Jr High Drop Out

Tolkien and Hitler shot at each other (kinda)


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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

"Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change."

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Eeyore, of Winnie the Pooh fame

We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it.

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Reading is Fundamental


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Dr Suess

From there to here
From here to there
Funny things are everywhere.

Smile! That's an order.


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Perspective

Well, I saw an ant on the railroad track.
The rail was bright.
The ant was black.
He was walking along. Tickety tack.
(That's the sound of an ant on a railroad track.)

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Frodo and Gandalf cut an album together?


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The reading pile next to my bed

(well, most of it…I ran out of room in the shot)


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Successful cookouts and amicable hostage exchanges

A bunch of my friends came over for a cookout today. Shep was in town and showed up. Brent came with his family. Bryan (He Who Shall Die By My Hand) came over. Will showed...well actually Rebecca showed in his place. Much fun was had. There was chicken, derisive joking, beef, fire, corn, and vitriol. All was good in the land of Caudron.

As a side-note, I exchanged one item for one item with Bryan. He received his Mystic China book back in exchange for a Conan: Tower of the Elephant graphic novel. The exchange took place in a semi-lit hallway with nervous glances and distrustful scowls.

You, too, should read the new Conan: Tower of the Elephant:

If you prefer the old school Conan comic, get the original:


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Understanding the Audience

So, a recent online poll on my blog showed that 70% of you found yourselfs allied with Milton Friedman, both socially and economically. In an effort to better understand the audience, I did some quick research and asked a few questions. Turns out, his work "Free to Choose: A Personal Statement" was among his most respected works and well represented his views late in his life. So I bought it. To balance the order out, I also bought "The Communist Manifesto" and to make the myself appear falsely academic, I added a book on the philosophy of language called "Naming and Necessity". My proof follows:

If anyong out there wants a copy of these books, you can get them here:

Next up? Select works from Mikhail Bakunin to better understand a social/economic theorist closer to my current position. It'll be interesting to read the arguments for the claims I've been making.


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The Land Ironclads

I recently read an old science fiction work by H.G. Wells called "The Land Ironclads". While it suffers from a dated perspective (being published in 1903 does that to science fiction), it is a remarkable work nonetheless.

Rather than waste your time with my extended opinion of the work, it suffices to say I think that those who enjoy science fiction will enjoy this work. Moreover, you can read "The Land Ironclad" for free.


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My time as a porn peddler

I've had a lot of jobs in my life. I've worked in kitchens, loaded trucks, sat in the secretarial pool. I've been in plays, burgled homes and cars, done door-to-door encyclopedia sales. But one of my favorite jobs was as a porn peddler.

Don't judge me, dude. You've done things you weren't proud of either. Besides, it was only for two weekends. My time there was horrible and the pay would have sucked if I hadn't been skimming off the register. Why was it one of my favorite jobs, then? Easy. Two short weekends. Many, many, many stories.

I could tell you about the swinger couple that came in looking for the local swinger mag and wanted to break off a piece of the Tom. I could tell you about the gay dude that wanted to rape me (lesson: always bring a weapon to work in your porn shop career!). I could tell you about Conspiracy Dave and the rampant Man-Scent episode. I could tell you about the booth token guy who was dissatisfied with the quality of porn currently running in our private booth-theaters. But I'm gonna tell you about something a little more sedate for now. I'm gonna tell you about the man who didn't know where he was.

So I'm sitting there watching my black-n-white TV. The reception was a bit fuzzy, but when you are stuck sitting behind a counter trying to ignore the patrons for a straight 15 hour shift, you don't care about such things. It was getting late in the day. The tourists were leaving the beach, which meant I got to watch them passing by the front of the "book store" as walked back to their cars and hotels.

Now, I don't know what the guy was thinking. Maybe he thought "hey, I need a good book". Maybe his wife pushed him into it. I dunno. What I do know is that the store was otherwise empty when a husband, a wife, and their two little girls came waltzing into the porn shop. They didn't approach the counter, but rather went right to browsing the books in the front of the store.

