I hadn’t started reading graphic novels until my freshman year in college. A few friends of mine were the type of people who had their regular comics sent to them from their hometown comic-book store, or they would travel the distance to Jamestown (the nearest comicbook store around). I had never really given much thought to them, I didn’t like or dislike them, but seeing their interest and dedication I decided to see what they were all about. I started reading Green Lantern (still do) and Batman has since become my absolute favorite (at first I thought he was just a rich guy with no powers; little did I know). Coincidentally I was assigned to read Watchman for Novels and Tales (McRae’s class). I previously thought that graphic novels and the like were cliche nerd paraphernalia, but after reading some on my own and then Watchmen for class my opinion was completely reversed. Graphic novels have the ability to stand on the same level as any other novel or literature. A classic example of this is Watchmen, I know I’m referring to it a lot but that’s because everyone is familiar with it. Watchmen on the surface is a graphic novel, “superheros” fighting against a certain evil. But it tackles a big issue within society, which is who is there to keep those sworn to protect society from taking advantage of their power and using it for their own goals. Moreover, Watchmen isn’t done in a silly way, the images are gritty and the characters are just as real of a portrayal as novelists come up with as well. Maybe this is just personal preference, but the gritty and violent (and not unnecessarily violent) images give the reader a greater impression. The author/artist can use images in addition to text, which enhances the point that is trying to be made.

On the same topic of images, and this may be a little more far-fetched, but graphic novels can use their images to soften or toughen a topic. A perfect example of this is Maus, which all about WW2 and concentration camps. I have seen elementary aged kids reading this and I think the fact that it’s not real people or describing cats, dogs, and pigs as people during WW2 (which seems susceptible to coming across as convoluted), makes it readable to kids of most any age. Conversely, I have seen teachers and parents reading Maus and enjoying it. I believe the power of a graphic novel is in it’s images (astounding), but what I mean is that the images can make subject more real or an issue more age universal. Graphic novels deserve to be on the same level as all other types of literature.

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Turner’s collection of poems and their subject matter are not anything entirely new, a soldier comes back scarred emotionally and the memories wait for unsuspecting moments to resurface. I get it, he is rightfully a victim of PTSD (for good measure: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001923/), he’s seen and gone through things I will never wish to see. The most notable example of this theme is the title poem, Phantom Noise in which Turner describes this constant ringing that shows no sign of going away, the last line contains one single italicized ringing but not just some random ringing, Turner describes it as “this ringing  hum this/ringing“, a specific type. This type of ringing is associated with a “bullet borne language”, one that reminds him of all the shots fired and their victims, the roar of militant machinery, and the feelings felt during his seven years of tours. This poem summarizes Turners experiences and is a look into the effects of those experiences and is an apt summation of the book as a whole, all of which are common themes of war literature, especially when written by veterans. I do not mean all of this belittle PTSD or the efforts and sacrifices made by those who have and continue to serve in the military; what I mean is that so far, I’m having a tough time separating this collection of poetry by a veteran from other books and collection about the same topic of war.

Setting aside thinking about how PTSD centered and very characteristically this collection was of war literature, I went back to find what separates, or elevates this from the rest of the literature of the same genre. THe first poem that caught my attention was, “Aubade: Layover in Amsterdam” (9). This poem is a roller-coaster hump, it starts serene in California, telling of the sleepy hours between two lovers and the narrators ever increasing immersion into a memory about a night spent with a woman in Amsterdam. What struck me is that even though the issue of PTSD is the reason this memory was turned to a poem, the focus is the narrators life in California with his lover and the “watery dark” and ends with a sympathetic wish while lying with a woman from Amsterdam, “and I want her to whisper in my ear,/ even in a language I’ve never heard before,/ just to hear another human voice, just to breathe in the dark”. What struck me about this was how emotion centered this poem was, especially given the last lines. This poem we know is born of war memories, but it’s plot is not driven by them, it is driven by the narrator’s emotion’s and desire’s, ones we can all share giving us a elevated sense of understanding or insight to these poems. A similar event occurs in “Illumination Rounds” (23), where the narrator enters a dream-like, memory induced trance and the memories combine illogically, yet seamlessly, with one another. At one point in the poem the narrator is found shoveling a grave for “the war dead” and his wife walks out to help him back to reality saying they should invite these ghosts inside to get to know them, and understand them, especially if they’re going to bury them. I’m 100% on the last stanza of the poem, but the focus of my point is more on the fact that the narrator’s wife is brought in and she’s not just some victim subject to his bouts of PTSD, she is portrayed as any other non-veteran author would portray a wife, she is strong, and a driving force behind the calming of his mind when he is suffering. It also reflects on the veteran narrator as well, he is completely human, he isn’t some idealized Rambo-soldier, nor is he some nutcase because he was subject to the governments apathetic whims of experimentation on it’s soldiers. The relation between the narrator and his wife are not any different than any other married couple, their issue, PTSD, is uncommon but an issue the both of them handle as average citizens who are married.

