Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Essay in Pictures: Making Meaning of Image

In her aptly title chapter, “Imagery,” renowned American poet, Mary Oliver, does well to explain figurative language, enlightening her readers with examples of metaphor, personification, allusion, and images found in poems from the likes of Elizabeth Bishop, Walt Whitman, and more. Oliver pays close attention to the idea of the image itself, that thing which becomes the centerpiece of a poem or some other piece of literature, opening up a window of opportunity for the writer to describe in full detail what lies before him in the natural world or in the world of his imagination. With some conscious consideration for detail, the writer’s world becomes an essay.

That said, I would like you to choose a video based solely in photography, animation, or some sort of pictorial narrative and interpret it in an essay of at least five paragraphs.

Some videos we will watch in class:

Son Lux's "Break": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUSBXsd8NkQ&feature=channel_page

Aesop Rock's "None Shall Pass": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1u43KDiWD0

Radiohead's "All I Need": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdrCalO5BDs

Philip Glass's "Pruit Igoe" from Koyaanisqatsi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4qxk7KhnHs

Talkdemonic's "Duality of Deathening": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCVRv6mZhkA

Sigur Ros' "Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34ZtT4Th9Ys

The images in the video you choose should hopefully inspire in you a sense of metaphor.

The question you should ask yourselves as you view the video of your choosing is: What do the images flooding my mind from the video represent?

And so the directions are as follows:

  • Watch the video.
  • Listen to the music.
  • Pay close attention to the details of the images presented in the video and the music that is interfused with those images, lyrics included (if the song has lyrics).
  • Jot down as you view the film your basic impressions of the images and the music. What mood does it create? What emotions are expressed through the interfusion of music and image?
  • Once you are finished viewing the video, write an interpretive essay in which you explain the deeper meaning of the video, giving a analysis/synopsis of its images, and an explanation of the various lyrics, if there are any.
  • Be sure to describe the music you hear as well.
  • This is assignment is due on hard copy by Wednesday, May 6, 2009. Be sure to include everything in MLA format as per usual.

Below, I have modeled for you my interpretation of a favorite music video by an experimental artist under the moniker Son Lux. It is his video for "Break" off of his debut album on anticon. records called, At War with Walls and Mazes:


Bro. Rob Peach, FSC

Bro. Rob Peach, FSC

ENG 165/Writing the Essay

06 May 2009

Breaking Son Lux Apart: An Interpretation of "Break"

I was leafing through my older brother’s college sketchbook this past weekend and came upon a page with some notes scrawled across its once blanks surface. His distinctive script was placed against the backdrop of a pen-and-ink depiction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, ablaze with a fire burning atop the organ, pierced with a ring of thorns and bleeding from an open wound. The shadow cast by the heart, set against the light of its own flame, was that of a cross. My brother’s message in all of this: “God’s greatest creation is the human heart, for it is in the love of the heart that [we are] most like God, sharing in His divinity.” Beneath this, a bullet point and an underlined: “The Order of Christian Lovers.” As sub-points to this, my brother writes: “A love so radical it knows no boundary—it has no fear…; it finds in every persona a ‘neighbor’ (CCC #1931); a heart sustained only in grace… .”

Evidently, this subject of Christian love that inspired my brother’s sketch some eight years ago was taken in paraphrase from The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It strikes me as odd that a document such as that of the Catechism, so easily associated with the lesser attributes of the Institutional Church—its black and white dogmatism and strict eye for doctrine and adherence to the letter of doctrinal law—would profess something so radical as a love without boundary. Upon further thought, however, such a provocation is not at all distant from the profession of beatitudinal love that Christ proclaims in the Gospels, particularly Matthew. This kind of love is one of charity, of self-giving concern for the other that readjusts one’s center of gravity. It is a love that incorporates into it a philial, erotic, and agapic sensibility—that is, the triune characteristics of brotherly, romantic, and unconditional concern for someone other than oneself. This Christ-inspired love is one that, though simple in what it requires of us, cannot be reduced to an easy definition in light of just how complex and complicated human relationships can be. The challenges of being vulnerable, of standing figuratively naked before someone else is no facile task; it requires plain speech and honesty; it requires simple sharing that acknowledges without judgment the inherent dignity of the human person. The simplicity of this message is clear, yet its complexity comes in the difficulty of actually living it.