I should explain. The store, because Virginia Beach was a bit uptight about such things, had an area in the front with cards and regular books for sale. The area was small and ended abruptly in a wall with a single door and a sign: "$3.00 for admittance past this point". Beyond the pay-for-play portal lie a cornucopia of pornography, from obscene to banal, awaiting the lascivious consumer. The front of the store---that veneer of normalcy slapped haphazard over the naked rear---was filled with musty paperbacks and rusting card racks.

So this guy and his family are walking around the tiny front end of the store perusing damp books and dusty cards. Without being obvious I'm trying to get the guy's attention---no point in letting his kids find out the hard way what sort of store their dad brought them into---when the mother calls out to me.

"These cards have cobwebs on them. You must not sell a lot of them!"

"Sure don't, Ma'am. It's not really our main product" Nudge nudge wink wink. Come on dude! You gotta get the hint now, right?

"Say honey", the guy says, "I found a copy of Dicken's 'Copperfield'. It's a bit worn looking, but I think I'll get it." Dude it's not worn. It's just been sitting there for like 15 years without human contact. Wake up and smell the scented oils, idiot!

So, I drop a few hints like this and they just keep shopping. I should add, I'm sitting behind a counter and the wall behind me advertises, for all to see, the more sedate of our "toy" collection---Oils and back massagers and such. Now, at the time I was a different person. Other's welfare wasn't high on my list of concerns, but even I saw the value in keeping kids from noticing the items behind me. Finally, the family comes waddling up to me, moldering books in hand. The guy starts the small talk.

"Pretty small store you have here."

"Yeah, well there's a lot more in the other section." My eyes try to lead him to the $3 admittance sign he's managed to miss as he walked past it 8 or so times so far. "The stuff up front is not our bread and butter here. Do you understand me?" Nothing. Blank stare. The kids are all scanning the wall behind me. Any second now they are gonna get what dad doesn't.

"Oh, what is your bread and butter then?" Blind and dumb. I swear, it's a wonder this guy managed to breed.

Finally his wife notices the sign. "You have to pay to see the rest of the store?" I nod ominously and give the knowing look to the guy, who for the first time realizes where he is.

"Honey, ya know what? We should go get dinner. I'm hungry. Let's leave now."

"But we're not done paying for the books?"

I interject, "It's cool. Take em. You look hungry. Consider it a gift. Go eat." I see curiosity dawning on the oldest girl. She is obviously waiting for a break in the conversation to ask her mom a question about the items behind me. Something like "Mommy, what does 'aphrodisiac' mean?" or "Daddy, that's a strange shape for a back massager. How does it work?"

The husband, with a quick thanks, grabs the bag of old books and his wife's arm and drags them both out the door as if the building were about to collapse. I can hear the wife all the way to the street "That sure was nice of him to give us these books."

Yes. I'm sure the store owner will miss them. I'll have to tell him to order another copy of 'Copperfield'. I know he'd hate to think his store was open for business without some good Dickens for sale.


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Robert E. Howard has enviably lyrical prose

In this world men struggle and suffer vainly, finding pleasure only in the bright madness of battle ... Let me live deep where I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay and am content.

Spoken by Conan in Queen of the Black Coast


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Because every guy reading this can relate

"Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Columbian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad."

A snippet of infinite coolness from the book Snow Crash. What guy reading this doesn't agree? Pretty cool book.


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The Shakespearean Dichotomy - Comedy And Tragedy In Measure For Measure

Abstract:
Concerning the interweaving of Comedy and Tragedy in Shakespeare's work, Measure For Measure. This paper explores the interpretative tensions associated with treating this as cheifly a tragedy or a comedy and argues that this work is something in between---a comedy of a tragedy.

