Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sonnet for my father

Stars music - flickering atmosphere light
Mirroring reality's telescope
Wishing for that clearest and darkest night
Constellation's infinity is hope
Train rides through life, stopping at this station
The chugging of steam fulfilling the dream
Eagerly discovering creation
Serenity found by the babbling stream
Making life into more of a riddle
Stirring the mind with questions unfolding
Singing life's song and playing life's fiddle
Finding truth within Science's holding
Gazing heaven's enigmatic clear sight
Soul and imagination will take flight

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Madness and Writing

On the margins of society they live, the ill, the different, the mad, the other.

The signifier is the word, the meaning is only the written or the spoken echo of the word. The signifier ignites the signified. The signified is the image, the individual  interpretation of the word. The signified creates the world. Literature is not a mirror of the world, literature creates a new reality through the use of the signifier and the signified as the ultimate binary, using language as the ultimate metaphor.

The literary characters I'll discuss are hovering on the margins of the margins of what is considered normality, of what is considered sanity. Madness is silent. The moment one applies reason to madness, the moment one stops up and looks at oneself, saying, wow, I am so mad, that would be the moment the madness had passed. The tale of madness is always in retrospect, and also it might (and probably is) be narrated by others, making way for the question of memory. For what is memory, and how will a memory change over time? Have we really an accurate description of madness? And who made the rules for where normality ended and madness began?
The ability to apply and even use imagination in the perception of the world in the Victorian age could and would offer severe difficulties. And God forbid you ever saw a ghost or encountered the monsters within, you would be even more marginalized. Both men and women had to act according to what society expected. The rules of conduct were strict, and any deviation from normality, or "normality" would not first of all be condemned, but it would definitely not be understood. And what people did not understand, they feared. And when people are afraid, they do not act or speak within the boundaries of reason, making the question of madness and reason one of those vicious circles of life.

Hiding away the sick and the dying has been done since biblical times. People suffering from leprosy would be hidden away on the outskirts of the cities, in separate colonies, and then later in institutions built for that purpose alone, hiding the things only God understood, at the mercy of that same God that would offer no explanation, healing or understanding. When leprosy was declared extinct, these institutions were filled with the ill, the demented and the mad, placing that which was different, and even dangerous, on the margins still. And at one point the madness or the illness would not only be institutionalized but it would be completely excluded from touching land. Focault's Stultifera Navis tells about floating boats that were filled with "fools". Fools as they did not have the ability or voice to tell the world that they needed help, not exclusion, being watched by "the other" fools on the shore...for believing that the ships were the solution to the difficulties of the different, the mad, the other. Different is frightening, even to this day when we are supposed to know better. Today we have educational systems and means to treat the mentally ill, but in society as such, we fear that which we can not understand.
And also today, female deviated behaviour, in particular, is looked at from a demeaning and belittling perspective. In the Victorian age it was considered different and strange on the margins of different and strange when a woman experiences post natal depression, PMS, or other hormonal influenced disorders. Women were (and sometimes still are) considered the other, even to women.
Women had few routes of escape from the caged world she was forced to live in. In fact, only three ways would be a woman's way out of her generalized angel-of-the-house-bearing-babies-being-invisible-unless-she-could-fulfil-the-need-of-her-binary-counterpart-man, and that was through starvation, madness or death, one would not exclude the other.

When talking about binaries, one can present doubles, opposites, dichotomies as pairs, but one will always be considered better than the other. Sun-moon, life-death, self-other. This becomes apparent in the two texts I'll discuss in detail here, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

"Everyone is only everyone else"*, and everyone in the entire world will be at the center of their own perception of reality, who is really to say when something is not normal?
At Wuthering Heights a young boy is brought home, he has no name and no beginning.
The master names him Heathcliff.
He is not given a family name, he is simply Heathcliff. We follow his story from child to adulthood, making Wuthering Heights a buildungsroman to some extent. Heathcliff never becomes anyone else than Heathcliff, he has no real development. And though he is, from some points of view, considered the protagonist of the story, he is not in the possession of a higher truth in the end. From the story we get that he is of Gypsy background, a group that historically has always been located at the edges of society, on the margins of conduct and behaviour. They are a people living in close relations with nature, a people with a different set of thoughts than the Victorian society as such. So from the very beginning Heathcliff is considered below the servants, yet he is to be considered a son in the house. But Heathcliff has to fight for his place in the family as well as in society. Only in Kathy does he find his soul, and only in Heathcliff does Kathy find her soul.
They are one.
One can not exist without the other. They are one unstoppable force of nature throughout the story. They are the horned God and Goddess, and if one is tamed they both will wither away and perish form this world to enter whatever afterlife they are presented with. Their connection is of such magnitude that they can not survive as one unit, they will never be equals, as they are one and the same.
When Heathcliff is fiery and unstoppable, Kathy is cold and filled with reason. When Heathcliff is cold and rational, even scheming and hateful, Kathy is irrational, hysterical and filled with a roaring fire. She can not have Heathcliff, but no one else can have him either.
Heathcliff does not see Kathy's marriage to Edgar as a betrayal, but he sees Kathy sleeping with her husband as the deepest of betrayals. Kathy's body belongs to him. He ends up trying to get back at every single person in the story, even Kathy. He loves her so much he hates her. And when she dies, he dies with her. His body remains alive until he stops it himself. Since they are one, Heathcliff and Kathy, their double must be Edgar. He is the opposite to their urge and need to live in and around nature. He remains the representative for the Victorian society through the virtues of education, politeness and means. He is also a representative for reason in Kathy's fiery madness. Yet he is fuled by his love for his wife and for his child, making him a double in himself.
Heathcliff descends into madness when he loses Kathy to the afterlife. He curses her like a demon, making him a manifestation of some kind of devil, maybe even the devil. He schemes and plots to take his revenge. He had acquired wealth and social standings, but not to become a citizen of the society he never would be acknowledged by, but through his wish to make every person see his side, make every person pay for his misfortune when losing Kathy to decorum.
Kathy and Heathcliff's tragic flaw makes it impossible for them to exit this story alive, and faced with their passing one get a sense of catharsis.

