February 27, 2005

A stop in a whirlwind

I am going to be very productive tonight. I have resolved against sleeping and eating anything that has enzymes associated to turkey, which makes one sleepy.

I am embarking upon a week of papers, articles and a bunch of other work that I have been slowly chipping away at this entire weekend. Well, except for Saturday night, but a woman needs to get a life every now and then.

My planner stares at me from its hiding place inside my ever-budgeoning bag and screams, "WORK, I don't care if it is Sunday."

I am taking comfort in the fact that Setonian production begins this week, and it does not conclude until after break.

I will be in Connecticut over break doing a project with Habitat for Humanity. I will be sure to take my camera and turn this blog into a regular gallery when I return.

As for Habitat, I am in a group with a cook. So when we have to make dinner, which we have already planned out--stuffed shells with pudding parfaits for dessert (my addition)--I will be okay. Hopefully. I suggested ramen in the meeting for dinner, and everyone laughed. I was mostly serious.

But now I must leave this SHU domain and go home. I was just waiting on my lengthy PDF scholarly articles to print, and now they have.

Mid-term death is only the beginning.

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February 26, 2005

Aesthetically-pleasing scrapbook

Bringing together blog entries together is turning into an artform in itself. How appropriate for my current course: Media Aesthetics with Dr. Jerz.

So without further ado, this is a collection of it all: my aesthetic blogs. How much better I feel about having a beautiful blog when I am writing about aesthetics! Sorry, tangent...

Concerning a Certain Beauty
  • In this blog, I introduce to my blogging audience that I am again academically blogging, and to not be afraid that Pygmalion is being mentioned. I related that I liked the feminist version listed better than the classical ones. What a hullabaloo I caused in class! Aesthetics can be very serious, I've learned.
  • Flattered that I was mentioned on a syllabus, I blogged about being cited for my work on academic blogging, which was done in Writing for the Internet this past semester. I mentioned in this entry that for taste purposes, the guidelines Julie and I set were for all blogs, and not specifically academic ones.
  • Though writing about blindness is sometimes a difficult topic, in this entry I discussed the amazing story of Mike's Journal, and the amazing recovery the author experiences, specifically concerning the world of sight and the things we take for granted.
  • Some short stories can really touch my heart. I am a softy, and "Cathedral" is one of them. In this entry, I discuss my impressions of being blind and the jerky narrator's point-of-view and his transformation throughout the short story.
  • Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" from The Republic is seen in a rather religious context in this blog entry. I associate the beliefs of Islam (a class I am currently taking), which believes in a universal understanding of God, to that of the Greek perpective--or at least Socrates.
  • In discussing Ion, Phaedrus, and Churchill I mentioned that I liked the steady contemplation of the Socratic dialogues. When discussing Churchill, I brought in the ideas of journalistic integrity concerning facts, information, knowledge and wisdom.
  • After reading Plato for a while, I got tired of it. This rant on Poetics was the spawn of that frustration. Throughout this blog, I pulled out quotations concerning certain books, and gave a commentary on my understanding of each point: hating the poet and virtue.
  • After our class without Dr. Jerz, I reflected on our experience as students leading a class. Reminiscent of a coffeehouse, we chitchatted about Aristotle's strictures concerning tragedy and comedy.
  • Perhaps my favorite blog in aesthetics so far was on Pope and Eliot. In this blog, I became Journalist Amanda, complete with quotes. I consider this an editorial, however--I wouldn't want a hard news reporter writing, "he captures the human condition with truisms that still capture the modern reader." I connected Pope to movies and Eliot to teenager angst poetry in a modern application of some rather older writers.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray preface blog presents the opinion that the audience plays an active role in deciding what is good and bad art or immoral or moral art. In the comments section, I was held under fire for saying that the audience can ruin art, but this, I maintain is still true--the critic looks beneath the layers at their own peril, and sometimes make incorrect assumptions (Wilde).
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray is a layered text, and I decided to delve a bit deeper into Dorian's layers here. Starting out as an innocent, beautiful character, I mark, primarily through descriptive sections the progressive decay of his impression of his beauty, and Wilde's use of the flower image as Dorian.
  • In my blog about the remaining chapters of The Picture of Dorian Gray, I pitched some research paper ideas. I think I am going to write my paper on Wilde's assumption that when beauty is taken away, it may never be recaptured, and sin may never be reversed. This may be a tough topic because I cannot crawl into the heart of Dorian Gray and discover if he was really trying to be "good" at the end of the novel, I may perhaps connect this to original sin. Who knows? I am really in the draft stage now.
  • In "Shelton Coincidence," I assess the Hellenic ideal in relationship to Wilde and his compilation of the old and new. In this entry, I note that we are to compile the past and present together to create a respectful work which spotlights all eras.