Paper:
The two disparate concepts of comedy and tragedy worm their way into the daily lives of all living men and so it would seem important to note and explore this intimate and personal relationship. Drama, from its inception, has done just that. Interestingly however, once in a great while an individual arises from the literary crowd to speak candidly about these concepts in a manner which calls into question the very nature of humankind. Shakespeare has done this in his play Measure For Measure. This play skirts back and forth between comedy and tragedy in a way which forces the audience to take note and maybe raise an eyebrow at the notion that perchance these "disparate" concepts are not so disparate.

Since it will be shown that this play makes a socio-cultural statement about mankind, it seems appropriate to use terminology which more closely intimates the Shakespearean intent and thus the definitions of comedy, tragedy, and also irony need to be explored not in terms of their standard literary significance, but in their broader and more applicable social significance. Inevitably, when one speaks of comedy and tragedy in the same breath, irony as a conglomerate between the two is brought forth. As simple as it might be to accept the definition of irony as a special blend of the comic and the tragic, it does not appear to bear out. Comedy can be said to be a parody of that part of life which when experienced makes little sense yet when viewed from a transcendent perspective shows itself to be humorous. In Freudian terminology, comedy is simply civilized aggression. Tragedy, according to Reinhold Niebuhr in his work The Irony Of American History, is "constituted of conscious choices of evil for the sake of good" (Niebuhr vii). So that a king who sacrifices a son to save two daughters has been involved in a tragedy. It appears the largest difference between comedy and tragedy is that while comedy is created, tragedy just happens---it is perhaps simpler in that respect. Irony, though possessed of both the comic and tragic requires more than those two components to exist. Reinhold Niebuhr, in his work mentioned earlier, talks about irony: "A comic situation is proven to be an ironic one if a hidden relation is discovered in the incongruity" and irony "is differentiated from tragedy by the fact that the responsibility is related to an unconscious weakness rather then to a conscious resolution" (Neibuhr viii). Though irony may be quite illuminative of the human situation, it is illuminative in a wholly different manner than comedy and tragedy.

Measure For Measure is a comedy first and foremost. Most scenes found within its mercurial plot can be read with a comic edge---even though some of those scenes may, at heart, concern serious subject matter. Even the character list itself alludes to the underlying comic element in this half tragedy. Elbow, the constable, Froth, the foolish gentleman, and Pompey, the clown servant to Mistress Overdone all lend themselves to laughter by their mere pre-play description and names. Joseph H. Summers, in his work entitled Dreams Of Love And Power, discusses the comedy of the opening scene:

"The conversation immediately becomes scurrilously comic as it turns to the gaps between sanctimonious language and human desires (praying for peace while longing for war, pirates reciting the Ten Commandments), accusations of life without 'grace' in any form, and insistent innuendoes of venereal disease (Summer 73)."

From this laudable beginning, the plot unfolds and envelopes its audience further and further into a delightfully comfortable mire of comic irresolution. Just as an audience thinks it understands the path and point of this play, another bend in the plot's road forces them to rethink their previous position. Though the comic element is evident throughout the play, often it is a cynical comedy. When Lucio describes Angelo to Isabella for the first time, his description foreshadows a cynical opposition to itself in the actual character of Angelo. He describes him as follows:

"... a man whose blood
Is very snow broth; one who never feels
The wanton stings and motions of the sense;
But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge
With profits of the mind: study and fast."
(Act I, Scene iv, Lines 57-61)

Such pious upbuilding of a character who proves unworthy of such unconditional praise as has been given him here and elsewhere in the play forms the underpinning of the primary comic tools Shakespeare uses in Measure For Measure: opposition and contradiction. Later this contradiction displays itself more subtly in the first conversation between Angelo and Isabella. In this scene, which at the outset appears more serious than comic, Shakespeare contradicts the feminine stereotype of Elizabethan culture, that of a near mindless servant to man, with the actuality of Isabella's presence which proves far more than a match to Angelo's lordly wit. Though he begins speaking to her in quick and dismissive tones---i.e., "Well; the matter?", "Maiden, no remedy.", etceteras---he soon finds her arguments to be greater reasoned and driven by a greater intellect than he'd perhaps anticipated. His reaction to her weighty arguments shows in his transition from short, almost condescending tones to long eloquent discourses in an attempt to rebuttal her well thought out objections:

