Had Me At Make a Thing

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As I was riding the train home from school, reflecting over my school day, listening to music, an idea struck me. Seeing as half of my iPhone music is Bob Dylan, I listen to him every day. Dylan has a particular song, ‘Masters of War’, that reflects incredibly well on the themes of Slaughterhouse Five. I imagine Kurt Vonnegut would listen to it. Anyway, Slaughterhouse Five is known as an “anti-war” book, without being explicitly anti-war. That would be the major difference between Masters of War and S5. Bob Dylan only has 4 and a half minutes to get his message across, while Vonnegut has hundreds of pages to craft a plot and develop characters to reveal the book’s intention. Yet, however the route is made to get there, both works criticize the institution of war. While Dylan comes across as angry and spiteful – a passionate leader of a movement, Vonnegut uses the lame and pathetic Billy Pilgrim force the reader to draw their own conclusions about war and the lasting destruction (physically and emotionally) over a period of time, and is less direct in his anger against war.

Both works reveal the devastation left in the wake of war, Dylan’s “fear to bring children into the world”, and Vonnegut’s emotionally and mentally crippled Billy Pilgrim. Outside of the novel, Vonnegut has claimed that “anyone who seeks glory and heroism in war is deluded”. He holds true to his anti-war sentiments in Slaughterhouse Five and reveals the mental devastation of Billy Pilgrim through his “escapist mind” and his distorted construct of time  –  “a metaphor for the sense of alienation and dislocation which follows the experience of catastrophic violence (World
War II)” and “a metaphor for feeling
dislocated after war”. Read this analysis for more detail.

So, as I was riding the train, listening to Masters of War, I imagined a Billy Pilgrim (one with balls) singing, angry at the destruction caused in Dresden and elsewhere in WWII.

Here’s a link to my thing:

https://vimeo.com/128335420 

Here are the lyrics to Masters of War:

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks.

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly.

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain.

You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion’
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud.

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins.

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do.

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.

Had Me At Flash Fiction

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The Right Hand

Besides it all, William knew he had a purpose. Everything did. His mother made sure that he knew it, too, he and his sister. William is still trying to figure out the purpose of that night – trying to grasp his head around its reasons, because he certainly cannot grasp his right hand around it. William cannot grasp his right hand around anything, an alien limb in its place.

Sometimes he stares at the cold, burnished bronze. In the reflection of that fraudulent palm, he stares into his own eyes, searching for the purpose he convinces himself is there, but always fails to realize. The thing is, that bronze hand has a purpose, and that bronze hand knows it. The sheer contact between the bronze and the smooth wood of a shotgun send it into delirium. William is at war with his right hand. His right hand is at war.

That night was all his fault – not William’s, of course – but his. He hurt his mother. He hurt his sister. He took William’s hand, but he should’ve taken William’s life too. Then William wouldn’t miss them so much. William tries to understand it all, tries to find hidden clues, desperate for answers to questions he can’t even vomit out. Guess that’s why he joined the rebellion; partly so he didn’t have time to think so much, partly so he might visit them sooner.

You could say he has issues. William would probably agree.

Either way, William’s job in the rebellion was not an easy one; he not only had to fire at enemy targets, but was forced to recover civilian casualties, sometimes carrying a corpse for miles. William lived for days like those. How ironic.

Today, though, William walked into a field instead of an office. Instead of paperwork scattered across his desk, there were limbs sprinkled here-and-there, so reprehensibly blasé. Days like these caused William the most pain. Unfortunately, days like these came too often. He found it somewhat sufferable, as long as he never looked into the eyes. As long as they weren’t humans. But exactly one year after that night, he made a mistake – broke his only rule.

William’s right hand had been satisfying itself, indulging in the ecstasy of the trigger for days. William placated his left hand by telling himself that he was only fulling his duties, that it was his purpose as well. William’s left hand had a hard time believing that. Nonetheless, as William’s right hand fulfilled his first duty, William’s left hand now hand to fulfill his second.

As he pulled her body into his arms, he couldn’t help but look into her eyes. William suddenly saw in her eyes what he could not see in his palm – purpose. In her cold, vacant stare, he saw the joining of his palms, the meeting of flesh and machine, of life and death. No longer would he lament his mother and sister. No longer would he be incapable of understanding his father.

William knows what he must do.

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Far Too Young

Jose Ramirez

Mixed Media

Had Me At War

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Today’s blog post will discuss Hirschbiegel‘s Downfall and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. You might recognize Downfall from the various “Hitler Reacts To…” videos. However, the movie is so much more than one angry Hitler rant, it’s 20+ angry Hitler rants.

