Jan 17, 2014

Semester 2 Day 5

'One can sometimes touch,
in the distance between two people,
a moment of another person’s endless dream.'
- Yves Bonnefoy, In the Shadow’s Light

No, that is totally unrelated to school, but it reminded me of love and poetry, which is basically what today's classes were about, so I might as well just talk about class while I'm at it. Had Literature and An Anthropology of Literary Culture seminars today, and they were fantastic. I was so engaged and fascinated throughout, and I'm so glad I got the profs that I did. Just so excited for the rest of the semester now.

So, in Literature class, the most striking moment for me was when Patke was talking about how Don Quixote really isn't as blind to reality as he seems - he simply chooses to see things in an idealised manner. So Don Quixote is this weirdass old man that reads a lot of books about chivalry and decides one day that he wants to be a knight, so he goes around attempting to rectify wrongs and bring justice to the world when all he really does is cause trouble to himself because he sees everyone (or everything) that he encounters to be an enemy who's going to fight him. And his attendant is like, that's a flock of sheep, not an army, dude. That's a turbine, not a giant with magical transformative powers. 

And he has this lady of his dreams, a village girl called Aldonza, but whom he chooses to call his Lady Dulcinea, whom he glorifies in his mind as a noble princess worthy of highest praise. (Patke: “'Dulcinea' sounds sweet, right? 'Aldonza' sounds like a boulder fell on your toe.”) This Dulcinea is basically a girl he has seen three or four times, and the one time she looked back at him he wonders if she noticed. He decides to make her the lady of his dreams because every knight he has read about has a lady that he commits all his thoughts and prayers to; therefore it must be a sort of prerequisite. And so when he's on his knightly journey he laments about her and does stupid things out of the sorrow of unrequited love and everything, because he feels like that's what he's supposed to do.

He's basically deluded in every way, and the book satirises the notions of chivalry that were glorified way back when. But on page 201, he goes "And yes, not every poet who praises a lady, calling her by another name, really has one. Do you think the Amaryllises, Phyllises...are really ladies of flesh and blood who belong to those who celebrate them? No, of course not, for most are imagined in order to provide a subject for their verses... And therefore it is enough for me to think and believe that my good Aldonza Lorenzo is beautiful and virtuous..."

- and then you realise that he isn't completely delusional. He does know that he is taking a woman and deliberately warping the image of her in his mind; he does know that he is living in 'untruth'. Being aware of your deliberate blindness means that you are not blind after all, just choosing to see something a different way. He is the epitome of idealistic, but he believes in the richness and beauty of ideals, and that ideals shouldn't be dropped simply because reality doesn't live up to it.

So she is, in reality, Aldonza Lorenzo, but Don Quixote does not recognise the woman of reality as the woman he loves; he has made something else of this figure in his mind, an alternate, consciously-decided-upon reality.

The book was first published around the Renaissance period - a time of both looking backward in the rediscovery of ancient texts, and forward in the development in the areas of science, religion, etc. The author sees chivalry as a past way of being that doesn't work anymore, but also notes the logic to it, displayed in the character of Don Quixote. Don Quixote is a reflection of the past, and his attendant Sancho Panza might represent the present or future, seeing things as they are. Both are merely different modes of living, different ways of conceptualising and reacting to reality. Do you say that either way of living is superior?

We always like to think that we're superior and more advanced than the times of the past because there is more equality, greater progression and freedom in society, more scientific advancement, etc. But last semester, I realised that everything we know and believe in - the 'universal' truths and basic values we wouldn't challenge - is simply a product of the times. The era now is simply different from the era then.

(I hope I didn't misunderstand or misrepresent the class lol)

Okay some hilarious quotes because Patke is awesome.
(on different forms of love and Sancho Panza or something, I can't even remember what he was imitating lol)
“I want to make my babies and I want to be looked after at an old age; I have found a short, hair-lipped old woman but she cooks well and she’s good in bed when I can’t see her anyway.” 
“If, ma’am, I had the time, I would praise you until judgment day; but since I don’t, let us make love now.”

And then we had Anthropology! Okay, the reading and summary-cum-analysis we had to do for today was crazy, but the seminar was totally worth it. It's basically about a theory based on / challenging the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that the way we use language shapes the way we think about things and see the world. So, like, in Japanese, if you're talking to someone of greater authority than you, you address them differently, say 'thank you' differently, etc. and you are more likely to place a bigger emphasis on people's rank and seniority than, say, if you grew up in a culture that spoke English, where there's no difference in the way you say "you", regardless of whether you're speaking to your younger sibling or a VIP. In a lot of languages they use the third person "they" to address someone senior even if it's just one person - it emphasizes the social difference, reinforces the fact that they're so much more than you.

We were looking at Paul Friedrich's work today so we spoke more about poetic language - how studying poetry (not poems, but the poetic use of language) is the best way to compare languages, given that you have to look at language to understand a culture. And there was just SO MUCH in this seminar too, and all these terms like "poetry" and "myth" and "music" became so much more loaded, so I don't really want to go into it, but I'll put some quotes here.

"Great art turns you into an artist – the emotional experience of an artist is transmitted to you; you are able to understand the world through his perspective." 
 "There is a reflexive quality to poetry. Poetry turns back on itself, makes you notice it, says 'I'm different'". 
 "You know it’s poetry. You may not know what it means, but you know it. It’s got rhythm, music. It unites music with myth."

Okay, I am SO. EXCITED. for the rest of the semester. it's going to be insane with a terribly heavy workload (for Anthropology) and an overload course (Japanese) with seven extra hours of class a week, but I am really excited. And I love the fact that this is what school is about. The fascination for learning. It doesn't matter if my profs seem to go off-tangent sometimes, because when they go off-track, what they talk about is still fascinating anyway. Just learning and loving learning.

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