Well, there they are--my first round of Aesthetics blogs. I hope I am getting better at writing academic blogs. It is becoming rather formulaic really--dash of quotes here, a movie reference there...

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Into Gray: Concluding Dorian

I did get the library copy of Dorian, but I am not writing in the margins, but rather on scrap paper with the page number beside my note. I don't write in library books. This library book is quite extraordinary actually, but I am not sure how I feel about having a book about aesthetics being illustrated for me in cartoons...

This is the final illustration by Tony Ross in my edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray.


Quite disturbing for a cartoon...

I finally finished this novel, and I am intrigued, not only by the aesthetic conclusions of the novel, but also by Wilde himself as a writer and character in history.

As for the ending, I was a bit uncomfortable with the assumption that one cannot be saved from an "evil" lifestyle, as Wilde implies by the painting not reversing the stains of sin upon the canvas. This assumption seems to limit the human spirit; it limits Dorian's soul, which was originally described as just as beautiful as his outward appearance. I would describe a beautiful soul as a resilient one--a soul that can withstand mistakes and turn around despite the trials that Life, or the character, inflicts upon one's self.

I loved the variance of Wilde's aesthetic taste toward description. The novel, imitating Dorian's progression, begins with beautiful images of summer and flowers, specifically roses (indicative of romance) to the cold of winter, the last few scenes being characterized by coats on the characters.

I am not sure what I would like to address specifically in my paper yet. I have been dabbling with this idea of imagery in relation to Wilde's writing style (i.e. how the dialogue contrasts with the imagery and later how it meshes with the dialogue, enhancing the cold effect of Dorian's transformation).

Another idea I have been working with is that of symbolism. Bees, flowers, colors (or colours) are all symbolic of characters and their current situation at different stages of the plot. At the start of the novel, for instance, Dorian is looked upon as having the blush of youth, but later having pallor and whiteness with fainting fits.

I'm not quite sure if I like that idea very much now that I have written it out.

Yet another idea has sparked. Lord Henry is the most prolific speaker of aesthetics in the novel. When one character is speaking about the considerations of reality, Lord Henry always finds a way to turn to art and the manner in which we are imitating or being imitated by artists. He seems to go in either direction, as suits his conversation point needs.

Hm. Not quite sure what to do. At least I have options.

First impressions all my own. Now onto scholarly peer-reviewed sources. Wahoo. :-\ :-D

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February 25, 2005

Insert Rave Review Here

I am currently reading for my Islam couse, Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World. I recommend it for anyone who has questions concerning Muslims, their culture (which is our own), and biases and their origins in current society toward Islam.

It is written from a non-Muslim perspective, so I was spared the inherent biases of one who prescribes to the Muslim life. Though it does slant a bit toward the Muslim side (the book is written by a religious studies professor, Carl W. Ernst, who specializes in Islam), but overall it is a great resource on the non-Muslim perspective.

I had to laugh, though. I thought I was reading Dr. Jerz when I read this section:

"In the culture of the Internet, religious advocacy websites, as a category, are closer to advertising websites than any other kind. One needs to ask questions about the purposes of such websites and about the identities of their authors in order to distinguish missionaries and partisans from neutral sources of information."

I continue to think critically about my sources. I try to remember that every source has its slant--it's inescapable--but it is my job to see how far that slant has skewed the image.

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February 24, 2005

Chickens and Eggs in the Wilde

I am reminded of this old question, "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" when I read Wilde's "The Decay of Lying".

So what came first in the art context? The art or the imitations of art? Wilde seems to think art came first: "Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life."

As Dr. Jerz said in class, human beings have an inate response to mimic others, so I would have to say that the art would have to have come first, or the egg, if you will. I am taking this metaphor too far...

Art is the airbrushed form of Life. And Life provides a setting in which art may be imagined. Our imaginations as artists take that reality and transform it into art. I stand with Wilde completely on this assumption.

So now, instead of looking stupidly at the lines on the page, searching for an answer on my thoughts on this piece (which awkwardly happened), I have now formed an opinion.

**Note to self: Print out texts so that you may highlight. Trees beware.

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In pinks and red: Dorian Gray

About two years ago, I was part of a writing group at the Mount Pleasant Library. We were to create a story from the ground up with the idea that our story should focus on one element: plot, character or point-of-view. In any case, I thought back to these elements while reading The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Wilde's plot, though important in the development of the story--because it is a novel, is not the driving force behind the work. Instead, the character study of Dorian Gray and his supporting characters, Basil and Lord Henry (as of chapters 1-4), jeopardize the scenes.

The beautiful surroundings:

The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind strred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

...high pannelled wainscoting of olive-stained oak, its cream coloured frize and celing of raised platerwork, and its brickdust felt carpet strewn with silk, long-fringed Persian rugs.

set an amiable scene, but the dialogue, full of dark and satirical comments about human beings and their nature are enough to spoil the outward beauty of the pretty setting. This is perhaps Wilde's intention--to make the reader appreciate what lies beneath a pretty scene, and discover the layers beneath.