Downfall does something that cinema has never done before, and hasn’t done since – it portrays Hitler in the most human way possible. The movie covers the last ten days of Hitler and Eva’s life, focusing on the breakdown of the Third Reich and the SS and the breakdown of Hitler himself. Over these ten days, Downfall deals with some very heavy themes – innocence, naivety, loyalty, suicide, and hope. At the beginning of the film, it seems as if Hitler is the person with the most hope, something that is hard to imagine, but incredibly powerful to watch. He believes in some miracle victory against the Allies whilst watching Berlin crumble all around him. You almost feel sad for him. As the movie progresses, it becomes more apparent that his hope is really delusion. Hitler has become a man calling for troops that “only exist on his map”. As his men watch his capability collapse, they either choose to flee him, risking treason, or stand with him even after the end.

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All the while, we see this through the eyes of the naive secretary to Hitler, Traudl Junge. In an interview clip at the start of the film, Junge says, “I’ve got the feeling that I should be angry with this child, this young and oblivious girl. Or that I’m not allowed to forgive her for not seeing the nature of that monster. That she didn’t realise what she was doing. And mostly because I’ve gone so obliviously. Because I wasn’t a fanatic Nazi. I could have said in Berlin, ‘No, I’m not doing that. I don’t want to go the Führer’s headquarters.’ But I didn’t do that. I was too curious. I didn’t realise that fate would lead me somewhere I didn’t want to be. But still, I find it hard to forgive myself.” In the end, she realizes that her innocence and naivety weren’t excuse enough, saying, ” All these horrors I’ve heard of during the Nurnberg process, these six million Jews, other thinking people or people of another race, who perished. That shocked me deeply. But I hadn’t made the connection with my past. I assured myself with the thought of not being personally guilty. And that I didn’t know anything about the enormous scale of it. But one day I walked by a memorial plate of Sophie Scholl in the Franz-Joseph-Strasse. I saw that she was about my age and she was executed in the same year I came to Hitler. And at that moment I actually realised that a young age isn’t an excuse. And that it might have been possible to get to know things.”

In the movie, however, those who really did know what was going on did things even worse than doing nothing. With the suicide of Hitler and his wife, came waves of suicides in the film. Most shockingly though, was the scene in which Joseph Goebbels watches Magda Goebbels kill their children one by one in the bunkers, fearing life in Germany without Hitler more than death itself. After this, many of the remaining officers shot themselves as only one man, Prof. Ernst-Günther Schenck, questions their desire for death.

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At the end of Downfall, most of those close to Hitler have died or been captured by Soviets. The only glimpse of hope comes from the scene in which Traudl Junge and a little Nazi boy (I forgot to mention all of the child soldiers) ride away from the battlefield on a bicycle.

Downfall and Slaughterhouse Five could easily be compared to each other,as different as they are. While both works deal with the involvement of children in WWII, Downfall approaches it through the eyes of the adults, the decision makers, while S5 tells the story through Billy Pilgrim. Billy is an annoyingly stagnant character, a necessity for a book with a plot line such as this:

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Another thing I noticed was that Billy had to create the Tralfamadorians and steadfastly believed in a deterministic universe to cope with the effects of WWII. In class, I asked why Billy Pilgrim never killed himself, having such a bleak outlook on life, and was answered that committing suicide would mean his surrender to free will. However, in Downfall, death seems like this inescapable force that most men succumb to, specifically through suicide, while only the brave, sane men decide to live.

I also saw a strange similarity between Hitler and Ronald Weary during the film. Weary had always longed to belong and have friends who didn’t abandon him, but he was abandoned until the day he died. Hitler’s men abandoned him one by one until the day he died while he had to sit back and watch his power disintegrate before his eyes. Upon capture, Weary blames his death on Billy Pilgrim (an innocent), and makes the men around him swear to avenge his death. Hitler blames his loss on his weak soldiers, eventually ordering their deaths because they “abandoned” him because they left Berlin to survive, after this he goes even further, blaming everything on the German people, blaming everyone but himself.

When reading a book about an American soldier, and watching a movie about Hitler, you would expect to empathize and feel hatred for the other. What I love about S5 and Downfall, is that I only felt indifference towards Billy Pilgrim, while I caught myself almost pitying Hitler. (Impressive considering I had a Bat Mitzvah.)

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Had Me At Food

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Thomas C. Foster’s main point in his second chapter (as seen written in bold) is that “whenever people eat together, it’s a communion.” Foster goes on to explain that not all communions are holy and that eating together is an “act of sharing and peace”. He states that writing an interesting meal scene is so difficult, there must be another reason behind it, almost always pertaining to the relationship of those eating together. Therefore, a good meal reflects or foreshadows good things to come and vice versa. He then includes a passage from James Joyce’s story “The Dead” – the most beautifully written meal scne I have ever read (so far) – and explains the different significances of the passage. 

