Youth in BLAST

What seems most youthful about BLAST is the way the articles are written and typed up.  The CURSE and BLESS sections have a random style that literally floats along the page with no apparent order.  This may have been a way to keep the interest of the reader, but it seems more likely that it was an illustration of how youth can think.  Though the sentences have no apparent order and often weird structure, they have a witty tone that is amusing.  Sentences like, “BLESS this HESSIAN (or SILESIAN) EXPERT correcting the grotesque anachronisms of our physique” on page 25 are humorous considering all that people go through to calm their natural beauty into a false one.  The most youthful statements though are in the “Manifesto” article, “We start from opposite statements of a chosen world.  Set up violent structure of adolescent clearness between two extremes.  We discharge ourselves on both sides.  We fight first on one side, then the other, but always for the SAME cause, which is neither side, or both sides and ours.” (30).  This shows the unrest, but tenacity of youth.  They do not want their thoughts to be put in a box of typicality, so they synthesize the boxes.

To the Lighthouse and the Desolation of the War

In “Time Passes,” Woolf uses the abandonment and decay of the house to foreshadow the desolation and loss of identity that England experiences following World War I. From the very opening the darkness that the war has brought to England is suggested. In the first chapter, all of the lights are put out. Following that, it begins to rain, and it seems as if “Nothing… could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness” (125-26) that comes creeping in and blurs all distinctions. The blurring of distinctions represents the loss of a clear sense of identity that has befallen the English. The house, abandoned by the fractured family that once maintained it, falls further and further into disorder as the family breaks up more and more. This represents England’s steady fracturing of identity which will make the country unable to forget what happened and return to the way things were.

There is a hint that the decay is contested in the person of Mrs. McNab who is first introduced as coming “to open all windows, and dust the bedrooms” (130). Being an older person, Mrs. NcNab probably represents the attempts of the older generation, and older traditions, to hold this new, desolate England together. However, as the war progresses, she eventually gives up. The task is “too much for one woman” (137), especially a woman who creaks and moans as much as the house itself. She  is forced to leave “the house alone, shut up, locked” (137), mirroring England’s own frozen, gloomy state.

At the same time, “Time Passes” demonstrates how the War renders human life meaningless, and yet nature does not care. The major events that will forever define and divide the family occur in brackets, almost as afterthoughts. It is a jolt when the reader suddenly learns that Mrs. Ramsay has “died rather suddenly”, leaving Mr. Ramsay to stumble in the dark (128), that “Prue Ramsay died that summer of some illness connected with childbirth” (132), that “Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsey” (133). The change of the seasons and the slow reclaiming of the house by nature become the main focus of the story. As the title tersely states: “Time Passes.” Humans’ petty lives are of secondary importance.

BLAST, the Individual, and WWI

 

To me, reading BLAST was more heartbreaking than it was interesting or surprising. The magazine represents the beginning of a tenuous attempt to glorify the individual, to make every individual, no matter his or her class, into a human being capable of art and artistic feeling. These individuals are not isolated though; they are united in a community of other individuals while maintaining their own individuality. The last line of “Long Live the Vortex” reads: “Blast presents an art of Individuals.” This struck me particularly hard. I feel a certain kinship I had not expected to feel; these authors seem to share my own zeal for the right and the worth of the individual. And yet, in a terrifying irony, these men, who believed so strongly in the individual, who founded a movement devoted to the individual, were about to enter into a war that would destroy the individual. WWI was a time of machines and statistics that showed horrific human fatalities. The concept of the individual that started to blossom in this magazine was buried beneath the overwhelming mass of the dead.