Dorian's layers are the subject of study. His attitude toward his own beauty goes from a sort of understated understanding that he is attractive to an outward understanding that he is a beautiful creature, but in the same instant, a beautiful creature who will fall apart. This assumption, is due in large part to Basil's, and especially Lord Henry's, views concerning his appearance. Is there something beneath this attractive exterior, or is it simply a young man wrestling with the loss of his youth?

Wilde foreshadows, quite sneakily, I might add, to the demise of Dorian's beauty through a beautiful image:

"The spray of lilac [Dorian] fell from his hand upon the gravel. A furry bee came and buzzed round it for a moment. Then it began to scramble all over the oval stellate globe of the tiny blossoms."

Later Wilde describes Dorian again as a flower, "bear[ing] blossoms of scarlet flame."

Flowers are an extended metaphor throughout the work; however, one stands out as not fitting appropriately with the character. Basil describes his relationship to Dorian as rather superficial stating, "I have given away my whole soul to some one who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer's day."

Dorian is a more apt person to say something like this. He is the ornament who will most likely fade away as time passes. Dorian, in relationship to Basil, is a muse and perhaps a friend, but will his image not fade, as Dorian mentions? Yes, and he will lose his usefulness, tossed aside when his youth or his petals fade in the heat of the day.

As for the stance of Wilde, I think that the dialogue of Lord Henry and Dorian and Basil are a sort of direct discourse on artwork. The artist, Basil, for example, stands behind Eliot that "an artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them." Though Eliot does not say that one should keep all f one's self out of their work, there is a definite differentiation between personal work for catharsis and professional.

That is the reason Basil has such difficulty giving up this work to the masses: "I will not bare my soul to their shallow prying eyes." He has "shown in it [the painting of Dorian Gray] the secret of [his] soul."

He has broken the artist impersonality rule, but luckily, at least from Lord Henry's view, "It is the finest portrait of modern times."

But the portrait is going to Dorian. Maybe the scarlet will turn to crimson.

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February 22, 2005

To Pre-face the face:
The Picture of Dorian Gray preface analysis

Have you ever read something and you are not really sure if the writer's intent is to be sarcastic or serious? I am questioning my impressions of Oscar Wilde's preface in The Picture of Dorian Gray in exactly this manner.

Though I am swaying toward the serious assumption, I think the sarcastic tinge that accompanies this start, comes from the way it is written; strict statements, such as "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book" remind me of Aristotle's strictures, which I think are pompous.

The style harkens back to Aristotle. However, this preface goes beyond Aristotle's foundation laying of what is good artwork.

Instead, it poignantly expresses generalizations concerning the audience's role in artwork. The people surveying beauty: critics, specifically, are the subject of Wilde's preface. Critics are what make books "moral or...immoral", and the statement that "No artist is ever morbid" makes me think of a namecalling critic, to whom Wilde indirectly refers.

Wilde echoes Eliot in separating the artist from the work, but as Wilde mentions, "To reveal art and conceal the artists is art's aim"--a sort of enactment of Eliot's understanding that one should create by "conscious and deliberate [thought]".

I also appreciate Wilde's warning that "all art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril". What messes up art in any form are the viewer's impressions.

As Wilde states, "It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors." This sentence reminds me of the "If You Know What I Mean" improv game from Whose Line is It Anyway? As an audience member, one can take whatever one wants from a statement. While Colin or Ryan may be implying much more than the traditional artist, the implication is not only factor in the equation.

**I killed a tree. I printed out half of The Picture of Dorian Gray. I swear, treehuggers are going to chase me down someday.

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February 21, 2005

Approaching criticism: Pope and Eliot

I have a plant in my room. It is overall a nice shade of green, but it is speckled because it cannot get enough light through my lacey curtains. (It is doing better than when my mom had it out in the hallway, getting no better light than the hallway could provide.)

Anyway, my point is that the plant is overall nice looking, pleasing to the eye, and it is also--and Aristotle would be proud--functional--for providing some nice oxygen in my pretty shut-up abode.

I could labor on the fact that it is speckled and that it does need some new dirt, and perhaps some Miracle Gro, but instead, I just water it, hoping that it will reach its full potential one of these days. It is still pretty. I am a critic of my plant, but a critic that hopefully aligns with Pope's standards of admiring "not th' exactness of peculiar parts;/...But the joint force and full result of all" (Part 2).

There is more to this than plants, however. T.S. Eliot is even in the mix.

Alexander Pope is a pretty old writer (1688-1744), but he captures the human condition with truisms that still capture the modern reader; when considering a youth's view toward the world, for example, he says that when we do conquer our first height, we think it is the end, but no, "Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!"

