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Aug 31, 2013

The Playboy of the Western World

The Playboy of the Western World

Three Act Play of John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, tells the story of “mister honey”, Christy Mahon, “ slow at learning, a middling scholar only” running away from his farm, claiming he killed his father by driving a loy into his head.
"I just riz [raised] the loy [club] and let fall the edge of it on the ridge of his skull, and he went down at my feet like an empty sack, and never let a grunt or groan from him at all."
After he buried him, he hit the road, walking for eleven days, “facing hog, dog, or divil.”  Jimmy Farrell praises him for his bravery, and Pegeen joins in: "It's the truth they're saying, and if I'd that lad in the house, I wouldn't be fearing the . . . cut-throats, or the walking dead." At this Micheal says to Christy
“That was a hanging crime, mister honey. You should have had good reason for doing the like of that.
But the locals are more interested in vicariously enjoying his story than in condemning the immorality of his murderous deed. He captures the romantic attention of the bar-maid Pegeen Mike, the daughter of Flahetry, who thinks, “A daring fellow is the jewel of the world.”
Many other women also become attracted to him, including the Widow Quin, who tries unsuccessfully to seduce Christy at Shawn’s behest. The young, attractive Widow Quin (Emma O’Donnell) puts her finger on his demeanor when she teases him, saying,
 “Don’t be letting on to be shy — a fine, gamy, treacherous lad the like of you.”
Christy also impresses the village women by his victory in a donkey race, using the slowest beast.
Eventually Christy’s father, Mahon, who was only wounded, tracks him to the tavern. When the townsfolk realize that Christy’s father is alive, everyone (including Pegeen) shuns him as a liar and coward. In order to regain Pegeen’s love and the respect of the town, Christy attacks his father a second time. This time it seems that Old Mahon really is dead, but instead of praising Christy, the townspeople, led by Pegeen, bind and prepare to hang him to avoid being implicated as accessories to his crime. Pegeen cries:
“The blow of a loy, have taught me that there’s a great gap between a gallous story and a dirty deed”
She addresses Christy with the words:
You’ve turned me a likely gaffer in the end of all, the way I’ll go romancing through a romping lifetime, for this hour to the dawning of the Judgment Day.
Christy’s life is saved when his father, beaten and bloodied, crawls back onto the scene, having improbably survived his son’s second attack. He gives Christy a good thrashing and marches him off back home. As Christy and father leave to wander the world. Shawn suggests, he and Pegeen get married soon, but she spurns him. Pegeen laments betraying and losing Christy:
 “O my grief, I’ve lost him surely.  I’ve lost the only  playboy of the western world.”
"Synge's play is part of the problem," suggests Michael Billington, blaming it for why this "perfectly creditable revival … never achieves the right ecstatic quality". Women love bad boys, they say. But in J. M. Synge’s timeless comedy “The Playboy of the Western World,” a whole village falls in love with one — a young man who staggers through the pub door one evening and soon confesses that he has killed his father.
"The cast catch the flights of Synge's dramatic language but fail to keep their feet on the ground," says Ian Shuttleworth in The Financial Times.
The play is very exciting in the beginning, but the effect of the dramatic contrasts is considerably diluted when Christy is shown as champion of the village games in which he has won all the prizes. At this end, we are ready to say, what is seen in The Riders of the Sea, “By the grace of the Almighty God ……….. We must be satisfied.”
Christy’s tale represents an attack on the authority. His tales are part of the same pattern in the play as Pegeen’s dream of a “Yellow gown” or his prowess in the Games—something special, thrilling and potentially liberating.
In the end, though, Christy has the last laugh—by “daring to dream” that he could destroy the authority, he starts a chain of events that lead to his genuinely managing to destroy his father’s power  over him. In the end, Pegeen and the others are stuck with their old lives, while the father and son go off to start a new one-based on storytelling.
The Playboy of the Western World is presented as a microcosm of the world itself. It may have taken place in the Aran Islands but it still can be linked to societies in different parts of the world. His characters, most, importantly his protagonist represents the universal youth in search of his identity and how he finally he finds his place in the society as he realizes full potential among other more complex themes in the play.

The Playboy of the Western World has a two-fold theme, patricide and the transformation of a young man by change in circumstances and environment. The story deals with how the Mayo people make a hero of a Youngman who just committed patricide. The glorification of a murderer by the people of Mayo seem quite for fetched but Synge here describes a real character by telling us un his book The Aran Islands of an actual case of this kind whereby the people of Aran Islands gave shelter and helped a murderer who had killed his father. Hence already it is a play whose foundation lies in being real and so relevant.

Aug 27, 2013

Marx: Biography


Frederick Engels

This short biography is based on Engels’ version written at the end of July 1868 for the German literary newspaper Die Gartenlaube, whose editors decided against using it.

Written: Engels rewrote it around July 28, 1869;
First Published: in Die Zukunft, No. 185, August 11, 1869;
Translated: by Joan and Trevor Walmsley;
Transcribed: for the Internet by Zodiac;
Html Markup: by Brian Baggins.

