seeing the invisible

May 21st, 2011

To begin, I must say that I have enjoyed reading The Invisible Man. Throughout the course of this semester, I found myself struggling to grasp the concepts of vision. It has never occurred to me that there were techniques that observers used in response to vision. To me it’s simply automatic, but I never took the time out to inspect it as acknowledge the various types of arts that try to theorize it. As I read through Ellison’s text, I see traces of him the author within the main character who is of course unnamed. Ellison attempts to keep this state of invisibility to the narrator although respective of such we are still able to see him as a character.

It’s funny how fiction is deemed by Henry James as a vehicle to seeing, when fiction as we know it is “make belief”. For Ellison, I believe that he would agree with Henry James. I will take this even a step further and assert that he would be in total agreement with William James in stating that there is a reality in the unseen. The narrator of this text struggles with the idea that he as a black individual is invisible, especially if he lives his life based on what others tell him to do. Although there is that form of invisibility for him as a character, as readers we are able to see into his struggles and envision him as a person. As readers we are able to take all the elements that make this character seem invisible and formulate our own reality of this unseen character. In class we discuss the fact that the name given to a person bestows some kind of identity to a character.

As the narrator was questioned time and time again about his name, it was never once mentioned, but as I look at the elements that make up the paratext of this novel, I note that Ralph Ellison did not attempt to hide his name. Instead it is typed in bold print on the cover of the text right above the title. By having his name placed on the text, it represents the way in which the text ought to be delivered and the message that the author intends to read. I begin to also question whether or not it matters who is speaking. David Greetham wrote a powerful article on this matter, and he concludes that it does matter who is speaking. According to my reading of the text and familiarity with the biographical detail of Ellison, I believe that the narrator is Ellison himself. Although there is no specific name to tie the author to the text, it appears that the events and the theories of invisibility are all concepts that Ellison has experienced, formulated into a text, and has made reality. It is the unseen images that Ellison perceive that he in turn allows his readers (observers) to see. The truth behind his mental processes are his to judge as to whether or not they are verifiable, but as observers we must not simply take the narrator alone into consideration when trying to see reality. Instead we must take all the parts to the novel, as well as the author himself, and it is then and only then that we will be able to see and understand. This is the technique that this class has taught me to use as an observer of texts. Thanks professor.

The End

April 11th, 2011

While reading through The Ambassadors I can’t help but to notice a recurring theme from both “The Pupil” and “The Real Thing”. Henry James’ protagonist seems to be a lost individual from what I can gather based on his movements (mentally, physically, and emotionally) in Paris. Strether’s instability causes him to be guilty of what Henry James’ previous characters were also guilty of. In the story “The Real Thing” Mrs. Monarch was unable to see the “big picture” because she didn’t take the time out to examine all the qualities required in being the “real thing”, but rather made judgements based on a partial truth. Here in The Ambassadors Strether is taking what Mrs. Newsome and Sarah Pocock says as being the truth when they refer to Chad’s lover as being a “bad” woman. It is not until he meets Madame de Vionnet for himself that he understands that she is not the monster that she was made out to be. Instead of corrupting Chad as Mrs. Newsome and Sarah declares, she has altered him into becoming a gentleman.

Henry James states in his piece called “The Art of Fiction” that “The essence of moral energy is to survey the whole field…” (p392) In my opinion he is making reference to the fact that in order to find truth, especially when it comes to novels, one must explore the parts of the text to understand the essence. For Strether, he had to meet Madame for his self. The presumption that Madame de Vionnet was a bad woman was not the only false judgement that Strether made throughout the text. He also assumed on page 136, when he was speaking to Miss Gostrey, that Chad had to be in love with the young de Vionnet because the a was still married. He later found out that although she is still married she has been separated from her husband because “Monsieur de Vionnet had been a brute.” (p137) We find Strether making assumptions again when he believed that Sarah Pocock’s smile signified that Mrs. Newsome was still interested in him.I am also guilty of this act because when introduced to Billham, I assumed that since he said that the relationship between Chad and Madame was a virtuous one, he himself was the lover that was keeping Chad from returning to America. My assumption was of course proven to be fallacious. I guess what I am trying to say is that it seems as though James is trying to prove that “the novel seems… the most magnificent form of art.” (Tales of Henry James, p390) He wants readers to be aware that there is truth hidden in the novel, and often when one presupposes their assumptions are inaccurate. To capture the “true” essence, one must survey the whole rather than taking a part and assuming it covers the whole story.

