Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation

Essentially, in his book "Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism", Benedict Anderson is showing us a shift away from the sense of community found in small towns and cities where lives where interconnected and focused around religion, to a new sense of community based on the fact that we feel connected with other people in similar situations as us. He says “Beneath the decline of sacred communities, languages and lineages, a fundamental change was taking place in modes of apprehending the world, which, more than anything else, made it possible to “think” the nation.” Here Anderson shows the shift from a focus on divine influence and the close knit communities formed around it to a more philosophical approach which allowed a sense of nationalism to come out in the minds of the people.

Anderson goes on to talk about the fact that prior to the rise of novels and newspapers, the “common” people were not truly able to think for themselves and really grasp the concept of life. Formerly, the “latin-reading clerisy” or intellectual elite were the only ones who could read. These clerisy therefore defined reality for the illiterate people who trusted in their interpretation. This continued through parish priests who were, in essence, the ones who communicated to God on behalf of their congregation. What the priest received from God was what the parishioners must accept as truth. This kept the communities close together because they depended on that face-to-face connection with the priest in order to define their concept of truth and their understanding of reality.

The impact of the novel’s imagined world was that the reader suddenly had the opportunity to “play God” as it were as they read. The reader of the novel is able to sit back and read a story from the perspective of multiple people and see what is going on in each of their minds, even though none of those characters are aware of each other’s thoughts. This new representation of thought and imagination opened up the idea that even though people do not personally know everyone else living in their community or even country, they are all interconnected by their personal ties, and their lives are all interwoven. In this way, the eye’s of society were opened through the novel not only to the consequences of each person’s life affecting another, but also of a new sense of nationalism, that each person in the country truly was connected, even though they may never meet face to face.

Anderson next described the increase of this affect through newspapers in the modern era. Newspapers created a larger imagined world as people began to see the world and realize that just because something disappears from the headlines does not mean that it has ceased to exist. For example, we know that when the newspapers stop reporting about Haiti, that does not mean that Haiti has recovered from poverty. It still exists, even though we do not personally interact with it.

My understanding of nationalism through imagined community in the chapter came when he described the daily “consumption” of newspapers. You read the newspaper once in the morning and you have consumed it, knowing that tomorrow you will consume another one. But you also know that every morning as you read the newspaper, millions of other people are reading the same thing at the same time, even though you are not reading it in the same room as each other, nor do you even know who they are. This creates a sense of community through common action, although separated in distance. This community is not a community in the same way that a church was a community to those in the middle ages. Instead it is a community imagined by us as we relate to others in the world who are similar to us.

His explanation of juxtaposition throughout the chapter reminded me of what we call “6 degrees of separation”, where we claim that every person in the world is separated from everyone else by no more than six degrees. For instance, if you know me, and I know a cousin of mine in Holland, and my cousin goes to school with a student from Britain, and the student in Britain has met Prince William, then you are only four degrees separated from Prince William. We may not be aware of his actions every day, but he wakes up every morning just as you wake up. Even though you do not talk to him every day, he still exists and can be part of your community.

Anderson summed up his explanations for the rise of the imagined community by describing the following three occurrences which led to it:

  • When people lost the idea that truth was only accessible to a certain group of people. For example the fact that only pastors could contact God or only clerisy could interpret philosophy. Novels and newspapers gave everyone the ability to interpret the world around them, to see the progression of time.
  • When people moved away from believing that society revolved around the social elite, such as royalty and those born to be socially affluent. We see this shift in what we have studied this semester when people began to be less concerned with the outward appearance and more concerned with the inward state. Social mobility became a new possibility.
  • When people were no longer bound by the concept of temporality and saw the past, present, and future laid out as a continuous stream, with cause and effect.

How does this affect Mansfield Park, Jane Austen, and the novel? When the novel appeared and allowed people to see the individual, to see themselves through literature, an extended world was opened to them. It brought a new way of seeing the world as connected. For instance, when Sir Thomas goes to Antigua to perform business, the reader sees now how the lives of those in Antigua directly affect the lives of those in Mansfield Park, even though the two communities may never mix and the individuals at Mansfield Park may not be overtly aware of the actions in Antigua. Although residents of the estate which John Yates leaves before arriving at Mansfield Park may never meet the Bertram's, their attempted performance of a play incites the Betrams' interest in theatre, creating a larger community.

