Friday, November 9, 2007

Process Paper G2-5/Goddard

Annotation #13: “The Elephant”
Annotation #14: American Buffalo
Annotation #15: Seize the Day
Long Critical Paper revision
Chapter one From Color to Ansbach revision
List of Annotations

Dear Kyle,

Well, I really don’t know where to begin this process letter. I can say this, I have included the absolute bare minimum as far as the number of pages. However, in the spirit I have been working this semester, simply meeting the required page limitation has not been my mode of doing things. My packet number five is not the way I intended to end this semester.
I’m writing this process letter from Oakland, California. I got here a few days ago, and will be here for an indefinite amount of time. Emotionally, I’m wrecked. My cousin Butch (Donald) died a few days ago. I suppose I tell you this because in a way you know him, I modeled Cousin Joseph on my childhood memories of Butch. Aside from the obvious, being here is very difficult. Turns out Carmichael and From Color to Ansbach are closer to autobiography than I would have admitted before. If only I could get on a plane and go to some Bavarian town, perhaps this process letter would have a different feel. New thoughts are surging now, as I suppose is normal when there is death. Deana, Butch’s sister (my cousin) were the only ones to look at Butch’s body the other day. I had to see him, and still I was waiting for him to get up off the table and start talking shit to me.

Well, that’s that. I’ve had to finish my work here, which has been tricky. In my developing work process, I realize now how dependant I’ve become on a routine. The biggest growth I’ve had this semester it’s the routine of writing. I get several hours every morning (Between four and seven, typically) to be alone with my work. When I think about the last several months, the amount of reading, the critical writing and even my creative work, it has all developed due to lack of distraction, and a strict schedule. In retrospect, the biggest reward in the Goddard program thus far is a way of planning, and executing my thoughts, and having time to do it. Admittedly, I spent plenty of time on a weekly basis just sitting at the kitchen table and thinking about things. Being back here in the Bay Area I lack the scheduled time, and the appointed place and it really is a detriment to my work.

The annotations are continuing to help me formulate thoughts, and a constructive exercise in translating my thoughts to the page. In this set of three, I read a short story, a novel and a play. Conserving words, and making them all count was the underlining thought for me in the analysis of “The Elephant.” The use of the third person narrative in Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day has helped me in my thoughts of revision of my work from the first person to the third. Lastly, American Buffalo was an exercise in reading for me. I read the play four times, and I think I could probably benefit from yet another reading. I kept thinking about Fletcher, and what a powerful character he was to me despite never appearing on the stage (or page?).

The long critical paper was the only piece of this packet I worked on before leaving Denver. Denver, I bet it’s sunny there… I’m grateful to have had the third go around on the LCP, and over a couple of sunny days, I feel like I have a paper to be proud of. Thank you for your patience and considerations with it. It is more developed than that first short critical paper, the Charles Johnson’s paper. The thought of that first paper is such a marker of growth to me now.

My creative endeavors move quicker now. I took some time to think about the questions you posed to me, and I later posed them to the characters in the story. I have written the first chapter again. Using a different point of view is a very forceful way to look at the work differently. I revised the first few pages several days after rereading my first draft. I chose to leave it alone for those days and when I started writing, I elected not to look at the original draft as I worked. As I start up on this new direction of the story, I think the revision will be more meaningful to me as a writer. I think cousin Joseph will be more meaningful too. But I have to tell you, the events of the last week are more consuming than anything I’ve known before.

I would love some suggestions about a new advisor. I was terribly impressed with Sarah during my first residence, but I know she’s moved on. I don’t have any strong feelings about anyone else. So, please, I’m open to any recommendations. How does the process work? My only experience, of course, has been with you.

I went to the teaching practicum workshop last residency. The plan had been to start looking at the end of October for place to teach. I have a few ideas, I have been talking to one of my professors at the Metropolitan State College of Denver who has been helpful. Also, I used to serve the chair of the English Department of the University of Colorado at Denver when I was a bartender. I’ve known him for years, and at one point (about five years ago) he was trying to persuade me to attend UCD’s grad program. I haven’t talked to him in a few months, but I will be looking him up once I get back to Denver. The apprehension of these two leads, of course, is that the stakes seem to be really high. As I remember my undergraduate days, the instructors seemed so much older and wiser. As I think about it, perhaps they were not much older than I am now. Be that as it may, I don’t feel particularly wise. Who knows? Also, there are a few other options for me, we have so many continuing education associations in Denver, and I do have plans of cold calling some. We’ll see, and I can’t wait to tell you the outcome during the January residency. Can you believe this semester is already at an end and we’re already talking about January?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Long Critical Paper G2/Goddard

Three Narrators Proposing a Single Journey
(Life Story in Poland 1934-1946)

