kitsjay: (Default)
Oscar Wilde wrote a fairy tale called The Young King which has given me some fits for interpreting. For those of you not interested in clicking the link, the story revolves around a young shepherd boy (I'm not even going to go into the parallels between the Greek god Pan and the clearly Christian overtones of the story) who, because he is the only, albeit illegitimate, heir to the King, finds himself thrust into wealth and power quite unexpectedly. He worships Beauty so much that he orders a robe made of gold, a scepter with pearls, and a crown with jewels made for his coronation. The night before his crowning, he dreams three dreams. In the first, he sees the weavers toiling endlessly to make his robes, watching as they die and work endlessly for him without knowing who he is. In the second, he sees pirates forcing slaves to find the pearls for his scepter. In the third, he sees Death and Avarice arguing over who will own the miners searching for the jewels for his crown. Death asks for 1/3 of the miners, but Avarice refuses, and so Death takes them all.

Upon waking, he is presented with his three gifts, but refuses them. He cites the dream and all the courtiers argue that it was nothing but fantasy, just a dream. Ignoring them, he dons his humble shepherd's clothing and parades through the streets to the church where he will be crowned. The Bishop, horrified at his attire, asks him where is his finery; when the boy replies citing his dream, the Bishop rebukes him, arguing that evil is always in the world and it is not up to one man to bear the consequences of this evil. He cites his argument using these words:

"Canst thou make these things not to be? Wilt thou take the leper for thy bedfellow, and set the beggar at thy board? Shall the lion do thy bidding, and the wild boar obey thee? Is not He who made misery wiser than thou art?"

The boy refuses, asking the Bishop how he can say that in this house (ie, the house of God) and accepts his crowning before the altar. The light shines through the window and he becomes "king-like", the lilies of his peasant staff blooming wondrously and his face is like "an angel".

Now, here's wherein the difficulty lie. The Bishop's words instantly put me in mind of the book of Job, specifically Job:39, which has a passage remarkably similar syntactically:

"Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions, When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait? ... Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?"

Later, God reproves Job further and asks him, "Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him? Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty."

The idea is nicely juxtaposed. Job begins as a prosperous man and is brought low through no sin of his own. Others question him, his wife even asking him to "curse God and die", but Job maintains that he has committed no sin. When he finally questions God, God reproves him by saying that he cannot do the things Job can and therefore has no right to question His judgment. After repenting and accepting what the Lord has given him, Job is restored with twice his wealth. Clearly, we have the opposite happening with the shepherd boy turned prince: he is low, but brought high through no virtue of his own. However, when God--in the form of the Bishop--questions him, he rejects this philosophy and is "restored" to his former self.

Sean and I were discussing this and Sean brought up the interesting--and very Wildean point--that it would seem to be saying that the reverse is true, namely that if you are rich, you must accept that just as God has seen fit to make others poor. But the boy rejects this, so I'm confused as to what Wilde is doing here. Sean said that he could be rewriting Job from a New Testament standpoint; that is, in the Old Testament, the wicked got their "just desserts". A king who is righteous will remain in power, but worshiping idols brings his downfall and so on. In the New Testament, this is reversed, so that poverty itself is a Christian virtue and persecution a sign of righteousness.

I can see this, but at the same time, it just doesn't fit with Wilde's personal philosophy. It's maddening because Wilde appears to have written this very clear-cut fairy tale, but you know something deeper is lurking in there that completely undercuts the moral he's set up. And I just don't know what it is.

Any thoughts?
kitsjay: (Shells)
I'm in love with my professor.

I'm signed up for two classes this term--alas, fair TA Michael, I knew him well--and was missing chances to tramp about the woods and play park ranger/botanist* but all good things must end. And then begin again, because back to the professor love.

