I first visited Rice in late February of this year for VISION. When I came back home, my twelfth grade British Literature class had just started reading Frankenstein as a part of what felt like a never-ending hellscape of Romantic literature (although in my opinion it was an improvement upon the preceding never-ending hellscape of Enlightenment literature). I had been anticipating the novel with visions of Boris Karloff in my head, but it continued to hold my interest through my sympathy for the creature. In my opinion, Frankenstein was the monster, and his creature was no more than an abandoned child. An eight foot tall child made up of cut-and-pasted corpses, but a child nonetheless. Who wouldn’t sympathize with the creature spurned by his creator who immediately recognized the abnormality in his creature; who wouldn’t want to reach out to the “poor wretch,” whose only family ran in horror when he revealed his true identity?
Well, a few people. I was told by my classmates that the creature revealing himself to the De Lacey’s as a coming-out allegory didn’t make sense, for a few reasons:
So I let it go. I finished the Romantic literature unit, I passed British Literature, I came to Rice. Frankenstein would have to be revisited at some indefinite point in the future, if at all. I chose the introductory English class taught by the same professor whose class I had visited at VISION, and eight months later, I’m reading Frankenstein again. It’s funny for a few reasons:
It’s almost unbelievable to me, considering my previous desperation to express my sympathy. I was once annoyed that my classmates didn’t agree with me, but now I’m grateful. Could you imagine, on top of the stress that comes with being a high school senior in the middle of your college applications, your classmates agreeing with you, seeing how you could sympathize with this creature, since you and this gigantic, shambling mess of rotting limbs have so much in common? Now, I’m grateful that I was made to wait to sympathize with a monster until the time of year when we all embrace the monsters inside of us.
Written by Anonymous
On April 4th, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Although he was only thirty-nine years old when he was murdered, King had already completely changed the course of the Civil Rights Movement and re-defined the American conscience. Yet, he paid the heaviest cost for his dedication and passion in bringing about change. Many Americans had been hopeful that through progressive legislation and policies, hate had largely begun to be rooted out in the United States; that after years of oppression and discrimination, a sort of national healing process had begun. But King’s assassination, and events during the spring and summer of 1968, would show just how divided and enraged a large part of the American public was. From riots in Detroit to the anti-war protests in Chicago, turmoil was apparently erupting in every corner of the country. Bigotry, too, was undefeated. Although segregation had been legally ended, many Southerners still violently opposed integration and African-Americans were incredibly limited in their employment, living, and educational opportunities across the country. Even though the laws had been changed, the system itself was still rigged.
The same night of Martin Luther King’s death, Robert Kennedy (who was in the middle of a long, bitter presidential primary campaign) climbed onto the back of a battered pick-up truck in downtown Indianapolis and addressed a huge crowd of anxious supporters. Most of them had no idea of what happened in Memphis just a few hours before. Although Kennedy had planned on delivering his usual stump speech, he realized that the gravity of the situation called for something more meaningful, so he decided to speak off-the-cuff. As the midwestern sky darkened and the crowd hushed, an obviously distraught Kennedy slowly announced that “Martin Luther King [had been] shot and killed”. The crowd’s reaction was immediate and intense; initial gasps of disbelief turned to pained cries of panic and frustration. But, Kennedy continued. The words that he spoke had a profound effect on his audience, and 50 years later, continue to have a profound effect on me. Kennedy mostly spoke of the need for compassion and understanding in the face of bigotry; for the need to bridge our differences and unite ourselves against the expressions of hate and violence that appear so frequently in our society. Whenever tragedy strikes, I find myself going back to these ideas, and I almost always end up re-reading this speech. I guess it serves as a reminder that decency exists everywhere, and that despite what we may see on TV or in the newspapers, most people really do want to understand and accept those who might be different than them.
I really can’t do his actual words justice, though, so I thought I should include at least the last half of the speech for you to read. So, here it is:
“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.
So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that's true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love--a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.
We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we've had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.
But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.
Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”
When tragedy strikes, like it did so horribly yesterday, it’s necessary to remind ourselves of the importance of dedicating our lives to the “love and wisdom and compassion” that Kennedy spoke of. It might seem cheesy or idealistic, but I think that tolerance and understanding is the only real option we have.
Written by Matthew A.
Hey you. Yes, you. Person reading this blog post. You like reading-- you’re on a literary blog after all, so I think this is a fair assumption. So here is my question: when is the last time that you read a book that you chose to read? When was the last time you read because you enjoy reading, and not because you were assigned to read something for class?
