Month: September 2019

Cultural Representation and Bias

Apu Ollantay is an Incan story about two people who fall in love but are forbidden to be together. This story gives us cultural insight to the Incans and reflects unique cultural values of class and status in regards to marriage. Like some classic western folktales, there is a happy ending for the couple in which they end up together and live ‘happily ever after’. One of the more interesting elements in this narrative is how this storytelling can reflect a culture’s values and can be seen as a historical record of cultural history.

The comic itself is in black and white, but there are some colorful elements in it, especially in the final panel. We see the family surrounded in a colorful sunset, which I think not only references to the sun god and his approval of the marriage/bond but it also reflects the joy of a reunited family. The use of color is very purposeful in this story, and highlights, literally with color, significant images and expresses important emotional imagery.

There are different versions of Apu Ollantay, and it poses the question of how does it vary in different contextual settings? These discrepancies can reflect different values that specific tribes have or the editing of these can also reflect thoughts of publishers—what changes do editors or publishers such as the Norton Anthology or other places this story might be published remove or select to be put in their texts, and how do they deem what may be “appropriate”? Also, I think it can be significant to think about how these folktales and narratives are framed by editors to either be neutral or biased in a way that affects how a reader interprets the story or enhance/change their understanding of the Incan cultural values/context.

Any kind of history, whether Native American, Incan, etc. can be framed in a way that might not accurately explain or portray a culture’s values accuately, so it is important to be aware of this bias and take a mental note of who is publishing or authoring the version you are reading.

Books are windows into a culture and personality of people, and it is important to represent them accurately and respectfully. It is important to honor the past and represent cultures as a piece of history that is still valued today.

 

“Books also show images, projected by
their authors. Readers, especially young
and inexperienced readers, may see these
images as reflections, rather than external projections created by someone else.” 

Scott, Marie. “Journey toward Sensitivity: An Examination of Multicultural Literature.” Montessori Life, vol. 14, no. 4, 2002, pp. 26–29.

Defy Conventions! Reject Rules! Be a Trickster.

Trickster figures are beloved primarily because they behave and exist outside the bounds of civility. They challenge order with chaos, and defy conventions and reject rules simply by employing their “outsider” personas.

Some suggest trickster figures, and their actions, are motivated by “an urge to belong.” Such logic underestimates the peripheral nature of the trickster. The trickster does not want to belong; instead, the trickster wants to be the epicenter of attention. He wants to stand out.

In the Native American folk-story, “Coyote and the Pebbles,” Coyote acts as the trickster figure, whose mistakes garner both sympathy and contempt. The narrative follows the “night creatures” and their quest to appease an entity—The Great Mystery, by composing portraits of themselves in the sky from shiny pebbles collected from the riverbed. In an effort to create the “largest and the best” portrait, coyote wastes time collecting the most pebbles, then struggles to find a space left to draw. He trips and falls as “pebble bumped pebble, and a chain reaction caused everyone’s artwork to explode” (Edmonds & Farritor). Coyote is left howling at the night sky. He is asking The Great Mystery for another chance for the night creatures to recreate their portraits—the ones he destroyed. But his howl goes unanswered, because you can’t undo what’s already been done. Actions are forces of motion that always move forward; while they can change direction, they can never go backwards.

Coyote is a rebel—one with an empty cause. This is why he is lovable. Contradictions are exciting. They defy “normalcy” and create innovative, albeit sometimes poorly constructed, methods of solving problems. Coyote fails spectacularly, and the consequences of his failure are equally remarkable. Coyote created the stars, and I would argue that those scattered pebbles are more awe-inspiring in their vast quantity and randomness than any other ethereal object.

Coyote, as a trickster figure, adds richness to our culture. It challenges social conventions and the frivolity of obedience. To make the stars… you have to be a “star” yourself.

How to Achieve “Stardom:” 6 Trickster Tips

– by Coyote

  • Tip 1: Recognize that time is an arbitrary constraint–do not let it define you. If you sleep-in a little and run late to a meeting, someone is bound to fill you in. There’s always “time” to catch up on assignments.

  • Tip 2: If you claim to be the best, you must prove your “better-ness” by outshining all your competitors. You must obtain the best tools, and the most resources. You must push the limits of your capacity, until you can “carry no more.”

  • Tip 3: If at any point, something feels unfair; blame others. It is unlucky and unfortunate to befall unequal circumstances. If there is not enough space in the sky for your portrait, it is because members of your group neglected your well-being. Never mind if your “membership” within the night creature group is “conditional.”

