World Literature : Reflections
(a recap of the semester and works I had not yet blogged about)
            I had originally intended on creating several vlogs to finish up my blogging for the year, but I decided one long, reflection blog on the semester and the literary works we covered would be better. I discovered I not only have issues speaking in public, but speaking in front of a camera as well.

            I am not  exaggerating when I say this has been one of the most fun courses I’ve ever had the opportunity to take. It has really opened my eyes to a wider variety of literature than I was used to. Before I took this class, I considered myself a well-read person. I was proven wrong.

            Beginning with the twentieth century literary works, my favorites were Lu Xun’s Diary of a Madman, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. These were the works I connected to most easily of the twentieth century section; it doesn’t mean I necessarily disliked the other works. I wasn’t terribly fond of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, but I believe it is a necessity in a world literature course. I think I just got lost in the descriptions rather than the story itself.

            The works from the nineteenth century were actually easier for me to relate to than many of the twentieth century works. I’m not sure why this is, but I felt like the stories were more similar to the type of books I read for fun. My favorite piece from the nineteenth century section was The Queen of Spades. It had me invested in the characters from the very first page, something that doesn’t occur that often when I read. I often find characters to be a bit flat, especially in works I am required to read for class. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t say that. To me, there is nothing better in a story than a complex yet real character. Good characters can turn an average plot into something great. I felt like Pushkin definitely accomplished this in his story. The plot wasn’t terribly complex, but it was so well-written that it didn’t matter. Another author that I really felt accomplished this was Chinua Achebe. Okonkwo, though I didn’t like him much, was such a dynamic character I couldn’t help but love him. Faust (by Goethe), on the other hand, demonstrates the exact opposite kind of reader-writer relationship. The plot – the classic story of good and evil – was far more intriguing than the characters, Faust in particular. Though a bit predictable, the plot was well-developed and never dull. Faust was a popular topic in the group I met with for lunch every day after class. Thanks to them, now I can only imagine Adam Lambert of all people as Mephistopheles, but I can’t say I disagree with that idea and that’s beside the point.

            Tartuffe…how do I even begin to describe Moliere’s Tartuffe, which may just be one of the funniest pieces I’ve ever read? This piece is hilarious because it can apply to situations in modern life as well (like so many other works). Tartuffe is brilliantly satirical, and I would recommend it to anyone. I don’t think it’s a piece that needs to be exclusive to literature students. I think everyone should read it. If nothing else, it’s great for a good laugh!

            This brings me to a bit of a nerdy connection I made with Wu Ch’eng-En’s Monkey. I simply could not get the movie The Forbidden Kingdom out of my mind! Even though Monkey is depicted as a powerful, slightly more serious warrior in this original story, he was depicted as wacky and bizarre in The Forbidden Kingdom. I also noticed a pattern that can be traced back to Monkey or the Monkey King. At least half of staff-wielding characters in video games or anime are strongly influenced in their design by the Monkey King. The Monkey King – though not directly stated as such – often makes appearances as an unnamed character in anime, especially one that has spiritual symbolism. As a martial artist myself, it may not be so strange that I noticed this, but I am blushing right now because I know such nerdy statements ought to stay in my head rather than being published. However, I feel the need to make this connection. I am certainly not the first to notice this and I don’t claim to be. Many martial arts styles, especially Chinese martial arts, are strongly influenced by animals. For example – the tiger, crane, and snake are often mimicked in various styles, as well as other animals.

            The history behind a story can really affect its meaning to readers. For example, without the rich history of the Maya culture and how the Spanish burned their books, Popol Vuh is, to put simply, not your average creation story. Not that any creation story is average, of course, but this one seems more rare because of it was orally passed down rather than a written work. It was interesting to me that the Maya creation story was similar to other stories of creation.

            This class has helped me to not only improve my literary knowledge and writing skills. In this class I have made new friends; I’ve learned more about myself than I would have ever thought possible. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. I wish I had this class to look forward to next semester.

            Also,

            because I made such incredibly (SHAMEFULLY) nerdy pop culture references, I feel the need to at least provide some explanation behind them.

The Forbidden Kingdom movie trailer :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e66Og0lOCcE  The staff the boy is wielding belongs to the Monkey King. =)

A character influenced by the Monkey King :

http://i-d.animepaper.net/thumbnails/preview/221733/1/[animepaper.net]picture-standard-anime-soul-calibur-xiba-render-soul-calibur-5-221733-ashoka-preview-dde4e450.jpg This is Xiba, a newcomer in Soul Calibur V. He replaced Kilik (MY FAVORITE!) as the staff-wielding character while Kilik (my favorite) took on the role of one of the game’s edge master’s. Xiba’s moveset is very Monkey King while Kilik’s was more solid and traditional (which I prefer, though I like Xiba too).

