Author: Laura Boyman

What Does it Mean to Make Sense?

I was interested that so many people in class said that Anti-gone didn’t make any sense.  I recognize that the details and continuity were vague and there could be many different interpretations of the plot, particularly the ending.  However, I question if concrete plot details are necessary for something to “make sense” or have meaning.  When reading the second half of the graphic novel I was extremely emotionally immersed.  I had no idea what movie they were watching, where anything was, or how it feels to experience near-death, but when I watched Lynxa wander aimlessly in the dark or search feverishly for her weird monster pet, I was scared and sad for her.  Watching Spyda look for Lynxa and end up alone on the boat pulled at my heartstrings.  Regardless of the content of the world in which they existed, the story of their relationship was both relatable and emotionally impactful and therefore Anti-gone made sense to me and had meaning.  I think it’s important that we don’t equate comprehensible with worthwhile and that we strive to find meaning in everything, even if it’s difficult.  When we do that, we open up so many more create avenues that allow us to express ourselves in ways that make sense to us as individuals, rather than pander to societal expectations of expression.

My Issue With the Historical Notes

The part of the historical notes that concerned me the most was just how clinical it was.  I spent the whole novel being immersed in the horrors that this woman experienced and at the end I have to hear a man lecturing without any sympathy for her.  Professor Pieixoto says,

“allow me to say that in my opinion we must be cautious about passing moral judgment upon the Gileadeans.  Surely we have learned by now that such judgments are of necessity culture-specific.  Also, Gileadean society was under a good deal of pressure, demographic and otherwise, and was subject to factors from which we ourselves are happily more free.  Our job is not to censure but to understand,” (302).

This particular line made me simultaneously angry and disturbed, as I consider this a very dangerous sentiment.  I think there’s a tendency to want to approach history as objectively as possible, to look at the decisions of world leaders in terms of pragmatism.  However, this is extremely worrisome.  Were the actions of Gilead’s leaders pragmatic?  As far as we know, they helped solve the infertility crisis with the handmaids, created labor to clean up toxic spills that no one else would have wanted to before the regime, and effectively quelled resistance with the particicutions and the Eyes.  Objectively, the Gilead regime made some smart choices.  However, this does not erase the fact that all of their actions were morally reprehensible.  If we, as academics, take morality out of the equation of our studies, we make it easier for others to follow in the footsteps of horrible dictators.  If in 50 years, we look back at Hitler’s rise to power as a necessity within the historical context of post World War I Germany, we take away the emotional component that prevents people from copying his actions.  I realize that previous example is a bit of a stretch, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be wary of it.  Being conscious of  cultural contexts is worthwhile, but we shouldn’t let them stop us from criticizing negative behavior.

Men Never Change

When I read the section in which the Commander gives Offred the hand lotion, I was immediately reminded of this SNL sketch from the previous year.  In the sketch, the women in the US are subjugated to the oppressive rule of Gilead that we see in the book.  We watch them conspire together while they fear for their lives.  A group of men approach, completely unaware of their predicament and proceed to ask them why they’re being such downers.  The commentary is that men are completely unaware of the issues that women face and instead mock them or treat them like they are crazy.  Male privilege not only gives men a higher position of power in society, but makes them unable to understand the plight of the oppressed from that vantage point.  The scene in the novel is similar.  The Commander doesn’t seem to understand why Offred cannot keep the lotion in her room in the house; he doesn’t comprehend why it might be dangerous for her.  The Handmaid’s Tale is a reaction to the feminist movements of the 60’s and 70’s and the sketch featured above is a reaction to modern feminist movements.  Though the focus and discourse of these movements have changed, the reaction from privileged groups remains the same.  Why would women need to march for the right to work outside the home when they should be happy in the home?  Why are women marching down the streets in pussy hats when men and women are totally equal now?  No matter the era or the movement, there is a wall of misunderstanding and confusion that both groups in power, in this case, men, and those fighting for their rights seem to be unable to penetrate from either side.  This has not yet changed.