But back to criticism. It is true, as Eliot mentions, that "criticism is as inevitable as breathing" and that is what Pope is upset about. Instead of the thoughtful criticism that Eliot implies, Pope characterizes criticism in a negative light that "make the whole [of the artwork] depend upon a part" (Part 2).

Though I do like Pope's belief that a critic should not do this to a work, because we all "err [as humans]" (Part 2)--even in our artwork, but I do think that some nasty lines of dialogue, or a crappy cameraperson can ruin a production for the audience. It really depends on what the "err" is.

But what about the material itself? I enjoyed reading Eliot's explanation that art is not new in the sense that it is completely revolutionary, but rather the culmination of the past "dead poets", the current society, and the individual's "own private mind".

Every book one reads, every film viewed, video game played, imprints a distinct impression upon the audience member, which is echoed in new works. I guess I am reasserting the 'nothing is new under the sun' view, but Eliot is qualifying that statement by saying that the components are not new but the combination is; the work by the modern artist "forms a new compound".

In the realm specific to writers, Eliot outlines what emotions are within the jurisdiction of a poet: "human emotions", not new emotions. I like this view. By trying to twist emotion into some cataclysmic butter churn, poets sometimes give mental indigestion rather than smooth lines. In working with one emotion, I've found, layers of meaning, perhaps indicating other emotions may be discerned beneath. That is what is attractive--not the blatant "I feel so sad" telling phrases in some poetry offer--well, I don't buy it.

Eliot also says that "the bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be consious, and coscious where he out to be unconscious". I think he is referring to the showing vs. telling argument here.

Shortly after he says, "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion." When I write my 'good' stuff, I am not crying or feeling sorry for myself; instead, I am clear-headed and cool, completely in tune with what I want to say, "conscious and deliberate". This is what makes writing attractive to me, I think. I don't want to read some lines of teenage angst, the pages crinkled from tears, but I am interested in reading a teen's reflective poem on how one copes with being a teen in current culture, devoid of lines like, "I thought it was going to be forever."

My favorite line of Eliot's essay is "the poet has, not a 'personality' to express, but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a personality, in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways". The medium is what a poet/artist should hone, not necessarily the personality behind the craft.

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February 20, 2005

Girl meets ice

I met the cold, slippery surface face-to-face several times last night at the ice rink. Humbling experience. Yes. Fun. Yes. I counted around 10 times (a much-disputed amount) in a two-hour period that I fell, but thankfully, I didn't bruise.

The last time I went ice skating was for a friend's birthday in sixth grade--I think. So long ago, and I remember a similar experience: chalky ice decorating my coat. This time I had someone steadying me--the majority of the time.

Chris is an accomplished skater, and I was proud to be with skating with him (he knows some pretty awesome tricks).

Although I felt like a bumbling idiot sometimes, others, I felt like I was flying. Then I would promptly sink back on my heels and do a nice arse dive.

Sometimes, I would do my little scuttle dance, and grab for a hand. Thanks for holding me up, Chris.

Maybe with a little more practice I can cut my falls to 8. I am so NOT a perfectionist in this area.

It's a different world (on ice), and I am liking it more and more, especially when I can fall with a smile.

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February 19, 2005

Open season: class w/o prof

On Thursday in my Media Aesthetics course with Dr. Jerz, or more accurately without Dr. Jerz that day, my classmates, Anne Stadler and Johanna Dreyfuss sat down to discuss a little Aristotle.

We started out by reading our blogs aloud, because, we usually don't have time to read them out of class. We are all pretty busy gals. It was lovely just to listen to someone read, and interject my comments. Sometimes when I am reading a blog, I think of something and want to comment on it, but unlike a book, a blog doesn't have margins to write in, so I sometimes lose the spontaneity of that idea.

We discussed the hierarchal manner in which Aristotle approaches tragedy and comedy--tragedy above comedy. We thought that it would be better if he approached the subject with guidelines, rather than strict statements of "This is better than that."

That is not to say that I don't like what he has to say about tragedy--his ideas concerning length of a production are great, as I previously mentioned in a blog.

In our discussion, I complimented Johanna on her comparison between Aristotle and Plato. These works are lengthy, and to bring them together is quite an acomplishment. She said that she did it all the time in her philosophy class, so it was nothing new.

One SHU student, Trisha, who was quietly tapping away at her keyboard, turned around during our discussion, and said we sounded like we belonged in a coffeehouse. Next time we should bring bongos and snap our fingers after we read each other's blogs.

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February 17, 2005

A technological triumph

Arriving home after one of my stays at the great land of SHU-dom, I have to reclaim my room, bed, and computer. I have been getting the sneaky suspicion that if I did move out, the world would not end, but I will not start on that old fiddle again.

