Month: April 2016

The Simplicity of the Past

I noticed a recurring theme of the romantic ideal throughout our four readings for the week. Each piece deals with the narrator’s attempt to return to a simpler time, similar to The Sound of Silence.

I started with The Happiness Metric. The opening paragraph sets up the differences between past and present Bhutan, which will come to be detailed by Drexler. The first few lines are as phonologically smooth as the dances themselves, thanks in large part to the author’s use of the “s” sound: “…slow dance. Swaggering teenage boys, arms slung over each other’s shoulders, speak in surprisingly gentle voices. Stray dogs assertively cohabit the city. One often hears singing” (Drexler 95). There is a gentle flow present throughout the given paragraph, highlighting the blissful quality of the region. As Drexler explains the concept of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, she mentions the intent of his travel is to uncover how exactly GNH policy “plays out in real life” (95). Has Drexler fallen victim to Western culture in that she doesn’t believe such a policy can possibly reach success, or have any real impact, in “real life”? The Declaration of Independence states all citizens have the right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Yet it seems our search for liberty has become of the upmost importance. We’re so busy fighting for our rights (such as the right to bear arms, to use a current example), we’ve almost forgotten to just be happy. The people of Bhutan possess their own sense of nationalism, but religion appears to override politics. Drexler asks, “Will the country’s traditional foundations of happiness erode, to be replaced by a surfeit of stuff?” (96). The question pertains just as much to the West as it does to Bhutan, which I believe is Drexler’s overall purpose. The U.S., and Western nations in general, are typically viewed in a dominant light. But, have we sacrificed our essential human right to be happy? Have we really “become modern without losing [our] soul?” (98). There are several features which encompass GNH, with two being a citizen’s right to “meaningful work” and “how people perceive the quality of their natural surroundings” (99). This is very much a romantic notion, as well as a transcendental attribute. Throughout Walden, Henry David Thoreau discusses the need to remove oneself from labor which does not heightened one’s spirituality. Thoreau found work for profit to be a greedy pursuit. Bhutan aligns with Thoreau’s thinking, and in my opinion, the inclusion of such principles within GNH is a thing to be applauded.

Moving from The Happiness Metric to Land of the Lost, I was overwhelmed by the narrator’s dark tone. The beginning paragraph uses phrases such as “dark stairwell” and “shadowy crows” (Benz 57). The narrator is “plundering” into darkness on his way to work, just as Moldova has undergone a social and economic downfall since gaining independence (Benz 57). Benz periodically comments on the guards stationed throughout Moldova, with one at the school and one at the park. The people of Moldova are guarding the last semblance of past society they have left and “[celebrating] anything and everything with enthusiasm and aggression” (Benz 64). Land of the Lost relates to A Tale of a Tub, as Marx brings up her childhood and emphasizes how the ultimate sense of imagination experienced in youth is lost upon today’s adult. Marx consistently alludes to how little the ship has in regards to entertainment. There’s not even “Netflix streaming” (Marx 155). But, in Marx’s listing of all the items she’s brought along for the trip, I’m wondering how necessary such products are in general. Can we go without “two Kindles” and “a USB drive with more movies than are watchable in a year”? (Marx 154-155).

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Escaping Modern Life

Each of the readings for the week comment on modern life, whether the author is escaping some aspect of society or finding comfort in new traditions.

The presence of the train at the beginning of The Sound of Silence relates to the overall theme of the reading. Trains have become an old form of travel, yet the narrator is experiencing incredibly modern annoyances while on her ride. She claims she’s searching for silence. But, it seems she’s attempting more so to break free from modern pressures. Travel today has become a burden. Either you’re in the car for far too long (and everyone’s complaining there’s no wifi) or you’re stopped by security at the airport–no matter the hinderance, everyone’s ready to just arrive. I think the train ride, though supposedly the narrator’s only mode of transportation, is Abend’s first move towards simplicity. She characterizes the event as almost a mere road bump on the way to a greater destination. However, I find the train ride essential to her journey. When she finally succumbs to the silence, she’s not ready for this stark difference from reality: “a quiet fell with the abruptness of a tsunami” (Abend 2). This is foreshadowing to her eventual realization. She wasn’t necessarily looking for silence, but rather she was hoping to uncover a certain kind of conversation. Abend’s language is quite telling of her emotions and clarifies her characterization of the woods versus city life. Once on her own on the trail, she begins using words such as “adorable,” “spectacular,” and “simplest.” Her words are more positive and give off a graceful appeal (as if her getting lost later on is intentional) and lighten the tone of the previously annoyed narrator.

There are similar examples of the correlation between word choice and theme within Hail Dayton. The opening paragraph is two sentences, with the latter taking up eight lines. The ongoing sentence structure mimics the “vast ribbons of peat [which] came to rest under what became the foothills of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau” (Maddux 146). The narrator shortly after repeats the statement, “It was here” (Maddux 146). In my opinion, this is a paradoxical representation of pride. Citizens of Dayton are happy to call the town home, but would rather distance themselves from the circus that’s become the Scopes trial. The history discussed reminds me of Theroux. One instance continues to plague this Southern community. However, the narrator’s brief mention of climate change as a second topic tip-toed around in the school setting hints at Dayton’s lack of progression.

Daughters of the Spring, in telling a history, recounts a town myth. We are abruptly taken aback by Groff’s description of manatee fate: “Homosassa is famous for being one of the best places in Florida to view West Indian manatees, those gentle thousand-pound sea cows that are routinely torn up by Jet Skis and motorboats” (115). Though disturbing, the statement symbolizes the diminishing fantasy of the mermaid. It was a common thought. People obsessed over the mermaid because of the power she holds. The mermaid can control, or defy, fate: “the sea creatures are the ones who get to decide if people who fall overboard will swim or sink” (Groff 116). I think Groff is questioning that which we deem “good enough” in modern life (126). The mermaid is an unrealistic image, so is she worth the fascination? Groff tells us to find the balance between reality and fantasy by “[floating] on the surface of things” (127).

Western vs. Foreign Lands 

Our travel readings for the coming week each share a theme concerning “the other.” We learn how Western perception, and the growing sense of dominance which accompanies such a perception, affects the structure of foreign lands and their peoples.

Though I’m set to discuss Mr. Nhem’s Genocide Camera, I enjoyed Ashes to Ashes the most. The introduction paragraphs for the four readings are attention-grabbing and telling of the stories to come. (more…)