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 in Trier, where he received a classical education. He studied jurisprudence at Bonn and later in Berlin, where, however, his preoccupation with philosophy soon turned him away from law. In 1841, after spending five years in the “metropolis of intellectuals,” he returned to Bonn intending to habilitate. At that time the first “New Era” was in vogue in Prussia. Frederick William IV had declared his love of a loyal opposition, and attempts were being made in various quarters to organise one. Thus the Rheinische Zeitung was founded at Cologne; with unprecedented daring Marx used it to criticise the deliberations of the Rhine Province Assembly, in articles which attracted great attention. At the end of 1842 he took over the editorship himself and was such a thorn in the side of the censors that they did him the honour of sending a censor [Wilhelm Saint-Paul] from Berlin especially to take care of the Rheinische Zeitung. When this proved of no avail either the paper was made to undergo dual censorship, since, in addition to the usual procedure, every issue was subjected to a second stage of censorship by the office of Cologne’s Regierungspresident [Karl Heinrich von Gerlach]. But nor was this measure of any avail against the “obdurate malevolence” of the Rheinische Zeitung, and at the beginning of 1843 the ministry issued a decree declaring that the Rheinische Zeitung must cease publication at the end of the first quarter. Marx immediately resigned as the shareholders wanted to attempt a settlement, but this also came to nothing and the newspaper ceased publication.

His criticism of the deliberations of the Rhine Province Assembly compelled Marx to study questions of material interest. In pursuing that he found himself confronted with points of view which neither jurisprudence nor philosophy had taken account of. Proceeding from the Hegelian philosophy of law, Marx came to the conclusion that it was not the state, which Hegel had described as the “top of the edifice,” but “civil society,” which Hegel had regarded with disdain, that was the sphere in which a key to the understanding of the process of the historical development of mankind should be looked for. However, the science of civil society is political economy, and this science could not be studied in Germany, it could only be studied thoroughly in England or France.

Therefore, in the summer of 1843, after marrying the daughter of Privy Councillor von Westphalen in Trier (sister of the von Westphalen who later became Prussian Minister of the Interior) Marx moved to Paris, where he devoted himself primarily to studying political economy and the history of the great French Revolution. At the same time he collaborated with Ruge in publishing the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, of which, however only one issue was to appear.

Expelled from France by Guizot in 1845, he went to Brussels and stayed there, pursuing the same studies, until the outbreak of the February revolution. Just how little he agreed with the commonly accepted version of socialism there even in its most erudite-sounding form, was shown in his critique of Proudhon’s major work Philosophie de la misère, which appeared in 1847 in Brussels and Paris under the title of The Poverty of Philosophy. In that work can already be found many essential points of the theory which he has now presented in full detail. The Manifesto of the Communist Party, London, 1848, written before the February revolution and adopted by a workers’ congress in London, is also substantially his

Expelled once again, this time by the Belgian government under the influence of the panic caused by the February revolution, Marx returned to Paris at the invitation of the French provisional government. The tidal wave of the revolution pushed all scientific pursuits into the background; what mattered now was to become involved in the movement. After having worked during those first turbulent days against the absurd notions of the agitators, who wanted to organise German workers from France as volunteers to fight for a republic in Germany, Marx went to Cologne with his friends and founded there the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which appeared until June 1849 and which people on the Rhine still remember well today. The freedom of the press of 1848 was probably nowhere so successfully exploited as it was at that time, in the midst of a Prussian fortress, by that newspaper. After the government had tried in vain to silence the newspaper by persecuting it through the courts – Marx was twice brought before the assizes for an offence against the press laws and for inciting people to refuse to pay their taxes, and was acquitted on both occasions – it had to close at the time of the May revolts of 1849 when Marx was expelled on the pretext that he was no longer a Prussian subject, similar pretexts being used to expel the other editors. Marx had therefore to return to Paris, from where he was once again expelled and from where, in the summer of 1849, [about August 26 1849] he went to his present domicile in London.

In London at that time was assembled the entire fine fleur [flower] of the refugees from all the nations of the continent. Revolutionary committees of every kind were formed, combinations, provisional governments in partibus infidelium, [literally: in parts inhabited by infidels. The words are added to the title of Roman Catholic bishops appointed to purely nominal dioceses in non-Christian countries; here it means “in exile”] there were quarrels and wrangles of every kind, and the gentlemen concerned no doubt now look back on that period as the most unsuccessful of their lives. Marx remained aloof from all of those intrigues. For a while he continued to produce his Neue Rheinische Zeitung in the form of a monthly review (Hamburg, 1850), later he withdrew into the British Museum and worked through the immense and as yet for the most part unexamined library there for all that it contained on political economy. At the same time he was a regular contributor to the New York Tribune, acting, until the outbreak of the American Civil War, so to speak, as the editor for European politics of this, the leading Anglo-American newspaper.

The coup d’etat of December 2 induced him to write a pamphlet, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, New York, 1852, which is just now being reprinted (Meissner, Hamburg), and will make no small contribution to an understanding of the untenable position into which that same Bonaparte has just got himself. The hero of the coup d’état is presented here as he really is, stripped of the  glory with which his momentary success surrounded him. The philistine who considers his Napoleon III to be the greatest man of the century and is unable now to exaplin to himself how this miraculous genius suddenly comes to be making bloomer after bloomer and one political error after the other – that same philistine can consult the aforementioned work of Marx for his edification.