Everything seemed to be in regular chaos, as usual, but my computer, which never is, was disturbed. I started my media player (I listen to John Mayer when I am cleaning), and something was terribly wrong. Little orange exclamation points suddenly appeared beside every one of my songs.

I thought my computer was crashing, and I began to panic. I mean, I was pretty much in the state, yelling at my poor mother about her e-mail attachment downloading practices.

Somehow, a "malicious software removal" program found its way onto my computer, and deleted my speakers from the system. Right after it happened, I got a message from Microsoft with a patch of some sort, and it wasn't helping me now...I was having the cow of the century.

Then I realized that I could re-install them with my Dell CD's. Yay! I took a trek out to my snowy commuter mobile and flipped through the CDs (my collection is rather large, but made fun of in some circles). Right there, beside Shania Twain and Marroon 5, was my Dell re-installation CD, cold, but still functional.

After re-installing and restarting, I crossed my fingers, hoping that the obnoxious exclamation points would not reappear. They didn't.

John Mayer has never sounded so soothing, not to mention Sarah MacLachlan's "Angel."

That's right Mr. Malicious Software Removal: Don't mess with me. I'll kick your technologically-inclined arse.

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Aristotle and I fight: I win

I, like Anne, was a bit ticked off at Aristotle and his editorial comments about what beauty is and is not.

His separations, for example, of what is and what is not draw a line that I think should not exist. His own good opinion of himself and his judgment of artwork: "Polygnotus depicted men as nobler than they are, Pauson as less noble, Dionysius drew them true to life", as one being real, another better or worse reminds me of an article that I have to scratch opinion out of for the Setonian.

If Aristotle is so into observations and empirical evidence, why can he not provide some conclusions of his own? Instead, he stipulates at the reason we find pleasure in seeing nasty images:

"We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies. The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general; whose capacity, however, of learning is more limited."

His opinion concerning tragedy and comedy struck me, as well. According to Aristotle, tragedy is a higher form than comedy. I have heard it said by many actors and writers that to perform or write comedy is the most difficult of tasks. Getting the timing down correctly, especially. Both forms of drama are beautiful in different ways, and saying that one is superior to another is pretentious.

I do, however, agree with Aristotle in that drama "a certain length is necessary, and a length which can be easily embraced by the memory" is essential. Artwork, should be 'just enough' that the viewer, listener...whatever can be reinspired by it through memory.

I don't exactly understand what Aristotle means by:

"A very small animal organism cannot be beautiful; for the view of it is confused, the object being seen in an almost imperceptible moment of time. Nor, again, can one of vast size be beautiful; for as the eye cannot take it all in at once, the unity and sense of the whole is lost for the spectator; as for instance if there were one a thousand miles long."

I can't say that I have classified art in this manner before, or thought I needed to do so. Beauty can be overwhelming in many formats--it is not the format or size of the beauty that matters, but rather the thing itself.

When discussing history and poetry, Aristotle does the same thing, "Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history"; he qualifies what is a higher thing, making a generalization about the written word--an artform, which I find, cannot be pinned down by one perspective, especially in history.

When he mentions poetry again, I found truth in his statement that, "fear and pity may be aroused by spectacular means; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece, which is the better way, and indicates a superior poet." Poetry, as I have discovered is better when the showing happens rather than the telling, and the format, whether in verse or prose-like style adds to the piece. Every line of poetry, if it is good poetry (in my opinion), offers nuanced layers of meaning. In this, Aristotle and I agree.

Maybe I am being overly critical of this work. I mean, his intent was to be instructive (I guess?: "We must proceed to consider what the poet should aim at, and what he should avoid, in constructing his plots; and by what means the specific effect of Tragedy will be produced"--sounds pretty instructional to me). While reading, I just got more and more angry at his distinctions of what is good and what is not--that's the kind of thing that messes kids up. :-D

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February 16, 2005

Getting the primary source:
Interview with an Iraqi

Head coverings was the trend. Arabesque calligraphy decorated the entry. I took my shoes off when I entered. This evening I visited the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.

I am taking a class on Islamic culture this semester with an Egyptian professor, Abdul Marjoud Dardery. He is visiting for about ten weeks, and my class is shortened to accomodate his stay. However, I should say lengthened because of the 4.5 hours I spend on Wednesday nights.

Four and a half hours? Boring right? Nope. Though I sometimes have issues with body parts falling to sleep, I am enamored by what I am learning, and becoming more aware of the misconceptions in our own culture about Muslims and the faith tradition of Islam.

When we arrived, I was expected to take off my shoes, and it was a great experience. I mean, everyone had something in common: we had clean socks. :-)

After introductions and the evening prayer, which was called in the traditional manner by a Seton Hill student, the students in my class, and the Faith, Religion and Society course (which I took last year) were introduced to the people of various countries represented at the center.

