February 25, 2004

My Media Aesthetic Trek Thus Far

First and foremost, it must be said that this is a very unique class. I was into the third week and still wondering if I was in Advanced Study of Literature or Media Aesthetics. Dr. Jerz’s sight clears this up. This class is both. As a seminar, EL 309 is taught mainly by the students to the students, with Dr. Jerz there to clarify and fill in information.

So far, we’ve read about Pygmalion, Aristotle, and Plato, a story called “Cathedral," parts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Pope’s incredible “Essays on Criticism,” and my favorite; Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. In addition, we’ve read several essays edited by Thorburn and Jenkins in Rethinking Media Change: the Aesthetics of Translation. As a former political science student who is now entering into English literature in his junior year, most class information is new, and I have had to play a lot of catch up, feeling like a newbie most of the time.

Our class started out right with Julie Young’s excellent presentation on “Getting the Most out of Your Academic Weblog.” This presentation got the class ready to blog their thoughts on class assignments, as well as keep in touch with each other. On the third week of class, I presented on “Medieval Punctuation and Spelling,” and the “Medieval Reader”. Rachel Crump also presented on “Medieval Illumination and Design, Binding and Archiving,” and “Reproduction and Economics.” I later filled in the gaps in my presentation with an additional blog which explained and showed examples of Medieval punctuation. The following week, I taught on “Art for Teaching the Medieval Christian” and Brendan explained such complicated theories as “Aesthetic Distance” and “Intentional Fallacy.” Rachel explained the structure of The Canterbury Tales as well. Week five, Jamee Rice put on a great presentation called "The Book as an Experimental Medium" in which she showed how Bibles and children’s books evolved. I commented meaningfully on her presentation, as I could really relate.

One thing that sticks out in my mind, other than the lesson that no one is here to hold my hand in college, (this class is the only class that I’m falling way behind on and greatly appreciative of the break for) is Thorburn’s point that people relate to technology in the limited way that they understood a former technology. For example, the word “car” is really an abbreviation of the word carriage. Dr. Jerz explained that people take the easiest way of saying something and in the time of the early automobile, people could relate to horse-driven carriages. Eventually, the automobile got stuck with the label, “car.”

Perhaps the most profound lesson that this class has taught me is to view “art” as more than a mere picture. Brendan’s presentation really challenged my concept of art. Is Hitler’s Mein Kampf art? What about japanimation; that is surely not oil based. Art, as Rachel Crump said, is powerful, it moves people. It can be literature, drama, a picture, a sculpture, etc. This point really stuck.

Lastly, I am challenged by this class, which revolves around online and peer discussion so much. Even transferring from Westmoreland County Community College where I took many online courses, discussed on message boards, and chatted with schoolmates and teachers alike, this class is unique in its own structural rite. Up to this point, I have blogged fairly conservative, only when prompted. To get the most out of this class in the future, however, it will be necessary to begin actively engaging my classmates, conversing about their blogs and presentations, as well as investigating media aesthetics for myself. A neat thing about the terms taught in this class, such as intentional fallacy, is that they are also covered in Dr. Arnzen’s Literary Criticism class. So, between the two, I am learning much and shedding my English newbie clothes.

Posted by JohnHaddad at 07:49 PM | Comments (1)

