies, no dragons, no destiny or fate. Love and beauty, while still special, are merely internal experiences. There is no breathing room for the supernatural.

While I might end up at such a position, I am not ready to close the door to the supernatural yet.

Questions: A) What natural explanations exist for the experiences of beauty and love? (Those I gave are perhaps weak and unrefined.) B) Did I get the naturalist’s position wrong: is there in fact room for mystery for him? C) If there is no transcendent reality, if this visible universe is all there is, then are our existences somehow poorer, diminished, less fulfilling than if there were supernatural forces acting unseen?