The End

Summing the Parts to Understand the Whole

March 29th, 2011

Henry James has surprisingly composed two works of fiction that is both comprehensible and enjoyable. The first is “The Pupil” where the main character Pemberton tutor a sickly child by the name of Morgan. Just like Rayshma stated in her blog, I am uncertain as well as to how this relates to the class’ theme, but I am willing to try to analyze a possible route. The story focuses on a family, the Moreens. They carry themselves as though they are members of the elite upper class, but truth be told, they are unable to pay their rent as well as their hotel bills, and as a result they move from different spaces in the story. They create a wide range in the texts chronotope where it first begins at Gentle, and surprisingly ends in the same area, but different hotel.

To the observers in the Moreen’s society, they are an upper class family who dine in expensive restaurants, stay at hotels that are not really considered lower class (with the exception of them stating that they couldn’t get the fancy ones that they wanted), and even dine in fancy opera boxes. My point is that they appear to be what they are not. In order to analyze the Moreen family one can not limit the characteristics to their extracurricular activities. The whole is required and it will bring into focus the fact that they are unable to pay the tutor of their young and sickly child. Not only are they not able to pay him, but they were unable to pay a nurse as well, so Pemberton was not just a mentor and tutor, but also a nurse and nanny. The Moreens played on Pemberton’s love for the child to “manipulate” as Rayshma puts it.

The same goes for the second story “The Real Thing”. In this narrative , the main character is an artist. He is presented with two characters, the Monarchs, who have fallen in status and seeks to obtain their way of living by posing for our unnamed protagonist. When greeted with the Monarchs, one gets the idea that they are in fact Monarchs. There is an upper class quality to them, and without further observation, it would seem as though their appearance illustrates their current status. Readers are then hit with the information that they were once a well off couple, but circumstances has reduced them to desiring to earn a meagre wage from modeling. When modeling didn’t work out, they were also willing to become house keepers. The models that did in fact replace them, were “acting” in a sense, and their persona that is transcribed by the protagonist makes them appear as the “real thing”. I guess what I am trying to say is that there is almost always room for inaccurate interpretation when the whole of a story is reduced to mere excerpts. In order to have an analysis that is truthful, and provable, readers should look on the whole to understand the parts. The parts are just pieces that when joined together, you get factual, or provable meaning. Not sure if this is clear, and I hope it can help to bring in a different perspective.

The End

Art Becoming the Imitator of Life

March 17th, 2011

In the class discussion conducted on Tuesday, March 15th, a very well formed quote was drawn to our attention. Holmes states that “Form is henceforth divorced from matter. In fact, matter as a visible object is of no great use any longer, except as the mould on which form is shaped…We have got the fruit of creation now, and need not trouble ourselves with the core” (p21-22) My belief of what Holmes is putting forward is the idea that a single object that is created is no longer one that people will take the time out to awe themselves over because it will not be a single unique entity for long. Everything being created can be replicated. No one cares what the original is because they will be able to view or attain for themselves a replica. In the reading for today, Walter Benjamin states that “To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility.” (Benjamin, p67) In a sense the object that is created in it’s originality is created in order for it to be replicated. A random question justed popped into my head: Although a single object is initially created and will be replicated/ imitated, is that original object not a replica in and of itself? Is it not the mind that has originally created the idea which is to be reproduced into the physical replica of the conscious idea?

Moving backward to the readings of Kraccauer, he states that “consciousness has departed from its contingency.” What on Earth does this mean? If I had to make a guess, it would be that he is making reference to the fact that Williams James’ stream of consciousness is not as relevant as the stream of technology. The consciousness is something that is read, know, and believed in by many, but technology has risen above the task of mans consciousness. Instead of looking to nature for unique individuality, the population must instead be ctatered for through mass production. Every one wants a piece of nature, of beauty, of art. Art seems to imitate life, rather than art for art sake. Man has evolved due to technology, and as a result art must imitate man and evolve.