The “Monkey King” also makes an appearance, though brief (only shown for a few seconds in one or two episodes) in the Spirit World in Avatar : the Last Airbender. I know he is shown in the same episode as Koh (book one), but I can’t remember if he appears in any other episodes. It was never directly stated that he was the Monkey King, but that connection can definitely be made.

Mephistopheles as “portrayed by Adam Lambert” (according to Sacha) : http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/18600000/Adam-Lambert-adam-lambert-18674264-439-524.jpg  Considering Adam was on Broadway for years, I don’t doubt he could pull off the role. Plus he’s just so…Mephistopheles.

Examples of Chinese martial arts :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEFTdGTQ-bU Crane style is put to the test!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQsNgQPGgfo  This is known as Hung Gar style, which is also known as “Tiger Crane” style kung fu. For ATLA fans, yes, this is earthbending. Sorry about the cheesy sound effects. I didn’t create this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkbm-H1w4mE A Monkey style kung fu form.

            I feel that, to some extent at least, everything can be compared to classic/World Literature. I certainly don’t think that’s a bad thing, but unfortunately I believe it gives a lot of students a been-there-done-that attitude when it comes to reading. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night? Students have probably seen She’s the Man. The Duke of Orsino IS NOT Duke Orsino. As far as I know, Malvolio in Shakespeare’s work was NOT a tarantula. (I’ll admit, I quite liked that tarantula). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OhwrMidSU Here is a link to the movie trailer. I LOVE this movie, but feel that the classic should still be read. The same can be said with 10 Things I Hate About You. It is not the same as The Taming of the Shrew.

            As a person who loves movies, there are some pieces in our World Literature anthology that I would love to see be made into movies. I wouldn’t want to see modern remakes, but I would like to see movies that stay true to the story’s form. (I’m sorry if some of these have already been made. If that is the case, I’m not aware of the existence of the movie). Queen of Spades, Things Fall Apart, Tartuffe, Faust, The Cherry Orchard (by Chekov), and several others would make interesting films if done correctly. I think it would be really interesting and give audiences a fresh new style of cinema that I believe they are so desperately craving.

            I wish I were taking this class again. If there’s one book I’m keeping from my freshman year at college, it’s my World Literature anthology. There are too many good works of literature in it. But there are far more great memories.

 
 
These are the works I've selected for my World Lit. canon project :

1.      Popol Vuh (Native America/New World)

2.      Monkey (Wu Ch’eng-En; China)

3.      Tartuffe (Moliere; France)

19th Century

4.      Faust (Goethe)

5.      Songs of Innocence/Experience (Blake)

6.      Queen of Spades (Pushkin)

7.      The  Cherry Orchard (Chekov)

8.      Confessions (Rousseau)

20th Century

9.      Things Fall Apart (Achebe) (Nigeria)

10.  Diary of a Madman (Lu Xun) (China)

11.  Dracula (1897; Stoker) (Ireland)

12.  1984 (Orwell) (English/Brit colony)

13.  The Good Earth (1935; Buck) (China)

14.  A Room of One’s Own (Woolf)

15.  Zaabalawi (Mahfouz) (Egypt)

Also, I have a few blogs I still need to make up. I'm considering vlogging them rather than typing them. I love this class and I can't believe the semester's already almost over! This has been my favorite class

 
 
Thoughts on Monkey

My first thought when I began reading Monkey (and about the Monkey King) was this :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYZmv8upiGY  I simply could not get this movie out of my head when I was reading. It’s over-the-top fly fu action is crazy, but it’s still a fun movie if you like that type of thing. Though it’s different than the story we read in class, it follows the story of the Monkey King. That being said, I really enjoyed the original story of the Monkey King.

Everything about the beginning screamed Taoist. Perhaps it is because I have always been so deeply intrigued by Asian culture, but I thought of the monks and nuns of the Wu Dang Shan. They follow the Taoist beliefs that by achieving perfection by a lifetime of work, one can become immortal. For more information, check out this documentary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cxl0Spm0hmI  They live extremely hard lives – lives that are unimaginable to most Americans (beaten because of an unmade bed?!) - but their ways are fascinating. They are so old-fashioned, it’s almost as if time has stood still at the temple. Also, did you recognize the temple? It was the temple used in The Karate Kid remake starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. Also, for a brief history on Buddhist monks (specifically the Shaolin, kung fu fighting monks) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6Z-ekyyK8o . Most people believe the monks of both sides have become corrupted due to media exposure, etc. To me, it depends on the perspective.

It’s no surprise Monkey remains popular to this day. There are so many variations of the story (for example, the comedic epic that is The Forbidden Kingdom), it’s hard not to relate it almost directly to something. Above all else though, I think in a weird sense, people are drawn to that ancient spirituality. Perhaps it is because it is so lacking in our own (Western) modern society, but I know that I personally love it when a book or movie has spiritual, symbolic content without stating it directly.