Bruno Schulz, Jerzy Kosinski and Viktor Frankl represent a small generation of literature involving Poland, World War II and a similar background. While all three were Jewish in heritage, they were not all three Polish. Although he could speak German, Schulz, born in Drogobych, Poland, and murdered there in 1942 at the age of fifty, wrote solely in Polish. The Street of Crocodiles is Schulz’s most notable contribution to Polish literature. In Jerzy Ficowski’s introduction to the English translation, modern readers have a thumbnail sketch of Schulz’s life. Kosinski, born in Lodz, Poland in 1933, wrote The Painted Bird in the 1960s in English while residing in the United States. Viktor Frankl, a native of Vienna, Austria, spent three years existing in concentration camps in Poland from 1942 to 1945. While not being an ethnic Pole Frankl’s pertinent contribution of “Experiences in a Concentration Camp,” is a memoir of his time in Poland. Man’s Search for Meaning, which includes his memoir, was published in 1946 after his return to his life in Vienna. The larger scope of Frankl’s book is a text of psychology defining “logotherapy,” that has roots in his experiences in Nazi occupied Poland. Using these three books as an overall cultural view of a record of a single journey through life, each represents different stages of an individual’s development. To place each, Schulz as childhood, Kosinski as adolescence, and Frankl as adulthood, the overall journey through life is compared using common themes such as historical events and some basic human needs like food, home, and identity.
The year is 1934 and Sklepy Cynamonowe by Bruno Schulz is published. Unlike his contemporaries, Schulz wrote in Polish, he knew German, but not Yiddish. An English translation of this book came nearly thirty years later, in 1963 by Walker and Company. The translation introduced the English-speaking world to Schulz’s memoir of childhood in the provincial town of Drogobych, a town on the eastern frontier of Poland. After the author’s death and the liberation of Poland, Drogobych fell into the borders of Ukraine and renamed Drohobycz. More than a memoir of childhood defined as the narrator’s coming of age, The Street of Crocodiles serves as a record of a mode of life before changes of age, war, and political reorganization. The reflection of the Schulz narrator represents a childhood, and prewar Poland. The son of a tailor, the child’s development is without the trauma of war, occupation or the associated fear which ensued within five years of the publication of Schulz’s book. With his basic human needs such as food, home and identity being met, the narrator defines childhood in a course of conventional development.
Through the descriptions of food, and home the child narrator’s intensity becomes his identity in Schulz’s prose.
On those luminous mornings Adela returned from the market, like Pomona emerging from the flames of the day, spilling from her basket the colorful beauty of the sun—the shiny pink cherries full of juice under their transparent skins, the mysterious black morellos that smelled so much better than they tasted; apricots in whose golden pulp lay the core of long afternoons. And next to that pure poetry of fruit, she unloaded sides of meat with their keyboard of ribs swollen with energy and strength, and seaweeds of vegetables like dead octopuses and squids—the raw material of meals with a yet undefined taste, the vegetative and terrestrial ingredients of dinner, exuding a wild and rustic smell (Schulz 25).
In this scene, the narrator first makes a mythological comparison of the housekeeper Adela to Pomona, and then describes the full baskets of food. The allusion is apt; to the Romans Pomona was the goddess of fruit. The description of the basket of food, and the delivery of it by the housekeeper, the reader learns two major points about the child narrator: he is not going hungry, and his family is of a social class able to afford a housekeeper. If Schulz’s book is the beginning of a single journey through life, Adela’s baskets are an Olympic prelude of the description of food.
The representation of the home in the child’s exposition is equally as graceful. Hopefully in the human development, the home represents a safe place to be, and a place to return, a place of sanctuary. Generally, with children, home may represent an entire worldview as children are in the care of family. Schulz’s narrator is no different with his description of the home, making the family’s house a mysterious and powerful character in itself.
No one ever knew exactly how many rooms we had in our apartment, because no one every remembered how many of them were let to strangers. Often one would by chance open the door to one of these forgotten rooms and find it empty; the lodger had moved out a long time ago. In the drawers, untouched for months, one would make unexpected discoveries (Schulz 37).
Like the narrator, the reader makes unexpected discoveries in this house. Describing rooms, which seem to have no end, Schulz has the set up of an endless maze above his family’s tailor shop. Endless rooms and borders again suggest the social-economic status of the family. Presumably middle class, the size of the house is grand. The home within its walls is exciting and vast with borders, rooms, hallways. Under the notion of what became of this provincial town of Drogobych, and the fate of middle class Jewish merchants, perhaps the home of this narrator is more magical than the prose on the page.
The development of the child’s identity goes beyond his day-to-day living, and his family’s status in a chapter entitled “The Cinnamon Shops.” This chapter holds the most reveling material in the book, as it was the original title of the novel. During a family excursion to the theater, the father becomes distressed because he has left his wallet at home. A brief conference between the boy’s mother, and Adela, the decision to send the boy home to retrieve the wallet leads to an adventure. Of all the events of the book, this one is the only occurrence when the boy is alone. As he leaves the theater, he decides on a route home, one that will get him there and back to the theater in time for the rise of the curtains. He chooses a less familiar route, a route with a shortcut, but it is less familiar to him. The two precarious aspects to the decision are his vague knowledge of the town as well as his loneliness. In his mapping, he chooses a way, which takes him by a group of shops that stay open late, and hold mysterious inventories. This choice develops his identity in one action. The reader learns more than the contents of the shops, he learns the beginning thoughts of the narrator.
These truly noble shops, open late at night, have always been the objects of my ardent interests. Dimly lit, their dark and solemn interiors were redolent of the smell of paint, varnish, and incense; of the aroma of distant countries and rare commodities. You could find in them Bengal lights, magic boxes, the stamps of long forgotten countries, Chinese decals, indigo, calaphony for Malabar, the eggs of exotic insects, parrots, toucans, live salamanders and basilisks, mandrake roots, mechanical toys from Nuremberg, homunculi in jars, microscopes, binoculars, and, most especially, strange and rare books, old folio volumes full of astonishing engravings and amazing stories (Schulz 89).
Compacted in this one paragraph of the errand home the narrator reveals himself and his interest in the world outside of his microcosm. His interest in the shops as well as their contents moves the child outside his known world, making his identity as a person something to reflect on. He has not ventured out of his town, but through the contents of the Cinnamon Shops he hopes to gain knowledge of the world. His wandering home develops an identity through the independence of the errand. Although he travels to other parts of his town, the child always has his home.
Similar to the Schulz narrator Jerzy Kosinski’s narrator begins his journey in The Painted Bird as a child. Kosinski sets the scene for his novel and his character instantly.
In the first weeks of World War II, in the fall of 1939, a six-year-old boy from a large city in Eastern Europe was sent by his parents, like thousands of other children, to the shelter of a distant village (Kosinski 3).
Kosinski’s six-year-old narrator at the beginning of his novel is presumably the same age as the Schulz narrator. Living an entirely new set of circumstances Kosinski’s narrator loses his childhood almost instantly, and his treatment of those basic human needs of food, home, and identity is different from a child living only a few years prior. The state of affair in occupied Poland changes the culture as a whole, and the facets of daily life become distorted and stressed. Through the experiences of Kosinski’s unnamed narrator the transition of the child to the adolescent happens quickly and without warning.
The land of plenty described by Schulz in 1934 is definitely gone in the 1939 world of Kosinski.
The occupation of that part of the country by the Germans only deepened its misery and backwardness. The peasants had to deliver a large part of their meager crops to the regular troops on the one hand, and to the partisans on the other. Refusal to do so could mean punitive raids on the villages, leaving them in smoldering ruins (Kosinski 4).
This juxtaposition is the comparison with time and place: Schulz describes a peaceful pre-occupation provincial town and the status of the middle class, Kosinski describes the countryside where the peasants were poor (producing meager crops) even before the war. As a child in such circumstances, the lack of a basic need such as food colors the actions as well as the thoughts of this youth. Aside from the scant gatherings of food, this unnamed narrator is orphaned and dark-skinned, placing him as either Gypsy or Jewish neither being an asset during Nazi occupation.
The ceremony surrounding food is just as important as the biological need for nourishment. In the foster care of villagers, Kosinski’s narrator is fed, but not a part of the ceremony of dinning.
The miller’s wife served supper. They ate silently. The miller sat at the middle of the table, his wife on one side and the plowboy on the other. I ate my portion squatting by the oven (Kosinski 36).
While the boy eats, the action is for sustenance only. Although the miller feeds the boy, the peasants leave him subserviently in the kitchen. As he watches the men eat with appetite his formulation of thoughts and ideas are from afar. Not being included in this meal may not be a detriment to his development; however, the scene helps the reader to understand the boy’s position as outsider.
In Kosinski’s brief italicized introduction, it is blatantly clear that the major issue surrounding the narrator is not having a home.
The child was left alone to wander from one village to the next, sometimes sheltered and sometimes chased away (Kosinski 3).
Lacking all that is associated with a home, such as stability, shelter and role models, this narrator lacks the apparent childhood the Schulz narrator enjoys. Without a childhood, the narrator becomes independent much earlier in life, forced by circumstances to find identity.
The first of two identity-forming incidents happens when the youth takes residence with Garbos. Garbos, an abusive man, beats the boy without reason or warning. The boy’s only reprieve becomes the church.
I quickly rushed to the church alter. I started reciting prayers desperately, and again only those with the greatest number of days of indulgence attached to them. I had little time left. Besides, who knows, perhaps prayers at the alter itself, under the tearful eye of God’s son and motherly gaze of the Virgin Mary, might carry greater weight than those said elsewhere (Kosinski 129).
Finding solace in the church and in prayers, the boy gains identity with religion. The prayers themselves are his way of coping with the adversity at home and the abuse of his guardian Garbos. Identifying with prayers keeps him from the immanent danger he feels with Garbos. However, keeping with the basic premise of the novel, his life with Garbos and the church is a brief sheltering, and eventually the boy chased away is alone again.
The more astonishing second incident of formation of identity happens after the Red Army takes control of Poland. Mitka and Gavrila, two Soviet officers, take the boy in and help to rear him.
I read my first book with Gavrila’s assistance. It was called Childhood and its hero, a small boy, like myself, lost his father on the first page. I read this book several times and it filled me with hope. Its hero did not have an easy life either. After his mother’s death he was left quite alone, and yet despite many difficulties he grew up to be, as Gavrila said, a great man (Kosinski 186).
As Gavrila teaches the boy to read and exposes him to “great” Soviet literature, influencing him again, he finds identity for himself. Soviet doctrine has no need for religion, and the narrator quickly abandons the cross, God the father and God the Son for the Red Star and Lenin and Stalin.
The boy’s stay with the regiment closes and he goes to the orphanage in Lodz. “I put on a Soviet Army uniform which was made especially for me by the regimental tailor,” (Kosinski 208). For the remainder of the story, the boy never removes the uniform with the big Red Star on it. Once returned to his parents, a reunion after six years, the boy is unruly and has no want for parenting. As peace settles around him, his war continues at night where he finds refuge with the night people of his parent’s town. “I felt at ease with these people whose faces were concealed in the darkness of night,” (Kosinski 232). Ultimately, as his relationship with the night people end with a battle between militiamen, the night people go to jail, including the boy, Kosinski defines the parent-child relationship with one short sentence: “My parents looked at me puzzled but said nothing,” (Kosinski 232).
As The Painted Bird ends, the young narrator has returned home after a long time of wandering the frontiers of eastern Poland. The story must end here, in 1945, at the close of the Second World War; additionally, the story must end due to the nature of the narrator, because he is no longer “left alone to wander, sometimes sheltered and sometimes chased away,” (Kosinski 3). Essentially, the young narrator has gained his independence and at his young age has reached adulthood.
The perspective of the adult represented in Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning takes an entirely different approach to food, home and identity. Frankl’s treatment of food is what one would expect from all reports of life in a concentration camp.
During the latter part of our imprisonment, the daily ration consisted of very watery soup given out once daily, and the usual small bread ration, (Frankl 30).
Frankl’s treatment of food is the mere explanation of the famished.
Those who have not gone through a similar experience can hardly conceive of the soul-destroying mental conflict and clashes of willpower which a famished man experiences. They can hardly grasp what it means to stand digging a trench, listening only for the siren to announce 9:30 or 10:00 A.M.—the half-hour lunch interval—when bread would be rationed out (as long as it was still available); repeatedly asking the foreman—if he wasn’t a disagreeable fellow—what the time was; and tenderly touching a piece of bread in one’s coat pocket, first stroking it with frozen gloveless fingers, then breaking off a crumb and putting it in one’s mouth and finally, with the last bit of will power, pocketing it again, having promised oneself that morning to hold out till afternoon,” (Frankl 31)
Frankl’s depiction of food and the manner consuming it in a concentration camp is ideal in a continuity of story, from the full baskets of summer in Drogobych to the fugitive feast by the miller’s stove to absolutely no food at all, is the progression of time in Poland from 1934 to 1946.
Frankl’s description of home in Man’s Search for Meaning relies on the barracks in various concentration camps. However, in the final days of the war, Frankl transfers from one camp to another to help ease the suffering of fellow inmates afflicted with Typhus. On a train from Auschwitz, the inmates are crowded in cars with no room to move. Their destination, unknown, although many believe they are doomed to the gas chambers of Dachau. In the car, the prisoners who stand are able to see out the “peepholes,” while those seated listen eagerly to the descriptions of the passing scene. Frankl stands in this car.
I caught an eerie glimpse of my native town. I had the distinct feeling that I saw the streets, the squares and the houses of my childhood with the eyes of a dead man who had come back from another world and was looking down on a ghostly city,” (Frankl 33).
In his place of origin, his home, Frankl feels dead, and for him, home is not the comfort Schulz describes. Perhaps the difference between Frankl and Schulz’s narrator is age, time, and education. The first still lives with home close in his heart, whereas the second displaced narrator experiences home with detachment.
Identity being the last indicator of character is more insidious with the Frankl narrative. Having been an adult already at the onset of the war, Frankl’s perspective is not one of an emerging adult, but as an adult losing identity. His identity is lost instantly upon his arrival at Auschwitz.
While we were waiting for the shower, our nakedness was brought home to us: we really had nothing now except our bare bodies-even minus hair; all we possessed, literally, was our naked existence, (Frankl 15).
Aside from Frankl’s description of naked existence, perhaps the greatest point of the loss of identity is the loss of names. Frankl becomes number 119,104. Each of his fellow inmates losses a name and becomes a number. For their existence in these concentration camps, their identity is only as a number.
What stood behind that number and that life mattered even less: the fate, the history, the name of the man. In the transport of sick patients that I, in my capacity as a doctor, had to accompany from one camp in Bavaria to another, there was a young prisoner whose brother was not on the list and therefore would have to be left behind. The young man begged so long that the camp warden decided to work an exchange, and the brother took the place of a man who, at the moment, preferred to stay behind. But the list had to be correct! That was easy. The brother just exchanged numbers with the other prisoner, (Frankl 53).