Morel Trailers and Modern/Post-Modern Theatre

I really enjoyed the third video we watched in class today and I wanted to reflect on it a little bit.  It was strange, sure, but I think it was able to achieve something the other trailers did not.  While the second trailer was true to the events of the novel, it didn’t contain the same air of mystery and uncertainty.  Throughout most of the novel, the reader is actively trying to solve a mystery, constantly searching for the truth.  They’re not sure what is real or who they can trust, since the narrator is clearly unreliable.  The third video captured this confusion and, as a result, the need to find truth in the chaos.  In addition, I think it was able to evoke the emotional state of the fugitive.  While watching it, I was not only confused, but a little scared.  The slowly descending drone in the background filled me with suspense, dread, and paranoia.  The video made me able to understand what it would feel like to be the fugitive, a hunted man trapped on a deserted island who suffers from hallucinations due to fever, hunger, and eating strange plants while being haunted by images.  I personally found that to be a more fulfilling and worthwhile viewing experience rather than just watching events that I’ve already read play out in front of me as they were previously described.

What I also found interesting about the third video was how it tied into avant-garde theatre movements in the modernist and post-modernist eras.  We talked in class about the two movements in general as well as art from the time, but we didn’t really touch the theatre of the time, something I’ve been discussing in my avant-guard theatre class.  Modernist theatre included the symbolist movement.  Symbolism was all about using all creating images using all aspects of theatre (from movement to colored lights to cryptic text) as metaphors to evoke emotion or spiritual understanding.  They rejected realism because they felt that realism did not lead to truth.  Post-modernist theatre included the dada movement.  Dada-ism embraced chaos and irrationality in protest of intellectual elitism that participants believed plagued the art scene at the time and lead to war.  By putting what was essentially nonsense onstage, they attempted to tear down social hierarchy within the theatre community and the society around them.  I think the video we watch today exemplifies symbolist and dada-ist elements.  The video is neither realistic nor rational, but the chaos leads to an emotional/spiritual understanding of the novel.  Therefore I think that this video was the best representation of The Invention of Morel because it evoked the emotions of the readers and protagonist as well as reflected art movements that scholars associate with the novel and  represented the cultural movements of the time.

A New Appreciation

Working on the virtual object and beginning to learn Unity has given me a newfound appreciation for different types of media that I consume.  It has made me think about all of the video games I’ve played or movies I’ve watched that used three dimensional animation.  While I always knew that it took a great amount of talent, skill, and hard work to create these things, I never knew just how difficult it was.  I can barely make one simple object let alone one that moves or can be interacted with.  The detail involved in making a three dimensional animated human being that looks even relatively realistic seems near impossible.  I hope that throughout the process of creating our virtual landscapes I will become more familiar with three dimensional modeling and be able to create something that others can enjoy just like I’ve enjoyed animation in media.

Who Put These People In Charge?

At the end of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz it seems as though all of the loose ends are rapped up nicely.  Dorothy goes home.  The Scarecrow, Woodsman, and Lion get their wishes and each inherit a kingdom to rule.  Everyone is happy.  However, I am left unsettled by the transitions of power that take place, specifically in Oz and the Winkie Country.  The text says that the citizens of Oz and the Winkies are happy with their new rulers, the Scarecrow and Woodsman respectively.  These two men (things?) are kind and fair, unlike the previous rulers who were an evil witch and a lying conman.  However, the system of government in place is still the same.  There is still one all-powerful ruler, rather than a democratic system that would hinder a monarch from having absolute power.  Not to mention the fact that the citizens of these two countries may no longer be literal slaves, but they are still not free.  They are a relatively homogenized group being ruled by a foreign power.  They may support this power, but they remain out of control of their own government and thus lose their autonomy.  My question is, what makes one monarchy better than another?  Is there such a thing as a benevolent dictator and does that even matter?  Isn’t the act of taking power out of the hands of ordinary citizens, regardless of fairness or kindness, an aggressive, almost cruel act?  I wonder why, in a time where power was being taken out of the hands of industrial workers and stockpiled in the wallets of the heads of industry, Baum chose to keep the Oz citizens and the Winkies living under a monarchy.  Why not have them establish their own democratic form of government, one that could even be a metaphor for the labor unions emerging at the time?  I wish that at the end of the book, the Winkies and Oz citizens took control of their own lands and invited the Scarecrow and Woodsman to live with them as equals.