Saudi Arabia. Egypt. Yemen. Turkey. And Iraq...

I chose Iraq as my country to research. After all, I am a journalism major, I should know something about the country that is on the news every day.

Hearing about the country straight from an Iraqi was indeed enlightening. His views on the American habitation of Iraq were perhaps the most surprising. He wanted America there for a time to establish order and borders, but then eventually move on. I thought that he would want the Americans out.

I perceive this constant friction between "us" and "them", but the more I learn, I find that the conflict is in certain specific groups, rather than the majority of the country that voted in the first election.

He would not directly answer my questions concerning the influence of the west on the east, such as the decline of polygamy, but he did point me in the right direction for my research.

The influence of the west! Exactly. We are there, why not?

One especially funny thing we talked about was marriage and the contract that it is to Muslims. As a contract, a male and female may outline what they would like in their marriage. He did not intimate the conditions of his own marriage, but he did say how expensive the gold was that he purchased for his wife, which she requested. Amazing! 24-carat. He said he had to buy it in Turkey because the U.S. does not have it of that quality.

I have his e-mail, so I think we will keep in contact. He said I could perhaps stay with his family sometime to see what life would be like as a Muslim for a day. Sounds interesting. This religious studies minor keeps getting better and better.

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February 15, 2005

More play dough?

Oh, Plato. Not as much fun as I thought.

The same themes of the "ideal" of "bedness" and the hatred for the "honeyed" muse-inspired works appear here, just as it does here.

Socrates was really into repitition....repeat questions....repeat themes...maybe I am just kind of ticked off that he can't figure out other end punctuation marks.

In any case, throughout this rather lengthy Book X of probably 98 or so, I did discover a few high points.

On stoicism:
"The law would say that to be patient under suffering is best, and that we should not give way to impatience, as there is no knowing whether such things are good or evil; and nothing is gained by impatience; also, because no human thing is of serious importance, and grief stands in the way of that which at the moment is most required."

This school of thought is still perpetuated in Christian thought from the Roman Hellenistic influence. I guess in the influence you get "imitations" (as Socrates loves to put it), but when coming straight from the first thinkers, I am awed by the frankness of the words. This statement intimates that it is honorable, virtuous, and attractive, above all to stand firm amid disaster.

On hating the poet:

"For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State."

And this is where Socrates gets in trouble with me. I love poetry, and I do not think that it has a negative influence on people's lives and their perception of the world around them--unless they permit it to. While I will probably get the "it can be a sub-conscious response," I will retort, "When has your sub-conscious smacked anyone?" Never mind.

And then he bashes some more...and let's add in some metaphors about women to enhance the effect.

"We too are inspired by that love of poetry which the education of noble States has implanted in us, and therefore we would have her appear at her best and truest; but so long as she is unable to make good her defence, this argument of ours shall be a charm to us, which we will repeat to ourselves while we listen to her strains; that we may not fall away into the childish love of her which captivates the many. At all events we are well aware that poetry being such as we have described is not to be regarded seriously as attaining to the truth; and he who listens to her, fearing for the safety of the city which is within him, should be on his guard against her seductions and make our words his law."

The application of a feminine in this negative context is rather offensive to the modern reader, but I am comforted in the fact that beautiful ships are also referred to in this same manner.

On the virtuous:

"He should consider the bearing of all these things which have been mentioned severally and collectively upon virtue; he should know what the effect of beauty is when combined with poverty or wealth in a particular soul, and what are the good and evil consequences of noble and humble birth, of private and public station, of strength and weakness, of cleverness and dullness, and of all the soul, and the operation of them when conjoined."

I am still struggling with this one. Does he mean that beauty corrupts the lower classes because they do not see much of it? Or that the upper-classes will be corrupted by overindulgence in the beautiful things life has to offer?

As I read over all of the Plato writings, I realize the irony that his rhetoric is just as "honeyed" as the muses'. His speeches, filled with design for the other speaker, are just as inspired as the next poet on the curbside of Athens. Did they have curbs?

Anyway...that is why we still esteem his work--because it isn't jibberish. It is inspired, perhaps by Socrates himself, but perhaps by a belligerent muse who wishes to be heard, so he creates this amazing vessel that believes the exact opposite of the common consensus to get his message out.

*falls asleep on desktop*

Oh yeah. And that is my cue to stop writing.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 12:18 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 14, 2005

Lil' valentine blog

I am up late, and I just want to say that I had the BEST Valentine's Day today. Consider this a blog just to remember, not to really tell anything.

Thanks and sweetness to all who contributed to my current grinning-from-ear-to-ear status. Yes, that means, you. :-)

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 12:29 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 10, 2005

Footnotes to Plato

After reading "Ion", an excerpt from "Phaedrus" and an article concerning "Phaedrus", I must say that I understand Socrates little better than when I had in philosophy class, but understand to a better degree the range of topics that he discusses with his sorry group of saps that he trounces upon.