In his song, “Break”, off of his electro-classical album, At War with Walls and Mazes, composer and song-writer, Son Lux, acknowledges the sheer difficulty of finding clarity in the web of human relationships that can tangle a person in knots of confusion, heartbreak, sadness, loneliness, and isolation. Indeed, weaving one’s way through obstacles in the course of developing ties to others involves the recognition of just how at once holy and wicked people can be, of how quickly one can be pulled into the holiness—that is, the wholeness—of life in relationship to another, as well as the wickedness—that is, the sense of fragmentation—of life in relationship to another.

The music video for “Break”, directed by Finbar Mallon, does well to image the dynamics of human relationship in its stuttered frames of stop-go photography that feature animated strings of yarn, colored in red and green; a man and woman interlocked at once by the green and red yarn, though separated by the obstacled space of a trafficked street; a naked body trapped in a web of such string; the budding of paper flowers in red and green; and the image of red, green, yellow, and orange paper that pixilate the walls surrounding an amorphous and tangled body. Put together, all of these images suggest a narrative of tension that occurs between lovers as much as it does between friends, between enemies, between those warring forces of holiness and wickedness within oneself. Thus the flashing colors of green, yellow, and red throughout the various sequences of the video signify the relational dynamics of “stop”, “slow down”, and “go” that we feel in the pull and push of everyday relationships. The video, at one point, presents an image of a young man dressed in green, a young woman to whom he is tethered by a string, dressed in red, suggesting the discord that lovers, friends, and enemies go through in those moments when one party says yes to something while the other says no.

The theme here is finding unity in discord, of union in dissolution. Matched with the lyrics, the collage of aforementioned pictures tells a story of a hopelessness that ironically inspires hope. The shaky cry of Son Lux’s voice, overlaying the single-note structure of icy piano keys, relays an eerie message of lament over the feeling of being torn apart by the uncertainty, confusion, and doubt that is part and parcel of human intimacy:

Where have all the wicked gone? / Is there no one left to break you down? / Where have all the holy gone? / Is there no one to condemn you? / Where have all the wicked gone? / Is there no one to condemn you? / Where have all the holy gone? / Is there no one left to break you down?

It is not without some irony that Son Lux is asking himself and a perceived other, “Is there no one left to break you down?”. It is almost as though he acknowledges the unspoken wish we all have to entertain drama—even if it involves emotional turmoil—and to seek out suffering in relationship with someone else in such a way that we ironically feel more alive. We could call this the “embraced heaviness” that fictional characters such as Antonio in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice feels in his heart-break at the loss of his dear companion, Bassanio, who seeks the hand of the fair Portia in marriage. “Embraced heaviness” is a sorrow voluntarily suffered.

But what is the logic behind this kind of voluntary suffering? It can perhaps only be explained in the sense that, by being broken down, by being condemned, by being caught up in the push and pull of good and evil in our own hearts and the confusing forces of love shared between ourselves and someone else, that we have something to live for, that we have a reason to constantly restore ourselves in the ashes of our own brokenness. So, in asking “Where have all the wicked gone?” or, on the other hand, “Where have all the holy gone?”, Son Lux is recognizing the paradoxical tie between good and evil—one exists because of the other—in our lives. Moreover, he is acknowledging the difficulty of maintaining a steadfast will in reconciling these two forces in one’s life. It is neither one nor the other that exists alone, but both in co-existence. In this way, it takes courage to stand of one’s own free will in tending the flame that ignites between and within people.

Son Lux’s logic is not unlike that of St. Augustine who coined the term, “O Felix Culpa”, that is, “O Happy Fall!”. Nor is it unlike the logic of St. Paul who proclaimed in Chapter 12 of his Second Letter to the Corinthians:

In order that I might not become conceited I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me and keep me from getting proud. Three times I begged the Lord that this might leave me. He said to me, 'My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.' And so I willingly boast of my weakness instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong. (2 Cor 12: 10)

While Son Lux nowhere specifically mentions the person of Christ, nor indicates explicitly any religious message within the song, the spiritual allusion to man’s potential for restoration, in recognizing and being called out for his own failures, is clear. We all suffer from the sin of pride and so it goes that we are all equally in need of humility, of being humbled as much by the wicked as by the holy. In realizing the good and evil in our own hearts and in the interpersonal dramas of human relationship, we come to a greater awareness of self and other, a knowledge that can only serve to foster growth—a budding like that of the flowers portrayed in Son Lux’s video collage.