I used to spend the majority of my free time reading. Even in high school, I was often found with my nose in a book. I’d read in between classes, before I went to bed, and sometimes (sorry Mom) at dinner. Reading was my primary hobby.
And then, as I’m sure many of you can relate to, I came to college and my course load increased exponentially. It’s the most grating irony of pursuing an English major: you chose the major because you enjoy reading, but then you have to do so much reading for class that you don’t enjoy reading anymore.
You always think that you’ll find time, right? You think that one weekend, maybe, you won’t have a paper deadline or a midterm to study for, and then, maybe, you’ll fall back into reading. You’ll pick up one of the novels you packed to bring to school that’s been gathering dust on your desk and you’ll read the whole thing through right then and there. But that magical weekend never comes and you’re left disappointed.
This summer I started carrying a novel in my backpack again. I set a challenge for myself, to start, just for a week: any time I wanted to reach for my phone to waste time, I’d reach for the book instead. Suddenly, I realized there were tons of moments in my day that I could read a page or two. I could squeeze a chapter in if I was 10 minutes early for work. I would read on the train on my way home. I looked forward to reading, and suddenly my “To Read” pile was shrinking in a way it hadn’t for years.
That’s not to say there isn’t good fiction to be found online-- there absolutely is! But I found that when I opened my phone, that wasn’t often where my fingers were taking me. I’d wind up mindlessly reading whatever articles happened to be on my Facebook feed and (for the most part) being sorely disappointed with their contents. I guess that’s what happens when you let an algorithm make your reading list. Choosing what I was going to read, getting to select the things that I enjoyed, that was the real difference for me. Reading stopped being work and started being an escape again.
So, if you miss reading, this is the advice I would give to you: read in the moments between. Carry a book around or bookmark your favorite poetry site. You may not have an hour to read, but you do have a minute.
Written by Megan G.
One of the things that elicits shock from people is when I inform them of my antipathy towards Ernest Hemingway. Okay. Look. I get that Hemingway is one of the kings of the literary world. That's all well and good. He’s just not my guy. I don’t like the way that Hemingway condenses. I don't like the way his writing feels or speaks at me. I respect his craft - every word is there as a direct line between the reader and the events of the text. It's a very effective strategy. Still, golly gee, do I feel like his work talks past me, or maybe so directly to me it unnerves me. One of the two - either way, he's not my cup of tea. I prefer coffee.
That being said, in two different conversations this past weekend, I've had to explain some very good writing advice that Hemingway once gave. Though it grates on my nerves when people tell me to write like Hemingway would, I do hold one piece of his advice among my little box of writing tips. It's about motivation.
While you can read the full quote (and some more good ones) from this article, the best part boils down to this:
“The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop.”
In other words, never finish a day of writing at the end of one section and leave your future self to deal with a blank page or chapter title. Instead, either stop writing a few paragraphs from the end, or start the next section. That way, the next day, you can come back and jump into it right where you left off. You'll be excited to write down the words that have been sitting in your head for a while, and then it'll be easy to keep going. This strategy is helpful for any type of writing. I usually use it for my longer-form fiction, but it can be true for personal essays, short stories, or even academic essays.
Other writers and writer-supporters have given great advice as to how to battle with writer’s block (see the tasteful images linked below). It's all pretty good advice. You're bound to find something in there that works for you. But I think this Hemingway axiom actually points to a longer-term solution instead of just a motivational pep talk or coping strategy. Typical Hemingway, getting the job done in fewer words, right? Nip writer’s block in the bud by giving tomorrow’s you a point to jump into. Instead of looking for ways to break down the wall that writer’s block represents, don’t let the wall grow at all.
Written by Erika S.
Yesterday before the rains came, my friend studied first the darkening sky, then me.
“If we time it right, we can walk to Skyspace and get caught in the rain.”
“Let me get my shoes,” I said.
We walked, got poured on, sat in Skyspace for a while, talking about the way the water ran off the roof and about the respect we have for people who not only know what they like but also do it; we talked about why introspection does not inherently indicate a humanities major and why sometimes “low-class” art is the stuff that sticks with you; we talked about going home and not going home and birds.
It got me thinking about how fast-paced my life has become - every conversation serves a purpose, now, where I'm either searching for information or trying to make someone laugh, but there's that lovely forgotten in-between space where rainy days and late-night chats reside, driven not out of a need to vent but a mess of ideas and words that have stuck themselves in your head and need to come out.