 
 
Thoughts on Queen of Spades

            Pushkin’s Queen of Spades is undoubtedly one of my favorite pieces I’ve read in my World Literature class. It is as intriguing as Lu Xun’s Diary of a Madman, which came as a surprise to me considering just how entertaining Lu Xun’s piece was. The story was unique and the characters were dynamic.

            I immediately connected with both Hermann and Lisaveta, though in very different ways. I didn’t care for Hermann. He seemed to have an obsessive nature which ranged from gambling and money to Lisaveta herself, though the reason in the beginning was unclear. Though he was a dark character, I found myself wanting to know how his story played out (no pun intended). I like how Pushkin gave very little background on Hermann, with the exception being the mention of his being the Countess’s illegitimate son.

            The Countess was a character that in the beginning I despised. I thought she was a cruel old woman in her treatment of her servants. I pitied Lisaveta for having to serve such a woman. Yet, as the story continued, my hatred for the Countess began to dissolve and I found her humorous. I laughed when she “winked” at Hermann, as if she were able to see right through him even in death. I also eventually realized that despite her mistreatment of Lisaveta, she loved her in a way.

            Lisaveta was a character that I loved but wasn’t completely able to relate to. I found Hermann incredibly creepy and immediately labeled him a stalker, while Lisaveta seemed to have some hope at first that he would be her escape from her current lifestyle. Lisaveta’s ultimate goal seemed to be freedom despite the fact she also seemed scared of the idea. I suspect that in that setting, a woman’s only way out of a peasant’s lifestyle was to marry a wealthier man. I was pleased to read in the conclusion that she did marry “an agreeable young man” and was presumably living a better life.

            Hermann’s fate was not surprising. It was good, old-fashioned karma that led him to insanity. It was sad to some extent, but greed overcame him and thus was not unexpected.

 
 
I was nervous when I learned that I would be reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.  It was one of the books recommended in my high school World Literature class, but it wasn’t the one I chose. I chose Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but many of my friends chose Achebe. They described it as a difficult read, for the culture described in the book is hard to imagine for us as Americans. When I began reading it myself, I understood what they were talking about.

                First of all, while it’s not really important to the story itself, I’m surprised at how many similarities there are in the characters’ names. It makes it confusing, and made me painfully aware of the fact that my notes for this section of the book were not nearly as good as they should have been. For example, the main character’s name is Okonkwo. There are is also an Ogbuefi, Obiako, the Oracle, Okoye, Obiageli, etc. It’s probably because I am not familiar with African culture (including names), but these all seem similar. Personally, I’ve only known two people from Nigeria (Achebe is Nigerian), and one of  them had an “O” name as well : Ofori.

                Something else I found interesting was the fact that there is a ceremony for nearly everything in the story. I wondered if there would be fewer ceremonies in part two, but early on it mentions an upcoming ceremony and eventually describes it. After all, there is nothing more lovely than beheading a chicken at a bridal ceremony.

                The introduction of the white men is very interesting in part two. At first, I found the reference to the “iron horse” was quite funny, but I suppose they didn’t know any better. It’s easy to imagine them tying a bicycle to a tree and watching it as if it would run away. I was not surprised when Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, converted to Christianity. After dealing with such abuse for years, I definitely think he saw it as his way out.

 
 
It’s interesting to me how many stories have or seem to have philosophical meaning. I often find myself wondering if there’s a single story that does not have a philosophical meaning. That is, of course, before I browse the paranormal romance section of young adult reads, but I’m sure some could argue that there is some philosophy there as well. My college World Literature class is really teaching me to search for these deeper meanings. To some extent, I had already been doing that, but not at the level I am required to now. In high school, I wrote an extensive author analysis paper on American author Mark Twain. After reading five of his novels and doing some extra research, I believe I have a very good understanding of Twain’s philosophies in literature. Still, the paper would have been much easier to write had I known what I do now about the “reading between the lines” process.

The books we read in class are filled with symbolism, and it’s getting easier for me to catch in works by classic authors. Yet I find myself questioning newer works by less famous authors. What was the author trying to get across? What is this character representing? Who or what events influenced this author’s writing? These are questions I now frequently ask myself. It is also something I now ask myself as an aspiring writer. Whether I mean to or not, I constantly find that my beliefs are the roots of all my major plotlines. This isn’t true for my subplots however; those are in place to add depth and entertainment value to the story. Still, I am finding that my college experiences are really helping me improve my writing. Whether I’m writing an essay or attempting to write fiction, I am beginning to see hidden concepts more clearly.