The Web of Paradox

In the second chapter of Rethinking Media Change, David Thorburn writes on the “Web of Paradox.” According to Thorburn, all new forms of technology are referred to by and understood by relating them to some familiar object. Case in point; the information superhighway. We understand transmitting messages quickly across far distances. We understand speed. The Internet achieves this for us. Information superhighway makes sense.
Working in a small office supply store in Connellsville, I am fascinated almost daily by people’s limited understanding of technology. The majority of those who come into the store for printer cartridges, ask for ink for their computer. Uh… Computers don’t take ink the last time I checked. My co-worker, Mary Ann, is also an object of fascination. She still resists societal pressure to own a computer or even a cell phone. She has in her collection; exactly 2 DVD movies. Anyway, she still relates back to the ancient days of computers, when a wrong key casually erased programs. My boss has to keep reassuring her, “Mary Ann, if you mess it up, John or I can fix it. You don’t vaporize if you hit the wrong key.” She is rarely reassured by this and continues to treat our new computer with as much trepidation as her old antiquated one.
Thorburn uses the example of the early automobile. “Nothing”, he writes, “inherent in the internal combustion engine required that the first cars resemble horse-drawn carriages. That beginning was dictated by metaphor, by inherited notions of conveyance.” In other words, we relate to the way something has always been done.
That’s why older people, like my father, have great trouble in understanding today’s new technology. It’s especially awful for him when operating systems change. I mean, he tried so hard to learn the rules of the first system. Now he sincerely, but ultimately incorrectly, continues to do the same thing that he has always done, but expects different results. That is a sign of insanity, according to Einstein. Technology can makes you nuts.
Thorburn suggests that we need more discussion concerning the way we talk about the Internet. He sees the WWW’s names as capitalist and “carrying an undersong of adventure.” Words like cyberspace and frontier are pointed out. I agree that discussion is of the utmost importance. I know that my dad understands at least the fundamentals of computers since attending a class at . It was for novice computer users and my dad fit the category well. He came out of his class, having received much individualized attention and learning the concepts the layman’s way, and for the first time finally understood some of his new technological toys.

Posted by JohnHaddad at 05:31 PM | Comments (2)

February 24, 2004

Aesthetic Distance: the Veil of Weird Grotesqueness

Encyclopædia Britannica defines "aesthetic distance" as the following: “the frame of reference that an artist creates by the use of technical devices in and around the work of art to differentiate it psychologically from reality.” It is said more clearly on the Tri-County Community College Major English Writer’s page. A handout on aesthetic distance defines the term as, “the psychological and emotional distance between the text and the reader.”

Edward Bullough is the man who coined the term and in his “'Psychical Distance' as a Factor in Art and an Aesthetic Principle”, he states that this principle makes it possible for dangerous situations to be appreciated aesthetically. For example, an audience can enjoy a play based on Dante’s “Inferno” even though in reality, hell is a place of torture, a place where no one would send even their worst enemies. The audience can view the play objectively, appreciating the beauty of the play while staying a comfortable distance away from the real and proverbial flames.

Bullough uses a fog at sea as his example. Of course a fog at sea is a very disconcerting thing for sailors. Its presence leaves ships’ crews feel vulnerable to unseen elements such as icebergs and the chill it brings is most unpleasant. Yet, a fog at sea, depicted in the art form of the second dimension, gives a comfortable distance to the 3D reality from which it is viewed. Thus, a piece of art, even one which depicts a scene, which in real life, would bring out unwanted emotions, may be viewed as quite beautiful.

Aesthetic distance, says Bullough, is “the veil [which] surround[s] you with an opaqueness as of transparent milk, blurring the outline of things and distorting their shapes into weird grotesqueness.” What a great line! Anyway, another example he gave in his essay was that of one climbing a mountain for enjoyment. It fatigue’s the climber, but he doesn’t think of the pain, only the enjoyment of the climb.

It reminds me of Orwell’s 1984 “doublethink” concept, which Orwell describes as the "power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them." It allows a person to disregard thoughts which bring, if dwelled upon, confusion and discomfort, even though they are very real and true. So, people are trained from birth to brainwash themselves into believing what they are told, no matter how unrealistic it is. Bullough calls this concept “hypocritically denying” [the truth]. This denial of uncomfortable parts of reality naturally lends to deception, the essence of good fiction in my opinion.

Posted by JohnHaddad at 05:24 PM | Comments (1)