  • Tip 4: Fail in a spectacular fashion. A trickster’s actions cause mass distraction and/or destruction. Tricksters make things “explode.” Chaos is our mechanism, our catalyst, our tool of choice.

  • Tip 5: Avoid responsibility. Run away from confrontation. Although tricksters may feel guilty, we never outwardly or directly accept responsibility for our actions. Instead, we prefer to reflect on our shortcomings in solace and come up with a plan to get back into everyone’s good graces.You may miss important plot twists, or advice from god-like entities, but at least you have the self-awareness to feel “ashamed.”

  • Tip 6: Persistently request second chances. Even if it means howling at the moon every single night. Do not concede to the constraints of “time.” Carry on as long as necessary to heed forgiveness. Eventually, the night creatures will find your penance enough and start inviting you to their celebrations again. Maybe, eventually, the night creatures will even understand that you helped them get exactly what they wanted in the first place…as The Great Mystery acknowledged, “you did not ask to draw portraits. You asked only for more light, and you have it” (Edmonds & Farritor).

Tricksters are important because they remind us that a little chaos is not always such a bad thing. They remind us of the human-like tendency to make mistakes. They remind us that we are simultaneously self-centered, and good-natured. They remind us that we can find beauty in our blunders.

Work Cited:

Farritor, Micah. “Coyote and the Pebbles.” The Graphic Canon, Volume 1: from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons, by Dayton Edmonds, Seven Stories Press, 2012, pp. 20–31.

Poetry and Change

As a creative writing major and a writer, I love reading. I think that words can be extremely powerful when strung together in just the right way. They have a way of enticing you. Luring you to read more. Slowly sucking you into them until every letter is crawling along the little pink wrinkles in your head, getting comfy and making their homes there for the next few minutes or hours. Once they’ve settled in, they can have a strange effect on you. They can drive you to tears over people that you’ve never so much as said ‘hello’ to. They can replace the words in front of you with visions of previously unimaginable worlds. I could go on, but I’m sure you get what I mean. You’ve seen a Scholastic Book Fair commercial before. The point I’m trying to make here is that words can change people. I know that I can name a few books, songs, etc. that have changed my life before.

The ancient Chinese during the Zhou era harnessed this into a political power of sorts. They realized that letting people voice their opinions and feelings were extremely important. Not only do you get cool art that contributes the culture and that can be celebrated hundreds of years down the line, but you can also get a peak into public perception about certain subjects or just the public mood in general. Confucius and followers of Confucianism put together the Classic of Poetry for this very purpose (1314).  For example, if there’s a lot of sad poems going around, there’s probably something wrong that needs fixing. Or if there’s a poem directly calling the leader out for being a thieving rat, that might also need some looking into.

Huge rat, huge rat

Eat my millet no more,

For three years I’ve fed you,

Yet you pay me no heed.

 

I swear that I will leave you

and go to a happier land.

A happy land, a happy land,

and there I will find my place.

 

Huge rat, huge rat,

eat my wheat no more,

for three years I’ve fed you

and you show no gratitude.

 

I swear that I will leave you

and go to a happier realm,

there I will find what I deserve.

 

Huge rat, huge rat,

eat my sprouts no more,

for three years I have fed you,

and you won’t reward my toil.

 

I swear that I will leave you

and go to happy meadows.

Happy meadows, happy meadows

where none need wail and cry.

CXIII. Huge Rat is kind of the most punk rock poem out of all the ones provided in the Notron Anthology. It’s not pretty or subtle, it’s just raw. It’s filled with fury and you can tell someone really wanted their point to get across and not be lost in any complex metaphors. So much so, that the author repeated himself three times. This is clearly coming from an under paid, under respected working-class person who has just about had it with the people up top not listening to him. He figured that if they liked poetry so much that he’d give them a poem, and I’m glad he did. This is a timeless piece that just about anyone can get behind. Even if you’ve never had a job you can still feel that unappreciation that the author felt at the time. However, there are also times that you can be appreciated a little too much.

Plums are falling,

seven are the fruits;

many men want me,

let me have a fine one.

 

Plumbs are falling,

three are fruits;

many men want me,

let me have a steady one.

 

Plumbs are falling,

catch them in the basket;

many men want me,

let me be bride of one.