It is both the exposure of and humanistic portrayal of one man’s dealings with PTSD, combined with the fact that Turner is not overtly political in his poetry that gives these poems their human aspects and qualities or normalcy that allow the average reader to experience these poems with a greater understanding and true sense of sympathy; and is what separates this collection from ones it it/could be compared to. Without the overt political message, we as the reader do not have to choose a side and can focus on the narrator’s emotion’s, struggle’s, and above all, his humanity.

Blogdad Burning

My first introduction to blogs was three or four years ago. I had known what they were but the idea sounded redundant to me because if you already had a Facebook, what can be put in a blog that couldn’t be posted on Facebook? But I could just be acting a bit curmudgeonly as I was one of people who never had a MySpace and was late to whole Facebook party. All of my prior experience to blogs and online profiles was composed of friends and people from my school whining creating a self-indulgent online persona. Eventually and inevitably especially in a 2.0 era, the idea of blogging became more and more popular, cooking blogs, fashion blogs, photograph blogs, etc. Blog’s are at a point of popularity that I’m sure there’s a blog for everything, and if there is an untapped blog niche, I’m sure it won’t be long until someone fills it. It’s been interesting to watch hobbyists become bloggers. I myself have recently taken to blogging, http://www.johnnytremain.tumblr.com, there’s not point to it other than me posting things I thought were cool. Don’t ask me why, I only have like 6 followers and they’re all friends; I mean, they have to be, why else would they subject themselves to me thinking I’m cool?

But to bring this rant to some kind of purpose, reading Baghdad Burning has really opened my eyes to potential and beauty of things like blogs. Here is someone who is not only in an occupied country, making any kind of differing opinion(s) potentially life-threatening, Riverbend is a female increasing the danger level a hundred fold as women faced even worse oppression, walking down the street being all women-like could get a girl abducted, killed, or any number of undesirable fates. But yet, the blogosphere has provided a free, open space for her and an incredibly public forum to boot. Through blogs being open to the public and free to use, Riverbend has been able to create her own safe space not only for herself but others in a similar situation creating a sense of community and a place untouched by censors allowing her truth to spread.

The opening scene of Kushner’s play Homebody/Kabul is an extensive monologue spoken by The Homebody, who is an eccentric, middle-aged London housewife who remains seated in her reading chair as she explains her obsessive fascination with Afghanistan. But her knowledge of Afghanistan comes from a skewed perspective, an outdated guidebook and snippets of news stories every now and then. Still, she is obsessed the Hindu Kush land, because of it’s ancient history and a practically erotic desire to travel to an unknown land.

What struck me was her name and relation to where she was when giving this monologue. She is referred to as Homebody which is used to describe someone who is attached to home, doesn’t really like to venture too far from home that often. More importantly, they are certainly not someone who has the desire to travel to a point where it becomes sexual. When I think of a homebody I think of someone who is very comfortable staying at home because it is familiar and nonthreatening, one has control over who and what goes on in their home. But for Homebody, home is distant, cold, and unfamiliar and she identifies with the mystery that surrounds Afghanistan. For her, the “foxed unfingered pages” and “forgotten words” of the guidebook contain a representation of a Kabul that reflects its “sorrowing supercessional displacement by all that has since occurred. So lost; and also so familiar. The home away from home” (27). Thinking about all of this reminded of the idea of the uncanny (something repressed within us that unwillingly resurfaces), and the concept of heimlich, which is the familiar, like home, and unheimlich which is the strange and unfamiliar. For Homebody, it is the heimlich which is frightening and strange, and the foreign country, with all of its bloody history, which is intimate and comforting. All of this ties into her lack of identity, which then explains her fatal desire to travel.

 

 

The Ugly Duckling

Aravind Adiga presents the idea of there being a “rooster coop” in India, one that keeps the master-slave dynamic thriving between the upper-class and the lower-class citizens. The idea is simple but incredibly appropriate, just like chickens or roosters in a coop, all smushed together, hardly any room to feel comfortable and even less to move. They take advantage at whatever the coop allows for, but never reaching beyond it’s perimeters, mostly spending their time eating and untold to them, waiting to die. Even when they see one of their own taken and possibly see them killed, they remain humble towards the coop. The birds in the coop are subjected to the will of the farmer, just like the lower-class subject themselves day in and day out to the will of their employers good or bad; but in most cases, bad. There are no uprisings among the workers, like the poultry they effectively move through their days waiting to die or be sent to prison for their master.