The law hath not been dead though it hath slept.
Those many had not dar'd to do that evil
If the first that did th' edict infringe
Had answered for his deed. ...
(Act II, Scene ii, Lines 90-93)

That Angelo was neither prepared nor accustomed to explaining himself to a woman becomes evident later in the scene when he is reduced first to "Why do you put these saying upon me?" (Line 133) and second to nearly recanting his adamant death sentence. Though this scene is one which delves into a matter of grave importance, Shakespeare through the mastery of the more subtle comic elements has rendered a scene which is in fact pleasing to read and comic in that it ends in a manner entirely unexpected---that is, with the woman, Isabella, standing triumphant after a battle of wits against the acting lord of the domain. Other equally comic elements are found driving this curiously confusing plot. In Act IV, Scene iii, Lines 26 - 29, a prisoner by the name of Barnardine is approached by the stoically funny executioner, Abhorson and Pompey, the clown. Pompey makes the comment that Barardine "must be so good ... to rise, and be put to death," as though the prisoner should feel privileged to have been chosen for such an honor. Barnardine's response, however, brings even more comedy to an otherwise bothersome scene: "Away, you rogue, away! I am sleepy." Barnardine then contends, making surprisingly good sense, that he has caroused and reveled too much the night before to have an execution on this day. He argues that the execution should be postponed until such time as he can be better prepared! Interestingly, throughout the play executions are a common component. And though it would seem difficult to utilize such a grim topic in a comedy, it is done masterfully. Even at that moment when the play seems most likely to lose its comic element, when the Duke chooses to punish Angelo for his apparent crime against Claudio, the audience is set at ease by the very wording used in the death sentence. The Duke proclaims "An Angelo for Claudio, death for death ... We do condemn thee to the very same block where Claudio stoop'd to death" (Act V, Scene I, Lines 409-415). While at the outset this killing of a major character would seem to a catalyst for removing the comic element of the scene, the audience quickly, if not immediately, realizes that there is no such "block where Claudio stoop'd to death." Indeed, the very reference to a death which didn't occur sheds a comic light on the death which was just sentenced. The comic sensibilities of the audience are thus spared the shock of true death.

The fact that Measure For Measure is a comedy is little disputed, but what manner of comedy and to what end did Shakespeare drive the comic purpose becomes the prevalent question. Though it is a comedy, it is a comedy of tragedy. At the same time as Shakespeare provides this comedy of contradiction and tragedy, it seems he has laden it also with a burden of cynicism toward the human spirit. Gareth Lloyd Evans, in his work The Upstart Crow, addresses Shakespeare's apparent cynicism:

"The mood in which Shakespeare wrote Troilus And Cressida and All's Well was still present when, some time in 1604, he committed Measure For Measure to paper. Matters of import concerning the world, man and his usages, had turned sour on him, as this play, no less than the other two, shows." (Evans 206)

In Measure For Measure, he shows the audience a glimpse of themselves at their worst, yet he does so from the blunted and more entertainingly palatable edge of comedy. Certainly, the plot, if stripped of its comic element, becomes a tragedy of the worst order. Isabella, the virgin nun-to-be, discovers her brother to be arrested and sentenced to execution. She is asked to make a decision between her chastity, which she associates with godliness, and her brother's life. Angelo, the saint-turned-villain of Measure For Measure, puts the choice to her: "You must lay down the treasures of your body to this supposed, or else to let him suffer---What would you do?" (Act II, Scene iv, Lines 96-98). Her answer becomes the quintessential expression of the play's primary tragic element: "Better it were a brother died at once, than that sister, by redeeming him, should die for ever" (Act II, Scene iv, Lines 106-108). She makes her decision and in doing so has participated in a tragedy. She has made a conscious decision of evil for the sake of good. This tragedy is brought to a culmination when Isabella threatens to wreck Angelo's community standing by publicly relating the particulars of Angelo's indecent proposal. It is here, perhaps, when the play takes on its most serious tone, and here also where Measure For Measure seems most in danger of losing its comic quality to the sobriety of the situation. Here Angelo asks her:

"Who will believe thee, Isabel?
My unsoil'd name, th' austerness of my life,
My vouch against you, and my place i' th' state,
Will so your accusation overweigh,
That you shall stifle in your own report,
And smell of culumny." (Act II, Scene iv, Lines 154-159)

This is a soberingly true statement not only for Isabella but for the audience as well, who lives in a real world consisting of such similar malcontents and crimes that they cannot help but empathize. The Duke, seeking to test the mettle of his underling, Angelo, finds himself disappointed in the worst way as Angelo abuses the power granted him in the Duke's name. The Duke is thus forced to make a decision also. He must decide between revealing himself and righting the wrongs done by his erstwhile replacement, hence disallowing Angelo any opportunity to reprove himself and his actions, or he may choose to allow Angelo to continue consequently risking the onslaught of further lordly abuses by Angelo. And yet it is in the light of these various and sundry tragedies that the story's plot is brought to fruition with the semi-tragic and yet wholly hilarious marriage solution. Certainly the comedy of this ending escapes no one, but its tragedy is vastly understated by the playwright. Issues of severe importance are brushed aside with the broom of convenient marriage. Worse yet, the marriages which suppose to resolve the problems beset by Angelo's crimes do nothing more than parlay those crimes into lifelong punishments for all involved. The Duke, though in the end married to Isabella, never recants his statement that " the dribbling dart of love can [never] pierce a complete bosom" like himself (Act I, Scene iii, Lines 2-3) and Isabella never reconciles to the audience of the play the issue of her married fate with her desired nunnish dreams. The other marriages, in a fashion similar to this one, seem to meet disconcerting problems upon examination. Evans' work, The Upstart Crow, touches on the issue of the tragedy and comedy of Measure For Measure:

"What kind of comedy is it that has such scenes as the confrontations between Isabella and Angelo, such weighty moral arguments upon whose resolution lives depends, such terrifying verbal realizations of the horror of death, and such an underswell of cynicism? There is as T. M. Parrott notes an '... incongruity between the tragic theme, the tragi-comedy technique and the realistic background.'" (Evans 207)

To understand this tragic element best, one must fully understand the particulars of the plot's primary tragedy which is, as explained earlier, the attempted seduction of Isabella by Angelo. This is made a tragedy by Angelo's demand and it should be noted that this tragic difficulty is never resolved, but only diffused and rearranged.. The tragedy is found in that she wishes to keep her honor unstained and yet does not want her brother to die. As mentioned earlier, she chooses her honor over her brother, thereby beginning her part in the tragedy. In the end, she is married to the Duke, thus her virginity becomes forfeit, it is assumed, under the tenants of marriage and her brother's life is spared. Not only is this not what she wanted at all, but it is in fact the opposite of what she chose when given the option by Angelo! That is hardly what one might call a happy, or comic, ending.

Measure For Measure addresses many grave topics---some of which might easily lend themselves to tragedy---but rather than simply allowing these issues to occur and setting some character to the task of addressing them in a manner which more closely mimics real life, Shakespeare has chosen to present them in the form of comedy, thereby giving the audience the ability to sufficiently transcend the matter and perhaps thus understand it better. The comedy of Measure For Measure teaches the audience more about the nature of power, corruption, greed, and authority than any tragedy could hope to. Only through comedy could the audience stay fittingly unattached from the topic to truly analyze it without the subjective-interpretive quality of emotional attachment to the situation which is typically evoked by tragedy. While this play can be read to betray Shakespeare's lack of confidence in human nature, it seems as likely that Shakespeare was attacking the concept of piety and making a Christian point about mankind's natural desire versus spiritual duty. Measure For Measure shows the audience what can happen to man when ethics (in this case Christian ethics) are abandoned. To borrow a phrase from Wordsworth, it shows the audience "what man has made of man." Shakespeare leaves it to the audience to resolve the situation and for this reason alone this play cannot be considered a Christian allegory or parable. Considering the nature of the situation Shakespeare has produced, an easy resolution is virtually impossible. Shakespeare has, in this way, shown the tragedy that life is everyday in a world where human nature and self interest force themselves into the relational fray. What Shakespeare has done is to create a comedy of a tragedy; thereby showing how intimate the relationship can be between the two. Shakespeare has shown his audience the comedy of their own daily interests through the magic of drama, thus "the viewer can be forgiven if he perceives within the play an oddly earthy and comic reflection of a dream of another happiness in another world" (Summers 94).