In XX. Plums Are Falling, we see a young, presumably female, author that feels hopeless in finding someone to call her own. She repeats the line “many men want me” in every stanza, so we know that we have many potential suitors, but we can also see that she doesn’t seem to get the choice of which one she wants. She’s pleading in every stanza as well, “let me…” as if she has no control. In that way, I think that she sees herself as a plum. Plums have no will or capability of moving on their own, they’re simply plucked. In her situation she must wait for someone to choose her and she prays that he’s a good one. To emphasize her declining hope is all of the other plumps being plucked while she’s still holding onto the branch. “seven are the fruis;” “three are the fruits;” Finally we get her view of seeing all the other plumbs carried off with their respectful pickers, “catch them in the basket;”. It’s heartbreaking and something I’m sure a lot of people even now can relate to. Growing older, seeing your friends get married off one by one, wondering when your turn will be. It’s an almost one-to-one comparison. It can be trying, but out heroine doesn’t give up hope. In the very last line she states: “let me be bride of one”. Sure, it sounds like she’s pleading (I would be too, to be honest), but I think it’s a good sign. She could have very well ended the poem with “Oh well, I guess that’s it, I give up” but she didn’t! She holds on waiting for her “one” to come along.

Often when I hear non-poetry people talk about poetry it’s usually the same things over and over again. “It’s too hard.” “Why can’t they just say what they mean?” “They just through a bunch of random words together!” “It doesn’t even rhyme!” and so on. They’re not wrong, a lot of poetry can certainly be dense and hard to penetrate, but I think that those same people often overlook poems like the ones that I’ve shown here. They’re not complex, but they do hold a lot of emotion in them. Every word carefully chosen so that the author could express their anger or sadness properly. Emotions that a ton of folks deal with on a daily basis (hourly if you’re me). When we read poetry, often we experience the same emotion as the author did writing it and that can be incredibly cathartic for some people or it may just sway one’s thinking and get them to see something that they were previously blind to. I think that if we held poetry and the like in such a high regard as Confucius did, then we’d all understand each other a little better.

 

 

Sources:

Norton Anthology: Puchner, Martin, editor. The Norton Anthology of World Literature . 4th ed., A, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Zhuangzi and the Boys Can Show You the Way

