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For this week’s major writing assignment I have been asked to write a five page paper for my Jane Austen and the 18th Century course. As a graduate student I am expected to create my own topic and to bring in an additional source to analyze from outside the books assigned for class. To fulfill these two fairly simple requirements I decided that it would be interesting to compare Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship to Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders. The focus of my comparison would include the choice of literary form and how each main character’s style and “art” appeals to the sensibilities of their readers.

At the moment I have a decent collection of quotes and ideas of what I want to do with this paper but I am having minor difficulties with writing out an acceptable introduction to the whole thing. I have been informed many times that I don’t have to write the introduction before writing the body of a paper but my personal preference is to work my way through from start to finish instead of jumping around.

So, where to start? I know that during the 18th century it was difficult to survive as a woman unless you were connected to a man or some wealthy family–and even then a comfortable life was never guaranteed thing. But do I want to include this awareness in the introduction? Or, should I start with a much more direct attack at the 18th century conceptions of “art” and “sensibility” and how the written word was a method through which women of ill repute could use a certain degree of art in their writing in order to appeal to the sensibilities of their intended readers?

My gut is telling me to go with the second option–especially after going back and reading that last paragraph. Below will be my rambling attempts at an introduction to my paper:

In the struggle to survive on their own in a male and money dominated culture, women of the eighteenth century had limited morally acceptable choices–especially when their family’s social and economic status were taken into account. The primary choice for all was to find an advantageous marriage in which their money needs would be provided for by their husbands while they cared for the house and family. For those born into titled and wealthy families this expectation of matchmaking was a given and yet if a match could not be made those old maids in the making had the security of a home and yearly allowance. However, what about the gray area of social status given to those girls (soon to be women) who were raised within the sphere of the privileged families but held no claim to title or fortune? Their morally correct options could range from marriage like their better endowed peers to stepping down in station by becoming a governess or going into service in another household.

or

In the struggle to survive on their own, women of the eighteenth century often had to rely on the kindness of friends, family, and strangers depending on their social position—or lack thereof. Sometimes this reliance was wholly acceptable and received without any true art of persuasion or application to the sensibility of their relatives—as was the case of characters like Fanny Price from Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion. But, as made wholly apparent by the stories told by Laura from Love & Friendship and Moll Flanders in the novel that bears her name, not all women had the privilege of a wholly supporting adopted family combined with an honest steadfastness in “temper” to maintain them. Instead, these two women find themselves in more desperate circumstances in which their ideas of sensible necessity drive them to take certain unsavory actions in order to obtain monetary support of the lifestyle they felt was deserved. In their respective novels (or a collection of letters in the case of Laura), these two women attempt to explain the winding course of their lives as a lesson to their intended readers. These creations—supposedly penned by their own hand—represent the use of a written application of art in which appeals to the sensibilities of their readers.

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The following is my act of productive procrastination in an attempt to get out of my head the content and ideas related to a paper that I have due in my class on Dante and His Divine Comedy

The General Prompt: What has happened to the character Dante by the time he encounters Fra Alberigo in Cocytus, Inferno 33b? Review his behavior through the descent. Has he learned to respond to the Damned appropriaely of has he ‘Lost it’? What is the purpose of his reactions and what do I make of how he changes. 

–> according to the professor, how I answer this question will no doubt reflect my theology as well as literary assessment of the Inferno.

 

My rambling Answer that will need to be shaped and expanded with proper analytic details before I hand in as a paper:

 

“When in Rome, do as the Romans Do.” This familiar adage came to my mind as I began going through the descriptions given to us by Dante the Poet of the different interactions he had on his journey through the highly structured levels of Hell. Be it his momentary loss of self as he swoons over the tragic (and condemning story) told by lovers or his outburst of anger and use of deception at the deeper levels of hell, his embodied actions—especially his final two encounters—left me asking questions that I’m not sure I will ever fully come up with answers for.