This kind of paradoxical reasoning is certainly implied in Son Lux’s ironical lyrics for “Break”—that, whether holy or wicked, we are as much responsible for our own condemnation as we are for our own redemption; we, not someone else, bring both about in our own lives. In the end, it is we who must hold ourselves accountable for the way we treat and are treated by others according to the laws of the spirit. We must become our own judges. This is a challenge. It is much easier for us to skirt responsibility by willingly condemning or being condemned by others, appointing ourselves either the self-righteous judge or the helpless victim of misunderstanding. But, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, referencing the supremacy of God’s law (versus the laws of society) as exemplified by Christ’s accordance to its higher purpose: “But now we are released from the law, dead to what held us captive, so that we may serve in the newness of the spirit and not under the obsolete letter.”

I think that Son Lux may very well be echoing this sentiment: that when we live according to a higher purpose or law in relationship to another, we are challenged to make decisions for ourselves based upon that higher ideal. This is hard. It is much easier to give up when someone is throwing flames at us, be it the wicked or the holy, the righteous or unrighteous. It is much easier to rely on someone else’s will-power to steer us in a direction we are unwilling to drive on our won. But, to confront obstacles in a spirit of faith and hope, is a testament to the strength of the human will and spirit, inspired by that higher force we call God. Furthermore, by being aware of the good and evil that surrounds and is within us, we can come to a greater understanding of ourselves and others—thus that odd desire for an experience of wickedness and holiness, or to simply giving up which laces the questions of Son Lux’s hauntingly beautiful song.

As the video fades to black, we are reminded that, even in the tangle of human relationships, the love which inspires them is fundamentally without boundary; it is rather the foundation of the law which rules human relationship; it is the root force of human will and the spark which ignites the strength of the human person to hold him or herself accountable and free. Son Lux tells us—as does the seemingly unrelated chapter of the Catechism that my brother recreated through art—to untangle the web of confusion that prevents us from entering more fully the green realm of friendship with the other, to walk that safeguarded yet boundary-less space of intimacy. For it is there where we connect to each person we find as though s/he were indeed a “neighbor”. And when we do connect, it is crucial for us to take on the difficult responsibilities of caring for self and other.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Memory and Voice: Responding to Welty

Throughout Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, she stresses the importance of human memory in the process of writing.

I would like you to pay particular attention to chapter three, "Finding a Voice," in which Welty speaks often of the notion that memory is the foundation for story-telling and for writing in general. It is the storehouse, so to speak, of images, ideas, emotions, and thoughts that become the basis for the craft of writing.

That said, please construct a five paragraph reflection in which you, using chapter three of One Writer’s Beginnings,

1. Start with a thesis statement that essentially sums up Welty’s overriding theory on memory in your own words. Be sure to mention the author’s name and the title of the work in your introduction. (eg., In Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings...)

2. Find a quote in chapter three that mentions memory, cite it (indicate page number in parenthesis followed by a period), and then write a few sentences in which you interpret the passage.

3. Repeat step #2

4. Repeat step #2

5. Closing statement in which you incorporate your own theory of memory into the essay.

a. Questions to consider:

i. Is memory really an essential
function of
writing? If so, why? What does it do for us as

ii. Is memory a form of invention?
That is, does it help us to
formulate/invent ideas and opinions on matters of
life? If so, how?

iii. What would life be like without memory?
Would it have the same
meaning? Is memory essential to making life more meaningful? Why or why

Due: In class on hard copy by Wednesday, April 8, 2009. I will accept early submissions for those who will not be in attendence on Wednesday.