Viktor Frankl’s aspect of this overall single journey is not contained solely in “Experiences in a Concentration Camp.” Being only the first pages of the book, Frankl reports the goings-on of daily camp life, his transport there and between camps; however, he has only written enough to illustrate his theory of Logotherapy. Hence “Logotherapy in a Nutshell” consumes the latter half of the book. A psychologist before World War II, Frankl naturally faced the circumstances of his imprisonment with the attitudes of a man of science. He tells the reader of the numerous scrapes of paper he used to write the beginnings of logotherapy.
The basic premise of Frankl’s school of psychology is the will of meaning into one’s life. In short, the individual has to draw his own meaning from existence into his life. Once a life has meaning, any suffering and pain no longer becomes a detriment to life.
Logotherapy in comparison with phychoanalysis is a method less retrospective and less introspective. Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meaning to be fulfilled by the patient in his future, (Frankl 98).
Ultimately, in the course of identity, Frankl’s contribution of individuality is more spiritual; one has to find personal meaning. In light of the former two narrators, Schulz and Kosinski, their identity is more the circumstances surrounding them. The development of will to meaning, not being on the forefront of their actions is understandable, their positions in the overall plot development is that of a child and an adolescent. All the understanding the Schulz narrator has is the perception of a young man in a world before adversity. The sights and sounds of a peacefully safe provincial town move him. Kosinski, conversely has the plight of a refugee in a hostile environment, he moves from place to place looking for the safety ordinarily granted to a young person. Using Frankl’s theory of Logotherapy, the will to meaning in the young Kosinski narrator is too difficult for him to see, although he makes strides to find it. The church and Soviet doctrine help him find some meaning in his surroundings, but they prove only to be the external influences imposed on him by others. Frankl must end the journey. Frankl makes sense of the suffering he and others experience by the Nazis and the time. In his musings he has felt life as a free man, and in the concentration camps of Poland, he lives a life closer to death than not. Summing up of the esoteric compote of camp life vignettes, Frankl distills the quiet essence of life into a single meaning, the willing meaning to life, and the future.
Thankfully, not all readers can relate first hand experience to the contents of these three books: The Street of Crocodile, The Painted Bird, and Man’s Search for Meaning. As a record of time and historical importance Bruno Schulz, Jerzy Kosinski and Viktor Frankl have left behind a legacy of events in and around Poland from 1934 and 1946. Using universally known facets of life, such as food, home and identity, an understanding of the development of each narrator is comprehendible.
The portrayal of the overall single journey, represented here in three aspects of development, childhood, adolescence and adulthood poses one assumption: can three narratives by three authors constitute one continuous plot line? In light of the short time period, a matter of about twelve years, this is a great possibility. The norm of human development from developing child to adulthood is about the same amount of years. The continuity of the story is perhaps the development of an entire people, the Polish, during those pivotal years during the middle 1930s and through the end of the Second World War. The change in attitudes, such as the cultural views of Jews of Gypsies from the time of Schulz to the time of the Red Army’s liberation takes into account attitudes imposed by an invading army. Changes in daily life, the views of food for instance, are completely indicative on the external forces within the borders of Poland at the time. Lastly, the values of the writer’s observed here are the reports of quality of life, even in their respective stages of development. The best each narrator achieves is the telling of their story, each building on the one before it, Schulz as the child, Kosinski as the adolescent, and Frankl as the adult.

Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 2006
Kosinski, Jerzy. The Painted Bird. New York: Grove Press, 1976
Schulz, Bruno. The Street of Crocodiles. New York: Viking Penguin, 1977

Monday, October 22, 2007

Process Paper G2-4/Goddard

Annotation #10: Kosinski (revised) and original annotation
Annotation #11: Paul Bowels
Annotation #12: John Gardner
Long Critical Paper revision and first draft
Chapter one From Color to Ansbach and first draft

Dear Kyle,

I hope all is well with you. Things here have changed significantly since the last packet. Looking at the dates, it’s been less than three weeks, but it feels like so much longer to me. Of all the packets, and all the work I’ve done so far in the program, I feel I’ve gown the most in these last few weeks. Generally speaking, I have had so much to thing about in this process of writing, revision, thinking and rethinking. I apologize about the size of this packet; I’ve sent you way more than the usual page allotment. However, I have sent you older drafts of everything for your reference.

In your last response, you asked about the stories of Paul Bowels and the John Gardner chapter on plotting. Well, I read them, and thank you for introducing me these two fine writers. I only read the three stories from Paul Bowels which you recommended: “Midnight Mass,” “The Husband,” and “The Little House.” I was so impressed by them, and baffled I had never heard of Paul Bowels before now. I understand why you suggested them, and I see why you like him. In my brief research of this writer, I discovered he was first a composer and later a writer. I have not heard any of his music, but I plan to when the semester has ended.