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Out of town til Monday

I'll be out of town til this coming Monday. Everyone have a Merry Christmas (or Enjoyable Festivity of your Religious or Secular Preference) and I'll see you on the flip side.

As always, I leave with a topic for discussion:

Is Shakespeare's Measure For Measure a Comedy, a Tragedy, or a Comedy of a Tragedy? A quote of Angelo making his dire proposal to Isabella should help get you started:

"Who will believe thee, Isabel?
My unsoil'd name, th' austerness of my life,
My vouch against you, and my place i' th' state,
Will so your accusation overweigh,
That you shall stifle in your own report,
And smell of culumny." (Act II, Scene iv, Lines 154-159)

Sounds like a grave tragedy indeed! Then why is it counted amongst his comedies? Ponder and I shall return anon with thy answer, good reader. :)


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Today's topic for discussion

The Golden Age of Latin Literature. There'll be a test over the weekend, so read up.


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Wuthering Heights and Modernity

Abstract:
Concerning the work Wuthering Heights and its relationship to Modernism. I greatly enjoyed Wuthering Heights for both its depth and its prose. In this paper, I try to address the Modern and Post Modern subtext of the work as it relates to the period in which it was written.

Paper:
It is natural for man to seek purpose and structure in life. The human experience seems to desire and even need such a base from which to begin. One of the most difficult intellectual transitions in history has been the move from a pre-modern understanding of the world as possessing inherent meaning, purpose and structure to a modern and post-modern understanding of the world as being devoid, or at least mostly devoid, of such meaning. In light of the profundity of this transition and its implications to every facet of our life, it petitions study, and yet it is notoriously difficult to isolate and examine without first examining the roots of the transition. While it is more often the case that academicians look to such works as Martin Luther's To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments, T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, or any of the works from Marx, Freud, Vannever, or Darwin, it is occasionally more fruitful to examine it in the early works written by and for the community at large. Certainly Luther and Freud had a stronger grasp of the topic and addressed it more directly, but they had no interest in the practical effects of the shift. Their interest lay in ideology, philosophy, and theology rather than how this drastically different worldview would impact the daily lives of the people. The latter, however, is something at which literature excels. One of the most fascinating glimpses into the Modern malaise of meaninglessness can be found in Emily Bronte's only novel, Wuthering Heights. Ostensibly, Wuthering Heights tells the story of Heathcliff---a man who seems destined to a life alone---but underneath that literal layer lies a distinctly modernist subtext.

Unlike the majority of her predecessors and contemporaries, Emily Bronte did not seem compelled to limit the actions and events of the story to the external world. She seemed quite comfortable explaining the actions of the internal world. It is in delving into the implicit rather than merely the explicit causes and motivations of her characters that she is able to tackle the problem of meaning. Heathcliff becomes something more than the just sum of his actions. He becomes the result of those actions as they interact with his motivations and his history. The reader is asked to see in Heathcliff a man who has utterly defied society and its inhibiting structures. The Heathcliff presented to the reader is one who veritably embodies that defiance. A "dirty, ragged, black-haired ... gipsy brat" brought home by Mr. Eanshaw, Heathcliff invades the social structure of the Wuthering Heights estate and assumes the role of son (Bronte, 30). Bronte's contemporaries would have immediately seen---in fact did see, as evidenced by her critic's responses---the problem inherent in this situation. Heathcliff was not of the same class as his adoptive family and therefore ought not pretend to be so. Bronte exacerbates her critic's horror by not only allowing the situation to continue but also escalating it until he supplants the rightful master. Again, had this been merely an external situation there might not have been cause for much concern. The reader, however, is forced to question the validity of too-quickly associating Heathcliff with his gypsy birth. Early on, Mr. Lockwood assesses Heathcliff:

He is a dark-skinned gipsy, in aspect; in dress, and manners, a gentleman, that is as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss, with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure---and rather morose---possibly, some people might suspect him of under-bred pride....(Bronte, 3)

The reader is continually reminded throughout the work that Heathcliff is not so simply defined---not by birth nor by environment. Is Heathcliff to be considered a gypsy with all of a gypsy's inherent faults or a gentleman capable of all that is ascribed to that class? The question is left open. In a conversation later between Nelly the housekeeper and Mr. Lockwood, Mr. Lockwood asks of Heathcliff:

Did he finish his education on the Continent, and come back a gentleman? or did he get a sizar's place at college, or escape to America, and earn honours by drawing blood from his foster-country, or make a fortune more promptly on the English highways? (Bronte, 77)

To which Nelly open-endedly replied:

He may have done a little in all these vocations, Mr. Lockwood, but I couldn't give my word for any. (Bronte, 77)

Mr. Lockwood's suggestion that one could become a gentleman through education implies a radical shift from earlier worldviews. Historically, up until this point, the world, being considered a creation of God, was the source of stability for the people in it. If this world was to be the stability of the people, it must be immutable---that is to say, it must be the same for one person as it is for another. In lay terms, the world, in this view, is invested with meaning by some higher authority (typically God) and each thing in it, therefore, can only mean what that authority originally intended. If one was born of a particular race or into a particular socio-economic status, that status or race carried with it an inherent meaning. Being a peasant, for example, defined for the individual the type of person he was---not only in economic terms, but also in social, political, ontological, and religious terms. As Sigmund Freud said in his work The Interpretation of Dreams, the "general view of life [of the pre-modern people was that they were] wont to project as reality in the outer world that which possessed reality only within the mind" (Freud 2). Therein lies the heart of the difference between Pre-Modern and (Post-) Modern man and Emily Bronte expressed that tension through Heathcliff's ambiguous social status.

Further intensifying the reader's uncertainty with regard to Heathcliff's natural social position is his attitude toward those of the class to which he later is associated. Heathcliff neither envies nor elevates the upper class that he observes. Instead, he displays disdain for their pettiness and insecurity. The author herself deepens the audience's despair by pointedly and unabashedly betraying the frailties of that upper class---thereby justifying Heathcliff's disdain. Rather than allowing the text the respite of some underlying truth that buttresses the status quo, which her contemporaries would surely have been more comfortable with, Emily Bronte presents a subset of the world wherein the status quo is shown to be a social construct instead of an immutable absolute. No reader can elevate the actions of the noble Linton children, Isabella and Edgar, after finding them arguing over ownership of a dog. Heathcliff describes his reaction:

Isabella--I believe she is eleven, a year younger than Cathy--lay screaming at the farther end of the room, shrieking as if witches were running red hot needles into her. Edgar stood on the hearth weeping silently, and in the middle of the table sat a little dog shaking its paw and yelping, which from their mutual accusations, we understood they had nearly pulled in two between them. The idiots! That was their pleasure---to quarrel who should hold a heap of warm hair, and each begin to cry because both, after struggling to get it, refused to take it. We laughed outright at the petted things. We did despise them. When would you catch me wishing to have what Catherine wanted, or find us by ourselves seeking entertainment in yelling, and sobbing, and rolling on the ground, divided by the whole room? I'd not exchange for a thousand lives my condition here for Edgar Linton's at Thrushcross Grange.... (Bronte, 40)