There is an art to these conversations, much like there is an art to storytelling. Words become images. Thoughts form of their own accord, just like stories take on lives of their own. These conversations are hard to put down. They're self-propelling and wandering, both passionate and impassioning. The good ones leave you thinking long, long after the words have been said.
Communication in college trenches tends so frequently to be a one-sided affair. Here is what I think. This is why I'm right. But there is so much beauty in discovering what collaboration can produce, in equalizing the listening and the responding.
Conversations are a lot like stories. If you let them happen to you and ascribe value to them the way we carry a story's moral or quotable moments with us, you'll recognize the narrative, the catharsis, the conscious escape that we find in books. It's all there in the everyday, in the sparkling opportunities we have to make the mundane something extraordinary, something unusual, something important. This is important. Listen, but only until you must speak.
And now, you must speak.
Written by Kristen H.
Finding my voice has proven to be the most difficult part about being a writer. Since I started writing a few years ago, I have been tormented with the unreasonable fear that I sound like whoever I am reading at the moment. And often when I write, I experience the chiasmatic sensation of exhilaration and plagiarism: it excites me to be intensely engaged with a text and to recognize work being done on the syntactical level; however, I tend to feel like a fraud, a literary pirate…and an unsuccessful one at that…when I catch myself using a particular author’s style or lexicon (Confession: I have cribbed my punctuation habits from an amalgamation of Pynchon and Faulkner—hence the ellipses…dashes…semi-colons…all working to protract tiresome digressions.) Anyway, it always takes some time to sort through these contrary feelings. I tell myself that everyone learns by reading those who come before them. I try to ease my anxieties about literary piracy by calling transgressions ‘references’ or ‘allusions.’ But the self-doubt and self-consciousness remains, and I find myself delaying projects in order to more fully develop my own distinct style. I think that the paralysis induced by self-doubt comes from a fear of observation. Whatever I may tell myself about learning from mistakes, my ego always finds a way to make its voice heard; so rather than venturing out on my own—to make mistakes and hopefully discover something about my writing along the way—I use my favorite author’s as blueprints for style, imagery and diction. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I feel as if it has hampered my ability to sit down at my computer and write on a regular basis.
I think that this sensation taps into something commonly experienced by those of us who write. On one hand there are the constant confrontations with failure and the subsequent fear of ineptitude. And this is made worse by the fact that we are not the arbiters of our work; rather, our work, an extension of ourselves, stands bare and defenseless against the criticisms of a detached audience. And what worse criticism could be leveled than banality or pedantry? I don’t know about you, but it terrifies me to think that I may be received as unoriginal. Which is why I have committed myself to a new exercise that will hopefully develop confidence in my voice independent from those who influence me. But first, I would like to demonstrate how engaging with an author can re-shape prose.
I’m currently working on my capstone essay about the process of myth-making in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, particularly how the narrators construct representations of black and female subjectivities that ensure subordination. I am using a theoretical framework, as laid out in Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, to discuss overlaying systems (culture, race, gender, sexuality, law) and the multilateral exertion of power in the Postbellum South. The idea has proven to be sufficiently difficult to untangle without worrying about how the two authors, Faulkner and Foucault, have influenced my writing style. Both authors craft long, winding sentences that operate by circumlocution rather than strict definition. What I mean is that they dance around what they are trying to say; they surround their desired concept rather than trying to pin it down with a needle. This style does not work well in a form that requires concision. Nevertheless, I find myself preyed upon by paronomastic predilections, my love for language and alliteration, and the unwinding beauty of thoughts scrolled down screen—a stream of syllogisms in need syntactically for structure that mediates and facilitates the care and complexity manifest in its discursive elements—like the ramifications of warbling wistaria vine twice-bloomed in breezes still of summer and reaching not only for the underlaid lattice but by trace scent as well…miasmal-distillant: an effluvium moving as if a shadow, nearly unobservable, but essential for the auditur to truly know what lay before them.