Freud did not invent the subconscious, but it is mainly through his thoughts we are familiarized with the concepts of id, ego and super-ego.
Hearton, Kathy's hateful brother, who has few redeeming sides to his person, has a son, Linton. Linton is through neglect from his father as a child, and further neglect and hatred from Heathcliff as a young adult, brought up as close to an orphan. The buildungsroman could apply in his case. He ends up finding language, intellect and identity through Edgar and Kathy's daughter, Katherine, and her taking an interest in him as she sits at the deathbed of her husband (Heathcliff's son). Linton could be a representation of the super-ego. He holds both the id, Heathcliff, and the ego, Kathy, in his past, his present and his future. He ends up displaying mind over matter, finding that happy ending that eluded and escaped Edgar, Hearton, Heathcliff and Kathy.

Jane Eyre is, like Heathcliff, an orphan. The orphan is the child that is seemingly easy to shape in one's image. But in many of the buildungsromans I have encountered, the orphan is born with a sense of right and wrong, a sense of where to head to reach elusive bliss and where to turn and walk the other way to avoid danger and fear. They all go through violent and loveless childhoods, only few glimpses of closeness and humanity define them. They often seek a sense of belonging through imagination, skill and determination to find any kind of future.
A child was through the ages looked to as the other. They were small, looked like tiny versions of the adult, but did not have the capabilities to do the same thing as an adult. Only in modern times did the concept of childhood become a term to discuss. A child should not stand up to or talk to talk back to the adult, and if a child displayed violent emotions, either those of love, anger or sadness, the child would be punished. Yet, through language we find identity, and through identity we find purpose. As long as we have language, we are presented with a way above survival of the fittest, a way above eat or be eaten. Though the orphans in our stories are faced with fighting for their rights to exist, they do so through language and imagery. They refuse to remain in the margins, they refuse to stay on the ship of fools.

Jane Eyre is placed in the house of family, only family is nothing more than blood relatives, a relation that should portrait a certain sense of belonging, but ends up excluding her completely, as she is forced upon them. Like with Cinderella, her family are constantly reminding her of her position, and they do not represent any kind of loving or life guiding presence. Even the servants consider her below them, as she is only a burden who never contributes. She escapes into the world of words and imagination, longing for time to freeze as she sits with her stories.
Even though Jane is a child, she has a strong sense of self, and of justice. This is a notion she brings with her to the end. But, she has a moment in front of the mirror where Jane becomes the signifier looking at the signified, the image in the mirror, and finding no connection between the two. What is on the inside does not correspond with what she sees. This happens while she is locked inside the red room, and this is a foreshadowing of the events to come. Jane's double through this story is the mad woman who is locked away in the third story at Thornfield.
Bertha, is Rochester's mad wife, the mother of his "secret" child, Adele, and the woman Jane will turn into if she compromises her strong sense of self and her strong sense of justice. Maybe the image Jane is seeing that day in the red room is the image of the mad woman within? Bertha is hidden away in the attic, and in search of the madness above, maybe even the madness inside, Jane encounters the madness at Thornfield. Bertha is a large and colourful woman, a foreign, an other. And through her descent to madness she has no language left, and almost no identity. The only thing that remains is the madness. She is behaving like a caged animal, standing on all four, grunting and sneering. She is Jane's double being her opposite. Jane is tiny, pale and in control of her identity and intellect, at least as such. Jane is told to lock her door from the inside, Bertha is locked in from the outside. Both women are caged, but Jane has the opportunity to escape when she wants. Bertha's escape is forced and violent and ends in disaster and the cleansing fire that finally makes Rochester and Jane equals. He has to wipe the slates clean to be able to live his preferred life with Jane. Was he to get his will and marry Jane the first time, she would have made the compromise that might have cost her her sanity.

Rochester is also looking for his sense of self. He is bound by his secrets, and his search for love. He considers marriage to Blance, who on her side is looking for a man of means and not particularly for love. Blanche is untouched and unspoiled. Blanche's double is Adele, the "foreign" child that Jane is set to teach. It remains a secret whether she is Rochester's daughter or not, but who else would she be? And that raises the question on whether Bertha's madness was caused by post natal depression, turning into psychosis, turning into the mad woman in the attic.
Rochester is looking for closeness, but he looks in the wrong place when looking to Blanche. She is blank, she is without depth and without substance. And when Jane leaves, he is no longer capable to keeping up appearances to Blanche, because he is drawn to the strangeness, the depth and mystery, and intelligence that Jane possesses.

