Chris: April 2009 Archives

The Vicious Circle Known as Life

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"Maybe you read too many books- life is complicated, but underneath the principle has never changed since the Romans- f--- them before they can f--- you."

Miller, page 8

Life is indeed a cycle.  Miller's "Resurrection Blues" touches upon the basic human moral struggles.  In the conversation mentioned above, Felix explains to Henri that life is cut-throat.  This quote applies throughout the rest of the play.  It is especially evident towards the conclusion that all has come full circle.

The characters undergo a supposed change as the play progresses, but when Charley's return is questionable, everyones' character turns back on their words and also turns on their own personas.  People are willing to change when they see a chance to reap the fruits of another's labor, but as soon as any risk is onvolved on their part, they get cold feet.  Such is the case with Felix. 

He makes it a point to run the country very strictly and do anything that he can to make it better, even if it involves crooked ways.  Emily convinces him, using her charm and sensous appeals, to change and rethink his ways.  However, when one looks closely, it is evident that Felix still wants his life to remain the same: he wants everythin else to change around him.  As soon as he is the one who could be "screwed", Felix completely turns back on all that he was willing to "change".  Life involves sacrifice, but Felix is not willing to sacrifice anything of his own.

Charley's refusal to come down in order to let them crucify him is also a bit of a pun.  The goverment functions much like the Romans did with regards to Jesus Christ, but this time, it is the Christ-figure that beats the government to the punch.  Thus, life is a vicious circle of events.

Love what you do

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"That's why he's great; he plays everything as though he's in love with it."

-Niffenegger, page 201

Henry explains to Alicia that music is something that one must be passionate about even when the music is not a particular favorite.  He refers to how his father, seccond chair violinist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, plays every piece with fervor and dedication, even if he despises the piece.  Likewise, Henry feels that Alicia should adopt the same attitude.  However, it is sad to see the hypocrisy in the elder DeTamble's ways.

Henry's father has been in mourning ever since the loss of his wife.  He has lost the love that is within his heart and soul.  Violin playing has become second to drinking, and as we find out later, the drinking destroys his ability to play the violin.  Mr. DeTamble loves music...or rather, he loved music, at one point. 

It has been 23 years since Mr. DeTamble loved anyone or anything.  Henry speaks the truth about musicians' philosophy, but his father mimics his way through the orchestra.  His bitterness and self-pity consume him and the music that he had once loved.

The Wrath of Irony

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"...irony trumps everything."

-Foster, page 128

And so it may seem logical, but irony is indeed a force unlike any other when it comes to literature.  There are, of course, obvious ironies that seem to scream to the audience, but even more compelling are the subtle ironies that weave themselves throughout literature and stories, in general.

A wonderful example of such is given by Foster on page 130.  He speaks of Gabriel Marcia Marquez's story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings".  I recall reading that story in high school and wondering about the old man and the priest who questions him.  The priest concludes that the old man is not an angel of God because he does not understand Latin, and yet, Jesus spoke Aramaic.  The subtle irony of the ignorant priest's assumption nullifies his thought process.  Simple little details can make a great difference.  Foster reminds us, the audience, that even small details can make a huge difference.  Irony can be everything from the seatbelt wearing driver crushed by a billboard, to General Patton survivng WWII only to die in a car accident several weeks later. 

A look in the mirror

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"I seemed aware of it all from a point deep within me, yet there was a disturbing vagueness about what I saw, a disturbing uniform quality, as when you see yourself in a photo exposed during adolescence; the expression empty, the grin without character, the ears too large, the pimples, 'courage bumps', too many and too well defined.  This was a new phase...a new beginning..."

Ellison, 335

At this point in chapter 16, the narrator is describing his feelings as the Brotherhood members prepare to address the crowd at the rally.  Ellison paints a marvelous picture with some youthful imagery: age brings maturity in multiple facets.

The narrator speaks of this feeling of slight uneasiness and compares it to the sensation that one might get from looking at an old photo from the years of puberty.  Changes were under way, but now the narrator faces changes and transformations even more pivotal than those of physical development: his psychological standpoint is morphing into a new state. 

Life is a matter of constant change.  Ellison's narrator does an excellent job of portraying that introspective view of change.  There is that look in the mirror in order to see how time has not only changed the face, but the workings that go on within the head that holds the face.

Speakin' The Blues

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"Unlike, for instance, the Reverend Homer A. Barbee, whose earlier speech at the protagonist's college is a tightly rehearsed repetition of other similar speeches..., Wheatstraw's eloquence is an off-the-cuff, organic eloquence, an eloquence that foregrounds the possibilties of improvisation as opposed to strict recitation."

-Hanlon, 86

 As I read this article about the speech utilized within Ellison's novel, I came to realize just how much the speaking styles of the characters relate to the jazz characteristics of the 1930s and the ensuing movements.  Improvisation, a widely used technique in jazz literature, is seen in a light of courage and honesty.  As a jazz musician, myself,I can relate to this feeling.  I know that when I'm playing a chart and the director points at me to take a solo I feel very gratified when my solo expresses some idea that is passing through my mind: the chords line up and some rhytmic lick that I've stored away in my mind comes forward and sounds from my horn.  When I finish and pull the instrument away for a short rest, I feel accomplished: I have expressed my thoughts through music and not relied on a script.

Much of the same phenomenon can be said of the improvisational speech.  It's one thing to be able to write a beautiful speech in much the same way that it is to compose a piece of music, but the work is even more gratifying and accomplished when it is adapted and modified on the spot.  It's one thing to memorize a speech or read from a jazz chart, but it's another thing to permit one's emotions to be read by the tongue, itself.  Hence, the characters that makes use of the improvisational style are better accepted by the crowd since the crowd provides the inspiration for the words: a tailored fit, so to speak; as opposed to a canned speech that runs dry and seems generic.

May 2009

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Recent Comments

Christopher Hanlon on Speakin' The Blues: First, Christopher, thank you
Jennifer Prex on The Vicious Circle Known as Life: That was interesting how Felix
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Alicia Campbell on Speakin' The Blues: Since I am no musician whatsoe
Christopher Dufalla on Speakin' The Blues: Knowledge of the topic materia