Thursday, May 01, 2008

Torrential Downpour: Hawthorne

Random Paragraphs on Hawthorne
I've always thought Hawthorne one of the great masters of the short story form. Some of his stories read like episodes of The Twilight Zone ("My Kinsman, Major Monineux," "Wakefield," for example), which I consider a compliment, anyway. There's something like a Rod Serling structure (with the critical beginning and ending of the story) and Rod Serling narration.

Tomorrow in lit class I'm planning something a little different. With the exception of poetry, we rarely read more than one work by the same author; for the purposes of a general education lit course titled "The Human Experience in Literature," it is best to cover a lot of different writers. But I do think students may be able to see trends across a single writer's works, so we're reading "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," "The Minister's Black Veil," and "Young Goodman Brown" for the same class period. They are rather similar in subject matter and theme, and they feature Hawthorne's characteristic tone and narration. To provide students with a broad experience with literature, it is also useful to show how we can read multiple works by one author.

Re-reading "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" is providing me a different experience than in the past. Yes, "Jollity and gloom were contending for an empire," and the gloomy Puritans cannot have any of the reader's sympathy. And yet it seems the revelers of Merry Mount maintain a joy that cannot possibly be sustained. And perhaps Hawthorne, despite the obvious hatred of the Puritans, recognizes this: "Once, it is said, they were seen following a flower-decked corpse, with merriment and festive music, to his grave. But did the dead man laugh?" Merry Mount is joyful, and yet the life of Merry Mount is somehow inauthentic, incomplete. There is both joy and sadness to human existence; as Chief Bromden describes McMurphy's laughter in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, "but he won't let the pain blot out the humor no more'n he'll let the humor blot out the pain." But of course the Puritans are also incomplete, and so unappealing for their lack of joy and their insistence on forcing their joylessness on others.

In the past year, a great deal of my thought has been given to the contrast of Javert and Valjean in Les Miserables. Javert distances himself from humanity by his harsh stances: he cannot believe in redemption, and he cannot believe in forgiveness. It strikes me that in stories like "Young Goodman Brown" (where Brown's recognition of the common sin of humanity makes him bitter and distances himself from his faith and human connections) and "The Minister's Black Veil" (an even more obvious story of a man separating himself from humanity because of his view of sin) we again see Javert's view. But we must recall in Valjean's example forgiveness, redemption, selflessness, and humanity.

Literature offers us imagination: it gives a chance to escape ourselves, to imagine we were someone or something or somewhere or somewhen else. It allows us understanding of humanity by showing us humanity. Still, I read as myself: whenever I encounter animals being killed in fiction, I become consciously aware. In "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," I become conscious of myself when it is said that the revelers hunted animals to wear their skins, and I become conscious of myself when Endicott orders a bear shot.

Though I find Hawthorne a short story master, I've never read any of his novels. Perhaps I'll but The Scarlet Letter on my summer reading pile.

Oh, well
I bought Derrida's Writing and Difference today. There goes the summer.

And here summer comes
At most, I have 25 exams and 89 papers to grade in the next two weeks, and it will be summer.

At Reginald Shepherd's Blog: "A dichotomy is commonly made between aesthetic expression and aesthetic construction, in which the two terms are set in opposition as ways of proceeding in art. One is either exploring the possibilities of one’s medium or one is expressing one’s emotional and psychological state. One is either following formal necessities or emotional necessities. I find this dichotomy to be false."

Reassigned Time addresses some of the common complaints professors make about their students. Which do college professors complain about with more vigor: university students or university administration? I'd say it's a toss-up.

1 comment:

  1. You're quite ambitious in your summer reading plans. Good luck with that.

    I agree with you about the professors. I've yet to meet a professor that embraces their superiors. If it's a professor they will take digs at the department chair, and if it's the department chair they can always criticize the dean, etc, etc. But I complain about the professors, so it's all fair.
    One of my classes is after the weekly department meetings and the professor always has funny things to say about them. He almost never agrees with what they do, and notes that when they all agree with him then he'll know he's crazy. It's all in fun, as the department is very supportive of each other I'm sure.
    The criticism of students can get old at times(I'm a student, obvious bias). But seriously, give us a break. I understand the complaints about writing and such, but when it goes much beyond that it's difficult to stomach. We're undergrads, we don't have a doctorate in this stuff. It's their job to teach us the information. Also, we are forced to take certain classes as requirements. We don't want to be there and we don't have a background or an interest in that field. It doesn't help to be condescending.

    I can see the flaws in everything I said, but it's finals time and I want to vent.

    Do you take part in the department meetings throughout the year? Are they as wacky as I imagine them to be?