The way the magazine focuses on the individual is also found in the Manifestos. I read the contradiction of “blasting” and “blessing” the same thing simultaneously as an acknowledgment that good and evil exist in all things, and it is up to the individual to piece out what is worthwhile from what is broken and suffocating. Again, these individuals are part of a larger collective of individuals who transcend sides: “We fight first on one side, then on the other, but always for the SAME cause, which is neither side or both sides and ours” The individual is even sometimes promoted over countries, to the point where the magazine proclaims: “Blast First… England” (later England is blessed). This is gut-wrenching when one thinks of the war that is to come, and how it shall bind people more tightly than ever before into nationalistic units in an attempt to survive the carnage. Clearly, the magazine wished to knock the individual out of complacency, out of the mechanized, divided, modern times, but all of this was undone by WWI. Such notions of the individual as an artist and as on no particular side became vulgar and contemptuous, divisive when the country needed to stand strong. I cannot help but wonder what this movement would have become, what England and European literature were building towards in this and other similar journals, before the war interrupted.

Joyce and Poetic Fiction

In typical prose writing, the story and the development of the character are the most important, most crucial, elements. Beautiful language and imagery are preferable, but the ultimate goal of traditional prose writing is for the author to communicate some story, some series of events. Typically, this also means that prose writing has a clear beginning, middle, and end. However, Joyce turns this on its head.

Rather than focus only on the arc of the story, Joyce also focuses on  the poetic imagery in separate individual moments throughout the stories. He allows each  This makes his writing more poetic than the writings of many other prose writers. One excellent example of this is seen in “Araby” when the narrator beholds his beloved: “The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease” (2220). This description encapsulates a specific moment in a beautiful, poetic way. Many moments like this exist throughout both stories as stand-alone segments that are strung together to create one glittering work.

The endings to his stories “Araby” and “Eveline” are abrupt, not at all like the endings to the traditional prose work. The introduction claims that: “The stories often seem to ‘stop,’ rather than end” (2216). In the case of both stories, the reader is left with an impression of the emotions of the character at a certain time, not a definitive ending. In “Araby,” the narrator has his expectations let down, and sees himself “… as a creature driven and derided by vanity” (2222), and in “Eveline” the narrator’s face is “passive, like a helpless animal” and “her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” (2225). In both cases, the abrupt, open-ended ending of the story functions like a poem’s ending, leaving the reader perturbed and thoughtful after the work has finished. Joyce wants his readers to think about what they have read, and he recognizes that denying the reader a definite ending will force a deeper reflection, possibly making the reader see himself mirrored in the work that he has just read. In this way, Joyce is very much a modern writer.

Duality of Human Nature: Good and Evil through the Eyes of William Blake

Heaven and Hell; Angels and Demons; God and Satan. In William Blake’s work “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” we discover this innate duality of good and evil, while being exposed to the side of “evil” in a different way. Blake argues that “Good is the passive that obeys reason / Evil is the active springing from Energy” [Plate 3, lines 11-12], and further portrays himself and other poets as Devils. I found this particularly interesting, considering the general consensus that doing that which is considered immoral or socially unacceptable [evil] is sometimes easier and more instinctual than doing that which is moral or acceptable [good], and thus requires more energy. [I.e., that humans are naturally sinful and must work in order to be “good.”] Things that are an important part of human nature—emotions, desires, and our actions toward them—are portrayed as a “good” sort of evil, while everything “good” is portrayed as boring, passive, and in contradiction to the “evil” present in men through this dual nature. Whether Blake is really saying that men are evil is up for debate, and he does not dispute that human nature, like good and evil, is at odds with one another, a dichotomous relationship with that which we desire and that which we reason is proper, but rather he challenges our preconceptions of the terms “good” and “evil” and addresses the idea that if men were created with emotions and desires, why is it “evil” to act upon them?

I noticed all these things when I first read the poem. I first read simply the text provided in our course anthology, to gather my first impressions, and then read it in accordance with both of the illuminations.

What I found was fascinating. The version from 1790 depicts exactly what I first gained from the poem; the cool colors [blues, greens] and the gentle stroke of the water-color brush all brought with it a sense of beauty that could not be considered “evil.” Even the images which showed something grotesque—the serpent on plate 20 and the devil on plate 24—seemed somehow serene and calming. Several of the plates, such as plate 20, use the warm color red to depict a kind of scene more conventionally “Hell” seeming, though the water-color gives it a diluted look, and combined with the blue, as in plate 4, reduces the effect of drastic “evil,” and presents it as a different point of view, rather than an unacceptable course of action. It seems to compliment the poem nicely.