John Gardner, at least the chapter on plot was equally as impressive. I didn’t find it dense in the least. The usefulness of what it taught me is in my annotation. Again, once the dust settles a little I plan to read the whole text. Speaking of reading, I wrote down every title of all the novels and stories he alluded to in the chapter, and I daresay I have a pretty impressive preliminary bibliography for next semester.
The long critical paper. Yikes. I must admit, I was in a panic like no other a couple of weeks ago. A simple revision on this paper would not have been acceptable. After a few stressful days, I reread a few chapters in How to Write an Essay, the Sparknotes book I showed you during the residency. I cannot begin to explain the comfort and usefulness I have found in this how-to book. The how-to on revision was simply this: from the outside in- 1) organization of thoughts and arrangement of body paragraphs, 2) weak or illogical arguments and 3) ideas in the introduction and conclusion. Then they suggest focusing on the smaller issues: 1) sentence structure, 2) word choice, and 3) proofreading. Those guideline were exactly how I tackled the rewrite. It is a rewrite. I felt a little embarrassed about the first paper when I read it again, and I felt bad about wasting your time on that draft. However, I do trust in the process, and the second paper is much sounder. I narrowed the focus, I took a linear approach, and I let the flow of events stay solely with smaller aspects. I trust in this paper a thousand times more than the last.

The struggle to convey my critical thoughts on the page is diminishing everyday with practice, and with work. When I think about the critical aspects of this program, it really is the basis of building creative thoughts.

The creative work is moving along. I haven’t yet found the leaps and bounds with it as I have with the critical work. The John Gardner chapter helped out immensely. The concept that warrants conversation here is the use of exposition. In judging what to include as well as how to include it and where the next step is for me. Working from an initial situation and working from the climax backwards is worth thought with Carmichael. He’s doing a little of both, and I will be focusing on it more. In the first chapter of the revision, there are still a few places that need work, but it’s getting better.

Fortunately, I have the next three weeks to work on my story almost exclusively. I have focused mostly on my critical work so far this semester. The emphasis now is the creative work. Whatever happens in packet five, I hope is the foundation for my work in semester three. Do you have more words of advice for me now?

I had a strange thought about my story the other day, how different will it be if I wrote in it the third person rather than the first? I don’t know exactly how it will work. However, in the Gardner chapter he does say the exposition of events should be shown not told. I realize there is much more telling than showing. Structurally speaking, the third person would force me to examine the events in a completely different way. Well, it was only a thought.

Anyhow, I hope packet number four is an improvement. I look forward to all criticism and comments.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Pertinent Points of “Plotting” (Annotation G2-12/Goddard)

Aristotle described plot with three main parts, a beginning, middle and end. John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction chapter on plotting expands on Aristotle’s model. Three pertinent points of plotting are: the three ways a writer works to develop a story, patterns of exposition and the Fichtean Curve for the episodic rhythm of the novel.
According to Gardner:
The writer works in one of three ways, sometimes two or more at once: he borrows some traditional story or action drawn form life; he works backwards from his climax; or he works forward from an initial situation, (Gardner 165).
It must be nearly impossible to use a single one of these methods, as the each is flat by itself. A linear story from the first situation to the last or the last to the first would appear to have no contour, like driving across Nevada in the night. Using this analogy, the road is relatively flat, and the night is dark. Although there are road signs to look at, as well as lines in the road, the story is simply, it was a dark, dark night, and the miles from one edge of Nevada to the next number over 400. Likewise, developing a story with a traditional or life forming experience, the drive across Nevada takes a different turn. While in Nevada, a general stop at The Griddle in Elko is well worth the time off the road, there are always interesting folks there and the breakfasts are the breakfasts road trips are made for.
Working with more than one of these, the same drive across Nevada starting at the initial situation (or with end in mind) and drawing from experiences, the story is more than the rather monotonous landscapes, wide expanses of road and includes more than the just the travel quips of good breakfasts. Ascertaining the initial situation or the climatic end augmented by the traditional story or life forming events makes the story less predictable, more believable, and more readable.
In the development of the story and the plot itself the use of exposition wisely keeps the flow going.
If the plot is to elegant, not sloppy and inefficient, then for the ensuing action the reader must know the full set of causes and (essentially) nothing else; that is, no important information in the exposition should be irrevelant to the action that ensues, (Gardner 186).
Back in Nevada, exposition of the character driving from west to east (or east to west) has to have a reason for the drive, or the stop in Elko, and all background information given by the writer is for the development of the plot or current action and nothing else is needed.
Lastly, the Fichtean Curve, the wow moment, reveals the climax quickly and efficiently. Knowing where to start in the drive across Nevada is just as important as the place to end the drive, after that wow moment. Perhaps with the example, the entire drive across Nevada need only be the few miles before Elko until a few miles on the other side, rather than the 410 miles across along I-80. The Fichtean Curve, however, doesn’t have to be one single incident. There can be as many of these such wow moments in smaller versions in each chapter, or in each situation; hence, making a rhythm of episodes into the grander scheme of the larger story.
Knowing the rules of story construction and methods of plotting makes the story, or novel a more engaging read rather than a simple beginning, middle, and end.

Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Paul Bowles Mix of Cultures (Annotation G2-11/Goddard)

The mix of cultures in Paul Bowles “Midnight Mass,” “The Husband,” and “The Little House” develop conflict almost instantly. These stories, set in Morocco are observant of the mix of people who are part of the culture of this Northern African country. The conflicts the characters get involved with are quickly established, not easily resolved and linger long after the words of the story end.
In “Midnight Mass,” conflicts begin at the onset. A Frenchman has returned to Tangier to the house of his childhood. Eight years after the death of his mother, the man returns to the house to find it in deplorable condition. Having his plans of spending the Christmas holiday thwarted by the disrepair of the house he telegraphs his wife telling her the house is not fit for the holiday festivities. Instantly he tries to get the house repaired. Knowing it is Christmas time, a Christian holiday, he employs Moroccans to begin work. “It was Ramadan; they worked without speaking, feeling their hunger and thirst in silence,” (Bowles 421).
He invites a French woman, Madame Dervaux for drinks on Christmas Eve. She invites “interesting people” and the evening is an awkward one. He becomes relieved when they all want to leave the party for midnight mass, a Catholic tradition. “Three Moslems, one Hindu and one atheist, all running off to Midnight Mass? Ridiculous, no?” (Bowles 425)
Of the three stories, “Midnight Mass” is the most blatantly obvious clash of cultures. “The Husband” also makes use of two varying cultures to develop conflict. Abdallah, the husband lives in a two-room house with his wife. “Long ago the woman had set a pattern of their life by going out to work as a maid in Nazarene houses,” (Bowles 513). The exposition of the first few sentences it is understood that the couple is poor, the son lives with an Englishman for whom he is a gardener. The husband doesn’t work, and the wife, as a maid works for Nazarene people. The Nazarene people, Christians, presumably, are better off, as the wife tends to steal articles from their houses. The couple sells the stolen goods to supplement their livelihood. Over time, a change in the wife occurs when she develops the taste of the Nazarene people, and wants to keep the things she steals. Later, after the husband becomes estranged a stolen set of silver spoons drives the events of the rest of the story.
The conflict in the third story, “The Little House” also alludes to the Moslem/Nazarene mix within the town, but it is not the central conflict. The culture conflict lies with the two women of the story, Fatoma, the wife and Lalla Aїcha, the mother. Fatoma being a modern town dweller is embarrassed by the traditional dress her mother-in-law, a traditional woman from a remote village. “It filled her with shame to walk in the street beside a tottering old woman in a haїk,” (Bowles 529). Whereas the conflict between these women is partly the modern versus the traditional, most of their trouble is simply the two live together in a little house. Rather than simply using the jealous of two women who would be inclined to fight over household supremacy, Bowles overlays the difficulties with the complexity of their respective generations.
In the brevity of these stories, all conflicts the characters endure have the added tension of culture. All characters have their motivations, and desires, to color them in the guise of cultural lenses make their conflicts more intense, and less obviously resolved.