I admire his method. Asking questions. Asking the opponent to concede something, anything in argument, and later using the content of their answers against them. I studied this method in high school with mock trial, and I think that given the right set of questions, one can make anyone concede to anything, by giving the particulars rather than generalizations.

While I enjoyed "Ion" much better than "Phaedrus" in content, I came to respect the format of Socrates' argument much better in "Phaedrus." As Churchhill states in his neat-o article, "Phaedrus had in mind for their outing a discussion of a speech...[but] the fact that this dialogue is itself a pice of writing masquerading as a living conversation is an irony Plato understands and uses in the dialogue itself."

Heck, I came to appreciate Socrates/Plato more period. People do not have dialogues anymore. As Churchill mentions, "Much of modern life has been accelerated and made more crowded by technological advances." Though I am going against some of the opinions I have previously held on the blogs, I think that we are missing something in our society, but the benefits usually outweigh the drawbacks. Sweeping generalization, I know, but still usually true. I hate using such qualifiers, but what can I say? I like political-correctness--usually. :-)

In any case, Churchill's article was the best part of my readings. In one section he defines a fact, information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, and though I had never thought about these words as being progressive of one another, I like the breakdown.

As a journalist one Churchill quote ran me over,

"It is not that facts are not valuable. It is that in addition to possession of them, which is information, we need a sense of how they are connected, which is knowledge, a sense of how they came to be and how we came to know them, which is understanding, and a sense of what they mean for us, which is wisdom."

How applicable to the field of journalism. If only the facts alone would not carry so much weight, but also the factors involved in the attribution of those facts and the process which makes it common knowledge.


I know, I just went off on a journalism rant, but let me make an example. Islam in the media. When I told my Islam class that I was studying in a media field, I became a literal center of attention. People look at me when we talk about the media. I know that they are careful about what they say. The media has been biased and confused in the case of Muslim culture, but that is not to say that they are completely wrong.

They receive facts, and something may happen to that fact over time, which alters the perception of the audience consuming that fact. Thinking themselves wise in their factual knowledge, they forget that something has gone wrong in the process of conveying that message. In this Churchill, like Jerz, stands behind the peer-review: "There are large and important issues concerning the validation of sources and the acculturation of users to critical techniques for sorting the chaff from the wheat."

I stand behind the peer-review mentality, but the news is important, and to wait for it to pass through many people (beyond a newspaper editorial staff) is to deny the public that timely information.

However, we must remember, as Churchill concludes, to "embrace the technology, but in so doing we need to remember that the trail from data to wisdom is long and full of subtle turns."

As a journalist, I hope to make the road a little less sporadic.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 2:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 9, 2005

Well, it was allegorical...

To see the light, quite literally in Plato's "The Allegory of the Cave" from The Republic, is to be transformed. Not a big leap in current culture, but one that is well worth reading and revisiting, despite the sometimes circular language, which Plato's master, Socrates, is known.

Like Johanna, I also had a philosophy course last semester, and I did bring with me a similar knowledge of Plato. In my class, we did not discuss this particular section, but I knew the language of Plato, and was ready for a sometimes awkward, read-me-five-times-over selection.

The best part of the entire set-up of the dialogues is the insertion of another person, just to make the title of "dialogue" applicable. The other speaker, Glaucon, in this instance, has lines like "I see" and "I agree, he said, as far as I am able to understand you."

The dialogue format of this entire work is all wrong. I would rather read all of Socrates' work together, rather than the choppy nature of Glaucon's interruptions.

On the other hand, this format does offer the reader a chance to settle into the rhetoric of Plato/Socrates, which permits the concept of truth to shine through the sometimes difficult language.

This concept of truth/learning is inherent to Plato:

"The power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already;...the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul...and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being."

The inherent nature of truth confounds me. I am not sure if it is possible to make that kind of generalization. Can the people down in the cave think that there must be something grander than the shadows that they perceive? Is it possible for them to believe? And if so, why do they turn the seer away?

In my Islam course with a visiting professor, Abdul Dardery on Wednesday nights for 4.5 hours. We have lots of time to discuss, and last night, we went into dialogue on the supposed inherent understanding of God that functions in every human being. The author of the book we are reading, Faruqi, states that it is a sixth sense that enables all of humanity to perceive God.

Socrates also believes this statement, but perhaps in his Greek cultural context:

In a world of knowledge the idea of good apears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual."

In this understanding of truth/the divine...whatever you wish to call it, we are confused, with the "bewilderments of the eyes...coming out of the light or from going into the light." That is the manner in which we live our lives; using our senses, and through experience, one either retreats into shadow, or advances into light. To be entirely in darkness or entirely in the light are extremes that I am not sure are possible.