Zhuangzi is mostly noted for his work on the Daoist text, Zhuangzi, much like a band that drops a self-titled album. When one lays down the second-most foundational text for one of the world’s oldest forms of philosophy, one would expect him to take this task with the utmost seriousness. However, presentation was not one of Zhuangzi’s prerogatives. I like to think that he was, in fact, the son of Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda. With Laozi, his predecessor, being the tree that breathes life into the understanding of “dao” or “the Way,” Zhuangzi is the gale that sweeps the leaves of understanding across a nation.
Our focus may then be drawn to the notion that, as Zhuangzi mentions, “If wind is not piled up deep enough, it won’t have the strength to bear up great wings (1372).” Knowing this, Zhuangzi does not hesitate to delve deep into what it is to be human in order to comprehend what it is to be better. To bear the great wings of understanding seems like a grandiose, efficacious task, but he manages to make it an anthology of confusing and compelling stories with overarching life lessons inlayed in their subtext.
In order to comprehend what it is that makes us who we are, we need to understand what we strive for, what we become and what we may one day be.
“Therefore a man who has wisdom enough to fill one office effectively, good conduct enough to impress one community, virtue enough to please one ruler, or talent enough to be called into service in one state, has the same kind of self-pride as these little creatures (1373).”
My man is spitroasting some wack ass quails right now for talking shit on a big fish that just wants to fly away. That’s the literal sense of what is occurring in the story, but Zhuangzi thrives in playful metaphor. He insinuates that a sense of belonging in communal affairs has little to do with one’s own happiness, as nature’s course is the only way we living creatures may flow.
Following this, he concludes this small section of work:
“Therefore I say, the Perfect man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit; the Sage has no fame (1373).”
Perfectionism is the cause for a great deal of personal stress and can, in severe cases, lead to mental disorders and possible suicide at the thought of failure. Religion is a basis of communal belief in a higher power to give one a sense of belonging and understanding. Sages were known for their exceptional knowledge and triumphant welfare in ancient Chinese culture. In analyzing these thoughts, I believe I have come to a conclusion regarding what Zhuangzi may have wanted his disciples to walk away with. To strip away the self of the perfectionist would loosen the burdens of stressors. To strip away the merit of being “holy” is to cast aside the assigned morals of a geographic area and think for one’s self. To strip away fame is to care more for how one views the world over how the world views one.
In the succeeding paragraphs, Lian Shu grabs the ancient Chinese equivalent of the mic for a second to lay down some inherent facts, “We can’t expect a blind man to appreciate beautiful patterns or a deaf man to listen to bells and drums. And blindness and deafness are not confined to the body alone- the understanding has them too, as your words just now have shown (1374).”
What might be the blindness and deafness of the mind? Ignorance. We have a word for the mental equivalent of these sensory disabilities, however some may choose to have it so. The saying “Ignorance is bliss,” decimates the peace one might achieve through tentative understanding. Those who believe it would surely cast Zhuangzi into some kind of pit with a discriminatory notion.
“Ordinary men discriminate among them and parade their discriminations before others. So I say, those who discriminate fail to see (1375).”
Clearing one’s mind of these awful notions of some kind of status quo seems impossible, as things are at once stuck in their ways, then changed to be stuck in new ways. How might one free one’s self of such ways? Simple:
“No thing is either complete or impaired, but all are made into one again. Only the man of far-reaching vision knows how to make them into one again. So he has no use [for categories], but relegates all to the constant. The constant is the useful; the useful is the passable; the passable is the successful; and with success, all is accomplished. He relies upon this alone, relies upon it and does not know he is doing so. This is called the Way (1378).”
If this troubles some to wrap their heads around, know that you are not alone. However, I believe these teachings could resound eventually if one takes the time to grasp at all of the proverbial straws.
“Great understanding is broad and unhurried; little understanding is cramped and busy. Great words are clear and limpid; little words are shrill and quarrelsome (1376).”
“Little understanding cannot come up to big understanding; the short lived cannot come up to the long-lived (1372).”
Initially, I thought this quote about big and little understanding versus lifespan acquainted age with wisdom. While it may certainly be true in some cases, I have met a great number of elders that would scrutinize things based on quick assumptions. Therefore, I wished to argue this point. Then, I took a minute and remembered that Zhuangzi speaks largely through metaphor and creative reasoning. In this light, the “short lived” and the “long lived” might not be talking about people at all, but about ideas. Ideas cannot be proven right or wrong. They simply are. Ideologies, on the other hand, make the basis for arguments aplenty.
“Right is not right; so is not so. If right were really right, it would differ so clearly from not right that there would be no need for argument… Forget the years; forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home (1382)!”
When right and wrong become meaningless, what do we have left as freethinking individuals? We, as a species, are terrified of the boundless, yet it welcomes us with open arms and a sincere smile. Putting away right and wrong, we see that we are simply animals set here on earth to find something.
“Your life has a limit but knowledge has none. If you use what is limited to pursue what has no limit, you will be in danger. If you understand this and still strive for knowledge, you will be in danger for certain! If you do good, stay away from fame. If you do evil, stay away from punishments (1382).”
Right and wrong is gone. How does good and evil remain? They are both concepts. I believe it may lay in the fact that “right and wrong” is a thought process, suggested by the thoughts and opinions of those who were and those who are. Good and evil, however, is an instinct. When someone is truly good, a simple smile from them can brighten your day. When someone is truly evil, your stomach twists into a knot when their attention falls on you.
Were Zhuangzi to encounter people of such natures, I feel as though the great Daoist might nod, smirk and say, “I understand.” That, in my humble opinion, is the spoken word of the Way.

 

 

Sources:

Zhuangzi, Zhuangzi, Norton Anthology: Puchner, Martin, editor. The Norton Anthology of World Literature . 4th ed., A, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Zhuangzi Image received from: http://earlyworldhistory.blogspot.com/2012/03/laozi-and-zhuangzi.html   Date accessed: September 9, 2019

He holds the necessary instrument of all modern philosophy: Ye Olde Doobie.

Dharma and The Mahabharata

Poetry to a modern day person’s eye is often mostly thought of a shorter text, works that are now more popular and modern being works that are only about a page or two long, getting published in larger collections. A popular one, while not the best one, being something like this one:

This kind of poetry is usually feeling-filled, but in a way that seems less personal and more universal to be able to relate to a larger crowd. Often, when we think of poetry of today, the less we can say with the more impact the better. However this use to not be the case. Poetry was once mainly composed of longer and complex stories of literal epic proportions that were also filled with emotion but in different ways when compared to today, like Milton and Homer’s epics we are all more than likely at least a little familiar with. However, these do not even cover half the story when compared to what is considered to be the longest poem ever written, The Mahabharata. With this massive work extending over 200,000 lines, the easiest way to fully picture the grandiose of this story is by thinking of it as “eight times the combined length of the Iliad and the Odyssey” (Norton 1186). Completely the opposite of something a consumer of western culture of this century would be familiar with in concern to modern poetry or even some of the older poems we know of.The Mahabharata was written about 2000 years ago, and while it is a work we may have never heard of through our own pop culture (unfortunately), it still remains a work that is multi-faceted that influences the Hindu culture from 2000 years ago to today still. It is full of stories, stories within stories, many different characters who all have their own lessons to teach each other and the audience, all helping the work become a massive book about humanity that describes how Hinduism deals with aspect of personal decision and moral law, as well as the history the religion was built upon. It’s relevance still persists today in eastern cultures, in fact, the Norton Anthology goes as far to say that “Every Hindu is familiar with at least the outline of the narrative and with the main subsidiary stories” (Norton 1187). That is pretty impressive when considering the many layers of this story, and how it had to last through thousands of years of storytelling and changes and additions to still give modern audiences of today the important lessons that is withholds.