Although during his whole stay in London Marx chose not to thrust himself to the fore, he was forced by Karl Vogt, after the Italian campaign of 1859, to enter into a polemic, which was brought to an end with Marx’s Herr Vogt (London, 1860). At about the same time his study of political economy bore its first fruit: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Part One, Berlin, 1859. This instalment contains only the theory of money presented from completely new aspects. The continuation was some time in coming, since the author discovered so much new material in the meantime that he considered it necessary to undertake further studies.

At last, in 1867, there appeared in Hamburg: Capital. A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I. This work contains the results of studies to which a whole life was devoted. It is the political economy of the working class, reduced to its scientific formulation. This work is concerned not with rabble-rousing phrasemongering, but with strictly scientific deductions. Whatever one’s attitude to socialism, one will at any rate have to acknowledge that in this work it is presented for the first time in a scientific manner, and that it was precisely Germany that accomplished this. Anyone still wishing to do battle with socialism, will have to deal with Marx, and if he succeeds in that then he really does not need to mention the dei minorum gentium.” [“Gods of a lesser stock;” meaning, celebrities of lesser stature.

But there is another point of view from which Marx’s book is of interest. It is the first work in which the actual relations existing between capital and labour, in their classical form such as they have reached in England, are described in their entirety and in a clear and graphic fashion. The parliamentary inquiries provided ample material for this, spanning a period of almost forty years and practically unknown even in England, material dealing with the conditions of the workers in almost every branch of industry, women’s and children’s work, night work, etc.; all this is here made available for the first time. Then there is the history of factory legislation in England which, from its modest beginnings with the first acts of 1802, has now reached the point of limiting working hours in nearly all manufacturing or cottage industries to 60 hours per week for women and young people under the age of 18, and to 39 hours per week for children under 13. From this point of view the book is of the greatest interest for every industrialist.

For many years Marx has been the “best-maligned” of the German writers, and no one will deny that he was unflinching in his retaliation and that all the blows he aimed struck home with a vengeance. But polemics, which he “dealt in” so much, was basically only a means of self-defence for him. In the final analysis his real interest lay with his science, which he has studied and reflected on for twenty-five years with unrivalled conscientiousness, a conscientiousness which has prevented him from presenting his findings to the public in a systematic form until they satisfied him as to their form and content, until he was convinced that he had left no book unread, no objection unconsidered, and that he had examined every point from all its aspects. Original thinkers are very rare in this age of epigones; if, however, a man is not only an original thinker but also disposes over learning unequalled in his subject, then he deserves to be doubly acknowledged.

As one would expect, in addition to his studies Marx is busy with the workers’ movement; he is one of the founders of the International Working Men’s Association, which has been the centre of so much attention recently and has already shown in more than one place in Europe that it is a force to be reckoned with. We believe that we are not mistaken in saying that in this, at least as far as the workers’ movement is concerned, epoch-making organisation the German element – thanks precisely to Marx – holds the influential position which is its due.

Aug 23, 2013

Marx and Engels and the Russian Revolution

Marx and Soviet Reality. Daniel Norman (1955)
VIII: Marx and Engels and the Russian Revolution

The Russians are very proud of the fact that Marx and Engels showed great interest in their country. Indeed, Russia was one of their main subjects, and their statements concerning past, contemporary and future Russia would fill volumes.

It is perhaps exaggerated to go as far as do Soviet historians, such as Professor Kozhevnikov (in Sovetskoye Gosudarstvo I Pravo, no 12, 1950), and say: ‘It is impossible to study the history of our country without thorough research into Marx and Engels’ statements on Russia.’ If such research and study had been possible since 1934, Russian history would certainly have been written otherwise, and the professor’s next sentence would have been superfluous. ‘Unfortunately’, he continues, ‘there is still no complete and systematic collection of Marx and Engels’ statements about Russia.’

Indeed, we have been offered a curiously incomplete Marx on Britain, a Marx on China, on India, etc, but it is almost a certainty that the Soviet regime will not give satisfaction to the distinguished professor, as we shall see further in our chapter on the fate of Marx and Engels’ works in Russia.

But, above all, the Russians are proud that the founders of ‘scientific Socialism’ both ‘expected’ and ‘foretold’ the Russian Revolution. Quotations such as ‘no doubt Russia stands on the verge of a revolution’, or ‘all the conditions for a revolution are present’, and ‘this revolution is certainly coming’ (all three are taken from one single paragraph of the Postscript to Internationales aus dem Volkstaat) are always cropping up in their writings and letters of a certain period. It is just this kind of non-committal sentence that the Russians like to quote. But, as always with them, this is only part of the truth, and they would be very embarrassed if forced to give the whole, for the revolution Marx and Engels foretold had nothing in common, as we shall see, with the one the Bolsheviks pretend to have achieved.

Marx and Engels’ prophecies in this domain are more important than would appear at first sight, as they help to place more exactly not only the Russian Revolution, but also the Bolsheviks and Soviet reality in relation to Marx and Engels.