Rochester represent ice, and Jane represent fire, and St.John represents reason and the Victorian society. Jane finds her three fairy godmothers in her cousins. From having chosen a path of starvation when running away from Rochester, she heals and finds purpose and will to live with her three loving family members. And having gone through a spiritual cleansing, still managing to hold on to her strong sense of self and her strong sense of justice, she is able to return to Rochester and be with him as Jane Eyre, heir to control and escape, and to imagination and reason. When good fortune does find Jane, she shares her inheritance with her new found family.

Jane is faced with starvation (both a physical and a mental starvation) and madness, but escapes death and gets her life, whereas Kathy and Heathcliff are faced with madness, starvation and death, death being the only way out of the madness.

Madness remains silent, but through language, through metaphors and through imagery we can have a peek at what we fear, we can have a peek at what we do not fully understand.

"It's so clear, we can see the madness perfectly from here"*


* The Space, and Asylum Satellite One, by Marillion

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Stock Marked Crash of 29



“Money, it’s a crime, Share it fairly, But don’t take a slice of my pie. Money, so they say, Is the root of all evil, Today.”[1]


“Black Tuesday (29th of October 1929) was the end of the beginning of the crash of Wall Street”[2]
The stock market had been rising and rising, and on September 4th 1929 it saw a massive and all time high. This encouraged brokers to take huge risks and banks to invest heavily in stock of all kinds. And to top the top, these stocks were heavily over-valued.
The over-valuing of stocks serves as a rather significant reason leading to the crash on Wall Street. The optimism, and lack of future aspect of most investments in the period before the crash, almost serves as an oxymoron to the great depression that followed after the crash.
Economical historians are pointing to other important reasons for the cataclysmic crash of Wall Street, one of these reasons being “margin buying”.
Margin Buying would allow people who did not have the cash to buy the stock outright to invest. Eventually, when the marked crashed, and investors wanted their money back quickly, this lead to people going personally bankrupt, having to cash in life savings, sell houses and other valuables in order to settle their enormous debts. Many could not cope at all, and 25% of all Americans were at one point during the Great Depression on the dole.
Another reason is listed as the strict monetary Federal Policies. The rates of interest on broker loans were unnaturally increased making it all the more difficult for investors to invest and create a future.

The after shocks of this event would continue shaking the world economy for 25 years, through The Hard Thirties, through WWII, through the rise of Communism, through The New Deal, through The Aftermath of war, and then in 1954 the world economy would finally start to recover. The start of (among others) The World Bank, made the world economy find a certain calm. Yet, even now in 2012, the crash in 1929 is an infamous incident in our past.
“Fundamentally, the alternative history suggests that banking manipulators caused the irrational exuberance, thus the speculative excesses, the crash of 1929 that followed, and therefore the Great Depression of 1933, which ultimately let to World War 2”[3]
The global economical crisis that followed the crash on Wall Street led to the growth of Nazism and ultimately to WWII.
One might speculate: Had the economy, world wide, remained stabile (incorporating the growth of technology in this equation), the need to look for other solutions, other ideologies, been so pressing, and Hitler would never have gained the kind of power he did. This is obviously a non-empiric statement, based highly on “what if’s”, because the fact remains, the crash happened, as did WWII, with all its terror and extermination.

Leading up to the crash we see some significant changes in the world economy. The most important of this was the disappearance of the gold standard.
“The Gold Standard is a monetary system providing a simple rule for domestic monetary authorities and for the international monetary system. The rule was to maintain the value of a national currency in terms of a fixed weight in gold (…)”[4]
To be able to finance the enormous costs of war, many countries went off the gold standard during WWI. They suffered significant and devastating inflation. And though many countries returned to the system after the war, they now found that things had been radically changed. The economy was not as evened out as it was before the war. And by the time of The Great Depression, the system had reached complete shutdown.
The printing of more money than they had gold in their reserves would lead to inflation, which led to an increase of the prices, which eventually led to speculation of currency.
It has been claimed (by Richard Lancaster, among others)[5] that all this is a part of a cleansing cycle, that these things needs to happen for the healthy world economy. And in light of that observation we can draw parallels to the Enron scandal (where Enron became the catalyst of a global economic fall) in 2008, other parallels are what’s happening in Greece and Spain at the moment.

It is hard to pinpoint one single incident leading to the crash, but the common man, as well as the learned economist knew that the Golden Twenties (or The Happy Twenties) were closing to their undefined end. So far an enormous optimism had set its mark on the world rising after a devastating war. Industrialization and modernization were key terms.
Before WWI, the English pound was shown as the strong and stabile currency. After the war, the dollar grew into the stabile currency in the world’s economical image.
Americans were producing cars, vast quantities of food, they were leading the industrial revolution (the world was definitely entering Modern Times), but the flipside to this was over production. So, to keep the production going at the level where continued economic growth was secured, what was not sold would be destroyed. Wheat (in the US) and coffee (in South America) would be burned. This is, even today, a method western countries put to use. Instead of lowering the prices, they destroyed the over production to keep the prices steady and high.
Also, the American banks were overly willing to give people rather high loans to buy items, which would not remain in original value for long.
Credit checkups, figuring out whether people had the financial capacity to repay their loans or not, were not standard operating procedure back in the day. Further, 20% of all debt at the time was tied up in car loans, among other things.
Stock speculators in the USA hit it big, and the masses slowly lost their grip on money and wealth.