 
 
Okay, so it wasn’t an almost-riot but rather a…heated academic debate. During a discussion of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, many of my classmates shared my ideas but there were some who didn’t. Though I do consider myself a feminist (not a man-hater but a passionate fighter for equality), I don’t mind when others have different opinions on the subject. After all, it is our First Amendment right to speak freely. This is especially true in the case of modern combat. What bothered me about today’s discussion was that I have friends who are female soldiers, who have bravely fought in the war in order to protect the very people who did not respect them as equals. I’m a peaceful person who always tries to avoid conflict, even in civil classroom debates. When my friends who have put or are putting their lives at risk for the safety of the American people are disrespected based on old-fashioned bias, it does not sit well with me. I am a peaceful person. It takes A LOT to make me angry.

That being said, back to Woolf. I found the points she presented to be valid considering her time frame. I couldn’t help but wonder what she would think now of modern feminist authors. In a previous entry, I mentioned the works of Kristin Cashore (a fan of feminist author Tamora Pierce) and Cindy Pon. Both have a very different style and execution of writing, yet they are similar in their creation of fearless heroines and strong, supportive heroes. For some reason, Cashore gets a bad rap for being a “man-hater.” This has to be the most ridiculous assumption I have ever come across about an author. For example, Cashore’s debut novel Graceling stars a beautiful, intelligent, strong young woman with an uncanny fighting ability. This woman, Katsa, is a Graceling. For a better understanding, here is a brief summary from Amazon.com :

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

     When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.”

In the story, she is accompanied by Prince Po on her journey to a distant kingdom. Po’s character is proof enough to me that Cashore is anything but a man-hater. Katsa is a skilled fighter. So is Po. In fact, their sparring matches usually end in a draw. Katsa is a great horsewoman. Po is a great horseman (honestly, probably a bit better with horses than Katsa based on some concerns he had in the book). Both Katsa and Po are Gracelings, though their Graces are different.

Their Graces are equal.

Their fighting abilities are equal.

They are heroes in their own right.

I guess I just don’t understand how equality is considered man-hating. To me, that just seems like insecurity.

Cindy Pon, on the other hand, seems a bit more subtle than Cashore in her feminist form of writing, yet it is still unmistaken. This is especially true in her debut novel, Silver Phoenix. Here is a link to a summary of the book :

http://cindypon.com/silver-phoenix/

Ai Ling is a fearless, headstrong heroine with an incredible ability. What I like best about this book, perhaps, is the fact that the world Pon has created is strongly influenced by ancient China. Ancient Chinese culture gave women very little value, and Pon does a fantastic job of putting Ai Ling in a similar type of world but making her power unmistakable. Like Katsa, Ai Ling is accompanied by a strong, supportive hero and friend Chen Yong. Pon is a feminist, but Chen Yong is brave, strong, and highly capable of handling any obstacle that is thrown at him. They do seem well-matched in their abilities. While reading this novel, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Lu Xun’s descriptions of how oppressive Chinese society was.

This may come as a shock to some, but not all feminist books are written by women. Other works, such as Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns are very supportive of feminism. A Thousand Splendid Suns follows to Afghani women during the rule of the Taliban and the abuse and oppression they faced. Hosseini is sympathetic towards these women and very supportive of what occurs in the ending, when they are triumphant. Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha is a very popular novel as well, following  the geisha Sayuri in her quest to choose love and a life of her own.

While not necessarily a feminist, I consider science fiction author Orson Scott Card to have some sort of understanding of the equality of women. In Card’s novels, women hold powerful positions in politics, military commanders, and have an unmistakable dynamic in the story. They are brilliant, often bold, and always ready for new challenges. Something I find interesting is how well these women operate in world that is traditionally a man’s (military situations, etc.). Similarly, Suzanne Collins (the author of the global phenomenon The Hunger Games), often puts her female lead in traditionally male-dominant situations. Yet, Katniss handles these situations as well (actually a bit better than), the men who are put in the same situations.

I suppose all of this is to say I agree with Virginia Woolf, but I believe more in equality. To me, women are no less significant than men, and men are no less significant than women. Frankly, all of this debate tires me. Wouldn’t it be much easier if we just accepted each other as equals instead of one having to be superior?

 
 
    Yes, I am aware that Cashore and Pon do not have nearly the recognition that Virginia Woolf has, but that is not my focus. My focus as I read a piece by Woolf will be feminism in writing itself. I am especially looking forward to including Pon in my blog, for after reading about the oppression of old Chinese society in Lu Xun's _Diary of a Madman_, it will be interesting to take the fictional aspects both share and tie them in with fact. I will also be interested to see where Woolf stands in feminism and how it has changed since her time. Even my own writing is feminist to some extent.
    I have a feeling I would have been burned at the stake in Woolf's time because of my writing... =P