Ultimate, community was no longer defined by land and property connected, nor by the direct interaction of individuals centered around a common action. Instead, individuals were now given the opportunity to imagine a larger community by defining their associations through common thought. Individuals began to identify with others not based on a common interaction, but based on new ties.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Land and tigers and bears

When I first started to read Culture and Imperialism, I was reading it with Kalie out loud and I looked at her and said, I do not understand half of what this Said man is saying. I can understand the part about Mansfield Park, but I could not really connect it. It wasn't until Dr. Bowser started to put the essay in more lame terms and I was able to see some of those connections. While drawing the diagrams on the board today so many ideas and thoughts popped into my mind. Have I been reading this Mansfield Park with the wrong interpretation all along? Have I been watching the relationships take place and unfold, while neglecting the more important ideas Austen is conveying. The title alone, Mansfield Park, is a way of showing us that this was going to be about a "colony". Within a colony many things take place and are to be determined, who is in charge, social order and rules, limits, space, relocation, dislocation. Edward Said connects this so well to the imperialistic actions England took so long ago to conquer lands they wished to improve and make their own. With Mansfield Park, it's run by Sir Thomas, who is a patirarchal and authoratative role in our novel. With his rule, there was a specific social order at the house, and despite Mrs. Norris' objections, Sir Thomas stood strong. The men, Edmund and Thomas knew where they stood in the household, Tom following his father to Antigua which brought on another idea of colonization. With Edmund then the next in command, Fanny saw more respect and attention than she would have if Sir Thomas was there. It's almost as if we can view Fanny as a piece of property. She is just there, no one pays much attention to her, take her for granted. Edmund shows tender, love and care and this bright woman begins to blossom, who ends up becoming a huge asset to his life. As for Maria marrying Mr. Rushworth there is a different transfer there, no love but lust, a concern for wealth and social acceptance. Maria wants to be in possession of land so she feels a sense of worth. The family overlooks the absence of love but sees the inheritance. It is an improvement to their social standing. When we look at the instances that have to do with land in this novel is has something to do with improvement whether it is social status, economic wealth, or personal gain. The imperialistic underlyings in this novel change the outlook of why this novel was so influential and not just another Austen love story.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Miss Mary Crawford

Mary Crawford has been a character that I ignore while I read Mansfield. There are a lot of personality traits that make her stand out. Mary is gives us a view at her desires both internal and external. When we talk about internal desires and self-policing, I think there is an apparent example with Mary and her desire for Edmund. She has this longing for love and relationships and friendship with Fanny but remains in check to who she is and what she wants. She is of higher class and with that expects more when it comes time to pick or be arranged with another. She has ideas of incomes and occupations that will fulfill a certain societal need for her external desires. She even critiques Edmunds name. “ I mean to be too rich to lament or to feel any thing of the sort. A large income if the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” (197) Here we can clearly see the difference in desires just between Edmund and Mary and their interpretations of what they believe to be appropriate for their needs. Their differences in upbringings and personalities play a large role in their differentiating views. Mary continues to display a contradictory role throughout the novel playing with Edmund’s heart. She tugs at the corners giving him false hope then attacks him with opinions that are the antithesis to what he believes and holds close. So far in the novel we’ve looked upon Maria as the one who is dangerous with love and lust and her flirtatious demeanor with Henry, but now that she is out of the picture, that new villain becomes Mary. We see this in the play with Maria and Henry and Mary and Edmund are in the background. Mary gave hints that she wanted Edmund to play her complimentary role, and the words literally spell out I love you.
The interesting part of it all is Mary befriends Fanny and takes a liking to her. She gives Fanny the chance to be a person with an opinion and a mind of her own. However, I sense ulterior motives that Mary uses Fanny to one, make herself feel better about herself, and two, to bring her closer to Edmund.
Mary may just be another character in this novel, but to me she is one of the antagonists.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How Novels Think... For Us.

The selection of How Novels Think by Nancy Armstrong was definitely thick to read through and I apologize now if I lose you in my reading of it!

Armstrong started off by explaining that artwork has moved from merely representing a physical image of a person, to beginning to encapsulate the thoughts and emotions of the subject, the artist, and the viewer. This spread from visual art to the form of literature as authors began not just explaining a social fact (such as the novel of manners did), but endeavored to question the mind of society by bringing the reader in to the internal thoughts of the characters.

On the basic level, Armstrong begins to describe the elements of a novel. For instance, she says that “protagonists…had to harbor an acute dissatisfaction with his or her assigned position in the social world and feel compelled to find a better one.” This is represented in the tensions of Jane Austen novels as we see the contrast between the older generations who push for marriage on the basis of changing rank and social class and the younger generation which is slowly beginning to open its mind to ideas of emotions and desire.

The selection is particularly concerned with individualism, and how individualism is both expressed in the novel and in turn shaped within us, the readers. One of my favorite quotes from this selection is when Armstrong says “Novels thus gave tangible form to a desire that set the body on a collision course with limits that the old society had placed on the individual’s options for self-fulfillment, transforming the body from an indicator of rank to the container of unique subjectivity.”
Not only does this express the pursuit of individualism which Armstrong is trying to show, but it also displays the phenomenon that many of us may have felt as readers engrossed in a good novel. When I was younger people joked with my parents that they never saw me without a book in my hand, for the very reason that Armstrong gives here. Novels have become a mode of escape for readers, allowing us to channel our individual desires.

The conversation of individualism is given voice through three different philosophers. The first is Locke who says that the “world supplies raw content in the form of objects, and the mind transforms sensations of those objects into ideas.” For Locke, individualism was being able to apply our own ideas to the world around us, in other words making a “logical inference” about what we see. The problem with Locke’s viewpoint, however, is that in showing us objects, the world may in fact be predisposing us to react not with a unique and individual mindset.