Industrial productions plummeted across the world after the crash on Wall Street. Prices on all kinds of product as well, e.g. silk and wheat.
People lost their jobs, and even though prices reached an all time low, no one could benefit from this, because no one had any money at this stage. The world as a whole landed in a vicious circle of economic ruin and wreckage.
When people lose their jobs, they have less to spend, and when less people are spending money, less production is being upheld, eventually leading to an increase in people with no jobs or money.
A different consequence, and this is a bit on the side, is that people become rather creative in times of need. The need to unwind and amuse the self with whatever means available grew strong these days. Underground activities such as gambling flourished in “The Hard Thirties”.

“The stock marked crash of 1929 was the most significant crash in US history. Although the crash itself only lasted four days, it led to a catastrophic sell-off. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 90% of its value between its record high close of 381,2 on September 3, 1929, and its subsequent bottom of 41,22 on July 8, 1932. It took 25 years for the Dow to regain its September high.”[6]

The crash on Wall Street led America, and further, the world into an economical Dark Age.
Two months after the crash in October, stockholders had lost more than $40 million dollars, and even though the stock marked initially managed to regain some of its losses by the end of 1930, it was far from enough. America, and the world as such, spiralled down into the Great Depression and The Hard Thirties.

We can speculate on whether Hitler would have gained power had it not been for the crash in New York in 1929. But as the world economy joined America on the decent to economic ruin, the need for new thoughts, new ideologies arouse, thus making both Nazism and Communism grow.
“The Versailles treaty threw long and dark shadows in the years between the war, and became a significant factor in the process leading up to WW2. The Victorious’ claims created a desire for revenge, and this was especially in reference to article 231 that created the hatred and the aggression. This article stated that Germany alone held the blame for the war, and was economically responsible for all the damages and losses the allied had suffered.”[7]
The changes post WWII, were also significant. We saw the beginning of the UN, and not only peace followed.
The Great Depression hit hard across the globe, but particularly in the countries, who lost the war. Trade and economic collaborations came to a full stand still, and inflation was one of the hard facts. These incidents created a need for a “saviour” in the entire world as a whole. But being the “losers” of the war, Germany felt the depression even more, making them embrace their “saviour”. Hitler provided something as generic as jobs. People have been grateful and loyal for far less.

In The Thirties countries started guarding their borders and what products were taken in and let out. Today we see WTO are trying to open the economical borders, and boundaries. We see a trading policy today where countries focus on producing trade goods that reflect the specific country’s speciality (Italy and France produce and export wine, Norway produce and export fish and oil).
But in The Thirties they needed to be self-sustainable within each country. They would produce everything a nation needed on the inside of the borders. This was a way of assuring that whatever jobs available would go to the nation’s citizens. In retrospect, this had to fail. Every country can not, at any given time make every given product; just the thought itself would sky-rocket production costs to astronomical sums, causing currency to deflate and prices to sink, being unable to pay for production, people losing their jobs, depression sinking down as a haze of gloom.

It became increasingly difficult to get financial support to start any kind of business, and the psychological effect spread across USA as a nation, and across the world as a whole. The massive decline in the worldwide stock market, caused bankruptcies and serious macro-economical difficulties.
“The Stock Marked Crash of 1929, also called the Great Crash, a sharp decline in U.S. stock marked values in 1929 that contributed to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Great Depression lasted approximately 10 years and affected both industrial and non industrial communities in many parts of the world.”[8]
US gold reserves saw horrid times come closer as countries started cashing their dollars in for the gold that was implied with the dollar. This forced the Federal Reserve to raise interest on rent.
It has been speculated that the Gold Standard was a part of what prolonged The Great Depression. Instead of spending the money available in the market, to stimulate and re-charge the economy, make it thrive again, the money available was tied up in gold.
“The price level is less predictable if the shocks to the price level are larger and if they are more persistent. We look at measures of average inflation to judge, ex post, whether a regime has been associated with price stability”[9]
After the crash, the gold standard was suspended. More notes than equalled gold in the reserves were printed, and the currency went dangerously up and down instead of staying stabile and safe. The international monetary system was no longer an effective trade currency. The gold standard became a bit un-stabile, but was again fully operational from 1958.
There was no proper way of knowing how much of the individual country’s money that was spent when trading internationally. Countries trading internationally never knew how much their own currency was worth.
The gold standard came to a definitive end in 1971, when President Nixon refused to follow the old system (France wanted gold for their Dollars, and USA paid up), that he had printed more money than was in the reserves was an underlying reason.
In 1973 all currency were released.
Previously, only the dollar could be changed in gold, though through 1944-1958 people and countries were so poor that this functioned more as the general theory than the real life practice.
“As good as gold” is a saying, understandably enough, coined during the years of the gold standard.

All of Europe suffered the reverberations of the crash on Wall Street. And where Europe slowly faced the terrors of war, USA dealt with the financial repercussions of the crash.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the lead of a concept we today know as “The New Deal”.
This was a situation where the leaders of the land took control of their country’s economy. From having a market-governed economy, USA now faced an economy in the control of the Presidency.
Roosevelt’s plan incorporated the “Three R’s”.
They were: Relief, recovery and reform.
The crash on Wall Street had left the masses without jobs (and also hope for ever getting a job), subsequently without money and means. So to begin with, the “Relief”-part of the deal was to give an economic aid to the poor and unemployed.
The crash on Wall Street rendered the economy in free fall.  The “Recovery”-part of the deal was to steer the economy back to what was considered normality on both a macro- and micro level.
The crash on Wall Street left a nation in fright of this ever happening again. This fright spread across the world. The “Reform”-part of the deal was to prevent the financial system ever sinking down to depression levels ever again.