February 19, 2004

An overview of the Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, an epic poem that contains stories from pilgrims from all walks of life, remains as a brilliant piece of English literature. Even unfinished, it is an undisputed masterpiece that, at least is none expert’s minds, places Chaucer among such great English minds as Pope and Shakespeare.
The pilgrims’ tales vary in genre from religious allegories to a sermon, to romantic adventures to moral tales, but the most common form is the fabliau. The American Heritage Dictionary defines fabliau as “A medieval verse tale characterized by comic, ribald treatment of themes drawn from life.” Throughout the Tales, wives are commonly shown to be utterly unfaithful, as in the "Miller’s Tale", and the Wife of Bath’s own testimony. The Wife of Bath actually portrays women to be overly sensuous beings who naturally and unashamedly use their feminine wiles to get what they want from the men in their lives. Many modern day feminists take issue with this stereotype of course, and criticize Chaucer’s praised work.
The Canterbury Tales’ structure is thought to be taken from a contemporary author of Chaucer’s. Giovanni Boccaccio’s "Teseide”, is an Italian version of what Chaucer copied into English when writing his “Knight’s Tale.” Additionally, Boccaccio’s famous Decameron seems to be the basis for at least six of Chaucer’s tales. That said, the general structure of the Tales seems to be heavily contended. The most logical, though, it seemed to me, was a theory that Rachel Howard bloged on, what she called the, “transformation of natural change.” In this theory, we see that human society like the "Knight’s Tale" moves to magic, as in the "Pardoner’s Tale", to moral transformation, as seen in the "Shipman’s Tale", and lastly to spiritual change, as in the "Parson’s Tale."
The Canterbury Tales continues of course to be widely taught, both in high schools and school of higher education, and will continue to be a popular English work. Myself, I will take a course in Chaucer that will no doubt cover the Tales extensively and God willing will eventually teach it to my high school English students.

Posted by JohnHaddad at 08:48 PM | Comments (0)

Christocentric look at Plato's Cave

As a political science major, I came into class with a background in Plato’s, "The Allegory of the Cave" from The Republic. However, my classes never really delved deeper than the political parallels of propaganda. Reading Plato’s work again, with bright English-literature major eyes, was a great and different experience. Plato’s point is that people believe what is before them. They understand the world based on their senses. Not unlike us, I suppose. However, what the cave’s prisoners are seeing is only shadows, mere mirror images of reality. We, too, according to Plato, see this way, when we look around us. The “Form” of something is only a depiction of it, and we have to strive to climb to loftier planes to be enlightened. To some extent, I definitely agree with Plato’s points, but I still find things that I disagree with. Plato, like fellow philosopher Aristotle, wondered what truth actually was. They couldn’t pinpoint it. I feel that I can. Truth is Jesus. Plain and simple without any distracting religious anything to get in the way. Actually, that’s just taking the Bible at its word. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” I am just believing what He said. If that makes me a radical, so be it. I’m in good company with Christ Himself. So, I believe that reality, and truth, and justice, and real love are all attainable and I know where to turn. That forms my personal philosophy on life of course, and makes me look at life through Christocentric glasses. I mean, in my opinion, Jesus is the base and foundation of all truth and all things are meaningless without a correct understanding of who He is. That doesn’t just invalidate Plato, because Plato wasn’t born again. St. Thomas Aquinas beautifully showed how the Bible and Greek philosophy go together on several levels. However, if Plato says one thing and the Bible another, it’s not a hard decision who to believe.

Posted by JohnHaddad at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2004

Man Gets His Thrills By Making Out with Statue!

The story of Pygmalion is such a fun one in my opinion. I mean, come on… Where else can a guy get his thrills off of making out with an inanimate object and call it art? There is a happy ending too, which is nice. After the sculptor creates his beautiful stone Galatea and falls in love with it, Venus (or Aphrodite) makes the statue come to live and blesses the couple’s marriage. What fun. I think the best part about this story is that it describes the internal workings of Pygmalion’s struggle to find love. It well shows the desperation few people have in seeking out the one whom they will spend the rest of their mortal lives with. I think it’s absolutely awesome how he even earnestly prayed (in this case, of course, it was the goddess of love) about the woman that he loved. I can relate because I actually do that! Burnt so many times on a system that I perceive to be fatally flawed; namely the dating game, I now just pray to God (the real one of course) that He bring my wife and I together, and that He makes me into the loving husband that she deserves. Now, that’s not exactly how Pygmalion went about it, but I think the parallel is clear enough. One last thing, and something that I hope I’m not so shallow to fall to, but really, Pygmalion fell in love with Galatea on the sole basis that she was beautiful, and I think that’s really sad. I mean romantic, yes, but the basis of a good relationship? I don’t think so. Beauty fades, and in pursuing my lover’s hand in marriage, I had better not be thinking in so narrow and superficial terms.

Posted by JohnHaddad at 08:35 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2004

Fixed Link

My Last Judgement link is now restored, but if you want to check it out in a couple of different larger forms you can go to The Web Gallery of Art.

Posted by JohnHaddad at 04:57 PM | Comments (0)