During their lifetime Marx and Engels had much to do with Russians, both the exiles and those living in their own country. In general, they got on very badly with the refugees (their quarrels with Herzen and Bakunin are famous) and established for themselves a reputation of rabid Russophobia; on the other hand, they showed infinitely more patience and clemency towards those who fought Tsarist despotism at home, endeavouring to help them to understand and solve the problems that faced them (Marx and Engels’ long correspondence with Danielson is the best example) or with the representatives of the nascent group of Marxists – Vera Zasulich, Plekhanov, etc, and on these relations the Soviets try to establish the reputation of their Russophilia.

They equally loathed the messianic character of Pan-Slavism, in which they saw the instrument of expansion of Russian despotism. No less virulent attacks were reserved also for the other messianism, the Socialist one of Herzen, Mikhailovsky, Tkachov and the many other Russian Socialists who shared ‘the childish conception’ that the Russians were ‘the chosen people of Socialism’, and believed that the ‘rotten and degenerate’ West could be rejuvenated by the Russians who, as Tkachov put it, were ‘by instinct and tradition Communists’. But while they used the big whip against the exiled standard-bearers of this theory, they refused to judge the men and women who, although only a few hundred, by their sacrifices and heroic deeds, brought the Tsarist absolutism to contemplate the possibility and the conditions of a capitulation. They added: ‘We do not blame them for having considered their Russian people to be the chosen people of the Socialist revolution. But this is not a reason for us to share their illusions. The time of chosen peoples is forever past.’ (Postscript to Internationales aus dem Volkstaat)

The foundation on which the Russian revolutionaries of the second half of the nineteenth century laid their hopes of avoiding capitalism in Russia and passing directly to Socialism was the continued existence of different primitive collective forms of ownership of the land, and other means of production, such as the mir and the artel. [4] Again and again the Russian Socialists sought advice from Marx, whose Russian translation ofCapital was much thought of in their ranks; its chapters on capitalist accumulation, however, shattered their confidence in the possibility of a direct passage to Socialism.

Marx, as we have seen at the end of the previous chapter, and Engels later, tried in vain to explain to them that this could be possible if (i) these primitive Communist forms survived up to the day of the revolution, which they doubted more and more as time went on, and if (ii) the Socialist revolution had succeeded in the West before or at least at the same time as in Russia. But at no moment did they envisage the possibility of a successful Socialist revolution in backward Russia showing the way to the civilised world.

It is in Engels’ polemic (written in 1874 at Marx’s express request) against the Russian Blanquist, Tkachov, that the most illuminating statements on this question are to be found.

Commenting on Tkachov’s affirmation that the future Russian revolution would be ‘a social revolution...’, Engels wrote:

Every real revolution, to the extent to which it brings about the rule of a new class and permits it to reorganise the social structure according to its own needs, is a social revolution. But what he [Tkachov] wants to say is that it will be a Socialist revolution, which will introduce into Russia the type of society aimed at by West European Socialism even before we have achieved it in the West – and all this, in a social situation where both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie exist only in sporadic form and have not passed beyond the inferior stage of development.

One cannot help wondering whose pupils the Bolsheviks are, Marx and Engels’ or Tkachov’s?

‘And this’, continues Engels ironically, ‘should be possible, because the Russians are, so to speak, the chosen people of Socialism and have the artel and collective ownership of land.’ In fact, ‘the predominance of the artel form of organisation in Russia proves only the existence of a strong drive for association among the Russian people but does not prove at all that this drive makes possible a direct jump from the artel to the Socialist society...’ (Social Problems in Russia, reprinted in Internationales aus dem Volkstaat).

The revolution sought by modern Socialism [explains Engels] is, briefly, the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisieand the reorganisation of society by the abolition of all class distinctions.

Only when the social forces of production have reached a very high degree of development does it become possible to increase production to such an extent that the abolition of classes represents a real and durable progress without causing stagnation, or even a regression in the mode of social production. This has only been reached by the productive forces when in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Consequently, the existence of the bourgeoisie is from this point of view also as necessary a condition for the Socialist revolution as the proletariat. A person who maintains that this revolution could be carried out more easily in his country because it neither has proletariat nor bourgeoisie, proves by his statement that he has understood nothing of Socialism.

This is, however, what contemporary ‘Communists’ maintain.

Twenty years later, when he was still arguing with his Russian correspondents, and especially with his friend Danielson, about the possibility of shortening the ‘process of development towards a Socialist society’, he reprinted the Social Problems in Russia, and wrote the Postscript in which he tackled the problem anew and most emphatically declared:

... it is not only possible but certain that, after the victory of the proletariat and the transfer of the means of production to common ownership amongst Western European peoples, the countries which have just entered the stage of capitalist production and have still preserved, wholly or in part, their institutions of gentile society, will derive from these remnants... a powerful means of considerably shortening their process of development towards a Socialist society.

However, this would happen:

... only when the capitalist economy has been overcome in its homeland and the countries where it is flourishing... only then can this shortening process of development commence. But then it will be tackled with a certainty of success. And this goes for all countries in a pre-capitalistic stage of development, not only for Russia... [where, Engels admits] it will be relatively easier, because a part of the indigenous population has already acquired the intellectual achievements of capitalistic development and it will thus be possible here, in a revolutionary period, to accomplish the social transformation almost simultaneously with the West. 