For some reason, throughout this whole chapter I couldn’t help but think of the meal Jean Valjean share with Bishop Myriel in Les Miserables. In the passage, Valjean shows up at Bishop Myriel’s home asking for a place to stay, and Myriel accepts, offers him a bed, and shares a meal with him – an act of sharing and peace. The Bishop also makes a point of saying, “This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief. You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house. No one is at home here, except the man who needs a refuge. I say to you, who are passing by, that you are much more at home here than I am myself. Everything here is yours.” 

After their meal, Valjean steals Myriel’s only treasures – his silver and two candlesticks. When caught with these items, two gaurds take him back to the Bishop and ask if his silver was stolen, or if he really did give it to Valjean as he previously stated. The Bishop then confirms Valjean’s lie to the guards and they release him. After this second ct of kindess, Myriel makes sure that Valjean uses the silver and candlesticks to turn his life around. in this way, the good meal shared earlier reflected the Lord’s forgiveness of Valjean’s past – which Valjean betrayed, only to be forgiven again, signifying a turning point in his life and in Victor Hugo’s novel. In this sense, Myriel’s gift of love and light in a time of hatred and darkness makes him the soul of Les Miserables, as Theresa Malcolm would say. 

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good.”

In this particular scene, their meal really was akin to a holy communion, however, it is the meal that has most left an impression.

 

Had Me At Always & Never

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When I found out I was required to read “How to Read Literature Like A Professor” for AP Lit, I was both intrigued and anxious. I have always been an avid reader, but a purely emotional reader (or as Thomas C. Foster would put it, a “lay reader”). This has never come in handy when writing analytical essays. Or blog posts, for that matter. I was intrigued because I had always wondered how I might become better at reading through a critical lens or going on a literary scavenger hunt. I was anxious because I knew that if this was any preview to AP Lit next year, I’m going to be screwed. Unless I miraculously get better at English. Nevertheless, I trudged onward and began to read the book, already doubting my decision to sign up for 6 AP classes in the most stressful time of my life. I was half-expecting the chapters of this book to be worse than those of The Thirteen American Arguments by Howard Fineman. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only are Foster’s chapters interesting and easy to read – they are actually insightful and not in a priggish sense.

The first chapter of How to Read Literature Like a Professor begins where every freshman English class does – the quest. I often confuse this with the Hero’s Journey, though I suppose I won’t anymore. Foster explains the five components of a quest: a quester, a place to go, a stated reason to go there, challenges and trials en route, and a real reason to go there. Subconsciously, I think I already knew and recognized each of these components, but I had never had them explicitly revealed to me. Three pages into the book and I had already learned something without crying about it.

I soon realized that I will probably cling to this book for a good part of senior year, at least until I have memorized each important idea. The way Foster teaches literature to the reader reminded me of my eighth grade English teacher, who changed the way I looked at literature. So for some reason, I placed extra trust in what Foster was saying. Especially when he stated, “The real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason” and the main idea of the chapter that, “The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.” Foster then ends the chapter stating that “never” and “always” don’t apply to literature – something my eighth grade English teacher taught me that has always stuck. At this point, I was starting to think of stories that are quests in disguise.

At this point, I couldn’t stop thinking about The Sandlot. Out of all the typical quest stories – The Lion King, The Odyssey, Star Wars, The Catcher In The Rye, etc., I thought of The Sandlot. This led to my discovery that Smalls and Benny’s attempt at retrieving the autographed baseball was, in fact, a quest. The questers being Smalls and Benny, the baseball’s location their place to go, the retrieval of the baseball as the stated reason, their failed attempts at retrieving it as their challenges and trials, and the lesson they learn from Mr.Mertle as their real reason to go there. This revelation served as a promising start to my own journey in learning how to read like a professor.

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The Origin

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Upon being assigned a blog for AP Lit Senior year, I was distressed. I understand that we are shifting from paper to computer, but I find paper to be less distracting. With technology comes Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, and millions of other distractions (check out http://www.ilooklikebarackobama.com ) and you’ll understand my concerns. However, I took this as a great opportunity to be heard and to spread my thoughts and ideas on literature and the likes. Therefore, the next step was to get your attention. As a teenager with a taste for sarcasm and a knack for awful puns, I knew I would need to reflect one of those in my blog’s name. Voila! Had Me At Othello was subsequently created and I hope you don’t find my puns to be too offensive (although I find those to be the best).

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