So, to the everyday citizen, how did life change after the crash on the stock market October 29th 1929?
The very telling, and highly measurable unemployment rate from this time is probably what rings a bell in most minds. The photographs of men marching and protesting about the lack of jobs and resolutions, is a powerful image of what it was like during this time. And because it took the world economy so long to recover from this, images of the kind were quite frequent.
“Most people in the world were connected in one or another way to agriculture and production, and when their ability to buy disappeared due to lack of provision, it would affect their ability to buy what was produced in the modern industry. Taxes, and ability to pay taxes were also reduced. Yet, both the European and the American economy expanded from 1924, but the crash in 1929 dramatically enforced the lack of economic balance. In 1932 the industrial production in the USA was half of what it was in 1929, as was the national income. Almost half of all the banks were closed, and millions of people had lost all of their savings (…)”[10]

“The tailor had his closet filled with suits, but had no shoes, the shoemaker had plenty of shoes, but wanted a suit. They had not money to buy from each other, and swapping became a phenomenon, well known as such.”[11]  

In conclusion, the world really did change, as it saw the rise of Fascism, Nazism and Communism as a consequence to the shortage of money, jobs and prosperity ahead. This made the likes of Hitler a welcome piece of the puzzle when searching for hidden solutions.  And the world would be forever changed from the repercussions of also this war. WWII was in many ways the growing field of technology. Where WWI was fought in the trenches, WWII took to the air; we saw the dawn of the atomic age, we saw the dawn of international political collaboration, for instance the UN. And in the aftermath of the UN, we saw new politically problematic issues being born, for instance what happened, and is still happening, in the Gaza strip.
“When people know they have no future, can we blame them if we cannot tame them?”[12]
If a liveable, durable and healthy world economy is to exist, for it to have valid reasons to last, to see democracy and capitalism survive at all, normal people will need normality in their everyday condition and life.

References:

Overall view:

* Det 20. århundrets historie - et globalt perspektiv
Randi Rønning Balsvik
Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, 2010
1.Utgave, 2. opplag 2012

The Crash in 1929:

* Richard Lancaster, Editorial, October 29, 2002
http://www.gold-eagle.com/editorials_02/lancaster102102.html

* About.com, US economy

* About.com American History
Article by Martin Kelly
“Top 5 causes of the Great Depression”


Gold Standard:

* The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Gold Standard, by Michael D. Bordo (2008) (checked 20th of October 2012)


Music:


* Marillion, Gaza, from Sounds That Can’t Be Made, 2012



Richard Lancaster, editorial, 29th of October, 2002
[7] Translation of: Det 20. århundrets historie - et globalt perspektiv. Randi Rønning Balsvik. Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, 2010, opplag 2 (2012). Page 84
[10] Translation and paraphrasing of: Det 20. århundrets historie - et globalt perspektiv. Randi Rønning Balsvik. Cappelen Akademisk Forlag 2010. 2. opplag(2012). Page 103
[11] Translation and paraphrasing of: Det 20. århundrets historie - et globalt perspektiv. Randi Rønning Balsvik. Cappelen Akademisk Forlag 2010. 2. opplag (2012). Page 104
[12] Marillion, Gaza, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, 2012 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Happy Birthday, mother


It is my mother's birthday today, so I wrote a birthday sonnet. 

Dawn of autumn, memories of warm days
Salvaging frozen soul’s desperate mind
The memory stays, the dreamers dream strays
Finding Neverland’s soft beauty so kind
A year has passed, dreams fulfilled, goals unreached
All the could-have-beens transforming the dreams
The soaring soul imagination breached
Unveiling my secrets? Happiness screams
The turning of years, the passing of time
Changing the weak, finding strength and power
What is age? Mirroring Happiness’ prime
Submerge yourself in the wisdom shower
The enchanting words from stories so bold
Happiness, magic in all stories told

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Last Duchess


My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning

Just to make my otherwise busy day just a bit more busy, I decided to write about a poem I encountered last year at Uni. This poem was written by Robert Browning (1812-1889) in 1842. 

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive, I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart - how shall I say) - too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favor at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace - all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men - good! but thanked
Somehow - I know not how - as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech - (which I have not) - to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark" - and if she let
Herself be lessonded so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse
- E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive, Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Four sonnets (14 lines x 4) constructed like a dramatic monologue. 
The poem starts“In media res”, meaning it starts in the middle, the duke is describing and admiring the painting of his last (late) duchess. He's standing in front of the painting with a spokes person for the pending new duchess.
Quickly, the dramatic monologue was developed in the Romantic period by, among others, William Wordsworth. Dramatic monologue means you have a speaker with an audience precent, audience as one or more listeners. Hamlet's soliloquy, for instance, can be considered a monologue, dramatic even, if direction place Ophelia in the back, listening. 
But this is also a sonnet. I made it a habit of counting lines when I took British literature, as anything with 14 lines (verses, one line is one verse), usually was a sonnet. And as we're talking about Browning, rival or equal to Lord Tennyson, there is no doubt in my mind that these are 4 sonnets. The powerful poem strikes again. 
Rhythm wise it has iambic pentameter (very sonnet like), and consists of rhyming couplets (quasi heroic - and very sonnet like). 
Making it AA, BB, CC, DD, EE, FF, GG etc. Meaning it's not a Petrachan or a Shakespearean sonnet, but a sonnet nonetheless. 