Bowles, Paul. The Stories of Paul Bowles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, INC, 2001.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tommy Wilhelm’s Day of Reckoning (Annotation G2-15)

“Oh, this was a day of reckoning,” (Bellow 103). Tommy Wilhelm has found himself, by early afternoon in a brokerage office with Dr. Tamkin, a man who has convinced him of the easy money to be made in the commodities market. Lard is down, rye is steadily climbing up, but the fear of losing on these commodities is close to the surface for Tommy Wilhelm. As he watches the last of his money falling with the points of lard he asks himself how he got there, and realizes that today is the day he looks at the truth. Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day is a few hour glimpse into Tommy Wilhelm’s day of reckoning.
The truth Wilhelm seeks is the alienation he feels. This alienation and his present situation came as a series of events over a long period of time. Neglecting to pursue college and medicine like his father, his failed Hollywood career, the loss of his long-term job with Rojax Corporation, the death of his mother, being estranged from his sister, his wife and his two sons and his girlfriend, Wilhelm finds himself living in a resident hotel, the same hotel as his father. The dwindling money from his brokerage account and his bills coming due add to the stress of the day.
The novella’s time line begins with Tommy Wilhelm in the elevator from his room in the hotel to the dinning room where he generally eats breakfast with his father. He is critical of his appearance, but confident because he wears a hat and smokes a cigar, implying he has to wear a disguise. “When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow,” (Bellow 7). The story ends with him crying at the funeral of a stranger some time shortly after lunch. “He, alone of all the people in the chapel, was sobbing. No one knew who he was,” (Bellow 125). In the short relationship the reader has with Wilhelm, Bellow has created a character who is easy to pity. However, in light of the American dream, one of financial success, money equates to wellbeing and status. Wilhelm discovers his lack of direction, his lack of money and his utter loneliness as the reader learns about Wilhelm. However, the difference is simply that the reader realizes much earlier that this is the day of reckoning for Wilhelm.
Bellow, using Wilhelm hits on so many points of modern life, especially in a post World War II world. Wilhelm had been a clerk in the Army participating in the Pacific Theater, and had come home to get an adequate job as a salesman. In the hotel on his morning of reckoning, Wilhelm eats breakfast with his father and another resident, both of whom had been successful men in their prime. In the conversation, Wilhelm feels his life has not been a success because unlike the old men, he has no wealth to show for it.
Monetary wealth aside, he is searching for something in his life, and desperately trying to find reassurance. Dr Tamkin offers such hopefulness, and convinces Wilhelm to look to the commodities market to earn a living. Ultimately, Tamkin looses the last of Wilhelm’s money, and with it the last of his hope. In Tamkin’s “seize the day” speech in the brokerage office Wilhelm is unable to leave the past behind. It was a day of reckoning indeed, and the day ends with a tearful fit in the midst of strangers. In his tears, Wilhelm doesn’t exactly come to terms with the past, nor with his future, but he heroically reaches the emotion fulfilling the reckoning.

Bellow, Saul. Seize the Day. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1966.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Flecther as Character in American Buffalo (Annotation G2-14/Goddard)

The plan to steal a coin, and the relationship between the conspirers consume the dialogue in David Mamet’s play, American Buffalo. The entire story takes place in one location, Don’s Resale Shop, and represented by three characters: Don, Bob and Teach. Fletcher, the fourth character never makes an appearance on the stage, or on the page, but is referred to by the other characters. Impressively, the development of Fletcher comes only in the words of others, making him a valuable character despite his absence.
As the play opens, in Don’s Resale Shop, Don and Bob, his assistant, are talking about street smarts and the privy practices of poker. Fletcher makes his first appearance in the initial dialog as Don tells Bob: “Now, Fletcher is a standup guy” (Mamet 4). In the description of Fletcher, Don tells Bob as well as the reader how Fletcher, with only a nickel in his pocket can take a town “by the balls” and own it by nightfall. This reverence of Fletcher continues through the description of the card game of the night before. Don’s feelings are clear early on about his friend Fletcher, and he urges Bob to model himself on Fletcher.
Teacher, the third visible character appears early in the Resale Shop as an aggressive misogynist, he enters the scene angry about a recent conversation with Ruthie and Grace. After taking offense to something one of them said to him, Teach retells the situation to Bob and Don. Very telling about his character, Teach is the kind of guy who believes he has friends and that these friends like him. However, if he is the kind of person to be angry over trivial matters and talk ill of friends behind their backs, he is not trustworthy as a person or character. Knowing his feelings early on about Ruthie and Grace, it is only a matter of time before his feelings about everyone come out. Teach seems to want to exert control over Don, and has an instant distrust of Bob.
As Teach inserts himself in the plan to lift a coin from a collector, a job Don and Bob were already mired in, Teach tries to come across as an expert in such thefts. As Don loses patients and control with Teach, he suggests they should include Fletcher in the job. At this suggestion, Teach realizes the split of the coin theft profit gets smaller for each with more participants and he tries to slander Fletcher. In the slander, Teach brings up the card game from the night before, and tries to make Don believe Fletcher is not the card player that Don once thought he was. Teach makes a very believable argument that Fletcher is in league with Ruthie and Grace, suggesting that the three of them cheated both Don and Teach out of money. Retelling events from the card game Teach tries to assert control by eliminating Fletcher from Don’s plan to steal the coin.
Questions of Fletcher’s character arise with the opposition of Teach and Don: Don believes Fletcher to be a standup guy and Teach calls him a cheater. As the time comes near to execute the plan, Don and Teach are still in disagreement over Fletcher’s inclusion, and they both wait for him to arrive. As the play closes, the entrance of Fletcher never happens. Bob relieves the tension by telling Teach and Don about Fletcher being hospitalized after a mugging.

Mamet, David. American Buffalo. New York: Grove Press, 1976.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Symbolism in Mrożek’s “The Elephant” (Annotation G2-13/Goddard)

Mrożek uses an elephant as symbol of success and prosperity in his story “The Elephant”.
The zoological garden in a Polish provincial town is missing an elephant in its collection of animals. The importance of the regal beast is simply the status of the zoo and the people of the town. However, the cost of such an animal is more than the provincial town can afford and they wait patiently for an allocation of either funds or the elephant itself from Warsaw. The Director of the zoo, sensitive to the laborers of his country, sends a letter to Warsaw explaining another, more economical means of acquiring an elephant. He suggests the elephant should be manufactured of rubber, hence eliminating the cost of a real elephant. The order the rubber elephant is a façade to keep the appearance of wealth and prosperity.
To keep the operation covert, two keepers are assigned the task of inflating the elephant at night when there is no visitor at the zoo. A sign is painted explaining that this particular elephant is particularly sluggish to avoid suspicion that the animal may not be real.
This elephant, filled with gas by the two lazy zookeeper is unveiled on the 22nd of July, the anniversary of the liberation. The day of its unveiling is symbolic in itself, and as the zoo fills with schoolchildren and eager animal lovers, Mrożek chooses wisely a scene of conscientious students and their teacher to describe the scene. “The weight of a fully grown elephant is between none and thirteen thousand pounds,” (Mrożek 101). “At that moment the elephant shuddered and rose in the air. For a few seconds it swayed just above the ground, but a gust of wind blew is upward until its mighty silhouette was against the sky,” (Mrożek 101). As the elephant flies away, the crowd of schoolchildren stand horrified at the sight. The long awaited elephant flies out of the zoo. With the flight of the elephant, the façade of success is broken. The day of liberation celebration creates the rise of questions, namely how can a fully-grown elephant of nine to thirteen hundred pounds float away on the slightest breeze?
The real humor in the situation is the despair of the last the last paragraph of the story: “The schoolchildren who had witnessed the scene in the zoo soon started neglecting their studies and turned into hooligans. It is reported that they drink liquor and break windows. And they no longer believe in elephants” (Mrożek 101).
If the elephant symbolizes the wealth and wellbeing of a community, a town, or the country as a whole and it is a false one, a façade, such a scene can only bring the reality of life home, especially to children.