Engels concludes his Postscript in the following terms: However, this much is certain: the first condition for a survival of what remains from the communal village is the overthrow of Tsarist despotism, the revolution in Russia. This revolution will not only uproot the great mass of the nation, the peasants, out of the isolation of their villages, from the mir which forms their world, to bring them on to the great stage where they will learn to know the world abroad and with it themselves, their own condition and the means to get out of their present destitution; at the same time it will give a new impetus to the working-class movement of the West, and provide it with better conditions for the struggle. Thus it will hasten the victory of modern industrial proletariat, without which contemporary Russia cannot achieve a socialist transformation neither proceeding from the village community nor from capitalism.

In a letter to Plekhanov, written shortly before his death, Engels comments on the effect his Russian studies reprinted in Internationales aus dem Volkstaat and the Postscript ‘written partly with Danielson in mind’ had on his friend (that is, Danielson), and says: ‘It is impossible to discuss with this generation of Russians to which he belongs, and who still believe in the spontaneous-Communist mission which distinguishes Russia, the real Holy Russia, from the other, profane peoples.’ (26 February 1895) And he adds:

Moreover, in a country like yours where the great modern industry is grafted on to the primitive peasant commune, and where all the phases of intermediary civilisation are represented at the same time, which besides is more or less surrounded by an intellectual Wall of China erected by despotism; it is not astonishing that the most peculiar and extravagant combinations of ideas come into being.

Had Engels lived only twenty-five years more, he would have seen how right he was, and how little has changed in Russia in this respect, as well as how the heirs of the Herzens and Mikhailovskys and other Tkachovs have used his and Marx’s names to cover their activities, to split the working-class movement and discredit their teachings.

For Lenin’s and Stalin’s conception of a Socialist revolution and proletarian dictatorship by proxy (that is, by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, representing a small militarily and bureaucratically disciplined minority of professional revolutionaries, called the Party, representing in its turn the proletariat, itself only a small minority of the Russian people), is certainly borrowed rather from Tkachov than from Marx and Engels.

Aug 20, 2013

Thomas McEvilley

Thomas McEvilley, Critic and Defender of Non-Western Art


In 1984, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened its exhibition “ ‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern,” the reception was generally favorable. Then came Thomas McEvilley’s shattering review in Artforum magazine.
Appearing a month after the exhibition opened, the review meticulously, logically and thoroughly demolished its basic, unstated assumption: that the indigenous arts of Africa, Asia, Australia, Oceania and the Americas were of value primarily as source materials for Western modernism.
But Mr. McEvilley, who died on March 2 at 73, wasn’t done yet. In powerfully accessible language, he extended the charge of reductive thinking to the museum itself, and to Western art scholarship and criticism as a whole.
The show’s curators, William Rubin and Kirk Varnedoe, tried to rebut his attack in letters to Artforum. Mr. McEvilley came back with even more persuasively damning arguments.
They were the opening salvos in an argument about multiculturalism that would define American art for the rest of the 1980s and ‘90s. When the dust had settled, it was clear who the winner was, and it was also clear that a new era in thinking about art had begun.
Mr. McEvilley, who lived in Manhattan and the Catskills, died of complications of cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said his wife, Joyce Burstein.
Like much of his writing on contemporary art, Mr. McEvilley’s review of the Modern show had wide repercussions. It inspired the curator Jean-Hubert Martin to present artists from five continents in the 1989 Paris exhibition “Magiciens de la Terre.” That show set the paradigm for countless others over the next three decades, including virtually every biennial and triennial anywhere, whether in Venice, São Paulo, Dakar or Shanghai.
Mr. McEvilley was well suited to be a spokesman for expansive ways of looking at world art. He studied Greek, Latin and Sanskrit at the University of Cincinnati. In his 36 years on the faculty of Rice University in Houston, from 1969 to 2005, he taught courses in both Greek and South Asian culture, as well as in the history of religion and philosophy.
In the lingering wake of 1960s formalist thinking dominated by Clement Greenberg and Minimalism, Mr. McEvilley was a crucial alternative voice. He demonstrated that abstraction was not a European invention, pointing to non-Western abstract art from Hindu Tantric painting to African masks to Islamic tile work. He was among the first widely read critics of his generation to write about contemporary non-Western art at a time when it was all but unknown to the Western market.
Mr. McEvilley was born on July 13, 1939, in Cincinnati. He received a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in classical philology from the University of Cincinnati, and a master’s from the University of Washington in Seattle. He was regarded as an adventurously cosmopolitan teacher at Rice as well as at Yale and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was a visiting professor. In 2005 he founded the M.F.A. criticism and art writing program at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Among his books, the ones that have had the widest impact are two collections of essays, “Art and Otherness: Crisis in Cultural Identity“ (1992) and “Art and Discontent: Theory at the Millennium” (1991), as well as “The Triumph of Anti-Art: Conceptual and Performance Art in the Formation of Post-Modernism“ (2005).
He published a monumental philological study, “The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies,” in 2001, and a second one, “Sappho,” in 2008. He also wrote extensively on Western contemporary artists. At his death, he was working on a book about Greek poetry.
He received the 1993 Frank Jewett Mather Award for distinction in art criticism from the College Art Association.
In addition to Ms. Burstein, Mr. McEvilley is survived by two sons, Thomas and Monte; a sister, Ellen M. Griffin; and two grandchildren. His son Alexander died before him. Two previous marriages ended in divorce.