Luckily, Balram, makes the transition from rooster to white tiger and becomes a man of his own, an entrepreneur. Many argue over whether or not killing his master and signing his family members death warrants was justified or not. If it is or is not is not the issue of the book. Adiga makes clear that Balram has two choices: stay as a servant and be merely a means for money to his family or become a free man forever carting around his conscious. We can’t nit-pick at his choices for a few reasons. The first being, we’re not him and cannot begin to fully grasp his situation. Second, seeing as we’re not him, we can’t come in and interpret his actions with our own experience that is quite opposite Balram’s and further, if we do try to approach it from however close we can get to understanding/feeling his situation, we’d be left with the same choices and would have to choose one. Which leads me to my last reason which is: Adiga gives us no choice, he’s either going to kill or serve which is the central issue to this book. We can practically empathize with Balram for killing his family, he’s fucked either way; we can’t judge him for the choice he makes and it’s subsequent actions.

I believe Adiga is saying India is shrouded in darkness, the system is so oppressive that people coming from the same place as Balram are faced with lose-lose options. Lose your family or yourself.

P-p-p-poker face

We didn’t get to discuss the significance of poker in the book during our class discussion and as I read on,  DeLillo described Keith and his friends poker nights, I began to think about what DeLillo could be alluding to through the game and how the men treat it.

What I came up with was this: the game of poker was a metaphor for their lives. Poker is a game of chance, one is given a certain amount of cards and must use them to the best of their ability within the confines of whatever version of poker they are playing. Much like life itself. Everyone is born into a family, a socioeconomic standing and their own personality and abilities. I believe DeLillo alludes to this when he says, “men rolling their shoulders, hoisting their balls, ready to sit and play, game-faced, testing the forces that govern events” (96). Basically the old saying, “you play the hand you’re dealt”.

But I also believe the metaphor says more. As they play, they each come up with different guidelines, rituals, or rules. A few examples: no food while playing, only dark liquors and beers, as well as allowing fewer and fewer versions of poker to be played, until five card stud was the only permissible option (97-98). DeLillo also mentions their affinity for the old story of the German men who stuck rigorously to their rituals at the top of page 99. He talks about their respect for the Geman poker players commitment and the “transcendent effects of unremarkable habit” (99). As I thought more and more about this, it seemed to me as though they are all looking to their poker nights for a sense of stability and consistency.

 

DeLillo, Don. Falling Man. Thorndike, Me.: Center Point Pub., 2007. Print.

Monkey Business

Over this past Christmas break my schedule was light. In fact, I didn’t really have all that much to do. I inevitably turned to Netflix to feel as though I was engaging in something (I read too, but that only gets me so far into the day). Through my perusing of what was available to watch, I found a documentary called: We Live in Public. (http://www.weliveinpublicthemovie.com/). The documentary was all about how one man essentially predicted reality television and the same level of personal use over the internet that sites like Facebook and YouTube allow individuals. Most notably from the film was the experiment Quiet:We Live in Public (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saupV-QUAjA), which was the Real World, but actually and truly unscripted and without rules. Naturally this got me thinking about sites like Facebook and YouTube and how in today’s society anyone anywhere can film anyone doing anything and post it, leaving it subject to the viewer.

This is where I feel Kushner can be brought in, “If culture can be thought of as both the exalted and the quotidian expressions of a people’s life, then all culture is ideological, political, rooted in history and informed by present circumstance.” (44). Here Kushner is saying that one’s culture and politics are not necessarily two separate concepts. Kushner is arguing the opposite: one’s culture and politics are inherent to one another. Furthermore Kushner goes on to say that every individual across the globe has and is a part of a specific culture (43), and all the videos, comments, etc posted on the internet are certain art as people are interacting with them, despite their sincerity or depth of interaction, and in some way are affected and shaped by such interaction.

And here is where I feel it is necessary to bring in Roy, who states on the subject of being active politically, “One is not involved by virtue of being a writer or activist. One is involved because one is a human being” (24). As individuals of a society where anything and everything can become the next internet sensation we must realize that our lives, as Roy states, can be and are a type of political activism and we must realize and accept this responsibility and do something other than throw our shit at the internet to see what becomes popular.

Works Cited

Kushner, Tony. “Some Questions About Tolerance” New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995. Print.

Roy, Arundhati. “Power Politics” Boston: South End Press, 2002. Print.