 

One of these questions deals with the choice of Dante the Poet to include in the pilgrim’s last encounter (but also in the whole of canto 33) a textual allusion to the Sermon on the Mount. According to a footnote provided in the Durling and Martinez translation of the Divine Comedy the “scornful play on the name” of the last soul the pilgrim meets (Alberigo) “is related to the word for ‘tree’ (albero) and draws on the Sermon on the Mount” from Matt. 7.16-20. My question for the presence of this usage of the name is why does he do it—espeically when we look at the other messages present within that chapter of Matthew. For example, the first segment of the chapter places an emphasis on it being the task of God and no other to Judge and then prescribe/carry out punishment. It is possible to answer this question through the “when in Rome” lens by saying that because Hell is an inversion of how a positive reality is supposed to be then of course Dante is supposed to judge because it is the opposite of what Christ said to do. However, I do not want to accept this because although Dante is in hell he cannot do what the condemned and keepers of Hell do because of his state as a living and embodied human being with his poetic soul still attached. Therefore, my confusion is because of this physical state shouldn’t the Pilgrim still need to abide by the Christian values preached in the seventh Chapter of Matthew and the sermon on the mount? Yes, he can be drawn toward and even seduced by sins but these visceral responses are bound to happen because he is still a flawed breathing man with soul and body joined together.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans Do.” This familiar adage came to my mind as I began going through the descriptions given to us by Dante the Poet of the different interactions he had on his journey through the highly structured levels of Hell. Be it his momentary loss of self as he swoons over the tragic (and condemning story) told by lovers or his outburst of anger and use of deception at the deeper levels of hell, his embodied actions—especially his final two encounters—left me asking questions that I’m not sure I will ever fully come up with answers for.

 

One of these questions deals with the choice of Dante the Poet to include in the pilgrim’s last encounter (but also in the whole of canto 33) a textual allusion to the Sermon on the Mount. According to a footnote provided in the Durling and Martinez translation of the Divine Comedy the “scornful play on the name” of the last soul the pilgrim meets (Alberigo) “is related to the word for ‘tree’ (albero) and draws on the Sermon on the Mount” from Matt. 7.16-20. My question for the presence of this usage of the name is why does he do it—espeically when we look at the other messages present within that chapter of Matthew. For example, the first segment of the chapter places an emphasis on it being the task of God and no other to Judge and then prescribe/carry out punishment. It is possible to answer this question through the “when in Rome” lens by saying that because Hell is an inversion of how a positive reality is supposed to be then of course Dante is supposed to judge because it is the opposite of what Christ said to do. However, I do not want to accept this because although Dante is in hell he cannot do what the condemned and keepers of Hell do because of his state as a living and embodied human being with his poetic soul still attached. Therefore, my confusion is because of this physical state shouldn’t the Pilgrim still need to abide by the Christian values preached in the seventh Chapter of Matthew and the sermon on the mount? Yes, he can be drawn toward and even seduced by sins but these visceral responses are bound to happen because he is still a flawed breathing man with soul and body joined together.

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The following post is my act of productive procrastination as I work on a readers response journal entry on Walker Percy’s novel titled The MovieGoer.

What is it we are looking for when we choose to attend a movie over any other activity? what are we seeking in that darkened theater filled with sounds and images of a life apart from our daily experience?

In this novel the main character, Binx Bolling, is an avid moviegoer who is driven by his own search but what he seeks isn’t found in his weekly visit various theaters. His search is something that finds significant evidence in things as ordinary as the contents of his pockets piled on his bureau. The movies are not his answers to the search he feels driven to pursue but they act as reference points to help frame and “script out” each urge and experience.

When  think back to my own movie-going experiences and my reasons for them, I realize that I ultimately go to the movies because I want to experience something grander than my day-to-day experience. Whether it is to distract me from the chaos or mundaneness of normal life honestly depends on the day, but I still go. A movie is something to do rather than sitting around and questioning the direction my life is taking. For an hour or more I have the chance to sit anonymously in a theater and focus entirely on the story playing out in light on the screen.