“The poem is based on incidents in the life of Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara in Italy, whose first wife, Lucrezia, a young woman, died in 1561 after three years of marriage. Following her death, the duke negotiated through an agent to marry a niece of the Count of Tyrol. Browning represents the duke as addressing this agent”[1]

It’s a critique of the Victorian society, even though it's set in the renaissance. Women in the Victorian age were allowed very limited space to move in, limited space to function in. At the time they were given unreachable goals, as such. They were the angels of the house, and superhuman demands were imposed upon them.
The Victorian period fostered the Modernists. Women managed to get a right to vote, among other results. But during the Victorian period, the women weren't allowed to act on their emotions. And that is obviously a generalization, but any emotional anomaly would be frowned upon. And at the most extreme, a woman in this period would be locked up to "rest" if she showed signs of for instance depression or psychosis... And today we know very well that being left alone with ones thoughts when the thoughts are as darkest...yeah, not the best idea in the world. Psychosis turning into a complete mental break down, I would think (something that does happen to the protagonist in "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.), and then they entered a different problematic stage completely. 
In the Victorian period men held a rather elevated image of the woman. They wanted the idea of the beautiful and angelic creature, not the actual living, breathing human being. This can also be thought of as courtly love, as there really was no reality to these thoughts… yet, this was women’s life in the Victorian age, at least the in the higher parts of society. Their ultimate goal was to marry well, give him children, and then paint his picture perfect, leaving time to sow, play the pianoforte, sit straight up and wait for the master of the house to return. And this is kind of a paradox, as the biggest empire the world has seen, the British empire, was ruled by a woman, Queen Victoria. 
The “story” in the poem is set in the Renaissance, but it definitely deals with the women question, as it objectifies her. The Duke has a curtain in front of the painting, making him in charge still, having the power to unveil it, or keep it covered up. 
Objectification of women is the main theme here. Cover up is another.
The Duke wants to own the self, the I, the object. The self can’t be anything else than what he desires. And the moment the object becomes a person, he can't deal with it. 

He starts to talk about the painting, then about the person, then in the end we understand that he has taken her life as she became something more than the angel in the house, something more than the perfect woman he so dearly desired, something more than the woman he now only can have access to through the painting. He wants a new duchess… the painting is of his last (late) duchess. 
Yet, it remains a mystery, did he kill her, or did she take her own life? No matter the answer, both were considered taboos in the Victorian age.

The poet shows us a poetic speaker who tries to give us a certain impression of himself, but in trying to be someone he’s not, he turns into the one he wants to hide, revealing too much. Revealing the other, the repressed... his inner Mr. Hyde. 
In his speech, he’s moving from the dead duchess to the new duchess. Yet, the doubleness, the representation of certain phrases gives him away as a man who’s not over his late wife yet, or at least the woman he wanted her to be. Could the painting on the wall be an image of him, the duke, perhaps? He’s mirroring his own values into the picture looking back at him. Or is that too far fetched. 
The enjambment functions to show the psychological approach, he needs to rid himself of baggage, and in the end he is speaking against his own will.
“…I gave commands!” Did he give one too many commands? Did he stop her smile?
Ellipses, gaps, breaks are signalled by semicolon or dashes gives the impression that a psychological process is going on here.

“There she stands
As if alive…” This signals the volta (the turn)
The duke stops himself from going deeper, and becomes more a “gentleman” again. He collects himself, and is again the Doctor Jekyll.
Though, he makes a dark prediction of the future, hidden behind a smile, he will tame his new duchess… and she will obey.

There is a circular movement in the poem, it starts out with a portrait and ends up with a sculpture. And the seahorse is a metaphor for the duke’s wives. 

I wrote this entry because a friend asked me if I knew anything about My Last Duchess.
I have written this based on notes I made in class. My Professor in British literature had so many good points that I remember my hand was sore after this particular lecture (after every lecture, to be honest). But having moved on from British literature, to the course I'm taking now (same professor), called Madness and Writing, I have made a few observations on my own... So I guess I did know a thing or two about My Last Duchess, but I'm convinced I could learn plenty more still :-)

Sources of information: Prof. J. S. Drangsholt and The Norton Anthology




[1] The Norton Anthology, English Literature, Eighth Edition, Volume 2 (page 1255)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

STCBM

Sounds That Can't Be Made

This is the new album by Marillion, and it is such an incredible album that I just have to share my thoughts with you!
I'll actually go about it in a Much Ado About Shakespeare List kind of way (and we just love lists, don't we?), so here goes.