The End

The Construction of Reality

March 7th, 2011

Being a religious person, I remember being taught from infancy that what a person believe can have serious inpacts on the way that they live their life, the things that they view as reality, and it ultimately dictates their view on the world as a whole. In “The Perception of Reality” William James speaks on how in consciousness or in this case belief “the object is not only apprehended by the mind, but is held to have reality.” (p288) The mind is able to construct what it deems as reality. The construction that the mind creates begins to dictate what a person is able to “see” and as they continue to see it, there is a decrease in his or her ability to decipher the truth from his or her imagination.

In Rita Cater’s piece, she mentions on page 18 that Kevin O’Reagan stated that everything we see is a grand illusion. The term grand illusion makes vision seem as though it is something that must always be questioned because what we perceive on a daily basis is not in fact reality but rather a construction of our imagination (or consciousness for the matter). I can not necessarily say that I agree with this statement because here I am writing. First, the words that are being trancsribed onto this page are sentences, thoughts, and criticisms that are first constructed inmy mind. Are the words not on this page? Am I constructing what I see being written down on this page, and if so, how then will my professor be able to read my mind in order to “see” what is on this blog?                                     

William James states that “Every thought tends to be part of a personal consciousness” ( The Stream of Thought, p225) and I do agree. Thoughts are constructed in the mind, and the mind can have a role in the way we view or interpret things, but I can not say that because it was constructed in my mind, it is an illusion when I am viewing it. Maybe I am reading this wrong, and I hope that I am because I do not see how this statement can be an accurate one. May be to a certain extent, but I would love to explore more on what it means to believe something and call it reality, as well as trying to figure out the creation of thoughts. Thoughts in the way that it transforms our reality and dictate our perceptions.

The End

possible wiki topics

March 3rd, 2011

For the up coming Wikipedia topics, I looked over a few of the themes that was discussed in class and for the following four I was unable to locate a wikipedia page for them.

1. Model of Vision (Goethe)

2. Image Standard

3. Subjective/Objective Vision

The End

The Real War Will Never get into the Pictures

February 21st, 2011

In specimen Days,  Walt Whitman speaks on the events of the “actual” war as he saw them. The horrific scenes in which he has incorporated into the various selections are not stories that he is inventing from the corners of his mind, but rather his accounts of what is taking place at the time. As he elaborate on the Battle of Bull Run, he mentions that “The men appear, at first sparsely and shame-faced enough, then thicker, in the streets of Washington…” (Specimen 20) If one takes a close look at the way in which he is articulating the event, it is obvious that he is viewing this as the observer. He was not given this information from an inside source, but rather he was the inside source giving readers the opportunity to understand what is taking place. This type of vision separates the people of today reflecting on the events of the Civil War, and those who were not in direct contact with the events during the past. In other words, our vision on the Civil War now as we take it into consideration is purely second hand.

Alan Trachtenberg, in his piece titled “Albums of War: On Reading Civil War Photographs” mentions that Mr. Brady (photographer) tried to connect people with the events of the Civil War although they may not have been present to see the actual. He mentions that “Nevertheless the point holds; photographs perpetuate a collective image of the war as a sensible event, what it must have looked like had we been there.” (p287) The purpose of the photographs is to record the natural events as they occur for the purpose of having accuracy. My problem with this is that in trying to capture exactly, Brady was able to only capture “preparations and aftermaths” (p287) Thinking in on the fact that he is capturing the preparations and the way in which the photos are taken, there is some kind of interference with the natural course of events. Rather than the photos appearing candid, it seems as though there was some kind of alteration (through poses, through the articles chosen to be displayed, and etc) that takes the truth away from the photos. Just like the camera obscura that demands the transcriber to look away from nature to capture such, Mr. Brady had to do the same. He looked away from the natural in order to present what people expected of war. The actual war was not depicted either because he jumped from the preparation to the aftermath. What has our vision misses? The most important aspects, because a war does not simply consist of a beginning and end, but it is the in between that gives life to the event.