The novel by Walker Percy addresses far more than the experience of attending movies as an escape and reference point however. For Binx movies are certainly a passionate pass-time that he takes pleasure and comfort in but they are not the whole of his life. Instead they are an outlet and confirming experience. A movie is a scripted experience where all uncertainty is –for the most part– guaranteed to be resolved and end how it is meant to every time. No wonder Binx starts off (and continues through the rest of the novel) with using movies as reference points for his thoughts and experiences. They provide him with pre-made scripts through which to understand and parse out his life.

We see this “scripting” through movies especially when he allows “passion” to take over as he pursues Sharon Kincaid, his newest secretary. A prime example is how he describes the time when he has her stay late after work to help with writing letters to clients. He sets the scene for us as readers to watch him dashingly play out his role:
“Already the silences between us have changed in character, become easier It is possible to stand at the window, loosen my collar and rub the back of my neck like Dana Andrews. And to become irritable with her ‘No no no no, Kincaid, that’s not what I meant to say. Take five.’ I go to the cooler, take two aspirins, crumple the paper cup.” (92)

An earlier example of Binx relating life to movies is seen in the following passage: “If it were a movie. I would have only to wait. The bus would get lost or the city would be bombed and she and I would tend the wounded. As it is, I may as well stop thinking about her.” (9)

But, there is something else about this novel I want to focus on. It is shift I glimpsed in Binx between when we first meet him and the final scene. His habitual movie-going and scripting of experiences is a constant but something changes in his approach toward his search and his manner of lifestyle in general.

In the beginning Binx tells the readers adamantly that the act of following general convention and fitting into the stereotype he has chosen to settle into. One of the most notable comments he makes about this is the following: “It is a pleasure to carry out the duties of a citizen and to receive in return a receipt or a neat styrene card with one’s name on it certifying, so to speak, one’s right to exist. What satisfaction I take in appearing the first day to get my auto tag and brake sticker!” (4)

This dug-in appreciation for the small confirmations of his existence does not appear to be enough, however. A couple pages later Binx’s facade of contentedness becomes shaking when he says:
“I even dreamed of doing something great. But there is much to be said for giving up such grand ambitions and living the most ordinary life imaginable, a life without the old longings; selling stocks and bonds and mutual funs; quitting work at five o’clock like everyone else; having a girl and perhaps one day settling down and raising a flock of Marcias and Sandras and Lindas of my own.” (6)
As I read this passage I had the sense that his words were empty and were meant to convince not is readers but himself that the life he had chosen was the semblance of comfortable familiarity that he desired. I don’t have any particular phrasings to point out as support for why this moment is when you see Binx’s facade of perfectly scripted experience slip away. A better moment in the text that breaks the facade painted by Binx is with the sentence “But things have suddenly changed” and the glimpse we are given into Binx’s past experience as a soldier at war:
“I dreamed of the war, no, not quite dreamed but woke with the taste of it in my mouth, the quesy-quince taste of 1951 in the orient.” (7)
In this moment of change and recollection, the tidy and confirmed world Binx created for himself losses its shine and he found manifest in his core am “immense curiosity” and need to search out something that he could not name but know he would recognize when he found it.

The main change after this moment was not visible to others is seated in the change of his awareness. He was no longer fully content in his small actions of confirmation because now he knew that “The search [which he felt the need to now pursue] is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.” (9)

Where is Walker Percy leading us in these first thought and realizations? Does Binx ever find whatever it is he suddenly needs to search for?
I am not quite sure. But, from certain hints such as the one on page 10 when Binx brings up the possibility that his search might ironically be for the God he did not think he believed in.
“What do you seek–God? you ask with a smile. I hesitate to answer…” “For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics–which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker. For myself, I enjoy answering polls as much as anyone and take pleasure in giving intelligent replies to all questions.”
There is something to this answer that Binx gives. I can’t quite put it into words myself but I get the feeling that Binx is looking for an answer from God and the world around him for how he is supposed to live. He is seeking a certainty that he may never reach because of his own disbelief in himself, God and his surroundings. ((Possibly due to PTSD he developed while fighting in the war.)) On top of this, if we take some of Percy’s other writing into account, there is the hint that Christianity itself–whether Binx believes in it or Percy intended it– is prevalent as a theme and possibly clue in Binx’s search. ((How to be an American novelist: “It is a part of the air we breathe…And any novelist who begins his novel with his character in a life of predicament which is a profound mystery to which he devotes his entire life to unraveling… is a closet Jew or Christian.” ))