Aug 17, 2013

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: Eliot

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky        
Like a patient etherized upon a table    
                             —Dante’s Inferno (Canto 27; Lines 61 – 66)
Ezra Pound published  Eliot’s "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" or "Prufrock" or "Prufrock Among the Women" (1915),   a "drama of literary anguish", is a dramatic interior monologue of an urban man, stricken with feelings of isolation and an incapability for decisive action that is said
"to epitomize frustration and impotence of the modern individual and "represent thwarted desires and modern disillusionment. ( Kathleen McCoy and Judith Harlan’s English Literature From 1785.)"
The epigraph heightens Prufrock's frustration. It refers to the torture of Guido da Montefeltro in the eighth circle of Dante's Inferno.
In the first part of the poem, the man—who thinks “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be”—believes people should take the time to choose well thought out decisions, when he says “To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”. He further explains:
 “And indeed there will be time  
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and,    
‘Do I dare?’ …Do I dare Disturb the universe?…” (pg. 110-111).
In contrast, the wise old man’s has another view in the second part of the poem. He reviews his past life by considering other decisions he would have made. He states:
“Would it have been worth while, To have bitten off the matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball…”(page 112).
In the famous opening, “the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherised upon a table," and the simile makes an equation between being spread out and being etherised that continues elsewhere in the poem when the evening, now a bad patient:
 "….. malingers,    
 Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me."
There it "sleeps so peacefully! / Smoothed by long fingers . . . ." This suspension is a rhetorical as well as a spatial and emotional condition:
"…streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent"
lead not to a conclusion but to a question, a question too "overwhelming" even to ask. Phrases like the "muttering retreats / Of restless nights" combine physical blockage, emotional unrest, and rhetorical maundering in an equation that seems to make the human being a combination not of angel and beast but of road-map and Roberts' Rules of Order.
In certain lines, metaphor dissolves into metonymy before the reader's eyes. "The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes" appears clearly to every reader as a cat, but the cat itself is absent, represented explicitly only in parts—back, muzzle, tongue—and by its actions—licking, slipping, leaping, curling. The metaphor has in a sense been hollowed out to be replaced by a series of metonyms, and thus it stands as a rhetorical introduction to what follows. The people in the poem also appear as disembodied parts or ghostly actions. They are the:
"Faces that you meet,"     
"Hands / That lift and drop a question on your plate,"        
"Arms that are braceleted and white and bare,”        
"Eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase."
Prufrock himself fears such a reduction, to use Kenneth Burke's term for the effect of metonymy. The dread questions "How his hair is growing thin!" and "But how his arms and legs are thin" reduce Prufrock to certain body parts, the thinness of which stands in for the diminution caused by the rhetorical figures. What Prufrock fears has already been accomplished by his own rhetoric.
The physical and psychological enervation of Eliot's early personae may be read in part as correlatives of his literary situation; this is the way Prufrock, for example, states his problem:
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—       
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,           
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,        
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,  
Then how should I begin 
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?   
          And how should I presume?
Prufrock does not know how to presume to begin to speak, both because he knows "all already"—this is the burden of his lament—and because he is already known, formulated. His consciousness of the other's eye—I haunts his language at its source: "Let us go then, you and I." An "I" who addresses a "you" becomes subject to the laws of communication, and his voice is subsumed by expression. 
In this poem the horror of sex seems to come in part from its power to metonymize. This is seen with this example:
In the room the women come and go   
Talking of Michelangelo.
Like Augustine, Eliot sees sex as the tyranny of one part of the body over the whole.
An oddly similar relationship of part to whole governs Prufrock's conception of time. In a burst of confidence he asserts, "In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse." Yet he seems to quail before the very amplitude of possibility contained in time, so that all these decisions and revisions are foreclosed before they can be made. Thus Prufrock's prospective confidence in the fullness of time becomes a retrospective conviction that "I have known them an already, known them all: -- / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons. . . ." To know "all" already is to be paralyzed, disabled, because "all" is not full of possibility but paradoxically empty, constituted as it is by pure repetition, part on part on part. In a figure that exactly parallels the bodily metonymies, time becomes a collection of individual parts, just as the poem's human denizens had been little more than parts: "And I have known the eyes already, known them all"; "And I have known the arms already known them all." The instantaneous movement from part to whole, from eyes, arms, evenings, mornings, to "all," expresses the emptiness between, the gap between dispersed parts and an oppressive whole made of purely serial repetition. The very reduction of human beings to parts of themselves and of time to episodes makes it impossible to conceive of any whole different from this empty, repetitious "an." As Burke says, metonymy substitutes quantity for quality, so that instead of living life Prufrock feels "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
Prufrock's paralysis follows naturally from this subjectivizing of everything. If each consciousness is an opaque sphere, then Prufrock has no hope of being understood by others. "No experience," says Bradley in a phrase Eliot quotes, "can lie open to inspection from outside" (KE, 203). Prufrock's vision is incommunicable, and whatever he says to the lady will be answered by, "That is not what I meant at all./That is not it, at all" (CP, 6). The lady is also imprisoned in her own sphere, and the two spheres can never, like soap bubbles, become one. Each is impenetrable to the other.
One of the puzzles of the poem is the question as to whether Prufrock ever leaves his room. It appears that he does not, so infirm is his will, so ready "for a hundred indecisions,/And for a hundred visions and revisions,/Before the taking of a toast and tea" (CP, 4). In another sense Prufrock would be unable to go anywhere, however hard he tried. If all space has been assimilated into his mind, then spatial movement would really be movement in the same place, like a man running in a dream. Memories, ironic echoes of earlier poetry, present sensations, anticipations of what he might do in the future ("I grow old . . . I grow old . . . / I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled" [CP, 71)--these are equally present. There is a systematic confusion of tenses and times in the poem, so that it is difficult to tell if certain images exist in past, present, future. Prufrock begins by talking of his visit to the lady as something yet to be done, and later talks of his failure to make the visit as something long past ("And would it have been worth it, after all,/Would it have been worth while" (CP, 61). Like the women talking of Michelangelo, he exists in an eternal present, a frozen time in which everything that might possibly happen to him is as if it had already happened: "For I have known them all already, known them all" (CP, 4)
 The general fragmentation of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is obvious and notorious. The poem seems a perfect example of what Terry Eagleton calls the modern "transition from metaphor to metonymy: unable any longer to totalize his experience in some heroic figure, the bourgeois is forced to let it trickle away into objects related to him by sheer contiguity." Everything in "Prufrock" trickles away into parts related to one another only by contiguity. Spatial progress in the poem is diffident or deferred, a "scuttling" accomplished by a pair of claws disembodied so violently they remain "ragged." 