Next is David Hume, who contrasts Locke in that he believed “ideas and feelings are shaped by “custom” rather than logical inference.” In other words, Hume says that we draw on our individualized experiences and how we are accustomed to reacting to things to know how to channel our emotions. The example given in the text is that based on past feelings of anger and love, we determine how to react to situations of neglect and benefit.

Lastly, the author discusses Adam Smith’s outlook by also including work from Rosseau. The basis of their belief is that everyone has it in their nature to sympathize with others. Rosseau’s example is a brutal one in which a person watches a mother as she saw her child mauled to death. Smith says that although a person can see how the mother reacts and react accordingly, the person’s individuality is like a cage separating them from truly experiencing what the mother experiences. He also says that each of us has within us an impartial spectator which critiques how we respond. This “impartial spectator” reminded me of the topic of self-policing, as well as idea of role playing. We see how others react and we process that in contrast to how we react, and in turn evaluate whether our reaction was good or not.

Ultimately, the individual is at odds with thoughts and emotions that emanate from within themselves and the thoughts and emotions that are forced upon them by the world in which they live. The text deals heavily with sensibility, which is their ability to respond to the world around them. The individual’s sensibility and individuality is ultimately the degree to which they are able to apply individual experience to their sensibility.

In terms of the development of the novel through the Victorian era and Romantic period, the defining of individualism created a broader appreciation for characterization. The characters in novels were bound to test the limits of “normative reality” and in doing so created a new platform of thought for readers everywhere. The novels showed a new kind of sensibility that was more about individuality than about logical adaption to society. Through the expression of novels, authors expressed individual thought. In addition, however, it is through the expression of novels that readers see their individual thought take shape. And how, in fact, novels have come to think for us.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


While discussing the variety of essays, it boggled me how they relate to each other in some sort. What two really stuck out were the Foucault and the essay discussing the sense of self-conciousness. The idea of self-survaillance or self-policing reminded me a lot of the idea of the self conciousness. When Foucault writes about new ways for punishment and how they have evolved over time both types of punishment, internal and external, have a self-concious. When someone is in the street they are both mentally and physically aware of those around them, and how they may be perceived. However, when the newer version of punishment was disscused with Baunum's see-You become aware of who you are and what you are doing every second of everyday. This self-conciousness is almost worse, because you never know when someone is watching so we become so meticulous with our actions that we prohibit ourselves from being who we are and doing what we want to do. The poem with the ancient Mariner portrayed both types of punishment, one publicly, where the albatross is hung around his neck, and one internally, that he feels obligated to re-tell his story over and over again, becoming more aware of what he has done. Sometimes I think the more self-concious we are, the more guilt we hold against ourselves, rather than forgiving ourselves. More often then not we punish ourselves worse than the outside, like the ancient mariner feeling as though it was his duty and his alone to retell that story over and over again to maybe teach a lesson to someone that would listen. The idea of self-consciousness is seen in many situations, I think of it when we discuss societal expectations. Society sets up limits and rules for us to follow and we are raised with our parents giving us expectations of what they'd like to see, good grades, winning sports games, going to college, etc... However, when we fall short or succum to failure, we punish ourselves more than we almost need to. If we strive to just do the best we can and let who we are control the situations, we may just succeed without the pressures. We can be mentally aware of who we are and what we can do rather than striving for something that we will aren't or cannot be. We cannot let other peoples expectations guide us through what we want to do. Just like in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, how we wanted to read this poem with our own interpretations, however, through the glosses, Coleridge somehow expected us or told us what we should be understanding, which made it even more confusing. I don't know if any of this makes sense, but let me know what you think.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

please respond)))

A central idea to Foucault’s Panopticism is the systematic ordering and controlling of human populations through subtle and often unseen forces. I liked his whole idea of discipline, which is the way to organize society. The goal of the modern society is to put things in order and keep them there. Nothing seems to suggest a connection between Coleridge’s “The Rime of Ancient Mariner” and Foucault’s “Discipline and Punishment.” After a class discussion I came up may be with a crazy idea, not sure if you would agree, so please respond to my thoughts.
As it has been already said, it is hard to interpret the mariner’s behavior in the poem. He is like Coleridge constantly feels guilty and tries to get rid of this feeling by telling his story to different people in different places. I believe that the mariner tells his story during the wedding ceremony not just by accident. As we all know, marriage builds a family, a family is a cell of society. May be the mariner tries to prevent the building of this cell,(disturb the wedding) because it is easier to control an individual activity then an activity of a group.
Like Coleridge believed in supernatural agencies, so Foucault believed in power of mind over mind. The mariner tries to tell the story to a big audience. He wanted to make sure that he was heard and seen by a large amount of people and eventually he will be forgiven. So in the modern society, in attempt to achieve their goals, people try to discipline themselves and if they do so, they will be rewarded