Lately I have written a lot of sentences like that one…and they typically take so long to craft that I lose whatever momentum had propelled me to the keyboard in the first place. What’s worse, I lost my train of thought while working on that just now…so forgive me if the rest of this blog post goes to shit. Anyway, while that sentence explains how syntax and imagery can enliven whatever you are trying to say, it defeats itself on the surface by applying the very strategy that it touts. It requires to be unwound, and the influence of Faulkner and Foucault’s writing styles have had a negative impact in this scenario. Repeatedly, these types of mistakes remind me that I have yet to establish an independent voice. I lack confidence in my own prose that should act to resist the impulse to imitate other authors. So to remedy this, I have purchased a cloth-bound notebook (this way I can slip it between books on my bookshelf and not fear someone cracking it open.) I have promised myself to write in it every day for the next month, at which point I will assess the viability of this technique in establishing my own voice. I have given myself a few ground rules to make sure that I avoid some of the pitfalls that I noted above:
For me, disconnection is paramount in this exercise. I cannot try to do this on my computer because I will violate every rule stated above. These rules intend to promote continuity of thought and discourse, which I believe to be fundamental in mapping out thought-processes and idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, should you want to adopt this idea, adaptation is obviously permitted. I work best in the mornings, so I use that time to my advantage. Others may prefer to work late at night. I prefer sleep. Finally, one last point about finding an independent voice: influence from other writers will be and should be apparent. I don’t want to be misunderstood as thinking that a writer’s voice must exist in a vacuum. Community and communication exist before, and are essential to independent expression. It would be foolish to believe that a truly singular voice could exist in language—a system that operates by reference. My own qualm comes from too heavy a reliance on certain authors’ style, but I will gladly use my best Faulkner impression when the mode seems appropriate. I just don’t want to spend my life as a writer chasing ghosts.
Written by Caleb S.
I grew up in a library. My mom worked behind the scenes while I sat among stacks of books all day, devouring story after story. The heaviest reading I’ve done in my life was during these days of sunny childhood and nonexistent homework. I grew up on adventure, on dragons and lady knights and magic and courage, mostly in the form of juvenile fiction.
When I eventually made the move to young adult books, I began to find it harder and harder to pull a random book out of the shelves and want to sit down and read it straight through in a night, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized why.
An overwhelming number of YA books revolve around idealized relationships, probably because that’s what sells. Romance has its place, of course - it’s fun to read! This isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. The real issue is that these books are not marketed as romances, yet tie their characters’ happiness and fulfillment to these frequently toxic or codependent relationships, not to their own individual growth throughout the story. Their genre is labeled “science fiction” or “fantasy,” not “romance set on the high seas masquerading as an adventure novel.” More often than not, I find books (not marked as romances!) that would be virtually plotless were it not for the relationships they chronicle. You too can be enraged at the system! You can tell when you’ve found a story like this pretty easily - the action will find its resolution when the main character achieves the seemingly secondary goal of defining a relationship with the brooding hottie they embarked on their journey with (bonus points if the main character hated them for the first twenty pages, then realized their eyes sparkled a certain way in the firelight and there will never, ever be another for them). Most of the time, this pervasive “subplot” ends up taking away from the independence of female main characters - on whom most of these hidden romances are centered - by validating them only with the love of another.
This trend is not the fault of any one book or author, but the industry echochamber as a whole. Romance is a hook. But romance is also a genre - a valid one! - that is currently missing quite a few books that I’d argue have been mistaken for more plot-based publications. From where I stand now, it’s obvious that the books I read when I was an unknowing YA reader shaped my perspective on relationships for many years, and I still struggle with unrealistic expectations about what a relationship should mean to me. I was sure that finding the “perfect” relationship would grant me the happiness and self-actualization I’d seen through the eyes of so many of my favorite YA characters. I compromised my self-worth and core values constantly, not realizing that perhaps my understanding of the world was a subconscious reflection of what was probably the biggest deception of my childhood. When I thought I was reading about a girl trying to solve deadly mysteries, I was unknowingly consuming these underlying messages that would stick with me for a long, long time. I am not alone in this. When a society consumes such media to the depth and breadth that our society does, these patterns of idealizing relationships are consistently reflected in our cultural reality.
There is something so valuable about a story that empowers its main characters to succeed, regardless of their relationship status, and that’s why I’ve found myself coming back to J-FIC after all these years - stories that can be dark and fantastic without forcing their heroes into love for the purpose of ratings. I promise I’m not a cynic - I’ve just learned that relationships aren’t everything and, frankly, I think it’s a little tragic it took me 19 years to do it.
Written by Kristen H.
When I first signed up for the English department's survey class, ENGL 200, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Having joined the class late due to scheduling issues, I quickly asked the person sitting next to me if she had the syllabus and after she emailed it to me, scanned over the topics of the course. Okay, structure and space, that sounds pretty familiar. Cool lineation, hot lineation, hot and cold syntax…wait, what?