Aug 15, 2013

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter
A classic like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter “perpetrates bad morals (The Church Review),” takes on the themes of pride, sin and vengeance with a burning passion when Hester:
 “Yonder woman … was the wife of a certain learned man, English by birth, but who had long ago dwelt in Amsterdam,”
was publicly branded as an adulterer, the people around town began to think of her as a figure of evil and that she symbolizes all that is wrong in the world:
“But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer—so that both men and women who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time—was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom.”
Hester Prynne's adultery causes her alienation from the Puritan society in which she lives. After the term of her confinement ends, she moves into a remote, secluded cottage on the outskirts of town; because of this seclusion from society, the Puritans regard her with much curiosity and suspicion:
"Children...would creep nigh enough to behold her plying her needle at the cottage window... and discerning the scarlet letter on her breast, would scamper off with a strange, contagious fear."
There is a catch, however; her husband has been missing for years. Hester is sent to prison, where she gives birth and calls the child Pearl—A born outcast of the infantile world,” for she is her mother's only treasure.
As her punishment, Hester is brought into the marketplace and is forced to wear a Scarlet Letter “A” upon her breast, which she proudly embroiders with gold thread. Hester is satisfied, and ready to lead a quiet life with Pearl, her child, as a seamstress as she had before, but her composure leads us to wonder:
Who is the child's father, and how will he cope with his guilt?
And when the clever husband returns, shall the father survive his venomous wrath?
Arthur Dimmesdale “a real existence on earth,” Hester’s partner in adultery, is a minister, whom the people calls:
"A true priest, a true religionist, with the reverential sentiment largely developed, and an order of mind that impelled itself powerfully along the track of creed"
The experience of Hester and Dimmesdale recalls the story of Adam and Eve because, in both cases, sin results in expulsion and suffering but it also results in knowledge. For Hester, the scarlet letter functions as "her passport into regions where other women dared not tread," leading her to "speculate" about her society and herself more "boldly" than anyone else in New England. As for Dimmesdale, the "cheating minister," his sin gives him:
"Sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his chest vibrate in unison with theirs."
Prynne and Dimmesdale infringe the seventh commandment which says “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” On the contrary, Hester believes in the sanctity of the love relationship between her and Dimmendale as she says:
“What we did … had a consecration of its own. We felt it so; we said so to each other.”
It is also viewed by the puritan community as "Able, So strong was Hester Prynne with a woman's strength," The letter A is to be precise, also becomes "the cross on a nun's bosom" In keeping with her status as a sister of Mercy, Hester's dark , oriental beauty also undergoes a change:  
"It was a sad transformation, too, that her rich and luxuriant hair had been cut off.”
Hester is transformed from a sinful woman into an “Angelic Sister of Mercy” and from a dark, voluptuous oriental woman into a nun who deliberately suppresses her youth and beauty.
Why did Hester Prynne keep secrets that ended up hurting everyone? Hester can atone for her sin of adultery, but every day that she keeps the secret of her lover, and the true identity of Roger Chillingworth a secret she is committing a sin.
“Take heed how thou deniest to him—who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself---the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!”
Another theme is the extreme legalism of the Puritans; rejected Hester spent her life mostly in solitude, and wouldn't go to church and cries:
“There is one worse than even the polluted priest … That old man’s revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so.”
Now the question comes in the mind, would it not have been better to have his sin revealed? Then, the minister is given another chance to redeem himself but he cowers yet again when Hester and Pearl stand with him Pearl asks: “Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, tomorrow noontide?”
Wild conclusion conclude, Hester Prynne's offense against society occurred seven years earlier, but she remains punished for it. Hester learned to forgive herself for her adultery, but society continues to scorn her for it. (One might remember Jean Valjean's permanent identity as criminal after a single minor crime in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.) Hawthrone seems ready to assert, at times the converse of Christ’s words:
 “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin.”
All in all novel “created an allegorical view of life upon which early Puritan society was based (Yvor Winters).”