My first class I thought would be the more interesting one, Introduction to Ancient Rome, but it's mostly things I already knew and the textbook I really wanted to use (am I this nerdy? Yes, yes I am) is apparently only 'recommended'. It's got tons of primary sources and divulges tidbits from everyone from Apicius to Zeus (though he's not quoted; clearly, the temple priests were remiss). The professor, a graduate student, is sweet and personifies nerdiness. She was talking about patronage and slipped in a quote from The Godfather and then laughed at herself, so she's pretty adorable.

But she's not the one I love.

No, I am in love with my 20th Century Short Story professor. He of the Hemingway white suit, with a slow Southern drawl like lemonade in the sun that nearly disguises the fact he slips in expressions like 'ass-tear out of here' and other such amusements. He of the voice so powerfully emotive that I felt chills up my spine when he read Poe, the way it should be.

I'll confess, English had grown almost prosaic for me. I've got so many things that I read out of necessity, not for pleasure, and forgot the way you can drown in a novel and soak up short stories. I recently rediscovered some of the passion I had lost thanks to Harold Bloom, who scolds English majors for being apologetic about their field. There is a kind of embarrassment in admitting to being an English major, an inferiority complex of the sort that demands justification, which we find in relating it to other fields: sociology, anthropology, history, to name a few. Of course, an English major--or even the amateur** of literature--must be proficient in all these fields and more, but we've supplanted English with our own resentful sulkiness, like petulant children. Bloom aptly refers to this as "The School of Resentment", wherein we thrust our own prejudices upon literature and feel the need to proclaim a reason for literature***. I scoff, rightfully so. Do you go to the Louvre and demand that there be a reason for the statue of Nike? Do you look at it and think, "Yes, quite pretty, but what's the point?" No. It's for aesthetic pleasure, the greatest pleasure a human being can have.

To wit: "The idea that you benefit the insulted and injured by reading someone of their own origins rather than reading Shakespeare is one of the oddest illusions ever promoted by or in our schools."

How does this relate? When I signed up for 20th Century Short Story, I no longer thought of the excitement and ardor of my deep love for literature, but simply that it fulfilled an Area III requirement. School degree plans will be the death of intellectual curiosity.

But my professor breathes life back into the stories, fills them with human nature and psychological questioning and symbolism and motifs and never once diverges from the writing to espouse his own ideas. He never strays far from the story itself. He never once asked what the Marxist would think of Young Goodman Brown or what the psychologist would recommend for Montresor, but asked what the story itself said. Remarkable!

We're not confined to the boundaries of the English language, either, but have Gogol and Chekhov on our reading list. Scanning the syllabus, I felt an excitement previously lost well up within me at such breadth: Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Kafka, Gilman, Chopin, Barthelme, and so many more of my old favorites, lovingly compiled into one small summer course.

Sheer bliss, my friends.


* I received an A in that class, for the record.
** Meant in the original sense of the word, from the Latin "amare", to love.
*** I wish I had been familiar with this critic before taking "Literature and Social Justice." Literature does not need a reason or justification, it simply is.
kitsjay: (Land Shark)
I have a quick question for everyone.

I went to the undergraduate writing center, where a woman chided me for incorrectly placing punctuation around quotation marks.

I was always taught to put something like this:

He also makes no exemptions from what the boy becomes, specifying that the boy took all things, whether he reacted to them with “wonder or pity or love or dread".

She wanted me to change it to something like this:

He also makes no exemptions from what the boy becomes, specifying that the boy took all things, whether he reacted to them with “wonder or pity or love or dread."

I looked it up online but keep coming up with different answers. To me, it seems as if you would only put the punctuation within the quotation marks if it was a part of the original quote.

So is this like the Oxford comma (which I was also taught to use) or am I just wrong?

ETA: Vindication is mine!

This inconsistency in punctuation rules is not universal in English grammar. In fact, it seems to be only an American style. The British style as published in The Oxford Guide to Style is used in most other English-speaking countries. According to British style, only punctuation marks that are part of the quotation should be included within the quotation marks. All other punctuation marks should follow the closing quotation marks. --http://copyediting-grammar-style.suite101.com/article.cfm/before_or_after_quotation_marks

I'm just secretly British.

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January 2014

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