At that time, the Stereoscope was a major invention. It allowed many to see the photographs in three dimensional scenes allowing the viewer to feel as though they were actually there. “In actual presentation the image underwent other transformation of status. None more crucial for the evolution of a popular culture in the decade of the war than  that represented by the stereograph. Indeed so popular was this mode of dissemination that any discussion of the Civil War photographs and problems of reading they pose must take the stereograph into account.” (291) The stereoscope brought the events to life for its viewers, and made it seem as though they are actual partakers in the event. The people wanted reality brought to them, for it is only when they are staring reality in the face that it becomes obvious that they are seeing. On the contrast it is still not the real version of seeing because the event has already passed. The most a viewer can do is imagine what it would be like. Knowing is not definite when you are looking through different lenses on an event.

Whitman talks of young men who have lost limbs, and others who have been amputated. He speaks of the dull instruments, and the young lost souls who just need someone to talk to them in their last and final hours. He is depicting to readers “exactly” as he views them. The only problem with this form of vision is that once again, readers are not physically viewing the same events that Whitman is able to describe. Instead they are subjected to the ways in which he describes the events. His interpretation of the war and its casualties are removing the reality of the event itself. This is his point of view. I believe that he would agree with this statement because he himself states that “Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors, of the Secession war; and it is best they should not- the real war will never get in the books.” (Specimen 101) In other words, hearing his detailed depiction of his experience in seeing the actual, and by viewing the photographs taken by Mr. Brady does not make one actually “see” the war. One can get a feel of what occurred, but there is a difference with actually being there, hearing the cries, seeing the red crimson blood, and the stench of the dead.

The End

Observation observed

February 7th, 2011

In the piece title “Experience”, Emerson states that “Our life is not so much threatened as our perception.” (p471) Life in this statement, as I have observed seems to be in the back ground and if this were to be portrayed by Turner, perception would take on the form of nature in a subliminal manner, and the life of man would seem minuscule and inferior. As mentioned in class, the man would appear “dwarfed” as perception seem to have a greater value. The value of perception is now what needs to be measured. As I am observing this statement made by Emerson, I may have a different point of view from my classmates, but who is to say that I am wrong? “Life is a string of moods like a string of beads, and, as we pass through them, they prove to be many colored lenses which paint the world a different hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus.” (p473) I use this quote to prove that for each person, each retina, and each camera obscura, what one may see doesn’t speak for another. Looking back at the pieces by Joseph Mallard William Turner, I may interject that the portrait titled “Fishermen at Sea” is more devastating than that of “The Shipwreck”. In both portraits, there is the image of the big ocean, and the boats and their occupants are so small that one may feel as though they are being swallowed in. However the scene with the fishermen, as previously stated could be viewed or observed as sad because there is no actual sign that they are catching any fish. Each man may have a wife and five children to feed and provide for, but rather than obtaining what they have voyaged far outto obtain, they are empty handed and tired. Their children may be starving or splitting the last few crumbs of a stale loaf of bread. On the other hand the shipwreck victims could be at peace with themselves and life, and so it may seem as though they are embracing the fact that the sea has made them vulnerable. There could also be the chance that nature is taking vengence for the action of the men. Who is tro say, they were not pirates who just left an island whose women they raped and treasures they stole. I can observe no distress in the blank faces, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it can not be there. I feel that  that is precisely why the faces have been painted that way- blank. To each observer you will find a unique view. I am saying this to simply say that no matter what the image shows, it is our own experiences, and knowledge that we use as our technique in observation allowing ourselves to interpret what the eyes are seeing. Nature is a stable force, but it is man who has for years been exposed to so many elements of life, that their experiences begin to shape and color any single image in nature. It is man that alters, not nature. Johnathan Crary talks about the binocular vision, and how we see differently with each eye. This just proves that man is not as definite as we want ourselves to appear. We have flaws, and so our after image, as Goethe focuses on, may at times alter, while nature alone remains perfect and stable. I would hope that it is therefore safe to conclude that man learns best from nature, and it is this same nature that we try so hard to imitate.

The End

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