That day, my professor described poems as mediums dependent on their context—the same poem would read differently as pixels on a computer screen than as squiggles on a page. Each poem also had a particular energy and frequency based on the amount of space it physically took up and the arrangement of words and phrases.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and I had learned hot/cool lineation (whether the lines are lined up vs. irregularity in line length) and hot/cold syntax (using main clauses vs. using subordinate clauses, which have lower “energy” than main clauses), among other various literary techniques (such as hot/cold rhyme). Our first paper was coming up, and my professor had defined his expectations for it: three pages, no thesis, and absolutely no analyzing of meaning.
That weekend, I sat in front of my laptop, thinking. How did he expect us to write this paper without veering into analysis? A few days later, I (reluctantly) turned in my essay. When I got it back, my professor had commented: This is a great start although you’re reading too much into what you’re seeing. See accurately first, then we can talk about interpreting.
After reading his comment, I had plenty of questions. What did his comment mean? How was I not seeing the poem accurately? How could I improve? The next class, he cautioned us against trying to force meaning out of poetry—his reasoning was that we can’t know what to write until we know what’s going on in the poem. Rather than interpret the meaning of the poem, we need to talk about the effect of the poem on the space around it (for example, does the hot lineation make you feel cramped or claustrophobic?).
Heeding his advice, I reread my first paper, realizing that most of my paper consisted of analysis (out of habit, some still snuck its way in). I didn’t spend enough time viewing the poem (as my professor termed it) as squiggles on a page, and so my discussion of the poem itself was lacking. Having identified where I had gone wrong, I felt a sense of relief.
Even now, I walk into class not quite knowing what to expect. But I finally understand that analysis is not all that English is made up of. There are plenty of nuances to a text that can be discussed without ever delving into its meaning, and to me, that's fascinating.
Written by Evelyn S. ('20)
I’ll admit it. Even though I’m an English major, I can’t get myself to write. I can’t even remember the last time I wrote something for myself outside of school. So this list is actually pretty hypocritical but I’m going to roll with it.
1. Writing is as much a battle of getting yourself to the gym (if you’re like my lazy ass); a good schedule and persistence is key.
2. Free-write while listening to music or viewing art! It’s interesting how art in other mediums can inspire memorable pieces of writing.
3. Pick a peculiar occurrence in your day and construct a story on it. Or write on how it reflects Marx's theory of our recursively hegemonic exploitation of the non-ruling class (like most college students).
4. Take a walk. Like Thoreau said, nature is the mother of inspiration.
5. Extrapolate on a dream~ Dreams are weird. Weird makes for good writing.
6. Change locations. Maybe your desk has had all the creative energy pounded out of it. A change of place and mood may be conducive to new ideas.
Writing can range from creative writing to intellectual essays to passionate polemics against the social system. In any case, once you start, it'll be easier to get into the habit of regular writing. You just need to write that first word!
Written by Jennifer F.
I’ve long been fascinated with the Zeitgeist, particularly how greater artistic and political movements affect and are affected by schools of writers. I am interested to see the literary community’s reaction (although that word might be too direct, acute) to the unreality subscribed to by so many Americans; a deluge of delusions, levied only by free press and vigilant truth-seeking, seeps through the cracks of the Oval Office on a daily basis. I’m picturing Steve Bannon at the base of the Hoover Dam, the hilt of his pickaxe brandished with a capital B, and the barrier that bridles those bigoted, nationalistic, hegemonic impulses—those that we hold, at arm’s length and with head turned, to be self-evident in the depths of American consciousness—begins to crack.
In my high school’s survey of American Literature (aka White Male Literature from the United States) we read Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Miller, Pound, and Eliot; and, in a loose pairing with our American History course we learned about World War I, stream-of-consciousness, abstract art, recapitulation, prohibition, the decadence of the 1920’s…all of the historical and theoretical phenomena that shaped their work. It was during my freshman year of college that I took my first steps on that well-tread path to the Beat Generation. Yes, I do have a dog-eared copy of On The Road, and no, I do not idolize the Beats or pretentiously listen to jazz while sipping pour-over coffee and planning a road trip funded by some distant great aunt’s estate. But, I recommend the novel to anyone worried about what to do with their life (i.e. a freshman not sure what to major in, or a senior not sure where or how to get a ‘real’ job) for lines like these: “I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop.” Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar has a similar passage, the one about the fig tree—but, here, I’ll digress from my inner tempest…those inimical cyclonal forces of Senioritis and pre-post-graduation malaise…in order to return to my ‘real’ subject: the fin de siècle and the French Symbolists (Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Baudelaire.)