Heathcliff finds himself unable to contain his loathing for these "idiots." Likewise, the reader may find it difficult to accept any inherent superiority. Yet just as we begin to empathize with Heathcliff the ambiguity of his character and natural social status is strengthened with scenes showing his penchant for wild violence and incivility. After a discomfiting evening being humiliated by Edgar and Hindley, Heathcliff boldly proclaims to Nelly:

I'm trying to settle how I shall pay Hindley back. I don't care how long I wait, if I can only do it at last. I hope he will not die before I do! [...] God won't have the satisfaction that I shall [...] I only wish I knew the best way. Let me alone, and I'll plan it out; while I'm thinking of that I don't feel pain. (Bronte, 51)

Heathcliff grows into an absolutely hateful creature---miserable in his own existence and proactively seeking to make everyone as miserable as himself. Even as his love for Catherine was possibly his only worthy virtue in later life, he still reprimands her on her deathbed:

You teach me now how cruel you've been---cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry, and wring out my kisses and tears; they'll blight you---they'll damn you. You loved me; then what right had you to leave me? What right---answer me---for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart---you have broken it; and in breaking it you have broken mine. So much the worse for me that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you----- O God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?

The Heathcliff that the audience is left with is a chaotic one---a man torn between a spirit of nobility and of hatred. He is both proof of the status quo and challenge to the status quo. As Catherine's funeral approaches, her noble brother cannot stop himself from a drinking binge while Heathcliff prays alone in his room. The traditional understanding of good and evil, right and wrong, and noble and ignoble are blurred in Heathcliff's character. On one hand, he is the gypsy street waif, wild and full of hatred, while on the other hand, he is the country gentleman whose love for Catherine transcends even death and whose every action proves him to be a man of substance.

Emily Bronte does not permit her readers the luxury of a stable position. In fact, it may be this instability that Emily Bronte wishes for her audience. How is one to understand the modern dilemma unless one experiences it? Bronte's beautifully poetic writing and her unusual novel structure coalesce into a literary experience that manages to effectively impart that instability. Heathcliff's character pushes one way and just as it seems he is complete, he flits another way. Even his plans for revenge falter---not by some accident or machination, but by his own will. He chooses not to complete it once it is in his power to do so. This unlikely turn of events is expressed cryptically, through a discussion of dinner, late into the novel when Heathcliff said:

"I'm animated with hunger, and seemingly I must not eat."
"Your dinner is here," [Nelly] returned; "why won't you get it?"
"I don't want it now," he muttered hastily. (Bronte, 278)

How better to conclude Heathcliff's character growth than to leave him unsure of meaning in his own life! Though animated with a hunger for revenge, he simply doesn't want it. He now exists as a living contradiction. The warring aspects of his self have been made explicit in this one statement. He is unsure of his own motivations. He does not know why revenge "seemingly" must not be completed, he only knows that he will not do it. This is not the act of an ignoble creature, but of a noble human being. It is an act worthy of any lord or gentry. It is his redemptive moment. Here his character stands defiant against any who would say he does not deserve the title of nobility---regardless of gypsy birth. Heathcliff proves himself master of his own existence. This is what the audience may take from Bronte's novel. Heathcliff teaches the reader through his actions, to recognize and overcome those things that would control---hatred, abuse, love, birth, status, sin, and pride. Heathcliff is, for all his faults, a shining example of Post-Modern man creating his own raison d'etre. Neither Kierkegaard nor Eliot could have expressed it better.

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Listerine and Gonorrhea

Freakonomics is a book about incentive and correlation. What does a school teacher and a sumo wrestler have in common? How about a real estate agent and the KKK? Let this book walk you through the dark underbelly of statistics. You'll love it. I did. Besides, I know you are dying to discover the connection between Listerine and gonorrhea!


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About me

Someone asked me why I bothered getting a degree in Religion and Literature if I'm gonna spend all my time making jokes about body functions and reading comic books. If a lifetime of reading the Amazing Spider Man has taught me anything, it's that high and low culture are false distinctions. Friedrich Nietzsche? Asshat.


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