Who’s More Mature? Alice vs. Dorothy

We’ve talked a lot in class about whether Alice is mature or immature in Through the Looking Glass.  After reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz I would argue that Alice is immature when compared to Dorothy.  Both are young girls that find themselves in fantasy worlds full of creatures and rules that they don’t understand.  Whenever someone tries to explain rules of the world to Dorothy, she takes them at face value.  Maybe it’s different than what she learned, but she’s willing to trust the people who have lived in this world their whole lives.  For example, when she learns that witches can be good, she trusts the Witch of the North.  Alice, however, is constantly arguing with everyone she meets.  When the Queens explain how time works in Wonderland, Alice argues with them, saying that things are different in her world and that their rules don’t make sense.  It’s the sign of a mature person to be able to open their mind and listen to the opinions of others, especially if they’re different from their own.  Dorothy is willing to do this when Alice is not.  That being said, I do miss the sass.  It’s so fun to read!

“Let’s Pretend”

When I was a kid (around 10 or 11) , I had a terrible nightmare that has stuck with me to this day.  My entire family and all of my friends were sucked into a giant glowing wormhole.  I woke up terrified and was uneasy for the majority of the next day.  Finally, in the late afternoon, I decided that I was going to finish the dream in my imagination and give it a happy ending.  Alone in my bedroom, I pretended to jump into the wormhole and went on a little adventure to save everyone.  I was running and jumping around my room while talking to imaginary figures.  Once I had pantomimed pulling everyone out of the hole, I realized that I wasn’t scared anymore.

I mention this anecdote to show that the imagination of a child is a powerful thing.  To a child, the things they see in their mind’s eye when they play pretend can have real emotional impacts on them.  Often the two theories about Through the Looking Glass that I hear are that the whole story was real and actually happened or that Alice fell asleep in the chair and the whole thing was a dream.  I’d like to propose the theory that Alice is playing pretend with her cats alone in her drawing room and gets caught up in her own story.  In her own reality, she’s simply running around the room and using the chess pieces and cats as puppets while she plays.  What we’re reading is the world that Alice creates through this play.  The quotation that brought me to this theory is when Alice says “‘Let’s pretend there’s a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let’s pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare!'” (127).  In this quotation Alice clearly states that she’s pretending.  The origin of the, for lack of a better phrase, mirror-portal is her playing pretend with her cat.  One could argue that when she stops using the phrase “let’s pretend”, she realizes that the mirror actually is turning into a portal.  However, I’d argue that she’s just committing to her imagination, as children do.  The rest of the story that we’ve read so far feels as though it could be the game of a child.  The rules of chess as they are explained are like the rules a child would know if they were just learning how to play.  All of the conversations that take place that are simultaneously mature and childlike sound like the conversations a child would make up if they were trying to sound like an adult.  The battle we see between the Lion and the Unicorn is like a child’s understanding of war.  Finally, while it might seem odd that Alice would play pretend alone, we know that she doesn’t like to play with her sister because “She had had quite a long argument with her sister only the day before—all because Alice had begun with ‘Let’s pretend we’re kings and queens;’ and her sister, who liked being very exact, had argued that they couldn’t” (124).  She has to learn to entertain herself with her own imagination, since there’s no one else who will indulge in their imaginations like she will.  Therefore, it’s not odd that she’d be playing this game alone.  While I don’t necessarily think that this is the one true theory about Through the Looking Glass, I think it’s definitely probable and an interpretation that I haven’t often seen.  I’m interested to read the ending of the story and see if it lines up with my theory.

(I’m using the Penguin Classics published version of the book, in case the page numbers I used don’t line up.)