The version from 1794, however, doesn’t, at least at first glance. The deep, burning reds and oranges return to the poem a sense of the “evil” Blake is trying to expose as perfectly natural, “good,” even. Some of the images have blurred lines, or the colors run together so that you cannot fully see the details of the image, and it gives the image a mystery that is accompanied with a sense of dread. Particularly plate 24, which, in the 1790 edition, I found to look much like a man with the mask of a devil, which symbolized to me that we hide the true nature of man behind what is deemed “evil” and “unnatural” [which I found to compliment the nature of the work perfectly], though in the 1794 edition, the colors blur the image to the point where it simply looks like a devil rather than a man. At first I thought this ridiculous and out-of-touch with Blake’s intentions, though I realized belatedly that, perhaps, the point of the darker images is to juxtapose our original ideas of “evil” [the images] with Blake’s ideas of evil [the text], making the reader wonder if their ideas of good and evil should truly be so concrete.

The Picturesque in Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey: Ruggedness and the Scenery in Parts

The picturesque is partially, but not completely, defined as something that calls out to be painted or drawn. It is a landscape that seems to have hidden depths beneath its surface that call to the poet or the artist, and continues to inspire even after it has been captured in words or paint. So, on one hand, there must be an element of beauty and pleasantness to the picturesque. Yet, there is a clear distinction between the two, and this is roughness or ruggedness (pg. 48, Gilpin). Wordsworth shows many instances of this ruggedness  in his poem about Tintern Abbey, especially at the beginning.

I was struck by his description of the hedge-rows as: “hardly hedge-rows, little lines/ Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms/ Green to the very door; and wreathes of smoke/ Sent up, in silence, from among the trees” (390). If this were a beautiful or charming scene, the hedge-rows would be in good order. There would be a clear air of domestication; the stamp of human presence would be clear. Yet, though these hedge-rows were initially put in along cultivated lines, they are now “little lines/ Of sportive wood run wild.”  The only sign of present humans is the smoke amongst the hedge-rows, but even that is sent up “in silence.”

Thus Wordsworth uses the hedge-rows to signal the slight sagging and the decay of the area as a whole, the worn ruggedness necessary to deem something picturesque. This leads to a second vital element of the picturesque that is seen in Wordsworth’s poem as a whole. According to Gilpin, when we examine picturesque scenery, “we are more commonly employed in analyzing the parts of scenes; which may be exquisitely beautiful, tho unable to produce a whole” (49, Gilpin). Wordsworth readily buys into this. His whole poem directs the reader’s eye from “steep and lofty cliffs,” to “these orchard-tufts,” to “these hedge-rows” (390). He cannot give the whole picture at once with words anymore than an enthusiastic tourist could instantly take in a whole landscape. Even the feelings associated with the landscape must wait their turns; only one detail at a time can be attended to in order to give the haziest glimpse of the whole.

Blake and “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.c.illbk.14&java=yes

The image in the link complicates the poem as a whole. Since the title of it is “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, we are led to believe that the poem will end with the joining of Heaven with Hell. However, this particular page describes the coming of the “cherub with his flaming sword”, and, “when he does, the whole creation will be consumed”. This does not strike me as a happy resolution between Heaven and Hell.

The plate shows two male figures, one hovering above the other, who seems to be dead. To me, it is showing the cherub floating above a man who represents the death of Creation. However, the plate complicates the poem, because this is not clearly the interpretation that Blake wants us to have. The poem mentions fire, and so there is fire in the background of the plate. But if this cherub used to reside in the Garden of Eden, God’s Paradise, then why has it descended to Earth to destroy it with fire? The cause for this is an “improvement of sensual enjoyment”, which I interpret as sin. The complication for me, then, is why the guardian of the Tree of Life is also the one who will destroy the world in 6,000 years. The way this can be resolved, though, is if the cherub is the guardian of all things good, and by destroying a sinful Earth which has indulged in an “improvement of sensual enjoyment”, he is merely keeping preventing the spread of sin in his God’s creation.