Aug 12, 2013

Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness


"Towards A Feminist poetics" is Showalter’s important critical essay.  Showalter discusses the following topics in this essay.  They are:
1.     Woman as reader [Feminist Critique],
2.     Woman as writer [Gynocritics],
3.     The problems of Feminist Critique,
4.     Program of Gynocritics, and,
5.     Feminine, Feminist and Female Stages.

1) Woman as reader [Feminist Critique]
According to Elaine Showalter feminism can be divided into two distinct varieties.  The first type is concerned with ‘woman as reader’.  In this concept woman is considered as the consumer of literature produced by male-writers.  She calls it male-produced literature.  Elaine argues that a female reading may change our idea of a given text.  Elaine calls this kind of analysis the feminist critique.  It is a historically grounded inquiry.  Its subjects include the images and stereotypes of women in literature, the omissions and misconceptions about women in criticism.  It also look into the fissures in male constructed literary history.  For example Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, at the time of Julius Caesar has been treated differently by Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw.  Bernard Shaw gives her the role of Caesar’s adopted daughter, whereas Shakespeare considers her Caesar’s concubine.  Feminist critique also concerned with the exploitation and the manipulation of the female audience, especially in popular culture and film.  We find advertisements in which women appear in different poses exhibiting part of their body to get more publicity to various consumer products. 

2)Woman as writer [Gynocritics] 
The second type of feminist criticism is concerned with woman as writer.  In this concept woman is the producer of textual meaning.  It looks into and discusses themes, genres and structures of literatures by woman.  Woman as writer includes the following subjects:
a)      The psychodynamics of a female creativity,
b)      Linguistics and the problem of a female language,
c)       The collective female literary career,
d)      Literary history, and,
e)      Studies of particular female writers and their works.
As there is no particular term in English for such a branch, Elaine has adopted the French term la gynocritique and modified it as Gynocritics.
The Feminist critique is essentially political and polemical.  It is theoretically affiliated to Marxist sociology and Aesthetics.  Gynocritics is more self contained and experimental.

3) The problems of the Feminist critique
One of the problems of the Feminist critique is that it is male-oriented.  If we study stereotypes women, the sexism of male critics and the limited role the women play in literary history, we are not learning what women have felt and experienced.  We get only experience of whaat men have felt.  In some fields of specialization apprenticeship to the male-theoretician is essential.  That poses another problem, the problem of reluctance or resistance to questioning.  The critic has a tendency to naturalize women’s victimization by making it the inevitable.

4) Program of Gynocritics
The program of Gynocritics is to construct a female frame work for the analysis of women’s literarature.  Another task is to develop new models based on the study of female experience.  It doesn’t support the idea of adopting male models and theories.  Showalter remarks “Gynocritics begins at the point when we free ourselves from the lenear absolutes of male literary theory, stop trying to fit women between the lines of the male tradition.  Elaine hopes to establish a visible world of female culture. 
5)Feminine, Feminist and Female stages
In her book “A Literature of Their Own” Elaine Showalter writes on English women writers.  She says that we can see patterns and phases in the evolution of a female tradition.  Showalter has divided the period of evolution into three stages.  They are: the Femininethe Feminist, and, the Female stages.
1)      The first phase, the feminine phase dates from about 1840-1880.  During that period women wrote in an effort to equal the intellectual achievements of the male culture.  The distinguishing sign of this period is the male pseudonym.  This trend was introduced in England in the 1840’s.  It became a national characteristic of English women writers. During this phase the feminist content of feminine art is typically oblique, because of the inferiority complex experienced by female writers. 
2)      The feminist phase lasted about 38 years; from 1882 to 1920.  The New Women movement gained strength—women won the right to vote.  Women writers began to use literature to dramatize the ordeals of wrong womanhood.
3)      The latest phase or the third phase is called the female phase ongoing since 1920.  Here we find women rejecting both imitation and protest.  Showalter considers that both are signs of dependency. Women show more independent attitudes.  They realize the place of female experience in the process of art and literature.  She considers that there is what she calls autonomous art that can come from women because their experiences are typical and individualistic.  Women began to concentrate on the forms and techniques of art and literature.  The representatives of the female phase such as Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf even began to think of male and female sentences.  They wrote about masculine journalism and feminine fiction.  They redefined and sexualized external and internal experience.    
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