While I have owned a collection of Rimbaud’s poetry since my Beat-Generation days, I had not actually worked through any of it until a few weeks ago. I was writing an essay on Wallace Stevens’ use of synesthesia. Some of you might be familiar with the term on a psychopathological level, but the French Symbolist poets assigned literary and theoretical valences to the term almost as soon as it had been coined by psychoanalysts. In medicine the term describes the phenomenon of experiencing a sensation in one part or system of the body produced by stimulus to a different part or system of the body. For example, someone listening to Brahms might see colors; an auditory stimulus eliciting a visual response. However, in literature, synesthesia applies mostly to metaphors and descriptive language. The French Symbolists used the term to describe the affective sensation of descriptions that cross-reference and entangle the natural order of the senses. I turn to scholar Lauren Silvers from the University of Chicago, who frames an explanation of synesthesia from the psychoanalyst Théodore Flournoy: “Flournoy understood that synesthesia was not just the result of psychophysiological ‘association’ induced by certain classes of stimuli (such as numbers and words); rather, more fundamentally, the experience of synesthesia pointed to the physiological holism of the body: ‘First of all, from the physiological point of view, each of us is a model republic in which all parts are interconnected, and in which ‘everything touches everything else.’”
Consider some of these great sentences:
From A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway:
“In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.”
This is a beautiful sentence, although self-contradictory. If the pebbles and boulders are submerged in the river, then how can they be dry and white in the sun? The visual stimulus of the pebbles and boulders in the river evoke a sense of dryness in the tactile senses.
From As I Lay Dying, Faulkner:
“My mother is a fish.”
Clearly his mother is not a fish, but the phrase not only clues us in on the logic operating inside Vardaman’s head, it also conjures the smell of a decaying body.
And because I am vain, I will leave on a quote of mine that I found while researching for this article:
“Like the conch shell echoing the rush of blood within the ear, the senses submerge the immensity of the ocean.”
The crossing of senses requires abstraction to understand, and contrary to the beliefs of Romantic poets abstractions can offer complex representations of truth beyond the capabilities of the natural world.
Silvers quotes Guy de Maupassant from his recollection of experiencing synesthesia in the works of Baudelaire: “I asked myself how a modernist poet, from the symbolist school, would have rendered the confused nervous vibration that had just seized me, and that which seemed to me—to be frank—untranslatable.” I believe that all of us who write strive to achieve the affect that Maupassant describes.
I also believe that it is time that we as a literary community re-claim the unreality that has infected our political discourse. A faction of the current conservative has applied the principles of synesthesia in their creation of the mythic “Great America”—you’d be hard pressed to get an exact answer as to when and what the “Great America” was. History is always alive, always under revision; history is a narrative that shapes the present while reconfiguring itself to forge the future. This narrative of a lost “Great America” has captivated millions of Americans, and understanding their attraction to this myth is essential in the effort to combat its more destructive connotations. Consider the Alt Right’s misinformation, conspiratorial beliefs, and dismissal of measurable facts; these falsehoods only deepen the affective response of their constituents…much like how synesthesia can affect a reader. They’re telling a story, and we have to tell a better one. We have to reveal that their ideology was borne from a misstatement (possibly a joke) made by high school English teachers everywhere: that there is no “capital T” Truth. We have to demonstrate the power of subjectivity through storytelling, and re-assert the authority of objectivity. When there is video evidence that proves President Trump is lying, you can’t weasel out of it with an excuse about ‘what he really meant.’ When statistics, gathered in a reasonable manner, show something to be true, then one should not spread contrary information. The distortion of objectivity in politics results in “Alternative Facts,” but the distortion created by representations of subjectivity in literature has a different effect. Because literature relies on distortion, and often it is the shading of a subject’s lens that can reveal human-truths mired in ideology, political predilection, and bigotry. Human-truths are the things that we know through feeling: ideas of morality and social justice, and how shitty President Trump’s tailor is. “Capital T” truths are things like statistics on climate change, statistics on crime and immigration, the number of murders committed by refugees. Those are things that we cannot, and should not alter, because they undermine the credibility of the collective story we are telling. This story belongs to all of us, and we must fight for it. It is the story of America.
Written by Caleb S.
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.