Below is my own essay in response to the assignment, though I bend the rules a bit. Instead of focusing on chapter three alone, I focus on the entire book. As you will see, I do not keep to such a strict format as I suggest for each of your body paragraphs. Regardless, I hope this is a helpful model for you:

Opening paragraph with some summary and thesis statement in bold/italics:

In Welty’s autobiography, One Writer's Beginnings, we learn of a woman whose passion to write was inspired by a love for family, for home (Jackson, Mississippi) and the various intricacies of life itself. From the age of two, Welty writes, she learned that “any room in our house, at any time of day, was there to read in, or to be read to” (5). By the time she was five or six, she recalls securing that sense of “hidden observer” (20) diligently monitoring and recording various subtleties of those people and things that surrounded her. She writes, “A conscious act grew out of this by the time I began to write stories: getting my distance, a prerequisite of my understanding human events, is the way I begin work” (21). Welty’s respect for the “holiness of life” (33)—in all of its ironies, juxtapositions, comedies, and tragedies—stemmed from her acute observations of the human experience through the function of memory. The insights of daily life could be best understood through memory and best described for her in words.

First developing paragraph involving a significant memory of Welty's childhood with a key quote:

Welty's appreciation for memory as a function of writing stems from her mutual appreciation for the events of her childhood. Furthermore, Welty’s sense of freedom as a writer set to see the world and frame it through memory really seems to have developed on those long road trips (later train rides) her family took to see the father’s side of the clan in the rolling farmland of Southern Ohio and the mother’s side in the mountainous terrain of West Virginia:

It took the mountain top, it seems to me now, to give me the sensation of independence. It was as if I’d discovered something I’d never tasted before in my short life. Or rediscovered it—for I associated it with the taste of the water that came out of the well … The coldness, the far, unseen, unheard springs of what was in my mouth now, the iron strength of its flavor that drew my cheeks in, its fern-laced smell, all said mountain mountain mountain as I swallowed. Every swallow was making me a part of being here, sealing me in place, with my bare feet planted on the mountain and sprinkled with my rapturous spills. What I felt I’d come here to do was something on my own. (57)

Second developing paragraph in which I interpret the above quote from page 57 and discuss the nature of time according to Welty:

In this way, Welty speaks of the sense of time and place that suffuses (or fills) her work and transports the reader to her vanished past. This sense of independence would stay with Welty. It was as a central piece of her history and the foundation of her identity as a woman longing to capture the world that passed by quickly from the window of a car or train. When she did begin to write in her twenties, the stories took shape from revelations she had while traveling in those summers of her youth. These revelations came through memory. Welty believed that time took on a chronology all its own in fiction; an ineffable chronology following along the “continuous thread of revelation” (69). Welty kept life from running away as she says, and learned that every “feeling waits upon its gesture” (85) particularly in regards to writing and memory, which both encapsulate transient life and hold it in one place.

Third developing paragraph in which I continue on the theme of writing as a way to exercise memory/observation and capture life's moments in time and place:

Although Welty never physically separated herself from her region for any great period of time—she graduated from University of Wisconsin and went to graduate school at Columbia in New York City—she too wished to remain invisible: “My temperament and my instinct had told me alike that the author, who writes at his own emergency, remains and needs to remain at this private remove” (Welty 87). In other words, Welty claims that to gain a wide frame of vision and a greater perspective on the whole of things in their parts. One must be able to set them at a distance. This is especially true, according to Welty, when observing humans. Welty writes that humans change with time as a result of the inward journey where “each of us is moving, changing, with respect to others” (102). Humans therefore remain vibrant through human memory where they are kept alive and thriving.

Fifth pargraph in all / Closing statements in which I make my conclusions about memory with Welty's help to back me up:

For Welty as for any writer, words help to hold transient life in place. Like Welty says of photography, I would propose that writing captures the transience of time by portraying those single moments when history unfolds before us in the events of everyday life. As Welty states in the final page of her memoir, "The memory is a living thing--it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remembered joins, and lives--the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead" (104). Indeed, memory is a way to resurrect that which we thought was dead and nothing could make that which seems impermanent more permanent than writing. Indeed, "Each of us is moving, changing, with respect to others. As we discover, we remember; remembering, we discover; and most intensely do we do this when our separate journeys converge" (102). In other words, it is our inward journey that leads us through time and, when joined with the journey of someone else, it becomes the charged dramatic field of writing (Welty 102)--the ultimate exercise of memory.

Copyright 2008 by Robert K. Peach, FSC All rights reserved. No part of the above excerpts may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, elctronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retreival system, without permission in writing from the author.Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the above excerpts should be e-mailed to robertkpeach@gmail.com