1. Gaza
Frightening to listen to this now when we know what's going on on the Gaza strip...
This is a song that demands a lot of the listener, both when talking about the music, the lyrics and the performance.
Technically it switches between 7/4 and 4/4, a bit of a Eastern rhythm scheme, and already there it becomes a bit challenging, and not immediately clear cut music to please the masses. Nevertheless, totally Marillion in style. They have created their own musical Universe, and with Gaza they get on a rocket and explore that Universe just a bit further, stretching the boarders of the unknown.
They use a lot of melancholic and gloomy chords, fuzz on the guitars and the sounds in the track as such are dark and almost threatening gives the song depth and credibility. One can practically hear the air raids going on in Rothery's guitars.
But what made this so drastic and hard hitting, is the theme of the song, the heart of the song...the lyrics. It describes the war on the Gaza strip from a Palestinian boy's point of view. And it does so without taking sides... genius. H wrote this after skype-inteviews with people on both sides. He was warned that this would blow up in his face, and it ended up doing just that. This song cost Marillion some fans... but if you can't see the importance this song brings, then maybe you never were a true Marillion fan...
Dead honest, to the point...probably scaring off some delicate souls... but that's what true art is about. It has to make a statement, make people listen...
With lyrics such as...:
"For us to dream is still a dream"
"Mum goes in front of me to check for soldiers"
"I had no idea what martyrdom meant until my older brother, my older brother... I'm sorry, I can't continue"
"When people know they have no future, can we blame them if we cannot tame them?"
"For us to have to live like this, it just aint right, it just aint right"

"Like a nightmare rose up, on this small strip of land, slouching towards Bethlehem"

...they stand tall like the titans they are.
Marillion have never hit harder, in my mind. This song is an album in itself, and the emotions in both music, lyrics and performance is what makes them fill my heart with joy, fill my mind with a wish for resolution and fill my soul with hope for the human race.

2. Sounds That Can't Be Made
I liked this song the first time I heard it. And then it annoyed me for a while because of something I'll elaborate a bit further down. But now I like it again...And I really do :-)
It's a strange song, very compact, yet elusive as a breath of air, and very rigid, yet very soft... Strange.
I like strange!
The backing vocals on this track can sometimes sound a bit out of tune, but for some reason (and this is Silje admitting to something she never before admitted to...and don't ever ask me to repeat it, as I like my music and my songs in tune) whispering: "it works."
When I was a young girl I lived in the North of Norway. Aurora Borealis is a phenomenon I've had the fantastic honor of seeing on many occasions. I learned very early that if you'd whistle, it would move. And that it hated to be told to move. It would come and get you. Even though I know today what Aurora Borealis is, I think the mystical and sometimes frightening explanation is a much more appealing one, and I also hear that in this song. Though the lyrics is a sort of a love song, it's about something bigger than that, something not easily explained nor comprehended. And maybe that is what love is all about, come to think of it?
So, Sounds That Can't Be Made (obviously could be made) is everything Aurora Borealis is... Compact, elusive, frightening, exciting, and so beautiful one could cry.

3. Pour My Love.
This was, I thought, the boring track of the album. How wrong was I?
I nodded along and felt that, yeah, this is Marillion, and music, lyrics and performance is perfect, as usual. I was bit miffed when I found out that the lyrics weren't Hogarth's, but they could easily have been, as they are brilliant. Still, nodding along...
Enter middle part. I think I have taken you down the road of Marillion musical explosions before... this is one of them. A bluesy, jazzy tune changes and takes on a gospel flair to the sound,
I had to go on Marillion's facebook page and write..."You still manage to amaze me!" Because the middle part is describing their music to the full.
Pour My Love has every right (and stands its right) to be on this album, for the middle part alone :-)

4. Power

This song is Mark Kelley's song...at least the beginning. I love the keyboard in the back, the keyboard that almost makes magic love to the rest of the song before the power sets in...
And then the next verse starts with drums, bass and vocals, showing off the brilliant Ian Mosley and Pete Trewavas showing off ;-) And then the power takes over completely.
This was also the first track they released for fans to pre-view... or more correctly, pre-listen. I heard this track during the summer, and I remembered thinking, wow, if the rest of the album is only half as good as this song, then we're in for a treat. In retrospect... Power is great, but not the strongest track of the album, and this says a lot about how strong this album really is. Because Power is a great, powerful and mighty song, a display of power as usual :-) It's a force of nature placed between barres and notes, lyrics and instruments...
And the ending is so grand that the title to the song is almost not powerful enough.

5. Montréal
Welcome to my favorite track...of all time...
I hated this song the first time I heard it. Really hated it...I could not understand the point, what the hell were they trying to say? I thought the lyrics were far too personal, and didn't make sense... felt almost as if I was sneaking a peek in someone's personal and hidden diary, and that I was reading something so far fetched that I blushed...
And then I started to listen, I tried my best to make some sense of all the fragmented pieces of music stacked together as a song, the weird changes in style and mood...and, well, it is a difficult song. And then, to explain to myself the odd lyrics, I figured out that they were written for someone who needed an insurance of good behavior... And that actually made it easier to get into the song properly. Now I had a starting point.
I am a student of English literature, and analysis of poetry is kind of my thing... so I started making a note of motifs. He uses "fall" "drop" "into" "down" so many times that it has to mean something more than just someone talking randomly, as I think nothing with Marillion is random or by chance. I think they place an awful lot of thought to their productions. So I did too in my analysis.
When first hearing Montréal, it was like meeting someone for the first time. To begin with, I'm wondering what they're all about, forming a very offensive first impression, knowing very well that the first impressions always are totally wrong. Then I decided to give them another chance, I want to know what they're about, because as annoying as I found them the first time, I still felt drawn to them...
Then I went deeper, trying to discover what made them tick... starting to feel all tingly and excited every time I'm close to this new and almost dangerously arousing element.
Then I suddenly start to feel the heat, and all the other strong emotions that comes to play when something goes further. But then they say something to annoy the living daylights out of me, and I have to take a deep breath wondering if they're really worth the trouble of going further still. Do I even want to do this? Do I want to get to know someone who can get me this on edge?
But then... I decided that this is what makes them them, and I don't want to miss it for the world. The things that makes them them is exactly what I need to breathe...
What I'm left with is the choice to love... And to get all this from one song...??? Can you really dare to miss out on this? There is a Bach reference in the keyboards...Musicians who are able to quote and refer to other talents, in such an elegant manner... now that shows utter genius.
And as for an over all interpretation? Marillion have fallen completely in love with Montréal, and I fear...not so much afraid anymore... so have I...
Oh, and they buy Easter Eggs from outer space... come on, that's just brilliant.