As I think about it my mind jumps to Kate (the other key character in this novel who in many ways acts as a counterpoint to Binx). Kate too appears to be on a search for control and “certifying” solidity to her life. Where Percy’s search is one that he cannot name–or refuses to name– Kate is aware of what she needs and ultimately creates it for herself through her interactions with Binx.

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Post its are miraculous things. They can be put anywhere to remind, encourage, decorate, mark important sections in books, and countdown. I have them everywhere and I don’t know what I would do as an English and religious studies major if I did not have post-its to help me survive.

With my school semester coming to a close, my post its are helping me now to stay motivated and focus on the assignments I have left between me and winter break. I have a note place on my apartment wall for each assignment, quiz, or exam I still need to complete. This is a photo of my wall before thanksgiving break to give you an idea of what I’m doing. (It is backwards because I used photo booth on my Mac.) Since then, I have been productive enough to remove three sticky notes. When I remove the notes a weight is lifted from my shoulders because it is another thing gone and I can actually see my pile of work shrink in a tangible form.

My room mate liked the idea of my post-it to do wall that she created one for herself as well. Her being a nursing major, there are many many more serious post-its on her portion of the wall. But, either way we both have a way to know what we need to do and stay motivated by the chance to remove one post-it at a time from the wall.

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I am supposed to be working on the next essay on my long list of homework assignments I wanted to complete before break ends. Am I? No. Instead I am taking a short break from researching two different pilgrimage sites and pilgrims to just type randomly here. Well, maybe not randomly. I am sure that if I keep thinking and typing long enough I will end up making some sort of point dealing with my essay assignment. I’ve certainly been thinking about it enough.

The assignment is for my Pilgrimages and Spiritual Journeys mid-term exam. I had three “essays” to write and this is the third and last one. It came as a prompt emailed out by my professor at the begining of the week:

Please review this ‘photo essay’ from NPR site:  after you have done so, do a little research on this particular pilgrimage and pilgrimage site.  Then, compare/ contrast the practices and experiences of the Guadalupe pilgrims (as evidenced in the photo essay) with the practices and experiences of the pilgrims to the site you presented (or will present) in class (this might mean a bit more research into your pilgrimage site).

100 Words: Photographer Alinka Echeverria On Pilgrimage

Seems easy enough, right? Wrong. The research I need to do has been about as productive as a wild goose hunt. There are very few articles online about the actual pilgrims who journey to either site. Most of the information I have found deals with the site itself and the history, not the people.

The information I have found is minimal and leads me to the conclusion that all pilgrims are similar. They may be heading to a different destination and hold varied beliefs. But, besides that they are all looking to experience the sacred and to find awe at the site they journey towards.

A pilgrim heading to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City goes to pay homage and ask the blessing of the virgin Mary. Or they simply go because they are curious to see the Basilica and the apron worn by Saint Juan Diego upon which an icon of the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared.

A pilgrim heading to and through the levels of the Buddhist temple Borobudur in Java, Indonesia also travels to experience the wonder of the place. To observe the history engraved on the walls and to pay homage to the birth, enlightenment, and transcendence of the Buddha. There are also many who only come to view out of curiosity as tourists, some with more appreciation for the site than others.

Something both sites have in common is that once a year both places have a festival to which thousands of pilgrims flock. The festival at the Basilica occurs starting on December 12th with the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe. The festival at and around Borobudur, known as the Waisak Festival, occurs each May on the night of the full moon and lasts several days. Both celebrate the people to whom the sites were dedicated to and festivities, including candlelit processions, happen at each.

The only major difference that distinguishes the pilgrims of Guadalupe from those of Borobudur is their religious beliefs, location, and how they look. Otherwise, in spirit, all pilgrims are the same. They travel to experience, learn, and pray.

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