In another of Plato's works that I did read last semester, "The Apology", Socrates knows that he does not know, and that his wisdom is meaningless, and is found to be the "none wiser" when he sees others thinking that they are in the light. I would classify these people as "fancying that they are already dwelling apart in the islands of the blest" that he mentions in the allegory. Blinded by their senses, by what others say, they cannot see past the shadows--do not want to see beyond the vanities of their comfortable lives.

Anyway, that's my understanding, but sometimes Socrates runs circles around me, too.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 4:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 3, 2005

Columnist Woes

I have recently been awarded a columnist position on the Setonian staff. Woo hoo!! However, I am rather stumped about what I should write about. Commuter double-lives. The oddities and witticisms of an online SHU society? Hmmm.....I am just stuck.

There have been some insightful columnists in the Setonian past, and I would hate to be the first to trounce upon that tradition.

So, in fact, I am stressing over this, but I shouldn't, should I?

I have a few ideas up my rolled-up sleeves, and I am ready to do this.

So, ideas. Hmmm...Fresh out for the moment, but perhaps my loving readers will assist me in my ardent subject pursuit.

I also need a title for my column. Taking the Hill? SHUing my way to stardom?

Man, those are really awful. My deadline is approaching...

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 11:10 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 2, 2005

Impediment as gift: "Cathedral"

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" Ugh. Nasty cliche, but accepted as truth in certain circles. What happens if the beholder is blind? Is the beholder beholding?

What about people with sight? Are we really seeing beauty for what it is? What makes a beautiful thing beautiful?

The last question is linked to sensory impressions, but in "Cathedral" by Carver, one sensory impression is not when a blind man visits a couple. The wife has been in contact with him over the years through taped conversations, and her new husband isn't enthused about the blind man's presence in his home.

However, instead of focusing on the blind man, the wife, and the situation at hand, I was pulled to the narrator: his racial prejudices, illegal smoking habits, and bitter sarcasm.

With responses to the blind man's marriage, such as, "All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like," the reader knows that, as he directly states, "it [a blind man's life] was beyond [his] understanding."

Throughout the story, the narrator consistently relates that Robert is "the blind man," never permitting him to have an identity outside of his supposed impediment. In fact, this impediment may even be construed as a gift when the narrator discovers, to a certain degree, what freedom one may find:

"Well? he said. "Are you looking?"
My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn't feel like I was inside anything.
"It's really something," I said.

While the reader does not know if he has a positive or negative lilt in his voice, from the previous indications of drawing a cathedral with fluidity and grace: "His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now," I inferred that this was a positive experience. From the short, choppy sentences to this rather long description, the reader knows that something has changed.

Perhaps now the narrator will understand his wife's poetry attempts.

As the narrator discovered from Robert, beauty may be discerned from all the senses, and by impairing one sense, we may heighten our reactions in the remaining ones. Though beauty is usually associated with sight impressions, there is much more to it than that; in breaking that restraint, beauty or ugliness can be seen everywhere, in the eye, or ear, or nose, or hand, or tongue, or heart (a sixth sense, if you will) of the beholder.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 8:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 1, 2005

A Site of Sight

From Sendero Group: Mike's Journal

On the one hand it felt odd that I was crying over the Cal Aggie marching band while on the other hand it was wonderful that it didn't make sense, just like having sight or not having sight doesn't make sense, it's just the way it is. Of course, it was the combination of feelings which contributed to this "goose bump" moment; happy to be with my boys, friends and to be in a cohesive energetic community. What a moment, what a day!

With Mike being blind since age three, I can hardly fathom the depth of his descriptions. I really don't want to say, "Look at all the things people with vision do not appreciate", but it seems that is the message.

Mike's descriptions put into words the beauty that many writers do not even approach. Consider his first sight experience of fireworks:

There can't be any better contrast than flashing lights against a black sky. The bursting patterns were challenging at first to understand but with some explanation from my friends, I began to see the star patterns, the changing colors, the raining lights, the columns and the bursts overlaying each other. It looked like the circles of color were coming to embrace us.

This scene is common in our lives--going to the fireworks at the fair, but with his sensitized, at times, poetic view of the event, the reader also appreciates the beauty of the scene and the circumstances which accompany the telling.

Throughout the journal, I read in awe. The normal occurrences that I and everyone take for granted, were precious, lovely, and exciting. He is, as Anne says, "still astonished by what he sees...[having] new experiences everyday."

The fact that he could even cope with the alterations in his environment are amazing. I attribute some of that okay-ness to his previous vision. However, there are people that have never seen or heard or spoken before. How would they react to the change in their surroundings? Would they attribute pleasure or pain to the newfound environment?

Discuss... :-)

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 6:23 PM | Comments (7)