Mrożek, Slawomir. “The Elephant.” Trans. Konrad Syrop. Sudden Fiction International. Ed. Robert Shapard and James Thomas. New York: WW Norton, 1989. 98-101.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Process Paper G2-3/Goddard


Annotation #7: Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley
Annotation #8: Kotzwinle’s The Exile
Annotation #9: Colette’s “The Other Wife”

Second Short Critical Paper Revision

Creative Work: The Upstairs Room, Pea Plants and Ants, The Yellow Suit

Dear Kyle,

Thank you for sending play-reading as a pleasure. It’s good to learn something, and it was especially interesting to think about George Bernard Shaw using character descriptions to enhance a reader’s interpretation of characters. I tried to apply it to the reading of Mamet’s play and found a deeper comprehension of the dialogue. I’ve read it now three times, and I wonder if I would have to see the play three times to get it? It makes me wonder if I am more of a visual learner. Anyhow, thank you, and please expect my annotation on the play in packet number four.

I also tried your vivid image in each sentence exercise. I’m using it more for prewriting, the stuff I do in my notebooks when I’m just getting started. It’s useful as an exercise, and thanks for sharing it with me.

Before I get further, packet number three was perhaps the most difficult packet this semester. I’m not sure why that’s the case, but here goes:

My annotations were fun to write. Somewhere along the path, I’ve really come to enjoy these annotations. I may have gotten over the stress of something clever to think about as I read these novels and stories, or I’ve just gotten used to thinking a little differently. The Talented Mr. Ripley gave me insight into a different form of third person narration, which I have discussed in the annotation. The Kotzwinkle novel, I loved, still lingers on in my thoughts. The juxtaposition of two different times, places, and characters was fantastic. I am hooked on Kotzwinkle. Lastly, “The Other Wife” said more in a few pages than some writers say in an entire novel. I feel I growing sophistication in my reading. Oddly, what I’m reading seems to be getting more intense.

The second short critical paper revision went well. I took all your critiques. I also found a few spelling errors neither of us caught the first time. In reading the paper again after all these weeks, I really did see it with fresh eyes. As with the annotations, I’m really getting off on the revision and critical thought in these papers. What happened to me?

My creative work… here’s where the shift has come. I felt like all the work I've done on this story last semester was fresh, exciting, inspired. I no longer feel that way. “Soles of Locomotives,” is as you described it in the last response letter. I spent a little time trying to revise it, and to no avail. It took too long to get Carmichael from the station to home, and it’s taking too long for him to do many things. I don’t know why this is the case. Slow, boring, yuck!

In a way I’m treating these little chapters like vignettes, because they feel more like sketches than sovereign pieces of the whole. As funny as this may sound, I’m only sending you a fraction of what I’ve written, partly because of the page limitation within each packet. I counted the pages today of all I’ve written so far, and I have well over 200 pages, and yet I really don’t see a story emerging. We spoke last semester of issues of structure, and those issues have become real problems for me. I’ve been writing on this thing nearly everyday. As an analogy, maybe I’m bringing building materials to a work site, and instead of actually building something, I’m just stock piling material. I don’t know. I’m not at my wits end yet, but I’m really struggling over where to go from here. This part of process should be less menacing than it is I’m sure. Do you have any advice for me?

That said I have included all new material in this packet. My plan is this, I have two more packets this semester, and I hope to start getting some revisions and cohesions going for packets four and five.

The preliminaries for packet number four are going well. I’ve been thinking of the long critical paper. The revision is proving to be more of a pleasure than the assembly of the first draft was. I believe this paper is the first on of its size and content I’ve ever attempted. I’m sure I wrote papers like that during my undergraduate course work, but I just can’t remember. Anyhow, please look forward to the revision.

I’m also working on potential places to do my teaching practicum. Admittedly, the practicum was the most terrifying aspect of this program for me. As I look into it, I’m more curious than terrified. I know we won’t be working together next semester when I’m getting this facet finished, but I would like to ask you about your experience. Where did you do yours? Who did you get support from, other Goddard students, or some other institution?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

“The Other Wife” (Annotation G2-9/Goddard)

“The Other Wife,” takes place over lunch in a crowded restaurant. The development of the characters is potent and crisp, and the economy of the characters is in subtle clues and description. In the scant action and dialogue of the story, Marc, the husband quickly emerges as a believable and well-known character.

In the crowded scene the Maitre d’ attempts to lead the couple to a window table, which excites Alice, the wife. Marc nervously refuses the picturesque table for a table in the middle of the busy dining room to the dismay of the wife, and the Maitre d’ “stricken with a kind of nervous dance, who was standing next to them, perspiring,” (Colette 68). Alice indulges her husband asking him why he’d choose one table over the other. He cannot give her a straight answer and promises to once they get settled. After Marc regains some of his composure, he orders lunch and tells his wife why he refused the first table for one that is less comfortable in the dead center of the room.
“Marc Seguy never considered lying. ‘Because you were about to sit next to someone I know.’
‘Someone I don’t know?’
‘My ex-wife.’ (Colette 68).
The basic premise of the story unfolds in the brief conversation. Marc asks the second wife, Alice, if she is uncomfortable. Not at all, Alice insists: “She’s the one who must be uncomfortable” (Colette 70) Yet in fact the ex-wife sits placidly in her chair, smoking, gazing out the window. Marc characterizes her as a woman who could never be satisfied, in contrast to Alice, who is “obviously” completely happy, “How lucky we are that our happiness doesn’t involve any guilty parties of victims!” (Colette 69). But his reasons for this conclusion are interesting (and very revealing of him as a character). He thinks that because his ex-wife did not indulge him as Alice does, then his ex-wife must not have been satisfied in their relationship—when in fact he was not satisfied with her because she did not place him at the center of her world. He assumes that the act of indulging his wants must be satisfying to the woman as well.
Alice is unable to stop staring at the ex-wife who had divorced her husband only fifteen months before. As she listens to Marc’s descriptions of his first marriage and his first wife, Alice asks herself simply: “What more did she want from him?” (Colette 70). As the story ends, Marc is paying the bill, and grateful to leave the restaurant scene behind him. Conversely, Alice “kept looking, with envy and curiosity, at the woman in white, this dissatisfied, this difficult, this superior…” (Colette 70)

Colette. “The Other Wife.” Trans. Matthew Ward. Sudden Fiction International. Ed. Robert Shapard and James Thomas. New York: WW Norton, 1989. 67-70.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Juxtaposition of Characters in The Exile (Annotation G2-8/Goddard)

David Caspian is a modern day giant of the Hollywood elite, a movie star capable of big blockbusters and the subsequent fortune associated with it. Felix, black marketer in Nazi Germany can procure anything from gold to silk stockings. David Caspian has accepted the leading role in modern day space saga, Star Rover, and Felix has accepted papers to be Lieutenant Falkenhayn of Fuhrer Hilter’s elite force. The juxtaposition of two such radically different character in one novel is unusual enough separated by time and space, the end of WWII, Nazi Germany and Hollywood, present day. Kotzwinkle’s juxtaposition leaves his reader guessing, since Caspian and Felix is the same person, which one is real?
The Exile begins, uneventfully enough during a David Caspian hosted party, a party filled with his friends. As they discuss movies, and movie making, divorces and the art of actor agenting, Caspian lapses into a dark night of shadows. “Your papers please, barked the soldier. He jumped back, pulled out the Walther, and fired” (Kotzwinkle 15). Caspian lives the second life, alone in the night of Felix, a nervously confident man on the run in Berlin’s underground. Caspian is able to experience all Felix sees and does as an observer. Although he is able to explain the actions of 1945 Berlin in detail to his psychologist, Gilliard, Caspian is unable to exert his own will into Felix’s world.
Felix too, as he unfolds, and his world of war and Gestapo skirmishes can suddenly relax in a warm tropical climate he barely understands. Caspian is all knowing of Felix, and Felix seems to have a vague understanding of the other-side.
“Jung called it the integration of the shadow. Usually begins with understanding little pettinesses, hatreds, jealousies” (Kotzwinkle 84). Gilliard tries to calm Caspian, and continually reassures him that he is not crazy. As Felix occupies more of Caspian’s waking hours, he occupies more of the story of book.
In Caspian’s Double Dicho “A man may cease to be, yet still exist. A man may still exist, yet cease to be” (Kotzwinkle 275) both men appear to occupy the same influence in each other’s world. As Caspian finishes his movie shot of Star Rover, Nazi Germany is failing.
How real do these characters become? Felix has enlisted the help of the supernatural Luminous Lodge to aid in his escape from the punishment of war crimes and crimes against the state. As Felix explains to Dr. Gillard, “there were particular powers concentrated in the Third Reich. In any case, he is gone. And I am here” (Kotzwinkle 276). In modern day Hollywood Felix has assumed the body of David Caspian. Even in the final paragraphs of The Exile both characters exist, through mystic power, or loss of sanity.