One of the reasons why this text is studied by modern day practicers of the Hindu religion is due to the text dealing with the notion of dharma, which is a term not easily defined within the culture for Western audiences to understand, but basically boils down to how cosmic law handed down from the gods that governs our ethical understanding of the universe, and takes into account of our personal everyday choices that govern morality. It is also described as not exactly easy to follow due to how subtle and expansive the law is, in fact the Norton goes as far to say “the probability of breaking them- and hence perpetuating evil-is high” (1188). For example, look at a modern rendition of an example of how hard it is to stay morally centered, due to the fact that you cannot control everything:

An important idea to remember about dharma, according to the “officially credited” author Vyasa is that “human beings on their own cannot resolve the moral dilemmas of dharma; they need the intervention of the gods” (1188). This idea is essential to remember throughout the story because sometimes it seems that the cosmic law can contradict itself in order for some aspect of it to still be followed and carried out however, it is because it was built by gods who were able to understand and carry out way more complex plans than humans were able. On the other hand, it is also interesting that Vyasa stresses this point in his story due to the fact that gods do not have to be morally perfect, in fact many are not. This is illustrated when a character who is a god, Vishnu-the literal god of preserving moral order- has come to Earth in a mortal form as Lord Krishna, a prince who becomes a confidant to other characters in the story but sometimes also takes part in morally wrong acts. (1188).

The set up for the main arc of the Mahabharata also illustrates how dharma can make certain situations impossible when trying to do the right thing. When rulership is left to two brothers, Dhritarashtra and Pandu, it becomes a matter of complex rules that creates the long war in the poem. Basically it was what we might think of as an old Game of Thrones.

 

Everyone believes wholeheartedly they have a complete claim to the throne, some in moral ways, other in harmful and negative ways. You see, in the Mahabharata, Dhristarashtra was suppose to be the next in line to rule, however his disability apparently made him an unfit ruler, and therefore Pandu became the next king. However, Pandu had been cursed to die whenever he touches his wives with sexual intention, so it made getting a proper successor to the throne hard. He did end up having five sons, however they were birthed from gods, so it may have been unclear who is actually the ruler of bloodline, which is what the argument of Dhristarashtra’s 100 sons have and why the war started (Norton 1188-1189). This problem is created by dharma due to the fact that once a vow or prediction is stated it has to be fulfilled. Dhristarashtra was meant for the kingdom but his disability disqualified him, and Pandu cannot have successors in his own right so it really is not clear who the true ruler should be, therefore making it impossible to completely follow the “right” path. The reason why this story setup is so complex and unclear as to who the real villains and heroes are is because life is that way, hardly ever is it super easy to distinguish what is the ultimate right and wrong, because you cannot account for the unexpected consequences it may bring. It is not black and white for everybody, no one is wholly good or wholly evil, in the end it has to do with personal choice and actively trying to follow your dharma by what you believe is right and help from the universe/gods.

Dharma is certainly an aspect of this text that is not easily understood, however it is important because it shows humans trying to actively follow something they do not understand all the way and make individual decisions that they hope to do with the right intention. This is something the text wanted to teach audiences of the past when it was being told, and it is certainly teaching us this same message today. While the Mahabharata is a poem that has many stories and characters, they all boil down to intention and human fault, and how we can use characters faults to learn and improve ourselves, even now.

Sources:

Milk and Honey image: “Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (Paperback).” Target, https://www.target.com/p/milk-and-honey-by-rupi-kaur-paperback/-/A-50116659.

Dharma the cat image:“Dharma 5.” Stories from All around the World!, 13 Dec. 2012, https://mythologystories.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/dharma-the-cat-buddhist/dharma-5/.

Game of Thrones image: “Game of Thrones – Official Website for the HBO Series.” HBO, 4 Nov. 2019, https://www.hbo.com/game-of-thrones.

Norton Anthology: Puchner, Martin, editor. The Norton Anthology of World Literature . 4th ed., A, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.