6. Invisible Ink
This is another little pearl hidden among diamonds. A small, almost anonymous song among all the other hard hitting tracks. But it is such a sweet tune, and when you really listen, this holds the high standard as all the other tracks, and can perfectly well stand alone...And it is the opposite of anonymous. When you take the time to really listen, listen to words, music, to performance, it all comes together as one of those songs you hear as an echo from your dreams.
The lyrics tells a story... some people might think h is a stalker, trying to convince his object of fascination through secrecy... but I think there is more to this than that. I think it could just as easily be two lovers stuck in a pattern of no passion... And if there are any of the real hard core fans among my readers, some of you who've heard Hogarth and Barbieri's album Not The Weapon But The Hand, then you'll see that he continues his thoughts of only two emotions, love and fear... Only Love Will Make You Free. I'm beginning to think he's right.
7. Lucky Man
These two songs (6 and 7) are highly connected, as I think they are linked to Hogarth's solo albums, and they are very personal, and honest. And sometimes honesty can be a bit scary.
This is a song about a man who finally realizes he has everything he wants, and that he's lucky... though, I'm not quite convinced. If he really was all that happy, then the search is over... and God forbid, that means nothing left to say... the horror! Please have more to say, h :-)
But I like the ambiguity to this song, and I like that it makes me think. I also like the fact that Steve Hogarth has talked about The Cage for years... he's consistent, and true to himself.
There was this one guy who made a comment that most people locked themselves in their cave... and that Mr. h should make a note of that, that it's cave, not cage. But this guy has probably missed one of the best solo tracks from Ice Cream Genius, called...oh you guessed it, Cage. Being locked in a cage means having no means of getting out... a cage is ordinarily locked from the outside, whereas you can always walk out from the cave... the cage metaphor is so much stronger... And this metaphor, stacked in this lucky man song, makes me question it. And according to many philosophers made famous through The Matrix trilogy, it's the questions that drives us.
Lucky man leads to the emotional heart of the album, of the century...to be a bit grand.

8. The Sky Above The Rain
What can you possibly say about the song that could compete with Neverland?
I know I just claimed that Montréal was my favorite song ever, and it is, but then so is this..
My friends said it so good when explaining this song... They were crammed in a car on their way to Cardiff. They were listening to the album, talking and having fun... and when The Sky Above The Rain came, they all shut up and listened, letting the music do the talking... ending it with a simple "wow".
This is a deep, heartwarming, heartbreaking and sad, yet uplifting song. Whenever I hear this song, all I want to do, when it's finished, is to hear it again. It becomes cathartic...
Everything about this song is honest, and through the honesty comes the quality and the beauty.
"Maybe they'll talk, soul to soul, head to head, heart to heart, eye to eye?"
"The rain's below us!"
The guitar solo in the end is magnificent...
The Sky Above The Rain is a wonderful concluding song to a fabulous album.
The first time I heard this song I cried. Not like, "OMG this song is like totally awesome"... No, I cried because I knew for a fact that I was right when I claimed that Marillion are inspiration personified.

Sounds That Can't Be Made....
Well, it turns out they could. Marillion made the sounds that no one else could, and the world is a better place because of this.
And I can still proudly say, there are people placed on this planet to inspire humanity, and Marillion are the leaders of this precious company.


All the photos are at the courtesy of my friend, Phil Slessor.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sonnets continued


Used to gaze at the mirror reflection
Eyes looking back were completely unknown
Felt she was losing, felt the rejection
The cold fright, the uncanny, the soul’s moan

The monster stared back, whispered; who are you
Unveil the stranger, look behind the lies
Wake up, or the nightmare is coming true
She's not asleep, see, her wide-open eyes

Screaming in fear of the dark gothic tale
She’s still caught in her mind’s gloomy twilight
Black curls framing her face, her skin is pale
Though, on the air a promise of clear sight

From beyond the sea; be not afraid, dear
Give your troubles to me, for I am here


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sonnets again :-)


A gentle touch, a whisper from the sea
Sensing, awakening, unexpected
Pleading with him to let her words run free
Leaving her heart open, unprotected.

A mild smile, and a roaring, tempting laugh
A mirage of happiness across time
Through blinded eyes they see the other half
Looking through the mirror for truth, their crime

Dancing waking glimpses, Neverland lies
Comfort’s music’s wings, will you come with me?
Dancing through the dreams, through the blinded eyes
Only you can change you, then finally…

A thought, a wish, an idea, a light beam
“Waiting, for us to dream is still a dream.”

The last line is a quote by my favorite poet, Steve Hogarth. It's from a song called Gaza, a powerful epic piece of music.