Kotzwinke, William. The Exile. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1987

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Second Short Critical Paper G2/Goddard

Kotzwinkle’s Elephants

William Kotzwinkle’s 1971 short story collect Elephant Bangs Train is a fantastical collection of stories covering many subjects from Boy Scout outings turned melee to decadent social elite parties. Three of the stories, however, share elephants as a common thread. Perhaps the young Kotzwinkle simply liked writing elephant stories, and these three stories “A Most Incredible Meal,” the title story, “Elephant Bangs Train,” and “Elephant’s Graveyard” are more than subjects of interest. As entertaining as these stories are as works of imagination and fiction, they share myths about elephants. The importance of elephants is no secret to anyone. Times gone past when elephants provided more than mere scientific research, or a source of ivory. They are the material of myths of indigenous peoples of Africa and India.
In the modern world, elephants are still the fancy of new myths. Considering a myth as a fiction of a half-truth, especially one that forms part of an idea or an explanation, Kotzwinkle has touched on modern myths in each one of his three stories. As modern man looks at elephants, mostly confined to zoos and wildlife preserves, the conception of new myths are conjecture and convenient. Using scientific findings overlaid on these three stories, how true are the modern myths about Kotzwinkle’s elephants?
Modern myths surrounding long extinct wooly mammoths include far-fetched stories of their continued existence. The thought of them roaming or hiding in Alaska or Siberia is entertaining enough and the only proof is eyewitness accounts. Yet, genetically speaking, these elephants from the Pliocene epoch have left behind only traces in Asiatic elephants that live today.
Generally, when modern man meets a mammoth it is at the local natural history museum or in a textbook. In nature, the meeting with such a beast is reserved almost solely for the paleontologists who find skeletons, and more likely bones or fragments of bones. Rarely is an entire animal is uncovered.
Kotzwinkle’s “A Most Incredible Meal” introduces the uncovering of one Siberian Mastodon, and plays to one associated myth: can the meat of a discovered Mastodon be edible?
“The men of the village worked skillfully, cutting off great hunks of flesh, which were then salted, wrapped, and taken immediately to the castle. Each man received a cut of meat larger than his own torso” (Kotzwinkle 9). At the castle, the Count was entertaining his people, the most influential persons: the priest, the poet and of course Alexi Bulnovka, the woodcutter who found the animal. “The poet disliked the flesh of any beast or fish, but tonight he was gripped by a dark hunger. He laid a piece of the ancient meat on his tongue, and chewed into it” (Kotzwinkle 11). In this description of the poet’s enjoyment of the meat, Kotzwinkle embellishes the event of dinner. In the dark night, all the guests enjoyed themselves immensely: “a most incredible meal, said the Count” (Kotzwinkle 11). Kotzwinkle’s description of the party, the conversations around the dinner table, makes the feast of the ancient beast a plausible situation, however farfetched it may be.
To date, thirty-nine preserved bodies have been found, but only four of them are complete. In most cases, the flesh shows signs of decay before its freezing and later desiccation. Stories abound about frozen mammoth corpses that were still edible once defrosted, but the original sources indicate that the corpses were in fact terribly decayed, and the stench so unbearable that only the dogs accompanying the finders showed any interest in the flesh” (Farrand 730). Logically, the flesh of a newly butchered animal begins to decay within minutes. It is no surprise the carcass of a Mastodon would be decayed beyond recognition; hence, this myth is deflated.
Scientists surround modern day elephants, whether in zoos or wildlife preserves, these animals are available for research. In “Elephant Bangs Train,” the title story of Kotzwinkle’s collection we meet an adult Elephant who brawls with a train. “He had wandered from the herd, on the trail of greener leaves,” (Kotzwinkle 68). A rogue adult elephant strayed from the herd. (Incidentally, all adult males stray, only the females stay in herds.) As the elephant continues grazing he finds a strange trail, and on it is “a great serpent”. “It was dark-headed, with a cold, expressionless eye, and it lashed an enormous tail” (Kotzwinkle 68). Cleverly, Kotzwinkle has introduced the train from the elephant’s point of view. “He faced it, ready to debate over territory,” (Kotzwinkle 69). In the story, this adult male elephant stands for a challenge, which makes for an exciting bout between elephant and train, but falsely of behavior. To establish dominance, the larger, and the older of the adults is generally undisputed. Such displays occur during mating periods and with other elephants. The fighting between elephants and other species is uncommon, perhaps due to an elephant’s large size. Rather than the challenge suggested in the story, an elephant might throw up its trunk, or bugle, which is “usually addressed to smaller adversary, including humans. The same gesture is used to rip up and throw objects,” (Estes 7). Drawing from observed behavior, it is not impossible that an adult male would challenge a train, yet it is improbable.
Setting aside an elephants challenging trains, and the consumption of ancient meat of mastodons, some myths have a basis in truth, which is the case in the last story in the collection, “Elephant’s Graveyard.”
In the “Elephant’s Graveyard,” the reader meets three old and wise beings, King Sudarma, the mahout, the battle elephant trainer for fifty years, and chief elephant, the eldest bull. The three have years of battle, and have seen the growth of the kingdom of Daspur and its army in common. These experiences and age tie the three together, and the eldest bull, the chief elephant, is the first of them to die. “The eldest bull, said the mahout, raising his head, will die tonight. It is his wish to go outside, my lord, said the mahout. Lead him away, then, said the King,” (Kotzwinkle 140). In this passage, the mahout, the trainer, understands the life process of the old bull drawing near to his end.
Once outside the mahout and the elephant move through the night and deeper into the jungle. As he travels, the mahout on the back of the old bull, he reminisces past battles and memories. Granted, the story is really about the memories of conquest, success, and victory, but of all three stories, this story hits on a truth about elephants. “There is a legend in Africa that speculates that elder elephants knowing that their death was imminent left their herds and traveled to a place known as the Elephant Graveyard. It was believed this graveyard was the final destination for literally thousands of elephants and that their bones and tusks littered the area. This graveyard has never been discovered and has been the subject of speculation for many years” (Ploeg, 2). The idea of a highly evolved set of social standards among elephants leads to conjecture of our less scientific and more emotional ancestors to believe in the elephant graveyard. Even during the fictional times of the King of Daspur and his mahout, elephants were adorned with jewels, and battle armor and their relationships with the lumbering beasts include lifecycle knowledge. In all reality, the life spans of people in old times were about the same if not less than the life spans of elephants. In “Elephant’s Graveyard,” the mahout in his recollections talks to the old beast, and since he had been training elephants for fifty years, he is himself considerably old. This relationship makes the story one of tired old friends rather than creating, perpetuating, or making a myth.
“Very old bulls, ponderous hulks with the biggest tusks, are the most sedentary. They end their days in swamps where they can still consume quantities of herbage as their last set of molars wears out,” (Estes 13). With this model, the mahout leads the bull to the riverbank. “He saw a bright light and in it white cows dancing trunk to tail. His load fell away, and rose above the dawn,” (Kotzwinkle 147). Elegantly, the elephant dies.
Scientific findings of real elephant graveyards, human observation rooted in myth, and Kotzwinkle’s treatment of the death of elephants are different facets. Interestingly, if Mastodons exhibited the same ceremony of their own death as their modern day descendents, climbing into rivers to feed their last and ultimately sink in the mud, then there is no surprise that whole corpses are found. Likewise, it is not surprising when whole corpses of Mastodons are discovered there is still uneaten food in their mouths.
All three of Kotzwinkle’s stories are fun, and entertaining, and filled with humanistic sensibilities. “A Most Incredible Meal,” explores a possibility of what if, and the treatment obviously is man conquest over the Mastodon, simply by eating it. The myth of edible meat from an anciently dead animal however is outlandish. “Elephant Bangs Train,” is more of a conquest of nature over technology; after all, the elephant wins in the end by derailing the train. However, it is not an accurate portrayal of common elephant behavior. Lastly, “Elephant’s Graveyard,” is a story of death, and the story of friendship, however odd it may be with the direct correlation between man and beast. In this last story, Kotzwinkle has used a myth with scientific fact supporting it to treat a subject as profound as death. Even as works of fiction, Kotzwinkle has help to continue myths of elephants in a modern world.

Kotzwinkle, William. Elephant Bangs Train. Clinton, Massachusetts: The Colonial Press, 1971
Estes, Richard. The Safari Companion. Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 1993
Farrand, William. “Frozen Mammoths and Modern Geology.” Science Mar. 1961: 729-735
Ploeg, Dirk Vander. “Legend of Elephant Graveyard May Be True” ufodigest. Jun. 2007.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Third Person Narration in The Talented Mr. Ripley (Annotation G2-7/Goddard)

From the opening chapter in a New York bar of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley to the final scene on a pier in Greece the paranoid Tom Ripley is a conman turned psychopath. The chronicled adventures of Tom Ripley from IRS fraud artist to murderer make him more despicable rather than talented. The effective use of Highsmith’s third person narration separates the reader from the inner most of Tom Ripley’s emotional intentions and makes his actions the plot itself.
In this third person narration, which could have easily been written in the first person voice of Tom Ripley, the reader knows Tom’s thoughts. “My God, what did he want? He certainly wasn’t a pervert, Tom thought for a second time,” (Highsmith 4). This example of Highsmith inclusion of many ‘he thoughts’ in the narration, but more often than not the internal thought of Tom Ripley is not specifically stated. In an interview with the police later in Rome, Tom Ripley posing as Dickie Greenleaf has many conversations. In such passages, the narration is overtly objective, merely reporting the conversation as it transpires. However, the interjecting thought leaves the objective third person narration momentary issuing Ripley’s thought. “Could it all be a trick, really? A sly little bastard, that officer,” (Highsmith 173).
Her style is fluid, easy to read, a feat considering the motivations and changes in the Tom Ripley character. Although he is not telling the story outright, leaving the job to the writer herself. The interjecting thoughts of Ripley are sometimes the thoughts of Dickie Greenleaf, as Tom Ripley has assumed his identity. The thoughts between both sides of the Ripley/Greenleaf character are equally as apparent. As the opportunity to travel the world presents itself to Tom Ripley, he knows he would rather see the sights as Dickie Greenleaf rather than himself. “The idea of going to Greece, trudging over the Acropolis as Tom Ripley, American tourist, held no charm for him at all,” (Highsmith 180). In this passage, as narration goes is written simply as statement. Tom in Greece, not good enough, but Dickie in Greece is the preferred way to travel. The narration leaves no room for guesswork. The events are clear: travel to Greece. The innermost thoughts of Tom Ripley are also clear: no good to be a common American tourist. Lastly, the thoughts of the new assumed personality of Dickie, who at this point is already murdered are clear: “he wanted to see Greece as Dickie Greenleaf with Dickie’s money, Dickie’s clothes, Dickie’s way of behaving with strangers,” (Highsmith 180).
This third person narration leads the reader to understand Tom Ripley through his actions, and through his conversations with others with the added bonus of a semi-bias knowledge of Tom Ripley inner workings.

Highsmith, Patricia. The Talented Mr. Ripley. New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Process Paper G2-2/Goddard


Annotation #4: Frank Conroy
Annotation #5: The book of Ruth
Annotation #6: Jerzy Kosinski

Long Critical Paper: Continuity of Story

Creative Work: From Ansbach to Color
Soles of Locomotives (new material)

Dear Kyle:

To answer a few of your questions from your response letter to packet one: I read the “Dead Man” in both English and Spanish. I must admit the story alluded me in both languages, but I often find that when I read the same story twice. Instead of looking for the truth in the prose, or even the poetics, I often look at the mechanical differences in the translation. Mired in minutia, I suppose. I try to read in Spanish every chance I get, language is a muscle, if not regularly used it will atrophy. About ten or twelve years ago, I kept a journal in Spanish for that very reason. Can you imagine? The stories I wrote were pretty silly, but the purpose of it was practice rather than expression. As an aside here, if the current population projections are to be taken seriously, it’s not inconceivable the official language in the United States will be Spanish someday. What becomes of us then? Any work done by our writers today will have to be translated, why not write in Spanish from the get go?
On the point of revision, I’m beginning to understand that as a process too. I found the perfect definition for revision. I can’t tell you if I would have come to this conclusion at any other point in my life, as I did recently. Anyhow, a week or so ago I was at the library checking out CDs. It was one of those wonderful late August days when you can tell the summer is nearly gone (and thank God). I had checked out several old albums, in fact all them were CDs of which I once had but have lost over the years. The pinnacle of them was a reissue of The Cure’s Head on the Door. Once home I discovered that it was a double CD set. The first disc was the same disc I knew, and the second was previously unavailable B-sides, and Demo versions. In listening to the Demo of In Between Days, I found the best minute twenty-five seconds of my day. This Demo makes me so happy. As beautiful as I think it is, in the sleeve notes Robert Smith explained how he had recorded that demo in his bedroom. As a stroke of utter inspiration, he recorded his little song. When compared to the studio release of the same song, the melody was not lost. In fact, the melody becomes the vocals, which add an entirely new feeling, and with words. The guitar, the drums, typical pop music, I guess. In this revised work, the sound is so much more rounded, developed, and complete. So in the whole idea of revision, yeah, I get it, and even more now, perhaps if you come across another student as rigid as I was about revision you can let them listen to In Between Days, and hopefully this puts the concept into terms they can understand.
That said... I just made a demo version of my Long Critical Paper.
Oddly enough, I have been enjoying the process of this long critical paper. It’s horribly flawed, I’m afraid. I don’t think I’ve ever had an undertaking quite like this paper before. Does an “undertaking” get its beginnings in grave digging?
I began the paper early in August. Shortly after I finished Kosinski’s novel, I was turned on to both the Viktor Frankl and the Bruno Schulz. It has taken weeks for me to pull my thoughts together, and I think much of what I need to work on is clarity of thoughts. It’s difficult, many times for me to adequately get what I’m thinking into a workable set of sentences on the page. I was really hoping to have more confidence in giving the paper to you, but as I said, a demo version. Oddly, the conundrum is not so much with the paper, but the schedule of packets. I realized when I received the return of packet number one that we decided to put this long critical paper due in the third packet. Unfortunately, I must include it in this packet, partly because it is what I’ve been working on, and mostly because it is all I have. At any rate, I do hope turning this LCP sets me up for further success this semester, a revision of it is fine, I had intended on it.
Now back to the short critical paper… I agree with your criticism. I really felt I nailed ol’ Kotzwinkle’s elephants, but in looking at it now, I see so much room for improvement. I will have the revision by packet number three.
From Ansbach to Color, I’m sorry to only give you this scant little chapter. I’m learning a few things about it. I’m starting to see how events fit together, and the development of Carmichael as a narrator is not the toughest chore I thought it was going to be. I know we outline new and revised creative material in each packet. I will revise the creative material, but in this packet, I’ve included eight pages of new stuff. I have a few things to fill in yet, gaps in the story, gaps in the flow of events, gaps in the narrator and the writer, I know. As things are developing, I am seeing so much I didn’t see before. This new material in this packet and packet number one is the jumpstart I needed in my work. Thank you for your critiques, I look forward to the rewriting of these first three chapters.
The reading list is going along with swiftness. Honestly, I’m getting more out of the reading portion of the program than I thought I would. Odd, I’ve been a reader my whole life, and now it’s taking on a new facet I never got before. Does that make sense? The exception is American Buffalo, Ruthie’s pig iron, what am I looking for? Ruthie’s pig iron, I feel like I’m missing something. I can’t remember the last time I read a play. Can you give me some pointers on how to read a play? When you read a play, what are you reading for? Storyline, I know, but what else? And can you lean back in an easy chair and read a play? I don’t think I’m getting confused by who’s talking, it is printed right there before the dialogue. It just feels so jumpy, even when I try to read it aloud.
Well Kyle, thank you for your kind words and thank you for your patience, I appreciate your guidance, and I look forward to the response on this second packet.


PS I hope you enjoy In Between Days, analogy of revision